Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 FRENCH OPEN: Round 1 Complete; Kerber, Konta, Tsonga, Zverev Out

The first round of the 2017 French Open is now complete. It took three days, and there were a relatively small number of upsets. The biggest upset (but not a surprise) was World #1 Angelique Kerber losing to Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-2 on the first day. There was some thought that World #1 Andy Murray would follow suit, but he came back from losing a 6-4 second set against Aelex Kuznetsov to win a 6-0 final set.

Other notable defeats were Jo Konta, 2017 Rome champion Sascha Zverev (to Fernando Verdasco), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The usual suspects are still around: Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, tournament favorite Simona Halep and remaining top seed Karolina Pliskova all won relatively easily. Other players I am interested also won: Venus Williams, Sveta Kuznetsova, Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys on the women's side and Dominic Thiem, Gael Monfils (who won a fun match with Dustin Brown) and Stan Wawrinka.

Monday, May 29, 2017

EYE CANDY: Nathan Mozango

Nathan Mozango is a body-builder of African descent. According to the website, he is 5-foot-11-inches and weighs between 175-185 pounds. He has an Instagram page (@nathanmozango) with over 133,000 followers where it says he is 22 years old.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: ATP Top 5 Is 30+; Zverev,Svitolina Win Rome; Nadal Clay Win Streak Over; Agassi Rumored To Be Next Supercoach

Sascha Zverev of Germany became the first player born in the 1990s to win a ATP Masters Series title by defeating Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-4 6-3. On the women's side, Simona Halep lost a tough 3-set match to Elena Svitolina in the Rome final after rolling her ankle in the second set.

The entire ATP Top 5 is now over 30 years old for the first time, with #2 Novak Djokovic turning 30 on May 22. World #1 Andy Murray turned 30 on May 15th, Stan Wawrinka is 32, Rafael Nadal will turn 31 on June 3 and Roger Federer is 35.

The third time was the charm! For the 3rd time in 2017, Dominc Thiem faced King of Clay Rafael Nadal on his best surface and this time he came out the winner, blasting winners from both wings and dismissing Nadal in straight sets, 6-4 6-3 in the quarterfinals of Rome. Ominously, Thiem followed up this career-best performance with a merciless drubbing 6-1 6-0 at the hands of Djokovic in the semifinals. Nadal's win streak on clay in 2017 was stopped at 17.

The tennis world was stunned by Djokovic's decision to fire his entire coaching staff a few weeks ago. Now the current World #2 is close to announcing his new coach will be 8-time major champion Andre Agassi as his coach. Agassi will join Djokovic for the 21017 French Open at least and perhaps longer. Previously Djokovic was coached by another all-time great, in Boris Becker for over 2 years.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

POLL: Support For Marriage Equality Nearly 2:1 (64%-34%)

As someone who was in the trenches fighting for marriage equality for close to twenty years, it is exciting to report that public opinion has now swung dramatically in favor of supporting same-sex marriages.

According to Gallup, 64% of Americans support marriage equality, with opposition at 34%. Even Republicans have plurality support for the position that the law should support marriages between same-sex couples.

To put it succinctly, Gallup says:
Though the Supreme Court has settled the legality of same-sex marriage, a third of Americans are opposed to it. 
But support for gay marriage has gradually increased over the past two decades, reaching majority support with new groups, as it did with senior citizens in 2016 and Protestants this year. Republicans' support for gay marriage is also at a new high and could trend toward majority support in the near future.
It is worth noting that nearly two years after Obergefell legalize same-sex marriage that a full third of respondents think it should be illegal.

However it is pretty awesome to see the trend; hopefully it will remain monotonically increasing from now on!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

The synopsis of Dark Matter is:
From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.
I found this description quite accurate because the book really is about "the paths not taken" and it really is a thought-provoking, action-packed sci-fi thriller.

The premise of Dark Matter is preposterous: somehow a guy named Jason Dessen has created a device which allows access to the multiverse, i.e. the collection of all possible realities which are spawned by the various choices made and alternate events that occur every second.

The Jason Dessen we (the reader) meet is a physics professor at a small-time college in Chicago who lives with his loving wife Daniela and their 14-year-old son Charlie. At one point Jason had researched the possibility of building a device that could access the multiverse but when budding artist Dani announced she was pregnant they got married, Charlie was born and Jason abandoned his project to access the multiverse.

