Saturday, 8 March 2003

Friedman on Russert

Tom Friedman was on the CNBC Tim Russert show, not to be confused with Meet The Press, this evening. I was only paying half-attention (I was fighting with the modem on my laptop, which seems to not like this hotel's phone line), but it was quite an interesting interview. At points, Friedman sounded like Steven Den Beste, for example when he described the existing regimes in the region as “failures.”

However, Friedman was critical of the administration for failing to make the case for war, and described the upcoming conflict as “the most elite-driven war in American history.” On that point, I'm not sure any war in American history hasn't been driven by elites, with the possible exception of the Indian wars of the 19th century. Absent a direct threat to America's borders, I'm not sure a war driven by mass opinion is likely.

Having said that, I do think the Iraq war is probably about the hardest war to explain to the American public; the underlying theory — using Iraq as a waypoint to establishing a stable order in the Middle East — doesn't collapse to a nice soundbite, and the surface justifications (the tenuous links from Saddam Hussein to terror, the human rights situation within Iraq, the need for WMD disarmament, Iraq's pattern of evasion with the U.N.) don't make a clear-cut case for going to war. On the other hand, Kosovo exhibited many of the same characteristics, but it too was very elite-driven.

Stylesheet fiddling — a meta post

I skimmed a web design book at Barnes & Noble today that said you should underline your links. Rather than slavishly follow that advice, I've simply underlined the links in blog entries and left the rest alone. (The entry links are the most important ones to pick out, since they're buried in text. Underlining every link would be ugly.)

I also am experimenting with an alternate stylesheet that produces a “run-in” look like that used on a lot of Blogger blogs. If you have Mozilla or the Phoenix alternate stylesheet switcher plugin (it may also work in Camino™), you can play with it. You can also choose the so-called “serif look,” which uses a Serif font (like this) for entries. Unfortunately, these styles don't persist between page visits in Moz or Phoenix, so the usefulness is pretty limited for now.

Finally, behind the scenes, the front page is now moved over to a pure mod_python implementation using the Publisher handler. The main advantage (beyond a further speedup in the page rendering and cleaner code — no more fiddling with the FieldStorage class) is that it can properly deal with If-Modified-Since headers again; real CGIs did it automatically, but mod_python's CGI emulation doesn't handle them right for some odd reason. Still slouching toward a code release; the next step is to convert all the other backend scripts.

Turkish managed democracy

Colby Cosh considers the same question I considered here: is a transition to full-blown liberal democracy likely to produce a stable regime. He concludes:

If it takes an army to protect my most basic liberties, I'm comfortable with that, irrespective of what the rabble thinks. Would majoritarian democracy, free of army constraints, be the best thing for Turkey? Don't ask me: I'm not a Turk. I don't think there's much question about whether it would be good for Europe (no) or for international order generally (nope).

In a more general vein, Daniel Drezner discusses “illiberal democracy” worldwide, talking about The Economist's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

I can't add much to either account, although I will say that generally upholding the rule of law is much more important to preserving liberty than the mechanisms of democracy. One of the sure signs of erosion of liberty in Hong Kong has been the gradual increase in arbitrary meddling from Beijing, while the undemocratic nature of the SAR government has had relatively little to do with it (for even in a democratic Hong Kong, there would still be plenty of levers for Communist Party meddling from outside the SAR).