NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Winds are calmer today, but wildfires continue to sweep across central Texas. Over 1,000 homes destroyed so far, 5,000 people evacuated. The governor says 100,000 acres burned, and the forecast doesn't offer much in the way of relief anytime soon.
The worst of the fires is centered just outside of Austin, but it is just one of dozens. Firefighters and resources are reported near exhaustion across Texas, and the same severe droughts led to major fires this summer in Oklahoma, Arizona and California as well.
If you've been affected by wildfires this season, if you have been fighting them, call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255, email email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, Helen Zoe Veit's plan for a 21st century home economics class. But first, wildfires. NPR national correspondent Wade Goodwyn joins us from Dallas. Nice to have you back.
WADE GOODWYN: Oh, thank you.
CONAN: And yesterday's strong winds made it very difficult for anybody to get those fires under control. You said this morning these flames move so fast, they kill. How's it looking today?
GOODWYN: Well, it's looking mildly better, I guess, since we don't have - the wind that we had was blowing, you know, 25, 30, 35, up to 45 miles an hour yesterday. And the fires, I mean, look, the entire state is just so baked and dried out that it's a tinderbox. I mean, believe it or not, bales of hay have been spontaneously combusting and starting fires. That's how dry it is out here.
A Coke bottle, a beer bottle, half of it, broken, will start a fire because the sun has been so hot. So I mean, the real problem is the fact that the ground is so dry that these fires, you know, cannot be contained. And out in Bastrop, where the biggest fire is, I mean, that's really where the hill country ends, and the piney woods of east Texas begin, right there in Bastrop.
And there's a beautiful state park there, Bastrop State Park, and part of the reason they're having such trouble is because it's not cedar or juniper or oak like it has been in the hill country or up here in north Texas; these are pine trees, and they're going up like matchsticks.
And they've jumped these four-lane highways that authorities were hoping were going to act as firebreaks. And yeah, I mean this is a big pine-wood forest that's on fire out there.
CONAN: More on that parched earth in just a moment, but just how much is this straining the resources of the firefighters?
GOODWYN: Well, I mean, everyone's exhausted. There's not enough firefighters and equipment to go around to all the fires. So some fires are out there just burning. They've called to action all the volunteer firefighters across the state. They're flying in tankers from around the country. But right now, you know, they're prioritizing the fires like a triage, like a surgeon would at a carnage and trying to fight the worst ones first.
CONAN: Well, how do they decide which is worse? You've got some terrible choices being made.
GOODWYN: Yeah, I mean it's - how big is the fire and how many homes are threatened? I mean, this started kind of Wednesday of last week up here in Possum Kingdom Lake, which is about, oh, about an hour west of Fort Worth. It's a huge resort area for Dallas and Fort Worth.
And there was a fire there in April that burned, I think, 69 homes at the time. Then we had another one last week, and that's burned another 45 homes. So that's kind of where it started. And then over the weekend it just - fires just began to start everywhere.
I think they've had 63 fires start since Sunday, more really like every hour. So we wish we could have firefighters on every fire, but we have to pick the worst ones and go from there.
CONAN: Wade, stay with us, and we want to hear from you as well. If you've been affected by the wildfires this summer, not just in Texas but across the Southwest, and we'd especially like to hear from those of you who've been involved in fighting them. 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
But joining us now from his office in Fort Worth is David Brown, regional climate services director for NOAA and with us by phone from his office there. Nice to have you with us today.
DAVID BROWN: Good to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: And how bad is it?
BROWN: It's pretty bad. Wade used the word parched, and that might even be an understatement. The - (clears throat) - excuse me - the conditions here in Texas are really unprecedented in their severity, especially for priming the environment for wildfires.
CONAN: I take it you don't use unprecedented lightly.
BROWN: No, we don't. This is an iconic drought, certainly rivaling those other major ones in the instrumental record in Texas, the 1950s drought, for example. Today, something like 80 percent of the state of Texas is in the most severe category of droughts, and hundreds of counties are disaster areas for - have been declared disaster areas for USDA relief. And we're talking about billions of dollars in agricultural and other losses. So it's really an, as I said, unprecedented event in many respects.
