Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Summer Sandal Story

How Sandal Season Begins

For 10 years or more now, sandal season has started in mid to late spring with edgy young women leading the way.  They seem to favor heavy, black, almost Goth-like models.

Below is an example released this year by Rag and Bone.

And here are a couple less expensive variations.

The look attracts the eye, but it is not exactly summery.

After Memorial Day, things settle down, and women start wearing more familiar open-toed footwear.   This year all the favorites are in evidence -- wedge heels, espadrilles, strappy numbers and flats -- in lots of colors.

There are also echoes of summers past.


What dominated last summer was a trend that started in 2013, or possibly earlier: Birkenstocks and, specifically, brightly colored variations on Birkenstocks.

Here are some faux-Birks, a couple among many, released by Givenchy and other designers last year.

Even Birkenstock got in on the act, but I'm not sure the organization's heart was really in it.

Anyway, by late last summer all the lesser manufacturers released knockoffs like the pairs below, which could be purchased for as little as $20.

This year the fashion viziers have decreed that Birkenstocks are over.   (I'm sure people in Seattle and Santa Cruz are just laughing at this;  in certain places, Birkenstocks are NEVER over.)  

In fact, Birkenstocks, gladiator sandals, flip-flops and even -- shudder -- new Uggs and Crocs models are being offered this summer.

What's New This Year

What you will find this summer are more sleek sandals.
At left is an example from Jil Sander, a minimalist house that was revived several years ago and has kept to its roots. These are available in many colors and no doubt will sell well.

And then there are the flatforms.

These are sandals, often with clean lines, perched atop 
very thick platforms, like the one at right from Stella McCartney.

Or this less expensive one from Steve Madden.  

     (You will have noticed that these sandals are black.  I may have chosen more such models because I live near New York, where black is always the new black.  
     In fact, these are good city sandals even if they are not appropriate with Lily Pulitzer pastel dresses or for summer vacations on island beaches.
     I can see these sandals being good to go well into the fall when paired with socks -- black, white or multi-colored.  Imagine them with cropped jeans or even straight-legged black ankle pants.) 

Of course these flatform sandals come in various colors.  Some examples below.

This platform/flatform theme promises to continue into the fall season.  More about that later.

Chunky Heels

Finally, dressier, block-heeled sandals are showing up on fashionable women this summer.   
Below is an example, already sold out, from Won Hundred Kanilla.  There are many others.   

We can expect to see more of these heels -- higher and lower and in more exaggerated forms -- later this year when the fall fashions arrive in stores. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Children of Columbia

Trigger warning:  The Abduction of Persephone by Hades

Certain grown-ups have been having fun for the last month over a dust-up at Columbia College.  The subject is an opinion piece in the campus daily.

The article was written by four student members of a Multicultural Advisory Board to the school's LiteratureHumanities course.  They claim freshmen are being traumatized by classical literature.  One quote:

     During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read 
     the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape 
     and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being 
     triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. 
     However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and 
     the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student
     completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. 
     She did not feel safe in the class. 

The piece goes on.  Other highlights:

     -- Ovid's 2,000-year-old myth "marginalizes student identities" and can be difficult for a "survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background."

     -- "Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities."

     -- The novels of Toni Morrison, a talented African American writer whose first book was published in 1970, "should be considered as founding texts of the Western canon."

My Context

I attended a Catholic girls' high school, the sort of place traditionally seen as a sheltered environment. In freshman English, we read The Merchant of Venice. 

We talked a lot about "identities" -- specifically, Shylock's character, Jews and anti-semitism in Shakespeare's England.  This was much more challenging than our grade school books had been, and good for that.  

At one point, our teacher asked which three crimes were discussed in the play.

"Murder," said one girl. 

"Robbery," said another. 

"And the other one?" asked the teacher.

We all sat silent.

"Well, you've nicely avoided the subject," the teacher said.  "It was rape."

Her message was clear:  Quit being a bunch of ninnies.

We were 13 years old, and nobody talked about "triggering" then.  

Clearly, times have changed.

Let's Talk

As for the distressed Columbia students, I have two questions.

