Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Interview with Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man

Good night or morning. I hate typing. We've got an interview with Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man coming up but before I get to that, we'll note two headlines from Democracy Now!

Lynndie England Sentenced to Three Years For Abu Ghraib Abuses (Democracy Now!)Lynndie England has been sentenced to three years in prison for her role in abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Her sentence fell well short of the maximum 10-year sentence she faced. The 22-year-old army reservist was photographed holding a naked Iraqi prisoner by a leash and pointing to an inmate's genitals. Meanwhile an Army Captain has accused the Pentagon of being more concerned about tracking down soldiers who report detainee abuse than in investigating the accusations. Army Captain Ian Fishback recently helped provide Human Rights Watch with information on new cases of abuse and torture taking part in U.S. prisons in Iraq. Fishback said the Army is now threatening to file charges against him if he disobeys an order to disclose the names of two Army Sergeants who also spoke to Human Rights Watch. Fishback told the New York Times, "We came forward because of the larger issue that prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army. I'm concerned this will take a new twist, and they'll try to scapegoat some of the younger soldiers. This is a leadership problem."

Soldiers Posted Photographs of Iraqi Corpses on Web
The Army is investigating complaints that soldiers posted photographs of Iraqi corpses on an Internet site in exchange for access to pornographic images on the site. Many of the photos depict dismembered Iraqi corpses and body parts. Some also were submitted by soldiers in Afghanistan.

Elaine's commenting at her site so click here to read her thoughts on the two.

I loved interviewing Betty but there are some things I never got around to asking. One thing was supposed to be, "What is your favorite post?" I didn't have time to ask. So I'll note that Ma's favorite post by Betty is "Every Day is Husband's Day," Dad's favorite is "The Great Thomas Friedman Cracks Another One," Nina's favorite is "My husband Thomas Friedman says 'The world is going to hell in an Enstrom's Gift Basket'" and my favorite is "The World May Not Be Flat But Thomas Friedman Has A Bearded Butt." Betty blogs at Thomas Friedman is a Great Man which is a humor site and she's really talented. I interviewed her last night and I'll type up the interview now. I think you'll enjoy it.

Tonight, I'm interviewing the one and only Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man. Betty, you've got a great blog. It's funny, it's a novel, it's just great. So tell me what the deal is with people like you who beat yourself up over every post?

Betty: (Laughing) I don't know. I just want it to be so much more than it is. I see the problems. There are many problems.

Name one.

One? Betinna. I've used various spellings and, if I had the time, I'd go back and fix that. But the spelling should be Betinna on every entry.

Okay, that's it. You need to stop blogging, missy. You just turn over your keyboard right now.

Well it's a big deal to me and it's only one example. I have typos.

Oh my God!

Well I do.

So does the stupid New York Times. I don't think it's a big deal. Give me something else.

Well, this is a good thing actually, the for-pay at the New York Times with the columns now because I don't need to worry about responding to Thomas Friedman's nonsense. I can focus more on Betinna's story now.

You're not reading the columns?

No, I still am. I don't subscribe to the paper. C.I. does so I get them e-mailed. But most readers won't be subscribers and they won't see his column so my reply is more of a touching on what he wrote and not really a reply. Sometimes, he can really make me mad. I was working on an entry before D.C. but I scrapped it when I couldn't get into my blog Saturday. It was about what an idiot he was and just a line by line reply to his column.

D.C. was great and we'll talk about that in a moment but what was the deal with the computer problems?

I don't know. Was Blogger having problems? I'm sorry but I don't think it was just Blogger and I couldn't get into my e-mail on anyone's laptop until Sunday afternoon when I got on Krista's laptop.

We can talk about that now, right?

Yeah, I think so. Gina and Krista were doing special round-robins for the protests. That ended up being the backup for The Third Estate Sunday Review and the editorial and the piece that should be up there but still won't display went into the round-robin plus their interviews with all of us.

It was very weird. So let's talk about D.C. It was my first time and it was your first time. I was really shocked that so much poverty could exist in the city of the nation.

That was really sad. And you wonder what people think, you know? I mean, I'm the leader of a small country in Africa and I fly into D.C. and the land of the free and I look around and see that it's not that different from my own country when I see the slums and all of that. There's no excuse for it other than Congress doesn't care about their own hometown. It's almost like they're trying to starve, and some might say that's what they are doing, the poor people out of the city so they can do some sort of urban renewal.

Who was your favorite speaker at the rally Saturday morning?

