🌊 The Great Firewall of China

PLUS: Tesla Payday Hits Brake

Uranus was once named George.

This might be hard to believe, but it’s true. In 1781, an English astronomer discovered Uranus, which he initially believed to be a star. To suck up to his boss, he named it Georgium Sidus, or “Star of George.” About nine months later, astronomers decided that the name lacked the sophistication and universality of the other planets’ names, so they came up with a name that they thought nobody would ever use unseriously: Uranus.

In today's edition:

🗞️ Key Stories: No more Taylor Swift on TikTok?

🏃🏻‍♂️ Happy Hour: Man running marathon with refrigerator

🌎 Roca Reports: A Changing World, continued

🔑 Key Story

Russia’s Economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasted that Russia’s economic growth in 2024 will exceed the US’ and EU’s

  • On Tuesday, the Russian Central Bank (CBR) reported that Russian banks made a record $37B in profits in 2023 due in large part to generous mortgages the government is offering to young families

  • Then on Wednesday, the IMF released a report forecasting that Russia’s economy will likely grow 2.6% in 2024, versus the US’ 2.1%, Germany’s .5%, and the UK’s .6%. Analysts widely attribute Russia’s strong economic growth to high government and military spending

🔑 Key Story

Musk’s Pay Slashed

A judge struck down Elon Musk’s record $55B pay package from Tesla, calling it excessively large

  • In 2018, Musk negotiated a $55B payment package – the largest of any executive – which was tied to Tesla’s performance. Tesla is now the world’s largest automaker, and Musk qualified for all $55B

  • On Tuesday, though, a judge struck down that package, calling the process that led to it “deeply flawed.” That jeopardizes Musk’s status as the world’s richest man and his future control of Tesla

  • “Never incorporate your company in the state of Delaware,” Musk wrote on X after the ruling. On Thursday, he said Tesla will hold a shareholder vote to transfer Tesla’s incorporation to Texas

What is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea?

Your next view?

Answer: Sicily

Okay, next question: Who wants an effortless, accessible, and culturally immersive trip to the Italian isle? We suspect the answer is you, our Roca readers. That’s why we’ve partnered with Indus Travels to offer Roca readers the Best of Sicily tour

  • Bask in Sicily’s golden sun during Indus’ expertly crafted nine-day expedition 🌞

  • Wander Taormina’s charming streets and unearth ancient legends in the Valley of the Temples

  • Indulge your senses in Palermo’s vibrant markets, where each bite tells a story of Sicilian heritage and culinary mastery🍝

  • From the majestic slopes of Mount Etna to the sparkling shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, experience the blend of captivating landscapes and local hospitality that Sicily has to offer 🌋 

  • Rest assured, your comfort is Indus’ priority! Enjoy top-tier accommodations, daily breakfast to fuel your adventures, exclusive dining experiences, luxurious AC transport, and hassle-free international flights—all included! 🛌 Book now, starting at $999!

🔑 Key Story

UMG vs. TikTok

Universal Music Group (UMG), the world’s largest music label, will stop licensing its music to TikTok 

  • For weeks, UMG – representing Taylor Swift, Drake, and more – and TikTok have been in contract negotiations. Their current contract expired on Wednesday without a replacement in place, meaning that TikTok will no longer be able to access UMG’s music

  • In an open letter, UMG criticized TikTok for the failure to reach a new contract, alleging TikTok offered “a fraction of the rate” other apps pay

  • In turn, TikTok accused UMG of placing “their own greed” above their artists’ financial wellbeing

🔑 Key Story

China Hacking Infrastructure

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Chinese hackers are preparing to “wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens”

  • On Wednesday, officials from the FBI and other government agencies testified before Congress that in December, they had successfully dismantled a Chinese hacking ring targeting US infrastructure

  • Wray issued a warning: “China’s hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens,” he said

  • China has repeatedly denied conducting cyberattacks against the US

⚓ Dive Deeper

⚓ Dive Deeper

Support Us to Unlock this Full Section

Those who contribute to our mission get:

  • Ad-free newsletter

  • Roca on-the-ground reporting

  • Five extra quick hits

  • An extra daily deep-dive

Your subscription enables us to operate independent of outside influence. Want to learn more and believe in media that can speak freely? Try a two-week free trial!

