July 6, 2007

Who Can You Save?

Stories about the pitfalls of trying to do the right thing.

Some Special Notes

This episode features a story from what is arguably the most groundbreaking new show in public radio: Radiolab, from WNYC New York Public Radio and NPR. Everything they've done is available as free downloads from their website.

Also, in Act Two, Ira interviews a retired diplomat, Kiki Munshi, about testimony she gave to Congress about Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq. You can read her testimony, and The Atlantic ran a story that goes into more detail about Kiki's experience heading up a PRT.

And Brady Udall, who tells the story in Act Three, also wrote one of the most popular pieces of fiction we've ever run: "Otis Is Resurrected," from our episode In Dog We Trust.


Host Ira Glass talks to Tim Jaccard, who used to be a police medic. The calls he hated most were all the same: "Baby not breathing." So in 1998, he helped write the first "safe haven" law, which allows mothers to safely abandon their babies without getting into trouble. Jaccard started the AMT Children of Hope Foundation, and he runs its safe haven program. But even now, there are some babies he just can't save. (4 minutes)

Act One

Kill One, Save Five

Say there's a group of five people standing on a train track, and you're on a train coming toward them. You can save the whole group by pulling a lever and switching to another track, but the catch is that you'll kill another person who's standing on that other track. Do you pull the lever?

According to Harvard scientist Mark Hauser, who posed this question to hundreds of thousands of people on the Internet, nine out of 10 people say yes, they would pull the lever. But then, the questions get harder—and the answers much more confusing. It turns out that different parts of our brains make different moral decisions. (11 minutes)

This story originally aired on the public radio program Radiolab.

Act Two

Rescue You, Rescue Me

When the U.S. government sent out a call for volunteers—regular, non-military people—to go to Iraq and help rebuild the country, Randy Frescoln signed up. He believed in the cause of the war and in the promise of its mission. He had experience setting up agriculture projects overseas, so was sent to the Sunni Triangle to try to reconstruct the broken economy there. But three months into his yearlong assignment, he comes to a horrible realization: The people he's trying to help hate him.

Plus, stories of other people who went to Iraq as "provincial reconstruction team" volunteers. Kiki Munshi, a retired Foreign Service Officer who headed a PRT in the Diyala province speaks to the difficulties she faced as well. Ira interviews her about testimony she gave to Congress about PRTs in Iraq and her personal experience there.

Finally, there's Stephanie Miley, an FSO who headed Randy's PRT. She remembers him and understood when he decided to leave, but Stephanie feels that the efforts to improve the state of Iraq are worth it, despite the risk of death. (16 minutes)


“Skavavars” by Benni Hemm Hemm
Act Three

Act Three

Brady Udall tells the story of the time he helped a stranger get his car out of a ditch. In exchange, the man promises to help him any time, for any reason—legal or not. Brady carries the man's card in his wallet; he's reassured that he has such a powerful guy in his corner. Many years later, Brady finally looks him up. (25 minutes)

Brady is the author of The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint and of the short story collection Letting Loose the Hounds.