March 5, 2013

Aaron Swartz's "family and closest friends have tried to hone his story into a message, in order to direct the public sadness and anger aroused by his suicide to political purposes."

"They have done this because it is what he would have wanted, and because it is a way to extract some good from the event. They tell people that the experience of being prosecuted is annihilatingly brutal, and that prosecutors can pursue with terrible weapons defendants who have caused little harm. One of the corollaries of this message is that Swartz did not kill himself; he was murdered by the government. But this claim is for public consumption, and the people closest to him do not really believe it. They believe that he would not have killed himself without the prosecutors, but they feel that there is something missing from this account—some further fact, a key, that will make sense of what he did."

Larissa MacFarquhar — in The New Yorker — looks at the real complexities of the Aaron Swartz story. This is an extremely impressive piece. Read the whole thing. The passage above is the best abstract summary of what is in the piece, and I'll extract a few more things that are better examples of the kind of details that flesh out that abstraction:
He disliked all vegetables and refused to eat them except in extremely expensive restaurants, such as Thomas Keller restaurants. He had ulcerative colitis, a serious digestive disorder similar to Crohn’s disease; he also thought that he was a “supertaster,” experiencing sensations of taste more intensely than regular people. Partly for these reasons, he ate only foods that were white or yellow. He ate pasta, tofu, cheese, bread, rice, eggs, and cheese pizza. He was phobic about fruit and wouldn’t touch it. He rarely drank alcohol and was careful to stay hydrated. He went through four humidifiers in his apartment in Brooklyn. He said that he left San Francisco because the air-conditioning was bad....

He became a political activist.... But he never felt as strongly about any new idea as he had once felt about them. He would adopt a cause, only to become dissatisfied, deciding that it wasn’t important enough, or was too unlikely to succeed, and he would move on to something else....

He came to believe that the influence of money in American politics was so enormous a problem that possibly little else could be solved until that was. Then again, there were always other countries: in conversation with an Australian friend, he decided that it would be ridiculously easy to “take over Australia,” but that since the country had only twenty million people it wasn’t worth it.

96 comments:

EMD said...

MacFarquad? MacFarquad? Anyone? ... MacFarquad?

Mark O said...

So, he was crazy after all?

jr565 said...

He killed himself. His gf who wrote the article about how the govt was so mean did not.
He didn't have to kill himself. And most people who go through the process don't.
And he was offered a deal with very little prison time, which he refused.
So the govt didn't hound him to his death.If he killed himself it was on him.
Im sick and tired of people trying to manipulate opinion based on the actions of extremists as if we must concede the point simply because of the damage done to or by the extremist.

This is true whether its' about gay marriage, gun control or this incident.

Just because this guy killed himself doesnt' mean that the free internet crowd must now be listened to.
It's bullying of the worst sort.

jr565 said...

But he never felt as strongly about any new idea as he had once felt about them. He would adopt a cause, only to become dissatisfied, deciding that it wasn’t important enough, or was too unlikely to succeed, and he would move on to something else

Kind of like liberals and anti terror policies that were war crimes under Bush but just ho hum under Obama.
They move on to something else and simply don't care anymore. Speaking truth to power - just a fad. It must be a liberal condition.

Nonapod said...

Sure sounds like he was a bit luny but very high functioning none the less. Perhaps he may have been diagnosable for bipolar disorder or OCD? Who knows? He's certainly not the first bright person to be a little nuts. Steve Jobs certainly exhibited some crazy behavior and proclivities.

If the federal prosecutors where aware of his nature, should they have done things differently?

edutcher said...

Starting to sound like the Pat Tillman saga.

Marie said...

The girlfriend's point that the prosecutors were "mean" was more that the prosecutors were dishonest. Instead of dealing honestly, the prosecutor understood that he had all the power and he used it dishonestly. BTW, I did not think the gf's account was all that compelling but I did relate to the fear felt by someone involved in a federal investigation. Once you understand how much power the feds have to investigate, to find charges for someone they want to 'get'...it is difficult to feel safe.

Shouting Thomas said...

You meet a lot of folks like this in SF, or the West Village or in Woodstock.

They always imagine that the problem is outside of themselves... some societal injustice.

The problem is always inside themselves.

He killed himself. Nobody did it to him.

Henry said...

Canada can breathe easy.

Colonel Angus said...

Guy sounds like a loon.

MayBee said...

The default position should always be to not blame another for someone's suicide.

That storyline must not only be resisted, but we must see it as a red flag that there is activism afoot.

Anton said...

" he also thought that he was a “supertaster,” experiencing sensations of taste more intensely than regular people. Partly for these reasons, he ate only foods that were white or yellow. He ate pasta, tofu, cheese, bread, rice, eggs, and cheese pizza. He was phobic about fruit and wouldn’t touch it. He rarely drank alcohol and was careful to stay hydrated. He went through four humidifiers in his apartment in Brooklyn. He said that he left San Francisco because the air-conditioning was bad..."

In short, he was insane which, of course, does not excuse the legal system in this case.

Mitchell the Bat said...

The girlfriend seems not to think she breached her duty to provide sexual satisfaction.

jr565 said...

On that subject, this attempt to justify liberal hypocricy this MSNBC host defends supporting Obama's drone strikes because she trusts Obama more with drone strikes than Bush (even though Bush did far fewer drone Strikes).

