October 2004

Rock the Vote

Rock the Vote

Some excellent images of May 68 leaflets from an exhibition by National Library of France on the sources of Utopias.

See also, posters produced by the Atelier Populaire.

>  27 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in

Your Logo, Mr. President

Via email:

“Dear John,

I publish a magazine that teaches graphic design, and last Friday we opened an online poll that asks, "Graphically speaking, who has the better campaign poster?" The poll will be open through election day.


Response was immediate: Bush 4 to 1. We’ve posted a critique of our own.

Thought you might find this up your alley. Madison Avenue knows that good looks can change minds. In a close election, could design make the difference?


A few weeks ago, the New York Times also published an Op-Ed and visual analysis on the subject, followed by subsequent letters to the editor.

But then isn’t talking about a candidate’s poster style a lot like talking about who looks more “Presidential” in a televised debate? It privileges rhetoric over substance, and implies that the candidates are basically the same when they meet on the neutral playing field of design. Who has more “charisma”? Which is more “authentic”? Familiarity with a candidate’s record is irrelevant to look and feel and, subsequently, everyone’s subjective opinion is equally valid.

Which is not to say that rhetoric and impression are not relevant. In such a tight race, small differences do count.

>  26 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Political Posters, Next 1/4 Mile

For those of you who don’t live in an urban environment or on a college campus, there’s always freeway posters.

>  25 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in

Avant Garde

David Alfaro Siquieros, in a lecture delivered at the Museum of Fine Art, Caracas, Venezuela, January 11, 1960:

“Of late the Mexican government, under pressure from ourselves, has been obliged to censure the use which the Organisation of American States, with its official seat in Washington, has made of the money which it receives from the countries of America it has used these funds to propagate the abstract trends in art and to combat the public art of the Mexican art movement. What right has it to do this? If it were to use its money to propagate realist art, the Abstract painters would have full rights to complain. The OAS has no right to interfere in our aesthetic affairs, or in our national politics. It is very significant that at this time no figurative artist of the social revolutionary trend has been invited to exhibit his works in the United States. Is it not extraordinary that the Museum of Modern Art in New York has seen fit to eliminate these painters from their publications? It is obvious that imperialism prefers an art which is deaf and dumb, an art which says nothing, hears nothing, and even sees nothing. But this does not mean that we deny the right of any painter to experiment in any way he likes. He has the right to do this and the right to defend his principles and his point of view in public; but he does not have the right to help the forces of reaction to drown out the voices of those of us who do want to say something with out painting, or to join those forces in shutting our mouths by taking away our liberties. What are we fighting for at this present time? Are the abstract artists, the non-figurative artists, fighting for the freedom of expression? It is we, the figurative artists who have ideological links with our people, who are fighting for this.”

Found in Art and Revolution, David Alfaro Siquieros (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 1975.) Translated by Sylvia Calles.

I knew the CIA had touted abstract art over social realism in the U.S. and Europe, but I didn’t know the OAS was involved.

Update: Reader Pilar notes that Siquieros was jailed after delivering this speech. He spent four years in a prison in Lecumberri. It was his longest sentence and also his last.

Two related blog posts:

>  21 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Bush Party Mix

Bush TV

In their own words — some short, grassroots, video remix analysis of the debate, the RNC, and the media:

Have there ever been this many independent feature length films and video shorts produced for an election? I predict we’ll see even more in the next one.

>  18 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in , ,


Hooray for librarians!

As if there wasn’t enough to thank your librarian for, from Berkely to Madison, Palo Alto to Whatcom County, librarians are taking a stand against the USA Patriot Act.

Via Wired I discovered the work of Jessamyn West a librarian in Rutland, Vermont.

While the Patriot Act says you can not tell patrons if the FBI is monitoring library computers or requesting patron records, it doesn’t say you can not not tell them:

The FBI has not been here. [watch very closely for the removal of this sign]

The Vermont Library Association has provided copies of the sign to every library in the state.

See more signs here.

>  12 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Type and Nation, 2

“Euskara - which means Basque in the Basque language - refers to all kinds of characters you can find in the Basque country. Indeed each of the seven French and Spanish Basque provinces has its own geographic and cultural characteristics. For instance, those who live on the seaside - itsasoan - differ from those who live in the mountain - itsasmendi. These differences can also be felt from one valley to the other.”

Thierry Arsaut

Modern Basque nationalism emerged at the end of the 19th century, marked by the formation of the Basque Nationalist Party in 1895. Part of the political and cultural program of the Party was a revival of a unified Basque language. And related to this was the celebration of a distinct Basque typography.

