Facebook suppresses These Stone Walls, a Supreme Court nominee’s scarlet letter, a Catholic summer of shame, Readers’ Choice for most read post of 2018, and more.
As These Stone Walls enters its tenth year of publication, our annual “Hits & Misses” post of the year has evolved into “Cheers & Jeers.” There were too few of the former and no shortage of the latter in 2018, but I have found an equal number of both behind these stone walls. Some of our “Cheers” have been immense. Some of our “Jeers” have been burdensome, but we are still intact. I would very much like to hear your Cheers & Jeers of 2018 as well.
A CHEER: OUR FIRST FULL YEAR IN A FAR BETTER PLACE
It seems so very long ago now, but I started off the year behind These Stone Walls with “The Days of Our Lives” in January. It was an account of how we live in this new environment to which Pornchai Moontri and I were relocated late in 2017. Having now spent a full year here, it was a blessing for which I give thanks.
However, I also try not to ever lose sight of the trials and challenges of the previous 23 years, and of the fact that over 500 prisoners still live in that oppression. I have used my meager voice to advocate for using that environment for those serving shorter sentences so that no one else is forced to endure it for 23 years. That effort is hopefully gaining some traction.
Meanwhile, if you missed it you can read about our new lives here at the link above. I did learn one important lesson in writing it, however. Never name a blog post after a soap opera. If you search that title in quotes it will take you to a half-century of soap opera drama before it takes you to ours. The droll voice-over in the soap opera of the same title applies to our drama as well: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”
A JEER: FACEBOOK SUPPRESSES THESE STONE WALLS
There has been a lot of press coverage about suspicions that Facebook and Google have been suppressing conservative voices and viewpoints in newsfeeds and search results. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently made a convincing case before Congress that suppression of conservative media does not occur in Google searches. Facebook has been a lot less transparent. Among all the concerns about this social media giant, this one seems the most serious betrayal of the public trust.
The story has been highly reminiscent of the 2013 Internal Revenue Service scandal. In that debacle, IRS administrator Lois Lerner took refuge under her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than tell Congress the truth about her IRS suppression of conservative organizations applying for non-profit status. The public trust never really got to the bottom of that story.
At Facebook, experience tells the same story. Multiple posts at These Stone Walls this year saw record numbers of social media shares, especially among the world’s 2 billion Facebook users. In March, “Five Years of Pope Francis in a Time of Heresy” was shared on Facebook more than 25,000 times. In May, “Holy Orders in Exile: The Ascension of Persona Christi” was also shared more than 25,000 times. Many other posts exceeded the tens of thousands in shares by Facebook after they appeared high in users’ newsfeeds.
Then we noticed something strange. Around the middle of the year, Menlo Park, California started to show up among the top cities visiting These Stone Walls. A view of the Internet provider for those visits revealed that the source was Facebook headquarters. Suddenly, the number of Facebook users sharing TSW posts dropped off a cliff because our posts dropped to the bottom of newsfeeds.
The drop was not connected to Facebook’s public criticism for promoting “fake news” because everything written at TSW is carefully documented and supported by facts. Our most commonly cited news source is The Wall Street Journal and The Week magazine, a respected news aggregator. So the drop had to be ideological. Is it because we are Catholic? Conservative? Pro-life?
The suppression seemed to begin with a guest post (see below). Then it deepened with posts that presented an alternate view of media coverage of the abuse scandal beginning with “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Homosexual Matrix” and continued with “That Grand Jury Report on Abusive Catholic Priests” in August and September.
Anti-Catholic dissent seems to go viral on Facebook while fidelity is relegated to the bottom of the newsfeed. Regardless of the source for our suppression, my first “Jeer” of the year goes to Facebook for shamelessly using a “fake news” scare to suppress conservative voices in the public square, especially faithful Catholic ones. It was also revealed that Facebook declines pages for priests who call themselves “Father.”
A BIG CHEER: THE YEAR’S OUTSTANDING GUEST POSTS
These Stone Walls published 51 posts this year with a combined total of 127,500 words. I didn’t have nearly that much to say, so some of these – eight to be exact – were guest posts by Claire Dion, Ryan A MacDonald, Father Stuart MacDonald, David F. Pierre Jr., Saint Padre Pio (No, really! See below), Father George David Byers, and Australian husband-wife lawyers, Clare and Malcolm Farr.
