Kevin Drum

Here's How to Apologize to a Smart 20-Year-Old

| Wed Apr. 13, 2016 11:48 AM EDT

According to a bit of research from the Ohio State University, the best apologies contain two elements:

  • Acknowledgment of responsibility
  • Offer of repair

That's it. It's also nice—but not really necessary—to express regret, explain how you screwed up, and say you're sorry. Asking for forgiveness can be tossed in the ash can. Nobody cares.

This is good to know. However, it's also good to know that this is your typical SocSci study, conducted with some folks online and then repeated with a bunch of undergrads. So this is basically a study of what kind of apology your typical high-IQ 20-year-old appreciates most. Whether this says anything about the rest of us I couldn't say.

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Feeling Hungry? Have a Deep-Fried Butter Ball.

| Wed Apr. 13, 2016 11:09 AM EDT

Nutritional research is really hard. To do it right, you need a large sample of people; you need to randomly assign them to different diets; they need to actually stick to the diet; and they have to be followed for years. In real life, this is almost impossible.

However, back in the 60s we had different ideas about how we were allowed to treat mental patients, and that led to a large-scale study of cholesterol and saturated fat at a mental institution in Minnesota. Whatever you think of the ethics of an experiment like this, it's pretty much ideal from a research point of view. The patients can be fed whatever you want; they have no choice but to stick with the diet; and physically they're fairly typical. So the study got done, and the researchers concluded that a low-fat diet was a good thing.

But it turns out the researchers were pretty dedicated to finding that result in the first place. Recently, the full results of their study were unearthed and analyzed, and it turns out their conclusions were wrong. Totally wrong:

The fuller accounting of the data indicates that the advice is, at best, unsupported by the massive trial. In fact, it appears to show just the opposite: Patients who lowered their cholesterol, presumably because of the special diet, actually suffered more heart-related deaths than those who did not.

The higher rate of mortality for patients on the special diet was most apparent among patients older than 64....“Had this research been published 40 years ago, it might have changed the trajectory of diet-heart research and recommendations” said Daisy Zamora, a researcher at UNC and a lead author of the study.

....“What this research implies is that there is not enough evidence to draw strong conclusions about the health effects of vegetable oils” Christopher Ramsden, a medical investigator at NIH and a lead author of the study, said in an interview.

Ramsden and colleagues discovered the missing data during their research examining the potentially harmful effects of linoleic acid — a key constituent of most vegetable oils — on human health.

Their paper notes that before the advent of agriculture, humans got 2 to 3 percent of their calories from linoleic acid; today most Americans, awash in cooking oils and oils added to snack foods, get much more. Preliminary research suggests a link between linoleic acid and diseases such as chronic pain, Ramsden said.

I've mentioned before that I'm semi-convinced that nutritional advice for the past half century has been wildly off base. It's quite possible that the rise in obesity and other health problems in America is due not to saturated fats, but to our enormous intake of vegetable oil. That, after all, is what's new in American diets since 1900. Before then, we barely used vegetable oil at all and we were pretty healthy. Now we use it by the tanker car and we're in pretty sad shape.

To know for sure, we need two things. First, researchers with an open mind. Second, reliable nutritional studies. Unfortunately, since forcing mental patients to be saturated-fat guinea pigs is no longer on the table, it's as hard as ever to conduct reliable studies. Still, keep in mind that the weakness of nutritional studies works both ways: all the evidence that saturated fats are bad and vegetable oil is good is pretty thin too. Go ahead and smear some butter on that toast.

The Gender Pay Gap Is Still About 21 Cents Per Dollar

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 3:59 PM EDT

Today is Equal Pay Day, so let's break down the numbers for the gender pay gap. According to an up-to-date study by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, the current wage gap for annual earnings is 21 cents: On average, women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

So that's the headline number. But what are the causes of the gap in men's and women's earnings? Blau and Kahn break it down into seven buckets:

You can look at this two ways. The first is to say that the pay gap due to discrimination (the most likely cause of the "unexplained" part of the chart above) is about 10 cents per dollar, since roughly 11 cents is explained by other factors, such as experience in the job, occupation, industry, etc.

The second way—which is my take—is that it's true that some of the gap goes away when you account for the fact that women tend to work in different jobs than men and take more time off to have children. But that's all part of the story. When you look at the whole picture, women are punished financially in three different ways: because "women's jobs" have historically paid less than jobs dominated by men; because women are expected to take time off when they have children, which reduces their seniority; and because even when they're in the same job with the same amount of experience, they get paid less than men. All of these things are part of the pay gap. Whether you call all three of them "discrimination" is more a matter of taste than anything else.

But however you choose to approach it, the gender pay gap still exists. It's at least 10 cents per dollar, and more like 21 cents if you accept that most of the mitigating factors are gender-based as well.

Paul Ryan Does Not Want to Be Your Next President

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 2:07 PM EDT

Paul Ryan will apparently be making a Shermanesque statement about an hour from now:

Ryan...has arranged a hastily called 3:15 p.m. press conference inside the Republican National Committee. Advisers say he will insist — in his clearest terms yet — to the GOP’s big donor and lobbyist class that he will not attempt to claim the nomination at the July convention in Cleveland.

“He’s going to rule himself out and put this to rest once and for all,” a Ryan aide said, requesting anonymity to discuss the planned speech.

Stay tuned. Presumably this is good news for Ted Cruz.

UPDATE: And the press conference is now over:

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Ryan said. “I do not want nor will I accept the nomination of our party.” He added that he had a message for convention delegates: “If no candidate has the majority on the first ballot, I believe you should only turn to a person who has participated in the primary. Count me out.”

That seems suitably blunt.

Weekly Flint Water Report: April 2-7

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 2:00 PM EDT

I got tired of waiting for Michigan's DEQ to post Friday's water testing result, so here is this week's Flint water report through Thursday. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 368 samples. The average for the past week was 10.07.

Can You Guess Who Gets the Most Abuse in Comments?

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 12:52 PM EDT

The Guardian decided to analyze their corpus of 70 million comments to see who gets the most abuse. The results won't surprise you:

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men…And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

Of course, certain subjects invited more abuse than others:

And abuse that starts in one place can spread astonishingly quickly via social media:

Avalanches happen easily online. Anonymity disinhibits people, making some of them more likely to be abusive. Mobs can form quickly: once one abusive comment is posted, others will often pile in, competing to see who can be the most cruel. This abuse can move across platforms at great speed—from Twitter, to Facebook, to blogposts—and it can be viewed on multiple devices—the desktop at work, the mobile phone at home. To the person targeted, it can feel like the perpetrator is everywhere: at home, in the office, on the bus, in the street…This must surely have a chilling effect, silencing people who might otherwise contribute to public debates—particularly women, LGBT people and people from racial or religious minorities, who see others like themselves being racially and sexually abused.

Is that the kind of culture we want to live in?

Is that the web we want?

The article also includes a short quiz: Which comments would you ban? I disagreed with two out of eight of their real-life examples.

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Trump to Hotel Workers: Drop Dead

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 11:47 AM EDT

The hero of the blue-collar working man apparently has his limits. Workers at the Trump International Hotel voted to unionize a few months ago—hardly surprising in a union town like Las Vegas—but Donald Trump is having none of it:

Ever since the vote, Donald Trump's managers have fought unionization every step of the way. They filed 15 objections with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging intimidation and forgery by union officials. After the claims were either withdrawn by Trump or dismissed by the labor board, the unions were officially certified as bargaining agents last month.

But the Trump Organization still refused to negotiate, and last week, at the last possible moment, the hotel filed for a review of the case with the labor board in Washington, further putting off contract talks.

…Union officials said the 523 workers at the Trump hotel stand to make an additional $3.33 an hour, based on the standard pay for comparable workers at other union hotels. Assuming they all worked full-time, that increase would add about $3.6 million to the Trump hotel's annual labor expenses, not including the cost of health insurance and other benefits.

As usual, Trump talks the talk, but that's about it. When his own money is on the line, he doesn't give to charity, he doesn't support working stiffs, and his "self-funded" presidential campaign is actually a bunch of loans that he expects to be paid back. That's our Donald.

Hillary Clinton: "Politics Has to Play Some Role in This"

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 11:01 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is famously well briefed, so you can be sure she had no trouble answering questions from the Daily News editorial board. "Look, I'm excited about this stuff," she said. "I'm kind of a wonky person. I'm excited by it."

Needless to say, this also meant her interview was spectacularly dull. But after a wonky discussion of her idea for a national infrastructure bank, we got at least one revealing tidbit:

Daily News: There are many who believe that the stimulus program that had a lot of infrastructure money was divided up politically.

Clinton: Well, look. Politics has to play some role in this. Let's not forget we do have to play some role. I got to get it passed through Congress. And I think I'm well-prepared to do that. I was telling you about Buffalo. I got $20 million. Now I got that because it was political. But it worked. And it has created this amazing medical complex. So I don't disregard the politics, but I believe one of the ways to get to the overall political outcome is by doing a better job than I think was done in the Obama administration, in constantly talking about what this can mean—new jobs, new economic growth and competitiveness.

This isn't breaking news or anything, but it's a surprisingly direct defense of plain old politics, which modern politicians are required to condemn with extreme prejudice. Politics is supposed to be the problem, not the solution. It's why Washington doesn't work. Too many Beltway folks playing the same old political games.

But as Clinton says, that's not really true. Like anything, political maneuvering can go too far. But the problem with Washington these days is too little politics, not too much. Bring back earmarks! Bring back logrolling and back-scratching! Bring back carrots and sticks! Bring back conference committees! Bring back a bit of give and take.

You don't hear politicians defend the grubby business of politics very often these days. It's nice to hear it once in a while.

Yet Another Feinstein-Burr Bill Has Been Leaked

| Tue Apr. 12, 2016 1:17 AM EDT

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr apparently have very unreliable staffs. Yet another discussion draft of a national security bill they're jointly sponsoring has been leaked to the press. They really need to tighten up their operation.

Ted Cruz Is Almost as Popular as Donald Trump

| Mon Apr. 11, 2016 9:10 PM EDT

In case you haven't been playing close attention, the Republican primary race has become quite the nail biter. Ted Cruz still has a lot of ground to make up, but as you can see in the Pollster chart below, over the last month he's nearly caught up to Donald Trump in overall popularity. The Pollster chart also makes it clear why so many people are annoyed with John Kasich: he has no chance of winning, but he's probably helping Trump stay alive. If he pulled out of the race, it's likely that most of his followers would switch to Cruz, giving him a considerable poll lead over Trump, which in turn would help him win more primaries. Instead, Trump is hanging on for grim life.

FWIW, the same dynamic—sans Trump and sans a Kasich-esque spoiler—is visible on the Democratic side, where Bernie Sanders is now within a couple of points of Hillary Clinton in national polling. This is quite a primary cycle we're having this year.