'Shop Talk': The End To The Terminator?

The Barbershop guys discuss President Obama's speech on the Middle East, Arnold Schwarzenegger's shelved acting career and Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts' announcement that he is gay. Host Michel Martin hears from author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, screenwriter John Ridley and The Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program we visit with two amazing jazz divas who've come together in tribute to another legendary jazz icon, Abbey Lincoln. That is coming up later in the program.

But, first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in their chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar; screenwriter and graphic novelist John Ridley; and sports editor from The Nation magazine, Dave Zirin. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

JOHN RIDLEY: Hey, how are you?

DAVE ZIRIN: It's been a while.

IZRAEL: Sounds like everybody needs a little bit of coffee.

MARTIN: I was going to say - happy to be here, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: A lot of it.

IZRAEL: Wake up. Wake up.

MARTIN: Wake up. Wake up.

IZRAEL: Well, look, let's get started talking about President Obama's speech on the Middle East. It was titled "A Moment of Opportunity." Michel, we got some tape on that, right?

MARTIN: We do, and I'm sorry that we don't have time to play more of it, because it was a very, you know, robust speech and it obviously had a number of elements to it, which I'm sure you want to talk about. Just briefly, obviously calling for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Saying - the headline grabber seemed to be suggesting that - as he has before, it has to be said - putting the borders back to where they were before the 1967 war. But he also left it up to the two countries to work out the details. I'll just play - here's this short clip.

President BARACK OBAMA: No peace can be imposed upon them, not by the United States, not by anybody else. But endless delay won't make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to state, frankly, what everyone knows, a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples.

IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. Now, the speech was titled "A Moment of Opportunity." But some critics say it was an opportunity missed. Many Arabs say the president didn't go far enough. Many Israelis say he went too far, at least in his argument for a Palestinian state. Arsalan, A-train.

IFTIKHAR: Yes sir.

IZRAEL: What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think for anybody's who's, you know, ever studied the Middle East, I think there is a pretty wide consensus that it was neither a great speech, nor, in the words of Charles Barkley, was it terrible. You know, this was a speech that dealt with a lot of things. You had the Arab Spring, you had Egypt, you have Bahrain, you have Syria, you have Tunisia, you have Libya.

You know, you have the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You know, this is - there's not that much depth that you can get into. What I found interesting, of course, was the fact that, you know, right-wingers everywhere, you know, jumped on this whole 1967 borders thing, when anybody who's ever studied the Middle East or is a Middle East expert just kind of shrugged their shoulders and were, like, what kind of reality are you living in because, you know, everything from Hillary Clinton in 2009 to George W. Bush in 2005 to Camp David in July 2000, all were operating under the assumption that everything was going to be done based on the 1967 borders.

Some of the less - more nuanced things that a lot of people didn't catch that were interesting. First of all, President Obama called for a contiguous Palestinian state, which would then beg the question, you know, how are you going to connect the West Bank and Gaza? No Israeli defense forces in the Jordan valley. First establish the state of Palestine, then talk about the status of Jerusalem and the status of refugees after the fact.

He did, you know, shut down, you know, the idea of Palestine going to the United Nations general assembly in September to call for a general assembly resolution there. So it was something that didn't really make everyone happy. There was a lot of grandiosity and a lot of hype. But there was also a lot of hateration that went on from both sides after the speech.

Unidentified Panelist: Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: Yeah, well, that's true. You know, from my part, you know, I was happy to hear him say something that sounded like a stance. You know what I mean? 'Cause when we think of him, or at least I think of him as a centrist. You know, but whatever note he hit, at least he stepped away from the choir and said something. Although it might not have been completely, you know, original. It was at least a stance of sorts. You know, it was definitive. And I was happy to hear something like that. Maybe it was the wrong note or maybe it wasn't. But at least he took a stance.

ZIRIN: But, Jimi, you still have this gap, though, between how...

IZRAEL: David? Go ahead.

