Friday, January 31, 2014

LOOK: Davis Cup Teams For America and Britain In San Diego Now

The First Round Davis Cup is happening this weekend in San Diego. John Isner is injured so Donald Young will be facing off against World #6 Andy Murray.

The above photo shows the smartly dressed British team in blue suits contrasted with the casually dressed American team, in blue jeans.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) Announces Retirement

The political landscape of Southern California is recovering from an announcement that has the impact of an earthquake: a sitting Congressman announced his retirement. 20-term incumbent Henry Waxman announced on Thursday that after spending 40 years in Congress he wants to do something else with his life. Waxman represents California's 33rd district which includes the "West Side" of Los Angeles, and is one of the wealthiest Congressional districts in California (and thus the nation).

The sudden appearance of an open seat to a high-profile position of Congressperson without the possibility of term limits will surely be attractive to many local politicians. The Los Angeles Times runs down the list of people expected to run for this heavily Democratic seat:
Potential contestants include state Sens. Ted Lieu of Torrance and Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills; Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica; Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a former South Bay lawmaker; local radio host Matt Miller; women's rights activist Sandra Fluke — all Democrats — and Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield, an independent and former Republican who spent $7 million of his own money in an unsuccessful 2012 race against Waxman. 
Even before the congressman announced his 20th term would be his last, two other political independents had stated their plans to run: Brent Roske, a television producer and director, and Marianne Williamson, the author of several self-help books. 
Amid Thursday's swirl of rumors and speculation, with fresh names surfacing almost hourly, a few possible contenders took themselves out of the race. 
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he would not run. Sheila Kuehl, a former state senator and assemblywoman who represented the Westside and the Valley, and Bobby Shriver, a former mayor of Santa Monica and nephew of President Kennedy, both said they would continue their campaigns for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
The retiring supervisor they aim to replace, Zev Yaroslavsky, did not explicitly rule out a try for Waxman's seat but made it seem highly unlikely. "My first reaction is [that] to be a [congressional] freshman at the age of 65 is not something I've longed to do all my life," Yaroslavsky said.
Open Congressional seats are very rare indeed and this should be a fascinating race. Wendy Greuel, who lost the 2013 Los Angeles Mayor's race to Eric Garcetti last May announced her intention to run almost immediately, while State Senator Ted Lieu waited until Friday to do so, and included several high-profile endorsements of politicians who represent pieces of the 33rd District.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I have finally gotten around to writing up my review of Spike Jonze's Her, the last movie eligible for my Best Films Seen in 2013. Since I saw the movie on Christmas Day it has gone into wide release, become critically acclaimed (93% on rotten tomatoes) and received five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Original Song and Original Score. Surprisingly, neither Joaquin Phoenix nor Amy Adams received nominations for their acting, and the Academy did not break ground with a nomination for Scarlet Johansson who does not appear in the film but whose voice is one of the most significant features of the film.

Her is a very involving, thought-provoking film. The plot revolves around Phoenix's character Theodore Twombly whose job it is to write personal letters for other people. He uses voice recognition software to dictate the letters, which are then generated in amazingly realistic handwriting fonts on various stationery. This is a perfect example of the confounding contrasts in the film. Technology is visibly enhanced from our current reality, but people are still sending each other hand-written letters? Twombly is a very solitary person who is going through a divorce. He purchases a new operating system, which has a new self-aware artificial intelligence voiced by Johansson named Samantha, who quickly becomes the most important thing in his life.

In fact, Her is really a non-traditional love story between Twombly and Samantha. However, in Jonze's vision of the future (which is purportedly set in a future Los Angeles, but contains shots of architecture from various cities in Asia like Shanghai and Tokyo) it is not unusual for people to have emotional relationships with artificial intelligences. In fact, the other significant human character in the film is Amy (played by Amy Adams) also has a clear emotional attachment to her operating system as well.

The film definitely makes you think about the definitions of intimacy and relationship, all the time giving you an engrossing look at a potential future which seems both realistic, intriguing and disturbing simultaneously.

Title: Her.
Director: Spike Jonze.
Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity.
Release Date: December 18, 2013 (limited).
Viewing Date: December 25, 2013.

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

Overall Grade: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Indiana States House Passes Anti-Gay Marriage Ballot Measure

It has long been thought inevitable that Indiana would vote on (and presumably pass) a state constitutional amendment to ban the legalization and recognition of same-sex marriage in 2014. However, in order for the voters to get the ballot measure, it has to pass the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions, in identical form.

