Saturday, October 21, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: Republicans (Finally) Say Homosexuality Should Be Accepted

There's a new poll out from Pew and the Press which shows that societal acceptance of homosexuality is continuing to grow, with the latest numbers showing that 70% of respondents say "homosexuality should be accepted by society" while only 24% of responded says "homosexuality should be discouraged by society."

However, in this week's episode of Saturday Politics I want to call attention to the partisan differences on this question. 83% of Democrats support societal acceptance of homosexuality. A majority of Democrats have been supportive of homosexuality since (at least) 1994 while a majority of Republicans have not ever been supportive of homosexuality until this year. In the latest poll, 54% of Republicans now say they are supportive of homosexuality.

Pew summarizes the results:
While there has been an increase in acceptance of homosexuality across all partisan and demographic groups, Democrats remain more likely than Republicans to say homosexuality should be accepted by society. 
Overall, 83% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say homosexuality should be accepted by society, while only 13% say it should be discouraged. The share of Democrats who say homosexuality should be accepted by society is up 20 points since 2006 and up from 54% who held this view in 1994. 
Among Republicans and Republican leaners, more say homosexuality should be accepted (54%) than discouraged (37%) by society. This is the first time a majority of Republicans have said homosexuality should be accepted by society in Pew Research Center surveys dating to 1994. Ten years ago, just 35% of Republicans held this view, little different than the 38% who said this in 1994.

Friday, October 20, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Kevin de León Announces Challenge to Dianne Feinstein's Re-election Bid

Whoa! Kevin de León is my State Senator and is the head of the California State Senate. The 50-year-old Latino politician from Los Angeles is termed out of the legislature next year and many people have been wondering what higher office he would seek next. This week he announced that he is running to become a U.S. Senator from California. Currently, California's Senators are Dianne Feinstein (who was elected in 1992) and Kamala Harris, who was elected in 2016. Feinstein recently announced that she would be trying to win a 6th 6-year term in 2018.

de León has announced that he will try to stop that from happening.

Since both are Democrats and California has a top 2 primary it is very likely this race will not e decided in the primary, but almost certainly go the distance to November 2018.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Age of Swords

Age of Swords is the second book in Michael J. Sullivan's new series set thousands of years before the Riyria Revelations trilogy he is most well-known for (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron).

I was not that impressed overall with the first book in the new series (Age of Myth) when I read it last year but remained intrigued enough about the setting to definitely be interested in reading the second book in the series when it came out. 

There are many new characters to get used to in the Legends of the First Empire series and the setting is very different from the amusing adventures featuring Royce and Hadrian, the thieves with hearts of gold around which the deservedly popular Riyria books are based.

However, the new characters are extremely memorable as well. I really feel like we get a better understanding of Persephone, Arion, Raithe and Suri in Age of Swords then we did in Age of Myth. In fact, it's interesting that even though Mawyndule and the political intrigue in the Fhrey capital are an important plot thread in this book it is almost completely overshadowed by the quest Persephone and her companions take to the land of the Dhergs (dwarves) to try and find a way to save her people (and all humans) from the imminent genocide at the hands of the substantially more powerful Fhrey. The Fhrey are basically elves who have access to almost limitless power which makes them appear to be gods to the other species. One problem I have with the series is that there is a little bit of a "Clan of the Cave Bear" vibe because the humans are at so undeveloped that it is astonishing how many basic objects that they currently exist without. (The wheel is something that is "invented" at some point during Age of Swords.) They also still worship a number of different gods, and even perform animal sacrifice to curry favor with them.

Another complaint about Age of Swords  I have is that Malcolm and Raithe, who had such a huge role in the first book, have much smaller roles in the story the second book. That being said, I'm happy to see Roan and Moya are more prominently featured this time. In fact, vast swathes of the plot are moved forward by the female characters, with the males mostly sidelined. This is not a bad thing!

Overall, I am very encouraged about where this story is going and I am excited to read the next three books in this ongoing series from one of the best fantasy writers regularly publishing new work in the genre.

