Angels & Assholes for May 8, 2020

Hi, kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole           Gannett

Change is inevitable.  I get it.

But I don’t have to like it.

There is no denying that The Daytona Beach News-Journal is morphing into a weird amalgam of information and pap – something akin to a regionalized USA Today – which I’ve always considered news light – something to pass the time while waiting for your boarding call.

I suppose we should have expected it when our long-time local newspaper was caught up in the merger of two massive conglomerates – GateHouse Media and the Gannett Company – which created “…a nation-blanketing print and digital giant, with more than 260 daily newspapers and hundreds more websites and community and weekly newspapers stretching across 47 states.” 

When local newspapers are gobbled up by mass media holding companies, the community aspect is naturally replaced by something different – something homogenized and bland – as the immense talent of our hometown reporters and editorialists becomes diluted with pools, research groups, downsizing and weird computational reporting, where news stories emerge from a faceless database, eliminating the need for shoe leather journalism.

While I don’t always agree with News-Journal editor Pat Rice – or the views of his editorial board – this transformation is not his fault.

Sometimes, when I take a view which differs from the newspaper’s editorial stance, a few people misinterpret that to mean I dislike Mr. Rice – or the newspaper he runs – and that is simply not true.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal will always be “my newspaper.”

The daily broadsheet I grew up with that taught me to read critically and think analytically – the common denominator that allowed my late father and I to bond as we discussed our often-divergent thoughts on the issues of the day.

In my view, the purpose of the editorial page – and this blog site – is to provoke a larger discussion of the issues, to stimulate the debate of competing ideas, agitate, persuade, even “stir the pot” on occasion – or, in the case of the incomparable scribe Mark Lane, to use humor to enlighten us.

The fact is, I like disagreeing – even arguing – with people who are smarter than me.

That’s how I learn.

And I’m still of the shrinking view that we can have wildly conflicting opinions on politics – or the social, civic and economic challenges we face – and remain friends.

Last Friday, I took offense to a nationally distributed editorial which originated from some nameless editorialist at the Gannett flagship USA Today and republished in the News-Journal entitled, “Reverse the anti-science pandemic.”

“Of all the emotions, none motivates like fear. It is not reason or civic virtue that is keeping people indoors.

It is, rather, fear — fear of dying in a hospital without a ventilator or of spreading disease to a loved one.

Fear is also often behind big shifts in society and public policy. In fact, America’s future prosperity could well depend on its ability to use the coronavirus pandemic and the fear it engenders for positive results.”

Bullshit.

This ill-thought tripe began an essay which attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak with climate change – but what it ultimately achieved was to give readers an inadvertent glimpse into the mindset of our nation’s largest newspaper chain.

What a ghastly view of the human condition.

What telling insight into how this media behemoth thinks and the motivational forces it embraces.

The use of “fear” as a change agent for whatever the giant considers “positive results.”

In my view, that truly is terrifying.

I happen to believe that Americans have acquitted themselves admirably during this challenge – uniting in a common goal of “flattening the curve,” protecting those most vulnerable and taking steps to physically isolate while remaining socially and civically connected.

And we have found creative ways to support healthcare professionals and first responders serving and protecting at great personal risk – providing assistance to those on the front line in this “war on the invisible threat.”

When threatened – Americans fight to preserve our way of life – and our nationwide willingness to join together during times of emergency speaks to our unique sense of pride, patriotism and sacrifice – a willingness to protect something greater than our own self-interests.

And many have engaged in this struggle at dreadful cost to their personal finances and business interests.

Hold your heads high! 

Our individual and collective response to this pandemic has shown incredible courage – heroic personal and professional contributions, large and small, that represent the very antithesis of panic and trepidation.

In my view, no “positive result” was ever based on fear.

What truly frightens me is that, in the not to distant future, I may not have a local opinion to disagree with – an editor to bicker with over the issues of the day – or a “community” newspaper to call my own.

