Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Federer, Schiavone, Bartoli in Semifinals

As I predicted yesterdayRoger Federer reached his 26th major semifinal in 28 majors by defeating Gael Monfils at the French Open for the 3rd time in 4 years on Tuesday. The Swiss Great beat the Frenchman in front of his hometown crowd 6-4 6-3 7-6(3) despite some truly atrocious play early on in the first set, probably due to the very difficult windy conditions.

In other matches completed, Andy Murray reached the quarterfinals by coming back from 2-5 in the 5th set to win 7-5. He will face Juan Ignaco Chela for the right to face the winner of tomorrow's blockbuster quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling. Francescha Schiavone came back from 1-6 1-4 down to against youngster Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win 1-6 7-5 7-5 in an astonishing result for the defending champion. Schiavone will face Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli who defied my predictions and bounced 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova from the tournament 7-6(4) 6-4. Schiavone is very likely to reach her second consecutive French Open final.

President Obama 2011 LGBT Pride Month Declaration

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 31, 2011
- - - - - - -
The story of America's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgender (LGBT) community is the story of our fathers and
sons, our mothers and daughters, and our friends and neighbors
who continue the task of making our country a more perfect Union.
It is a story about the struggle to realize the great American
promise that all people can live with dignity and fairness under
the law. Each June, we commemorate the courageous individuals
who have fought to achieve this promise for LGBT Americans, and
we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all,
regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Since taking office, my Administration has made significant
progress towards achieving equality for LGBT Americans. Last
December, I was proud to sign the repeal of the discriminatory
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. With this repeal, gay and lesbian
Americans will be able to serve openly in our Armed Forces for the
first time in our Nation's history. Our national security will be
strengthened and the heroic contributions these Americans make to
our military, and have made throughout our history, will be fully
My Administration has also taken steps to eliminate
discrimination against LGBT Americans in Federal housing programs
and to give LGBT Americans the right to visit their loved ones
in the hospital. We have made clear through executive branch
nondiscrimination policies that discrimination on the basis of
gender identity in the Federal workplace will not be tolerated.
I have continued to nominate and appoint highly qualified,
openly LGBT individuals to executive branch and judicial
positions. Because we recognize that LGBT rights are human
rights, my Administration stands with advocates of equality around
the world in leading the fight against pernicious laws targeting
LGBT persons and malicious attempts to exclude LGBT organizations
from full participation in the international system. We led a
global campaign to ensure "sexual orientation" was included in
the United Nations resolution on extrajudicial execution -- the
only United Nations resolution that specifically mentions LGBT
people -- to send the unequivocal message that no matter where
it occurs, state-sanctioned killing of gays and lesbians is
indefensible. No one should be harmed because of who they are or
who they love, and my Administration has mobilized unprecedented
public commitments from countries around the world to join in the
fight against hate and homophobia.

At home, we are working to address and eliminate
violence against LGBT individuals through our enforcement
and implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.
Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We are also working to reduce the
threat of bullying against young people, including LGBT youth.
My Administration is actively engaged with educators and community
leaders across America to reduce violence and discrimination in
schools. To help dispel the myth that bullying is a harmless or
inevitable part of growing up, the First Lady and I hosted the
first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March.
Many senior Administration officials have also joined me in
reaching out to LGBT youth who have been bullied by recording
"It Gets Better" video messages to assure them they are not alone.
This month also marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence
of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has had a profound impact on the
LGBT community. Though we have made strides in combating this
devastating disease, more work remains to be done, and I am
committed to expanding access to HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
Last year, I announced the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS
Strategy for the United States. This strategy focuses on
combinations of evidence-based approaches to decrease new
HIV infections in high risk communities, improve care for
people living with HIV/AIDS, and reduce health disparities.
My Administration also increased domestic HIV/AIDS funding to
support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and HIV prevention, and
to invest in HIV/AIDS-related research. However, government
cannot take on this disease alone. This landmark anniversary
is an opportunity for the LGBT community and allies to recommit to
raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and continuing the fight against
this deadly pandemic.
Every generation of Americans has brought our Nation closer
to fulfilling its promise of equality. While progress has taken
time, our achievements in advancing the rights of LGBT Americans
remind us that history is on our side, and that the American
people will never stop striving toward liberty and justice for
United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me
by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby
proclaim June 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender
Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to
eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the
great diversity of the American people.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord
two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States
of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
# # #

WATCH: Family Research Council Exposed As Hate Group (With Their Own Words)

VERMONT: Democrats Enact Single-Payer Health Care!

