Tuesday, November 20, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: 2018 Season Ends With Djokovic and Halep On Top



TENNIS SEASON ENDS WITH SIMONA HALEP AND NOVAK DJOKOVIC ON TOP
The 2018 tennis season is now over since the 2018 ATP Tour finals concluded on Sunday with Sascha Zverev's improbable win over Novak Djokovic in the final. For the record, Djokovic ended the year at #1 on the ATP Tour and Simona Halep ended the WTA tour at #1.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Ricardo Lara Becomes 1st LGBT Individual Elected Statewide In California


Ricardo Lara has been declared the winner of the California Insurance Commissioner race, defeating former Republican (and current Independent) Steve Poizner. Lara is an openly LGBT state Senator and as of today he leads Poizner 52%-48% (or 400,000 votes) with nearly 10 million votes tabulated:

Lara becomes the first openly LGBT individual elected statewide in California!

Hat tip to Equality California.

EYE CANDY: David McIntosh (4th time!)





British bodybuilder has appeared as Eye Candy here multiple times before (September 24, 2012, December 31, 2012 and February 11, 2013). I recently went to his Instagram page (@king_david85) and he still looks amazing!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

2018 ATP YEC: Zverev Stuns Djokovic To Win Biggest Title


Sascha Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-4 6-3 to win the Nitto ATP Finals in London, becoming the youngest player to win the ATP's year-end championship since Djokovic won the title in 2008.  21-year-old Zverev will end the year ranked at World #4, behind Djokovic at #1, Rafael Nadal at #2 and Roger Federer at #3. In the semifinals, Zverev defeated Federer 7-5 7-6(5). His win over Djokovic ended a 14-match winning streak the Serbian had against Top 10 players in 2018 and evened their career head to head at 2-all (his head-to-head with Federer is now 3-all).

Last year, Grigor Dimitrov beat David Goffin to win the 2017 ATP year-end championship. This win often presages  a quantum increase in success, but Dimitrov didn't have a great 2018 afterwards.

Friday, November 16, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Jared Polis Becomes 1st Openly Gay Man Elected Governor


Former Congressman Jared Polis has become the first openly gay man to be elected as the Chief Executive of a State. Polis, 43,  is now the Governor-elect of Colorado, having been elected as a Democrat on Tuesday November 6 with 51.7% of the vote. He is a dot-com millionaire and he and his partner Marlon Reis are parents to a son and daughter.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Foundryside (Founders, #1) by Robert Patrick Bennett


Foundryside is the first book in an epic fantasy series called The Founders trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett, the author of the Hugo-nominated Divine Cities trilogy (City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles).

Foundryside has some interesting parallels with the Divine Cities, in that the main protagonist appears to be a woman of color and her primary sidekick is a big, taciturn dude who is really good at killing people. In the Divine Cities trilogy the actual main character in each of the entries in the trilogy changed, while it looks like in Foundryside the main character will presumably remain the same, Sancia Grado (although we only have one book to make this conclusion from).

Sancia is delightful, which is great because we the reader spend a lot of time with her. (If this was a movie, she would basically be in every scene.) It is true that she’s a thief, but she’s also an escaped slave and has been mutilated by her former (unknown) masters to have curious but definitely useful abilities. She carries scars, both physical and emotional which broaden and deepen her as a character.

A key feature of Foundryside is its magic system, which is based around “scriving,” a combination of writing code and spell-casting. Basically scriving allows the scrive to change the reality of the scrived object. Examples include lamps which float in the air on their own, specialized locks that require specialized keys, and extremely powerful weapons in a civilization which is barely out of what we would call the Bronze Age. (There’s a lot of horse drawn carriages, swords, crossbows and armor in Foundryside.)

On top of this intriguing magic system Bennett layers on a feudal society and sets the story in Tevanne, a city which is basically controlled by a handful of family-run Houses that have a monopoly on the scriving market. The book begins with an extended caper of Sancia stealing something incredibly valuable (and powerful) from one of the houses and being tracked down by its head of security, who just happens to be the scion of one of the main Houses, Gregor Dandolo. Gregor is a lone survivor of a bloody engagement in a recent war and is the large dude I mentioned earlier who is very good at killing things whom I would say is the second main character of Foundryside.