Claire Dion led the pack in February. Claire is a retired hospital RN whose career had been in obstetrics. She stumbled upon These Stone Walls one day from her home in West Central Maine, and she started sharing TSW with a number of her friends. About a three-hour drive from this prison, she wrote to me one day with an overture that she would like to visit me and Pornchai Moontri.
I explained that she can be added to an approved visitor list for only one of us. I suggested Pornchai because it seemed important to me that he have an advocate in Maine for reasons that may be clear below. So when Claire filled in all the necessary paperwork and was approved to visit, I asked her to turn the visit into a guest post. Being the first woman to guest-write for These Stone Walls, the result was “My Visit with Pornchai Maximilian Moontri.”
A little side story: After Claire wrote that post from her home in Western Maine, my sister North of Boston read it and recognized Claire as the obstetrics nurse who taught her Lamaze class when she was expecting my niece, Melanie, 38 years ago.
Next, in April, came a quest post that was the seventh at TSW by this writer. Ryan A. MacDonald took on both one of my accusers and the #MeToo movement with some riveting investigative reporting in “MeToo & #HimToo: Jonathan Grover and Father Gordon MacRae.”
Our next guest post was accidental but monumental. What am I to do with the fact that the second most-read and shared post of the year was not even written by me. On the 50th anniversary of the 1968 publication of Humanae vitae by Saint Pope Paul VI, we published a guest post with mysterious origins. The post I had written for July 25, 2018, became lost in the mail somewhere between Concord, NH and Father George David Byers’ mailbox in Andrews, NC.
It was panic time, and we had nothing to post. Then Father Byers suggested “A Letter from Padre Pio to Pope Paul VI on Humanae vitae.” It was our first guest post by a patron saint, written just weeks before Padre Pio’s death in 1968. It was an amazing way to honor both Padre Pio and Humanae vitae, and readers came to it and shared it by the thousands. The Facebook suppression described in the “Jeer” above commenced a week later.
There have been other outstanding guest posts this year. Priest and Canon Lawyer, Father Stuart MacDonald, JCL, stepped up courageously to write “Last Rights: Canon Law in a Mirror of Justice Cracked.” It was a timely and soul-searching post for the whole Church about the rights of accused priests and the real-world failure of the hierarchy to secure and respect those rights. It was brilliant, and it got the attention of the Holy See and many priests. There is a feature in our ‘Share” widgets that allows you to email a post. This one was our most emailed post of the year.
The Media Report’s David F. Pierre, Jr., also stepped up this year with a riveting guest post, “Catholic Media Join the Sex Abuse Pile-On.” It requires a bit of history. The Catholic media venues that had previously published some of David’s work remained silent on this one, perhaps for obvious reasons. When I learned of this, I invited him to publish it at These Stone Walls whence it traveled far and wide.
To its great credit, The National Catholic Register’s news site, “The Big Pulpit” hosted by Tito Edwards, bravely made David Pierre’s post its featured headline. Being perhaps the nation’s most important Catholic publication, the Register’s attention to David Pierre’s critique of Catholic media was brave and honest. It takes courage and integrity to stand in critique of one’s own tribe.
There were three other guest posts, but I’ll include them in a combined “Cheer and Jeer” later in this post.
A JEER FOR MY BOMB OF THE YEAR
Then there is the least-read, least-shared, least-appreciated post of the year to which I hope you might give a second chance. It was early in February and the January thaw had not yet reached my brain. I had nothing to write about. Just nothing. So I just typed anyway and published what finally came out of my typewriter at the end of deadline day.
There are a number of prisoners who come to the library asking to read some of my posts. Several of them said that they liked that one most of all. I liked it too, and it is rare that I say that about something I have written. It had some interesting history about two women who, a decade apart in the 1950s and 1960s, shaped American television for decades to come. That post was “A Tale of Two Women. How Lucy & Lt Uhuru Changed TV.”
A CHEER THAT STARTED AS A JEER
Early in the Senate nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, I read that one of the key votes for or against his confirmation may be that of Maine Senator Susan Collins. I further read that she may vote against his nomination if he does not declare his respect for precedents as “settled law.” She was specifically addressing Roe v Wade and the political fallout for her if she voted for him and then he voted to overturn it.
