Finding Bright Spots In A Lackluster 2011

Dec 20, 2011
Originally published on December 21, 2011 1:07 pm

2011 was a tough year in many ways: The economy is still struggling; Europe is dealing with a debt crisis that threatens the entire European Union system; and Japan is still recovering from a devastating tsunami. But from gold and protests to TV dramas and HIV treatment, there are many ideas and products that had a banner 2011. NPR's Neal Conan speaks with four reporters on concepts that did well this year.

E-Book Sales And Self-Publishing

E-book sales have been skyrocketing in recent years, and they continued to soar in 2011 — driven largely by the arrival of newer and cheaper e-readers and tablet computers, says Alexandra Alter, reporter for The Wall Street Journal. The shift to digital is transforming the publishing industry, Alter says, much like the way digital music players revolutionized the music industry. Digital self-publishing also experienced a banner year, says Alter, due in part to the growing digital book market. A growing number of authors are now reaching readers directly through e-book retail outlets.

Gold And Bond Investors

For most investors, 2011 was a lackluster year. Insured savings accounts offered virtually no interest, says NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax, and stocks mostly moved sideways or down. But there were two big winners this year: bond holders and gold bugs. People who invested in U.S. Treasury securities early in the year were smart, says Geewax, because 10-year Treasuries were yielding about 3.4 percent interest in January 2011. Almost one year later, those securities yield only about 1.9 percent. Because those older bonds have become so much more attractive, people are willing to pay more for them. People who bought an ounce of gold in January also are happy today; they paid about $1,450. Now, that ounce is worth about $1,600, roughly a 10 percent gain.

Cable TV Dramas

Several cable networks invested heavily in new dramatic series in 2011, and those investments paid off, says Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. HBO launched two series to wide acclaim: Boardwalk Empire and the lavish Game of Thrones, based on the popular books by George R.R. Martin. Showtime's Homeland, starring Claire Danes, has also been hailed as both engrossing and creative, Deggans says. AMC also had hit seasons for Breaking Bad and its zombie series, The Walking Dead.

HIV/AIDS Treatment

Optimism is rare among HIV/AIDS experts, says NPR science correspondent Richard Knox. But many feel that 2011 will be the year the world learned how to wind down the pandemic. That hope stems from accumulating evidence on four different prevention strategies — plus one older proven approach. In other words, says Knox, the same drugs being used around the world to treat HIV infections can also prevent infection. Called "treatment as prevention," the approach also involves prescribing antiretroviral drugs to uninfected people at risk of infection — individuals such as sex workers and those in relationships with infected people.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. It was a good year for Albert Pujols and for Apple, in the business sense anyway. It was a good year for political gridlock and cloud computing. From Tahrir Square to Wall Street, 2011 was a banner year for protests and a good year for "Call of Duty" on video games and "Homeland" on TV.

Amid the gloom of the darkest week of the year, call and tell us the person, product or idea that had a good year. Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, John Irvin, who directed the Alec Guinness version more than 30 years ago, on the new screen adaptation of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." But first a good year, and we begin with Alexandra Alter, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where she writes about books and culture and joins us from our bureau in New York. Thanks very much for coming in.

ALEXANDRA ALTER: Thanks very much for having me.

CONAN: And both paperback, hardcover sales down again but a good year for eBooks?

ALTER: Phenomenal year for eBooks. It's - the growth of eBook sales has just been remarkable in the last few years, and it's continuing to rise this year. EBooks accounted for $878 million in revenues in 2010, up from 287 million in 2009, and this year it's on track to probably exceed that, although the figures have been fully compiled.

Anecdotal evidence and monthly sales reports from publishers suggest that it's still going to grow even more quickly.

CONAN: What is driving these sales?

ALTER: It's - there are a number of factors. I think probably the biggest factor driving these sales is the growing availability of cheaper and better eReaders. So more people are picking up, you know, Kindles and Nooks and Kobo eReaders. The new Kindle costs $79. The first version cost close to $400. So as more people get these devices, they're finding them convenient, and they're stocking up on eBooks.

CONAN: And they may find them in their stockings in about a week.

ALTER: Exactly.

CONAN: Now how does the change to eBooks change the book business?

ALTER: It's having a tremendous impact on publishing, and publishers are still, you know, quite anxious about whether or not digital sales can make up for the loss of hardcover print sales, which have traditionally been the biggest earner for them. But they're definitely starting to see a big advantage to the new digital landscape.

