Date: 28/10/2020
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Too Darn Hot

John Derbyshire has one in NR (dead tree version) too:

...I am not a hot-weather person — am, in fact, strongly sympathetic to the folk-anthropological notion that vigorous civilization cannot arise in a seriously hot climate. How did people in hot places get anything done before air conditioning came in? Heat is another country: They do things differently there. Or rather, if they have any sense, they do nothing at all.

There is a slight inconsistency in our expectations of human life under conditions of great heat. On one hand, we reflexively associate heat with passion, for reasons not too difficult to fathom. When Peggy Lee’s recording of “Fever” was rising in the British pop charts 50 years ago, it was thought indecently suggestive, and there were calls for it to be banned from BBC Radio:

Now you’ve listened to my story
Here’s the point that I have made:
Cats were born to give chicks fever,
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade . . .

Yet at just about the same time, Ella Fitzgerald was recording Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot”:

According to the Kinsey Report
Every average man, you know,
Much prefers his lovey-dovey to court
When the temperature is low . . .

So is heat conducive to romance, or not? We seem to have more evidence here, if more were needed, that those benighted 1950s — back before we Boomers came along to uncover the full, immutable truth about human life, nature, and society — were an era of pitiful sexual confusion and ignorance. The truth, I think we all know, is that while moderate heat is a romance enhancer, too much is too much.

As with sex, so with violence. The expression “long hot summer” actually migrated from the first zone to the second, beginning as the title of a movie about erotic passion in a sweltering southern town, ending as a code phrase for the mayhem that ensues when too many young men go out into the street to escape stifling-hot apartments. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in his book about the great Chicago heat wave of 1995, notes that while crime goes up in summer because the heat drives people outdoors, “when the heat becomes too extreme, crime rates actually decrease because would-be criminals become too lethargic to engage in crime.” Ray Bradbury’s short story “Touched with Fire” has a character who claims to know the precise turnaround temperature: “More murders are committed at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature. Over one hundred, it’s too hot to move. Under ninety, cool enough to survive. But right at ninety-two degrees lies the apex of irritability, everything is itches and hair and sweat and cooked pork . . .”