Tuesday, May 31, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals (and R16) Preview, Part 1

Here are my predictions for the 2016 men's quarterfinals and remaining Round of 16 matches at the French Open. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I will try to predict the women's quarterfinals (and remaining Round of 16 matches) in a separate post.


Andy Murray [3] vs Richard Gasquet (FRA) [9] Kei Nishikori (JPN) [5]. Andy Murray has clearly been the second best player on clay this year (behind Novak Djokovic) and this year has a win on clay against Nadal (in Madrid!) and also a win against Djokovic (in Rome!). After playing 13 times in his home country's slam and never getting to the second week, Richard Gasquet put on a clinic of stylish tennis to dismiss a surprisingly erratic Kei Nishikori in their Round of 16 match on Sunday. Murray will not be daunted by the fact that the vast majority of the crowd on Roland Garros' largest court will be backing his opponent, hoping a Frenchman can finally reach a final again (Henri Leconte did it in 1988). Over the years, Murray has done well when he has been faced with dashing the hopes of Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga He will probably play better knowing that the fans don't want him to win. I think Murray has an excellent chance of reaching his first French Open final this year. He has a 7-3 head-to-head against Gasquet and has won their last five consecutive meetings. There's not much to suggest that this match will have a different resultMad Professah's pick: Murray.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] vs 
Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) Milos Raonic (CAN) [8]. This is not the Spanish lefty anyone would have predicted would be playing in the Roland Garros quarterfinals this year. All his compatriots: Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez have left the tournament but Ramos-Vinolas is still here, playing in his first major quarterfinal.  This is a lucky break for Wawrinka, but the defending champion would not have had much of a difficulty against the seed who should have made it this far, Milos Raonic. I'll be shocked is he has trouble against someone who has never won a clay court tournament on the ATP tour. Mad Professah's pick: Wawrinka.


Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [14]. This match was suspended at 3-6 6-4 4-1 but even if it wasn't I would still be surprised to see Djokovic lose this match even if the scores were reversed and play was resuming. With Nadak out of the picture, this is Novak's year to complete his career slam. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.
David Ferrer (ESP) [11] vs. 
Tomas Berdych (CZE) [7]. This could have been a semifinal or quarterfinal a few years ago when both players were in the top 5. Surprisingly, Ferrer owns a 8-6 career head-to-head over his much taller opponent, but they have split their head-to-head meetings on clay. Even more surprisingly, despite playing so badly that he was double bageled in Rome (by David Goffin), just the week before this horrible performance Berdych was able to beat Ferrer on clay in Madrid. This match should be a nearly interminable war of attrition. In that case, I'll give the edge to the indefatigabe Spaniard (although Berdych has one their one best-of-five grand slam match). Mad Professah's pick: Ferrer.

Marcel Granollers (ESP) vs. Dominic Thiem (AUT) [13]. 
The 21-year-old from Austria is one of the hottest players on tour all year long and is finally making it count in a major. I wouldn't be surprised to see Thiem reach a semifinal here. After all, he has a win on clay this year against Nadal, even after being down match point! Mad Professah's pick: Thiem.

Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs. David Goffin (BEL) [12].
Gulbis was the beneficiary of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's 30-year-old body giving up on him in the round before. Goffin is a clear-thinking counterpuncher who loves clay and has been steadily rising up the rankings and this is an excellent time for him to make his first major qurterfinal. Mad Professah's pick: Goffin.

Monday, May 30, 2016

EYE CANDY: Anthony Webster (reprise)

Anthony Webster has appeared as Eye Candy once before (April 25, 2016). He is a fitness trainer with an awesome Instagram feed (@annthonywebsterr). He's this week's Eye Candy!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

GAME OF THRONES (S6E05): "The Door"

We are now halfway through the 10-episode sixth season of HBO's Game Of Thrones with the airing of  (S6E05) "The Door." This is often a pivotal and important point in every season, because the fifth episode often sets up action that will be resolved or poses questions that will be hopefully answered during the season finale. In "The Door" we had a heartbreaking death, (or two!) an important confrontation, an intriguing introduction, an unfunny comedy and a surprising escape. Overall, this was one of the best episodes of the show's entire 55-episode series run so far.

Any discussion of "The Door" needs to begin with talking about the heartbreaking death of Hodor. In (S6E02) "Home", in addition to the big reveal that Jon Snow's death is not permanent, we are also shown Hodor as a (very large) youth named Willis (who could say something else besides "Hodor" at that time). In "The Door" we see that Brandon Stark actually caused Willis' seizure because he was greenseeing that point in time when back in the future, Meera Reed is desperately trying to save Brandon's life by pulling him to an escape from the Night's King and his army of reanimated corpses (known as wights). "Hold the door!" she screams at Hodor and the words get transmitted via Brandon's mental link with Willis in the past and the emotional intensity compressed the words into the now famous "Hodor" and scrambles the teenaged Willis' brain in the process. This results in a sickening irony. Brandon, who was cared for and carried by Hodor so lovingly actually caused the mental defect that resulted in his companion not being able to communicate meaningfully with those around him. Hodor heartbreakingly sacrifices his life to hold the door against the Night's King's undead army, allowing Meera and Brandon to "escape" into the frigid night, carrying only the clothes on their back, with Brandon paralyzed and his direwolf Summer, the Three-Eye Raven and Leaf (the Child of the Forest) and Hodor all dead behind them. Is it worth it? Is Brandon really that important to the fate of mankind?

One key takeaway of the events of this episode and the revelation of how Hodor got his name is that there is no question that when Bran is greenseeing, he can affect the past. However, it also appears to be true that even if Brandon affects the past, it doesn't change his timeline. To Brandon, he had only ever known Willis as Hodor, even if he had not yet been responsible for the events that turned Willis into Hodor. The question is, can Bran change other past events?

In addition to the two heartbreaking deaths (Hodor and Summer), the important confrontation occurred between Sansa Stark and Lord Petyr Baelish. Remember, back in Season 4 Sansa was under Baelish's protection when he married her off to the odious Ramsay Snow. Sansa starts their conversation with "Did you know abut Ramsay? If you didn't, you're an idiot. If you did, then you're my enemy." She meets Littlefinger with Brienne present as a more than implicit  threat that she no longer needs Littlefinger's protection, and that she could have him killed right there if she wants. She excoriates him with the line "You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family and you gave me to other monsters that murdered my family."

The intriguing introduction occurs back at Essos where a mysterious new Red Priestess named Vintana is brought in by Tyrion to try and spread the word about Daenerys' achievement and although Varys (and the audience) have doubts about the existence and powers of the Red God, she skeeves him out by revealing details of the worst night of his life that Varys has never revealed to anyone. I suspect we will be seeing more of her as we barrel towards the end of the season and events in Essos quicken to a climax.

The unfunny comedy happened in Braavos, where we watch Arya reacting to seeing a mummers play that re-enacts the events of the first two seasons which are almost unrecognizable to someone like herself who was a first-hand witness. She sees her father Lord Eddard portrayed as a fool, the sadistic Joffrey as a hero and Cersei as a loving mother. She is able to sneak backstage and eyes the person that she is being tasked with murdering. The one notable aspect of this scene was that there was gratuitous male nudity (of course there was also female nudity later in the scene as well, but atleast it wasn't gratuitous!)

The surprising escape (Brandon's escape from the Weirwood cave was not really surprising) involves Yara and Theon, the Greyjoy siblings of the recently murdered King of the Iron Islands who combine
forces at the Kingsmoot (a gathering where the Ironborn decide who will be the next candidate for the Sand Throne) but are defeated by their Crazy Uncle Euron (who admits killing his brother and sovereign). Yara and Theon see the writing on the wall and escape with all of the Iron Born's best ships. Newly crowned King Euron vows to hunt down his niece and nephew and then to sail to Essos to convince Daenerys Stormborn to marry him and  combine forces to invade and rule the Seven Kingdoms.

The highlights of this week's episode were:
  • The best line of the episode was Sansa's, to Littlefinger: "You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family and you gave me to other monsters that murdered my family." (ouch!)
  • Of course, Meera's "Hold the door!" and Willis' "Hold the door, holdthedoor,...,holddoor,...,hodor" will also be remembered forever.
  • The scene between Sansa and Littlefinger was a clear highlight of this week's episode as it shows Sansa's increasing control over her own destiny.
  • The assault of the Night's King's forces on the Weirwood tree cave was quite thrilling, and heartbreaking as the losses mounted up (first the Three-Eyed Raven, then Summer, then Leaf and ending with Hodor). It was one of the most exciting sequences of the entire series.

This was a near flawless episode. The only possible lowlight was the scene with Dany and Jorah, which seemed out of place with the rest of the episode, since it primarily involved the departure of Jorah which is a character not much of the audience cares about (including me).

Rating: 10/10.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: 3rd Round Complete, 16 Players Remain In Each Draw

The first 3 rounds of  the 2016 French Open are now complete, so there are 16 players left in both the men's and women's draws.

On the men's side, the only seeds in the Top 16 who have left the tournament are #4 Rafael Nadal, #6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, #10 Marin Cilic and #16 Gilles Simon. On the women's side of the draw, #3 Angie Kerber, #5 Victoria Azarenka#7 Roberta Vinci, #10 Petra Kvitova, #11 Lucie Safarova, #14 Ana Ivanovic and #16 Sara Errani.

In the Round of 16 there are some tasty match-ups: #7 Tomas Berdych versus #11 David Ferrer, #2 Andy Murray versus #15 John Isner and #9 Richard Gasquet versus #5 Kei Nishikori.

On the women's side the matches to watch are #4 Garbine Muguruza versus #13 Svetlana Kuznetsova, #6 Simona Halep versus #21 Sam Stosur and #9 Venus Williams versus #8 Timea Bacsinszky.

Friday, May 27, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: 9-time Champion Rafa Nadal Withdraws With Left-Wrist Injury

14-time major champion Rafael Nadal is used to celebrating his birthday during Roland Garros, the major title that he has won a record 9 times. He was hoping to win the tournament a record 9-times and had won his first two rounds quite easily. However, when Nadal turns 30 next Friday, it looks like he will be celebrating this landmark at home, because he withdrew from Roland Garros today, citing a left-wrist injury.

