Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NH Gov Issues Veto Threat On Marriage Equality Repeal

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Virginia: As Homophobic As They Wanna Be

Careful readers of this blog may realize that I currently live in California and Virginia (Los Angeles and Arlington County, respectively). Anyway, so these days I am paying more careful attention to what goes on in the Virginia legislature, especially as it affects "teh gays."

This little news nugget at Joe.My.God struck my eye. A Virginia legislative committee rejected a bil which would have outlawed discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Last November Republicans seized control of the Virginia Senate (there are equal number of Democrats and Republicans but the Lieutenant Governor is a Republican and he can break ties) and anti-gay public policy is one consequence:
Reflecting the recent switch from Democratic to Republican control of the Virginia Senate, a bill aimed at prohibiting discrimination in state hiring on the basis of sexual orientation was defeated today.
The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee rejected Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bill,SB263, on an 8-7 party-line vote.
A similar measure was passed by the Senate last year when it had a Democratic majority, only to be defeated in the Republican-led House of Delegates. Republicans won effective control of the Senate in the November election.
Really? In 2012 when lots of other states are talking about enacting marriage equality (which has majority public support among Americans nationally in polls) and most people already think it is illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation and upwards of 70% support laws to ban anti-gay discrimination, the Virginia legislature is continuing the homophobic status quo.

And, that, basically tell you all you need to know about Virginia!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Eye Candy: James Guardino (3rd time!)

James Guardino is a very famous fitness model, primarily known for his work with the Undergear Catalog. He has appeared as Eye Candy on December 28, 2009 and October 31, 2011. He is the canonical "cute white boy," although he is "half-German and half-Italian." He joins the small but growingnumber of models who have been featured as Eye Candy thrice times here at MadProfesssah.com.

These digital shots are apparently taken relatively recently (in October 2011). Still looking good!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

AUS OPEN 2012: Djokovic Wins 5th Major Title

As I predicted yesterdayNovak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in the longest grand slam final of all-time 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5 in 5 hours and 53 minutes in Melbourne, Australia to win  his 3rd Australian Open title, and 5th major title overall.

The words that come to mind to describe the level of the play in this match are  "stunning," "incredible," "astonishing" and "ridiculous." There is an excellent breakdown of the match set by set by ESPN.com columnist Ravi Ubha. He is is (somewhat prematurely, I think) calling it the greatest major final of the Open era.

I'm not ready to call it that yet but I do think it deserves to be in the conversation, and will almost certainly be the most memorable match of the year. (But even that is difficult to predict; if it takes nearly 6 hours to complete a five-set match between these two players on a hard court surface, what the heck will happen if they face each other in the finals of Roland Garros' red clay?)

Djokovic has inserted himself into the conversation about the greatest player of all time. If Rafael Nadal dominates Roger Federer (currently leading their head to head 18-9) and Novak Djokovic has won a jaw-dropping seven matches in a row against Nadal, every single one a final (3 of them major finals) and Federer leads his head-to-head with Djokovic 14-10 (including inflicting the Serbian's only 2011 loss in a major) then who is the G.O.A.T.? (I would argue it is the person who wins the most major singles titles, period, and thus Federer.)

One of the most amazing thing about the 2012 Australian Open final were the switches of momentum. Nadal wins the first set but then loses the next two. In the 4th set Djokovic had triple break point when Nadal was serving at 3-4 when Nadal won a string of 5 points in a row with some otherworldly play which evened the score. In the 4th set tiebreak Djokovic led 5-3 and hit an attempted forehand winner down the line which would have given him 3 consecutive championship points and pushed it wide instead. After getting back on serve in the tiebreak, Nadal won the last 3 points of the tiebreak to even the set at 2-sets all.

In the 5th set, I (like most observers and commentators) presumed Nadal would win. This was the competitors first 5th set ever, so it showed that Nadal had made progress from the previous 29 meetings. Djokovic was looking visibly tired and deflated after being tantalizingly close to winning the match in 4 sets. Nadal was actually hitting the ball harder in the 5th set than he had in the first (average groundstroke speed was 3 mph higher, 75mph to 72mph)! Nadal broke first and was at 4-2, 30-15 when he inexplicably hit a sitter backhand just wide of the line instead of the open court Djokovic had conceded. That was all it took for the Serb to come back. He won that point and the next to get his first break point and eventually evened the 4th set at 4-all. The 5th set was the first set in the match where Nadal was serving first so Djokovic had the scoreboard pressure of playing from behind. This was crucial when Nadal held to go up 5-4 in the 5th set, but the Spaniard never even got a sniff in Djokovic's service game leading to 5-all. The 11th game of the 5th set was the decider, with Djokovic breaking Nadal on his second opportunity and served for the championship at 6-5. He quickly got up 30-0 but then Nadal won the next three points (mostly on Djokovic errors forced by Nadal's excellent play) to have a breakpoint to even the match and for the first time in over 3 hours  Djokovic saved a breakpoint (Nadal was 4 of 5 on breakpoints to that point). Djokovic was able to win the last 3 points of the match to get back to duece at 6-5 and then won the last two points with excellent first serves which enabled him to get ahead in the rally early and he won the match on his first championship point with an easy inside-out forehand cross-court winner. For the first time (and probably not the last) Novak Djokovic defended a major title. If he wins the French Open in June (which I think is a distinct possibility) he will have won 4 slams in a row, something no man has been able to do since Rod Laver.

