Bend the Round

…where the madness is recorded.

HOA Hater February 14, 2008

Filed under: rant,wtf — bendtheround @ 10:00 pm
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In live in suburbia, and while there certainly are benefits, there are a handful of things about it that I sincerely loathe. One of them is the prevalence of the Homeowner’s Association (HOA). It’s very, very difficult to find a place to live that is not under the rule of an HOA. If you’re going to live and work here, HOAs are simply a fact of life.

In short, HOAs are in place to protect the value of property (the home you purchase – or in my case, rent). They do so by dint of by-laws dictating anything from the upper limit of your lawn’s height, your house color, the number of pets you’re allowed to have, what type of vehicles you are allowed to store on your own property, to what time of day you are allowed to take your own trash out. These laws presumably protect the value of the property by preventing eyesores like RVs and pink houses, and the infiltration of crazy cat ladies with their accompanying herds of felines into the neighborhood. Every home owner in a neighborhood under the HOA is required to sign a contract agreeing to A) abide by these laws and B) pay the HOA dues. The dues are used for neighborhood perks like pools, snow plow services, tennis courts, etc – and presumably punishing those who do not abide by the laws they are contractually obligated to follow. If you’re a homebuyer looking to purchase a home in the neighborhood, you either sign the contract or you are not permitted to purchase the house at any price.

Well, fuck that, says I.

While the idea of neighbors banding together to protect their property initially seemed like a good idea to me, my first-hand experience with the HOAs has been nothing but negative. It is very clear to me that having an HOA around limits personal freedom, self-expression and creativity, and it turns neighbors into snoops and tattletales.

For example, my roommate Luke has parked his motorcycle on the corner of the curb and covered it for the winter. He was careful to park it where it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way (at least, I thought). I suspect it must have irritated someone, because this past weekend our landlord received a nasty-gram from the HOA. Someone reported my roommate’s motorcycle as having expired tags – and that’s against the HOA’s by-laws. I got the call while I was out for my 9 mile training run. When I got back, I noticed that the motorcycle cover had been pulled up to show the tags. I can’t remember if the cover had been up like that before or not. If it wasn’t, then somebody went out and messed with my roommate’s motorcycle. WTF?

Let’s think about that possibility for a minute. Let’s say you’re going to go mess with someone else’s vehicle. Which one are you going to pick? The big old boat of a Caddie that always parks with the nose sticking way out? The beat up old van? or the motorcycle? Hmm… the first two probably belong to either an older person (and the vehicle has some sort of sentimental value) or a much younger person who hasn’t upgraded yet. Both relatively harmless when you consider the kinda people who generally own motorcycles (ie, the type that could casually reach down your throat and turn you inside out). There’s a reason James Cameron put the Terminator on a motorcycle – because it is the natural mode of transportation for giant, body-building, shotgun toting bad-asses.

Now, Luke’s a nice guy and maybe whoever decided to mess with his bike knew that he’s not likely to casually reach down your throat and turn you inside out. Or maybe they didn’t consider the possibility that the motorcycle owner might not appreciate his motorcycle being messed about with. In which case that person just happens to be dangerously stupid. Or maybe the cover was up and they never touched the bike in the first place. One way or another, I see nothing at all to gain in reporting the expired tags to the HOA and knowingly triggering a nasty letter.

Now, let’s assume that the expired tags are REALLY bothering you. (In which case, you have problems, but that’s fodder for another post, I think.) Wouldn’t it be much more conducive to creating a comfortable and safe environment in which to live to actually personally say something to Luke? “Hi! Nice day, isn’t it? I noticed that your motorcycle tags are out of date. Did you know?” What’s so hard about that? Now you’ve got some personal contact with another human being, and you’re giving the impression of looking out for his best interests instead of being an obsessive compulsive rat. Neighborly, right? Now Luke’s more likely to give a rat’s ass if something wrong on your property – and more likely to say something to YOU instead of reporting you to the HOA. Well, that’s not how things are done in these parts. People would rather avoid a possible confrontation and just report your ass to the HOA.

