Tuesday, October 25

World Leaders Abusing HTML

As Bill Clinton keeps reminding us (and the ubiquity of kinky Japanese porn attests), the world is growing ever more interconnected thanks to the web. These days every country worth its unpaid UN dues has an official national website. Not surprisingly, the sites of most major powers are slickly produced, easy to navigate comprehensive PR jobs, offering the type of state-sponsored fare you’d expect: links to the major legislative branches, explications of the workings of the government, the jingoistic symbolism of the nation’s flag, how to invest and visit. But a few sites go beyond the call of better-business-bureau duty. On Egypt’s, for example, you can take a virtual tour of the main palace’s eight different front entrances and pay your phone bill, while Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, finds the time to write daily letters to his youth movement about sports (though not a lot about his government’s rampant corruption). Some sites range from comedy to train-wreck in their attempt to spread the good will. Here’s a Radar guide to just a few of the world’s most amusing and bizarre official national websites. (These are, of course, the export versions. Who knows what the people are really reading?)

Overview: He may not be the official leader of Mess-o-potamia, but Grand Ayatollah Sistani is clearly the man in charge of this desert meltdown, which is quickly careening toward civil war, and his website attests to his power. With excessive use of flash, there’s a special scrolling column on Ramadan, with recommended acts and supplications. The site includes a simplified guide to Islamic law, a glossary, a biography of Sistani, and a discussion section on current legal issues. Sistani is big on advice edicts, fatwas, whatever, and he offers his opinion on everything from financial issues (what to do if you overdraw?) to the Islamic dress code to painting in three dimensions to leather products to “Jurisprudence made Easy.”
Best Feature: Sistani’s Q & A section is indisputably the highlight of the site. He doles out advice, Dear Abby–style, on everything from anal sex with your wife while she is having her period (“If wife is consenting to it, it is permissible but it would be extremely abominable”) to chess. His holiness’s photo gallery features eight full pages of Sistani headshots from various angles; apparently he’s a hottie.
Traffic ranking according to alexa.com: 44,731
Visit: http://www.sistani.org/html/eng

North Korea
Overview: We were hoping for great things from the DPRK, but this technicolor site went beyond our wildest expectations. The main focus is of course on lovable Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. A downloadable PDF bio—“A Brief History,” numbering 160 pages—chronicles his life, with gems like this take on the tyrant’s character-molding youth: “Possessed of warm human love and broad-mindedness, he was always generous, unceremonious, and warmhearted among people.” (They fail to mention that North Korea has earned the worst possible score on civil liberties and political rights from Freedom House for 31 years in a row. Just details, we guess.)
Best Feature: The FAQ section leads off with obviously the most important request for anyone thinking about visiting North Korea: “Can I get a signed photograph of Leader Kim Jong-Il?” Other questions include: “I’ve heard that everybody starves in North Korea. How is the food situation?” “Is North Korea a dictatorship?” “Can I join the Korean People’s Army?” (The answer is no.) “I want to know why North Korea has nuclear weapons. Why?” “Has North Korea’s economy really collapsed?” and “What is North Korea’s stance on homosexuality?” The answers go on and on, providing hours of entertainment.
Traffic ranking: 167,245
Visit: http://www.korea-dpr.com/

Overview: The landlocked African nation formally known as Bechuanaland isn’t exactly up to speed when it comes to the World Wide Web. To be honest, the only reason we included Botswana is because it features on its homepage a diamond that actually twinkles. Diamond mining accounts for more than a third of Botswana’s GDP and 80 percent of its export earnings. The site boasts of the government’s and the economy’s increasing stability, strength, and infrastructure—compared with Uganda Botswana is doing all right—but the country still has one of the world’s highest rates of AIDS.
Best Feature: The sparkly diamond.
Traffic ranking: 192,677
Visit: http://www.gov.bw/home.html

Overview: Jordan’s website is a streamlined green-and-orange pleasure domain. Since joining the WTO in 2000 and holding elections in 2003, King Abdallah II has tried to institute wide-ranging reforms to make his tiny Middle Eastern kingdom appear more progressive and transparent. His website, at least, is modern and easy to use. The homepage takes you through the government’s various branches, and under clever slugs such as “Keys to the Kingdom” you can learn about Jordan’s low crime rate from a chart comparing the country’s yearly total offenses with those in the U.S. and Sweden. Apparently Jordan’s low crime is due to “preventative measures” and “alternative activities for teenagers” (code for martyr training camp, perhaps).
Best Feature: The interactive office of King Hussein I, who ruled from 1953 to his death in 1999, looks like a page out of 1993 computer game Myst. Click on the desk and you can read the father of modern Jordan’s speeches. A wedding picture takes you to a family tree tracing the royal line, and the bookshelves direct you to the national cyberlibrary. Another perk: the national anthem link, where you can pick an instrument (oboe, French horn, or side drum), the score pops up, and hello, fun.
Traffic ranking: 267,894
Visit: http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/government.html

Overview: When you visit the site for this Viking country, which gave us everything from teak to good goey pastry, you are greeted with a family photo of Crown Prince Frederik and his hot Australian wife, Princess Mary. They just had a baby boy last week. With one of the highest standards of living in the world, Denmark doesn’t seem to care too much about official business on its site, which mostly features cultural and historical links. There’s a special section devoted to Hans Christian Andersen, and a “business lounge” where potential investors can find “cool facts” about the Danish economy and an investors kit. But most of the site is devoted to the royal family, which seems to be the norm for Scandinavian websites. Sweden’s 23-year-old Princess Madeleine has her own URL, which features lots of insight into her Spice Girls obsession, skiing trips, and numerous boyfriends.
Best Feature: The kids’ page, where boring content is “strictly forbidden” and which we could get to work only in Spanish. Cartoon Danish kids teach you all about what school is like in Denmark, and a few actual Danish children, like 12-year-old Elizabeth, take you on a tour of their family’s homes.
Traffic ranking: 118,899
Visit: http://www.denmark.dk/

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