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October 09, 2008

Comments

"First of all, the government that is deemed 'too big' by Palin is the same government that was enlarged exponentially under a Republican president and a compliant Republican Congress."

This seems to be a misuse of "exponential." It does not mean "much bigger."

I blogged earlier about the NSA news, btw. :-) Note also the the ongoing FBI guideline revisions.

Fine post, of course. I tend to take that for granted with you and Hilzoy.

Republicans, focusing on the reprehensible nature of the criminals sought ("terrorists"), seek to usher in a legal regime that treats anyone accused of terrorism as, by virtue of that accusation alone, an actual terrorist.

A modest proposal:

The Democrats in both the House and Senate should draw straws to pick one from among them.

That person should attach, to each and every piece of legislation that curbs the constitutional rights of anyone in the name of national security, the following rider:

"Anyone suspected of participation in, or support for, terrorist activity, will be prohibited from owning or carrying a firearm of any kind".

That will be the end of that Congressperson's career, which is the reason for drawing straws.

But it will also stop any such legislation dead in it's tracks.

Thanks -

That person should attach, to each and every piece of legislation that curbs the constitutional rights of anyone in the name of national security, the following rider:

"Anyone suspected of participation in, or support for, terrorist activity, will be prohibited from owning or carrying a firearm of any kind".

Brilliant.

PS: Thanks Gary. Will re-edit.

Wait, Gary, it can be used as an adverb to describe the rate of growth. Admittedly, it is a bit of an exaggeration because the government didn't grow at an actual exponential rate, but I claim poetic license.

I told him, that in the Kingdom of Tribnia*, by the Natives called Langden, where I had long sojourned, the Bulk of the People consisted wholly of Discoverers, Witnesses, Informers, Accusers, Prosecutors, Evidences, Swearers; together with their several subservient and subaltern Instruments; all under the Colours, the Conduct, and pay of Ministers, and their deputies. The Plots in that Kingdom are usually the Workmanship of those Persons who desire to raise their own Characters of profound Politicians; to restore new Vigor to a crazy Administration; to stifle or divert general Discontents; to fill their Coffers with Forfeitures; and raise or sink the Opinion of publick Credit, as either shall best answer their private Advantage. It is first agreed and settled among them, what suspected Persons shall be accused of a Plot: Then, effectual Care is taken to secure all their Letters and other Papers, and put the Owners in Chains. These Papers are delivered to a Set of Artists, very dextrous in finding out the mysterious Meanings of Words, Syllables and Letters. For Instance, they can decypher a Close-stool to signify a Privy-Council; a Flock of Geese, a Senate; a lame Dog, an Invader; the Plague, a standing Army; a Buzzard, a Minister; the Gout, a High Priest; a Gibbet, a Secretary of State; a Chamber pot, a Committee of Grandees; a Sieve, a Court Lady; a Broom, a Revolution; a Mouse-trap, an Employment; a bottomless Pit, the Treasury; a Sink, a C---t; a Cap and Bells, a Favourite; a broken Reed, a Court of Justice; an empty Tun, a General; a running Sore, the Administration.

When this Method fails, they have two others more effectual; which the Learned among them call Acrosticks and Anagrams. First, they can decypher all initial Letters into political Meanings. Thus, N, shall signify a Plot; B, a regiment of Horse; L,. a Fleet at Sea. Or, secondly, by transposing the Letters of the Alphabet, in any suspected Paper, they can discover the deepest Designs of a discontented Party. So for Example, if I should say in a Letter to a Friend, Our Brother Tom has just got the Piles; a Man of Skill in this Art would discover how the same Letters which compose that Sentence, may be analysed into the following words: Resist, ----- a Plot is brought home ----- The Tour. And this is the Anagrammatick Method.

Arrest that J.Swift guy for betrayal of state secrets to the public.

it is a bit of an exaggeration because the government didn't grow at an actual exponential rate

oh now....

an exponent can be any number (fractional or whole, negative or positive, rational or irrational, real or imaginary).

10 ^ 10 = 10,000,000,000
10 ^ 1.05 = 11.22
10 ^ -5 = 0.00001

Eric,

There is a point about habeas corpus that hardly anyone ever makes: it's not about a terrorists's rights, it's not about a suspect's rights, it's about my rights. If the government which purports to act in my name locks somebody up, then I have the right to know the reason why. Allowing the prisoner to challenge his detention before a judge serves my right, as a citizen, to keep an eye on my government.

