Thursday, September 28, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth trilogy, #3) by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky is the third and final book in N.K. Jemisin's award-winning Broken Earth trilogy. The first two entries, The Fifth Season (see my review) and The Obelisk Gate (see my review), each won the Hugo award for Best Novel the last two years, against very stiff competition, it must be noted. Can the third one also do it, giving Jemisin an unprecedented trifecta of Hugo wins? It's very possible, because the third book is at least as good as the first two. I would say that the first one would be my personal favorite of the three, primarily due to the novelty of the world Jemisin creates and the interesting literary device that she uses to entice the reader which pays off extremely well around three-fourths of the way.

The first book revolves around the central character, Essun, trying to find her daughter, Nassun, who has been taken away by her husband Jija after he killed their youngest child because he discovered that his wife (and thus his children) are orogenes, people who have the power to affect their surroundings by manipulating energy (in basically all its forms) with their minds and bodies. Unfortunately, this ability is often only partially under conscious control and very often orogenes will unintentionally slaughter the people around them, either through boiling or freezing them to death (by suddenly changing the amount of heat in a proximal volume of space), or causing catastrophic earthquakes. The social stigma against orogenes is so intense that Jija kills his own son and kidnaps his daughter after he discovers his wife is an orogene when she uses her powers to save the village the family had lived in as a cataclysmic event occurs which will (again) throw their entire society into turmoil. Cataclysmic events are somewhat expected in this version of Earth. So much so that these events are known as "seasons," and most people live in a state of readiness that a life-shattering event could happen at any time. 

The second book follows the story of Essun as she tries to survive the aftermath of the events of the first book, while simultaneously trying to locate the surviving members of her family, Nassun and Jija. Survival takes priority, as the effects of the Season become more serious (the sun is blotted by the ash in the sky and earthquakes and tidal waves destroying coastal cities become commonplace). Essun finds a community (located underground in a geological oddity called a geode) where orogenes are not as stigmatized (in fact they are valued) and settles in with them.

In the third book, the story primarily focusses on Nassun and Essun. Nassun was taken by her father to a community run by guardians (creatures that have the power to train, control and punish orogenes) where they try to cure orogene children like her. Essun has been able to use the Obelisk Gate to locate Nassun, so she knows her daughter is alive, but the consequences of her actions (which she took to try and save the society she had joined from attack by others) are physically damaging and potentially life-threatening. Interestingly, we not only follow Nassun and Essun's story in The Stone Sky, we also get the back story of one of the mysterious (and initially terrifying) creatures called the stone eaters.

With The Stone Sky (and really with the entire series) Jemisin is deconstructing and inverting, while simultaneously deploying, many of the classic tropes of epic fantasy. There is a main character (who in this case happens to be female and dark skinned, with dread locks) who goes on a quest (to find her daughter) and finds out that she has more power than she ever believed she had. This is a familiar plot summary that we have seen many times before. But unlike most epic trilogies, things don't end up "happy ever after" for our hero in the Broken Earth trilogy. She doesn't get to sail off to the Undying Lands like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Happily, Essun's (and Nassun's) story is resolved without ambiguity (something that I wish Richard K. Morgan's otherwise excellent epic fantasy trilogy featuring an openly gay protagonist, A Land Fit For Heroes had done). 

Overall, I would say that the Broken Earth trilogy is simultaneously similar to many other fantasy trilogies while distinguishing itself in ways that make it something that is ultimately memorable and also unlike any other fantasy trilogy that you have ever read before, while wishing you could read many more like it.

Title: The Stone Sky.
N.K. Jemisin.
Paperback: 413 pages.
Date Published: August 15, 2017.
Date Read: September 5, 2017.


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


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Belgium-France Davis Cup Final; Fedal Thrills At Laver Cup; Caro Wins 1st 2017 Title; Many Upsets in Wuhan

The inaugural Laver Cup, featuring a Team World (John Isner, Frances Tiafoe, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Denis Shopavolov) versus a Team Europe (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic, Sascha Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Tomas Berdych) happened this weekend and on the third day, the entire match came down to a 3rd set match tiebreak between Kyrgios and Federer where Kyrgios was up 5-2 and had match point at 8-9 on Federer's serve. If Kyrgios had won, the entire match would have been tied at 12-12 and 1 set of doubles (probably with Nadal and Federer teaming up again) would have been played. Instead, Federer won his two service points to go up 10-9 and then won Kyrgios' first service point to win the match tiebreaker 11-9 and clinch the 2017 Laver Cup for his team.

