Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spotlight: Ai Weiwei

"Normally people feel powerless. That's how society becomes a society, if they think they have a little power and support and help to solve the problem."
The Guardian:
The surveillance camera police have trained on the turquoise gate of Ai Weiwei's studio in north Beijing captures a steady stream of visitors; journalists, well-wishers, the art crowd. Five months after his release from an 81-day detention, and in the wake of a fortnight of extraordinary expressions of public support, Ai is anticipating other arrivals. "Every day I think, 'this will be the day I will be taken in again.'

"That's also the impression they [the authorities] try to create, not just to me but to the whole society; to anybody who has different opinions," he adds.

A few years ago the celebrated Chinese artist was a well-established figure in the international and domestic art worlds; provocative, certainly, but respectable enough to co-design the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing and be covered by Chinese state media. Then his outspoken views and activism triggered clashes with authority, culminating in this year's detention – part of a broader crackdown on activists, lawyers and dissidents that saw dozens held and more harassed, threatened or placed under other restrictions. He has become, to many, the face of human rights in China: more a symbol than a person.

"The fact the government disappeared him, and then afterwards continued to go after him through various charges, sends a signal to other activists that even if you are well known it does not really protect you," says Wang Songlian of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network. "On the other hand, the way he turned it around was very clever, and I think activists have been energized."

"It's never about me," says Ai, now 54. "[My supporters] use me as a mark for themselves to recognize their own form of life: I become their medium. I am always very clear about that."

Ai emerged from his ordeal in June, far slimmer – having lost almost 10kg, some of which he has regained – and apparently chastened.

"My energy was very low after these 81 days and I really needed the time to recover, mentally and physically. I was quite fragile," he acknowledges. "I tried to do much less, because I also think this is not a game I can play. If they can make you disappear, why do you still play this game? Ridiculous.

"But even if you don't speak, they still put these false accusations on you … So then you feel, if you don't speak, you are part of this crime. I guess both sides are very disappointed." He laughs.

There are fewer flashes of the puckish humor these days and he is more cautious in his pronouncements, but he is nonetheless saying more than the government would like, and recent actions by his supporters speak still louder. When authorities handed him a £1.5m tax bill, thousands helped him pay the first tranche, some flinging money over the studio walls. When police mooted the possibility that he was guilty of pornography – in relation to photos picturing him and four women, all naked – they tweeted nude pictures of themselves.

"We are trying to work with a very limited space. To people who do not understand the conditions, it may look ridiculous. But to us, that's the only space," he says.

"Normally people feel powerless. That's how society becomes a society, if they think they have a little power and support and help to solve the problem."

The downside is not only the risk of authorities using the donations against him – by deeming it illegal fundraising – but the ever-increasing expectations of his supporters. He was "thrilled" to learn how much support he had received during his detention, but the pressure from both sides has become hard to bear.

"One side has so much hope they put on my shoulders. I cannot really help them. I can't even help me; my condition [situation] is quite bad," he observes.

Ai was reportedly interrogated more than 50 times during his detention, but about his views and activism rather than his financial dealings. He does not go into detail about what happened but points out that many of the others detained this spring were treated far worse. According to the accounts that have trickled out some were beaten; many were deprived of sleep, forced to sit in stress positions and threatened. Several still show clear symptoms of trauma, say friends.

"I think I recovered the most. About 100 people were taken in. Only a few have spoken out. Most of them [seem] to be silenced for ever – some you can see are completely crushed," Ai says.

"It's hard to recover. You become not so innocent. You become, in a way, more sophisticated, which I think you shouldn't. We should all have more simple happiness ... You become bitter."

And yet, he adds: "Maybe there is something I got from it. Maybe you also start to be clear on certain things."

The parallels with his father's case are inescapable. Ai Qing was a revered poet, which in part explains the relative protection his son has enjoyed, but endured years of persecution after being condemned as a rightist. "His whole heart loved art and literature. But he was crushed; he almost committed suicide several times," says Ai, who grew up in a labour camp.

"My voice is not for me. Every time I make a sentence I think how many people for how many generations had a voice that no one could hear. At most they will be remembered as numbers; in many cases, even numbers don't exist.

"I think I have this responsibility for my father's generation, and especially future generations."

Still, he insists, "I am not a dissident" – simply someone put on the spot by the government's actions.

Amid the political storm, it is easy to lose sight of Ai's artistic record. His work is on show in London, Berlin and Taipei; next year will see exhibitions in Sweden, France and the Netherlands. More remarkably, a gallery in Beijing is exhibiting some of his past work – including the list of names of children who died in the Sichuan earthquake. His attempts to tally the deaths of those who had died in shoddily constructed schools put him on a collision course with authorities.

