#Putin answers questions, two thwarted terror attacks, murderous cowbirds

Good morning, Quartz readers!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY

Vladimir Putin holds his annual press conference. The event had been pushed back so that Putin could attend the funeral of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey who was assassinated on Dec. 19 in Ankara. More than 14,000 journalists are accredited to cover the much-anticipated Q&A, which lasted three hours in 2015, touching on everything from the Russian economy to Putin’s private life.

India’s longest expressway opens to commuters. The new roadcuts Agra-to-Lucknow travel time from eight hours to five.Inaugurated on Nov. 21, the six-lane highway spans 10 districts.

The United Kingdom gets a report card. The Office for National Statistics releases the UK’s third-quarter GDP numbers, andconfirms whether the economy grew at a healthy 0.5% as expected. The ONS will also disclose how the UK’s services sector, which accounts for a large share of the economy, fared in October.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

The Syrian military took control of Aleppo. Syria’s government said that the last of the civilians and rebel fighters were evacuatedfollowing a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey. The recapture of Aleppo, which ends four years of fighting there, marks president Bashar al-Assad’s most significant victory in the Syrian conflict so far.

Israel revealed it worked with Trump to delay the UN’s settlements vote. Expecting the US to abstain and let the resolution pass, officials close to the matter say Israel prompted Donald Trump(paywall) to tweet his opposition to the proposal, and phone Egyptian president Abel Fattah al-Sisi to ask for a postponement. No date has been set for the vote’s revival.

Australia foiled a terror attack planned for Christmas Day…Police arrested five Australian nationals suspected of plotting a scheme involving explosives and other weapons across multiple locations in Melbourne. Authorities say the men were “self-radicalized” but inspired by ISIL propaganda.

…and so did Germany. Officials detained two Serbian mensuspected of preparing an attack on a mall in the western city of Oberhausen. It’s not clear if the plans were connected to the recent attack in Berlin.

China slammed Trump’s trade pick. After the president-elect tapped vocal China critic Peter Navarro to head a new trade office, state-backed tabloid the Global Times published an editorial fiercely condemning the choice. China “must discard any illusions and make full preparations for any offensive move by the Trump government,” the piece reads.

QUARTZ OBSESSION INTERLUDE

Leslie Josephs with a guide to premium-economy upgrades. “Leave it to the crafty airlines to invent a new product—called premium economy—to capitalize on passengers’ trauma of cramped cabins past. Taiwan’s EVA Air and the UK’s Virgin Atlantic were the ones who pioneered the in-between service class in the early 1990s, but the concept really took off this year as fares tumbled and airlines grappled with ways to drum up revenue.” Read more here.

MATTERS OF DEBATE

A two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is impossible. The only hope for sustained peace is a “binational” state.

Empathy in medicine is overrated. Doctors should alleviate patients’ pain, not mirror their distress.

Believing in Santa Claus is rational. Given all the “evidence,” children’s faith in St. Nick is actually scientific thinking.

SURPRISING DISCOVERIES

A university in Thailand is accepting rice as tuition. The school will put an above-market value on rice to counter the lowest grain prices in a decade.

Teaching African girls about puberty keeps them in school.One study found a 17% drop in absenteeism when girls were given sanitary napkins, puberty education, or both.

Cowbirds are devious criminals. The shiny cowbird drops its egg in other birds’ nests, then punctures all the other eggs.

The hottest borehole ever made is almost complete. Iceland’s Deep Drilling Project could reach depths where the temperature is as high as 500°C (932°F).

Wrapping paper is only 99 years old. It all started when two brothers in Kansas ran out of red, white, and green tissue paper.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, cowbird eggs, and century-old wrapping paper tohi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android.

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