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UK Child Prison Manual

Cross-posted from my blog:

Today, an article in the Observer details "restraint techniques" published in a formerly-undisclosed manual for officers in private child prisons. Any pre-teen or teenager who is put in prison, humiliated and treated with such brutality - who is stripped of self-respect and taught only violence - is not in any way prepared to live as an ordinary citizen in our society.

Permitting these "restraint techniques" - and the government does permit them: until recently, it was prepared to go to court to keep the manual from public scrutiny- is an admission of defeat. Allowing a teenager to be brutalised in prison says: "You may still be a child by law, but your life ends here."

This is not directly related to immigration, but I'm posting it here because I want it to be seen by as many people as possible. You must draw your own conclusions - you may come out in support of the manual, and if you do, please comment: I would be interested to know how such treatment could be in anyone's interests, either the prisoner's or those of society. But as British citizens with a free media, we do in any case have a duty to be, or to keep ourselves, informed.


(Yes, I'm still here. In the end I opted to go silent, rather than to disappear altogether.)

waging nonviolence

Is it me, or was a perfectly decent anti-weapons protest undermined by PETA-style objectivisation of women? (The protest dates from 2007, but I was blissfully unaware of it then.)

I don't think you can be a pacifist without fighting oppression on all fronts. I certainly don't think you can use one kind of oppression to oppose another kind. It just doesn't work.

And now, through the magic of Livejournal, a simple political point becomes a highly introspective, fairly existential dissertation.Collapse )

Apologies for the cross-posting. Not to do so would kind of defeat the object. But despite, what, 10 hours sleep last night and a nap this lunch-time, I am knackered, so can't make any further comment.

the bible and abortion

I was reading this article about abortions in Tanzania, during which the thought crossed my mind that, if the Bible outlaws abortion (and from the behaviour of most Christians, you would think it did), then it was probably in the Old Testament - that's where they're hottest on rules and regulations, right? - and maybe it was because unsafe abortions killed woman and there simply wasn't a safe alternative in that society at that time. That is, what if any Biblical rule against abortions was for the sake of the mother, rather than the child? Or for the sake of the mother as much as the child, at least?

I used to be very pro-life -- that's the biblical literalist upbringing for you -- and I don't yet have fully formed ideas about abortion. (Now is probably a good time to say I thought Obama's remark, that abortion is never an easy question, but that the individual pregnant woman is much better placed to make the decision than priests and politicians, was fabulous. Good man.) So this doesn't have any ideology, it probably doesn't even have a point, it's just a bit of an investigation into what the Bible actually does say about abortion.

I started by Googling "Bible verses against abortion" (loaded question? me?) and this was the first page I found. The page gives its definition of the idea, "abortion, the deliberate destruction of a child in the womb", at the top of the page, so a lot of the following arguments are around what it means to be human, rather than whether or not the unborn foetus is a human child.

The argument for pre-birth humanity seems to be based on quotes such as "the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Psalm 127.3); "You have been my guide since I was first formed . . . from my mother’s womb you are my God" (Psalm 22:10-11); "God… from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace" (Galatians 1:15); "I have brought forth a man with the help of the Lord" (Genesis 4:1).
However, the 'fruit of the womb' is something the womb has yielded. The expression 'from the womb' could mean 'from the point I left the womb', although pro-lifers would interpret it 'from the point I entered the womb'. And the rather simple, "well, duh, the 10 commandments sez don't kill" argument depends on the foetus being human from the point of conception.

More under the cut. I'm going to ramble on a fair bit, I'm afraid.Collapse )

Surprisingly, the passage from Exodus is the only one I've been able to find that might be directly dealing with abortion. Christian pro-life arguments hang on first establishing the full humanity of the foetus, and then deploying the whole range of "thou shalt not kill" verses.

My hypothesis about the Bible's rules against abortion being due to their unsafeness was wrong - because, apparently, the Bible doesn't have rules against abortion. Well, gosh, they've kept that one well hidden!


can jesus sign?

I've been looking through the Cambridge library catalogue to see what books there are on Liberation Theology - because I owe Jo a reading list, and because I am dying to get back into it myself.

I came across the title Deaf Liberation Theology (Hannah Lewis is the author if anyone's interested) and looked at it out of idle curiosity. This was the description:

Framework and methodology -- Deaf-world : being deaf in the twenty-first century -- Deaf-church : a history of deaf people and the church -- Deaf people constructed in theology -- Deaf people constructed in the church as an organization -- Deaf-world, sign language, and the Bible -- Can Jesus sign? -- Deaf worship -- A liberating-shaped church.

