Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WATCH: Mitt Romney Will Say Anything To Get Elected

Godless Wednesday: NYT Covers Black Irreligiosity

Praise Allah! No less an important media outlet than the New York Times has recognized that African American Atheists exist! SentientMeat brought this article to my attention and suggested it would be a good subject for a Godless Wednesday post. He reads more things than Cactus and Succulent websites after all.

In a piece published this week titled "The Unbelievers" the Paper of Record examines the (ir)religiosity of Black people in this country:
RONNELLE ADAMS came out to his mother twice, first about his homosexuality, then about his atheism.

“My mother is very devout,” said Mr. Adams, 30, a Washington resident who has published an atheist children’s book, “Aching and Praying,” but who in high school considered becoming a Baptist preacher. “She started telling me her issues with homosexuality, which were, of course, Biblical,” he said. “ ‘I just don’t care what the Bible says about that,’ I told her, and she asked why. ‘I don’t believe that stuff anymore.’ It got silent. She was distraught. She told me she was more bothered by that than the revelation I was gay.”


African-Americans are remarkably religious even for a country known for its faithfulness, as the United States is. According to the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey, 88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population, with more than half attending religious services at least once a week.


According to Pew, the vast majority of atheists and agnostics are white, including the authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.
Seeking a public intellectual of their own, some black atheists have claimed the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, interpreting his arguments against teaching intelligent design in the classroom to be an endorsement of atheism. But Dr. deGrasse Tyson is loath to be associated with any part of the movement. When contacted last week by e-mail, he noted a Twitter exchange he had in August, in which he told a follower, “Am I an Atheist, you ask? Labels are mentally lazy ways by which people assert they know you without knowing you.”
Methinks Dr. Tyson doth protest too much, don't you? Anyway, it's cool that there are blogs like Godless and Black and Words of Wrath as well as organizations like African Americans for Humanism and facebook pages like Black Atheists of America. Hopefully MadProfessah's Godless Wednesday will join this list of Black Atheist resources.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nigeria Senate Passes Insanely Anti-Gay Bill

Very bad news out of Nigeria. For the last 18 months or so the LGBT blogosphere has been tracking an anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda which included the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Happily that legislation died when the legislative session ended earlier this year, although there are some reports that Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill is being revived.

Now comes news that an arguably even more repressively homophobic bill has passed one legislative body i Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria.

The Washington Post reports:

Nigeria’s Senate voted Tuesday to criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection, the latest legislation targeting a minority already facing discrimination in Africa’s most populous nation. 
The bill, now much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, must be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law. However, public opinion and lawmakers’ calls Tuesday for even harsher penalties show the widespread support for the measure in the deeply religious nation. 
“Such elements in society should be killed,” said Sen. Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing some murmurs of support from the gallery. 
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays and lesbians face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In the areas in Nigeria’s north where Islamic Shariah law has been enforced for about a decade, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning.

Hat/tip to Rod 2.0.

Monday, November 28, 2011

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank Retirement Announcement

The longest-serving openly gay member of Congress, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (MA-05), announced today that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2012.

There are currently on.y four openly LGBT members of Congress, and Tammy Baldwin is giving up her seat to run for the United States Senate. David Ciccilline looks to have a tough-re-election bid. Jared Polis recently welcomed a newborn son to his household.

Joe.My.God has a collection of reactions from the national LGBT organizations on the news of Frank's retirement.

Eye Candy: Nick Denbeigh (3rd time!)

Nick Denbeigh is one of my favorite male models. He has appeared as Eye Candy on two previous occasions (February 1, 2010 and October 10, 2011). Happily, there are lots of excellent pictures of this handsome and friendly guy on the internet, so he becomes one of the rare models to appear on three times (joining Santiago Peralta, Christopher Villa, Phillip Fusco, Deric Mickens and Jon Micklow).

If you have suggestions of what models you would like to see again at Eye Candy, please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

SUCCULENT SUNDAY: Haworthia tessellata, waxy windowed whorls

Haworthia tessellata 'Neat' shooting a bloom stalk. Can you see the windows in the leaf tops?
Haworthia tessellata is one of my favorite plants. At least, that's what I tell people. At least one friend has complained that I say that about so many plants that it can't possibly be true.

Haworthia limifolia, a close relative of H tessellata but lacking obvious windows in its leaves. It resembles opaque, molded plastic rather than translucent, carved wax.
The latin name tessellata comes from the tiled pattern in the leaf faces. Attractive, yes, but the bigger truth about these odd, waxy leaf faces is this: they evolved to be natural windows. Many Haworthia have adapted this way. Sunlight enters the plant body through these translucent windows and is converted into energy by many layers of chlorophyll-rich cells. This is especially useful in the arid climates where Haworthia tessellatamakes its living; the primary photosynthesis tissues are not exposed to the drying elements.

Haworthia tessellata 'Fang'
Haworthia tessellata 'Fang', a select clone named for the teeth and tubercles on the leaf undersides.
Leaves with window tops are described as fenestrate, from the Latin for window: fenestra.

Haworthia tessellata 'Super Tessellata'
Haworthia tessellata 'Super Tessellata', a beautiful, select clone
What's more, like many succulents, Haworthia tessellata can photosynthesize using Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM). During CAM photosynthesis, the plant opens its stomata only during the cool of the night. It "inhales" in carbon dioxide and stores it in its thick, succulent tissues (while "exhaling" oxygen). During the heat of the day, the carbon dioxide stored deep in the plant can be used in photosynthesis because sunlight passes through the leaf windows, deep into the center of each leaf.

Haworthia tessellata in habitat. Photo by Jakub at
See Also
Convergent Evolution in Succulent Desert Plants: Comparing Haworthia and Aloe (Africa) With Agave (America)

ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Federer Ends Year 17-0; Wins 6th YEC

As I predicted yesterday, Roger Federer ended his 2011 season like he has 5 times before (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010), winning the very last competitive match of the year in the year-end championship for a record 6th time. This time he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3 6-7(6) 6-3 in one of the best matches of 2011, winning his 70th title in 100 tour finals. It was his 2nd consecutive tournament final win over Tsonga, and somewhat bizarrely his second match win over Tsonga in the tournament, due to the round-robin nature of the early rounds of the year-end championship.

Federer improved to a 8-3 career head-to-head record over Tsonga, and 6-2 in the astonishing 8 matches the two played this year. He ended the year with a remarkable 17-match winning streak in the indoor hard court season which netted the former #1 (and now #3) 3 titles, in Basel, Paris  and London. He demolished his arch-nemesis Rafael Nadal in straight sets and never even got the opportunity to meet Novak Djokovic at this year's year-end championship due to the Serbian's mental and physical collapse.

Federer's 807th career win places him ahead of Stefan Edberg at #6 on the all-time wins list, behind Andre Agassi at 870. His 6th year-end championship breaks the tie Federer had with Ivan Lendl who won his 5 titles with a 39-10 record, Federer's is 39-7, also losing in the final in 2005 to David Nalbandian. He won $1.635 million and cemented his place at #3 in the rankings behind Djokovic and Nadal.

In 2011, Federer was the only player to have match points in two separate occasions against the player of the year in Djokovic (70-6), ending with a relatively pedestrian (by his standards) 64-12 record. Bizarrely, in 2009 Federr's record w 61-12 and he ended the year at #1. In 2010 it was 65-13 and he ended the year at #3.

In 2012, Federer will be playing to win his record 17th major title and his first singles Gold medal at the London Olympics. I wouldn't bet against him!

Harvey Milk May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978

Harvey Milk, the most famous openly gay politician in U.S. history, was assassinated in San Francisco on November 27, 1978, 33 years ago today.

Bob Slatten of the blog I Should Be Laughing posted some of Harvey Milk's most memorable quotes today in remembrance. My favorite is:

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

Unfortunately, a bullet did enter Harvey's brain on that fateful day in November 33 years ago, but there are still far too many closeted people, especially politicians, often letting their internalized homophobia lead them into committing external acts of homophobia as well.

Sunday Funnies: Explaining U.S. Dependence on Oil

Hat/tip to Daily Kos

Saturday, November 26, 2011

ATP World Tour Finals: Federer vs Tsonga

AP Photo/Sang Tan
Roger Federer defeated David Ferrer in straight sets 7-5 6-3 to reach his 7th year-end championship final of his career, his 100th career tournament final (69-30 record). A few hours later Jo-Wilfried Tsonga outlasted Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 to join Federer in the final, which will be a reprise of the very first match of the tournament where Federer beat Tsonga in a tight 3-set match 6-2 2-6 6-4 .

I had predicted Federer would face Berdych and Ferrer would face Tsonga, since Ferrer won 5 sets and lost 3 while Berdych won 5 sets and lost 4 but I guess on game percentage Berdych ended up being the #1 player in Group A so he played the #2 player in Group B (Tsonga) while the #2 player in Group A ( Ferrer) was stuck playing the undefeated #1 player from Group B (Federer). The result was Federer improved to 12-0 lifetime against Ferrer while Tsonga won his first career match against Berdych (now 1-1).

By winning today Federer assures he will end the year at #3, behind World #1 Novak Djokovic and World#2 Rafael Nadal. Federer becomes the 5th player in ATP history to reach 100 tour finals, behind Jimmy Connors (163), Ivan Lendl (146), John McEnroe (108) and Guillermo Vilas (104).

Federer is trying to become the only person to win the year-end championship 6 times, which I believe he will do, in a very tough 3-set match on Sunday.

Marriage Equality Video From Australia

Friday, November 25, 2011

ATP World Tour Finals: Djokovic Loses 2nd Consecutive Match

World #1 Novak Djokovic amazing 2011 season ended with a whimper on Friday when he lost his second consecutive match at the ATP World Tour finals in London, failing to qualify for the semifinal round. Djokovic lost 3-6 6-3 6-3 to compatriot Janko Tipsarevic a few days after he was demolished in straight sets by David Ferrer 6-3 6-1. Djokovic's only win was a 3rd set tiebreak win where he saved match point against Tomas Berdych. Berdych and Ferrer will be in the semifinalis from Group A, since both the original higher ranked players, Andy Murray and Djokovic failed to make it through the round-robin plays (with Murray withdrawing from the tournament after losing in straight sets to Ferrer).

Earlier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had qualified for the semifinals by eliminating Rafael Nadal 7-6(2) 4-6 6-3 and Roger Federer became the first player to qualify while remaining undefeated (and now on a 15-match winning streak) by dismissing Mardy Fish.

Djokovic's 2011 season was still remarkable ending with a 70-6 record (losses to Federer, Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Kei NishikoriFerrer,  and Tipsarevic) that includes 3 major titles and 5 Masters series titles and a 41-match winning streak.

The year's last tournament will conclude with Federer facing Berdych and Tsonga facing Ferrer in the semifinals

Celebrity Friday: Bradley Cooper Named Sexiest Man Alive

Bradley Cooper has been named "the sexiest man alive" by People magazine, annoying fans of Ryan Gosling. I have been a fan of Cooper's since his appearance on J.J. Abrams' Alias television show which starred Jennifer Garner as a secret CIA agent with family issues and Michael Vartan as her handler and love-interest. Cooper played Garner's best friend who was also in love with her. Even back then I could not understand why garner's character would prefer Vartan over Cooper.

Now that the 36-year-old single guy has become a bona fide movie star with appearances in The Hangover and its sequel his profile has soared. This was his reaction when he learned he had been named the sexiest man alive for 2011 by People:
"I think it's really cool that a guy who doesn't look like a model can have this [title]," saysthe Hangover actor, 36. "I think I'm a decent-looking guy. Sometimes I can look great, and other times I look horrifying." 

Another reason to love him? Cooper, whose father Charles passed away in January, is especially close with his mom, Gloria. When he learned he'd been crowned Sexiest Man Alive, the "first thing I thought," he says, "was, 'My mother is going to be so happy.' " 
Congratulations, Bradley

Thursday, November 24, 2011


After a long break, I finally went and saw a movie. A group of co-workers planned an outing to see J. Edgar, the new movie directed and produced by Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench and Armie Hammer. The film is a biography about the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and was written by openly gay Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk).
The movie has had a mixed reception by critics (rated 40% on and has been excoriated by some LGBT reviewers. I don't disagree with the disappointed reviews but I do disagree with the intensity of the vitriol that is being heaped on the film.
At its core, J. Edgar is a film about the 50-year-old relationship between two men, J. Edgar Hoover (played by Dicaprio) and Clyde Tolson (played by Hammer), one of whom happened to be the most powerful man in the United States. Black's screenplay jumps haphazardly between different decades, covering the major events in Hoover's (and thus the FBI's) career. The primary event in Hoover's career was his investigation of the so-called Crime of the Century, the kidnapping (and murder) of Charles Lindbergh's infant son. Hoover was obsessed with solving the crime and the movie does a good job of depicting his support and encouragement of forensic science.

Hoover also had some curious relationships with the two most important women in his life, his mother, Anne Marie Hoover (played with brio by Dame Judi Dench), and his longtime secretary and personal assistant Helen Gandy (a thankless role played by Oscar nominee Naomi Watts). There's an incredibly chilling scene where Judi Dench makes it crystal clear that she has no interest in seeing her longtime bachelor of a son ever come out of the closet. Another enlightening scene is between a very young Hoover and Gandy have just began dating and Hoover asks her to marry him. She must realize that Hoover really has no interest in a conjugal relationship with a woman and instead she is interested in having a more enduring (professional) relationship, as his executive secretary.

The performances are the best part of the film, Dench is particularly good, as is Dicaprio. Hammer is easy on the eyes and the depiction of these two single men spending decades together at the #1 and #2 positions at the internal national police force despite a parade of more than half a dozen Presidents is quite compelling.

However, there are some bad characteristic of the film and these flaws most definitely outweigh its strong points. The first that comes to mind is the make-up. Dicaprio looks quite amazing physically as Hoover, but as the film jumps decades into the future they are forced to slather huge amounts of make-up on Hammer and Dicaprio, making Hammer particularly look like some kind of zombie. It doesn't help matters when Tolson has a stroke and spends the last half-hour of the film shaking a leaf. Hammer does a decent portrayal of the physical effects and Hoover's self-centeredness and paranoia are revealed when he starts to turn on the man who has shared his life with him. Even though the relationship lasts 50 years it is completely chaste since neither party really ever acknowledges the love they have for each other, except for one badly written and overly histrionic scene in which the two get physical (violently and romantically). I can understand that some reviewers felt these aspects of the film make it a disappointing exercise, but I would argue that it is still worth seeing, but go in knowing that it is not a masterpiece, but simply an affecting film.

Title: J. Edgar.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief strong language.
Release Date: November 11, 2011.
Viewing Date: November 15, 2011.

Plot: B+.
Acting: B+.
Visuals: B-.
Impact: B+.

Overall Grade: (3.167/4.0).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Godless Wednesday: IL Catholic Orgs End Lawsuit On Foster Care

Ha, ha! Over the summer and other LGBT blogs reported about the obnoxious lawsuit by a number of Catholic dioceses in Illinois who were suing the state for the right to obtain payment from the government to offer foster and adoption services which would illegally discriminate against same-sex couples in civil unions.

The lawsuit was laughable on its face and last week even the religious extremists and heterosexual supremacists at the Catholic Dioceses of Joliet, Springfield and Belleville recognized that fact and dropped their lawsuit and ended their foster care services in the state.

The Chicago Tribune reports:
Since March, state officials have been investigating whether religious agencies that receive public funds to license foster care parents are breaking anti-discrimination laws if they turn away openly gay parents.  
After the civil union bill went into effect in June, Catholic Charities told the state that accommodating prospective foster parents in civil unions would violate Catholic Church teaching that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.  
Catholic Charities said it would instead refer gay couples elsewhere and only license married couples and single parents living alone.  
The agency has pointed to a clause in the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that they believe protects religious institutions that don't recognize civil unions. 
But lawyers for the Illinois attorney general said that exemption only shields religious clergy who don't want to officiate at civil unions. The policy of Catholic Charities violates state anti-discrimination laws that demand couples in civil unions be treated the same as married couples, they said.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say. Thankfully, there are plenty of secular foster care agencies who care more about helping children then promoting religious-based homophobic ideology.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Federer-Nadal XXVI: Federer Demolishes Nadal 63 60

World #4 Roger Federer played his arch-rival World #2 Rafael Nadal for the 26th time on Wednesday, and as I predicted, he won his first match against the Spaniard in 2011. However, no one could have predicted the 30-year-old Swiss maestro would pull off his most comprehensive defeat of Nadal in their long rivalry.

Federer won 6-3 6-0 in just over 1 hour. The result was never in doubt after the 5th game of the match. Nadal did not play badly (he had a Wozniacki-like 4 winners and 7 unforced errors) but Federer was dominant in every category, blasting 28 winners to only 8 unforced errors. Federer broke Nadal 4 times in 6 chances, one of his highest breakpoint conversions ever. Nadal was able to win only 9 points in the second set (to Federer's 28). This was the third time that Federer had won a 6-0 set against Nadal (the others being the 2006 Wimbledon final and 2007 Hamburg Masters final). Nadal still leads their career head-to-head with 18 wins to 8 losses.

By winning so easily (dropping only 1 set and winning 4) Federer became the first player to qualify for the semifinal elimination round. The winner of the match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nadal will decided the other semifinalist from Group B. Federer is the defending champion and is on a quest to become the first player to win the tour's year-ending championship for the 6th time.

In Group A, Andy Murray withdrew from the tournament due to the groin injury he was nursing in his loss to David Ferrer, which means that either Novak Djokovic, Ferrer or Tomas Berdych will be the 2 semifinalists. Janko Tipsarevic will replace Murray but since the tournament is a round-robin which has already commenced he has no chance to advance but he could get some serious cash. On Wednesday, Tipsarevic will face Berdych and Djokovic will face Ferrer.

POLL: Californians Favor Marriage Equality (Barely)

A new poll again shows that Californians strongly support legal protections and state recognition of same-sex couples but are also closely divided on the question of whether to allow such unions to be given the legal name "marriages."

Public Policy Polling did a statewide poll of 500 California voters between November 10-13 which had the following questions:
Q11 Do you think same-sex marriage should be
legal or illegal?
Legal............................................................... 48%
Illegal .............................................................. 43%
Not sure .......................................................... 9%

Q12 Which of the following best describes your
opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should
be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples
should be allowed to form civil unions but not
legally marry, or there should be no legal
recognition of a gay couple's relationship?
Gay couples should be allowed to legally
marry ..............................................................43%
Gay couples should be allowed to form civil
unions but not marry .......................................35%
There should be no legal recognition of a gay
couple's relationship .......................................21%
Not sure .......................................................... 1%
The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points. This is more evidence that people who think that 2012 is the right time to attempt to repeal Proposition 8 are fooling themselves. I do think that there are more Californians who support marriage equality than not, but the polling shows that the difference is well within the margin of error.

One of my pre-conditions for attempting a Proposition 8 repeal by ballot measure is multiple polls of likely voters which indicate majority support for marriage equality outside of the margin of error. That polling result is yet to occur in California, though I do believe it will happen soon. (By the way, the other pre-conditions are: A 7-figure amount in the bank at the beginning of a ballot measure campaign AND a public, published plan with a representational organizational structure for the entity which will manage the ballot measure campaign.)

Lawrence King's Killer Accepts 21-Year Plea Deal

Finally, there is some sense of justice restored to the world. Brandon McInerney, who shot to death his teenaged, openly-gay  classmate Lawrence King at point-blank range on February 12, 2008, has apparently agreed to accept a plea deal which will lead to him serving 21 years in prison. Previously, McInerney had been tried with first-degree murder (with a hate crime enhancement) but the judge was forced to declare a mistrial after multiple jurors declared that they empathized with McInerney's rough home life and disagreed with the decision to try him as an adult because he had committed the crime as a 14-year-old as well as the anti-gay hate crime aspect.

The prosecution had made the decision to re-try McInerney as an adult but had dropped the hate crime enhancement (exactly the wrong decision, I argued).

The Los Angeles Times reports:
The Oxnard teen who shot a gay classmate he believed was flirting with him has agreed to spend the next 21 years in prison, a plea deal that ends a case that drew national attention and ignited debate on how schools should deal with openly gay students.
Brandon McInerney, who was 14 when he pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot Larry King twice in the head in 2008, has already served nearly four years in jail and would be released by the time he is 38, under terms of the deal.
"Larry had a complicated life, but he did not deserve to be murdered," the youth's father,Greg King, said after a court hearing Monday afternoon.
McInerney’s first trial ended with jurors split between convicting him of voluntary manslaughter and first-degree murder. Several of the jurors have since spoken in favor of a plea bargain, in order to avoid a second trial.
Prosecutors, in initially deciding to try McInerney a second time, had already dropped a key allegation that the shooting was motivated by a hatred of homosexuals, an accusation that several jurors in the original trial said they did not believe.
During the first trial, prosecutors portrayed McInerney as a budding white supremacist who hated homosexuals and was enraged by King's sexuality and aggressive flirtations.
The defense argued that McInerney was the product of a violent and dysfunctional home and had reached an emotional breaking point in response to King's advances.
McInerney was 14 when he carried a .22-caliber handgun to school in a backpack on Feb. 12, 2008, took a seat behind King, 15, and shot him twice in the back of the head.
Gay rights advocates were largely silent after the mistrial. A national gay rights group later said prosecutors should have done the "just and merciful thing" and reached a plea deal in the case.
It's probably the best decision overall to make the case go away. I am satisfied that the brazen killer of an openly gay (or transgender) teen will be serving significant time in jail, thus validating the idea that perpretators of such heinous acts will be prosecuted and punished by the state.

ATP World Tour Finals: Federer-Nadal XXVI

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet for the 26th time of their careers, the fourth time in 2011, on Tuesday at the ATP World Tour Finals. Nadal has won all three of their previous meetings in 2011, on the hard courts in Miami, on the clay courts of Madrid and in the 2011 Roland Garros final. Nadal now leads their career head-to-head by a dominating 18-7.

This latest meeting is on an indoor hardcourt, when Federer is currently on a 13-match winning streak while Nadal needed a 3rd set tiebreak to escape with a win against Mardy Fish two days ago. They are meeting in the round-robin section of the year-end championships. Last year, Federer defeated Nadal on exactly this court in the final match of the year. I suspect that result will be repeated again on Tuesday.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Maine "Why Marriage Matters" Video

3 of 13 U.S. Chess Masters Under 14 Are Black!

Richard Perry/The New York Times
This is a great story! The NewYork Times covers the amazing occurrence of three African-American chess masters who also happen to be teenagers! As some readers may know, MadProfessah is a Senior Master and FIDE Master. I became a National Master at age 16. There are very few grandmasters of African descent, and only one African American grandmaster, Maurice Ashley, who is quoted in the article, entitled "Masters of the Game and Leaders by Example":
Fewer than 2 percent of the 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters — and just 13 of them are under the age of 14.  
 Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. — who each became masters before their 13th birthdays. 
 “Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.” 
In September last year, Justus, who is now 13 and lives in the Bronx, was the first of the three boys to get to 2,200, becoming the youngest black player to obtain the master rank. Joshua, 13, of White Plains, was a few months younger than Justus when he became a master last December. James, 12, of Brooklyn, became a master in July.
Maurice Ashley is also quoted as saying "Chess just isn't that big in the African-American community." What do YOU think, Gentle Readers? Why isn't chess a bigger sport in the African-American community? Isn't that what people used to (and still) say about tennis?

It would be great if one or more of these players became  a grandmaster but it is really difficult to make a living at being a professional chess player. I know several grandmasters who stopped playing chess and went into other fields where their innate talent for problem-solving and spatial visualization and powers of concentration made them formidable forces in other fields.

Regardless, it is very cool to see the words "prodigy" and "African-American" in the same New York Times article!

Eye Candy: Fraser Barke (reprise)

Fraser Barke is a successful male model who has appeared as Eye Candy once before (on July 11, 2011). Fraser is managed by Q Management, on whose website one can find many more exquisite pictures of this stunningly handsome guy.

For Thanksgiving week I'm giving thanks for guys as handsome as Fraser Barke!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SUCCULENT SUNDAY: Adenia stylosa, purple vine of evil

Adenia firingalavensis v stylosa
Adenia stylosa, photo by Mr Sentient Meat of his plant
Okay, maybe Adenia stylosa isn't truly evil. But its heart-shaped purplish leaves are the color of a deep wound. They do have dark red veins. And consider the stem... the gnarled, waxy, green, enlarged trunk or caudex. To me it looks like a living version of a melted candle destined for a Satanic ritual. In fact this plant's common name is reportedly "Candlestick Plant". That's fitting, as far as it goes. It does lack a bit of punch, a bit of drama. I think we should all start calling it "Satan's Candle". Who will be the wiser? Common names don't really matter anyway. Whatever you call it, it's a plant straight out of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey.

Adenia firingalavensis v. stylosa "Candlestick Plant"
Now to the anatomy of evil... or at least the secrets behind Adenia stylosa's macabre appearance. Its above-ground tuber... okay, "tuber" doesn't sound very evil... this caudex even has vaguely anatomical "hips": actually a distinctly swollen hypocotyl, the portion of the stem below where its cotyledons were attached and fell away in the seedling's infancy. The leaves are dark and attractive, varying between individuals as shown in this picture by Olaf Pronk.
Adenia stylosa leaves
Leaves from different individuals, all Adenia stylosa

Adenia stylosa was known previously as a subspecies of Adenia firingalavensis or Adenia epigea but is now considered a separate species. It lives in Northern Madagascar, in Ankarana National Park among other places.

Famed tsingy, limestone formations in Ankarana, Madagascar

See also:
Rauh, Werner. Succulent and Xerophytic Plants of Madagascar. Strawberry Press.
1995. Volume 1. ISBN 10: 0912647140. ISBN 13: 9780912647142
1998. Volume 2. ISBN 10: 0912647175. ISBN 13: 9780912647173

David J. Hearn has found strong enough DNA evidence and differences in its form to separate Adenia stylosa as a distinct species, moving it from its historical classification as variations or subspecies of Adenia firingalavensis or Adenia epigea. From the scientists' abstract:
[T]he position of A. stylosa has been clarified. This species was once treated as A. firingalavensis var. stylosa, and prior to that as A. epigea var. stylosa, but molecular and morphological data suggest it is separate from these species.
Hearn, D. J. 2007. Novelties in Adenia (Passifloraceae): Four new species, a new combination, a vegetative key, and diagnostic characters for known Madagascan species. Brittonia 59(4): 308–327.

Huntington Botanical Garden's introduction of related Adenia epigea

REPORT: Many Same-Sex Couples Impacted By Immigration Laws

The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School has released a report entitled "Same-Sex Couples and Immigration in the United States" by Craig Konnoth and Gary Gates.

An excerpt from the Executive Summary of the report highlights the fascinating details about the diversity of same-sex couples impacted by unfair immigration laws (and the Defense of Marriage Act) in the United States.
As of 2010,  nearly  79,200 same-sex couples living in the United States include at least one partner who iscurrently not a U.S citizen or was naturalized as a citizen.  Of the nearly 650,000 same-sex couples in the US:
 4.4% or 28,574 are binational couples (one partner is a U.S. citizen and one is not)
 1.8% or 11,442 are dual non-citizen couples
 6.1% or 39,176 are dual citizen couples with at least one naturalized partner 
Under U.S. immigration policy, a citizen may obtain permanent residence for their non-citizen different-sex spouse, and expedited citizenship for a resident, different-sex spouse. Permanent residents may also petition for permanent resident status for their different-sex spouses.   However, these options are not extended to same-sex couples, even if they are married or are in civil unions or registered domestic partnerships.  Currently none of the estimated 40,000 binational and dual non-citizen same-sex couples in US are eligible to use  the immigration mechanisms available to different-sex spouses.


  Additional findings from the analyses include:
 California ranks first in the total number of binational same-sex couples.  A quarter of them (7,115) live in the state.  California is followed by New York (3,695), Florida (2,545), Texas (1,607), and Illinois (1,596).
 Mexico is the country of birth for a quarter of non-citizens in binational same-sex couples.  Canada, the second highest country of origin, is home to 8% of the non-citizen partners, followed by the United Kingdom at 6%.
 More than two-thirds of binational same-sex couples (69%) are male.
 A third of binational couples (33%) are inter-racial/ethnic.
 Forty-five percent of non-citizens in binational same-sex couples are Latino or Latina, while 14% are Asian/Pacific Islander.  Just over a third (36%) are White.  Among citizens in same-sex binational couples, a third (33%) are Latino or Latina while 54% are White and 7% are Asian/Pacific Islander.  AfricanAmericans comprise just 3% of both groups.
 A quarter of male binational couples and 39% of female binational couples are raising an estimated 17,000 children.  Rates of childrearing are even higher among non-citizen same-sex couples. More than half (52%) of male non-citizen couples and nearly two-thirds (64%) of non-citizen female couples are raising more than 7,700 children.
 Citizens in binational same-sex couples have higher median income levels than their non-citizen partners.  However, the non-citizen partners in binational couples have median incomes that are substantially higher than non-citizens with non-citizen partners.
 Almost two-thirds of binational same-sex couples own their home.  They are more than twice as likely to be home owners as dual non-citizen same-sex couples (30%).
 The vast majority of same-sex partners in binational couples speak English “well” or “very well”.   Among citizens in binational couples, 93% report a very good command of English compared to 81% of their non-citizen partners.
 More than 40% of citizens and non-citizens in same-sex binational couples have a college degree.
 Non-citizens in binational same-sex couples evidence low rates of unemployment at just 2%.  Nearly 8% of citizens in binational same-sex couples say they are unemployed
Immigration Equality is the premier national LGBT organization advocating for and assisting same-sex couples impacted by federal immigration policies. (MadProfessah has served on the board of the organization since November 2008).

Interestingly, the estimate of 28,574 is more precise but also smaller than the previous estimate of 36,000 binational couples in the United States but the 40,016 couples who are negatively impacted by current immigration law is slightly higher. MadProfessah is a naturalized citizen from the island-nation of Grenada, and Sentient Meat is a "natural born citizen" so we would be classified in the 6.1% of all U.S. same-sex couples who are both citizens where one partner is naturalized.

Friday, November 18, 2011

MA: Transgender Rights Bill Passes Legislature

The Massachusetts House passed the Transgender Civil Rights Bill 95-58 and the Senate passed it on a voice vote this week.

The Rainbow Times reports:
The measure, adopted by the House last night, passed the Senate by a voice vote this morning.  Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign the bill into law. It would go into effect July 1, 2012. 
The transgender civil-rights bill would add protections based on “gender identity” to the statutes banning discrimination in employment, housing, education, and credit. It would also add gender identity to current hate-crimes laws. 
The measure, however, does not include protections for public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants, restrooms, locker rooms, public buildings and transit, including subway and bus lines. 
That omission bothers a lead sponsor of the bill, Representative Carl M. Sciortino, Jr. (D-Medford). But he said, the bill is a step forward  “It makes sure that people who have faced violence and discrimination have legal remedy.”
Massachusetts will become the 16th state to include protections for transgender people from discrimination into law. Curious that this is happening more than 7 years after the state embraced marriage equality. Better late than never.

It's also a big deal that public accommodations are not included in the bill, but hopefully that will happen in the near future.

Approval of Congress Hits Single Digits (9%!)

Celebrity Friday: Annise Parker Easily Wins Re-election

Mayor Annise Parker, first openly gay chief executive of a major U.S. city
Annise Parker was easily re-elected to a second 2-year term as Mayor of Houston, Texas on Tuesday November 8. She gathered more than 50% of the vote in a 9-person field, thus avoiding a December run-off election. Two years ago, Parker made history when she became the first openly gay person to head a major United States city (Houston is the fourth largest city in the country).

The Advocate reports:

Parker, who received congratulatory calls Tuesday evening from Vice President Joseph Biden and Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said that her reelection and the victories of many openly gay candidates nationwide last night indicate a trend toward greater acceptance of LGBT elected officials.
“That doesn’t mean it’s easy,” Parker said. “If the only thing [voters] know about you as a candidate is that you’re openly gay or lesbian, it’s a negative. But if it’s only one of a series of data points about you, then they can filter that along with all of the other points.” 

Despite a current approval rating that is the lowest of any Houston mayor in recent history, according to the Houston Chronicle, Parker has worked to extend LGBT rights in a city that continues to prohibit domestic-partner benefits for gay municipal employees — the result of a voter referendum several years ago. In 2010 she issued an executive nondiscrimination order inclusive of gender identity (sexual orientation had been covered in a previous policy order by former mayor Bill White).
Congratulations, Mayor Parker!


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