Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WATCH: Hysterical "Harry Potter" versus Star Wars Visual Effects Fight

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Religious Profiles of Democratic and Republican Voters Very Different

The Brookings Foundation released a report which analyzes the religious affiliations of the electoral coalition of the Romney-Ryan (Republican) and Obama-Biden (Democratic) presidential tickets in the 2012 elections.

John Hudak summarizes:
While diversity has been a key to Democratic success in recent presidential elections, it can also make coalition management difficult. The Democratic coalition is made up of the least religious Americans (17 percent of Democrats are religiously unaffiliated) and the most religious Americans (African-Americans). This is reflected in the religious and theological orientation of the parties. The relative homogeneity of the Republican Party means there are fewer tensions but points to long-term challenges, since younger voters are less religiously affiliated and more progressive on many social issues, particularly marriage equality.
The reports points out that there are advantages and disadvantages to the religious diversity found in both coalitions. As an atheist, I am happy that the Democrats are orienting themselves towards the least religious Americans.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

TENNIS TUESDAY: Dimitrov and Sharapova Win Titles On Same Day

Tennis' power couple Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov each won titles this weekend on clay. Dimitrov won just his 3rd career title, by defeating 2-time defending champion Lukas Rosol 7-6(2) 6-1 in Bucharest while Sharapova became a 3-time champion in Stuttgart by coming back from 0-5 down in the first set to win 3-6 6-4 6-1.

For Dimitrov it was his second title of the year and first ever on clay, but for Sharapova it was her first title since winning at Stuttgart last year. On clay, Sharapova has only lost to Serena Williams (3 times) in the last two clay court seasons (2012 and 2013) and has yet to face the World #1 on the surface this year. Serena is taking a long break from tennis after suffering a couple shocking losses this year, to Alize Cornet in Dubai and Jana Cepelova in Charleston.

Sharapova's win was timely because it forestalled her dropping out of the Top 10. Dimitrov's win keeps him at a career high #14 in the world. He will need to make some inroads at the Masters tournaments in Madrid and Rome coming up in order to reach the Top 10, but I certainly expect him to be there before Wimbledon.

Monday, April 28, 2014

EYE CANDY: Filipe from MundoMais (3rd time!)

As regular Eye Candy watchers know I have a weakness for South American guys in general and Brazilian guys in particular, and thus MundoMais.Com.Br is a very important website for fellow aficionados of pictures of scantily clad, multi-racial guys.

Filipe from Salvador de Bahia has appeared as Ey Candy twice before (October 24, 2011 and January 23, 2012). The website calls him Filipe and Filipe Baiano and lists his age as 23 years old.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Game of Thrones (S4E03): "Breaker of Chains"

The third episode of Season 4 of HBO's Game of Thrones is titled "Breaker of Chains," which any serious observer recognizes as a reference to Daenerys Targaryen. However, although she does appear in the episode, there are a lot of other storylines that are advanced before we get to see Dany doing her thing on the far-away continent of Essos, as most of the story takes place in Westeros.

I won't do a full (or dull) recap of the entire events of the episode, but will summarize the highlights and lowlights.

There were many highlights of this episode
  • The King Is Dead! Long Live The King! Now that Joffrey is dead the patronymic right of succession leads to his younger brother Tommen becoming the next King of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. With that in mind, his grandpa, Tywin Lannister, the richest (and probably most powerful) man in the realm begins his tutelage of the soon-to-be King by educating Tommen on what makes a good king (and bad king). He makes it clear that Joffrey was not a good king. That he does this while he, his daughter and his grandson are all viewing Joffrey's body lying in state in the Great Sept is astonishing.
  • Twice Married, Still A Maiden? The scene between Margaery Tyrell and her Aunt Olenna, Queen of Thorns was another highlight. However, if we were looking for clues into who killed Joffrey none were offered. However, it is curious that Olenna thinks that Margaery's future has gotten brighter since the second husband who was a king was murdered before they could consummate the wedding.
  • The Hound and Arya Show. The television show is following more closely characters (and storylines) in the book that get shorter shrift. One of these is the odd couple journey of Arya Stark, the tomboy who has lost her family, and Sandor Clegane, known to most of Westeros as The Hound, the fearsome muscle behind most of King Joffrey's threats and atrocities. The two actors have great chemistry and Arya is one of my favorite characters, who if you have read the books, knows has some pretty dark days ahead of her.
  • Once a Fool, Always a Fool. After following the erstwhile Ser Dontos (Joffrey's Fool) from the Purple Wedding back to the port and being rowed through murky fog to a waiting large ship, surely even Sansa Lannister nee Stark must have known something fishy was up. That the person on the boat to meet them is Littlefinger himself, the master of intrigues made that immediately clear. That his first act was to immediately kill Ser Dontos, after he successfully completed his mission of spiriting Sansa out of King's Landing alive and giving her the purple necklace that Littlefinger admitted he had had made for her, is indicative of just how dangerous a situation Sansa finds herself. Again.
There were several curious aspects of this episode. The most notable were:
  • Paging Meryl Streep. What the heck is going on with Aiden Gillen's accent as Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish?  His accent has wobbled significantly between appearances in seasons but the voice coming out of his mouth sounded like something out of Christopher Nolan's Batman. This is not a compliment!
  • Out of The Frying Pan Into The Fire. There was too much time spent on Gilly and Sam. It doesn't really make much sense to the audience why Sam would think Gilly and her very young baby would be safer down in the nearby town as opposed to surrounded by the men of the Night's Watch. It can't be a good sign when your landlady/employer says that you could make better money as a whore than doing a regular job.
  • Bloody Savages! We understand the Wildings are bloodthirsty, but was it really necessary to show the bloody details and gore of their massacre of the people in the countryside near the Wall?
Grade: 9/10 (A-).
Overall,  S4E03 was a perfect example of the way in which David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have adapted George R.R. Martin's sprawling epic tale chock-full of characters and storylines into a multi-faceted television with multiple settings and nuanced characterizations.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