🗣 Community

Toady's Poll:

Is Italy on your travel wish list?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Today’s poll is sponsored by Indus Travels, making that “sì” possible with their Best of Sicily tour, starting at $999!

Yesterday’s Poll: Better winter month:
January: 39%
February: 61%

🍿 Happy Hour

💨 He sees you when you’re vaping: A New Zealand high school has sparked privacy concerns by installing a glass door, CCTV cameras, and a vape detection alarm in its bathroom

🛫 The Last Frontier: A 60-year-old woman faces charges after threatening to kill passengers and exposing herself on a Frontier Airlines flight from Orlando to Philadelphia

Pizza hut customers seeing why the store is closed… read that first line again.

😳 Unforeseen… what? A Pizza Hut in Canada went viral for posting a sign on its door apologizing for closing its dining room for “unforeseen circumcisions” instead of “unforeseen circumstances”

⛳️ Avengers Owners… unite! The PGA Tour has secured an investment of up to $3B from a group that includes Red Sox owner John Henry, Mets owner Steve Cohen, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank

🏃🏻‍♂️ Born with the refrigerator, molded by it: Police stopped a man training for the London Marathon with a refrigerator on his back, suspecting theft. Instead, he’s vying for a world record

🍎 B: “Dune: Part Two” is gaining viral attention before its March 1 release due to a bizarre popcorn bucket featuring a sandworm lid, resembling the giant creatures from the “Dune” series

🌯 Deep Dive

Roca Wrap

The history of coffee began with a goat herder named Kaldi.

As legend has it, around 850 AD, Kaldi – a herder in what is today southwestern Ethiopia – noticed that his goats were strangely energetic. Upon further investigation, he realized they were eating berries from a bush and decided to try one himself. Filled with a sudden boost in energy, Kaldi told local monks about the berry’s unique properties.

Word spread between different monasteries about the berry, which monks began consuming to energize them during prayer. Traders soon brought the berry to what is today Somalia, from which they were then transported to modern-day Yemen. Within years, pilgrims in Mecca – Islam’s holiest site – were consuming drinks made of the berry.

Not all Islamic scholars approved of it, and several branded it haram, or forbidden. Despite that, cultivation of the berry quickly spread across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the creation of a new institution, the “coffeehouse.” Coffeehouses became places for socialization, debate, and, of course, coffee consumption.

The word “coffee” originates from the Yemeni word “qahwah,” which loosely translates to wine. Turks later transliterated that to “kahveh,” which the Dutch translated to “Koffie” and the English to “coffee.”

By the 16th century, coffeehouses were spreading throughout Europe despite initial pushback from priests who labeled it the “bitter invention of Satan.” Asked to intervene, Pope Clement VIII tried the drink, enjoyed it, and permitted its consumption.

Today, coffee is the world’s second most valuable legally-traded commodity, behind oil. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of the bean, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia. Finland is the world’s largest per capita coffee consumer, followed by Iceland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.

Thoughts on this Wrap? Let us know what you think!

🌎 On-the-Ground

Many of you requested that we re-run Wraps from our Ethiopia trip last year. So before we begin our next on-the-ground series in Eastern Europe, we are featuring some of the most popular installments from Ethiopia. Thank you to Roca Reader Joan for requesting that we add dates from each trip. This was from January 2023. We hope you enjoy!

Roca Reports

Across the developing world, people are losing their ways of life. Sometimes, governments are forcing it; other times, it’s because of internet access. And perhaps most of the time, it’s because people’s needs are changing.

The lifestyles this series has documented, and others like them in the developing world, were born out of necessity centuries or millennia ago. People had nowhere else to go, little exposure to foreign ideas, and often no access to markets, leaving them to survive off only what they had.

Gradually, that is changing.

Until recently, the idea of someone from a remote village moving to a big city – or to Europe, Dubai, or the US – was unthinkable. Many people didn’t know those places existed. If they did, they didn’t know how to get there. Now, even in many of the most remote places, people have smartphones and watch travel videos on Facebook and TikTok.