CONAN: We hear the word drought, we think of crop failures, we think of cattle being lost to thirst and to heat. Then we see these wildfires.
BROWN: It's amazing. Wildfire season in Texas is really a spring season event. To have this kind of outbreak in the latter days of August and first few days of September is very, very unusual, and it's just a testament to, again, how dry the conditions have been.
And on top of that, the heat that we had in June and July, how that has exacerbated the situation here and led to this kind of, you know, event.
CONAN: And Tropical Storm Lee, a lot of people had some hopes that Tropical Storm Lee might bring some drenching rains, at least to east Texas.
BROWN: We did, we did. And fortunately, Louisiana, which has also had a terrible drought this year, did get quite a bit of relief, especially the coastal areas. But here in Texas, no such luck.
CONAN: And in fact bad luck because those winds that Wade was talking about, they were remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
BROWN: That's right, and it's really the worst kind of recipe - the strong winds, the low relative humidities and the very, very dry environments that's been created by the drought and the heat. It's the perfect storm for this kind of wildfire outbreak.
CONAN: And as you look ahead to the forecast, is there any prospect?
BROWN: Well, there are prospects, and none of them are particularly encouraging, to be very frank. This drought that we're in really started last - late last fall, and it's been strongly linked to La Nina we had last winter, which we were able to predict. So we knew the drought was coming. We didn't obviously know it was going to be this historic in its nature.
But unfortunately, the signs are there that La Nina may come back this coming fall and winter, and if that's the case, we may be looking at another below-normal precipitation regime coming for the winter months, and that would just add to an already bad situation.
CONAN: And we, as mentioned, also it's not just Texas, California, Oklahoma, and right next door Arizona this year, but why do the Texas fires seem to be more out of control?
BROWN: Well, this is where the drought has been the worst. Texas and also Oklahoma have really been the two states that have been the center of focus. Again, just the combination of the extreme dryness and also the extreme heat, it's probably going to be the hottest summer ever in both Texas and Oklahoma, and it's just the epicenter for this kind of activity.
CONAN: And just cyclical, or can you read anything larger into this?
BROWN: Well, that's the big question, of course. I mean, climate change is happening. There's no question that it's getting warmer. Droughts are always going to happen. There are always going to be extreme events, whether they're droughts or any other kind of weather or climate event. What we're really focusing on are the impacts, the effects on agricultural, on water resources and trying to understand those impacts, because in a warming world, this kind of drought, if it happens again in the future, will have impacts that are even more severe, potentially.
CONAN: And as you look at the impacts on, for example, water resources, at least in the near future in Texas, again, that looks pretty alarming.
BROWN: It does. Water restrictions are in place even here in the DFW area now, which has been largely, you know, well-preserved in this drought compared to other parts of the state. But even here we're now seeing those impacts. So clearly if we go into another fall, winter, spring of below-normal rainfall, if another La Nina emerges, and the same kind of relationship plays out, we could be looking at even a greater stress on the water systems.
CONAN: And for those who have never flown through that part of the world, DFW of course Dallas-Fort Worth, also those same letters for the airport there.
BROWN: That's right.
CONAN: We'd like to thank you, David Brown, for your time today and let you get back to work.
BROWN: Thanks, Neal, appreciate it.
CONAN: David Brown, regional climate services director for NOAA, joined us by phone from his office in Fort Worth. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. If you've been affected by this season's fires, if you've been fighting them, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. Yancy's(ph) on the line, calling from Denver.
YANCY: Hi, Neal. Not really a story, just a question. I'm wondering why the National Guard hasn't been called out. Isn't this traditionally the kind of thing that the governor would do?
CONAN: Well, Wade Goodwyn is still with us from his office in Dallas, and Governor Perry returned, I guess yesterday, from South Carolina, where he was presidential campaigning, and well, has he called out the National Guard?
GOODWYN: No, I mean I'm not sure that the National Guard is an appropriate response here. I don't think you want - I mean, these are - this is a situation for highly trained firefighters and really for specifically types of highly trained firefighters.
Yesterday, they, around the Bastrop fire, they pulled the ground forces away. I don't care how highly trained you were. That fire was moving too fast and burning too hot. They fought it from the air with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dumping water and chemicals, but it was too much.
I think today they've got bulldozers out there. They've got fire trucks out there. They've engaged the fire again, and that's just - we're just talking about the Bastrop fire. I mean, there's - that Possum Kingdom Lake fire that I mentioned that started last week, it's still going up there. They're still fighting that fire, and they're fighting fires across the state.
So what we really need are trained wilderness firefighters to do this kind of work. There has been warnings from state officials to folks in the Bastrop area, to merchants not to gouge people for supplies. The Bastrop schools are closed. And I think there's kind of a pall over the Austin and Bastrop, Cedar Creek area.
I mean, it is one thing when you have - I mean, this drought has been catastrophic to the agriculture in Texas and these small towns all over Texas, and there's - the state is essentially being drained of cattle because we're selling them off because we can't feed them, and we can't water them.
And they're really unsure just how much the cattle business is going to come back in Texas because the cattle industry is an industry that's really run by older gentlemen, by and large, and when these guys sell off their herds, it's probably unlikely they're ever going to get back.
So there's already kind of a depressed feeling, but now to see these fires like this, this is a catastrophe of a whole other sort, and the response, I think, is more depressing. I talked to the - the Texas Forest Service yesterday, and a woman was there at the Bastrop fire, and she was just on the verge of tears, sick to her stomach because they're helpless.
And the plumes of smoke rising so high, it kind of looks like a volcano.
CONAN: Yancy, thanks very much for the call. Wade Goodwyn's going to stay with us. If you've been affected by the season's fires, give us a call. If you've been fighting them, call us, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The ongoing drought in Texas is that state's worst since the 1950s. Strong winds helped to fuel dozens of wildfires across the state; so many moving so fast that firefighters cannot keep up. And Texas is not alone, as people in Oklahoma and Arizona and California will tell us.
If you've been affected by wildfires this season, if you've been fighting them, call and tell us your story. Email is email@example.com. The phone number is 800-989-8255. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn is with us from Dallas, and let's go to Carlos and Carlos calling us from Midland, Texas.
CARLOS: Yes, hello.
CONAN: Hi, Carlos, you're on the air.
CARLOS: Oh, yes, I was just going to say the story I had over there in Midland, Texas.
CONAN: Yes, go ahead.
CARLOS: Well, there was a fire about two months ago, and it was pretty far out in the pasture. We could see it on top of the roof. And, well, we didn't think it too close. So we got off the roof, and the next thing you know, my daughter runs inside, there's a fire back in the barn, and I go out there, and the whole thing is in flames.
I had four horses that passed away two months ago, burned to death.
CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, Carlos. But it just moved a lot faster than you thought possible?
CARLOS: Yes, sir. We all went inside, you know, just hanged out. We didn't think it was going to move to our barn. But it started heading west there, and the next thing you know, it was in the back of the house.
CONAN: And is anything improved there? Is it just as dry now as it was then?
CARLOS: No, everything's improved. Everything dried out. It's just a catastrophe that left everything behind. Lots of families out there homeless, lots of animals, lots of whole lots of (unintelligible) happened.
CONAN: Well, I'm sorry again, Carlos, appreciate the phone call, and we wish you the best of luck.
CARLOS: Yes, sir.
CONAN: Okay, Wade Goodwyn, fires moving a lot faster than anybody expects.
GOODWYN: The fires have been burning all across the state, and it doesn't matter which compass direction you choose. North Texas has been burning, south Texas has been burning, northeast Texas has been burning. Central Texas is on fire right now. I mean, there's 60 - I think there's 60 fires right now. Twenty of them are considered major, which means that they're more than 100 acres burning right at the present time.
So you can see the dilemma that firefighters are having. I mean, there's simply not enough firefighters and equipment to go around, and they have to pick which fire they're going to fight. Other fires are going to have to burn out.
