The Irrationality of Cheating

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely discusses some of the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s okay to cheat or steal (sometimes).

Needless to say, his findings provide some timely insight regarding the egregious shenanigans on Wall Street. That’s just one aspect of his talk, however. More generally, it deals with how our deeply-held intuitions can be consistently wrong and another familiar theme that’s been touched on before here — the predictability of our irrationality.

“Young, dumb, and full of glum”

Hey, he said it… I didn’t. But if the foo-shits and all that.

Look, Gary Goodyear’s apparent ambivalence regarding evolution isn’t really a question about his “personal believes” (yes, it’s actually written that way on Pareta’s blog), but more simply indicative of how woefully unqualified this individual is to be minister of state for science and technology.

That he opted to turn a rather simple question about one of the most fundamental scientific tenets concerning the origin of our species into a matter of faith (“I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Goodyear bizarrely responded when asked if he believed in evolution) is beside the point and speaks more to his profoundly dull intellect and political ineptness than anything else. Many people of faith have no problem whatsoever reconciling their personal belief in God with the theory of evolution; indeed, the Vatican has recently claimed that Darwinian evolution and the account of Creation in Genesis are “perfectly compatible” (go figure).

But all that aside, would it really be too much to ask that a qualified scientist — a legitimate medical doctor, for example rather than a chiropractor — be in charge of this portfolio? You know… somebody properly schooled in the scientific method. The fact of the matter is that chiropracty is based on treating imaginary defects of the spine (“subluxations”) by manipulation. These so-called defects, which are also common in people who are not sick, are believed by chiropractors to cause disease and dysfunction of organs. While many people swear by chiropractic therapy and notwithstanding all of its biomechanical pretensions, it’s actually nothing short of a faith-based quackery that feeds off the boundless credulity of its pain-afflicted patients.

Viewed this way, the question then isn’t whether Goodyear’s possibly antediluvian religious beliefs should give us pause for thought, but whether it’s appropriate for a practitioner of this pseudo-scientific fakery to be charged with oversight and management of Canada’ present and future science strategy

Update: Although he released a lukewarm statement yesterday indicating he believed in evolution, Goodyear balked at a request today to provide his definition for clarification. “My entire background has been in science and my personal beliefs are not important,” Mr. Goodyear said. Really? Is this the best he could do? He’s a CHIROPRATOR for fucksake and he claims his “entire background has been in science”? Earth to Goodyear…

“Are You Kidding Me?”

Another Instantly Classic Shepard Smith Rant

One of the few good things on Fox News…

Meanwhile, CNN is mucking about trying to fathom the “huge mystery” surrounding the clandestine amendment inserted at the last minute by Sen. Chris Dodd (coincidentally, the number one recipient of AIG political contributions) into the stimulus bill legislation that modified it with regards to executive compensation — an artful contrivance that effectively created a loophole allowing the contentious “bonuses” to go forward. And why would that be? Well, the latest explanation seems to be that the unit dealing with credit default swaps was so impenetrably confusing to senior management of the company that it was necessary to retain the unique expertise of the traders involved to decrypt and unravel the very mess they’d created.

Uh-huh. A likely story… Sheesh! Who do these sleazy traders think they are — computer programmers, or something?

The plot thickens. By various twists and turns, a new (old) spin on the pre-February, 2009 carve-out in the stimulus bill emerges. Well, whatever. As I said yesterday, this whole AIG bonus fiasco is a piffling (albeit highly entertaining) distraction in the scheme of things.

Better Know a Smear Merchant

Keith Olbermann talks to Markos Moulitsas (#3 on the O’Reilly-Goldberg list of far left “smear merchants”) about the vast left-wing conspiracy… one so fantastically nefarious that the people implicated as being participants don’t even know they’re part of it. The deranged kookiness of right-wing pundits and bloggers continues…

Directed Distraction?

From the “Broken Clock” Department: Glenn Beck is, quite surprisingly, entirely correct in pointing out that all the ecumenical outrage directed at AIG over their planned disbursement of $165 million in “bonuses” is nothing but a piffling distraction in the greater scheme of things.

Somewhat ironically, this is much akin to all of the partisan histrionics over Congressional earmarks that made up less than 2% of the federal budget. In the case of the AIG bonuses however, the debt to equity ratio of grotesque stupidity is amplified by several orders of magnitude when the relatively trifling sum involved is regarded in the context of the $170 billion in taxpayer money that’s been lent so far to the troubled insurer.

Ah, but we can’t let Beck get off this easily… For while he may be on the right track when suggesting that the real scandal here is that AIG has used “bail out” money from the Fed to reimburse counterparties to all the convoluted financial instruments of its trading partners (e.g., Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, et. al) that have gone bust, he’s still compelled to frame the scam within the parameters of a simplistic political structure — taking cheap shots at Barney Frank, for example, and heavily suggesting that successive government dictats to the secondary mortgage market to expand the scope of their lending to low-income borrowers was the root cause of the problem.

Sadly, no. A better explanation might be that such well-intended initiatives (aka “shameless pandering to the voters”) were deliberately misconstrued and then exploited with methodical ruthlessness by bankers as a lucrative short-term revenue opportunity, then compounded by Wall Street speculators who coined sophisticated derivative instruments incorporating them as ballast, that were subsequently backed by phantom credit default swaps. All well and good of course in the wacky world of high finance, until this elaborate house of cards abruptly collapsed in the wake of the first passing breeze.