Can Jesus sign? It brought quick tears to my eyes, simply because I hadn't realised it mattered. I've been thinking and writing a bit recently about how feminism plays into an understanding of different abilities (I am so not hot on the lingo. I've only recently realised how much lingo actually matters, what with following feminist and race-related blogs and communities. For shame! Anyway, I'll get there.) - which I will succeed in articulating readably at some point. If you have an understanding of equality, it interacts with dialogues everywhere. I think this is wonderful.

Anyway, back to the signing thing. I need to think more, of course. But I need to be challenged more, also. I'm off to hunt out the dialogues. (I knew a nap would have unforeseen consequences ...)

return of the ranty feminist

It's official. I'm possessed.* Yes, that's right. The Inner Ranty Feminist has got me.

It was a sly takeover. She started with my purse. Shopping's not a feminist topic, right? Much less clothes shopping? Or if it is, it's only to be dismissed out of hand as perpetuating the dependence of women's self-worth on their possessions, or as blind consumerism propping up the capitalist system which is systemic misogyny itself. Right?

Oh, don't be silly. Life's a bit more nuanced than that, and contains fewer long words.

My jeans were wearing holes in the thighs, cos I've got fat legs. This happens every six months or so, and I need to go and replace them with a new pair. In Cambridge, I'd get my trusty £6 pair from Oxfam on Magdelene Bridge, but since I'm not in Cambridge and shops here don't accept sterling, I was forced to do something a bit less noble. So off I went to H&M. What? It was getting desperate.

But once I got inside H&M, Ranty Inner Feminist took me hostage. I kid you not. She wasn't having any of it. "Jeans? Jeans?! Look here, madam, you have damn fine legs. They're curvy, strong and have served you well. What makes you think you should be hiding them in jeans, not drawing people's attention to them just because they don't look like some airbrushed model's pegs?"

Needless to say, I left H&M with two pairs of skinny trousers, one black with pink polkadots and the other bright blue. (As well as the yellow shirt I'd been craving for its colour, but refusing myself cos of my figure.)

I think the Ranty Inner Feminist was placated then, because she hasn't taken me on any more shopping sprees yet. However, she turned up again tonight and managed to turn a traffic-based slight to my dignity into a full-scale chauvinist outrage.

The short of it is that I was crossing the road back to campus, when a vehicle came whizzing round the bend. I stopped just before the white line, in order to avoid meeting a sticky end. The plain blue car pulled up against the kerb and the passenger window wound down. "Non, merci," I muttered, shaking my head and putting my earphones back in pointedly.
I kept on walking and the car drew up beside me again. The two men got out, and I swear I was about to fold up my umbrella and thump them** when I noticed that they were wearing police badges. "Vous avez un petit souci, madame?" No, no, I'm fine. I heard your car coming, so I stopped to avoid being run over. Sensible behaviour, right? I'm on my way to campus, where I'm a stagiaire - yes, look, here's my gate key. Well, be careful, won't you, madame. Yes, thank you, can I go now? It's raining.

What bugs me is that one moment they were the threat -- two male strangers in an unmarked car late at night when I was the only person on the road. Then, suddenly, I was having to explain myself to them. And why? Because I had been behaving responsibly, avoiding first being run over and then - I thought - being compelled to take a lift with unknowns. The potential danger of two strangers is much greater than that of being run over: was this not obvious to them when they stopped? And even if they were acting with the best of intentions, which I'm sure they were, since when has the police held people's hands across the road? Priorities, anyone?

That's quite enough IRF Rant, she's tired and should be put to bed. Along with me. I'm going on holiday this evening, after all. :)

*Earlier, I started a story with "it's official. I'm obsessed." The subject matter was chocolate-addiction, and not worth the re-telling. But probably a sign I shouldn't make too many things "official".

**I am, unfortunately, feral. In a situation where I'm threatened and escape isn't an option, my first thoughts are teeth and claws. I should learn self-defence in order to minimise the damage I could cause, rather than learn to cause any at all!
I'm disappointed. Early reports of Archbishop Dolan (New York) gave me the impression he was a rather good egg. And with Jack the Rat on the throne, the Catholic church needs as many good eggs as it can get.

To be fair, he hasn't done anything heinous. And I accept, resignedly, his opposition to gay marriage. Even churchmen are entitled to their views, and that's a pretty common one.

What got me this time, as has gotten me more and more since I left the system, is the lack of imagination condoned and, in fact, promoted by the church. To quote from the article:

Archbishop Timothy Dolan yesterday said advocates of gay marriage "are asking for trouble," arguing that traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people's moral DNA.