Absolutely amazing. On to the rest of 2012!

SUCCULENT SUNDAY: Mammillaria carmenae, blonde bombshell

If you were marooned on a... ahem... DESERT island and could only grow one genus of cactus... okay humor me here... don't you think it would probably be...



Mammillaria is a large genus with about 140–180 species, depending on who's listing them. So if you're stuck on that hypothetical desert island, you won't be limiting your options very much.

Pilbeam (1999) recognizes 181 Mammillaria species and of these Hunt (1999) accepts 145. Any way you split this genus, it is one of the most varied in the Cactaceae, and it also has wide distribution: southward as far as Colombia and Venezuela and northward extending into the American Southwest. The greatest richness and diversity of Mammillaria varieties is in Mexico.

Mammillaria carmenae is native to Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Mammillaria carmenae, a particularly blonde and pink-flowered individual cared for and photographed by Mr Sentient Meat. Spines can vary from yellow to white. Flowers can be white, pink or pink-tinged white.
Mammillaria is a very diverse group; however none of these cacti are giant trees. They are all small-to-medium-size "globular" (roundish) cacti. Some are solitary; others grow into large clumps. They all have distinctive bumps which remind scientists of breasts enough to earn the name mammillae—thus the genus name (or as they say in the lingo, the generic epithet).

Mammillaria carmenae, same plant, different angle
The plant pictured is fully grown at around 3 inches tall and 2 inches in diameter. This species is known to grow in clusters, so it's probably time for me to move it to a larger pot where it can spread out and grow more bodies.

Mammillaria carmenae has pale yellow to white spines, and each areole (at the tip of each mammilla) has over 100 spines, obscuring the surface of the plant almost entirely. It reminds me a bit of Mammillaria candida (profiled recently) or Mammillaria lasiacantha (in the collection but not profiled yet). Surprisingly, these similar-looking cousins are not its closest relatives.

Instead, according to molecular studies by Butterworth and Wallace (2002), Mammillaria carmenae is most closely related to M pectinifera, a bizarre subminiature which is about to bloom in my yard. I hope to profile it soon. You'd never guess these two are so closely related. M pectinifera (means "comb-bearing") resembles a strange, round top with spine-beds (areoles) like tiny, multilegged creatures. You'll see!

See Also

ANDERSON, E. F. 2001. The cactus family. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

HUNT, D. 1999. CITES Cactaceae checklist. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, UK.

BUTTERWORTH, C.;  WALLACE, R.  2002. "Phylogenetic studies of Mammillaria (Cactaceae)—Insights from chloroplast sequence variation and hyptothesis testing using the parametric bootstrap". American Journal of Botany 91(7): 1086–1098. 2004.

PILBEAM, J. 1999. Mammillaria. Nuffield Press, Oxford, UK.

Also... coming soon, Mr Sentient Meat, chief plant profiler for Succulent Sunday, is very excited to be upgrading his library with the top, current, go-to reference for cactus:
HUNT, D. 2006. New cactus lexicon. dh books. Sherborne, England, UK.

[I can practically feel your excitement from here. —Mr S M]

College Frosh Overwhelmingly Support Marriage Equality

Interesting news about how badly heterosexual supremacists like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are losing the cultural war on marriage equality with the next generation. A new survey of incoming freshman students at the nation's college from the prestigious Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA shows overwhelming (and increasing) support for marriage equality among college students:
An unprecedented 71.3 percent of incoming college students indicated that same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status, compared with 64.9 percent in 2009, a remarkable 6.4 percentage-point increase over a two-year period. While support for same-sex marriage is highest among female students and those who identify as liberal, a significant amount of conservative students (42.8 percent) and an increasing number of male students (64.1 percent in 2011 vs. 56.7 percent in 2009) expressed support for this issue.
And they are not just liberal on marriage equality but other important issues:
Students also demonstrated more progressive attitudes about policies that give students from disadvantaged backgrounds preferential treatment in college admissions. Despite the increasingly competitive admissions environment, which has resulted in fewer students gaining acceptance to their first-choice college (76.0 percent in 2011 vs. 78.9 percent in 2010), the number of students supporting preferential treatment in college admissions rose from 37.4 percent in 2009 to 42.1 percent in 2011, a 4.7 percentage-point increase. 

In another finding with important implications in the current political climate, fewer students said they believe that undocumented students should be denied access to public education. Since the question was last asked in 2009, opposition to educational access for these students dropped by 4.2 percentage points, from 47.2 percent to 43.0 percent in 2011. While liberal students are much more likely to support undocumented students' access to education, 39.0 percent of conservative students also indicated their support. 
I often wonder why people like NOM are fighting so fanatically to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples when the writing has been on the wall for years that the public opinion is rapidly moving against them and that eventually no one will care about this issue because marriage will be open to all committed couples.