Title: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire, #2).
Michael J. Sullivan.
Paperback: 496 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: July 25, 2017.
Date Read: September 25, 2017.


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


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: More Americans Identify As "Spiritual" Than "Religious"

The Pew Research Center regular conducts polls about religious identity of the American population. They asked people to put themselves into four categories: "religious and spiritual," "neither religious nor spiritual," "religious but not spiritual" and "spiritual but not religious."

In the 5 years since they last conducted the poll in 2012 the number of people who said spiritual but not religious jumped from 19% to 27% and the number who said religious and spiritual dropped from 59% to 48%.

Sadly, the group I would have identified with, Neither religious not spiritual only marginally increased from 16% to 18%.

Regardless, the fact that more Americans as "spiritual" (75%) than as religious (54%) is a pretty big deal, and is the key takeaway of today's Godless Wednesday.

Monday, October 16, 2017

EYE CANDY: Maxs Souza

Maxs Souza is a Brazilian model who has a popular Instagram page (@maxs_souza_92). From his screenname one can assume that he was born in 1992 which would mean that he is 25 years old. If anyone has more information, please let me know!

I love Brazilian eye candy!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Federer-Nadal XXXVIII: Federer Beats Nadal In 4th Final In 2017 To Win Shanghai Masters

Roger Federer won his 94th career ATP tour title on Sunday when he defeated his arch-rival (and current World #1) Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 in 71 minutes to win the Shanghai Masters. Federer is now tied with Ivan Lendl for second place on the all-time list, behind Jimmy Connors 109 titles. It was the 4th time he had beaten Nadal in a final this year  (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami Open and Shanghai Masters). He has now beaten him 5 times in a row and has not lost to Nadal since the 2014 Australian Open semifinal.

This match was the 38th meeting between the two rivals, which Nadal now leads 23-15. Even though the scoreline appears as if today's match was close, in reality Federer never faced a breakpoint, while he converted 3 of 7 breakpoints he earned against Nadal. He had 10 aces to Nadal's 4. Nadal was riding a 16 match win streak which included 3 titles (US Open, Beijing Open and China Open). He is the #1 ranked player in the world and is still 1950 points ahead of Federer, with only 3000 points at stake for the rest of the 2017 season. It is almost certain that Nadal will end the year at #1, for the first time since 2013. Nadal's year-to-date record is 61-10.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

 A Closed and Common Orbit was nominated for the 2017 Hugo award for Best Novel (losing to N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate). It is the second book in the Wayfarers sequence, following 2014's The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet The two are clearly related, existing in a similar universe but they have very few characters in common so it is difficult to consider the book a direct sequel; to me the two books feel very different.  For  example, I was mostly unimpressed with  The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and thought it was overly cute and was put off by what I felt was its overuse of alien cultures and creatures in a voyeuristic way. I was much more engaged with the characters and story told in  A Closed and Common Orbit.

This second book reduces the set of characters that the story  told in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is focused on to basically two: Sidra and Jane 23. Sidra is the artificial intelligence (AI) that makes an entrance at the end of the first book. She has been placed into a humanoid body and has to get used to having the number of inputs reduced so dramatically from several dozen on a standard spaceship to the five (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) commonly associated with sapients.

Sidra is taken in by Pepper (and her friend/partner) Blue after she decides to leave the Wayfarer spaceship from Book 1 and go live at Point Coriol, a multi-species space port, with them.

The main plot in Book 2 involves Sidra trying to acclimate herself to her new situation of an intelligence that was intended to run and manage a ship full of people and finds herself trapped in a single human body. The other thread of the plot is the story of Jane 23, a very young girl whom we discover is working in a factory to fix up scrapped electronic parts with dozens (or hundreds?) of other girls like her whom we eventually realize are probably clones who are being horribly exploited as cheap, dispensable labor. 

