Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Game of Thrones (S4E02) : "The Lion and the Rose"

Episode 2 of Season 4 of Game of Thrones is titled "The Lion and The Rose." It aired last Sunday and happily I was able to see it live, and even warned my readers that you might want to tune in as well. Similar to "The Rains of Castamere" (S3E09) from last season, which also featured an important wedding, "The Lion and the Rose" is one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series of books and becomes another example of must-see television, in fact some of the most gripping and affecting television scenes in living memory.

Many others observers have already posted their thoughts on this episode, with most expressing delight at what transpired. Generally, I have been using these posts to describe my reactions to the show and have been doing so in a way that is not spoiler free so I see no reason to start now!

"The Lion and the Rose" features the event fans of the book call "The Purple Wedding," which is something of a play on  the phrase "The Red Wedding," which is what the slaughter of the Starks is known as in the books. At the Purple Wedding, King Joffrey Baratheon, one of the key villains in the story is dispatched at his own wedding, clearly poisoned by persons unknown.

S4E02 begins with a horrendous scene where Ramsay is literally treating a woman as prey by hunting her with vicious, ravenous dogs with Reek (formerly Theon) in tow. We also get to spend
time with Bran, the Reeds and Hodor. Bran's scene is especially enlightening because we see that as soon as he touches a weirwood he has visions of the past, the future and the present (events happening very far away). Additionally, there were important scenes between Shae and Tyrion (where he finally was forced to humiliate the woman he loved in order to save her life), Cersei and Brienne (where in a few short seconds Cersei was able to get Brienne to realize that her feelings towards Jaime may be more than simply chivalrous) and Loras and Jaime (who had a very amusing pissing match over Cersei, whom one of them is engaged to marry but does not love while the other loves but is unable to marry). The other events that happened in this episode occurred at Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon (one of the Five Kings in the original "War of the Five Kings" from Seasons 1-3 of the show) is going along with Lady Melissandre's acts of burning people t the stake if they fail to renounce their religious beliefs in the seven gods instead of following her Lord of Light, R'hllor.

The Lion and the Rose refers to the sigils (symbols) of the great Houses being joined together by the marriage of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. The Lannister sigil is a Golden Lion (on red background) and the Tyrell sigil is a Golden Rose (on a green background).

There were many highlights of this episode
  • Ding Dong The Witch King Is Dead! Joffrey's death scene was astonishing. For people who had not read the books and did not see it coming it must have been a horrendous (albeit welcome) surprise to witness King Joffrey's demise, on his wedding day no less.
  • Family Drama. The tension between Joffrey and his uncle Tyrion was exquisite and excruciating at the same time. The Lannisters are one of the most dysfunctional families of all time. It is no surprise that as soon as Cersei sees her son take his last breath in her arms, she immediately turns her grief and rage towards the person she most hates in the world, who happens to be her brother Tyrion.
  • Spare No Quarter. The production design was truly impressive. After all, what is more elaborate than a royal wedding? The actual wedding took place in the show's greatest set: the Sept of Baelor and the scale of the post wedding festivities was truly awe-inspiring.

Nothing is perfect; even this classic episode had some  flaws.  The only one I think worth mentioning is:
  • It Reeks. The entire thread between Ramsay and Reek/Theon is entirely distasteful. At least it has evolved from straight-up "torture-porn" from Season 3 to merely over-the-top and disgusting

Grade: 10/10 (A).
Overall,  S4E02 was one of the most cathartic episodes of television of all time. After three full seasons  of hating Joffrey Baratheon the audience finally was able to see him get his comeuppance and it was well worth it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

India High Court Recognizes Third Gender (Neither Male Nor Female)

Good news from India. A few months after the High Court upheld that country's archaic sodomy law, the court has now ruled that transgender citizens of India must be recognized as a separate third gender.

