“Arctic Blast reloads for second round” is not the weather headline we wanted to read this morning. But, instead of dwelling on the cold, let’s go over fun Mexican food facts from a brand-new analysis: 1) 11% of US restaurants serve Mexican food; 2) 85% of US counties have a Mexican restaurant, with LA County having over 5,400 alone; and 3) 40% of all Mexican restaurants in the US are in California and Texas. We much prefer the Midwest Mexican restaurants, however, where every dad asks for the bill with “El Checko, por favor?”
Arab countries are developing an Israel-Gaza peace proposal that includes Arab recognition of Israel and Western recognition of Palestine, the Financial Times (FT) reported
Per officials who spoke with the FT, the deal would include a ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and “irreversible” steps toward a Palestinian state
In addition, the deal would call on Western states to formally recognize Palestine and/or grant it a seat in the UN in exchange for Arab states – including Saudi Arabia – formally recognizing Israel
It is unclear if Israel’s ruling coalition would agree to those terms
🔑 Key Story
DOJ: Uvalde a “Failure”
In a report released on Thursday, the US Justice Department (DoJ) called law enforcement’s response to the 2022 Uvalde shooting a “failure”
On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old gunman entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and fatally shot 19 students and two teachers. Police were on-scene within minutes but did not confront the shooter for another 77 minutes despite hearing gunshots
Per the report, officers failed to treat the incident as an active shooter situation, meaning they did not immediately try to neutralize the gunman. The report also blamed a lack of leadership as part of a series of “cascading” failures that led to a slow response time
The report did not recommend criminal charges against anybody
🔑 Key Story
Husky Hero Prevents Explosion
A four-year-old husky named Kobe detected a gas leak in a Philadelphia neighborhood, potentially preventing an explosion
Just before Christmas, Kobe’s owner, Chanell Bell, noticed Kobe digging holes in her front yard. The owner had a gas leak the week prior, so out of an abundance of caution, she tested the hole with a gas level reader. That alerted her to a major gas leak
Bell alerted her utility company, which fixed the leak. Repairmen reportedly told her the leak was so severe that even turning on a light could have caused an explosion
Bell’s Instagram video sharing that story recently went viral. “I’m so thankful… for my baby boy [Kobe],” Bell said in that video
Nearly every music streaming service – Spotify, Apple Music, etc. – currently uses a royalty model that compensates artists per listen. Critics say that means small artists make practically no money
On Wednesday, the EU Parliament, the EU’s legislative body, proposed an overhaul of streaming services’ royalty models, including “fairer models of streaming revenue allocation.” That proposal is not legally binding but could lead to legislation that is
A trade body representing streamers denied the need for reform
Yesterday’s Poll: Do you know what does VPN stands for?
Very Personal Network: 1% Velociraptor Party Nearby: 5% Virtual Private Network: 93% (Correct, btw!!) Value Provisioned Networking: 1%
🍿 Happy Hour
🏈 The eternal senior:Miami Hurricanes tight end Cam McCormick announced he will return to play for the Hurricanes in 2024, marking his ninth college football season. A combination of Covid, a redshirt season, and injuries have granted him the extra years of eligibility
🚙Dude, where's my car? Using an Apple AirTag, a Canadian mantracked his stolen GMC Yukon to the United Arab Emirates. The tracking device followed the SUV to Montreal and then to the UAE
The natural reaction to the next story…
👄Ranchstick: Lip balm company Burt’s Bees has partnered with Hidden Valley Ranch to create balms inspired by chicken wing-related flavors. Balm flavors will include Hidden Valley Ranch and Buffalo Sauce
🧀Cheese Game: A reality TV show producer is developing a game show based on Chuck E. Cheese, featuring adults competing in enlarged versions of childhood games such as pinball, air hockey, and the human claw
👩🏼⚖️ Like a Lawsuit: Two New York City men are suing Madonna and LiveNation for starting the singer’s December 13 concert two hours past the scheduled start time
🚽Sh*tter Island: A SpiceJet passengergot trapped in the bathroom for nearly his entire Mumbai-to-Bengaluru flight due to a malfunctioning lock. After failing to free him, the crew slipped a note under the door that read, “Sir, we tried our best”
The final town we passed through in the Federation may have been the strangest.
