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Virginia Beach, Virginia: In defence of arranged marriage

Thomas B. Bunch 4978 Jefferson Street Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Let’s take a second to define what I mean by arranged marriage. You see, when my grandparents’ marriage was arranged, that meant their parents sorted out the whole thing and they never met each other before their wedding day. That was back in India in the 1930s.

Since then, they emigrated to the UK, and when it was time to marry off their children, it was done a little differently. My parents underwent a series of introductions with...

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Baytown, Texas: Why 'Lolita' Remains Shocking, And A Favorite

Alan M. Michael 1057 Chapel Street Baytown, TX 77520

Asking a fiction writer to recommend his favorite book is a little like asking a father to pick his favorite child, like asking an adulterer to name his favorite lover. The writer will hem and haw, the father will equivocate, the adulterer will say he loves them all the same, just in different ways. Of course, we're lying. We all have a favorite: She stood "four foot ten in one sock." "She was Lola in slacks. She was Lo, plain Lo in the morning." But in our arms she will always be Lolita.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's immaculate and disturbing masterpiece, is the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert and his tragic love affair with his 12-year-old, bubble-gum popping stepdaughter Dolores "Lolita" Haze. It's a post-war road novel, the odyssey of a venerable European man and a prepubescent American girl bouncing across the United States, trying to outrun the past and find a future that doesn't exist. The prose is by turns passionate and playful, while the narrative is simultaneously lyrical and unsettling and erotic and violent — did I mention that, in addition to being a child molester, Humbert is also a murderer? It's a kind of inverted detective story: You immediately know someone's been killed, but have to wait to find out who. The book, which can be viewed as an allegory for Europe's relationship with America, offers a depiction of love that is as patently original as it is brutally shocking.

More shocking, though, is the reaction the author somehow manages to elicit from his readers: empathy. Readers always read, I think, out of a tremendous curiosity about other human beings, we're looking for another soul on the page, and that's what Nabokov has so fearlessly, so complexly, so gorgeously given us. In a lesser writer's hands, we could easily dismiss Mr. Humbert as a monster, but Nabokov denies us that all-too comfortable option. Even if we would never condone his vain and deadly infatuation, we understand it. We're complicit in his sins, and our complicity is seductive and terrifying. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury... look at this tangle of thorns."

To be sure, this novel isn't for the faint of heart, but neither should prospective readers retreat to any kind of moral high ground. Nabokov, in fact, threads an unexpected and affirming emotional serenity through his portrait of obsession. His enigmatic narrator leaves us in spellbound rapture. Because for all of its linguistic pyrotechnics — as Humbert confesses, "you can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style" — and for all its controversial subject matter, Lolita is one of the most beautiful love stories you'll ever read. It may be one of the only love stories you'll ever read. This is the most thrilling and beautiful and most deeply disturbing aspect of the novel — and it's what most persuasively recommends the book — that in addition to finding Humbert's soul on the page, we also find, like it or not, a little of our own.

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It's not that we would be madly in love with Donald Trump. But at least, he's not a feminist. Now that is something to vote for.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Three things about - Child marriages in Malaysia

Adam L. Hy 4528 Garrett Street Grand Rapids, MI 49503

KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — For better or worse, Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya’s recent remarks in Parliament has cast a spotlight on child marriages in Malaysia.

With the country aiming for first world nationhood, should marriages of minors be allowed to continue? There have been arguments for and against this practice, with child development advocates heavily in favour of ending it.

To help you understand this issue better, Malay Mail Online has compiled a list of the facts and figures that you should know:

1. What does the law say?

Malaysians are only considered an adult by law when they turn 18, but the legal age applicable on matters like when they can have sex and get married is a different thing altogether.

The age of consent for sexual intercourse in Malaysia is 16, which makes sex with any woman below age 16 a crime, regardless whether they consented to it or not, and punishable by law. However, marital rape is not a crime in Malaysia.

Children are actually allowed to marry under existing Malaysian laws. The legal age to marry also depends on whether you are Muslim or non-Muslim.

Under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act's Sections 10 and 12, non-Muslims can only be legally married if they are aged at least 18 and will require parental consent for marriage if they are still below 21. Under this law, they are considered minors if they have yet to turn 21 and are not widows.

But the same law provides for an exception, where a girl aged 16 can be legally married if the state chief minister/ mentri besar or in the case of the federal territories, its minister, authorises it by granting a licence; as are ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls in diplomatic missions abroad.

As for Muslims, the minimum legal age for marriage in the states' Islamic family laws is 18 and 16 for a male and female respectively, but those below these ages can still marry if they get the consent of a Shariah judge.