Euskara sample In 1888, Louis Colas, a schoolteacher from Baiona, begin his travels across the Basque countryside on muleback on documenting ancient Basque monuments. Colas published his research in a large, heavy volume which cost him a fortune. It initially attracted few readers.

The volume, though:

“is a genuine encyclopedia with more than 500 rough sketches and about 30 photos, tracing monuments and works since lost or destroyed. Unfortunately today, too few originals - some of them in a poor state - can be consulted as unquestioned references to the matter.” [source]

The Basques inherited their method of representing the sounds of language by literal symbols from the Romans.

“At that time, the Basque engravers knew very little about the Roman ironworks technique; their rough tools couldn’t carve deep characters like in the sculptures coming from Rome. So, instead of carving deeply, they scraped the stone around the characters which thus stuck out, creating a new technique. This explains why the Basque letters can hardly resist the passing of time: five-century-old engravings have been rubbed out, for the most part.

Moreover, very few people — such as old families of engravers — could write as well as engrave: such a treasure was to be kept secret. This explains the variety in the Basque characters. Not only did the children inherit the technique from their parents, but they also inherited the family mistakes: sometimes in a village, you may find the same misprints on the old houses fronts. The most powerful family in a valley also caught hold of all the written works. Still today, there are shapes in the carved stone which can be found only in some valleys; and it is the same for the ‘pelote Basque’, the rules of which varied according to the valleys which were the (mass) media of the time!” [source]

Later influence of the continental Celts was felt in particular on capital letters A, S, and N, and in the rare lowercase letters b, p, q, and o.

Euskara sampleDespite this influence and other printing fashions, the Roman influence predominates. There is hardly any Basque written work using cursive script. This results in part from the link between Latin and Christianity: almost all early written works in Basque were religious in content.

The Basque nationalist movement was banned and forced underground in 1923 by the Spanish military dictatorship of Miquel Primo de Reviera, but flourished after proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931 and the lifting of the ban.

Despite military uprisings that divided the Basques, following a large scale campaign for Basque autonomy and a plebiscite in 1932, the Government of the Republic granted autonomy to the Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya regions. The first Aberri Eguna was held on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1932 celebrating the Basque homeland, culture and language, and Catholicism.

In the 1930’s printers and foundries lavished much attention on Mr. Colas’s book which encouraged Euskara’s revival.

“Euskara consists of large-footed, big-eyed, Roman-styled characters. (See Some Different Basque Letters). You should not use them for a whole text because it would give a sensation of thickness: they were used on mortuary epitaphs and fronts of houses, mostly. The general pattern is rather heavy but the ten existing lowercases makes it look lighter: it seems funny that hardly any lowercase can be found in Euskara, although typically Basque letters can be found (for example, the interpenetrated DE).”

Today Euskara can be found throughout the Basque country on signage, television, newspapers, and packaging.

“Among the various Euskara characters used in offset printing, the LetraSet transfer-types are very well spread, whereas only Spanish printers have still got lead characters. Neuhaus in Hendaye is a worth-mentioning firm: their local roadsigns, printed in Basque characters, help promote tourism. Lately, a young editor from Biarritz has tried to use the Basque culture characters [for computer printing].”

But given its current status as a kind of cultural brand for consumption by tourists and others external to the Basque community, does it still retain a nationalist connotation to the community itself? Or has it become depoliticized, commodified, and folkloric?

Photo of Basque Cafe

Thierry Arsaut designed the fonts displayed above.

Links to Basque fonts and more info.

>  10 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,


It’s true, the emperor has no clothes.

Via Ananova:

Nude Bush painting ‘unsuitable’

“A painting of President Bush in the nude has been taken down from a Washington DC museum.

George W. Bush, Olympia

Artist Kayti Didriksen painted Man of Leisure, King George, which was on display at the City Museum.

It is painted in the style of Edouard Manet’s Olympia but Didriksen’s version shows a nude Bush on a chaise lounge.

Vice President Dick Cheney stands nearby, holding a cushion with a crown and a miniature oil rig on it.

The painting was part of a show called Funky Furniture that was set up in the museum last week.

But the show, including the Bush painting, was abruptly shut down after some of the artists’ themes were considered unsuitable.

Myra Peabody Gossens, a public relations consultant for the museum, said the exhibit was not what had been expected.

‘The museum is not an art museum,’ she explained. ‘It gets mostly groups of children, with teachers trying to tell them something about history.’”

