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Are roaches a moral failing? What makes a species native? What's a finsta? How do I help a horse experiencing object permanence? Can I use quarters I found? How do they do surgery on a fish? Why do only old people like stinky cheese? Hank and John Green have answers!

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 (00:00) to (02:00)

[intro music by Gunnarolla]

John Green: Hello and welcome to Dear Hank and John, or as I prefer to think of it Dear John and ...Roman Mars? That's right! It's a podcast where John -- your second-favorite Green brother -- is joined by your very favorite podcast host, Roman Mars, to answer your questions, give you dubious advice, and bring you all the week's news from both Mars and AFC Wimbledon. Roman, you're the host of 99% Invisible.

Roman Mars: I am.

J: One of my favorite podcasts of all time.

R: Oh, thank you.

J: How come you keep coming on Dear Hank and John??

R: [laughs] Because this is one of my favorite podcasts of all time. This is my family's podcast. The twins, when I have them in the car, we pull up Dear Hank and John, and when the question comes up they know-- I hate it when people talk over the podcast. [chuckles] So they reach forward-- 'cause I can't listen to two things at once. I've gotten old. And they reach forward--

J: I can relate.

R: --they reach forward and they hit pause on the little console. And they'll answer the question before you have a change to answer it. They go, "I think I know this." And this is part of our lives. So Dear Hank and John is very important to me. So I'm really honored to be here.

J: Well we are thrilled that you are here. The last time you were here -- and we don't usually bring this kind of thing up at the beginning of the podcast -- but something extraordinary has happened that I need to inform you about. The last time you were here you and Hank were chatting about-- remind me exactly what it was. It was... how many chickens would need to be in space before humans would notice? Is that correct?

R: [laughing] I think it was something like that. I don't recall it perfectly.

J: Great. Great. So we have received the following email from Rachel that I simply cannot wait to tell you about:

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Dear John and Hank,

Here in the astronomy community we take two things very seriously: Knowing everything that is in space, and April Fool's Day. For this April Fools' Day I roped a postdoc friend of mine into doing some math in order to answer the question that Hank and Roman Mars recently examined. How many chickens would there need to be in space before we would notice? 

J: This resulted in a scientific paper, Roman, called Nuggets of Wisdom, which is a good pun.

R: That's very good.

J: There's a lot of good puns in this paper. But I would just like to read you one sentence from the abstract and one sentence from the introduction. The abstract begins:

The lower limit on the chicken density function (CDF) of the observable universe was recently determined to be approximately 10^21 chickens per parsec. For over a year, however, the scientific community has struggled to determine the upper limit to the CDF. 
J: So we know the lower limit of the CDF. But what is the upper limit to the CDF? And then the introduction begins as follows:

The chicken density function (CDF) entered the scientific spotlight in a March 2022 episode when a listener of the podcast Dear Hank and John wrote in with a question. 

R: [softly] Oh my god.

J: The rest of the paper is epic. There is so much. I can't read it. I don't know what any of this stuff means. But the conclusion is that there would need to be about 10^18 chickens inside the orbit of the earth for us to start noticing.

R: Wow, that's a lot of chickens. Very close to the Earth.

J: I know!

R: That's a lot of chickens. [laughs]

J: [laughing] I was also surprised.

R: Goodness gracious.

J: I thought it would be maybe in the hundreds of thousands? But no, you could put a lot of chickens [laughing] in orbit before it would start to block our view.

R: [laughs] Oh, that is amazing. Oh, what a great way to start this episode.

J: We're never gonna reach those heights, unfortunately. So I hope you enjoyed listening to Dear John and Roman.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

J: Everything after this is gonna be a disappointment.

R: [laughing] Oh, I love it. So good.

J: Alright, you're an expert in architecture and the built world.

R: Okay, yeah, maybe.

J: So I wanted to ask you this question about an apartment.

Dear John and Roman,

Is it a moral failing to find a living roach in my apartment? Does a cockroach show up because I haven't cleaned thoroughly enough, as if to lecture me before I kill it? Or do they just wander in because they happen to be in the neighborhood? Do I have to vacuum and scrub every surface now that I have seen this roach?

Not trapped in The Metamorphosis,
R: Hmmm. I would say it not a moral failing at all.

J: Agree.

R: But. 

J: Oh.

R: Maybe you haven't cleaned thoroughly enough. [laughs]

J: Ohhh. I think that's victim-blaming.

R: [laughs] No, I just know that it isn't the fault... It isn't because you haven't cleaned enough. But if you want to never have a roach again, you should clean. Like, all the time. And get rid of all the crumbs and don't leave dog food out, and things like that. It's part of the, sort of, tactile warfare when it comes to cockroaches. But they will get there. They're everywhere. 

J: They're everywhere. They'll be at the very end, y'know? Like, right before the heat death of the universe. They'll be there. I think they come in-- and I take this quite personally because it's an ongoing argument in our family, whether the primary reason why we might have bugs or other non-human animals inside of our home is because of a failure in the architecture. Which is what I maintain. Like, there are little gaps that allow the roaches to come in.

 (06:00) to (08:00)

R: I see.

J: I don't know where they are. I don't think the roaches are born inside the house, y'know? And so I think that's the failing. And Sarah maintains the failing is that I am filthy. And I was really asking Rebecca's question as a kind of proxy question to you. And I don't like your answer.

R: [laughs] I do not think that you could construct so tight as to not have a cockroach be able to wind its way through it. But you could just pick up after yourself, John. You really could. [laughs]

J: [laughs] Yeah, no. I mean, I don't wanna disagree with you about it. I respect you a lot. I think of you as a friend. Um, but. You definitely could construct tight enough that it-- I know you could because, like, you can make a box. You could make a box that a roach can't get into. And a house is essentially a very large box.

R: It is a very large box. But if you wanted a hermetically sealed white room in which you do your viral research or whatever it is, you could probably avoid any roaches, but otherwise--

J: That's what I want. So that I can be as dirty as I want. I don't wanna do it for viral research. I don't wanna keep smallpox inside the room or whatever. I just wanna be able to be the person I wanna be in the space I wanna be in. Without risking a roach.

R: Yeah, I mean, have you considered putting a box inside the box? Like, your own space.

