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LONDON (AP) — Sex predators are targeting aid organizations because of the chaotic environments in which they work, Britain’s top development official warned Sunday as she threatened to pull public funding from Oxfam unless it came clean about a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti.

Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt excoriated the leadership of Oxfam for its handling of allegations that some of the anti-poverty charity’s staff in Haiti used prostitutes, including Haitians who might have been minors at the time.

Oxfam demonstrated a “failure of leadership” when it failed to fully inform authorities and because it didn’t prevent the alleged perpetrators from going to work for other charities, she said.

Mordaunt made clear that all aid agencies must show “moral leadership” in tackling sex abuse or risk losing their taxpayer funding.

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“What is so disturbing about Oxfam is that when this was reported to them, they completely failed to do the right thing,” Mordaunt told the BBC on Sunday. “That’s what we need to focus on, and that’s what ultimately will stop predatory individuals from being able to take advantage of vulnerable people.”

Oxfam announced seven measures Sunday designed to strengthen its handling of sexual abuse allegations. The package includes improving the vetting of employees, creating an external complaint line for whistleblowers and working with other charities to overcome the “legal difficulties” that kept them from sharing information on sexual misconduct cases.

“We will continue to address the underlying cultural issues that allowed this behavior to happen,” Caroline Thompson, the chair of Oxfam Great Britain’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “We also want to satisfy ourselves that we do now have a culture of openness and transparency and that we fully learn the lessons of events in 2011.”

The Times of London reported last week that seven former Oxfam staff members who worked in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country were the subject of misconduct allegations that included the use of prostitutes and downloading pornography. Oxfam’s investigation into the charges was hampered by a “determination to keep it out of the public eye,” the Times said.

The newspaper’s sister publication, the Sunday Times, said the problem goes beyond Oxfam. More than 120 people working for British charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year, the newspaper reported, though it did not specify the exact dates or the source of the information.

Oxfam had 87 cases, the largest number of any charity, but the Times also mentioned Save the Children, the British Red Cross and Christian Aid.

In response, Save the Children said it investigated 31 cases of sexual harassment last year, which resulted in 16 people being fired and 10 being referred to police or other authorities. None of the cases involved children and all of them occurred abroad, the charity said.

The British Red Cross said it hasn’t dismissed staff members working overseas for sexual abuse, harassment or pedophilia in at least the past five years. There were a “small number” of sexual harassment cases last year in the U.K., and the Red Cross said that “appropriate was taken” in all cases, though it did not specify what the actions were.

Christian Aid said it investigated two sexual misconduct cases in the last 12 months, resulting in the dismissal of one worker and less severe disciplinary action in the other.

Oxfam has said it dismissed four people and allowed three others to resign after an internal 2011 investigation revealed that sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and a failure to protect staff hampered the charity’s Haiti operation. Allegations that staff members had sex with minors were “not proven,” it said.

The charity said it reported the findings to Britain’s charity regulator and to major donors, including the Department for International Development, the department Mordaunt heads. The department gave Oxfam 31.7 million pounds ($43.8 million) last year.

Mordaunt took issue with the notion that her department had been fully informed, saying the charity didn’t disclose that the Haiti case involved sexual misconduct. Oxfam also incorrectly told the government that no aid beneficiaries were harmed, she said.

When asked by BBC interviewer Andrew Marr whether the statement about no harm coming to Haitians was “a lie,” Mordaunt replied: “Well, quite.”

She said she would meet Oxfam leaders Monday to discuss the case.

“If they do not hand over all the information they have from their investigation and subsequently to the relevant authorities,… then I cannot work with them anymore as an aid delivery partner,” Mordaunt said.

Former fashion photographer Jennifer Moss criticises magazines for female corpse trend

A former fashion photographer has criticised magazines for the portrayal of female models as corpses and sexual objects.

Over the years fashion has come to fetishise the female corpse, frequently depicting women as victims of sexual or fatal violence in shoots and advertising campaigns. But, why?

Jennifer Moss, who used to work as a fashion photographer in Los Angeles, has been asking herself that very same question.

“As a female, as a mother of a daughter and as a consumer what’s most alarming to me is the advertisements where the female is depicted as a dead body,” she told the BBC.

In a bid to understand why fashion brands portray women in this way, Moss began studying magazines and eventually categorised the images into four groups.

