Think Big: What Would You Throw Out? The Washington Post's Outlook section took a fun approach to the annual "spring cleaning" topic. Ten interesting people nominated institutions or individuals they know well that we'd all be better off without. Suggestions included cable TV and the White House press corps.
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Think Big: What Would You Throw Out?

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Think Big: What Would You Throw Out?

Think Big: What Would You Throw Out?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, where the arrival of warmer weather stirs the spirit for some serious spring cleaning. On Sunday, the Outlook section of the Washington Post suggested we go beyond that carton of your kids' stuffed animals and the old VCR and consider some radical pruning. They asked 10 interesting people to nominate institutions or individuals they know well that we'd all be better off without.

The answers they received include tenure, the NAACP, the Nobel Prize in literature, and vice president. So we want to hear from you. What's the one thing that you would get rid off in this version of spring cleaning? One condition, it has to be something you have a personal or professional connection to, something you know very well. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Tropicana follows in the footsteps of New Coke and the dangers of messing with brand loyalty. But first, spring cleaning. And we begin here in Studio 3A with Tom Ricks, longtime military correspondent for the Post, now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security and the author, most recently, of "The Gamble." And Tom, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. TOM RICKS (Author, Military Correspondent, Senior Fellow, Center for New American Security): Thank you.

CONAN: And you nominated West Point.

Mr. RICKS: Yes, I did.

CONAN: And that struck people as a little strange.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RICKS: Well, I've gotten, I'd say, a couple of thousand emails about it.

CONAN: I bet.

Mr. RICKS: The point I made was twofold. First, that a lot of fine officers come out of West Point, but a lot of fine officers also come out of the Reserve Officer Training Program at regular civilian campuses, and that West Point officers cost the taxpayer three times as much. So why do we pay three times as much for something we can get elsewhere? And actually, I think it's many ways better for the military and better for the country to have officers coming off of civilian universities - and rubbing shoulders while there - with future doctors, lawyers, teachers and congressmen.

CONAN: And you felt the same way about the U.S. Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, as well.

Mr. RICKS: And even more emphatically about the military war colleges, which I think are actually bigger, fatter, slower-moving targets than the service academies. At least at the service academies, there's a function of indoctrination, of learning the history of an institution - of the military service. The war colleges strike me as basically second-rate institutions, where colonels sit around and tell each other war stories.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And you said, if you need an answer with this, ask Princeton Ph.D. - well, a fairly well-known general right now.

Mr. RICKS: David Petraeus told me one day in Baghdad that the greatest intellectual expansion in his career came from his time at Princeton, where he did a Ph.D., and where he said his fundamental assumptions were challenged every day by many of the students and professors he dealt with.

CONAN: All right. We want to hear from you. That's Tom Ricks's suggestion on one institution - well, several institutions we could do without today - 800-989-8255. What do you propose we get rid of in this intellectual game of spring cleaning? Give us an email, talk@npr.org. You can also go to our Web site, that's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Let's start with Pat. Pat with us from Detroit.

PAT (Caller): Yes, I am a parent. Taught school for five years, and I'm a pediatric neuropsychologist. And I think we ought to do away with homework anywhere before ninth grade.

CONAN: Lot of nods around the table here in Washington.

PAT: Yeah well, and I get to a point, I'm a single parent, I adopted two kids, so I'm doing it by myself and I feel like I home school every night. My daughter has hours of homework. Most of it is ridiculously repetitious. She's already in school for six hours a day. And when she gets home and when I get home, we like to spend some time together.

We like to read, we like to go places, go for walks. We might even want to watch television, but we can't do any of that because our evenings, even our dinner hour, sometimes, is dominated by these endless homework tasks.

CONAN: I have to say I'm of those students who decided that you either had to pay attention in class or do your homework, certainly not both. And I only got into trouble when I did neither.

PAT: Well, nowadays - having been a student a long time ago and taught school 30 years ago, I've been involved in the educational system for a number of years and the homework has gotten exponentially out of hand. Studies in the book "The Homework" - I think it's called "The Homework Dilemma" have shown that up until eighth grade, it really doesn't help that much.

And I think that homework should be something a child should be able to do independently, not something the parent has to teach. But we're forgetting that our kids have very little time. Once they get home, especially with any kind of a working family, I limit my kids to one afterschool activity, so you're talking evenings. And if they get up early, they got to go to bed by 9 o'clock. So you've got two or three hours, and it's filled with homework. And there's a lot of battles and there's a lot of tears; sometimes they're mine.