J: Great idea! Oh wow, if we pitch that idea to Sarah she'll be like, "Amazing, I love it. Give him a little box in the corner where he can go and drop all of his crumbs."

 (08:00) to (10:00)

J: [laughing] "Let him just sneak into his little box whenever he wants to eat. And then he can come out when he's done. He can pile all the dishes in there that he wants to pile. That's fine. Because that's his box."

R: [laughing] That's right. It's the only answer.

J: Alright, I think we've come to a conclusion, Rebecca. You just need to build a hermetically sealed box inside of your apartment. 

R: [reads]

Dear Roman and John,

I know a species is considered native if it is in a certain region due only to natural evolution. But is there a specific amount of time after which a species can be considered native? Is the definition of native species exclusively related to human interference, or could animals or other causes, such as natural disaster displacing a species, also make a species non-native? Also, is there such a thing as a plant being considered culturally native? For example, orange trees being a significant part of Spanish culture despite not being native to Spain?

Curious to know,

J: That's a really good name-specific sign-off, Mordecai. 

R: Yeah, it is. It's very good.  What do you think?

J: Well, I have a strong opinion about this because I live in Indianapolis which -- depending on your definition of native species --  "How far back does it go?" is the first question. Because if it goes back over 12,000 years there's no native species to Indiana other than ice. Because all of this was covered by a glacier that was, like, 4,000 feet thick. And maybe there was some moss and stuff but there weren't any big, big parties. But. I am particularly fascinated by this tree called the ginko tree, the Ginko biloba? And there were not ginko trees in Indianapolis until about 120 years ago. In fact, not to brag, but the first ginko tree in Indianapolis was planted by Kurt Vonnegut's great-great-grandfather and I get to walk past it sometimes. So the ginko is an invasive species in the sense that it's not native to Indianapolis. Except, until 2 million years ago there were ginko trees. Right here, along the banks of the White River.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

R: Hmm, interesting. Interesting.

J: So it's not a native tree, but it also is a native tree. I think -- and I'm interested to get your perspective -- but I think that when we think of... like, I've been talking to a lot of horticulturalist people lately because we're planting a bunch of trees around here to try to even the score. I've caused a lot of -- you have, too. You've caused a lot of trees to be cut down. 

R: Yeah, fair enough.

J: And I think... I don't like to get too much into my religious beliefs, but I think that's a significant impediment to getting into heaven. And so I'm trying to plant some trees to even the score a little bit. So that St. Peter won't be so pissed off with me when I get up there. And one of the things that I've learned, at least in talking to these landscape-y people, is that we tend-- I tend to think of native or non-native as being, in terms of plants, as being a dichotomy. Like a light switch that's either on or off. But they think of it much more as a spectrum. Which I tend to find is the case with a lot of experts? Like, things that I think of as a lay person as dichotomous, people who are experts in the field tend to think of as spectral.

R: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Especially with this idea that the fink could be kind of grandfathered in. Or, y'know, Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather-ed into our understanding since it existed well before humans and then was introduced later. The simple explanation of what non-native is, it's if humans weren't involved it's native and if humans were it non-native. But I can see how that would be... it is sort of a little bit of a false dichotomy when it comes to how we operate in the world.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

R: And definitely chance events with animal distribution and whatever could introduce something into an area. Which is kind of a stunning achievement. And just because it's not a human doesn't mean it's not remarkable and unique. And the way it would invade would be exactly the same. So I think this is fascinating. I'm not sure.

J: We're not the only weird species and activity moving things around.

R: For sure. Like when... Oh my god, this is, like, a deep pull so it might be completely wrong. 

J: I love that. That's. Hey, that's what this podcast is all about, Roman. Deep cuts that might be wrong but we're not gonna research.

R: [laughs] But basically, up until the point that people realize that plate tectonics, that the continents moved around, there was a great amount of study to justify the movement of plant and animal species across these very far-flung continents. And it was so advanced... As I recall this story, very distantly from my education... Like, a large book just came out at the very moment right before plate tectonics that was describing in great detail how all the animals and plants made it. It was like the Unified Theory of Movement. And then a year later geologists were like, "Okay, so here's the thing." [laughs]

J: Yeah. "Ah, there may be a simpler explanation that this, like, 1400 page theory of everything."

R: And then the distribution made more sense because things were on the land and as it moved along and glaciers came and all that sort of stuff.

 (14:00) to (16:00)

R: The point being, is you can get very far-- I mean, islands are obviously populated by things that feel just as extreme interventionist as a human that lands in a place and it is not natural that it lands there but it is natural that it lands there. And I like to think of ourselves as not so much separate from nature as a part of nature.

J: Yeah! Right. Right, like, we think of ourselves as being artificial even though we are made out of Earth and everything inside of us is Earth.

R: That's right.

J: We're not that artificial of an intelligence as artificiality goes. You know what your story-- and I don't know if you know this about me lately but I like to relate everything to the history of human responses to tuberculosis.

R: [laughing] I do!

J: And your story about plate tectonics reminds me of the story about tuberculosis, which means that I have to tell this. And I'm extremely sorry, but. So this guy Robert Koch is the guy who finally proved-- Lots of people already knew that tuberculosis was a contagious disease. Lots of people in the Americas and in part of Asia. But in northern Europe especially it was really seen as having had to be inherited. Because it went with all these personality traits. These personality traits we associated with civilization, like intelligence and emotional sensitivity, and just sort of being, like, a John Keats-y kind of character. And so in 1881 this medical textbook was published that had a whole chapter on the so-called consumptive personality. Like what kinds of people were inevitably going to get consumption. And it was the same thing, where it was like this theory of everything that explained every case of consumption that anybody could possibly as associated with this personality, or else that thing happening in childhood, or else your parents did this or whatever.

 (16:00) to (18:00)

J: And then, literally the next year, Robert Koch was like, "Nah, I'm pretty sure this is bacteria? I found it? Here's a picture of it? I think it's that." Which rendered the biggest medical textbook in northern Europe totally out of date in six months.

R: Love it. Love it.

J: It's not even that good of a tuberculosis story. It's just that I know it. And I want you to know it.

R: [laughs] I'm one of the people who-- Maybe I'm the one person who cheers when a tuberculosis story starts to come up on a Dear Hank and John. I'm like, "More! I wanna know it all."

J: I just can't believe it! I still cannot believe tuberculosis is at the center of human history in such dramatic, obvious ways. From the stethoscope to the cowboy to the existence of the state of New Mexico. But also, on a more serious, less funny ha-ha note, I cannot believe that 40 million people have died of tuberculosis in this century. And I didn't know any of that. I thought that tuberculosis was a disease of the past. So I think my obsession with tuberculosis is really about my confoundedness of thinking of myself as a reasonably engaged person. And certainly an engaged person when it comes to potential health problems. And yet, I just had no idea. So it really has reoriented my understanding of the world.

R: Wow. I love that stuff.

J: Alright, let's move on to another question. I will do my best to not relate it to tuberculosis. This is about an old Instagram account, which Robert Koch did... No, he didn't. Alright, Missy asks:

Dear John and Roman,

I have an old Instagram account that I forgot the password to a couple years ago that has quite a few followers and a couple thousand posts. (It was a finsta.) 

J: Now, we should stop here. What is a finsta? Do you know?

R: I have no idea.

J: Okay. What could it be?

 (18:00) to (20:00)

J: Could it be a financial Instagram? 

R: Yeah.

J: That you use to raise money? Like a GoFundMe?

R: Finsta...

J: Finsta...

R: I mean, that's sounds like that to me. Because fin-tech is financial tech and stuff like that, yeah.

J: Right, yeah, that's what I was thinking.

R: Yeah.

J: Alright, we'll just assume that. [resumes reading]

(It was a finsta.) There are some things that I've said on that account that totally are not reflective of who I am today and that I'm not proud of. 

J: Like, did you raise money via a lie? It doesn't matter. That's the point. Is that Missy said things that they're not proud of. [resumes reading]

I don't know the email that it's linked to. It was probably a fake one. Nor the phone number. So basically it's up forever. What do I do if I get famous and successful and these old posts from when I was 14-18 and stupid get surfaced?

Definitely going to be cancelled,


R: Wow. Whew.

J: Oh god, I mean, I really... I would like to say I'm so grateful I don't have this problem? But I might

R: [laughs] I think everyone is going to have it soon.

J: I'm terrified. I mean, I'm really scared of it. Like, I also said a lot of things, Missy, when I was younger -- and not just 18.

R: Yeah. Yeah, totally.

J: That do not reflect who I am today. Right? Like, I think that's the hope, right? Is that you're not the same person at 45 that you were at 25 or 15.

R: Absolutely.

J: But there is a way that the internet turns things into... Well, first off, I guess it makes sense to be held accountable for being that person on some level. But like, the internet kind of turns things into a... I feel this with publishing, too, a little bit. It turns things into, like, a... Like, time stops. I get older but those books don't. Like, I grow up and my books don't. And that's part of why people my books, because now if I wrote some of those older books they would be way less good. But way more mature. [laughs] Y'know?

R: You would've thought through the problems and totally cut them off at the pass.

 (20:00) to (22:00)

J: Yeah yeah yeah yeah, totally. Totally.

R: Fifty pages long.

J: Right. It'd be, like, a 60-page book.

R: Like, "Buck up, kid."

J: [laughs] It'd be more like, "Hey, don't make these bad choices, okay? Why are you romanticizing this girl? Just don't do it! It's immature, man." Yeah, so I'd be much preachier and much more like a dad. Which would probably make the books worse. But that's who I am now. And I'm much more proud of this person. Anyway, the point is, like, I dunno, how do you deal with this? Because you've been a public person for a long time.

R: [draws deep breath] Yeahhhh...

J: How do you deal with it?

R: The one story that comes to mind is I did a tweet during the height of the Democratic nomination when it was Barak Obama versus Hillary Clinton. And my tweet was--

J: 2008.

R: 2008. My tweet was something like, "I met a die-hard Hillary person and it was kinda weird." 'Cause at that point I was always surrounded by Barak Obama people, okay? And then there was some Twitter meme eight years later that was kind of like, "Hey, go find an eight-year-old tweet and repost it."  And it just so happens that eight years later Hillary Clinton was running aginst Donald Trump. [laughs] And this tweet resurfaced. And people were like, "Roman! What the hell?"

J: [laughing] Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

R: And it was like, the thing was just so innocent. 'Cause at the time it was actually kind of a cool anomaly. I met an organizer for Hillary. It was kinda weird. 

J: Yeah, you didn't mean it as an insult. It's just like it was kinda surprising to you coming from the world that you came from that there were--

 (22:00) to (24:00)

J: 'Cause I think my parents were like this in 2008. They were like, Hillary Clinton supporters but not like aggressive about it, y'know? They weren't knockin' on doors.

R: And at the time there was so much energy for Barak Obama. It was just like, that was the sea I was swimming in, y'know? And so anyway, this is my mild version of this. And it was extremely uncomfortable to try to explain that with some kind of nuance when it seemed like a choice was about to be made that was going to destroy the world, y'know? And so mostly what I do, and since then I think over time I have removed more of my personality and my takes on things just in general as a protective measure.

J: Yeah. I should do that. But I can't stop. I can't st-- Well,  I need to stop. But I can't stop.

R: And I really do focus on positive things, y'know? And I just hope that that doesn't get taken poorly. I dunno. It's just sort of like... I dunno.

J: Right, right. 'Cause you don't wanna seem like a Pollyanna. Like everything's golden.

R: Yeah. Yeah.

J: But I think what the internet is missing is hope? I think the most punk rock thing in the world right now is earnestness and optimism.

R: Yeah, I agree.

J: They're so radically counter-cultural.

R: Totally. Totally. 

J: And so I think that is what the internet needs. But then sometimes when I'm doing that I think, "Am I gonna come across as somebody who's oblivious to the world's problems?" Even when I was writing The Anthropocene Reviewed I was super conscious of that because I was like... I remember I was writing the intro and I was like, "I want this to be about this desire to fall in love with the world," but then I was like, "Oh but that's gonna seem like I don't care about injustice." And, "I think everything's beautiful and amazing on Earth." And that's not how I feel, of course.

 (24:00) to (26:00)

J: I think it's a complicated story. So yeah, I really struggled with finding the way through that. How do you be earnestly hopeful while still acknowledging the reality not just of suffering, but also of the unjust distribution of suffering?

R: Absolutely. It is so hard to represent yourself thoroughly and completely. And your hope is that if this finsta, whatever that is, is discovered it's taken in totality with everything else that you've produced and made. There is a habit of... [pauses] When people get into arguments it's easier to land a blow on someone who is more like you who would feel your admonishment than someone who is so different from you they do not care [chuckles] that they hate you or whatever. Or you hate them. And so it creates a kind of... I'm thinking of like an E.O. Wilson valley where the evolution is very hard to skip over because it's so painful to change. You get hurt by the people you like the most during that period of time or whatever.

J: Mmhmm.

R: And so I'm sympathetic to this and hopefully... Well, I mean. Now everyone's gonna be trying to find Missy's finsta. [laughs]

J: I mean, it sounds like it's gonna be pretty hard since Missy doesn't know the name of the email address associated with the finsta, or the password. But don't we have to kind of forgive ourselves? Don't we have to kinda forgive 14-year-olds?

R: Absolutely.

J: Because they're 14.

R: Absolutely. 

J: To some extent? I know that that's not a blanket statement. But we have to acknowledge that these people's brains are getting formed.

 (26:00) to (28:00)

J: And they are capable of change. And in fact will, and need to, change.

R: Totally. And it should be celebrated when it does happen. And not taken to task. But I'm sensitive to the idea of this reaction to cancel culture, which is a thing that I don't fundamentally believe exists in the way it is presented a lot of the time. It's just one of those really really tricky things. And what I would recommend is just, like. Be out there. Be good. Be a good person in the world. And this type of stuff will hopefully never be discovered. And if it ever is, part of the story is that you've become this new person. Which is super important.

J: Yeah! And in a way I think the argument that becoming that new person doesn't erase the hurt that you may have caused.

R: Sure.

J: Or the hurt that you did cause. Is important to acknowledge as well. And that's part of the way that the conversation around co-called cancel culture, I think, gets really off track. Is that it needs to allow for both of these realities. Both the reality that people grow and change, and the reality that people can cause harm and then grow and change and that harm is still real.

R: Totally. Such a mess. I feel sorry for anyone who had to navigate it very, very young.

J: Yeah! I mean, exactly. Like, to be... yeah. I don't even... When I was 18 years old? I don't remember... I don't remember what I was like. I don't... I wasn't great.

R: No.

J: I smoked a lot of cigarettes. Sarah went to the same high school I did so she sorta remembers me from high school. And she's like, "The only thing I really remember about you is that you, like, kinda smelled like really stale smoke? And you were, like, sorta cute but mostly because you seemed like trouble." [laughs]

 (28:00) to (30:00)

J: And that's so different from my personality now! Nobody would see me today and be like, "He's sorta hot, but only 'cause he seems like trouble!" [laughs]

R: [laughs] Yeah, that's a real 180 right there.

J: [laughing] Nobody on Earth seems like less trouble. [laughs] About as intimidating as a goldfish that's left its bowl. I'm clearly not in the environment in which I thrive, if there even is such a thing.

R: [laughs] Totally.

J: I like that we're answering questions very slowly. And not that many of them. It's Hank's least favorite kind of Dear Hank and John but it's my favorite.

R: Oh good, good. Well, I'm here to serve.

J: I think it's gonna be okay, about this finsta. But to be fair, we don't really know what a finsta is so it might not be okay. I wish I could give you a blanket reassurance.

R: Maybe it's a fascist insta account? Maybe then you would have some problems.

J: Oooooooooh. Yeah. I hope there's not a whole genre of fins-- like, I've heard the word finsta before. And if it was all about fascism I think I would know that.

R: Yeah, okay.

J: I think it's about fundraising. Alright. And if you fundraised under a false pretense, man, that's not great. But you were 14. You should apologise, try to make back the money and give it back.

R: Agreed.

J: Kiowa asks:

Dear John and Roman,

Someone I love very much is going through a tough grieving process. His girlfriend, the love of his life, suddenly had to move for work and no one knows when she'll come back. He's having a very hard time with her absence and ca--

J: No one knows when she'll come back??

R: [laughs] Okay.

J: Can't you call her?

R: Yeah.

J: [resumes reading]

He's having a very hard time--

J: Did she go to space? [resumes reading]

He's having a very hard time with her absence and can't understand why she has left or where she has go--

J: Why doesn't he call her?

R: Yeah.

J: [resumes reading]

Or that she will be back eventually. How can I help him in this trying time? Important context: he is a horse.

 (30:00) to (32:00)

J: Ohhhhhhhh. [laughs]

R: [laughs] Okay, well there we go. There we go.

J: He's a horse!

R: He's a horse of course.

J: [laughing] He's a horse.

R: Okay.

J: [resumes reading]

His girlfriend is another horse who went away to training for a while. He doesn't understand English other than his name and the words "no" and "good boy."

J: Doesn't he understand, like, what's the... what do you say? "Giddyup." Does he understand "giddyup"? What's the other one you say? "Halt."

R: "Ho. Whoa."

J: "Ho! Whoa." Whoa! It's whoa! You say whoa! Kiowa, you've come to the right place. In addition to being finsta experts Roman and I are clearly equestrians.

R: Cowboys. [laughs] Through and through.

J: [laughing] And dangerous. Dangerous! Dangerous boys. Hot and dangerous!

R: "All I remember about you is the stale smell of cigarette smoke, a little bit of danger, and how you rode that horse." [laughs]

J: [laughs] If there's anybody on Earth who looks less comfortable on a horse than I do I haven't met them. Alright, Kiowa. We've got a horse problem. This is a bummer. I remember this happened-- There was a period in my life where I had two dogs. But one of the dogs died. And it was awful. Because the other dog was just confused and heartbroken. And I felt like-- Maybe this is anthropomorphizing, but I felt like the other dog was like, "Why did you take away my best friend?" Y'know? They didn't get to go through the grieving-- they didn't see the death. They weren't like... So I think they were just confused and super sad. I don't have a solution for this, I just thought it was sad.

R: Or alternatively, maybe they view all absences as death. 

J: Ohh.

 (32:00) to (34:00)

R: Like a kind of, like, fundamental object impermanence type of thing. That they just like--

J: But then sometimes death is followed by rebirth and then the other times it isn't.

R: Mmm.  Whoof. I mean the thing is, when it comes to this stuff, is you can never address the true problem. But addressing the symptoms is pretty good. Which is, touch your horse. Be with your horse. Do things with your horse. And there will be fleeting moments in which they will not feel this pain. And that's the best you can do. And it probably is the best anyone can do. Then that's what you should do.

J: That's also probably the best that we can usually do for each other?

R: Agreed.

J: Y'know? Is accompaniment. Like, "Can't solve this problem for you because it's not solvable. And also you don't need me to solve it because you already know that it's unsolvable. And so my attempts to, like, solve it or minimize it are not actually what you need. What you actually need. What you actually need is just accompaniment."

R: Yeah. Yeah.

J: Just to not be so alone.

R: Yeah, agreed.

J: Yeah, I know this chaplain, Vanessa Zoltan, who is also a great podcast host. And she told me a story once about being with somebody in the midst of terrible, terrible crisis and loss. And this person saying something like, "My life will never be the same." And instead of saying, like, "Well, 'yknow, in time it will get better," Vanessa said, "I know." And just the acknowledgment of the hugeness of what was happening is more of a gift than trying to minimize somebody's experience.

R: Yeah, absolutely.

J: Or some horse's experience.

R: [laughs] And the good news is you get to spend a lot of time with a horse. That seems like a nice horse.

J: Yeah, it seems like good horse with big feelings. Which... my kinda horse. I like an emotionally engaged horse.

R: [laughing] Same.

 (34:00) to (36:00)

J: Before this Roman and I were talking. And we were talking about how some people hosting this podcast have... are a bit ruminative. Spend a lot of time thinkin'. Spend a lot of time analyzing. And Roman said the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. And I promised him I was going to give him a year to use it.

R: [laughing] Not even...

J: But I can't.

R: Not even thirty minutes! [laughs]

J: I didn't even give him forty minutes. What he said was, "You know, it really is true that unexamined life isn't worth living. But the overexamined life isn't much better." [laughs] It's so true! Why do I overexamine life?? Why does that horse overexamine life? It's gonna be fine. Your girlfriend's comin' back, man! Why do I overexamine life? "The overexamined life also isn't that great!" Where's all the attention for the overexamined life? That reminds me. That reminds me that today's podcast is brought to you by The Overexamined Life. The Overexamined Life: it's a Roman Mars original that I stole forty minutes after he said it.

R: [laughs] This podcast is also brought to you by 10^18 Chickens. That's a lotta chickens!

J: [laughing] That's a lot of chickens. I don't know if that accounts for their spacesuits, y'know? But maybe they don't need to have spacesuits. It doesn't say living chickens. It's chickens. Today's podcast is additionally brought to you by Finsta. Finsta: [pause] Is it financial? I'm not looking it up.

R: Yeah, don't.

J: I'm never gonna look it up.

R: This podcast is also brought to you by Boxes Inside of Boxes: A place where you can be messy, and eat, and free of cockroaches. Or maybe just live in harmony with cockroaches.

 (36:00) to (38:00)

J: This next question comes from Max, who writes:

Dear John and Roman,

Recently I was at an ice cream store that has an arcade machine in the corner. And I went over to play there and I found six quarters resting on the machine. Can I use those quarters? No one else was around who looked like the quarters were theirs. Was someone coming back for them? Did they just leave them there for someone to use? I've had this happen a couple times before and I can't decide if it's morally right to use them.

Only a little mad,

R: Yeah, use 'em!

J: I think you got to.

R: Yeah. I think they're there on purpose. I think they're there left for you. 

J: Right. And then maybe if you feel al little weird about using them after you have that 4-5 minutes of gaming joy that six quarters can buy you these days, you go to the ice cream store and you're like, "Hey, can I get six quarters?" And you just leave the six quarters there for the next person. But I think it's just for you. I was recently at an arcade, a pinball thing. And there was -- I'm a big pinball fan.

R: Yeah, Martín on our show is a huge pinball fan. And I am a big admirer. I'm just so... not good at it. That I have I haven't grabbed onto it as a hobby. But I love it.

J: Right. I'm not good, either. It's very much like my relationship with skateboarding. Y'know, like, I admire the people who are very good at it and I think that it's very beautiful but then when I play it's a pretty fast game. But I just love the machines. I love the noises. It's like everything that a casino can give you, but it's way less expensive.

R: Totally. [laughs]

J: And so, anyway, I was at this pinball arcade and there was a pinball machine with four plays on it. And I think it had four plays on it because the person before me had scored, like, 700 billion points or whatever. And then just walked away. But I did, I went to the pinball wizard guy who runs the pinball arcade, and I was like, "Hey, this machine has four free plays on it." And he looked at me like what's wrong with you?

 (38:00) to (40:00)

J: I was like, "Do you think I can use 'em?" And he was like, "Yeah. Yeah, you can use 'em. Otherwise you're gonna put a dollar in the machine and then it's gonna have five free plays." [laughs] So I think you should just use them.

R: Yeah, you should just use 'em. Live like that guy. But I love the idea of leaving six other quarters. But you definitely use the ones that are there and put new quarters on. [laughs]

J: Totally. 100%. Critical. Do you have a favorite quarter?

R: Oh, you mean, like, the state varieties of quarters?

J: Or, like, maybe it's the original. Maybe you like that eagle.

R: Yeah.

J: Or maybe, like, the bicentenn-- I loved the bicentennial one when I was a kid. I was like-- Because it was so special?

R: Yeah.

J: But now all the quarters look weird.

R: They do. And it's sort of... I would say I don't at this point. Although, someone pitched us a story once about all the quarters. And that is the type of story I would love to know. I would follow that thread. I don't know if it [jazzed?] everyone else on the staff, which is probably why it didn't make it? But I do think there's a little bit of a problem with all the special quarters. Is like, if they're all special no one is special.

J: None of them, right.

R: Yeah, and so you don't get an affinity for, like that bicentennial quarter, which showed up every once in a while. That you could attach some meaning to. But I have to admit generally I'm just pretty delighted by each one 'cause I love that type of federal, civic symbolism. I love finding out what people choose to represent themselves. Is super interesting to me. But I can't name my favorite. I can barely even picture one of them.  But I spend time looking at them, for sure.

 (40:00) to (42:00)

J: I know that you're a flag enthusiast. And one of the things that I like most about Indianapolis. Maybe the thing that I like most about Indianapolis is our city flag. Good. Really good flag. Doesn't say Indianapolis on it, which makes it rare. And valuable on its own. But it's also a really good flag. And then the state of Indiana -- and this is a huge surprise because you would think that it would have a terrible flag. And it has a bad one. But it's not nearly as bad as most state flags.

R: I think it's a good state flag.

J: Eh, it's.  Yeah. They could take the word Indiana off of it and then it would be great.

R: If I'm picturing it right, it's the one with torch and--

J: It is.

R: Yeah, they could totally--

J: Dark blue background. Golden torch. And then some stars around it. It's beautiful.

R: I totally agree. It would improve greatly, just take the word Indiana off of it. But the bones of it, if you did that, are real solid. In my opinion. But Indianapolis is a great city flag. And it's basically a cross that's centered, and then it has that white star with a red circle. It's lovely. I just was talking about the Indianapolis flag yesterday. 

J: Oh wow.

R: With Michael Green, who runs a thing called Flags for Good. And he was telling me about the original version of that. This is about a... 70?... year old flag, I think? Roughly? And the original version of it had the cross off center. More like a nordic cross. And it won a contest where-- someone designed it, it won a contest, the designer left the state, and it was adopted. And he came back to Indianapolis at some point and then the flag was flying and he was like, "Oh, they re-centered my flag." [laughs]

 (42:00) to (44:00)

J: [laughing] Well. But it should be in the center because, as I've understood it, is that Indianapolis is a city built on a grid. But the very center of the grid is a circle.

R: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It makes a ton of sense.

J: And so you can actually -- not to be too nerdy -- but wherever you live in Indianapolis, which is a huge physical city. It's, like, one of the physically largest cities in America. You can point to the part of the flag where you live. Like, if you live in the northwest side you can point there. If you live southeast you can point there. And you can, sort of, use the flag as like, "I live approximately here." As long as you're inside of the city. Like, inside of the beltway.

R: Yeah, yeah. I love flags that are stylized maps. St. Louis has a good one like that, that shows the rivers converging into this fleur de lis that represents the city. I like it. They need to be pretty stylized for them to work, in my opinion. Indianapolis is a really good example of that. But when they work they work great. I love 'em.

J: Yeah. And I love the dark blue. I love the light blue of a Chicago-style flag.

R: Same, same.

J: But the dark blue works for Indianapolis.

R: I think so, too.

J: That's great to hear. I'm just happy to know that Indianapolis was in your mind in any way. That's like, "We're just happy to be included and have it not be about something horrific." One time I met with the governor. And he was like, [deep, slightly slurred voice] "Whaddaya need to be able to do your business effectively?" And I was like, "I mean. I need you to. Shut. Up. Is the main thing I need. Honestly. Like, I need you to, like, stop ruining it. For me." But what I said was like, "You know what, Governor, every time Indianapolis is in the national news -- I don't know if you've noticed this -- it's bad. Indianapolis never makes news for being awesome."

 (44:00) to (46:00)

J: "And so what I would love is for you to stop making news."

R: [laughs] That is good advice. That's good advice in general.

J: [laughs] Stop pumpin' the breaks on everyone else's attempt to make this a normal, nice place to hang out, and recruit, and work, and live.

R: Yeah. Wow.

J: And let us have a soccer team.

R: [reads]

Dear Roman and John,

I was driving with my sister the other day when we spotted a car wrapped to look like a clownfish. The back of the car said it was for a mobile fish veterinarian. Which got us thinking: How do they do surgery on a fish? Do they do it underwater? Is there a water mask for the gills like an oxygen mask for people? Do people even get surgeries on their fish? 

They didn't teach us this in school,

J: Oh.

R: There ya go.

J: I get it. Now, I would assume that a mobile fish veterinarian is not performing surgeries but is instead being like, "Your fish is good." Or, "Your fish is not good. And here's some fish medicine."

R: Exactly.

J: But is there fish surgery? Surely there can't be.

R: I was very intrigued by this, 'cause I saw this one. I didn't do tons of research today, but--

J: We didn't do anything about finstas, that's for sure.

R: But I saw this one and I was like, "I'm pretty curious about this myself. And there's no way I can make a guess." It turns out, yes there is fish surgery. In fact--

J: No.

R: Yes. I would say that most of the time that a veterinarian is called in for a fish it is to add chemicals or antibiotics to deal with some kind of ick or something like that. But for very expensive fish or fish that you're very attached to-- probably larger? Like, I saw pictures of a fish surgery. And it was something to behold.

 (46:00) to (48:00)

R: Anna is right, there is a kind of water mask for [laughing] for their gills. So-- [laughs]

J: Oh, so they take them out of the water but they keep the water on them?

R: Yeah, they take them out of the water -- I mean, at least the one I saw -- they take them out of the water, they have a tube that goes in their mouth that pumps water over their gills so that they can breathe, they are anesthetized, and they cut them open, they remove their little lump or something, they sew them back up, and then you have fish surgery.

J: Wow.

R: I know. Humans are remarkable. [laughs]

J: Amazing. Amazing. The things that we can do when we care. It's incredible. We can perform surgery on fish.

R: We can, yeah. Yeah. Love it.

J: That's pretty mind-blowing. I'm sure somebody's gonna send us an email a year from now that's like, "Actually we did a study and we found out that fish perform surgery on fish, too. And here's our paper full of puns that we published on April 1st." But it's pretty remarkable that humans can do fish surgery.

R: Yeah, I love it.

J: Incredible. Alright, I always wanted to ask you this question about cheese.

R: Okay.

J: From Evan, who writes:

Dear John and Roman,

I come to you with a question. I work at a cafe that specializes in wine and cheese. And we have two cheese platters. One for bland tastes and one stinky cheese platter. We're talking moldy cheeses. Why do only old people enjoy stinky cheese? Do younger people have more sensitive taste buds? People under 35 always go for the bland cheeses. Gouda, brie, etc. 

Smell ya later,

R: Yeah. Actually. [laughs]

J: Really?

 (48:00) to (50:00)

R: Yeah, our tastebuds get older and they get less sensitive. And you are more likely, in general, to enjoy stronger flavors as you get older because those tastebuds just aren't firing like they used to.

J: Mmm. That's so interesting. That explains why... If you told me 15 years ago that a significant portion of my free time would be spent with my mother growing peppers from seed, and then taking care of them in the garden for six months, and then over the next six months processing them into hot sauce? I would've been like, "What?" My mom lives next door to me. That would've been first surprise.

R: [laughing] Your first surprise, yeah.

J: I would've been like, "And I love it? Wow." And my second surprise would've been that I make hot sauce with my mom. But it's so fun. And also, I love hot sauce! Which I didn't 15 years ago.

R: Hot sauce is the best. I love hot sauce, too.

J: I'll send ya some.

R: Yeah, I need some Green Family hot sauce.

J: I don't know if you'll like our family hot sauce but it's-- you won't complain that it's not spicy enough.

R: [laughs] Yeah, so I think the two things working here are the ravages of time and also exposure. I think that if you, over time you try more things you start to like more things. I think you can refine your palate through exposure and like stinkier cheese and all kinds of stronger smells and tastes and stuff like that. It's one of the great things about growing older, actually. In my opinion.

J: I agree. I went to a blue cheese... like, educational evening? Several years ago, y'know? Like one of those things where--

R: Sure, one of those things you do.

J: Yeah, I dunno. Sarah was like, "Oh, I got us tickets to a blue cheese education session." And I was like, [flatly] "Great." And I was very unenthusiastic. This is very standard with me, where I'll be like, "Why are you making me leave the house?"

 (50:00) to (52:00)

J: "It's the only place where I'm happy. Just put me in my hermetically sealed box and allow me to eat Ritz crackers. I don't need any of this fancy stuff." And then I went and it was amazing. It was amazing. I learned so much. And also I love to experience people's passions.

R: Oh my god. It's, like, the cornerstone of my entire career. Honestly. 

J: Yes. Yeah!

R: I love people who love things. So much. That I could watch someone expressing their love for a thing all day long. I love it.

J: Yeah! Yeah, and it doesn't really matter that much what it is.

R: Yeah, totally.

J: I mean, as long as it's not, like, something horrible, y'know? For me there's not a huge differentiation between people who are extremely passionate about yarn and people who are extremely passionate about fourth tier English football. It's just the passion. It's the love. It's the fascination. It's the, "Oh, I forgot to tell you something else that's really really important about the world's largest ball of twine." That feeling... it's magical.

R: It really is. It really is. That's my favorite part of my job. Is talking to those folks who really light up when they talk about the simplest things that excite them. It's just so, so, so, so, so good. Yeah, I can totally enjoy a cheese class even though I am not a stinky cheese guy at all. But I would be into it.

J: I recently went skiing for the first time, which I had no interest in. And I'm 45 years old. I don't think I'm going to become an expert skier. 

R: [laughing] Odds are against it.

J: [laughing] I mean, on a few levels, right? Like, nobody looked at me and thought, like, "Well that guy's got a chance at the Olympics." And anyway, I went skiing. I don't know if you've ever been skiing-- are you a skier?

R: No, I mean, I.... no. It wasn't part of my life in central Ohio. [laughs]

 (52:00) to (54:00)

J: [laughing] Same. Exactly. Right? Like, very far away from anything that I-- and just never had any interest in it. But anyway, I went. And I didn't... uh. It was fine. I liked it. It was great. I, y'know. Whatever. It's a good time outside, all that. Mountains are beautiful, etc. But the thing that I loved was my ski instructor, Haley, who loved skiing. And understood it deeply. And was passionate about it. And needed to share things with me about it that weren't necessarily about my skiing. It was just about what makes skiing awesome and interesting. And the things that you're able to do on skis that you can't do without them. And I was like, "That's the best part of this vacation for me."

R: Totally. Totally.

J: Getting to learn from Haley about skiing. I think that stuff's beautiful.

R: Agree.

J: And it is one of the great joys of listening to 99% Invisible. By the way, if you haven't listened to 99% Invisible I'm extremely jealous of you because you're about to have the best experience. You're about to find out that are actually really good podcasts out there. It's so good. But that's one of the joys of listening to it, is that so often you introduce those stories of people's deep love of things. Their deep fascinations. And you kinda model how that happens, in a way? In some episodes, like, you allow the listener to experience some of the same magic of falling in love with something.

R: What I like most about the show and the way it changed me in the past 13 or 14 years that I've been doing it-- and I have to really stress: over the years my role in what makes the show great has diminished significantly.

 (54:00) to (56:00)

R: [laughs] 'Cause I have this team of people who make it and are so, so good. And I always say that I'm like the third or fourth or maybe the fifth most important person on any story. But I'm there for every story, y'know? But what I love the most in terms of that awareness of the world is these designers of our built world and makers of things are solving problems before you even have them. When you operate in the world you are in the warm embrace of people thinking about things that you don't even need to bother thinking about. They've handled it for you. And it's changed my outlook. It makes the world feel so much more caring in general, just by thinking about curb cuts and street lights and things like that. It really really changes my mood when I work on a story, y'know? Or witness someone else working on a story. And say, "Oh, you should move this here."

J: You start to see all the systems that people participate in and strengthen for each other, y'know? Like, whether that's manhole covers or sewer systems. We are all working together on some level to make things easier for each other. And that's so lovely.

R: I know.

J: It's such a much better way of thinking about what we're up to as a species.

R: Agreed. It's totally reoriented my brain, doing the show. And so hopefully you get some of that effect when you listen to it, too.

J: I certainly do. Alright, Roman, it's time for the all-important news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon. I'll go first. There is no team in professional football, anywhere, as far as I can tell, on Earth, right now, that has lost more games from winning positions than AFC Wimbledon.

 (56:00) to (58:00)

J: And today, as we're recording this, Good Friday... Or should I say bad Friday... AFC Wimbledon played Harrogate Town, one of the worst teams in League Two. Favorite to go down. Not even be a professional team anymore. Won't be able to play as them in FIFA next season, maybe. We were winning 2-0, two goals from Ethan Chislett in the 85th minute. Five minutes to go. And I thought to myself, "Maybe we're gonna win a football game." [long pause] But no. No. We gave up a goal. Stupid goal. Really annoying. And then, in the last second of added time there was a corner kick for Harrogate and everybody. Everybody. Every body on the field. Everybody on Earth. Knew what was going to happen. You could see it in the eyes of all 11 Wimbledon players. You could see it in the eyes of the 600 fans who traveled to Harrogate. You could see it in my eyes. And we gave up a goal on the last kick of the game, and tied 2-2, and I can't do this anymore.

R: [laughing] I'm so sorry.

J: I can't... I can't. I ca-- Why am I letting the quality of my life be deeply affected by the exploits of 26-year-olds who live far away from me? Why... and then I went to Sarah and I was like, "We need to invest real money in AFC Wimbledon." And she was like, "No."

R: [at the same time] "No." [laughs]

J: "No. No, that's a nonstarter." And I was like, "They. Need. Help. In their minds. They need mind help. 'Cause there's nothing wrong with their feet. The problem--" and I know what this is like because the problem with me is also of my mind. So it's not a criticism. It's just an acknowledgment. And, like. I need help inside my mind. And Sarah was like, "I think we should probably focus on Partners in Health, buddy." And that's a good point.

 (58:00) to (1:00:00)

R: [laughing] That's a good point.

J: God, it's so frustrating

R: Yeah. Oh goodness gracious.

J: Mars would never do this to somebody, y'know? Mars doesn't have a problem in its head.

R: No, it doesn't.

J: [very frustrated] God! It's so difficult. It's so difficult right now. [normal voice] So anyway, hopefully we won't get relegated even though we haven't won an away game in six months.

R: Whoa.

J: Hopefully we won't get relegated. So. That's the job at this point. There's only six games left in the season. [sighs] Hopefully that's.... Hopefully we'll be alright. Do you have any news from Mars?

R: [laughs] Is it a personal question? I guess, I don't know anything about the planet Mars. I would say that things are going good in the Mars household, though. So we're going strong. [laughs] That's it.

J: That's great. That's the news from Mars I wanted. What's the news from Mars? And the news from Mars is that things are alright, y'know?

R: Yeah, things are okay.

J: You didn't, like, throw away a 2-0 lead in four minutes to the worst team in professional football?

R: No, we avoided that fate. But there are many other obstacles along the way.

J: [laughing] Yeah, it's not to say that there are no challenges. The great thing about caring a lot about football is that it's so simple. Like, life is so complicated. And so difficult. And that's the problem with getting too involved in football, is that it just becomes-- then it's like, "Oh, it's really complicated." But if you just watch the games then it's so simple. Y'know? It's a flat field. The ball rolls around. Sometimes it goes over the line. Sometimes it doesn't. It's, y'know. It's unimportant. In the best possible way. [sighs]

 (1:00:00) to (1:02:00)

R: I've been watching a lot more soccer 'cause one of my stepkids is a real fanatic about soccer.  Loves, loves, loves, loves soccer. Goes to the park by himself for, like, three or four hours a day. To go practice footwork and stuff like that.

J: Wow. That's beautiful.

R: And it's really--

J: Is he interested in a trip to South London?

R: [laughs] I think he would be. Yeah. He would be. [laughs]

J: [laughing] We need somebody who will spend three or four hours a day at the park working on footwork.

R: If you're opening it up to 14-year-olds, I think you'd have a taker. But I've been amazed by how-- Because I hadn't really been to a lot of soccer games. I played soccer as a kid, but I don't think I understood it when I played it. Just to watch the level of thinking for what seems like a bunch of people running around, and chaos, is really something. My appreciation for it has really grown watching this kid.

J: It really is an art. And it's a kind of brilliance, y'know? When I was a kid I was taught that there's this hard line between sports and creativity and as such I always thought of myself as being just deeply opposed to sports on every level. And it was only when I realized that what I was trying to do with stories is not that different from what Roberto Firmino is trying to do with football that I started to realize, like, "Oh. This is a chance to watch people--" It's the same thing! It's the same thing as getting to meet somebody who knows everything about the world's largest ball of twine. Or the competing world's largest balls of twine. It's that same feeling of, like, "Oh, there's levels to this. Beautiful, beautiful levels."

R: Totally. Totally.

 (1:02:00) to (1:04:00)

R: And I'll, like, compliment or say something completely ignorant. And they'll, pretty generously, go, "Well, that one wasn't a big deal. This part was a big--" [laughing] You know, like, he does his best.

J: Yeah, yeah. "That wasn't the interesting part. I'm glad you noticed it. But that is actually very easy." [laughs]

R: [laughing] Exactly.

J: Yeah. It's knowing to be there that's hard. And that always my problem playing soccer, is that, like, I don't have a lot of spatial reasoning. And so the coach would be like, "If you just run diagonally you will get to where they are going. Rather than, like, running behind them, in which case you will never get to them." And I would be like, "Nah, I think the best strategy here is to run at the person." Not where they will be but where are they now. And then by the time I get there I'll find that they have moved. And I will be shocked. Every time. How could I have forseen this? [laughs] And then you see the people that are really good at it and you're like, "Oh, they never even have to make a tackle because they're just always there." Sarah played high school soccer and I played soccer in indoor leagues with her and stuff, and we would get to the end of a game and she'd be like, "God, you run so much!" And I'm like, "Yeah, but you know where to be!" 

R: [laughing] The good ones don't have to run.

J: Exactly. She'd just be there. Every time.

[outro music by Gunnarolla begins]

J: Well, thank you so much for podding with me.

R: Oh, my pleasure. I loved it.

J: I'm so excited to be able to talk with you every time we get to chat. I'm such a fan. So this is really cool. Thanks for doing this. This podcast is edited by Josef "Tuna" Metesh. It's produced by Rosianna Halse-Rojas. I was joined today by Roman Mars from the podcast 99% Invisible, the best podcast you'll ever listen to. Our head of community and communications is Brooke Shotwell. And the music that you're hearing right now and at the beginning of the podcast is by the great Gunnarolla.

 (1:04:00) to (1:04:09)

J: And as they say in our hometown:

J&R: Don't Forget to Be Awesome.