Boxing Day, Thai marijuana “gift,” a new Spotify record

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What to watch for today

Boxing Day sales begin. Now that Christmas presents have been unwrapped, it’s time for Boxing Day sales in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and other countries that celebrate this British-origin holiday. The day has been commemorated since medieval times, though its exact genesis is a bit murky. Historians believe it began as a holiday for servants who worked on Christmas. Now, it’s predominantly a day off for watching sports or shopping.

Indian bank employees will go on strike. For the second time in a week, employees represented by nine Indian banking unions are striking on Dec. 26 to protest a proposed merger between Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank with Bank of Baroda. As many as a million workers could participate. Private banks will be open but there won’t be any services available at public ones.

Over the holiday

China put a prominent “709” lawyer on trial. Wang Quanzhang, who represented practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, has been held for more than three years. China detained him in 2015 in what became known as the “709” crackdown on human rights defenders, since it began on July 9 of that year. China often puts dissidents on trial around Christmas to attract less scrutiny from foreign observers.

Japan said it will resume commercial whaling. The Japanese government announced today (paywall) it will leave the International Whaling Commission, paving the way for it to return to commercial hunting in its own seas after decades. The move may embolden other pro-whaling nations to follow suit.

A symbolic inter-Korean railway broke ground. More than 100 people from North and South Korea attended a groundbreaking ceremony today for a border-crossing railway, another show of unification between the nations. The pledge to modernize inter-Korean transit has support from the UN Security Council, which waived related sanctions.

There was no Christmas cheer for Asia’s markets. US market gloom over America’s partial government shutdown—the Dow Jones saw its worst week since 2008, with the selloff deepening on Monday—sent Japan’s Nikkei into bear territory (paywall) on Tuesday, while China’s markets also closed lower. Markets in Australia and Hong Kong were closed for Christmas and remain so on Boxing Day.

A Nissan executive made bail after a month in custody. Prosecutors in Japan let Greg Kelly out on Christmas after a court approved his 70 million yen ($640,000) bail payment. The former Nissan director had been detained since Nov. 19 for his alleged role in financial fraud. Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, also charged with alleged financial misconduct, remains in jail in Tokyo.

The death toll in Indonesia passed 400. Rescue efforts are still underway following the devastating tsunami that on Saturday crashed into towns on the coasts of the Sumatra and Java islands. As of Tuesday, official tallies count 429 dead, with about 150 still missing, and some 16,000 people displaced, and authorities warn more extreme weather could be on the way.

Thailand approved medical marijuana. The Thai parliament voted on Dec. 25 in a televised parliamentary session to approve marijuana for medical use and research, an unusual move in a region with some of the world’s strictest drug laws. “This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” said the chairman of the drafting committee.

Quartz obsession interlude

Elijah Wolfson on how the world got better in 2018: “A lot went wrong in 2018, so much that it was easy to lose sight of global improvements in the midst of incessant bad news. But while it may be hard to believe, 2018 was in many ways the best year yet to be a human living on Earth.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Join the conversation with the new Quartz app!

Video games can make humans better. Designer Jenova Chen believes we can become more sensitive by playing smarter video games, like the ones he creates.

Toys played a big part in human evolution. Our sense of play (subscription) probably had a major role in shaping mankind’s most useful inventions.

A truly American Christmas involves Chinese food. Chinese restaurants have survived suspicion and oppression (subscription) to become an unshakable part of the modern US holiday fabric.

Surprising discoveries

Mariah Carey broke Spotify’s single-day streaming record. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was streamed nearly 11 million times on Christmas Eve, but don’t expect that to earn a ton from the platform.

Sex selection could reduce the massacre of male chicks. Scientists believe they can end the egg industry’s horrible practice of killing billions of male chicks—since they produce no eggs—by preventing them from hatching in the first place.

The International Space Station’s leak was an inside job. The mysterious 2-millimeter hole that caused a relatively mild pressure drop was drilled from inside the satellite.

One of the world’s wealthiest actors leads a rather modest life. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Chow Yun-fat uses Hong Kong public transit, frequents the city’s cheap food stalls, and used a Nokia flip phone for 17 years.

An artist has an unusual response to rejection. Painter Robert Cenedella has sued five major New York museums under antitrust law, claiming they are part of an international conspiracy to promote the work of a few chosen artists.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, better Christmas songs, and compassionate video games to Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by Tripti Lahiri and edited by Pramod Mathew.