Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

The men inside the "barbershop" talk about Vice President Cheney, Ralph Nader, video games and dangerous amusement park rides.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

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

B: We'll here from you, our listeners, in our backtalk conversation. But first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys get a chance to wax about the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael, Professor Lester Spence from Johns Hopkins University, and writer Michael David Cobb Bowen. Now we just heard from our Barbershop regular, Ruben Navarrette, about the presidential debate last night, so he's already had his shape up.

I hear the guys want to talk about Vice President Dick Cheney's recent subpoena, another possible presidential bid by Ralph Nader, videogames - what is the deal of men in videogames? Also, was the mayor of Memphis the victim of an alleged setup with a stripper? I may jump in from time to time, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN: Doing good, good, good.

LESTER SPENCE: Chilling. Chilling.

IZRAEL: Okay, well, I'm feeling that. Let's hit the ground, speaking on Vice President Cheney, who clearly is the gulliest cat on the hill. I mean, the Information Security Oversight Office asked him for records so, of course, he makes a move to whack the Oversight Unit altogether. Now Lester, he's something like that D.C. Corleone, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SPENCE: The word gangsta doesn't even begin to describe what Cheney's doing, man. And the funny thing is, well, funny depending on how you look at it, is just...

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: ...people just let him get away with it. Just let him get away with it. He says, in effect, that his office is like outside of government.

IZRAEL: Right, above the law.

SPENCE: They're straight up ATL. ATL.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SPENCE: I'm just - I have to come up with a gansta rap name for Cheney. I'm going to do it by the end of this show.

IZRAEL: Cobbski, what's wrong with your boy, Cheney? He's above the law now. What? Is he hanging with Snoop and Dre and all them? What's up with that?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: You know, I will continue this metaphor, because, you know, this problem began four years ago. This is an old issue. The National Archives is cruising down the ave in their six-four and they're hollering at Cheney. How about those papers? How about those papers? And Cheney says...

IZRAEL: Right.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: ...later for you. And then, you know, the National Archive says, like that, huh? And Cheney says, yeah, what? So the National Archives come back every time next year, and every year it's the same thing - lots of talk, but no real legal action.

This year, Congressman Waxman is riding shotgun, but he's just a scrub sitting in the passenger side of his best friend's ride trying to holler at Cheney. And this probably one of Cheney's boys, you can't even come here. And it makes headlines, but what does Waxman got? I mean, no probable cause, no grand jury, no subpoena. This is - it's a drive-by. It's a witch-hunt.

IZRAEL: Well, Cobbski, I hear you, bro, but Lester, from where I'm sitting, you know, if there's nothing there, then how come he just doesn't come off the papers? I mean, what's really going on?

SPENCE: The current administration, what they're really about is this model of the imperial presidency, where they really what to keep everything on lock. Where, like, the president creates the law, and he's above the law and everybody else just follows. And this is - it's all along the same type of groove.

IZRAEL: I mean, for me, this is just bad P.R. from the curb. I mean, because you can't be sitting up in the White House - I mean, you just can't be impervious and impugn to everything. I mean, people are calling for the Bush impeachment. You know, and here's Cheney, you know, he's licking to dirt off of his shoulder, like, hey, look man, you can't touch me. And something has to give. It's just a bad message for the electorate. Now Cobbski, as the Republican in the house, what do you say?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Well, you know, if there are high crimes and misdemeanors, then get your equivalent Ken Starr. I mean, it's all about your day in court. What can you prove? What do you really going to do about it? I mean, it's a nice thing to get out there in the press and make a lot of noise...

IZRAEL: Right.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: ...but what's the legal case?

SPENCE: I don't usually...

IZRAEL: Lester.

SPENCE: ...agree with Mike - I don't usually agree with Mike on much about nothing except for pop culture, but he's right here. It's like what are you going to do? What? You know, I'm not going to do anything if all you're going to is have press conferences, if all you're going to do is write editorials in the paper or have marches outside the lawn. If you've got the juice, pull the trigger.

IZRAEL: Wow, well, you know what? For me, check this out. Cheney's actions are just consistent with the overall dictatorial ethos of the administration. I mean, the Bush camp operates with impunity that knows no shame, and that's...

SPENCE: That's that, I guess.

IZRAEL: You know...

SPENCE: That's right.

