Sunday, February 25, 2007

Legacy Planning Process, Part I

Several weeks ago, our investment advisor urged Sarita and me to seriously consider hiring a Legacy Planner. (Note the difference between legacy planning and "mere" estate planning. I described some of the philosophical and practical differences back in November.)

Greg Smith, the gentleman whom our advisor recommended, presented a couple of graphics that I think give further insight into some of the differences.

Here I will present only the "Legacy Planning Pyramid" (© 2006 Resonate Companies, Inc. and GDI Consulting USA, Inc.; used by permission):

[Click on the image to see it full size.]

According to Greg, "traditional" financial and estate planning comprise the first two layers of the Legacy Planning Pyramid. He defined financial planning as making appropriate decisions concerning investing; life, disability and long-term care insurance; basic retirement and tax planning, etc. And traditional estate planning: the preparation of proper documents: wills, powers of attorney, trusts, foundations, and so forth.

Proper legacy planning, Greg said, adds a legacy strategy (including statements of mission, vision, values and priorities), plus more advanced legal and financial strategies that may be required to provide an appropriate structure to uphold the strategy, and, most importantly, succession planning--practical plans concerning how one intends to pass on one's mission, vision, values and priorities to one's heirs, executors, etc.

I think it's interesting how many people there are who are delighted to help you do traditional financial and estate planning. Talk to almost any "advanced" financial advisor today and he or she will speak of these matters. These people are all about helping you analyze your life insurance portfolio, increase the size of your retirement account, save taxes, make more money available to your heirs.

Almost no one talks about the things that Greg spoke of as essential to legacy planning.

But legacy planning, as I see it, "adds" the entire layer (and I would like to suggest it is the more fundamental layer) of purpose. Why am I interested in passing wealth to the next generation? What is the purpose of that wealth?

As we discussed these matters, Greg asked a question. "Suppose we were to say a family has successfully passed on its legacy to the next generation if two things, at minimum, are true: 1) the family's wealth is still there when the first generation has passed away, and, 2) none of the members of the second generation have seen their lives destroyed due to improper use of funds; no family relationships have been ruined as a result of strife over money.

"Of families who use traditional financial and estate planning techniques and go no further," he asked, "what percentage would you guess are successful, according to this definition, in the second generation? How many wealthy families still have the wealth and are still relationally intact in the second generation?"

"Maybe one or two percent?" I suggested.

"Oh!" he said. "You are pessimistic! . . . No. The real number is about 30 percent. . . . Thirty percent of all families who do traditional financial and estate planning are still intact in the second generation. While the assets were prepared for transfer, the heirs were inadequately prepared to receive them. They were never given the opportunity to explore the rights, roles and responsibilities of being an heir.

"By contrast," he said, "what percentage of families do you think are successful, by the same definition, if and when they have engaged in full legacy planning?"

"I have no idea," I said.

"The statistics show 90%-plus," he said. [He referenced Roy Williams and Vic Preisser, co-authors of Philanthropy: Heirs and Values for these statistics.]

The key problem with most traditional estate planning, he said, has to do with a lack of "intergenerational communication," a lack of attention to "family systems, creating a shared family vision, and matching the passion and purpose of one's life with the purpose of one's wealth."

So Sarita and I have begun a legacy planning process.

More later.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Exiting Earth's Gravitational Sphere

I've told some of my co-workers: I feel as if I suddenly exited the gravitational pull of Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd. Like . . . just yesterday or the day before.

It's a strange and long-desired feeling.

I'm not exactly sure why, but suddenly and "simply" I "just" don't feel needed anymore. And I'm not sad to see the "need" go away. I look forward to getting involved, more, in "other" things.

Oh. I'll "come back" to Sonlight. I have no doubts about that. I'll continue to muck around and get involved at various levels. I'm sure (too many) people will still feel the weight of my "presence." But . . . something has changed. I'm not sure what, but I'll be interested to see what!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fierce Conversations VI--The Decision Tree

Last but not least! Continuing summary/analysis of Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations.

The Decision Tree

The Decision Tree consists of four categories of decisions. All are described from the perspective of the employee/"direct report":
Leaf Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.

Branch Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Report the action you took. (Reporting may be required daily, weekly, or monthly.)

Trunk Decisions: Make the decision. Report your decision before you take action.

Root Decisions: Make the decision jointly, with input from many people. These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the organization.
p. 121: Scott's recommendation:
Explain the Decision Tree to your direct reports. Ask each of them to pay attention over the next thirty days to all of the decisions that fall within their responsibilities and to categorize them as leaf, branch, trunk, or root. Review their conclusions and reach consensus about where each kind of decision falls on the Decision Tree. Remind everyone that the goal is to move more and more decisions out to the leaf level. This is the leadership-development path. [After] this agreement, adhere to the boundaries and agreements. . . . [I]f someone comes to you for help in making a decision that falls within the trunk category, say, "Come back to me when you've made your decision. Then we'll talk."
--I have a sense I need to initiate this kind of discussion, decision, and discipline with those with whom I work.

