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What to watch for today
Biggest shopping day of the year in English-speaking countries outside the US. It’s Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, when retailers in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere traditionally rack up the biggest retail sales of the year. Sixty-two percent of Canadians plan to go shopping, spending an average of C$1,610 (US$1,623) apiece. Meanwhile, in the US, Dec. 26 marks what is possibly the biggest customer service day of the year, as stores hire more personnel to handle the crush of people returning unwanted presents.
Abe returns as Japan’s prime minister. The Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan almost without interruption from its formation in 1955 until 2009, resumes power today, led by Shinzo Abe, who himself served as prime minister for a year in 2006-07. Abe campaigned on greater fiscal and monetary stimulus and tougher diplomacy and is expected to name his cabinet today after parliament confirms his accession.
Modi sworn in for new term. Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, takes the oath for a third term as chief minister of Gujarat state. Modi is a potential candidate of the opposition BJP to be prime minister of India and has gotten high marks for his economic leadership. The US and UK recently eased the cold shoulder they had given him over his handling of communal riots in his state, which killed about 2,000 people in 2002.
Markets are closed in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and Canada. There’s something about being former subjects of the British Empire and celebrating Boxing Day, but maybe it’s a coincidence.
London Tube clogged. Underground drivers are out on strike for 24 hours to press demands over holiday pay, which is expected to affect service on all Tube lines. The city’s mayor has previously said such strikes (this is the third in three years) strengthen the case for driverless trains.
Peak online dating season commences. The period between Christmas and New Year has traditionally seen traffic to online dating sites surge 15%-20%. No-one is really sure why: it could be lonely hearts looking for that perfect New Year’s date, or getting harassed by their mothers at Christmas for being single.
While you were sleeping:
World’s longest high-speed train service opened. The new service between Beijing and Guangzhou will cut travel times from 21 hours to 8 on the 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) route. The line was designed to handle operations at 350 kilometers per hour, but will initially stay at 300 km/h as China rebuilds confidence in the express system following a crash last year.
Samsung hit back against Ericsson. The South Korean electronics group announced that it had asked the US International Trade Commission to bar the import and sale of some Ericsson products. This comes a month after Ericsson made a similar request over Samsung products and filed a patent infringement suit. Tensions between the two have risen as Samsung moves into telecom equipment after helping push Ericsson out of the mobile phone market.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission joins day-traders. The SEC will start taking a stream of real-time stock data, in order to remedy the “wide gulf in technical prowess between the regulators and the regulated” on America’s electronic exchanges.
Maker of the iPhone branches out. Foxconn, famous as the maker of the iPhone and other consumer electronics, is diversifying its investments, and may become a consumer-electronics brand unto itself, as Samsung, Acer and other firms have before it.
Quartz obsession interlude
Lily Kuo on the more than 800 companies that are ready to explode onto China’s stock market: “Chinese investors are calling it a “dammed lake” (yanse hu 堰塞湖), the 800-plus Chinese businesses awaiting approval to list on mainland exchanges. The glut owes more to a recent moratorium on IPOs than it does to an out-of-the-blue need for capital among Chinese businesses. But the rising tide of fund-hungry companies encapsulates some of the biggest problems facing the Chinese market at present—among them, the chronic anemia of Chinese stock market performance, as well as volatile share prices.” Read more here.
Matters of debate
Oregano oil substitutes for antibiotics. With consumers increasingly wary of the potential effects of antibiotics in meat, a few farmers are giving a second look at using oregano oil in animal feed to ward off bacterial disease. However, skeptics abound.
What does it feel like to wear a burka? Artist Marie Rim has been criss-crossing the US offering “Burka Fittings Across America,” inviting participants to experience the all-over face-covering worn in some Muslim countries.
Have India’s police become totalitarian? Massive public protests in India, even peaceful ones, have been met with police brutality.
Countries the world over are beset by toxic nationalism. In India, Egypt, Russia and throughout Asia, a revival of good old-fashioned power grabs is flying under the radar of cosmopolitan elites.
World’s cheapest heart surgeries. Hospital group Narayana Hrudayalaya is opening the first of a planned 100 hospitals for smaller Indian cities where it believes design and operational improvements will mean open heart surgery can be performed for 65,000 rupees (less than $1,200).
North Korea’s late leader died “in a fit of rage.” The Chosun Ilbo reports that Kim Jong-il’s heart attack last year came after he was briefed on a serious leak at a key hydro-electric power plant being built to resolve electricity shortages in Pyongyang, lashed out at officials over the problems and set off to inspect the site. North Korean media reported last December that Kim died on his way to a field inspection.
Sixty thousand Americans want CNN’s Piers Morgan deported. Morgan, a British presenter on the cable channel known for his outspoken views on gun control, is now the target of a petition on the website of the White House demanding his deportation for “attacking the 2nd amendment.” (Doesn’t the First Amendment protect his freedom of speech, Morgan asked on Twitter? Yes, but not his visa, replied a Wall Street Journal columnist.)
The last of the Molokans. Ivanovka, Azerbaijan, is the last Soviet-style collective farm in the country and also home to the Molokans, an aging group of dissident Christians originally forced out of Russia by Catherine the Great.
How to negotiate for anything. This is how a former hostage negotiator for the FBI gets a good price on a car.
First African-designed smartphone and tablet. VMK is based in the Republic of Congo, and like nearly all tech companies, it outsources manufacturing to China.
It is very cold in Siberia right now. And this is what happens when you throw a bucket of boiling water into air at -41°C (-42°F).
Charles Durning, American character actor, dies at 89. In his youth, Durning was an infantryman who was among the first to arrive at Omaha Beach when the US initiated its first offensive against Germany in WWII. Here is a video of his harrowing account of that day.
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