Beyond that, most people now have access to markets. That means that they no longer have to grow enough food to survive. They just need enough money to buy it.

Those trends – greater awareness of the world and a search for money – are driving hundreds of millions of people from their traditional villages to cities across the developing world.

Ethiopia’s urban population is growing by 5% each year, meaning the number of Ethiopians in cities doubles every 14 years. Nowhere is that happening on a grander scale than the capital, Addis Ababa (“Addis”).

Between 1984 and 2023, Addis’ estimated population grew from 1.4M to 4M, with over one million of those people coming since 2007. Those migrants overwhelmingly come to do odd jobs: Collecting trash, selling snacks in traffic, washing cars, 24-hour security.

They live in a seemingly endless spread of metal-roofed shacks that radiate out from the city center. While Addis has many cosmopolitan residents, these people are villagers in a big city. They send whatever money they can to their villages and return as frequently as they can, including to work the fields and harvest crops. But once they’re in the city, a cultural transformation begins: Even more exposure to new ideas, looser family ties, a greater need for money. Tradition comes under increasing pressure.

Simultaneously, the country undergoes a transformation.

Foreign investments mean Ethiopia – and many other African countries – now have toll highways as nice as any in Europe or the US. Roads now reach some of the most remote places. As those roads are paved, new airports open, and train lines launch, trips that used to take days now take hours. With each day, the village becomes more connected to the city – and the city to the world. Those changes are happening at varying paces across the developing world.

As they do so, lifestyles like those we reported on in Ethiopia face pressure like they never have before.

Let us know what you think at [email protected]!

🌊 Subscriber-Only Content

Want More?

Two-week free trial, then 14 cents a day. Support us and you’ll receive:

  • Ad-free newsletter

  • Daily on-the-ground reporting

  • Daily premium deep-dive

  • Five extra quick hits

🗣 Community

Question of the Day: What are your thoughts on Elon Musk?

Yesterday’s Question: Do you believe cannabis is healthier than booze?

David: “Hmm, let's see... if everyone switched booze for cannabis, what do you think would happen to the rates of domestic violence, car accidents, road rage, public assaults, let alone the plethora of medical issues relating to chronic alcohol use? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work this one out”

Anonymous: “Cannabis is “healthier” than alcohol, in that cannabis doesn’t cause liver damage or death, but it does cause lung damage and dulls the mind. Those that use cannabis daily lose each day they partake and can lose years of their lives in the haze cannabis creates: it stunts emotional growth.”

Richard from Oregon: “As someone who regularly smokes, I am certainly biased, but I do believe that weed is generally healthier than alcohol. I also believe it very much depends on the individual who is ingesting them, their environment, their headspace, their past. etc. Personally, weed has done wonders for in terms of providing me relief from pain or anxiety, but it has also taken over my life at points due to my addictive personality. Despite what some stoners say, weed can absolutely be abused when not used in moderation, just like alcohol, although I’d also argue that alcohol is consistently more destructive on an individual and their surrounding world than marijuana. All that’s to say, I lean towards weed, but think there’s plenty of room for discussion and nuance here.”

Bob from Cinncinatti: “Pot stinks, literally”

Zach from Philadelphia: “Cannabis is much healthier than booze. Last year I started using cannabis and went from drinking to excess every weekend to drinking maybe 4 beers every two weeks. Just a few puffs every night has done wonders for my mental health and my ability to relax and even exercise . It’s crazy to think alcohol is completely legal and not at all taboo while they put Marijuana in the same class as heroine and crack. That’s absolutely absurd and I can’t imagine how anyone can justify alcohol being less problematic than cannabis.”

🧠 Final Thoughts

Yesterday, we wrote in the intro about the tough year it’s been for legacy news. Well, hours later, the story broke that The Messenger is out of business after just eight months of operations. In that brief period, they burned $50M and signed multiple multimillion-dollar office leases in New York, DC, and Miami. If you haven’t heard of them, that might explain why they’ve gone out of business.

But there you have it…someone killed The Messenger.

—Max and Max