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State of Alaska Prints Out Palin's E-Mails; Online Distribution 'Impractical' 516

ZipK writes "Three years after numerous citizens and news organizations requested the release of Sarah Palin's gubernatorial e-mails, the State of Alaska is finally making ready to make them available. In print. In Juneau. News organizations must fly or sail to Juneau and pick up the 24,000 page disclosure in person. The state claims it impractical to release the original electronic versions of the e-mails, so the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, Mother Jones, ProPublica and MSNBC each plan to turn some or all of the printouts back into searchable, easily distributed electronic data. Thanks, Alaska." Where's WikiLeaks North?
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State of Alaska Prints Out Palin's E-Mails; Online Distribution 'Impractical'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:13AM (#36400046)

    Do you realize how long that internet tube would have to be to reach Alaska?

    • Do you realize how long that internet tube would have to be to reach Alaska?

      If they had some clever programmers they could insert data packets into any air bubbles in the oil pipeline already coming from Alaska.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They're electronic mail. E-mail. They are in electronic form to begin with. The state is already online or else e-mail wouldn't be in use. WTF is the difficulty here? What's the good, solid, gee-golly-just-no-way-around-it reason for this?

        Is this like those Baby Boomer MBA managers who, despite sitting at a decent computer workstation, still insist on having their secretary print out each of their memos and e-mails? For no good reason except they just really hate trees or something?

        (Note, any "eyestra

        • by lxs ( 131946 )

          My guess is that either they are scared of faulty pdf redaction or they do it out of spite, like paying a loan back in pennies.

          • by dougmc ( 70836 )

            Pretty sure it's the pennies thing -- they know they *have* to do it, but don't have to make it easy for you.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by dead_user ( 1989356 )
            Another reason would be that a government typically charges $1 per page for Public Records Requests. So not only does it make it harder to scan through data, it makes the barrier to entry much higher. In this case, $24,000 higher. That's per news outlet that wants a copy. When I worked for a local municipality we would constantly get requests for vendor lists and taxpayer lists. They cost about $3500 to $7000 each, depending on the list. 99% would say never mind. Now, to be fair, these were people lo
        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:45AM (#36400578) Journal
          It's almost as though somebody knows that they are legally obligated to release certain documents; but also knows that the law nowhere requires that they remove the gigantic stick from their ass before doing so(plus, public records laws often allow some sort of cost recovery fee, so printing them all out will allow you to stick it to those uppity 'journalists' and their 'transparency' to a much greater extent...)

          I'm strongly suspecting that, unless s/he happens to be a kool-aid drinking Palinista, the relevant IT person probably yawned and had the stuff packaged up in 20 minutes(probably in an Outlook 2003 .pst; but electronic and easily internet-transmissible at least). The bitter; but legally obligated, records handling person then presumably took over...
        • by dintech ( 998802 )

          It wouldn't surprise me if everything is in various Yahoo accounts and they have no idea how to get them out other than hit the big print button.

          • Except they couldn't pay a 17 year old kid ten dollars to make an Adobe PDF printer default and write a script to batch-print all of them ... so when they hit they hit print once they wind up with ... pdfs!
            Then you pay the kid ten more dollars to "combine all the pdfs with Adobe" into a big hash and produce 25 USB-stick copies of the archive and a server copy with backup. Throw in $5 for Pizza Overhead for the kid.

            Seriously. It's like they're trying to make themselves known forever to be obtuse.

        • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:52AM (#36400732)

          The difficulty is nothing. This is done on purpose to make it as hard as possible to get at the materials without doing something illegal. It's otherwise known as skirting the law.

          • It's known as "Abiding by the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law". "Skirting" a law involves finding a way to not have to obey it at all without strictly breaking it.

            In this case, "skirting" would likely involve claiming some kind of executive privacy privilege that exempts them from having to release the emails. Much like Clinton did back in the '90's during the various scandals he went through.

