IF THERE’S SMOKE …

“A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”
Terry Pratchett, The Truth

“When you are rich and powerful, no one will challenge you to your face or give you a chance to explain yourself. All the whispers are behind your back. You are left with no means of clearing your own name. And after a while you realize there is no point in even attempting to do so. No one wants the truth. All anyone wants is the chance to add more fuel to the fires of gossip. The whispers become so loud that sometimes you think you will drown in them.”
Amanda Quick, Ravished

“Don’t forget this, too: Rumors aren’t interested in the unsensational story; rumors don’t care what’s true.”
John Irving, In One Person

“Always remember… Rumors are carried by haters, spread by fools, and accepted by idiots.”
Ziad K. Abdelnour, Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics


Among the many things we say when we don’t have something witty of our own to offer, there are a few genuinely evil ones.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

This has become everyone’s justification for deciding guilt based on rumor, hearsay, and malice. I’ve heard people say this so many times, in a wide variety of situations, but it always means the same thing:

“I haven’t a shred of evidence, but I’ve heard stuff about you-know-who. He/she/they must be guilty of something, right? Because where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Being unpopular — or accused of wrongdoing — is not proof . Neither is attending a different church, or no church. Or dressing funny, having a bad attitude, failing to mow the lawn, keeping to ones self, being anti-social, holding unpopular opinions, or having bad manners. It is legal to be different.

Shadow of the gallows

Shadow of the gallows

And hey, how about gossip, eh? People say all kinds of shit. It can ruin reputations and careers. Destroy families. All because a guy said something to someone who repeated it to someone else.

Then a couple of other guys in a bar repeated what they thought they’d heard, plus a few embellishments. Their girlfriends passed it to their best friends who tweeted it. Rumor morphed into fact … because where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Everyone knows that.

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Now, you’ve got everything you need for a quick conviction. Without benefit of judge, jury, or trial. The next thing you know, a lynch mob is forming.

If ever you hear yourself saying “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or words to that effect, stop. Think.

Who gave you the right to judge?

AN EXPERT ON GUILTY PLEASURES

GUILTY PLEASURE – EXPERTISE

I think most of the things we enjoy would be counted as guilty pleasures by someone else. You might say we’ve become guilty pleasure experts.

The other night, Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure.

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We laughed all the way through it, although it isn’t supposed to be funny. It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

Flypaper2011Poster

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE. It’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

forever_knight_2009

How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

ncis-need-to-know

Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is hilarious, but a bit troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

CRAZY OR HAPPY

Back from a brief foray over to Facebook, the social media site I love to hate, I was whacked with this witty bit of philosophical twaddle.

crazy but happy

I looked at it and realized I’ve seen a lot of similar “memes” lately. All of them seem to be saying that your choice is to be nuts, off the rails, mad as a hatter … or miserable, bitter. Living a life of quiet (or not-so-quiet) desperation.

Apparently the latest popular “wisdom” — surely promoted by the same geniuses who want Donald Trump or Ben Carson as president — is it’s impossible to be sane while happy.

In other words … if you are in your right mind, you’re miserable? You haven’t had a single laugh in your entire life?

I’ve been through a lot. Sick, poor, bankrupt, and homeless — I’ve been there. But I’ve also been happy, joyous, hopeful, determined, and successful. Sane and simultaneously content. I’ve lost. I’ve won. In and out of love and marriages. Life isn’t always happy, nor is it only pain and agony. It’s not only anything.

Even when I was homeless, life wasn’t a vale of tears. I figured I was temporarily un-housed, between residences and after a while, it got resolved. Life went on — up, down, and sideways.

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Life isn’t this or that. Happy or sad. Bitter or crazy. Life just is. You get the good times, the bad times, and plenty of in-between times. It’s a package deal. Money or lack thereof is not the key that unlocks happiness, though it can provide a very comfortable version of misery. Happiness is what you provide. You own the key.

Some of the most bitter rants I’ve heard come from young people. At the advanced age of 19 or 20, they have concluded that life has cheated them. They didn’t get “the good stuff” they deserved.

