Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Queer Quote: Andy Roddick Joint Athlete Ally

Other sports stars have been responding to Jason Collins groundbreaking announcement yesterday as the first gay male athlete in American professional team sports. American tennis players Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish have joined the organization Athlete Ally, whose mission is to "encourage athletes, coaches, parents, fans and other members of the sports community to respect all individuals involved in sports"

Quoth Andy:
Yesterday was an incredible day for athletes everywhere. Jason Collin’s courage and leadership in coming out reminds me of how important it is for an athlete to be able to be true to him or herself. As an Athlete Ally, I want to support every athlete to feel comfortable and confident being themselves and to make sure that all people - players and fans alike – are welcome and included in tennis.
Other tennis stars like Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King also tweeted their support yesterday.

hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Game of Thrones (S3E05): "Kissed By Fire"

"Kissed by Fire," Episode 5 of Season 3 (S3E05) of HBO's Game of Thrones continued the show's run of extremely strong episodes which started with (S3E03) "Walk of Punishment" and continued with (S3E04) "And Now His Watch Is Ended." I wasn't able to write up my recap on Monday because I was in the air flying back from Los Angeles to D.C.

We are now halfway through the third season and the plots are starting to swirl and events are moving apace. "Kissed by Fire" was written by Brian Cogman, who aficionados of the show know best for having witten one of the best episodes of Season 2 (S2E03) "What is Dead May Never Die" and is the person on the show officially responsible for keeping the television adaptation aligned with the source material by George R.R. Martin.

What's interesting about "Kissed by Fire" is that there is no (apparently) "big event" that happens in this episode, but it is still one of the most compelling outings of the show. It may be funny to say that S3E05 was an episode where "nothing happens" when a man is apparently reincarnated from the dead, Robb Stark cuts the head off of a Northman lord, a deal is reached on how to pay for a royal wedding, and Jon Snow loses his virginity but only one of these "events" will significantly impact future events. (For those of you who have NOT read the books, I do not guarantee that my recaps are spoiler free, so you should probably stop reading right now!) I will let you all guess which of these is the most significant, but I suspect that we will know by the end of S3E09, "The Rains of Castermere," the penultimate episode of the season. The producers and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss tend to put the most shocking events of the season not in the finale but in the episode before, or at least they have done so in the first two seasons so far (in S1E09 "Baelor" Ned Stark lost his head due to Joffrey Barratheon's penchant for cruelty and in S2E09 "Blackwater" the legendary battle of the Blackwater occurred where Stannis Barratheon's attack on King's Landing from the sea was repulsed by wildfire).

What Cogman is good at is depicting the dialogue that Martin wrote in a context which maximizes its impact. For what "Kissed by Fire" does have is some very famous speeches.

The most emotional of these speeches is the one in which Jaime Lannister (while naked in a bathtub with his former captor Brienne Selwin!) finally reveals why he broke his oath as a Knight and killed Mad King Aerys Targaryen, despite being a member of the Kinsguard. This scene alone should launch a campaign to get Nicolaj Coster-Waldau an Emmy nomination for the stellar work he is doing to take Jaime from a heartless villain who pushes Brandon Stark out the window in Season 1 and casually kills a Lannister cousin to effectuate his escape in Season 2 to someone in Season 3 that the audience starts to realize has many, many shades of gray. Even though I read the books and recognized the speech immediately, I had forgotten that it occurs in a bath.

The other most significant speech of the episode involves Lord Tywin Lannister, played magnificently by Charles Dance, continuing to try to impose his will on his two other children Tyrion Lannister, now Master of Coin and Cersei Lannister, the Queen Regent. This is another famous scene, because it is when Tyrion learns of the Tyrell plot to marry Sansa Stark (who people seem to think is the "key to the North") in order to secure a claim to the Stark name and holdings in he North. Tywin hatches the plot (or is it Cersei's idea?) to have Tyrion marry Sansa instead. It's great work by Lena Headey as she switches from knowing smirk to despair in an instant as Tywin tells her that she, too, must (again) marry someone she does not love (this time the very gay Loras Tyrell) in order to secure land and power for the Lannister family. "Please don't make me do it again" Cersei begs her heartless father.

The third conversation of import tonight really was not a conversation at all but a verbal TKO by Queen of Thorns Olenna Tyrell as for the second consecutive episode she meets one of the smartest characters on the show and demonstrates her mental superiority (last episode she won a verbal duel with Lord Varys, mostly on points). This time it was Tyrion, who invites her to his quarters and hopes to broach the sensitive topic of the cost of the roya wedding between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, Olenna's granddaughter. Even though the Lannisters are the wealthiest family in the Seven Kingdoms, the Tyrells are not far behind, and Olenna points out that the Tyrells have been propping up the economy of King's Landing with their largesse. Even so, Olenna agrees to pay for half the wedding after Tyrion is reduced to making inarticulate murmurs.

Another highlight of the episode for me was the scene between Loras Tyrell and the smoking hot page who he jumps into bed with. As soon as the page came on screen my husband and I said "whoa, that guy is too hot just to be an extra" and so we were completely unsurprised when he turned out to be a spy for Littlefinger. It was cool that after copious amounts of female nudity in the show, and a lot of nudity (although no female full-frontals in this episode) they actually showed two guys in bed together as well as (very brief) full-frontal nudity of the aforementioned hot page.

