Friday, September 29, 2023

This is issue five hundred of me pointing out how weird things are getting.


It's hyperbole of course. Still, things are getting weird, folks, and I'm here to point out why.

FACT: The SAG-AFTRA Writer's Guild strike has reached an agreement. The thing my mind focused on were the wins for writers against artificial intelligence. Here's what came out of the settlement (in a nutshell). No artificial intelligence will ever be credited for the writing in a show. The credit and the payment will all go to living writers who have been hired (and who are in that position) to write.

HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT THIS? Fantastic. This is a win for writers!

THE WEIRD: Yes...nothing is without the weird these days. So...here's the thing. This protection for writers is an artificial boundary. It was created by people who are hedging out a thing that (quite honestly from what I've seen) actually can and does replace writers. The thing writes better than me. Could it write better than Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin? Probably, yes. Better than J.K. Rowling? Yes, I'm saying it can. That is an uncomfortable truth. I'm saying...absolutely yes in case I'm being misunderstood.

So...the people who have these jobs should probably be thanking their privilege. Full stop, I realize what I just said, and it will probably make people angry. I'm ready for the "Mike, I think you mispoke. I am here in this position pulling down hundreds of thousands a years with access to fame and fortune on skill alone. No one, and I MEAN NO ONE has my talent." 

And then there's my response with a loud obnoxious "BUZZZ...YOU'RE WRONG." However, the thing that could replace you is on the other side of that artificial wall over there. So, you're safe. But you shouldn't proceed forward as if you aren't in a position of privilege. If capitalism were to just be unfettered in this instance, you actually aren't needed. But I'm a person, you're a person, and at the end of the day, I fully agree I would rather that art be generated by real people. But every single one of us needs to understand that something happened here in 2023 that has never happened before. We actually can see the privilege of remaining employed here...of drawing down fame and fortune...and for those things to be actually reserved for humans (as they should be). But the humans in those chairs need to be grateful that it turned out this way. They really do.

But we all know that many of them won't. Many of them will not understand how close they came to utter extinction of the fields in which they have spent their entire lives to achieve. And they certainly will not accede luck or privilege to any of it. No...they got there by skill and skill alone. Okay...whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night, I guess. But I can hope that these writers for the shows that we watch do not come down on other writers who have wanted to do that self same thing and been unsuccessful in breaking into show business by telling them, "You just need to work harder," or "Maybe you don't succeed because you aren't good enough." That would be awfully cruel for a person to say when the very chair they sit in is a "gift" because it could have been taken away by artificial intelligence.

But it is privilege. It is a huge privilege. And that, friends, is "The Weird."



Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Every American in every tier of society now thinks they deserve to be rich and it is affecting everything.

I think I've finally figured out what's changed in the country since about 2015. The change hit so rapidly that it's taken me a while to suss it out in my head that something feels "dramatically" different than it did a decade ago. But I haven't been able to put my finger on it, and whenever I read articles about it (or asked people), the answers I got were too simple and didn't seem to hit the mark.

For example, when I asked about how expensive things have become, people gave me canned answers like "Inflation, Mike," or "Supply chain issues," or "Covid wrecked everything," etc. None of those answers ever worked for me. When I was in a Walgreens recently and the place was completely empty but there were customers around, I asked myself, "What's going on?" There literally was no one there. No one in the aisles, no one behind the counter. After twenty minutes a person did show up to a line that had about thirty people in it. Then they started to slowly check things out. Still...I asked myself...why is this happening? The answer: "No one wants to work anymore," and "understaffing is just a thing that happens nowadays."

Those answers are not satisfactory, and they don't explain anything of what's going on. So, what is the answer? I had an epiphany yesterday, which is why I'm writing this blog, and I think it is this. As far as Americans go, fewer and fewer are content being simply middle class or being (simply) average. Everyone at every tier of the economy wants to get rich now, and/or they want to be exceptional as far as status goes. Everyone has a seemingly limitless avarice for material things, and that's just who we've become as a society and as a country. Whether it's a homebuilder, a homeowner going to sell their home, or the average worker--everyone wants to save as much money as humanly possible and to make as much money as humanly possible on everything that they do. The compounding effect of that from top to bottom are never-ending price increases, being gouged everywhere, and cutting corners in every aspect of life. We've become a selfish, self-centered, greedy society of money grubbers with huge egos, and each and every one of us thinks we deserve to be rich and have status. It's just who we are now, and we're all paying the consequences for it.

