Episode 181: Off by Roughly Two Trillion


Guys it's mike rowe and this is the way i heard it. The only podcast. The curious mind with a short attention span that used to be under ten minutes but is now considerably longer. For a variety of reasons discussed in previous episodes. I do hope you're enjoying the expanded format of this humble little podcast so far the feedback over on my facebook page has been great. So thanks for your candor and your kind words. This is episode number one eighty one and it's called off by roughly two trillion off by roughly two trillion. Happy new year by the way a new year's upon us. Here's here's to a bit more fun in twenty twenty one. This episode starts with chapter four of my book which is called no polite way to put. It tells the true story of famous couple whose passion for each other burn so hot at very nearly ruined them. It's a love story at base. The ginned up some controversy when it first appeared here on the podcast partly because it deals with the practice we referred to today as Sexting so the contents a bit naughty than usual and partly because the details of what happened to one of these lovers is disputed today among historians and biographers and the army of correct answers that are out there. Some of whom came by my facebook page to let me know that they had heard things differently. Which of course find by me then share a story about what it feels like to be off by roughly two trillion. And how that feeling led me to call this podcast and my book the way i heard it. Chuck and i then embark on a surprisingly Thoughtful and prescient an unscripted rumination on certainty and humility and the fundamental reason that so many americans today have become so deeply skeptical of everyone. Who sounds like they know what they're talking about. Including in no particular order journalists politicians scientists doctors professors and yes even narrators. It's the way. I heard it episode one eighty two off by roughly two trillion and it starts right now and when i say right now of course i mean right after i thank my friends at light stream for sponsoring this episode. Eighth thinking about the high interest rate credit cards. You used over the holidays. You are not alone when it comes to refinancing your credit cards. You do have options but only one company was ranked number one by jd. Power customer satisfaction with personal loans livestream. Don't take my word for it. Go to jd. Power dot com slash awards. And see for yourself. They did it. Light streams credit card consolidation loans. Start at just five point nine five percent. Apr with auto pay an excellent credit. You can save thousands in interest right now and you can get your money. As soon as the day you apply. Why wait apply today for credit card consolidation loan from the company the jd power ranked number one for customer satisfaction in personal loans plus get an additional interest rate discount at late stream dot com slash. Row that's l. I g. h. T. s. t. r. e. a. m. dot com slash row subject to credit approval rates ranged. Five point nine five percents. Apr nineteen point. Nine percents apr and includes zero point. Five zero percent auto pay discount. Lowest rate requires excellent credit terms and conditions apply in offers the subject to change without notice visit light stream dot com slash rome for more information. Now this is the way. I heard it off by roughly two trillion jr four. No polite way to put it. George was horny. Sorry to be indelicate but there's really no polite way to put it. He hadn't seen elizabeth in weeks and he missed his wife with the white hot intensity of thousand suns. Excuse me sir but a letter arrived. George leapt from his chair and ran into the doorway handed over my good man with all due speed. The courier complied george. Lock the door behind him with trembling hands. He opened the envelope the site of her handwriting. Quickened his pulse the smell of perfume wafted from the page. Leaving him. Lightheaded and breathless. All my gallant champion. It began how i miss you. If only we could be together for just a few hours. If only i could sit tomboy for a quick ride with you behind me. George swallowed hard gripping the page with his free hand by god his wife really could turn a phrase. He tried to slow things down but when he got to the part that read. I know of a soft place upon somebody's carpet that yearns for a gentle touch. Well that was simply too much. George had to collect himself and then start again from the top. The second time was better. That always was george. Read more slowly now with as much patience as he could muster he savored every syllable pausing between paragraphs to fully embrace the images wife had so cleverly evoked when he finished he wipe the perspiration from his brow and tried to return the favor. Good morning my rosebud. He wrote little. John has been making constant and ernest inquiries for his monkey for a very long time and this morning he seems more persistent than ever i to yearn to be in the saddle behind you holding on for dear life and yes i know just where. I'd kiss a certain someone if i was with her tonight. Two weeks later. His letter arrived in monroe