Wednesday, 16 April 2003

CNN World Report

The InstaMan links to Bruce Fierstein’s discussion of CNN World Report, a lovely program mostly consisting of English-language propaganda clips from third-world state-run broadcasters. Unlike Fierstein, I distinctly remember it being broadcast on U.S. CNN until fairly recently (well into the 1990s), probably until CNN International was forked off to become a separate network (instead of a jumbled amalgam of CNN’s domestic network and CNN Headline News, which it was in the early 1990s).

CNN International does get some domestic play, running on CNNfn during the overnight hours. The best I can tell of it is that it’s a bad imitation of BBC World, basically redoing CNN with Commonwealth accents and commercials while doing a mid-Atlantic hybrid of American-style and British-style reporting and succeeding at neither.

As for World Report, it always struck me as relatively harmless so long as the viewer was consciously aware that it was basically government propaganda. Unfortunately, CNN never made much of an effort to identify it explicitly as such, only billing it as “uncensored and unedited” but not mentioning that it was CNN who wasn’t doing any of the censoring or editing and that the production choices weren’t CNN’s. In other words, not unlike CNN’s behavior in Baghdad, where you got “uncensored and unedited” reports from the events and places Baghdad Bob wanted you to broadcast; since nobody in Atlanta was leading the reporters around by the nose, it was apparently perfectly legitimate reportage in CNN’s eyes.

Wireless blogging

I’m for it.

Coalition formation and civil liberties

One problem the left has faced in trying to prevent some of the excesses of the Ashcroft-led assault on civil liberties is their inability to get the instinctive libertarians, including libertarian-leaning Republicans, on their side. Part of the issue may be rhetorical: by framing the issue as a problem with Ashcroft, many on the right will instinctively react to it as partisan bickering rather than a serious issue that needs to be addressed; this is hardly helped by the perception that objections to Ashcroft’s policies are played up for fundraising efforts by the ACLU and other left-wing interest groups. Part of the issue may be a failure of many in the left to take seriously libertarian claims that they have a distinctly different view of the role of the state than conservatives, and thus are dismissive of the left’s ability to gain allies.

So it’s somewhat heartening to see the folks at TalkLeft talking about building coalitions with politicans and citizens outside the traditional left to defeat “Son of PATRIOT” and other Ashcroftian idiocies—and, as Glenn Reynolds points out, Ashcroft’s idiocies have plenty of willing allies on the “left” too, including Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. It’s clear that civil liberties are a good fund-raising issue for the left, but Democrats in Congress mostly aren’t sticking their necks out for them—if they were, they’d be filibustering the RAVE act being inserted into the AMBER Alert bill in addition to a couple of relatively minor judicial nominees.

If the policies are going to be fixed, it’s going to require a full-court press, not just from the left but also from the people on the right who are more likely to be listened to by a Republican administration. That means building long-term, cross-party coalitions that care about these issues that transcend the historically “left” and “right” interest groups in Washington and can build a real pro-civil liberties caucus in Congress that isn’t hostage to a particular party.

Charles Murtaugh makes much the same point today (22 April), far more eloquently than I did:

Too often, liberal bloggers dismiss the libertarians as sleeper GOP activists, but I continue to be impressed by how much common ground there is between liberal and libertarian critics of the Bush administration's excesses. It's a shame that so many liberals allow tax cuts and tort reform to separate them from potential allies—conservatives, it's worth noting, don't let disagreements about abortion and drugs deter them from cautiously embracing the libertarians.

The Word of the Day: logrolling. Liberals might want to try it sometime…

More Mark on XHTML 2

Mark Pilgrim links to his latest Dive into XML column on XHTML at I’m still not sold on the value of this spec, and the prospect of a non-user-writable HTML is bothersome to say the least as a html-helper-mode junkie, but at least some of it, including the <l> and <nl> elements, seem to be useful ideas.

However, I’d personally prefer more focus on getting CSS3 finished and implemented—at least Mozilla, Opera and Safari (and by extension Konqueror, since it’s also based on KHTML) are going in the right direction, although I’ve had to back out a few of my CSS hacks because Safari seems to have regressed in its handling of them (since text-transform: lowercase now works while font-variant: small-caps doesn’t, even though the latter can legally be implemented simply by mapping the content back to uppercase—even IE does that much).

That “s” word again

Colby Cosh notes today that secession is the underlying threat being made by leading Alberta politicians as part of an aggressive effort to repatriate more powers from Ottawa, following the lead of on-and-off secessionist Québec. With many in the province upset with the Liberal Chrétien government’s hamfisted approach to, well, virtually everything (including energy policy, a particular concern in Alberta), this is something that people with an interest in Canadian politics should definitely keep an eye on.

Firebird (Phoenix) build updated

Yet another Phoenix build for Linux (Intel 32-bit), although now it’s been renamed Firebird™. Download it here; as with previous builds, it is built with Xft and the Gtk 2.x toolkit and (optional) Xprint support. As always, you’ll probably need Debian unstable or something else very recent for it to run properly.

If you want to build your own copy from CVS, this .mozconfig file may be helpful. If you want to optimize it for your particular system, you’ll probably want to change the -mcpu=athlon to -march=whatever, but that may stop it from running on other CPUs.

Out with the grass, in with the AstroPlay

They’re replacing the grass in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with something called AstroPlay®, which is also used at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium and at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Considering that the field looked like absolute crap at the end of last season (and looked pretty shabby during the Red-Blue Game this spring), I think they’re doing the right thing.

Voting systems

Matthew Yglesias (now back blogging after some nasty problems with Movable Type) has an interesting series of posts on voting systems.

Current federal law requires the use of single-member districts to elect the House of Representatives (per 2 USC 1 § 2c), but nothing in the constitution requires it—as the Supreme Court noted in Branch v. Smith (538 U. S. ?, 2003). Nor does federal law specify the mechanism for elections, although they must comply with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as interpreted by Thornburg v. Gingles (478 U.S. 30, 1986), and related laws, which may rule out the use of majority-runoff elections in some circumstances.

Ceteris paribus, I’d favor some sort of mixed proportional representation/plurality system for House elections, like the “top-up” PR system used for elections to the Scottish and Welsh assemblies (also known as the Additional Member System); however, the best we can do in the House under current federal law is either approval voting or some other single-member district method (Condorcet or instant run-off being the most likely).