The structure of the story in  A Closed and Common Orbit is alternating chapters featuring Sidra's story followed by Jane 23's story. It is a very compelling device. Oftentimes when this is used (I'm looking at your George R.R. Martin and James S.A. Corey!) with several characters one finds that some of the characters' stories one is much less interested tha others, so when one sees the character name at the head of the chapter one groans or squeals, deending on one's interest. With just two characters I found myself equally interested in both stories, so I was always engaged in the book.

There are also several supporting characters, such as Owl (an AI that Jane 23 comes to live with and consider part of her family), Tak (a friendly alien that Sidra becomes close to in Port Coriol) and Pepper and Blue, the people that Sidra lives with and who help keep her secret that she's an escaped AI living in a humanoid body (which is considered a very serious breach of law and culture).

The story raises a number of really hard questions about how biological life forms should treat artificial intelligence (silicon-based life forms?). It is also a suspenseful story of survival (Jane 23 is a very sheltered ten  years old when she sets off on her own i.e. escapes her enslavement). One common theme from the first book which appears in this one is the diversity of alien life and the live-and-let-live ethos of a multi-species civilization. In the first book I felt like there was a bewildering number of different species that the author included to primarily titillate the reader. However in the second book I think the inclusion of alien characteristics and their practices was more subtly incorporated into the story this time and did not distract from the two main stories,  both of which were quite compelling.

I don't want to discuss the actual plot of the book. But one clear strength of Book 2 is that there are multiple story arcs to engage the reader while in the first it seemed like more of a travelogue as we were exposed to various members of the crew of the spaceship and not much actually happened. That is definitely not the case in  A Closed and Common Orbit.

Solid 4.5 stars on the Goodreads scale.

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2).
Becky Chambers.
Paperback: 365 pages.
 Hodder & Stoughton.
Date Published: October 20, 2016.
Date Read: October 1, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Is This Cross A "Secular Monument"?

There is a federal lawsuit ongoing around the cross shown in the image at the top of this post. A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that this large christian cross in Bayview Park in Pensacola, Florida must be removed within 30 days.

The attorneys-general of 14 states have filed an amicus brief saying that this cross is a "secular monument." Here are some excerpts:
"The mere fact that these monuments consist of crosses and other religious symbols does not negate their secular purpose or their historical and cultural significance."  
"Ultimately, if it were accepted by this Court, the district court’s reasoning would threaten countless monuments across the Circuit. As detailed in the City’s appendix, state and local parks, squares, and government buildings boast veterans’ memorials that contain religious imagery, including crosses, citations to scripture, and the like."
That is exactly the point! There are so many government buildings which include religious imagery that are claimed to have "historical" and "societal" significance when the religious message is clear to others. The question is who will the federal judiciary agree with?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Halep Gets #1; Garcia,Nadal Keep Winning

For the third time in 2017, there is a new #1 player on the WTA tour. Simona Halep reached the pinnacle of women's tennis on Saturday when she reached the final of the Wuhan Open by defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-2 6-4. Of course, Halep has had multiple chances to reach #1 in the last 4 months and famously lost the 2017 French Open final to Ostapenko in June. The Romanian is the 25th player to reach #1 but the fourth #1 this year, following Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza before her.

Could Andy Murray's prediction that Carolina Garcia of France would be a future #1 from four years ago be coming true soon? Garcia is playing some of the best tennis of her life and has now won two consecutive titles, the Wuhan Open (d. Barty) and China Open (d. Halep). She is on an 11-match winning streak and has surged into #9 on the WTA tour, reaching the Top 10 for the first time and becoming the second player since Marion Bartoli did it in 2013.

World #1 Rafael Nadal has won his 75th ATP tour title at the China Open (just 2 behind the #4 record holder John McEnroe) and now has the most match wins on tour for 2017: 61. He beat Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios in the semifinal and final matches after saving match point against Lucas Pouille in his first match in Beijing.