CONAN: As David Brown told us, the forecast both in the short and long term does not look promising. Clearly people today are, as you say, doing triage on which fires to fight. But is anybody looking down the road to saying what are we going to do the rest of this year, what are we going to do next year?
GOODWYN: Well, it's - you know, it's like the question about the National Guard. I mean, if it was a situation where we were trying to control people's behavior, you know, we would have a fighting chance. But we're trying to control Mother Nature's behavior, and we really don't have a fighting chance, not under these conditions.
People are being evacuated. They're trying to fight the fires where the people are not the best they can. You go to these places, and people, you know, sit around the 7-Elevens or the coffee shops waiting for information about their homes. You know, maybe a firefighter who they got to know before they left their homes will call them and say, you know, I'm sorry to report that your home has burned up. And more often than not, that's the kind of news people are getting these days, which is that, yeah, I'm fine, but my house is gone.
And for a lot of these volunteer firefighters, they live in this area, and they can be subject to the same catastrophic losses, and you get the kind of - you get a situation where you have a firefighter who's out there fighting these fires, knowing that their home is gone, and they're going to find a place for their family.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from David in Boulder, Colorado: Today's the first anniversary of the Left Hand Canyon wildfire in the foothills west of Boulder, which burnt 6,000 acres and destroyed 169 houses. A big part of the problem with these massive wildfires is people building houses in fire-prone areas and expecting taxpayer-supported fire protection.
This aspect of wildfire doesn't get a lot of media coverage. Is this issue being discussed in Texas?
GOODWYN: Well, I don't think so. I mean, it doesn't seem like the - I mean, we've just had so much fire, you'd be hard-put to find a place where not to build a home. And these are places that have not been traditionally on fire, like this Bastrop fire. This is east Texas. I mean, this is supposed to be a wetter part of the state.
But, I mean, the sheer numbers of acres burned so far, 3.6 million acres in Texas this year, gives you some sense of just how widespread the devastation is. So, I mean, Austin is being threatened, Lake Travis is being threatened. The lake areas are being threatened. I don't know - you know, I really don't know how we would begin to think about, you know, where not to build homes because it's - these fires are starting right in the middle of urban areas of Texas, as well as rural areas.
CONAN: Here's an email from Wendy in Florida: I just heard you mention about spotting fires. I'm a commercial pilot. It is sad to see homes nearby with a birds-eye view, several miles above. It's plain to see how dangerous and fast-moving the fires are. Have you spoken with anybody who's been looking at these from the air, Wade?
GOODWYN: I have talked to pilots who are, you know, professional aerial spotters, who go out - they're pretty highly trained - to operate in these areas where there's a lot of aerial traffic, helicopters dumping water, fixed planes dumping chemicals; not to mention news helicopters who are up there shooting video.
And one of the things you hear is the shock at how fast these - and hot these fires can burn. In the hill country, the juniper and cedar and mesquite, they can - they have kind of an oil in the tree that can - when it burns will smell like turpentine, and it makes these fires extremely hot.
CONAN: That's the oil that, well, prevents them from getting buggy, which is why people like them in their houses.
GOODWYN: Right, so, you know, this is - these are - this is a very dangerous situation for firefighters, and it's part of what is impeding fighting these fires is they're trying to not get anybody killed, and so we're having to keep ground crews not as engaged as they might have been, I think up until today.
I think today, the firefighters across the state are engaged because the wind has died down for now.
CONAN: Let's get Andrea(ph) on the line, Andrea with us from St. Louis.
ANDREA: Yes, I talked to my son yesterday, and the fire was two miles away from his property. But it went south. But there's a big controversy over water in Texas now. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, and a landowner doesn't have any downstream protection anymore of their property, and they're doing that fracting in oil, and it's really depleting water from a lot of the ground that people would be using to take care of their animals.
CONAN: Andrea, where is your son's property?
ANDREA: Just east of Austin.
CONAN: Just east of Austin. So Wade, that's on the front line.
GOODWYN: Yeah, I mean, she's talking about the national gas industry here...
CONAN: And fracking, not fracting, but yeah.
