Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Facebook's Rainbow Pride Filter Goes Viral

First the White House, now 26 million Facebook users! A pride filter initially created by two interns during a Facebook hackathon allows users to modify their profile pictures to include a rainbow filter in recognition of LGBT Pride. Apparently 26 million of Facebook users have since done so.

Mashable analyzed the viral phenomenon:
According to the company, the rainbow filter was built by two interns during an internal hackathon the rainbow filter was built by two interns during an internal hackathon recently. After it became a hit within the company, the interns worked with a larger team to add the tool to the site before Pride weekend and the SCOTUS ruling. 
The tool was added to the site just as Facebook shared for the first time that more than 6 million of its U.S. members identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming. Meanwhile, nearly 1 million have joined a Facebook group in support of the LGBTQ community.
I  liked the idea so much I joined the movement myself, as you can see at the top of this post. If you want to change your Facebook profile picture, just go to facebook.com/celebratepride

2015 WIMBLEDON: Venus Serves Up Double Bagel; #1 and #2 seeds Win 1R

The first day of play at the 2015 Wimbledon Championships is over and the Top 2 seeds in the men and women's draw have not dropped a set. #1 seed (and defending championNovak Djokovic faced the toughest resistance, against Philipp Kohlschreiber but still won 6-4 6-4 6-4. #2 seed Roger Federer won his match in straight sets (6-1 6-3 6-3).

On the women's side #1 seed Serena Williams started off very slowly against Margarita Gasparyan and found herself down 1-3 early on. She got back on track against a spirited opponent and ended up winning 6-4 6-1. #2 seed (and defending champion) Petra Kvitova dominated her opponent with a 6-1 6-0 win (in 35 minutes!)

Other notable victories include 5-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 6-0 6-0 win over fellow American Madison Brengle in 42 minutes Interestingly, there have been two other "double bagels" so far in the women's draw: Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic also won their matches without losing a game.

The only major upsets so far is #9 seed Carla Suarez Navarro who lost 6-2 6-0.

Monday, June 29, 2015

EYE CANDY: Tyrone Wells

Tyrone Wells is best known as the face of Sizzle Miami 2015, and is one of the few openly gay Black male models to be featured here as Eye Candy. He and his boyfriend Johnell Tyrell are very popular on Instagram (@TyroneWells and @Johnell_) with well over 125,000 followers between the two of them.

These are not the best pictures of him but he is definitely phyne!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

2015 LOCUS Awards: Ann Leckie and Katherine Addison Win Best Novel (For SciFi and Fantasy, Respectively)

In light of the ongoing Puppy kerfuffle around the Hugo awards, all awards for achievements in speculative fiction will be closely scrutinized this year, so thanks to File770.com I know that last night the 2015 Locus Awards were revealed. I am very pleased to report that Ann Leckie has won her second consecutive Locus Award for Best SF Novel (Ancillary Sword) while Katherine Addison has won her first Locus award for Best Fantasy Novel (The Goblin Emperor).

The Locus Awards (cleverly, in my opinion) separate Best Novel into Fantasy and Science Fiction categories, unlike the other major prestigious awards like the Hugo and Nebula, which both Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor have also been nominated. They both lost this year's Nebula award for best Novel, to Jeffe VanderMeer's Annihilation. Ancillary Sword has already won this year's BSFA award but it failed to make the Arthur C. Clarke shortlist.

Interestingly, the Best Novella award went to Nancy Kress for Yesterday's Kin which earlier won the Nebula award in the same category. Alas, it is not nominated for the Hugo award because some idiots thought that novellas by one virulently homophobic guy named John C. Wright should take up not one, not two but three of the five slots in this category. We will not know until late August if Nancy Kress would have been nominated for a Hugo this year as well.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Read the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Obergefell v. Hodges Here

2015 WIMBLEDON: Men's And Women's Draw Released and Analyzed

The 2015 Wimbledon's men's and women's draw was released today. The defending champions are Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova. Djokovic is also the #1 men's seed this year while Serena Williams is the #1 seed on the women's seed.

Men's Draw Analysis
Djokovic has a tricky first round match with Philipp Kohlschreiber but the rest of the big four (7-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer, 2013 Wimbledon champ Andy Murray and 2-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal) are all in the bottom half of the draw. However, Djokovic could perhaps meet Stan Wawrinka in a semifinal which would be a reprise of the 2015 French Open final that Wawrinka won a few weeks ago.

The potential quarterfinals are: Djokovic (1) versus Kei Nishikori (7), Wawrinka (4) versus Milos Raonic (7), David Ferrer (8) or Rafael Nadal (10) versus Murray (3) and Tomas Berdych (6) versus Federer(2).

Women's Draw Analysis
Serena Williams (1) has a pretty tough draw, but she could possibly meet her sister Venus Williams in the 4th round (if Venus gets past fellow American Madison Brengle in the first round) and then Ana Ivanovic or Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals and Maria Sharapova or Lucie Safarova in the semifinals and Petra Kvitova in the final. The lower half of the draw has other grass-court standouts like Madison Keys, Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki.