Local Islamic family laws do not list the factors that Shariah courts need to consider before approving underage marriages or impose a limit on how young a Muslim can be married under this exception.

But Shariah Lawyers Association of Malaysia deputy president Moeis Basri told Malay Mail Online that Shariah courts are bound by Shariah laws regardless of whether they are codified.

In practice, he said this means that Shariah judges will exercise their wide discretionary powers to consider all relevant factors before deciding whether or not to approve underaged marriage. This includes looking at physical signs showing puberty such as menstruation in the girl, and also the level of maturity in both the child bride and groom to be.

“Under the Shariah law, only (a) person that has attained age of puberty can get married. The age of puberty may differ from one person to another. This is one of the things that any application for underage marriage needs to prove. Of course there are other factors that need to be considered by the court before allowing or rejecting the application,” he said, adding that applications for Muslim underage marriages are not automatically approved but have to be shown to have merits.

2. Women marry young

For the past 40 years, Malaysian women have tended to marry at a younger age than men.

Even as the average marriage ages for both genders have been rising from 25.6 and 22.1 in 1970 to 28 and 25.7 in 2010 for men and women respectively, Malaysian children have still been marrying at a young age and in some cases also ending their marriages at an equally young age.

According to the 2000 census, there were 10,267 out of 2,411,581 children aged between 10-14 who were married, while 229 and 75 children in this age group were widowed, divorced or permanently separated. Girls who were married outnumbered boys in this age group at 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

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When broken down according to gender, 4,334 out of 1,237,519 boys aged 10-14 were married as of 2000, while 71 were widowed and 17 were divorced or separated. As for the girls, 5,933 out of the 1,174,062 in this age group were married, while 158 and 58 were respectively widowed and divorced or separated.

The 2010 census oddly does not show any figures for those in the 10-14 age group who were married, widowed or divorced. Instead, it records all 2,733,427 children in this age group as falling under the Never Married category.

As the overall population grew from 22,198,276 in 2000 to 28,334,135 in 2010, the number of those married in the 15-19 age group more than doubled from 65,029 to 155,810, while those who were widowed at these ages went up from 594 to 1,451, and those divorced or permanently separated from their spouse by then increasing from 849 to 1,071.

In 2000, those in the 15-19 age group who were married was overwhelmingly female at 53,196 as opposed to male at 11,833. In 2010, it was split between females at 82,382 and males at 73,428.

3. Demand for child marriages

The census figures reflect what appears to be sustained demand for child marriages in Malaysia.

On March 7, 2016, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim told Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto in a written parliamentary reply that the number of applications for Muslim child marriages between 2005 to 2015 was 10,240. The figure for the approved applications was not provided.

The annual average of applications for Muslim child marriages recorded by the Department of Shariah Judiciary Malaysia between 2005 to 2010 is 849, while the annual average for 2011 to 2015 is 1,029, Rohani had said.

As for non-Muslim child marriages recorded by the National Registration Department during the 2011 to September 2015 period, there were 2,104 girls aged between 16 and 18 involved, Rohani said.

The majority of these teenage girls (68 per cent) or 1,424 of them were married to men aged 21 and above, while the remaining 32 per cent or 680 of them were married off to those closer to their ages at 18-21.

Amid calls for child marriages to be banned in law in Malaysia, civil society groups have also advocated recently for the inclusion of what they dub a “sweetheart defence”, where young couples with small age gaps, such as teenagers are spared prosecution.

Critics of child marriages have highlighted high-profile cases such as where a 40-year-old man married a 13-year-old girl that he had raped and a man in his 20s marrying a girl he had raped at the age of 14, while others have raised the chain of problems linked to child marriages such as high-risk pregnancies, greater risk of maternal death and domestic violence, as well as disrupted education.

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Women were created from a bone of man. Or was that a boner?

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Detroit, Michigan: I had vagina therapy with a vagina physiotherapist

Nicholas T. Dunn 71 Tully Street Detroit, MI 48219

I thought the recovery from my child’s birth would be easier than the birth itself. I was wrong.

My baby was born by scalpel – an episiotomy. Episiotomy, also known as perineotomy, is described as a surgical incision of the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall generally done by a midwife or obstetrician during second stage of labor to quickly enlarge the opening for the baby to pass through.

I cannot put into words what it was actually like.

She was perfect, although a little bloody. I expected to be back on my feet quickly. But I was wrong, so very wrong.

Life with a newborn is not easy, even less so when you have another child or two that also needs your attention. It is even harder when you are in excruciating pain.

