Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 Hugo Awards: Voting Closes Today; Here's Excerpts Of My Ballot

Despite the coincidence that today is National Mutt Day, my final ballot in the 2015 Hugo Awards is delightfully Puppy-free. If you don't know what the heck I am talking about, go here and read up.

Anyway, here are my votes for the important categories of Best Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form and Short Form).

Best Novel 
  1. The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
  2. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  4. Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
  5. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  6. The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
It should not come as a surprise that I placed the two books that got onto the short list due to the Puppy shenanigans below NO AWARD. I tried to read all the nominees for Best Novel and simply could not finish The Goblin Emperor and The Dark Between Stars. I did not expect to like Skin Game but I actually did enjoy it, even if it was the 14th book in the Harry Dresden books.  I think it was clever and engaging, but I wold rather no award get the nod instead. Actually I should be clear that I did not rank The Dark Beneath The Stars sith, I simply left it off my ballot completely.

My reviews for The Three Body Problem and Ancillary Sword can read at the link. I thought both of them were excellent works, with Three-Body really harkening back to late Asimov for me, while Leckie's second book was slightly less interesting than her blockbuster debut. That said, I fully intend to buy and devour both follow-ups to these books (The Dark Forest and Acillary Mercy, respectively) when they come out.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form 
  1. Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  3. The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
  4. Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
I saw all of these movies, and my reviews can be accessed at the link. I don;t usually review movies that I see on television (i.e. not at the theater) so that is why The Lego Movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier do not have full reviews. My favorite movie of 2014 was Interstellar; I admit I am a full-on fanboy of Christopher Nolan. Edge of Tomorrow was surprisingly good (especially for a Tom Cruise movie!) but The Lego Movie astonished and delighted me in its cleverness.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form 
  1. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  2. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  3. Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  5. The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  6. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
I'm a huge fan of the Game of Thrones adaptation and since Season 3 have been blogging every episode. There is no question this is the cream of the crop. I binge watched Season 1 and Season 2 of Orphan Black and am not a card carrying member of the Clone Club but I am a fan. (The actor Dylan Bruce playing Paul is one of the best looking guys on television!) Doctor Who is barely my cup of tea any more but I would be fine with them winning an award even though I am not completely sure that I saw the specific episode in question. I have to admit that I have never seen an episode of Grimm and although I have seen parts of The Flash it does not interest me (I'm sort of surprised there was no Marvel's Agents of Shield on this list.

John W. Campebell Award (Not a Hugo)
  1. Wesley Chu
  2. Kary English
I have read and enjoyed the four books by Wesley Chu I read this year. I think he is an exciting author to watch. The Tao series is an incredible work, one I hope that he returns to soon or that Hollywood realizes that it there is even better Chu-related work than the one they have already optioned to become a movie.

For the other categories, like Best Novella,Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Graphic Story, Best Related Work and others you will just have to guess. Suffice it to say, Noah Ward appeared more than once!

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Kordale and Kaleb (2 Hot Gay Dads) Broke Up

In January I blogged about the heartwarming story of a Kodak commercial featuring a Black gay male couple and their three kids. The names of the guys in the couple are Kordale Anthony and Caleb Lewis and the two have nearly 200 000 followers on Instagram.

Of course, this being America, we now have news from People magazine that the couple has broken up.
It seems Anthony and Lewis made an effort to work out their issues but ultimately could not mend feelings of "disrespect."  
"Neither one of us were perfect in our relationship, but when you are blatantly disrespected by someone who is supposed to be working with you to make y'all better, going to counseling smiling and telling you how much everything is going to work out…it's over," Anthony writes.  
Anthony assures his kids Desmiray, Malia, and Kordale Jr. that he will still be there for them despite the breakup. 
I wish the best for Kordale and Caleb and hope that things work out for the best.

Hat/tip to Wonder Man

Thursday, July 30, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: On The Steel Breeze (Poseidon's Children, #2) By Alastair Reynolds

On The Steel Breeze is the second book in Alastair Reynolds latest space opera saga called Poseidon's Children. The first book was titled Blue Remembered Earth. Sadly, these books are being released in America more than 6 months after their British/European release dates. The first book was released there in January 2012 but not in the USA until June 4, 2012. The second book was released September 26, 2013 but did not appear in the USA until June 3, 2014. Distressingly, the third and final book in the trilogy was released on April 30, 2015 but people in the USA will not have access to it until February 2, 2016. I suppose we Americans should be thankful that we don't have to wait until June 2016 to finally get our grubby little hands on the conclusion of the latest Alastair Reynolds trilogy!

