Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 28/7/2004How are we this morning? Fresh and full of vim, ready for the week ahead?

Monday 28/7/2004
How are we this morning? Fresh and full of vim, ready for the week ahead? A little fragile, perhaps, following a rather overexciting weekend.

You're probably not as fragile as the US Justice Department's foreign lobbyists' database. If you turn up in Washington to plead the case of an overseas organisation, government, church choir or whatever, this is the place you register. It's the only way that concerned Americans can find out who's responsible for persuading the administration that the People's Republic of Nastistan should be given foreign aid for painting its children green and making them bathe in pebbles, or some nasty medieval kingdom be supported by the CIA in return for oil.

Only the American People can't find this stuff out, despite having that spiffy legal right to freedom of information, because none of this information is available online and it can't be searched. You have to know what you want to look at, and pay the Department fifty cents a page for whatever turns up. So, er, can we see the whole database, asked the American People.

No, said the Justice Department. It's too fragile. Even an attempt to copy it could destroy it utterly. You what? said the American People. You heard me, said the Justice Department. If we so much as look at the file it could result in curtains. And I'm not going to say anything more about it.

Don't believe this? Have a look for yourself.

Further investigation revealed that the database is running on a Windows 95 computer with ancient laser printers that break down a lot. An upgrade of some sorts is in the works, but you know how it is with moving fragile data about the place -- you need to dim the lights, wrap the network cables in cotton wool, put on some Enya and get the feng shui right. Otherwise you get bits falling off and building up in an untidy pile on the carpet.

It'll be at least December 2004 before it's finished: well, what if someone sneezes? Hayfever season, that's what I'm saying. So all those questions about Saudi lobbyists and the Bush people will have to wait until after the election.

Well, you just can't go out and buy a new computer for a few hundred dollars, you know, then copy stuff around some network gubbins. Fantasy!