🌊 Toxic Pesculinity

Fish these days are so... toxic, US State Department changes fonts, Live from the border, Pt. 3

The world's oldest known person, a French nun named Sister André, died at 118. Sister André made headlines in 2021 for having Covid but not even knowing it. The highlight of her life, she said, was celebrating the end of WWI, and she first encountered electricity as a schoolgirl. Her secret to living so long? A daily glass of wine, a chunk of chocolate, and ZERO Big News.

In today's edition:

  • Fish these days are so... toxic

  • US State Department changes fonts

  • Live from the border, Pt. 3

 🔑 Key Stories

The Fish Aren't Alright

Freshwater fish are more contaminated with toxic chemicals than saltwater fish, per new data

  • A peer-reviewed study by nonprofit research organization Environmental Working Group found wild-caught, freshwater fish in the US have more PFAS chemicals than those commercially caught in oceans

  • PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used to make products resist water, stains, and heat. They can cause cancer, and they’re known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down

  • The study used data from 500+ samples of fish filets of 44 species collected in the US from 2013 to 2015

Dig Deeper

  • Fish from the Great Lakes had the most chemicals, per the study. The situation is “frustrating because there’s no clear solution” beyond eliminating any further sources of PFAS pollution, said one of the study's authors

China's State-Owned Ride App

On Wednesday, China announced it’s launching a state-owned ride-hailing app

  • The app, called Strong Nation Transport, will rival the ride-hailing app DiDi, which is China's Uber. DiDi launched in Beijing in 2012, but China ordered it to be taken down in 2021 for “data-security” breaches. Some say China was angry DiDi’s execs went against the government’s wishes by listing the company on the US stock market

  • On Tuesday, DiDi returned to some app stores, and the next day, China announced the new app

  • The app will also offer “freight, road, railway, water and air-shipping services,” per China state media

Dig Deeper

  • Analysts say the move comes as China appears to be upping influence over the private sector. Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported the Chinese government is considering taking "golden shares" — a type of share that can outvote all other shares in certain specified circumstances — in Tencent and Alibaba, two of China's most valuable companies

HIV Vaccine Fails

The only vaccine against HIV still being tested in late-stage clinical trials has proven ineffective

  • HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system and interferes with its ability to fight infections. If not treated, it can lead to AIDS

  • HIV has no cure but can be controlled by some medicine, although treatment is expensive and life-long. Scientists hope vaccines are more efficient, and have spent decades trying to develop one

  • Johnson & Johnson had the farthest-along vaccine trial but on Wednesday said they discontinued it. Other vaccines are in early-stage trials

China Clears Marvel Films

China has cleared 2 of Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel superhero movies for screening in the country

  • Marvel has been Disney’s most profitable film studio over the past decade, but Marvel films haven’t been allowed in the Chinese market since 2019, cutting out hundreds of millions of dollars in likely sales

  • On Tuesday, Marvel announced “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” will hit Chinese theaters next month

  • China’s government often censors foreign films it views as threatening or insulting, but it’s recently cleared several US films, a sign that censorship is easing up

Dig Deeper

  • The Chinese government never explained why it had blocked the release of recent Marvel films. Disney's four 2021 Marvel hits were reportedly blocked for character portrayals or concerns about comments made by filmmakers, directors or actors in the films, per Axios. China blocked "Thor: Love and Thunder" last summer due to LGBTQ+ themes throughout, per the Hollywood Reporter

How Much Can You Learn in a Few Minutes?

Sponsored by Brilliant.org

We partnered with Brilliant.org, an interactive learning platform focused on science, math, and computers. The Roca staff took a few minutes over several days to try the app. Here is how it went:

  • Brilliant is great because the lessons are bite-sized and easy to use – no long videos or blocks of text – just short games, riddles, and problems with interactive graphics (like a video game, but for learning)

  • Despite physics being a poor subject for the Roca team, Brilliant’s game-like lessons taught us the physics of axe throwing, refrigerators, and New York City water towers. We then took a casino probabilities course to learn the rules and odds for games like Texas Hold‘Em and Craps (Roca road trip to Vegas??)

  • Finally, we learned the unique way Ancient Egyptians did multiplication, which helped them plan the pyramids (PSA: much easier than how multiplication is taught in some schools and oddly similar to how computers multiply)

  • Brilliant has thousands of lessons for all stages of learners — from foundational and advanced math to data science, algorithms, neural networks and more — with new lessons added every month!