The first of which sees women depicted as scared or a victim. Here, the models tend to look frightened, protective and in some instances, even dead.

Take Marc Jacobs’ 2014 campaign for instance. Starring singer Miley Cyrus, two other female models pose on a moonlight beach, but while Cyrus sits up starting out into the distance, the woman beside her lays lifelessly on her back, with hair covering her face.

Next, Moss looked at how women are frequently positioned for sex with either their legs spread, lying on a bed or undressed – a pose frequented by fashion brand American Apparel.

Likewise, she also found that magazines had a tendency to portray women as demure or childlike. In this case, she says that models pose using submissive body language to represent weakness with their eyes looking away.

Lastly, is the concept that women are “one of many.” Here, Moss says women’s faces can be obscured or entirely absent, or they’re seen as a product.

“The message that they’re portraying is that that’s glamorous,” she explained.

“That you should be meek, you should be timid, you should be scared walking down the street. What is this woman scared of?” 

Luckily though, Moss says that there appears to a shift with the emergence of a new trend.

A stance she calls “the empowered woman,” it characterises female models as strong and independent by ensuring they face the camera straight on and are shot from below.

And, some of the biggest names in the industry agree.

“Women aren’t being so sexualised as they were, it’s much more cool and real I think rather than this image of women as pert and sexy,” said Jayne Pickering, fashion director at Marie Claire. 

“Women are dressing for women, not dressing for men anymore.” 


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Feisal: Fight against abuse should match anti-doping effort

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Prince Feisal of Jordan says the fight against harassment and sexual abuse in sports should share equal footing with work to prevent doping.

An IOC member, Feisal leads an effort by the Olympic body to protect athletes, many of whom come from countries that offer few safeguards.

“Yes, it is important,” Feisal told a small group of reporters at the Pyeongchang Olympics. “Is it more important than doping? I think it should be equal to doping, but not many people see that right now.”

Feisal said the sexual abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar illustrates how little protection athletes have.

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“The current scandal begs the question: Why aren’t we doing more?” he said. “Maybe you need a tragedy like this for people to use it as a wake-up call. Unfortunately, a few months ago nobody even considered that this was going to be such a major issue.”

The Jordanian royal said the United States “is a country that should have had everything to prevent this from happening — and yet it happened. Imagine countries and federations who’ve got nothing.”

Feisal said the International Olympic Committee began several years ago supporting federations and national Olympic committees “to make sure they have regulations and procedures in place” to protect athletes.

“In some cultures talking about harassment is taboo,” Feisal said. He compared it with talking openly about cancer a few generations ago.

“Nobody wanted to talk about it,” he added. “Now it’s no longer something people are ashamed of.”

The IOC has a so-called “safeguarding officer” in Pyeongchang to monitor any abuse, the follow-up to a similar, but quickly prepared program at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Games time only occurs for 16 days, and that’s not sufficient to really safeguard the athletes,” Feisal said. “We’re trying to address safe sports all year round in all societies.”

Feisal explained that many Western countries have protection in place. Other countries have little in the way of protections. It’s the same with international sports federations that govern dozen of sports in and out of the Olympics.

“Some of them have very good rules and regulations,” Feisal said. “Others when we talk to them they say: ‘We don’t know what we have. Nobody ever asked us to look at it.’”

Turkey slams Cyprus for gas search, blocks rig with warships

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey’s foreign ministry criticized Cyprus again Sunday for a “unilateral” offshore hydrocarbons search after Turkish warships prevented an Italian rig from reaching an area off the east Mediterranean island nation where it was to start exploratory drilling for gas.

Turkish warships on Friday stopped a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm ENI as it headed toward an area southeast of Cyprus.

Turkey, in a statement Sunday, said Greek Cypriots were disregarding the “inalienable rights on natural resources” of Turkish Cypriots and jeopardizing the region’s stability.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the Cyprus government was acting like “the sole owner of the island” and warned it would be responsible for any consequences. It also urged foreign companies not to support the Cyprus’ government’s activities.

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Cyprus was split into an internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and keeps more than 35,000 troops in the north.

An ENI spokesman told The Associated Press that the Turkish warships told the rig not to continue because there would be military activities at its destination. The spokesman said the rig would remain where it stopped until the situation is resolved.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said Sunday that Cypriot authorities are taking actions that will neither lead to an escalation of tensions nor overlook the fact that Turkey was violating international law.

