Sunday, January 31, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Federer Wins 16th Major

Roger Federer won his record 16th major by defeating Andy Murray 6-3 6-4 7-6(11) as I predicted two days ago. The 28-year-old Swiss player improves to 16-6 in major finals and cements his hold on the World #1 rank.

When the new rankings are released on Monday 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will rise to #2, Andy Murray will become #3 and last year's Australian Open champ Rafael Nadal will fall to #4. It was also revealed today that Nadal will be out for at least 4 weeks due to a small tear in the same knee in which the Spaniard had previously suffered tendinitis.

Federer and Serena Williams have now both won 3 of the last 5 Grand Slam finals and are both on track to win a calendar Grand Slam ths year, when they will both also turn 29 years old.

HIV Rate in Prison 2.5 Times General Population

I just received this interesting press release about a new Department of Justice report (pdf) which says that the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in state and federal prisons is roughly 150% greater than in the rest of the population:
WASHINGTON – On December 31, 2008, a reported 20,449 state prisoners and 1,538 federal prisoners were HIV positive or had confirmed AIDS, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, announced today. At yearend 2008, an estimated 5,733 inmates in state and federal prisons had confirmed AIDS, down from 5,814 in 2007. In 2007, about 41 per 10,000 prison inmates were estimated to have confirmed AIDS, compared to 17 per 10,000 persons in the general population.

At yearend 2008, the reported number of state and federal inmates who were HIV positive or had confirmed AIDS totaled 21,987. Among states reporting data in 2006 through 2008, the number of inmates with HIV/AIDS was stable between 2007 and 2008. Of the state and federal inmates who were HIV positive or had confirmed AIDS, a reported 20,075 were men and 1,912 were women. Between 2007 and 2008, the percentage of male inmates with HIV/AIDS remained stable at 1.5 percent, while the percentage of female inmates with HIV/AIDS decreased slightly from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent.

Florida (3,626), New York (3,500) and Texas (2,450) reported the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases. While these three states account for 24 percent of the total state custody population, together they account for 46 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in state prison. New York continues to report large decreases (down 450) in the number of HIV/AIDS cases. Notable increases between 2007 and 2008 were in California (up 246) and Florida (up 166).

Between 1995 and 2006 the number of state inmates who died from AIDS-related causes decreased 85 percent from 1,010 to 155. Continuing the downward trend, 120 state inmates died from AIDS-related causes in 2007. Among federal inmates, 13 died from AIDS-related causes in 2008, up from 10 in 2007.

During 2008, a total of 24 states reported testing all inmates for HIV at admission or sometime during custody. Among these 24 states, 23 tested at admission, five tested while in custody, and six tested upon release. Fifty states and the federal system tested inmates if they had HIV-related symptoms or if they requested an HIV test. Forty-two states and the federal system tested inmates after they were involved in an incident in which an inmate was exposed to a possible HIV transmission, and 18 states and the federal system tested inmates who belonged to specific high-risk groups.
Emphasis (in bold) added by me. Some thoughts about this report (which is available here). Some observations and reactions:
  1. California only has 1,155 prisoners with HIV or AIDS in 2008? That 0.8% of the custody population seems suspiciously low (Nevada's rate is 0.9%, for example)
  2. It's pretty amazing that the prevalence rate for HIV is higher among female prisoners than male prisoners (1.9% to 1.5%).
  3. Almost half the states (24) test prisoners for HIV at some point during custody. The question is, how well do they do in treating these prisoners as well as in preventing transmission in prison and upon release.
  4. More than 90% of all prisoners in prisons and jails come back home so thinking that HIV in prison is something you and I don't have to think about it very shortsighted.

The Center for Health Justice is a non-profit organization in Los Angeles who I just recently stepped down as Board president of after two and a half years. Their mission is to empower people affected by incarceration and HIV to make healthier choices and advocates for the elimination of disparities between prisoner health and public health.

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Serena Wins 5th AO Title; 12th Overall

I am so happy to be wrong about my prediction in the women's final! Craig Hickman has an amazingly well-written summary of the match, which Serena Williams won 6-4 3-6 6-2, to claim her 5th Australian Open title and 12th major overall, tying Billie Jean King at #5 on the all-time greatest list.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Men's Final Preview

Andy Murray GBR (5) v. Roger Federer SUI (1)

The men's final between 15-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland and Andy Murray of Great Britain is a reprise of the 2008 US Open Final which Federer won relatively easily to claim his 13th major title. This final will be the 22nd major final of his career (a record) with 15 wins (and 6 losses, 5 of which have come to Rafael Nadal, who Murray dismissed in a quarterfinal encounter earlier in the tournament).

Surprisingly, even though Murray sports a 6-4 advantage against Federer overall, Federer has won their 1(!) meeting in a major 5-set match (which was the 2008 final won by Federer in straight sets) and by some quirk, all their matches have been played on hard courts, although both players possess all-court games.

Murray has looked the sharpest of all the top players all tournament long and has only dropped a single set. Federer has been up and down but he was scintillating in his straight-set elimination of Tsonga in the semifinal. There's no question in my mind if Federer plays his best tennis, he will win the match. It's not clear at 28 years old, facing younger opponents like his arch-rival Nadal, the 21-year-old 6'6" phenom J uan Martín del Potro (who took Federer out in a 5th set US Open final last year) and the 22-year olds Djokovic and Murray how much longer it will be true that when Federer plays his best no one can beat him. I suspect we will find out this year if Federer can even still play his best tennis.