On The Steel Breeze is set more than 200 years after the events of Blue Remembered Earth. The main characters are three clones of Chiku Akinya, granddaughter of Eunice Akinya, the macguffin from the first book, and in this story, the primary force behind humanity spreading out into interstellar space. In On The Steel Breeze we have Chiku Red, Chiku Yellow and Chiku Green, who split off and go have separate adventures, This is a very clever device to allow the author to use his prodigious imagination to dazzle us with compelling far-future scenarios. Chiku Yellow remains on Earth, which is in control by an all-seeing, all-powerful AI called the Mechanism (or the Mech) which monitors all human activity and prevents (or punishes) any forms of physical violence. Chiku Green is part of a fleet of generational colony ships (mined out asteroids under constant acceleration called with living space for several thousand people) aimed at the planet Crucible where signs of an intelligent structure called the Mandala have been detected. Chiku Red jumped on a ship in an attempt to follow and catch up with Eunice Akinya and has not been heard of since.

So, the story mainly follows Chiku Yellow and Chiku Green. Chiku Green's was the more compelling arc to me because there is plenty of action and intrigue as the long space journey to Crucible drags on and even though Chiku has the option of going into suspended animation, the situation on the colony ships change drastically as secrets are revealed about not just the ships themselves (hint: there are stowaways!) but also their destination (the data which the Mech showed humanity about Crucible turns out to have been selectively edited). This leads to a lot of political intrigue and exciting action.

That's not to say that Chiku Yellow's story is boring. She ends up interacting with the genetically modified humans called the merfolk who have formed an autonomous nation in Earth's seas (successfully minimizing surveillance by the Mechanism) and she goes on a somewhat meandering quest for information that will hopefully help Chiku Green that takes her to Venus, Phobos, the asteroid belt, the Akinya ancestral home in Africa and finally back to her home in Lisbon. She also has numerous unpleasant (and dangerous) run-ins with the Mech which lead to a cliffhanger showdown at the end of the book.

Reynolds includes a lot of interesting themes in the book: conflict between man and machine, the limit and consequences of human genetic modifications/adaptations, systems of governance among humans who are in an isolated society, the nature of familial and generational compulsions and responsibilities.

Overall, On The Steel Breeze is not Reynolds at his very best, but that still means that it is better (more interesting, more compelling, more complex) than the vast majority of science fiction out there and well worth a read. I am definitely looking forward to read Poseidon's Wake as soon as it is released domestically!

Title: On The Steel Breeze.
Alastair Reynolds.
Paperback: 496 pages.
Date Published: June 3, 2014.
Date Read: June 21, 2014.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: Boy Scouts Rescind Homophobic Ban On Openly Gay Adult Troop Leaders

The Boy Scouts of America announced on Monday that their board of directors had voted to lift their blanket ban on openly gay scout leaders, simultaneously allowing individual chapters sponsored by religious groups to maintain their own separate bans on openly LGBT scout leaders.

Both LGBT groups and the Mormon church are unhappy with the Scouts announcement. Their responses are excerpted below and are today's Queer Quote.

Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality said:
“While we still have some reservations about individual units discriminating against gay adults, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of Scouting. We look forward to collaborating with our supporters, progressive faith partners, allied non-profit organizations, and the Boy Scouts of America to ensure a fully inclusive Scouting movement.”
Human Right Campaign's Chad Griffin said:
"[I]ncluding an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today's decision.  Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period. BSA officials should now demonstrate true leadership and begin the process of considering a full national policy of inclusion that does not allow discrimination against anyone because of who they are."
But the heterosexual supremacists of the Mormon Church were not happy either, and intimated they might sever their relationship with the Boy Scouts over the move:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America. As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.
There ya go!

Monday, July 27, 2015

EYE CANDY: Zion Babb (black/white)

Zion Babb has appeared as Eye Candy here once before (May 11, 2015). He is a former college football player who has been doing some modeling since then. There is not much information about him since he does not appear to be active on social media.

