Harassing the President

Getting back to work.

Today, Donald Trump may have surpassed all of his previous efforts to file nonsensical lawsuits. Today, he filed a complaint seeking to block the House Ways and Means Committee from examining his New York tax returns.

By way of background, New York has passed the so-called TRUST Act which “directs the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to grant the [House Ways and Means] Committee’s request for the President’s state tax returns if the Committee has already requested the President’s federal returns from Treasury. ” It offers only two bases for relief.

In Count I of the Complaint, Trump claims a violation of Article I of the Constitution and the House Rules. Admittedly, I’m merely a poor, but honest, tax lawyer, not a Constitutional scholar. But the complaint is brought by Trump in “his capacity as a private citizen,” not in his official capacity as president. I simply cannot see how a private citizen has the standing to assert violations of either Article I or the House Rules.

In Count II, Trump alleges “Retaliation and Discrimination In Violation of the First Amendment,” claiming that the Act “was enacted to retaliate against the President because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016
campaign.” The baselessness of this claim is shown by the text of the complaint itself where Trump consistently refers to himself as “the President.” That is, unwittingly, Trump’s lawyers make it clear that the intended subject of any Committee investigation is Trump the president, not Trump the individual.

Finally, there is a question as to whether at this point there is even a case or controversy. The Act is only effectuated if (i) the Committee requests Trump’s income tax returns and (ii) has previously requested the returns from the Treasury. The Committee has, of course, previously requested the returns from the Treasury. However, not only has the Committee not only not requested the New York returns, but Committee Chair Neal has disclosed that House counsel has expressed legitimate concerns about requesting Trump’s state returns. Admittedly, Neal has requested that House counsel review his previously expressed position, but “Chairman Neal did not specify when this review will end.” Complaint ¶ 66, at 22.

Even if counsel gives Neal the green light, there is still a question as to whether Neal will request the New York returns. In other words, Trump’s perceived harm is, at this point, speculative at best.

R.I.P. Mark Kleiman

Professor Mark Kleiman, the founder of RBC, and a giant in crime and drug policy analysis for decades, passed away this morning after a long illness that he himself had chronicled here. His sister Kelly announced his death on Twitter earlier today, asking that “If you are moved to honor him, please donate to the NYU Transplant Institute, the ACLU, or any Democratic candidate.”

All of us who have written at RBC over the years mourn the loss of our remarkable colleague and friend.

UPDATED July 23 to link to some terrific tributes to Mark from Ed Kilgore, German Lopez, Kevin Drum, James Joyner, Jacob Sullum, Dan Mitchell, and Gabriel Rossman.

RBC smartphone review

Really cheap and full-featured smartphones arrive in Africa.

For your weekend edification, I bring you a smartphone review. I have not actually seen or touched the phone in question, for reasons that will become evident, so I am going entirely on Web information.

The phone is a basic model sold by transnational South African mobile telco MTN. It’s the Mobicel Astro, and retails for 449 rand or $33.

This is not the cheapest on the market. MTN will sell you this for 249 rand or $18. Vendors sensibly avoid the term “smartphone” for such handsets. They don’t run a full mobile OS and are limited to browsing and, crucially, messaging and VOIP with WhatsApp. The Astro is recognizably from the same genus as the iPhone and its many emulators.

Here is a table comparing the Astro to the original and the latest iPhone.

I leave out the infinite variety of apps they can all run. Here are a few; I mark with an asterisk the ones where the smartphone does as good a job as a purpose-built device, for the others it’s second best, just as with a Swiss Army knife.

*Phone, *calculator, *clock/timer/alarm, *calendar/diary, *geolocator, *messaging device, *notebook, camera, recorder, compass, flashlight, Web browser, word processor, spreadsheet processor, music player, video player, photo viewer, UI for plug-in sensor, game console.

Some quick takeaways.

1. The specs of the Astro are at least as good as those of the original iPhone in every respect, at under a tenth of the price.

2. Apple has not given its customers any price gains, and has even raised prices.

3. Technical progress since the first iPhone has been modest. The $1000 iPhone XS has just two significant new functions over the 12-year-old original: the selfie camera (which the Astro has) and the biometric ID (which the Astro lacks).

Now of course Apple fans will say: iPhones are better made; everything works better and faster; the A12 processor chip in particular is a monster that can run a battleship; the image quality from the camera is of a different order from cheap phones. All true. I maintain that the main revolution was all in the original iPhone, and the Astro matches it.

