If you can really improve yourself in just 10 minutes a day, as the self-help gurus claim, Tim Dowling is all for it
I am lying on a mat, looking up at the bright blue of the skylight above me. I exhale purposefully, then let my lungs reinflate of their own accord. I am trying hard to concentrate on this slightly counterintuitive way of breathing, but the voices in my head are distracting me. They are telling me about business regulation, specifically about the inhibitory effect of hairdresser licensing in Utah.
I do not, as a rule, make New Year resolutions. As an anxious person, the 12 months that lie ahead of New Years Eve do not fill me with excitement or anticipation. I just wonder what else could go wrong. I am as susceptible as the next person to notions of promise, to the idea that, with the right effort, I could become fitter, smarter, happier, better. But each new December, as I coast towards the end of the year on squeaky wheels, I find myself feeling the same way: older, wiser, worse.
Its the time and effort involved that puts me off most kinds of self-improvement. Many years ago, I signed up for an online life-coaching course, and when I complained about the difficulty of one of the exercises Id been sent I was meant to make a list of my qualities, keeping to the strict format I am (quality) the instructor immediately replied by email, saying, Yes, this is REAL WORK, isnt it? I thought: I already have a job, thanks.
In recent years, however, a new school of selfimprovement has sprung up, one that seems to recognise that, frankly, most of us are too busy to be better. Books with titles such as The 10-Minute Millionaire, The 5-Minute Healer, 10 Minutes To Better Health and 10 Minutes A Day To A Better Marriage represent, if not a global revolution in self-improvement, at least a reliable publishing trend.
I am ineluctably drawn to the quick fix. Could it be possible to cram a years self-improvement into a few minutes of effort a day, to get the whole business out of the way before the end of January? It cant do any harm to try, can it?
My first self-improvement guide is a new book called 15 Minutes To Happiness by Richard Nicholls. My first thought is that 15 minutes sounds a lot, especially when somebody else is promising to make me a millionaire in 10, but Nicholls book is full of quick exercises interspersed with longer explanations of why and how they work. Some of the exercises are designed to fix problems I dont think I have, so Im pretty sure I can skip ahead.
Nicholls posits a model for happiness that I find reassuring. He stresses the value of negative thinking. He says that actively seeking happiness can often end up making people feel less happy. On page 49 he writes: Be open to the possibility that you bought this book and you dont actually need it. This, I think, is my kind of self-help.
Here and there Nicholls inserts a quick happiness boosting idea, designed to give you an injection of contentment as and when you need it. In the chapter on gratitude, for example, he suggests you take a moment or two to send a text message to someone thanking them for being a part of your life. I embarked on a preliminary challenge: trying to find someone anyone in my list of contacts I could send a text like that, without having to send an immediate follow-up apology text: Sorry about that I was only following orders.
Heres another: Put your town name into JustGiving.com and see who is raising money for a good cause in your local area. Even if you dont donate anything to anyone, spending time looking at the good thats going on in your town will dilute any doom and gloom youve picked up from elsewhere.
I tried this one it was incredibly easy, and it did make me feel slightly happier. It ended up costing me 30 (donated anonymously, because thats the kind of person I am now), but the feeling lasted for almost four hours.
An engineer at the company has suggested male domination of Silicon Valley is down to biological differences between the sexes. But the root causes are much more complicated
It is time to be open about the science of human nature. This was the assertion of software engineer James Damore to his colleagues at Google, in an internal memo that has since led to his sacking. Im simply stating, Damore wrote, that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. He went on to imply that womens stronger interest in people and neuroticism might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google.
The companys leadership viewed the matter differently, firing Damore and sparing his female colleagues the need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers.
Sacking one errant employee doesnt alter an awkward fact, though. Only 20% of Google engineers are women a statistic that is matched roughly across big tech companies. So, does Damore have a point? Is there an underlying biological explanation for why so few women work at a company that prides itself on its progressive ideals and family-friendly ethos?