The bill has already passed the state legislature once, but last summer a coalition called Freedom Indiana was created to stop the passage of the measure that would discriminate against Indiana's families headed by same-sex couples.

The full text of the measure, which is known as "House Joint Resolution 3" (HJR-3), is:
“Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.
“A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
The bad news from Indiana today is that the measure passed the state House by a vote of 57-40 on Tuesday. However, the good news is that the second sentence has been removed. This is good news because the second sentence is really just evil since it also purports to ban civil unions or domestic partnerships in addition to excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage. This is also good news because if the Senate passes the amended measure as well then there is no way that the measure could go to the voters in 2014, instead the same measure would have to pass in the next legislative session and then it could go to voters in 2016.

The State Senate could pass the original measure anyway and force a conference committee between two chambers which would then have to accept the original version and that version would have to pass both houses in order for the measure to go before voters this year.

Since popular opinion is evolving in the direction of support for marriage equality, the more delay there is in voters seeing an anti-gay marriage amendment the greater likelihood the measure can be defeated in the future.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TENNIS TUESDAY: WTA Rankings Show Li Na Almost At #2

The new WTA singles rankings are out and they show that there have been some interesting moves in the Top 5. 2014 Australian Open champion Li Na moved back up to #3 and is a mere 11 ranking points away from #2 Victoria Azarenka. Agnieska Radwanska also moved up, to #4, while Sharapova fell down to #5. The rest of the Top 10 remained constant except for Simona Halep swapped places with Caroline Wozniacki and entered the Top 10 for the first time. Ana Ivanovic is now up to #12, showing that her defeat of Serena Williams in the 4th round was no fluke while surprise 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova is all the way up to #13.

I would not be surprised at all if Li Na hits #2 by the French Open, although she has not had much success in Indian Wells or Key Biscayne and Azarenka has.

India Supreme Court Rejects Petition To Review Sodomy Decision

The Supreme Court of India has issued a very short order denying a petition to review their surprising and much reviled decision upholding that country's anti-sodomy law that was released in December 2013.
Application for Oral hearing is rejected.We have gone through the Review Petitions and theconnected papers. We see no reason to interfere with the orderimpugned. The Review Petitions are, accordingly, dismissed.
The brief order was signed by the same two Justices who wrote the original decision: H. L. Dattu and Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya.

Monday, January 27, 2014

QUEER QUOTE: NV AG Rethinking Defense of State Marriage Ban

The Attorney General of Nevada raised some eyebrows last week when she filed a brief defending Nevada's marriage statutes that appeared to implicitly compare same-sex marriage with polygamous and incestuous ones. The case in question is Sevcik v. Sandoval and is being managed by Lambda Legal and the Attorney General is a Democrat named Catherine Cortez Masto who was re-elected in 2010 and is term limited from running again in 2014.

“A potentially significant case was decided by the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday of this week, the same day that a brief was filed on behalf of the State in Nevada’s same-sex marriage case. The Ninth Circuit’s new decision, entitled SmithKline Beechum Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories, appears to impact the equal protection and due process arguments made on behalf of the State. After careful review of the SmithKline decision these arguments are likely no longer tenable in the Ninth Circuit. 
This office will conduct further review over the weekend in order to evaluate the State’s argument in light of SmithKline. We will be discussing this with the Governor’s Office next week.
It would be interesting if the AG of Nevada stopped defending its discriminatory marriage statute(s) in light of  the decision in GlaxoSmithKline, like the Democratic Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring did last week. He made his decision on the strength of the Supreme Court's language in United States v. Windsor, which makes it pretty clear that laws which disfavor same-sex couples do not serve a legitimate governmental interest and are almost certainly unconstitutional. 

If sexual orientation does receive heightened scrutiny nationwide it is hard to imagine that state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage survive competent judicial review. Currently, that is the standard of review in the Ninth Circuit, where Nevada (and Oregon) reside, so we may have more states joining the marriage equality caucus sooner rather than later.

Hat/tip to LGBT Think Progess

Wawrinka Up To #3, Federer Down To #8 In ATP Rankings

The new ATP World Tour rankings are out and reflect the movement that has occurred as a result of the conclusion of the 2014 Australian Open. The biggest mover is of course Stanislas Wawrinka, the winner of the first major of the year, vaulting 5 places to World #3, with both Andy Murray and David Ferrer each falling two slots to #6 and #5, respectively. Juan Martin del Potro rises one slot to World #4, which is previous career high.