A few comments/ideas/notes:

  1. I'm not sure I have direct reports. I have, more, people I am mentoring, people who are my apprentices. Somehow, in these circumstances, I sense the lines of responsibility and authority are rather different than what Scott is describing. I'm not completely sure how they differ. I need to think this through. But let me try to think through some of the ways her "Leadership Development" may differ from my idea of apprenticeship and mentoring.

    One key difference: I sense the kind of leadership development Scott is referring to is far more "hands off," than the kind of apprenticeship/mentoring I'm referring to. Mentoring includes decisions at all kinds of levels, and, moment-by-moment, the level may shift--from strategic to tactical and, possibly, down to the very detailed, low-level "stylistic."

    Mentorship is closer to "coaching," or serving as a sensei in a karate dojo (school). --The student realizes s/he wants and needs the input of his or her master/sensei at any point and in any area in which the master/sensei believes s/he needs improvement. The student welcomes the master/sensei's "intrusion" if or when the master/sensei says something.

  2. Scott says the goal of the Decision Tree is to "move more and more decisions out to the leaf level." I'm thinking her emphasis in this statement is misplaced. The goal has less to do with movement of decision-making than it has to do with building skills and trust. Although, perhaps, I am confusing the clarity of the Decision Tree graphic--which is (kind of) all about decisions--where we believe they ought to be made and/or who we believe ought to make them--with the processes by which we might entrust more and more individual members of our staff--"leaves"--to make decisions on their own.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fierce Conversations V--Group Conversations

Continuing summary/analysis of Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations.

pp. 129-164: Fierce Group Conversations

pp. 129-130: A form for helping people pre-think through issues.
The Issue (Be concise. In one or two sentences, get to the heart of the problem. Is it a concern, challenge, opportunity, or recurring problem that is becoming more troublesome?):

It is Significant Because (What is at stake? How does this affect dollars, income, people, products, services, customers, family, timing, the future, or other relevant factors? What is the future impact if the issue is not resolved?):

My Ideal Outcome (What specific results do I want?):

Relevant Background Information (Bullets: How, when, why, and where did the issue start? Who are the key players? Which forces are at work? What is the issue's current status?):

What I Have Done so Far (What I have done; the options I am considering):

The Help I Want (Specifically. For example: alternative solutions, confidence regarding the right decisions identification of consequences, where to find more information, critique of the current plan, etc.):
pp. 133-134: Group Process
  1. Ensure group members have the written summary of the problem (above).

  2. Permit lots of time for clarifying questions. --Make sure you're not getting sidetracked in discussions of potential solutions at this point! Only seek clarification!

  3. When fully clarified, then permit and encourage discussion of potential solutions. --Make sure everyone participates. If someone has not spoken, ask: "Mary, what's your take on this?"

  4. Wrap up with one-sentence summary recommendations from each group member. The person who presented the issue may not respond, only listen.

  5. Ask the member who raised the issue: "What did you hear?"

  6. Ask the member who raised the issue: "What actions are you committed to take and when will you take them?" (Legitimate answers may include, "I need time to digest these ideas. I will let you know what action I'll take by next Monday."

  7. Follow up. Make sure the person who raised the issue tell the team what s/he has done, the results, and his or her intended next steps.
HINT: Consider taping the issue session.
p. 119: About passing responsibility and authority to others or, as Scott describes it, "a marvelously useful method of delegation and professional development" . . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fierce Conversations IV--Digging Deep: "Mineral Rights" Conversations

Continuing summary/analysis of Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations.

"Mineral Rights" Conversations

A summary of "mineral rights" conversations--which, as Scott notes (p. 39), are conversations that "interrogate reality" by "mining for increased clarity, improved understanding, and impetus for change." The name comes from the insight that, "If you're drilling for water, it's better to drill one hundred-foot well than [a] hundred one-foot wells."

pp. 112-113:

The general content of these conversations involves seven questions or areas:

  1. "What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?"

  2. "Describe the issue."

  3. "How is this currently impacting you?" . . . The emphasis is on the word current; keep focused on current impact and results. Ask "What else?" at least three times. Probe feelings: "When you consider these impacts, what do you feel?"

  4. "If nothing changes, what are the implications? Imagine it is a year later and nothing has changed: What is likely to happen?" Ask "What else?" at least three times. Probe feelings: "When you consider those possible outcomes, what do you feel?"

  5. "How have you helped create this issue or situation?" --Don't comment on the response other than to say, "That's useful to recognize." Move on.

  6. "What is the ideal outcome, in your opinion? When this is resolved, what difference will it make?" Ask "What else?" at least three times. Probe feelings: "When you contemplate these possibilities, what do you feel?"