Another strong aspect of Foundryside is that there are several other character that are compelling besides Sancia and Gregor. There’s Ofelia Dandolo, Gregor’s mom who also runs House Dandolo and seems to have decidedly un-maternal feelings towards her sole surviving family member. There’s House Dandolo’s primary scriver, Orso Ignacio, and his assistant Berenice who play key roles in the story. There’s also Estelle Candiolo, Orso’s former fling/girlfriend/potential wife from decades before, who is the daughter of the former head of House Candiolo and the wife of the current head, Thomas Ziauno.

I don’t want to say much about the story or plot but we do find out much more about Sancia, her origins and the source of her powers. (Also, she’s probably a lesbian, or at least has a female love interest, yay!) Foundryside being a Bennett book, there’s very rich world-building and an extremely interesting historical backstory, which in this case involves gone-but-not-forgotten ancestors who modern-day people in Tevanne basically think were gods for what THEY could do with scriving. I would not be surprised if the future books in the Founders series gives us more information about these folks, called Hierophants in the book. I look forward to reading the sequels to Foundryside with great interest, enthusiasm and impatience! HIGHLY recommended.

Title: Foundryside.
Author: 
Robert Jackson Bennett.
Paperback: 512 pages.
Publisher:
 Crown.
Date Published: August 12, 2018.
Date Read: November 5, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

AZ-SEN: Openly LGBT Kyrsten Sinema Wins!


Congressperson Kyrsten Sinema has won election to the United States  Senate from Arizona, defeating Congresswoman Martha McSally in a very close race. Sinema, 42, is the first female Senator from Arizona, and as a bisexual woman, only the second openly LGBTQ member of the "world's most exclusive deliberative body," following openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin (who was re-elected last Tuesday) in Wisconsin with 55% of the vote. She will also be one of the youngest members of the U.S. Senate.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

TENNIS NEWS: Djokovic Returns To #1, Khachanov Breaks Through, ATP YEC Field Set (Isner, Nishikori IN, Nadal, Delpo OUT)


DJOKOVIC RETURNS TO WORLD #1 AFTER  NADAL WITHDRAWS FROM PARIS MASTERS
Because Nadal cut his entire season short (he ended up not playing the rest of the year after retiring with an injury against Del Potro in the US Open semifinals) Djokovic was assured to  return to World #1 last Monday when the Paris Masters points dropped off the calendar. This was a historic changeabout for Djojkovic who started 2018  with 6 losses and 6 wins but then had a 20-match winning streak which resulted in 3 titles (2018 Wimbledon and 2018 US Open).

FEDERER LOSES TIGHT 3-SET SEMIFINAL TO DJOKOVIC WITHOUT LOSING SERVE

The highlight of the Paris Masters was the 47th match between Federer and Djokovic, which the Serbian was able to win the 3-hour semifinal showdown 7-6(6) 5-7 7-6(3) despite never breaking Federer's serve.

DJOKOVIC ENDS YEAR-END #1 FOR FIFTH TIME IN CAREER
By Nadal being unable to compete in the ATP World Tour Finals, Djokovic will end up as the year-end #1 since World #3 Roger Federer will be unable to get enough points to surpass the Serb by the end of the year. This is the fifth time Djokovic has ended the year at #1 (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018).

KHACHANOV WINS FIRST ATP MASTERS TITLE
Karen Khachanov defeated Djokovic in the final of the ATP Paris Masters in straight sets 7-5 6-4 to win the biggest match of his career. The 6-foot-6 Russian reached a career high of World #11 and seized the ATP World Tour Finals first alternate spot with the win.

ATP YEAR-END CHAMPIONSHIP SET WITHOUT NADAL, DEL POTRO
The Elite Eight is set with the field consisting of Djokovic, Federer, Sascha Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, John Isner and Kei Nshikori. The two alternates are Borna Coric and Karen Khachanov. The draw is set, with Djokovic, Zverev, Isner and Cilic in the Guga Kuerten group and Federer, Thiem,  Nishikori and Anderson in the Lleyton Hewitt group.

