John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 18, 2006


RECENT PUBLICATION OF a book of letters from the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead has revived an old argument that was still unsettled long after she died nearly 30 years ago. In the best-selling Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Mead reported on the permissive sex lives of young girls in those remote Polynesian islands, but later commentators — notably the late ethnologist Derek Freeman who wrote two debunking books — claimed she had been duped, with the young maidens telling Mead what she wanted to hear. Authors Patricia Francis and Margaret Caffrey don’t take sides in their book, To Cherish the Life of the World, but some of the letters suggest that Mead’s “free-love” beliefs and life, which included three marriages and numerous affairs, might have influenced her findings.

WHERE WAS SUPERMAN when we needed him on 9/11? asks Ziauddin Sardar in the New Statesman. “Answer: he was on holiday…. Common device in American comics, his self-imposed exile provides justification for his inaction. Superman heroes must triumph in the end They cannot be involved in events that put them on the losing side.”

RESEARCHERS at Leuven, a Belgian university, directed two groups of men — separated by their testosterone levels — to play a game in which they bargained over money. The first group with the higher levels were the toughest bargainers, but when both groups were shown sexy pictures of women and given lingerie to handle, it was the second group who won the game. “We are (apparently) very vulnerable to sexual cues” concluded Dr. Siegfried Dewitte, one of the researchers.

AL-JAZEERA INTERNATIONAL is still on hold but “aspires to create a global channel with a target audience of the planet’s English speakers”, when it starts up any day now. This according to the Columbia Journalism Review  which reports that Al-Jazeera, which will broadcast from Kuala Lumpur, London, Washington and Doha in Qatar (whose emir finances it), is still seeking deals for transmission by cable or satellite companies around the world.

ACTOR RUPERT EVERETT writes in his newly-published autobiography, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, that being gay ”is a young man’s game. Being gay and being a woman have one thing in common, which is that we both become invisible after 42. Who wants a gay 50-year-old? No one, let me tell you. I could set myself on fire in a gay bar and people would just light their cigarettes from me.”

SEX OFFENDERS are a real threat and commit horrific crimes, Benjamin Radford agrees, but we’re in the midst of what he terms “predator panic,” fueled by the news media, which exaggerates the size of the problem and misrepresents the source. “The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by released sex offenders — 3 to 5% in a Justice Dept. survey — but by the victim’s own family, church clergy and family friends” he writes in the Skeptical Inquirer. Eventually, the witch hunt will subside, Radford predicts, only to be replaced by some new threat.

DESPITE MUCH PRAISE for Massachusetts’ new health plan, there are dissenters among whom is Trudy Lieberman who claims that the law actually pushes the country further away from national health insurance. “(It) embodies much of the right’s approach to health care” she writes in the Nation, “which continues to make the world safe for big insurance, big hospitals and big Pharma, while palming off on the working poor the task of covering themselves.” Adds Dr. Marcia Angell, author of The Truth About Drug Companies: “There is no magic in Massachusetts.”

MORE THAN 300 STAFF and police have been alerted to ensure that passengers on the 110-mph Beijing-Tibet train do not smoke because oxygen is pumped into the carriages as the train reaches altitudes of more than 5,000 feet and a spark could cause an explosion. (Two-thirds of Chinese men smoke and the journey takes 48 hours).

FIVE YEARS AFTER “clean money” elections were approved in Maine, universal health care was enacted says The American Prospect  and that such public-financed campaigns “reduced the advantage of incumbency, increased voter turnout, and forced legislators and statewide officials to be accountable to the people who elected them.” A similar measure, Proposition 89, was on the ballot in California last week, and was defeated.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Since Poland joined the EU at least one million workers have left the country causing such a shortage that even some churches have been publicizing the names of factories seeking employees. And doctors, too, have been dumping their jobs, says Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborcza, because they can earn ten times as much abroad… “…Hollywood should be tackling the chief cause of piracy — high pricing” says Screen International editor Colin Brown. “People who buy illegal movies are bargain-hunters, not shoplifters…” Actor John Cleese says he finds it easy to portray a businessman. “Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me…” The Week reports that Aussie cricket fans were told that “it’s not racist to call their British rivals ‘Poms’, provided the word isn’t accompanied by insulting epithets….” Customers owning Toshiba laptops that were still under warranty could drop them off at any UPS store which would ship them to the computer company to fix. Now, to save time, UPS operates its own repair shop (certified by Toshiba) at its Louisville hub and can often ship the repaired laptop back the next day….” “You may be too cunning for one, but not for all” warned Benjamin Franklin…. The London Daily Mail claims that almost $1bllion a day changes hands in bribes in Russia ($319b in 2005)…. Traditional brass pots which leech minute, but harmless traces of copper act as a disinfectant says researchers at Northumbria University and thus water kept in them has proved to be uncontaminated unlike water stored in modern plastic or ceramic onesVirtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good thingsSocrates, 469-399 BC