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Shop Talk: Ethnicity Driving 'Linsanity'?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael. He joins us from Cleveland. Here in D.C. with me, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre is in New York City. And from National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Mario Loyola.

Take it away, Jimi.

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

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

PABLO TORRE: Hey, man, what's up?

MARIO LOYOLA: Hola. (Spanish Language Spoken) Chimichanga.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, obviously, let's get things started. We got tequila parties, tacos for dinner and now chimichanga's politicians. You know, they should probably avoid food lingo when they talk about Latino voters, Michel.

MARTIN: How about everybody? OK? Because if somebody wants to pull some chitlins out, we're going to fight. I'm sorry.

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's true.

MARTIN: All right. So - all right. We'll just tell you what we're talking about here to catch up. This started with an article in the Washington Post. Columnist Dana Milbank wrote about the appointment of Adalberto Jose Jordan to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Milbank - now, who's a columnist - I just want to point out. Not a straight up news reporter. A columnist. He's kind of known for having a snarky edge. That's his thing. Senator John McCain of Arizona took the floor trying to delay a vote and he talked about his home state, including - he talked about his home state, saying, quote, "the lettuce in your salad this month almost certainly came from Arizona. It's also believed that the chimichanga has its origins in Arizona." He was kind of having a little mini filibuster there. OK?

So Dana Milbank ended the article by writing, quote, "the chimichanga - it may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos, unquote." So then, President Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, sent this Twitter message. Line of the day from WaPo's Dana Milbank. The chimichanga may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos. And now, Jimi, pick it up from there.

IZRAEL: Well, Messina's taking some heat from GOP and conservative Hispanic bloggers and groups. Now, they're asking for an apology and for the president to condemn the so-called insensitive comment.

And, you know, here's the thing. Let's just first say that the chutzpah to crack jokes outside your racial group is never good business ever, you know, but the thing here, this particular case, is when you re-tweet something on Twitter, you may be endorsing the sentiments of whatever you're highlighting, so that - and that was - to my mind, Messina's great sin.

You know, so now, we're living in America, ladies and gentlemen, where you not only have to be careful what you say and what you tweet, you have to be careful what you re-tweet.


IZRAEL: Good morning, Mr. Bradbury. All right. So super Mario, Mr. Loyola, now, you're a Latino with a life in politics. What are your thoughts, man?

MARTIN: OK. Can we just clarify here? Mario, I'm not - ask you to speak for all - however many million...

IZRAEL: Right. People (unintelligiblle).

MARTIN: ...people of Latino heritage.

IZRAEL: It's not your turn. It's not your turn.

MARTIN: It's like - OK. But - so...

LOYOLA: Wait a minute. Why not?

MARTIN: OK. Well, because the meeting - because the meeting hasn't happened yet. So, anyway, but...

IZRAEL: Right. Check your email, man.

MARTIN: We want to know what you think because we want to hear what you think.

LOYOLA: We missed the declaration that appointed me spokesman.

MARTIN: Exactly.

LOYOLA: Look, I mean, I don't know. I'm going to go out on a limb here and contradict some of the public statements I just saw quoted by some of my friends in D.C. and Florida, fellow conservative Hispanic bloggers and writers. I don't see what's offensive. First of all, I didn't even understand the sentence, that final sentence in Milbank's column. I mean, why - you know, and I just don't see what's so offensive about this and I've said this before in the Barber Shop to you guys. People have to stop being so touchy. Like, let's celebrate snarkiness(ph).

I mean, why would anybody be offended by this? I don't understand. First of all, I don't even know what a chimichanga is and it's not just because Cubans and Puerto Ricans don't eat them, I don't think that they have them in Texas. I think that it's a Southern California and Arizona thing. Texas is taco land, not burrito land.

MARTIN: Thank you for clearing that up.

LOYOLA: And so I think it's important.

MARTIN: Well, what about the fact that - the piece about this, though, that I find intriguing is, taken in isolation, it's one thing, but he's teeing off of a line that someone else said, so it's not like he just brought this up to say, if you're talking about black people, let's bring chitlins into it or fried chicken or whatever. I mean, he didn't just bring it out of the air. He's actually teeing off a quote, and I wonder whether that makes a difference.

Or is this just an election year and people should just take it in that light? Anybody else?

LOYOLA: Sure. I mean, Senator McCain was making a completely trivial comment when he said that and he was doing it to filibuster as an alternative to what? Reading the dictionary? I mean, he's - you know, he's filibustering. He's wasting time. The whole purpose was to waste time. And then Dana Milbank - what is that? Like second order triviality? I mean - so I just don't see what's so offensive about it. I mean, I can understand - you know, this is something that I've encountered for the first time when I went to University of Wisconsin is this - the tactic of taking offense in order to tyrannize over other people and silence them. That's - American civilization has honed that into a really fine art and I'm against it, generally. I don't like taking - you know, Latinos have thick skins and they shouldn't lose it because they're in the United States. That's what I think.

MARTIN: Arsalan wants to weigh in. Arsalan Iftikhar?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know what's interesting to me, you know, for those of us who are in the chattering class who do use Twitter, you know, you always see those re-tweets, do not equal endorsement thing...

TORRE: Right. Exactly.


IFTIKHAR: And I think this is probably the best example of that.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I do that on my Twitter too.

IFTIKHAR: You know, what's interesting again, you know, Michel's absolutely right. You know, this was a statement that was taken from Senator John McCain. And I think the point that the king of snark, Dana Milbank actually tried to get across is that current Republican policies, whether it's immigration reform or whatever, you know, when it comes to Latinos and other minority demographic groups, you know, that there's not much there. And, you know, I think that we sort of have to, you know, not look at it in the vacuum of that whatever, 140 character tweet, but look at what the actual message was and not look at what seems to be operating in a vacuum.

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: Let me just clarify. Because I know Pablo, you wanted to weigh in on that.

TORRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I just wanted to clarify for people who might be interested. We did actually call Dana Milbank and asked him did he want to - if he wanted to participate in this conversation. He just happened not to be available but said, you know, call him again. So hopefully we'll see him in the Barbershop in the near future.

Pablo, any final thought before we move on?

TORRE: Yeah. I mean listen, if you want to criticize president Obama for, you know, to porting nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants in the last fiscal year - a record - go ahead and do it. I just don't think that this tweet which, you know, when you talk about a furor like this, you're clearly trying to associate President Obama with the word Chimichanga, which he never even said, and to just again, like - as Mario said, it's so many degrees of separation away from what the actual intent of the matter is that, that it's just silly in my opinion.

MARTIN: We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre - that's who was talking just now. Also with us, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar columnist Mario Loyola and freelance journalist, and college professor, Jimi Izrael.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. My mom will be glad you pointed that out.

MARTIN: I just...

IZRAEL: But anyway...

MARTIN: I know because it's such a shock that, you know, we have to remind ourselves that every time. Sorry.


IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: I'm sorry.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what I'm - I'm kind of losing my mind here because, you know, let's talk about Linsanity a minute.

TORRE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Can we do that?

IFTIKHAR: Oh, my god.

MARTIN: Linsanity.

TORRE: Please.

IZRAEL: Linsanity. Oh, my.

TORRE: The finest product of Harvard basketball since Michel Martin.

IZRAEL: Oh, check this out.


MEGA RAN: (Rapping) From undrafted to talk of the league. From afterthought to all over TV. I tell you hard work is the key, but uh, this is what can happen when you dream I'm Jeremy Lin.


IZRAEL: Well, all right. Well, New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has been on fire lately. He's also a fan of rap. This tribute to him by Mega Ran - that famous rapper. But anyhow, just a few but days ago he was sleeping on his brother's couch. Now he's a superstar.

And boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., as, you know, as he's want to do, he's chiming in because he's not feeling it. Earlier this week he said Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Quote, "black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise," end quote.

I don't know what NBA package, you know, Mayweather may have because...


IZRAEL: ...Mayweather Jr. may have, but I mean I tuned into basketball occasionally and I've not seen that black player. You know, Lin is an...

TORRE: Right.

IZRAEL: ...exceptional start - he's having an exceptional start by any measure. That needs to be said. Now personally me, I want to see how he does down the stretch. Mayweather should shut his pie hole and count his money.

MARTIN: Oh, snap.

IZRAEL: Pablo Torre?

TORRE: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: You wrote the Lin cover story for this week's Sports Illustrated. I know, I know you've got stats to tell us. What's so remarkable about Jeremy Lin?

TORRE: Yeah. I mean the thing about Floyd's comment there is that no one has done this in NBA history.

IFTIKHAR: Right. Exactly.

IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

TORRE: No one. I mean the guy whose records he broke in his first five starts you may know them. It's Alan Iverson. It's Shaquille O'Neal. It's Michael Jordan. You know, there's a fourth guy there, Billy Ray Bates, who has an insane story of his own right, who ultimately flamed out. But three of those four guys are NBA immortals. Now we're not saying that Jeremy Lin is going to be in NBA immortal, but I am saying that not many guys would withstand the spotlight of Kobe Bryant in Madison Square Garden, nationally televised last Friday a week ago, and score 38 points. You know, it's just that the spotlight in New York kills people. It melts them and, you know, it makes people not want to come here. That was what Lebron James did, if you recall correctly. He went to South Beach.

IZRAEL: I seem to recall. I seem to recall a Lebron James.

TORRE: Jeremy Lin, involuntarily, you know, it was his only job was in New York. He's took it and he's done stuff that we haven't seen in a players' first seven games in, really, sports history.


MARTIN: Let me read from Pablo's piece because he seems to be too modest, for some reason, to do this.


MARTIN: His 109 total points surpassed Allen Iverson's 101 for the most by any player in his first four starts since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger. Lin became the first to have at least 20 points and seven assists in each of those initial starts - this, after a person who was undrafted and was cut from two prior teams.


MARTIN: Yes. Awesome. I'm sorry, it up for the Crimson. Give it up for the Crimson.

TORRE: Yes. We were - Michel, you were on that bandwagon, though. You know that.

MARTIN: Yes, I am. Early. Early. Early.

IZRAEL: There's no hate in my game. There's no hate.


MARTIN: All right. Arsalan wants to tell us.

IFTIKHAR: Listen...

MARTIN: You just want to confirm my judgment in talking to him two years ago...


MARTIN: ...before all you other haters knew about him.


MARTIN: Sorry. I just thought I'd mention it.

IFTIKHAR: Listen. Listen. The Linderella story that we know as Linsanity has, you know, lindescribably and linexplicably become a linspirational story.



IFTIKHAR: You know, like Michel said, since '76-'77 NBA-ABA merger no player ever – not MJ, not Bird, not Magic has scored 20 points, seven assists in their first five games. He's proven himself to be lindestructible, and most importantly, he will render Tebow-mania linsignificant.



IFTIKHAR: And I'm out.


MARTIN: Yeah. I don't think any of us could do better than that. I don't think. Mario, you want to say anything about this?

LOYOLA: Well, I just think it's interesting because, of course, if he was white no one would be talking. The only reason anybody talks about Aaron Rodgers is that he's Puerto Rican, right? I mean...


LOYOLA: So I can completely understand, you know, some of the controversy surrounding it.

MARTIN: But is that you are so terrible though, that the fact is that some people are all so appreciative of the fact that he's Asian-American? I mean I'm sorry, is that so wrong? Pablo, is that so wrong?

TORRE: Here's my take on it, that is a heart of this story. It's not the only thing, but it's the heart.


TORRE: And that's because we're not, you know, as much as we'd like to think, we're not living in post-racial America. Jeremy Lin certainly wasn't living it in high school when he didn't get any scholarship offers in college, in the NBA when he went undrafted and when he got cut by two teams, went to the D League four times, ended up on his brother's couch, was cut on Christmas Eve by the Rockets, no less. You know, this is - race in sports, especially, is still the prism through which we see things, like in society. And sports is a game of who does he you mind me of. You know, when you have a white player the comparisons are always to another white player. That's the way it is. Black players, the same way. And Jeremy Lin, no one look like him and at least no one good. You know, Yao Ming was 7'6. This is a guy who's a hero to, not only everybody in Asia, but also people in the United States who have never had an Asian-American hero before in sports, and that's what's great about it.

MARTIN: And when is the last time - and, OK, and also an Ivy player. Excuse me. Hello. I'm sorry. Why do I have to keep mentioning that?

TORRE: Let alone the Ivy League angle, yes.

MARTIN: Just thought I'd mention that.

IZRAEL: Right. Represent.

MARTIN: And I just also – can I just say one thing? He's nice. That's the other thing, he's nice.


TORRE: He's insanely nice.

MARTIN: He's humble. And I don't mean that diminishingly. He seems to generally enjoy the game.


MARTIN: And, you know, I'm sorry, what's so wrong? But before we go, Jimi, I think he wanted to talk about Whitney Houston.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. Nearly a...

MARTIN: It's a sad story.

IZRAEL: Yeah. After nearly a week after she died, the music industry is still in shock. We're going to pay tribute to her in song right quick, Michel?

MARTIN: Yeah. Just briefly, if you don't mind.

IZRAEL: Not at all.

MARTIN: Let's just play a little bit from the, one of her most popular performances, if I can call it that, the "Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl.


WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Still gives you chills.


MARTIN: Still gives you chills.

IZRAEL: It really does.

MARTIN: Still gives you chills.

IZRAEL: Now Whitney Houston's funeral is Saturday in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie's ordering flags to be flown at half staff. Not everybody is excited about that, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, what do you think, Jimi? What do you think?

IZRAEL: I think, I think why not? I think Chris Christie might as well do something useful. I mean, so I mean so yeah, this, yeah. I mean why not? It's his call, so it's his to make, I say.


IZRAEL: I mean yeah, that's how I feel about it. Arsalan, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, I...

IZRAEL: What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I mean I think that when Bruce Springsteen dies, you know, New Jersey flags will be at half mast also.

TORRE: Right.

IFTIKHAR: People - some people are saying that, you know, well, because, you know, she had drug problems, you know, they shouldn't honor her like this. Well, you know, Thomas Jefferson had slaves. Nobody says let's not build statues of him.


TORRE: Yeah. And to me - this is Pablo - if you're going to do it for Bruce Springsteen you might as well do it for Whitney Houston.

MARTIN: Bruce Springsteen is very much with us, so I don't want anybody to say...


MARTIN: I just saw him.

TORRE: I didn't want to break the news. Yeah.

MARTIN: I just saw him.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Did...

TORRE: We love The Boss.

IZRAEL: Did The Boss of bite the bullet?

IFTIKHAR: No. No. No. He's still here.

MARTIN: But...

TORRE: But you know they will. I mean the question is whether it's a slippery slope. Do they do this for every celebrity? I mean there's a certain magnitude of celebrity, Bruce is one of them, Whitney was one of them, and certainly I think she deserves it.

IZRAEL: So where does this stop, I guess is the question?

MARTIN: Well...

TORRE: Yeah. Exactly that's a counter-argument I guess.

MARTIN: What does Mario think? Mario, when you think about this? Mario Loyola, I mean, the argument some people are making his first it's the way she died, they find that distasteful. Also they say that this honor should be reserved for folks who served in the military or in high government office or something of that sort. And I'm also interested because, you know, because you worked at the Pentagon and so you have a lot of relationships with folks in the military. I just, do you, what do you think?

LOYOLA: Yeah. And I really fear the military. I mean I remember - and thank you for bringing up the Pentagon. I remember walking around in the halls of the Pentagon and looking as time - as the months went by, I looked at the military guys walking around more and more as if they were like guardian angels almost. But look, I mean, you know, she's - if we were going to fly the flag at half mast, I mean it would be a great honor to do it whenever we have a military casualty. But then the flags would be at half mast everyday.


LOYOLA: And it's difficult conundrum. I think that Chris Christie did a - that was a class act. I think that she's, you know, she's one of the favorite daughters of New Jersey. She means a lot to a lot of people there and, you know, is one of the greatest singers in history, and I think that it was quite appropriate. And I think that it's a matter of judgment, where it stops, we don't fly the flags at half mast everyday but I think it was a good - it was a very appropriate thing in this case.

MARTIN: I just do no want to mention that I think one of the reasons people keep bringing up Bruce Springsteen is that the governor ordered flags lowered last year for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen's...




MARTIN: ...E Street Band, also kind of revered, you know, figure in New Jersey. I don't remember if there was a lot of controversy about that. Pablo, maybe you do, because you live in the New York/New Jersey area. I don't remember anybody being upset about that.

TORRE: I don't. He's the Big Man, right? I mean that's...



TORRE: Like no one's going to do that at that point at least.

MARTIN: And so...

IZRAEL: You know, I heard a rumor that Chris Christie wanted to raise the flag at half staff when the McRib sandwich was discontinued...


IFTIKHAR: I knew you were going to go there.

MARTIN: OK. On that note...

IFTIKHAR: Come on, man.

MARTIN: On that note.

On that note, Jimi Izrael - I'm sorry, Governor Christie. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. And he wrote the cover story on Jeremy Lin. He joined us from our NPR studios in New York.

Mario Loyola is director of the Center for 10th Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. That's a conservative think tank focused on the impact of federal on states. He's also a former speech writer at the Pentagon, as we said and a columnist for the National Review. Hardworking man. He joined us from member station KUT in Austin. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and author of "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims In The Post-Osama Era." And Arsalan was here in with me in Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.


LOYOLA: Hey, thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.