Thursday, November 30, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Ash and Quill (Great Library, #3) by Rachel Caine

Ash and Quill is the third book in The Great Library series by Rachel Caine. The characters from previous books heroes are in dire straits as this book begins, after surviving a harrowing need to escape from England due to the events in Paper and Fire only to end up in America (Philadelphia to be exact) where the rebellious (and often violent) Burners are ascendant. The Burners reject the ideology of the Great Library which has promulgated the idea that books are more important than human lives (primarily because the knowledge in a book can outlast a human lifetime). The Great Library is the manifestation of what happens if the Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed and ended up monopolizing the archiving and distribution of information and knowledge in the form of books.

In Ash and Quill, our main character Jess Brightwell takes an even more central role in the story since the fact his father and the Brightwell family run one of the most significant book smuggling enterprises in the world becomes more important and relevant to his survival and that of his friends in a setting where they are surrounded by enemies.

As in the first two editions of this series (Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire), action is also a strong feature of Ash and Quill. This time the action is not usually involving the High Garda, the troops of the Great Library, but new and different adversaries, who in other circumstances could have been allies.

The series is definitely YA, as the main protagonist (Jess Brightwell) and the majority of the important characters in the story are all teens: Morgan, Jess's love interest, Brandon, Jess's twin brother; Thomas, the genius inventor; Dario, the spoiled but cunning frenemy; and Khalila, the brilliant scholar. Often a YA label signifies the presence of teen-age love triangles and emotionally driven angst but for most of the book this is avoided (sadly, not entirely as Morgan and Jess' relationship gets more fraught as the danger to the group increases).

The book ends on a decided cliffhanger with Jess having made an improbably risky move that appears to be a betrayal of his friends but is actually an attempt to try and end the conflict with the Archivist Magnifex, the evil head of the Great Library.  This will all presumably be resolved in Book 4 of the Great Library series, Smoke and Iron, which is set for a summer 2018 release.

Title: Ash and Quill (The Great Library, #3).
Rachel Caine.

Paperback: 368 pages.

Date Published: July 11, 2017.
Date Read: November 11, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Dawkins Scale of Godlessness

I must confess than even though I own the book The God Delusion I have not read it, so I was unaware of author Richard Dawkins' "spectrum of theistic probability." It is more commonly known as the Dawkins scale, somewhat reminiscent of the Kinsey scale, which posits that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum where 0 is completely heterosexual and 7 is completely homosexual (I'm a 7 on the Kinsey scale). The Dawkins Scale can be summarized as:

  1. Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100%. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
I don't think that I am actually a 7 on the Dawkins scale, I would definitely say I am at the very least a 6. Dawkins himself says that he is a 6.9. Take the survey!

Where are you in the Dawkins scale?
Create your own user feedback survey

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: WTA & ATP Year-End Rankings; France Wins Davis Cup

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille, Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert all contributed to France's win over Belgium in the 2017 Davis Cup final. The most important win was Pouille's over Belgium's Steven Darcis in the live fifth rubber after David Goffin defeated Gasquet and Tsonga in the singles matches but Herbert and Gasquet teamed up to win the crucial doubles point. This was France's 10th Davis Cup win and its first since 2001 after losing in the final in 2010 to Serbia and 2014 to Switzerland.



Monday, November 27, 2017

EYE CANDY: Adrian Conrad (black/white)

Adrian Conrad is a fitness model I discovered from Pop Glitz and then checked out his Instagram (@adrianconrad_) feed, which is followed by more than 125,000 users. In 2016, Adrian said on Model Mayhem is 23 years old. This is first appearance as Eye Candy but I am very confident it will not be his last!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

REPORT (NPR): LGBT Discrimination Is Pervasive

A new report on LGBT discrimination was released recently by National Public Radio. It was conducted jointly with Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. The main result is that discrimination against LGBT people is pervasive in the United States.

The primary conclusion (on page 29-30 of the 64 page report) is excerpted here:
LGBTQ Americans report significant personal experiences of discrimination related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the context of individual or interpersonal discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have personally experienced slurs (57%) or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, a majority of all LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have personally experienced threats or non-sexual harassment (57%), sexual harassment (51%), or violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity, and 34% say they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been harassed or questioned about their presence in a bathroom.  
In the context of institutional discrimination, at least one in five LGBTQ people report being personally discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender identity when applying for jobs (20%), when being paid equally or considered for promotions (22%), or when trying to rent a room or apartment or buy a house (22%). More than a quarter of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been unfairly treated by the courts (26%) or by the police (26%) because of their LGBTQ identity.
I encourage you to read the entire report, "Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of LGBTQ Americans," for yourself.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: #AD51 California Assembly District Race Heats Up!

