A reader alerts me to that rarity: an interesting article in the London Evening Standard.
Londoner’s Diary notes:
Simon Garfield, author of a book on fonts entitled Just My Type, notes that Barack Obama’s success was connected to his choice of letter style. Obama’s campaign used a new typeface called Gotham for the 2008 US election campaign. His challenger John McCain used Optima, often used in branded goods. “That was never going to work as it reminded people of the hygiene aisle in supermarkets.” Garfield noted that Obama’s choice of Gotham has caught on. “I can prove it was a success,” said Garfield. “Because Sarah Palin is using it.”
Well, I will put aside Garfield’s dubious claim that “Obama’s success was connected to his choice of letter style”, other than to note that many of the world’s present and most expensive ills and misunderstandings are due to commentators who wilfully, and often mendaciously, ignore that correlation does not equal causation (yes, I talking about you, George Monbiot. And you, Polly Toynbee. And you, Johann Hari. And you, the UN IPCC).
But as a saddo who loves typography and is a great collector of fonts, I was struck by Garfield’s analogy. Indeed, I can see it opening up an exciting new line of employment, with politicians hiring their own “Typography Special Advisors” to tell them when it is demographically advisable to use Comic Sans, or when a prevalence of ABs demands the use of serif fixed-width uppercase. In these times, anything which creates jobs is to be welcomed, no matter how mind-numbingly useless.
Londoner’s Diary didn’t supply samples of the two fonts used in the US elections. Here’s Gotham, a comparatively new font:
Optima is a font I’ve always had a liking for: it has a certain formality loosened slightly by jauntiness, like that black-sheep uncle who attends a wedding in full morning suit, but murmurs suggestive jokes about the bride, the groom, the vicar and most of the principal guests in your ear throughout the service.
Despite what Garfield maintains, a search of McCain’s campaign posters only turned up a couple of examples of the use of Optima, so I’m not convinced it was ever adopted as his “official” typeface in quite the same way Gotham was Obama’s:
It’s a friendly, self-assured font, but not exactly one that exudes gravitas or authority. In the US, where they seem to elect everyone who claims a wage from the public purse, it would probably just the ticket for a candidate for the local dog-catcher, but not really the stuff for a presidential wannabe.
But I started thinking: what would be the typefaces best suited to our own political leaders?
Nick Clegg: Well, given he’s trying to hold together a party that splinters faster than a pinetree struck by lightning, what else could it be than Cracked?
Ed Miliband: The Labour leader’s perennial wide-eyed air of Year 7 ingenuousness immediately makes me think he could probably do with keeping within the straight and narrow, hence the choice of Schoolhouse Printed A.
David Cameron: I couldn’t find quite the right font for DC, so I had to fiddle around with an existing one (Apple Chancery) to come up with one that I call Red Rag To A Bullingdon. It’s posh, it’s expansive, it’s rosy-cheeked, but it does lean rather worryingly to the left:
President Obama has signed into US law the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act – aka the Speech Act – effectively protecting American journalists, authors and academics from libel tourism.
This is the detestable practice of overseas libel claimants using overseas legislation to sue overseas authors. And the No 1 libel tourism hotspot is, of course, the UK.
The spur to the Yanks’ action was the egregious case of American academic Dr Rachel Ehrenfeld, who was sued in London by an Saudi billionaire businessman Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz over her book Funding Evil, even though the book was neither published nor marketed here.
But because it sold a whopping 23 copies in the UK – mostly over the internet –Mahfouz was allowed to sue her in the High Court here under the UK’s Carling libel laws (probably the strictest in the world).
Ehrenfeld, a director of the American Center for Democracy, stoutly refused to acknowledge the trial, as any red-blooded American citizen who’s rather fond of the First Amendment should, but was ordered to pay £10,000 damages plus costs anyway.
Ehrenfeld fought back, countersuing Mahfouz in the New York to prevent the English court’s ruling being enforced. However, when the case was dismissed (because the NY court decided it had no jurisdiction over Mahfouz, a foreign national), the NY State Legislature quickly passed a law giving the Big Apple’s courts such jurisdiction over foreign libel plaintiffs who sued New York authors and publishers. Several US states passed similar legislation. The Speech Act now makes it national.
Well, the US has done the necessary to protect its citizens: now it’s surely time for the UK to clean up its act. The coalition has made the right noises about reforming the UK’s vicious and rapacious libel laws, which even such welcome developments as Reynolds Defence have hardly blunted. But more than just noises are needed.
Curiously, the UK’s libel tourist-friendly laws have fans, not all of them members of Carter-Ruck. One of them is former law lord, Lord Hoffmann, who in a speech to the Inner Temple in February this year, defended the practice, attacked the proposed Speech legislation and thought it relevant to the issue to mention Dr Ehrenfeld was born in Israel, that she had “firm views on the Palestine question” and thought “the British to be soft on terrorism”. Read the whole rank, ghastly thing here.
Khalid bin Mahfouz died of a heart attack in August last year. Leonard Hubert “Lenny” Hoffmann, Baron Hoffmann, is, sad to relate, still with us. Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke needs to put Hoffmann and those grasping legal chums who agree with him in their place, slam shut the libel tourism loopholes and put freedom of speech on the same protected footing it enjoys in the US.
Of course, politicians have in the past been loathe to clean up England and Wales’s libel laws, primarily because they’ve been such grateful beneficiaries of them.
However, with almost all politicians jumping on the blog bandwagon at the moment, it’s surely only a matter of time before the inevitable threats of legal action start rolling in. That will probably focus their minds on the problem wonderfully.
It’s not odd that the Guardian blogger, and its American editor-at-large, Michael Tomasky should have supported Barack Obama’s bid for presidency – one could hardly expected less from our leading left-wing national newspaper.
But it is odd that he seems to have actively campaigned behind the scenes for it.