Seattle Storm – Best Ever?

September 24, 2010

Is the Storm Seattle’s best ever team? Is it the best sports team or perhaps the best community contributors? Is it the best ever or is it just the best ever hype? If best, how come the good people of Seattle largely ignored them for years? Why are the players paid so frugally if they are actually the best? How come the chauvinists among us get away with sexist comments about the sexual orientation of whoever involved, not based in any known facts? To my knowledge, no one claims the Seahawks and fans are all gay. And those sissies don’t even win games.Seattle Storm Logo

We are members of teams of our own, be it Team Mariners, Team Microsoft, Team Teamsters or Team Smith Family. Teams include Team Nazi Lowriders or Team Cosa Nostra. There are teams representing interests from A to Z, however insignificant in the greater scheme. Some are mandatory, others are looser. Mandatory or not, members generally view their team as the best ever. Thinking differently is treason.

Lenny Wilkins and Paul Silas in 1979 What kind of a team is the Seattle Storm? Stupid question, you say. They are the Seattle Storm, what else? That is certainly true. The question is whether or not they are the “best” team. First, the team concept is quite complex. It is a misused and an overused concept – as in this very post. Second, “best” is a loaded descriptor. Is the Storm a better team than the Team Smith (or whatever) Family? Is the Storm superior to Team Mother Theresa? Are they better than Team Lance Armstrong winding its way, year after year, up bone breaking Alpine and Pyrenees Mountains?

Take the Sonics for instance. I’m old enough to be sitting in a New York bar, sipping a brew or two on the eve of June 1, 1979. The Sonics crushed the Washington Bullets 4-1 to win the NBA title. Remember that team? Sikma, Silas, Johnson, Williams to mention a few. They are legends indeed. Here is another great team effort. I sat in a pub, sipping a pint or two, in Oxford, England when Team NASA put a Team on the Moon on July 20th 1969. “”That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”

Those are the good teams.

William Calley Back In The USEarlier, I was a sailor, not sipping beer, on a naval ship on November 22, 1963. Team Navy took on a completely different outlook right then and there on that day. A recent high school diploma provided no guidance in a World turning violent. Team US Army under William Calley raped and murdered My Lai on March 16, 1968. Team MLK lost their leader on April 4, 1968 to a deranged nobody. The murders of Bobby Kennedy, John Lennon, Israeli athletes and countless others followed. The Sixties and Seventies were not just about Team Free Love. Team IRA blew up the London Hilton, missing yours truly by a few hours. Later they blew up Harrods with me a block away. These kinds of teams can get personal.

Team America woke up on September 11, 2001, a date more familiar to many of you. Team Bush, recognizing an opportunity, declared war (“Bring’m on!”) on Muslims, human rights, the US constitution and nail clippers. Team Bush also led the rescue (“Heck of a job, Brownie”) of New Orleans, drowned by Katrina on August 29, 2005. Recently, Team Lehman Brothers met its Waterloo on Sept 1, 2008, (“We were just told in the last hour not to come back tomorrow”) but only after screwing you and me royally.My Lai Civilian Causalities

What has Bush to do with the Storm? Not much, to be true. But the Storm is not the only Team in town. By nature, teams are competitive, ready to let their jugulars go for your throat. Innocent as the Storm might be, they compete for your attention in a chaotic world. How do they succeed or fail in that quagmire? Can they, or are they, distanced and isolated from the bad guys? What precisely does the Storm influence and how from mere marketing can they reach?

There are bad teams.

Terrorist Holding Israeli Athletes Hostage

Teams change over time. The hippie teams of the chaotic seventies evolved into teams of Wall Street money jugglers. The eighties till today saw greed fuel economic disasters, over and over. Team Free Love led to Team Insider Trading. Works by Dr. Spock and Julia Child replaced Commie Manifestos. Bond Investing For Dummies and Investing Online For Dummies became instant hits as Mao’s Little Red Book hit the skids.

Team participation fell as we as individuals in wolf packs fought over the short-lived spoils of IPOs. Some invested in Icelandic banks that soon went belly-up. Others went for Russian mutual funds showing phenomenal growth until they mysteriously disappear to fund the expansion of child prostitution into Bend, OR.

Much earlier, the 1917 Team Bolshevik overthrow and knocked off a tyrant tsar. The early, relatively Lehman Brothers Big Shot moderate policies changed into Team Gulag and Team Terror. Team CIA started as a rather glorious Team OSS in the 2nd World War, dropping agents into Nazi Europe with huge radios that rarely worked. That team’s glory evolved into a huge powerhouse hidden from public and political oversight. At times, details leaked out, revealing the disgrace of Bay of Pigs and countless other scandals. In other developments, every self-respecting community salivate over their SWAT Teams dressed up in black Waffen-SS styled uniforms. Somewhat like mini-CIAs, these outfits ensure the bad guys become dead and stay that way as long as possible.Anotherv Lehman Brothers Big Shot

CIA’s Soviet nemesis of Team KGB is no longer alive. Their agents are now security consultants rather than murderous goons. One man rose from the secret, shadowy KGB cellars to become the Premier of Russia. Relatively peaceful farmer teams in Afghanistan, Columbia and South East Asia were told to switch to a different and very deadly crop with a combined dollar volume beyond the total industrial output of many countries. Americans of every kind raved for higher highs than what Team Jim Bean could provide. Meanwhile, the Catholic Priests crossed lines no one should cross with repercussions coming far too slowly from a witless team of old men, irrevocably out of touch, from the Pope and down.