More information:
» New documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
» Washington Post: Ai WeiWei arrested in latest government crackdown, April 2011
» Weiwei and Swiss architects to design London 2012 pavilion

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

NBA All-Star Rising Stars Challenge

John Wall tallied 17 points, eight assists, six rebounds and a couple blocked shots.

TEAM SHAQ: Blake Griffin, Jeremy Lin, Ricky Rubio, Greg Monroe, Markieff Morris, Kemba Walker, Landry Fields, Norris Cole, Brandon Knight, Tristan Thompson

TEAM BARKLEY: Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Williams, MarShon Brooks, John Wall, Gordon Hayward, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Evan Turner

Washington Post:
TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal chose teams for the Rising Star Challenge from a pool of 20 rookies and second-year players and Wall was selected 12th overall.

“It’s a joke to me,” said Wall, who is averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 assists in his second season. “If they think there are 11 guys better than me, then that’s their decision. But I know what I think in my mind and all I can do is go out there and play basketball the way I know how to play.”

Wall has raised his level of play in the past 20 games, averaging 19.2 points, 8.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds, but that production has gone largely unnoticed or disregarded with the Wizards still among the worst teams in the league.

It's not just the emergence of Jeremy Lin that is to blame for Wall's decline in fame. It started to decline much earlier in the season when the Washington Wizards got off to such a terrible start (7-26).

Wall will also compete in the Skills Challenge event. Wall, who participated in the event last year placing fourth, hopes to improve upon his performance from a year ago. Also participating in the event will be defending champion Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

U.S. Dominates Switzerland in Davis Cup

"While Switzerland's Roger Federer grabbed all the headlines before play, it was the USA team of Mardy Fish, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Mike Bryan who took the plaudits on-court. Fish won the opening rubber in five sets against Stanislas Wawrinka before the wild card of the weekend, Isner, took out Federer coming from a set down. Mike Bryan, playing with Fish as his twin brother was home with his newly born child, rose to defeat the 2008 Olympics doubles gold medalists to secure the victory and a 5-0 whitewash was completed on the final day."

Davis Cup:
FRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND: No one was predicting at the start of the opening day of the Switzerland v USA Davis Cup tie that Roger Federer’s 15-match unbeaten run in Davis Cup singles would come to an end. Yet come to an end it has.

John Isner is already assured of his place in the tennis history books thanks to his 11-hour five-minute win over Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon. But this 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 win will be of greater satisfaction to him as a tennis player.

"It’s one of the greatest wins of my life, no that’s wrong, it’s the greatest win of my life," he said on court at the end of his two-hour 39-minute victory.

The American rode the cushion given him by Mardy Fish’s earlier five-sets win over Stanislas Wawrinka. That allowed Isner to go out firing, and while Federer broke in the third game and took the first set, Isner never wavered from his game plan.

And one of the biggest shocks in recent Davis Cup history was completed on Saturday afternoon when the U.S. doubles team of Mike Bryan and Mardy Fish beat Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in four sets to see the Americans through to April’s quarterfinals.

The reverberations from John Isner’s stunning win over Federer on Friday night carried through to the doubles, which followed a very similar pattern to the Isner-Federer singles. The Swiss won the opening set and looked reasonably comfortable for a set and a half, but once the Americans had broken, the balance of power shifted, and Federer in particular fell away at the end as the U.S. pair won 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in 2 hours 18 minutes.

Because so much was made of Federer’s return to the Davis Cup first round for the first time in eight years, it’s easy to see this result as a disaster for the Swiss. A disappointment it certainly is, but to view it as a disaster would be to take too much credit away from an American team that seems finally to have lost its fear of away clay.

Isner said after his match against Federer that clay suits his game, Fish has done well on the red stuff as his career has progressed, and the French Open was the first of the Bryan twins’ Grand Slam titles. Add to that a team captain in Jim Courier who is the only American to have won the French Open twice, and maybe one shouldn’t be too surprised to see the Americans triumph.

It’s also payback time for Fish, who suffered two heartbreaking losses in marathon matches in last year’s quarterfinal in Austin, when Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer played outstanding matches against him. The 30-year-old from Tampa has now won his singles and doubles in successive days to see the US through to an away quarterfinal against either Canada or France.

“It feels pretty good to win these,” he said immediately after the victory. “I certainly know what it’s like to lose, and it’s not a great feeling. This guy [Mike Bryan] is the greatest doubles player of all time, and I’m just trying to play my part.”