He won his 200th grand slam match on Thursday and now sports an impressive 200-30 career record at major tournaments,
"This is one of the toughest press conferences of my career," Nadal continued, admitting he was playing through the pain barrier. "If it wasn't Roland-Garros, I probably wouldn't have taken the risks. It's the most important event of the year for me.
"We took the risks yesterday. To have won the tournament I would have had to play five more matches and the doctor told me that was 100 per cent impossible.
Nadal, wearing a wrist brace, said the injury first flared up during his quarter-final match in Madrid against Joao Sousa earlier this month, after which he underwent treatment in Barcelona before heading to Rome, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Novak Djokovic.
Having played on anti-inflammatories in Italy, Nadal said the pain began to return prior to his departure for Paris.
"When I arrived here, every day is worse," Nadal said. "I cannot play with my forehand. That's the real thing."
By withdrawing from Roland-Garros, Nadal hopes to avoid surgery to his wrist.
"For the moment I need a couple of weeks with the immobilisation. Then we're going to do the treatment, and we hope the treatment works well. We expect to recover quick, to be ready for Wimbledon. But at this moment, you know, it's not a moment to talk about that."
"I feel myself with the right motivation and the right energy to be back at Roland Garros the next couple of years," he added. "It’s a tournament that I love so much."

Read more at http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/news/articles/2016-05-27/rafael_nadal_withdraws_from_rolandgarros.html#BJAmlEpD26XSEMFb.99
He played his second-round match Thursday after getting an injection to numb his wrist. But he said that he began ''to feel more and more pain'' overnight and could not move his wrist much Friday morning, so went for an MRI exam.''The results,'' he said, ''are not positive.''Nadal added that he can no longer practice and wouldn't have been able to finish the tournament.''I cannot play with my forehand,'' Nadal said, referring to his best shot, a spin-laden uppercut.He said there is inflammation in the tendon sheath in his wrist and was told that there is no way he could be given five more painkilling injections - one before each possible match, were he to make it all the way to the final - over the next 10 days.
Only two players have ever beaten Rafa at Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling but it looks like a 3rd, more formidable opponent is going to also claim a victory: Father Time!

A major without both Rafaen Nadal and Roger Federer? I guess we better start getting used to it sooner rather than later...

Celebrity Friday: List of the top 10 LGBT billionaires in the world

There is a list of the top 10 billionaires in the world, and Giorgio Armani is at the head, with a net worth of over US$8 billion. One interesting fact is that four of the top 10 are in the fashion industry: Armani, (Domenico) Dolce & (Stefano) Gabbana and Michael Kors. Also interesting to note is that there is only one lesbian Megan Ellison (daughter of Oracle founder Larry Ellison) and only one transgender person (Jennifer Pritzker).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

VIDEO: EQCA Encourages LGBT Community To Vote In June 7 California Primary

It's exactly two weeks until California's 2016 Statewide Primary Election on June 7th. Equality California, the state's largest LGBT political advocacy organization, is urging the LGBT community to vote, and will be running PSA on television in important markets like Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

EYE CANDY: Lucien Laviscount (3rd time!)

Lucien Laviscount has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (March 24, 2014 and December 14, 2015). Lucien is a model and actor of British and West Indian descent. He can be seen in Season one of Fox Television's Scream Queens and also has a lovely social media presence on Twitter (@ItsLucien) and Instagram (@its_lucien).

There's something haunting about his eyes, don't you think? A new meaning for the term "eye candy" indeed!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

GAME OF THRONES (S6E04): "The Book of the Stranger"

Episode 4 of Season 6 (S6E04) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "The Book of the Stranger." This is a reference to one of the books in the main religious text of Westeros, known as the Seven-Pointed Star, which serves as their "Bible" for their main religion, which is called the Faith of the Seven and is centered around a deity (called "God", of course) that appears in seven forms or aspects: The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior, The Smith, and The Stranger. The Stranger basically represents Death, so perhaps this episode is intended to be about death. But, hey, this is Game of Thrones, so isn't every episode about death?

Just last week in my review of (S6E03) "Oathbreaker" I was lamenting the fact that we had not seen some important characters like Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and Ser Loras Tyrell at all this season. So, of course in "the Book of the Stranger" both Littlefinger and Loras make an appearance.

But the most  emotionally resonant moment of this episode is of course the hug between Sansa Stark and Jon Snow when the two are finally reunited. This is the first significant reunion of two members of the Stark family since the infamous Red Wedding of Season 3, even though the show has put various characters tantalizingly close to meeting before, only to deny the audience this emotional release. It's curious that of all the possible Stark family duos possible, it is Sansa and Jon that meet, because the two were never very close when they lived together in Winterfell. Jon was always "that bastard" and Sansa was just a spoiled girl who thought more about clothes and dances. Now the two have gone through a lot (there's an understatement for you!) it will be interesting to see how they interact going forward. Even in this episode, Jon is reluctant about trying to make war on Ramsay Bolton, the self-proclaimed Warden of the North, until Sansa convinces him that it is the right thing to do, to try and save their brother Rickon (I do NOT see that plan ending well!), who is being held captive by Ramsay at the Stark's ancestral home of Winterfell.

It's interesting how the forces are starting to line up against the execrable Ramsay Bolton (who in this episode murders yet another innocent person, this time its Osha, the Wildling who was responsible for protecting Rickon and Bran when they escaped Winterfell way back in Season 3). We finally see Littlefinger and he is in the Vale, with the still crazy Lord of the Vale, Robin Arryn, who now is a loony homicidal teenager instead of a petulant homocidal pre-teen. Littlefinger appears to convince Robin to send his armed men to Winterfell to rescue his cousin Sansa (whom they do not know has escaped from Winterfell and is at Castle Black).

In King's Landing we finally get to see the show's primary openly gay character, Queen Margaery's brother Loras. Unfortunately, he is at the end of his rope and is willing to give in to the High Sparrow's demands for atonement and punishment of his sins (homosexuality). Margaery looks alarmed at the state of her brother but refuses to give in and encourages Loras to stay strong. Meanwhile, the Tyrells and Lannisters, who hate each other are realizing that they have a common enemy they hate even more (the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant), and hatch a plan to rescue Margaery and end the Sparrow's domination of the Capitol. Somehow I don't think this alliance is going to end well.

The other important moments in this week's episode happened in Essos, the continent across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. It's where Tyrion is making a dubious deal with the slaveholders of Yunkai, Astapor and other cities that instead of ending slavery he will give then seven years to phase out the practice, and compensate these rich and powerful men who benefit from the forced labours of others for the loss of their "property." Game of Thrones is repeatedly making points about the necessity of compromise, and that "one doesn't sign truces with one's friends" to indicate that it's one's enemies that one often has to negotiate with. However, it really is not clear if slavery is something one can compromise over. Essos is also where Daenery Targaryen finds herself confronting a room full of lecherous and powerful Dothraki men who are supposed to be deciding her fate. Instead Dany upstages them by using her power to be unharmed by flames to immolate all of the Dothraki khals, for the second time pulling off a coup that will make her the head of this violent and puissant people: Khaleesi.

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line on this week's episode was Missandei's when she asked Tyrion exactly "How long were you a slave?" and informed him that his deal with the Masters is doomed to fail because "Seven years is not a short time for a slave."
  • The look that Cersei and the Queen of Thorns shared in the Small Council room was priceless as usual.
  • The final scene when Dany burns up the Dothraki khals was pretty cool, but it ended problematically...
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  I really think the entire scene with Ramsay and Osha was redundant. We know he's a homocidal maniac, so seeing him stick a dagger in her neck and then calmly resuming his snack was not a surprise, at some point it just turns into torture porn.
  • Really, the Dothraki just let the only two white dudes in the area walk up to the front and prostrate themselves before Dany? The producers just seem to have a tin ear when it comes to listening to the potential problems with their deification of Daenerys. There was a little too much of S3E10 "Mhysa" in that final scene.
Grade: 8/10.

Friday, May 20, 2016

2016 FRENCH OPEN: Federer Withdraws, Ending Record Streak Of 65 Grand Slam Appearances

Tragedy! The French Open draw was released today and for the first time in 65 major tournaments, Roger Federer's name was nowhere to be seen. The former World #1 is experiencing a 2016 season dramatically impacted by injury and has played very few tournaments. Now this has led to what has seemed unthinkable since the 1999 U.S. Open: a grand slam tournament without Federer.

He released a statement on his website explaining his decision to withdraw from Roland Garros 2016:
I regret to announce that I have made the decision not to play in this year’s French Open. I have been making steady progress with my overall fitness, but I am still not 100% and feel I might be taking an unnecessary risk by playing in this event before I am really ready. This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career. I remain as motivated and excited as ever and my plan is to achieve the highest level of fitness before returning to the ATP World Tour for the upcoming grass court season. I am sorry for my fans in Paris but I very much look forward to returning to Roland Garros in 2017.
As a Federer fan I'm devastated, but honestly the end of the road can be seen. If he doesn't recuperate now, there's no way he will be able to have results in the latter half of the season that will allow him to remain in the Top 10, and if he doesn't do that I'm convinced he'll retire sooner rather than later.

The defending champions of the French Open are Serena Williams and Stan Wawrinka an dthe tournament starts on Sunday May 22.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT)

On May 17, Americans and people around the world mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by reaffirming the dignity and inherent worth of all people, regardless of who they love or their gender identity.
Our nation is committed to the principle that all people should be treated fairly and with respect. Advancing this goal has long been a cornerstone of American diplomacy, and I am proud that my Administration has made advancing the human rights of LGBT individuals a specific focus of our engagement around the world. I am also proud of the great strides that our nation has made at home in recent years, including that we now have marriage equality as a result of last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision.
At the same time, there is much work to be done to combat homophobia and transphobia, both at home and abroad.‎ In too many places, LGBT individuals grow up forced to conceal or deny who they truly are for fear of persecution, discrimination, and violence. All nations and all communities can, and must, do better. Fortunately, human rights champions and good citizens around the world continue to strive towards this goal every day by lifting up the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights. The United States honors their work and will continue to support them in their struggle for human dignity.me Court decision.
At the same time, there is much work to be done to combat homophobia and transphobia, both at home and abroad.‎ In too many places, LGBT individuals grow up forced to conceal or deny who they truly are for fear of persecution, discrimination, and violence. All nations and all communities can, and must, do better. Fortunately, human rights champions and good citizens around the world continue to strive towards this goal every day by lifting up the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights. The United States honors their work and will continue to support them in their struggle for human dignity.

