Saturday, December 31, 2011

WATCH: Amazing Scene from Dangerous Liaisons

This is a great scene from my favorite movie of all-time, Dangerous Liaisons.

BOOK REVIEW: George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons

After a long wait of nearly six years since the publication of A Feast for Crows, the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's award-winning, best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons was released in July 2011.

The entire A Song of Ice and Fire series has had a higher profile lately, especially since HBO started airing a mini-series called Game of Thrones based on the first book, A Game of Thrones. Their intention is to shoot each season of the series roughly based on each book in the series. Peter Dinklage won a very important Emmy award (Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series) for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, one of the fan's favorite characters.

A Dance with Dragons was reviewed by all the major papers of record (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Time) as well as the usual suspects of media outlets online, generally positively. Among fans, however, the reviews are somewhat mixed, with the feeling that the latest book is closer to A Feast for Crows than  A Storm of Swords. To me, that's to be expected because the timeline of events that occurred in A Feast for Crows occupy about half of the book in A Dance with Dragons, happily told from the perspective of the fan's favorite characters. The problem with this is that not much progress was made on the huge, series-spanning plots like: Daenerys' march to Westeros from Essos, John Snow's attempts to maintain the Wall against the invasion of Creatures of the Frozen North, Bran Stark's destiny to actualize his magical talents and whether the Iron Throne will be controlled by someone who actually deserves the power and cherishes the people they rule, just to name a few. (By some counts, there were around  11 central plots covered in just this book).

On extended reflection, I think my overall evaluation of the book is closer to the official reviewer' than the fans'. I've only read A Dance with Dragons once, but I would still rank it as the second best book of the series, behind the impressive A Storm of Swords which is still the best of the bunch with A Dance with Dragons close behind, followed by A Clash of Kings and A Game of Thrones (the less said about A Feast for Crows, the better).

I had the good fortune of only starting to read the series in 2011, so I have not had to experience the half-decade long wait for the next installment in the series. Sadly, now that I have caught up with Martin's production schedule, I will have to comfort myself during the long wait for Book 6 (widely reported to be titled The Winds of Winter) by re-reading the first five books and watching the excellent HBO television adaptations of the earlier books (apparently each season of the series will be an adaptation of the corresponding book). Hopefully the next book will be out before the television series catches up with Martin!

Title: A Dance with Dragons.
George R.R. Martin.
Paperback: 1040 pages.
Published: July 12, 2011.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.917/4.0).


Friday, December 30, 2011

PNP Wins Jamaican Election In Landslide

This is good news! The People's National Party (PNP) has won a landslide election victory in Jamaica, defeating the ruling Jamaica Labor Party 41 seats to 22 in the 64-seat House of Repreentatives.

This is good news fpr the LGBT community because the waning days of the election campaign were fueled by heated discussions over Jamaica's "anti-buggery" (anti-sodomy) law, which PNP Leader and now Prime Minister-elect Portia Simpson Miller said she did not support.

Looks like the new government of Jamaica will be less accommodating of homophobia than any in recent history.
It also rumored that at least one member of the LGBT community was elected.

Celebrity Friday: Novak and Marko Djokovic Half-Naked Together

The #1 tennis player in the world Novak Djokovic, 24, and his younger brother Marko, 20, show off their, umm, toes, in the sand of Abu Dhabi with a "Santa camel" in this picture. The younger Djokovic is also a tennis player (ranked in the Top 1000) but has generally been receiving attention for being "that cute guy in Djokovic's spectator box" while he won 10 titles in 2011.

Hat/tip to TowleRoad

Thursday, December 29, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Other Half and I saw David Fincher's follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Social Network, the English-language film adaptation of the blockbuster thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The books written by Swede Stieg Larsson have sold over 65 million, with this first entry in the Millenium trilogy having individually sold over 30 million copies itself.

Fincher's movie stars Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomqvist, the intrepid, independent reporter and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl in the title and hacker/social misfit extraordinaire.

The script Fincher used to film this movie was written by acclaimed screenwriter Steve Zaillian (who won the Oscar for Schindler's List). The story follows the plot of the book quite closely, which is an excellent decision because the book is excellent (surely 30 million people can't be wrong!)

The movie is close to three hours long but never seems slow. There is so much story to pack into the running time. There are two main threads of the tale: the first, primary one involves the central mystery: a classic locked room mystery involving the disappearance of a 16-yer old girl 40-years ago. The second one involves learning about Lisbeth's background as she negotiates a horrible situation stemming from being an adult who is also a ward of the state and has  a court-appointed guardian.

Eventually the two threads intersect and the two (Lisbeth and Mikael) work together to solve the mystery. While they are trying to solve that mystery they stumble upon  a much larger, disturbing pattern of murders of young women. It seems like they must be hunting a misogynistic serial killer and it is this feature of the book which explains why it's original Swedish title translates to "Men Who Hate Women." The two, working together, do eventually solve both the mystery of the original disappearance they intended to solve as well as the one involving the serial killer that they discovered inadvertently.

The most important development involves the evolution of Lisbeth Salander. It is following her story which makes the audience interested in the sequels, despite the well-executed (and slightly modified) conclusion to the first installment.

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Director: David Fincher.
Running Time: 2 hours, 38 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.
Release Date: December 21, 2011.
Viewing Date: December 23, 2011.

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

Overall Grade: (3.5/4.0).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Ricky Gervais appears on the cover of New Humanist magazine where he is very explicit about his godlessness.

Here's a delightful excerpt from the interview but you should really go there and read the entire thing:
Did you lose your faith or never have any?
I used to believe in God. The Christian one, that is. (There are a few thousand to choose from. But I was born in a country where the dominant religion was Christianity so I believed in that one. Isn't it weird how that always happens?) Luckily I was also interested in science and nature. And reason and logic. And honesty and truth. And equality and fairness. By the age of eight I was an atheist. (That word shouldn’t even exist. It shouldn’t be needed. But it does. And it is.)
You studied philosophy at university – which philosophical idea has turned out to be most useful?
A few spring to mind. Bertrand Russell said, “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” That became more profound once I’d become famous. Ha Ha. And I love “There is no god higher than truth” – Mahatma Gandhi.
I wish there were more celebrities were open and honest about their atheism or agnosticism.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fake (Or Future) Headline?

SUCCULENT SUNDAY: Ortegocactus—lonely, lumpy & light green

Ortegocactus has an unusual, lumpy surface and distinctive, pale-green skin.

Ortegocactus, a genus with only one species: macdougallii
It's not very scientific to sort plants by how interesting they look. After all, why should a plant's place in science—the accidents of its evolution—also tickle our human sense of beauty? Why should a plant with scientific interest also match the desires of home growers of cacti and succulents?

Ortegocactus closeup. Note the furrows in the tubercle tops in this mature individual.
What does surprise me is how often plants which stick out in the science of plant naming—plants from a monospecific genus—are also interesting to look at.

Ortegocactus in habitat, photo by Amante Darmanin at
A monospecific genus is a genus with only one species. Sometimes this is an isolated population with millions of years of adaptation to a particular evolutionary niche—long enough to diverge from other genera. In other cases, plants from a monospecific genus may be highly variable in size and shape (or habit) and may occur over a wide region. The physical differences between populations are simply too slight, too insignificant to warrant different species names (aka specific epithets).

Ortegocactus habitat. Photo by Amante Darmanin at
Ortegocactus is a monospecific genus thought to be isolated for much of its recent evolution. In habitat, Ortegocactus macdougallii is known from one small area—the limestone scree and escarpments of a hill known as El Cántaro, 4km west of San José Lachiguiri, Oaxaca, Mexico.
The exact position of Ortegocactus in the cactus evolutionary tree has been debated. Recent molecular phylogenetic work by Butterworth places it close to genus Neolloydia and Cochemiea and to the series Ancistracanthae within the enormous genus Mammillaria, now seen to be polyphyletic.

The municipality of San José Lachiguiri lies between 16 ° 22' north latitude and 96 ° 21' west longitude at 1670 meters above sea level.

See Also

Ortegocactus at
Ortegocactus at Cactus-Art.Biz
Ortegocactus at WelcomeToCactusLand.Com
Ortegocactus at
San José Lachiguiri at the Encyclopedia of Mexico Municipalities, State of Oaxaca
Butterworth, Charles A. and Wallace, Robert S. 2004. Phylogenetic studies of Mammillaria (Cactaceae)—insights from chloroplast sequence variation and hypothesis testing using the parametric bootstrap. American Journal of Botany. 91:1086-1098.
Addendum: quote from Butterworth's paper and commentary:
Clade A [a group which appears to have evolved from a single population] includes sampled members of the genera Coryphantha, Escobaria, and Pelecyphora, which form sister lineages to sampled taxa of Hunt’s and Lu ?thy’s series Ancistracanthae and subgenus Cochemiea, respectively, thus clearly demonstrating paraphyly within Mammillaria. Furthermore, within the core group of series Ancistracanthae sensu Hunt and subgenus Cochemiea sensu Lu ?thy, our phylogeny places Ortegocactus macdougallii and Neolloydiaconoidea. Discovered by MacDougall in the early 1950s and described by Alexander (1961), Ortegocactus macdougallii has been contentious in its placement in relation to other members of tribe Cacteae. Bravo-Hollis and Sanchez-Mejorada (1991) sank this genus into Neobesseya, members of which are now commonly accepted as species of Escobaria (Hunt, 1992, 1999; Barthlott and Hunt, 1993). Hunt and Taylor (1986, 1990) suggested that Ortegocactus may be referable to the genus Mammillaria, although an official transfer to Mammillaria was not made. Barthlott and Hunt (1993) also commented on the similarities of Ortegocactus and Mammillaria, going so far as to suggest that Ortegocactus is reminiscent of M. schumannii. Butterworth et al. (2002) also suggested that Ortegocactus shared a greater affinity with members of Mammillaria than with Escobaria or Coryphantha. The data presented in this paper do indeed show that O. macdougallii is embedded within members of Mammillaria, its closest Mammillaria relatives including M. schumannii. However, at present the transfer of Ortegocactus to Mammillaria would be inappropriate because of the polyphyletic nature of Mammillaria as seen in our analyses.
Translation: Ortegocactus appears to share the same lineage of many Mammillaria, so much so that its DNA (and the model we reconstruct from this DNA of Ortegocactus evolution) would justify calling it a Mammillaria... EXCEPT that other genera also have this same problem, too—Neolloydia, Cochemiea, some Coryphantha and Escobaria. They all seem to be closely embedded within the evolutionary tree of what we otherwise call Mammillaria. So it would be hasty to rename Ortegocactus until we figure out what to do with ALL these naming problems.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best (Women's) Tennis Matches of 2011

Here are my picks for the "best" (or most memorable) tennis matches by women in 2011. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring, feature some of the best play or most amazing shots, had the most impact on the rest of the tennis season or are matches that I would most likely to watch again in the future. You can see my previous lists: Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2011Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2010Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2009 and Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2006. (There were no men's lists in 2007 and in 2008 I was too busy with post-Proposition 8 activities to compile Men or Women.) I have also compiled lists of the Best Women's Tennis Matches for 2005200620072009 and 2010. These can all be accessed at my Tennis tab which also contains my coverage of the four major tournaments.

1. F. Schiavone ITA d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-4 1-6 16-14, 2011 Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
Less than one year after the longest men's match of all time enthralled the entire world (and not just fans of tennis or sports) the longest women's grand slam match of all time occurred in the 4th round of Asia-Pacific's major tournament to very little acclaim or notice (by anyone but hardcore tennis fans). 2-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova faced the reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in a mind-boggling battle of wills and fitness which lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes. Schiavone saved 6 match points in the 3-hour long final set and needed 3 match points of her own before finally prevailing to win 6-4 1-6 16-14. Kuznetsova was coming off one of her most satisfying wins by defeating her bete noire Justine Henin the round before, setting events in motion which would lead to that 7-time major champion announcing her (second) retirement soon afterwards. Anyway, back to the best women's match of 2011. The tennis (especially the last 80 minutes or so) was of an extremely high quality, with both players refusing to give an inch and pushing their bodies to their physical limits as they battled on and on and on for nearly 5 hours. Kuznetsova served for the match twice and repeatedly broke Schiavone when the Italian was serving for the match in the seemingly interminable 3rd set and although the 6 match points the Russian lost would seem to confirm her reputation for mental frailty, the reality is that the majority of these points were on Schiavone's serve and the Italian played some of her gutsiest tennis when she had her back against the wall. After multiple opportunities were squandered, the 30-year-old was able to come back from 0-30 down in the final game and execute a surprise serve-and-volley tactic to win the last point of this emotionally taut contest at the net with a crisp volley into the open court, demolishing her good friend Kuznetsova's hope for a good start to the year.

2. N. Li CHN d. F. Schiavone ITA, 6-4 7-6(0), 2011 French Open final, Paris.
The fact that a woman from a country with over 1 billion citizens was able to indelibly add her name to the tennis history books by winning her first major title is the single most important thing to happen this year that will impact the future of the sport. Amazingly, Li Na was appearing in her second consecutive major final, and ended up being the only player who was able to reach two major finals in 2011. Faced with the wily defending champion from Italy, the hard-hitting player from China was able to harness her power and control her emotions as she played the match of her life with the hopes and dreams of tens of millions of people hanging on every swing of her racquet. Schiavone showed that her win over the much-vaunted Australian Samantha Stosur the year before was no fluke by nearly repeating that feat this year. However this time Schiavone faced a player who used the experience gained from losing one major final to avoid repeating that result and instead successfully reached her goal while playing excellent, exciting tennis. Li played a tactically flawless match until she was about 2 games away from winning her first major and then she got a little nervous and let Schiavone back in the match. A controversial line call almost led to a set point for Schiavone, but instead she found herself in a tiebreak where her game completely unraveled against the Chinese barrage of pin-point accurate groundstrokes and she relinquished her major title with grace and style.

3. P. Kvitova CZE d. M. Sharapova RUS6-3 6-4, 2011 Wimbledon final, London.
Kvitova had been on the list of up-and-coming players to watch for quite awhile, having become the lowest ranked player (#143) ever to beat Venus Williams way back in 2008 and breaking through to lose a surprisingly taut 2-set semifinal encounter with eventual champion Serena Williams at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. Just one year later, Kvitova demolished the 3-time major champion Maria Sharapova relatively easily in the young Czech's very first major final appearance. It was a glittering performance, surprising to some, but not to anyone like myself who had been closely following the trajectories of thew two players through the tournament. Sharapova was constantly having serving issues throughout the tournament, usually winning matches with double fault totals in the double digits. Kvitova, on the other hand, was playing her brand of high-stakes, go-for-broke style of tennis regardless of the score and was allowing her lefty serve and penetrating groundstrokes to sweep her opponents off the court. Sharapova was just her latest, but not her last, victim. 

4. M. Bartoli FRA d. S. Williams USA6-3 7-6(3), 2011 Wimbledon 4th round, London.
 The 2007 Wimbledon finalist was facing the 4-time Wimbledon champion in only Serena's 3rd event back after a nearly year-long hiatus from the sport in which she nearly died due to a freak illness. Bartoli is known as one of the most unconventional players on the tour, hitting her groundstrokes with two-hands on both sides and what can only be described as a curious service motion concocted by her coach and father. However, in this showdown with the most powerful player on tour Bartoli produced flawless tennis from every aspect of her game, repeatedly out-hitting the 13-time major champion on both the forehand and backhand sides. But it was the Frenchwoman's serve that was the true weapon. She had made the decision early on to go for both her first and second serves and it paid off. Her service percentage was incredibly high and her surprisingly powerful second serve was very effective. This match was one of the rare occasions when Serena Williams was on the court but the outcome of the match was not really dependent on the American's level of play, but would be decided by the Frenchwoman continuing to play some of the best tennis of the year until she won the last point of the match. 

5. S. Stosur AUS d. S. Williams USA6-2 6-3, 2011 U.S. Open Final, New York.
This result was one of the most surprising in a major final in the last decade. Serena Williams had won 18 consecutive hard court matches in a row, racking up two titles, including one won over this very opponent during that streak. Stosur was clearly playing some of her best tennis during the tournament, displaying surprising mental toughness by surviving grueling 3-set matches with Maria Kirilenko (which featured the longest tie-breaker in women's grand slam tennis) and Nadia Petrova (which featured the most number of games in a women's match at the US Open)Stosur had learned from the experience of famously losing the 2010 French Open final to Schiavone despite being heavily favored to win. This time Stosur was not favored to win this match and I believe this freed her up to play some of the best tennis of her career. Serena obviously was not playing some of her best tennis, her total of 5 games in a Grand Slam match is her lowest total in her entire career. The reason for this performance is still unexplained and remains a mystery. Personally, I think it is because Serena re-injured her foot during her semifinal beatdown of World #1 Caroline Wozniacki the night before. Regardless of what the cause for her listless play was, the match is now famous for another reason: the ridiculous decision by the umpire to dock Serena a point (and thus a game, since the incident occurred on a break point) for a verbal outburst during play which allegedly hindered her opponent. Even without that exciting (and controversial) moment this match would be memorable for the rare result of Serena Williams losing a major final and the very popular Sam Stosur finally actualizing her talent to win a major.

6. P. Kvitova CZE d. V. Azarenka BLR, 7-5 4-6 6-3, 2011 WTA Championships, Istanbul.
The very last competitive match on tour at the year end championships is often on the list of most memorable matches of the year because by definition the winner of that match is most likely to have an impact on the following year's tennis results. This year, Petra Kvitova, the most improved player on tour this year (zooming from #34 at the end of 2010 to #2 at the end of 2011) won the year-end championship by culminating her astonishing 18-match indoor winning streak with a hard-fought 3-set win over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. The match was also one of the more exciting encounters on tour all year long. The Czech powerhouse rolled to a quick 5-0 lead in the first set, blasting powerful winners into all four corners of the court. Then, surprisingly, Azarenka was able to slowly crawl her way back into the match as Kvitova's balls started having difficulty landing in the court. Eventually Azarenka was able to even the first set at 5-all by winning five games in a row but then ended up losing the set as Kvitova was able to rein in her errors at precisely the right moment. In the second set, Azarenka got pretty lucky when she went for broke on her first set point and painted the sideline for a winner, evening the match at 1 set each. After saving two breakpoints in the first game of the third set and eventually holding serve, Kvitova never looked back and eventually wracked up an insurmountable lead which she maintained easily to win her second million-dollar plus payday of the year, but it is very likely there will be many more such days in her future. Kvitova is "the real deal," joining Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova as one of the rare players to win the year-end championships in her debut at the tournament. Azarenka, too, should be pleased with her performance in Istanbul because she was finally able to reach the final of a very important tournament, and this should bode well for her goal of becoming a major champion in 2011.

7. S. Lisicki GER d. N. Li CHN, 3-6 6-4 8-6, 2011 Wimbledon 3rd Round, London.
This match featured some of the most dramatic moments and best tennis at Wimbledon this year. Lisicki had won one of the grass-court warm-up tournaments and received a wild card entry into Wimbledon by the All-England Lawn Tennis Club's seeding committee after she handwrote a personal plea to the committee because her ranking had plummeted due to a serious injury. Li was a newly crowned Grand Slam champion and has often had good results on this surface as well. She won the first set relatively easily and had 2 match points on Lisicki's serve at 4-5 in the third set when an astonishing thing happened: the German player served 4 consecutive service winners (including two aces) to hold serve and completely even the match at 5-all. It was one of the gutsiest serving performances of the year and immediately hurtled this match into the top tier for the year. Wimbledon, famously, does not have a tie-break in the deciding set and so the match would have to end after a service break. What followed was a tense contest of will and nerve which Li lost when she lost her serve and Lisicki was able to call upon her excellent nerves (and serves) again to serve out the match and eventually reach the semifinals (where she would lose to Sharapova).

8. S. Williams USA d. V. Azarenka BLR, 6-1 7-6(5), 2011 U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York. 
When the draw for the 2011 US Open came out this showdown between the recovering 13-time major champion and the World's #4 ranked player was quickly identified as likely to be one of the best matches of the tournament. Surprisingly, the actual contest easily matched (and perhaps surpassed) these mouth-watering expectations. What resulted was a clinic on "Big Babe" tennis as both players pounded the balls into the far reaches of the court and demonstrated their spectacular defensive and offensive skills to produce extended rallies. In the first set there was really not much that Vika could do to get the ball past Serena and she was actually pretty lucky to win the one game she did. In the second set it was pretty much a lot of the same, with Serena managing to break in the seventh game and hold in the 8th to go up 6-1 5-3 when suddenly things started to get verrry interesting. Azarenka was able to hold her serve in that game despite looking straight into the jaws of defeat at triple match point at 0-40, forcing Serena to try to serve out the match at 5-4. Amazingly, despite having a match point on her own serve, Serena was broken and suddenly the 2nd set was completely even and the momentum had completely shifted to the higher ranked player. Despite needing 3 deuces, Azarenka was able to hold her service game, pushing her nose ahead in the set for the first time to 6-5. A quick hold by Serena resulted in a tiebreaker which was a must win for Azarenka. Unfortunately for her, Serena was able to reach her 5th match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak and win the match due to one more error by her opponent.

9. K. Clijsters BEL d. N. Li CHN, 3-6 6-3 6-3, 2011 Australian Open final, Melbourne.
Kim Clijsters had won three U.S. Open titles (2005, 2009 and 2010) and appeared in 4 other major finals but had never been able to actually win the title at any other major except for in New York. This was always somewhat surprising since she is almost universally loved in Australia due to her longtime (ended) relationship with Lleyton Hewitt where the locals have taken to calling her "Aussie Kim." With defending champion Serena Williams unable to defend her 2010 title due to illness, Clijsters was the favorite to finally claim her first Australian Open title, despite her #3 seeding. Li, on the other hand, was finally able to break through to her first Grand Slam final after reaching four quarterfinals and one semifinal in her illustrious career to date. She had had to get past the #1 ranked player in the world to do so, and she did it in a tough 3-set match while saving a match point. No one really gave the Chinese player much of a chance in this final  even though she had beaten Clijsters a few weeks before in Sydney (by coming back from a 0-5 deficit). So it was quite surprising when Li won the first set relatively easily and stayed even for the early part of he second set by trading service breaks. Clijsters calmed down in the last two sets and dug in, determined to get as much balls back in the court as possible and reduced her unforced errors, eventually leading to her first win in Australia. Unfortunately for her, Aussie Kim's brilliant start to the year was the best part of her 2011 as she did not win any other tournaments for the rest of the year and ended up skipping Wimbledon and the U.S. Open completely.

10. S. Kuznetsova RUS d  J. Henin BEL, 6-4 7-6(8), 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
The 2-time major champion from Russia had always had difficulty winning matches against the 7-time major champion from Belgium; Henin lead their career head-to-head rivalry 16 to 2 when they met in the 2011 Australian Open 3rd round where Henin had reached the final the year before. It was the first time the two  had met since Henin had "unretired" and in the interim Kuznetsova had picked up her second major title (the 2009 French Open). Henin did not play her best tennis in this encounter, but Henin had beaten Kuznetsova over a dozen times without always playing her best tennis so I'm sure she very much expected to win this match. Kuznetsova came out strong early and secured the break in the first set and nursed it to take the set without much complication. In the second set, Kuznetsova served for the match (twice!) but was broken both times and was forced to save multiple set points in the tiebreaker, which was one of nerviest and drama-filled affairs of the year. Losing this match was a huge contributing factor to  Henin announcing her second (and presumably last) retirement from competitive tennis. The departure of the 7-time major champion and the absence of the 13-time major champion Serena Williams led to the occurrence of four individual winners of the four majors this year.

A. Petkovic GER d. C. Wozniacki DEN, 7-5 3-6 6-3, 2011 Sony Erisson Open 4th Round, Miami.
N. Li CHN d. C. Wozniacki DEN3-6 7-5 6-3, 2011 Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.
K.Clijsters BEL d. A. Ivanovic SRB, 7-6(4) 3-6 7-6(5), 2011 Sony Ericssno Open 4th Round.
M. Sharapova RUS d. A. Dulgheru ROU, 3-6 7-6(6) 7-6(5), 2011 Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinal.
F. Schiavone ITA d. A. Pavlyuchenkova RUS, 1-6 7-5 7-5, 2011 French Open quarterfinal, Paris.

S. Stosur AUS d. N. Petrova RUS, 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-5, 2011 U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York
S. Stosur AUS d. M. Kirilenko RUS, 6-2 6-7(15) 6-3, 2011 U.S. Open 4th Round, New York.
C. Wozniacki DEN d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-7(6) 7-5 6-1, U.S. Open 4th Round, New York.
M. Bartoli FRA d. V. Azarenka BLR, 5-7 6-4 6-4 , WTA Championships, Istanbul.
E. Makarova RUS  d  A. Ivanovic SRB, 3-6 6-4 10-8, 2011 Australian Open 1st Round, Melbourne.
K. Clijsters BEL d  D. Safina RUS, 6-0 6-0, 2011 Australian Open 1st Round, Melbourne.
M. Sharapova RUS d  J. Georges GER, 4-6 6-4 6-4, 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
A. Petkovic GER d  V. Williams USA, 1-0 (retired), 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
C. Wozniacki DEN d  F. Schiavone ITA, 3-6 6-3 6-3, 2011 Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
N. Li CHN d. K. Clijsters BEL, 7-6(3) 6-3, 2011 Sydney final, Sydney.
A. Petkovic GER d  M. Sharapova RUS, 6-3 6-2, 2011 Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
P. Kvitova CZE d  S. Stosur AUS, 7-6(5) 6-3, 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

MI: Governor Signs Bill Ending DP Benefits For Public Employees

Governor Rick Snyder (R) was elected in 2010 and used his  Republican majority
in both houses to strip domestic partner benefits from all unmarried public employees
Wow. This is incredibly horrendous news (especially if you live in, or know anyone who lives in, Michigan). The Republican Governor and State Legislature of Michigan have enacted a law which bans the state (and any local subdivision) from offering domestic partnership benefits to public employees. reports:
Public employees, including state and local government workers and public school teachers, will no longer be allowed to extend their health care benefits to domestic partners.
It is unclear whether the bill applies to state universities, although Snyder asserts that it does not. House Republicans, meanwhile, say it does apply to university employees.
The move is a blow to gay and lesbian activists throughout the state.
"We’re so very disappointed in the governor," Kary L. Moss, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union's Michigan chapter, said in an interview. "This was the moment for him to show real leadership, to rise above what I believe is petty politics, to tell the rest of the country that Michigan is not living in the dark ages and to create an open, inclusive Michigan."
Governor Snyder vetoed a companion bill (HB 4771) which would have applied the domestic partnership ban (HB 4770) to state universities while he signed this bill into law.

AK and SD Only States Without Openly LGBT Elected

There are only two states in the Union which do not have a single openly LGBT elected official at any level: South Dakota and Alaska. Mississippi used to be on the list until last week when Mayor Greg Davis of Southhaven, MS admitted that he was gay after auditors found he had tried to get reimbursed for expenses at a an adult store while on a business trip to Canada!

According to Denis Dison at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund:
That doesn’t mean these states aren’t served by LGBT elected officials, just that none have self-identified publicly either in speeches or in the media.  But one group that supports out elected officials says there’s a reason this matters.
“It’s important that people know there are LGBT people serving in public office, especially in their own communities.  That doesn’t mean that LGBT issues are front and center in their work.  In some cases just being open and honest about that part of our lives has great potential to deepen understanding of our community, and that makes a huge difference,” said Tiffany Muller, Vice President for Programs at the Victory Institute.
The Victory Institute maintains the most up-to-date database of out LGBT officials available, and in recent years elected officials in states like Kansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and North Dakota have been added.  The group has a goal in 2012 of having identified at least one out elected official in every state in the U.S.  ”That will mark a really significant milestone for LGBT Americans, and it will be a symbol of how far we’ve come as a country,” Muller said.
Who wants to bet that there are closeted politicians serving in elected office in South Dakota and Alaska right now (and maybe getting a  little nervous)?
Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NM: Plurality Support For Marriage Equality

A new PPP poll out of New Mexico shows that more people support marriage equality than oppose it. The key questions are:
Q7 Do you think same-sex marriage should be
legal or illegal?
Legal ...................... .45%
Illegal ..................... .43%
Not sure ................. .12%
Q8 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
Gay couples should
be allowed to form
civil unions but not
There should be no
legal recognition of
a gay couple's
relationship .............32%
Not sure ................. . 2%
Thus New Mexico joins other Western states like Colorado and Nevada where other recent polls show plurality support for marriage equality. Unfortunately, unless and until polls start showing majority support for marriage equality (outside the margin of error, which in this case was +/-4.4 points) the LGBT community is unlikely to have a decent chance winning a ballot measure fight to end civil marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.

FILM REVIEW: Tinker, Sailor, Soldier, Spy

I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at the Landmark Theaters E-Street Cinema in Washington, D.C. with some co-workers. I had never read the John Le Carrré’s classic bestselling novel on which the film is based or seen the classic BBC adaptation starring the great Sir Alec Guinness but I had heard a radio interview with Gary Oldman  which intrigued me.

The basic outline of the story is about the search for a possible Russian double agent at the very top echelons of the British Intelligence Service (called M.I.-6) in the mid 1970s at the height of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Bloc. There are four main suspects, codenamed (you guessed it) "Tinker," "Tailor," "Soldier," and "Poor Man" with "Beggarman" being the codename given to the main protagonist portrayed by Oldman, whose character's name is George Smiley.

The movie is set in London in the 1970s and the filmmakers have taken their charge very seriously, meticulously re-creating a 1970s workplace with a striking lack of racial or ethnic diversity, ubiquitous smoking and inappropriate social situations. Watching the movie in 2011 one is also immediately struck by the lack of technology we take for granted: no computers, no cell phones (not even cordless phones!), no satellite/GPS technology.

The investigation into the mole involves a lot of examination of papers and starts off incredibly slowly. For the first ten minutes of the movie there is almost no dialogue and almost no action to speak of. I believe the film makers are trying to put the audience in the position of the characters where both groups are starting with no information and trying to piece together what is going on from various cues and small, disconnected bits of information.

In fact, communication and the movement of information (or intelligence) between individuals is a central theme of the film. Multiple times, a question is asked of one character to another and the director cuts to a different scene without explicitly depicting the answer to the question being given. The audience is required to infer the answer to the question from subsequent scenes and actions by the characters. This is similar to how Oldman's Smiley has to infer the answers to questions he has about the motivations behind the actions of his four "old friends" who are now his main suspects for betraying their country.

Oldman's Smiley is a quiet, horn-rimmed glasses and tweed-jacket wearing middle-aged British bloke. He looks more like an accountant than an international spy with a license to kill. Most of the "action" per se is in watching Oldman's reactions as he doggedly chases the truth and he sifts through the responses people are giving him to his questions. However, as the movie unspools the pace accelerates faster and faster, like a ball of twine rolling down hill. The audience has to pay more and closer attention to keep hold of the thread.

The rest of the cast is also stellar, featuring John Hurt, 2011 Best Actor Oscar-winner Colin Firth, Inception's Tom Hardy and PBS's Sherlock Ian Cumberbatch.

TitleTinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Release Date: December 9, 2011.
Viewing Date: December 16, 2011.

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

Overall Grade: (3.5/4.0).

Celebrity Friday: Zach Wahls

Zach Wahls, is a 19-year-old student from Iowa who was raised by his two moms and became an internet celebrity earlier this year when he defended his family in brilliant, emotionally moving testimony before the state House of Representatives which was considering legislation to ban gay marriage in the state. Zach is today's subject for Celebrity Friday.

This week comes news that his video has been watched almost 16 million times, becoming the most watched political video of 2011, ahead of President Obama's announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden and President Obama's humorous speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, among others.

Watch it again, and weep!

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Godless Wednesday: Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

This week on Godless Wednesday we are commemorating the untimely passing of Christopher Hitchens, who has been the public face of godlessness for a decade at least.

Here's an excerpt of part of an obituary of Hitch from Slate magazine:
Born in Portsmouth, England, in 1949, Hitchens studied at Oxford before launching his journalism career in the 1970s with the magazines International Socialism and the New Statesman. In the early 1980s, he emigrated to the United States, where he was a regular columnist at The Nation for two decades before parting ways with the liberal magazine after proudly disagreeing with its editors about the Iraq war.
Hitchens won the National Magazine Award for commentary in 2007, the same year that he became an American citizen on his 58th birthday. Foreign Policy named him to its list of the top 100 public intellectuals the following year, and Forbes magazine labeled him one of the 25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media in 2009, a distinction that took some by surprise given Hitchens's vocal support of George W. Bush's war on terror.
He was a frequent guest on news programs and at public debates, and rarely passed up the opportunity to defend his positions when given the opportunity to do so. He was the author of nearly 20 books, including God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, The Trial of Henry KissingerHitch-22: A Memoir, and Arguably, a collection of his more recent essays that was published earlier this year.
Hitchens remained steadfast in his criticism of religion even in the face of his grim prognosis. In an August 2010 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, his colleague at The Atlantic, Hitchens made it known that even if he were to somehow recant his devout atheism on his deathbed, any apparent conversion would be a hollow gesture. "The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain," he said. "I can't guarantee that such an entity wouldn't make such a ridiculous remark. But no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a ridiculous remark."

WATCH: Trailer for 2012's The Hobbit

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Teenaged Killers Sentenced To Decades In Prison

The Los Angeles Times reports that Brandon McInerney was sentenced yesterday by a judge to 21 years in prison (without the possibility of early release due to the terms of the plea agreement with prosecutors) for the brutal killing of his middle-school classmate on February 12, 2008 so that he will be almost 39 years old when he leaves prison, having spent more than half his life behind bars.

Lawrence King's father Greg King read a statement in court before the sentencing in which he lambasted various groups and entities:
Though he holds McInerney responsible for shooting his son, King said the school's response since the shooting has been despicable.

District leaders have made no changes in policy or procedures, saying they are unnecessary because the school's staff followed the law in allowing Larry to augment his school uniform with women's accessories. To date, no formal changes have been made, although the school district paid $25,000 toward a $255,000 civil lawsuit settlement for King's family.

"It is obvious the school did something wrong," King spat out at the hearing. "Rather than learning from it and striving to make a safer environment for our children, they hid behind lawyers."

McInerney's neck grew flushed as King spoke. The teenager, whose feet were shackled and who wore a white T-shirt and baggy blue pants, declined to make a statement. But his attorney, Scott Wippert, said his client was remorseful.

"He has stated repeatedly that if he could go back and take back his act, he would do it in a heartbeat,'' Wippert said as his client sat silently. "He lives with this every day, every night."

The attorney said McInerney also apologized to the King family, to his own family and to classmates in the computer lab where he pulled a .22-caliber handgun out of a backpack and shot King at point-blank range. Some of his former classmates were in court Monday, wiping tears from their eyes.
Greg King also addressed his son's killer directly, saying: “You took upon yourself to be a bully and to hate a smaller kid, wanting to be a big man on campus,” Greg King told McInerney. “You have left a hole in my heart where Larry was and it can never be filled.”

Bizarrely, today, just one day after the McInerney sentencing, another teenage killer, Tom Lore Vinson was sentenced to 155(!) years for the accidental killing of 16-year-old high school honor student Melody Ross while shooting at two rival gang members October 31, 2009.

Is what Vinson did 7 time worse than what Brandon McInerney did? Why is his sentence 7 times longer then?

Things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmm!


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