Monday, July 06, 2015

2015 WIMBLEDON: Women's Quarterfinals Preview


Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the Wimbledon Championships for 2015. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 2 of 4 women's quarterfinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [1] V. Williams (USA) [16] vs. Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [23]. For the second consecutive major tournament Serena's path to the title will intersect with one of the few players who does not fear her, despite the lopsided head-to-head record of 3-16 Victoria Azarenka has against the World #1 player. In Paris a mere four weeks ago the two met in a third round match where Azarenka took it to Serena with renewed belief. The Belarussian was up a set and a break, and even when she lost the second set she was up 2-0 in the deciding set but then Seeena flipped a switch and won the last 6 remaining games of the match. If Azarenka couldn't beat Serena on her worst surface how will she do it on her best? After handily dispatching her sister in the 4th round and outlasting a near-death experience in the third round against Brit Heather Watson, Serena is the odds-on favorite to win her second Serena slam. PREDICTION: Serena.

Maria Sharapova (RUS) [4] vs. Coco Vandeweghe USA Lucie Safarova (CZE) [6]The American women occupy three of the eight quarterfinal slots at this year's Wimbledon and the biggest surprise is that Coco Vandweghe is among their number. The big-serving 23-year-old is in her very first major quarterfinal having taken out one of the hottest players on tour, 2015 French Open finalist (and 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist) Lucie Safarova in two tight tiebreak sets. In fact, neither player has dropped a set through their first four round in this year's tournament. Obviously that will have to change by the end of this match (for at least one of them). Even though Sharapova has won this tournament before and reached the final again in 2011 she has only passed the quarterfinal stage 4 times. (Then again, she has never lost a Wimbledon quarterfinal). For some reason, I think Coco will pull out the upset in this match taking advantage of the fact that the two have never played before. PREDICTION: Vandeweghe.

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) [20] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [5] vs. Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) [15].  Caroline Wozniacki  was the highest remaining seed in the lower half of the women's singles draw after Simona Halep's early departure and defending champion Petra Kvitova's 3rd round exit (at the hands of Jelena Jankovic). Despite winning the junior title here a mere 9 years ago at the precocious age of 15, the former World #1 has never had much success here and her woes continued with Muguruza basically doing everything Wozniacki could do, except a litle better. This was exemplified by a 29-stroke rally on the penultimate point of the match which was won with outstanding defense by the Spaniard, who then sealed the deal with an ace on match point. Bacsinskzy is in her second consecutive major quarterfinal, the only two times she has ever reached this far in a major tournament. Although she won her first outing in Paris a month ago, I think that Muguruza's game and guile will be able to get her past the finish line so that she can reach her first major semifinal. PREDICTION: Muguruza.


Madison Keys (USA) [21] 
vs. Agnieska Radwanska (POL) [13]The Pole is looking to rescue her horrible 2015 season by duplicating her best result at a major (2013 Wimbledon finalist). Happily, she is playing an opponent whom she has never lost to in three meetings. However, the last time she played and beat Madison Keys Radwanska was playing better tennis and Keys was playing worse. Now, the 20-year-old American knows that she belongs in the business end of major tournaments and has the game to fulfill her awesome potential. Radwanska is a very talented player, and she played very well to dispatch Jankovic coming off her big win over the defending champion. The biggest advantage Radwanska has is her experience and guile but grass favors the better athlete almost always and in this case I am fairly confident that is the woman with the tournament-leading 47 aces. PREDICTION: Keys.

Wesley Chu's Time Salvager May Become Michael Bay Movie


Wesley Chu's latest book Time Salvager is not released until tomorrow, is getting very strong reviews and it has already been optioned to become a Hollywood movie by a big name Hollywood director known for his (generally awful) box-office blockbusters. tor.com is reporting about a deal where Michael Bay (Transformers) will direct a film for Paramount Pictures based on Chu's Time Salvager with the author set to be an executive producer.