I am a homeowner and voter in Northeast Los Angeles and thus the last year has involved participating in numerous elections (five lat last count). Due to the 2016 election which resulted in then-Attorney General Kamala Harris going to the U.S. Senate, my congressperson Xavier Becerra was appointed to replace her and then my Assemblyperson Jimmy Gomez won a special election to replace Becerra in the 34th Congressional District. Now we are just a few weeks away from the Tuesday December 5th election to replace Gomez in the Assembly.

The two candidates for the 51st Assembly district are Luis Lopez and Wendy Carrillo. Lopez has run for this seat before (losing to Gomez in 2012) and lived in the District for decades while Carrillo moved into the district when she ran unsuccessfully in the #CA34 special election.

Interestingly, despite the carpet-bagger concerns Carrillo has been endorsed by several Democratic Party establishment figures, including now-U.S. Rep. Gomez, California Senate Majority leader Kevin De Leon (who represents the area in the California Senate) and Jose Huizar who represents sections of the assembly district in the Los Angeles City Council.

As an openly gay man running for a state legislative seat, Lopez has been endorsed by several LGBT organizations (Equality California, HONOR Pac, the Victory Fund and the California LGBT Legislative Caucus).

Lopez and Carillo have faced off in multiple debates around the district. There doesn't appear to be any public polling in the race. I have already voted for my preferred candidate by mail. The election is Tuesday December 5th.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Paper and Fire (Great Library, #2) by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire is the second book in the Great Library series by Rachel Caine. It's a well-written YA (Young Adult) fantasy series with a hefty amount of action, a great premise and (happily!) very little teen emotional (does s/he like me?!) angst.

The great premise in Paper and Fire is that the Great Library of Alexandria was never sacked and destroyed by Roman conquerors and thus continued to be a source of enlightenment and knowledge. Unfortunately, the Library has used its ever increasing power to maintain a stranglehold on technological developments and important information that has resulted in a severe stunting of the societal advancements that we are used to in our world, like the Internet, electricity, the gas combustion engine and modern medicine. In this version of the 21st century the Great library series is set in it is illegal to possess original copies of books. All books are in The Library and most citizens are only allowed to magically obtain copies of approved texts in things called "blanks" for fixed periods of time.  The text of the book appears in the blanks and then goes away after a certain time. The Library enforces its edicts and protects its branches through the use of violence and force. They have animated mechanical beasts called automatons which are usually in the form of deadly Lions or Spartans who regularly kill innocents as collateral damage to enforce the Library's policies. 

The first book in the series, Ink and Bone, involved a diverse group of teens who are competing to enter the service of The Library as either Scholars (people with access to the original books and the ability to do research and make discoveries) or Soldiers (the military wing of the Library is called the Garda and keeps the peace and enforces the Library's hegemonic control of society). The Library's ideology is distilled into the phrase "life is short but knowledge lasts forever" which basically means that books are more valuable than human life. This actually raises interesting philosophical questions about the permanence of knowledge and the meaning and value of human life. (Are people more important than their intellectual products?)

 Paper and Fire continues the story of Jess, Morgan, Glain, Khalila, Dario and other  main characters from the first book Ink and Bone. They are trying to discover the secrets of The Library and rescue their missing friend Thomas whom they were told was killed in an unfortunate accident after he invented a device that threatened The Library's monopoly on information (a printing press).

One attractive feature of the series as a whole is the diverse cast; a gay couple plays a central role  in the plot (consisting of a Scholar and a Garda Captain). In fact, skin color and other features  are often described explicitly (e.g. Khalila is Muslim and wears a hijab).

The main character in the Great Library books is clearly Jess Brightwell, who is from London and has joined the Garda but is basically in Alexandria to gain access to the Library to assist his family's book smuggling enterprise.  (As one would expect in such a world where book possession is banned, the black market sale and trade of books is rampant, lucrative and dangerous.) One aspect of the book that I found problematic is the heroic and near-omnipotent status given to Jess. He is able to escape all sorts of dangerous situations through "luck" and good fortune in ways which beggar belief.

