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Should College Dropouts Be Honored By Their Alma Maters?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it's Friday, that means 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 shape-up this week, writer Jimi Izrael, he's with us from Cleveland, joining us from Pittsburgh, Lenny McAllister. He's the host of "Get Right with Lenny McAllister" on KDKA Newsradio. In Boston, Neil Minkoff, a health care consultant and contributor to National Review magazine, and in New York, columnist and blogger Jeff Yang. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, hey, hey, it's Jimi Izrael. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?



IZRAEL: All right, Jeff, it's been a while man.

JEFF YANG: Yeah, yeah.

IZRAEL: Welcome back.

YANG: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Too long, bro. Too long. Well, you know what? Let's get it started. As it happens, Maverick will fly the skies again, danger zone #Archer.


IZRAEL: Yes, Tom Cruise is slated to appear at a sequel to 1986's "Top Gun" for reasons we're not quite sure of. Let's hear a clip from the original. Drop that.


VAL KILMER: (As Iceman) You figured it out yet?

TOM CRUISE: (As Maverick)What's that?

KILMER: (As Iceman) Who's the best pilot?

CRUISE: (As Maverick) No, I think I can figure that one out on my own.

KILMER: (As Iceman) I heard that about you. You like to work alone.



IZRAEL: Well, yeah, we all hope Iceman comes back. And, you know, this made Tom Mapother - that is Tom Cruise, the original Maverick, a household name. So now producer Jerry Bruckheimer said the remake will reflect today's technology, but I also wonder if it'll include the same Reagan-era propaganda that might equals right. I don't know, but it is said to have drones. Dr. Neil?


IZRAEL: Will a 51-year-old Tom Cruise still have his need for speed or just, I don't know, he might have - just have kidney stones. Go ahead.

MINKOFF: Just reading about this makes me laugh. I have this image of, you know, Tom Cruise walking in and saying, Goose, you lost your hair. And Ice, you - I don't know if you fit in the plane anymore? And all this - going back to the well just kind of feels dangerous to me. It's going to be funny to see if the movie becomes something different as Tom Cruise grapples with the idea of drone warfare or maybe they'll just steal a page from "Iron Man 3" and he'll just do everything by remote control this time.

HEADLEE: I don't think Goose will be there unless this is a ghost story, Neil.



IZRAEL: Yikes. All right.

HEADLEE: Just saying.

IZRAEL: Jeff Yang.

YANG: Yeah?

IZRAEL: Would you buy a ticket?

YANG: Oh, man. No. I hated this movie. It was Tom Cruise at his most suffocatingly smug. And it was basically the movie that launched the whole military entertainment complex. I mean, the Pentagon was referring to this film as a two hour long commercial for recruitment and it worked. Like, I think there was a boost of 500 percent in military enlistment after "Top Gun."

IZRAEL: Well, let's - let us give props to "Twelve O'Clock High" with Gregory Peck. You know, this movie actually to me kind of reflected - it was kind of a mixture between that movie and "Animal House." And I think that was the sensibility that kind of drove it into the popular mindset. Lenny?


IZRAEL: Jeff's hating on "Top Gun" a little bit. Were you a fan?

MCALLISTER: I saw the movie. I'm more looking forward to the soundtrack. I think the soundtrack from 30 years ago - the best song was "Take My Breath Away." I'm looking forward to the best song on this soundtrack being, "I Can't Catch My Breath..."


MCALLISTER: ...So we'll see how this turns out.

IZRAEL: There's a two drink minimum, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for that, Mr. McAllister. All right, well, let's keep it moving. Take that, take that, take that because somebody else is moving back to the glory days, kind of - kind of. Rapper Sean Combs also known as P. Diddy, Puff Daddy and whatever it is this week, he'll deliver the commencement speech at Howard University next month, but not everyone is excited. Some critics say the honor should go to a college graduate, as if.

You know - and of course we all know that Puffy Combs, he left Howard after two years. Now, to me, I've always respected the fact that - I mean, sometimes - I don't know - if you're going to college to get a job, then you're going to college for the wrong reason anyway. I mean, to me, from what I've known about Puffy, and I've known him, I've met him a few times. I've known people in his circle - shout out to Combat Jack, Reggie Osse - but yo, I say that he got out when he got out and he got out when the getting was good. And I think he is a role model. I mean, he took what he needed and he went to the world and he changed the world, not unlike other college dropouts, #MarkZuckerburg. Lenny McAllister, what do you think?

