Wednesday, February 28, 2018

QUEER QUOTE: 2nd U.S. Circuit Court Rules 10-3 That Sexual Orientation Is Covered Under 1964 Civil Rights Act

Wow! There's been a big ruling from a federal appellate circuit court articulating an interpretation of federal law that I have been advocating for for over 2 decades. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-3 in Zarda v. Altitude Express in a rare en banc decision that sexual orientation is covered under the 1964 civil rights prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII. In the words former Vice President Joe Biden would say, this is a "big ******* deal."

An excerpt from the  Zarda decision is today's Queer Quote:
Because one cannot fully define a person’s sexual orientation without identifying his or her sex, sexual orientation is a function of sex. Indeed sexual orientation is doubly delineated by sex because it is a function of both a person’s sex and the sex of those to whom he or she is attracted. Logically, because sexual orientation is a function of sex and sex is a protected characteristic under Title VII, it follows that sexual orientation is also protected.
To me this has been an obvious constitutional interpretation for decades and should have been part of the legal reasoning for why same-sex marriage is required under the constitution (in addition to being sex discrimination, traditional marriage laws are also sexual orientation discrimination). Judge José Cabranes pointed this out by concurring in the judgement of the majority with this brief decision (given here in its entirety):
This is a straightforward case of statutory construction. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination “because of … sex.” Zarda’s sexual orientation is a function of his sex. Discrimination against Zarda because of his sexual orientation therefore is discrimination because of his sex, and is prohibited by Title VII.
That should be the end of the analysis.
Interestingly, the second circuit is now the second federal appellate court to rule in favor of gay rights being civil rights, while previously the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the other way last year.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act is one of the most hallowed achievements of the Civil Rights era so it is quite exciting that judicial statutory interpretation is growing on the side of inclusion of gay rights

Exciting news!

Monday, February 26, 2018

EYE CANDY: Kevin Carnell

Kevin Carnell has lots of followers on Instagram (@kevincarnell). HThe dark-skinned hottie is today's Eye Candy selection. As a bonus for some regular readers of the blog, Kevin is one of the few models we have features here who are openly gay. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Federer Returns To #1; Kvitova Win Streak Reaches 13 and WTA Top 10; Young-Harrison Racial Controversy

By reaching the semifinals of the Amsterdam indoor tournament (after defending his 2017 Australian Open title last month) Roger Federer is now the #1 player for the first time in 5 years and at age 36 he eclipses Andre Agassi as the oldest player to ever reach the top of the ATP rankings. He sets and breaks multiple records by reaching the pinnacle of men's tennis again, replacing long-time rival Rafael Nadal at #1. He extends his record of most weeks at #1 to at least 303 and 5 years is the largest gap anyone has ever had between losing and regaining the #1 ranking.

Not satisfied to simply reach the semifinals and return to World #1 at the ABN AMRO Indoors, Federer ended up winning the tournament by defeating Andreas Seppi followed by Grigor Dimitrov to win his 97th career title. His win over World #5 Dimitrov in the final was one of his most one-sided victories in  tour final (6-2 6-2) and is a good measure of his excellent form at the moment. Federer is now looking forward to reaching triple-digits in tour titles and may even be contemplating trying to surpass the all-time record of Jimmy Connnors at 109 before he retires.

Despite having a tough first round loss to Andrea Petkovic (10-8 in the 3rd set!), Petra Kvitova has turned her year into high gear by winning 13 matches in a row (against top competition). The streak has earned her titles at the St. Petersburg and Doha tournaments. In Doha, she beat World #3 Elina Svitolina, World #1 Caroline Wozniacki and World #4 Garbine Muguruza! The win returns the 2-time major champion to the Top 10 on the WTA tour.