The potential quarterfinals are: Serena (1) versus Ana Ivanovic (7), Maria Shaparova (4) versus Lucie Safarova (6), Caroline Wozniacki (5) versus Simona Halep (3), and Petra Kvitova (2)  versus Ekaterina Makarova (8).

Interesting First Round Matches To Watch
Venus Williams versus Madison Brengle
Garbine Muguruza versus Varvara Lepchenko
Sara Errani versus Francesca Schiavone
Lleyton Hewitt versus Jarkko Nieminen
Donald Young versus Marco Baghdatis
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga versus Gilles Muller
Jack Sock versus Sam Groth

QUEER QUOTE: U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch On Historic Marriage Equality Ruling

United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement on the occasion of the historic Supreme Court's decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges today:
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized the equality, dignity and essential humanity of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and reaffirmed this country’s bedrock principle – engraved over the entrance to the Court itself – that all Americans are entitled to equal justice under law.  By putting an end to an era of state-sanctioned discrimination, the decision lights the way to a future of acceptance, inclusion and opportunity for gay and lesbian Americans and their families.  It encapsulates a nation’s enormous leap of understanding – rooted in compassion, tolerance and empathy – and reflects the countless hearts touched and minds opened along the way.  It vindicates an idea whose time has come at last.  
Today’s result would not have been possible without the passionate advocacy and innumerable acts of personal bravery of generations of leaders, who have fought for the simple freedom to pursue their own happiness with those whom they love.  Their fight, galvanized by the Stonewall riots nearly a half-century ago, was waged in the face of pervasive bigotry and widespread resistance and its progress was never guaranteed.  But after too many lifetimes of isolation, humiliation and harassment – and steeled by unimaginable courage and indomitable conviction – gay and lesbian citizens across the country bravely came out into the open and awakened the conscience of a nation.  Their courage has led us to this day; to a decision from the nation’s highest court declaring them to have full and equal rights to marry in the country they fought to change; and to a victory that they have justly and finally won.I have no illusions that Obergefell v. Hodges spells the end of anti-gay prejudice.  
Difficult legal issues lie ahead and the protections written into law are not all they should be. That’s why this march must go on and why this cause will endure, until all Americans – regardless of sexual orientation – are afforded the equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunity they deserve. But on a day like today – a day that marks a watershed moment in the progress of this movement, in the story of this community and in the history of this nation – it is proper that we pause and take stock of just how far we have come. The Justice Department is proud to have been a part of this journey, from Attorney General Eric Holder’s unwavering leadership in advancing the cause of equality to the groundbreaking progress we have witnessed today. Going forward, we are committed to standing on the side of equality – and standing with the LGBT community – to keep up the fight for safety, opportunity, dignity and justice for all.”

Gaytterdämmerung: SCOTUS Strikes Down All Bans On Marriage Equality Nationwide In Sweeping 5-4 Ruling

As expected, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision called Obergefell v. Hodges that there is a constitutional right to marry enjoyed by same-sex couples, effectively striking down the remaining bans on marriage equality remaining in the fourteen states by reversing the 6th U.S. Circuit's bizarre ruling upholding bans in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee last November.

Amazingly, the ruling was issued on the third anniversary of United States v. Windsor (June 26, 2013) striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the thirteenth anniversary (June 26, 2003) of the landmark decision in Lawrence v Texas overturning laws criminalizing private homosexual conduct between consulting adults.

REVIEW: The Tao Series (Books 1-3) By Wesley Chu

Wesley Chu is a new science fiction author I discovered this year after The Other Half got me one of his books from my Amazon Wishlist. That book was  The Lives of Tao. I had put it on my wishlist because I read this blurb about the book:
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.  
He wasn’t. 
He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes. 
Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…
It turned out that I liked the first book so much that I devoured it and its two sequels on Kindle within a week! Chu has an easy, breezy style that is very readable and engaging. Additionally, the setting of the books is incredibly compelling: alien entities called Quasings have apparently been occupying humans and influencing humanity's history for eons. Many historical figures of note (Genghis Khan, Galileo, Plato, etc) were able to have an extraordinary impact on the world because they were in constant contact with an advanced alien intelligence. There are two competing factors of Quasings, the Prophus who want to have a symbiotic relationship with humans whom they view as equals and the Genjix who view humans as insignificant hosts and Earth a planet that they intend to colonize and control by any means necessary.

The Tao series consists of three books (The Lives of TaoThe Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao), which are very different in composition, narrative and impact but they all share Chu's engaging, fast-paced, action-packed, humor-laced writing. This is the best feature of the books, and hopefully will lead to Chu being recognized with the prestigious John W. Campbell award at the 2015 Worldcon this year. Even if he doesn't win, just being nominated should expose many other potential fans like myself to his excellent work. It should also help that he has released two books in 2015 (the third book in the Tao series, as well as a time-travel thriller called Time Salvager which is not set in the Tao universe at all, an indication of the young author's versatility and potential longevity.