At 19 or 20, if you have yet to achieve The Good Life, it’s because you’re still on the starting line. You have not been cheated. If you decide it’s over, it means you’ve given up without a fight. Haven’t entered the fray. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, no one said it was going to be easy.

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Most of us need a few years to figure out what comprises a good life, then a few decades to achieve it. Get an education. Work at this and that until we find where we belong, until we discover the satisfaction of a job well done. Figure out what “well done” means. For me, for you.

Work isn’t punishment. Properly done, it’s a reward. Challenges and difficulties are not necessarily punishment either. Sometimes (not always), they’re part of growing up, of discovering who you are and what you were born to do. Sometimes, they turn out to be the best of times.

STICKS AND STONES

I really shouldn’t spend any time on Facebook. All it does is piss me off.

hate speech is not free

THE ORIGINATING COMMENT: Why political correctness is necessary: Spics, Micks, Gooks, Geeks, Freaks, Nips, Hebes, Kikes, Towel Heads, Camel Jockeys, Zipperheads, Chinks, Negroes, Darkies, Niggers, Crackers, Honkies, Spooks, Degos, Wops, Frogs, Canucks, Ice Farmers, Hockey Pucks, Queers, Fags, Homos.

Without it these and many other epithets would still be part of our jargon. Is this what you really want? 

Note: Author was well-intentioned.

FIRST COMMENT: Those are all just words. Being offended by them only gives them unnecessary meaning. Political correctness won’t stop…it will grow and compound until everything will offend someone. Anyone of us can pick and choose what we are offended by and legislate all others to conform. Stop being offended by everything and you take the power away from offender.

ME: Bullshit. Do you seriously believe that not being offended would make the slightest difference to these assholes?

NEXT COMMENT: People use words to make them feel better about themselves. They can call me anything they want, but it doesn’t make them a better person. But when they find I will not respond, they have to face the fact that I am the better person.

My thought balloon: No they don’t. They will harass you until you run, turn to fight, or they escalate and do you harm.

ANOTHER COMMENT: People who use those words aren’t worth listening to. That’s why when so many of a certain group use them then we know the opposition and know that to use those words ourselves is to degrade not others but ourselves. Individuals of xenophobic and bigoted mindsets always have a way of outing themselves, sometimes even in their political platform. Dog whistles galore.

ME:  Are you people serious? Have any of you actually ever been called nigger or kike or any of those other names? When somebody meant it? We can’t make people stop hating, but we can at least keep their behavior from being acceptable or worse, fashionable.

This attitude has allowed cyber-bullying to reach the point where teens are driven to suicide. It’s exactly the same as telling a kid who is being bullied that “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you.”

Names hurt. Bullying hurts. Hate hurts. Words have power.


So now, words are no big deal? Words are powerless if you want them to be?

How many suicides of teenagers are the direct result of name-calling? Bullying? Cyber-bullying? How many lives are ruined by cruel words, verbal abuse? Rumors? Lies? Ignore them and they won’t matter? Since when was that true?

Calling it “political correctness” makes it sound so inoffensive. But this isn’t a mere matter of correctness. It’s a matter of common decency and basic fairness. We are all entitled to live in a world without being jeered at, without being taunted, called names. Without being tormented by rumors and whispering campaigns. You call it “political correctness.” I call it justice.

People who talk about how all you have to do is “ignore them” have never been the butt of verbal abuse. Or faced down bullies and wondered if they were going to come out of it in one piece.

NO BOUQUET OIL JUNE

If you were bullied as a kid, how did the “not paying attention to them” work for you? How many problems of bigotry and unfair treatment have been solved by ignoring them and “being the better person?”

If they are calling you — or anyone — hateful names, they want you to feel bad. That’s the point. That’s why they are doing it.

Taking the high road is not going to make it go away or make it hurt less. We can’t cure hate, but we can make the haters shut up. I’m in favor of making them shut up. How about you?

IT WASN’T ABOUT SLAVERY? YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?

I have been a-wandering in a strange, alternative universe called Facebook. It’s a place where anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.

At some point yesterday evening I stumbled into a heated interchange that started with the potential candidacy of idiot doctor Ben Carson and roamed far afield.

Flag on the harbor

confederate flag

At some point, someone averred: “In this country majority rules, so if most of the people in a state want to fly the Confederate flag, they can. It’s IN THE CONSTITUTION.”  Along the way, someone else suggested the losers of a war don’t get to fly their flag. The south lost the war (a point often overlooked in such discussions) and they should get over it. 

I asked if the majority in a state favored slavery, would that be okay too? Most of the combatants in this discussion said yes, which proved my fundamental point. That I was interfacing with morons.

No, it isn’t in the Constitution. There’s nothing at all about flags in the Constitution. Not a word. Nothing guaranteeing rights pertaining to flags. As far as the other stuff goes, the Constitution is not designed to protect the rights of the majority. Quite the opposite. Its intent is to protect the rights of minorities because otherwise, you have tyranny.

Sorry. I digressed.

This brought a flurry of rebuttals and name-calling, brought to a head when someone offered a golden nugget.

“The Confederate flag was a battle flag and had nothing to do with slavery. In fact, the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. It was about taxes.”

Although I know arguing with idiots is a waste of perfectly good time I could productively use playing mindless games, I had to say something. There is so much historical evidence proving that the Civil War was about slavery and nothing but slavery.

United States Slave Trade

United States Slave Trade

The Civil War was predestined and the framers of the Constitution knew it. Our founding fathers made a deal with the devil to allow slavery. If they had not, there would never have been a United States. The Constitution would not have passed, might very well never have been written.

Slavery was the burning issue during the constitutional convention in 1788 and it tore the country apart a mere two generations later. They knew it would. The guys who wrote the Constitution may have wimped out, but they knew it wasn’t a real solution, just a band-aid. They also knew the issue would come to war and blood and death. It was that kind of issue.

To declare otherwise is plain ignorant. There are lots of aspects of history that are disputable, but this isn’t one of them. There is too much evidence in the form of diaries and writings — not to mention correspondence between famous guys like Jefferson, Adams, and Washington.

Sometimes, I think Americans must be the happiest people on earth, because we are surely the most ignorant. (And we know ignorance is bliss, right?)

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My statement was quickly swallowed by passionate southerners declaring I was an out-of-control left-wing lying Yankee liberal socialist commie. I retreated to a stupid pop-the-bubble game and the battle went on without me.

Why do I bother?

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015 #14 – STUPID OLD PEOPLE

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015 #14 – STUPID OLD PEOPLE

Wednesday – July 15, 2015

It’s Frisbee Wednesday again. No more fooling around. New England has turned up the heat … and unfortunately, the humidity too. It’s in the 90s with 99% humidity. As someone said, “It’s not the heat, it’s the stupidity.” (I could not find the book from which this quote was taken, but I remember reading it. If anyone can locate the source, let me know.)

On the way to be on the radio.

On the way to be on the radio.

There’s been an excess of stupidity lately. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but for some reason, it’s more “in my face” this summer. I would like to blame it on the weather. Heat makes people snappish and bad-tempered. It gives me a headache. Ultimately, it makes everyone stupid.

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It even makes the dogs stupid. They will sleep wherever they can find a cooler spot, no matter how dangerous — despite living in air-conditioning. It’s too nasty out there for man or beast.

Most people don’t realize how sweltering it gets in New England. How hot and how the combination of super-heated air and ultra high humidity makes it feel like Disney World in August. It feels like there’s no air out there.

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We live in a region of extremes. No wonder the American Revolution began here. Talk about hotheads. Sam Adams had a real mouth on him. He kept needling everyone until we began a hopeless war against a super power … and somehow (with a little help from our friends, the French) won.

Because we won that war, we now live in a free country where any moron can proffer his worthless opinions on social media or, for that matter, network news. Is this a great nation or what?

TURN OFF THE RADIO

So we got an invitation to guest on a radio show last weekend. I will not give the name or call letters. Or say who hosted it. Because the host and hostess are lovely, sweet, kindly people. Shockingly unprofessional and painfully ignorant, but well-intentioned.

