Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Vanishing Thumb

Many of the roads in my home town are narrow, winding, hilly, lined with trees, and without sidewalks. (I travel the one in the picture every day.) They are rife with blind curves – the vertical kind as well as horizontal. On summer weekend days, such as today, they are also rife with bicyclists. This means much local travel by auto is at bicycle speed, for passing a bike tempts a head-on collision with a vehicle suddenly appearing around a bend. I don’t begrudge the cyclists – or at least I begrudge them less than the impatient tailgaters behind me who want me to provide a fast-moving shield for them by veering around the bikes into possible oblivion. I’m in no hurry. Besides, I spent much time bicycling on these very same roads myself back before I got my license, so it is fair payback. There were no fewer bicycles on the road then than there are today, but I do notice that the cyclists have changed. Back when I pedaled my way to and fro, they were nearly all kids; the median age was 11 and they were unsupervised. Now they are nearly all adults wearing specialized bicycling clothes – in fact I almost never see a kid on a bicycle unless he or she is with an adult.

Pedestrians are less problematical, except for the occasional jogger who insists on jogging well into the lane. One type of pedestrian is not a problem at all: the hitchhiker. I no longer see any of those. They used to be common.

Hitchhiking grew popular in the 1920s, the first decade when enough cars were on the road to make it practicable. Teens did it regularly. My mom (who grew up 2 miles from where I currently live) and her friends commonly hitchhiked as kids and teens to Morristown 7 miles away in the late 1930s and early 1940s to go to the movies. Film director John Waters in his book Carsick notes, “It is hard to imagine today, but in the early sixties my parents expected me to hitchhike home from high school every day. All the kids did.” This being John Waters, he adds, “Of course perverts were out there, and I hitchhiked every day with a hard-on hoping one would pick me up and give me a blow job.” Well, we seldom get all that we want in this world. The peak of hitchhiking, though, was in the late 1960s. One reason was that the hitchers, by and large, were so unmenacing. Overwhelmingly they were hippies or (more often) pseudo-hippies in their teens and early 20s, who, underneath the shaggy hair and beads, were middle class kids raised by Dr. Spock (not the Star Trek guy) and Disney. Drivers felt safe picking them up, so they did. They were everywhere.

Several of my friends in the 1970s spent summers hitching around the USA in order to see the place on a budget. All returned alive and pleased with their experiences. (My budget was a little larger at the time, so I drove – see one leg described in The Roxy Caution at my Richard’s Mirror site.) Others did the same in Europe. Yet the 1970s was also the decade when fear about the activity began to rise. Compare the easygoing 1970 hit Hitchin’ a Ride (clip below) with the Ramones’ Why Is It Always This Way from the end of the decade:
            “She was outside hitchin' a ride/
Now she's lying/
In a bottle of formaldehyde/”
In the ‘80s and ‘90s the paranoia of drivers and pedestrians alike escalated due to well-publicized horror stories, both real and fictional. Fewer and fewer people risked hitching. In the 21st century hitchhikers are rare sights. So are drivers who will stop for them.

Were the roads really safer for (and from) hitchhikers in decades past? Probably not. But, while hitching may have been no safer then, it’s probably not more dangerous now. John Waters actually put this to the test in 2012 by hitching at age 66 from Baltimore to San Francisco. Carsick is an account of that journey. He spent many hours standing by the roadside as cars cruised past, but sooner or later someone would stop. No doubt he was helped by the fact that about half the drivers recognized him. But the ones who didn’t were just as helpful. One farmer thought he was a homeless man and tried to give him $10 for a meal when he let him out of the truck. In Pennsylvania a 20-y.o. Republican town councilman in a Corvette picked him up and unexpectedly drove him hundreds of miles out of his own way – both graciously avoided politics as they chatted. He was given rides by a cop, a male nurse, an indie rock band in a van, and truckers, among others. All were at least polite. Most were kind. He made it to SF alive. This is pretty much what I would have predicted, but it says something about modern expectations that the experiment was worth a book.