World #2 Roger Federer celebrated 20 years on the ATP tour a few weeks ago. He debuted at #803 on the ATP rankings at age 16 on September 22, 1997. Interestingly, other future #1's were nearby, with Lleyton Hewitt at #808 and Juan Carlos Ferrerro at #756.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: #AD51 Runoff On 12/05/17 With Wendy Carrillo and Luis Lopez

The special election to replace now-Congressman Jimmy Gomez in the 51st Assembly District happened this Tuesday October 3 and the top 2 finishers were Wendy Carrillo (who had also run against Gomez in the special election in the 34th Congressional District) and Luis López. Carrillo received the most votes (4,771) in a crowded field of 13 candidates while López was second with 4,086 and Mike Fong was close behind with 3,515.

However, only the top 2 finishers advance to a run-off election to be held on Tuesday December 5. López has run for this seat before, way back in 2012 (against Gomez), while Carrillo is something of a perennial candidate in Northeast Los Angeles elections. López is openly gay and is a healthcare executive and was endorsed by various progressive democratic clubs (East Area Progressive Democrats and Stonewall Democrats) while Carrillo used to work for a local affiliate of Service Employees International Union, which ran an independent expenditure campaign that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support her.

This is my home district (and I voted) so I am following the race quite closely. It will be interesting to see who (if anyone) Gomez endorses as well as what the other candidates in the race do.

Hat/tip to Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin's The Passage  is a very impressive and engrossing thriller. It has a fantastic premise, which is well-executed. I didn't know much about the book when I started it except that it had well over 100,000 ratings on GoodReads with an average score above 4.0, which indicates that a LOT of people have read the book and liked it. It should probably make a fantastic movie when it inevitably gets adapted.

One interesting aspect of The Passage to me is that it is really several different kinds of books in one.

It starts as a mysterious science fiction thriller involving a strange military experiment centered around a top secret program that the reader slowly discovers more and more details about as the story unfolds. Is it the development of a human longevity treatment? A virus that turns men into super-weapons for the military? The discovery of a real-life vampire? The answer, in the end, is all of the above.

In addition, there is a section of  the story which is a chase involving an other-worldly child whose name is Amy and who is apparently "special" in some way. Presumably that is why two agents from the top secret quasi military agency are chasing her down in order to include her in the military experiment.

After the truth is revealed and the mass extinction event occurs (i.e. the fecal matter collides with the rotating air circulation device) The Passage  becomes a post-apocalyptic tale about a small village of survivors (called "The Colony") and the social dynamics between key characters as they struggle to survive an untenable situation 75 years after the catastrophic events that concluded the first section of the book.

Then The Passage morphs again as Amy's story intersects with The Colony's. This results in yet another story shift as the book becomes a quest tale as a group of intrepid, but mismatched individuals travel to find the secret of why their world is the way that it is.

Along the way they have some pretty incredible adventures and some members of the small group die, while some are left behind to fend for themselves and some decide they want to leave the group.

As I said before, overall, the story is quite compelling and told in an exciting way. Even though the book IS quite long, because of the rapidly shifting story format, it never seems slow and my interest and concern for the characters never wavered (although I will admit I was interested in some characters more than others).

I do believe I will try to read the follow-up books in the trilogy, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors but I don't feel like I must read them immediately to see how the story continues and concludes. The thrill ride of The Passage  is quite satisfying on its own and well worth your time to read.

Title: The Passage (The Passage, #1)
Justin Cronin.
Paperback: 897 pages.
 Ballantine Books.
Date Published: June 3, 2010.
Date Read: August16, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

REPORT: Many Los Angeles Area STEM Jobs In 2016-2021 Will Not Require 4-Year Degrees

Interesting report from the Center for a Competitive Workforce about a potential talent shortage in the Los Angeles county area in the near future. Many people think that STEM technical jobs require a 4-year degree, but this report says that there will be many "middle skills" job openings in the Los Angeles area that will not.
In the region there will be approximately 67,450 job openings over the next five years for the 20 occupations examined in the report.  But, according to the latest data available, from the academic year 2014-15, there were fewer than 27,000 career education award earners in the greater Los Angeles Basin. And only about 7,800 awards were conferred in programs training relevant to the 20 target occupations. 
If this trend continues without our region’s talent development systems and institutions responding in kind, especially the community colleges which are the primary suppliers of this middle skill talent, then the demand in the region will not be met over the next five years.
One key takeaway from the report is that local community colleges in Los Angeles will only provide 58% of the people with associates degrees or certificates that the area will likely need to fill these jobs in the near future.

