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  1. #991
    ^^^ (Continued)

    The earliest English usage guides—the precursors to dictionaries as we know them today—sprang up as English wealth was expanding from the aristocracy to the merchant class, and doubled as guides to etiquette. They were part of the same prescriptivist impulse that motivates many of the grammar scolds of the 21st century: Daniel Defoe wanted to establish an English “academy” that would inject “purity and propriety of style” into the newly literarily-legitimized English language; Jonathan Swift and John Dryden entertained similar aspirations to create early forms of the governmental language protections that France and Spain enacted in attempts to keep their languages “pure.”

    The men’s desires for English, which arose from their love for English, were a response to their historical moment: In an age of newfound social and economic mobility, good grammar—good, patriotic English grammar—became seen as a sign not just of one’s education, but of one’s social standing and worth. In 1762, Robert Lowth, the bishop of London, published A Short Introduction to British Grammar: With Critical Notes. Lowth’s preface declared that “it is with reason expected of every person of a liberal education, and it is indispensably required of everyone who undertakes to inform or entertain the public, that he should be able to express himself with propriety and accuracy.” His manual was one of many guides that were sold, Stamper notes, under the general assumption that “good manners, good morality, and good grammar all go hand in hand.”

    It’s an idea that remains with us, embedded in Lynne Truss’s attack on the use of “it’s” as a possessive pronoun, and in the tagline of the popular Facebook group The Official Grammar Police (“I am judging you’re your grammar”). It’s an idea that lingers, as well, in the businessman-turned-self-appointed-grammarian N.M. Gwynne’s argument, made in his 2013 book The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English, that good grammar is a means not just to social respectability, but to happiness itself. (“In summary of the proof: Grammar is the science of using words rightly, leading to thinking rightly, leading to deciding rightly, without which—as both common sense and experience show—happiness is impossible. Therefore, happiness depends at least partly on good grammar.”)

    These notions of the normality—and, indeed, the morality—of “good English” complicate Stamper’s own professional humility. Language may be a tool of human communication, and dictionaries may simply record the shape of those tools as they exist within a particular moment in time; but the reality, as Stamper well knows, is much more complex than her simple observe-record-define formula might suggest. The history of the dictionary is not merely a history of English being defended, but also a history of dictionaries being debated: What should dictionaries do, actually? Should they prescribe English usage? Should they proscribe it?

    This is the paradox of the English dictionary, and it is one that quietly infuses Stamper’s delightful history of that product: A dictionary is a determinedly apolitical document that will always be, to some extent, determinedly politicized. Its pages, whether tangible or digital, will always offer an awkward interplay between the normal and the normative. Samuel Johnson, the ur-lexicographer (and a laborer who argued that dictionary-writing required “neither the light of learning, nor the activity of genius,” but merely “the proper toil of artless industry”), nonetheless resisted including Americanisms in A Dictionary of the English Language; Noah Webster, for reasons both opposite and identical, resisted including British conventions in his American dictionary.

    In 2003, Merriam-Webster, using the typical lexicographical method—observe words in the wild; exhaustively document evidence of new usages; update words’ entries accordingly—updated its definition for “marriage” to acknowledge that same-sex couples were entering that institution. The new definition provoked a write-in campaign to Merriam-Webster, accusing the dictionary of politics-via-lexicon. The anger was extremely predictable. Because—and this is the other thing a history of dictionaries will make abundantly clear—words are not merely words, and not merely tools. They are intimate. They are extensions of ourselves. They are one of the few immediate ways we have to take that small piece of reality that is ours—the mind, the self, the soul, choose whichever word in the dictionary seems most apt to you—and offer it to other people.

    Word by Word, as it happens, enters the scene during a time of anxiety about those words—in American English, in particular. “Fake news” and “alternative facts” and the moment’s general epistemic panics come with some other panicky questions: Do words, in the end, matter? Can they be used, still, to share information and change minds? Language has long been a weapon, and a front, in the American culture wars (see: marriage, n., the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law). Now, in a very real sense, it is also the thing being fought for. Facts, meaning, a culture enabled by shared truths—these are all, currently, at stake. Dictionaries (and Merriam-Webster, in particular) are doing their own part in all this. They are, in bids for continued relevance, operating more and more as quasi-journalistic outlets. They are functioning not merely as reference works or as histories, but also as soft suggestions that the ground beneath us can still be “common.”