Cindy. I think Cindy Sheehan was everyone's favorite. I felt like she was rushed though. Didn't she say something like "I'm almost done"?

Yeah. That was weird.

After Cindy, I'll go with Cynthia McKinney because she is a home town girl for me and I really respect her. But everyone was great. I read your thing about "the Dads." They were like high school boys when Jessica Lange was speaking.

She did a great job but I didn't know who she was.

She did do a great job. I'm surprised you didn't know who she was because your parents, who are wonderful, really love movies. I like Crimes of the Heart best because it's set in the south. That's one you should see. It's a comedy. Sissy Spacek has a line about being a "Democratic" that will crack you up. I think I've probably seen almost all of Jessica Lange's movies. Even Blue Sky which she was great in but I hated it.

How come?

I don't like Chris O'Donnell for one reason. He's in Men Don't Leave as well but he was still cute then. Most kids are. But when he became a man he just . . . He seems like one of those guys that hits 18 and thinks, "Okay, now we do it my way" and he just has to try so hard to be the man and wear the pants to prove a point that you just think, "Go away already." He's so boxy too. He should be playing a TV dad! (Laughing) I'm thinking of one of Ava & C.I.'s TV reviews.

Were you nervous in the march?

A little, honestly. I wasn't afraid that anyone would hurt us intentionally but I did worry because I had my kids with me. We were a pretty big bunch and if something had gone wrong, I was trying to think about what I would do. That's why Kat insisted everyone stay close to me because I'd told her about that and she said, "Betty, we'll all grab a kid, your kids will be fine."

Kat's so cool.

She really is. And Friday night, I bet she wanted to go to the party Ava's family threw but she knew I wasn't going to leave my kids and it really wasn't a kid's party, so she insisted on watching them. Your parents offered too.

Everybody wanted you to have a night of fun.

I did. And it was sweet of everyone but Kat said, "I'm not going. You can stay here with me and your kids and miss the party but I'm staying here regardless so you're really just missing a party if you don't go."

Your kids loved Kat.

I know. From the first moment. They're usually stand offish until they get to know you. But really, they took one look at Kat and they just ran over to her from the second they saw her.

Was it hard interviewing people with your kids?

I told everyone that I had done it before and I could do it again --

Right because you helped with The Third Estate Sunday Review piece on the rallies in March.

(Laughing) I was the Atlanta correspondent! But some people don't want to talk to anyone and I can understand that because these days who knows who is anyone is? You might be FBI or something. But I found that the kids were an icebreaker and also tended to calm people down. That was true in Atlanta and that was true in D.C. The only problem I had was in the middle of one interview, they go charging off. They're not like that and I'm rushing after them and see Kat and think, "Okay, that's what's going on."

They really loved her.

I know. It's so cute because my youngest calls her "meow" and "kitty cat." My daughter just loved Kat's hair. I don't think it was anything but that. Kat has all that long hair and it's so shiny and wavy. I told Kat, "Tell her to quit playing with your hair" but Kat said it didn't bother her.
We're getting a red headed Barbie after church tomorrow.

Which will be when this goes up because we're doing this interview on Tuesday because Wednesday is a church night for you.

It is. Church is important to me. I grew up in my church and I know the people and they know me and my kids. It's like an extended family. I don't think I could ever move because I don't think I'd ever find a better church.

You missed Sunday and that was a big deal for you.

I know. I talked to my mother and I said, "We're coming back Sunday" and she told me I was stupid. She said chuch will be here Wednesday night and that this was important so go and stay on Sunday. This was my mother speaking, so of course I listened. (Laughing) If she reads that, she'll say, "Oh that time you listened!"

Did your kids have fun?

Yes, they did, thank you for asking. They really did. They warmed up to everyone by Saturday and they were on their best behavior. That wasn't my doing. I wasn't reminding them all the time because they were just doing what they needed to do and, as a parent, that was great to see. If we go to McDonald's, it can be a nightmare so I was really surprised. But it was a trip for them and they were excited. And they had fun and were always begging you, Jess, Jim and Ty for piggy back rides.

They seemed intimidated by Cedric.

I noticed that. I need to call him about that. I was wondering if anyone else noticed. Cedric looks a lot like my preacher and my preacher can be intimidating. That sounds bad and I don't mean it that way. But in church, you behave. He doesn't call anyone out or try to embarrass anyone. I know of preachers that do that and I think it's disgusting. But he will zero in with his eyes if a kid's getting too lively during a sermon. Not at that parent, at the child and it works. They liked Cedric. They gave him those drawings they did. But when Cedric would walk into the room, they would always fall silent or act real innocent.