Federer was asked whether this defeat affected his commitment to Davis Cup. “No,” he said, “I’m still taking things round by round, and our next round is in September. In principle I’m in, but we’ll have to see what happens between now and then.”

USA showed no remorse in Sunday's dead singles rubbers. Ryan Harrison and John Isner continued their team's winning ways with straight sets victories over Michael Lammer and Marco Chiudinelli respectively to leave the final score at a bruising 5-0.

Next tie
USA travel to France over 6-8 April looking to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2008. USA has the edge historically and also won their last tie at the same stage in 2008 when it was held on hard court in Winston-Salem. France, however, have lost to USA just once at home in the 1982 final.

USA is the most successful nation in Davis Cup history, having been crowned champion on 32 occasions. The Americans hold the record for consecutive wins, having notched 17 victories without defeat between 1968 and 1973. USA won the inaugural Davis Cup back in 1900.

More information:
Davis Cup: Spain Remains No. 1 in New Rankings

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

54th Annual Grammy Awards

Chicago Tribune:
Just under 40 million people watched Adele get the biggest awards, an audience size topped only in 1984 when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was named top album.

The Grammys, which had a bigger audience than the Academy Awards last year, cast aside their celebratory vibe Sunday to pay tribute to singer Whitney Houston, whose death over the weekend hung heavy over the 54th annual awards show.

Houston’s death in a Los Angeles hotel room Saturday put the Grammys into scramble mode, as they altered the telecast schedule and devised an appropriate tribute to the pop icon. “We’ve had a death in our family,” host LL Cool J said. He offered “a prayer for a woman we loved, for a fallen sister.”

Jennifer Hudson performed a stark version of the Dolly Parton song that Houston made her own, “I Will Always Love You”. Hudson, one of countless singers influenced by Houston’s pop-gospel sound, played it straight and true.

Until Saturday, the pre-show drama had focused on Adele and how the six-time-nominee would fare in her first public performance since canceling a tour and having surgery on her vocal cords.

A glowing Adele did not disappoint, nor was she disappointed. She won six Grammys, including the Big Three: Song and Record of the Year for “Rolling in the Deep,” and Album of the Year for “21.” Earlier in the night, she thanked “the doctors who brought my voice back.” That voice sound a touch raspy at points, but her resolve surged as she powered through “Rolling in the Deep.” Without much more than a few hand gestures and a couple of shy smiles, she commanded the screen like few performers during the 3 ½-hour nationally televised broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A great song and a great voice will do that for you.

She described her winning album “21” as being about something “everyone’s been through … which is a rubbish relationship,” and that universality translated to the year’s biggest-selling and now most-acclaimed recording.

“This is ridiculous!”: So said Adele after receiving her fifth Grammy. The remark wasn’t directed at Nicki Minaj, who did some serious “Exorcist”-style button-pushing in a Gothic song-and-dance number, but could anyone blame her if it was?

Second-hand James Brown tribute: In gold suit and pompadour, Bruno Mars tried to channel the Godfather of a Soul, but I’m hearing the influence of his old tour mate, Janelle Monae, who makes the James Brown attitude her own. Mars did get off a good line, though, demanding that the audience “get off your rich (behinds) and let’s have some fun.”

Collaborations, some good, some bad: The Bonnie Raitt-Alicia Keys pairing on the Etta James tribute “Sunday Kind of Love” worked because both artists have a feel for blues-based ballads. But Rihanna was dancing and singing up a storm during “We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place” before an acoustic duet with Coldplay’s Chris Martin prematurely killed her momentum.

Good vibrations, or not: The Beach Boys reunited with Brian Wilson for the first time in decades, but were compelled to share the stage with lightweights Foster the People and Maroon 5. Wilson isn’t what he used to be as a singer or performer, but he and his bandmates deserved the spotlight to themselves if only for the genius of his songs. “Good Vibrations” still sounds futuristic, like a surf song for Martians.

All is forgiven? Chris Brown performed, ending a three-year hiatus from the Grammys. On Feb 8, 2009, he turned himself in to police in connection with an assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, and then withdrew from performing on that year’s Grammys. Lots of gyrating, thrusting, jumping, flipping and even more lip-synching. At least he didn’t get the standing ovation he seemed to be expecting.

A little dubstep, anyone? Electronic dance music has been blasting out of the clubs and into the arenas in recent years, and that transition was marked by three Grammys for dubstep’s DJ-of-the-moment, Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore). “This is the most surreal day of my life,” he said. It’s unusual for the Grammys to be in step with musical trends (as opposed to a few years behind), but the Skrillex hat trick suggests the Recording Academy has more than a few club-hoppers in its ranks.

Take that, Skrillex! Despite plenty of energetic head-banging, hand-clapping and Slayer T-shirt wearing from frontman Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters' performance still felt perfunctory. Then Grohl, in picking up one of the band’s five Grammys, asserted: “The human element of making music is most important. Singing into a microphone, learning to play your instrument … it’s not about being perfect… It’s not about what goes on in a computer, but what goes on in here and what goes on in here (points to head and heart).” Yet later on, the Foo Fighters participated in a live mash-up with DJ Deadmau5. So are computers cool or not, Dave?

A public farewell: Glen Campbell, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and is in the midst of his farewell tour, bid goodbye on the big stage with a performance of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Campbell clearly enjoyed the moment, and the audience – fully understanding its significance – showered him with adulation. It also made me wish that the great jazz-funk poet Gil Scott-Heron had been able to enjoy a similar privilege before he died last year, in lieu of the brief, posthumous tribute he received.

Another Grammy first! In winning Best New Artist, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon provided what was likely the first-ever Grammy shout-out to Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The Chicago story: Kanye West had a great night with four victories, but didn’t show up to claim any trophies. His “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” won for Best Rap Album and “All of the Lights” for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. He also shared Best Rap Performance with Jay-Z for "Otis."

More information:
WSJ: "Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Memorable Moments of the 2011 NFL Season

Lockout Unlocked
The longest work stoppage in league history (136 days) officially came to an end July 25, when the owners and players reached an agreement on a new, 10-year labor deal. The news conference to announce the new collective bargaining agreement provided a memorable image of Patriots owner Robert Kraft sharing an emotional embrace with Colts center Jeff Saturday.

Peyton's Lost Season
Initially, it looked as though offseason neck surgery would only force Peyton Manning to miss the preseason. Then the opener. And then suddenly, the entire season was in jeopardy. In the end, Manning didn't play a snap in 2011, and the Colts completely fell apart, posting a league-worst 2-14 record. With the rights to the No. 1 overall pick and an aging roster, owner Jim Irsay has decided to undergo an extreme makeover, clearing out the front office and the coaching staff. By all indications, Peyton will be next to go, clearing the way for Andrew Luck -- the most-hyped quarterback prospect since Manning himself.

Cobb Makes Quite a First Impression
Randall Cobb, who set the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yards (2,396) in 2010, was selected by the Packers in the second round (No. 64 overall) of the draft. During the preseason, there was quite a buzz about the playmaking ability of Packers rookie Randall Cobb. In the Thursday night opener between Green Bay and New Orleans, the electric receiver took a first-quarter pass over the middle 32 yards to the house. Then, in the third quarter, Cobb tied an NFL record with a thrilling 108-yard kick return that was later named Play of the Year at the season-ending NFL Honors banquet. Green Bay went on to win the exhilarating shootout 42-34.

Cam Newton is Superman
No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton burst onto the scene with 422 yards passing and three touchdowns in his regular-season debut against Arizona, and he didn't really slow down the rest of the season. Newton set numerous rookie records in one of the greatest debut seasons ever, including most passing yards in a game (432), most passing yards in a season (4,051), and most total touchdowns (35). He also broke the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14). Newton's superhuman efforts earned him AP Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Rookie of the Year, and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Just Win, Baby
Raiders icon Al Davis, one of the game's true innovators, passed away from heart failure at age 82 on October 8. The following day, every NFL game featured a moment of silence in Davis' honor. Oakland donned "Al" helmet decals and earned an inspired 25-20 victory over the Texans. Tears flowed in the emotional aftermath of the game. John Madden, who had remained close to Davis since their 1970s Raiders days together said, “You don’t replace a guy like that. No way. No damn way. You look at the things he’s done that no one ever did before, being a scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, commissioner and owner.”

No single player received more attention during the 2011 campaign than Tim Tebow. The polarizing Broncos quarterback started the year on the bench, but after a 1-4 start, John Fox ditched Kyle Orton and handed the reins to Tebow. In his first start at Miami -- which just so happened to be honoring Tebow's 2008 Florida Gators national championship team -- Tebow played horrendously through the first 57 minutes of play, and the Dolphins held a 15-0 lead late in the fourth quarter. But in the final 2:44, Tebow miraculously threw a pair of touchdown passes and notched a two-point conversion with his legs to send the game into overtime. Denver eventually won, giving rise to "Tebow Time." The Broncos were blown out the following week at Detroit, but then won six straight games -- thanks in large part to Tebow's late-game heroics -- and eventually took the AFC West crown.

