Hand-Painted Type

Hanif Kureshi

It’s been a treat to see Hanif Kureshi‘s completely awesome HandPaintedType project getting a lot of attention and praise during the last month or so. I met Hanif back in March, at Typography Day in Ahmedabad, and immediately took a shine to the painted lettering he put on display, and it’s no suprise that I was all for the idea of documenting and supporting the efforts of those artists. Hanif showed this short film he made as an introduction to the situation that inspired this project:

Handpainted Type is a project that is dedicated to preserving the typographic practice of street painters around India. These painters, with the advent of local DTP (Desktop Publishers) shops, are rapidly going out of business with many businesses and shops switching to the quicker, cheaper but uglier vinyls. Many painters have given up their practice altogether.

The project involves documenting the typefaces of road side painters across India, digitizing it and archiving it for future generations.

I had a lot of discussions about the sign painters with a lot of designers while I was in India. It’s a difficult bind for the artisans whose livelihood is giving way to the production of cheap digital signage. They can’t match digital sign shops in terms of price or speed, but the work they do is both more charming and more likely to last for a long time. Of course, style and longevity are probably low priorities for customers who are also trying to eke out a living in a difficult economy.

I think the key to survival for the sign-painters may lie in the hand of designers and other tastemakers who not only appreciate the work, but are also more likely to have the market savvy to shift the perception of the lettering trade from being “just” a trade to acknowledging the artistry. A similar thing has been going on in the West with the explosion of interest in crafts and the handmade object, and I think it could certainly happen in India, where everyone seems so quick to see the vibrancy of the handmade letter in comparison to the glut of poor typography. The fonts will improve, though, and what then of the lettering artists (and the art of lettering itself) if they can’t find a place for themselves elsewhere in the culture?

First Mention Of AIDS In Print: 30 Years Ago Today


Thirty years ago, on June 5, 1981, AIDS was first acknowledged in print.

The article from the Centers for Disease Control wasn’t widely read, and it didn’t give a name to the disease. (It would be another year before scientists found one that fit, after giving several a try, including the terrible GRID, for “gay-related immune deficiency”.)

The paper certainly didn’t talk about HIV, since the virus wasn’t discovered until later. In fact, the article was mostly about the unusual appearance of Pneumocystis pneumonia in five young, gay men in Los Angeles. For all scientists knew, they were dealing with a superstrain of Pneumocystis that could eventually threaten the entire planet.

Well, they were half right.

At first, HIV and AIDS were a major setback for the burgeoning gay rights movement. Things had been moving swiftly for the community until then: the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of diseases in 1974 — just five years after Stonewall — and we were being treated more fairly in the media. We were even featured on popular TV shows like Dynasty and Soap, and although those representations weren’t perfect, they were far better than the psychopathic killers and suicidal maniacs we’d played before.

AIDS took the lives of many who campaigned for those achievements, and even people who weren’t ill were dumbstruck for a time. But grief is an unparalleled motivator, and soon, the LGBT community and its allies had formed sophisticated, efficient activist groups, pushing for treatment and prevention programs, destigmatization, and equal rights. We did as the ACT UP slogan said and turned our sadness into rage.

Over the course of the epidemic, roughly 30,000,000 people around the world have died from AIDS, and another 32,000,000 live with HIV/AIDS today. Treatment has gotten much easier and more bearable for those living with HIV, and there have especially promising developments in recent years, particularly in the area of stem cells and genetic therapy. But there is still no cure.

Take a moment today to think of your friends, family members, and neighbors who have died from AIDS or who are living with HIV/AIDS. Renew your commitment to wiping out this disease. Contribute to a local hospice, sign up for a charity walk, send a letter to your elected officials — whatever fits your style.

Everyone thought that AIDS would be cured by now. Let’s make certain that happens within the next 30 years — or hopefully, far sooner.

[Reposted from the lovely Sturtle. For those who have time, here is the original article from June 5, 1981 (or on the CDC website).]

Continue reading “First Mention Of AIDS In Print: 30 Years Ago Today”

Photos officially OK in NYC

Finally, common sense prevails over security theatre and knee-jerk paranoia:

Faced with complaints from photographers and tourists alike, the NYPD has issued a department order reminding cops that the right to take pictures in the Big Apple is as American as apple pie.

“Photography and the videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City . . . and is rarely unlawful,” the NYPD operations order begins. [From the New York Post]

NYPD say pics OK!

[Click the image above to enlarge and print for yourself to carry around, if you’re so inclined.]

Let’s hope they finally drop the anti-photography here in the UK one of these days.

The Colbert Retort

Mark Smith, ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Madame First Lady, Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert and tonight it’s my privilege to celebrate this president. We’re not so different, he and I. We get it. We’re not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We’re not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? that’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say “I did look it up, and that’s not true.” that’s ’cause you looked it up in a book.

Stephen Colbert has bigger balls than you. I don’t know what routine he submitted for review before his appearance at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, but I doubt it was the text of the blistering 12-minute satirical rant that ripped the president, seated about 10 feet away from him, to shreds, with plenty of ammunition left for the press themselves. It was funny, then awkward, then almost painful to watch as Colbert pressed forward, determined to get to the end despite an audience that was either too offended or scared to laugh most of the time. The pacing and the delivery of the whole bit is off, and you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. This was the kind of performance comics dread — Colbert was stuck up there trying to salvage an act that was bombing in front of everyone in the room and watching on C-Span. But you know what? I think that’s exactly what he anticipated.

As a comic performance he may have missed the mark, but the jokes were definitely not meant to amuse the audience. They were for the rest of us. The audience was nothing but a roomful of sitting ducks, and Colbert brought a big gun, and a smile. The audience was meant to grow steadily more uncomfortable, as Colbert dared everyone in the room to remain polite as he delivered what was probably the most scathing critique the president has probably ever heard. Right to his face. While smiling, and pretending to love the man.

Watch the clips (parts one, two, three) and/or read the transcript to witness freedom of speech in action.

Two Left Hands

Best part of the conference so far? The on-stage battle between Rep. Barney Frank and John Hockenberry about, effectively, which of them is more liberal than the other. Barney Frank has the impassioned viewpoint of a long-term public servant, Hockenberry has the impassioned view of a long-time public commentater. Drama! And big ideas that are not navel-gazing design ideas, which is what I like best at these conferences.

Two huge liberal with big opinions battling out the nuances of what’s the most liberal stance to take on important issues? That feels so Dutch, don’t you think?

In Defense of the Prime Directive

Take a moment, all, to consider this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Federation of Planets,
and to the galaxy for which it stands,
one universe, under everybody,
with liberty and justice for all species.

This sweet, idealistic, nerdy — and apparently inflammatory — version of the Pledge of Allegiance resulted in the suspension of the awesome 8-year-old kid who is my new hero. My other new hero is his mom, who stuck up for him and refused to have him do the stupid punish assignment the school wanted him to do. There are more details to the story buried in the comments on that post I linked to, so be sure to check them out. The one that bugged me the most (aside from the principal being such a melodramatic jerk) was that the kid got in trouble because another kid’s parent ratted him out.

Freedom of expression is dead in our society. Or at least it’s on life support, and this time the enemy among us isn’t so reluctant to pull that plug.

Speaking of which, who else is already depressed about the battle for a new Supreme Court justice?

Illegal Loft Living? Shocking!

The Times just ran an article about all the illegal lofts in East Williamsburg, especially those in the immediate area of my former residence, the Brooklyn Home for Wayward Bloggers. If you live (or have lived) in the area, you’ll notice that every photo in the article and every street mentioned is within Frisbee distance of the Morgan Ave. L station. Kids, maybe it’s time to get organized again if you want your interests protected. Shockingly enough (and this is where I wish there were some kind of punctuation mark to indicate use of sarcasm), the city is annoyed that landlords defy zoning regulations, yet residents area want to live in cool old buildings even if the circumstance is shady and there’s no recycling. Also, I’m not surprised that realtors never mention that the living situations are totally illegal, but I’m a bit more stunned that people moving into the area are so naive that that don’t realize it within about 5 seconds.

I miss living in Brooklyn a lot, and I miss living in a loft even more. I don’t miss, however, constantly worrying about the threat of eviction or runaway gentrification. (I also don’t miss the asshole who lived across the hall from me who yelled at everyone he didn’t recognize and possibly locked his Yoko-Ono-ish wife inside their loft when he went to work, but that’s another fistful of stories altogether.) Those were the days, eh? I’d still take them back so I could have enough elbow room for guests and photo studio.