Hat/tip to the Man Crush blog.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

SATURDAY POLITICS: Texas Sup Ct Tells Houston "Repeal Equal Rights Measure Or Place On Ballot"

The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday handing opponents of Houston's Equal Rights ordinance (HERO) a victory when it said that the City Council must decide by August 24th to either repeal the measure or place it before voters for a vote on the November 2015 municipal ballot. The Houston City Council enacted HERO last summer with openly lesbian Mayor Annise Parker's strong support. This is a shocking ruling because earlier the religious extremists who opposed HERO had turned in double the number of signatures needed to pace the measure on the ballot but more than half of those petitions were deemed invalid by the City Attorney. However the City Secretary had certified that there were enough signatures and it is this certification that the Texas Supreme Court has said must be obeyed. The court suspended the non-discrimination ordinance, and gave the city counvil 30 days to decide to repeal the ordinance or place it before voters.

In response to the Republican-dominated state high court ruling, Mayor Parker issued a statement which said:
"Obviously, I am disappointed and believe the court is in error with this eleventh hour ruling in a case that had already been decided by a judge and jury of citizens. Nonetheless, we will proceed with the steps necessary for City Council to consider the issue. At the same time, we are consulting with our outside counsel on any possible available legal actions. Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance is similar to measures passed by every other major city in the country and by most local corporations. No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally. To do otherwise, hurts Houston’s well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!"
Of course t's always a bad idea to be forced to vote on the civil rights of other people but if that's what the haters want, we will be ready!

Friday, July 24, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Grigor Dimitrov and Maria Sharapova Split Up

Tennis supercouple Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov have broken up, more than two years after they publicly acknowledged they were a couple in May 2013 (although many people believe they started seeing each other well before that date.) Dimitrov, who is now ranked #16 but has been in something of a slump for most of 2015, gave a press conference to confirm the break-up after multiple reports said that Sharapova had gone on vacation without him to Montenegro after being beaten by Serena Williams for the 17th time in a row in the Wimbledon semifinals earlier this month. Sharapova, 28, is back up to World #2 in the WTA rankings and was in the 2015 Australian Open final.

The 24-year-old 6-foot-2 175-pound Bulgarian is considered one of the best-looking men on the ATP tour, although he was cryptically described by Serena as a "guy with a black heart." Somehow, I don't think it's his heart that has made him so popular! Maybe he should share notes with Radek Stepanek.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a trilogy written by Cixin Liu, China's most well-known and accomplished science fiction author (family names of characters are written first, in the Chinese style, although strangely, the author does not do the same for his name). The books were published in China starting in 2008 and have become a sensation. There is a Chinese-language film adaptation poised to be released in summer 2016. It is therefore not that surprising that the book has become the first Chinese-language science-fiction book to be translated into English and published in the United States by a major publisher in a very long time.

Happily, The Three-Body Problem has been well-received by non-Chinese speakers as well, and has been receiving a lot of attention and acclaim in the SFnal community. The book has been nominated for two of the most prestigious awards in speculative fiction: the Nebula and the Hugo. It lost the Nebula award to Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation but (as of this writing) is still up for the Hugo award, where it is considered one of the leading contenders. In fact, it is my vote for the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 2014.

There are many reasons why The Three-Body Problem has struck such a chord with so many people. First, it's really good. Second, it's simultaneously unique and unusual but with surprisingly familiar elements. At it's heart it is a first contact novel, but the aliens are not the central characters of the story, humans (and humanity) are. The book is split into three parts and Part I starts with a chilling scene set in rural China in the 1960s during the height of the Cultural Revolution. Ye Wenjie sees the gruesome death of her father (a Physics professor) at the hands of four teenage girls who are trying to prove/demonstrate their loyalty and ideological purity. Wenjie is a graduate student in Physics at the time and despite her father's "crimes" is shipped off to a strange labor camp and then to a secret military project which resembles the SETI project (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence). The depiction of China in the 1960s throughout Part I is fascinating and provided me (as someone unfamiliar with this history) the same sense of wonder I have had when being exposed to a completely fictional alien universe.

