🌊 Murdaugh, She Wrote?

Murdaugh murder trial begins, "Your honor, $420 was no joke", and visiting the desert nomads

Did you know that every time you lick a stamp, you consume 1/10th of a calorie? That's valuable information if you're ever late writing a thank-you note. Just tell the other party that you're on a diet and 1/10th of a calorie goes a long way. It'll help, as long as they don't know that each lick burns 1/10th of a calorie...

In today's edition:

  • Murdaugh murder trial begins

  • "Your honor, $420 was no joke"

  • Visiting the desert nomads

🔑 Key Stories

Microsoft Investing $10B in OpenAI?

Microsoft announced a “multiyear, multibillion dollar investment” into OpenAI, ChatGPT’s creator

  • Elon Musk co-founded OpenAI in 2015 and it’s since received billions in funding. In 2021, AI researchers ranked it a top 3 AI firm worldwide, per CNBC

  • In November 2022, OpenAI released ChatGPT, an AI chatbot that went viral due to its ability to provide complex, unique responses to a range of prompts. OpenAI has also developed game-playing bots that can beat esports champs

  • Microsoft’s investment is its 3rd into OpenAI since 2019. Sources say it’s investing up to $10B

Dig Deeper

  • Despite making little revenue, OpenAI has been valued at as much as $29B, per the WSJ, which makes it one of the worlds' most valuable startups

Alex Murdaugh Trial Begins

  • Murdaugh is from a powerful US legal family: His relatives served as elected prosecutors for 87 straight years in South Carolina, where his family operated a successful law firm

  • In 2021, Murdaugh faced multiple lawsuits related to his handling of clients’ and company funds. That June, his wife and youngest son were shot to death

  • In July 2022, prosecutors charged Murdaugh with the murders, which they claim he committed to garner sympathy in order to win his other lawsuits. Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty 

Dig Deeper

  • In September 2021, Murdaugh made national headlines for convincing a friend to shoot him in the head as part of a life insurance fraud scheme. He survived, and later admitted to staging the incident to award his son a $10M life insurance payment

Brazil, Argentina Currency?

Brazil and Argentina are in talks to create a common currency

  • Brazil and Argentina are South America’s largest economies. For decades, they have considered creating a common currency that would exist in addition to their current ones to facilitate trade

  • Brazil’s president, who took power in January, is now in talks with Argentina’s to advance the plan. The leaders say doing so will boost trade and reduce their countries’ dependence on the US dollar

  • The proposal faces opposition, especially since Argentina is in a prolonged economic crisis

Dig Deeper

  • The long-term plan is to allow other South American countries to join, thereby creating the world's 2nd-largest currency zone, after the Eurozone. That idea has circulated for decades, but many economists say it is still far from becoming a reality

Former Top FBI Official Charged

Prosecutors charged a former top FBI official with violating Russian sanctions and accepting bribes

  • The official, Charles McGonigal, formerly ran an FBI counterintelligence division in New York, where he investigated Russian oligarchs’ influence in the US

  • On Monday, prosecutors charged McGonigal with conspiring to aid Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire. Deripaska allegedly planned to pay McGonigal to help him get off the US’ sanctions list

  • Prosecutors also charged McGonigal with accepting $225k while still in the FBI from a person who was a source in a US investigation into foreign lobbying

Dig Deeper

  • McGonigal is one of the highest-ranking FBI agents ever charged with a crime. Prosecutors also charged a court interpreter, Sergey Shestakov, with aiding Deripaska

Japan’s PM: Have Kids or Perish

Japan’s prime minister (PM) warned that his country is “on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society"

  • Japan is facing a demographic crisis: The BBC projects that by the end of the century, Japan’s population will have fallen 58%, from 125M to 53M

  • That will create a situation in which too few young people will be expected to support too many old people, Japan’s PM warned. Japan already has the world’s 2nd-highest share of people over age 65

  • Japan’s PM said it’s “now or never” to address this, and pledged to double childbirth initiative spending

Dig Deeper

  • Japan's government already offers cash incentives and benefits to its citizens to promote childbirth, but to little avail: Last year, births hit a record-low 8 years earlier than expected

We’ve Got a Gut Feeling

Together with OLIPOP

Have you heard of OLIPOP, one of the fastest-growing beverage companies in the United States?

  • OLIPOP tastes like the soda we all grew up drinking – except it’s healthy

  • A can of name brand cola contains around 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. That is 3 to 14 more grams of sugar – depending on gender – than the maximum daily amount recommended by the American Heart Association

  • OLIPOP’s Vintage Cola has just 35 calories and 2 grams of sugar. Plus it contains 9 grams of dietary fiber and tastes better (in Roca’s opinion). Just imagine how OLIPOP stacks up against Mountain Dew…

  • Patrick Mahomes (*cough go Bills tho*), Gwenyth Paltrow, Mindy Kaling, and a former CEO of Pepsi are all consumers of and investors in OLIPOP

Dig Deeper

  • Can’t decide which OLIPOP to try first? Check out their Best Sellers pack and get 20% off with code ‘RocaNews’

🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • "It was $420, no cap": Elon Musk testified in court that the $420 share price he mentioned in a 2018 tweet was not a weed joke but serious business

  • A true halfback dive: Former NFL running back and Madden cover star Peyton Hillis has fully recovered from the injuries he sustained while saving his drowning children

  • Melts in your media: M&Ms announced that it's replacing its multi-colored "spokescandies" with a spokesperson in the wake of accusations that the brand has gone "woke"

Wildcard

  • Coming soon to a TV near you: The Association of Pickleball Professionals struck broadcast deals with CBS Sports and ESPN. Get ready for some pickle!

