Wednesday, September 26, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Will The Future Be Godless?

I love this cartoon. I think it epitomizes the tension between scientific and technological advancements and the retrograde nature of religion.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: Laver Cup Goes To Europe Again; Osaka Impresses In Japan; Thiem Wins On 3rd Surface; Nadal Out Until London

The second edition of the Laver Cup took place in Chicago last weekend and the result was the same as the first year in Prague. Led by Roger Federer (who has an ownership stake in the event), Team Europe defeated Team World. This time Team Europe featured two of the BIg 4: Federer and Novak Djokovic, who played doubles together (but lost) to the inspired team of Jack Sock and John Isner. Sock showed why he is considered the best doubles player in the world by winning all 3 doubles matches he played for Team World.

2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka continued her win streak to 10 matches, getting to the final of the Toray Pan Pacific Open before losing to Karolina Pliskova 6-4 6-4.

World #8 Dominic Thiem of Austria won his first indoor hardcourt title in St. Petersburg over the weekend, by defeating Martin Klizan 6-3 6-1. It was Thiem's third title of 2018, in a year in which he reached his first major final in Paris (losing to Rafael Nadal).

World #1 Nadal put his top ranking in jeopardy by announcing he would miss the fall indoor swing through Asia, presumably nursing his body to try and make a run at the World Tour Finals in London

Friday, September 21, 2018

POLL: More Oppose Kavanaugh #SCOTUS Nomination Than Support It

Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump's choice to replace Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court now has the dubious distinction to become the first high court nominee  in modern history to have more people expressing opposition to his elevation than support it.

NBC News reports:
In the poll — which was conducted Sunday (when the accusation from Christine Blasey Ford was first made public) through Wednesday — 38 percent of voters say they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve on the nation’s highest court, including 27 percent who “strongly” oppose him. 
That’s compared with 34 percent who support his nomination, including 25 percent who “strongly” support him. Twenty-eight percent say they don’t enough to have an opinion.
The support for Kavanaugh has gotten worse over time.

The next Supreme Court term begins October 1.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

QUEER QUOTE: Are Bert and Ernie Gay?

There has been longtime speculation abut whether Bert and Ernie, two puppets on the Sesame Street television show who are depicted as living together, are "gay." Puppeteer and director Frank Oz, who created the puppets said on twitter that the two are not gay. Oz said, "I created Bert. I know what and who he is." These quotes are in response to an exclusive interview in Queerty with Mark Saltzman a writer for the show from 1981-1990 said that he based the interactions of Bert and Ernie on his own longtime relationship with his male partner. "I don’t think I’d know how else to write them, but as a loving couple," Saltzman said.

However, Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street released a statement which is today's Queer Quote denying (again) that Bert and Ernie are gay:
As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
Regardless of what Sesame Workshop says, it has not stopped other people from recognizing that Bert and Ernie behave like and resemble a same-sex couple.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

2018 EMMYS: The Winners

My predictions for the 70th annual Primetime Emmys didn't work out too well. The actual winners were very different from whom I wanted to win an whom I thought would win, in the Top 6 categories (Drama Series and Leading Actor and Actress and Comedy Series and Leading Actor and Actress). I only correctly picked Brosnahan as the winner and in my hoped-for-wins I got Game of Thrones and Claire Foy correct.

The nominees and the actual winner is in bold below.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Silicon Valley
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish)
Rachel Brosnahan  (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Issa Rae (Insecure)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover (Atlanta)
Bill Hader (Barry)
Anthony Anderson (black-ish)
Ted Danson (The Good Place)
William H. Macy (Shameless)
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown (This is Us)
Jason Bateman (Ozark)
Ed Harris (Westworld)
Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Jeffrey Wright (Westworld)
Milo Ventimiglia (This is Us)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Keri Russell (The Americans)
Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld)
Sandra Oh (Killing Eve)
Claire Foy (The Crown)
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Outstanding Drama Series
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
This Is Us
The Americans
The Crown
Stranger Things
In addition to these winners, other notable results were in the best supporting actor categories where Thandie Newton and Peter Dinklage won for HBO's Westworld and Game of Thrones, respectively in the drama category and Henry Winkler won for HBO's Barry while Alex Borstein (the voice of the Mom on Family Guy) won for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. Both This Is Us and The Handmaid's Tale would have been shut out except for the wins by Ron Cephas Jones (the dad) and Samira Wiley (the lesbian friend) as Guest Actors on those series. I belive Stranger things was shut out. Again.

Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 EMMYS: My Predictions in Major Categories

Here is my predictions post for the 2018 Primetime Emmy awards for excellence in television. Last year, I predicted that This is Us would win Best Drama Series and Veep would win Best Comedy series. I was wrong about Drama (The Handmaid's Tale won instead) and correct about Comedy (Veep won for the third year in a row). This year, as Issa Rae says, "I'm rooting for everybody Black!"

Outstanding Drama Series
The Americans
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid’s Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us

I think Game of Thrones is the best thing on television (it is easily the most popular show in the world) but I think the fact that this was the final season for The Americans will convince Emmy winners to finally reward it, although that has not been a convincing argument for past heavy hitters like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
WILL WINThe Americans
SHOULD WINGame of Thrones

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Sterling Brown won this category last year and his work on the NBC powerhouse This Is Us has only grown more poignant, not less. But its his co-star (with whom he can never have any scenes with because they are in different time periods on the show) that is the heart of the show.
WILL WIN: Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
SHOULD WIN: Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Last year Elizabeth Moss won this award and the year before that it was Tatiana Maslany. It's hard to root against Evan Rachel Wood's work as Dolores on Westworld but I thinkn Claire Foy is the main reason why The Crown works so well. I don't really understand all the love for Killing Eve. I think the show is deeply flawed but grudgingly agree that Sandra Oh is incredible on it. I've never seen a single episode of The Americans but I know LOTS of people love it, and this is Keri Russell's last shot.

WILL WINSandra Oh, Killing Eve or Keri Russell, The Americans
SHOULD WINClaire Foy, The Crown

Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Silicon Valley

It's pretty amazing there's only one network show in the bunch (Black-ish) while Modern Family is absent after winning continuously for 4 years in a row. The absence of Veep means other shows have a chance to shine and the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel from Amazon Prime has the biggest buzz. But if Atlanta doesn't win we should riot! (Kidding, sorta.)

WILL WINAtlanta.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
William H. Macy, Shameless
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Ted Danson is a revelation on The Good Place but Glover won this award last year and there's no good reason why he wouldn't win it again. Hader has a lot of buzz for HBO's Barry but does anyone watch that show?
WILL WIN: Donald Glover, Atlanta
SHOULD WIN: Ted Danson, The Good Place

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Pamelon Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Pretty sure Allison Janneyw on this award last year (didn't she win all the awards last year?) but it would be amazing if either Tracee Ellis Ross or Issa Rae could win this award becoming just the second Black woman to  do so almost 40 years after Isabel Sandford for Good Times.
WILL WIN: Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
SHOULD WIN: Issa Rae, Insecure or Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

EYE CANDY: Pierre Vuala (3rd time!)

This is the third appearance by Pierre Vuala as Eye Candy. He first appeared in 4 years ago (August 25, 2014) and made a recurrence a few months ago (May 7, 2018). He has over 30,000 followers on Instagram (@pierre_vuala), and I'm surprised there's not more!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in the Shades of Magic series written by V.E. Schwab. Published in 2015 by Tor Books, it became a fantasy blockbuster novel, with well over 110k ratings and 15k reviews on Goodreads, and an outstanding average score of 4.0. I had heard about these books for awhile and read the synopsis of the story, of course, but had resisted taking the plunge to read them. (It takes a lot for me to try out a fantasy book, since it is probably my 3rd favorite genre, after science fiction and mystery.) 

All I basically knew about these books before I started reading A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four different versions of London (Red, White, Grey and Black) which the protagonist is able to travel between and something magical happens that threatens the existence of all of the Londons. This précis is technically true but fairly reductive since it misses some major features of the book. First, there are actually two protagonists: Kell and Lila. Second, the magic system is based around “blood magic” and very few people in any of the Londons have the ability to wield its power. Of course it turns out that Kell is one of them. The other main character is Lila, who is introduced to the reader (in first person) as an accomplished thief who primarily dresses in male clothing. Kell is from Red London (where magic is plentiful and common) while Lila is from Grey London (where magic is mostly unknown and rare). Very few people in any of the Londons know about the existence of the others (which is not surprising since so few people have the power to travel between them). White London is another place where magic is plentiful (almost too much so) and it turns out to be ruled by two very powerful, twin siblings named Astrid and Athos Dane, who are basically pure evil. It turns out that Black London long ago became cut off from the other Londons because they overused magic and were consumed by it. Apparently nobody goes to Black London  any more.