In July, I wrote a post that was highly critical of Senator Collins’ reasoning. It was “Senator Susan Collins Stokes the Embers of Civil War.” It was controversial, and it circulated heavily in Washington, DC, and in Senator Collins’ home state of Maine.
That post told a story about some other examples of Supreme Court decisions that became “settled law” such as the 1857 decision in “Dredd Scott v Sanford” that defined a “right” to own slaves. Such a right never existed in the U.S. Constitution. It was implanted there by a 5-4 majority of Supreme Court judges just as a “right” to abortion was implanted by a 5-4 decision in “Roe v. Wade”. The Supreme Court later found its soul and its sanity and reversed “Dred Scott v. Sanford.”
Later, the Senate confirmation hearings for Justice Kavanaugh devolved into a shameful display of #MeToo and #BelieveSurvivors politics that threatened to become a deeply troubling precedent for future nominations. On the eve of a vote before the full Senate, Senator Collins stepped to the Senate floor and delivered a speech that single-handedly quelled the moral panic sweeping the Senate and the nation. She made some of the same points made in my post.
I don’t think I was ever prouder of a politician. Though her mind is not changed on “Roe v. Wade”, she courageously stood in the face of radical feminism and refuted its #MeToo hysteria. It was an act of sheer political bravery for which she should be commended. Then I wrote about the tragedy that almost befell Brett Kavanaugh, the same tragedy that has been the ruin of many Catholic priests: “Justice Brett Kavanaugh Is Guilty for Being Accused.”
A PARTISAN CHEER FOR THE CAST & CREW OF “ASSASSINS’ DEED”
In August we published our one and only theatrical post of the year, “Assassins’ Deed: My Stage Debut as President Donald Trump.” Need I say more? Lots of photos, but it should have been subtitled “The Hairpiece from Hell!” So many readers reported having sore ribs from laughing that I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it wasn’t a comedy.
A SIMULTANEOUS JEER & CHEER: THE MOST-READ POSTS OF THE YEAR
I was very proud of TSW readers for this, and I was shocked when the TSW traffic reports came in. The most-read post of the year was the saga of our friend, “Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night.” Readers described it as “Overwhelming,” “Explosive”, “Shattering,” and a life-changing real-world account of Divine Mercy.
This is a story of global importance for it tells of the life of a survivor of human trafficking whose life was destroyed but his soul restored. It has much to say between the lines about the sordid stories now plaguing the Catholic Church. No one can read this post and then return to an ordinary state of complacent grace.
Then the post was followed by parts two through four written through other sets of eyes. Don’t let 2018 pass without reading and sharing this most important story from These Stone Walls:
- Pornchai Moontri: Bangkok to Bangor, Survivor of the Night by Father Gordon MacRae
- When Justice Came to Pornchai Moontri, Mercy Followed by Attorney Clare Farr
- The Pain of Suffering and the Power of Forgiveness by Attorney Malcolm Farr
- Fr Gordon MacRae & Pornchai Moontri: Captives of Irony Incarnate by Father George David Byers, Missionary of Mercy
A FINAL CHEER ON SOME OTHER STONE WALL
I suppose some people would just chalk it up to mere coincidence, but that is even more implausible than other explanations. It happened on the afternoon of December 11. I was in the library ready to leave for the day when I decided on a whim to change the background of the library computer at my desk. I only had a minute, but it only takes a minute. I had the same background screen for the entire year. A click or two brought me to a list of hundreds of generic jpg graphics with no thumbnails, just list after list of numbers. So I took a chance and clicked a random number among a list of 500 or so. I had no idea what it was, but the directory was titled “Art.”
Then it was time to leave. So I clicked “select as background.” POP! There it was, and my heart skipped a beat. On the Vigil of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, there she stood, reproduced life-sized and perfectly on a wall in Mexico City. Father Byers found a thumbnail image for it and I asked that it be used atop this segment. Can I breathe now? What an end to a year of misery, of mystery, of mending hearts and souls through the Mediatrix of Grace!
Oh, and one last Cheer: for you, for being here with us behind these stone walls.
In the New Year to come…
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make His Face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift His Countenance upon you,
and give you peace. (Numbers 6:26)