After correctly predicting the result of every single men's match of the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds except for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's surprising 5-set dispatch of 2008 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, I find this match surprisingly difficult to predict. However, using a similar technique I deployed in predicting the result of the women's final, I will endeavor to approximate a probability of the winner of tonight's match.

There are 6 possibilities: Federer in 3 sets, Federer in 4 sets, Federer in 5 sets, Murray in 3 sets, Murray in 4 sets, Murray in 5 sets. If the match is 3 sets long, I think there is a 76% chance the winner is Federer (24% chance it is Murray). If the match is 4 sets long, there is a 55% chance of Federer winning (a 45% chance for Murray). If the match is 5 sets long, there is a 40% chance of Federer winning (a 60% chance for Murray). Crunching the numbers this corresponds to a 57% probability that Federer will win the match. One key assumptions isthat 3 set, 4 set and 5 set matches are equally likely. This is probably not true, if someone has the data on what percentage of Grand Slam matches are 3-set, 4-set or 5-set contests, that would greatly help me improve this technique.

MadProfessah's pick: Federer in straight sets (Murray in 4 or 5 sets).

Friday, January 29, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: HI Civil Unions Bill Killed

Whoa! Another stunning defeat for LGBT activists on the question of relationship recognition has apparently occurred in Hawaii a few hours ago:

HONOLULU – Equality Hawaii, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, today denounced the Hawaii State House for failing to take up and pass HB 444 SD1, the state Civil Unions bill. The bill would have provided that the equal rights and responsibilities of married couples in Hawaii are afforded to thousands of non-married couples in the state. The House voted by voice vote to postpone the bill indefinitely, effectively killing the bill for the session.

“We’re sorely disappointed that the Hawaii State House refused to take action on the Civil Unions bill,” said Tambry Young, Co-Chair of Equality Hawaii. “Today, the House put its own political interests before the interests of Hawaii’s families and that’s bad policy and bad politics. We pledge that this fight is not over, and we will continue in our efforts to see true equality in our state.”

The decision by the House comes on the heels of swift action in the Senate which saw the bill pass by an 18-7 vote on January 22. House Speaker Calvin Say suggested earlier in the week that the House may not be willing to reconsider the bill if the majority could not garner enough votes to override a possible veto from the Governor. The Governor has never made a veto threat on the topic of Civil Unions.

“We’re stunned that the Hawaii State House would act contrary to their previous position of strongly supporting this bill,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “We thank all those who advocate for equality in the Aloha State, especially our friends in the legislature and Equality Hawaii. We have been a proud partner with Hawaii’s fair-minded residents for decades and will continue to stand by their side in the struggle for equality.”

“This fight is not over and we will ultimately prevail,” said Alan Spector, Legislative Affairs Co-Chair for Equality Hawaii. “It is simply unfathomable that politics and election considerations would supersede honor, integrity and common-sense. Today, these Representatives did not represent their constituent’s families – shame on them.”

Just a week ago Hawaii's State Senate has passed HB444 by a veto-proof majority and the battle in the House was expected to be about whether the vote would be veto proof, not whether it would come to a vote or pass.

Presumably, once the Democrats realized that they did not have the votes to actually enact the legislation they decided to kill the bill completely.

WATCH: Obama Answer Question About Gay Rights

Hat/tip to Rod 2.0

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Women's Final Preview

Justine Henin BEL v. Serena Williams USA (1)

One of the most exciting major tournaments in recent tennis history, and the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the new decade, is hurtling to a conclusion with a mouthwatering final where the competitors have a combined 18 Grand Slam titles between them, which is far more than we have seen since the legendary Steffi Graf was still competing in finals more than a decade ago.

Craig Hickman has done his typically excellent job of summarizing the background as well as the liabilities and strengths of both Serena Williams and Justine Henin coming into tonight's final (which will be on at 12:30am PST, 3:30am EST Saturday).

Briefly, Serena leads their overall head-to-head 7-6, (4-1 on hard courts) but trails 2-4 in major tournaments, the majority of which came in a string of 3 losses to the Belgian in 3 consecutive grand slam quarterfinals in 2007. Their last meeting was a devastating 6-2 6-0 demolition of Henin by Serena in Miami in March the following year; 6 weeks later Henin announced her retirement from competitive tennis.

Despite winning the doubles title with her sister for the second consecutive year, Serena's physical frailty is apparent. In her tense semi-final win over Li Na, Serena at times was barely moving. Her serve has kept her in the tournament and has been impeccable. Henin has been serving atrociously but her overall game is still as impressive as it was before her hiatus; she possesses every shot in tennis, combined with surprising power and superior movement. She has displayed mental frailty like in her Brisbane loss to Clijsters and in her win against Elena Dementieva, but she has the support of her coach Carlos Rodriguez to draw upon.

Serena has the sharpest competitive spirit of any player on tour, and particularly in Australia Serena has often played some of her best tennis on her way to winning four Australian Open titles (in 2003 over Venus in what some commentators call the most competitive match between the sisters; in 2005 over Lindsay Davenport after trailing a set and a break she won 9 games in a row to win the title--this after saving two match points against Maria Sharapova the round before; and in 2007 over Sharapova she displayed her most impressive level of play, ever only allowing her opponent a mere 3 games).