TENNIS TUESDAY: Murray & Serena Win 1st Titles of 2016 In Rome; Berdych Fires Coach After Double Bagel

For the second week in a row, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray faced off in the final of a clay court Masters final. However, this time the result was different, primarily because Djokovic had a harder draw this week, having to go through the King of Clay Rafael Nadal and outlasting a spirited fight from Kei Nishikori and Murray may have been inspired by the fact  that the match was being played on his 29th birthday! Whatever it was, Murray played a very smart match, and became the first person other than Roger Federer to beat Djokovic in straight sets in nearly two years, winning 6-3 6-3. It was Murray's 12th ATP Masters shield (#5 on the all-time list) and his 36th ATP tour title (now 36-19). He improves to a career head-to-head of  10 wins and 23 losses against Djokovic.

Ending a drought of more than  nine months without winning a tournament, Serena Williams won her 4th Rome title (2002, 2013, 2014, 2016) by defeating fellow American Madison Keys 7-6(5) 6-3 (as expected). Although nine months sounds like a long time for the World #1 not to win a title, she had only played in 5 tournaments in that period (2015 US Open, 2016 Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome). It was Serena's 14th clay court title and 70th WTA tour title overall.

There's no question that 30-year-old Tomas Berdych is in something of a slump in 2016, which is somewhat surprising after he started 2015 so well (dispatching Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open). However no one really expected that the former Top 10 player would be having results like failing to win a single game in a match. Clearly, neither did he, so he has decided to fire his coach of 19 months, Dani Vallerdu (who used to be part of Murray's team). Hmmm, Murray just ended his coaching relationship last week so maybe the two could reunite?

Monday, May 16, 2016

EYE CANDY: Kyle Sellars (black/white)

Kyle Sellars has appeared as Eye Candy before (February 1, 2016). He's a dancer and fitness model in South Africa. He has an excellent Instagram page (@pt_kyle94). The pictures in this post were taken from there, so there is more where they came from (usually in color but I liked this set of black-and-white shots).


Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 NEBULA AWARDS: Naomi Novik's Uprooted Wins Best Novel In All-Female Sweep

The 2016 Nebula Awards for the best writing in science fiction and fantasy released in 2015 were announced this weekend and all of the winners in the main categories (Novel, Novella, Novellette and Short Story) were women!

  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
  • ‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)
Short Story
  • ‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)
Additionally, Fran Wilde's Updraft won the Young Adult Nebula award, i.e. Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Mad Max: Fury Road deservedly won the Outstanding Dramatic Presentation category.

The big kahuna is the Novel category, and this year there are three books that have been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula: Naomi Novik's Uprooted (which I have not read yet and since I was not a fan of her Temeraire stories I may not get around to), Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy and N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season (both of which I have read). If I were voting, I would have picked Jemisin, and the SFF award prognosticator at Chaos Horizon did just that as well. However, we were both wrong. Does that mean Novik is now the front runner for the Hugo? I doubt it, but I do think it means that voters may not split as many votes among Leckie, Jemisin and Novik, which could make it harder for Neal Stephenson's Seveneves to win the award (which I think it is going to do).

GAME OF THRONES (S6E03): "Oathbreaker"

Episode 1 of Season 6 (S6E03) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "Oathbreaker." The titles of the episodes are often meaningful and often have multiple interpretations. For example, "Oathbreaker" is the name of the sword that Jaime Lannister gave to Brienne but in common parlance it refers to a  person who "breaks his oath." The men of the Night's Watch famously swear an oath to serve until Death. In fact, here is the text of that Oath:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

So, what happens when a member of the Night's Watch dies and comes back to life? Is Jon Snow the eponymous Oathbreaker of this episode? There are many oaths that the people of Westeros swear by. The oath to not do harm to a guest under your roof once you have shared salt and bread with them. The Oath to abide by the laws of men and Gods. The marriage vows. There are many oaths, and there are many people on this show who break their oaths.

As I have said before, "one of the strengths and weaknesses of Game of Thrones is its expansive cast" but in this episode we see the drawbacks of having such a huge cast because in S6E03 we finally return to some characters that we have not seen for awhile. The first of these are Sam and Gilly, who are on a ship sailing to the Citadel with Gilly's bastard baby boy. Sam is horribly seasick but Gilly is happy to be on the journey to their new life together.  Could Sam be the Oathbreaker? By shacking up with Gilly he has broken his oath to the Night's Watch, although his Lord Commander sort of told him to go off and become a Maester, so maybe it's okay.

We also get to see more of Brandon and the Three-Eyed Raven (Donald Sutherland) greenseeing the past. This time it's the important Tower of Joy scene where we may discover who is the mother (and more importantly, the father, of the little baby boy that Eddard Stark brought back from the War and who grew up to be known as Jon Snow. The central question of A Song of Ice and Fire is Who are Jon Snow's parents? Sadly, the scene ends after a thrillingly executed fight scene between Ser Arthur Dayne (widely regarded by experts like Jaime Lannister and Jorah Mormont as one of the best swordsman ever) and Eddard Stark but before Eddard gets into the actual Tower, to find (it is speculated) his sister Lyanna Stark. Could Eddard Stark be the Oathbreaker? It's revealed that he actually did not beat Ser Arthur Dayne in single-handed combat, after all. He did win that fight, but only because Howland Reed, after pretending(?) to be dead came up behind Ser Arthur and put a knife in his neck. Apparently we will have to wait until S6E05 to find out who is in the Tower. But this was still a very important scene because Brandon, watching this pivotal moment from a quarter-century in the past, calls out to his father and Eddard stops and looks around as if he could barely hear his not-yet-born son. Can Bran affect the past? That would be a huge reveal, but we are given no answers but instead swept back to reality with Brandon paralyzed and the Three-Eyed Raven stuck in a weirwood tree in a cave.

The other character we get to see for the first time in a very long time is Rickon Stark, who sadly shows up in Winterfell as a result of some treachery by one of the Northern lords who are still somewhat pissed at the Starks and are trying to align themselves with the new Warden of the North, the odious Ramsay Snow. (Couldn't Ramsay be the titular Oathbreaker? He is definitely a kinslayer.)
Things do not look good for Rickon. You should have stayed presumed dead. I presume Ramsay is going to have some horrible fate in store for the youngest (but not so little any more) member of the Stark clan.

There is one key figure in the story whom we have yet to see anything about this season: Lord Petyr Baelish a.k.a. Littlefinger. What has that sneaky devil been up to? There's an oathbreaker if I ever saw one! Hopefully we will find out in (S6E04) "Book of the Stranger." (But this sounds like it's going to be about the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant.)

The rest of the show was taken up with updating us about what has been happening to our principal characters (Cersei and Jaime are trying to assemble political power in King's Landing to go after their enemies; The High Sparrow is trying to do the same thing, but he does it by persuasion, talking to King Tommen; Qyburn has discovered Varys' network of spiders (the poor children of King's Landing and is attempting to convince them to work for him through the dispersal of free sweets; Arya is no longer blind; Daenerys is stuck in a hut filled with Khal's widows; meanwhile back in Essos Varys learns that all the good that Queen Dany accomplished in freeing the slaves is being undone by the elites in Yunkai and the other "Free Cities." And there was no update on Drogon, who we know is loose, or the other two dragons, who we saw Tyrion release last week!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • For the second consecutive episode Jon Snow had the biggest and best moment of the show when he gave his fancy Lord Commander cloak to Edd and walked out of Castle Black saying the words "My Watch is ended."
  • The look that Grey Worm and Missandei share when Tyrion is trying to pass the time waiting for Varys was hilarious!
  • The vastness of Vaes Dothrak was a clear highlight of the episode. I was curious about what this location would look like, since it's supposed to represent the pinnacle of Dothraki civilization, and how they would distinguish it from previous Dothraki camps we have seen.
  • Another highlight was the sword battle at the Tower of Joy and finally witnessing the prowess of Ser Arthur Dayne, who was outnumbered 5 to 2 and evened up the odds to 1 on 1 before being dispatched by a knife in the back of his neck by Ser Howland Reed.
  • Seeing Rickon Stark and Osha, nearly 3 years after they not appeared on the show since Season 3 was a highlight, but the look on Ramsay Bolton's face when he said "Welcome home, Lord Stark does not bode well for the future happiness of yet another member of the Stark clan.
  • Arya Stark A Girl With No Name has her blindness removed and she can see again! Arya is one of my favorite characters, I hope 
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  Did we really need to see the severed head of another Direwolf? Rickon's is named Shaggydog, and it was presented as proof that Smalljon Umber's gift is really Rickon Stark.
  • The extended focus on the faces of the four traitors who had just been hanged, after we saw their death throes was more than a bit graphic and a lot off-putting.
Grade: 9/10.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

2016 ROME: Finals Are Djokovic-Murray XXXIII and Serena v Madison Keys

The finals of the 2016 Italian Open in Rome are now set. For the second week in a row, World #1 Novak Djokovic and World #3 Andy Murray will face off in a clay court final. Last week, Djokovic prevailed 6-2 3-6 6-3 to with the Mutua Madrid Open. This week, Djokovic extended his streak of wins over Rafael Nadal to 7 with a tight straight sets win in the quarterfinals 7-5 7-6(5) and now leads their head-to-head 26-23. Djokovic won a three-hour three-set thriller against Kei Nishikori in the semifinals to set up his 33rd career meeting with Murray. The other member of the Big Four, Roger Federer is currently recovering from an injury, and although he won his first match of the week against Young Gun Sascha Zverev he lost to another, Dominic Thiem, the very next round.
In the final, Djokovic, despite not playing his best, has reached another final, and could extend his lead in the record number of ATP Masters titles if he wins his 30th shield on Sunday, extending his undefeated streak against fellow Top 10 players to 14-0  for 2016.

MadProfessah's Pick: Djokovic.

On the women's side, the haphazard results of the seeds continues with  only Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Svetlana Kuznetsova making it through to the quarters. Serena efficiently dispatched Sveta (losing only two games) and Muguruza made it to the semifinals, where she surprisingly lost to Madison Keys, who earlier in the week took out Petra Kvitova. Angie Kerber lost in the very first round, and neither Simona Halep nor Aggie Radwanska played Rome, but Radwanska will end up with the #2 seed at Roland Garros, despite the fact that Halep is the one who won Madrid last week! Serena is in her 4th Rome final, Keys is in her first. Serena has won 19 consecutive matches in Rome, but surprisingly has not won a title in 2016 yet. The last two times Keys won a title she went through two top 10 players to reach the final and she has done that here. But Serena hates to lose to other Americans, and hasn't done so in a final since the 2008 Wimbledon.

MadProfessah's pick: Serena.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

TENNIS THURSDAY: Halep,Nole Win Madrid; Murray-Mauresmo Split; Williams Sisters Play Doubles In Rome

Simona Halep and Novak Djokovic won the latest  warm-up tournament for Roland Garros, the Mutua Madrid Open in Spain. World #2 Halep defeated Dominika Cibulkova and World #1 beat World #2 (and defending champion) Andy Murray in three sets 6-2 3-6 6-3. Murray was coming off an impressive win over Rafael Nadal, becoming the first person to beat the King of Clay in the same clay tournament in consecutive years. Djokovic now has 29 ATP Masters Shields and is tied for 6th on the all-time list with Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg with 64 career ATP titles.

Andy Murray and Amelie Mauresmo announced a mutual agreement to end their coaching relationship after 2 years together. They are both relatively new parents (Mauresmo gave birth to a son in August, and Andy's wife gave birth to a daughter in February) and apparently the travel demands became too great for her. It was noted by several observers that Jamie Delgado was in Andy's coaching box in Madrid and this announcement was not too much of a surprise. Murray rose to #2 in the world under Mauresmo and was 7-5 in tour finals but was unable to win another major while being coached by the 2-time major champion. It will be interesting to see who Murray selects next. He was hailed for being the rare elite male athlete who had a female coach, and he should get a lot of kudos for that.

World #1 Serena Williams finally returned to the WTA tour in Rome, winning her first match over Anna-Lena Friedsam. Venus Williams won her first match in Rome as well, defeating Coco Vandeweghe in straight sets but the when the two sisters played doubles (for the first time in nearly two years!) they lost pretty easily, 1-6 5-7 against the team of Katarin Srebotnik and Andreja Klepac. The two do intend to play doubles at the Rio Olympics, where the tennis program runs from August 6-14. The Williams Sisters are the winningest tennis team in Olympics history, with each winning a singles Gold medal (Serena in London in 2012 and Venus in Sydney in 2000) and together they have three golds (Sydney, Beijing and London).

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

QUEER QUOTE: AG Loretta Lynch Announces DOJ Lawsuit Against NC Over Anti-LGBT #HB2

Today's Queer Quote is this excerpt of prepared remarks from an extraordinary press conference Attorney General Loretta Lynch made as she announced the U.S. Department of Justice was suing North Carolina over its discriminatory law, HB2.

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here.  Today, I’m joined by [Vanita] Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.  We are here to announce a significant law enforcement action regarding North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2.  
The North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 in special session on March 23 of this year.  The bill sought to strike down an anti-discrimination provision in a recently-passed Charlotte, North Carolina, ordinance, as well as to require transgender people in public agencies to use the bathrooms consistent with their sex as noted at birth, rather than the bathrooms that fit their gender identity.  The bill was signed into law that same day.  In so doing, the legislature and the governor placed North Carolina in direct opposition to federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.  More to the point, they created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals, who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security – a right taken for granted by most of us.  
Last week, our Civil Rights Division notified state officials that House Bill 2 violates federal civil rights laws.  We asked that they certify by the end of the day today that they would not comply with or implement House Bill 2’s restriction on restroom access.  An extension was requested by North Carolina and was under active consideration.  But instead of replying to our offer or providing a certification, this morning, the state of North Carolina and its governor chose to respond by suing the Department of Justice.  As a result of their decisions, we are now moving forward. 
Today, we are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.  We are seeking a court order declaring House Bill 2’s restroom restriction impermissibly discriminatory, as well as a statewide bar on its enforcement.  While the lawsuit currently seeks declaratory relief, I want to note that we retain the option of curtailing federal funding to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina as this case proceeds.
This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms.  This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us.  And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably – in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.
This is not the first time that we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress for our nation.  We saw it in the Jim Crow laws that followed the Emancipation Proclamation.  We saw it in fierce and widespread resistance to Brown v. Board of Education.  And we saw it in the proliferation of state bans on same-sex unions intended to stifle any hope that gay and lesbian Americans might one day be afforded the right to marry.  That right, of course, is now recognized as a guarantee embedded in our Constitution, and in the wake of that historic triumph, we have seen bill after bill in state after state taking aim at the LGBT community.  Some of these responses reflect a recognizably human fear of the unknown, and a discomfort with the uncertainty of change.  But this is not a time to act out of fear.  This is a time to summon our national virtues of inclusivity, diversity, compassion and open-mindedness.  What we must not do – what we must never do – is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human.  This is why none of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something they are not, or invents a problem that doesn’t exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment.
Let me speak now to the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my state of North Carolina.  You’ve been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm – but that just is not the case.  Instead, what this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share.  This law provides no benefit to society – all it does is harm innocent Americans. 
Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.  Let us reflect on the obvious but often neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good in hindsight.  It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference.  We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward.  Let us write a different story this time.  Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity and regard for all that make our country great. 
Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself.  Some of you have lived freely for decades.  Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead.  But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that  we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.  Please know that history is on your side.  This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time.  It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together. 
I want to thank my colleagues in the Civil Rights Division who have devoted many hours to this case so far, and who will devote many more to seeing it through.  At this time, I’d like to turn things over to Vanita Gupta, whose determined leadership on this and so many other issues has been essential to the Justice Department’s work.

Monday, May 09, 2016

EYE CANDY: Jacob Sumana (#4!)

Jacob Sumana has appeared as Eye Candy three times before (December 30, 2013March 31, 2014, and February 2, 2015). He is active on Instagram (@jacobsumana and @sumanafit) and is listed as 6 foot-2 and 230-pounds and is 25-years-old.

Sunday, May 08, 2016


Episode 2 of Season 6 (S6E02) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "Home." There was no indication from Episode 1 (S6E01) that the follow-up would become one of the most significant episodes of the entire show, but that is what happened this week.  Spoilers Follow Below!

Ever since 2011 when George R.R. Martin published A Dance with Dragons which included a scene in which fan favorite Jon Snow appears to be murdered by his brothers in the Night's Watch speculation about Jon's fate has been one of the key plot points of the entire story being told in A Song of Ice and Fire. These are the events that were depicted in the Season 5 finale (S5E10).

In "Home" we learned that even though Jon Snow has been killed, he does not stay dead. Jon Snow is dead! Long live Jon Snow!

There were also other important things that happened in this episode besides the resurrection of Jon Snow (which happened in the very last seconds of the episode).

We got to see Bran experiencing past events and we see Hodor as a young boy (still huge for his size) and we discover his name is Willis! And that he could talk!

Also in the North we see some very disturbing events at Winterfell (see lowlights below) and also in the North we see Brienne and Sansa talking about Arya, ad Theon tells Sansa that he is not going to go with them to the Wall to find Jon Snow and ask for his protection, since he's pretty sure that Jon will want to murder him for Theon's cowardly actions of attacking Winterfell and proclaiming the deaths of Rickon and Bran.

We move directly from Theon, to his father, Balon Greyjoy, arguing with his sister Yara about strategy. Balon is the last survivor of the five Kings, the War of the Five Kings was about but Yara points out that the War has not gone well for the Ironborn. Later we see Balon fall to his death when he meets his younger brother Euron (who has been missing in action for a long time, and is certifiably insane). It's not a coincidence in the same episode where we see Melissandre's prediction that all of the "pretenders to the Iron Throne" would be killed finally come to fruition is the one where it looks like her magical powers are weak because she can't resurrect Jon Snow.

There's an important scene in King's Landing when Jaime meets the High Sparrow at Myrcella's funeral and gets into a showdown between him and the Faith Militant. They both walk away from it without any bloodshed but you just know things will not go so smoothly next time! We also get to see more of Cersei's Personal Zombie Knight, i.e. the reanimated Ser Gregor Clegane a.k.a The Mountain who kills Some Random Dude who was besmirching Cersei's name in public. We see that even the Goldcloaks are scared of the Mountain when they try to enforce an order not to allow Cersei to go the Great Sept for the funeral, at King Tommen's explicit orders. Later, after speaking with Jaime, Tommen goes to his mother and apologizes, and she appears to forgive him. Cersei is acting surprisingly low-key, but I'm pretty sure she is biding her time and collecting her forces before she strikes wrath upon her enemies. Look out, world!

In Essos, Tyrion argues that dragons are very intelligent creatures and finding out that they have been refusing food and appearing to grow sickly, volunteers to make sure they have their dinner." He goes down to the dungeons where Dany had tied up the two remaining dragon with Varys, and incredibly bravely walks up to the deadly beasts and unclasps both of their shackles, not getting burn to a crisp in the process. This is interesting on multiple levels because there are lots of fan theories that Tyrion must have some Targaryen blood in him and his ability to walk away with a close encounter with dragons just increases that speculation.

Now, finally we get to the moment we have been waiting for. Melissandre attempting to resurrect Jon Snow, at the explicit request of Ser Davos, and clearly against the wishes of Big Tall Redheaded Wilding Dude (what's his name?). She washes Jon Snow's body, revealing the horrible lacerations the multiple stab wounds from his Night's Watch assassins left in his body. She cuts his hair and puts in the fire, saying incantations multiple times. NOthing appears to happen, and Redheaded Dude storms off and slams the door. Eventually Melissandre and Davos leave as well. And, then, of course, Jon open's his eyes, gasps, and sits up! He's alive!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • Seeing Kit Harrison's almost-nude body as a corpse was a highlight. Here was an opportunity to "Free the peen!" but, alas, the showrunners missed this chance!
  • The last seconds when Ghost stirs from his sleep and Jon Snow opens his eyes and gasps awake will probably be the highlight of the season!
  • Seeing Hodor as a youngster and Bran walking about (even if it is in a "greenseeing" dream) was pretty cool and a definite highlight especially since the character didn't appear in all of Season 5.
  • Dragons! The scene with Tyrion and Dany's two shackled dragons (Viserion and Rhaegal) was all osrts of awesome. The special effects were particularly convincing heree and the dragons looks as big as houses!
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  We know that Ramsay Snow is bad, horrible evil guy. Sheesh! In this episode, he stabs his father to death and follows that up by having his stepmother and her newborn baby devoured alive by bloodthirsty dogs. Srsly! This was way over the top. Even though we didn't see their deaths we did get audio of the snarling canines as they attacked and it was way over the top!
  • Do we really need to see Arya as a blind girl getting the crap beaten out of her for yet another week? With so many characters and so much story to tell, this seemed like a waste of
Grade: 10/10.


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