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/msnbc-host-defends-liberals-who-trust-obama-with-drones-would-you-trust-bush-with-nuclear-codes/

Basically, Obama is nice and Bush is a doody head therefore drone strikes are bad when he does them. As if you could give presidential power to a president based on whether you trust him. He either has the power or he doesn't. And what he does is either wrong or right.

I suppose, then the response from this dullard to waterboarding would be if Obama did it she would be ok with it because Obama can be trusted to only waterboard people who should be waterboarded while again Bush is a doody head.

This person is actually earning money to give an opinion? Sadly, this REALLY does seem to be how liberals think.

A unitary presidency is bad because "George Bush". If Obama is also a unitary executive then there is no more reason to argue against a unitary presidency because OBama is just that cool.
Fuck you Krystal Ball (that's the MSNBC host's name). And while on the subject - Krystal Ball, that sounds like a porn name.

Shouting Thomas said...

Ultra-sensitivity is one of the most common characteristics of the social activist.

They feel things so deeply, unlike the thick skinned, thick headed proles.

I think that the posture becomes a self-fulfilling reality.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "he also thought that he was a “supertaster,”

Naked Ed Gein Robot says:

Supertaster or Supertasty?

Geoff Matthews said...

As Mark said, Aaron Swartz was mentally ill. While the stress of prosecution may have been the catalyst of his suicide, it may very well have been something else.

David said...

Swartz's oddball characteristics and the "free internet" dispute should not obscure the central issue abuse of government power. This is but one small element of a government that now has the means to crush all but the most powerful individuals. It's really no different than sending some jackass film maker back to jail in order to create political cover for a failure in protecting diplomats.

Perhaps this is why tenured academics are not very concerned about these abuses. They can clothe themselves in the power of the academic establishment if attacked. Most others are not so lucky.

betamax3000 said...

"Partly for these reasons, he ate only foods that were white or yellow. He ate pasta, tofu, cheese, bread, rice, eggs, and cheese pizza. He was phobic about fruit and wouldn’t touch it. He rarely drank alcohol and was careful to stay hydrated"

-- makes you mentally ill? Sounds simply like a confused vegetarian to me.

Now vegans: those guys are nuts.

Ann Althouse said...

"While the stress of prosecution may have been the catalyst of his suicide, it may very well have been something else."

Presumably, it was everything. Who's to say what one element, if it had been different, would have produced a different outcome?

If a very young and unworldly person, who latches onto a deep need to change the whole world, pervasively and quickly, then suicide is a way to meet that need.

One thing in the article is the idea that his problem wasn't so much with having to go to prison but with being branded a felon, because it would restrict his future political access. He couldn't work in the White House.

CWJ said...

I see an "Aaron's Law" in our future. I have no idea what Aaron's Law might cover, but legislation named after the deceased seems to be common endpoint for families who turn the death of a loved one into a message.

Ann Althouse said...

"“He wanted to make the world better from inside the system, and they don’t let felons work in the White House,” [Swartz's ex-girlfriend] Quinn Norton says. “He said those exact words to me. My dad didn’t last very long with his felony conviction. It’s like being a fucking leper, and for somebody who wanted to move in the circles of American political power it was the end of all those dreams. I knew it was a really dangerous period, I knew this was all going through his head.”"

Revenant said...

David,

Abuse of power by the government in general, and prosecutors in particular, is a serious problem.

That being said, Swartz was guilty of the primary felony he was accused of, and prosecuting him for it was reasonable.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "they don’t let felons work in the White House."

They have to be elected like any other politician.

Darrell said...

Why did he try to kill himself the first time, years ago? Did someone force him to eat a green bean?

Rusty said...

Nutty people commit suicide.
There's a shocker.

jr565 said...

“He wanted to make the world better from inside the system, and they don’t let felons work in the White House,” [Swartz's ex-girlfriend] Quinn Norton says. “He said those exact words to me.

Didn't he every watch Catch Me If YOu Can?and did he never hear of Frank Abagnale?
That guy was a forger extraordinaire who ended up working for the govt helping to deal with forgeries. Nazis ended up working for the govt, supposedly, on atomic energy projects.
And why would you want to work for the govt anyway?

Crunchy Frog said...

Aaron Swartz chose death over six months in Club Fed.

If he cared so little for his own life, why should any of us care at all?

Writ Small said...

Given the number of unstable people who see themselves as brilliant but thwarted by the system, why isn't romanticizing a suicide victim for political purposes universally seen as vile?

Robert Cook said...

"Kind of like liberals and anti terror policies that were war crimes under Bush but just ho hum under Obama."

They're still war crimes under Obama, who, like Bush, is a war criminal and mass murderer.

But, you're correct, the mass of self-identified "progressives" or "liberals" do excuse Obama for his barbaric practices, which, by virtue of the actor employing seem magically to no longer be barbaric or criminal. They reveal themselves to be fools or hypocrites.

"On that subject, this attempt to justify liberal hypocricy this MSNBC host defends supporting Obama's drone strikes because she trusts Obama more with drone strikes than Bush (even though Bush did far fewer drone Strikes)."

Yep, a fool and a dupe. Even IF any given politician could be trusted to more wisely use the powers available to him or claimed by him than another given politician might--an unlikely scenario, but let's accept if for argument's sake--even IF this were so, isn't it apparent that this particular super-honorable and super-dependable politician will not be in office forever, and that the powers HE has used will be available by other, badder people to use later on? Do the powers of office wax and wane only according to the particular person in office?

People are really stupid.

jr565 said...

David wrote:
It's really no different than sending some jackass film maker back to jail in order to create political cover for a failure in protecting diplomats.

