The once and future Taliban

The longest war in US history is in the process of finally winding down, at least as far as the US is concerned. The US has begun the first stage of the process of withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600, one of the elements of the peace deal signed by the US with the Taliban. Another element is that the Taliban begin negotiations with the US-backed Afghan government to begin today in Oslo and that the government release 5,000 Taliban prisoners it is holding. The Afghan president signed a decree yesterday authrorizing the release of just 1,500 prisoners. It is not clear if this will satisfy the Taliban enough to start the talks.
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To be filed under ‘Hateful misogynistic stupidity’

I pass on to readers this story of how religion can drive people to make the most absurd rules restricting women.

India’s uncomfortable relationship with periods is back in the headlines.

College students living in a hostel in the western Indian state of Gujarat have complained that they were made to strip and show their underwear to female teachers to prove that they were not menstruating.

The 68 young women were pulled out of classrooms and taken to the toilet, where they were asked to individually remove their knickers for inspection.

The incident took place in the city of Bhuj on Tuesday. The young women are undergraduate students at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI), which is run by Swaminarayan sect, a wealthy and conservative Hindu religious group.

They said a hostel official had complained to the college principal on Monday that some of the students were breaking rules menstruating women are supposed to follow.

The idea that menstruating women are ‘impure’ or ‘unclean’ is a widespread and long-standing belief among particular religious groups, leading to the creation of rules limiting their interactions with ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ people. As the article goes on to describe, this school seems to have gone to great lengths to identify menstruating women and create onerous rules for them to follow, along with sanctions for ‘violators’.

Judge uses RFRA to throw out conviction of humanitarians

You may recall the case of Scott Warren of the humanitarian group No More Deaths who was charged by the federal government because he provided food, water, clothing, and shelter to the undocumented people who crossed the southern border and then undertook a grueling and dangerous trek through the desert. A jury acquitted him of all those charges but in a different case a judge found him guilty on a misdemeanor charge of illegally operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area in the course of delivering the supplies.
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Solid Muslim support for a Jewish candidate should be a big story

The Iowa caucuses had satellite sites for various groups that could not make it to the regular precincts and here is one report from a Muslim Community Center where 99% of the 200 people present voted for Bernie Sanders and awarded him all nine delegates.

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Catholic church and lack of transparency about abuses

Despite the fact that the Catholic church keeps promising to increase transparency after each successive scandal about abusive priests who have been shielded by the church, ProPublica reports that some bishops continue to be opaque.

Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.
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TV review: The Good Place (no spoilers)

I watched the finale of this NBC TV series a couple of days ago. The series consisted of 52 half-hour episodes spread out over four seasons. I have long been a fan of this show that dealt with issues of ethics and morality and what makes a person good. I gave it a rave review after seeing the first season, and have been following it since.
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Science and the big questions

Chemist Peter Atkins writes that it is only science that can answer real big questions, as opposed to invented ones such as Why are we here? What are the attributes of the soul?.

They are not real questions, because they are not based on evidence. Thus, as there is no evidence for the Universe having a purpose, there is no point in trying to establish its purpose or to explore the consequences of that purported purpose. As there is no evidence for the existence of a soul (except in a metaphorical sense), there is no point in spending time wondering what the properties of that soul might be should the concept ever be substantiated. Most questions of this class are a waste of time; and because they are not open to rational discourse, at worst they are resolved only by resort to the sword, the bomb or the flame.

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TV Review: Good Omens (2019) (No spoilers)

This six-part mini-series based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is superb. The 1990 book of the same name is very good but this TV adaptation is even better. It definitely benefits from being made into a miniseries that lasted a total of nearly six hours, rather that a shorter feature film. It enabled the screenwriter Gaiman and the director to provide a much richer texture to an already complex story. The series is available on HBO which I do not subscribe to but I happened to be staying at my daughter’s place and they do subscribe so I took the chance to watch it. I can strongly recommend it. In fact, I plan on seeing it again because the dialogue and acting are so good that it is the kind of thing that benefits from a second viewing, where one picks up on gags that one missed the first time around.

The story is based on the impending Armageddon that will climax in a major battle between the forces of Good and Evil that will be triggered by the Antichrist, who is boy named Adam, soon after his 11th birthday. The TV series expands the roles of Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon). Aziraphale was the angel guarding the gate of the Garden of Eden who took pity on the banished Adam and Eve and even gave them his flaming sword to protect them from the wild creatures they would encounter in the hostile world outside. Crowley initially appears in the form of the serpent who tempted Eve. The angel and demon are supposed to be on opposite sides in the war but over thousands of years of crossing paths at various major events in human history have developed a sort of friendship that is grudging at first but becomes stronger when they realize that they both do not see the point of destroying the Earth and all its inhabitants and decide to try and thwart the grand plan. This puts them in the bad books of their two organizations, who try to pull them back into line.
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