            Alaska's government has obeyed the letter of the law by releasing the emails. Nowhere in the law doe

          • by Radtastic ( 671622 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @01:39PM (#36403250)
            Paper format also makes it easier to hide anything that has been 'lost' in the printing-to-paper process.
      • by Adriax ( 746043 )

        That would be unidirectional traffic only, and data leakage from the palin emails would contaminate the oil carrier. No one would buy oil that sour.

    • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <> on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:46AM (#36400610) Homepage
      More critically, do you know how long it would take to convert e-mails into electronic format?
    • by tedgyz ( 515156 ) * on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:56AM (#36400788) Homepage

      Maybe we should ask the Russians to grab a copy. They are real close.

  • Any chance you hire out your book scanning equipment? Or does it only work on bound books, rather than stacks of paper?

  • WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RenHoek ( 101570 )

    This is total bullshit. Even the most vendor locked email client has export options (I'm looking at you Outlook). Even then, it's trivial to use a print-to-PDF program to keep everything electronic.

    This stinks to high heaven and me thinks this means there's something in there people don't want to get out. Reporters are going to have a field day.

    • This certainly does stink, especially when you consider that a large number of emails have been omitted.
    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by webmistressrachel ( 903577 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:19AM (#36400164) Journal

      What's even more worrying is that there will be no way to prove anything was redacted or censored, or is or isn't the original unedited email. They will just release 25,000 pages of mundane drivel for journalists to pore through for months while she gets elected, but the really bad stuff was simply <SHIFT>> <DELETE> 'd before printing.

      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:23AM (#36400224)

        if you or I tried to pull this shit, we'd wind up in jail for obstruction of justice.

        the fact that she gets away with this means our system is broken. yet another red warning light that the revolution needs to happen and happen soon.

        • It'd only be obstruction of justice if she were being accused of a crime. Did I miss something?
        • This was the state playing goalie for her. I do agree that it's ridiculous that the government can do this, but when people do something similar (like pay a $25 fine with pennies) they get another fine.

          I do not agree that just because it's printed that the chances of modification is any different. These are emails after all. Not exactly the creme de la creme of tamper resistant files.

        • Obstruction of justice would not be the correct charge; but most public records laws(while not exactly toothily enforced, and often filled with trivially exploitable loopholes) do make failure to disclose as required an offense of some kind.
        • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cthlptlk ( 210435 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @11:18AM (#36401184)

          yet another red warning light that the revolution needs to happen and happen soon.

          The revolution happened. We lost.

          • yet another red warning light that the revolution needs to happen and happen soon.

            The revolution happened. We lost.

            Pissed me off too, I missed it because it wasn't even televised.

        • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Americano ( 920576 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @11:25AM (#36401306)

          What did Palin "get away" with here? The state of Alaska is doing this, Sarah Palin doesn't have Bristol and Willow sitting there printing things out on the fucking family inkjet while watching Dancing with the Stars reruns.

          From the article:

          Once the state reviewed the records, it gave Palin's attorneys an opportunity to see if they had any privacy concerns with what was being released. No emails were withheld or redacted as a result of that, said Linda Perez, the administrative director for Gov. Sean Parnell who has been coordinating the release.

    • This is just a slap to the face of the papers that are trying to embarrass Palin. Clearly, whether there's something there or not, being printed is not going to stop the papers from scavenging through it to find whatever they can.

      The only possibility of subterfuge is if the state tries to leave out emails that should have been included, but it's not like digital copies prevents anyone from doing that either.

      • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by L0rdJedi ( 65690 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @12:11PM (#36401992)

        This is just a slap to the face of the papers that are trying to embarrass Palin. Clearly, whether there's something there or not, being printed is not going to stop the papers from scavenging through it to find whatever they can.

        Or inviting their readers to help them: []

        It's a witch hunt, plain and simple. They're looking for any type of dirt they can find. And this is why Palin isn't going to run for President. She's far more powerful as a regular person that gives her opinion about what's going on.

