Monday, December 31, 2012

Obama Lobbies For Illinois Marriage Equality Bill

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that President Obama has been in personal communication with legislators in Illinois to lobby them in support of marriage equality legislation which is expected to be considered during a lame-duck session in January.
"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.
"As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," Inouye said.
The lead sponsors of the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), intend to put the measure up for a vote during the upcoming January lame-duck session.
The toughest challenge for gay marriage backers will be winning passage in the Illinois House. Prospects for approval in the Illinois Senate--where Obama once served--are brighter.
The practical impact of Obama urging his home state to legalize gay marriage is to prod--and give political cover to--reluctant Democrats from conservative suburban and Downstate districts.
Illinois has a civil union law that went into effect on June 1, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn (D) is one of the most unpopular governors in the country but has stated his support for marriage equality. Illinois's current discriminatory marriage law is being challenged in court and the governor and attorney general are refusing to defend it, since they support marriage equality as well.

Obama announced publicly in May 2012 that he supports marriage equality and released statements in support of marriage equality ballot measures in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington during the 2012 presidential election campaign. This is the first state marriage equality bill that Obama has lobbied for, but since he started his political career as a member of the Illinois legislature, it is expected that he has a personal stake and interest in his home state enacting marriage equality.

Hat/tip to Talking Points Memo

Eye Candy: David Mcintosh (black/white)

David McIntosh is a beautiful man who has appeared as Eye Candy before (September 24, 2012 and March 13, 2009). He is a former British Marine who is listed as 26-year-old, 6-feet tall and 190 pounds.

I think he is the best choice I could make as the last Eye Candy model of the year. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Marriage Equality Begins in Maine

Same-sex couples in Maine were able to start getting civil marriage licences at 12:01am Saturday night and legally married soon afterwards. Above is a picture of the very first couple to get married in Portland, Maine: Michael Snell and Steven Bridges (right).

Maine becomes the 8th state in the country where marriage equality is legal, and the first to do through passage of a citizen-initiated ballot measure. Seems like the world is not ending even though literally hundreds of thousands of more citizens are getting access to marriage equality in the next few days (Maryland's marriage equality law goes into effect on Tuesday January 1st).

GRAPHIC: Faith+Politics+Money=Religion

Interesting images posted at

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2012

Here are my picks for the Top 10"best" (or most memorable) tennis matches by men in 2012. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring (or later on, upon subsequent reflection), feature some of the best play or most amazing shots, had the most impact on the rest of the tennis season or are matches that I would most likely to watch again in the future. You can see my lists from last year: Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2011 and Best Women's Tennis Matches of 2011. I also have lists of best men's matches for 20102009 and 2006. (There were no men's lists in 2007 or 2008.) I have also compiled lists of the Best Women's Tennis Matches for 2005200620072009, and 2010.

All of these lists can be accessed at my Tennis tab.

1.  N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal ESP, 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5, 2012 Australian Open final, Melbourne.
     The third consecutive grand slam final in a row was a contest between  Nadal and Djokovic, this time on the hardcourts of Australia where the Serbian has had his greatest success. Even more importantly, it was the first time the two met after Djokovic completed one of the most amazing years in tennis history in 2011, beating Nadal in 6 consecutive tour finals, including the two previous majors (2011 Wimbledon final and the 2011 #1 match of the year, the 2011 US Open final). The primary question was whether Djokovic could extend his near-perfect record from 2011 into a new calendar year or would he be able to be stopped by the indomitable Spaniard. The result was a near 6-hour gladiatorial slugfest, a mental marathon and physical punishment, where the victor would secure their place at the top of men's tennis. By winning this match Djokovic proved that he was willing to do whatever it takes to win, even if meant reaching his physical and mental limits and going beyond them. 
     After dropping the first set (despite being up a break) and stealing the second (6-4), Djokovic used the subsequent momentum to easily win the third from his demoralized opponent. Djokovic then had victory at his grasp in the fourth set and was mere points from the win when some bad decisions in the tiebreak (after being up 5-3!) brought the match back to dead even again, with Nadal confident that his stamina and newly found momentum (due to his escape from defeat in the 4th set) would seal his victory. In fact, the Spaniard was up 4-2, 30-15 in the fifth and final set when he made two bad errors and lost his slim 1-break advantage. Although Djokovic seemed worse for wear, he managed to hold serve to again bring the match to dead-even again: 4-all in the 5th after nearly 5 and a half hours of play. But it was Nadal who blinked first, losing his serve in the 11th game of the set, and allowing Djokovic to serve out the match and win his 5th major title and 3rd Australian Open.
     This was the most significant match of 2012 in that it marked a 7 consecutive win of Djokovic over Nadal in as many final match-ups and confirmed that the Federer-Nadal duopoly at the top of men's tennis was now a trivalry between the top 3 players. Some have quibbled that the reason the match was so long was because both players refused to come to the net to finish points, as well as their deliberately unhurried pace between points. I don't see how anyone can complain about the level of the tennis and shotmaking involved, but what really sets this match apart from the others in 2012 was the sheer drama on the court and the stakes involved for men's tennis. It was so physically draining that both players nearly collapsed during the on-court trophy presentation and eventually someone noticed and brought the two combatants to sit down during the ceremony.