HRC Launches $8.5M Campaign To Advance LGBT Equality In Deep South

The largest LGBT political advocacy organization in the United States has announced the launch of Project One America, an $8.5 million, 3-year project to advance LGBT equality in the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

There are nine specific goals of Project One America:

  1. Empower LGBT people (and straight allies) to come out.
  2. Raise the visibility of LGBT people and issues with the general public.
  3. Create safer environments for LGBT young people.
  4. Build partnerships with faith communities, communities of color, business communities, and conservatives.
  5. Create a more inclusive workplace for LGBT people
  6. Build support for enduring legal protections that ensure LGBT equality.
  7. Expand participation in HRC’s Municipal Equality Index in these three states.
  8. Create a more inclusive healthcare environment for LGBT people
  9. Equip LGBT people and non-traditional allies as spokespeople

ABC News reports:
The aim is to first change hearts and minds so that people hiding their sexual orientation will be more comfortable about coming out publicly. As that occurs, organizers believe, communities and states will be more likely to adopt laws to prevent discrimination. 
"You overcome all of the objections by having conversations and getting to know your neighbors," Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native and president of Human Rights Campaign, said in an interview with The Associated Press. 
With a checkered history in race relations, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi resisted civil and voting rights for blacks in the 1960s. And unlike other Southern states, the three still haven't enacted legal safeguards to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas like housing and employment. 
Yet surveys have shown the states have roughly the same percentage of gay residents as other states, Griffin said, and Human Rights Campaign has a total of 57,000 members and supporters in the states, which have a total population of 10.7 million people. 
Organizers hope to accelerate change that already has included four Mississippi towns passing non-binding resolutions against LGBT discrimination. In Alabama, a civil rights museum is currently showing a photo exhibit of LGBT youth aimed at promoting acceptance. 
"The pace of progress really has been fast, but you can't leave anyone behind," said Griffin.
As Vice President Biden would say, this is a BFD. I am curious as to what the local LGBT groups in those states feel about HRC coming in and essentially becoming the statewide LGBT group in each of these states. On one hand, they will build capacity for LGBT equality in the targeted states, but I
find it hard to believe that there was no organizing going on in those states (Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi) before this.

This is a risky but encouraging move for HRC. The South is also the region with the largest African-American fraction of the population and HRC is not known as the most racially diverse or
progressive of organizations so there are bound to be some complications and fractures along race and class lines while the work advances.

But I give them much props for trying, and putting their money where their mouth is.

SATURDAY POLITICS: California Voter Registration By Party, 1998-2014

California's Secretary of State released figures on voter registration as mandated by law 60 days before the June 3, 2014 primary election. The data show the dramatic increase in the number of voters who select the "No Party Preference" option as well as the dramatic collapse of the Republican brand in California. Independents went from 12.2% of registrants in 1998 to 21.1% in 2014. In that same period Republican's share went from 35.8% to 28.6%. Democrats have slowly decreased, from a high if 46.8 in 1998 to 43.5% now. Bizarrely, there are now more counties where Republicans (31) outnumber Democrats (27).

However, the top 10 counties by Democratic registration are:
  1. San Francisco 56.27%
  2. Alameda 56.06%
  3. Santa Cruz 54.43%
  4. Marin 54.38%
  5. Sonoma 51.80% 
  6. San Mateo 51.01% 
  7. Monterey 50.96% 
  8. Los Angeles 50.64%
  9. Imperial 50.14%
  10. Contra Costa 49.41%
Happily, this includes the largest country in the state, Los Angeles. There are now 17,660,486 registered voters, up from 16,897,383. That equates to 73.3% of eligible voters being registered.