The BBC has more:

“The exhibit also featured a decorated church pew with pictures and words accusing Ronald Reagan of ignoring the Aids crisis, and a table decorated with drug paraphernalia with a quote from former Washington mayor Marlon Barry, who was jailed for drug possession.

Art-O-Matic, a local artists’ group which organised the display, said it was now looking for another home for the exhibit.

‘About a dozen people may have seen it,’ board member Jim Tretick said.

‘The exhibit wasn’t completely mounted. It was taken down the next day when the museum was closed.’”

Thanks Jamie!

>  9 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in

Type and Nation, 1

From Paul Shaw, “Fascism on the Facade,” in Print, May/June 2004:

“Tourists may be unaware that Fascist architecture — fountains, monuments, public works, buildings — pervades Rome. Non-Italian guidebooks deliberately ignore these structures, and their modernism makes them seem boringly familiar — even at the most ponderous and grandiose — to anyone visiting from another large city. However, there is one thing above all else that separates Fascist architecture from modern architecture: the conspicuous presence of lettering.

Lettering, inscribed and in relief, had always been an integral part of Western architecture until the Modernists, in their drive for purity and functionality, threw it out along with ornaments, and other decorative motifs. In Italy, lettering survived and flourished in Fascist architecture because it served to advertise the regime’s aims and accomplishments.

While the Nazis settled the centuries-old fraktur oder antiqua (blackletter versus roman) debate in favor of the former, the Fascists never had an official policy regarding letterforms. ‘The idea of an “art of the State” was rejected not only by Mussolini and his minister Giuseppe Bottai, but also by all the official representatives of the regime,’ wrote Rossana Bossaglia in Ritratto di un’Idea (2002). Instead, beginning in 1926, the regime spoke of Fascist art as work that interpreted and represented the spirit of the Fascist movement. But no precise style was defined until the late 1930s. Often overlooked and mistaken for lettering of other periods, the visual language of the Fascists still permeates many of Rome’s most historic buildings.”

>  7 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Silicon in the Naked City

Don't Throw Away Your Old or Non-Working Computer...

Last week, I was delighted to receive a piece of mail from the New York City Department of Sanitation.

The flyer announced a series of events around the city to collect, refurbish, and recycle old electronics in an environmentally responsible manner.

Electronic devices constitute less than one percent of the NYC waste stream, but the materials are extremely toxic if not disposed of properly.

I know non-profit and volunteer groups hold collection events from time to time, but I almost always find out about them after the fact. The refurbished computers are usually donated or sold to low-income families, schools, and community groups for a nominal fee.

This time, however, the Department of Sanitation itself is sponsoring events in the five boroughs to collect e-waste. Working cell phones are being donated to Collective Good.

The events are jointly funded by Dell and Lexmark and the National Recycling Coalition. The Lower East Side Ecology Center and other community groups are coordinating.

I asked Robert Lange, New York City’s Director of Recycling and Waste Prevention about the events:

SDN: Was this started at the initiative of the City, local groups, or manufacturers?

eWaste Recycling Flyer
Click to view a larger version
RL: It’s really a combination. Dell has a variety of programs for taking back computers and so do other manufacturers listed on the flyer. I wanted to advertise this to the public. Sometimes the government is pushed to do a program that in some ways is already being met, it’s just that the public doesn’t know about it. If you’re concerned about these items and you want to dispose of them in a responsible manner, there are outlets for you right now. Basically, our advertising is directing people to an existing network. When we were talking to Dell about it, they said that they had some funds that they would be willing to have for drop-off in addition to that.

I usually find out these things after the fact. What kind of outreach are you doing?

We sent out the flyer well in advance to every residence in the city, and posted the information on our Web site.

Is this aimed primarily at consumers or businesses or both?

It is aimed at city residences.

Will there be a similar push directed at businesses?

It’s possible.

In things like this, it depends on who picks up the tab. Does the tab get picked up by the businesses that profit from the manufacture and sale of these items? Is the tab picked up by consumers? Is some ways, ultimately, the tab is always picked up by the consumer, either directly associated as a charge with the item when they by it, or indirectly through a tax, to run a municipal program, for example.

In my own estimation, because there is an infrastructure for producing these things and delivering the products to people, it makes sense to use the same distribution network to take them back if possible.

And to some extent, Dell and other manufacturers are doing that. If you look at the flyer or the Web site, there are services currently provided by these companies for taking back computers. In some cases, there’s a nominal charge, in other cases there’s no charge, but it’s services they provide to directly take back computers from consumers after their useful life.

Given the toxicity of materials, is there a chance that the disposal may be regulated legislatively?

