🌊 Nobody Out-Mafias the Hut

Pop goes the spy balloon? New wind chill record, and the Ethiopians who hate the US

New podcast debuts have dropped 80% in 2 years. In the podcast-demic of 2020, over 1M new podcasts hit the market. The next year, roughly 700,000 new titles debuted, falling to 219,000 in 2022. There are now an estimated 3M podcasts available in the world. Fears of a hot take-ocalypse can finally subside...

In today's edition:

  • Pop goes the spy balloon?

  • New wind chill record

  • The Ethiopians who hate the US

🔑 Key Stories

Check Out the Brain on David

A 9-year-old Pennsylvania boy became the 2nd-youngest person to have graduated from a US high school

  • The boy — David Balogun — lives in Bucks County, PA, and attended a charter school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital. He has also completed a semester at community college

  • David told local media he wants to be an astrophysicist and “study black holes and supernovas.” His parents are currently looking at colleges for him

  • The youngest person to have ever graduated from a US high school was a 6-year-old who did so in 1990

Dig Deeper

  • Balogun graduated high school with a GPA higher than 4.0. Speaking about his son's next steps, his father said, "Am I going to throw my 9-year-old into Harvard while I'm living in [Pennsylvania]? No"

Mafia-Boss-Turned-Pizza-Chef Caught

French police arrested a wanted Italian mafia member who was working as a pizza chef

  • The man — Edgardo Greco — was part of the ‘Ndrangheta, one of Italy’s most powerful crime groups. In 2006, he was convicted of murdering 2 rival mafia members in 1991

  • Before being convicted, Greco escaped custody. He began living under the alias Paolo Dimitrio and became a prominent pizza chef in eastern France

  • In 2019, police began tracing a network that was supporting Greco in hiding. That eventually led them to arresting him on February 2

Dig Deeper

  • The arrest came a week after Italian police claim they dismantled a 'Ndrangheta mafia ring in southern Italy and seized $270M in assets. A top Italian official said both show that Italy is “fighting all forms of organized crime and locating dangerous fugitives”

Blockbuster Job Growth

The US unemployment rate fell to 3.4% in January, its lowest level since May 1969

  • The unemployment rate measures the percent of working-age Americans who are unemployed and actively seeking a job

  • Per the US Labor Department, the US added ~517k jobs in January, more than double what surveys showed economists were predicting

  • The data suggest the economy is strong, but some fear this may drive inflation, causing the US Federal Reserve (Fed) to raise interest rates more aggressively and increase the odds of a recession

Dig Deeper

  • Following the news, a gauge of global stocks fell ~1%, meaning that investors worldwide generally viewed the news as making continued interest rate rises more likely. Doing so raises the cost of borrowing, takes money out of the economy, and slows economic growth. That cools inflation, but increases the odds of a recession

Spy Balloon Popped

The US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina

  • The balloon entered US airspace over Alaska, flew over Canada, then re-entered the US over Montana. It floated at ~60k ft — well above most planes’ cruising altitudes — and was ~3 buses in width

  • The balloon is believed to have flown over sensitive military sites, including one of the US’ 3 nuclear missile silos. The US says it hid all sensitive info and didn’t shoot it down earlier to prevent civilian injuries

  • China claimed it was a weather balloon; a Pentagon official said, “We know it’s a surveillance balloon”

Dig Deeper

  • “[Chinese] government balloons transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the prior administration and once that we know of at the beginning of this administration but never for this duration of time,” a top defense official said

Upgrade Your Kid’s Vitamins

Together with Hiya

Most children's vitamins are just candy in disguise. So Hiya made a better one. The founders of Hiya are 2 dads who were frustrated that traditional children’s vitamins cause more problems than they solve: They're full of sugar and other junk that contributed to cavities and more

  • They spent 3 years curating top pediatricians, nutritionists, scientists, and parents to formulate a super-powered chewable made with 15 essential vitamins, a blend of 12 fruits and vegetables, and no sugar

  • But if it contains no sugar, how does it taste? Awesome, is the short answer. Each chewable is naturally sweetened with monk fruit extract (a super fruit that gets its powerful sweetness from its unique antioxidants) and a touch of mannitol, an all-natural sweetener found in fruits and vegetables and suggested by dentists in their fight against tooth decay

Dig Deeper

  • Manufactured in the USA, Hiya vitamins are delivered straight to your door on a pediatrician recommended schedule. Being a parent can be hard. Hopefully with our 50% discount, Roca parents can worry about one less thing

🍿 Popcorn


  • "It's the wind that gets ya": The wind chill at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire fell to -108°F on Friday, setting a record low for the US

  • An Armie of lies? Armie Hammer did his first public interview since facing sexual abuse allegations. Although he continues to deny all wrongdoing, he claims his aggressive sexual behavior stems from being abused by his pastor at 13

  • Luka 🤝 Kyrie: Kyrie Irving is heading to the Dallas Mavericks after demanding a trade from the Brooklyn Nets just days before the trade deadline


  • Just Putin this out there: Colorado State issued a public apology to Utah State after a "Russia" chant broke out when a Ukrainian player went to the free throw line

  • "Heyyyy, you Guuaarrd": A man whom the Coast Guard rescued from a river was arrested for leaving a dead fish on the porch of The Goonies house

  • Detergent, detergent, detergent: A 27-year-old pays $1,850 a month to live in the back of a New York City laundromat. He loves the sense of "community" it provides

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll

Did you watch the Grammy's?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Today's Question:

What life event changed the way you saw the world?

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 last month. Frost will be writing about it here in the coming newsletters

A fter leaving Ethiopia’s capital on our 6-day southern Ethiopia roadtrip, it took us an hour to realize our driver, Danny, spoke English. He turned around and asked if he could ask me a question.

His question was actually a tirade, and for the next 10 minutes he demanded in broken English that I explain why the US was arming Ethiopian terrorists.

“In America, politics is dirty game, DIRTY game,” he said, shouting the word “dirty.”

“All they want is war, war, war. War in Somalia, war in Ethiopia, war in Libya. WAR! Why? Because politics in America a dirty game, DIRTY!”

Danny believed the US was arming the TPLF, the rebel group at the center of Ethiopia’s civil war. The TPLF governed Ethiopia from the 1990s until 2018, then fell out of power. They accused the new government of repressing them, and tensions boiled into a war in 2020. A ceasefire ended that war this November.

Danny said the US was giving the TPLF guns and money, as well as arming other rebel groups, destabilizing Ethiopia and causing the deaths of many innocent people.

No public information substantiates those claims, but millions of Ethiopians believe it. After the US put sanctions on the Ethiopian government for human rights violations in the civil war, the government and the media, which the government controls, began accusing the US of waging various plots against Ethiopia. Many supporters of the government whom we met repeated the accusations to us.

We were driving on Ethiopia’s first 4-lane highway, which opened in 2014 and was built and partially funded by China. Danny gestured at the highway.

“All America want is WAR, WAR! All China want is business. They build highways, schools, stadiums. They say, ‘No war, no war.’”

Then he turned his ire on journalists.

“Journalists say South Sudan a dangerous country. I have been to South Sudan. It’s a WONDERFUL COUNTRY. VERY NICE country. VERY NICE. VERY NICE.”

Everything in caps, he shouted.


Car on road

A drone shot of our car on a rural Ethiopian road. Notice the people on the side of the road: They're everywhere, walking to water

After 2 hours of driving we reached Shashamane, the Rasta community we wrote about yesterday. From there, we drove 6 more hours south.

Ethiopia is overwhelmingly rural: Just 23% of the country lives in cities, and only one city – Addis Ababa, the capital – has over one million people. Mexico, which has roughly the same population, has 10 cities with over a million people.

We were driving along a key road to Kenya, Ethiopia’s neighbor to the south, but we saw few cities. We mainly passed isolated collections of mud-walled, thatch-roof huts. In most places, there was no electricity, and more donkey carts on the road than vehicles. We constantly had to slow down for flocks of goats and cows in the road.

Donkey cart on road

A man takes his donkey cart to fetch water

Everywhere we drove, there were people walking along the road. Most were carrying yellow plastic jugs, which indicated they were out looking for water. Whenever we slowed down or pulled over, people would flock to the car asking for our empty water bottles: Our plastic bottles were less likely to break than the containers locals typically use.

Most of rural Ethiopia lacks running water, so people walk miles to wells or rivers. Someone told us he had a “short walk” to water: 2 miles each way, twice a day.

It’s hard to overstate how many people we saw doing this and the implications of it. Because they need to get water, children often don’t go to school, adults may not work, and people who are already malnourished have to expend huge amounts of energy lugging gallons of water for miles. And those walks have been getting longer: Droughts have devastated much of Ethiopia in recent years, causing rivers, wells, and lakes to dry up.

The water people end up getting is often deadly. Water-born illnesses, including cholera and diarrhea, are the leading causes of death for Ethiopian children under 5. Rivers and other freshwater sources expose hundreds of millions in Africa to schistosomiasis, a water-born parasite that stunts growth.

People gathering water

Women and girls fetch water from a dried-up river

And there are no toilets – even in the towns, bathrooms were nothing but a hole in the ground – or showers. The resulting poor hygiene exposes people to more diseases.

Hole in the ground

A toilet at a road-side restaurant

Yet all that said, the Ethiopian countryside was beautiful, and the people we met while driving through were warm and seemed happy. By the end of the day, our arms hurt from waving so much.

Driving into the sunset

Driving into the sunset

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

🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Do you have a lucky number?

Yes: 50.25%No: 49.75%

Yesterday's Question:

Just 20 Qs!

🧠 Final Thoughts

We hope you all had great weekends. We thought it was cold here in NYC, then we checked the weather for Roca co-founder Frost's hometown – Glens Falls, NY, 4 hours to the north – and it was -31º with the windchill.

For anyone who felt that vicious cold, we hope you stayed warm. If you were somewhere that was warm....we hope you realize how lucky you are.

Hoping you all start your weeks with a BANG!

–Max and Max