There is an organized resistance to the Library, called the Burners who reject the philosophy that a book is worth more than a human life and who use something called "Greek fire" to burn books and symbols of the Library as often as possible. The Library is portrayed primarily as a source of great evil, but even though the Burners oppose the Library it's not clear the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" applies here. The plot is further complicated by the fact that we the reader get access to communications between people at the highest level of the Library (the Archivist Magister, the Artifex Magnus and the Obscurist Magnus) in "ephemera" that are provided between chapters. These excerpts are very enlightening and a strength of the books.

Overall, Paper and Fire was an excellent entry into The Library series, an action-packed fantasy thriller with engaging if somewhat simplistically drawn characters that raises interesting questions about how far one would go to fight in a world with a hegemonic monopoly on information and knowledge.

Title: Paper and Fire (The Great Library, #2).
Rachel Caine.

Paperback: 365 pages.

Date Published: July 5, 2016.
Date Read: November 7, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Another Survey Confirms Increase In Godlessness In United States

Another study of Americans has documented the rise in the "religiously unaffiliated" which we like to call "godlessness" at this blog. The Houston Chronicle reports about a study commissioned by the Desert News (a Mormon-affiliated publication) and  the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University which documents that a plurality of Americans (the largest group in the survey) respond "None" when asked their religious affiliation.
34 percent of respondents said they had no religious denomination, compared to 33 percent who identified as Protestants and  21 percent who said they are Catholic.
Baptists made up the largest Protestant group, at about 32 percent, with 19 percent saying they belonged to a non-denominational or independent church. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed consider themselves "born-again" or Evangelical Christians.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents say religion is very important in their lives, but only 24 percent say they attend religious services one or more times a week. Fifty-four percent said they seldom or never attend church.
Of those polled, 21 percent said one of the most important issues facing families is "decline in religious faith and church attendance.
Interesting results, eh? I wonder when public policy and politics will start responding to how Americans actually live their religious lives, instead of how people "wish" (or "believe") they do.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 ATP YEC: Dimitrov Beats Goffin To Win Biggest Career Title And End Year At World #3

Grigor Dimitrov has won the 2017 ATP Year-End Championship by defeating David Goffin 7-5 4-6 6-3. Dimitrov defeated Jack Sock in the semifinal 4-6 6-0 6-3 after emerging from his round-robin group containing Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Pablo Carreno Busta (who replaced Rafael Nadal).

Amazingly, Goffin reached the final by handing Roger Federer only his 5th defeat of 2017, upending his prior 0-6 record against the Swiss Maestro by coming back to win 2-6 6-3 6-4 and become only the 6th player in history to beat Nadal and Federer in the same tournament (and the first player to accomplish this feat without subsequently winning the tournament).

Goffin saved 4 match points i the final set before handing Dimitrov the win by missing a relatively easy drop volley into the net. Dimitrov will end the year rated #3, behind Rafael Nadal at #1 and Roger Federer at #2 (Goffin ends the year at #7). The 26-year-old Bulgarian wins $2.5 million and becomes the first person to win the year-end championship on his debut at the season-ending event since Alex Corretja did it in 1998.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

QUEER QUOTE: The entire Palm Springs City Council is LGBTQ!

The City of Palm Springs is Queer. Really, really queer! The Williams Institute at UCLA says that Palm Springs has the largest number of same-sex couples per capita in the state of California and is 3rd in the nation.

After last Tuesday's election, Palm Springs has another reason to be considered really queer. All 5 members of the City Council are members of the LGBT community (and Democrats!) Not even "Boystown, USA" (i.e. West Hollywood) has achieved that feat.

The five openly LGBT members of the City Council will be:

  • Lisa Middleton*, transgender woman 

  • Christy Holstege*, bisexual woman 

  • Geoffrey Kors, gay man 

  • Robert Moon, gay man 

  • J.R. Roberts, gay man
Middleton and Holstege were just elected. The Los Angeles Times reported:
But now, the city is marking a new milestone in gay politics as well. When the two new members of the Palm Springs City Council are sworn in next month, every person on the panel will be a member of the LGBTQ community.
Lisa Middleton, a transgender woman, and Christy Holstege, a woman who identifies as bisexual, each won about 30% of the citywide vote to beat four other candidates and fill two vacant seats on the council. The pair will join three gay men on the five-person body.

Hmmmm, I haven't been to Palm Springs for awhile either. Time to make a trip!

hat/tip to Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

GOOD NEWS! Australia Plebiscite Shows 61.6% Support Marriage Equality

The results of the months-long mail-in plebiscite on marriage equality in Australia were released yesterday and show that a vast majority of the country supports marriage equality down under!

