Tuesday, May 24, 2016

VIDEO: EQCA Encourages LGBT Community To Vote In June 7 California Primary

It's exactly two weeks until California's 2016 Statewide Primary Election on June 7th. Equality California, the state's largest LGBT political advocacy organization, is urging the LGBT community to vote, and will be running PSA on television in important markets like Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

EYE CANDY: Lucien Laviscount (3rd time!)

Lucien Laviscount has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (March 24, 2014 and December 14, 2015). Lucien is a model and actor of British and West Indian descent. He can be seen in Season one of Fox Television's Scream Queens and also has a lovely social media presence on Twitter (@ItsLucien) and Instagram (@its_lucien).

There's something haunting about his eyes, don't you think? A new meaning for the term "eye candy" indeed!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

GAME OF THRONES (S6E04): "The Book of the Stranger"

Episode 4 of Season 6 (S6E04) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "The Book of the Stranger." This is a reference to one of the books in the main religious text of Westeros, known as the Seven-Pointed Star, which serves as their "Bible" for their main religion, which is called the Faith of the Seven and is centered around a deity (called "God", of course) that appears in seven forms or aspects: The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior, The Smith, and The Stranger. The Stranger basically represents Death, so perhaps this episode is intended to be about death. But, hey, this is Game of Thrones, so isn't every episode about death?

Just last week in my review of (S6E03) "Oathbreaker" I was lamenting the fact that we had not seen some important characters like Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and Ser Loras Tyrell at all this season. So, of course in "the Book of the Stranger" both Littlefinger and Loras make an appearance.

But the most  emotionally resonant moment of this episode is of course the hug between Sansa Stark and Jon Snow when the two are finally reunited. This is the first significant reunion of two members of the Stark family since the infamous Red Wedding of Season 3, even though the show has put various characters tantalizingly close to meeting before, only to deny the audience this emotional release. It's curious that of all the possible Stark family duos possible, it is Sansa and Jon that meet, because the two were never very close when they lived together in Winterfell. Jon was always "that bastard" and Sansa was just a spoiled girl who thought more about clothes and dances. Now the two have gone through a lot (there's an understatement for you!) it will be interesting to see how they interact going forward. Even in this episode, Jon is reluctant about trying to make war on Ramsay Bolton, the self-proclaimed Warden of the North, until Sansa convinces him that it is the right thing to do, to try and save their brother Rickon (I do NOT see that plan ending well!), who is being held captive by Ramsay at the Stark's ancestral home of Winterfell.

It's interesting how the forces are starting to line up against the execrable Ramsay Bolton (who in this episode murders yet another innocent person, this time its Osha, the Wildling who was responsible for protecting Rickon and Bran when they escaped Winterfell way back in Season 3). We finally see Littlefinger and he is in the Vale, with the still crazy Lord of the Vale, Robin Arryn, who now is a loony homicidal teenager instead of a petulant homocidal pre-teen. Littlefinger appears to convince Robin to send his armed men to Winterfell to rescue his cousin Sansa (whom they do not know has escaped from Winterfell and is at Castle Black).

In King's Landing we finally get to see the show's primary openly gay character, Queen Margaery's brother Loras. Unfortunately, he is at the end of his rope and is willing to give in to the High Sparrow's demands for atonement and punishment of his sins (homosexuality). Margaery looks alarmed at the state of her brother but refuses to give in and encourages Loras to stay strong. Meanwhile, the Tyrells and Lannisters, who hate each other are realizing that they have a common enemy they hate even more (the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant), and hatch a plan to rescue Margaery and end the Sparrow's domination of the Capitol. Somehow I don't think this alliance is going to end well.

The other important moments in this week's episode happened in Essos, the continent across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. It's where Tyrion is making a dubious deal with the slaveholders of Yunkai, Astapor and other cities that instead of ending slavery he will give then seven years to phase out the practice, and compensate these rich and powerful men who benefit from the forced labours of others for the loss of their "property." Game of Thrones is repeatedly making points about the necessity of compromise, and that "one doesn't sign truces with one's friends" to indicate that it's one's enemies that one often has to negotiate with. However, it really is not clear if slavery is something one can compromise over. Essos is also where Daenery Targaryen finds herself confronting a room full of lecherous and powerful Dothraki men who are supposed to be deciding her fate. Instead Dany upstages them by using her power to be unharmed by flames to immolate all of the Dothraki khals, for the second time pulling off a coup that will make her the head of this violent and puissant people: Khaleesi.

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line on this week's episode was Missandei's when she asked Tyrion exactly "How long were you a slave?" and informed him that his deal with the Masters is doomed to fail because "Seven years is not a short time for a slave."
  • The look that Cersei and the Queen of Thorns shared in the Small Council room was priceless as usual.
  • The final scene when Dany burns up the Dothraki khals was pretty cool, but it ended problematically...
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  I really think the entire scene with Ramsay and Osha was redundant. We know he's a homocidal maniac, so seeing him stick a dagger in her neck and then calmly resuming his snack was not a surprise, at some point it just turns into torture porn.
  • Really, the Dothraki just let the only two white dudes in the area walk up to the front and prostrate themselves before Dany? The producers just seem to have a tin ear when it comes to listening to the potential problems with their deification of Daenerys. There was a little too much of S3E10 "Mhysa" in that final scene.
Grade: 8/10.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: Federer Withdraws, Ending Record Streak Of 65 Grand Slam Appearances

Tragedy! The French Open draw was released today and for the first time in 65 major tournaments, Roger Federer's name was nowhere to be seen. The former World #1 is experiencing a 2016 season dramatically impacted by injury and has played very few tournaments. Now this has led to what has seemed unthinkable since the 1999 U.S. Open: a grand slam tournament without Federer.

He released a statement on his website explaining his decision to withdraw from Roland Garros 2016:
I regret to announce that I have made the decision not to play in this year’s French Open. I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100% and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready. This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career. I remain as motivated and excited as ever and my plan is to achieve the highest level of fitness before returning to the ATP World Tour for the upcoming grass court season. I am sorry for my fans in Paris but I very much look forward to returning to Roland Garros in 2017.
As a Federer fan I'm devastated, but honestly the end of the road can be seen. If he doesn't recuperate now, there's no way he will be able to have results in the latter half of the season that will allow him to remain in the Top 10, and if he doesn't do that I'm convinced he'll retire sooner rather than later.

The defending champions of the French Open are Serena Williams and Stan Wawrinka an dthe tournament starts on Sunday May 22.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT)

On May 17, Americans and people around the world mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by reaffirming the dignity and inherent worth of all people, regardless of who they love or their gender identity.
Our nation is committed to the principle that all people should be treated fairly and with respect. Advancing this goal has long been a cornerstone of American diplomacy, and I am proud that my Administration has made advancing the human rights of LGBT individuals a specific focus of our engagement around the world. I am also proud of the great strides that our nation has made at home in recent years, including that we now have marriage equality as a result of last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision.
At the same time, there is much work to be done to combat homophobia and transphobia, both at home and abroad.‎ In too many places, LGBT individuals grow up forced to conceal or deny who they truly are for fear of persecution, discrimination, and violence. All nations and all communities can, and must, do better. Fortunately, human rights champions and good citizens around the world continue to strive towards this goal every day by lifting up the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights. The United States honors their work and will continue to support them in their struggle for human dignity.me Court decision.
At the same time, there is much work to be done to combat homophobia and transphobia, both at home and abroad.‎ In too many places, LGBT individuals grow up forced to conceal or deny who they truly are for fear of persecution, discrimination, and violence. All nations and all communities can, and must, do better. Fortunately, human rights champions and good citizens around the world continue to strive towards this goal every day by lifting up the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights. The United States honors their work and will continue to support them in their struggle for human dignity.

TENNIS TUESDAY: Murray & Serena Win 1st Titles of 2016 In Rome; Berdych Fires Coach After Double Bagel

For the second week in a row, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray faced off in the final of a clay court Masters final. However, this time the result was different, primarily because Djokovic had a harder draw this week, having to go through the King of Clay Rafael Nadal and outlasting a spirited fight from Kei Nishikori and Murray may have been inspired by the fact  that the match was being played on his 29th birthday! Whatever it was, Murray played a very smart match, and became the first person other than Roger Federer to beat Djokovic in straight sets in nearly two years, winning 6-3 6-3. It was Murray's 12th ATP Masters shield (#5 on the all-time list) and his 36th ATP tour title (now 36-19). He improves to a career head-to-head of  10 wins and 23 losses against Djokovic.

Ending a drought of more than  nine months without winning a tournament, Serena Williams won her 4th Rome title (2002, 2013, 2014, 2016) by defeating fellow American Madison Keys 7-6(5) 6-3 (as expected). Although nine months sounds like a long time for the World #1 not to win a title, she had only played in 5 tournaments in that period (2015 US Open, 2016 Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome). It was Serena's 14th clay court title and 70th WTA tour title overall.

There's no question that 30-year-old Tomas Berdych is in something of a slump in 2016, which is somewhat surprising after he started 2015 so well (dispatching Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open). However no one really expected that the former Top 10 player would be having results like failing to win a single game in a match. Clearly, neither did he, so he has decided to fire his coach of 19 months, Dani Vallerdu (who used to be part of Murray's team). Hmmm, Murray just ended his coaching relationship last week so maybe the two could reunite?

Monday, May 16, 2016

EYE CANDY: Kyle Sellars (black/white)

Kyle Sellars has appeared as Eye Candy before (February 1, 2016). He's a dancer and fitness model in South Africa. He has an excellent Instagram page (@pt_kyle94). The pictures in this post were taken from there, so there is more where they came from (usually in color but I liked this set of black-and-white shots).


Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 NEBULA AWARDS: Naomi Novik's Uprooted Wins Best Novel In All-Female Sweep

The 2016 Nebula Awards for the best writing in science fiction and fantasy released in 2015 were announced this weekend and all of the winners in the main categories (Novel, Novella, Novellette and Short Story) were women!

  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
  • ‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)
Short Story
  • ‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)
Additionally, Fran Wilde's Updraft won the Young Adult Nebula award, i.e. Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Mad Max: Fury Road deservedly won the Outstanding Dramatic Presentation category.

The big kahuna is the Novel category, and this year there are three books that have been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula: Naomi Novik's Uprooted (which I have not read yet and since I was not a fan of her Temeraire stories I may not get around to), Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy and N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season (both of which I have read). If I were voting, I would have picked Jemisin, and the SFF award prognosticator at Chaos Horizon did just that as well. However, we were both wrong. Does that mean Novik is now the front runner for the Hugo? I doubt it, but I do think it means that voters may not split as many votes among Leckie, Jemisin and Novik, which could make it harder for Neal Stephenson's Seveneves to win the award (which I think it is going to do).

GAME OF THRONES (S6E03): "Oathbreaker"

Episode 1 of Season 6 (S6E03) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "Oathbreaker." The titles of the episodes are often meaningful and often have multiple interpretations. For example, "Oathbreaker" is the name of the sword that Jaime Lannister gave to Brienne but in common parlance it refers to a  person who "breaks his oath." The men of the Night's Watch famously swear an oath to serve until Death. In fact, here is the text of that Oath:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

So, what happens when a member of the Night's Watch dies and comes back to life? Is Jon Snow the eponymous Oathbreaker of this episode? There are many oaths that the people of Westeros swear by. The oath to not do harm to a guest under your roof once you have shared salt and bread with them. The Oath to abide by the laws of men and Gods. The marriage vows. There are many oaths, and there are many people on this show who break their oaths.

As I have said before, "one of the strengths and weaknesses of Game of Thrones is its expansive cast" but in this episode we see the drawbacks of having such a huge cast because in S6E03 we finally return to some characters that we have not seen for awhile. The first of these are Sam and Gilly, who are on a ship sailing to the Citadel with Gilly's bastard baby boy. Sam is horribly seasick but Gilly is happy to be on the journey to their new life together.  Could Sam be the Oathbreaker? By shacking up with Gilly he has broken his oath to the Night's Watch, although his Lord Commander sort of told him to go off and become a Maester, so maybe it's okay.

We also get to see more of Brandon and the Three-Eyed Raven (Donald Sutherland) greenseeing the past. This time it's the important Tower of Joy scene where we may discover who is the mother (and more importantly, the father, of the little baby boy that Eddard Stark brought back from the War and who grew up to be known as Jon Snow. The central question of A Song of Ice and Fire is Who are Jon Snow's parents? Sadly, the scene ends after a thrillingly executed fight scene between Ser Arthur Dayne (widely regarded by experts like Jaime Lannister and Jorah Mormont as one of the best swordsman ever) and Eddard Stark but before Eddard gets into the actual Tower, to find (it is speculated) his sister Lyanna Stark. Could Eddard Stark be the Oathbreaker? It's revealed that he actually did not beat Ser Arthur Dayne in single-handed combat, after all. He did win that fight, but only because Howland Reed, after pretending(?) to be dead came up behind Ser Arthur and put a knife in his neck. Apparently we will have to wait until S6E05 to find out who is in the Tower. But this was still a very important scene because Brandon, watching this pivotal moment from a quarter-century in the past, calls out to his father and Eddard stops and looks around as if he could barely hear his not-yet-born son. Can Bran affect the past? That would be a huge reveal, but we are given no answers but instead swept back to reality with Brandon paralyzed and the Three-Eyed Raven stuck in a weirwood tree in a cave.

The other character we get to see for the first time in a very long time is Rickon Stark, who sadly shows up in Winterfell as a result of some treachery by one of the Northern lords who are still somewhat pissed at the Starks and are trying to align themselves with the new Warden of the North, the odious Ramsay Snow. (Couldn't Ramsay be the titular Oathbreaker? He is definitely a kinslayer.)
Things do not look good for Rickon. You should have stayed presumed dead. I presume Ramsay is going to have some horrible fate in store for the youngest (but not so little any more) member of the Stark clan.

There is one key figure in the story whom we have yet to see anything about this season: Lord Petyr Baelish a.k.a. Littlefinger. What has that sneaky devil been up to? There's an oathbreaker if I ever saw one! Hopefully we will find out in (S6E04) "Book of the Stranger." (But this sounds like it's going to be about the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant.)

The rest of the show was taken up with updating us about what has been happening to our principal characters (Cersei and Jaime are trying to assemble political power in King's Landing to go after their enemies; The High Sparrow is trying to do the same thing, but he does it by persuasion, talking to King Tommen; Qyburn has discovered Varys' network of spiders (the poor children of King's Landing and is attempting to convince them to work for him through the dispersal of free sweets; Arya is no longer blind; Daenerys is stuck in a hut filled with Khal's widows; meanwhile back in Essos Varys learns that all the good that Queen Dany accomplished in freeing the slaves is being undone by the elites in Yunkai and the other "Free Cities." And there was no update on Drogon, who we know is loose, or the other two dragons, who we saw Tyrion release last week!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • For the second consecutive episode Jon Snow had the biggest and best moment of the show when he gave his fancy Lord Commander cloak to Edd and walked out of Castle Black saying the words "My Watch is ended."
  • The look that Grey Worm and Missandei share when Tyrion is trying to pass the time waiting for Varys was hilarious!
  • The vastness of Vaes Dothrak was a clear highlight of the episode. I was curious about what this location would look like, since it's supposed to represent the pinnacle of Dothraki civilization, and how they would distinguish it from previous Dothraki camps we have seen.
  • Another highlight was the sword battle at the Tower of Joy and finally witnessing the prowess of Ser Arthur Dayne, who was outnumbered 5 to 2 and evened up the odds to 1 on 1 before being dispatched by a knife in the back of his neck by Ser Howland Reed.
  • Seeing Rickon Stark and Osha, nearly 3 years after they not appeared on the show since Season 3 was a highlight, but the look on Ramsay Bolton's face when he said "Welcome home, Lord Stark does not bode well for the future happiness of yet another member of the Stark clan.
  • Arya Stark A Girl With No Name has her blindness removed and she can see again! Arya is one of my favorite characters, I hope 
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  Did we really need to see the severed head of another Direwolf? Rickon's is named Shaggydog, and it was presented as proof that Smalljon Umber's gift is really Rickon Stark.
  • The extended focus on the faces of the four traitors who had just been hanged, after we saw their death throes was more than a bit graphic and a lot off-putting.
Grade: 9/10.


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