The mountains around it were beautiful, but the center remained partially bombed-out and damaged. As across Bosnia, on a Thursday afternoon, men – apparently out of work – sat around in cafés, drinking and smoking. We walked to the edge of town and set our bags down on an empty hillside opposite a bombed-out building. We tried to hitch a ride two hours north to Banja Luka, capital of the Republika Srpska.
Banja Luka was only 50 miles away but no cars had pulled over after an hour. While we waited, a couple of teenagers – one wearing a t-shirt that said “Smoke Crack” – passed us and walked into the woods. A few minutes later, a man trimming some hedges approached us. He had no teeth and spoke no English. Holding a large pair of hedge clippers, he rambled on in indecipherable Bosnian.
After a few minutes of trying to communicate with him, the kids came out of the woods and spoke some English to us. Translating for the gardener, they said we wouldn’t get a ride to Banja Luka and offered to walk us to the bus station instead.
On the way, they whispered to each other in Bosnian. Then one of them turned to me: “Nice phone.” Minutes later, another teen approached on a bike, apparently a friend of the “Smoke Crack” kid.
“You are going to Banja Luka? I wish I had known, my French friend just left by himself to go there. His name is Peter.” He seemed to be lying.
“I have a friend with a car. He will drive you, come with me.”
As the sketchiest trio of our trip escorted us through the town, we passed a cab driver.
We agreed and set off with him – anything to get away from the apparently crack-smoking scammers.
On the way, the driver, Enes, told me that no one was driving to Banja Luka because “Muslims don’t go there. It’s all Serbs.” He added that when he goes there, “I do not feel good, because of what they did to Muslims.”
As we drove, he asked us if we wanted to stop in his village to see the “bee-uhr.” “We have nice bee-uhr,” he said. We thought he was offering us a beer.
He pulled over on a remote stretch of the road and led us up to a collection of homes on a hillside. He gestured at it: “My village.” Then he led us to a small cage on the hillside.
Inside was a large bear. “This is the village bee-uhr,” he said. Someone had taken it from the nearby forest years ago when it was a baby and the village had raised it in the cage. He was proud. Before leaving, he left a couple coins in a donation box.
After he showed us the village bear, Enes continued driving us to Banja Luka, capital of the Republika Srpska.
The city and region around Banja Luka were once multi-ethnic, divided between Serbs (Orthodox), Bosniaks (Muslims), and Croats (Catholics). During the war, ethnic cleansing forced the Bosniaks and Croats to move out of the area. Today, it’s almost exclusively Serb.
We were nearing the edge of the majority-Muslim federation, ascending through mountains and the villages that dotted them. At one point, we emerged into a beautiful vista of steep rock faces. Enes pointed to one of them: “Serbs killed a lot of Muslims by pushing them off that rock.”
Enes worried that war would return to Bosnia.
“If [Republika Srpska leader] Dodik declared independence, that will be our war. 100%, if he declared independence.” Dodik has repeatedly threatened to do so. “They would just give me a gun and send me to war in the forest,” Enes said.
“I hope not war again,” he added, saying how grateful he was for the current peace.
“Thank God,” I added.
“Thank God and the United States,” he said, referring to the NATO bombing campaign that helped end the war in 1995.
After an hour-long drive, Enes dropped us in a Serb mountain town where the Republika Srpska began. We were still in Bosnia but upon entering the region the alphabet switched to Cyrillic, the flag switched to the Serb one, and memorials stopped commemorating the victims of massacres and started celebrating the Serb leaders who oversaw them.
The town was desolate. Walking through it, the only person we encountered was a drunk homeless man who approached and begged for money. Now late afternoon up in the mountains, it was dark, cold, and foggy.
While wandering, we passed a building with two names graffitied on it: “Radovan” and “Ratko.”
Radovan referred to Radavan Karadžić, president of the Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996. In that position, he oversaw the Bosnian Serb armed forces, which committed numerous atrocities, including the Srebrenica massacre. After the war, a UN court found him guilty of genocide and issued a warrant for his arrest. With the support of the Bosnian Serb authorities, he lived in hiding until 2008, when he was arrested.
Ratko is Ratko Mladić, the officer who led the Army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War. Like Karadžić, he was wanted for war crimes but evaded arrest with the help of Serb authorities. He was eventually arrested in 2011 and found guilty of genocide and other crimes.
But to many Serbs, especially in Republika Srpska, Ratko and Radovan are heroes. One Serb told me it’s simple: “They f*cking won the war. I don't care if some tribunal said that they were criminals. Okay, they were criminals, but they provided us with a country. F*ck whatever somebody thinks in Belgium. I don't care what happens in Belgium. So go f*ck yourself!”
