Ponderings Archives

A Good Friday to Remember -- The rather dramatic story of my near-fatal car crash off a cliff

By Michael Fumento

Good Friday, April 17, 1992: I'd just started a great job at Investor's Business Daily in Los Angeles, and two weeks earlier I'd purchased the car of my dreams, a beautiful, blue Toyota MR2 Turbo. To me, at least, it looked like a small Ferrari. It was fast and sleek. I was taking my girlfriend, Mary, who had just recently followed me out from Denver, where we'd met, to see a city she'd always dreamed of visiting: San Francisco.

But we were in no hurry, and I wanted her to see the majestic beauty of the central California coastline. That meant taking the Pacific Coast Highway. Cut into the cliffs and filled with sharp, winding turns, it can make for a white-knuckle ride in many parts. As the driver, you take quick glances at the scenery and then shoot your eyes back to the road. A front-page article in the Monterey County Herald would later be aptly titled "The Beauty and Danger of Highway 1." An accompanying piece: "Rocks and Surf below Highway Become Tomb for Some."

Those articles would be about us.

My essay "A Good Friday to Remember," first appeared on Good Friday two years ago and prompted more fan email than any other piece I've written. If you end up crying, that seems about typical.

April 5, 2012 04:32 PM  ·  Permalink

Rationality and the Taping of Moving Boxes

By Michael Fumento

I have long been fascinated by both aberrational and irrational human behavior, at least since I documented a mass outbreak of hysteria regarding the so-called "heterosexual AIDS explosion" that wasn't GOING to take place but allegedly already had.

More recently, I documented that the whole Toyota flap was mass sociogenic hysteria in the same category of the missing children and Satanic abuse in the day care centers hysteria. This notwithstanding that I've been unable to find a single publication willing to print what I show is clearly obvious. Editors don't think anybody is interested that this is America's greatest mass hysteria in many years, and that such mass hysterias usually cause tremendous and lasting damage. And maybe they're right.

Mind, "irrational" and "aberrational" are by no means synonymous. Often enough, irrationality rules the day and it's rationality that is aberrational.

The irrationality that interests me the most is my own. That's allowed because relative to other Americans, I don't have a very large ego. I readily admit when I do dumb things and I ponder why. Such is the case as I've been packing boxes for my forthcoming move to South America.

I found that with flattened boxes I was consistently flipping them so that I first taped the bottoms, filled the boxes, and then taped the tops. But what's a "bottom" and "top?" Silly! It's determined by the writing on the boxes! But who cares what the writing says? Top and bottom are whatever you make of them. So I was being irrational and wasting a bit of time in making sure the lettering was upright.

Or was I?

Fact is, while I SHOULD be packing as if the box is going to be tossed and tossed and tossed, probably part of my brain is assuming this box will be kept upright. Certainly when it's in my possession it will be. That's an important part of the time. And my guess is that while many movers will simply toss boxes about (more roughly, of course, if they're marked "fragile"), that a certain percentage will also be affected by the lettering on the side. Even if that percentage is quite small, spread across a large number of boxes (Too large, "Groan!") it could result in reduced breakage.

So the "irrational" turns out to be not so irrational after all!

Now, with a rub of my lucky rabbit's foot and a four-leaf clover in my pocket, I'm back to packing.

March 9, 2011 01:05 PM  ·  Permalink

Civility Project Shuts Down for Lack of Interest

By Michael Fumento

The Civility Project is no more and never was, as you can read here and here.

"The worst e-mails I received about the civility project were from conservatives with just unbelievable language about communists, and some words I wouldn't use in this phone call," Civility Project head Mark Demoss said.

"This political divide has become so sharp that everything is black and white, and too many conservatives can see no redeeming value in any liberal or Democrat. That would probably be true about some liberals going the other direction, but I didn't hear from them."

Mr. DeMoss said he was not convinced that there is a link between vicious political attacks and violent acts, but he added, "Whether or not there's violence, whether or not incivility today is worse than it's been in history, it's all immaterial. It's worse than it ought to be."


We are experiencing a mass hysteria of political hatred and anger. Both are common to mass hysterias in that they stimulate the lower brain. Ultimately, you no longer see humans as humans.

Thus you can slaughter whole groups of people, even fact to face, just because they are DIFFERENT. Different nationality, different religion, different ethnic background, different wealth status. It doesn't really matter. You find something YOU believe is different enough to dehumanize them.

And there are always the rabble rousers. You know their names. I used to be friends with some of them. Whether they actually believe the awful things they say is irrelevant. It's good for their egos and pocketbooks and the damage is the same.

Slaughter is the worst, but there are lesser grades of harm that usually come first. And, in this case, hopefully not at all. But this isn't just a short-lived fad anymore than is the hatred and fear of intellectuals and the triumph of mediocrity.

It's yet another sign of a once-great nation in decline. The America we grew up in is no more. If it still looks like it is, you're prey to wishful thinking.

January 17, 2011 01:28 PM  ·  Permalink

"'Denialism' has no place in scientific debate," my letter in Nature Medicine

By Michael Fumento

The key sentence in the letter is this, "'Denialist' is an ad hominem argument, the meaning of which is defined entirely by the user, intended to discredit the accused without evidence."

The "anti-denialism" campaign is, to use a word I rarely employ, a literal conspiracy - albeit something of an open one in that it's openly pushed by Chris Mooney. The purpose is two-fold.

1) Brand those with the "wrong" scientific views not just as "kooks" or "nuts" but as literally pathological. This from a recent article in The New Scientist:

"Instigators of denialist movements have more serious psychological problems than most of their followers. 'They display all the features of paranoid personality disorder [according to one quoted "expert"]' "including anger, intolerance of criticism, and what psychiatrists call a grandiose sense of their own importance." The "expert" goes on to say, "Ultimately, their denialism is a mental health problem. That is why these movements all have the same features, especially the underlying conspiracy theory."

2) Lump those whose ideas you wish to defame with people who truly are whacko. Thus there's no difference between not accepting the party line on global warming and believing vaccines cause autism or HIV doesn't cause AIDS.

It is truly insidious and we're going to be hearing a lot more from these people.

June 10, 2010 06:12 PM  ·  Permalink

Red beer

By Michael Fumento

This is my blog and I see no reason why it always has to be about political and social issues. So today I address one of my personal favorite issues, beer.

Last night I went for my weekly beer and burger at the sports bar with the beautiful bartenders. This time it was Nicole, a gorgeous blonde, well-endowed, with lots of cleavage showing. The only new beer they had on tap was Killian's Red and they were half price and I ended up having three, which is one more than I ever have of beer (since my Army days, anyway) but just made me tipsy and anyway I walked there.

It's now at least the second red I've had that I've really liked. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the first - not because I drank too many but because it was three years ago in California. I presumed all reds were ales but looked it up and found this really interesting little piece on reds and found Killian's is actually a lager.

I knew it was owned by Coors, which is a very bad sign, but the taste tells me they didn't futz with the recipe. That said, the article notes you can do a lot better with reds and I'm sure you can. As it happened, THESE Killians were consumed in the presence of other people, from the tap, and while staring at, well, you know. Circumstances DO alter the flavor of beer!

Lagers, which are essentially determined by the type of yeast used, only go back to the 19th century, a development allowed by refrigeration. Nevertheless they quickly stole the show from ales and are not only the overwhelming favorite in the U.S. but in Germany.

In Germany, it's generally wheat beers and pilsners. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise, but while I've never had a bad Weissbier in Germany, some of their pilsners are AWFUL. That includes Becks and St. Pauli Girl and whatever Lufthansa serves, the name of which I forget. (Adding insult to injury, Becks is Belgian-owned, and Belgians are generally considered to have the best beers in the world.)

The best pilsner I've ever had, by the way, is LaBatt's Blue. I've had the original pilsner from Pilzen in the Czech Republic and don't like it nearly as much.

The Canadians have always been a nice pocket of good beer-making, even when the U.S. went to hell after Prohibition. In fact, the lack of Prohibition in Canada probably goes a long way towards explaining it. Another thing is that so many of the mass-produced American beers swap out barley for corn and rice, which the Bavarian Reinheitsangebot forbids. It allows only water, barley, and hops -- though you can add things like wheat on top. Why do mass American beer makers use these other ingredients? It's cheaper. And it tastes cheaper.

As a German character in "The Simpons" says, "Your beer tastes like swill to us!"

I now await the hate mail from lovers of Bud Lite.

March 4, 2010 08:40 AM  ·  Permalink

Does positive thinking lead to positive outcomes?

By Michael Fumento

Recently I wrote a positive review (no pun intended) of Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America for Forbes Online. A reader nevertheless wrote to me: "studies show that optimism leads to more positive outcomes." My response:

No, actually they don't. They find correlation but not causation. Being fat is associated with overreating, but not too many people would argue that being fat causes you to overeat anymore than they would see a cart behind a horse and presume that the cart is pushing the horse forward. I allude to this in my book review.

As far as success and riches go, yes, studies of both individuals and nations do link greater wealth with a more upbeat attitude. But our pathological positivism thrusts the cart squarely before the horse, insisting that attitude leads to circumstances. Evidence that suggests positive attitudes lead to positive results - like cheerier people being more likely to get a job or promotion - could merely reflect societal prejudice against those with negative or merely realistic attitudes, Ehrenreich points out.

Ehrenreich writes of a plenary session on "'The Future of Positive Psychology'" featuring the patriarchs of the discipline, Martin Seligman and Ed Diener. Seligman got the audience's attention by starting off with the statement, 'I've decided my theory of positive psychology is completely wrong.' Why? Because it's about happiness, which is 'scientifically unwieldy.'"

So we're left to consider this logically. And logically circumstances are more likely to dictate attitude than attitude is to dictate circumstances. The connection in the first case is obvious; in the second case you have to provide all sorts of explanations as to why this might be the case.

Now, I have a friend who has a positive attitude despite current very negative circumstances. But why?

Because as he says he's utterly convinced the novel he's completing will be a best-seller notwithstanding that he's never even written a novel before and the objective odds are he won't even get a publisher. But he's factoring a best-seller into his mental attitude.

Unfortunately John Kennedy Toole probably had exactly the same attitude and for the best of reasons. "A Confederacy of Dunces" was a fantastic book. It did in fact become a best-seller. But not before every publisher poor Toole went to rejected it outright and he killed himself. If Toole had a more sanguine attitude he might have gone on to write other books, gotten one of those published, and then gotten publishers to look at the first book. We know of similar examples, as with J.K. Rowling.

I'm sorry, but there's nothing inherently good about positivism and, again as I note in my book review, there are indeed studies showing that pessimists are better able to handle bad news than optimists. All that said, I'm not pushing pessimism per se - although pessimists do serve an important function in society as a brake on the optimists - I'm pushing realism.

January 31, 2010 03:26 PM  ·  Permalink

On being a modern day Cassandra - or when scientific methodolgy hurts you

By Michael Fumento

The following is from an essay on why people love conspiracy theories:

The reality may be that all too many of us actually prefer to believe the fantastic over the mundane. Maybe the sky is falling, but isn't life also a bit more romantic with the nervous thrill that maybe the end really is at hand? And even if the sky isn't falling, aren't the nights more exciting with beings from other worlds buzzing around in them? These are exciting times for those who believe themselves to be living in the biblical "End Times," shortly to be called to do Apocalyptic battle with the forces of Satan. On a whole other level, a national poll reveals that some 70 percent of Americans do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. What the pollsters didn't ask was whether those 70 percent of Americans felt better believe that their president was killed by an elaborate conspiracy than by some isolated nut with a mail-order rifle and a head full of sour politics. If the lone nut could get the president, didn't that make life so random that anything could supposedly happen to anyone at any time? In the traumatic wake of the JFK assassination and the subsequent murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, the concept of conspiracy offered a certain degree of chilly comfort. At least it possessed sufficiently evil stature to explain the pain.

Unfortunately, most people in our culture don't seek enlightenment in their daily reading. They seek either confirmation bias or entertainment, or better yet both together. The last thing they want is a simple explanation for a phenomenon, for example that Gulf vets are getting sick and dying for no other reason than that everybody gets sick and everybody dies and fact is Gulf vets are getting sick and dying at exactly the same rate as matched controls who didn't deploy.

And disasters are also entertaining. So if a presidential council says swine flu could kill as many as 90,000 Americans this year it's page A1 news. When I write that the evidence indicates we'll just have a typical flu season in terms of deaths, that's so BORE-ING. Important? Absolutely! But unless you're among the minority to whom enlightenment is exciting, such a piece may be considered dull, dull, dull.

It makes you a sort of modern-day Cassandra. People don't believe your predictions. And it's not because they're not based on solid science but, to a great extent because they are based on solid science. Solid science just isn't what they're looking for.

September 2, 2009 11:33 AM  ·  Permalink