Two weekends ago the Davis Cup semifinals occurred and France easily beat Serbia (without Novak Djokovic) while Belgium came back from 2-1 down to defeat Davis Cup powerhouse Australia 3-2 when David Goffin and Steve Darcis won their reverse singles matches on the final day, with Goffin coming back against Nick Kyrgios to even the tie. France will host Belgium on an indoor hard court  November 24-26 in Lille.

Coming into the final of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Japan where she is the defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki had played in 6 finals in 2017 and lost every single one of them. However, in Japan she dispatched World #1 Garbine Muguruza 6-2 6-0 in the semifinals and then Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final 6-0 7-5 to win her 3rd title in Japan. The former #1 is on track to reach the WTA Tour finals.

The race to reach the WTA Tour Final is heating up during the Asian swing of the year. Both 2017 U.S. Open finalists, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens lost in the first round of the Wuhan Open. Also getting bounced early were Jo Konta, Angie Kerber, and Sveta Kuznetsova. Petra Kvitova, 2-time Wuhan champion, lost the longest WTA match of 2017 in 3 tiebreak sets  and 3 hours 34 minutes to Peng Shuai

Sunday, September 24, 2017

UPDATE: Michael Johnson Accepts 10-Year Plea Deal In HIV Transmission Case

There is an update in the infamous Michael Johnson case: where a 23-year-old Black gay man was sentenced to 30 years in prison under Missouri's discriminatory HIV criminalization statute after a trial influenced by homophobia and racism. Happily, the 30-year sentence was overturned last year.
The news comes that Johnson has agreed to a plea deal where he gets a 10-year prison sentence (including the 4 years he has already served). He is entering an "Alford plea" which says that he agrees that the state has enough evidence to convict him of a crime.

The Center for HIV Law and Public Policy issued a press release on the Johnson case:
New York, NY, September 21, 2017 – Today, in conclusion to a prosecution short on fairness and riddled with questions about racism and homophobia, Michael Johnson entered a plea in the St. Charles County Circuit Court in Missouri. Earlier this year, a state appeals court vacated his original conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct that, according to the court, made Johnson’s first trial “fundamentally unfair.” 
However, because Missouri’s HIV criminal law hinges liability on whether or not the defendant can prove he disclosed his HIV status prior to sex – a virtual impossibility in most instances – Johnson decided to accept a plea deal that credits him with time served. Under Missouri’s law, one of the harshest in the country, Johnson could have faced up to 96 years in prison if found guilty. 
“It is disturbing that Michael is not yet a free man and was not exonerated after his years-long struggle for justice, but we respect and support his decision not to risk a life behind bars,” said Mayo Schreiber, Deputy Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP). “It likely is the end of his case, but our work to bring an end to HIV criminal laws like Missouri’s continues.” 
Johnson, who was 21-years-old at the beginning of this case, entered a no-contest plea to charges that he had sex with partners without first advising them of his HIV status. In exchange, he has accepted a sentence of 10 years in state prison, which will include time already served since his arrest nearly four years ago.  He previously had been sentenced to 30 years in prison before the appeals court threw out the original conviction. 
Prior to his arrest in 2013, Johnson was a promising young college student and star athlete. His prosecution has drawn condemnation from state and national organizations and individuals uniformly outraged by his conviction and opposed to these fundamentally unfair laws being used to prosecute people living with HIV and, disproportionately, like all other criminal laws in the United States, people of color.
In related news, this week the California state legislature passed SB 239, which modernizes the state's laws around HIV transmission so that HIV is treated like other communicable diseases.