The Lives of Tao is primarily a story of redemption starring Roen Tan, a sci-fi nerd's everyman who is overweight, shy around women and stuck in a job he hates at the beginning of the book whose life  is irrevocably changed when he gets accidentally merged with the alien Quasing intelligence named Tao. From that moment on (which happens pretty early in the book), we are thrust into a fast-moving story that is propelled by the escalating war between the Prophus and Genjix that involves tactics and weapons reminiscent of a violent spy thriller. I enjoyed The Lives of Tao a lot, even if as a married gay guy I did not fully identify with Roen's struggle (amusingly well-documented by Chu in the book) to transform himself from a straight geeky slob with self-esteem issues to a fit, deadly agent fighting for the Prophus cause. For example, there are many pages of description of the hard work and training and dieting that Roen is subject to in order  to improve himself and change his life; in the end I was still somewhat doubtful about the rapidity with which Roen progressed from schlub to stud. (Then again should one really be quibbling about "realism" in a book that has a premise which involves nearly immortal alien beings that can occupy and communicate symbiotically with human brains?) I really enjoyed the interaction between Roen and Tao as they get to know each other and work together to try to contribute as best they can to the fight against the evil Genjix. I like the fact that Chu also shows us that the Prophus side (whom we as human readers are expected to identify with since Tao is a Prophus member) has its problems and deficiencies as well as giving us first-person perspectives of the villainous Genjix (who believe that Quasings are superior, god-like beings and human lives are expendable). While the book celebrates mindless fun, so that even when Roen does actually "get the girl" in the end, this does not mean that everyone lives happily ever after. It is the nuanced portrayal of several issues like this in the book generally and the Quasings specifically which lifts The Lives of Tao into being more than just an exciting, enjoyable read.

If you have not read The Lives of Tao I encourage you to do so before continuing to read this review because spoilers follow.



The Deaths of Tao continues the story several years after the events of the first book.
Roen has separated from his wife Jill (one of the girls he was lusting after in The Lives of Tao) and now they have a 5-year-old kid named Cameron who lives with Jill's parents in a suburb of San Diego while Jill (along with her Quasing Baji) tries to implement the Prophus agenda as the chief of staff to a United States Senator in Washington, D.C. However, Roen is not only persona non grata with Jill but also with the Prophus hierarchy overall. In the intervening years since the events of The Lives of Tao the war has not gone well for the Prophus side, and they are not happy that Roen took matters into his own hands and went rogue in trying to suss out exactly what is the evil end game of the Genjix. The second book in the Tao series is a more adult, complicated work; this can be seen in the expanded list of important characters: the Genjix human host named Enzo, who has been bred and trained to be the perfect human vessel for Zoras, one of the oldest and most respected Quasings; Jill and her Prophus Quasing Baji; and Jill's bodyguard Marco. In addition, the second book resonated more strongly with me because the stakes involved are so much higher. In the first book, the primary tension was about discovering whether our protagonist (Roen) would succeed or not. In the second book, there are multiple protagonists with competing plans and in addition to discovering which team (Enzo and the Genjix or Roen/Jill and the Prophus) will succeed because the fate of the Earth and humanity depends on the result. The action is ratcheted up to a fever pitch while the body count goes up and up so when we get to the end I was literally both rushing to turn the page but also afraid of what would be revealed about the fates of my favorite characters. And that, in a nutshell, demonstrates just one of the many ways The Deaths of Tao effectively engages the reader and makes this a book you will be happy that your read.

If you have not read  The Deaths of Tao  I encourage you to do so before continuing to read this review because spoilers follow.