Friday, November 09, 2018

2018 World Chess Championship: Carlsen versus Caruana (London, November 9-28)


The 2018 World Chess championship is being held in London starting today and should last until November 28th or so. It is between the defending world champion 27-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway, and 26-year-old Fabiano Caruana of the United States. Carlsen has been the World #1 ranked chess player since 2010, and first won the World Championship by defeating Viswanathan Anand in 2013 at the age of 22.

However, Caruana is the first American player to challenge for the World Chess champion title since Bobby Fischer in 1972. This is a *big* deal and he is the real deal. I didn't know much about him but this article informed me of his bona fides.

Carlsen-Caruana is the matchup that the chess world was hoping for. It’s world No. 1 versus world No. 2—the first World Championship match between the top two since Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov went at it for the fifth and final time in 1990. Caruana only sits three Elo rating points behind Carlsen at 2832 to 2835, both the highest combined rating and the smallest ratings difference in World Championship history. If Caruana wins the match within the 12 classical games, he’ll not only take the title but also the world No. 1 spot that Carlsen has held continuously since July 2011—about which Magnus has said, “I would like to give you some boring, politically correct answer, but the truth is, yeah, it does bother me!”

This should be awesome!

Monday, November 05, 2018

EYE CANDY: Robert Oliveira (reprise)





Robert Oliveira is another one of my Brazilian crushes. He has appeared as eye candy only once before (July 16, 2018) but  almost certainly will make many more. There's a reason why he has over 200,000 followers on Instagram (@robert.official). Enjoy!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason



Jar City is the first book by Arnaldur Indriðason that I have read. I was mostly interested in reading it because it’s set in Reykjavik, and ever since the city was put on the map fro the famous World Chess Championship between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in 1972 I have been interested in it. I visited Reykjavik this year for a week to celebrate my birthday in May 2018. Thus it was sorta fun to read place names that were somewhat familiar in Jar City

However it turned out that Jar City the book was not that interesting to me in the end. I have a theory that quality of mystery books depends on a number of factors: the quality of the characterization of the protagonist/detective, the interesting features of the sidekicks, the compelling nature of the setting and the intricacy of the puzzle/mystery. 

Here the strongest aspect of Jar City is the puzzle. The protagonist is Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson, who is somewhat interesting but also a bit of a misanthropic and unattractive character. This is not necessarily a deal breaker for me to enjoy a mystery book, since one could also describe popular mystery characters like Inspector John Rebus by Ian Rankin. The main problem with Jar City is with the sidekicks, who are completely uninteresting to me. One  is a woman named Elinborg and a guy named Sigurður Óli. We don't get very much (if any) of the internal monologue of either of these supporting characters, and it's not even very clear what Erlendur thinks of either of his partners. One would think that the setting (Reykjavik) would be compelling but in the end the homogeneous and exotic nature of the setting is not as interesting as I had originally expected when I discovered the books existed. 

Although Jar City is technically not the first book in the Inspector Erlendur series, it is the first book in the English translation order of the books. It's also often true the first book in a mystery series is often not the author's best work. (This is definitely true of Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson and Patricia Cornwell, just to name a few.)

I have to add that the one aspect of the first book that may get me to read the future entries is Elendur’s relationship with his pregnant, drug-addicted daughter Eva Lind. I’m definitely curious about what happens to her character but there are many other series that I would rather make progress on first (Val McDermid's Tony Hill/Carol Jordan and Stuart MacBride's DS Logan McRae immediately come to mind, for instance).

Title: Jar City (Inspector Erlendur, #3).
Author: 
Arnaldur Indriðason.
Paperback: 275 pages.
Publisher:
 Minotaur Books.
Date Published: October 1, 2005.
Date Read: July 29, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).

PLOT: B.
IMAGERY: B.
IMPACT: C.

WRITING: A.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Ireland Votes To Abolish Blasphemy Laws


This past weekend voters in Ireland decided to abolish laws against blasphemy by approving a  referendum to remove the word "blasphemous" from the following clause in the constitution of the republic of Ireland:
The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.
There was also a 2009 law on the books (the Defamation Act of 2009) which included blasphemy as an offense and had never been used but came to public notice in 2015 when openly gay actor Stephen Fry was investigated by the Irish police (after a complaint by an unknown  member of the public) for saying on Irish television "The god that created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac, totally selfish." Fry's potential legal jeopardy put the issue on the map, which eventually led to the referendum this week in which 64.85%  voted YES (43% turnout) to remove blasphemy from the Irish constitution. The government will follow with legislation to implement the will of the people to abolish the "crime" of blasphemy.