Of course, you COULD just mind your own goddamn business in the first place, but what good is an HOA if you can’t skitter off and tell on your neighbors? That’s exactly the sort of rat-on-your-neighbor environment that I loathe.

If the rat-on-your-neighbor mentality isn’t bad enough, the restrictions seem to me to be outright unconstitutional. HOAs are not governing bodies. They do not have the rights of sovereign states. So why the hell should I have to bow to their arcane and occasionally draconian rules? If somebody wants to paint their house in rainbow colors or buy an RV so they can travel in comfort or keep three German Shepard as pets, that’s nobody else’s business. Your home is supposed to be your castle, and the way you live an expression of who you are.

There’s a great quote that I think applies here “Your right to swing your fist ends with the other guy’s nose.” Basically, if you’re not hurting anybody, fine. Do what you want – it’s a free country. At least, it’s supposed to be. Now, if I’m the one with three German Shepards and they are chewing on your cat, then my proverbial fist has hit your proverbial nose, and that’s a problem that needs to be solved. But that’s not a job for some puffed up board of directors. It’s my job and my neighbor’s job to resolve it. If we can’t, there are other venues – civil court or the police (if the infraction is serious enough – say, if I’m running dogfights with my German Shepards).

But what about those perks that an HOA provides? Pools and tennis courts and snow plow services and so on? If you can’t afford a pool or a tennis court on your own, then that’s a trade in for your personal freedom. Join the YMCA. As for snow plowing and other services, what is stopping you from getting together with your neighbors and your local snow plow company and working out a deal on your own? That it’s hard? Suck it up if you want a deal on your snow plowing so bad. It’s not like the HOA would be providing that service for free – it’s part of your dues, remember?

What about the idea of protecting the value of the property? Maybe your rainbow colored house is scaring away potential buyers when it’s time for me to sell my home. In the end, I believe that your right of expression is more important than my right to turn a profit, and I suppose that is at the very heart of my argument. Besides, if I’m the potential buyer, I think I’d like to know if I’m moving in next to someone with the testicular fortitude to paint their house in gay pride colors. Actually, I think I’d kinda like to see a rainbow colored house.

I have yet to earn the privilege of home ownership. When I finally do, under no circumstance will I purchase a home under the thumb of an HOA. If, when I can finally afford to purchase a home, there is absolutely no home to buy that does not fall under an HOA, I would have to seriously consider whether I will move out of the area entirely, or go ahead and purchase the home with the intention of undermining the HOA with everything I’ve got. A one-woman campaign against an rooted system like that can only be an uphill battle, and I doubt I have the social skills and charisma required to change things. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it doesn’t come to that.

In the end, the whole thing is deeply ridiculous – particularly to someone so enamored of the concept of social capital. If we all just took a breath, thought for a second about how our actions affect others, and then made a serious attempt at making a connection with the people around us, I can’t help thinking that a good number of our aggravations would go away. Dammit, my hippy-self is showing. ‘Scuse me.

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Dumbing Down of America January 31, 2008

Filed under: rant — bendtheround @ 5:12 pm
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To an extent, I was very fortunate in my education. I was able to go to school in the same place from first grade all the way through high school graduation. The school was small and the classes were *usually* at least somewhat reasonably sized. I was also privileged to go through school with a group of remarkably intelligent classmates. The top quarter of my class was extremely bright. When we graduated, the first row and a half of the class had a GPA exceeding 4.0 (due to the availability of Advanced Placement courses, which were weighted in the GPA calculation).

And yet, when this remarkable group hit middle school (sixth grade) something awful started to happen. A lot of these very bright kids started acting stupid. They knew the answers. They were fully capable of doing the work. They chose not to. Somehow, they became convinced that being smart and trying at all wasn’t cool. Getting good grades, exercising their curiosity… no longer important. Even the kids who still did well in class would more often than not still behave like their IQ had been halved.

It drove me crazy even then. I remember asking my mother what was WRONG with them…he’s so SMART! Why is he acting so STUPID on purpose??

Hey, I know some of the brain drain goes along with puberty. I’ve acted like a moron when my head’s turned. I know how that goes. But I was never convinced that the interest in the opposite sex fully explained the voluntary dumbing down.

Knowing something of history, science, grammar…these aren’t bad things. Quite the opposite – they are valuable beyond my ability to express.
How did it happen? Where did people get the idea that it’s more important to look good, have the right clothes/electronics/whatever, be good at sports, know about the latest gossip on celebrities than it is to exercise one’s mind? I simply do not know.

I fully allow that people have interests that aren’t purely academic. In fact, interests that aren’t purely academic are important – and that’s the point. There is no reason that you can’t be up to date on the latest on the music scene, an excellent athlete, physically attractive, and still exercise your God-given intelligence.

I recently saw the movie Idiotcracy (starring Luke Wilson). The premise of the movie is that because less intelligent, less educated people tend to have more children than more intelligent, more educated people, the human population basically has intelligence bred out. Only the remarkably stupid remain. It was a comedy, but occasionally, it’s a little scary because I swear sometimes that it could happen. (I’m sure it won’t…)

I’m at a complete loss to come up with any sort of way to deal with this. Is it a matter of a failure in the education system? Is it a matter of needed a radical change in cultural values? Maybe it’s a matter of money… people can’t afford both an education and the time, effort, and expense of children. I suspect it’s some combination of these and plenty of others.

If you doubt that this is a real issue, I’d like to point you to a video on Google Video. I’d also like to point out the embedded hope in the video – it was done by some very promising students. I hope they continue exercising their minds. We can’t afford having too many people’s brain cells engaged in a never-ending game of hide-and-seek.

 

Gym Bullies & Running NYR January 8, 2008

Filed under: rant,running — bendtheround @ 12:16 am
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I have a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs) this year – enough that there are categories of them. Here are my Running NYR – run 500 miles over the course of the year, and run a half marathon in 2 hrs 20 min or less.

Both goals are going to require pretty constant, and consistent work throughout the year, but they are pretty complementary. Training for one will help me reach the other.

I ran my first half marathon in November. That 13.1 miles was the longest distance I’ve ever run, and I loved it. I decided to do another one pretty quickly, despite the soreness and disfigurement to my feet. (Runner’s feet are gross…all callused and often with black or missing toenails…TMI, right?) My time for the first half marathon was 2 hrs 38 min and 58 sec, and I had been shooting for 3 hrs. I figure if I keep training, lose some weight (20 lbs would be pretty ideal), and do the weight training I should do, I should be able to improve my time.

The first opportunity to try will be in March. That doesn’t give me a heck of a lot of time, so I hit the gym today after work for my first official HM Training session. The gym I go to is in the basement of my office building. Co-workers call it the Work Out Closet because it is tiny. There were two other people there when I arrived, which was fine. Both are friendly and pleasant folks. Then another co-worker arrived and began riding the two of them mercilessly while standing around not doing much himself. I didn’t say anything to Co-worker 3 – the first two were taking his forceful advice with good humor, and they’re familiar and used to Co-worker 3’s input apparently.

I think Co-worker 3 and I are both fortunate that he apparently approved of the exercises I was doing and my form. I don’t like bullies, and that certainly includes gym bullies. It’s really rotten to do anything that could potentially keep people from going to the gym. It’s one thing to offer advice if you’re really qualified to give it, but it’s just not right to insist. It comes down to a matter of respect. Anyhow, everybody finished their workouts to everybody else’s apparent satisfaction.

I finished today’s session with a one mile treadmill run. It was harder than I expected to finish in 10 minutes, but I did it.

Miles Down: 3

Miles to Go: 497 (more…)