(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)
We start today with the unexpected start of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Syria and the latest from the government shutdown, which is now tied for the longest in history. And it’s Friday, so there’s a new news quiz.
U.S. begins withdrawal from Syria
The surprise announcement today by a U.S. military spokesman is the first step in President Trump’s plan to pull roughly 2,000 American troops from the country.
As recently as Sunday, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, placed conditions on the withdrawal that could leave American forces there for months or even years.
Yesterday: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an audience in Cairo that “the age of self-inflicted American shame is over” and that the U.S. would pursue a more activist policy in the Middle East.
Closer look: Mr. Pompeo’s speech contrasted starkly with a speech in 2009, also in Cairo, by former President Barack Obama, who made an effort to reset relations with the Muslim world in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war. We compared the two.
White House sees storm aid as a way to build a wall
The Trump administration is considering diverting $13.9 billion allocated last year for areas damaged by hurricanes and wildfires to pay for a wall on the southwestern border. That’s according to congressional and Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the possibility.
Officials are debating whether they could make such a move without a declaration of a national emergency. President Trump has repeatedly said he might declare one in order to bypass Congress, where Democrats have declined to fund a wall.
Yesterday: Mr. Trump visited the border city of McAllen, Tex., to make his case.
Go deeper: Two Times journalists are driving the length of the 1,900-mile border. Their first dispatch is from Brownsville, Tex.
The Daily: On today’s episode, hear from a sheriff in Arizona who supports Mr. Trump’s plans.
Government shutdown nears a record
The partial closure that has resulted from the impasse over a border wall would become the longest in history on Saturday. Most of the 800,000 federal workers involved will miss a paycheck today.
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence made clear that President Trump would not support a deal to reopen the government before wall funding was secured. “No wall, no deal,” Mr. Pence said.
Oceans are warming faster than we thought
Water temperatures are rising 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago, according to an analysis published on Thursday.
The oceans have been absorbing most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions, offering a buffer against climate change. The escalating temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.
The background: Historically, understanding ocean temperatures has been difficult. A 2014 U.N. report presented five estimates, all showing less ocean warming than the levels projected by computer climate models. The new analysis incorporates more recent data, and its results are more in line with the models.
If you have 35 minutes, this is worth it
The nature of beauty
For decades, the centerpiece of evolutionary theory has been that creatures with the most advantageous traits have the best chance of multiplying. Beauty — so far as a reproductive mate was concerned — was merely a shorthand for those traits.
Charles Darwin himself never thought that explained everything. Now biologists are revisiting his theory that animals can appreciate beauty for its own sake.
Here’s what else is happening
Missing girl is found: Jayme Closs, 13, disappeared in October on the night that her parents were shot to death in their rural Wisconsin home. She was found alive on Thursday, the authorities said. A suspect was in custody.
Huawei arrest: The Polish authorities have charged a Chinese employee of Huawei, the telecommunications giant, and a Polish national with spying for China, officials said today. The arrests come as the U.S. and its allies have tried to restrict the use of Chinese technology based on espionage fears.
Michael Cohen in Congress: President Trump’s former personal lawyer said on Thursday that he would give “a full and credible account” of his work for Mr. Trump to a House committee next month.
Inauguration scrutiny: Federal prosecutors are investigating at least a dozen Ukrainians who were present during President Trump’s inaugural festivities. Some of them, or their allies, are thought to have promoted proposals aligned with Russia’s interests.
New Carlos Ghosn accusations: Japanese prosecutors brought fresh charges of financial wrongdoing today against the former head of the automaking alliance of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi. He is in jail in Tokyo.
Snapshot: Above, Venezuelans at the inauguration of President Nicolás Maduro, who was sworn in on Thursday for a second term. He has been able to retain power despite a plummeting economy, skyrocketing violence and an election that was widely seen as illegitimate.
Andy Murray retirement: The former No. 1 player and three-time Grand Slam champion announced today that he would end his tennis career after Wimbledon, if not sooner.
News quiz: Did you follow the headlines this week? Test yourself.
Late-night comedy: Jimmy Fallon discussed the government shutdown. “Everyone’s fighting. People are exhausted. There’s no end in sight. It’s basically like playing a game of Monopoly with your family.”
What we’re reading: This reprint of an article in Appalachia, a mountaineering and conservation journal. “You’re hiking high up a frigid mountain, storm clouds are gathering, and you come across a trail of fresh prints in the snow, made by someone in decidedly unwinter-y sneakers,” writes Michael Wines, a national correspondent. “What would you do? This woman did what many would not. It’s quite a yarn.”
Now, a break from the news
Founded in 1934, the Irregulars are named for a group of street urchins who assist Holmes in some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 stories about the fictional detective.
The group, which is invitation only, has about 300 members around the world and publishes a quarterly journal of Sherlockian scholarship.
The Irregulars’ dinner tonight is part of a five-day celebration in Manhattan featuring a lecture, a memorabilia sale and parties with other groups of Sherlock Holmes fans, including the Baker Street Babes. (The first female members of the Irregulars weren’t admitted until the early 1990s.)
The event is timed to coincide with Holmes’s birthday, which enthusiasts have generally agreed is Jan. 6 — although the reasoning is far from elementary.
That’s it for this briefing. Have a good weekend.
To Eleanor Stanford for marshaling the cultural guidance and James K. Williamson for his swinging Smarter Living tips. Chris himself wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about a sheriff in Arizona who supports President Trump’s plans for a border wall.
• Here’s today’s mini crossword puzzle, and a clue: Number between dos and cuatro (4 letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Randy Archibold, a 20-year veteran of The Times, was named the new Sports editor on Thursday. He was raised as a fan of the Jets and the Yankees.