The constant pain was debilitating. I was unable to walk some days and was often forced to look after my two children from the floor where I crawled everywhere. When my husband came home I was an emotional and physical wreck. I was often in so much pain I had to dose myself up on medication and lay face down on the carpet next to the blanket on the floor that contained a days worth of spit up.

Even thinking about sex was hard, it was eight weeks before we gave it a go for the first time. My husband was understanding, sympathetic about the lack of sex during the first few months, and lets be honest – also very tired from helping me with the night shift. But I’m sure it was also frustrating for him.

After eight weeks I was physically healed, but mentally… not so much. It was not really painful during sex, but it sure was afterwards.

I began to become convinced that there was something seriously wrong with my vagina.

I went to the doctor and pleaded with her to try and fix me. She gave my vagina the once over and said that everything looked fine, but said that there may be some nerve damage and she would send me off to get X-rays just in case it was a broken pubic bone.

Well hell, this must be it! I thought.

My vagina is broken! Six bloody months of walking around with a broken bloody vagina. It made sense!

Then the X-ray came back all clear. Although I was convinced that they must have done it wrong, I had to accept I didn’t have a broken vagina.

There was only one more step to take and the doctor suggested a physiotherapist…. for my vagina.

So off I went to a vagina physiotherapist. To have vagina therapy.

Did you even know this was an actual job? I sure didn’t. And as I sat in the hospital waiting room looking at all of the other patients quietly waiting in wheelchairs, sitting with helpers – post car crashes and work injuries – I worried about what they might be thinking of me. Where was her injury? Why wasn’t she limping enough to notice?

I walked into the little room accompanied by the physiotherapist, an attractive smart blonde woman with shiny black flats. I really wanted to ask her right off the bat what her deal was, why vaginas? Why not feet? But I saved that for the second visit two months later when she told me that she just wanted to help women and their sexual health. She sounded legit.

The exam was similar to a doctors exam but without as many contraptions, she asked me to do a kegel (where you tighten your vagina). I did, and she looked at me quite surprised, “Hmmmmmm” she said, with her finger still wriggling around inside me.

“That’s about as strong as I have felt…” she kept wiggling. “… And the left side is VERY tight!”

Post-exam she sat me down and told me what the problem was. I had a tight vagina. Actually she used the words “I think you have a condition known as vaginismus which is a genito-pelvic pain disorder. A condition that affects a woman’s ability to engage in vaginal penetration, where your pelvic floor is tight and can spasm.”

But all I heard was “TIGHT VAGINA”.

And you know what? I smiled, looked up to the ceiling nodded my head and laughed.

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This whole time I’m walking around in constant pain thinking I had broken myself when in reality it was my muscles tightening up so much on the left side that the pain radiated down my legs.

She gave me a print out with information about vaginismus. On the flip side of the page was some yoga, breathing and visualisation exercises.

I’m not really the most serious person. The printout had a diagram of a stick figure lady, legs up in the air, visualising her vagina relaxing. To this day, it’s quite possibly the most hilarious thing I have ever seen.

But I did all of the exercises. I breathed calmly like you wouldn’t believe. I visualised the hell out of my vagina getting all loose.

And it worked!

The pain subsided and I could walk around like a normal person without feeling like someone had shoved a porcupine up there.

The problem with any disorder that is caused in part by anxiety is that you are sometimes the only one that is in charge of your own recovery.

When I was diagnosed my physiotherapist had said exactly that to me:

“I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you are in charge of your own recovery. The bad news is that you are in charge of your own recovery.” Those words have stuck with me.

You can be helped along by medication and pain relief – both of which I have definitely taken. But ultimately it’s up to you. And it’s daunting to be the only one that can really fix you, but it is also empowering.

You don’t have to have a traumatic birth for you to be traumatised in some way, you don’t have to have a difficult birth in order to feel it was difficult for you. Birth is such a different experience for us all and our own experience of it and how we deal with it afterwards is unique.

Vaginismus is often triggered by childbirth but it can also be something that was always there, something that can develop in your teenage years. It can stop women from ever having sex or it can mean having painful sex frequently.

If you think you might have something similar please see your doctor as it could be a symptom of anxiety or something else.

Your sexual health is just as important as anything else in your life. I never thought I’d have vagina therapy but I’m very glad I did.

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Holbrook, Idaho: How Algeria could destroy the EU

Nicholas L. Davis 4143 Seltice Way Holbrook, ID 83243

It is more than possible that before any Brexit deal is discussed, let alone concluded, the EU will have effectively collapsed. And the key factor could be the demise of Algeria’s leader of 17 years. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is 79 and has needed a wheelchair since having a stroke in 2013. ‘His mind is even more infirm than his body,’ one observer tells me. Bouteflika returned home recently after a week’s stay at a private clinic in France. His prognosis isn’t good.

