Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind with a short attention span that used to be under 10 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 is upon us. Here's to here's to a bit more fun in 2021. This episode starts with Chapter four of my book, which is called No Polite Way to Put It tells the true story of a famous couple whose passion for each other burned so hot it very nearly ruined them. It's a love story at base that ginned up some controversy when it first appeared here on the podcast, partly because it deals with a practice we referred to today as sexting.
So the contents a bit nastier 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 characters that are out there, some of whom came by my Facebook page to let me know that they had heard things differently, which is, of course, fine by me. I'll 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 and 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 182 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 Lifestream for sponsoring this episode. Hey, if you're thinking about the high interest rate credit cards you used over the holidays, you are not alone. And when it comes to refinancing your credit cards, you do have options.
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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 1000 suns.
Excuse me, sir, but a letter has arrived, George leapt from his chair and ran to 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 sight of her handwriting quickened his pulse. The smell of her 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, it 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 his wife had so cleverly evoked.
When he finished, he wiped the perspiration from his brow and tried to return the favor. Good morning, my Rosebud, he wrote, Little John has been making constant and earnest inquiries for his bunkie for a very long time, and this morning he seems more persistent than ever.
I, too, 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 in much the same way he had devoured hers 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, their letters were the 19th century equivalent of naked selfies packed with double entendres 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 filly for their mutual pleasure and discuss the pros and cons of being ridden hard and put away wet.
True, George was a 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 little John, the pleasures of writing Tomboy and that soft place upon someone's carpet in need of a 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 90, she had single handedly transformed Georgia's reputation, not from that of a careless husband who had famously embarrassed his wife, but from that of a 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, while one claimed an arrow had been, forgive me, forced into his rectum, pushed through his intestines and into his Littlejohn, leaving his corpse in a 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 an abominable, totally unnecessary slaughter caused by the stupidity and rashness of a vain, calk 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 unforgivable 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 best selling author named Elizabeth Kuster.
I thought about Custer not long ago at a watering hole called Grumpy'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 a 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, an asteroid, gamma rays. Is it any wonder that after a long day of this stuff, I typically end up at Grumpy's? On that particular day, I had introduced my audience to the existence of strangelet killer particles that zombified matter, whatever that means. I wasn't blasé 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 rerecord something I've read in an earlier episode, not because I've screwed up, which never happens, but because new information has been discovered that 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 crisp, well modulated baritone that there were approximately 100 billion galaxies in the known 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 100 billion to two 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 than 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 600 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 he led his men into that valley of death? The 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 my undies.
Full disclosure, I wear my undies no matter what I'm narrating these days.
Yes, my undies are now my go to underpants. The sentence I didn't think I'd ever say before, but as a guy who wore tidy whities for like 50 years, this is a there's a bold 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. I don't really understand what they are, but they are amazingly comfortable. And I join their club now.
So once a once a month, I, I order stuff, they send me socks, they sent me these, I call them sweatpants like loungewear. I guess they're made out of the same crazy material. And 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 undies. You'll enjoy them to get 15 percent off your first order and free shipping. Get me on these dotcoms Mike.
That's me undies dotcom. 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 kind of don't know what you're missing until you slip into something completely different. Beyond's are amazing. They come in some colors that don't even occur in nature or some fairly traditional hues as well. There are some tribes say 15 percent. Me Ondes Dotcom 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 is yet to be determined.
Full disclosure, Chuck and I just spoke for roughly 25 minutes. And it was interesting. It was fascinating. Riveting. I thought so, too.
It was one of our better efforts. And Chuck, tell him what happened, would you, please?
Well, your way you were not recording on your end.
And and why was that?
Why was that, Chuck?
Because I had instructed you to plug your earbuds in after you were already recording, which subsequently ended 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, wildly incompatible, perhaps?
It's also interesting to note that you had no idea that, in fact, your device, which of course, is literally 3000 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 a Zoome call with Chuck, who is in one of the Carolinas.
Where are you? North Carolina. Yes, OK. 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 assuming with each other, but recording on GarageBand and I am not on the GarageBand 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 Klausmeier.
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's bar, I really think it's a great example. Another example really of why this book is not called the way it was definitively.
No, 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 a 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 most people know what made him famous. But I don't think and Chuck, tell me if I'm wrong.
I don't think most people knew that he was engaging in Anthony Weiner like sexting over a hundred years before sexting.
Victorian style, I believe, is how you described it. No, I. I certainly was not aware of that. I mean, when this came to light, I was like, tell me more.
This is fascinating. Well, that's only 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 as well.
You're very kind. You know, I'm I'm particularly proud of the image of him, you know, holding on to that letter with his with his free hand. Dear God, yeah, 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 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, you know, 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 broadcaster. 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 meta than that.
How are we not doing that right now, Larry?
We don't have time for it. No, we're not going to 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, but in absolute terms it has not.
You know, 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 you were alone. You had to dip your quill pen into the inkwell, as it were.
And you had a euphemism, 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 licked the envelope and and off it went probably on a pony.
I mean, it it took a long time, you know, for a young, horny couple to consummate their youth and their horniness in that way.
And so, yeah, it's completely different today, but it's not unexampled. As long as people have been walking around, they've been looking for ways to titillate one another. Yep.
And back then it was all about the AntiSec. Say a patient, correct, so the pushback I got on the story came in two different forms. 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 the dirty jobs guy, you know, talking in terms that seemed salacious, a bit naughty and so.
OK, 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's 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 than 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 this very episode, I sound no less certain when I'm right than when I'm wrong, even when I'm wrong by two trillion.
I mean to be to be wrong by two trillion universe. I mean 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 individual 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 that to me, more so than Anthony Weiner sexting in 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 you 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 turn of phrase. And 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's simply infected the news institutions or our or 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 a 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 less than, quote unquote, fake news, but more the idea that everything everyone is biased, therefore reporting has reporting, has gotten just journalism is sort of shat the bed, as it were.
You know, to me, it's like there are too many adjectives in journalism anymore.
You want to get just the facts. You want to you want to just hear what happened. The president said this. You know, the the governor did that.
And instead of saying he you know, the way in which he said it, the way in which he did it, well, we need places to go for context and color and insight.
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 Custer is that 600 men died on the banks of the Little Bighorn River as the result of a man who said, follow me.
And the men did. Right. And so, you know, 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 the presence of certainty is the thing that's most interesting to me, because even as the facts become sketchier and sketchier, 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 don't think you can have a presence of humility. And a presence of certainty somehow or another. Things have become deliciously arrogant 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 in 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 masked masks didn't work. He sounds pretty certain now to I'm going to call for a minute excuse me.
I always cough when I talk about Dr. Fauci and you look to the left.
So but, you know, I mean, am I going too far with that? You know, my my critics would say, Mike, you missed the point. Science is 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 you have to be humble if you're a 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 for the epigram that's at the beginning of the book that says be wary of all earnestness, because that's what earnestness is. 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 is.
And I think you're absolutely wrong, Mike, 100 percent not even close.
Well, the way you say, it sounds very believable.
There you go.
So tell me tell me about the the the story at Grumpy's and and tell me what was like. Do you remember who was there that you had this conversation with?
Well, two things. Grumpy's is a little bar here in San Francisco, not far from one union where I recorded the story. I've been going there for nearly 20 years. You know, I came up here to host Evening magazine back in 2001 and walked over to Grumpy's with a guy named James Reid, had a couple of beers one afternoon and conceived of an idea called Somebody's Got to Do It, which went on to become dirty jobs and so forth and so on.
So Grumpy's 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 2011. Maybe 2012 or maybe later. I'm just trying I'm trying to get it right, because how the universe works has been on my mind a lot lately. We just write we just redid the deal and we're going into season nine right now. So this was probably like season six or seven.
So it would have been more like 2000.
I don't know, 16 it was within the last 20 years. Go on.
And so there I was in Grumpy's, 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 just couldn't not get involved because I, you know, I narrate a program. Right.
And so 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 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, you know, denying this or or that. It's just about a conversation between a bunch of nice people who were all enjoying 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 in 12 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 or 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. Well, if it's it certainly shifted us to a new topic, which 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 or my favorite series, well, that's OK 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 could 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 favorite fashion or your favorite film, as opposed to the absolute nature of the end of the Earth and the absolute detail with which Custer's body was found 135, 40 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 gently, gently lubricated with the presence of some anchor steam.
Well, great, I think that's a great place to stick a pin in it, but I want to remind everyone first that if you you've just heard Chapter four of the way I heard it by Mike Rowe, 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, find audio books are sold.
You sound mighty certain, Chuck. Mighty certain. 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 and say hey to your family for me.
I will. I absolutely will.
And oh, on Monday, you know, when we save, which would be yesterday, when this comes out, it's like it's out now. Oh yeah.
It's um. Yeah. You really haven't quite cracked the whole space time continuum thing. No, no I haven't.
But but yeah.
So six degrees with Mike Rowe on Discovery plus it's coming.
If it's not here already, it's coming. And yeah, we'll be flogging that pony 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 certain of this will be back next week until then of using.