The state with the prettiest name, #2436

Only in Florida would thirty-three-year-old Bryan Deneumostier dress as a woman, lure straight men to his Homestead home, and record their sex for porn purposes:

Deneumostier, known by the screen name “susanleon33326,” pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal interception of oral communications before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. He faces up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing on Nov. 29, though he is expected to receive less time. As part of his plea agreement, three related charges will be dropped by federal prosecutors….

…Deneumostier was arrested in July on charges of making unlawful recordings of commercial sex acts for an adult website. An indictment, filed by prosecutors Cary Aronovitz and Mona Sedky, lists three victims related to his operation of “StraightBoyz.” The site promised gay men videos of real straight men being conned into accepting sex acts, all while blindfolded or wearing blacked-out goggles.

Investigators believe Deneumostier helped operate the subscription-based adult site, which featured about 620 video hookups, over the past four years. Although the website is no longer in operation, many of the videos can still be viewed on other porn sites.

“The site offered for streaming approximately 619 ‘hook up’ videos that depicted sexual activity between Deneumostier and other men,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The defendant had surreptitiously made audio and video recordings of the sexual encounters, without the victims’ knowledge or consent. He later sold the ‘hook up’ videos to a third party located overseas and caused them to be posted onto the website.”

To be clear, straight men all over the world want to be deceived, but we Floridians have the entrepreneurial spirit.

‘I could no longer live my life as a lie’

Eric Peter Verbeeck, a Key Biscayne youth transitioning to a girl named Hope, killed herself nine days ago. Howard Cohen has her story:

“He left behind a letter, the most beautiful letter you could imagine, and it was on his pillow,” Eric’s mother said. “I got up and realized I didn’t see him in my apartment.”

The letter began: “Dear Mommy and Papa, I am so sorry to do this to you but I have killed myself by jumping off the top floor …”

Eric was always precise, Verbeeck said.

“I could no longer live my life as a lie,” her letter continued. “I’m so sorry I lied to you. I was losing hope in the world and could not see my way out of the wrong body so I decided it was time for my life to end. Please forgive me for any sins I committed.”

Verbeeck: “He didn’t have any sins. I never used the word sin with him.”

The child who loved to attend Broadway and London musical theater shows, who had a beloved dog named Rocky, who started performing at 6 and already had a favorite role — The Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland” — and who “planned out trips to the tiniest detail,” was equally precise in her last wishes.

She didn’t want her parents, who were separated, to argue. She wanted her ashes split between her parents.

The statistics for adolescents who kill themselves as a result of sexual confusion , included in the story, are stark. According to Hope’s mom, she had given her child as much empathy and patience. It wasn’t enough. In an era when psychology can explain most conditions, suicide remains the great abyss into which education and empathy stare, helplessly.

Hug your kids tonight.

Florida, the state with the prettiest name: Daylight Savings Time

Sea level rise, a barely competent governor, flying roaches — these and other elements make Florida an earthly paradise. If said governor signs the following legislation, we’ll deal with Daylight Savings Timem for the rest of our lives:

According to the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966, states may exempt themselves from observing daylight saving time, as Hawaii and most of Arizona do. But there isn’t an option for states to exempt themselves from standard time.

So the change Florida lawmakers desire is technically a change of time zone. The majority of Florida would move from Eastern time to Atlantic time: the zone that’s home to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Canadian Maritime provinces. The western part of the state’s panhandle is on Central time; residents there would shift to Eastern time.

Moving to Atlantic time is something that New England states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine have been mulling over — and they arguably need the sunshine more than Florida does.

A time zone change requires either an act of Congress or a regulatory action from the Department of Transportation. U.S. and Canadian time zones were adopted in 1883 to reduce confusion at railroad terminals.

Why we Floridians would want more sunlight and a longer working day is beyond me.

Once again — the carnage in Parkland

At the dawn of the new millennium I covered Parkland as a Sun-Sentinel news intern. A quiet city undergirded by an opulence that avoided ostentation — Al Gore visited several times that autumn (it remains a Democratic stronghold in Florida’s most Democratic county). Compared to, say, Sunrise and Plantation, Parkland was a model city, known for vicious zoning battles, as shown by the only commission meeting I covered. Many former students attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, named after one of Florida’s few literary giants. Well-named too, for its graduates are among the state’s brightest.

