Finished The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi. Fascinating book: tells the story of the author's upbringing in a harem in Morocco in the 1940s.
The harem consisted of the wives of several brothers, living in a single large house in the Fez medina. The family was relatively wealthy, though not super-rich. It's hard to know how accurate it is: some aspects of the family history seem to be romanticized, but the stories may have been exaggerated by the older members of the family before being passed down to the author.
Life in the harem is depicted as being claustrophobic but not actually tortuous: there seems to be an atmosphere of security as well as oppression. Relations within the harem seem to be handled efficiently: I was expecting more accounts of feuding, bickering and bullying. There was certainly a degree of conflict, especially between the traditionalist and the modernist camps; and the lower-status members of the harem seem to have been frustrated and allowed very little latitude even within the rules; but overall the structure seems to have worked.
What's particularly interesting is the depiction of a culture where many of the women were illiterate. Mernissi describes an incredibly rich culture of oral story-telling and amateur theatre with plays acted out within the household, occasionally with so many extras that no-one was left watching the play. She also shows how the illiterates, including her own mother, were dependent on the others to know what was happening.
She also describes everyday life within the harem. Endless amounts of time spent on needlework, with the modernists shockingly depicting birds in flight, which was condemned by the traditionalists as a defiant symbol of escapism, which it was. Freedom seems to have been largely illicit: sneaking the keys to the radio when the men were out, exchanging glances with the opposite sex on neighbouring roofs, sneaking cigarettes and love charms.
Overall though, the harem members felt themselves to be oppressed, holding varying degrees of bitterness over the double standard between them and the men. The book is elegantly written; very easy to read with short chapters that follow logically on from the next: Mernissi seems to be a talented storyteller even if she's never published any fiction. Well worth a read.
Revenge of the Troglodytes
Got to the office this morning, and the place seemed strange. Cleaner, purer, brighter, more welcoming. Looking around I noticed all these things out of the window that I hadn't seen before: buildings and trees I'd never noticed.
Took us a while to realise it, but over the weekend someone had raised the blinds all around the office, and since we're on the third <USian>fourth</USian> floor we've got a great view all around.
Thanks to transport problems and thick cloud we got a great view for a couple of hours, till the sun came out, and grumbling troglodytes slammed down the blinds all around, plunging us into gloom once more.
Can't complain too much though: I've actually got a North-facing window seat and have kept the blinds open.
Web: Moderately interesting extracts from dull articles
Dull article with an interesting observation on UK house prices
For most of the past 50 years that advice has worked tolerably well. House prices did average about four times disposable income in the late 1950s, 1960s and mid-1990s.This dull article on Fox television mentioned "Mike Darnell" so I looked him up on Wikipedia:
However, there have been four postwar peaks in house prices, in 1948, 1973, 1988 and 2006. At each of these peaks the average price of a house had risen to six times the average disposable income. The first three of these peaks proved to be unsustainable. In real terms, house prices fell back by a third in each of the four-year periods that followed the peaks.
... House prices are hard to predict; all who try to advise on economic trends have sometimes got them wrong. Nevertheless, the postwar pattern is clear. There is an average price, which is about four times disposable incomes. There are regular peaks that take prices up to six times disposable incomes. So far there has been no occasion on which such a peak has been followed by a further significant rise, and no occasion on which it has been sustained.
Mike Darnell is the executive vice president of alternative programming for the Fox Broadcasting Company. He is largely responsible for many of the specials and reality series that have occupied the Fox schedule since the mid-1990s, including When Animals Attack!, Temptation Island, Joe Millionaire, and American Idol. It's generally agreed that if a single fork in the road of American culture can be found, Mike Darnell was taking tickets at the gate of the road to the mind-numbing, low-brow zombie culture that perveates America today, thanks to his "work" at the FOX network. Typical of Mike's integrity was to leap at the chance to have OJ Simpson give his two-part "how I murdered my wife" interview on Fox. Because of the outpouring of disgust and rage over this offense to the last of American morals, many insiders consider Darnell's days are numbered in the cesspool of entertainment he lords over at FOX.Maybe gone by the time I post this, but that article hasn't changed for a couple of weeks.
Time magazine on perceptions of risk:
The most white-knuckle time of all was post--Sept. 11, when even confident flyers took to the roads. Not surprisingly, from October through December 2001 there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than in the same period the year before, in part because there were simply more cars around. "It was called the '9/11 effect.' It produced a third again as many fatalities as the terrorist attacks," says David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
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