CHANGE IS IN THE AIR - 07.19.2023
July 19, 2023
Welcome to my monthly RUPP'S NOTES & FBI SPECIAL AGENT HARTMANN SERIES post. For those new, I'm novelist Richard V. Rupp, writing from Burbank, California, where movie shoots have ground to a halt.
I hope you're having a fantastic start to your summer! Yes, the crazy heatwave has me sweating, like most of you. I have broken out my collection of Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts.
My town has moved from "Media Capital of the World" to "Strikeville."
The actors guild SAG-AFTRA has joined the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). While the WGA strike slowed production, the SAG-AFTRA strike will halt all film and T.V. projects. The actors guild, representing about 160,000 performers, instructed members not to promote finished projects, go to awards shows, or attend film festivals during the strike.
The consensus at the pubs I frequent along San Fernando Road is the strikes will go on for several months. It is rumored that one studio executive said, "The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses." In the last few days, I have heard this phrase referred to over and over again by my writer and actor buddies. They are pissed.
With respect to having both the writers and actors on strike simultaneously, Jonathan Taplin, with the USC ANNENBERG INNOVATION LAB, indicated. There's going to be a lot of blood in the water. This is not going to end well."
Here are SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher's comments, "At some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored. The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, and A.I. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth." She also indicated, "What's happening to us is happening across all fields of labor, when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about the essential contributors that make the machine run."
She is right that there seems to be labor strife across the country. The Teamsters, hotel workers, fast food workers, U.S. Forest Service Firefighters, etc.
One outcome of these strikes could be the demise of the traditional television networks and cinema operators, who desperately need new productions after suffering major losses over the past few years.
My Guild, the AUTHORS GUILD, has sent a letter to several firms that produce generative A.I. indicating our concerns. I'm a signatory to the letter, the text of which is included at the end of this post.
Thank you for viewing my post. By reading it, you are increasing your cognitive ability. Not necessarily because of what I'm writing but because you are "reading." A study published in the NEUROLOGY, published by the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF NEUROLOGY done by researchers at RUSH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER in Chicago indicates that "avid readers well into old age showed as much as 30% less memory function loss than those who used other forms of cognitive activity."
I love this Colm Tolbin quote in the ATLANTIC – "The difference between reading a book and listening to a book is like the difference between running a marathon and watching a marathon on T.V."
It seems APPLE wants to limit your cognitive ability as they now offer audiobooks narrated by A.I. rather than human narrators. Their goal is to dramatically increase their audiobook offerings. I wonder if SAG-AFTRA has noted this?
A SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article indicates we need to keep our minds active - For most adults, learning and thinking plateau and start to decline between ages 30-40. The decline steepens after 60 years of age. A recent study involving participants 58-86 who took three classes a week to learn a new skill, like singing, drawing, iPad use, photography, or Spanish, reversed this decline. Their cognitive tests improved to the point where their abilities resembled those of adults 30 years younger.
Based on the above, psychology professors Rachel Wu and Jessica Church wrote, "The question is no longer whether we should pursue learning as adults but rather how society can optimize the environment to maximize opportunities for lifelong skill learning."
No matter your age, read and stay active!!!
I am concerned about the A.I. Revolutions impact on maintaining our cognitive ability. We need to avoid it making us lazy. More on this in next month's post as I research "ubiquitous computing" and "superefficiency and the end of work."
A HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT
As mentioned at the outset, the weather here in Burbank has become unusually hot but not too bad compared to the rest of the country. Last week was the hottest week ever recorded with respect to the average global temperature. And on July 4th, our planet had the hottest day ever recorded, according to data from the US NATIONAL CENTERS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PREDICTION. This was on the heels of the same record being broken the day before. Climate scientist Friederike Otto of the GRANTHAM INSTITUTE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE ENVIRONMENT at BRITAIN'S IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON stated this is "a death sentence for people and ecosystems."
"Weather Whiplash" is the term Scientists are using now to call our climate because of the intense yearly variations in temperature and precipitation. They further indicate that it will slowly become warmer and warmer.
Rwaida Gharib, a YALE PUBLIC VOICES FELLOW ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS, writes in the LA TIMES, "The refugees I work with often say the same thing: It got hot. Then hotter. Then the jobs dried up, and eventually, the food did too. Add in political, racial, or religious tensions or a natural disaster that was the final straw. It all led to the same conclusion: There is no future here. . . . Today there are millions of climate refugees — people who have fled their homes because changes in the local environment made living conditions unsustainable — and estimates suggest that there will be more than one billion by 2050.
Yes, climate change is real!!! And the livable space here on Earth is shrinking!!! More reason for the STEM-educated millennials and Gen Zs in my novel SKYWARD known as the Pioneers, to seek a new earth. Remember, the subtitle to SKYWARD is The Earth has an expiration date.
WHERE'S YOUR NOPE
Like most of you, I watched the "Titan" implosion disaster. It got me thinking about why humans take such chances. It's because we are an inquisitive lot. A recent NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article is subtitled - Why do we explore? It's just what humans do. Quoting from the article, "The explorer has been an adventurer, a showman, a scientist, and now there's a new archetype: the reconciler—someone to help us understand how we got here. These pioneers are interrogating our history books, rewriting them, and hoping to prevent the past from repeating."
The implosion has LA TIMES writer Christopher Reynolds ask, "Where is your line? On your mental chart of risk and reward, where does yes become "nope"?
The article states, "For the disaster's five victims, it seems the prospect of exploring the Titanic wreckage was too tempting to pass up. Yet many otherwise bold travelers wouldn't have dared climb into the vessel, even if the ride were free."
My "nope" would come up frequently. My exploration has always been on the nerdy side. I don't like to ride roller coasters, and I am claustrophobic. Hopefully, my nerdy thoughts and ideas will encourage others to explore and colonize the Universe.
I have to say it seems that some people are just adventurists. Or nuts. During the current heatwave, tourists are flocking to California's Death Valley to experience some of the hottest temperatures (128 degrees) ever recorded on Earth.
Where is your "nope"?
The LA TIMES article includes the following quote from Sivani Babu, co-founder, co-CEO, and creative director of HIDDEN COMPASS, about our society, "We live in more comfort than we ever have, and we face fewer risks than we ever have. As that general decrease of risk has happened, our tolerance for it has seemed to decrease."
As humans, it is in our genes to explore the unknown. This is proven by the implosion of an underwater contraption resulting in the five deaths. This motivation, propelled by curiosity and the quest for knowledge, is why some venture beyond the familiar spaces of our everyday lives.
This feeling of exploration is in the genes of the principal characters in my novel SKYWARD. But, to my GenZ characters, there is more than just wanting to explore. Their observations of Earthly human activity have them wishing to escape from an implosion of the faulty human society that has evolved over time and in which they are currently trapped. Like past pioneers, they see a new frontier skyward. They want to save humanity by expanding it to the Universe. They have said, "Yep," to going skyward.
The beginning of humanity was marked by migration. Many early humans began their trek out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago, eventually settling in just about every corner of the planet. As humanity expanded and began running up against each other, humans developed the concept of war. Some more than others. Think about Putin and "ego." This is a quote from Winston Churchill – "The story of the human race is war. Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world, and before history began, murderous strife was universal and upending."
Yes, Putin is following Churchill's observation. Another reason for SKYWARD. A single human's ego could wipe out Earth tomorrow!
READING TEA LEAVES
Here's an observation from INSIDER about our younger generations - "Whether it's entrepreneurial ventures that allow for a flexible schedule or office jobs that promote work-life balance, some American Gen Zers are adopting European sensibilities when making decisions about their career and work-life."
In trying to determine what type of social structure GenZs would come up with for my novel SKYWARD, I continually read to understand the thoughts of others. How humans work together best (develop a society) has been an important subject of study for philosophers and sociologists going back to the inceptions of those academic disciplines.
My latest find is a term coined by sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who just passed away. He came up with the term "Communitarianism," which emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. He believed a person's social identity and personality are principally molded by community relationships. Communitarianism opposes extreme individualism and rejects extreme "laissez-faire" policies that deprioritize the stability of the overall community.
Associated with "communitarianism" is the concept of "enlightenment," which emphasizes reasoning and individualism rather than tradition. This concept was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.
The "dream" was once defined by the idea that anyone who works hard enough can make it in America. Some GenZers, disillusioned by hustle culture and out-of-reach markers of success — like homeownership — are looking to Europe as the pacesetter for the life they aspire to. Think of long lunches, extended holidays, and detaching oneself from work by the time the clock hits 5.
In reading the tea leaves of millennials and GenZs, in SKYWARD, I developed the concept of a space colonization group that views human relationships differently than the ones they looked back on. In past posts, I comment on their low marriage rate, desire to not bring children into this limited earthly world, and the concept of "friends with benefits." Based on this, the Bowman Moon Colony has no marriage or divorce. Instead, they look toward friendship and companionship with spurts of love. Like back on Earth, some of the spurts of love last a lifetime, but most are of much shorter duration. Why miss things up with a contractural tie initially designed to protect wealth or empires. Or tie tribes together.