Officially, Bouteflika underwent standard ‘periodic medical tests’ in Grenoble. But no one believes this. Among people who know Algeria well, there is little doubt that he is severely incapacitated and does not have much time left. That means that his regime does not have much time left either. The consequences of that will stretch far beyond Algeria.

When Bouteflika goes, Algeria will probably implode. The Islamists who have been kept at bay by his iron hand will exploit the vacuum. Tensions that have been buried since the civil war will re-emerge. And then Europe could be overwhelmed by another great wave of refugees from North Africa.

Yet almost no one outside Algeria is remotely aware of what is about to happen. Other, that is, than western intelligence agencies. They may have been caught un-awares by the misnamed Arab Spring in 2011, but they are all too aware of what is on the cards in Algeria. Behind the scenes, governments are readying themselves for another civil war — and its consequences.

It was only 24 years ago that 150,000 died in an Algerian civil war between the Islamists and the state. This time, things will be far more bloody, not least because of the development of armed Islamism over the past few years.

Some observers have mistaken the decline in electoral success of Islamist parties as evidence of the decline of Islamism within Algeria. El-Islah, Ennahda and the Movement of Society and Peace have fractured and split. In the 2012 elections, they tried coming together as the Green Algeria Alliance but still managed to win only 48 out of 462 seats in parliament.

This is deeply misleading. Islamist leaders have switched tactics. Long ago they realised they cannot win through the ballot, so they have been using other means. As self-proclaimed guardians of public morality, they have campaigned to ensure the school curriculum is focused on ‘Islamic science’ and used their communal influence to try to stop the government changing the ‘family code’, which keeps women under the ‘guardianship’ of men. They have had fatwas issued demanding that ministries ensure women wear veils and men grow beards, and last year attempted — albeit unsuccessfully — to block a bill that criminalised violence against women.

Within the past few years, the veil has become normal in Algeria, with an estimated 70 per cent of women now wearing one (up to 90 per cent outside towns). And a billion dollars is now being spent building the largest mosque in Africa, in Algiers.

And this is all while the state successfully opposes formal Islamist influence. When President Bouteflika goes, it is clear that the Islamists — propelled by their brothers outside Algeria — will attempt to seize the day. Although you will struggle to find any mention of Algeria and its likely future direction in the press, European governments have been reflecting for months on what looks like a brewing crisis.

An Algerian civil war would create huge numbers of refugees. One analyst told me he expects 10 to 15 million Algerians will try to leave. Given Algeria’s history, they would expect to be rescued by one nation: France. In its impact on the EU, even a fraction of this number would dwarf the effect of the Syrian civil war. Given the political trauma that the refugee crisis has already caused in Europe, a massive Algerian exodus could cause tremendous insecurity.

Obviously, no one knows how long Bouteflika has left. Nor do we know how rapidly civil war could develop. But were the crisis to begin before the French presidential election next April, and were Algerian refugees to start appearing on French soil — neither scenario by any means impossible — it is hard to imagine anything more likely to hand victory to Marine Le Pen and the Front National.

Other, that is, than a further Islamist terror attack in France, which the French authorities already believe is extremely likely. It would become even likelier with a sudden influx of Algerian extremists. A Le Pen victory would make Brexit seem almost irrelevant, given her pledge to hold a referendum on French EU membership. With France pulling out, or Frexit, there could effectively be no EU for Britain to leave.

Of course, this scenario is predicated on a series of ifs. But even if only one or two come about, and even if Bouteflika doesn’t die until after the April vote in France, the consequences will be barely less dramatic. An Algerian civil war and the ensuing refugee crisis would shake France to the core. Whether it is Fillon or Le Pen in the Elysée, the French president (and his or her EU counterparts) would have to grapple with a crisis that could prove to be the EU’s final tipping point.

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This site contains photos of brutality. Semantically and philosophically speaking, the photos are not brutal. What is brutal is the depicted reality.

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Huntington, New York: I Tried "Weed Lube" and Oh My God, Yes

Lloyd T. Roberts 313 Anmoore Road Huntington, NY 11743

I'm not into smoking weed, but my vagina is all about some THC. Disclaimer: I live in the state of California, where the purchase and use of Foria Pleasure, a "sensual enhancement" product made of cannabis oil and liquid coconut oil meant for your nether regions, is legal. It's basically weed lube, and it's glorious.