Good news!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

2018 WTA YEC: Svitolina Wins Her Biggest Title, Outlasting Stephens 36 62 62


Elina Svitolina won the biggest title of her career by defeating 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open finalist Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-2 6-2 to win the 2018 WTA BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore. Svitolina still has not reached a major final despite being in the Top 10 of the WTA tour for well over a year; her win here leaves her at World #4 for the 2018 season. Both Svitolina and Stephens were undefeated in round robin play to reach the semifinals, with Stephens defeating Karolina Pliskova (despite losing the first set 6-0!) and Svitolina outlasted the surprise semifinalist Kiki Bertens in three sets to reach the most important match of the year.

Monday, October 29, 2018

2018 BASEL: Federer Wins 99th Career ATP Title


Roger Federer won his 99th career ATP title at the Swiss Indoors Championships held in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland. Federer defeated Romanian qualifier Marcus Copil 6-4 7-6(5) in his 14th final in Basel to win his 9th title. The only male player who has won more titles is Jimmy Connors, who won 109 titles. I had previously thought that this total was out of range for Federer, but now I'm not so sure.

Friday, October 26, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Hillary Clinton Turns 71 Today


Hillary Rodham Clinton turns 71 today. She is the wife of  former U.. President William Jefferson Clinton and the winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. The winner of the electoral  vote, President Trump was born June 17, 1946, so is 72 years old.

Happy Birthday, Hillary!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid


“A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” is of course a clichéd title of a famous book by Dave Eggers but in the case of Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia this description would be quite appropriate.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is the first book I have read by this author (although his science fiction work Exit West has been on my radar for awhile as book to be read). I had to read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia because we have assigned this book as the reading for all entering students at the college at which I work. Happily, the book is a quick read (a mere 222 large-font paperback pages), surprisingly engaging and extraordinarily effective.

It is true what others say that the gimmick of being a self-help book is somewhat off-putting at first and the setting in an unnamed Asian country, following the life and career of its initially destitute protagonist, can appear to be distancing to readers who do not share this positionality. But, by the end, what makes the book work so well is the absolute universality of its themes. That, along with the stunning proficiency of its prose, puts How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in rarefied company.  

Mohsin Hamid is clearly a master at crafting clever phrases, deploying insightful metaphors and cheeky similes all the while skewering many aspects of society. Just off the top of my head (without consulting the text again) he pokes fun at: the surveillance state; society’s obsession with celebrity; the venality of politics, government and banking; and, of course, the pursuit of “wealth” as a measure of successful life. This last subject is the ostensible topic of the novel, but I would argue the real point of the novel is force the reader to think about their own life and goals while simultaneously depicting a plausible life path for his unnamed protagonist.

One aspect of the book I found incredibly powerful was the way that the author is able to suddenly switch the meaning of the word “you” between his characters. The primary use of “you” is usually referring to the central protagonist whom he is using as an example of someone who is following the author’s “self-help” advice to “get filthy rich in rising Asia.” But sometimes “you” switches to  mean the reader, or another character in the story (often “the pretty girl” who is the love interest of our protagonist).

The structure of the book is sneakily effective at slowly drawing the reader into the plot, while maintaining the “self-help” gimmick with chapter names like “Avoid Idealists,” "Focus on the Fundamentals,” and “Have an Exit Strategy.” By the end of the book I suspect that most people who read the final sentence (which is nearly a page long!) will leave tears dripping on to the page/screen. 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a tour de force by a very talented writer using a clever premise and unexpected literary device to produce a work of fiction which is surprisingly effective.


Title: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.
Author: 
Mohsin Hamid.
Paperback: 222 pages.
Publisher:
 Riverhead Books.
Date Published: March 5, 2013.
Date Read: August 20, 2018.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (4.0/4.0).

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Deism versus Theism


As someone who believes in godlessness, i.e. I reject both theism and deism. However, it is at least useful to understand these terms if one is going to have reasonable dialogue between the religious and irreligious. For example, the graphic at the top of this page explains the difference between theism and deism.