Jonestown cultists had a last drink of Kool-Aid on November 18, 1978 after years of unremarkable activity.Team FBI et al shot out the Branch Davidian in billowing smoke and fire on April 19, 1993. By then, the little known Davidians had been in the church business since the 1950s with roots going back to the 1930s. Few knew these teams existed. They were faceless failures until their Big and Last Moment. By chance, I was within miles of Waco that morning. My next encounter with madness: on March 26, 1997, I flew into San Diego. The news of the Team Heaven’s Gate mass suicide that day greeted me with too much deja vu feelings.

Victims of the Jonestown mass suicide

We need to be thankful for the Storm. They play to our innocence, isolating bad teams from our tortured minds. There is no worry about mass suicides, lawmaker betrayals or abuse of our kids. The Storm could have been just another entertaining venue. The Storm is more than that. They inspire, lead and teach. They show what a role model is to our kids. Other teams do the same, but the sight of Sue Bird showing up at some gathering of kids is impressive indeed. After all, they are not therapists, they are professional athletes poised to win basketball games, not the Nobel Peace Prize.

There are really bad teams but the Storm isn’t one of them.

Everyone’s life includes “I was there” recollections. Some team was usually involved, sometimes withSue Bird of the Seattle Storm you involved, sometimes not. We recollect our teams’ greatest successes or failures. The successes are often onetime events, followed by long periods of mediocrity. The Sonics, for instance, never matched the 1979 success. In fact, they never again were memorable. A minor peak in the mid nineties brought a little glory. Jim McIlvaine, a 7’1” tower with no talent managed to end that short streak. Overpaid and under skilled, he was far more destructive off the court than on. The failures rate accelerated with new records in last place standings. In the end, Team Seattle bid them farewell with little team spirit left.
Team Bush’s War on the World, starting in 2001, was a minor jolt, in the very generous opinion of a few, following patriotic glow after 9/11. Bush proved that ignorance is not the best war tactic. Nine years of this nonsense brought not mediocrity but utter failure. Perhaps General Custer yelled the same war cry on June 25, 1876 as his team met a gruesome death. Team NASA hasn’t put anyone on the Moon for a long time. Even the Space shuttle is soon just a memory of… what?

Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm

What else about the Storm?

A few nights ago, the Seattle Storm earned its place on our personal Team of Dreams (no pun intended). The whole season, this team broke record after record, many unlikely to be matched any time soon. Around the world, few teams or even individuals can come even close to reach such heights. Be it Mohammed Ali, Babe Ruth, Pele, Garry Kasparov or the US Hockey team, most records aren’t close. This last season, the Storm was unbeatable. It was a beautiful thing to experience.

Of course, so far we considered only the Storm’s last season. They took a title in 2004, but then nothing till 2010. Perhaps, then, the Storm isn’t quite the only shooting star. Other teams, in sports and not, has matched the record. Team Taliban have their successes, for instance. So does Team Tea party to everyone’s astonishment, resentment or joy. Mohammed Ali

Thursday, September 16, 2010, the Storm won their WNBA championship. It was a gritty, relentless campaign from eliminating LA, then Phoenix to the end, Atlanta. I have not seen the intensity, focus and determination in any team ever before. It seemed to me that they shot better, ran better, defended better, hit more three pointers, fouled better and won better than any NBA team I remember

No other Seattle team comes close, on the court or off. Consider his off the court fame, Shawn Kemp was the guy hanging out in the late night bars and showing up for the game, if not drunk, with a royal hangover. Ruben Patterson and Dale Ellis are two guys not quite in control. Swin Cash of the Seattle Storm Gary Payton went brawling in a Toronto strip club. Kobe Bryant got his pleasures in Colorado. How about Mel Gibson and Tiger Woods? I don’t know of a single WNBA player with similar reputations. Should personal behavior off the court count? In my book, yes indeed. Who would you buy a used car from? Those guys or Lauren Jackson? I would be happy to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from Sue Bird. Wouldn’t you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010, the Storm won their championship. Yes, I know I just said that. After watching the game – man, was that some game or not – I turned to the usual Internet news sites, eager for more detail and more celebration. I checked the newspapers. The usual coverage consisted of a single canned report, repeated here and there. Two days later, there is no coverage at all and so it is. As far as news go, the Storm does not exist. Now, American Idol is back in charge.

The players are gone, heading to Europe, Russia and other places, joining other teams in the WNBA off season. Not only are the players ignored by much of the public, they are also paid a fraction of what any mediocre NBA punk shovels in. Working year-around for several teams, a WNBA player is far from pay parity with the NBA, NFL, AFL, MLB, PGA, NHL and other crowds. They just work three times as hard for much less money. But that’s the American Way.Lance Armstrong

A FIBA world championship that just got going in the Czech Republic, did you know? Sue, Swin and Lauren are there but not on the same team. Both Australia and the US teams are heavy favorites. Both crushed their opponents in the first games. So either Sue and Swin will add to their bags of glory or it will be Lauren racking it up. That assumes the team of Senegal doesn’t pull off a spectacular upset. Who can tell? Check it out.

