Sunday, May 31, 2015

Game of Thrones (S5E07): "The Gift"

Episode 7 of Season 5 of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "The Gift." As with most episode titles, "The Gift" could refer to many things in the episode, but the reference that most thrills me as a reader (and fan) of the books that the show is based on is the event at the very end of the episode where Tyrion Lannister is presented to Daenery Targaryen as a "gift" from Ser Jorah Mormont. In the books, Daenerys' storyline has not intersected with Tyrion's despite the two being two of the most important and compelling characters in the entire series.

It is clear that at least one meaning of the title is Tyrion Lannister (he does in fact waddle into the arena after Mormont has dispatched several fighting slaves and say "I am the gift!" after all)  but there are several others. For example, one of the Sand Snakes (Tyene Sand, daughter of Oberyn Martell) rehabilitates the entire misadventure which has been Season 5's foray into Dorne when she gives two gifts to Ser Bronn (the first gift is a pulse-rising striptease which activates the poison that she had cut him with during their fight in the previous episode; happily the second gift is the antidote to that same poison.)

In Winterfell, newlywed Ramsay Bolton has a gift for his bride, the former Sansa Stark. Since he's a disgusting psychopath, his "gift" is the flayed body of the old woman who had told Sansa that "The North Remembers" and gave her hope by telling her that if Sansa puts a candle in the highest window of the old tower then help will come to rescue her. Ramsay, like all abusers wants to extinguish hope in his victim and make them think that he has complete and absolute control over them. Things are not looking good for Sansa. (The slight glimmer of hope is that while Sansa was outside her quarters she seized the opportunity to grab something small and sharp and hide it in her clothes.)

At the Wall, two gifts are bestowed. Master Aemon (who was actually Aemon Targaryen, the youngest brother of the last Targaryen King of Westeros) is given the rare gift of a peaceful death. He died in his sleep surrounded by people who love him (Gilly and Sam) and after playing with baby Sam. Later, after getting the crap beaten out of him by two "brothers" of the Night's Watch for defending Gilly from an attempted rape, she gives him the gift of sexual awakening by gently having sex with him, finally consummating their relationship.

In King's Landing, Ser Petyr Baelish has a gift for Lady Olenna: "a handsome young man," which he describes as the same kind of gift that he had previously given Cersei Lannister. We know that Olyvar is a handsome young man, that he used to work for Littlefinger as a male whore and that he provided the evidence which resulted in Ser Loras Martell (Cersei's fiance!) from being arrested by the Faith Militant on charges of "buggery." How could Baelish's gift to Olenna be "the same thing" that he gave Cersei? Hopefully we will find out in the next episode (S5E08) "Hardhome."

Cersei Lannister brings a gift of food to Margaery Tyrell in prison. The bedraggled Margaery does not take her mother-in-law's dishonest protestation of charity well and their scene together ends with her shriek of "hateful bitch" and throwing the proffered plate of food violently to the ground.

The final gift is a gift to the viewers. After fifty-seven episodes of lying, scheming, adultering and smirking, Cersei finally gets the comeuppance we have been all waiting for. The High Sparrow reveals that Lancel Lannister has unburdened himself of his knowledge of his distant cousin's illegal exploits and they both watch impassively as the Silent Sisters drag Cersei to a cell awfully close to one where she had visited Margaery a little bit earlier in the episode.

The best parts of the episode were:
  • I already revealed the best line of the show (Tyrion's "I am the gift!") but a close second was Margaery's "You hateful bitch!"
  • The look on Cersei's face as she finally realizes (way too late) that she might be in danger from the High Sparrow is priceless.
  • The verbal badinage between Bronn and Tyene while both are imprisoned was a highlight, especially since it represents a significant departure from the story in the books.
  • The beatdown that Ser Jorah gives the rest of the slaves in the fighting pit as he battles to impress his Khaleesi to hopefully get the opportunity to present his gift and hopefully win her forgiveness was very cool.
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  No specific lowlights, except that it was very depressing to see that Ramsay's grip on Theon is so string that even when Sansa begged him to help her by sending the rescue signal Reek went directly to his master instead. 
Grade: 9/10.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015 FRENCH OPEN: Serena-Azarenka R32 Match Today; Nole, Raja, Andy, Rafa, Masha, Petra All Into R16

Jack Sock followed up his 1st round upset of Grigor Dimitrov (10)
 by reaching his first Grand Slam 4th round when he beat Borna Coric
The 2015 French Open at Roland Garros is almost half over and on the men's side the top seeds are basically cruising to the business end of the tournament. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych are all in the round of 16, along with at least four French players: Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chardy, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. One of the big surprises on the men' side is the emergence of Jack Sock, who reached the fourth round of a major for the first time after beating #10 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.

The women's draw has not held to form as strongly, with #3 seed (and 2014 Roland Garros finalist) Simona Halep falling to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round and Serena Williams losing a set in her 2nd round match and has an unlucky meeting with Victoria Azarenka in the 3rd round. Azarenka had triple match point against Serena on clay in Madrid just a few weeks ago but managed to lose that encounter. Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova are already in the Round of 16 but other clay-court favorites like Carla Suarez Navarro, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber are already out of the tournament.

