After the morning’s concerned headlines, both sides agreed to meet face-to-face Saturday morning. Syrian officials had said they might leave Switzerland instead of sitting at the table this weekend after taking issue with the agenda for the talks. U.S. officials called the standoff “ups and downs” that are to be expected. Maybe smaller, local truces could happen, instead of an overall deal. But it’s also clear that talks to end fighting that has displaced more than 9 million people will likely be slow going.
The Presidential Daily Brief
At least 185 Nepalese migrant workers have died while working on new stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, bringing the two-year tally to at least 382 deaths. Officially, many of the deaths are attributed to heart conditions, but advocates blame long days laboring in scorching heat. One group fears the total lives cost could number in thousands by the time the Cup begins.
Source: The Guardian
Ukrainian protesters have seized a government building in Kiev, despite the opposition leadership’s pleas that they observe a truce with state forces. Negotiations with the government ended in stalemate, overshadowed by reports of police kidnappings, beatings and shootings. In the talks, labeled “disappointing” by opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, authorities reportedly promised to release arrested activists and reconsider legislation suppressing political dissent — a far cry from the protesters’ original demand of snap elections. As protests spread beyond Kiev to at least six Ukrainian cities on Thursday, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov accused protesters of trying to stage a coup.
Argentina has devalued the peso following a currency plunge of 13 percent over two days. The move has stoked fears that a financial day of reckoning may be on the horizon, unlike any Argentina has seen since the economic crisis of 2001 and 2002. Foreign reserves in South America’s second-largest economy have fallen by 44 percent over the past three years and the country has resorted to unusual measures, including restricting imports and online purchases of foreign goods in an effort to keep U.S. dollars in the country. The biggest concern is that devaluation could feed the country’s soaring inflation rate and spark riots.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has called for extended whistleblower protection amid allegations that he stole colleagues’ passwords to obtain information, which he denies. In his first webchat since leaving the U.S. in June, Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia, expressed a desire to return but maintained that it would be impossible under current whistleblowing laws. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview that clemency would not be an option, but the Justice Department would consider negotiations with Snowden’s lawyers, if he agreed to plead guilty to felony charges.
The government and its opposition in South Sudan have signed a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, easing a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced more than 500,000 since last month. Parties from the oil-rich nation faced considerable pressure from Ethiopia, China, the U.S. and the UN to come to an agreement. But neither side’s leaders have demonstrated much control over the forces fighting on their behalf. They insist the agreement is a temporary measure, but experts warn that it does little to address the ethnic divides and resource battles at the root of the conflict.
Nadal bests Federer, will head to Australian Open final. (NYT).
Blasts hit Cairo city center, killing five and injuring dozens. (BBC).
Firefighters search for 30 missing in deadly Canadian fire. (DW).
North Korea sends conciliatory letter to the South. (CNN).
Rouhani extends olive branch to West. (DW).
Man’s best friend has been suffering from an ancient cancer which, unlike any human strain of the disease, is contagious. Affecting primarily free-roaming dogs in the developing world, the disease is transmitted by touching, licking or mating, and it has an extraordinary heritage. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that the tumor dates back 11,000 years, making it a living fossil. The illness first arose in a wolf-dog hybrid, and then 500 years ago made its way from continent to continent via dogs. Experts hope this old dog cancer will help them learn new tricks in the fight against human varieties of the disease.
Today’s young Americans have just as much — or as little — access to opportunity as their grandparents, according to a Harvard economist. While the ladder might look different thanks to new social programs and innovations in education, such changes have been offset by changing economic conditions, with the hollowing out of skilled trades that used to be solidly middle class. And those born on the bottom rung are more likely to remain there than two generations ago. Unsurprisingly, the statistics aren’t consistent across the country but the pockets of excellence may surprise you — think Iowa, not California.
Source: Washington Post
Dieting doesn’t have to be all pain no gain, according to a new study from University of California Berkeley. If you’re willing to restrict yourself to a quarter of your recommended calories for a day or two, you can be as indulgent as you like the next day and still lose weight. When study participants were free to gorge themselves on off days, they only managed to eat about 125 percent of their normal intake and lost weight overall. Whether occasional fast days shrink stomachs or simply improve our discipline in the face of cake, the study’s results have left many hungry for starvation.
Source: The Atlantic
Being the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, it’s unsurprising that Lucian Freud’s life was one of fame and controversy, but two new biographies reveal the true depths of the artist’s extreme behavior. Father to at least 14 children, and potentially as many as 40, these works offer up a picture of a man who placed art above all else. Though a truly singular painter, Freud’s erratic temper led him to send vitriolic postcards to his enemies, or even envelopes stuffed with feces. What would grandpa have said about that?
In an age when sports headlines too often dwell on cheating and performance-enhancing drug use, it’s nice to know that one sport has stayed on the straight and narrow. While officials will line the ice rink at next month’s curling event, at the Winter Olympics in Russia, their role is restricted to timekeeping and measuring; it will be up to the competitors to call out any fouls. It is hard to imagine many sports being able to function without the stern eye of a referee, but curlers are historically an honest and friendly bunch. Tradition even dictates that the winners treat the losers to post-match drinks.