RocaNews - 🌊 Patients 2, HIV 0

July 28, 2022

You all sent in a record number of responses to yesterday's question. We asked what subject that isn't taught in schools should be. Many of your answers were related to practical matters: Filing taxes, real estate, handling stress, etc. But who needs to understand taxes when you know the quadratic formula?

In today's edition:

  • Biden makes a trade offer
  • Origin of herpes
  • Frost crosses the border
Sign up for the Roca Current →

 Key Stories

Biden Offers Trade for Griner

The Biden administration has offered to prisoner swap Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan

  • Bout is a Russian arms trafficker, convicted of trying to sell weapons to a terrorist group that sought to kill Americans. He’s serving a 25-year sentence
  • Griner is a basketball player imprisoned since February for bringing a weed vape into Russia. Whelan is a former Marine jailed since 2018 on spying charges. The US says Russia has “wrongly detained” both
  • The US’ secretary of state said he will be discussing the offer with his Russian counterpart later this week. He added that Biden personally approved it
Dig Deeper
  • Victor Bout, also known as "The Merchant of Death," allegedly trafficked weapons from Russia to the Middle East and Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. He was arrested by the Royal Thai Police in 2008 and deported to the US, where he has been imprisoned since on arms-related charges

Fed Raises Interest Rates Again

The Federal Reserve — the Fed, US’ central bank — raised interest rates by 0.75% for the 2nd time this year

  • The Fed changes interest rates in response to economic trends. Higher rates increase the cost of borrowing and take money out of the economy, slowing growth and inflation
  • Stocks jumped on the news, amid hopes that the Fed will be able to bring inflation under control. The tech-focused Nasdaq had its best day in 2+ years
  • In related inflation news, McDonald’s increased the price of its UK cheeseburger for the first time in 14 years, raising it from £.99 to £1.19 ($1.22 to $1.46)

More Alzheimer's Research Fabricated?

The Justice Department is opening a criminal probe into Cassava Sciences, a drug company, alleging that it faked Alzheimer’s data

  • These allegations are unrelated to the reports of faked Alzheimer’s data we covered yesterday
  • The investigation stems from claims made by 2 doctors in 2021 that key studies misrepresented findings and photos. The doctors are asking the US Food and Drug Administration to suspend clinical trials of Simulfilam, Cassava’s Alzheimer’s drug
  • Cassava Sciences called the allegations “false and misleading.” Its stock price fell ~14% on the news

2 Patients Appear to Have Beaten HIV

2 patients infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, appear to have fully beaten the disease

  • HIV suppresses the immune system by attacking white blood cells. There is no cure, although medications can stop HIV from progressing to AIDS
  • One patient received a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic abnormality that makes them resistant to HIV, curing the recipient
  • The other, a Spanish woman in her 70s, received an experimental treatment that increased her immune response. She has since been “functionally cure[d].” There are now 5 known cases of full HIV recovery
Dig Deeper
  • Separately, in February, a US woman became the third person to fully recover from HIV after she underwent a transplant from umbilical cord blood. She also suffered from leukemia, as did the man who recovered more recently. Scientists hope these developments can help them create a cure for the disease, which kills about 1M people each year. 

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popcorn Popcorn
  • Rocket woman: Britney Spears' first song post-conservatorship will reportedly be a duet of "Tiny Dancer" with Elton John
  • Bubba of Arabia: 2x Masters champ Bubba Watson will join LIV, the new Saudi-backed golf league. Deal terms are not yet disclosed 
  • Grand theft equality: For the first time ever, GTA 6 will feature a female playable character in its campaign. There will still be a male one, too

  • It was only a kiss: The herpes that causes cold sores may have emerged in the Bronze Age and spread by kissing, researchers believe
  • Scooby Doo, wya? Fossils of a plesiosaur discovered in Africa suggest that a sea monster could've lived in Loch Ness...66M years ago
  • I'm a scary boy: The teaser trailer is out for Pinocchio, the classic story with a dark twist from Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro

finger What do you think?

Today's Poll:
What's the first city that comes to mind when you think of California? 
Los Angeles
San Francisco

Today's Question:
Let's get controversial... Who is the greatest athlete of all time?

Reply to this email with your answers!

See yesterday's results below the Wrap!

 Roca Wrap

Roca co-founder Max Frost spent 3 weeks crossing the Amazon last month. He's writing about it here over the coming weeks. 

Frost is posting videos and photos of the trip on his Instagram page here. 

There are no “borders” in the Amazon.

That’s what I learned when at 7 AM, my boat reached Santa Rosa, a smattering of huts on an island in the Amazon. Santa Rosa is in the Peruvian third of the “tri-state area”; across the river lies a city split between Colombia (where it’s called Leticia) and Brazil (where it’s Tabatinga). 

There is no formal border, although each town has a government building where people get a passport stamp if visiting or leaving one country for an extended period. A boat took me to the building in Peru, where an unfriendly woman stamped my passport. When I stepped back outside onto the mud road, I had technically departed Peru. 

From there, a motorized canoe took me across the river to Brazil and dropped me off at a wooden dock. A sign above read in Portuguese, “SEJAM BEM VINDOS A TABATINGA.” I didn’t know a word of Portuguese; I was totally disoriented.

I crossed the rickety dock to a parking lot, where men – in neon vests identifying them as moto-taxi drivers – were waiting on motorcycles. I told one “immigration,” and he zipped me over (helmetless) to a government building. I paid for the ride in Peruvian money, one of 3 currencies traded throughout the area. 

The immigration officer was strikingly different from the one in Peru, where in 8 days I had met one local person who spoke English and most people seemed deferential to me as an American. This man was confident, young, and muscular. After stamping my passport he smiled and said in English, “You have 90 days here. Have a great time in Brazil.” 