Blog Betty, as Rebecca used to call you --

Still does.

You were the new one for a long time.

I know. I don't think there was anyone after I started until you did. But I'm not sure when Kat started her own site and because of her album reviews, I always thought of her as having her own say and all. But until you started, I don't think there was anyone else.

You blog twice a week.

If I'm lucky. I have something I'm almost done with and a friend's agreed to post it for me so I can work on it right until it's time to go to church. I'll probably ask her to proof it before she posts it. But I blog when I can. I feel guilty when I don't but it doesn't end my day. It's just the way it is. Do you like blogging every day?

During the week. Yes. I like it and I'm juggling right now because of school and, honestly, because of the heat and all. But it's probably much hotter where you are.

But we're used to it. That said, it seems like every summer lately gets hotter. But I was pregnant during one summer, six months when the summer started, and I made it through that. When I start feeling overwhelmed, and sometimes I do about the blog, I will remember that and how hot it was and how sweat just poured off me with every step I took. I was so huge. I say it was the largest I ever got during a pregnancy but my sister says I just think that because it was so hot so every pound really weighed hard. I feel like everyone's thinking, "Oh God, she's talking about her kids." Let's talk about something else.

I bet everyone's as interested as I am but I'll change the topic since you want me to. Why did you decide to start blogging?

The Common Ills was an oasis of sanity. It was a place where I felt welcomed. There was no "stupid women!" posts or no subtle or not so subtle jokes about race. And there were issues I believed in and supported being discussed. I was showing it to my sister especially but, really, to everyone. And there were people, members, who would find stuff and get C.I. to link to it. So I started out like that. And I was one of those, "Just link to it, please don't mention me" for the longest. So it would be, like it is today when someone asks that, "we'll note . . ."

How come?

Well you've got some smart people, a lot of smart people, and you don't want to be the one that's tossing out Mad Magazine when everyone else is off Harper's or something. It can be intimidating. So then I stopped being intimidated about that. Then I started e-mailing C.I. about a few topics in particular. Not for links, just to sound off. And C.I. would reply. This has to be the most frustrating thing, to be honest. When we're weighing in and C.I.'s going, "Share this" and we're like, "No, it's not that good." So that went on for a while and then C.I. started saying, "You really need your own site." I was flattered and mentioned it to my sister who said, "I've been saying that forever!" But she's my sister and she has to be kind. But I finally said okay but that I wanted to get a feel for it. And C.I. said, "Would you like to try working on some stuff with The Third Estate Sunday Review?"
I waited three days before replying to that e-mail. I was so intimidated. But then, on Thursday night, I said, "Could I observe?" And so I was on the phone with them and hearing how they did it and how much fun and how much of a pain it was. And I started doing things, tossing out my two cents and I thought, "I can do it." And all along I was planning what was going to make my site different and I'm a huge fan of The Color Purple and I love to laugh so I thought that maybe I could somehow merge the two.

Thomas Friedman wasn't your first choice.

No, I wanted Bob Herbert because I really love his writing. But due to the way the storyline was working out and the fact that I didn't want anyone to misunderstand the humor, I decided not to go with him and went with Thomas Friedman instead.

Pretend I've never been to your site and explain Thomas Friedman is a Great Man to me.

Okay, well it's a humor site. You're supposed to laugh. The story is that Betinna is married to Thomas Friedman. She can't remember her past but Thomas Friedman is always bringing up, throwing in her face, that she's from some backwater village and how he saved her. Early on, she was an idiot because he was feeding her vitamins that were actually drugs to make her more compliant. That's the sort of thing that you can't picture Bob Herbert doing but Thomas Friedman you can. They went on the book tour and around that time, she stopped taking the "vitamins." She started giving them to him without him knowing. So right now she has the upper hand and she's wondering why she can't remember and what her past was like. That's the journey. All of this, and hopefully people have laughed, but all of this is just leading up to that. Which is why I'm glad I'm not in a back and forth with his columns anymore. It slows down the story.

You've got this all plotted out.

Right. And if I'd written on his column Friday, I would've rushed my own storyline because of a part of the column. So we'll note it in some way, but it's not a call and response to Thomas Friedman's columns.

I really appreciate you giving me this time because I know you're busy and I promised you I wouldn't keep you so I'll start winding down with a 15 minute warning here. So tell me how you would change the world?