Part II of the book occurs "forty plus years" after the events of Part I and introduces the main character of Wang Miao, a "nanomaterials researcher." Much of the criticism of The Three-Body Problem has centered around Liu's characterization of Miao, who has been described as "unconvincing," "pedantic" and "appallingly passive." I would agree that Miao is not that interesting a character (Wenjie is far more compelling, although this may be because her actions are much more disturbing) but this only marginally impacted my enjoyment of the book. I don't think that Miao is any less well-written than some of the characters in less Asimov books, for example. Like Asimov, what appeals about Liu's writing is the ideas that he includes in his story. The central metaphor of the Three-Body Problem (a well-known problem in Newtonian mechanics which involves trying to completely describe the motion of three bodies orbiting each other but which is known to have chaotic solutions) is a lot of fun. The aliens in the book are called Trisolarians because their planet has three different suns and there is an immersive virtual reality game with the same name which Miao plays and is an interesting device used to forward the plot.

Part III of the book is when multiple threads of the story are wound together. By this point Miao has learned that there is a conspiracy to kill off scientists around the world and he has become involved in the fight to learn the truth: there is an organization of fanatical environments who are working with aliens to prepare Earth for a future genocidal invasion. This is a very striking idea (what would it take for a human to betray humanity itself?) but there are even more mind-bending developments before the book ends. There are multiple scenes that occurs on Trisolaris which give us a sense of the technological advantages that our future alien overlords possess over humanity.

Overall, The Three-Body Problem is a very compelling story told from a unique perspective which has an interesting central premise and cliffhanger ending.

Title: The Three-Body Problem.
Cixin Liu.
Paperback: 400 pages.
Date Published: November 11, 2014.
Date Read: March 11, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

After 21 Year Gap, United States Places First In International Mathematics Olympiad

For the first time in 21 years, the United States has placed first in the prestigious International Mathematics Olympiad. National Public Radio reported:
This week, the top-ranked math students from high schools around the country went head-to-head with competitors from more than 100 countries at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And, for the first time in more than two decades, they won
Po-Shen Loh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and head coach for Team USA, says the competition is held over the course of two days. Students work on three math problems each. 
The U.S. team last won the Olympiad in 1994. Reports in recent years have raised concerns that American math students are falling behind those in the rest of the world. But, Loh says, "At least in this case with the Olympiads, we've been able to prove that our top Americans are certainly at the level of the top people from the other countries." 
Concerns have also been raised over the years about a persistent gender gap in U.S. math achievement. All six members of this year's winning team are boys. "That is actually something that one hopes will change," Loh says. "The top 12 people in the country on the United States Math Olympiad happen to have two girls in it. One might say, 'Only 2 out of 12, that's terrible.' But I should say in many years, it was, unfortunately, zero." 
Loh says it's important to teach math as more than mere memorization and formulas. He says this is one reason, perhaps, that the subject hasn't attracted as many American students as it could.

I think there are other reasons why mathematics doesn't attract students: there is this overwhelming belief that mathematical ability is some inherent essence that you either have or you don't AND there is no cultural stigma about "being bad at math."

POLL: Support For Marriage Equality Holds Steady In Post-Obergefell Era

Now that marriage equality is the law of the land everywhere in the United States thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, activists and pundits have been waiting to see what impact this fact would have on public opinion. One poll released earlier this month from the Associated Presss showed a decided decrease in support for marriage equality (of 6 points), but the well-respected Gallup organization is out with its new poll, which it released with the headline "U.S. Support for Gay Marriage Stable After High Court Ruling."
Though the Supreme Court's decision has not immediately influenced Americans' overall opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage, this is not to suggest it will not affect opinion in the long run. 
Even after a 1967 Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriages, Gallup's polling in 1968 found that only one in five Americans (20%) approved of such marriages. It took three more decades to reach a majority of support. 
The path to legality of interracial marriage differed from same-sex marriage, though, in that the Supreme Court led public opinion bylegalizing something that Americans largely disapproved of at the time. Approval of same-sex marriage, however, has ascended significantly faster, and has enjoyed majority support for a few years before the court's decision. Still, a long view of the trend on gay marriage illustrates that support for it was steady and incremental, and that the movement's big victories in statewide ballot initiatives and legislature-enacted laws had limited effect on public opinion at large.
I really do not understand how one person's civil marriage affects someone else's. Hopefully even Republican Presidential candidates will figure that out eventually!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TENNIS TUESDAY: Murray Is British Again; Serena Sabbatical; Federer in Africa, Venus Loses

Andy Murray Wins Three Matches In Davis Cup Tie With France
Andy Murray continues his excellent 2015 season by almost single-handedly lifting Great Britain to the semifinals of the annual Davis Cup team tennis competition by defeating two former Top 10 players from France: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon in singles and then teaming up with brother Jamie to win the doubles match in order to advance past France for the right to face Australia the weekend of September 20th (with home court advantage).