2.  A. Murray GBR d. N. Djokovic SRB, 7-6(10) 7-5 2-6 3-6 6-2, U.S. Open final, New York.
      For years Andy Murray could only watch while two (and then three) of the all-time greats gobbled up the lion's share of grand slam titles, usually beating him in the process. The problem for Murray, everyone said, was that in order for him to win a major title, he would almost certainly have to beat one, if not two, of either Federer, Djokovic or Nadal. Plus, no British player had won a major title since Fred Perry did it in 1936. And although the Scot had reached 3 major finals before his 24th birthday, he had not acquitted himself very well in any of them, failing to win a set in all three contests. However, despite losing his 4th major final at Wimbledon in July (to this same opponent!), Murray was able to come back a handful of weeks later and beat Federer on the same court to win a Gold Medal. He had been up a set and break in that 4th major final, and by actually winning a gold medal while his country was hosting the Olympics indicated that he had finally broken through whatever was hindering him from success in historically important matches.
     Many people stated that Murray would never win a major, but he had hired Ivan Lendl who also had lost his first four major finals but then Lendl went on to eventually win 7 majors and appear in a record 8 consecutive US major finals. Murray had played an astonishingly good match against Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2012 Australian Open, only eventually succumbing 7-5 in the fifth
     Through some good (and bad) fortune, neither Djokovic nor Murray needed to face Nadal or Murray in their path to the final, thanks to an inspired upset by Tomas Berdych of Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and Nadal's disappearance from the game due to injury after Wimbledon.
     The match itself was played on Monday afternoon, the fifth consecutive year the US Open men's final had been postponed due to the inclement weather. The wind definitely impacted the level of play at points but even so the two were able to combine for some absolutely incredible rallies and many momentum shifts and dramatic moments,beginning with an opening set decided by a 22-point tiebreak. Murray was able to use the momentum from winning the first set to take a presumed insurmountable 2-set leave but then Djokovic was able to dig deep and run away with next two sets to level the match. Almost everyone would have expected the more successful player to pull out the win at this point but instead Murray started playing more freely and was able to quickly break Djokovic's serve twice while holding on to his own to claim his first major title. Time will tell if Murray will be able to follow up this win with more victories in 2013

3.  R. Federer SUI d. A. Murray GBR, 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-3, 2012 Wimbledon final, London.
     This match result clarified many open questions about the state of men's tennis in 2012 and cemented Roger Federer's status as the Greatest Of All Time. Just by reaching the final of Wimbledon, Andy Murray made history and sent his entire country into paroxysms of joy mingled with anxiety. There is no player on tour who has faced as much pressure on him to do well as Murray has in the last few years since he became a serious contender to win majors, and possibly the Great Green One itself.
     Murray used the pressure to sneak the first set away from Federer and was quickly up a break in the second, which he probably should have won also. If he had, this match would probably have been the #1 match of the year instead. However, Federer was able to win the second set and once the roof was closed due to pouring rain towards the beginning of the third set the contest became a best-of-3 indoor match (albeit on grass) which gave the Swiss Master an overwhelming advantage which he used to his benefit to win his record-tying 7th Wimbledon and jaw-dropping 17 major singles championship. He also reclaimed the World #1 ranking, ensuring that he would finally hold the last major record he was lacking in his overstuffed list of accolades: Most Weeks at #1.

4.  R. Nadal ESP d. N. Djokovic SRB6-4 6-3 2-6 7-5, French Open final, Paris. 
     Novak Djokovic sealed his place in history by becoming only the third man in the Open Era to be one match away from holding all four major titles simultaneously (Rod Laver and Roger Federer). Amazingly, his opponent in all 4 consecutive major finals had been Rafael Nadal, the greatest clay court player of all time, and Djokovic had already bested him in three consecutive major finals. Nadal was also playing for history, trying to win his record 7th French Open final and end the conversation about who is the greatest clay-court player of all time. The two had met in clay-court finals twice earlier in 2012 (in Rome and Monte Carlo) and Nadal had won both times, ending the streak of 7 consecutive finals that he had lost to Djokovic in the previous 18 months. However, Nadal still led their overall head-to-head record 18-14 and Djokovic was playing in his very first Roland Garros final so the Spaniard was the overwhelming favorite.
     Nadal took the first two sets relatively easily on a cold, dreary Sunday morning and the match looked it would soon be over. However, after losing the first two games of the 3rd set Djokovic threw caution to the wind and started connecting with some go-for-broke shots and managed to throw some doubt in Nadal just as the weather conditions deadened the effect of his excessive spin as the balls got wetter and heavier. Djokovic ended up winning eight games in a row as Nadal grew more upset and more animated, petitioning the umpire to suspend play, and finally got his wish just after he was able to finally hold serve. When they came back Nadal was able to quickly break back in the very first gaand the two held serve until the 12th game when Djokovic's mental resolve finally crumbled and he double faulted on breakpoint which was also championship point.
     Nadal's victory was his 3rd consecutive win over Djokovic and brought him to 11 major titles. However, it may have been something of a pyrrhic victory, even while he was winning the French for a record 7th time he was grappling (and hiding) a significant knee injury which he was able to overcome while playing on the gentle clay but was unable to survive long on grass just a few weeks later and he was unable to compete for the rest of the year.

