Monday, March 22, 2010

Lit Crit: Pidgin by Lisa Kanae

Pidgin (...with added logorrhea).

Lisa Kanae uses typography, delineation, size, orientation, and language to visually manifest the conditions of imperialistic oppression and the visceral response of the less powerful. Using both the specific language and its visual representation, Kanae and her graphic designer, Kristin Kaleinani Gonzales, show how a people create an identity and how an oppressive system uses that identity and its lingua franca against those same people. In this example the language of the oppressed has naïve elegance and simplicity that transcends cultures, and which deliberately contrasts with the officious voice of inflexible, crushing authority.

All the elements of this essay can be examined for context, and each element evolves in the same fashion, but in the interest of limiting the scope and length of my paper, I am only going to analysis the ‘voice of authority,’ predominantly using it’s typographic presentation.

The first four paragraph depictions of the ‘voice of authority’ utilize a very quiet, traditional thin-serif font with a condensed x-height and extended ascenders to express a formal command structure and to establish the implied lineage of authority, sotto voce. Footnotes and bibliographic references (without supporting substantiation) enhance the presumption of authority. In each instance the text remains clinical, analyzing the presumed pathology of the inferred speech.

Upon the fifth instance of the authoritorial voice, four paragraphs are utilized on one page and the size of the font is randomly and dramatically increased with bolding elements added, in response to ‘pidgin’ questions regarding the authority’s validity. The visual inference is of desperation and the loss of control. At this point the text directly refers to the Creole dialect for the first time, differentiating it from a speech pathology to a locally responsive language. This passage directly attacks ‘pidgin’ as a substandard and subservient language. The social construct of ‘masters’ and ‘servile population’ are also introduced as social-intellectual elements of the dialogue.

The sixth depiction of the authoritorial voice has been knocked sideways and is crisscrossed with lines as though negated and boxed in, indicating a fast approaching limit to its power. The text devolves into racist demagoguery: “the speech of ‘inferior beings’ and adds yet another bibliographic reference in a desperate attempt to reestablish it’s primacy. (We saw a similar response last night to Health Care Reform where members of the Tea-Bag branch of the Republican Party reverted to hate-speech and name-calling when confronting imminent defeat.) The facing page was left blank as though the authoritorial voice was momentarily speechless.

The seventh and eighth depictions of the authoritorial voice are withdrawn intellectual responses with a palpable sense of defeat as the graphic depiction reverts to its original quiet, restrained form. The text in the seventh paragraph again implies, but does not directly state, that the Creole language is pathological or ‘lazy,’ with limited capabilities of understanding, but the sense is we are seeing the ‘last hurrah’ as it were, of a resigned and dying intellect and power.

The final two authoritorial voiced elements sum up the struggle. The last but one examines the social implications of language and the supremacy of an evolved aggregate language, which now represents the new authority. The final passage, “I am one voice out of that one million," while in the same serif type used by the now deposed ‘master-class’, is loud and proud.

The new, traditional ‘voice of authority’ speaks for and from the formerly oppressed class.

Lit Crit: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

What is a Girl?
(…with apologies for my Anthropology 1A take on this English 1A assignment)

‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid uses an angry avalanche of predominantly female adult voices offering mainly criticism mixed with little pieces of advice carefully designed to instill self-doubt, destructive sexist expectations, and social fears into a young girl. The purpose of this symphony of condemnation is to disempower the girl, to hobble her sexuality, and to make her lot as a nursemaid seem dignified and noble. Only twice does the youngster answer (in italics). In both cases she responds defensively, but in each case she is ignored.

While the piled on statements in ‘Girl’ appear as simple instructions: “Wash the clothes on Monday,” “this is how you make a button-hole,” “this is how you sweep the yard,” “iron your father’s shirt,” these comments are deliberate designed to limit her options and diminish her sense of independence. Each statement reaffirms the communal mindset that works incessantly to restrictively define the feminine persona, both by setting forth her responsibilities, and by limiting her natural inclinations. Repeated three times are instructions to on how to smile; similarly repetitive are directions on how to set a table, clean a home, grow and cook food.

Where are the suggestions she might teach, run a business, defend her country from oppressive colonial capitalists, lead her people to freedom? Instead these voices insist she will become a wife and a mother, the alternative being that she becomes “the slut you are so intent on becoming.” Repeated three times directly and once more in inference in the very last sentence, the slut she is so intent on becoming represents the greatest social concern expressed in Kincaid’s story. Apparently suppressing a young woman’s natural sexual impulses requires the most effort, the most repetition, and the most intense condemnation.

