Monday, March 31, 2014

The end of euphemisms?

Jesse Sheidlower, president of the American Dialect Society and author of “The F-Word,” makes the case in the NYT for printing expletives in full (“The Case for Profanity in Print”). He says this is particularly imperative when said expletives are integral to a story (as in the case, among many others, of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland using the four-letter word to refer dismissively to the EU); or when reviewing works of literature and art with expletives in their titles. He thinks not just efforts to render the exact words that were used in a roundabout way, but also replacing some of the letters comprising these with asterisks or dashes, can only serve to obscure important aspects of what needs to be reported or reviewed – and harks back to a bygone year of unnecessary prudishness.

Sunglasses as moral blinders

A recent study found that partcipants wearing sunglasses offered a significantly less fair split of small sums of money to their counterparts. That result was attributed primarily to the sense of anonymity sunglasses seem to provide. A weakened concern for fairness could also result, though, from the reduced amount of light reaching the retina. As I wrote some time ago, there is some research indicating that stronger lighting sharpens emotional sensitivity (over the long term, light falling on the skin also affects the synthesis of vitamin D and other physiological processes, and triggers broad epigenetic adaptations). A reduction of the amount of light falling on the eye could thus induce partial affective dampening – and emotional attunement does appear to have significant influence on moral judgment.

Friday, March 28, 2014

O #Amanpour o mores

Earlier today on “Amanpour,” Amanpour introduced a video clip featuring Angelina Jolie. In her role as special envoy of the UN High Commissioner to Refugees, she was shown interviewing Syrian children in a refugee camp in Lebanon. They spoke of the terrible suffering they had gone through and their continuing nightmares. Next, Amanpour interviewed Jolie’s UN boss, Antonio Guterres. Her first question was something along the lines: “You accompanied Angelina Jolie during her trip to Lebanon. Tell me what made such a profound impression on her there.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The hyena of Wall Street

In his review of Scorsese’s latest, A. O. Scott asks a curious question: what is the movie, really – satire or propaganda? He apparently leans toward the second, with an important qualification (more on that at the end). He also faults Scorsese for his usual fascination and lack of critical distance from the exploits and protagonist he depicts – in this case, the Leonardo Di Caprio character and the bunch of evil clowns he has gathered around himself (who, Scott points out, are less violent than the “Goodfellas” mobsters – but also a lot less inhibited since they are unconstrained by professed loyalty to any code of conduct and traditional loyalties). I would add that the “debauchery” Scorsese presents to our senses is so grotesquely over the top, so absurd and often carnivalesque, that it takes a serious effort to take it seriously. Still, I would say the truth here is mostly in the eye of the beholder – an age-old truism which has also become a post-modernist cliché.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Let there be light!

A recent study has found that brightness levels of lighting in a room have an effect on emotionality. In a nutshell, brighter light makes individuals feel emotion more strongly – on both the negative and positive sides of the spectrum. The researchers offer a very narrow interpretation of their results: if you want to make a more cool-headed decision, better turn the lights down (and, if possible, avoid neon lighting). The study, though, may have some larger implications. There have been similar findings with respect to sunlight – which could perhaps partly explain why Italians are typically more emotional and impulsive than Germans.