Peter Shumlin is the Democratic Governor of Vermont
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, individual states have the opportunity to enact their own health care reform policies which suit each individual state. In Vermont, Democrats control the state legislature and the governorship for the first time in a long time. When Republicans gain legislative control they use their power for evil, in Minnesota (putting an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot), in Wisconsin and Michigan (to eviscerate unions and disempower working families), in Ohio and Florida (disenfranchise elderly and minority voters) and in South Carolina and Tennessee (legislatively bully LGBT citizens and deny them equal access to constitutional rights).

Democrats, however, use their power for good, like in Vermont where they are ensuring that all state citizens will have access to health care.

Amy Goodman of TruthDig reports:
Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single-payer system, Hsiao wrote, “will produce savings of 24.3 percent of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024.” An analysis by Don McCanne, M.D., of Physicians for a National Health Program pointed out that “these plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or underinsured. So this is the really good news—single payer works.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin explained to me his intention to sign the bill into law: “Here’s our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20 percent a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They are killing small business. They’re killing middle class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we’re using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy.”
Governor Peter Shumlin did indeed sign the bill into law. 1 state down, 49 to go. California also has a single-payer health care bill pending in the legislature. MadProfessah has endorsed this legislation.

Monday, May 30, 2011

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

Fabio Fognini won his marathon 4th round match to a chorus of boos and cheers and
then withdrew from the tournament prior to playing the biggest match of his career.
(Photo credit:  Benoit Tessier, REUTERS)
Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2011 French Open. Last year, I correctly predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly.

Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Robin Soderling SWE (5). The dream quarterfinal. Rafael Nadal has only ever lost one match at Roland Garros, and it was to his quarterfinal opponent, the World #5 tall, muscular Swede Robin Soderling. He defeated the 4-time defending champion in 2009, in one of the greatest upsets in sports of the last decade; Soderling followed up that upset by repeating it the following year by beating the defending champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinals to end Federer's incredible streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. Nadal does not appear to be playing his best tennis this year but still must be considered the favorite considering his overall clay court record. However, Nadal's confidence must  be shaken by his two recent losses to Djokovic in two clay court Masters finals this season. Soderling does not lack confidence, and if he plays his best tennis against Nadal's not-best tennis, he will repeat his 2009 result. If Nadal plays at his 2010 level, then the defending champion should get through and possibly win a 6th Roland Garros title, tying Bjorn Borg's record. PREDICTION: Soderling in 4 sets.  

Andy Murray GBR (4) vs. Juan Ignacio Chela ARG. Andy Murray's dream draw turned into a nightmare during his 3rd round victory over a lefty qualifier Michael Berrer when he badly twisted his ankle in a 3-set win. He started his next round gingerly, losing the first 5 games of his 4th round match with Serbian Viktor Troicki. The World #4 came within one point of drawing even in the first set but ultimately ended up losing the first two sets 6-4 6-4. However, his movement and attitude visibly improved  and he was able to force a fifth and deciding set before darkness fell. I presume he will be able to win the deciding fifth set when play resumes on Tuesday and should have no problem dismissing the 31-year-old Argentine clay court specialist playing in his 3rd career major quarterfinal on Thursday. PREDICTION: Murray in 3 sets. 

Gael Monfils FRA (9) vs. Roger Federer SUI (3). Federer continues to write his name in the tennis record books by reaching his 28th consecutive major quarterfinal with an efficient dispatch of countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the 4th round. While Djokovic is winning universal acclaim and attention by continuing his flawless 2011 season, Federer continues to demonstrate why he has been at the upper echelon of men's tennis for the last seven consecutive years. There are few players in the Top 10 who have even played 28 consecutive major tournaments, and Federer has been in the last 8 or better in 28 consecutive major tournaments. His opponent is the Pride of France, "La Monf" who is in his 3rd quarterfinal at Roland Garros in 4 years. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he has never won a match on clay against Federer. In fact, last fall in front of a Paris crowd, Monfils won his first match ever (in 6 tries) against the Swiss Great when he saved an incredible 5 match points and went on to win one of the best matches of the year in three tiebreak sets. However, getting through a tough 5-set against the always hard-to-beat David Ferrer in the 4th round was another indicator that the excessively talented, prodigiously athletic Monfils' results may start matching his potential. Federer is yet to lose a set in his 2011 appearance at Roland Garros, and while I expect that streak to end, I also expect he will again find a way to yet another major semifinal and a historic showdown with Novak Djokovic. PREDICTION:  Federer in 4 sets.

