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Friday, July 31, 2015

Bend over and Nudge: Nudges of Chance at the Urologist’s and the Drive-up ATM

PSA results aren’t the only numbers that rule at my neighborhood urologist's.  On the far side of the waiting room, past the Flomax-branded coffee dispenser that jump-starts obligatory urine samples, I marveled at a very different game of chance. Who needs Vegas? Or even Bingo? . . . when enrolling in the new patient portal positions you to score a $100 VISA card! Don't forget to tell your urologically challenged friends that there's a new winner every month!

Sadly, I was an early adopter who had already signed up for the portal ahead of the contest. But I'm all for my urologist’s probe at nudging aging patients--none of them digital natives--to embrace the portal and more active participation in their urological karma.

Nudging, as advocated by professors Thaler and Sunstein  in their 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health, and Happiness, deploys (frequently creative) behavioral "architecture" and framing to position us in the direction of presumably beneficial outcomes. When employers ask us to opt out of rather than opt into 401k savings plans, it's more likely that we'll participate. Ditto for organ donation programs via RMVs.

Nudges can also bedevil the consumer. In Northampton, Massachusetts, which I frequently visit, the parking meter sticker that exempts payment on  Sundays and Holidays is on the far side of the meter, away from the payer. When payers have less than perfect information,  they often choose  the lowest-risk outcome, i.e., feeding the meter.  To that end, I noticed time on one-in-five Northampton meters on July 4th. On  Massachusetts  holidays like Patriots Day, when the holiday's parking status is unclear to most drivers, meter feeding is far higher. My own hometown of Amherst deploys a parking sign on meter-free streets that is so intentionally confusing that drivers play it safe by seeking out streets with parking meters.

Happily, the urological nudge above is nothing more than a zero-risk frisson--just like an outlandish gambit several years back at a savings bank in Easthampton, Massachusetts that transformed its drive-up ATM into a zero-risk slot machine.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Double-Barreled Misunderstanding in Amherst, Massachusetts


Is it time to question Amherst’s water supply? Three weeks ago, an Amherst woman summoned police when she suspected that two construction workers might have been high-profile escapees from an upstate New York penitentiary. Now we turn to the following double-barreled mix-up, reported last week in The Daily Hampshire Gazette:

A woman who mistook two umbrellas for a shotgun prompted a police response to a field near the Amherst Regional High School Tuesday evening.
A resident walking her dog on Cottage Street called police at 8:02 p.m. after she was approached by a man whom she described as angry that her dog was running off-leash in his field, according to police records. The woman then told officers she observed the man handing an object that looked like a shotgun to his wife.
Responding officers determined that what the woman saw was actually two umbrellas, and not a firearm.  .  .

As an indication of the heightened awareness by residents, police were also contacted at 9:05 a.m. Tuesday when a man wearing what a caller described as a military-style protective vest was seen running in the area of Henry and Pine streets.
Police located the man jogging near Puffer’s Pond and identified what he was wearing as a weight vest used in his exercise regimen.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Chris Christie in Taft's Tub

The remote possibility of a Chris Christie Administration in the White House evokes the plumbing challenges of the nation’s 27th president, William Howard Taft.  In 1911, the tub depicted above debuted in the White House Master Bath to accommodate the 330+ pound chief executive. It was seven feet long and 41 inches wide.  For Taft’s long-distance travel before the era of flight, his aides installed one-ton tubs on the USS Arkansas and the USS North Carolina, the latter for a visit to the Panama Canal.

The genial Taft was forthcoming about his weight. He was our weightiest president; Madison was our lightest at 100 lbs. In contrast, the less affable Christie is more candid about his height (5’ 11”) and his recent weight loss (85 pounds owing to a surgical procedure). The bottom line: Christie, as governor of New Jersey owes us nothing on this weighty matter. You’ll have to elect him to our highest office to learn more. Learning, of course, has its price.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Case of Mistaken Identity in Amherst, Massachusetts

Hard Hat & Steel Tipped Shoes at Kendrick Place in Amherst

Two weeks ago, just a day after the police had removed an offending spider from the auto of a driver paralyzed with fear, Amherst’s finest confronted a second, thornier challenge.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette explains:

After getting a tip that the two escapees from a maximum security prison in New York might be walking on the streets of Amherst at 1:28 p.m. Thursday, several police officers spent about 25 minutes trying to identify the two men who were described by a woman as muscular, tattooed, and wearing dark shirts and shorts. Police said the men, found at a downtown coffee shop, were determined to be construction workers and not the escaped convicts serving life sentences at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.
With the termination of one convict and the capture of the other last weekend, some Amherstites will no doubt sleep more easily. But they still have their memories of mistaken identities past.
Perhaps the most poignant occurred in November of 2004, when then Town Meeting member Patricia Church, in a fit of pique, removed the Texas state flag from a pole in front of Town Hall. (She was protesting President Bush and his un-Amherstican policies.)  She soon found herself, however, with a lot of explaining to do—especially to Amherst’s Hispanic community. That’s because she had mistakenly pulled down the flag of Puerto Rico.
 Another random act of mistaken identity? Perhaps not quite.