🌊 Toys “R” So Back

Toys R So Back, bizarre case of needle brain, and Person of the Week: Mark Milley

31 years ago, Johnson & Johnson recalled 31M bottles of Tylenol after several bottles were found to be laced with cyanide, resulting in seven deaths. What you may not know about this incident is that it may never have happened if police hadn't made a simple mistake four years earlier. The alleged Tylenol killer — it turns out — wasn't a great guy and was in court for another murder case in 1978. But the judge had to throw that case out because police failed to read him his rights. Ugh, what a headache.

In today's edition:

  • Toys R So Back

  • Bizarre case of needle brain

  • Person of the Week: Mark Milley

 🔑 Key Stories

Toys “R” Back

Toys “R” Us’ parent company announced plans to open up to 24 stores in the US

  • Toys “R” Us was founded in 1957 and became a retail giant. It struggled to adapt to e-commerce and fell heavily into debt, though, and in 2017 declared bankruptcy. Its last US store closed in early 2021

  • In 2021, investment company WHP Global bought the Toys “R” Us brand. It has since opened a New Jersey superstore and 350+ “mini-stores” within Macy’s

  • WHP recently announced plans to open 24 new US stores. Its “Air, Land and Sea” strategy, as it calls it, involves tapping into the travel industry by opening stores in airports and on cruise ships. WHP plans to open its first airport store at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

Dig Deeper

  • In a statement on Friday, WHP’s CEO said that since its acquisition of Toys “R” Us, it has increased the brand’s global presence by 50%

  • It now operates 1,400 stores globally and generates $2B in global sales, he added. “Toys R Us…is growing fast,” he said, calling that a “testament to the brand’s strength”

Satellite Brighter Than Stars

A man-made satellite is among the ten brightest objects in the night sky, preliminary data show

  • Last year, US telecommunications company AST SpaceMobile launched BlueWalker 3 into orbit. At 689 square feet (64 square meters), it is the largest satellite in low-Earth orbit, or at a distance of less than 621 miles (1,000 km) above Earth’s surface

  • Per data published to the journal Nature, that satellite is brighter than 99% of stars and now among the ten brightest objects in the night sky

  • Astronomers claim bright satellites can interfere with high exposure images, making it difficult for Earth-based telescopes to study space

Dig Deeper

  • AST SpaceMobile – which plans to launch 90 more satellites similar to BlueWalker 3 – is reportedly cooperating with scientists to devise ways to reduce the brightness of its satellites

Another Morality Police Crackdown?

Iranian activists have accused Iran’s morality police of beating a 16-year-old girl at a train station

  • Last September, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for not wearing her headscarf properly. Amini’s death triggered months of violent protests

  • On Sunday, 16-year old Armita Geravand entered a train car while apparently not wearing a headscarf. A video showed her then being dragged off unconscious

  • Authorities claim her injuries were accidental; rights groups have accused the morality police of beating Geravand. She is in a coma

Dig Deeper

  • Iranian state media released a recording of Geravand’s parents claiming she suffered a sudden drop in blood pressure that caused her to faint and hit her head. “We have checked all the videos and it has been proven for us that this incident was an accident,” her father said

  • Several activist groups refuted Geravand’s parent’s claim, alleging that parents gave their statement under duress. They claim a morality police officer had severely beaten Geravand. One source said she was subjected to “a severe physical assault”; another claimed she was “pushed by hijab enforcers” and hit her head on a metal pole

US Healthcare Strike

The US faced its largest healthcare strike in decades on Wednesday

  • Kaiser Permanente is one of the US’ largest nonprofit healthcare providers. In recent contract negotiations, unions demanded significant wage hikes and other pledges, such as a solution to understaffing. Kaiser Permanente didn’t meet all demands

  • On Wednesday, ~75,000 KP staff – but not doctors – went on strike for one to three days, depending on the area. Kaiser Permanente said its emergency services are still available

  • The strike is the US’ largest in healthcare since the US began tracking that statistic in 1993

Dig Deeper

  • The unions argued that KP is increasing its profits by keeping wages stagnant and persistently understaffing its facilities. “Workers are really being squeezed right now,” one union told CNN. “They went through the worst global health crisis in a generation and then they come out…worried about paying rent”

  • Kaiser Permanente argued the company is experiencing the same hardships as the entire healthcare industry. “Every health care provider in the nation has been facing staffing shortages and fighting burnout…Kaiser Permanente is not immune from these challenges,” it said in a statement, adding that its wages and benefits are among the highest of any US healthcare company

Use the Internet Safely

Together with Surfshark

Use Surfshark if you want to prevent your internet activity from being tracked and sold

  • Surfshark’s VPN – Virtual Private Network – is an internet browser that prevents websites from tracking your online activity by hiding your location and encrypting your search activity

  • This helps secure your data and prevent hacks while using public Wi-Fi

  • Other benefits of a VPN are the ability to access blocked or censored material and prevent pesky pop-up ads

  • Simply create an account with Surfshark, download their VPN app, log in, and start browsing safely

Dig Deeper

  • Millions of people around the world trust Surfshark for real-time online protection. Plus, one subscription can be used on unlimited devices!