michigan. A- butler delivered it to the boudoir there. Elizabeth devoured his words and much the same way he had devoured years hungrily greedily then after multiple readings she reached for her pen and paper and got busy crafting another flurry of phrases carefully concocted to help her husband release the tension during their long periods of separation in other words. George and elizabeth were sexting victorian style. Sorry to be indelicate but there's really no polite way to put it. They're letters were the nineteenth century equivalent of naked cell fees packed with double entendre. Is that would have made anthony. Weiner blush there were references to long extended gallops and writing under the cropper in one elizabeth alluded to the possibility of breaking in a new philly for their mutual pleasure and discuss the pros and cons of being ridden hard and put away wet. True george was famous equestrian but no one would have mistaken the topic in question and of course. No one did. Because george wasn't just a horny husband. He was a careless husband at a time. When a man's reputation and a woman's virtue were still fragile. Important things george failed to protect both one day elizabeth's letters were stolen. They appeared in the pages of the richmond. Gazette before long the entire country was reading all about littlejohn the pleasures of writing tomboy and that soft place upon someone's carpet in need of gentle touch one can only imagine how elizabeth must have felt seeing her words in print yet. She survived the scandal over time. People forgot all about it likewise they lost sight of her husband's other shortcomings. They forgot about his impetuous nature. They forgot about his need to always be the center of attention. They forgot about those things. Because once again elizabeth put pen to paper extolling the virtues of her husband in a series of wildly popular books about his life on the frontier and his exploits on the battlefield. By the time she died at the advanced age of ninety she had single handedly transformed georgia's reputation. Not from that of a careless husband. Who'd famously embarrassed his wife but from that of famous commander who had carelessly killed his own men in the movie. George dies with his boots on fighting heroically. Right up to the bitter end in real life no one knows. His body was found three days after the smoke cleared naked blackened bloated and covered with flies. Some said a finger had been cut off and taken as a souvenir others said. His eardrums had been pierced with a sewing needle punishment for his failure. To listen some said that he appeared to be smiling as the dead often do wild one claimed an arrow had been forgive me forced into his rectum pushed through his intestines and into his little john leaving his corpse in the state of perpetual readiness even as it putrefied under the blue montana sky. Sorry to be indelicate. But there's really no polite way to put it. Some of georgia's men were skinned alive. Others were dismembered and rearranged on the ground president ulysses s grant called the entire debacle. And abominable totally unnecessary slaughter caused by the stupidity and rashness of vein cork headed fool but despite all that the soldier who marched his men into the valley of death is remembered today as an enduring hero of the american west. Thanks to a devoted wife who never stopped. grieving never stopped writing and never stopped believing. Her horny husband was some kind of hero. In spite of his unforgiveable arrogance on the banks of a river called the little bighorn not exactly a happy ending for the impatient boy. General but a far better legacy than he deserved. Thanks to the blushing bride. He left behind a bestselling author named elizabeth custer. I thought about custer not long ago at a watering hole called crump he's after narrating another few episodes of how the universe works for my friends at the science channel. I've learned many interesting things narrating that series starting with the undeniable fact that i am going to die in the grip of cold indifferent cosmos the only uncertainty seems to revolve around the exact method of my inevitable. Demise what will it be a supermassive black hole the collision of two neutron stars a supernova a comet and asteroid gamma rays. Is it any wonder that after a long day of this stuff. I typically end up at grumpy on that particular day. I had introduced my audience to the existence of strange litz killer particles that zombie fi matter. Whatever that means. I wasn't blase about it when i read it. As a narrator of some experience. I infused the copy with an appropriate level of certainty. As i reminded. My terrified viewers that no one is going to get out of this thing alive then again. Was i right to sound so certain from time to time more times than you might imagine. The science channel calls me back to the booth to record something. I've read in an earlier episode. Not because i've screwed up which never happens. But because new information has been discovered the contradicts claims made in previous scripts. Once i was asked to rerecord a passage that made reference to the total number of galaxies in the cosmos. I had originally