Is would-be VP Sarah Palin a hacker?

Does the GOP VP nominee possess hidden computer skills? Can she possibly bring the White House into the 21st century, technologically at least? Cringely has a few thoughts.

As we've learned over the last few days, the presumptive GOP candidate for vice president is many things: a reformist governor, a hunter, an ex-beauty queen, a mother of five, a physical fitness nut, and a lover of caribou burgers.

But is she a hacker?

According to the Anchorage Daily News she is. In a front page story from September 2004, the ADN describes Palin thusly:

Sarah Palin never thought of herself as an investigator.....Yet there she was, hacking uncomfortably into Randy Ruedrich's computer, looking for evidence that the state Republican Party boss had broken the state ethics law while a member of the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

In the great north, where political corruption vies with oil and gas for the state's primary export, it seems Palin was asked to rummage around former state GOP leader Ruedrich's hard drive.

... The next week, when Palin went back to work at the AOGCC, she noticed that Ruedrich had removed his pictures from the walls and the personal effects from his desk. But as she and an AOGCC technician worked their way around his computer password at the behest of an assistant attorney general in Fairbanks, they found his cleanup had not extended to his electronic files.

The technician "said it looked like he tried to delete this, but she knew a way to go around and get some of the deleted stuff," Palin said in an interview. "I didn't know what I was looking for, but I was there."

Palin found dozens of e-mail messages and documents stacked up in trash folders, many showing work Ruedrich had been doing for the Republican Party and others showing how closely he worked with at least one company he was supposed to be regulating.

Obviously they don't see a lot of hackers up in polar bear country, because it doesn't look like Palin did more than some basic electronic dumpster diving in Ruedrich's trash can. But it is reassuring to note that at least someone on the Elephant ticket knows something about computers, after McCain's admission to complete and utter ignorance of all things digital [video].

We don't yet know what Obama's geek cred is. But I'll bet $50 he's a Mac and not a PC.

Meanwhile, another kerfuffle has arisen over Palin's Wikipedia entry, which got edited over a thousand times since last week, starting just before she got the surprise nod from Daddy Mc. At least one of the editors admits to being a McCain volunteer, but it's been a free-for-all ever since with both sides weighing in heavily. The page is now "semi-protected," which in Wikpedia-speak means you can't edit it anonymously.

A key point of contention: ongoing ethics investigations of Palin herself, which some predict could bring her historic candidacy to a rapid Thomas Eagleton-like demise.

And if it does, I have three words of advice to the McCain camp: Draft Paris Hilton. She's tanned, she's rested, she's ready, and she could teach his campaign a thing or two about manipulating the Internet for fame and fortune.

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Robert X. Cringely

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