Friday, February 17, 2017

Being a Gooner!

As a child in Scotland, I loved football or, as we called it, "fitba."  I wasn't any good. I was one of those kids that tended to stand back and watch the other kids run around in a big herd chasing the ball. I never wanted to be near the ball. I have to say that I was very proud of my football boots and would wear them even when I wasn't standing around on the football field.

My next-door neighbour, Iain, was a very good player and was eventually able to make a career as a professional player in Scotland and, briefly, in England, spending one year playing for Crystal Palace in London before getting homesick and coming back to Dundee.  He went on to play for Dundee, Dundee United and Raith Rovers before retiring from the game to become a civil servant at about the time I was starting my career as a lawyer.

Being a football fan was not always a joyful pastime. I have a very vivid memory of a brutal 9-3 drubbing  of Scotland's national team at the hands of the hated English at Wembley.  It was April 15, 1961 and it is easy to find today on Google.  I was not quite 10 years old and it was a year before we were to leave for Canada.  The Scottish goalie reportedly emigrated to Australia in shame!

Between 1961 and a few years ago, I didn't pay much attention to my childhood game.   Every four years I would catch bits and pieces of the World Cup but I didn't pay much attention to club football in Scotland or anywhere else.   Starting in 1977, I became a rabid baseball fan, or to be more precise, a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.   My passion for the Jays lasted until their second consecutive World Cup series victory in 1993 but with the collapse of their fortunes after that win I found that I didn't really have the stomach to watch them sink back to mediocrity and then rebuild.

I have watched the NFL off and on, and even in a pinch the CFL. However, no US or Canadian football team has grabbed me and made me a fan.  During the 1960s I loved watching the six team National Hockey League but with expansion my interest in the game waned, only to be revived on occasion by the exploits of great players like Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby.   On moving to Ottawa in 1993, I tried very hard to care about the Hockey Senators, but largely failed.

Then about six or seven years ago I discovered that English Premier League games could be watched on satellite television and I started watching the games.  For some reason, watching the Premier League reawoke my passion for the "beautiful game."   I started by taking a pure aesthetic pleasure in the experience. Not caring who won or lost, I was able to appreciate the skill on both sides. I could admire the attacking players of both teams, their defenders and their goalkeepers. I could try to understand the different tactics being employed.

Then something fateful happened. I became a Gooner.  A Gooner is a supporter of Arsenal Football Club, nicknamed "the Gunners."

It started innocently enough.  As I watched the Premier League games, I found myself being attracted to Arsenal's style of play.  They were an artful team, and at their best could produce some of the most beautiful goals.  They had players with skill and verve and speed.  They played the game the right way, almost the way Barcelona played it.

And yet there was the dark side.  On a regular basis, the Arsenal team would inexplicably collapse, seizing defeat from the jaws of victory.  They would excel against a poor team but could collapse disastrously whenever they played one of the top clubs.  Being a Gooner was an emotional roller-coaster.

Soon it feels exactly like being in a dysfunctional relationship in which the momentary highs carry you through the inevitable lows.   There are moments when a brilliant piece of play reminds you of what drew you to the team but these moments are immediately followed by the sinking feeling that all your hopes are about to be dashed.

You feel trapped.  You can't just stop caring.  You can't bear to watch the games but watching becomes an agonizing experience.

This has been a typical Arsenal season in the Premier League.  They have spent some time in first place, but over time they have drifted further and further behind this year's league leader, Chelsea.  Last year, Chelsea had a wretched season but a fresh outlook and a new and dynamic manager has rejuvenated the same squad that looked so awful a year ago.  It is now clear that Arsenal have no chance of winning the league;  none whatsoever.  The odd brilliant performance tends to be followed by a dismal falling short.

This week, the Gunners lost to Bayern Munich 5-1 in the UEFA Champions League.  Clearly, Arsenal as a team is not among the very best teams in Europe.  As a result, Arsenal cannot be regarded as a prime destination for star players looking to change teams.

Arsenal has the highest ticket prices in England and probably the highest in Europe.  The team has all the money needed to buy the best squad.  But the top players don't want to come to Arsenal, because they will not win until something drastic changes.

Arsenal's best player now is Alexis Sanchez, the star of the Chilean national team.  As of today, Chileans are literally taking to the streets to register their dismay at the prospect of Sanchez signing a contract extension with Arsenal because he is basically a one-man team.  They want their star to be on a more complete team, a winning team.

I know exactly how they feel.

Arsenal need a fresh start.  Arsenal need a new manager.  Unfortunately most of the leading candidates are contracted to other teams:  Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Ronald Koeman at Everton, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.

If Arsenal doesn't do something soon, I will have to start figuring out how to divorce my football team!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Signing Out; 2016 Awaits

The hours are ticking down on another year.

On this last day of 2015 I received two reminders of mortality. The first was a medical diagnosis that, while not overly serious in itself, may explain my lack of energy and vigour during the past weeks.   The second was an unexpected letter in the mail from a friend, a legal colleague of about my own age, informing me that she is winding down her practice for a personal medical reason.

My older brother (by five years) had a stroke this year.   The signs are certainly mounting that my life is entering a stage where, as the old maps used say, "There be dragons."

This is neither a sudden nor even a new realization on my part, but I have to say that my age has really been only a number for me and that I have come to believe that I would always beat the odds. But you know, I have no reason to think that I am exempt from the rules.

I will turn 65 halfway through 2016, a number that once represented both retirement and dotage.   Well, in my case it will not represent retirement and it had better not amount to dotage either, because I need my wits about me to make my living.

My work continues to be challenging, in equal parts rewarding and frustrating. The best and worst parts of my work continue to involve travel. The traveling part can be the best when I visit the communities I serve and reconnect with the ultimate purpose of the work that I do. It is worst when I am far from home, exhausted and sick and feeling that the work is futile.   I had trips of both kinds this year.   I find I am less tolerant of wasting my time than I once was. As someone who is paid by the hour, I used to be able to accept a fruitless meeting with the consolation that I was at least being paid for being frustrated. Increasingly, though, I have the sense that my inventory of billable hours is diminishing and that the fee that I charge for each one is just not enough when that hour is squandered.

So, what do I make of the world as 2015 winds down? Well, there are reasons for hope. The federal election in Canada has given us a government that seems to be open, honest and inclusive. This is in stark contrast to the government we have had for the past nine years, which began by promising transparency and honesty and ended up being inward looking, fear ridden and contemptuous of the democratic rights and ultimately the intelligence of us Canadians.  The new government is promising reconciliation with Aboriginal people, and since this is the very essence of my professional work, things are certainly looking up on that front.

In addition, we seem to have the makings of an international agreement to limit climate change, although there seems to be an enormous disparity between the aspirational part of the agreement and the efficacy of the steps that have been agreed. Anyway, it is a start and far better than nothing.

I am troubled by what is happening in the United States. In this phase of their perpetual election cycle, Republican candidates are increasingly reflecting the worst of that country's populism, pandering to the gun lobby, the fear ridden, the xenophobic and anything progressive.

Around the world, I see a struggle to bring into being a new world economy that will be clean and not based on combusting carbon. I see a struggle also between authoritarian leaders and their people in places like Syria and I also see the promise of democracy souring even as democracy is achieved in places like Egypt.   I see fundamentalism, especially fundamental Islamism, on the rise. I see ugly variations of fundamental Christianity giving rise to racist movements in Scandinavia. The religious right in the United States continues to promote an anti-scientific and deeply ignorant approach to the world that is very troubling to me.

How will it all end up?   I really don't know. I can see before us two paths. One path will lead to a future world of genuine peace, based on clean and green energy and true democratic world governance.   The other will lead to intensifying local conflicts over resources, the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees and the collapse of the world as we know it into utter chaos, and of course the prospect that somebody in Russia, North Korea or Pakistan will unleash nuclear war.

More than ever, I believe that this generation is when we will be judged as a species. We have taken control of the world, beginning thousands of years ago when we began domesticating plants and animals for our own ends.   We have unlocked knowledge and put it to our own use and in doing so we have created living conditions of unparalleled comfort and wealth. We have probed our universe and acquired an understanding of the fundamental particles that make up everything. This has been our purpose: to understand, and then to master nature.

As every comic book superhero is advised at some stage, however, with great power comes great responsibility. I can't help feeling that we are an adolescent species, governed by our hungers, our passions and our lusts. We are not wise. We are governed by fear.

I can remember the dawning of the 21st century and the astounding hope we all felt as that new year was celebrated and as we realize that the Y2K computer "bug" amounted to nothing. It was 16 years ago and many of us were facing the immediacy of the collapse of the information systems on which our well-being rely.

I also remember the day that Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American President of the most powerful country in the world amid what seemed to be boundless joy and optimism for the future.

I have to believe that we have it in us not only to hope but to act in the service of that hope to bring into being a future of prosperity and peace.

As for me, it is obviously time for me to turn my aspirations into actions as well, which means that I must begin by losing the ridiculous amount of excess weight that I have accumulated.   Today, I can blame a certain amount of my lassitude on a bacterial infection, but it is also time to get rid of a more insidious infection of my soul. Increasingly I have been feeling sorry for myself and finding excuses for not doing the things I know I should be doing. By this I mean not only failing to complete the books I am planning but also by failing to live as if  each moment might be my last, or indeed it might be the moment when something great happens to make a better future.

Every year at this time I make a vow to be better. This involves setting a target for weight loss, a deadline for the completion of a manuscript and the less measurable undertakings to be a better husband and a better father.

This year is no different. But what I think I know better this year is that the years I have to work with are dwindling, and my own personal challenge is really the challenge that I see facing all of us. Am I going to continue to live the way I am and let the future happen to me, or am I going to take a more active role in my life, informed by everything that I have learned, including the unalterable fact that I am running out of years?

My dearest better half, in her own wonderful way, has been trying everything to make me see that this is all up to me, that something must change in myself or I will continue to drift through life. I have been pushing back simply because I don't like being told what to do, just like an adolescent. So I have to do it for myself.  Thank you, my darling, for always believing in me and wanting to wake me up from my slumbers.

My dearest son is entering the most important phase of his young life as he contemplates University. He will be leaving us and I hope that all the love and support and perspective we have given him will equip him for his journey through his own life.   There is an excellent chance that he will live through this entire century, and I wonder what he will witness, and indeed what events he might affect.  I don't want to add to your burdens, my son, but I know that you are a special person and that you must believe in yourself and your ability to make a difference in the world.

As for me, on a professional front I have various pieces of unfinished business to wrap up.  I have a novel to complete, and perhaps a couple of other books that I hope will leave something behind as a kind of legacy.

Happy New Year to all of us!  Let it be a good one.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scotland Shows the World How It's Done!

The decision has been made. An astonishing 85% of the eligible voters cast a ballot and Scotland has said "No, Thanks" to independence.   The result is clear but at the same time 45% of the voters wanted independence. As for me, I continue to be of two minds on the whole subject of Scottish independence. As the referendum day approached I resolved my dilemma by avoiding making up my mind.  I decided that I don't have the right to an opinion. After all, I do not live in Scotland and my direct experience of the country is limited to the impressions of the child in a rural area that I was more than 50 years ago.
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Yes campaign

Having said this, I believe that my own internal conflict was perfectly reflected by the vote itself. My overwhelming impression is that most Scots would have favoured independence, all things being equal. The problem was that the Scottish heart could not persuade the Scottish mind to step into a quagmire of unknowns and uncertainties.

This morning, I am feeling an intense pride in Scotland and indeed in the United Kingdom.  Let us reflect for a moment on the astonishing events we have just witnessed. We have seen a decisive vote on a clear question of the highest political and emotional importance. We have seen an advance agreement on what would happen either way. We have seen a vigorous and informed debate on the merits. We have witnessed no recriminations, no violence, no rioting or looting and a respectful acceptance of the outcome by everyone.

During the campaign Scotland received formal assurances of greater authority from all major political parties in Westminster. The Prime Minister this morning reaffirmed that these assurances would be honoured.

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

But there is more. The desire of Scots for more autonomy has opened a Pandora's box that will not be closed. The rest of the United Kingdom is now clamouring for what the Scots have so successfully demanded – greater regional authority and less control from Westminster.   What I hoped for in a previous blog might be coming true:   the development of a modern constitution for the United Kingdom along federal lines.

We live in a world where bitter wars are fought for much less than what was at stake in the Scottish referendum and where (even in Canada) comparatively trivial issues such as a win or a loss in a sports contest will trigger riots and looting.

To witness how Scots have dealt with their most important issue with civility and dignity on all sides is a message to the entire world and I hope that the world is watching.  Scotland had its few weeks in the sun as the impending prospect of independence attracted the attention of media. The media will now move on to more interesting issues and we certainly have enough of them: the beheading of civilians by Islamist fanatics, the struggle over Ukraine, the Ebola virus and so on.

But let us not forget the importance of quieter issues such as good government and mutual respect and tolerance. Just as Scotland led the way during the Enlightenment to show the world how reason could overcome unthinking superstition and hardened beliefs, Scotland is now showing how democracy can and must be practiced in this 21st century.

I am very, very proud to be a Scot today.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Modest Proposal for My Native Land

As a child in Scotland I am quite sure I thought of myself as a Scot first and as British second.  As a child I would have relished the thought of an independent Scotland.  But as an adult who has spend the last 52 years in Canada, things are not nearly so clear.

The prospect of Scottish independence is certainly a case of the head and the heart pulling in different directions.  The heart says:  "Aye."  The head says:  "Ca' canny!"

This is how the lead-up to the referendum vote has gone.  The SNP beguiles Scottish hearts with dreams of a free Scotland unyoked from the hated -- or at least much resented -- English, a Scotland in which oil money will pay for a gloriously green and increasingly socialist -- or at least social democratic -- future.  The UK government speaks to the pragmatic streak in Scots: there are many unknowns ahead for an independent Scotland, and don't count on us making things quite as easy as the SNP pretends.

We Scots have always had within us a strong streak of romantic patriotism alongside our vaunted practicality.  But which will prevail in September?

According to the polls it looks as if it will be a "No" victory, but it may be too close for that victory to be decisive.  Much will depend on the turnout of Scots who either don't usually vote (the poor and disaffected) or those who can't usually vote (those who are 16 and 17 years old).  My guess is that both of those cohorts will vote "Yes" for independence, and it wouldn't astonish me if they carry the day.

If there is a close "No" verdict then the Scottish independence issue will not go away; its proponents will simply await the arrival of "winning conditions," as diehard Quebec separatists continue to do.

I would like to suggest an alternative, though, and it is one inspired by the Canadian experience:  Federalism.  At the moment the UK is made up of four countries bound together in a unitary state.  England has 83 per cent of the population, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together have the other 17 per cent.  Scotland's share is about 8 cent of the overall population, even though it is the second largest country in the UK.  The 2011 numbers were 53 million for England and 5 for Scotland.  Wales and Northern Ireland have 3 and 2 million respectively.

In Canadian terms, from a population perspective, it is as if Canada were comprised of Ontario plus New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  What kind of federation would that be? Obviously a highly unbalanced one from the point of view of numbers and presumably influence.

Before getting deeper into that question let's look more closely at how the UK is governed today.  There is the UK Parliament that makes laws for everyone, and then there are legislative bodies in Scotland, Wales and Ireland that make certain laws for their residents under a legislated devolution of power.  Each devolved legislature has a different set of powers.

Put into a Canadian context, this would mean that in our hypothetical four-province Canada the three small Provinces are more like our Yukon, the NWT or Nunavut, exercising certain powers at the pleasure of the centre.  Meanwhile Ontario (i.e. England) with the vast majority of the population and a large percentage of the territory, has no devolved legislature of its own but dominates the central Parliament.

In this arrangement, oddly enough, it may be the English who are perhaps most disadvantaged. With 83 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom, England has no legislative body devoted to purely English concerns or interests, an anomaly that has become known as the "West Lothian Question."  Meanwhile, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have limited legislatures, but with respect to matters that have not been devolved, their residents have to live within the rules established by a Parliament overwhelmingly English in its composition.

Would it not make more sense to decide what powers should be exercised by the central Parliament, and to give constitutionally defined authority to the legislatures of each component country, including England?  This would require the development of a modern written constitution setting out the authority of each of two levels of government.

The relative strength of the central government and the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments could be negotiated to express the histories, cultures, aspirations and local conditions of each component of the federation.

Federations are not uncommon and there is no shortage of examples to study:  in addition to the Commonwealth countries of Canada and Australia (formed from assemblages of former British colonies and with a Westminster form of government), think of the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, and so on.

It would be healthy for the United Kingdom as a whole to consider what kind of constitution might best serve its citizens in the modern age.  I really don't know why no-one in the UK seems to be talking about this.

In a federation, the Scots could have the power to be more Scottish, the English more English, and so on.  And at the same time these countries that are tied together by so much history, as well as their geography, can devise a fresh and relevant relationship within the bounds of a single state.

If the upcoming referendum rejects independence but can be interpreted as a desire for constitutional change, I hope that this is an option that the people of Scotland and of course the rest of the United Kingdom consider.  We Canadians (and other former colonies in the US and Australia) could offer much advice on what does and doesn't work well in a federation.

Frankly, it is long overdue for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to have a modern constitution instead of a mishmash of devolved powers and no written code of fundamental rights and freedoms for all its citizens.  The preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867 says:

Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom...

Maybe we can give something back and provide a useful precedent to the United Kingdom.  Maybe our experiment in federalism can inspire a new British constitution that can reconcile the unwritten principles of British constitutional law with a structure in which each of the component countries can flourish as proud nations.

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Turning of the Year (2012-13 Edition)

As 2011 turned into 2012, I posted an entry on this blog entitled "On the Turning of the Year." Well, today is December 21, 2012 and many foolish people are saying that the world is coming to an end. Just in case they may be right, I thought it would be a good idea to get a bit of a jump on the new year and start my "Turning of the Year" blog entry early.

I have to start with the painfully obvious: that calendars are human inventions and that the end of a period of time invented by humans for the convenient organization of human affairs has no meaning to the Universe at large. Having said that, the end of a calendar does make a suitable point of reflection.  This was what inspired last year's "On the Turning of the Year" and it is also what inspires the current edition.  I guess I have now also started a new personal tradition, namely to reflect on the turning of each year as it happens.  Unless, of course the Mayan Calendar nuts are correct and this will be my last day on earth ...

It is only four days until my favourite day of the year -- Christmas Day -- and I am in one of my favourite places in the world  -- Kaua'i, the "Garden Island" of the Hawai'ian Archipelago.  I am here with the full immediate family: wife, son, stepdaughter and two granddaughters. What better place or time could there be for some annual reflection?

Well, it has been another one of those years. On the professional front, some of my longest lasting files have come either to an end or to a logical place to pause and reassess my participation.  I have taken some decisive steps to simplify my professional life, reducing the size of my organization substantially. I will enter the new year with a feeling of freedom I have not experienced for many years, If ever.

There are some major outstanding loose ends, but nothing that will not be resolved in the months ahead.  The major loose end involves money, and how that is resolved will determine to some extent how much we will have to live on for the next number of years, but the way it comes to a resolution will not really affect anything important.

I say this because the personal part of my life is deeply satisfying. For the past 20 years, I have been part of a family unit that is strong, affectionate and deeply mutually supportive.  We have made the most important decisions already -- to stay together and grow old together, to stay where we live, perhaps in a new or renovated house, and to plan the rest of our lives on the pattern of how we live now, only better.  Better in the sense of being more healthy and having less stress.

In this plan, it will be nice if we have more money than less, but our future won't really be enriched or impoverished much if we have more or less money.  Not in any important way, at least.  Money would enable us to spend more time in Hawai'i.  Less money, less Hawai'i.  Money will enable us to give the younger members of the family more opportunity, but they already have lots and it is going to be up to them what they do with it.

I consider my own immediate future as being one where in which I have more control than I have ever had.  For 30 years my legal career has dominated all my plans.  Now, it is in the way of my plans.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Most Important Car in the World

Picking up from where I left off earlier in the week, I said that it may be possible an EV is the best car in the world.  If the Tesla Model S is not the best car in the world, which it may or may not be, then I am convinced that it is the most important car in the world.

Those who have driven the Model S have been effusive in its praise.  For example, what can you make of this quote:

Having driven the Tesla Model S on the neighborhood roads back-to-back not only against most of the other electric cars in the market today, but also comparing it against other premium cars such as Rolls Royce Corniche, I came to this startling conclusion: The Tesla Model S is so superior that it seems that it's just a matter of time until all the other car companies will have to file bankruptcy.
Others have been similarly over the top in their praise for this car, but since I have not even seen it, much less driven it, I am afraid that my own opinion on the question is yet to be formed. Suffice it to say that I cannot wait until I have a chance to form that opinion.

I believe that I can say that it is the most important car in the world because it is the first car ever to have been designed on the premise that an electric car might actually be the best car in the world.  Whether it has achieved that status is somewhat beside the point; it is enough to acknowledge the unique motive behind the car's conception.

Electric cars have, let us face it, not been devoted to the idea of excellence. They have been curiosities. Burdened by idiosyncratic styling, most electric cars have been cute but weird urban toys.

The late -- and ugly -- GM EV1
The General Motors EV1 was a perfect example.  Its styling shouted out that it was something other than a regular car.

Early hybrids were styled with the same approach.  The original Honda Insight looked like an ugly cousin of the EV1.  There was nothing attractive in these designs.  They were designed to appeal to ...  well, who exactly?  Presumably people who were above such trivial concerns as appearances.

The hideous Honda Insight
Cars have always been at least partly about sex appeal.  Good-looking bad cars will sell.  Ugly good cars won't.   When you go out of your way to make a car ugly and appliance-like you are either inept or appealing to a different market than the average car buyer.

Electric cars and early hybrids were deliberately made into anti-cars.  Every lustful reaction we may expect to have in relation to cars was erased.

The Tesla Model S is, by contrast, designed to be as sleek and lustworthy as any other car in its rather elevated class, a class that includes the Jaguar XJ, the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S Class.  These are formidable competition.  These are well-engineered, luxuriously appointed, fast and desirable.  And the Tesla Model S, an EV is, by design, every bit their equal.  And its very "EV-ness" may well make it their superior.

This is something entirely new.  An EV that makes no excuses, that does not hide behind weird looks and that is willing to go toe-to-toe with the very best cars in the world.

The Tesla Model S is sleek, handsome, well-appointed, fast, smooth and sexy.

The beautiful Model S
As are its competitors.  The Model S, though, has the advantages of being an EV.  This means that all the torque from its electric motor is available from 0 RPM.  This means that there is no noise from the powertrain.   There are no emissions at all.   Its enormous battery pack forms a floor to the car, lowering the centre of gravity and aiding in handling.  Regenerative braking means that kinetic energy is converted back into an electric charge to be reused again for propulsion rather than wasted as heat in an ICE car.

The lack of an ICE, a cooling system, a transmission, a driveshaft, a differential and many many more parts means that the Model S is simple and relatively free of parts that can wear out or break.  This also frees up huge amounts of space in the car for storage.  The motor needs almost no maintenance.  Regenerative braking greatly reduces wear on the brakes, which are only needed a fraction of the time compared with a conventional car.

All of this results in a driving experience, as every review of the car but I have read indicates, that is superior to any conventional car. But even with all of this, it is not why I believe that this is the most important car in the world.

Tesla, led by its CEO Elon Musk, has set aside the constraining conventional wisdom of the past 125 years, and has reimagined the car for our century. Not only that, Tesla has reimagined the car company itself, car manufacturing, and car sales and service. And all of this is due to the unique advantages of the EV over the conventional ICE car.

Elon Musk himself has gone on record as saying that he founded Tesla to prove that an EV could be the best car in the world.  I would say he has already proven that with the Model S.  At the same time, it is by no means assured that Tesla will survive.  As I write this, only 100 Model S cars have been made.  While Tesla can sell as many of them as they can make at the moment, its survival will depend upon the continuing credibility of the company to deliver on its promises.  Now that it has designed and started to make what is possibly the best car in the world, it must prove that it is capable of making a lot of them at a cost that will enable the company to make money.  This may prove to be a very significant challenge, given the decision of the company to be vertically integrated, making nearly every component of the car in house.

The all wheel drive chassis of the amazing Model X
Having going on at some length about the Model S, I should close by saying that it is not this car that I am interested in buying. I have my eye on the Model X.  Assuming that Tesla can stay alive, this car will be going to market in 2014.

It is a kind of SUV that can hold seven adults and all their luggage but will have the performance of a Porsche Carrera.  It will be a taller version of the Model S, and should have equivalent performance.

However, it will come in an all-wheel-drive version with a second electric motor at the front of the car.
Elon Musk showing off the "Falcon Wing" rear doors of the Model X

After that, Tesla has plans for a smaller and less expensive car that will compete with the BMW 3 series and others in its class.

Tesla has delivered. It has forever altered our idea of what an electric car can be, and in doing so has given us an idea of how in we will be able to continue to travel in comfort and with awesome performance while living sustainably.  No longer do we have to look ahead to a future in which we have to abandon our beautiful sexy vehicles for hideous objects like the EV1.

It all makes the future of driving exciting again.   For now, I am going to take great pleasure from driving my last hydrocarbon burners.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The End of Internal Combustion?

I love cars.  I love driving them, and I especially love buying them.  I don't like selling them so I end up with more cars than I need.

As I have written about in this Blog, I bought a 1993 Bentley Continental R last Fall.  When I really analyse my motives for this irrational purchase, it is becoming clear to me that nostalgia is the main one.  Nostalgia for beautiful big hydrocarbon burners.  Cars like my Bentley will never be seen again.  The engine is too big, at 6.75 litres, and the car, at 5300 pounds, is hopelessly excessive.  It is built like a tank, and it is built for a world with endless supplies of oil.
The Magnificent VW Phaeton

My next car may well be a Volkswagen Phaeton.  I can pick up a 12 cylinder example from 2004-2006 with low mileage for under $20,000.  The VW W-12 engine is the same one that Bentley used for the Continental.  Again, this is a car that time has passed by.  VW discovered that North American buyers would not pay $100,000 for a car with the same badge as Hitler's "people's car." The value of 12 cylinder Phaetons have melted like an ice cream cone on a summer day.

But I want to own one, to drive one, while I can.  Before it is too socially unacceptable to drive a gasoline car of any kind, much less one with way too much displacement and way too much mass.

My car after that will almost certainly be a Tesla.

First, though, I want to say something about the internal combustion engine (ICE, as electric vehicle (or EV) fans call it).  After about 125 years of development and the application of many of the best minds, the ICE has been engineered to something close to perfection.  When I think of the cars of my youth and compare them to the cars of today, there is no question that ICE engines today are more powerful, more efficient, cleaner and far more reliable than the engines of the past.  Cars in general also stop and handle far, far better than the cars of the past.

But the ICE is inherently inefficient.  The reciprocating engine involves hundreds of explosions of fuel and air that make pistons go up and down in such a way as to make a crankshaft turn.  But where ICE reciprocating engines operate at about 20% energy conversion efficiency, electric motors can operate at 90%.

The ICE runs, of course, on fossil fuels that are both finite and full of carbon.  Emissions include carbon dioxide, the very gas that is causing climate change.

We have invested enormous time, energy and creativity to improve the ICE and the infrastructure that gets its fuel from underground or underwater and to refineries and to pumps where we consumers access it.  And of course if we take into account the wars that have been fought over the stuff (two wars in Iraq, for example), and the environmental risks of getting at it (the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico for example), the costs of the ICE have been very great indeed, as -- of course -- have been the benefits.

Now, let's look at the EV.  Not only is it mechanically far more efficient, but a well-designed electric motor can run virtually forever with minimal maintenance.  An electric motor is far smaller and lighter than an ICE of equivalent power.

There is the important issue of generating the electricity that will run your EV.  There are dirty ways to generate electricity, such as burning coal or oil, and also ways that involve other risks like operating nuclear power stations in earthquake zones.  Hydroelectric generation is clean but can seriously disrupt land uses that are affected by the manipulation of water levels.  The best bet for the future is solar, and breakthroughs can be expected that will eventually make it the dominant mode of generating electricity.  See for example this article about recent progress by IBM that may erase the cost discrepancy between solar and fossil fuel energy within a decade.

There are also issues of disposing of EV batteries at the end of their useful lives, full of lithium and other exotic materials.  But on balance there is no comparison between the environmental impact of an ICE vehicle and an EV.  And when we really start to use our energy income (solar power) instead of our capital (fossil fuel) the EV becomes an obvious -- and inevitable -- choice.  And once we begin to invest the brainpower in making the EV real and successful, as we have made the inherently flawed ICE so dominant, things can only get better.

There are of course issues with range and with the time to recharge.  We are used to having cars that will run for hundreds of kilometers on a tank, and to finding a place to fill that tank in minutes nearly anywhere.  The EV doesn't offer these advantages, although in time these discrepancies will vanish.

The Tesla Model S can already operate for 480 kilometers on a single charge, not much less than an equivalent ICE car on a full tank of gas.  However, once you have depleted that charge it is a matter of plugging it in overnight.  "Superchargers" are coming that will cut that time dramatically, but they are still some months and maybe years away.   So, yes, range is still an issue.

But let's look at developments in battery technology.  Important breakthroughs are being made.  See for example the website of California Lithium Battery.  The Chief Technology Officer of Tesla Motors estimates that the capacity of lithium-ion batteries is being improved at a rate of 7-8% a year.  This means that in ten years the range of the Model S might well be 1,000 kilometers or more per charge, not 480.  99 per cent of people will, after driving 1,000 kilometers, want to stop for the night.  And 10 years from now we can be confident that there will be a place to charge your car when you do stop.  And then, every morning, you will start the day with the equivalent of a full tank that can keep you going all day with no anxiety whatever.

When you do charge your car it will cost a fraction of the cost of an equivalent tank of gas, even at today's artificially low gas prices.  Yes, today's prices in North America are far too low to reflect the true costs of using fossil fuels, and we can pretty much count on a continuing escalation of gas prices over the foreseeable future, as the cost of extraction in increasingly challenging environments climbs and cartels keep working to exact their profits.  Outside North America, consumers are of course already accustomed to gas prices far higher than ours.

The cost of making electricity, on the other hand, should over time remain relatively stable, or even come down in price as renewable and clean sources of power benefit from technical and manufacturing breakthroughs and then achieve economies of scale.

So, you might wonder, why not wait the ten years and see if this wondrous world of EVs actually does come to pass?

Because, in my opinion, it is just possible that the best car in the world today is actually an EV!

Presenting the Tesla Model S
To be continued.