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'Dangerously Naive' Aaron Swartz 'Destroyed Himself'

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the serious-consequences dept.

Education 362

theodp writes "In July, MIT drew criticism after issuing a report clearing itself in the suicide of Aaron Swartz. So, one wonders what Swartz supporters will make of The Lessons of Aaron Swartz, an MIT Technology Review op-edish piece penned by MIT EE/CS prof Hal Abelson, who chaired the review panel. Calling Swartz 'dangerously naïve about the reality of exercising that power [of technology], to the extent that he destroyed himself' (others say prosecutorial overreach destroyed him), Abelson questions 'whether the people who mentored Swartz and helped him achieve such brilliance and power had a responsibility to cultivate not only his technical excellence and his passion as an advocate but also, as my grandmother would have called it, seykhel-a wonderful Yiddish word that means a combination of intelligence and common sense.'"

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362 comments

"not cynism enough" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044353)

cynism want everybody to be cynism?

Re:"not cynism enough" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044441)

If cynicism is what keeps you from situations where you're going to kill yourself, then "Viva Cinismo!".

Hope it makes him feel better (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | about 6 months ago | (#45044355)

Well, Hal, if this is what it takes to let you sleep at night despite your and your school's part in Swartz's persecution, have at it. But I doubt too many people are buying it; at this late date pretty much everyone's mind is made up anyway.

It seems that "using power responsibly" usually means subordinating oneself to the whims of politicans and bureaucrats; to defy their will using one's technical prowess is immature, irresponsible, etc. The upshot is that if you're not a politician, you should sit down, shut up, and obey. I don't accept that.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 months ago | (#45044523)

I wonder if Abelson's grandmother ever taught him about human decency, dignity, or shame?

Generation Y's unusual sense of "responsibility". (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044681)

Generation Y (that is, the reddit crowd) sure does have a rather weird sense of "responsibility", in general.

Why should anyone aside from Mr. Swartz feel responsible for something harmful that Mr. Swartz did to himself, by himself, completely voluntarily? They shouldn't, of course.

So many members of Generation Y completely pervert the concept of responsibility in all respects. Not only is Mr. Swartz incorrectly absolved of his responsibility in this ordeal, but others with no responsibility at all are somehow considered to be "responsible".

Here we have nearly an entire generation completely misunderstanding a very basic concept like responsibility. It's quite unusual, quite absurd, and to some extent quite scary.

Amazing lack of humanity there. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044711)

If mental torture didn't work, nobody would try it.

If bullying didn't work, nobody would try it.

But you're a shit, so what the hell am I doing? You're not listening.

Re: Amazing lack of humanity there. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044799)

Good job of reinforcing GP's point there. The shocking part is, you won't get it at all.

Re: Amazing lack of humanity there. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044981)

Indeed. That response could not have done a better job of proving the original assertions to be completely factual.

That generation's utter miscomprehension of the concept of responsibility causes some of them to mistakenly think that holding somebody (like Swartz) responsible for objectionable behavior is "mental torture" or "bullying".

Then when somebody (like Swartz) unilaterally acts in a way that's harmful to himself, this generation's twisted understanding of responsibility causes many of them to think that everyone but the sole responsible party is somehow responsible!

It's unbelievably hypocritical, and even rather stupid.

Re:Generation Y's unusual sense of "responsibility (5, Insightful)

similar_name (1164087) | about 6 months ago | (#45044885)

It's not a Generation Y thing, it's a philosophical question. You're basically arguing that a defendant is wholly responsible for the consequences of his action regardless of the weight of those consequences and the arbitrary nature in which they seem to be applied. Some argue that society has some responsibility to enforce laws evenly, clearly and with consequences weighted appropriately to the harm against society done.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 6 months ago | (#45044795)

Well, Hal, if this is what it takes to let you sleep at night despite your and your school's part in Swartz's persecution

You'd think MIT's psychology department would have pointed out the obvious flaw [wikipedia.org] in this logic, but I'm guessing management [npr.org] had something to do with that. But I'm sure it's an isolated case. You can't have an entire school convert to fascism [wikipedia.org] overnight without its students noticing something was going horribly wrong. I mean, if something is very, very obviously wrong and you see everybody else doing it, you wouldn't just go along with it [wikipedia.org].

