Blog

From the vault: "Somewhere in the Arabian Sea"

Jan 12, 2012

Producer Nancy Updike writes:

If you never heard the show we did in 2002 about life aboard an aircraft carrier, “Somewhere in the Arabian Sea,” you might want to check it out. The ship that Ira Glass, Alex Blumberg and Wendy Dorr spent time on is called the USS John C. Stennis, and it’s been in the news a lot lately, after Iran warned the US to keep the Stennis out of the Persian Gulf. And then a few days later the Stennis was involved in rescuing a group of Iranians who were being held hostage by Somali pirates.

To get a sense of the radio episode, here’s a transcript of a great scene aboard the Stennis. Ira is being escorted around by a public affairs officer named Lieutenant Gorrell, who steers Ira away from a talkative group of sailors, over to a serious-looking young man named Kevin. This move turned out to be a huge mistake on Lieutenant Gorrell’s part, as you’ll see from this exchange between Kevin and Ira:

Kevin I'm just ready to go home.

Ira How come you chose the service?

Kevin A court order.

Ira Really, court-ordered?

Kevin Yeah, that's how they do it in Texas. Instead of you going to jail, they send you to the armed service. So that's how--

Ira They gave you the choice of jail or the Navy?

Kevin Yeah, or the armed service, any armed service.

Ira You don't have to tell me the answer to this, but what kind of trouble were you in?

Kevin Drugs.

Ira Drugs?

Kevin Yeah.

Ira How much jail would you have had to do?

Kevin Seven years.

Ira So how do you like it?

Kevin It sucks. It's like a prison on water. That's what it is. I don't really like it.

Ira (in script) This was not, of course, what Lieutenant Gorell was hoping for from young Kevin. I asked, hoping to turn things to a more positive area, if Kevin is changing. If people grow when the courts send them out here.

Kevin No, because people get flown off the ship almost every month for doing drugs and all kinds of stuff. So no, it's whatever you got inside of you. That's what's going to change you. If you don't want to be changed, you ain't going to be changed.

Ira (in script) I could practically hear the acid eating away at Lieutenant Gorell's stomach at this answer. I wracked my brain for the most completely neutral question I can ask.

Ira So what do you do on your job? Like what is there to do?

Kevin You just walk around all day. For eight hours you walk around and check spaces.

Ira And what are you looking for?

Kevin Just people having sex, fights, anybody drinking, doing stuff they ain't supposed to do on the boat. Hopefully we'll get to see, but I haven't seen anything yet.

Ira You haven't seen anything yet?

Kevin No. I've been looking, though.

Ira (in script) I glance over and catch the expression on the lieutenant's face.

Ira It's actually like people are pretty well behaved on this boat.

Kevin No, that's not true. That's not true. I don't know who told you that, but this boat is like a love boat right now.

Jeff Gorell All right, you're done. If anyone ever asks you to do an interview again, say no.

Mass suicide threat at Foxconn

Jan 11, 2012

3/16/2012 UPDATE: This American Life has retracted the episode referenced below because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction.

Producer Brian Reed writes:

After our episode "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" aired this weekend, reports started coming out about a worker standoff at a Foxconn factory in Wuhan, China. Foxconn manufactures products for Apple and many other electronics brands, and in our episode Mike Daisey tells stories he heard from the workers he talked to outside the gates of a different Foxconn plant, in Shenzhen.

According to news accounts, last week about 150 workers in Wuhan went to the roof of the Foxconn building for two days and threatened to commit mass suicide. Some reports put the number of employees at 300.They were upset because the company had moved them to a different production line.

"We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal," UK paper The Telegraph quotes one worker as saying, anonymously. "The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it."

According to the Telegraph report, the employees were being moved to a new line manufacturing computer cases for Acer. The article goes on:

"Because we could not cope, we went on strike," said the worker. "It was not about the money but because we felt we had no options. At first, the managers said anyone who wanted to quit could have one month's pay as compensation, but then they withdrew that offer. So we went to the roof and threatened a mass suicide."

Foxconn has a history of workers jumping off its buildings. When Mike Daisey was in China in 2010, Foxconn made international news over the course of several months as about a dozen workers jumped off the Shenzhen plant individually and killed themselves. One of Foxconn's responses was to put up large nets around its buildings.

We reached out to Foxconn about the suicide threat last week, and the company said that early in the morning on January 4th, about 150 employees staged a "workplace incident" at the Wuhan plant after Foxconn told them they would be transferred from one production unit to another. Foxconn sent us the following statement:

The incident was successfully and peacefully resolved later that morning after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government, including the labor department. As part of the agreement between Foxconn and the employees in question, 45 of those employees chose to resign from the company under the terms of a voluntary resignation agreement and the remaining employees chose to remain as Foxconn employees. The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and that their rights are fully protected. The operational changes that were the basis for this incident are being carried out in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.

This is actually the first time Foxconn has responded to us. We asked the company repeatedly to comment on Mike Daisey's findings, both on and off the record, and each time they either declined or didn't get back to us.

Photos: club.china.com

More photos of the protest here, which are fascinating (though a warning: one of the photo sites requires login and the other has some mildly NSFW ads).

"When Patents Attack" Infographic

Jan 11, 2012

The website FrugalDad posted this infographic inspired by our episode "When Patents Attack." It was designed by Cut Media.

patents infographic

Thanks to everyone who donated!

Jan 4, 2012
We wanted to send a big thank you to all of you who donated to the show. With just one request on the podcast, we made our December goal! You all really stepped up, and we're extremely grateful.

- your friends at This American Life

We want your snooping stories

Dec 22, 2011

We're working on an upcoming show about snooping - you know, reading someone's diary, email, etc - and we want your stories.

We want to know who snooped on whom (the story can be from the POV of the snooper or the snoop-ee), what was found out (if anything), and what happened afterward (A breakup? Something good? Nothing at all?). We'd like to hear from people who are great at snooping (detectives) and bad at it (got caught or really should've been caught), those who regret it, and those who don't. Also if there's someone who's a serial snooper...wonderful.

Oh and this is important: You need to be willing to tell your story on the radio (we don't have to use names).

Email your story to snooping@thislife.org

Thanks!

This American Life Guest Edits New York Times Magazine!

Dec 22, 2011

These American Lives

Ira writes:

The editors of the New York Times Magazine invited us to edit a section in what they told us is one of their most popular issues every year, "The Lives They Lived" issue, which looks back at the people who died during the year. It's up online now, and hits newsstands this weekend.

A surprisingly funny video they made about it is here.

Judge Williams Steps Down

Dec 20, 2011

Ira writes:

Judge Amanda Williams, who was the subject of our episode "Very Tough Love" has announced that she'll resign from the bench as of January 2nd. Because she's stepping down, ethics charges brought against her by the state's Judicial Qualifications Commission will be dropped.

Earlier this month, the Commission added two charges to the original 12 counts it filed in November. One of those counts accused Judge Williams of allowing her lawyer in the case, John Ossick, to represent litigants in cases she was still presiding over from the bench without disclosing their attorney-client relationship on the court record. The other accused her of putting a man into drug court even though there were no drug charges against him, because he was the nephew of attorney Jim Bishop. When a drug court staffer questioned the decision, according to the charges, Judge Williams replied "Jim Bishop has been there for me for years and years and years. He has never asked me for anything, ever, in the entire time I have been on the bench, to use my power in any case to do anything for anybody and he's asked me to do this. ... And it's that damn simple." She also said, according to the filing: "It's called being a Bishop. And I don't want to have any more conversations about it. I know I'm doing the wrong thing, "

Jim Bishop has denied asking for any favors from Judge Williams.

Judge Williams will be stepping down after 21 years on the bench. In a consent order, she agreed not to seek other judicial offices.

The JQC's jurisdiction is limited to removing judges from the bench. Judge Williams can still face criminal charges for some of the JQC's allegations.

Here's the AP story about Williams' resignation.

Tom the Turkey? No comment.

Dec 6, 2011

Tom the Turkey

Contributor Sam Bungey writes:

If you listened to the story I reported in this week's Poultry Slam about Tom the Turkey, you know that Officer Jeff Day, the cop who actually shot and killed the bird, would not speak to us. At first he declined our request by phone, so my producer Brian Reed and I went to the Chilmark police station to try and convince him in person. We wanted to hear from the last person to see Tom alive.

But when we showed up, Day responded by simply fixing us with an inscrutable gaze. Maybe the dead eyes came with the territory – after all, this turkey had attacked Officer Day so viciously that he felt compelled to pump it full of lead. The slaying might have left quite a mark on the policeman. “Is it that you don’t like talking about the incident?” we asked. Day shrugged.

Honestly, we were surprised. We thought people might be able to laugh about a turkey encounter three years after it happened. We asked Officer Day if any ongoing legal issues prevented him from speaking to us. A firm “No,” and a good old eyeballing was all that Day would muster. We appealed to his sense of compassion (“Brian drove through the snow from New York... I flew here from London”), his vanity (“people loved how you took down that bird”), even his common sense ("more than two million people will hear this, and your side won't be represented"). But it was like trying to get a rise out of a meatball sandwich. Day was unflappable.

“Do you not like reporters?” Another shrug. This one seemed to indicate that, yes, Day was not a committed fan of journalists. But still, some other principle was at play that Day just would not tell us.

In mafia culture, breaking Omertà can be punishable by death. Was something similar at play here, in relation to the turkey? Many people we spoke to about Tom took some time to open up about the memories of the bird. It seemed that, even in death, Tom the turkey maintained a stranglehold on some parts of the community. Certainly, most were reluctant to publicly take sides on the shooting – it is a small island, after all. But Officer Day’s stonewalling was something new. His commitment to silence was almost impressive. Brian pleaded with him: "If people don't want to talk, we like to tell our listeners a reason why. Are you able to give us that?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” said the officer. Perhaps Day just didn’t want to speak ill of the dead.

Pictured: Tom the Turkey and his gang (we're not sure exactly which one is Tom). Photo by Brian Mackey.

We're going to Sundance with Mike Birbiglia

Dec 1, 2011

Sleepwalk With Me

We're thrilled to announce that the film version of Mike Birbiglia's story Sleepwalk With Me will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. For the last two years Ira Glass and our producer Alissa Shipp have been working with Mike to produce the film.

The official synopsis:
Reluctant to confront his fears of love, honesty, and growing up, a budding standup comedian has both a hilarious and intense struggle with sleepwalking.

Mike's story originally came to us from The Moth, and aired in our 2008 episode Fear of Sleep. Then Mike adapted it into a one man show, and later a book. Mike directed the movie, and wrote it with Seth Barrish (who directed the stage version), Joe Birbiglia and Ira Glass. The film stars Mike, Lauren Ambrose, Jim Rebhorn and Carol Kane. It was shot by cinematographer Adam Beckman, who also shot our television show. Jacob Jaffke produced.

Congrats to Mike and all involved in this project. Wish us luck in Park City!

Pictured: a bloodied Mike Birbiglia collects himself after a sleepwalking injury outside La Quinta Inn.