That's a tough one. There are so many things wrong with the world. But I'm a mother and I struggle with bills so I think if I was told I could do one thing and only one thing, I would insist upon universal health care. I always love Ava & C.I.'s TV reviews but I really loved their review of Three Wishes because that show is so offensive. Having Amy Grant come in and we're supposed to applaud because there are no more medical bills for the family. That's a quick fix. And there are millions of families in that situation and only one Amy Grant. The answer isn't to have some singer go town to town, the answer is for universal health care. I'd also say that we need to stop trying to destroy Head Start and start increasing the funding of it. I know that's two but I really did need to say that. I was a Head Start kid. If I weren't, I might not be here.

No problem. Tell me one thing that most people don't know about you.

Something most don't know. Hmm. Okay, this is embarrassing, but here goes. You know that candy, the balls. They're chocolate. Malt balls? Well I buy Whoppers. I keep them at the top of my closet because I don't want my kids to see Mom reaching for a chocolate fix everytime something goes crazy. But there are days and evenings I get through by telling myself, "As soon as the kids go to sleep, you're having three Whoppers." If it's a really stressful day or night, I might go up to five. (Laughing) Is that okay?

That's perfect. What's the routine on that?

The kids are asleep and checked on. I grab them from the top of the closet, go to the rocking chair and just sit there in silence, read a chapter of whatever book I'm reading as I chew them slowly. I'm sure it sounds crazy but I bet if a young mother reads this or a woman who has kids, she'll understand and know that you really need some sort of private routine.

We interviewed community member Maria for The Third Estate Sunday Review and she spoke of how she feels her children are too young for her to be dating. You've said something similar.

Actually, I said almost the exact thing. And that's the only time anyone was upset with me in e-mails. I had a few mothers saying I had slammed them. I wasn't slamming them. Maria's not slamming them. We both have young children, plural. We both work and are the sole support of ourselves and our children. That's a big responsibility. And other women can handle that and handle children and handle dating and I say, "You go, girl." But I can't. Unlike Maria, I tried it. Maria was smart enough to know her limitations right up front. I wasn't. And I had the experience where your kid is sick and you have to call and explain that and the guy's upset and either doesn't call you back or when he does he expects you to be so apologetic because your kid was sick. I'm not going to beg for forgiveness because one of my kids was sick. And with one guy, I found myself tempted to just dump the kids at my sister's twice. The first time it was just a thought and I'm sure every mother has that fantasy. But the second time it was really more than that. And there are women who can juggle it all and keep their kids top priority. Great. I know from that moment that if I fell hard, I would really have to work to make my children top priority because I can be a romance junkie. I can get totally caught up in everything. "Is he calling? Why isn't he calling? What will he be wearing?" That's fine for me if I was single but I'm all my children have besides my parents and their aunts and uncles. I'm the primary support and they are too young to be pawned off as I'm afraid I might do if I fell hard. It would be real easy for me to tell myself, "Oh this is just for a little bit," them staying the night with my sister for a few evenings or whatever, "and in the long run, they're going to have a great father come into their life!" I've been through the romance cycle and have work I need to do there. Even if I didn't have kids, I'd have work to do there. But with kids and knowing my cycle, there's really no point in dating because they would suffer. That's me. That's not every woman.
So when Maria spoke of that, I wanted to talk to her privately, outside of the interview, about it. Our society has a lot of pressure to date. They like couples. So there's that. Then there's the whole demonization of the single mother and I'm so glad, I mean this is why The Common Ills is my community, I'm so glad that C.I. stuck up for single mothers. I couldn't believe, when I was forwarded the copy and paste, that someone who is supposed to be whatever would sit there and defend a right winger just because John Edwards backed him up.

I don't like John Edwards. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy are my senators.

I voted for Kerry. I wish he had fought for a recount. But I don't get these people who want to say "There's no problem with the Ohio vote!" and then, in the next breath, they argue that Edwards would have fought for a recount. You wrote about that and I agree. I also don't get, and this is a point C.I. made, rightly, why someone feels the need to push someone for president when the year's 2005 and no one's declared. I mean come on. Let's take Rebecca, okay? I love Rebecca. If she was toying with the idea of running for president, I would be hoping she would. But I wouldn't be blogging "Rebecca is the only choice for president!" because who knows who might run against her? It's like with my oldest, who loves corny dogs these days. I'll put them in the oven and hear, "These are the best corny dogs in the world!" and I'll have to say, "Honey, they aren't cooked yet. We don't know that they'll be the best." I mean wait for the meal to arrive before saying it's the best.