1)  Why on earth did you go to Columbia College? 
     The school established a core curriculum almost 100 years ago, and it advises high school seniors of this requirement before they apply for admission.   
     Columbia freshmen take a year of LiteratureHumanities, moving from Ovid and his ilk through the classics of Western writing.  Sophomores spend a year in a Contemporary Civilization course that traces ideas of philosophy and morals from Plato to the current day. Each student also spends a year studying one of several major non-Western cultures.
     Columbia is not for everyone, and students who want to avoid uncomfortable ideas have other options.            
     -- Consider the conservative Christians who attend Bob Jones University.
     -- Self-styled progressives have many more alternatives.  There must be hundreds of U.S. colleges that do not require the study of Shakespeare for literature majors, exposure to the pre-20th century world for history majors, or comparative analyses of communist regimes and liberal democracies for students of political science.  
     Nobody is forced to suffer the trauma of a challenge to his or her "identity" by attending Columbia.

2)  What would happen if Columbia went all in and adopted its Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board's full point of view?
     Think of it.  The college could screen students before allowing them access to any potentially "triggering" classes.
      -- No male-written literature for female sexual abuse victims (like, say, the coed who came forward recently to report that she was the recipient of an unwanted hug more than a year ago).  
      -- No Western Civ for Islamic students, no George Washington or Thomas Jefferson for African Americans, all Hispanics shepherded into Latin American history.
      -- No painful exposure to current news of wars, ethnic rapes, genocides or tens of millions of refugees for anyone. 
      We know what would happen if Columbia treated its students like small children unable to handle life in the real world.  The students would rebel, and not quietly.
      So why are Columbia students asserting a presumed right to live in a perpetual, protected "safe" cocoon? 

A Humorous Note

Not all commenters on internet discussion sites are jerks or uneducated fools.  Some are good writers willing to spend the time to compose humorous perspectives.  I do like the one below.

I matriculated at Columbia
In every class
Triggered up and triggered down
I soon transferred into Brown

That color soothed by fear
But I lasted but a year
Two Cities and their Tale
Forced my sojourn
Unto Yale

Eli, Eli why has thou
Forsaken my furrowed brow?
Not a safe room, now or then
My trembling heart belonged at Penn

No Prince at Princeton
Just privilege and rape
Avert my eyes
From wraths of grape

Cornell is hell
As mouths of dart
These tender traps
Assault my heart

My car parked back
At Harvard Yard
Off damn blood
Unquoth the bard

Agress in micro
Quantum hate
With Ivy walls
And gilded gate

I am your future
Your past defended
And full time offended

The Classics burned 
To soot and ash
But I feel safe
With Ogden Nash

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Jersey Warnings

This blog is about nothing if not public service.  Today I share two cautions:

Black Bears Still Trending  

If you are coming to my house, be aware that two more black bears have been spotted in the neighborhood -- one four blocks to the southeast and another about 10 blocks to the northwest.  We got a phone call just this morning about the latter one.

If you are walking, you might want to get yourself some bear spray.  It's popular with hikers and can be purchased with handy holster carriers.  Bear spray creates a 20- to 35-foot fog of capsaicinoids, hot pepper derivatives that are said to discourage closer approaches. 

The local outdoor store has experienced a run on bear spray recently but does have three cans left at $60 a pop.  The clerk said his mother saw a black bear on her block in town last week and that he saw one in a tree near his home in Cranford recently.

I'm just saying.

A Not-Very-Nice Woman

I don't know this woman, but you might want to keep an eye out for her.  She was arrested recently after a deli store videocam caught her stealing a charity jar filled with $300 raised to help children suffering from RETT Syndrome, a rare disease that affects the gray area of the brain.

Police also believe she pilfered a tip jar from a Chinese restaurant.  The investigation continues.

Before you conclude that this is another thoughtless New Jersey resident, let me point out that she only moved here last year from Florida. 

She was arrested in 2013 in Florida for stealing a collection jar for an animal rescue organization, which seems kind of cold when you consider that her Facebook page indicates she is devoted to at least one pet dog and not long ago mourned the passing of another.

My guess is that if she saw parents give their children candy in the playground in the park, she'd go after the candy too.  She's 48 years old, old enough to know better.

I'm not going to share her name -- internet shaming is nasty and would not help her -- but if you see her, clutch your pocketbook tight.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Boojum Trees

Every time I go to Phoenix or Scottsdale, Arizona, I make a point of visiting the Desert Botanical Garden.

The landscape on display is entirely different from that of the Pacific Northwest, where I was raised, and I appreciate the range of unusual plants that flourish in the hot, dry climate of the Sonoran Desert.

But mostly I go to see the boojum trees.  There is a picture of one at the right in the picture above.  

The boojum is the most preposterous looking plant ever, rising in a tapered column from a slightly wider bottom to a slightly narrower top.  Unlike most trees, it has no branches, just small spiny pokeouts of the same size running its full length. 

