🌊 Ferris Bueller’s Year Off

Not a great year for US test scores, pop star retires to focus on faith, and Arctic Hitchhiking

Let’s kick things off with a little nature history today: 76 years ago, the US established Everglades National Park in Florida. The Everglades is an absolutely bizarre place. It is the only place in the US with native crocodiles, and the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist. It’s also home to the Florida panther, manatees, and some of the strangest species of humans America has to offer. We typed in “Florida Man Everglades,” and the first story was “Florida man caught eating cheesecake nude in Everglades.”

In today's edition:

  • Not a great year for US test scores

  • Pop star retires to focus on faith

  • Arctic Hitchhiking

 🔑 Key Stories

Mixed US Test Scores

US math scores hit an all-time low on an international exam

  • The test, called PISA, tested 15-year-olds from 81 countries on math, reading, and science. The test was conducted last year for the first time since 2018

  • Per newly-released data, US math scores fell to an all-time low last year. It climbed the global rankings from 29th in 2018 to 26th, though, as data showed math scores fell globally

  • US reading and science scores held steady from 2018. The US rose in global rankings to sixth in reading (from eighth) and 10th in science (from 11th)

Cuba Spy Charged

The US charged one of its former ambassadors for allegedly spying for Cuba’s government

  • Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, was a diplomat who served as US ambassador to Bolivia from 1999 to 2003. He also served on the US National Security Council

  • On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Rocha for allegedly spying for Cuba’s government. Rocha reportedly told an FBI agent posing as a Cuban spy that the US is “the enemy” and claimed he had been spying on the US government for Cuba for 40 years

  • His alleged crimes would constitute the worst-ever breach by Cuban intelligence of the US government

Dolphins Can Detect Electricity 

Bottlenose dolphins can sense electricity, a new study found

  • Many animals, including some shark species and the platypus, can detect electricity. That ability – “electroreception” – has been detected in one species of dolphin, the Guiana dolphin, but it is unclear if other dolphin species can do so as well

  • Per a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, two bottlenose dolphins demonstrated the ability to respond to electricity

  • The results suggest the ability may be widespread in dolphins. More research is needed to confirm that

23andMe Hacked

23andMe announced that hackers had gained access to personal information from 6.9M profiles

  • The company has confirmed that hackers accessed 14,000 user profiles by using login information stolen from other sites. They were then able to pull data on 6.9M more users through networks on the platform

  • Compromised data included names, dates of birth, addresses, and familial relationships. 23andMe said there’s no proof the hackers have used the data for illegal purposes, although a dataset of users with Jewish heritage was posted on a hacking forum

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🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • Devout Yankee: Popular Puerto Rican music artist Daddy Yankee, known as the “King of Reggaeton,” announced he is retiring from music to focus on his faith

  • The Battle of BTS: Four more members of K-pop group BTS will enlist in South Korea’s military. South Korea requires all able-bodied men to serve in the military

  • Houshmandzadeh fever: Ex-NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has filed a temporary restraining order against a woman he accuses of obsessing over and harassing his family for years

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Wildcard

  • Bold move, Cotton: Michigan police say a 62-year-old woman tried to shoplift $727.86 worth of items from a Walmart during a “Shop with a Cop” event attended by 75 officers

  • Thief-proof phone: Thieves in Washington, DC stole a man’s car but returned his phone because it was an Android. “They were like, ‘Oh, that’s an Android? We don’t want this,” the wife recalled

  • Doctor’s orders: Three men allegedly plotted to steal $100K+ of Dr. Pepper syrup from an Oklahoma City warehouse to sell to a gas station

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👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll:

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Today's Question:

What is your least favorite word?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

F rom Santa’s village, there were two options: Take the highway south or the country road north. 

Despite the workers warning us it’d be hard to get a ride, I chose north because I wanted to see the Arctic. But the workers were right.

20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes – nothing. Dozens of cars, maybe hundreds, passed without stopping. We walked further up the road to a spot with more room for cars to pull over. 10 minutes, 20 minutes – nothing. Finally, after 30 minutes, a car stopped.