America historically was a land of opportunity. But what's different now is the word "deserve," as in "I deserve this." That's a huge thing to realize. For example, being rich by itself is not a right, but it was always a "possibility" with the right combination of luck, work ethic, timing, and brilliance. But we now have an entire generation (multiple generations) where nothing is good enough, and they believe they are entitled to the very best that life has to offer just by virtue of being alive. That effect sloshes into everything. I think it's why we have an anxiety and depression epidemic among young people when reality reinforces their averageness. Rather than being content working a regular job and being average, the reaction is mental illness, depression, anxiety, and even anger and hatred. Being "average" is basically traumatizing now, as in "it is trauma to suggest that I can be nothing but an average human being and to live like an average human being."

Other things that come out of this is a startling rise in disability claims. There are now millions and millions of people collecting social security disability. Many of them could/should be working, but the jobs they could get (or are more likely to get) would do nothing for their self-esteem and probably be considered "drudgery." People decades ago might have been content with these kinds of jobs. But it's a lot more difficult to find those people today, so what usually happens is these people go the "social security" route and just slip out of the work force on disability.

There's also the rise of tipping on everything. It all comes out of this idea that people "deserve" more and more and more. I'm now asked to tip at McDonalds and Burger King (and I do). It's all being driven by American entitlement to more and more. All the taboos we used to have in place to keep people from overcharging and flat out asking for more money are gone.

It's also permeated dating. People now have a sky-high list of things that they are looking for in a partner. The result has been a generational collapse in marriage, a declining birthrate, more people living single than ever before, and more people just not being content with anything but "the best." Our conversations around mental health these days all revolve around, "You deserve better," as opposed to "This expectation of yours is out of touch with reality."

It's seeped into healthcare. End-of-life care for elderly people is the most expensive medical care that there is now, costing upwards of $8,000 to $10,000 a month. If this is true in 2023, imagine what it will be like in 2033 and 2043? And at those prices, there still aren't enough people to do those jobs, because it doesn't come with status.

I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point. Nearly everything in society has been touched by this idea that every single person is now deserving of the best, whether it be treatment, salary, compensation, etc. The difference between the present and even the recent past is that people are demanding it. Rents are sky high because people deserve that money to afford the best things for themselves and their children. Contractors are charging incredible amounts of money to do work because they deserve the best and have themselves and loved ones who deserve it also. Up, up, up, it goes with no end in sight.

I think that we are on the precipice of something incredibly bad as a result of this. I don't think that American capitalism ever had the capacity for everyone to have the best. There needs to be people on the bottom if you are going to double-down on that kind of economic system. So, what's going to happen is a catastrophic tearing between the "haves" and the "have nots." Amidst soaring income inequality, there will be violent reminders that opportunity, status, and wealth are "not for you or your kid." And this is just terrible not only for quality of life but for a quality of a society. I think that as people, Americans followed the path of good intentions. We brought up children trying to instill them with self-worth and telling (maybe too many of them) that they were little princes or princesses and that they deserved the best. Now, all of those chickens that got hatched are coming home to roost, and the bill that is coming due is something that a lot of us cannot afford to pay.

Monday, September 25, 2023

I've fallen out of love with summer. Fall is now my favorite season.


Summer has ended. Fall has arrived. I used to think that the end of summer was a melancholy time. I lived in eastern Idaho. Summertime (especially nights) were filled with crickets and the concrete driveway of the house I lived in was warm well past sunset. You could walk barefoot everywhere, and there was fresh fruit aplenty at fruit stands, on trees, and in grocery stores. I dreaded the return of winters where you had to scrape windows, shovel driveways, and everything that used to be green was just dead. Gray branches clawing at the sky, and it being so cold that it was painful just standing around in it as you felt the skin on your face peel back.

But that's how it used to be. My relatives in the south would tell me that fall was their favorite time of the year. The reason why? Because it was the end of 4+ months of temperatures over 90 and all the bugs from hell would thence return to that place and leave the locals in peace. And people could open their windows for the first time since the spring pollen explosion.

And now that's the way I feel. I love fall. But I don't live in the South. I live in northern Utah, which isn't too far from my roots in East Idaho. Things have changed. Summer (which used to be as I described in the first paragraph) has become 4+ months of temperatures over 90, bugs, and concrete and asphalt that is so hot you can't even safely walk pets outside. The brutal temps in my yard are so high during those four plus months that I don't ever open the windows and the air condition runs almost non-stop. We keep all of the window treatments closed against sunshine, and we try not to turn on many lights. This is what summer has become. And based on what I've seen in America, it's a lot worse for other people out there. I can't even imagine what the people in Phoenix, Arizona went through this year, with something like 47 days of temps above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That's just mind-bogglingly hot.

So here's to the pumpkin-spice lovers of fall. The days are getting shorter, but maybe that's a good thing because it means that it's not so bright outside at 5 a.m. in the morning when I'd really like to get in that extra two hours before work starts. And with the scorching hot summers, winters don't last as long as they used to. It won't be cold here until late November or early December. Even if that isn't the way it is supposed to be, I kind of like the fact that there are really only two freezing cold months (December and January) where I live. And one last blessing is that the lawn grows a lot slower in the fall (if at all). 