Well, thats not why the film maker was sent to jail on the surface. (I do agree that the govt was ultimately punishing him, but they went after him on parole violations, and not because he made the movie - they went after his parole violations because he made the movie though, is how I would phrase it).
Difference between that case and this one though is that it's not illegal to make a movie. It is illegal to download millions of files from a website when you're not supposed to do so or you do so in a way that is not authorized.

jr565 said...

Then again it is also illegal to violate your parole, so I guess the govt did have a point there.

TMink said...

Ahhh, so he was a narcissitic kook.

No wonder the family is working so hard.

Trey

tim maguire said...

I see a fair amount of message honing going on on this comment thread. Swartz's most prominent defenders have always been upfront with the fact that Swartz was a depressive who may have been destined to commit suicide eventually. The prosecutor did not drive a normal person to suicide. Few, if anuy, are claiming that.

The issue here is the criminalization of much of daily life, aggressive overcharging of defendants and an epidemic of prosecutorial overreach. There was once a time when going into the prosecutor's office was a great way to get trial experience. No more, the over-the-top tactics and vindictiveness towards those who insist on their constitutional rights have led us to a place where prosecutors rarely see the inside of a courtroom. The penalty for going to trial is too great, even for the innocent.

This is no less an issue in intellectual property, where the government is acting as the personal enforcer squad of business and innovation is being stifled because of it.

This is the real issue in the Swartz case--how government is helping yesterday's businesses crush tomorrow's inventors and we are all less free and less prosperous as a result.

Methadras said...

I have no issue with the Swartz' and their families and friends taking this subject and making a political case out of it. Activist federal lawyers using the powers of intimidation that they have in this case and others is clearly a problem and has been for quite some time. What I don't like is when the idea that money is the problem in politics, when we all know that money equals free speech. Furthermore, the way the money is regulated is really the problem e.g. McCain-Feingold.

Revenant said...

tim, if Swartz was just charged with copyright violations I would agree with your assessment.

But he *did* hack into the systems in question, repeatedly, and despite their best efforts to keep him out of it. That damned well ought to be illegal, and -- in a happy coincidence -- it IS illegal. A felony conviction and six months in prison is, if anything, a light sentence for that.

Blue@9 said...

Aaron Swartz chose death over six months in Club Fed.

If he cared so little for his own life, why should any of us care at all?


Seriously? He was being persecuted by the Feds for downloading free articles. Do you have any idea what it's like to have a grand jury and a federal prosecutor on you?

Swartz is ultimately responsible for his own suicide, but let's not downplay the contributions of this nutjob prosecutor. A felony conviction is no joke.

What's bizarre are the "conservatives" here cheering on an overzealous prosecutor going batshit crazy on a private citizen. Didja know JSTOR and Swartz reached a civil settlement? So what exactly was the "crime" that required a grand jury and threats to ruin this kids life?

Marie said...

The issue here is the criminalization of much of daily life, aggressive overcharging of defendants and an epidemic of prosecutorial overreach. There was once a time when going into the prosecutor's office was a great way to get trial experience. No more, the over-the-top tactics and vindictiveness towards those who insist on their constitutional rights have led us to a place where prosecutors rarely see the inside of a courtroom. The penalty for going to trial is too great, even for the innocent.

Yes.

A felony conviction and six months in prison is, if anything, a light sentence for that.

If Swartz had gone to trial and the prosecutor had proven his case and the jury had convicted him and the judge decided six months was just...I would agree with you. But that's not what happened.

The prosecutor did crappy investigation (he didn't know about Swartz's blog until the gf mentioned it???), overcharged, threatened decades in prison--threatened the decades even though, as was ultimately proven by the plea agreement, the prosecutor thought six months was sufficient. And the prosecutor would have gotten that, probably.

The prosecutors don't want just a conviction, they want a conviction without a trial, without having to prove anything.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I have not finished reading the article, but this portion:

He did not try very hard not to get caught—he bought the laptop he used with Quinn Norton’s credit card. “We fought about this during the investigation, because I am much more careful,” Norton says. “I work with hackers and I’ve watched their lives be destroyed.” Norton is a journalist who covers Internet culture. She is thirteen years older than Swartz and dated him on and off for four years. “I said, ‘If you’d told me what you were doing, I would have found you real hackers, and there would have been one smoking JSTOR server and you would have what you wanted and they would not know what happened.’ He really hated when I said that. Because he was doing an M.I.T. hack, and this whole idea that if you’re going to do something criminal, I’ll find you real criminals to help you . . .”

struck me because for a supposed computer genius, his methods for surreptitiously downloading the files can (to be kind) be called unsophisticated.

The press is referring to his actions as hacking, but hiding a laptop under a box in a networking closet is to hacking as making a model of a house with Popsicle sticks is to building a real house.

I am not saying he wasn't talented and intelligent. But he seems to have lacked what some people call "street smarts."

Emil Blatz said...

If he had lived, and he married his girlfriend, would she be Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman-Swartz?

Ralph Hyatt said...

I have not finished reading the article but this portion struck me:

He did not try very hard not to get caught—he bought the laptop he used with Quinn Norton’s credit card. “We fought about this during the investigation, because I am much more careful,” Norton says. “I work with hackers and I’ve watched their lives be destroyed.” Norton is a journalist who covers Internet culture. She is thirteen years older than Swartz and dated him on and off for four years. “I said, ‘If you’d told me what you were doing, I would have found you real hackers, and there would have been one smoking JSTOR server and you would have what you wanted and they would not know what happened.’ He really hated when I said that. Because he was doing an M.I.T. hack, and this whole idea that if you’re going to do something criminal, I’ll find you real criminals to help you . . .”

because to put it kindly, his methods for obtaining the files were unsophisticated.

