Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Starting your Tuesday off with a bang

Continuing our week of interesting video clips involving dynamite - things I encountered while researching that substance for my new Western novel - here's a piece of history.

The video of a dead whale being blown up on an Oregon beach has been described as the most-viewed in history (or the fifth most viewed, depending on whose statistics you believe).  However, many of the copies of it online have been edited or 'enhanced', which spoils the fun, IMHO.

A few years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the television station that originally broadcast that footage, a presenter interviewed the reporter who'd covered the story, and played the original report exactly as it was shown at the time.

I still want to know who calculated that they needed twenty cases (!!!) of dynamite.  How on earth did someone come up with that figure?  That's a hell of a bang!  (Yes, yes, I know - it was probably some anonymous of-fish-ial somewhere!)


Monday, February 20, 2017

Busy, busy, busy

I'm really swamped at the moment, so I must apologize for the less-regular-than-usual blog posts.  So far this morning, I've:

  • Written 3,000 words for my latest novel (now at 53,000 words completed);
  • Put in about 2 hours of research for the next 2 chapters of the book;
  • Had an extended counseling session with two people trying to cope with the aftermath of a tragedy (I'm a retired pastor, remember - I may not be able to hold down a church any more, but I still do this sort of thing);
  • Answered 9 e-mails, and opened and dealt with a few dozen more.

My cup overfloweth . . . but not with blog fodder, I'm afraid.  I'll try to do better tomorrow.

Meanwhile, amuse yourself with this classic song about insanity (which fits the busy-ness of my life rather well right now!).  This version's from Old Blind Dogs, a live recording.


Starting your Monday off with a bang

In case you missed it, on Saturday I put up a teaser chapter from my new Western, the second volume in the Ames Archives and sequel to 'Brings The Lightning'.  If you haven't already read it, click over there and enjoy it.

As part of the research for this novel, I've been looking into early forms of dynamite and how it was used.  It's been very educational.  (I hope the FBI doesn't get suspicious about the Internet searches I've been doing on that subject over the past few days!)  I've learned a lot about it, as well as related areas such as fuses, blasting caps, handling precautions, etc. In particular, I've gained a new respect for those who used the stuff in those early days, before it was properly stabilized.  It had a shelf life of only up to a year, and that only if it was stored under controlled conditions and turned regularly, to stop the nitroglycerin oozing out of the sticks of dynamite and pooling or puddling at the bottom of the case.  Once that happened, or if beads of nitro formed on the sticks, it became highly unstable.  A sudden shock to the stick or case, and you'd be spread all over a couple of acres of countryside.

Old dynamite is still sometimes discovered, as my Internet searches have revealed.  Among other things, it seems a group of people with too much time on their hands needed to dispose of no less than 192 (!) sticks of it.  They did what everyone does, of course:  stuffed it all into an old Chevrolet Celebrity and set it off.  The resulting screams and shrieks of glee will gladden any redneck's heart. Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.

Boys and their toys, indeed!

I've discovered several video clips of similarly explosive shenanigans in the course of my research. I'll post one each day this week, just for fun.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pedophilia does "no lasting harm"??? Yeah, right!

Richard Dawkins, well known for his militant atheism, has really put his foot in it this time.

In a recent interview with the Times magazine, Richard Dawkins attempted to defend what he called “mild pedophilia,” which, he says, he personally experienced as a young child and does not believe causes “lasting harm.”

Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts,” and that to condemn this “mild touching up” as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.

. . .

Child welfare experts responded to Dawkins’ remarks with outrage — and concern over their effect on survivors of abuse.

There's more at the link.

All I can say is, as a pastor and clinical counselor, I've had a great deal of experience trying to help the victims of pedophiles. Many went on to become pedophiles themselves - a cycle that carries on down the centuries, if you go back far enough.  Others have had their confidence in themselves destroyed, their ability to love and be love corroded, and their lives ruined.

