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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Politics

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We are psychologically invincible!


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156 days ago
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kemayo
157 days ago
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St Louis, MO
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Social architecture and the house of tomorrow

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I live in an ancient city, in a medium-old apartment--one that is rapidly approaching its bicentennial. Like any building in continuous occupation for nearly 200 years, form and function have changed: it's been retrofitted with indoor plumbing, gas central heating, electricity, broadband internet. The kitchen has shrunk, a third of it hived off to create a modern (albeit small) bathroom. The coal-burning fireplaces are either blocked or walled over. Three rooms have false ceilings, lowered to reduce heating costs before hollowcore loft insulation was a thing. What I suspect was once the servants' bedroom is now a windowless storeroom. And rooms serve a different function. The dining room is no longer a dining room, it serves as a library (despite switching to ebooks a decade ago I have a big book problem). And so on.

But certain features of a 200 year old apartment remain constant. There are bedrooms. There is a privy (now a flushing toilet). There is a kitchen. There is a living room. And there is a corridor.

This apartment was built around 1820, for the builder of the tenement it's part of: he was a relatively prosperous Regency working man and his family would have included servants as a matter of course in those days. And where one has servants, one perforce has corridors so that they may move about the dwelling out of sight of the owners. But it was not always so.

Rewind another 200 years and look around a surviving great house, such as Holyrood Palace, also in Edinburgh. Holyrood largely dates to the 16th and 17th century, and reflects the norms of that earlier era, and if you tour it one thing is noteworthy by its absence: corridors. The great houses of that period were laid out as a series of rooms of increasing grandeur, each leading to the next. Splendid wide main doors in the centre of each wall provided access for nobility and people of merit: much smaller, unadorned doors near the corners allowed servants to scuttle unobtrusively around the edges of the court. Staircases ascended through grand halls at the centre of such houses (accessible from doors leading to the main function rooms around the periphery): servants' areas such as the kitchen, stores, and pantry might boast their own staircases, and the master apartments of a great house had their own stairs leading to privy or ground floor.

But the corridor in its modern, contemporary sense seems to have started out as a narrowing and humbling of the grand halls and assembly rooms of state, reduced in scope to a mere conduit for the workers who kept things running--before, of course, they later became commonplace.

My apartment is laid out around an odd, V-shaped corridor, with two arms: one leads to the kitchen, bathroom, store rooms, and front door, while the other leads to the dining room and living room. Bedrooms open off at various points: the front door is at the point of the 'V'. (I speculate that the intent was to keep the smells of cooking, smoke, and privy as far away as possible from the dining and living areas commonly used by the owner and his wife and children.) By 1820 the corridor had become an unremarkable space around which homeowners were now structuring their lives. The older style of tenement, focussed on a windowless central room off which all other rooms opened, still existed but was becoming rarer.

In the UK, the average dwelling is 75 years old. In other countries, they are considerably younger: in Germany homes depreciate after first sale, while in the US, they typically require extensive structural renovation or rebuilding after 30 years (continental climes are prone to greater environmental extremes). In Japan it's normal to demolish a house and rebuild from scratch on the newly cleared just-purchased ground.

And new homes reflect the needs and values of their owners.

It's unexceptional today to come across an open-plan apartment, because (except for the very rich) we don't typically share our homes with servants, and we have efficient ventillation and climate control. Try to imagine living in an open-plan Victorian flat with a coal-burning kitchen range and fireplace puffing out smuts, a maid and a cook to keep on top of the grime and the food preparation: it doesn't work. Try, also, to imagine a contemporary home without a living room with a TV in the corner. Go back to the 1950s and well-designed homes also had a niche for the telephone--the solitary, wired communications device, typically bolted to the wall in the hallway or at the foot of the stairs, for ease of access from all other rooms.

But today telephones have collapsed into our pocket magic mirrors, and TVs are going in two directions--flattening and expanding to fill entire walls of the living room, and simultaneously shrinking to mate with our phones. A not-uncommon aspect of modern luxury TV design is that they're framed in wood or glass, made to look like a wall-hanging or a painting. The TV is becoming invisible: a visitor from the 1960s or 1970s might look around in bafflement for a while before realizing that the big print in middle of the living room wall is glowing and sometimes changes (when it's in standby, running a screensaver). Meanwhile, microwave ovens and ready meals and fast food have reduced the need for the dining room and even the kitchen: to cook a family dinner and serve it in a formal dining room is an ostentatious display of temporal wealth, a signal that one has the leisure time (and the appliances, and the storage for ingredients) to practice and perfect the skills required. The middle classes still employ cooks: but we outsource them to timeshare facilities called restaurants. Similarly, without the daily battle to keep soot and dirt at bay, and equipped with tools like vacuum cleaners and detergents, the job of the housemaid has been shrunk to something that can be outsourced to a cleaning service or a couple of hours a day for the householder. So no more cramped servants' bedrooms.

