US Senate session resumes, Russia’s hypersonic missile, Antarctic noise

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

US agencies announce jobless claims and new home sales. Economists believe unemployment benefit-application data released by the Labor Department will tick slightly upward (subscription). Meanwhile, the Commerce Department could see a rise in new home sales for November due to a shortage of properties on the market.

The US Senate is back in session, but the government remains shuttered. The partial shutdown began Dec. 22 after Donald Trump refused to sign a stopgap bill unless sufficient funding was allocated for a border wall. Trump met with Republican lawmakers over the weekend, but has largely shut out Democrats from spending-bill negotiations.

The Associated Press announces its male athlete of the year. The AP already named tennis superstar Serena Williams female athlete of the year for the fifth time, citing her incredible tenacity in returning to the court following the birth of her daughter. Last year, second baseman José Altuve was named male athlete of the year.

While you were sleeping

Another volatile day for markets. Tech giants started to show signs of life (subscription) after months of devastating losses. Meanwhile, the Dow, S&P, and Nasdaq rebounded after a brutal Christmas Eve. Retail companies also capped off December with their best holiday season in six years.

A 4.8-magnitude earthquake struck Sicily. The quake was triggered by the recent eruption of Mount Etna, and injured at least 28 people while decimating several buildings. Scientists noted that the seismic activity was unusually strong for the region, which regularly endures tremors caused by the nearby volcano.

Russia tested a hypersonic missile system. President Vladimir Putin called the trial run an “excellent New Year’s gift to the nation,” saying that the Avangard system would be incorporated into Russia’s military next year. The new weapon, which can supposedly evade all known defenses, underscores NATO’s accusations of treaty violations by Russia.

Japan announced plans to resume commercial whaling. Japan intends to restart whaling operations in July after leaving the International Whaling Commission, a body made up of dozens of countries. The commission put a moratorium on commercial whale hunts in 1986; conservationists worry other countries will follow in Japan’s footsteps.

Morgan Stanley was hit with a $10 million fine. The penalty levied by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority covers more than five years of alleged money-laundering violations, although the bank didn’t admit to any fault in its settlement. Morgan Stanley was also cited for security issues regarding insider trading and penny-stock monitoring.

Quartz obsession interlude

Talking point for holiday gatherings: The global dominance of white people is thanks to the potato. In his economic masterwork “The Wealth of Nations,” the great Scottish economist Adam Smith reveals himself to be a deep admirer of potatoes. The root, he said, was responsible for sustaining “the chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London.” In that, he surmised, “No food can afford a more decisive proof of its nourishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable to the health of the human constitution.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Join the conversation with the new Quartz app!

Give up fast fashion to shop smarter. Abstaining from froofy clothing giants can help you realize how overpriced and homogenous wares are bleeding you dry.

Keep your airplane window open. Air travel is miserable enough without the expectation of shutting ourselves off from natural light and colorful vistas.

Eat less meat. Our addiction to red meat and the carbon footprint of industrialized agriculture heavily contribute to the accelerating death of our planet.

Surprising discoveries

The IRS turns to social media to catch tax cheats. Budget cuts and staff shortages have the agency seeking tools that can scour public data for online markets contributing to $400 billion in unpaid taxes.

New York City’s most famous prison serves the best holiday dessert. Inmate bakers at Rikers Island take tremendous pride (paywall) in their own carrot cake recipe.

North and South Korea broke ground on a railway. It’s mostly symbolic, since US and UN sanctions forbid international investment in the hermit kingdom’s infrastructure.

Strange noises emanate from Antarctica. Radio signals picked up by the British Antarctic Survey’s space weather station sound like hissing, whistles, and alien rainfall.

Dogs are getting their own Snapchat filters. Nerdy eyeglasses, sparkles, milkbone halos, pizza collars, and other  add-ons can now adorn your precious pup’s selfies.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, dog selfie filters, and elite athletes to Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by April Siese and McKinley Noble and edited by Kira Bindrim.