Houston, We Have a Problem
The Texans overcame a series of early injuries -- including a season-ender to Pro Bowler Mario Williams -- and emerged as the AFC's most well-rounded team by November. But then star QB Matt Schaub suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury during a 37-9 whooping of Tampa Bay in Week 10. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart went down in the Texans' next game, and suddenly fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates was forced to take over behind center. Although Houston admirably went on to win the AFC South and win the franchise's first ever playoff game, Yates' three interceptions cost the Texans a divisional-round game against Baltimore. And Houston fans were left to ponder what could've been.

The Coaching Carousel
After a loss to the Texans dropped Jacksonville to 3-8, Jack Del Rio became the first head coach to get the axe. On the same day, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver revealed he would be selling the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. Jacksonville eventually settled on Mike Mularkey. Six other NFL teams also changed coaches: Kansas City (Todd Haley to Romeo Crennel), Indianapolis (Jim Caldwell to Chuck Pagano), Miami (Tony Sparano to Joe Philbin), Oakland (Hue Jackson to Dennis Allen), St. Louis (Steve Spagnuolo to Jeff Fisher) and Tampa Bay (Raheem Morris to Greg Schiano).

The Boston TE Party
Rob Gronkowski was one of two tight ends the Patriots drafted in 2010; in the fourth round, the Patriots drafted Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez. This season they set NFL records for combined receptions (169), yardage (2,237), and touchdowns (24) by tight ends on one team. 'Gronk' himself broke the NFL tight end scoring record with 17 receiving touchdowns, four better than the previous record. He also set a new mark with 1,327 receiving yards -- narrowly beating out New Orleans' tight end Jimmy Graham (1,310) in topping Kellen Winslow's 31-year-old record (1,290).

Green Bay's Imperfection
The Packers' bid for perfection came to an end in Week 15, with a 19-14 loss at Kansas City. The stunning defeat ended a 19-game winning streak for the defending Super Bowl champs, dating back to a loss to the Patriots in December of 2010. And in the divisional playoffs, the Packers dropped passes, lost three fumbles and simply couldn't stop Eli Manning and his receivers in the Giants' shocking 37-20 victory.

Brees Blows Past Marino
With a staggering 5,476 passing yards in 2011, Drew Brees eclipsed Dan Marino's single-season mark of 5,084 set in 1984. Brees actually set the record in Week 16, and added to it with 389 yards passing in the season finale. New England QB Tom Brady also passed Marino with 5,235 yards, while Detroit's Matthew Stafford fell just short (5,038). Truly the Year of the Quarterback.

Goats of Championship Sunday
Both conference title games were marred by mistakes. On the AFC side, Ravens wideout Lee Evans couldn't hold on to a potential game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left in the game. Two plays later, Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Then in the NFC title game, 49ers return man Kyle Williams had a pair of costly fumbles: one in the fourth quarter when a bouncing ball glanced off his leg, and another in overtime when he was stripped, setting up New York's game-winning field goal. These miscues helped set up a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl rematch.

Another Giant Rally
The Giants were left for dead after an uninspired 23-10 loss to Washington dropped them to 7-7. Tom Coughlin's seat seamed as hot as ever. And then suddenly, it all came together. As the Giants returned to good health, they won their final two regular season games. In the playoffs, New York hit the ground running, piling up 172 yards rushing in a dominant 24-2 win vs. Atlanta. The next week, the Giants overwhelmed the mighty Packers, 37-20. That victory was keyed by a Hail Mary TD from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half. New York eked out a 20-17 OT win in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. And four years after the Giants beat the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, New York upset New England once again on the final Sunday of the season. In a month and a half, Coughlin went from the hot seat to Hall consideration. And Eli, who raised eyebrows nationwide back in August when he referred to himself as an elite QB, has silenced even his harshest critics.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unprecedented Sail Around the Americas!

Washington Post:
By now, some 20,000 miles into this audacious odyssey, nearly everything onboard Matt Rutherford’s boat is either flat-out busted, rotted through, waterlogged beyond repair or otherwise reduced to ballast. If the insidious Arctic fog didn’t do the job, seeping into every crevice of the 27-foot sailboat and all its humble contents, then the rogue waves near Cape Horn surely did.

He’s down to one pair of pants, the rest having fallen victim to a black mold infestation that also cost him every last book he had carried on board, way back in June 2011, when he set out from Annapolis on this half-crazy mission to circumnavigate the Americas alone and non-stop.

The four solar panels he had hooked up to power his electronics? Busted, one by one. The canvas dodger, which protects the cabin from waves and spray? Shredded by a huge wave in the Bering Sea. His freighter radar, which alerts him to any huge ships bearing down on his little speck-in-the-ocean of a sailboat? Destroyed. His Kindle reader? Kaput.

His shotgun is half-rusted and may or may not be capable of shooting, but that’s not important anymore. The shotgun was for one purpose: fending off polar bears in the Northwest Passage, in the event he became iced in, marooned until the following summer’s thaw. But that leg of the journey was some six months, 15,000 miles and one continent ago.

“At this point,” Rutherford said of the shotgun, “it’s just a clump of metal.”

His satellite phone still works, and he can send and receive e-mail through his GPS service — which is how he is able to stay connected with a handful of Annapolis-based friends who provide support. It is also how it was that he came to be speaking to a reporter recently while pointed north, some 2,000 miles east of Argentina. Now roughly parallel to the southern tip of Brazil, he is within 5,000 miles of completing his journey, with a mid-April return to Annapolis. (You can follow his voyage, in map and blog form, at

“It does get incredibly lonely,” he said during an interview conducted partly by e-mail and partly by satellite phone. “Lonely to the point where anything living is comforting. A bird, a fish, even a barnacle. I think I’m beyond lonely.”

It is difficult to convey fully the audacity of what Rutherford is attempting to do: sailing some 25,000 miles, through some of the Earth’s most treacherous ocean, on a 36-year-old Albin Vega boat (which he christened the Saint Brendan, in honor of a sixth-century explorer) best suited to weekend sailors who never venture beyond Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. Already, the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, England, has recognized him as the first person in recorded history to make it through the fabled Northwest Passage alone and non-stop on such a small sailboat.

“What Matt is trying to do, I’m absolutely blown away by it,” said Herb McCormick, a veteran sailor and a senior editor at Cruising World magazine. “He’s doing this in a boat that, frankly, I’d be scared to sail from Newport to Bermuda. I’m in awe of the guy. This is such a mammoth undertaking, and to do it without stopping — alone — is mind-boggling.

“It’s almost teetering on the edge of blood-insanity, frankly. When I heard what he was trying to do, I thought it was a suicide mission. I was fearful for him.”

A quest for self-knowledge
What, then, would compel a 30-year-old Ohio native with a passion for the Cleveland Browns and the history of exploration to climb aboard an old sailboat, loaded with hand-me-down equipment and freeze-dried food, and embark on a mission that more experienced and practical sailors equate to suicide?

The simple answer is charity. Rutherford concocted his idea as a way to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), an Annapolis-based organization that aims to provide sailing opportunities for physically and/or developmentally disabled persons. While Rutherford is about 80 percent done with his voyage, he is only about 10 percent of the way to his fundraising goal of $250,000 for CRAB’s projects.

But as one would expect, there is a larger mission at work here, a quest for self-knowledge and inner peace that Rutherford hasn’t always been able to find on dry land. He was born and raised, he says, in a cult, before becoming “angry and confused” as a youth and taking to street life, spending much of his teens going in and out of juvenile detention centers.

The life of adventure that he chose in his 20s as a means of escape has led him, among other places, to a solo bicycle journey across Southeast Asia and a pair of trans-Atlantic sails. His latest adventure makes those seem like child’s play.

“Ultimately,” he said, “I am trying to accomplish something that is greater than myself.”

The payoff, when it chooses to reveal itself, is the occasional brush with nature’s overwhelming glory: seals, whales, walruses, narwhals, great albatrosses, penguins. In the Arctic (before his camera broke), he snapped pictures of icebergs the size of office buildings. One recent night, in the austral summer just on this side of Cape Horn, he marveled at the magnificence of the stars, the Milky Way appearing like a thick cloud.

“I have a strong bond with the ocean,” he said. “I feel like I can understand it, and in some ways it understands me.”

Contemplating life on land
The hardest parts of the voyage are over now — the treacherous ice of the Northwest Passage, the typhoons blowing off Japan and across the north Pacific, the unpredictable weather and currents around Cape Horn — but Rutherford is hardly home free. McCormick noted the worst weather his crew encountered during their entire journey came around North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras.

“The worst night of our entire trip. . . . We got absolutely creamed off Cape Hatteras,” McCormick said. “It’s called the Graveyard of the North Atlantic for good reason.” Assuming Rutherford makes it, McCormick believes he should be listed among names such as Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail solo around the world; Robin Knox-Johnston, the first to do so non-stop; and Sir Francis Chichester, the first to do so by the southern “clipper route.”

“His name belongs in the annals of history, alongside those men,” he said.

For Rutherford, the most ecstatic and most terrifying parts of the trip will be the same one — the moment at Annapolis’s City Dock when he sets foot on dry land again, for the first time in some 10 months. There is some sort of reception planned — his friends and benefactors won’t tell Rutherford exactly what, and he doesn’t really want to know. People will be looking at him. He might feel as if he should say something.

As much as he craves a hot shower, a cold beer and the company of “the ladies,” as he likes to say, there is plenty about life at sea that is simply easier than life on land.

“I have mixed feelings about being on land again,” he said. “I know I have to go — I’m going to need toilet paper, and I could use a drink. But I’m broke on land. I live on a really small boat. I struggle on land with a lot of things.

“I guess you just trade one struggle for another.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tim Thomas Skips Team White House Visit

Washington Post:
The Boston Bruins paid a visit to the White House on Jan. 23 to celebrate the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

But the man who perhaps played the biggest role in them winning their first title in 39 years decided to pass on the invite from President Barack Obama.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was not on hand for Monday’s ceremony, a decision he made months ago due to his political and ideological differences with the current administration.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Thomas explained his choice, saying:
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"

In the Bruins' 2011-12 media guide, Thomas, a Republican, cited conservative TV pundit Glenn Beck as the person he'd most like to have dinner with.

"Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs. He chose not to join us," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us. But it's his choice. It's obviously not a choice most of the guys ... well all of the guys came except for Tim. But it's his decision and his choice."

Thomas, a native of Flint, Michigan and one of only two Americans on Boston’s roster, registered a .967 save percentage in seven games against Vancouver, stopping 238 of the 246 shots he faced. The effort earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The political statement didn’t change the celebratory mood for the afternoon. Obama tossed around some New England slang, saying he knew the Bruins were all “wicked happy” to be there.

“The Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, now the Patriots. Enough already, Boston,” Obama said. “What’s going on, huh?”

Obama praised the team’s unity through the grind of the NHL playoffs.

But after his White House snub, Thomas could not escape the flood of attention and was constantly asked about his personal views in post-game scrums.

The Bruins said they supported his decision, adding that his statement did not reflect the views of the team, but one source called him a “[expletive] selfish [expletive]” in the Boston Globe later that week.

More information:
Boston Globe: "In his absence, he stole his teammates’ spotlight. Win as a team. Lose as a team. And when asked to stand up and take a bow, then stand up there and suffer if need be, even if you don’t like the setting, the host, or any of the political trappings and tenets that come with it."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Four Tech Players Invited to NFL Combine

Washington Post:
Four former Virginia Tech football players will represent the Hokies at this month’s NFL scouting combine, the league announced Tuesday morning. Running back David Wilson, cornerback Jayron Hosley and wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will all be in attendance Feb. 22-28 when the NFL puts top draft prospects through various drills and tests in Indianapolis.

Boykin and Coale, who rewrote Virginia Tech’s receiving records during their careers in Blacksburg, received their invitations last month. Wilson and Hosley, meanwhile, are part of a record 65 underclassmen that declared for the 2012 NFL draft. Only 55 received invitations to the combine, though.

All four former Hokies could improve their draft stock with an impressive showing in front of NFL personnel.

Wilson, who gained a school-record 1,709 rushing yards this past season, is seen as the second- or third-best running back in this year’s draft field depending on what draft guru one listens to. He could be picked in the first or second round.

Hosley said after the Sugar Bowl that the NFL draft advisory board told him he could go in the first or second round, but he could slip lower after he struggled at times this year. Hosley did, however, lead the country with nine interceptions in 2010.

Coale and Boykin are both seen as late-round picks or possibly undrafted free agents, and each must prove to scouts that they are athletic enough to play wide receiver in the NFL.

Safety Eddie Whitley, tight end Chris Drager and offensive linemen Blake DeChristopher, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal were among the Hokies’ players eligible for the draft who did not receive an invite to the combine.

But this year, the NFL is holding eight regional combines that those not invited to the main scouting combine can attend. The closest one to Blacksburg takes place this Saturday in Baltimore. Select participants will then get an invitation to a super regional combine in Detroit next month.

Virginia Tech will also hold its pro day for NFL scouts on March 15.

More information:
"Coale, Boykin are a Perfect 1-2 Punch for Virginia Tech"

Monday, February 6, 2012

NFL Super Bowl XLVI

New York Giants  21 : 17  New England Patriots
INDIANAPOLIS -- Eli Manning and the Giants one-upped Tom Brady and the Patriots again, coming back with a last-minute score to beat New England 21-17 Sunday night for New York's fourth Super Bowl title.

It was a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, when Manning led New York past New England to ruin the Patriots' bid for a perfect season.

This was the first Super Bowl with two starting quarterbacks who previously won the big game's MVP award -- and they took turns being brilliant. Manning started the game with nine straight completions, a Super Bowl record; Brady hit 16 straight over the second and third quarters, breaking Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of 13.

But in the end, it was Manning who directed the nine-play, 88-yard drive that put New York ahead when running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored the winning touchdown.

Brady couldn't answer in the final 57 seconds, although his heave into the end zone on the final play fell just beyond the grasp of lunging All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. Except this wasn’t the same Gronkowski, the tight end with the record 17 touchdown receptions and 1,327 receiving yards this season.

Brady headed off with his head bowed, holding his helmet, still one short of the record four Super Bowl victories by Terry Bradshaw for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Montana for the San Francisco 49ers.

It was the fifth trip to a Super Bowl for Brady and Belichick, tying the record. But New England (15-4), winner of 10 straight since a loss to the Giants in November, was done.

Manning finished 30 for 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown, while Brady was 27 for 41 for 276 yards with two TDs and one interception.

The Giants are the first Super Bowl winner that was outscored during the regular season, and they became the first team to finish the regular season 9-7 and win the title. They were 6-2 after that 24-20 victory at New England, then lost four straight and five of six.

Coach Tom Coughlin insisted "the prize" was still within reach. Now the Giants are holding tight to that Vince Lombardi Trophy.

"What I was concerned with was these guys making their own history," Coughlin said. "This is such a wonderful thing, these guys carving their own history."

Coughlin got his own piece of the record book as the oldest coach, at 65, to win a Super Bowl.

In the end, New York made the critical plays, just as it did in 2008. With Manning in the lead. Late-game dramatics have come to be his staple in his eighth NFL season. The Giants quarterback set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the regular season and won his second Super Bowl MVP on Sunday.

“No doubt in my mind at all,” said Giants WR Mario Manningham, speaking about the final scoring drive. “I wasn’t even concerned. I knew he was going to pull it through, man. We worked too hard to get here.”

“For a guy who had more pressure on him in the league than any other player because of his heritage and his family,” Michael Strahan said. “To play the way he played in two Super Bowls. Hats off to Eli. He’s definitely a deserving champion."

"That guy stole my MVP again,'' Justin Tuck (two sacks, three quarterback pressures) said.

“Yo, we going to see Obama!” Devin Thomas said.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Facebook's IPO Filing

Wall Street Journal:
Facebook Inc. filed for an initial public offering Wednesday that could value the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion, putting the company on track for one of the biggest U.S. stock-market debuts of all time.

The company hopes to raise as much as $10 billion when it begins selling shares this spring, said people familiar with the matter. Potential buyers got their first look at its financials Wednesday, which showed the company produced a $1 billion profit last year from $3.71 billion in revenues. The company derives 85% of those revenues from advertising, with the rest from social gaming and other fees.

Looming a few months away is Facebook's giant offering, which would top rival Google Inc.'s 2004 IPO. It holds the record for the largest U.S. Internet IPO by raising $1.9 billion at a valuation of $23 billion. Among U.S. companies, only Visa Inc., General Motors Co. and AT&T Wireless have held larger offerings than $10 billion. In the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook said it is seeking to raise $5 billion, but that figure is a placeholder and will likely grow.

But for all its success, the question remains just how Facebook will manage its growth into a mature, global business, keeping both advertisers and subscribers happy while balancing demands of privacy and profits. The filing left a few clues that Facebook's founder, 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, is worried about how wealth and public scrutiny may change the company's culture.

Still, Facebook's membership growth has been staggering. The company said in its filing that it has 845 million users globally, up 39% from a year earlier.

Overall, Facebook's annual revenue growth is slower than other tech companies who have staged IPOs recently. Groupon's revenue grew 695% for the nine months ended September 2011 from a year earlier. Zynga's revenue more than doubled for that same time period.

Unlike some other newly public Web companies, Facebook is profitable, with 2011 profit up 65% from the year earlier period. But growth has its costs. The company's research and development expenses ballooned last year to $114 million in 2011 from $9 million in 2010, primarily due to growth in employee head count and equity compensation. Facebook's costs and expenses are going up faster than revenue. It employs 3,200 as of December, up from 2,172 a year earlier.

But Kevin Landis, portfolio manager of Firsthand Technology Value Fund, Inc., which has bought Facebook shares in the secondary market, said he wasn't disappointed and hopes to buy more stock when Facebook goes public. "This is a company that has only just begun to scratch the surface of making money off those hundreds of millions of people getting on Facebook every day," he said.

More information:
Wealthy Investors Shrug at Facebook IPO
PC Magazine: The Big Picture