The driver looked thrilled and told us to hop in. As it turned out, he wasn’t even Finnish – he was a Turkish Kurd. This was in one of the most remote parts of a country that is 95%+ white.

He introduced himself as Yuksel and told us that he came to Finland decades ago “to find a better life.” He had settled in southern Finland before opening a kebab shop in a town with a military base in the Arctic. “These soldiers are running for a week and there was no good food,” he explained. Because there’s nothing else in northern Finland, he could sell a kebab for double.

I asked if he believed Finns were the happiest people. “I wouldn’t say so. It’s just that there is so much land and only five million people.” After 20 minutes, our paths diverged and he dropped us off at a remote intersection. We were now further into the middle of nowhere.

Here, though, it didn’t take long to get a ride. A cargo van with a trailer carrying either animal feed or fertilizer quickly pulled over. The driver – an older Finnish man – put our bags in the back and we piled into the front. He didn’t speak a single word of English. We drove on a back road for around an hour, passing fewer than 10 cars. The landscape was stunning: An endless sea of pine trees and birch trees with lakes every few miles.

After 60 kilometers, he dropped us off on the outskirts of another small town, where we ate lunch at a buffet restaurant. For a reason no one could explain, Finns love buffets. Almost every sit-down restaurant I ate breakfast or lunch in was a buffet. Here, the food included some breaded fish, mushroom stew, bread, and pineapple cake. 

From there, we walked to an intersection where two roads merged and all traffic headed in the same direction – an ideal hitchhiking spot. But after 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes – no one stopped.

Finally, over an hour later, a beat-up sedan with two goth-looking 20-somethings pulled over

The driver, a woman, told us to throw our stuff in the back; the passenger, a guy, didn’t even look at us. The car sounded like it was about to die and the airbag had been removed from the steering wheel. They ignored us for about five miles before dropping us at another remote intersection.

Now we were at a fork in the road: One went south, the other east. It was already 3 PM and, for fear of getting stranded, we decided to just go with whoever was going furthest, regardless of direction. While we waited in the rural silence, a puttering motorbike approached along the sidewalk. From behind a visor that made it impossible to see his face, he started making small talk. He kept lingering long after the conversation had ended.

“Nice bike man,” I eventually said (it wasn’t a nice bike).

“Thanks. I built it myself. It’s not street legal so I take it on the sidewalk.”

Silence.

“I actually got in a motorcycle accident last year. An SUV rear-ended me.”

“Sorry to hear that man.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I didn’t have the money to fix the bike so I built this one.”

As he lingered, several cars passed. I was getting anxious about missing potential rides.

“Are people in Finland happy?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s the hospitality. In these small towns, everyone knows everyone.”

Eventually, he sped off. Some 30 minutes later, a Mercedes pulled over on the road headed East. The driver was a middle-aged woman who spoke perfect English. She was headed to a city 100 miles away and could take us.

She introduced herself as Sanna and promptly told me that no, Finland is not the happiest country on Earth.

“Propaganda,” she said. “A big lie.”

I tell her story below.

If you have thoughts, let us know at [email protected]!

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Breakfast for dinner is:
Delicious: 93%
Gross: 7%

Yesterday's Question:

Is it possible to have a trusted social media platform in a polarized country?

Zach from Greenville, South Carolina: "My family sent a Christmas card when my brother and I were in elementary school. In college a few years ago my brother and I started to send our own Christmas cards. We’ve taken our pictures for the cards at Home Depot, Costco, Krispy Kreme, and most recently a bbq restaurant chain here in South Carolina called Fiery Ron’s Hometeam Bbq."

Linda from Dallas, Texas: “We (I) absolutely send greeting cards each year!  I don’t necessarily send photos unless there has been a life event that warrants sharing a picture, but we love to catch up with our friends this way.  It’s also a nice way to let someone know you are happy they are part (or have been a part) of your life.  And I spent 18 years of my life in the Kansas City, MO, area, home to Hallmark Cards.  Of COURSE I care enough to send the very best.”

🧠 Intermission

That wraps up the first part of today’s newsletter. Speaking of, we’re preparing a number of modifications to the newsletter in the coming weeks. We think they will make the Current experience smoother and more engaging, and we look forward to rolling them out!

