January 30, 2020

#156 The Cure for Everything

by Reply All

PJ and Alex open up the hotline again to tackle listener problems and mysteries, no job too weird. This time – a Waze vortex, a tribunal for HawtNugz, and a powerful mystery cure that could topple the world into dystopia.

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Transcript

PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman.


PJ VOGT: Alex?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah?


PJ VOGT: Um from time to time, there’s a thing we do on the show where we open up the Reply All hotline. Uh we take mostly like questions from listeners that are technical in nature? Sometimes it sorta goes past that.


ALEX GOLDMAN: The weirder, the better honestly.


PJ VOGT: The weirder, the better. Um, and we put out the call a couple of weeks ago. We got some great calls. And we’re gonna play them for you.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Let’s do it.


[Phone ringing]


[MUSIC]


[Phone ringing]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hello?


JEN: Hello. Oh my gosh, I got through, what the heck?


PJ VOGT: Who's this?


JEN: My name's Jen, and I'm here with my friends Kate and Bennett.


PJ VOGT: Kate and Bennett?


JEN: Yeah.


BENNETT: Yeah. 


KATE: Hello.


JEN: Is that weird?


PJ VOGT: No. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: No, it's not weird. 


PJ VOGT: What-what—do you guys all have one problem or three different problems?


JEN: Yes. Well, yeah, we do have—we all have one kind of shared dilemma. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok, what is it?


JEN: Ok, so last week I got like a weird message from like a friend on Facebook.


PJ VOGT: Wait, what about the message was intrinsically weird? What did it say?


JEN: Well, it was just like, "Hey quick question, um, I'm having like phone problems. There’s not too many people online to ask, sorry." Um and it was like, uhh, "Do you mind if I like send you a quick text and you screenshot the conversation so I can have the number from it?"


ALEX GOLDMAN: Does she mean her number?


JEN: No, like the code number. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, like a confirmation number to get into like a website or something.


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] Ohhh shit. Ok, I see where this is going. 


JEN: Yeah, exactly. And like because I'm not like super techy, I was like, “Uh, ok sure.” Um, so I sent her my phone, and she was like, “Oh, what's your number real quick?” And I send her my frickin' phone number. 


PJ VOGT: Shit. 


JEN: And then, so she sent me the text, and then I screenshotted the code and sent it back to her, and then they stopped replying. And so I was like, “Ok weird,” but I didn't really like think much of it. And then about like a week after I first got the initial like weird message, I was out with my friends, and I got a Instagram message from my other friend being like, “Hey I think your Facebook account got hacked.”


PJ VOGT: Yeah. 


JEN: And I was like, "What?"


PJ VOGT: What had happened to it? 


JEN: Well basically, a bunch of people on my friends list were getting messages—


PJ VOGT: Saying your phone wasn't working?


JEN: Like literally the same message. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah. 


JEN: Yeah, exactly. So I was like, “K cool, umm what the heck?”  I posted like an Insta story being like, “Hey, don’t reply to any messages, like I’m being hacked right now, and also, report my account.” But they went and deleted it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: On your Instagram?


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] Ohhhh yeah, cause it’s connected to your Facebook.


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] Cause it’s connected to your Facebook.


JEN: Cause it’s all connected, yeah.


PJ VOGT: That really makes me think it’s not a bot, that makes me think it’s a person.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, totally.


JEN: Right? Exactly. So I told my friends who I was with, Kate, who’s here now, she like messaged our group chat on Facebook being like, “Hey, don’t reply to any messages that Jen sent, she’s being hacked right now.” And the person who was on my account saw that message and left the group immediately. 


PJ VOGT: (Laughs)


JEN: And like unfriended all the people in that group. (laughing) Except for Kate, which is weird. And then I kept getting like—my sister called me and she was like “Um, hey, this doesn't really sound like you, but I gave them my number.” And I was like, “Oh shit.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ohhh! 


PJ VOGT: No. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh nooooo! 


JEN: And we kind of like, yeah. Kate was like messaging the hackers from her account, and the replies that they were sending us were like “Oh don’t worry about it, she’ll get her account back in 24 hours, I’m not doing anything malicious.” Like “You don’t have to worry about it” and that kind of stuff and super strange. But our initial question is like, what is the scam? Cause they didn't post anything. Like they didn't—


PJ VOGT: Like what did they want with the account?


JEN: Yeah, exactly. It seemed like they were just trying to like, reach as many accounts as possible but like, why?


PJ VOGT: I have a guess. I have a strong theory for you based on something that happened to me this weekend, which is like, somebody tried to scam me. 


JEN: Ok. 


PJ VOGT: So I've been trying to get rid of this broken treadmill on Craigslist. Every time I try to sell something on Craigslist, it's the same thing. Which is like, I set what I think is like super low price. I'm like, I will entertain no lower offers, and then people lowball me, and I get mad, and I give it away for free out of anger. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: That's smart. 


JEN: Oh, what?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Really...


PJ VOGT: So I did that. Like that whole thing happened. And finally I was like—


JEN: [Overlapping] Ok. 


PJ VOGT: Screw this. I'm just gonna put it out with like a “Free” sign because people in my neighborhood take stuff all the time. 


JEN: On the curb? Yeah. (laughing)


PJ VOGT: So I curbed it, and then this guy had emailed me and was like, “Hey, I'm really interested like can you send me your phone number to discuss?” And I'm like, “Listen man, I”—he still wanted to pay for it. And I was like, “You don't need to pay for it. It's outside my house, you can go get it.”


JEN: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: And he was like, “Well I'd really like to call to discuss this.” Uhhhh—


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


JEN: What.


PJ VOGT: To see if I can change your mind. 


JEN: To pay you?


ALEX GOLDMAN: “Listen, you deserve some money.”


PJ VOGT: And so he was like, “Do you mind—can you just send me your phone number? Can I call you?” And I was like, “No.” And I ended it. And then I was like, this person was trying to scam me, but I don't know how. You know what I mean? Like, clearly this person wanted my phone number not a treadmill. 


JEN: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: So I searched online, and I found this thing about how, basically, in the hunt to get people's phone numbers, to plug into like robocall databases, there are now scammers who troll Craigslist just getting email addresses plus phone numbers plus names. Or even just like working phone numbers. And so the whole scam, according to this, was just to get my phone number. My guess is that the person who's working through your account—


JEN: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: Once they're in, they have the names of all your friends, in a lot of cases they have their email addresses, their phone numbers, like my guess is that they're going in to make like a spam database as big as possible. 


JEN: Oh. So they're just like, getting access to as many like, phone numbers and emails as possible to add it all to one list to spam you?


PJ VOGT: That's my guess. And it does sound like a lot of effort, but the fact that somebody's willing to engage in like, multiple emails with me just to get one phone number makes me think, “Oh, definitely this makes sense.”


JEN: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: Because every account they crack, they're probably getting like—I mean, I don't know how many Facebook friends you have. 


JEN: Like a lot. Too many. Like probably like 1,200?


PJ VOGT: Yeah, so if that's like a 1,200 person database, that's probably worth some time. 


JEN: Right.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright well, thanks so much, Jen. 


JEN: Thanks. Thanks for taking our call. Yeah, have a good one. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bye. 


