Friday, September 21, 2018

POLL: More Oppose Kavanaugh #SCOTUS Nomination Than Support It

Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's choice to replace Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court now has the dubious distinction to become the first high court nominee  in modern history to have more people expressing opposition to his elevation than support it.

NBC News reports:
In the poll — which was conducted Sunday (when the accusation from Christine Blasey Ford was first made public) through Wednesday — 38 percent of voters say they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the nation’s highest court, including 27 percent who “strongly” oppose him. 
That’s compared with 34 percent who support his nomination, including 25 percent who “strongly” support him. Twenty-eight percent say they don’t enough to have an opinion.
The support for Kavanaugh has gotten worse over time.


The next Supreme Court term begins October 1.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

QUEER QUOTE: Are Bert and Ernie Gay?


There has been longtime speculation abut whether Bert and Ernie, two puppets on the Sesame Street television show who are depicted as living together, are "gay." Puppeteer and director Frank Oz, who created the puppets said on twitter that the two are not gay. Oz said, "I created Bert. I know what and who he is." These quotes are in response to an exclusive interview in Queerty with Mark Saltzman a writer for the show from 1981-1990 said that he based the interactions of Bert and Ernie on his own longtime relationship with his male partner. "I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," Saltzman said.

However, Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street released a statement which is today's Queer Quote denying (again) that Bert and Ernie are gay:
As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
Regardless of what Sesame Workshop says, it has not stopped other people from recognizing that Bert and Ernie behave like and resemble a same-sex couple.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

2018 EMMYS: The Winners


My predictions for the 70th annual Primetime Emmys didn't work out too well. The actual winners were very different from whom I wanted to win an whom I thought would win, in the Top 6 categories (Drama Series and Leading Actor and Actress and Comedy Series and Leading Actor and Actress). I only correctly picked Brosnahan as the winner and in my hoped-for-wins I got Game of Thrones and Claire Foy correct.

The nominees and the actual winner is in bold below.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Atlanta
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
black-ish
Silicon Valley
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Glow
Barry
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish)
Rachel Brosnahan  (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Issa Rae (Insecure)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Bill Hader (Barry)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Ted Danson (The Good Place)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown (This is Us)
Jason Bateman (Ozark)
Ed Harris (Westworld)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Jeffrey Wright (Westworld)
Milo Ventimiglia (This is Us)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld)
Sandra Oh (Killing Eve)
Claire Foy (The Crown)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
This Is Us
Westworld
The Americans
The Crown
Stranger Things
In addition to these winners, other notable results were in the best supporting actor categories where Thandie Newton and Peter Dinklage won for HBO's Westworld and Game of Thrones, respectively in the drama category and Henry Winkler won for HBO's Barry while Alex Borstein (the voice of the Mom on Family Guy) won for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. Both This Is Us and The Handmaid's Tale would have been shut out except for the wins by Ron Cephas Jones (the dad) and Samira Wiley (the lesbian friend) as Guest Actors on those series. I belive Stranger things was shut out. Again.

Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 EMMYS: My Predictions in Major Categories


Here is my predictions post for the 2018 Primetime Emmy awards for excellence in television. Last year, I predicted that This is Us would win Best Drama Series and Veep would win Best Comedy series. I was wrong about Drama (The Handmaid's Tale won instead) and correct about Comedy (Veep won for the third year in a row). This year, as Issa Rae says, "I'm rooting for everybody Black!"

Outstanding Drama Series
The Americans
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us
Westworld

I think Game of Thrones is the best thing on television (it is easily the most popular show in the world) but I think the fact that this was the final season for The Americans will convince Emmy winners to finally reward it, although that has not been a convincing argument for past heavy hitters like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
WILL WINThe Americans
SHOULD WINGame of Thrones

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Sterling Brown won this category last year and his work on the NBC powerhouse This Is Us has only grown more poignant, not less. But its his co-star (with whom he can never have any scenes with because they are in different time periods on the show) that is the heart of the show.
WILL WIN: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
SHOULD WIN: Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Last year Elizabeth Moss won this award and the year before that it was Tatiana Maslany. It's hard to root against Evan Rachel Wood's work as Dolores on Westworld but I thinkn Claire Foy is the main reason why The Crown works so well. I don't really understand all the love for Killing Eve. I think the show is deeply flawed but grudgingly agree that Sandra Oh is incredible on it. I've never seen a single episode of The Americans but I know LOTS of people love it, and this is Keri Russell's last shot.