There really weren't any in this episode at all. Even the appearance of Stannis, which usually is a drag, was made interesting by (finally) introducing us to his bat-sh*t crazy wife Selyse (she keeps the stillborn baby sons she bore in bottles of brine in her room) and their daughter, who has the shameful "scale face" disease. (I thought it was odd that the producers missed an opportunity in the previous episode to try to explain the extreme social stigma of genetic defects in general and scale face in particular when Margaery fooled Sansa about "porridge face" sickness.) I suppose the one lowlight would be the  conversation between Littlefinger and Sansa because it wasn't clear to me what it accomplished except revealing to Littlefinger (I think) that Sansa was aware of the plot to marry her off to Loras Tyrell, and was willing to keep that knowledge secret from him.

Grade: A.
This episode was just as good as the previous one, although I still think S3E03 "Walk of Punishment" is the best episode of the season to date, with perhaps this episode a close second. I'm excited about the last half of the season, because it should be even better than the first half!

Jason Collins on cover of Spors Illustrated

Jason Collins, "the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport" is on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated. Reactions so far have generally been quite positive, with even President Barack Obama calling Collins to offer his support.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins Becomes First Out Gay NBA Player

Jason Collins is the first current male member of a U.S. professional
sport franchise to come out of the closet as openly gay
The veil has been lifted! Jason Collins, a 34-year-old player on the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics has become the first major league athlete to come out as a gay man. Collins is quoted in the May6, 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated magazine as saying: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm Black. I'm gay." And he's from Los Angeles!
I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.

I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.

My journey of self-discovery and self-acknowledgement began in my hometown of Los Angeles and has taken me through two state high school championships, the NCAA Final Four and the Elite Eight, and nine playoffs in 12 NBA seasons.

I've played for six pro teams and have appeared in two NBA Finals. Ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins? If you're in the league, and I haven't been your teammate, I surely have been one of your teammates' teammates. Or one of your teammates' teammates' teammates.

Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.
What's pretty wild is that Collins is the second professional basketball player to come out in as many weeks. Last week, Brittney Griner came out as a lesbian when she was the #1 draft pick for the WNBA and the world shrugged because gender stereotypes suggest that female professional athletes are likely to be gay anyway.

Congratulations to Jason Collins! It will be fascinating to see what the reaction will be in the NBA and the rest of professional sports. The interaction of race and sexuality should make this story particularly interesting.

Black Voter Turnout Won 2012 Election For Obama

A new report analyzing voter turnout in 2012 confirms that well-publicized efforts by Republicans to suppress voting by minorities (a.k.a. the GOP War on Voting) resulted in record Black turnout, handing the election to President Obama even though overall voter turnout was down over 2008 (and 2004). In fact, the most dramatic finding in the report is that turnout by Black voters surpassed turnout by White voters for the first time ever. For the second presidential election in a row, the Black percentage of the presidential vote (13%) exceeded the Black percentage of the electorate (12%).

This is the key excerpt from the Associated Press story:
Romney would have erased Obama's nearly 5 million-vote victory margin and narrowly won the popular vote if voters had turned out as they did in 2004, according to Frey's analysis. Then, white turnout was slightly higher and black voting lower.
More significantly, the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Colorado would have tipped in favor of Romney, handing him the presidency if the outcome of other states remained the same.
There is a  lot of interesting information in the article for both Democrats and Republicans. First, the article notes that only only political party (Republicans) have managed to win the presidency three consecutive times in the last 60 years (1980, 1984, 1988) so that Democrats should not be confident about 2016. It also notes that Romney was a particular weak candidates, failing to energize white voters while Obama successfully energized black voters. The much vaunted Latino vote is still  only a potential factor at the presidential level, with Latino voters making up 17% of the electorate but only 11% of the vote. This could change sooner rather than later, depending on how immigration reform ends up impacting the citizenship status of the millions of undocumented immigrants of Hispanic descent living in the United States.

However my favorite oart of the story is this description of Mitt Romney by an African American voter from Cleveland, Ohio:
"A white Mormon swimming in money with offshore accounts buying up companies and laying off their employees just doesn't quite fit my idea of a president," she said. "Bottom line, Romney was not someone I was willing to trust with my future."

And that is a summation of the 2012 Republican presidential candidate in a nutshell: "a white mormon swimming in money with offshore accounts buying up companies and laying off their employees." David Axelrod must be very proud!

Eye Candy: Juan Esteban Berrio (3rd time!)

Juan Esteban Berrio has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (October 21, 2012 and January 14, 2013). He is a well-known underwear model, media personality and television star in his native Colombia.

I think you can see why!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

STUTTGART 2013: Sharapova Defends Title Over Li

Maria Sharapova continued her winning streak on clay by defeating Li Na 6-4 6-3 in the finals of the 2013 Porsche Open in Stuttgart, Germany. The Russian has now won 2 consecutive titles in  Stuttgart and 16 consecutive matches on clay (2012 French Open and 2012 Italian Open). She has now won 29 career titles.

Sharapova improved to a 9-5 career head-to-head over the 2011 French Open champion. Li Na had an excellent win over 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova earlier in the week and has improved her consistency in general but lost some of that today while attempting to go for more power against the hard-hitting Sharapova. Stuttgart is an indoor tournament and this alleviates any weakness the Russian would have with her serving. Li Na is serving bigger than usual, but the match ended on a double fault by the Chinese player. Li Na is now 20-4 in 2013, with Sharapova at 22-3.

Sharapova is proving herself to be the player to beat on clay. Sharapova had to beat three tough players in three set matches (Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber) to win the title. It will be interesting to see how the World #1 Serena Williams responds to the challenge.