  • Surfshark is offering Roca readers up to 82% off 2-year plans with two months free (you could potentially save more on a plane ticket using Surfshark’s VPN than the cost of their annual plan)

🍿 Popcorn

ICYMI

  • Home field disadvantage: The Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays MLB AL Wild Card Series opener attracted 19,704 fans – the smallest non-pandemic postseason crowd since the 1919 World Series

  • Three-headed World Cup: The 2030 men’s soccer World Cup will be played across three continents, marking its 100th anniversary in Uruguay and becoming the first to span multiple continents

  • RIP, Apple gold watch: Apple has reportedly listed its $17K solid gold watch as “obsolete.” Apple launched its $17K 18-karat gold Series 0 watch in 2015

Wildcard

  • “The tenant from hell”: An Airbnb guest has been squatting in a Brentwood, CA luxury home for over 18 months, demanding a $100K relocation fee to leave

  • Needle brain: Doctors discovered that an 80-year-old Russian woman has lived her whole life with a ~1-inch needle in her brain, likely from a failed infanticide attempt by her parents during WWII

  • OnlyLeave: Administrators put a 28-year-old Missouri high school teacher on leave after discovering she was performing on the pornography website OnlyFans to supplement her salary

👇 What do you think?

Today's Poll:

Do you currently use a VPN to browse the internet?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Today’s poll is sponsored by Surfshark, a leading virtual privacy network (VPN) provider. They help you browse the internet like a ghost!

Today's Question:

What was your favorite childhood toy?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap! 

🌯 Roca Wrap

"I should not have been there.” So said Mark Milley, the United States’ highest-ranking military officer, on June 11, 2020.

Eleven days before that statement, Milley, alongside then-President Trump, crossed a public square in front of the White House while walking to a church. The church had been damaged by protests that had turned violent the previous night. Moments before the walk, federal officers had cleared protesters from the square, at times using caustic gas and rubber pellets.

Milley’s presence there sparked a controversy.

Critics said it signaled the militarization of a civilian issue and breached the US military’s apolitical tradition. Defenders argued the presence of a high-ranking military officer was necessary to ensure order during a period of unrest. Others said widely-circulated images of the incident misrepresented the moment, as neither Milley nor the military were involved in dispersing the demonstrators.

Days later, Milley apologized in a televised address: “I should not have been there,” he said. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

It wasn’t the last time that Milley – the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – would find himself at the center of a political firestorm.

The Chairman is the US military’s highest-ranking officer. They serve as the top military advisor to the president, National Security Council, and secretary of defense, but are prohibited by law from directly commanding armed forces.

The chairman’s role is intended to be that of an apolitical advisor on military matters. Milley’s tenure – which ended last Saturday – was controversial: Supporters claim he did his job better than anyone before him; critics say he abused his office and revolutionized the military’s role in politics.

***

Born on June 20, 1958 in Winchester, Massachusetts, Milley grew up in a military family. His father served as a US Navy officer during World War II while his mother served as a nurse and member of the women’s Navy reserve. A standout hockey player, he was recruited to play at Princeton, where he also enrolled in its ROTC program.

Milley graduated with a BA in political science after writing an 185-page senior thesis about “Revolutionary Guerrilla Organization in Theory and Practice.” He was then commissioned as an officer and began climbing the army’s ranks.

In the following years, Milley would be deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, and elsewhere. During that time, he developed a reputation as a brash, outspoken, and no-nonsense leader. He assumed increasing responsibilities as a commander until 2015, when he took on the Army’s top role, the Chief of Staff.

His combat experience and assertive demeanor appealed to then-President Trump, who nominated him in December 2018 to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The move was seen as undercutting the then-chairman, who was slated to remain in the position until the following September but was seen by Trump as insufficiently loyal.

Yet Milley often found himself at odds with Trump.

He advised against many of Trump's proposals, including withdrawing troops from Iraq and Syria and banning transgender individuals from military service. His apology for the 2020 incident strained relations further. Tensions heightened when it was revealed that Milley had called his Chinese counterpart multiple times during Trump’s presidency to assure him that despite Trump’s anti-China rhetoric, the US would not launch a surprise attack.

Those calls were authorized by the Trump administration but made without Trump's direct knowledge. Some praised Milley's actions as necessary for ensuring global stability, while others criticized him for overstepping his authority. Last week, in a post related to the end of Milley’s tenure, Trump said those calls were a “treasonous act” that was “so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Milley was one of the few political appointees to keep his role under President Biden.

While Biden disagreed with him on Afghanistan (Milley opposed withdrawing) and Russia-Ukraine (Milley wanted more negotiations), Milley became a trusted adviser.

Yet his positions continued to stir controversy.

In June 2021, he supported the inclusion of a “critical race theory” seminar in the US Military Academy's curriculum. He wanted to “understand white rage,” he said, adding that it was “offensive” the military was being called out for “studying some theories that are out there.”

“I’ve read Mao [Zedong]. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” he said. “So what is wrong with…having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”

Last Saturday, Milley retired with a split legacy.

On one side are many admirers who commend him for standing by his beliefs, challenging Trump, and steering the military through four years that included the Afghanistan pullout and the Russia-Ukraine war. Milley “made sure that the US military continued to embody the values and ideals of the nation,” the chair of NATO’s military committee said of Milley last week.

On the other side are the critics, who say Milley overstepped the military’s nonpartisan role by engaging in hot-button debates and dragging the military into political affairs. “Milley allegedly placed military hands – his hands – on controls that belong exclusively to the president,” said one Republican senator in 2022.

Last Friday, Milley gave a farewell speech at a ceremony in Arlington, Virginia.

“We don’t take an oath to a king, or a queen, or to a tyrant or dictator, and we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” he said. “We don’t take an oath to an individual. We take an oath to the Constitution, and we take an oath to the idea that is America, and we’re willing to die to protect it.”

“Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, guardian and Coast Guardsman, each of us commits our very life to protect and defend that document, regardless of personal price,” Milley continued. “And we are not easily intimidated.”

Was Milley too involved, involved the right amount, or not involved enough in non-military affairs? Let us know what you think by replying to this email!

 🌊 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

Have you received an Amber Alert over the past six months? 
Yes: 62%
No: 48%

Yesterday's Question:

What is the most recent act of kindness that you’ve witnessed?

Gina from Virginia: "A passenger at Dulles International Airport walking a 98-year old man traveling alone from the subway train to his gate. They were strangers but the younger passenger wanted to make sure he made it to his gate and boarded. Same younger passenger on arrival at destination made sure he had someone meet him. (Note - impatient, mean people on the jet way to and from plane: I hope you are alive at 98 and can walk like this man did! )"

Marty: "The Dallas Cowboys homage to ex-player, now New England Patriot Ezekiel Elliot was pretty incredible. Kind and classy.”

Connor from MA: "Any time I see someone put a few dollars worth of gas in their car at the pump, I ask if I can help out. If they are okay with it, I go into the station and put $10 on their pump (I never just give them the money). It isn't a life-changing gesture, but every time I have done it, they genuinely seem like their faith in humanity is restored. I was in their shoes once, and I think it is important to realize when it is time to give back.”

Yesterday's Wrap Replies:

Yesterday’s Wrap was about Hamtramck, Michigan, and how its government found itself at the center of a culture war.

Anonymous, Michigan: “Having grown up right next to Dearborn, going to school there, working there, and having Polish family in Hamtramck and east side of Detroit, I can tell you that none of it has been surprising. The Arab community has made it no secret what their intentions are regarding the laws they want, the way they intend to implement their Muslim culture into the communities, and that it would happen sooner or later. If people think that this is the most outrageous thing (call to adhan, flags, etc.) that’s happening there, then they’d really be upset to find out that this is the tippy top of a very large iceberg that’s been in the area for many years.”

Rob: “Hamtramck Is an example of the reason why we need vigorous protection from religious influence in our government and governance. The fact that this involves a Muslim influence makes it newsworthy but all groups, especially religious groups, will naturally exert a biased governance when they have adequate political power and opportunity.”

🧠 Final Thoughts

We’re almost at the end of the first week of October! Although you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s still summer with the 80 degree weather hitting much of the East Coast right now…

Happy Thursday and see you tomorrow!

—Max and Max