Abe meets Putin, a letter to Xi, alluring urban frogs

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today

Shinzo Abe meets with Vladimir Putin. The leaders of Japan and Russia will discuss the fate of four disputed islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido. Known as the Southern Kurils (Russia) or Northern Territories (Japan), the islands were claimed by the Soviet Union in the final days of World War II. The dispute has prevented the countries from signing a post-war peace treaty.

Germany and France seal a deal. As Brexit continues to implode, France and Germany are formalizing their place at the center of the European Union with a new treaty that promises common positions and joint statements on major issues facing the EU and NATO.

Jair Bolsonaro speaks at Davos. Brazil’s new populist president will give a “special address” at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, which kicks off amid a gloomy backdrop of political crises, market volatility, and profit warnings. Sign up for Quartz’s free Davos Daily Brief to follow along with our journalists on the ground.

The 2019 Oscar nominations are unveiled. Actors Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross will announce the names at an event that will be live-streamed starting at 8:20am ET.  The awards ceremony is set for Feb. 24—but doesn’t have a host.

While you were sleeping

Diplomats and academics called on China to release two Canadians. More than 100 scholars and former envoys urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, warning of the chilling effect of Beijing’s actions on relations with the world. The two were detained after Canada last month arrested telecom giant Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou on behalf of the US, which confirmed it will submit an extradition request for her, the Globe and Mail reported (paywall).

Two ships caught on fire in the Black Sea, killing 14. The blaze erupted while fuel was being pumped from one tanker to another, forcing the Turkish and Indian crew members to jump overboard. The cargo vessels, which were anchored off the Crimean peninsula, appeared last year on a US treasury list warning of the sanctions risk for shipping petroleum to Syria.

Giuliani walked back his Russia comments. On Sunday, Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, surprised many when he said that Donald Trump’s discussions on a Moscow real estate project continued through most of 2016. The president has said he had no business dealings with Russia during his campaign, which saw him praise Putin and float the idea of lifting sanctions on the country. Giuliani now maintains his comments were hypothetical and not based on actual talks with Trump.

A Japanese court rejected Carlos Ghosn’s bail request, again. The ousted Nissan chairman, who is facing charges of financial misconduct for misreporting his income, had offered to surrender his passport and pay for his own monitoring, but a Tokyo court denied his application. Ghosn has been in custody since his November arrest.

Quartz obsession interlude

Before it was a gathering place for the global elite, Davos, Switzerland was a haven for TB patients. The Alpine resort town first became famous in the 19th century for its restorative properties, which inspired authors like Thomas Mann, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Read more about it in the Quartz Obsession.

Matters of debate

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Criticizing Oxfam’s poverty methodology misses the point. Arguing over how the advocacy group calculates wealth distracts from the issues it raises about income inequality.

Innovation can’t happen without empathy. Creative solutions require an understanding of people’s needs, conditions, and challenges.

Sheryl Sandberg’s apology isn’t enough. The Facebook COO keeps repeating platitudes instead of making tough decisions.

Surprising discoveries

Urban frogs are more attractive. They adapt to the noise of city life with more complex mating calls, and females apparently like it.

Canadian stocks are high on marijuana. The S&P/TSX Composite Index has had its best start to a year since 1980, mainly on the strength of cannabis stocks.

A new shark species has a video game-inspired name. The prehistoric “Galagadon” is named for having teeth that resemble the spaceships in the Japanese-US game Galaga.

A hitman’s GPS watch connected him to a mob murder. Mark “Iceman” Fellows was found guilty in an unsolved killing after his Garmin watch showed him planning an escape route.

Striped lizards want you to look at their tails. Bright stripes cause “motion dazzle,” deflecting attacks from a lizard’s body to its detachable tail.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, presidential bids, and detachable tails to hi@qz.com. 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 Maria Thomas.