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 COVID-19 Omicron Edition
The bastard finally caught me.
After being “vaxxed,” boosted, masked, washing my hands to the point of distraction, etc., etc., on Monday, I tested positive for the dreaded ‘Rona, so if this edition of Angels & Assholes seems more jumbled and disjointed than normal (is that possible?) please give a sick man a break.
Now I can speak from achy first-hand experience and provide you with my own victim impact statement from down here in the Kleenex-strewn trenches:
In short – COVID-19 Omicron Edition sucks.
Going in, it is important to remember – I am a blowhard with a goofy opinion on everything – not an epidemiologist, which means I don’t have a flippin’ clue what variant du jour I am temporarily hosting in what remains of my upper respiratory tract.
But it is definitely the one that moves in unannounced and unpacks a low-grade fever, chills, dry cough, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, an all-encompassing “brain fog,” and a general “I feel like shit” malaise – one that transcends the normal aches, pains, and confusion of a 61-year-old inveterate drinker who has, for years, ignored the general care and maintenance of his now leaky vessel.
An accurate descriptor is the “flu-like symptoms” we have all been told to expect.
As word gets around town, I have been humbled by the gracious outpouring of good wishes, advice, and moral support from friends and foes alike.
A special thanks to everyone who took the time to drop a note on social media or send an offer of help – truly heartening and very much appreciated. That includes the well-intentioned person who began a conversation about pharmaceutical treatment options by asking, “Do you live near a Petsmart?”
Thank you all. What would I do without you?
Last Sunday, a friend that I had contact with called to say he tested positive for COVID-19 – which would make my third known “exposure” in the two years since this damnable pandemic started. Fortunately, the other two brushes resulted in little more than the recommended quarantine, no symptoms, negative testing, and a clean bill of health – so I wasn’t worried about it.
In March, I received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, the much maligned “one and done” jab, because that was what they offered at the vaccination site, and I was not particularly fussy about which flavor I got.
I experienced little more than mild soreness at the injection site – and, for good-or-ill, those little antibodies served me well, guarding against the virus and its various iterations for damn near nine months.
From the outset, I understood that the vaccine is not a guaranteed grant of immunity – and “breakthrough” infections are increasingly common – but people I trust explained that like the annual flu shot, a vaccination can provide a better chance of avoiding hospitalization (or worse) if/when COVID came to call.
Look, I am not some radical “vaxxer” – in fact, I could give two-shits if you get the vaccine or not.
Sorry, that may sound harsh, but in my view, immunizations are a personal healthcare decision, certainly none of my business, an individual choice made after weighing the benefits and consequences during a pandemic, something that transcends posturing and politics.
Given the number of poor personal decisions in my own life. I don’t judge others.
So please do not feel the need to respond with reams of pro/anti-vaccination videos, articles, scary stories, rumors, and crude name-calling. I get it.
Rest comfortable in the knowledge that I already know I’m an asshole. I hate me, too.
The fact is, I was a hypochondriacal ‘germaphobe’ long before COVID-19 hatched – a compulsive handwasher who eschews ‘hugs,’ abhors close physical contact, bolts like a scalded dog at the sound of a sneeze, would rather starve to death than eat from a buffet – a pathological ochlophobe who avoids crowds and confined spaces with a zealousness that borders on fanaticism.
In short – I hate being sick – and if there is an overhyped vaccine, curative serum, Hungarian garlic ritual, obscure voodoo healing incantation, greasy unguent, or smelly ointment available – I’m all in – even if it kills me.
Call me a fool, but my one bugaboo is I stop short of any “remedy” that can be purchased at Tractor Supply. . .
Out of an abundance of caution, last Wednesday, I went online and made an appointment at my local Walgreens where a very friendly pharmacist tech administered both the Pfizer COVID-19 booster and this season’s flu shot at the same time.
By Sunday afternoon, I was feeling a little under the weather, not sick, just “off,” and I thought it might be a normal reaction to the booster.