Roger Federer falls two slots to World #8 but since his performance at the rest of the majors last year was quite substandard for him (only one quarterfinal in the last three) he should be expected to be back in the Top 5 soon. Another interesting question is to wonder how long Wawrinka will stay in the Top 5. He just entered the Top 10 last year and at age 28 he has a child (and ex-wife) to think about.

EYE CANDY: Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole is a 29-year-old model from Tacoma, Washington. According to his Model Mayhem page he is 6-feet-tall and weighs 235 pounds. As you can see, that is mostly muscle!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 GRAMMYS: My Predictions For The Top 4 Categories

Here are my pics for the winners in the Top 4 categories of the Grammy awards, which are being handed out at 8pm EST (5pm PST) in Los Angeles. Not only is prominent straight ally Macklemore & Lewis nominated in 3 of the top 4 categories for their marriage equality anthem "Same Love," they are going to be conducting a group marriage ceremony on stage while they perform the song, with Queen Latifah presiding and Madonna herself appearing as well. Macklemore & Lewis are an independent hip-hop act who had the #1 song of 2013 according to Billboard, the infectious "Thrift Shop."

"Get Lucky" - Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Royals" - Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" - Bruno Mars
"Radioactive" - Imagine Dragons
"Blurred Lines" - Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell 
SHOULD WIN: "Get Lucky"
WILL WIN: Blurred Lines"
"The Blessed Unrest" - Sara Bareilles
"Random Access Memories" - Daft Punk
"Good Kid, M.A.A.D City" - Kendrick Lamar
"The Heist" - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
"Red" - Taylor Swift  
SHOULD WIN: "The Heist"
WILL WIN: "The Heist"
"Just Give Me A Reason" - Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters
(Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" - Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars,
songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" - Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry
Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" - Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" - Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters
(Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)  
SHOULD WIN: "Same Love"
WILL WIN: "Royals"
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran 
SHOULD WIN: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
WILL WIN: Kendrick Lamar
I don't know too much what "the kids are listening to these days" but I do know what I like and that Macklemore & Lewis album has numerous killer tracks on it.

2014 AUS OPEN: Wawrinka Wins 1st Major Over Injured Nadal!

In one of the biggest upsets in tennis history, Stanislas Wawrinka won his first match against Rafael Nadal in their 13th meeting, which just happened to be in the men's final of the 2014 Australian Open. Wawrinka as the #8 seed made history by beating the #1 seed 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 in just under 2-and-a-half hours, the first time in 16 majors that someone other than Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Nadal had claimed a major title. It's only the second time since the 2005 Australian Open was won by Marat Safin that someone other than those four and Juan Martin del Potro has won a major.   With this win, Wawrinka will become the new #3 in the world when the new ATP World Tour rankings come out on Monday, surpassing his countryman Federer for the first time. One year ago Wawrinka was ranked #17 (and Nadal was not playing because he was injured.) Wawrinka becomes the first person to beat the #1 and #2 to win a major since Sergi Bruguera did it to win the French Open in 1993. He's also the first person to beat Djokovic and Nadal to win a major.

Nadal was clearly not at his best, and went off the court to receive treatment down 3-6, 1-4 for more than 7 minutes. He also started receiving treatment for his back on the court during every changeover in the second set. It looked like Nadal  might retire from the match when he was down 1-5 in the second set but he played  on and Wawrinka's level dropped and he went down a break early in the 3rd set after closing out the second.

In the end, Nadal started playing better and started holding serve regularly to win the 3rd set and things proceeded on serve in the 4th set as well until the 6th game when Wawrinka broke again. However, Wawrinka was unable to hold serve but was able to break Nadal for the second consecutive service game. Then holding a 5-3 lead Wawrinka easily served out the match game at love.

Congrats, Stanimal!

WATCH: Trailer for Season 4 of Game of Thrones

The new season of HBO's Game of Thrones starts in 10 weeks (on Sunday April 6, 2014) and the first trailer for it is out! Last season, I blogged my thoughts about every episode of Seasoon 3, and I fully intend to do so again for Season 4.
Get excited!!

2014 AUS OPEN: Men's Final Preview

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) [8]
This is my prediction post for the men's final of the 2014 Australian Open. Last year, I correctly predicted that Novak Djokovic would beat Andy Murray in 3 or 4 sets. This year I correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I also correctly predicted that Li Na would defeat Dominika Cibulkova in the women's final this year.

