The above is from this beautiful post by pontifexexmachina (I saw the link on As I Please the blog of the estimable Ken Wheaton). Its a description of the heat and humidity in August in Iraq, where he's working hard all day in heavy fatigues, restoring order to a broken society, defending a nascent democracy, bringing the battle to the world's disaffected jihadists etc. etc. Because I am a very wimpy man, it struck me as a good description of the heat and humidity in August in New York, where I'm in air-conditioning much of the day, occasionally firing off half-baked blog entries, complaining about the walk to get the next venti iced-coffee etc. etc. Reading that it just struck me what an incredibly difficult job our men and women in the field are doing in Iraq, and that its a testament to what a great job they're doing that the stories we're hearing from there aren't a million times worse.
The heat and humidity right here in New York City are driving people crazy and leading to minor breakdowns in the social order, and its not even that damn bad here. We're not nearing the records they're having in Europe, where French pensioners are dying off and the Germans (who I thought were supposed to be the hard-working ones) are complaining that its too hot to work. Most days it only reaches the 80's, low by NYC in August standards. The humidity, however, is roughly something like 237 percent. The air is a thick, fetid mass that slugs you in the face when you walk outside. An amble to the corner to get that life-giving venti iced leaves you covered with an indefinable ooze of perspiration and pollution.
You see it in everyone's face. They're all pissed off just to be alive in this disgusting muck and ooze or at God or Mother Nature or whoever's responsible for this. And every little annoyance is exacerbated by at least a factor of 10. Every little street jostle turns into nasty words. The number of men yelling at each other while friends hold them back from punching each other index is through the roof. I've seen 3 such incidents just in the last two days and one of them ended with cops being called (though not cops on Segways, fortunately or unfortunately). All 3 of them involved the yelling of racial epithets. And all three of them were African-American guy versus Middle Eastern guy, oddly enough or not. With Bloomberg's plan to keep the streets covered with stinking mounds of garbage (or whatever it is exactly, I'm not following local news at the moment) at times it all seems like some movie about bad old days 70's-80's New York with narration by Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin.
But its not. Its 2003, post-Giuliani New York, with a crime rate much lower than that of the blue-collar Midwestern town I'm from, a place where all of the polyglot of races and ethnicities mostly get along without violence, and they still do. Everything's okay, really. We're safe, just a bit pissed off and sweaty. In Iraq, however, its a hell of a lot hotter, and a hell of a lot more humid, and you've got lifetimes of political, ethnic, religious, and tribal grievances, grievances which have been supressed only by the brutality of a totalitarian overlord for all this time, coming to the fore, and there are a bunch of infrastructure problems. And, despite all this, and despite the relentlessly negative spin of the press about the reconstruction situation, things don't seem to be nearly as bad as anyone who's ever been through a hot and humid August even in the best of circumstances would imagine they could be. That has to mean something.