Dig Deeper

  • We know our Roca readers are curious, which is why we think you’ll love Brilliant. Whether it is self-betterment, acing a stats exam, helping out with your kids homework, or learning how to play poker, Brilliant has it all. Roca readers get 20% off an annual subscription

🍿 Popcorn


  • Revenue (Taylor's version): Taylor Swift's album "Midnights" generated an estimated $230M for Universal Music Group last year. It came out in late October

  • The way of blockbusters: Avatar: The Way of Water passed up Spider-Man: No Way Home to become the 6th highest-grossing film of all time with $1.92B

  • Usain Broke? Usain Bolt's lawyers say that $12.7M is missing from his Jamaican bank account, leaving the decorated Olympian with just $12,000


  • Here for the font drama: The State Department announced a change in its official font from Times New Roman to Calibri due to increased readability of the latter

  • Let there be weed: The California town of Barstow has approved the construction of a cannabis super-center in the place of an abandoned outlet mall

  • Polar enemy #1: A polar bear killed a woman and a boy in a remote Alaskan village, authorities confirmed. The polar bear was seen chasing town residents

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll

I like my bananas...🍌

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Today's Question:

What do you look for in a friend?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

Last year, a record 2.76M unauthorized immigrants crossed the US-Mexico border. Roca's co-founder Max Towey and Executive Director Jen Flanagan visited El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico — one of the busiest border crossings — to learn about the migration situation firsthand. Jen will cover what we learned in the coming newsletters.

Athin strip of the Rio Grande River and 300 feet of ground separate Juarez, Mexico from El Paso, Texas.

For some, the divide is crossed daily by bridge for work or shopping; for others, it’s the impenetrable end of the American Dream.

El Paso and Juarez weren’t always separate.

Both were part of a 17th century settlement founded by Spanish Friars, and only separated in 1848, when the Rio Grande officially became the border between Texas and Mexico. Until 1888, they even shared the same name.

Since then, residents on both sides have hopped between towns, following opportunities.

In the 1930s, that meant alcohol.

During Prohibition, Americans would drink in Juarez, and several bars and clubs previously located in El Paso even moved over to Juarez. All that revenue helped Juarez bar owners transform modest bars into opulent nightclubs, and the city into a party hub.

In the mid to late 1900s, Mexico’s liberal divorce laws drew Americans.

Marilyn Monroe famously filed for divorce from her third husband there in 1961. By 1970, Juarez courts were granting about 45,000 divorces per year to US citizens.

Then in the 1990s, it was jobs.

In 1994, NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement, went into effect, attracting hundreds of factories to Juarez from US corporations like General Motors and General Electric. The factory jobs drew thousands of workers from both Mexico and El Paso.

That politicized the relationship, one resident told us, and made some El Paso residents angry that Mexico “took away our jobs.” Today, however, most residents said there’s less anger, and ~70,000 people cross the border between the cities each day for jobs on either side.

In the early-2000s, it was safety.

From 2008-12, rival cartels’ vying for control of the area resulted in the murders of over 10,000 people. In 2010, Juarez was the murder capital of the world; the same year, El Paso ranked as the US’ safest large city.

Hundreds of thousands of Juarez residents fled during the violence; many that could went to El Paso.

Eventually one cartel won control of Juarez and violence waned, although Juarez still has one of the world’s highest murder rates. Even so, cross-border business and tourism have resumed.


Yet for those unable to cross legally, the relationship between the cities is entirely different. The border between El Paso and Juarez has long signified the American dream out of reach.

For those willing to cross illegally, though, that been changing.

Cartels control most illegal immigration across the US-Mexico border. They work with smugglers to establish the illegal crossings, which move over time. Until 2019, unauthorized migration across Juarez-El Paso was relatively low compared to other border crossings.

For reasons that aren’t clear, that’s changed. Mexican cartels have shifted the main entry point to Juarez-El Paso, and the crossing is now facing historic levels of arriving migrants hoping to reach the US. Many have come in anticipation of the end of Title 42, which allows for the rapid deportation of migrants before they can claim asylum.

That policy was set to end on December 21, and in the weeks before that, thousands of migrants arrived in Juarez. Then on December 19, a legal challenge extended Title 42. Many more migrants have continued to arrive, in anticipation of Title 42 ending or being weakened soon.

Juarez is overflowing with migrants as a result. The local shelters are at capacity, and many are sleeping on the streets.

When we visited Juarez last week, migrants ran up to us just after we crossed the border. They asked for help, for money, and after learning we were reporting, they asked for us to share their stories in the hopes President Biden would hear about them and act soon.

Regardless of whether Title 42 ends, it’s unlikely that every migrant will be able to cross, let alone qualify for asylum. Still, they wait and hope.

So is the Juarez-El Paso border open or closed?

It depends on who you ask.

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

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Can you sleep on planes? ✈️ 

Yes: 51%

No: 49%

Yesterday's Question:

What's your go to lazy dinner meal?

Steve from Florida: “Grilled cheese…use mayo instead of butter!”

Dawn from Illinois: “Pizza...store-bought OR carry out. No thought at all required.”

Des from Massachusetts: “Omelette. Key is to use one tablespoon of water per egg.”

🧠 Final Thoughts

In *slightly* less important news, tabloids are ablaze with the apparent news that Tiger King star Carol Baskin's ex-husband is alive! Not only was he believed to be dead, but the series suggested she might have killed him. But now... he's just chilling in Costa Rica?

Fact puts fiction to shame. Happy Thursday!

Max and Max