Friday, May 29, 2015

President Obama Issues June 2015 LGBT Pride Proclamation

The President issued the June 2015 LGBT Pride proclamation today.
"From the moment our Nation first came together to declare the fundamental truth that all men are created equal, courageous and dedicated patriots have fought to refine our founding promise and broaden democracy's reach. Over the course of more than two centuries of striving and sacrifice, our country has expanded civil rights and enshrined equal protections into our Constitution. Through struggle and setback, we see a common trajectory toward a more free and just society. But we are also reminded that we are not truly equal until every person is afforded the same rights and opportunities -- that when one of us experiences discrimination, it affects all of us -- and that our journey is not complete until our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. 
"Across our Nation, tremendous progress has been won by determined individuals who stood up, spoke out, and shared their stories. Earlier this year, because of my landmark Executive Order on LGBT workplace discrimination, protections for Federal contractors went into effect, guarding against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Federal Government is now leading by example, ensuring that our employees and contractors are judged by the quality of their work, not by who they love. And I will keep calling on the Congress to pass legislation so that all Americans are covered by these protections, no matter where they work. 
"In communities throughout the country, barriers that limit the potential of LGBT Americans have been torn down, but too many individuals continue to encounter discrimination and unfair treatment. My Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors because the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that it can cause substantial harm. We understand the unique challenges faced by sexual and gender minorities -- especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals -- and are taking steps to address them. And we recognize that families come in many shapes and sizes. Whether biological, foster, or adoptive, family acceptance is an important protective factor against suicide and harm for LGBTQ youth, and mental health experts have created resources to support family communication and involvement. 
"For countless young people, it is not enough to simply say it gets better; we must take action too. We continue to address bullying and harassment in our classrooms, ensuring every student has a nurturing environment in which to learn and grow. Across the Federal Government, we are working every day to unlock the opportunities all LGBT individuals deserve and the resources and care they need. Too many LGBTQ youth face homelessness and too many older individuals struggle to find welcoming and affordable housing; that is why my Administration is striving to ensure they have equal access to safe and supportive housing throughout life. We are updating our National HIV/AIDS Strategy to better address the disproportionate burden HIV has on communities of gay and bisexual men and transgender women. We continue to extend family and spousal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. 
"And because we know LGBT rights are human rights, we are championing protections and support for LGBT persons around the world. All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.  
"NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2015 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people. 
"IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth. - BARACK OBAMA."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

2015 FRENCH OPEN Round 1: Dimitrov(10), Lopez(11), Bouchard(6), Aga(14), Venus(15) All Lost

The first round of the 2015 French Open is now complete and there have been only a limited number of upsets.

On the men's side #10 seed Grigor Dimitrov was upset by American Jack Sock and #11 seed Feliciano Lopez was upset by Teimaruz Gabashvilli.

On the women's side the horrible 2015 season for Agnieska Radwanska and Eugenie Bouchard continues with embarrassing first round losses at Roland Garros. Bouchard is the #6 seed and in 2014 reached the semifinals of the first 3 majors of the year. Unfortunately for her, her 2015 results have been very different and she somewhat predictably lost her first round match to Kiki Mladenovic.

However the marquee match-up of the first round was probably between 7-time major champion Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. Venus is the #15 seed in the tournament and Stephens is a dangerous floater in the draw who avoided being seeded but has had consistently good results in Paris the last two years. Clay is Venus' is worst surface and she was the oldest player in the men's or women's draw (34 years old). The two played high quality tennis for most of the first set until they got to a tie break where Venus inexplicably hit 4 unforced errors after getting a lead and lost it 7-6(4). Venus then continued to spray the ball and lost the second set 6-1.

The favorites Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep all got through their first round matches relatively easily with only Kvitova dropping a set.

Monday, May 25, 2015


For some reason I have been so busy that I have not been able to see any new movies in the theater this year. However, since I am a fan of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, which were both directed by Danny Boyle (Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire) and written by Alex Garland I was intrigued when I saw that Garland had written a directed a new movie, called Ex Machina, which also happens to be a science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence.

Ex Machina is a thought-provoking science fiction thriller. The story revolves around a young computer programmer Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a company contest to spend a week at the home of the billionaire head of the world's largest internet search firm named Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). When Caleb gets there he find out that he has really been asked there to evaluate a new android (a humanoid form of artificial intelligence) called Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). Nathan tell Caleb he wants him to apply the Turing Test to Ava. The Turing Test is named after the openly gay genius Alan Turing  (whose story was featured in The Imitation Game) and basically involves a scenario in which the judge interacts with a being it can not see. If the judge can not distinguish between the responses of the being and what the judge would expect from a human, then the Test has been passed because for all intents and purposes the being (which is actually a computer or machine or artificial intelligence) is indistinguishable from a human.

However in the context of the movie, the Turing Test doesn't really make much sense because when Caleb meets Ava, who indeed looks like no other android we have seen in a movie before, he already knows that she is a robot. However, Caleb and Ava spend a lot of time together and soon two things becomes clear: 1) Caleb is falling in love with Ava (or Caleb is being seduced by Ava) and 2) Nathan is an obnoxious asshole.