  7. "What's the most potent step you can take to begin to resolve this issue? What exactly are you committed to do and when? . . . When should I follow up with you?"
pp. 114-115: Some additional good questions

3. What is currently impossible to do that, if it were possible, would change everything?

5. What's the most important decision you're facing? What's keeping you from making it?

6. What topic are you hoping I won't bring up?

9. Who are your strongest employees? What are you doing to ensure that they're happy and motivated?

10. Who are your weakest employees? What is your plan for them?

15. If you were competing against our company, what would you do?

A "secret rule" for these conversations: "Until the person I am with has answered the question in Step 7--What do you see as the next most potent step you need to take?--I do not allow myself to make a declarative statement. No cheating. No leading questions such as, 'Have you considered trying _____?'"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fierce Conversations III--Confrontation

Continuing summary/analysis of Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations.

pp. 147-153: Confrontations

According to Scott, fierce confrontational conversations come in three parts:
  1. Opening Statement,
  2. Interaction,
  3. Resolution.
The key, it seems to me, is

1. The Opening Statement.

Scott urges the following structure and plan for creating one's opening statement. The opening statement should take no more than 60 seconds.

  1. Name the issue. Name the behavior that is causing the problem and the area the behavior is impacting. If you have multiple issues, take the time to define the core, the theme, the commonality of all or most of the issues. "Name the central issue [or] the conversation will lack essential focus and you'll both end up lost and frustrated."

  2. Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change. Remember, the entire opening statement should take no more than 60 seconds, so the example must be succinct. No long stories.

  3. Describe your emotions about this issue. Potential emotions might include anger, concern, worry, sadness, fear, frustration. "Describe whatever emotion is true for you. . . . For example, . . . "I'm deeply concerned and I am fearful of the possible consequences." --"Telling someone what emotion his or her behavior evokes in you is intimate and disarming. You are letting the person know that you are affected, that you are vulnerable."

  4. Clarify what is at stake, why this is important--for the individual you are confronting, for yourself, others, the team, the organization, the family, the relationship. . . . "Use the words at stake: 'This is what is at stake.'"

  5. Identify your contribution to the problem--"How I have behaved in ways guaranteed to produce or influence the very results with which I am unhappy." --Examples: "I have contributed to this problem by not reviewing your priorities and due dates with you. I will correct that." "I've contributed to this problem by not letting you know months ago how upset I was. Instead, I withdrew, and consequently, our relationship deteriorated even further. For that, I am sorry."

  6. Restate the issue and indicate your wish to resolve it. HINT: "Use the word resolve; it shows that there is no firing squad waiting outside the door. This is not a termination or an ending." Example: "This is what I want to resolve with you, Jackie, the effect your leadership style is having on the team."

  7. Invite your partner to respond. In essence: "I have just told you what concerns me, the issues as I see them. I have told you I am hoping for resolution. Now I want to understand what is happening from your perspective. Please talk to me about what's going on. . . ."
Assumptions related to and implications of the above opening statement (p. 154): "Nobody owns the entire truth about [the topic], including me. I would like for the two of us to interrogate reality, side by side, as if we are walking down some stairs, one at a time. If it gets scary, we can sit down on a step until we're ready to continue. Imagine that we both have flashlights to illuminate the issue. Both of us might see something new. Both of us may gain perspective. . . . We may both learn something."

pp. 142-144: Some good hints concerning confrontational conversations

  • Avoid "So, how's it going?" "Openings like this are disrespectful and dishonest." Plus, it is unprofitable. "Most people determine to bluff their way through a veiled confrontation for as long as possible. . . . Don't provide the opportunity. If what you really want to say is 'Your job is on the line,' then say that. Clearly, cleanly, and calmly."

  • Avoid the "Oreo cookie"--compliment, bad news, compliment. "The popularity of the Oreo cookie approach causes many people to break out in a sweat anytime they are paid a compliment, since it often signals an imminent kick in the backside. . . .

    "People deserve better than this. . . . People deserve to know exactly what is required of them, how and on what criteria they will be judged (including attitude), and how they are doing."

  • Avoid too many pillows ("softening the message"). "Replace pillows with clear requests. . . . While we often tell ourselves we are softening the message so as not to hurt someone else's feelings, we are really trying to protect ourselves. . . . One of the rules of fierce conversations is that you must go first. When? When you're tired of limping and decide to remove the stone from your shoe."
2. Interaction.

Scott summarizes this in one point: Inquire into your partner's views.

Some key sub-points:

  • If your partner says something with which you violently disagree, resist the temptation to build a stronger case. Simply listen so that your own learning may be provoked.

  • Ask questions.

  • Dig for full understanding.

  • Don't be satisfied with what's on the surface.

  • Summarize: "May I tell you what I'm hearing? I want to make sure I've understood you."
3. Resolution.

This portion of the conversation involves summarizing and committing to a course of action: "What have we learned? Where are we now? Has anything been left unsaid that needs saying? What is needed for resolution? How can we move forward from here, given our new understanding?" And then, "Make an agreement and determine how you will hold each other responsible for keeping it."

On pp. 140-142, Scott describes a terrible situation that required a fierce conversation along the lines of what I've just summarized. Pp. 158-162 summarize the conversation as it occurred. Very enlightening. Well worth the price of the book!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fierce Conversations II

I mentioned Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations back December 7th last year.

