This Week In The Barbershop

In this installment of our weekly Barbershop segment, host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com Arsalan Iftikhar; New York Times Op-Ed columnist Ross Douthat; and Kevin Blackistone, sports columnist for AOL. They discuss President Obama's reaction to BP and the Gulf oil spill, the surprise break-up of former Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper and the Celtics and Lakers showdown in the NBA finals.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

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

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 the chairs for a shapeup this week are�freelance writer Jimi Izrael, Kevin Blackistone, national columnist for the Internet sports blog AOL Fan House, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar and�New York Times Op-Ed columnist Ross Douthat. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (National Columnist, AOL Fan House): Great. What's happening?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ross, what's up, man? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. ROSS DOUTHAT (Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times): Good to be here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Man, KB.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.

Mr. IZRAEL: We're doing it, right?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Oh yeah, you're doing it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's jump right in. Michel, you know what? It's good to have you back.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Amen. Amen.

MARTIN: Well, thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: We behaved while you were gone.

MARTIN: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mostly. I did.

MARTIN: You forget there's a record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, all right. Well, check this out. This week the Obama administration said it has launched civil and criminal investigations in the Gulf of Mexico spill, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, you know, as we talked about a little earlier in the program, the president is back in the Gulf region today talking about, I guess, what? To assess the progress or lack thereof. You know one of the things that I've been interested in, Jimi, is that the president is being told repeatedly by people on the left and the right that he's not getting angry enough.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And I just want to explore this a little bit. There's a little bit more - he was actually asked about this on "Larry King" last night, the CNN interviewer.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: He was asked why he's not showing more anger regarding the Gulf spill and this is what he said.

President BARACK OBAMA: I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people, but that's not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem. And ultimately this isn't about me and how angry I am, ultimately this is about the people down in the Gulf who are being impacted and what am I doing to make sure that they're able to salvage their way of life. And that's going to be the main focus that I've got in the weeks and months ahead.

MARTIN: You know, crediting, Jimi, that this is not the most important thing about all this.

Mr. IZRAEL: At all.

MARTIN: But I just really am dying to know what you think about that.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what I think? I think we elected Sidney Poitier, not Richard Roundtree, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: He knows we elected this man because he's cool, calm and collected. You know, and Mr. Tibbs notwithstanding, you know, I mean, he doesn't, you know, Obama doesn't emote like that. You know, I mean, he just does his job. And sometimes that's what you want in a president. You want a president that can do his job.

Now, Ross, my man.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Now, I'm not going to attack Obama here. I think there's a fantasy in American politics that the president is a kind of Superman.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. DOUTHAT: And that a crisis hits and the most important thing is what's the president doing about it? What's the president doing about it? And, you know, if there's a specific policy course that Obama should be taking, if we should, you know, if we should be doing this or that in the Gulf that we aren't doing, then it's reasonable to criticize him.

But, yeah, no, I want a president who's calm and collected, too. And I think what Obama said made a lot of sense. I mean, what's he going to do? He's going to go on national TV and start screaming at BP?

Mr. IZRAEL: So, wait, you don't think he's been too even tempered?

Mr. DOUTHAT: No. I mean, not in general and in this case. I think one of the, yeah. I mean, no, I don't.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. A-train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I think, you know, now that we've heard a recent announcement that Eric Holder and the Justice Department are going to investigate potential criminal charges against all three of the companies - BP, TransOcean and Halliburton - for violations of, one, the Clean Water Act, two, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and, three, the Refuse Act, which were the same charges that were brought against the Exxon Valdez, who ended up paying $125 million in a criminal fine - the largest ever for an environmental crime. I think, you know, that'll be interesting from the punitive aspect of it.

Now, obviously, that is completely separate from the fact that, you know, they're sending down, like, robots with diamond saws, you know, trying to figure out what can actually...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOUTHAT: The diamond saws (unintelligible).

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I know. It sounds like a bad James Bond movie. But, yeah, you know, I think that, you know, the legal recourse, you know, against companies like that, you know, especially in wake of the Exxon Valdez criminal prosecution is going to be really interesting to watch.

MARTIN: That's angry enough for you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, but...

MARTIN: But here's, but let me...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: And that is anger.

MARTIN: But what about - but, you know, the fact is Democrats, liberals, a lot of people, not just Democrats and liberals, but a lot of people criticized President Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Because they felt he wasn't emotionally engaged enough. And I understand there was a significant of loss of life - no, a couple of thousand people died and it was a tremendous human suffering and a real affront to human dignity that went on there.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: But a lot of people said you don't care. In fact, Kanye famously said President Bush doesn't care about black people, because he didn't feel he was emotionally engaged enough.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

MARTIN: So, Arsalan, is it fair then to turn around and say well, if we can criticize George Bush for not caring enough about Katrina, is it reasonable to say we want to see a little bit more care, intensity, passion?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think the one major difference is the fact that in Hurricane Katrina, 3,000 human beings died. And, you know, Bush had his heck-of-a-job-Brownie moment, which, you know, President Obama hasn't had a, you know, a bone-headed moment like that yet. Like I said, at the end of the day, this is dealing with a private company who specializes in drilling. You know, the federal government doesn't know anything about diamond saws or how they, you know, cap these sorts of, you know, top kills and things like that. And so I think that that's something to keep in mind, as well.

MARTIN: Kevin, do you want to weigh in on this?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah. I mean, I think that that is the anger that he showed. I mean that's the response that we've always seen from President Obama. I think to do anything else would be out of character. And I think he has responded by doing that. He's responded by implementing the moratorium.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: The only other thing I'd like to hear him say is that he was wrong to sign the legislation to expand offshore drilling in the first place.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Amen. Amen.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: And that would be showing some more anger.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know, what KB? Help me out here. I don't think we're going to allow him an angry black man moment. Let's just say it out loud. Let's just come out with it. You know, I mean?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Why not?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: He wouldn't respond to it?

Mr. IZRAEL: No. That's what I'm saying. The public is not going to let Obama emote. Not that - I mean, because the minute he shows a little bit, just a tinge of anger like, uh-oh. What have we got ourselves into? He's going to go from Sidney Poitier to Richard Roundtree, and it's not going to be a good look. Ross, you had something to say.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, do you think that's happened yet? I mean...

Mr. IZRAEL: Not yet. He can't afford it. He can't afford it.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Do you think he's always in that box?

MARTIN: Well, what about, you know, what about when he showed anger - I think he showed anger about the arrest of Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., which obviously, now there was that, and he got all this pushback. It's like, oh, how dare you, and you're weighing in on this, and who told you to get in it and all this other thing. So I was curious - and obviously, he was a black man getting angry about what happened to another black man in a way that seemed very black to people. But I'm curious...

Mr. DOUTHAT: Sure. But that was also - I mean, I think the problem there was that - and, I mean there is a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't quality. Right?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.

Mr. DOUTHAT: But you do something like that, and it looks - the Gates thing looked un-presidential. It's un-presidential for the president of the United States to be criticizing a police officer in a civil matter, in a, you know, what was ultimately a pretty small case.

Mr. IZRAEL: That just happened to involve his buddy.

Mr. DOUTHAT: That just - right. That just happened to involve his buddy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOUTHAT: It didn't look good. But look here's - but let's - I mean, we were talking about the, you know, the BP prosecution issue, right? I mean, I think this could be an example, though, of why anger in this case can be dangerous, right? Like I think it's an open question whether it's a good idea to open criminal prosecutions at this point while the well isn't capped yet.

You know, by all means, let's prosecute BP if they've done something seriously wrong. But I wonder, if you're trying to get BP to do absolutely the best job at the moment, I think it's an open question whether, you know, saying all right. Well, watch out guys. We're going to - we want you to cap this well, but we're also going to prosecute you. So start shredding those documents. You know, I mean, I think there's an open question there whether anger is always the (unintelligible) politics.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, I think that's part of the reason they did it now...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, KB.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: ...because you don't want to lose any of the important documents or lose the ability to go in and investigate what's going on right now. And I think if you wait, I think you will allow some of that to, pardon the pun, drift away at sea.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: But Ross makes an important point, though. You know, we criticized previous administration officials for seeming - and it - officials in this administration for seeming to flag guilty verdicts before trials have even been held. I mean, John Ashcroft was criticized for saying that someone like -remember John Walker Lindh, that young man who was found with the Taliban in Afghanistan. And basically, he was - it was believed that he had convicted him before he'd even gone to trial, before any process had been adjudicated. So I kind of take your point, Ross, that, you know, all this anger it may be good theater and good politics, but is that really fair to all parties involved? It's an interesting point. Anyway.

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't want a president that, you know, is pulling up his skirt every time something happens. You know, that's just going to make me nervous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, that's going to make me nervous. I want...

MARTIN: That whole thought makes me nervous. That whole image makes me nervous.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, that's for the Hillary. Hillary for president.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Unless that's a president that normally wears a skirt, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean...

Mr. DOUTHAT: A Scottish president, maybe.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Exactly. Right. Right.

MARTIN: A sarong, maybe. How about pull up his sarong?

Mr. IZRAEL: Jimi Izrael for president, right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: But isn't this - but if Obama is about...

MARTIN: Good beach wrap.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: ...breaking stereotypes, isn't it okay to break the stereotype of the black man to show that you can be angry, but not be irrational?

Mr. IZRAEL: Not for Barack Obama it's not.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Why not?

Mr. IZRAEL: Because he's the president of the United States.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But did you ever think that he just doesn't roll like that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: He's not an angry human being. Like I said...

Mr. IZRAEL: No. No. No, B. No, B.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Listen, you know, not everybody's you...

MARTIN: Well, he's interesting. But doesn't he have the space to just be who he is?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Exactly. Maybe he just doesn't roll like that.

Mr. DOUTHAT: And does anybody think - I mean, did Bush gain a lot from being angry? I mean, he gained something right after 9/11, obviously, people liked it when he...

Mr. IZRAEL: He gained a reputation - right.

Mr. DOUTHAT: ...went he went on the mound of rubble and had the bullhorns on. But later in the presidency, when things weren't going well, you know, when he came out and said bring it on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. It worked against him.

Mr. DOUTHAT: It worked against him.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. He gained a reputation as a cowboy.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly Barbershop segment with our cowboys, Jimi Izrael, Kevin Blackistone, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ross Douthat.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. Now, in other news, sadly, vice president and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and his wife Tipper calling it quits after 40 years. That's a good run, but, oy, say it isn't so. Michel?

MARTIN: I know, I'm sad about this. I'm sad about this.

Mr. IZRAEL: I am, too. Wow.

MARTIN: I just I know it's none of my business. I know, like, I'm not in their marriage, but I'm sad about this. Am I just being a girl about it? I don't...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm sad, too.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I'm sad, too. I ain't going to lie at you. You know, join the choir.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, it's the Clinton thing, right? It's that all through the Clinton presidency it was, you know, Bill and Hillary have this terrible political marriage where, you know, Bill's hound-dogging around and Hillary's putting up with it. And there are the Gores, you know, with this sort of stable, fun, sort of suburban kind of marriage and the healthy kids and all the rest of it. And now Bill and Hillary are still married.

Mr. IZRAEL: We think - well, yeah, they are still married.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, no. I think that's a good question, right?

Mr. IZRAEL: But wait a second. You know, I was having this conversation. I was wondering why the Gores don't - didn't do like a Clinton-style separation where we kind of suspected they might be separated behind the scenes, but everything up front looks hunky-dory. And, you know, I wonder why, you know, the Gores didn't do something like that. Now, A-Train, wait a second. You're a newlywed here.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, and I think that's what made it the most disheartening for me. You know, obviously, you know, we live in a town where, and we live in a country now, obviously, where divorce in many cases has become the norm rather than the exception.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And so, you know, here we had Al and Tipper Gore who sort of personified a successful political marriage.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, obviously the political irony, like Ross pointed out, of the fact that Hillary and Bill Clinton are still married. And now after 40 years of marriage...

Mr. IZRAEL: More or less.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ... Al and Tipper are not. And, you know, actually, you know, they said that there was no infidelity involved. Obviously if there was an affair involved then, you know, that would be understandable. And so for me it's like, you know, youve already lasted 40 years with someone.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You have grandchildren with them. If you can at least be civil and get along with them as a human being, unless there is some sort of creeping going on that I dont know about or that we dont know about, you know...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean so they're going to come out and say oh yeah, there was an affair.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You never know.

MARTIN: Or maybe they just dont want to live a lie.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Right.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Right.

MARTIN: I mean the fact is they're not in politics anymore. They dont want live a lie and they want to be - to use a terribly overused word - authentic human beings and just tell the truth. And I mean this is supposed to be the way to do it, right?

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel?

MARTIN: If you dont want to be together you should handle your business...

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...and then go on to the next phase of your life without bringing third parties into it. But it's just interesting to me the way people like that, who really have no bearing on our day-to-day lives still bring feelings.

I should mention, this is actually my 10th anniversary so I'm kind of...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Congratulations.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Happy anniversary, man.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. All right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey Billy, happy anniversary.

MARTIN: Thank you all. I wasnt fishing for but I...

Mr. IZRAEL: Drinks on me, Billy.

MARTIN: Thank you. Well, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: I dont want my business in it. I'm just saying its just kind of...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you just put it in, sister.

MARTIN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Well, switching gears now, we're going to go to sports and the umpire who wishes he could switch his horribly, horribly blown call. Now on Wednesday night, all umpire Jim Joyce had to do was get the call right. He needed to call safe instead of out on a call that was obvious to nearly everyone, everyone, but him.

MARTIN: You know, did you guys want to hear what he had to say about this? Would you like to hear it?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, absolutely.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Definitely.

MARTIN: Well, here's, he talked to reporters right after the game. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

Mr. JIM JOYCE (Umpire, Major League Baseball): No I did not get the call correct. I kicked the (BLEEP) out of it. I had a great angle on it. I had a great positioning on it. I just missed the damn call. I missed it, I missed it from here to the wall. I thought he beat the play. This is a history call and I kicked the (BLEEP) out of it, and there's nobody that feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job and I kicked the (BLEEP) out of that and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his ass off all night.

MARTIN: Apologize for that last sentence, folks, but there you go.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Now you know what? This seems like a classy move, you know, profanity not, you know, withstanding, by the umpire. And last night, he and Galarraga met at home plate to show that they are really, you know, no hard feelings. But still, should Major Baseball overrule the umpire and award the pitcher the perfect game? KB?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: No. Absolutely not.

Mr. IZRAEL: You that sports dude, right?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah. I'm the sports dude and absolutely not. It's...

MARTIN: Why not?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: It's because...

Mr. DOUTHAT: The game is the game.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Yeah. The game is the game. What happened, happened. And, you know, the human element is very much a part of sports. What this dude did was commit a mistake that everybody saw, that he admitted, that the pitcher, Galarraga, accepted in terms of his apology and everyone has moved on. Unfortunately, you can't go back and redo mistakes in sports. In fact, I would argued...

MARTIN: Why have replays at all?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: They dont and that's the whole debate now. Right.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Well, that's the trick. Just two years ago Major League Baseball implemented partial replay for certain plays. One of the plays that is not included in replay is the so-called bang bang play at first base or at home plate and this was one of those plays at first base. So now the discussion is well, should you expand instant replay to help out the officials, to help out the referees and include these sort of plays? Maybe you should, but you should not change this particular play.

MARTIN: Do you all agree with that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No.

MARTIN: Well, go ahead, Arsalan.

Mr. DOUTHAT: No? You want it overturned? What happens...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hell yes, it should be overturned.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: States the civil rights attorney. He just can't stand it. An injustice, I can't stand it. It must fit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I cannot stand it. You know, Galarraga was hoodwinked. He was bamboozled. He just got screwed, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Led astray.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: A "Bad News Bears" umpire could've gotten that one right. You know, something interesting to note. You know, recently in the NBA Playoffs, NBA Commissioner David Stern...

MARTIN: Can I just point out, this man is all about the green right here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He's wearing green head to toe and we are trying to be really nice and not point out how the Celtics got skunked last night. We're trying to be really nice about it.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: They still got win four games.

MARTIN: Okay. Whatever. Anyway. Go ahead. I'm sorry. I didnt mean to interrupt and hurt your feelings in pointing out how the Celtics got skunked last night. I didnt want to hurt you. But go ahead.

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

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I just brush it off my shoulders. Anyway, you know, David Stern, the NBA commissioner recently rescinded a technical foul given to Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins...

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Sure.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...that would've automatically suspended him for game six against the Orlando Magic. And so I do think that it's going to revitalize the whole instant replay debate within baseball, but I think that Galarraga got screwed.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, you can reverse something where the impact is future oriented. You know, you can reverse a suspension and so on, but he didnt reverse the outcome of the game where he got a technical foul, right?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, see, and that's the thing. I think by reversing the Galarraga call that would not have resulted in impacting the game. The game score would've been the just the perfect game.

MARTIN: Just the records. Okay. Okay. Well, so we know where Arsalan, the man in the green is coming out on the NBA finals. Ross, you want to - you got a prediction for us?

Mr. DOUTHAT: Oh man. No, I'm better with baseball than basketball. I mean I'm, you know, I'm New England. I'm rooting for the Celtics all the way.

MARTIN: Oh, man.

Mr. DOUTHAT: But, I mean I guess I feel that, you know, you were saying before the show if you could beat LeBron, you know, you can beat Kobe.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. DOUTHAT: So, but well.

MARTIN: Are you allowed to make predictions, Ken?

Mr. DOUTHAT: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: Who do you like?

Mr. BLACKISTONE: I've already made my prediction. I made it in the off season. I said it would be the Lakers and I'm sticking by it, and they're proving me to be a pretty brilliant person.

MARTIN: That's it. That's it. And finally, Jimi, you know, there's some talk about LeBron coming to D.C.

Mr. IZRAEL: Nah. It's talk. It's talk.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm riding with Kobe.

MARTIN: Oh man, be like that.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, it was nice to see you all. Thank you all for coming. Thank you all.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Thanks for the invite.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Thank you.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." You can check out his blog on superhero films on the program page of npr.org. And Arsalan Iftikhar, the founder of muslimguy.com. Kevin Blackistone, a national columnist for the Internet sports blog AOL FanHouse and a panelist on ESPN "Around the Horn." And Ross Douthat, op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and co-author of "Grand New Party."

Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. BLACKISTONE: Thank you.

Mr. DOUTHAT: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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