It’s a pretty intriguing fantastical world that Schwab has created in A Darker Shade of Magic but the highlight of the book for me is not the setting but the characterizations of Kell and Lila, whom we readers spend most of our time with.

The plot involves a power struggle for a dangerous and extremely potent magical artifact that Kell inadvertently takes from one London to another which could lead to the evil rulers of White London basically taking over and subjugating all the other habitable Londons (Red, Kell’s home world, and Grey, Lila’s). I had forgotten to mention earlier that it is a big "no no" for any material (except letters) to be transferred from one London to another.

Overall, while A Darker Shade of Magic is clearly the first book in the Shade of Magic trilogy it is also a self-contained novel of adventure and fantasy which thrills and entertains. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens in the two sequels A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.

TitleA Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #1).
AuthorV.E. Schwab.
Length: 400 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Published: February 24, 2015.
Read: August 15, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

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


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NSF Awards $9M To Advance STEM Leadership at HBCUs

The National Science Foundation has awarded up to $9 million to support the Center for the Advancement of STEM Leadership's goal of broadening participation by underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Specifically, the Division of Human Resources Development in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources has approved a 4-way collaborative award to Fielding Graduate University (1818424), North Carolina A&T University (1818459), University of the Virgin Islands (1818425) and the American Association of Colleges & Universities (1818447) to 1) examine how intuitive, unwritten codes of excellence in leadership result in the broadening participation success of HBCUs and to integrate this knowledge into STEM higher education reform; 2) provide a community of scholars with a world-class leadership development program that integrates personal and institutional histories into broadening participation research and practice; and 3) assimilate the HBCU institutional narrative into the national undergraduate STEM reform knowledge base through mainstream outreach and knowledge transfer outlets.

Here's a quote from the press release announcing the award:
The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), which houses several other NSF-funded projects, will lead the research component of the project. The research will focus on studying the nature of the leadership styles and strategies associated with the stellar record of HBCUs in graduating African Americans in STEM and in being national leaders in preparing African Americans for doctoral study in STEM. 
Our faculty and students have perfected various models of success that must be researched, studied, compared to others and disseminated throughout the nation,” said Dr. David Hall, President of UVI. “The future of the U.S. and world economy turns on the work that is occurring in various STEM fields, and HBCUs play a critical role in attracting, developing and inspiring future leaders in this field. This is an awesome and humbling task that we and our partners are ready and willing to undertake.” 
North Carolina A&T State University, a leading HBCU research university in the STEM fields, will team with Fielding Graduate University, long known for its leadership studies programs, to conduct leadership development programming in broadening STEM participation for emerging academic leaders. Based on CASL’s research findings, this effort will seek to establish the foundation for informing HBCUs and all of American higher education on the research-based strategies for producing new leaders to broaden STEM participation. 
“Fielding is proud to be a part of advancing leadership in the STEM fields through the establishment of this collaborative national Center,” said Fielding President Dr. Katrina Rogers. “Since its founding, Fielding and its faculty have pioneered a model of quality graduate education that links research and practice in support of social change and justice. Receiving support from the National Science Foundation for CASL is an affirmation of this legacy and its promise for the future.” 
“As an institution with a long history of leadership in STEM disciplines, North Carolina A&T State University is truly excited about the timely creation of this new center for STEM leadership,” added Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “As we and so many of our peer institutions scale up to meet the growing national demand for highly educated, well-prepared graduates in STEM professions, the work of this center will provide meaningful support for these efforts. Having well-prepared leadership for this important work is essential, both now and well into the future.” 
The Association of American Colleges and Universities, recognized nationally and internationally as the leading association dedicated to advancing the quality, vitality, and public standing of liberal education and inclusive excellence in higher education, will lead the knowledge transfer and outreach efforts of CASL. It will leverage its research findings to rightfully place HBCUs at the center of our nation’s effort to produce a more diverse and competitively trained STEM workforce. 
“CASL is exactly what we’ve needed in undergraduate STEM education reform for a very long time,” says AAC&U President Dr. Lynn Pasquerella. “This important work is in perfect alignment with AAC&U and our more than 1,400 member institutions who recognize that HBCUs are vital to sustaining our competitive edge in scientific discovery and innovation. I applaud the CASL leaders for their vision and foresight.” 
Although I used to work at the NSF, I had nothing to do with this award (I was in a different division in the same Directorate) but I think this is a great development! I hope CASL is successful at achieving its goals.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Djokovic Wins 14th Major (defeating del Potro)