On a similar topic, you're pretty much ignored online outside of the community.

Right. I wish I could be like Cedric and take the attitude of "Well I'm black, so big surprise." But the reality is it did hurt. Ron links to me and I'm thankful for that. It's like C.I. says Ron's going to have his say and tell you what he thinks and you can agree or disagree but it's right there, no hidden agenda. So I'm glad I link to Ron as well. But he linked to me before I linked to him and I'm grateful for that. It was really nice of him to do. And my sister found out that I was linked to by a site called Thomas Friedman Is A Jackass. So I link to that site and the guy was very kind to link to me. But that's really it, as far as I know, outside of the community. I know there are people who wanted Rebecca to link them, women, and Rebecca did and they didn't return the favor. They asked her to and she did and then they didn't feel the need to do the same. So I was so happy when Elaine cleared Rebecca's site of all the bloggers who didn't link to her. I wish Elaine would sub for C.I. because I'm of the opinion now that that should be the policy. I know C.I. doesn't trade links and I know, especially after that e-mail from the blogger who stopped blogging because there was no link to him, that this is an issue everyone in the community is thinking about. But where I stand on it is if you're not providing a blogroll link to me, why should I be providing one to you? I'm not talking about magazines or organizations or newspapers. I'm talking about bloggers not helping each other. And I don't see the point in helping you if you're not willing to help me. C.I. didn't grasp that because The Common Ills built up without getting a link here or a link there. And C.I. was happy to share the good fortune and all of that. But that's something that doesn't just happen. It was, a lot of it, luck. It was having a strong voice for women, against the war, for all races, for every group that gets spit on basically when someone wants to look "moderate." And my sister's in college and she's the one who turned me on to it.

Right because that's how I knew about it. There were some classmates who were talking it up. Mom already knew about it because she is really against the war and she'd told Dad but I think I heard about it from my friend Tony.

And it was word of mouth. And it's also not luck. C.I.'s a strong voice. There's none of that nonsense that one jerk wrote about "We have to respect James Dobson." Maybe you do, but don't tell me, a single mother, a black woman, that I have to respect James Dobson. Or the b.s. about T.D. Jakes the other week from another blogger. Look, Billie gave us the 411 on him because he's in her community and I wouldn't take my children into that church but even if you have to rely on the public record, this isn't a man of god, this is a man of commerce who is right-wing and he doesn't belong, his remarks, on a non right-wing site. I read that when it was forwarded and I thought, "Oh since he's black you think we must all be going, 'Yea TD Jokes!'"
That man is so offensive. He's offensive from a Christian perspective for one thing because he's subverting the Bible and Jesus' teachings and that is public record.

I'm going to wind down with this question: other than the war and the hurricanes, what news topic has touched the most this summer?

Good one. I'd say the death of John H. Johnson because he was a big figure in publishing and proof that, if we get the breaks and work hard, we can achieve. And then I'd say, and I won't go into this too much because I honestly will cry, Coretta Scott King's stroke. She's a beacon and . . . Trying not to cry. MLK died before I was born. I think she's done as much as humanly possible to carry on his work and to keep his name alive. And she is someone that I really admire and respect. She is someone who means so much to so many and the thought of her in faltering health is just incredibly sad. I hope she recovers and I'll stop because I am tearing up.


No, it was a good question and that's the sort of thing, her stroke, that is a clue to black people. Is it dealt with, is it noted? If not, the site's not really for us. They may throw out a TD Jakes and think, "He's black so black people will just love me for this!" but if they can't acknowledge Coretta Scott King's stroke, they aren't really interested in black readers. Those were the two biggest stories in my church, Johnson and King. And it's interesting how they weren't big online with few exceptions. With Coretta Scott King I can be more understanding because my reaction is not to want to talk to much about it or I'll lose it. So I can understand more on that. Maybe someone else didn't acknowledge it because it was painful for them as well. But if they ignored Johnson as well . . . They're not for me. They're off in their own little gated community and they didn't bother to give me the code to get inside.

Betty, I want to thank you so much because I know you're busy and I know this was hard to do in the middle of a week when you'd already just gotten back from D.C. I really would like to follow up on some other things so hopefully you'll have time again.

Absolutely, Mike. You're a puppy!

Elaine meant that as a compliment but it's become a curse.

Who's next week?

It's up in the air right now. But hopefully I'll have more information later in the week.

Thank you, Mike.

Thank you, Betty. Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man. Check her out.