Replaced by a gargantuan fearmonger that pushes its version of the “news” to the masses through a lockstep network of hundreds of outlets across the nation – and shapes public policy, right down to the local level – with hyper-sensationalized horseshit designed to instill terror in the American heart and mind.

Angel               Consortium of Fitness Centers

Small businesses have taken the fight against COVID-19 squarely on the chin.

That includes fitness centers, personal trainers, martial arts studios and neighborhood micro-gyms have unduly shouldered much of the burden and suffered the economic ravages of our state and local governments biased response to the outbreak.

Last week, a consortium of fifteen local, privately owned businesses, who provide essential health and fitness services to our community, issued an open letter to the Volusia County Council on behalf of some 112 employees who were financially devastated when these small facilities were erroneously categorized under the same umbrella as massive corporate “gyms.”

During the lock-down, many of these companies attempted to safely provide for the health of their customers through virtual workouts and other online services – now, they are rightfully asking our ‘powers that be’ to allow them to initiate a well-thought step-by-step process for safely reopening their businesses in the face of “…losing thousands of dollars weekly with little-to-no rent abatement, delayed or denied federal loans, and mounting operating costs.”

Fortunately, it appears Volusia County is working on a program which will put some $10 million in federal relief funds, in the form of $3,000 grants, in the hands of strapped small businesses – many of which are on the ragged edge of closing their doors forever.

Of course, there will be government-defined parameters for how business-owners can spend the funds – but anything helps.

With luck, the Volusia County Council will vote to approve this much needed assistance during their “special meeting” on Tuesday.

In the groups cogent plea for help authored by Bobby Wise of Delta Life Fitness in Daytona Beach, the consortium summed up the frustrations of many:

“We ask the Volusia County Council to consider the damage caused to our civil liberties as business owners. The State has essentially decided that they know what is best for private industry and for consumers. This philosophy violates every American principle of self-determination, free market economics, and the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Amen.    

In my view, these truths apply equally to bars, nightclubs, hair salons, barber shops, boutiques and specialty stores, restaurants and the many other businesses who were left to die a slow, painful death by tyrannical decrees.

Here’s hoping these desperate cries for help do not fall on deaf ears – and much-needed funds are quickly routed where they are needed most.

It’s time to get Volusia County back to work.

Asshole           Volusia County Council

I am getting tired of being lectured by compromised elected officials’ intent on telegraphing how they plan to vote on critical changes to comprehensive plans and zoning issues before We, The People have had a chance to provide required public input.

They puff out their pompous chests and crow about how their hand-picked appointees and hangers-on which occupy various “growth management” commissions and “land development” boards have unanimously approved modifications – a political insulation ploy that always includes the pernicious practice of ensuring the legitimate concerns of taxpayers are dismissed as “misinformation.”

These changes always place our sensitive environment and diminishing quality of life in jeopardy – while making it infinitely easier for developers to seek tax-based giveaways, publicly funded infrastructure improvements and engage in sham “hurt here, help there” programs to legally facilitate the destruction of our environment.

(Trust me – when “…it can be demonstrated to be in the overriding public interest,” (read: greed) some of the most threatened estuaries, wetlands, lagoons and wildlife habitats in the nation don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. . .)

All while kowtowing to the self-serving needs of phony-baloney “economic development” shills whose uninspired sleight-of-hand always includes the use of public funds to underwrite private profit motives.

On Tuesday, in her long-winded lead-up to a motion postponing a vote on the issue, the always arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys droned on, ad nauseam, about the need to turn the whole of southwest Volusia into a Commercial Space Opportunity Overlay District.

The changes to the comp plan ostensibly serve to incentivize and expedite approval of a wide range of aerospace industries – and capture the accompanying “high paying jobs” we are always promised but never materialize – by ensuring our tax dollars fund the private infrastructure needs of Buck Rogers and Company.

In his cogent response during what passed for public input, Jeff Brower, who is aggressively challenging Ms. Denys for Volusia County Chair, spoke for many in Volusia when he said:

“What should be made clear is that limited tax dollars and infrastructure monies is not fast tracked to incentivize new businesses while Volusia residents and existing businesses continue to suffer from a lack of maintenance and upgrades.”

