Tuesday, April 23, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nole,Rafa Suffer Shock Clay Defeats; Fognini Wins Monte Carlo Masters; Fed Cup Final Is FRA v AUS;


FOGNINI WINS FIRST MASTERS SERIES SHIELD IN MONTE CARLO
Amazingly, the flamboyant and talented Fabio Fognini, 31,  won his first ATP Masters series event in Monte Carlo by following up his stunning defeat of Rafael Nadal with a relatively tight 6-3 6-4 win over Dusan Lajovic who beat the person who took out Djokovic the round before. Lajovic became the lowest seeded player in Monte Carlo in 18 years while Fognini became the first Italian player to win the Monte Carlo tournament in 50 years, and only the fourth player to win the tournament in the last 15 years since Nadal has won it 11 times, Djokovic twice, and Stan Wawrinka once (2014). It was  aoyhood dream for Fognini, who was born a short 40-minute drive away in San Remo, just over the border in Italy and often visited the famous tennis club as a youngster.


DJOKOVIC AND NADAL SUFFER SHOCK CLAY COURT LOSSES
In Monte Carlo, the two best players in the world, #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Rafael Nadal both suffered shock upsets to start  their clay court season. Djokovic lost to Daniil Medvedev in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals in a tough 3-set match, while Nadal lost what he called "his worst clay court match in 14 years" to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals 6-4 6-2. Nadal was down 5-0 in the second set with Fognini serving for a bagel set before staging a mini-comeback that was ultimately unsuccessful.


FED CUP SEMIFINALS: FRA DEFEATS ROU 3-2, AUS DEFEATS BLR 3-2
Two exciting Fed Cup semifinals were played this weekend, with France utlasting Romania despite some heroics from Simona Halep to win 3-2 and Ash Barty continuing to drag her squad over the finish line, this time, against Belarus. In November France will face Australia down under!

Monday, April 22, 2019

QUEER QUOTE: SCOTUS (finally!) Agrees To Decide Whether LGBT People Are Covered By Federal Civil Rights Laws


The Supreme Court finally has granted certiorari (agreed to hear and make a ruling in) for multiple cases of interest to LGBT citizens today. The question of whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination "because of sex" includes sexual orientation (and gender identity) has been an increasingly important one. I say finally also because this question had been pending at every Friday meeting of the Justices since January 2019.

The 2019 Williams Institute Moot Court competition in Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law  (in which I was a volunteer judge)  revolved around this very question as well as whether the "ministerial exception" prevented an employment discrimination lawsuit by a bisexual employee under Title VII.

There is a current split between circuit courts on the question of whether gay people are covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and thus the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide this  question by consolidating Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. In Zarda, the Second Circuit ruled that Altitude Express impermissibly discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation against Don Zarda, a sky-diving instructor (who was killed tragically in 2014 but the lawsuit has continued in his name by his surviving partner and family). Altitude Express's appeal of that ruling is being consolidated with an 11th Circuit ruling in Bostock which refused to do an en banc reconsideration of its holding that child welfare services coordinator working for Clayton County did not have a right to sue for sexual orientation discrimination and gender stereotyping.

Additionally, the Supreme Court also agreed to hear, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a case of a transgender employee fired by a funeral home; the business is challenging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's decision that gender identity is covered under Title VII's sex discrimination ban. Today's Queer Quote is the issue in that case:
Whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on (1) their status as transgender or (2) sex stereotyping under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

 Price Waterhouse is a longtime precedent case (from 1989) which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex (gender) stereotyping, ruling that this is covered under Title VII.

Presumably these will be some of the most significant cases of the 2019-2020 Supreme Court term, and be released as decisions in June 2020, right in the thick of the 2020 presidential campaign is heating up (hopefully both nominees will  be known by then).

The doubt over whether LGBT people are protected by federal law against invidious  discrimination based in sexual orientation and gender identity is why the Equality Act was introduced into Congress earlier this year.

Hat/tip to SCOTUSblog

Saturday, April 20, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E01): "Winterfell"





After a nearly two year hiatus, HBO's Game of Thrones returned with the first episode of the eighth season on Sunday April 14th. This is the final season and will consist of only six episodes. As expected after such a long gap between episodes, ratings were extremely high. The episode (S8E01) is titled "Winterfell" and like a lot of first episodes in previous seasons, it includes a lot of place-setting and character check-ins. However, this first episode of the last season was notable for its mirroring of the first episode of the first season in various aspects.

