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February 7, 2000

The California primary is a month from today, and I think I'm finally getting a handle on how it works. Until today, I thought I'd be able to vote for any candidate on the ballot, regardless of party, and it turns out that's true. All votes will be counted and announced as popular vote totals. However, the political parties will use only the votes of their own members to determine how delegates to the conventions are apportioned. This was news to me when I heard it today from the county clerk's office.

I was a bit put off when I first grasped how this was going to work, but on second thought it seems a fair deal all around. I'm not stuck voting for a Democrat, and I don't have to feel my vote is wasted, even if it doesn't count toward nominating a candidate. Wouldn't it be nice to embarrass the Republicans by giving McCain a popular vote win, even if Bush gets the most delegates because party regulars stay with the establishment candidate? If, in fact, Bush still is the choice of party regulars.

Not that party hacks of any persuasion have any shame.

There's still a month to figure out how best to use my vote, not that I have any illusion that a single vote will turn the tide. But it's important to me to exercise my democratic privilege. I always try to make a serious attempt to understand enough so that my vote means something, at least to me. Whichever way the tide turns, my drop in the bucket will have the force of conviction behind it.

Yahoo! was offline for three hours today. An organized group of hackers apparently sabotaged the site this morning. Since it's the most popular site on the Internet, this was a demonstration of how vulnerable anyone relying on technology is, in the end.

We are at the mercy of the ethically challenged geeks who have less regard for their fellow human beings than they do for their capacity to manipulate. They are mesmerized by their own ability to write code that will make the Net do what they want, affecting the lives of millions of people. It doesn't seem likely that they'll stop at this, either. If they did this to demonstrate their power, they've succeeded in getting the world's attention. But to do anything less intrusive as their next stunt would be a step backward, and they'd see it as an admission that they had reached the limit of their ability.

Since this kind of person doesn't think his ability has limits, the next target has to be bigger, and the result has to be more damaging. This is a criminal act that should be pursued and punished as vigorously as any other crime. At some point, lives will be at stake, when power grids go down and hospitals are unable to treat critical patients. The capabilities of these kinds of people are mind-boggling, and their capacity to pull it off, in spite of the destruction they are deliberately responsible for, is frightening.

Let's say I'm wrong. Let's say this was a one-time work of mischief by a group just trying to see if they can do it. (This is highly improbable, but let's say it.) Even if this had been a mere prank, it could easily serve as a challenge to the next group of terrorists, who might have a more sinister agenda. I don't think it's unreasonable or paranoid to say that this kind of behavior is destructive to the fabric of society, which is tenuous enough these days.

There are too many of us, and we must live too closely together, to allow the social contract to be endangered on this level. Look at any high school to see how overcrowding threatens our ability to deal with each other peaceably. Anything requiring that much effort shouldn't be compromised on the whim of an outsider with nothing better to do.

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