Fabio Fognini ITA vs. Novak Djokovic SRB (2). The quarterfinal that wasn't. The puckishly handsome Italian showed he was more than just a pretty face by outlasting clay court specialist Albert Montanes 11-9 in the fifth set despite being unable to move due to suffering a muscle tear (or cramps?) in his leg at 5-6, 15-30. Fognini basically started blasting winners into all the corners on the court to erase 5 match points and controversially emerged with the win. However, he knew that he would have no chance against the red-hot Serbian who has yet to lose  a match in 2011 and thus withdrew (on advice of his doctors, who confirmed a 1cm muscle tear via MRI). This is both good news and bad news for Djokovic. It means that he is at least one round further in the tournament than he was last year, which is good news for his campaign to become World #1. He just needs to win one more match to reach his first French Open final and he will attain this goal of being acknowledged (by the computer) as the #1 player in the world. All Djokovic has to do is either beat 16-time major champion Roger Federer or hometown favorite Gael Monfils coming off the biggest win of his career in the semifinals on Friday. Getting to this point via walkover is bad news for Djokovic because he doesn't get credit for the win, so his streak remains at 41-0 for 2011 and that means he can only break John McEnroe's 1984 streak of 42-0 by winning the entire tournament. Plus it means he has a bizarre 4-day break in the middle of a major tournament after playing 3 consecutive days. It will be interesting to see what, if any, these factors have on Djokovic's play in the semifinal. I suspect nothing will deny Djokovic's date with destiny.

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

Viktoria Azarenka is the favorite to capture the
 Roland Garros title this year, or is she?
Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at Roland Garros this year. Last year, I was correct in 2 of 4 2010 French Open women's quarterfinal predictions.

Svetlana Kuznetsova RUS (13) vs. Marion Bartoli FRA (11). The 2007 Wimbledon finalist has reached her first quarterfinal at her country's major tournament for the first time. She will face Kuznetsova, one of only two women left in the tournament who have won the entire event (the other, of course is Francesca Schiavone who won last year). In fact, Kuznetsova lost the final in 2006 and won the final in 2009. While Bartoli won her match when Gisela Dulko retired in the second set, Kuznetsova won a hard-fought 3-set affair with Daniela Hantuchova who had easily dismissed World #1 and top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki the round before. This could be a very ugly affair, with both players trying to lose the match, but I believe that Kutnetsova's prodigious talent will be the deciding factor. PREDICTION: Kuznetsova in 3 sets.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova RUS (14) vs. Francesca Schiavone ITA (5).  The 2010 French Open defending champion made it through to this quarterfinal by winning a marathon 2 hour, 40-minute battle with 3-time French Open semifinalist (and former World #1)  Jelena Jankovic which featured over 30 breakpoints combined. The passionate Italian faces the talented Russian youngster who took out the last remaining top seed in World #3 Vera Zvonareva to reach her first career major quarterfinal. Pavlyuchenkova hits the ball hard and flat on both wings, while Schiavone rarely hits the ball the same way twice, and actually wants to move forward to show off her sterling net play. Plus Schiavone has the benefit of knowing that her style of play can be rewarded on the red clay courts of Paris from last year. PREDICTION: Schiavone in 2 sets.

Petra Kvitova CZE (9) Na Li CHN (6) vs. Victoria Azarenka BLR (4). The hard-hitting lefty Petra Kvitova was my call to win the entire tournament before it began. But, 2011 Australian Open finalist Li is also one of my favorite players. Kvitova was up 3-0 in the deciding set but then collapsed completely to lose 6 consecutive games and the match. Li continues to make history, becoming the first Chinese player, male or female, to reach the quarterfinals at the French Open. Azarenka is one of the hottest players on the women's tour, and despite never having won a quarterfinal at any major is the betting favorite to win the tournament, primarily due to her position as the top remaining seed in the draw at #4. Head-to-head Li actually leads Azarenka 3-1, including a straight set beating in the Round of 16 in Melbourne this year, but the two have never met on clay. Azarenka should use this opportunity to make her breakthrough at a major, but will the pressure of being the favorite get to her head? Li has the advantage of already making her breakthrough in a grand slam earlier this year. This match should be decided by who wants it more and should be a high quality affair. PREDICTIONLi in 3 sets.