For those who want more Finland, the Roca Report continues below.

–Max and Max

🌎 Roca Reports

For our newest Roca Reports series,  our editor Max Frost visited Finland to answer the pivotal question: Is it truly the world’s happiest country? The series continues today.

Roca Reports is part of our premium newsletter with on-the-ground investigations of stories no one else is covering. If you’re not a member, you can start your 14-day free trial here!

Stranded at a fork in the road in the middle of rural, Arctic, Finland, a fancy black Mercedes pulled over. The driver was a middle-aged woman who spoke perfect English. She was headed to a city 100 miles away and offered us a ride. Shocked at our good luck, we hopped in.

Some context: Finland’s prime minister until earlier this year was Sanna Marin. First elected in 2019 at age 34, Marin is a progressive who developed a following among many younger Finns. Older, and especially conservative Finns, often did not like her, especially after videos showed her dancing wildly at a club and she posed for a magazine in a blazer with nothing underneath. She was voted out this spring in an election that saw a far-right party surge in popularity. 

The driver who picked us up now introduced herself as Sanna. 

“Like Sanna Marin?” I said.

“Yes but not as bad as her.”

During high school, Sanna had studied abroad in Arizona and said her sister now lives just outside Phoenix. When I told her I had come to learn about Finland’s happiness, she was blunt: “Propaganda. It’s a big lie.”

“5.5M people live here,” she said. “500,000 are taking mental health pills; 500,000 are working alcoholics – just the ones who work. That’s 10-20% of the country right there. And this is the happiest country?”

“The other day, I saw a line of people waiting for food. I couldn’t believe how long it was.”

While I didn’t know if I could believe this, I did later see a multi-block line of poor Finns queueing for food. 

Sanna continued: “I heard [Prime Minister] Sanna was paid 70 million euros.”

“For what?”

“To sell out the country. She was a cashier, then prime minister. How does that happen? Someone put her there”

“Who?”

“The globalists.”

Sanna believed a global elite was demolishing Finland’s sovereignty and giving it to the EU and NATO. “Our constitution doesn’t matter anymore. The EU has overtaken it,” she said.

Sanna predicted that Finland could split in two – a north and a south – and said the country is divided between people “who still trust the media” and those who know they can’t.

Sanna was an entrepreneur who had owned numerous businesses. She said she had sold them all, though, because everything in Finland was a mess. 

“The price of food is high, the price of gas is high, the price of electricity. Interest rates are high. Everything is too expensive. I heard 75% of people in Finland are taking money from the government. That’s not good – that means 75% of people can’t afford to live on their own.”

“We have free healthcare, but there are no doctors. Last spring, there were four days they couldn’t even find a doctor for our hospital,” she said. “Taxes are high and then the government sends our money abroad.”

“Imagine if you had children. You would feed them before giving your money away. Our government is the opposite.”

We passed dozens of reindeer, and she even hated those: “They eat people’s crops.”

Sanna opposed Finland joining NATO and claimed most Finns agreed with her. When I asked about polls that show an overwhelming majority of Finns supported joining NATO, she said the polls lie. EU sanctions have made it impossible for her area to do business in Russia, she said. Gesturing at the road in front of us she claimed it once would have been full of Finnish businesspeople traveling to Russia. 

Sanna was sympathetic to Putin and told me she had visited Russia soon after it had invaded Ukraine. The Finnish border police were cold and rude, she said, while claiming the Russians couldn’t have been nicer. 

Despite all of Sanna’s critiques of Finland, she conceded one thing: “We live in paradise.” There was nowhere like the wild forest of northern Finland, she said. 

Sanna eventually dropped us off in a town called Kuusamo, which was desolate, dark, and rainy. The only sit-down restaurant we found was in a building of medical clinics. We ate our fried fish and went to sleep in the happiest place on Earth.

🧠 Final Thoughts

Keep your feedback on the Finland series coming! We’ve both been sick this week which has limited our responses. We’re hoping to dig through the inbox today and answer the questions/thoughts many of you have sent it.

Have a great Wednesday and see you tomorrow.

—Max and Max