Sorry my fellow "silent generation" and those from the "baby boomer generation," the concept of the family we were brought up on is gone. Somehow, I think we contributed to its disappearance in how we raised our kids.
I noticed a somewhat confirmation of this social structure change coming from a Baby Boomer - Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. He and his wife, Chirlane McCray, announced they're separating after 30 years of marriage — without filing for divorce and while still living together for now. The couple indicated that "their union had gone stagnant, and they needed a change."
"I just want to have fun," McCray said. De Blasio shared The New York Times story in his Twitter feed, writing: "Even at this moment of change, this is a love story."
The GenZ concept of "friends with benefits" has expanded to include a new term – DINK – for "dual income, no kids." It refers to couples cohabiting, working full-time jobs without plans to start a family. Being child-free, these couples have much more disposable income for non-essential items and experiences. DINKs who like fancy electronics may commute on a new hoverboard while wearing AirPods. Other DINKs who value experiences might take frequent impromptu trips abroad. However, the vacation must always be carefully filmed and documented. Pics are a vital part of their world.
One article I read commented, "DINKs are cool until you realize they're a symptom of a dying country."
LAST BOTTOMS UP
I lived in San Francisco for several years and occasionally downed a pint or two at the ANCHOR BREWING CO. This iconic San Francisco brewery opened in 1896 and was within walking distance from my various S.F. pads. It just closed down. This indicates a changing city in trouble, like many these days. I lived there during the dot-com boom when it was a fun place. I understand it is now "slum town" where people fear walking down the street.
READING THE STREETS
I live in the Burbank Senior Artist Colony complex, filled with older fellow artists. In talking with my neighbors, I found that most no longer wanted to go into the adjacent City of Los Angeles because of their increasing homeless crisis. As soon as you cross the border into L.A., there are lines of tents, broken-down cars, pieces of furniture, and, yes, the kitchen sink.
One article I read indicates that Los Angeles, the city of dreams, the home of Hollywood, the land of opportunities, is being shunned by tourists, as its streets, alleys, and doorways are filled with homeless encampments that have taken away much of its glamour and glitter. A just-released Los Angeles County Report indicates that homelessness rose 9% in the County over the last year to 75,518 people, with most centered on the streets and parks of Los Angeles.
Justice Diarmuid Fionntain O'Scannlain, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, stated in a case involving whether or not people can live on public streets or parks, "One need only walk through our neighborhoods — through the Tenderloin (San Francisco) or Skid Row (Los Angeles) — to know that our communities are fast coming undone. . . .Tents crowding out sidewalks, needles flooding parks, and rubbish (and worse) marring public squares reflect a threat to the public welfare that should not be taken lightly."
Karen Bass, the meaningful new mayor of Los Angeles, solution to the homelessness problem has been much like what politicians typically do. They get caught up in what they think is a great idea without thinking it through rationally and logically.
As you know, I love the concepts of rational and logical thinking. Something that has totally disappeared from the political scene. I'm not talking about the bizarre stuff coming out of some politicians' mouths these days, but rather something I noticed in local politics.
Mayor Bass did not recognize the potential adverse consequences (even though they were obvious) of the solution she came up with – having the city house them in hotels. Instead of the Los Angeles homeless population decreasing, it is increasing because of the influx of people from adjacent cities and around the country seeking taxpayer-provided shelter. "If Houston isn't going to do it, then I'm going to L.A."
I admit I don't know the solution to the homeless problem. A couple of years ago, I thought it would go down naturally when we achieved such a low unemployment rate. I was wrong about that. I also believe a significant mental health problem exists that needs to be addressed. One report I just read indicates that one in eight patients who arrive at an emergency room is there for a behavioral crisis such as psychosis, suicidality, mania, aggression, or substance use.
For some, just going to the grocery store or rent increased can cause homelessness. According to an NBC News analysis, a standard basket of groceries (like eggs, coffee, and milk) costs nearly 40% more than in January 2020.
Then there is the fact that rent is increasing faster than the incomes of the lower and middle classes. Part of the reason for the rental increase is that many upper and middle-upper-income individuals have decided to live alone. Nearly 30 percent of American households comprise a single person, a record high. The U.S. Census indicates that "solitaries" comprised 8 percent of all households in 1940. The share of solo households doubled to 18 percent in 1970 and more than tripled, to 29 percent, by 2022.
