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How nice do you have to be at the grocery store? How do we know humans didn't come from Mars? What is sound even? And more!

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 (00:00) to (02:00)


H: Hello and welcome to Dear Hank and John.  

J: That was a very spooky beginning, although I guess we do live in spooky times.  Or as I prefer to think of it, Dear John and Hank.

H: It's a comedy podcast--

J: It's not.  It's not anymore.  Guys, this podcast will never be funny again.  This is no longer a comedy podcast.  Our mistake.  We should never--we should never have created a comedy podcast in the first place.  This is a drama podcast about death.  

H: It's a dramedy in which John and I will answer your questions, give you dubious advice, and bring you all the week's news from both Mars and AFC Wimbledon.  How ya doing, John?  

J: Great.  How are you, Hank?  I just--I 

H: Fantastic.

J: I could hardly imagine a way in which I could be better.  How about you?

H: Oh man, I'll tell you what.  You know what's nice is to look into the face of a smiling child.  Let's just be thinking about that.

J: Oh, God.  Puppies are great.  Oh man.  I have a--I've had a really pretty intense stomachache for going on two weeks now, more or less without pause.  I'm not loving know what I'm finding it hard to do, Hank, is like, be entertaining.  Like, the urge to be entertaining is not really inside of me right now, so.

H: Yeah.  

J: This is what you're gonna get, folks.  

H: Right, well, um, like, tell me something that you like.  Tofu pad thai.

J: You know what I really like lately is the music of Snow the Product.  Have you listened to the Hamilton mixtape?

H: No.  No, John, I gotta like fess up here and just like, 100% admit that I've listened to like, two Hamilton songs that I've listened to a lot.

J: Oh my God.  You've gotta listen to the Hamilton mixtape, Hank, it's awesome.

H: I haven't even--I haven't even listened to the whole Hamilton soundtrack, John.

J: Oh come on.  

H: I know.  I know, I'm a bad user of popular culture.  I also haven't listened to Neil Cicierega's new Mouth Smash Up album which I feel like I'm missing out on tremendously.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

J: It is terribly, terribly important that you listen, as soon as possible, to the Hamilton mixtape, because it will provide you with hope in these dark and difficult times, and lots of people will be like, I don't understand what's so dark and difficult about these times, and to those people I just say, oh, come on!

H: Oh.  The--the scary thing is that like, that the days between when we record this podcast and when it comes out, there's gonna be so many other things.

J: Yeah.

H: That people might think we're referring to.  

J: Sure.

H: But it's not those things, it's just, it's the things from earlier in the week.  It's the stuff from last week that we're talking about, not even the new stuff.

J: But of course, by next week, the stuff from this week will have been forgotten because the news cycle now lasts for four miliseconds.

H: Well, that's the only way to do it when there is so much.

J: I'm completely fascinated by the new news cycle in which we live, where nothing is ever really news because it is always supplanted by new news but that means that the old news never lasts long enough to be properly contextualized so no one understands what it means and then we move on to the new news, which we don't have time to find out what it means because there is now new new new news.  Anyway, here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy called "The Dark".  It's a poem for children but I feel like it's also a poem for all of us right now.  

If you think of the dark as a black park and the moon as a bounced ball,
then there's nothing to be afraid of at all.
Except for aliens.
"The Dark", by Carol Ann Duffy.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

H: Oh man.  On the list of things I'm afraid of right now, aliens are like, like, negative.  I'm like, aliens, please come on by.  Tell us what we're doing wrong.  Help.

J: We do need some guidance.  

H: Help me, aliens.  That is what I would ask.  I would ask, how did you guys get through this period in your history when--

J: Just concerned about the extent of political polarization in the United States and also the declining faith in our fundamental political institutions because those--it's all made up ideas, Hank.  It's made up ideas that we have agreed together to believe in and when we start eroding faith in those institutions by, for instance, arguing that between five and seven percent of all votes cast in the presidential election were cast illegally by people who don't exist or something, without any evidence of that, like, you just, you just start to erode that faith in the institution itself, in the idea of voting being reliable and once you start to undermine that institution, you--this--oh boy, when this happened in Rome, it was a big problem for them and not like a problem for a few years but a problem for like, uh, the last like, 1700 years?  

H: Anyway, John.  I think we should probably do a question.  It's from Kristian, who asks, "Dear Hank and John, I was listening to your podcast on my phone and I put the speaker on my face when I felt the wind or some air displacement acting as wind on my skin.  Is it the sound waves of the podcast blowing wind on my face?  Are your voices touching my skin?  What is happening?  Thanks, Kristian."  Yes.  Yes, that's what's happening.  

J: Our voices are touching Kristian's skin.  I have a question for Kristian, not to put this back onto Kristian, but what?  Why?  Why did you put a speaker up to your face?

 (06:00) to (08:00)

H: I don't know, maybe because he wanted to have our voices touch his skin.  

J: So that's really what's happening though, our voices are essentially caressing the skin of a stranger?

H: Well, the skin of tens of thousands of strangers and it's happening to all of them all right now, simultaneously, like, that's what sound is.  It's a mechanical wave in air so air is getting compressed and like, it's like, compressions and decompressions of air, that's what--that's noise and if you are really close to it, you can totally feel those compressions.  So it's not like wind, it's not air moving across, it is the--it is changes in the density of the air that you're feeling, and that--when you feel that with your ears, your brain is able to interpret that as noise and sound and words and then decode those words into meaning and it's amazing and isn't life beautiful?  Isn't humanity beautiful?  Aren't we something spectacular that has maybe only happened once and shouldn't we just celebrate that for a moment?  I got there.

J: This question comes from Ryan.  Ryan identifies himself as Not-Ryan, but that's exactly the kind of thing that Ryan would say, so I'm going to assume that uh--

H: Yeah.

J:--his real name is Ryan.  Ryan writes, "Dear John and Hank, When you die, would you like to be turned into a tree?  Also, what kind of tree would you want to be once you die? I guess this is a thing.  It's called the Bios Urn.  Thanks for the pod, Not-Ryan," which is exactly what Ryan would say.  I figured we could get back on topic, Hank, by turning the podcast back into--

H: Death, yeah.  More about death.

J: --where it needs to be, which is on the subject of death.  I--now, Hank, I'm not sure about this.  I'm not a lawyer and even if I were a lawyer, I don't think I'd specialize in wills and trusts, but I do believe that if you make a statement about what you want to happen to your remains on a podcast, that is legally binding.  

H: Oh, so we're doing it right now?

 (08:00) to (10:00)

H: We're--last will and testament, John gets my stereo and--

J: Do I get your stereo?  That way I can listen to your music and you'll be whispering at me from beyond the grave.

H: I'll be caressing your skin with my dead, dead noises.

J: That sounds beautiful.  Sorry, what were we talking about?  What do you want--

H: Something about a tree.

J: What's gonna be done with your body?  Are you gonna turn into a birch tree?

H: I don't know.  I don't know.  So, John, you have opinions about physical burial.  Tell me about them.  

J: It will surprise you to know that I have thought about this quite a lot.  
H: Yeah, okay, so--I have a friend who digs graves for a living and I do like--I like the fact that he'll still have a job.  Like, if we all stop burying ourselves, what's he gonna do?

J: I'm pretty sure that job is going to be taken by automation fairly soon, Hank.

H: No way!  I think that there's a lot of craft and skill that goes into digging holes for graves because you have to, like, you gotta make sure you don't kill the trees and yeah, there's a lot (?~9:08).

J: Okay.  Let's get to the point here, which is what do we want to have done with our bodies.  First off, obviously, I wanna be an organ donor.  I'm strong organ donor.  If there's any way for me to be an organ donor, I wanna be an organ donor and then, I don't actually care what happens to my body.  Whatever is convenient and least traumatic for my family is fine with me, because I will be deceased so it won't be of pressing relevance to me.  I would, however, like a headstone, and the reason I would like a headstone is not that I'm like, a narcissist who wants to be visited by people of the future, it's because I have found it very helpful in my own life to visit the headstones of my ancestors, especially from our mom's family, the ancestors buried in Tennessee, but also our grandparents, who are buried here in Indianapolis.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

I've just found it helpful to have a headstone and a grave to visit.  It doesn't actually matter to me if the person's remains are technically interred there, I just--I like headstones.  I think they are an underrated and underappreciated facet of contemporary American life.  

H: Um, you know, I wanna say that I think that it's important when I don't have a strong opinion about something to just not have a strong opinion about it.  So I'm not gonna have one.  I'm just not gonna have an opinion about this, but I do wanna say to Ryan and maybe I should, because eventually something will have to be done with my remains, because I will die, but I do wanna say to Ryan that I would like to be turned into a tree but I will tell you that--

J: You can't.

H: No, that I am already being turned into a tree.  The way--

J: Oh wow.  You just blew my mind.

H: The way that atoms work is that they're constantly coming in and out of our bodies and I breathe out carbon dioxide all the time and the carbon in that carbon dioxide was once part of my body and then that carbon dioxide gets, you know, sucked into the leaves of trees and turned into lignin and cellulose and all of the proteins and structural compounds that make up trees.  It happens all the time!  I am already part of many, many trees.  You just go out there and you breathe on some leaves, you're part of that tree!  And then you can be like, hey, hey, friend who I just made and then went on a hike with, earlier last year I breathed on this tree.  I'm in there.  I'm in it.  That's me.  That's me-tree. 

J: Hank, is it possible that the only real purpose of human life is to turn oxygen into carbon dioxide?

H: Uh, no.  No.  

J: Oh.  Okay.

H: That would--

J: 'Cause I was thinking--

H: That would imply that there's any purpose to human life, John.

J: Let's move on to another question.  God, this podcast is so funny.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

H: This is gonna be a bad one.

J: I mean, this, all of this is going to be in our next best of episode.  Boy.  

H: Oh yeah.

J: Maddie writes, "Dear John and Hank, How do we know that Mars wasn't the first place humans were, but we left it because it was dangerous or something?"  I assume the or something is that the fundamental political institutions of the nations of Mars collapsed.  "Maybe there was a war, or it slowly became uninhabitable or, at first, it was just like, a lot of these votes are illegitimate and then slowly it became that the idea of certain people voting was illegitimate and then slowly it became that voting itself was illegitimate.  Engineers at NASA have said that the evidence of water showed that life could have been supported, so how do we know that that life wasn't us?  Maybe the reason NASA hasn't figured out how to get back to Mars was because that's how we got here and the government has erased all proof and technology.  Please help me figure out my true ancestry, Maddie."  Now, Maddie, Hank, is conflating several conspiracy theories in this single question, which I love, because that, in 2017 America, the conflation of multiple conspiracy theories is actually the dominant form of discourse, so it's great, it's really--it's helpful for me as a glimpse into how this stuff works, but I'm just going to answer the question as far as I know it and then you can answer the question as far as you know it, which is that, Maddie, the good news is that we know how long human beings have been here on Earth because of radio carbon dating or not carbon, actually, but uh, what--radiometric dating, I think it's called, but also for other reasons.  There's lots of things in the fossil record that tell us how old stuff is and we've had humans for around 250,000 years.  We are a very new species and we did not come here from Mars.  We know that we didn't come here from Mars partly because early humans did not seem to have any kind of space-going technologies.  Indeed, in many cases, they barely had spears, but also because we know that 250,000 years ago, Mars was not a particularly habitable place so we're pretty sure that humans are not from Mars and even if they were, I can't see how the government, one government, could have erased all proof.

 (14:00) to (16:00)

I feel like it would have had to be all the governments and they would have had to have a real--they would have had to be really well organized and I don't know if you've ever visited the UN but um.  It's hard for them to get much done.  

H: I mean, John, you answered that question perfectly and wonderfully and I think the whole thing was great, there was nothing on a technical level that I would add at all, but I would add--

J: Do we know, Hank, whether if life existed on Mars, like, it's very unlikely that there was like, life on Mars with two cells, right?  

H: Yeah, well, that's the thing about life.  The vast majority of it, even on Earth, only has one cell.

J: I know.  Believe me, I often think about the total weight of bacteria being 1,000 times the total weight of humans.

H: Yeah.  They're big, and that's just the bacteria.  There's all kinds of one-celled fungi and then there's archaea, there's lots of good stuff.  

J: Parameciums.

H: Yeah, yeah.

J: Amoebas, brain eating amoebas.  

H: Mhmm, yeah, those guys, they're really, they're really quite advanced, they've got a lot going for 'em.  

J: Yeah.

H: Yeah, so the diversity of one-celled life is remarkable, but yeah, the thing I want to say, though, is maybe, maybe, but probably not.  'Cause that's how all facts are now.

J: Wait, okay, okay, okay, uh, tell me, give me your most realistic humans-came-from-Mars scenario.  Try to--just try to approach it as best you can, be as realistic as you can, humans came from Mars, when?

 (16:00) to (18:00)

H: Alright.  Here's the most realistic explanation for how humans came from Mars.  We don't know for sure that they didn't.

J: No, that's no good.  Here, okay, listen, I can actually make a case that humans came from Mars.

H: No, no, this is--no, no, no, no, John, John, this isn't how we make cases anymore.  We make cases by just, by being very clear that no one really knows anything.  

J: Right, and it's hard to prove a negative.

H: And that's all you need and then it's done, it's done, it's over, the conversation ends.

J: Yeah, so given that you can't prove the negative, the positive is probably true, so given that you cannot definitively prove that humans didn't come from Mars, even though you can, probably means that humans did come from Mars because failure to prove a negative constitutes the truth of the positive.   This question comes from Jill.

H: You've asked the last three questions!

J: Alright, you ask the question.

H: Am I never gonna ask a question?

J: Ask a question.

H: I only want a little bit of justice in this world, John.  This question comes from Jill, who asks, "Dear Hank and John, How nice do I need to be at the grocery store?  While I'm standing in line at the express check-out, a lady got behind me with only one item.  I let her go in front of me, seeing that I had about 12 things in my cart.  Right after that, another lady got behind me with only one item and I didn't let her go in front of me and she acted annoyed.  Was I wrong not to let her pass?  What if like four more people with only one item each got behind me?  How am I supposed to let--Am I supposed to let all of them through?  Help!  I need answers!  Horses and goats, Jill."

J: Alright, Jill.  Couple things, first off, you say you have about 12 things in your cart.  If you're in the express lane, you need to know exactly how many items you have in your cart.  If it's 12, you're in the clear.  If it's 13, you've committed one of the greatest crimes known to man.

H: Yeah, well, I mean, like, being nice at that point is right out.  It doesn't matter at all.  You've broken the rules.

J: Yeah, because you've broken the deep down essential rule, yes.  

 (18:00) to (20:00)

Secondly, and, Hank, I don't know if you're gonna agree with me about this, but listen Jill.  Last year, the year before that, 1962, then maybe in those situations it makes sense to let the person with one item get in front of you, but this is 2017 America and what you need to do is take care of #1.

H: We just keep bringing it back around.

J: Look out for yourself and we all know from reading The Fountainhead that if you look out for yourself above all others and care nothing for the interests and needs of other people, that the world will reach its best possible state.  

H: I just--I'm worried about this podcast, John.

J: Why, have we gone off the rails?

H: Um.  I--d--no.  I'm gonna answer this--I think we're on the rails, John, we're just on a different set.  I--I wanna answer this question honestly for Jill, and I will say, Jill, you did the right thing.

J: Oh, I was being serious.

H: You did the right thing in letting that first person go and then saying, okay, well, there has to come a time at which I actually check out, but the person behind you doesn't know necessarily that you've already let one person through and so this is a situation that is just clearly a small misunderstanding and in the course of human history, I doubt will have a large effect on the happiness of any of the people involved.  It has shown that you have spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, which I think is fine, but you probably can now move forward out of this experience and not have to worry about it.  It's the kind of situation where you're like, maybe you were short with someone because you were frustrated with another situation in your life and they have to be understanding that sometimes the reason that someone is impolite is not because they are not aware of the etiquette or they are not a good person but sometimes they have bad days and sometimes something is just not the way that you know that--it's complicated and so I think that the person who maybe thought that you were rude needs to be a little more understanding that sometimes, the world is more complicated than it appears at first to them to be.  

 (20:00) to (22:00)

J: One of the hardest things about being a human being is imagining the lives of strangers generously and complexly and nowhere on a day-to-day basis is that more difficult for me than while standing in line at the grocery store.  Like, you just have to be able to think it is possible that this person who is being very inattentive in the way that they're going about paying for their groceries has just had an extremely stressful day and that's why this is taking 45 minutes, and if you can do that, it--I don't know.  It makes human life feel less like this series of like, minor oppressions in which you're forced to participate in bureaucracies and more like you're a part of a community and that is actually quite a heartwarming thing and that, you know, you can be generous toward this person you don't know and in doing so, like, it will make their life a little easier, but weirdly, it will also make your life a little easier.  

H: Hey John, do you want another question now that I've fixed that static that was on the podcast, sorry everybody for that static.

J: Yes, I do.  I do.

H: This one is from Zack, who asks, "Dear Hank and John, On a recent trip to the planetarium, I learned that not only is the Curiosity rover much bigger than I had originally thought, but it also has a laser for "scientific" research.  Given that there may be life on Mars, could this giant laser-firing robot be seen as a hostile invader from the point of view of microscopic Martian life?  Were the aliens in War of the Worlds actually just trying to do research on us?"  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were just shooting their little spectrometer laser and vaporizing us to see what we're made of.  "Does NASA take that into consideration?"  Uh, yes, Zack, kind of.  They do.  Kind of.  

 (22:00) to (24:00)

J: Really?

H: Well, yeah, I mean, they take the life into consideration, not so much the--they don't take so much the zapping it with laser--like, I think if we burned up a couple bacteria on Mars, probably wouldn't be the end of the world, but--

J: Certainly not the end of our world, but it could well be the end of the Martian world if those are the last two bacteria.

H: It just seems very unlikely that they would be out there on the surface.  If there's bacteria or if there's single-celled life or any kind of life on Mars, it would be very likely below the surface where there is less radiation to disrupt it, but hey, we don't know, but it's a big surface of Mars and we're only in a very small place, but I do like, kind of like, I like the idea of an alien species just like, sending down this giant robot to Earth and being like, what are you guys made of?  Pffft.  

J: Just destroying all of us?

H: Yeah, like, they don't have a concept of individual life forms and they're like, well, obviously, you know, this is just like burning a couple skin cells off, so we're just gonna be like vwoahhh and burn a couple of those human beings off the face of the Earth because they must be part of a collective in which no individual matters at all, like us, the aliens are.  That could--like, I could see that.  I could see that kind of like, that kind of ignorance because it's so hard to imagine the way that life would be for another kind of life form because we know this one way that it works.  Like, it's easy to forget that all of the vertebrates on the planet Earth evolved from one kind of fish.  That's why we all have two legs and two arms and a head and a spine, and like, we are all laid out like the exact same.

J: Right.

H: Like, there aren't any animals with four arms unless they don't have any legs and like, that--any vertebrate, any terrestrial vertebrates and that like, that's so weird!  Like even snakes!  Snakes like, sometimes even have tiny little legs still hiding in there and like manatees have pelvises that float inside of their bodies not connected to the legs that have now disappeared.  It's like tiny useless pelvises that are just still there and--

J: That's a pretty good name for a band.

H: Tiny useless pelvises?  

J: That are still there.

H: That's a long name.  That's a long name.

J: Yeah, maybe it's like, tiny useless pelvises, our first album, Still There.  

 (24:00) to (26:00)

Hank, I just needed to interrupt you really quickly because earlier you said that there are no animals with four arms and that is inaccurate and um, I know that Henry would be upset with me if I did not point out that that is inaccurate because of course, there is an animal with four arms.  It is called Machamp and it is a fighting-type Pokemon.  

H: Yeah.  Also all of the things from Pandora, the world in Avatar, and--which I always thought was like, oh, yeah, see, differently laid out bodies, so that makes a little bit of sense, but it didn't make sense to me that not everything on Pandora had four arms.  I was a little frustrated by that.  Like, there were some and not others.  I could see it happening, but it's unlikely, but it's why like, dragons, for example, don't make sense, because dragons have wings and also arms and also legs and that would be six total limbs and that just has never happened.  Like, you couldn't--it's like, amazing that it's never happened but like, we have a way of laying out bodies and that kind of radical change to the layout just doesn't occur, which is why, for example, wyverns are totally acceptable, which just have wings and legs and are dragons but without the arms, so go wyverns from now on, everybody, that's what we're calling the mascot of Dear Hank and John the podcast.  The wyverns.  

J: We--I mean, this podcast is so far off the rails, Hank, that I'm thrilled that we now have a mascot but tragically, there's no one still listening.  It's just you and me out here.  

 (26:00) to (28:00)

We're alone at the end of the, like, we're walking on the edge of the world, looking down at a vast abyss together and we are like, laboring under the delusion that there are people here with us but it's just  you and me, man.  

H: I think there's a couple of people who've held on.  Just six or seven that are hoping maybe we get to one of the questions that they sent in and they're like, hey guys, but like, I know that you're on your thing and that you're worried about your things, but I had that question that I really wanted to ask but, yeah, sorry.

J: Maybe it was this question.  

H: Okay, let's see.

J: This question comes from Mary, who writes, "Hiya, John and Hank.  I've been wondering what the difference is between calling someone _____ II and calling them _____ Jr.  Do people call themselves II to seem fancier?  What gives?  Insert clever sign-off here, MK Moony.  PS, I was able to meet y'all in North Carolina for the Tour de Nerdfighting when I was in 6th grade.  You two are amazing and have helped me through so much.  Thanks a billion."  You're welcome a billion, Mary.  Also, it is very helpful to know that you are from the American South because I have noticed that in the South, there are a lot of II and also a lot of Jr's, but they are not the same thing.

H: They are not, and in fact, it is very important to me that you know this, because I am a II and I don't want you think that I'm just trying to be fancy.

J: That's right.  Hank's not just trying to be fancy.

H: No.  In fact, I actively attempt to not be fancy, despite the fact that I am.  I--so my dad's name is not my name.  My grandfather's name is my name, and so I am not Jr. because I would be Jr. if I had the same name as my dad, but I do have the same name as someone else in my family so I am the II of that name in the family.  That is why I am II.  

J: Right, so.

H: But it is really weird.

J: It's weird.

H: Like, why do we have II at all, and it's like, an official part of my name?  Like, on my driver's license, it's weird!

J: Yeah.

H: That like, I'm a king of something or like a pope!  I don't  need to be a II.  Like, like, the second of his name.

J: Well, I mean, you are kind of the Pope of our family.

 (28:00) to (30:00)

H: I'm not kind of the pope of your family, John.  I am in no way am I the pope of your family.

J: I mean of the extended family.  Obviously, you know, Sarah's the pope of our nuclear family.  I'm saying you're the pope of our extended family. 

H: In what way am I the pope of our extended family?  

J: I mean, if you told everybody in our extended family, you know, Katherine, Sarah, Henry, Alice, Orin, Mom, Dad, if you told all of them like, there can only be one pope, who shall it be?  I think we would blow the red smoke for you, he said not totally confident on how popes get elected.

H: I, uh, you know, I don't know that you're wrong, but I don't want that.  I don't want that responsibility.  

J: Well you have it.

H: I don't want that pressure.

J: It's not your fault, but it's true.  Oh, my bad, my bad, white smoke.  The white smoke.  I'll tell you what, I've always wanted to be Catholic, Hank, I've always been as high an Episcopalian as you can possibly be without just going over and becoming Catholic, but uh, I don't know my Vatican, don't know my Vatican rituals that well.  

H: Uh, well, John, it will encourage you to know, then, that this podcast is brought to you by Vatican ritual.  Vatican ritual: it--you need it.  You need to know more about it, because even though you're Episcopalian, you have this weird interest in Catholicism and that goes for everyone.  Everybody is Episcopalian with a weird interest--

J: By the way, almost every Episcopalian I know has a weird interest in Catholicism.  And of course, today's podcast is also brought to you by the darkness.  The darkness: currently surrounding Dear Hank and John.  Not just sponsoring us, but also inside of us!

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