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Ashley Judd Has Grit

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She first appeared on my radar after starring in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Judd played her Tennessee Williams-type role with an elegant, uniquely Southern neurosis. Throughout the film, human frailty seeped from every pore.

I gained even more respect for her after reading her biography. Getting knocked around in real life has only made her stronger. She's matured into a rare Velveteen Rabbit.

But that's not enough for some people.

This week, celebrity-dependent tabloid hucksters did their level best to rip her apart and, in turn, slash and burn a path through the coveted cycle of "news." It's all about selling a callow, vile product. Her crime? Apparently, in a recent picture, her face looked "puffy."

With all that is happening in the world today, is this really someone's idea of news?

Not only have Americans lost some brain cells over the last decade, but, perhaps more importantly, Americans are quickly losing their manners, too. Dumb and mean is a bad combo. It's the recipe for cooking up half-baked third world warlords. Is that what America is becoming?

If nothing else, our celebrity-obsessed media is getting dumber and meaner every day.

The late, great Edward R. Murrow once said about television, "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But, it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends... otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box."

Today, the technology is more sophisticated, but the sentiment still applies. As quickly as you can push a button, messages both dumb and mean can cover the Internet like pond scum, clouding the murky waters of truth and destroying lives and careers. Is this really what we want to use these present day "wires and boxes" for?

We must ask ourselves who is feeding us this fungal "news"? I don't know any men who read tabloids. Hello, my fellow women... it's double blind sexism because the majority of people who read this rubbish, such as the attack on Judd, are other women.

What was written about Judd was one of the millions of examples of sexism we can find on our "wires and a box" each day. Remember, sexism and racism work in exactly the same way. They dehumanize -- making it easier for the next person to take the trash talk to the next level. Murrow's worst case scenario has gone from the television set in the center of our living rooms -- to our laptops and on to our so-called "smart phones."

In the middle of this fake hullabaloo, Ashley Judd did not lash out. With self-assured wisdom and grace, she took the time to remind us how good manners can diffuse a conflict -- which is exactly why tit-for-tat network "news" shows and supermarket tabloids never seem to mind their manners anymore. People are paying far too much attention to all this mud-slinging. Cha-ching -- let's hear it for the dumb and mean!

After all, America is a young country, and some days it feels like we are still in our confused, clique-obsessed adolescence. Trouble is, trash talk that used to be contained to the children's playground is now all around us. It's becoming the air we breathe. It's everywhere. The failure to be kind is an epidemic. And we need kindness toward one another now more than ever.

With that in mind, as a sort of anti-gossip break, I'd like to acknowledge two other extraordinary women who've grabbed headlines recently. One is an actress-turned-serious-filmmaker; the other made sure women get paid a fair wage. Like Judd, these women have impressed anyone who is paying attention to anything other than gossip about "puffy faces" or "skinny legs."

First, Angelina Jolie. Her film-making debut about the war in Bosnia proved once and for all that she is wise beyond her years. War starts with hateful words on paper or, now, spouted on our social networks. The "wires and a box" is becoming a tool used to balkanize. The word "balkanize" came from the Balkan Wars. It means to break up into hostile units -- usually a group believing one religion, race or ethnicity is more important than another (there's that adolescent theme again). Jolie seems to understand the dangerous direction America is headed.

And I'd like to add Lilly Ledbetter to this list. She spoke at Mills College in Oakland last week to, unfortunately, a sparsely-filled auditorium. Mills was once a "women's college," so the empty seats were particularly disconcerting.

Lilly Ledbetter is the reason it is illegal for a woman who does the same job as a man to get paid less.

She's not a rebel. Not really. Ledbetter just happened to notice something in elementary school. Her friends with enough food and clothing (not made from cotton sacks) had fathers who worked for the Goodyear Tire factory.

Years later, she worked her way up to supervisor. Seventeen years after taking more than her share of sexual abuse, she found a note in her pocket. On the note, someone had written the salaries of the male supervisors. All that time, she'd been making peanuts compared to the men. That's when she decided to fight back, and like the other women in this article, began educating others.

The "Lilly Ledbetter Bill" was the first bill Mr. Obama signed as president. Lilly Ledbetter was the second woman the president asked to dance with at his inauguration.

These are the stories we must tell -- stories that can "teach and illuminate."

The vitriol will not only ruin us as a nation -- it will turn this tool, the Internet, into nothing more than useless, pornographic "wires and a box."