Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Dumbass Belt

I’m sure you've all heard of the bible belt, the rust belt, and the sun belt. These refer, of course, to certain regions of the country that are often connected culturally, ideologically, and, often enough, geographically. Today, however, I’d like to introduce you to another “belt” the girds this great nation of ours. I call it “The Dumbass Belt”*
This term refers to that string of six states that stretches right down the middle of the country geographically, from the Canadian to the Mexican border. These states are, from North to south, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
*(I toyed with calling it something a little bit more polite, but sometimes you have to tell it like it is!)

(NOTE: I apologize in advance to anyone reading this who lives in one of those six states. Obviously, if you're reading my blog, you're probably not a dumbass! That, or you're just a glutton for punishment. More on that later.)
Since the election of 1980, these states have voted almost exclusively for Republican candidates for President. The only slight exception was in the 2008 election, when, due to Nebraska’s method of determining its electoral vote distribution by Congressional district, a single electoral vote was awarded to then-candidate Barack Obama. The last time one of these states went to a Democrat was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won Texas. This, of course, was before the Total Republican Takeover of Texas.
These states, with their 62 electoral votes, represent nearly one quarter of the total needed to ensure victory in a Presidential election. And they are states that are all but guaranteed to vote Republican. HEAVILY Republican. 6 states that any Republican Presidential candidate can almost completely ignore and yet still be assured of getting their vote.
An aside: I realize a similar argument can be made on the Democratic side for California and New York, but, unlike the 6 states in the D.B., those 2 states do occasionally switch sides.
So why do I call this the Dumbass Belt? It’s for one simple reason: The majority of the population of each these states, in every Presidential election, votes for the one party whose entire agenda is completely and totally against their political, economical, and, cultural interests. There’s only one way to describe this type of behavior: D.U.M.B.
Let’s start with the economics: With the obvious exception of Texas, not one of these states ranks in the top 25 in terms of percentage of U.S. GDP. The closest one of them gets to it is Oklahoma, which ranks at #29. (Based on 2010 figures). Two of the 5 other non-Texas states, North and South Dakota, rank at #50 and #47 respectively. Puerto Rico contributes as much to the National GDP as those two states combined.
And yet, in terms of federal funding received per state per tax dollar paid, both North and South Dakota receive nearly twice as much federal spending as they contribute in federal taxes (Based on 2009 figures). In fact, of the six states of the D.B., only Texas and Nebraska contribute more to the federal coffers than they receive in federal funding. (Texas, by the way, the state with the country’s second largest economy, still receives 92 cents in federal funding for every tax dollar it contributes. The same state, by the way, where 25% of the population has no health insurance and where one in five of its citizens live below the federal poverty line.)
In other words, these are six states that need every possible federal dollar they can get their hands on, and yet they consistently vote in favor of a party that wants to cut federal spending to the barest minimum. And then cut it even farther than that. Once again, DUMB!
These states also claim to believe in so-called “traditional values”, such as outlawing abortion and banning gay marriage. And yet, during the six years from 2001 – 2007, when Republicans, for all practical purposes, controlled all 3 branches of the government, not once was a bill introduced outlawing all abortion, nor was their ever a constitutional amendment proposed defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The reasons for this vary somewhat, but the main reason is that Republicans don't want these issues to go away! They are part of the reason they receive the knee-jerk votes of Republicans in these states.
So why do these states keep voting the way they do? One possible explanation, put forth by many before me, is the “battered person syndrome” theory. Perhaps the voters in these states, due to a long period of, at best, neglect, and, at worst, continuous abuse at the hands of Republicans, do not know how to behave any other way. This happens all the time in long-term relationships (I’d say a period of over 30 years is definitely a long-term relationship) where one person controls another through a regimen of systemic physical and psychological abuse followed by brief periods of contrition and begging forgiveness while at the same time blaming the victim for the abuse.
I don’t buy this, though. I think there’s a much more simple explanation: These voters are idiots. They’re just too stupid to realize just how much the modern Republican Party is conning them. Hence, the Dumbass Belt.
This may be changing, though. The population of the state of Texas is becoming younger, and, more importantly, more diverse. This does not bode well for Republicans in the future, who are consistently losing the votes of ethnic groups in every election. When and if Texas switches from Red to Blue, and Texans start seeing some return from the Federal government on all the tax dollars they are sending to it, the other states in the D.B. might just learn from Texas’ example. In other words, they just might learn to vote for a party that actually gives a crap about them.
It's a long shot, I know. But a man can dream.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Movie Review: Real Steel

Today’s Movie Review (Blu-Ray): Real Steel
(Released originally in October 2011.)

Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton
Dakota Goyo (Who?) as Max Kenton
Evangeline Lilly as Bailey Tallett

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My, it’s certainly been a while since we saw a movie about a low-class, underdog boxer who, through a bizarre set of circumstances, ends up with a shot at the title that no one ever thought he would get. Oh wait, no it hasn’t. Less than a year before this movie was released The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, came out, with a similar plotline. That movie, however, was based on real people and won Academy Awards. This movie is pure fantasy and is fun to watch.