The Cyprus government says a gas search is its sovereign right and that any potential hydrocarbon wealth generated will be equitably shared among all Cypriots after the island is reunified.

Italy’s ENI, France’s TOTAL and ExxonMobil of the U.S. are among the companies licensed to search for hydrocarbons off Cyprus’ southern coast.

Last week, Cyprus announced that ENI and partner TOTAL had discovered a potentially sizeable gas field off its southwestern coast that’s close to Egypt’s Zohr deposit, which is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean.

In earlier drilling, Texas-based Noble Energy discovered a field off Cyprus estimated to hold more than 4 trillion cubic feet of gas.

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Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Eleven western envoys, including those from the United States and Britain, urged Kenya’s opposition leader Sunday to recognize President Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s legitimately elected leader.

The diplomats said Raila Odinga needs to accept Kenyatta’s presidency “as the basis for the dialogue that it (the opposition) and many Kenyans want.”

“We are deeply concerned by recent political developments in Kenya. Both the government and the opposition have taken steps that have undermined Kenya’s institutions, and driven wedges among its citizen,” the envoys said in a statement.

Odinga held a mock inauguration Jan. 29 in which he was sworn in as the “people’s president.” The government reacted by shutting down some broadcasters and arresting some participants.

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The government also deported Odinga’s adviser, Miguna Miguna, despite five court orders for him to be produced in front of a judge and released on bail.

The diplomats in their statement urged the government to follow the law.

“We strongly urge the Government to comply fully with court orders and follow legal process in appealing or contesting them,” they said. “Freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and all civil rights need to be protected.”

Kenya’s law society announced Sunday that its members will hold a Feb. 15 demonstration to protest the government’s failure to obey court orders. The society’s plan for lawyers to boycott court proceedings for a week was postponed.

“There is no question that our nation now faces perhaps the greatest challenge to the rule of law in recent times with the violation of rights and the brazen disregard of court orders by state and public officers” Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero said in a statement.

Odinga claims he was cheated of victory in Kenya’s August presidential election by hackers who altered the vote. Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the results of that election after Odinga challenged Kenyatta’s win.

The court ordered a fresh election, which Odinga boycotted, saying significant electoral reforms were needed. Kenyatta’s party instead changed electoral law to make it harder for courts to nullify results.

Odinga, in an interview with The Associated Press last year, accused western diplomats of supporting the Kenyatta government.

“If they are our friends, then we do not need enemies,” he said.

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ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s military announced the death of another soldier in its operation against a syrian Kurdish militia in northern Syria, on Sunday.

Sunday’s announcement brings to 31 the number of Turkish soldiers killed since the operation against the Syrian Kurdish militia started on Jan. 20 with Ankara’s cross-border incursion into the enclave of Afrin.

The military’s statement said the soldier died in clashes with the Syrian Kurdish group known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be “terrorists” and claims it is linked to an outlawed Kurdish insurgent group operating within Turkey’s own borders.

Turkey continued its operations Sunday, targeting YPG areas with air and artillery strikes. It is commanding a joint operation with Syrian opposition forces on the ground, as well, though they have been held to limited territorial gains by the YPG. Some 148 YPG fighters and 157 Syrian opposition fighters have been killed in three weeks of fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

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Saturday was the deadliest single day for Turkey, with 11 Turkish soldiers killed. Two of them were aboard a Turkish attack helicopter that crashed while on a mission over Afrin. The YPG claimed they brought down the helicopter, but Turkish officials did not confirm that account.

Elsewhere in Syria, a wave of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets on Saturday marked a dramatic cross-border escalation to the civil war. It was the most serious Israeli engagement since war broke out in Syria in 2011. An Israeli F-16 crashed during the raid. Israel’s military has refused to acknowledge it was shot down.

The office of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it was “following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its borders.”

Also Sunday, at least three civilians were killed in government airstrikes and shelling on a besieged, opposition-held area outside Damascus, according to the Observatory. The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group said two people had been killed in the Eastern Ghouta region.