CONAN: Tom Ricks?

Mr. RICKS: I totally agree with you for one additional reason, also. When I was in high school, I blew off all my homework so I could read books. When I got to college, I found out that all the books I read for fun in high school were assigned in college.

CONAN: Pat, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

PAT: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's bring another voice into the conversation. Also with us here in Studio 3A is Ana Marie Cox. She is national correspondent for Air America, founding editor of the political blog Wonkette. Nice to have you back on the program today.

Ms. ANA MARIE COX (Air America, Wonkette): Good to be here.

CONAN: And so what is wrong with White House Press Corps?

Ms. COX: Well, I want to make it very clear, there's nothing wrong with the White House Press Corps. It's - there's no individual White House correspondent that I feel strongly is not doing a good job. But I feel like the White House beat is a real waste of talent, for those talented people that do cover it. It is one of the most physically confined beats you can possibly have.

I assume that my friends here in the studio have actually been to the White House. The briefing room, and where the offices are of the White House correspondents, are physically very small. And you don't get to roam around, you don't get to have contact with people. And because of the information age we live in, the job of White House correspondent is literally to sit and wait for information to come to them.

It's a waste of people who actually, I think, for the most part have worked very hard to get where they are, have uncovered scoops, have gone out and done hard reporting. And they're not allowed to do that on the White House beat.

CONAN: Well, surely somebody has to ask the press secretary or the president questions when they come out in the Brady briefing room.

Ms. COX: I think that, yes, definitely. It should probably be someone who knows what they're talking about. And again, I adore so many of the people in the White House Press Corps, and some of them are very good friends of mine, but they are not experts on banking or health care or foreign affairs or military. I'd much rather see Tom go in and ask questions about force restructuring rather than a White House Press Corps correspondent who's a generalist, probably a very smart generalist, but I think that sometimes it takes someone who really knows material to get beyond the talking points that they're already going to deliver to you.

CONAN: There are a lot of days when you need a generalist because, well, sometimes you need to ask a question about Pakistan, or a bill lets up in Congress about, you know, it's not one subject every day.

Ms. COX: No, there's not one subject every day, but I think editors could make a decision that today is the day that we're going to send our Pakistan person in there to ask a question about Pakistan. You don't have to, like - I think what I'm trying to say is the problem with the White House Press Corps is that it's a single beat. And that you don't have people following up on that beat who really know what they're talking about.

I first started thinking about this when I was covering the campaigns as a generalist myself. There are a few reporters out there who - Laura Meckler at the Wall Street Journal, Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post, both have experience doing very serious beat reporting, Laura Meckler on health care policy, Juliet on environment. And I would treasure the times when they would be with us on the trail. Because with - health care, environment came up, you know, they were going to be able to call on the candidate in a much more informed and specific way than any one of us who is just more generally a political reporter could.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox, clearly planning to rocket to the top of her profession…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …with us here in Studio 3A. Again, what institution or individual would you do away with that we'd all be better off without surprises? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can go now to Mark(ph). And Mark's with us from Minneapolis.

MARK (Caller): How are you doing today?

CONAN: All right, I'm good.

MARK: See, I would immediately dispose of the 25-second instructions on how to leave a voicemail.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Figuring we all know this by now?

MARK: Yes, we all know how to operate voicemail. We know how machines work, we don't need to be - waste air time being told how to do it.

CONAN: And what would you replace it with, just talk at the beep?

MARK: A beep.

CONAN: A beep. I'm not here: beep.

MARK: Yes.

CONAN: All right, Mark, I think you could get a lot of votes for that.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Ana Marie?

Ms. COX: I would get rid of voicemail, period, not a fan.

CONAN: Not a fan. Again, you're in the journalism business.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Do you ever expect anybody to call you back?

Mr. RICKS: I would just say don't answer your phone, which I've stopped doing.

Ms. COX: Yeah, I pretty much don't answer my phone.

CONAN: That's why you're not on the staff at the Washington Post anymore, Tom.

Ms. COX: Yeah, you really turned to a couple experts here.

CONAN: Yeah, exactly. Let's see if we can go now to Russell(ph). Russell's with us on the line from Fort Myers.

RUSSELL (Caller): Hello, how are you doing?

CONAN: Okay.

RUSSELL: Yeah, I would get rid of Kings Point Academy, New York.

CONAN: And that is the Merchant Marine Academy. Tom, it's one of the ones you left out.

RUSSELL: Yes, sir. I really believe that for what its initiative is for, it's not really pulling it off. I know many people who went to school there, and it's a federally funded academy. It's free for the people who go, with the obligation that they either serve in the Merchant Marine or the military for an obligatory term, but the fact is, is that the majority of them do not stay in either service. So it seems to kind lose its purpose.

CONAN: Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we just learn that Captain Phelps, the hero of the Maersk Alabama, was a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy?

RUSSELL: Oh, there are some out of Kings Point that do stay, but the good majority of them, as far as taxpayers' money pays for, do not stay in it. They try to work shore-side.

CONAN: All right. Tom, would you agree? Let's throw the Coast Guard Academy in there, too.

Mr. RICKS: Well, it's funny you should mention that because I don't know the Coast Guard Academy or the Merchant Marine Academy that well. I kind of wonder, though, why we have a separate Coast Guard Academy, why they couldn't be like the Marines, who send their people to Annapolis if they want an undergraduate education.

CONAN: There are people who go to Annapolis and decide they're going to be Marines. I think it works that way.

Mr. RICKS: Yes.

CONAN: Russell, thanks very much for the call.

RUSSELL: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail from Laura(ph) in Oakland, California. I would love to see daylight savings time done away with. Two times a year, we inconvenience ourselves by going forward an hour, then back an hour. It's a lot of work to end up in the same place. I think the value of that tradition has past.

And this from Tom(ph) in San Francisco, who writes: As a Web developer, I have just about had it with Internet Explorer. There is nothing more frustrating than that particular piece of software. Please, do us all a favor and use any other browser. Again, Tom thank you for that.

CONAN: I, years ago, came up with the idea of the aesthetic crimes commission that would, once a year, be allowed to undo one thing. I thought just the hearings for the aesthetics crime commission and what one thing they would be allowed to undo every year would just be great to broadcast on the radio. And this is the equivalent.

Ms. COX: Aesthetics are hard to communicate on the radio, but I applaud the idea of that commission.

CONAN: As a rookie, I'll take instruction from you.

Mr. RICKS: Well, we could get rid of Celine Dion.

Mr. RICKS: And the FBI building in downtown Washington.

Ms. COX: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: It's spring-cleaning time. We're going through all the ideas, people, institutions and traditions we would all like to toss. What's the one thing weighing down your field that you'd most like to clean out?

Coming up, say goodbye to the "Rock of Love Bus." Farhad Manjoo wants you to toss your cable subscription. We're taking your calls: 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's spring, that special time to look deep into your closet, to toss away stuff that's simply, well, outdated.

Maybe it's time to let go of a few crockpots or those darn flip-flops. Well, we're looking at what we want to clean out of the world of ideas, the traditions, institutions, people that are holding us back.

We want to hear from you. What would you toss? It has to be something you know well, some person you know well professionally or personally. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

With us here in Studio 3A are Tom Ricks, formerly of the Washington Post, author most recently of "The Gamble." He proposed we get away - do away with our service institutions and train military officers on regular campuses, at ROTC programs.

Also with us, Ana Marie Cox, now national correspondent for Air America, who said, let's do away with the White House Press Corps and have specialists ask specialized questions and get special answers.

And joining us now is Farhad Manjoo. He's at KQED, our member station in San Francisco, where he's technology columnist at Slate.com, and he proposes that we toss out television. Farhad, television?

Mr. FARHAD MANJOO (Technology Columnist, Slate.com): Yeah, I'm not proposing that people stop watching TV. That would be going too far. I'm proposing instead that people stop paying for a monthly cable or satellite subscription.

You know, Americans spend, on average, about $80 a month, according to the FCC, and what you get for that is a whole lot of channels that you don't need, you know, like the Hallmark Channel, Spike TV, various different flavors of MTV, and you don't really get to choose. You know, you get this huge menu of channels, many of them that you don't like.

It's become possible these days to get exactly the shows you want to watch through various ways over the Internet. You can get set-top boxes like Apple TV, with this thing that offers Netflix movies, called Roku.

That gives you, you know, for far less money per month, a much better and more customized television viewing experience. So you can get, you know, what you want. You can pay for it, just what you want, and you get, you know, much more power over what you watch, and you don't have to pay for a lot of things you don't like.

CONAN: So it's all a la carte, and you don't have to take all them from Column A and Column B and Column Z.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, exactly. I mean, when we get satellite or when we get cable, we get hundreds of channels that many people, you know, care little for. And you know, they do this so it appeals to a wide audience, and they make a lot of money on these - you know, this huge menu, but many people don't need that.

CONAN: What would happen to C-SPAN fans?