Why do you think people are fighting to maintain a discriminatory policy that they must know will be swept away in the sands of time eventually?

Hat/tip to LGBT Think Progress.

AUS OPEN 2012: Djokovic Beats Nadal In 5h,53m

Novak Djokovic has just outlasted Rafael Nadal in a 5 hour, 53 minute men's championship match in Australia coming back from 2-4 down in the 5th set to win 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) 7-5. It's his 5th major title and 3rd consecutive major title (all 3 won against Nadal). He now has beaten Nadal in 7 consecutive finals and is behind Nadal 16-14 in their career head-to-head.

More later, I'm going to sleep!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

WATCH: U.S. Sen. Franken Supports Marriage Equality

AUS OPEN 2012: Men's Final Preview

Rafael Nadal ESP (2) vs  Novak Djokovic SRB (1)   
Here is my prediction for the 2012 Australian Open Men's Singles Championship Match. My (incorrect) prediction for the Women's Singles Championship Match is also available. This year I previously correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I also correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals.

Men's Semifinals Review.
R. Nadal ESP d. R. Federer SUI, 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4Federer-Nadal XXVII was highly anticipated by fans of both players, since it was only the second time the two great players had met in the semifinal of a major (Roland Garros 2005) as well as only the second time the two had met at Australia's major tournament (2009 Men's Final). In both previous meetings, Nadal had come away the victor, and as it turned out that would be the case in this match as well.

Fans of Federer had reasons to be confident going into the match, since the Swiss player was on a winning streak stemming from the end of the 2011 season and had demolished Nadal the last time the two had met. However, during this match it became clear pretty quickly that Federer was not going to be producing the scintillating tennis he displayed against Juan Martin del Potro in the when he started mis-hitting balls on both wings despite pulling out the first set in a tiebreak after blowing a 4-1 lead. Although the person who won the first set had won 20 of 26 matches in their storied rivalry this time Nadal was able to turn that stat around. (The person winning the 3rd set of their matches when the first two sets are split has always won the match.)

It will be interesting to see how Federer reacts to losing this match. Surely he knows that as he gets older there will be more results like this and the high points like winning the year-end championships (for a record 6th time!) will be fewer and far between, but more meaningful precisely for that reason.

N. Djokovic SRB d. A. Murray GBR, 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 6-1 7-5The end result of the match was not surprising but the quality of the match most definitely was. This was a rematch of the 2011 Australian Open final where Murray was completely outmatched by his contemporary. This time it was a deadly war of attrition. After splitting the first two sets by identical scores (with very different story lines: in the second set Murray was able to win the set despite being down 0-2) the third set was absolutely jaw dropping. It took a half an hour to play the first three games of the set, and after saving set points against him at 4-5, Murray served for the set at 6-5 but was promptly broken to lead to a tiebreak, which the newly combative Scot won 7-4, picking up the set after a truly astonishing 88 minutes of brilliant tennis from both men. In the fourth set Djokovic responded to losing the middle set by pummeling the ball and moving like a man possessed to easily claim the 4th set 6-1 in 25 minutes. In the 5th set, Djokovic was able to break in the 5th game and eventually led 5-2 on Murray's serve but when serving for the match at 5-3 Murray was able to break back and even the match at 5-all in the 5th. Just getting to that point in a major contest with Djokovic, who had embarassed Murray in last year's final on this same court, is a major accomplishment for the Scot, and should bode well for his campaign to win a major in the near future. After 5-all Djokovic was able to hold to go up 6-5 and a somewhat lose service game by Murray led to him facing two breakpoints at 15-40 which were also match points. Djokovic was able to convert on his first chance and now is in his 4th major final in the last 5 grand slam tournaments. This was clearly one of the best matches of the tournament (and most likely of the year) and could overshadow the championship match to follow.

Men's Final Preview.
For the third consecutive major (and 7th consecutive time) the two top ranked players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, are facing each other in the final of a major. Djokovic has won their two previous major finals (Wimbledon 2011 and US Open 2011) as well as in 4 other Masters Series finals in 2011. However, even with six consecutive wins over Nadal, the 10-time major champion from Spain still leads the 4-time major champion from Serbia in their career head-to-head 16-13. It should be noted that prior to 2011, Djokovic had lost all 5 singles finals the two had contested. However, even before the 2011 year Djokovic had led Nadal 7-5 in hard court matches and now leads 10-5 on that surface. Astonishingly, the two have played each other even more times than the Federer and Nadal. Really, we should be referring to their thirtieth upcoming professional match as Nadal-Djokovic XXX (though that could mean something else!). And since both are in their early 20s, we have many more matches to look forward to between these two great champions.

Can any player really beat Rafael Nadal SEVEN times in a row? If someone had told me that Novak Djokovic would beat Nadal even three times in a row (especially twice in clay court finals) I would have said they were drunk. However, if there is anyone who can do it to Nadal it is Djokovic, who does to Nadal what Nadal does to Federer. Simply said, the match up is bad for the player on the losing end of the comparison. Nadal's strengths do not hurt Djokovic as much as they do Federer and the Serb is the only player who can not only match the Spaniard's supernatural defensive abilities but is probably the only player on tour who actually possesses a mental edge over Nadal. Major finals generally come down to the mental contest, and with the results of 2011 fresh in everyone's mind (especially Nadal's!), this is a distinct advantage to Djokovic.