    It’s hard to read Stamper’s eloquent love letter to letters themselves and not come away convinced that dictionaries, stodgy and nimble and proud and humble and old and new, are something else, too: metaphors. For linguistic utilitarianism, for the productive interplay between the amateur and the professional, for the creative communal energies that will tend to drive the most thriving cultures. And for the notion that progress has a way of ignoring whatever rules might be enacted to prevent it. “It’s” becomes “its,” and “you’re” becomes “your” becomes “ur,” and lightning fires have not, as yet, burned it all down. And taco, sari, woke, multicultural, love—there they all are, in the dictionary, not just because they are useful vessels of human connection, but also because, in the dictionary, inclusion is the default setting. Diction is more useful when it is varied. Grammar is more fun when it allows for liberties to be taken with it. Language is more effective when it is quirky, and experimental, and above all welcoming—whatever, and irregardless of what, the scolds might have to say about it.

  2. #992
    From the New York Times online...

    The Stone

    Democracy Is for the Gods

    It should be no surprise that humans cannot sustain it.

    By Costica Bradatan

    Mr. Bradatan is a professor and author.

    July 5, 2019

    “Why do democracies fail?”

    We’ve heard that question a lot in the past few years, in books, on opinion pages and cable news shows, and in an increasingly anxious public debate. But I almost always find myself answering the question with another question: Why shouldn’t they?

    History — the only true guide we have on this matter — has shown us that democracy is rare and fleeting. It flares up almost mysteriously in some fortunate place or another, and then fades out, it seems, just as mysteriously. Genuine democracy is difficult to achieve and once achieved, fragile. In the grand scheme of human events, it is the exception, not the rule.

    Despite democracy’s elusive nature, its core idea is disarmingly simple: As members of a community, we should have an equal say in how we conduct our life together. “In democracy as it ought to be,” writes Paul Woodruff in his 2006 book “First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea,” “all adults are free to chime in, to join the conversation on how they should arrange their life together. And no one is left free to enjoy the unchecked power that leads to arrogance and abuse.” Have you ever heard of anything more reasonable? But who says we are reasonable?

    Fundamentally, humans are not predisposed to living democratically. One can even make the point that democracy is “unnatural” because it goes against our vital instincts and impulses. What’s most natural to us, just as to any living creature, is to seek to survive and reproduce. And for that purpose, we assert ourselves — relentlessly, unwittingly, savagely — against others: We push them aside, overstep them, overthrow them, even crush them if necessary. Behind the smiling facade of human civilization, there is at work the same blind drive toward self-assertion that we find in the animal realm.
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    Just scratch the surface of the human community and soon you will find the horde. It is the “unreasoning and unreasonable human nature,” writes the zoologist Konrad Lorenz in his book “On Aggression,” that pushes “two political parties or religions with amazingly similar programs of salvation to fight each other bitterly,” just as it compels “an Alexander or a Napoleon to sacrifice millions of lives in his attempt to unite the world under his scepter.” World history, for the most part, is the story of excessively self-assertive individuals in search of various scepters.

    It doesn’t help matters that, once such an individual has been enthroned, others are only too eager to submit to him. It is as though, in his illustrious presence, they realize they have too much freedom on their hands, which they find suddenly oppressive. In Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” the Grand Inquisitor says: “There is no more ceaseless or tormenting care for man, as long as he remains free, than to find someone to bow down to as soon as possible.” And what a sweet surrender! Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini were all smooth talkers, charmers of crowds and great political seducers.

    Their relationship with the crowd was particularly intimate. For in regimes of this kind, whenever power is used and displayed, the effect is profoundly erotic. What we see, for instance, in “The Triumph of the Will” (thanks, in good measure, to Leni Riefenstahl’s perverse genius), is people experiencing a sort of collective ecstasy. The seducer’s pronouncements may be empty, even nonsensical, but that matters little; each one brings the aroused crowd to new heights of pleasure. He can do whatever he likes with the enraptured followers now. They will submit to any of their master’s fancies.

    This is, roughly, the human context against which the democratic idea emerges. No wonder that it is a losing battle. Genuine democracy doesn’t make grand promises, does not seduce or charm, but only aspires to a certain measure of human dignity. It is not erotic. Compared to what happens in populist regimes, it is a frigid affair. Who in his right mind would choose the dull responsibilities of democracy over the instant gratification a demagogue will provide? Frigidity over boundless ecstasy? And yet, despite all this, the democratic idea has come close to embodiment a few times in history — moments of grace when humanity almost managed to surprise itself.

    One element that is needed for democracy to emerge is a sense of humility. A humility at once collective and internalized, penetrating, even visionary, yet true. The kind of humility that is comfortable in its own skin, one that, because it knows its worth and its limits, can even laugh at itself. A humility that, having seen many a crazy thing and learned to tolerate them, has become wise and patient. To be a true democrat, in other words, is to understand that when it comes to the business of living together, you are no better than the others, and to act accordingly. To live democratically is, mainly, to deal in failure and imperfection, and to entertain few illusions about human society. The institutions of democracy, its norms and mechanisms, should embody a vision of human beings as deficient, flawed and imperfect.

    Ancient Athenian democracy devised two institutions that fleshed out this vision. First, sortition: the appointment of public officials by lot. Given the fundamental equality of rights that all Athenian citizens — that is, free male adults — enjoyed, the most logical means of access to positions of leadership was random selection. Indeed, for the Athenian democrats, elections would have struck at the heart of democracy: They would have allowed some people to assert themselves, arrogantly and unjustly, against the others.

    The other fittingly imperfect Athenian institution was ostracization. When one of the citizens was becoming a bit too popular — too much of a charmer — Athenians would vote him out of the city for ten years by inscribing his name on bits of pottery. It was not punishment for something the charmer may have done, but a pre-emptive measure against what he might do if left unchecked. Athenians knew that they were too vulnerable and too flawed to resist political seduction (their complicated affair with Alcibiades gave them ample proof of that), and promptly denied themselves the pleasure. Man-made as it is, democracy is fragile and of a weak constitution — better not to put it to the test.

    After Athens’ radical experiment in equality, democracy has resurfaced elsewhere, but often in forms that the ancient Athenians would probably have trouble calling democratic. For instance, much of today’s American democracy (one of the best versions on the market right now) would by Athenian standards be judged “oligarchic.” It’s the fortunate wealthy few (hoi oligoi) who typically decide here not only the rules of the political game, but also who wins and who loses. Ironically, the system favors what we desperately wanted to avoid when we opted for democracy in the first place: the power-hungry, arrogant, oppressively self-assertive political animal.

    Yet we should not be surprised. “If there were a people of gods, it would govern itself democratically,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote. “So perfect a form of government is not for men.” Democracy is so hard to find in the human world that most of the time when we speak of it, we refer to a remote ideal rather than a fact. That’s what democracy is ultimately about: an ideal that people attempt to put into practice from time to time. Never adequately and never for long — always clumsily, timidly, as though for a trial period.

    Yet democracy is one of those elusive things — happiness is another — whose promise, even if perpetually deferred, is more important than its actual existence. We may never get it, but we cannot afford to stop dreaming of it.

    Costica Bradatan is the author, most recently, of “Dying for Ideas. The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers,” and the religion editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books.
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  3. #993
    From the New York Times online ...

    THE STONE

    Do We Really Understand ‘Fake News’?

    We think we are sharing facts, but we are really expressing emotions in the outrage factory.

    By Michael P. Lynch

    Mr. Lynch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut and the author of several books.

    Sept. 23, 2019

    Given how much it’s talked, tweeted about and worried over, you’d think we’d know a lot about fake news. And in some sense, we do. We know that false stories posing as legitimate journalism have been used to try to sway elections; we know they help spread conspiracy theories; they may even cause false memories. And yet we also know that the term “fake news” has become a trope, so widely used and abused that it no longer serves its original function.

    Why is that? And why, given all our supposed knowledge of it, is fake news — the actual phenomenon — still effective? Reflection on our emotions, together with a little help from contemporary philosophy of language and neuroscience, suggests an answer to both questions.

    We are often confused about the role that emotion plays in our lives. For one thing, we like to think, with Plato, that reason drives the chariot of our mind and keeps the unruly wild horses of emotion in line. But most people would probably admit that much of the time, Hume was closer to the truth when he said that reason is the slave of the passions. Moreover, we often confuse our feelings with reality itself: Something makes us feel bad, and so we say it is bad.