I noticed this throughout my time in Brazil: People were more confident and less impressed by my being an American. I figure it's from Brazil’s position as South America’s superpower. Its economy is the world’s 10th-largest; Peru’s the 52nd. Brazil has 17 cities with 1M+ people; Peru has 2. Between world-famous festivals, music, and sports, Brazil is a cultural powerhouse. Peru is not. 

After getting that stamp, a mototaxi took me to a breakfast restaurant, where I ate a weird starchy omelet stuffed with bananas, meat, and cheese. I later learned this was tapioca, one of the standard breakfasts in the Brazilian Amazon. Over breakfast, I exchanged WhatsApp messages with a local guide I was hoping would show me around the area. 

But my phone service kept dropping, and my messages wouldn’t send. I needed to buy a local SIM card and pay for breakfast, but none of the 5 ATMs that I tried would work. I ended up in an electronics store where I bought a SIM with my credit card. 

But that SIM wouldn’t work either. I went to another store and paid for more data; still wouldn’t work. I tried my US SIM on roaming; that still wouldn’t work. I needed to confirm that I was meeting my guide, but couldn’t get a hold of him. I was stuck wandering around with my backpack in the 90-degree heat.

I ended up at an internet café, where I spent my final cash on an hour of Wi-Fi. My guide confirmed he’d pick me up in 2 hours, at 2:30 PM. Then I reached Roca co-founder Billy, who sent me $900 via Western Union. That was a frightening amount of cash in a country where robberies are common – “Never carry that much money in Brazil again,” my guide later told me – but I didn’t know when I’d next have access to an ATM.

Miraculously, the Western Union point – the only in the city – was a travel agency a few blocks away. I got talking in Spanish with the owner there, and told him I was a journalist. 

“Are you here to cover the murders?”

2 weeks prior, a British journalist and a Brazilian activist had disappeared nearby. They had been working with indigenous people to protect their land from illegal fishermen. Days later, their bodies were found buried in the forest; several fishermen had been arrested. 

“It’s a terrible situation,” the man told me, “But it’s not the first time it’s happened. Look at this.” He pulled up an article from the Guardian dated a day prior about a local activist who was murdered in 2019. 

“That was my brother-in-law,” he said. “He was grabbed off the street by guys on a motorcycle and shot dead.” The murder remains unsolved. 

Here’s some context about the tri-state area: 
–It’s sparsely populated rainforest, making it difficult to govern
–The border runs through the rainforest, making it difficult to monitor
–Peru grows coca, and traffickers smuggle it through the area into Brazil and Colombia
–Poachers and loggers hunt the rainforest for rare woods, animals, and fish

In short, the region is lawless, which is why the US government gives it its highest travel warning, “Do not travel.” Criminals often clash with indigenous people and activists for them, who are trying to protect indigenous land from smugglers. 

But I assessed my risk level as being low, given that I wasn’t reporting anything controversial and was really there as a tourist. Still, I hired a guide because I wouldn’t travel the area solo. That guide, Philippe, met me at the internet café. 

Philipe was 2 hours late, and he blamed the delay on police checks up the river. He was the same age as me and spoke Spanish but no English. We took a taxi to the port, where we met his 13-yo brother, and boarded their fishing boat. Then we sped off down the Amazon as the sun started to set.

After 20 minutes, we split off onto another river, the Javarí, which ran west, along the border with Peru. On the river’s left bank was Brazil; on its right, Peru. We peeled off again, this time into a shortcut through the jungle. The river was barely wider than the boat. It was totally dark – the trees above us blocked out the sun – and bugs were flying into our faces. The sound of insects and birds was loud enough to be heard over the boat.

As night arrived, we pressed deeper into the rainforest.   

If you have thoughts, let us know at!
Future Wrap ideas or requests? Let us know!

 Roca Clubhouse

Yesterday's Poll:

How do you feel about the discontinuation of the Choco Taco?
Outraged: 22.1%
Don't care: 77.9%


Yesterday's Question:

What's a subject or topic that high schools should teach that they don't?

Matthew from Kansas City: "Mental health first aid. It’s such a valuable skill today, particularly in a world with such an overwhelmed mental healthcare system"

Carrie from Denver: "Personal finance. Teach people how to be responsible with/for their money"

Janae from Long Beach: "Adulting: How to establish credit, why a good credit score is important, investment options for retirement, how to build a resume, how to approach and have hard conversations, what age you should start setting your own doctor and dentist appointments, health insurance basics, options other than college like trades as employment, the basics on how to set up your own business, how to establish yourself in a new place"
Today's Clue (Day 3 of 4):
The namesake of the band that did the aforementioned anthem in Clue 2
The SECRET Clue...

You didn't actually think we were going to do Woodstock, did you?

Day 1: If I were an Angel, where would I fly to? Paradise, but CCR was there
Day 2: Barefoot girls from Clue 1 doing something that became an anthem

Welcome to our first Music-themed Treasure Hunt. The correct answer to this week's Hunt will be a music-themed landmark in the United States. Thursday's newsletter will contain a bonus clue, which is automatically unlocked by referring 2 people to this newsletter. In total there will be 5 clues about 1 landmark.

This week, first place takes home $250; second and third place take home $100 each. 

You get one guess, which you submit by replying to a newsletter with a Google street view screenshot.

 Final Thoughts

We're excited to say that the Current has surpassed 150,000 readers. That's 150,000 people who have had enough of polarizing, fear-mongering, and anxiety-inducing Big News. Thank you all for riding the Roca Wave! Roca to the moon!!!!

- Max and Max

Spread the Wave!

Share The Current with friends, and win free swag! Some are secrets, some are awesome Roca gear. Let's make this wave a tsunami, and share away!

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