After losing in straight sets to fellow American Ryan Harrison in a match that clearly features verbal fireworks between the players Donald Young tweeted "I’m shocked and disappointed, Ryan Harrison, to hear you tell me how you really feel about me as a black tennis player." Harrison strongly denied the accusation and an investigation by the ATP has resulted in no corroboration of Young's version of events. However, many people have noted that Harrison has been in several verbal clashes with his opponents in the last year, including  with Dudi Sela a few weeks ago at this year's Australian Open.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Waking Gods (Themis Files, #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods is the second book in the Themis File trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel. The first book was Sleeping Giants and I gave it a ★★★★☆ review. The key feature of the books in this series is that they are not written in prose, but instead the story is told tangentially, via various textual sources, such as transcripts of interviews, news reports, letters and logs. Of course, this sereies is not the first to do that, but it does provide an interesting aspect of the books which distinguish them from most run-of-the-mill SFF books.

Another interesting aspect of the books are their plots. In Sleeping Giants a giant (nearly 300-foot tall) robot has been left in pieces around the Earth and in the first book those pieces are found and re-assembled into an object (machine?) that is named Themis. It is operated by 2 people inside, one operating the legs and the other operating the arms. Sleeping Giants is mostly about the aftermath of this verification of the existence of aliens and the effects Themis itself has on the world order.

In Waking Gods, the story advances rapidly because multiple robots similar to Themis appear all over the Earth, first in the heart of London, but then in the center of approximately a dozen metropolises (Moscow, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, New York City, etc etc). Soon it becomes clear the robots are not friendly and millions of people die. A central plot thread in Waking Gods is basically about a  slow-moving, human extinction alien invasion by giant killer robots.

However, if this main plot thread (will humanity survive an invasion by technologically superior aliens?) is not thrilling enough, Neuvel also extends the story to update us on what happened to the primary characters introduced in Sleeping Giants. The two humans who have the power to run Themis are Kara Resnik (a U.S. Army helicopter pilot) and Victor Couture (a French-Canadian linguist). They are led by Rose Franklin, the scientist who discovered and assembled Themis (and who has a mysterious 4-year gap in her memory). The most intriguing character in the story is never named, but his words are always written in bold and he seems to have nearly limitless powers to make governments abide by his will. Waking Gods is at its best when it focuses on the interactions between these human characters and depicts (always obliquely) the effects of the world-changing, apocalyptic events on them. Impressively, Neuvel is not afraid to provide deadly consequences to his characters for the actions that occur in the book. Not all the characters who were introduced in the first book survive the events of the second book.

 Overall, Waking Gods is a very fun, scientific thriller about an existential threat to human existence caused by giant killer robots created by aliens!

 Rating:★★★★ (for overall authorial ingenuity and surprising plot twists and developments).

Title: Waking Gods (Themis Files, #2).
Author: Sylvain Neuvel.
Paperback: 336 pages.
Date Published: April 4, 2017.
Date Read: February 7, 2018.

★★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

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


Monday, February 12, 2018

EYE CANDY: Jeff Fenelon

Jeff Fenelon is model, dancer and male nurse living in Florida. He's active on Instagram (@jeff_fenelon). He's also today's Eye Candy model. Enjoy!

Hat/tip to Pop Glitz.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

STUDY: U.S. Mathematics Majors Most Likely To Switch To Another Subject

The National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education released a report at the end of last year about students switching majors in college. "Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment" has a number of interesting facts about students who change majors while pursuing associate's and bachelor's degrees in the United States:

  • About half (52 percent) of students whose original declared major was mathematics switched majors within 3 years. Mathematics majors changed majors at a rate higher than that of students in all other fields, both STEM and non-STEM, except the natural sciences.
  • Within 3 years of initial enrollment, about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major had changed their major at least once.
  • About one-third of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs changed majors, compared with 28 percent of those enrolled in associate’s degree programs.
  • About 1 in 10 students changed majors more than once: 10 percent of associate’s degree students and 9 percent of bachelor’s degree students.

Friday, February 09, 2018

2018 OSCARS: Nominations List For Top 8 Categories

Best Picture:
  • “Call Me by Your Name”
  • “Darkest Hour”
  • “Dunkirk”
  • Get Out”
  • “Lady Bird”
  • “Phantom Thread”
  • “The Post”
  • “The Shape of Water”
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
(The ones in bold are the Best Picture nominees I have seen so far.)

  • “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
  • “Get Out,” Jordan Peele
  • “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
  • “Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
  • “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Lead Actor:

  • Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
  • Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
  • Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
  • Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Lead Actress:

  • Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
  • Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
  • Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Supporting Actor:

  • Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
  • Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
  • Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
  • Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Supporting Actress:

  • Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
  • Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
  • Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
  • Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
  • Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Adapted Screenplay:

  • “Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
  • “The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • “Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
  • “Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
  • “Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Original Screenplay:

  • “The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • “Get Out,” Jordan Peele
  • “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
  • “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Thursday, February 08, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Long Sunset (The Academy, #8) by Jack McDevitt

I was very excited to receive an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of the eighth book in The Academy series by Jack McDevitt called The Long Sunset, which will be released by Saga in April 2018.

The main character in the Academy series is Patricia “Hutch” Hutchins. She is a spaceship pilot who has been through various adventures as the  spaceship technology has advanced tremendously  from the beginning of the series when it basically just allowed travel in our solar system (the first book, The Engines of God, has pivotal scenes on Iapetus, a moon of Saturn). In this, the eighth book, set several decades later humanity has real interstellar capabilities, with  ships that can travel faster than light, up to about 200 light-years per day.

The Long Sunset  is set in 2256 (an election year!) and civilization’s attention and interest in space exploration is waning. The United States is now part of the North American Union (NAU) and one key issue in the 2256 presidential election is the Centauri Initiative, which would essentially ban any human exploration of the Galaxy further than Alpha Centauri using the latest interstellar space ships. The main reason for this ban is the notion that the Universe is a dangerous place, with aliens who could potentially be thousands of years ahead of humans technologically and unfriendly, with genocidal consequences. This, despite the fact that dozens of star systems have been explored and the vast majority have been completely devoid of life. Also, the Earth is becoming over-populated so there are two worlds open for colonization that are also vastly oversubscribed.

 One of the interesting features of The Academy series has been the discovery of the remains and relics of ancient alien civilizations on various planets. A few planets have been found with (primarily hominid or mammalian) aliens who are in stages of civilizations hundreds or thousands of years behind humanity. But back on Earth several scientists warn that it is only a matter of time before humans stumble upon aliens that are equally ahead of humanity, and that this could be a species-ending event.

This is a fascinating philosophical question and the debate’s importance becomes heightened when an alien video transmission is received on Earth originating from a very distant (but accessible) star system which demonstrates that aliens with comparable human technology exist (or existed a few thousands of years ago when the signal left their star system traveling at the speed of light).

Of course, an interstellar expedition is planned to explore the transmission source and Hutch is asked to be the captain. However, the incumbent President (who is running for re-election) becomes involved and she and the segment of the population which feels that the proposed interstellar mission to explore the signal's origins is dangerous take extraordinary measures to try and prevent Hutch and her companions to leave.

Happily, they do leave (or else it would be a short book!) and what they discover when they finally reach the transmission star system is surprising and leads to new dilemmas and more philosophical questions.
I don’t want to spoil that aspect of the book so I’ll just say it is very compelling and provides commentary on the philosophical question(s) they left roiling on Earth. Namely, what is the future (and point) of civilization? Is the Universe ultimately a dangerous place, full of species who do not (and will not) have good intentions towards others?

Overall, I wouldn’t say that The Long Sunset is one of the best entries in The Academy series (the earlier books, The Engines of God, Deepsix and Chindi are all excellent) but it does raise some compelling philosophical questions. And the good news is that it may be the beginning of a new arc of The Academy books featuring Hutch that will probably extend the series into double digits. 

Some of these questions raised in The Long Sunset are not exactly original (the dangerous universe notion is one of the central ideas in Cixin Liu’s brilliant The Dark Forest and one of the key unspoiled plot point is very similar to a key plot point in The Bobiverse trilogy by Dennis E. Taylor). However, just because these questions aren’t original doesn’t mean that aren’t effectively deployed in the book. Overall, I found The Long Sunset so captivating that I started and finished it in one sitting (on a transcontinental flight)! I believe most fans of McDevitt and space exploration sci-fi will as well.