Although I have correctly predicted the outcomes of 3 of the last 6 matches in the tournament, I want to change my method for prognostication and try and use probabilities (I am a math professor after all!) There are four possible ocurrences: Serena in 2 sets, Serena in 3 sets, Henin in 3 sets and Henin in 2 sets). I evaluate the probabilities of these events at 54%, 40%, 60% and46% respectively. (Of course these numbers are simply estimates, with the 2-set probability coming directly from their overall head-to-head record and the 3-set probability coming from my assessment of Serena's stamina). Crunching the numbers that gives Henin an overall 53% chance of winning, which is significantly better than a coin toss.

MadProfessah's pick: Henin (Williams in 2 sets, Henin in 3 sets).

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Williams Sisters Win Doubles Title

Venus and Serena Williams won the Australian Open doubles title for the fourth time (2001, 2003, 2009 and 2010) yesterday by defeating the #1 ranked doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-4 6-3.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama Repeats Call To Repeal DADT at SOTU

Courtesy of AmericaBlog, here's the video of President Obama calling for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell:

Here's the money quote:
"This year I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are — it’s the right thing to do."
I guess someone in the White House saw my quote in the San Francisco Chronicle a few months ago:
If Obama does not reverse the military policy "there will be hell to pay," said Ron Buckmire, a professor at Occidental College who leads the governing board of the Jordan/Rustin Coalition, an African American LGBT group in Los Angeles.
I'm jus' sayin'!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Men's Semifinals Preview

I predicted the results of 3 of the 4 the men's quarterfinals correctly but only 1 of 4 of the women's quarterfinals correctly. I have already written my women's semifinals preview. Here is my preview of the men's semfinals in the 2010 Australian Open:

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (3) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (10). For the twenty-third consecutive time, Roger Federer is in a major grand slam semifinal. Let me say that again. 23 times in a row. That is nearly 6 years of every slam. The next closest total is Ivan Lendl with 10. Federer has also been in the last 17 of 18 major finals (winning 11); his only slip-up was two years ago here in Melbourne, to Novak Djokovic, who ended up winning the tournament against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2008 final. Tsonga got his revenge last night by beating the Serbian , a result which I welcome but did not expect or predict. "Jo-Willie" really seems to enjoy the big lights and enthusiastic crowd down in Australia and they bring out the best tennis in the charismatic, hard-hitting Frenchman. Just to get to this point, Tsonga has had to win two tough 5-set matches (his first ever!), most particularly the 4th Round thriller against Nicolas Almagro where he had to recover from "being two sets to none up" (as Mary Carillo quipped earlier this week) and ended up winning the match 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-7(6) 9-7. Against Djokovic, the Frenchman played two very close sets and only ended up winning one of them and then went "on walkabout" during the third set before Djokovic's physical ailments seem to weigh down the Serb's game more and more until it finally collapsed completely in a 7-6(8) 6-7(5) 1-6 6-3 6-1 loss.

The match-up between Federer and Tsonga is an interesting (and exciting) one. They have only played twice (in the last two years), both times on hard courts and the score is tied 1-1. I well remember their meeting at the ATP Masters Series during the Montreal massacre last year because Tsonga lost 10 games in a row and was down 5-1 in the third set before coming back to win in a decisive tie-breaker. Federer showed with his tight 2-6 6-3 6-0 7-5 dismissal of a more energized Nikolay Davydenko for the 13th time in 15 matches that he does not like to lose to the same person in consecutive matches. I personally will be happy with whomever wins this match, there's no one left in the tournament that would annoy me if they claimed the title.
MadProfessah's pick: Federer in 4 sets OR Tsonga in 5 sets.

Marin Cilic CRO (14) vs. Andy Murray GBR (5).This is Andy Murray's year. Unless it's not. On paper, the Scotsman sports head-to-head advantages over all of the remaining semifinalists (6-4 against Federer, 2-1 against Tsonga and 3-1 against his semifinal opponent, Marin Cilic) and should be the favorite for the 2010 Australian Open men's title. He was in the process of imposing his will on the defending champion Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard said ¡No Más! trailing 6-3 7-6(2) 3-0. Murray is yet to drop a set in the tournament, the only player on either side of the draw to do so. Cilic on the other hand last beat Murray the last time they played, in New York, handily 7-5 6-2 6-2. However, here in Melbourne Cilic has played three 5 set matches and a 4-set match to reach his first major semifinal, but the quality of his opponents has been substantially higher than Murray's: 2009 defending US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro, 2009 Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick and the always wily Fabrice Santoro in the first round. That being said, I think that Murray has both the game and the will to win this match and one more. MadProfessah's pick: Murray in 4 sets.

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Women's Semifinals Preview

Serena Williams USA (1) vs. Na Li CHN (16) Venus Williams USA (6). Yesterday was a pretty rough day for fans of the Williams sisters. Older sister Venus somehow managed to lose a match despite being up a set and a break. She served for the match (in the sun) at 6-2, 5-4! In the deciding third set there were 9 breaks of serve through 12 games. I mildly disagree with people who are saying it is destined to be "the ugliest match of the year" although it must be said it was hard to watch. It was doubly disappointing because if Venus had won the match she could have been ranked as high as World #3 on Monday. Anyway, congratulations to Li Na for winning her first major quarterfinal 2-6, 7-6(4) 7-5. The Chinese player has now beaten the 7-time major champion twice on huge stages (the first victory was at the Beijing Olympics). After the drama of Venus' loss it was doubly distressing to see Serena down 4-6, 0-4 before she finally started serving properly. The World #1 player had not been broken in 4 matches in Melbourne and was broken 5 times in her 5th. It was a truly remarkable achievement because Serena made her opponent irrelevant. After winning 5 games in a row it was crystal clear that the winner of the match would be decided by what Serena Williams did with her racquet, not what Azarenka did. Serena started serving well and in response to the Belorussian's increasingly piercing shrieks quietly pulverized the ball into the corners of the court to seal a 4-6, 7-6(4) 6-2 win. I set up my preview of the women's semifinal with a review of what the two combatants experienced the round before in order to place this semifinal in context. It will be contested between two players who have stared defeat in the face and come through with a victory. This should free up both players to play their best tennis, but if Serena plays her best tennis, there's no one who is going to beat her, even if her mobility is limited. She desperately wants to defend her Australian title and match the Grand Slam singles total of one her idols, Billie Jean King, at twelve. This match will take her one step closer to that goal.
MadProfessah's pick: Serena in 2 sets.