Here, for completeness are the first episodes of the seven previous seasons of the show
  • Season 1: "Winter is Coming" (Characters are introduced; Jaime Lannister pushes Bran Stark out a tower window)
  • Season 2: "The North Remembers" (Stannis Barratheon is introduced as another claimant to the Iron Throne while Robb Stark vows revenge for his father's murder by Joffrey)
  • Season 3: "Valar Dohaeris" (The title means "all men must serve" and comes after the Season 2 finale of Valar Morghulis which means "all men must die.")
  • Season 4: "Two Swords" (Tywin Lannister melts down a Valyrian steel sword to make two swords, 1 for Jaime and 1 for Joffrey)
  • Season 5: "The Wars to Come" (Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night'sWatch, kills Mance Ryder of the Wildings)
  • Season 6: "The Red Woman" (Melissandre is revealed to be more than just a priestess of R'hllor)
  • Season 7: "Dragonstone" (Daenerys finally makes it to Westeros, arriving at Dragonstone the ancestral home of House Targaryen kings)
Summary
The episode finds a way to check-in on almost every important surviving character in the series, with almost everyone either located at Winterfell or King's Landing.  In the North we see an insanely long line of soldiers walking past a crowd of skeptical northerners (and a bemused Arya) that includes Grey Worm and  Missandei, Jon and Dany and many, many Unsullied warriors. This, of course, mirrors one of the very first scenes in Episode 1, Season 1 when a young Bran and Arya Stark witnessed the procession of King Robert Barratheon and the Kingsguard on the way into Winterfell to try and convince their father to serve as Hand of the King. We see Gendry and The Hound in the procession as well.

When we get to the interior of Winterfell we see Bran, Sansa, Davos, Varys, Tyrion among other familiars. The first meeting between Sansa and Dany is tense, although the Lady of Winterfell does her duty by saying "Winterfell is yours, your Grace" but she doesn't look like she means it or enjoys it. Another tense meeting between siblings that occurs is between Yara and Theon, who after Euron goes to King's Landing to (successfully) woo Queen Cersei Lannister leaves his ship unprotected and vulnerable to a sneak attack by Theon to rescue his sister, who promptly heads him in the nose and knocks him to the ground when she sees him. (Presumably for running away and leaving her with their psychopathic uncle after he attacked their ship last time we saw them.) There's no physical violence when Sansa and Jon (or when Sansa and Tyrion) meet in the episode, but Sansa has developed the skill of using her words as dangerous weapons and does so to memorable effect in both meetings.

Later, we see the reunion we have been waiting for a long time, Arya and Jon (in the Weirwood, no less) and he realizes that she still has the sword he gave her so many years ago (Needle). "Have you used it much?" he asks, revealing how little he knows about the deadly assassin his sibling has become since he last saw her. We also see a reunion between Arya and Gendry (who is busy working the forges of Winterfell to create deadly weapons out of dragonglass that Dany brought with her from Dragonstone).

Probably the most important scene of the episode was between Sam and Jon (occurring in the crypts of Winterfell). After Sam has discovered that Dany (and her dragons) were responsible for the death of his hated father (and his dickish brother) he asks Jon if he knew that Dany had killed them and would he have done the same thing. (Interestingly, Jon doesn't really answer either question clearly, although his body language seems to indciate that he might have known about the incident). It's in this context that Sam reveals to Jon that the truth that fans have been waiting decades for. Jon Snow isnot a bastard, he is the true heir to the Iron Throne, since he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (who were married at the time). Jon's real name is Aegon Targaryen VI and as the eldest son of the eldest son of King Aegon Targaryen (the Mad King) he has a better claim to the throne than Daenerys as the youngest (female) child of the King. This also means that Dany is also Jon's aunt, which should make their next intimate conversation very interesting!

In the final scene of the episode we see a stranger disembark from a horse in Winterfell and take off his head covering to reveal Jaime Lannister, and then pan out to see Bran Stark sitting in his wheelchair looking straight at him was a great surprise. And then when we see Jaime realize who it is he is looking at (the kid he cruelly threw out of a tower window after discovering he had seem he and his sister together) is a great way to end episode 1. Only 5 episodes left!