One of the more annoying aspects of interactions between believers and non-believers is the ignorance of "believers" about the diversity of people's beliefs. I have found that most people who are godless like myself are not that way because "we don't know better" or "haven't been exposed to religion." Really? You think in a world dominated by religion and religious voices like this one, you think people turn away from religion because we haven't been exposed to the right one, which just happens to be yours?

Hat/tip to Atheistic_1

Monday, October 22, 2018

EYE CANDY: Maxs Souza (3rd time!)






Maxs Souza is another one of those hot Brazilian models that I love to post about here. Other examples are Robert Oliveira, Jones Tamar, Alan Taurus, Guilherme Rofino and many more. Maxs has appeared as Eye Candy before (April 9, 2018 and October 16, 2017).

Friday, October 19, 2018

2018 WTA YEC: Draw Is Set (Halep Withdraws); Osaka, Kerber, Stephens in Same Group


The WTA Year End Championships is starting in Singapore this weekend. Participation is restricted to the Top 8 performers on the WTA tour, which usually (but not always) includes the winners of the 4 Grand Slam tournaments through out the year. This is the last year the

Last year's winner was Caroline Wozniacki who used that momentum to win her first major at this year's Australian Open. This year's French Open winner (and year-end #1) is Simona Halep but she had to withdraw, giving a chance to Kiki Bertens to become the first Dutch player in over two decades to make the Elite Eight. 2018 Wimbledon champion Angie Kerber and 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka round out this year's honor roll of major champions. However, there are two other major champions in the draw, Sloane Stephens, 2017 US Open champ, and Petra Kvitova, 2-time Wimbledon champion.

The final 8 are placed into 2 groups of 4 each and then play round-robin tournament to identify the top two in each group, who then play elimination semifinals against members from the other group to reach the final.Last year, Wozniacki defeated Venus Williams.

The two groups are:

  • Red Group 

  • [1] Angelique Kerber 

  • [3] Naomi Osaka 

  • [5] Sloane Stephens 

  • [8] Kiki Bertens 

  • White Group 

  • [2] Caroline Wozniacki 

  • [4] Petra Kvitova 

  • [6] Elina Svitolina 

  • [7] Karolina Pliskova
The Red Group in my opinion is the tougher group. Interestingly, Steohens has the head-to-head edge here, while Kvitova has the edge in the White Group (these are problematic names, by the way, why not use names of famous former champions, like the men do?).


I predict that Wozniacki and Kvitova will emerge from the White Group and Stephens and Osaka will emerge from Red Group. Singapore is a relatively slow indoor hard court, which I would give a slight edge to Kvitova overall.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3) by Becky Chambers


Record of a Spaceborn Few is the third entry in a loosely connected set of books written by Becky Chambers called the Wayfarers series. It is set in a Universe where many generations before humans have been forced to abandon Earth and conducted an exodus into space on 32 generation ships formed from the metals and materials of their cities. Eventually the Exodan Fleet made it to a part of space where they met and were allowed entry into a thriving community of alien lifeforms called the Galactic Commons.

The Wayfarers stories began with A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet in 2016 and continued with A Closed and Common Orbit in 2017. Although I was not very enamored of the first book, it definitely had a lot of award-worthy buzz for a debut novel and even now has an average Goodreads rating well above 4.0 out of more than 40k ratings, which is impressive. The structure of that book was off-putting to me in that Chambers uses the now-familiar George R.R. Martin structure of each subsequent chapter being named for and centered around different characters. In A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet, the characters are the 7 members of the crew of a ship, and Chambers goes into details about their backgrounds and home planet. However, I simply didn't care much about any of the characters and there's very little plot development, but the universe the book is set in was compelling enough to convince me to read the sequel. A Closed and Common Orbit has less than the half the number of ratings of its predecessor but an even higher average rating, with good reason. (It was also on the short list for the 2017 Hugo award for Best Novel.)

In Record of a Spaceborn Few the story is centered firmly in the Exodan Fleet with passing references to the numerous planets that humans have colonized throughout the galaxy instead of focusing on one ship and its crew like in the first book. (Although to be fair, by going over the backstory of the crew, we did learrn more about more of the other planets in the Wayfarers universe than we do in this book.) The plot of A Closed and Common Orbit was much more story-focused, as it dealt with a continuation of the story of one of the crew members from the first book and has a fascinating focus on the cultural norms of a society filled with multiple, variegated forms of alien life.

In the third entry in the Wayfarers series, Chambers has the good sense to make the civilization and culture of the Exodan Fleet the central aspect of the story, more as it was in Book 2. This time she does this by focusing on several characters who play specific roles: a disaffected teenager who wants to rebel against Exodan society; an alien amateur anthropologist who is visiting the ship the story is centered around and a lesbian librarian who is shepherding her around; a clueless human "Grounder" who leaves his planet to visit the Fleet to make his fortune; a single parent with two kids and who yearns for a better life; a spiritual leader who actually does find a hooker with a heart of gold. It is an eclectic mix, and this feature is one of the great strengths of the novel. The main characters and side characters are diverse in age, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation and other factors.

However I still found Record of a Spaceborn Few to be a slow, somewhat forced read for me. It started off very slowly, and I thought it would become a repeat of the first book where I hated all the characters but instead what happened is that all of the characters grew on me and I was anxious and interested in what happens to them. It's clear that plot is not really what Chambers is interested in, as much more of the focus is on the contours of the character's lives. Happily, Chambers obliges with codas for most of the characters at the end of the book which tell you what happens to them six months to two years after the main events of the central plot are resolved. This allows the reader to end the book on a hopeful and satisfied note.

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3).
Author: 
Becky Chambers.
Paperback: 359 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: July 24, 2018.
Date Read: October 13, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Stephen Hawking Says "There Is No God" In Posthumous Book


Stephen Hawking, one of the world's most renowned scientists, who died earlier this year at the age of 76 on March 13, has published a book where he reiterates his atheistic beliefs. This is not a new occurrence; Hawking's atheistic beliefs have been well-documented.

For example, this is a quote which comes close to what I believe as well,
We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.
As always, Hawking expresses the truth in a simple, declarative way.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Washington State Supreme Court Abolishes Death Penalty!

There are now twenty states that do not have the death penalty! Last week, the Washington State Supreme Court declared that state's death penalty unconstitutional in State v. Gregory, saying:
The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and raciallybiased manner. While this particular case provides an opportunity to specificallyaddress racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered. As noted by appellant, the use of the death penalty is unequally applied—sometimes by where the crime took place, or the county of residence, or the available budgetary resources at any given point in time, or the race of the defendant. The death penalty, as administered in our state, fails to serve any legitimate penological goal; thus, it violates article I, section 14 of our state constitution.
The ruling is based entirely on the State constitution so it is not appealable to, or dependent on, the United States Supreme Court.

Hat/tip to ACLU

Thursday, October 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) by V.E. Schwab



A Conjuring of Light is the third and final entry in the Shades of Magic trilogy written by V.E. Schwab. 
The books are set in a universe with four parallel worlds that are connected via various flavors of London (Red, White, Grey and Black). These are listed in diminishing order of magical resonance, with Red London where almost all the action takes place and Black London is a ruined, barren place where magic ceased  to exist ages before. The main characters in the trilogy are Kell, Lila, Holland, Rhy and Alucard. Most of these characters have special magic abilities that allow them to travel between the Londons and all but Alucard appeared in all three books in the trilogy. You can read my reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows for my thoughts on the complex relationships between these main characters. Instead, since this is the final book in the trilogy I want to give my opinion on both A Conjuring of Light and the Shades of Magic trilogy as a whole.

The trilogy structure is a familiar one in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Typically, the first book is usually quite strong, introducing the compelling characters, the setting of the exciting story, which often has some plot elements resolved but leaves some to be dealt with in the subsequent books. Oftentimes the second book is not as good as the first because the characters are now familiar to the reader so the frisson that arises from novelty is lost and the author can’t conclude all the plot threads because there’s a third entry yet to come. Then the final entry often disappoints because it has to resolve all the plot points that have been introduced in the first two books and some of the characters that we have gotten to know over two books don’t make it to the end. I point this out to note how difficult it is to have a compelling trilogy.