It’s the year 2020. Not a lot has changed between the world today and the world about a decade from now, except that maybe wind turbines are a lot more commonplace (although the way they are sprouting up everywhere these days, I can see it) An aside: For a graphic example of how inaccurate a movie can be at predicting the near future, watch Timecop sometime.

The world of professional boxing hasn’t changed much, though. Professional promoters hype events to the max. A small group of rich people pulls the strings. Well-groomed champions are set up in bouts whose outcomes are foregone conclusions. One BIG thing has changed, though: The bouts are fought between remote controlled, 8 foot tall, 2000 pound robots. Think of a real-life version of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots.

And fight they do! These massive machines, pound, pummel, and pulverize each other into scrap metal, all for the amusement of millions of cheering fans. Some things never change.

We are introduced to Charlie Kenton, a washed-up former professional boxer turned robot fight promoter. His “fighter” is a broken-down, battle-scarred robot named “Ambush”, who is so battered that he is reduced to fighting illegally in underground matches. After Ambush is destroyed in a fight with a bull (yes, you read that right) Charlie is desperate to find a new robot.

Shortly after the “bullfight”, Charlie learns that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving behind Charlie’s son Max (Goyo). Max’s Aunt wants Charlie to surrender his parental rights so that she and her husband can adopt Max. Charlie, however, seeing that her husband is VERY rich, secretly extorts the husband for enough money to buy a new robot in exchange for giving up his custody rights to Max. The husband agrees, but only on the condition that Charlie keep Max for the summer so that he and his wife can take a trip overseas.

Charlie is at first jubilant. He plans to use the payoff to buy a new robot and get a few fights in over the summer while leaving Max with his on again/off again girlfriend and gym owner Bailey (Lilly). His plans quickly go awry, as, first, Max blackmails Charlie into taking him with him on the road, and, second, Charlie’s new robot is destroyed in its first match. As the two of them scavenge a junkyard looking for anything they can used to build a new robot, Max finds an old, long-obsolete but completely intact sparring robot.

This robot—named Atom—is unique in two ways: It is designed to take a lot of punishment, and it can exactly mirror the movements of any opponent it faces—a “shadow” function. Using this and parts salvaged from the two wrecked robots, Charlie and Max train the robot to fight using human-like boxing skills. As they begin cleaning up on the underground fighting circuit, they eventually get noticed by the “World Robot Boxing” league.

Will Atom get a shot at the WRB champ? Will Charlie and Max grow closer as the summer goes on? Is there more to Atom than meets the eye? Will there be a sequel?

Let’s answer those in reverse order, shall we? First, the movie made back nearly 3 times its budget, despite being released in October (usually when the crap movies come out) and it was well-liked by most critics. That sort of success breeds sequels. Hell, a QUARTER of that sort of success breeds sequels. And there are issues left unresolved, which brings us to the next question: Who created Atom, and why did he wind up at the bottom of a pit in a junkyard if he is so special? And to answer the first two questions on the list above, of course he will and of course they will. After all, this is Hollyweird! Didn’t you see Rocky?

That’s basically what this movie is, a Rocky for the video game generation. The world of professional fighting is already headed in this direction. The sport of boxing is slowly being subsumed by the much more violent UFC, so how far away can we be from millions of fans cheering as they watch two machines literally tear each other apart? And these machines are a video game nerd’s dream come true: Seeing the remote control fighters they have been watching on screen come to life. We saw hints of this possibility in the movie Gamer a couple of years ago (Look it up). And while I can’t see our society becoming that barbaric (yet), I can easily see this movie coming true, to a certain extent.

The acting is decent enough. Jackman, in his first major Blockbuster film since Wolverine, portrays Charlie alternatively as a world-weary has-been and as a small-time con man who can never think past the next big score. Lilly portrays his long-suffering friend, sometime girlfriend, and close confidant who loves him but has grown tired of his immature behavior. She has limited screen time, though, since this movie is not about their relationship—it is about the relationship between Charlie and Max.

It is this relationship that forms the soul of the movie. At the beginning of their extended road trip, it is Max who is the grown-up, and Charlie the immature kid. The roles gradually reverse, however, as Charlie learns to accept that he must become a better role model for his son.

Dakota Goyo, all of 11 when this movie was shot, shows real talent, and, provided he can avoid the pitfalls that most child actors have to face, should have a good career ahead of him.
The visual effects are very good. The movie received an Oscar nomination for them, based on the strength of the robot fight scenes. When you watch the extra features on the disc and see how much trouble the production team went through to give the movie an authentic feel, you see it was money well spent.

All-in-all, this was a pretty entertaining movie. And while it starts out slow and is quite cliché-ridden, it accomplished what it intended—to entertain and make money. That is the true measure of a successful movie.