Boojums look as if they were designed by Dr. Seuss.  They even have a funny common name, "boojum," derived from a fanciful passage in a Lewis Carroll book.  Boojum, boojum, boojum.  Hahahahaha.

Like other desert plants, the boojum adheres to the principle of photosynthesis.  It absorbs light, converts it to energy and uses the energy to grow.  With the addition of water, it generates oxygen in a virtuous cycle that sustains other organisms, including humans. 

Here is a traditional sketch of how photosynthesis works.

Plants in the desert, including the boojum, differ from this picture in several ways.  

First, they receive so much sunlight that leaves are less necessary and, in many cases, problematic.  Leaves that do exist tend to be lighter and smaller than those on plants in more moderate climes. (Darker leaves, like darker colors, absorb more heat and light from the sun; this is why most of your summer wardrobe is lighter colored and virtually all desert plants are light green.)

If a boojum tree had leaves like the one in the diagram above, they would shrivel between scarce rainstorms.  So the boojum holds its water supply in its funny-looking trunk.

Here is how photosynthesis works for a saguaro cactus, another plant much in evidence in the Sonoran Desert. 

A more detailed schematic would show the broad, shallow series of roots that capture water during each year's two brief rainy seasons.

Many of my friends enjoy posting animal videos on Facebook.  For me, it's boojum trees. I highly recommend a visit to see some in situ.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stories from Los Angeles National Cemetery

If you ever have driven on the 405 freeway through the Westwood section of Los Angeles, you have passed and probably noticed the headstones of Los Angeles National Cemetery, a military cemetery with 80,000 graves.  

Spread over 114 acres, the cemetery holds service members who fought in conflicts from the Civil War through Afghanistan.  Another 5,500 are entombed in columbariums, walls with interment niches for cremated remains.

The cemetery is full, but work is under way to expand it by another 13 acres, reachable on Constitution Avenue, which runs under the 405.  All the dead at the new location will be entombed as ashes in columbariums.  

When done, the expansion will more than double the capacity of the cemetery.  This is probably wise.  Much as we may wish for the end of armed conflict, the longer odds suggest we will always need space for military dead.  


Fourteen winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor are interred in Los Angeles National Cemetery.

The first of the medals was earned by Charles Rundle, a Kentuckian who volunteered for an Illinois Infantry company at age 18 in 1862.  One year later, when General Ulysses S. Grant assembled Union armies to take Vicksburg, Rundle was one of 150 volunteers -- known later as the Forlorn Hope detachment -- who set out on a morning in May to take a well-armed Fort Garrett with ladders that were too short and not nearly enough firepower.  A quixotic effort.
     By mid morning two-thirds of the volunteers had been cut down by cannon fire.  The others took refuge in ditches below the fort, too low to be reached by Confederate cannons.  The Confederates lit fuses on cannonballs and threw them into the ditches;  fortunately the fuses burned long enough that soldiers were able to scramble away.  Rundle was one of the few who grabbed cannonballs and threw them back over the fort's walls to explode among the enemy.      
     That night, Rundle was among the 30 remaining volunteers able to scramble back behind Union lines.  After the failure of their impossible venture, Grant fell back to Plan B: Union armies laid siege to the city, isolating it from fresh military supplies and, worse, food.  Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, one day after Gettysburg. 
     Rundle mustered out in 1865, married, raised six children on a Colorado farm and, later, worked for the post office.  He moved to California for his wife's health, and both died there many years later. 
     As for his medal, he told a Colorado paper, "Nothing but death could make me part with it."  It is buried with him in Los Angeles National Cemetery.


The last Medal of Honor represented in the cemetery was earned by a World War II infantry sergeant whose personal story is more enigmatic.  
     Christos H. Karaberis joined the U.S. Army at age 18 in 1942 in his hometown of Manchester, N.H.  We can infer from his name that he was from an immigrant family, possibly from Greece.
     In October 1 and 2, 1944, Sgt. Karaberis and his squad were in Italy, where they were assigned to take a ridge that led toward a German redoubt.  Here is the narrative from his medal citation:

     "When his platoon was pinned down by heavy fire from enemy mortars, machine guns, machine pistols, and rifles, he climbed in advance of his squad on a maneuver around the left flank to locate and eliminate the enemy gun positions. 
       "Undeterred by deadly fire that ricocheted off the barren rocky hillside, he crept to the rear of the first machine gun and charged, firing his submachine gun. In this surprise attack he captured 8 prisoners and turned them over to his squad before striking out alone for a second machine gun. 
       "Discovered in his advance and subjected to direct fire from the hostile weapon, he leaped to his feet and ran forward, weaving and crouching, pouring automatic fire into the emplacement that killed 4 of its defenders and forced the surrender of a lone survivor. He again moved forward through heavy fire to attack a third machine gun. 
      "When close to the emplacement, he closed with a nerve-shattering shout and burst of fire. Paralyzed by his whirlwind attack, all 4 gunners immediately surrendered. Once more advancing aggressively in the face of a thoroughly alerted enemy, he approached a point of high ground occupied by 2 machine guns which were firing on his company on the slope below. Charging the first of these weapons, he killed 4 of the crew and captured 3 more.              
      "The 6 defenders of the adjacent position, cowed by the savagery of his assault, immediately gave up. By his (one)-man attack, heroically and voluntarily undertaken in the face of tremendous risks, Sgt. Karaberis captured 5 enemy machine gun positions, killed 8 Germans, took 22 prisoners, cleared the ridge leading to his company's objective, and drove a deep wedge into the enemy line, making it possible for his battalion to occupy important, commanding ground."

     Not surprisingly, Karaberis was awarded his medal shortly after the end of the war. He stayed in the Army, rising to the top sergeant's rank and serving through the Korean War.  
     After World War II, he changed his name to Chris Carr.  Again by inference, we can guess that he wished to sound more American.  
     Chris Carr died in Orange County, CA at age 56 in 1970; his wife, Juanita, died seven years later.  No other personal information about him is readily available.  
     He is one of 45 military dead with the surname "Carr" in Los Angeles National Cemetery.


Today is Memorial Day, devoted to the recognition of past and current members of the American military.  

At 3 p.m., as at other military cemeteries, there will be a moment of observance at Los Angeles National Cemetery. 

In Los Angeles, the traffic on the 405 will not slow down; the moment will not be a quiet one. But the dead will remain, in great numbers.

We should not forget them.   

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our New Neighbors, the Bears

Above is a picture of a new resident in my town, a suburb that was founded more than 150 years ago.

Just about every day now, we get a robocall from the police department advising that a black bear has been spotted in another back yard.  

Bears have been seen near four of our six elementary schools and a couple other neighborhoods as well.  A 35-year resident of my town says this is the first year he ever has heard of black bears here. 

Our grade schools are now "sheltering in place," which means students cannot go outside during recess or lunch hours during this, one of the two pleasant seasons of the year.  Police cruisers are patrolling schools to watch for bears.  

The cops are not taking action against bears, we have learned, unless one climbs a tree.  There has been no explanation why a bear in a tree is a bigger problem than a bear by the backyard swingset.

I also wonder what police do in bear-up-a-tree situations.  I suppose they could call the fire department, which is famous for deploying ladder trucks to rescue kittens from trees, but I don't think even the bravest firefighters would want to come to the aid of animals that weigh 200 to 400 pounds and have sharp teeth and powerful paws.  

The probable solution is to shoot treed bears with tranquilizer darts, causing the bears to fall out of the trees.  Maybe paramedics with great big stretchers conduct the tranquilized bears to veterinary hospitals for examination and treatment of their injuries.  Who knows?  

Bears, Bears Everywhere

The bear photo above was taken a couple weeks ago by a homeowner in the town next to ours, but, really, it could have come from anywhere in the state.

So far this year, there have been black bear sightings in all 21 New Jersey counties, more than ever before.  

New Jersey is said to be the most densely populated state in the union, and so the opportunity for human-bear interactions can be assumed to be rising apace.

What the Bears Want

There is no mystery why all the bears are coming out this month.  Spring is when mom and dad bears push young adults out of the family home (lair?) to make their ways on their own.

May and June are also mating season for adult bears who are searching for love, perhaps in all the wrong places.  

Plus the bears are hungry.  Unfortunately, New Jersey also has deer -- many, many, many deer -- who have consumed the entire vegetative understory of every wooded area in the state, as well as most of what used to be my garden.   

Hungry bears are flexible.  They are not interested in hunting deer, alas, but they are happy to eat dog food, human food, garbage, vegetable garden produce and small animals -- the sorts of menu items found in populated areas.  (And, let's not forget -- toddlers and family pets are small animals.)

So, increasingly, bears are attracted to the suburbs, and suburbanites are a little bit on edge.