Did you watch the men’s version of the same championship, held in Turkey a little while ago? Me neither. As is just about mandatory, the US men’s team cruised to the title with Kevin Durant dragging the rest of the gang along. In general, the real stars are absent from these events, being too busy counting their money and sipping Pina Coladas. After all, it’s off season, a time for rest and party.

Babe Ruth About Greatness

Is the Storm the best team ever? Scratch out the ever part, they were the best of the best for some glorious moments,. they rose to the top spanning a few months in 2010. No one can ever argue that away. They achieved something very precious. They rose to Greatness. Greatness is better than best. Greatness does not go stale; it is neither forgotten in minutes nor disputed by inferior minds. Greatness lasts. That’s what we’ll remember. Lauren, Sue, Swin and the rest are now in the league of Mohammed Ali, Babe Ruth and Lance Armstrong.

Next year, the Storm will play yet another season in Seattle’s Key Arena, an arena which isn’t seen fit for a male team. Will the Storm repeat the Dream? Probably not, but perhaps we all will care a bit more than in the past. Now we know Greatness. Let’s make sure we allow that Greatness to stay in Seattle.

Thanks for your attention

Probably most of you wonder “What on Earth is Earthrace”, a more fundamental question than the “Where” question. Yet another quite relevant question is what on Earth does something like Earthrace have to do with a blog devoted to lofty stuff like art, photography, ethics and political ramblings? After all, Art has a time horizon of thousands of years. Ansel Adams will live forever. Earthrace will not. So why bother?

All of which are very good questions. Not only that but what does Earthrace have to do with the by now oh-so-boring subject of Global Warming, the total madness of the America’s Cup and, as if that isn’t enough, the farcical Earthrace thunderbattle of Oklahoma City versus Seattle in the quest for the Seattle Supersonics – currently close to the title of the Worst Team in the NBA? The team is the worst in the 40 years of its Seattle franchise.

What’s the common factor? Wait and thou shall see. First, what is the Earthrace fuss is all about? Earthrace is a New Zealand powerboat that is currently under way to set a World Record circumnavigating Earth in less than about 75 days. The boat will do this on a Zero Carbon Print using biodiesel – similar to the vegetable oil you buy in supermarkets – and purchased Carbon Credits. Thus it tied itself to Global Warming and various Environmental Issues.

Where on Earth is Earthrace?

By the time you read this, no doubt the mystery causing the question above is resolved. But as of this moment, the onboard GPS system places Earthrace at a position just north of Puerto Rice. The GPS position claims the boat went the wrong direction for the past 24 hours in open Caribbean waters at a speed of some 15 knots. Not only that, but the actual position did not changed during that time. That, of course, makes no sense.Earthrace under way at speed

Clearly, some unplanned event is underway, be it the transponder washing overboard, the boat’s infamous head blowing up, Caribbean pirates boarding the vessel or the crew agreeing to start new lives in Haiti. Perhaps the Bermuda Triangle or Roswell UFO’s are involved.

At the moment of writing these lines, there is no official or inside reaction to this mystery. Earthrace is silent, news is silent and even Clinton or Osama have nothing to say on the subject, being unduly preoccupied with “pivotal” primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.

Maybe they simply ran out of cooking oil, aka biodiesel. The regular oil price is now well over $120 per barrel, so Earthrace’s point is really important. As you see the oil price pass $150 on its way to $200 and beyond with a $10 gas price, you’ll be painfully aware why that is so.

Biodiesel – Smells Better Than Your Mercedes

Even George Bush seems to know about biodiesel. As always, his point of view differs from that of every one else. He thinks it will save us from being fried by hot air which may be slightly plausible. Then he translates that into a need to redirect precious American Greenbacks from Muslim Terrorist States such as Norway and Russia to Deserving Republican Christian Farmers in Minnesota. Lastly, he opinionates that this brave initiative absolves the US guilt as the baddest Global Warmer on earth. That’s where he really goes over the edge.

Others, such as economists, point out that biodiesel will more likely fry our wallets for no better reason than making those few (Republican) farmers stinking rich. Environmentalist claim that making a few select farmers rich is rarely good for the environment – look at the sugar industry in Florida filling the Everglades with fertilizer runoff, killing most life. Not only that, but the farmers won’t get rich from their own efforts but from public subsidies courtesy of Dubya – that is, you and me pay to get more expensive gas. Lucky us. Of course, George W. finds this all hilarious. George Bush having a good time

Lastly, agricultural gurus mention that switching food farm land to gas land might starve us (or more accurately, starve Africans, Indians and the Chinese), while others remain fried by Global Warming or choked by bad air. Simultaneously, all kinds of species go extinct due to, among other things, the runoffs of biodiesel related pollution into rain puddles, streams, lakes, your tap water and oceans. Starvation or your health won’t benefit. The nasty effects of continuing to cut down the Amazon and Indonesian forests in order to feed your Hummer and air conditioner remain.