Saying this young woman is going to become a ‘slut’ affords her elders a means to control her. All humans are intensely sexual, whether they act on their continuous and pervasive sexual impulses or not. To call a woman a slut, irrespective or her age, is to ‘animalize’ her into a powerless state. Her natural sexual impulses are used against her, destroying her sense of autonomy, controlling her behaviors, including her sexual actions. What purpose is served by prohibiting a woman, young or old, from acting on her ever-present sexual impulses? Are we successful at controlling these natural proclivities?

Repeated genetic studies have determined that as many as thirty percent of the children born in first world countries like the US, Canada and the UK, are not genetic linked to the man listed as father on the birth certificate (see The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, Matt Ridley, 1993). It is reasonable to presume this percentage is similar in less economically established countries. This figure is more than a little ironic when we consider that it is men who are encouraged to ‘sow their wild oats’ with sly winks and ribald accolades from both genders.

“The view that it is permissible for a man, but not a woman, to commit adultery has persisted almost to the present day” says Reay Tannahill in Sex in History. Some studies show that infidelity by men married more than two years runs as high a 72% (Women and Love, Shere Hite, 1989). But that is not the end of the story, Hite found the same rates of infidelity for women: “70 percent of women married more than five years are having sex outside of marriage” (ibid). With the average act of coitus lasting only three minutes and with a lifetime average of 2,000 sexual acts for every pregnancy, the odds and opportunity for undiscovered infidelity are quite good.

The culturally accepted phenomenon of male infidelity is widely acknowledged, as are the benefits: genetically linked offspring. What is not as widely acknowledged are the benefits that accrue to promiscuous women. Those benefits include increased access to assets, more genetically successful offspring (the ‘Beautiful Son’ theory of sexual selection), and expanded social support-networks. A woman who has multiple sexual partners often also gains a coterie of men to protect and support her if her mate becomes abusive or rejects her, and similarly, increased likelihood of protection and support in the instance of her mate’s death.

Especially in matriarchal and/or deliberately non-monogamous groups there is great benefit for the offspring of sexually available women, especially in a group that is genetically similar. The child of such a woman could be the genetic heir of any of the men with whom she was sexual. Under such conditions nearly everyone in the community would have a genetic investment in the survival of her progeny.

While there are historic examples of temporary periods of sexual abandon, such as the bacchanalian practices of the Romans and Greeks, most modern people attempt to ignore, deny or discount similar social experiences we actively and enthusiastically participate in today. Carnival, Mardi Gras, disorganized ‘frat parties,’ carefully orchestrated wedding parties, organized orgies, Jack-n-Jill-offs, Power Exchange events, and The Exotic Erotic Ball are just a small example of the wide spectrum of orgiastic practices we casually and recreationally indulge in today without severe social stigma.

To further ameliorate negative social judgment, most modern acts of sexual abandon involve alcohol and/or drugs. This allows the participant to deny responsibility.

“I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing,” or “I was drunk and didn’t know what they were doing to me,” are frequent responses to deliberate acts of female sexual abandon.

That is not to say there aren’t risks, especially in our patriarchal society, though clearly not enough to substantially impede widespread ‘sluttish’ behavior. In addition to possible male violence on herself, children in ‘families’ where either of the adults is genetically unrelated to the child are 60 times more likely to die than in those where both adults are genetically linked to the child (Red Queen). A sexually active woman also faces the risk of destabilizing her current relationship and ending up in a more precarious financial circumstance. As women control more of their own assets, including employment opportunities, this becomes less of a constraint. In societies with high levels of government-covered family support, including the USA, today, the rates for out of wedlock childbirth have increased substantially. It’s no longer imperative for the modern women to wait for a male provider to begin her reproductive journey. Even more common is a form of ‘monogamy’ where the modern woman is likely to have children with one or more men, within a series of short-term marriages. Whether that’s her intention or not, it is the result.

That said it appears that the main purpose and result of the widespread practice of condemnation, criticism and fear-mongering regarding women’s sexuality is to disempower women. It remains perhaps the most effective means of denying and undermining their claims for self-sufficiency, while limiting their aspirations and options.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Actions Have Consequences: Ryan Lau part 2

While Berkeley City Council District 2 representative Daryl Moore says his aide, Ryan Lau, made a mistake in replacing an old funky garage with a larger living structure without obtaining permits or zoning approval, it appears the mistake is much bigger, more expensive and more problematic than simply paying a higher fee. Lau was ordered to cease construction on Monday, March 15, 2010, by Building Inspector Greg Heidenreich.