        If Palin were the idiot that everyone makes her out to be, then why does everyone get their panties in such a bind every time she says anything about anything? You ignore the morons in Hollywood and at work when they do really stupid things (upskirt photos, getting hauled into court yet again for drunk driving, etc), but you freak out when the former Governor of Alaska says something questionable.

        • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by FrootLoops ( 1817694 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @01:45PM (#36403320)

          Palin really is an idiot. She's just a political anomaly. Lemme explain what I mean. When someone tells you 3+4 = 8, you have the urge to correct them. If they're very convinced 3+4 = 8, most people will want to correct them all the more. Palin is the same way. She says stupid things with great conviction. People want to correct her, but they can't, so they do the next best thing: they talk to other people about how wrong she is, or how horrible it is that she might be a serious candidate for the presidency, or whatever is cathartic for them. This generates buzz for her, and is why I read this story and these comments in the first place. This effect is an anomaly--an unintended (to her; maybe not to people who run her or related campaigns) side effect of who she is and how she presents herself to the public. To be honest, I think she's deeply insecure and is simply defensive. Defensive people display the traits she displays: digging her heels in on issues; saying nonsensical things with great conviction; making things personal (her vs. the media). If I didn't fear her gaining office, I'd just feel sorry for her.

          She also has a large base of support made up of people who relate to her as a pseudo-middle-class working mom with strong Christian beliefs and morals who's fighting against the decay they see in our society. These people tend to believe her (and, as an overt sterotype, anyone they consider authoritative) without question. These two types of people--roughly, those who want to correct her and those who believe her--bring together the traditional fights of liberal vs. conservative and religious vs. not, which is absolutely fantastic fodder for discussions, news reports, and talk radio.

          Palin is an accident. She happened to tap some nerves in our society through how she behaves without her intending to. Sometimes people notice the level of emotion Palin seems to generate. That's backwards. It's actually emotion that generates Palin, politically.

    • by wykell ( 1323665 )
      You've obviously never heard of IBM Lotus Notes, if you think Outlook is the most vendor locked email client out there.
    • This stinks to high heaven and me thinks this means there's something in there people don't want to get out.

      I see two main options ... the first, as you pointed out, is that they are stonewalling. The second one is that they really are incompetent.

      Either way ... this is pretty stupid.

  • Striesand Effect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:17AM (#36400120) Journal

    The state claims it impractical to release the original electronic versions of the e-mails

    That's pretty good evidence of malfeasance all of it's own.

    At least the journos now know there'll be a reason to collect and analyse all of those US Letter pages...

    • There's some reasonableness to their statement. The article points out that Juneau has limited bandwidth. If they make a digital release available for download from the Internet they're going to impede their IT services that Alaskan citizens may or may not use.

      On the other hand, there's no reason why they have to distribute the emails in paper. They could have written the emails to CD or DVD and mailed that to anyone that requested it.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Have they perhaps heard of the Cloud?
        This is one of those times it makes sense. Just toss it up on Amazon e3 and let them at it.

      • by eepok ( 545733 )

        LOL -- Limited bandwidth. All they would have to do is save the emails to SOME sort of digital format and send it, one time, to another non-Juneau server and let distribution be done from there.

        Or, if that's entirely too complicated, put the files on some thumb drives and overnight the big news agencies and ask THEM to host it.

        Limited bandwidth...

        • I said it was a "reasonable argument" for why they weren't hosting it. It's not a reasonable argument to justify only distributing the emails in a paper copy.

          27,000 pages. Even assuming an extremely favorable half cent per page cost you could still make about 500 DVDs with the emails on it for the same cost of printing just one copy. And even going at DVD printing shops which may charge you $3 per copy, that's still a LOT better than printing the damn thing.

      • by snarkh ( 118018 )

        US Postal service and Fedex have pretty amazing bandwidth. A few petabytes of data can be easily transferred within a day or so.

      • ...but I'll bet you $100 that I could get or one of the dozens of other repositories of information to host these files within the week.

        Someone is just trying to make things difficult for the press.

      • They could make it available electronically, offline. That is, stick it on a CD and put a copy in the post (or tell people to come and collect it). That way the mail would still be searchable- and would be easy for any interested party to host (such as a news company's website).

        To tell people that literally the only possible format you're going to provide it to them in is ink-on-wood-pulp format is obstruction pure and simple. Considering the size of the document, it's no better than offering it in audio-bo

    • all of those US Letter pages...

      Except, of course, the ones that will get misplaced.

    • But it's so much easier to "lose" pages, or mix up the order, or assign additional pages to the wrong email. Just out on interest, does her printer have a special "smudge" button, like Nixon's tape recorder sometimes forgot to record?
  • by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <ieshan&gmail,com> on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:18AM (#36400134) Homepage Journal

    As we learned during the last Presidential campaign, Alaska is close enough to Soviet Russia that instead of sending emails to Alaska, email sends you to Alaska.

  • Wingdings or Comicsans I imagine.
  • by dccase ( 56453 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:25AM (#36400272)

    Maybe she actually IS the sharpest tool in that drawer.

    • by rjmx ( 233228 )

      Maybe she actually IS the sharpest tool in that drawer.

      Sigh. Where are mod points when you need them?

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:26AM (#36400284) Homepage

    I think just about EVERY person on Slashdot will disagree with the idea that print is easier than electronic. This is simply a lie from the state government. Which citizen's group do I send money to for the purpose of pushing legislation that requires the government is honest to the people. Lies like this should be actionable.

    • by Monchanger ( 637670 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @11:19AM (#36401200) Journal

      How do we handle government lies like this?

      Simple. You sue the state in court, just as if they had declined the FOIA requests outright. That's what the judicial branch is for- limiting the ability of the state to abuse its power.

      Unless the judges there are completely corrupt, they would force at least a reasonable argument about why the state made the decisions to go with paper and in-person delivery (because they'd be ruled against with this idiotic claim), if not force the governor to release everything digitally.

      Between the major newspapers and cable news outlets, the cost and effort would be minimal. All we need is competent journalism, which includes knowing the difference between things that really matter and the bullcrap which comprises most Palin-related "news".

      ...Which citizen's group do I send money to for the purpose of pushing legislation that requires the government is honest to the people. Lies like this should be actionable.

      The legislation is already there. FOIA and related disclosure laws are thankfully in-place, though perhaps not as tough as we citizens would like. Trying to get better versions of the legislation is IMO a waste of time. Rather, I'd check out various campaign-reform groups, such as Lawrence Lessig's [], and perhaps third-party/independent candidates.

    • You use the money to buy a gun and stand up against your governenment. But its been shown since 911 no one want to do anuthing about it.

  • Print and electronic release. A print copy would be a nice verification that the electronic version hasn't been altered after release; but only allowing the print is far too cumbersome.

    It does have merit to do this, but only in conjunction with an electronic copy.

  • The great senator from Alaska said it best: "The internet isn't just a truck you can dump stuff on, it's a series of tubes..."

    Obviously, dumping Palin's email into the internets would cause them all to clog up, taking weeks for people to download their internets.

    Actually overheard once at Best Buy: "Does this computer come with the latest version of the internet?"

  • to hide things in a machine searchable file.

  • While the "impracticality" of putting it online is a bald-faced lie, I can see why they don't want to. If Cardinal Richelieu can find a reason to hang a (wo)man is three sentences the mainstream media will have no problem finding lots of political hay in 24,000 emails. Especially with someone as controversial and, ah, differently spoken as Mrs. Palin.

    Is it ethical? You could make an argument that only Alaskans should really be concerned with how Governor Palin acted in an official capacity. She's a publi
    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:53AM (#36400738) Journal

      You don't understand that Richelieu quote, grasshopper.

      Ya see, what Richelieu was saying there was basically just flaunting his abuse of power. That's it. It has nothing to do with the usual idiotic interpretations like too many laws, or everyone is guilty of something, or anything.