Chu is the author of the Tao series of books that I read and positively reviewed earlier this year. I think those books would make an excellent series of movies (or better, a TV series). Anyway, I have no idea how Hollywood works. Regardless, I am looking forward to reading Time Salvager when it comes out tomorrow. (It's on sale at Amazon.com for half-price today!)

EYE CANDY: Pietro Boselli (black/white)




Pietro Boselli has been called "the hottest maths teacher in the world." He first appeared as Eye Candy  on April 27, 2015. These black and white pictures are good, but I would not be surprised if he is even more attractive in person.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

FILM REVIEW: Jurassic World


I'm a big fan of the original Jurassic Park film, which amazingly, was released way back in 1993. And, after last year's Guardians of the Galaxy I'm also a fan of Chris Pratt so when I started seeing the ads for Jurassic World I added the film to the shortlist of movies I wanted to see this summer. (Other movies on this very short list include Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Of course these all pale in importance to my anticipation of the release of the new Star Wars movie The Force Awakens on  December 18.)

Jurassic World acts like it is a direct sequel to the original Jurassic Park, basically ignoring the two intervening films The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. In fact, Jurassic World is practically a reboot of the original, with many of the themes from the original: strong lead female role, extensive depictions of corporate greed, many situations endangering children, multiple examples of employee betrayal, a prideful, egotistical scientist, several fiendishly clever dinosaurs and lots of terrifying chase sequences.

There are two notable aspects of Jurassic World which are different from the original. The first is the idea that because there has been an operating dinosaur park for years two things have happened: 1) the park has become geographically huge, with multiple attractions (hence the upgrade from Park to World); 2) The attending public has grown so accustomed to seeing dinosaurs that they have grown inured to the novelty of interacting with gigantic animals that went extinct tens of millions of years ago.

Because of the situation reflected by (2) the corporate owners (represented by Irrfan Khan's multi-billionaire Simon Masrani) have invested tens of millions of dollars in literally constructing a new dinosaur hybrid, which they have named (after extensive focus group testing) Indominus Rex. The head of the park is Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (as a particular example of a successful corporate woman) whose nephews are visiting their very busy aunt. Pratt plays Owen Grady, the primary "dinosaur-whisperer" on staff who has been trying to train velociraptors (the hyper intelligent dinosaurs from Jurassic Park) to follow voice commands.

Of course Indominus Rex escapes and goes on a rampage across the island, putting Claire's nephews in mortal danger, and of course demonstrating the hubris of humans thinking that they can mess with Mother Nature with impunity.

Overall, Jurassic World is a fun, entertaining trifle, with a script with holes big enough for a Tyrannosaurus Rex to run through. (Why do the kids talk about the impending divorce of their parents but then the subject is never mentioned again? Are we really to believe they not have continuous video coverage of Indominus Rex's cage so that they can figure out where it is at all times? Why can't they use the tracking device to confirm it's location?) Regardless, it is still enjoyable and worth seeing in the theaters. (There's a reason why it is absolutely demolishing box-office records and has a healthy 82% rating from the audience on rottentomatoes.com)

Title: Jurassic World.
Director: Colin Trevorrow.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.
Release Date: June 12, 2015.
Viewing Date: June 28, 2015.

Writing: C+.
Acting: B.
Visuals: A-.
Impact: B+.

Overall Grade: B/B+ (3.08/4.0).

WIMBLEDON 2015: Defending Champ P3Tra Kvitova Upset By Jankovic; Lower Half Of Draw Wide Open

2-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova looked unbeatable through her first two rounds of her title defense but then in the second set (at 6-3 4-2) of her third round encounter with former World #1 Jelena Jankovic she suddenly started missing the lines and things went down hill from there.

Kvitova had lost 3 games through the first two matches but when Jankovic started putting up stiff resistance she did not handle the tension well, and lost the second set 5-7.

The third set was a closer affair with both players holding serve until the tenth game when Kvitova, serving to stay in the match was up 30-15 but then lost three consecutive points on errors to lose the match 6-4 in the third.

The removal of Kvitova from the bottom half of the draw leaves that section wide open, with no major champions remaining.