What can Nadal do better than what he has done in the previous 6 finals he has lost to Djokovic? One thing would be to serve bigger, but he seems loathe to try that, and Djokovic is a better returner than Nadal anyway. Nadal does have a better chance in this final than either of the two major finals they played last year because Djokovic may not be at  100% due to the potentially pyrrhic victory he won over Murray in 4 hours, 53 minutes two days ago. However, Djokovic was not at his best physically (and not playing his best tennis) in the first two sets of the last hard-court major final the two played and still managed to gain a 2-0 set advantage and eventually win. Nadal is actually only 1-2 behind Djokovic ihead-to-head in major finals. If he wins tonight he can atleast even that statistic, and he can take comfort from the fact he has beaten Djokovic in a major final before, on a fast hard court no less. Nadal can look to the 2010 US Open final he won in 4-sets over Djokovic for inspiration but unfortunately for the Spaniard he will be playing a player who is playing better than that opponent tonight (probably).

MadProfessah's pick: Djokovic.

AUS OPEN 2012: Azarenka Wins 1st Major (Over Sharapova)

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated Maria Sharapova of Russia in stunning fashion 6-3 6-0 to win her first major singles title, the Australian Open. This was surprising to me, because 3-time major champion Sharapova had played excellent tennis in the two previous rounds, but her game abandoned her completely.

It was a very strange match; some would even call it a mismatch and it reveals a new pattern that has emerged with Sharapova in finals that I mentioned yesterday. In the major finals that Sharapova has lost, the matches have not been remotely close. She won a mere 5 games in losing to Petra Kvitova in the 2011 Wimbledon final, she won 3 games losing to Serena Williams in the 2007 Australian Open final and last night she won 3 games in one set and none in the other against Azarenka last night. The difference was that in those first two losses she was completely outmatched by the other player, who played some of the best tennis of their career. In the match with Azarenka, however, Sharapova lost because she simply played badly, especially after grabbing a 2-0 lead. Her groundstrokes started flying wide and into the net, on both sides, even her usually dependable backhand side. Neither player is known for their movement but even though she was playing on her best surface, Sharapova was moving like she was playing on her worst, with her feet mired in cement. Once Azarenka got over the jitters of playing in her first major  she gained control of her game and basically all she had to do was keep the ball in the court and watch from across the net as her opponent self-destructed, which Sharapova did in historic fashion. I believe it was the first bagel set in a major women's singles final since Serena Williams beat Dinara Safina 6-0 6-3 in the 2009 Australian Open final. (The most recent bagel sets in majorwomen's singles finals were Justine Henin over Clijsters in 2003 at the French Open, Venus Williams over Henin in 2000 at Wimbedon land Martina Hingis over Venus Williams in 1997 at the U.S. Open.)

Azarenka's win makes her the 21st woman to sit atop the WTA rankings and won her 2.4 million Australian dollars. Still at #2 is Kvitova, with Sharapova at #3 and former #1 Caroline Wozniacki sinking to #4. Interestingly, the last 5 major singles tournament on the women's side have been won by 5 different people: Azarenka, Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova, Li Na and Kim Clijsters. An exciting time for women's tennis!

Friday, January 27, 2012

AUS OPEN 2012: Women's Final Preview

Maria Sharapova RUS (4) vs. Victoria Azarenka BLR (3). 
Here is my prediction for the 2012 Australian Open women's final. I previously correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals this year. On the men's side I correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals and 1 of 2 men's semifinals this year.

How Did They Get Here?
M. Sharapova RUS d. P. Kvitova CZE 6-2 3-6 6-4. This was a repeat of the 2011 Wimbledon final where Kvitova won her first major title over Sharapova, in the venue where Sharapova had won her first over Serena Williams in 2004. Sharapova knew that she had been outhit and outserved in that match so in Australia rematch she was prepared and determined to not let that happen. Despite serving no aces and 10 double faults, the Russian was able to stay aggressive in her service games and ended up winning a fair number that she really should have lost. Kvitova still has streaks where she is very very good and hits winners from (and to) every corner of the court but also streaks where she riddles the court with errors (reminiscent of a Serena Williams circa 2000). What eventually decided the match was not hitting the ball between the lines but what was between the ears. Sharapova was just mentally tougher; at 4-all in the 3rd set she gutted out another difficult service hold and when Kvitova's turn to hold her serve to stay in the match she dissolved into a puddle of unforced errors and lost.