The New York Times reports:
MELBOURNE, Australia — A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples. 
Of 12.7 million Australians who took part in the government survey, 61.6 percent voted yes and 38.4 percent voted no, officials announced on Wednesday morning. Participation was high, with 79.5 percent of voting-age Australians sending back their postal ballots. 
“The Australian people have spoken, and they have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for marriage equality,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called the survey in a move described by advocates as a delay tactic devised to appease his party’s far-right faction. “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love.” 
The high turnout and unequivocal result amounted to a rebuke for Australia’s most conservative politicians, many of whom saw a majority of their constituents vote to support same-sex marriage despite their arguments against it.
Woo hoo! I think it may be time to plan a return trip to Oz in 2018!

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman Reveals He Doesn't Believe In God

Jared Huffman has become one of the rare prominent U.S. politicians to publicly announce he does not believe in God.  Welcome to the growing group of Americans (such as yours truly) who are "religiously unaffiliated"! The democratic U.S. Congressman (CA-2) made the announcement he was changing his official religious affiliation to "humanist" after receiving the endorsement of the Freethought Equality Fund PAC:
"I’m honored by this endorsement because it recognizes and reinforces my efforts to ensure that everyone in this great, diverse country is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their religious or nonreligious views. Today more than ever, we must defend the religious liberty our founders enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

“Like many people,I’ve struggled with questions of faith and religion for most of my life. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I am convinced that people of all religions, as well as the nonreligious, can work together to make a positive difference in the world.
It is a big deal that Huffman has "cmoe out" in this way. The only other out godless federal politician was Congressman Pete Stark (curiously, he also represented a Northern California district). Obviously it is very unlikely that Rep. Huffman is the only member of Congress who is godless. One question is will Huffman's action encourage any of his colleagues to join him? Stay tuned!

 Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: U.S. Win 2017 Fed Cup, Nadal Ends Season, ATP YEC Under Way

The 2017 Federation Cup final was played last weekend and the United States won the tie 3-2 to win their first Fed Cup since 2000. The match was surprisingly close despite the fact that the United States had 2 Top 15 players in 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe while Belarus had one player in the Top 100. Stephens' winless streak since winning her major title continues and she lost both matches she played last weekend. The true star of the team was Vandeweghe who won both of her singles match and then paired with Shelby Rogers to win the final tie, which was the doubles match.

The year-end ATP tour championship has begun and there have been some surprises. Roger Federer has qualified for the semifinal round by defeating Jack Sock and Sascha Zverev. Other players who have won matches in the round-robin stage are Sock, Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin. On Thursday, Sock and Zverev will face off for the remaining semifinal spot. In the other half of the draw, Dimitrov and Goffin will face off for another semifinal berth.

Rafael Nadal withdrew from the ATP Finals after losing a 3-set match to David Goffin, ending his 2017 season. He has never done well at the year-end championships despite qualifying 13 times, he has withdrawn 5 different times and lost in the final twice. He ends 2017 as the #1 player, with a record of 67W-10L.

Monday, November 13, 2017

EYE CANDY: Deric Augustine

Deric Augustine is a 27-year-old actor from Louisiana who is probably best known for his work on Queen Sugar. The hottie is also active on Instagram (@dericaugustine) and that is why he is today's Eye Candy model. Enjoy!

Friday, November 10, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Danica Roem Elected Virginia's 1st Transgender State Legislator

Danica Roem made history on Tuesday night by becoming the first transgender person elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Democrat. Some news outlets falsely were claiming that Roem was the first transgender person ever elected to a state legislature, unfortunately forgetting the historical achievement of Althea Garrison who was elected as a legislator in Massachusetts in 1993 (as a Republican!). The first out transgender person to be elected to a state legislature is Stacie Laughton who was elected in New Hampshire in 2012. Even as someone who has taught LGBT history multiple times I was unaware of Laughton's or Garrison's feats prior to this week so it is hard to fault the media in their error with Roem.

Another amazing aspect of Roem's victory is that she did it by soundly (54% to 45%) defeating Bob Marshall, who was a 13-term incumbent in the Virginia legislature and who is notoriously homophobic and transphobic and referred to by the Washington Post as the state's "most socially conservative state lawmaker." He refused to debate Roem and he and his party referred to Roem by the incorrect gender.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry is the celebrated debut mystery novel by Jane Harper which won the Gold Dagger Award for best mystery novel of 2016 recently. This puts Harper in territory with other impressive writers in this genre whose work I have enjoyed (Val McDermid, Henning Mankell and Patricia Cornwell). Sadly, other favorites like Tana French, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin and Adrian McKinty have not done so (yet!)