Men's Semifinals Review: How They Got Here
Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) [8] d. Tomas Berdych (CZE) [7] 6-3 6-7(1) 7-6(3) 7-6(4)This was Wawrinka's second consecutive major semifinal and although I thought that his nerve would fail him on his quest to reach his first major final despite having a decided 8-5 head-to-head edge against his semifinal opponent. This match was a very hard-fought, tight affair and Wawrinka did quite well to make it through, demonstrating that his surprising quarterfinal defeat of 3-time defending champion Novak Djokovic was no fluke.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] d. Roger Federer (SUI) [6] 7-6(3) 6-3 6-3This was the 33rd time the two great champions have met, but just like every Grand Slam match the two have played since 2007(!) the Spaniard emerged victorious again. The first set was very close but Federer's forehand seemed to lose accuracy at key moments and a few ill-timed unforced errors in the tiebreak were enough to result in the crucial loss of the first set. The basic match-up between Rafa's lefty forehand and Federer's one-handed backhand still result in a decisive advantage for the Spaniard.

Men's Final Preview: Who Will Win
There is near certainty that Rafael Nadal will win his 14th major title on Sunday. This is quite significant because it will mean that the Spaniard will have won each major title twice, in some sense completing the double career slam, something no player has achieved before. It will also put him within striking distance of Roger Federer's 17 major titles, with 10 more majors to be played before he turns 30. Nadal will also have won 3 of the last four majors, and could achieve the Rafa slam if he wins the French for a ridiculous 9th time and somehow manages to win Wimbledon this year.

Nadal is 12-0 against Wawrinka, and has never lost a set against him. The one silver lining for the Swiss player is that he had a very tight match with Nadal that included two close tiebreak sets at the ATP World Tour finals in London last year. However, the fact is that it is unclear how anyone with a one-handed backhand can match up with Nadal's lefty forehand. I think that Wawrinka's backhand side is probably stronger than Federer's and his serve is definitely more powerful (but maybe not more effective). Nadal definitely has a mental edge against Federer (especially in grand slam matches) but it's not clear that Wawrinka's mental disadvantage will be any less. After all, it has to be rough to play someone you have never beaten in a previous dozen matches in your very first major final.

MadProfessah's pick: Nadal.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ninth Circuit Articulates Heightened Scrutiny Standard for Sexual Orientation

LGBT legal circles have been buzzing for months about a case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which they have been calling the "gay Batson" case. Batson v. Kentucky was the case where the Supreme Court ruled that race could not be used as the reason to exclude a juror from being stricken from a jury by a so-called peremptory challenge.

The case in question is GlaxoSmithKline v. Abbot Laboratories and involves whether a gay juror can be the subject of a peremptory challenge based on their sexual orientation. The key point here is that in deciding this question, the 9th Circuit has also answered the question of what standard of review courts need to take when analyzing whether governmental actions based on sexual orientation are constitutional and has apparently decided that heightened scrutiny is required.

The Los Angeles Times reports:
The decision will also make it harder to justify laws that treat gays differently from others, including bans on same-sex marriage, lawyers said. A challenge to Nevada's marriage law is already pending in the 9th Circuit, and gays are fighting marriage bans in trial courts in Oregon, Idaho and Arizona. 
When a law discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, it must be closely evaluated to "ensure that our most fundamental institutions neither send nor reinforce messages of stigma or second-class status," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court. The panel said excluding gay jurors violated their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. 
Gay rights activists applauded the ruling and predicted that it would help them win marriage rights in other Western states besides California, where same-sex marriage was reinstated last summer. 
"This is really a very big deal," said Jon W. Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group. "It is likely to have a significant impact on other cases." 
David Codell, constitutional litigation director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision would make it "exceedingly difficult" for states to justify discriminating against gays in all sorts of contexts.
The 2nd Appellate Circuit has also ruled, in the Windsor case that the Supreme Court affirmed (and pointedly did not vacate the lower decision), that sexual orientation requires something greater than "rational basis review" in deciding whether governmental actions that discriminate against LGB people.

The question is whether the Supreme Court would review this case from the 9th Circuit, and whether they would allow this analysis of the enhanced constitutional status of gays and lesbians to become the law of the land nationwide. Doing so, would almost certainly eventually lead to the demise of all anti-gay marriage bans around the country as well as other less onerous forms of institutionalized anti-gay public policy enacted into law.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

2014 AUS OPEN: Li Na Wins 2nd Major Title!

As I predicted, Li Na won her 2nd major title by defeating Dominika Cibulkova 7-6(3) 6-0 in the final of the 2014 Australian Open. Li was playing in her 3rd final in Melbourne in the last four years and had previously won the 2011 French Open.

Amazingly, Li had faced a match point against Lucie Safarova in the 3rd round and became only the 4th woman to survive a match and win the tournament.

