Thursday, March 21, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny


Kingdom of the Blind  is another sublime entry in the long-running Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in the mythical town of Three Pines, a suburb of Montreal. This is the fourteenth book and unlike some other police procedural murder-mysteries the sequential order is VERY important as the passage of time and events from earlier books very much influences the story. 

These books must be read in order for the greatest effect and thus that makes it difficult to write a review of this book without spoiling the earlier ones. As I have said before, I believe that one of the key factors in how strong a series is (or will be) is the complexity of the supporting characters. Louise Penny has done an amazing job of populating the Gamache series with a number of supporting characters who have large, distinct and memorable personalities. These have become familiar (and perhaps a little rote) over the course of the series. That being said, in some books these “supporting characters” have become main characters and generally the books where this occurs have not suffered from their promotion. Another thing that Penny has done well is create new characters and added them to the mix, and these characters have grown and been incorporated into the stories in increasingly interesting ways.

In Kingdom of the Blind there are really three main protagonists, Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Amelia Choquet. Beauvoir and Gamache have been a team from very early in the series but Choquet has only been a presence in the last few books. Of course, all our favorites from past books, Ruth, Rosa, Clara, Myrna, Reine-Marie, Gabri and Olivier make appearances, mostly as cameos (unfortunately). 

This time the primary mystery is about the will of a crazy old lady who despite being apparently penniless leaves inheritances of millions of dollars to her three kids. Myrna, Gamache and a handsome young stranger are named executors of her estate despite apparently having no connection to the deceased and we and they first need to solve the puzzle of why this woman decided on them as her will's executors. Soon after the will is read publicly there’s a murdered corpse to add to the story and off we go. 

Overall, I would say that is a better than average entry in the Gamache series. The primary murder mystery is interesting (but actually not too difficult to solve). As with most of her best books, the most salient aspects of the story involve events which happen to our protagonists (especially Gamache and Beauvoir) that will have long-term impacts on these characters lives, insuring we continue to connect to, and emphasize with, them.

RATING 4.5 STARS.

Title: Kingdom of the Blind.
Author: 
Louise Penny.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: November 27, 2018.
Date Read: March 8, 2019.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

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

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Karen Uhlenbeck Becomes First Woman To Win Abel Prize in Mathematics


Karen Uhlenbeck (formerly of University of Texas at Austin and now at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study) has become the first woman to win the Abel Prize. The Abel Prize has been awarded since 2003 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and comes with a check for 6 million Norwegian kroner (about US$700,000).

Uhlenbeck, 76, is cited for her "pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics."

The American Mathematics Society states:
Uhlenbeck is a former MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a recipient of the National Medal of Science (2000) and the Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research (2007), and a member of the inaugural class of AMS Fellows. She is the first woman mathematician to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1986) and the second woman to give a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians (1990—Emmy Noether was the first). In "The Abel Prize Laureate 2019," Uhlenbeck observes that she is a role model but "it’s hard, because what you really need to do is show students how imperfect people can be and still succeed. ... I may be a wonderful mathematician and famous because of it, but I’m also very human.” Uhlenbeck was the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents' Chair in Mathematics before retiring from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, and is now a visiting senior research scholar at Princeton University and a visiting associate at the Institute for Advance Study. See more about her work in the March Notices article, "Karen Uhlenbeck and the Calculus of Variations," by Simon Donaldson,  and on the Abel Prize website, which has the full prize citation, her biography, descriptions of her work, and a video of the announcement of the prize.

Congratulations to Professor Uhlenbeck!

Monday, March 18, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Andreescu and Thiem Win Their Biggest Titles In Thrilling Upset Over Major Champs


Defying the predictions of many observers (including yours truly) Bianca Andreescu and Dominc Thiem won the women's and men's championships at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Sunday. Andreescu received a wildcard into the event, becoming the first wildcard to win the title and the youngest player since Serena Williams won it at age 17 in 1999. Andreescu beat 3-time major champion Angie Kerber 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a very compelling contest which was decided by the 18-year-old Canadian's power and determination to win against her opponents guile, stamina and defense.