In studio.

In studio. Looking happier than we felt.

Good intentions are not enough. You need to know something about the subject you are discussing on the public airwaves. Otherwise, you sound stupid.

The subject of the show? Movies (what else?). The call-in person being interviewed was the daughter of a super famous Hollywood star who is no longer with us. Suddenly, our host, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, began the classic “old-timer’s rant.” Don’t you just hate when that happens?

“The movie business,” declared our host as he ramped up his complaints in which he extolled the good old days to the detriment of anything recent, “Isn’t like it used to be. Today it’s all about money. Not like the greats of the past, like Cecil B. DeMille. Now, it’s only about making money.”

Unlike the old days, when they did it for free? For art? Because in the old days, they treated talent so well? Were so concerned with truth and accuracy? When studio heads were generous, fatherly, treating their employees with respect and concern for the well-being and careers?

More traveling.

More traveling.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but making movies is a business. It has always been about money. Sometimes we get lucky. A movie maker who can afford to take a loss makes a movie just because he or she believes it’s worthwhile. Such benevolence was as rare “back in the day” as it is now. Hollywood was and is all about the bottom line. Everyone knows it.

Those golden olden days made gazillions of dollars for the guys who ran studios. They paid pitifully low salaries to anyone who worked for them and wrote contracts forcing actors, directors, cinematographers, and many others to grind out movies by the truckload without regard for quality or if a vehicle was suited to the talent. All that mattered was money. Moguls became rich as Croesus and laughed all the way to the bank.

We sometimes forget — even those of us who are “into” movies — most of the stuff churned out by Hollywood is/was crap. For every classic we love, maybe 100 (more?) junk films were pumped out. Movies that have been (thankfully) forgotten.

Studios don’t own talent today. Actors, directors and others make their own deals. They can’t be forced to make movies they feel will make them look stupid, or represent values they do not share. They do it anyway, but no one holds a virtual gun to their heads.

RANTERS MAKE OLD PEOPLE LOOK STUPID

Blanket ranting about the good old days by people my age, and weirdly, a cross-section of ranting younger people who can’t use senility as their excuse — as if everything new is automatically bad and everything old was great — makes old people look like imbeciles. It gives seniors a bad name and causes young people to think we are stupid.

No one can control the big mouths, supersized egos, and free access to media that morons have. I sometimes wonder how many of these ranters are in early stage senile dementia.

That’s when “we live in a free country” kicks in. We’re stuck with morons because they have the absolute right to be stupid, ignorant, and proclaim that stupidity and ignorance to the world. What’s scary is how many people listen to and believe it.

Good to be home!

Good to be home!

Can’t we add a teeny tiny codicil to the First Amendment requiring free speech include a semblance of fact? A hint of truth? That there be a relationship between what one is saying and reality?

Thank the universe I retain the right to not listen.

MY VERY BEST ADVICE

The other day, I had one of the increasingly rare moments alone with my granddaughter. She has been going through a prolonged siege of the teenage girl crazies, a ghastly combination of hormones, young men, job hunting, and high drama.

Clearly, she was in need of my best advice.

“If you are going to be crazy, be crazy,” I said. “I was a basket case at your age. It’s a girl thing. But trust me. You really can trust me on this. Everything gets better. Not very long from now, you’ll look back on this time and wonder why you were so upset.”

Then I gave her that best advice: “Be crazy. Just don’t publish it online. Your great-grandchildren will be finding your Facebook posts and laughing their asses off. Worse, your future employers will be finding them too, not to mention your potential life-partners, business associates, friends and co-workers. College professors. Have fun. Be wild and crazy, but don’t publish it.”

Life can be a bowl of cherries ... if you are discreet!

Life can be a bowl of cherries … if you are discreet!

Nothing vanishes once it’s “out there” in cyberspace. Everything is going to show up on someone’s Google search. I can find posts I wrote — supposedly private — from more than twenty years ago.

If you post it on any form of social media? It’s a land mine on which you will eventually step. Anything you do is just a rumor — if it remains unpublished. You retain plausible deniability. Hang onto that.