The first set was a scratchy affair, with Li going up an early break and held serve to go up 2-0. She had chances to up 3-0 but was not able to get the break. After that, Cibulkova settled down and eventually evened up the match at 3-all as Li could not buy a first serve. (At one point her service percentage was 26%, and included a double fault on breakpoint down.) The next few games went on serve and the key point in the match was when Li held at 4-5 and also when Li broke to go up 6-5 and could not serve out the set despite holding a set point.  Instead she was broken again and forced into a tie-brea, which she was able to win 7-3. After that, her service percentage rocketed to 75% and she gained in confidence and started hitting winners from all over the court, while Cibulkova started missing more. The result was a lightning fast 6-0 second set and Li became the 2014 Australian Open singles champion.

2014 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview

Li Na (CHN) [4] vs Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20]
This is my prediction post for the 2014 Australian Open Women's final. Last year I incorrectly predicted that Li Na would beat Victoria Azarenka in the final. (I also incorrectly predicted Maria Sharapova would beat Azarenka in the final the year before.) This year I have correctly predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals and 1 of 4 women's quarterfinals. I also correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals this year.

How Did They Get Here? Women's Semifinals Review
Na Li (CHN) [4] d. Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [30] 6-2 6-4This is the semifinal result that I did correctly predict. Li Na was up 5-0 in the first set and looked like she was going to run away with the first set since the teenaged Bouchard had trouble winning points at the beginning of the match. However, after breaking Li for the first time when she was serving for the set, Bouchard settled down and made a match of it. Even so, Li Na's was able to hold on and finally earned a break and served out the match to reach her 4th major final.

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20] d. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [5] 6-1 6-2. Even though I had reveled in her powerful dismissal of Maria Sharapova I did not believe that Cibulkova could maintain her level of play for another match, especially against the wily Radwanska. The Polish seed is known for her ability to counteract power and had demonstrated that fact in her surprising win over 2-time Australian Open champion Azarenka in the quarterfinals. However, it is also true that Radwanska can be blasted off the court and this is what Cibulkova was able to do. This is not as easy as it looks because it requires a combination of both power and precision but it looks like Cibulkova may have figured out how to do this.

Who Will Win? Women's Final Preview
Na Li (CHN) [4] vs. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20]. Some people think that this match may be a bit of a mismatch because first-time finalists are often overwhelmed. Additionally, it is true that Li has an undefeated 4-0 record against Cibulkova which does not bode well for Cibulkova's chances of winning her first final. However, Cibulkova has been able to demonstrate mental toughness in the tournament primarily because she has has built up huge leads in most of her matches (except for the Sharapova match, where it should be noted that she built up big leads and then almost blew them). It is doubtful that she will enjoy such a huge lead against Li and even if she does it also doubtful she will be able to hold on to them.

The main reason why I believe that Li will win her 2nd major here is that she is now mentally tougher with the addition of Justine Henin's former coach Carlos Rodriguez as her permanent coach. He has been able to control the Chinese players' mercurial emotions and this has allowed him to focus her powerful strokes on maximizing their effectiveness.

MadProfessah's pick: Li.

Friday, January 24, 2014

POLL: People In States Without Marriage Equality Support It 51-41

A new poll commissioned for the group whose mission it is to achieve marriage equality nationwide in the United States shows that even in states where marriage equality is not (yet) law, a majority of respondents support the idea. 51% favor "allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally" in the 34 states that did not allow marriage equality in December 2013.

In the Central Region (IN, KS, MI, MO, NE, ND, OH,PA, SD, WI) marriage equality has 59%-36% support. 
In the Western region (AK, AZ, CO, ID, MT, NM*, NV, OR, UT**, WY) marriage equality has 53%-34% support. 
In the Southern region (AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, KY, VA, WV) marriage equality is split 46%-46%.
It should be noted that since the poll was taken New Mexico* enacted marriage equality permanently through a state supreme court ruling. Utah** also had marriage equality for a 17-day window when a federal judge struck down their same-sex marriage ban but that ruling is on hold under appeal to the 10th Appellate Circuit thanks to a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hat/tip to LGBT Think Progress

Federer-Nadal XXXIII: Nadal Beats Roger (Again) In AO Semis

As I predicted, World #1 Rafael Nadal was able to win (relatively easily) 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 the 33rd meeting with Roger Federer which occurred in the semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open. Nadal improved to 23-10 in their lifetime head-to-head and has now won 9 of the 11 meetings in grand slams and even in matches that are not on clay, leads the rivalry 10-8. The biggest number that explains the match up is 5: the number of years between their ages.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Toni Atkins Elected 1st Lesbian Speaker Lesbian of CA Assembly

Toni Atkins of San Diego has been elected by the Democratic caucus of the California Assembly to be the next Speaker.