They save on shipping and printing costs, and book buyers can indulge in impulse shopping on their eReaders in a way they never could with brick-and-mortar bookstores.

CONAN: Do they find one category, one genre of books doing better because of the eBook boost?

Well, crime novels tend to sell very well on eReaders and also romance novels. There's sort of a funny theory that romance novels are boosting the whole eBook industry because some readers are embarrassed to buy kind of trashy bodice-ripping novels in print, but they feel like on their Kindle, no one knows what they're reading.

Ashamed to be seen with those covers in their hands.

ALTER: Exactly.

CONAN: And it's been a good year, also, I gather, for self-publishing.

ALTER: Yes, it's been an amazing year for self-publishing. There's been a parallel rise in digital self-publishing, which has been, you know, buoyed by the digital book market, too. It's really leveled the playing field for self-published authors who traditionally have been unable to get their books into the stores or get them reviewed by critics. And now they can just reach readers directly through Amazon or Barnes and Noble or some of the other eBook retail outlets.

And some of these authors are doing astonishingly well. There's a thriller writer, John Locke, and a fantasy writer, Amanda Hocking, who have both sold more than a million copies on the Kindle.

CONAN: Do these two developments have any impact on what we like to think of as literature?

ALTER: Well, it's interesting. There are some people that say it's degrading the quality of literature because you're taking, you know, publishers away from their traditional roles as literary gatekeepers, and, you know, the quality is declining. But other people say, no, we're getting this whole new - this whole new landscape of books, and obviously some of them are quite popular.

So, you know, you have people arguing on both sides.

CONAN: Well, what are you looking forward to? What are you reading on your eBook right now?

ALTER: Let's see. Right now I have, on my Kindle I'm reading "The Game of Thrones" series, "The Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin.

CONAN: Piglet, old Piglet coming back, that's what his nickname used to be back in the old days. George R.R. Martin, the fantasy writer, doing, hey, it was a good year for him. "Game of Thrones" did very well on TV, too.

ALTER: Amazing year for him. I think 12 million copies in print or something like that.

CONAN: Alexandra Alter, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

ALTER: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Alexandra Alter, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where she writes about books and culture, joined us from our bureau in New York. It was a good year for - well, you tell us. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email Let's go first to Ryan, and Ryan's with us from Carmichael in California.

RYAN: Yes, I just wanted to say that I think politics is actually an industry that has done very well this past year, not only the obvious money that's being donated to politicians but just the industry that surrounds it.

CONAN: And it has been a - every election cycle that I can remember has been - certainly in the last few - has been the biggest-spending election cycle, whether that's for a presidential election and then for an off-year election, and this one portends the same way. Don't you wish you owned a television station in Des Moines?

RYAN: That would be nice, wouldn't it?


RYAN: Yeah, I just - I agree, it's - and it seems like every year is some form of - you know, politics has become 24/7 with all the news stations, and your station talks about it quite a bit. And it's just - and then the printing that's involved with it, everything, it's just incredible. I wish I were in that industry.

CONAN: Well, sadly we can't take political ads, but thanks very much for the call.

RYAN: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Joining us here in Studio 3A is NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. So nice to have you on the program, as always.


CONAN: And it was not a great year for investing, at least not for the stock market.

GEEWAX: That's right. Generally speaking, for the stock market it was kind of a sideways year to down, not all that great. Today we're having a good day, but the trading is thin, and people think it might not last. Generally speaking, if you were a stock investor in a year when inflation was up 3.5 percent, stocks barely gained.

CONAN: And in the meantime, though, there were a couple of, well, investments that paid off big time.

GEEWAX: Well, it turns out that the winners for 2011 were the scaredy cats, the people who last year when the experts were giving advice, they plugged their ears, they said la, la, la - la, la. I'm not listening, I'll do what I want. And the people who ignored the experts did well. Let me just read you a headline from what people were saying a year ago. This was from a headline in USA Today last December, just about exactly the same time.

(Reading) Five top experts agree the new year is looking great for stocks, not so great for bonds.

Well, it was the exact opposite. It was not so great for stocks, but the bond market did really well. It was up quite a bit. The Dow Jones Index of treasuries, 10-year treasuries, was up, oh, about 18 percent. So that's quite a good gain.

And the other people who were afraid, the gold bugs, they did pretty well, too. Gold (unintelligible).

CONAN: Well, gold is what people go into when the - when they're worried about the security of the dollar.

