March 17, 2016

#58 Earth Pony

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

This week we learn the truth behind Carl Diggler, the internet's most successful election forecaster. And a special Yes Yes No featuring comedian Jason Mantzoukas.   

Further Listening

Jason Mantzoukas' How Did This Get Made Podcast

Further Reading

Virgil on Twitter Felix on Twitter Columns by Carl Diggler Superforecasting The Good Judgment Project @SatelliteHigh's YesYesNo Tweet @RoyCalbeck's YesYesNo Tweet


ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet this is Reply All, I’m Alex Goldman

Elections make me anxious. I mean, I’m sure they make a lot of people anxious - but for me it’s just the fact that it’s this huge event that has such massive repercussions and I have so little control over. For the year leading up to election night, I pickle my brain in this brine of polling data and election forecasts, and just worry incessantly about what's going to happen. On election night 2008, I was so stressed out that I had to turn off the election returns and instead chose to watch that movie Enchanted, you know the Disney movie with Amy Adams.

The only things that in any way salve this anxiety are those election forecasting sites like FiveThirtyEight. They feel like someone guiding me by the hand through a dark room. In the 2012 election, I found myself checking FiveThirtyEight every day just to watch those little lines indicating the candidates chances tick forward a tiny bit. And that year, when Nate Silver swept with his predictions on election night by calling every state correctly, I felt like “Ok, I can finally relax, because I know who to trust.”

This year I have reached a new level of anxiety. I mean it's not like American elections are typically civil or orderly, but God, this year.

DONALD TRUMP: Then they said to me, "What do you think of waterboarding." I said, "I think it's great but I don't think we go far enough."

WOLF BLITZER: Those are the rules. . .

TED CRUZ: Excuse me. He, he called me a liar. . .

WOLF: . . .we're moving on.

TED: . . .and interrupted the whole time.

TED: Wolf. .

WOLF: I was. .

HILARY CLINTON: . .  .to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign. . .


HILARY: . . .have be carrying out. . .

BERNIE: . . .Ahhhh. . .

HILARY: . . .in recent weeks.

BERNIE: Oooooo. . .

HILARY: And let's talk, let's talk about this issues. Let's talk about the issues. . .

ALEX: This election is so completely unpredictable. Ideas that would have gotten people kicked out of Thanksgiving dinner are now being talked about as completely possible. And nobody saw any of this coming. Six months ago, all of the forecasters were predicting the precise moment that Trump would drop out of the election. And a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders was going to lose Michigan by 20 points. Neither of these things happened.

But there’s this new guy, who I just started to follow, who actually seems like he knows what’s going to happen. He predicted who would come in first, second, third, and fourth among the Republicans in Iowa. He was calling Cruz in Idaho and Rubio in Minnesota when very few others were. And as of this writing, he has an 84% success rate on his predictions. His presence has actually started calming me down a bit. His name is Carl Diggler. And his blog documents all of the crazy things that he’s done in the course of his political reporting.He writes about how he went to Syria to report on the election campaign of Bashar al-Assad and how he was abducted by the Syrian government. He writes about how he was forced to renounce his American Citizenship on Russian state television. And last week he agreed to talk to me.

ALEX to Diggler: You said in your last column, actually, I love elections what was it, what is it you love so much about them.

CARL DIGGLER: You know, like the, the, the football player loves the big game, his equivalent in journalism--the other alpha jock, the political junky reporter--loves elections. I love the ceremony behind them. I love buying myself a big election cake that I can just tear into the night of the, the night of the caucuses and the primaries, I love the, I love the stump speeches. I love the, the predictions, I love just biting my fingernails while I watch the results come in. I love shoving it in my rivals' faces, you know we, we are colleagues, we are members of the press, but there is a little competition there.

ALEX: On his blog, he refers to Colorado voters as “bong water-soaked Dr. Seuss hat-wearing tokers,” and writes almost as much about his grievances with family court as he does about the election. So, honestly he is pretty insufferable. But in his defense, he is the fictional creation of these two guys...Felix and Virgil.

VIRGIL TEXAS: Hi, this is Virgil Texas, internet cut up.

FELIX BIEDERMAN: Hi, this is Felix Biederman.

ALEX: Felix is the voice of Carl, and both of them blog as Carl on the satirical website Diggler is this composite character. He's a parody of punditry. But while he may be fake, his predictions are very real. He is outperforming the very people he was meant to be ridiculing, people who Virgil describes like this:

VIRGIL: Hack horserace political writers, guys who obsessively follow elections but ultimately say nothing at all. You know, people who talk about airy concepts like momentum and expectations game. Carl doesn’t bullshit people. He doesn’t always hedge his bets and talk about, "Oh, who’s got the momentum," or “If this happens, this might happen,” and like ultimately make no prediction. Carl says, "No, here’s who’s going to win and it’s because they have these characteristics which encourage them to be natural Kasich supporters.

ALEX: When Felix and Virgil use the word "characteristics,”

they’re talking about something very specific. The see the country though people's prejudices and they think you can understand our politics by assuming that everyone is racist and votes accordingly.

FELIX: Like a lot of people were like, "Oh, Idaho’s Trump country.” No it’s not, they’re not racist in the right way. Like, they’re not, they're like, they don't, they're not racist against like the two main groups that Donald Trump is extremely racist against, and so and they’re already predisposed for black helicopter, John Birch type shit. So like of course they want Cruz. And we saw it coming.

ALEX: State polls predicted that Trump would win big in Idaho for months. But Felix and Virgil didn’t believe it.

VIRGIL: The racial resentment that powers Trump’s campaign, you see it more when communities undergo large population shifts. And you just don’t have that in sparsely populated idaho with very very small black population. These aren’t whites who are threatened that black people or Latinos are coming to take their jobs.

FELIX: Right.

VIRGIL: They're whites who, are just proud to have a black friend.

ALEX: Talking about racial animus in such a stark cynical way makes me really uncomfortable. But it seems like it’s getting them to the right answers. Or then, there’s the case of Minnesota where they just take these reckless broad generalizations because there’s no data to go from.

VIRGIL: There's no polling.

FELIX: There’s no polling. I lived, but like I lived in Minnesota for three years. I grew up in the Midwest in general, so I like a pretty good insight and people didn’t know how to call it, and with the Republican side of things, it was like, we spent three minutes on it. I thought about like every Republican I ever knew in Minnesota, They were like a guy who always wears fuckin' quarter zipped fleece under a suit and tie and is, you know, just he’s a business conservative. And because he’s Minnesotan he’s like “I, you know, Mr. Trump, I do not agree with you on your, on your characterization that you had relations with Ted Cruz’s wife.” You just very like, "You know I don't know about that."

VIRGIL: "You can't say that to Jeb."

FELIX: "That is just, that is just rude to Jeb. He's never done anything to you buddy." And so like, I was like, yeah, they’re gonna vote for Rubio. They’re going to vote for Rubio because they’re business conservatives and they’re fine with the idea of bombing whatever country, but for the love of God, do not be impolite.

VIRGIL: And if you look at the results, Felix was dead right there. Twin Cities metro area delivered teh votes for Marco and the, Trump and Cruz split the rest of the state.

FELIX: Exactly.

ALEX: If Felix and Verpgik sound dismissive of everyday Americans, they say the real pundits are much much worse.

FELIX: A lot of people that write about politics, they do have complete contempt for the people that they write about. I remember Josh Barro, he’s a writer for like Daily Beast or one of these fucking places. He, I remember, he said once like “Ooh, I’m flying over the middle of the country. I guess that this is where all the Two Broke Girls viewers live.” It's like, “Go fuck yourself." These are all the people who fight your dumb wars of conquest and vote for your fucking candidates, and are the reason that you get to be, you get to live your life and, like, put on your little suit and fly around the country and say things that are incorrect and cash six figure checks for no reason.


FELIX: And, like, this is finally the year that they’re like “No, yeah, fuck you back.”

VIRGIL: They look, they look down on people. They patronize people. They make up, you know, inane bullshit ways of skewering the electorate. Like, "Oh, SUV moms come out for Marco?"

FELIX: Right.

VIRGIL: "My gut says yes.”

TIM HOWARD: But it's weird because, like, some of the things that you guys talk about as being, like, reasons that you're able to correctly call difficult races like, like Minnesota they have a similar timbre.

ALEX: That's Reply All senior producer Tim Howard.

TIM: You're saying, "Oh, because here, they're racist in this way. Here they're racist in that way. I don’t know. It's like, it’s a weird thing, because, like, there are totally people in a lot of these states that are going hear stuff you way and think, "Fuck you I'm not racist."

FELIX: Right. Well, I I think you know that's a really interesting point. . . ..

VIRGIL: Yeah, these people, like, they get insulted, denigrated, shit on all the time. I mean, I'm doing it right now. but yeah no we don’t, like, come out and say, like, "This asinine policy outcome of of like, forcibly deporting 12 million people, building a wall, and all this crap isn't motivated soley by racism." I mean, that's what it is.

ALEX: Carl's forecasting does the job. It calms me down. But Carl is the last guy I want to holding my hand through the election. He writes stuff like, quote, “The humanoid with a rat’s face and lizard’s brain, Lawrence Lessig, finally dropped out of the Democratic primaries.”

This is a guy who wears a sweater that doesn’t even cover his belly There’s a photo of it, I've seen it. it’s horrible to look at. How can this be a person who knows anything about anything, let alone the future of our country.

So I got in touch with this guy named Dan Gardner. He's an expert on predictions. He wrote a book called Superforecasting. And I asked him about Felix and Virgil. I wanted to know if they were the real deal? If we should listen to them? And he says, "Well, there’s no simple answer. But they in some ways they remind him of this other really successful forecaster named Paul.

DAN: Remember that a couple of World Cups ago, you may recall there was Paul the Octopus.

ALEX: This isn’t a nickname. Paul is an actual octopus

DAN: There was thing in Germany where they had this aquarium and they had 2 little boxes and they would put the national flags of the two teams that were competing on, on the boxes, and they would put food in the boxes, and whichever box that Paul the Octopus went into, that was his prediction,

Video of this is totally ridiculous. It’s the clicking of camera shutters, the excited murmur of the gathered media as an octopus slowly flops into a plastic box. So, this German aquarium asked Paul to predict Eight World Cup games.

DAN: And Paul the Octopus called 100% of the games including the championship.

ALEX: Maybe Virgil and Felix are just a couple of lucky octopi who are obsessed with racial prejudice. But if Carl is the oracle of American politics, Dan Gardner would be the guy to ask. The book that Dan wrote, Superforecasting, was based on this huge longitudinal project where people from all over the country were asked to predict world events by answering really hard questions. Questions like “Will there be a new epidemic of mass killings in Democratic Republic of Congo before January 1st.” And these people, by the way, were not experts on the DRC or really on any topics, but still, the study found something wild.

DAN: One of the key insights is that you have this very small group, about 2% of the forecasters, who are demonstrably excellent. And not just excellent once or twice because that could be luck. But they're consistently excellent. They’re excellent so often that you can be reasonably confident that we’re looking at skill more than luck. And they were dubbed superforecasters.

ALEX: Superforecasters. Dan says that there are people that can forecast big, complex, geopolitical events, and they can do it better than government intelligence analysts. People who have access to classified documents. It just sounds like magic, but these folks walk among us.

DAN: There's pharmacists and dentists and lawyers and one guy was a former factory worker. There was one artist, a New York filmmaker.

ELAINE RICH. Most of the things I was forecasting on I knew nothing about. I didn't let myself get intimidated by any questions.

ALEX: This is a superforecaster named Elaine Rich. She's a pharmacist and this is from a video of her talking at the Wharton School at UPenn.

ELAINE: One of my hobbies is oil painting. So I've learned in painting that sometimes just the tiny nuance here or there changes the way the whole painting looks. And I think that's true in world events, too, and why you need a lot of different perspectives.

ALEX: So I'm wondering, "Are Felix and Virgil superforecasters? Can i trust them?" And Dan says, alright, well I know how to identify superforecasters.  There’s a couple traits that define them.

DAN: First of all, and this is pretty foundational, they tend to be very intellectually humble people.

ALEX: Superforecasters don’t claim to know the how things will shake out if they don’t know the subject all that well. He gave me an example.

DAN: One of the people that we profile, for example, is a retired Department of Agriculture employee named Bill Flack. And he lives in Kearney, Nebraska. If you go to Bill Flack and you say, “Hey bill, you have this great track record, give me a forecast about the Chinese economy.” What he will say, “I don’t know anything about the Chinese economy. Like, let me go and do some research. Let me learn, let me think about it, and let me get to the point where I think that I have sufficient information, and reasonable grounds to make a forecast, then I will make a forecast.

ALEX: Dan strongly suspects that George Soros is a superforecaster, not just because he’s made a bunch of money, but because he hears that classic superforecaster humility in him.

DAN: Whenever anyone asks him, “George, how are you so good at investment. How did you make all these billions of dollars?” He always has this answer, “I know that I am bound to make mistakes. And therefore I am more likely to catch and correct my mistakes than other people are.”

DAN: OK, so, humility. This is not the first thing I think of when I hear Virgil make sweeping generalizations like this.

VIRGIL: So, you know, I mean, this is obviously shorthand, but, you know, all right, if you hate trans people the most you’ll vote for Cruz. If you hate Muslims the most you vote for Trump.

FELIX: Right.

VIRGIL: If you hate yourself the most you vote for Marco.

ALEX: Bur, on the other hand, I think there is a kind of intellectual humility buried under Felix and Virgil's contempt. They do something that looks not too dissimilar from what Bill Flack does. They get their information from as many sources as possible. From polling, reporter friends in different states, their girlfriends. They’ve even gone to a couple primaries and met people involved with the campaigns. And once they get the info, they sit with it, and see how it all feels.

VIRGIL: You know, it's like making a stew. You throw a few things in, it doesn't work and there you go. You. . .

FELIX: A lot of chain smoking and just going, ah, what do you think? What about these people? What do they hate? What do they hate most in life?

ALEX: There’s this other great quality that superforecasters have, which is that they're likely to say this thing that the rest of us hate to say. I was wrong.

DAN: This is basically a, it's one of the basic fundamental insights of social psychology, is that, particularly if you stand up in public and you take a position. "I think so and so is going to win the election it becomes very... you dig in, right. You dig in on that position because to change a position at all is to acknowledge error and we hate to acknowledge error. Which is why you often see pundits, you know, dig in to a ridiculous extent, particularly on a big important high profile prediction.

In fact, Philip Tetlock, the co-author of Dan’s book, says that there is actually an inverse correlation between fame and accuracy. Seriously, it can be measured.

DAN: Meaning that the more famous the pundit was the less accurate his forecasts were. The person who has, speaks with clarity and confidence and tells a good story and knows exactly what the right answer is. That person is a terrible forecaster. But they’re great TV guests. And so they do very well in the media even though they’re lousy forecasters.

ALEX: Pundits are trying to predict the future, but they’re also trying to protect their reputations. They’re trying to not look dumb. And maybe that’s Carl Diggler’s secret superpower. It doesn’t matter to him or to anyone if he looks dumb, because he’s not a real person. He has no reputation to protect, so he doesn’t need to worry about admitting he was wrong. And he writes about his mistakes in his column all the time. As I described Carl Diggler to Dan, I could tell he wasn’t really sold on Felix and Virgil as superforecasters. But I took one more swing at it.

ALEX to DAN: They gave us another example actually - in, in the case of New Hampshire, and it was about Marco Rubio, and I was wondering if I could just play it for you really quickly. Just let me play it for you and I’ll ask a question

FELIX: When I, when we got there, everything associated with Marco Rubio was a fuckin disaster. This guy, this is like aweird metric to go by, but like one day he, we got this, you know, press blast email like, “Come and have a pancake breakfast with Marco!” He didn’t even bring ingredients for pancakes they fucked that up somehow. He had, he had muffins. He couldn’t even get fucking pancakes right.

VIRGIL: How do you promise people in New Hampshire pancakes and then show and be like, “Oh, sorry, we don’t know how to make pancakes, but here’s some fucking Entenmann’s muffins. We, we went to New Hampshire. We met New Hampshire people. That kind of shit will piss them off.

FELIX: Yeah, it will.

VIRGIL: More than anything else. Those people love diners, they love pancakes, they have nothing else going on.

ALEX: So I mean, his, their predictions are based on these cartoonish generalizations of both political and racial sentiment sort of around the country. Is there merit to basing your predictions on that kind of thing?

DAN: There may be, to some extent, some validity in some of what they say. But I, superforecasters probably wouldn't say you know one thing. Minnesotans demand politeness, therefore Minnesota will vote X. They wouldn't, you know, rely, create a whole forecast on the basis of a single dimension like that.

ALEX: They got the entire Democratic slate right on Super Tuesday. On, in Iowa they got the first through fourth Republican primary winners correct. How successful would Felix and Virgil, the guys who created Carl, how successful would they have to be over what period of time before you ask for your book to be recalled, you renounce all of your scholarly work.

DAN: You know what, that’s a really excellent question, and I would have to speak to a statistician before I attempted to do that.

ALEX: Spoken like a true superforecaster.

DAN: I don’t mean to dodge. I don’t mean to duck. And it is true, it is true, look if somebody comes along and they have a method and they can demonstrate it repeatedly and sufficiently to satisfy the statisticians, then you gotta respect that.

In other words, it’s still too early to tell whether Carl's forecasting the future or just extremely lucky. What we do know is that uncertainty breeds prophets and when someone shows up who keeps getting stuff right, there’s no way to tell whether they’re a true prophet or just Paul the Octopus. And really, there's no way to tell whether Paul the Octopus was a prophet or not. His hot streak was never actually broken. He just ended up dying a few months after the 2010 World Cup. But other animal forecasters have been stepping up. Teddy Bear the Porcupine at a zoo in Dallas just called the Super Bowl. So did Ozzy the Grizzly Bear at the Montana Zoo. There’s also Apollo the Lion in Arizona. There’s Koji the Macaw in Texas. There’s Nancy the Galapagos Tortoise. They're getting things right. So, if Carl Diggler’s predictive powers do go south, I’ve got plenty of other options.

Dan Gardner’s book is called Superforecasting. And you can read the eerily accurate election forecasts of Carl Diggler on the website Just search for the tag “the dig.”




ALEX: Welcome once again to "Yes, Yes, No," the segment on the show where we find some poor unsuspecting sap and make fun of them for not knowing about the completely trivial stuff that we know about. Normally, we we do this with our boss Alex Blumberg. This week we have a very very special guest who you will know from. . . stage?

PJ VOGT: Stage?

ALEX: I'm asking this question. Do we know you from stage and screen or just screen?

JASON MANTZOUKAS: It really depends on where you're from. You might know me from stage if you spent any time in in New York or LA and and were a fan of going to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, but for the most part I feel like people know me from screen or podcasts. There's a lot of people who know me from saying horrible things into their ears on a daily basis.

ALEX: That's true. So stage, maybe. Most likely screen. And also probably ear. Our guest is Jason Mantzoukas. Jason, thank you so much for being on the show.

JASON: Thank you for having me guys.

ALEX: You may have heard him a million times on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast. He also has his own podcast called How Did This Get Made? where he bravely wades into some of the worst movies I've ever seen.

JASON: Yeah.

ALEX: Jason, you you said in an email to me that that even Alex Blumberg looks accomplished on the internet compared to you.

JASON: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, he comes on and he kind of gets stuff and there, okay, first I should say this. I am on zero social media.

PJ: "Zero" zero?

JASON: "Zero" zero. I I don't, I don't have a Facebook profile. I have, I don't have Twitter. I don't have Instagram. I didn't have Friendster. I didn't have MySpace. I am like a zero. I have opted out. So just like the very rudimentary things that people know about the lexicon of being on Twitter and so forth is lost on me completely.

PJ: Okay so we asked you to find a couple "Yes, Yes, Nos" for us, can you tell us about the first one you got?.

JASON: Oh, let's see what we got here. Now I'm gonna, now I'm gonna. . . Cuz you were kind enough to give me your log in.

ALEX: I gave you my password because I wanted you to be able to look at tweets and also I encouraged you to tweet as me for a week.

JASON: And by the way, you're welcome. I showed so much restraint in not tweeting horrible things when I knew you were no doubt asleep.

ALEX: In, in spite of the fact that I said I'd love to be humiliated, in an email to you. . .

JASON: I know, you really invited it.

PJ: So what do you have?

JASON: Okay. Number one, JW Friedman @satellitehigh on Twitter tweets this, and it is in all caps: LUV 2 MEME. "L-U-V," the letter, the number "2," M-E-M-E and then the trademark "tm." Okay. . .

PJ: Uh-huh.

JASON: And then it's a box. And in the box are three boxes. At the top of the box it says, "Infinite recursion starter pack." In the first box is a pair of sunglasses--Ray-Bans. Black Ray-Ban sunglasses. Okay. In the second box is a dog wearing a hat and shorts on a skateboard.

PJ: Is this real?

JASON: This is real. I swear to God. The third box that is below these boxes is, oh boy, is a box that contains this whole box. So a box within which is, "Infinite Recursion Starter Pack," sunglasses box, dog box and then smaller bo. . .it's basically an in. . .an infinity thing. "Infinite Recursion Starter Pack, " sunglasses, dog, bah bah bah bah. You see what I'm saying?

ALEX and PJ: Sort of.

PJ: I'm worried. . .I feel like the, like, cocky like 101 professor who just got a like a Good Will Hunting question and can't answer it.

ALEX: I'm looking at it and I really really don't get it.

JASON: You don't? Ooooo, do we have, "No, No, No?"

PJ: I think we instantly are at. . .

JASON: Have I fuckin' broken the game?

PJ: . . ."No, No, No."

ALEX: Yeah.

JASON: Oh, I am so excited right now. Oh, I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled. Do you guys genuinely no idea what's going on?

PJ: I promise, like, zero zero zero.

ALEX: Um, I think the best thing to do would be for us to retweet this on the day that this episode is released. In the hopes. . .

JASON: Yup, that's fine.

ALEX: In the hopes that we can get people to explain it to us.

JASON: Okay, but from now on, I I would like to be known as the only, I think the only person who's ever gotten, "No, No, No."

ALEX: That's correct.

PJ: You absolutely are.

JASON: So screw you Alex Blumberg. I'm comin' at ya, bro.

ALEX: And it. . .

JASON: I want to start a war. I want to start a war between me and Alex.

ALEX: You came on our show and in like six minutes you broke this entire segment.


PJ: I will just retweet it right now and I'll say, "Obviously I get this joke, but do other people? Please explain so I know that you do." Okay. So what’s your other one.

JASON: Okay, so this is a, oh, okay. So, I don't even know what I'm looking at. Okay, this is Scott Malcomson @roycalbeck is his Twitter handle.

ALEX: Mmmhmm.

JASON Okay, and then it's #TheTriggering. . .

PJ: Oh no.

JASON: . . .that's one word and it's blue so that means it's a thing. That I can click on.

ALEX: Yes.

JASON: Okay.

ALEX: Yes, it is a thing you can click on.

JASON: Yeah, it's a thing I can click on and other people will probably be talking about The Triggering whatever that is. "The fanfics I write" all caps, "contain more valuable social commentary than your racial studies degree program." Okay, that's what it says and then it is a picture from a, I think a video game called Fallout. I know there's a video game called Fallout. I'm not a video game person just like I'm not an internet person.

ALEX: Right.

JASON: Okay, it says, "Fallout Equestria New Pegas." And I thi. . .and it's like a space city in a desert landscape. There's like cactuses and deserts. But then there's like a space city in the middle and then there's two cartoon characters on the outskirts of the city that are like, um, one's got like a little octopus head and glowy eyes and one's like a, I don't know, a pink alien thing with a gun and a, I don't know, space stuff. So I'm assuming. . .I know what fan fiction is.

ALEX: Okay.

JASON: Okay. So I'm assuming this is some sort of fan fiction for the game Fallout. That's my guess.

ALEX: PJ Vogt, do you, do you know what this means?

PJ: 45% comprehension on this.

ALEX: Jason Mantzoukas, do you know what this tweet means?

JASON: I mean like in as much as I know what fan fiction is I know what that is so I'm going to say 10%, but no no, the reality is, no, I don't know what this is. This is nonsense.

PJ: Alex Goldman, do you know what this tweet means?

ALEX: I'm gonna say yes on this.

PJ: Okay, we're back. . .

JASON: Really?

PJ: . . .we're back on steady ground.

ALEX: Yeah, that was nerve-racking.

PJ: So, wait, can I tell you what makes sense to me in this?

ALEX: Sure.

PJ: This person seems like gamergate or gamergate adjacent.

ALEX: Mmhhmm. . .

PJ: Is that right?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: And the triggering is like referring to trigger warnings. Jason, do you know what trigger warnings are?

JASON: I do not.

PJ: So a trigger warning, it's this idea that you might put at the top of a piece of writing or a movie or whatever, you might say like, "If you've experienced some horrible trauma, like say like sexual assault, this is a trigger warning." Like there's descriptions of this in here.

JASON: Ah. . .

PJ: If it's going to upset you, you might not want to watch it.

JASON: Got it, okay. I get it.

PJ: And there are people who are very mad that these things exist. They're just like. . .

JASON: They're very mad that people are warning people about things?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: Yeah. Yeah.

JASON: Got it. Okay.

PJ: And so "The Triggering," I'm assuming, since it seems gamergatey, it's like they are going after people who would want trigger warnings to exist.

ALEX: Yeah, you've got the right idea. So, all right.

PJ: Wait. There's more things I know.

ALEX: Okay.

PJ: I've played the game Fallout.

ALEX: All right.

JASON: Oh, nice.

PJ: But th. . . none of the characters that are in this, that are in this tweet are not really in Fallout.

JASON: I have enlarged this picture and I have a guess about something.

PJ: What's the guess?

ALEX: Go for it.

JASON: I think this is My Little Pony related.

ALEX: You guys. You're piecing it together.

PJ: Holy crap, really?

ALEX: I'm really proud of both of you.


PJ: Wait, what was the My Little Pony clue?

JASON: "Equestria" and "New Pegas." And. . .

PJ: Oh. . .

JASON: I was like, "Oh, that's like horse shit." And then I was like, "Oh, there's so much weird My Little Pony nonsense going on right now that I feel like that's what this is, I bet. Cuz I heard a thing on Howard Stern where they went to BronyCon. . .

ALEX: Right.

JASON: . . .and talked to like adult men who are into My Little Pony sexually and all of the stuff that goes along with that which was cuckoo bananas.

ALEX Right.

PJ: So, wait, does this have Brony implications Alex?

ALEX: All right, so, here's what I can tell you. A woman named Lauren Southern, who is sort of a conservative, a conservative gamergate-ish person on the internet came up with an idea a few months ago. Here's her tweet: "Can we start a day called The Triggering where everyone just posts offensive things on their social media in defense of free speech."

PJ: Oh boy.

ALEX: It will take place on March 9th, the day after International Women's Day and the day before Osama BIn Laden's birthday.

ALEX: So, people were posting things that they thought would be offensive to people who are usually pejoratively termed "social justice warriors."


ALEX: Yes.

JASON: Got it.

ALEX: Man, you're way more on top of this than you, that. . .

JASON: Just, just kidding I no idea what that is. ›

ALEX: Are you serious. . .

PJ: That's the actual acronym.

ALEX: Because SJW is the actual acronym that they use all the time.

JASON: No, I'm I'm assuming it would be.

ALEX: So they pejoratively call people who believe in sort of social justice and and trigger warnings being part of that, social justice warriors, or "SJWs" (good work Jason).

JASON: Thank you.

ALEX: And on thing that a social justice warrior might do is major in racial studies in college.


ALEX: So this, so this person is saying, "Fanfiction that I wrote contains more valuable social commentary than you're racial studies degree program."

PJ: So they're writing, oh. . .

ALEX: So this is a person who writes very valuable social commentary in the form of Fallout: New Vegas, My Little Pony crossover fan fiction. They also hate social justice. And they want to simultaneously plug they're fan fiction and insult the social, the social justice warriors.

PJ; I'm offended that they're using The Triggering for their own selfish interests.

ALEX: Um. . .

JASON: There's, like. . .if you drill down into the next posting there is like a, a description of the game. "Mr. Horse's pet courier has been murdered and his property stolen. And while the price of the killer's.  . . ." sorry "and while the price on the killers' heads is good enough to get any bounty hunter's attention, it's the bonus for returning a silly little poker chip that draws Deadshot in. A pony could retire on that kind of jackpot." This. Game. Sounds. Awesome.

ALEX: Well, it's not a game. This is actually, if you look there are chapters. This is a book someone wrote.

JASON: Oh, wow.

ALEX: Someone wrote a book using the, the characters from, from or the characters from My Little Pony. . .

JASON: And the world of The Fallout.

ALEX: Yes.

JASON: Or Fallout.

PJ: Can you just read the first paragraph of the book?

ALEX: All right.

JASON: Oh, wait, sp. . .okay so, spoilers for Fallout: Equestria New Pegas. I guess.

PJ: Well, I'd be like, "If you haven't read it by this point it's on you."

ALEX: All right well the first, first paragraph is just one sentence. So do you want me to read just the sentence?

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: "I was always pretty small, especially for an Earth Pony."

JASON: This. Is. Amazing. Oh, guys, has Alex Blumberg ever brought you anything this good?

PJ: I have to say, no.

JASON: No. That's right. I win again Blumberg. I win again. That. . .for an earth pony, too, so that like already indicates that we're going to space. I mean like that first sentence says everything you need to know. That is good writing. It's just good writing.

PJ: I don't know where that leaves us on actually what we're at now.

JASON: I mean and I mean I think we've cracked, I'm trying to now I do understand what The Triggering is. We've covered the racial studies part of it, which I thought was very confusing. And we've gotten into Fallout: Equestria - New Pegas. Which is a piece of fan fiction, is set in the My Little Pony universe combined with the game Fallout. And I think that's it. I think that's the, I think that's what I'm looking at. Am I right?

ALEX: Yeah.

JASON: Yeah?

ALEX: We're at "Yes, Yes, Yes."

PJ: I think we're at "Yes, Yes, Yes." So I did tweet out that first, the first one that stumped us. I tweeted out asking for help and I got a little bit of headway on it.

ALEX: Oooo. . .

JASON: Oooo. .  .Okay.

PJ: Okay, so, this isn't going to get us all the way, but it's going to help. Basically there is a meme, joke format online that is just "The Starter Pack." And. . .


PJ: It's just, it's three or four pictures like that one and it it's a way to like make fun of a specific person. So like this isn't a real one but it'd be like, "The college freshman starter pack." And it'd be like a a bunch of pizza and like new books and like a a dorm room. Like it's just these are the ingredients of this kind of person.

JASON: Got it.

PJ: So this is like a very very very complicated version of that joke that I still don't get. But that's what they're working off of.

JASON: Okay. Okay. But that makes sense I guess. Like, this is like a a meme starter pack basically?

PJ: Yeah, and for like the. . .

JASON: Or something like that?

PJ: meme that would go on forever because it's got cool sunglasses and a funny dog.

JASON: Yeah.

ALEX: I still don't feel ready to say that I'm a yes on this one.

PJ: Oh no. . .

JASON: I don't either. .  .

PJ: . . .me neither.

JASON: I'm like confounded by this.

PJ: Jason, do you feel like, I feel like we're like, we're like product pitchmen for using the internet.

JASON: Sure.

PJ: Like do you feel having this knowledge at all like you're missing out on anything?

JASON: No. Zero. And it is so overwhelming. Alex's feed is so stressful to me that if I had to look at this daily I I swear to God I'd lose my mind. It just seems like everybody's like, "Oh, I just took a weird poo." And then it's a picture, and then it's like a picture of a dog. You know what i mean? I don't know.

ALEX: I gotta be honest if I saw a tweet that said I just took a weird poo and I had a picture of a dog.

JASON: I mean, that by the way is gonna be the text, or the tweet that I send from your account.

PJ: Please send it.

ALEX: Please send it.

JASON: If I can figure out all of the pieces that go into tweeting that I 100% will do it. I will intermittently tweet as you over the course of the next week.

ALEX: In the meantime I'm going to put up a post that says I just took a weird poo and it's a picture of a dog.

JASON: No. That's my first tweet asshole, you can't steal it.

PJ: You're stealing jokes.

ALEX: All right. Fine.

JASON: How dare you. How dare you.

ALEX: I won't do it.

JASON: My tweet. That's gonna be my, that's going to be my first tweet. I'm very excited about it.

ALEX: So am I.

PJ: I feel like what's going to happen is you're going to tweet it and then people will actually retweet and they'll like it and then you'll do another one. And like, the game of it will get you.

JASON: Oooo, oh guys. Guys. And then it becomes a meme and fucking Alex Blumberg brings it in is like, "What is this?"

PJ: That will finally be the last episode of the show.

JASON: Don't let him know. Let him bring it in as a "Yes, Yes, No." Hah. Mantzoukas wins again.

ALEX: That would like tear open the fabric of space time and we will just implode on ourselves.

PJ: That would be the infinitely recursive meme.

JASON: That's exactly it. It's just a, in one box it's me and Alex. In another box it's the tweet of the dog, I just took a weird poo. And it's that infinitely.

ALEX: God, Jason, this has been a pleasure.

PJ: Yeah really.

JASON: What a delight.

ALEX: You can hear Jason Mantzoukas on the How Did This Get Made? pocast or you can see him basically every comedy television show ever made. He's appeared on The Kroll Show. He's currenly on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He is a regular on The League. He's everywhere. He is just everywhere.

Reply All is PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Bennin. Our editor is Peter Clowney. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Matt Lieber is a killer drum break. Special thanks to Alix Spiegel. Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. 

To watch the full video of the Elaine Rich interview which excerpted in this episode you can go to The Knowledge at Wharton YouTube channel or go to

You can find more episodes at Our website is We'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.