In the bottom half of the draw Caroline Wozniacki, Aga Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Jankovic and Madison Keys all have chances to get to Wimbledon final by simply winning three more matches.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

2015 WIMBLEDON: Serena-Venus XXVI Headlines "Best Day In Tennis" On Monday


Venus Williams and Serena Williams have each won Wimbledon 5 times and have faced each other 5 times at the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club (4 times in finals!), and 25 times overall in their storied careers. Serena, 33, leads this rivalry 14-11 and their Wimbledon meetings 3-2. Venus, who turned 35 on June 18, actually won their last meeting (in Montreal last year) but Serena has won 5 of the last 6 matches the two have played.

At Wimbledon this year, Venus appears to be in better form, but she is currently ranked World #16 while Serena has been World #1 for well over a year. Venus won her first match 6-0 6-0 and has not dropped a set. In contrast, Serena played one of the most dramatic matches of the tournament so far against Briton Heather Watson in the 3rd round, coming back from two breaks (0-3) down in the deciding 3rd set to somehow even the set at 3-all. Watson broke again at 4-all and served for the match and got 30-15 (2 point away from victory) before losing 6-2 4-6 7-5.

I still expect Serena to win this match on Monday but I suspect it may be a 3-setter.

Friday, July 03, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: Evan Wolfson Declares Victory For Marriage Equality

About a week after the announcement of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Obergefelll v. Hodges which ended all state-based bans on same-sex marriage nationwide, Evan Wolfson, the architect of this sea change in civil rights for LGBT people and founder of Freedom to Marry, has communicated his victory message to that organization's supporters:
I always believed we would win, but what a joy and relief it was when our victory came. As I read the Supreme Court opinion, as I followed the stories across the country of couples getting married, and as so many people wrote me with wonder, attaching pictures of their families, their kids, their weddings ... well, I cried and cried again. 
We won. We did it. The freedom to marry is now the law of the land throughout our whole country. At long last, loving and committed same-sex couples are able to share in the joy, the protections, the vocabulary, and the institution of marriage. 
We've been fighting this campaign for decades, and not a single step has come easily. To overcome the obstacles and to seize the opportunities, with stumbles and then successes, we built a machine that could guide and leverage a movement, driving a strategy — and machines take fuel. Without your support, this transformation and triumph would not have happened. 
And our win is America's win. Love won. We all did. 
Now — as Freedom to Marry prepares to wind down — we must remember that there's still much work to do in our own LGBT movement and in the broader movements we are part of. 
I am grateful to my incomparable Freedom to Marry team, our close movement colleagues, the entire family of supporters and partners in the work, our allies, and our country. How lucky we are to see our work rewarded with the change and victory we sought and deserved. 
All that's left is to say, with all my heart, is congratulations — mazel tov! — and thank you. 
Evan WolfsonFounder, Freedom to Marry
Congrats!

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: 2-Time Major Champ Stan Wawrinka Poses Nude For ESPN Magazine


Stan Wawrinka is following in the foots of previous professional tennis players and posing nude for ESPN Magazine's "Body" issue. Wawrinka has a much higher profile right mow since he won his 2nd major title by defeating World #1 Novak Djokovic in the final of Roland Garros less than a month ago.

Othe rplayers who have posed nude for ESPN magazine include Serena Williams (June 2009 cover) and  John Isner (March 2013). Tennis players Tommy Robredo, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fabio Fognini have also posed nude for various magazines over the years.

Which tennis players would you like to see pose nude? My money would be on Gael Monfils, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco or Roger Federer. (In that order!)

Thursday, July 02, 2015

2015 WIMBLEDON: Nadal(#10) Upset In 2nd Round By Dustin Brown(#102)



For the fourth consecutive year 2-time Wimbledon champ (2008 and 2010) Rafael Nadal lost to a player ranked outside the Top 100. Before that he had reached the finals for five consecutive times that he played (2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011). Today Nadal lost to 102nd-ranked Dustin Brown 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4 in the 2nd round. Last year he lost to Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round, in 2013 he lost in the first round to Steve Darcis in the first round and in 2012 he lost to Lukas Rosol in five sets.