WILL WINSandra Oh, Killing Eve or Keri Russell, The Americans
SHOULD WINClaire Foy, The Crown

Outstanding Comedy Series
Atlanta
Barry
Black-ish
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Glow
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Silicon Valley

It's pretty amazing there's only one network show in the bunch (Black-ish) while Modern Family is absent after winning continuously for 4 years in a row. The absence of Veep means other shows have a chance to shine and the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from Amazon Prime has the biggest buzz. But if Atlanta doesn't win we should riot! (Kidding, sorta.)

WILL WINAtlanta.
SHOULD WINAtlanta.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
William H. Macy, Shameless
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Ted Danson is a revelation on The Good Place but Glover won this award last year and there's no good reason why he wouldn't win it again. Hader has a lot of buzz for HBO's Barry but does anyone watch that show?
WILL WIN: Donald Glover, Atlanta
SHOULD WIN: Ted Danson, The Good Place

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Pamelon Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Pretty sure Allison Janneyw on this award last year (didn't she win all the awards last year?) but it would be amazing if either Tracee Ellis Ross or Issa Rae could win this award becoming just the second Black woman to  do so almost 40 years after Isabel Sandford for Good Times.
WILL WIN: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
SHOULD WIN: Issa Rae, Insecure or Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

EYE CANDY: Pierre Vuala (3rd time!)





This is the third appearance by Pierre Vuala as Eye Candy. He first appeared in 4 years ago (August 25, 2014) and made a recurrence a few months ago (May 7, 2018). He has over 30,000 followers on Instagram (@pierre_vuala), and I'm surprised there's not more!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab


A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in the Shades of Magic series written by V.E. Schwab. Published in 2015 by Tor Books, it became a fantasy blockbuster novel, with well over 110k ratings and 15k reviews on Goodreads, and an outstanding average score of 4.0. I had heard about these books for awhile and read the synopsis of the story, of course, but had resisted taking the plunge to read them. (It takes a lot for me to try out a fantasy book, since it is probably my 3rd favorite genre, after science fiction and mystery.) 

All I basically knew about these books before I started reading A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four different versions of London (Red, White, Grey and Black) which the protagonist is able to travel between and something magical happens that threatens the existence of all of the Londons. This précis is technically true but fairly reductive since it misses some major features of the book. First, there are actually two protagonists: Kell and Lila. Second, the magic system is based around “blood magic” and very few people in any of the Londons have the ability to wield its power. Of course it turns out that Kell is one of them. The other main character is Lila, who is introduced to the reader (in first person) as an accomplished thief who primarily dresses in male clothing. Kell is from Red London (where magic is plentiful and common) while Lila is from Grey London (where magic is mostly unknown and rare). Very few people in any of the Londons know about the existence of the others (which is not surprising since so few people have the power to travel between them). White London is another place where magic is plentiful (almost too much so) and it turns out to be ruled by two very powerful, twin siblings named Astrid and Athos Dane, who are basically pure evil. It turns out that Black London long ago became cut off from the other Londons because they overused magic and were consumed by it. Apparently nobody goes to Black London  any more.

It’s a pretty intriguing fantastical world that Schwab has created in A Darker Shade of Magic but the highlight of the book for me is not the setting but the characterizations of Kell and Lila, whom we readers spend most of our time with.

The plot involves a power struggle for a dangerous and extremely potent magical artifact that Kell inadvertently takes from one London to another which could lead to the evil rulers of White London basically taking over and subjugating all the other habitable Londons (Red, Kell’s home world, and Grey, Lila’s). I had forgotten to mention earlier that it is a big "no no" for any material (except letters) to be transferred from one London to another.

Overall, while A Darker Shade of Magic is clearly the first book in the Shade of Magic trilogy it is also a self-contained novel of adventure and fantasy which thrills and entertains. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens in the two sequels A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.

TitleA Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #1).
AuthorV.E. Schwab.
Length: 400 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Published: February 24, 2015.
Read: August 15, 2018.


GOODREADS RATING: ★½☆  (4.5/5.0).


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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NSF Awards $9M To Advance STEM Leadership at HBCUs

The National Science Foundation has awarded up to $9 million to support the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership's goal of broadening participation by underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Specifically, the Division of Human Resources Development in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources has approved a 4-way collaborative award to Fielding Graduate University (1818424), North Carolina A&T University (1818459), University of the Virgin Islands (1818425) and the American Association of Colleges & Universities (1818447) to 1) examine how intuitive, unwritten codes of excellence in leadership result in the broadening participation success of HBCUs and to integrate this knowledge into STEM higher education reform; 2) provide a community of scholars with a world-class leadership development program that integrates personal and institutional histories into broadening participation research and practice; and 3) assimilate the HBCU institutional narrative into the national undergraduate STEM reform knowledge base through mainstream outreach and knowledge transfer outlets.

Here's a quote from the press release announcing the award:
The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), which houses several other NSF-funded projects, will lead the research component of the project. The research will focus on studying the nature of the leadership styles and strategies associated with the stellar record of HBCUs in graduating African Americans in STEM and in being national leaders in preparing African Americans for doctoral study in STEM. 
Our faculty and students have perfected various models of success that must be researched, studied, compared to others and disseminated throughout the nation,” said Dr. David Hall, President of UVI. “The future of the U.S. and world economy turns on the work that is occurring in various STEM fields, and HBCUs play a critical role in attracting, developing and inspiring future leaders in this field. This is an awesome and humbling task that we and our partners are ready and willing to undertake.” 
North Carolina A&T State University, a leading HBCU research university in the STEM fields, will team with Fielding Graduate University, long known for its leadership studies programs, to conduct leadership development programming in broadening STEM participation for emerging academic leaders. Based on CASL’s research findings, this effort will seek to establish the foundation for informing HBCUs and all of American higher education on the research-based strategies for producing new leaders to broaden STEM participation. 
“Fielding is proud to be a part of advancing leadership in the STEM fields through the establishment of this collaborative national Center,” said Fielding President Dr. Katrina Rogers. “Since its founding, Fielding and its faculty have pioneered a model of quality graduate education that links research and practice in support of social change and justice. Receiving support from the National Science Foundation for CASL is an affirmation of this legacy and its promise for the future.” 
“As an institution with a long history of leadership in STEM disciplines, North Carolina A&T State University is truly excited about the timely creation of this new center for STEM leadership,” added Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “As we and so many of our peer institutions scale up to meet the growing national demand for highly educated, well-prepared graduates in STEM professions, the work of this center will provide meaningful support for these efforts. Having well-prepared leadership for this important work is essential, both now and well into the future.” 
The Association of American Colleges and Universities, recognized nationally and internationally as the leading association dedicated to advancing the quality, vitality, and public standing of liberal education and inclusive excellence in higher education, will lead the knowledge transfer and outreach efforts of CASL. It will leverage its research findings to rightfully place HBCUs at the center of our nation’s effort to produce a more diverse and competitively trained STEM workforce. 
“CASL is exactly what we’ve needed in undergraduate STEM education reform for a very long time,” says AAC&U President Dr. Lynn Pasquerella. “This important work is in perfect alignment with AAC&U and our more than 1,400 member institutions who recognize that HBCUs are vital to sustaining our competitive edge in scientific discovery and innovation. I applaud the CASL leaders for their vision and foresight.” 
Although I used to work at the NSF, I had nothing to do with this award (I was in a different division in the same Directorate) but I think this is a great development! I hope CASL is successful at achieving its goals.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Djokovic Wins 14th Major (defeating del Potro)