IZRAEL: So let's talk about doctors at the American Medical Association's annual meeting concluding that videogames are not addictive, and a whole nation of Carpal-tunneled and nearsighted kids just cheered. Now wait a second. Cobb, I know you're a gamer, right?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: I'm a serious gamer.

IZRAEL: Do you think that videogames are addictive? Do we agree with that?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: You know, it really depends on who gets there first. Like there's major league gaming, and they're really signing up videogame athletes, and they're broadcasting stuff, and they have the big shows in Vegas. And, you know, I'm a big "Halo" fan, so when I see these guys and what they can do in those games, this is like pro sports for me.

So if those guys get the money first, then nobody's going to say it's addictive. They're going to say it's a productive career, it could be something really good. Or you could get, you know, the psychiatrist in there, and they'll figure out how to make some money on it. And then they we'll be saying that while, you know, yeah. It's an addictive personality and...

IZRAEL: Wow.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: ...maybe there's a new drug that we can give your kids to keep them off the videogames.

IZRAEL: That's an interesting twist. Lester, what do you think about virtual B- ball versus, you know, real B-ball? What do you think about that?

SPENCE: Mike, what's the longest time you have ever played "Halo 2" like in one sitting?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: I'm probably sure that I've done four, four hours straight.

SPENCE: I remember playing "Final Fantasy 3" from 8 p.m. to like 6 a.m. straight without even knowing that time had passed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Wow.

SPENCE: This is like, back - I mean, and that's what we're talking about, you know. So he's right about the politics of psychiatry and the politics of gaming. But I don't know, what else do you call a situation where somebody is willing to play a game like "Stargate" for, like, 15 hours straight? And it's (unintelligible) money to play it.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Yeah, "Stargate" - I could see the "Stargate" but it's - that's not a complex and involving game. But these other games are really complex and evolving. And you're actually talking to people online.

MARTIN: Hey, guys, let me bust in for just a minute. We're in the Barbershop with opinion writer and blogger, Jimi Izrael, Professor Lester Spence from Johns Hopkins University, and writer Michael David Cobb Bowen.

IZRAEL: Okay, fellows. It seems like everybody here is a kind of a gamer, so this might be the wrong crowd to ask.

SPENCE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: But most, all of us here are parents, too. Don't you have any concerns about the effects of videogames on our kids? Lester, you bust it.

SPENCE: Yeah, because, you know, I got five kids. I actually, I have...

IZRAEL: Whew. Wow.

SPENCE: ...an argument with my wife every now and then about this, because she's like, ah, you - the kids? They shouldn't be - we have to do something about these videogames. And I was like, okay, what? Just put them in front of the TV and have them vegetate?

So on the other side, videogames give them a chance to improve their hand-eye coordination, talk to other people, and then really engage with the TV in a way that we didn't, or that our parents didn't. So to that degree, I'm all for it. But it still is an addiction.

IZRAEL: Cobb?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: It's, you know, it's a virtual world that you go out. And I have three kids, and all of them play, you know, a little different kinds of games. Boy, he obviously likes the more military and destructions and loud boom sounds.

But the girls, you know, they play "The Simms," and it's like three-dimensional Barbie in real time where they're walking around...

IZRAEL: Right, right, right.

SPENCE: Yeah.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: And it's the same of socialization thing. So they're still doing boy things and girl things. They're just using a different medium. But, yeah, I do limit it, and they got to do their homework first and, you know, if I tell him, Dad's time to game, they got to get off.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I (unintelligible).

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Well, well...

MARTIN: Hey, guys, but I saw something in, and since we, you guys are talking about your kids. Do you know the Supreme Court just ruled on that school desegregation case or school integration case involving about Seattle and the Lexington school systems, and they ruled five to four that the schools cannot consider race as a factor...

IZRAEL: Oh, my God.

MARTIN: ...in, you know, assigning tips to schools. And, you know, Jimi and I talked about pays like a couple of months ago.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And I just, I don't know. What do you think? You think this matters? Is it important?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: I think it matters. I think, you know, as loathed as I am to admit it, Ward Connolly is winning. And Ward has seen the devil in some, which I will confess, Republican activism, because he doesn't really come from the same generation of civil rights as some of his peers. But I think we are going to lose the ability to imbue race with as much meaning and subtlety as we did before. We are mixing more.

And black is a less loaded term today than it was 15, 20, 30 years ago. And so, in one way, it's all right because it doesn't mean as much. Race doesn't mean as much. It doesn't signify as much. But you still have to, you know, pay attention to the safety net and make sure everybody's being served by the public institutions.

IZRAEL: Lester, you bust it.

SPENCE: See, I'm actually here in Houston at a health disparity's conference. And race predicts length of life. Race predicts likelihood of getting sick earlier, of dying from diseases like AIDs. This ruling flies in the face of almost 40 to 50 years of racial progress.

And for those of you who think that politics doesn't matter, this ruling - if no other ruling - should cause you to reconsider that. Because if we had another set of political leaders in office, these guys Alito and Roberts wouldn't be where they are now, and Brown versus Board basically wouldn't have been reversed like it has been today.

MARTIN: Wow. Okay. I'll back out. Just wondering. Thanks.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Well, you know, I - let me take one small exception to that...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Cobb.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: ...because, you know, there are black folks that come from New England who don't eat all that salty food. And so when you talk about risk correlated to healthcare, you actually have to talk about the cultural diet. Now, if your mama only knows how to cook pork, (unintelligible)...

IZRAEL: Hey, hey, leave moms out of it, bro.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: I didn't mean to bring moms into it. But there's diet and there's culture, and that maps onto race. In terms of heart disease (unintelligible).

SPENCE: No, no. No it doesn't.

IZRAEL: Okay, okay. Well, hold on. Hold the boat, hold the boat. That's certainly a discussion for another day. Certainly, we thought bringing people's moms into it. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You better through a flag, but let us take a hard right and go to the home of the blues now. Now your boy, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is alleging that his detractors offered a stripper 150 grand to seduce him into sex and tape the encounter.

Now he's claiming it's part of a conspiracy to undermine his re-election. Some say also - he also (unintelligible) by a stripper, perish the thought, right? Cobb, do you smell a COINTELPRO, or is that just me?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Oh, dang, Herenton must be pretty ugly if it costs 150,000.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Yeah, that's right.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: But, I mean, does it sound farfetched that his detractors approached the stripper and offered her money for her to catch him - what was that D.C. mayor that got caught smoking crack?

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Marion Barry.

IZRAEL: Yeah, Marion Barry's...

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Marion Barry. Well, that's his (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: I don't protest anything - you know, he's been in there for a long time in Memphis, and I'm sure people are just really tired of him and they're thinking of anything they can do to get him - and, you know, he's gaming that same game back. So there's some dirty pool, I'm sure. And I really wouldn't put it past him. I wouldn't let it pass local politics.

IZRAEL: This is so far - this is so far beyond dirty pool, man. It's a hard sell to me. Lester, what do you think?

SPENCE: I mean, local politics are no joke. I mean, people are doing all kinds of cut through stuff.

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's right.

SPENCE: So I remember when Harold Ford, Jr. ran for his father's seat. And his father put the word out, because there are a lot of black officials who want to run for that spot. He put the word out, if you run and take my boy's spot, you're dead.

IZRAEL: Well, what type is...

SPENCE: I mean, that - well, he didn't obviously to mean it literally, but he...

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: ...listen, our political career'll be over. I mean, local politics is cutthroat. I wouldn't put it past.

IZRAEL: Okay, fellas, well, here's the take-home point, men. Chris Rock and Joe (unintelligible) said it best. Yo...

SPENCE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: ...there's nothing popping off in the champagne room. Take that loving home, brothers...

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Yes. That's the bottom line.

IZRAEL: ...where the loving is free. Right.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Do the right thing.

IZRAEL: It's - anyway, on that note, we're going to wrap it up. Yo, it's just the three of us. I want to thank, you know, Lester, my man, for stopping in the shop.

SPENCE: Thanks for having me, kid. You know how I do.

IZRAEL: Cobbsky, that dude.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Hey, keeping it right.

IZRAEL: Yo, and I'm just the man, Jimi Izrael. I got to kick it over to that girl, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi.

Jimi Izrael joined us from the studios of Barton Voice & Sound in Lexington, Kentucky. He writes for the opinion page of the Lexington Herald Leader. Michael David Cobb Bowen joined us from Fort Worth, Texas. He's a blogger and founder of the Conservative Brotherhood. And Dr. Lester Spence joined us from KUHF in Houston, Texas. He's an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. We were missing Ruben this week, he'll be back next week.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Gentlemen, thanks for stopping into the shop today.

DAVID COBB BOWEN: Hey, glad to be here.

SPENCE: Oh, thank you.

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