We’re so fucked. I’m clinging to that teeny cotton thread of hope, but it looks like we’re fucked, especially if I start to think about Congress.

If you voted Republican, don’t tell me. I mean it. If you tell me, you rob me of the belief that I can respect your judgement and your values. What was it? Tax breaks? The war? Religion? Stem cells? What makes you think things are just fine the way they are, and will only get better? Yes, you’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. And my opinion is that you betrayed me. You personally betrayed me. (You also personally betrayed the generations that will foot the bill for your tax breaks and for the war, but right now I can only dredge up the most abstract kind of anger about that.)

You betrayed me for people who say that I don’t deserve the same rights you do. You betrayed me for people who believe that might makes right. You betrayed me for people who think it’s more honorable to send people to die for democracy than contribute to its cost. I hope the unparallelled arrogance and self-righteousness we are about to witness makes you feel good about your choice. Enjoy that tax break! You earned it!

Me? I didn’t need it.

A Dirty Raspberry

John Waters and Alan J. WendlTracey Ullman, Selma Blair, et al.

I curated my own double-feature this weekend, checking out two movies about sexual revolution (more or less): The Raspberry Reich, the latest rump romp from Bruce La Bruce, and then A Dirty Shame, the latest farce fest from John Waters. I didn’t intend a themed afternoon, but part of the way into Raspberry Reich it was clearly going to be one, since most of the movie was a tedious rehash of stuff that John Waters has done more successfully (and certainly with better jokes) in the past. It was also a self-described “agit-porn” movie, so it wasn’t much of a leap to consider its kinship to a Waters movie about sexual deviance upsetting a quiet neighborhood in Baltimore.

The Raspberry Reich is the tale of a group of aspiring German revolutionaries aping the gimmicks of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, and they happen to screw each other a lot and quote a lot of radical propaganda along the way. I wanted to stab pencils in my eyes most of the time. No, I take that back: it would have been pleasant enough to watch the gay sex and the punk/camp art direction if I could be spared the wooden dialogue, the pedantry, and the terrible sound quality. I always want to like Bruce LaBruce movies more than I do because I get what he’s doing (and I like subversion and gay porn), but his movies always strike me as being so blunt, with so little energy. Yeah, there’s some good camp, but it falls flat. It’s interesting to watch pornography and philosophy collide, but not when it has to rely on the comic timing or acting chops of porn stars. “Gay is not enough,” as the saying goes, and neither is punk. It still has to come together somehow, and hopefully do something a little more interesting.

John Waters has handled the clichés of revolution before (and more adroitly) in Cecil B. Demented (and even flirted with it in Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble), and even though his humor can be pretty blunt — sight gags and one-liners — he and his casts always revel in the material. Everyone always has fun and plays their parts to the hilt, and often that zeal makes for better performances than traditional acting skills might. His films are like a celebrity roast, somehow managing to spoof and celebrate at the same time. They’re famous for being shocking, but shock always fades over time, and even the earlier, cruder ones still work because they’re smart enough to hint at more than they show. They lampoon both sides of any argument (with more than a touch of sympathy for the underdog), but pretty much leave it to you to figure out who the real freaks are, who goes further over the top in defense of what they believe.

And A Dirty Shame does it again. Sorry, Bruce, it’s not so shocking to show sex in this day and age, especially if you have a jaded audience. What’s pretty outré, though, is to take a subject as highly charged as sex and make merciless fun of it. It’s a movie that’s relentlessly showing, cataloguing, and laughing at every perversion it can think of, and taking the erotic charge out of all of it. It’s not salacious in any way — it’s just having fun with how much we sexualize everything around us, regardless of whether we think all that sex is bad or good. And it’s having a lot of fun with that. The revolutionary part of all this is that it’s daring a jaded audience to take itself less seriously. Do what you want — and as much as you possibly can — but you’re not necessarily any more outrageous than the guy down the street. The revolutionary idea, of a kind that always lurks around and under all the jokes and the gags and the camp in John Waters’ universe, is that we’re all kinda freaky, and that’s good. We can all be sexy, as long as we believe we are. Your perversion isn’t bad, but your interference with someone else’s perversion is. Why shouldn’t we laugh ourselves into epiphany? It’s probably more effective than trying to badger or seduce us into one. Enjoy the ride, and let the dangerous ideas creep up on you later when you least expect it.

Tedious hostage sceneTedious masturbation scene