Maria Sharapova RUS (7) vs. Andrea Petkovic GER (15). Could this really be Sharapova's year to win the French Open? If so, she needs to get through matches like this next one. In Petkovic she is playing a player who beat her in the previous major played this year and is unafraid of the 3-time major champion's firepower. Sharapova was able to get revenge a few months later in Miami and leads their career head-to-head 2-1, all played on hard courts. The two have never played on hard courts, but this match will be played on clay which us Sharapova's worst surface. Both players have won clay court titles this year. I have seen all of Sharapova's matches played at Roland Garros this year but none of Petkovic's. I suspect that the fact that Sharapova is in her 14th major quarterfinal (only her 2nd in the last two years) while Petkovic is in her second quarterfinal of her career despite the two being born in the same year will be the ultimate deciding factor. PREDICTION: Sharapova in 3 sets.

Obama's Job Approval Rating At 51%

Eye Candy: Max Philisaire (reprise)

Max Philisaire has appeared as an Eye Candy model before, on April 27, 2009According to LOL Darian, He is a Haitian-American former Army Combat Engineer. Max has his own website, HollywoodBodyClub, and is a well-known fitness trainer in Los Angeles. According to his website, he was born in August 1984. He has modeled for various publications and appeared in multiple music videos.

I think we can see why, yes?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Succulent Sunday: Cotyledon campanulata

Cotyledon campanulata
By popular demand, Succulent Sunday returns! Here's some information on this gorgeous specimen:
Tiny hairs glisten on pale-green fingers, each tipped with a red crease -- Cotyledon campanulata from Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Tall flower stems shoot up in late spring from which yellow flowers hang like little bells, except the petals are splayed wide open (unlike its Cotyledon cousins).

From a recent paper, "The only other species possessing cylindrical to urceolate shaped flowers, C. campanulata, is sister to a grouping of four species (C. velutina, C. woodii, C. barbeyi, and two varieties of C. orbiculata) that all share an erect growth form. Cotyledon campanulata is a decumbent, dwarf shrub (up to 20 cm) with yellow flowers that, like C. cuneata, are viscid on the outside of the corolla. However, C. campanulata has smaller flowers and is much more narrowly distributed, present only in a small region of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa."
Hat/tip to Sentient Meat

Get Ready! Season 4 of True Blood 4 weeks away!

HBO's True Blood is one of the best things about Summer. Season 4 is starting in four weeks, on Sunday June 26th.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Now There Are 4: GA Black Gay State Rep Comes Out

Georgia State Representative Rashad Taylor,
comes out at a press conference May 27, 2011
There are now four openly gay, African-American male state elected representatives nationwide. Previously known were Marcus Brandon of North Carolina, Gordon Fox of Rhode Island and Jason Bartlett of Connecticut. State Representative Rashad Taylor of Georgia joined these three on Friday by coming out as gay at a press conference in Atlanta on Friday.

Taylor, 30, came out in order to respond to and refute charges of improper conduct which had been emailed to various state legislators from a jealous former lover of Rashad's current boyfriend. You can watch video of the press conference here.

Georgia Voice reports:
According to the national Victory Fund which works to elect openly gay officials, Taylor is only the sixth openly black LGBT person to serve in a state legislature. State Rep. Bell was the first black lesbian elected to a state legislature in 2009. 
Yesterday and in days prior, a man who is the ex-boyfriend of Taylor's partner sent an email to state legislators outing him and alleging Taylor misused his office by promising men jobs in exchange for sex. Taylor denied those allegations today, but did say the truth is is he is gay. 
"For some it may take two days, for some it take two years or 20 years [to come out]," he said.  
"I serve in public office and try to retain some semblance of a private life. This is a journey I've been on," he said. "i wouldn't want to expedite anyone else's journey. It ought to be a personal decision."
Taylor admitted that if the allegations against him had not been made he would not have come out.
"I would not be standing here today," he said, adding he considered ignoring the allegations.
But now was the time to tell the truth, Taylor added.
"I felt like honestly this was it unless I spoke the truth," Taylor said, saying he didn't want someone to feel like they had something "over his head."
He said before today, he could "count on one hand" the people who knew he was gay. Taylor also said that he came out to his mother and family in the past 24 hours. He thanked his mother for his support and she hugged him warmly after he spoke to the media.
MadProfessah has previously blogged about Simone Bell's election as the first Black lesbian state representative in December 2009. In Maryland, Mary Washington is the other openly lesbian elected state representative in the country. There are 6 openly LGBT, Black elected representatives nationwide.

Hat/tip to Wonder Man.

Eddie Long Settles 4 Sexual Misconduct Cases

Things that make you go hmmmmm. Eddie Long, an Atlanta-area evangelical preacher who was accused of sexual misconduct with four young Black men involved in his church's youth ministry, has decided to settle the lawsuits for an undisclosed sum and guaranteed secrecy.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
Attorneys involved in the four lawsuits against Long, the LongFellows Youth Academy and the 25,000-member Lithonia megachurch said the case had been settled but declined to comment further. The case is expected to be dismissed "with prejudice" -- meaning the defendant cannot be sued by the plaintiffs again in the same alleged offense -- by close of business Friday, said Barbara Marschalk, who represents New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and LongFellows Youth Academy.
B.J. Bernstein, who represents the four men who sued Long, New Birth and the academy, also confirmed the lawsuits had been settled. The academy was named in three of the suits.
Long, pastor of the Lithonia megachurch, which has an international following, had denied the men's allegations through a spokesman shortly after they first became public in September and told his congregation he planned to "vigorously" fight them.
The accusations made against Long by Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson alleged that the bishop used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relations.
Of course, does the fact that the terms of the agreement were undisclosed and the parties are not able to discuss the amount of money involved change how Long is viewed by his parishioners? These people believe  an old white guy in the sky watches over every word, thought and deed so reality-based they are not:
Kamelya Hinson, a Web content editor who lives in Decatur, said the settlement has not shaken her faith.
"It doesn't make me think he's guilty or anything," she said. "I decided when this came out that I loved my pastor unconditionally. Even if he came out and grabbed the mic and said ‘I'm guilty,' it wouldn't change the way I feel about him. I wouldn't be angry like a lot of people are. You can't walk away after 15 years of being a member of a church."
Hinson said it doesn't bother her that she may never know whether the allegations are true. "He's done 1,000 good things," she said, "and he may or may not have done four really bad things."
A fool and his money are soon parted.

Hat/tip to Rod 2.0


For my birthday last year the Other Half and I saw the film that won the 2010 Best Foreign Film Oscar, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, a suspenseful, mysterious drama set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in Spanish with English subtitles. This year, I decided I wanted to see Incendies, which many thought should have won the 2011 Best Foreign Film Oscar (Denmark won for In a Better World),especially after hearing this review from Bob Mondello of NPR:
I can't recall seeing a film in which I have so often wondered, "My God, how must that feel?" We in the audience are meant to be as unsettled as the characters. I've heard complaints about the ending being over-the-top, but my background is live theater, and you won't hear them from me. The storytelling in Incendies strikes me as primal the way Greek tragedy is primal. Shattering. Cathartic. It is a breathtaking film.
So clearly Incendies is a suspenseful, mysterious drama in French (and Arabic) with English subtitles. It was Canada's entry into the Foreign Language Oscar competition, but most of the scenes occur in an unspecified Middle Eastern country (presumed to be Lebanon).

The story begins with the reading of the will of a mother named Nawal Marwan to her surviving twin children, a boy Simon and a girl Jeanne, in a somewhat depressing Montreal notary's office on a cold, wintry day. The notary delivers two letters from Nawal to her twins, one is to be delivered to their older brother and one is to be delivered to their father. The twins are amazed: as far as they know, their father is dead, and they have never been told that they have a brother! Her mother wishes to be buried in an unmarked grave, face down until they have completed her requests of communicating these letters to her twins' brother and father. The male twin reacts with anger and storms out of the office while the female twin sobs quietly. Thus the movie begins as a mystery about family secrets.

The scene shifts to Nawal as a young woman, and we see that her "immigrant" (Palestinian?) boyfriend get attacked and killed by her brother. However we find out that Nawal is pregnant, and she eventually has a baby boy who is immediately taken away within minutes of birth. This solves the mystery of the existence a brother to the twins.

There are many more mysteries to come, however, because Nawal leaves home to go to University in the big city and finds herself in the middle of war zone. The Christians and the Muslims are fighting a civil war "in the South" and the hostilities have spread throughout the city as well. Nawal is Christian and when she finds out that that orphanages are being attacked she travels to the South to find out if she can find her son she gave up who would now be a toddler. The movie turns into a war story as Nawal witnesses horrific atrocities committed by both sides first hand and ends up in prison.

The movie then shifts again into a "fish out of water" story as we follow Jeanne, Nawal's daughter from Canada as she attempts to retrace her mother's steps a generation removed in time in order to solve the mysteries surrounding her father and her brother and comply with her mother's dying wishes. Eventually Jeanne's twin brother Simon joins her, along with the notary who had employed their mother for decades and is insistent that they do all they can to fulfill her dying wishes.

Incendies is an incredibly haunting film. You will either hate or love the final twist at the end but you will not quickly forget it. Incredibly, they were able to get the rights to one of Radiohead's most psychedelic songs, "You and Whose Army?" which is deployed to devastating effect in the film's opening scene. I would strongly urge you to see the film in the theaters, but if you miss it there add it to your Netflix queue as soon as it is released on home video. It really should not be missed.

Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence and language.
Release Date: September 4, 2010.
Viewing Date: May 21, 2011.

Plot: A+.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A.
Impact: A+.

Overall Grade: A- (4.167/4.0). 

Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Woz, Stosur Upset! Raja, Gael, Gasquet In R16

Daniela Hantuchova celebrates her defeat of World #1 Caroline Wozniacki at the 2011 French Open
For the first time since 1971 in the era of Open tennis, the two top seeds on the women side have been eliminated in a major tournament before the 4th round. World #1 Caroline Wozniacki followed World #2 Kim Clijsters exit yesterday by being swept off the court 6-1 6-3 by hard-hitting, mentally fragile Daniela Hantuchova. Wozniacki has been #1 despite being in only one major final (which she lost to Clijsters). Hantuchova will face 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova for a quarterfinal berth. Another stunning upset on the women's side was the disappearance of 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur who got outplayed by Gisela Dulko 6-4 1-6 6-3. Vera Zvonareva, Jelea Jankovic and defending champion Francesca Schiavone all advanced to the round of 16.

On the men's side the marquee match of the tournament between the only players besides Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to have won a major title in the last 5 years was scheduled last on for the day and thus had to be stopped completely even with Novak Djokovic winning the first set 6-3 and Juan Martín del Potro returning the favor. They will play a best of 3-sets tomorrow after a women's match. Djokovic has a 39-match winning streak on the line against someone who everyone acknowledges is a Top 5-level player even though he is currently seeded #25. Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils are in the final 16 at their hometown tournament but unfortunately their third musketeer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was unable to join them despite winning the first two sets against Stanislas Wawrinka, who will play Federer in the fourth round. Monfils will face David Ferrer who has not dropped a set all tournament for a potential quarterfinal berth against Federer. Gasquet has the unenviable task of playing the winner of the Del Potro-Djokovic encounter.

Celebrity Friday: Connie Willis Wins '11 Nebula Award For Blackout/All-Clear

Connie Willis
Connie Willis is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, the suspenseful, award-winning Doomsday Book. Her most recent book is the diptych Blackout/All Clear, a sequel of sorts to Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, which are all time-travel based, suspenseful novels set in Great Britain and usually filled with biting comic wit.

I previously blogged about this year's nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards, which included Blackout/All Clear. Now comes word that Connie Willis has won her seventh(!) Nebula award, her second for Best Novel, for Blackout/All Clear.

The Guardian reports:

Willis, already the recipient of 10 Hugos and six Nebulas and recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, took the Nebula best novel prize this weekend in Washington for her titles All Clear and Blackout. The prestigious science fiction and fantasy award is voted for by the 1,500 author members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and has been won in the past by Ursula K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Larry Niven's Ringworld and Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves.
Blackout and All Clear, two volumes making up one novel, see three Oxford historians from 2060 time-travelling back to an England in the middle of the second world war. When the three become trapped in 1940, they start to uncover small historical discrepancies and begin to realise that, contrary to a core part of time travel theory, it might just be possible to "horribly, tragically" alter the past.

The Left Hand of Darkness and The Gods Themselves and Ringworld are widely regarded as some of the best science-fiction books of all time. The Hugo awards are the other prestigious awards in science fiction, voted on by the fans of the genre, while the Nebulas are voted on by the writers.

I have read both Blackout and All Clear but I'm still working on my official review. In short, they weren't as impressive as Doomsday Book but they are noteworthy achievements and well worth reading. They give you a new appreciation for Britons during World War and are an intelligent handling of the mind-bending implications of time travel.

NYC Mayor Gives Amazing Marriage Equality Speech

Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave a speech at Cooper Union yesterday where he strongly and passionately explained why marriage equality needs to be enacted in New York State as soon as possible. The key section is where Bloomberg demolishes all the typical reasons for not supporting marriage equality is here:
“In talking to State legislators who do not yet support marriage equality, I can sense that many of them are searching their souls for answers – and they are torn. Like all of us, they have friends and family and colleagues who are gay and lesbian. They know gay and lesbian couples who are deeply in love with each other – many of whom are loving and devoted parents, too. They know those couples yearn to be seen and treated as equal to all other couples. And they often hear from their own families – especially their children – that this is a civil rights issue. I hope they listen to their kids carefully and make them proud with their foresight and courage. 

“Now, I understand the desire by some to seek guidance from their religious teachings. But this is not a religious issue.  It is a civil issue. And that is why, under the bill proposed in Albany, no church or synagogue or mosque would be required to perform or sanction a same-sex wedding – as is the case in every state that has legalized marriage equality.

“Some faith communities would perform them; others would not. That is their right. I have enormous respect for religious leaders on both sides of the issue, but government has no business taking sides in these debates – none!

“As private individuals, we may be part of a faith community that forbids divorce or birth control or alcohol. But as public citizens, we do not impose those prohibitions on society. We may place our personal faith in the Torah, or the New Testament, or the Koran, or anything else. But as a civil society, we place our public faith in the U.S. Constitution: the principles and protections that define it, and the values that have guided its evolution. And as elected officials, our responsibility is not to any one creed or congregation, but to all citizens.

“It is my hope that members of the State Senate majority will recognize that supporting marriage equality is not only consistent with our civic principles – it is consistent with conservative principles. Conservatives believe that government should not intrude into people’s personal lives – and it’s just none of government’s business who you love!

“Conservatives also believe that government should not stand in the way of free markets and private associations – including contracts between consenting parties. And that’s exactly what marriage is: a contract, a legal bond, between two adults who vow to support one another, in sickness and in health.

“There is no State interest in denying one class of couples a right to that contract. Just the opposite, in fact. Marriage has always been a force for stability in families and communities – because it fosters responsibility. That’s why conservatives promote marriage – and that’s why marriage equality would be healthy for society, healthy for couples and healthy for children."
Many LGBT activists are upset with the Republican billionaire Republican mayor because he has previously donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state GOP, allowing them to re-capture the majority in the State Senate, where marriage equality legislation is currently under consideration. There are 26 of 28 Democrats Senate votes in support of marriage equality but it takes 32 votes to pass in the 62-member body and the 32-member Republican caucus has a history of bottling up and killing pro-LGBT legislation.

In 2009, a marriage equality reached the floor when Democrats held the majority but failed when traitorous Democrats who had taken LGBT money promising to support marriage equality voted against the legislation, which failed 24-38.

Let's hope that 2011 things end differently and enough NewYork State Senators will realize that it is time to allow access to civil marriage to all New York families.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

GRENADA: Man, 41, Charged Under Sodomy Law

Since I was born on the island of Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean I'm always attentive when the island-nation appears in the news. According to the AP, a 41-year-old man has been arrested and charged with sodomy for having consensual sex with a 17-year-old man.

The age of sexual consent in Grenada is 16 but while the sex in question was consensual, local law prohibits sodomy under the charge of "unnatural connection."
Grenada is one of several Caribbean nations that has laws banning sex between men. The penalty in most islands, including Grenada, is up to 10 years in prison, although Barbados and Guyana have life imprisonment, according to a 2010 United Nations report.
Many islands remain socially conservative, with Jamaica considered one of the most hostile islands toward homosexuals. A gay right activist was killed there last year, and three gay men were attacked and beaten in St. Lucia in March. Gay cruises to the region also continue to draw protesters.
In Grenada, gays are discriminated against and find it hard to find employment and housing, said Nigel Mathlin, president of GrenCHAP, a local nonprofit organization that represents marginalized groups.
"The government, they are very much aware of the changes that need to be made, of bringing our laws into line with international human rights principles," Mathlin said.
I'll be following this case relatively closely. I really don't see how the Caribbean nations of Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and Jamaica can expect to have a vibrant tourism industry while still maintaining anti-gay sodomy laws and an unwelcoming, discriminatory atmosphere.

It's good to see that there is some organized resistance and challenge to explicit homophobia on the island of Grenada in the form of GrenCHAP and Nigel Mathlin.

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Clijsters Upset! Sharapova Escapes

Kim Clijsters lost her second round match at Roland Garros to Arantxa Rus
World #2 Kim Clijsters held two match points up a set and 5-2 but somehow managed to lose her second round match to lefty Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 3-6 7-5 6-1 to end her 15-match winning streak at the majors. Clijsters had won the 2010 US Open and the 2011 Australian Open and was a favorite to win in Paris.

Maria Sharapova was down a set and 4-1 (two(!) breaks) against the youngest player in the draw, 17-year-old Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia when suddenly the youngster got tight and Sharapova kept the ball in the court and then steamrolled the next 11games to close out the match 3-6 6-4 6-0.

On the men's side Rafael Nadal saved 8 set points against handsome countryman Pablo Andujar to come back from 1-5 down in the 3rd set to close out the match 7-5 6-3 7-6(4). Also in that half of the draw Andy Murray, Robin Soderling and Fernando Verdasco all won their second round matches.  Nadal got a break when Nikolay Davydenko lost to Croatian qualifier  Antonio Veic 6-1 in the fifth. Davydenko is one of the few players on the tour to hold a career head-to-head advantage on the World #1 (6-4 overall but 0-3 on clay). It's likely that Nadal will not be challenged until he plays the winner of Verdasco/Ljubicic in the 3rd round and then a potential Soderling quarterfinal.

FOOD REVIEW: Island Flavors (Laurel, MD)

While I was on a research trip in Maryland/Delaware in early May I discovered the unassuming West Indian restaurant Island Flavors in a strip mall right off the Route 197 exit off the Baltimore-Washington Expressway (Maryland Route 295).

I'm always one to look out for really good West Indian food, and the best I have found so far is in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. That's a long, long ways from my home in Los Angeles, so often when I am on the East Coast I try and sample new restaurants. In Los Angeles, there is some pretty good Caribbean food (Ackee Bamboo, Caribbean Treehouse, Kassava) and some just okay (Derrick's Jamaican Cuisine, Juicy's, Wi Jammin).

Island Flavors is in a very unassuming, somewhat unprepossessing space, with cheap plastic chairs and tables and covered steam tables. You should go to Island Flavors for the food, not the atmosphere or service.

I ordered the brown stew chicken ($7.75) and homemade sorrell ($3.50). The brown stew chicken was excellent. It is very tangy and piquant but not overly spicy. It comes with steamed vegetables and fried plantains. The sorrel was also quite good, much more heavily infused with ginger than I am used to, and quite a bit more concentrated. Halfway through eating my small brown stew chicken I knew I wanted to sample their "Curry Chicken & Roti" ($8.00) and take a large brown stew chicken to-go ($9.25) on my 6-hour flight home to Los Angeles.

The curry chicken roti ended up being very unusual, with the roti skin being uncharacteristically left open, serving as a bowl for the curry chicken stew, instead of fully enclosing the thick curry chicken stew burrito-style that I am used to. The roti skin used was delicious, lighter and more flavorable than most (I suspect butter must be involved) and by not enclosing the stew, it seemed they were able to use more tender cuts of chicken with bone attached, as opposed to the sometimes dry, boneless chicken which appears in most chicken curry rotis. The brown stew chicken I brought home to Los Angeles was just as good when I ate it microwaved after being in the refrigerator as when I had eaten it inside the Island Flavors restaurant two days before. Both dishes were better than anything I have had from any West Indian restaurant on the West Coast, except perhaps for what's served at Kassava.

If you're in the Laurel, Maryland area (about 30 minutes north of Washington, D.C.) I would strongly recommend that you check out Island Flavors and order yourself a roti and a brown stew chicken to go, you will not regret it!

Name: Island Flavors.
Location: 12633 Laurel Bowie Road, Laurel, MD 20708-2603.
Contact: 301-776-7208.
Visit: May 7, 2011.


OVERALL: A- (3.75/4.0).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 FRENCH OPEN: Top Seeds Proceed Thru Draw

The highlight of the first round at the 2011 French Open was 5-time defending champion and World #1 Rafael Nadal being stretched to 5 sets by Marathon Man John Isner, 6-4 6-7(2) 6-7(2)  6-2 6-4. Other than that (slight) excitement, the seeds have basically come through the early round unscathed.

On the men's side Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer are all through to Round 3. Tomas Berdych and Nicolas Almagro are the only seeds from the Top 16 to have lost in the first round. Djokovic's streak is now up to 39 matches for the year, although he will play 2009 US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro in the 3rd round.

On the women's side none of the Top 17(!) seeds lost in the first round. Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavione, Samantha Stosur, Jelena Jankovic, Marion Bartoli and 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova have all made it to the third round. 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic lost in the first round, completing a "grand slam" of first round losses at the majors. An interesting 3rd round match should be Wozniacki versus Daniela Hantuchova.


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