Watching Caleb and Ava get close is interesting because we know that Caleb knows that she is a robot and yet it becomes increasingly obvious that he is attracted to her. The more interactions we have with Nathan the less appealing he becomes. He has a Geisha-like servant named Keiko who does not speak any English and whom he basically treats like his property. Caleb and the audience can see that there are cameras and recording devices everywhere which allow Nathan to monitor interactions between Caleb and Ava yet still they make plans to help her escape once Caleb's week comes to an end.

The film culminates in some developments whichI do not want to reveal here but which are ultimately quite satisfying especially since the audience is pretty sure we know where the story is going but Garland's script and direction have the ability to surprise and delight.

Title: Ex Machina.
Director: Alex Garland.
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.
Release Date: April 24, 2015.
Viewing Date: April 18, 2015.

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

Overall Grade:  A- (3.67/4.0).

EYE CANDY: Blake Sciortino (reprise)

Blake Sciortino is a smoking hot model and former athlete who has appeared on MTV and was featured Eye Candy here once before (July 28, 2014). He has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. According to his Model Mayhem profile, he is 22-years-old, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds. Yummy!

Mancrush seems to think he is black but I don't really know (or care). Hawt is hawt!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Game of Thrones (S5E06): "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

Episode 6 of Season 5 (S5E06) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken." The title comes from phrase the motto of House Martell, which has become an important focus of this season as the show has expanded to the Martell's domain in Dorne. Fans of the books know that the motto reflects the fact that Dorne, has never been conquered by any external force (not even the Targaryens with their Dragons) while the Martell family has ruled it. However, it is possible that another interpretation of the title could be words that describe Sansa Stark, especially considering what happens at the very end of the episode.

I think the main theme of this episode (S5E06) is about lies and the impact of lies on the lives of people, as well as bad things happening to good people (but, wait, every episode of Game of Thrones is about that!). The good people in this episode are our usual fan favorites: Sansa, Tyrion, Jaime as well as "the Tyrell Roses" (Margaery and Loras). The bad things that happen to these characters are quite varied. Arya is also a fan favorite, of course, but it is unclear whether something good or bad happened to her.

What did happen is that she learned how to lie convincingly in the House of Black and White, and convinced a very sick girl to drink the poisoned water and meet the Many-Faced God. As a reward, Arya is shown the hidden underground chamber below the House and it turns out that it is filled with thousands and thousands of faces. This seems like a significant development in Arya's goal of becoming one of the deadly assassins known as the Faceless Men. But is this a good thing?

Here are just some of the bad things that happened to our favorite characters in this episode:
  • Jamie and Bronn were captured trying to rescue Myrcella Lannister (who clearly did not want to be separated from her hot new boyfriend Trystane Martell)
  • Jorah and Tyrion were captured by slavers in Essos and are likely to be taken to Mereen
  • Margaery and Loras Tyrell were taken away to jail by the Sparrows, accused of violating the "laws of gods and men"
  • Sansa was raped on her wedding night by the odious Ramsay Bolton, while Theon Greyjoy (formerly Reek) was forced to watch, after he had assumed the role of eldest male relative at the wedding 

Some of the lies that resonated in this week's episode were: Arya's lie to the sick girl that she had been brought to the House of Black and White by her father to be healed; Tyrion lies to the slavers who have captured him in order to spare the lives of Jorah and himself; Margaery and Loras lie to the High Sparrow while testifying in Loras' trial; Sansa is lying (presumably?) when she says "I do" during her wedding to Ramsay Bolton; and Jaime and Bronn are not lying per se but they are being deceptive when they break into the Water Gardens of Dorne (Jaime is still perpetrating the lie that he is not Myrcella's father).

Then of course there is Littlefinger's statements to Cersei that he knows where Sansa Stark is and if she makes him Warden of the North then he will bring her Sansa's head on a spike. Is that a lie? Does Littlefinger even know what the truth is anymore?

The best parts of the episode were:
  • The best line of the show (and possibly the series) was spoken by the anonymous slaver who captured Tyrion Lannister and Ser Barristan Selmy: "The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant!" 
  • A close runner-up  for the best line of the show (for the sheer magnitude of delusion it reveals) is Cersei Lannister's "House Lannister has no rival." Sadly, the statement by Sansa to her fiance's gielfriend is equally self-delusional: "I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can't frighten me."
  • The verbal clash between Cersei and Olenna Tyrell was a delight; as expected the Queen of Thorns easily won the match and also learned that Lord Tywin's daughter is not as worthy an opponent or combatant as he was.
  • Another highlight of the episode was the buggery trial of Loras Tyrell, primarily for the clever way the show runners were able to set the perjury trap for Queen Margaery. The smirk that Cersei gives Olenna is priceless, but again demonstrates she is unaware of the danger of arming religious zealots and then blurring the lines separating Church and State.
  • The dress that Sansa Stark wore to her wedding to Ramsay Bolton was absolutely stunning.
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  As many other recaps have noted, did the show really need to have another female lead character get raped in order to demonstrate the ubiquity and horror of sexual violence in Westeros? Sansa is the third one, following the rapes of Dany on her wedding night by Khal Drogo and Cersei by her brother Jaime next to the body of their dead son King Joffrey.
  • The Sand Snakes are simply unacceptably bad; their "plot" to capture Myrcella was laughable. It's really not clear how the entire Dorne subplot can be salvaged at this point.
Grade: 8/10.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

UPDATE: The Expanse Is Premiering On SyFy In December 2015!