Hat tip to TowleRoad

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: 24% Of Americans Are Religiously Unaffiliated

For today's Godlesss Wednesday post I want to return to the topic of how the demographics of religious identity are changing in the United States. A report from the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) titled "America's Changing Religious Identity"  released on September 6 2017 chronicles these changes. Some of the findings are:

  • White Christians, 81 percent of the population in 1976, now account for less than half the public — 43 percent of Americans identify as white Christians, and 30 percent as white Protestants.
  • 92 percent of Lutherans are white, more than in any other denomination.
  • White Christians are aging. About 1 in 10 white Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants are under 30, compared with one-third of all Hindus and Buddhists.
  • Muslims and Mormons are the youngest faith groups in the U.S., with 42 percent of all Muslims under 3o, and nearly a quarter of all Mormons.
The PRRI report is based on a survey of 101,000 Americans in all 50 states and has a margin of error of 0.5 percentage points. Another big take-away from the report is that no single religious group in the United States is larger than the group of "religiously unaffiliated," which makes up 24% of the population.

This is awesome news!

Monday, September 18, 2017

EYE CANDY: Juan Esteban Berri (3rd time!)

Juan Esteban Berri is a model and actor from Colombia who has appeared as Eye Candy twice before (October 22, 2012 and January14, 2013). He has been listed as 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds and was born in 1980, so he is 37 now. Juan has an Instagram account (@juanesberrio) and is on Facebook (juanesberrio).


Sunday, September 17, 2017

2017 EMMYS: My Predictions in Major Categories

The Primetime Emmy awards will be given out tonight in Los Angeles. The show will be aired live on CBS at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT. This is the post where I discuss my predictions in the most prestigious categories. The one that I would vote for is in blue and the one I think will win is in red.

Outstanding drama series

  • “The Crown” (Netflix)
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
  • “Westworld” (HBO)
  • “Stranger Things” (Netflix)
  • “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
  • “House of Cards” (Netflix)

This is the first season of Westworld, The Crown, This Is Us, Stranger Things and The Handmaid's Tale.  I have watched all of these shows but I am a season behind  Better Call Saul and House of Cards. To me, the show that had the most impact on my emotionally was The Handmaid's Tale, despite the fact that it is almost impossible to get through an episode of This Is Us without weeping. The most creative of the shows on this list is Stranger Things while The Crown is the guiltiest pleasure. The show I am most looking forward to seeing the next season of is Westworld. What I'm trying to say is that basically every show on this list has a good reason to win.

SHOULD WIN: The Handmaid's Tale.
WILL WIN: This Is Us.

Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

  • Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (FX)
  • Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” (Netflix)
  • Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan” (Showtime)
  • Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld” (HBO)
  • Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us” (NBC)
  • Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Milo Ventimiglia has garnered most of the attention of the actors on This Is Us but Sterling Brown is the character that I most identify with (he plays a nerdy Black guy adopted by white parents whose primary story arc on the show involves his connection with his birth father.

SHOULD WIN: Sterling K. Brown.
WILL WIN: Sterling K. Brown.

Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

  • Claire Foy, “The Crown” (Netflix)
  • Keri Russell, “The Americans” (FX)
  • Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
  • Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
  • Robin Wright, “House of Cards” (Netflix)
  • Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld” (HBO)
Last year, Tatiana Masliany won for her amazing portrayal of multiple clones on Orphan Black. This year Claire Foy has been getting plaudits for playing Queen Elizabeth. Oscar winner Viola Davis won this category 2 years ago.  Robin Wright has been nominated for every season of House of Cards and has never won.

SHOULD WIN: Elisabeth Moss.
WILL WIN: Viola Davis.

Outstanding comedy series
  • “Black-ish” (ABC)
  • “Atlanta” (FX)
  • “Veep” (HBO)
  • “Master of None” (Netflix)
  • “Silicon Valley” (HBO)
  • “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
  • “Modern Family” (ABC)
The nominees in this category are Atlanta and Master of None, two comedies helmed by two comedians of color, Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari. I have never seen an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but I know that Tina Fey is an executive producer and people rave about it. I have seen Veep, Silicon Valley, Black-ish and Modern Family but have not seen all of the latest season of each of these shows. Veep ended the dominance of Modern Family last year and  is expected to do so again. I have been watching episodes of Black-ish on flights and have gained grudging respect for the show.

SHOULD WIN: Black-ish.

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series  
  • Donald Glover, “Atlanta” (FX)
  • Anthony Anderson, “Blackish” (ABC)
  • Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent” (Amazon)
  • Aziz Ansari, “Master of None” (Netflix)
  • William H. Macy, “Shameless” (Showtime)
  • Zach Galifianakis, “Baskets” (FX)

SHOULD WIN: Donald Glover.
WILL WIN: Jeffrey Tambor.

