Commentary on the Commentary: Dropcap politics

The history of the ‘drop cap,’ the large letter at the beginning of a news story sheds light on our political differences.

US President Obama speaks with PM Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza)
US President Obama speaks with PM Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza)
What is the history of the ‘drop cap,’ the large letter at the beginning of a story, which appears so often in newspapers and is part of The Jerusalem Post style for the op-ed pages? The question came to me while staffers in the office were arguing about US President Barack Obama's re-election last week. As in any newsroom, there are bound to be differences of opinion, though in the past pollsters have revealed that newsrooms are incredibly one-sided. For instance, a 2005 survey by the University of Connecticut surveyed 300 journalists in the US and found that 52 percent voted for John Kerry and 21% refused to answer. Only 19% admitted to being Bush voters. This was better than the 1964 election where surveys showed 94% of journalists voted Democrat.
So we have heated discussions at the Post about all sorts of political topics, about whether Obama will stay strong on Iran or whether torture should be used against terrorists (“If it was proven to work I would support using it” said one person). But at the end of the day, all the political discussion doesn’t really change most people’s underlying opinions.
For that reason, I’m more interested in knowing who invented the ‘drop cap,' which predates the Gutenberg Bible, implying that it may even pre-date printing. That is odd, isn’t it? Or perhaps it makes sense, since flowery drop caps were as much art as they were letters in the old day, so they catered to a time when scribes would illustrate a text. They are thus an anomaly today.
To the opinion section itself, this week began with an interesting article about a conference in Kosovo.  ‘A tale of two wilayets’ by Ivana Bartulovic and Mirko Dautovic highlighted the Islamist threat to the Balkans in their discussion of the conference. 
Gabriel Scheinmann of the Institute for National Security Affairs wrote an interesting piece about the Arrow 3 missile, “a revolution in missile defense” for Israel. Josh Hasten told readers that Oslo has failed and used the red signs that prohibit Israelis from entering Palestinian areas in the West Bank as evidence of the failure. Danny Ayalon wrote an op-ed supporting the decision by Likud and Yisrael Beyteynu to run on a combined list.
Can Kasapoglu contributed an important piece arguing that it was time for Turkey to get “tough on Iran.”
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz wrote about the the dispute about the Women of the Wall, arguing that the wall should not become an “arena of public dispute” and should rather be a unifying place for worshippers.  David Wilder of the Hebron Jewish community wrote about the importance of that city in Jewish history.
On US Election Day, the newspaper was swamped by op-eds. Josh Nass wrote about “a young Republican activist’s plea” for Romney. Ed Koch, the former New York mayor, asked readers to choose Obama. Robert Park reminded us that the candidates have not bothered to discuss North Korea, evidently they have focused all their time on the Middle East. Abby Levine wrote about the importance of social justice in Jewish voting. Anthony Gordon, a former student of Alan Dershowitz, confronted the Democratic doyen on his support for Obama.
On Thursday when it was all over, Isi Leibler wrote a fascinating piece musing about the post-election atmosphere in the US. He noted that there is now a small minority of grass roots democrats who are “outrightly hostile to Israel.”  Shmuely Boteach, the famous US Rabbi who is a Post columnist but who has been on extended break due to his running for Congress, wrote a piece about the hardships of losing his race. Columnist Douglas Bloomfield wrote that the 2016 race for US president began this week. Americans are used to Christmas season coming early, but will election season really start now?
We ran an entire page focusing on foreign contributors. Magdy Aziz wrote about the election of a new Pope for Egypt’s Copts, Shaurya Prabha examined why India’s Hindus tend to be supportive of Israel but the governing Congress Party has a history of hostility, and Nehingpao Kipgen urged that Burma ‘seize the opportunity” to confront ethnic strife in its Rakhine state province. Pitan Daslani wrote an article noting the counter-intuitive results of a survey that show that Israel is more “Islamic” than Indonesia in its values. The numerous contributors to the Oped pages from Turkey, Korea, India, and elsewhere in the world, were just one example of the international presence of our website.
It is important to keep that in perspective as everyone is shining a magnifying glass on this latest US election. Sure, Obama is important, but there is an entire world out there.
The writer is The Jerusalem Post's opinion editor