I found other rabid fans of James S.A. Corey's books at Reddit and from there discovered that there's a second version of the trailer for the upcoming SyFy television adaptation and someone has grabbed  a bunch of screen captures from it.

Check it out! There are signs that SyFy has already approved Season 2 of the series even before the show has premiered. If true, this would be great news, although I'm a bit worried about the December premiere for the show. The big question for me will be whether The Expanse will premiere from the other big Science fiction show coming you this year, Jonathan Nolan's Westworld starring Sir Anthony Hopkins among others. Either SyFy is just trying to stick to their promised (and probably contractual 2015 premiere date and trying to take as long as possible to get it right, or they are not completely sure abut the show and have picked a time when most people are not paying attention to launch My Next Favorite Television Show.

The Expanse cast has Shohreh Agdashloo, Steven Strait, Thomas Jane and Chad Coleman in key roles.

Ireland Enacts Marriage Equality As Amendment Passes With Over 60% #VoteYes

As expected, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize marriage equality by a popular vote when the country passed a constitutional amendment by a huge margin of 62%-38% buoyed by record high turnout of over 60 of the voting population.

Freedom To Marry's Evan Wolfson said:
With a resounding vote in favor, Ireland now becomes the first country in the world to pass the freedom to marry by popular referendum, as well as the 21st nation and the 10th predominantly Catholic country in which same-sex couples can marry. Our Irish colleagues at Yes Equality ran a magnificent campaign and Freedom to Marry is proud to have shared what we’ve learned in our own campaign here in the US. The global momentum for the freedom to marry reflects and reinforces the progress we are making here in the United States – and we look now to the Supreme Court to bring our country to national resolution, following Ireland’s good example.
Ireland is now the 21st country where same-sex couples have an equal right to marry.
Eighteen countries have approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg, Finland and now Ireland), while two others have regional or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry (Mexico and the United States). In Slovenia, Parliament approved a marriage bill in March 2015 and is headed to the president's desk.
Woo hoo!

SATURDAY POLITICS: Openly Gay, Latino Ref Rodriguez Elected To Los Angeles School Board

Dr. Ref Rodriguez was just elected this week to fill the District 5 seats on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board of education. He defeated incumbent Bennet Kayser by a surprisingly large margin of 7 points (53.5% to 46.5%). Rodriguez was endorsed by the Victory Fund, which supports only LGBT candidates for elected offices around the country.

Rodriguez is well-known for founding the Partnership to Uplift Communities Schools, commonly known as the PUC Schools, which run many charter schools in the state of California. The Rodiguez-Kayser battle was the most expensive of those contested on May 19th, with the California Charter School Association spending millions of dollars to defeat Kayser, who was aligned with the United Teachers Los Angles (UTLA), the teachers' union.

As KPCC put it:
As was the case in the primary, voter turnout was low as predicted: 7.64 percent of registered voters turned out in the school board election and 13.93 percent in City Council District 4. 
In the school board election, the low turnout gave special interests more influence in the results than had voters turned out in decent numbers. California Charter Schools Association Advocates' PACs spent over $2.2 million, primarily to support charter school administrator Ref Rodriguez. The teachers union, UTLA, spent about $1.3 million while calling on its 31,000-plus members to campaign for its favored candidates. 
The District 5 election got so fierce that I had people knocking on my door (twice) for Kayser even though I am not in District 5 (I'm in District 2 currently held by Monica Garcia).

Because of the ill-advised Charter Amendments that passed earlier this year, Rodriguez will serve a 5.5 year term, coming up for election in June 2020.

Friday, May 22, 2015

2015 FRENCH OPEN: Draws Released; Rafa-Nole Set For QF, Murray In Same Half; Fed In Other Half

The 2015 French Open draw is out! Despite the fact that today is Novak Djokovic's 28th birthday, he probably did not get what he wanted with a draw that sets up him with a potential quarterfinal match-up with 9-time and defending champion Rafael Nadal, who thanks to Milos Raonic's withdrawal was seeded #6.

For Djokovic to win the 2015 Roland Garros title he coudl potentially need to beat Nadal i the quarterfinal, #3 Andy Murray in the semifinals and #2 Roger Federer in the final. If he can do all that (which is definitely possible) then he would be halfway to a calendar grand slam and knocking on the door of all-time greatness with 9 majors to his name.

The potential quarterfinals on the men's side are:
Djokovic (1) vs Nadal (6)Murray (3) vs Ferrer (7)Berdych (4) vs Nishikori (5)Federer (2) vs Wawrinka (8)
The men's draw was kindest to Federer, who basically only has to worry about facing Gael Monfils in the fourth round. The Frenchman has beaten the Swiss great the last two ties he has faced him, on clay. Could he make it three in a row in front of a hometown Parisian crowd?

The potential quarterfinals on the women's side are:
S. Williams (1) vs Bouchard (6)Halep (3) vs Ivanovic (7)Kvitova (4) vs Wozniacki (5)Sharapova (2) vs Suarez Navarro (8)
However even more intriguing in the women's side of the draw are the first round match-ups between Americans Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys and Varvara Lepchenko. Another interesting first round could be Kiki Mladenovic and Bouchard. Mladenovic took out then-reigning Australian Open champion Li Na in the first round last year. Also youngsters Caroline Garcia and Belinda Bencic are facing each other in the first round.