Homophobia's Next Frontier: Laws Banning LGBT Rights Ordinances

Joe.My.God alerts us to a disturbing development in Louisiana to enshrine the current status quo of the lack of sexual orientation-based civil rights in state law by limiting access to judicial redress.

Local station KTBS reports on HB 402, a bill introduced by Republican state legislator Alan Seabaugh, that would implicitly discriminate against LGBT people:
HB 402 would throw out and consider frivolous any suits filed for employment discrimination for reasons other than those already covered by the state: age, disability, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, sickle cell trait, and genetic discrimination.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not on list.
Bill opponents say the passage of HB 402 could force LGBT workers to pay damages and court costs to their employer when their cases are dismissed, even though federal law allows transgender citizens to file workplace discrimination lawsuits.
It turns out this idea is not just limited to Louisiana, but is also in Washington state. Republican State Legislator Sharon Brown introduced SB 5927 which would accomplish the same task as Louisiana's HB 402: allow the public to discriminate against LGBT people without any legal ramifications to the heterosexual supremacists. Brown insists that her bill is about religious freedom, but the text of the bill implicitly discriminates against LGBT people:
Nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization’s freedom of religion including, but not limited to,the right of an individual or entity to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual’s or entity owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience. This subsection does not apply to the denial of services to individuals recognized as a protected class under federal law applicable to the state as of the effective date of this section. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience may not be burdened unless the government proves that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.
These are just two skirmishes in the upcoming (and ongoing) war on LGBT equality conducted by religious extremists and heterosexual supremacists who are trying to make the argument that "sincerely held religious belief" should allow purveyors of goods and services to the general public should be exempt from standard anti-discrimination public policy and be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The primary problem with this argument is that if it is agreed to then it means that basically the principle behind all civil rights legislation are null and void. Why not use "sincerely held religious beliefs" to allow people to refuse service to people at lunch corners? The country has already had this debate and rejected it 50 years ago.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

GRAPHIC: Current Map Of Marriage Equality

USA Today published an update on the current state of marriage equality and published the above graphic so that readers could visualize the changes.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Saturday Politics: Sheila Kuehl Running For LA County Supervisor

Sheila Kuehl was the first openly gay person
elected to the California State Legislature in 1994
Sheila J. Kuehl, one of the smartest LGBT politicians in the country and the first openly gay person elected to the California State Legislature, announced her long-rumored run for Los Angeles County Supervisor this week.

In an email to supporters, Kuehl wrote:
Friends --

I’m very pleased and excited to tell you, if you haven’t heard already, that I’m running to succeed our great Supervisor from the Third District in L.A. County, Zev Yaroslavsky, when he’s termed out next year. 

When I termed out of the California Legislature after fourteen years, I thought long and hard about where I might best use all the information, experience and skills I had gained and it’s clear: the LA County Board of Supervisors is absolutely the best place.

As Speaker pro Temps, Chair of the Judiciary, Health, Natural Resources and Water Committees, as well as the Budget Sub-Committee on Resources and Energy, a member of virtually every committee in both houses including Public Safety, Human Services, Appropriations, Budget, Local Government, and Environmental Quality, and as the author of the bill that established the Expo Line Authority, and 170 other bills that were signed into law, I have been steeped in the very issues that are under the purview of our Supervisors every day.

LA County is the implementing and policy arm for more than 10 million people - almost one-third of the state - on social services, healthcare, juvenile justice, transportation, environmental protection, local jails, and so much more, as well as serving the functions of city governments in the unincorporated areas.  These are the very policy areas I have spent my professional and political life addressing.

I will bring continuing stability to County government, as well as innovation and diversity, big picture thinking as well as attention to the daily lives of those who depend on us, an open door and an open mind, collaboration with anyone willing to work with me, years of experience and lots of energy. 

The June 2014 primary is only a little more than a year away and I am asking for your support starting now!  This race will likely cost 1.4 million dollars and early fundraising will be key to my success.
This is very exciting news. I think she may be underestimating the amount needed to run for Supervisor, though.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Celebrity Friday (bonus): All 5 Living U.S. Presidents (and Spouses)

In the pictures above are all five living United States Presidents, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter along with their spouses Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Rosalynn Carter.

Hat/tip to Shakesville.

UPDATE: Delaware Marriage Equality Vote Still Very Close

Sen. Catherine Cloutier may be the deciding vote on whether
Delaware becomes the 11th state to enact marriage equality
Good news from Delaware. After my post yesterday on the 10-10 tie in the 21-member Delaware State Senate on pending marriage equality legislation, Sen. Bruce Bushweller sent out a letter which thoughtfully outlined his reasons for voting yes on HB 75:
Underlying my decision to vote yes is my belief that the time has come for Delawareans to fully recognize the legitimacy and dignity of the long term, stable, committed and loving relationships of same sex couples as we do of opposite sex couples in the same kind of relationships.  To do otherwise is to engage in unjustified and damaging discrimination that is inconsistent with the values and principles of our democratic society.