Hat/tip to KPCC

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

LOOK: Easiest Visual Explanation of Gerrymandering

The United States Supreme Court had oral arguments in the case of Gill v. Whitford which is about partisan gerrymandering. This sounds boring, but it is fundamentally about the nature of Democracy itself. The image above shows how one can use gerrymandering to completely warp democratic results.

The example shows a "state" with 50 voters where 60% of voters are "blue" and 40% are "red" but through selection of district boundaries one can get results of 5 blue districts and 0 red districts to 2 Blue districts and 3 red districts even though using a "standard" redistricting one would expect 3 blue and 2 red.

This case is from Wisconsin where:
The plans, developed in 2011 by Republican leaders who controlled the legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R), were effective.
In the election held after the new district maps were adopted,Republican candidates won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote but captured a 60-to-39 seat advantage in the State Assembly. 
Evidence uncovered during lawsuits over the redistricting found that models showed Democrats would have to win about 53 percent of the statewide vote to capture a bare majority of the seats.
The swing vote (as usual) is Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Hat/tip to Wonk Blog

Monday, October 02, 2017

Germany's Marriage Equality Law Is Now In Effect!

Germany's equal marriage law, called "marriage for all" went into effect on yesterday. It was passed on June 30 by a vote of 393-226 in the German parliament when Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition agreed to allow a free vote on the matter, even though she herself voted against the measure. The bill was signed into law by the German president in late July.

The first couple to be married under the legislation was a gay male couple from Berlin named Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende who had been together for 38 years.

The fact that Germany now has marriage equality was one reason my husband I decided to finally visit Berlin in August for our 9th wedding anniversary.

Hat/tip to the Washington Blade.

EYE CANDY: Hayden Monteleone (reprise)

Hayden Monteleone has appeared as Eye Candy once before (March 10, 2017). He has changed his Instagram account to @hayden_moneleone. You can tell from his pictures that he's a big guy. His Model Mayhem profile lists him as 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds (and 28 years old). I'm not sure what his ethnicity is but as I have said before, hawt is hawt! Don't you agree?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth trilogy, #3) by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky is the third and final book in N.K. Jemisin's award-winning Broken Earth trilogy. The first two entries, The Fifth Season (see my review) and The Obelisk Gate (see my review), each won the Hugo award for Best Novel the last two years, against very stiff competition, it must be noted. Can the third one also do it, giving Jemisin an unprecedented trifecta of Hugo wins? It's very possible, because the third book is at least as good as the first two. I would say that the first one would be my personal favorite of the three, primarily due to the novelty of the world Jemisin creates and the interesting literary device that she uses to entice the reader which pays off extremely well around three-fourths of the way.

The first book revolves around the central character, Essun, trying to find her daughter, Nassun, who has been taken away by her husband Jija after he killed their youngest child because he discovered that his wife (and thus his children) are orogenes, people who have the power to affect their surroundings by manipulating energy (in basically all its forms) with their minds and bodies. Unfortunately, this ability is often only partially under conscious control and very often orogenes will unintentionally slaughter the people around them, either through boiling or freezing them to death (by suddenly changing the amount of heat in a proximal volume of space), or causing catastrophic earthquakes. The social stigma against orogenes is so intense that Jija kills his own son and kidnaps his daughter after he discovers his wife is an orogene when she uses her powers to save the village the family had lived in as a cataclysmic event occurs which will (again) throw their entire society into turmoil. Cataclysmic events are somewhat expected in this version of Earth. So much so that these events are known as "seasons," and most people live in a state of readiness that a life-shattering event could happen at any time. 