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044819)

It seems that "using power responsibly" usually means subordinating oneself to the whims of politicans and bureaucrats;

It's funny if you open this thread for the first time, all I see are posts that support Swartz. I don't see any expanded posts that support Professor Abelson.

There are two reasons for this:

1) many of Slashdot's moderators have spent a fair chunk of time illegally downloading MP3 files, software, and textbooks, so they are sympathetic to what Swartz did

2) on "religious" issues such as this, the mods want to turn Slashdot into an advocacy site, so they want opposing viewpoints to be buried. I have this picture in my mind of mods doing the same thing I described, scanning the entire page and making sure that all the posts that are rated 4 or 5 support the "good guys/right thinking" POV. If not, the mods go back to work.

On #1, that's the way things came about. OK.

However, I think #2 is an abomination, the opposite of what a forum (or an academic journal, for that matter) is supposed to be about. Political Correctness at its worst, and yes mods, I'm talking about you.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (1)

publiclurker (952615) | about 6 months ago | (#45044865)

No, spoiled children always think they are entitled to do whatever they want and then expect everyone else to deal with the consequences.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (4, Insightful)

TemperedAlchemist (2045966) | about 6 months ago | (#45044895)

Dangerously naive? Perhaps.

I think I can agree with the author on that point.

Destroyed himself?

Well thanks for pointing out the obvious, suicide is by definition self destructive.

---

But let's cut through the crap now shall we? MIT, you've disgraced yourself. I don't think it's your fault you don't have a backbone; you hire people for their brains, not for their strength of will or conviction. And so too are your students chosen for intellect and character. Which is something I appreciate and hold in high regard. But it seems you lack strength in your character.

Neither does this excuse you. Aaron's blood is on your hands, and you must carry that burden.

It's your responsibility to protect your students. He was a naive idealist, no argument here, but yet you let him die. Yes; you LET him die. Fearful for your own status and the legal action of an out of control prosecutor, you stepped out of the way when the gun was pointed at him. And even now you're trying to dodge all the bullets, trying to cling to neutrality.

And I say this as someone aspiring to go to MIT some day.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045035)

It's your responsibility to protect your students.

What does this have to do with anything? Swartz was never affiliated with MIT! (He went to Stanford, and was a research fellow at Harvard...)

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (5, Informative)

LargeMythicalReptile (531143) | about 6 months ago | (#45045027)

Well, Hal, if this is what it takes to let you sleep at night despite your and your school's part in Swartz's persecution, have at it. But I doubt too many people are buying it; at this late date pretty much everyone's mind is made up anyway.

Including Slashdotters', apparently. But since you're making this about Abelson rather than Swartz, here are a few facts about the man you're casually brushing off.

Abelson is an old Lisp hacker. He has a long history of standing up for Freedom, in the sense /. appreciates. He's on the Board of Directors of the FSF, and was in fact one of the directors at its founding. He has solidly been in support of David LaMacchia [wikipedia.org], bunnie Huang [hackingthexbox.com], and Keith Winstein [wikipedia.org].

He has not shied away from standing up for freedom of information, even if there are heavy legal consequences involved.

He also puts his money where his mouth is, releasing a number of his own works for free. Before ebooks were a thing, he made sure his book was available for free online [mit.edu]. He helped get OpenCourseWare [wikipedia.org] off the ground. Heck, he's released (under Creative Commons) video of some of his own lectures...from 1986 [mit.edu].

He's an expert in the area (in addition to the above personal experience, he also teaches a course on Ethics and Law in the Electronic Frontier [mit.edu]). He also spent six months investigating and writing a book-length report about the Swartz case, and MIT's response to it, in particular. The summary describes the report as MIT "clearing itself"--while the report details that MIT did nothing legally wrong, it also goes into the moral and ethical issues of MIT's response without reaching a bright-line conclusion.

So, with all of this as context, which is more likely:
-Abelson is trying to make Swartz look like a bad guy in order that he can "sleep at night", or
-The man with a long history of views and actions supporting freedom of information, with a background in ethics and law on computer-related issues, who quite possibly is the single individual who has done the most thinking about the details of the Swartz case and MIT's response to it (and certainly knows more about it and has thought more about it than any Slashdotter), honestly and genuinely thinks that Swartz was naive about the realities of the situation he got himself into....and maybe, just maybe, it might make sense to give at least a small amount of genuine, honest consideration to his views?

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about 6 months ago | (#45045065)

The thing is they are both right. MIT pursued this entire thing when there was much ado about nothing and they should have asked that the whole thing be dropped. Certainly the prosecutor abused their discretion in pursuing the case as if it was round up of the local mafia.

Should the prosecutor have been fired - certainly. Did MIT Pursue this when they should have let it go - certainly. However, that doesn't change the fact that Swartz was dangerously naive, and I don't think anyone with a clue can honestly dispute that.

Re:Hope it makes him feel better (2)

fermion (181285) | about 6 months ago | (#45045107)

The naivete is that there will not be consequences. Responsible parents and educators tell their kids that when they try to make a name for themselves, when they start playing with big boys in the real world, and not the fake world of high school or college, there will be no protection. That daddy's money and lawyers will no longer keep you out of jail.

You don't think that his father did not have to do some questionable things to win his lawsuit in an attempt to stop Linux from crushing his company?

I keep saying and thinking this is a cautionary tale. I see high school kids breaking laws all the time, sometimes for good, and not realizing that someone might come after them. It will usually be, as in this case, because the kids are costing them a lot of money, which is interpreted as stealing food and shelter from their kids. It is the scooby doo thing, i would have gotten away with it if it weren't for the meddling kids. Except sometimes the needling kids get dead.

In a world of lollipops and sugar cookies everything would be fair. The laws would be a minimal set of rules that kept us safe, and we could share information and knowledge and process and all growth wealthy in terms of our physical, emotional, and psychological health. But in the real world people want stuff and will go to extremes to keep the stuff. Just like this kids dad did in the past.

So if blaming other people for the way the world is helps you sleep at night, then go ahead and be naive. As one grows and matures one realizes that we all have culpability, and sometimes the best way to help is not by blaming other people, not by taking other peoples stuff, but by setting an example of behavior. You know, by being a community organzier rather than a script kiddie.

Common sense? (5, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | about 6 months ago | (#45044357)

Being prosecuted for being a whistleblower, being followed, being harassed... to expect and deal with that is common sense?

Re:Common sense? (2)

chill (34294) | about 6 months ago | (#45044399)

When that has been the pattern throughout history? Yes. He should have expected his treatment, as wrong as it is, at the very least it shouldn't have been a surprise.

Re:Common sense? (5, Informative)

jythie (914043) | about 6 months ago | (#45044547)

Thing is, the treatment is so randomly applied that it should be a surprise. We occasionally hear about stories that get big, but for the most part the same basic actions, even when discovered, result in minimal problems 99% of the time. One never knows when some ambitious DA will decide to up the profile of the case and make an example of the person.

To say it was his fault is a bit like saying "well, this family was killed by a drunk driver, but they should have known better then to go on a highway when bars were closing". While technically true that their actions had a risk, the fault still was elsewhere and the odds were normally on their side.

Re:Common sense? (2)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 months ago | (#45044449)

Out of interest, what did he whistleblow? I thought he just decided that access to a particular journel or somethign was too expensive and decided to download and distribute as much as he cold get his hands on?

Re:Common sense? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044513)

He didn't "whistleblow" anything...he simply downloaded publicly available information in a non-illegal manner, and was then charged with "hacking" and then faced a 50-year sentence. The prosecution and all associated entities basically badgered him to death trying to get him to admit wrongdoing while there was none.

And submitter theodp, who stated in the summary "seykhel-a wonderful Yiddish word that means a combination of intelligence and common sense." Nobody gives a shit that you or your grandma are goddamn Yids. You're starting to sound a lot like Sarah Silverman, who thinks everything she says is funny just because she's Jewish. She's not. You're not. In fact, the world would be 90% more safe if Israel were wiped off the face of the map.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:Common sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044655)

I like how slashdot has the ability to bring out the same quality of comments as youtube. go back to germany!

Re:Common sense? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044961)

Actually, he decided that access to taxpayer-funded research shouldn't be locked behind a third-party paywall.

Re:Common sense? (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 6 months ago | (#45044453)

In a word, "yes". What do you think happens to other people who use civil disobedience? Garden party invitations?

Re:Common sense? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 6 months ago | (#45044565)

Yeah, actually; and if you do what he did, be sure to do it more secretly, otherwise you'd be a fool to expect different treatment.

and my grandma says... (2)

alphatel (1450715) | about 6 months ago | (#45044361)

Common sense would have dictated a year of probation with a suspended sentence for such a silly offense. Surely Hal has the 'chutzpah' to admit when he's being a shnook.

Re:and my grandma says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044561)

my granny lived through two wars, and it was cold in the winter.

Bad people burned many books, but it generated heat. Keeping good books locked up does not benefit the majority, it generates inequality.

Re:and my grandma says... (5, Insightful)

Lloyd_Bryant (73136) | about 6 months ago | (#45044663)

Just out of curiosity, exactly what "offense" did he commit that you think is worth even a year's probabation with a suspended sentence.

He used MIT's computer system to accomplish what it was designed to do. All he did was do a lot more of it than the designers were expecting.

There mght have been a civil copyright issue here, but none of the copyright holders appeared interested in pursuing such a case.

And there definitely was a "using more than your fair share of shared resources" issue, which is not a crime (unless you're a federal prosecutor with an axe to grind).

To me, "common sense" dictates that MIT should have pulled him aside, and informed him that his massive downloads were not acceptable, and if they didn't stop, he would be officially banned from using MIT's network in the future. Once banned from the network, if he continued his activities he would *then* actually be guilty of a crime worthy of prosecution.

Re: and my grandma says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044845)

If it were designed to do what he did, there would have been no access controls in place. Also, the system was designed to make the articles indexed and thus usable. All Scwartz did was hoard everything into a big monolithic lump and dump it out. Everything he did seems like nearly the opposite of what the MIT system was doing.

Common sense? (5, Insightful)

deanklear (2529024) | about 6 months ago | (#45044375)

Is there a yiddish word for asshole?

The most damage Aaron could have possibly done is damage the profits of a private corporation. For that, he was hounded until he decided to take his own life.

Common sense tells me that his death is a tragedy, period. The only people who should be feeling shame are the sycophants who are defending the right of the powerful to abuse the powerless. May you reap what you sow.

Re:Common sense? (1, Informative)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 6 months ago | (#45044569)

> Is there a yiddish word for asshole?

Schmuck
(well, at least it is the neighbor of an asshole)

Re:Common sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044787)

> Is there a yiddish word for asshole?

Schmuck (well, at least it is the neighbor of an asshole)

Nearly everyone has a neighbor who is an asshole. Does that make us all schmucks? I was just getting used to the idea that we're all sons of bitches. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Common sense? (0)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 6 months ago | (#45045059)

'Asshole' actually has origins as an anti-homosexual slur. It should be considered similar to 'the N word' but few people even understand the history behind the term.

Ok then (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044377)

Dangerously naive you say? Well, in that case, it was totally fine to hound him to death for doing nothing wrong.

MIT murdered Aaron (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044385)

Hitler would have been proud

This is very simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044395)

CYA by blaming the victim.

His own fault? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044407)

Yes, it was his own fault that he was destroyed for being "dangerously naive" in thinking prosecutors wouldn't overreach their bounds. Wow, this is very odd coming from an MIT professor, where students are striving for excellence in often very theoretical fields...not every engineer needs to have his feet on the ground when developing theoretical solutions. Good thing this professor has his head in the clouds, and is "dangerously naive" about how his school helped prosecutors lean on a student, and then justified the school's actions, instead of protecting the student.