Many opponents believe same sex, civil marriage violates their religious principles.  I have met with several religious leaders who feel this way.  While I deeply respect their views, and even more so their right to believe as they wish, I also respect the views of other religious leaders with whom I have also met who believe that civil marriage is fully consistent with their religious principles.  There are sincere, thoughtful and knowledgeable people of faith on both sides of the issue.  I should note that the bill is explicit in assuring that all religions are free to choose which marriages they will solemnize, and religious societies, clergypersons and ministers of any religion will not be required to solemnize any marriage that does not conform to its religious beliefs.
One of the last aspects I considered in reaching my decision was the fact that, by and large, heterosexual marriage – one man, one woman – has been the dominant tradition in western civilization for a long time.  The question is whether the time has come for Delaware to embrace same sex, civil marriage through our civil law.  Recognizing that HB 75 has no impact on any religious denomination’s view of marriage and that it changes only state law in this regard, and in light of the other issues described above, I concluded that, in fact, the time has come to do this.
However, with Bushweller's public yes that brings the vote tally to 10 (in the 21 member Delaware State Senate)  of the number of Democratic state senators publicly supporting marriage equality. The 11th public yes vote is Republican State Senator Catherine R. Cloutier. However, it is not clear why Cloutier is listed publicly as a yes since I am unable to find a link to a document where she says that she is voting yes. My suggestion would be that people contact Sen. Cloutier (at catherine.cloutier@state.de.us or 302-744-4197 or 302-577-8517) and thank her for voting yes on HB 75 and strongly encourage to make a public statement to that effect.

I am also told that State Senator Bethany Hall-Long is not a firm no (nor is she a public yes) on the pending marriage equality bill and that she is encouraging people to contact her (at bethany.hall-long@state.de.us or 302-744-4286). Sen. Hall-Long has a generally progressive record and voted YES on Delaware's civil union legislation 2 years ago. Respectful communication acknowledging her progressive politics and the nature of her district (which includes the college town of Newark where the University of Delaware is located) are probably good ideas.

Hat/tip to Delaware Liberal!

Celebrity Friday: Li Na On Cover Of Time Magazine

Li Na has been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and chosen to be one of the 7 alternate covers for the special double issue of the news magazine. Chris Evert wrote the blurb about the 2011 French Open champion:
Li Na is a maverick. Who else would stand up to the centralized Chinese sports system as Li did, back in 2008, when she pushed for more control over her career? Li persuaded the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) to start the “fly alone” policy, which gives players more independence. Now they keep more of their money, giving just a fraction of their earnings to the CTA, compared with the bulk before. Rather than let the bureaucrats pick her coach, Li went with Jiang Shan, who is now her husband. Li has soared. She’s ranked fifth in the world and won the 2011 French Open, becoming the first Asian-born player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.
Congratulations to Li Na!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ALERT: Delaware Marriage Vote Down To One Senator

Joe.My.God sounds the alarm that the pending vote next week in the Delaware Senate on marriage equality appears to be very close. In fact according to analysis by the Delaware Liberal blog,  it may come down to the vote of one single State Senator: Brian Bushweller (D-Dover). Democrats have a 13-8 advantage in the State Senate, but there have been defections by 3 Democrats: Bruce Ennis, Bethany Hall-Long and Robert Venables, Sr. Happily, Republican Catherine Cloutier is bucking her caucus and voting for equality which means the vote is expected to be tied 10-all with Bushweller being the deciding vote on whether same-sex couples will get the right to marry this year, or will have to wait a little longer.

Bushweller can be reached by email at brian.bushweller@state.de.us and by phone at 302-674-5442. Information about other legislators (for example, Cloutier, Ennis, Hall-Long and Venables) can be found here. Hall-Long's opposition is notable, because she is the only one of the 6 women in the State Senate who says she is voting against making the issues of marriage licences gender-neutral in her state.

Hopefully, Mr. Bushweller will do the right thing and vote to enact marriage equality now. I don't really see how a comfortably blue state where every state-wide elected federal official has endorsed marriage equality will be able to resist the tide of history for very much longer.

Queer Quote: NV State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson's Coming Out Speech

Thanks to Rod 2.0 we can now watch the video of the emotional speech that Nevada State Senator Kelvin Atkinson made during the debate on repealing Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage when he came out as a Black gay man.

An excerpt from his speech is today's Queer Quote:
"I'm 44-years-old. I have a daughter. I'm Black. I'm Gay. I have, umm, dealt with a lot folks are talking about. I know this is the first time some of you have heard me say that I am a black gay male."
Again, congratulations to Senator Atkinson for coming out!

FOOD REVIEW: Shake Shack (Washington, DC)

Even though I am trying to reduce my red meat intake my pursuit of the perfect burger continues. My favorite burger place in the Washington, DC metro area (brgr: shack) inexplicably closed after less than a year of operation, so I am continuing my search.

With that end in mind a friend and I checked out the Dupont Circle location of Shake Shack a few hours before we went to the Comedy Factory (which is less than a half-block away). I had been told that there are often lines out the door but at 6pm on a Tuesday we were able to get in and order what we wanted right away. Shake Shack is also known for its frozen custard as well as its burger. In fact it's "Shack Burger" narrowly lost to the cheeseburger at New York City's Burger Joint in a recent online poll, which is quite a feat because Burger Joint is probably the best burger place in the United States.

So, I ordered the ShackBurger (cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce) with added bacon ($4.75+$1.25), crinkle-cut Yukon fries ($2.75) and a large 50-50 (half-lemonade, half-iced tea). My receipt says the same thing, but for some reason my burger had bright red chopped cherry peppers on it (which you can see in the first picture above) which shouldn't be on the ShackBurger but does appear on the SmokeShack (cheeseburger with bacon but no letture or tomato). The burger is excellent, with a very fresh bun and excellent crunchy bacon and melted cheese gooeyness to delight. I had ordered the single ($4.75) instead of the double ($7.25) and when I inhaled the burger I was still hungry. The cherry peppers are surprisingly spicy and piquant, not in a bad way, but they seem like an unnecessary distraction from the umami of the burger and the fresh smoothness of the bun, melted cheese and bacon.

However, the true revelation was the fries. I have said before that my quest for the best burger is really about the best burger in context. If you have a really good burger (like Burger Joint and Burger Lounge) but only mediocre fries (like Five Guys does), that loses you points in my book. Most burger places that I have sampled and reviewed have much higher quality burgers than fries. I can only think of a few places whose fries (or onion rings) improve the overall dining experience. That would include In-n-Out, Juicy Burger, and Go Burger (onion rings). Now Shake Shack should be added to my list of burger places with good burgers and great fries. For places with great burgers and great fries I would list Burger Joint, Blue Dog Beer Tavern, In-N-Out and the late (and much lamented) brgr:shack. I should probably qualify this list to say that this is for burgers that cost under $10. Otherwise the burger at Lazy Ox Canteen and Umami would have to be included on the list of great burgers with great fries/onion rings.

Anyway, back to Shake Shack. Since we were still hungry, I actually ordered another order of fries and their famous frozen custard. The flavor of the day was "honey roasted peanut" and it was incredible. The second order of fries were probably too much (we didn't finish half of them, together) but we cleaned out the custard!

I would definitely return to Shake Shack but I would make sure I make it clear I do not want any cherry peppers on my burger, and probably get a double.
Location: 1216 18th Street NW (Southwest corner of Connecticut avenue), Washington, DC.
Contact: 202-683-9922.
Visit: April 17, 2013.


OVERALL: A (4.0/4.0)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rhode Island Senate Passes Marriage Equality 26-12!

Excellent news! The Rhode Island Senate has just passed a marriage equality bill by a vote of 26-12, ensuring that the Ocean State will become the 10th state in the United States of America to have marriage equality. The State House had passed the measure 51-19 way back in January, and will have to reconcile the slightly different language "protecting religious liberties" in the Senate-passed version from the bill that passed the House. Openly gay Soeaker of the House Gordon Fox says that will probably happen next Thursday on May 2, and Governor Lincoln Chaffee has promised to sign the bill into law.

Senate President Theresa Paiva Reed allowed a vote on the measure (Senate Bill 0038 A) even though she personally opposed marriage equality and in 2011 she had used her position to prevent a House-passed marriage equality bill from becoming law.

Illinois and Delaware still have marriage equality bills pending which have passed one house of the legislature in each state.

The Boston Bombers Were White. Any Questions?

As is the case whenever an event or incident which causes America to consider it's founding principles and self-identity, notions of race appear soon afterwards. Now that the pictures of Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev,  the perpetrators of the first completed terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, are ubiquitously distributed, one question being asked is: Are the Boston Bombers White?

Peter Beinart says the answer to this question is clearly yes in a thoughtful piece in The Daily Beast in which he discussed the historical shifting of racial categories in America, especially the conflation of racialization with religious affiliation.
But the bombers were white Americans. The Tsarnaev brothers had lived in the United States for more than a decade. Dzhokhar was a U.S. citizen. Tamerlan was a legal permanent resident in the process of applying for citizenship. And as countless commentators have noted, the Tsarnaevs hail from the Caucasus, and are therefore, literally, “Caucasian.” You can’t get whiter than that.


Think about American history and you can understand why. For centuries, Americans were legally segregated by race. Thus, when newcomers from the Middle East came to our shores, Americans had to decide which side of the line they were on. And in the struggle to be classified as white, Middle Eastern Christians had an advantage: Jesus. In the 1915 case Dow v. United States, a Syrian Christian successfully argued that he was white because Jesus, the original Middle Eastern Christian, was too.


Today, Americans still often link Islam and dark skin. What’s changed is which category we consider more dangerous. For much of American history, the problem with being Muslim was that you weren’t considered white. Since 9/11, by contrast, one of the problems with not being considered white is that you might be mistaken for Muslim.


You can also glimpse this conflation of religion and race in the demand, which surfaces after every terrorist attack, to single out Muslims for special scrutiny at airports and the like. Often, the politicians and pundits most eager to profile Muslims are the same folks who in the 1980s and 1990s defended the “racial profiling” of blacks. And listening to them, you sometimes get the sense that they think the process would work the same way: just look to see who the Muslims are.
You should really go read the entire piece yourself. The only part I would quibble with is that Beinart does not explicitly use language saying that race is a social construction, a figment of our society's imagination, although the notion of its fluidity is clear throughout his piece. Just saying so does not undermine the very real impact that race has on the lives of very real individuals, but acknowledging its fictional nature is important when discussing it.

What do you think?

Rio de Janeiro Enacts Marriage Equality

Followers of this blog know that I love lots of things from Brazil (such as handsome, muscular, scantily clad Brazilian male models) and am following marriage equality developments around the world closely as well.

These two interests combine with the news that the state of Rio de Janeiro (which contains the city of the same name) has become the 11th state in Brazil to enact marriage equality.
In 2011, the federal Supreme Court ruled that all gay couples in Brazil should have the right to enter into civil unions but stopped short of a same-sex marriages. The ruling gave “stable” couples the right to benefits enjoyed by straight married people, relating to benefits, inheritance and tax.
The decision to allow gay couples to marry is one taken by each of the 26 of the states that make up the country.
In some states, same-sex couples have to apply to a court to have their civil unions converted to a marriage.
Today’s decision means that 15 days after the publication of a union of a gay couple in Rio de Janeiro, they will be legally considered as married, with the agreement of a judge.
Last year I blogged about Sao Paulo, the most populous state in the country, enacting marriage equality which had an impact on 41 million people. So far, only 11 of Brazil's 26 states have said that civil unions can be treated as civil marriages. Brazil has a population of nearly 200 million so it is very likely that it is the country which has the most number of people where marriage equality is available.

Hat/tip to Rod 2.0

Godless Wednesday: Religion is Organized Bullsh*t

I'm sure many of you have been wondering what the difference is between "religion" and "spirituality." Embiggen the cartoon above by clicking on it and the answer will be revealed.

Hat/tip to The Atheist Pig

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Black Gay Nevada State Legislator Comes Out

Nevada State Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D)
The Nevada State Senate voted 12-9 to approve Senate Joint Resolution 13, a measure that if passed by the entire Legislature in two consecutive sessions would lead to a referendum in November 2016 that would repeal and replace the Silver State's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage which dates from 2002.

Tuesday night's legislative action makes the Nevada State Senate the first legislative body in the United States to vote to repeal a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But, there was an even more historic event that occurred during the debate, and that was the coming out by one of the state Senators:
After a little more than an hour of debate in which one senator publicly declared that he was gay for the first time, the Nevada Senate voted 12-9 to repeal the state's 2002 amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman and replace it with language requiring the recognition of all marriages between two people, "regardless of gender."
In addition to out LGBT Sens. David Parks and Pat Spearman, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson declared on the floor during the debate, "I am a black, gay male." Because he was speaking about his sexual orientation publicly for the first time Monday night, he said he had heard negative comments about the marriage amendment repeal from others prior to the vote. But, he said, "People should mind their business and allow people to do what they want to do."
State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer was the sole Republican to vote for the marriage amendment's repeal.
Amazingly, the 21-member Nevada State Senate now has 3 openly LGBT members (1 in 7!): Kelvin Atkinson, Senate President Pro Tem David Parks and Pat Spearman. 2 of the 3 are Black and LGBT. There are two other openly LGBT members of the Nevada State House.

This is a very interesting development in the history of LGBT equality. I wonder how long it will be before other blue states with "mini-DOMA" (state constitutional amendments banning marriage equality) will start taking legislative action to repeal them?

Delaware House Passes Marriage Equality 23-18

As I blogged about last week, the House of Representatives of the great state of Delaware has voted on a marriage equality bill today, passing the measure 23-18. It now goes to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass. A clear majority of Delaware resident support marriage equality and the Governor or the State has said he will happily sign it into law.

Congratulations to Delaware! (In other news, it looks like the Rhode Island Senate will also vote on their pending marriage equality bill. We're still waiting for a vote in the Illinois House on their marriage equality bill, after the Senate passed the measure more than two months ago.

France Becomes 14th Country To Pass Marriage Equality

The French National Assembly gave final passage to marriage equality legislation by a vote of 331-225, making the Republic of France the 14th country in the world to allow marriage by same-sex couples throughout its entirety.

Freedom to Marry puts the latest legislative action in international perspective:
It's been a momentous month for the freedom to marry abroad. In the past few weeks, marriage bills in Uruguay and New Zealand have also cleared critical votes and simply await signatures from their elected leaders. Greater movement for marriage is also expected soon for the freedom to marry in England and Wales.   
When marriages between same-sex couples begin soon in the country, France will join 11 countries that have the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, and Denmark. Three others have taken judicial and regional steps to allow same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry in parts of the country: Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Two others - Uruguay and France - have not yet implemented their marriage laws.
After the freedom to marry legislation in Uruguay, France and New Zealand takes effect, same-sex couples will be able to share in the freedom to marry in 17 countries.
Woo hoo! It's been a sad month to be a heterosexual supremacist, and that's a good thing!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Game of Thrones (S3E04): "And Now His Watch Is Ended"

The fourth episode of Game of Thrones Season 3, "And Now His Watch Is Ended," aired last night and it demonstrated that the show is starting to hum on all cylinders just as it approaches the halfway mark of its 10-episode season. It also may be one of the most expensive episodes to date. There are stunning images throughout: of the interior of the High Sept (like a huge cathedral featuring absolutely beautiful statues of the Seven Gods), of a vast army of Unsullied, and of a young dragon, burning a city to the ground.

Recap (with spoilers) 
One would presume that the title of the episode refers to the Night's Watch, the group of rapists, murderers and thieves who have been exiled to lifetime service near a 1,000 foot Wall of snow and ice ostensibly protecting the rest of Westeros from the frozen horrors (blue-eyed, re-animated corpses known as White Walkers) and uncivilized individuals (called "Wildlings) that exist "beyond the Wall." In fact, for people who have read the books, we know that the phrase is used at a funeral for a Brother of the Night's Watch. In fact, during this episode we see Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (and the entire company) saying these words as the dead body of a fallen brother is set afire. By the end of the episode we see that it is Mormont's own watch that will be ended. Mormont is literally stabbed in the back by some of his own treacherous Brothers who have grown tired of starving and freezing while watching a "daughter-fucking, Wildling bastard" (and self-proclaimed "Godly man") stay warm and eat heartily.

But a mutiny among a group of dishonorable men is most definitely not the most important event to happen in S3E04, but it is probably the event that will have the most impact on Westeros, because it demonstrates that the organization that has been dedicated for millennia to protecting the rest of the continent from the northern terrors is unlikely to be able to do so, and "Winter is coming."

There are so many highlights to this episode but the first one I want to talk about involved Varys. Varys is a eunuch, also known as the Lord  Of Whispers or The Spider who is an undisputed powerhouse in King's Landing (the site of the Iron Throne and the unofficial capital City of Westeros) and a member of the 6-person Small Council where ultimate power resides. Varys is one of my favorite characters in the books (closely followed by Tyrion Lanniser, Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth and (of course) Daenerys Targaryen). On the show Varys is played by Conleth Hill with mesmerizing power and pitch-perfect mystery. Even though he is intimately involved with some of the most significant events that happen in the books, Varys has never had a chapter named after him and the story is never told from his perspective. On the show, however, the producers have wisely decided to use their precious minutes of screen time to put Conleth Hill's Varys on the screen.

In this episode, Varys has a scene where he explains to Tyrion how he was "cut" i.e. became a eunuch which is absolutely blood-chilling. But, he also gets a second scene where he shares information about Littlefinger (whom he calls the most dangerous man in Westeros) with the infamous Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell, played with delicious aplomb by Diana Rigg. Varys and Olenna are extremely skilled players at the Game of Thrones, and the moves that they make together will reverberate throughout the cast of characters.

The second highlight that I must talk about is of course the final scene where Daenerys "sells her dragon" in order to purchase a slave army of Unsullied. This is a great triumph for Emilia Clarke, who completely dominates the screen as she recites unintelligible words (in HIgh Valyrian) to  command her slave Army to rise up and kill their former slave masters while her dragon does what dragons do, which is breathe fire and kill people. It is one of the high points of the entire series, and it is depicted very effectively and powerfully on the little screen.

The only low point of this episode was the continued thread with Theon and his savior/betrayer. In the books, Theon is a pitied and pitiable character, punished horribly after falling into the hands of a vicious sadist. But the portrayal of his story arc just appears confusing at this point, and this is from someone who has read the books relatively recently!

Grade: A.
I think this episode was very good, but not as transcendent as last week's "Walk of Punishment." What is nice is that there is so much story packed into the source material that every single episode for the rest of the season should have at least one major, important event and some may have more than one. For example, it looks like in S3E05 we will discover that not everyone who worships R'hllor, the Lord of Light, is as evil as Stannis' Red Priestess Melissandre.

Eye Candy: Zenith Harvey

Zenith Harvey is a 27-year-old model of Dominican descent who, as you can see above, has a winning smile and  a great physique, perfect for photographing. According to his Model Mayhem profile, he is 6'2" 184 pounds and based in New York City.

There are lots of great pictures of him on the Internet, so I am somewhat surprised I haven't featured him as Eye Candy before. David Dust has featured him on his blog before.

Hopefully, we will see a lot more of Zenith (great name!), possibly wearing a lot less, in the future.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

L.A. MAYOR 2013: Garcetti Leads Greuel In Polls

The runoff election for Mayor of Los Angeles is on Tuesday May 21, exactly one month from today. Former City Council President Eric Garcetti, the MadProfessah-endorsed candidate, leads former City Controller Wendy Greuel (the Bill Clinton-endorsed candidate) in three separate polls published in the race, from 7 to 10 points. However two of these surveys were the little-respected computer-generated polls by SurveyUSA, released on March 28 (47-40) and April 12 (49-40).

The much more prestigious Los Angeles Times/USC poll is the latest poll to show Garcetti in the lead:
The survey also found no sign of success for Greuel's effort to gain an edge among women by highlighting her potential to make history as the city's first female mayor. Women preferred Garcetti, 50% to 41%.
Latinos and younger voters backed Garcetti by still wider margins. The city councilman from Silver Lake has strengthened his standing in the central city and Eastside neighborhoods that he won decisively in the March primary. He has also built a solid lead on the Westside — a key target of Greuel's.
Perhaps most worrisome for Greuel, the city controller, is her failure so far to establish a base in the Valley, where the two are effectively tied. Greuel, who lives in Studio City, had hoped that audits by her office that found wasteful spending of taxpayer money would appeal to the Valley's Republicans, often a pivotal vote in L.A. elections.
Instead, Garcetti has emerged with a lopsided lead among conservatives citywide, picking up support from many of those who voted in the primary for Republican radio personality Kevin James, now a Garcetti backer.
 In fact, every single one of the major candidates in the March 5 primary election (Jan Perry, Kevin James and Emmanuel Pleitez) has endorsed Garcetti for Mayor as has almost every single member of the current Los Angeles City Council, even though Greuel was herself a Councilmember from 2002 to 2009.

To me it is very telling that the people Greuel worked with on the City Council, as well as the people she beat all are choosing someone else over her to be the next Mayor of Los Angeles.

The two are relatively similar on many key Democratic policy positions (LGBT equality, reproductive rights, environmentalism, immigration, gun control) but Garcetti would be the one who would more firmly embrace the "progressive" label. And he has already played the Mayor of L.A. (multiple times) on television:

After May 21, Garcetti can be called Mr. Mayor in real life, too.

MONTE CARLO 2013: Nole Wins Title, Ends Rafa's Streak At 8

Despite my prediction earlier, World #1 Novak Djokovic defeated World #5 Rafael Nadal 6-2 7-6(1) in the final of the ATP  Monte Carlo Master 1000 tournament, ending the Spaniard's historic 46-match, 8-title, winning streak. Djokovic ended Nadal's 81-match winning streak for matches played in the month of April, and evened their head-to-head record at 8-all in finals, though he still lags their overall rivalry 15-19. (This 4 match deficit is the closest any of the players on tour who has faced Nadal more than 10 times.)

It was Djokovic's 3rd appearance in the Monte Carlo Masters final, which is set in his adopted hometown of Monaco, having lost to Nadal in 2012 and 2009. It was the Serbian's 37th ATP Tour win (37-19 in ATP our finals) and 14th ATP Masters Series shields, 7 less than Nadal (and 6 less than Roger Federer).

Match Recap
Djokovic had a near perfect start, successfully deploying his game plan of replying to Nadal's penchant of hitting backhands cross-court with blistering down-the-line backhands. He won the first 5 games by breaking Nadal twice and had multiple chances to break him a 3rd time and win a 6-0 set. (If he had done so, Djokovic would have become the fourth player to bagel Nadal on clay. The others are Federer, Guillermo Coria and 2005 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio.) Nadal managed to hold and then broke Djokovic in the very next game. However, when he was serving (now only down one break) at 2-5, Djokovic was able to break and win the first set. It was only the eighth set that Nadal had dropped in the last 46 matches played in Monte Carlo. (He had lost his seventh earlier in the tournament against Grigor Dimitrov.)

In the second set, Djokovic was able to survive two consecutive break points in the 3rd game to keep his nose ahead 2-1 but Nadal was settling in and rattled off three consecutive games to take a 4-2 lead. However, Djokovic gutted out another hold and when facing Nadal (still down a break 3-4) he hit three amazing shots in a row and was able to even the set at 4-all. Things went on serve until 5-all when Nadal broke Djokovic for the third time in the match. However, when the Spaniard served for the match 6-5 to force the seemingly inevitable third and deciding set, he was unceremoniously broken at love to set up a tiebreak. Still shell shocked, Nadal played a loose tiebreak, hitting numerous errors and quickly succumbed, winning only one point.

I am one of the people that thought that if the match had not been sopped last year, Djokovic would have won the 2012 French Open title over Nadal. Ever since then I have been saying that Djokovic has an excellent shot at doing so in 2013. The fact that he was able to defeat Nadal on the court where he is the most successful and comfortable) is absolutely devastating mentally. Although Nadal has only ever lost one match at Roland Garros, he knows it could happen. Also, due to his extended absence from the game following Wimbledon last year, he could be ranked as low as #5 at Roland Garros this year, meaning he could potentially face Djokovic or Federer in a quarterfinal or semifinal, depending on the draw. He could potentially have to play 3 people more highly ranked than him in order to claim his 8th French Open title. I do think Nadal will win 8 French Open titles, but somehow I doubt it will happen this year.

WATCH: Trailer for Next Star Trek Movie

The third trailer for the new Star Trek movie directed by JJ Abrams indicates that Star Trek Into Darkness will be one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Abrams did a good reboot of the Star Trek franchise with his 2009 film (see my A- review) but the plot was a mess and Eric Bana was somewhat disappointing as the villain. Chris Pine (Kirk), openly gay Zachary Quinto (Spock) and Zoe Saldana (Uhuru) were well-cast and quite good, asare John Cho as Sulu and Simon Pegg as Scotty.

Hopefully in his second at bat, Abrams will be able to use his cast in the service of a good story and exciting entertainment. Hot British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) joins the cast as the villain.

Check out the trailer!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

MONTE CARLO 2013 Final: Djokovic-Nadal XXXIV

In a repeat of last year's final, 8-time defending champion Rafael Nadal will face World #1 Novak Djokovic on Sunday at the 2013 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters 1000 tournament in Monaco. As I predicted last night, Nadal was able to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, although the Frenchman did put a bit of a scare into the Spaniard by coming back from 1-5 down in the 2nd set (saving four match points!) to force a tiebreak which he lost 7-3, along with the match 6-3 7-6(3). In the other semifinal Djokovic played the irrepressible Fabio Fognini, who was playing in his first Masters Series-level semifinal after dispatching Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych in consecutive rounds. Djokovic looked very sharp and dismissed the hunky Italian in under an hour 6-1 6-2.

Sunday will be the 34th meeting in the burgeoning rivalry between Djokovic and Nadal. Their last 10 meetings have been in final with Nadal winning the last 3 and Djokovic winning the first 7. Overall, Nadal lead 19-14 and 8-7 in tour finals. But, amazingly, Djokovic has beaten Nadal in two clay court finals (2011 Madrid Masters and 2011 Rome Masters) but has lost to him in four clay court finals, including the 2009 Monte Carlo final and the 2012 Monte Carlo final. Nadal leads 11-2 in clay court matches while Djokovic leads 11-5 on hard courts. Last year the Serbian was reeling from a personal crisis and lost relatively easily 6-3 6-1 to the King of Clay. This year Djokovic's difficulties will be more physical than mental. He injured his ankle ina Davis Cup match versus Sam Querrey two weeks ago and until hours before he played his first match on Wednesday, it was unclear whether the World #1 would even play the tournament. He won a scratchy match against Mikhail Youzhny 4-6 6-1 6-4 but has looked sharp during the business end of the tournament. Nadal surprisingly lost a set against fast-improving Grigor Dimitrov in his quarterfinal on his way to his 9th consecutive final here.

However, he is playing the King of Clay, who has reached 5 consecutive finals this year (winning three of them so far) and who has won this tournament 8 times in a row, something no one has ever done at any tournament. In fact, Nadal has won 44 matches in a row in Monte Carlo including the now classic 5-set tussle with Roger Federer in 2008, which some might argue is almost as good as their 2008 match in the Wimbledon final a few months later. Nadal wants to win in order to increase his total of the number of career ATP Masters 1000 shields from the current record total of 22, win his 9th title here and also not lose ranking points.

Djokovic, on the other hand, probably feels pretty good just to get the final and can probably go home and rest his ankle after this tournament until the Madrid-Rome double starts in two weeks. It is on that terrain that he will need to bolster his claim that he can prevent Nadal from winning his 8th French Open title.

MadProfessah's prediction: Nadal.


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