Quartz Daily Brief—Asia edition—Will Syrian talks begin?, US recovers from snowstorm, the beauty of small talk

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What to watch for today

Syrian peace talks are due to start in Geneva. Though there is uncertainty over whether the United Nations-brokered talks between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime and many of his opponents will really begin on Monday. No word yet on the final list of attendees, either.

Egypt is on on high alert on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising. Authorities have warned against violent protests and president Abdelfattah al-Sisi has promised a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, five years since protests began that toppled former strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The US gets back to work after Jonas. The blizzard is over but the US east coast has a lot of shoveling to do. New York transit is up and running again (paywall) but the Washington subway will guarantee only a minimum service. Many schools will stay closed today in the affected areas.

US corporates begin a big week of earnings reports. McDonald’s and Kimberly Clark announce their latest set of quarterly results before the markets open. Later this week, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft will also report.

Over the weekend

The US had a lot of snow. Between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning, the US eastern coast was hit by a blizzard of historic proportions (paywall). Eighteen people died—including a good samaritan who was shot while trying to help a man with his stalled car—and record flooding was brought to New Jersey. But some still had fun.

Will Michael Bloomberg run for US president? The New York Times reported (paywall) that former New York City mayor is considering an independent bid, but he would only run if Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Democratic nomination or was severely weakened in the primaries.

Brazil announced its Zika-virus strategy during the Olympics. The authorities say inspections for mosquitos will begin four months before the Rio games begin in August. Daily sweeps will be performed during the Olympics. Fumigation will only be used in extreme cases.

Italians marched ahead of a key gay-marriage vote. Ahead of a controversial parliament vote to legalize same-sex partnerships, scheduled for Jan. 28, tens of thousands of Italians took to the streets to announce their support for gay unions.

Quartz obsession interlude

Tim Fernholz on Jeff Bezos’ re-usable rocket: “It’s not clear yet when Blue Origin will begin making money off its rocket. New Shepherd is not powerful enough to carry large cargo, so the company has mainly focused on a space tourism model, promising the ride of a lifetime to ticket-holding passengers, but it’s not clear when you’ll be able to buy a ticket.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Small talk makes the world bearable. There’s more to life than profound conversation.

If you nominate Bernie Sanders, you’ll get president Donald Trump. With Michael Bloomberg running as an independent third, Trump’s path to victory is assured.

Humans are, and have always been, violent. A 10,000-year-old massacre may be the oldest proof of warfare between humans.

Surprising discoveries

A potential $47-million lottery-winning ticket went through the wash. The British lottery is still offering to look at the faded stub.

No, there aren’t 100 eskimo words for snow. Technically, there’s an unlimited number of snow-referencing words.

A man’s dying wish was to ask not to support Donald Trump. “In lieu of flowers,” his obituary said.

South Africa has university grants for women who are virgins. Women in the Uthukela region will be given regular virginity tests to qualify for the bursaries.

A Dutch company is planning to build the first ethical smartphone from scratch. But is such a thing even possible?

Some Egyptian museum employees knocked off Tutankhamun’s beard. They face a trial after trying to glue it back on to the 3,000-year old mask.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, small-talk conversation starters, and snow words to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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