I was always interested in typefaces, but I became obsessed with them only when my wife got pregnant. The psychological mechanism seems to have been something like this: For five centuries, printers’ type was made of lead; the form into which the molten metal was poured and which gave the letter its shape was called a matrix—the Latin word for womb. At a time when something that mattered a great deal to me was taking shape in a real womb, I could not stop thinking about letters and symbols that had taken shape in metaphoric ones.
For me, as for many other people who care about type, a typeface should be personal and expressive, like a human face. For others, type should be an impersonal machine for transmitting data. Each group favors different styles of type. When the documentary film Helvetica appeared a few years ago, I didn’t rush to see it, because, as someone says in the film, Helvetica is “the most neutral typeface,” the one with the least appeal to those whose feelings about type are tangled up with their feelings about people.
My report from Turkey in the current New York Review of Books asserts that civilian power in that country has “emerged from the shadow of military power, a breakthrough of historic proportions.” The July 29 resignation of Turkey’s four top military commanders was a capitulation to that reality. It is likely to lead to something Turkey has never known: civilian control of the military.
Until a few years ago, hardly a day would go by in the summer without the mailman bringing a postcard from a vacationing friend or acquaintance. Nowadays, you’re bound to get an email enclosing a photograph, or, if your grandchildren are the ones doing the traveling, a brief message telling you that their flight has been delayed or that they have arrived. The terrific thing about postcards was their immense variety. It wasn’t just the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, or some other famous tourist attraction you were likely to receive in the mail, but also a card with a picture of a roadside diner in Iowa, the biggest hog at some state fair in the South, and even a funeral parlor touting the professional excellence that their customers have come to expect over a hundred years.
Last year, the New York Times sent three investigative reporters to London to dig into the hacking practices of the News of the World. After five months of reporting and writing, they produced a story that, together with the tenacious reporting of the Guardian, helped set off the current outcry. Why not devote similar resources to Fox, a far more influential outlet on the home front?
As the debt ceiling fiasco continues unresolved and increasingly dangerous, with no agreement among the House, the Senate and the White House yet in sight, an obscure and forgotten constitutional clause has suddenly come under scrutiny. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, provides that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.” Does that clause mean that it is unconstitutional for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling – the amount the nation is legally permitted to borrow – in our present circumstances, and that the President is therefore constitutionally permitted to borrow money on his own authority?
It may seem frivolous to speak of a favorite book in the Bible but mine is Jonah, by far. A sly masterpiece of four brief chapters, Jonah reverberates in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick,, where it is the text for Father Mapple’s grand sermon. Tucked away in the Book of the Twelve, with such fierce prophets as Amos and Micah, Jonah is out of place. It should be with the Writings—Song of Songs, Job, Koheleth—because it too is a literary sublimity, almost the archetypal parable masking as short story.
After the elder Murdoch declared how “humbled” he was by all that had happened, he told his questioners, in effect, that he’s always played a humble role in the running of his papers: he telephoned the editor of the Sunday News of the World only twice a month, each time saying, “I’m not interfering.” Having worked for four years, from 1993 to 1997, as the East Asia editor of Murdoch’s Times, I have my doubts about this. I watched our proprietor trying to blandish and spend his way into the People’s Republic, and for some years insure that his interests dictated the kinds of stories about China that appeared in his paper.
In early July the words “Hitler was right” were painted on the memorial stone to the 72,000 Jews who were murdered at the Ponary Forest near Vilnius in Lithuania. On another monument close by, a vulgar reference was made to the compensation the Lithuanian government has made to the descendants of murdered Jews. No one seems to have noticed.
The real story is not Murdoch’s papers and the repulsive methods used by their reporters: it’s the force and blatancy of Murdoch’s political influence through those papers. Although responsibility for the appalling conduct of his papers ultimately rests with Murdoch, the blame for the way he has exercised so much indirect political power lies with those politicians who have for so long knelt before him. Cameron is the latest, and may yet prove the greatest casualty. But it must be said that not even Cameron was as cynical and unprincipled in his dealings with Murdoch as Tony Blair had been.
Like many of the masterpieces of Western culture to which it humbly invites comparison—Ulysses, Endgame, Pierrot Le Fou—Michael Winterbottom’s new movie, The Trip, does not sound promising in paraphrase. Two successful middle-aged actors take a tour of high-end restaurants in the North of England in order to write an article for The Observer newspaper. The pair bicker, trade impersonations of their cinematic heroes, struggle to come up with interesting things to say about the finicky and pretentious meals they are fed (“Hotter than I would’ve expected,” etc.), and that is more or less it. It is hard to say exactly how Winterbottom and his two leading men transmute this rather lenten premise into the artistic feast The Trip becomes, but humor certainly plays a large part. After a comparatively tame first quarter of an hour, the theater where I went to see it was engulfed in a ninety-minute tsunami of laughter.