Tag Archives: Wednesday’s Word of the Week

Wednesday Word of the Week, June 22

22 Jun

Just doing his job.

Today’s word is: JUDGE

someone whose job is to make decisions in a court of law – Macmillan Dictionary Online

Over the past year, we’ve seen some significant attention paid to judges (some of whom, depending on their position, are called justices) in the United States. What is the role of a judge? What should we expect from these arbiters of legal issues? According to the definition, it is their JOB

work that one does regularly to earn money – Macmillan Dictionary Online


a position or opinion or judgment reached after consideration – Macmillan Dictionary Online

We appoint or elect judges to hear evidence, consider it, and make decisions based on law and precedent. This all seems pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, over the past three decades or so, the far right has infiltrated and attacked the judiciary. Using their typically Orwellian language, they invented the concept of the “activist judge.” Ironically, this only applies to decisions that the right opposes, like gay rights, reproductive rights, or worker protection. When it comes to inventing a corporate right to personhood for election contributions, let irony prevail.

When these efforts to drag the judicial conversation to the right are not sufficiently powerful, the right moves from vague threats and scary language to outright attacks. Witness the sadly successful campaign to remove three Iowa Supreme Court Justices from office because they correctly ruled that equal access under the law required marriage equality. This attack was so loathsome and unprecedented that even conservative jurist Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke out against it. Her argument? We must have an independent judiciary, trusted to carry out their jobs fairly and according to the law, without fear of retribution. This is one of the cornerstones of our representative democracy. I seldom agree with Justice O’Connor, but her consistent, passionate remarks on this subject are exactly right.

Another recent attack was the motion filed in U.S. District Court to vacate the ruling by Judge Walker which invalidated California’s Proposition 8. Supporters of the marriage inequality proposition, irate at having their bigotry overturned, attacked Judge Walker’s objectivity simply because he is gay and in a committed long-term relationship. Teabaggers look the other way when U.S. Supreme Court Justices practice flagrant violations of their own code of ethics or stand to profit directly from their judgments; let an honest gay judge make a fair ruling, however, and the attacks are on!

Fortunately, the judge hearing this absurd motion weighed in heavily against the forces of bigotry. DailyKos provides a great synopsis of the decision. The two key concepts, well worth remembering are that simply being in a class of persons does not require recusal:

Requiring recusal because a court issued an injunction that could provide some speculative future benefit to the presiding judge solely on the basis of the fact that the judge belongs to the class against whom the unconstitutional law was directed would lead to a … standard that required recusal of minority judges in most, if not all, civil rights cases. Congress could not have intended such an unworkable recusal statute.

and that it is absurd to assume that fair treatment under the law only benefits a minority:

To the extent that a law is adjudged violative, enjoining enforcement of that law is a public good that benefits all in our society equally.  Although this case was filed by same-sex couples seeking to end a California constitutional restriction on their right to marry, all Californians have an equal interest in the outcome of the case.

Bravo to Chief Judge Ware for his swift, stern words, emphasizing the role of law and justice. Of course, the attacks are likely to continue. Americans must pay attention, however, and not be swayed by scare tactics, mob mentality, and venal motives. If we aren’t careful, we will become a nation of judges selected by the wealthy and the ignorant, motivated by greed, bias, and fear. These ironic justices would corrupt an already strained system with their very poor

the ability to understand a situation well and make good decisions – Macmillan Dictionary Online



Wednesday Word of the Week, June 1

1 Jun

There's nobody like her.

This week’s word is: IDOL

a material effigy that is worshipped as a god
someone who is adored blindly and excessively
an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept
– all courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online

Last week saw someone often held up as an idol host her last show: Oprah Winfrey. I must confess that I watch very little television and have seen only snippets of Oprah’s show over the years. Nonetheless, she has been a major media presence for most of my life and I have a good sense of who she is and what she has done. With that knowledge and a little research, I have to wonder what kind of idol she may be.

Oprah is clearly not an EFFIGY

a representation of a person (especially in the form of sculpture) – Macmillan Dictionary Online

so although she may be worshipped as a god (of ratings?), this definition fails.

