Monday, October 27, 2008

Pwned by the "Ownership Society"

Public Enemy on the loose! After spending a weekend in jail -- without bail -- for the supposed crime of having a brown lawn, 66-year-old Joseph Prudente defiantly models the "Grandpa Gone Wild" novelty t-shirt his grandchildren bought in his honor.

Here's how "justice," as our rulers pretend to understand the concept, is administered under the system of depraved corporatism that's come to be known as the "Ownership Society":

Politically favored Wall Street swindlers guilty of deliberate fraud that destroyed imponderable amounts of wealth luxuriate in additional trillions extracted, through government-sanctioned theft, from the law-abiding; meanwhile, honest people who earnestly do their best to meet their financial obligations despite being battered by successive waves of misfortune find themselves threatened with the loss of everything they cherish, beginning with their individual freedom.

When Joseph Prudente's adult step-daughter, husband, and two children found themselves without a home, he did what any decent parent would do: He took them into his home, a single-story four-bedroom home in Bayonet Point, Florida (a town not far from Tampa). Prudente is a 66-year-old retired RN; he and his wife live off his pension and their respective Social Security checks.

With their family suddenly expanded by four people, including two young children, the Prudentes' household budget quickly proved to be inadequate.

Then their mortgage reset.

Joseph and his family found themselves overmatched by their circumstances. One result was the repossession of Joseph's car. They also found themselves behind on their newly augmented mortgage payments, which had increased by $600 a month. When the sprinkler system that irrigated their yard broke down, the Prudentes most likely ignored this development, thinking it was the least of their problems.

Thanks to the Beacon Woods Civic Association (BWCA), the busted sprinkler system proved to be the most acute of the many problems afflicting Joseph Prudente and his family.

The BWCA oversees the 2,600-home development, which operates under a restrictive covenant. One term of that agreement dictates that no homeowner will permit more than a tenth of his yard to become unsightly.

How Green Was My Fairway: The Beacon Woods golf course appears to be in violatation of the community's "10 percent" rule regarding brown grass.

As Prudente's lawn began to wither, the BWCA -- whose leadership is composed of the sort of people who would have struck the ancient Pharisees as excessively full of themselves -- sent Prudente several letters demanding that he re-sod the yard, at considerable expense.

Prudente, who would have been forgiven for telling the local Bluenose Bund to sod off, patiently explained that the expense of re-sodding the lawn was beyond his means at the moment. He could afford to perform cosmetic surgery on the yard, or try to catch up on his mortgage; he couldn't do both.

Joseph decided -- as any rational person would -- that it was more important to keep his house than to appease the BWCA. The Homeowners' group did what people of that ilk always do, when given the opportunity: They petitioned the State to punish someone whose problems could have been easily resolved through peaceful, private action. The BWCA filed a lawsuit against Joseph, who simply didn't have the ability to comply with the organization's demands.

"I explained the situation to them, but they said the rules are the rules," Prudente told the New York Post. "They showed me a rulebook that was thicker than the book War and Peace. They said, 'You signed an agreement to follow the rules - and the rules are the rules.' "

Let it be acknowledged that the BWCA acted within the terms of its agreement with Joseph, in exactly the same sense that Shylock acted within the terms of his contract with Antonio when the moneylender demanded that the Merchant of Venice be put to death for defaulting on his loan.

Shylock, of course, knew the lethal consequences of extracing a "pound of flesh," and he acted with malicious opportunism when Antonio -- through no fault of his own -- was unable to pay the debt on the appointed date. The BWCA likewise revealed itself to be utterly lacking in a certain quality of mercy as it pursued its case against Prudente, which resulted in a court order sending the embattled grandfather to jail, without bail – for the supposed crime of having a brown lawn.

Never expect common sense from someone whose first name is an initial: Florida Circuit Court Judge W. Lowell Bray, who sent a grandpa to jail without bail for having a brown lawn.

News of Prudente's sentence produced an entirely commendable wave of public revulsion, which was directed in roughly equal parts at the BWCA and its robe-wearing ally on the bench.

The furor prompted two members of the board to write letters to the local newspaper attesting to their own compassion, wisdom, and insight. The reaction of less self-enraptured people in the neighborhood was much more productive: Led by a former Marine named Andy Law, the neighborhood spontaneously rallied behind Joseph and his family. A crew of about twenty people pitched in to donate money and time to re-sod the lawn on their behalf.

"What are we coming to," a properly disgusted Law commented to the local media, "when we're putting our senior citizens in jail for having a brown lawn?"

"Everyone's having a hard time now," Law pointed out, alluding to the fact that the effects of the unfolding Depression can be felt in his neighborhood, where foreclosures and short sales are becoming common. "There's a lot worse things going on than brown lawns."

Indeed: One of those "worse things" is the species of Communitarian nosiness practiced by the BWCA and other quasi-governmental bodies of its kind, which are invariably populated by people much more comfortable with coercion than cooperation.

"We're not a pack of Nazis," snivelled BWCA President Bob Ryan. "We're simply fellow homeowners of Mr. Prudente, I felt sorry for him."

Apparently, Ryan's supposed sympathy didn't prompt him to ask if he could help the poor, overburdened grandfather, rather than suborning state-administered violence against him -- a "solution" that actually solved nothing.

Unfortunately, the times we inhabit are congenial to the cultivation of a Shylockian spirit, and the homeowners' association that afflicted Joseph Prudente is not the only one to play host to that demonic influence.

A very similar spectacle played out in Kennewick, Washington, a town separated by a continent from Tampa, Florida.

Last year, Burke Jensen and his family bought a very nice starter home on a 2.5-acre lot. The property is devoid of landscaping, and the restrictive covenant of the Oak Hill Country Estates Homeowners' Association requires that new homeowners complete the necessary improvements within a year of taking occupancy.

Several months ago, Jensen hired a landscaper -- at a cost of several thousand dollars -- to seed, irrigate, and otherwise develop the lawn. Unfortunately, neither Jensen, nor his wife, was able to supervise the work in person: Five months ago, Jensen, a Lieutenant in an Army Reserve military police unit, was called up for active duty in Kuwait, and his wife -- who just gave birth to the couple's second child -- decided to return to the East Coast to live with family during her husband's absence.

This extraordinary conjunction of unfortunate events brought out something substantially less than the best in Chick Edwards, the owner and developer of the subdivision and sole member of the local HOA.

"I really don't give a [sibilant expletive] where he is or what his problem is," Edwards informed the Seattle Times. "It really doesn't matter to me. [He] doesn't have the right to walk away from his obligation.... This is a contract. I don't like the way his property looks. This clown gets to do what he wants, and I'm mad as hell." Edwards, eager to get his Shylock freak on, threatened to sue Jensen, who currently resides in a location not terribly accessible to process servers.

While Edwards simmered in his own bilious essence, Jensen's neighbors mobilized on his behalf -- and, once again, they didn't need the services of a government bureaucrat or a foundation-funded soi-disant "community organizer" to do so. Scores of people contributed time and money to finish the half-completed irrigation system and get the landscaping work finished. Owners of at least a dozen local businesses provided landscaping materials, work crews, and even catered meals. The work was completed in a week.

Unlike Prudente's predicament, Jensen's hardship case was an easy sell to a public that is constantly harangued about the need to "support our troops." But his family's need was legitimate, and the reaction of his neighbors entirely commendable -- and his comments toward
Mr. Edwards have been heroically conciliatory.

If only resolutely decent people of the sort who came to the aid of the Jensen family could have been mobilized to prevent the unnecessary war that has wrecked our economy....
Thanks to the Depression brought on by the criminal overclass, opportunities to render and receive help of this kind will be tragically abundant.

Peaceful, cooperative action of this sort -- free individuals voluntarily pooling their means and abilities to prevent or reverse an injustice -- will become increasingly important as Statists in every social station seek to exploit our unfolding economic catastrophe for their own benefit.

Using peaceful approaches to deprive the predatory state of its intended victims can be as satisfying to us as it is infuriating to our enemies.

Available now.

Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...

I visited the web site of the nazified development. The address is Bayonet Point. Very aptly-named, I must say.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Mr Edwards should do a little more research on who he wants to pick fights with. Once Mr Jensen comes back stateside I am sure he will be put into a blue uniform and deputized for the local police force. My advice to Mr. Edwards: Don't break any traffic laws for you never know who might pull you over.

Broken said...

Never expect common sense from someone whose first name is an initial.

(laughing out loud)

Signed, J. Edward Hurst

William N. Grigg said...

Dear Brother J. Edward --

The rule I invoked was sorta like the one about notorious assassins always using all three names -- y'know, like Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth.


William Norman Grigg

Anonymous said...

Developers are going to be in very bad moods as they find it harder and harder to find buyers. It isn't too surprising they'll take their anger out on the people they already sold to.

Jim O'Connor

scott clark said...


Somethings up. You're giving us stories with generally happy resolutions.
Are you having an off day?

Deb Lagarde said...

Interesting, as I am sure there are thousands of incidents like this going on in "covenant communities". And how some of them will play out...for instance, the one about the developer, which reminds me of what happened in our remote mountain subdivision many years ago, when the developer did not use correct surveys, aided and abetted by a real estate agent who went along with it, and which resulted, among other things, to the 1997 Republic of Texas standoff!

William N. Grigg said...

scott -- as they say, even Homer nods. In the same vein, Ty Cobb occasionally struck out, Tiger Woods every once in a while blows a putt, and there are random days when my otherwise reliable pessimism fails me.

Perhaps a less flattering analogy would be the time a person hooked up to Jack Kevorkian's death machine survived, leaving Dr. Death inconsolable: He'd never lost a patient before.

Doc Ellis 124 said...


What is the title of this posting?
Are you trying to say pawned or owned?

I love the joke you told at the end of your comments about Dr. Death.

I have been opposing communitarians in my neighborhood for years. I have wondered if I was the only libertarian who understands the biggest threat to freedom is from the neighbors.

troll Doc Ellis 124

Will Blalock said...

Do these fascists sink down from
the flotsam on the top,
or do they bubble up from
the dregs on the bottom?

There is nothing worse in this
world than to have a neighbor
minding your business (except
maybe a government parasite.)

Signed: William Booth Blalock
(Yes, I'm related...)

throwthebumsout said...

Sadly, this is happening with an ever increasing frequency, and will continue to do so as more and more mortgages reset. The majority not even having reset yet; that will take place in 2009 and again in 2011. However, I think it must be pointed out, that these people knew at the time they signed the contract that they were buying into a community with a strict HOA, as they must have read the CC&Rs before signing them, and that they were taking on an adjustable rate mortgage that would reset. If they did not have the means to account for the "unforseeable," a cushion if you will, then they shouldn't have made the purchase.

Home ownership is a privilege, for those who can afford it and can take on the responsibility financially, without hardship. It is not a right, as some have suggested.

And, finally, the law is the law. It doesn't take personal circumstances into account, sad and "unfair" as that may seem at times.

Anonymous said...


pwned is slang for saying "owned", as in "you just got owned". i think it got started because the "o" key and "p" key are right next to each other.

wikipedia has a little on it. however i think its explanation is off a bit.

...and those folks better watch out saying, "the law is the law". I'm sure God heard them and said, "oh really? let's see..."


The Omega Man said...

Why, why, why would anyone choose to buy property where they would be subject to a homeowners' association?

"Hey, I know! I want all the financial and other responsibilities associated with home ownership, but without the freedoms! I want to put my family in debt for decades to buy this house, and put in the work and cost for maintenance, but with everything I do with it subject to the whims of a nosy, petty, busybody prick of a neighbor! It's not what I think of the way my home looks that's important; it's what my jerk neighbors think of my property that matters!"

We all know what kind of people gravitate to positions on HOAs...the same kind of people who gravitate towards positions in City Hall. But most of us are wise enough to steer clear of those kind of people wherever possible.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan Sirhan.-)

I guess this trend applies only to media and government selected patsies.

R. Cozine

Will Blalock said...

This story is a perfect example of
why communism-socialism is an
unworkable nightmare.
Without private property that is
truly private, we are reduced to
nothing more than indentured servants
or less.

Anonymous said...

Prime examples of why my family is very happy to live in a 36 year old house in an old but well kept neighborhood. I have satelite dish, a solar panel, and a HAM radio antenna on my roof. Nobody cares.


Anonymous said...

My wife and I long ago decided that when we are ready to build a house - which should be fairly soon- it it will be on a large enough parcel of land to create a buffer of at least 1000 ft. from the edge of our property in either direction. Here in new england we have dense hardwood forests that allow for a great wall of privacy. Our driveway will have a gate on the bottom and in order for it to be opened you'll have to be invited in. We both believe private property is the bedrock of freedom and should be upheld at all costs. Nosy neighbors and government snoops are an absolute anathema to it.

Lemuel Gulliver said...

Dear Will,

Freud probably had a name for it - arrested development, anal retention, whatever - but to put it simply, a vast majority of the human race are emotional 3-year-olds.

It's the human condition. As children, by the age of about eighteen months we have become individuals with a strong sense of ourselves, and we don't realize that we are not savvy about the dangers of the big bad world, so every prohibition imposed on us by Mom and Dad for our own good, which we don't understand, instead seems capricious and arbitrary.

A 3-year old, having just graduated from the Terrible Twos, during which he (or she) tried to assert his independence at every turn and was slapped down by Mom and Dad at every turn, has decided that if he can't beat them he will have to join them. He lives for the day when he too will grow up big and strong like Mom and Dad and can finally tell everyone else what to do, instead of being told, which is galling in the extreme.

You are a father, Will - tell me, don't you see your six-and-seven-year-old kids trying to assert dominance over each other and tell each other what to do, just as you and Korrin do to them?

It is the rare person who sees through this urge to control others as one has been controlled, and instead realizes that as adults we now all have the discrimination and power to manage our own lives, and thus we should leave everyone else alone to manage theirs also.

Most of us, instead, take revenge for the next 75 years on Mom and Dad, who in our warped 3-year-old minds have become the rest of the human race.

For pity's sake, GROW UP!!

This emotional 3-year-old is the obnoxious boss we have all had to work for, the self-satisfied city councillor justifying his paycheck by looking for yet another street to stick a no-parking sign on, the TSA goon in the airport who gleefully forces his victims to creep meekly around barefoot, the abusive fat cop tazing and bashing law-abiding old ladies and kids, the pompous senator telling the press cameras how he and he alone will fix the ills of the world with yet another law, and, if the overgrown child has to work for a living, he can always join a Homeowners Association, become a Big Cheese in a church social group, or get elected to the PTA. Anything. There are endless possibilities for us to boss each other around.

Even the clerk behind the counter tries to boss around the shopper: "No, you cannot try those pants on. The fitting rooms closed five minutes ago." What exquisite satisfaction, after being told by her boss: "No, you cannot go to the toilet more than three times in an 8-hour day. I don't care if you are in pain. Cross your legs."

Give anyone an ounce of authority to tell someone else what they can or cannot do, and they will use it to crush the rest of humanity. Including, of course, their own children. And thus, the cycle repeats for another generation.

Isn't that a comforting prospect?

It does not HAVE to be that way. We cannot always determine our fate, but we are free to choose how we react to it. I remember an acquaintance who was almost paralyzed by MS. Never did a word of complaint pass her lips. She would always say, "God has blessed me so much. People are so kind to me. Yes, it is difficult to function, but it is wonderful to be alive. I could not imagine a happier life than this one I have. I thank God for it every day."

She was turning her life's lemons into sweet lemonade.

Nelson Mandela, after he was elected the first President of a fully democratic South Africa, had an inaugural dinner, at which he was able to invite whomever he wished, to sit at the Presidential table. He invited his wardens from Robbin Island. Amazed folks asked: "Why THEM? Don't you hate them for stealing 27 of the best years of your life?"

He replied: "No. They imprisoned my body, but they never imprisoned my mind or my soul. I never regarded myself as a victim, but as a free man whose movements were constrained by circumstances. I always treated them as equals in human dignity with myself. I respected them and obeyed their orders, as doing the jobs they were required to do in an evil system which had caught us all up in its clutches, and they in turn treated me with unfailing respect and courtesy. I have now, and never ever had, any hatred or even resentment for them. They are fine people, and now that those things are past, we can now at last be friends."

Out of 27 years of lemons, he made many gallons of lemonade.

This, then, is all we can do when we find ourselves in a kindergarten world. Choose to be an adult. Refuse to join in the playground nonsense. Choose to cede temporal power to others who demand it, because only then can we claim our freedom as adults to rule our own souls. Resistance will drag us body AND soul into their game. Choose to treat everyone with respect, even when it may not be reciprocated, because only that way can we possibly respect ourselves. Choose to be free, which means allowing everyone else the same privelige.

Our body is a passing thing, and can belong to or be controlled by someone else, until it dies and begins to rot. Our soul is immortal, and belongs to nobody but ourselves. We are free to make of our souls whatever we will, and no matter how magnificent our souls may be, nobody and nothing can ever steal or harm our soul without our consent.

Make lemonade!

Yours respectfully,
Lemuel Gulliver.

Anonymous said...

I have been on the board of a condo association and am currently on the Board of Directors of a development HOA. I knew of the covenants and agreed to abide by them, as did everyone in the development. I am on the "Board" for the simple reason of providing a buffer between the fair-minded and the rules-are-rules members.

The purported reason for an HOA is to protect real estate values, which is euphuism for keeping cars-on-blocks, furniture on the lawn, falling down fences, and other acts of the inconsiderate from annoying the neighbors.

An HOA is government at the grass roots. Like most of the country, homeowners in an HOA don't want to be bothered and expect someone else to keep the streets plowed, the garbage picked up, and the streetlights on.

Every HOA has board meetings and elections, get involved, stand for election or at least make your voice heard.

DJ said...

I'm an HOA President. I would never permit our HOA Board to treat any of our residents like these two families were treated. Indeed, I would rally community support to solve the problems, as concerned citizens did in both instances.

William N. Grigg said...

God bless you, sir!