The very wealthy ostentatiously ape the behaviour of the even richer, who in turn continue the traditions they inherited from their ancestors: traditions rooted in the availability of cheap labour and the non-existence of labour-saving devices. Butlers, cooks, and live-in housemaids signal that one can afford the wage bill and the accommodations of the staff. But for those who can't quite afford the servants, the watchword seems to be social insulation--like the dining room at the opposite end of the corridor from the kitchen.

The millionaire's home cinema, in an auditorium of its own, is the middle class TV in the living room, bloated into an experience that insulates its owner from the necessity of rubbing shoulders with members of the public in the cinema. Likewise, the bedroom with en-suite bathroom insulates the occupants from the need to traipse down a corridor through their dwelling and possibly queue at the bathroom door in the middle of the night.

Types of domestic space come and go and sometimes change social and practical function.

The coal cellar is effectively dead in this era of decarbonization and clean energy, as is the chimney stack. Servants' quarters are a fading memory to all but the 0.1% who focus on imitating the status-signaling behavior of royalty, although they may be repurposed as self-contained apartments for peripheral residents, granny flats or teenager basements. The dining room and the chef's kitchen are becoming leisure pursuits--although, as humans are very attached to their eating habits, they may take far longer to fade or mutate than the telephone nook in the hallway or the out-house at the end of the back yard.

Likewise, outdoor climate change and indoor climate control are changing our relationship with the window. Windows used to be as large as possible, because daylight lighting was vastly superior to candlelight or oil-lamp. But windows as generally poor insulators, both of sound and heat, and indoor lighting has become vastly more energy efficient in recent years. Shrinking windows and improving insulation (while relying on designed-in ventilation and climate control) drive improvements in the energy efficiency of dwellings and seem to militate against the glass bay and big sash windows of yesteryear.

What's next?

My dining room turned library is both odd (most people don't have thousands of books) and obsolescent (books need not occupy huge amounts of physical shelf space these days). But other emergent habits require considerable space. Consider virtual reality games. A couple of years ago I got to play with a friend's Oculus Rift setup. VR games take up considerably more floor space than the wide-screen PC or console gaming they may eventually replace. (You need room to move about physically without tripping over cables or stumbling into furniture.) Even a high-end gaming PC takes up a lot of space: a custom chair with controllers, a stand supporting two or more wide-screen monitors. Today's TVs and monitors may be flat but they're nevertheless enormous. (Back in 1998, the last tube TV I bought boasted a then-large 24" diagonal screen. Today, the 42" screen in the living room feels subjectively small.)

I don't see some of the basics changing. In the absence of teleport booths we still need staircases, doors, and (in some cases) elevators. We're going to continue to need somewhere to sleep for the foreseeable future, and we're also going to need somewhere to deal with our excrement and personal grooming/hygeine needs, even if we all abandon home bathing tomorrow in favour of a surprise renaissance of Roman-era communal baths. I don't see clothing becoming much more disposable than it already is (I'm wearing a £6 tee shirt, thank you, but there's a £250 coat hanging by the door, that's in no way disposable, and I'm no fashionista), so we're still going to need wardrobes, albeit some of us more than others. Parking garages are still useful even if you don't own a car--for storage, for home freezers, for washer/dryers--although stand-alone ones in this part of town are increasingly being repurposed as the ground floor of small houses, and it's possible that the era of mass public automobile ownership will come to an end within my lifetime.

Anyway, this is a brain dump of some thoughts leading up to this question: what is the home of 2119 going to look like? (Assuming no collapse of technological civilization, and an orderly--and complete by 2119--migration to renewable energy sources. Also assume availability of synthetic fuels for air/space/sea travel, reasonable improvements in electrochemical batteries, and wholesale infrastructure improvements at least as extensive as post-WW2 reconstruction in Germany and Japan. And, come to think of it, a population plateau and demographic transition to gradual managed shrinkage and aging: let's peg global population in 2119 at stabilizing at the same level as it is today, without extensive genocide.)