Russell,

Love your modest proposal. I'd add IRS audits to it, myself :-)

--TP

Cleek is right that I am right.

TP: Excellent point, and one that I had not previously considered. Thank you.

an exponent can be any number

Hang on a minute. There are numbers, and there are functions; and if you're talking about growth, you're talking about functions - and not every function is exponential.

... not every function is exponential.

But any function is the sum of appropriately weighted sines and cosines, and those are exponential functions, so there :-)

--TP

But any function is the sum of appropriately weighted sines and cosines, and those are exponential functions, so there :-)

What are you, some sort of engineer? There are lots of functions that cannot be represented as weighted sums of complex exponentials.

The excellent rider concerning the banning of gun ownership for suspects in terrorism (of any kind) does not need straws to be drawn. There are safe Dems, progressive and safe Dems who can repeatedly add such a rider without losing their seat. These safe and sound progressive Dems in BOTH Houses of Congress could alternate which of them sticks the rider on with every vote. Of course, it must be made clear what "terrorism" includes: abortion clinic bombings, threats against reproductive health workers/doctors/nurses, threats against women using such clinics, etc.

TP, if you want to regard perpetual oscillation as exponential growth, well, you're a complex person.

OT: more loverly McCain supporters

The incidence of math humor on this blog seems to be periodic. (Talk about a square wave....)

The problem is that the notion of "size" of government is ambiguous. Does it refer the power of the government, or to the number of government organizations and government employees? These concepts don't necessarily go together. Indeed, to the extent that the bureaucracy is aimed at limiting abuses by the government, they're anithetical.

Just ask yourself this: What's the smallest possible government, in terms of number of people involved?

That's right: A dictator.

"What are you, some sort of engineer? There are lots of functions that cannot be represented as weighted sums of complex exponentials."

Fine, the function needs to be integrable (condition for Fourier Transform). I think what tony meant to say is that any polite function can be expressed as the weighted sum.

[I want to say that sine and cosine are complete on L^2]

Eric:

You could really make Gary's head explode, and describe the growth of government as "geometric." :)

Looks like exponential growth to me, by the way...

OT: more loverly McCain supporters

Pinko commie?
Get a job?

What's next, "get a haircut"?

It's 1971 all over again.

When they buried Nixon, they apparently forgot to drive the stake through his heart. His zombie children still walk the earth.

Thanks -

Just ask yourself this: What's the smallest possible government, in terms of number of people involved?

That's right: A dictator.

This is true only if you exclude every member of the military, police and secret police from the government. But then, how is said dictator supposed to maintain control?

Further, dictatorships don't really, historically speaking, cut down on the number of non-police/military organs, they just control them as extensions of their totalitarian, fascist, sultantate, etc. entity.

The closest you can come in modern times to "small government" in the sense of few government employees would be something like Somalia or Taliban era Afghanistan.

But other famous dictatorships - Hitler's for example, Mussolini's, Soviet style, Iranian style, South American flavor, etc. have quite bloated public payrolls.

nobody's in government, in an anarchy

But other famous dictatorships - Hitler's for example, Mussolini's, Soviet style, Iranian style, South American flavor, etc. have quite bloated public payrolls.

The best example would be the GDR.

"Admittedly, it is a bit of an exaggeration because the government didn't grow at an actual exponential rate, but I claim poetic license."

Copyeditors will beat you.

A rare time even a right-winger can be right.

Seriously, ask any copyeditor, or consult any usage guide; it's a well-known misusage. It's innumerate.

American Heritage Guide To Contemporary Usage:

[...] This book confronts traditional bugbears, such as disinterested and lay vs. lie, along with a variety of new challenges, such as seeking closure and begging the question. Commonly confused words, such as impinge and infringe, are teased apart. Notes on science terms explain the difference between popular and technical uses of words like relativity and exponential growth.
Etc. No professional copyeditor would let it pass.

Meanwhile, I heart Gail Collins.

McCain is now mentioning Ayers. Stephen Hayes:

Waukesha, Wisconsin -- In response to a broad question about how Barack Obama "got here" -- presumably got his lead -- John McCain didn't name Bill Ayers but spoke of him directly. McCain said "We don't care about an old washed up terrorist and his wife" who said earlier this decade that he wished they were more successful. (Several in the crowd chanted: "Yes we do!")

McCain noted that Obama had referred to Ayers as "just a guy in his neighborhood," and said "we know that's not true. We need to know the full extent of that relationship to know whether he's telling the truth to the American public."

Sarah Palin, following up, took a shot at the media. "Mainstream media isn't already asking all these questions, you guys have to help us....When will the questions be asked and when will we get answers?!"

UPDATE: The next question came from a black McCain supporter, who reminded McCain of the candidate's plea at the convention for his supporters to do everything possible to ensure a victory. The supporter said: "I doubt that anyone has taken, pardon me, the ass-whoopin' I have taken for doing that." He then implored McCain to go after Barack Obama at the next debate and asked him to raise ACORN and Reverend Wright. "I am begging you, sir," he said, as the crowd stood and applauded.

"Yes, I'll do that," McCain responded, before promising to offer "a positive plan for America's economy."

At first, I was confused, Gary, thinking of Gary Collins. And why not? Love Boat, Charlie's Angels, Vegas, Fantasy Island. How can't you heart that?

As it happens, I was just talking with my sweetie about Love Boat the other night, as we were watching neo-Battlestar Galactica, and considering the possibilities for a spin-off featuring the luxury ship "Cloud 9." Would it be Gopher who was the Cylon, or Isaac?

I think insisting on an exclusively literal use of concepts would unduly limit our language. Also, you'll seldom get all the experts in a field to agree on the literal meaning of anything, so what one ends up with is a rather shallow dictionary definition at best. I suck at maths, so I cannot weigh in on the meaning of "exponential", but I could provide plenty of examples from philosophy.

Also, you'll seldom get all the experts in a field to agree on the literal meaning of anything, so what one ends up with is a rather shallow dictionary definition at best.

That's true for some things, but not for others. For example, exponential really does have a precise well understood meaning that people who do math and science for a living agree on.

Copyeditors will beat you.

A rare time even a right-winger can be right.

I don't see anything in those links that says that "exponential" is correct for y=x^2 but not y=(x^2)/10, they only say that it's incorrect to use it to describe rapid, steady growth.

I agree that it's something that's used sloppily and best avoided but I'd like to see a style guide that defined just how steep the curve needs to be before it's applicable.

"I think insisting on an exclusively literal use of concepts would unduly limit our language."

And so it would, if anyone insisted that all writing be treated alike. As it happens, that's not what professional editors or copyeditors do.

McCain is now running an Ayers ad.

Who knew that Walter Annenberg ran a "radical educational foundation"?

I demand to know what Richard Nixon was thinking of when he appointed Annenberg Ambassador to Great Britain!

And everyone who ever read TV Guide is suspect! You've all been exposed to radical propaganda!

Annenberg was a good friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan! At last, Reagan's radical links are exposed!

You can't make this sh*t up.

Whoops, here is the actual Annenberg link.

Hilzoy recently discussed the case of 17 Chinese nationals that were wrongly detained at Guantanamo and are finally going to be released after a long battle through a Kafka-esque legal system implemented by the Bush administration.

Would that it was so.

For example, exponential really does have a precise well understood meaning that people who do math and science for a living agree on.

The fact that a word is used in a precise, agreed-upon way in one context doesn't mean it isn't used in less precise ways in other contexts.

Quantum, as in e.g. quantum leap, is another example from science; I doubt many of the people who use it in non-scientific contexts understand what it means in physics. That doesn't stop them from using it in new/changing/ imprecise ways; basically, no one -- not even the Academie Francaise -- can stop that process from happening.

I don't see anything in those links that says that "exponential" is correct for y=x^2 but not y=(x^2)/10...

I hope not, because neither of those functions are.

Would that it was so.

Since we're being pedantic: shouldn't that be in the subjunctive?

[Normally I'd put a smiley there, but it's too depressing to smile...]

The fact that a word is used in a precise, agreed-upon way in one context doesn't mean it isn't used in less precise ways in other contexts.

Janie, novakent's original comment claimed that you would seldom get experts in a field to agree on the meaning of such terms. That's the bit I was responding to. Your comment, while possibly correct, doesn't seem relevant to that.

That doesn't stop them from using it in new/changing/ imprecise ways; basically, no one -- not even the Academie Francaise -- can stop that process from happening.

I don't think anyone here is arguing that stopping the wholesale abuse of technical terms is possible; rather, I think the argument is that we should avoid abusing technical terms. It seems Gary and I agree on that point and novakent disagrees.

Turbulence, you're right that my comment isn't relevant to the specific question of whether there's universal agreement among experts on the meaning of exponential. I was responding more to the wider question of whether, as you put it, "we should avoid abusing technical terms."

Abuse is such a loaded word.... And who is the "we" that goes with this "should"? ;)

"Since we're being pedantic: shouldn't that be in the subjunctive?"

Would that it were so.

"That doesn't stop them from using it in new/changing/ imprecise ways; basically, no one -- not even the Academie Francaise -- can stop that process from happening."

But we can die trying.

I object to misuse of "quantum leap," as well.

I'm a descriptivist far more than a prescriptivist, but my guiding light is always towards usage that increases clarity, and decreases confusion. I'll speak up for usages that make a difference in clarity, and not care about those that do not.

It's actually a simple lodestar to follow.

And who is the 'we' that goes with this 'should'? ;)"

All people subject to our royal command.

All people subject to our royal command.

That's what I thought. ;)

Abuse is such a loaded word....

You're right. I'm not very subtle. ;-)

I look it at this way: if you're misusing those terms, you're probably being unclear. Just like I would be unclear if I claimed my couch was Aristotelian; wtf does that mean? This imprecision in writing may reflect a larger imprecision in thought: when I read news articles that misuse technical terms, I question whether the author understands what they're talking about. But worse than that, it scares off people who aren't comfortable with math and science. Many Americans are functionally innumerate and a little scared of all things mathematical, so cloaking your federal spending analysis with words like "exponential" intimidates some of them and makes it harder for them to realize that you may be full of BS. That's not really what we as a society need. I think we need clarity and as much simplicity as the data allows; the issues are complex enough as is.

And who is the "we" that goes with this "should"? ;)

I'd argue we includes anyone with enough of a technical background to know better and anyone whose writing has to get past a copy editor, but that's just because I've given up all hope on the rest of humanity.

Never mind "exponential" or "quantum". It's the obscene misuse of words like "patriot" and "American" that's going to kill us.

--TP

I think the argument is that we should avoid abusing technical terms. It seems Gary and I agree on that point and novakent disagrees.

Well, yes and no. My views on these matters have been shaped mainly by Quine and Eco, but unfortunately I'm way too knackered at the moment to elaborate on this.

More seriously ... I also operate with a mix of descriptive/prescriptive reactions. I'm enough of a linguist to have taught a couple of courses (as an adjunct, and a very temporary one at that) at the college level, and enough of a copy editor to do a fair amount of editing (mostly volunteer, a little of it paid).

In the discussion of exponential and quantum, what's driving my quibbling (or friendly needling?) is that I think these words do in fact already, probably long since, have widely understood and tacitly agreed-upon meanings that are different from the technical meanings. A quick google search yields these items from The Free Dictionary, the first for "exponential" and the second for "quantum leap":

2. Informal very rapid

1. a sudden large increase or advance

And with that, I'm going to try to have the willpower to turn off my computer and go to bed. I'm in Brussels for the month, for work, and it's almost midnight here, and I'm supposed to be at work at 9:00 or so like normal people, instead of keeping my usual outlandish working-at-home hours.

[Turbulence, I was responding to [email protected]:36 and didn't see your latest till I previewed. I suspect we've already laid out the gist and there's no need for me to go another round. But I'll come back tomorrow if I think of anything I want to add. Nighty night.]

A nice piece on Obama's state legislator days.

John McCain didn't name Bill Ayers but spoke of him directly.

Let's see if he says it to Obama's face in the next debate.

My guess is that he won't have the stomach for it, when it comes right down to it. In front of friendly audiences, or through other channels, sure. Face to face, not so much.

But you never know. He doesn't have many options left.

"That one is friends with a terrorist".

My friends, that will be entertainment we can all believe in.

Thanks -

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Interception Modernisation Programme.

[...] The scope of the project - classified top secret - is said by officials to be so vast that it will dwarf the estimated £5 billion ministers have set aside for the identity cards programme. It is intended to fight terrorism and crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say it poses an unprecedented intrusion into ordinary citizens’ lives.

Aimed at placing a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain, it will dwarf other “big brother” surveillance projects such as the number plate recognition system and the spread of CCTV.

Charlie Stross has more.

This thread gives going off on tangents a bad name [and now I expect one of you math literalists to tell me I used "tangent" incorrectly.]

BTW, russell your bill attachment idea is wicked excellent!

A modern dictatorship based on free market principles would of course outsource everything to contractors and have no need for public employees (apart from a private secretary). The king is the state is the government literally in this scenario.

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