Friday, April 25, 2014

SHOCK: Nadal Loses 2nd Clay Court Match In 2 Weeks!

Following last week's stunning straight sets loss to David Ferrer in the quarterfinals of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters tournament Rafael Nadal has had an even more shocking loss, this time to Nico Almagro in the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open after winning the first set and blowing a 3-1 lead in the 3rd to lose for the first time to his countryman. Nadal has only lost 13 clay court matches in total since 2005, so it is remarkable that two of those losses have come in the last two weeks, a month before he tries to win his 9th record French Open in Paris. Almagro was 0-10 lifetime against Nadal and will certainly cherish this 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4 win, especially on Spanish soil. Nadal had won the Barcelona tournament a ridiculous eight times (41-match winning streak). In fact, Nadal had last lost a set in Barcelona in 2008 (to Ferrer).

This makes the upcoming French Open look very interesting indeed. Can Nadal really defend his title again? Or could Stanislas Wawrinka win his second consecutive major of the year, or will Djokovic finally get to complete his career slam?

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Jason Collins Named To TIME's 100 Most Influential People List

Openly gay NBA player Jason Collins was named to TIME magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People" list for 2014.
Superstar Beyonce Knowles-Carter is on the cover of the popular issue, and subsequent inside covers feature actor Robert Redford, Jason Collins, the NBA's first openly gay athlete, and General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Other honorees include actress Amy Adams, Amazon founder and The Washington Post’s newest owner Jeff Bezos, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pope Francis, actress Christy Turlington Burns, potential presidential candidate and grandmother-to-be Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Late Night host Seth Meyers, country singer Carrie Underwood, “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams, Russian President Vladimir Putin and singer Miley Cyrus.
Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

Thursday, April 24, 2014

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Files Brief In Favor Of Marriage Equality In Virginia Case

The briefs are starting to come in support of the plaintiffs in the Virginia marriage equality case Bostic v. Schaefer (previously Bostic v. Rainey) which will be heard before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next month. In a rare example of the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fun (LDF) working together, the two have filed a joint brief in favor of marriage equality.

The groups call for marriage equality for lesbians and gay men by invoking the principles set forth in the Supreme Court's iconic 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia,which struck down laws that prohibited marriage for interracial couples.
"More than fifty years ago, the Supreme Court unequivocally established the right of every individual to marry the person she or he chooses," said Ria Tabacco Mar, Assistant Counsel in the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Economic Justice Group. "It's long past time to strike down laws that deprive lesbians and gay men of their constitutional rights," Ms. Tabacco Mar added. 
In the brief, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP make clear that Lovingwas not restricted to race: the freedom to marry has long been recognized as a fundamental right "essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness."

"Marriage is a civil right under state law," stated Kim M. Keenan, NAACP General Counsel. “In furtherance of our legacy of advocacy in Loving v. Virginia, we are proud to stand with the NAACP LDF to ensure that every person is treated the same and benefits the same under law."  The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP argue that marriage discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Furthermore, the same baseless and offensive accusations proffered by the proponents of Virginia’s marriage ban -- that prohibitions on marriage equality are necessary to protect children -- were also invoked by Virginia in 1967 in defense of its anti-miscegenation law.
The Virginia case is the one that has the involvement of Ted Olson and David Boies, who filed the federal suit that led to the demise of Proposition 8.

In other Virginia news, the senior U.S. Senator from Virginia has today published a joint editorial with his Harvard Law School classmate Evan Wolfson arguing why Virginia's ban on marriage equality needs to go.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the words "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, he put in place a moral standard that will always challenge us to be better people. 
Our founders passionately believed in equality, but most saw no contradiction between that belief and slavery. It took 90 years and a civil war to correct that injustice.
The post-Civil War Congress that changed the Constitution to abolish slavery passionately believed in equality, but most saw no contradiction in women's inability to vote. It took nearly 70 years to remedy that injustice. 
Today, Virginians and Americans are advancing Jefferson's equality principle by re-thinking laws that limit the freedom to marry. 
The two of us first became friends in law school more than 30 years ago. Our career and personal paths have taken different directions. But we share a commitment to making people's lives better, their dreams more attainable and their families stronger. 
And we share a commitment to Jefferson's farsighted ideal. That's why we look forward to the day when all loving couples, regardless of sexual orientation, can marry. 
In recent months, 11 out of 11 federal judges have ruled against marriage discrimination. 
In February, a federal judge in Norfolk was one of them.

I think lots of people think the Virginia case is the one that the Supreme Court is going to use to decide the question of whether state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. constitution.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Poll Says Religion Trumps Science For Most Americans

Ugh, chalk up another reason why I am a godless heathen: I believe in science, not mysticism. These results from a recent AP poll on the science literacy of Americans is simply embarrassing:

To the public "most often values and beliefs trump science" when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world's largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Political values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change. 
Religious values are similarly important. 
Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith. 
"When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith," said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. "It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."
The key phrase in that excerpt for me is "Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises." That is basically all I need to know to put my faith in a supreme being at zero.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SCOTUS Upholds Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban 6-2, Sotomayor Vociferously Dissents

On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court issued a curious 6-2 ruling upholding the constitutionality of a Michigan ballot measure which precludes the use of "race-based preferences" in public education. The majority opinion by Anthony Kennedy went out of its way to say that it was not ruling on the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action policies but on whether voters had the power to ban affirmative action policies.

New York Times reports:
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s controlling opinion for three justices took pains to say that the decision was a modest one. 
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.” 
His announcement of the decision from the bench was businesslike. Then Justice Sotomayor summarized her dissent, an unusual move signaling deep displeasure. She said the initiative put minorities to a burden not faced by other college applicants and so violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. 
“The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat,” she wrote. “But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the dissent. Justice Sotomayor seemed to mock one of Chief Justice Roberts’s most memorable lines. In a 2007 decision that limited the use of race in public school systems, he wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” 
Justice Sotomayor recast the line. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” she wrote, “is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
The result is significant for California, because the Golden State is one of 7 where voters have passed ballot measures banning affirmative action based on race (or gender) in public education. California's measure is called Proposition 209 and an attempt to place a repeal on the November 2014 ballot was abandoned earlier this year after Asian constituents expressed their displeasure with the idea of allowing UCLA and UC Berkeley to be allowed to take race into account when deciding who gets admitted to California's top state universities.

This is not surprising, because figures that came out this week show that Asians are a plurality (36.2%) of all admitted students from California to the University of California, with Latinos (28.8%) surpassing Whites (26.8) for the first time this year. Black students made up a paltry 4.2% of the total number of admitted California students.

SCOTUS blog reports on how strongly Justice Sonia Sotomayor attempted to convince her colleagues that what they were doing in allowing the majority to ban policies intended to help minorities was wrong:
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who recited orally from the bench a lengthy version of her dissenting opinion, said the ruling would make it much harder for racial minorities to defend affirmative action programs.  What had happened in Michigan, she protested, was “the last chapter of discrimination” — changing “the basic rules of the political process in that state in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.” 
The Sotomayor opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ran to fifty-eight pages – surpassing by more than three times the length of the lead opinion by Justice Kennedy and even exceeding the forty-four pages that all of her colleagues had written.
Viva Sonia!

India High Court To Reconsider Controversial Sodomy Ruling

Good news! The High Court of India has announced that a 5-member panel will consider its problematic December 2013 ruling that upheld India's ban on sodomy, criminalizing the sexual behavior of literally more than a hundred million people in the world's most populous democracy. The original ruling included some shockingly homophobic language, and unfortunately the two judges that signed that decision will be participating in the re-hearing.

Buzzfeed reports:
This is LGBTI rights advocates last chance to toss out the decision, which was a harsh blow after a 12-year litigation process. In January, a two-judge panel (which included one of the judges who issued the original ruling) rejected their first attempt to have the case reconsidered, what is known as a review petition. The current motion, known as a curative petition, still faces long odds, because the five-judge panel that will consider it includes the two judges who rejected the review petition. The other judges on the panel will be the three most senior judges on the court.
But the lawyers in this case got a major boost last week when a different two-judge Supreme Court panel issued a sweeping verdict recognizing broad rights for transgender people. Though the judges in the transgender rights case were careful to explicitly say they were not offering an opinion on the 377 case, their ruling reads almost like a point-by-point rebuttal to the ruling.
Recently the India High Court declared that transgender identity is a protected category.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 HUGO AWARDS: The Nominations Are Announced

The nominations for the Hugo awards are out, and just like at the Nebula awards, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice has been nominated for Best Novel.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)
I would be shocked if anything other than The Wheel of Time wins the Hugo award, since because of a quirk of the rules, if any member of a series is nominated, it is the series under consideration, not the book. The final (and 14th) Wheel of Time book A Memory of Light was published last year, with Brandon Sanderson taking over for Robert Jordan with the results an unqualified success. Sanderson has published his own highly acclaimed fantasy series, called the Mistborn series as well another called the Stormlight Archive series.

However, Ancillary Justice's appearance here makes it more likely I will buy the book and read it. It is already on my Amazon wishlist but I am trying to decide between the paperback and the Kindle version. Just because a book is nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula does not mean that I will like it.
After all, Jo Walton's Among Others won the Hugo and the Nebula and I still have not been able to get myself to read it, even for free from the library!

EYE CANDY: Sesamir Yearby (again)

Sesamir Yearby is a handsome Black model who has appeared as Eye Candy once before (March 10, 2014). He is 31-years-old, 6-foot-2-inch and 204-pounds.

Hat/tip to Funky Dineva

Sunday, April 20, 2014

QUEER QUOTE: Charles Cooper, Leading Anti-Gay Lawyer Has A Lesbian Daughter

Charles Cooper is one of the most famous and longest-serving opponents to same-sex marriage in the country. He is something like the "anti-Evan Wolfson." He represented Hawaii in the first major case where a state supreme court ruled that traditional marriage laws were discriminatory way back in 1993 and has been active in very many of the legal skirmishes around marriage equality ever since.

He is infamous for responding to U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's question of how exactly marriage is only for procreative purposes in the Proposition 8 trial in 2010 Cooper responded: "Your Honor, my answer is I don't know. I don't know." Cooper defended California's ban on same-sex marriage all the way to the United States Supreme Court, eventually losing in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

This week came word that even this venerable opponent of marriage equality is coming around to the side of equality and justice, atleast for members of his family. Apparently his daughter is a lesbian and she is going to be marrying her female partner soon and Cooper is delighted.

This rapprochement is today's Queer Quote:

“My daughter Ashley’s path in life has led her to happiness with a lovely young woman named Casey, and our family and Casey’s family are looking forward to celebrating their marriage in just a few weeks."
And so it goes, my gentle readers, and so it goes.

2014 MONTE CARLO: Wawrinka Beats Federer in 3 Sets To Win 1st Masters Title

World #3 Stanislas Wawrinka confirmed his ascendancy into the elite of men's tennis by defeating Roger Federer 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 in the finals of the 2014 ATP Monte Carlo Masters, becoming the first player on the ATP Tour to win 3 titles this year (Chennai and Melbourne). It was Wawrinka's 1st Masters 1000 title in 3 finals, and more importantly, his 2nd win in 15 meetings against Federer, both of which have occurred in Monte Carlo. To put this win in perspective, Wawrinka has only won 7 ATP tour titles (and is 7-9 in finals overall). Federer has won 78 (and is now 78-39 in tour finals).

Because he won (somewhat surprisingly, but Wawrinka has been surprising everyone all year) Wawrinka will retain the World #3 ranking and is actually at #1 in the ATP Emirates race to London at this moment. In other words, if he maintains this level of play all year long, he could become #1 at the end of the year. He is 6-0 against fellow Top 10 opponents this year, and 17-3 in matches played for the year.

Federer has now lost in the final of Monte Carlo four times (2006-2008 to Rafael Nadal) and has yet to win this title. He will remain at World #4 and leads the tour in number of match wins in 2004 (24-5 record).

Federer started well breaking serve in the 5th game and managing to nurse the break to a 6-4 first set win. In the second set he was broken in his first service game but broke back and held serve until a tiebreak. He fell behind 1-4 in the tiebreak and 3-6 but saved two set points before losing the tiebreaker 7-5. The third set was a disaster for Federer as his level dropped and Wawrinka's went up, going up 4-0 and 5-1 before closing out the third set 6-2. The stats tell the story.

The next big clay court Master's title is in Madrid, starting next weekend.

MAP: Spread of Marriage Equality, 2000-2014

Here's a cool map showing the spread of marriage equality since 2000. In 2000, there was only one state that had significant statewide recognition of same-sex relationships; Vermont, with civil unions. In 2014, there are 17 states with full marriage equality and another 5 whose bans have been struck down by federal judges.

Hat/tip to Mother Jones

Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 MONTE CARLO: Federer Beats Injured Djokovic, Joins Wawrinka In Final

Roger Federer won his 34th meeting with Novak Djokovic 7-5 6-2 in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters tournament, to reach the final of this tournament for the 4th time in his career. Djokovic was clearly hampered by his wrist injury and has said he will not be playing tennis for awhile:“How long, I don’t know. It’s really not in my hands anymore. I’m going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court."

Federer ended Djokovic's 15-match winning streak by defeating the defending Monte Carlo champion. Djokovic had two consecutive set points at 4-5 in the first set but after losing those chances the Serb never had another chance in the match again. Federer has never won this ATP Masters shield because Nadal defeated him in three consecutive finals from 2006-2008. However, Nadal suffered a shock defeat at the hands of David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Stanislas Wawrinka destroyed Ferrer in the semifinal 6-1 7-6(3) and looks sharp.

Wawrinka is actually higher ranked than Federer right now, but he is 1-13 lifetime against his Swiss compatriot, with his sole winning result coming in Monte Carlo in 2009. Whomever wins their 15th match on Sunday will become the new World #3 and Swiss #1.

MadProfessah's prediction: Federer (in 3 sets)

SATURDAY POLITICS: New York Joins NPV Movement To Bypass Electoral College

Big news in the world of electoral politics. If you hate the idea of swing states and the idea that some state's matter more in deciding the presidency, you should like the idea of the National Popular Vote. I endorsed this idea nearly 3 years ago when California signed on in 2011.

From the website's explanation:
Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
The big news this week was that New York has joined the compact, which means that there are now 12 states with 165 electoral votes (61% of the way to 270) that have agreed to vote with whomever wins the national popular vote.

The New Yorker reports:
On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step—or maybe a giant leap!—toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact. 
As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes—all of them—and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution. 
Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible—even probable—and in time for 2020, if not for 2016. 
Here’s how it works: Suppose you could get a bunch of states to pledge that once there are enough of them to possess at least two hundred and seventy electoral votes—a majority of the Electoral College—they will thenceforth cast all their electoral votes for whatever candidate gets the most popular votes in the entire country. As soon as that happens, presto change-o: the next time you go to the polls, you’ll be voting in a true national election. No more ten or so battleground states, no more forty or so spectator states, just the United States—all of them, and all of the voters who live in them.
The electoral college is an abomination of the idea that each person's vote should count equally to the result of the election. The sooner it is gone, the better for democracy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

CA AIDS Service Organizations Applaud Easier Access To Truvada For HIV Prevention With HIV-Negative Gay Men

For Immediate Release

Friday, April 18, 2014

Phil Curtis

Gil Diaz

Anne Donnelly

California Improves Access to HIV Prevention Pill
Important new tool in fighting AIDS, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
may be up to 99% effective in preventing new infections

Three leading California AIDS organizations -- AIDS Project Los Angeles, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Project Inform in San Francisco -- today applauded California’s Medi-Cal program for easing access to a well-established AIDS medication that has been proven to prevent HIV infection in at risk individuals.

The action lifts a requirement that doctors complete an authorization request when prescribing PrEP for HIV negative individuals.  PrEP is the brand drug Truvada, an AIDS drug manufactured by Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA.  The action is effective immediately and will be published in Medi-Cal’s June Provider Bulletin.

Many in the HIV/AIDS community consider PrEP a groundbreaking HIV prevention tool.  The authorization request is considered an obstacle for both doctors and patients. With Medi-Cal’s action, doctors will now be able to prescribe the drug for men and women who test HIV negative and indicate that they are “at risk” of infection through HIV exposure.

“The Medi-Cal ruling is a game changer in HIV prevention,” said AIDS Project Los Angeles Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “Appropriate access to PrEP through Medi-Cal provides us with another intervention – along with safer sex and condom use – to reduce the number of new HIV infections.”

“Medi-Cal’s action also brings an element of health equity to the program’s low-income beneficiaries,” Thompson said. “Private insurance plans have been covering PrEP for some time, often without prior authorization.”

"Project Inform and other organizations working directly with people at risk of acquiring HIV have conjectured that the slow uptake of PrEP may be more attributable to clinicians' reluctance to provide sexual health services of this type than to patients' lack of knowledge of PrEP or willingness to take it,” said Project Inform’s Executive Director Dana Van Gorder. “Lifting the TAR removes a potential obstacle that may have contributed to providers’ reluctance to prescribe PrEP."

Research modeling shows Truvada may be up to 99 percent effective in preventing new infections, depending on adherence and whether the drug is used in conjunction with safer sex counseling, provision of condoms and other prevention services.

“By making it easier for people at-risk of HIV infection to get access to medicine that has been proven to prevent HIV infection, California has set an important precedent for the rest of the nation,” said L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings. “This collaboration between Medi-Cal and community advocates will move California closer to the comprehensive response that is needed to help end the HIV epidemic.”

The policy change resulted from discussions with Medi-Cal’s Pharmacy Policy Branch Chief, Mike Wofford, his staff and representatives from APLA, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Project Inform. The discussions focused on provider knowledge of PrEP, possible side effects associated with long-term use of Truvada, and community acceptance of the intervention.

Previously, Medi-Cal patients asking for Truvada could have been asked to meet several conditions outlined in the TAR for “high risk” individuals. Some of these conditions could have required the provision of condoms and monthly HIV testing – not necessarily real world conditions.

“There is a reason the AIDS community is talking about ending the epidemic,” Thompson said.  “We have three successful medical interventions to reduce new infections, including PrEP. What we need now is broad community and provider education on these interventions to increase acceptance and utilization.”

The three interventions include: PrEP for at risk HIV negative individuals, post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP for people who know or suspect they have been exposed to HIV, and HIV anti-retroviral treatment as prevention (TasP) for those living with HIV (HIV/AIDS drugs can bring viral load -- the amount of virus in the body -- down to undetectable levels in people who are HIV positive, reducing the likelihood that they will be able to transmit the virus to sexual partners).

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2014 MONTE CARLO: Ferrer Hands Nadal A Rare Clay Defeat!

David Ferrer scored a stunning upset at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters today when he beat 8-time champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets 7-6(1) 6-4 in the quarterfinals. This was  a surprise because Nadal rarely loses on clay, and defeated Ferrer in the men's final of Roland Garros last year. Nadal had lead their head-to-head 21-5 and had not lost on clay to Ferrer since 2004.

Nadal had won the ATP Monte Carlo Masters an unprecedented 8 consecutive years (2005-2012) but lost in the final to Novak Djokovic last year.

The semifinals will be Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka versus David Ferrer. Federer leads Djokovic 17-16 in their overall head-to-head but the two are tied 3-all in their clay court matches. My prediction would be a Djokovic-Ferrer final, but I would not be surprised to see a Djokovic-Wawrinka final instead, since I imagine his win over Nadal was very emotional for Ferrer. An All-Swiss final would be my druthers!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

POLL: Is Obama "Black" Or "Mixed-Race"? Majority Of Americans Pick The Latter...

A new poll from the Pew Research Center called "The Next America" dives deep into the future demographics of America and reveals how American's views on race an racial identity have changed and are continuing to change.

For example, a majority of respondents (52%) to a poll when asked about the racial identity of President Barack Obama in 2009 said that they think of him as "Mostly Mixed Race" while only 27% said they thought of him as "Mostly Black."

Notably, these results differed by the racial identification of the respondents. Black people said that Obama was Black by the rate of 55% to 34% who said he was mixed. The group that was the least likely to call Obama "Black" was Hispanics!

The report also shows what America will look like in coming decades, with the majority of Americans expected to be from non-White racial groups around 2040.

What do you think, is the President Black or Mixed-Race? Is there some reason he can't be both? (That would be my answer.)

Hat/tip to Huffington Post Politics

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

QUEER QUOTE: New Yorker Reveals Why Obama Endorsed Marriage Equality In May 2012

The New Yorker has an interesting blog post up about Jo Becker' new book, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality which is a behind-the-scenes account of the fight for marriage equality in California from 2009-2013 by the superlawyer team of Ted Olson and David Boies.

There are some interesting quotes from principal players like Michelle Obama, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. In fact, more is reveealed about the role that Ken Mehlman, Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign manager, played in crafting the president's words when Barack Obama endorsed marriage equality in may 2012. This excerpt is today's Queer Quote:
Becker makes it clear that both Obama and his team were deeply conflicted about whether he should announce his support for gay marriage before the 2012 election, to the point where its unresolved, internal debate had resulted in a kind of paralysis. “His political advisers were worried that his endorsement could splinter the coalition needed to win a second term,” Becker writes. In the excerpt, Chad Griffin, the head of a group fighting Prop. 8, recounts a conversation that he had with First Lady Michelle Obama, during the summer of 2011: “Her message, he told his team, was clear: ‘Hang in there with us, and we’ll be with you after the election.’” 
Even though Axelrod says that Obama “has never been comfortable” opposing same-sex marriage, it was not until Biden made some unscripted remarks in support of gay marriage on “Meet the Press,” in early May, 2012, that the President decided that he could no longer stay quiet, no longer occupy a permanent middle ground. His perpetual state of evolution on the issue was an untenable construct that he had maintained perhaps longer than was politically prudent. Biden’s surprise TV remarks were inspired by an emotional question-and-answer exchange that Biden had at an event in Los Angeles, at the home of a gay couple with two children, several days before the interview. Afterward, according to Becker, Valerie Jarrett was furious—even though she supported the President’s new position—and accused Biden of being disloyal for upstaging the President. 
But for Michelle Obama, Becker writes, the whole Biden incident was a “blessing in disguise”: she recounts to aides that she told her husband, “Enjoy the day,” just before his interview with Roberts. “You are free.” 
The President didn’t see it exactly that way, and was careful to couch his views in personal terms—as he has been advised to do by none other than Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee Chairman and President George W. Bush’s political director, who was also working on the Prop. 8 case after having come out as gay. Obama ended up giving what Becker calls a “carefully calibrated and incremental endorsement,” saying in the interview: “I continue to believe that this is an issue that is going to be worked out at the local level, because historically this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.” While the President’s statement proved hugely beneficial to the marriage-equality movement generally, his caveat ended up being a central element in the brief filed by the supporters of Prop. 8: their point was that even the President of the United States believed that people of good will could feel differently about same-sex marriage—that is, that it was not a simple matter of anti-gay discrimination—and that it was a state question, rather than a federal one.
The piece notes that when the President endorsed marriage equality back in May 2012 there were only 6 states where marriage equality was legal at the time and now there are 17 with 5 states with marriage equality bans that have been struck down by federal judges on hold bending appeals.

Game of Thrones (S4E02) : "The Lion and the Rose"

Episode 2 of Season 4 of Game of Thrones is titled "The Lion and The Rose." It aired last Sunday and happily I was able to see it live, and even warned my readers that you might want to tune in as well. Similar to "The Rains of Castamere" (S3E09) from last season, which also featured an important wedding, "The Lion and the Rose" is one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series of books and becomes another example of must-see television, in fact some of the most gripping and affecting television scenes in living memory.

Many others observers have already posted their thoughts on this episode, with most expressing delight at what transpired. Generally, I have been using these posts to describe my reactions to the show and have been doing so in a way that is not spoiler free so I see no reason to start now!

"The Lion and the Rose" features the event fans of the book call "The Purple Wedding," which is something of a play on  the phrase "The Red Wedding," which is what the slaughter of the Starks is known as in the books. At the Purple Wedding, King Joffrey Baratheon, one of the key villains in the story is dispatched at his own wedding, clearly poisoned by persons unknown.

S4E02 begins with a horrendous scene where Ramsay is literally treating a woman as prey by hunting her with vicious, ravenous dogs with Reek (formerly Theon) in tow. We also get to spend
time with Bran, the Reeds and Hodor. Bran's scene is especially enlightening because we see that as soon as he touches a weirwood he has visions of the past, the future and the present (events happening very far away). Additionally, there were important scenes between Shae and Tyrion (where he finally was forced to humiliate the woman he loved in order to save her life), Cersei and Brienne (where in a few short seconds Cersei was able to get Brienne to realize that her feelings towards Jaime may be more than simply chivalrous) and Loras and Jaime (who had a very amusing pissing match over Cersei, whom one of them is engaged to marry but does not love while the other loves but is unable to marry). The other events that happened in this episode occurred at Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon (one of the Five Kings in the original "War of the Five Kings" from Seasons 1-3 of the show) is going along with Lady Melissandre's acts of burning people t the stake if they fail to renounce their religious beliefs in the seven gods instead of following her Lord of Light, R'hllor.

The Lion and the Rose refers to the sigils (symbols) of the great Houses being joined together by the marriage of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. The Lannister sigil is a Golden Lion (on red background) and the Tyrell sigil is a Golden Rose (on a green background).

There were many highlights of this episode
  • Ding Dong The Witch King Is Dead! Joffrey's death scene was astonishing. For people who had not read the books and did not see it coming it must have been a horrendous (albeit welcome) surprise to witness King Joffrey's demise, on his wedding day no less.
  • Family Drama. The tension between Joffrey and his uncle Tyrion was exquisite and excruciating at the same time. The Lannisters are one of the most dysfunctional families of all time. It is no surprise that as soon as Cersei sees her son take his last breath in her arms, she immediately turns her grief and rage towards the person she most hates in the world, who happens to be her brother Tyrion.
  • Spare No Quarter. The production design was truly impressive. After all, what is more elaborate than a royal wedding? The actual wedding took place in the show's greatest set: the Sept of Baelor and the scale of the post wedding festivities was truly awe-inspiring.

Nothing is perfect; even this classic episode had some  flaws.  The only one I think worth mentioning is:
  • It Reeks. The entire thread between Ramsay and Reek/Theon is entirely distasteful. At least it has evolved from straight-up "torture-porn" from Season 3 to merely over-the-top and disgusting

Grade: 10/10 (A).
Overall,  S4E02 was one of the most cathartic episodes of television of all time. After three full seasons  of hating Joffrey Baratheon the audience finally was able to see him get his comeuppance and it was well worth it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

India High Court Recognizes Third Gender (Neither Male Nor Female)

Good news from India. A few months after the High Court upheld that country's archaic sodomy law, the court has now ruled that transgender citizens of India must be recognized as a separate third gender.

Reuters reports:
"Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," the Supreme Court's two-judge bench said in its ruling. 
"Transgenders are also citizens of India. The spirit of the constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender."
A person who is transgender does not identify with the gender stated on their birth certificate.
The court ruling - which came after hearing a petition filed by a group of transgenders demanding equal rights - recognized the community as a marginalized group and directed authorities to implement policies to improve their socio-economic status. 
The petitioners' lawyers said that this would mean that all identity documents, including a birth certificate, passport and driving license would recognize the third gender, along with male and female. 
The government will also have to allocate a certain percentage of public sector jobs, seats in schools and colleges to third gender applicants, said lawyer Sanjeev Bhatnagar. 
Due to their lack of access to jobs and education, many male-to-female transgenders - also known as "hijras" - are forced to work as sex workers or move around in organized groups begging or demanding money.
As Joe.My.God points out, India is the third country, after Nepal (2009) and Bangladesh (2013). Germany has become the first European country to recognize "undetermined" as the gender of new born children, but this policy is more about intersexuals than transgender individuals.


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