The company says that Foria Pleasure "brings the power of ancient plant medicine to your fingertips," and let me tell you — there's certainly something powerful going on here. While technically not a traditional lubricant for all intents and purposes — it's more of a "pre-lubricant" — the topical oil taught me what "mind-blowing" really means — and I will never use the phrase so lightly again. While the application of the spray resulted in arousal almost immediately, the greatest (seriously, greatest) effect it had was on the intensity and length of my orgasm(s). I literally was laughing incredulously the first time I climaxed, and I'm pretty sure things like "what the actual f*ck?" and "holy sh*t is this still happening?" came out of my mouth.

How It Works

The instructions suggest you apply four to eight sprays directly onto the clitoris, inner and outer labia, and inside the vagina, adding that "internal application provides the highest absorption," which I found to be true in my own experiences. Foria works the way it does because the skin of the vulva and vagina are sensitive and highly absorbent. I've experimented with various amounts and haven't found a huge variation in terms of sensation, except that closer to eight sprays with internal application seemed to really do the trick. Really.

Each time I've applied Foria, I've noticed almost immediate effects, but they begin more externally/on the surface and then progress to a deeper, more internal sensation. Because it can take between 15 minutes and an hour to get the full effect of Foria, I suggest applying it, then taking part in lengthy foreplay while enjoying the feeling as it blooms. It is described as a "pre-lubricant" because its purpose is to enhance pleasure, not lubricate the vagina. "Weed lube" is a loose term, mainly because it is applied to, and inside of, the vagina like regular lubricants.

What It Feels Like

My biggest concern about taking Foria was my fear that I would feel high in the traditional sense. I deal with extreme anxiety and have found that smoking or ingesting marijuana (particularly sativa) can cause actual panic attacks. It's something I avoid entirely, because getting stoned isn't worth the risk of inducing my anxiety, something I work tirelessly to keep at bay. Luckily, Foria doesn't work that way, and I didn't feel anxious at all — quite the opposite, actually.

Some reviewers on the site noted their own struggles with pain during sex and difficulties achieving orgasm for years, and they finally found pleasure with Foria. Again, every experience is different, but after using Foria, I am inclined to believe their anecdotes.

One reviewer put it like this: "Fact — you WILL get a little horny and turned on! Fact — you WILL feel stimulation in HD . . . it's the only way to explain it! Fact — you WILL orgasm deeper than you ever have," which pretty much sums up my experience with it. The sensation and sensitivity of all aspects of sex is heightened and, for me, improved.

Each time I've used it, it almost feels like everything goes warm and tingly down there, and when touched, it's actually so sensitive it almost tickles — in a good way, of course. Foria doesn't necessarily bring you to an orgasm faster (although for some, it can, since it can increase arousal), but it's the grand finale where you really feel major the results. Climaxes are deeper and way more intense than anything I've ever experienced. They feel all-consuming! Orgasms also can go on for longer; it can feel like it's going to last forever, and if anything is going to be eternal, I think we can all agree that an orgasm would be our top pick.

Health and Wellness

While the oil hasn't been evaluated by the FDA, the company says that safety and purity is "of paramount importance." "Our cannabis oil is extracted using leading-edge solvent- free pharmaceutical grade processes that provide extracts in their purest possible form," the site says. To ensure the cleanest and safest final product, the company tests Foria at multiple stages; it tests for potency, pesticides, residual solvents, and microbials. The products undergo something called a "hot-fill" bottling process, allowing Foria to produce a "microbial-free product without the use of artificial preservatives," the site says. The bottom line is that Foria is natural, and the product is made up of two very basic components: cannabis oil and coconut oil.

As with any product, you should always use at your own risk and consult your healthcare provider, because plant medicine, like any other kind of medicine, works differently with different bodies.

To be clear, Foria isn't a product designed to get you high the way that smoking or ingesting cannabis would; it is a topical "pre-lubricant" meant to be sprayed, then absorbed. It is not latex-safe and not recommended for use with latex condoms. While I enjoyed all of my experiences, everyone is different, and it may not be for everyone. It is currently only available in states where marijuana is legalized.

Beyond Pleasure

Foria turned me on, it spiced up sex with my partner, and it gave me some of the best orgasms of my life. But it goes beyond that. A sexual enhancement product for women is empowering; it places the focus of pleasure and completion on women and those with vaginas. It's something we can enjoy alone or with a partner, and it is a novelty in that its central purpose is to optimize the female sexual experience. Bottom line? I'll be using it again. And again.

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Terrorist groups that aim to destroy Europe are strategy amateurs. A professional strategy would be one that employs minimal resources to achieve maximal effects. Any number of suicide bombers won't do the trick. But mass migration from Africa and South Asia can. Channeling huge numbers of refugees to Europe will erode and destroy Europe more reliably than conventional terrorism, and the risk for perpetuators is very low.

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