  • Putting the AM in ATM: Chase will close a number of its ATMs in New York City at 5 PM in response to "rising crime" and to keep out homeless people

  • Good Will Dunking: Ben Affleck's and Matt Damon's next collab will be Air, a movie about Michael Jordan signing with Nike. The movie will hit theaters in April

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll

What's your flavor preference?

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Today's Question:

What’s something you had an affinity for as a child that you still have now?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

Roca co-founder Max Frost and writer Alex Norris spent 2.5 weeks in Ethiopia earlier this month. Frost will be writing about it here in the coming newsletters; Norris arrived after the installment below.

I left New York City on Monday, January 2 at 9 PM. 2 days later, at 9 AM on Wednesday, I landed in Semera, Ethiopia.

In 2 days, Roca writer Alex Norris would be meeting me in Ethiopia’s capital. Before he arrived, though, I wanted to visit Afar.

A local guide, Yusuf, picked me up from the airport in Semera, Afar’s capital. He told me that everyone I was seeing belonged to the Afar ethnic group, which, he claimed, was “100% Muslim.”

“There used to be Somalis here,” he added, “but we chased them out.”

Donkeys and goats walked the dirt streets; anti-famine aid trucks were stuck in traffic; children with deformities tapped the car windows asking for money. All I could see of many women were their eyes, the rest of their bodies covered by conservative Islamic dress.

Where was I?

***

Afar is one of the poorest states in Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

It may be the world’s most inhospitable place: Nearly entirely desert, the state contains both the hottest and lowest places on Earth. Lava is actively flowing through cracks in its surface; vents spew toxic chemicals that render sections of the region uninhabitable.

Yet Afar is where humanity may have first emerged: The skeleton of Lucy – maybe the world's oldest-discovered human ancestor – was found here in 1974. 2M+ people live in Afar today, most nomadic shepherds whose lifestyles have changed little with time.

Until recently, the Afar were known for castrating their enemies and waging war against neighboring tribes. They have a unique way of communicating: When Afar nomads – mostly illiterate – see each other, they are expected to relay everything they have seen and heard on their travels. Someone’s status in society largely depends on how reliable their news is.

I wanted to experience such a place for myself.

***

After picking me up from the airport, Yusuf took me for breakfast at an open-air cement restaurant in Semera, the capital of Afar. Sitting outside on plastic stools, we ate with our hands, using greasy flatbread to scoop mashed red beans into our mouths. There was so much sugar in the tea it had the texture of syrup; so many flies swarmed us that we stopped trying to swat them away.

We dropped into the regional tourism office, where a woman – covered entirely besides her eyes – stared at me through a slit in her veil. A young man excitedly shook my hand and asked where I was from.

“America, wowww. Welcome, welcome.”

Tourists were never common here and had disappeared entirely since 2020, first because of the pandemic, then the civil war, during which Afar saw intense fighting. While that stopped months ago, the US government still tells its citizens “Do Not Travel” to Afar.

Having secured the proper registration, we set off toward the desert. The town’s cement buildings thinned out and eventually disappeared. The last sign of development was a Chinese textile factory.

After miles of seeing nothing but goats, camels, and their herders, we began passing what looked like cloth-covered igloos set back from the road. These were the huts where the Afar lived.

Some huts stood alone; others in small groups. There were also villages that contained dozens of them. We pulled over and visited a hut and a wooden shack situated next to each other just off the main road.

A group of children, young women, and an older woman were standing outside when we approached. I asked how many kids lived here; the oldest woman said 4. I’m not sure what her definition of “kid” was, though – at least 8 of what I would have considered children showed us their living quarters.

The women and children all lived in the shack; the men in the hut, which was built of sticks with a homemade cloth draped over the outside. It was designed to trap the daytime heat – which regularly exceeds 120º – through the night, when the desert temperatures plunge.

The group told us that they had goats and camels, and would move according to the animals’ needs. When they ran out of water in one area, they would move to the next. They may live in a hut for anywhere from 6 months to several years, depending on the water conditions. At the current location, water was an hour’s walk away.

After our visit, we got back on the road to headed deeper into the desert.

Boy with camel

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

🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Which way do you sleep?

On my stomach: 42%On my back: 58%

Yesterday's Question:

When was a time something happened that was too good to be true?

Adam from Arizona: "When I got accepted to law-school on my first attempt. Mind blown!"

Cameron: "I bought an iPad for school from Amazon but I later decided it wasn't the most prudent purchase. When I tried to return it, the support rep said this item could not be returned and they would issue a refund and I could keep or discard it!"

Jane from Bellingham: "My one and only blind date, best date and ultimately husband!"

🧠 Final Thoughts

Happy Tuesday, all.

The list of Oscar nominees came out this morning.

We have a few questions: Do you care? Did you ever care? What would make you care?

We’re curious to hear your thoughts. Please let us know!

Max and Max