Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 FRENCH OPEN Round 1: Dimitrov(10), Lopez(11), Bouchard(6), Aga(14), Venus(15) All Lost

The first round of the 2015 French Open is now complete and there have been only a limited number of upsets.

On the men's side #10 seed Grigor Dimitrov was upset by American Jack Sock and #11 seed Feliciano Lopez was upset by Teimaruz Gabashvilli.

On the women's side the horrible 2015 season for Agnieska Radwanska and Eugenie Bouchard continues with embarrassing first round losses at Roland Garros. Bouchard is the #6 seed and in 2014 reached the semifinals of the first 3 majors of the year. Unfortunately for her, her 2015 results have been very different and she somewhat predictably lost her first round match to Kiki Mladenovic.

However the marquee match-up of the first round was probably between 7-time major champion Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. Venus is the #15 seed in the tournament and Stephens is a dangerous floater in the draw who avoided being seeded but has had consistently good results in Paris the last two years. Clay is Venus' is worst surface and she was the oldest player in the men's or women's draw (34 years old). The two played high quality tennis for most of the first set until they got to a tie break where Venus inexplicably hit 4 unforced errors after getting a lead and lost it 7-6(4). Venus then continued to spray the ball and lost the second set 6-1.

The favorites Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep all got through their first round matches relatively easily with only Kvitova dropping a set.

Monday, May 25, 2015

FILM REVIEW: Ex Machina


For some reason I have been so busy that I have not been able to see any new movies in the theater this year. However, since I am a fan of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, which were both directed by Danny Boyle (Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire) and written by Alex Garland I was intrigued when I saw that Garland had written a directed a new movie, called Ex Machina, which also happens to be a science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence.

Ex Machina is a thought-provoking science fiction thriller. The story revolves around a young computer programmer Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a company contest to spend a week at the home of the billionaire head of the world's largest internet search firm named Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). When Caleb gets there he find out that he has really been asked there to evaluate a new android (a humanoid form of artificial intelligence) called Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). Nathan tell Caleb he wants him to apply the Turing Test to Ava. The Turing Test is named after the openly gay genius Alan Turing  (whose story was featured in The Imitation Game) and basically involves a scenario in which the judge interacts with a being it can not see. If the judge can not distinguish between the responses of the being and what the judge would expect from a human, then the Test has been passed because for all intents and purposes the being (which is actually a computer or machine or artificial intelligence) is indistinguishable from a human.

However in the context of the movie, the Turing Test doesn't really make much sense because when Caleb meets Ava, who indeed looks like no other android we have seen in a movie before, he already knows that she is a robot. However, Caleb and Ava spend a lot of time together and soon two things becomes clear: 1) Caleb is falling in love with Ava (or Caleb is being seduced by Ava) and 2) Nathan is an obnoxious asshole.

Watching Caleb and Ava get close is interesting because we know that Caleb knows that she is a robot and yet it becomes increasingly obvious that he is attracted to her. The more interactions we have with Nathan the less appealing he becomes. He has a Geisha-like servant named Keiko who does not speak any English and whom he basically treats like his property. Caleb and the audience can see that there are cameras and recording devices everywhere which allow Nathan to monitor interactions between Caleb and Ava yet still they make plans to help her escape once Caleb's week comes to an end.

The film culminates in some developments whichI do not want to reveal here but which are ultimately quite satisfying especially since the audience is pretty sure we know where the story is going but Garland's script and direction have the ability to surprise and delight.

Title: Ex Machina.
Director: Alex Garland.
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.
Release Date: April 24, 2015.
Viewing Date: April 18, 2015.

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

Overall Grade:  A- (3.67/4.0).

EYE CANDY: Blake Sciortino (reprise)




Blake Sciortino is a smoking hot model and former athlete who has appeared on MTV and was featured Eye Candy here once before (July 28, 2014). He has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. According to his Model Mayhem profile, he is 22-years-old, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds. Yummy!

Mancrush seems to think he is black but I don't really know (or care). Hawt is hawt!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Game of Thrones (S5E06): "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"




Episode 6 of Season 5 (S5E06) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken." The title comes from phrase the motto of House Martell, which has become an important focus of this season as the show has expanded to the Martell's domain in Dorne. Fans of the books know that the motto reflects the fact that Dorne, has never been conquered by any external force (not even the Targaryens with their Dragons) while the Martell family has ruled it. However, it is possible that another interpretation of the title could be words that describe Sansa Stark, especially considering what happens at the very end of the episode.

Summary
I think the main theme of this episode (S5E06) is about lies and the impact of lies on the lives of people, as well as bad things happening to good people (but, wait, every episode of Game of Thrones is about that!). The good people in this episode are our usual fan favorites: Sansa, Tyrion, Jaime as well as "the Tyrell Roses" (Margaery and Loras). The bad things that happen to these characters are quite varied. Arya is also a fan favorite, of course, but it is unclear whether something good or bad happened to her.

What did happen is that she learned how to lie convincingly in the House of Black and White, and convinced a very sick girl to drink the poisoned water and meet the Many-Faced God. As a reward, Arya is shown the hidden underground chamber below the House and it turns out that it is filled with thousands and thousands of faces. This seems like a significant development in Arya's goal of becoming one of the deadly assassins known as the Faceless Men. But is this a good thing?

Here are just some of the bad things that happened to our favorite characters in this episode:
  • Jamie and Bronn were captured trying to rescue Myrcella Lannister (who clearly did not want to be separated from her hot new boyfriend Trystane Martell)
  • Jorah and Tyrion were captured by slavers in Essos and are likely to be taken to Mereen
  • Margaery and Loras Tyrell were taken away to jail by the Sparrows, accused of violating the "laws of gods and men"
  • Sansa was raped on her wedding night by the odious Ramsay Bolton, while Theon Greyjoy (formerly Reek) was forced to watch, after he had assumed the role of eldest male relative at the wedding 

Some of the lies that resonated in this week's episode were: Arya's lie to the sick girl that she had been brought to the House of Black and White by her father to be healed; Tyrion lies to the slavers who have captured him in order to spare the lives of Jorah and himself; Margaery and Loras lie to the High Sparrow while testifying in Loras' trial; Sansa is lying (presumably?) when she says "I do" during her wedding to Ramsay Bolton; and Jaime and Bronn are not lying per se but they are being deceptive when they break into the Water Gardens of Dorne (Jaime is still perpetrating the lie that he is not Myrcella's father).

Then of course there is Littlefinger's statements to Cersei that he knows where Sansa Stark is and if she makes him Warden of the North then he will bring her Sansa's head on a spike. Is that a lie? Does Littlefinger even know what the truth is anymore?

Highlights
The best parts of the episode were:
  • The best line of the show (and possibly the series) was spoken by the anonymous slaver who captured Tyrion Lannister and Ser Barristan Selmy: "The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant!" 
  • A close runner-up  for the best line of the show (for the sheer magnitude of delusion it reveals) is Cersei Lannister's "House Lannister has no rival." Sadly, the statement by Sansa to her fiance's gielfriend is equally self-delusional: "I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can't frighten me."
  • The verbal clash between Cersei and Olenna Tyrell was a delight; as expected the Queen of Thorns easily won the match and also learned that Lord Tywin's daughter is not as worthy an opponent or combatant as he was.
  • Another highlight of the episode was the buggery trial of Loras Tyrell, primarily for the clever way the show runners were able to set the perjury trap for Queen Margaery. The smirk that Cersei gives Olenna is priceless, but again demonstrates she is unaware of the danger of arming religious zealots and then blurring the lines separating Church and State.
  • The dress that Sansa Stark wore to her wedding to Ramsay Bolton was absolutely stunning.
Lowlights
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  As many other recaps have noted, did the show really need to have another female lead character get raped in order to demonstrate the ubiquity and horror of sexual violence in Westeros? Sansa is the third one, following the rapes of Dany on her wedding night by Khal Drogo and Cersei by her brother Jaime next to the body of their dead son King Joffrey.
  • The Sand Snakes are simply unacceptably bad; their "plot" to capture Myrcella was laughable. It's really not clear how the entire Dorne subplot can be salvaged at this point.
Grade: 8/10.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UPDATE: The Expanse Is Premiering On SyFy In December 2015!


I found other rabid fans of James S.A. Corey's books at Reddit and from there discovered that there's a second version of the trailer for the upcoming SyFy television adaptation and someone has grabbed  a bunch of screen captures from it.

Check it out! There are signs that SyFy has already approved Season 2 of the series even before the show has premiered. If true, this would be great news, although I'm a bit worried about the December premiere for the show. The big question for me will be whether The Expanse will premiere from the other big Science fiction show coming you this year, Jonathan Nolan's Westworld starring Sir Anthony Hopkins among others. Either SyFy is just trying to stick to their promised (and probably contractual 2015 premiere date and trying to take as long as possible to get it right, or they are not completely sure abut the show and have picked a time when most people are not paying attention to launch My Next Favorite Television Show.

The Expanse cast has Shohreh Agdashloo, Steven Strait, Thomas Jane and Chad Coleman in key roles.

Ireland Enacts Marriage Equality As Amendment Passes With Over 60% #VoteYes


As expected, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a popular vote when the country passed a constitutional amendment by a huge margin of 62%-38% buoyed by record high turnout of over 60 of the voting population.

Freedom To Marry's Evan Wolfson said:
With a resounding vote in favor, Ireland now becomes the first country in the world to pass the freedom to marry by popular referendum, as well as the 21st nation and the 10th predominantly Catholic country in which same-sex couples can marry. Our Irish colleagues at Yes Equality ran a magnificent campaign and Freedom to Marry is proud to have shared what we’ve learned in our own campaign here in the US. The global momentum for the freedom to marry reflects and reinforces the progress we are making here in the United States – and we look now to the Supreme Court to bring our country to national resolution, following Ireland’s good example.
Ireland is now the 21st country where same-sex couples have an equal right to marry.
Eighteen countries have approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg, Finland and now Ireland), while two others have regional or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry (Mexico and the United States). In Slovenia, Parliament approved a marriage bill in March 2015 and is headed to the president's desk.
Woo hoo!

SATURDAY POLITICS: Openly Gay, Latino Ref Rodriguez Elected To Los Angeles School Board


Dr. Ref Rodriguez was just elected this week to fill the District 5 seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board of education. He defeated incumbent Bennet Kayser by a surprisingly large margin of 7 points (53.5% to 46.5%). Rodriguez was endorsed by the Victory Fund, which supports only LGBT candidates for elected offices around the country.

Rodriguez is well-known for founding the Partnership to Uplift Communities Schools, commonly known as the PUC Schools, which run many charter schools in the state of California. The Rodiguez-Kayser battle was the most expensive of those contested on May 19th, with the California Charter School Association spending millions of dollars to defeat Kayser, who was aligned with the United Teachers Los Angles (UTLA), the teachers' union.

As KPCC put it:
As was the case in the primary, voter turnout was low as predicted: 7.64 percent of registered voters turned out in the school board election and 13.93 percent in City Council District 4. 
In the school board election, the low turnout gave special interests more influence in the results than had voters turned out in decent numbers. California Charter Schools Association Advocates' PACs spent over $2.2 million, primarily to support charter school administrator Ref Rodriguez. The teachers union, UTLA, spent about $1.3 million while calling on its 31,000-plus members to campaign for its favored candidates. 
The District 5 election got so fierce that I had people knocking on my door (twice) for Kayser even though I am not in District 5 (I'm in District 2 currently held by Monica Garcia).

Because of the ill-advised Charter Amendments that passed earlier this year, Rodriguez will serve a 5.5 year term, coming up for election in June 2020.

Friday, May 22, 2015

2015 FRENCH OPEN: Draws Released; Rafa-Nole Set For QF, Murray In Same Half; Fed In Other Half


The 2015 French Open draw is out! Despite the fact that today is Novak Djokovic's 28th birthday, he probably did not get what he wanted with a draw that sets up him with a potential quarterfinal match-up with 9-time and defending champion Rafael Nadal, who thanks to Milos Raonic's withdrawal was seeded #6.

For Djokovic to win the 2015 Roland Garros title he coudl potentially need to beat Nadal i the quarterfinal, #3 Andy Murray in the semifinals and #2 Roger Federer in the final. If he can do all that (which is definitely possible) then he would be halfway to a calendar grand slam and knocking on the door of all-time greatness with 9 majors to his name.

The potential quarterfinals on the men's side are:
Djokovic (1) vs Nadal (6)Murray (3) vs Ferrer (7)Berdych (4) vs Nishikori (5)Federer (2) vs Wawrinka (8)
The men's draw was kindest to Federer, who basically only has to worry about facing Gael Monfils in the fourth round. The Frenchman has beaten the Swiss great the last two ties he has faced him, on clay. Could he make it three in a row in front of a hometown Parisian crowd?

The potential quarterfinals on the women's side are:
S. Williams (1) vs Bouchard (6)Halep (3) vs Ivanovic (7)Kvitova (4) vs Wozniacki (5)Sharapova (2) vs Suarez Navarro (8)
However even more intriguing in the women's side of the draw are the first round match-ups between Americans Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys and Varvara Lepchenko. Another interesting first round could be Kiki Mladenovic and Bouchard. Mladenovic took out then-reigning Australian Open champion Li Na in the first round last year. Also youngsters Caroline Garcia and Belinda Bencic are facing each other in the first round.

The most interesting first round men's match is probably between Grigor Dimitrov and Jack Sock. I'm curious to see if 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe can win his first match at a major (against) talented lefty Martin Klizan after winning the USTA wild card.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: WNBA Newlyweds Each Suspended 7-Games For Domestic Violence Incident


Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, two WNBA players, both 24-years-old, were suspended for a record 7 games (more than 20% of the WNBA season of 34 games) as a result of an April 22nd domestic violence incident where both women were arrested prior to their May 8th wedding in Phoenix Arizona.
The couple, who will use the surname Johnson-Griner, wrote their own vows. Ms. Griner was brief, funny and tender: “With you by my side, I know that I’ll always be taken care of and protected. I will give every ounce of my love that is possible to you, as long as you cook me fried chicken wings and hot chocolate.” 
Ms. Johnson’s vows also short and sweet, addressed the complications in their relationship head on — and with humor. “I promise to be the Whitney to your Bobby, the Bonnie to your Clyde, the Ike to your Tina,” she began, to laughter from the small gathering of about 50 friends and family. 
“I promise to accept that we’re different, that we will see the world differently and over the course of our marriage we will want different things,” she said. “I don’t expect this to be easy.”
Griner was the #1 WNBA draft pick in 2013 and made history doing so an openly LGBT athlete.

Good luck to the happy couple!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Birthday Is Today!


My birthday is today so I'm going to spend the day chillaxing at home, reading and then going out to a lovely dinner with my husband. Meanwhile, you all can enjoy this picture of Pietro Boselli, the "hottest math teacher in the world."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ireland Poised To Enact Marriage Equality By Popular Ballot This Week

Ireland is poised to become the first country in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote if a constitutional amendment is approved by voters on Friday May 22.

The text of the measure is as follows:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Polls have shown a large lead for the "Yes" side which would lead to a victory for marriage equality. All major parties have endorsed the Yes position and the coalition said that they would not be surprised to see a result of 60% in support of marriage.

This is an astonishing possibility in a country that is 85% Catholic and where abortion is still illegal and divorce was legalized only two decades ago.

Good luck, Ireland!

TENNIS TUESDAY: Djokovic and Sharapova Win Rome Titles, French Open Starts Sunday


Federer-Djokovic XXXIX Goes To Djokovic 6-4 6-3 In Rome Final
The 39th meeting between the 17-time major champion Roger Federer and the 8-time major champion Novak Djokovic was another example of the stellar play the Serbian 27-year-old has displayed all year. He faced only one breakpoint in the match and made 10 unforced errors to Federer's 23. With his win, Djokovic narrowed his head-to-head deficit  with Federer to 19-20.

Djokovic On 37-Match Winning Streak Against Best Opponents In Biggest Tournaments
Djokovic's 2015 record is 35-2 (14-1 against other Top 10 opponents) and he has now won 5 of the 6 biggest titles of the year (and he skipped the Madrid Masters to rest). He has now won 24 Masters series shields in his career, tying Federer's and he is 6 years younger than the Swiss Great. He will almost certainly surpass Rafael Nadal's current record total of 28. Against the best opposition at the majors and masters shields tournaments Djokovic has won 37 matches in a row, with his last loss coming to Federer in Shanghai. Pundits are now starting to talk about the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era instead of just the Federer-Nadal era.

Sharapova Outlasts CSN In Rome Final
Maria Sharapova wrapped up her clay court preparation with an important 4-6 7-5 6-1 win against a tough clay court opponent in Carla Suarez Navarro to win her 3rd Rome title. She also reclaimed her #2 World ranking when Simona Halep fell to Suarez Navarro in a 3-hour slugfest the day before. Last year, Sharapova and Halep played the one of the best matches of the year in the 2014 French Open final.

French Open Begins On Sunday With 9-Time Champion Unlikely To Be Seeded Highly
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked World #7 and will almost certainly be seeded out of the Top 4 which means that he could meet one of his higher ranked rivals in the quarterfinals as he tries to win his 10th title at Roland Garros. On the women's side, Maria Sharapova  and Serena Williams will be on the opposite sides of the draw, and could meet in the final again. The two best players in the world also met in the finals of the first grand slam tournament of the year but their match-up can't really be called a rivalry until Sharapova wins one of these matches, something she has not done since late 2004 (despite playing 16 times). However, I think Sharapova will eventually win another match against Serena and Roland Garros is probably one of the best places she could do it.

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