      What Richelieu actually did was employ forgers to write whole contracts with the devil in the handwriting of his opponents. Then have them waterboarded until they confess, and then execute them.

      You think I'm kidding? Check out for example Urbain Grandier [] for a documented case of such a victim of Richelieu.

      THAT is what he needed six lines in the handwriting of someone for: as a writing sample for the forgers Richelieu employed.

      And while in that quote he's clever enough to not directly say that, it's a very thinly veiled reminder of why it's not wise to cross him. If you can write and ever wrote anything, he can "find" something else in your handwriting to hang you for, even though you don't remember ever writing that.

      I hardly think that Palin's emails are in any similar danger. And releasing them as paper is hardly a solution. If they're worried about forgeries in her name, then the sane way would be to release them as a file with a public secure hash value. That way if anyone says they found a damning email in there, you can see if their file actually matches the hash value. If it doesn't, it's been tampered with, and you can ignore the accusation.

  • then Alaska's primary tourism draw wont work for you, but be glad, now they have a great reason to go to Alaska, Sarah Palin's e-mails.
  • It's probably also being stored in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.
  • by stating_the_obvious ( 1340413 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:35AM (#36400436)
    from the statutes and regulations related to FOIA requests of the Great State of Alaska:

    Sec. 40.25.115. Electronic services and products.

    (a) Notwithstanding AS 40.25.110 (b) - (d) to the contrary, upon request and payment of a fee established under (b) of this section, a public agency may provide electronic services and products involving public records to members of the public. A public agency is encouraged to make information available in usable electronic formats to the greatest extent feasible . The activities authorized under this section may not take priority over the primary responsibilities of a public agency.

    I would guess that you could credibly argue that the authorities overseeing the FOIA request did not make into available in electronic form to the greatest extent possible (e.g., provided on CD-ROM).
    • "*May* provide". "Is *encouraged*". In other words, they don't hafta. And they ain't gonna.

      You can argue (and argue successfully, IMHO), that they haven't used electronic formats to the greatest extent feasible. But they're not obligated to do so. They're only "encouraged".

  • Its free, it does not require the emails to be any particular format because its installed as a virtual printer.

  • by orn ( 34773 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:46AM (#36400612)

    That's like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Or maybe something Woody Allen or Mel Brooks would come up with.

  • Palin's email dirtied the systems up so bad with viruses and trojans, that they had to print them out for record keeping but deleted the entire account. She reminds me of the kind of user that says "I only ever get emails with paper clips from friends, why wouldn't I trust them?"

    Poor Alaska Governor's office IT department wasted 2 years just to clean up the mail server.
  • take your pick:
    - incompetence
    - malfeasance

    "Oh yeah? Well I'm not fired, I QUIT!"

    BTW /., what do <ul>/</ul>, <li>/</li> and &nbsp; supposed to do?!!! Goddamn you're a bunch of idiots.
  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:53AM (#36400748)

    In a recent lawsuit my organization was involved in, the plaintiffs demanded any and all emails from certain individuals related to the case. So our lawyers had us send them all the e-mails in raw electronic form, which they then simply printed out for the plaintiffs. And of course the plaintiffs did the same thing for our side. Kind of a dirty way of complying with the court order if you think about it. I'm sure that neither side printed off the complete e-mail headers, so we're left with just the visible from, to, subject, and date fields, and the message body.

    Anyway, when you're on the receiving end of a demand, printing out the e-mails is definitely a common thing in the legal world. So I'm not surprised Alaska would do this. Plus it fits with Palin's policies and platforms. I mean we have all these resources in alaska going to waste, so all these printouts means trees are being put to good use, and the ink used will put all that oil to use as well. Drill baby drill.

  • by kgwilliam ( 998911 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:54AM (#36400756)

    The slashdot crowd of course is going to lambast this decision. But if you take time to think about it rather than reply with a knee-jerk reaction, it really isn't that unreasonable.

    What is required to host thousands of emails online?
      - A web server. Presumably they have one of these, but is it just a simple website at some hosting company and not very easy to configure or mass-upload to, and perhaps with a limited storage quota? Is it their same server they had in the late 90's that might choke on 24,000 files in one directory?
      - How do you convert the emails to individual files which can be hosted? Convert to PDF perhaps? File -> Save As? Either way, it is going to be very labor intensive. Perhaps the email system is old enough that it is even more difficult and time consuming?
      - How long do you have to store the online files? Every day they store the files on the server costs them extra $. And every person who downloads the files costs them extra $.
      - What type of technical knowledge is required to put all of the pieces together? To a slashdotter it might seem trivial, but a town of 30,000 reachable only by water and air is not the type of place who will employ public servants with the technical expertise of a slashdotter. Their IT staff might consist of a guy who knows how to replace a monitor and reformat Windows XP. They may outsource all of the rest of their IT functions at an hourly cost to the state. All of these email requests are probably going to some poor secretary who has a hard time opening her own email.
      - Who should have access? IANAL, but this is a foia request so I presume anybody in America, but is Alaska required to make government documents readily available to the governments of North Korea and Iran? If not, who is going to setup the security to prevent unauthorized access?

    Remember, this is a foia request which Alaska has to respond to, but they have no incentive to make it easy at their own taxpayer's expense. It is far cheaper and easier for a small town government office to tell people to come and get the information than it is for them to make it easily accessible over the internet.

    • You're overthinking the problem and absolving Alaska's government of their responsibility to comply with their own law. They don't have to build the equivalent of the Library of Congress' high-tech and user-friendly website (that would have been useful back then, or for implementing for future email, but nobody is expecting that here). They just need to provide a data dump to several groups who have raised concerns about this information. This isn't even strange or obscure information on which they'd ha

    • by he-sk ( 103163 )

      All of your objections are naught once you realize that the government has to be accountable to the electorate and therefore an easy-to-use mechanism for disclosing public information in a timely matter is part of the government's job.

      IOW, they should be able to piggy-back on the infrastructure that is already in place to disseminate that information.

  • Everyones spouting off how easy it would be... You're not thinking it through. You can either "select all > Print" or... Export them all... ok... and put them where? Ok, we need a website, we'll need to get bids, we're the government after all. How much traffic should we estimate? Lets see, the private emails from one of the most divisive politicians in the country... and news agencies are likely to link directly to the source... Or we could just print them out and let the news agencies host them... It's
    • These are not private emails, these are the emails from her official account from when she was Governor...if she was stupid enough to conduct personal correspondence using that account, well sucks to be her...

  • This sounds like a job for Project Gutenberg, since this stuff is public domain. []
  • by Bogtha ( 906264 )
    Do you have any idea how long it would take to print those emails out, scan them in and embed the scan into a Word document for online distribution? After all, that's the standard way of distributing data from people in the public sector isn't it?
  • They have some small experience with scanning in paper documents, storing them on the web, and making them indexable and searchable.

  • I can't tell if this is being spearheaded by MSNBC or not, but their story has a lot of information about it. []

  • So how, pray tell, were they able print the e-mails without first having them in electronic form? Were they written in crayon and then faxed, and then sent to an "analogue printer"?

  • by monoqlith ( 610041 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @11:33AM (#36401424)

    Alaska official: Hey IT guy, we have 24,000 of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's archived e-mails. That's too many to be stored in electronic form, though, right?

    IT guy: Uhm, why, no, not at all. I'm not sure if you know this, but e-mail is short for "electronic mail," and the Internet is also electronic. In fact, e-mail comes from the Internet. So the e-mails you are talking about are already electronic.

    Alaska official: Right, but converting all of these would be impossible. There are waaaaay too many, right?

    IT guy: No, actually. I could convert them to HTML or PDF format right now if you'd like, and we can post them to the state of Alaska web site immediately.

    Alaska official: What I'm hearing from you is that it is possible but very, very, difficult.

    IT guy: No, it's quite simple, really. I actually did it while you were saying that sentence.

    Alaska official: You're fired.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.