Rebels fired shells from Eastern Ghouta into Damascus, striking popular squares in and around the old city, Syrian state media reported. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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It’s an exercise I actually like – it rewards persistence over ability. What’s more, I can think about my late mum, who was also a walker, and all that she meant to me

coastal isle of wight illustration with lighthouse






‘The walk is to remember my mum. I signed up for it last summer, on the same weekend that she died.’
Illustration: Andrea De Santis/Observer

For years throughout the 1960s, my mum walked the North Downs twice daily. In the morning, she’d traipse from her home in the village of Hastingleigh across to her egg-packing job, just over three miles away in Wye. Then, once her shift was done, she’d haul herself back up Occupation Road and begin the long journey home. Rain or shine, all year round, that was her commute. A seven-mile round trip across the top of Kent to put eggs into a box.

These days, on Saturday mornings at least, you’re likely to find me on Occupation Road, too; trudging along in a fold-up cagoule, quietly cursing my choice of underwear and wondering what the hell I’ve done to myself. Later this year I’m participating in a 24-hour walk around the circumference of the Isle of Wight, and this just seems like the right place for me to train.

The walk is to remember my mum. I signed up for it last summer, on the same weekend that she died. A rash decision, sure, but it could have only been made then; right in the midst of mania that swirls around a recent death, when you dive deep into mindless busy work to distract you from the gaping hole that’s just been punched through your life.

That weekend was all about frantic organisation – funerals, finances, family – before the sheer blind savagery of loss had the chance to sneak up and knock us all sideways. I signed up for the walk because it was something to do, and then people started sponsoring me, and then it was too late to back out.

I chose to walk because that’s how I remember my mum. She was a walker. The egg factory years were far behind her by the time we came along, but by then striding everywhere with fury and purpose had become muscle memory, and the defining memory I have of my childhood involves run-walking several paces behind her down the main road every week on the way back from the shops. She made no concession for dawdlers. My dad worked abroad at that point, so everything was on her. If she didn’t do things, they didn’t get done. She’d have dozens of carrier bag handles digging into her wrists, but she refused to let them – or us – slow her down. My mum, the 5ft-nothing terminator.

So this is what I do. I wake up early, I pull on my boots and off I set. Out of my house, up a hill, through the woods, over a bridge and on my way. I’ve made friends with public footpaths, with the grinding monotony of stile and field. I’ve misread maps and got lost, snagging my leg on barbed wire fences and rebirthing myself through tightly brambled knots to get back on track. I’ve been pelted with rain and lost all feeling in my fingers. I’ve seen my muttered curses leave my body in clouds of breath. My feet, without question, are an unrecognisable mess. They’re swollen and purple and missing some skin. All baths, to some extent, now feel like they’re made of boiling vinegar. But I keep walking.

Sometimes I end up in Canterbury. Sometimes it’s Dover. When I cross the Downs, as my mum did so often, I pass the village where she grew up. A little further on and I pass the village where my dad grew up. Between them there’s the village where they met as teenagers and, later, where he’d propose to her. My whole family history is laid out along these paths.

And not just the distant stuff either. I often pass close to the spot where – just a few years ago, back when Mum was ill – Dad got lost in a nostalgic reverie during a drive, hit a pothole and knackered two of his tyres. And, I don’t want to get too graphic here, but I’m pretty sure that at one point I get within 100ft of where one of my kids was conceived.

Despite my younger brother’s repeated recruitment campaigns, I have never enjoyed running. Not really. Set me off at speed and, before long, every stride simply becomes another opportunity to back out. I’ve run for years on and off, but I’ve never counted myself as a runner. If you pushed me on the subject, I’d tell you that I was a committed eater who only ran to offset the biscuits.

But walking is something brand new for me; it’s an exercise I actually like. Between walks, I find myself inexplicably looking forward to the next one. The browser tabs on my phone are full of GPX routes and tutorials for taping up your feet. This is unprecedented. I always thought my hobby would be more sedentary. I thought it might just be sleeping. I don’t even know who I am any more.

But walking suits me. It’s a pursuit that rewards persistence over ability, the methodical grinding down of obstacles over the showy exploding of them. Hood up, head down, keep going. The rhythm is much slower, but it’s still there. You find a spot in the distance and you point yourself at it. Much later, once you’ve managed to reach it, you find another spot in the distance and point yourself at that. Repeat those steps enough times and, eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be. It’s a process, and the only way to succeed is to wholly give yourself over to it. Trust in the route. Trust in the plod. The result you want won’t happen suddenly – it takes six hours to walk to Canterbury, and nine to Dover, and it’ll take a day and a night to get around the Isle of Wight – but it will come.

