Natalie’s fight against censorship

This one’s been sitting in the draft folder for a while, and I wanted to get it out there before it got too stale.

This one’s based on a first hand account. The blog, appropriately enough, is entitled “Where are we going & why are we in this handbasket.” It’s a bit too long for a domain name, so the blogger, Natalie Munroe, simply titles it under her real name.

As chronicled in the entry “Bloggate- Day 1: The Scandal Begins”, Natalie describes what she thought would be a typical day at work as a teacher. It wound up being anything but typical, as she would be suspended from her job and escorted off the premises well before lunchtime.

And it’s all about some blog posts which the parents of students at Natalie’s school. To her credit, Natalie did try to maintain some anonymity, as she states:

When I wrote, I kept things as anonymous as possible; I know there are crazies out there and I didn’t want anyone trying to track me down. I blogged as “Natalie M” and had no location information or email address or anything listed or accessible. Nor did I ever mention where I worked or the names of students. Yet, there’s this perception that I was trying to lambaste everyone in the school without heed. That’s bollocks.

These are reasonable precautions in unreasonable times. I should note that Natalie’s blog used to be at a address which did not contain her last name. She goes on to state, in detail, just how big the injustice is:

What bothers me so much about this situation is that what I wrote is being taken out of context. Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work. Of the 24 that mentioned it, only some of them were actually focused on it–others may have mentioned it in passing, like if I was listing things that annoyed me that day and wrote without any elaboration that students were annoying that day.

Natalie goes on to name specific instances of parts of her post being taken out of context, and selectively misinterpreted. All in the name of censorship, of kicking a suspended teacher when she’s down, of “train wreck” news coverage. Over a few blog posts, probably numbering in the single digits. Some of which were clearly intended as humor!

I can understand why Natalie took down all of her previous blog posts (some of which are still archived elsewhere). It’s still irritating to me that someone can, in effect, censor an entire blog with an attack on one’s livelihood that is probably unwarranted.

All because Natalie exercised her First Amendment rights, and some parents didn’t like it.

The article which came out right after Natalie’s suspension contains a quote from Natalie that really hits home for me (edited for brevity, emphasis added):

I love to write, […] I need to write. That’s what I do. I don’t think that, as a teacher, with or without the scandal surrounding, I should not be allowed to do something that everybody else is allowed to do.

I concur. It is wrong to deny almost anyone the right to blog unless it directly jeopardizes one’s job. I can see, for example, not allowing undercover CIA operatives to blog from the middle of a foreign country (though, I will admit, it’s possible a blog can be part of their cover). Leaking trade secrets or information which could directly jeopardize one’s employer’s operations is obviously out of bounds.

But based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Natalie did anything to justify being suspended from her job.

And earlier in the story, Natalie’s attorney had plenty to say as well.

Steve Rovner, Munroe’s attorney, said the school district has “no basis for firing her.”

“The school district has its power and authority and protections through the law. […] They can’t hire and fire anyone at will,” he said.

“They do not have an Internet policy. They specifically do not have a no-blogging policy. She did not do anything wrong that would give them cause to fire her.”

And he goes on to say that other teachers have censored their blogs as well in the wake of this. The chilling effect is obvious, and given the already pathetic pay rate of teachers across the board in this country, one would hope we as a society have better things to do than discourage teachers from blogging.

Indeed, from earlier in the story, comes this quote:

The posts people are talking about the most are more than a year old. Munroe said: “I really think that somebody dug it up on purpose to raise trouble. And now it has.”

I’d like to know what parent has this kind of time, to go digging up dirt on their child’s teachers like this. It just really burns me up that a disgruntled parent (or possibly even a disgruntled student) would target a teacher like this to begin with.

I wish Natalie the best and hope this is resolved in a favorable manner to her.

“And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice”

I’m so glad we have people to help bring things like this to light. Remember, these are your tax dollars at work.

Mark Bennett recently blogged about an email he received from a source he identifies only as Mr. X. In it, several “competitions” for the assistant district attorneys are announced. I’ll quote just one of them here so you can get an idea what I’m talking about (I’ve left typos/spacing/punctuation errors intact):

Trial Court Award
If a court tries and completes THREE jury trials in a single week, the prosecutors in that court can comp. out by lunch time the following Friday. It is encouraged that the members of the court do something together….lunch, movie, bowling. Who will cover their court in their absence…keep reading. The court (that has a 2 and a 3) that does not try any cases the same week the winning court(s) tries three cases, will have to cover the duties for the winning court. If all courts , that have a 2 and a 3, try cases it will be up to Justin, Rachel, and I to cover. We have excluded five courts from this competition for equity purposes.

