Projects

rhetorical sophistication of twitter conversations

In the short story The Penal Colony, the complex concepts of justice and judgment serve as the primary theme of the story. In Colony, the last proponent of an inhumane torture device attempts to convince an outsider that the machine is an appropriate means of punishment for the condemned. Moreover, he highly advocates for the 12 hour killing process, overseen by him, explaining that it allows the condemned to enjoy up to six hours of spiritual clarity and enlightenment. Mind you, the condemned in Colony are found guilty, without receiving due process, the opportunity to offer a defense, or to be tried by a jury of their peers. The accused are condemned by the order of a single judge and all judgments are final. One memorable quote from the story is “Guilt is never to be doubted”. That’s an interesting thought considering that our current justice system directs juries to return a guilty verdict only when the proof is beyond a reason of a doubt. The former is absolute, whereas the latter leaves room for exploring the potential innocence of the accused. Justice is a popular theme amongst Twitter users and the tweets that I’ve read leads me to think that the majority of authors disagree with the current U.S. justice system and that its failures have created its own share of injustice.
One of the more popular topics currently trending is the execution of Troy Davis. Many were outraged at the apparent railroading of Mr. Davis, prosecuted and then executed despite claims of police coercion and several witnesses having recanted their testimonies. Those disgusted by the execution took to Twitter to vent their anger, such as @StrikeLowry who wrote “Back to execution…it all goes back to chain reactions. Justice system kills someone for killing someone. Justice System should die too”, I really like how the author used personification in his tweet, liking the US Justice System to a human being, in that both are fallible. Moreover, when either is found to be unjust, the system and the individual must be done away with. I’m not for capital punishment, but I am for overhauling systems that don’t work.

Other authors shared similar ill feelings about the case, but even more so about the perceived miscarriage of justice. The author @DCdebbie had this to share “Anyone who says racism is dead needs to look at our criminal justice system – Troy Davis is just the tip of the iceberg”. This writer employed a synecdoche to highlight the subtle yet pervasive problem of racism in America. At his initial trial, Davis had an all-white jury. His lawyers sought a change a venue, so as to acquire a more racially diverse jury but this request was denied by the judge. DCdebbie’s tweet emphasizes that Davis’s trial and execution is not a one-off so much as a single example of the numerous racially discriminating practices that are unfairly impacting minorities in the penitentiary system, with black men representing the greatest number of victims.

One author chooses identify a lesson to be learnt from the Troy Davis story, @Feevaleo states “If u understand the justice system, u understand the importance of spanking your kids. A spanking is equivalent to a jail sentence to a kid”. Although I don’t fully agree with what the author is saying, the last part would qualify as a metaphor. The child, much like the accused, must face his parent (the judge), plead his case (testify), be found innocent or guilty (hear the verdict), and then face his punishment (sentencing). In this case, the sentence of punishment by spanking is like imprisonment. Both can be painful to the body, mind and spirit. Although I must say that I know plenty of people who never received spankings and from what I know, none of them want to murder anybody. I also know of people who were spanked as kids and went on to do bad things. A person’s future depends on more than how they were disciplined as a youth. Now if someone would just tell this to @Feevaleo.

I found a really terrible example of a simile courtesy of @andevers who wrote “The death penalty is like a machine”. Is it like a fax machine, because sometimes those things are torturous to use. The writer failed to explain in what ways the death penalty and a machine are alike. She didn’t even bother to specify what kind of machine to which she’s referring. Despite this poorly constructed simile, I still got the point. Moreover, if I had to rework this tweet I might have written “Watching someone suffer the death penalty is like watching a patient in the dentist chair, — you hope the pain isn’t too bad, you want it to end quickly and you’re relieved that it’s not you in the chair”. I know, I know…it’s not the best, but I’m sure you’ve read worst.

Most tweets about the Davis case come from writers assured of their position. Then there was @ZachCoffey who said “I am frustrated at the lack of evidence. Not sure justice was served, but the death penalty isn’t the problem”. Choosing to use an aporia to demonstrate his confusion over whether or not justice was served is appropriate and similar to the feelings of people I’ve talked with about the trial. In Zach’s case, his concern is not the death penalty, so much as the actions that lead up to the death penalty. From his post, it’s hard to tell whether or not he’s even for the death penalty. What does seem clear is his conflicting feelings about what was too little evidence in his eyes to condemn a man, was more than enough evidence for the jury.

