“Sorry, that’s a trade secret”

This is some kind of a record. The very name of this blog reflects its new role as my personal soapbox, and regular readers are no doubt familiar with my fearless style. In short, I’m willing to call out anyone or anything, but usually only one or two companies or agencies at a time. For this post, I’m not stopping at two, three, four, or even five companies. No, this post calls out no less than six companies for doing something incredibly brazen–and the shocking thing is that five of them get away with it!

ReadWriteWeb reported on a case involving the San Jose Mercury News. The Mercury News itself ran its own story about the case.

In essence, six companies fought the release of the race and gender of their respective work forces. From the Mercury News article:

[The companies] waged an 18-month Freedom of Information battle with the Mercury News, convincing federal regulators who collect the data that its release would cause “commercial harm” by potentially revealing the companies’ business strategy to competitors.

And further down:

Experts in the area of equal employment law scoffed at the idea that public disclosure of race and gender data — for example, the number of black men or Asian women in job categories such as “professionals,” “officials & managers” and “service workers” — could really allow competitors to discern a big tech company’s business strategy. A bigger issue, they said, is the social cost of allowing large, influential corporations to hide their race and gender data.

The six companies (which I’ll call the “Sneaky Six”) are:

  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Oracle
  • Apple
  • Applied Materials
  • Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard lost its fight, while a federal judge upheld the trade secret restriction for the other five.

Thankfully, nine other companies were willing to share the information; these include eBay, Intel, AMD, and Sun Microsystems. (Note that Oracle, named in the first list, completed its acquisition of Sun recently; this may well be the only glimpse at this kind of information for Sun that we’ll ever get.) The article does not list all nine companies, but does mention these are the 15 largest companies in Silicon Valley, so a little detective work should uncover the companies not named.

I’m particularly disappointed that Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard are on this list. I had a higher opinion of Yahoo than most of the other companies named on this list. The same for HP; their products (particularly printers and scanners) have a better track record of free software friendliness as of last time I checked.

I’m assuming most people know who Google, Apple, and Oracle are. It may surprise some of you that I, personally, did not know much about Applied Materials until I looked them up for this post; they aren’t exactly a household name. I’ve linked to the Wikipedia articles for each company for those that might need it.

In closing, I certainly hope that federal judges don’t continue to make horrible mistakes like this. The first step to countering racial or gender bias is to know that it exists: the “Sneaky Six” would just as soon keep us in the dark about it. That is, quite honestly, conduct unbecoming of companies in a leadership position.

Uncovered CIA abuses from the not-so-distant past

A recent LA Times article and a recent New York Times article detail some rather horrifying abuses by the CIA from a long-secret CIA report released this week.

The specific acts in question include:

  • Brandishing of weapons, including a gun and a power drill, during interrogation sessions;
  • Firing a gun in the room next door to a detainee in an attempt to convince the prisoner another suspect had been executed;
  • Threats against family members of a suspect (two incidents);
  • The use of cigar smoke during interrogations (two incidents, during one smoke was intentionally used to induce vomiting);
  • Forcing a detainee into stressful positions;
  • Bathing a detainee with a stiff brush of the sort used to clean bathrooms;
  • Waterboarding;
  • A “pressure point” technique: restricting a detainee’s carotid artery to the point where he/she would start to pass out, then shaking the detainee to wake him/her; and
  • A mock execution.

I’m glad to see the reports detailing these horrific and inhumane acts declassified and brought to the attention of the public. I do believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, and hopefully the shame brought on by the publicity of these incidents will deter others from similarly inhumane treatment of future prisoners.

I find the stuff brush bath, weapon brandishing, and mock execution to be the most disturbing of the incidents. That’s not to say the rest aren’t disturbing as well, just those incidents in particular are things I would hope decent people would not do. And I still hold out hope that our government is run by decent people.

But I have to ask the question: If these things aren’t torture, what is?

HPD officer harasses photographer

I just happened to see this photo and its horrifying narrative in the description when browsing my Flickr feed. Three additional photos follow this one, but all have the same description.

Of particular note are these two quotes from the photographer’s narrative:

…if I was in any way impeding his work, I would be glad to comply with his orders, but otherwise I would continue about my business. He insisted that I was disrupting his work by taking photos as he “doesn’t want his picture taken.”

Upon noting my refusal, Officer Hudson reached for my camera, as if to take it out of my hands. I pulled back and again reiterated my point that I was in my rights to take the photos. He stated that I could either delete my photos or he would arrest me for obstruction of justice.

One of the pictures shows an HPD cruiser with unit number 37622 and Texas exempt plates 104-0046. Unfortunately this is the only identifiable vehicle from the pictures. This along with the date and approximate time (March 3 at around 6pm), and location (Hidalgo near Post Oak Boulevard) should be enough to identify exactly who Officer Hudson is, including badge number.

This is a clear-cut case of abuse of police power, as well as a violation of the standards by which decent people live.