Amazingly, Brown is now 2-0 lifetime against Nadal, one of the very few people on the ATP tour who have a lead in their head-to-head record with the 14-time major champion. (Both meetings have occurred on grass.) Brown, 30, was born in Germany and has a Jamaican father and German mother. He is listed as 6-foot-5 and 172 pounds.

BOOK REVIEW: The Skull Throne (The Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter Brett


The Skull Throne is the fourth book in Peter V. Brett's best-selling Demon Cycle. The Skull Throne starts just seconds after the events in Book 3 (The Daylight War). That book literally ends with a cliffhanger, as the two main characters Arlen Bales (the eponymous Warded Man of Book 1's The Warded Man) and Ahmann Jardir (the Shar'Dama Ka or head of the Krasian forces) fall over the edge of a cliff.

Book 4 is primarily about the impact on the rest of the characters on the disappearance of Arlen and Ahmann from the ongoing events that had been set in motion during Book 3. (We find out pretty early in Book 4 that Arlen and Ahmann are fine, and their joint fall over the cliff's edge was part of Arlen's plan to try to force Ahmann to combine forces with him to take humanity's fight to the demons as well as provide an opportunity for the remaining humans to practice self-sufficiency without the presence of their two most powerful warriors (Arlen and Ahmann).

The Demon Cycle is set in a world with minimal technology (no electricity or real technology) where  for as long as anyone can remember (hundreds of years) every night vicious creatures emerge from the dark who kill and eat any human or animal they meet. The humans call them "demons" and have discovered that they can be repelled by certain symbols, called "wards."

The overall story is set in both Thesa, which resembles a North American climate and possesses a European culture, and Krasia, which is a desert land and has an apparent Muslim-influenced culture. In the first two books of the Demon Cycle (The Warded Man and The Desert Spear) events were almost entirely set in Thesa, then Krasia, respectively.

The primary characters of the Demon Cycle are Arlen Bales, Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip in Thesa and Ahmann Jardir, Inevera and Abban in Krasia. It's possible (but not preferable) to read each of the books separately without having read the others, but I think that (as expected) one gets a better sense of the books overall if you read them in the order of release.

Book 4 (like Book 3) before it, splits its time between Krasia and Thesa, providing for an interesting contrast between the patriarchal, faith-based caste system of Krasia and the more liberally familiar but still complicated interpersonal relationships found in Thesa. In Krasia the relationships are based around family ties, since polygamy is a central feature of the culture, so Inevera is Ahmann's First Wife, but he also has a wife from each of the dozen or so important tribes. Inevera also has her own power base, because she is the Damajah, the head of the class of Krasian women (called damaji'ting) who are able to use the Demon bones to make dice that allow them to foretell the future.

It took awhile to get back into the flow of The Skull Throne for me, but once I did, it was very difficult to put down and I enjoyed it very much. Leesha and Inevera are some of my favorite characters and both women are central to much of the action that happens in this book (although they do not interact with each other they are enemies due to romantic entanglements of the plot). Inevera's story was a bit stronger than Leesha's in this book, in my opinion, although since my sentiments are more aligned with the Thesans I was frustrated by some of the poor decisions Leesha made.

Although some readers may take umbrage or even be offended by the faux Muslim nature of the Krasian society, especially with its virulently homophobic and chauvinistic nature but as a gay man I was not offended at all. I was completely unsurprised by the chauvinism, sexism and homophobia in Krasian culture and Brett does an amazing job by having an incredibly diverse cast of characters (Abban is bisexual, and there are two clearly gay characters in the book, although both are ultimately villains in the story.)

I'm sure some of the fans of the earlier books will be disappointed that Arlen and his wife Renna, along with Ahmann have such limited roles in The Skull Throne but I liked that Leesha, Rojer, Inevera and Abban and many more were given a higher profile in the story.

I don't want to give any spoilers in this review but I do want to say that some of the characters that we have grown to love and cherish have their lives changed forever in this book. I suspect that the same will be true of Book 5, but there the stakes will be even higher because I'm pretty sure that Arlen, Renna and Ahmann's fates will be decided in that final installment.