It's that point in time 15 years ago which two competing universes are generated by the two choices that Jason made that is the key moment which animates Dark Matter

Jason2 (the one who invented the multiverse device) regrets his decision so he goes back and kidnaps Jason1 (Charlie's dad) and swaps places with him.

It takes an annoyingly long time for Jason1 to realize that he's in an alternate universe. (It's never a good sign when the reader/audience understands more about the character's predicament than the character does.)

However the book is quite engaging despite the bizarre nature of the situation. It poses key questions: what makes a person unique? How should one deal with regret and decisions made that changed the trajectory of one's life? And (this is very central) if you lost access to the life you knew how far would you go to get that life back?

It's clear that Dark Matter will be a modern motion picture soon (I could see Chris Pratt or Matt Damon as Jason, or hey why not switch it up and try Michael Pena, Riz Ahmed or Steven Yeun for colorblind casting?!) but I honestly don't have high hopes for a film adaptation. The book is compelling but also not without its flaws and it would be a rare movie indeed that exceeds its source material.

Title: Dark Matter.
Blake Crouch.
Paperback: 354 pages.
Date Published: July 26, 2016.
Date Read: January 17, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nadal 15-0 On 2017 Clay; Federer Withdraws From Roland Garros; Halep Defends Madrid Title

Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, is having another extraordinary clay court season this year. He won his 52nd career clay court title and 30th ATP Masters shield by extending his undefeated streak on clay by beating Dominic Thiem of Austria 7-6(8) 6-4 to win the Madrid Mutua Open. Nadal has now won his 5th title in Madrid and his 10th(!) title in Barcelona and Monte Carlo. Interestingly, Nadal notched up a win against Novak Djokovic on his way to the final, stopping a losing streak against the former World #1 and setting their head to head at 24W-26L.

2017 Australian Open champion Roger Federer has finally confirmed what many of us suspected awhile ago after he won the Sunshine Double in March: The 18-time major champion would skip the entire clay court season to focus on the summer grass and hard court seasons. In a statement released on his website on Monday May 15th, he said "I need to recognize that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward. Thus, my team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season."

The hottest player on tour in 2017 is Kristina "Kiki" Mladenovic, who has reached 4 tournament finals this year (winning only 1). Simona Halep was pushed to a 3rd set against Kiki in final of the Madrid Open, eventually winning the deciding set 6-2, which was the Romanian's first defense of an important title. Halep's win means that she returns to the Top 5 in the rankings, while Mladenovic will rise to World #14.

Angelique Kerber has regained the #1 ranking by earning enough points in Madrid to surpass the total by Serena Williams. Since Serena is not playing any tournaments for the rest of the year it seems unlikely that she will be #1 ranked again in 2017, although it is possible that if Kerber does not defend the ranking points she earned in 2016 (US Open title and Wimbledon final) that the German's total may fall below Kerber's. However, it's possible that other players such as Karolina Pliskova (who currently leads the Race to Singapore), Halep or Dominika Cibulkova could reach #1 this year.

Monday, May 15, 2017

EYE CANDY: Aldis Hodge

Aldis Hodge is a 30-year-old Black actor of West Indian descent who plays Noah, one of the key roles on the WGN cable television drama, Underground, a dramatization of the Underground Railroad which also stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Christopher Meloni.

I just recently started watching Season 1 and thought that y'all would be interested in seeing one of the main reasons to watch the show! (That last shot is taken from the show.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: Party Affiliation Influences Perceptions of Bias

The topic of how different groups of people view the prevalence and salience of discrimination against various groups is a subject that I have often blogged about here. Five Thirty Eight looks at the polling data from PRRI that I had previously discussed and makes an argument about how in the Trump era notions of "civil rights" and "discrimination" and what the government should do about these issues is going to be very different than what it was in the Obama and Bush administrations.
What we can say already, however, is that in its first 100 days, Trump’s administration has in some ways redefined who the U.S. government views as facing discrimination or marginalization. 
The administration is not proposing less intervention from the federal government, which is the typical Republican approach, but rather it is seeking to wield federal power, just as Obama did. But whereas Obama’s policies focused on protecting African-AmericansLatinos, Muslims, people who are gay or transgender, and other groups that most Americans view as marginalized, Trump and his team are focusing on defending different groups: Christians, police officers, victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants, and people who fear Latino immigrants are taking their jobs or redefining U.S. culture, among others. 
This approach is akin to civil rights for the Trump coalition, a shift in focus away from groups that Democrats (and the data) view as facing more discrimination and toward groups Republicans believe are more often marginalized.
This idea is part of today's discussion of Saturday Politics.