I'm a strong believer in the rule of law.  I've worked inside the criminal justice system to help promote the rule of law.  Nevertheless, if there's any one sin or crime that cries out to Almighty God for vengeance, it's pedophilia.  In the words of Jesus himself:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

You can debate, if you wish, whether those words were meant to include pedophilia, or merely other types of offence.  Personally, I have little doubt.  No, scratch that - I have no doubt.  If a pedophile were caught in flagrante delicto, I would have few or no moral qualms if the parents of the child concerned executed him on the spot.  I think there'd be little or no sin in that;  in fact, I could make a strong case for it being the justice of an outraged God.

Pedophiles can't be cured.  Time after time that's been tried, and failed miserably.  They can only be prevented from committing their crimes, either by incarcerating them where they can't get at children, or by executing them.  Harsh?  Yes, it is harsh.  Having seen too many children's innocence destroyed by pedophiles, my feelings towards the latter are very harsh indeed!  Right now, I'm not feeling particularly charitable towards Mr. Dawkins, either . . .


Fixing the State Department - and the left-wing spin

It looks like the Augean Stables at the State Department are, at long, long last, being cleaned out . . . but you'd never know it from the mainstream media.  For example, here's how CBS News reported it.

Much of [the] seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed.

These staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.

There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats.

. . .

... State Department officials ... hope that Mr. Tillerson - who had a long career as Exxon Mobil’s CEO -  will bring his worldly experience and management to a building that has been demoralized by the Trump administration’s antipathy toward multilateralism and cavalier approach to diplomacy.

. . .

While positions are often reshuffled during transitions and those perceived as politically-oriented are moved aside, the departures leave the positions vacant at a time of global instability.

. . .

“It is irresponsible to let qualified, nonpartisan, experienced people go before you have any idea of their replacement. You can’t do foreign policy by sitting in the White House, just out of your back pocket,” explains Tom Countryman, Former Assistant Secretary for Non-Proliferation who was let go earlier this month. Countryman worries that the White House is displaying an intent [to] not rely on the State Department for foreign policy in that no one will be in place to challenge the edicts drawn up in the Oval Office.

There's more at the link.

Wow, just look at all the negativity!  This is clearly a disaster for US foreign relations . . . or is it?  Let's pick a few comments and respond to them.

"... some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making ...".  It's certainly a purge - and it's long overdue!  It was senior State Department officials who referred to themselves as a 'shadow government', when, in fact, they are (constitutionally and legally) nothing of the sort.  I've heard many military officers refer to the State Department in (to put it as politely as possible) disparaging terms.  Their view may be summed up as, "We went there to win, they went there to make sure the other side won".  I've heard that perspective on Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, and a lot more.  I daresay some of my readers have more direct experience in that regard.  As for 'expertise', that's debatable.  I've worked in many countries in Africa where I've had contact with representatives from US embassies, consulates and other official bodies.  I can't say I've been particularly impressed by their expertise about those countries or regions . . . in fact, I often got the impression they believed all that was necessary was to improve hygiene, bring in US-style democracy, and promote abortions!

"... many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats."  How is this a problem?  The professional diplomats have screwed up rather spectacularly in the past (they've also had some successes, admittedly).  Who's to say that the White House, using its own carefully selected team, can't do as well?  I don't see any reason.  The current Secretary of State has no diplomatic background whatsoever, but a great deal of international business experience.  Does that mean he'll be less effective in that role than a 'professional diplomat' would?  (The same question might be asked about the previous Secretary of State as well.)

"... the Trump administration’s antipathy toward multilateralism and cavalier approach to diplomacy."  Blinkered perspective, anyone?  Who says the current Administration has a 'cavalier approach to diplomacy'?  That's an accusation, not a news report!  Anti-Trump bias at work again . . .

"... the departures leave the positions vacant at a time of global instability."  Ooh!  Panic stations!  Except . . . what difference would it make if those positions weren't vacant?  Would it make the globe any less unstable?  No?  Then why is it a problem?  Instability is a fact of life in diplomacy.  Some countries, and some people, handle it better than others.  Based on the State Department's track record, I venture to guess that it's not among them, whether or not all its bureaucratic positions are filled.