Serena Pulls Out of Bastad and World Team Tennis To Rest Before US Open
Despite going to Sweden immediately after winning her 6th Wimbledon title, World #1 Serena Williams withdrew after winning her first match and then promptly pulled out of World Team Tennis as well. She is still scheduled to play Stanford, Cincinnati and Toronto but if I was the tournament director at any of those tournaments I would start to sweat: I doubt she'll play all three.

Roger Federer Goes To Africa (To Open A School)
The President of the Roger Federer Foundation, i.e. the World #2 player, went to Malawi to open a school.

Venus Should Have Stayed Home; Loses 1st Round In Istanbul
Meanwhile Venus Williams maybe should have taken a page out of her sister's book and taken a sabbatical after Wimbledon. Instead she went to Istanbul as the top seed and lost in the first round to Kateryna Bondarenko!

Monday, July 20, 2015

EYE CANDY: Jerome Walker (3rd time!)

Jerome Walker is an actor and model who has been featured as Eye Candy before on two occasions (January 20, 2014 and May 5, 2014). He is from Atlanta and is over forty and phyne! Check him out on Instagram.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

SATURDAY POLITICS: Jeb! Comes Out (In Favor Of Equal LGB Employment Rights) At The State Level

Freedom For All Americans is a new group formed in the mode of Freedom to Marry that is a campaign to "ensure that all LGBT Americans are afforded comprehensive protections from discrimination."

Despite the EEOC ruling this week that existing federal law protects LGB people nationwide from discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, there are a lot of other areas where LGBT people are still subject to discrimination without a legal recourse.

FFAA got a boost this week when Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush endorsed LGBT-inclusive protections against discrimination at the state level by saying:
“I don’t think you should be discriminated because of your sexual orientation. Period. Over and out.”
It will be interesting to see if his rivals for the GOP nomination will join him or condemn him for taking this stance.

Friday, July 17, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: John Urschel, Football Player *AND* Mathematician

John Urschel is a 24-year-old, 6-foot-3, 308-pound football player who is an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens and a contributor to the Journal of Computational Mathematics. According to the Huffington Post, he describes himself as "pro football player, mathematician, professional mathlete."
That’s true, particularly in Urschel’s favorite area of mathematical study: applied mathematics, which focuses on the real-world applications of math. That need leads to good money too. Applied mathematics ranked fourth among college majors by pay in a recent survey published in USA Today and 16th when it came to how quickly a major pays itself back, according to a separate survey by PayScale, a salary research firm. 
"The way that our world is moving, the way it’s becoming data-driven, the way that it’s becoming more and more modernized -- mathematicians are going to be central to this,” he said. "We’re in a world where we have so much data. It’s abundant, and it’s too abundant. We have all these resources and we don’t know what to do with them.” 
That's why, in Urschel's view, "the 21st century is really going to be the century of the mathematician.” But Urschel says math shouldn't only be thought of as a means to a solid job and comfortable life. Fully utilized, knowledge of the subject becomes a way of solving problems both math-related and not.
Great to see another African-American applied mathematician (and athlete). Keep on, keeping on, Mr. Herschel!

Hat/tip to Huffington Post

Thursday, July 16, 2015

EEOC Rules Sexual Orientation Employment Discrimination Is Barred By Federal Law

Another bad day for heterosexual supremacists! We will have to start calling the summer of 2015 "rainbow summer"! Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner is reporting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has (finally) ruled that sexual orientation is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means that nationwide, under federal law, you can not be discriminated against based on your sexual orientation. The EEOC had previously ruled in 2012 that gender identity or expression was covered under the term "sex," which meant that discrimination against transgender individual was illegal under federal law.

Geidner explains:
The commission found that sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination for several reasons. Among the reasons, the commission stated, is because sexual orientation discrimination “necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex” and “because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex.”   
After a review of the case law regarding similar challenges to employment practices alleging a violation of Title VII where the initial understanding of the law would not have included that coverage, the commission stated, “The courts have gone where the principles of Title VII have directed.”
“Our task is the same,” the decision found. “We therefore conclude that Complainant’s allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex. We further conclude that allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.”
This is a huge deal! This means that in the  28 states which do not have state laws containing protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, LGB people will have access to the EEOc process based upon federal law. This issue will become more salient as now that marriage equality is the law of the land nationwide, people's marital status may "out" them in the workplace, thus causing them to be subject to anti-LGB animus in many jurisdictions. This EEOC decision will provide many people with some measure of protection and recourse. However, we should not forget that LGBT people will still be able to be discriminated against in housing, credit, education and public accommodations in more than half the states.

2015 EMMYS: Game of Thrones Gets 24 Nominations

Winter Is Coming reports that Game of Thrones has received a series-best 24 Emmy nominations.
Game of Thrones was nominated in the following categories:
  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Peter Dinklage
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
    • Emilia Clarke
    • Lena Headey
  • Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series:
    • Jeremy Podeswa for “Unbowed Unbent Unbroken”
    • David Nutter for “Mother’s Mercy”
  • Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: David Benioff & Dan Weiss for “Mother’s Mercy”
  • Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series: Game of Thrones, “Hardhome”
  • Outstanding Visual Effects: Game of Thrones, “The Dance of Dragons”
  • Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Series: Game of Thrones, “High Sparrow”
  • Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series: Nina Gold, Robert Sterne, Carla Stronge for Game of Thrones
  • Outstanding Cinematography for a Single Camera Series:
    • “Sons of the Harpy”
    • “Unbowed Unbent Unbroken”
    • “Mother’s Mercy”
    • “The Dance of Dragons”
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Diana Rigg
  • Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single Camera Series: “Mother’s Mercy”
  • Outstanding Makeup for a Single Camera Series: “Mother’s Mercy”
  • Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup: “Hardhome”
  • Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series:
    • “Hardhome”
    • “The Dance of Dragons”
  • Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama or Comedy Series: “Hardhome”
  • Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama: Rowley Irlam for Game of Thrones
  • Outstanding Costumes for a Period or Fantasy Series: “The Dance of Dragons”
The seven nominations in bold are considered Prime Time Emmy nominations and will be given out on September 20 live on Fox. The others will be presented at the Creative Arts Emmys (the Geek Emmys) at another ceremony to be aired on FXX.

BOOK REVIEW: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is one of my favorite authors; he has written and continues to write some of the most interesting and exciting space opera books around.  He is probably most well-known for his best-selling Naked God trilogy but he has also published many books in his Commonwealth Universe. His latest is the first of a duology called  The Chronicle of the Fallers, Book 1: The Abyss Beyond Dreams which is set in the Commonwealth Universe. (The second book in the duology is The Chronicle of the Fallers, Book 2: The Night Without Stars.)

The Abyss Beyond Dreams is a book that stands on its own but is also enriched by the stories Hamilton has written in the Commonwealth universe previously. Those stories begin in the Commonwealth saga, which consists of the duology Pandora's Star and Judas Unchainedand then continues in the Void Trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, The Evolutionary Void) which is set in the same universe about 1200 years after the events of the Commonwealth Saga (around 3358). The events of The Abyss Beyond Dreams are set just a few decades (around 3326) before the events that happen in the Void Trilogy.

One of the aspects of the Void Trilogy that I appreciate is that it simultaneously takes place in the Commonwealth that we know and love as well as inside the Void, on the planet Querencia in the city-state of Makkathran. Since inside the Void there is very little technology (but for reasons we learn later, mental powers such as telepathy and telekinesis are commonplace and formidable) so that the Void parts of the story are effectively part of a fantasy novel, which is an interesting counterpoint to the advanced artificial intelligences, explosively powerful space ships and multiple human technological advancements that exist in the hard sci-fi tale being told outside the Void.

A specific highlight of The Abyss Beyond Dreams is the inclusion of Nigel Sheldon (who was an important character in the original Commonwealth saga) as a major character in this new story. Additionally, the Fallers (the terrifying new shape-shifting aliens that Hamilton introduces in an absolutely stunning prologue to the book) are another strong element of the book.