In the men's championship, Roger Federer won the first set and looked to be extending his streak of winning finals after having won the first set from 20 to 21 when Thiem raised his intensity and the power of his strokes to simply overpower the 100-time ATP singles champion. The 25-year-old Austrian was the tour leader in 2018 with the average speed of his groundstrokes on both wings (depsite a one-handed backhand) and in the final with Federer he exceeded his 2018 average in the match. The final score was 3-6 6-3 7-5. At 4-5 30-30 Federer came within 2 points of his 101st title when he approached the net on a good, deep cross-court approach shot only to find Thiem blasting a backhand directly at him which was too much to handle. A quick service winner later and Federer was unable to hold his serve at 5-all, getting his service broken and allowing Thim to serve out the championship with little hesitation.

Both youngsters came from behind in the match to win their biggest titles of their career. Of the two, Andreescu's was the more surprising result. Thiem has been known as a clay-court specialist, having reached (and lost) two Masters 1000 finals in Madrid and the 2018 Roland Garros final but with  a signature win over Federer (playing in his 9th Indian Wells final) on a hard court, Thiem showed he is  developing into an all-court player. Andreescu was playing in only her second WTA tour-level final and career earnings of $300,000; she earned $1.3 million on Sunday. There were echoes of last year when now World #1 Naomi Osaka was unseeded and won her first career title and then went on to win two consecutive hardcourt majors.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Federer-Thiem and Kerber-Andreescu Finals


The finals of Indian Wells are now set. Sadly, Fedal39 ended up being a bust because Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament (and, eventually, the Miami Open) a few hours before his semifinal clash with Roger Federer. Bizarrely, after getting a walkover from Gael Monfils in the quarterfinal, Dominc Thiem defeated Milos Raonic 6-4 in the 3rd set to reach his first final in the Desert. So Federer and Thiem will compete for the first Masters series title of the year. The two have a 2-2 head-to-head record, but both of Federer's wins have occurred on hard courts. Federer is playing in his 9th final in Indian Wells, but last year he lost the final here (after having match point!) against Juan Martin del Potro. I suspect that won't happen this year. MadProfessah's prediction: Federer.

The women's side of the draw has been the more interesting tournament. After Belinda Bencic continued her incredible win streak by taking out World #1 Noami Osaka and Karolina Pliskova before falling to Angelique Kerber in the semifinals. Venus Williams had a resurgence in form, reaching the quarterfinals, winning one of the best matches of the tournament against Petra Kvitova. However, the biggest story of the tournament was the performance of 18-year-old Canadian wildcard Bianca Andreescu. She is in the final of her first WTA premier mandatory tournament on the strength of beating Garbine Muguruza 6-0 6-1 in the quarterfinals and outlasting Elina Svitolina in the semifinals (6-4 in the 3rd set). However, she will face Kerber, who has shut down the two other red-hot players in the tournament already (Venus and Bencic) and can probably do it a 3rd time. MadProfessah's pick: Kerber.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Federal LGBT Civil Rights Bill #EqualityAct Introduced In U.S. House



There are 28 states where it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community today. Most American believe that LGBT citizens should have (and already have) equal civil rights in the United States.

On March 13, the Equality Act, a comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights bill was introduced into the Congress with one House almost certain to pass it due to the fact Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.