Justine Henin BEL vs. Jie Zheng CHN. Two semifinalists at the same Grand Slam from one country is a significant achievement for any nation and the fact that the Williams sisters have achieved it so many times (8, at my count) should be acknowledge. However, today the future of tennis is here with two Chinese players in the semifinals of a major. Sadly, they are on opposite sides of the draw so it is not a certainty that a Chinese player will compete for tennis's highest prize, in fact it is highly improbable. The Belgian 7-time major champion will dismiss the 2-time major semifinalist without much drama or complication. MadProfessah's pick: Henin in 2 sets.

Avatar Breaks Worldwide Box-Office Record

James Cameron's Avatar has now exceeded James Cameron's Titanic as the highest grossing film of all-time, with $1.842 billion worldwide after its 39th day of release. Just two weeks ago, Avatar had earned $1.35 billion worldwide and more than $400 million dollars, domestically. It earned nearly $500 million dollars worldwide and more than $150 million domestically in the interim to exceed 2008's The Dark Knight's $533 million. Box-office prognosticators fully expect that Avatar will exceed Titanic's domestic box-office record of $600.8 million in the next two weeks.
On Saturday, its 37th day, Avatar surpassed The Dark Knight's $533.3 million total to become the second highest-grossing movie of all time, though, in terms of attendance, it likely hasn't yet cracked the Top 50. At its current trajectory, Avatar will exceed Titanic's $600.8 million total within two weeks. In 38 days, Avatar's tally stands at $551.7 million, 80 percent of which from 3D presentations (including 16 percent from IMAX venues alone)
Oscar nominations come out on Tuesday February 2nd. Avatar is also widely expected to lead all films with the most Academy Award nominations. Titanic won Best Picture and 10 other Oscars. It's certain that Avatar will not reach that total but it's doubtful that it will win Best Picture, although MadProfessah called it the #1 Movie of 2009 and the #2 Movie of the Decade 2000-2009.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Williams Institute Releases Report on DADT Estimating 66k LGBT Soldiers

One day before President Obama is being rumored to address the issue in his first State of the Union address, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy released a report by Williams Distinguished Scholar Gary Gates, Ph.D. which estimates the number of openly LGBT people serving in the United States Armed Forces as well as the financial impact on eliminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Key findings from the report (pdf) include:

An estimated 66,000 lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are serving in the US military, accounting for approximately 2.2% of military personnel.

Approximately 13,000 LGB people are serving on active duty (comprising 0.9% of all active duty personnel) while nearly 53,000 are serving in the guard and reserve forces (3.4%).

While women comprise only about 14% of active duty personnel, they comprise more than 43% of LGB men and women serving on active duty.

Lifting DADT restrictions could attract an estimated 36,700 men and women to active duty service and 12,000 more individuals to the guard and reserve.

Since its inception in 1994, the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy has cost the military between $290 million and more than a half a billion dollars.

The military spends an estimated $22,000 to $43,000 per person to replace those discharged under DADT.

The Williams Institute is one of the most important sources of unbiased, excellent research on the LGBT community and I am happy to be a supporter of its work. I encourage you to do as well!

AD-45: Cedillo and De Leon Plan To Swap Seats

Kevin De LeonGil Cedillo
de LeónCedillo
While I was busy with the first day of classes there were some huge announcements made in local (north east Los Angeles) Democratic politics: Assemblymember Kevin de León and State Senator Gill Cedillo are planning to swap legislative seats.

Cedillo, who is termed out in the Senate, had planned to run for a third and final term in the 46th Assembly District seat, which he previously represented for two terms and change.

But that plan was foiled when the current holder of the 46th District -- Assembly Speaker-Elect John A. Pérez-- opted to take the leadership role instead of vacating his Assembly seat for a Senate run.

Cedillo initially pledged to challenge Pérez, but a decision by Assemblyman Kevin de León, who also sought the speaker post, to run for Cedillo's Senate seat created an open Assembly seat for Cedillo to seek.

Pérez said in a statement that he will make a victory for his lifelong friend a priority.

"Gilbert cares deeply about the concerns facing all working men and women, Latinos, and the broader community," he said in a statement. "We need legislators like Gilbert with the experience and community ties to build consensus as we address our state's ongoing economic crisis."

De León announced that he would run for Cedillo's State Senate 22nd District seat on Thursday the 14th while Cedillo announced for De León's Assembly seat (which happens to be in MadProfessah's district, the 45th.

I'm not a big fan of this move. Why should the 45th District be a way station for Gil Cedillo between his next elected position? I totally understand why Kevin De León would run for the open Senate Seat in the 22nd District even though he could have served the 45th for one more 2-year term. The point is that even if Cedillo wins the 45th District sear, he is immediately a lame duck because he is termed out in 2012.

The real question that needs to be answered is will any progressive Democrat in the 45th District decide to raise their voice to object to this shotgun wedding between three unlikely bedfellows: Cedillo, De León and Pérez.

I'm pretty sure that Speaker Pérez is the real mastermind behind this seat-swap which seems like a win-win-win: gets Cedillo out of Pérez's 46th Assembly District, promotes a rising Latino political star (and Pérez's unsuccessful rival for the Assembly speakership) to the upper legislative house, and solidifies Pérez's hold over two Assembly seats (the 45th and the 46th).

'Lost' Final Season Begins In One Week!

Here is a video telling you everything you need to know about the first 5 seasons of Lost in 8 minutes:

Monday, January 25, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the Australian Open this year, which is one of the strongest fields in recent memory, with 6 of the top8 seeds making it to the final eight.

Roger Federer SUI (1) vs. Nikolay Davydenko RUS (6). Haven't we seen this movie before? Roger Federer, the Greatest Of All Time, playing late in a major tournament against the Kolya The Obsure Russian. Yes, we have, but since the last major was played Davydenko has won not one but two tournaments where he beat both Rafael Nadal and Federer. That still gives him the uninspiring record of 2 wins 12 losses against Federer, including 0-4 in majors. In fact, in 2006 Davydenko lost in this very same round to Federer in four relatively tight sets. Of course neither player is the same player they were four years ago. One would really have to say that it is Davydenko who has improved more in that time, than Federer. I suspect this match will be closer than most people expect, but that Federer will pull through bringing his already incredible streak of 22 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals to a ridiculous 23. PREDICTION: Federer in 5 sets.

Novak Djokovic SRB (3) vs Robin Soderling SWE (8) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga FRA (10). You know things are good when a reprise of the 2008 men's final is not even the best match-up of this round. It's interesting that Soderling was seeded to have this position, because I always expected Tsonga to be right here from the beginning of the tournament. Unfortunately for him, I don't think the result will be any different from the last time the charismatic Frenchman played the talented Serb on the big stage in Melbourne. Djokovic is playing devastating tennis and is anxious to remain in the conversation when talk turns to the Nadal-Federer monopoly on major titles. Unless Tsonga is playing the tennis that had him dismiss Nadal in that magical semifinal in 2008, he will probably not even win a set. Then again one never knows what could happen because last year the defending champion bizarrely threw in the towel against Andy Roddick at this stage of the tournament and I am pretty sure he is eager to erase memories of that result from the tennis-watching public's mind. PREDICTION: Djokovic in 4 sets.

Andy Roddick USA (7) vs. Juan Martin Del Potro ARG (4). Marin Cilic CRO (14). I really never expected to see Juan Martín del Potro make it this far in the tournament and he never really looked very comfortable in any of his matches in Melbourne this year. Cilic was impressive in maintaining his composure as he blew breakpoint after breakpoint against the reigning US Open champion. A lot of people (including myself) have favorably re-assessed the play of Andy Roddick after the incredible competitive spirit he showed in the best match of last year, the 2009 Wimbledon men's final. However, Marin Cilic is undefeated in 2010 and he is absolutely not satisfied with only being a quarterfinalist. I'm sure he truly believes that if Juan Martin can win a major (over Federer no less!) than he can as well. If so, he'll have to get through at least three more good players to get there, as well as have some good luck. PREDICTION: Cilic in 5 sets.

Andy Murray GBR (5) vs. Rafael Nadal ESP (2). This is the match-up of the tournament (so far). The one player who is playing even sharper tennis than Djokovic is Andy Murray, who hears the clamor of "best player not to have won a major" getting louder and louder every single day. Although Nadal sports a 7-2 career head-to-head lead, Murray's two wins have occurred on hard courts, although Nadal did beat Murray in a 5-set match in Melbourne in 2007. However, the Andy Murray of today is not the same player Nadal dispatched then. Also, Nadal has not really been that impressive in getting this far in the tournament, although maybe that is because he has not been seriously tested. That will end in this match. Either way, the defending champion will not go out without a tremendous fight. This should be a great one. PREDICTION: Murray in 5 sets.

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the Australian Open this year.

Serena Williams USA (1) vs. Victoria Azarenka BLR (7). Serena is playing like a woman on a mission. Her performance against 13 seed Samantha Stosur in the round before was, in a word, "scary." Pam Shriver called it the best serving she had seen by a female player, ever. Although at the start of the tournament I did not predict Serena to win this title, mostly because she has only defended a title once in ten attempts and I was also entranced by the odd-year symmetry of her wins down under, after seeing what she did to the Aussie's #1 player, I think the rest of the field should be afraid, very afraid. Interestingly, one of the few players who is not afraid of playing Serena is the feisty #7 seed from Belarus, who almost derailed Serena here last year, leading by a set and a break before she was overwhelmed by the heat and retired ignominiously. Azarenka did get her revenge by dispatching a clearly injured Serena in straight sets to win the "fifth major" in Miami later that year so I am confident that Serena will take this match very seriously. Azarenka finished off her last match by inflicting a bagel on Vera Zvonareva in the third set, a not uncommon occurrence. What is an uncommon occurrence in this tournament is Serena in trouble on her serve. She is the only player, male or female, who has not had her service broken, and eliminated the three breakpoints she faced yesterday with three aces. An incredible performance indeed. The only question for Serena is whether she is peaking too early, or whether she is going to continue to play at this high-level for the rest of the tournament. If the latter is indeed, true, then Serena Williams be the 2010 Australian Open women singles champion, regardless of what happens in the rest of the draw. PREDICTION: Serena in 3 sets.

Na Li CHN (16) vs Venus Williams USA (6). I really like the play of the veteran Chinese player (so much so I named my dog after her!) and except for the hiccup against Francesca Schiavone in the previous round, Venus has been playing pretty good, if not overwhelmingly aggressive, tennis. With her natural power and athletic ability that is enough to get the older Williams sister through most matches by simply overwhelming most opponents and the relatively diminutive Li Na will most likely be no exception. PREDICTION: Venus in 2 sets.

Elena Dementieva RUS (5) Justine Henin BEL vs. Kim Clijsters BEL (15). Nadia Petrova RUS (19). I really expected to see Elena Dementieva and/or Kim Clijsters in this quarter of the draw, but it looks like the hard-hitting and extremely talented Petrova may have finally quieted the doubting voices in her head and is simply letting her tennis do the speaking for her. She has the game to beat just about anyone when she is playing her best and is one of the prototypical "big babes." Henin is playing in her first major tournament in two years, and is trying to repeat (or overshadow) her Belgian compatriot Clijsters who was able to win a grand slam within a few weeks of her return to the tour from retirement. Henin has looked to be about 80-90% as effective as she was before she left, and I have no doubt that she will be a threat to win any major she enters this year, and a lock in Paris. However, her wins have become increasingly labored with every successive round. This match is the hardest of the four to predict the result (and most likely will be the hardest to watch, as well). PREDICTION: Petrova in 2 sets or Henin in 3.

Jelena Jankovic SRB (8) Jie Zheng CHN vs. Maria Sharapova RUS (14) Maria Kirilenko RUS. The surprise quarterfinalists! I definitely expected a different Maria from Russia to be occupying this quarterfinal berth, but good job for "the Other Maria" to finally break out of the shadow of her best friend on the tour and not only eliminate Sharapova in the first round but continue all the way to the final eight. The second Chinese player in the quarterfinal represents the first time two Chinese players have made it this far simultaneously in a major tournament, with Zheng also having played in the 2008 Wimbledon ladies semi-final. I believe this match will be determined by who wants it more, not by the tennis of the two players. In that case, I prefer to go with the person who has not been here before. Either way, I have serious doubts the person from this quarter will be making it to the final. PREDICTION: Kirilenko in 3 sets.

AD-43: Gatto Leads Crowded Field To Replace Krekorian

After Paul Krekorian was elected to the 2nd District of the Los Angeles City Council numerous people have stepped up to replace him in representing the 43rd Assemby District. One of them is my friend Mike Gatto. The others are Glendale school boardmember Nayiri Nahabedia and City Councilmember Wesson's staffer Andrew Westall.

What is so wild is that in order to represent the 43rd District next year at this time the successful candidate will have to win four elections:
1) On April 13th, 2010 there will be a special election to fill the seat.
2) If no one gets more than 50% of the vote then there will be a run-off election on June 8, 2010 for the right to serve out the rest of Krekorian's term.
3) However, also on June 8, 2010 will be a primary election for the right to be on the ballot to represent the 43rd district for a full 2-year term.
4) November 2, 2010 will be the statewide general election for 43rd District
It should be interesting to see which candidate gets through this punishing gauntlet of elections, with the concomitant fundraising and public appearance demands such non-stop campaigning requires.

MadProfessah endorses Mike Gatto.

Eye Candy: David Vega

Thanks to the discerning eye of David Dust I was alerted to the pulchritudinous charms of David Vega.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Cilic Dispatches Del Potro

Marin Cilic of Croatia continued his undefeated 2010 season by beating reigning US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina in a 5-set thriller 5-7 6-4 7-5 5-7 6-3 in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Cilic will play in his second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, this time against Andy Roddick, who beat 2007 Australia Open finalist Fernando González 6-3 3-6 4-6 7-5 6-2. In the 2009 US Open quarterfinal Cilic lost to del Potro, who went on to win the tournament.

The other quarterfinals set so far is the mouthwatering matchup of 2009 defending champion Rafael Nadal versus Andy Murray

Saturday, January 23, 2010

WATCH: The Incredible Accents of Meryl Streep

Watch this amazing video of Meryl Streep at work.

That's a travesty! She has been nominated for a record 15 Academy Awards, only winning two (Best Actress, Sophie's Choice, 1983 and Best Supporting Actress, Kramer vs. Kramer, 1980).

Let's hope that in 2010 her drought ends with a win for Julia & Julia.

Hawaii Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill 18-7

Big news from Hawai'i! The State Senate passed a bill to allow both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions by a veto-proof majority of 18-7.

The bill would allow same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as marriage under state law.

The state House passed a civil-unions bill last session that would only apply to same-sex couples. House leaders have said they would wait and see what the Senate vote was before deciding whether to move forward on the Senate version of the bill.


State House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley,Wilhelmina Rise), said majority Democrats will likely meet on Monday in private caucus to decide how to proceed. Say said one of the factors will be whether the House can muster a two-thirds' majority -- 34 of 51 lawmakers -- to override a veto. The House voted 33 to 17 last session on civil unions, with one lawmaker absent. Say described the vote count now as close.

Say, who supports civil unions, said he would recommend that the House not attempt to address a technical flaw in the Senate version and decide simply whether to send the bill to the governor.

The bill has a technical flaw which claims that if enacted, it would go into effect on January 1, 2010. If the House does pass it by a veto-proof majority without amending it, the State Attorney General has issued an opinion saying that the bill is still constitutional.

Republican Governor Linda Lingle has refused to say whether she would veto the bill or not.

Hat/tip to Rod 2.0.

Friday, January 22, 2010

AUSSIE OPEN 2010: Clijsters Humiliated By Petrova

The winner of the last slam in 2009, Kim Clijster was bounced from the 2010 Australian Open with her worst career loss in a Grand Slam 6-0 6-1 by Russian Nadia Petrova. And she wasn't too happy about it.
"You know, on the other hand, you know, [Nadia Petrova] was good. But, you know, I let her -- you know, I made all the mistakes and she didn't really have to do much. She served really well and was aggressive in the rallies, but that's because I let her play into the courts. Just because I wasn't feeling the ball well. It sucks."--Kim Clijsters
Justine Henin escaped with a three-set 3-6 6-4 6-2 win over hard-hitting Alisa Kleybanova and will now face countrywoman and 2009 US open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in the fourth round.

CA-GOV: Whitman Dumps Another $20 MILLION In

Republican gubernatorial candidate stunned political observers by donating another $20 million to her campaign this week, leaving her with $30.9 million cash on hand and bringing the total amount of money she has spent towards becoming the next governor of California to $39 million. And she has yet to air a single television ad, spending almost $19 million on radio ads.

Whitman has said she is wlling to spend the Bloombergian sum of $100 million of her estimated $1.4 billion in order to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

π Calculuated to 2,700,000,000,000 Digits!

Big news, y'all! The number π has just been calculated to 2.7 trillion digits!

According to the Mathematical Association of America news story:
Computer scientist Fabrice Bellard has computed Pi to nearly 2.7 trillion digits, breaking the record by 123 billion places.

It took him 131 days to do it.
The old record had been set in August, 2009, by Daisuke Takahashi(University of Tsukuba, in Japan), who needed just 29 hours on a supercomputer 2,000 times faster than Bellard's desktop.

"I got my first book about Pi when I was 14 and since then, I have followed the progress of the various computation records," Bellard told BBC News.
Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Peter Brett's The Warded Man

Thanks to the book review blog Walker of Worlds, I have discovered some new fantasy and science-fiction authors from looking at Mark Chitty's This Year's Top Reads: Peter V. Brett, Neal Asher, Eric Brown and Alastair Reynolds.

I have actually read a fair number of books by these authors since I discovered Walker of Worlds in December 2009, but the first book I want to review for "Thursday Reviews" is The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett. As I have mentioned before, it's much easier to read books than it is to write up reviews of them!
I have a backlog of at least a dozen book reviews that are in various stages of preparation at this point, and I just finished another novel (Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself) last night!

Chitty has a similar love that I have for grand-scale, military space opera, so he is also a big fan of Peter F. Hamilton. However, he is an even bigger fan of Neal Asher who I have just begun to get into. We both are not huge fans of fantasy unless it is done really well (like Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind) so when Chitty gave Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man a 10/10 review it caught my attention.

Since Mark Chitty does such a good job of setting the scene of the book, I will quote from his review:
The world that Peter V Brett has created here is wide in scope and full of character. From the vivid descriptions of the small towns on the outskirts of the cities, where night is always a dangerous time, to the cities themselves - huge and strongly warded against the corelings - there is much to admire. These places felt real, the rundown and ruined houses always a constant reminder of what can happen when wards fail. The cities have their big, luxurious houses while the images of despair that are brought to mind when the lowly shared shelters are mentioned add to the clear distinction of class. Despite all of this and how much I enjoyed the world every time I opened the book, the characters steal the show - and quite rightly too.

We follow our three main characters - Arlen, Leesha and Rojer - from a young age. This allows us to grow with them, feel their fear and desires and aspirations. What is good about these characters is their individuality, the way each one feels completely different from the others, yet there is a strong and wilful element that will not just lie down or continue on the road expected of them.
The corelings are demons that emerge once night falls and take different forms: sand demons, wind demons, wood demons and (the most dangerous) flame demons and rock demons. They are a fantastic invention, but I did have a quibble with Brett in that I don't think he did as good a job as he could have to make it clear what the demons were. First, I thought they were intangible spirits but by the end he makes it clear that they are completely physical beings that eat, bleed and defecate but somehow are magically prevented from violating an area with a ward (a special symbol) on it. I suppose this lack of information in the reader's mind about the nature of the corelings is meant to mimic the characters' ignorance about the demons; the fact that most people have no interest in even fighting the demons or finding out anything more than how to avoid them is a key plot point. However, I found it slightly frustrating that the demons could be both described as ghostly figures that materialized from under the ground as soon as the sunlight faded and solid enough creatures that with sharp teeth and talons and ichor for blood.

The book is quite suspenseful. Mark Chitty identified the most with the main character of Arlen (and he is given the most attention by the author) but I like Leesha more and felt that Rojer was given slightly short shrift. It is clear that Arlen is the title character (it should be noted that in the United Kingdom the book was released with the title The Painted Man, which Chitty thinks is a better, less revealing title to an important plot point but I disagree. I think The Warded Man is an improved title, although either way I figured out the plot point well before its reveal in the book). His journey takes up the majority of the book and ends up in a surprising and somewhat sad conclusion.

Excellent features of the book are its very realistic depiction of life in big cities and small towns in a culture which has almost no technology and the ways that class and gender impact the lives of the characters (there is almost no depiction of race, per se although there is some discussion of ethnicity). Also, the fight scenes between characters and the demons are uniformly excellent, with the final battle to close out the book producing a pulse-racing finale.

Overall, the book is a compelling, exciting tale set in a well-depicted, realistic world that I look forward to visiting again in future work by this first-time author.

Title: The Warded Man.
Peter V. Brett.
Length: 432 pages.
Del Rey.
March 10, 2009.



Olson/Boies Prove Religious Involvement in Prop 8

Very big news in the federal Prop 8 trial today: the plaintiffs were able to produce and enter into evidence documents that reveal that the Mormon and Catholic churches were both intimately involved in's activities to enact Proposition 8.

An e-mail from the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the bishops and a cardinal said Catholics were crucial in providing money and volunteers to qualify Proposition 8 for the ballot.

The e-mail also praised the Mormon Church, saying it had provided "financial, organizational and management contributions" for the measure.

A memo by a Mormon Church public affairs officer said the Proposition 8 campaign was "entirely under priesthood direction," and the minutes of a Mormon Church meeting said members should not take the lead in promoting Proposition 8 but should work through

The church document said a teleconference had been held in Salt Lake City with 159 of 161 Mormon leaders in California. The leaders were told to encourage members to contribute $30 each for Proposition 8, toward a projected goal of $5 million, in addition to general fundraising.
As Julia Rosen over at said, this is an "explosive" revelation:

This is perhaps the most explosive bit of all, from a document between the LDS Church and the campaign:

With respect to Prop. 8 campaign, key talking points will come from campaign, but cautious, strategic, not to take the lead so as to provide plausible deniability or respectable distance so as not to show that church is directly involved.

Get that? The LDS Church intentionally worked to hide behind the scenes to disguise their involvement in the public realm. The LDS Church is well aware that the general public does not have the most favorable opinion of them. Attention on their involvement could have hurt their cause, namely passing Prop 8.
The plaintiffs intend to rest on either late Thursday or early Friday and then the real fun will begin as the unapologetic heterosexual supremacists of defend Proposition 8 before a skeptical and sharply intelligent federal judge.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Protect Marriage Sues Courage Campaign Over Logo Parody

Do you notice anything similar between the two logos above? The bottom one was the official logo of, the proponents of Proposition 8, the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in California, who are now the defendant-intervenors in the Perry v Schwarzenegger federal lawsuit going on before a 9th Circuit District Court Judge in San Francisco. The top one is the logo of, which has become one of the
most heavily trafficked LGBT weblogs in the last week
, since it is an excellent source for real-time information on the landmark trial on the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8.

Last week,'s lawyers sent Courage Campaign (the people who are responsible for creating the website) a cease and desist letter complaining about the use of their copyrighted trademark in the logo of the new website. Courage Campaign replied with a letter that said, in very nice lawyerly language: go f*** yourself.

Yesterday, the heterosexual supremacists responded by filing suit(pdf) in federal court against Courage Campaign. What is amusing about the logo lawsuit is that is arguing in one federal court that the image of a same-sex couple and an opposite-sex couple are "substantial indistingushable" when depicted graphically, but in their defense of Proposition 8 in another federal court, they are claiming that same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage are two completely different and very distinguishable entities (and one of these is much better than the other--guess which one?)

Makes you go, hmmmm, right?

Here's a press release from Courage Campaign about their latest legal response (pdf) to the logo lawsuit:
Courage Campaign Institute responds to Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order by Prop 8 supporters
Jacobs: "The Courage Campaign Institute will continue to focus our energy on this historic trial and the rights and protections at stake for loving, committed same-sex couples. '' can continue to expend time, energy and resources on a logo. Frankly, I think that says a lot about our respective priorities."

LOS ANGELES, CA - The Courage Campaign Institute responded this morning to a complaint and temporary restraining order delivered yesterday by lawyers for and announced it will continue to refuse to remove a logo on their Prop 8 Trial Tracker website that parodies the logo.

Courage Campaign Institute legal counsel Nathan Sabri of Morrison Foerster continues to assert in written documents to that "this difference between our client's logo and your client's logo is a graphical representation of the core difference between Courage Campaign's views and's views, presented in a sassy way that will not be lost on the public."

In an Opposition response statement filed to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California, Sabri cited numerous examples of case law, including cases involving the World Wrestling Federation, Mattel, and Universal Studios to show that Courage Campaign has a legal right to parody the logo.

Rick Jacobs, Chair of the 700,000-member Courage Campaign Instititute, commented on the irony of's continued focus on this issue. "We thought that our response laying out the tremendous legal precedent in cases like this would be the end of this silliness," said Jacobs. "But we are more than happy to defend our case if Prop 8 supporters continue to argue that the difference between their logo and ours is 'substantially indistinguishable,' given that their logo features a father and mother and our logo features two mothers."

In a response letter to sent Friday, January 15, attorney Sabri had previously stated that "while our client does appreciate the irony of the suggestion in your letter that a logo of a family made up of a man, a woman, and two children is 'substantially indistinguishable' from a logo of a family made up of two women and two children, your assertion is incorrect."

"The Courage Campaign Institute will continue to focus our energy on this historic trial and the rights and protections at stake for loving, committed same-sex couples," said Jacobs. "" can continue to expend time, energy and resources on a logo. Frankly, I think that says a lot about our respective priorities."

Jacobs concluded, "This is yet another attempt by Prop 8 supporters to distract from the facts being brought forth at this trial that are demonstrating quite clearly both the discrimination same-sex couples face and the need and benefit to society of equal treatment under the law."

Courage Campaign's Prop 8 Trial Tracker web site has garnered more than 700,000 views and 5,000 comments since it launched on January 11 and has become a leading source of real-time updates on the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial.


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