There are materials like this in the waste stream that are increasing in volume and they need to be addressed. Whether they need to be addressed by a municipal program or not is something that is still in question.

There are a variety of proposed pieces of legislation, both in our area and in other parts of the country to require that this material be handled in a more responsible manner. Different legislators have different perspectives on who picks up the tab.

My own opinion is that this is something that manufacturers should really be required to deal with. And to some extent they are stepping up to the plate because the funds for these drop-off programs that we are running through community-based organizations are being provided by Dell and Lexmark.

Recycle Your Old Computer!I don’t know if you are familiar with an organization called RBRC which is for taking back batteries — particularly Nickel Cadmium batteries. It is funded and run by the battery industry. A few years ago, when the industry was facing the potential of severe regulation governing how batteries could be disposed of, all the manufacturers got together set up an informal network to receive batteries from the public. All the Radio Shacks, Staples, and organizations like that take back batteries from the public as part of the network they established. And they did that try to avoid the kind of regulation that was coming down.

I think the computer industry has an even greater incentive to do that, so I expect that what is now fairly informal will become a more formal network in the future. Either that or there will be legislation passed.

What are your future plans?

This is something of an experiment. As I said, the funds are being provided by Dell and Lexmark. Whether they will continue to provide funding... they have not made a long range commitment to that effect.

The collections will run through the fall. How we go forward will depend on the amount success we have. Events like this have been run in the City before and the average tonnage of computers and electronics received per event is approximately 10 tons. We hope to see exponentially higher numbers because this mailing is going to every household in the City.

For more information, visit the NYC Wasteless Web site.


And while we’re talking trash, big up to the Mayor for his plan to ship waste from Manhattan’s 59th Street pier instead of trucking it to Brooklyn and the South Bronx.This should relieve some of the burden from low-income neighborhoods who overwhelming suffer the traffic of the City’s trash.

>  3 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Commodify Your Dissent

Walking around downtown, I’m noticing a number of businesses flaunting their politics. Below are a few random snapshots.

In New York City, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 5 to 1 it probably does not harm your business much to wave a Democratic flag.

But what’s notable is that these banners do not seem to be branding or trying to create a niche. I don’t think these businesses are trying to position themselves as responsible corporate citizens. It seems more like someone wearing a political pin, though for each the context is a bit different.

Click on a thumbnail to view a larger image.

Via Della Pace, Italian café
The T-shirt reads “Romani Contro Bush.”
Bowery Bar and Grill
Who also pioneered the gentrification around Cooper Square 10 years ago.
Banners outside the Public Theater
Pentagram, a design studio
They usually hang a banner with a big red P.
Ben & Jerry’s
They actually did have voter registration forms.
Cookies at Once Upon a Tart
“After all,” says the owner, “we’re French.”

On a related note, a year ago a handful of lefty bloggers were abuzz about this:


a label from a bag designed by Tom Bihn, an American company located in Port Angeles, Washington. The French repeats the English care and handling instructions, with an additional two lines:

Wash with warm water.
Use mild soap.
Dry flat.
Do not use bleach.
Do not dry in the dryer.
Do not iron.
We are sorry that Our President is an idiot.
We did not vote for him.

Few bloggers followed up to point out that the grassroots buzz actually produced record sales for the company.

From AFP, April 26, 2003:

Handbags insulting “president” in French sell like hot cakes in US

“There is no doubt that sales are hot for handbags bearing an insult — in French — aimed at ‘our president.’ The question is: Which president?

The bag’s designer Tom Bihn never guessed that purses with the message, ‘We’re sorry our president is an idiot. We didn’t vote for him’ — inscribed in French — would be blowing out of the stores.

‘It is a mystery, but since we launched the bags with the label sewn, sales have doubled,’ said Bihn, 43. ‘It is a record in the history of the company.’

He denies the message is targeting US President George W. Bush.

‘It depends on either your nationality, or the president you think is an idiot; you choose.’

Clients throughout the United States have flooded his offices in Seattle and Port Angeles with calls and e-mails to order for the bags, he said.

The company received ‘varied reactions’ including ‘hate mail from a French citizen who thought the label was addressed to (French President) Jacques Chirac.’

But 80 percent of the Americans think it is an amusing message, he said.

On his company’s website, he said: ‘Everyone seems to have a ‘president’ that they think is an idiot. Take your pick: Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton, George Bush.’

Neither Bihn nor his 10 employees have yet taken the situation seriously, but have launched a series of T-shirts, selling at 20 dollars each, with the same message, with funds to go to a war veterans’ center in Seattle.”

>  2 October 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

On to November.
Back to September.