    As a result, our everyday acts of communication can function as vehicles for emotion without our noticing it. This was a point highlighted by mid-20th century philosophers of language often called “expressivists.” Their point was that people sometimes think they are talking about facts when they are really expressing themselves emotionally. The expressivists applied this thought quite widely to all ethical communication about right or wrong, good or bad. But even if we don’t go that far, their insight says something about what is going on when we share or retweet news posts — fake or otherwise — online.

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    When sharing or retweeting, we like to think of ourselves as engaging in what philosophers would call an act of testimony — trying to convey or endorse knowledge. Not always, of course; happily, irony still exists. Yet insincere sharing or retweeting is not the norm — as evidenced by the fact that most people feel obligated to signal that retweets aren’t endorsements. That wouldn’t make sense if the default wasn’t that shares and retweets are endorsements.

    But what if we are just confused about the way communication actually functions online? Clues can be found in both what we do and don’t do when sharing content online.

    Let’s start with what we don’t do. Current research estimates that at least 60 percent of news stories shared online have not even been read by the person sharing them. As an author of one study summed up the matter, “People are more willing to share an article than read it.” On the other hand, what we do is share content that gets people riled up. Research has found that the best predictor of sharing is strong emotions — both emotions like affection (think posts about cute kittens) and emotions like moral outrage. Studies suggest that morally laden emotions are particularly effective: every moral sentiment in a tweet increases by 20 percent its chances of being shared. And social media may just pump up our feelings. Acts that don’t elicit as much outrage offline, for example, elicit more online, perhaps because the social benefits of outrage still exist without the normal risks.

    This should tell us that conveying knowledge isn’t the primary reason news stories are shared. As the influential contemporary philosopher Ruth Millikan puts it, the stabilizing function of a communicative act is whatever explains why that act continues to persist. The stabilizing function of yelling “Air ball!” at a basketball player trying to make a free throw is to distract him. It may do other things too — amuse people, or even describe what, in fact, turns out to be an air ball. But the reason people continue to yell “Air ball!” it is that it is distracting. Someone new to the game could conceivably get this backward. They might think that people are warning the player or predicting how the shot is going to fall. Such interpretations would be a misunderstanding the act’s stabilizing function.

    Something like this is happening on a massive scale on social media. We are like the person just described, new to the game of basketball. We think we are sharing news stories in order to do one thing, like transfer knowledge, but much of the time aren’t really trying to do that at all — whatever we may consciously think. If we were, we would presumably have read the piece that we’re sharing. But most of us don’t. So, what are we doing?

    I think it is plausible that the stabilizing function of the practice of sharing content online is to express our emotions. In particular, when it comes to sharing political news stories, we often are signaling our outrage and thereby hoping that others will share it. That’s one way that tribes are built and social norms enforced. Social media is an outrage factory. And paradoxically, it works because most folks aren’t aware, or don’t want to be aware, of this point.

    Yet it is just this lack of awareness that trolls and other workers in the misinformation industrial complex find so useful. Purveyors of deliberate but disguised falsehoods are keenly aware that when we share, we’re doing something different from what we think we’re doing. Our confusion is what makes us such easy marks.

    The expressivists’ insight also nicely explains why the term “fake news” itself has changed its use. It has become a vehicle for expressing our hostility, similar to yelling “boo” at a sports game. That’s an irony all too representative of our age of absurdity. Even our attempts to distinguish truth from falsity turn into screams of outrage.

    Michael Patrick Lynch is a professor of philosophy and director of the Humanities Institute at University of Connecticut and the author, most recently, of”Know-it-All Society: Truth and Arrogance in Political Culture.”
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  4. #994
    SMC Tollways appeals for understanding amid SLEX gridlock, ongoing construction

    Rosette Adel (Philstar.com) - September 25, 2019 - 1:40pm

    MANILA, Philippines — San Miguel Corporation Tollways on Wednesday sought for public’s understanding amid the heavy traffic being experienced along South Luzon Expressway.

    Hashtag "#SLEX" trended Wednesday as several commuters and motorists took to Twitter to complain about the current traffic jam in the area.

    SLEX reported heavy traffic in Alabang Viaduct northbound due to the ongoing Skyway extension project.

    “Hinihingi po naming ang inyong pang unawa. Ang proyekto na ito ay para sa kapakanan nating lahat. Konting tiis lang po. Sa pagtatapos ng proyekto ito, higit pong giginhawa ang daloy ng trapiko,” SMC Tollways said in a statement.

    (We ask for your understanding. This project is for the benefit of everyone. Just bear with us for a little bit. After completion of project, we will have a smooth traffic flow.)

    “Ginagawa po naming ang lahat upang matapos ang construction sa lalong madaling panahon,” it added.

    (We are doing everything to finish the construction as soon as possible.)

    In a traffic advisory, SLEX said it closed the Lane 3 northbound or the outermost lane afer Alabang viaduct to traffic starting Tuesday evening.

    SLEX said it is also implementing stop and go traffic scheme at the East Service Road near Kawasaki Area.

    Meanwhile, to help ease traffic, SLEX said Buendia to Plaza Dilao Section of Skyway Stage 3 is temporarily open to Class 1 only.

    “This section may be closed anytime to give way to construction related activities,” the advisory read.

    “Please bear with us for the temporary inconvenience ,” it also said.

    As of posting, SLEX is still among the top trending topics in the Philippines with more than 1,300 tweets of online users reporting traffic in the area.
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  5. #995
    Urban planner blames politics for inaction on 'catastrophic' traffic predicted 43 years ago

    Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - October 14, 2019 - 12:31pm

    MANILA, Philippines — Urban planning expert Felino "Jun" Palafox Jr. blamed "too much politics" and lack of continuity and institutional memory as reasons behind Metro Manila's "catastrophic" traffic, which he said was already predicted to happen 43 years ago.

    "I think too much politics, lack of continuity and institutional memory because sometimes some administrations when they come in new, they ignore previous planning initiatives and so on. Maybe because of our three-year election, six-year election so it's short term and opportunistic not long term and visionary," Palafox said in an interview Monday over ANC's "Early Edition."

    "So the past 43 years, it was do nothing or do little that's why we have catastrophic traffic right now," he said, adding that what transport and worker groups alike are calling a mass transportation crisis today was predicted as early as 43 years ago.

    Palafox, who has been involved in urban planning for more than four decades cited four examples of projects that should have long been accomplished, namely the proposal of eight light rail transit lines which should have been completed by 1992, the subway system which was proposed in 1971 and the Circumferential Road 6 which was proposed in 1945.

    He pointed to the World Bank-funded Manila Development Planning Project in 1976 where he served as senior planner and team leader for development planning. According to him, many recommendations had already been put forward at the time.

    "We said that time that the 'do-nothing' scenario, we will have catastrophic traffic, flooding, [unpreparedness] for disasters, lack of decent housing, garbage problem[s], water supply crisis, power, and so on," he said.

    A World Bank document on the aforementioned project mentions that, "[Metro Manila's] most pressing problems relate to shelter, health and nutrition, urban transport and institutional capabilities."

    The report and recommendation also went on to identify that, "The Metropolitan Manila Area also suffers from major transportation problems [as] chronic congestion has become a common condition because of population growth and a rapid growth in the number of private passenger vehicles."

    According to its abstract, the 1976 Manila Development Project included recommendations on "road construction and rehabilitation, the provision of traffic signals, equipment for a central traffic control center, mobile radios for police traffic control, geometric improvements of junctions, road marking paint; improvement of footpaths, and construction of bus shelter[s]."

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan's proposed "Magna Carta of Dignified Commuting" filed on July 24 similarly pushes for adequate transportation services and functional mobility infrastructure, among other provisions geared towards uplifting the quality of life for everyday commuters.

    Palafox said that the aforementioned infrastructure projects only officially began work now despite all having been proposed decades ago.

    "It's only now under the Duterte administration that Circumferential Road 6 [is] being done," he said. "The subway is [also] being started now which [was] proposed more than four decades ago."

    Palafox's interview comes after Metro Manila's traffic congestion problem were again thrust into the spotlight after presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo accepted a "challenge" to commute to the Malacañan Palace after asserting that there was no transportation crisis.

    A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group showed Metro Manila's traffic congestion was the third-worst in Southeast Asia, costing motorists and commuters alike an average of more than an hour lost in traffic.

    Metropolitan Manila Development Authority data from 2018 revealed that EDSA carried an average of around 402,000 vehicles per day, far exceeding its supposed capacity of just 288,000 vehicles.

    Meanwhile, statistics from the Japan International Cooperation Agency released that same year said that traffic congestion now costs the Philippines P3.5 billion in "lost opportunities" each day.
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