Friends of Semantic Compositions

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« Laughin' at Laughlin | Main | Stretch her? Stretch who? »

May 03, 2004

Comments

jason

I think it’s important to have these symbols available. If we don’t talk about Nazism, if we just stuff it down the memory hole, it makes it that much more likely that we will have to endure it again. By removing a tool for discussing this topic, Microsoft has ensured that only those obsessed with Nazis will have access to fonts with nazi swastikas. (I’m not going to go looking for a new font.) Obviously this isn’t the end of the world for those of us who are a little more moderate, but it’s one more small step. If corporations and governments and organizations all go the route of “Oh, don’t let people talk about that, it’s dirty” the only people who do talk about it will be those on the outside. That gives me a pretty bad feeling.

Christopher Culver

"By removing a tool for discussing this topic, Microsoft has ensured that only those obsessed with Nazis will have access to fonts with nazi swastikas. (I’m not going to go looking for a new font.)"

The problem wasn't the swastika, it was a number of symbols positioned in such a way as to hint at a racist message. Decently equipped fonts will have the swastika symbol because it is included in Unicode (though in CJK Unified Ideographs) at position U+534D. It's included in Microsoft's Arial Unicode MS font.

Semantic Compositions

I'm a bit confused; perhaps the pre-rendered version I linked to doesn't display things in quite the same order as the symbol tables in the Microsoft Character Map application, but I can't imagine what message could have been communicated through the ordering of the symbols as I saw them. I suppose it might cause a compatibility issue to shift the location of the symbols within the font, but it's not clear to me that removing them is better.

Aside from that, though, I don't think it reflects well on Microsoft to put out such an obscure statement. All that can be gotten from their version of events is that some of the font's symbols are "unacceptable", which sounds to me like a statement that if they found swastikas elsewhere in their fonts, they'd delete them, too. If I saw the message that they were trying to communicate, I might agree that they were right to do it, but the way they've gone about it makes their actions look fishier than they are.

Paul William

Microsoft also removed the Jewish "Star of David" symbol. Were they just trying to be balanced by doing so? Is it also "objectionable"?

Semantic Compositions

I hadn't noticed that before, but you're right, the Star of David is missing from my copy of that font.

I get the sense from the tone of your question (and my apologies if I've misread it), that you think I think it was right of Microsoft to go about removing swastikas from their fonts, and that I only disapprove of the sneakiness in question. Also that those views constitute a Bad Thing. I don't think that's quite a fair reading of my position; while I did write that "I might agree that they were right to do it", it was in the context of having noted that I didn't even know what they were warning of in their message. That's a hypothetical statement which would be as true if they were secretly removing Barney the Dinosaur from their font as it is with swastikas.

I think the clearest statement of my views was:

If Microsoft doesn't want to propagate what they feel is unacceptable speech, so long as they don't censor anybody else's ability to do so, it's hard to quarrel with their behaviors.

They're not under any obligation to provide users with the ability to produce swastikas or Stars of David. I don't think they were communicating a pro-Nazi message by including swastikas in their font, but obviously they decided that users were interpreting it that way. Deleting the Star of David adds an element of weirdness to the story, though. Maybe they thought it was a matter of fairness, but that's a strange sort of moral neutrality (to put it kindly). At least I can still get the Star out of the MS-provided Wingdings, so they haven't taken it away entirely.

Nevertheless, as long as they don't keep me from installing other fonts on my Windows box that let me display swastikas or Stars of David, I feel obliged to fault them for tackiness more than censorship. I think it was silly and irrational of them to have done what they did in the first place, but it's their font, and if they want to play games with it, it's their own choice, however foolish it might be.

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