Dolores Umbridge. Loathsome, hands down, for me. Tops Voldemort or even Sauron (yes, they were evil indeed). But I think the truth of the matter is every one KNOWS a Dolores. The petty, useless, bureaucrat who uses the power of the state to ‘help’ you, who never succeeded at anything, never managed any sort of power and leadership their putrid little ego demands, so took this job. The sort of person who will smile and tell you they’re only doing this for your good, while reveling in the power of yanking your chain around. And if you get near a goal-post… they’ll move it.
They’re people with whom every government is rife, seething like maggots in a corpse. All too often, given Pournelle’s Iron law of Bureaucracy – they’ll end up as the ones in control of most departments, where, because they’re useless at anything but internal politics (rather than the purpose -if it ever had one) of the department they spend any spare time making the lives of those who do something useful more heavily laden and worse. There seems a sort of inverse correlation where the worst end up in large ‘sections’ of whatever – in things which really are close to utterly irrelevant and worthless. I suspect they get shipped off there from the more useful places to get rid of them, but it could be they get recruited there by equally useless bosses, and never go anywhere. The one thing you can guarantee, is there’s never just one. Like bowflies, they seem to attract their own kind.
And the other thing you can guarantee is rules are always magically interpreted the way that will cause you most difficulty. I’m dealing an amazing one right now. You all know about people moving houses from point A to their new property? Right, it’s common in any country with timber-frame houses. The entire house – sometimes in sections, sometimes whole, is picked up – put on a transport, driven to a new site, put on new footings, and bob’s your auntie. One of the cheaper, quickest, and most ecologically friendly ways getting yourself a new house where you want it.
In Australia it’s relatively common. Not as common as it could be — there are plenty of beautiful old houses out on farms which used to to be 10 farms and are now one. Too far out to rent, they just rot, because even demolishing them costs. But as old houses are made with Australian hardwood which is brilliant, tough stuff, the old houses don’t rot fast. Given Australia has a massive building and housing problem and homes you wouldn’t pay 50 K for in the US will sell here for 500 K if you’re lucky, it’s something that you’d think that there’d be more call for — but we’ve been a wealthy country. Still, it’s is quite normal. Old houses, on new stumps.
Now, I don’t know about the US, but our building codes change like others change their underwear (why houses are SO expensive). It’s all softwood, but stamped. Every single thing has specifications – even the most irrelevant. The houses don’t last and are rubbish – but they are to code. Doing it yourself is a minefield – straight illegal in many cases as a bit of rent-seeking for the various trades. But… old houses, any work done is to the standard of the code when they were built. And herein lies the charm of a old house. It’s all done, and if you need to fix anything, it’s quite do-able. No old house would pass modern code. If you wanted it to, you’d have to strip it down and rebuild it, with new materials (softwood (stamped) not hardwood) and go through dozens of inspections and extra bureaucratic rubbish.
So: the whole relocating houses industry runs on the new part (the stumps being new build, new code, and, obviously because otherwise it can never comply, original building, old code. Otherwise it is just impossible to ever do it.
Except I now have a local petty bureaucrat saying “No, it’s entirely a new build.” I’ve moved the house 400 yards. The planning authority that passed it last time – 50 or more years back… is the one she works for. Not good enough! But each step is to yank your chain a little more: ‘Oh we just want this’. Not ONE thing has ever just gone straight through, ever. It’s always the next thing…
Yes, I have had 6 years of fighting this now. Yes, it colors your work. Many villains in many stories are obviously not petty bureaucrats – but the attitude of them rubs off!
So: where do you get your villains from?