There are countless scientific studies that claim to identify differences between male and female cognitive aptitudes and, in the UK, far fewer girls choose to study computer science at GCSE level (20% of the total number of students), at degree level (16%) and beyond. There is something seductive about the idea that professional success springs from our innate abilities, rather than the degree to which society tips the odds in our favour.
Furious campaigners say President John Magufuli is out of touch with public opinion after he endorses law allowing state schools to expel young mothers
A coalition of human rights groups has condemned as unconstitutional the Tanzanian presidents comments that pregnant girls should be banned from school.
President John Magufuli was widely criticised by campaigners after he told a rally last week: As long as I am president no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school After getting pregnant, you are done.
A law dating back to the 1960s allows all state schools in Tanzania to ban young mothers from attending. Over the past decade more than 55,000 Tanzanian pregnant schoolgirls have been expelled from school, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Womens groups said the ban is out of touch with public opinion and breaks international human rights conventions. It also contradicts a promise set out in the ruling partys 2015 election manifesto, which pledged to allow pregnant school girls to continue with their studies.
Faiza Jama Mohamed, director of Equality Nows Africa office, said campaigners will not stop in their fight against the ban. We have to ensure girls are going to school. Its a right. Even if it means we have to lodge a case in the courts to declare it unconstitutional, thats a route that were considering.
Speaking in Chalinze town, Magufuli said that girls would be too distracted to concentrate on their studies if they had a child, and their presence would be a bad influence on other girls.
After calculating some few mathematics, shed be asking the teacher in the classroom Let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby, he said.
Following his comments, the hashtag #StopMagufuli trended for days, while an online petition opposing the ban and calling for better sex education attracted almost 2,500 signatures.
Equality Now, an international human rights organisation, is supporting a coalition of 29 local campaign groups that gathered in Dar es Salaam on Thursday to voice their concern about the ban. In a statement released before the meeting, the coalition said it was speaking out to defend the countrys young girls, calling on the government to listen.
The statement reiterated that Tanzanian children were guaranteed the right to an education by the constitution and legislation. The rights and protections offered to children, including the right to education, therefore must be available to all those under this age, regardless of parental status. The law is unequivocal on this issue, the statement said.
Failing to educate young women would further entrench poverty, the group warned.
The group pointed to neighbouring countries that have successfully introduced re-entry policies for young mothers. In Zanzibar, since 2010 girls have been allowed back into school after giving birth as a strategy for reducing the number of dropouts. In these countries that offer girls the option to return to school, there is absolutely no evidence of an increase in student pregnancies as a result of young mothers being in school, it said.
About 21% of Tanzanian girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth, according to the Tanzania Bureau of Statistics. Womens campaigners say high numbers of girls become pregnant as a result of rape, sexual violence and coercion.
Instead of blaming girls, the state should tackle the causes of teenage pregnancies, said Jama Mohamed. They need to deal with sexual violence in schools, and with what happens to girls in between schools and home.
There is also a need to improve the quality of reproductive and health education for both boys and girls, she said. Mostly the reproductive health issues are not clear to students and nobody even tells them what will happen if they have sex, for example, she added.
Equality Now is also calling for better access to post-rape healthcare services, including those necessary to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
As Magnum celebrates its 70th anniversary, Giles Tremlett looks at the role women have played in the agencys story
In 1960, the Magnum photographer Eve Arnold spent a year following Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam movement around the United States. The white, female photographer and the leader of black Americas radical movement found they both understood the power of images. Malcolm X helped Arnold, though his followers were not always happy to see her and after one rally she found the back of her jersey riddled with holes left by the cigarettes people had been jabbing into her back. The result of Arnolds work was a series of pictures that included an iconic image with the sharp and handsome Malcolm X sitting in profile, his hat tilted forward and a ring on his finger bearing the star and crescent moon.
Arnold was a talented photographer from a legendary agency. Magnum was set up 70 years ago this year by a small group of photojournalists led by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Chim Seymour. The agency was not just a leader in providing the definitive and often first images of mid-20th century history, it also recognised that women belonged to what Cartier-Bresson called its community of thought. By 1957, two of its 15 owner-members were women including Arnold and Inge Morath. Some of their pictures still lurk in our collective subconsciousness as categorical representations of certain people, places or moments in history. It would take the New York Times, by comparison, two more decades to hire its first female photographer.
For several decades, women were a small but core part of Magnums operation. Marilyn Silverstone, Susan Meiselas, Mary Ellen Mark and Martine Franck also joined. But between 1983 and 2009, only one Lise Sarfati was admitted as a full member, and she later resigned. It is only in the last dozen years that Magnum where nominee members take four or more years to make it full membership has begun to redress the imbalance.
After the success of the Womens March, its International Womens Day on Wednesday 8 March. Here, 15 influential women, from Lena Dunham and Nicola Sturgeon to Susie Orbach, nominate a crucial next step towards equality
Lena Dunham: keep on protesting
I think the activism and organisation thats happening now is showing protest matters, calling your representatives matters, becoming involved in community organisations matters, sending your donations every month matters. It has never mattered more to show up with your money, with your body, with your time and with your voice than it does right now. Lots of people had valid criticisms of the Womens March, but it was the largest global protest weve seen and thats because every single person made the choice to take time off work, to give of themselves, to give their bodies and fill space and show they wanted to say no. That scares people and even if right now were not seeing the result we want, the government has been warned. They understand they are not supported. They are fighting an uphill battle against women and allies of equality in all of its forms. Lena Dunham is an actor, writer, producer and director
Nicola Sturgeon: great childcare is where it starts
Its a source of frustration that, decades on from legislation that was supposed to pave the way for equality of the sexes, too many gaps remain. I have made equality a key feature of my government, with a gender-balanced cabinet, one of very few in the developed world.
However, if there is one specific policy area which can permanently advance the cause of gender equality, I believe the answer lies not in the workplace itself, but in the early years. Delivering high quality childcare as widely as possible is, I believe, fundamental to achieving the kind of equal society that empowers women.
It is a simple fact that, for many women, the barrier to career advancement comes when they are faced with juggling the competing demands of a job and raising a family. And in too many cases, the lack of adequate childcare becomes a decisive factor in preventing women from continuing their careers.
Improving access and affordability in childcare is not an easy challenge and of itself will not solve all gender equality issues. But it is a challenge which must be met if we are to deliver a society which truly has equality of opportunity for men and women. Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland
An aggressive brain tumour meant that my family knew his time was short. We set out to make Christmas special
It is hard to believe that its now 10 years since that last, defiantChristmas.
In the summer, we had celebrated my fathers 70th birthday. In the autumn, he began to lose his words.
He called me one day to say hed been having a few, sort of memory problems, and there was something in his voice beyond the usual mild-mannered hesitancy. Something that made me immediately take my dog and catch a train to Cambridge. My parents met us at the station. As soon as we got into the car, my dog scrambled over and climbed on to my fathers lap.
The memory loss was particular and strange. It was as though certain words had become detached from the objects they signified. We were eating strawberries, I remember. Dad looked down at his bowl and frowned. Microphones? he said. A blood test, he described to me as them taking some ink from his arm.
The impression was not of delusional thinking. Dad didnt believe the strawberries were actually microphones. Rather, he looked at the strawberries and the word for them wasnt there. He reached for another and tried it for fit. Microphones? It wasnt right, but he couldnt find the word that was. Strawberries? I said. And he laughed. Of course! Strawberries, he said. How silly.
His GP had referred him to the memory clinic to be assessed for dementia. There was a three-month wait, but in any case, dementia seemed unlikely. We had known people with dementia and it did not present like this. My mother thought it might be psychological. Dad had retired in the summer from his readership in pure mathematics, and though, externally at least, this change had made little difference he still cycled in to his old department every day, where he was working on a book on Banach algebra, and he still played an active part in college life Mum thought the loss of his professional role might be having an impact on him.
My sister and I were unconvinced, and so, I think, was she. We rang his GP and got put through to a different doctor, who agreed to see Dad that evening. At 8am the following morning, he was having an emergency scan.
Glioblastoma multiforme is the most aggressive type of brain tumour. Thread-like tendrils burrow deep into the brain, making it all but impossible to remove the tumour completely. Dads was on his left frontal lobe, in the area responsible for expressive language. They operated to excise as much of the tumour as they could, and Dad came round to discover that, as if by magic, his words had returned. Still high from the anaesthetic, he lay, head bandaged, in his hospital bed, riffing with consummate fluency, this gentle, self-effacing man, unaccustomed to the centre stage and rather surprised to find himself enjoying it after all.
There was no question of survival. A few weeks to a few months, they said. It was incomprehensible. But perhaps the finality of the prognosis was in some sense also a blessing. We did not invest our hopes in some percentage chance; there was no chance. We focused instead on the now.
And so it was that we embraced that Christmas, in a spirit of neither despair, nor hope, but rather, of defiant celebration. We would enjoy the best Christmas ever. We would relish every precious moment. We would be happy, and we were. We didnt do anything different. The pleasure of Christmas is in the traditions. The same decorations hung on the tree. My sister and I joke-argued as we had every year over whose angels turn it was to top it. I cannot remember who won. We ate the same foods, played the same silly games word games mostly: consequences, drawing book titles. I can see Dad now, his scar extending from under his yellow paper crown, dabbing tears of laughter from his eyes at Mums attempts to guess Love in the Time of Cholera from his peculiar pencil squiggles. It was all the same, but the light at the heart had been turned up a notch.
We went to midnight mass at the friary. My parents were Catholics; I am not, but there is comfort to be found in the rituals of Christmas, the line stretching forward and back. So too in the rituals of death. In a few months, my fathers coffin would sit in this chapel the night before his funeral. I did not consciously think of it, but I can see now it was an awareness of this, of the inevitability of the end, that made that Christmas so joyful. Christmas is about birth, of course, but it is also about death. You cannot have one without the other. Time is precious. Thats why the wise men bring myrrh.
In Portland, Oregon one of Americas most sexually tolerant cities it seems you cant throw a stone without finding a poly relationship
When Franklin Veaux was 10 years old, his elementary school English teacher read his class a story about a princess being wooed by two princes. I thought, princesses live in castles, and castles are big enough for all three of them, so why does she have to choose one? he said.
Throughout his life, Franklin now 50 and living in Portland, Oregon has never chosen one. In fact, hes never had a monogamous relationship in his life, even while he was married for 18 years. Monogamy has never connected with me, its never made sense to me, said Franklin, who took two dates to his high school prom and lost his virginity in a threesome.
Yet it wasnt until the 1990s that he found the language to describe his lifestyle. Until then, he just considered himself open.
Polyamory is the practice of intimate relationships involving more than two people with the consent of everyone involved. In recent years, polyamory is working its way to becoming a household term. Researchers have estimated that 4 to 5% of Americans practice some form of consensual non-monogamy. A 2014 blog post by Psychology Today revealed that 9.8 million people have agreed to allow satellite lovers in their relationships, which includes poly couples, swinging couples and others practicing sexual non-monogamy.
And in Portland home to swingers clubs, the most strip bars per capita, and annual porn festivals it seems you cant throw a stone without finding a poly relationship. Although theres no official data supporting an exact number, various Meetup groups boast a few thousand members each, while other Facebook groups have hundreds.
Portland is an amazing place if youre poly, oh my god, laughed Franklin, who is rarely seen without his bunny ears. (Given to him by a lover, he refers to the ears as sexually transmitted, meaning his other girlfriends now wear them too.) Its actually one of the most poly friendly cities Ive been to, he said, listing Boston, Tampa, San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia, as other poly hotspots. As for its social acceptability, Franklin said, a lot of it is just exposure. It was almost impossible before the advent of the internet to find other people that were polyamorous.