While on our cruise last month, I finished reading it. I figure it is worth my while to note the key ideas I gleaned from it.

I will record my thoughts "per page."

p. 83: Very much along the lines of what I have heard Dan Kennedy teach, and what Maxwell Maltz says in Psycho-Cybernetics: "You will bring into your life whatever it is that you have the most clarity about. The trouble is, most people have a great deal of clarity about what it is they don't want. So guess what they get!" --Back to my thoughts concerning what I want, my desires. And my realization that I am far more clear about "what not" than "what"--what I don’t want than what I want.

p. 84: "If you hear yourself answering, 'I don't know' . . . ask yourself, 'What would it be if I did know?'"

p. 112: "If anyone ever responds with 'I don't know,' your reply should be, 'What would it be if you did know?' This questions was inspired by the Zen koan 'When you can do nothing, what can you do?'

"Ask the question. And wait."

pp. 84, 190, and 192: Your "Stump Speech" needs to cover "Where am I going? Why am I going there? Who is going with me? How will I get there?"

p. 191:
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: "If you want to build a ship, don't gather your peole and ask them to provide wood, prepare tools, assign tasks. Call them together and raise in their minds the longing for the endless sea."
The InquisiCorp managers need to do the same thing with each of our brands. What is "the longing for the endless sea" . . . for Sonlight? For Ascendo? For Avyx? . . .

Talking about meeting with employees in intense one-on-ones:
p. 108: "I recommend that the optimum schedule is once a month for one to two hours . . . Twelve times a year, ask each of your key people to explore his or her most important issues with you."

p. 106: "Set the stage by telling the individual ahead of time: When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, "What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?" I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that's a signal you need to bring it up."

p. 111: "I know someone who periodically opens a one-to-one by giving his clients a form. He says, 'When you looked at today's schedule and noticed our meeting, what was your immediate reaction? Pick one.' The form has seven choices:
  • Okay, no big deal.

  • Oh, no, two hours wasted!

  • Should I cancel and reschedule?

  • Maybe I can shorten this today.

  • Great! I need to talk about _______.

  • Great! A few moments of sanity.

  • Other. ________________________
"Is he guaranteed a candid response? That depends on how he has handled feedback in the past."
I think I will split up this otherwise much longer post into smaller parts.

Further posts will have to do with specific communicational issues and situations.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hillary, Part 2

Denny Hatch wrote a follow-up to his comments on Hillary Clinton's suggestion that, as president, she would to "take [the oil companies'] profits" and use them for her own pet projects.

His comments came in the midst of an article about the power of fear to motivate people.
Who can forget the gaffe that may have cost John Kerry the presidency when he said the following about the senate vote on the Iraq War, "I voted for it before I voted against it." The Republicans replayed that line over and over again with lethal effect, scaring the voters into believing Kerry was a flip-flopper and therefore a danger. When Kerry refused to immediately dispute the Swift Boaters' charges that his Vietnam medals were not earned, voters perceived that maybe those allegations were true and feared that Kerry was a liar and a coward that could not be trusted to support our troops in Iraq.

The 2004 presidential election was won on voter fear of John Kerry.

Hillary Clinton is in for the same treatment—the result of the 20-second gaffe at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting in Washington early in February—that I mentioned in last week's edition of this e-zine.

Here is the fear-based, 30-second spot I would run were I managing the campaign of Barack Obama or Rudolph Giuliani:


Should Hillary Clinton Be President?


The other day, the oil companies reported the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund . . .




In June 2005, the Supreme Court said that the government could seize your home and turn it into condos in order to raise more tax money.

Now Hillary Clinton wants to seize business profits. What will Hillary try to seize next? Your investments? Your savings? Your bank account? Your salary?

This is more than scary. It's un-American.

I'm Rudy Giuliani and I approved this message.

Beware your fears! Don't let them push you into doing something foolish. [I say this by way of encouragement to me!]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Introduction to Bollywood

Our oldest son loaned us a Bollywood DVD. If you don't know anything about Bollywood, it is India's answer to America's Hollywood--the filmmaking studios of Mumbai (formerly Bombay--from whence the "B" in the name).

From what I understand, Bollywood puts out about twice the number of big-budget films as Hollywood does. And Indian films have a unique character: lots of emotion, lots of singing and dancing, no s*x. . . .

Well, now I've seen a bit of it for myself: 3 hours and 40 minutes worth of it or so in the film "Lagaan," starring India's mega-star Aamir Khan.

If you are non-Indian and interested in enjoying a bit of Indian culture, I can't imagine a nicer introduction. Set in 1893 Raj India, it presents an overbearing British captain against common Indian villagers. The captain demands double lagaan--i.e., double taxes. And he does so in a year in which the villagers are overwhelmed, already, with a drought. The villagers, for their part, at the behest of the film's hero, stand up against their British overlords.

