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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nissan Mileage Lower Than Reported

Last month, I went in search of a luxury car that gets in the high 30’s for gas mileage. Everywhere I looked, models that have all the features that I want don’t get more that 30 MPG on the highway. Hybrids are mostly overpriced “brides stripped bare.” I narrowed the list down to the:

- Ford Focus
- Hyundai Elantra
- Mazda 3
- Nissan Sentra

The Focus was eliminated because I have yet to own a Ford vehicle that’s drivetrain lasted too much more that 125K miles. The ’07 Hyundai wasn’t due into the showroom until mid-January. Mitigating circumstances prevented me from waiting that long.

That brought it down to a choice between the Nissan and the Mazda. This is where the MPG issue kicked in. Although the Mazda 3 is available with a drivetrain that claims 28 MPG city and 36 on the highway, as soon as the options that I was looking for are added to the vehicle, mileage drops to 25/30. It seems that automakers think that people who can afford and would appreciate the comfort of a nice cabin with all the modern conveniences, don’t give a crap how much gas they use.

Excuse me, Mazda, Toyota, Honda, blah blah blah, almost every automaker out there, but I DO give a crap about the environment. I watched Al Gore’s movie. I watched Nova, and, yes I’ve read my share of articles about global warming. Hell, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that it ain’t right to be enjoying temperatures in the 50’s at Christmas in Michigan. When I was a kid, it snowed in friggin September sometimes. C’mon people! Global warming is not a theory anymore.

So, here I am looking for the right car and it’s down to the Nissan Sentra. I must admit, other than the lack of motorized front seats, the car is well appointed. It has:

- Electronic key (you never need to take it out of your pocket)
- Handsfree bluetooth
- Bun warmers
- Rockford Fosgate stereo w/6CD changer, AM/FM/Sirius radio, 6 speakers w/sub
- Fog lamps
- Moonroof
- Leather seating
- Trip computer
- Heated mirrors
- Anti-lock brakes
- Continuous variable transmission (CVT)

The best thing of all is that Nissan claims that the car gets 29 MPG in the city and 36 MPG on the highway. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that I would get better than these numbers, but I did think I’d get close. Au contraire mon frère. I’m on my third or fourth tank of gas and I’m currently averaging between 27 to 28 MPG. Keep in mind that I drive 104 miles per day to and from work. My average speed door to door on this trek is 60 MPH. On my last tank, the Sentra’s computer reported that my average speed was 50 MPH. While the computer reported 29.1 average MPG, I had reset the trip gauge and did the math when I refueled to determine that my ACTUAL MPG was 27.6. Given the margin of error for how much I may or may not have topped off the tank, it is safe to say: “Houston, we have a problem.”

When I spoke to the folks at the Nissan dealership, they were quick to point out that the car isn’t even broken in yet and the mileage will go up. They said I should wait until after my first oil change (3500 miles) before assessing fuel consumption. When I pointed out just how far off I am from the averages, one of the service guys even said that I should wait until I get 25,000 miles on the car. Hey guys, why don’t I just wait until I sell it to make my final assessment? Maybe because I didn’t buy a car that may eventually get 36 MPG on the freeway…down hill…with a tail wind…using premium gas.

Am I alone here? I have to believe that there are others like me out there. Actually, if I just got a bum car, Nissan can resolve the issue with me. However, if there are others, Nissan will need to answer to ALL of us.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ego Rant

Let’s talk about ego. First, what is ego? Sociobiologists would contend that it evolved as a survival mechanism many thousands of years ago. In a world where beings compete with other life forms for a place in the food chain, having an instinct for self-preservation can be a major asset. The ego is just such an asset. It is the mechanism that puts us on high alert when we perceive that we are threatened in any way.

The reactions that are driven by the ego tend to be one of two types:

  1. Fight
  2. Flight
In other words, we either attack or defend. Our choice of which is based on an incredibly complex array of inputs and analysis. Yet, we manage to perform this feat in a few moments – sometimes in a split second. All this sounds like a good thing to have a dog-eat-dog world. I suppose it IS a good thing to have in such a world. The question is, do we want to live in such a world?

I suspect most of us don’t. Or, as Warren Zevon once put it, “what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” If we can agree that the ego service the primitive mind, it is not a leap of logic to further agree that it at least MAY not serve the evolved mind. Intuitively, many people know that the ego has become a destructive force for humanity.

Allow me to illustrate the effects of the ego by describing a brief encounter between two people. This is a common type of interaction first with ego and second without:

With Ego

Bob: Hi Bill
Bill: Hi Bob
Bob: Bill, you know your breath smells really bad.
Bill: I brushed my teeth. What do you want me to do about it? I can’t help it if you have a sensitive nose.

Without Ego

Bob: Hi Bill
Bill: Hi Bob
Bob: Bill, you know your breath smells really bad.
Bill: I’m sorry, Bob. (Bill takes a step back from Bob)

In scenario #1 Bill’s ego takes over. He sees Bob’s comment as an attack on him, not an observation designed to make Bill aware of a problem he has. Bill’s reaction is a combination of defensiveness and passive aggression. If we were to continue these dialogues, it is likely that in scenario #1 Bob and Bill may have to struggle to remain civil, whereas the Bob and Bill in scenario #2 have demonstrated a care for each other that will only strengthen their relationship.

As innocent as these types of exchanges seem, they are the root of all societal ills. They explain our lack of compassion for strangers, corruption in religion and politics and the growing economic disparity between rich and poor. The ego is responsible for every war that has ever taken place. Without it, we would have only compassion and empathy to fill the void left behind.

It is no mistake that the Bible says, “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” The meek is “Us” without our egos. Mandela and Gandhi both understood the power of non-violence towards an intractable enemy. They both knew something else. They knew that it takes a lot more courage to NOT fight than it does to fight. Sacrificing oneself to save the life of an enemy is the ultimate sacrifice. However, they both knew that it was the quickest way to melt away an enemy out of existence.

Okay, so how does one get rid of an ego? This is not an easy task even for the most determined seeker. First, you must understand the ego well enough to spot it at work in your behavior. You will not be able to control it at first, but if you can identify its mark on your reactions, you can eventually start to modify your behavior. The key to this first stage is vigilance.

One way to remain vigilant is to read books that remind us of the topic. There are different types of books that approach it topic from different angles. Here are a few suggestions:

Paths Beyond Ego, Roger Walsh et al
The Eye of the I, David R. Hawkins
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche

As we gain insight into the work of the ego, it is natural that our repulsion for it will grow. It makes us do and say things that bring pain to others and us. People with wounded egos tend to be more vociferous in its defense. Sadly, many parents unwittingly destroy their children’s egos during development, so there are lots of people walking around who are psychically damaged.

Dealing with damaged egos is particularly challenging. Damaged egos tend to attack first. Our instincts are to defend an attack, but this only escalates the attack. The solution is to listen with empathy (assuming it is not a physical attack) and indicate that you “understand.” If they try to provoke a response, avoid offering your opinion if it differs from theirs. The ego is not interested in your opinion, except as fodder for another attack.

The more we suppress our egos, the happier we will be. It is hard work and most of us have a lot of it to do. There are very few enlightened beings on the planet, but it’s nice to imagine what a wondrous place it would be if we all were.

Evolution Rant

Have I gone crazy or has the ruling class completely forgotten the fundamental rule that violence begets violence. The entertainment community feeds off of young peoples’ primitive propensities. Our government (I prefer regime) has all but abandoned diplomacy as tool for bringing order to chaos. To top it off, our sense of compassion for strangers is not at an all-time high – something you might expect at this point in our evolution.

If you pause to think about what our social evolutionary path might look like, you must conclude that unless we eventually learn to live together in peace, we will destroy ourselves. We learn as small children that cooperation with and support for others is a “good” thing. Why do some forget this wisdom, as they grow older? My research would suggest that it is because children don’t learn from being told something. They learn from observing their world, including the people around them. They model behavior, not reconstruct it from abstract instructions from their elders.

Until we break the cycle of violence by disconnecting our young from it, we are doomed to repeat it. Each of us has two sides of our personalities with which to contend: our primitive side and our evolved side. They are often in conflict. The primitive brain packs more emotion, positive and negative. It is the brain that gets our adrenaline flowing. The evolved brain provides us with abstract thought, which allows us to understand the basic nature of the universe in which we live.

This conflict within ourselves must ultimately be resolved before we can expect to solve our social ills. A friend and I were debating the other day. We were talking about Israel and Hizbollah. He contended that Israel is right to use maximum force against those who would attack them. On the other hand, I argued that a passive approach would ultimately be much more effective. His position, you have heard a thousand times on the news. My position is less popular (sadly).

Terrorists ultimately must be able to convince people that they are fighting against evil. In order for this to happen, they expect that their enemies will inflict harm on the civilian population from which they draw their recruits. If there is no enemy, there are no recruits. Instead of escalating the war, if the Israelis offered to unilaterally cease-fire and to assist with rebuilding Lebanon, the ranks of Hizbollah would be thin indeed.

Would there be casualties? Absolutely! My friend asked me if I would have my family be one of the ones to be sacrificed on the alter of “the greater good.” I told that I would. If I believed that by sacrificing a small number of lives, we could put an end to human tyranny, I would do it in a heartbeat. To me, that is what courage is all about – courage to do what’s right regardless of the personal cost. That, my friend, is evolution. But, don’t take my word for it, just look at how few people died in Gandhi’s revolution in India. It’s time to grow up.