Do you have a friend or relative who's having a lot more "senior moments" than they used to? Your doctor has ways to diagnose what's really going on. She can perform neurological exams, mental status tests, mood assessments, and, in cases where the patient has unusually heavy responsibilities that make it especially important to get a firm diagnosis, brain imaging scans that distinguish between healthy neurons and diseased neurons:

In patients who are showing signs of dementia, brains scans will show a buildup of amyloid plaque that destroys the tau proteins that keep the brain's messaging system running smoothly. The result is disintegrating microtubules and tangled nerve cells.

Don't worry: insurance will cover the cost of these tests if you work for a large employer like the federal government. So keep an eye out for the warning signs: isolation from friends,1 irritability and unpredictable fits of temper,2 poor judgment,3 difficulty speaking plainly,4 trouble understanding visual images like maps,5 difficulty planning things,6 and memory lapses.7

1cnn.com/2017/05/12/politics/trump-comey-white-house-morale-fallout/
2redux.slate.com/cover-stories/2017/05/trumps-rage-powers-his-ruthlessness-and-his-ineptitude.html
3nytimes.com/2017/05/15/us/politics/trump-russia-classified-information-isis.html
4portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2017/04/25/18971137/the-best-parts-of-trumps-trainwreck-ap-interview
5cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/04/28/trump-electoral-maps-reuters-interview-newday.cnn
6politico.com/story/2017/05/15/donald-trump-fake-news-238379
7nbcnews.com/video/trump-forgets-to-sign-executive-order-911564355790

Over at the Washington Post, Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe report that President Trump is an idiot:

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State....The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said that Trump’s decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.

....“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

Meanwhile, over at Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer reports that our allies think Trump is an idiot too:

NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to two to four minutes at a time during the discussion, several sources inside NATO and former senior U.S. officials tell Foreign Policy. And the alliance scrapped plans to publish the traditional full post-meeting statement meant to crystallize NATO’s latest strategic stance.

....“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” said one source briefed extensively on the meeting’s preparations. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re freaking out.”

The Republican Party has a lot to answer for. When that day comes, it's going to come hard.

Lunchtime Photo

A few days ago the bird folks were showing off in comments by identifying tiny black specks over Huntington Beach pier as brown pelicans. So perhaps you'd like to see a non-speck version of a brown pelican? This one was part of a flock of a couple dozen that were flying big lazy circles off the coast this weekend. I had to use a pretty extreme amount of exposure compensation to adjust for the bad lighting, which is why this pelican doesn't look especially brown, but be assured it really is a brown pelican.

The coast around here is full of brown pelicans, which is why so many housing developments nearby are named Pelican Point, Pelican Bay, etc. This is an example of the Law of Place Naming, which states that you name places after whatever species and/or activity you displace. Pelican Farms, for example, would be ideal for a place that had destroyed all the local pelican habitat and would never see a furrow plowed again.

Here's a bit more good news for you today. In Gallup's latest poll, 64 percent of Americans say same-sex marriage should be legal. Even Republicans are getting on board: in the past four years, support for gay marriage among Republicans has shot up from 28 percent to 47 percent. At least a few things are going right these days.

Over at Politico, "How Trump Gets His Fake News" is getting a lot of play this morning. And why not? In one sense, it's an old story: Trump's staff has to treat him like a volcanic nine-year-old lest he decide on a whim to move the Oval Office onto a barge in the Chesapeake Bay or something. We've read dozens of pieces like this in the past few months because Trump, by all accounts, really is a lot like a high-strung nine-year-old. At the same time, this kind of stuff is liberal crack: you can never get enough.

So what's the best part of this latest installment in the Trump saga? The fake Time cover that got Trump lathered up about climate change? How Katie Walsh almost got fired because of a blog post from a conspiracy theorist? The fact that aides desperately try to ply Trump with good news to keep his temper in check? The endless search for whoever fed him the latest unapproved tidbit of Trumpbait? They're all good. But maybe this is the best:

More recently, when four economists who advised Trump during the campaign — Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore — wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “now is the time to move [tax reform] forward with urgency,” someone in the White House flagged the piece for the president.

Trump summoned staff to talk about it. His message: Make this the tax plan, according to one White House official present.

Once again, we see that Trump couldn't care less about policy. Any old health care plan is OK. Any old tax plan is OK. Just announce something and get it passed. Who care about all the stupid details, anyway? Just smug PhD types and annoying tea party crackpots.

Nothing matters. It's all just a big show.

I try to keep everyone up to date on the latest research into lead poisoning and crime, but I missed a paper earlier this year from three researchers in Sweden. At first glance, it's just a routine test of the lead-crime hypothesis for yet another country. The researchers follow the usual path of (a) measuring atmospheric lead levels in various regions at various times, (b) showing that these levels correspond to blood lead levels, and (c) performing correlations with all the usual controls between lead poisoning in infants and later outcomes in life. Not to keep you in suspense, the researchers find exactly what you'd expect: childhood exposure to lead predicts lower IQs and higher crime rates later in life.

But there are several interesting aspects to this paper—and that's not even counting the fact that Sweden's EPA measures heavy metal concentrations in the atmosphere via a nationwide grid of moss samples. Moss! Those Swedes are pretty clever. The Swedes also keep good records of their citizens on a variety of measures, which allows the researchers to test outcomes all the way into adulthood with a pretty large sample size (800,000 subjects).

Anyway: Just as in the US, Sweden phased out leaded gasoline in the 70s and 80s, which caused lead poisoning in infants to decrease. Unlike the US, however, lead levels were already fairly low, so the Swedish team was able to measure the effect of changes not just from 30 ug/dl to 20 to 10, but from 10 to 5 to 2. What they found was that the impact of lead reduction does eventually flatten out, but it happens at very low levels. There are gains to be made by reducing blood lead levels all the way down to 2-3 ug/dl.

At the risk of some slight irresponsibility, however, I want to reproduce their chart for violent crime. Here it is:

This might mean nothing, since the error band is quite large. But if it's right, there's no threshold for lead poisoning and violent crime. Just the opposite, in fact. As childhood lead levels decrease, the likelihood of violent crime later in life decreases all the way down to about 6 ug/dl. Then, after flattening out, it takes a sharp downward dive starting around 2 ug/dl. In other words, getting that last little bit of lead out of the environment might pay off considerably in less violent crime 20 years from now.

Because of the large error bars, this is the kind of thing that needs confirmation. But it would be worth the effort. We already know that reducing lead levels from 30 to 20 to 10 to 5 pays off, but we don't know very much about levels below that. It could be that anything under 5 ug/dl is OK. Alternatively, the difference between 5 ug/dl and 1 ug/dl might be considerable. Or, given the error band, the effect could be linear all the way down. We should find out.

One other interesting aspect of this paper is that it tests the effect of lead on non-cognitive traits, which is useful since the effect of lead on cognitive traits like IQ is already about as settled as the law of gravity at this point. Here are their charts:

Lead poisoning affects three out of four of the measured traits all the way down to extremely low levels. This helps explain the effect of lead on crime: "These personality traits have previously been closely linked to Externalizing behavior (e.g. aggression, hyperactivity, antisocial behavior), which is the key explanatory factor in the crime reducing effects of e.g. the Perry Pre-school program, and an important predictor of labor market outcomes."

Unfortunately, neither Donald Trump nor Republicans in Congress have any interest in taking this stuff seriously. After all, reducing lead levels even further in the United States would require soil remediation and a big push to finally get rid of old lead paint everywhere in the country. That's expensive, and it gets in the way of tax cuts for the rich. Sorry kids.

Remember that North Carolina voter ID law that a judge overturned because it targeted African-American voters with "almost surgical precision"? Today the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, so that's the end of the law. And with a Democratic governor installed in Raleigh, it won't be coming back anytime soon.

That's our good news for the day. But of course there's a cloud behind this silver lining: the reason for declining to hear the appeal was technical, so it's possible there would have been five votes to uphold the law on the merits. Still, these days I'll take good news where I can get it.

I haven't checked in on Donald Trump's job approval rating for quite a while. Let's do that:

Trump's job approval rating dropped throughout March, thanks to his "wiretapping" claim and the failure of Trumpcare 1.0. He recovered in April, but has been dropping again since the beginning of May.

I'm not sure what's at the root of this, but an unsmoothed look at the data confirms that there was a sharp change right around the beginning of May in both favorability rating and job approval rating. Was it the second go-around of Trumpcare? Bad publicity surrounding the end of Trump's first 100 days? The budget agreement in which Trump got pretty much nothing he wanted?

None of those really seem likely, but I can't think of anything else that happened at the end of April to cause a sudden drop. That is, I can't think of anything other than, you know, everything.

Medicaid doesn't get a lot of attention in the debate over Trumpcare, but it's likely that more people would be affected by Medicaid cuts than by any other single part of the bill. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senate conservatives still aren't satisfied:

Some conservative Senate Republicans, such as [Mike] Lee, want to immediately start phasing back federal money for expansion enrollees, a process that would take 10 years....Conservatives also hope to use a different formula to calculate federal Medicaid funding that would mean less money for states. The House bill would slash an estimated $839 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years, according to the CBO. Senate conservatives want to change federal funding of Medicaid in part by pegging it to a different inflation measure, which long term would mean less generous payments to the states than under the House GOP bill.

....Centrist GOP senators are on board with some Medicaid cuts but disagree over how best to implement them. Some say the House plan to halt federal funding for new expansion enrollees in 2020 is too harsh and want a longer sunset of the program.

Nearly a quarter of all Americans depend on Medicaid as their primary (or only) source of health coverage. That's the American health care system for you. Nonetheless, of course Republican centrists are on board with "some" Medicaid cuts. They only want to quibble over whether 10 million poor people should be tossed out of the program by 2026 or if it would be more humane to toss out 9 million poor people by 2028. Decisions, decisions.

Here's a snippet from the Economist's interview with President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The subject is whether China is manipulating its currency in a way that hurts the United States:

Trump: They’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.

Mnuchin: Right, as soon as the president got elected they went the other way.

It's tiresome to hear Trump say this, and doubly tiresome to hear Mnuchin chime in like a toady about it. Yes sir, Mr. President, they stopped as soon as they realized a real man was about to occupy the White House!

Here's all you need to know about Chinese currency manipulation:

All the way through 2013, China's foreign reserves increased nearly every quarter. This was because they were buying lots and lots of dollars as a way of keeping the value of the yuan low, which made Chinese exports cheaper and American imports more expensive. In mid-2014 they stopped. Since then, they've mostly sold their dollar holdings, to the tune of a trillion dollars over the past couple of years. During this entire time the yuan has been falling on its own, and the Chinese intervention has had the effect of propping it up to prevent it from falling even faster. This makes Chinese exports more expensive and American imports cheaper, which is exactly what we want.

As for November 2016, nothing happened. I don't know if Trump knows this, since he seems to live in some kind of alternate reality, but Mnuchin does. So does everyone else.