Reuters reports:
"Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," the Supreme Court's two-judge bench said in its ruling. 
"Transgenders are also citizens of India. The spirit of the constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender."
A person who is transgender does not identify with the gender stated on their birth certificate.
The court ruling - which came after hearing a petition filed by a group of transgenders demanding equal rights - recognized the community as a marginalized group and directed authorities to implement policies to improve their socio-economic status. 
The petitioners' lawyers said that this would mean that all identity documents, including a birth certificate, passport and driving license would recognize the third gender, along with male and female. 
The government will also have to allocate a certain percentage of public sector jobs, seats in schools and colleges to third gender applicants, said lawyer Sanjeev Bhatnagar. 
Due to their lack of access to jobs and education, many male-to-female transgenders - also known as "hijras" - are forced to work as sex workers or move around in organized groups begging or demanding money.
As Joe.My.God points out, India is the third country, after Nepal (2009) and Bangladesh (2013). Germany has become the first European country to recognize "undetermined" as the gender of new born children, but this policy is more about intersexuals than transgender individuals.

QUEER QUOTE: VA AG Files Brief Arguing His State's Marriage Law Is Unconstitutional

The Democratic Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring, has made good on his statement that he did not think that his state's marriage law could survive constitutional scrutiny has filed a brief before a federal appellate court articulating this argument in no uncertain terms.

The following excerpt from the state's brief in Bostic v. Rainey filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is today's Queer Quote:
The ban cannot satisfy the rational-basis test, let alone more demanding scrutiny. McQuigg’s claim that the purpose of marriage is to channel couples into a procreative relationship for the benefit of children is belied by controlling Supreme Court authority that marriage protects those choosing not to procreate and those who are unable to. And the Clerks’ argument fails the rational-basis test because it is irrational to think that prohibiting gay people from marrying will make heterosexual couples more like to marry and have children.  
The Clerks’ position cannot be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s three decisions to date protecting the rights of gay people. Those decisions, among others, also show why the Supreme Court’s one-sentence dismissal in Baker v. Nelson, in 1972, cannot be read to trivialize the issue presented here.  
The Clerk’s slippery-slope arguments are the same ones used to oppose interracial marriage in 1967; they are no more persuasive today than then. And just as in 1967, the Court should not wait to protect the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights simply because political trends suggest that the public increasingly supports marriage equality.
Hat/tip to Equality on Trial 

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Favorite Sci-Fi Books "The Expanse" Will Become a SyFy TV Series!

Amazing news this week about a future television show! My favorite science fiction series is The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. He is the author responsible for the books Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate. The fourth book in the series, called Cibola Burn, comes out
this June.

The books are hard-core space opera thrillers with aliens, battles between vehicles in space, humans living in varying gravities throughout the solar system. One review of the first book said "As close as you'll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form" so it is interesting that word comes this week that SyFy has announced that it is ordering a  full10-episode first season (not just a pilot) of a television adaptation of The Expanse.

Entertainment Weekly reports:
Syfy has given a direct-to-series order to an exciting-sounding new project based on an acclaimed sci-fi book series. The cable network has ordered 10 episodes of The Expanse, from Academy Award-nominated screenwriting duo Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of MenIron Man) and Alcon Television Group. The project has been described by industry insiders as “Game of Thrones in space” — not so much because of the specifics of the plot, but because it tells a dramatic sprawling grown-up story within a popular fantasy genre that’s based on a respected series of novels.  
The logline: “A thriller set two hundred years in the future, The Expanse follows the case of a missing young woman who brings a hardened detective and a rogue ship’s captain together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.”
The Expanse is based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey. The most well-known title is probably the first in the series, Leviathan Wakes, which has been praised for reinventing and updating the old-school Star Wars/Firefly-style space opera. Syfy won a bidding war with another content producer to acquire the project. 
Syfy president Dave Howe promised, “The Expanse is epic in scale and scope and promises to be Syfy’s most ambitious series to date. Bringing this coveted book franchise to television with our partners at Alcon and the Sean Daniel Company is a giant win for Syfy, reinforcing our overall strategy to produce bold, provocative and compelling sci-fi fantasy stories. The Expanse joins a killer line-up of high-concept, high quality series, along with recently announced original projects Ascension12 Monkeys, the renewal of Helix, and the soon to premiere Dominion.
There's still a lot that needs to go write to make a show that will be as significant as Game of Thrones is for HBO out of The Expanse. The source material is excellent, so if they found people to make an excellent show of Battlestar Galactica, hopefully they can do as good a job here. 
To me it's personally exciting because soon more people will know about these fantastic books, and perhaps space-opera science fiction will get more respect as a cultural product.

Eye Candy: Rodney Razor

Rodney Razor is a 30-year-old bodybuilder from South Bend, Indiana. According to his Model Mayhem profile he is 6 feet all and weighs 195 pounds. He has won multiple professional bodybuilding competitions. He has his own website, and is active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The pictures above were taken by talented photographer Pat Lee

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Game Of Thrones Renewed For Season 5 and 6!

Tonight the second episode of Season 4, "The Lion and the Rose" (S4E02) airs on HBO. It should not be missed! But as we're waiting for that to come here comes some even better news: HBO has renewed Game of Thrones for Seasons 5 and 6 after seeing the very healthy ratings of episode 1 (S4E01) "Two Swords" (which I reviewed yesterday).

From the HBO press release:

HBO RENEWS GAME OF THRONES FOR FIFTH AND SIXTH SEASONSSeason Four Debut Scores Highest Viewership Yet            LOS ANGELES, April 8, 2014 – HBO has renewed GAME OF THRONES for a fifth and sixth season, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming.“GAME OF THRONES is a phenomenon like no other,” noted Lombardo. “David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with their talented collaborators, continue to surpass themselves, and we look forward to more of their dazzling storytelling.” 
   Based on the bestselling fantasy book series by George R.R. Martin, GAME OF THRONES is an epic story of treachery and nobility set on the continent of Westeros, where summers and winters can last years, and only the lust for power is eternal. The Emmy®- and Golden Globe-winning series launched its ten-episode fourth season Sunday, April 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO, with other episodes debuting subsequent Sundays at the same time. 
Cast regulars for the fourth season of GAME OF THRONES include: Emmy® and Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Charles Dance, Aidan Gillen, Jack Gleeson, Kit Harington, Diana Rigg, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Alfie Allen, Jerome Flynn, Conleth Hill, John Bradley, Gwendoline Christie, Liam Cunningham, Stephen Dillane, Natalie Dormer, Iain Glen, Kristofer Hivju, Sibel Kekilli, Rose Leslie, Rory McCann, Michael McElhatton, Iwan Rheonand Carice van Houten. 
Among the early critical praise for the fourth season, the Los Angeles Times called GAME OF THRONES “the Best Television Show Ever,” adding that “no other series comes close,” and “television just doesn’t get any better than this,” while Newsday hailed the series as “still TV’s best,” awarding the show an A+. The Hollywood Reporterobserved, “The consistency of excellence in GAME OF THRONES is truly something to behold,” and the San Francisco Chronicle described it as “great and addictive.” 
The season four premiere of GAME OF THRONES on Sunday, April 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) was watched by an average of 6.6 million viewers, making it HBO’s most-watched program since the finale of “The Sopranos” in 2007 (11.9 million viewers). The premiere improved 52% over last season’s premiere and 23% over last season’s finale. GAME OF THRONES added an additional 1.6 million viewers from the 11:00 p.m. and1:00 a.m. replays, for a gross audience of 8.2 million viewers for the night. Season three of the series had an average gross audience of 14.4 million viewers per episode. 
Season four credits: The executive producers of GAME OF THRONES are David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Carolyn Strauss, Frank Doelger and Bernadette Caulfield; co-executive producers, Guymon Casady, Vince Gerardis and George R.R. Martin; producers, Chris Newman and Greg Spence.
Hat/tip to Winter Is Coming!

WATCH: Trailer for X-Men: Days Of Future Past

The trailer for the latest entry in the X-Men franchise is out. The movie is called X-Men: Days of Fture Past  and one that I am actually interested in seeing, thanks to its stunning cast and the fact it is being directed by Bryan Singer, the openly gay creator of the first two X-Men films.