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, you know, you can get C-SPAN on some of the - you can get C-SPAN on…

CONAN: Farhad, it's funded by cable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MANJOO: That's a good point, but we could change the funding structure of cable, of C-SPAN and - because I think, you know, I think that we're going this way. I think we're going toward this route where we have much more - a much more customized way of watching TV, and lots of people are watching TV on various different screens now, you know, watching it on computers, watching it on iPhones, and so we're heading down this path. And I think that lots of people can sort of get a jump on this and cut out several years of cable bills.

CONAN: Several - a lot of us spent ridiculous amounts of money for those flat-screen TVs so we could watch HD and really, you know, watch the football spiral down the field. Can we do that with just computers?

Mr. MANJOO: Well, you know, if you want live TV, you can get an antenna, and it broadcasts - you know, you can get digital broadcasting now, and you can get a very good picture on your live TV via an antenna, and you know, it's free.

CONAN: And it's free. And the cable stuff, is that going to be less than - I mean, the stuff you get on your computer, is that going to be less than what it costs to get a cable or a satellite TV subscription?

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, I mean, say you watch the TV "Lost," for example, or you know, you can get one of those episodes for $2 or $3 from iTunes. You can watch it. You're paying, on average, $12 a month for one show.

Let's say you watch five shows. You're still under your cable bill. So, you know, if you watch a whole lot of TV, if you're watching - if you're doing nothing but watching TV, your $80-a-month subscription might be valuable, but for most of us, I think that, you know, you're paying too much, and you're not getting what you want from it.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox?

Ms. COX: I'm watching TV pretty much all the time. And I was also thinking, like how - you know the pleasure you get out of stumbling across a favorite song on the radio? I get that experience like every time "A Few Good Men" comes on, which I think is once a day now.

And the "Law & Order" franchise. What would I do if I could not immediately find a "Law & Order" program of some kind, whether it's on Bravo or USA or NBC or - I think actually, they have it on Univision now, too.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, I mean, you know, hard-core "Law & Order" fans, I know many of them, I think they'll lose out, and for many of them, you know, $80 might be worth it. But I think a lot of people watch - you know, we're used to watching TV now - even if you have cable, you're used to watching it on something like TiVo, where you have your menu of shows. You don't really watch live TV.

I think some people - I mean, there is that pleasure that I recognize when I go to hotel rooms, where you can just sort of turn it on and watch whatever's on, but you know, I think a lot of people - it costs money for that.

CONAN: They only have, like, 16 stations in most hotel rooms. I mean, you know, we're in the land of 500 stations and nothing on. Anyway, let's get some more suggestions from our listeners on things they would like to throw out, that we'd all be better off without.

Let's go Tommy(ph). Tommy's with us from Denver.

TOMMY (Caller): Hi. If I had my way, I'd get most of the people out of the booth that broadcast most sporting events. They talk way, way too much.

CONAN: John Madden just retired. So your wish is coming true.

TOMMY: Well you know, there are a few people, like John Madden, you know, the guys in Atlanta, Skip Carey(ph) and those guys that used to do the baseball games - you can count on one hand people who really are qualified sportscasters. It's like we're not even watching the game. We're watching the game, and they're overtelling us.

CONAN: Tom Ricks?

Mr. RICKS: While we're on sports, I would love to get of professional athletes who have been convicted of felonies or any form of violent crimes. Just you do the crime, you're out of sports forever. I don't care. It would be good for America and especially for our youth.

CONAN: And Tommy, just to follow up on your point, because I spend ridiculous amounts of money on the baseball package on my cable subscription - I couldn't understand why the bill had gone up so much this month - you can, late at night, watch Vin Scully do Dodger games by himself, nobody else in the booth, and it is one of the great experiences in broadcasting.

TOMMY: Oh, you know, for all the money that goes into broadcasting sports, they could really save a lot and, you know, spend it someplace else than making us listen to all that.

Most of the time, any game you watch, you watch on mute unless it's hockey or basketball. Those guys have to talk fast to keep up with a lot of the…

CONAN: Free John Miller(ph). That's what I say. Tommy, thanks very much for the call.

TOMMY: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Jenny(ph). Jenny is with us from Lawrence, Kansas.

JENNY (Caller): Hello. I wanted to talk about celebrity worship, how our society has become completely obsessed with who is dating whom and whether or not a certain celebrity is pregnant. I think there's more important things for us to spend our time learning about.

CONAN: Could we just narrow this down to "People'' magazine or "OK!"?