I think The Dry is quite good, and somewhat reminiscent of another widely celebrated debut mystery, In The Woods (2010) by Tana French. The writing is similarly sumptuous and the story is bolstered by the strength of the characters and the description of the deep emotional ties that link them and strengthen the impact of the book on the reader.

In The Dry, there are two mysteries at the heart of the plot. Who brutally shot and killed Aaron Falk's former childhood best friend Luke Hadler along with Hadler's wife and son with a shotgun at close range? Does it have to do with the fact that 20-something years ago Luke lied to give his best friend an alibi for the mysterious death of their common friend Ellie Deacon who was at the apex of a complicated teen love triangle involving the two friends? Again this plot is reminiscent of French's debut where the main character is trying to solve a disappearance/murder of a child decades after he survived the murder/abduction of himself and his best friends. In Aaron's case, despite Luke's alibi the suspicion about his involvement in Ellie's death has hung over his head for years, especially since soon afterwards he and his dad were essentially run out of their small town by Ellie's dad, the town's most prominent citizen.

Despite winning the Gold Dagger I disagree that Harper's The Dry, is as devastatingly good a work of fiction as French's In The Woods. This doesn't mean Harper shouldn't have won the Gold Dagger, it is really a complaint that French has not won yet, and that she should have won for her debut as well. 

Anyway one reason I think Harper's debut is inferior to French's is that there are definitely flaws in The Dry. For example, there are several aspects of the story which are easy to figure out, and the revelation of the killer of Luke and his family is presented in an almost matter-of-fact fashion after spending a few hundred pages misdirecting the reader with other clues and red herrings. 

Despite its flaws, the book has very strong features as well. First among these is the sense of place in The Dry. It is set in Kiewarra, a very small town in the middle of nowhere in Australia which has been greatly impacted by a long-running drought. Secondly, the main character of Aaron Falk is interesting, and the back story of his life in Kiewarra and the connections he has to almost all the suspects and residents of the town add a frisson to the work.

Overall, I would agree that The Dry is an impressive debut but I would hesitate to declare this the best mystery I have read this year. However, I will definitely look forward to spending time with Aaron Falk, wherever his next (mis)adventure takes him. The second book, Force of Nature, should be out early in 2018.

Title: The Dry.
Jane Harper.
Paperback: 336 pages.
 Flatiron Books.
Date Published: January 10, 2017.
Date Read: October 28, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: "Nones" Projected To Be Plurality In 2035

By 2030 the largest religious affiliation in the United States is predicted to be "none." A computer science professor has analyzed poll responses from the General Social Survey to this question "What is your religious preference: is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?" since 1972 and he makes the above prediction that America is becoming increasingly less religious and that sometime in the next two decades the non-religious will be the largest single religious group in the country.

In fact he says this is probably an under-estimate, for the following reasons:
  1. Survey results like these are subject to social desirability bias, which is the tendency of respondents to shade their answers in the direction they think is more socially acceptable. To the degree that apostasy is stigmatized, we expect these reports to underestimate the number of Nones. As the visibility of nonreligious people increases, they might be more willing to be counted; in that case, the trends would go faster than predicted.
  1. The trends for Protestants and Nones have apparent points of inflection near 1990. Predictions that include earlier data are likely to underestimate future trends. If we use only data since 1990 to generate predictions, we expect the fraction of Nones to exceed 40 percent within 20 years.
So even though it seems to godless people like yours truly that "believers" are trampling the rights of non-believers. Or at the very least the concerns of believers "trump" those of non-believers, it appears as if the tide will turn in the future.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Sock Wins Paris Masters, ATP YEC Field Set, Nadal Clinches 2017 #1

The player of the week was 25-year-old American Jack Sock who ended his 2017 with an amazing run that resulted in him winning the 2017 Paris Masters. That win was incredibly significant, because it qualified him into the ATP Year-End Championship and vaulted him into the ATP Top 10 for the first time. It also means that he is now the highest ranked American player on the ATP Tour, ahead of John Isner (who could have qualified himself if he had won the title instead of losing to qualifier Filip Krajinovic in the semifinals) and 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey. Sock defeated Krajinovic 5-7 6-4 6-1 in the biggest match of both youngsters' careers.

