Florida Fever Dreams

Fourth of July 2023, gay pride float, Micanopy, Florida. Photo: The author.

How hot is Hell?

Micanopy, Florida on the 4th of July was hot: 95°F under the shade of an oak tree. Along the parade route even hotter: “Hotter than Hell,” folks said. But they were wrong, according to the Book of Revelation:

“The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (21:8),

Since the melting point of brimstone (sulfur) is 239.38 °F, that’s the minimum temperature of Hell. But because sulfur only becomes a gas at 832.3 °F, the fiery lake could be significantly hotter. Micanopy by comparison — 95°F or 102°F if you count the humidity — was downright chilly this week!

But is Micanopy therefore, as its boosters claim, heavenly? The answer again, is no. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah described the physics of heaven on the day of the messiah’s arrival:

Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound. (Isaiah, 30:26)

Based upon these clues, scientists have calculated the temperature of Heaven as follows:

The radiation falling on heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat received by radiation. In other words, heaven loses fifty times as much heat as the earth by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth power law for radiation — (H/E)4 = 50 — where E is the absolute temperature of the earth, 300°K (273+27). This gives H the absolute temperature of heaven, as 798° absolute, 525°C or 977°F. (Applied Optics, 11, A14, 1972):

At 977° F., Heaven is at least 154°F and as much as 738°F hotter than Hell! This refutes the idea, dear to Evangelicals, that abortionists, pederasts, drag queens, socialists, communists, critical-race-theorists, and hapless Democrats will suffer a fiery eternity in Hell. In fact, if they remain true to form, they will – when the time comes — disport forever in a refreshing lake of brimstone while fundamentalists fry in Heaven. William Blake made the same point in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. After his conversation with the prophet Isaiah, he learned that “the earth will be consumed by fire at the end of six thousand years” at which time there will come “an improvement in sensual enjoyment.” “Energy is Eternal Delight,” Blake wrote:

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 4 (detail), 1790-93, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Blake’s book, inspired by the French Revolution and dreams of a popular uprising in England, contains a vivid description of Hell. In the second “A Memorable Fancy,” an angel ushers the poet down into the “infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city.” The sun was black and everywhere you looked were black and white spiders and “animals sprung from corruption”; those are the Demons of Hell, Blake says. Soon, the visitor sees a cataract made of blood and fire, a monstrous serpent, and Leviathan, “his mouth red & gills hanging just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood.”

But as soon as the Angelic tour-guide departs, the poet finds himself “sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight hearing a harper who sung to the harp.” The fire, brimstone and monsters are all gone; they were the product of the Angel’s “metaphysics,” his “confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning.” Like the CEOs of Exxon-Mobil (Darren Woods) and Shell PLC (Wael Sawan), Blake’s angel was a fossil fuel huckster, committed to the burning of tar, pitch and brimstone for his own profit. But energy doesn’t only come from the fiery lake, Blake tells us; it comes as well from the gentle movement of air and water, measured out by the plucking of harp strings. Banish the angel, and we’ll all get to enjoy the moonlight and harp music!

Satan in Tallahassee

The politics of Florida sometimes feel so hopeless that all you can do is try to escape it by going out into nature. I’m lucky there’s plenty of it where I live – state parks, county reserves, trust lands, lakes, and springs. But with the heat index this week over 100 degrees, nature feels as punishing as politics. It’s as if his Satanic majesty, Ron DeSantis, now controls the weather like he does the Republican legislature. In fact, DeSantis, eager to ensure the climate of his state approximates that of Hades, signed a bill last year preventing Florida cities from endorsing 100% clean energy goals. It has so far succeeded. Only 4% of the Sunshine State’s electricity derives from renewables, whereas South Dakota gets 83%, Washington 74%, Texas 26% and Arkansas 7%.

Sitting in the shade of a large Laurel Oak in my garden, sweating, swatting mosquitos and waving at gnats, I contemplated the Florida governor’s other Mephistophelean accomplishments:

+ Concealed weapons approved; no license or training required.

