Tuesday, 13 November 2012 10:11

Red Hat evades query about Garrett's 'rape' post

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Red Hat has evaded a question about its employees slagging off others on blogs where the same employees also post about company initiatives.

The company was asked about the case of its employee Matthew Garrett (who has now left, his last day at the company being November 9), who recently posted an entry on his blog accusing senior Linux kernel developer Ted Ts'o of being an apologist for rape.

On the same blog, Garrett posts about technical initiatives undertaken by Red Hat; a recent post titled "A detailed description of Shim", began, "Shim is the first stage bootloader we've been implementing for supporting Secure Boot." The pronoun we refers to Red Hat (Note: Matthew Garrett has sent iTWire an email disputing this - "This is inaccurate – the pronoun "we" referred to those involved in the development of the software, including developers at Red Hat, Suse and a range of community contributions.").

When it was pointed out to the company that Garrett was using the same blog to announce company initiatives and also slag off people in the Linux community, and hence the company could be mistaken to be endorsing personal posts, a spokeswoman avoided the question.

Her response was: "These posts are from Matthew's personal blog. As a standard practice, we do not comment on our employees' personal blogs."

Valerie Aurora, the co-founder of The Ada Initiative, resurrected the Ts'o affair; he had made certain comments on a mailing list back in February 2011. A keynote speaker at the Australian national Linux conference, held in Brisbane in late January 2011, had been asked to apologise for the use of what were deemed to be sexualised images in his presentation, and Ts'o's post to the list was made in a thread that was discussing this issue.

It was tough to get a response from Aurora after she resurrected the issue on October 25. When she was contacted to ask why she had dug up these comments after nearly two years, the reply was: "Thanks for your email! I will be on semi-vacation till November 8th and only reading urgent email once a day. If you need a response before November 8th, you can do one of: *Resend your email with "URGENT" in the subject, and I will check it within 24 hours; * Contact my assistant Kathy at <email_address> and ask for my phone number."

When the message was resent with the word "URGENT" as part of the subject line, the same reply was received.

Then, after resending the message with the just the one word "URGENT" in the subject line, Aurora sent a two-word response: "No comment."

Garrett said his post had been prompted by Aurora's digging up of this hoary chestnut. "As I explained in my post, the timing was prompted by the post on the Ada Initiative blog causing me to rethink the effect on the community of nobody saying anything," he said, when asked about his motivation for calling Ts'o an apologist for rape so long after the actual incident.

None of the media outlets that normally report on matters concerning the FOSS community have even mentioned this issue.

Jonathan Corbet, the editor of Linux Weekly News, told iTWire, in response to a query as to whether LWN would be writing about the issue: "My hope is to not have to write about this episode, I don't know how to contribute to the discussion in a useful way."

He added: "I am not thrilled with the behaviour of any of the participants; my observation is that the people who have done the best are those who have remained silent. So, if I can, I will emulate them and do the same."

Senior Debian developer Russell Coker appears to be the only member of the FOSS community who has commented on the matter but this was on his personal blog.

(When iTWire contacted Ts'o for his reaction to Garrett's post, he apologised for the comments that had caused offence and denied ever saying that rape was not a problem.)

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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