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By lalochezia in "No he isn't! He's resting..." on MeFi

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denubis
4 days ago
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Sydney, Australia
digdoug
4 days ago
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Louisville, KY
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LEGO® IDEAS REVIEW: 21321 International Space Station

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The next LEGO® Ideas set to be released is 21321 International Space Station. This year, marks the 20th anniversary of the ISS as it has been maintaining a continuous human presence in space since November 2000, so it is apt that it is being enshrined as a LEGO Ideas set this year.


The selection of the ISS as an Ideas set was via a slightly different route as a mark of the 10 years anniversary of LEGO Ideas (originally LEGO Cuusoo) This time, the LEGO Ideas team looked back at all the submissions that had reached 10K but had not passed review, and selected four for fans to vote for to make the final decision. The ISS by by fan designer Christophe Ruge won the public vote. The new LEGO Ideas International Space Station is rated 16+, contains 864 pieces and priced at $69,99 / €69,99 / £64.99 from LEGO stores and online from February 1st.

Let's take a look at those new elements...

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digdoug
4 days ago
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Time to spend more money on lego.com

I wonder if the scale is the same as the Saturn V, given the tiny little astronauts are the same.
Louisville, KY
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How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

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No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely that a majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances. There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

My Vox colleague Dave Roberts calls this an “epistemic crisis.” The foundation for shared truth, he argues, has collapsed. I don’t disagree with that, but I’d frame the problem a little differently.

We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

This idea isn’t new, but Bannon articulated it about as well as anyone can. The press ideally should sift fact from fiction and give the public the information it needs to make enlightened political choices. If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.

What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.

Bannon’s political objective is clear. As he explained in a 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference talk, he sees Trump as a stick of dynamite with which to blow up the status quo. So “flooding the zone” is a means to that end. But more generally, creating widespread cynicism about the truth and the institutions charged with unearthing it erodes the very foundation of liberal democracy. And the strategy is working.

What flooding the zone actually means

For most of recent history, the goal of propaganda was to reinforce a consistent narrative. But zone-flooding takes a different approach: It seeks to disorient audiences with an avalanche of competing stories.

And it produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. The fact that 60 percent of Americans say they encounter conflicting reports about the same event is an example of what I mean. In the face of such confusion, it’s not surprising that less than half the country trusts what they read in the press.

Bannon articulated the zone-flooding philosophy well, but he did not invent it. In our time, it was pioneered by Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.

In October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”

One major reason for the strategy’s success, both in the US and Russia, is that it coincided with a moment when the technological and political conditions were in place for it to thrive. Media fragmentation, the explosion of the internet, political polarization, curated timelines, and echo chambers — all of this allows a “flood the zone with shit” strategy to work.

The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.

Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment. The preference for objectivity in political coverage, in particular, is a problem.

As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon’s lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That’s exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign — a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that’s what mainstream media news organizations do.

In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.

You see this dynamic at work daily on cable news. Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway lies. She lies a lot. Yet CNN and MSNBC have shown zero hesitation in giving her a platform to lie because they see their job as giving government officials — even ones who lie — a platform.

Even if CNN or MSNBC debunk Conway’s lies, the damage will be done. Fox and right-wing media will amplify her and other falsehoods; armies on social media, bot and real, will, too (@realDonaldTrump will no doubt chime in). The mainstream press will be a step behind in debunking — and even the act of debunking will serve to amplify the lies.

UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff calls this the “framing effect.” As Lakoff puts it, if you say “don’t think of an elephant,” you can’t help but think of an elephant. In other words, even if you reject an argument, merely repeating it cements the frame in people’s minds. Debunking it is still useful, of course, but there’s a cost to dignifying it in the first place.

There is some research that points to the utility of fact-checking. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown that repeated exposure to fact-checking does tend to increase the accuracy of beliefs. But the issue with zone-flooding is an overabundance of news, which diminishes the importance of any individual story, no matter how big or damning.

In this environment, there are often too many things happening at once; it’s a constant game of whack-a-mole for journalists. And we know that false claims, if they’re repeated enough, become more plausible the more often they’re shared, something psychologists have called the “illusory truth” effect. Our brains, it turns out, tend to associate repetition with truthfulness. Some interesting new research, moreover, found that the more people encounter information the more likely they are to feel justified in spreading it, whether it’s true or not.

Flooding the zone, polarization, and why many people still don’t know what Trump did

This all intersects with political polarization in troubling ways. One consequence of pervasive confusion about what’s happening is that people feel more comfortable siding with their political tribe. If everything’s up for grabs, and it’s hard to sift through the competing narratives to find the truth, then there’s nothing left but culture war politics. There’s “us” and “them,” and the possibility of persuasion is off the table.

It’s worth noting that this polarization is asymmetric. The left overwhelmingly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. Some of the reporting is surely biased, and probably biased in favor of liberals, but it’s still (mostly) anchored to basic journalistic ethics.

As a recent book by three Harvard researchers explains, this just isn’t true of the right. American conservative media functions like a closed system, with Fox News at the center. Right-wing outlets are less tethered to conventional journalistic ethics and exist mostly to propagate the bullshit they produce.