As for Mr. Countryman's comments, he was appointed to his Cabinet-level position by President Obama.  As a political appointee, of course he'd be let go, and replaced by someone chosen by the current Administration, just as is normal whenever the Presidency changes hands.  He might even be expected to resent losing his job and the status it provided, and he might possibly be expected to express that resentment through the content and tone of his comments about the Administration that removed him.  However, you don't see CBS News telling us any of that, do you?  Furthermore, Mr. Countryman was appointed to his position precisely in order to ensure that 'edicts drawn up in the Oval Office' (by President Obama) were implemented in and by the State Department.  If that was in order for the previous President, why isn't it in order for the current President to do likewise?

This is yet another example of the relentless drumbeat of criticism directed by the 'establishment' (which includes most of the news media) against President Trump.  When you deconstruct most of the negative articles like this, it's amazing how much bias and subjective vitriol emerges.

I suggest that reports in the mainstream media about anything to do with the current Administration should be regarded as unreliable until proven otherwise.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A sample from my second Western novel

I'm hard at work on the second book in the Ames Archives, my Western series.  I won't give away the plot, but it's a lot more involved than the first book, 'Brings The Lightning'.  That was basically the story of how my protagonist, Walter Ames, made it from Tennessee to Colorado after the Civil War.  In this volume, he runs into a lot of trouble with a stock theft syndicate.  There's robbery, arson, murder and mayhem galore.

I've just finished the first half of the book, which culminates in a tragic gunfight, setting the stage for vengeance in the second half.  To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from midway through the first half.  It's set in a mining town high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

    Walt looked around the cantina as he mopped up the last of the savory, spicy enchilada sauce with a piece of tortilla, and popped it into his mouth. The room wasn’t large. Its four tables were all occupied with eager diners. Other men stood at the bar, glasses of beer and tequila in front of them. Several young and not-so-young women circulated, bearing trays and glasses. A hubbub of conversation in Spanish filled the smoky air. He and Isom were the only non-Mexicans there.
    Walt chewed slowly, swallowed, then sighed with repletion. “Man, this is only the second day we’ve eaten here, but I already feel like I’m gettin’ fat! If I could figure out how to hire Rosa’s cook away from her, I swear I would. This is the best Mex food I’ve tasted in years.”
    “It’s pretty good,” Isom mumbled through a mouthful of burrito. “Trouble is, Rosa would probably shoot you if you tried.”
    “I certainly would, señor,” a woman’s voice said behind them. Walt looked up to see Rosa standing there, a slight smile on her face. “I value my cook.”
    “Rosa, you must have ears as sharp as an eagle’s eyes, to hear what we were sayin’ over the noise in here!” Walt waved his hand around the cantina.
    “It is my business to hear things of interest to me, señor. However, if you want a good Mexican cook, I can find you one. You hire him for your house?”
    “I’m goin’ to be settin’ up a horse ranch near Pueblo. I reckon on buyin’ breedin’ stock in Mexico, an’ also hirin’ some of their mesteñeros to catch wild horses, then break and train them. I reckon they’ll prefer their own kind o’ food. The rest of us will, too, if it’s as good as yours.”
    “You sound like a man of importance, señor.”
    “I dunno ’bout that. I’m just tryin’ to build my business, that’s all. I did well in Denver, an’ now I’m investin’ the proceeds.”
    “You must have done well, to talk so freely about buying horses south of the border. Good breeding stock is expensive. So is hiring your own team of mesteñeros. Such skills don’t come cheap.”
    “I did all right.”
    “He owns a freight company, too,” Isom told her. “He’s a good man to work for.”
    “Indeed? Well, señor, when your horse ranch is ready, send word to me. I shall find a good cook for you – for a small fee, of course.”
    “I never mind paying for good service, or for other things I need. I can be real generous.” Walt laid a gold double eagle on the table. “That’s for starters.”
    Her eyebrows rose as she picked up the twenty-dollar coin, hefting it in her hand. “We do not often see one of these in here, señor.”
    “You get me what I need – not just a cook – and you’ll see more of them.”
    “Indeed? What else are you needing, señor?”
    “Information. I –”
    Walt was interrupted as the batwing doors slammed back, and a big, burly man stalked through them. His gait was unsteady, as if he’d already had more than a few drinks and was feeling their effects. He was dark-haired, with a big, bushy beard. His grubby, stained checkered shirt was tucked into black trousers that fell to mud-stained boots. A revolver was holstered at his right side, balanced by a long-bladed knife on his left. He was followed by what looked like a younger version of himself, dressed and armed in the same style, also not very steady on his feet.
    Rosa hissed in anger, and started forward. The men at the bar looked around, then backed hurriedly away from the new arrivals as the bartender lowered his hands out of sight behind it.
    Walt pushed back his chair, and murmured to Isom, “Stand by for trouble.”
    “Got it.” Isom gently moved his chair back as well, to give himself room to move.
    Rosa stepped in front of the burly man, arms akimbo, fists clenched. “I told you not to come back here, Señor Furlong!”
    “Aw, shaddup, Rosa!” the man slurred, trying to focus his drink-sodden eyes on her. “I gotta wait here in town for a reply to a telegraph message, an’ I want someone to keep me warm ’till then. Here – I’ll pay.” He fumbled in his pocket.
    Rosa exploded with rage. “You hurt my girl last time! She couldn’t work for two weeks! No more of them for you! You get out of here, and take your son with you!”
    “Aw, you’re cute when you’re angry. Maybe I’ll take you tonight instead!” Bart’s hand shot out and grabbed her right breast, squeezing. Rosa’s eyes bugged out and she yelled in pain, pulling back, trying to free herself.
    The bartender lifted his hands above the bar. They were holding a sawn-off double-barreled shotgun. He began to swing it into line, but Walt was faster. He threw himself forward, drawing his right-hand revolver, lifting it, then chopping down with vicious force, clubbing Bart over the head with the butt of the gun. The man collapsed as if he’d been pole-axed.
    Isom was right behind him. As the younger man staggered unsteadily, reaching for his holstered revolver, the teamster grabbed his shoulder, spun him around, and launched a haymaker that came around with all the weight of his body behind it. It landed on the side of the man’s jaw with an audible crunching sound. His victim flew sideways, crashing into the wall with an impact that shook the room. He hung there limply for a moment, then toppled forward to land face-down on the floor.
    “Thank you, señor,” Rosa said, rubbing her breast absently, her eyes on the revolver in Walt’s hand. “You are very fast with that.”
    “I get by,” Walt said shortly, holstering the gun and looking round at Isom. “I heard something break – not your hand, I hope?”
    “Naw,” the other replied, massaging his knuckles with his left hand. “I think it was his jaw.”
    Walt bent over and rolled the younger man onto his back. Sure enough, his jaw was bent sideways. “Yeah, you got him good. He won’t be eatin’ steak for a while.”
    He straightened up and looked around. All the customers in the cantina were on their feet, eyes wide, staring in stunned silence at the scene. Walt said, “You don’t want trouble with this man when he wakes up. None of you were here tonight. You saw nothing, you heard nothing, you know nothing. Understand?”
    Everyone nodded solemnly.
    “Right. On your way.”
    The onlookers hurried out. Most stepped over or around the recumbent men, but a few trod on them, very deliberately. One spat in Bart Furlong’s face.
    Walt waited until all the customers had left, then looked at Rosa. “I don’t want them to remember anything about us, or even how they got hurt tonight. Can you fix that?”
    She gazed at him expressionlessly. “I don’t know what you mean, señor.”
    “Oh, come on, Rosa! I’m sure you’ve had to deal with rowdy drunks before. Don’t tell me someone in your line of work doesn’t have a bottle of chloral hydrate stashed behind the bar!”
    She nodded slowly. “Yes, I have.”
    “Then put a good dose of it in two glasses of tequila – not too much, mind; we don’t want to kill them – an’ make ’em drink it. Hold their noses until their mouths open, then pour it into them, bit by bit. Make sure they swallow it. That’ll knock ’em out for the rest of the night. Once they’ve drunk it, dump ’em down by the creek. It’s warm enough that they should be all right there overnight. They won’t remember much when they wake up in the morning.”
    “I would rather dump them in the creek, señor – face down. I would prefer that they don’t wake up at all.”
    Walt shook his head. “Too risky. Even if your customers don’t talk, someone may have seen them come in here.”
    “I suppose you are right,” she sighed.
    “I am. Besides,” and he grinned nastily, “I’d like them to live a while longer, to savor the misfortune that befell them tonight.”
    “You mean, being knocked out like this?”
    “No, I mean the fire that burned their place to the ground.”
    “What fire – oh!” Her eyes sparkled with sudden, savage glee.
    “That’s right. If this is Bart Furlong an’ his son, a bunch of his boys stole some of my horses the other night, an’ killed one of my men. They didn’t know who I was, or they wouldn’t have done that. They won’t be doing it again. I came up here to find out who gave the orders. I reckon he needs to be taught a lesson, and I know just how to drive it home.”
    “What if he finds out who you are, señor? He is a bad enemy.”
    “So am I, Rosa. I can be the best friend you’ll ever have, or your worst nightmare. Take your pick. Furlong’s already made his choice, by what he did.”
    “You know… I think I believe you, señor,” she murmured, staring at him intently.
    “Keep an eye on him. If he finds out who I am, or he’s fixin’ to try to get even with me, warn me. Send a letter or a rider if you have time; if you don’t, send a telegraph message sayin’ that Pedro is comin’ down the mountain to see me. I’ll know what it means.”
    “I will do that, señor, and I will ask others to tell me if they hear anything.”
    Walt took out his notebook, scribbled a few lines, tore out the page, and handed it to Rosa. “You can reach me there.” He took a coin purse from his pocket, extracted five double eagles, and laid them on the bar counter. The bartender’s eyes, and those of the four women waiting on tables, bugged out at the sight of the gold. “This is to make up for the trade you lost tonight, and for your trouble. Keep me informed of anything I need to know, and there’ll be more where that came from.”
    She scooped up the money. “You are very generous, señor.” Her eyes and voice turned coy. “Will you come back tonight? We have reason to be grateful to you; and for a man who pays so well, many pleasures can be arranged – for his friend, too.” She glanced at Isom.
    He laughed. “No, we’ll head out after we pay a visit to Mr. Furlong’s place. How do I get there?” Rosa gave rapid directions. “Thanks. Look after those two for me – and don’t hurt ’em more than they are already. You don’t want ’em lookin’ for evens with you, too.”
    “We will be careful, señor. Thank you.”
    “Thank you, Rosa. If you need anything shipped up from Pueblo, remember, my freight business will haul it for you at good rates.”
    “I will use your services, señor, and tell others about them. It will be a good way to get regular messages to you.”
    “Yes, it will.” Walt turned to Isom. “Come on, let’s get our gear and collect the horses.”

That's very much a first draft, unedited and unimproved.  I'm sure it'll be polished under the guidance of Castalia House before publication.

I'm having a lot of fun writing this book.  I hope you'll enjoy it too.


Top-down versus bottom-up - how President Trump won the election

An article in the Daily Beast gave me pause for thought.

It is difficult to overstate just how enraged state Democratic activists and leaders are with Organizing for Action (OFA), the political and community-organizing army that grew out of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

The nonprofit, which functions as a sort of parallel-Democratic National Committee, was founded to mobilize Democratic voters and supporters in defense of President Obama’s, and the Democratic Party’s, agenda. Instead, the organization has drawn the intense ire, both public and private, of grassroots organizers and state parties that are convinced that OFA inadvertently helped decimate Democrats at the state and local level, while Republicans cemented historic levels of power and Donald J. Trump actually became leader of the free world.

These intra-party tensions aren’t going away, especially now that OFA “relaunched” itself last week to protect the Affordable Care Act, boost turnout at congressional townhalls, and train grassroots organizers gearing up for the Trump era.

“This is some GRADE A Bullshit right here,” Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, wrote in a private Democratic-listserv email obtained by The Daily Beast.

. . .

The decimation of the Democratic Party during, and leading up to, the Age of Trump is not, however, any single organization’s fault. The DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign raised many times more money than OFA for the 2016 cycle, and that didn’t stop President Trump, either.

To the defeated and angry liberal activists and operatives, OFA is just one of several “devils”—one that is emblematic of large-scale institutional problems.

“We’ve seen over the last eight-plus years a deterioration of permanent state infrastructure,” one red-state Democratic operative, who requested anonymity, said. “And OFA built an alternative infrastructure that was very top-down. OFA’s actions were wasteful, duplicative, and it made no sense… There were these tensions on the ground that we saw that all over the country. Local officials felt tossed aside. A lot of these red states were abandoned. The OFA model was never a 50-state strategy—it was about the president’s agenda.”

. . .

“I don’t know what the mission is with the new OFA, what the purpose is supposed to be,” Jaime Harrison told The Daily Beast. “There are a lot of these various [outside] groups… and if having all these other groups means diminishing the impact of state parties, that’s where I have a problem. We need to figure out the best path forward. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean a world without OFA, but… we have to focus on rebuilding the party across the board, not just focusing on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

There's more at the link.

When you think about it, that's the opposite of how President Trump won the 2016 elections.  He didn't have a top-down structure at all - in fact, he defeated every candidate put up by the Republican Party's top-down structure.  He mobilized the grass-roots, the 'forgotten people' that both political parties ignored.  He's still doing that.  If you look at the opinion polls, for all that the press and the 'establishment' fulminate against him, try to undermine him, and seek to put obstacles in his path at every turn, he maintains a better-than-50% approval rating.  That's because the grass-roots know that he came out of their ranks, with their votes;  and he's cemented their loyalty by doing, in his first few weeks in office, precisely what he promised them he'd do.

Indeed, the efforts by the 'establishment' to stop the President's program in its tracks, and overturn his executive actions, are merely confirming to the grass-roots why they voted for him.  He's doing what they want.  The 'establishment' is trying to stop it.  Therefore, the 'establishment' is against the grass-roots, and must be destroyed.  That's their mood right now, and that's why they're not being turned off by the deluge of negative propaganda in which the 'establishment' is seeking to drown President Trump.

If the Democratic Party wants to regain the White House - much less the House and Senate - it had better wake up and smell the grass-roots coffee.  It's already lost a lot of support from union households, a foundational element of its constituency.  As Mark McDermott (himself a Democrat) put it, 'The Democratic Party is losing the working class'.  If that takes root, it'll be out of power for generations.

Top-down just won't cut it with the grass-roots or the working class.  It has to be bottom-up . . . or you'll forfeit their support.  OFA - a top-down organization if ever there was one - hasn't figured that out yet.


Friday, February 17, 2017


A tip o' the hat to SayUncle for finding this gem.

Boys and their toys, indeed!


Doofus Of The Day #950

Today's award goes to the members of the House of Clergy of the Church of England.  A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for sending me the link.

THE Church of England’s crucial vote on gay marriage has been thrown into chaos after some clergy claimed they “got confused” and “pressed the wrong button”.

The Church’s legislative body voted last night against a report that calls for continued opposition to same-sex marriage.

. . .

Now some clergy have come forward saying they made a mistake when using their voting machines, and that they actually supported their colleagues’ report.

. . .

Other members said that they had voted the wrong way because they thought they were voting on a point of procedure.

There's more at the link.

I tend to take such excuses with a grain (or, in this case, a whole damn shaker) of salt.  I think they voted because they're liberals at heart, and now they're trying to appease the more conservative members of the Church.

Regardless, the House of Clergy just voted against the traditional, Biblical perspective on marriage.  If that can be taken as representative, methinks the Church of England is well on its way to becoming just another reflection of secular society, which doesn't seem to believe in anything except "If it feels good, do it!"


Twitter is becoming an 'Orwellian nightmare'

Forbes has a worthwhile analysis of Twitter's latest moves towards open, outright censorship of its users.

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue  hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

. . .

The question of censoring speech versus ideas is not an idle one ... the mere possibility ... is absolutely frightening from the standpoint of freedom of expression in the United States. Here in the US it has been a long-standing tradition that any citizen may criticize their elected officials even in strong terms without the risk of being silenced. Even legal concepts like libel make special accommodation for accusations against public figures like politicians that bear on their official duties. However, in some countries criticism of the government is actually illegal and can result in harsh prison sentences even for a first offense.

If Twitter really did suspend a user for criticizing a politician and exercising his free speech rights to argue that he believes that that politician broke the law, that presents a truly frightening dystopian 1984 world in which criticism of the state could be simply wiped from existence. Imagine anyone who posted any comments critical of an elected official being suspended from Twitter and potentially banned outright with all their posts deleted. It is not hard to imagine governments throughout the world exploring how they, too, could force Twitter to eliminate critical speech and given that Twitter now has a production deployed tool, it can no longer argue that adding such filters would pose insurmountable technical challenges.

In short, while better than previous efforts, the way in which Twitter has rolled out this new system and the potential for its abuse by governments, companies and others to stifle legitimate criticism has opened Pandora’s box and moved us a giant leap towards the end of free speech just when we need it more than ever.

There's more at the link.

I note that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, is the same individual who spoke of observing, among his company's users, "A lot of the same patterns we’ve seen during the Iranian Green Revolution and the Arab Spring".  He's an out-and-out opponent of President Trump and anything other than progressive, far-left-wing political causes.  Last year he appointed a 'Trust and Safety Council', almost exclusively made up of progressive fellow-travelers, to help "ensure people can continue to express themselves freely and safely on Twitter".  The actions of that council have done nothing to inspire confidence that free speech is their goal.  Indeed, one critic has gone so far as to call it an 'Orwellian nightmare'.

What's striking isn't just that there may be a political bias in those decisions. The more serious problems are a lack of due process and explanation, and a striking imbalance between what happens to semi-prominent Twitter personalities and the countless run-of-the-mill Twitter trolls who are still at large ... The Trust and Safety Council can't actually protect users from abuse; its only power is stop controversial users from issuing controversial opinions on Twitter.

It appears Twitter supports free speech from only the left side of the political, social and cultural aisle.  Centrists are, at best, tolerated.  Those to the right are 'throttled', 'shadowbanned', censored, or kicked off Twitter altogether.  One report claimed:

Twitter maintains a ‘whitelist’ of favoured Twitter accounts and a ‘blacklist’ of unfavoured accounts. Accounts on the whitelist are prioritised in search results, even if they’re not the most popular among users. Meanwhile, accounts on the blacklist have their posts hidden from both search results and other users’ timelines.

Our source was backed up by a senior editor at a major digital publisher, who told Breitbart that Twitter told him it deliberately whitelists and blacklists users. He added that he was afraid of the site’s power, noting that his tweets could disappear from users’ timelines if he got on the wrong side of the company.

Again, more at the link.

Twitter may claim that it isn't bound by the First Amendment, because it's a private corporation, not a government entity.  In that it is, of course, quite correct.  Nevertheless, its actions demonstrate that it is not only not bound by the First Amendment, but that it holds it in contempt.  It openly boasts about its efforts to stifle free speech under the guise of taking action against 'abuse and harassment'.  Those efforts are clearly and visibly applied, for all the world to see, against only one side of the political spectrum.  As far as Twitter is concerned, it appears that abuse and harassment, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder - namely, the company itself.  Truth and objectivity are irrelevant.

That's why I won't use Twitter.  I regard the company as completely untrustworthy.  I've switched to the new startup Gab instead, which emphasizes free speech at all costs, eschewing censorship as a corporation and leaving it up to individual users to self-censor what they would, or would not, like to see.  Furthermore, the company openly undertakes to never censor any speech except "illegal activity, spam and abuse", which are clearly and openly defined for all the world to see.  There are no 'secret clauses' or gotchas.  That's the way it should be, IMHO.


(P.S.:  If you're on Gab, follow me at @PeterG.)