Digital Humanities

Wordle: in the penal colony

I feel that the Googles Ngram is a lot more effective digital humanities tool than Wordle. But both Ngram and Wordle has its own pros and cons. Ngram is very interesting in the digital world especially words and phrases that was created online. Its use can show us when a word was created and based on the timeline the words could have different meanings. Its very useful in finding trends in literature and can spot the birth and death of certain words. The english language is very interesting cause its very fluid. It isnt rigid like other languages and I think thats why Ngram is so useful because people can conjure up words and phrases. Once it gets popular enough it just becomes a part of the language and possibly go into literature.

The word traveler is an example of that. I used the American spelling of it instead of the British spelling like the one used in the book, In The Penal Colony. Based on the Ngram chart, you can see that the word traveler was going to die during the 1800s and exploded to the upside. The first leg up in the chart was due to the gold rush. It stagnated for a few years and then preceded to explode once again and based on the timing of the second leg up, I would assume that was because  the first automobile was created around that time and anyone that wanted or had one wanted to “travel”. Then the Great Depression hit America and like the stock market bubble in the 1920s, it popped and never went near its peak. This shows how Ngram can help digital humanities create correlations with the word and history.

Wordle is interesting because I have a hard time seeing it as a digital humanities tool. I see Wordle as more of a form of art through literature. The different ways you can personalize your word cloud makes this a very “fun” tool to use. From choosing different colors to rearranging the words around. One of the pros I see when using Wordle is that it is able to focus on a piece of literature and use it to see which words were frequently used. Based on when the piece of literature was written, you can get a better understanding why the use of certain words was so common.

The Ngram can show the words usage in multiple books and has a timeline while wordle is only effective if you want to check how frequent the same words pop up in a piece of document or literature. Ngrams flaw is that it can only check certain key words and show the usage and the trends but through multiple books. I see Ngram as a more effective tool for digital humanities than Wordle. I see Wordle as more of a support for Ngram and I think if both of them were used simultaneously, they can both improve each other by eliminating their flaws.

Annotated Bibliography

Ross, Jeffrey I. “Supermax Prisons.” Social Science and Modern Society. 44.3 (2007) : 60-64. Print.

This article attempts to explain the proliferation of supermax prisons in the last 40 years and the effectiveness of prisoner rehabilitation in a supermax prison environment. In general, Supermax prisons are reserved for the worst members of the prison population; those who pose a grave threat to prison workers, or because of their notoriety, must be secluded for their own safety. Supermaxes is the most regulated of all prison environments, after minimum and maximum security prisons. In supermax facilities, prisoners are confined for 23 hours each day. There is little human interaction or external stimuli for these prisoners and Ross questions the effectiveness of rehabilitation under these conditions. Ross proposes that the intent of supermax facilities is not to rehabilitate criminals but rather, supports “careerism of correctional administrators”.It’s as if Ross is comparing supermax prisons to businesses, that must attract new clients (prisoners), to keep the operations going and sustain jobs. You would think such a comparison would alarm readers, but by Ross’ own admission, the readership for this kind of literature is limited and “ that many people believe that individuals doing time are probably guilty anyway. One of the functions of justice is to ensure fairness to all, as captured in the saying, let the punishment fit the crime This article will be helpful in the development of my project because it introduces the concepts of progressive discipline and business concerns versus social concerns. In Colony, there was only one form of punishment, for all natures of crimes prosecuted in that town. Moreover, the executioner seemed very concerned with the continued use of the torture device. Could his motivation have include job security and sustaining a sense of purpose for himself? This article will help me explore both of these topics

Cole, David. “Accounting for Torture.” Nation. 3 March 2005. Web. 29 November 2011.

 This article is about the US government engaging in acts of torture during investigative proceedings. The US has avoided accountability for its actions by operating in secret, and these operations are occurring not just in the United States, but all over the world. There are some parallels between the secrecy displayed by the US government in hiding its torture practices and the secrecy behind the torture device in Colony In the book and in real life, there seems to be an interest in keeping the most despicable acts commitment by authorities, hidden from the public. In both scenarios, intel is limited to a few select individuals, all on a need to know basis. The practices are admittedly barbaric, but both parties would say the ends justify the means. This article will be useful in helping me explore the idea of transparency in the processing and handling of criminals and suspects. Should citizens be informed about the treatment of inmates, even the most incorrigible detainees, and will that awareness interfere with governments and prison officials doing their jobs.

Nifi, Awofeso. “Prisons, Jails, and the Politics of Cruelty.” American Jails. 20.6 (2007) : 69-70. Print.

This article talks about the use of torture practices throughout all of history and across civilizations. The article goes on to state that in totalitarian governments, where there essentially is no limit to governmental authority, torture is a common practice used to encourage prisoners to admit guilt or confess what information they know. The torture practices are designed to create either physical or mental duress. Some practices can inflict both types of duress. The use of torture during interrogations has always been at the center of debate, for the moral uprightness is always a question. A similar paradox is present within Colony. The traveler questions the morality of the device used in sentencing. This article will help me explore what makes the device objectionable to begin with and how society would react if such a device was in use today.

 

 

Essay to Accompany Annotated Paragraph
The following excerpt is taken from The Penal Colony
What is the sentence?” the Traveller asked. “You don’t even know that?” asked the Officer in astonishment and bit his lip . “Forgive me if my explanations are perhaps confused. I really do beg your pardon. Previously it was the Commandant’s habit to provide such explanations. But the New Commandant has excused himself from this honorable duty. However, the fact that with such an eminent visitor”—the Traveller tried to deflect the honour with both hands, but the Officer insisted on the expression—“that with such an eminent visitor he didn’t even once make him aware of the form of our sentencing is yet again something new, which. . . .” He had a curse on his lips, but controlled himself and said merely: “I was not informed about it. It’s not my fault. In any case, I am certainly the person best able to explain our style of sentencing, for here I am carrying”—he patted his breast pocket—“the relevant diagrams drawn by the previous Commandant.”

This excerpt from the Penal Colony includes an interesting dialogue between the Traveler and the Officer. For the majority of Penal Colony, the story is narrated and the characters are referred to in the third person. Here, we get a glimpse of the Officer’s personality, hearing him speak in the first person. As the only one with the knowledge on how to operate the execution device, one could project negative feelings on to the Officer and accuse him of being inhuman and sadistic. However, this exchange between him and the Traveler produces opposite feelings. The reader quickly gets the sense that the Officer is misguided and that he views the death sentence as a noble and necessary work. Immediately, as the reader, you start to feel pity for the Officer. You begin to understand how out-of-touch he is with the barbaric nature of the death sentence he imposes and that he likely experiences no guilt about the torturous pain experienced by the condemned.
One example that the Officer is misguided and confused is in his reply to the Traveler, concerning his inquiry about the device. The Officer says “Forgive me if my explanations are perhaps confused” and that the situation is “not [his] fault.” How ironic is it that the Officer requests forgiveness over something as petty as not being prepared to speak on the current execution procedure, while many of the condemned were subject to biased trials and seldom granted forgiveness or mercy. Judgment is a recurring theme throughout the story and a number of Christian-based allegories exist in this text.
One example of the Christianity comparison would be the Officer’s duty to secure the diagrams to the device, which he keeps in this breast pocket. What the significance of this? In biblical times, stories from the Hebrew Scriptures were written on scrolls and passed down to future generations. Often, someone was chosen to have the special duty of keeping the scrolls safe. The ‘protector’ of the scrolls ensured their survival so that future generations would have access to them and know the history of the Israelites and their God. In the story, the scrolls would equate to the torture device diagrams. The Officer is the ‘Protector’ and future generations would be the future Commandants or future executioners. The author’s mentioning of the diagrams being kept in the pocket is key to understanding the implications of the Officer’s role in the continued existence of the device. He himself and the diagrams represent the collective history of the apparatus. The Officer sees the device as sacred and the diagrams too, since he handles them only after washing his hands multiple times. He purifies himself before handling what he considers holy. Sadly, he participates in a most unholy work. The device’s continued use can only continue as long as the Officer lives – and in that way the Officer is not only the operator of the execution device but in a way, is an execution device too.

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