"There's an in-built code of right and wrong that's embedded in the human DNA."

Archbishop Dolan is also quoted later talking about "the beauty, the truth, the warmth, the joy, the liberation of being Catholic."

It's this notion of liberation I'm both drawn to and bewildered by. What is striking is that so many Christians have a faith in 'natural law' which rivals their faith in God, or a faith in God which underscores their faith in 'natural law'.

From where I'm standing, this makes no sense. If you believe in a supernatural being, doesn't this mean you are already looking beyond nature? If you believe in a supernatural element to your own essence, doesn't this mean you are capable of being more than the sum of your genetic code and biological urges?

Religion could be about knowing who it is to be human. Those who are religious are frequently those most ready to declare there is a difference between humankind and animals - yet, instead of exploring these perceived differences, instead of coming to a more full understanding of ourselves, instead of learning whatever new laws of love and beauty and truth there may be to learn, religion is used to tie us more firmly to the laws of nature - yes, red in tooth and claw - strapping us to animalhood by divine fiat.

I wonder at suicide bombers who kill because they have been promised peace in the next life.

And yet it is no wonder. Religion at once stirs the mind to a greater awareness of itself - allowing us to long for peace and harmony, which themselves are not natural - and restricts it by the natural laws of this world - encouraging us to want to leave this world for a plane where the supernatural is possible.

God, if only we could learn to surpass nature in this life. And although that was an expression of frustration, it was also the closest I've come to a prayer in years.

the latest model

I'm reading Liberation Theology "under the desk" at work, again. And I have just read something that really jolted me, in the way these things sometimes do.

This is 1 Corinthians 15:45, according to the Authorised Version of the Bible, which I grew up on:
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."

The New International Version*, in more modern English, reads:
"So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"[e]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit."

But the Latin, just cited in this text I've been reading, doesn't use a word for last meaning "final", but rather last meaning "most recent": *novissimus Adam*. I saw that and reeled. I'd never heard of the "newest Adam". What was this? It sounded like a scriptural admission of plural Adams, plural prophets, plural Messiahs - past /and to come/.

Why did my church, literalists to a man, not pick up on this? Not /respond/ to it? It's crying for a response! It's crying to unpick the brutality of my childhood faith. My parents said of other Christians - name any denomination you choose! - that they read what suited them into and out of the Bible. Unlike literalists. Unlike literalists? Yes, I know, I've known for a long time that you can't rely on one translation, one group of translators' interpretation, even one language, to get to the bottom of a document like the Bible. But my father and the minister, between them, could read the Bible in Greek at least, and were so well read in theologians and commentators ... Why didn't they know? Why didn't I think?

My problem, with the faith of my parents, is trust. I was an idealist as a child. Although I saw the divide between my dad in the pulpit and my dad in the home, I trusted every farther-off grown-up implicitly, if they were of our credo. After all, I knew one of the ten commandments was "thou shalt not lie", and I was working throughout my childhood to be more obedient to those commandments. I assumed adults to have "got there" and wouldn't expect them to deceive me. I was so disillusioned when I wrote to Creation magasine in complaint once, and saw how they twisted my words in their response.

All this is unqualified - unqualified with respect to other passages in the Bible which probably do indicate Jesus is the only Messiah; with respect to adults who were in any case as honest to me as they were to themselves. It's just a rant. I'm just disappointed.


*Dad dislikes the NIV. I think it's because it's modernised from the KJV, rather than returning to the original text. He does his best to be a responsible literalist.

reclaiming meaning

Of course works of art have meanings which the artist emself* didn't put there. The viewer interprets - art is a dialogue. But what I don't understand is the artist reclaiming the interpretation. For example, at my writers' group in Paris the week before last, we were discussing a girl's poem, and I admired the way she had expressed what I thought she intended to express. She said she hadn't thought about that meaning at all, but then applied it to her poem.

Similarly, if one doodles aimlessly, then gives the doodle a title which reflects what the doodle has come to look like ... Retrospective application of meaning by the artist seems, to me, to miss the point of making art in the first place. That's no different to seeing animals in the clouds! It requires creativity, sure, but it's not --

Okay, I'm being too restrictive with my use of the term "art", when what I'm taking (mild, unemotional) exception to is simply dissimulation - putting something on the public stage as something with meaning, requiring interpretation, when in fact it was created as something surficial.


Still flogging the flagging horse: can one have faith but no belief?

* A friend's gender-neutral pronoun, which is just the various forms of "they" without the "th". I'm still trying to work out whether I like it, both as a word and as a concept.