US Senate resumes, Antarctic solo crossing, fat monks

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

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.

US jobless claims. Economists believe unemployment benefit-application data released by the Labor Department will tick slightly upward (subscription). Meanwhile, the Commerce Department will not be releasing its figures on new home sales for November because of the government shutdown.

Travel disruptions in Indonesia. Authorities raised the alert status of the Anak Krakatoa volcano to the second-highest level and imposed an exclusion zone of 5 km (3 miles), days after a crater collapse triggered a tsunami that killed over 400 people. All flights around the volcano have been rerouted, with Krakatoa continuing to spew ash and lava.

Afghanistan announces a new date for its presidential election. The vote, originally slated for April, will be set for July or August, in part because extreme weather prevented candidates from organizing in time for a spring election. Parliamentary elections in October were marred by violence by extremist groups.

While you were sleeping

Trump visited troops in Iraq. The president, his wife Melania, and national security advisor John Bolton made an unannounced visit to the al-Asad airbase, where Trump said that he had no plans to pull troops out of Iraq, despite recently announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. “We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he said on the visit.

Japan executed two death-row inmates. The men were hanged in Osaka (subscription) for the 1988 murders of two employees of an asset management firm, bringing the total number of executions this year in Japan to 15, the highest since 2008, after 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult were executed in July.

An American man became the first person to cross Antarctica solo. Colin O’Brady, 33, made the 932 mile (1,500 km) journey in 53 days (subscription), covering the final stretch in a sleepless 32 hours. A Briton who attempted the same feat in 2016 died days after he was airlifted just 126 miles from the finish.

A British cruise entertainer went missing overboard. The US Coast Guard is searching for Arron Hough, 20, who fell off the Harmony of the Seas some 267 miles (430 km) northwest of Puerto Rico en route to St. Maarten.

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.” From 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. Buy a piece of really expensive clothing instead to reduce your contribution to the wastefulness of the industry.

Money managers are on the frontline of the fight against climate change. The world’s biggest investors (subscription) are able to force polluting companies to change their ways.

Low fertility rates aren’t a cause for worry. AI, migration, and being healthier in old age mean that countries don’t need to rely on new births to keep growing economically.

Surprising discoveries

The IRS is turning to social media to catch tax cheats. Budget cuts and staff shortages have the agency seeking tools that can scour public data for online businesses that contribute 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.

Thai Buddhist monks are getting obese. They’re gorging on donations of food from devotees and not exercising enough.

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 filters, and carrot cake to Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was written by Isabella Steger and edited by Tripti Lahiri.