However, the description of the generic trilogy I gave above  fits the Shades of Magic trilogy to a tee. I quite enjoyed  A Darker Shade of Magic  and was slightly less impressed with A Gathering of Shadows but still liked the second book overall. There are multiple problems with the third book, A Conjuring of Light, the main one being that it is simply too long. This is often a common problem of third books in a trilogy (c.f. The Return of the King in the Lord of the Rings books) although there are definite counterexamples (Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs trilogy and Michael J. Sullivan's Riyria Revelations are two trilogies in which each entry is uniformly excellent).

There are several good aspects of A Conjuring of Light. The centering of the most prominent female character, Lila Bard, is a plus. Additionally, the romantic scenes include those between same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. There are many action scenes, which are written quite well. There’s also a lot of dead bodies, oftentimes of important characters who had made it through the first two books, which raises the emotional impact of the book. However, the story does drag in some parts and it took me longer to finish this book then the other two and I don't think this was due to its increased length. Overall, the third entry is not as compelling as the first two but I would recommend the trilogy and I'm glad I finally read it.

Title: A Conjuring of Light (Shade of Magic, #3).
AuthorV.E. Schwab.
Length: 624 pages.
Publisher: Tor.
Published: February 21, 2017.
Read: October 6, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Osaka Reaches World #4; Kiki Hits Top 10, Sabalenka at 11; Fed/Nole/Delpo Battle For #2 In Shanghai; Woz Wins Title #30


OSAKA, BERTENS, SABALENKA REACH CAREER HIGHS
2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka reached World #4 in the rankings, matching the highest ever ranking by a Japanese female player (Kimiko Date). Osaka has played very well since becoming a major champion, reaching a final and semifinal in consecutive tournaments. Kiki Bertens cemented her career-best year by reaching the Top 10 for the first time on the back of winning 3 titles in 2018. She becomes the first Dutch woman to reach this height since Brenda Shultz-McCarthy. Bertens just edged out Aryna Sabalenka, who is at #11 in the rankings and clearly poised to go higher. Sabalenka was the only player to take a set off of Osaka in New York and won the Wuhan Open and followed that up by defeating Garbine Muguruza in Beijing, where she reached the quarterfinals. Sabalenka first reached the Top 100 for the first time almost exactly a year ago.

FEDERER, DJOKOVIC AND DEL POTRO IN RACE FOR WORLD #2.
The 2018 US Open finalists Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro are in the hunt to replace Roger Federer at the World #2 spot. Federer is the defending champion at the Shanghai Masters (which has one of the fastest court speeds on the ATP Tour). All Djokovic reaches the final in Shanghai he will be the new world #2, and has a chance to end the year at World #1 by doing well at the year-end championships in London, which he as won 5 times already. Del Potro has to hope the Serbian loses before the semifinals and that he wins the title to reach world #2. In the unlikely event that happens, a streak of 13 years where the top 2 spots have been held by members of the big 4  (Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) will come to a close.

HALEP LIKELY TO END 2018 AS YEAR-END #1
Since Angie Kerber lost early in Beijing, Simona Halep should be able to maintain her lead at the top spot through the Year-End Tour Championships in Singapore. Wozniacki is the defending champion so she can't increase her points total to challenge Halep at the top of the WTA rankings, despite winning her 30th career title in Beijing last weekend.

Monday, October 08, 2018

EYE CANDY: Nana-Kofi Adams





Nanakofi Adams is a British bodybuilder of African descent who is on Instagram (@nanakofi_adams). According to his Model Mayhem page, Nana-Kofi is 29 years old, 6-feet tall weighing 198 pounds and wears size 11(!) shoes.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

GRAPHIC: What Kind Of Voter Are You Depends On How Much Government You Want: Dismantle, Streamline, Rebuild, or Expand?



An interesting analysis of partisanship in a report from the Brooking Institution. They split all voters into four categories: dismantlers, streamliners, rebuilders and expanders. They are each defined thusly:

The report then goes on to analyze how each of the major partisan groups: democrats, republicans and independents are made up of various groupings of these four types (or ideologies) and how this has changed over time. It's worth a read!