GOODWYN: That's right. And that takes a lot of water. They pump water deep into the earth and pressurize it, very high pressures, and it, you know, it splits the shale and releases the natural gas. And it uses a lot of water and hasn't been that big of an issue until this last year, and now it's a very big issue because we have two competing needs.
We need water, and we need energy because it has been so hot that we have been straining the grid with our need for air conditioning. So it's kind of an interesting story. Which takes precedence? Our need for water, or our need for power?
CONAN: Andrea, have you heard from your son? Is he OK?
CONAN: Glad to hear it. Thank you very much, Andrea.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Riley, and Riley's calling from San Antonio.
RILEY: Hi, good afternoon. I was calling because I saw - yesterday on my way home from errands, I saw a fire burning about a half-mile, quarter-mile from my house. I'm not originally from the San Antonio area, and it was pretty horrifying. But what I'm wonder if there's been any discussion about clearing brush like they do in California to prevent the fires. I know we only have limited resources to fight the fires, but where we're seeing them, are we creating any sort of perimeter?
And also, as crazy as it may seem, any way to get water from the flooded areas across the country? I know it seems kind of crazy to get water from Mississippi except that we need it so bad.
CONAN: I'm sure the people in Vermont would love to get rid of it, but I'm not sure a pipeline from Montpelier to San Antonio is going to quite work. But Wade Goodwyn, the question of prevention, as she says a lot of places in the country, they try to go in and clear out the brush, to remove fuel before there's a fire.
GOODWYN: Yeah, I guess we're learning. You know, if you had a house that you didn't have the juniper and mesquite and oak that was near your house, you stood a much better chance of having your home survive. If you really wanted to be in the shade, then there was a very good chance your house burned down. It's really quite a conundrum.
And the Mississippi River pipeline has been a pipe dream in Texas for decades. Nothing has ever come of it, but we've long dreamed of a water pipeline from the Mississippi River coming to Texas.
CONAN: Riley, thanks very much for the call. We hope your home stays safe.
RILEY: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Marion(ph) in Newport News in Virginia. Our big fire around here was the dismal swamp fire in North Carolina, which was over 6,000 acres at its height and choking everybody depending on which way the wind blew. I thought Hurricane Irene would knock it out, but it was reported there are still spots of fire. I was able to smell it again today. At its height, that fire was, well, detectable by the nose all the way as far north as Baltimore. But, Wade Goodwyn, 6,000 acres, I guess, that's big in a swamp in Virginia. Right now, I think people would settle for that in Texas.
GOODWYN: And tell her not to worry. We're sending another tropical storm her way. This should put out the remnants. Yeah. I mean, this Bastrop fire is 30,000 acres, 31,000, 32,000 as of last night in just two days. So it's a monster, and it's out of control. It is zero percent contained. And, yeah, we're really in quite a bit of hurt here.
CONAN: Let's go next to Todd(ph). Todd is with us from Boise.
TODD: Yeah. Hi, Neal. Hi, Wade. I'm a federal firefighter. I've been doing this job for about 16 years now. And I just want to make the comment that as the budget climate in the U.S. has been having tough time federally, we've also seen a degradation of the wild land firefighters for - especially on the federal side for initial attack throughout the nation. I know that Texas, a lot of the land there is not federal land. It's state, county and local. But we do assist in those fires also. We tend to travel all around the U.S. fighting fires, and I just have noticed the decrease in the amount of resources we have lately.
CONAN: And what kind of effect does that have, Todd?
TODD: Well, it really affects the initial tactic to get out there and get on these fires quickly when they first start. When we have fewer firefighters, like Wade was saying earlier, they just have to prioritize and say, well, we have X amount of people available, so we're going to attack these fires first, and we'll let these other ones burn. After the 2000 fire season, we saw a huge increase in funding from the Congress because of the amount of wildfires we had. But over the last few years as we haven't had quite the intensity of fire season that we had in 2000, we've seen that funding erode away significantly.
CONAN: And have you been busy this summer?
TODD: I have been. I spent a lot of time in fundraiser Colorado, some time in Nevada and currently here in Idaho. So it's been a fairly busy season but not the type of seasons that we have seen early in the decade, in the early 2000s.