ZIRIN: Yeah. And this isn't just about Obama. This is about every U.S. administration. You still have this gap between how the U.S. sees itself relative to the Middle East and how the Middle East sees the United States. The U.S. always presents itself, presidents always present themselves, Democrats or Republicans, as if they were this honest broker standing above the conflicts of the Middle East dispensing a kind of fatherly advice.

And in the Middle East it's, you're occupying Iraq, you're occupying Afghanistan, you're sending drones into Pakistan, you're supporting Israel, who are you to tell us anything as far as what morally we should do. And I have to read one quote. This is from The Washington Post from someone on the Arab street. And the column was called "Skepticism and Yawns in the Middle East." This is what just a regular kid said in the Middle East.

(Reading) Most people have realized that what the U.S. does or does not do is no longer important because people took matters into their own hands and decided their own future.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ZIRIN: (Reading) So, why should people care what he says? America is no longer an issue.

That's the real change.

IZRAEL: J.R., Hollywood, check in here, man.

RIDLEY: I think one of the issues, it tends to be a Western issue is we're treating a group of different people, different regions, different religions, different viewpoints as if it was one monolithic bloc. And we still look at it as we can go into the Middle East and do X, Y, and Z. And I think the problem with - the disappointment, I think, with the president's speech and disappointment with foreign policy in the Mideast is, you know, we can go in and do a thing and everything will change.

We can go in and invade Iraq and then there's going to be peace in the Middle East and there's going to be, you know, essentially nation building and this and that. It's not true, obviously. And to try to figure out one thing to do, why are we doing this in Libya and not doing this in Syria and why are we not talking about the Saudis when we're putting pressure on Egypt?

Foreign policy, and it's simplistic to say, but, you know, it is fine tuning every step of the way. So people expect any president to come in, one big plan, one big agenda and everything's going to be solved in the Middle East. And it's not. It was a good speech in some ways. It fell short in many ways, but no different than any other president trying to deal with the Middle East. And in some ways we got to get used to the fact that we alone are not going to solve the Middle East problem.

ZIRIN: Well, and that's a man who wrote "Three Kings," people. One of the great movies ever...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Indeed.

ZIRIN: About the Middle East. Seriously.

RIDLEY: What did it solve other than putting my kids in private school? "Three Kings," honestly?

ZIRIN: It gave Cube some options. It accomplished a lot of things, come on.

RIDLEY: Mark Wahlberg a career.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, exactly.

IZRAEL: And there we go.

IFTIKHAR: And piggybacking, really quickly, off something that both Dave and John hit upon is the fact that, you know, you look at Egypt, you look at a lot - Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, all of these, you know, autocratic or dictatorial regimes were somehow at least in one way or another tacitly supported by America over the decades.

And so, you know, the youth of the Arab and Muslim world for once, you know, realized that it was - their destiny was going to be in their hands alone. And so I think that's why you saw a lot of sort of boring resignation on the part of many people on the street.

MARTIN: All right, Debbie and Dan downers here. Just very briefly before we move on, peace in our lifetime in the region? And, John, I think you make an important point, you know, these are countries, not, you know, not one country and so forth. All, you know, different dynamics. But I'll just ask you, do you think, you know, peace in our lifetime. Do you think it's possible? Do you think we'll see it?

RIDLEY: I don't think so, only because - in terms of Israel and the Palestinians, I think the Palestinians, unfortunately, are being used like chess pieces. And there are many people in the - you know, they've been kicked around in Jordan and all the other places. I think it serves no purpose for other people, unfortunately, for there to be peace in the Middle East.

MARTIN: Dave, what do you think?

ZIRIN: I think we'll see "Undercover Brother 2" before we see peace in the Middle East.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

Unidentified Panelist: Ouch. Ouch.

ZIRIN: And that's one of my all-time favorite movies.

RIDLEY: I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a slam.

MARTIN: I wasn't either. Arsalan? Arsalan? Briefly.

IFTIKHAR: At least he didn't say "Pootie Tang 2."

MARTIN: Oh, goodness.

ZIRIN: I love that too.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, we will. We will see an independent state of Palestine. We will see a neighboring state of Israel, West Bank/Gaza 1967 borders, I do believe it will happen.