The Rebirths of Tao continues the story a decade after the events of the second book The Deaths of Tao. Roen's near-death experience at the end of The Deaths of Tao means that he is no longer a Quasing host, because while he was clinically dead Tao was able to exit Roen and enter his son Cameron, who was just a kid at the time. In The Deaths of Tao Cameron is now fifteen-going-on-sixteen with all the incumbent teenaged angst that brings. Roen is the first known human to survive losing a host but with Jill's "hail mary" move of revealing the existence of the symbiotic alien intelligences called Quasings to humanity as a whole things have gotten bad for both the Genjix and Prophus Quasing factions as the governments of the world have used Genjix-developed monitoring technology to hunt down and either incarcerate or exterminate human hosts with Quasing symbionts. The Genjix are still in a stronger global position in their war with the Prophus, with control over most of the world's powerful countries (China, Russia, Western Europe) while neither Genjix nor Prophus controls the United States and all Quasing vessels are considered  enemies of the state. The years between the books have been rough for the Tan clan (although it looks like personally things between Jill and Roen are better than ever since they have been raising their child together and they are still happily married). Because the family consists of two Quasing hosts, they have been essentially on the run for most of Cameron's life, especially considering that the Prophus have essentially lost their war with with Genjix. (I think  that some television show or graphic novels depicting the events that happen between the books in the Tao series would be an engrossing story. Wesley Chu, call your agent!) The stakes in the third volume are larger (and smaller) than those described in the first two books. It's become clear now that Tao is the real main character of the books, not Roen (although since Roen and Tao were inseparable in the first two books it was easy to conflate the two). On the larger scale it becomes clear that the Genjix are working on plans that will irrevocably change the relationship Quasings have with humans and the planet Earth. On the smaller scale, since Tao is now inside and interacting with Cameron and there are wide swathes of the book that read like Young Adult (YA) fiction as Cameron tries to navigate high school and hormones while he is also being trained and prepared by his three adult caregivers (Jill, Roen and Tao) to be a future Genjix agent (and a responsible adult). Chu conducts these scenes in a way that makes you think he has a strong future ahead of him if he decides to enter the YA market full bore but for an adult sci-fi fan like myself these sections might drop you out of the narrative flow. This is the first of  two not insignificant quibbles I had with The Rebirths of TaoThe other aspect of the book that I felt was a potential mistake by the author was his inclusion of faux Tao-like thoughts in Roen's stream of consciousness. Basically, even though the decision was made to separate Roen from Tao in The Deaths of Tao the author still made use of Tao's wit and wisdom to help Roen in the third book through the device of "memory." In my mind this is unfair. It's like killing off a character in one book only to revive them in the next. In the grand scheme of things this is a minor quibble. The Rebirths of Tao has numerous strong action scenes and again it is enlivened by having access to first-person accounts from the Genjix side although this time it seems that is done just to demonstrate how purely evil and misguided they are. The book ends on a note which satisfactorily resolves a number of plots but definitely leaves room for more stories involving (most of) these characters. This is a good thing, because I would love to spend more time with Tao and friends in the future!

Title: The Lives of Tao.
Wesley Chu.
Paperback: 464 pages.
 Angry Robot.
Date Published: April 30, 2013.
Date Read: May 24, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Title: The Deaths of Tao.
Wesley Chu.
Paperback: 464 pages.
 Angry Robot.
Date Published: October 29, 2013.
Date Read: May 30, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).

Title: The Rebirths of Tao.
Wesley Chu.
Paperback: 512 pages.
 Angry Robot.
Date Published: April 7, 2015.
Date Read: May 31, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.75/4.0).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Place by Tana French

Tana French is one of my favorite mystery authors, having written four related but arguably stellar murder mysteries in roughly seven years (In The Woods, 2007; The Likeness, 2008; Faithful Place, 2010; Broken Harbour, 2012). Her latest book is The Secret Place (2014) and it was one of (although not the) best mystery that I read in 2014. According to the users at goodreads.com, they think her books have been uniformly declining in quality since her stunning debut, but I actually liked her 2012 book, Broken Harbour probably as much as her very first, the iconoclastic In The Woods.

One of the reasons why I liked Broken Harbour was the appearance of Francis (Frank) Mackey and the introduction of his junior partner Richie Curran. Plus, as in all of French's books, it is the other things in the books besides the central mystery which really make the reading experience so compelling for me. In the case of The Secret Place, however, these "extra" things in the story that are distinct from the central "whodunnit?" are both what make and unmake the novel in the end.

In The Secret Place the Dublin Murder Squad representatives are Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway. Moran was the sidekick character in Faithful Place (probably my least favorite of her books) while Conway is new to us. Frank Mackey becomes the first character to have an unprecedented 3rd showing in a Tana French mystery (albeit it is little more than a cameo since he mostly appears in his role as a father of one of the suspects, not as a detective). The central question this time is "Who killed Chris Harper?", a 16-year-old boy who was found dead on the grounds of an expensive all-girls school called St. Kilda's the year before the events that begin the book occur. That event, the appearance of the note "I know who killed him" as a caption to a picture of the dead boy in a semi-public confessional noteboard at the school called "the secret place" along with the report of this fact to Detective Moran by Frank's daughter Holly are how The Secret Place begins.

Moran sees Holly's visit as a chance to revive his stalled career from the cul-de-sac of the Cold Case and return him back into the advancement path of the Murder Squad by taking the new information to Conway, who as the only female detective on the team who has been unable to make any progress is solving a high-profile murder of a handsome, well-to-do minor in over a year has been experiencing her own career slowdown.

It's this kind of context of the murder investigation that French brings to her mysteries which generally give them that extra oomph, propelling them well above your average detective procedural.
In the case of The Secret Place, French raises the stakes even higher by making two significant structural decisions about the narrative: she splits it into two streams, one present day, and one a few months before the murder occurred, then advances both forward in time. The other, more controversial decision is to completely embed the reader in the lives, loves and lingo of the teenagers who are the primary actors in the drama that is unfolding. It is this second aspect of the book which makes The Secret Place feel special but also, ultimately, detracts from the book.

There are two cliques of girls at St. Kilda's, the one that the reader is intended to identify with (since we are given access to their internal monologues and Holly is a member) and the prototypical Mean Girls, who we are most definitely not intended to identify with. In addition to these two quartets of female teens there are also a group of teenage boys (from the neighboring all-boys school that the murdered Chris attended and was a leading personality). There are many, many examples of surly and incomprehensible teenage communication and behavior which after awhile as an adult one starts to winder if the anthropological novelty is worth the effort.