I am not saying that he was not talented and intelligent, but hiding a laptop under a box in a networking closet is not hacking. The man seems to have lacked what many people call "street smarts."

Blue@9 said...

Good logic, Blue@9. By your argument, the Goldman's shouldn't be angry at OJ for getting away with murder, since they won a civil suit.

That's great logic, equating a homicide with downloading academic articles. Also, you don't even draw the parallel correctly, since JSTOR SETTLED with Swartz. Goldman SUED OJ.

Swartz's "crime" was using a script to download free articles instead of sitting at the computer hitting 'download' every two seconds.


Seriously, think it through people. Reducio ad absurdom highlights a lot of fallacies.


Yes, you illustrated that logical fallacy perfectly.

cubanbob said...

Crunchy Frog said...
Aaron Swartz chose death over six months in Club Fed.

If he cared so little for his own life, why should any of us care at all?

3/5/13, 12:05 PM

If the government's deal was six months then that is what the government valued the punishment. So the looney kid who believed himself to be innocent was given a choice to either accept a short prison sentence and have a permanent criminal record or face a fifty year prison sentence, a death sentence for all practical purposes, for believing he had a right to a trial to show his innocence. Extortion by the prosecution should be a mandatory death penalty offense for a prosecutor. Plea deals should be given to the jury so when they are deliberating they can decide what charges are worth convicting, the charges the government was willing to settle for and toss the rest. No one should be extorted by the government in to giving up their inherent constitutional rights.

Tibore said...

"He wanted to make the world better from inside the system, and they don’t let felons work in the White House..."

His story is tragic, but at the same time it's a good argument for people weighing the costs of activities when they're considering dramatic public actions protesting something. There could have been far better, more constructive ways to have made his point without torpedoing his future, especially given his stature in the community of developers.

Now, instead of being about the subjects he wanted highlighted, it's about him. If there's a life after death, he's probably kicking himself for deflecting attention to himself instead of what he stood for.

Blue@9 said...

----lmao moron. A reductio ad absurdum is NOT a comparison or equation at all. It is taking your logic to the EXTREME to show how faulty it is.

It's considered a logical fallacy for that very reason. The comparison is nuts. May as well go straight to Hitler and the Nazis.

And you have demonstrated that leftists have very small brains that can't understand anything but leftist dogma.

You're a mental midget.

I'm not a leftist. If you had spent any time here, you'd know that.

KLDAVIS said...

Professor,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you've posited both that suicide is murder, and that the motives of murderers should not be sensationalized (so as to avoid copycatism).

How do you then parse your fascination with Aaron's case?

How can we not expect more young, troubled souls who believe the government is out to get them to off themselves in the hopes of furthering their political goals?

tiger said...

He was a guy with an over-inflated sense of his own self-worth and influence.

It's highly likely that if he hadn't killed himself over this it would have been something else.

whoresoftheinternet said...

People who commit suicide are usually the biggest narcissists.

Lots of people have no meaning in their lives and have crappy things happen to them. The suicides are those that take it all so terribly personally and think that it's so unfair, they need to make a big statement about it.

Alex said...

High functioning Aspergers? How could he be so technically brilliant but not be able to logically deduce the consequences of being caught?

Alex said...

whores - I think there is a lot to that. Look at how many prominent people in history have committed suicide when their power/freedom was taken away. Hitler being a good example.

tiger said...

Read half the article and got bored.

FTA:'Aaron Swartz's "family and closest friends have tried to hone his story into a message, in order to direct the public sadness and anger aroused by his suicide to political purposes."'

Even his "family and closet friends" have an inflated view of his importance. There is no 'public sadness and anger' over his suicide.

99.99999% of the public don't know or care about him or what he did.

In reading the article it is readily apparent the guy was very smart and very very emotionally disturbed.

Alex said...

tiger - I'm part of the .1% that reads Slashdot, so I know all about it!

Shanna said...

99.99999% of the public don't know or care about him or what he did.

I certainly would never have heard of him if he hadn't come up about a thousand times on this blog for some reason.

I mean, sad story and I certainly have issues with prosecutorial overcharging in general, but this is not the best example of it since this guy set out to commit a crime. And from the quoted bits, seemed a little nuts to begin with.

Marshal said...

The fact that this guy is responsible for killing himself doesn't absolve the prosecutor for her own actions.

Swartz sounds to me like someone who couldn't reconcile himself to the mundane world we live in. Such mismatches between expectation and reality both inspire achievement and drive depression, often in the same people.

Bryan C said...

'"I am not saying that he was not talented and intelligent, but hiding a laptop under a box in a networking closet is not hacking. The man seems to have lacked what many people call "street smarts."'

I suspect he did it that way on purpose, in order to emphasize how trivial it was. It was the hacking equivalent of jaywalking, arbitrarily punishable by life in prison or 6 months, depending on whether the prosecutor liked you.

According to past alumni, MIT used to have a famously open culture where people could essentially come and go anywhere as they pleased. Locked doors were begging to be picked, and you could learn how via the free MIT guide to lockpicking that was compiled by students and faculty. If your visitors were in a playful mood, they might take your lock apart and re-key it while you were at lunch. This was how MIT wanted to be. Aaron Swartz was their target market.