5.  L. Rosol CZE d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-7(9) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4, 2012 Wimbledon 2nd Round, London.
     It's not surprising that the four finals of the major tournaments are my picks for the Top 4 best matches of the year, although that has not happened on any of my previous year-end best-of lists. What is surprising is that the next match on the list is not even a final, it is merely a 2nd round match;  without question it was the Biggest Upset of the year, and had a profound impact on the order at the top of men's tennis for the foreseeable future.
     What made Luke Rosol's achievement so noteworthy was that it was a lightning strike, coming out of nowhere, and just as electrifying. Despite being a clay court wizard, Nadal's record at this grass court tournament on the day of his defeat was that he had been in 3 Wimbledon finals in his last 3 appearances in the tournament and he had won two of those (2008 d. Federer; 2010 d. Berdych; 2011 l. Djokovic). The idea that an unseeded Czech that no one had heard of could take Nadal to 5 sets (and very nearly beat him in straight sets--it was primarily lack of experience which led to Rosol's loss of the first set) was unthinkable.
     A key important point of the greatness of this upset is that the quality of tennis was high throughout. Nadal played well (although obviously not his best tennis--but then again he wasn;t in his best physical shape, as we learned later) but Rosol played absolutely at the complete peak of his ability and sustained it through 5 sets and with a crowd that was going absolutely insane with delirium at witnessing history. Nadal had a mere 16 unforced errors for the entire match (compared to Rosol's 29) but the lanky, powerful Czech youngster had a blistering 65 winners to the Spaniard's 41. The kid served out of his mind for the entire 5th set, and ended the match with a blistering ace, writing his name in indelible ink in the history books and ending Nadal's 2012 season.

6.  R. Federer SUI d. J.-M. del Potro ARG, 3-6 7-6(5) 19-17, Olympiad XXX semifinal, London.
     Federer and Juan Martin del Potro met eight times in 2012. At the beginning o the year, Federer had an overwhelming 7-2 record over the 6'6" gentle giant from Argentina. Del Potro was still recovering from wrist surgery after becoming the first man not named Federer, Djokovic or Nadal in over 5 years to win a major final (over Federer) in September 2009 in New York. By the end of the year the new head-to-head was 13-4 in favor of Federer. This showdown at the London Olympics semifinal was the 6th meeting of the year and the stakes were to ensure that the winner would be going home with an Olympic medal (either Gold or Silver). 
     The two were playing in Federer's house, Centre Court Wimbledon, where a mere few weeks after the GOAT had won his 7th men's singles crown. Most people predicted Federer to win relatively easily but Del Potro had been getting ever closer in his matches against Federer and really should have won their quarterfinal match at Roland Garros when his body (knee) started failing him after winning the first two sets. The decision by the London Olympics Committee to have a best-of-3 sets format with no tiebreak in the final set resulted in some incredibly long matches (the Tsonga-Raonic 48 game 3rd set should be noted here), such as this one. These contests are not really fair to the player, and it is my position that either this policy should be reserved to the final itself, or all matches should have a super tiebreak at some pre-defined point, say 12-all. For Federer, winning this match may have been a pyrrhic victory, because he did not win another showdown with del Potro for the rest of the year, and when he played Murray two days later in the Gold Medal match he lost meekly in straight sets.

7.  N. Djokovic SRB d. A. Murray GBR, 5-7 7-6(11) 6-3, Shanghai Masters final, Shanghai.
     Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met 7 times in 2012. Djokovic had the slight edge, winning 4 to Murray's 3. But Murray won two of their most important meetings, at the 2012 US Open final and the London Olympics semifinal while Djokovic won their 2012 Australian Open semifinal.
     This match in the finals of the Masters tournament held in Shanghai was important for their rivalry because it was their first meeting after Murray became a grand slam champion and was during Djokovic's end-of-year push to reclaim the #1 ranking from Federer. Murray was the 2-time defending champion of the tournament (2011 d. Ferrer, 2010 d. Federer). The two ended up creating a classic, with the headline statistic being the handful of match points Djokovic managed to save in the second set. It was the most number of match points saved by any victor on the ATP tour in 2012. In addition to the match points saved, Murray and Djokovic put on a display of intense shotmaking and high drama for nearly 4 hours to make this the best regular best-of-three set ATP tour match of the year.

8.  N. Djokovic SRB d. J.-W. Tsonga FRA, 6-1 5-7 5-7 7-6(6) 6-1, French Open quarterfinal, Paris.
     In 2011 Djokovic dominated the year by winning and winning and winning. In 2012, Djokovic again prevailed all year long, but with a slight difference: he just refused to lose. This quarterfinal with Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came a few days after Djokovic had been surprisingly pushed to 5-sets against Andreas Seppi of Italy, in a match he very well could have lost. Instead of taking advantage of the #1 seed's dip in confidence, Tsonga started off flat and was down a set and a break before he found the range on his shots. He won the 2nd and 3rd sets and in the 4th set he ended up having four match points, including one on his own serve but somehow, Djokovic managed to win each of those do-or-die points and then blew the devastated Tsonga out of the water in the final set.
     This match was an example of just how different a competitor Djokovic had become in just a few years. Where before he would retire in 2nd week grand slam matches now he won't even give up when he's down multiple match points, even against a player with a very good record against him. This match is an indication of how (and why) Djokovic is likely to be at the top of the rankings in 2013 and beyond.