The second book follows the story of Essun as she tries to survive the aftermath of the events of the first book, while simultaneously trying to locate the surviving members of her family, Nassun and Jija. Survival takes priority, as the effects of the Season become more serious (the sun is blotted by the ash in the sky and earthquakes and tidal waves destroying coastal cities become commonplace). Essun finds a community (located underground in a geological oddity called a geode) where orogenes are not as stigmatized (in fact they are valued) and settles in with them.

In the third book, the story primarily focusses on Nassun and Essun. Nassun was taken by her father to a community run by guardians (creatures that have the power to train, control and punish orogenes) where they try to cure orogene children like her. Essun has been able to use the Obelisk Gate to locate Nassun, so she knows her daughter is alive, but the consequences of her actions (which she took to try and save the society she had joined from attack by others) are physically damaging and potentially life-threatening. Interestingly, we not only follow Nassun and Essun's story in The Stone Sky, we also get the back story of one of the mysterious (and initially terrifying) creatures called the stone eaters.

With The Stone Sky (and really with the entire series) Jemisin is deconstructing and inverting, while simultaneously deploying, many of the classic tropes of epic fantasy. There is a main character (who in this case happens to be female and dark skinned, with dread locks) who goes on a quest (to find her daughter) and finds out that she has more power than she ever believed she had. This is a familiar plot summary that we have seen many times before. But unlike most epic trilogies, things don't end up "happy ever after" for our hero in the Broken Earth trilogy. She doesn't get to sail off to the Undying Lands like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Happily, Essun's (and Nassun's) story is resolved without ambiguity (something that I wish Richard K. Morgan's otherwise excellent epic fantasy trilogy featuring an openly gay protagonist, A Land Fit For Heroes had done). 

Overall, I would say that the Broken Earth trilogy is simultaneously similar to many other fantasy trilogies while distinguishing itself in ways that make it something that is ultimately memorable and also unlike any other fantasy trilogy that you have ever read before, while wishing you could read many more like it.

Title: The Stone Sky.
N.K. Jemisin.
Paperback: 413 pages.
Date Published: August 15, 2017.
Date Read: September 5, 2017.


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


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Belgium-France Davis Cup Final; Fedal Thrills At Laver Cup; Caro Wins 1st 2017 Title; Many Upsets in Wuhan

The inaugural Laver Cup, featuring a Team World (John Isner, Frances Tiafoe, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Denis Shopavolov) versus a Team Europe (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic, Sascha Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Tomas Berdych) happened this weekend and on the third day, the entire match came down to a 3rd set match tiebreak between Kyrgios and Federer where Kyrgios was up 5-2 and had match point at 8-9 on Federer's serve. If Kyrgios had won, the entire match would have been tied at 12-12 and 1 set of doubles (probably with Nadal and Federer teaming up again) would have been played. Instead, Federer won his two service points to go up 10-9 and then won Kyrgios' first service point to win the match tiebreaker 11-9 and clinch the 2017 Laver Cup for his team.

Two weekends ago the Davis Cup semifinals occurred and France easily beat Serbia (without Novak Djokovic) while Belgium came back from 2-1 down to defeat Davis Cup powerhouse Australia 3-2 when David Goffin and Steve Darcis won their reverse singles matches on the final day, with Goffin coming back against Nick Kyrgios to even the tie. France will host Belgium on an indoor hard court  November 24-26 in Lille.

Coming into the final of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Japan where she is the defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki had played in 6 finals in 2017 and lost every single one of them. However, in Japan she dispatched World #1 Garbine Muguruza 6-2 6-0 in the semifinals and then Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final 6-0 7-5 to win her 3rd title in Japan. The former #1 is on track to reach the WTA Tour finals.