In response, the ultimate bureaucrat, Clay Ervin, our director of growth management (whose gross incompetence and malleability became evident when he told area mayors not to “reinvent the wheel” on smart growth), supported Old Ed’s predetermined position by quibbling that the changes do not necessarily promise incentives.

“There’s no formal commitment of any expenditure for money for any job at this point,” Ervin said.

At this point? 

No shit.  The proposed changes haven’t even gone through the eyewash/formality of a vote – but you can bet your bippy those who stand to benefit most are champing at the bit to get these changes in place so the incentivization of potential marks can begin. . .

Last year, in the frenzied drive for the failed half-cent sales tax increase, the star-crossed  municipalities identified hundreds of critical transportation infrastructure projects – current and future needs that remain stagnant and unfunded – pressing needs that represent a clear and present threat to our quality of life.

In my view, before we spend one more dime in public funds to support the infrastructure needs or offer tax abatement for “the next big thing,” perhaps our ‘powers that be’ should begin the difficult process of living within their means in this strange “new reality” they have created – and prioritizing existing resources to meet the needs of current residents.

Quote of the Week

“That was a good question.  They got the ocean.  It’s one of those things where we just weren’t ready, but we wanted to get people back on the beach.  We could have put it off a week because I fully expect that this weekend.”

–Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley, responding to a question by WFTV reporter Mike Springer regarding the closure of public restrooms to beach goers, Monday, May 4, 2020

Last week, I took our doddering fool of a County Chair Ed Kelley to the woodshed for his flippant answer to a logical question by the intrepid WFTV-9 investigative reporter Mike Springer, when he asked:

“We hear the importance of having good hygiene and being sanitary when you are out and about, but if we have thousands of people at the beach, how are we able to have good hygiene and sanitation if we can’t use the bathroom there to wash our hands and do other things?”

Now, Mr. Kelley claims his dim-witted remark was a joke – and Mr. Springer took the Chairman’s answer in jest – but I just could not let it go.

Look, I have the weirdest and broadest sense of humor anyone could imagine – and I can find something inappropriately funny in the darkest situation – but making light of a poorly thought official decision to open Volusia County beaches to thousands of visitors, while keeping public restrooms padlocked, was cruel – and exemplified the institutional ineptitude we’ve come to expect from our county government.

“Hey, let those hapless peons’ shit in the ocean.” 

What a knee-slapper, right?

I guess that’s why I didn’t find the situation quite as amusing as Chairman Kelley – and given his propensity for making mean-spirited declarations at the most inopportune time – anything is possible. . .

Then, rather than admit a mistake and move on, our resident beach safety “expert,” Chief Ray Manchester, barefacedly tried to cover Kelley’s ass when he said, “Due to challenges with decontamination, the public restrooms remain closed.  These facilities present a challenge because they create an opportunity for the easy spread of germs and bacteria.”

Say what?

According to photographs that readers have sent me in the past, these off-beach restrooms typically look like a fetid Third-World squat-hole, where you take your health and safety in your own hands on a good day. . .

Now, they’re worried about cleanliness? 

Look, Votran, our county’s public transportation service, has been operating with minimal precautionary measures – no hand sanitizer or wipes available to riders, no enforcement of social distancing requirements, etc. – while countless “essential” businesses, like groceries, big box stores and gas stations have kept their restrooms open since the COVID-19 lock-down began.

These companies didn’t turn their facilities into some posh Ritz-Carlton style toilette, with a washroom attendant to freshen things up and offer a spritz of cologne, mouthwash and mints – they simply opened for business and expected customers to wash their hands and practice good personal hygiene.

So, I asked the logical question:

Why can’t ostensibly bright people – who County Manager George Recktenwald has held out as the “best team in the state” – professionals who accept public funds to serve in the public interest – find a way to open public restrooms for the personal convenience of beach goers?

Then – suddenly – in the great tradition of exploration and discovery of Pasteur, Edison, Newton and Einstein – midweek we witnessed a monumental breakthrough! 