The elite eight players who have qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals year-end championship in London are (in order) #1 Rafael Nadal, #2 Roger Federer #3 Alexander Zverev #4 Dominic Thiem #5 Marin Cilic #6 Grigor Dimitrov #8 David Goffin #9 Jack Sock. Stan Wawrinka is #7 but he has ended his season with early. Both Andy Murray (#16) and Novak Djokovic (#12) have also ended their seasons early and will end the year out of the Top 10 for the first time in a long long time.

After winning Basel, Federer decided not to play the Paris Masters which meant that Nadal only needed to win one match to clinch the 2017 Year-end #1 ranking. The Spaniard did that, and then promptly withdrew from the tournament. Should Federer have played Paris? In retrospect, probably, because it looks Nadal will perhaps not be playing in London either, where he has never done particularly well, having lost in the final a few times. However, all that is past and Nadal is now the ATP's oldest ever World #1 at age 31.

The WTA basically ended its season last week when Wozniacki beat Venus to win the WTA Tour Year-End Championships in Singapore. This week the year-end championships for the Top 20 players happened in Zhuhai and Julia Goerges of Germany won the biggest title of her career by defeating Coco Vandeweghe in the final.

The WTA Tour year-end Top 10 has Caroline Garcia at #8 and Coco Vandeweghe at #10. Simona Halep ended the year at #1 with Garbine Muguruza at #2, Wozniacki at #3, Karolina Pliskova at #4 and Venus at #5. Just outside the top 10 are #11 Kiki Mladenovic, #12 Sveta Kuznetsova, #13 Sloane Stephens and Goerges at #14.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Ink and Bone (Great Library, #1) by Rachel Caine

Really 4+ STARS.

Although it is ostensibly Young Adult (YA) fiction, and the primary characters are teenagers, Ink and Bone is still quite engaging and thrilling fantasy.

The premise is what the world would look like if The Library at Alexandria had never been destroyed and had instead somehow grown powerful enough to eliminate and prevent the development of the printing press.

However, in addition to monopolizing the archiving and distribution of information, The Library uses alchemy to magically move books from one location to another and is also able to design automatons (robots) to enforce their edicts that the private possession of books is illegal.

There were some aspects of the world which really don't make much sense (it's 2025 but there's no modern technology like machine guns or nuclear weapons or television or radio?) However, the author Rachel Caine does a VERY good job of putting the primary protagonist Jess Brightwell in repeated dangerous situations that are quite thrilling. Another compelling feature of the book is the strong group of companions that are going through the training to become scholars and join the Library with Jess. And several of these companions do not survive to the end of the book.

A very nice feature of the book is the diversity of the characters (there's a gay couple that is central to the plot, and there is a female character who always wears a head scarf and a big blonde Teutonic guy who is really smart (very good with his hands) and many of the characters are described as dark-skinned or "nut-brown."

Overall I'm glad I finally read this book and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequels!

Title: Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1).
Rachel Caine.
Paperback: 352 pages.
Date Published: July 7, 2015.
Date Read: January 2, 2016.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Most Americans Believe In Church-State Separation

A new poll from the Pew Research Center re-affirms the notion that most Americans believe that religion and government policy should be separated. This idea is usually described as a "wall between church and state." More than twice as many support church-state separation than those that think the two should be intertwined.
When it comes to religion’s role in government policy, most Americans think the two should be kept separate from one another. About two-thirds (65%) say religion should be kept separate from government policies, compared with 32% who say government policies should support religious values and beliefs. 
A narrow majority of Republicans and Republican leaners (54%) say religion should be kept separate from government policies. However, conservative Republicans are evenly split; 49% say government policies should support religious values and beliefs, while 48% think religion should be kept separate from policy. By roughly two-to-one (67% to 31%), moderate and liberal Republicans say religion should be kept separate from government policy. 
Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, 76% think religion should be kept separate from government policies. A wide 86% majority of liberal Democrats say this; a somewhat smaller majority of conservative and moderate Democrats (69%) take this view. 
White evangelical Protestants are one group where a narrow majority says government policies should support religion: 54% say this, while 43% say religion should be kept separate from policy. In comparison, majorities of both black Protestants (55%) and white mainline Protestants (70%) think religion should be separate from government policy.
In fact the only sub-group that supports the idea that government should support religion are white Evangelical protestants. And, coincidentally, members of this group voted overwhelmingly for the Trump-Pence 2016 ticket and the Trump administration has multiple members of this group in the Cabinet (Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III and Vice-President Mike Pence). What impact this will have on public policy is extremely worrying to godless people like yours truly.


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