How To Talk Politics At The Dinner Table

Guests

Andrew Wilson, writer and contributor, The American Prospect and The Weekly Standard
Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight, Discern Analytics
Amy Dickinson, syndicated columnist, Chicago Tribune

Conventional wisdom advises against talking about politics at family gatherings, but that's often unrealistic. With the turbulent race for president and the roiling Occupy protests — not to mention the usual politics of food, football and in-laws — some discussion guidelines can be helpful.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

There is longstanding wisdom that politics and religion have no place at the dinner table, but millions of us head over the river and through the woods with last night's debate or Afghanistan or Climategate on our minds, and this year's turkey may come with a garnish of pepper spray.

And that leaves the politics of food and football for dessert. A lively exchange of ideas at your house, or the prelude to heartburn? How do politics come up at your family table? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we want your nominations for once-common sounds that your kids may never hear. When was the last time you heard a record skip? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, when the time comes, or you can send us an email now. The address is talk@npr.org.

But first, politics at Thanksgiving. And this is a subject that often comes up as, well, some decide it's a teachable moment, good for all generations to engage in a lively debate. Others wonder whether, in fact, the stuffing is going to end up in everybody's hair before it is all done. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can begin with a caller. Let's go to Miguel, Miguel with us from Tulsa.

MIGUEL: Yes, hello.

CONAN: And how does politics come up at your Thanksgiving table?

MIGUEL: Well, my father-in-law is notorious for just always diving into different topics. He's the only conservative, while me, my wife and my brother-in-law are, you know, more on the left and, you know, are just - you know, we don't go that far right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: So he starts in, and everybody's eyes start rolling?

MIGUEL: Yeah, exactly. And, of course, you know, it's - he's over for dinner, or we're out, and he just cannot help himself. He just starts to go off about, you know, the president this, or, you know, one thing or another. And usually, my brother-in-law will just, you know, take aim at him, and then they start to get into it, and then we're just like oh, boy. Here we go, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: So are you headed over there for Thanksgiving again this year?

MIGUEL: Well, he's going to come. You know, we're going to celebrate, actually, on Friday. But yeah, we're all going to get together. And we're just going to, you know, politely say in the beginning, you know, let's just not even go there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, good luck. Thanks very much for the call, Miguel. Happy Thanksgiving.

MIGUEL: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Despite the risks, some say we need an even bigger helping of politics with turkey dinner. Technology analyst Paul Saffo argued it's time to dump the taboo on talking politics at dinner in a piece that ran earlier this year in the San Francisco Chronicle. He's with us now from member station KQED in San Francisco. Nice to have you with us today, and Happy Thanksgiving.

PAUL SAFFO: Happy Thanksgiving, Neal.

CONAN: And you say that refusal to talk politics at the dinner table is killing our democracy.

SAFFO: We need to talk about politics more. I'm not sure if we should do it over Thanksgiving, and it's certainly not a good idea to do it without advance notice. But having dinners where you get people together specifically to talk about a political issue or a policy issue I think is a very good idea because, you know, everybody in Washington is talking about it all the time. The rest of aren't. That's a bad mix.

CONAN: So make agreements ahead, so with the appetizer, deficits. Later, as you get to the main course, it can be Occupy Wall Street?

SAFFO: I think deficits go great with dessert.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAFFO: But I think that picking a topic, the way I think about it is you invite some friends over, and you tell them in advance: Why don't we talk about this particular subject? And ask people to take a quick look on the Web. And, you know, thanks to things like Wikipedia, everybody can become an instant policy expert. And have a conversation about the issues, not just wade randomly in.

CONAN: So - well, in other words, know a little bit of what they're talking about.

SAFFO: Well, that's the whole point. You know, the problem with most of our conversations these days is they're bumper-sticker conversations: Sling a slogan, not listen to the other person and then have sullen silence. I realize that's a Thanksgiving tradition for many families. I'd hate to see us lose it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAFFO: But it can be hugely entertaining to watch. But the point is to learn something new.

CONAN: Hugely entertaining to watch - not so much fun to participate in.

SAFFO: Yes, true. But I think we've all been guilty. I mean, we all have that uncle or that cousin, and you know there are two people, if you just light the spark, you just sit back and watch as they go at it. And it makes for great conversations over dessert.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another caller in on this. Tom's with us from Circleville in Ohio.

TOM: Hi, thanks for having me on. Wonderful show.

CONAN: Do you talk politics at Thanksgiving?

TOM: Not anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOM: That is now - I come from a very large family, very diverse family. And one day the weather came up during Thanksgiving. It was really - we had a lot of snow, unusual snow. And I have one brother who is very rightwing, and he got up, basically threw his food down on the table and stomped out, said we're all leftists and everything.

And, you know, there were other people that are Republican at the table, too. But what it was about, it was about the wild fluctuations of weather.

CONAN: I see. So it was a climate change dispute?

TOM: Yes, it was. And so we all got together, and whenever the whole family's together, there is no politics. We can talk about anything else, but no politics. No politicians are allowed.

CONAN: And so is everybody getting back together and agreeing to talk about nothing more controversial than the mashed potatoes?

TOM: That's it. You got it. We all get together. We talk about everything but politics, and get along fine.

CONAN: Well, Tom, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. But as I understand it, Paul Saffo, had they made an agreement to talk about the politics of climate change, and people discussed their opinions, as opposed to it erupting unplanned - we could plan the menu, but not the discussion.

SAFFO: Yeah, no, and I think that's exactly the way to approach it, is you pick a topic. And, you know, maybe if you really have a big divergence, you start with something non-controversial. But what I find in my life is whenever I travel overseas, all the dinner conversations are about politics and policy and world affairs. And when I come home, none of the conversations are.

If the rest of the world can do this, surely Americans can learn to talk in a civil manner about issues that matter to us.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is Andrew Wilson, a regular contributor to The American Spectator who wrote a piece on Thanksgiving and dinner-table politics for the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago. He's with us from St. Louis. Andrew Wilson, nice to have you with us today.

ANDREW WILSON: Well, thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

CONAN: Well, having read your piece, you have a large and politically diverse family. And I understand it, until fairly recently, it was no-holds-barred.

WILSON: Yes, it was. It was no-holds-barred when I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s. And my father was very much the patriarch, and he was a World War II naval skipper. And he encouraged vigorous competition between the children, and he tried to model the family on Joseph Kennedy's family.

And so we were very much encouraged to debate each other at dinner, and there were seven of us children. And it was a fun scene, and we did discuss issues. And for outsiders who were seeing us for the first time, it was sometimes kind of shocking and appalling for them, because we would all try to shout each other down. But things have changed a lot since then.

CONAN: What happened?

WILSON: Well, the political differences back then were, I think, minor compared to what we have now. You know, one of my earliest political memories was watching the Nixon-Kennedy debates. And Nixon and Kennedy really had to fish around for issues that they disagreed on.

CONAN: Kimoi and Matsu, I think, were pretty much it. Yeah.

WILSON: Right. And then Kennedy came up with the missile gap. And so people were not as divided then as they are now. And I think that politics is far more personal now than it was then. It's personal in the sense that people are worried about their own futures. They're worried about the futures of their children and grandchildren.

And they blame all of this on the political mess in Washington, D.C., but they have very difficult - different views on what constitutes that mess.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated columnist "Ask Amy" for the Chicago Tribune. She joins us from time to time, and joins us now from the studios at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. And Amy, nice to have you, and Happy Thanksgiving.

AMY DICKINSON: Thanks, same to you. Boy, what a great topic.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Do you discuss politics at your Thanksgiving table?

DICKINSON: Well, I have to say, I married into a huge family. My husband is one of 13 children, very - all of them very opinionated, very, very diverse. And they're - a normal dinnertime gets crazy. Thanksgiving out - it just rocks, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: And so I actually - the family's starting to gather. So I went over last night, and I said okay, so I'm going to be on TALK OF THE NATION. How do you feel about talking politics? And then, of course, they all picked a fight with me, you know, because that's what they do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: So here's the - here's my sort of nuanced view: I don't believe it's a good idea to ban subjects. You know, that doesn't feel right - to me, anyway. And Thanksgiving is a holiday of, you know, when you think about the original Thanksgiving, it's diverse groups coming together peacefully, right.

So I like the idea of sort of trying to control the topic a little bit by suggesting that it happen at a certain time, maybe later in the meal. I actually believe in sitting down together and starting the meal with I call them prompts or toasts, where each person - for instance, one little game we can play is you write down on a little piece of paper what you're grateful for, and then you pass your piece of paper to the right, just one person to the right.

Each person then reads what someone else is grateful for. And so little Sally might say: Uncle Buddy is grateful for the conceal-and-carry permit he got this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: And then somebody else says, like, you know, Cousin Susan seems to be grateful for the Occupy Wall Street movement. So it gets going, but this way, you have other people sort of being - introducing topics and ideas. And then you basically - what my husband's family said was: Look, it's really important to discuss these things, but to do so in a way - even when it gets heated, it has to end with a hug.

And I have to say, I feel they're fairly successful at doing that. But I like a little more inclusion, a little more control, especially when there are so many generations at the table. One thing about politics is that it tends to dominate - you know, three or four people will dominate, and everyone else is just an audience.

CONAN: And if you keep it towards the end of the meal, at least people can retreat and have a tea party in the living room and occupy the kitchen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Exactly, occupy the kitchen.

CONAN: We're talking about political conversations at the Thanksgiving table: a lively exchange of ideas or the prelude to heartburn? How does politics come up at your Thanksgiving table? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It can be a volatile mix around the dinner table at Thanksgiving: grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, the kids back from college. Toss in the usual long-simmering tensions, maybe a glass or two of wine, and this year, especially, an overheated political season. It all adds up to a potential meltdown or maybe a lively exchange of ideas.

There's the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the super committee and 2012, not to mention the politics of football, food and family rivalry. So tell us: How does politics come up at your dinner table? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also get into the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated Ask Amy column for the Chicago Tribune; Paul Saffo, a freelance writer who wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about political conversations, how they play out in his family; and also with us is Andrew Wilson, a writer and regular contributor to The American Prospect.

And let's see if we can get Suzie(ph) on the line. Suzie's calling us from St. Louis.

SUZIE: Yes.

CONAN: And how does politics come up at your Thanksgiving table?

SUZIE: Well, for years we had a severe problem because my own father, being influenced by mailers from Congress Tom DeLay, believed that Clinton was guilty of murdering some 60-some people. And my mother-in-law, my husband's mom, believed that Clinton was such a dear young man that everybody was taking advantage of, and he had never done anything wrong.

So we had to keep them apart, or we really had a ruination of a dinner.

CONAN: And kept them apart how?

SUZIE: We just had dinner at separate times for each of them.

CONAN: I see. So there was the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SUZIE: Isn't that awful?

CONAN: That is terrible.

SUZIE: I think that with the change in generations, things had changed because both of them passed on in 2004. But now my eldest son has become a member of WikiLeaks, and even though my husband and I have moved to the left in subsequent years, it's a pretty strained conversation because my sister-in-law, who has moved to Boise, has - because she's moved to Boise, has become a gun-toting Westerner who believes seriously in individual rights. And so it's very hard to talk to her.

CONAN: It kind of makes the debate over Fort Marcy and Hope, Arkansas, just a little bit - sound nostalgic, doesn't it?

SUZIE: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: But you know what? Suzie brings up a great point because, you know, some of what we're going to be dealing with tomorrow is not just banning conversations but more sort of how to cope when they do happen. And that's when you have to come up with responses that aren't quite comebacks, but that are fairly satisfying.

MIGUEL: Like do you remember the Johnny Carson, you might have a point. Of course, you might not have a point, but...

CONAN: That was the H.L. Mencken boilerplate response: Dir Sir or Madam, you may be right.

DICKINSON: Right, you may be right. So, I mean, I think there are fairly benign ways to respond to people so that you don't excite them. Even if they're trying to excite you, you know, you can sort of derail a little bit. And if that fails, I really believe in using children as a human shield.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Basically you hold up the baby, you go look at the baby, you know.

CONAN: Suzie, have a happy Thanksgiving, I hope.

SUZIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Paul Saffo, I wonder, when you get into situations like that, how does your idea of agreeing on a topic work out?

SAFFO: Well, it usually - what I found is the dinner finds its own level with the topic. And so the people I have these conversations with, are already talking about them. But the conversation in advance of the meal, saying let's pick this topic, I think is a great way to get things started.

Above all, what it does is it sets people up to be prepared to have their mind changed and to admit when they don't know something. So it becomes cooperative conversation of mutually discovering what could be going on.

CONAN: Do you ever discover that the dialogue at the grownup table is lower than that at the kids' table, and so are not?

SAFFO: Absolutely, and by the way, I'm completely with Amy. I think throwing children into the breach is always a good idea. And thinking of, you know, little deflection points. Have firebreaks ready so when things do get too heated, you say, so how about those Dodgers? And what do you think about the ownership?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Andrew Wilson, might any of those ploys work in your house?

WILSON: I don't think so. You know, I think that my brothers and sisters are more combative than that, and our tradition is one much more of chaos and conflict. And I am something of a contrarian myself, and I do miss the old battles that we used to have.

You know, these days we do exercise some self-censorship, and we don't want to lose the sense that we love each other, and we're great friends and so forth. And so that's why we've backed off a bit. But I think we've lost something in the process.

You know, it's not quite as much fun. It's not as boisterous. It's not as rollicking as it used to be, and I don't think that picking a topic or separating people is what we want to do in my extended family. You know, but I would like to see more discussion than what we've had.

But as I say, it's difficult, because people think that the stakes are very high in the political argument of our time.

CONAN: Here's an email from Veronica(ph) in Washington, D.C.: Politics are always discussed. I've never known a family dinner without a lively conversation filled with politics and/or religion. We live in D.C., so I think it's a part of daily life. Nobody ever gets upset. It's awfully fun and enlightening. Let's see if we can go to Jeff(ph), and Jeff's with us from Menomonie in Wisconsin.

JEFF: Yeah, I'd just like to add that my family has a family dinner once a month, and we have 20 or 30 people get together. And so we get together all the times of the year, and politics is always part of the conversation. And we really learn a lot from each other, and it's all we really talk about.

I'm the only liberal. There's tons of Republicans, tons of conservatives with the family. And they're all talking about the end of the world and how they're scared of the economic collapse. So we have gardens starting. We have rice in the attic. It's crazy. But...

CONAN: Oh, I see, emergency supplies of rice in the attic.

JEFF: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JEFF: No, but it's - we all have a civil conversation each month, and Thanksgiving included, and we all learn something from each other. And I think that's something that we're losing at the dinner table these days is we're not - we're all afraid of talking about the challenging choices and about politics. And I think we just need to let it out and get everyone included, you know, the youngest generations to the oldest.

CONAN: Jeff, good luck tomorrow.

JEFF: Thank you, it'll be fun.

DICKINSON: You know what?

CONAN: Go ahead, Amy.

DICKINSON: I have a theory about that. I love what Jeff's family does, and it makes me wonder if they are doing what we used to do when I was growing up in the '70s: We had dinner together every single night. And there was the year that my dad voted for Wallace, and my mother voted for McGovern.

But we sort of - we were practiced. I mean, his family gets together, and they are basically practicing. So many of us, we don't see one another but at this huge feast meal, and we don't know how to do it. You know, maybe we just don't know how to have these conversations.