MCALLISTER: Number one, I mean, you can talk about Muhammad Ali giving commencement speeches at colleges. You can talk about Bill Gates. And, heck, didn't Mike Tyson win an honorary degree during a commencement way back when...

IZRAEL: Holy mackerel.

HEADLEE: Kermit the Frog has gotten an honorary degree.

MCALLISTER: OK. So if you can do that, why can't Sean Puffy Combs who has impacted the world over the last 20 years be able to have the same type of distinction?

IZRAEL: Take that. Take that. Take that. Neil Minkoff, do you agree?

MINKOFF: Yeah, I think it's a big irony alert. So from my understanding, people who are upset about this are going on their iPhone, brought to market by a college dropout, to access Facebook, brought to market by a college dropout, or access Twitter, brought to market by a college dropout, to complain that they don't want to hear from a college dropout. Does that seem incongruous to anybody else? I mean, there was this article one time about the how the best thing to be wasn't a Harvard alumnus, it was a Harvard dropout. And they went back to William Randolph Hearst and Damon and Affleck and Gates and all these people who have done tremendous things because they realized college wasn't for them.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I like that. Yo, Jeff. Jeff Yang, your take?

YANG: I agree. I think this is like just kind of hypocritical. And there's no question that to some degree you look at these billionaires, these fellow moguls who are white, nobody asks that question, right? So what up?

IZRAEL: What up indeed.

MCALLISTER: To quote a famous college dropout, it's all about the Benjamin's baby.

HEADLEE: You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, columnist Jeff Yang, Republican strategist Lenny McAllister and contributor to National Review, Neil Minkoff. Let's move on, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Yeah, that's right 'cause we invented the remix, Celeste. Thank you. Moving to Missouri - shout out Puffy. A youth football coach managed to avoid prison for 13 years due to a clerical error until the po-po finally came a knocking.

HEADLEE: That is...

IZRAEL: Isn't that right, Celeste?

HEADLEE: That's correct. Cornealious Mike Anderson robbed a Burger King employee more than a decade ago. After his convention, he went home on bond as instructed. He waited to hear when he should report to prison. He never heard, so he just kept living a normal life. He got a job. He got married. He had kids. After 13 years, officials realized their mistake and they jailed him to serve his full sentence. But his lawyer says it's unfair, it's unconstitutional and Anderson was recently interviewed on the public radio show, "This American Life." Here's what he said.


MIKE ANDERSON: I never felt like a fugitive 'cause a fugitive's someone that's running from the law. I never ran from the law. I was there. I registered my business through the state, you know? I - with Social Security number, address, everything. I'm four streets over from the address that they had on file, you know? Built a house over there. So there was never any running or strategy of hey, I don't want to go here 'cause there's going to be authorities. No, I lived a normal life.

IZRAEL: Oh, boy. Thanks for that, Michel. You know what? I'm sorry...

HEADLEE: Celeste.

IZRAEL: Sorry, Celeste. Thinking about you, Michel. Thinking about you.

HEADLEE: That's OK. I'm going to let that one slide.

IZRAEL: (Laughing) Yeah, but I know a lot of people think he shouldn't have to serve his time but I don't - I'm sorry, this is still America when I woke up. You know, yeah, you do - I mean, I think Sammy Davis Jr. put it the best, I mean, you don't do the crime if you can't do the time, yeah. You know, so I mean...

MINKOFF: Oh man.

IZRAEL: ...Hey, bro, I mean, justice deferred is justice, bro. I don't know what to tell you. You know, I mean, just hey, just take that knock and - hey, that's me and I'm sticking to that. Lenny, what do you think?

MCALLISTER: He shouldn't go to jail. I mean, the bottom line is in this specific case, this guy contributed to his society, he improved his community, he did not run and the state made a mistake. Now how many folks have been flipping drugs out there last night, got arrested by the po-po and they released on a bond? If you're going to let those folks go out to go flip drugs this weekend and you're going to go get somebody that's contributing to his society and paying taxes - he's a home owner. What kind of sense does that make? It doesn't. In this case, he should stay free. Maybe probation and then let him expunge his record afterwards. He's done actually the very - he's gone on a very unique path.