Scholars say living alone is not a trend so much as a transformation: Across much of the world, more people live alone than at any other time in recorded history.
Thank you, digital world. Can you imagine how A.I. will affect this?
INSURANCE – GOING, GOING, GONE
For my old insurance and risk management buddies, I'm expanding the comments in my last post about a major insurance industry change. My gut is telling me more than ever that the concept of traditional homeowners' property insurance is no longer viable. Climate change and our expanding population have created massive exposure zones that can create potential losses (multiple exposure units) that fall outside the insurance concept. With the world's expanding human population requiring closer living space (i.e., An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is a legal and regulatory term for a secondary house or apartment that shares the building lot of a larger, primary home. Plus, the changing building codes and zoning allow more habitational units. The concept of distance between adjacent exposures has diminished.
U.S. property/casualty insurers are responding to higher inflation and natural catastrophe losses with rate increases when possible and exits when not, SWISS RE LTD. said Wednesday in a report.
SWISS RE INSTITUTE indicates that halts to new business and non-renewals in certain lines were among the steps taken by insurers as they retrenched from catastrophe-prone markets such as California, Florida, and Louisiana, in the first half of this year, Swiss Re said. They went on to indicate that underwriting actions have extended to commercial property and personal auto lines while the focus is on homeowners insurance.
BUSINESS INSURANCE indicates that "commercial property insurance rate hikes accelerated at midyear renewals, with increases ranging from 20% on average to 50% and higher for catastrophe-exposed risks, as insurers continued to cut capacity and tighten terms and conditions. . . .With no rate relief in sight, commercial property insurance buyers reduced limits and retained more risk.
It looks to me that the entire property insurance model will have to change.
AUTHORS GUILD A.I. LETTER
Lastly, on the impact of A.I. on writers. I'm a signatory to the following AUTHORS GUILD letter.
To: Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI; Sundar Pichai, CEO, Alphabet; Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Meta; Emad Mostaque, CEO, Stability A.I.; Arvind Krishna, CEO, IBM:
We, the undersigned, call your attention to the inherent injustice in exploiting our works as part of you're A.I. systems without our consent, credit, or compensation.
Generative A.I. technologies built on large language models owe their existence to our writings. These technologies mimic and regurgitate our language, stories, style, and ideas. Millions of copyrighted books, articles, essays, and poetry provide the "food" for A.I. systems, endless meals for which there has been no bill. You're spending billions of dollars to develop A.I. technology. It is only fair that you compensate us for using our writings, without which A.I. would be banal and extremely limited.
We understand that many of the books used to develop A.I. systems originated from notorious piracy websites. Not only does the recent Supreme Court decision in Warhol v. Goldsmith make clear that the high commerciality of your use argues against fair use, but no court would excuse copying illegally sourced works as fair use. As a result of embedding our writings in your systems, generative A.I. threatens to damage our profession by flooding the market with mediocre, machine-written books, stories, and journalism based on our work. In the past decade or so, authors have experienced a forty percent decline in income, and the current median income for full-time writers in 2022 was only $23,000. The introduction of A.I. threatens to tip the scale to make it even more difficult, if not impossible, for writers—especially young writers and voices from under-represented communities—to earn a living from their profession.
We ask you, the leaders of A.I., to mitigate the damage to our profession by taking the following steps:
1. Obtain permission for use of our copyrighted material in your generative A.I. programs.
2. Compensate writers fairly for the past and ongoing use of our works in your generative A.I. programs.
3. Compensate writers fairly for the use of our works in A.I. output, whether or not the outputs are infringing under current law.
We hope you will appreciate the gravity of our concerns and that you will work with us to ensure, in the years to come, a healthy ecosystem for authors and journalists.
The Authors Guild and the Undersigned Writers
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I'm going to bed early tonight because I want to watch the opening of the World Cup tomorrow at 5 am my time. I suspect I'll be bleary-eyed for a couple of weeks. The quadrennial soccer tourney is in New Zealand and Australia, 17 hours ahead of Burbank. This means super early or late broadcast times. All indications are this will be the best-attended women's sports event ever. The U.S. Women's National Team kicks off its World Cup campaign this Friday at 6:00 pm P.T. GO USA!!!
That's it for this month.
Stay safe and cool!
Richard V. Rupp, Author
Website – www.richardvrupp.com
Email – email@example.com
Copyright©2023 by Richard V. Rupp