Besides being introduced to what seems like a "new" (because unfamiliar/foreign) entertainment form,1 you will enjoy the truly heartwarming story of an underdog hero overcoming those who would persecute him and his people. You'll get to enjoy a foreign game as well, since much of the film centers around cricket.2

I think my favorite parts of the film were all the songs and dances! Truly. So uplifting. The [subtitled] words are beautiful. Far more complex than anything I have heard in modern American songs. The lyrics reminded me, almost all of them, of Psalms from the Bible. After watching the film and imbibing the music and lyrics, I came away thinking I may, actually, understand a bit of ancient Jewish culture better than I did before!

Which reminds me. . . .

Two years ago, when I visited India, several Indian Christians told me how "false" "The Jesus Film" is.

"Why?" I asked.

"Think of it!" they said. "Would God send one solitary angel to visit Mary and announce that she was to bear the Messiah of the world? No! There would be legions of angels with him. And they would be dancing and singing God's praises! . . . It is unimaginable that it could be any other way!"

After watching my first Bollywood movie, I think I can almost see their point!


1 I should note: "Lagaan" exhibits a number of characteristics for which some film-viewers may have to be prepared to forgive apparent "defects." Among them:
  • The songs and dances are obviously lip-synced. Not primarily because the lip-syncing is so awful (it's not); rather . . .
  • When the songs and dances occur out-of-doors (which they almost all do), as the characters shift from speaking to singing, the soundtrack shifts from non-echoed and outdoors-realistic to heavily indoors echo-y.
  • Most characters are simplistic to the point of being cartoonish: the bad character has no redeeming qualities; the hero is beyond human. . . .
  • Male characters exhibit a full range of emotions, including tears--some tears to the point of embarrassment for this American audience member.
  • A number of obvious "impossibilities" occur:
    • Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs all get along famously.
    • The hero touches an Untouchable and argues for the Untouchable's acceptance on the "Indian" cricket team--the team heretofore already mentioned, composed of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. It takes an impassioned speech on the part of the hero and less than two minutes of brief dialog for all opposition to this otherwise deeply-engrained cultural taboo simply to disappear and the Untouchable--a crippled Untouchable, no less!--is accepted on the team.
    • An English female character who knows no Hindi when she is first introduced becomes an almost fluent Hindi speaker in just a couple of days.
    • The same English female character falls in love with the local Indian hero and all but converts to Hinduism in the space of a few weeks, at most.
  • The English subtitles are hard to read due to horrible--often almost non-existent--spacing. The words, or, I should say, letters, simply run together.
Besides the apparent "technical" defects, I should note that the film includes a Hindu worship scene in which devout Christians may be put at some level of discomfort. I am not sure how to describe the experience.
  1. The scene includes obvious devotion to the Hindu gods depicted.
  2. The worship is done in the form of song. I don't recall if there was much dancing. A little, I think.
  3. You would almost think the lyrics of the song came from the Bible. They included appeals to the "Lord" and "Saviour."
  4. I have never seen such obvious, wholehearted religious devotion exhibited in a commercial film production. Ever.

2If you are unfamiliar with cricket, it would be helpful, before watching the film, to acquaint yourself with its basic terminology. . . . You should probably know something about it, anyway, for basic "cultural literacy," but if you don't know how it works, the entire second half of the film may make little sense.

Two Judges

My best friend from high school (yipes! that was 33½ years ago that we graduated!) sent me a poem a couple of days ago. I asked him if I could copy it here. He said yes.

The Judge

A story is told
Of old...
Two women brought one child
Before the judge
Each claiming the child.
"Cut the child in two!"
Declared the judge.
The real mother relinquished
And the child was saved.

A story is told
Of not so old
A woman brought her unborn
Before the judge
Disclaiming the child.
"Cut the child in two!"
Declared the judge.
And the child was cut in two.

--Mike Tanner, friend, faithful husband and father of four

PS. God help us.

I am hoping the references are obvious.

If not, check out 1 Kings 3:16-28 for Judge 1 and Roe v. Wade for Judge 2.

“Who Killed the Electric Car?”

As I mentioned in Denver to New Zealand--A Midwinter/Midsummer Vacation, I watched "Who Killed the Electric Car?" while flying to New Zealand. And as I have indicated in I Want One, I am very interested in at least one electric car . . . and, possibly, others as well. (I have been interested in alternative fuel cars ever since I was a boy when I read that the Stanley Steamer was the fastest car of its era; that it could go from forward to reverse without shifting gears, and its major flaw--besides occasionally exploding (a charge that the Wikipedia "Stanley Steamer" article denies)--was, as I recall, that a person might push a bit too hard on the brake and find him- or herself suddenly thrown from the vehicle when it went from high speed acceleration forward to high speed acceleration backward in an instant.)

But back to "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

The film is an ode, more or less, to the EV-1, a General Motors vehicle I had never heard of before, and an investigation of why the vehicle was developed in the first place, why “no one“ ever heard of it, and why there aren't any more on the street today.

A very powerful piece of propaganda (if that's what you want to call it). Or an effective piece of investigative reporting. It impacted me deeply. In fact, it has caused me to question some of my political ideas and/or commitments.

Example: The film has someone--Ralph Nader, I believe--say that virtually "all" the major improvements in automotive safety and efficiency in the last 50 years have come about as a result of federal regulations. The car companies themselves, he said, didn't bring us seat belts, 20 mpg or better fuel efficiency, low-emission engines, etc. Oh, they developed the technology, all right. But they didn't make these a regular part of the cars that all of us drive until the federal government mandated the improvements.

Now, that gets me thinking. From a marketing perspective. Of the three technologies I have mentioned--seat belts, fuel efficiency, and low-emission engines--which could have been achieved without federal mandates?

Seat belts. Couldn't they have become standard equipment without mandates? It would have required some significant education to get people, first, to purchase them in significant enough quantity to lower their costs.

Or would it?

I wonder if the Detroit manufacturers of the late 50s and 60s would have been "able" to put in seat belts if the Japanese manufacturers of the 70s and 80s had been present to spur them on? Aren't there a lot of manufacturers today who build their cars with additional steel bars and plates and additional airbags . . . and who tout their resultant superior safety records?

Apparently, they find these safety features pay for themselves through added sales.

Or do they? Or, should I say, would they if they were seeking to appeal to the mass market? Is it the case that, yes, they can make money as long as they are selling to the high-end car buyers, but no, they would lose money if they added all these additional features and tried to sell them to the lower end of the market--the people who can afford the $10,000-25,000 new vehicles?

Fuel efficiency and emissions are very similar, to my way of understanding.

A year or two ago, I thought I would like to buy a Prius for Sarita. The Prius would be our second car, a commuter car. (What hybrids are supposed to be best suited for: efficient for stop-and-go, around-town driving.)

Except, as I recall, even calculating an average of $3.50 a gallon for gas, it would take something like 10 years or more, at the rate Sarita drives, to make up the $9,000 price differential (as I recall) between the Prius and the Corolla. . . . So we bought the Corolla.

So it is, I'm afraid, with most automobile technologies. Unless and until they become mainstream and/or mandated, so that all new cars use the technology, the price differential is too great for most consumers. . . .


Another example of how the film caused me to question my previous ways of thinking:

Overall, I have been only moderately critical of George W. Bush from early in his presidency for a number of reasons.

Some things have driven me absolutely nuts:
  • He (and the Republicans in general) have seemed wimpy, lacking in backbone or conviction.
  • I "can't believe" what a fiscally irresponsible "leader" he has proven to be, refusing to veto any spending increases and, in fact, adding large sums of money to plans already approved by the supposedly "liberal" Democrats.

    (In the '80s, it was popular to speak of the "tax-and-spend" liberal Democrats. I had come to the point where I began speaking of the "borrow-and-spend" [supposedly conservative] Republicans who put our nation in horrendous debt.)
I have questioned his wisdom in venturing into what appear to be foreign entanglements. (Although in today's world, as at least one friend has noted, people around the world are so interconnected economically, let along socially and politically: it is hard to argue that what happens in a place like Iraq is truly of no concern "back home.")

But I am no knee-jerk Bush-basher, either.

However, in "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I was stunned by revelations about Bush and about Reagan and their policies concerning oil . . . and energy. Absolutely stunned. (Assuming, of course, that the film speaks the truth.)

According to the film, Jimmy Carter, in 1977, I believe, announced a policy that, he said, would keep the United States from every importing more oil than it had in 1976. I believe the figure he mentioned was 8.5 million barrels of oil imported per day. Something like that.

I vaguely remember some of the policies and regulations put into place during Carter's tenure. Vaguely.

Some of the policies had to do with automotive fuel efficiency--CAFÉ, as it was called--Corporate Average Fuel Economy, "the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less, manufactured for sale in the United States, for any given model year."

And between 1976 or '77, when the regulations went into effect, and early 1980-something, the average car sold in the United States went from something like 14 mpg to almost twice that.

Whatever. Automobile fuel efficiency skyrocketed.

When Reagan came into office, however, many of Carter's energy policies were reversed.

Tax credits that Carter had helped enact in order to encourage greater investment in solar energy--solar roof panels to heat buildings and water, for example--were reversed.

Carter had placed solar panels on the White House roof; Reagan had them removed almost the moment he moved into the White House.

The film offered no reasons why Reagan had done such a thing. I imagine it was largely symbolic: Carter's era and the years immediately preceding him had been full of austerity and economic hardship. Reagan probably wanted to signal--what I recall was a chief campaign theme--a new day in America.

But why waste the benefits we, the people of the United States, had already paid for? Why waste the energy that the Sun provides and that the White House had been equipped to capture?

The film's revelations of these things bothered me.

I have been very interested in fuel efficient buildings and cars, not just intellectually, but practically . . . if I could possibly justify the purchase of such things in economic terms.

I mentioned the Prius.

I had us pay an outside consultant who specializes in these things evaluate the feasibility of us using geothermal energy as a conservational measure for the building we constructed for Sonlight back in 1999. Sadly, under even the most positive analysis, as I recall, the energy savings wouldn't have paid for the additional costs in 20 years. --A 20-year payback is equivalent to a 3.53% compound return on investment.