Bear in mind that it's probably newly built since 2019. 80% of humanity lives within 200km of the sea; ocean levels are rising and extreme weather events are getting worse, so our cities will over time recede inland from the current coastline. An ageing, shrinking population is midly deflationary and means a likely surplus of housing after peak humanity: but also accommodations for frail/elderly people.

Today's millennials will have mostly passed away, the aged in this era will be the generation born after 2019. They'll have grown up with ubiquitous social media and broadband communications, with VR and AR as a given. They may relate to private automobiles the way we relate to butlers and maidservants, while finding something else we can't imagine entirely mundane. I suspect there'll be more communal living (but I could be wrong). Transport is going to be very different--if nothing else, there's no call for burning dead dinosaurs to set a couple of tons of steel and plastic in motion to move one person, let alone to devote 90% of our urban landscape to providing priority space for automobiles. This, in combination with climate change, suggests to me the end of American-style suburban sprawl and a trend towards much denser urban habitats. Logistics are also going to be ... interesting: neither Amazon's delivery drones nor Musk's hyperloop are really practical solutions in cities, while stuff like micromobility platforms (scooters, ebikes, segways, autonomous robot parcel carts) mesh with trams (streetcars), trolleybuses, and autonomous minicabs and vans.

The bedroom, wardrobe, bathroom, and some type of food storage/preparation area, aren't going away. Other spaces will also be around, and social/spatial insulation will be in demand. At the high end, the elite (whoever they are) will try to ape the living arrangements of previous century's elites, as a status signal if nothing else.

What else is conceivable? What am I missing that should be as obvious as the multimodal shipping container in 1950, or photovoltaic panels on house rooftops in 1990?

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kemayo
169 days ago
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St Louis, MO
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Primary Caregivers

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If you're not familiar with American politics, imagine a sport where you spend 1 year hoping on one leg and not using the other, then suddenly having to run a marathon.


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kemayo
172 days ago
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St Louis, MO
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BioWare's awful response to Kotaku's exposé pours petrol on a raging PR fire

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Yesterday Kotaku’s Jason Schreier dropped one of his explosive articles upon the gaming industry, this time revealing the sad, grim tale of how BioWare’s Anthem came to be. It was, as has come to be expected from Kotaku’s investigative exposés, a meticulously researched and cited piece that step-by-step broke down the maudlin development of Anthem, from the perspective of nineteen current and former BioWare employees, and purportedly the wider development team.

Within fifteen minutes of publication, BioWare had posted their response. And it is a bad one. A very bad one, for some very serious reasons.

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kemayo
194 days ago
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The ever fun genre of "look how easy it is to write a better PR response than the professionals".
St Louis, MO
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It's Not Just You

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Malka Older writes:
here's the thing about "adulting": so much of it is entirely unnecessary. I have spent so many hours on health insurance and I only know because I lived in another country that health insurance can function perfectly well without that tax on my time.

Or take tax returns, which we spend time and money doing, even though they could be vastly simplified because the govt already has most of that data. Like the forms they make you fill out at the border even though most of that info is already in your passport (no forms in EU)

all of these tasks that we are taught are inevitable parts of being adult in an advanced society exist either because our society is not as advanced as it pretends or because it has advanced in the direction of making things easier for capital and harder for labor (or both)

Older's point, echoed in Anne Helen Petersen's January piece "How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation", reverberates in my life today: a ton of fiddly expensive-if-you-make-a-mistake labor has emerged or shifted onto the middle class's shoulders, without commensurate logistical, psychological, or financial support for that shift.

This came to mind today because some of us were talking about the anxiety of booking travel. Well -- Back In The Past we paid travel agents to do this sort of thing, learning all the complicated routes and fare trends and quality standards! (And even further in the past, people rarely travelled and we assumed that, of course, travelling to another city would take at least days if not weeks or months of preparation!)

Expectations around planning, decision speed and responsibility, and focus that used to only apply to executives with secretaries now apply to all knowledge workers. And I am struck by how many skills we are expected to have, as adults in 2019 middle-class America, that NO ONE HAS EVER HAD BEFORE, basically.

Here, manage e-mail, a.k.a. this endless TODO list that grows without your input.

Here, resist the best gambling temptation ever invented, which is on the same device you are expected to carry at all times. (When I talk to nonprogrammers these days, I take the opportunity to apologize on behalf of my industry. Email management, calendar management, and internet harassment - all of them are so much more of a burden than they have to be, because we have not done well enough.)