2017 MADRID: Djokovic-Nadal L in Semifinals, To Face Thiem-Cuevas Winner

For a record fiftieth time, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face off against each other in an ATP tour tennis match. This time it is in the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Ope, the Madrid Masters. Although this tournament is in the capital of Nadal's home country, he has under performed here, with only 4 titles here (compared to 10 on the clay courts of Barcelona and Monte Carlo) and an insane 9 titles at the clay-court major, Roland Garros in Paris.

Interestingly, Nadal now leads the tour in 2017 with match wins (32) and although Djokovic is higher ranked (World #2) and the defending champion here in Madrid, he has been having a very rough year, and recently fired his longtime coaching staff.

As a result of winning their last 7 meetings, Djokovic now leads his head to head with Nadal 26-23, one  of the very few people on tour who can say that. If Djokovic were to beat Nadal on clay, it will probably resuscitate his entire year. It is a widely anticipated match, but I give the edge to the Spanish King of Clay right now. But it will be a very tough battle.

MadProfessah's pick: Nadal in 3 sets.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

This is the 6th book in the Penn Cage series and the 3rd book in Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy. Although I loved this series overall I was somewhat disappointed by the concluding entry in the series.

The books are incredibly complex, almost gothic tales of intrigue and suspense, set in the southern city of Natchez, Mississippi in "present day" and in the 1960s. The primary character is Penn Cage, a former criminal prosecutor turned best-selling author who is the son of Dr. Tom Cage, a white doctor who has lived in Natchez all his life and is respected by the white and black citizens of the town alike.

The book (and entire Natchez Burning trilogy) is animated by the secrets Penn's dad is keeping (and has kept) in the context of the explosive (and violent) racial politics of his hometown.

In Mississippi Blood  the primary plot is about the trial of Dr. Cage for the murder of Viola Turner, the beautiful black woman who was Tom's nurse in the 1960s and who was assaulted and raped and eventually exiled from her hometown by an extremely racist group called the Double Eagles (they separated from the Ku Klux Klan because that group wasn't hardcore enough on racial issues!) Viola was dying of cancer and the two had an assisted suicide pact.

My primary issues I had with this book was that the story just became a bit too operatic and unbelievable over time, with plot developments and shocking revelations occurring in the context of an extremely dramatic trial. To be honest, this was probably a weakness of the earlier books as well, but I looked past it because I was so invested in what was happening to the characters in those earlier books. (And all 6 books in the Penn Cage  series are action-packed, emotionally resonant thrillers also.) Because Mississippi Blood  is almost certainly the final book in the Penn Cage series, several bridges have been burned (and primary characters dispatched  in the earlier entries in the trilogy) so that somehow my connection to and interest in these remaining characters seemed less intense.

Overall, Mississippi Blood is a very suspenseful, action-packed, mystery-thriller with thought-provoking and complex racial politics woven throughout and an extremely compelling read.

Title: Mississippi Blood.
Greg Iles.
Paperback: 704 pages.
 William Morrow.
Date Published: March 21, 2017.
Date Read: May 10, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A (3.83/4.0).


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: British Atheists Test Irish Blasphemy Law

British atheists Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry are testing Ireland's blasphemy law . Dawkins posted the following letter to the editor which has an excerpt from his best-selling book, The God Delusion:
Sir, – As a gesture of solidarity with Stephen Fry, I quote a sentence from my book, The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Every one of these adjectives is amply documented, with full biblical citations, in Dan Barker’s book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.
I shall be giving a public lecture in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on June 12th, and I shall therefore be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy. – Yours, etc, 
New College,
It will be interesting to see what  happens (if anything) to Fry or Dawkins as they challenge the idea that blasphemy laws should exist in a 21st century democracy.

Apparently the fine under the Irish blasphemy law is €25,000 (roughly $27,000). The text of the statute, according to the Independent, makes it illegal to use words that are:
"grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred to any religion,  thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion."