On Wednesday afternoon, Old Ed stood proudly at a lectern in the bowels of the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center and belched his way through a prepared statement – congratulating his own performance for ramrodding the opening of off-beach restrooms (effective tomorrow) – complete with paid “porters” who, I guess, will loiter around bathrooms wiping things down when you’re done wiping things down. . .

Whatever.

Kudos to those dedicated county executives and elected officials who boldly went above and beyond the call, spending countless hours and sparing no expense in researching, brainstorming and burning the midnight oil to devise a solution to this conundrum wrapped in an enigma – ultimately solving the infinite mystery of how to turn the key on an outhouse door.

And Another Thing!

Unlike her cantankerous son, if anyone has ever spoken a bad word about my mother – I have never heard it.

Admittedly, I’m biased – but she’s hard not to like.

An authentic free spirit with a quick laugh and comedic sense of humor that draws people like moths to a bright, inviting light.

Standing five-foot-nothing at an incredibly young 85 – she tools around town in her wholly inappropriate jet-black pick-up truck like some diminutive badass – and her mind remains much sharper than what remains of my own hop-laden gray matter.

Billie Mae Barker is a world-class raconteur, who loves regaling everyone she meets with stories of when she dated Elvis Presley in the 1950’s, holding her audience in awe with a thick hillbilly accent and a razor wit that perfectly complements an encyclopedic memory.

Like my grandmother before her, my mom is the funniest person I know – a personality that finds the lighter side of any situation – and makes you feel better just being in her presence through an innate ability to find the silver lining.

Something I find both interesting, and infinitely confounding, is the depth and eclectic variety of those she counts among her countless friends.

I know like five people.  She knows everyone!

In fact, many of the politicians and ‘movers and shakers’ I take to the woodshed on this site count my mother among their friends – and always ask for her with genuine interest, or relate a funny story, whenever I speak with them.

Then, they invariably question how a daft asshole like me could possibly have originated from that wonderful woman.

I must admit – that remains a mystery to me too. . .

Fortunately, through the gift of time, my mom has had the chance to enjoy her many grandchildren – and now, great grandchildren – imprinting upon each of them the same depth of love, pursuit of fun and zest for life my sister and I inherited.

I am forever grateful for that gift.

Throughout the incalculability of space and time, God found the perfect mother for me.

And that is why I can never repay him for the enormous favors and blessings he has brought to my life through her presence.

I also want to wish my long-suffering wife, Patti, a very Happy Birthday this weekend!

Trust me.  If there was ever a living saint, she’s it.

And I love her beyond words. . .

Here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and mom – and all mothers out there as we approach their special day.

That includes all those loving moms who care for their precious fur babies!

That’s all for me.  Have a great weekend, y’all!

 

 

4 thoughts on “Angels & Assholes for May 8, 2020

  1. Another great article Mark. I would like to get involved more deeply in the politics here in OBTS. These politicians around here are pathetic.
    Wishing Patti a very happy birthday.

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  2. Is it true that our local city & county employees (govt workers) are still receiving their full paychecks, even if they’re staying home?
    If that’s true, why aren’t those PAID GOVT WORKERS doing pandemic jobs, such as cleaning the bathrooms at the beach? Ever start a new job at a retail store? With a college degree and outstanding resume’, you cleaned public bathrooms during your initial new employee training. If public sector employees can do those cleanliness short-term duties, so can local govt employees, still receiving paychecks.

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  3. Concerning the Gannett newspaper chain. I went through this with a once fine local newspaper, the Rockland Journal News in Nyack, NY. It was exactly what the News-Journal was when I purchased here 3 years ago. When I heard Gannett was buying the N-J, I was saddened. I know what the end result will be. Local reporters will be cut to 2-3 and 1 photographer. The paper will shrink to one section with 6-8 pages. Local “news” will mainly be the reprinting of press releases. You have already noticed the out of town editorials. The next editor will be a gender fluid anti gun, pro income tax progressive far left liberal who will try and drag the deplorables to enlightenment.

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