Anyone else embracing fall this year (that used to absolutely adore summer)? If so, I'd like to hear why in the comments. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

People in the United States should be offered a chance to buy their own medical debt back from a creditor before it goes to a collection agency.

This must be the week for questions that pop into my head to which I have no answer. So, being a Friday post, I'm going to ask all of you to educate/explain to me a "Why is this a thing?" question. This week, I was thinking about medical debt. Specifically, medical debt in the United States. Most people have health insurance that doesn't cover all of their medical costs, due to high deductibles and co-pays for certain services. Hospitals aren't allowed to turn away patients who need emergency care, even if they don't have health insurance. This means that uninsured patients who need their services will receive a bill afterward, and they may be unable to pay for it. If a person doesn't pay their outstanding medical bill, their creditor will try to set up a payment arrangement (simple enough to understand). When this doesn't get paid, and more time passes, and there is no attempt to repay the debt, then the creditor (hospital) may charge off the obligation and sell it to a collection agency.

Okay...now you have all that background. But there's something more to all of this. Collection agencies are allowed to buy this outstanding medical debt at a fraction of their original value, especially if the chance of collecting the entire amount is remote. Debt buyers may pay as little as $.04 to $.014 for every dollar of a consumer's outstanding debt. All of this is legal in the United States. This is how capitalism works.

And now...here is my question: why can't the person/consumer who owes this medical debt, but it (for themselves) at the same cost. So...here's an example. Let's say I had $30,000 in unpaid medical debt. I can't pay it back for whatever reason, and it has lingered for years. So, the hospital approaches me (instead of a collection agency) and says, "We are selling this debt to a collection agency, but we'll give you first shot. At .04 cents on the dollar, we'll take $1200 and call this good. Whatever. How about it?" I think a lot of people would jump at that chance. But for some reason, I can't find any example of this happening. Instead, we have this predatory step where the debt is handed over to someone else at a super discounted price, and then this new company can go after the full debt with all of their resources. And it's obviously profitable enough to be a good business model for a bunch of companies that honestly are amoral and shouldn't exist. 

So please, explain to me why medical debt gets sold to collection agencies instead of to the person who owns that debt. Why do we have this system in place in this country? I'd seriously like to know the answer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

I'd like to know why Hollywood always recasts the female lead with a person of color.


It's been a trend for a while now, but I'm wondering if anyone can answer why it is always the female lead in a story that features two white protagonists that is recast as a person of color? I call it the default black girl effect. When Tom Holland was cast as Spiderman for Spiderman: Homecoming, it was Mary Jane who was recast as black. In the upcoming Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the role of Annabeth is now a black one. But Percy remains white. In the upcoming Universal live-action adaptation of DreamWork's animation's How to Train Your Dragon, it is Astrid who is being played by Nico Parker (who is a person of color). In the new Dune Paul Atreides remains as white as snow while his mate, Chani Kynes, is now played by a black woman.

I could continue, but I think all of you have noticed this. It is always the female lead who is recast as a person of color, and I just want to know why? Is it patriarchy? Like...would it be too controversial if they recast a character like James Bond as black instead of giving him black women to romance? If Harry Potter were recast today, I know that Hermione Granger would be black. She just would. But not Harry Potter. There's no way we could recast the main male lead as a person of color, right? Why is that? I'm not trolling here; I legitimately want an answer that makes sense. There's something psychological that's going on here behind the scenes that no one is writing about...something that has to do with "audiences will accept a black female (or a person of color in a female role) a lot easier than they will a person of color playing a role that was previously reserved for a white male."

I bet if Alien were to be rebooted with a new Ellen Ripley, she would be recast with a black actress. But if Terminator were to be rebooted and recast, they'd still reserve that role for a white guy (probably with lots of muscles). I'm just wondering why people who make movies and television shows think that audiences can't handle the recast of a white male character as a person of color. Would people just not watch a show that had a black Harry Potter? I feel like people would be up-in-arms if Luke Skywalker was recast as a black guy, but they'd be okay with Princess Leia being played by someone like Zendaya. Could Conan the Barbarian be recast with a black actor? I'd be okay with it, but would anyone aside from me watch it? Anyway, these are the kinds of questions I have that go through my head. If anyone (wiser than me) has an answer, I'm all ears.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A lot of people in this country don't seem to understand how truly wealthy people get their money.