The email concludes with a paragraph starting with the quotation I chose for the title:

And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice. Hopefully this will allow us to have some fun while we strive to achieve it…..

I don’t know how getting the most trials done inside of a week is about justice. Mark is right on when he rips the DA’s office for what he calls “summer-camp contests” and a “fratboy game.” I concur with Mark’s opinion here, and hope that we can shine more light on what is at best a dubious “contest” among attorneys we pay with our tax dollars to achieve justice. And justice is not always about getting the most convictions, or getting through the most trials in a week.

Mark also links to a post from 2009 March about trying “whales” or cases the prosecution thinks are sure wins (“Whales are cases that the State thinks it couldn’t possibly lose–like shooting whales in a barrel.”). Seriously, if the assistant DAs need to take cases like this to trial (especially if a defendant is willing to plead guilty) then I’m uncomfortable with such assistant DAs practicing with real cases. They need to go back to law school and get their practice in moot court.

Just because it’s tasteless doesn’t make it child porn

This is one of those stories. The kind that gets my blood boiling. The kind where I read it, take a step back from the computer, pour myself another glass of my beverage of the evening (tonight, it happens to be iced tea), shake my head, and say “Wow.”

Dr. Marty Klein’s blog Sexual Intelligence features this story of Evan Emory. Evan did something that, in all honesty, is patently devoid of anything resembling good taste or decency. Frankly, typical college fraternity exploits are in better taste than this.

From Dr. Marty’s article (by the way, in keeping with my convention of referring to the “good guys” by first names, I hope nobody minds if I call him that):

Last month, Evan received permission to play a song for a first-grade class. Under the watchful eye of their teacher, Evan sang “Lunch Lady Land” and, with school permission, videotaped the event. So far, everyone wins.

This stupid jackass goes home, edits the video, and splices in shots of himself singing sexually explicit lyrics, so it looks like he’s singing that to the kiddies. The lyrics, by the way, are not about them. He apparently thinks it’s hilarious–sophomoric humor on steroids. Three days ago he puts it up on YouTube with the disclaimer that “no actual children have been exposed” to the song.

The blog post goes on to state that Evan has been charged with, in essence, making kiddie porn, and is facing 20 years in prison. And this is the part I take exception to. As tasteless as this as, I don’t think he should be subject to criminal sanctions. Has he entered the “I deserve to have the pants sued off of me by angry parents” zone? Most definitely. Does his reputation deserve to be tarnished for a good long while? Damn right.

Does Evan deserve to be tagged “child pornographer” and get stuck checking the “yes” box next to “have you been convicted or pled guilty or no contest to a felony?” on job applications for the rest of his life? No way.

I’ll relay the best personal anecdote I have here. My late grandfather (he passed away in 2002) was an avid photographer. We had a trailer out in the country where we’d go on some weekends, which was a good three-hour drive from Houston. (We were able to receive Austin and San Antonio TV stations, if that helps give you an idea of about where it was.)

Anyway, one of the aftermarket modifications to this semi-permanently-parked trailer was a porch built around two sides. We’ll call them the north and east sides, with the front door on the north side. On the east side, there was a water spigot that extended some couple of feet above the porch. Just the perfect height.

So my grandfather got the idea to do some trick photography. He had me pose in front of the spigot and cup my hand about crotch-high, with my pants still on and zipped up. With the spigot turned on, a picture taken from the right angle would look like I was urinating, with the spigot and pipe leading to it nowhere in sight. (And, I might add, with an unrealistic stream for someone my age.)

I’m not sure what became of the picture, and yes, I will admit it was in pretty poor taste. But I thought it was hilarious, and I’m assuming my grandfather did too. The drug store photo clerk probably got a chuckle or three as well. (This is back when we still had Eckerd drugstores, which incidentally is quite probably where he took this roll to be developed.) I don’t consider myself abused from this incident. Not in the least. We made a picture together that was as funny as hell, even if my grandmother and whatever other relatives that saw it disapproved.