Surprising some, Novak Djokovic won the 2018 U.S. Open men's singles title by defeating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3. With this win Djokovic has jump started hisyear by winning two majors, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and brought his career total to 14 majors, tying Pete Sampras at #3 on the all-time list, behind Rafael Nadal at 17 and Roger Federer at 20. Since he is 31, Nadal is 32 and Federer is 37 the Serb has a reasonable chance of ending his career with more majors than the Spaniard, and may even catch the Swiss's total. His partisans note that, right now, he has a head-to-head advantage of 24-22 over Federer, 27-25 over Nadal and 25-11 over Andy Murray and 19-5 over Stan Wawrinka.

Could these two consecutive major title wins be the first half of a second Nole slam (to be completed in 2019)?

2018 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Juan Martín Del Potro (ARG) [3] vs. Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6]
Here are my predictions for the men's final at the US Open for 2018. Last year I correctly predicted that Rafael Nadal would defeat Kevin Anderson in the 2017 men's final.  This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals3 of 4 men's quarterfinals, 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals. I also predicted the result of the women's final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

Juan Martín Del Potro (ARG) [3] d. Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] 7-6(3) 6-2 RETEven though I didn't predict that this would happen, I'm not really surprised that Del Potro left with the win. Nadal was looking increasingly fragile, having had to battle through multiple epics just to reach the semifinals. It turns out that he had spent almost 15 hours on court before this match, including the fifth set tiebreak win against Dominic Thiem most people are calling the best of the tournament. So the fact that his body let him down and he realized that after losing the first two sets that he did not have enough in the tank to come back and win this match, especially with a persistent pain in his knee which was hampering his movement so he retired, for the second time this year in an important grand slam match (first was against Cilic in the 2018 Australian Open quarterfinals).

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6] d. Kei Nishikori (JPN) [21] 6-3 6-4 6-2.  This was an unsurprising result, especially given the fact that Nishikori has only won two matches against Djokovic despite having played against him 16 times and that Nishikori was coming off a huge 5-set 4-hour win versus Marin Cilic the round before. Even so, Djokovic showed that he has basically returned to his world-beating level of tennis which had him dominating the tour for the 2 years prior to his 2016 departure from the sport.

This is not the final anyone expected when the draw was announced. (Many predicted a Nadal-Djokovic final.) Djokovic is coming off his surprising title run at the 2018 Wimbledon (his 13th career major) while Del Potro is at his career-high ranking of World #3. The 6-foot-6 Argentine has won the title in New York before, coming back from a 2-1 set deficit against the great Roger Federer in 2009 to snatch the title, one round after demolishing Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is playing in his 8th major final in New York, but has a surprisingly weak 2-5 record, having lost to Federer (2007), Nadal (2011, 2013), Andy Murray (2012) and Stan Wawrinka (2016). Del Potro is 1-0 in major finals, while Djokovic is playing in his 23rd major final (13-9), which is 3rd all time, behind Federer's 20-10 record and Nadal's 17-7.

Head-to-head, Djokovic has a dominant 14-4 record over Del Potro but the two have not played in 2018 where Del Potro has been resurgent. Also, Del Potro is a big match player, having beaten Djokovic both times they have met in the Olympics (2012 in London and 2016 in Rio) with the Argentine ending up with a medal both times. It's amazing Del Potro is even playing tennis, since he has had four(4!) surgeries since winning the 2009 US Open. To come back to be competing for a major title again after he was thisclose to retiring from tennis in 2015 is incredible. For Djokovic, if he wins his 14th major he will be back in the conversation about the Greatest of all time, by matching Pete Sampras haul, and getting within striking distance of Nadal's 17 and Federer's 20.

MadProfessah's prediction: Del Potro.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Osaka Wins 1st Major Title, Serena Receives Controversial Penalties (Again)

In a stunning upset, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka defeated 36-year-old Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final, 6-2 6-4 to win her first major title. Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a major title in 200 major tournaments played in the Open area. For the second consecutive grand slam,  the 23-time major champion lost in the final, which drops her record to a still-intimidating 23-8 record in major finals for her career.