The primary action of the book, surprisingly, is political in nature. The main story takes places on a planet in the Void called Bienvenido, where, like Makkathran most technology does not work but mental powers are commonplace. The planet's population is being ruled by the family of the captain of the Commonwealth ship that crashed on the planet after wandering into the Void many, many generations before but who have extended life expectancies due to Advancer genes. Our main protagonists is named Slvasta, a country boy who loses an arm in a Faller attack and later becomes a folk hero of sorts to the people of the capital city of Varlan. One of the main threads in the story is how Slvasta and his friends instigate a revolution to take down the rule of the ruthless Captain Philious through a combination of electoral strategy and insurgent tactics. The other main thread involves Nigel and a quartet of genetically enhanced, Advancer clones infiltrating Bienvenido in order to investigate the Fallers and the even more inscrutable Sky Lords. The Sky Lords are aliens (we think) who also appeared in the Void trilogy. On both Void planets we have met (Querencia and Bienvenido) the Sky Lords are worshiped as gods who absorb the spiritual essence of loved ones when they die and take them to the Void.

This is Hamilton at very near the top of his game; I would say that  The Abyss Beyond Dreams is better than any of the books in the Void trilogy and very close to the quality of both books in the Commonwealth duology. This was one of my favorite reads of 2014, the second best science fiction book, finishing a close second behind James S.A. Corey's Cibola Burn.

Title: The Abyss Beyond Dreams.
Peter F. Hamilton.
Paperback: 640 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: October 21, 2014.
Date Read: December 25, 2014.

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


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The other half and I saw the latest Disney Pixar film Inside Out during the big July 4th weekend. We had a number of other movies to choose from: Magic Mike XXL, Terminator Genisys and Mad Max Fury Road. Unfortunately, Mad Max has been in theaters so long that it is not playing anywhere convenient and Magic Mike XXL and Terminator Genisys were in their opening weekend and had somewhat sketchy reviews (Magic Mike XXL 68% and Terminator Genisys 65% from audience members).

So we went downtown to L.A. Live (after having astonishingly good tacos at Guisado's on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park) and saw Inside Out, which has a pretty astonishing rating of 91% on rottentomatoes.

The main attraction of Inside Out for me was that it was helmed by the creative guy behind Up (Pete Docter), which is one of my favorite Pixar films (although my all-time favorite is still The Incredibles). Inside Out is also interesting because it is literally about the voices in your head, and apparently is based on recent research in cognitive science and psychology.

The story follows an 11-year-old girl named Riley who moves from Minnesota (where she loves to skate) to San Francisco as her father pursues new business opportunities. This causes big changes in Riley's life as it means she has to leave her friends, go to a new school and adjust to urban as opposed to rural living.

The real action takes place inside Riley's head as we see animated depictions of how Riley's emotions work together to create and influence her response to stimula. The emotions in question are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). We also see an interesting visualizations of how the brain works, from the storage of short term and long-term memories, to the idea of a "control center" and a vast unconscious.

As my other half put it, the plot is really an(other) example of the hero's journey into the Underworld, as we watch our main protagonist (Joy) try to get back to the control center with Riley's important permanent memories intact, hopefully before large segments of Riley's personality have been irrevocably altered. The most interesting aspect of the film is the interaction between Joy and Sadness. The two spend the most time together (of any two emotions in the film) and although they would seem to be polar opposites they have to figure out how to work together to do what is best for Riley in the end.

Overall, Inside Out is an interesting, unchallenging film that the whole family can enjoy and then have an interesting conversation about afterwards on the nature of emotions and relationships.

TitleInside Out.
Director: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.
Release Date: June 19, 2015.
Viewing Date: July 3, 2015.

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

Overall Grade: A- (3.67/4.0).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: CHLP Responds To Black Gay Man's 30-Year Jail Sentence

I previously blogged about the case of the HIV+, Black, gay college wrestling champion named  Michael Johnson who was arrested, tried and convicted using Missouri's draconian HIV criminalization statute for sexual activity he engaged in with consenting adults. Yesterday I blogged this week that Johnson has now been sentenced to multiple, concurrent 30-year terms. Michael Johnson is 23-years-old and apparently had diagnosed learning disabilities while he was in college.