CONAN: It's interesting, Paul Saffo, we sometimes - you mentioned other countries. The style of debate, in particularly, Britain is - well, the level of conversation, it seems to be considerably elevated than what we have here because we don't do it a lot. It's been interesting to watch these last debates. The one last night, these guys are catching on. Maybe we need more practice talking politics.

SAFFO: Well, I think we all need to learn how to get our conversational muscles back in shape. I love Andrew's father's instincts on this, and I sometimes think maybe what we need to do is invoke the memory of dead, you know, patriarchs of different political parties, whether it's Kennedy on that side or a conservative on the other, where there was the tradition of this talking.

I was in - at a dinner in Paris, earlier this - or late last year, and, you know, boy, talk about knock-down, drag-out. You had both extremes, very vigorous debate at the table. I almost imagined that perhaps a knife would be tossed. And then at the end of the evening, everybody air-kissed each other and said we've got to do this again on the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: And that was before Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

SAFFO: Indeed.

CONAN: So all right, let's get another caller in. Let's go to Benita(ph), Benita with us from Naples in Florida.

BENITA: Hi there, love your program.

CONAN: Thank you.

BENITA: I'm taking notes because the tradition in my family was that I as an atheist was called upon to say grace, and of course I'm reluctant to. And it would just sort of deteriorate from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Amy, maybe this is a moment for some advice. It seems to me that you can say a very gracious grace without necessarily appealing to a higher power.

DICKINSON: Right, and honestly, if your family is insisting that you do this, knowing that you are an atheist, it's kind of a hostile way to start. But, you know, you can never fail by being very gracious, very gentle, and, you know, even when things get heated, you say, you know, what I like about you is your passion. You know, you just remember - you think of something positive, and you reflect that back to the person.

It can throw people off.

CONAN: And maybe just accidentally spill some gravy on that person next to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BENITA: Thank you for your advice. I will use it.

CONAN: Good luck.

DICKINSON: And, you know, there's another way to conduct heated conversations. This comes from sort of marriage counseling, where you give somebody an object, say the salt shaker. Whoever is holding the salt shaker gets to speak. No one who isn't holding the salt shaker can speak. This basically slows things down a little bit. In order to speak, you have to basically ask permission for the salt shaker. And it can become kind of a game, but it does - I think it tends to slow things down a little bit. It tamps things down and sometimes it injects a tiny bit of humor and fun into it.

CONAN: That's not unlike arranging for topics or unlike some sort of structure. So planning the conversation a little bit might be as wise as, as we suggested earlier, planning the menu, don't you think, Paul?

SAFFO: Absolutely. And when you plan the conversation, you can also have nice counterfactuals. I was at one of those dinners recently where politics came up here in California and indeed with friends who had moved to the country because of the imminent collapse of the world. And I remember the - me, I looked at their life and said, I'll stick with the city and take the collapse. But the subject of prisons in California came up, and the wonderful counterfactual - I happened to be faculty member at Stanford - and I said, well, you know, I think being tough on crime is fine except in California. It costs us $55,000 a year to house a prisoner, which is $5,000 more than a year it takes to put a student through Stanford and that we could just solve all the problems. Take the prisoners out of prison, put them in Stanford, problem solved.

CONAN: There you go.

SAFFO: But it really knocks people off balance when you say, you know, by the way, here's the cost of the policy that you endorse. Are you really sure you want that?

CONAN: We're talking with Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight at Discern Analytics in San Francisco. Amy Dickinson is with us as well, writes the "Ask Amy" syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. And Andrew Wilson, a writer and regular contributor to the American Prospect and the Weekly Standard...

WILSON: American Spectator.

CONAN: ..excuse me, American Spectator. Forgive me for that. And we're having a very civil conversation because none of us can see each other. So we're out of range of that ball of mashed potatoes that would otherwise be winging at somebody's head. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can go next to Ron(ph). Ron with us from Walnut Creek.