Do you really want to pay for this biodiesel thing? Controversial, nasty, silly, even stupid? Wait a minute – before answering, before rejecting – ask yourself – Do I Have a Better Idea? Well, some of us might have better ideas but none of those are without some controversy. There are no simple Cinderella answers to the issues of Global Warming, the Environment, World Energy, World Starvation, your Hummer, your personal Airline Miles and undisputable right to a chilled environment.

The issues are not answered by the Forest Gump attitudes of George Bush, Tree Huggers, ExxonMobil, Global Warming Skeptics, World Bank Reactionaries, Whale Lovers, Florida Sugar Farmers, Stern Reports, Huge Computer Simulations, the Number of Hurricanes This Season or the Depth of Snow on My Driveway Yesterday, Democrat Senate Hearings about going-nowhere questions, Al Gore, EPA revolts against the White House, WTO Haters, the Supreme Court, Kyoto Protocols or CRT’s.

Around the Globe They Go

Consider the kerosene bluish exhaust clouding the sky when thousands of well chilled Climate Scientists fly to Important UN IPCC conferences, working groups, technical presentations, dinner tables, resorts and safaris in business oriented locations such as :

  • Nairobi, Paris, Kyoto, Bangkok, Bruxelles, Geneva, Helsinki, Lubeck, Budapest, Manila, Washington DC, La Reunion, Rio de Janeiro, Cairns, Addis Ababa, Sao Paulo, Oviedo, Lima, Beijing, Laxenburg, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Montreal, Churchchrist, Sydney, Merida, Cape Town, Port Louis, Bergen, Paris, Exeter, Saint Agustine, Doha, New Delhi, undisclosed locations in Colorado and the Netherlands, Victoria, Valencia, Amsterdam, Colombo, Maynooth, Tokyo, Tucson, Honolulu, Seville, Potsdam, Nadi (Fiji), Trieste, Boulder, Vienna, Marrakesh, Bali, New York City, Bonn, Davos, Oslo, Johannesburg, Wembley, Shanghai and Accra. Excuse me if I missed a few spots.

That’s not to imply biodiesel is the only Important Issue pondered by the Scientists and Politicians of the UN and the IPCC as they suffer from jet lag and loss of sleep in Fiji. Far from it. But the travel of these guys on their undisclosed quest costs literally billions of bucks, not to mention generates untold tons of CO2. Has it reduced Global Warming, saved the Environment or resolved Global Hunger? Did they reduce the anguish of Intuits, polar bears, Antarctic krill, Swedish lemmels or Peruvian skiers? Of course not. The Arctic heat wave, the thawing of Siberian tundra and the vanishing of Alpine glaciers is accelerating, not abiding. Bush remains stoically unengaged and sees no need for action.

here is Earthrace

Nor is biodiesel the only issue facing the Earthrace people. The Earthracers are quick to point out they do not promote biodiesel but simply aim at informing the World about alternative fuels. Fair enough but probably not quite the way their sponsors see it. All in all, it is a better idea to run this diesel guzzling race horse on biodiesel than on ordinary oil if indeed it is necessary to do so in the first place. But the circumnavigators have other crucial issues to consider.

For instance, lately they’ve had a fatal breakdown of the onboard Head (aka toilet), gushes of biodiesel Pete looking aheadshowering them and the autopilot giving out while trade winds mysteriously changed direction 180 degrees, much to the crew’s discomfort. In earlier adventures, the Head gave out (again), food went missing, the Salvadorian Navy shot at them, Guatemalan courts and navies detained them (rightfully), EC Customs and Indian Harbor Masters blackmailed them, propellers went mushy, biodiesel disappeared, shafts behaved like spaghetti, bearings burnt, parts ended up wherever Earthrace was not, 1,065 horsepower engines jumped off their foundations, the hull eventually broke up while waves continuously knocked the crew silly.

Such trials notwithstanding, the Earthracers managed to touch on quite a bit of geography in their quest. Here is a list of past and future ports of Promotion, not counting the 12 ports of refuel for the Around the Worlds Record Attempt:

  • Auckland, Tairua, Whitianga, Tauranga, Paihia, Opua, Keri Keri, Whangarei, Whangaroa, Whitianga, Whangamata, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, Half Moon Bay, Bluff and Raglan, Maui, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Morro Bay, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Newport, San Diego, Oceanside, Redondo, Long Beach, Marina Del Ray, Fort Lauderdale, Wilmington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Indian River Marina, Baltimore, Hilton Head, Key West, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Miami Boat Show, St Petersburg, Tampa, Houston, New Orleans, Mobil, Pensicola, Destin, Cork, Halmstad, Gothenburg, Oslo, Karlskrona, Bornholm, Rostock, Copenhagen, Helsingor, Kiel, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dublin, Waterford, Cardiff, Bristol, Fowey, Jersey,Rouen, Paris, I’lle de Re, Porto, Lisbon, Vilamoura (Algarve), Benalmadena, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Barcelona, London, England, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Bundaberg, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Coffs harbour,
    Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney, Woolongong, Melbourne, Launceston, Hobart, Opua, Whangaroa, Russel, Paihia, Kerikeri, Whangarei, Gulf Harbour, Milford, Auckland, Whitianga, Tairua, Whangamata, Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Whakatane, Opotiki, Tolaga Bay, Gisborne, Napier, Picton, Nelson, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Oamaru, Timaru, Dunedin, Bluff, Milford, Westport, Greymouth, Kapati Coast, Wanganui, Kawhia, Raglan, Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Hamilton, Cornwallis, Hokianga.

Oh, That Earthrace Vortex

Here is the clincher. The IPCC people spend billions of your and my money to pursue an unattainable goal of curing the ills of the World. The Earthrace people spend practically nothing – or, correctly, they Earthrace Bridgedo not spend your dollars, crowns, pesetas, yen or even Euros. There are some sponsors but that does not include George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates or Bono. More likely the sponsors include small manufacturers of bio friendly, slippery boat bottom paint or mysterious equipment such as carbon fiber steering wheels.

The big spender is the soul behind Earthrace – a New Zealander named Pete Bethune. He mortgaged his home, friends, relatives and no doubt every cat, cow and banker in New Zealand to build a 78 foot power boat with which he intends to set a record almost no one has ever heard about. While supported by a tiny but enthusiastic army of unpaid volunteers, Pete IS Earthrace. Not only that, he is still married to the same wife he was when this all started. My own exes took off on far smaller issues.

The tiny armies of supporters include the Boat Crew to drive the boat around the Globe in less than 75 days, a Ground Crew to stay a bit ahead of the boat to ensure the Head will work, biodiesel gets loaded, harbor masters bribed and food is both purchased and actually loaded on the boat. They will straighten bent shafts, replace bearings, patch holes in the hulls and perhaps arrange for showers for a rather smelly boat crew.

All the Comforts of Home, They Said

Earthrace does not have a shower. Nor is there air conditioning or even normal ventilation due to weight restrictions. The rebellious ($10,000) head is a somewhat controversial afterthought only recently equipped with a door. There is no kitchen (known as galley) or gourmet cooking. The venture’s operating standard says that one pound of soap, Foie gras or spare socks means one less pound of biodiesel which does not compute in the minds of record setters.

Broken ribs, bruises and other injuries are not uncommon. Sleep time consists of being tossed around on and sometimes off a tiny berth. The panorama windows are all of a few inches high, perhaps reminding you of the Maginot Line Bunkers of the 1930s. The Promenade Deck is several feet long but usually indoors as the boat actually travels underwater part of the time. Wearing hearing protection is highly recommended during passage as the noise level is a steady 85 dB, which is loud indeed – similar to a lawnmower or heavy truck next to your pillow. The Doctor is not in, nor is the cruise director, cabin steward, bingo caller or chef.Earthrace Luxurious Quarters

Incidentally, you can enjoy this luxury by purchasing a berth as a guest of the crew. You’ll dine with the Captain, do the dishes and pay around ten times the price of that boring cruise on Queen Elizabeth II. You will get a copy of Pete’s book to make you remember this splendid occasion and the bragging rights of a life time. Perhaps they’ll throw in a t-shirt as well.

There are 12 refuel/repair stops as the team roars around the world. The goal is to get the boat underway in less than 4 hours at each stop. That means the Earthrace Boat Crew will have a total port time of 48 hours during their 70-75 day trip. Not even WWII uboaters or Vikings had to put up with such nonsense.

The Ground Crew relies on miracles rather than ordinary money to fly or swim themselves and a few tons of spares to the next port of refueling and repairs. When they by chance get to that port of call, they rarely have food and beds waiting for them or paid for. They rely on a secondary army of local volunteers and school kids to make just about everything work. There is a small London based crew to handle the big task of contributions and public relations on, perhaps, the standard Earthrace employment contract of eternal glory but no pay, aka known as the Earthrace VORTEX.

The Low Point

The number of times these guys have been out of money would boggle the mind of even my banker. Somehow they manage and the saga goes on. You see, this is the second attempt to win that record. The first one ended in June of last year after “almost” getting there bar a suicidal gash in the hull and a Earthrace - The Low Pointgreat many other misfortunes. Perhaps they suffered a bit from mismanagement, inexperience and plain bad luck. Either way, the boat ended up in Valencia, Spain which is far away from New Zealand indeed.

They did, however, bag the speed record passing through the Suez Canal to the joy of both the Suez people and the crew.

By coincident, Valencia hosted the America’s Cup at the time, a subject we’ll spend some upcoming time on. Earthrace tried to vitalize their dwindling fortunes by hiring out as a spectator boat for the races; quite a change from their own World Record Race pursuits. Seemingly, that venture did not add much to the coffers and largely the World gave them up for dead. Pete Bethune headed for the airport and was unheard of for the next six months. As it turned out he wrote a book about the misfortunes which is selling quite well in New Zealand. It is not currently available on Amazon but I hope it will be.

Somehow the venture revitalized itself. Early this year, Pete was back in full racing gear with an almost completely new cast of characters around him. On April 27, Earthrace crossed the Spanish starting line for its second record attempt.

Is there a point?

When it is all over and finished with, pivotal people get associated with specifics. Ralph Nader is the miser complaining about just about everything. Michael Jackson is the front guy for plastic nose jobs. Britney Spears is the juxtaposition of parenthood (shared with the good Michael). Sylvester Stallone is Rambo.Pete worries

Dick Cheney will be remembered for undisclosed locations and loyalties to strange and mysterious friends and pals. James Bond is forever married to shaken, not stirred martinis. Hugh Hefner cornered the market for circular beds. Martha Steward is the Queen of Who-Knows-What. Bill Clinton is the Monica Guy, Hillary, as we are all aware, is not some little woman, standing by her man, like Tammy Wynette.

On the balance, George Bush will be the Top Gun on the issues of Global Warming, Energy and the Environment. The judgment will be a harsh one unless somehow the twisted, ignorant, uninformed, naive, plain wrong, lethargic, uninterested views of this midget turns out to be true, chance of which is similar to hell freezing over.

Of course, Georgie will be remembered for other items too. He blew a couple of Wars, committed all kinds of War Crimes. Violated Civil Rights, ignored the Supreme Court, did a heck of a job with Katrina, while missing out on Fairness, Compassion, Decency, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, Israel-Palestine, Budget Deficits and English Grammar. He even miraculous missed out personally on the Vietnam War. George Bush Grinning

On the other hand we have Pete Bethune, the guy that put just about everything he owned or could lay his hands on for a personal dream and then pursued it to the very limits of what he calls Kiwi grit. He has spent some four years (or more) with little reward from the rest of the World except for a handful of dreamers drawn into the Earthrace “Vortex”. Or perhaps it is simply the adventure of circling this globe doing cool stuff.

It is of course folly to compare George Bush and Pete Bethune. They have nothing in common except occasional strange grammar. But let’s go on to some other interesting people. Let’s tackle the America’s Cup in all its not so spotless fortunes by all its not so snow white contending millionaires and – these days – billionaires. Ladies and gentlemen – scandals, backstabbing and intrigues galore to make a mark on the ugliest trophy in history using multi million dollar boats with a zero lasting value.

The Most Expensive Demolition Derby in History

Don’t get me wrong. I love the America’s Cup. I think the races are truly thrilling. I gloat over the ruthlessness of the “competition”. The personalities often are as absurdly self centered eccentrics as any James Bond villain. Remember Goldfinger going after Fort Knox? Or the treacherous Dr No? How about Blofield or the evil SMERSH or SPECTRE?

In America’s Cup we have a bunch of people whomay not quite be out to destroy the World but rather to demolish whatever competition there is. Nathanael Herreshoff (Naval Architect of the Fabulous Herreshoff Period 1893-1920), Harold Vanderbilt (Railroad fortunes, a viscous bridge player), Ted Turner (Ex of Jane Fonda and CNN), Sir Thomas Lipton (Yep, the Tea Guy), Charles E. Nicholson (Secretary of The Navy and the Dean of American Helmsmen), Sir Peter Blake (Creating the Golden Era of the New Zealand Cup Races), Baron Marcel Bich (The Pen Guy from France), T.O.M Sopwith (Father of WWI Sopwith Camel Fighter), Bill Koch (Koch Industries), Thomas Egerton (2nd Earl of Wilton, who effectively created the Cup in 1851 and immediately lost it to America and various courts in New York), Alan Bond (Australian Riches to Rags Business man winning the Cup but ending up in jail) and finally Ernie the WinnerDennis,
Conner, a San Diego occasional business man, sailor and the man losing the Cup not only once but twice.

Here is the common factor of almost all of these Cup hopefuls. They are self made rags to riches industrialists with far too much money matched only by huge insecurities. The true blue bloods – the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Queens and Princes, Wallenbergs, Carnegies, Vanderbilts (with an exception) or Bernadottes wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as the vulgar upstart sharks.

More recently, the Main Honchos include Louis Vuttion of handbag fortunes with his own little Cup. Other fanatically rich competitors include Patrizio Bertelli of Prada fashion riches, John McCaw of Telecommunication billions and now two of the biggest, baddest egos of them all: Larry Ellison of Oracle and Ernesto Bertarelli of Swiss biotech money.

Apart from having billions of US dollars and Swiss francs, what about these guys? Both spent mega money to win a silver cup of questionable value. A main difference is that Larry won nothing in two challenges over close to 10 years of efforts while Ernie took the cup twice. Having won nothing on the water, Larry recently turned to the proven basic business tactic of suing Ernie. Larry’s fortunes soared – he won his cases in court and can now race the nasty Swiss in a private Cup event without having to lose to other challengers as has been his history so far. Larry’s most recent record is a 1-5 loss to the Italian Prada billionaire. The Italians then went on to a 0-5 record to the New Zealanders who, in turn lost 2-5 to the Swiss. In other words, the score is Larry 3, the Swiss 15.

Such a score did not sit too well with Larry who went on to shrewdly steal Ernie’s best sailors. In fact, Ernie himself had previously stolen the same guys away from the then winniest teams – New Zealand. By stealing the sailors, Ernie won the Cup but egos flared, the biggest New Zealander brain left Ernie and immediately joined Larry’s team. Things looked up for Larry. Not to be beaten that easily, Swiss Ernie forgot that he himself won the Cup by the same people stealing tactics. Using shady rules and a court of his own, Ernie introduced his own rule prohibiting Larry from actually use his expensive New Zealanders. Larry lost again and Ernie kept the Cup, which to this day remains in a Geneva vault.

Larry telling his storyAs you might gather, there is little love between the New Zealanders and their former Swiss employer. Larry and Ernie complete the picture by mutually hating the other’s guts and acting accordingly. Meanwhile, lawyers congratulate themselves on new fortunes as do the New Zealanders. It’s nice to own something billionaires fight over.

Of course the all out war continues. Did any of you see the movie “The War of The Roses”. Danny deVito, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner stars in a perfect introduction to the spirit and tactics used in America’s Cup racing. Meanwhile, normal people looking at this mess see only two fools doing nothing but whining and wasting money that would keep an average town in food and shelter for scores of years.

You see, it takes around $100 million to raise a credible America’s Cup challenge and about the same to defend it. Apart from the costly people stealing and court battles, the money is spent on building racing machines of zero value outside the America’s Cup race courses. The total budget for a typical America’s Cup series easily runs into billions.

These overpriced, over designed and overfeed vessels are hardly able to get around a few miles of racing in one piece. The last New Zealander defense sailed the finals in a multi million dollar boat that continuously filled up with water due to a rather basic design problem (“keep the sides of the boat above water”). The crew bailed rather than raced around the course. After all, you have to stay afloat to win a race. Earlier, an Australian boat broke in two and sank in minutes. An unlucky crew member pumped the mast hydraulics a tad too much, folding the boat in half. No one was hurt; the Aussies coolly called for a second boat and went on from there. Grit in the face of foolishness.

They can sail in neither light air, nor in anything beyond moderate weather without sinking, losing masts, keels or $100,000 spinnakers. The sails are made from exotic stuff that tends to Larry's Rising Sunliterally explode. The hulls have odd bulbs and hollows designed to fool the system and the competition. The keels are made of spent uranium but occasionally break off or down. The boat crews, wearing layers of white gooey to save themselves from skin cancer, have private chefs, personal trainers and munch potent energy bars.

The hosting cities spend billions on new marinas to accommodate Larry Ellison’s modest 452 foot “Rising Sun” yacht (82 cabins on 5 decks). The cities arrange opening galas, closing galas and intermediate galas. New, dedicated “America’s Cup villages” are subject to security worthy of JFK on a good day to protect against the Muslim suspects of Bush’s War on Terror, sometimes confused with the Italian team. Shoes are examined for explosives and care is taken to ensure the possibly radioactive keels do not fall in Iraqi or Iranian hands. Or the hands of Larry Ellison as it may be.

Some people claim America’s Cup is not only Big Business but Good Business. Who on Earth do they kid?

The Fundamental Rule of sports

Any sport is a curious mix of fan devotion, money, politics and immensely talented players and competitors. The players provide entertainment to a devoted and loyal audience, capitalizing on local and or national pride. Some are compensated for their efforts at a mind boggling rate. Still, Seattle people take immense pride in their Sonics, Storm, Sounders, Mariners, Seahawks and UW teams. So do the people of New Orleans, Los Angeles, Manchester, Turin, Barcelona and Nome, Alaska (“The Nome Nanook Basketball team”). In Europe and Latin America, pride may extend into violence, riots, hooliganism. In the US, the beer and hot dog industry as well as broadcasters, commentators and bookies benefit greatly.

Pre race maneuversBut sports would not exist without the fans. Here is the curious thing. While Seattle, say, loves their Sonics, with few exceptions the Sonics organization has only a superficial connection with Seattle. Seattle is a place for the team to play “home” games, cultivate their fan base and show off a dance team while doing some of the practicing in a home facility. Sonics owners, players, coaches and other dignitaries have no links with Seattle. They may be from France, Croatia, Idaho, China, Nome, Alaska or Oklahoma City. Yet, somehow, they represent “Seattle”. Really?

As a matter of fact, it only takes only some hours to load up a few buses and hightail out of town as some Seattle fans will recall actually happened a few years ago. Links to the community? Loyalty? Nah.

Most professional sports work the same way. Canadian hockey clubs are made up by Swedes, Russians, Czechs and the occasional Finn. The picture is similar in European soccer or American baseball. The players are a worldwide commodity traded back and forth on the whims of rich owners. The fans that actually pay for the whole thing have no say whatsoever.

The picture is a bit different in major international sports, say the Olympics. Suddenly, nationalism becomes important. The international player commodities head home to compete for the national teams. English soccer stars return from Italy or Los Angeles to play for England, the Queen and Bangers. The American basketball team might include Shaquille O’Neal or Allen Iverson, but not Yao Ming, Vladimir Radmanovic, Steve Nash or Dikembe Mutombo.

America’s Cup is certainly an international event but does not build on the nationalism of the Olympics or World Cup soccer. Instead, there are some arcane and somewhat hilarious rules that the boat is built ground up nationally in all its exotic materials. Those materials, of course, are not national at all but worldwide commodities. High end sailing technology is not a national industry although America’s Cup Alinghi A Born Winnerclaims it is. Yet the idea is that the boat is what counts, not the people sailing her.

The crew of an America’s Cup boat is a revolving door variation of the mix, buy and trade of Italian soccer clubs or the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Swiss team is headed by an Italian billionaire living in the French part of Switzerland. The “Swiss” sailing team of 2007 included New Zealander Brad Butterworth, German Jochen Shuemann and Peter Holmberg of the US Virgin Islands. Paul Cayard, another key Cup personality, skipper and helmsman competed for the United States, Italy, Spain, Sweden and no doubt others. Son, go where the money is.

Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team was headed by Chris Dickson who competed for New Zealand, Japan and Germany in previous events. The Oracle Team also included Bertrand Pace of France. Russel Coutts is the controversial and notorious America’s Cup Winning Machine from New Zealand. He logged Cup victories for the Kiwis, then gave the Cup to the Swiss and now is set to do the honors for Larry.

The short of it is that America’s Cup has little or no connection to the concept of fans or national pride. The Cup exists to satisfy Nouveau Riche owners using the ordinary production factors of money, sailors, designers and secrets traded back and forth. Much more fun than curing cancer. No means of possible success are ignored. Midnight dives to pry loose competitor’s hull and keel secrets, bribes, courtroom tactics… the list is long. Sportsmanship is not in fashion. Winning in money spent, the court room or on the water is all the same.

Imagine extending some of the America’s Cup ideas of sportsmanship, such as the Lakers suing because the Maverick’s scalp wax is clearly more slippery than rules allow or the Trailblazers hitting the Sun as O’Neal’s girth now seems clearly above 59 1/2 inches without O’Neal compensating by removing 2 1/4 inches from his height. Daily protest meeting would be needed to resolve issues such as whether or not Steve Nash illegally overtook Kobe Bryant on a starboard tack without securing a proper overlap while Bryant was steering a proper course. Or perhaps Kevin Garnett would show up in a skirt to hide from the opposing team his revolutionary new legs made from kevlar and plutonium? Fans would be thrilled.

A look at Earthrace reveals a parallel pattern. That effort is based out of New Zealand on mostly Kiwi money, as far as can be deducted. Yet the current crew includes only one person – Pete Bethune – of that country. The PR team is British. The Boat Crew is made up by Pete, a Swedish navigator and two Brits. The Ground Crew consists of an Irishman, a Hungarian and a Portuguese.

What is the Common Ground?

Biodiesel, whaling, ExxonMobil, Global Warming, Money, Intrigue, Egos, National Pride, Fans, Mix and Trade, Boating, Records…. Larry Ellison, Russel Coutts, Ernesto Bertarelli. George Bush and Al Gore. Shaquille O’Neal, David Beckham and Yao Ming. Various supporting casts; A few hundred major league sailors, maybe a thousand supreme basketball and soccer players. In the case of the politics of Global Warming and the Environment – again, perhaps a few thousand key politicians and scientists.

Cutting it even closer, big time politics such as war and peace, global warming and mankind survival is, will be and always was decided by just a few people, most with no qualifications to decide such matters. Hate it or not, George Bush’s absurd ideas may well determine life for generations to come. Out of the past, Adolf Hitler’s influence is still in plain view. So is that of Joseph Stalin. Harry Truman started the Cold War when he wiped out two Japanese cities. Mankind will forever suffer the consequences. Yalta Conference Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill

America’s Cup directly involves thousands of participants and, they claim, billions of spectators. Yet only two people actually count. Larry Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli call the shots to their mutual and exclusive joy, mistrust, hate and anguish, if any. On a more local level, the fate of the Seattle Supersonics rests with an Oklahoma guy named Clay Bennett who is no stranger to backdoor politics. He alone is likely to end the longest lasting local professional sports franchise in America. Millions of Washington fans – stand back. All three Oklahoma fans will be thrilled.

Earthrace is not quite as sinister a case as is politics and professional sports. But the venture does borrow many features from those other cases. It has few roots on a local or national level – certainly not in its native New Zealand – the crews are dominantly European. Sponsors are from all over. It is the brain child of one and only one person – Pete Bethune, filled with Kiwi determination and grit. What Pete says goes.

So you take a look around and you will perhaps realize that this world is run by a very small number of people. Most of those are in place not because “the people” approved them or their aims but because of ego driven, personal power trips. Many if not most of these cats are not very nice. They certainly do not have your best in mind. I’d hate to walk into Larry Ellison’s office and ask for my disability payment or food for my kids. Or to awaken Harry Truman to find out why we needed to spend trillions on the ability to wipe ourselves off the face of Earth a thousand times over. Some have asked George Bush why hundreds of thousands have to die in Iraq. Few get the chance to ask such questions twice.

And this we call, with pride, a compassionate, democratic world? Hah.

Where is Earthrace?

Well, that mystery is cleared up. No controversy, no UFO’s or Bermuda Triangle at this time. The Earthrace GPS system now says the boat is back on a reasonable course doing good speed towards the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean legs. Still, there is little explanation for over 24 hours worth of disappearing act. The word is there was a delay in biodiesel delivery but that does not tally with the GPS track. So be it. I’m pretty sure, that no billionaires are tampering, spying, trading secrets or generally stabbing each other in the back in this case. Not even does it seem likely it’s Bush’s fault. Earthrace is back on track and that is a good thing.

Go Earthrace.

Pay them (literally) a visit at >> their site <<, filled with all kinds of videos, blogs, GPS stuff and info. But do take care – you may end up with the Earthrace Vortex!

Thanks to all of you! Karl

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