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep” (HBO)
  • Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish” (ABC)
  • Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)
  • Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)
  • Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
  • Allison Janney, “Mom” (CBS)
  • Pamela Adlon, “Better Things” (FX)
SHOULD WIN: Tracee Ellis Ross.
WILL WIN: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Outstanding limited series
  • “The Night Of” (HBO)
  • “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
  • “Fargo” (FX)
  • “Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX)
  • “Genius” (National Geographic)
I quite enjoyed watching The Night Of  last fall and Riz Ahmed and John Turturro were riveting. But Big Little Lies was quite compelling and fascinating to watch Oscar-calibre performances from Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. Fargo's 3rd season was well below the extremely high level set by the first two seasons.

SHOULD WIN: The Night Of.
WILL WIN: Big Little Lies.

Friday, September 15, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Edie Windsor, 88, Is Dead

Edith Windsor was the named plaintiff in the landmark civil rights lawsuit, Windsor v. United States, which challenged the constitutionality of the 1996 "Defense of Marriage Act." In 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down DOMA and two years later marriage equality was the law of the land following another high court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Windsor died this week at age 88, and President Barack Obama issued a statement in memoriam:
America’s long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes to speak out for what’s right.  
Few were as small in stature as Edie Windsor – and few made as big a difference to America. 
I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to this country we love.  She was engaged to her partner, Thea, for forty years.  After a wedding in Canada, they were married for less than two.  But federal law didn’t recognize a marriage like theirs as valid – which meant that they were denied certain federal rights and benefits that other married couples enjoyed.  And when Thea passed away, Edie spoke up – not for special treatment, but for equal treatment – so that other legally married same-sex couples could enjoy the same federal rights and benefits as anyone else. 
In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  And because people like Edie stood up, my administration stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.  The day that the Supreme Court issued its 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor was a great day for Edie, and a great day for America – a victory for human decency, equality, freedom, and justice.  And I called Edie that day to congratulate her. 
Two years later, to the day, we took another step forward on our journey as the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality.  It was a victory for families, and for the principle that all of us should be treated equally, regardless of who we are or who we love. 
I thought about Edie that day.  I thought about all the millions of quiet heroes across the decades whose countless small acts of courage slowly made an entire country realize that love is love – and who, in the process, made us all more free.  They deserve our gratitude.  And so does Edie.  
Michelle and I offer our condolences to her wife, Judith, and to all who loved and looked up to Edie Windsor.
Hat/tip to Talking Points Memo

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TUESDAY TENNIS: Nadal,Federer Top 2 Again; Two #1's from Spain; Two Young Black Phenoms Advance

Look at the calendar. It's 2017, but look at the ATP rankings. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are at the top of the rankings again, although this time it is Nadal at #1 and Federer at #2. Federer was briefly at #2 last year in May 2016 but the two have not been in this particular position since 2009. Nadal and Federer have played the fewest tournaments of any player in the Top 10, but they have the most points, since both have won 2 majors and 2 Masters shields this year. Novak Djokovic is out of the Top 5 for the first time since 2007! 2017 U.S. Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta makes his debut in the Top 10 at #10.

With Nadal at the top of the ATP rankings and Garbine Muguruza the new #1 on the WTA tour (thanks to Karolina Pliskova failing to repeat her U.S. Open final appearance in 2017) Spain has the top players in the world. The last country to do this was the United States, way back in 2003, when Andre Agassi and Serena Williams were #1 simultaneously. Muguruza is the 24th woman to head the WTA rankings since they began in the mid 1970s.

Following in the footsteps of Jelena Ostapenko at the 2017 French Open, Sloane Stephens became the second unseeded player to win a major tournament in 2017 when she beat Madison Keys in the U.S. Open final. Stephens will move up to #17 (up from 957 at the beginning of the year) while Keys is at #12. Venus Williams is at #5, while Serena Williams is down to #2.

17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, who shares a birthday with Roger Federer (19 years later) has made history by wining his second ATP challenger title and rising to #168 in the rankings. Only rafael Nadal, Rihcard Gasquet and JuanMartin del Potro have achieved a similar feat. That's a nice list to be on. Canada now has two teenage phenoms to be proud of, Felix and Denis Shapovalov, who beat Nadal earlier this summer and reaches the 3rd round of the U.S. Open after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

In other phenomenal Black youth tennis news, American Cori ('CoCo") Gauff reached the U.S. Open girls final at age 13, where she lost to another American, Amanda Anisimova. The future (of American tennis) is so bright, we gotta wear shades!