The race to reach the WTA Tour Final is heating up during the Asian swing of the year. Both 2017 U.S. Open finalists, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens lost in the first round of the Wuhan Open. Also getting bounced early were Jo Konta, Angie Kerber, and Sveta Kuznetsova. Petra Kvitova, 2-time Wuhan champion, lost the longest WTA match of 2017 in 3 tiebreak sets  and 3 hours 34 minutes to Peng Shuai

Sunday, September 24, 2017

UPDATE: Michael Johnson Accepts 10-Year Plea Deal In HIV Transmission Case

There is an update in the infamous Michael Johnson case: where a 23-year-old Black gay man was sentenced to 30 years in prison under Missouri's discriminatory HIV criminalization statute after a trial influenced by homophobia and racism. Happily, the 30-year sentence was overturned last year.
The news comes that Johnson has agreed to a plea deal where he gets a 10-year prison sentence (including the 4 years he has already served). He is entering an "Alford plea" which says that he agrees that the state has enough evidence to convict him of a crime.

The Center for HIV Law and Public Policy issued a press release on the Johnson case:
New York, NY, September 21, 2017 – Today, in conclusion to a prosecution short on fairness and riddled with questions about racism and homophobia, Michael Johnson entered a plea in the St. Charles County Circuit Court in Missouri. Earlier this year, a state appeals court vacated his original conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct that, according to the court, made Johnson’s first trial “fundamentally unfair.” 
However, because Missouri’s HIV criminal law hinges liability on whether or not the defendant can prove he disclosed his HIV status prior to sex – a virtual impossibility in most instances – Johnson decided to accept a plea deal that credits him with time served. Under Missouri’s law, one of the harshest in the country, Johnson could have faced up to 96 years in prison if found guilty. 
“It is disturbing that Michael is not yet a free man and was not exonerated after his years-long struggle for justice, but we respect and support his decision not to risk a life behind bars,” said Mayo Schreiber, Deputy Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP). “It likely is the end of his case, but our work to bring an end to HIV criminal laws like Missouri’s continues.” 
Johnson, who was 21-years-old at the beginning of this case, entered a no-contest plea to charges that he had sex with partners without first advising them of his HIV status. In exchange, he has accepted a sentence of 10 years in state prison, which will include time already served since his arrest nearly four years ago.  He previously had been sentenced to 30 years in prison before the appeals court threw out the original conviction. 
Prior to his arrest in 2013, Johnson was a promising young college student and star athlete. His prosecution has drawn condemnation from state and national organizations and individuals uniformly outraged by his conviction and opposed to these fundamentally unfair laws being used to prosecute people living with HIV and, disproportionately, like all other criminal laws in the United States, people of color.
In related news, this week the California state legislature passed SB 239, which modernizes the state's laws around HIV transmission so that HIV is treated like other communicable diseases.

Hat tip to TowleRoad

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: 24% Of Americans Are Religiously Unaffiliated

For today's Godlesss Wednesday post I want to return to the topic of how the demographics of religious identity are changing in the United States. A report from the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) titled "America's Changing Religious Identity"  released on September 6 2017 chronicles these changes. Some of the findings are:

  • White Christians, 81 percent of the population in 1976, now account for less than half the public — 43 percent of Americans identify as white Christians, and 30 percent as white Protestants.
  • 92 percent of Lutherans are white, more than in any other denomination.
  • White Christians are aging. About 1 in 10 white Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants are under 30, compared with one-third of all Hindus and Buddhists.
  • Muslims and Mormons are the youngest faith groups in the U.S., with 42 percent of all Muslims under 3o, and nearly a quarter of all Mormons.
The PRRI report is based on a survey of 101,000 Americans in all 50 states and has a margin of error of 0.5 percentage points. Another big take-away from the report is that no single religious group in the United States is larger than the group of "religiously unaffiliated," which makes up 24% of the population.

This is awesome news!

Monday, September 18, 2017

EYE CANDY: Juan Esteban Berri (3rd time!)

Juan Esteban Berri is a model and actor from Colombia who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (October 22, 2012 and January14, 2013). He has been listed as 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds and was born in 1980, so he is 37 now. Juan has an Instagram account (@juanesberrio) and is on Facebook (juanesberrio).