The most interesting first round men's match is probably between Grigor Dimitrov and Jack Sock. I'm curious to see if 17-year-old Frances Tiafoe can win his first match at a major (against) talented lefty Martin Klizan after winning the USTA wild card.

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: WNBA Newlyweds Each Suspended 7-Games For Domestic Violence Incident

Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, two WNBA players, both 24-years-old, were suspended for a record 7 games (more than 20% of the WNBA season of 34 games) as a result of an April 22nd domestic violence incident where both women were arrested prior to their May 8th wedding in Phoenix Arizona.
The couple, who will use the surname Johnson-Griner, wrote their own vows. Ms. Griner was brief, funny and tender: “With you by my side, I know that I’ll always be taken care of and protected. I will give every ounce of my love that is possible to you, as long as you cook me fried chicken wings and hot chocolate.” 
Ms. Johnson’s vows also short and sweet, addressed the complications in their relationship head on — and with humor. “I promise to be the Whitney to your Bobby, the Bonnie to your Clyde, the Ike to your Tina,” she began, to laughter from the small gathering of about 50 friends and family. 
“I promise to accept that we’re different, that we will see the world differently and over the course of our marriage we will want different things,” she said. “I don’t expect this to be easy.”
Griner was the #1 WNBA draft pick in 2013 and made history doing so an openly LGBT athlete.

Good luck to the happy couple!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Birthday Is Today!

My birthday is today so I'm going to spend the day chillaxing at home, reading and then going out to a lovely dinner with my husband. Meanwhile, you all can enjoy this picture of Pietro Boselli, the "hottest math teacher in the world."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ireland Poised To Enact Marriage Equality By Popular Ballot This Week

Ireland is poised to become the first country in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote if a constitutional amendment is approved by voters on Friday May 22.

The text of the measure is as follows:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Polls have shown a large lead for the "Yes" side which would lead to a victory for marriage equality. All major parties have endorsed the Yes position and the coalition said that they would not be surprised to see a result of 60% in support of marriage.

This is an astonishing possibility in a country that is 85% Catholic and where abortion is still illegal and divorce was legalized only two decades ago.

Good luck, Ireland!

TENNIS TUESDAY: Djokovic and Sharapova Win Rome Titles, French Open Starts Sunday

Federer-Djokovic XXXIX Goes To Djokovic 6-4 6-3 In Rome Final
The 39th meeting between the 17-time major champion Roger Federer and the 8-time major champion Novak Djokovic was another example of the stellar play the Serbian 27-year-old has displayed all year. He faced only one breakpoint in the match and made 10 unforced errors to Federer's 23. With his win, Djokovic narrowed his head-to-head deficit  with Federer to 19-20.

Djokovic On 37-Match Winning Streak Against Best Opponents In Biggest Tournaments
Djokovic's 2015 record is 35-2 (14-1 against other Top 10 opponents) and he has now won 5 of the 6 biggest titles of the year (and he skipped the Madrid Masters to rest). He has now won 24 Masters series shields in his career, tying Federer's and he is 6 years younger than the Swiss Great. He will almost certainly surpass Rafael Nadal's current record total of 28. Against the best opposition at the majors and masters shields tournaments Djokovic has won 37 matches in a row, with his last loss coming to Federer in Shanghai. Pundits are now starting to talk about the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era instead of just the Federer-Nadal era.

Sharapova Outlasts CSN In Rome Final
Maria Sharapova wrapped up her clay court preparation with an important 4-6 7-5 6-1 win against a tough clay court opponent in Carla Suarez Navarro to win her 3rd Rome title. She also reclaimed her #2 World ranking when Simona Halep fell to Suarez Navarro in a 3-hour slugfest the day before. Last year, Sharapova and Halep played the one of the best matches of the year in the 2014 French Open final.

French Open Begins On Sunday With 9-Time Champion Unlikely To Be Seeded Highly
Rafael Nadal is currently ranked World #7 and will almost certainly be seeded out of the Top 4 which means that he could meet one of his higher ranked rivals in the quarterfinals as he tries to win his 10th title at Roland Garros. On the women's side, Maria Sharapova  and Serena Williams will be on the opposite sides of the draw, and could meet in the final again. The two best players in the world also met in the finals of the first grand slam tournament of the year but their match-up can't really be called a rivalry until Sharapova wins one of these matches, something she has not done since late 2004 (despite playing 16 times). However, I think Sharapova will eventually win another match against Serena and Roland Garros is probably one of the best places she could do it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

EYE CANDY: Antonio Stephen (reprise)

Antonio Stephen has appeared as Eye Candy once before (April 6, 2015). He's a fitness model of West Indian descent (Trinidad and Tobago). He has a Facebook page and Twitter account.

You can see more pictures of Antonio online. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Game of Thrones (S5E05): "Kill The Boy"

Episode 5 of Season 5 of HBO's Game Of Thrones is "Kill The Boy." This episode (S5E05) marks the halfway point of the season and although things are still moving along more slowly than most reviewers are happy with, they are clearly building towards something big, which will most likely be revealed in S5E09.