HEADLEE: Whew, Lenny's fired up.

IZRAEL: Why do I have a picture of you in my head like holding an American flag as you run through this? I'm sorry. Thank you for that, Lenny. Jeff, your take?

YANG: Oh man, you know, I think setting aside the justice angle of this, I just imagine what his life was like. I mean, it's like a Eudora Welty short story while listening to Johnny Cash, you know? Every morning, he wakes up, kisses his daughter and then - is the - are the police going to come today? I think that he, you know - setting aside justice, he should do community service and he should be telling a story all across America.

MCALLISTER: He is now.

IZRAEL: OK, OK, well, Dr. Neil?

MINKOFF: Well, look, you called me Dr. Neil. I'm no lawyer but this seems cruel and unusual to me to delay a punishment for 13 years and then realize that a clerical error is - they went to release him and found out that he wasn't actually in jail. So the whole thing is just surreal and it does make me question whether or not the original punishment was fair and accurate in the first place.

HEADLEE: There's a good point.

IZRAEL: Well, OK. So now onto another man who thinks the law did him wrong. Former Major League Baseball player, Doug Glanville, said he was approached by a police officer recently for shoveling while black. He's shoveling snow outside his own Hartford, Connecticut home, right, when an officer came by and asked him what he was doing? He wrote about it for The Atlantic. I read it and, I mean, the only thing I can really think of, you know, is that water's still wet and, you know, this is still America and I guess this is why they call it news, because it's not.

You know, I mean, this kind of thing has happened to me. It's happened to other young or not so youngish black men that I know. And I - when I read it, I felt as if this might have been like a Danny Glover moment, that for some reason this - that Glanville thought his fame and his money trumped his color. And I don't know what to tell you but "Good Morning America," bro. I mean, that's just how it's going down. Lenny, your take?

MCALLISTER: I take that he was shoveling while rich and black and Ivy League educated. And when you see these things transpire, this is why you still have to have conversations about race in America. Despite what Mr. Williams says as he's singing about being happy.


IZRAEL: Oh, OK. I think we almost said the same thing. Neil, what do you think?

MINKOFF: Yeah, I think the whole story is just - you know, it brings to mind what happened in Cambridge when the police says the President so famously said, acted stupidly. And it makes me wonder why...

HEADLEE: With Henry Louis Gates, you mean? Yeah.

MINKOFF: Yes. Exactly right. And it makes me wonder why there isn't more - even if the police want to behave this way, why there isn't more training or sensitivity about why you shouldn't 'cause it can backfire and lead to a lot of problems.

IZRAEL: Wait a second though, I took Skip to task famously on TheRoot.com. But let me just say, any time you say cop's momma, you know, you're going to end up in some mess. I don't care if you're Henry Louis Gates or you're Moses. I mean, you talk about some cop's momma, it's going to be a real problem for your life.

MINKOFF: No, I understand that it escalated, but the initial approach on the porch was unusual to say the least.

IZRAEL: Perhaps.

HEADLEE: He was apprehended by police when he was trying to get into his own home. But that's not - Glanville was outside his own home. Jeff, what do you - weigh in here.

YANG: You know, the one line from his story that really just wrenched my gut was the one where he's talking about his wife talking to their kids. And basically telling them for the first time that this is the thing - this anecdote, this happening is a thing that reminds us all, we are black. And, you know, it just made me realize, you have to ask yourself this question, would you get asked this question? That's all, right?

HEADLEE: That's a good question. But let's move on to something a little bit less of a deep philosophical question.

HEADLEE: We have just a few minutes...


HEADLEE: ...Left and - if you're getting a tax return and it's at least 1,500 bucks, maybe you've considered buying some new shades, Google Glass. They went on sale on Tuesday for one day only. And I'm curious which of you would actually lay down the money to buy them. Lenny, would you?



HEADLEE: OK. No. Neil, what about you?

MINKOFF: So I have to say that I'm incredibly tempted by the idea of being that connected. But I do worry about the fact that there are times when being online seems more real than being in reality. And I actually think that's a little disturbing. So I would be tempted, but at least for now I am resisting the temptation.