Arguably, Oprah has been adored by millions. Is that adoration blind or excessive? Something must compel 14 million people to watch her show. If she didn’t hypnotize or bribe them, either they were blind fools or she really had something to offer. What could it have been? Did it relate to that third definition? Has Oprah been an IDEAL?

the best example of something that you can think of or imagine – Macmillan Dictionary Online

In terms of financial success and viewership, absolutely. Considering these standards for being an ideal idol, however is a bit recursive. In what way was she the best?

Without a doubt, Oprah has been a pioneer for women in media. Many came before her, and many have followed; her success, however remains unique and provided a much needed model for women and other minorities. The best? Probably not. The most well-known? Quite possibly. In terms of impact, her visibility matters.

Many have also credited her new take on the talk show with creating a safe forum for many people to share their issues and their humanity with the American public. No less than Michael Bronski has said

In the recent past, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people had almost no presence on television. With the invention and propagation of tabloid talk shows such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Oprah, and Geraldo, people outside the sexual mainstream now appear in living rooms across America almost every day of the week.

Her role may have been somewhat passive and ratings-based, but it made a difference. So much of a difference, in fact, that Oprah thanked the LGBT community for their active support during her final show.

As a philanthropist, Oprah has raised, channeled, and donated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. She is routinely listed among the top 50 philanthropists in the world, often topping the list of celebrity philanthropists. One may quibble with her choices, but her generosity is not in question.

Looking at the Forbes list of the most powerful celebrities shows a group sadly lacking in generosity. That makes the truly generous like Lady Gaga and Oprah stand out and deserve recognition. It makes one wonder why Oprah chose someone like Tom Hanks, whose philanthropy is limited, as her final MC or the social-justice-impaired Will Smith as a final guest.

Oprah has made some missteps. Choosing corporate partners for her generosity that have questionable or deeply flawed histories (like Wal-Mart) when she could pick (and subsidize) anyone, shows her crassly commercial side. Her adherence to commercial broadcasting and televising gimmicks also fits that model.

Nonetheless, she has always made some effort to make a difference. She has been a pioneer, a philanthropist, and a provider of platforms whose influence cannot be overstated. It remains to be seen what path she will walk next. I suspect that she will not be out of the limelight, even without her show, and that she will try to make the world a better place in some way. Most of us will never have the chances she has had, and few who do make half as many good choices as Oprah. Let’s not sing her praises too loudly, then, but thank her for what she has done well, and look forward to what she might do next.

An ideal? Not really. An idol? In fairness, not quite by any of the definitions. A flawed, overexposed, clever, tenacious businesswoman whose impact has improved the lives of many? Absolutely, and by any definition, clearly an

unusual or different from anyone or anything else, usually in a way that you admire – Macmillan Dictionary Online


Wednesday Word of the Week: April 20

20 Apr

Some things are meant to move forward.

This week’s word is: PROGRESS

the process of developing or improving; forward motion – Macmillan Dictionary Online

It seems clear that a free and democratic society would be interested in developing and improving. In fact, the concept is explicit in the United States Constitution:

We, the people…in order to form a more perfect union…

Note the phrase “more perfect” in this preamble. In order to become more perfect, a nation must IMPROVE.

to make something better – Macmillan Dictionary Online

This clearly demands that we focus on those whose circumstances are currently worse and focus our improvements on them. This should include:

Unfortunately, as the links above demonstrate, the current trend in government is working against this progress.

What happens if there is no progress? One of two things: you might STAGNATE:

to stay the same without growing or developing – Macmillan Dictionary Online

  • Preserving budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens
  • Maintaining absurd campaigning laws that allow wealth to guide elections
  • Participating in two pointless wars while the Federal budget remains out of balance

Stagnation is certainly a big part of current government practice. The other alternative to progress is RETREAT:

the process of moving backward from a position or state attained – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

It is difficult to imagine how moving backward from achievements already attained can move us toward a “more perfect union.” Nevertheless, as noted above, many current actions in the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives are signs of retreat, not progress. In fact, a key line from many Tea Party sites is:

The Tea Party movement is instead, about reforming all political parties and government so that the core principles of our Founding Fathers become, once again, the foundation upon which America stands.