CONAN: All right. Well, thanks very much, Todd. We hope you're relaxed and at ease for the rest of the fire season. I suspect that may not be the case but good luck to you. Thank you very much for the call. We're talking about the wildfires in Texas in particular but throughout much of the Southwest. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go to Laura(ph). Laura with us from Stanley in Idaho.
LAURA: Hi there, Neal. How are you doing?
CONAN: I'm very well. Thank you.
LAURA: I'm actually calling from my fire lookout station, which is 10,000 feet elevation in the middle of the wilderness. And currently right now, we have four wildfires that are burning without any personnel on them. And that's because it's wilderness, and we actually just don't have the resources to staff every single fire for safety reasons. And I kind of just wanted to comment on something that - the way the Congress is going and government funding and stuff. I just wanted to reiterate that it is incredibly important to have government jobs in this area in particular to have wild land firefighters that are available for fires here in Idaho but also to help all over the country.
CONAN: And are you in that fire lookout station by yourself?
LAURA: I am in the fire lookout station by myself right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: And how long a shift do you have? Is it weeks or days?
LAURA: It's weeks, definitely. This is my third year as a fire lookout. And we do have days off, but because of such the dry August that we've had, I've been working on my days off. And I've only gone down about three times since beginning of July.
CONAN: And could I ask - are you listening on the radio, or are you pulling in the signal from somewhere else?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LAURA: I'm listening on a crank radio that I have to crank every morning...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LAURA: ...but I'm pretty addicted to NPR up here. It's like my only news source.
CONAN: Well, thank you, Laura. We appreciate the effort and crank away. Keep cranking.
LAURA: Yeah. And thank you for your show and thanks for bringing attention to wild land firefighting because it is an incredible asset to our country. And the men and women in that fight work extremely hard.
CONAN: Thanks again, Laura.
LAURA: Have a good day.
CONAN: And, Wade, as Todd mentioned earlier, much of the land in Texas is not federal land. It's private or state land. But certainly, I think federal firefighters would be welcomed at this point.
GOODWYN: Well, you know, our secret worry is, you know, that this is the beginning of something horrible, that this is the beginning of something that will last for years, that will do permanent damage to Texas agriculture and livestock, that, you know, we've had this before. There was a seven-year drought in the '50s that was just devastating, and we're all hoping this is not the first year of a seven-year drought. Really, we need rain this fall. If we don't have significant amounts of rain this fall, the cattle industry and the agriculture industry here are going to be in for a very hard time.
And it's funny how this all gets caught up in politics. I've been doing drought stories or fire stories. In the comment section, it will become a partisan war between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, even though the story has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with drought and fire. It's kind of indicative of how polarized the country is and how anxious the country is that stories about drought and fire can become so politicized.
CONAN: Let's see if we get one more caller in. Let's try to squeeze in Andrew(ph). Andrew on the line from Austin.
ANDREW: Yes, I am. So I'm calling with a question. I quit my job this week, and I'm curious if I can help.
CONAN: Wade, are they looking for help?
GOODWYN: Yes. They're looking for help. I mean, if you want to help, I would just advise driving to Bastrop, asking for where the major firefighting center is. And I think you'll be directed there, and they will put you to work. I have no doubt about that. They're calling for anyone to help. It doesn't mean that you're going to be suddenly parachuted onto the frontlines of fighting this fire, but they need people to help on all sorts of fronts.
CONAN: Andrew, where you are, can you see the smoke?
ANDREW: Oh, yeah, most definitely.
CONAN: And how bad is it?
ANDREW: It's bad and getting worse.
CONAN: All right. And what job did you quit?
ANDREW: We were building homes, actually. I imagine they will be busy as soon as there's time to come in and start again.
CONAN: Good luck. If you go out to the fire, be careful, OK?
ANDREW: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Andrew. And, Wade Goodwyn, thank you so much for your time today.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
CONAN: NPR correspondent Wade Goodwyn, our national correspondent, with us from Dallas, Texas. Coming up, an argument that we need a 21st century version of home ec. So what did you learn in home economics? 800-989-8255. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.