Bear Management

Bears probably lived in my neighborhood when our town was established all those years ago.  At that point, bear hunting was legal and no doubt seen as a good idea.

By the middle of the last century, the ursine population had been hunted out; fewer than 100 black bears were left in New Jersey.  This was seen as too few bears.  The hunting was stopped.

Around 2010, state wildlife officials conceded that a new problem had developed:  too many black bears in the less-populated northwest areas of the state.  

An annual December hunting season (about 10 days, IIRC) was set for five years in four northwestern counties.  (Interestingly, December is part of hibernation season, when bears are harder to find.  Smart folks, those wildlife officials.)  

By the end of the last hunting season in December 2014, the black bear population had been reduced from 3,400 to more than 4,000.  Oh, wait.

 (That same year, a bear killed a hiker, the first recorded instance since 1852.)

Plus, other black bears had traveled to settle in every other corner of the state.

What to Do

Now the bears are everywhere.  The wildlife people are talking about an October hunting season, but nobody really knows what to do about suburban bears. 

(Remember, these are the guys who mismanaged the deer population to such a degree that many native plants have been eaten to extinction and hikers smother themselves in DEET for fear of Lyme disease.)

And there is resistance.

Every time there is a wildlife management meeting, animal-rights champions come out to suggest elaborate, expensive, totally unworkable schemes like birth control for deer.

At the last bear hunt meeting, I read, one of these persons suggested that there were other, better ways than hunting to manage the bear population.  

I was not there, but if I had been I would have jumped out of my seat and shouted, "Okay! Let's do it! How?"

Then I decided to calm down -- to think globally and act locally.

"Maybe we should get one of those bear-proof garbage cans," I suggested to the Significant Other.

"As long as the bear doesn't have a garage clicker, we don't need one," he said. "Besides, those cans cost more than $200."

"But what if the bear is smarter than the average bear?" I asked.  "All he'd have to do is drop by in the morning before the garbage truck comes.  Or he could walk through the screen door in the kitchen just before dinner."

The SO had no answer.

Neither do I.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The High Cost of Cheap Manicures

Sometimes I wonder if people in New York City are all that smart.

Last week the city's lead paper, the NY Times, broke a story revealing that manicure shops in the metropolis were exploiting poor workers to provide manicures and pedicures at remarkably low cost. 

The story arose when a reporter asked some questions of the woman who was doing her nails.  The woman's answers surprised her.

There followed weeks of investigations and interviews with more than 100 manicurists.  What was revealed:

     -- Most if not all were in the country illegally and spoke little English.  They had few
         work alternatives, and they lived in cramped, miserable conditions.

     -- Some paid as much as $200 to be "trained" to do their jobs and only began to be
         paid much later; some were paid as little as $30 a day, some $3 an hour.

     -- At least one woman reported she worked 24 hours a day, six days a week and 
        slept for 24 hours on Sunday, her only day off.

New Yorkers were shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that $10 manicures and $20 pedicures were not sufficient to provide nail practitioners with living wages.

Consider the facts.  Minimum wage in the city is $9 an hour.  Employer payroll taxes add another dollar or so.  Employees who work more than 30 hours a week must be provided with health insurance benefits.

Operating expenses -- rent, utilities, equipment, laundry, phones and so on -- are high in New York and add to the cost of doing business.

Can a legal employee who does two or, at most, three $10 manicures per hour generate a profit for an employer with costs like those?  Of course not.

The only way such businesses can make money is by exploiting poor Asian and Hispanic women.  The business operators are crooks.

Yet, for many years, nail salons have proliferated across the city, and customers have ignored obvious facts that were right in front of their noses. 

Maybe they tipped the manicurists well -- a 30 percent gratuity for a $10 manicure is $3, not a life-changing amount -- but did they really believe those women were earning legal wages? Did they ever even consider the question?  

Let's call those well-manicured city women what they are:  sweat-shop enablers.


I have observed something similar in California.  There are several busy nail shops on a popular walking street near our West Coast base of operations. 

Last summer I needed a pedicure and went into one of these places.  The cost was $20, which seemed low for a spot with 10 or more expensive massage chairs and an arched ceiling painted with decorative fresco-like images. 

As I watched for a while, I realized that most if not all of the business was running off the books.  Customers would pay in cash or with charge cards, but nothing ever seemed to be entered into what we used to call a cash register.  No system was keeping track of revenues; it was hard to believe it was a legitimate business, at least for tax purposes. 