I think the main theme of this episode (S5E05) is maturity and the hard decisions that follow. Considering the body count of this show, one could be forgiven for taking the title of the episode ("Kill The Boy") literally and fearing for the safety of some child. Especially considering Daenerys' behavior  in trying to maintain control of the former slaveholding city of Meereen. However, we discover pretty early that the title is a metaphor, a suggestion from Maester Aemon Targaryen to Lord Commander Jon Snow to "kill the boy and let the man be born." Jon takes his advice and announces to the Night's Watch his very unpopular decision that he wants to invite the people they have viewed as their enemies for generations (the Wildings who live North of the Wall) to come and live south of the Wall. Jon's reasons are sound: anyone who is North of the Wall when the Army of White Walkers comes through during the Winter will not only be massacred horribly but also turn into un-dead Zombies that the Night's Watch will have to face in the future when Winter arrives.

Maturity, or lack of therein, is demonstrated when we move to Winterfell. There Ramsey Snow Bolton is demonstrating his lack of control to Sansa by showing off his pet Reek at the worst dinner party ever featuring Lord Roose Bolton, his new wife Walda (nee Frey). Ramsay's lack of maturity is embarrassing for everyone present but it also reveals that Sansa has not fully matured because she is unable to show the disgust in her face as she sees the boy she knew as Theon being forced to apologize to her for (falsely) killing her brothers Rickon and Brandon while the man who killer her eldest brother and was present and responsible for the death of her mother is sitting across the table from her.

Over in Essos, Dany makes an important decision after throwing what I would refer to a fit of childish spite by terrorizing the heads of the great families of Meereen by showing them her dragons Viserion and Rhaegar and then arbitrarily choosing one to burned alive and then devoured by them.
She goes to the prison cell of the Meereenese noble the television audience knows the best (his actual name is Hizdahr zo Loraq) and while he cowers on his knees she cooly informs him that she wants to get married (to him).

A key part of the episode occurred when Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont take a shortcut by passing through the fabled, haunted city of Valyria and see Drogon (Dany's 3rd dragon) flying in the sky. Valyria looked incredible but its eery stillness was broken by the appearance of the Stonemen, people who are completely infected with greyscale. "Don't let them touch you!" cried Jorah but Tyrion's hands are still tied together so all he can basically do is scramble around and then plunges into the water and the screen fades to black when we see a hand reaching fro Tyrion pulling him deeper into the muck.

Amazingly, that's not the end of the episode, because there's one more incredibly important reveal: Even though Jorah was able to rescue Tyrion, he was unable to follow his own advice and he has contracted greyscale from the Stonemen. It's clear that the show is going to raise the profile of the disease to a much higher level than it has in the books.

The best parts of the episode were:
  • The best lines of the show were (surprisingly) delivered by Stannis Barratheon this week. The first was when he muttered under his breath "Fewer" when a member of the Night's Watch was arguing against his Lord Commander's plan by shouting "Let the die! Less enemies for us!" "Fewer," muttered Stannis, channeling his inner grammar scold. The second great line was when Stannis talked to Sam in the library and confirmed that the rotund, unassuming guy in front of him had indeed killed a White Walker with dragonglass (obsidian) but doesn't know why it worked. "Keep reading, Samwell Tarly" said Stannis on his way out the door.
  • The entire scene on the water going through Valyria with Jorah and Tyrion exhanging quotes from famous poems was simply delightful.
  • Dragons! Viserion and Rhaegar looked incredible close up and Drogon looked amazing from far way.
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  • I think this was the first episode of the season with no specific lowlights for me. I know that many reviewers do not understand the depiction of thee relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei but to me it is welcome respite from the bleakness of the show. That being said, Grey Worm's expression of love was still a bit groan-inducing.
Grade: 9/10.

Today Is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia

Today is May 17th, the day which is becoming universally recognized as IDAHOT, the international day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. In fact, the White House issued a statement by President Barack Obama:
Michelle and I join our fellow Americans and others around the world in commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia tomorrow, May 17.  We take this opportunity to reaffirm that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are human rights, to celebrate the dignity of every person, and to underscore that all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.  
We work toward this goal every day. Here at home, we are working to end bias-motivated violence, combat discrimination in the workplace, and address the specific needs of transgender persons.  Overseas, I am proud of the steps that the United States has taken to prioritize the protection and promotion of LGBT rights in our diplomacy and global outreach. 
There is much more to do, and this fight for equality will not be won in a day.  But we will keep working, at home and abroad, and we will keep fighting, for however long it takes until we are all able to live free and equal in dignity and rights.
 National Security Adviser Susan Rice took the opportunity to issue a statement that condemns the recent murderously homophobic remarks by Gambian President Jammeh.
The recent unconscionable comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love. We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens - and arbitrary detention at the government's hands. 
The United States in late 2014 acted on The Gambia’s crackdown against its LGBT community and wider human rights violations by ending trade preferences, and we are reviewing what additional actions are appropriate to respond to this worsening situation. 
We repeat our call for the Gambian government, and all governments, to lead inclusively, repudiate intolerance, and promote respect for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.
Additionally, the White House released a fact sheet summarizing the numerous measures the Obama administration has taken which benefit the international LGBT Community. Some highlights:

  • On December 6, 2011, President Obama released the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Personswhich directs departments and agencies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees or asylum seekers; enhance assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination for LGBT persons; and help ensure swift and meaningful responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • In February 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.  Special Envoy Berry joins USAID Senior Coordinator Todd Larson in leading the U.S. Government’s efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT persons.  Six openly gay U.S. Ambassadors are serving at Embassies around the world.  And, this year, the Peace Corps also created a position devoted to training staff to support LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers. 
  • With the support of the United States, the World Health Organization has begun discussions on the negative repercussions of stigma, discrimination, and other barriers to care for LGBT persons in the health system as a whole.  In 2013 the Pan-American Health Organization passed a ground-breaking resolution on LGBT health, which emphasized that equal access to care is a health issue and called on countries to collect data on access to health care and health facilities for their LGBT population. 
  • Since its inception in 2011, the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, a partnership of 11 governments as well as a number of corporations and private foundations, has allocated more than $19 million to frontline advocates in 50 countries. 
  • In June 2014 the White House hosted the first-ever Global LGBT Human Rights Forum, which brought together the faith community, private sector, philanthropy, HIV and other health advocates, LGBT activists from around the world, and the broader human rights community to discuss how to work together with the U.S. government and others to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT individuals around the world.  National Security Advisory Susan Rice delivered keynote remarks


Saturday, May 16, 2015

2015 ROME: Finals Are Federer-Djokovic XXXIX and Sharapova-Suarez Navarro

As I predicted yesterday, the men's final of the 2015 Rome Masters, also known as the Internazionali BNL d'Italia (Italian Open) will be contested between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Federer defeated his countryman Stan Wawrinka 6-4 6-2 while Djokovic squeaked by David Ferrer 6-4 6-4. The final is the 39th meeting between these two great champions and Federer has a slight 20-18 head-to-head lead, but Djokovic leads 8-5 in finals while the Swiss has a slight 4-3 edge on clay. Djokovic is not playing his best tennis but has been fighting and scrambling to win 3 consecutive 3-set matches in the tournament. Federer started off scratchy but has looked strong in later rounds; he has never won this particular Masters tournament (or Monte Carlo) and would love to strike it off his bucket list.
MadProfessah's pick: Federer.

On the women's side Carla Suarez Navarro (or CSN) outlasted Simona Halep to reach her second big final of 2015 and has clearly cemented her status as a Top 10 player on the women's tour. CSN has had some very good results in the last few weeks (beating Venus Williams, Agnieska Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Genie Bouchard and Ana Ivanovic). However, she will face Maria Sharapova who made mincemeat out of Victoria Azarenka earlier in the week and at this point must be considered a clay court powerhouse. However, despite losing four of her last meetings to Halep CSN was able to outlast her. Could Sharapova be next? CSN is down 1-3 in theie head-to-head but none of those matches have been on clay. Still, it's hard to root against the reigning French Open champion. MadProfessah's pick: Sharapova.

Friday, May 15, 2015

2015 ROME: Men's Semifinals Set Federer-Wawrinka, Djokovic-Ferrer

The semifinals of the 2015 ATP Madrid Masters are set, and surprisingly, they do not include 7-time champion Rafael Nadal. Due to today's surprising 7-6(7) 6-2 loss to Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals Nadal is now in uncharted territory during a clay court season. For the first time in his illustrious career, Nadal will be defending his Roland Garros title without having won a single European clay court warm-up tournament, and in fact he has lost on clay 5 times in 2015 (to Fabio Fognini in Brazil and Barcelona, to Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, to Andy Murray in Madrid and now to Wawrinka in Rome). And most of these losses were in straight sets. Hi

However, the tour goes on. The semifinals are set and instead of the expected Federer-Nadal XXXIV match-up there will be an all-Swiss match between Roger Federer and Wawrinka where Federer leads their head-to-head 15-2. Then again, Wawrinka had a 1-12 record against Nadal (with the one win coming in the finals of the Australian Open last year). That being said, I expect Federer to come through that match to reach his 4th Italian Open final--a tournament he has never won.

He will almost certainly face World #1 Novak Djokovic, who will play a semifinal against David Ferrer (whom he has a 14-5 advantage against).

MadProfessah's pick: Federer-Djokovic final.

23-Year-Old Black Gay HIV+ Man Faces 60 Years In Prison After Being Found Guilty In Missouri

Michael Johnson is a 23-year-old Black gay man who was known on social media as "Tiger Mandingo" and was a champion college wrestler who allegedly had sex with multiple partners in Missouri without disclosing his HIV-positive status (which he knew about). Atleast one of those partners later tested positive for HIV and Johnson was found guilty of under Missouri's HIV criminalization statue this week of "recklessly infecting" a partner with HIV as well as "recklessly exposing a partner to HIV" and is subject to a punishment that could extend to life in prison.

The case, despite being a case of "he said, he said" was complicated by the fact that Johnson made as many as 30 videos of himself having unprotected oral and anal sex with partners, which since he was diagnosed by the state of Missouri as being HIV-positive on January 8, 2013 are evidence of illegal activity.