Walking past this nationalist graffiti and through the gritty town, it was so uninviting that we almost decided to take a bus rather than hitchhike out. But within minutes of setting our bags down on the side of the road, a black SUV pulled over and offered us a ride. The driver was blasting jazz but turned it down to talk to us. He was a young English-speaking man named Bogan.
Bogan couldn’t have been more different from the bad vibe of the town. He had repeatedly visited the US and bore no ill will against us for being from there. When I commented on the nationalist graffiti he said, “Where I picked you up is a redneck town. This is just some kids writing this. Big arms, small brains.”
When we said we were learning about the region’s politics, he said, “Politicians are shits.”
He said Milorad Dodik – the region’s pro-Putin president who has repeatedly threatened to pull Republika Srpska out of Bosnia – is the “biggest shit. Everyone hates him. He buys votes with roads, he buys votes from the poor.”
On our hour-long drive to Banja Luka, Bogan cleared out all the bad vibes from the day before. He was the first of dozens of Serbs we’d meet in the coming weeks whose overwhelming hospitality and warmth confounded the stereotype that Serbs were aggressive, cold, or hostile.
Time to complete the "This or That" trifecta. We did music, then movies, and now it's time for TV shows...
We spent much of the last week crying, by the way, over the fact that they've shortened all episodes of The Sopranos to 25 seconds. What's even the point of that? Why don't they just do the entire show with the 🤌 emoji
Yesterday’s Question:Yesterday’s Question was from a Roca Votes Wrap on immigration: Is the surge in immigration a function of US/EU policies, or out of their control? Do you consider the US’ and Europe’s immigration situations to be crises? For better or for worse, do you think immigration is changing your country’s culture?
Ryan from Cincinnati, Ohio: “The surge in immigration is 100% a function of US/EU policies. The US and developed nations of the EU historically have destabilized (whether intentionally or not) the nations that are sending the most migrants. Combine this historical background with the very favorable policies that they have today: socialized medicine, sanctuary cities, free shelters, employment opportunities from organizations that benefit from cheap undocumented workers, etc.”
A Canadian: “Canadian here! I have a number of thoughts on these issues! I have always considered myself "typically Canadian" leaning left of centre, and pro-immigration. I'm a people person. I love the diversification of culture. But my education in economics has sort of pushed my leanings a little more right now. Mostly because I have a greater understanding of how immigration affects our economies! I further relate to immigration issues being of European-descent from a country that is not pro-immigration…. However, what really bothered me is when I explored employment opportunities south of the border - and it FRUSTRATED me! As a well-educated, born and raised Canadian, I was essentially stonewalled from any opportunities by trying to go the legal route. However, I can't understand why the US seems to accept illegal immigration from their other border with open arms. Maybe I will have more luck doing it that way! Of course, I say it tongue-in-cheek, but I see no reason why there are so many roadblocks for someone like me compared to those in the US southern border. I understand there are different motivations, but it is certainly very taxing on the American economy.”
Anonymous: “Desperate people are always going to gravitate toward their nearest BETTER place to live. So, yeah. The US is an immigrants' country. Native Americans are the only ones who actually really belong here. EVERYONE else is an import.”
Last Week’s 20 Questions
Last week we ran a Roca classic: The "rate this" edition, where you will rate each of the choices listed on a scale of 1-10! 1 is the worst, 10 is the best. Below is the rating with highest percentage of replies per prompt.
Queen Latifah: 5
A spoonful of honey: 10
Honey in tea: 10
Live, love, laugh posters: 1
Mirrorless apartments: 1
Virtual Reality Headsets: 1
Bubble Tea: 1
Rocky beaches: 1
Speaking of rocks, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson: 10
Still speaking of rocks, rock collections: 5
Ben & Jerry's wacky ice cream flavors:1
Vanilla ice cream:10
3 day weekends: 10
6 day weekends: 10
Cards Against Humanity:
Black licorice: 8
🧠 Editor’s Note
Max F remains in Africa, struggling to relate to the cold weather talk, and Max T is in Jacksonville, FL, for the retirement party of his Uncle Zim. Uncle Zim donated Roca’s first set of office furniture. Our first office was a living room, and that living room was filled with top-notch furniture from OES in Jacksonville. Congrats to Uncle Zim on an amazing career!