[Google Hangouts ringing]


ALEX GOLDMAN: I don’t know why it’s going to my computer again. I’ll pick it up…


[Google Hangouts ringtone]


ALEX GOLDMAN: This is Alex and PJ. 


ANONYMOUS: Hey. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Who's this?


ANONYMOUS: Wow. (laughing) This is [BLEEP] from Chicago. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: How's it going, [BLEEP]?


ANONYMOUS: It's going alright. I have a question, it's kind of technical in nature. It's kind of— ok wait, can you guys bleep my name ?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Mhm, yeah yeah yeah. 


ANONYMOUS: Ok, so, this is really weird. Super weird. Extremely weird. 


PJ VOGT: Alright. 


ANONYMOUS: But, uh, ok. So, I’m pretty sure I might have figured out the cure to balding. 


PJ VOGT: What?


ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m sorry?  


ANONYMOUS: Like, uh, hair loss. Lik uh...so basically it’s like...


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] I am so curious.


ANONYMOUS: Like genetic like...


PJ VOGT: What is your profession?


ANONYMOUS: Um, I'm actually a software engineer. I work at a big tech company. 


PJ VOGT: So not like a follicle geneticist?


ANONYMOUS: No no no. (Laughs) No no no, but I did take some science classes in college and stuff. There is some science behind it, like some biochemistry that I'm kind of—it's uh—


PJ VOGT: Just tell me the story of how you found this.


ANONYMOUS: Well uh...


PJ VOGT: Supposedly.


ANONYMOUS: So basically, you know, my dad had been balding for a while. And I have a twin brother who has been balding.


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] Identical or fraternal?


ANONYMOUS: Fraternal. So, yeah, so, you know, there’s a chance that you know he has much stronger balding genes. I don’t know, there’s a lot of weird stuff about how balding works. Anyway, I—well, ok wait, so there’s one thing I have to say though that kind of makes this sort of interesting or weird which I need to ask you guys about is, it's sort of like a limited supply of this thing. 


PJ VOGT: The thing that is the—is this all a wind-up to a bit?


ANONYMOUS: No no no, this is no bit.


PJ VOGT: Ok. So the mysterious “x” serum that might cure baldness, there’s a limited supply of it on earth?


ANONYMOUS: Yes, yes. There is—


PJ VOGT: I feel like I'm having a dream right now. 


ANONYMOUS: [Overlapping] Sort of almost...


ALEX GOLDMAN: This sounds like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Have you ever read it? The guy accidentally creates a serum that turns him into an animal, and then he can't figure out a cure?


PJ VOGT: Wait, I thought it turned him into Mr. Hyde. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, Mr. Hyde’s kind of like an animal, man. 


PJ VOGT: Huh. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: And he's like—and at first he's like, "I love it. I'm gonna take some more of this." And then he takes some more and he's like, "Oh no, I'm turning into him permanently!” Actually, you know what, this is like nothing like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: What—what is this—this mysterious serum?! (laughing)


PJ VOGT: Ok, have you seen Empire Strikes Back? Because this sounds like a lot like Empire Strikes Back. It's like—


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] So they're on Hoth—


PJ VOGT: But there's these Jedi, right? And they have laser swords— (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Wait, no. What—what is going on?


PJ VOGT: What is going on?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, you need to tell us what's up.


PJ VOGT: Yeah, you're being very coy about this.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes, stop beating around the bush. 


ANONYMOUS: I have to be coy—ok, so here's the problem— 


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] We're not gonna beat you to market.


ANONYMOUS: No, no. I—it’s not—I'm concerned because if it comes out then it almost by nature has to be limited. I mean, the thing is, I think there might be ways to sort of increase the supply a little bit. But the thing I'm concerned about is that if it comes out, then only like wealthier people will afford it. And there’ll be sort of, be like a...


PJ VOGT: You'll live in this dystopia where all the poor people are bald and all the rich people have like, luscious, luscious locks of hair?


ANONYMOUS: Uh, kind of. Yeah, basically. And the thing is, it’s not just related to hair, like it actually has a lot of ramifications for like, health and uh—


ALEX GOLDMAN: What the fuck is it though?


PJ VOGT: You're gonna have to give us the [indistinct]. (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: You have to tell us something! What is it?


ANONYMOUS: (laughing) It's.... the thing is, if I say what it is then it's, you know—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Is it fucking moon rocks? What is it?


PJ VOGT: The blood of salamanders. 


ANONYMOUS: It's...


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] Salamanders are in pretty plentiful supply. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah, until everyone starts killing ‘em to make their hair all long and shiny.


ANONYMOUS: (Laughs) It’s uh… it’s also a very strange thing and it’s—


PJ VOGT: Sir, sir, you’ve got to [indistinct]—


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] Yeah, you’ve gotta give us something or we need to end the phone call. You’re making me crazy over here. (ANONYMOUS sighs) Tell us something!


ANONYMOUS: Um, it’s… I…I love you guys, but I can’t do it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright, we’ve gotta go, cause I don’t know what we can do to help you here. (laughing) PJ’s like—


PJ VOGT: I’m still just very curious. Why do you think this mystery substance cures baldness?


ANONYMOUS: Oh, because I've sort of been testing it on myself.


PJ VOGT: But how do you know that it's stopping you from going bald versus you're just not going bald?


ANONYMOUS: Yeah, so I mean, I could be like a crackpot, like I could be completely wrong. Like this could be some, you know, I understand that. But the thing is I've noticed like very, very substantial differences that I feel like can't be chalked up to—


PJ VOGT: Like you were starting to lose your hair, and then it stopped you from losing your hair?


ALEX GOLDMAN: And did your hair grow back?


ANONYMOUS: Oh yeah. And the thing is like, I can—you know, obviously genetics are different between fraternal twins, but my brother has progressed way more, and I've sort of like—


PJ VOGT: So why don't you give him some of your stuff?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah—he would be a good way to test.


ANONYMOUS: I think the thing is, it's kind of freaky, and that's why I—I hesitate to say— 


PJ VOGT: Wait, what do you mean it’s kind of freaky?


ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s ghosts.


ANONYMOUS: It’s kind of like, very strange. And it’s not that it’s uh… it’s—


PJ VOGT: What is the thing?


ALEX GOLDMAN: What is it?


ANONYMOUS: Uhhh...


PJ VOGT: Alex is almost mad, and I'm gonna have to be in this room with him afterwards. 


ANONYMOUS: (Laughs) Uhhhhh. Um, I'll, I’ll email you guys later.


PJ VOGT: Ok. 


ANONYMOUS: Or I'll send you guys a… yeah, sorry. It's just—yeah, sorry. 


PJ VOGT: That's ok. That's ok. This is a very strange phone call. I'm very curious, but just send us an email. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: But I still don't know exactly what your question is?


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] What your question is?


ANONYMOUS: Oh, it's just like, the question is like how would you deal with that, the like, sort of this—


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] The scarcity?


ANONYMOUS: That dystopian problem? Because if it comes out, then uh, you know, it's almost like a philosophical question, like what do you do? Would you rather it not come out, you know?


PJ VOGT: Is the—the mystery stuff that may or may not cure baldness—is it something that is useful in other ways? Like is it something that if there was a run on, like, I don't know, if it's fire extinguisher juice—if there was a run on fire extinguisher juice, all the houses would burn? Or is it just some random thing?


