Scenes from a Satire

  • Posted: September 6, 2022
  • Category: Blog
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I recently reconnected with an old college friend over lunch, a pleasant time made better by it being his treat. Though I fear good manners require I reciprocate at some future time, unless I miss my guess at a more expensive venue. But dampening the delight in the occasion was the realization that it takes a long time to make an old friend, and unfortunately the unavoidably cost is that one becomes old in the process. So much for feeble attempts at light non-political humor.

We reminisced about our time at University, the long distant time when we had actually known each other. What else are two retired engineers going to talk about? At this distant remove from college, career and ambition, we both acknowledged the near irrelevance of the college classroom to our working lives, a needlessly expensive and baroque pathway to a union card.  As both of us had known large and varied numbers of engineers during our career, we found our experience of higher education’s irrelevance hardly unique.

To be sure, a college degree provides the ticket to get on the train, but without more relevant training, it doesn’t leave the station. Fortunately life provides a wealth of opportunities for a more practical education. Though it must be said that life’s educational opportunities, though far more useful, are often far more painful.

One of my own post-graduate seminars, an extended course over many years, was my time on an HOA (Home Owner’s Association) Board of Directors. An HOA is the suburban descendent of such venerable agreements as the Magna Carta or the Mayflower Compact, a set of arrangements, agreements and rules by which a grouping of households agree to abide in order to promote the common welfare. I was going to include the Declaration of Independence in the afore cited documents, but then realized the very idea of independence to be incompatible with an HOA.

The HOA is the degenerate offspring of its distinguished forebears, suited for a people less noble in outlook, more quotidian of concern, more mercantile in spirit. In responsible hands it contributes to an environment in which people may flourish, in less responsible hands, not so much.

Serving on the HOA Board is a practical education for those who remain awake during its monthly conclaves. One finds the same sort of people on an HOA Board as in corporate management, whether in one’s own company, a customer or competitor. My own experience with this self-selected group of people overseeing the compact was a low risk opportunity to interact with people and power, perhaps like practicing on bumper cars before competing in a demolition derby.

My experience of an HOA Board was of members being a meat and potatoes kind of folks. Few of these individuals had done more than glance at the HOA covenants, operating on a common sense spirit of “live and let live”, while expending their limited energy and time on projects to upgrade the common spaces or sponsoring events creating neighborhood spirit.

But a bland stew invites spicing, the gusto of a jalapeno to make the stew come alive. A “live and let live” polity is a comfortable place to live, but often leads to a gradual erosion of order, a rumpled acceptance of entropy. Luckily there is always a Jack Welch or hall monitor eager to take on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as a challenge, whether in corporate management or an HOA Board.

The desire to order our neighbors’ lives is a fundamental part of human nature. Those of us who aspire to a “live and let live” polity allow our natural sloth and aversion to confrontation override that nature. However, there are those among us with a much more powerful need to meddle.

But just as spices come in particular piquant properties – the jalapeno, the ghost, the sweet bell, the pepperoncini – so do human beings. As one expects to find sweet peppers in a marinara sauce, so one expects to find a certain spice in HOA Boards – the hall monitor rather than Jack Welch. The hall monitor is likely a now adult homeowner who found life’s purpose in the 6th grade as teacher’s pet.

Let’s face it – who among us does not enjoy the narcotic effect of exercising power? Serving on an HOA Board introduces one to the addicts in the neighborhood. A hall monitor in the neighborhood HOA is simply a policeman on the beat responding to reports of loud music at a neighbor’s party. Of course the noise level required to disturb the neighborhood peace is a judgment call, the cop’s judgment call, something that erstwhile 6th grader learned to their life long delight.

But the role of hall monitor in an HOA is an insipid swill for those who seek the heady flavors of more zesty brews. While both government and corporation offer the hall monitor steady advancement in their bureaucracies, those spicy humans possessed by visions of grandeur, not only to order their neighbor’s lives but to enhance them, find opportunity for true fulfillment only in the corridors of government.

Despite the irrefutable evidence provided by the Covid Interregnum, there remains a sense that local government is the well spring of good government; honest, of common sense and reasonable. Friedrich von Hayek, the great defender of classic liberal ideas – liberal in the sense of freedom rather than bread and circuses or The Great aWokening, had this to say:

“Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government, providing a school of political training for the people at large as much as for their future leaders.”

One would think that my own local government, a self-selected group of people overseeing the metropolitan Front Range, plains and mountains of Colorado, would bring a flavor of the open range, worthy heirs to the cowboys, hard rock miners, homesteaders and wildcatters that created Colorado. But rather than Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart, we seem to have acquired a legislature descended from Col. John Chivington and his vigilante company of drunks, draft dodgers, neer-do-wells and ignorant Chicken Little’s.

We do have many problems that would seem to require legislative vigor and/or wisdom. Well perhaps that last part about wisdom is idle fantasy. Denver is fast becoming the auto theft capital of the country, our parks are being taken over by the shanties of the homeless, ranking third in the nation for per-capita drug problems, a CU football team that defines ineptitude, the Colorado Rockies ownership, etc. What are we to do with all the trailers and moving vans from the West Coast crowding the lots of Colorado’s U-Haul franchises?

Instead our selfless legislators have used their energies to enhance the meddlesome power of their brothers and sisters among the hall monitors of HOA’s. Multi-taskers that our legislators are, in weaponizing hall monitors they also brightened business prospects for their good friends in the legal community. Our hats are off to our spicy overseers’ in the legislature.

Those tireless men and women spicing up Colorado’s stew pot on Capital Hill have also been selfless in giving of their time in other ways to keep us safe from ourselves. Most cognoscenti of house paint know two things. First and most important, paint color must be approved by the HOA Board. As noted earlier, our legislature has done yeoman work to strengthen the pedagogues’ safeguarding neighborhood equanimity and home values.

But in the second area of the cognoscenti’s concern, our legislators have been forced to weigh the conflicting interests of homeowners and endangered sea turtles. The cognoscenti of paints and stains know there is no substitute for oil based products to protect our homes from Colorado’s outdoor environment.

But alas, oil based paints and stains can emit organic vapors in infinitesimal quantities, but of greater concern is their brazen upraised middle finger in the eye of the priesthood serving at the altars of Net Zero. And so, oil based paints and stains are no more, illegal in the sovereign State of Colorado. Our legislature takes great pride in its solidarity with those states now empty of U-Hauls.

We upgraded our air conditioning during the Covid Interregnum. Our contractor was professional, doing the work in a competent and workmanlike manner. But our contractor and the county inspector differed as to the proper circuit breakers required by the local codes. And so rescheduling inspections and rework necessitated by the exigencies of the Covid Interregnum stretched out over 12 months time.

As an engineer well experienced in the design and construction of electrical power plants, I thought the matter trivial, the contractor’s work sufficient, the system adequately protected. But then, while my checkbook was important, neither the integrity of my schedule nor my opinion meant aught to the tireless hall monitors of Jefferson County.

Of course as the holder of a PE (Professional Engineer) license, I could have signed off on the contractor’s work, laying a trump card on the building inspector and thereby saving myself time, money and needless irritation. But alas, my PE license had lapsed, due to my neglect of CE (Continuing Education). Despite the demonstrated irrelevance of the college classroom to the actual practice of engineering, our legislature has seen fit to require continuing exposure to maintain one’s union card. The work of a hall monitor is never done.

While recent experience has seen the Administrative State, broadly defined, bulking up on steroid laced protein shakes, the actual “law enforcement” arm of the State has visibly withered. One must suffer from selective blindness to miss the everyday sight of brazen shoplifting by seemingly upright citizens at the local Home Depot’s, King Soopers, Target, etc.

Both our house and our car have been broken into in the last six months. But we are comforted as to the vigilance of local law enforcement when required to show ID buying beer at the local grocery store. Luckily the speakeasies of Cheyenne, WY are only a couple of hours away when our addiction to illegal paint becomes too powerful.

Returning once more to the residential integrity promised by the broad new powers granted the hall monitors of HOA’s and their ilk. A friend had recently renovated a long term rental prior to renting it anew. Newly painted, carpeted and refitted, it was to go on the market that weekend.

“Transients” broke the lock box, took the key out and entered the property. Obviously they knew what they were doing and installed a chain on the inside, locking out the property owner. Upon arriving in the morning, the property owner called the police – who never came.

Upon inquiry, the property owner learned that police no longer respond to reports of “squatter possession”. In fact, in cases of “squatter possession” with “squatter installed” locks, the property owner becomes liable for prosecution if he now “breaks into” his own property. The only recourse for the property owner is either engaging in the lengthy and expensive legal process of eviction or “negotiation” with the squatters.

As the education and experience of our citizens has become focused on the plight of “caged birds” and understanding “why they sing”, we have forgotten what gave rise to the circumstances allowing for our ability to wallow in the luxury of such study. One of those vilified DWEM (Dead White European Males) satirized Adorable America three hundred years ago in 1726 with his tales of a traveler named Lemuel Gulliver.

Gulliver is shipwrecked and washed ashore on the island of Lilliput, the home of a race of tiny people. Fearful of what this “giant” might do, they immobilize him with innumerable ropes, each no more than a thread. That America we once had, the America that was a wonder of the world, is now hamstrung, a giant rendered captive to innumerable rules, regulations, codes, certifications, educational requirements, etc. overseen and enforced by virtual armies of hall monitors operating in the shark infested waters of an entrepreneurial legal community.

A close cousin of the DWEM, one of those DWAM (Dead White American Males), provided a glimpse of the future a century past. Ironically, Grant Gilmore was a law professor at Yale University, the birthplace and capitalof Lilliputian America. He was the author of many books on commercial law, but is mostly remembered for this observation, an incisive indictment of Adorable America:

“The worse the society, the more law there will be. In hell there will be nothing but law and due process will be meticulously observed.”

2 Responses to “Scenes from a Satire”

  1. Jim Emery says:

    Wonderfully written article, although gives one pause (and a degree of angst) to consider it. Sorry to learn that you have suffered break-in invasions.
    We’re in a time of political tribulation where the misguided have seized control (to insanity).
    Good job!

  2. Jeffrey esbenshade says:

    For those of us who went to college in the 1960’s college was an academic experience and refuse from Vietnam. Our philosophy was eat, drink, and be marry, because you could die in a jungle a long way from home.
    I had one hell of a social life. My classmates are lifelong friends.

    I was elected to a Colorado Metroplitan District, all most like HOA. We had two females who started a lawsuit during their tenure. Talk about hall monitors, the
    case went on for 13 years and cost over $1 million in law bills. One women kind of semi lawyer would not compromise to settle the case. We finally won a $3.5 million
    judgment. If the opposing side spent a million dollars, the true winners were the lawyers.

    The defund the police movement is from the Democrats, please do not vote for any DEM this Nov.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Email Updates

  • Categories

  • What I’m Reading

    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

  • Recent Comments