RON: Hey, Neal. Wonderful show. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Thanks.

RON: So I grew up in a large Italian family. And in the early days, as I was growing up, we used to be able to talk about politics, and I've noticed in the last five years that things have gotten very contentious. But we've all agreed to just talk about the things that unify us, sports teams and the weather, and that's about it. So it's very benign conversations. It feels like we're doing what the government is doing or the politicians are doing, which is nothing.

CONAN: Oh, kicking the can down the road.

RON: That's right.

CONAN: Yeah. Sports, though, clearly you don't have relatives from New York and Boston.

RON: No, that's right. We're all in one state, so everything is kind of - we tend to coalesce around one specific team, and that's the 49ers. So...

CONAN: And so how about - they're doing extremely well this year too, so it's going to be - it should be a good day tomorrow.

RON: Good - great day for football tomorrow. And the 49ers are playing, so we're going to have a very happy Thanksgiving.

CONAN: I wonder, Amy, how has the insertion of football on Thanksgiving Day changed all of this, do you think?

DICKINSON: You know, I'm not loving this, actually, because frankly for some of us, sports is as exclusionary as some other topics. So I would like to remind everyone that there aren't just topics of conversation. There's actual talking and listening. There's - what's happening with you? What's going on with you these days? How's your job, you know? How's your house? How was your - what's your life like? I mean, there's that. Don't you think that's kind of a thing to do at Thanksgiving too?

CONAN: Well, there's other opportunities too. There's before and after, so it's not just the dinner table, but that might be an opportunity to, well, exchange ideas - what you're thinking about too.

DICKINSON: Exactly. Right. Asking open-ended questions, I think, is always a good idea.

CONAN: Let's go to Tom(ph), Tom with us from Hudson in North Carolina.

TOM: Thank you for taking my call. I love this show.

CONAN: Thank you.

TOM: I run a competitive model United Nations club for middle school. And one of the debates we had recently was over the Syrian crackdown. And the kids are going home and basically teaching their parents about the seriousness of it and also things they're learning, such as kids being tortured to expose their parents as dissenters. And I've been getting a lot of really good feedback. The kid - the parents will call me or email me and just talk about how their kids are just going on and on about what they're learning. And they got to see footage of the crackdowns and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm. I applaud your idea, Tom. As a general principle, though, do you think Thanksgiving should be a teach-in?

TOM: No, I'm just - we were on the conversation of politics at the dinner table. We - just the whole fact of their bringing up things like, is this a moral issue or is this a state sovereignty issue or what should we do. And I'm getting a lot of good feedback from the parents about just what their kids are learning and how much they know.

CONAN: Assign topic, Paul Saffo, do you think?

SAFFO: Well, again, I'm not a fan of assigning topics on Thanksgiving. But on other occasions, this is a great idea. You know, at the end of the day, I think the goal here is Americans need to remember that politics isn't just about opinion. It's also about facts and civics. And we've slid into a culture that's gone far from the age of Andrew's father, where people seem to believe that they're entitled to an opinion even when they don't have the facts. And we - by having conversations with people of different views, we can certainly get back to that. But, yeah, I agree. Not on Thanksgiving.

CONAN: Paul Saffo, have a great day tomorrow. Appreciate your time.

SAFFO: Thank you.

CONAN: Andrew Wilson, happy Thanksgiving.

WILSON: OK, and happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Neal.

CONAN: And, Amy, before we let you go, we have one other suggestion from Anne Hart, who wrote in the San Francisco Examiner: How about easing tensions at the Thanksgiving meal with a little classical music?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DICKINSON: I love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Amy Dickinson, we'll get you some Beethoven for your dinner tomorrow.

DICKINSON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated "Ask Amy" column for the Chicago Tribune and joined us today from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: Up next: sounds your kids may never hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER RINGING)

CONAN: An old-fashioned cash register, a flashbulb. What sound from your life has vanished? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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