Here, make plans based on the most volatile future anyone has ever had. (And Do Your Bit regarding the greatest collective action problem there is, fighting global warming (which means: decide what Your Bit is, and feel good enough about that decision that the emotional miasma doesn't taint all the rest of your hours.))

Be as decisive as a 19th century tycoon, as nurturing to your family as a TV mom, and love your body as you are (but surely you could fix xyz).

You can't do it all; no one can.

I mean, heck. The other day I saw an ad for a Wells Fargo app feature called "Control Tower" where the use case is, specifically, "you pay monthly subscription fees for things you don't use - this feature helps you find those things so you can go cancel them". Wells Fargo specifically developed/tested/deployed this feature and made an expensive polished TV ad and paid for it to be broadcast (or in this case used as a web ad between acts of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), because it's going to be that profitable a product differentiator, because millions of people get confused/misled into recurring fees, because "deceiving us has become an industrial process."

I don't have a solution. But at least I can try to keep this in mind, when the overwhelm starts to get to me. It's All Too Much not because I am inadequate, but because standards for my class's behavior have risen faster than we've built the infrastructure and prosthetics we'd need to meet them, and because of an unequal distribution of the benefits of the information revolution.

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kemayo
205 days ago
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St Louis, MO
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206 days ago
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Gregidon
202 days ago
We live in a gotcha culture. Make a mistake and it's going to cost you. Sometimes these mistakes are small - oops forgot to cancel that service or missed a credit card payment. Sometimes the gotchas are huge - mess up when selecting a healthcare plan or didn't read one of 1000x policies and it ruins your financial future.
32 days ago
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32 days ago
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zwol
208 days ago
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I think part of the problem here is what counts as *valuable* labor, the kind someone deserves to get paid for. This is really obvious with the travel agent example, but also think about how executive assistants and janitors don't get anything like the credit -- in either money, or status -- they deserve.
Pittsburgh, PA
32 days ago
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It’s Time To Talk About The Sandwich

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Maybe you’ve heard of it.

You take some bread.

You spread some peanut butter on it.

You put some pickles on it.

You smash that motherfucker together.

And now it’s a sandwich and you eat it.

You’re thinking, as I thought: well, that’s fucking gross.

I mean, shit, I like pickles. I like peanut butter. I am nothing if not a fanboy for bread. But my brain could not get around globbing these things together into a single Combiner Transformer in order to eat it. It seemed like some kind of heresy.

Let’s rewind a little.

The PB & Pickle sandwich got some love thanks to a recent NYT appearance. And initially, I assumed the NYT was just being the NYT, which meant it was offering treasonous nightmare opinions, probably either to troll us or to ruin democracy. And this sandwich definitely felt like a democracy-ruiner.

Just the same, I am wont to chastise my child — you can’t say you don’t like something without first trying it. And in the last ten years, I’ve come happily to terms that most of the things I feared were gross were… nnyeah, actually pretty dang tasty. Sweetbreads? (Spoiler: not actually bread.) Delicious. Spam? Amazing. Sushi? What the fuck was I thinking not eating sushi? Bugs? Hell yeah I’ll eat bugs. I ate a chapulines taco and it was legit wonderful.

Pineapple lumps? SURE.

So, I thought, I can eat this fucking sandwich, and it’ll be weird, and I can tweet about it, and my Twitter feed for five minutes will be a hilarious respite from the neverending DIPSHIT WATERGATE that is the true Infinity War.

I made one:

You can see what pickles and PB I used — the bread was a sourdough.

I made it.

I took a bite.

And whoa wait what the fuck.

It was good.

No — it was actually pretty great.

Here’s why it’s great — first, it does the thing that you might find in, say, Thai food, or some Vietnamese food — you’ve got sour and savory, plus the fattiness of the peanut butter (not to mention the salt), and the pickles bring some nice crunch. It’s eerily satisfying. And it helps then too to decouple your assumption that PEANUT BUTTER = SWEET, because it ain’t. Think satay. Normal peanut butter is savory as shit, we just happen to use it a lot with sweet things, combining it with jelly or chocolate or honey or whatever.

