Thinking Fast & Slow…or Not at All

I’ve been reading Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project, 30334134

which is about the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, two Israeli psychologists who earned world renown in economics, of all things. I’m also reading Daniel Kahneman’s own book, Thinking Fast & Slow.11468377  I’m not normally inclined to read books that don’t involve history, culture, travel, or dogs, (or best of all, a combination of those things) but surprisingly, psychology allows some greater understanding of all of those things that interest me.

Thinking fast, the decisions we make intuitively, like holding on to the dog leash when thinking slow would allow you to arrive at the better decision (to let go), are explained as two separate functions of the human brain. We all do it and we all make flawed choices based on too little information. Both functions of the brain are essential to our survival. Clearly, some fast thinking results in a good outcome.

The thing that continues to astound me is how many people use the intuitive part of their brain to make decisions when they have plenty of time to gather enough information to make a more reasoned decision. That’s the lazy part of the human brain. It’s just easier to feel that something is true than it is to research and evaluate.  Somehow, it feels good to reaffirm something we want to believe even if there is evidence available to us that contradicts our position.

I’m looking ahead wondering what will be gained, and what will the costs be, of having someone who relies heavily on intuition to make decisions that would benefit from more critical evaluation, in the White House. Only time will tell.

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Coyote Curmudgeon

My “old” friend, Mary, joined the girls and me at a quaint bed & breakfast in the rural community of Rainbow a couple of weeks ago. https://rainbowinn.smugmug.com/ Mary’s not THAT old but our friendship goes back some fifty years. FIFTY YEARS!?! Okay, I guess she IS that old.

Mary and I became friends when we were in seventh grade and we discovered we both had a crush on the same boy. There was no rivalry as he didn’t know either one of us existed. Our friendship was further enhanced because I was horse crazy and she had two horses. We never lost touch over the years even though she moved away at the end of ninth grade. Each of us married young and our husbands joined our friendship. The four of us spent many weekends and vacations together despite the two hour drive between us. Now, entering our retirement years, Mary’s husband is suffering a life-threatening illness, and that weighs heavily on Mary both mentally and physically. An overnight getaway with her old friend was just what the doctor ordered.

I loaded up the girls and all their gear, beds, bowls, homemade dog food, etc. and we were off. 20170515_153114

The girls loved Mary, who is (of course) a dog lover and the B&B hosts were most gracious. The weather was rather cold and breezy but the girls enjoyed the pool nonetheless. A good time was had by all.

Back home we fell into our usual routine of biking and walking. This morning, we were thoroughly dressed down by an irate coyote who told us in no uncertain terms that we were unwelcome trespassers on his turf. When we were about 100 yards away he began his yammering, standing in the middle of the paved road, between us and home. I courteously put the leashes on the dogs, though they showed no interest in mixing it up with him, and stood patiently waiting for him to finish his tirade. After a minute or two, he grudgingly moved a few yards off the pavement, but continued his harangue. We proceeded past the place where we knew him to be by his yapping, even though we couldn’t see him in the brush. The girls showed less interest in him that they do the dogs along the way who are behind fences. I would call him cheeky but, in his defense, we were invading his territory.

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The Joys? of Spring Mountain Biking

After an unusually wet winter, our mountain bike trails are in danger of being obliterated by grass and weeds. There are places where a cyclist can disappear entirely in weeds five feet tall. By this time of year, everything is going to seed and every kind of fox-tail, corkscrew seed, and thistle, claws at your legs as you pedal through on trails you have to simply believe are there when you can’t really see them. To add an element of suspense to the ordeal, snakes are active and invisible in the brush.

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Weedy Wash Trails

Sally and I made our way up the wash trails for several miles before we came to the realization that it really wasn’t any fun and decided to head for the Crafton Hills Conservancy trails which are cleared of brush by energetic, civic-minded folks. We were grinding our way up the trail we call Escalator, when I spotted a nice sized Diamond Back rattle snake, business end in the middle of the trail, about three feet ahead of my front tire.

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Hair Raising Encounter

Luckily, Sally was several feet behind me so I was able to stop abruptly without having her pile into me. Before I could back away, the alert creature spotted me and took a defensive stance (that would be coiled up) and rattled a stern warning. I backed away, still astraddle my bike.

Intellectually, I am not afraid of snakes. Respectful? Absolutely, but not consciously terrified. But evidently, the non-verbal part of my brain operates on a more instinctual level because I became aware of the hair on my arms standing on end like a frightened cat. We waited patiently for the snake to calm down and move on which he did within a minute or two. We watched his progress up the hill until it was safe to proceed and then realized that our trail switch backed directly across the path the snake had taken. The thought did lend wings to our pedals.

We descended the ever-exciting Motorcycle Trail, on which there was plenty of brush (it’s not a sanctioned trail) and a dearth of traction. Thankfully, it’s sufficiently steep to allow enough speed to not see any snakes that we may run over. It’s also deeply rutted which makes it riveting enough to keep one’s eyes engaged on the trail. We debated, at the top of Joint Point North whether or not to attempt the wickedly steep descent in the overgrown weeds. Finally, Sally said she would walk down to the point of no return to assess how treacherous it would be. I said the heck with that, I’m not WALKING down anything. I knew if we rode down the first fifty yards, we would ride the whole thing…and, of course, we did.