Monday, September 11, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Nadal Wins 16th Major

As I expected, Rafael Nadal defeated Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-4 6-4 to win the 2017 U.S. Open, claiming his 16th major title and 3rd in New York. He improved to 16-7 in major finals and reached the finals of 3 of the four majors in 2017, thus cementing his hold on the World #1 ranking for the year. Only Gilles Muller was able to beat him before the final round of a major this year, and that took an extraordinary 28-game final set. Roger Federer  and Nadal split the majors this year, with Federer winning the Australia Open (d. Nadal) and Wimbledon (d. Marin Cilic), and Nadal winning the French (d. Stan Wawrinka) and the U.S. Open. The other members of the big four, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray failed to reach a major final in 2017 and have basically ceded the rest of the season to their older rivals.

Nadal's win means that just like this point last year, Nadal, 31, and Federer, 36, are again 3 major titles apart, but instead of being at 17 and 14 they have both separated themselves from the previous greats of the sport (Pete Sampras at 14) and now they are at 19 and 16 with the very real possibility they will both reach the once-inconceivable number of 20 singles slams each. Who will be the G.OA.T.?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's final at the US Open for 2017. Last year I correctly predicted Stan Wawrinka would beat Novak Djokovic. This year I did not predict that  Sloane Stephens would beat Madison Keys in the women's final but I did correctly predict 2 of 2 men's semifinals1 of 2 women's semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. 


The men's final will be between World #1 Rafael Nadal and #28 seed Kevin Anderson. The main story of this year's U.S. Open on the men's side is the absence of "the usual contenders" such as defending champion Stan Wawrinka, 2016 U.S. Open finalist Novak Djokovic, World #2 Andy Murray, and 2016 U.S. Open semifinalist Kei Nishikori. Because of this, Nadal has not faced a single Top 15 player on his way to the 2017 U.S. Open final. He even avoided having to face World #3 Roger Federer due to the inspired play of Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinal. On the other half of the draw, Kevin Anderson has reached his first major final after many seeds fell early, leaving #12 Pablo Carreno Busta as the highest seed remaining in the 4th round. Regardless, you can only play against the people that the draw presents you, and so it is very likely that Nadal will win his 16th major title and 3rd U.S. Open today, cementing his hold on the #1 year-end ranking. MadProfessah's prediction: Nadal.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Stephens Wins 1st Major

Surprising most observers (including yours truly), 24-year-old Sloane Stephens defeated 22-year-old Madison Keys 6-3 6-0 in 61 minutes to win the 2017 U.S. Open. The two friends shared an emotional hug at the net at the conclusion of the match and soon afterwards were seen joking and chatting casually, displaying friendship and sportsmanship which is rarely seen between two competitors for a major title.

Stephens victory eared her $3.7M in prize money and makes her the first American woman not named Venus or Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open since Lindsay Davenport (Keys' coach) did it in 1998.

Despite being the less powerful player, Stephens used her athleticism and calm demeanor to dismantle her opponent (and friend). The match was only 15 games long but Keys had 30 unforced errors while Stephens had a jaw-dropping 6 (and only 2 in the first set). Nothing was working for Keys, today, not her powerful groundstrokes or her blistering serve. Once her power game was revealed to not be working Keys really seemed to have no idea what to do next, and continued to miss the ball both short (into the net) and long (out of the court). Mercifully the match was over relatively quickly. There was one moment at 6-3,4-0, 0-40 with Stephens serving where Keys has  a chance to break for the first time and change the one-way momentum. However, her hopes were dashed as Stephens won 5 consecutive points and lost the game on yet another Keys error. In the final game of the match, Keys was able to save the first two breakpoints which were match points but on the third she committed yet another error by hitting a forehand into the net to give the game, set and match to her friend and fellow countrywoman.

2017 US OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Madison Keys (USA) [15] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA)
Here are my predictions for the women's final at the US Open for 2017. Last year I correctly predicted Angelique Kerber would beat Karolina Pliskova. This year I also predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals1 of 2 women's semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. 


Madison Keys (USA) [15] d. CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) [20] 6-1 6-2. As I expected, CoCo did not deal with the pressure of reaching a major semifinal very well, despite having her second such opportunity in 2017. However, she is yet to win a set in any of these matches.  Madison, on the other hand, responded well to the opportunity to reach a major final by serving extremely well, and backing it up with her powerful groundstrokes and limiting her errors (to just 9, compared to 23 winners). Madison never faced a breakpoint and won four of the seven that CoCo gave her. If she continues playing at that level, it's hard to see how she will be prevented from winning her first major title.

Sloane Stephens (USA) d. Venus Williams (USA) [9] 6-1 0-6 7-5. Surprisingly, this match turned out to be a highlight of the women's side of the draw. For the first two sets the players were out of sync, so that only one of them was playing well while the other was not. However in the final set both Venus and Sloane were able to play their best tennis at the same time, resulting in high quality strokes from both sides of the court. Sloane struck first blood first, taking a 2-0 lead but Venus was able to fight back to even the match at 2-all and they remained on serve until the 11th game when Venus went down to 0-40 and ended up being broken without winning a point on her serve. Sloane served out the match relatively efficiently and is now in her very first major final.


To say that this is an unlikely major final matchup is quite an understatement. Neither player appeared at the year's first major own in Australia because both players were recovering from surgery. Madison has had two wrist surgeries, and Sloane had a leg surgery which had her foot in a boot for most of the fall. Prior to the American hard court season this summer, both players had losing 2017 records (Sloane was 0-1 and Madison was 5-7). Sloane's ranking had fallen as far down as 945 but due to stellar play over the summer (reaching two semifinals) she was up to #83 going into the US Open. She is still the lowest ranked player ever to reach a major final (apart from Kim Clijsters who was completely unranked in 2009). Sloane is 4-0 in tour finals while Keys has a 3-3 record in finals but they have been at the higher Premiere level.  Additionally, Sloane has a 1-0 lead in their head-to-head from the one time these two friends have met on the tour (in Miami in 2015). So, on paper one should give the edge to Sloane because she has also made it through tougher competition to reach this spot. However, I think that Keys has the edge in her tools and mentality in this match up. For Sloane, I think she must have less confidence that she will have this opportunity again, while Madison should be pretty confident that she will have future opportunities to play for major titles. MadProfessah's pick: Keys.

Friday, September 08, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the US Open for 2017. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals1 of 2 women's semifinals4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I correctly predicted 1 of 2 women's semifinals.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (ESP) [24] Roger Federer (SUI) [3] For the second time, Juan Martin del Potro has served as the spoiler to prevent a meeting between Federer and Nadal at the U.S. Open, which is the only major the two have not played a match against each other. In 2009, del Potro beat Nadal and then Federer to win his only major in New York City. He has already played the match of the tournament in his 4th round escape from Dominic Thiem when he was down two sets and two match points. I actually argued Del Potro was a better opponent for Federer because he had a losing record (5W-16L) versus Thiem's 2W-1L. But, unfortunately Federer did not play his best tennis in the quarterfinal and Del Potro was boosted by the crowd at key moments to come through. The third set tiebreak was pivotal. Federer had 4 set points and made multiple mental errors (like serving to Del Potro's forehand, failing to make an easy backhand volley) and ended up losing it on Del Potro's first set point (on an ill-advised serve-and-volley point). Federer admitted in press that he never felt like all aspects of his game were together in this tournament and that he probably would not have done well against Nadal if they had met.  Del Potro has a pretty good record against the Spaniard on hard courts (5W-3L) but has a losing 5W-8L record overall. Nadal is the #1 player in the world and has an amazing opportunity to win his 16th major without having faced a single Top 10 player (Del Potro has already faced and defeated #6 and #3). My heart would like to see Del Potro win this but my head says that this may be too big an ask even for someone as big as Del Potro. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Kevin Anderson (RSA) [27] vs Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) [12].  Both of these players are in their first ever major semifinal and they have the good fortune of facing each other so that one of them will make it to their first-ever major final. For both players, they know they are very unlikely ever to be in such a position again. So the result of the match will probably come down to who wants it more. That being said one cannot discount  the matchup and so far it has been a good one for Anderson, who leads the head-to-head 2W-0L including in Cincinnati just a few weeks ago. Carreno Busta is currently the higher ranked player and is playing in his second major of the year where he has made a quarterfinal so he should have confidence but I think he still may be overwhelmed by the occasion. Usually in these situations the edge goes to the better mover and that would be Carreno Busta but I think Anderson's ability to hold his serve so easily and put the pressure back on his opponent will be deicisive. Mad Professah's pick: Anderson.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the US Open for 2017. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 men's semifinals, 1 of 2 women's semifinals4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I will also predict the men's semifinals.

CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) [20] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [1] vs. Madison Keys (USA) [15]. I did not expect CoCo to join the rest of her American countrywomen in the U.S. Open semifinals, because I thought Pliskova would find a way to spoil the party. The two have split their 4 previous meetings so it was clear that the match would be close, and it was. In some sense, Keys had the more difficult task because she had to complete the American sweep of their semifinal opponents, something she did with a pretty straightforward win over Kaia Kanepi. Keys and Vandeweghe have played twice this summer in the hard court warmups to the U.S. Open and even though the matches were close, Keys won both contests, including one which was a final (at Stanford). A major semifinal for all intents and purposes is even more significant than a final of a regular tournament since a major also has the weight of history behind it. Prior to this year I would have given Keys the clear mental edge but Vandeweghe has clearly been improving this aspect of her game with coach Mats Wilander. Even so, under great pressure, a player's true instincts  (and character) will be revealed. This should be a good one.  PREDICTION: Keys.

Venus Williams (USA) [9] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA). This quarterfinal almost didn't happen due to the presence of Petra Kvitova. Despite being up 3-1 in all three sets they played somehow Petra managed to lose two of them. The first one she lost when Venus went on a tear and won 5 games in a row (followed by losing 3 games in a row). In the final deciding set Kvitova was up 3-1 and at one point had saved 8 consecutive breakpoints. But finally Venus broke back and once they reached a tiebreak Venus was the steadier player, eking out a 6-3 3-6 7-6(2) win. Sloane also had to win a 3rd set tiebreak to reach this semifinal, but she did so against a far less celebrated (but surprisingly tricky) opponent in Anasasja Sevastova. Interestingly, Sloane has never lost to Venus (but the two have only played once before on clay back in 2015 in the first round of the French Open). This is an incredible opportunity for all three non-Williams American semifinalists, but especially for Sloane who was the first of the three to reach a major semifinal but has failed to love up to that promise since then, although one can argue she is the best natural athlete. Amazingly it is 20 years since Venus reached her first major final here in 1997 and the fact that she could be playing in her 3rd of the year at age 37 is an incredible testament to her love for the game, and her own athleticism. At this point I will be happy with almost any of the four winning, but for sentimental reasons, I have to root for Venus. PREDICTION: Venus. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Partisan Differences In Religious Affiliation

From Five Thirty Eight comes this interesting analysis of a report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) which discusses the implications from looking at the differences in partisan affiliation of various religious groups. There are opportunities and challenges for Democrats:
There’s also evidence in the report that young religious voters of color in particular may feel less loyalty to the Democrats than older generations did. Only 35 percent of Hispanic Catholics under the age of 30 identify as Democrats, compared to 56 percent of Hispanic Catholic seniors. Similarly, just 58 percent of black Protestants under 30 say they’re Democrats, compared to 79 percent of black Protestants over the age of 65.
and Republicans:
So far, having a base that’s composed overwhelmingly of one demographic group hasn’t doomed Republican candidates — white, conservative Christian voters have been the bedrock of the GOP base since the 1980s and helped deliver President Trump to the White House last year. In 2016, a whopping 35 percent of Republicans were white evangelical Protestants, 18 percent were white mainline Protestants, and 16 percent were white Catholics; together, those groups account for nearly 70 percent of the Republican base.
To me, the most interesting aspect of the report is the age breakdown of the "religiously unaffiliated" (which I would call "the godless").  The results are 34% are age 18-29, 37% are 30-49, 19% are 50-64 and 10% are 65+.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