To be on the safe side, I took a rapid test from a stock that Patti and I laid in a few weeks ago when they were still available on the shelves – back before petty politics required we all line up like cattle at government “testing sites” – hoping against hope we make it to the front of the grim queue of walking wounded while supplies last (trust me, by any metric, this is no way to manage a pandemic at any level of government – especially in the greatest nation on earth – and history will not be kind to our “leaders.” All of them.)
After swirling and swabbing, then impatiently waiting the required 15-minutes, the home test proved negative. Whew.
So, I washed down two Advil with a shot of Woodford Reserve and went to bed.
A few hours later, a dear friend who I spent considerable time with over the holidays called to say they were also positive for COVID-19. The noose was tightening.
My phobias and worry quickly gave way to a real fever and chills – accompanied by a persistent scratchy throat and that weird feeling one gets right before a chest cold settles in – punctuated with fatigue and a tell-tale headache that my daily two-hour “retirement nap” didn’t cure.
On Monday, with the chills and body aches now undeniable, I took another test and this time the results were immediate – the dreaded pink parallel lines that confirmed the virus had finally stalked its circuitous way from some diseased bat in an obscure Asian wet market, crawled from a broken Petri dish in some back-alley in Botswana, escaped a mad scientist’s beaker in the bowels of Dr. Evil’s bioweapons laboratory, or (insert the latest wild-ass conspiratorial guess on where the damn thing originated) – before invading Barker’s View HQ, crawling up my nose, and making itself at home.
Look, I don’t want to make light of a virus that has claimed far too many – some of whom were longtime friends, lives of significant contribution to our community, now forever lost – but it is important to look beyond the hype and horseshit, the partisan propaganda and organized campaigns that weaponize information, stir suspicion, and stoke the fearmongering that sells newspapers but confuses constructive discourse on a public health crisis by attaching nefarious motives to both camps – a shitstorm of epic proportions, horribly illustrating that political one-upmanship has become more important that saving lives.
The facts as I know them are this: My bout with COVID-19, though uncomfortable and inconvenient, has fluctuated between mild and moderate in severity – all symptoms well-managed at home with ample application of purely medicinal Hot Toddies.
Your experience may well be different than mine – and I urge everyone to contact your doctor for sound medical advice should you experience symptoms.
Once this dreaded virus has run its course and left my body for other targets of opportunity, I will continue to take all reasonable precautions to protect my community and those dear to me from a similar (or worse) experience, because doing one’s part to limit the spread is the right thing to do.
I hope you will, too.
Angel Holly Hill Police Chief Jeff Miller & Bunnell Police Chief Mike Walker
Wow. News travels slow here in the hinterlands, eh?
It is like we are living on the dark side of some barren information wasteland where, if it doesn’t catch the somnolent notice of the Palm Beach Post, Florida Times-Union, Lakeland Ledger, or some other regional newspaper laboring under the yoke of the ‘USA Today Network,’ it didn’t happen. . .
Recently, two long serving and most deserving local law enforcement professionals were elevated to the rank of Chief of Police – both fine additions to their respective communities – and true gentlemen that I am proud to call friends.
Last June, Jeff Miller was appointed Interim Chief of Police of the Holly Hill Police Department by City Manager Joe Forte following the retirement of Chief Stephen Aldrich who completed a stellar 29-year career with the agency.
Chief Miller is a product of “The City with a Heart,” attending Holly Hill Elementary School, Holly Hill Junior High, and graduating from Mainland High School in 1989.
He holds a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida and is a graduate of the 262nd Session of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. His prior leadership roles include service as the City of Holly Hill’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Captain, Deputy Chief of Operations, and Sergeant leading the agency’s Crime Suppression Unit.
Chief Miller is a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Volusia/Flagler Police Chiefs Association, Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy Associates, the Holly Hill School Advisory Committee, Florida Department of Children and Families Executive Order 18-81 Leadership Steering Committee, and the Freedom 7 Human Trafficking Task Force.
Last month, during a surprise ceremony at Holly Hill City Hall attended by three former Holly Hill police chiefs, along with a packed house of friends, family members, and colleagues, Jeff was formally appointed Chief of Police.
I had the distinct pleasure of serving with Chief Miller for many years, and having watched his professional development and career progression, I can think of no one more deserving.
In my experience, Chief Miller leads from the front – with a personal commitment to servant leadership – which means he places himself in service to those under his command, not the other way around – always honoring the demanding work and sacrifice of those who serve, protect, and deliver quality services to the citizens of Holly Hill, while demanding a high degree of professionalism and integrity.
Earlier this week, Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson announced the selection of Michael Walker to serve as that community’s new Chief of Police.
Chief Walker will be formally appointed during a community ceremony on January 24, 2022.
From experience, small-town policing takes a steady hand and a ‘jack of all trades’ dexterity, adaptive leadership skills, the ability to manage scarce resources, adopting modern policing principles while holding firm to the best traditions of small-town life and developing a neighborly connection to those you serve.
When done right, serving a quaint, close-knit community is one of the most personally rewarding experiences in the law enforcement profession – and the cities of Holly Hill and Bunnell now have two of the finest practitioners of true “community-oriented policing” at the helm.
Chief Walker comes from a distinguished line of career law enforcement officers.
I had the honor of serving under Mike’s late father, Larry Walker, who retired as Holly Hill’s police chief. His brother, Mark Walker, retired from the Ormond Beach Police Department before embarking on a stellar career with the Ponce Inlet Police Department.
Another brother, Jim Crimmins, also retired from the Ormond Beach Police Department.
Chief Walker began his service to the citizens of Lake Helen in 1989 after a year with the Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety. He was appointed Chief of Police in 2011.
During his long and honorable career, Chief Walker set the gold standard – always humble and engaged – with an ever-present smile and quick wit – no job too big or too small to ensure the safety of his beautiful community.
The City of Bunnell is in very capable hands.
In my experience, small town chiefs do not seek this multifaceted job for the salary and benefits that their often-itinerant major city counterpart’s command. They do it out of an abundance of love and a sense of community – a mutual affection that forms the very essence of what it means to serve, protect, and place the needs of others above one’s own self-interest.
These two extraordinary professionals have proven their personal commitment to that time-honored tradition.
Kudos to Chief Jeffrey Miller and Chief Mike Walker on this wonderful accomplishment in their impressive careers.
Quote of the Week
“Such an excellent idea from Rep. Bob Rommel to insist on the installation of cameras and microphones in our public school classrooms! So great a concept that no doubt he would insist it to be extended to our state legislature… as in all our elected officials’ offices, conference rooms, et cetera paid for by taxpayers where state business is discussed.
I’m sure Mr. Rommel will be pleased to have his every word recorded for public scrutiny. Remembering, of course, we are the Sunshine State.”
–Stephen Smith, Palm Coast, writing in what remains of The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Letters to the Editor section, “Why stop at teachers?” Wednesday, January 5, 2022
I don’t know Stephen Smith of Palm Coast – but I like how he thinks.
The nationwide push to advance our burgeoning surveillance state by placing a camera and microphone in every classroom/bathroom/locker room/police cruiser/etc. (anywhere but the corporate boardroom – or the backrooms of the State Capitol and Congress) came to the Sunshine State last week in a bill sponsored by State Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Naples).
In my view, Rep. Rommel’s measure is designed to ensure Florida teachers are ‘sticking to the script’ – and, like so many posturing mandates that are foisted on local governments and school districts from Tallahassee – the concept of self-determination and the unintended consequences of ill-thought laws be damned.
Trust me. When Rep. Rommel’s bill becomes law – the only benefit will be when parents of recalcitrant “students” are forced to watch a loop of their offspring violently and profanely acting out, abusing teachers, students, and staff in a dangerous and all too frequent occurrence that has turned many a public school into a dystopian Thunderdome.
Like law enforcement officers before them, professional educators are now being told by their elected representatives “We don’t trust you to do the right thing.”
So, rather than simply set sound academic policy and reasonable oversight – we’re going to have Big Brother monitor you from an all-seeing Orwellian “telescreen” – an omnipresent eye in the sky that captures and records everything you say and do – leaving your every word, move, and teaching technique open to painstaking interpretation by lawyers, parents, politicians, administrators, government agencies, and professional critics.
What are we becoming?
More importantly, why in hell are We, The People allowing ourselves to be thrown down this very slippery path?
Who will watch the watchers?
The roots of this issue run deep – to the heart of the all-or-nothing cultural warfare that permeates everything – with the far left elites of what passes for “higher education” – those who blanket themselves in the insulating cocoon of tenure while spouting divisive, even violent, rhetoric in college classrooms around the nation (then ‘cancel’ anyone who dissents) – while “conservative” regents respond with the “nuclear option” – crushing free speech with iron boot intimidation, chilling any academic challenge to controversial ideas and concepts, discussions that should form the backbone of a meaningful college education.
Screw it. We could trudge down that dank slit-trench all day and not find a sensible answer – because outdated concepts like reasonableness and rationality no longer inform the discussion in Tallahassee and beyond.
Now, lockstep conformity to partisan politics and the pursuit of unrestrained power (and fealty to those self-serving fringe elements on both sides of the widening divide who fund it) is the only thing that matters.
I agree with Mr. Smith’s suggestion.
It is time we put cameras in the inner-sanctums of government at all levels – broadcasting the backroom mini-moves of our elected officials and those uber-wealthy insiders who control the rods and strings – laying bare the bartered policy decisions, tax breaks, corporate welfare giveaways, exposing the Turkish bazaar atmosphere of “economic development” incentives where government uses our hard-earned tax dollars to select winners-and-losers in the “free” marketplace – an unblinking view of the rotten sausage as it is being made.
Don’t hold your breath, folks. . .
And Another Thing!
Maybe I was giddy with COVID-induced fever, but as midnight tolled on New Year’s Eve, I resolved to keep an open mind in 2022 – to wipe clear the cracked and greasy lens through which I view the intrigues of local government and those who so deftly manipulate it – vowing to look past the hucksterism in a strange election year when every seat on the Volusia County Council is up for grabs with the exception of County Chair Jeff Brower.
Like clockwork, my well-intentioned fresh start was shot all to hell on Thursday when I tuned into what passed for the Volusia County Council’s annual organizational meeting – which set the tone with a quick adoption of a monthly meeting schedule geared toward the comfort and convenience of our elected and appointed officials – with absolutely no thought of moving “public” meetings to a time when the public can attend and participate in their government.
Can’t afford to take time off to be heard by your elected representatives? Tough shit, John Q. . .
A common theme began to emerge as Councilwoman Heather Post took it on the chin from several of her “colleagues” – telegraphing that Volusia’s entrenched Old Guard plan to continue the tired theater of questioning Ms. Post’s motives while limiting her ability to represent constituents with parliamentary shenanigans, then painting her as ineffectual ahead of the coming election cycle.
Classic political gaslighting – performed Keystone Kops style – a bungling slapstick that always ends in comedic chaos.
For instance, on the critical issue of ensuring the patency of Florida’s Wildlife Corridor in Volusia County, our elected representatives took the courageous step of voting to accept a staff report (whatever that means?), promises of a “broader” future discussion, and a study to study the need for another “Green Ribbon Political Insulation Committee” which will, no doubt, put even more time and distance between now and anything of substance.
I hope I’m wrong.
The Wildlife Corridor Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last summer, is designed to protect interconnected natural areas of the state – a physical necessity as increasingly enveloped wildlife are forced to escape the out-of-control destruction of their natural habitat to make way for more development.
It quickly became infinitely clear whose voice mattered most.
When Chairman Brower rightly opted to allow Dr. Wendy Anderson, a professor of environmental science at Stetson University and the duly elected Chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District, more time to address this important issue from the podium, Councilman Ben Johnson was quick to publicly spank Brower for not cutting Dr. Anderson off at the knees before she finished her informative presentation.
Why? Dr. Anderson went over her allotted three-minutes. . .
Yet, when a representative for the company that owns the massive Farmton Tract – a proposed development which will fundamentally change the landscape of Volusia County as we know it – approached the dais to tout the developer’s conservation efforts – at Mr. Brower’s invitation, Councilman Johnson moved to allow the Farmton spokesperson more time to drone on.
Because in Volusia County, the “We like ice cream, too!” yammering of a glib corporate shill – a deep-tissue massage that almost convinced me a 60,000-acre development is going to be beneficial to the environment – is infinitely more important than the educated opinion of a respected environmental scientist on an issue made necessary by overdevelopment.
When Ms. Post asked that a focused discussion of development regulations governing lands near Volusia sections of the Florida Wildlife Corridor be placed on an April workshop – her reasonable request was met with the confused mewling and twaddling of lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler.
Before the vote on Post’s request, Councilman Johnson asked to recuse himself due to what The Daytona Beach News-Journal described as “…a potential financial interest…”
I don’t make this shit up, folks.
When the fleeting apparition of the ethereal Jonathan “Big Foot” Edwards, Volusia County’s Internal Auditor – who, like Sasquatch, is rumored to exist but rarely seen – appeared out of a ghostly vapor in the Council Chamber to present the 2022 Internal Audit Plan, a puzzling discussion ensued as Ms. Post attempted to ascertain Edward’s complete autonomy.
In October, Ms. Post reported an unidentified issue with inmate trust fund accounts to Mr. Edwards in her role as an elected representative – a responsibility which Ms. Post rightfully considers an integral and important part of her job. Because it is.
That turned into a pointed reminder by Councilman Johnson, His Eminence Fred Lowry, and Councilwoman Wheeler of how county government works – ensuring that the individual elected officials know they are neutered – expressly prohibited from bringing serious individual or constituent concerns to Mr. Edwards’ attention – comfortable in the fact that, in Volusia County, ferreting out fraud, theft, and financial inefficiencies will never be as important as lockstep conformity to a rigid process that protects the bureaucratic upper crust.
For her trouble, Ms. Post was left defending herself from insinuations of overreach because she reported a potential crime to the county’s “independent” auditor – which Lowry claimed left a perception in the public’s mind that there are “problems” with the internal oversight and inspection process.
In my view, the most telling twist came when our éminence grise “Dr.” Lowry adopted his weird Perry Mason persona and questioned County Attorney Mike Dyer and Mr. Edwards regarding the auditor’s sovereignty from the dais – concluding that he alone cleared any doubt from the minds of a concerned public – because what else were they going to say?
While still center stage, Lowry took a cheap swipe at Ms. Post and her supporters here in the Real World, claiming that while “…certain peoples Facebook groupies tonight will be cheering them on” he wants everyone to know there is no problem with the internal auditing process because, based upon his superpower of deductive reasoning, he dispelled any suspicion beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Okay, whatever you say, Fred. . .
While there may be some misguided souls out there who disagree – I no longer believe anything that comes from Councilman Lowry’s mouth – and something tells me there is more to this mysterious autonomy question than meets the eye. . .
Please don’t take my word for it. Watch the archived meeting video and form your own conclusion.
With Ms. Post now a viable and declared candidate for the At-Large seat, look for more of the same in coming months as the campaign to protect the stagnant status quo heats up.
On a positive note, the elected officials evaluated compelling proposals from our longtime beach concession provider Beach Rentals and Refreshments of Volusia County – and the impressive Miami Beach-based vendor Boucher Brothers.
Fortunately, Councilmembers voted unanimously to keep the 10-year contract local.
The move will allow some sixty area families who earn their living on the beach to keep providing the unique atmosphere and quality concessions residents and visitors have come to expect.
Unusually smart thinking for that bunch – and an impressive start to what will be a very interesting year.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!