Sally led the way, picking up speed uncontrollably on the hard, dry, trail and I attempted to follow her at a more controlled pace. When my back wheel began to pass the front I realized that maybe control was overrated. By this time my bike had left the trail and was headed across country, straight down, through knee high grass, rocks, and hopefully, no snakes. Naught to be done but hang on and try to steer a course back to the trail. A rut appeared between me and my goal, forcing me to continue to boldly go where no bike had gone before. I glimpsed Sally below, off the bike in the tall weeds, before narrowing my focus to the trail which had miraculously rejoined my path.

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Joint Point North

When I joined her at the bottom of the hill, she explained that she had caught her shorts on the back of her seat and couldn’t get back to her center of gravity when the hill leveled out. Note to the uninitiated: When going down something extreme, it’s a good idea to get behind the seat to keep your center of gravity over the cranks rather than over the bars, as nobody likes to actually be thrown over the front of the bike.

Sometimes when we ride this trail, we compliment ourselves on our skill and courage. Today we were grateful for simple luck.

I’m Getting Too Old for This $!@#

I read somewhere that people over the age of sixty fall on average once a year. Clearly, I’m way above average!

I understand that mountain biking is inherently risky and falling is just part of the package. I accept that, but dog walking shouldn’t be a high risk activity. Of course, that’s what I thought about cleaning my neighbor’s chicken run too and that got me cracked ribs. Lest you think me a complete klutz, allow me to explain.

Ever since the girls,working in concert, caught a rabbit,  I’ve been keeping one of them on one of those retractable leashes whenever I’m in an area where rabbits don’t have a 360 degree radius of escape. Once we get out to the river bottom, I can turn them both loose without much danger of them running anything down.

Today, we were walking along the unpaved water district easement where there’s a chain link fence about fifty yards away. Rabbits can get chased up against the fence so I had Sadie on the leash. Mollie stays fairly close to me so she can be loose. I was blithely enjoying the morning sunshine and listening to The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich on my MP3 player when Sadie spotted something that needed chasing. It was something so exciting that she forgot she was on the leash. My German-made, 26 foot, retractable leash smoothly played out like a fishing pole with a marlin on the line as she sprinted to top speed in 0.24 seconds. My brain shifted from the Third Reich to the ensuing problem at hand perhaps a bit more slowly than optimal and I instinctively braced for the impact that would occur when she hit the 26 foot limit of the leash.

Now, I never took physics in school, but common sense would normally advise one that 65 pounds of German  Shepherd, traveling at a rate of speed of approximately 25 miles per hour, is going to have a rather catastrophic impact on a 120 pound, sixty-four year old woman. But of course, common sense had no say in this story.

I found myself being violently jerked off my feet and being dragged through skin lacerating rocks and gravel before I had the sense to let go of the handle of the leash. To be honest, I’m not sure I voluntarily let go.

I lay face up where I fell, pain radiating from every part of my right side. Being an above average faller, I knew better than to attempt to right myself immediately, even though I was mortally afraid that the heavy equipment operator who was working the spoil pile some 100 yards away might see me and wonder if he should investigate. How mortifying would that be?!

Eventually, I sat up and looked around for my dogs. Mollie was sitting about four feet away, looking deeply concerned. Sadie, leash tangled in brush some thirty feet away, was prevented from coming over to lick my face, fortunately. I regained my feet, blood dripping from my arm, pants torn and bloody, and retrieved my cell phone from my back pocket. It was dirty but undamaged. (Wow, that’s pretty good for a case that cost me $1.00 at the Big Lots store!) I called home, hoping Mike would come and get us but he had already left for a bike ride. There was naught to be done but limp home. Sadie was contrite and walked quietly by my side, never volunteering to take liberties. She seemed to sense that she was doggie non grata. Mollie too, stayed close, nuzzling my hand occasionally to assure herself that she was the good dog.

So, it looks like I’m going to be nursing yet another damaged rib and sticking to the sheets for a few weeks. It kinda sucks since there’s no glory in dog walking wrecks.

 

Addicted to Reading

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Being a person with almost no self-discipline, I have many pleasant addictions, but none as satisfying, or perhaps I should say insatiable, as reading. When I finish one good book, I immediately look for the next one and consequently, don’t always remember more than the gist of a book. I can happily read two or thee James Lee Burke novels, what I call TV reading, and forget the previous one as soon as I start the second. Then there are the books that mark you for life. Almost anything written by Barbara Kingsolver is indelibly etched into my memory.

In the last twenty years or so, my taste for historical fiction has evolved into historical non-fiction. No doubt, the recently popular form of narrative non-fiction gently lured me away from the Gone With the Wind of my youth to the stark realities of The Other Slavery – the Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. The trouble with reading books that chronical the past is that one’s view of the present is altered.

Most of the baby boomer generation, have never known anything but peace and prosperity in this country. Even the poor people, though horribly marginalized by comparison to my lower-middle-class life, are generally not poor by the standards of third world countries.  The wars this country has embarked upon in my lifetime have not noticeably impacted my idyllic routine. But, through the lens of  unflinching writers, my vision has been re-focused. My ideology is constantly being reshaped, refined, and questioned.

I was raised in a staunchly conservative, strictly religious family. The foundation of all of my ideas are based on the teachings of the church and my mid-western upbringing. My knee-jerk reactions are still reflective of that. Nobody was more surprised than I to discover that as my taste in reading became more eclectic, my views broadened and my alt-right ideas were turned upside down.

I believe I have an idea for bringing Americans together, to make America great, so to speak. Every voter, every teacher, every politician, and every blogger should read really good books every day. (Yeah, too many everys in that sentence, I know) Reading an article in a magazine or online is okay for reinforcing what you already believe; but reading a real book, written by someone who has no agenda other than to INFORM you of what has happened before you came into being, is enlightening in ways you can not fathom unless you do it.

I’m not suggesting that you suspend critical thinking when you read a book anymore than you should when reading online or watching news on TV. I’m just saying that when an author goes to the trouble to research a topic carefully, annotates his findings diligently, and presents them factually, without pandering to sentimentality, you can learn a great deal about the world. Even if the only thing you learn is how the people who voted for Donald Trump came to that decision, you have learned something valuable. Chances are, if they had read the same books I have, they might have still followed their deeply ingrained biases about gender and the status of this country. But they would have elected him with eyes wide open instead of voting on hope that he would make them safe from the nasty people who look and speak differently than we do.

Dog Days of Summer

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When you wake up to seventy degree weather at 6:00 in the morning, there’s only one thing to do: head for the hills. I loaded the dogs into the SUV (you know dogs, it’s their favorite thing, right up there with walks, meals, naps, digging holes, and chasing wildlife) and drove up to walk a section of the Santa Ana River Trail.

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A view of Slide Peak from the SART

 

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Lupine (I think)

 

The gnats were there waiting for us and quickly alerted their friends, the deer flies, that breakfast was ready. Although it was in the low seventies, the combination of humidity and bugs took the fun out of our hike.

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Sadie expresses her lack of enthusiasm.

We arrived back home just in time to save the garden.

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Tomato plant and wilted squash plants

 

Mike installed an air conditioner in the dog house.

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And unlike mad dogs and Englishmen, we all stayed out of the mid-day sun and took a nap. Molly and Sadie thought the air conditioner was almost as good as a ride in the car.

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Molly, the cutest & smartest dog in the world

 

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Sadie, the most beautiful, well-behaved dog in the world

Yeah, you kind of are…

So, I spent another $48 to renew my Xanga page but still can’t access it more than two weeks later. I’m having serious doubts about how important clinging to the past really is. This site, while foreign to me, is free and works consistently. I’ve found some really nice blogs to follow here, thanks to those who have commented on Michel’s page; so maybe I’ll just consider Xanga a thing of the past.

It occurs to me that my life is so uneventful that blogging at all is a waste of time. And yet, I find my days, while routine and comfortable, are still worth describing, even if only for my own edification.

Yesterday, Sally and I rode the wash trails and climbed one of the Conservancy trails we call Escalator. The wash trails have been created over decades by local hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. They are too rocky and twisty to be of much interest to people on motorized vehicles, but too often, some clueless motorcyclist or quad rider decides to try them out, which results in damage to the trail that takes years to heal.

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The nature of a mountain bike trail is to gently meander between the shrubs and rocks, always taking the way of least resistance and having the least amount of impact on the environment. The power of a motorized vehicle allows the rider to exclaim, “Damn the rocks; full speed ahead!” You can well imagine how heart wrenching it is to find a trail, that has been ridden for decades by hundreds of bicyclists, desecrated by one thoughtless motorist who decided to widen it.

Apart from the mayhem shown above, we were able to keep to paths less traveled and enjoyed the season’s meager wild flower offerings. Years of protracted drought have changed the texture of the foliage. Flowers are smaller and more sparse, and opportunistic species are appearing. We spent a couple of hours digging out Jerusalem Artichoke plants, in a probably vain attempt to keep them out of our area. Their prickly leaves and stiff stalks can quickly render a path un-rideable. I’ve ridden trails in the coastal hills that are under constant attack by this invasive species.

Sally was test riding a new Intense Spider as she’s in the market for a new ride. This year bike manufacturers are touting 27.5″ wheels (last year it was 29″) and we are still riding our tried and true 26″, so she wanted to see how the longer wheel-based bike would handle the switchbacks of Escalator. The difference in handling was primarily in her imagination and by the time we had navigated about half of the switchbacks, she was sold on the new bike. Unfortunately, she has only saved about $3,500 and the demo bike sells for $5,000. Those bike shop sales people are devious! They will probably end up convincing her that a 10% discount makes it affordable. Seriously, is it really that important that her kids go to college?

A day of no crashes, no rattlesnakes, and no flirtatious encounters with young, fit, cyclists…sounds pretty boring but it was actually quite fun. And BTW, the lunch at the Naan Café afterwards was fabulous. There’s nothing like a well-earned mango lassi.