MARTIN: OK, Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Most definitely in our lifetime.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. That's a good way to...

RIDLEY: How long are you planning to live?

ZIRIN: I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, snap. If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, screenwriter John Ridley and sports editor Dave Zirin. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right, from the Middle East to the west side. Big news out of the former governator's office in California. With this week, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted fathering a child over a decade ago with a longtime family housekeeper. And the kid was born five days before Maria's child. Oh, snap. So Maria's out of there. Looks like she's going to be the one talking about...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TERMINATOR")

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Hasta la vista, baby.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. (Singing) She's looking for a new love, fellas, a new love. Word to Jody Watley. So, check this out. Here is my question. Here's my question. Does this news change the public's view of him, both as a politician and as an actor? As if, right? If his political career is over, does it make him a hotter commodity as an audience draw on the big screen, or is he washed up? J.R.?

RIDLEY: I, you know, I think that, honestly, I think John Edwards has set the bar so low that no other politician could ever slither under it, quite frankly. I don't know that, you know, people talk about, does this tarnish his legacy? Out here in California, you know, there have been articles, does this tarnish his legacy? He doesn't have much of a legacy in terms of politics.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

RIDLEY: And in terms of acting, you know, you've always got Mel Gibson, you've always got Russell Crowe, you know, to make you look better. I think it's up to the audience, do they care that this guy did this when they're paying to see "Terminator 5" or 6 and things like that. And ultimately it's going to be to an audience. And the fact that he's - yesterday announced that he's taking time off from his film career is, I think, publicly that first step to acknowledging that he needs to make himself look better, not saying he's going to be a better person.

But he's going through a step - hey, I'm taking time off because I really care about my family even though I got a love child - to try to make a public relations amends. We'll see.

MARTIN: John, can I just ask you this? You know, here, we're in Washington, D.C. and, obviously, as you mentioned, this whole John Edwards thing...

RIDLEY: Where this kind of thing never happens.

MARTIN: Well, no, no, because of the whole, because I think people tend to view it through the prism of him as a public figure, as a political figure, OK.

RIDLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: I'm just wondering there - what are people saying about this? And obviously because the Shrivers have a lot of friends.

RIDLEY: In terms of being a political figure or...

MARTIN: Well, no, because here, on this coast, I mean, I think a lot of it, you know, a number of the Shrivers are here.

RIDLEY: Right.

MARTIN: So people think of it in terms of that piece. I'm just wondering, out there, is it - do people think that this is really none of our business? I mean, is this a big...

RIDLEY: No, there's a pretty high yuck factor. There's a pretty high yuck factor. And to me the odd thing is not - you know, I think the yuck factor is because it was the housekeeper, because it was so internalized, because apparently this woman continued to work or be around the rest of the family, because it was kept such a big secret, because it was someone that the wife knew. There's that yuck factor.

It wasn't just this Lothario actor who went out and had a mistress. That kind of thing, fortunately - unfortunately tends to happen a lot. But it was just so internalized and people, you know, the issues, or the rumors about groping and Maria had stepped up - before he was elected, he was accused of groping several women. And Maria went out and said publicly, I know him and he's not that kind of guy.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

RIDLEY: And I think that's the kind of thing where your wife really gives you another chance publicly and then not just to let her down a little bit, to let her down completely, to humiliate someone that - and I had a chance to meet Maria Shriver, so nice, so lovely.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

RIDLEY: To really humiliate her like this, that's where it becomes just beyond a typical humiliation. It's yuck.

MARTIN: Let me just say two words: Strom Thurmond.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Who had a child with a, you know, 16-year-old housekeeper and this was, like, supposed to be back in the day. And - give me a break.

RIDLEY: But Strom Thurmond - she was black and he was a racist segregationist.

MARTIN: Yeah.

RIDLEY: So that was even beyond - that was something else.

ZIRIN: I mean, that had never happened before in the South.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZIRIN: The other thing...

MARTIN: Or the North.