So, then authors-extraordinaire Kevin Hearne and Adam Rakunas said, no no no, you need food lube for that sandwich, and they said the true magic is adding in mayo to that motherfucker —

*record scratch*

What ha ha no, that’s a bad idea, don’t do that, don’t add mayo. Like, what? Who hurt you? How did you get this way? I’m not a mayo-hater, I mean, I’m a white guy, it’s literally in my blood, but at the same time, I’m not cuckoo bananapants. I’m not putting that goop on this already-wonderful sandwich and OH FINE FUCK IT I decided to try it.

Duke’s mayo, of course —

And whoa wait WHAT FOOD FUCKERY IS THIS because…

…because it also was great. Maybe even better.

The mayo was food lube. It made the sandwich even more sandwichy.

So, a week or so later, I ran a couple miles, felt pretty good, decided to have a treat, and weirdly, my mind ran to this sandwich. As a reward. I had been reprogrammed — brainwashed! — by this sandwich to consider it a trophy. My brain said, “That sounds like a way to treat yourself.” So I decided to make one. Except… oh, hey, what’s this? I have some extra bacon in the fridge? Ha ha, okay, listen, I am generally of the belief that bacon is an overdone food fad. “Put bacon in it” is a lazy way of making something hipstery and salty and meaty, and generally a good way to overpower a thing with little nuance. At the same time, it’s… also tasty. Bacon is nummy. I like bacon. And I figured I’d slap some bacon on this mad motherfucker of a sandwich —

And by all the saints and all the sinners, all the gods and all the devils, this is a truly sublime sandwich. It is satisfying on a deeply primal, weird level I can barely begin to describe — salty, crunchy, a bit sweet, a lot sour, it’s like a FLAVOR PINBALL going full-tilt in your happy mouth.

Since then, others have hit me up on Twitter with their attempts at making one of these bastard sandwiches and then eating it — and I’d say 90% of the time, people expected to be revolted, but actually really dug it. A lot of folks also added their own delightful ingredients, too: Spam, bacon-flavored Spam, turkey bacon, other pickled veggies, Miracle Whip, jelly, bologna. And it’s versatile, as well — you can go from sweet to dill, you can use all kinds of different bread choices, different meat, different kinds of peanut or nut butters.

It’s great.

And you have to try it.

You don’t get to say it’s gross until you try it.

Because that’s a lesson even my soon-to-be-seven-year-old knows: you can dislike something after you’ve tried it, but not before. Because a lot of foods in particular seem pretty gross. I mean, cheese? Cheese, if you have never before beheld it, is nasty. My understanding is that some cultures view our consumption of cheese the same way we view the consumption of bugs, or stinky tofu, or rotten fish — I mean, cheese is like, THERE’S A BIG LUMBERING ANIMAL, GO SQUEEZE ITS TEATS, GET THE LIQUID, BUT THEN YOU WANNA CURDLE IT WITH ACID, AND THEN YOU WANNA LET IT SIT WHERE IT’LL GET SOUR AND WEIRD, AND SOMETIMES YOU REALLY WANT SOME MOLD TO GROW ON IT, OR EVEN THROUGH IT, AND SOMETIMES IT SMELLS LIKE A DEAD GUY’S FEET BUT HERE, EAT SOME.

Fish sauce is basically, hey, let fish get so rotten that they liquefy, now, put that rotten fish liquor on some rice, mmm.

Meat is, hey, kill that thing, bleed it out, then press fire to its carcass, then eat its carcass.

Eggs: “Hey, this oblong object fell out of that chicken’s nebulous under-hole, maybe it’s a baby, maybe it’s not a baby, but I’m gonna go ahead and open it up and pour the bird-snot I find inside into a hot pan, get it sizzlin’, see what happens.”

Honey? BEE VOMIT.

So, food is fucking weird.

Get past that.

Make the sandwich.

Try the sandwich.

I’ll wait here. Report back.

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kemayo
525 days ago
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St Louis, MO
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fxer
520 days ago
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White Folks Love Mayo
Bend, Oregon
sirshannon
521 days ago
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Missing bananas. Elvis is sad.
angelchrys
525 days ago
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I've been eating peanut butter and mayo sandwiches since I was a kid, but I'm not sure about adding pickles to the mix.
Overland Park, KS
tingham
525 days ago
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Re-shared for the writing, Saved for the fucking amazingness that is the bacon pickle mayo peanut butter sandwich on homemade sourdough. Although, and you'll hate me, variations include Sriracha or Pineapple.
Cary, NC
MotherHydra
524 days ago
Sriracha? Nothing but love man.
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