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nadal Nearly Nude; Djokovic Attempts Reset; Sharapova Haters Savor Victories

14-time major champion Rafael Nadal is undefeated on clay in 2017 and has won his 10th title at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona tournament. He is on track to win his 10th title at Roland Garros in Paris this year. To celebrate(?), he is posing nearly nude wearing Tommy Hilfiger underwear. You're welcome!

While Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are resurgent this season the former World #1 Novak Djokovic (who is still at #2 in the rankings) has taken the radical step of firing his entire coaching team, including longtime coach Marian Vajda whom has been with him for over a decade (June 2006). Since winning his 12th major and achieving the career slam (and Nole Slam) at the 2016 French Open, Djokovic has been oddly off-kilter, despite making the 2016 US Open final (where he lost to Stan Wawrinka) and by the end of the year he eventually lost the World #1 ranking to Andy Murray.

Since 5-time major champion Maria Sharapova returned after serving a 15-month suspension from the game, she has played well so far but ultimately come up short in the latter stages of crucial matches to two players who were sharply critical of her: Kiki Mladenovic (3-6 7-5 6-4 Stuttgart semifinal) and Genie Bouchard (Madrid 2nd Round 7-5 2-6 6-4). Both Bouchard and Mladenovic called Sharapova a cheater, and in addition to doing their talking off the court, they followed it up with even larger statements on the court, defeating Sharapova in important tournaments.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

This is Brian Staveley's first standalone novel in the same universe that his amazing Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy (The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire and The Last Mortal Bond) were set in. Maybe we should start calling the universe these books are set in the Annurian Empire universe because the Unhewn Throne doesn't play much of a role in the new book. Skullsworn instead provides us with an extremely detailed backstory for one of the highlights of the Trilogy, Pyrre Lakatur, the Priestess of Annanshael (God of Death), who is simply a delight as a middle-aged, completely unflappable but often deadly female assassin in  The Last Mortal Bond and The Providence of Fire.

Skullsworn is set in the time decades before the events of The Unhewn Throne trilogy when 20-something Pyrre is still seeking to pass her Trial to become a full Priestess, and we follow her journey with two Priests of Annanshael (named Ela and Korral) and learn how the character of the person we met in the earlier books was shaped by these other priests. It also allows the reader to realize that the unflappabilty and unusual attitude towards death is not sui generis to Pyrre, but appears to be a feature of skullsworn priests.

However, this being a book written by Staveley, there is a lot of political intrigue involved in the plot, as the story takes Pyrre back to her hometown, the captured city of Dombang which has been under Annurian occupation for centuries. In addition to political intrigue, Staveley also seeks to confront the reader with thorny philosophical questions, such as "what is the nature of love?" and "why would anyone worship the god of death?" Oh and there's a lot of action and a fair bit of adult language and sexual situations.

One of the key features of the Unhewn Throne trilogy is the panoply of gods that is featured in those books and in Skullsworn religion and worship becomes an even more central aspect of life. So much so, that Skullsworn began to remind me quite strongly of the DIVINE CITIES books (City of Stairs, City of Blades and City of Miracles) by Robert Jackson Bennett. Bennett's trilogy is primarily animated by intellectual dilemmas such as the nature of faith, the horrors of colonization and the memory of cultural genocide. This is not a bad thing, but it makes Skullsworn a more serious book than the rip-roaring tales of adventure and fun with which Staveley first began his oeuvre.

Overall, my primary complaint about Skullsworn  is that it was approximately half the length of any of the books in the trilogy. But then again, if the main complaint after reading a book is that "I wanted to read more!" than that's not really a complaint, it's a compliment.

Title: Skullsworn.
Brian Staveley.
Paperback: 320 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: April 25, 2017.
Date Read: May 1, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.08/4.0).


Monday, May 01, 2017

EYE CANDY: Jovan Campbell

Jovan Campbell is a 28-year-old model from Trinidad who lives in New York City, according to the good folks at Pop Glitz. He has almost 30,000 followers on Instagram (@ironaddictjovan).  West Indians represent!

This is his first time on Eye Candy but it certainly will not be the last. You may have noticed that Eye Candy is no longer a weekly feature of the blog. I am going to try and switch to an every-other-week frequency as I aim for an every-other-day frequency of posting to the blog. Thanks, everyone!


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