Berkeley’s building code specifically sets out ‘Development Standards for Accessory Dwelling Units’ that appear to prohibitively restrict the type of development Lau has already built. Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin was not optimistic that the city would be able to approve Lau’s project without a variance and in the city of Berkeley obtaining a variance is nearly impossible she acknowledged.

The first obstacle to issuing a permit is the size of Lau’s ‘Accessory Dwelling Unit. The estimated size of Lau’s nearly finished project is 432 square feet. According to the code (Section 23D.16.040), such structures are restricted to 300 square feet or less. The specific language of the code states: “No more than 25% of the gross floor area of the main dwelling in existence prior to the construction of the Accessory Dwelling Unit,” with an exemption that allows a building up to 300 square foot if the main house is smaller than 1,200 square feet. Lau’s main dwelling is less than 1,200 square feet but the building he has nearly completed is almost 44% over the upper limit.

Additionally the code specifically excludes building less than four feet from the property line. Apparently Lau has built the entire structure on the side property line
“In no case can zoning approve this if the setbacks are less than four feet,” said Deputy Director Cosin. “If he doesn’t meet the standards he’ll need a variance and it is very, very difficult to get a variance.”

Ironically, any person seeking a variance from local building codes has to get approval from the Zoning Adjustment Board. Ryan Lau is Councilman Darryl Moore’s appointee to that board.

While one local reporter stated that in attempting to resolve this issue promptly Berkeley’s Planning Department was expediting Lau’s permit, Cosin insisted that wasn’t the case.

“We’re handling this the same way we would handle any other violation,” Cosin said.
Any other treatment would be preferential and ethically improper. It is possible for Lau to pay an extra fee to expedite the permit process, which is available to any applicant, but Cosin said that Lau is “not at the building permit stage.”

As of Wednesday, March 17, 2010, Lau has not applied for zoning clearance which he must do before he can turn in a building permit application.

If Lau does not get a variance, the council-aide would have to tear the structure down, Cosin said.

While neither Lau, nor District One Councilman Darryl Moore, nor Mayor Tom Bates, nor City Manager Phil Kamlarz, nor Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel (formerly of the city attorney’s office) returned this reporter’s phone calls on Wednesday, other city staff expressed concern about the underlying issues this violation has exposed.

“I’m confused about how that can be allowed without him resigning his aide position. He’s a city employee. Seems like a conflict of interest,” said one Berkeley staffer by email. That person requested I not use their name. “In light of your discovery, it seems the only reasonable action is to remove him from ZAB (credibility shot and not fit to rule on similar situations) and he should be fired as an employee (violated the oath we take to uphold all rules and regulations).”

Another city employee, who also did not offer his name, suggested Berkeley City Auditor Ann Marie Hogan’s office should investigate Lau’s ethical lapses.

Hogan said all city staff except the mayor, council members, and their staff and appointees, are required to sign and abide by a code of ethical standards crafted by her office and the office of the City Manager that specifically requires they adhere to the laws and regulations of the city. The city manager administratively adopted that code of ethical standards for all city staff. Compliance with that code of ethics is not enforceable with the Mayor, the city council or their staff and appointees.
The mayor and council members, as elected legislative officers, do not report to the city manager’s office, nor do their aides or commission appointees, Hogan said.

“City council staff are hired and fired only by the City Council,” Hogan said. “They are ‘at-will’ employees.”

Similarly commission appointees only refer matters back to the city council, they actually don’t have any ‘authority,’ Hogan said. The mayor and city council must approve all commission actions.

“It’s never a bad idea to adopt a code of ethics,” Hogan said.

Regarding Lau’s lapses and his continued presence on the Zoning Adjustment Board, neither Cosin nor Hogan was willing to comment.

Councilwoman Linda Maio (her aide is Nicole Drake, Lau’s tenant and partner) was more forth coming.

“No,”Maio responded bluntly when asked if Lau should remain on the Zoning Adjustment Board. “I think not!”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Rules are just for Fools in Berkeley

Dear Reader.
There are two types of people in Berkeley: rubes like you and me, and there are the elite. The normal rules that rubes live, bleed, and die by don’t apply to the elite. The elite needn’t follow the well-established required procedures nor abide by municipal regulations. They’re special and they know what’s best for us, and what’s best for them.

One of Berkeley’s most onerous departments of rules and regulations is its Building Department. If the average citizen rube wants to replace a water heater, stove or even a light switch, the law says he has to pull a building permit. If the rube want to repair his front porch, he has to turn in working drawings and a lot map, and pay hundreds of dollars to get said building permit. I know from personal experience.

Heaven forbid after buying your 1,145 square-foot house for $435,000 less than a year ago, as Ryan Lau did, you should want to tear down your miniscule old and decrepit garage built in the 1920s and replace it with a lovely residential structure twice as large and located far less than the required four feet from the property line. If a rube wanted to build too close to his neighbor’s property he would have to get a ‘Use Permit,’ which would likely require a public hearing and cost the rube thousands and thousands of dollars. He might even end up in front of the Zoning Adjustment Board!

Of course if the person who wants to do such a thing is named Ryan Lau, Councilman Darryl Moore’s long-time aide and appointed Commissioner to the Zoning Adjustments Board, rules mean nothing.

Zoning Adjustment Board Commissioner Ryan simply tore down (without a demolition permit) all but the front of his funky old 10x20 foot garage and replaced it on the property line with an elegant residential-style structure more than twice as large (roughly 12x36 feet). Mr Lau left one wall of the teetering temporary front façade of the old garage still standing precariously, the better to hide the massive construction project in-process behind it. The new building is lovely and substantial: taller, wider, nearly twice as long. It offers the proud owner lovely wide windows and double French doors in front, and what looks like a bathroom, rear entrance and bedroom in the back.

Mr Lau, the well-paid Aide to Councilman Darryl Moore from District 2, didn’t apply for a use permit for such a magnificent project according to Aaron Sage, Senior Planner at City of Berkeley. Mr Sage was manning the Zoning Department desk when I submitted my request for information. After researching the issue Mr Sage looked quite uncomfortable saying that no Use Permit, nor any other zoning permit had been issued.

It seems Mr Lau didn’t bother to apply for a building permit either according to two different Building Department employees who researched the question for me when I submitted my official written request at the building department’s information counter. Normally a building permit would require zoning approval, site plans, building plans, neighborhood meetings, and probably a zoning adjustment hearing (in front of Mr Lau and/or his friends on the board)!

When I went to Mr Lau’s house to speak with the owner and see and photograph this extravagant violation of the city’s building and zoning codes, a woman, who I assumed was Nicole Drake, Mr Lau’s significant other, came out of the house and screamed threats at me repeatedly and claimed she called the police. Unfortunately she refused to identify herself or to speak to me about the construction project. There was no work-card/permit posted anywhere in sight, as is required by regulation. Ironically enough Ms Drake is also employed by the city of Berkeley. She is District 1 Councilwoman Linda Maio’s well-paid Aide.

Like many in Berkeley, over the years I have become more than a little familiar with the workings of code enforcement. I have been red-tagged (an immediate work-stop-order) by the city numerous times, typically for doing minor repairs to my home, and once for work I wasn’t doing!

My son, Asa Dodsworth, has had Gregory Daniel, Berkeley’s chief code enforcer, and Maurice Norrise, Mr Daniel’s subordinate, at his home so frequently he wonders whether he could legally charge them rent. Through much effort Asa has managed to get the city to reduce the fines imposed against him for planting vegetables in his median strip and similar such extravagances reduced to only several thousand dollars from a much, much higher figure, but the city continues to bagger and harass him relentlessly.

Many years ago Berkeley’s building department cited me personally for most of the entire Uniform Building Code (according to Court Commissioner Jon Rantzman). All for naught, Commissioner Rantzman dismissed every citation. When this mayor’s wife was our mayor, I was again cited for new laws they were making up almost as quickly as they were writing the citations. Again for naught, the city promptly rewrote its new laws several times before deleting them entirely.

I attempted to contact Mayor Tom Bates regarding Mr Lau’s violations, especially in light of his position as a city council aide and a zoning adjustment board commission member. One of the Mayor’s Aides spoke with me, and then with the mayor, and then came back and took my phone number. I heard nothing more. I also attempted to speak with both Councilman Moore and Councilwoman Maio regarding their Aides’ involvement in this violation of the public trust. Neither called me back but I wasn’t surprised. The voice on Ms Maio’s telephone answering machine seemed to belong to Ms Drake.
I also spoke with Gregory Daniel of Code Enforcement. He insured me he would treat this matter with the same professionalism he gave to every other code violation in Berkeley. Mr Norrise said ‘Hi.’

It’s a real shame I’m not an important person in Berkeley. If I was important I’m sure the city would treat me and my son as cavalierly as the city treats Zoning Adjustment Board Commissioner Lau. It would be fun to just do whatever I liked without regard to the laws and regulations of our community. Much more likely because of this little report I expect someone from the city will soon be knocking on my door or my son’s door looking for forbidden flowers and vegetables or evidence of new paint and repairs. Berkeley’s that kind of place.