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Slate's Mini-Biography of Aaron Swartz

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the rest-in-peace dept.

Crime 39

New submitter ElDuque writes "Slate's top story today is a long, heavily-researched article about the life of, and case against, Aaron Swartz. It covers the formative years of both Mr. Swartz and the free information / open knowledge movement he felt so strongly about. Quoting: 'Aaron Swartz is a difficult puzzle. He was a programmer who resisted the description, a dot-com millionaire who lived in a rented one-room studio. He could be a troublesome collaborator but an effective troubleshooter. He had a talent for making powerful friends, and for driving them away. He had scores of interests, and he indulged them all. ... He was fascinated by large systems, and how an organization’s culture and values could foster innovation or corruption, collaboration or paranoia. Why does one group accept a 14-year-old as an equal partner among professors and professionals while another spends two years pursuing a court case that’s divorced from any sense of proportionality to the alleged crime? How can one sort of organization develop a young man like Aaron Swartz, and how can another destroy him?'"

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Blame (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837711)

No organization destroyed Aaron Swartz. An individual did.

Re:Blame (0)

Sir or Madman (2818071) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837821)

Nice. Blame the dead guy.

An organization certainly contributed. Not all of us have stoney constitutions able to withstand huge amounts of stress.

Yeah, I realize that you're a first-posting AC, but try to have some compassion.

Re:Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837927)

It's not entirely clear from OP's message, but perhaps the 'individual' in this case is the federal prosecutor, not the dead guy.

Re:Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42838121)

That's what I got out of it. It was pretty much Carmen Ortiz and her alone.

Re:Blame (1)

Sir or Madman (2818071) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838385)

Or Steve Heymann. Or both of them.

Or maybe I did misread it. In that case, sorry OP for thinking you were a personal responsibility zealot!

Re:Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839309)

I don't think healthy young people should kill themselves. Am I a zealot?

Re:Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839507)

They did a shitty thing and someone should answer for that.

They didn't kill him. They don't have to answer for that.

Why is this complicated?

Change, then walk [Re:Blame] (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42840941)

A quick summary of the article: Aaron Schwartz's pattern was to be annoyed with organizations because they didn't deal with him the way he thought they should deal with him. He would first try to change them and when that doesn't work, then bag it and leave.
The prosecutor's office didn't deal with him the way he thought they should deal with him. (which was, apparently, that they should say "oh, you're just a kid, we'll apologize and drop all charges.") He tried to change them, and when that didn't work, he discovered that there was only one way he could just bag it and leave.

Re:Blame (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839119)

Only 1500 signatures needed before monday (probably monday early morning) for fire Steve Heymann white house petition [whitehouse.gov] See also Aaron's partner post [tumblr.com] for more details.

This probably won't get an answer but once the treshhold is reached, the petition will remain readable indefinitely on the white house website. This won't look good on his resume when it comes to be promoted. That's reason enough to sign.

I went there and signed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842149)

Your post triggered my registering there, and I signed. Now, the reason why I never registered before is... I'm not american!
 
While registering I basically waited for an IP or domain name or postcode detection (the way merchant site do when not wishing to handle foreign shipping), but no, nothing. I entered my plain, open European coordinates, and indeed was accepted, like an US voter apparently. This is, well, striking.

Re:I went there and signed... (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#42843969)

Your post triggered my registering there, and I signed. Now, the reason why I never registered before is... I'm not american!

While registering I basically waited for an IP or domain name or postcode detection (the way merchant site do when not wishing to handle foreign shipping), but no, nothing. I entered my plain, open European coordinates, and indeed was accepted, like an US voter apparently. This is, well, striking.

That is because nobody in the government cares. The petition website is a farce, no significant action is ever taken on the petitions that gain enough signers.

Re:Blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839857)

However you interpret his life, I thought the article was really well done, a concise and comprehensive short bio. Worth the time for anyone who has only been casually following all the drama behind Aaron Schwartz's suicide.

St. Aaron the Martyr (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837817)

Blessed be.

eulogy (0)

kirthn (64001) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837819)

amazing eulogy actually, unfortunately instead of a curriculum..

Re:eulogy (0)

kirthn (64001) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837847)

...before it's mis-interpreted, it's a shame it's a eulogy, he should have been alive...

Sign the petition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837915)

Sign the petition [whitehouse.gov] against Steve Heymann, one of the psycho prosecutors. Only 1,700 more signatures are needed.

The White House should have a chance to respond before anarchy breaks loose.

Re:Sign the petition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42838251)

Anarchy for what? A depressed guy killed himself? Please.

Of course, I'm not going to argue that the Federal Prosecutors weren't jerks, but it's easy to become a jerk when your job is to try and put people in jail for a living.

I knew some people like him (3, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838003)

When I was a MIT and Stanford. Very clever, creative people but never "joiners" of any group, whether the group was classmates, sports, or coworkers. Should ever a new group coalease around them, then they'd switch to something different. I was never sure if the reason was disdain, boredom, or as the clever outsider they'd be in the spotlight. Group membership can give you emotional support, especially when things are going bad. Most of these people I knew turned into lost souls.

Re:I knew some people like him (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842497)

"Most of these people I knew turned into lost souls."

How many did you try and save?

Re:I knew some people like him (1)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about a year and a half ago | (#42849139)

When I read the Slate article, my thought was that he simply landed at the wrong university. He would have fit in well over at Berkeley when I was a student there in the late 90s & early 00s, and the focus of our classes matched what it sounds like he craved. That said, I ddin't feel like the Slate article was necessarily terribly accurate; among many other discrepancies, I've run across too many articles now (like Cory Doctorow's [boingboing.net] ) that say he was well-liked, had quite a few friends that he collaborated with, and that his big problem was more that he had trouble dealing with the disappointment when his friends/mentors didn't live up to his expectations.

Personal stories (4, Informative)

jd659 (2730387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838029)

If you are interested in meeting someone who knew Aaron personally and ask questions, I suggest you attend a great and free talk by Cory Doctorow. There will be a discussion about Aaron Swartz. Specific details are here: http://craphound.com/ [craphound.com]

Saturday Feb 9th in Salt Lake City, UT http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/event-141058-cory-doctorow-signing-and-reading-homeland.html [cityweekly.net]

Sunday Feb 10th in Tempe, AZ http://events.azfamily.com/Cory_Doctorow_Homeland/269560116.html [azfamily.com]

Re:Personal stories (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42841883)

Doctorow whoring for some exposition and fame... how noble of him aas usual...

this bio is for you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42838113)

bio for __________ (your name)

birth
school
work
death

in an O'Reilly nutshell

middle two are optional especially around here

Interestingly enough... (2)

jones_supa (887896) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838199)

Today most of us would probably have never even heard about Aaron Swartz if he was still alive. Only the death gave him all the respect as the fighter of information freedom.

Re:Interestingly enough... (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838319)

Which, in retrospect, is a terrible reason to give him respect. Dying for something is far easier than living for it. Although, in this case, as I understand it, it wasn't even a statement, it was just depression. So, in my mind, it gives him notoriety, but I sincerely hope no one actually thinks his point was made by doing this, as it's fairly certain that even he wasn't trying to make a statement with it.

Re:Interestingly enough... (2)

jd659 (2730387) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838577)

Today most of us would probably have never even heard about Aaron Swartz if he was still alive. Only the death gave him all the respect as the fighter of information freedom.

It's like saying that only the massacre in Sandy Hook made us aware of the violence issues that exists. Had that not happened, no one would even even know that!

The truth is, many people were informed about Aaron's achievements and were discussing the ideas.

Re:Interestingly enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842067)

I knew Aaron's work, and remember is contributions to Steam this Film II specifically, but admittedly knew little about the man personally. I think a contributing element of his death was that the hacker community has no fully established support mechanism for those who find themselves in legal trouble. Support from the wider community only comes after widespread publicity or outrage. Look at Geohotz, Richard O'Dwyer for example. The tech media can't focus on every case of tech injustice, there are so damn many. What we need is a support structure for techies who are getting fucked over in one way, shape or form. Support can be in proper legal help or in moral support.

It's not the first time one of our community has been made an example of, and it won't be the last. We need to do better in defending each other from this kind of maliciousness from powerful institutions.

Re:Interestingly enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42848345)

Or you could, you know... not act like you're somehow above society because you're doing bad shit "on a computer"

He earned the Internet elite's respect first (1)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about a year and a half ago | (#42849005)

From everything I've read, he was already well-known & respected among the Internet elite (plus becoming close friends with many of them) as he'd been actively contributing to projects like the Semantic Web since he was 13-14 years old, and was easily mistaken for an adult online due to how well-spoken and bright he was.

He'd then ended up gaining the respect of people active in intellectual property reform by releasing a massive number of public/government law documents with others in the PACER/RECAP project, rallying people with his own activist org Demand Progress, and then by acquiring & intending to release a massive amount of scholarly articles that weren't available outside affluent libraries & universities.

The public didn't hear about him (and people like me aware of IP activism but not involved in it didn't know his name/identity) until his suicide, yes. However, just killing oneself or being made 'an example' by the government doesn't get that kind of attention -- in order to do that, a person has to do something to gain the respect of some fairly influential people first.

How? (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838367)

How can one sort of organization develop a young man like Aaron Swartz, and how can another destroy him?'"

That's not even a difficult question. A university is dedicated to producing educated people as a product. That doesn't mean that the product can't end up attacking the organization that produced him. That's like saying you can't shoot a gun at a gun factory. Or perhaps more appropriately, it's like saying that a soldier can't turn on the Army that trained them to shoot. It happens all the time because while the army teaches you to shoot, and university teaches you other things, neither of them necessarily can control how you use those skills.

Re:How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42840123)

Aaron didn't "shoot a gun in a gun factory". He *kept shooting* and kept trying to hide his traces. Gun factories teach gun safety because they have to: any idiot who started unloading a firearm in a gun factory the way Aaron spewed his abuse through MIT's networks would have been sent him without his last paycheck because the wages would be docked for damages, he'd be in court for assault with a deadly weapon, and on the way of being dragged to the cops by the factory workers they'd have to carry his teeth in a different bag.

And the result will be *bad* for the idiot who is so careless. They'll often be lucky to live long enough to reach the court martial or the court, and they're very unlikely to have pick up their teeth and put them in a plastic bag. Both local enforcement and criminal prosecution *will* happen for that kind of case.

Why not Harvard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42838851)

Here'a an odd thing I noticed in that article: he actually had a fellowship at Harvard when he did this. Since he had access to JSTOR through Harvard, why did he go across town to MIT to do his downloading? He could have done it from the network that he actually had legimate access to, but he didn't.
It sure looks like he was quite aware that what he was doing was going to be taken amiss.

Re:Why not Harvard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839901)

You noticed the point about his fellowship at Harvard but you didn't bother to read the all the details following that sentence. There's plenty of explanations and interpretations about this in the article.

He was never comfortable (3, Interesting)

Beeftopia (1846720) | about a year and a half ago | (#42841087)

Car analogy: He had the massive brain, but not the emotional suspension to effectively harness the power to his benefit.

Valuing discipline is so important in life. No one is smart enough to flit from one task to another, leaving brilliant solutions in one's wake. 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration.

From what I've read, he was never really comfortable. Emotionally or physically.

Growing up is about finding out what you are, finding out about the world. He was such a prodigy and as a result, this soft, depressive, immature kid was thrust into the real world, the big stage, of hard, combative people. A world he had no opportunity to learn about. Many of us have made mistakes but were able to recover. He never had that chance. He stepped into something he, as an introverted young man, had no idea about. He was an introverted, depressive youth on the big stage. He never learned how to cage his internal tormentors. He followed hard men, Stallman and Lessig, into battle. And the battle he stumbled into crushed him.

An unfortunate confluence of circumstances. A tragedy.

From his obituary in The Economist: [economist.com]

"All this added to a weight that had oppressed him for many years. “Look up, not down,” he urged readers of his weblog; “Embrace your failings.” “Lean into the pain.” It was hard to take that advice himself. He kept getting ill, several illnesses at once. Migraines sliced into his scalp; his body burned. And he was sad most of the time, a sadness like streaks of pain running through him. Books, friends, philosophy, even blogs didn’t help. He just wanted to lie in bed and keep the lights off.

In 2002 he posted instructions for after his death (though I’m not dead yet! he added). To be in a grave would be all right, as long as he had access to oxygen and no dirt on top of him; and as long as all the contents of his hard drives were made publicly available, nothing deleted, nothing withheld, nothing secret, nothing charged for; all information out in the light of day, as everything should be."

The human brain is funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42845283)

if it were not for the awful tragedy of AS death, and his puppy dog good looks and kid gee whiz story, what would we think, based on teh facts ?

We would think he was a spoiled rich brat who thought he could violate the law and not have to pay the consequences
NO, he was not an idealist - if he was an idealist, he would have been willing to face the consequences of his actions
(the terms of service ban use of scripts for automated download; AS tried to use scripts several times; as a result, JSTOR cut off access to *all of MIT*

But of course, we can't say that, cause....

Aaron did NOT sound suicidal in his last vid.talk (1)

ivi (126837) | about a year and a half ago | (#42846347)

Someday, some new evidence will arise... of Aaron's murder - committed by someone or several, who share the "fire-in-the-eyes" of the senator, who Aaron met at a party (per his last video talk).

He said (in the same video), that he'd never -give- his Life for (any such issue), so I don't believe he would -take- his Life for this or any other issue.

Re:Aaron did NOT sound suicidal in his last vid.ta (1)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about a year and a half ago | (#42848929)

Severely depressed & even suicidal people often can hide it dangerously well, especially around others that aren't close enough to know little tell-tale signs. Also, at least 2-3 people that were extremely close to him wrote that he was known among friends to have been fighting repeated bouts with depression for years. He evidently was known among his close friends as the sort that hated to accept help, and that he believed it was crucial to appear to the world as if the prosecution wasn't getting to him.

Speaking as somebody that has been close to severely depressed people, there's also the huge problem that eventually the repeated mood crashes look normal & un-alarming -- so it's very common for loved ones to be caught off-guard by a suicide (or attempt). From the outside, we can only see a rough outline of just how bad the depression is, and a non-dangerous "very badly depressed" tends to look a hell of a lot like "suicidally depressed" unless the person wants us to know. If that person isn't the demonstrative sort, or the depression has convinced them (as often happens) that they're a horrible burden everyone would be better without, then we only see it in involuntary/unintentional actions, and that's if we know what to look for.

Aaron Swartz's behavior the day before & day of his death was a textbook example of red flags for looming suicide. He abruptly shifted from miserable to upbeat, and took one of the people closest to him out to a special meal and indulged in his absolute favorite foods... The next morning, he was visibly depressed and said that he was going to stay at home alone to "rest" and pretended to not notice when asked why he had (evidently out of character) gotten fully dressed as if going out in public. Somebody as depressed as he evidently was won't have the energy to get totally dressed for no reason at all.

Yes, it's possible that he was murdered, but there'd be little reason for anyone to bother: MIT & JSTOR had dropped charges, while the prosecution fully believed at that point that they were guaranteed to win, either in a court trial or by forcing him to accept a pretty vicious plea bargain. I don't believe that it's an act of freedom or anything other than a tragic loss, but depression is the emotional equivalent of profound hallucination -- and I don't think we do his memory or others fighting the disorder justice by favoring conspiracy theories over recognizing just how deadly it can be to even the brightest, strongest, most rational people.

Get over it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42850313)

What is this the 30th slashdot article on his suicide? Suicide does not make you a hero, or a martyr, it makes you pathetic.

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