Buzzfeed notes:
Johnson was specifically charged on six counts: transmitting HIV to Lemons and to Charles Pfoutz through anal sex (both Class A felonies); one Class B felony for attempting to expose HIV to Montell Moore through anal sex without transmission; and three additional Class B felonies for exposing Christian Green, Filip Cukovic, and Andrew Tryon to HIV. Johnson was convicted on all counts, except the one involving Pfoutz, which was added by the prosecution just last month.  
All six of Johnson’s accusers testified that Johnson did not disclose his HIV status. Multiple medical professionals testified that they had informed Johnson of his status and advised him it was a felony to fail to disclose.
Johnson for his part testified that he had disclosed his HIV status to all six of his sexual partners before they had sex.
The case has become a cause celebre in Black gay circles, with a public letter to Johnson signed by 89 prominent Black gay men being circulated in response to the trial. Here's an excerpt:
HIV should be treated as a public health issue not as a criminal one. Legally requiring disclosure privileges the lives of White people not living with HIV over Black people who are living with HIV.
These laws feed into stereotypes that assume Black gay men are irresponsible and hypersexual. For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.
HIV criminalization laws burden people living with HIV to take on the sole responsibility of sexual encounters. Regardless of intention or disclosure, there is a shared responsibility among sexual partners. Opening up about your HIV status is a personal decision that should not be mandated or enforced. Disclosing your HIV-status should be about self-reflection and speaking your truth. Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission. And disclosure should not be about punishing people living with HIV who do not disclose.
We do not care about whether or not you disclosed, or any intention you may or may not have had. We care about you—your life matters. HIV is not a crime and you should not be in prison.
What do you think?

Hat/tip to Fusion

Thursday, May 14, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: President of The Gambia Threatens All Gay Men With Murder

The heads of African countries are notorious for their virulent homophobia, but even among that group, today's Queer Quote, which is this statement by the President of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, is pretty horrendous:
"If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it."
President Jammeh also said "If you do it [in the Gambia], I will slit our throat." He apparently said the words in a local language (Wolof). In 2013, Jammeh has been quoted saying this:
Homosexuality is anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization. Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born. I have buffaloes from South Africa and Brazil and they never date each other. We are ready to eat grass but we will not compromise on this. Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights. We will not allow gays here.
How much do you want to bet there are gay men having sex in the Gambia RIGHT NOW? It never ceases to amaze me how homophobes think that by making a statement like "We don't have any gays in Iran" or "We will not allow gays here" that they think it actually has an impact on whether gay people actually exist in that country or not. Of course, what they are really trying to do is enforce the cultural norms of their society and to mandate universal compulsory heterosexuality.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Pew Documents Increase In "Religiously Unaffiliated"!

A report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life is documenting the rapid change in the religious demographics of the U.S. population. Specifically, the percentage of "religiously unaffiliated" (what we like to call "Godless" around here) has risen from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014. The report indicates that the number of religiously unaffiliated has jumped from 36 million people in 2007 to roughly 56 million in 2014.

Rapid Growth of Religiously Unaffiliated

Before we get too cocky, one should recognize that although the fraction of the population that identifies as Christian is decreasing, it went from 78.4% to 70.6%. That is still a huge supermajority of the United States. The mechanism for the increase in the godless apparently is occurring from people primarily switching from being Catholic. The total number of Christians has declined from 178 million to 173 million.

Friendly Atheist notes that atheists and agnostics are a growing fraction of the unaffiliated:

The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”). People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007. The growth of the “nones” has been powered in part by religious switching. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised as Christians or members of some other religion, but now say they have no religious affiliation.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God and Friendly Atheist

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TENNIS TUESDAY: Raonic Now #4, Murray Stuns Nadal in Madrid, Nole Returns, Kvitova Ends Serena's Streak

New ATP World Rankings Are Very New Indeed
This week's ATP World rankings have two important features: Canadian Milos Raonic reaches a career high at #4 while Rafael Nadal slides to World #7 which is his lowest ranking since May 2, 2005. Showing the impact of a major win, somehow Marin Cilic still remains in the Top 10. It's not all good news for the big Canadian, as Raonic announced that he will be having foot surgery and will likely miss tournaments in Rome and Paris.

Murray Gets First Win On Clay Against Nadal In A Final. In Madrid!
Amazingly, Andy Murray had never won a clay tournament despite nearly a decade playing on tour. In the last two weeks he has won two. He won a rain-delayed final played on a Monday to win the BMW Open in Hamburg and then 6 days later he dominated the greatest clay court player of all-time by defeating Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-2 in the Madrid Masters final.

Clay Court Season Continues In Rome
World #1 Novak Djokovic returns to the tour in Rome, while Murray may decide to take a break to save energy for Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Nole has won the first three Masters series tournaments he played this year (as well as the first major) and is the defending champion here. Nadal is the finalist so is defending 600 points but there is little likelihood of him falling out of the Top 8 before the French Open starts in two weeks.

Kvitova Returns And Hands Serena First Defeat Of 2015
Petra Kvitova demonstrated again that when she is on, she can beat anyone, even 19-time major champion Serena Williams. It is true that Serena was not on, but the World #1 was undefeated on the year despite playing 24 matches, a streak which ended in a 6-3 6-2 defeat in the Madrid semifinals. Kvitova went on to win the title, her 16th and pundits again wondered if this marks the beginning of when the Czech player will go on to dominate the WTA tour.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin