Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Today is International Blasphemy Day!

Today is September 30, which has been declared by the Center for Inquiry as International Blasphemy Day to call attention to the numerous countries around the world which have laws which punish people for the alleged crime of blasphemy. It is the anniversary of the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Dutch magazine that angered religious people and resulted in a huge controversy in 2005.

This excerpt from CFI says it best:
While many perceive “blasphemy” as offensive, this event is not intended to ridicule and insult others. Rather, it was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs. Observing International Blasphemy Rights Day is a way of showing opposition to any resolutions or laws, binding or otherwise, which discourage or inhibit freedom of speech of any kind. 
Freedom of expression, including the right to criticize any belief, religious, political, or otherwise, is the only way in which any nation with any modicum of freedom can exist. Without this essential liberty, dissent can be suppressed and silenced by labeling it as “defamation” or “blasphemy.” Even rhetoric that uses the guise of sensitivity, such as “hurting religious feelings” can be twisted to stifle opposition by turning popular sentiment against it.
Happy blaspheming, everyone! (All  blasphemy laws were ruled unconstitutional in the United States by the United States Supreme  Court in 1952.)

hat/tip to Joe Jervis

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

IGLHRC Changes Its Name To OutRight Action International

The international LGBT human rights organization known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has changed its name to OutRight Action International. I spent two terms (6 years total) on the board of directors of IGLHRC so I have a soft spot in my heart for the organization, which was founded more than 25 years ago by my friend Julie Dorf.

Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the change:
“We chose a new name that speaks to the heart of our mission. We have been ‘out’ for rights for 25 years, and at a time when civil society and LGBTI rights are under attack in many parts of the world, we believe our new name speaks to our commitment to LGBTIQ activism and resilience internationally,” said Jessica Stern, the executive director. 
Alan Cumming, an ambassador for the organization, called it “a beautiful new name” in a video message( Moisés Kaufman, the playwright and founder of Tectonic Theater Project best known for The Laramie Project, hosted the event during which OutRight honored Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, also celebrating its 25th anniversary. 
Instead of adopting an acronym, the organization said it prefers the simpler “OutRight” as shorthand. 
Along with a new tagline -- Human Rights for LGBTIQ People Everywhere -- OutRight reflects the organization’s commitment to inclusiveness for everyone in the LGBTIQ global community. 
“For 25 years, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with activists around the world to challenge discriminatory laws and abusive practices. Now we are taking a step to explicitly devote ourselves to dignity and acceptance for all in the LGBTIQ community: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer,” Stern said. 
With the new name the organization unveiled a new logo and website ( 
The new name drew enthusiasm from supporters and LGBTIQ activists in countries around the world who were consulted by a core team of staff and board members. The Board of Directors unanimously approved the name. 
Julie Dorf, founder of IGLHRC in 1990 and Senior Advisor to the Council on Global Equality, said: “For an LGBTIQ activist organization, the boundaries are always evolving as we push to eliminate discrimination and improve the lives of people who experience injustice. It’s wonderful for me to see the organization I founded choose a new name that builds on its strengths and determination for two and a half decades.”
Congratulations to OutRight! I'm hoping for 25 more years of international LGBTIQ human rights activism...

TENNIS TUESDAY: Davis Cup Final of GBR vs BEL Set For Clay; Jo Wins 3rd Metz; Aga Wins 2nd Pan-Pacific

As expected when it became clear that the final two teams this year would be Great Britain led by 2-time major champion Andy Murray and Belgium led by Top 20 stalwart David Goffin, it was announced on September 23rd that the tie would be held on indoor clay, Murray's worst surface (and Goffin's best). Murray had initially said that he might skip the most lucrative and prestigious event of the year, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals held at the O2 Arena in London, in order to prepare for winning the Davis Cup for Great Britain, but is now reconsidering that idea.

The Moselle Open in Metz, France has been very good to French players. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has made the final there four out of the last five years. Last year David Goffin of Belgium beat Joao Sousa of Portugal. This year Tsonga faced Gilles Simon and he prevailed in three sets, 7-6(5), 1-6, 6-2 to win his 3rd title in Metz and his twelfth career title overall. This was his first title since his bravura performance last year in Montreal to win his 2nd ATP Masters title by defeating four Top 10 players (including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray).

Aggie Radwanska of Poland defeated Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the finals of the Pan-Pacific Open 6-2 6-2 to win her first title of 2015. Radwanska got revenge for a loss earlier in the season in the finals of Eastbourne against the teen phenom, who would have reached the Top 10 for the first time if she had won. Instead, with this win Radwanska returns to the Top 10 instead.

Things just keep on getting better and better for Flavia Pennetta. After fulfilling her dreams by winning a major title in New York City Pennetta returned to the Top 10, landing at #7. This week she rises one spot to #6 thanks to Caroline Wozniacki falling one spot. If she gets to the Top 5 she will join just two other Italian players, Sara Errani (who reached #5) and Francesca Schiavone (who reached world #4), who have ever been ranked that highly.

Monday, September 28, 2015

EY CANDY: Joshua Trusty (3rd time!)

Joshua Trusty is one of the few openly gay male models. He has been featured as Eye Candy here twice before (December 23, 2013 and August 11, 2014). He is 5-foot-10, 160-pounds and was born in December 1986.

As you can see, he has  avery interesting tattoo on his chest. These last two shots were taken by talented photographer Don Harris. Check him out for more hot pictures of Joshua and others!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

QUEER QUOTE: Excerpt From President Obama's Remarks At DNC LGBT Event in New York City

Today's Queer Quote is an excerpt from President Obama's remarks to a DNC LGBT fundraiser at Gotham Hall on Sunday evening where he was introduced by lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality case Jim Obergefell.

The President ended his remarks with these rousing sentiments:
Harvey Milk once said, “If a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”  But to those of us who’ve made it through those doors, we've got a unique obligation to reach back and make sure other people can make it through those doors, too.  (Applause.)  We have a responsibility to stand up to bigotry -- not just against us, but against anybody, anywhere.  (Applause.) We have a responsibility to stand up for freedom -- not just our own freedom, but for everybody’s freedom.  (Applause.)  We speak up to condemn hatred against anybody -- gay or straight, black or white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, non-believer, immigrant -- (applause) -- because we remember what silence felt like when hatred was directed at us, and we've got to be champions on behalf of justice for everybody, not just our own.  (Applause.)

That's what makes us human.  And that's America at its best -- our ability to connect, our ability to see ourselves in somebody else.  To be an ally to the marginalized, to the dispossessed, to the discriminated against.  To recognize our joy and our struggles and our fears and our hope and our love in somebody else.

Maybe it’s the trans activist demanding dignity.  Maybe it’s the immigrant hoping to contribute, or the middle-class kid struggling to pay for college.  Maybe it’s the woman denied equal pay, the African-American denied the right to vote, the worker denied a living wage.  Their stories may not be ours, but surely we can see our stories in theirs.  We can make their fight our own.

And in the end, that’s what makes me proudest to be a Democrat.  (Applause.)  I think we're right on most policy issues.  I think that we have the better argument in economics and foreign affairs.  But at the core of this party today as it's currently constituted -- and we have to remind ourselves that it hasn’t always been that way.  There have been times where the Democratic Party stood in the way of progress.  And there have been times where Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen, stood on the right side of change.

Right now, what makes me proudest about being a Democrat is, is that at our core, we really do believe in everybody having a shot.  At our core, we really do believe that that's not just a theoretical assertion, but it's an obligation.  It compels us.  It's part of one American family -- to fight on behalf of those who haven't had the same kind of chances that we do.  To make sure that everybody has dignity and respect, and that every kid out there is able to live out their dreams.

We mean it when we say that all are created equal.  And we understand that that has to be operative in our own individual lives, but we also have to express it through the common enterprise called government.  We mean it when we say that in this country, of all countries, everyone deserves an equal shot.
And so, Democrats, over the next 14 months, we have to work even harder than we did when I was first on the ballot.  We're going to have to work harder to protect the gains that we’ve made.  We're going to have to work harder to widen the circle of opportunity for all who strive for it.  It will not be easy.  There’s always a contest in this country since its founding between hope and fear.  What makes America special is, is that though sometimes we zig and zag, eventually hope wins out.  But it only wins out because folks like you put your shoulder behind the wheel and push it in that direction.

That was true in the past.  That will be true in the future. I look forward to working with you to make sure it happens in this election cycle.
Fired up, ready to go!

Brian Staveley Signs Deal To Write More Great Fantasy Novels!

Brian Staveley is the author of two well-regarded epic fantasy novels published in the last two years, The Emperor's Blades (see my review) and its sequel, The Providence of Fire.  These books are the first two in a trilogy he calls the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. And they are really, really good!

Last month I had reported that Staveley won the prestigious Gemmel Morningstar Award for The Emperor's Blades.

The latest big news is that apparently Staveley has signed a new deal to write four more books in this universe! Apparently the books will be standalone, not a  new trilogy. But as he is clearly a talent to watch in the world of epic fantasy this is exciting news.

The third book in his first trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond comes out in March 2016.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Happy Birthday, Serena Williams!

Today is Serena Williams' 34th birthday. She is currently the #1 ranked player in the world, and will be so for the foreseeable future. Perhaps to celebrate, she posted the picture above to Instagram.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

FILM REVIEW: Pawn Sacrifice

I found out about the new movie Pawn Sacrifice last week and decided to go see it over the weekend at the Pasadena Arclight Cinemas with members of the Occidental College chess club (which I serve as faculty advisor).

The film Pawn Sacrifice is a screen dramatization of the real-life story of how Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) defeated Boris Spassky (Liev Schrieber) in one of the most high-profile chess matches ever in 1972. The Fischer-Spassky match was one of the key proxy battles in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, since chess had been a game dominated by Soviet Bloc (primarily Russians) for decades. Fischer's win is one of the most extraordinary events in all of sports. He is the only American in the modern era to have won the world chess championship.

The movie does a good job of depicting Fischer's meteoric rise to the top of world chess at shockingly young age (at the time he was the youngest International Grandmaster ever at the age of 16 in the mid 1960s) as well as not shying away from showing his troubled upbringing, bizarre (anti-semitic and racist) beliefs and rather frightening (and bewildering)  mood swings.

I know that you are thinking that a movie centered around games of chess must be like watching paint dry but director Ed Zwick (who is mostly well-known  for his television programs thirtysomething and Once and Again) does an outstanding job of directing the film and telling the story in a way that would engage even people uninterested in chess.

Overall I enjoyed Pawn Sacrifice quite a bit and I'm glad that I saw it!

Title: Pawn Sacrifice.
Director: Edward Zwick.
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking.
Release Date: September 16, 2015.
Viewing Date: September 19, 2015.

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

Overall Grade: B (3.0/4.0).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Ben Carson Believes In A Religious Test For Public Office

Ben Carson is a retired neuroscientist running for the Republican nomination for President. He has made headlines in the last week for saying things that demonstrate his extreme religious beliefs and his dubious understanding of the U.S. constitution.
"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
Somehow, I don't think Dr. Carson understands (or maybe he disagrees with?) Article VI, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz both responded informing Dr. Carson of the existence of the constitutional prohibition on religious tests for elected office in the United States. Cruz said "The Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office, and I'm a constitutionalist." While Mrs. Clinton tweeted her response.

You know you might want to consider your position if both Senator Cruz and Secretary Clinton are both opposing you AND citing the U.S. constitution in support of their (op)position.

Monday, September 21, 2015

EYE CANDY: Tyrone Wells (reprise)

Tyrone Wells is  a well-known African-American male model that I only discovered this summer. He's one of the few openly gay models that I know of, as he is often publicly linked with his very attractive boyfriend Johnnell Tyrell on social media like Instagram.

Tyrone has appeared as Eye Candy once before solo (June 29, 2015). This last shot was done with photographer Mark Henderson but despite his incredible physique and handsome face it is actually sort of hard to find lots of good pictures available online of Tyrone. Then again, he's only 29 so he still has lots of time to remedy that situation!

2015 EMMYS: Game of Thrones Wins Best Drama, Veep Wins Best Comedy!

Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win the
Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy Award
I did pretty well on my predictions of the Top 10 categories. I nailed the two biggest categories, predicting a Veep win  in Best Comedy series and a Game of Thrones win in Best Drama series but then I also did pretty well in the other categories as well, ending with 6 out of 10 correct.

The four I had wrong were all of the supporting actor and supporting actress categories!
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series: Allison Janney, Mom  
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series, Tony Hale, Veep
Outstanding Actor In a Comedy Series: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent 
Outstanding Actress In A Comedy Series: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series: Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black 
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones 
Outstanding Actor In A Drama Series: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Outstanding Actress In A Drama Series: Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Outstanding Comedy SeriesVeep
Outstanding Drama Series: Game of Thrones
It's interesting that Game of Thrones had such a big night, considering that the fifth season is considered by some to be its worst (it definitely had some controversial moments!) its surprising that the show not only won the big enchilada but also won Emmy's for writing and directing (for the Season 5 finale: S5E10 "Mother's Mercy") and Peter Dinklage won his second Emmy for portrying Tyrion Lannister.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Scorching Sunday!