Vanity Fare Hitchin’ a Ride (1970)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Not Out of the Woods Yet

Moviemakers have raided classic fairy tales for plots at least as early as the 1902 Méliès production of Bluebeard. As familiar lore, fairy tales have instant recognition from audiences, and (better yet from a movie studio’s standpoint) no active copyrights about which to worry. No one saw the potential clearer than Walt Disney. While still based in Kansas City, he scored a success with Puss in Boots (1922). After the move to Hollywood, his color and sound shorts quickly became part of the culture; to this day nearly all Americans (and millions of others) know the Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf song, even if most have forgotten it is from The Three Little Pigs (1933). Walt really hit his stride with the feature-length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which set the formula for animation that the studio follow would follow for the rest of his life, and well after his death in 1966.

The Disney formula for adapting fairy tales was a winning one with enduring appeal, but it prompted jokes and spoofs right from the start. In a playful twist on Snow White, for example, Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941) plays a very unvirginal showgirl and gangster’s moll named “Sugarpuss” who hides out in a university house with seven unworldly professors where she gains the attention of a bumbling (but sort-of princely) Gary Cooper. The Disney formula also prompted social criticism, which continues today. Commentators frequently object to Disney’s sanitization of the source material, much of which is extraordinarily dark. It is true that the tales as written or collected by Perrault, Grimm, Andersen, and others frequently revel in revenge and feature unwholesome characters who reap unearned rewards. In the Grimm version of Cinderella, pigeons peck out the eyes of the stepsisters. At the end of Snow White, Snow and the prince force the Evil Queen to dance in red hot iron shoes until she dies. In Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), the prince doesn’t awaken anybody; he is just an opportunist who shows up at the moment the curse has run its 100 year course and moves in on a good thing. In Andersen’s Little Mermaid, love doesn’t prevail; the mermaid commits suicide. Pinocchio is hanged for his crimes. The sexual metaphor in Red Riding Hood is unsubtle and unmistakably intentional; Sondheim and Lapine in their stage musical Into the Woods (clip below) got this exactly right. I’ll return to Into the Woods in a moment, since it prompted this blog.

Disney also catches heat for the traditional values intrinsic in his films and for unassertive female characters. Some of this criticism is unfair. The early animated Disney women are not doormats. They have strong personalities and desires, especially as villains but also as heroines. Even Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), the most passive of the bunch, is an impossible-to-please teenager: when told she is a princess (a pretty cool job by most standards), she throws a tantrum because this will interfere with the plans she already made for a date. Nor is the prince in that movie especially competent – arguably he is just a pretty face. Maleficent captures him easily, and he has to be rescued by the three (female) fairies; the only reason he then is able to prevail against the dragon is that the fairies once again intervene by giving him a magic shield and sword. Nonetheless, it is true that the pre-1966 films embody the traditional and wholesome values that Walt himself had and that, for the most part, audiences of the time wanted to see.

It’s hard to argue with those who complain that the Disney mantra of “love conquers all” is saccharine enough to cause diabetes, and that Walt’s fairy tale endings have saddled two or three generations with unrealistic expectations. I’ve made that argument myself, usually after an encounter with someone who is unhappy with what appears from the outside to be a marvelous and prosperous life – marvelous, that is, except when compared to Disney lives. Such encounters are pretty common. After one in 2007 I wrote (in a Myspace blog), “The realities of mortgages, working-on-our-relationships, and daily stresses are bound to come up short by comparison.” Still, any failure to distinguish on-screen fantasy fulfillment from reality is surely our fault more than Walt’s.

In the late 20th century, Disney fairy tale heroines became physically and verbally more combative, but otherwise the studio stuck with Walt’s basic formula. In other studios and among independent producers, however, things were changing to suit a more cynical and disillusioned era, as in Snow White, a Tale of Terror (1997). Interpretations of fairy tales grew even darker in the 21st century with films like Red Riding Hood (2011) and the bizarre fairy tale sequel Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013). The films grew increasingly dismissive about the whole notion of romantic love, never mind suggesting it might conquer anything. Disney resisted the trend for a time – Tangled (2010), Disney’s take on Rapunzel, despite a bad boy thief in lieu of a prince, is very much in the classic formula – but lately has followed suit. Princes and would-be beaus turn out to be villains or useless in Frozen (2013) and Maleficent (2014); in the latter, the nonexistence of “true love” in the romantic sense is an important plot point.