announced in a chris modulated baritone that there were approximately one hundred billion galaxies and the universe. I remember thinking damn. That's a lot of galaxies and again being a narrator of some experience. I infused the copy. With what i felt to be an appropriate level of certainty and gravitas. Well a week later. I was called back to the booth. Turns out a new method of measuring the cosmos had led astronomers to revise the number of galaxies in the known universe from one hundred billion to trillion in a single week. We'd found another two thousand billion galaxies. But as i reread the new copy i was struck by the undeniable fact that i sound no less certain. When i'm right then. I do when i'm wrong. I don't want to overstate things. But the facts are clear millions or billions for all i know trillions of people tune in every week to hear me explain the workings of our universe. It's hard to say. How many exactly in these uncertain times but there are no soldiers among my undoubtedly vast audience waiting to follow me into battle custer had six hundred men behind him the whole seventh regiment hanging on his every word. I can't help but wonder how certain did custer sound under a big blue montana sky. When led his men into that valley of death last there was no recording booth for custer to be called back to there were no do overs for him and his men just the knife the arrow and the tomahawk of that. At least i am certain. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking i wonder what kind of underwear mike was wearing when he narrated that episode of how the universe works. Well i'll tell you i was wearing me. Undies full disclosure. I wear me on no matter what. I'm narrating these days. Yes me undies. Are now my go-to Underpants as a sentence. I didn't think i'd ever say before but as a guy who wore tighty whiteys for like fifty years. This is a Zabol new experience for me. Yeah partly because they're sponsoring the podcast but partly because they really do make some amazingly soft and comfortable fibers site. I don't really understand what they are. But they are amazingly comfortable and join their club now so once a once a month i order stuff. They send me socks. They sent me these. call them. Sweatpants like lounge. Wear i guess made out of the same crazy material. I lounged around in them on new year's day all day read a book sat by the fire had an absolute slob. Day enjoying my me on these. You'll enjoy them to get fifteen percent off your first order and free shipping at me on these dot com slash mike. That's me undies. Dot com slash mike. I don't want to overstate it. They're comfortable and If you're old fashioned with your underpants. Like george custer probably was you kinda. Don't know what you're missing until you slip into something completely different. Me undies are amazing. They come in some colors that don't even occur in nature or some fairly traditional hughes as well. They're awesome triumph. Save fifteen percent me on these dot com slash. Mike would you like to say something. Or should i well. That's just what they're expecting. Hello everyone and welcome to whatever. This episode is called which has yet to be determined full disclosure chuck and i just spoke for roughly twenty five minutes and it was interesting it reasoning. I thought so too. It was one of our better efforts and chuck up. Tell them what happened. Would you please well. You're you're not recording on your end. And and why was that. Why was that chuck. Because i had instructed you to plug your ear buds in after you've already recording which subsequently and did the recording for some unknown reason correct correct and it's interesting. Don't you think that the unknown nature of the reason And your own. Role as producer of the podcast are in some ways What's the word a wildly incompatible. Perhaps it's also interesting to note that you had no idea that in fact your device which of course is literally three thousand miles away from me. was not recording you. Oh god i don't know if anybody finds this interesting but the situation Dear listeners is as follows. I'm a little north of san francisco on zoom call with chuck. Who is in one of the carolinas. Where are you north carolina. Okay he's down there with his family celebrating the advent of a new year and I'm where i am Celebrating the end of the current one. And so we're zooming with each other but recording on garage band. And i am not on the garage band screen. So i didn't know that i wasn't recording. After following the careful instructions as articulated by the aforementioned producer of this podcast chuck claus meyer. Anyway look i'm not discouraged because there was some things we did talk about in that last attempt that i that i really don't want to repeat. I hope you don't bring them up again. Honestly really i wasn't going to say this out loud but that was awful when well i'll tell you what i will repeat because i do think it's interesting and true. This is probably the most For me anyway. The most important chapter in the book. And i certainly didn't know it at the time when i was writing about custer but combined with the little rumination on certainty that took place in