All this has created an atmosphere that has helped Trump. The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at muddying the waters on Ukraine and impeachment, and Republicans in Congress have helped by parroting the administration’s talking points.

The fact is, Trump did what Democrats have accused him of doing. We know, with absolute certainty, that the president tried to get a foreign government to investigate a family member of one of his political rivals. And we know this because of the witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee and because Trump’s own White House released a record of the call proving it.

Yet all the polling data we have suggests that public opinion on Trump and Ukraine has basically held steady. Again, some of this is pure partisan recalcitrance. But there’s good reason to believe that the right’s muddying of the waters — making the story about Ukraine and Hunter Biden, pushing out conspiracy theories, repeatedly trumpeting Trump’s own version of events, etc. — has played a role.

The issue is that the coverage of the trials, in both the mainstream press and right-wing outlets, ensures that these counternarratives are part of the public conversation. It adds to the general atmosphere of doubt and confusion. And that’s why zone flooding presents a near-insoluble problem for the press.

The old model is broken

The way impeachment has played out underscores just how the new media ecosystem is a problem for our democracy.

It helps to think of zone-flooding less as a strategy deployed by a person or group and more as a natural consequence of the way media works.

We don’t need a master puppeteer pulling the media’s strings. The race for content, the need for clicks, is more than enough. Bannon or Conway can shake things up by feeding nonsense into the system.

Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a few unhinged tweets or an absurd press conference. The media cycle is easily commandeered by misinformation, innuendo, and outrageous content. These are problems because of the norms that govern journalism and because the political economy of media makes it very hard to ignore or dispel bullshit stories. This is at the root of our nihilism problem, and a solution is nowhere in sight.

The instinct of the mainstream press has always been to conquer lies by exposing them. But it’s just not that simple anymore (if it ever was). There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.

We probably need a paradigm shift in how the press covers politics. Nearly all of the incentives driving media militate against this kind of rethinking, however. And so we’re likely stuck with this problem for a very long time.

As is often the case, the diagnosis is much easier than the cure. But liberal democracy cannot function without a shared understanding of reality. As long as the zone is flooded with shit, that shared understanding is impossible.

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digdoug
10 days ago
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Gatekeepers aren't actually all bad, evidence #4571
Louisville, KY
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Tweet of the Day

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Every voter in America needs to pay attention to the impeachment trial. How is your senator treating the process? The result is a foregone conclusion, but will the public get to hear the whole story?
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digdoug
10 days ago
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Yay Louisville!
Louisville, KY
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Recommended Reading

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Take a few minutes and read this interview with Rick Wilson, former Republican strategist turned Trump-basher. He believes that in order for Democrats to win in November, they have to forget about national polling, focus on the swing states, not nominate Bernie, and ratchet up the hatred of Donald Trump. I'm not saying he's right but I have a tough time saying he's wrong.

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digdoug
10 days ago
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The entire world would benefit from not focusing on polling.
Louisville, KY
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Meet The Animators and Films of Disney’s “Short Circuit”

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A new collection of animated shorts debuts on Disney+ next Friday, Jan. 24. “Short Circuit” is an experimental program that began in 2016 at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The concept: anyone in any department could send a blind email pitch (no name attached). If accepted, the filmmakers could work with anyone at the studio to bring their 2-3 minute shorts to life, using some of the newest and finest technology. But they were only given 4 months.

14 shorts make-up Volume 1 of “Short Circuit”. They were originally supposed to be kept in-house (at the Mouse House), but the emergence of Disney+ also came with the opportunity for millions to check out this innovative work. Brief director commentary accompanies all the shorts on the streaming platform. I recently had the chance to screen these innovative shorts and talk with the makers:

Nikki Mull’s Lucky Toupee, about leprechauns and hairpieces, was the first short of the group put into production. “I ended-up going first just based on how our schedules lined up. I wrote it in a weekend, and then we showed it to some people, and then I re-wrote it in another weekend. And then we had to make it. Because I went first, I wanted the program to succeed, so I felt a lot of pressure to get it down in a matter of time. Because resources were small, I ended-up being my own production designer. I did my own environment modeling. I did all the look of the film by myself – which I loved doing, and it was really fun.”

“Drop”

Trent Correy is the director of Drop, a charming tale of the day in the life of a raindrop. “I wanted to challenge us to do something in CG, in the computer, that was organic and could break apart. And my short was the one that brought back Meander. I think it had been on hiatus since Feast. It hadn’t been updated. Meander is the program that they developed for Paperman to draw the outlines of the character. And we wanted to use it as a different approach to actually color in the characters that way, and not do outlines. So we had a bunch of tech people help out to bring that program back up to speed.”

“Elephant in the Room”

Brian Scott showcases the relationship between a boy and his new animal friend, the Elephant in the Room. “You try to find ways to experiment or push in every part of the process. I was involved in ‘Feast’ as the head of animation on that, so I was inspired by that film and thinking ‘How could we take that look and push it to the next step?’ So that was a fun challenge.”

“Fetch”

A little girl looks for her pet in the forest in Mitch Counsell’s CG Fetch. “[I wanted to] keep the audience very far away from this little girl. Instead of being very clear about what was happening – to try to just do the opposite. So it was very detached, and you didn’t really know what you had been watching up until that reveal. To be purposefully unclear in animation while still being in that Disney spirit and brand… I also was very inspired by Miyazaki films. By the end of it, you’re not necessarily given one specific theme or message – you’re more given something to think about.”

“Downtown”

Inspired by the art scene of Los Angeles, Kendra Vander Vliet presents the fast-paced, colorful Downtown. “I was exploring cinematography. I’ve been inspired by Japanese anime, and 2D animation action scenes have a particular feel. I used really wide lenses. It was really good to experiment with it. And then we actually brought in the “Big Hero” technology of Baymax-vision, where it’s kind of warped on the edges. It kind of gives you this illusion of an organic feel in the camera framing. When you move really fast, it just feels natural.”

“Hair Jitsu”

Hair-Jitsu, from Brian Estrada, focuses on a little girl who wants to literally fight-off getting her first haircut. “I worked with kids in the YMCA growing up. So I’ve seen a wide variety of how kids react. That’s why I wanted to have my main character be a kid. My friend’s daughter had her first haircut at 5 years old. Her hair was down to her legs, and that was the inspiration for the character itself. It’s the idea of facing your fears. I was definitely scared of things as a kid. Going to these imaginative worlds and just getting through them… I think that was a big part of this one.”

“Puddles”

Zach Parrish’s Puddles tells the story of a young boy who goes to extreme lengths to get his older sister to pay attention to him. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted to do a… simple look. To do realistic splashes would’ve felt kind of out of style. An effects artist came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been meaning to try this stylized 3D effects things for a really long time. It feels like your short would be perfect for it.’ It is a combination of hand-crafted petals that turn into a simulation and then beat into submission by an artist to actually look more stylized.”

“Lightning in a Bottle”

John Aquino’s Lightning in a Bottle is inspired by the films of Steven Spielberg. And the short is a literal interpretation of the title, as a boy tries to capture… lightning in a bottle. “Believe it or not, in the 4th Grade, we actually had a science fair and someone did have this jar… he was supposed to have some sparking electricity in it, but it never worked. That was my exposure to science back then. In high school, I wasn’t a big science guy until I went to my Chemistry class.”

“The Race”

Terry Moews is a fan of dark humor. He presents a comedic rivalry between a cyclist and the Grim Reaper. “It’s called The Race because it’s a metaphor or another way to think about your life – being a race. What do you want? What do you want at the end of your race? Do you want the cup, or is it about what you did during the race that’s important to you?”

“Zenith”

With inspiration from the iconic Fantasia, Jennifer Stratton’s Zenith combines music and visual wonderment in the stars. “I had images in my head for the most part. The black hole character, definitely, I wasn’t even sure what it was gonna look like or how it was gonna work. We kind of knew what it was gonna look like when we put it together. 2D art: we would paint and use it as a guideline, but once you get it into 3D it looks different. That definitely was a surprise when we saw it. It was a lot of trial and error.”

“Cycles”

Jeff Gipson’s Cycles is the VR short of the group (though you can view the regular 2D version on Disney+). It’s a very personal story about moving loved ones out of the place they’ve called home for decades. “It was an emotional process, for sure. Growing up, I had a special relationship with my grandma. Going through it… moving a loved one into assisted living is hard. So working through this was maybe some healing for my family and I. [My parents] actually viewed the short in VR, and it was a powerful experience.”

“Just A Thought”

Just a Thought asks the question, “What if everyone could see your thoughts?” In this case: “What if a young boy’s crush knew that he liked her?” Brian Menz was definitely influenced by the “Peanuts” stories. “I grew up loving the comics. I’m one of six kids, and we would all race to the door to be the first one to get the newspaper. And if I found one that I liked, I’d cut it out and save it. ‘Peanuts’ was huge… ‘Calvin and Hobbes’… I’ve read all of them. In different periods of my life I’ve gravitated to different ones.”

“Exchange Student”

Natalie Nourigat was also inspired by comics for her short Exchange Student, about a human girl at a school for giant, green aliens. “I come from the generation that grew up reading Manga and Scott Pilgrim and 2D animation, where a lot of the characters have exterior black liner. So we found a way to get that liner procedurally, so artists didn’t have to trace frame by frame. It would come out as a really solid, thick black liner around everything. And then the lighter had control to thin it out – have the line get more or less opaque here and there, so it feels more like a natural pencil line.”

“Jing Hua”

And for Jerry Huynh, who presents the very personal short Jing Hua (“Flower in the Mirror”), having these shorts on Disney+ is a dream come true. “We get to make these because in here we appreciate it and we love it, and we wanted to get a chance to do something with this craft. And now they can be viewed by such a massive platform… seeing animated content out there – the more that we see, the more that we love. The fact that we get to stand in [the Disney+] catalog… I’m gonna cry. It’s really, really cool.”

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digdoug
10 days ago
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This is definitely worth the cost for Disney+ for the month. (As an animation nerd, I already bought a 3 year subscription, but still..)
Louisville, KY
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