V. Azarenka BLR d.  K. Clijsters BEL, 6-4 1-6 6-3. Despite the score, this was actually quite a tight match, with the result in doubt until the last two games or so. After losing the first set, Clijsters raced out to a huge 5-0 lead in the second set, breaking Azarenka twice in succession and holding her own service games relatively easily. Faced with the indignity of losing a bagel set, Azarenka calmed down and started making first serves eventually winning a service game, and forcing Clijstersto serve out the set. More importantly, this allowed Azarenka to serve first in the deciding set and again she held serve and was able to break Clijsters first. However, what followed then was a series of breaks and nervy player from both sides of the net until finally at 5-3 Azarenka was able to hold her service game thanks to consecutive errors from Clijsters, and the match ended with Azarenka watching an errant backhand  from the Australian Open defending champion sailing out of the court with relief and joy.

Who Will Win?
This final will surely be the loudest women's final ever played, with both players known for the sounds they make during play (also known as "grunts" or "shrieks"). Azarenka's is a pretty uniform low pitched, two-tone wail which she makes almost every time she hits the ball while Sharapova's can vary from a loud grunt to a truly earsplitting shriek as the point gets longer or more important. Anyway, the two have played 6 times before and have split their matches 3-all, 2-all on hard courts. Interestingly, Azarenka leads 2-0 in finals (both on outdoor hard courts); she beat Sharapova last year in Miami and the year before in Stanford in straight sets. The two have never met in a major final despite being on tour for a half-dozen years simultaneously.

Their games are somewhat similar: they both play what is known as "Big babe" tennis. They want to win the point as early as possible, with the first strike of the ball, and have the power to hit winners from any point in the court. Azarenka is better at the net, while Sharapova has a better se rve (in theory) but will be hard-pressed in a major final to serve well. Azarenka is the better mover on the court, but hard court is the surface on which Sharapova moves the best and she has extremely powerful defensive skills.

As usual in the women's game, the final result will almost certainly be won by the more mentally tough player. The fact that it has taken Azarenka 25 majors to reach her first major final despite being a legitimate Top 5 player for the last 2-3 years shows a degree of mental weakness that is not exhibited by her opponent. Sharapova is in her 5th major final, only losing the 2007 Australian Open and 2011 Wimbledon final to players who completely blew her off the court (Serena and Kvitova, respectively). In a hard-fought battle I would go with the more mentally tough, experienced player, which in this case is Sharapova. Azarenka has under performed in majors so far in her career (two semifinals and 1 final) while her opponent has been in 13 semifinal and 5 finals. It takes a rare player (who is not going to be a one-slam wonder, e.g. Schiavone, Majoli) to win their first major final (Sharapova, Serena, Kvitova) and I don't think Azarenka is either a one-slam wonder or a player mentally tough enough to win their first major slam final. Sharapova, of course, already holds three major titles (Wimbledon 2004, U.S. Open 2006, Australian Open 2008). Numerology would say that an even year like 2012 bodes well for her chances tonight.

The winner of this match will also claim the World #1 ranking, dethroning Caroline Wozniacki. Sharapova has been #1 before, for 17 weeks,and I fully expect Azarenka will get there eventually (perhaps even this year). The Belarussian is on a winning streak, having not yet lost in 2012 (she won the Sydney warm-up tournament in a tough 3-setter over Li Na). There's a chance her streak will continue, but I think it is more likely that it will end in Melbourne tonight.

MadProfessah's pick: Sharapova.

Celebrity Friday (bonus): Barney Frank Engaged To Marry

The longest serving openly LGBT member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who previously announced he would retire from Congress at the end of this term, has also announced he will be getting married to his longtime partner Jim Ready.

Marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004, what took you so long,Barney? Congratulations!

MAINE: Back To The Ballot For Marriage Equality

As expected, Equality Maine announced today that they have decided to place a measure on the November 2012 ballot which would enact marriage equality. This is a big deal, because in 2009 after an expensive Proposition 8-inspired campaign in which both sides spent over $9 million combined, Maine voters rejected a marriage equality measure enacted by the state legislature by voting down Question 1 53% to 47%.

From the press release:
Augusta – Today, advocates for allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in Maine announced plans for a Citizens Initiative to enact a marriage equality law, delivering more than 105,000 signatures from Maine voters who want the issue on the November 2012 ballot to the Secretary of State’s office.
The announcement follows two years of outreach and conversations with Mainers about the freedom to marry, statewide polling showing steadily increasing support for allowing same-sex couples to marry – which now stands at 54 percent – and intensive field organizing in preparation for the campaign.
“The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we’ve been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine. “Our polling shows a 54% majority of support for same-sex marriage in Maine. Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state.”
So Maine is one of the states where advocates for marriage equality will be playing offense in the fight to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. Others are Maryland, Washington and New Jersey.

There will be anti-equality efforts in North Carolina and Minnesota.

Celebrity Friday: Nancy Pelosi Slaps The Homocons

Nancy Pelosi gave an incredible interview to The Advocate magazine where she discusses several issues. However, the quote the struck my eye (and Joe Jervis as well) was this:
"Oh, but what about them? He [Barney Frank] chooses a party that supports his values. They've chosen a party that supports their income — a party that denigrates them and treats them with disrespect."

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Federer-Nadal XXVII: Nadal Outplays Federer Again

Despite my predictions to the contrary and disappointing his legion of fans worldwide, Roger Federer was again unable to defeat his main nemesis, Rafael Nadal, this time in the 2012 Australian Open semifinals in their 27th career meeting. With his 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4 victory, the 10-time major champion improved to a crushing 18-9 career head-to-head over the 16-time major champion, with the more crucial statistic being an 8-2 advantage in grand slam tournaments. The only surfaces in which Federer leads Nadal is on grass (2-1) and indoor hard courts (4-0). Nadal has the advantage on clay (13-2) and outdoor hard courts (4-1).

Nadal is now 25 years old and Federer is 30 so it is becoming increasingly clear that Federer will never be able to make up the entire deficit that he is suffering in their head-to-head, but I do expect that the two wil continue to face each other in Grand Slam matches and that Federer will end his career with more major titles than his Spanish rival. That being said, this defeat was a bitter loss for the fans of Roger Federer.

Elizabeth Warren: "It Gets Better"

FILM REVIEW: The Iron Lady

The Other Half and I finally saw Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, on the MLK holiday. As expected, it is an acting tour de force from La Streep, definitely worthy of an Oscar. As expected, Streep was received her record 17th Oscar nomination (14th as Best Actress) this week. She already has two Oscars (1982's Best Actress, Sophie's Choice; 1979's Best Supporting Actress, Kramer vs. Kramer) at home but it's been nearly 30 years since her last win. Come on, people, she's the greatest actor of all time, so she should have the highest award for excellence in film acting, the Academy Award.

Anyway, the particular vehicle which Meryl Streep is using to attempt to win her 3rd Oscar is a biography of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It really is pretty incredible source material. It seems like a cliche, but sometimes truth is really harder to believe than fiction. A person who was the daughter of the owner of a greengrocer becomes the first female head of state of one of the countries who have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, in other words, one of the world's superpowers. And she ends up becoming the longest serving Prime Minister of her country in the 20th century.

The screenplay is by Abi Morgan, and is somewhat unconventional. Most of the story is told as flashbacks from an elderly (and clearly mentally infirm) Lady Thatcher after she is no longer Prime Minister and is still daling with the death of her longtime husband Denis Thatcher from a decade before.
Denis is played well by Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent. The make-up on Meryl is stunning, so that not only is she doing an incredibly accurate impersonation of Margaret Thatcher as we remember her from the 1980s, but also a very believable look as a very old woman. We are used to seeing Meryl disappear into her characters, so one doesn't think one is seeing Meryl Streep on screen *acting* but instead one is following the travails of her character. The Iron Lady is another one of those cinematic experiences.

The sections of the film which follow Thatcher's rise to power and depict some of her important  moments in power are the high points of the film and are quite exciting. The problem is that they are bookended by returns to the present day with a portrayal of a feeble-minded, depressing Thatcher as a lonely, needy old woman. The acting is impeccable throughout, despite despising Thatcher's politics, Streep makes your empathize with the humanity of her situation. In fact, the film is surprisingly apolitical, mainly including politics to show Thatcher's consistent philosophy without ever really questioning its impact on people and effectiveness.

Overall, The Iron Lady is worth seeing for Meryl Streep's astonishing performance as well as an  interesting excursion through 1980s Great Britain.

Title: The Iron Lady.
Director: Phyllida Lloyd.
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity.
Release Date: January 13, 2012.
Viewing Date: January 16, 2012.

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

Overall Grade: B+ (3.50/4.0).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

AUS OPEN 2012: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the Men's Semifinals at the 2012 Australian Open. My predictions for the Women's Semifinals are also available. This year I previously predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly.