Highlights
The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode is probably Dany's slightly annoyed response to Sansa's question "What do dragons eat?" which was "Anything they want." 
  • The second best line is probably Dany's "We're here to discuss your surrender, not ours."
  • Most valuable player of the episode is Drogon, the largest of Dany's dragons. The look he gives Jon when Dany is trying to encourage him to "keep [her] warm" is a definite highlight of the episode. I also liked the Dany and Jon ride dragons interlude, although I can also see how some fans of the show might have gotten impatient.
  • Reunions between Arya and Jon, Arya and Gendry, Jon and Sam, Tyrion and Sansa and Theon and Yara. 
Lowlights
The only lowlight of the episode was that we didn't actually see any white walkers or the zombie dragon Viserion.

Grade: 8/10.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The MIssing and the Dead (DS Logan McRae, #9) by Stuart MacBride


The Missing and the Dead is the ninth book in the Detective Sergeant Logan McRae series, a collection of murder-mystery, police-procedural, best-selling books set in Aberdeen , Scotland written by Stuart MacBride. In this book, however, Logan has been transferred to the rural suburbs of the city called Aberdeenshire as a professional development opportunity which could strengthen his case for his long-delayed promotion to Detective Inspector.

The first body that is discovered is that of a very little girl, roughly the same age as Logan’s own biological child (he is presumptively the spad, i.e. sperm dad, of the daughter his lesbian boss’s wife had 5-6 years ago). That boss is the singular Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steel, who abuses Logan constantly and has an expansive (some would say "situational") view of police regulations. Steel was the subject of her own recently published spin-off, Now We Are Dead, in 2017 which in my opinion was not a very successful outing. 

One of the main features of The Missing and the Dead that is very different from previous entries in the series is the focus on local policing. Logan is the deputy head of a rural police station with some unusual characters. The Logan McRae series are generally police procedurals but this entry takes the details  (and monotony) of actual policing to the extreme. The typical crimes Logan and his fellow officers have to deal with are shoplifting, domestic violence and illegal drug use (as well as teenage vandals who delete in spray-painting large images of "willies" on public billboards) . More seriously, there’s also an ongoing crime wave of ATM machine thefts (smash and grab) as well as a known ring of pedophiles who appear to be disappearing and turning up dead.

Happily the distinguishing element of Logan McRae books from most other works in the genre of British police procedurals is very present here and that is the amount of humor (and nearly incomprehensible Scottish slang) that are always included.

Overall, I don’t think this entry is as effective as the earlier books in the series were, primarily because it is too long (there are multiple overlapping and intersecting criminal threads and an entire romantic arc that simply complicate the plot without improving the story). The series is highly sequential and so now that we are in Book 9 things that happen to Logan and other However, The Missing and the Dead  is rescued by a Cracker Jack thriller of an ending that positively affected my overall impression of the book.

Title: The Missing and the Dead.
Author: 
Stuart MacBride.
Paperback: 592 pages.
Publisher:
 HarperCollins.
Date Published: January 15, 2015.
Date Read: April 12, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Aussie Rugby Star Dismissed Over Religious-Based Homophobic Comments


Israel Folau, a star rugby player in Australia has repeatedly made multiple homophobic comments on social media that are religious-based (they usually involve a statement that "homosexuals" will go to hell if they do not "repent" or "God's plan for homosexuals was hell"). Interestingly, Rugby Australia has announced that it intends to cancel his lucrative playing contract for violations of its "code of conduct":
“At its core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and the commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values. 
“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action. 
“All professional Rugby players in Australia are bound by the Code of Conduct and there is a process in place for any disciplinary matter. We appreciate that this particular matter will attract significant interest, but due process must be followed.”
The Rugby Australia code of conduct includes a provision that prohibits denigrating people on social media based on their "gender, gender identity or sexual orientation" so I presume this is one reason for the dismissal. Folau has announced that he is appealing his loss of a $4m contract so the controversy may continue for quite awhile.
Curious how different people can read the same religious text and come to completely different conclusions about whether it endorses anti-LGBT views. It's almost like the text is just a pretext for beliefs and ideas they had anyway and wanted a reason to express.

Monday, April 15, 2019

EYE CANDY: Pierre Vuala (4th time!)





Pierre Vuala has appeared as Eye Candy three times before (September 17, 2018; May 7, 2018; August 25, 2014). This Wilhelmina male model has 63,000 followers on Instagram (@pierre_vuala) but I am surprised it's not more, considering his physique compares positively with people like Jordan Torres (281k) or Brazilian hotties like Maxs Souza (85k) and Robert Oliveira (258k).

Thursday, April 11, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Beneath the Bleeding (Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, #5) by Val McDermid


Beneath the Bleeding is another brilliant and thrilling police procedural murder mystery from Val McDermid featuring psychologist Dr. Tony Hill and police detective Carol Jordan set in Northern England. This book is the 5th in this series at the core of which is the relationship between Carol and Tony. They have never been lovers but they are almost certainly in love with each other; however, circumstances make it unlikely they will ever “go there.” Regardless, the two work well together and have been successful in the past catching murders (especially serial killers). Tony works as a profiler for the Bradfield Police Department where Carol is a DCI (Detective Chief Inspector).

In  Beneath the Bleeding Tony is (again) physically impaired, this time in the very first scene is attacked by a deranged man with an axe and spends most of the plot in a hospital bed or strenuously moving about on crutches. Meanwhile, the first body discovered is that of a popular young star footballer who has been poisoned by ricin. While the BPD is trying to solve this high-profile case they are rattled and sidetracked by an extravagant act of mass murder which leads to a counter terrorism center (CTC) team descending on Bradfield to take over the investigation, brusquely displacing BPD in the process.

Another poisoning death that coincided with the alleged terrorist event and Tony’s theory about the poisoner’s motives that Carol and others had previously found ludicrous starts to gain traction. He also participates in Carol’s mutinous investigation of the alleged suicide bomber. An effective feature of McDermid’s books is that she often depicts the acts of the perpetrator from their perspective, so the reader has a (somewhat skewed) view of their motives while the suspense builds as we wonder if, when and how the police will be able to suss out.

We learn more about Tony in this book, being introduced to his mother, who is simply a horrifying individual and we get some important background on Tony’s abusive upbringing that may explain his current psychological tics.

Overall, Beneath the Bleeding is another very strong entry in the Hill/Jordan series. There is further development of the secondary characters in this book which engages the reader by strengthening our interest in and involvement with them. One caveat I would have with this book is that Tony plays an outsized role in the resolution of both mysteries. Also, I was unhappy that the motivation of one of the killers is depicted in a way that is clearly rooted in homophobia (and HIV stigma); this was quite unexpected from a book written by an openly lesbian author.

Title: Beneath the Bleeding.
Author: 
Val McDermid.
Paperback: 484 pages.
Publisher:
 HarperCollins.
Date Published: September 1, 2009.
Date Read: April 1, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

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

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

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Muguruza, Keys Keep WTA Streak Alive; Osaka Joins Nike; Federer Leads Race To London


KEYS DEFEATS WOZNIACKI IN CHARLESTON
Madison Keys won her first grass court title (and completed the WTA "Career Green court sweep" by winning the Volvo Open in Charleston this week over Caroline Woziacki


OSAKA $IGN$ ON WITH NIKE
World #1 Naomi Osaka has signed with Nike and earned a rare dispensation from the Sports giant to wear other logos on her apparel while sporting the swoosh.

MUGURUZA DEFEATS AZARENKA IN MEXICO
Two former World #1's battled it out in the finals of Monterrey after Victoria Azarenka was able to get past Angie Kerber in 3 sets in the semifinals and then was forced to retire in the final against Garbine Muguruza, who was able to defend her title (and ranking points) and will remain in the Top 20.

ROGER FEDERER IS #1 IN RACE TO LONDON (AGAIN) BUT #4 IN RANKINGS
For the 3rd year in a row Roger Federer leads the race to London at the end of the American spring hard-court swing after winning Miami and reaching the final in Indian Wells (l. Dominc Thiem). Maybe the third time is the charm because the two previous years he led at this point did not result with him ending the year at World #1.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: In A House of Lies (Inspector Rebus, #22) by Ian Rankin


The DI John Rebus series is quite mature and familiar now that it is well over 20 entries long. Author Ian Rankin has done an excellent job of revitalizing the series recently by raising the profile of DI Siobhan Clarke (whom we have seen grown and develop from a uniformed officer to a seasoned criminal investigator under Rebus’ tutelage). Rankin had initially introduced Malcolm Fox as an “Internal Affairs” Officer who initially tried to investigate and prosecute Rebus for his past misdeeds in a few "spinoff" novels like The Impossible Dead and The Complaints but in the last few Rebus books the two have worked together to solve crimes (often cold cases).

