Thursday, October 21, 2010

AP: Anonymous political blogger using state computer network, sometimes 'all day long'

Now this is getting interesting.

The Associated Press’ Matt Gouras is reporting that anonymous liberal blogger MT Cowgirl has blogged from the state’s wireless computer network.

Of course, given that hundreds of people or use the state’s wireless network on any given day, Gouras’ story doesn’t definitively implicate any state employee of doing political work on state time and on state resources.

However,  according to the article, MT Cowgirl, whoever he or she is (she insists she’s indeed a she, though some commenters have suggested otherwise) frequently logged in on the state’s wireless network at the Office of Public Instruction, sometimes all day long:
The Department of Administration, provided with detail on the IP address of some posts, was able to identify that the blogger had been accessing — all day long at times — the state wireless guest system through a hookup in the Office of Public Instruction using an Apple Macintosh laptop.
The agency spokeswoman at the time, Jessica Rhoades, said neither she nor anyone else at the agency was doing it. Rhoades, who recently went to work for the governor's office, said the agency's information technology found at that time the wireless system could theoretically be accessed by someone sitting in the parking lot.
As Gouras points out in his article, whoever MT Cowgirl is, that particular blogger has shown an “uncanny knack” of tracking down insider information before anyone else, including most journalists, and has been a major cheerleader of Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Speculation about her/his identity has been a hot topic for many months within Montana’s political circles. MT Cowgirl blogs with a ferocity and frequency that’s dazzling, but she does so anonymously and without any accountability. She doesn’t hesitate to post a “rumor,” and she has at times angered fellow progressives.

Gouras’ story is hooked on a post Cowgirl wrote last weekend suggesting that Roy Brown was less of a man because of his appearance and choice of briefcase. I blogged about that earlier this week here.

But Gouras’ story raises an more important point than whether or not MT Cowgirl occasionally irritates her fellow Democrats:
The race between Van Dyk and Brown for a Billings Senate seats is one of the most heated legislative races of this campaign, and the post by the left-leaning, anonymous blogger underlines questions of accountability in attempting to influence elections in the new media age. Especially with posts coming from inside state government.
I’ve had dozens of conversations about MT Cowgirl in various circles in Helena and beyond. Most people I talk to believe that Cowgirl may in fact be more than one person, and let’s just say I wasn’t at all surprised that Gouras revealed that the blogger or bloggers known as MT Cowgirl often uses a state computer network from the Office of Public Instruction.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blogger misses mark with attempt at humor

GOP candidates and tea partiers aren’t the only ones dealing with backlash over ill-advised online comments these days.
The heavily pro-Democrat blog Montana Cowgirl Blog blew up over the weekend over a post anonymous blogger “Cowgirl” published on Friday. The post suggests that Democratic SD 25 candidate Kendall Van Dyk is more of a “man” than his opponent, incumbent Republican Sen. Roy Brown.
It’s worth pointing out that this race is the most expensive and hotly contested legislative race in the state—and the gloves have been off for a while.
But Cowgirls’ post (and subsequent unapologetic apology) crossed the line with some Democratic Party supporters who took it slap in the face to the state’s LGBT community.
The post, entitled “The Fundamental Difference,” shows an undated photo of a camouflaged Van Dyk posing with a nice mule deer buck he arrowed.
The caption under the photo is “Man.”
The next photo is a blurry photograph (presumably a screenshot from this Brown TV ad) showing Roy Brown in a blue dress shirt and sweater vest and carrying a shoulder bag.
The caption under the photo is “Man Purse.”
The inference, in case you missed it, is that Van Dky is somehow more of a “man” because he dons camouflage and hunts big game while Roy Brown wears sweater vests and carries a “man purse.” If you have doubts about the implications of the term “man purse,” look it up in the Urban Dictionary.
About the point of the post, Cowgirl had this to say:
The point of this post is to compare Brown’s country club elitism with Kendall’s Montana roots.
And while some of the online commenters found the post hilarious, several others saw it as gay baiting.
Jamee Greer, an organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network and an openly gay man, had this to say:
This is the gay baiting crap that I have had enough of. If I lived in Billings, I’d most certainly vote for Kendall van Dyk! Brown is no friend of, well, most of the human rights issues I advocate for during the session. But his fondness for argyle, messenger-ish man purse bags and his only-too-recently acquired hunting license, not to mention famed vegetarianism, means what, exactly? That he’s too “faggy” for Montana? Why are progressives using coded language? Eastern Montana has gay and lesbian voters, trans voters, allied voters. Don’t slap us in the face.
As Greer points out, this isn’t the first time Brown’s status as a “real Montanan” has been called into question by left. During his 2008 campaign against Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Brown responded to rumors spread by the Montana Democratic Party that he is…gasp…a vegetarian! and thus unqualified to serve as governor of a state in which cattle ranching is such an important part of the economy.
For the record, Brown denied that he is now, or ever has been, a vegetarian. 
Cowgirl and her supporters maintain that the post is merely an attempt at humor, and she repeatedly asserts that she was not inferring anything about sexuality. But some readers don’t buy it, like Helena immigration attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath:
Most of your readers, like me, are staunch progressives who have no allegiance to Roy Brown. Your post was offensive because you glibly engaged in offensive rhetoric about gender roles and masculinity. There is only one way to interpret your post: you portray Kendall as a “real man” and cast Roy Brown as an effeminate man, who therefore isn’t a “real Montanan.”
As I read this exchange, I wonder if those who found this post funny would find it equally funny if the shoe were on the other foot? If, for example, a GOP-leaning blogger were to suggest that openly-gay Democratic HD 92 candidate Bryce Bennett was less of a man than Don Harbaugh, his Republican opponent, would Cowgirl and her supporters find it amusing?
I suspect not.
Cowgirl, whoever she is, has in the past vehemently attacked conservatives for offensive comments aimed at gays and minorities. But in this case, the self-proclaimed feminist blogger seems to have abandoned her principles in the interest of scoring a few political points.
Greer has been accused by some anonymous commenters of hurting progressive candidates by continuing to point out why Cowgirl’s post was offensive. But Greer says the real harm done here is to Montana’s LBGT community:
Whatever potential anti-gay, anti-feminist votes, if any, are picked up for Kendall by making fun of men who are effeminate, “elitist” or “stylish” or “sissies”– let’s just say “faggy” — none of those votes are worth the damage done to the LGBT community in return.
 UPDATE: Montana Cowgirl points out in the comments section below that she offered an apology here.

Get the lowdown on your polling location

Today I added a new gadget that will enable Lowdown readers to easily locate their polling place for the Nov. 2 election. If you don't know where to vote, type your address into the handy gadget on the right hand side of this blog and the gadget will give you the address, a map, and directions to your polling location.

IMPORTANT: The folks at the Voting Information Project are still working out a few glitches in the gadget. Currently, if you type in your address you'll get accurate polling place information, but the ballot information is not up to date. The gadget currently returns ballot information from 2008. I've notified the VIP tech team and they are working to correct this. I'll update this post as soon as they do. But in the meantime I've decided to leave the gadget up so people could at least locate their polling place if they don't already know where it's at.

If you discover any other errors in the gadget, PLEASE let me know ASAP by commenting in this post or by e-mailing me or by clicking the "report errors" link the gadget.

Oh, and VOTE on Nov. 2. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is this supposed to be funny?

In doing a little election season research, I came across the Cascade County Republican Party’s latest newsletter, called “Target.”

Pretty typical party-line election season stuff for the most part. Nothing too out of the ordinary.

But then I got to page three of the Target and read this “joke”:

Texas Sheriff ’s Exam

A man in Texas looking to join the Frio County Sheriffs Dept. was being interviewed.

The Sergeant doing the interview says, "Your qualifications look good, but there's an attitude suitability test you must pass before you can be ac-cepted."

Then, sliding a Smith and Wesson 45 pistol across the desk, he says to the man, "Take this pistol; go out and shoot six illegal aliens, six meth dealers, six Muslim extremists, six 'Progressive Liberal' democrats, and a rabbit."

"Why the rabbit?" the man asked.

"That's the attitude we're looking for." said the Sergeant, "When can you start?"

I don’t know about you, but I guess I just don’t find this funny.

Not even a little bit.

Joking about Matthew Shepard’s murder isn’t funny either.

Nor is joking about the President of the United State’s giving America a “reach around.” 

Joking about killing people, whether they be “illegal aliens,” “Muslim extremists” or “Progressive Liberal Democrats,” is just not funny.

The dehumanization of any person or group is not funny. Especially when people are actually getting killed.

Bullying—which  lead to the recent suicide of a Rutgers University student—is not funny.

Given that we’re in an election season and Republicans repeatedly attack their Democratic opponents as “out of touch liberals,” I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this “joke” as a form of intimidation.

Might a “progressive liberal Democrat” be intimidated out of exercising her first amendment rights at a political forum out of fear that she might one day be a “target?”

Might a Great Falls citizen whose family migrated to the U.S. from a country south of the border read this and wonder about the safety of his family?

Who knows?

But I think it’s sad that in this day and age there are people out there, leaders of a political parties no less, who find humor in the dehumanization of people they don’t like. What happened to working together to forge a brighter future for our nation?

This kind of thing isn’t helping.