Title: The Long Sunset (The Academy series, #8).
Jack McDevitt.
Paperback: 464 pages.
Date (To Be) Published: April 17, 2018.
Date Read: February 2, 2018.

★★  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Today is 2/7/18, or "e Day!"

Today is February 7, 2018, or 2/7/18 in common date notation, so it  is also known as "e Day." The first 4 digits of the mathematical constant,e, are 2.718, so just like Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) today is the day we recognize another very important number, which is the base of the natural logarithms and is often called "Euler's number." It appears in one of the most beautiful equations in all of mathematics:

This amazing equation has the Euler's number, the base of the complex numbers, i, the number π and the numbers 1, 0 as well as the symbols = and +!

Happy e day!

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: WATCH How Neil DeGrasse Tyson Explains His Godlessness

Today's Godless Wednesday post is just a short video of Astronomer and Science evangelist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining why a lack of evidence explains why he is godless.

Friday, February 02, 2018

#AlteredCarbon is Now Streaming on Netflix!

The screen adaptation of the Richard K. Morgan novel Altered Carbon is now available on Netflix!
The ten episodes of the first season are titled:

  1. "Out of the Past" (pilot directed by Miguel Sapochnik)
  2. "Fallen Angel"
  3. "In a Lonely Place"
  4. "Force of Evil"
  5. "The Wrong Man"
  6. "Man with My Face"
  7. "Nora Inu"
  8. "Clash by Night"
  9. "Rage in Heaven"
  10. "The Killers"
I have been waiting a long time for this! Happily, it is getting very good reviews and it is apparently a high-budget, high-quality entry into the televised science fiction and fantasy canon which includes such award-winning shows like Game of Thrones (HBO), The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu) and The Expanse (SyFy).

The book is one of my favorites (see review) and is the first in a trilogy, so perhaps we have two more seasons to go?

Thursday, February 01, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Eon by Greg Bear

Probably in the 3.5 Stars range but rounded down for not living up to its reputation as a SF classic. 

Eon has an amazing premise: a strange object shows up that appears to be a hollowed out asteroid in early 21st century. Humans visit the asteroid and discover that it was actually created by humans 2 centuries in the future. But even though it has room to carry millions of people the object is devoid of inhabitants. And it carries a mind-bending secret that will change how we view the Universe and our understanding of space-time.

I knew all this going in, but what I did not know is that the story is told in the context of the Cold War with American, Russian and Chinese characters occupying the main parts of the action. So, The Stone (as the artifact becomes known) is a focal point for the national rivals as each (rightly) assumes that the technological advances that will result from whoever controls The Stone will be dispositive in determining who controls The Earth. I actually like political intrigue and may have enjoyed the book more if the story focused more on that aspect.

However, about one-third of the way in we are introduced to the aliens who created (or just utilize?) the secret technological marvel details of which I am trying not to discuss in order to avoid spoilers. And from my perspective that's where the book goes off the rails. We eventually end up learning way more about the social and political dynamics of the alien culture than I cared to or was interested in. I suppose for some readers this may have been the highlight of the book but for me it was simply uninteresting.

What I did like was the main character of Patricia Luisa Vasquez, a 24-year-old mathematician (Fields medal winner!) who gets tapped by the White House Chief of Staff to join the team exploring The Stone and who becomes increasingly important to many other aspects of the story. I have to applaud Greg Bear for centering this book around a Latina scientist, especially since it was written at a time when issues of diversity and representation were not as prominent as they are now. That being said, there are still some problematic ways in which gender stereotypes infuse the story (particularly in the depiction of sexual relationships between the characters) that also lowered my appreciation for the book.

Overall, I would say Eon is a mildly interesting science fiction novel with an awesome premise that doesn't live up to its reputation as a SF classic, primarily due to somewhat dated characterizations and unfortunate plot choices.

Title: Eon.
Greg Bear.
Paperback: 512 pages.
Date Published: October 15, 1991.
Date Read: January 3, 2018.

★★  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).



Blog Widget by LinkWithin