The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School did an analysis of the state of cvil rights for LGBT Americans and published a report summarizing its findings. Key among these, are:


  • An estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers age 16 and older live in the United States. About half of these workers4.1 million peoplelive in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment.
  • There are over 3.million LGBT students age 15 and older in the U.S. About 2.1 million live in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in education.
  • There are an estimated 13 million LGBT people age 13 and older in the U.S. Approximately 6.9 million live in states that do not statutorily prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in public accommodations. 
  • There are an estimated 11 million LGBT adults in the U.S. Over 5.6 million live in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing and 8 million lack such protections in credit.
Hat/tip to Williams Institute

BOOK REVIEW: Embers of War by Gareth Powell

Embers of War is a curious example of a space opera. The main character is a sentient ship, called the Trouble Dog, which was a warship that was involved in a horrific genocide that ended a war and is now part of an organization which resembles an interstellar version of the International Red Cross known as The House of Reclamation. Other characters in  Embers of War  include Ona Sundak, the former warship captain who actually ordered that genocide and who has been hiding incognito for years; two spies for opposing governments, Laura Petrushka and Aston Childe, who could be and may be more than just friends and Sal Konstantz, the current captain of the Trouble Dog.

The heart of the story is is about a conflict between a multitude of competing factions who are trying to control a precious resource. A major theme is also about the nature of forgiveness and the after-effects of war. A planet-spanning sentient forest was exterminated by Sundak in an attempt to end a war in order to save lives that would be lost if the war continued. How does one weigh the consequences of such an act? Are genocidal acts ever"reasonable"? As I said, this is an unusual topic for a military SF space opera tale, but it is a compelling one. 

However, overall, I was not as enthralled with Embers of War as I expected to be, considering the genre it is in and the fact that it was nominated for Best Novel in the British Science Fiction Awards (BSFA). One of the problems for me was that I didn’t really connect with any one of the human characters. The most compelling character in the book is the ship, but “she” portrays herself as such (it probably shouldn’t have a gender but it thinks of itself as female based on the source of the cells that comprise the biological substrate of the ship’s mind). Speaking of gender, the majority of the characters are female and the male characters are either viewed as incompetent or as needlessly and recklessly violent. This may have been another reason I didn’t emotionally connect with the story. I would note that there’s a lot of action in Embers of War, which is a nice feature of the book and there is also a significant presence of aliens and ships can travel faster-than-light by moving through the equivalent of "hyperspace." Overall, I'll probably still read the other books in the trilogy (Book 2 Fleet of Knives was recently released), but I'll probably wait until the entire series is complete.

Title: Embers of War.
Author: 
Gareth L. Powell.
Paperback: 411 pages.
Publisher:
 Titan Books.
Date Published: February 20, 2018.
Date Read: February 25, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Djokovic(1),Osaka(1),Halep(2),Bertens(7),Cilic(10) All Lose!


Major upsets in the Desert today! Both World #1's lost. Novak Djokovic lost 6-4 6-4 to Philip Kohlschreiber while Naomi Osaka lost 6-3 6-1 to Belinda Bencic. Other seeds who lost included World #2 Simona Halep, World #10 Marin Cilic, World #7 Kiki Bertens among others.

Winners included Venus Williams  and Garbine Muguruza (reaching the quarterfinals).

Monday, March 11, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Serena Withdraws After Losing 7 Consecutive Games Against Muguruza


Bad news from Indian Wells! After playing brilliantly to win in straight sets against Victoria Azarenka on Friday night, Serena Wiliams had her 3rd round match against Garbine Muguruza on Sunday and while she started off well, winning the first 3 games (1 break). she ended up retiring. Something went horribly wrong around the 5th game and she started having difficulty keeping a ball in the court and was side-arming her serve into the court. She ended up losing 7 consecutive games and abandoned the match and the court down 3-6 0-1 when it became clear it was unlikely she was going to win another game.

This is sad because I will be spending all day Wednesday at the tournament and had hoped to see her in action. Oh well, it is still a great tournament, and I look forward to visiting again.

EYE CANDY: Diego Barros





Diego Barros is a "thirst trap" on Instagram (with well over 600,000 followers @diego_rodrigob) who also happens to be the owner of Coconut Supply, an underwear supplier. I can't seem to find his age, height or weight but one can find a lot of pictures of him on the internet, usually featuring his impressively bulging crotch, including some pictures where he is nude and, umm, aroused. Enjoy!

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