Of course, the big advantage of walking is that, when you do feel like giving up – like the time it rained so hard that my phone conked out, leaving me frozen and mapless in a nowhere place that some nefarious fool had decided to name Stump Shave – you’re too remote to simply hop on a bus home. You walk yourself into these messes and the only solution, every single time, is to walk yourself back out.

Walking offers a space I haven’t found before. When I run, my brain is crowded out with all sorts of thoughts, like “I hate this” and “Ouch”. But walking is so slow and solitary and contemplative that it offers me a chance to work things through. I can think about where I am, and what I want. I can think about my mum, and all that she meant to me. Every footfall is a tiny jolt that gradually knocks everything displaced back to where it should be. Persistence over ability. The result won’t be sudden, but it will come.

I didn’t deal with my mum’s death well, for all sorts of reasons. Between the necessity of work and the demands of my young family, there were so many small fires to constantly put out that I couldn’t properly absorb the enormity of what had happened. As a result I fell into a crotchety funk that lasted for several months. I became listless and irritable, worn down by the litany of tiny responsibilities that make up my life. It’s a miracle, frankly, that anyone stuck with me. But walking has proven to be a snowball to the face. “Purpose” is much too strong a word here – I’m tramping across fields, not ending poverty – but it’s helping to blow the cobwebs out. Little by little, I’m starting to feel like myself again.

I feel weird telling you this, but in Mum’s final hours – after the doctor had told us to say our goodbyes – I prised a rubber cable tidy off the hospital bed that was set up in her dining room and started mindlessly thumbing it, turning it over and over in my hand as I sat next to her. When she died, I slipped it into my pocket and it’s stayed there ever since. To this day, whenever I change trousers, I take it out of the old pair and slip it into the new. The cable tidy means nothing. It’s a meaningless trinket that I bought online for pennies because she was frustrated about losing her iPad charging cable. But in the ensuing months it became more than that. It’s loaded with significance. It feels like I’m carrying a piece of her around with me. For a while, the thought of losing it terrified me.

But the more I walk, the less I need it. Being outside, seeing where she grew up, walking in her footsteps, breathing the same air; it’s slowly giving me a new perspective about things. She’ll always be part of me – of course she will, she’s my mum – but by walking out my grief one step at a time and trusting the process, I’m starting to learn that it’s OK to let go.

Mum was a walker, and now I’m a walker, too. That’s all the connection I need.

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Will my girlfriend stop loving me if I earn less than her? | Dear Mariella | Life and style

It’s certainly a possibility your girlfriend will think less of you, but that’s no reason to reconsider your life’s plans, says Mariella Frostrup. Now’s the time for a frank discussion

‘Why would it not to be possible to sustain a relationship where she was the bigger wage earner?’: Mariella Frostrup.






‘Why would it not to be possible to sustain a relationship where she was the bigger wage earner?’: Mariella Frostrup.
Photograph: Chris Rout/Alamy

The dilemma At 34, I’ve paid off my mortgage and have a couple of years’ salary in savings. I’ve recently been promoted, but am working very long hours, don’t have much time in the evenings and spend my weekends worrying about the work. I’m not sleeping well and partly due to Crohn’s disease have lost weight. I earn £46k, which is far more than I ever expected (or feel I deserve) to earn. My girlfriend of almost a year is 33 and the love of my life, and I hope we will have a baby in around three years’ time. I’ve been offered a public sector job with a wonderful work-life balance but reduced salary (£36k) and had decided to take this and spend the next three or so years doing all the things I/we want to before having children, as well as improving my health. During a conversation about this potential change, my girlfriend told me that she earns £45k. I am not in the slightest bit chauvinistic about earning more than her, but need to feel that the choice I’m making is not selfish. I worry about not contributing enough and riding on her coattails. Changing to a lower-paying job might suggest I am lacking ambition and also have a negative impact on our relationship.

