MATTERS OF MARGARET MEAD

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 bestselling “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 new 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.

Blame Shifting

Public officials who are given a budget to hire somebody to do their job for them are naturally going to do just that, and that’s why 176 contracts costing almost $5 million were handed out to consultants in Britain last year. That’s more than all the other European countries combined, says the Spectator, describing the trend as “a dependency culture.” Public servants are “risk-averse,” explains the mag. “Rather than make a wrong decision it makes sense to make no decision at all other than to decide which outside firm to pay to take the blame if it all goes wrong.”

E-mail Overload

Too many e-mails is the complaint of Stephen Jukuri, who says “we’ve reached the too-much-information age, but we haven’t really reached the communication age.” Jukuri’s complaint is echoed in a Wall Street Journal story by Jared Sandberg that points out that with an estimated 84 billion e-mails sent worldwide every day, it’s sometimes hard to welcome its efficiency. “Like bad advice, self-importance and ugly carpeting, there’s just too much of it in the office,” Jukuri says.

Force-fed Legislation

New Jersey is the latest state (California was the first) to introduce a bill banning foie gras, the expensive gourmet snack made from the ground-up liver of ducks, which have been artificially engorged. Similar bills are under consideration in other states. Humane society officials allege that the force-feeding (via tubes down the throats) is cruel, but defenders such as Ariane Daguin, a French-born foie gras distributor, calls the bans “a threat to freedom of choice.”

The Bloomberg Forecast

Our Town Downtown, one of New York City’s free tabloids, devoted a full page to local opinions about whether second-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg would run for president. (The consensus: three ‘No’; four ‘Maybe’; one ‘Yes’.) It was faced with an attack ad from the police union, headed “Learn to Speak Bloombergese.” Sample items: “We’d like to pay our police officers more” (translation: “We want our police officers to know we appreciate them but have no intention of giving them a raise”); and “We don’t have the money to give police officers a bigger raise” (“We have $5 billion surplus but we want to spend it on other things”).

More Soup for You

The famous Soup Nazi (an actual chef named Al Yeganeh), around whom was shaped an episode of “Seinfeld” in which the dictatorial Yev Kasem refused to serve customers he didn’t like, is about to open 50 franchises of his Soup Kitchen International throughout Britain. ”It’s a soup kind of country,” says his business partner John Bello. “I think the soup could do very well here.”

The Wilcock Web

London’s Daily Mail claims that almost $1 billion a day changes hands in bribes in Russia ($319 billion in 2005)…. Wal-Mart discovered that stores that employed greeters who said ‘hello’ and offered assistance to customers reduced shoplifting by 35%…. One way to solve Britain’s overcrowded prisons crisis, writes Joan Bakewell in the Independent, is to send home the 4,500 women incarcerated (all but a handful for minor crimes) and use the space for men…. Since it started airing its “Deal or No Deal” show, NBC has split with its partner almost $25 million income from viewers’ text messages…. An intellectual, explained Aldous Huxley, is “a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex”…. More and more supermarkets are adopting the use of the Smart Label that monitors freshness through plastic packaging, turning its orange Q to grey when the bacteria count reaches a critical level…. “A man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true,” said Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

John Wilcock’s column and weekly travel show can be accessed at www.ojaiorange.com.