GEEWAX: Exactly. When you get afraid, it seems like a good idea to buy those 10-year government treasuries, and it seems like a good idea to buy gold. And that's where people went running this past year. What basically happened was last December, everyone was saying that corporate profits would pick up. The economy seemed to be gaining strength.

We expect it to have a much better year, but in the end, all of this government debt issue, whether it was our own - remember the debt ceiling crisis of this past summer, the current gridlock in Congress, all of it has to do with government debt.

But also in Europe, that's really where the action is. People are terrified about all of this government debt, and will Europe be able to get a handle on this problem. So as long as we have this extreme uncertainty in Europe, and really with our own congressional efforts at controlling government debt, there's a lot of uncertainty, and it hurts stocks.

CONAN: The earthquake and tsunami in Japan also rattled the markets.

GEEWAX: Right, there were other factors; Lots of disaster this past year. I mean, natural disasters, tsunami and earthquake and drought, and lots of things happened that sort of rattle people's nerves.

CONAN: So based on that prediction that didn't turn out so well a year ago, are you ready to suggest what people might want to do...

GEEWAX: Well, they'll all want to listen up now.


GEEWAX: With a track record like that, what are the experts saying now? I think the outlook for 2012 - the general opinion is that in the United States, it should be pretty good. It kind of sounds like a rerun of last year, where they think that the job market is looking a little bit stronger. Holiday shopping has been good.

You know, the retail numbers are coming in pretty well. Today, we got a good report on housing starts. They seem to be getting a little stronger. So there is a sense that there's momentum here. Bad things, though - this great uncertainty about the EU and also certainly concerns that China may be slowing a great deal. And then there's the whole issue of the political gridlock. So there's a lot of uncertainty around governments and their ability to respond to various crises.

But the underlying economic fundamentals in the U.S. economy at the moment are looking stronger.

CONAN: Political gridlock? Look, we'll have a deal to extend that payroll tax cut by two whole months, or not. Marilyn Geewax, thanks very much for your time today.

GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: Marilyn Geewax, NPR senior business editor, joined us here in Studio 3A. Let's go to Celia(ph), Celia with us from Moab in Utah.

CELIA: Yeah, hi, Neal. You know, this may seem counterintuitive, but I actually believe it's been a really good year for the debate about vaccine safety. And I think despite Michele Bachmann's poorly-phrased GOP debate, comments on the issue, more and more families I think are getting educated. Parents are choosing alternative schedules to the CDC schedule that allow their kids to be safer, and, you know, over 750,000 people saw a really powerful documentary on the topic called "The Greater Good" while it was streaming for free at, on Dr. Mercola's site.

So I think that there's a change, and people are realizing it's not black and white, it's not all or nothing and that we need better information. And so that gives me a lot of hope.

CONAN: You're talking about the mounting evidence that in fact there is - of course there are risks to any medical procedure, but the risks of measles or mumps or German measles is greater than the chances of getting an adverse reaction to an injection.

CELIA: Well, absolutely. And I think what we're learning is that all the heavy metals and chemicals we used to stimulate our immune system so it would absorb all those goodies and keep us from getting whooping cough or measles are actually really dangerous, and hopefully folks in 2012 will go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to get those, you know, medications into our kids without, you know, endangering them with those other things.

CONAN: You say that, but at the same time, there have been outbreaks of whooping cough in California and Connecticut and other places. But anyway, Celia, thanks very much for your call.

CELIA: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Here's an email from John(ph) in Minneapolis: A good year for pepper spray. I think that's said with some degree of irony. This is Peter, emails: Tourism, especially here in Orlando. It is up to or above peak performance of the past five years. We checked that, it's true. Orlando up 5 percent, according to the Business Journal.

And this from Michael in Kalamazoo: How about Apple and Android platform game developers like Roxio and Zynga? "Angry Birds" and "Farmville" were huge and have started a boom for these newer platforms. Well, you've heard a lot of nominees so far, including eBooks and gold and bonds. It's your turn. What person, product or idea had a good year? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, We'll be back with more nominees in a minute. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Extreme weather had a good year in 2011. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. endured a dozen billion-dollar weather events this year. Dan Brekke at member station KQED points out that's the closest we've ever come to that was 2008, when the weather dealt just nine costly blows to the country.

Of course, that was bad news for Joplin, Missouri, where a deadly twister tore through town and in New England, where Hurricane Irene flooded in August. John Mayer at the Denver Post singles out skier Lindsey Vonn for a good year. In 2011, she became the winningest skier in U.S. team history.