In the middle of this once-vibrant culture you plop down a pretend-secure database on a pretend-secure network, filled with public-domain content that you make people pay to see. Swartz saw that as an affront to be mocked and exposed. The federal goverment saw it as a honeypot.

BAS said...

Does it matter if the guy was a nut or not?

The prosecutors were within their rights to do what they did. They did not do anything illegal. The question becomes should the prosecutors have these rights? Is this open to abuse through completely legal means?

I think the answer is yes. I think the prosecutors have too many rights and going to trial puts the person at high risk for spending many years in prison.

Perhaps the conversation can turn to how to change the laws in a balanced way that offers real rights to the accused person without making prosecution completely toothless.

Bryan C said...

"How could he be so technically brilliant but not be able to logically deduce the consequences of being caught?"

That's just it, Alex. The consequences could not be logically deduced from the actions. Not unless we all agree to assume that every trespass will land us in jail for the rest of our lives, unless it doesn't. There's no logic here, only the raw power of capricious prosecution.

Cedarford said...

Cubanbob - If the government's deal was six months then that is what the government valued the punishment. So the looney kid who believed himself to be innocent was given a choice to either accept a short prison sentence and have a permanent criminal record or face a fifty year prison sentence, a death sentence for all practical purposes, for believing he had a right to a trial to show his innocence.

There is a lot of merit to Cuban Bob's argument. Right now, there is a method of State Prosecution to force accused to waive their right to trial so prosecutors can amass a good conviction rate those lawyers believe is essential to advancement, more lawyer money gained, or for establishing their resumes to enter a lucrative private career.

The Constitutional right to trial is being compromised.

The ploy is to offer a light sentence to a person who didn't realize they were violating the law, or were in a gray area, or believe a jury would find their violation of the law understandable - if they plead guilty and the prosecutor gets another easy head trophy on their mantle..
If the accused resists the idea they are to be a convicted criminal for doing what 99% of other people are doing in some fashion in some way......their own lawyer advises them to take the guilty plea even if they are innocent. Because the prosecutor promises that they will overcharge and get their fellow lawyers in the court to dole out 20-60 times more punishment if the lawyers are made to go through the bother, expense, and risk of an embarassing jury acquittal on the lawyers careers.

And defense counsel, many times former prosecutors that played the same "legal game" before they switched sides...lay it out for the accused.

Look, buddy...I'm your only friend in this. Yes, you have a 90% chance that the jury will believe you and your wife were drunk and you argued and you pushed her after she threw a bottle at you..And her breaking her arm was an accident. And I agree the man-hating bulldyke at the DA's office is out for blood and it is unfair..
But is only 90% sure you get the domestic disturbance misdemeanor and not the felony assault with the intent to kill rap - the bitch wants to burn you with that has a 20 year sentence.
The 100% sure deal of 3 months and a class B felony beats the 10% possible 20 years and class A felony.
Take the bulldykes deal! I'm telling you as your lawyer, that is the smart play. Insisting you have a right to trial without severe penalty for demanding it - is one of the stupidest misimpressions of how the system works ordinary people like you have.

Alex said...

No Swartz is a message to all the Wikileakers and anarchists out there. You know all those types that wear the Guy Fawkes mask.

rcommal said...

He also never learned to do anything that he didn’t want to do.

and

But he never felt as strongly about any new idea as he had once felt about them. He would adopt a cause, only to become dissatisfied, deciding that it wasn’t important enough, or was too unlikely to succeed, and he would move on to something else.

So, he didn't want to do anything he didn't want to do AND he also didn't sustainably want to do anything. (A larger, inchoate dream of utopia ≠ to doing something, or even wanting to do something.)

Helluva rock and a hard place.

rcommal said...

Makes me think of Becket. (Please note: I don't find Becket romantic, in the slightest.)

Ralph Hyatt said...

“He said the value of what was taken from JSTOR was two million dollars, and under the sentencing guidelines that would equate to a sentence in the neighborhood of seven years,” Peters says. “And I said, ‘What he took from JSTOR wasn’t worth anything! It was a bunch of, like, the 1942 edition of the Journal of Botany!’

Prosecutors always bullshit about the monetary cost. In a seminal case, documented in "The Hacker Crackdown" by Bruce Sterling, the government tried to claim that an E911 Document was worth $80,000 even though BellCore (the documents owner) was selling copies for $13.

I highly recommend "The Hacker Crackdown" to anyone interested in computer security and hacker culture. It was published back in 1994, but it is not a technical book so it is not dated. It gives an historical perspective to the same issues we are dealing with now: Copyright protections, government over reach, etc. It can be downloaded from the net for free. At the time Bruce Sterling keeping the electronic rights so that he could allow that was a big deal.

I feel very old when I realize that I read the book when it first came out and remember when the EFF was first forming.

mark said...

Ralph Hyatt said...
At the time Bruce Sterling keeping the electronic rights so that he could allow that was a big deal.


That also points to why the Creative Commons (something Swartz helped create) is so important today. A license to protect creators and the freedom of users.

And you can't say you are old just because you remember the founding of EFF. Now if you remember the founding of GNU Project ... nah you still aren't old.

dreams said...

His friends portray him as a kind of quitter and I guess you could say suicide is ultimately quitting on life.

Petunia said...

If he didn't want a felony conviction on his record, then he shouldn't have committed one.

The more I read about him, the less respect I feel he deserves. His parents completely spoiled him and never made him do anything he didn't want to do, apparently. They thought he was "special", and so did he. He never seems to have finished anything in his life, and had an inflated opinion of his own importance.

He was out of money to pay his lawyers, but refused to take a job that would have paid him well, because it wasn't a job he wanted to do.

He felt he knew more about being poor than his former girlfriend, who actually HAD been poor, and he had an incredibly patronizing attitude toward "working class" people.

Any death of a young person is tragic. But Swartz' death was his own doing, and he wasn't a particularly admirable person in the first place.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Responding to Bryan C above:

In a previous thread related to this topic I speculated maybe they identified the networking closet because it was alarmed. But, while reading the article Ann linked to today, when it was mentioned that the closet the laptop was hid in was unlocked, I thought "of course, what possible use would a lock be on the MIT campus? It is filled with MIT students."

Marie said...

@Petunia:
So because you find him unlikable, you don't give a damn about whether the justice system treated him justly? Or is that because you find him unlikable, he deserved whatever he got?

The beauty in rule of law is that we all get the same treatment under the law, no matter how loony, unlikable, no matter how little respect we have for that person. Unfortunately, the rule of law that made America great has gone by the wayside.

Blue@9 said...

BAS:

The prosecutors were within their rights to do what they did. They did not do anything illegal. The question becomes should the prosecutors have these rights? Is this open to abuse through completely legal means?

I think the answer is yes. I think the prosecutors have too many rights and going to trial puts the person at high risk for spending many years in prison.


I don't know if I agree with that. Prosecutors should have the power, but they should use better discretion (and get fired if they prosecute ridiculous cases). Not every prosecutor is this way either, but but we've created a bad system wherein they're incentivized to get cheap and easy convictions.

A kid running a lemonade stand is probably in violation of a half-dozen laws, and yet everyone who's sane understands that the gov't shouldn't haul her off to jail. It's ridiculous to convene a grand jury because a guy downloaded FREE academic articles.

Who the fuck cares if Swartz was an asshole or mentally ill or just plain unlikeable? The questions surrounding the prosecution stand independent of whatever anyone thinks of Swartz.

Cedarford said...

Marie -

Agree. Something awful has happened with our legal system.

1. It takes over three years to even start a trial of a Muslim mass-butcherer who did his deeds in front of dozens of eyewitnesses.

2. Not a single Wall Street crook from the 2008 Meltdown will serve a day in jail, even be fined it seems. Instead, the lawyers worked out a way for the crooks to be rewarded with taxpayer funds.

3. Prosecutors have compromised the right to trial by jury by threatening maximum penalties to citizens that they target for a variety of reasons - some political, some rooted in personal dislike of a defendent - that want to exercise that Constitutional right.

Jim Gust said...

This is a case of very serious prosecutorial misconduct. Have you read the public statements of Carmen Ortiz? She's far more mentally goofy than Swartz.

Remember, JSTOR, the only "victim" here, had settled, had asked the prosecution to be dropped.

MIT, to its shame, decided to be "neutral" and cooperate with the defense and prosecution alike. Heads should roll at MIT for that, but the biggest head, President Susan Hockfield, already retired. Look for a change of policy there later this year.

Please tell me, those of you who have no sympathy for Swartz, what public purpose is achieved by continued federal persecution of him after the only possible "victim" has settled? Why were they so eager to make an example of him? Was it payback for his SOPA activism? A legitimate way for Ortiz for further her political career? What?

Swartz was not the genius I initially thought him to be. Still, I tend to agree that he was murdered by the government.

dreams said...

I do think he was wrongly prosecuted for political reasons.

David Davenport said...

Perhaps he may have been diagnosable for bipolar disorder or OCD? Who knows? He's certainly not the first bright person to be a little nuts. Steve Jobs certainly exhibited some crazy behavior and proclivities.

If the federal prosecutors where aware of his nature, should they have done things differently?

////////

High functioning Aspergers? How could he be so technically brilliant but not be able to logically deduce the consequences of being caught?


If a defendant can get one or more psychiatrists to testify that the accused suffers from bipolar disorder or OCD or Asperger's syndrome, should the those disorders be considered a form of legal insanity or diminished mental capacity?

Should OCD, bipolar disorder, Asperger's syndrome, etc. be mitigating circumstances in deciding guilt or innocence?

///////

In the middle of this once-vibrant* culture you plop down a pretend-secure database on a pretend-secure network, filled with public-domain content that you make people pay to see. Swartz saw that as an affront to be mocked and exposed. The federal goverment saw it as a honeypot.

That M.I.T. "pretend-secure database on a pretend-secure network" -- isn't that what lawyers call an attractive nuisance, similar to a swimming pool with no lifeguard and without a fence around it? Seems like M.I.T. has some legal culpability for operating an attractive nuisance honeypot.

And busy bees such as the late Mr. Swartz have some culpability for betraying the university's easygoing trust, thereby increasing the paranoid mood of high security, lock-it-all-down-tight mistrust in American life. That's one result of Swartz's mockery. People such as Swartz turn a high-trust society into a low-trust society.

* Vibrant: synonym for "Democrat voter or voters."

Revenant said...

Seems like M.I.T. has some legal culpability for operating an attractive nuisance honeypot.

The "attractive nuisance" concept applies to children.

Swartz may have had the emotional maturity of a ten-year-old, but legally he was an adult.

Revenant said...

I do think he was wrongly prosecuted for political reasons.

Saying that someone was "wrongly prosecuted" implies that he wasn't guilty of the crimes he was accused of.

Swartz may have been prosecuted for political reasons, but he was guilty of multiple felonies and he knew it. People who think what they're doing is legal don't hide their faces from the security cameras.

Revenant said...

I suspect he did it that way on purpose, in order to emphasize how trivial it was.

So he committed a crime in order to demonstrate that committing the crime was easy? Dostoyevsky called, he wants his protagonist's motivation back. :)

It was the hacking equivalent of jaywalking

No, it was the hacking equivalent of walking into an unlocked house and rifling through the owner's possessions. Easy, yes. Legal or moral, no.

arbitrarily punishable by life in prison or 6 months, depending on whether the prosecutor liked you.

Can we please retire the myth that this jackass was facing "life in prison"? Under federal sentencing rules he would have received a few years in prison at most if convicted on all charges.

jr565 said...

Seriously? He was being persecuted by the Feds for downloading free articles. Do you have any idea what it's like to have a grand jury and a federal prosecutor on you?

ANd megaupload was sued because it was just sharing a few files!

Give me a break.

John Lynch said...

1. What struck me about this profile is that there was not one story about what Schwartz did for any particular, individual, person. It was all abstract- big ideas, big goals. Nothing about helping individual people.

2. MIT chose to press charges. Why? Were they tired of Schwartz's bullshit? Was it political? This is the big unanswered question. JSTOR, the database company, considered the matter closed. Who made that decision at MIT? Would someone else have gotten away with it?

3. His on again/ off again girlfriend testified in exchange for immunity. I'm not sure what else she should have done. She had a seven year old son. Who was going to take care of him? None of what happened was her idea, she counseled against it, and she wasn't the one who got caught.

Compare and contrast with the David Foster Wallace profile the New Yorker ran in 2009.

cubanbob said...

BAS said...
Does it matter if the guy was a nut or not?

The prosecutors were within their rights to do what they did. They did not do anything illegal. The question becomes should the prosecutors have these rights? Is this open to abuse through completely legal means?

I think the answer is yes. I think the prosecutors have too many rights and going to trial puts the person at high risk for spending many years in prison.

Perhaps the conversation can turn to how to change the laws in a balanced way that offers real rights to the accused person without making prosecution completely toothless.

3/5/13, 2:19 PM

Apparently where this Ortiz is all major federal crimes that can be prosecuted have been. One would have to believe that to justify the waste of judicial and prosecutorial resources to justify this prosecution.

Too bad it will never happen but stripping prosecutors, cops and judges of qualified immunity would greatly reduce the number of bad actors and as for the rest keep their minds focused on stating on the straight and narrow ethical road.

dreams said...

Its not good to be on the wrong side of government for they have the power, especially so when the instrument of that power is a politically ambitious prosecutor.

Revenant said...

Too bad it will never happen but stripping prosecutors, cops and judges of qualified immunity would greatly reduce the number of bad actors and as for the rest keep their minds focused on stating on the straight and narrow ethical road.

Swartz was caught on videotape committing a felony.

I'm all for stripping prosecutors, cops, et al, of their immunities. But it wouldn't have helped Swartz, because he wasn't innocent.

John Lynch said...

I doubt that if I wandered into my local library and downloaded the JSTOR database that the feds would prosecute me. I'd be in trouble, but I doubt I'd be facing prison. Whether the feds had some motive in prosecuting this case is a fair question. Simply because they could prosecute doesn't justify the fact that they did.

Discretion exists. It's fair to question the use of federal power in this case, and the motive behind it. There are many other, much more serious, crimes. This case looks arbitrary to me.

There are so many laws that can be violated and the penalties are so far out of proportion to the crime that it's fair to criticize the government when it brings the full weight of the law down on someone who doesn't seem to deserve it.

It's not enough to say "IT'S A FELONY HE DESERVES ANYTHING HE GETS." Really? Maybe the case is politically motivated? Maybe the law is too harsh? Maybe the law is just stupid? We can't talk about it because IT'S THE LAW? What is this? Judge Dredd?

Refusing to acknowledge the role of proprietorial discretion, and refusing to acknowledge possible injustice in the way the law is written, is ignorant.

I did not, and do not, like Mr. Schwartz or what he stood for. I like him even less after reading the profile in the New Yorker. I heap scorn of suicides for being cowardly, and I think that holds true in this case. People who break the law shouldn't be surprised when they are arrested. Anyone who wants to play political hardball should have a thicker skin.

However, we don't have to defer to a simple reading of the law (THE LAAAAAW) when judging whether the government should have prosecuted this case.

dreams said...

"I'm all for stripping prosecutors, cops, et al, of their immunities. But it wouldn't have helped Swartz, because he wasn't innocent."

The point is did his crime justify a prosecution or is this a case of prosecutorial misconduct.

cubanbob said...

Revenant said...
Too bad it will never happen but stripping prosecutors, cops and judges of qualified immunity would greatly reduce the number of bad actors and as for the rest keep their minds focused on stating on the straight and narrow ethical road.

Swartz was caught on videotape committing a felony.

I'm all for stripping prosecutors, cops, et al, of their immunities. But it wouldn't have helped Swartz, because he wasn't innocent.

3/5/13, 7:07 PM

After he refused to accept six months, a misdemeanor sentence, he was threatened with fifty years by said prosecutor. Using the law as an extortion racket to effectively destroy someone's life is by far the greater crime. He should have been tried for the very exact charges the prosecutor was willing to settle and no greater sentence if convicted if there was to be a prosecution at all.

Revenant said...

The point is did his crime justify a prosecution or is this a case of prosecutorial misconduct.

His crime justified a felony conviction and a prison sentence, just as it would merit a felony conviction and prison sentence if I decided to break into your house and snoop through your underwear drawer.

Was it was a cost-effective use of government resources? Probably not. But the little shit deserved to be behind bars, no question there.

John Lynch said...


THE LAAAAAAAAW.

Revenant said...

After he refused to accept six months, a misdemeanor sentence, he was threatened with fifty years by said prosecutor. Using the law as an extortion racket to effectively destroy someone's life is by far the greater crime.

Prosecutors don't determine sentences. Scwartz knew he wasn't facing fifty years in prison; he was facing two or three years in prison.

Also, threatening to prosecute someone for a crime they really DID commit is not "extortion", except inasmuch as all plea bargains are extortionate.

Brent said...

@Revenant

I've never heard of someone being threatened with 50 years in prison for snooping through someone's underwear drawer

Maguro said...

I've never heard of someone being threatened with 50 years in prison for snooping through someone's underwear drawer

You've never heard of it because people who get caught breaking and entering are usually smart enough to accept the plea bargIn. Those who refuse to plead guilty do get threatened with long prison terms, I'm sure.

David Davenport said...

Maybe the case is politically motivated?

JSTOR is part of the government-education complex. The government-education complex wanted to make an example using poor Mr. Swartz. That's your political motivation.

Is the government-education complex run by members of the National Ruifle Association who have their doubts about the theory of evolution?

Nope, JSTOR and the rest of the government-education complex is the fiefdom of vibrantly liberal, Progressive peepul.

Progressives with a cap. "P" crucified Aaron Swartz.

1. Welcome to JSTOR.

JSTOR's integrated digital platform (the “JSTOR Platform”) is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and other scholarly materials from around the world. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community take advantage of advances in technology, and is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, and foundations.

JSTOR has provided Terms and Conditions for use of the service (“Terms and Conditions of Service”) and its contents (“Content-Specific Terms and Conditions of Use”) in order to establish guidelines for responsible usage, to protect the rights of authors and publishers, and to facilitate the archiving and dissemination of high-quality content for the long-run benefit of the scholarly community.

These Terms and Conditions of Service will apply to your use of JSTOR and by using JSTOR, you are agreeing to these Terms and Conditions of Service. In addition to these Terms and Conditions of Service, the Content-Specific Terms and Conditions of Use will apply depending on the content you are accessing through the JSTOR Platform. In the event of any contradiction between these Terms and Conditions of Service and any Content-Specific Terms and Conditions of Use, the Content-Specific Terms and Conditions of Use will take precedence in relation to the content that you’re accessing.

Where applicable, these Terms and Conditions of Service apply to individuals and institutions accessing content through JSTOR and, where applicable, are subject to the agreement entered into between JSTOR and a user's affiliated institution, such as a user's college or university. If you have questions about your affiliated institution's participation agreement with JSTOR, please contact your librarian.

Please note that these Terms and Conditions of Use may vary depending on the Collection or Content you are accessing and/or whether your institution is subject to grant-related project terms

rcommal said...

to facilitate the archiving and dissemination of high-quality content for the long-run benefit of the scholarly community.

This is a key part of a sentence. Read it closely.

David Davenport said...

Maybe the case is politically motivated?

Apparently, dear old M.I.T. wanted to sic the law on Mr. Swartz:

From the New Yorker article:

He did not hack into the M.I.T. system—he didn’t have to. M.I.T.’s network is open to anyone on campus, whether or not they are part of the university, so anyone on campus has access to jstor, too.He wrote a script that instructed his computer to download articles continuously, something that was forbidden by jstor’s terms of service. When this violation was detected, and requests coming from his computer were denied, he spoofed the computer’s address, fooling the jstor servers into thinking that subsequent requests were coming from somewhere else. This happened several times. M.I.T. traced the requests to his laptop, which he had hidden in an unlocked closet, and installed a hidden camera there that recorded him entering the closet, covering his face with a bike helmet. He was arrested after leaving the closet. The police took away his shoes and put him in a cell. Soon after his arrest, he returned the data he had taken, and jstor considered the matter settled. M.I.T., however, coƶperated with the prosecution, despite many efforts, internal and external, to dissuade it.

In other words, Mr. Swartz not only messed with JSTOR. Swartz also cheated and thereby damaged M.I.T.'s casual, open knowledge-sharing ethos.

And no, downloading millions of JSTOR docs is not the same as time-hallowed student pranks and traditions such as stealing a cannon from Cal Tech.

kentuckyliz said...

OMG this guy sounds delusional. Thank God he offed himself before he could get to Washington.

kentuckyliz said...

Hopefully Ashley Judd gets the same idea.

rcommal said...

Whatever else "who-ever" might say about this whole thing, one can say this: Suddenly, JSTOR has come into an oddly casual parlance. Next up: "Elsevier", among etc., will roll as trippingly on the tongue as well as off (as if either has been rolling there for any length of time beforehand).

Revenant said...

I've never heard of someone being threatened with 50 years in prison for snooping through someone's underwear drawer

Oh look, it's the "50 years in prison" myth again.

Boring.

rcommal said...

Also, an additional thought:

Thank God that Aaron Swartz eschewed fiction. What he read was non-fiction (except for, of course, the...exceptions, if you'll pardon the expression, not to mention the redundancy).