Arts & Culture

How To Sound Smart This Week: Does Circumcision Make Men Wimps?

No time to read The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the Sunday New York Times, Harpers, The Nation, The New Republic, and New York Magazine during your morning commute? Don’t worry – "How To Sound Smart This Week" will provide … Read More

By / February 11, 2008

No time to read The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the Sunday New York Times, Harpers, The Nation, The New Republic, and New York Magazine during your morning commute? Don’t worry – "How To Sound Smart This Week" will provide the Cliff's Notes.

Does counting superdelegates put you to sleep? This week, the big-idea magazines are all obsessing over the presidential campaign, but it won’t be that hard to change the subject while still sounding respectably erudite. Just bring up one of the following eye-opening essays.

In The New York Times Magazine, Annie Murphy Paul looks at the distinct possibility that fetuses can feel pain. This has major implications for the abortion debate, so you shouldn’t be at a loss for discussion questions, but there’s also a Jewish angle. Scientists think that people who are exposed to pain as babies might grow up to be more pain-sensitive:

Anna Taddio, a pain specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, noticed more than a decade ago that the male infants she treated seemed more sensitive to pain than their female counterparts. This discrepancy, she reasoned, could be due to sex hormones, to anatomical differences — or to a painful event experienced by many boys: circumcision. In a study of 87 baby boys, Taddio found that those who had been circumcised soon after birth reacted more strongly and cried for longer than uncircumcised boys when they received a vaccination shot four to six months later.

Is it possible that one of the central tenets of Judaism causes male wimpiness? Does that explain, like, all of American Jewish pop culture? Dazzle your audience with this possibility, and they’ll forget about Obama’s performance in Maine instantly.

Meanwhile, in The Atlantic, Lori Gottleib takes advantage of the Valentine’s Day season to propose a deeply romantic idea: If you’re a woman over the age of 35 and you’re still single, maybe you should lower your standards. “Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics,” Gottleib advises – otherwise, you’ll never be able to organize a stable family life.

Mention this article in the vicinity of anyone male or female, married or single, and you're bound to provoke a strong reaction. It makes everyone involved look terrible: women are either demanding, men either shallow or, if it’s possible that their wives married them out of desperation, pitiable. Also, halitosis is so much worse than bad taste – isn’t it? Actually, that’s another direction you can take the conversation: Would you rather marry someone with perpetual coffee breath, or a collection of Cosby sweaters?

Last week: Super Tuesday