JENNY: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Could we just narrow it down to "People" magazine and "OK!" magazine?

JENNY: Yeah, just be done with them. Instead of having all of the television shows like "Entertainment Tonight" or "Extra," send them talking about what's going on worldwide.

CONAN: Farhad Manjoo, this would eliminate a lot of television programming.

Mr. MANJOO: It would. On the other hand, it wouldn't eliminate the caller's problem because you can get all of this stuff on the Internet, and actually you can indulge yourself to a much greater degree on the Internet than you can on TV with this. There are many, many Web sites.

CONAN: Even less restrained by the facts than some of our great tabloid productions.

Mr. MANJOO: Right.

JENNY: That's very true.

CONAN: Jenny, thanks very much for the suggestion.

JENNY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail from Eric(ph) in Southfield, Michigan. I work at a broadcasting school in metro Detroit teaching radio, and if I had my druthers, I would get rid of corporate radio, Clear Channel in particular. The near-monopolization of the commercial broadcasting industry has ruined local radio, with the exception of some noble and wonderfully listenable efforts. Smaller, more-competitive entities make for better radio, something we desperately need.

As the latest employee of a national radio network, Ana Marie Cox, what do you think?

Ms. COX: I do think a very specific version of what he's talking about, which is the entertainment and music stations that are programmed out of, you know…

CONAN: Dallas.

Ms. COX: Dallas, and have nothing to do with the community that they're broadcast to - because growing up, I remember dialing in to your local radio - like the local rock station to get your concert tickets, and you knew the DJ, and they'd sometimes be there.

I think there's just something really wonderful, especially about music, to have that connection, to feel close to another - a fellow fan, basically.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another suggestion, and let's go now to - excuse me, let's go to Michelle(ph) in Marin in California.

MICHELLE (Caller): Hi. I would like to get rid of, right now, any kind of paid summer enrichment programs for kids. I am just wrapping up the homework. I agree with the previous caller, and now I'm inundated with tutoring, SAT prep, language, even sports that are trying to get your kids ahead, volunteer and travel opportunities that'll look good on applications.

CONAN: Have you considered computer camp?

MICHELLE: Computer camp?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHELLE: Our kids will not do computer camp, no. But case in point, keeping the kids inside with basically things that are causing, you know, taking time, money, and stress when summer is about getting them outside, relaxing, and playing.

CONAN: Go outside and play. Ana Marie Cox?

Ms. COX: I was listening to the - I also agree with getting rid of homework. But it's funny, I grew up in Nebraska, where we didn't have enrichment programs or really, very much homework, you know? It was - we were a kid. And I remember when I got to college and found out that some of my friends' parents had helped them with their college applications or you know, paid for SAT. I called my dad. I'm like, I had no idea you could've helped me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COX: You made me do it all by myself, you know?

MICHELLE: Now, I'm going to feel guilty for not signing them up for the SAT.

CONAN: Farhad, you weren't with us when the suggestion came up that we should ban homework.

MANJOO: Yeah, I know. I agree. I remember, like Ana Marie, I don't remember, you know, having very much homework, and I had a lot of free time after school. And it was great. I think I learned a lot.

CONAN: And all those people who didn't do much homework seemingly had a lot of time in the middle of the day to be on radio programs and shoot the breeze.

MICHELLE: And even though, the way they market the programs, there's pictures of kids having fun, and it seems happy. But the kids come home tired and stressed.

CONAN: Michelle, thanks very much for the call. And would that it be taken up.

MICHELLE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail from Tom(ph) in San Francisco. He suggests we would all be better off without the resume. It breeds inauthenticity in every area of job search and job interviewing. What would millions of people who want to make changes in their work lives do if there were no such thing as the resume?

Tom Ricks, should we do away with the resume?

Mr. RICKS: Yeah, I think so. Actually, somebody asked me to write one, and I said I haven't written one in 20 years. It's too much work.

CONAN: Did you have to write one, Ana Marie, for your new job?

Ms. COX: Well, I was going to say that no job I've ever really enjoyed, I got by having a resume ready for it. And also, this reminds me. I was at a conference today about politics and online communication. And Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio, I believe, got up and said they don't ask for resumes anymore from potential staffers or interns. They ask for a YouTube video.

CONAN: They ask for a YouTube video, on the theory that it's likely to be more accurate?

Ms. COX: More accurate, a better reflection of who that person is. Oh, and a writing sample - YouTube video and a writing sample.

CONAN: Farhad, that is - that's the new technology.