The only way to stop carnage like this afternoon’s is to create a coalition that aims for a repeal of the Second Amendment, for thanks to Heller and the late Nino the right to own a personal weapon, within certain limits, is constitutional. “Background checks” ain’t gonna work, sorry, not when the suspect had a legal right, as of this post, to buy a gun.

The other option is to let sea level rise finish the job.

‘The Florida Project’ an amateurish look at life on the periphery

The initial reviews for The Florida Project suggest a digital sociology experiment rather than a successful narrative film. Watching Sean Baker’s story about scrappy kids and their parents trying to survive in the third-rate motels clustered around Walt Disney World was an enervating experience for me. It should have worked: the material is promising, suggesting an approach similar to what Victor Nuñez had wrought in Ulee’s Gold and Ruby in Paradise; writer-director Baker’s previous film Tangerine had a bawdy humor and, shot entirely on iPhones, made the most of its rudimentary construction; and the title itself, the generic name given to the theme park during its 1960s planning phase, buzzes with possibilities. But the result is a ungainly mess. Baker hasn’t a clue about pacing or the direction of actors, which is hell on the audience, for there are few things more hellish than being stuck with brats. The crushing two hours in which The Florida Project insists on telling its vaporous story is akin to babysitting caffeinated kids at the Magic Kingdom for an afternoon with no parent in sight. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t wait to leave.

The Florida Project gets one thing right: the increasingly hardscrabble existence of the hospitality industry in the Kissimmee area. The opening of the Osceola Parkway in the late nineties decimated hotel managers like Bobby (Willem Dafoe); where before visitors to the Disney theme parks inched several miles up or down U.S. 192 and its miserable traffic, now they bypass it entirely, a straight fifteen-minute shot to Disney’s doorstep. Nevertheless, many of these motels boast themes, clean pools, regular maintenance, and maid service; they aren’t flophouses yet. Enter the Magic Castle Inn & Suites, where Moonee (Brooklynn Price) and her young mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) eke out an existence. When for the sake of the rent Halley isn’t hoodwinking tourists into buying perfume in the parking lots of neighboring hotels she’s partying with a friend who gets her free breakfast from the diner at which she works. Mooney spends those broiling summer days hanging with Scooty (Christopher Rivera), spitting on cars from balconies, eating ice cream, being nuisances. Then Scooty’s dad forbids him from playing with Mooney. She needs a replacement. The older woman on whose car she’s spit in The Florida Project‘s opening moments has a granddaughter, the more demure Jancey (Valeria Cotto).

So far as plot goes, that’s about it, but The Florida Project‘s episodic nature doesn’t crimp it. From Pather Panchali to The 400 Blows the last century has given countless examples of movies chronicling the adventures of street kids. But these children are so obnoxious that even Mooney’s cutting the power at the Magic Castle just cuz she can fails to resonate as an innocuous oh-those-golden-days-of-childhood moment; I just wanted to belt her. Baker doesn’t modulate their performances; Mooney and Jancey screech and holler and laugh. Dafoe has the worst of it. As Bobby, he plays Goodness Incarnate. He lets Halley slide on the rent, indulges Mooney, and knows every guest’s name. Taking into account that his clientele lives a step above the poverty line, it’s a wonder he hasn’t been fired or had his hotel shut down; with his good cheer he should be working at a Magic Kingdom gift shop. Baker and cinematographer Alexis Zabe are less reluctant to objectify Halley, often shot in unflattering close-ups and harsh light. Baker’s intention is clear: we can’t blame children for the mistakes of their parents. But what is on screen has the opposite effect: awful parents produce awful moppets. Infatuated with the children, Baker identifies with them.

But what most disappointed this native Floridian who visits the Disney area yearly is The Florida Project‘s anonymity. Baker and Zabe capture the colors of this landscape – those violent purples and sinister oranges coaxed out by unrelenting sound against sudden flaring clouds – rescued by hysterical overdevelopment but none of the character. The tracts of urban space ravished by Zabe’s camera could’ve been shot in Sarasota, Everglades City, or, hell, Tacoma. Central Florida weather in the summer has a sinister volatility: sun-damaged mornings surrender to torrential rains and lightning storms, with the humidity at all times sulphuric in intensity. And noisy. At all times.

I suspect The Florida Project will play better for audiences unacquainted with Central Florida and for whom the idea of spending money on such kitsch is laughable in itself. It avoids one mortal sin: despite the surfeit of intrusive closeups, Baker doesn’t err by romanticizing poverty. The camera sits, like a guest invited to stand by the door but not enter, as it captures the meticulousness with which Magic Castle permanent guests have decorated, not to say stuffed, their rooms with toaster ovens, kitchenettes, plastic hangers, bags of chips, blankets serving as shades to keep that horrible sun at bay. The film allows characters to nibble at the margins, like Sandy Kane’s vulgar Gloria, another Magic Castle resident, who insists on topless sunbathing while her corpuscles pump several gallons of McCormick vodka across her cheerful system. Still, gimme last year’s American Honey, also about kids left to their own devices but lighter, not to mention defter about situating its kids in a milieu.

But The Florida Project remains the most depressing drag – the kind of drag that makes me wonder if the modest Tangerine was a fluke (the last sequence is such a travesty that I wonder if the film’s swooning critics walked out of the picture before it). If The Florida Project is a hit, though, Baker will be back, emboldened by success, chastened by failure, or, I fear, emboldened by failure.

GRADE: C

Irma update, FPL anger edition

My parents and several friends belong to the ten percent of FPL customers without power this morning. Although the utility had been promising full restoration for the southeastern coast of Florida all week, it revised its statements on Friday: now those who live south of Miller Drive will get power restored by Tuesday latest. But FPL had twelve years and hundreds of millions spent updating the grid and technology only to have the technology crash (in the Sunshine State, residents aren’t allowed to disconnect from the grid even if they own solar panels; it’s another one of the perks that lobbyists can buy).

An example of the absurdity. On the way to the supermarket, my dad waved down a Michigan power company truck contracted by FPL. After he explained that power was out to eighty-eight homes connected to their transformer, the man said he was shocked; he checked the computer. Apparently the neighborhood wasn’t on the grid. Who knows then if trucks would have appeared at all. As I pointed out, a dozen years after Hurricane Wilma a powerful hurricane that delivered a glancing blow knocks out a million-plus customers in Miami-Dade County alone. Imagine if Irma had stuck to the Sept. 7 forecast, which had her buzzsawing through us and points north. Imagine if my father hadn’t flagged down the driver.

A week after Irma, the rest of us crawl toward normality. Classes resume at every level tomorrow. And north of the Caribbean Sea churns another tropical storm on its way to hurricane status following a similar trajectory as Irma’s. Early reports suggest Florida may get spared a direct hit. Normality in Florida means living with hurricane anxiety in September.

Hurricane Irma’s highest body count

While I’ve been posting about missing cable and internet and running out of James Salter novels to read, seniors are dying from heat exhaustion. In Hollywood Hills about twenty miles north of me, Hurricane Irma claimed her highest death toll. And in what kind of facility were these seniors?

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has a health inspection rating of “much below average” by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, which evaluates all long-term care facilities in the state for the U.S. government. The facility’s “overall rating,” which includes staffing, fire safety and health inspections, was was listed as “below average.”

The nursing home is owned by Larkin Community Hospital, which has a long history of running afoul of healthcare regulators. In 2006, the U.S. Justice Department fined Larkin and its owners $15.4 million in a settlement of a civil fraud complaint. The litigation named Jack Michel, a doctor who is listed in Florida healthcare records as an officer and board member of the nursing home with a controlling interest.

Florida is ripe fruit for charlatans and grifters. Besides its history as swampland requiring drainage and several hundred million in execrable real estate investments, the state also boasts a large senior population who no longer have a Claude Pepper in Congress to watch over their interests. Our governor, who has, I must admit, projected fortitude and command for the last ten days, ran a company responsible for the largest Medicaid fraud case in American history.

Miamians are just wild about turn signals

Miami-Dade County boast several miles of beautiful beaches and many first-rate hotels, but to enjoy them you have to make it to them alive. In my county, drivers make right turns from the leftmost lane, cruise in the rain with blinkers on, drop passengers off in the middle of a busy street, and abjure the use of turn signals while showing contempt for those who do. We South Floridians ‘fail to use turn signals 48 percent of the time when changing lanes and 25 percent of the time when making a turn,” according to an automotive engineer:

Ponziani conducted his field study in Dayton, Ohio, which is in the Midwest, where people are nice. He predicted that the percentages would rise in the Miami metropolis, where people are aggressive or oblivious. Here, it’s Mad Max or Mr. Magoo behind the wheel. Drivers either don’t want to cede an inch of territory to competing drivers or they are not paying attention. Here, instead of mindfulness — the healthy way of living in the moment — Miamians practice mindlessness — the selfish way of living as if you are the only human inhabiting your surrounding environment.

Other theories include a fear of showing weakness, tied to machismo (“In L.A. drivers are more laid back because they are resigned to sitting in freeway traffic for two hours,” a University of Miami observes). There’s no way to get past the implied racism: tranquil white Dayton has less trouble with turn signals than polyglot Miami. My experiences in multiethnic New York City, though, gives me pause. In Manhattan, the drivers are aggressive, impatient with dallying, but they follow elementary traffic rules.

Out of towners, use Uber – even if you’re staying with me.

Estimates “off” regarding sea level rise

Remember when scientists thought the coasts were a hundred years from some kind of disaster? Well.

Based on new evidence, the Arctic Council — a cooperative effort among eight nations to monitor climate change — concluded that the Arctic warmed faster between 2011 and 2015 than any time on record, with glaciers and sea ice melting faster than expected. That means a United Nations estimate for sea rise, considered among the most conservative, could be off by as much as 10 inches.

The report is particularly ominous for densely populated South Florida, which sits downstream in the ocean’s vast circulatory system, said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Ben Kirtman.

“Along the Eastern Seaboard, and South Florida in particular, we get an excessive rise,” he said.

As I’ve explained before, doomsday will not consist of a tidal wave coming from the Atlantic and treating Florida like The Poseidon Adventure. Toilets won’t flush. Streets formerly on high ground will become flood zones. Sea creatures will appear farther inland. Life will become more expensive in Florida until the state reverts to the years before Henry Flagler, the railroads, and central air conditioning.

Plutocratic messianism and public education

Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone essay on Betsy DeVos explains how Christians and billionaires have created a racket that operates under the fiction of public education. One of those consortium, the Council for National Policy, hides Christian policy behind its bloodless moniker. Some of the material uncovered:

As a candidate, Trump suggested diverting $20 billion in federal money toward private-school vouchers. School choice, he said, was the “civil rights issue of our time.” But mass privatization is about more than improving test scores, as was made clear in a report the Council for National Policy submitted to the Trump administration. Though CNP’s membership is closely held, the Southern Poverty Law Center recently obtained a copy of its 2014 roster. Betsy DeVos’ name didn’t appear on it, but her mother was on CNP’s board of governors and listed among its “Gold Circle Members.” The CNP’s view on education, as outlined in the report, is based on the definition in the 1828 version of Webster’s Dictionary: “To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, it is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable.”

The rest of the five-page document outlines a radical vision for the Department of Education, the first step of which would be to eliminate it, transferring responsibility for public-school education to the states. In its place, the CNP suggests creating a “President’s Advisory Council on Public Education Reform,” a sub-Cabinet-level department that would serve as a “consulting service” to state education departments. Among the other recommendations: Restore Ten Commandments posters at all public schools, encourage schools to “recognize traditional holidays (e.g., Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) as celebrations of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” and implement Bible classes. The authors advocate a “gradual, voluntary” approach to promoting “free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.” But, they add elsewhere, “It is not unreasonable to believe that many state officials will be emboldened for change along those lines when the Trump administration is fully in place.”

I refer my readers to my home state, where former governor and former Donald Trump punching bag Jeb Bush evangelized about them in the late nineties. A bill in the Florida Senate would require school districts to “share” tax dollars with charter schools. Well. “Of state capital aid this year to K-12 public schools,” The Miami Herald reports, “$75 million went to the state’s 650 charter schools and the other $75 million was divided among about 3,600 traditional public schools.” Public money goes to institutions like Academica, among the most profitable of charter school companies, that are under investigation for enrolling in one school year five black and four Asian  out of 475 students at one of their Miami schools (full disclosure: I’ve got relatives who attend this school). Public money in the form of tax credits and grants allows an entity like Academica to charge us usurious amounts in leases, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that charter schools exist as real estate schemes subsidies by taxpayers and whose educational promises aren’t much better than the local public school.

Add a dash of religious lunacy and the result is a nexus unlike anything seen in the civilized world: plutocratic messianism, with Christ as revered dead CEO.

Florida — the state with the prettiest name, Part #239!

To say that the Sunshine State has endured the stupidest primary election of my lifetime sounds precipitate, given that the state isn’t underwater yet and the Democratic Party sees no alternative to running Charlie Crist templates until Gainesville condo owners see the Atlantic lapping at their ground floor balconies; but any election in which Patrick Murphy, a turncoat who three years ago approached John Boehner about defecting and voted yea on the creation of the House Benghazi Committee, will run against the foulest offal in Florida public life is reason to hope that the tropical depression churning in the Florida Straits wipes out my state.

This means that Marco Rubio will return as a member of the legislative body he despises. If he were smarter than a dinner tray, he would stumble on the wisdom that has empowered Republicans and hoodwinked the media: the more a candidate emphasizes his contempt for lawmaking — for “Washington” — the better his credentials as an “outsider” and, in a kick in the groin to the Republic, the worse for the party that believes in governance no matter how ponderous, i.e. the Democrats. Hell, I may not even be giving Rubio enough credit; certainly Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of Rubio’s running again. Meanwhile the Florida Democratic Party, so moribund that it leaves no stink, won’t recruit candidates commensurate with the state’s demographics, parlous environmental condition, and political importance.

Grounded: landline use during tropical storms

payphone

Phone service was scratchy in the first few hours after Hurricane Andrew made landfall, but if you were out of power for as long as many people were (my parents were lucky: only ten days) you could at least count on the land line working. The thing wasn’t even called a “landline.” During the days of expensive Motorola beauties that looked like flat irons, you were only screwed if your cordless phone required electricity. When Hurricane Wilma, our last major hurricane, hit in October 2005, many of us had cell phones and landlines; Apple would debut the first smart phone exactly two years later. The worst that could happen was running out of gas for the car and generator.

As survivors of Super Storm Sandy made clear, a hurricane during the Smart Phone Era could mess things up real good.

“I think we’re more vulnerable [in terms of communications] than we were 24 years ago,” said Norcross, who anchored the WTVJ newscast for 23 hours straight during Andrew and is now a hurricane specialist for The Weather Channel. “I remember after Andrew there were a lot of people with wrecked homes but the phone line was still working in the kitchen.”

During Andrew, Norcross’ reports were simulcast on radio. Now, for many people, the battery-powered transistor radio is little more than a nostalgic relic. Television stations also have switched from analog to digital systems and battery-powered digital TVs aren’t as readily available as the small analog models were.

Society has become dependent on devices from cellphones to tablets and laptops that need a charge to keep working — and electrical grids are often the first to go during major storms. That impact is compounded by the fact that so many people have cut the cord and use only cellphones in their homes rather than landlines, which are usually more reliable during storms.

A Florida Public Service Commission report from December 2015 said Florida residents and businesses had 3.3 million traditional phone lines last year, down from 3.8 million the previous year and 6.1 million in 2011. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health Interview Survey found that 47 percent of U.S. households are now cellphone only, compared with 20 percent in 2009 and just 3 percent in 2003.

There hasn’t been a major hurricane in the United States since 2005 — the year of hurricanes Katrina and Wilma — although there have been storms that caused extensive flooding. As a result, the cellphone network hasn’t really been put to a test during the era of mobile phone proliferation. “It is a large, unexplored area,” said Norcross.

In the weeks after Andrew, payphones exploded in use; for thousands of Floridians in south Dade, it was the only way to communicate. Every time Buzzfeed or something runs an article with poorly controlled smugness wondering why anyone but drug deals would still use payphones, I must remind myself that the white lib demographic clicks on those articles.

I pay for a landline: twenty bucks a month.