L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 57, October 15, 1999
Breeding Us a Thousand More Carl Dregas
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
Originally released 10/04/99
"Why are so many Americans going nuts?" our desperate statist
overseers keep asking. "It must be the guns!"
Yeah, sure. And the answer to the snakebite problem is not to teach
our kids to cut your average cantankerous rattler a wide berth when
spotted in the woods, but rather to launch a billion-dollar federal
program to capture, anaesthetize, and de-fang every venomous reptile
on the continent.
(Well, perhaps not all at once. We could start with "reasonable,
modest" reptile control -- only scale-printing and registering the
serial numbers of the biggest, meanest-looking snakes, while
requiring that manufacturers provide each new hatchling with a "fang
Shall we take a fresh try at explaining what's going on, here?
Many thought it was an exaggeration when a government bureaucrat in
Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" explained to the hero that the
bureaucrats' plan is to make everything illegal, the better to
control honest citizens who will then live in constant fear of being
charged with a "crime" for merely going about their daily lives ...
especially should they ever cross an "officer."
But Ms. Rand -- nee Alissa Rosenbaum -- watched Comrades Stalin and
Trotsky bring collectivism come to her home of St. Petersburg in the
years after the First World War. She knew precisely how socialism
Presumably the idea no longer seems far-fetched to Jim Howard,
either. The 30-year resident of Kyle Canyon -- a rural mountainside
40 miles northwest of Las Vegas -- just spent 14 days sitting in the
county lockup, and could be facing another 40 days after county
inspectors -- outraged that they've been made to look bad by recent
press coverage of the case -- papered him with new summonses,
including one for "operating without a business license," just before
his latest scheduled court appearance.
Is Mr. Howard some kind of armed desperado, or despoiler of the young
Well, no. What happened is that one of Mr. Howard's neighbors --
they've all moved in since he set up housekeeping, you understand --
complained to the county that Mr. Howard had added a dormer to his
house, years ago. They also complained that -- since his business is
digging septic tanks and clearing snow in the winter -- he was
storing a dump truck and a backhoe on his property.
The nerve of this man.
And some cars. Jim Howard collects cars. A few years ago the snow
collapsed the roof of his 10-car garage, so he had 14 vehicles lined
up on the property, covered with tarps.
That, and the dirt.
The "dirt" part sounds a little strange, until you realize that on
rocky Mount Charleston it sometimes comes in darned handy to have a
truckload of clean fill on hand to cover a septic tank or an
irrigation pipe. The stuff commands a premium up there.
That's about it. That's why Dave Pollex, senior code enforcement
specialist for the county's Public Response Office, was called in.
Pollex cited Howard for having the cars and the dirt on his property.
Howard paid the fine. But Pollex returned to cite him again, waving
at the dormer and telling him to "get rid of that, too."
You see, Mr. Howard hadn't bothered to make the 80-mile round trip
into town to get a building permit to add his dormer, all those years
ago. Mr. Howard wasn't sure why he was supposed to get rid of the
window, but he took the glass out and boarded it over.
That apparently outraged Mr. Pollex, who contends he meant Howard
should slice the whole dormer off his roof, and that he should have
known what was meant. (Though in fact, county regulations would
appear to allow for a simple inspection of the structure, in such
cases, to make sure it's "up to code.")
Justice of the Peace Nancy Oesterle -- whose campaign backers include
a family that operates a competing snow-clearing business on the
mountain -- found Howard in contempt of court and sentenced him to
three days in jail, plus 22 under house arrest. Instead, he ended up
serving 14 days in the clink. Some kind of "paperwork mistake," the
For the cars. And the dirt. And the dormer.
Jim Howard has removed the dump truck and the backhoe with which he
made his living. He's removed his cars -- most of which were in good
running order. He even says he's removed the dirt -- though the
county now wants him to remove another 500 cubic yards, which Howard
says will mean hauling off topsoil that came with the property in the
That's 500 more truckloads of dirt, a demand which leads columnist
John L. Smith -- who broke the story of Jim Howard's trials in the
Sept. 26 Review-Journal -- to quip "They've ordered him to remove the
property from his property!"
We all know what Jim Howard's real "crime" was -- he got on the wrong
side of an officious, "by the book" county bureaucrat.
This used to be the land of the free. When an old-timer is merely
conducting his life as he has for decades, there comes a time when
the appropriate response is: "Lady, you did move out to the country
on purpose, didn't you? We do not put people in jail for maintaining
a pile of dirt."
At least, we shouldn't.
Folks like Justice Nancy Oesterle and "county officer" Dave Pollex
think they can shove, and shove and shove -- writing any of us a new
flurry of citations or locking us up for "contempt" should we object
-- and eventually we'll all bow our heads and fall into line.
But this is not Japan, and Americans are not ants. Even for patient
and long-suffering men -- members of an armed populace accustomed to
their freedom -- there are limits.
Judge Oesterle might want to inquire what happened to the local lady
judge who kept shoving around a retired New Hampshire carpenter and
recluse named Carl Drega -- cited and fined repeatedly over the years
for "taking too long" to finish an "unsightly" tarpaper-covered barn
on his property, for "filling without a permit" when he rebuilt the
shoreline of his property, washed out by a flood of the Connecticut
River ... that kind of thing.
The last straw for the long-suffering Carl Drega came when two local
cops pulled him over in the parking lot of a local supermarket a
couple years back, and started writing him a ticket for having "rust
holes in the bed of his pick-up truck" ... a pick-up truck whose
state-issued license plate read: "Live Free Or Die."
I'm not celebrating what Carl Drega did. I'm not predicting Nevada's
harmless Jim Howard will follow in his footsteps -- nor am I
encouraging him to.
I'm just saying that occasionally, one of these old-timers who only
wants to be left alone can be pushed too far.
We can't ask the two cops who pulled Carl Drega over, that last time,
what finally made him snap. Nor can we ask his long-term tormentor,
the part-time judge and town administrator who Carl Drega sought out,
downtown, after he was done with that traffic stop.
Because you see, Judge Oesterle, those cops, and that New Hampshire
judge ... they're all dead. And no one's pushing Carl Drega around,
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las
Vegas Review-Journal. His new book,
"Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,"
is available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping ($6 UPS; $2 shipping each additional copy)
through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127. The 500-page trade
paperback may also be ordered via web site
or by dialing 1-800-244-2224. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.
"If policy makers want to prevent violence, they should consider
disarming the police and encouraging gun ownership within the
citizenry. There is historical precedent. In his book Frontier
Justice, Wayne Gard describes the rampant corruption of politics and
police in 1850's San Francisco. Violence soared until the SF
vigilante committee revived (1856). Within three months, Gard
explains, 'San Francisco had only two murders, compared with more
than a hundred in the six months before the committee was formed.'"
-- Wendy McElroy
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