🌊 You May Now Insert (Brain) Chip

PLUS: Dry, high January

Social media is not reality.

Legacy media has had a terrible year, which means that social media will play an even bigger role in our information ecosystem. Now, we’re no fans of legacy media — we kinda sorta quit our jobs a few years ago to build an alternative to their partisan, fear-mongering hackery — but social media has its issues, too. Social media creates an illusion of the world, giving a spotlight to only the most extreme stories, people, and “hot takes.” The result is our own delusion. A perfect and recent example is the discourse on airline safety. Several viral videos of airplane mishaps led people to think “Wow, flying is less safe than it used to be!” when in reality 2023 was the safest year for flying on record. Okay, that’s it…thank you for coming to our TED Talk.

In today's edition:

🗞️ Key Stories: Dawn of the brain chip

🚒 Happy Hour: New Hampshire woman rescued from garbage truck

🌎 Roca Reports: A Changing World, continued

🔑 Key Story

First Neuralink Implant

The first human patient received a brain implant from Elon Musk’s Neuralink on Sunday

  • Neuralink is a Musk-founded startup that creates brain implants known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that are inserted directly into the brain. Neuralink claims those will one day be able to cure paralysis, blindness, and other neurological conditions

  • Neuralink received approval to begin human trials in May, and on Monday, Musk said the first human patient had received one. Musk said the chip – designed to give paralyzed patients the ability to control devices “with their thoughts” – is performing well

🔑 Key Story

Retaliation Against Iran

President Biden said he has decided how the US will retaliate to the deadly attack against US forces in Jordan, but didn’t elaborate

  • On Sunday, a drone launched by an Iran-backed militia struck a US base in Jordan, killing three Army reservists and wounding 40+ other US troops

  • On Tuesday, Biden said he has decided how to respond, but didn’t disclose details and added, “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East”

  • Possible responses include extensive strikes on Iran-backed militias, on Iranian advisers to those militias, or, most drastically, an attack on Iran itself

🔑 Key Story

Non-Addictive Painkiller

Pharma company Vertex said a new painkiller reduced acute pain without causing addiction

  • Researchers have attempted for decades to produce a class of non-addictive painkillers. One of the most promising is the NaV class, which targets pain signals at their source, not in the brain

  • On Tuesday, Vertex said that late-stage trials of one such drug found that patients suffering from moderate-to-severe pain experienced pain reduction after using the drug versus a placebo. However, the drug was not as effective as Vicodin, a common opioid

  • Vertex said it will seek regulatory approval for the drug later this year

🔑 Key Story

Dry, High January

US cannabis sales boomed as those for alcohol plummeted 52% in the first week of the year, the largest drop on record, Bloomberg reported

  • Driven by the popularity of “Dry January,” three of the US’ largest liquor chains witnessed their lowest sales since before the pandemic this month

  • Meanwhile, cannabis companies have capitalized on that trend by advertising their products as a healthier alternative to alcohol

  • Two of the US’ largest cannabis companies have since experienced a 6%+ increase in revenue

  • Do you believe cannabis is healthier than booze? Let us know in the question of the day!

⚓ Dive Deeper

⚓ Dive Deeper

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Today's Poll:

Better winter month:

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Yesterday’s Poll: Have you seen all four Toy Story movies?

Yes: 43%
No: 57%

🍿 Happy Hour

💔 Heroine story hold the “e”: 65-year-old actress Sharon Stone opened up about her online dating experiences, including meeting a convicted felon and “heroin addict who’s clearly 20,000 heroin injections later than the picture he sent me”

💊 Hard time down under: A 51-year-old Australian man avoided jail time after visiting a Hungry Jack’s drive-thru with a visible erection, suffering from the effects of a “super Viagra” pill

Did you know that Taylor Swift and a Chiefs player are dating?! Crazy.

🏈 Swift Effect: The Kansas City Chiefs’ 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship attracted an average audience of 55.47M viewers, setting a new AFC title game record

🎟 Speaking of winning numbers…: Last Friday, 4-4-4-4 was the winning Pick 4 lottery selection in South Carolina. Those who took the name fo the game literally won $2,500 or $5,000 per play. 3,351 did exactly that

🗑 Live free or get squished: A 60-year-old New Hampshire woman survived compaction at least four times inside a garbage truck after she fell into a dumpster at her apartment complex

🍎 Buyers Seeing the Vision? Apple has reportedly sold ~200,000 Vision Pro headsets priced at $3,500 each. The company started taking pre-orders on January 19

🌯 Deep Dive

Roca Wrap

What do “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Godfather,” and “The Devil Wears Prada” all have in common?

They all use props from Suri Bieler’s showroom.

Suri told Roca she loves props. So much so that she has collected over a million of them, giving her the East Coast’s largest prop company. Suri’s journey to a million, though, began in 1979 with $175.

At that time, she was working in New York City as a set decorator for theaters. In that role, Suri sourced props – any portable, onstage item that is not a costume – to ensure that audiences “believed” the setting of each show.

Suri told Roca that audiences understand a character through the layers of objects around them – objects on floors, on walls, on tables, and more. Characters are often defined as much by their surroundings as they are by their words, she said.

Suri’s search for props took her across New York, dashing from antique stores to thrift shops to auctions.

After supporting several shows, though, Suri realized an opportunity in the industry: A prop rental service. So – with $175 in her pocket, a $3,000 bank loan, and inspiration – Suri opened one herself.

Suri found a 10,000-square-foot space on New York’s Upper West Side and negotiated first-choice agreements with show producers. Seeking a name that conveyed “a variety of things,” Suri settled on “Eclectic Props.” Soon, Eclectic was the go-to prop supplier for off-Broadway and Broadway productions. Then, the rise of cable TV in the 1990s opened new horizons.

In the 1990s, cable TV ushered in a new era of original movies and TV shows – all of which needed props.

Suri, recognizing the potential in the new market, acquired Encore Studios, a respected century-old prop company, and expanded her collection to cater to theater and film. One million props later – and a move to three-story, 95,000-square-foot warehouse in Queens, New York – Eclectic/Encore has become the largest prop company on the East Coast.

Suri has organized her props by theme – which can be as specific as “Rugs” or “Medieval” to “Sports, weapons, and taxidermy.” Items like display radios, TVs, flags, medical supplies, and dishware have their own sections, each with representative props from different time periods. The mobile phone collection, for example, features BlackBerrys, Razr flip phones, and original Samsung models.

The showroom’s strength, Suri explained, lies in its ability to offer an array of items from different periods and locales. Whether a set designer needs props for a 1950s American diner, Moroccan street, or Victorian garden, they find not only the necessary items but also a range of choices within each category. The religion collection, Suri said, is the most popular, largely because no other prop rental service can match its breadth or depth.

Suri’s collection has graced numerous TV shows and movies, from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" – she showed us the entire Chinese restaurant from a scene that she created – to "The Wolf of Wall Street" – she showed us a single, small dreidel from Jordan Belfort's parent’s house. Her props are in "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Godfather," "Zoolander,” and more.

Rappers like The Notorious B.I.G. have rented props for their music videos. Staff from “Saturday Night Live” visit her showroom the Thursday or Friday before live shows to pick through her collection.

The Notorious B.I.G. chilling on a red throne rented from Eclectic/Encore in his “One More Chance” music video

Suri employs a small team to help her run the showroom, and while she still spends time sourcing her collection, most props come to her, she said. People seeking a future for their cherished items often contact Suri, like the woman who emailed her that morning with an antique stove, knowing Suri will preserve its history and value.

After nearly 50 years in the business, Suri told Roca that recently she has been thinking about an exit strategy.

“[Eclectic/Encore] deserves a longer future,” she told us. “It is an incredible business with a huge variety of props – but a person could create a whole new industry.”

She said that whoever inherits the business must have one key attribute: They “must really enjoy objects and see the history that is involved in every single item that is here.”

Just like Suri, they need to be someone who likes objects more than anything else in the world.

Thoughts on this Wrap? Let us know what you think by replying to this email! Check out our app version for pictures from our visit, too.

PS — Suri is part of Roca’s series on unique jobs in the community and we want to feature more people like her! We’d love to hear your suggestions. Let us know if you or someone you know has a unique job and we’ll reach out!

🌎 On-the-Ground

Many of you requested we run Wraps from our Ethiopia trip last year. So before we begin our next on-the-ground series in Eastern Europe, we are running back one of the most popular installments from Ethiopia. We hope you enjoy!

Roca Reports

Scorching hot, dusty, and barren, on Ethiopia’s southern border is a place where life seems impossible. Yet this is where the Daasanach live.

The Daasanach tribe has created a unique lifestyle to survive such inhospitable conditions. Their core principle is equality: Everyone’s homes (huts) are identical and people share everything they have – water, food, money.

According to our guide, individual farmers aren’t allowed to decide when to harvest their crops: All farmers must collectively decide. At least in theory, the Daasanach do everything as a community. Violating that code can result in death. The Daasanach are nomads whose lives revolve around cattle.

Whenever their area runs out of adequate water and grass for the cattle, they disassemble their homes, roll them up, and place them onto pack animals which carry them elsewhere. Once they find proper conditions, they unpack, build their homes, and start again. The nature of that puts them at odds with other tribes.

The Daasanach are in an on-again, off-again conflict with other tribes over cattle theft and competition over grazing land. Stealing cattle from a tribe can prompt them to retaliate, and such violence can spiral into tribal wars.

In a hut, we interviewed a woman whose dried-out skin made her look to be about 80 years old. She told us that life has gotten harder for the Daasanach.

“In my memory, the past was good. At this time, here, it’s not so good. Before we lived as the same. But now, we have very big problems,” she said. “It’s dry, and we don’t have enough for our cattles, for our own lives. Before, we have everything. But now, we have half. Life has gotten hard.”

We asked a woman who looked to be about 20 what she was looking forward to most in life. “To have more cattle,” she said.

The way to have more cattle is to marry – men buy their wives with cattle – and to take your cattle to good grazing territory, so they grow and reproduce.

Our guide told us that the tribe’s most important ceremony is circumcision, which is performed on both men and women once they are deemed to have come of age. This practice of female circumcision – also known as female genital mutilation, or FGM – is a major target of human rights and aid groups. FGM takes place around the continent but is most common in East Africa. 65% of Ethiopian women are reported to have undergone it.

Per the WHO, FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women and cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

The practice is performed in four different ways, with escalating levels of risk and damage. Our guide told us the Daasanach used to practice one of the most egregious forms, but the government sent doctors who taught them to do it in a more precise way. He wasn’t happy about that: “It’s our culture,” he kept repeating when we pressed him on it. “You know, the culture is very important.”

Our guide repeated that the process makes women stronger and prepares them for childbirth, and that because all women go through it, they have no fear of it.

We asked a woman in the village how she felt before she underwent FGM. With our guide translating, she said she had no fear because it’s what she had to do.

Given the circumstance – with us being strangers and a man from her village translating – it’s doubtful she could have given a truthful answer. Women and girls suffer elsewhere in Daasanach society, too.

When they have their periods, they aren’t allowed out of their huts. “It’s about respect,” our guide said, explaining that they would taint the soil in the village if allowed to walk around.

In a conversation soon after, the guide insisted that women in the village never get pregnant out of wedlock, because they know their cycles so well. He also said that a woman who cheats on her husband may be killed.

For the Daasanach, climate change and the resulting increase in droughts may pose an existential threat to their way of life. Some would say that’s not a bad thing.

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

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🗣 Community

Question of the Day: Do you believe cannabis is healthier than booze?

Yesterday’s Question: What is your go-to board game?

Nicole: “Ticket to Ride: New York edition.  It only takes twenty to thirty minutes, it isn't hard to learn, and you still have to employ some kind of strategy.  It's good for when you want a board game to play but you don't want to commit to a whole evening and spending three hours reading a rule book, as is often the case.  Plus who doesn't love trains?  (Any of the smaller editions of Ticket to Ride fit this description- I just own the New York one.)”

Becky from Kansas: “Cards Against Humanity and Scattegories!”

Stewart from Nebraska: “The original Monopoly. Always.”

🧠 Final Thoughts

Oh, just a normal news day…brain chips implanted in humans, laying a path to cyborgs and altered consciousness. Nothing major. Any good taco deals for lunch today?

Happy last day of Dry January! For those of you who took the break of course…

—Max and Max