Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

The men of the "Barbershop" weigh in on avoiding the call to serve in Iraq, NASA's love triangle and the recent dustup on ABC's The View.

Copyright © 2007 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.

It's time for our weekly visit with the guys at the Barbershop. Sitting in the chairs for their shapeup this week are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael; Lester Spence, who's an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University; attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette.

Let's see. I hear that they want to talk about fair trials for ex-Klansmen, a college student who lied to avoid being sent to Iraq, and remember that love triangle at NASA? And of course they have something to say about Kobe. I may jump in, but for now, take it away. Jimi?

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Blogger): Hey, fellas, what's up? Welcome to the shop.

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, what's happening, man?

Unidentified Man #2: What's up.

Unidentified Man #3: Hey.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, let's jump right in and let's talk about ex-clansman James Ford Seale going on trial for the 43-year old murder of two young black men in Mississippi. Now, some say this is justice deferred, but you know what? I don't know if justice deferred is still justice and others still say it's politically motivated. A-Train, you're the JD in the house. Bust it.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (CAIR National Regional Director): Man, it's justice deferred. I mean, it doesn't matter whether it happens 43 minutes or 43 years after the murder happens, but you know, the family of these victims deserve the justice that they've been long awaiting.

Mr. IZRAEL: What good does it do, Ruben? I mean, you know, it's 43 years after the fact?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Right. It does a lot of good because, you know, you're setting the records straight here. There's no statute of limitations on murder. If anything, it sort of tells people in this generation, gives them a little a slice of our history, let's them know what was going on back then. You know, but I've also picked up on this other case. It's wild. This is almost sort of the photonegative, but there's just a case out of San Francisco where the defendant in that case was an African-American.

It's actually two African-American gentlemen; one 57, one in his 60s now, right, Richard Brown and Richard O'Neill, and they're charged of killing a cop back in the '70s. And so it's sort of the reverse there. A lot of folks in the black community in San Francisco saying, well, you know, why you busting on these two guys, and from my perspective, you got to play the game by one set of rules. I don't care whether the defendant is black, white or purple.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: If they did a murder or allegedly committed a murder, you know, 30 years ago, they got to pay for it today.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, Ruben, that's cool. But you know, Lester, what always stress me out is these cases always seem to come up in a really politically charged atmosphere. And I don't know if that's an accident.

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Political Science, Johns Hopkins University): I think for me, what it really is, is you got a country that basically for well over 200 years was a terrorist state like…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: …250 years was explicitly terrorist. And this is one of the cases in which a case of - in which an instance of internal terrorism was dealt with. And I just - the politics don't - I don't care about the politics as long as homeboy gets what he has deserves, if you feel me.

Mr. IZRAEL: And A-Train, yo, what does he get - what does he deserve? What's going to come out of this?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, if you look, I mean, the guy is an old guy. He's on his last legs anyway.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, he's like 150.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely, I mean, so I mean - he's like 71.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's what I said.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I get you. And no offense to our octogenarian listeners out there but, you know…

Mr. IZRAEL: Sorry grandma.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: …you got to call a spade spade. You know, murder is murder and there's a reason that there's no statute of limitations on murder because, you know, it is the most heinous crime that can be committed. And it's just wrong and, you know, they deserve it.

MARTIN: Jimi, can I ask a question? Can I ask the…

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: …the attorney here a question? Do you think you can get a fair trial after 43 years?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think so. I think, you know, obviously if you look at - as oppose to being front-page headlines, you know, when there's 43 years that have passed since your crime, you know, you're probably not going to need a lot of people who remember all the, you know, positive or negative media coverage of it.

Prof. SPENCE: I think, and I think actually it's more likely he'll get a fair trial.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: Because if you remember, black people weren't able to serve on juries.

Prof. SPENCE: That's a good point.

MARTIN: And that's it. I'm out. Carry on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, well, you know, thanks for stopping in, Michel. And you know, for me this is the kind of thing that cries out for creative sentencing as opposed to like cheap-seat melodrama. But that's just my opinion.

But speaking of politics, now let's talk about something that's kind of slipping below the radar lightweight. Now, you got these two young brothers at Morgan State, and they asked a friend to shoot them in the leg so they didn't have to go to Iraq. Now, wait a sec here.

Prof. SPENCE: Oh, man.

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester, your cue. Why haven't we heard about this? What's up with that?

Prof. SPENCE: Well, I don't know why - well, I heard about it because they tried to blame my fraternity brothers on it first.

Mr. IZRAEL: What fraternity was it?

Prof. SPENCE: Omega Psi Phi, the Pi chapter of Omega Psi Phi. That's the fraternity I've been in since 1989. I knew it was shaky because the thing is, is even in your worst-case scenario, where you got a legal hazing going on, there's no type of legal hazing that somebody tries to escape from getting shot in the leg.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, has it come to the point where, you know, young men feel like they got to do like Nancy Kerrigan, the Tonya Harding technique, you know, to avoid, you know, going overseas. Has it come to this?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's crazy. I mean this is like the ultimate social vocal commentary. This is a message to the White House. You know, our folks are desperate. Get out of Iraq. Obviously what these young men are, they are intelligent. You know, they know how to tell a good lie and spin a good tale. They need to be using their powers for good, you know? If we could send them to Iraq, that might be helpful in the war effort.

Mr. SPENCE: Yo, A-Train, bust it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I just think that it obviously, you know, it highlights the absurdity of the Iraq war when knuckleheads go shootings themselves in the back of the leg…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, that's him.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: …so they get themselves out of the war.

Mr. SPENCE: Wait. We can't - I don't know if I want to call them knuckleheads.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, they did it on - I'm sorry. If they did it on purpose - I mean, if I shot myself in the back of the leg or I told one of my homeboys to shoot me in the back of the leg, I would want all you to call me a knucklehead (unintelligible).

Mr. NAVARRETTE: If it comes down to going to Iraq and you shoot me in the back of the leg, A-Train, I'll hold still, you know. And, you know, but make sure your aim is true, bro.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: (Unintelligible) it shows the true friendship.

Mr. IZRAEL: For me, I can understand not wanting to go, but this move is pretty desperate. But speaking of desperate, can we move on to talk about the male astronaut who had a woman driving cross-country in a diaper? Oh, man. You know, he's being reassigned a desk job, according to a lot of reports. Commander Bill Oefelein went from mach and lightweight commanding a desk for the Navy.

Now wait a second. What was the best-case scenario, Lester? I mean, you know, you got to get your play and your paycheck in two different places. That's what my grandma used to say. Actually, she still says the quiet is (unintelligible), you know.

Mr. SPENCE: You know, he violated all types of rules. You know, when I grew up, I used to want to be an astronaut. And this is the other side of it. So these guys are really, really, really focused and part of them is really, really crazy if you really think about what they do. And this is homegirl just taking that level of craziness to another degree.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train, it just sounded like love to me. I mean, I don't know - I mean, I've had women come across town (unintelligible)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Exactly. What kind of loving do you have to be given to make a grown woman who was rocket scientist drive nine hours…

Mr. IZRAEL: With a diaper on.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: With a diaper.

Mr. IZRAEL: With a diaper on, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I can't match that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, you can't - really I…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I can't - I can't imagine that. That's pretty furious. I've gotten a birthday card before. I mean, you know, I don't have cross-country diaper trips going on.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You say you've got a birthday card before.

Mr. SPENCE: I mean…

Mr. IZRAEL: What were his options ever?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It's just gives such a bad name to the astronauts. I think NASA just had to sort of take one for the team and shift the guy. I mean it was just - it gave the whole program a bad name.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think this is the best-case scenario. He still got a job. He still gets a paycheck.

Mr. SPENCE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, what do you say?

Mr. SPENCE: Yeah. I don't think he'll miss NASA or NASA will miss him, or the rest of us will miss his story.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. You're right about that, man. Well, moving on, let's talk about…

MARTIN: Can I just say, Jimi will miss it. He's obsessed with this astronaut in the whole - I don't know why.

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible)

MARTIN: That's all I want to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I just wonder what the recipe is. I mean I can't get a woman to pick me up in the airport, much less come cross-country in a diaper.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I don't want - in the diaper.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, moving on, let's talk sports. And, Lester, your boy Kobe is flip-flopping like John Kerry. What's wrong with your boy? You know, one minute he's talking about get me out of L.A. I can't stand it here. The next minute he's talking about, well, I guess I'll hang out a while. They will figure it out. What's going on with Kobe?

LESTER: Hey, man, Kobe's my man. But the things is, if he wanted - when Shaq left, he wanted the challenge of taking a team on his own, just like Michael Jordan. Well, Michael Jordan had Pippen, but you know what I'm saying. And this is the other side of that. You know, the other side of that is going through three straight years without a playoff victory. This the other side. He needs to just - I mean, if he's going to make moves, he needs to be more discreet in the moves he wants to make, because as it stands he looks like a chump.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Ruben, what does this say about his maturity as a man and as a player to get kind of this thing out on sports radio?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, unfortunately, it doesn't say much about his maturity level or his regard for his team or anybody but Kobe, because this was a flip-flop that occurred just in the course of a few hours. He gave one radio interview in the morning where he said I want to be traded. And just a few hours later on a different radio show, after he had spoken to the coach…

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, to Phil Jackson, he said, well, I changed my mind. I'm going to stay and retire a Laker. The main takeaway for me, and what I've been hearing from sports writers in the last 24 hours or so, is this is more evidence of just this incredible ego. And it's okay to be good at what you do, but you also have to respect the dynamics of the team. Someone like a Jordan transcends just his own ability and he brings people together. And Kobe didn't bring anybody together. Jordan was smacking people around in practice.

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible) know he was smacking people around in practice.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You cannot build team around a guy like this.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, and I completely agree with…

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train. Bust it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: To me Kobe Bryant is the NBA version of Paris Hilton. Honestly, if you look at it, after the whole Colorado debacle he should have learned not to air his dirty laundry in public. Seven-year $136 million contract, which is more than the GDP of the Marshall Islands.

Prof. SPENCE: That's not right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, you're going to be a prima donna and you're not even be…

Prof. SPENCE: Wait a second. No, no, no, because he took at least one for the team. Do when everybody was blaming him for Shaq leaving, he kept it quiet for, like, how many years - until yesterday that it was Buss who wanted Shaq gone. It was Buss.

Mr. IZRAEL: Buss who? Are you talking about Busta bust, Busta Rhymes, Buss who?

Prof. SPENCE: I'm sorry. Jerry Buss, the owner of the Lakers. He told him that under no circumstances would Shaq be coming back. Kobe's got talent. Kobe is the best individual player in the team, I mean in the league.

Mr. IZRAEL: Either way you go it sounds like a troubled marriage, you know. What's the solution? You get the last word on this, A-train?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, he's going to be traded. I mean, he's already talked about going to my hometown Chicago Bulls.

Mr. IZRAEL: Uh-oh.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I don't even know if they can handle him there.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean he can't be traded anytime soon. He's got four years left.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. But he can opt out of - he has a trade-out clause in his contract, but they'd have to buy out like an $89 million contract, you know, so the Marshall Islands will have to wait for a while.

Mr. IZRAEL: Speaking of people on the outs, let's talk about the cat fighting on "The View." Now, I don't know about the rest of you, I'm at work when "The View" is on. But from what I hear, Rosie O' Donnell got into it with Elisabeth Hasselbeck about politics. Now, Ruben, you know, why do people even care what these ladies have to say?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I know, I'm in there. I care about it; it's weird. I can't, you know, it's like a car wreck - I can't look away. And the reason I was interesting in it is because people started saying that this is unscripted television.

They began to say that virtually everything else on television, even these rally shows, seems sometimes so scripted. But this was just spontaneous. Two people, the camera running, they don't like each other and it just all comes out. And people couldn't get enough of it, people couldn't look away.

So I think sort of in a weird way it's sort of a commentary on where our television is right now and what we're hungry for, and that's sort of a spontaneity and honesty. We don't get it from our politicians, we don't get it from our media and we got it from these two. They just don't like each other and they let it have it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester - do you care, Lester?

Prof. SPENCE: No. On one level I don't, in that I would much prefer to have somebody with some expertise to talk about politics to somebody with no expertise. Like I wouldn't want a janitor telling me what I need to do, you know, if I got a heart problem, right?

But at the same time, I'll actually wish that there were more arguments like this, because everybody's got politics, right? So we kind of privatize politics and say, well, I don't want to talk about that. Let's leave that to decide, you know. We don't want to air that type of stuff.

We actually need more of that than less. I just wish that there was a way to keep that type of tension on the show, you know what I mean, and just manage it in a different way. But we are in need of those type of arguments.

Mr. IZRAEL: So you're kind of advocating for, like, roller derby punditry?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'm not advocating smacking people around. But close to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, A-train, I mean, jump in here, man. I mean, you don't see that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. I mean, well, the thing is you've got to have substance to it. I mean, you know, Elisabeth Hasselbeck was brought in as the pretty blonde conservative Republican and Rosie O' Donnell's always been sort of the, you know, abrasive loudmouth liberal, and it came to a head.

I mean, you know, it was a shouting match. If you actually looked at the transcript of all that was said there was really little of substance that was said. It's just feeding off the sensationalistic nature of our society and where, you know, if it bleeds, it leads. Or Bill O'Reilly is the highest rated cable news show on TV because he starts yelling at people.

Mr. IZRAEL: And actually why Kobe makes the front news…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's right. Here we go…

Mr. IZRAEL: …instead of San Antonio going into the championship.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know, that's going to be the last word, gentlemen. I want to thank everybody for coming to the shop. You know, Ruben, you know, it's good to have you back.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester, my man.

Prof. SPENCE: You know how we do.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train, you know, we're going to have your back, bro.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Anytime, dawg. Anytime.

Mr. IZRAEL: And, you know, I'm just going talking about with to the one woman I never have really any arguments with, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: That's right, because you know who's rocking the mike. All right, Jimi. Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael joined us from the Public Radio Partnership studios in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes for the opinion page of the Lexington Herald leader. Ruben Navarrette joined us from KPBS in San Diego. He writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com.

Arsalan Iftikhar is the national legal director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He joined us from our studios here in Washington. Hey Arsalan, thanks for sitting in. And Dr. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from his office in Baltimore.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thanks for having me.

Prof. SPENCE: Thanks for having me.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup yup.

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