111.6 Degrees and 7% humidity around 1pm PDT in north East Los Angeles today!

2015 EMMYS: My Predictions & Preferences For The Top 10 Categories

The 2015 Primtime Emmy awards (for achievement in television) are tonight starting at 5pm PDT (8pm EDT). Here are my picks for tonight's winners in the biggest categories.
Drama series 
"Game of Thrones"
"Mad Men"
"Downton Abbey"
"Orange Is the New Black"
"House of Cards"
"Better Call Saul"
This is the biggest category of the night. My favorite show is Game of Thrones on HBO and the show garnered the most nominations of any television show this year. It has already won eight emmys this year (in the technical categories, called the creative arts). It has another 7 Emmy nominations in 6 categories.

SHOULD WIN: "Game of Thrones"
WILL WIN: "Game of Thrones"
Comedy series 
"Modern Family"
"Silicon Valley"
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
"Parks and Recreation"
Modern Family has won this category for the last five years, tying Frasier. Some people believe that its sixth season was a dip in quality (something I would dispute) and just think it is time for another show to be honored. However, Veep has been steadily gaining traction while Transparent has been getting the most buzz of any new show powered by its focus on trans issues and transformative performance by Jeffrey Tambor.

SHOULD WIN: "Modern Family"
WILL WIN: "Veep"
Actress in a drama 
Taraji P. Henson, "Empire"
Viola Davis, "How to Get Away With Murder"
Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
Claire Danes, "Homeland"
Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"
 This is the toughest category of the night. There are at least another six women who could have (and maybe should have) been nominated. Last year's winner, Juliana Margulies for The Good Wife didn't even get nominated and one could argue that she did better work this season than last season. The big story is that there are two women of color being nominated here, with a surprise snub of Scandal's Kerry Washington. In my opinion an even bigger story is finally the recognition of Tatiana Maslany for her bravura performance as eight(!) different clones on Orphan Black which I have started watching and think is amazing. I have never seen Mad Men and even though I still watch Homeland even its biggest fans would have to admit that Danes' nomination is a nostalgic one.  I haven't seen Empire but I understand that it is a huge hit (basically a prime-time soap opera in the vein of Dallas or Dynasty but with a largely African-American cast and the inclusion of music and musical celebrities.) It should be noted (with disgust!) that in the history of the Emmys there have only been 10 African-American winners. Ever. Voters will be hard-pressed to not cast a historic vote in this category.

SHOULD WIN: Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black" or Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
WILL WIN: Viola Davis, "How to Get Away With Murder" or Taraji P. Henson, "Empire"
Actor in a drama 
Bob Odenkirk, "Better Call Saul"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Kevin Spacey, "House of Cards"
Jeff Daniels, "The Newsroom"
Kyle Chandler, "Bloodline"
Liev Schreiber, "Ray Donovan"
Many people are hoping and hoping that Jon Hamm will finally win an Emmy for his portrayal of Don Draper on Mad Men which since it has concluded would be his last opportunity to do so. However, he is up against two previous winners (Kevin Spacey and Jeff Daniels). Bryan Cranston dominated this category for the entire run of Breaking Bad but since his last win last year it should be Hamm's race to lose. I only watch House of Cards and Better Call Saul and in my opinion either of the two leads there are deserving of a win.

SHOULD WIN: Kevin Spacey, "House of Cards" or Bob Odenkirk, "Better Call Saul"
WILL WIN: Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Actress in a comedy 
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation"
Lily Tomlin, "Grace and Frankie"
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie"
Amy Schumer, "Inside Amy Schumer"
Lisa Kudrow, "Comeback"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won three years in a row for the first three seasons of Veep and now that she is the President the show has gotten even better. Both of the Amy's would probably be more popular winners but I doubt either one of them has the broad level of audience support to stop Louis-Dreyfus winning her 6th Emmy award.

SHOULD WINJulia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Actor in a comedyAnthony Anderson, "black-ish"
Matt Leblanc, "Episodes"
Don Cheadle, "House of Lies"
Louis C.K., "Louie"
William H. Macy, "Shameless"
Will Forte, "Last Man on Earth"
Jeffrey Tambor, "Transparent"
If Jeffrey Tambor doesn't win this category there will be rioting in downtown Los Angeles like they showed on Fear The Walking Dead last week!

SHOULD WIN: Jeffrey Tambor, "Transparent"

WILL WIN: Jeffrey Tambor, "Transparent"

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won three years in a row for the first three seasons of Veep and now that she is the President the show has gotten even better. Both of the Amy's would probably be more popular winners but I doubt either one of them has the broad level of audience support to stop Louis-Dreyfus winning her 6th Emmy award.

SHOULD WINJulia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
Jonathan Banks, "Better Call Saul"
Ben Mendelsohn, "Bloodline"
Jim Carter, "Downton Abbey"
Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones"
Michael Kelly, "House of Cards"
Alan Cumming, "The Good Wife"
I would love to see Peter Dinklage win another Emmy for his key role as Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones but really of the shows that I have seen I would have to vote for Jonathan Banks who is also beloved for his role on Breaking Bad and who will be a popular choice.

SHOULD WINJonathan Banks, "Better Call Saul"
WILL WINJonathan Banks, "Better Call Saul"
Joanne Froggatt, "Downton Abbey"
Lena Headey, "Game of Thrones"
Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones"
Christina Hendricks, "Mad Men"
Uzo Aduba, "Orange Is the New Black"
Christine Baranski, "The Good Wife"
What is it about the drama actress categories that makes them so tough? Christine Baranski is doing amazing work on The Good Wife  that should be recognized by more than just a nomination. Uzo Uduba is the only member of the huge cast of Orange is the New Black who has (somewhat inexplicably) been singled out for recognition. This is her second Emmy nomination and she won an Emmy for her role as Crazy Eyes in the Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series last year. However, I think both Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke has been doing incredible work on Game of Thrones for five seasons and they are both overdue for awards recognition. Of course the same could be said for any of the great actresses on The Walking Dead (Danai Gurari as Michonne or Melissa McBride as Carol) have been robbed!

SHOULD WINEmilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones"
WILL WINLena Headey, "Game of Thrones"
Andre Braugher, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Adam Driver, "Girls"
Keegan-Michael Key, "Key & Peele"
Ty Burrell, "Modern Family"
Tituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Tony Hale, "Veep" 
Usually there are multiple members of the supporting cast of Modern Family here, although I think most people would agree that Ty Burrell is the glue that ties the show together. I have not seen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but I am a huge fan of Tina Fey's work (I understand that she is the creator and writer of that Netflix-based show) and would be happy to see Burgess (playing an openly gay character) win. Tony Hale was a surprise winner two years ago for Veep (one of the key aspects of that show is the chemistry between Louis-Dreyfus and Hale) but Burrell has already won two Emmys for his role on Modern Family. It's sorta bizarre that only one half of the Key & Peele comedy duo was nominated, but anytime a non-white person gets nominated it has to be considered something of a victory for diversity in this day and age.

SHOULD WINTy Burrell, "Modern Family"
WILL WINTituss Burgess, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Niecy Nash, "Getting On"
Julie Bowen, "Modern Family"
Allison Janney, "Mom"
Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"
Mayim Bialik, "The Big Bang Theory"
Gaby Hoffman, "Transparent"
Jane Krakowski, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Anna Chlumsky, "Veep 
Again one of the toughest categories involves women, even though it contains a super-sized eight nominees. Mayim Bialik has been doing breakout work on television's highest-rated comedy series The Big Bang Theory but the fact that Jim Parsons was not even nominated this year is a huge surprise (and puzzling result) that does not bode well for her chances in this category.  Julie Bowen is the comic foil to Ty Burrell as the main "mom" on Modern Family and has won twice before (2011 and 2012). Many people think that Allison Janney's work on Mom is exemplary but I have never seen the show so I can't really argue with that. Janney has a slew of Emmys (four for The West Wing but she also won last year for Mom and for her guest appearance in Masters of Sex).

SHOULD WIN: Mayim Bialik, "The Big Bang Theory"
WILL WIN: Julie Bowen, "Modern Family"

Friday, September 18, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Tobey Maguire is Bobby Fischer in The New Movie Pawn Sacrifice

The new film Pawn Sacrifice based on the true life story of chess champion Bobby Fischer stars Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man, The Cider House Rules) as the American chess genius who faced Russian Boris Spassky (played by Liev Schrieber) in Reykjavik in 1972 in what was billed "the match of the century" to decide the world chess championship. The film opens in limited release this weekend.

Since I am an accomplished chess player myself I am always interested in popular depictions of chess and chess-playing in the media. Since Fischer is the best chess player America has ever produced, he is irresistible to Hollywood and his story has been told in multiple adaptations.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

I have been hearing about the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series by Brian Staveley for quite awhile. has been suggesting Staveley's books to me because I have either bought books by Brent Weeks (The Lightbringer Series) and Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin series). I read some reviews on Goodreads and requested the first two books from the Glendale-Pasadena library system. I'm very glad that I did! These books excellent works of fantasy, in the classic tradition of my favorite authors like George R.R. Martin, Peter Brett and Scott Lynch.

A new name can be added to this list: Brian Staveley. His debut novel is The Emperor's Blades, which won the 2014 Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut Fantasy Novel. Happily this award-winning 2014 release is the first book in a trilogy with the second book, The Providence of Fire published in 2015 and the third and final book, The Last Mortal Bond, set to appear in March 2016. Together these three titles form what is known as The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.

The Unhewn Throne is the symbol of the Emperor's power in Annur.At the beginning of the first book, Emperor Sanlitun is dead, murdered by forces unknown. His three children are Adare, the eldest child, a daughter; Kaden, the Emperor's heir; and Valyn, the youngest son. Adare is in the capitol city, surrounded by both enemies and allies, where one of her father's posthumous acts has been to appoint her to be Minster of Finance. She has not seen her two younger brothers for years. At a tender age, Kaden was sent far, far away to train with the monks of the Blank God in the distant Bone Mountains at the very edge of the Annurian empire. Valyn has gone to the Qirin Islands to try out to survive the deadly training regime to become a Kettral, one of the elite forces who ride giant birds in service of the Emperor.                    

The Emperor's Blades is primarily a story about what happens to Kaden and Valyn as the ramifications of the assassination of their father the Emperor are revealed it becomes clearer that he was probably not the only member of  the royal family targeted for death. But even more intriguing is that who ultimately sits on the Unhewn Throne controlling Annur may not be the most important fact that needs to be determined.

Staveley does an excellent job of making the reader want to care about all of Sanlitun's children. (One of the main criticisms of The Emperor's Blades that one often sees is that Adare's story is not as interesting or important to the plot in the first book. This is true, but this is a somewhat minor quibble and is more than balanced by how compelling both Valyn's and Kaden's stories are. I do like Adare's character and wish there was more of her in the first book. Happily, she plays a much larger role in the sequel, The Providence of Fire. In addition to Kaden, Valyn and Adare, the other characters are also well-drawn and I was genuinely moved when really bad things happened to some of these characters who I had started to care about. The stakes are high, people! This is epic fantasy at its best.

Title: The Emperor's Blades.
Brian Staveley.
Paperback: 480 pages.
Date Published: January 14, 2014.
Date Read: July 21, 2015.

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


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

TENNIS TUESDAY: Djokovic Clinches Year End #1 For 4th Time

Novak Djokovic has clinched the World #1 ranking after winning his 3rd major title of the year on Sunday night. Djokovic previously had earned the year-end ranking in 2011, 2012 and 2014. He becomes the sixth man in history to have been able to be ranked #1 at the end of the year at least four times. The others are Ivan Lendl (4 times), John McEnroe (4 times), Roger Federer (5 times), Jimmy Connors (5 times) and Pete Sampras (6 times),

Monday, September 14, 2015

EYE CANDY: Devin Goda (black/white)

Devin Goda is a former football player who is now a professional model. He is active on social media sites such as Instagram (@dgoda85) and Facebook (DevinGoda85). He has appeared as Eye Candy here once before (June 15, 2015).


2015 US OPEN: Djokovic Wins 10th Major (3rd in 2015) Defeating Federer

Dashing the hopes of millions of tennis fans around the world and thousands attending in person at Arthur Ashe stadium, Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-4 to win his 10th major title, his 3rd major of 2015 and 2nd U.S. Open of his career. Although the score seemed very close, it was clear to me that the World #1 played the bigger points more solidly than his opponent, and took advantage of his opportunities more often when he had them. The key statistic was that Federer had 23 breakpoint opportunities but was only successful 4 times, while Djokovic had 10 less (13) breakpoint chances and converted nearly half of them (6). That was the match in a nutshell really.

Djokovic's win evens his career head-to-head with Federer at 21 apiece but more importantly he is now 3-1 in major finals, and has won two consecutive major finals against the 17-time champion.
Together, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic together now have 41 major titles!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

2015 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Here are my predictions for the men's final at the US Open for 2015. Last year I correctly predicted Marin Cilic would defeat Kei NishikoriThis year I correctly predicted 0 of 2 women's semifinals2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Men's Semifinals Review: How They Got Here
Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Marin Cilic (CRO) [9] 6-0 6-1 6-2. Ouch! The World #1 sent a signal to the rest of the field by demolishing the defending champion in under 90 minutes. As I predicted, Djokovic continued his dominance of Marin Cilic by extending his head-to-head undefeated stretch to 14 matches in a row. I didn't see the match but I think the score basically tells the story. I heard that Cilic was slightly injured (apparently he hurt his ankle in beating Tsonga in 5 sets on Tuesday) but even if he had been at 100% it is doubtful Cilic would have prevented Djokovic from winning this match and reaching his 4th consecutive major final.

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] d. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [5] 6-4 6-3 6-1.  
This second semifinal was expected to be more competitive despite the fact that Federer has a decisive 16-3 head-to-head advantage (11-0 on hard courts). After all, Wawrinka had won the last time they played, in the quarterfinals of the French Open. However, playing Federer in Paris is not the same thing as playing Federer in New York, especially as the 17-time major champion has grown more accustomed to his bigger racquet and incorporated new tactics into his game to surprise and confound his opponents. Federer is serving incredibly well, and did not have his serve broken in this match, despite facing a triple breakpoint hole in the first set. He simply outplayed his compatriot and came away with the win, again.

Men's Final Preview: Who Will Win
This is the match-up that most tennis players were hoping to see at the beginning of the tournament: #1 Djokovic versus #2 Federer. The two are playing for the forty-second time on the tour, i.e. Federer-Djokovic XLII, with the 17-major champ leading the head-to-head slightly 21-20 but the World #1 has a 16-14 edge in hard courts and the two are tied at 6-all in hard court finals. Amazingly, Djokovic is playing in his 6th U.S. Open final (1-4 so far) and 18th major final (9-8). Federer has won the U.S. Open 5 times and is playing in his 7th U.S. Open final (5-1) and record 27th major final (17-9). If this match was being played on Australian hard courts  I would give Djokovic the edge but the fact that it is being played in New York is a huge edge for Federer. The problem is that Federer has had match points against Djokovic in Nw York before and failed to close him out. Hopefully he will learn from these matches and be sure not to let the match get to a fifth set, where Federer does not actually have a great record. That being said, Federer has won his last twenty eight sets played (including the Cincinnati final against Djokovic) and I expect him to win at least two more here.
MadProfessah's Pick: Federer in 3 or 4 sets, Djokovic in 5 sets.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015 US OPEN: Pennetta Wins 1st Major (And Announces She'll Retire By End of 2015!)

In the first ever all-Italian major women singles final, Flavia Pennetta defeated Roberta Vinci 7-6(4) 6-2 (as I predicted) to win the 2015 U.S. Open. The #26 seed completed her fairy tale run at the last major tournament of the year by beating one of her best friends and compatriots just one day after Vinci had achieved the biggest upset in tennis history by ending Serena Williams' streak of grand slam matches won at 33. Pennetta had to beat the #2 seed Simona Halep in the semifinals, #5 seed Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in the 4th round. Her opponent in the final was one of her best friends, someone she has known since they were both 10 years old and were roommates for four years in Rome. Their camaraderie could be seen after the match in the warm embrace at the net and their interaction during the trophy presentation.

Pennetta stunned the tennis world by announcing her retirement during the trophy ceremony, by saying that she had "made a big decision a month ago" and that "this is how I say goodbye to tennis."
She later clarified in  post-match press conference that this was her last U.S. Open but that she would continue playing until the end of the year. She became the oldest first-time Grand Slam winner ever, and also the person who played the most major tournaments (49) before capturing a title. (The previous record holder was Marion Bartoli who had played 47 majors before winning Wimbledon in 2013; she decided to retire within  a month of that victory.)

By winning this match, Pennetta will receive $3.3 million, almost 30% of her previous career total of $10.5 million. In the stands was not only the Prime Minister of Italy who flew from Italy through the night, but also Pennetta's fiance' Fabio Fognini (ATP player currently ranked #32 who made a big splash at the tournament himself by eliminating Rafael Nadal in the 3rd round.)

Pennetta will move to World #8 in the rankings on Monday and could possibly qualify for the year-end championships in Singapore. Even though Serena's bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam ended yesterday against Vinci, she tweeted out her support for Flavia's win and reaction to the retirement news.

2015 US OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Roberta Vinci (ITA) vs. Flavia Pennetta (ITA) [26] 
Here are my predictions for the women's final at the US Open for 2015. Last year I correctly predicted Serena Williams would defeat Caroline WozniackiThis year I correctly predicted 0 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals2 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Women's Semifinals Review: How They Got Here
Roberta Vinci (ITA) d. Serena Williams (USA) [1] 2-6 6-4 6-4. Once the other two grand slam champions (Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka) were removed from the tournament in the quarterfinals, the chances of Serena's eventual victory skyrocketed. The three remaining semifinalists possessed one win over Serena in 19 matches played so in theory the American should have been able to achieve the calendar grand slam with much less than her "A" game. However, inexplicably and quite surprisingly, somehow this did not happen. Despite winning the first set 6-2 in 36 minutes, Serena was broken in the second set and was unable to break her Italian opponent's serve, despite its relative weakness. (This was punctuated by Vinci hitting a bizarre 83 mph ace in the 8th game of the second set.)  Serena was clearly nervous and stopped moving her feet and going for 100 percent on her shots. This allowed Vinci to go for her shots and play well within herself and sneak out the last two sets and complete the most stunning upset in tennis of the century, if not ever.

Flavia Pennetta (ITA) [26] d. Simona Halep (ROU) [2] 6-1 6-3.  Pennetta played some of the best tennis of her life to dismiss Halep, who never seemed to find her best tennis despite playing in this incredibly important match that would determine who gets to play in a major final. The 33-year-old Italian was able to win 15 points in a row at one point, even after the 23-year-old Romanian had finally managed to earn a 3-1 lead in the second set, only to see it disappear quickly. Pennetta ended up winning the last five games in a row, punctuated by a blistering forehand winner on mach point which barely clipped the baseline as it zoomed past the hapless Halep.  

Women's Final Preview: Who Will Win
Who would have thought that there would (ever) be an Italian women's final at a major? Pennetta was a 150-to-1 bet to reach the final while Vinci was a 300-to-1 bet to get there. And yet these two players will face off for the 2015 U.S. Open women's singles title. Pennetta has more power and leads their head-to-head 5-4, but surprisingly the two have not played since 2013. Can Vinci really get over winning the most incredible match of her and play her first major final less than 24 hours later and play her best tennis? Somehow I doubt it. MadProfessah's pick: Pennetta.

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015 US OPEN: Upset Of The Century! Vinci Defeats Serena In Semifinal, Denying Her Grand Slam Bid

In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci recorded her first ever victory over Serena Williams in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, where Serena had won three consecutive titles, denying the 21-time major champion her chance to win a calendar Grand Slam.
The score was 2-6 6-4 6-4. Serena was 25-3 in major semifinals before today and 43-1 against unseeded players a

With Flavia Pennetta winning the other semifinal the women's final will be an all-Italian affair between first-time finalists for the first time since the 2010 French Open between Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur. Pennetta was a 150-to-1 shot and Vinci a 300-to-1 shot to win the title at the beginning of the tournament. Tomorrow one of them will be the 2015 U.S. Open champion.

2015 US OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) [19] Marin Cilic (CRO) [9]. Proving that last year's title run here was no fluke, Marin Cilic outlasted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinal by winning the fifth set 6-4 despite blowing a 2-0 set lead. It's somewhat unfortunate that the draw has produced Djokovic-Cilic and Federer-Wawrinka instead of Djokovic-Wawrinka and Federer-Cilic. This alternate draw would be more suspenseful because those in those matchups the higher ranked player has lost to the lower ranked player in important meetings (Wawrinka beat Djokovic in the finals of the 2015 French Open and Cilic beat Federer in the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open. However, what we have instead is a pair of matches where the higher ranked player has a clear head-to-head advantage. Djokovic leads Cilic 13-0 and Federer leads Wawrinka 16-3. The last meeting between  Cilic and Djokovic was at Wimbledon and was a pretty routine win by the World #1. A win here will let Djokovic reach his 4th major final of 2015, and his 8th final in the last 10 majors (where he has been 3-4). For such a great hard court player he deserves another opportunity to demonstrate his prowess in New York. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [5].  This should be the more compelling and emotionally resonant of the two major semifinals played. Things are always complicated when two players from the same country compete on the world stage and the dynamics between Federer and Wawrinka are in a transitional state. For almost a decade, Wawrinka has been looking up to Federer, not really believing he was his equal and but in the last 8 majors played Wawrinka has won twice and Federer has won none. Combined with the fact that in their last meeting Wawrinka essentially blasted Federer off the court at Roland Garros this year on his way to winning his 2nd major. It's hard to believe that Wawrinka can duplicate such a performance, especially on the hard courts of New York where Federer has won 5 times (although he has not been in a final here since losing to Juan Martin del Potro in 2009). That being said, if Donald Young could win a 6-1 set against Wawrinkain the 4th round then I am fairly confident that Federer will be able to beat even the new and improved Wawrinka, Mad Professah's pick: Federer.


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