The Astro and its competitors are far more important devices in their social impact than an incremental status display like the iPhone XS. In Africa the Internet means mobile, outside a few lucky cities. Mobile phone penetration is 44%: more than one per family. A third of these phones are smart, or 250 million. Cheap handsets will speed this up.

Much of this impact is good: better access to information on health, prices and technology, for one. But we have seen in the well-educated USA and UK the hacking of major elections by manipulation of social media. In the Rwandan genocide 0f 1994, the Interahamwe only had old-fashioned radio to work with. Their successors will have Facebook and Twitter.

Medical Journal 3/12/19

Did I say “boring”? Well ….

1. The X-ray taken the same time the bad blood test was taken showed fluid accumulation in the right lung, with the lung itself partially collapsed. That may explain the lack of exercise tolerance. (And would be a more favorable explanation than worsening heart disease.) Next step is a CT scan tomorrow. Step after that is having the fluid removed with a needle (a procedure than can be done under local) and the lung re-inflated (not sure how that works or how stressful it will be).

2. Still not word from the Columbia lab about their screw-up.

3. A funny thing happened to me on the way to the transplant. The colonoscopy report was fine, though I’m having a devil of a time getting it transmitted to the transplant team; the various physicians’ offices seem incapable of communicating with one another except through me, and the full report with the biopsy results (seven adenomatous sessile polyps, largest 12mm, the rest all under 8mm, none cancerous) was sent to me by snail-mail. Since I don’t have a fax machine,Dr. Sulica’s office was good enough to fax it to Nikki Lawson, the transplant co-ordinator, this afternoon, but as of 6pm she report that she hasn’t seen it.

But that’s just an annoyance. The problem is that the report from the radiation oncologist –which I’d been told would be “He had a completely curable cancer and we gave him the definitive treatment for it” –turned out to be more complicated, and less encouraging, than that. The recurrence risk for the cancer I had (a squamous cell carcinoma of the glottis) is about 6-8%. (All I’d been told was “less than 10%.”) That doesn’t sound so bad. But what I didn’t know is that the consequences of recurrence would be very bad indeed. I’ve already maxed out on radiation, and the paralyzed vocal fold means that the only surgical option would be a complete laryngectomy, with a mortality risk of about 30%. And of course even if it worked I’d have no voice box left. Apparently there’s a way to redirect the breath to give me some simulacrum of a voice, but the whole thing sounds pretty damned grim.

The good news is that we’re now almost 6 months out from the radiation treatment, so about half of that 6-8% risk should be behind me. In addition, Dr. Sulica, who examined me today, reports that the tumor site looks entirely clean and that the residual radiation damage is less than might have been expected; both of those findings seem to him like favorable prognostics. In any case, I’ve faced worse odds of worse outcomes before.

The bad news is that the 6-8% figure doesn’t allow for any additional risk due to immunosuppression. How big is that risk? No one has a clue. My cancer was non-standard (most people who get it are smokers, while mine is probably the side-effect of the radiation I had twenty years ago), and the combination of this particular cancer caused by radiation with kidney failure is sufficiently rare that there’s simply no relevant research. (“The n would be very small,” said Dr. Sulica.)

So that leaves the transplant team guessing. They can wait until the recurrence risk goes down even more, but then I’m likely to need dialysis before they can do the transplant, which substantially worsens transplant outcomes. (I’d also have fairly debilitating heart disease in the meantime, because the kidney problem means that I can only get about half the indicated dose of the heart medication.In addition, my sister’s life is on hold until she knows whether and when she’s flying to New York and being out of action for at least a week.) Or they can choose to roll the dice.

I’m pretty sure I know what I want them to do, but I don’t have a clue about what they’re actually going to do.(Except that Dr. Montgomery, the one time I met him, boasted about how aggressive he is in doing transplants others shy away from.) Apparently the whole thing is run on the principles of a firing squad, to make sure no individual feels responsible for anything. The decision is made at a meeting of 10 M.D.’s (five transplant surgeons and five medical nephrologists). The meeting happens Thursday, and I’m promised results as soon as it’s over. You’ll know when I know.

Medical Journal: 3/5/19

It’s been a month since my last update. My only excuse is that everything in between has been boring. For reasons not clear, my exercise tolerance has declined –even walking a couple of blocks is tiring –so I’ve mostly been staying home and getting a gratifying amount of work out the door.

There was one bit of comedy last week. I went in for routine bloodwork Wednesday: Dr. Weiss wanted to consider adjusting my dose of diuretic but wanted to see the numbers first. (He also wanted a follow-up chest X-ray to see if the pneumonia was lingering.)

Just before midnight, the phone rang. It was the lab. My hemoglobin, which had been 11.5 (slightly anemic, but not enough to warrant intervention) in January, hadplunged to 5.4, which apparently is a life-threatening level. The guy from the lab wanted me to head straight to the nearest E.D. for a transfusion, but since I had no symptoms other than the limited stamina –wasn’t pale, or feeling week or dizzy –I decided (with Gary Emmett’s advice, given from Egypt where he was on vacation) to let it ride until Thursday afternoon, when I had to go in to Weill Cornell for a routine visit with my radiation oncologist, saving me a trip.I sent an urgent email to Dr. Weiss to make sure he approved, but didn’t hear back. Thursday morning the phone rang again. This time it was Dr. Bomback, the nephrologist. He’d seen the same results and was extremely concerned, saying that at that level of anemia I was at severe risk of a heart attack or a stroke. He reluctantly agreed that a transfusion could wait until the afternoon.

So I did the work I needed to do in the morning and then headed over to Weill Cornell. Saw Dr. Sanfilippo and told him that my throat was still scratchy, myvoice still weak, and my cough still persistent. All he could say was “Too bad.” Since if there’s a recurrence of the cancer Dr. Sulica (the ENT) would be able to spot it, it’s not clear what the purpose is of seeing Dr. Sanfilippo. In any case, he pointed me to the E.D.

Headed there. E.D. was less chaotic than I might have expected. I was interviewed and examined by various folks, all of whom seemed puzzled that someone with a hemoglobin of 5.4 wasn’t obviously sick. I was obviously going to need a transfusion, and maybe more than one unit, so they decided to admit me overnight for observation, which I had not been ready for and had not packed for. Fortunately, Richard bailed me out by grabbing what I needed for an overnight from home, including my meds.

Just to make sure, the E.D. folks repeated the blood test. They then put me on a gurney, next to an incessantly bonging heart monitor, to await the results and the transfusion to follow.

We’re now about four hours (and a not-so-bad hospital dinner) into the story. At this point of of the several M.D.’s who saw me came back and said, “We took two separate blood samples and tested them both. Hemoglobin came in at 10.4 from one sample and 10.5 from the other. The result from Columbia must have been a mistake. We’re sending you home.”

Question: Did someone at Weill Cornell call the Columbia lab and tell them they’d screwed up badly? I’m prepared to be the answer is no.

At that point I was very glad that Richard’s CARE package included some books, because actually getting me out the door took another two hours.My blood pressure and heart-rate, which had been normal when I walked in, were both elevated, and the nurse who took my vitals was concerned; I attributed those effects to having to listen to the heart monitor. (For some reason, hospitals consider earplugs a luxury item.)

So I went home. Friday morning I called Dr. Weiss’s office again and left a message for him to call me. I’m still waiting for that call, but today I got a call from the Columbia diagnostic radiology department asking when I wanted to come in for my CAT scan (first I’d heard of it). Presumably that means Dr. Weiss didn’t like the look of the X-ray. Left a third message for him. If he ever calls me back, I’ll know more.

And then the good news. My sister called from Chicago. After weeks of fooling around and lots of repeated tests, the transplant team has cleared her as a donor. Apparently whether or not she’s a match for me is the call of the transplant team rather than the donor team,but if not the problem can be finessed via a “daisy chain” in which volunteer-recipient pairs who don’t match are shuffledinwith other non-matching pairsuntil every patient matches with some donor.

There’s no great urgency –my creatinine has crept up a little, but it’s still below 7 –but on the other hand sooner is probably better because until the transplant is done they can’t really treat the heart adequately. I’m hoping –how realistically I don’t now know –for later this month. Keep your fingers crossed.

Tobacco, Nicotine, and Illicit Markets

How San Francisco e-cig ban could cause a “thriving black market” writes Juul spokesman. Will new Vermont e-cigarette tax lead to a black market?

Vaping may be more dangerous than we realized.

Federal judge gives tobacco manufacturers 10 months to comply with planned tighter FDA regulations.
Judge Paul Grimm for the District of Maryland ruled that manufacturers have until May 11 to file pre-market applications for electronic cigarettes.

Chuck Schumer calls for crackdown on flavored e-cigs from China. China cops catch 24 in $17 million smuggling case. China to help Philippines fight smuggled cigarettes.

Gang caught with 9 million illegal cigarettes in Wellinborough, UK. Jailed UK shopkeeper ordered to repay £500k he made from selling illegal cigarettes or face more time behind bars. Four UK men caught smuggling over 150,000 cigarettes from Iraq.

Bulgaria‘s largest illegal cigarette factory was discovered yesterday.
The workers, from Ukraine and Moldova, lived in an area set up for them inside the warehouses, without any communication to the outside world. Bulgaria destroys over 24 tons of illicit tobacco.

Uncle Fish Fillet jailed over Australia tobacco and meth ring.

Impact of tax increases on illicit cigarette trade in Mongolia.
Methods Discarded cigarette packs were collected in the capital city and two provinces. Tax increases occurred between all three rounds (4/17, 8-9/17, 5-6/18). Cigarette packs are identified as illicit if there is evidence that tax was not paid. This is deduced from the absence of the Mongolian excise tax stamp, or the absence of glue residue. Data are weighted to represent the areas sampled.
Results In round 1, 15.4% of the collected packs were illicit. This estimate decreased to 13.6% in round 2 and to 6.3% in round 3. While the majority of illicit products are supplied by global companies (Korea Tobacco & Ginseng, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris Kazakhstan), one local company, Mongol Tobacco SO, is also implicated.
Conclusions The share of illicit cigarettes declined between rounds 1 and 2 despite the import tax increase, and this trend continued in round 3 despite the excise tax increase.

Transcrime’s research focuses on the estimate and analysis of the transnational flows of illicit cigarettes in Europe, North Africa, Mid-East and Asia.

Medical Journal: 2/4/19

The good news is that I’m now cleared for a transplant, after a –yecccchhhh –colonoscopy. They found eleven polyps, the largest 12mm (in the mid-sigmoid colon), another 8mm, and the rest 4-6 mm. Biopsies should be back tomorrow. Given the number of polyps, Dr. Rubin wants to see me in a year to decide whether I need another colonoscopy. Here’s the full report.

Even better news: one of my potential donors passed initial screening and will be coming to NY a week from now for further testing, including a test where a donor blood sample is mixed with a sample of my blood to see what happens. (This sounds seriously weird. Does the person doing the test have to recite a spell? Do the samples have to be stirred counterclockwise and left-handed?)

In addition, there’s a new back-up volunteer. So I’m optimistic that someone will make it through the process.

The not-so-good news is that my exercise capacity, which had been expanding, has contracted again –the mile walk I used to be able to do is now out of reach, and even a couple of blocks is an effort. On two occasions it’s been hard to breathe deeply lying down at night. In each case a dose of isosorbide dinitrate made the problem go away. On two other occasions moderately vigorous activity left me gasping for breath for a couple of hours,with a blood pressure around 165/95 and a pulse around 88. I’m now on 30mg of that a day, and have also gone from 25mg of hydralazine once a day up to twice a day. If things don’t improve soon I’ll go back to Dr. Weiss.

When I saw Dr. Sulica a couple of weeks ago, I complained about a persistent runny nose, and he prescribed ipropropium bromide .03% nasal spray (23 micrograms of the active agent twice a day in each nostril) which handled the problem nicely.

I still have a nasty, productive cough, which may be a lingering pneumonia. A second chest X-ray showed some remaining mass in the lung but because the X-rays were done in different facilities there’s apparently no way of having them read together to measure improvement. Dr. Weiss wants a third X-ray in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, my voice has stopped improving; I’m audible but hoarse and ragged, and if I talk too much the voice starts to go.

My appetite has returned somewhat, which is presumably a good sign but not a good thing; I’m up a dozen pounds from my low of 227. I’m now being more deliberate about restricting my intake, in hopes of getting back below 230 before the surgery. Dr. Bomback reports that my potassium is borderline, so I’m watching that as well. Unfortunately, that means no more grapefruit, which I think helped with the weight loss.

Creatinine is back up to 6.2; that’s about where it was four months ago, but Dr. Bomback wants the transplant done as soon as possible.

The colonoscopy had its comic elements. Dr. Weiss had referred me to Dr. Moshe Rubin, who is apparently a star in that field. When I called to make the appointment, I’m pretty sure I said it was to get cleared for a kidney transplant, but Dr. Rubin’s office staff didn’t pick up on the fact that I was a complicated case, and apparently Dr. Rubin hadn’t reviewed the chart until I was actually on the table. He expressed some annoyance that no one had warned him about the complexity; he would have wanted to meet with me and examine me first. But he decided the procedure would be reasonably safe, and went ahead.

Instead of the fentanyl/Versed combination I’ve had before, the anaesthesiologist at the colonoscopy center used a sedative called propofol (190 mg.) Either the stuff is very fast-acting or it causes some amnesia, because the last thing I remember before waking up was the anaesthesiologist saying “We’re going to start running the sedative now.”

In the conversation when Dr. Rubin was trying to figure out whether I was in good enough shape to tolerate the procedure, I seem to have given him the –correct –impression that I was both interested in learning about the technical details and unlikely to freak out. As a result, about midway through the process the propofol was discontinued, and when I awoke I was looking at a screen with various images of my large intestine. Dr. Rubin started to explain what he was doing and what he was finding, but with the instrument still in me I was too uncomfortable to pay much attention. When I said so, they put me under again until it was all over.

As usual, the prep was the worst part of the process, and even that wasn’t nearly as bad as it was a dozen years ago; there’s a new prep medicine called Clenpiq, taken in only two doses starting at 6pm the evening before the procedure, after a single day on clear fluids only. It didn’t even taste especially awful. Recovery was reasonably rapid,and I didn’t need any medication afterwards.

Well, at least it’s never dull. I’ll try to be more diligent about keeping you updated.

In the meantime, everything else in my life is going very well. I’m getting some work out the door, and if the quality has declined I haven’t noticed it and everyone else has been too polite to mention it. I think I’ve persuaded a star Ph.D. student about to finish up at the RAND graduate school to join the Marron/BOTEC team; I’ve known him for a long time, and I’m confident that if I’m out of action he can pick up the slack.

Trump’s War on Coal III

The US coal collapse is speeding up as predicted.


Previous posts in this series: Donald Trump’s War on Coal , Trump’s War on Coal II

In January I looked at the state of US coal and concluded:


It is highly probable that demand for coal will fall by the order of magnitude implied by the FERC data. My prediction is that the pace of closures, and the loss of mining jobs, will roughly triple.

I did not predict that it would happen so fast.

FERC regularly updates a table including planned retirements of coal generating plants up to three years ahead. The April table gave 13,992 MW. In May this rose to 17,054 MW: an increase of 3 GW in one month, just over 1% of the remaining capacity.

It’s technically possible, given the rolling horizon, that these 3 GW were already in the spreadsheet for May 2022 and the forecast has just caught up. This is very unlikely, and makes little difference even if it were true.

The obvious interpretation is that utility executives across the United States have concluded:

1. Their coal plants are increasingly uneconomic compared for gas, renewables, and storage, and carry growing reputational and policy risks at federal (>2020) and state level.

2. The Trump Administration’s policy to save coal is a sham. Even rhetorically, it is disappearing: Trump did not mention coal in his lastest set-pieces on energy (July 8 remarks, fact sheet).

3. They might as well bite the bullet now. Nothing will get better for coal.

The information the utilities supply on closures to FERC, the federal agency responsible for the reliability of the national electricity supply, must be hard. These aren’t predictions but decisions. There is more of the same they are still mulling over. And once they have decided to close a plant, there are pressures to bring the date forward. The collapse will go on speeding up.

With oversight from Washington in the hands of feckless, inept and amoral ex-lobbyists, the end of coal mining in America is coming at an appalling social cost. David Roberts at Vox documents one example, the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming. The short version:

1. The mines were run by Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha made a very bad bet on Appalachian coal and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015.

2. Te restructuring involved abandoning critical health benefits to 4,580 non-union miners and spouses, slashing the cleanup liabilities, multi-million dollar bonuses to executives, and spinning off the mines.

3. The buyer of the two mines was Blackjewel, run by an Appalachian grifter called Jeff Hoops. Hoops had apparently no plan to nurse the mines back to viability. Instead he milked the cash flow for more insider bonuses while not paying taxes and other creditors. IANAL but it looks to me like a classic long-firm fraud.

4. Blackjewel suddenly collapsed two weeks ago in a cloud of bouncing cheques, some for wages. It is heading for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a full liquidation. The state will be left with the uncovered cleanup liabilities, and support for the abandoned miners, assuming they are nor just left to cough their lungs out untreated in the rugged Western way.

5. Roberts does not go into this, but I assume that the political influence of Philip Anschutz, the wind baron of Wyoming, has been strengthened by the fiasco. Wyoming will be less helpful in future to his coal rivals. The state may even go after Mr. Hoops. Good hunting.

PS: let me advertise an old proposal I made here in 2010: nationalize coal. It really is the most humane way to manage the rundown of an entire sector in the public interest. US coal companies are to a first approximation worthless, once you include the cleanup, pension and health liabilities they are trying to evade. So the fair price to shareholders is $0 a share. Bondholders and unsecured creditors? How about their taking the same haircut they are getting anyway under Chapter 11 bankruptcy? The taxpayer will be on the hook for the shortfall in the funds for cleanup, pensions and health, but that’s inevitable in any scenario. What nationalization saves is the looting by the likes of Mr. Hoop, and it allows for proper planning of the reconversion measures.

Socialism? Sure. That’s what makes my proposal sadly unrealistic. Do you have a better one?

Cannabis News Round-Up

What has changed in states that have legalized marijuana—and what hasn’t.

Oregon has a marijuana surplus and officials aren’t happy. What can California expect after five years of legal marijuana? Five years after legalization, Colorado struggles to test marijuana impairment for drivers.

Fifteen Maine cities and towns opt into legal pot; more expected.New Yorkers seek legal weed in Massachusetts after lawmakers fail to legalize. Plenty of blame to be passed around after New York failure to legalize. New York City marijuana dealers see bowl half full after Albany fails to legalize cannabis. What’s next for marijuana in New Jersey?

Illinois marijuana legalization impacts company policies. As Illinois determines whether to limit potency of legalized pot, drug gets increased scrutiny after link to psychosis. Cannabis will be legal January 1st; how will Illinois employers handle the change? Morton, Illinois makes a choice regarding marijuana sales.Illinois law legalizing marijuana could threaten Iowa fledgling medical cannabis industry.

Legalizing pot will create “carnage” on Pennsylvania roads, judge opines. Pennsylvania marijuana report expected by month’s end. Indiana and marijuana prohibition. What to know about Michigan new recreational marijuana rules.

Arizona marijuana business expanding ahead of planned drug legalization effort in 2020. Group pushes to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona.

US lawmakers look to legalize pot in “historic” marijuana reform hearing. The debate over how, not whether, Congress should legalize marijuana is heating up. Marijuana Justice Coalition asserts statement of principles on federal marijuana reform. Congressional Democrats tout pot legalization in election campaign petition. Why members of the right should embrace marijuana legalization. Examining Joe Biden on marijuana legalization. Fox News still anti-pot.

Monetizing the munchies: How legal marijuana use is affecting the US snacking industry. The global legal pot market size is expected to reach $66 billion in 2025. Weed tourism is on the rise. Pot growers finally finding some banks open to holding their cash. New study shows legalizing pot might discourage teen use.

Embracing “Impossible” Data

Image result for snowing indoors

As I waited for my train to London in one of those cavernous railroad stations up North, flakes of snow started to fall around me. My first thought was “Huh – it’s snowing”, followed seconds later with a shocking realization: “I’m indoors…and it’s snowing!!!”.

I looked up into the gloomy reaches of the arched ceiling high above me and concluded there must a hole in the roof through which an outdoor snowstorm was casting some flakes. I walked outside to check. It was certainly a cold November day, but the sky was clear and there was not even a skiff on the ground. Yet when I walked back inside, it was still very lightly snowing by the tracks where I had been standing.

Later that evening, in a downstairs bar off Pall Mall, I related my strange tale to my companions, who began forming theories. Because this particular watering hole is popular with spooks — who enjoy eavesdropping and puzzle solving in equal measure — pretty soon the whole place was engaged in a lively debate regarding how my impossible data could indeed be possible. It was fun discussion and without rancor.

Contrast that with different impossible data: Your doctor brings back your “routine tests” and says that even though you feel fine, you are gravely ill. Something in you shouts NO and you understandably come up with every possible reason why the impossible data just can’t be correct.

Those two cases of “impossible data” are at the extremes where the data are either entirely fun and non-threatening to learn from vs. terrifying to the core. Most impossible data is between those poles, and I wonder as a teacher and as a citizen whether we can instill in people a stronger habit of seeing impossible data like indoor snow instead of proof of terminal illness.

How do we get a gun rights advocate to do something other than scream “fake news!” when a study shows that gun owners are more likely to be shot? How do we get a firm atheist to appreciate evidence that highly religious people are happier and healthier? What is the magic that makes impossible data an exciting chance to learn more about the world rather than something to shut out at all costs?