Surprising some, Novak Djokovic won the 2018 U.S. Open men's singles title by defeating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3. With this win Djokovic has jump started hisyear by winning two majors, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and brought his career total to 14 majors, tying Pete Sampras at #3 on the all-time list, behind Rafael Nadal at 17 and Roger Federer at 20. Since he is 31, Nadal is 32 and Federer is 37 the Serb has a reasonable chance of ending his career with more majors than the Spaniard, and may even catch the Swiss's total. His partisans note that, right now, he has a head-to-head advantage of 24-22 over Federer, 27-25 over Nadal and 25-11 over Andy Murray and 19-5 over Stan Wawrinka.

Could these two consecutive major title wins be the first half of a second Nole slam (to be completed in 2019)?

2018 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Juan Martín Del Potro (ARG) [3] vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6]
Here are my predictions for the men's final at the US Open for 2018. Last year I correctly predicted that Rafael Nadal would defeat Kevin Anderson in the 2017 men's final.  This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals3 of 4 men's quarterfinals, 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals. I also predicted the result of the women's final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.


MEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEW
Juan Martín Del Potro (ARG) [3] d. Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] 7-6(3) 6-2 RETEven though I didn't predict that this would happen, I'm not really surprised that Del Potro left with the win. Nadal was looking increasingly fragile, having had to battle through multiple epics just to reach the semifinals. It turns out that he had spent almost 15 hours on court before this match, including the fifth set tiebreak win against Dominic Thiem most people are calling the best of the tournament. So the fact that his body let him down and he realized that after losing the first two sets that he did not have enough in the tank to come back and win this match, especially with a persistent pain in his knee which was hampering his movement so he retired, for the second time this year in an important grand slam match (first was against Cilic in the 2018 Australian Open quarterfinals).

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6] d. Kei Nishikori (JPN) [21] 6-3 6-4 6-2.  This was an unsurprising result, especially given the fact that Nishikori has only won two matches against Djokovic despite having played against him 16 times and that Nishikori was coming off a huge 5-set 4-hour win versus Marin Cilic the round before. Even so, Djokovic showed that he has basically returned to his world-beating level of tennis which had him dominating the tour for the 2 years prior to his 2016 departure from the sport.

MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW
This is not the final anyone expected when the draw was announced. (Many predicted a Nadal-Djokovic final.) Djokovic is coming off his surprising title run at the 2018 Wimbledon (his 13th career major) while Del Potro is at his career-high ranking of World #3. The 6-foot-6 Argentine has won the title in New York before, coming back from a 2-1 set deficit against the great Roger Federer in 2009 to snatch the title, one round after demolishing Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is playing in his 8th major final in New York, but has a surprisingly weak 2-5 record, having lost to Federer (2007), Nadal (2011, 2013), Andy Murray (2012) and Stan Wawrinka (2016). Del Potro is 1-0 in major finals, while Djokovic is playing in his 23rd major final (13-9), which is 3rd all time, behind Federer's 20-10 record and Nadal's 17-7.

Head-to-head, Djokovic has a dominant 14-4 record over Del Potro but the two have not played in 2018 where Del Potro has been resurgent. Also, Del Potro is a big match player, having beaten Djokovic both times they have met in the Olympics (2012 in London and 2016 in Rio) with the Argentine ending up with a medal both times. It's amazing Del Potro is even playing tennis, since he has had four(4!) surgeries since winning the 2009 US Open. To come back to be competing for a major title again after he was thisclose to retiring from tennis in 2015 is incredible. For Djokovic, if he wins his 14th major he will be back in the conversation about the Greatest of all time, by matching Pete Sampras haul, and getting within striking distance of Nadal's 17 and Federer's 20.

MadProfessah's prediction: Del Potro.

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