Friday, October 05, 2018

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Openly Gay MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Gregg Gonsalves


The 2018 MacArthur Fellows were announced yesterday and at least one of the "genius grant" winners is openly gay: Gregg Gonsalves, a well-known HIV/AIDS activist who was instrumental in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) in the 1990s. More recently he has become a global health advocate and received  a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Yale University in 2017.

The official summary of Dr. Gonsalves' work from the MacArthur Foundation is:
Gregg Gonsalves is an epidemiologist and global health advocate integrating his experiences as a community activist with quantitative analysis and operations research to improve responses to global public health challenges. For nearly three decades, Gonsalves was an HIV/AIDS activist, working with domestic and international organizations such as AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. His efforts to connect the HIV/AIDS community with top-tier researchers and scientists were a critical catalyst to fundamental advances in scientific knowledge of the disease. These experiences deeply informed his later training in epidemiology and current efforts to optimize the effectiveness of health programs for epidemic diseases, particularly within poor and marginalized communities. 
Using a variety of quantitative approaches and operations research modeling, Gonsalves has determined how to identify hot spots for HIV testing in real time in order to maximize identification of undiagnosed HIV-positive persons; shed light on ways to minimize dropout of HIV-positive patients at key points in the care continuum; and assessed the epidemiological costs of emerging epidemics of HIV in the United States due to intravenous drug use and lack of needle exchange programs. In another line of research, Gonsalves examined the link between high rates of sexual violence against women living in informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa, and the lack of indoor sanitation—the remote location of facilities left women vulnerable to attacks. He developed a mathematical model that determined the optimal number of new facilities and demonstrated that sanitation investments by the city would significantly reduce instances of sexual violence as well as their associated costs. 
Gonsalves co-founded the Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), an interdisciplinary initiative between the schools of law and public health at Yale University, to further advance human rights and social justice perspectives in public health and legal research, practice, and teaching. Working in cooperation with local nongovernmental organizations, GHJP mobilizes research and evidence around pressing health issues and translates that evidence into action. For example, GHJP and colleagues in South Africa documented the failure of mining companies and the South African government to compensate families for tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis acquired in the mines, and they continue to advocate for policy reform based on their comparative research. Currently, GHJP is working with organizations in Brazil to investigate the role of the war on drugs and high incarceration rates on the community burden of TB as well as advocacy for wider availability of hepatitis C treatment in U.S. prisons. Through these initiatives, Gonsalves is training a new generation of researchers who, like himself, work across public health and human rights sectors, scholarly research, and activism to correct disparities in global public health.
Congratulations!

Thursday, October 04, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab


A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy. This time the cast of characters is expanded beyond Lila (the gender-bending thief with surprisingly powerful magical abilities), Kell (the magical Antari who can travel between parallel worlds) and Rhy (the prince of Arnes and Kell’s adopted brother). The main addition is Alucard Emery, the rakish captain of The Night Spire, the pirate ship that Lila has been working on for the last several months.

The key feature of these series of books is the fact there are four versions of London (Red, Grey, White and Black), and, of course, the presence of magic (based around the elements). In this book, most of the story takes place in Red London (which is in the nation of Arnes, ruled by Rhy's father, the King. The plot revolves around the Element Games, a magic competition held every four years between contestants from the three main countries in Red London’s world: Arnes, Vesk and Faro.

Through a series of deceptions and suspiciously coincidental events Kell, Lila and Alucard all compete in the Games (but most of them not under their real names). Meanwhile the relationships between all of the competitors (and Rhy) become increasingly tangled and complex. Rhy and Alucard. Rhy and Kell. Lila and Kell. Lila and Alucard.

In the first book A Darker Shade of Magic it felt as if the stakes of the resolution of the plot were very high, as one world (White London) attempted to take over another (Red London) and one of our main characters actually died (and was then resurrected by magic). In this second book, the stakes are very different. There is the question of who will win the magic competition and the effect that will have on the characters involved and their relationships. But I didn’t feel this was as compelling a hook on which to hand the story as the first book. However, I am still curious as to how the entire story will be concluded in the third and final book.

Rating: 4 stars.


TitleA Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2).
AuthorV.E. Schwab.
Length: 512 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Published: February 23, 2016.
Read: September 15, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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

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