I noticed this week via "the news," which consists of a variety of different sources from The New York Times to NPR, that the United Autoworkers Union is on strike against the big three automobile manufacturers in the United States. This then, joins the other people in this country, like the writer's union in Hollywood, who are on strike for more compensation. I mean...we have these people like CEO's (looking at Mary Barra of GM for this kind of example) who make a hundred times what the salary of a person makes who is actually doing the work and making the product for the company. The UAW reportedly wants a 40% increase over the next 4 years. Two of the automakers were telling them they could get 20%, and blah, blah, blah.

So, here's my point about all of this. I think that our conversation about "wage" and "compensation" is disingenuous in this country. Yes, CEO's get paid way too much but the majority of this "pay" is stock options or "company performance," which is just terrible, and it makes these people who don't actually do any of the work an obscene amount of money. It's like the entire system was set up by grifters, similar to how the housing system seems also to have been set up by lazy grifters who just want to cash-in and be rich based off no work.

And here's where I state an unpopular opinion: wealthy people don't actually want "big incomes." And saying that someone like Mary Barra makes millions upon millions per year is not talking about the whole truth. Her actual base pay might be a lot smaller than people talk about. The other tens of millions that she gets per year is just bonuses (like stocks). While completely unfair, they have nothing to do with "hourly pay." If that was all actual "income," the wealthy people might actually have to pay taxes and contribute to the country's infrastructure that makes their business possible, like all working-class people have to do. But that's not how any of this works.

These people at the top can obtain extremely low interest loans using those stocks as capital, and then spend that cash as though it were their earned income. Then they can cash out those stock options and the sum of taxes against the gains & interest paid, and it ends up being much less than the taxes paid by the other 99% of the country. They also have access to a variety of company financed perks that is generally not advertised about. Just because it is not on a paystub does not mean they can't use it, and they aren't making massive piles of money. Massive piles that have been growing at a faster rate than their workers for decades.

What would be fair would be to totally eliminate options completely. If you want to buy some of the company's stock, then you'd buy it on the open market just like everyone else. Either that, or every employee should qualify for profit sharing moves if even one employee gets "profit sharing." And just in case someone things that "employee stock purchase plans" are the same...they aren't. Our system is very much "You make one silver coin, I make ten silver coins. It is fair because I'm the CEO." And I'd argue that this actually is fair. But what they don't mention is that the person who gets ten silver coins is also getting ten gold coins. And when you point that out, they say, "Yeah, but those are different. They don't count!"

I think the thing that has bamboozled Americans regarding this is just a huge ignorance about how money and stocks work. For example, the thing that most people don't seem to grasp is that stock-based pay doesn't come out of the liquidity of the company. If a company grants their CEO 1000 shares of stock and that stock increases in value from 15 million to 30 million, the company has not paid a cent. Not even the original 15 million. From the company's perspective, it is literally free money. The CEO gets paid, but the people actually handing out cash is everyone else who is buying that person's shares. Or the banks who lend that CEO money based on the value of those shares.

The consequences of this action are relatively low depending on how big the company is. Sure, issuing more stock dilutes the value of each share and that could result in fewer willing buyers and an overall loss with long-term consequences. But for most big companies, no one even notices, because there's literally so much stock sloshing around. I couldn't even begin to tell you how much Apple stock there is in the world. Probably as many grains as there are on all the beaches of the world.

Anyway, I mostly wanted to express (in writing this) that I get tired of people talking about "compensation" in ways that don't make sense to me. I think the entire conversation needs to change, people need to be educated about how money works, and only after that understanding can income inequality in this country begin to be successfully addressed. Otherwise, it's just going to keep getting worse over time. And income inequality is bad for everyone, because it breeds resentment, it breeds entitlement, it breeds pettiness, it kills off empathy, it creates cognitive dissonance, it results in fads like "poverty tourism," and it creates a whole class of people who have no sympathy at all for others because they don't understand their various privileges.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom now has an official trailer and I have thoughts.


The new Aquaman 2 trailer dropped, and after viewing it, I wanted to point out some things and give my own observations. If you haven't seen it yet, click below and watch it.

1) Boy, Amber Heard has sure been minimized lol. I guess after the Jonny Depp trial, things have gone really south for her career, and the people promoting the movie know this. I expect her character to be recast with someone else if they do a sequel to this show.

2) It has so many effects in it, it looks like a cartoon. I like this look. It's Aquaman and not Watchmen. So, I'd have it no other way.

3) I appreciate that Black Manta is back. They're actually following upon the villain they set up in the first movie. It feels like a rare thing for superhero movies, where there can be a lot of setup but not much follow-through.

4) I never get tired of Jason Momoa's personal take on this character. He brings a lot of personality to the role.

5) Yes, I will see this. I'm ready to hand over money.

6) I can't believe it's been four years and some change since the first movie came out. Time just really seems to fly by these days.

7) I like Aquaman's setting in DC a lot more than I like Marvel's take of Submariner that we saw in the last Black Panther movie.

Here's the trailer: