Notebook of Sand

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

What Happened Out There?
Friday, 7 May 2004 :-:

Mark Bernstein asks,

"Seriously, what happened to Lynndie England this year? Last year, she's clerking at Wal-Mart, saving money for college, joining the reserves for a little extra cash. As far as I can tell, she doesn't even show up in Google before she's getting souvenir photos of good times tormenting Iraqi prisoners. What's she been through that she'd being doing this stuff?"

(Bernstein, May 6)

I'm always rather leery about applying literature to the real world. After all, how can I be sure that fiction presents truth or even gives the right questions? But I happen to be writing a fairly in-depth paper comparing Foucault's Discipline and Punish with Conrad's Heart of Darkness. There are some strong connections.

Why do we ask questions like "what happened to Lynndie England this year?" The prevailing philosophy of our time likes to think that people are naturally nice people but can be adversely affected by our surroundings. This is why we delve into the childhood of criminals, etc etc etc. There was a time when criminals were just killed or punished, the main purpose of the law to determine guilt and mete punishment. Of course, in those times, someone like Lynndie probably wouldn't have gotten in trouble for torturing prisoners.

Where did we get this sense of "humane" treatment? What is humane anyway?

In Heart of Darkness, (arguably) Conrad puts people in strange situations, takes them from 'civilized' humanity to live in a less civilized place. When the artificial props of human society fall away, so does their illusion of a good character:

You can't understand. How could you?--with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums--how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man's untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude-- utter solitude without a policeman--by the way of silence--utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion. These little things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness. Of course you may be too much of a fool to go wrong--too dull even to know you are being assaulted by the powers of darkness.

Heart of Darkness, part two

And what do we question when people go down? We question their training. Mark again:

But in Iraq, we've got a professional, volunteer army that ought to be better trained than Napoleon's best -- we've certainly paid for that.

This is our problem, and Foucault's work points it out. Two things. First, we believe the lie about training. In a world where we try to stick up for individuality, we believe the marketing. We believe that training can create an Army of One, a collection of perfectly operating biological machines who follow orders. If someone messes up, Rumsfeld is responsible somehow, because he is the face (Big Brother? or Goldstein?) of the military. We think he directly influences everything because we believe The Lie.

Contrived systems of power like a military hierarchy, parliamentary procedure, flip-a-coin, etc, make placing blame very difficult, since blame can be distributed not only to a large number of people, but also to the system itself. And we can't quite punish the system without punishing everyone in it. Nobody wants to do that.

Perhaps the training worked too well... for in this discussion we also marvel that someone would display a gaping lack of individuality. We are shocked that someone who was working at Walmart could be torturing people a year later and not think twice about it. This is not a surprise at all. If she's your everyday conformist (working at Walmart, preparing for college), I would expect her to be someone on whom the training would work very well, someone who would want to please, someone who would use unusual torture if it was perceived needed.

If Lynndie, for example, drove an art car, I would be more surprised, since I would expect her to be more of an individual thinker. This is just a guess, but most art car drivers don't end up in the military.

I wouldn't be too much more surprised though. We make a lot of assumptions in our nice, affluent world. The lie of training is one of our more insidious errors. It's the error that says that the military is a good way to reform someone, the error that says that college is useful for producing people to work in skyscrapers as interchangeable cubicle parts. The error says that prisons for children are the best way to nurture them. If the lie were true, we wouldn't need that other instrument of discipline: the video camera. We wouldn't need surveillance, we wouldn't need bureaucracies, we wouldn't need judges, and we wouldn't need to ask the question "how?" and "why?" when things like this happen. Because they wouldn't happen.

It would be a very scary world, imho, if we could fully control a person's future moral life just through a short period of training and discipline. We can't, fortunately, but we assume we can in times like this, Clockwork Orange notwithstanding.

Scholars debate over whether the title Heart of Darkness refers to an empty moral capacity or one predisposed to evil. In the book, I would vote for emptiness. I think that is Conrad's philosophy. It is not mine. As a Christian, I realize the predisposition for evil that is even inside me. I tend to be selfish, greedy, proud, and unkind. But I have acknowledged that truth, identified the evil within (which is not inscrutable or cloaked in darkness, but very real and visible) and acknowledged my inability to remove it from my identity. I am not surprised at Lynndie's actions (not very pleased, but not surprised), because I know that I could very easily do the same things given the right circumstances. I might even enjoy it. I also know that I am capable of many equally despicable, harmful things in my current circumstances. This is not an easy thing to admit.

But I have a very real hope. I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, the only person who ever lived with a completely clean heart. He was tortured, punished, and the eternal law was satisfied on his body. And he has given me a new heart, a new nature along with the power to live a righteous life. Foucault talks about power over others, but he doesn't say much about power over one's self. God gives me the ability to choose my life, granting the power to make a fair choice between good and evil. I no longer have to be a product of my direct surroundings. I now choose righteousness.

As nice as they are, Walmart and a drill sergeant can't create morals or righteousness.

Yes, you may chide me for not being scientific. But I don't see where today's mechanical/pharmaceutical philosophy of human behavior has created systems capable of consistently reproducing results. I'm glad it doesn't. I'm glad I'm free to choose God. I'm glad He has made me free.