Novak Djokovic SRB (1) vs  Andy Murray GBR (4)The World #1 and defending Australian Open champion re-asserted his dominance over the rest of the field by dismissing World #5 David Ferrer in ruthless  fashion in straight sets 6-4 7-6(4) 6-1.
© Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia
The Serbian has won half of his major titles at this venue and is looking in similar top form this year. Also looking good is the Scot Andy Murray who has made it to the Australian Open final for the last two consecutive years. Against 1st time quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori Muray deployed his vast reserves of guile, power and speed to gently demolish the Japanese youngster in straight sets 6-3 6-3 6-1. Murray has been in the Top 4 in the world since 2008 but only in the last year or so has he solidified his status there, reaching the five major semifinals in a row. It is time for him to take the next step, and beating Djokovic in a major final would be that step. Unfortunately, I don't think that is going to happen in Melbourne, but I do believe that Murray will come close, winning at least one set and possibly two. Head to head Murray has a decent 4 wins 6 losses record against Djokovic and ever since his disastrous performance in last year's final has taken his clashes with his contemporary rival extremely seriously. (The two were born one week apart, in 1987.) Murray was on his way to beating Djokovic last summer in the Cincinnati Masters final when the Serbian retired from the match and the two played one of the best matches of the year at the Rome semifinals. On hard courts the head-to-head narrows to 4-all, with all of Murray's victory over Djokovic coming on this surface. Much has been said and implied about Murray's decision to hire Ivan Lendl as a coach, and I do think it is the mental aspect of the game in which Murray needs to demonstrate improvement when playing against the only three people in the world more higher ranked than he is. That being said, after the year Djokovic has just had he is not particularly lacking in the confidence department, as will be made clear by the end of the match. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Roger Federer SUI (3) vs Rafael Nadal ESP (2)This is the 27th meeting between the two future Hall of Famers who have a staggering 26 major titles between the two of them, with 10-time major winner Nadal famously leading their legendary rivalry 17-9, although 16-time major champion Federer leads 5-4 on hard courts. Oddly, the two have met only once at the Australian Open where Nadal won their 2009 final by racing through the final 2 sets of their 5-set match. That result so devastated Federer that he was reduced to tears during the trophy ceremony and had to be comforted by his opponent, allowing the Swiss great to literally cry on his shoulder.
© Getty Images
Another oddity is that this is only the second time the two have met in the semifinal of a major (the other time was at Roland Garros in 2005 and it was won by Nadal on his way to his first major title of his career). Although the physical match-up between their two styles of play puts Federer at a distinct disadvantage, the primary problem the Swiss player has had in this storied rivalry is the mental dimension. However, since the last time they met the result was a 6-3 6-0 demolition of Nadal that should put the mental edge between these two players at the lowest level it has been in years. Federer just played his 1000th career match (814 wins-186 losses) in dismissing an in-form Juan Martin del Potro in scintillating fashion, 6-4 6-3 6-2. Nadal, on the other hand, played well over 4 hours of grinding tennis to defeat a player 6-7(5) 7-6(6) 6-4 6-3 who has only ever beaten him three times in thirteen meetings. I believe all of these factors will combine to give Federer the edge to reach his 23rd (!) major final. Mad Professah's pick: Federer in 3 or 4 sets or Nadal in 5 sets.

AUS OPEN 2012: Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the Women's Semifinals at the 2012 Australian Open. This year I previously predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly.

Victoria Azarenka BLR (3) vsKim Clijsters BEL (11).  The most surprising aspect of the women's quarterfinals results were when 4-time major champion from Belgium beat World #1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets  many media outlets called it "an upset." Kim Clijsters has never lost a match to Wozniacki (only played three times) and anyone who appreciates "Big Babe" tennis knows why. Wozniacki can simply be overpowered by big hitting, she is too complacent to be a "Golden Retriever" of the ball. She has a horrendous record against such "Big Babes" as Li Na, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Marion Bartoli, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova. Clisjsters led 6-3, 5-2 when things started to get complicated with Wozniacki putting up stiffer resistance with Clijster responded by getting tight. Wozniacki forced a tiebreaker which Clijsters was able to gut out 7-4. The tiebreak was dramatic but not as intensely exciting as the 2nd set tiebreak with Li Na where Clijster saved 4 consecutive match points on the way to her 4th round victory. 

The other quarterfinal in this half of the draw was a similar match up between a Big Babe and a counter puncher, i.e. Azarenka versus Agnieska Radwanska. The two best friends played a very scrappy first set of tennis with eight service breaks among the first dozen games played. Azarenka played an an atrocious tiebreak, failing to win a single point. But then she showed her mental toughness by deploying "selective amnesia" and forgot about the recent unpleasantness of the entire first set and proceeded to win the middle set with a bagel. During the third set the weather became a factor and it was clear that (surprisingly) the Pole was more heavily impacted than the Belarussian. Azarenka ended up sprinting to the finish line, winning 6-7(0) 6-0 6-2. Head to head, Clijsters leads Azarenka 4-2 overall (4-1 on hard courts). Clijsters has a decisive advantage in experience, with this being her 16th major semifinal compared to Azarenka's second. Clijsters' semifinal record is 8-7 in semis (although it is 3-0 since she returned after her retirement hiatus). I truly believe that Azarenka will reach a major final very soon, but will she be able to dismiss the defending Australian Open champion on her own turf? I believe the answer is yes. The good news for Azarenka is that it is unlikely that Clijsters is at 100% due to a rolled ankle two rounds before and also that the match will be played at night. PREDICTION: Azarenka.

Maria Sharapova RUS (4) vs.  Petra Kvitova CZE (2) The two took similar paths to reach here, with both only dropping one set each in the first five rounds. In the quarterfinal matches, Kvitova dismissed Sara Errani in two surprisingly tight sets 6-4 6-4 while Sharapova was never really threatened by Ekaterina "Serena-killer" Markarova in their 6-2 6-3 quarterfinal match. This semifinal is a repeat of the 2011 Wimbledon final, which was won relatively easy by Kvitova.
This was a surprising result to some but not to yours truly after closely observing Sharapova's serving woes during that tournament and comparing them to Kvitova's heavy groundstrokes combined with a powerful lefty serve. The good news for Sharapova this time is that she is serving much better in Melbourne than she did last summer in London. Kvitova is averaging around 28 winners per match compared to Sharapova's average of 24. However, Sharapova's service percentage is averaging nearly 70% for the tournament, while Kvitova's is merely 60%. Through five rounds of grand slam play,  Sharapova has an average of 4 doublefaults  compared to 2 aces per match (an inauspicious ratio of 2:1) while Kvitova has a total of 12 doublefaults to 16 aces (with a much better ratio of 3:4). My druthers would be to see a repeat of the Wimbledon final result since I do believe that Kvitova will be the #1 player in the world very soon, and if Sharapova wins the semifinal the first post-Wozniacki #1 will be decided by whoever wins this tournament. Kvitova is still a very streaky player; when she's hot she's unbeatable, when she's cold she's very pedestrian. If she remains on a hot streak long enough she could again take Sharapova out very quickly in straight sets, but it is more likely that Sharapova will be able to put enough resistance to allow Kvitova to cool down and create enough tension to allow the more experienced and mentally tough player (and coincidentally happens to be the one currently playing the better tennis) to pull through. Regardless, it should be an excellent example of Big Babe tennis at its best: a close, hard-hitting, loud match. PREDICTIONSharapova.

