You Tell Us: What Else Works, What Needs Fixing? Talk of the Nation launched its series, 'What Works,' with a look at a proven idea to take care of the elderly. Now, TOTN and producer Sarah Handel need your help. They want to know what problem the show should tackle next.
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You Tell Us: What Else Works, What Needs Fixing?

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You Tell Us: What Else Works, What Needs Fixing?

You Tell Us: What Else Works, What Needs Fixing?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And we also want to let you know that this project is live on the worldwide Web. We want you to contribute your ideas not just by phone and by e-mail, so we've invited our TALK OF THE NATION Web producer Sarah Handel to join us here in Studio 3A. She's the guru behind What Works Web site at Or is it

SARAH HANDEL: /whatworks. You can go to and you'll find everything we've got there.

CONAN: And what do we have there?

HANDEL: All kinds of stuff. And it's growing, hopefully, all the time with everyone's contributions. We want to hear from our listeners and from our online audience about two things in specific: We want them to tell us what problem to fix.

So you go to Web page, and click on Fix This Problem. And then you can provide anything that's bothering you - if you fell off your bike and you broke your collarbone, and you really want to know how to get potholes fixed. Maybe that's the next thing we should talk about. You tell us.

CONAN: And here's another element, of course, following on from today's conversation. There will be another discussion, a further discussion online about the nursing home issues and green houses.

HANDEL: Absolutely. And you can find that there. There's a picture of one of the facilities there and you can just click on that and Green House Projects let elders age in homes.

CONAN: And what if I have an idea, say, I have this fantastic idea that - actually, what we need to do is fill all those potholes with marshmallow fluff and then harden it.

HANDEL: Well, if you've seen that that's working in your community, you can go to Here's A Solution, which is also at the What Works page. It's right there underneath Fix this Problem, it says Here's A Solution. And when you go there, you'll have an opportunity to leave a comment about your marshmallow fluff solution.

CONAN: Okay. We want your ideas now about problems that we should attack. Give us a call, 800-989-8255, e-mail, Or you can go to

Greg(ph) is on the line calling from St. Louis.

GREG (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Appreciate it.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

GREG: The question I have is concerning the U.S. military's retirement system. It's kind of based on an antiquated, outdated system coming out of World Ward II where the individual can put his 20 years in and then get an immediate retirement, including full health care the day he leaves. You'll have a young individual joins at 18, retires at 38 and then goes on to have a whole second career for possibly 30 or 40 more years, all the while collecting full pension for the military as well as full health care, versus you have reservists who despite currently supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have to wait to get their retirement until their 60s. So those are the two issues I see… (unintelligible).

CONAN: So there's an inequity there, is that what you're trying to address, Greg?

GREG: Yes, exactly. That - one is the inequity. And two is also, you know, coming out of World War II, individuals' life spans were not as long. It required more of an individual to put the full 20 years in, versus now you've got young people that are going in at 18. They're getting taught very valuable skills for the corporate workforce including, you know, computers, space-based systems, things to the nature.

So, my point is if a young man comes out and he goes in at an 18, comes out at 38, he goes on to another…

CONAN: Got you.

GREG: …30 or 40 year career.

CONAN: Whereas the reservist has to wait until they're 65 years old. And Joe Shapiro, this is one of those looming debts that's hanging on the U.S. economy.

SHAPIRO: It is and it's a big problem for the Pentagon. It's very expensive, the current system. And if you could solve it for them, they'd be very happy.

CONAN: We'll take a look and see if we can find out what works, Greg. Thanks very much for the phone call. Let's see if we can go on to - this is Kristine(ph). Kristine from Boise.

KRISTINE (Caller): Yes. I would like you to look at autism treatments.

CONAN: People are coming up with the easy ones.

KRISTINE: Yeah. Well, both of my kids on the spectrum but they're - neither of them have enough issues that they qualify for state assistance, basically. And so I am left with trying to figure it out all on my own, including how to pay for it.

CONAN: Is that one or two of them that we hear in the background there?

KRISTINE: That is both of them, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Joe Shapiro, is this something that people are looking into?

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. We're having more and more kids are getting that label autism and there are treatments out there. It's not clear what works for an individual kid but a lot of those treatments are very expensive. And right now we often rely on the states to do it.

I did a story recently about a woman - some people in Nevada who were depending on some state therapy. The state had frozen what they were giving. One woman moved out of state and the other family had ended up paying - out on their own pockets $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

KRISTINE: Yeah. Moving to Michigan has been the best option.

CONAN: Well, it's spring. It's not a bad time to move to Michigan.


CONAN: Kristine, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

KRISTINE: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about problems that you'd like to see addressed next time perhaps on this series What Works. Our guest, NPR's science correspondent Joe Shapiro and our Web guru Sarah Handel.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go to Kim(ph). Kim with us from Vernon in New Jersey.

KIM (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi, Kim.

KIM: Hi. Thanks for the opportunity. Organic food: how can we make it more cost effective, cheaper in supermarkets and health food stores, or at least competitive with traditional food?

CONAN: Is that a contradiction in terms, Joe Shapiro? If you're growing organic food with no pesticides or, you know, and organic fertilizers, that sort of thing, doesn't it become more expensive?

SHAPIRO: You know, I'm not sure. You think there'd be some cost savings also if it's local and…

CONAN: So, less shipping?

SHAPIRO: Right. So, I'm not sure how the economics of that works. But…

CONAN: We're economy (unintelligible) but we'll look into it. Kim, thanks very much for the call.

KIM: Sir, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to - this is Albany, Georgia.

JEFF(ph) (Caller): Hi, Neal. How is it going?

CONAN: What's your name in Albany, Georgia?

JEFF: My name is Jeff.

CONAN: Jeff. Go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF: (unintelligible) you addressed is water usage. Being in Georgia, we have problems - there's a big lawsuit going on between Georgia and Florida and Tennessee about water rights. And despite the world being mostly water, we can't seem to get everyone to have enough fresh water. It's always a problem.

CONAN: So, finding out how to address the issue of fresh water supply and delivery, that sort of thing?

JEFF: Yeah. Exactly. It seems like a very simple problem - throw it in a truck and ship it - but it never is that simple.

CONAN: And if you think it's difficult where you are there in Georgia, well move to Arizona or southern California. Maybe Nevada. It's a good one. That's a knotty problem. Thank you very much for the idea, Jeff.

JEFF: Have a good show. Thanks.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail, this from John. How to keep people from driving slow in the left lane? Now, there's an issue that I think Americans will resonate with.

Here's another e-mail. This, from Chad. Recycling in a rural setting is difficult. Recycling has many benefits but in small town U.S., there is a little to know recycling. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. And indeed the whole recycling issue, Joe Shapiro, is something that people are really looking into. The economic situation has had an impact on this.

SHAPIRO: Right. And as - and there's more demand of it. People want it whether they're in a small towns or big cities.

CONAN: Let's go to - this - I'm not sure how to pronounce your name.

MICHAEL(ph) (Caller): Michael in North Carolina.

CONAN: Michael, that's always a difficult one. Go ahead, please.

MICHAEL: Yes. The problem I'd like to solve is organized crime and black market caused by prohibition. Specifically, I was thinking of, like marijuana prohibition. You know, maybe that could end the drug war in Mexico.

CONAN: There's more drugs than just marijuana coming across the border, Joe -excuse me, Michael?

MICHAEL: Absolutely.

CONAN: But this might, well, we'll look into that to see if that's one potential solution. Thanks very much. If we can find a potential solution to it, you seem to be proposing decriminalization or legalization.

MICHAEL: Mm hmm.

CONAN: All right. That's what I thought. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

And Sarah Handel, just one more time, if you go to the Web site…

HANDEL: Whatworks.

CONAN: …you will find not only a continuing conversation about today's topics -and that was if you're just joining us, Dr. Bill Thomas was talking about the Green House project. And he hopes someday that they will replace entirely the nursing homes. That may be optimistic, but we shall see.

There is also a place there where you can tell us what problems you would like to see addressed. There is also a place there where you can go and propose solutions. Again, if somebody's come up with the marshmallow fluff filler for potholes, that's the place to go.

Sarah Handel, thank you so much for being with us today.

HANDEL: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Yeah. Sarah Handel is associate producer here at TALK OF THE NATION and thus our Web content and also helps us pick the billboard cuts every day. She's the one responsible for that.

And Joseph Shapiro, thank you as always for your time today.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. I'm looking forward to the rest of this What Works. This is going to be great.

CONAN: Joseph Shapiro is an NPR's science correspondent.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY, and Ira Flatow will be here as the talk turns to cosmology and particle physics. What are the outstanding questions in physics? And can the Large Hadron Collider fill in the blanks. Join Ira for all that tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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