Fairy tales inevitably are reinterpreted in ways that reflect the current time. My guess, accordingly, is that they’ll get even darker, at least for a while. However, despite the recent nods to the public mood, Disney still has limits, and they are unsurprising ones. Word has gotten out that the studio’s feature film version of Into the Woods, now in pre-production, alters some unwholesome features of the stage production, e.g. the adultery of the baker’s wife and the sexual references in the Red Riding Hood segment. Sondheim, in his comments on the matter, sounds more resigned to the changes than upset by them. So, prudery has survived (at least in some contexts) even if romance hasn’t. There was a time in my youth when most of us expected that it would be the other way around by now – long before now. Well, my generation has had its turn calling the shots, so I suppose we’re the ones who altered the plan.

I’ve no movie plans tonight, but I’ve set aside Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner for reading; among the endorsements on the back cover is one by Bill Clinton, of all people. Glancing ahead, I see that in this version Red Riding Hood stops the woodcutter from killing the wolf: “How dare you assume that womyn and wolves can't solve their own problems without a man's help!" She, the wolf, and grandma (who rescues herself from the wolf’s belly) then chop off the woodcutter’s head and set up an alternative household. Looks like great stuff. I can’t wait to see what happens to The Duckling that Was Judged on its Personal Merits and Not on its Appearance.

 Into the Woods: Red Riding Hood reflects on her experience

Monday, June 16, 2014

Waltzing on the Savanna

A Winston Churchill bon mot: "He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." Not long ago I made some conversational remarks about some multilateral negotiations in the news (I don’t really wish to go into the details or politics of them here) by referencing the Congress of Vienna; I recently had perused Kissinger’s dissertation in the subject, so the event was on my mind. My virtuous interlocutor dismissed them as “not culturally relevant.”

Let me suggest that there is no such thing as history that is not culturally relevant. Some, admittedly, may be more directly related to the subject at hand than others. For example, when discussing the US Constitution, the Federalist Papers are more linearly applicable than Aristotle’s Politics, but the latter is still relevant, not least because the classically educated founders took their definitions of political terms from Aristotle. Even if they had never heard of the old Greek, however, what he had to say about constitutions in general would be of interest. So would Confucius, if only as counterpoint. Nor is cultural relevance a matter of one’s own recent genealogical heritage – I’ll return to the word “recent” in a moment. None of my own direct ancestors (so far as I know) was in the Americas at the time of the Revolution or the Early Republic, for example, but Jefferson still matters to me, both for the influence his views still have on American politics and for the way he and other Enlightenment thinkers influenced the world.

Let’s return to that word “recent.” Suppose you come face to face with an ancient Egyptian mummy or one from the Tarim Basin in China. If either of those desiccated personages left an intact line, it almost certainly includes you. In other words, that mummy is a direct ancestor, regardless of where your family “originated.” A decade ago science journalist Steve Olsen with the help of statisticians and computer specialists calculated the interconnections of the human family tree. Due to the doubling of direct ancestors with each generation, every person now living is descended from every person who was alive in the world in 5000 BC who left an intact line. Even a tiny rate of gene infiltration over the steppes, deserts, and seas ensures this - and migration was often anything but tiny. True, people in various regions often bred largely with themselves, and so developed local ethnic characteristics, but never entirely with themselves. There was and is always some fraternization with others and therefore some gene flow.

So, your direct ancestors and mine surely herded cattle on the grasslands of East Africa and washed in the Chang Jiang River; they almost as surely hauled stones at Giza and fought one another beneath the walls of Troy. As for recent times, yes, there are such things as Romanian history and Laotian history, just as two random examples. It may be that you or I have no direct ancestors who came from the Balkans or Southeast Asia within the past few hundred years. One never can be entirely sure about such things, of course. The travels and habits of merchants, sailors, soldiers, and prisoners of war always introduce some uncertainty, but it is possible we personally have no recent ancestor who hailed from either place. Yet, Romanians and Laotians are scarcely more distant than our cousins even so. Accordingly, their national histories are culturally relevant to us as well as to the residents of Bucharest and Vientiane.

I don’t intend some Pollyanna point about being “all brothers and sisters” who in some imagined state of nature would live in peace. We are all family, true enough, but families squabble and break into factions all the time, especially over matters of inheritance; our consanguinity is not always much help in keeping things genial. If anything, our fractious nature contributed to our species’ early success.

If we go further back in time, our predecessors are astonishingly few. Genetic studies indicate that the entire population of fully modern humans 60,000 years ago, most probably occupying a small area of East Africa, was no more than 5000 – fewer people than reside today in the small suburban town where I presently live. Such a small number of people had to be all closely related and very likely spoke a mutually intelligible language. The subgroup of these folks that left Africa around this time seems to have numbered only about 150 – the standard size of a hunter-gatherer band. What prompted the 5000 to radiate across Africa and the world? A good part of the reason apparently is that we never got along very well with each other. Hunter-gatherer societies, despite lacking formal governments and police, are pretty cohesive up to about 150 people, but after that disputes become hard to resolve internally. When population rises, they split into smaller kinship groups, which in turn grow to 150 and split again. They trade, interbreed, and sometimes cooperate, but warfare also is commonplace among them, even when resources are not scarce; unsurprisingly, new groups sometimes simply choose to move away when that is an option. In 60,000 BC it was a planet-sized option. These quarrelsome (and fertile) bands spread out to occupy the world, all because they really didn’t like each other very much.

So, our dual heritage is one of kinship and argumentativeness. Our destiny is not predetermined by our past, fortunately, but it is surely influenced by it. One way to help choose a new path, whether personally or politically, is to learn from the mistakes and successes of very slightly more distant kinfolk. One might even call those mistakes and successes relevant.

Hatred by The Kinks (1993) – an anthropological argument of sorts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jerzey Shore: June 14 Derby Bout

Morristown’s Corporal Punishers of the Jerzey Derby Brigade (JDB) last night faced the All Stars of the Jersey Shore Roller Girls (JSRG). in a heavily attended interleague home bout. (To readers outside of NJ, the JSRG is probably more familiar for the Halestorm video a few years ago.)

In early jams Morristown’s JDB took an early but marginal lead, with 911 Brass Muscles and VH1 LL Kill J adding a few points at a time. The turning point came when 355 SoCo added 19 points for JSRG in a single power jam, thereby overtaking the Corporal Punishers and giving the Jersey Shore a substantive lead. Since the two teams were fundamentally well matched, the JDB struggled to close the gap while JSRG had a hard fight to keep it. Blocking was forceful on both sides. 33 Doom Hilda and 78 Easthell Getty showed their usual aggression for Morristown, and JDB jammers repeatedly ran into Jersey Shore three-walls (frequently #s 613, 350, and 33) that were all but impassable. In the minutes before halftime, JSRG was able to expand its advantage to 95-60, which in derby is still a competitive score.

In the second half, JDB chipped away at the Jersey Shore lead, helped by a power jam by 3684 Californikate in which she made three full passes before being taken off her feet on the fourth. Brass Muscles and LL Kill J both jammed successfully through stiff resistance. With 16 minutes remaining the JDB was only 7 points behind (117-110). The JSRG responded with a renewed effort. Jams by 8 Emma Effa, 624 Koopa Troopa, and 355 SoCo restored their margin. 99 Payne Gretzky skated the final jam for JSRG against LL Kill J, taking the lead and calling the jam. Jersey Shore Roller Girls took the win 163-133.

MVPs for Morristown were Brass Muscles (blocker) and Califormikate (jammer) were; MVPs for Jersey Shore were Pinky and the Pain (blocker) and Koopa Troopa (jammer).

Jersey Bounce – Benny Goodman

Monday, June 9, 2014

In Praise of Hangovers

Last Saturday, a friend cancelled his plans to meet up with me at the local roller derby bout, citing “a mild hangover” as the reason. “Mild” in this context is a somewhat vague term, but whatever he really meant by it, I knew how he felt. Fortunately, I don’t feel it very often anymore.

I was a surprisingly moderate indulger of any kind in high school, given that it was the 1960s. So, my first full-blown hangover wasn’t until late in my freshman year at GW. My misery was lawful, since the legal drinking age in the District of Columbia in those days was 18. The culprits were White Russians (vodka, Kahlua, and cream) downed at a table with some friends in The Red Lion, shots of something else (Bourbon probably – at that point I didn’t ask) with the same friends in a fellow student’s dorm room, and – after the general merrymaking had ended for the evening – a nightcap or two of port wine (it seemed a good idea at the time) in my own room. Despite the 24/7 aroma of burnt herb in the dormitory hallways that persisted throughout my four years there, no THC or other chemical enhancements were in my bloodstream. They didn’t need to be.

Sometime after 4 a.m. I decided to let the stereo play to the end of the LP (it would turn itself off) while I lay back on the bed and dozed off to sleep.  The plan didn’t work out. Bed spin and all the associated nausea struck with a fury as soon as my eyes shut; opening my eyes did not make the wave of nausea stop. I leapt out of bed, bolted out the door, and hurried down the hallway to the bathrooms. Still playing on the stereo in back of me in my room was (no kidding) Melanie’s Leftover Wine, a song I cannot hear to this day without queasiness.

There are some things in life I don’t learn easily. So, despite that edifying first experience, it took more events much like it in ensuing years before I began to avoid them deliberately. The National Institutes of Health recommends no more than 4 drinks on any one day, and no more than 14 in any one week. That’s a more than adequate allowance nowadays. In the past couple of decades there have been entire years when I haven’t consumed 14 drinks. The reason, however, is not reformed virtue. Furthest thing from it. The reason is those mornings after the nights before.

Oddly enough, despite alcohol being the most ancient, enduring, and well-studied of popular intoxicants, scientists don’t really know what causes hangovers. Most of the supposed causes commonly offered in popular publications are wrong. Dehydration, for instance. Alcohol is indeed a diuretic, but keeping properly hydrated will not prevent a hangover, except to the extent thirst itself counts as a symptom. The build-up of NADH and acetaldehyde (byproducts of alcohol metabolization) is also commonly cited, and these two substances do seem to contribute to the malaise, but the correlation is weak; hangovers often are at their worst when acetaldehyde has dropped to a low level. Sugary drinks make hangovers somewhat worse due to the formation of lactates (from combining ethanol with glucose), but eliminating sugar will not eliminate the hangover, only marginally lessen it. The most promising hypothesis is that hangovers are an inflammatory response – a type of immune system reaction. This is supported by a high positive correlation of cytokine (an immune system signaling molecule) production with hangovers; injecting cytokines into sober subjects gives them the symptoms of a hangover without the benefit of the buzz.

The latter hypothesis also helps explain why about 23% of the population claim not to get hangovers – or, at most, inconsequential ones. Apparently, they are not lying. Immune systems vary from person to person, largely for genetic reasons, and some seem not to react much to alcohol. The bad news: folks with this trait are at higher risk of alcohol abuse. This is hardly surprising. The penalty the other 77% must pay for a blood alcohol content of .08 is always a dissuasive factor in their consideration of whether to get one, and how often.

It seems my own system is quite a productive cytokine factory, for, in truth, I get hangovers even below the NIH-approved daily allowance. This is probably a good thing on balance, even if it does make me a “designated driver” a bit more often than I care to be. As for the leftover wine, it can marinate dinner.

Melanie Safka Leftover Wine

Sunday, June 8, 2014

All Stars hone edge with Hellrazors and Jersey Boys wreak Havoc

It was another derby double-header in Morristown last night. The NJRD All Stars on their home rink faced off against the Hellrazors visiting from Kendall Park NJ. Also on the bill were the JDRB (Jersey Boys Roller Derby) vs. Harm City Havoc visiting from Baltimore. Both bouts provided excitement.

The ladies’ teams were up first. The All Stars showed strength from the get-go with Maulin Rouge and Miss USAHole putting points on the board in the first few jams.  Maulin expanded the early lead with multi-pass power jam. All Star blocking was both firm and shrewd, often involving the tactic of breaking the pack to get their jammer through. The Hellrazors were good at forming walls to slow or stop All Stars jammers. A Bomb, a formidable jammer for the Hellrazors, always has been good at exploiting any holes in a defense; she struggled to find them last night, but find them she did. Rarely unpressured by an All Stars jammer on her heels, she would secure a few points and call the jam. Other Hellrazors jammers, notably Thiza Glory and Jenn-a-Go-Go, did the same in an effort to chip at the All Stars lead. At halftime the scoreboard read 72-47 in favor of All Stars – a competitive spread and a relatively low overall score, which is a tribute to the blockers.

In the second half the Hellrazors pushed to overcome the All Stars lead. Defenses stiffened with Bitty Boom Boom and Rosa Ruckus delivering well-timed hits for the All Stars and Clara Form and Lethal Holloway doing the same for the Hellrazors. The pattern of the first half reasserted itself in the second, however. Maulin Rouge had the most successful single jam, adding more than 20 points. Miss USAHole added the final points of the game for the All Stars. The final score was a convincing win of 219-76 in favor of All Stars. MVPs: #44 Maulin Rouge (jammer) & #12 Shannanigunz (blocker) for All Stars; #26x2 Thiza Glory (jammer) & #MAD31 Lethal Holloway (blocker) for Hellrazors.

The men were up next, and provided a nail-biter from start to finish. Blocking on both sides was fierce, and it was several jams before either team added more than a few points to the scoreboard. Thereon out, the lead see-sawed between the Jersey Boys and Havoc. Whenever one side would pull ahead, as when Robert Brawlson added 10 points in a single jam, the other would take it back, in this case by Warren T. Voider and Gearhead, only for Papi Chuleta to tip the numbers the other way. Blocking remained tough. The main difference between men’s and women’s roller derby is that men, by dint of their generally larger size, hit the floor harder (p=mv); skaters on both teams did just that, repeatedly and obviously painfully. The first half ended with an 87-73 lead for Jersey, but there wasn’t the slightest reason for Jersey to feel secure.

The intensity increased in the second half. Bear, Robert Brawlson, and Scooter McGoot added points for Jersey, while Sin Diesel, Voider, and Gearhead did the same for Havoc. Havoc retook the lead which again teetered back and forth. With two minutes remaing the score was tied at 136-136. In the final jam with five seconds on the clock the score was 142-139. Brawlson broke through as lead jammer for Jersey and called the jam after five seconds, securing the win for Jersey Boys. Few bouts have more tense finishes than that.

Fancy footwork but Gene doesn’t show he can take a hit

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


A quick perusal of reviews for Maleficent reveals them to be as inconsistent as the movie itself. The film is light and dark, pessimistic and optimistic, slapstick and dramatic without settling on any one dominant thing. Favorable reviewers tend to praise one or two aspects and forgive the others. Panners don't forgive: some want it grittier, some fluffier, some more cynical, some more upbeat, some bloodier, and some more kid-friendly; a few even object to (*spoiler* though in a Disney film this can’t be a surprise) a happy ending.

Maleficent is all over the place, but there is a reason for this. The various competing tones are a result of keeping Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty as a frame of reference while transmogrifying the myth into one that subverts the original. The resulting mix doesn’t bother me, perhaps because I’m more familiar than most with the original (one of Disney’s lesser seen classics), having first viewed it at the drive-in from the back seat of my parents’ Pontiac. Virtually every element of Sleeping Beauty returns in Maleficent – including the dragon fight I liked so much as a kid – but twisted to a darker form, which arguably turns the tale to the grimmer mood of Grimm.

The movie takes the “villain’s” perspective and is laced with fashionable misandry. That sounds like a complaint, but it isn’t. In this context it works as a method of turning the plot inside-out. The main male characters are either evil or feckless – as when (another *spoiler*) Prince Phillip utterly fails to awaken Aurora from her deep sleep. Maleficent gets a back story to explain her turn to the dark side; it is a story of horrible betrayal at the hands of Stefan who, despite his professions of love, cuts off her wings so he can succeed to the throne. This is the source of her curse on King Stefan’s daughter Aurora: that she can be awakened only by “true love’s kiss.” Maleficent is being sardonic because she doesn’t believe there is such a thing as true love. Neither does Stefan. In tune with modern cynical sensibilities, the movie never tries to dispute this point in the romantic sense of the word love.

Angelina Jolie plainly is having fun in her campy portrayal of the lead character, and I had fun watching her. Elle Fanning is fine as Aurora, but the movie isn’t primarily about her, so there is surprisingly little for her to do. The 3D fx is extraordinary, and the score by James Newton Howard manages to be coherent despite the constant shifts of mood. The final reprise of Once Upon a Dream drips with sarcasm.

All in all, Maleficent is impressive, enjoyable, and subversive (in a good sense). While it apparently doesn’t sit well with a sizable faction of reviewers, my thumbs join the ones pointed up.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Double Derby in Morristown

In last night’s home game double header, two local NJ roller derby teams played with the big dogs in Morristown NJ.

First up were the recently formed Jersey Boys Roller Derby in their first home bout against the veteran NYSE (New York Shock Exchange) Dow Jones Average. The Jersey Boys gained an early lead in the opening jams. #9999 Robert Brawlson jammed well for Jersey; #10 Rollomite was fast while jamming and effective while blocking. The Dow chipped at the lead and then pushed to the front when #275 I Havoc made a quadruple pass through the pack. The Dow expanded its lead throughout the first half. In a hard-hitting second half, Jersey worked hard at lessening the gap but, while both teams added points, the Dow’s experience showed, with #49 Frozen Cozen added the final points of the game for the Dow. Final score was 259-106 in favor of the Dow Jones Average. MVPs: #1983 iDon’t Care Bear (jammer) & VR6 Scooter McGoot (blocker) for Jersey; #275 I Havoc (jammer) & #8 Harm’s Way (blocker) for Dow.

In the second bout of the evening, the ladies of the NJRD (New Jersey Roller Derby) All Stars took on the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Grand Central Terminators. New York City’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby is noted as a powerful league. A founding member of the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association), they have four travel teams. The Grand Central Terminators is the newest, debuting in 2012. The league’s website quotes co-captain Angela Slamsbury (referring to inter-league matches), “you also want to play different people because that really helps you grow. You get used to playing the same teams... there’s definitely a separate challenge in playing a team you don’t know.” The NJRD All Stars (who also debuted in 2012) offered the challenge.

The All Stars opened strongly with grabbing an early lead, but fighting hard for every point. The early jams revealed a difference in blocking styles that would persist throughout the bout. The All Stars were more strategic, for example by frequently falling back to break the pack (a method of exploiting the rules to let a jammer through). The Terminators more typically simply put up three and four walls of blockers – and they were good at it. The All Stars have jammers that are skilled at exploiting holes in the opponents’ defenses, but the Terminators rarely had any, instead forcing opposing jammers to try to push their way through a solid wall of blockers. Both teams added points, but Terminator #35 Sweets McBacon tipped the lead to the Terminators. New York’s point advantage grew slowly, but the score remained fairly close until a series of successful jams (special mention to #1680 D.A.R.Y.L.) as halftime approached expanded the Terminators’ lead to 135-48. In the second half, as the All Stars struggled to close the gap, the Terminators turned up their game as well, slowly adding to their edge. As the clocked ticked down, the All Stars were at least determined to lift their score over 100. #44 Maulin Rouge did this with a few minutes left on the clock, and #12 Shannanigunz won additional points in a final very hard fought jam. Final score was 232-115, with the Terminators taking the victory. MVPs: #12 Shannanigunz (jammer) & #21 Pixie Bust (blocker) for All Stars; #1680 D.A.R.Y.L (jammer) & #410 Ames to Maim (blocker) for Grand Central Terminators.

The Beach Boys - Roller Skating Child