Title: The Skull Throne.
Author: 
Peter V. Brett.
Paperback: 681 pages.
Publisher:
 Del Rey.
Date Published: March 31, 2015.
Date Read: May 18, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A-.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Mozambique Is Most Recent African Country To Decriminalize Homosexuality

Good news of out of Africa!  The country of Mozambique has enacted reforms which include a decriminalization of intimate homosexual conduct, i.e. the country's sodomy law has been repealed, The Washington Blade has reported:
Mozambique is the latest African country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Sao Tome and Principe and Lesotho legalized homosexuality in 2012. Cape Verde decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2004. Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal in Egypt, Gambia, South Sudan, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe and more than two dozen other African countries. Those found guilty of homosexuality in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty. 
Great news!

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Oklahoma's TenAmu Commandmenst Monument Violates State Constitution


The Oklahoma State Supreme Court has finally ruled that the Ten Commandments Monument at the state capitol that was previously demolished by a crazy person and then rebuilt violates the state's constitutional separation of church and state.

Friendly Atheist analyzed the decision:
The ruling is very clear about what the law says and how obviously this monument violates it:
The text of Article 2, Section 5 [of the State Constitution]…:
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”
The plain intent of Article 2, Section 5 is to ban State Government, its officials, and its subdivisions from using public money or property for the benefit of any religious purpose. Use of the words “no,” “ever,” and “any” reflects the broad and expansive reach of the ban.
As concerns the “historic purpose” justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.
In other words, what the hell were you all thinking putting this monument up in the first place?! 
The Justices made clear that, unlike a previous Supreme Court case, this wasn’t about whether Oklahoma’s monument violated the First Amendment. It violated the state’s Constitution, and that’s all that matters.
Amusingly, both Satanists and Hindus were petitioning to have monuments also appear at the State Capitol grounds but now the Oklahoma Supreme Court has correctly ruled that religious displays on state property are unconstitutional.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Facebook's Rainbow Pride Filter Goes Viral


First the White House, now 26 million Facebook users! A pride filter initially created by two interns during a Facebook hackathon allows users to modify their profile pictures to include a rainbow filter in recognition of LGBT Pride. Apparently 26 million of Facebook users have since done so.

Mashable analyzed the viral phenomenon:
According to the company, the rainbow filter was built by two interns during an internal hackathon the rainbow filter was built by two interns during an internal hackathon recently. After it became a hit within the company, the interns worked with a larger team to add the tool to the site before Pride weekend and the SCOTUS ruling. 
The tool was added to the site just as Facebook shared for the first time that more than 6 million of its U.S. members identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming. Meanwhile, nearly 1 million have joined a Facebook group in support of the LGBTQ community.
I  liked the idea so much I joined the movement myself, as you can see at the top of this post. If you want to change your Facebook profile picture, just go to facebook.com/celebratepride

2015 WIMBLEDON: Venus Serves Up Double Bagel; #1 and #2 seeds Win 1R


The first day of play at the 2015 Wimbledon Championships is over and the Top 2 seeds in the men and women's draw have not dropped a set. #1 seed (and defending championNovak Djokovic faced the toughest resistance, against Philipp Kohlschreiber but still won 6-4 6-4 6-4. #2 seed Roger Federer won his match in straight sets (6-1 6-3 6-3).

On the women's side #1 seed Serena Williams started off very slowly against Margarita Gasparyan and found herself down 1-3 early on. She got back on track against a spirited opponent and ended up winning 6-4 6-1. #2 seed (and defending champion) Petra Kvitova dominated her opponent with a 6-1 6-0 win (in 35 minutes!)

Other notable victories include 5-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 6-0 6-0 win over fellow American Madison Brengle in 42 minutes Interestingly, there have been two other "double bagels" so far in the women's draw: Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic also won their matches without losing a game.

The only major upsets so far is #9 seed Carla Suarez Navarro who lost 6-2 6-0.

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