And some analyses suggested the payback could take up to 50 years. . . .

So that measure made no sense to me and I refused to make the investment.

But Reagan destroyed an energy conservation measure that had already been paid for. Why? That made even less sense, it seemed to me.

The film emphasized these shifts at the federal level. And the revelations bothered me.

But what really burned me up was the revelation that, under George W., at the very time the federal government was removing $4,000 tax credits for fuel-efficient electric cars like the EV-1 (and others), they added tax deductions for 6,000-pound fuel-guzzlers like the Hummer: up to $100,000 per vehicle!

A $100,000 deduction for purchasing a gas guzzler, and the elimination of the very modest $4,000 benefit for electric cars?

I was shocked and angered to hear such a thing!

And Bush claims to be concerned about the environment and fuel conservation?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Living Strategically

Al and Libbie's blog led me to some pretty amazing writings . . . including David Powlison's "Response" to an article by John Piper: "Don't Waste Your Cancer."

And, then, a post by Greg Hewlett including some key "Resolutions" of Jonathan Edwards written in 1722-1723:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable
way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live
their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and
confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

Oh! That I could even approximate such holiness and purposiveness!

Deaths and Dying

Sarita's mom called yesterday morning. Mom said that the husband of one of Sarita's cousins had just died.

Later in the morning, I received a phone call from one of the men with whom I served on the board of Caleb Project. Last July, Caleb Project had joined with ACMC (originally the Association of Church Missions Committees, more recently, Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment) and the united organizations renamed themselves Initiative 360--findable online at

Based on my understanding of what he told me, it sounds as if I-360, unless salvaged by a massively powerful organization, is in a death spiral and will close its doors at the end of this month.

We are in shock. We were staff members of the organization for two years. I was on the board for an additional six. Caleb Project began back in 1980. . . .

Then this morning (early!), I could not sleep. I am so many hundreds of emails behind, and there is so much work to do: I got up and noticed an email with the name of Alan (Al) Groves, one of the guys I knew--and, with his wife Libbie, with whom Sarita and I were close--while we were in seminary. Without saying it in so many words, the subject line made clear that Al had died.

I have just spent some 45 minutes reading about Al's final year. He died of cancer--metastasized melanoma.

I don't know what to say.

Our days are short. I realize it more and more.

My "project" of seeking to pass on my vision, my life's work: I sense I need to engage in it with ever-stronger resolve.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bible translation #5

On November 30th last year I promised to continue the work I began in November seeking to get to the bottom of the controversy concerning William Tyndale and John Wycliffe. To my shame, I have not done what I promised. And, honestly, I had forgotten about my promise.

Last night, "Anonymous" pricked my memory and my conscience by "Commenting" on my November 30th post via a further quote from the article I had referenced in my November 30th post.

By way of retrospect: On November 30th, I began to interact with Newsome's "Tyndale's Heresy," a brief Catholic perspective concerning Tyndale--why, the author believes, Tyndale's work should be abhorred and not prized.

[Note that I have just implicitly reduced what I am willing to grant without examination concerning the validity of the author's viewpoint. I have said the article conveys what the author believes. I have deliberately avoided suggesting that the article conveys, necessarily, either official Church dogma or "the Truth."

I do not claim to know official Church dogma or absolute historical Truth in the matter. Though I want to come as close to both as possible: I want to come as close as possible to understanding Catholic dogma and the Truth as well as to expressing Catholic dogma and the Truth.

(Please note, lest you mistake my meaning. I have spoken as I have of "Catholic dogma and the Truth" in an attempt to avoid presuming that Catholic dogma is the Truth. Yet I wish to avoid the opposite presumption: that Catholic dogma, as it were, "by definition," must not be the Truth. I spoke this way "merely" to note that, in my opinion, Catholic dogma and the Truth may or may not be one and the same. . . .

And while we're on that subject, maybe I should note that, if my understanding is correct, historically, back in the days of John Wycliffe (late 1300s) and William Tyndale (early 1500s), no one--certainly no public figure--in Western Europe could have spoken of "merely" noting such a thing as I just said: that "in my opinion, Catholic dogma and the Truth may or may not be one and the same." To even question such an identity would be to court capital punishment! . . .

But let us get on with our subject.)]

On November 30th, I quoted, and since then I have never moved beyond, the "first" of "several reasons" Newsome suggests for why "[t]he Church denied [Tyndale the right] . . . to make his own English translation of the Bible." (See my post from November 30th for my response to that first reason.)

Anonymous' Comment last night consisted of the following quote from Newsome:
[I]f the Church had decided to provide a new English translation of Scripture, Tyndale would not have been the man chosen to do it. He was known as only a mediocre scholar and had gained a reputation as a priest of unorthodox opinions and a violent temper. He was infamous for insulting the clergy, from the pope down to the friars and monks, and had a genuine contempt for Church authority. In fact, he was first tried for heresy in 1522, three years before his translation of the New Testament was printed. His own bishop in London would not support him in this cause.

Finding no support for his translation from his bishop, he left England and came to Worms, where he fell under the influence of Martin Luther. There in 1525 he produced a translation of the New Testament that was swarming with textual corruption. He willfully mistranslated entire passages of Sacred Scripture in order to condemn orthodox Catholic doctrine and support the new Lutheran ideas. The Bishop of London claimed that he could count over 2,000 errors in the volume (and this was just the New Testament). . . .

When discussing the history of Biblical translations, it is very common for people to toss around names like Tyndale and Wycliff. But the full story is seldom given. [The] case of a [modern,] gender-inclusive edition of the Bible is a wonderful opportunity for Fundamentalists to reflect and realize that the reason they don’t approve of this new translation is the same reason that the Catholic Church did not approve of Tyndale’s or Wycliff’s. These are corrupt translations, made with an agenda, and not accurate renderings of sacred Scripture.
I should note--what Anonymous did not--that this was the "last" (actually, third) reason Newsome listed for why the Church denied Tyndale the right to translate the Bible into English. And Newsome included one last sentence in his article following the section Anonymous quoted and that I have quoted from Anonymous, above:
And here at least Fundamentalists and Catholics are in ready agreement: Don’t mess with the Word of God.
I think this final sentence is important for at least two reasons:

1) Because Newsome shows good grace in recognizing and pointing out for all to see those places where faithful Protestants and Catholics should recognize agreement.

2) Because it is, at root, what I understand the Catholic objection is to what both Wycliffe and Tyndale were all about. At root, if I understand correctly, the Catholic Church objected to what it viewed as these men's "mess[ing] with the Word of God"--their attempts to make a mess of God's holy Word.

It disturbs me, as I know it disturbs Catholics who are in the know (for example, the woman who first brought this issue to my attention), that too many Protestants are unaware of these charges against Tyndale and Wycliffe.

So questions remain: Were Wycliffe and Tyndale messing with God's Word? If so, in what ways? Supposing they were messing, was their messing worthy of a death sentence?

Sadly, I am completely out of time this morning to answer these questions. So I will have to make a promise--and seek more diligently to fulfill it!--to return to these issues at a later date, but sometime much sooner than two months from now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This is who we want for our next president?

Denny Hatch comments,
This past week an astonishing YouTube clip surfaced showing Senator Hillary Clinton addressing the Democratic National Committee Winter Meeting in Washington last week in which she proclaims:
The other day, the oil companies reported the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund that will begin to fund alternative smart energy … alternative and technologies that will begin to actually move us toward the direction of independence.
This statement and this video clip will do to Senator Clinton’s candidacy what “I voted for it before I voted against it” did to John Kerry’s in 2004.

It will so frighten every American that owns a share of stock, that the Democrats would be fools to nominate her.

Hillary Clinton will not be elected president.
Boy! We can hope so. But I'm not so sure. Listen to the applause following Clinton's comments. And remember how popular the radical wealth-redistributionist Huey Long was in the mid-30s . . . and how fearful Franklin Roosevelt was that Long would take the 1936 presidential election due to his extreme populism.1

For some reason, Clinton's remarks remind me of what Dan Kennedy said during his Creative Thinking seminar last year:
What do you suppose the greatest regret at Exxon-Mobil is? . . . Not getting in the water business a decade ago. Think how mystified they are! I mean, water is $21 a gallon. So they have to listen to everybody beating the **** out of them, and yelling at them every day for $3-a-gallon gas which they've got to get out of the ground with people shooting at them. Then they have to go load it on a barge and ship it across the ocean and unload it off the barge into tanker trucks and take it to a gas station and put it in the ground2 and in the back room of the gas station there's a guy filling water bottles out of the tap and he's getting $21 a gallon for the water and no one's complaining.

Now, somewhere at Exxon-Mobil there's an old [guy] who's been there from the beginning who's saying, "Why . . . didn't we get in the water business? How come you guys couldn't see this coming, hunh?"

1 NOTE: For information about Long's ideas, see the Wikipedia article about his "Share Our Wealth" plan and the excerpts from his "Second Autobiography," My First Days in the White House.

As for Roosevelt's concerns about Long, consider some of the things Wikipedia's biography about Long says:
Long, in February 1934, [acted on his "Share Our Wealth" plan and] formed a national political organization, the Share Our Wealth Society. A network of local clubs led by national organizer Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, the Share Our Wealth Society was intended to operate outside of and in opposition to the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt administration. By 1935, the society had over 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs across the country, and Long's Senate office was receiving an average of 60,000 letters a week. Pressure from Long and his organization is considered by some historians as responsible for Roosevelt's "turn to the left" in 1935, when he enacted the Second New Deal, including the Works Progress Administration and Social Security; in private, Roosevelt candidly admitted to trying to “steal Long’s thunder.”
Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately election as President of the United States.

2 He forgot to mention anything about refining the stuff and dealing with all the environmental requirements!