And Aaron Hickland at The Guardian says it's been a good year to be gay, thanks to major advances in marriage equality. If you'd like to make the case for a person, thing or idea that had a good year, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Eric Deggans joins us now from a studio at the St. Petersburg Times, where he's TV and media critic. Nice to have you back on the program.

ERIC DEGGANS: Thanks a lot for having me.

CONAN: And cable TV dramas were strong this year. Are people less interested in reality shows these days?

DEGGANS: I don't know if people are less interested in them, but certainly TV providers on certain channels are less interested in them. We saw certain channels - FX, AMC, Showtime and HBO - really stepped up their game this past year, everything from HBO's really lavish epic.

You know, you talked about the George R.R. Martin "Game of Thrones," their version of "Game of Thrones," which probably powered that rise in the sales of the books; was just a really lavish, epic, almost cinematic kind of miniseries or series that HBO presented as a way to sort of say hey, we're back in the premium TV game.

At the same time, they had this great series "Boardwalk Empire" that executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Terrence Winter from "The Sopranos," just an amazing performance by Steve Buscemi and some other wonderful actors. Showtime stepped up with a great new series called "Homeland," Claire Danes playing this amazing bipolar CIA agent character that we haven't seen before.

And then AMC stepping up with an amazing season of "Breaking Bad," "The Walking Dead." FX had "Sons of Anarchy." It had a show called "The Killing" that was kind of controversial but again quite outside the box, even had a great comedy called "Louie." Just a lot of really great work, especially on cable TV these days.

CONAN: But I think the top-rated drama on cable TV was "The Closer," which winds up this season.

DEGGANS: Exactly, and "The Closer" is an interesting little side story here, an unconventional/conventional cop show is what I want to call it. They have this wonderful family of characters. Star Kyra Sedgewick has decided that she's tired of commuting to Los Angeles from her New York home to do the show, and so they're easing her out of the show, and they're easing Mary McDonnell onto the show, and they'll call it a different name. They'll call it "Major Crimes."

But we're seeing that transition this year, and...

CONAN: Does she get cancer and lead them to another galaxy?


DEGGANS: No, that's her previous series, "Battlestar Galactica." But she does lead them to a new way of solving crimes, and it's been great to see these two really strong female characters kind of play off each other and sort of hand the baton, as it were.

And that's another great theme for 2011. We saw a lot of great roles for women.

CONAN: Eric Deggans, as you look forward to the coming season - and in a way when football ends, it's another new season for TV - what looks good for next year, do you think?

DEGGANS: Well, what's interesting about next year is that there's - there was a sense, as well as things went this fall, that the networks in particular were holding back some of their more challenging shows for the winter season, for January. So NBC has this great show called "Smash." I say it's great. I've seen one episode of it, the pilot.

But it's sort of a musical. It's a drama about the creation of a musical, and so there's a lot of musical numbers inside of it. Debra Messing is in it and Katharine McPhee, and the first episode looks really good.

NBC also has another show called "Awake," which I think is actually its best new drama of the season, starring Jason Isaacs as a man who's not quite sure if he's dreaming, but he's living in two worlds; one, where his son is killed in a car accident and one where his wife is killed in a car accident.

We see - we have the return of "American Idol," and for people who don't necessarily like challenging TV, we even have ABC doing a celebrity edition of "Wife Swap." So it's going to be quite exciting.

CONAN: Eric Deggans, thanks very much for your time, as always.

DEGGANS: All right, thanks a lot.

CONAN: Eric Deggans, TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, with us from a studio there. This is a tweet from Michelle Nicole(ph): It's been a great year for family. No money means reassessing family time and has brought my family of six closer and become more appreciative. Let's go next to - this is Marina, Marina with us from Flint in Michigan.

MARINA: Hi, yeah, I work for the labor union ASME, and I just want to say I think it's a good year for labor unions in general, especially with the last two years with all the pain-in-the-ass Republicans that have done a lot of stuff to hurt us, we're showing that we can come together, especially with the recall of Issue 2 in Ohio and now with the recall of the Governor Walker in Wisconsin and with PA 4 coming a long way in its recall effort. I think that we're showing that unions can stand together in solidarity and not allow the horrible things that are happening to us happen.

CONAN: I understand your pleasure, but the gathering signatures for the recall of Governor Walker, and really we'd appreciate if you'd avoid terminology like that, OK?

MARINA: Oh, sorry, yeah.

CONAN: It's all right, it's all right. Thanks very much for the call.

MARINA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to - this is from Arthur. Arthur says a good year for the U.S. military and a bad year for Osama bin Laden. And let's go next to - this is Rick, Rick with us from Symsonia in Kentucky.

RICK: Hello, Neal, love your show.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

RICK: Bad year for disasters but I think a good year for FEMA in their response. Here in western Kentucky, with the record flooding, they did an excellent job. And from what I've read from Joplin, Missouri, they really did an excellent job this year.

CONAN: An agency universally criticized after Hurricane Katrina, of course, as you say, it's gotten very good reviews in the past few years.

RICK: Yes, sir, and certainly, you know, the work is so important. Folks are in a terrible, terrible crisis, and it's so important that they're there for them, and the Red Cross and other agencies that are there also.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

RICK: Thank you.

CONAN: And for noting FEMA's good year. This from Vanessa: This was a good year for the royal family in England. The marriage of William and Kate renewed interest in the monarchy. Also, many people have a more favorable view of the monarchy due to William and Kate's modern approach.

Let's go next to - this is Vince. Vince calling us from St. Louis.

VINCE: Yes, hi, I love your show, Neal.

CONAN: Thank you.

VINCE: I wanted to mention that this is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan, and this is a good year for media studies.

CONAN: I have him standing right behind this pillar. He's going to come out and fact-check that for you.


VINCE: Well, and it's also been a good year for McLuhan's associate, Walter J. Ong, who will commemorate his 100th birthday. What some people don't know is that Marshall McLuhan got his start here as an academic, in St. Louis at St. Louis University, where Ong was a professor throughout his career.

And in the 1980s, Ong's and McLuhan's theories went a little bit into the shadows, but since the Web opened up in the '90s, they have come more into the light again, and now they are very important. And as you were talking about things like the Kindle and eBooks, Ong and McLuhan would be quite applicable to that. Their theories and investigations are to some extent predictive of that world.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Vince. I, by the way, referenced Woody Allen's movie "Annie Hall;" a good year for Woody Allen. His best-grossing film ever, "Midnight in Paris," and of course Diane Keaton, his co-star who got an Oscar in that picture, had a book come out this year. So a good year for her, too. Vince, thanks very much for the call.

VINCE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Joining us now from his home in Dorchester, Massachusetts is NPR health and science correspondent Richard Knox. Dick, nice to have you back on the program.

RICHARD KNOX, BYLINE: Always glad to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And a good year for HIV/AIDS research.

KNOX: It was. And, you know, to put this in some perspective, you know, this year we passed the 30th anniversary of this awful pandemic, and there have been 30 million people who have died from AIDS so far and more than 30 million who are living with the disease now. But there's been a really - a lot of optimism, especially in the last half of 2011, and the most important reason is that a big study that looked at almost a couple thousand couples around the world, and they - some of them got some of the drugs that are being used to treat HIV to see whether that would - and it got them early on in the disease, to see if that would lower their risk of transmitting the virus to their partner.

And it did, I mean, by enormous amount, 96 percent, almost to zero. So that has given rise to a new kind of rallying cry, it's called treatment as prevention; the idea being that if you treat people who are infected early on in the disease that you can really cut the risk that they'll transmit the virus to somebody else.

And that also has been coupled with some other prevention research that's come along lately, and the idea is that by combining these things, we could make a real difference in the course of the pandemic.

CONAN: A light at the end of the tunnel after all this time.

KNOX: People think so. It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be cheap. There's going to be a lot of trial and error because these combinations of different treatment strategies will have to be kind of fine-tuned to the different countries because they won't work the same way everywhere. But there's just a really - a different attitude among AIDS policy people and AIDS scientists that I've ever seen in covering this long ordeal.

CONAN: You mentioned cultural differences. There's a vaginal gel that contains an anti-HIV drug that has been controversial in some places.

KNOX: Yeah. That's one of the - there are sort of four core prevention strategies that are fairly new and newly - not exactly proven - but new excitement about them. And one of them is that vaginal gel that women could use to protect themselves against any transmission of the virus. There's been one large study finally after many years of trying that showed a good effect, something like a 40 percent reduction in infection risks. But then, there's another study this year that didn't show an effect. So that's one that's going to need more work.

Male circumcision is now well-established as a very positive thing you can do - or men can do to lower the risk of getting infected. There's another approach called pre-exposure prophylaxis using drugs used to treat the disease, the infection by giving them to people who are not yet infected but are at high risk of getting infected, maybe their partner is HIV-positive or maybe they work in the sex industry or whatever. And that has been shown in some studies to really cut down in transmission.

And then, there's one old very effective and proven strategy to prevent the transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their newborns, and also from lactating, breastfeeding women to their newborns. That's like 17 years old since that's been proven. But there's new interest on the part of the Obama administration and others to really get that out there and virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

CONAN: Amid all that good news, there have been funding cuts in this country and elsewhere.

KNOX: Yeah. That's the countervailing trend. There's a world economic crisis in case people hadn't notice, and there's severe budget constraints on the United States budget, which, of course, is the biggest funder of AIDS prevention work in the world. So there are some - a lot of whistling in the dark and hoping that somehow or other, the excitement of these new possibilities will get countries to pledge what they've already - I mean, to give what they've already pledged to do to the global fund, which had to suspend the latest round of programs just a month or so ago, and to persuade the Congress to sustain the effort that President George W. Bush began to try to get these things out there. The Obama administration seems to be committed, and we'll have to see in 2012 just how far they can take these new strategies.

CONAN: Dick, thanks very much for your time.

KNOX: Sure. Anytime, Neal.

CONAN: NPR health and science correspondent Richard Knox with us from his home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. We're talking about the people, things and ideas that had good years in 2011. Our conversation is a preview of the series NPR is working on, A Good Year, which starts next week. You can submit your nominees at our website,, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go next to Don. Don with us from Denver.

DON: Hi there. It was a very good year for vinyl records and tube amplifiers.

CONAN: Really? Amidst all the people uploading their entire collection of songs to the cloud, vinyl records are making a comeback?

DON: Yeah. They really are. It's a microscopic market, of course but...


CONAN: Compared to iTunes Store.

DON: Yeah. Everything else. But we old guys still like them. And a bunch of the young kids are getting onto them as well.

CONAN: So I should have held on to my Marantz 8B is what you're telling me?

DON: You absolutely should have.


CONAN: Don, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

DON: You bet.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Rich. Rich with us from Sioux City.

RICH: Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for having your show. What a great topic. I was going to nominate the persons with disabilities in the United States. This past year in particular, people with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States still, including - exceeding Latinos. And we have a whole new slate of Department of Justice, United States Access Board and building code regulations, which involve everything from design to employment, to service animals, all new rules coming into effect, which should help level the playing field and bring people with disabilities more integrated into our general society. So that was my nomination for today.

CONAN: Do you also find stigma dropping?

RICH: Excuse me?

CONAN: Do you find that there is less stigma?

RICH: You're absolutely right. I mean, the cultural stigma is probably still the largest barrier of all, including for employment in particular. But stigma, yes, we certainly have seen less and less of that. So it's a good year, and hopefully, we'll continue as our society itself with persons with disabilities.

CONAN: Rich, thanks very much for the call.

RICH: Thank you.

CONAN: Marsha emails: It's been a good year for community colleges across the nation. People who seek affordable education and training have turned to this option. She's right about that. John is on the line, calling from Syracuse.

JOHN: Hey, Neal. I wanted to say that's been a good year for planetary exploration, thanks to the discoveries from the Kepler telescope.

CONAN: And they include...

JOHN: Oh, gee, you're going to ask me the name of that planet that they've discovered that was in the green zone, that could support life, could support water. I don't remember, Kepler-something.

CONAN: Something and it was a surprisingly Earth-like planet, a little bit bigger than ours by - in fact quite a bit bigger than planet Earth, two-and-a-half-times bigger. We were thinking about what kind of audience numbers we could get on a planet like that.


JOHN: But, you know, this might end up being a boost for NASA because, you know, NASA saw a decline of - with the retirement of a rather antiquated space shuttle program, but maybe this will renew, you know, interest in space exploration.

CONAN: It could. It's a mere - what - 80 light years away, something like that?

JOHN: Very reachable, very reachable.

CONAN: Very reachable. Not in my lifetime perhaps or yours. But we'll get that archeology ship going, and we'll be there some day.

JOHN: Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And we'd like to thank everybody who emailed and called. We're sorry we couldn't get to everybody, but again, this is a series running on NPR next week. And you can go to and submit your suggestion to who had a really good year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.