The Center for HIV Law and Public Policy has released a statement condemning Missouri's prosecution (and persecution) of Johnson which is today's Queer Quote:
“The criminal statute that Michael Johnson was convicted of violating was originally passed in 1988, at a time when HIV was considered a ‘death sentence.’  Today, with proper treatment, HIV is a chronic, manageable disease and those with HIV can expect to live a full, healthy life. Yet violation of the Missouri law is a class A felony, with a sentencing range of 10-30 years or life imprisonment. Other class A felonies include murder or child abandonment resulting in death.  Punishing Michael Johnson as if he is a murderer because state officials have failed to address a severely outdated, irrational criminal law is not only fundamentally unfair, it is barbaric.”
Here at we will be following this case closely!

TENNIS TUESDAY: Wimbledon Review, WTA Top 10 Reshuffled, Serena Has Huge Lead At #1

For the first time since 2006, the World #1 and #1 seeds won both the Men's and Women's single championships at Wimbledon, with Novak Djokovic defending his 2014 title and Serena Williams winning her 6th Wimbledon (and 21st major) title. 34-year-old Martina Hingis won two doubles titles: the women's doubles with Sania Mirza and the mixed doubles with Leander Paes.

There were several players who had stand-out performances at 2015 Wimbledon, starting with Dustin Brown who took out 2-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal in the second round. Other surprising results were Canadian Vasek Pospisil's run to the quarterfinals and Madison Keys' deep run while not playing her best tennis (but still having the average fastest groundstrokes in the women's draw). Honorable Mention of Jelena Jankovic's upset of defending champion Petra Kvitova.

Fresh off their Wimbledon successes (Finalist and Semifinalist, respectively) Garbine Muguruza and Agnieska Radwanska are now in the WTA Top 10, at #9 and #7 respectively. Maria Sharapova returns to World #2. Madison Keys is now up to #18 and Venus Williams is up to #15.

Serena Williams now is the defending champion of all four major championships and is the #1 player in the world. But this is just one measure of her domination of women's tennis. Amazingly, she now has more than twice as many ranking points as any other player on the list, the largest gap that has ever existed in the history of the rankings. Another measure of her dominance is that with her 21 majors, she equals the number of major titles the rest of the active field possesses: Venus Williams (7), Maria Sharapova (5), Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) and Francesca Schiavone, Samantha Stosur, and Ana Ivanovic (1).

Monday, July 13, 2015

UPDATE: Black Gay Man, 23, Sentenced To 30 YEARS Under Missouri's HIV Criminalization Law

The sentence for Michael Johnson, the former college wrestler who had unprotected sex with numerous guys that he met on the Internet and mobile hook-up apps, and was subsequently charged with (and found guility of) violating Missouri's draconian HIV criminalization statute has been released: 30 years in prison. Johnson actually received multiple sentences of 30 years but the judge said he could serve them concurrently (at the same time).
St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham, who issued the sentence, told Johnson he had committed "very severe" crimes. Prosecutors said he didn't tell the partners he had HIV."The main thing is the profound effect your actions have had on the victims and their families," the judge said.Johnson was given 30 years on the most serious allegation and a total of 30.5 years on the four lesser charges.  Those were the amounts of prison time recommended by the jury. Cunningham decided to have the terms on the lesser charges run concurrently with the 30-year sentence.
It should be noted that if Michael Johnson had been found guilty of second-degree murder the sentence would be between 10 and 30 years!
Had Michael Johnson been convicted of second-degree murder in Missouri, the sentence would have been between 10 and 30 years.  Forcible rape: no less than 5 years; Forcible rape if a weapon is used or serious physical injury results, it could be as little as 15 years.  Forcible rape of a child under the age of 12 has a mandatory 30 years, the same sentence Michael Johnson got today.  First degree statutory rape of a child under the age of 12 could get as little as 10 years.
The primary organization I know that is doing something about such unfair actions is the Center for HIV Law and Policy.

#MUSTREAD: Vox Report On Mass Incarceration In USA

Over at Vox today there is a must-read feature analyzing the United States public policy of mass incarceration, despite drops in crime rates. The feature puts the issue in perspective by using 28 charts to illustrate the devastating human toll of the  relentless increase in the prison-industrial complex in America.
America is number one — in incarceration. Over the past several decades, the country has built the largest prison population in the entire world, with the second-highest prison population per capita behind the tiny African country of Seychelles. But how did it get this way? Although it may be easy to blame one specific event, the US's path to incarceration was decades in the making — involving politicians as varied as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.
Go read it yourself, right now!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin