Good Reads: From Saudi lingerie sales, to defense budgets, to the most expensive Games
This week's roundup of Good Reads includes new freedom for Saudi saleswomen, an illuminating glimpse of US military spending, how museums are 'enchanting' visitors, the high cost of the Sochi Winter Games, and a new program to help community college students make it to graduation.
A modest revolution in women’s lives has begun in Saudi Arabia because for the first time they are allowed to work in certain retail outlets, writes Katherine Zoepf in the year-end issue of The New Yorker. It is one break in a society that is still rigidly controlled by men, where nonrelated persons of the opposite sex are separated.Skip to next paragraph
Senior Editor and Washington Bureau Chief
Cook is senior editor and Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor and host of the Monitor's newsmaker breakfasts.
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The right to work in retail sprang from a June 2011 decree from King Abdullah requiring that women replace men staffing lingerie shops. That was followed by a Ministry of Labor order that shops selling cosmetics, the flowing robes called abayas, and wedding dresses, along with the women’s sections of department stores, move to all-female staffs.
The women Ms. Zoepf interviewed late last year about the change said they were less depressed, isolated, and bored; valued the friends they made at work; and were treated with greater respect by their husbands. But one woman said she found it deeply upsetting that her job selling makeup might raise questions about her morals among more conservative elements of Saudi society.
Pentagon budget in charts and graphs
Over the Christmas holidays President Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal giving the Pentagon a reprieve from scheduled automatic spending cuts. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says, “Tough decisions will still be necessary going forward in order to achieve the right balance in military capacity, capabilities, and readiness” given a tight budget climate and a scheduled withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
Whether you agree or not with the magazine’s critical view of defense spending, the easy-to-grasp charts and graphs offer an illuminating glimpse of the scope of US military spending – greater than the next 10 countries combined. The items are staggering in size and variety including $32.6 billion spent in 2012 for planes and helicopters, $4 billion on dairy and eggs, and $152 million on footwear.
Museums become temples of delight
Benjamin Ives Gilman, the head of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, argued less than a century ago that museums had a holy purpose and were essentially a “temple.” The Dec. 21 issue of The Economist offers a look at how museums have changed since then into institutions, the magazine says, that “have to enchant visitors rather than lecture them.”