+ Drag performances banned, though a court injunction stopped implementation.

+ Gender transition care also banned, until a court overturned the law.

+ Gay education banned in all school grades.

+ Abortion is banned after six weeks. The law is pending, but court relief is not expected.

+ Diversity or equity training is no longer allowed in state universities.

+ No teaching about “critical race theory” either. Confusion abounds.

+ DeSantis formed an election police to intimidate Black voters.

+ The governor kidnaps asylum seekers and ships them to Democratic-led states.

+ DeSantis and the legislature retaliated against Disney for supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

+ Republicans and DeSantis passed a law barring ethical investing. Its impact is unclear.

The only hope is 2024, when recreational marijuana and abortion rights may be on the Florida ballot. (The Florida legislature is trying to stop them.) The two measures could draw to the polls enough students, potheads, old hippies, and abortion rights supporters (more than 60% of the Florida population), to defeat whoever is the Republican presidential nominee and the incumbent repugnant Senator, Rick Scott. But in Florida, we have learned the fallacy of hope.

Tempers flare

The heat makes everybody jumpy, including the sandhill cranes. Most of the cranes in town are snowbirds, spending Winter in Micanopy and flying back north to Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin in the Spring. It’s inspiring to see a pair of the four-foot-tall birds spread their wings as they descend on the strip of lawn behind our house, they designated their runway.

Some cranes, however, don’t like the long commute and stay in town year-round. To keep cool in the summer heat, they stand or wade in the shallow waters of Paine’s Prairie or Lake Tuscawilla. A few also loll in our little pond or drink from our birdbaths. Sometimes, they walk right up onto our concrete deck and stand under the deep eaves for shade.

Last week, while I was lounging on the deck in a butterfly chair, a crane came up and stood just a few feet away. He looked at me with his big orange eyes and then glanced down. Beneath him was a Southern lubber – a type of grasshopper. In the summer, when they are full grown, they are about 4 inches long and the color of the uniform of the Los Angeles Lakers. They can’t fly and walk slowly and clumsily. If one accidentally falls on its side, it may stay that way for a long time unless you nudge it back to its feet. Lubbers are harmless to everything except spider lilies, their favorite food. My wife Harriet and I planted a lot of them this Spring, so they’d be well provided for. One more thing: We’ve seen them close-up and often enough that we think we can identify some individuals, to whom we have given names. The one sharing the deck that day, with me and the crane, was Sid.

Nobody eats lubbers. They are mildly poisonous to every predator except the loggerhead shrike, and that’s only because of the macabre hunting routine of the bird. The shrike will seize a grasshopper and impale it on a wire fence, like a medieval executioner who impales on a spike the head of a miscreant as a lesson to others. When the bird returns after about three days, enough toxins have drained out of the grasshopper’s body that it’s good to eat.

Southern lubber (Romalea microptera), Micanopy, Florida. Photo: The author.

Sandhill cranes eat many things — fish, salamanders, lizards, tubers, berries, and seeds — but never lubbers. The lubber on our deck was therefore unconcerned about the crane when suddenly, the bird extended its neck downward and smashed the lubber hard with its beak, cutting it in two. The crane then calmly turned to me, as if to say: “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” Did the heat make him a killer, or was it his nature?

Smoke in Chicago

I lived in Chicago for more than 20 years and found much to fret over and disparage. The city is deeply segregated, and the Black neighborhoods on the south and west sides suffer from underinvestment and over-policing. Especially the latter.

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote about it for New City, after details of a police black-site came to light following a long investigative piece published by Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian. The location was the Holman Square Police Warehouse in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, about five miles west of the Loop. For nearly a decade, starting in 2004, police at Homan Square detained without charge more than 7,000 people, 6,000 of whom were black. Only 68 of these were allowed access to a lawyer despite questioning that lasted for as little as a few hours and as long as several days. The plain purpose was to create a smokescreen — disappear suspects for long enough to coerce confessions or turn them into police informers. The chief criticism of the press coverage of Holman Square was that the abuses reported there were common across the city, not just in North Lawndale.

There’s lots more to complain about in Chicago, especially if you are poor – like flooding, noise, and pollution. What makes the pollution especially galling is the knowledge that for years, city government, according to a recent HUD report, helped polluting businesses move from white and affluent areas to poor and Black or Latino ones. The practice came to light with unusual clarity when the city assisted in the planned relocation of the General Iron metal shredding factory from toney Lincoln Park to rough and tumble E. 116th Street along the Calumet River. Only after three years of organized, community resistance, negative publicity, and HUD inquiries, did Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (now former mayor) acknowledge the environmental racism involved and block the move.

Because of all this, I’ve always believed the city was a social and political powder keg. But never did I guess that the fire that choked the city would not be caused by an urban insurrection or Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, but instead by forests burning a thousand miles away in Quebec! In an age of global warming, the smoky consequences of distant fires are likely to become regular occurrences. Will the Cubs playing at Wrigley Field need to wear N95 masks along with batting helmets? Will schools regularly close for “smoke days” like they do now for snow days?

Currier & Ives, New York, Chicago in Flames, circa 1871.

Unlike Chicago, there are no cops in Micanopy. A few months ago, some resident began to complain about a mentally unstable homeless guy who sometimes slept at the town ballfield. He verbally harassed passersby, and parents were afraid he’d menace the Little League kids. Maybe it was time to sign a contract with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department for regular patrols? The issue was raised at one of the monthly Town Commission meetings, but two things conspired to stop it: First, the town’s most prominent clergyman vouched for the homeless guy, and said he’d see what social services he needed; and second, it was pointed out that, statistically speaking, regular police patrols lead to dead Black teenagers. The decision was made not to contract with ACSD, but to continue as is: The police respond to 911 calls and support the town when there are parades or other public gatherings. It’s a healthy, long-distance relationship.

4th of July

The annual Micanopy 4th of July parade draws hundreds of visitors. They come for the flags, bunting, banners, antique cars, fire engines, and tractors, and the general mood of celebration. This year, there was also a colorful and festive gay pride float, with a dozen or so people riding or walking alongside. Many were straight and elderly – there appears to be a shortage of young queers in Micanopy – but everybody tried their best to let their freak flag fly.

The float came about because there was an incident – or perhaps a suspected incident – of town officials targeting a queer business for code enforcement. The violation (sections 7.01.11 – 7.01.12) consisted of the public display of a rainbow flag. (U.S. and Florida flags are permitted.) I won’t go into the much-debated details of the matter; suffice to say there is uncertainty as to whether this was a case of bias or regulatory overzealousness. But the consequence was a proclamation, unanimously voted by Town Commissioners, proclaiming June to be Pride Month, honoring “the LGBTQ+ ….community and their ongoing struggle for acceptance, equality, and civil rights. We affirm,” the proclamation continued, “the principles of dignity, respect, and the right to live authentically without fear of discrimination for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Most major cities in the country made similar proclamations. So did the White House. But in rural Florida, in the “don’t say gay” state,” it’s a significant political statement. The crowd was friendly, even enthusiastic. And yet I felt, walking alongside the float, that it would only take one person with a concealed weapon – motivated by the don’t-say-gay law, the drag ban, the trans medical care ban, the DEI and critical race theory bans, and the governor’s attacks on Disney for “sexualizing children” – to end everything for us.

In the event, as expected, all was peaceable. But how do you know when the exercise of free speech is dangerous? Will we receive a phone alert? When does the friction of harassment become the fever of fascist violence?

Stephen F. Eisenman is emeritus professor at Northwestern University. His latest book, with Sue Coe, is titled “The Young Person’s Guide to American Fascism,” and is forthcoming from OR Books. He can be reached at s-eisenman@northwestern.edu