True to form, RR readers couldn’t wait for me to get my act together and post on the 6jan17 intelligence community report about Russia meddling in our 2016 election. The post ‘The Russians did it’ appeared in due time, but not before its dissection commanded quite a bit of real estate in the 6jan17 sandbox. Therein a longtime reader, self-declared left-libertarian (although we’re still looking for the libertarian part), good friend, and stalwart member of the RR commentariat takes the side of DNI Clapper and tribe to maintain that their report gives definitive proof that 1) the Russians hacked the emails, 2) it was a dastardly deed the fruits of which should have been eschewed by all Republicans as they were by Democrats, and 3) it most likely put a thumb under the electoral scale to benefit The Donald.
My conclusion about Russia’s involvement subsumes Trump’s skepticism and goes a bit beyond to wonder what all the fuss is about, or in the vein of Claude Rains' immortal line in Rick’s saloon, “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” (here) In direct response to which I hubristically wrote – “… your comments here clearly reveal that you interpret the report as intended by the powers that be. But you can bet the ranch that, to cover their collective asses, Clapper and team wordsmithed that little production in the manner that I and people like me are trained to parse the language - it is part of their professional kit. In my trade you also learn it as you study algorithmics and become an algorist who can actually identify salient contingencies, and then generate code that automatically dissects and handles such complexities. To the uninitiated it is all a smooth amalgam ;-)”
The potential contours of Russia’s involvement are indeed complex given the number of agents involved – here and overseas – who act through the various possible time lines. I thought of naming all the agents and delineating their relationships in a grand influence factors diagram (here) to illustrate and substantiate my claim about the beneficial role of algorithmics to understand the purposefully foggy and nuanced report presented to us last Friday. But that seemed like too much work for what may wind up with my confusing RR readers with people who really cared. So as Plan B it occurred to me that a fun little problem might illustrate the kind of thinking that Team Clapper put into the report and therefore its equivalent required to properly understand it.
Six people need to cross the river. They have a canoe that can carry at most three people. Having various abilities and handicaps, each of them alone in the canoe can paddle it across the river in 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 units of time. With two paddling, the crossing time is one unit less than the slowest paddler’s time. With three paddling the crossing time is that of the middle paddler. What crossing scheme – sequence of crossings with identified paddlers – yields the minimum time to deliver all six from bank A to bank B? This problem is simple enough to be solved with pencil and paper. So I invite readers to post their solutions in the comments – an easy way is write down the sequence of crossings with 4-tuples like (3,5,0,4), (3,0,0,7), (1,8,13,14), … where the first three numbers denote paddlers by their solo times (zero is an empty seat), and the fourth number is the tally of the total time elapsed after that crossing.
Here the interesting aspect that communicates the type of thinking required is when you consider an algorithm that can be programmed to have a computer find the optimum solution. In fact I am working with a SESF TechMentor student to develop a genetic algorithm (GA) that will solve this problem. A critical component of the GA software will be another sub-algo that can quickly determine whether a solution is sane or not. Insane solutions don’t terminate within a reasonable number of crossings, or do things like have an empty canoe (0,0,0,15) crossing, or containing paddler(s) who weren’t on the embarking bank of the river, or … . These insane contingencies must be identified and code generated to efficiently detect them in order to reject the solution as the GA continues its ‘evolutionary’ effort to find ever better solutions.
IMHO, an exercise like this illustrates the kind of analytical dissections also required to generate the various contingencies AND how they are reported that relate to our email hacking imbroglio, and reports of it coming from people in the government, media, political parties, and NGO individuals. Most certainly our intelligence analysts have to exercise this kind of disciplined critical thinking to do their work. Here in our comment streams as we debate issues we often (almost always?) wander off topic, ignore the orthogonality of factors, misattribute meanings, and so on. I’m sure some of these malaprops are also intentional to inject humor or advance an ideological agenda. Mea culpa – as an ideologue and commentator I most certainly try to choose words with which to best frame my arguments; but I never intentionally attempt to mislead or derail the debate’s progress for the simple reason that I may be wrong and would not discover my error if I diverted or screwed up the discussion.
Having said all that, now I’m not sure that I’ve really pushed the peanut ahead. But I have put a stake in the ground for future reference for anyone to cite when/if we really get serious about seeking resolution rather than circling the barn or just bouncing things off the wall ;-)