9.  N. Djokovic SRB d. A. Murray GBR, 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 6-1 7-5, Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.
    One can tell that Djokovic was the most important player in 2012 by his presence on this Top 10 list: he appears in more than half of the best matches of the year (even when not in the winner's circle). This match is important because it indicated how close Murray was getting to breaking through into the trivalry at the top of men's tennis. It also cemented Djokovic's superior physical ability and mental toughness. Despite playing a nearly 5-hour-long semifinal against Murray, Djokovic was able to come back within 40 hours and play a nearly 6-hour-long final against Nadal. The only other person in the Top 4 who could possibly have won both of these matches was Nadal, but it's doubtful that even Nadal would have ended up victorious playing 11 hour of tennis against 2 of his 3 rivals.
     This match was another example, like other matches which also appear on this list (the Shanghai final, the US Open final, and the Australian Open final) of the new standard in men's tennis: blistering service returns, indefatigable rallies of 20, 30, 40 strokes and turning defensive shots into aggressive winners, all at a speed and intensity not seen before and almost entirely from the baseline. We shall see how long this style of play will dominate men's tennis, but for now it looks like it will continue to do so in 2013 as it did in 2012. And if so, the person who executes this style of play the best, which is usually Novak Djokovic, will also dominate the ATP tour.

10 M. Raonic CAN d. J. Tipsarevic SRB, 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-6(4), 2012 Chennai Open final, Chennai. 
    Just like the previous match can be considered the canonical example of the best of men's tennis in 2012, this last match can be thought of as an example of where men's tennis is (probably) going. Milos Raonic is a 6'5" 200-pound 22-year-old of Serbian descent who plays for Canada and has a gigantic first and second serve and improving, powerful groundstrokes on both wings. Raonic is in the mold of other "Big Guys" such as John Isner, Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Sam Querrey who have been predicted for years to break through and dominate men's tennis. So far it hasn't happened because none of these named players have really put all the pieces together consistently to do so, although it must be noted that del Potro won the 2009 US Open by basically overpowering Roger Federer in the final. 
     In this match there were no breaks of serve but despite the identical score in all three sets the match was anything but monotonous. Even though there were no breaks of serve there were very many breakpoints, all saved! The key to this match was incredible serving by the youngster. Despite being played at a pretty insignificant tournament during the first week of the year it should still be noted for it's potentially predictive nature of the future of men's tennis. Both Raonic and Tipsarevic ended up having very good years in 2012, with the former ending the year at World #13 an the latter at World #9.

The following matches are ones that should not be forgotten, but because of mathematical limitations, could not be in the Top 10 matches of the year. Each one either featured some amazing shots or extended periods of high-quality tennis or were entertaining or important to me as a tennis fan. (They are provided here, in no ranked order, for historical posterity, for your perusal, and to jog your memory of some great tennis matches that occurred in the last year.)

R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3, Wimbledon semifinal, London.
J.-W Tsonga FRA d. M. Raonic CAN, 3-6 6-3 25-23, Olympiad XXX 3rd Round, London.
T. Berdych CZE d. R. Federer, 7-6(1) 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3, 2012 U.S. Open quarterfinal, New York.
D. Ferrer ESP d. J. Tipsarevic, 6-3 6-7(5) 2-6 6-3 7-6(4), 2012 U.S. Open 4th round, New York.
N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Federer SUI, 7-6(6) 7-5, 2012 Barclays World Tour Finals final, London.
R. Federer SUI d. J.-M. Del Potro ARG, 3-6 6-7(4) 6-2 6-0 6-3, 2012 French Open quarterfinal, Paris.
R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-0 7-6(7), 2012 Western & Southern Financial Open, Cincinnati.
J.-M. Del Potro d. ARG R. Federer SUI, 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(3), 2012 Swiss Indoors final, Basel.
R. Stepanek CZE d. N. Almagro ESP, 6-4 7-6(0) 3-6 6-3, 2012 Davis Cup final (Czech Republic v. Spain), Prague.
A. Roddick USA d. R. Federer SUI, 7-6(5) 1-6 6-4, 2012 Sony Ericsson Open, Key Biscayne.
R. Nadal ESP d.  R. Federer SUI, 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4, 2012 Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne. 
J. Isner USA d. N. Djokovic SRB, 7-6(7) 3-6 7-6(5), 2012 BNP Paribas Open semifinal, Indian Wells.

The Walking Dead Renewed For Season 4

AMC's The Walking Dead is on its mid-season break in the middle of Season 3 but will return on Sunday February 10, 2013. The show has been gaining viewer this season and is now the #1 show among viewers 18-49, the segment most prized by advertisers. It is a must-see show for me, along with Homeland on Showtime and The Good Wife on CBS (which are basically all on at the same time on Sunday nights!)

AMC rewarded the show with an early announcement of a 4th season renewal that included a surprise that the hit show will also get a new executive producer/showrunner:
 “Today, AMC announces the season 4 pick-up of The Walking Dead. AMC also jointly announces with Glen Mazzara today that for future seasons, the two parties have mutually decided to part ways. Glen guided the series creatively for seasons 2 and 3. AMC is grateful for his hard work. We are both proud of our shared success. Both parties acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward, and conclude that it is best to part ways. This decision is amicable and Glen will remain on for post-production on Season 3B as showrunner and executive producer."
Ruh-roh! The show has only been on for 2 1/2 seasons so far and it has already had two dismissals of showrunners for "creative differences" with the network. After the end of the phenomenal first season (which was just 6 episodes long) co-creator Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) was fired. Now comes word that Glen Mazzara who led the show to record ratings for the network has parted ways with The Walking Dead.

The good news is that the show is based on the graphic novel written by Robert Kirkman and the author continues to be involved creatively with the show, even though the show and the comic have diverged in significant ways (even more so than the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones, which is more faithful to the text even though the author George R.R. Martin is actually less involved with the show)

If you missed any episodes from Season 3 there will be a marathon of the entire season on Monday December 31st.

AUS OPEN 2013: Nadal Withdraws Due To Illness

11-time major champion and 2012 Australian Open finalist Rafael Nadal announced on Friday that he would be withdrawing from the 2013 Australian Open, extending his sabbatical from tennis to well over 7 months. Nadal last played (and lost) a competitive match on the ATP tour on June 28, 2012 in the second round of Wimbledon.

Nadal made the announcement via Facebook, where he has over 11 million followers, in Spanish and English:
Mi rodilla está bastante mejor, y el proceso de recuperación ha ido según lo previsto por los médicos, pero este proceso vírico ha hecho que no pudiera entrenar esta última semana y en los próximos días y por tanto, muy a mi pesar no podré reaparecer en el momento que habíamos previsto.

Creo que tal y como dicen los médicos y mi equipo, lo más prudente es hacer las cosas bien y este virus ha hecho retrasar todos mis planes de reaparecer en estos días. Mi reaparición tendrá que esperar hasta el torneo de Acapulco si bien no descartaría la posibilidad de reaparecer en algún torneo antes.

As my team and doctors say, the safest thing to do is to do things well and this virus has delayed my plans of playing these weeks. I will have to wait until the Acapulco tournament to compete again although I could consider to play before at any other ATP event

My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn’t allow me to practice this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open, as we had initially scheduled.
The announcement means that Nadal will almost certainly lose his World #4 ranking after the Australian Open, and may even fall below #5, depending on the results of others.

Cui bono? It appears to me as if this should make Andy Murray's chances of winning the tournament more likely, but we shall see.

Friday, December 28, 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Since the movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings were my favorite movies of the decade it should not be surprising that I would want to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the adaptation of the prequel book, The Hobbit.

Although the identical creative team lead by writer-producer-director Peter Jackson that made the near-perfect, very faithful adaptations of the first three books are involved in the adaptation of The Hobbit to the screen, there have been some misgiving expressed by other fans by the decision to turn a much shorter, less ambitious book into a new trilogy of films. It seems doubtful that there's enough source material in what is essentially a children's book to make more than 8 hours of filmed entertainment for adults to enjoy.

However, Jackson has made clear that they are not just adapting the book The Hobbit but are really trying to create another series of films which attempts to more fully explore the incredibly rich world of Middle-Earth as originally envisioned and created by Tolkien. Tolkien was a English language and literature professor at Oxford for years who was basically the very first author in what is known known as the genre of speculative fiction to create a fully realized fictional world with a complete history and geography and back story connecting all the characters in the books.

When deciding to see An Unexpected Journey you have multiple options to choose from: IMAX, 3-D,  48 Frames per second (often referred to as HFR or "high frame rate"), or just regular 2-D. There are also various combinations of these formats (like 3-D HFR, or IMAX 3-D, etc).

The Other Half and I saw An Unexpected Journey in regular 2D at the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance-14, our  regular go-to theater, on Christmas Day. The movie theater we saw the film in was close to completely full even for a mid-afternoon screening. When we emerged about three hours later, the hallways were completely thronged with people lined up to see movies.

An Unexpected Journey is not getting as universally positive acclaim as the movies from the first trilogy (it has a 65% rating from critics at, 81% from the audience) but like the other films it is a booming success at the box-office, having already brought in a half-billion dollars globally in the first two weeks.

Anyway, let's talk about the actual movie. Basically, I loved it! I am completely baffled by other critics who have said that the pace of the film was slow, and complained about the 10 minute prologue putting the story into perspective. I would agree that the scene where Bilbo Baggins meets the entire group of dwarves was a bit over-extended, but it is there to demonstrate how tentative and unassertive the hobbit is. Other critics had mentioned that the movie doesn't really get going until Bilbo shouts "I'm going on an adventure!" (as shown in the trailer) which happens about 35 minutes into the film, but to me that seemed to happen at the very beginning of the movie.

Someone else pointed out that the structure of An Unexpected Journey is almost identical to The Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The fellowship is formed (after some reluctance by the hero), they run into some dangerous trouble early on and go see the elves. Then they go inside the mountain, where a lot of stuff happens and parts of the group gets separated from the others, then they leave the mountain and run into another even more serious danger, escape that and then the movie is done! This summary is pretty reductive, but it is roughly accurate, without giving away too many plot points.

Overall, if you liked any of the original Lord of the Rings movies and especially if you have read any of the books by J.R.R. Tolkien I am very confident that you will enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Director: Peter Jackson.
Running Time: 2 hours, 49 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
Release Date: December 16, 2012.
Viewing Date: December 25, 2012.

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

Overall Grade: A (3.83/4.0).

Celebrity Friday: Top 50 Coming Outs of 2012

2012 was a very big year for celebrities to come out. At TowleRoad, they produced a list of what they call the Top 50 coming outs of 2012. For example, the Top 10 are:

  1. Andrew Ahn
  2. Gillian Anderson
  3. Paul Babeu
  4. Matt Bomer
  5. Thomas "Bozzy" Bosworth
  6. Anne Burrell
  7. Sam Champion
  8. Cheryl Chow
  9. Anderson Cooper
  10. Orlando Cruz
You should go see the full list for your self.

Hat/tip to TowleRoad

Thursday, December 27, 2012

U.S. Rep. Hanna (R-NY) Takes Pro-LGBT Positions

Richard Hanna is a Republican congressman from upstate New York, currently representing the 24th Congressional District (but will represent the 22nd District staring January 3, 2013 due to redistricting).
There are very few moderates in the House Republican caucus but Hanna can probably be considered one of them, since he "only" votes with the rest of the caucus less than 90% of the time.

Anyway, Hanna is making news this week for his announcement of pro-LGBT positions. He has signed off as a co-sponsor of the Uniting All Families Act, which would end discrimination in immigration laws against same-sex bi-national couples as well as the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), which would repeal DOMA.

The Advocate has the details of Hanna's announcement:
“New York State allows all its citizens the freedom to marry the person they love,” he said. “Under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has a Constitutional responsibility to respect New York’s right to set its own laws. It’s my job to see that it does. 
“It is right to extend equal protection under federal law to all couples who are legally married without infringing upon religious freedom and beliefs,” Hanna continued. “This legislation does not tell states who can be married or who must be treated as married, nor does it require any religious institution to violate their own convictions. 
“I respect the deeply held beliefs on both sides of this issue,” he said. “The simple fact remains that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure all legally married couples are treated equally under federal law – and this bill would achieve that proper standard.”
In addition to supporting DOMA repeal, Hanna joined fellow Republican U.S. Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania have signed on to the Uniting American Families Act, Immigration Equality announced earlier this month.

Hat/tip to LGBT Think Progress

BOOK REVIEW: Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

The second book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey is Caliban's War and was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012. The first book was the thrilling Leviathan's Wake (read my review here). One of the most difficult things for any artist to do is follow a successful debut creation with another piece that is regarded to be of commensurate quality as their first work.

However, happily, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (the two authors who write together under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey) have managed to accomplish this rare feat in Caliban's War, a work that is at least as good as their debut novel.

Although Caliban's War is a sequel, it also works as a stand-alone story. And what a story it is. The plot lterally begins with a bang and continues at a breakneck pace. It begins with a new kind of alien super-creature absolutely decimating an entire squad of Martian marines on Ganymede. The crew of the Rocinante, a spaceship with Jim Holden as captain who is basically the main characters of Leviathan's Wake, are again some of the main actors in the sequel. Corey uses the same literary device as their more famous George R.R. Martin mentor which is that each chapter in the book is told from the perspective of the named character. The cast of characters who have named perspective chapters is expanded from the two (Holden and Detective Miller) from the first book by the inclusion of Gunnery Sergeant Roberta "Bobbie" Draper (the only person to survive the initial alien attack), Chrisjen Avarasala (a powerful United Nations functionary and fierce grandmother), and Praxidike Meng (a biologist and father of a kidnapped little girl named Mei).

The inclusion of the points-of-view of these new characters generally strengthens the emotional connection the reader has with the story in Caliban's War (and also deals with the lack of female representation in the first book). Avarasala quickly became my favorite character in the series so far, with Bobbie a close second.

The plot of the second book is even more complex than the first, with overlapping and competing sub-plots which are fueled by interplanetary politics and the evil deeds of globe-spanning corporations. The proto-molecule, which was discovered in the first book to be the source of "vomit zombies" and the first clear evidence of the existence of aliens, has now apparently completely taken over the entire planet Venus. It is not completely clear what it is doing to that planet, because the surface is completely covered by clouds but there are strange power surges being remotely recorded. The primary plot involves Rocinante and its crew getting involved in the search to find Prax's kidnapped daughter, while the events on Ganymede (which are also probably related to the proto-molecule) lead to a pissing match between the major political factions in the solar system: the Belters, Earth and Mars that requires all of Avarasala's prodigious diplomatic skills to settle.

Caliban's War is an example of exhilarating space opera that anyone who is a fan of the work of Peter Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds or Stephen McCauley will almost certainly enjoy.

Title:  Caliban's War.
Author: James S.A. Corey.
Length: 595 pages.
Publisher: Orbit.
Published: June 26, 2012.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.917/4.0).


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Next Congress To Have 7 Out LGBT Members!

The 113th Congress of the United States will have a record seven people who are either lesbian, gay or bisexual. In the U.S. House there will be four newly elected Members who are LGB: Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Kyrsten Sinema )AZ-09), Mark Pocan (WI-05) and Mark Takano CA-41). In addition, there are 2 LGB incumbents who will be returning to the U.S. House: Jared Polis (CO-02) and David Cicilline (RI-01).

And in a dramatic first, lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (WI-05) gave up her congressional seat and ran (against former governor and Bush cabinet member Tommy Thompson) for the open U.S. Senate seat to represent Wisconsin. She not only became the first openly LGB person to be elected to the U.S. Senate but the 5th Congressional District of Wisconsin became the first congressional district in the United States to be represented by two different openly gay U.S. representatives (Baldwin and Pocan).

Two other important historic firsts will be achieved on January 3rd, 2013 when the new Congress is sworn in. Takano will be the first-ever openly LGBT person of color congressmember and Sinema will be the first-ever openly bisexual member of Congress, one of the youngest, at age 36, and one of the few who claims to be religiously unaffiliated.

The 6 openly LGB members of the U.S. House make up 1.4% of the 435-member body, which is still an under-representation of the 3.4% of Americans who are willing to tell a pollster that they are LGB or the 9% of Americans who are estimated to be LGB.

Baldwin will be 1 of 100 United States Senators, but in a body which allows a single member great latitude to wield disproportional power over federal legislation and public policy.

Godless Wednesday: Worldwide Analysis of Belief

The Pew Forum has released a report called The Global Religious Landscape which demonstrates that Christians are a plurality of the world's population (31.5%), followed by Muslims at 23.2% and people affiliated with no religion are at 16.3%. (Hindus are at 15.0% and Buddhists at 7.1%.)
Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. 
The demographic study – based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. 
At the same time, the new study by the Pew Forum also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.
The report also analyzed the geographic distribution of the religiously affiliated and noted that most people live in areas where their belief is held by the majority.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the world’s people live in countries in which their religious group makes up a majority of the population. Only about a quarter (27%) of all people live as religious minorities. 
Overwhelmingly, Hindus and Christians tend to live in countries where they are in the majority. Fully 97% of all Hindus live in the world’s three Hindu-majority countries (India, Mauritius and Nepal), and nearly nine-in-ten Christians (87%) are found in the world’s 157 Christian-majority countries. 
Though by smaller margins, most Muslims (73%) and religiously unaffiliated people (71%) also live in countries in which they are the predominant religious group. Muslims are a majority in 49 countries, including 19 of the 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The religiously unaffiliated make up a majority of the population in six countries, of which China is by far the largest. (The others are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan and North Korea.)
This may explain why religious people seem to believe that religious freedom should apply to their belief but no other. When your belief system is shared by the vast majority of people that you know and interact with, one could become somewhat inured to the desires and needs of religious minorities.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

2013 L.A. City Elections: The Mayoral Contenders

The four main contenders for the Mayor of Los Angeles are City Controller Wendy Greuel, 51, City Councilmember Eric Garcetti, 41, Councilmember Jan Perry, 58, and gay Republican  Kevin James, 49.

The Los Angeles Times breaks down the race:
Greuel claims an advantage because she's the only candidate to have won a citywide contest. She's landed endorsements from a number of prominent Latino politicians, as well as Democratic Sen.Barbara Boxer and entertainment titans Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, who ran the DreamWorks motion picture studios when she was an executive there.
Her campaign believes that female voters will also be key, galvanized by the potential of electing the first female mayor in city history. Taken together, it's a coalition that will get her to the general election, Greuel campaign strategist John Shallman says, and then give her the win, probably against Garcetti.
Garcetti's camp isn't conceding anything. Son of former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, he is backed by the Latino Coalition of Los Angeles-PAC and recently won an important endorsement from the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.
He identifies himself as half Latino, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, and often addresses Latino audiences in fluent Spanish. Although he now lives in Silver Lake, he's a Valley boy, having grown up in Encino before leaving for college at Columbia.
Perry believes she'll draw not only the 10% to 13% of votes cast by African Americans, but also fiscal conservatives who like her tough-on-unions talk and pivotal council role in shaping downtown redevelopment.
When people find out she's Jewish, her share of that vote grows dramatically, Perry says, citing internal polling. She also thinks she'll do well among working-class white women and Latinas, who see her as an aspirational figure.
James, the only candidate to support Riordan's proposal to switch new city workers from defined pensions into self-managed 401(k)-style retirement plans, said he would emphasize that stance and his status as the only major candidate not embedded in the City Hall establishment.
GOP ad man Fred Davis recently created a Super PAC to independently support James, and the candidate also believes he'll draw backing from voters disaffected with City Hall.
However, political analysts say a big infusion of outside cash could end up hurting instead of helping the race's only Republican candidate. Los Angeles is largely Democratic, liberal and suspicious of large sums spent to frame a campaign.
The primary election is March 5, 2013 with the run off on May 21, 2013 (my birthday!)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Josh Englehart (3rd time!)

Josh Englehart is a fitness model, bodybuilder and trainer who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (March 26, 2012 and June 4, 2012). You can follow him on twitter @joshenglehart. Josh is married and has 5 kids and is a devout Christian.

As you can see, Josh is blessed!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Brazilian State of Sao Paulo Legalizes Gay Marriage

In less than 2 months same-sex couples who are in civil unions will have access to full marriage equality in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. Last year, Brazil's highest court legalized civil unions nationwide. Since then couples have been petitioning judges in various jurisdictions to convert their "everything-but-the-word-marriage" civil unions into civil marriages. Now comes word that a statewide ruling has been issued which will apply to all civil unions in São Paulo.

According to the Washington Blade:
 A São Paulo judge in June 2011 ruled two men could convert their civil union into a marriage — 206 of these unions have been converted into marriages in the state.
Alagoas in January became the first Brazilian state to extend marriage to same-sex couples without judicial approval, while Bahia on the country’s northeast coast late last month followed suit. Notaries in Rio Grande do Sul and the Federal District that includes the Brazilian capital of Brasilia have also issued marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.
“It is a very important decision,” gay Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys told the Washington Blade. “And like the Constitution says, in its Article 226, that the state should facilitate the conversation of stable unions into marriage and it also says people are equal under the law, many same-sex partners demanded this in the court. What the judges are doing is complying with the Constitution, recognizing the rights of same-sex partners to enter into civil marriage.” 
In spite of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court’s 2011 decision, Rio de Janeiro and many other states have yet to implement it. Wyllys has introduced a proposal that would amend the Brazilian Constitution to recognize same-sex civil marriage throughout the country. A bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot has languished in Congress since the mid-1990s.
 São Paulo is Brazil's most populous state (approximately 41 million), and includes the country's largest city with the same name where the world's largest pride celebration happens every year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Queer Quote: Frank Talk On Scalia's Bigotry

Barney Frank, retiring openly gay Congressman, was on Michelango Signorile's radio show when he gave his reaction to the story about Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia's comparison of sodomy to murder.

Frank left no doubt about his feelings about the conservative jurist:
"This young man said to him, ‘Why do you compare sodomy to murder?’ And he said, ‘Well because I have a right to say if I think something is immoral.’ Well the question wasn’t about his right. The question was, By what morality is expressing your love for someone in a physical way equivalent to killing that person? It makes it clear that the man is an unreconstructed bigot, and given that you have a bigot on the Supreme Court like that, it is useful to know."
Other people, such as George Takei have called on Scalia to recuse himself from ruling on the pending gay marriage-related cases, Hollingsworth v Perry and U.S. v Windsor.

What do you think?

Quuer Quote: Obama Talks About LGBT Progress

Pete Souza

One of the things that I’m very proud of during my first four years is I think I’ve helped to solidify this incredibly rapid transformation in people’s attitudes around LGBT issues — how we think about gays and lesbians and transgender persons. A lot of that just has to do with the fact that if you talk to Malia, the idea of making an anti-gay remark at her school is just unimaginable. They just don’t get that. 
And so, there are those attitudinal shifts that make up this new coalition as well. For all the divisions that you read about in our politics — and many of them are real and powerful — the truth is, is that we have steadily become a more diverse and tolerant country that embraces people’s differences, and respects people who are not like us. And that’s a profoundly good thing. That’s one of the strengths of America. It was hard-fought. And there’s been the occasional backlash, and this is not to argue that somehow racism or sexism or homophobia are going to be eliminated or ever will be eliminated. It is to argue that our norms have changed in a way that prizes inclusion more than exclusion. 
And I do think that my eight years as President, reflecting those values and giving voice to those values, helps to validate or solidify that transformation, and I think that’s a good thing for the country. And, by the way, it’s part of what will make America a continued leader of the 21st century — because the world is shrinking, and one of our greatest assets is the fact that we have people from everywhere who want to come here because they know this is an open society, and they know that they will be judged more on their talents and their skills and their commitment to an ideal and a creed, as opposed to what tribe they come from or what God they worship. And that’s something that we should be grateful for.
Yet another sign that the kulturkampf will be over soon, and the bad guys are losing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

CDC Releases Latest AIDS/HIV Figures

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released updated figures on HIV/AIDS incidence in the United States this week. The figures show that the annual rate of new infections is still approximately 50,000 per year, with the total number of people living with HIV in the United States approximately 1.2 million. The data are from 2010.

Hat/tip Joe.My.God

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Queer Quote: Gingrich Accepts "Reality" of Gay Marriage

Well, well, well! Maybe miracles can happen after all. (Not!) The thrice-married, serial adulterer and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has apparently evolved on the question of marriage equality.

In an interview with Huffington Post Gingrich said the following, which is today's queer quote.
"It is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to ... accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states -- and it will be more after 2014 -- gay relationships will be legal, period."
It may not be clear from the context, but the "it" in Gingrihc's quote is "marriage for same sex couples." It's quite a big deal that Republicans are starting to embrace reality ni any form, but that it is happening on the question of marriage equality is astonishing.

And Gingrich, while still maintaining his heterosexual supremacist bonafides by insisting that he still believes marriage is only between a man and a woman, also said that he could accept a distinction between "marriage in a church from a legal document issued by the state."

Well, duh! That's what we've been talking about the whole time: civil marriage. Civil marriage is about going down to some out of the way crappy government building and getting an official piece of paper from a bored bureaucrat which allows one to access all the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage. It has absolutely nothing to do with whatever people do in a church. That's called a wedding. You're not married under the law until you actually sign the marriage license issued by the government and get your official marriage certificate back.

Game Of Thrones Season 3 starts 03.31.13!

Season 3 of the HBO television series  Game of Thrones will start on March 31, 2013. The third season is based on A Storm of Swordsone of the better books in the George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series. 

Early word about Season 3 is that it will be 10 episodes long, but that each episode will be slightly longer than usual, closer to 56 or 57 minutes instead of the typical 50 or 52 minutes. Apparently, contractually, the producers need to get special permission to have episodes longer than 60 minutes, which they requested and received for the 1st season pilot and the 2nd season finale.


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