The only reason I can tell this story today is because my grandfather can’t possibly face any legal action for it, having passed away some eight years and change ago. And I think that’s sad. But to answer the question I know some of you are asking, no, I don’t think he would have posted it to Flickr, at least not as publicly viewable.

And of course, I wouldn’t dare take a similar trick photography picture of my kids today. It is a shame that we as a society have literally gone crazy with the passange and enforcement of sex-related laws. In fact, there are so many silly laws based solely on intent, solely on “he/she thought it was a minor, therefore he/she is guilty.”

It’s a real shame otherwise good people like Evan Emory find themselves facing felony charges, for things that in all honesty shouldn’t be crimes. And again, this shouldn’t be a crime. Ripe fodder for a barrage of civil suits, yes, but not a crime.

Again, Dr. Marty hits it on the head:

Which child was sexually abused? None.

What harm has any child experienced? None.

If any child has been “harmed,” has that child been “sexually abused?” No.

So, two points in conclusion.

Even though he does not deserve a felony conviction for it, and I honestly hope the charges are dropped, shame on Evan Emory.

However, the real villians here are the superintendent, John B. VanLoon; the principal, Lowell Whitaker; and prosecutor, who curiously is not mentioned by name in any of the news stories I was able to dig up. They deserve a much bigger “shame on you.” At least ten times as big, if not a hundred. So, shame on Mr. Whitaker, Mr. VanLoon, and the still-anonymous Muskegon County prosecutor. And shame on everyone who wants to see Evan get a criminal conviction on a charge he does not deserve.

A “number 1” ranking Houston can do without

CNBC recently reported on the worst speed-trap cities in the US. Houston was at the top of the list, which was enough to get KHOU-TV (our local CBS affiliate) to pick up on the story. CNBC used the website for the raw data to generate the rankings.

It’s a topic I’ve visited before on this blog when KTRK exposed a very dubious speed trap on Shepherd Drive near I-10. CNBC refers to this investigation in the caption showing Houston (it’s a shot of I-10 near downtown on a stretch of freeway closed for some reason, as one of the HPD officers is facing the wrong way). I remember my blog post about this story as one of the rare occasions I had something really good to say about a law enforcement officer; specifically, Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino. (To be fair, he wasn’t very flattering towards HPD in his comments.)

Anyway, suffice it to say this is another area of distinction which Houston would do well to shy away from. I am reminded of Houston making the top of the “fattest cities” list (as compiled by Men’s Fitness magazine) back in 2001 through 2003. And I will admit at the time my figure was more voluminous than I would have liked (suffice it to say, I need not have worried about picking up the nickname “slim”). And it still is a bit, but I have lost at least one pants size since then (today I usually wear size 40, then I wore size 42).

Unfortunately, for this particular problem, I can’t really help out, except to raise awareness. And no, the problem is not motorists with heavy right feet. The problem is greedy local governments, and police departments willing to write tickets for the dubious “crime” (okay, technically it’s an “infraction”) of exceeding an arbitrary posted limit. Which, by the way, is usually set below the maximum safe speed. In some cases, quite far below.

Examples of underposted speed limits in the Houston area that come to mind (biased a bit towards my neighborhood and roads I currently travel or formerly traveled with frequency):

  • Jones Road from FM 1960 to Grant Road. Signed with a 40 mph limit, when the limit is 45 from the northern outskirts of Jersey Village up to FM 1960. This one makes no sense; the area north of FM 1960 is, if anything, less built up than the area south of it.
  • Jones Road from Grant Road to Lakewood Crossing Boulevard (just north of Cypresswood). The limit is posted at 30 mph here. While I understand Jones runs through a residential area here, it’s still a thoroughfare to Louetta and Texas 249, and almost everyone does at least 35, if not 40 or higher, through here. At minimum this should probably be posted at 35 mph (unfortunately, I suspect too many residents will balk at a 40 limit).
  • Briar Forest Drive between Gessner and Dairy Ashford (former). This is a former underposted limit but deserves mention because it’s one of the best examples. The City of Houston finally came to their senses on this one, after irate residents got sick of the HPD speed trap at W Rivercrest and/or E Rivercrest. It was posted at 30 mph, then 40 mph, then lowered again to 35 mph where I would assume they still are today. I would have liked to see the 40 mph limit stay but 35 mph is still an improvement over the original.
  • FM 1960 from Texas 249 to US 290, Texas 6 from US 290 to Clay Road. Posted at 40 mph, but it’s the de facto main drag for much of the area, and it’s still a major state highway. I’m pretty sure this used to be posted at 45 mph at one point.
  • Shepherd Drive/Durham Drive from Larkin Street (just north of I-10) to where an intersection with West 9th Street would be. I realize it’s short, but this could stand a slight speed limit increase to 40 mph, maybe even as far north as West 11th Street, if nothing else just to reflect the reality that people go a little faster over this stretch. Oh wait, then HPD couldn’t write all those tickets here. You know what, that’s too bad. I say let those cops (especially the “ticket champion” Officer Matt Davis) earn their living doing real law enforcement, not harassing motorists.
  • Stretches of W Hardy Road/E Hardy Road bordering the Hardy Toll Road between Beltway 8 and I-610. Given this is now the service road for a busy tollway, the speed limits need to be re-evaluated, along with the stop sign at Hill Road that’s probably a holdover from the days where the urbanized area stopped shortly outside I-610 (I’m guessing here, because I wasn’t yet born).
  • US 59 mainlanes through Humble (former). This was a notorious underposted speed limit at one time: 55 mph in a stretch that easily deserved a 65 mph limit. Thankfully, the City of Humble finally gave up on this source of revenue, much to the relief of the area’s motorists.
  • The Sam Houston Ship Channel Bridge (Beltway 8 over the Houston Ship Channel). Not only is the 50 mph speed limit here out of touch with reality, this is the most expensive stretch of the Sam Houston Tollway ($2.00 cash/$1.50 with EZ Tag, versus $1.50/$1.30 elsewhere). I can’t think of anywhere else where I can pay so much for the privilege of seeing a “SPEED LIMIT 50” sign. The kicker? There’s no way to enforce the speed limit on this bridge, outside of using aircraft (which, even if legal in Texas, is rarely done).
  • I-10 just east of downtown Houston (former). I don’t remember exactly where, but there was a stretch with a posted limit of 55 mph. Actually doing 55 mph was an invitation to get tailgated or have obscene gestures made at you. Finally, the city came to their senses on this one as well.

I’m sure there are others, but these come to mind most readily.

The MommyNetworks-Toyota news disaster

Famous last words: “I thought that it would be a good case study.” Please, don’t let this happen to you.

Crissy of reports on a most unusual offer that claims to be from, a network of mommy bloggers. Essentially, it’s what appears to be an attempt by Toyota to buy a bunch of positive PR with $10 Amazon gift cards.

Except Toyota said they have no affiliation with MommyNetworks, and Samantha Snyder, the owner of MommyNetworks, said this in an email response to Crissy:

I am a toyota owner, that saw this come out last week and I thought that it would be a good case study. Honestly, look at my FB page. I really thought that I could bring up something as large as this recall and create a portfolio for

Oh, Ms. Snyder, it’s a good case study all right. It’s a good case study for what not to do as the owner of a mommy blog network! Especially the part about not specifically stating you have no affiliation with Toyota. Frankly, that would do very little to cover the overwhelming fishy smell on this post, but at least Toyota’s legal team would be much less likely to have grounds to jump all over you.

Even fishier is that originally, MommyNetworks had a copyright notice, until (we assume) the real noticed and told MommyNetworks to get rid of it. I wonder if, maybe, that’s a remnant of plagiarism that someone sloppily forgot to delete? It definitely smells like one.

Right now, I can’t even get the MommyNetworks website to load, and what appears to have been their Twitter and Facebook pages are also curiously gone. The domain has a(n also rather fishy) contact info with the name “Registration Private” and organization “Domains By Proxy, Inc.” A legitimate organization usually does not need to hide behind such details (I have a P.O. Box for my domain contacts to avoid directly disclosing my residence address). Domain privacy services have their place (clearly personal websites), but this isn’t it. (Now, maybe I’d expect a “Registration Private” in charge for Army websites. Even there, I’d hope at least a Specialist or Corporal was actually running things.)

The lesson to learn from this: Include your disclaimer and get appropriate permission, lest you find yourself meddling in the affairs of dragons without, for your reputation and social media presence are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.