One does come to a point in the novel, like most excellent mysteries, where one realizes "oh my goodness, one of these characters that we have been introduced to and know pretty well at this point must be the murderer!" To me, that is almost always an exciting and thrilling rubicon, and yet in most cases it still does not provide me with enough information to suss out the criminal.

French's The Secret Place also has the advantage that in addition to wondering which of these teenagers is damaged enough to cave in the skull of another with a dull object, the reader has other interesting questions about what will happen to the other members of the clique, as well as the impact of the successful solution on the careers of the detectives involved. To me this proves that the authors has more than adequately fulfilled her duty of entertaining the reader.

I do have two quibbles with the book. The first quibble is, why call it The Secret Place when you already have a previously published novel using the word place? That just seems like somewhat lazy writing, in my opinion. (I would have gone with the title of The Secret or The Secret Spot or even I Know Who Killed Him as titles.) My second quibble is more specific, as it is directly related to content. For some reason the author decides to include actual supernatural activity into the story (i.e. behavior or phenomenon that can not be explained by scientific or logical observation). I can not stress enough how strongly opposed I am to including supernatural elements into mystery thrillers! Yes, I know I am reading fiction, but, to me, one of the aspects of teh genre is that things could have happened in the way that they are described, in order to give the readers a chance at figuring out the mysteries at the heart of the story. If there's some magical element involved then why couldn't the murderer be anyone and have used non-physical, inexplicable powers to complete their task? It's simply not a good idea to include this element. Happily, the supernatural element is not really a feature of the central mystery, it is really an embellishment of the interactions of the central characters (the teenage girls) in the book so in the end it did not dramatically deteriorate my enjoyment of the book. Your mileage may vary.

Title: The Secret Place.
Tana French.
Paperback: 464 pages.
 Viking Adult.
Date Published: September 2, 2014.
Date Read: September 15, 2014.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

GOOD NEWS! SCOTUS Upholds Obamacare. Again!

For the second time in three years, the United States Supreme Court has defended the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as ObamaCare) from legal challenge. The Court ruled 6-3 in King v. Burwell to uphold ObamaCare by deciding that the intent of Congress was to improve the national health care market and thus upheld the interpretation that subsidies "established by the State" could mean the state or federal government.

Any day in which Justice Antonin Scalia is reading bitter dissents from the bench is a good day! There are two more days (Friday June 26 and Monday June 29) in which the Court will be releasing the five remaining decisions (including the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges on marriage equality in all states).

Here's hoping for more Scalia dissents!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Nones Are 2nd Largest "Religious Group" In Half The World

The Pew Research Center has a report out which indicates that in more than half of the countries in the world the group of people who do not have a religious affiliation (usually referred to as the "Nones" but whom we like to call the "godless' at MadProfessah.com) are often the second most populous group.

These facts are summarized by Friendly Atheist as:
Indeed, while either Christians or Muslims make up the largest religious group in nine-in-ten nations around the globe, “nones” rank second in size in most of the Americas and Europe, as well as in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.Of the 112 countries and territories in which the unaffiliated rank second, Christians are the largest religion in 106. In many of these nations, including the U.S. and most of Western Europe, “nones” are a substantial minority.
Take a note that in 106 of 112 countries in which Nones are #2, Christians are #1. Yet it is the Christians who repeatedly (and falsely) portray themselves as being persecuted by non-Christians.  This phenomenon is explored and debunked as a cultivated myth by Christian adherents in the book The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom by University of Notre Dame professor Candida Moss.

Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist

QUEER QUOTE: Judge Rules "Sodomite Suppression Act" Patently Unconstitutional

Well, well! Score one for common sense. A violently homophobic proposed California ballot measure known as the "Sodomite Suppression Act" has been found unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge so that Attorney General Kamala Harris does not have to process it for circulation before voters. The judge's order is the source for today's QUEER QUOTE:

  1. The proposed initiative titled the "Sodomite Suppression Act" (the "Act") is patently unconstitutional on its face;
  2. Any preparation and official issuance of a circulating title and summary for the Act by the Attorney General would be inappropriate, waste public resources, generate unnecessary divisions among the public and tend to mislead the electorate; and
  3. The Attorney General is relieved of any obligation to issue a title and summary for the Act.

Just in time for LGBT Pride month!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TENNIS TUESDAY: Venus Turns 35; Murray, Federer, Kerber Win Grass Titles; Serena Slam?

Venus Williams Turned 35 on June 17
7-time major champion Venus Williams turned 35 years old last Thursday. She is ranked #16 in the World. Wimbledon starts on Monday and the seedings and draw will be released this week. Will they move up the 5-time Wimbledon champ higher than her WTA seeding? I would probably put her at #8.

Grass Court Season Continues With Title Wins By Federer, Murray and Kerber
The King of Grass Roger Federer won his record 8th title at Halle on Sunday, defeating Andreas Seppi in straight sets. It was Federer's 15th grass court title, the most anyone has ever won on the ATP tour in the Open era. Andy Murray also demonstrated his grass court bona fides by winning the Queen's Club Wimbledon warm-up for the fourth time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015) over Kevin Anderson. Angelique Kerber played one of the best matches of the year against Karolina Pliskova to win her first grass court title of her career in a 3rd-set tiebreak at the Aegon Classic in Nottingham.

Speculation About Serena Slam and Calendar Grand Slam Continue To Grow
World #1 Serena Williams has won the three last major tournaments she competed in (2014 U.S. Open d. Caroline Wozniacki, 2015 Australian Open d. Maria Sharapova and 2015 French Open d. Lucie Safarova). If she wins Wimbledon she will simultaneously hold all four major championships, something she has done before (in January 2003) and would only need to win the 2015 U.S. Open (for the fourth consecutive year to achieve the rare calendar slam, winning all four majors consecutively in the same year. World #2 Petra Kvitova thinks Serena can do it, and so do I.

Monday, June 22, 2015

EYE CANDY: Kyle Goffney (reprise)

Kyle Goffney has appeared as Eye Candy before (October 27, 2014), He is a 25-year-old model living in Los Angeles. He has a large following on Instagram. I think you can see why!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 HALLE: Federer Wins 86th Career Title, Record 15th On Grass

As I expected, Roger Federer won his 8th title at Halle by defeating Andreas Seppi in the final 7-6(1) 6-4. It was Federer's 86th career ATP tour title and 15th career  grass court title. He improved to 12-1 over his Italian competitor and is now 15-5 in grass court finals and 86-44 in finals overall. It's the current World #2's fourth title of the year, following wins in Istanbul, Dubai and Brisbane.

Federer becomes the third player in ATP history to win a tournament 8 times. Rafael Nadal has won Roland Garros a record nine times and also has won clay court titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona 8 times each. Guillermo Vilas won his hometown tournament in Buenos Aires 8 times as well. Federer has won Wimbledon 7 times. So far!

Game of Thrones (S5E10): "Mother's Mercy"

The finale of Season 5 (S5E10) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "Mother's Mercy." The significance of this episode to the overall project of adapting George R.R. Martin's landmark fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire can not be overstated. The fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons was released in July 2011 and the most of the events depicted in this book have now been depicted in Season 5 of the show. What this means that unless the next book, The Winds of Winter is published before HBO's Game of Thrones Season 6 begins in Spring 2016, the television show will be revealing aspects of the story have not appeared in the books. This basically inverts the usual relationship between written source material and a filmed adaptation. In reality this inversion has already been going on, because some of the events depicted in earlier episodes of Season 5 do not appear in Book 4 or Book 5 so either the producers were deviating from the source material or they were depicting events that would appear in the as-yet-unpublished Book 6.

This episode contained one of the highest body counts of previously introduced characters in the show's history. After the murder of his own child on a fiery altar to the Red God (in S5E09), Stannis Barratheon has sold his soul to try to sit on the Iron Throne and although we see that the weather has improved his overall situation has gone from bad to worse. Unsurprisingly, at least half of his troops have abandoned his cause (taking all the horses with them), presumably repulsed by the man who would be King willing to sacrifice his only child in such a barbaric fashion. Additionally, his wife Selyse decided that she could not live with the reality that she had stood by and watched her only child burn to death and she hung herself. Stannis grimly (or stupidly) decides to continue ahead with his siege of Winterfell (even though he also gets word at that point that Lady Melissandre has been seen leaving the camp in the direction of Castle Black). However the Boltons decide to come out behind their protected walls and  meet him on the field of battle, using their now overwhelming numerical advantage to basically slaughter the remaining troops led by the person Lord Petyr Baerlish called "the greatest military mind in the Seven Kingdoms." At the end of the battle, Brienne catches up with Stannis and is finally to inflict the ultimate punishment on  Stannis for his use of the Red Witch's blood magic to kill his brother Renly Barratheon way back in Season 2 right before her horrified eyes when she served as Renly's Kingsguard. And thus House Barratheon is basically ended (although technically teenaged Tommen Barratheon is on the Iron Throne, everyone knows that he is actually full-blooded Lannister).

Sansa takes advantage of the battle happening just outside the walls of Winterfell to finally use the device she squirreled away previously (in S5E07) to escape from her room and finally light the candle at the top of the old tower (but Brienne is out hunting for Stannis and thus again  only to be caught by Ramsay's mistress, the dogmaster's daughter Miranda and Reek. Happily, Reek finally realizes he is still Theon and saves Sansa by pushing Miranda to her death. Then, holding hands, Reek Theon and Sansa jump over the balustrade in a way that looks like an attempted suicide or the famous jump from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. we'll have to wait until Season 6 to find out if Sansa survives, but it is known there are Sansa chapters in Martin's Book 6.

The show then cuts to the other remaining female member of House Stark where arya has fully realized her ability to impersonate another person and does so as an underage girl in a whorehouse that Ser Meryn Trant frequents in Braavos. She whips out a knife and violently stabs out his eyes and then as he whimpers she tells him her name and then slits her throat. However, when she gets back to the House of Black and White, she is chastised by her Faceless mentor for killing someone who was not on her task list and through a magical potion she is blinded. This is what happens to Arya in Book 5, so we are fully caught up with her story now.

In Essos, we see a bedraggled Dany trying to get a very unwell looking Drogon to get up and fly her back to Mereen,but he won't respond so she starts walking and finds herself in a verdant valley. She realizes someone is watching her and soon a person on horseback approaches, slipping a distinctive ring off her finger, she watches open-mouthed while what looks like hundreds of Dothraki on horseback suddenly appear from the grassland and surround her. Since Dany's story began way back in Season 1 as a timid little girl who was sold by her brother to a Dothraki warlord, it is ironic indeed that she find herslef back among them. Happily, she does speak excellent Dothraki and knows their culture very well. Back in Mereen we see Ser Jorah and Daario deciding to go out and search for Dany, leaving Tyrion, Missandei and Grey Worm behind to rule the city in their mistress' absence. Happily, Varys finally makes and appearance, reminding Tyrion that he has some experience running a city filled with deceit, graft and despair.

In Dorne, we see Jaime and Bronn setting off at a dock with Myrcella, leaving Prince Doran and the San Snakes behind. The Viper's widow Ellaria Sand has sworn her allegiance (on pain of death) to Doran earlier but as the party leaves she gives a curiously long and intense open-mouthed kiss on the lips to Myrcella. Later on we see a heart-to-heart conversation with Jaime where he finally tries to tell his niece that she is in fact his daughter, but she stops him, saying "I know, and I'm glad that you're my father." Just as Jaime's heart swells with relief and joy, blood starts pouring from his daughter's nose and we realize that Ellaria has finally gotten her revenge, using poisoned lips to kill another one of Cersei Lannister's children.

Back in King's Landing we get one of the most famous scenes from the book, Cersei's comeuppance, known by fans as the Walk of Shame. Her head is shaved and she is stripped naked and forced to walk naked from the High Sept all the way to the Red Keep (through the slums of Fleabottom), with crowds of thousands throwing refuse and abuse on her head. It is a harrowing scene, almost 10-minutes in length and Lena Headey does an amazing job. Apparently a body double was used for the scene, but it is still incredibly powerful.

Finally we come to one of the most important moments in the show, the final 2 minutes of the episode. It happens at the Wall, of course. First we see Melissandre arriving and when Ser davos asks her about Shireen's well-being she says nothing but looks grim and walks on. Then we see Olly rushing in to the Lord  Commander's office where we see Jon Snow writing at his desk and tells him that his Uncle Benjen has been sighted at The Wall. Benjen disappeared beyond the Wall in Season 1 and was one of the reasons why Jon jioned the NIght's Watch in the first place. He rushes outside to a vantage point to try and see Benjen and is confronted with a sign that says "Traitor" instead. When he turns arund, he is surrounded by his men and Ser Alliser (his deputy) growls "For The Watch" and stabs a knife between his ribs. Two others follow, and as Jon sinks to his knees Olly, the orphan boy who Jon saved from certain death and brought into the Night's Watch stabs Jon through the heart, saying "For The Watch." We watch as Jon Snow sinks to his back, face up, eyes wide open as a pool of dark red blood grows larger and lager behind him. They killed Jon Snow!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • Cersei's walk was incredibly emotional. One of the high points of the season. You definitely feel like even though you have hated her for five seasons, did she really deserve that? (The answer is yes.)
  • The banter between Varys and Tyrion was great, as always. There's also the hint that the banter between Daario and Ser Jorah, two men who both love Dany, will also be entertaining in season 6.
  • Arya's butchering of Ser Meryn Trant was scary to see and shows how far down her vengeful path she has traversed.
There were no lowlights although it was very sad that we did not get to see any kind of telltale glow in Jon Snow's eyes and this seems to indicate that he really may be dead, crushing the hopes of millions of viewers who saw him and Dany as the only chance of some semblance of good triumphing over evil in the entire story. Plus the fact that Ramsay Bolton is shown torturing dying soldiers at the end of the skirmish with Stanis' force, unharmed and shouting "I want to see my wife, she must be lonely." If the odiously evil Ramsay has not beem punished in the story it really seems like good will not triumph over evil after all. But then again, as the saying goes, "If you think this story has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."
Grade: 10/10.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 HALLE: Federer To Face Seppi; Trying For 8th Title In 10 Finals

Roger Federer survived two tiebreak sets with 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic to win a very tight semifinal while Kei Nishikori retired after losing all but one of the first five games in his match with Andreas Seppi.

So, Federer will face Seppi in his 10th final at Halle, where the Swiss great has won the title a record 7 times already. Federer has a record 14 grass court titles (7 at Wimbledon and 7 at Halle). Federer has a 11-1 head-to-head record against Seppi but he did lose to him at the Australian Open this year in the third round. Federer has previously lost to finals in Halle to Lleyton Hewitt in 2010 and Tommy Haas in 2012 but is the defending champion.

MadProfessah's pick: Federer.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Happy Juneteenth! Today is the 150th Anniversary of June 19, 1865

The official flag of Juneteenth
June 19th or Juneteenth as it is more commonly known, is the day the African-American community celebrates freedom, in commemoration of the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas finally got the word about the end of the civil war and that they were emancipated. (Too bad they didn't have the Internet back then, because this was more than 30 months, two-and-a-half years, after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.)

Today is the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of Juneteenth. Of course, the Wall Street Journal decided today was the perfect day to publish an editorial declaring that institutional racism no longer exists in America:
Amid the horror of Charleston, it is also important to note that the U.S., notably the South, has moved forward to replace the system that enabled racist killings like those in the Birmingham church. 
Back then and before, the institutions of government—police, courts, organized segregation—often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims. 
The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof’s quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as “a dark part of our history.” Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists. [emphasis added]
What causes young men such as Dylann Roof to erupt in homicidal rage, whatever their motivation, is a problem that defies explanation beyond the reality that evil still stalks humanity. It is no small solace that in committing such an act today, he stands alone.
And so it goes.

REVIEW: Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite science fiction authors, having discovered his excellent novels set in the Revelation Space universe about six years ago. His second novel, Chasm City, is probably one of my all-time favorites and I have basically read every single one of the dozen books he has put out (skipping the short story collections).

So while I'm waiting anxiously for the third and final book of his Poseidon's Children trilogy (following Blue Remembered Earth and On The Steel Breeze) to be released in the United States next year I was pleased to learn that there was a new work of fiction that was being released this year. It's called Slow Bullets and it's a novella (a short book, roughly 40,000 words). Thanks to the good people at Tachyon Publications, I was able to get my hands on a review copy and read it within weeks of its official release on June 9, 2015.

The blurb for Slow Bullets make it clear we are in for more of the thought-provoking hard sci-fi for which Reynolds is well-known:
From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.  
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be. 
On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.  
Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

This blurb describes the set up of the story very nicely. As with most Reynolds' work, there is a lot more going on here than just the situation of a group of former combatants stuck on a crippled space ship.

I will try to review the novella without providing too many spoilers but if you don't want to know anything more about the story in Slow Bullets, I would suggest you stop reading at the end of the paragraph and read the book for yourself. As a Reynolds fan I would rank Slow Bullets below any of his Revelation Space books but right in the mix of some of his "middling" works (which for me would be Century Rain, House of Suns and Pushing Ice). The writing is strong, the story is interesting and one identifies and sympathizes with the situations the characters find themselves in.

Okay, for those of you still reading this review I'll get into more specifics. The main character of Scur is not someone I identified with. She (which is an interesting choice, even though there is almost no aspect of the character which appears to be gendered in any way) is a former soldier and since we get access to her inner thoughts, we know she has a violent nature. At the same time, she is always trying to make the best of a bad situation, and she tends to assume the mantle of leadership, which seems to be a good thing. The character I really enjoyed was Prad, the most technologically able member of the surviving crew (at least I guess he is, since we never hear from any other crew members). Together Scur and Prad organize the inhabitants of the ship Caprice into some semblance of a society.

However, the magnitude of their predicament becomes clear (the Caprice has been traveling for literally hundreds and, possibly thousands, of years) a sense of fatalism came over me as  the reader. Then we learn that not only have all the survivors been effectively transported forward in time so that everyone (and most societies) that they all came from have irrevocably lost, but that while the people on Caprice were in hibernation there was an apocalyptic first-contact event with an alien species that caused a galaxy-wide technological collapse known as the Sickening. The Caprice may literally be humanity's one remaining ship with interstellar capability, and it is rapidly losing its capacity to store data, and  within 1000 days basically all of the humanity's knowledge may be lost because the ship needs that storage space to operate effectively.

This last situation is just one of the many interesting philosophical dilemmas that one expects from Reynolds. What knowledge should be saved? Who decides? There is an interesting side plot about religion, in that the two warring factions (remember the Caprice was a prison ship with soldiers captured from both sides) each worship two slightly different versions of The Book, and when they realize only some knowledge can be saved, of course tension arises over what version of The Book should be preserved, or if more practical knowledge, like setting bone fractures should take precedence.

Overall, although I am not in the regular practice of reading novellas, I would still recommend Slow Bullets, especially for someone who is just getting their feet wet with reading "hard sci-fi" in the Reynolds mode. Don't let the term "hard sci-fi" scare you away either; I think this is a good place to start for anyone who likes science fiction, period, primarily due to its length, but afterwards I would strongly encourage you to pick up Chasm City or The Prefect.

Title: Slow Bullets.
Alastair Reynolds.
Paperback: 192 pages.
Date Published: June 9, 2015.
Date Read: June 19, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).



Blog Widget by LinkWithin