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: "God Is An Imaginary Friend"

Noticed a story in Huffington Post that the above billboard is apparently being displayed in Boulder, Colorado. The message is that "God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality, it will be better for all of us." It is paid for by the Colorado Coalition of Reason.

On their website, the organization explains why they put the billboards up:
One of the reasons we put the billboard up is that we are concerned when religious people feel they have not only the right, but the obligation, to force their religious views on others. Examples are proselytizing in the military, educational systems, and government. Another example is the attacks by religious people on gays, lesbians, and abortion providers. 
If you agree with the sentiments of the sign and live in Colorado, there is probably a secular organization near you. You will be surprised how much we do, both as activists and in the social arena. Most of the COCORE groups have monthly meetings, book discussions, lunches, and social activities. The Atheist Alliance of America will be having their national convention in Denver in 2012. 
If you disagree with the sentiments of the sign, please don't be offended. We are more interested in opening a dialogue than upsetting you. We don't ask you to stop believing in your version of a super-natural being. We do ask that you consider not forcing your religious views on others.
I couldn't say it better myself! I wish there were hundreds of these billboards up around the country. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 OSCARS: Actual vs. Predicted Nominations

Harry PotterMidnight in ParisWar Horse
MoneyballHugoTree of Life
The ArtistThe HelpThe Descendants
Best Picture 
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Tree of Life
War Horse

MadProfessah's Predictions: 7 out of 9.

Best Director
MadProfessah's Predictions: 4 out of 5.

Best Actress
  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
  • Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
MadProfessah's Predictions: 4 out of 5.

Best Actor
MadProfessah's Predictions: 4 out of 5.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Berenice BejoThe Artist
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
  • Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Olivia Spencer, The Help
MadProfessah's Predictions: 4 out of 5.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Albert Brooks, Drive
  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
  • Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
  • Jonah Hill,  Moneyball
  • Christopher Plummer,  Beginners
  • Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
MadProfessah's Predictions: 3 out of 5.

Best Original Screenplay
  • Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist
  • Mike Mills, Beginners
  • Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
  • J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
  • Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
  • Diablo Cody, Young Adult
  • Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
MadProfessah's Predictions: 3 out of 5.

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton and Jim Rash, The Descendants
  • Tate Taylor, The Help
  • John Logan, Hugo
  • Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian, and Stan Chervin, Moneyball
  • George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
  • Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan,  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
MadProfessah's Predictions: 4 out of 5.

My overall total accuracy rate from the Top 8 categories is 75.0% (33 correct out of 44). This is a decrease from last year's astonishing 91% accuracy rate (41 out of 45) and lower than 2010's 82% accuracy (37 of 45). Interestingly, another thing I predicted correctly was that there would be 9 Best Picture nominations, not 10 for the first time in history (the new rule is that any film with first-place votes which is at least 5% of the total number of Oscar ballots gets a Best Picture nomination).

I underestimated the total for Hugo, which leads with 11 nominations, followed closely by The Artist at 10 nominations with War Horse tied Moneyball back at 6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which was robbed of a Best Picture and Best Director nomination--Memo to David Fincher: "they really, really don't like you!") ended up with 5, along with putative front-runner The Descendants.

The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday February 26th at 7pm EST.

OSCARS 2012: Nominations Announced!

The nominees for the 84th Academy Awards were announced this morning in Hollywood.
BEST PICTURE: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse.
BEST DIRECTOR: The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius, The Descendants - Alexander Payne, Hugo - Martin Scorsese, Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen, The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick.
BEST ACTOR: Demián Bichir - A Better Life, George Clooney - The Descendants, Jean Dujardi - The Artist, Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt - Moneyball.
BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis - The Help, Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn, Jonah Hill - Moneyball, Nick Nolte - Warrior, Christopher Plummer - Beginners, Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Bérénice Bejo - The Artist, Jessica Chastain - The Help, Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer - The Help.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash - The Descendants, John Logan, Hugo George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon - The Ides of March, Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin - Moneyball,Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids, J.C. Chandor - Margin Call, Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris, Asghar Farhadi - A Separation
The rest of the nominees can be found at Oscars.com. My predictions were published yesterday. I'll have more analysis later no how well I did predicting the Top 8 categories.


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