ZIRIN: In the ultimate 21st century smackdown, you might have seen that their son, Patrick Schwarzenegger, has changed his Twitter name to Patrick Shriver. That's 21st century virtual patricide. We all feel that.

IFTIKHAR: Boy, and you know what? You know, Charles Blow, The New York Times editor had a great tweet. He said, do me a favor, if you cheat on me, don't have your concubine folding my underwear for 10 years after that. You know, we also forget that in 2004, you know, a Republican activist wanted to actually make a constitutional amendment to, you know, allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to be able to run for president.

And obviously he's not qualified to be president, but he is qualified to be prime minister of Italy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Bunga, bunga.

RIDLEY: The Founding Fathers were right. Don't ever change the Constitution in that regard, because that's what's going to happen.

MARTIN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm trying to absorb that.

ZIRIN: This is NPR.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly. I don't know. I just feel like for this woman here, I just, I want to know what's on her mind. And I hope you don't have to wait for the - I mean, on the one hand it's none of our business. She's got a child to raise and I'm thinking about this boy and all this and what his life is going to be. And, you know, and just all that piece and figuring out that the person who you thought was your father was not your father. And it's just a lot of things.

On the other hand it kind of does bother me this woman has now become the concubine or the mistress or whatever. And, you know, what's her story? And where does she get to have a voice in this?

RIDLEY: I promise you, Gloria Allred will be on her lawn within the next 24 hours.

MARTIN: Good point.

ZIRIN: Who wants to bet Michel won't have long to wait?

RIDLEY: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Well, one more thing I wanted to ask you guys about before we let you go, Rick Welts, president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns recently announced that he is gay, so did former Villanova star Will Sheridan and ESPN radio's Jared Max. So I just, you know, and of course CNN's Don Lemon. What is it? Is it like a moment, a cultural moment? What do we think? It's just interesting to me that it's just all of a sudden it's like...

ZIRIN: It's spring, I don't know.

RIDLEY: It's another Arab Spring. That's all it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ZIRIN: I'll tell you. Most NBA fans...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Dave.

ZIRIN: Yeah, wouldn't know Rick Welts if he walked into a room with a sign around his neck that said I'm Rick Welts. But what it does is it starts a conversation that sports does not like to have. Because Rick Welts did this, we have Charles Barkley coming forward and saying, I know I had gay teammates. And what it - it really does impose a discussion that's long overdue in the homophobic hamlet that is the locker room.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and, you know, springboarding off that, you know, not only did Sir Charles Barkley say that, he also said, I'd rather have a gay guy who can play basketball than a straight guy who can't play basketball. And what we've recently seen, you know, now with the Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls Eastern Conference Finals on TNT, there's a public service announcement with Grant Hill of the Phoenix Suns and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns basically saying how it's not OK to say, you know, things are gay as being stupid.

And I think we are, you know, getting to a point where this conversation is, you know, getting into arenas like sports and like network television with Don Lemon, you know, I've been on CNN with him. He's a Facebook friend. You know, I think he's coming, you know, Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts on MSNBC were the only other two out and proud network anchors on television.

MARTIN: I guess I'm surprised that it's still such a big deal that it is a story.

RIDLEY: But you know, the interesting thing -

MARTIN: John?

RIDLEY: And it's hard to pick a tipping point or whether there should have been one long ago, but, you know, Kobe, out on the floor, using a very public, harsh, homophobic slur and then suddenly people, you know, hey, I need to come out, I need to do something. I can't let this thing go on. 'Cause it affects me and it affects other people as well.

MARTIN: Yeah, how about that. Jimi, before we let you go?

IZRAEL: I'm glad Don is out living his life free and in a public way. Go, dude.

MARTIN: All right.

IZRAEL: Get yours.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation and author of "Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love." He was with us from our studios in New York. John Ridley is a screenwriter, graphic novelist and MORNING EDITION commentator. He was with us from NPR West. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and managing editor of The Crescent Post. And Arsalan was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Gentlemen, thank you all so much. Happy Friday.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

ZIRIN: Happy Friday is right.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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