2017 US OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the US Open for 2017. Last year I correctly predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 3 of 4 men's quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the women's quarterfinals.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs Andrey Rublev (RUS) David Goffin (BEL) [9] Nadal and Federer have never played at the U.S. Open despite playing over 150 matches between the two of them in New York. Now they are both just one match away from meeting in the semifinals on Friday. Nadal will not even have to face a seeded player as 19-year-old Andrey Rublev became the first of the #NextGen ATP players (that includes people like Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Denis Shapovalov and, technically, Sasha Zverev) to reach a major quarterfinal by dismissing a clearly injured David Goffin in straight sets before a subdued crowd that included yours truly on the wretched temporary Louis Armstrong court. Nadal has not been playing his best tennis but he looked sharp in eliminating the always-tricky Aleksandr Dolgopolov and now the chances seem very high that Federer and Nadal will meet for the fourth time in 2017, with Federer having won all 3 previous meeting, but is still down 14-23 in their storied head-to-head. Rublev is clearly talented, but is a 19-year-old playing in his first major quarterfinal going to beat a 15-time major champion? He's good, but not that good. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Roger Federer (SUI) [3] vs Juan Martin Del Potro (ESP) [24] Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6] In the highlight of the tournament (and almost certainly one of the best matches of the year), Juan Martin del Potro came back from losing the first two sets 6-1 6-2 in under an hour to defeat the #6 player in the world, Dominic Thiem of Austria. For sheer melodrama and emotional wallop, this match was exceptional. Del Potro has a special place in tennis fans' hearts because he is a really nice guy and he has mouth-dropping power. That he continues to persevere after having ridiculously bad luck with injury after beating Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final is inspirational. Sadly, I didn't have a ticket to Grandstand while the match was being played but I was able to be part of the standing room only to see him save two match points (down 3-5 in the 4th set) with two consecutive service aces and then dominate the 4th set tiebreak after Thiem blinked when serving for the match at 5-4. In the fifth set everything was on serve until Thiem doublefaulted on breakpoint and match point at 4-5. It will be a match that will be talked about for years! The end result is probably good for Federer, because I think he has a better chance against del Potro (who he leads 12-5 head-to-head instead of Thiem who actually leads his head-to-head with Federer 2-1! Since Del Potro mostly uses slice on his backhand instead of bludgeoning the ball on both wings I think an in-form Federer should not have much to worry about, and will probably enjoy the chance of revenge for the 2009 loss. Mad Professah's pick: Federer.

Sam Querrey (USA) [17] vs Kevin Anderson (RSA) [27].  Sam Querrey is just going from strength to strength as he approaches nearly 30 years old. Many think of him as a smaller, lesser John Isner but Querrey is showing that he may be the more significant player in the end, having delivered two major upsets at Wimbledon in the last two years by defeating two defending champions (Djokovic in 2016 and Murray in 2017). Also, one round after Isner was dispatched by the serve-and-volley skill of Mischa Zverev, Querrey showed how one defeats such a tactic (with blazing passing shots). Honestly, Querrey's dismissal of Zverev in 77 minutes losing only 5 games was as close to being in the zone as we have seen this tournament and is probably the second best match of the tournament (behind Del Potro-Thiem). Anderson tends to play his best tennis in New York and these two play a very similar style of big man tennis which is basically reached its peak in the play of Marin Cilic. In these situations the edge goes to the better mover and that would be Querrey. Mad Professah's pick: Querrey.

Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) [12] vs Diego Schwartzman (ARG) [29] Lucas Pouille (FRA) [16].  This was the part of the draw most affected by the withdrawal of Andy Murray as the #2 seed after the draw was announced on the Friday before the tournament started.  Schwartzman defeated #5 seed Marin Cilic and #16 seed Lucas Pouille en route to reaching his first major quarterfinal. Many are remarking on the power and stamina of the diminutive Colombian (he's 5-foot-7).  Schwartzman leads the tour at the percentage of service return games won in 2017 (ahead of World #1 Nadal who is at #2 in this stat) so you can see that he is a tough out. However I was courtside for his Pouille victory and he was clearly struggling with an upper thigh injury (heavily strapped and he wasn't moving that well after he won the first two sets). Carreno Busta is playing his best tennis and is going for his second major quarterfinal of the year after defeating the darling of the tournament, 18-year-old  Canadian phenom, Dennis Shapovalov who dismissed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  in straight sets in the second round. In some since it doesn't matter who wins this match because I don't think they will be reaching the final, but I still go with the Spaniard. Mad Professah's pick: Carreno Busta.


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