HEADLEE: And we know on this show that you sometimes have a problem walking away from gadgets. But Jeff Yang, what do you think? You've written about these glasses?

YANG: Yeah, you know, I mean, I would seem to be the primary target for this, right?


YANG: But I would never buy these. I think that they've essentially become a screening filter for elitist tech tool bags like - kind of a symbol of the new class-based digital divide. And I think Google basically screwed this up from the get-go. I mean, they ran a contest to see who gets to have the chance to buy, you know, these $1,500 glasses long before they made it open to the public. So, you know, basically you're filtering out the people who think they're all that and that this particular technology, which is interesting, makes them all that. I can't see it.

HEADLEE: Wait a second, let's talk about the interesting technology. I mean, for those - I mean, I can't imagine there's someone in the United States who doesn't know what Google Glass is, but we're talking about glasses where you can basically be surfing the Internet while you're walking around. And taking pictures of them with your glasses and things, right? Am I wrong here, Jeff?

MINKOFF: Sure, sure, sure.

YANG: Well, you know, I do that with my phone anyway.

IZRAEL: Right?

YANG: But it's true. I mean, there - this is just basically something that allows you to - hands-free what a lot of people are already doing when they're just walking around the town. And on some level, the bigger issue, of course, is whether or not other people know what you're doing when you're looking at them. It's - that is kind of freaky.

HEADLEE: Well, let me go back to Lenny 'cause you had one-word answer, Lenny. I mean, there is a safety thing here that people say to a certain extent, everyone is walking around with their face in their tablets and their phones and maybe Google Glass will make it safer to do what they're already doing, right? You don't have to put your head down. You can see if there's a car coming.

MCALLISTER: Yeah, and you're still distracted on the Internet. And then what's next? Are you going to end up finding a law that says you can't wear your Google Glasses while you're driving? Heck, people still wear their earphones and listen to their phones while they're driving. It's a big mess and is it for me, no. I just would not spend $1,500 on this. No. It would have to come with a free lottery ticket giving me 15 million dollars.

HEADLEE: All right. Well, Jimi, I kind of feel like I can guess what your answer is to this because you just recently got on Twitter, but what about you? Would you lay out the 1,500 bucks for Google Glass?

IZRAEL: Listen, I'm reminded of like the '80s when brothers were stealing Cazals off people's faces. And those were like $70, $80...

HEADLEE: They're stealing what off their faces?

IZRAEL: Cazals. C-A-Z-A-Ls. They're the - I mean, the real fly people remember those glasses.

MINKOFF: Gazelles.

HEADLEE: I guess I'm not fly.

IZRAEL: And they were snatching those off people's faces. Can you imagine? You're going to have like a big target on your face, if you walking around with some $1,500 glasses. So count me out. I don't even want to wear my Jordan's out. Are you serious? I'm not wearing no $1,500 glasses. This is a recession. No.

MINKOFF: Jimi's holding out for Google contacts.

HEADLEE: Although I can imagine them making copycats that look just like Google Glass so you can pretend you have them and they're just, you know, see-through glass, right? I mean, that's inevitable.


IZRAEL: You might get your head knocked for some fake Google Glass.


IZRAEL: Like the fake Cazals.

YANG: I just - I remember when these were first announced I was like, at some point we're going to see the first time where somebody wearing Google Glass is going to be run over by a driverless Google car. And then - that's like the ultimate tech headline.

HEADLEE: Jeff Yang has gone straight down the rabbit hole, everyone. Just so you know, pretty much we're going to have a black hole appearing in the studio. Jeff Yang, columnist for the Wall Street Journal online. Lenny McAllister is the host of "Get Right With Lenny McAllister" on Newsradio KDKA in Pittsburgh. Neil Minkoff is a health care consultant and contributor to the National Review out there in Boston. And Jimi Izrael, of course, writer. You can find his blog at JimmiIzrael.com. Thanks guys.

MINKOFF: Thank you.

YANG: God bless, thank you.

MCALLISTER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


MINKOFF: Happy weekend.

HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for the Barbershop podcast. It's in the iTunes store or NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.