In a House of Lies is the latest Rankin mystery and features Rebus, Clarke and Fox. Rebus has been retired for several years now so DI Clarke is the primary investigator of a case which revolves around the discovery of a car with a desiccated body with handcuffed ankles in the boot (trunk). The case involves Sir Adrian Brand, a prominent real estate developer, and Jackie Ness, a producer of low-quality, cheap movies who have feuded for years. When the body turns out to be identified as an openly gay private investigator who had disappeared over a decade ago after meeting with Ness and had been dating the son of an Edinburgh cop, the corrupt mistakes of the missing person investigation (mis)conducted by Rebus and his contemporaries are brought to the fore. This attracts Fox’s boss, who sends him back to Edinburgh to review the old files.

However, this being Rankin of course there’s more plot threads in addition to the central "misper/murder" (missing person murder) case. This time that involves an open and shut case of a teenage high school dropout who was convicted last year of murdering his Queen Bee girlfriend but Clarke is convinced by the boy’s uncle to take another look in hopes of getting the uncle to help her take down some corrupt Internal Affairs cops who had targeted her before for potential leaks of sensitive murder inquiry information to the media. She passes the case on to Rebus (something to keep him occupied instead of interfering with her investigation of his old missing person case which turned into her dead body in the trunk case) and the reader gets to enjoy Rebus’s unique methods of unraveling the motives and secrets of a murderer. The truth about what happened is both surprising and heart-breaking, raising the question of whether it is always better for the truth to come out. 

In a House of Lies is another excellent John Rebus mystery, even though it also stars DI Clarke and Malcolm Fox. The British police procedural aspects are very familiar but the mysteries (both of which get resolved in the end) and the complications of Rebus’ problematic past make this book an enjoyable and compelling read. My only caveat would be that the depiction of Rebus as indispensable to the resolution of both crimes seems a bit far-fetched and appears to indicate that Rankin is still quite attached to his most well-known character, despite including some characteristics that indicate Rebus is human. He's suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), so the reader is on notice that the detective won't live forever, in fact its likely he won't live very much longer.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5 STARS.

Title: In a House of Lies.
Author: 
Ian Rankin.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: November 27, 2018.
Date Read: March 16, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

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

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

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Lori Lightfoot Elected First Black Lesbian Mayor of Chicago


Lori Lightfoot is a 56-year-old former federal prosecutor and private attorney who just became the first Black lesbian to be elected mayor of Chicago. Lightfoot will become the highest ranking openly LGBT mayor in the country when she takes office and mayor of the largest city to be run by a Black woman, although not the only one. San Francisco (London Breed), Atlanta (Keisha Lance Bottoms), and Washington, D.C. (Muriel Bowser) are just a few.

Congratulations, Mayor Lightfoot!

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

2019 HUGO AWARDS: Nominations Are Announced!


The nominations for the 2019 Hugo awards, the most prestigious literary award in science fiction, were announced today. The nominees for Best Novel are:

  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)
I have only read one of these books (Record of a Spaceborn Few), but I do own two of the others (Revenant Gun and The Calculating Stars). I found the former completely unreadable but the latter is on my list of the books to read very soon. I also will probably read Trail of Lightning but I was not a big fan of Uprooted Novik's last retelling of a classic fantasy tale so I think I will skip Spinning Silver.

The awards will be given out during Worldcon in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019.

POLL: Support For Death Penalty Hits New Low In California

California Governor Gavin Newsom made headlines a few weeks ago when he announced a moratorium on the death penalty in the state along with the dismantling of the death chamber in San Quentin. Since California voters have rejected ballot measures twice in the last decade (and as recently as November 2016) to end the state's death penalty the media characterized the move as "thwarting" the will of the populace. However, new polling shows that Gov. Newsom may be more in line with public opinion in California than expected. According to the Public Policy Institute of California's March 2019 poll, voters approve of mandatory life without parole to the death penalty by a 58% to 38% margin, and when you expand to include all Californians (not just voters) support for the death penalty falls to 31%. The only  demographic group where support for the death penalty has increased is Republicans, with support at 64% while Democrats are at 21% and Independents at 36%. Thank Zeus we have so few Republicans in Deep Blue California their share of the electorate is low and falling and their impact on public policy is negligible!

Hat/tip to CalMatters

Monday, April 01, 2019

EYE CANDY: Jordan Torres (Third Time!)





Jordan Torres has appeared as Eye Candy multiple times before (December 17, 2018 and January 28, 2019). He is a male model, quite popular on Istagram (@officialjt) and Twitter (@itsofficialjt).

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