Osaka was simply the better player for most of the match, clearly able to play her best tennis despite her nerves which was not the case for Serena. Both players began their first service games with 0-30 holes but were then able to come through and hold serve. However in the very next game Serena fell behind on her serve and lost it on a double fault. For some reason, Serena's service percentage was well below 50% (approximately 38%) while Osaka's was around double this number and at least as fast. Despite starting at 30-0, Serena lost her service again at 1-3 and only at 5-1 down was Serena finally able to hold service again but then lost the first set 6-2. In the second set Serena was more focused, but this ended when she was awarded a code violation after the umpire Carlos Ramos claimed her coach Patrick Mouratoglou was trying to coach her from the stands by indicating Serena should approach the net. Serena broke serve and went up 3-1 but after she gave back the break Serena destroyed her racket and received a second code violation, which resulted in a point penalty. Serena continued arguing with the umpire and on the 3-4 changeover she said to Ramos "You stole a point from me, You're a thief!" he gave her a 3rd code violation which resulted in a game penalty, so instead of Osaka serving, Serena was forced to serve at 3-5. She was able to hold serve and then Osaka served out the 10th game and won the championship 6-2 6-4.

2018 US OPEN: Women's Final (and Semifinals Review)

Serena Williams (USA) [17] vs. Naomi Osaka (JPN) [20]

This is my prediction post for the 2018 US Open women's final. Last year I incorrectly predicted that Madison Keys would beat Sloane Stephens in the 2017 US Open final.  This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals3 of 4 men's quarterfinals, 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals. I will also predict the winner of the 2018 US Open men's final between Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic.


Serena Williams (USA) [17] d. Anastasja Sevastova (LAT) [19] 6-3 6-0. I thought that this match would be a bit tougher than it turned out to be, thanks to the willingness of Serena to go to the net to finish points quickly.  Sevastova has aspects of her game similar to Roberta Vinci who provided Serena one of  her most devastating losses here in New York in 2015 when she was attempting the calendar Grand Slam. Because Serena's game is so powerful, people often have difficulty coming up with an effective game plan against her, but moving the ball around and mixing up pace is usually a better idea than trying to outhit her. She can get frustrated and impatient if she makes too many errors and then starts to press and make more errors. Sevastova attempted this strategy, but Serena remained calm and cool as she overwhelmed the Latvian with powerful strokes hit deep into the corners of the court.

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [20] d. Madison Keys (USA) [15] 6-2 6-4. This was a very impressive performance by the 20-year-old Japanese player. Keys is one of the most powerful players (on both tours). I was also impressed with the gains she has made in her movement and defensive abilities. But she still goes for broke way too often, leading to errors at inopportune times. However, it's not clear that Keys could have done much to avoid this result due to the level of play of her opponent. Osaka faced 13 breakpoints and saved all 13, oftentimes with aces (even on the second serve!) or unreturnable serves.  Meanwhile, she earned 4 breakpoints on Keys' serve and converted 75% of them. Both players served well, but, surprisingly, it was the younger player who played the bigger points better. She totally deserved to win this semifinal and reach her first major final, where she will play her idol.


Serena is appearing in her 31st major final (23-7) while Naomi is in her very first. In fact, Serena appeared in  (and won) her very first major final in 1999 in New York, exactly 19 years ago, when her opponent was not yet 2 years old. As I have mentioned very many times before, very few players win their very first major final (especially if they are playing against someone who has already played in one previously). As usual, both players have huge achievements at stake on the result of this match. If Serena wins she will finally match Margaret Court's grand slam total of 24 major titles (amazingly, exactly 45 years to the day Court won her last major) and will become just the 4th woman to win a major title after becoming a mother (Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters). If Osaka wins she will become the first Japanese player to win a major title (she's already the first Japanese woman to reach a major final) just four years after Kei Nishikori reached the US Open final. Their games are very similar, because Osaka has modeled hers after her idol and she has the physical gifts to do so. The problem is that Serena is the original, and even though she is almost 18 years older, she basically does everything better than Naomi. The only advantage Naomi has is her age, but that is a double-edged sword that can count for and against her. MadProfessah's pick: Serena.

Friday, September 07, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the US Open for 2018. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals, correctly predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals2 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals3 of 4 men's quarterfinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs. Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) [3] This is  a reprise of the 2017 US Open semifinal, which was handily won by Nadal in four sets that included a bagel. However, this year has been a resurgent one for the 2009 champion: he's at career high ranking of World #3 and (finally) one his first ATP Master series title (on American outdoor hardcourts) at Indian Wells.  Additionally, Nadal has had some surprisingly tough matches en route to the semifinals this year, including two 4-set wins against low-ranked players like Karen Khachanov and Nikoloz Basilashvili. And no one expected that his meeting with Dominc Thiem (not exactly known as a hardcourt powerhouse) would become the epic 5th set tiebreak match it did. Del Potro has beaten Nadal 5 times in 16 meetings and while Nadal has battled to get to this point, del Potro has only dropped one set (a first set tiebreaker to John Isner) to date at this year's Open. With all that being said, it's hard to see del Potro achieving the upset here against the #1 player in the world. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [6] vs. Kei Nishikori (JPN) [21].  This is a reprise of the 2014 US Open semifinal which was one of the two times Nishikori has beaten the 13-time major champion in their 16 meetings. Of course major semifinals are incredibly important matches. Nishikori is playing in his 3rd, all of which have happened in New York. I believe that he will win a set and possibly two sets, against Djokokovic but I have a hard time envisioning him winning three sets today. Nishikori had a great result in the quarterfinal outlasting Marin Cilic in five sets, getting revenge for losing the 2014 US Open final to the same opponent, despite being up an early break and losing it late in the deciding fifth set. In fact, Nishikori has a hall-of-fame record in deciding sets on the ATP tour including an astonishing 18-6 record in 5th sets. So if the match gets that far I would give him the edge, but I don't think the match will get that far. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Queer Quote: Indian Supreme Court Invalidates Sodomy Law (Finally)

In a victory for tens of millions of LGBT individuals, the Supreme Court of India has finally invalidated India's colonial-era sodomy law, decriminalizing homosexuality and ruling that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in a near 500-page decision.

The battle to have Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code struck down has taken decades. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled the nation's sodomy law unconstitutional but the ruling was appealed to the highest court in the land even though the Indian Government agreed to abide by the decision in 2012. Then in 2013 that Court upheld the law in a shocking ruling that maintained the ban on "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." However, the Court agreed to re-hear that decision in 2014 and today's result follows that litigation.

The opinion is quite comprehensive and ends with some stunning conclusions:
(i) Section 377 of the Penal Code, in so far as it criminalises consensual
sexual conduct between adults of the same sex, is unconstitutional;
(ii) Members of the LGBT community are entitled, as all other citizens, to
the full range of constitutional rights including the liberties protected by
the Constitution
(iii) The choice of whom to partner, the ability to find fulfilment in sexual
intimacies and the right not to be subjected to discriminatory behaviour
are intrinsic to the constitutional protection of sexual orientation;
(iv) Members of the LGBT community are entitled to the benefit of an equal
citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law;
(v) The decision in Koushal stands overruled.
This an amazing victory for sexual minorities! Note the highlighted section which indicates that the ruling goes far beyond just striking down sodomy laws (like 2003's Lawrence vs Texas).

Today's Queer Quote is from Jessica Stern of OutRight Action International (formerly the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission), who reacted to the ruling by saying, "The sodomy law that became the model everywhere, from Uganda to Singapore to the U.K. itself, premiered in India, becoming the confusing and dehumanizing standard replicated around the world [and] today’s historic outcome will reverberate across India and the world."

Woo hoo!

2018 US OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the US Open for 2018. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals, correctly predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals, 2 of 2 men's semifinals and 1 of 2 women's semifinals This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 3 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I will also have  a prediction for the men's semifinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [17] vs. Anastasja Sevastova (LAT) [19] Sloane Stephens (USA) [3]I thought that this semifinal would be an all-American affair, with defending champion Sloane Stephens prevailing over Sevastova and Serena Williams enacting revenge on Karolina Pliskova. My second prediction came true,  but Sloane did not  fulfill her side of the bargain. Last year Sevastova and Stephens had played a wild match, with the American coming from down a break in the 3rd set to eventually win. It was expected that with her increased confidence, Stephens would win more easily. Sevastova upended that narrative early, using all her spin and slices to confuse and frustrate Stephens and took the first set 6-1. Sloane came back in the second set but ultimately lost that one 6-4. She is the type of player who can frustrate Serena if she is not playing well, but if Serena's power game components (serve, deep groundstrokes and facile movement) are intact then she should be able to weather the storm. A player with excessive guile like Sevastova uses the opponents power against them, but can still be blasted off the court by a combination of power and accuracy. I suspect that will happen today, but not as easily as some would think. The two have never played before, so Serena may not really take the threat seriously, but you don't get to a major semifinal by luck, and Sevastova always plays her best tennis in New York. However, one can't underestimate the mental aspect of the occasion. Sevastova is playing in her first major semifinal, while Serena is playing in her 12th in New York and 36th in her career (4th all-time).  PREDICTION: Williams.

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [20] vs. Madison Keys (USA) [15].  This should be the more interesting semifinal. Madison Keys is in her second consecutive US Open final, and everyone expects her to win a major sooner rather than later. In fact, some of us that she would win last year when she played "her best friend on tour" (Sloane Stephens) in the final but was overwhelmed mentally by the occasion and the more mature and nuanced play of her opponent. Keys wants another chance to reach a final and actually show that she can play her best tennis in a major occasion. Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka is in her first major semifinal at 20 years old (Keys was still 19 when she made the semifinals of the 2015 Australian Open) and is playing the best tennis of her career. She demolished her quarterfinal opponent by only losing 2 games. In fact, Osaka has only lost 22 games in 5 rounds to get here, by far the lowest of all the semifinalists. As I have said before, individual match results often come down to matchups and here Keys has the edge, having beaten Osaka all 3 times they have played, including an infamous win in 2016 when she was down 1-5 in the 3rd set and came back to snatch the victory in a 3rd set tiebreak. Both players have that match in their minds as they approach this one. I think this will probably also be a 3-set classic, but not as dramatic as that one. PREDICTIONKeys

BOOK REVIEW: The Torment of Others (Tony Hill/Carol Jordan, #4) by Val McDermid

The Torment of Others is the fourth book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series written by Val McDermid. The main characters are recovering from the harrowing events of Book 3 (The Last Temptation). In addition to dealing with those after effects, Carol and Tony have two (unrelated) major crimes to solve in this book. 

DCI Jordan is brought in to run a new special squad in Bradfield and immediately has to deal with someone who is killing prostitutes in a most horrible way (it involves dildos, handcuff and razorblades!) which is an identical method to four murders that had occurred nearly two years before and whose perpetrator had been supposedly identified, found, convicted and locked up in the looney bin. In addition, two young boys (under 10) have gone missing  a few weeks before the events at the beginning of the book and the police have no leads on finding them and (of course) are considering them as homicide cases, not just kidnappings. 

Dr. Tony Hill is in yet another professional setting, this time as a consulting psychologist at a local mental hospital in Bradfield. Of course, he is treating the 4-time convicted murderer and trying to discover his patient’s connection to the new crimes.

Tony and Carol work together to solve the crimes but their relationship is complicated by a handsome geologist(!!) who gets involved with Carol as well as a theory of the case that Tony develops that he feels he can’t reveal to her.

This fourth entry into the Hill/Jordan series was as full of high-pitched suspense as the previous books but I think it also had more obvious flaws than previous books by McDermid. First, there’s a scenario depicted that ends up with a female police officer (who is working undercover) getting into extreme danger and I just didn’t believe that a trained officer would behave that way in the situation (they let themselves be handcuffed to a bed because they think they are still under surveillance unaware the video/audio connection has been severed). Second, the reveal of the perpetrator of the prostitute murders and how they were able to copy the killing method is done somewhat suddenly (I thought) but maybe that’s because I didn’t figure out who the criminal was before the police did. (In general, I would say the ability of a mystery writer to extend the suspense by delaying the revelation of the perpetrator is a strength of a mystery novel but for some reason in this instance it felt off to me but in hindsight a fair amount of clues that post facto appear obvious were given by the author.) Third, there really is no connection between the pedophile murder-kidnappings and the prostitute killers in the end so the reason they are both included in the same book is unclear, except maybe to put extra stress on Carol and Tony's relationship.

Overall, despite some flaws in this entry, the core story involving Tony and Carol is very strong and definitely a reason to read this book as well as the earlier entries in this series of high-quality, suspenseful police-procedural crime thrillers. I look forward to reading Beneath the Bleeding.


Title: The Torment of Others.
Val McDermid.

Length: 448 pages.
Original Publisher:
 Harper Collins.

Date First Published: February 4, 2002.
Date Read: May 12, 2018.
Version Read: Kindle.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (3.5/4.0).


Tuesday, September 04, 2018

2018 US OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the US Open for 2018. Last year I correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and correctly predicted 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals I also have  prediction for the men's quarterfinals.

Serena Williams (USA) [17] Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [8]First I would like to recognize Kaia Kanepi, the hard-hitting veteran Estonian who took out my pick for the 2018 US Open title and played a nerveless, entertaining match against Serena Williams in the 4th round on Sunday despite losing the first set 6-0 in under 19 minutes. I believe that was exactly the match Serena needed to prepare her for this showdown with Karolina Pliskova who last beat her on this court just two years ago, in the 2016 US Open semifinals, just a few rounds after beating Venus Williams. last meeting in Stuttgart this year and they also split their 2 hard court matches. I saw Pliskova overwhelm Ash Barty the round before and she actually moves better than I expected (she's no Lindsay Davenport!) But Serena hates to lose to players in consecutive matches so she will be well prepared for this match. In some sense, her tough draw may actually have helped her raise the level of her game, which is approaching the level she was at pre-pregnancy. It's somewhat surprising these two have only played twice, so Serena has not really been active on the WTA tour as Pliskova became World #1 (briefly) and remains ensconced in the Top 10. As others have noted, one blaring hole in Serena's comeback to the tour this year has been her inability to win against Top 10 players this year and Pliskova will be her first she will be facing in New York. Despite that, I think Serena will find a way to reach yet another semifinal in New York.  PREDICTION: Williams.

 Anastasja Sevastova (LAT) [16] Elina Svitolina (UKR) [4] vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [3]. This is a rematch of last year's quarterfinal which was quite a barnburner. Stephens had to come back from 1-3 down in the final set. Sevastova clearly plays her best tennis in New York and is completely unafraid of big stages. I saw her demolish the #7 seed Elina Svitolina in the relative obscurity of the Grandstand court on Saturday (winning 6-0 in the final set). We are no longer surprised by Stephens success in big matches, as her World #3 ranking and 2 major finals in the last 12 months have demonstrated. How the defending champ takes care of someone who gave her so much trouble last year will tell us a lot about whether Stephens will be able to defend her title as she most likely will face the ultimate test in Serena Williams. I believe she will beat Sevastova, but I don't think it's going to be easy. PREDICTION: Stephens.

Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) [30] Maria Sharapova (RUS) [22] vs. Madison Keys (USA) [15].  It's a quirk  of fate that Suárez Navarro's birthday falls in early September, so she has often had to play very important matches in her career on this date. 5 years ago when she turned 25 she famously lost to Serena Williams without winning a single game. Things did not look good when she was scheduled to play Maria Sharapova at night in Arthur Ashe stadium, where the 5-time major champion was 23-0. However, Suárez Navarro  was undeterred and although it was not a pretty match (both players were serving horrendously) it was quite entertaining. The Spaniard is mostly known for her clay court prowess but she has reached multiple quarterfinals at all the slams but Wimbledon. She has a one-handed backhand and is a great mover. The result was that she was able to end Sharapova's streak and dismiss the Russian in straight sets. Her opponent will be another big hitting, big serving player who moves a bit better: Madison Keys. Keys continued her domination of Dominika Cibulkova who looked a bit tired after her upset of Angie Kerber on Saturday in three sets. The fact that Keys is undefeated against Cibulkova is mysterious; the Slovak is too good a mover to be blasted off the court, but typically this is what happens in their matches, because Cibulkova likes to do that to her opponents, and with Keys she faces someone who goes for broke even earlier than she does. Keys is 3-0 against each of the players she could face to reach her second consecutive US Open finalSuárez Navarro, Osaka or Tsurenko. Will she do better dealing with the mental expectations of success this year than last year? I hope soPREDICTIONKeys

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [20] vs. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR). It looks like 2018 may finally be the year for the breakout by the biracial 20-year-old Naomi Osaka into the big leagues of women's tennis. She won Indian Wells in a battle of the youngsters by defeating Daria Kasatkina (and a bevy of Top 10 players). However the rest of her season has been pretty quiet until reaching New York where she has been making a lot of noise by cutting through the draw like a scythe, losing only 7 games in the first three rounds. In the 4th round she faced a fellow youngster, 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka who has been the hottest player on tour for most of the American summer hard court season. The two played a see-saw match which involved multiple breaks of serve and swings of momentum in the deciding set and ended on a double fault. (Happily I was in the stands at Louis Armstrong watching with delight.) The tennis was tension-filled because both players knew that they would have to face an unseeded player in their quarterfinal to reach the 2018 US Open semifinal. It looked that opponent would be 19-year-old lefty Marketa Vondrousova from Czech Republic but somehow 30-year-old Lesia Tsurenko was able to battle back and survive the brutal sun and humidity yesterday on the Grandstand court to deny the youngster. I don't think she'll be able to do that again.  PREDICTION: Osaka. 


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