ANONYMOUS: It's a thing that is—it's a food, actually. 


PJ VOGT: It's a food. 


ANONYMOUS: It's like a..


PJ VOGT: Like a plant?


ANONYMOUS: Uhh sure. It's a—well, it's not a plant. Or—


PJ VOGT: Because most food can be grown or made.


ANONYMOUS: Yeah, so you know it probably can be increased in supply—


PJ VOGT: I mean if it’s—


ANONYMOUS: But still, by nature of what it is, it’s limited by like resources.


ALEX GOLDMAN: More than anything, more than even what it is, I am dying to know just like—


PJ VOGT: How do you apply it?


ALEX GOLDMAN: No no, how did you discover this finite resource and be like “You know what? I’m going to smear this on my head!”


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] Yeah, you were like “I’m going to rub corn on my head.”


ANONYMOUS: So again, I could be insane, absolutely wrong. I do consider myself a smart person, I went to a good college—


PJ VOGT: Yeah, skip to the part where you’re rubbing corn on your head though.


ANONYMOUS: No, you don’t rub anything on your head, there’s no rubbing of any substances anywhere but uh, it’s—


ALEX GOLDMAN: So it's just like a food you eat. 


ANONYMOUS: Yes, you eat it. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: And it makes your hair grow back. 


ANONYMOUS: It's not, it doesn't do just that. It like, it makes you feel—ahh. (Sighs) It's, it’s really... so weird. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I do feel like we're being conned somehow. This feels like a con. 


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] I do feel conned. I feel conned. 


ANONYMOUS: There's—I swear, there's no con. There's no con. Or if it's a con, then I'm conning myself too. I could be an insane person, but—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Here's my response to your concern. If you feel like an emotional—like if you feel emotionally like you can't handle the idea that only millionaires or billionaires are gonna be able to support—buy your baldness cure, give some to your brother, first of all, if he wants it. And then you know, share it with your friends. 


PJ VOGT: But also, who cares—the dystopia where some people are bald and other people have hair—


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] It already exists!


PJ VOGT: It's pretty similar to where we live, and everyone's fine. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Not only that but the dystopia where like, rich people get amazing things that poor people don't get, also already exists. 


PJ VOGT: Including hair. Like there are celebrities who were going bald and then suddenly they're not going bald. Like of all the problems in the world, and there are many, and even all the kinds of technology that maybe shouldn't be invented but are being invented, this kind of feels like not that big a deal, for the amount of angst that it's giving you. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Is it swordfish?


PJ VOGT: It's definitely swordfish. 


ANONYMOUS: Oh so, so the thing is, it goes beyond hair, like I think, hair is just sort of like a marker for health. And I know people would disagree with that, like oh male-patterned baldness is normal—


PJ VOGT: How else has your life changed, like how else has your physical well-being changed since you started eating mystery goo?


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


ANONYMOUS: My—so, I used to like, feel like really tired and sort of like depressed throughout the day. Just like this like, I just want to lay in bed and not do anything, but this has sort of, it’s almost like removed this thing that was—this shroud of depression—I wouldn't call it so like, crippling depression, but it was sort of like—


PJ VOGT: Yeah, I've got that flavor of depression. I know that flavor, it's just like everything's kind of hard to do. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: It's like—it's llama meat. 


ANONYMOUS: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Llama meat. Oh, the food is llama meat. I thought you were calling that kind of depression llama meat. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: No. If—but seriously, as a balding guy who's very depressed, I would love a bite of whatever you're chomping on. 


ANONYMOUS: (laughing) Ok, uh, I’ll get in touch with you guys through email.


PJ VOGT: I feel like you’re not gonna do that.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I don’t know that you are, but can you send—


PJ VOGT: You should at least send it to Alex, truly, he’s—I mean we’re both going through depressive episodes. His is worse than mine right now, and the man has lost a bunch of his hair, and if there’s a miracle cure—would you want your hair back? Do you care?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Um, it’s not—it’s like a thing I’ve kind of made peace with, but if someone was like “All your hair will come back, and it won’t look weird like hair plugs,” I’d be like, “Yeah, ok.” 


PJ VOGT: So if this podcast has brought you enjoyment in your life, for free, I feel like the least you can do is—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Give me my damn hair back! (Laughs)


PJ VOGT: (laughing) Raise Alex’s depression! Otherwise you’re just telling him that mystery goo exists—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah you’re telling me—[indistinct]


PJ VOGT: Everytime he goes to the supermarket, he’s going to be walking down the aisle, holding up like creamed corn being like, “Maybe this is it.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m gonna eat some coffee grounds today, see if that’s it. Maybe it’s sardines.


PJ VOGT: I just looked you up—you have a full head of hair!


ANONYMOUS: Uhh, I do. But—so there are different types of balding, like—ah, gosh—


PJ VOGT: Why are you in so much pain?


ANONYMOUS: I don’t know, because… I think part of it is just that uh… well first of all I could be insane, right? I could be totally wrong, like—


PJ VOGT: Well if you’re wrong it doesn’t mean you’re insane. It just means you’re over-extrapolating a coincidence. That’s not the same as being insane.


ANONYMOUS: Yeah...yes.


PJ VOGT: You know the other possibility for what's going on with you though?


ANONYMOUS: Uh-huh?


PJ VOGT: Hair loss, like short term hair loss can be a function of anxiety. And it's possible you're just going through a depressed, anxious moment, you started eating an unusual food and it had a placebo effect, which was real. Like Placebo effects are real. 


ANONYMOUS: Mh-hmm.


PJ VOGT: And so your stress went down and so your hair came back. 


ANONYMOUS: Mm-hmm. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Is it the hair of other men?


ANONYMOUS: Huh? No. There's no hair of— (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: You eat other people's hair and then suddenly it just sprouts on your head?


PJ VOGT: I feel like people have tried that. 


ANONYMOUS: Oh, god. 


PJ VOGT: Anyway, send it to Alex. He really needs it. He’s going through a thing.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I’m going through a hard time, man. The hair stuff’s less important than the depression, if I’m being honest.


ANONYMOUS: Uh yeah. Um... Yeah, I'll tell you. I think, yeah maybe—maybe yeah, I can talk to Alex in private. I think PJ might judge more—I don't know. Well, yeah.


PJ VOGT: (laughing) Excuse you. Wow. Wow. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I think he's right. 


PJ VOGT: Ok. Thanks, man. Good luck. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright,. Thank you.  


ANONYMOUS: Thank you guys. Thanks PJ. Thanks Alex. Have a good one. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bye. 


PJ VOGT: Bye. 


ANONYMOUS: Bye. 


[End of phone call tone]


PJ VOGT: I swear to god, before this episode is over, we're gonna find out what that is. 


[MUSIC]


PJ VOGT: After the break, we take some more calls from listeners.


[BREAK] 


PJ VOGT: Hello?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi. 


DAVID: Hi. 


PJ VOGT: Who's this?


DAVID: My name is David. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi David. 


DAVID: And I live in Massachusetts. Here's this thing that's been puzzling me for years, which is that I have to drive in traffic in order to get home to Somerville. I work in the burbs and it's a long commute and so I always have some kind of route finding app open, usually Google or Waze. And when I get close to home, I'm like ten minutes away from home, they always tell me the wrong way. Like they'll say, “You are nine minutes from home. You should go straight now.” And I'm like, “I should not go straight.” I take a right and then it recalculates and goes, “You are now five minutes from home.” And I'm like how can you just get this wrong over and over and over again?


PJ VOGT: Is it–and it's always the same kind of wrong?


DAVID: Yeah. It's always— this happens, always, at the intersection of Mass Ave and Route 16. 


PJ VOGT: Ok, so I know one possibility, which is that I’d heard a story about how—I think the New York Times reported on this, like Waze, Google Maps, like one of these pathfinding apps had, you know, figured out through the magic of the algorithm that people could shave like, four minutes off their commute by getting off this highway at this one point and cutting through a local road. And the problem with doing that, even though it was like, mathematically true, is that it was destroying life for the people who actually depended on the local road. And because the apps were sending so many people on that route, the route was no longer working, and it was just like creating pandemonium. I wonder if your local road is one of those roads. I wonder if your neighbors have been like, you know, “Keep us off Google Maps, keep us off Waze”—


DAVID: Ohhh. 


PJ VOGT: That could be what’s going on. 


[MUSIC] 


DAVID: Huh! Cool, hey thanks. You guys are awesome.


PJ VOGT & ALEX GOLDMAN: Thanks man. Thanks Dave.


DAVID: Bye


[MUSIC]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi, this is Alex and PJ. Who are we speaking to?


TEDDY: Oh my god. My name's Teddy. I live outside of Santa Cruz. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi Teddy, how's it going?


PJ VOGT: You sounded like you were making up your name a little bit. 


TEDDY: No, I wasn't. (laughing) I've just been trying to get through since 11, so I just really wasn't expecting that. 


PJ VOGT: Oh. Bloody Mary, man. So what's your question?


TEDDY: Well my question kind of has to do with my name, actually. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok. 


TEDDY: So I've been locked out of my Facebook for like five years now. 


PJ VOGT: What happened five years ago?


TEDDY: [Overlapping] Do you remember when Facebook—they changed their policy. 


PJ VOGT: Oh, on real names. Like where they're like, it has to be on your birth certificate, or whatever?


TEDDY: Exactly. 


PJ VOGT: Ohh. 


TEDDY: So I promise you my name is Teddy, although that's not my legal name. 


PJ VOGT: Got it. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Mmm. 


TEDDY: And I've tried everything, like I—I even sent them a picture of my ID, and I was like, “I don't care, you can put my legal name.” Um they like, at one point had me get three people to confirm who I was with like codes, and I did that, and it didn't work. And I like emailed them a bunch of things. I tried to get really like indignant and called them transphobic. I’ve just been, I haven't been Hannah, which is my legal name, for a long time, and I think at that point in time on Facebook, it was like my DJ name, which was Hawtnugz. 


PJ VOGT: So wait, your name wasn't Teddy? It was Hawtnugz?


TEDDY: That wasn't my name, that was just my nickname, and that's just what my Facebook name was. 


PJ VOGT: What—what was the etymology of Hawtnugz?


TEDDY: Ok. There is a story behind it which is that like, since I was a kid, I had spelled “Hannah” phonetically because people always called me “Hannah” and I spelled it “H-A-W-N-U-G-H” and when I got on this radio show it just kind of happened cause of how I spelled “Hanna.” It just became “Hawtnugz.” And then people totally called me “Nugs” for years.


PJ VOGT: Is “hawt”—is “nugs” like weed nugs?


TEDDY: I mean like, no, it’s just because of “Hawnugh” but that’s why I couldn’t introduce myself that way. And like when I had people were always like “Whoa, that’s such a weird name!” and I’m just like, “Yeah, my parents are stoners. Like, I don’t know what to tell you.” 


ALEX GOLDMAN & PJ VOGT: (laughing)  


ALEX GOLDMAN: That’s so funny. 


PJ VOGT: Wait so everyone in Santa Cruz is just prepared to like believe in a world where they were like, “And we will name our child Hawtnugz.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: You ever been to Santa Cruz? (laughing)


TEDDY: (laughing) Totally.


PJ VOGT: That's an awesome name. (laughing) Also, I kind of get why when they were looking around about whether people had their real names or not they were like, ”Hawtnugz doesn't totally pass the smell test.” 


TEDDY: “That's not real.” But it's still like, you know, Hannah wasn't my name anyways and—


PJ VOGT: Yeah. 


TEDDY: Like, I just need access to my Facebook cause it still exists, and I just want to delete it. And then at some point one of my good friends died, and I really wanted to get on there. 


PJ VOGT: Oh. 


TEDDY: So I like tried that angle, and every angle I've used hasn't worked. 


PJ VOGT: And then they didn't let you in?


TEDDY: No. 


PJ VOGT: What happens when you try to log in? 


TEDDY: Ok, so it says, "Unfortunately, you won't be able to access your account while we're reviewing these additional documents.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: When did you submit those documents?


TEDDY: Five years ago. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: (Laughs) Ok. 


PJ VOGT: Hawtnugz, we’ll see what we can do for ya.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. 


TEDDY: (laughing) Ok, thank you.


[MUSIC]


[Phone ringing]


TEDDY: Hello?


PJ VOGT: Teddy?


TEDDY: Yeah.

 

PJ VOGT: Ok so I’ve learned, I’ve learned things, uhh about what’s going on with your—well, not what’s going on—I basically have bad news for you and an explanation for why things are bad.


TEDDY: I knew it!


PJ VOGT: (laughing) 


TEDDY: I knew it. 


PJ VOGT: Do you wanna know more about the reason things are bad?


TEDDY: I do, yeah. Always. Always loving the bad news.


PJ VOGT: Ok. So I talked to this journalist named Casey Newton. 


CASEY NEWTON: Hey this is Casey. 


PJ VOGT: Hey Casey, it’s PJ. 


CASEY: How you doin, PJ? 


He does this newsletter called “The Interface”, and he writes for The Verge. And he just covers the hell out of Facebook. 


TEDDY: Uh huh. 


PJ VOGT: And I was like, “Ok, so what is going on here? Is, is Teddy’s thing like in a pile that they’re working through very slowly?”


CASEY NEWTON: No.


PJ VOGT: No, nothing?


CASEY: No, no one has been working through a queue for five years; there’s no way that is true.


PJ VOGT: Got it.


CASEY: Most of these companies really do not intervene in cases like this until it becomes a PR story.


TEDDY: Ohhhhh.


PJ VOGT: He was like, basically their PR department is the helpdesk. He said he gets—and I get these too, and I didn’t realize it was like a thing—he’s verified on Twitter, so he’s like constantly getting messages from people who are just like asking him like “Hey I got locked out of my Facebook, hey I got locked out of my Instagram, can you help me?”


TEDDY: Ohh.


PJ VOGT: And the messed up thing is like they’re actually, they are making the right and logical choice because they are appealing to somebody who theoretically Facebook would care about in a way that they don’t generally care about people. Um.


TEDDY: Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: So he basically, what he said which was really interesting was that, like a way to think about Facebook, is they’re sort of, they’re like a tech company that has accidentally stumbled into being a government. 


TEDDY: Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: And the way they’re running things right now is sort of like, Mark Zuckerberg is sort of like a king, and there’s kind of like a gentry class of like slightly important like journalist type people who they pay attention to, but otherwise it’s a pretty undemocratic government.


TEDDY: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: And he says like the worst example of this he’d seen which he’s like, “I cover Facebook all the time, I don’t tend to get mad, this was the one that actually made me feel crazy”—



CASEY: Um, a couple years ago, either Zuckerberg himself or you know his corporate risk people said, “You know, you’ve sent a lot of messages on Facebook Messenger, and we think there’s this risk associated with having these messages out in the world and so what we’re going to do is we’re going to unilaterally delete every message you’ve ever sent that is older than, I don’t know, six months or something like that.” And so instantly, people around the world who had messaged with Mark Zuckerberg went to go open up their Zuckerberg chat window and what they saw was a one-sided conversation. Because Facebook had deleted all of Mark Zuckerberg’s messages and none of theirs. (Laughs)


PJ VOGT: That’s so unfair!


CASEY: Right? So it’s like Zuckerberg understood the value of privacy and disappearing messages for himself and presumably for other people but ultimately, he only gave himself that privilege.




ALEX GOLDMAN: AHH. What?!


TEDDY: Uhhhhh—


PJ VOGT: Yes. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: What?! Duh. 


TEDDY: Damn.


PJ VOGT: So the one thing Casey told me that was surprising and not just more details about the dystopia you suspect that you live in already, is that he said like, if you think of Facebook as a country that is like slowly discovering government, he said, that this year they're introducing something that actually looks kind of like the beginning of a democracy, sort of.


CASEY: I don't know if you’ve read much about the Facebook Oversight Board?


PJ VOGT: No.


CASEY: So Facebook sometime this year is going to launch what is effectively a Supreme Court for content moderation that is going to be independent from Facebook. So Facebook is funding it, they're going to appoint the first board members. But then they're not going to have any say, and initially if your content was removed and you believe that it was done in error then you can appeal to this board, and if they choose to hear your case from what will presumably be thousands, that court will issue a binding ruling, and then Facebook will either have to continue to leave it down or put it back up.


And Facebook is also going to be able to take policy questions to the Board. Basically like, “Should we allow this particular thing or not?”


PJ VOGT: That's so crazy. It's like watching—it's like—it's like watching society happen over again faster, in a company.


CASEY: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, completely.


ALEX GOLDMAN: This seems like trying to get to the gubernatorial pardon; it seems just about as likely as that.


PJ VOGT: I think it’s a pretty outside chance.


TEDDY: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Also I should just say obviously, what Facebook says about this publicly is they do have a working fair process that isn’t just for celebrities. But, my experience basically tracks with Casey’s on this. Anyway, there was one other thing I was curious about… one of the things you mentioned was that the reason, a reason you want to get back into your account, was like stuff involving a friend of yours that died?


TEDDY: Mhm. I just had a lot of photos of him on there that don't exist anywhere else.


PJ VOGT: Ok wait, I have an idea.


TEDDY: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Ok so, Facebook has this thing where they let you download your information. Like you just download all the data you voluntarily uploaded to Facebook.


TEDDY: Oh yeah, totally.


PJ VOGT: So I'm looking at it. It says, “if you don't have a Facebook account but believe Facebook may have information about you, you can contact us to get a copy of your information.” So it might be the same thing.


TEDDY: And you think photos would be included in information?


PJ VOGT: Yeah, it's everything.


TEDDY: Oh cool, I will definitely try that. It’s such a good idea.


PJ VOGT: Yeah, so maybe you can get some help that way. 


TEDDY: Yeah. Cool. 


PJ VOGT: I'm sorry that we live in a country that is run by Mark Zuckerberg. 


TEDDY: It’s ok. Well, I mean, not ok, but not your fault. It’s also like, not a huge deal. It’s just my Facebook.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Facebook: if you’re listening, get in touch so we can unlock Teddy’s account. If we have that kind of clout. If we have that kind of clout, I’d be stoked.


PJ VOGT: Also, fix your system so that it doesn't depend on Alex Goldman being considered famous.


ALEX GOLDMAN and TEDDY: (laughing)


[MUSIC]


PJ VOGT: Ok, alright. Let us know if this works; let us know if you hear from them.


TEDDY: (laughing) Alright, bye.


[MUSIC]


[Phone ringing]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi, this is Alex and PJ. 


TAYLOR: Hello. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Who's this?


TAYLOR: This is Taylor. 


PJ VOGT: Um, where are you calling from?


TAYLOR: I'm calling from L.A. 


PJ VOGT: Cool, what's your technical support problem?


TAYLOR: I don't know if this is like a good question to ask but what is up with ads for mobile games? Like the one I play is Homescapes. 


PJ VOGT: Wait, what is—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Homescapes is just like Matchington Mansion which is the game that I play. You play basically like a Candy Crush style game, then you get to furnish your house, right?


TAYLOR: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: It's a fake house though. 


TAYLOR: So I found—


PJ VOGT: Alex is like—Alex, his face just wants to talk about Matchington Mansion now for about 30 minutes. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I'm on like level 2500. I've been playing it for over a year. 


TAYLOR: Yeah, I've been playing Homescapes for like a year and a half now. And I'm obsessed. 


PJ VOGT: Why is it—how are they different—like—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. I have never played Homescapes, so how is it different?


TAYLOR: So Homescapes is the sequel to Gardenscapes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Of course. 


TAYLOR: And I think Matchington Mansion is the like off-brand. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. 


TAYLOR: But I noticed like, I can't remember when it started but I remember seeing ads where you had to select items to complete actions. So it'd be like, the kitchen's on fire, and the sink is leaking—


ALEX GOLDMAN: I know exactly what you're talking about. 


PJ VOGT: Wait, I haven't seen these ads. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: That's how I got to download—that’s what fooled me into downloading Matchington Mansion. Please describe this. 


TAYLOR: So it, it'll be a scenario like, oh the bathtub is flooding in the bathroom. And a bunch of items will come up at the bottom. It'll be like a fire extinguisher and a wrench and a bucket. And you have to select what is the best thing to use for—


ALEX GOLDMAN: To fix the leaky—


PJ VOGT: And this is a pop-up ad?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. I’m playing like a mobile game. I get a pop-up ad for a game where you have to like, where there’s like a puzzle where you have to fix a household appliance, it’s called Matchington Mansion. I download Matchington Mansion and the game that I get is completely different than the one that was in the ad. 


PJ VOGT: And you found that ad like, hypnotically irresistible?


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing) I found it compelling enough to download Matchington Mansion. 


TAYLOR: [Indistinct]


PJ VOGT: But why did this work on you guys?


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


PJ VOGT: Is it just the joy of—


TAYLOR: Because I like puzzles. I like puzzles. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] Yeah, I like puzzles. 


PJ VOGT: But—and maybe I'm not picturing this right, but it sounds like the puzzle is like, "What should you use to put out a fire? A baseball bat or water?"


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


PJ VOGT: Like I don't know if you get to call that a puzzle. 


TAYLOR: [Overlapping] But it's not always super straightforward though. But I'm just like why—where did these ads come from?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I agree with you.


TAYLOR: And why are they allowed to keep on happening?


PJ VOGT: My guess is just the, the mechanics of Matchington Mansion or—what's the other one called?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Homescapes.


PJ VOGT: Homescapes—are a little bit confusing to give somebody a teaser for. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: But they're not—it's just Candy Crush. 


TAYLOR: But it's not. 


PJ VOGT: Weird. I don't know. I don't get why you don't just make that the video game then.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: It's really weird. 


TAYLOR: Honestly, if it was a video game I would play it. (Laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, me too.


PJ VOGT: I hope you're able to get help for your addiction to crappy phone games. Neither me or Alex is doing well.


TAYLOR: So, here's the worst part. Just last week, I found that Diner Dash released a game like this where you fix up the town by completing Diner Dash levels. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: What's Diner Dash?


TAYLOR: So I'm re-addicted. Oh, have you never played Diner Dash?


PJ VOGT: This is like watching someone being introduced to a new street drug that their body is not able to handle. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


PJ VOGT: Like Alex is all like, rubbing his hands together ready for his new addiction. 


TAYLOR: I mean… mobile gaming is the future. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yup. Taylor, thank you. 


PJ VOGT: The future is a fist. 


TAYLOR: Thank you. I hope you find something out. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright. 


PJ VOGT: [Overlapping] Let's see what we can figure out. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bye. 


[Click]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Gotta say, I’m not like a Coca-Cola man. Like I’ll drink RC cola, but I didn’t realize I was playing the off-brand of fix ‘em up games! 


PJ VOGT and ALEX GOLDMAN: [laughing]


[Phone ringing]


[MUSIC]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi, Taylor?


TAYLOR: Hi!


ALEX GOLDMAN: This is Alex. 


PJ VOGT: Also PJ.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, and PJ. Yeah. So, I have answers for you, believe it or not.


TAylor: Ooh, I’m excited to hear it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I found a reporter named Jess Joho who is a staff writer at Mashable.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi, is this Jess? 


JESS: Yes, this is Jess. Is this Alex?


ALEX GOLDMAN: This is. How you doin’?

JESS: I’m good. How are you? 


ALEX GOLDMAN: And when I told Jess about the fake ads that you got and that I got, she was like “Oh, yeah. That’s a thing that companies have been doing for a while.” 

 

JESS JOHO: Yeah, so that is absolutely not a new strategy. They’re basically using it as targeted advertising for a specific type of player who they've identified as their power players. The people who spend the most time, spend the most money on in-app purchases. And so they just throw in whatever they know will appeal to that specific type of player.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And what these companies have realized is that these power players are way more interested in the fake game that they’ve advertised in these ads than the one that they’ve actually made, and I was like, “Ok, well, why don’t they just make that game then?”


JESS: Well, because that would be a lot more money, right? Like that would cost, that  would actually cost money to make a whole new game with a whole new game system and a whole new game loop that, you know, works. That takes years and years and years of development.


PJ VOGT: Ohhhhh.


ALEX GOLDMAN: But it’s pretty simple to just make like an animation that just looks like a new game, get people to download it, and then like, mopes like me, by the time they hit level 25, they’re like hooked. And on top of that, I kept playing well past the point at which I should have stopped. Cause I was like, “Well maybe I just haven’t unlocked that level yet.”


PJ VOGT: That’s so infuriating.


ALEX GOLDMAN: (Laughs)


TAYLOR: I definitely thought that they would be mini-games at one point or another.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Exactly! I’m glad I’m not alone! I was like, I was like, “Ok, so I have to finish decorating this room, and then I’ll have to solve one of these problems”. And then I was like, “Well, I didn't have to solve the problem, but I just decorate the foyer, maybe I’ll have to go to the bathroom, fix that one up, and maybe there’ll be a leaky sink”—


TAYLOR: Well, this is disappointing, and I really want them—I really want someone to make this other game.


PJ VOGT: I bet you that the guy who they made do that—he’s like the equivalent of the dude who wanted to make a great art film, and he has to make crap. And I bet you that on his nights and weekends he made that game, and he’s not allowed to release it.


TAYLOR: (Laughs) Oh, we must find him.


[MUSIC]


PJ VOGT: Thanks, Taylor.


TAYLOR: Thank you guys so much. Have a great day.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You too.


TAYLOR: Bye.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bye.


[MUSIC]


[Phone ringing]


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hello?


PJ VOGT: Hi.


ISAAC: Hello.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Who is this?


ISAAC: Uh, hi, I'm Isaac and I'm calling from probably the coolest place anyone's going to call from today.


PJ VOGT: Where is that?


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] Where?


ISAAC: I am at a SCIF somewhere in New York.


PJ VOGT: A skiff?


ISAAC: Do you guys know what a SCIF is?


PJ VOGT: A small boat?


ISAAC: No it’s uh, it's uh, intelligence community speak for a secret location.


ALEX GOLDMAN & PJ VOGT: What?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Are you in the intelligence community, or are you just using intelligence community speak?


PJ VOGT: Are you allowed to say this to us on a podcast?


ISAAC: Yeah, I'm allowed to say this to you. I—this is—I'm not allowed to tell you where I am, but I'm allowed to tell you I'm at a SCIF.


PJ VOGT: So what—why are you at a SCIF?


ISAAC: So I am a 9/11 family member.


PJ VOGT: Uh-huh.


ISAAC: And I am here watching the hearings for Dr. James Mitchell.


PJ VOGT: Who's Dr. James Mitchell?


ISAAC: Who—he was one of the torture doctors. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: What is he on trial for?


ISAAC: He's not on trial, he's testifying as a witness.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh.


ISAAC: This is part of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed versus U.S. trial.


PJ VOGT: Woah.


ISAAC: Yeah, this is just a pre-trial hearing.


PJ VOGT: So this is the guy who essentially planned 9/11, and they’re basically trying to figure out whether he was tortured in an illegal way that makes the—


ISAAC: No, sort of. The government has admitted that K.S.M. was waterboarded 183 times.


PJ VOGT: Wow.


ISAAC: Yeah, which is—um, there's two schools of thought. The more conservative, we-should-have-tortured-them school of thought says he was waterboarded five times. But the more progressive side says 183 times, because that's the number of times water was actually poured on him.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Where do you fall on that?


ISAAC: I think I'm on the 183 side of that. I do not think that these people should have been tortured. I think it was avoidable.


PJ VOGT: And—


ISAAC: But I'm also—ok I, let me go back, let me go back. I say that with the awareness that many of the other family members who I've spoken to do believe that torture is a part of war and that it was not avoidable and that these are the people who, you know, killed our family members. But even Dr. Mitchell, he just testified that that type of thinking is very dangerous.


PJ VOGT: And he's the guy who they were using as part of their justification to waterboard in the first place?


ISAAC: He was the one doing the waterboarding. 


PJ VOGT: Oh, he was doing the actual waterboarding?


ISAAC: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: And was he the one—I saw a headline this morning where somebody had said like, they were administering waterboarding and that they had wanted to stop. Like they had thought it wasn't—-


ISAAC: Yes, yes.


PJ VOGT: And the CIA was like no, you have to keep going.


ISAAC: That was what he testified to yesterday. Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Got it. And the room you're in, what does a SCIF look like? Like who's in there? Are there snacks? Like what—are there windows?


ISAAC: There are not snacks, there are no windows—well, I'm outside right now. I'm standing next to a parking lot, actually. But inside there are no windows and it's sort of like a big—it looks a lot like a high school theater. The seats are made of metal and they have these like red—they have like red padding on them, and it's like kind of gross because it looks really old. So I'm like, I'm like putting my coat down and using my coat as a barrier. They're projecting the closed-circuit TV onto the back wall. There are flags of all 50 states and all five branches of the Armed Forces because this is a base I'm on. 


PJ VOGT: In New York?


ISAAC: Yeah it’s—I’m in the city somewhere, I’ll say that.


PJ VOGT: Ok. 


PJ VOGT: So can I ask you, you—you lost family in 9/11?


ISAAC: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: How—how old were you?


ISAAC: I was four. I'm 22 years old.


PJ VOGT: What happened?


ISAAC: I lost my uncle, he was a Port Authority lawyer.


PJ VOGT: Uh-huh.


ISAAC: We were very fortunate. We managed to find his body—the whole—the whole body. He was in a service elevator in the North Tower with a bunch of firefighters. And the general consensus is that the elevator was going up, not down.


ALEX GOLDMAN: What does that mean?


ISAAC: So he was going back into the tower to make sure that all of his employees and all the people he worked with got out.


PJ VOGT: Okay, And, are people—what’s the—vibe is not the word I wish I was going to use, but like wha—(shortly laughs) 


ISAAC: Yeah, no. 

PJ VOGT: What’s the mood? Are people watching this like talking to each other? Is it hushed like a movie theater?

ISAAC: Yeah, so because I’m a freak and I have notes on like all the weird classified shit that they’re talking about, um, I’m, when I go in there I’m a little bit holding court almost. Because, they just like—I can translate everything, basically. Because they’ll—they use a lot of strange terminology. Like “505 hearing”, which is a rule about the military commission. 

PJ VOGT: Huh. 

ISAAC: I have OCD and anxiety which is a bad combination when it comes to doing things in broad strokes.

PJ VOGT: I’m with you. I have the same little cocktail. It’s great.

PJ VOGT: Wait, also, do you have a technical support question? This is fascinating. You don’t have to have one, but I’m just curious.


ISAAC: Ok so, I had no idea what the hotline was open for. I just got a text from my friend who said the hotline’s open, just call. And I said ok. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok.


PJ VOGT: Wait, but so, getting back to the thing that you actually initially told us about, Dr. Mitchell’s testimony. What has he said about the torture program he ran? 


ISAAC: So Dr. Mitchell has been very intricate in his wording. So he said that there were many meetings he had with K.S.M., Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that were not interrogations. Interrogations specifically meaning questioning sessions where they could have waterboarded him but did or did not. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok.


ISAAC: Whereas the maintenance visits wherein he would just go in there and talk to him and just like, hang out.


PJ VOGT: So he would, he would show up one time and waterboard or torture him and then the next time he would just...hang out? 


ISAAC: Yeah, or he would ask him like how he's feeling. Because he was an interrogator, but he was also the psychologist in charge of the mental well-being of these guys. 


PJ VOGT: Because it just seems weird that you would—that somebody would torture you and then—-


ISAAC: Yeah—-


PJ VOGT: You know?


ISAAC: Yes, that is—that's mentioned in the SSCI Torture Report is that it's a very strange dichotomy.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Do you ever feel like being so encyclopedic on this stuff, do you ever feel like it makes it harder for you to move on with your life?


ISAAC: No. For this in particular, it is very disturbing, but I'm kind of desensitized to it. So I need to remember, I need to remind myself very often that like, talking about torture is not a good first date topic, for example. 


PJ VOGT: Has that been a problem you've had?


ISAAC: Um, I did—I had a first date a couple of months ago where I did talk about torture and how much I hate John Yoo. And I did not get a second date.


PJ VOGT: That seems reasonable.


ISAAC: Yeah, no, I would agree. 


PJ VOGT: Where else have you had to learn not to talk about it?


ISAAC: Um, because of how messed up my brain is, the way I process anxiety when I'm stressed out is I'll talk about it or I'll vocalize that I'm stressed out and that this is what I'm stressed out about. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah. 


ISAAC: And, you know, if it's just like, you know, there's this girl and she's not texting me back, then my friends are super open to that because that's a very relatable issue. But if it's like, you know, I just spent eight hours listening to James Mitchell explain in incredible detail how to wall a person and how to build a walling wall—


PJ VOGT: And so like with your friends, they'll be like, "I can't listen to you talk about one more torture technique for like two more hours." Like it's just too much for them?


ISAAC: Yeah, they can't—and I don't blame them at all, like this is why I have a therapist, it's just like, I don't blame them for not wanting to listen to me talk about how upset I am by torture while I intricately explain like the correct angle on how to waterboard a person. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ISAAC: But to me personally, as long as I'm mindful of that, like this specific issue isn't a problem. I actually had more problems when I tried to keep a spreadsheet of mechanical keyboard information, and I ended up having like a really bad, like mental—not quite a mental breakdown, but I had a—I went into a deep depression for a while about that, and then I ended up deleting it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: About mechanical keyboards?


ISAAC: Yes, I'm deeply into mechanical keyboards. I have the fourth all-time most posts on geekhack.org, which is the largest mechanical keyboard forum that's not Reddit. 


PJ VOGT: I think I just got a mechanical keyboard.


ISAAC: Good for you.


PJ VOGT: (laughing) I thought you'd be more jazzed about that.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I feel like he probably knows that your mechanical keyboard is pretty subpar relative to the ones that he's into.


PJ VOGT: It's pretty cool. It's got like a weird split in the middle.


ISAAC: Listen, listen, you said it, not me. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: (Laughs) Alright, well, listen. This has been a real odyssey. Thanks so much for calling.


ISAAC: Yeah. Cool, alright. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bye.


ISAAC: Thank you, gentlemen. Have a good one, bye.


PJ VOGT: Bye. 


[MUSIC]


So, one quick note, while we were fact checking this episode, we found out that, actually it turns out while Isaac thought he was calling us from a SCIF, it was not a SCIF. It was an undisclosed military location. 


[Phone ringing]


ANONYMOUS: Hello.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Hey, [BLEEP]!


ANONYMOUS: Hey, Alex.


ALEX GOLDMAN: How're you doing?


ANONYMOUS: How's it going? Doing alright.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright dude. So after that first call you asked me to draw up a legal document saying we wouldn't disclose the, whatever this secret thing is, and I sent it to you. I am curious, would it be ok for me to invite PJ into the room? He's not here now.


ANONYMOUS: Yeah, yeah, that's fine.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright. PJ is here.


ANONYMOUS: Oh, hey PJ.


PJ VOGT: Hey, so where are we at right now? Here's—let me tell you what I know: I know that some sort of contract, secrecy contract has been drawn up.


ANONYMOUS: Yeah, yeah.


PJ VOGT: And are we any closer to the secret of the mystery goo?


ALEX GOLDMAN: So, so—


ANONYMOUS: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: The thing is that [bleeped] really wants us to put in the episode an email address by which people who might be interested can contact him


PJ VOGT: Put in the—to just say, ”hey if you’re interested in contacting the mystery goo scientist, he has an email address?” 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.


PJ VOGT: That seems fine to me. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: You’re ok with that?


PJ VOGT: Are you not ok with it? 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I didn’t want to make any decisions in a room by myself.


PJ VOGT: It’s like a mom and dad situation. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah


PJ VOGT: I think Mom and Dad are both cool with this.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean I am cool with this.


PJ VOGT: Wait, and in exchange, we get the secret of the mystery goo?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


ANONYMOUS: You get the secret of the mystery goo.


PJ VOGT: Like, now?


ANONYMOUS: Uh, sure.


PJ VOGT: Can I tell you my guesses?


ANONYMOUS: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: My big guesses are that it is—well, Jessica Yung, our producer, she was like: stem cells. I thought that was pretty smart. And my other guess is that it is, uh how do I say this—some kind of sexual fluid produced by an animal.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh my god.


ANONYMOUS: I wonder why is that where…


PJ VOGT: Because you said it’s freaky 


ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s freaky


PJ VOGT: And you don’t want to tell your brother about it, and there’s some science background, and I was like “I don't know, it could be that”.


Anonymous: Jesus.


PJ VOGT: So it’s not that.


ANONYMOUS: No, it’s not that.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So what is it?


PJ VOGT: What is the mystery goo?


ANONYMOUS: It's uh… it's basically um… it's...


PJ VOGT: In my heart, I don't believe there's ever going to be, like, I believe that we will live this ellipsis forever in my heart.


ALEX GOLDMAN: The longer you talk, the longer we are kept from the answer.


PJ VOGT: Ok, so it's basically, it's, it's...


ANONYMOUS: I, I, so first of all, I think in our lifetimes or in a couple of years like, this will come out. Like it's not—


PJ VOGT: Well in my lifetime it's not gonna be a couple of years! The way you're talking, you know, it could be within this hour!


ANONYMOUS: Oh yeah, in your lives you're about to hear it right now. Yeah. It also could be totally wrong. I always [indistinct]—


PJ VOGT: Ok. What. Is. The. Thing.


ANONYMOUS: Ok ok, so it's uh, it's uh [beep].


PJ VOGT: What?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Of what?


PJ VOGT: Of what?


ANONYMOUS: Of like a [beep]. Like a [beep].


PJ VOGT: No.


ANONYMOUS: [beep].


PJ VOGT: Wha—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Why? 


PJ VOGT: How and how did you decide to do that? That's a crazy thing. Equally as improbable as every improbable guess that we had. 


ANONYMOUS: Really?


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] How did you get it—


PJ VOGT: Yes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh yeah, definitely.


PJ VOGT: And how gross is it to eat? It seems like it'd be really gross.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I have to say, you, you described it as freaky, and I don't know, I have to, I have to confess the thought of doing this makes me a little queasy. 


PJ VOGT: Like you would throw up.


ANONYMOUS: Ok, let me, let me just tell you something. Uh the thing is like it's actually quite tasty.


PJ VOGT: It doesn't sound tasty.


ANONYMOUS: I mix it in with potatoes, and you don't like, feel the nastiness of like thinking, of knowing what it is, it just tastes like mashed potatoes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: How long would I need to do it for?


ANONYMOUS: I would think that you could do it for like two weeks. I don't exactly know too, right like I'm, I, again this is out of my—


PJ VOGT: Alex, are you going to do this? You're not going to do it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I would try it.


PJ VOGT: Really?


ANONYMOUS: Wait, for real?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah I would try this. I, I'm having a hard, like I think that I'm probably going to like cry trying to choke this shit down.


PJ VOGT: (laughing) The idea of you eating mashed potatoes mixed with mystery goo.


ANONYMOUS: Here's the thing, it's not straight up just like two weeks, "Oh I'm just going to have this mystery goo and everything's going to be fantastic." You have to, I'm going to tell you exactly what you're going to eat those two weeks.


ALEX GOLDMAN: That's fine.


PJ VOGT: He's going to be your food boss.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I'll be his food baby.


PJ AND ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: This isn't weird at all. This isn't weird!


PJ VOGT: Ok, so you're, you guys will have two weeks together, food boss and food baby. Ok one more thing?


ANONYMOUS: Uh huh.


PJ VOGT: Do you have before and after pictures?


ANONYMOUS: Of—


PJ VOGT: Your head?


ANONYMOUS: My hair?


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ANONYMOUS: That, so, the thing about, I'm still like losing hair—


PJ VOGT: Wait, what?


ANONYMOUS: I said only—


ALEX GOLDMAN: [Overlapping] He said he's not getting it regularly, he's not getting the mystery goo with enough frequency.


ANONYMOUS: It’s extremely—like I said, you have to go and purchase a [beep] for [beep] dollars. I don't have [beep] dollars to spend every four or five days. Um and also it's kind of an ordeal, you have to go to the [beep], you know, like—


PJ VOGT: But this is like finding out George Foreman doesn't use a George Foreman grill, like—


ANONYMOUS: But that's why, ok, so that's why I desperately called you guys because I was like, I need help. I need—


PJ VOGT: You need more, you need funds so that mystery goo can become cheaper so that, man it's so much more poignant that you feel like you found the cure and you can't get access to it. I didn't realize that. 


ANONYMOUS: Yeah, it's kind of depressing to be honest.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Thank you for revealing the goo.


PJ VOGT: Thank you for trusting us.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Thank you for trusting us. We’re not gonna let you down.


ANONYMOUS: Yeah. Thank you. Um but there is one other thing you guys said I’d be able to do, right?


PJ VOGT: Yes. Do you have an email address that you wanna share with people?


ANONYMOUS: Um I just made it… let me make sure I can… ok so um yeah, they can email helpwiththecure@gmail.com.


PJ VOGT: That wasn’t taken?


ANONYMOUS: No


PJ VOGT: Cool ok um…. (sighs) Wow. What a journey.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: I can't believe it ends with Alex eating this stuff.


ANONYMOUS: I'm excited to—


ALEX GOLDMAN: I'm not.


PJ VOGT: (laughing)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Sounds gross.


ANONYMOUS: The thing is, ideally like I would also be able to partake, that's the thing.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Get your own stash, buddy!


PJ VOGT: (laughing)


ANONYMOUS: Dude! I just told you the secret of the mystery goo and you're going to tell me that?


ALEX GOLDMAN & PJ VOGT: (laughing)


[MUSIC]


ALEX GOLDMAN: I'll be in touch with you, and we'll figure something out, ok?


ANONYMOUS: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright, take care, man.


ANONYMOUS: Alright, you guys too.


PJ VOGT: Bye.


ANONYMOUS: Bye.


[REPLY ALL END MUSIC]


Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. 


PJ VOGT: Reply All is hosted by me PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. It is our intern Rachel Cohn’s last episode with the show. Thanks so much Rachel, and good luck!

Special thanks this week to Brett Chamberlain and to everyone who called into the show.

Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, and our ad music is by Build Buildings. 

Matt Lieber is looking over your son’s baby pictures on his fifth birthday. Happy Birthday, Harvey. 

You can listen to the show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.