That’s right, this movement is all about returning America to the 18th Century, ignoring everything we’ve learned as a culture since then. By any definition, their agenda is not progress.

Wednesday Word of the Week: March 30

30 Mar

Repair The World

This week’s word is: CHARITY.

public provision for the relief of the needy – Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary

In the wake of a tragedy like the Japanese tsunami, the interests of the American people turn to charity. Seeing horrors on that scale summons up a strong desire to help, to provide some form of relief. It happened during the Haitian earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami, and hurricane Katrina as well, at least to some extent. It can be wonderful to see this instinct to provide aid manifest itself.

If you’re like me, you may want to help but be unsure of the best way to make your contribution. With each disaster, a new flurry of websites, tweets, Facebook pages, and text-your-dollars options materialize. How can you know how that money will be spent? The best option for those inclined to give is to participate in a community of giving. Find a place that meets your goals and values and channel your contributions through that resource.

There are many ways to donate and contribute. A wise donor will plan in advance rather than waiting for a crisis. Knowing your options before-hand will prepare you to contribute in the most beneficial way when the time comes. When looking for an organization to serve as your charitable partner, there are a number of things to consider.

  1. Why do you give? If you have specific causes that you support, you should direct your giving accordingly. If you have a more general sense of charity and want a trusted partner to push your money in the right direction, totally different organizations will be appropriate. For most people, a mix of the two might make the most sense.
  2. What is your capacity for giving? Budgeting may not be fun, but it is very important. Have a sense of how much money you can give over the course of a year and develop a donation strategy that fits. This will help keep you from overextending yourself, force you to focus on the giving that is most important to you, and allow you to politely turn down solicitation calls. If an organization that appeals to you is not in your plan, you can always adjust or collect their information for another giving year.
  3. Who can support your intent to give? There are thousands of charitable organizations of all sizes, missions, and services. Finding the best match for your goals can be daunting. Do some research to find the best partner for your giving. Charity Navigator is a great resource for getting information. Your workplace may also have giving and matching programs; talk to your human resources officer. Your local library should be able to assist you as well.
  4. How much of your donation goes to your intended causes? No organization can give 100% of donations to the causes it supports. Running a strong charity requires staff, facilities, and fundraising; all of this costs money. From my quick research, any organization that returns 85% – 90% to the cause you support is doing well. You should also be aware of the status of your charitable partner. If it is not a certified not-for-profit organization, the 10% that doesn’t go to the cause may just be lining someone’s pocket.
  5. How do the values of your charitable partner align with yours? This is very important and not always apparent. Many charities are associated with religious organizations or other groups which may not share your values regardless of how well their official cause matches your donor intent. A great example is the Salvation Army. Although the work they do is valuable, they are virulently anti-equality toward the LGBT community. The United Way, for example, is much more open and supportive. That makes a difference to me in who will get my donations.

The best advice from most experts – both financial planners and charitable organizations – is to donate a comfortable amount regularly rather than make sporadic, responsive donations. This gives your charitable partner cash-on-hand to respond immediately to a disaster rather than waiting for money to flow in. Most reputable charities will have a way to donate additional money to a specific cause as needed. (The Red Cross is a great example.) Increasing your contribution to a trusted partner is a better option than impulsively clicking on any donation link that you might see. Sadly, many miscreants exist who would love to reroute your donations to their own pockets.


sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it – Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary

Compassion is a wonderful human trait. When we respond emotionally to a crisis, however, it is worth stepping back and being sure that our giving has value.

  • There is always need. Find ways to give regularly to important causes.
  • When a disaster strikes, give in a smart, informed way.

Remember, too, that you can give in ways that don’t cost money. Give of your time and energy as well. Tikkun olam: Repair the world. Each of us should do what we can to make this a better world for everyone.

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