Wednesday, February 23, 2005



Wouldn't it be nice if the Oscars divided up the awards in a fair and deserving way? (Well, no it wouldn't, actually, because what fun would Oscar night be if it was sensible and predictable.)

How (at least one winner each night asks) can you judge what is the best film or the best acting? Candidates for "best" are not what a mathematician might call "simply ordered sets" with a way to rank every candidate better or worse than every other.

So here's a plan my wife and I devised to spread out some awards in an equitable way. Give Scorsese the Oscar for directing "The Aviator". It's got the big scope and myriad pieces working together that show -- once again -- that Scorsese is one of the all-time great film directors. Give best actor to Foxx for "Ray" and to (the other) Hilary (the one who spells her name with one "l" and is not running for President) for "Million $$ Baby". And give "Sideways" the best picture Oscar because it's the most original, surprising, and most enjoyably watchable film of them all.

Oscars, of course, are not decided by back-room politics and compromise (except when lobbying for the film company's Oscar promotion services). Each award is separately decided on a vote that is independent of every other. (At least that is what they say when the "suits" from the accounting company walk out with the envelopes.)

There is a continuing human desire, though, to work out the results of elections in advance, without relying completely on the messiness of elections. In presidential elections this desire can be particularly strong in places where your brother is, say, the governor of the state, or your ally is the political boss of some really big city in a swing state where the vote is close.

Given the natural desire to win elections, which some people from time to time push beyond the limit of allowing a fair vote and counting it accurately, one growing trend seems to me extremely risky. That is the desire to have e-lections, or elections run by computer.

I have just removed, at great effort, a lot of bad programs that were on my computer. The infestation was so bad, I had porn sites starting up while I was running anti-spyware programming. I had malware (a general term for any bad software) that blocked my anti-spyware program as it was trying to block the malware. I ran one spyware program that took out hundreds of bad programs, ran another that took out another couple dozen, and then ran the first again which found some more.

There are, for an example of malware, a number of programs that will run on a user's browser and hijack it. When the user clicks on a link on company A's web page to buy something from company B, it will switch the information in the link to give the credit for the referral to company C who will then get the commission instead of company A.

It is very hard to monitor the safety, accuracy, and contents of exactly what a computer is doing these days. Entrusting elections, at the current state of the art, to computers, is to allow a huge hole in the security of elections. It is way too easy for people (who want an election to have the result they prefer) to breach the security of the computers running the election. And it is too hard, at the current state of the art, to prevent or even detect it.

Beware the person who argues that e-lections are safe.

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