Sunday, September 17, 2017

2017 EMMYS: My Predictions in Major Categories

The Primetime Emmy awards will be given out tonight in Los Angeles. The show will be aired live on CBS at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT. This is the post where I discuss my predictions in the most prestigious categories. The one that I would vote for is in blue and the one I think will win is in red.

Outstanding drama series

  • “The Crown” (Netflix)
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
  • “Westworld” (HBO)
  • “Stranger Things” (Netflix)
  • “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
  • “House of Cards” (Netflix)

This is the first season of Westworld, The Crown, This Is Us, Stranger Things and The Handmaid's Tale.  I have watched all of these shows but I am a season behind  Better Call Saul and House of Cards. To me, the show that had the most impact on my emotionally was The Handmaid's Tale, despite the fact that it is almost impossible to get through an episode of This Is Us without weeping. The most creative of the shows on this list is Stranger Things while The Crown is the guiltiest pleasure. The show I am most looking forward to seeing the next season of is Westworld. What I'm trying to say is that basically every show on this list has a good reason to win.

SHOULD WIN: The Handmaid's Tale.
WILL WIN: This Is Us.

Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

  • Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (FX)
  • Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” (Netflix)
  • Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan” (Showtime)
  • Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld” (HBO)
  • Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Milo Ventimiglia has garnered most of the attention of the actors on This Is Us but Sterling Brown is the character that I most identify with (he plays a nerdy Black guy adopted by white parents whose primary story arc on the show involves his connection with his birth father.

SHOULD WIN: Sterling K. Brown.
WILL WIN: Sterling K. Brown.

Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

  • Claire Foy, “The Crown” (Netflix)
  • Keri Russell, “The Americans” (FX)
  • Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
  • Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
  • Robin Wright, “House of Cards” (Netflix)
  • Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld” (HBO)
Last year, Tatiana Masliany won for her amazing portrayal of multiple clones on Orphan Black. This year Claire Foy has been getting plaudits for playing Queen Elizabeth. Oscar winner Viola Davis won this category 2 years ago.  Robin Wright has been nominated for every season of House of Cards and has never won.

SHOULD WIN: Elisabeth Moss.
WILL WIN: Viola Davis.

Outstanding comedy series
  • “Black-ish” (ABC)
  • “Atlanta” (FX)
  • “Veep” (HBO)
  • “Master of None” (Netflix)
  • “Silicon Valley” (HBO)
  • “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
  • “Modern Family” (ABC)
The nominees in this category are Atlanta and Master of None, two comedies helmed by two comedians of color, Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari. I have never seen an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but I know that Tina Fey is an executive producer and people rave about it. I have seen Veep, Silicon Valley, Black-ish and Modern Family but have not seen all of the latest season of each of these shows. Veep ended the dominance of Modern Family last year and  is expected to do so again. I have been watching episodes of Black-ish on flights and have gained grudging respect for the show.

SHOULD WIN: Black-ish.

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series  
  • Donald Glover, “Atlanta” (FX)
  • Anthony Anderson, “Blackish” (ABC)
  • Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent” (Amazon)
  • Aziz Ansari, “Master of None” (Netflix)
  • William H. Macy, “Shameless” (Showtime)
  • Zach Galifianakis, “Baskets” (FX)

SHOULD WIN: Donald Glover.
WILL WIN: Jeffrey Tambor.

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep” (HBO)
  • Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish” (ABC)
  • Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)
  • Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)
  • Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
  • Allison Janney, “Mom” (CBS)
  • Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (FX)
SHOULD WIN: Tracee Ellis Ross.
WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Outstanding limited series
  • “The Night Of” (HBO)
  • “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
  • “Fargo” (FX)
  • “Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX)
  • “Genius” (National Geographic)
I quite enjoyed watching The Night Of  last fall and Riz Ahmed and John Turturro were riveting. But Big Little Lies was quite compelling and fascinating to watch Oscar-calibre performances from Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. Fargo's 3rd season was well below the extremely high level set by the first two seasons.

SHOULD WIN: The Night Of.
WILL WIN: Big Little Lies.


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