MANJOO: Yeah. I mean, I've seen people send in YouTube videos, sort of unsolicited for jobs in place of resumes. But like I think a lot of people, you know, the resume is superfluous these days because I think you can get a more authentic picture of somebody by looking at their Facebook profile or, you know, what their status is online, and kind of the, you know, Google them. I think people do that instead of looking at the resume.

CONAN: Yeah. But that's the reason why people go to creative writing classes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Farhad Manjoo, who's with us from San Francisco, where he's technology columnist at Slate.com. With us here in Studio 3A in Washington, Tom Ricks, a senior fellow now at the Center for New American Security, author of "The Gamble." And Ana Marie Cox, now national correspondent for Air America and Wonkette Emerita.

You are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Bridgette(ph) suggests tips in restaurants, via e-mail. I am a chef and restaurateur. And I would like to be able to include the service charge in the bill as in Europe, so that servers are assured of a living wage - well, almost. But the tipping system has got to go if we are to overhaul the unfair treatment of servers in restaurants.

Ana Marie, do you…

Ms. COX: Well, I was a server. I called it a waitress at the time…

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. COX: …in college. And I think everyone should - I actually think, maybe this would do the same thing that eliminating the tip would, which is that everyone should have to waitress or be a waiter at some point in their lives.

I think it teaches you a whole new way of looking at people. And it's turned me into a chronic over-tipper. I believe firmly in giving more than 20 percent. And also, and I either give more than 20 percent or basically nothing, because also having been a waitress, I know how easy it is do a good job and to be rude or to do something wrong if you're a server.

There's just - it's one of those areas like, why would you waste energy doing something badly that's so easy to do well.

CONAN: Let's go now to Jeremy(ph). Jeremy, with us from Cunningham in Kentucky.

JEREMY: Yes. I think that the - one of the biggest problems that we have in the United States today with the political system, especially, is the two-party system. I think that no one runs anymore based on their beliefs and their values. They run based on what's going to get them the money to back their campaign.

CONAN: So we should have how many political parties, do you think, Jeremy, on a national…

JEREMY: Absolutely none. I think that every individual who wants to run for an office in the United States should have to stand up, say this is what I believe, these are my core moral and social beliefs, this is what I run on, this is the platform that I agree with, and not be affiliated with any particular group that is there basically to fund them.

We have so much of a problem in today's America going back and forth between liberal and conservative, that even the independents get caught up in it and the libertarians get caught up in it. And it just - it's a snake eating its own tail.

CONAN: There should be a further condition that they all have to appear on major afternoon call-in radio programs.

JEREMY: Absolutely.

CONAN: Okay. Jeremy, thanks very much for the call.

Let's see if we can go now to Scott(ph). And Scott with us from Minneapolis.

SCOTT: Yeah. I think the thing that nobody benefits from at all is the horrible, distorted music that you have to listen to when you're on hold.

CONAN: Don't you have a heart for those musicians who labor for hours and hours in studios to master that blandness?

SCOTT: Well, sometimes I worry about, you know, maybe the music lovers saying, oh, you really need to hear some music, you know? But obviously, anyone who actually likes music would probably have their own on and wouldn't want some anonymous person choosing theirs.

CONAN: All right. Well, hold system - hold music, I guess, that would spread to elevator music as well?

SCOTT: Sure, yeah.

CONAN: All right. Scott hates the Muzak.

Here's an e-mail from - this is from Elias(ph). The standard measuring system -3/16ths, what the heck is that? It's been a long time, but aren't we - why aren't we measuring in metric? I do carpentry on the side, and metric is all I use unless I have to collaborate with one of some other craftspeople who only speak in 7/8ths of an inch. Metric is easier to learn and most of the world is doing it.

What gives - wasn't it - what part of Murphy's law that everything shall be measured in the most useless possible system - furlongs per fortnight or something like that?

Anyway, thank you all for your suggestions. We'll probably have some more in our letters column next week. But thanks to our guests as well. Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist at Slate.com, with us from KQED in San Francisco.

Thanks very much.

MANJOO: Thanks a lot. Great to be here.

CONAN: Tom Ricks was with us here in Studio 3A, now a senior fellow at the Center for A New American Security. He's the author of "The Gamble." Tom, nice to have you on the program always.

Mr. RICKS: You're welcome.

CONAN: And Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America, also with us here in Studio 3A. Good luck with the gig at Air America.

Ms. COX: Thank you.

CONAN: And when we come back, we're going to be talking about the branding problems of Tropicana and New Coke, and who made those decisions. This is NPR News.

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