Frontiers L.A. reports:
Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins of San Diego has been chosen by her Assembly Democratic colleagues to succeed Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez as the next Speaker of the Assembly.  “I am humbled, grateful, and ready to get to work,” says Atkins.  “From the drought we are experiencing to ensuring a healthy business climate and a world class educational system, California is facing important issues in the near future.  I look forward to leading the State Assembly in working with the Senate and the Governor to meet our challenges and to move our great state forward.  I thank my Assembly colleagues for their confidence and support. I also am very grateful to Speaker Pérez for his support and mentorship and I look forward to working with him on a smooth transition.” With her selection as Speaker, Atkins becomes only the second Democratic woman and second member of the LGBT community to hold the post.  As Majority Leader, she is already responsible for the day to day operation of the Assembly Floor and has served as a member of Speaker Perez's leadership team. Atkins represents a coastal San Diego district and was elected to the Assembly in 2010 following eight years on the San Diego City Council.
Atkins is the second Democratic woman to be elected Speaker, after Karen Bass, who is African-American and now a Congressperson representing California's 37th District; Bass was Speaker from 2008-2010. Congratulations to Speaker Atkins!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

VA AG Announces End Of State's Defense of Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Elections have consequences! The sweep of Democrats of the three statewide offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General in the November 2013 elections in Virginia is having a dramatic impact on the pending federal lawsuit on marriage equality in that state. Attorney General Mark Herring has announced that he believes Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and is filing a brief joining the same-sex couples represented by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (the group that filed the federal lawsuit that led to the restoration of marriage equality to California) in arguing that position in court.

The Washington Post reports:
Democrats cheered the move as a victory for civil rights while Republicans blasted it as dereliction of the attorney general’s duty to defend the state constitution. With the support of 57 percent of voters, Virginia amended its constitution in 2006 to ban gay marriage. 
Herring said his chief duty is to defend the U.S. Constitution. 
“The Supreme Court is clear: The United States Constitution is the law of the land, the supreme law of the land,” Herring said at a press conference. “I believe the freedom to marry is a fundamental right and I intend to ensure that Virginia is on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”
Joe.My.God posted video of Herring explaining his position:

Of course, the symbolic significance of Virginia taking a position in favor of marriage equality after arguing in court in 1967 against interracial marriage is not lost on anyone.

Exciting day!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 AUS OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

The men's semifinals are now set at the 2014 Australian Open. I have already previewed the women's semifinals this year. Last year, I predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly.  This year I correctly predicted 1 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

This is the lowest rate of accuracy I have ever had in a major since I started blogging them regularly since 2005 so that tells you something about the unpredictable nature of the results in Melbourne this year. I hope that at least one (if not both) of my predictions are wrong again!

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vsAndy Murray (GBR) [4] Roger Federer (SUI) [6]  This is the 33rd time the two great champions will face each other, but the real question os how will Federer-Nadal XXXIII be different from Federer-Nadal XXVII, the 2012 Australian Open semifinal played two years ago? Or from Federer-Nadal XXXI and Federer-Nadal XXXII, which were two hard-court matches played last year. It's just not a good match-up between Nadal's lefty forehand hitting to Federer's one-handed righty backhand. That being said, Grigor Dimitrov showed for approximately 3 sets how a one-handed backhander can hold their own against Nadal, so maybe Federer can take inspiration from that. However, the truth is that last time that Federer one won of these meetings was Federer-Nadal XXVIII, which it should be noted was on a very windy hard court in Indian Wells. The point is that Federer will need some assistance to win this match, either from Nadal or from the elements. I'm already surprised that he was able to defend all his points from making the semifinal round here last year, his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal, and it seems almost inconceivable Federer could be playing in his first major final since Wimbledon 2012 (which he won, of course). My heart wants to pick Federer in this match but my head is pretty sure Nadal will be victorious. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal in 4.

Tomas Berdych (CZE) [7] David Ferrer (ESP) [3]. vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) [8] Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2]. For the second time in recent history, there are two Swiss players in the semifinals of a very important tournament. Last year, Wawrinka and Federer were in the semifinals of the year-end championship in London and they both lost (to Djokovic and Nadal, respectively). I think history may repeat itself here, even though Wawrinka played an astonishing match against Djokovic to end the Serb's 3-year grip on the trophy. And even though Wawrinka has a career head-to-head lead of 8-5 against Berdych, including a Wawrinka win in the one major tournament meeting in New York City. On hard courts the Wawrinka is only 5-4 and I just think that Berdych has more experience in major semifinals (1 in every major, for a total of 4) while Wawrinka is playing in his second consecutive major semifinal. Again, my heart wants to root for a Wawrinka win (I'm a sucker for a one-handed backhand since I play that way myself) and I believe his win against the defending champion deserves to be rewarded, but I just have this feeling that Berdych is getting ready to make a breakthrough similar to what Juan Martin del Potro did in 2009. And we know how that turned out! Mad Professah's pick: Berdych in 5.

2014 AUS OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

The women's semifinals are now set at the 2014 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 men's semifinals correctly.  This year I correctly predicted 1 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals. This is the lowest rate of accuracy I have ever had in a major since I started blogging them in consistently so that tells you something about the unpredictable nature of the results in Melbourne this year.

Serena Williams (USA) [1] Ana Ivanovic (SRB) [14] Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [30] vs Na Li (CHN) [4]. Like most tennis observers, I figured that once Ana Ivanovic played the match of her life to eliminate Serena Williams from the tournament, she would have no problem doing the same with the 19-year-old ingenue from Canada. But Eugenie is no ingenue and she has a big game, which she showed in the deciding set of her first ever major quarterfinal, to reach her first ever major semifinal. Last year it was teenaged American Sloane Stephens breaking out into the higher echelons of women's tennis by beating Serena and this year it is a Canadian. The problem for Bouchard is that she is playing the only remaining major champion in the draw, a 2-time Australian Open finalist who plays her best tennis here, and whom she has lost to before in their one meeting, at a tournament in her own country. That being said, the teenager has nothing to be ashamed of, no one expects her to reach her first major final in her first opportunity, so maybe she can use that to provide complications for Li Na's now apparently inexorable path to her 2nd major title. Mad Professah's pick: Li in 2 sets.

Simona Halep (ROU) [11] Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20] vs Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [5]  Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [2]. The diminutive Dominika Cibulkova has towered over the field, beating three consecutive Top 16 seeds on her way to reaching her 1st major semifinal in Melbourne so you know she is happy to improve her previous 0-3 record in major quarterfinals. I thought that she would come down to earth after outlasting Maria Sharapova. However, she is playing Aga Radwanska who has a 5-1 career head-to-head record against her. If Dominika struggles against Aga most of the time, how will she do when Aga must be playing some of the best tennis of her life? Radwanska did what some thought was the impossible by finishing a bagel third set against the 2-time defending champion at this tournament, a person whom she had lost 13 of 15 career meetings against! Surely winning one more match should be the easier task.This should still be an interesting match because although Aga has double bagelled Dominika in the past, the one win she has occurred in last year's final at Stanford on the hard courts in the American summer. That match was on some people's shortlist for most significant matches of 2013.  That being said, I do not believe Aga will squander another opportunity to reach a final at a major where none of the big 3 remain in the tournament, especially with Serena Williams missing.  Mad Professah's pick: Radwanska in 2 sets.

2014 AUS OPEN: Double Surprise! Federer Beats Murray, Aggie beats Vika!

In two more surprising results on the hard courts in Melbourne, Australia (following defending champion Novak Djokovic's loss), World #6 Roger Federer upset World #4 Andy Murray and World #5 Agnieska Radwanska upset World #2 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

I had predicted neither of these results, in my men's quarterfinals predictions where I was right 1 out of 4 times (Rafael Nadal d. Grigor Dimitrov) nor in my women's quarterfinal predictions, where I was right 1 of 4 times (Li Na d. Flavia Pennetta).

I am not unhappy with these results. I think it shows that rankings do not always mean anything, and even when one person leads a match-up, as in Vika-Aga (13-2), you never know what can happen. Hopefully, Federer can take this to heart as he plays Rafa for the 33rd time in the semifinals. where he trails 10-22, and lost in 4 sets to the Spaniard at this stage in 2012 and in the final of 2009. It's hard to argue that Federer now is playing better than Federer then and that Nadal now is worse than Nadal then. But, at least on hard courts Federer has his best chance of making another major final, where he would be favored against whomever he plays: Tomas Berdych or Stanislas Wawrinka.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 AUS OPEN: Wawrinka Shocks Djokovic In 5-set Thriller!

Well, well, well! In the first day of the 2014 Australian Open quarterfinals much to my surprise the lower ranked person was able to defeat their higher ranked opponent. In the rematch of Stanislas Wawrinka and 4-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka was finally able to win a tough 5-set match against the former #1  to reach his second consecutive major semifinal. Djokovic was also on an incredible 28-match winning streak, including 25 consecutive wins at the Australian Open. He lost this match 2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7 in a bizarrely complementary fashion to last year's showdown in the 4th round. This time Djokovic lost the last two points of the match from 30-all in his must-hold service game by committing very bad errors (failing to handle a mishit service return and then completely blowing a duck volley on match point). The win improves Wawrinka's record to 3-15 against Djokovic and means that Djokovic's run of 14 consecutive major semifinals is ended. (Roger Federer still has the all-time record at 23). Djokovic now has a streak of 23 consecutive major quarterfinals, 13 behind Federer's record of 36.

In a smaller surprise, Tomas Berdych reached his first major semifinal in Australia by defeating World #3 David Ferrer 6-1 6-4 2-6 6-4.

This means that for the first time since Wimbledon 2010 Men's final  between Nadal and Berdych (which I saw in person) someone other than one of the Top 4 of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray will be playing in a grand slam final. Wawrinka and Murray will face off in one of the semifinals for the 2014 Australian Open final slot. Wawrinka actually leads that head-to-head 8-5.

Today's men's quarterfinals feature Federer versus Murray and Nadal versus Gregor Dimitrov. I predict another Nadal-Berdych final! (Although I would LOVE to see an all-Swiss one!)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Happy MLK Day!

Today's Google's Doodle honors Martin Luther King, Jr.

2014 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

Simona Halep celebrates reaching
her very first major quarterfinal berth
The women's quarterfinals are now set at the 2014 Australian Open. Last year, I predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. I have also previewed the 2014 Australian Open men's quarterfinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [1] Ana Ivanovic (SRB) [14] vs Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) [30]. Ana Ivanovic played the match of her life to finally record her first win against Serena Williams two days ago and now has a very good chance to reach what would be only her 4th major semifinal, despite reaching two consecutive major finals in 2008 when she was merely 20 years old. Age and experience will be two significant factors in this match-up with the youngest player remaining in the draw, the 19-year-old Bouchard from Canada, who is playing in her very first major quarterfinal. In fact, she is the first Canadian to reach a major quarterfinal in decades. Things are looking up for tennis prospects North of the border. Mad Professah's Pick: Ivanovic in 2 sets.

Na Li (CHN) [4] vs  Angelique Kerber (GER) [9] Flavia Pennetta (ITA) [28]. This is a somewhat surprising match-up because Angelique Kerber would have been expected to take advantage of her draw to reach her first quarterfinal in Melbourne. However, for the second consecutive grand slam tournament the surprising Flavia Pennetta is contending in the latter stages of a major. Li Na plays her best tennis in Australia, and the fact that she had a near death experience (when she was match point down) in the 3rd round versus Lucie Safarova has apparently greatly improved her tennis. Despite having a 2-2 head-to-head, I like the Chinese player's chances to reach her 3rd final here in the last 4 years. Mad Professah's pick: Li in 2 sets.

Jelena Jankovic (SRB) [8] Simona Halep (ROU) [11] vs Maria Sharapova (RUS) [3]  Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [20]. Although on paper this seems like an unlikely match-up since both players beat higher ranked opponents to reach this point I expected this. Cibulkova has always played tough against Sharapova and thus her dispatch of the 2008 Australian Open champ was a surprise but not a shock. Similarly, although Jankovic is currently the higher ranked player Halep is widely regarded as the most improved player in 2013 (the new Angie Kerber!), having won a gaudy six (mostly minor) titles over the year. Happily, her 3rd set bagel and Cibulkova's foot speed spared us the sight of another Sharapova-Jankovic grudge match. This match should be absolutely a nightmare to watch, and although the winner will reach a major semifinal, I would be shocked if they reached thei first major final. Mad Professah's pick: Halep in 3 sets.

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [5] vs Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [2].  Again, this match-up between the two closest ranked opponents should make the most compelling tennis but when you look at their past matches you see a 12-3 lead for Azarenka, including 7 consecutive wins over the last two years. The 2-time defending champion looks like she is on her way to reaching her 3rd major final in Melbourne, and since Serena has been removed from the equation, has good chances to 3-peat. In fact, I would put my money on a reprise of last year's final happening this year, although not necessarily on last year's final result. Mad Professah's pick: Azarenka in 2 sets.


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