Mariella replies How timely. You’ve offered up a refreshing view of the equal pay discussion by articulating the psychological side-effects and other potential impacts on the male psyche. There’s no point throwing our hands in the air and saying, “Who cares about men?” With all the gender-related issues of the past tumultuous 12 months, we really need to work together or it will all just have been noise. No social revolution has achieved its goals without the participation of both sexes. What makes men feel uncomfortable is entirely relevant; unaddressed, our relationships suffer and friction enters all our lives. I don’t blame all men for historical and continuing inequity between the sexes. Instead I’m increasingly convinced that to make the world a more equal place we really need to haul our mates from the opposite sex on to the bandwagon. That means listening as well as talking.

With the debate continuing to rage about equal pay for equal work, it’s interesting to receive this glimpse from the male side of the story. Not a missive from one of the self-proclaimed masters of the universe who deem themselves worth the extra bucks because they have different genitalia, but from a seemingly decent, well-meaning and emancipated man. You’ve certainly got it all mapped out, and impressively so. Paying off your mortgage by the age of 34 is for many an elusive goal and I daresay it involved personal sacrifices. Yet happily here you are only a decade into real adulthood having bought yourself the opportunity to make choices. There is nothing that reaps greater dividends. Your financial management has also brought the possibility of bringing children into the world with the security of a roof over their heads. What a fantastic place in which to start your life together. Yet despite all this blue sky thinking it took just a £1k differential to crush your dreams.

I can’t believe it’s the case, but you almost sound disappointed about your girlfriend’s healthy salary, as though it’s forced you to reconsider your life’s plans. How is it that we can we have both feet on the ground in this modern world and still act as though we’re floating in an entirely different universe? The only difference between you two is your sex, so why would it not to be possible to sustain a relationship where she was the bigger wage earner? The alternative is to admit that because you are male you need to occupy that territory or fail.

Yet I do have some understanding of your fears. Women want equal pay, but they also sometimes want (and thanks to biology sometimes need) a man to take a leading fiscal role in their lives. Like sex, it’s an issue where what we think and what we feel can be far apart. You feel uncomfortable about taking on what you see as a less Alpha role because your sense of your masculinity has been built on it, and you suspect your girlfriend’s attraction to you may be influenced by it.

We can’t instantly wipe the residue of millennia of dependence on one sex by the other out of the human psyche just because we’ve called time on it. Wages need to be equalised and immediately so, but we have to be prepared to talk about how that alteration affects the way we interact with and attract each other. It’s so often in the overlooked corners of life that the real truth is to be found. That is certainly the case here with the small, honest voice you’ve brought into the conversation.

Truth is I don’t know if your girlfriend will find you less attractive if you’re down £9k a year. If she does, she may not be the woman for you. Financial stability in an equal world is an equal responsibility and for the many millions out there whose instincts don’t quite match their polemic, on both sides of the argument, it’s the perfect time to sit down and have a long, hard think.

A frank and honest discussion about the roles we now play, the challenges of our individual biology and how we deal with centuries of conditioning without fear of censure or the deafening chorus of online trolls, seems long overdue. Your house seems as good a place as any to kick it off! Good luck.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

Facebook bans cryptocurrency ads, and yet bad actors still thrive

I'll never let go.
I’ll never let go.

Image: nurphoto/getty images

What’s the difference between BITCOIN and BITC0IN? 

Well, using latter might help you reach millions of people thanks to Facebook’s poorly enforced rules of advertising cryptocurrencies. 

Facebook announced last month that it would begin prohibiting ads promoting “financial products and services that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices, such as binary options, initial coin offerings, or cryptocurrency.”

But like many Facebook updates and actions, it’s far from perfect. Tech founder Matthieu Suiche pointed out this Facebook ad last week that successfully broke through the rules by using “BITC0IN” in the shared text and article headline. 

Cryptocurrency and bitcoin aren’t the only words of concern. There’s also the popular Block (Chain) a.k.a. blockchain, as BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac shared. 

Facebook’s rules are broad and could change, the company admitted. 

“This policy is intentionally broad while we work to better detect deceptive and misleading advertising practices, and enforcement will begin to ramp up across our platforms including Facebook, Audience Network and Instagram,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’ product management director, said in a statement accompanying the announcement.  

“We will revisit this policy and how we enforce it as our signals improve,” he continued. 

Facebook restricting ads can be a good thing to help prevent the spread of fraudulent cryptocurrency-related products and ICOs, as my colleague Stan Schroeder wrote. 

“My personal Facebook feed has lately been swarming with ads promoting ICOs and promising impossibly high returns, which should ring an alarm bell for any potential investor,” he wrote. 

The rules affect companies who argue their offerings are, in fact, regulated. Gab, a Twitter-like service that vehemently defends free speech, tried to advertise its ICO on Facebook this week and failed. 

Companies hoping to share educational materials and consulting services also fall under the Facebook’s restrictions. For example, Crypto Tax Prep, a service to help people pay taxes on crypto payouts, is unable to advertise. Draper University also has been unable to share ads about their courses on cryptocurrency. 

“Facebook has banned anything with the word ‘crypto’ in it, and both of our clients are actually providing a valuable service – not actually selling currency,” Jena Luckman, director of communications for digital agency JUICE that works with those groups, told Mashable. 

Such restrictions means Facebook is limiting its community’s access to helpful information. Of course, these rules only apply to advertising. Facebook users could share crypto-related posts on their personal timelines or on Pages or in Groups. 

But when it comes to searching for new audiences, crypto-focused groups and individual will have to stick to the BITC0IN and the Block (Chain).  

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Elon Musk probably won’t send you into space anytime soon, but if you want to see what it would like to be up close and personal with Starman and his Tesla, there’s always Snapchat. 

A new Snapchat lens appears as a portal to space. Users can enter, see Starman, and walk right back out. Here’s a video of a user testing it in New York’s Grand Central Terminal:

That lens is just one of the latest products out of SVRF, a tech startup vying to be the best search engine for immersive content like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The website also has an in-house studio that’s making creative experiences like the Starman lens for Snapchat. 

The popularity comes as millions of Snapchat users are grappling with the app’s redesign. A tweet alleging it only take 50,000 retweets to get the old Snapchat back is now the eighth most retweeted tweet of all time. YouTube star Marques Brownlee, also known as MKBHD, spoke out against the company and said he’s prioritizing Instagram Stories. 

But AR experiences like Starman are exciting some Snapchat users and even former ones. 

“As someone who isn’t on Snapchat, I opened up Snapchat for the first time in two years because these portals are so damn cool,” Cesar Kuriyama, founder of 1 Second Everyday, told Mashable.

But seriously, the update is really getting some people mad. 

For SVRF CEO and founder , the viral lenses are among her effort to move the world beyond experiences isolated on their phone. She became interested in the topic while reading Feed, a young adult dystopian novel by M.T. Anderson, when she was 13. 

“Everything is AR and VR. People have chips in the brains and it’s all advertising driven. When I read it, I freaked out. That’s why I don’t have Facebook because Facebook is that future, but I love the imagination. I knew I wanted to work on whatever is the past the phone,” Dominguez said.

Back in 2013, Google Glass was viewed as one way to take us beyond the phone. Dominguez decided to apply for a pair as part of the Explorer program and then traveled the world, including Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, Dubai, Goa, and Mumbai, with them. 

Now, at 25, she’s building SVRF, with a team of five out of an office in New York City. She’s raised $725,000 from angel investors, including Giphy founder Alex Chung, First Round’s Product Co-op, and Techstars. 

Since Snapchat released Lens Studio, the SVRF team has been building experiences like Starman as well as a play on Pickle Rick from Ricky and Morty. Pickle Rick dancing in a mansion has more than 1 million views on Snapchat, and counting:

Those experiences are exclusive to Snapchat, and yet, they aren’t easy to find there. Instead, her team and the fan community has been promoting them across Reddit, Twitter, and their own social channels. The subreddit r/SnapLenses has nearly 120,000 subscribers. 

“An early version of SVRF was StumbleUpon of VR. After testing we realized people would want to search for their next experience, like now I want to see a snowman or now I want to be in Rome,” Dominguez said.

Snapchat is far from the only destination for AR content. The SVRF team has used Facebook’s Camera Studio as well. However, that’s been better for face lenses rather than for portals, Dominguez said. She also is planning to build own AR app and API for VR-enabled devices. 

Already, Dominguez has been quite happy with the response to SVRF’s AR.

“We’re hearing people being like, ‘Wow this is unreal. How did you do this?’ But somebody did say, ‘Hopefully no one is doing this on the street cause you might get run over,'” she said. 

Yeah … stay safe. No portal in the streets!