grumpy spar. I really think it's a great example. Another example really of why. This book is called the way it was definitively. Now now it is. It is clearly the way i heard it. And as you know after that that story aired about custer i don't know if we were flooded but but we certainly got some feedback from some people who had heard it differently his descendants. I believe no. I'm not no but people who rightfully so you know he's he's a revered figure and they were upset that you were portraying this you know one bad part of his life i suppose. And that's the problem with the podcast of course and the challenge of it. It's not supposed to be a definitive biography of anybody nor is it a deep dive into the history as it has been etched in the stars. It's an attempt to tell you something you didn't know about somebody you do. And most people know who george custer was and and most people know what made him famous. But i don't think in chuck tell me if i'm wrong. I don't think most people knew that he was engaging in weiner like sexting over one hundred years before sexting victorian style i believe is how he described it. Why certainly was not aware of that. When this came to light i was like tell me more. This is fascinating without only. Because you're a degenerate. But i was happy to comply possibly so you know as as as the first thing that i thought about. This is that. I think you missed your calling writing harlequin romance novels with this because you really did paint a picture while you're very kind you know i'm i'm particularly proud of the image of him you know holding onto that letter with his With his free hand dear. God yuck people caught that yeah and i got some pushback on that too and i do apologize. This is fundamentally a g. rated podcast but look you know it's a story about sexting before there was sexting and i'll why did i want to write that. I honestly i think it's because at the time anthony weiner was headline news and we were just coming to grips with the fact as it. Were that That we are now a people armed with a not. Just a camera. I mean if you have an internet connection and a smartphone. You're you're you're basically a broadcast you could broadcast anywhere. Yes yeah i mean. I have six million people on my facebook page. I could pick up my phone right now. Go live on facebook and we could stream this zoom call about this book which is also a podcast and it doesn't get more meth than that. How are we not doing that right now. don't have time for it now. We're not do that but yeah my my point is a lot of people today. Think sexting is a new thing. They think that this scandalous new technology that enables us to send wildly inappropriate pictures through the ether. is Has ushered in a whole new level of of stakes and drama and disaster and scandal. And i guess in relative terms it has yes. I didn't absolute terms. It has not. it's just changed. It's gotten a little bit more graphic you know with with photos and whatnot but in the olden days before the cap before the cameras could go through the ethernet You you could write a little story to your love and she could write one to you. And that's That that's that's interesting to me. Well in so many ways it's a. It's a rumination on gratification. Today the gratification if you will is almost instantaneous back then it was much more delayed you know if you were going to write a hot steamy letter to your better half you know you had to sit down in a room. Probably your loan you had to dip your quill pen into the ink. Well as it were you asked. Is it no no. I'm being. I'm being very literal here and you had to paint a picture and you had to write it. You had to wait for the ink to dry. Then you had to fold your parchment and lick the envelope and off. It went probably on a pony. I mean it. It took a long time. You know for a young horny couple to a consummate their youth than their hornets in that way. And so yeah. It's completely different today. But it's not an example. As long as people have been walking around they've been looking for ways to titillate one another yup and back then it was all about the anticipate. Say haitian correct so the pushback i got on. The story came in two different forms of. I heard from some parents who didn't like the way they felt as they drove their van. Load of children. You know off to go skiing and suddenly heard dirty jobs guy you know talking in terms that seemed soleil audie a bit naughty and so okay point taken i got it but you know it happened The second group was from the typical army of characters who were quite certain in their belief. That that custer did not die in the way i described but rather in a different way and they had lots of footnotes and sources and they directed me to those sources and sure enough. There's a lot of ambiguity out there. Look he wasn't found for three days. You know the condition of his body. Well it's up in the air there so many conflicting accounts out there that it's really hard to know with certainty which is correct but again that's the whole point. It's it's the certainty of the thing that in this podcast is more interesting to me anyway. Then the accuracy of the thing. Because whether you're right or whether you're wrong isn't it fascinating these days. How certain we all sound. And as my friend mike rowe once said in very episode. I sound no less certain. When i'm right than when i'm wrong even when i'm wrong by a two trillion i mean to be to be wrong by two trillion universe. I mean it galaxies. If that if that doesn't humble you then then i doubt you're capable of of humility and that was the other reason why i like this chapter so much individually the story about custer is what it is an individ- it individually the story about narrating how the universe works is what it is but when you put them together i think you do get an opportunity to to reflect on the difference between being right and being certain and to me more so than anthony weiner sexting and the headlines that to me is the topic. That's really worth talking about today. Right now you know this the the advent of fake news and the certainty that allows it to proliferate in the way that it has are just checking to make sure that you're still recording right. Now i was. I was because honestly i was pretty proud of that last hundred days i thought man. I really be disappointing. If that had gone it. Sure would but are you with me. I mean it's not fake. News is not a thing that simply infected the news institutions were our our journalists. Fake news is a relatively new term. I don't know exactly who coined it. I think it might have been trump But i'm not sure but it seems now to apply not only to journalism but obviously to to politics but also to science and medicine and our universities and hollywood and of course our own history. You know what's real and what's fake. Well that depends on what statue you're talking about and who you're asking and so every single thing today seems to require new level of skepticism. And you can't blame a reasonable citizen for looking at anything. They hear and second guessing it. I don't think isn't it isn't it also that a less than quote unquote fake news. More the idea that everything. Everyone is biased. Therefore reporting has reporting has gotten just a journalism sort of shat. The bed as it more to me. It's like there are too many adjectives in journalism anymore. Right you wanna get just the facts you wanna. You wanna just hear what happened. The president said this. You know the the governor did that mom and in instead of saying he you know the way in which he said at the way in which he did it well we need places to go for context and colored and incite. But but if that's all you have then you really don't. It's like going behind the scenes without there being a scene. You know you have to have just the facts before you can color them. So the facts with regard to the universe are there are currently two trillion known galaxies. The fact with regard to customer is that six hundred men died on the banks of little big horn river as the result of a man who said follow me and the men did right. And so you start with what you think you know and then you can add some context and you know this that and the other but look it's the the presence of certainty is the thing that's most interesting to me. Because even as the facts become catchier and sketch here the level of certainty with which they're delivered becomes increasingly vociferous so in some ways the presence of certainty is sort of the equal and opposite thing to the absence of humility. And i'm not sure which one is more important. But i don't think i think you can have a presence of humility and a presence of certainty somehow were and other things have become deliciously and and and you hear it you know you hear it in the way people talk you hear it in. Newscasters you hear it in narrators like me you know again. It's why the podcast and the book wasn't called the way it was. It's called the way. I heard it because a lot of certain people are out there. Digging in on a lot of different topics look anthony. Fauci sounded awfully certain when he told me that mass masks didn't work. You sounds pretty certain now to. I'm going to call for an excuse me. I always call. When i talk about dr fauci and you look to the left so but am am. I going too far with that. You know my critics would say mike. You missed the point sciences. Always about you know moving on and and admitting when you're wrong and i say well that's kind of what i'm saying you have to be humble if you're scientist because the greatest minds in physics were just off by two trillion so the greatest minds in medicine might be mistaken unless of course we're talking about noble lies which is a whole 'nother topic but i just think that in the end this this chapter is about the dangers of certainty and it's the best example i have of for the program. That's at the beginning of the book that says be wary of all earnestness. That's what earnestness. It's it's the presence of certainty. The absence of humility and that just absolute conviction absolute conviction that you're right and everybody else and i think you're absolutely wrong. Mike one hundred percent not even close well the way you say it sounds there you go so tell me. Tell me about the The the story at grumpy and and tell me what like do you remember. Who was there that you you had this conversation with well. Two things grumpy is a little bar here in san francisco not far from a one union where i recorded the story. I'm going there for nearly twenty years. You know i came up here to host evening magazine back in two thousand one and walked over to grumpiness with a guy named james. Reid had a couple of beers one afternoon and conceived of an idea called. Somebody's gotta do it. Which went onto become dirty jobs and so forth and so on so grumpy has always been a place where i've gone usually at the end of spending a few hours recording this that or the other and on this particular day This would have been probably two thousand eleven maybe two thousand twelve or maybe later. I'm just. I'm trying to get it right. Because how the universe works has been on my mind a lot lately. We just right. We just redid the deal and we're going into season nine right now so this was probably like season six or seven so would have been more like two thousand I dunno sixteen. It was within the last twenty years. Go on and so there. I was in grumpy. Having just walked over from one union recording having just narrated the episode i described and yeah i ordered an anchor steam and started eavesdropping on a conversation with a couple of guys from berkeley. Who were two or three stools down and They were talking about the universe and i. I just couldn't get involved. Because i you know i narrate a program and so the the conversation morphed pretty quick into into global warming and so we were having a big conversation about the climate and more and more people in the bar got involved Including a a professor from berkeley. I forget her name but she was there and she had some some really definite opinions. You know and this isn't about denying this or or that it. It's just about a conversation between a bunch of nice people who were all of joining a social lubricant and who all sounded very very very certain about their beliefs vis-a-vis the end of the world. Would it be and twelve years as we're hearing now from many Would it be at the Would it be as a result of fossil fuels carbon footprints. Would it be you know all that stuff was suddenly being discussed and having just narrated that particular episode of that particular show. I could not help. But share my belief that the that the certainty that i was hearing from the group was not unlike my own certainty as i announced to the scientific community vis-a-vis how the universe works that there were one billion universes galaxies in the universe only to have to correct myself a week later to the tune of two trillion so that that brought the conversation to an end. I well if it certainly shifted to a new topic which at i think were. What are you watching on netflix. And and so it was interesting right because we went from this world of science and certainty to a topic that we could be completely subjective with and not upset anyone right because now if i'm talking about you know. My favorite movies are my favorite series. Well that's okay if you have a different one because we're not reliant on the same set of facts and we don't have to agree really about anything in order to enjoy each other's company and we still have our certainty with regard to this this personal thing that we loved you know maybe it was the sopranos or maybe it was breaking bad or maybe it was gavin and stacey or whatever it was so you get into a very different world when you're talking about your your favourite fashion or your favourite film as opposed to the absolute nature of the end of the earth and the absolute detail with which custer's body was found one hundred thirty five forty years ago and so forth. So you know to put a bow on this thing. It's a rumination on certainty combined with a look back at history shot through with a conversation about current events gen gently lubricated with the presence of some anchor steam. It's that well great. I think that's a great place to stick a pin in it. But i wanna remind everyone. I that if you you've just heard chapter four of the way i heard it by micro the book based on this podcast if you would like to hear the entire audio version of this book uninterrupted you can get it wherever fine audio books are sold. You sound mighty certain chuck. I'm pretty sure just about just about anywhere. Fine books are sold otherwise. We'll see you next week. Hey you enjoy yourself down there. And whatever carolina you're in say. Hey your family. For me i will. I absolutely will and Oh on monday. You know we save. Which would be yesterday when this comes out like it's out now. Oh yeah tell. You really haven't quite cracked the whole space time leading you thing. No no i haven't but But yeah so Six degrees with micro on discovery plus. It's coming if it's not here already. It's coming and yeah. We'll be flogging that pony a much more later on but yeah brand new show chuck and i worked on available On discovery plus their new streaming service. So there you go look at it. I don't feel personally comfortable flogging. Anything else at this point in time you sound certain about that. Well i'm sort of this will be back next week until then of using.

Coming up next