Maybe the savings on unpaid taxes allowed the nail salon owner to pay its workers more, but I doubt it.  Or maybe the workers paid the owner to "rent" the chairs in exchange for a cut of the revenues, as is sometimes the case with beauty salons.  But when I have visited such beauty salons, payments are entered into an electronic system.  Not at the nail place. 

This was an educational experience for me.  I have not gone back to the nail salon.


Like other New Yorkers, the governor was gobsmacked to learn that nail salons were mistreating their employees.  Now, having read the newspaper articles, he wants legislation to ease manicurist licensing requirements that were ignored for years, to assure that even undocumented workers are paid minimum wage and to address worker safety issues relating to substances used in nail salons.  

I find it striking that two of our bluest states, New York and California, seem uninterested in the welfare of large populations of immigrant workers -- house cleaners, nannies, landscapers and construction workers, among others.  

These workers are paid sub-market rates and given no benefits because it costs less for the people who hire them and -- until there is a newspaper expose -- the government looks the other way.  

We talk a lot about inequality these days, but a lot of us don't bother to walk the walk in our personal lives.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Smoking and Loss Aversion

There are still more than 40 million Americans who smoke cigarettes.  If you asked them, just about every single one would tell you that he or she wants to quit.

In fact, as many as 50 million already have stopped smoking.  They have used nicotine gum, hypnosis, support groups or sheer, gritty willpower to do it.  And if you asked them, they would say that quitting was possibly the most difficult thing they ever did.

An interesting publication in the New England Journal of Medicine last week reported the results of a small study that offered smokers financial incentives to give up cigarettes. Surprisingly, of the two groups in the study, the more successful one was the one that was paid less money for quitting.

Loss Aversion and Modern Economics

For hundreds of years, economists assumed that human beings were rational economic actors who depended on logic, not emotions or impulses, to make decisions.  But in the last 50 years this notion has been turned on its head.

One example is smoking.  Why would any rational person smoke?  A report from the U.S. Surgeon General in 1964 made clear that smoking could cause heart disease, lung cancer, cancers of the mouth and throat, and emphysema.  It said that smoking could kill you. 

There followed 30 years of warnings on cigarette packages, public health hectoring and banning of cigarettes from many public places.  Even after all that, almost 25 percent of American adults were smokers in 1994. 

Economists realized that there exists the potential for irrationality in every human.  They began to study this, often with the help of psychologists.

One prominent economist, Daniel Kahneman, summarized much of what he and his colleagues had learned in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011.

A key discovery that Kahneman repeated again and again was that people worry more about the chance of a small loss than they value the chance of a large gain.  After many experiments, this was his conclusion:

     "You can measure the extent of your aversion to losses by asking yourself
      a question:  What is the smallest gain that I need to balance an equal chance 
      to lose $100?  For many people, the answer is about $200, twice as much as
      the loss.  The 'loss aversion ratio' has been estimated in several experiments
      and is usually in the range of 1.5 to 2.5."

Money and Quitting Smoking

So here is what happened in the smoking/money incentive study.

A group of smokers was divided into two groups;

     -- Each member of one group was offered a reward of $800 after
         ceasing smoking for six months.

     -- Each member of the other group was required to deposit $150
         with the study organizers; if the smoker stopped smoking for 
         six months, he or she would receive the deposit money back
         plus another $650.

When the conditions were explained, 90 percent of those offered the potential $800 reward signed up.

Only 17.1 percent of smokers agreed to participate when faced with the $150 deposit/$650 reward alternative.

The variation in signups is significant.  The first group would lose no money if they were unable to quit smoking.  The second group would be out $150 if they did not quit.  

Obviously, the potential to lose money caused most of the second group to drop out of the experiment.  That's loss aversion at work.

But what is more significant is how results differed between the two groups.

     -- Only 17.1 percent of the no loss/$800 win group managed to stop smoking
         for the full six months. 

     -- Of the other group, 52.3 percent did quit smoking for six months. They got their
         $150 back, plus another $650.  And they'd quit smoking! 

Apparently having some skin in the game increased smokers' motivation.  As Kahneman said, people are motivated more by the fear of a smaller loss than the chance of an even larger gain.

Note:  Actually, anyone in the study could have made even more money by acting individually.  If the cost of a package of cigarettes is $5 (a low estimate in most states), a pack-a-day smoker who quit would save $900 by the end of six months.

More proof, if proof is needed, that smokers are like most humans and are not rational economic actors.