onsdag 20 januari 2016

The Pope and the Nazis

I have had a visitor staying with me who wanted to read the Papal Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (My Burning Sorrow) addressed to the Nazis. It was written by Pius XI and came out in 1937. I downloaded it and printed a copy, nineteen pages.

Its contemporary relevance is astonishing. Not only have many of the issues that it refers not gone away - on the contrary - the document is as relevant now as it was when it first came out.

Next year will be the eightieth anniversary and a good opportunity to bring it to the wider attention of the public.

söndag 10 januari 2016

There is nasty stuff in the bible too. But...

An excellent response to a not very good article in The Guardian, by Nick Cohen, who ought to know better than to write what he does.

I agree with so much of this which is why I'm sorry that Cohen displays such a lamentable lack of understanding of Judaism. His simplistic references to 'Leviticus' and the Ten Commandments do his argument no favours.

For while the Torah does indeed specify the death penalty for homosexual and other acts, it was - even in antiquity - a punishment rarely and grudgingly imposed. Jewish religious law demands that anyone accused of a capital crime had to have been warned by two valid witnesses not to commit the crime before s/he committed it in order to be convicted. And the death penalty could not be imposed on the basis of a confession.

Furthermore the Talmud contains an authoritative reference to religious courts which imposed the death penalty more than once in 70 years as 'bloody courts'.

Of course, you may argue that having male homosexual acts on the criminal statute books is an abomination let alone having it listed as a capital crime. But you can't reasonably conflate Judaism's reticence to execute with the eagerness, ease and joy with which certain Islamist groups do so.

As for the Ten Commandments: it prohibited murder - how much more so genocide? There is a discussion in the Talmud in which the majority of rabbis determined that carrying a weapon is demeaning and is therefore prohibited on the Sabbath - unless necessary for the preservation of one's life.

The rabbis based their view on the verse in Isaiah (that adorns the UN building in New York) that when the Messiah comes “swords will be beaten into plowshares and nations will no longer wage war.” King David was denied the glory of building the Temple in Jerusalem because he had engaged in warfare and so the honour was left for his son, Solomon.

As for rape and torture, they may not be explicitly outlawed in the Ten Commandments but they are prohibited by Jewish religious law. And slavery, while technically permitted, was so bound up with regulatory restrictions that it was said in the Talmud that “one who acquires a slave actually acquires a master for himself”.

While the historical reality may often not have lived up to the ethical, moral and legal requirements of Judaism it's telling that there is no Jewish movement campaigning for the restoration of slavery (or the execution of male homosexuals). Whatever one's beef with religion, Judaism has for thousands of years striven to balance a yearning for peace and universal brotherhood with the realities of a violent, threatening world. To place it in the same category as the bloodthirsty fascists marauding Iraq and Syria is lazy and cynical.

fredag 8 januari 2016

Opened hearts closed

Do you remember last autumn's wave of support for receiving unlimited numbers of refugees, following the publication of the picture of a dead child washed up on a beach in Greece? We were told to open our hearts, and demonised as heartless racists if we questioned the wisdom of this policy. The Hungarians and Poles were hit with a barrage of criticism. When the Swedish Sverigedemokraterna suggested that border controls should be introduced, they were indignantly denounced.

"Refugees welcome" signs appeared all over Western Europe. I predicted that the mood would evaporate after a matter of weeks. The Swedish government has done exactly what the pariah SD party proposed three months ago. The last vestige of open-heartedness has vanished. The terrorism in Paris and the new year's events at Cologne have done the job more thoroughly that I would have even thought possible.

Plantin - a very useful typeface.

Being stingy by nature I am reluctant to pay for typefaces when so many are available free of charge. But there are some tasks that the free typefaces do not do well. Times Roman is a pleasant though suffers from being everywhere. It also photocopies badly as the thin parts of its letters are hairline-thin. Smaller than 11 point fails entirely. Times Roman Bold is horrible, which makes the font useless if the idea is to give emphasis.

The trouble with Times Roman is that it was designed as a metal type to be printed on absorbent paper, so that the ink would spread and thicken the letters. Unfortunately, when it was digitised, the model was the metal type, not the actual images made on paper.

One typeface that gets round this problem is the Plantin range, which was the model on which the original Times was based. It was created about 100 years ago from heavily-inked impressions of a seventeenth century document in a museum in Antwerp. It photocopies well and legibly down to 9 point. This makes it useful for newsletters, music sheets, scripture readings, etc.

There is a fundamental difficulty when digitising metal types. With metal types, the small font sizes are not just reductions of the larger sizes. The proportions change too - the smaller sizes of metal types were widened, technically known as expanded to prevent the open parts of the letters getting blocked up with ink.

Strangely, when Monotype digitised Plantin, it used 8 point as the model. This was expanded and had a relatively smaller x-height. Thus in the larger sizes - 11 point and upwards - it looks noticeably different from prints from the original metal type of the same size.

News Plantin is the font which retains the original character of Plantin in the larger sizes, being slightly condensed and having a large x-height. The difference is apparent in the letter "O", which is circular in Plantin but oval in News Plantin.

There are some useful extensions including Old Style (non-lining) numerals, small caps, and different weights; there is a light, and a decent-looking semi-bold where emphasis is needed.

The sets of typefaces are available from fonts.com. They are a bit pricey but a good investment if you are turning out printed material in any quantity.

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the...