The movie is released on May 23, 2014!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

There Are Only 5 States Whose Marriage Equality Bans Are Not (Currently) Being Challenged In Court

This is an interesting factoid. There are currently only 5 states where bans on same-sex marriage are NOT currently being challenged in court (North dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Georgia, and Montana). There are 17 states that have marriage equality right now. There are 30 states with more than 65 lawsuits (44 of which are federal cases) pending against their bans on same-sex marriage, according to Lambda Legal, reports the Washington Post:
Heterosexual-only marriage is safe in just five states, for now at least.   
Gay marriage is now legal in 17 states and bans are being challenged in 30, according to the latest count from Lambda Legal, a pro-gay marriage organization. (Hawaii and Illinois allow gay marriage, but legal technicalities  to aspects of their laws are still being ironed out in the courts.) The five states with bans on gay marriage that stand unchallenged are: Alaska, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota  and South Dakota.  
The five unchallenged state gay marriage bans may not stand for long. Already, a South Dakota couple has plans to challenge their state ban. And  the Supreme Court could soon weigh in.
It's unlikely the Supreme Court will really weigh in on the marriage equality question before the end of the 2014-15 term, and that's only if one of the appellate cases (the first of which was heard on Thursday in Denver before the 10th U.S. Circuit) rockets to their docket before the end of this year, which certainly is possible.

I think the 5 states that currently do not have marriage equality lawsuits says more about the lack of
organized LGBT infrastructure in those states than whether there are people who would benefit if those bans were also removed.

Game of Thrones (S4E01): "Two Swords"

Episode 1 of Season 4 of Game of Thrones is titled "Two Swords." It aired last Sunday while I was in Washington, D.C. for a business trip so I didn't get to see the episode until Wednesday night and since I was out of town I was extra busy at work for the rest of the week when I returned. So it has taken me this long to blog about my thoughts about the return of my favorite television show for its fourth season. Many others have already posted their thoughts, with this episode universally getting high marks as the best "first" episode of the show's first four seasons. I will endeavor to be more disciplined in blogging my thoughts about the other nine remaining episodes of this season, starting with tomorrow's "The Lion and the Rose."

S4E01 is titled "Two Swords" and the episode is framed by our view of two swords of great significance to the story. The first sword we see is the destruction of the Stark clan's famous sword "Ice" being melted down for its priceless Valyrian steel by Tywin Lannister, sealing what he thinks is the ultimate victory of The Lion over The Wolf. The last sword we see is Arya Stark regaining her weapon "Needle" after a murderous and bloody fight in a tavern somewhere in the Riverlands with The Hound, who is ostensibly her kidnaper but also appears to be becoming a kind of substitute father figure, or at the very least someone whose behavior she is starting to emulate.

In between these two important scenes, we become reacquainted with most of the major characters in this vast cast, from Cersei and Jaime Lannister (siblings and incestuous lovers), Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Lannister nee Stark, Joffrey Barratheon and his fiancee Margaery Tyrell, her grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth. In the North by the Wall we see Jon Snow and his friend Samwell Tarly and the Wildings Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane with a gathering of cannibalistic mountain dudes called Thenns. Far off on the continent of Essos we see Dany Targaryen with her army of eunuchs and now pony-sized dragons trying to fend off the flirtations of Daario Naharis.

The most important event which happens in this episode is the introduction of a new character, Ser Oberyn Martell, who we learn through some artful exposition masquerading as typical dialogue, is the second son of the King of Highgarden (the Royal Seat of Dorne, one of the seven Kingdoms of Westeros). Oberyn is introduced interviewing potential bedmates for him and his paramour at Littlefinger's whorehouse and his bisexuality is revealed quite matter-of-factly. Another important aspect of Oberyn, his all-consuming hatred of Lannisters, especially Tywin Lannister is also demonstrated in the brothel when he verbally spars and tortures to unnamed Lannisters. The Lannister second son (Tyrion) and the Martell second son (Oberyn) have an important meeting that clarifies how they will relate to each other in the future.

There were many highlights of this episode
  • Jaime's Got A New Look. Jaime Lannister is beginning to cope with the reality of having his dominant right hand removed, and he has a gold prosthetic attached. However, the highlight is really his new haircut, which makes Nikolai Coster-Waldau look even hotter.
  • Oh Oberyn! As people who have read the books know, Oberyn Martell is a very important figure, especially to Tyrion, and it is exciting to see him on stage. It's funny that Bronn (and others) joke about the curious sexual habits of Dornishmen (How many Dornishmen does it take to f*** a goat?) in the same episode we see the Dornish Prince basically buy a male and female whore for his entertainment.
  • The Hound Is Hungry. The droll way that Sandor Clegane (The Hound) provokes the idiot in the tavern by telling him that he wants him to bring him a chicken (then two chickens) was scary and funny at the same time. 
  • Tywin Is A Bad Daddy. Charles Dance is doing Emmy-award winning work on this show but has yet to be recognized. His last line to Jaime "A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get" could be interpreted as a critique of Jaime's curious bachelorhood at age 40 and as a disinheritance.
  • There Be Dragons! The special effects on the dragons are incredible. In the short scene we see that they will snap at each other and their "mother" when distracted by food. After all, they are wild animals. But they look incredible.

Not very many low-lights in this episode.  The only one I think worth mentioning is:
  • New Daario SameAs The Old Daario. Daario is supposed to be one of the most handsome men on the continent of Essos and incredibly attractive to Dany. Even though they have now re-cast the character, it seems to me that they still have not quite successfully embodied the character as I remember it from the books.

Grade: 8/10 (B).
Overall, I thought S4E01 was pretty good start to Season 4, which may even surpass Season 3 for epic moments that occur in the ongoing adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Celebrity Friday: Derrick Gordon Becomes 1st Out Gay NCAA Basketball Player

Derrick Gordon became the first NCAA Division 1 player to come out as an openly gay man this week.

ESPN reports:
Derrick Gordon, a sophomore starter for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, stepped forward Wednesday as the first openly gay player in Division I men's college basketball, sharing his story with ESPN and Outsports. 
The 22-year-old shooting guard came out to his family, coaches and teammates in just a few days at the beginning of April. That's when he also decided to publicly acknowledge his sexuality. 
"I just didn't want to hide anymore, in any way," Gordon told ESPN. "I didn't want to have to lie or sneak. I've been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division I player would come out, and finally I just said, 'Why not me?'"

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

White House Issues Press Advisory on Harvey Milk Forever Stamp

From the White House:

WASHINGTON — The official first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony for the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp will take place at the White House May 22.
  Harvey Milk was a visionary leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S. when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk’s achievements gave hope and confidence to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination. Milk believed that government should represent all citizens, ensuring equality and providing needed services.
 His remarkable career was tragically cut short nearly a year after he took office, when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated.In 2009, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
May 22 is Harvey Milk Day in California.The stamp image will be previewed at a later date and a public dedication ceremony will take place in San Francisco May 28. Additional details will be forthcoming.

Hat/tip to Bay Area Reporter 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Openly Gay Robert Garcia Takes Lead In Long Beach Mayoral Election

Municipal elections in Long Beach occurred yesterday and the results were somewhat surprising. The front runner, Bonnie Lowenthal, finished 3rd, missing the run-off. The top candidate was also the youngest, 36-year-old Robert Garcia, who happens to be openly gayDamon Dunn, who placed second is only two years older, African-American and would be the city's first Black mayor if he wins the run-off.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports on the political earthquake that hit Long beach yesterday:
According to unofficial vote totals, Garcia, the 1st District councilman, had 25.4 percent of the vote, far short of the 50 percent mark required to win outright. Dunn had 22.3 percent. 
In third was Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who received 19.6 percent of the vote. The result is the first election loss for a Lowenthal since Rep. Alan Lowenthal won election to City Council in 1992. 
Finishing the top five was 6th District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, with 15.5 percent of the vote, and Long Beach City College Trustee Doug Otto, at 13.6 percent. None of the remaining five candidates reached 3 percent.
The run-off will be June 3rd, the date of the statewide primary election. Dunn raised the largest amount of money and appears to be aligned with the city's business interests while Garcia was endorsed by the outgoing Mayor, Bob Foster.


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