I'm sure this professor won't have any negative action from his naive comments.

Er, all of the above? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044419)

Aaron Swartz was an activist. He attacked what he perceived as a corrupt system in a more-or-less open manner. That type of activism, in service of a cause he fervently believed in, was and is praiseworthy even if you perceive it as misguided. But it's worth asking whether or not he went in with both eyes open.

Absolutely Aaron Swartz was mistreated by the criminal justice system. He had the full weight of the system thrown at him, and the fact of the matter is that system is harsh. But independently of how harsh the system is, it's worth noting that Aaron clearly had few ideas of the consequences. So in one sense, prosecutorial overreach destroyed him, but in another, behavior without full knowledge of the consequences led him down that same path. Aaron could have gone on to become the next Larry Lessig if he had had guidance on how to moderate his methods and work to change the powers that be from within. Instead, he's dead. Hal Abelson doesn't get this point across well, but that's ultimately what he's trying to say.

Re:Er, all of the above? (1)

russotto (537200) | about 6 months ago | (#45044737)

So in one sense, prosecutorial overreach destroyed him, but in another, behavior without full knowledge of the consequences led him down that same path. Aaron could have gone on to become the next Larry Lessig if he had had guidance on how to moderate his methods and work to change the powers that be from within.

ROTFL. Lessig hans't changed "the powers that be from within". He merely outlined that the system doesn't work that way. He LOST Eldred, his side LOST 2600, he LOST Kahle, and he LOST Golan. The next person who believes in the myth of change within system even as the system demonstrates otherwise? No, I don't think it's likely he would have become that.

Re:Er, all of the above? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044925)

Oh boy, the logic of "just because it hasn't worked means it will never work." So you're claiming that Lessig, the EFF, the free culture movements, and everyone else that works to raise awareness and try for reform are pursuing a fool's errand? If you think so, then at least be clear that you're more or less a latter-day revolutionary who believes that the only way to reform the system is to destroy it first.

Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibility. (4, Interesting)

TwineLogic (1679802) | about 6 months ago | (#45044437)

This Aaron Swartz affair has guaranteed that none of my kids will be attending MIT.

Re:Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibilit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044527)

This Aaron Swartz affair has guaranteed that none of my kids will be attending MIT.

Yeah, and the steroid/PED scandal has guaranteed that none of your kids will pursue a career in the major league baseball.

Re:Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibilit (1)

Guru80 (1579277) | about 6 months ago | (#45044593)

You might as well expand that to every single major University in the world. They are all the same more or less from that perspective.

Re:Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibilit (1)

TwineLogic (1679802) | about 6 months ago | (#45044797)

Hardly. MIT operates a national laboratory (Lincoln Lab) and is essentially an off-shoot of the federal government. Yes, all schools take funding. Schools like Caltech, MIT, and others which operate national labs are extreme examples of federal entanglement.

Re:Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibilit (-1, Flamebait)

JockTroll (996521) | about 6 months ago | (#45044701)

First, you don't have kids because no-one would screw you. Second, even if you could reproduce through artificial insemination or through rape (a common fantasy among geeks until they actually try and get beaten up HARD) your polluted genes would produce a substandard specimen just like you are. And third, you don't have the money to send a kid to study anywhere. Now, be like you hero swartz and kill yourself. Did you know that he was all purple in the face, with his tongue hanging out and his bloodshot eyes bulging out when his mama found him? His pants were soiled with piss and shit. What AN HERO he was. :)

Re: Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibili (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044907)

Those are the symptoms of a victim of autoerotic asphyxiation, which the family ALWAYS wants to be relabeled as a suicide. Are we sure Aaron didn't just make a terrible mistake while trying to get off?

Re:Hal is correct that parents have a resonsibilit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044995)

A lesson for his kids. How to not be proud of daddy.

Yiddish (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044447)

What's Yiddish for "Always throwing your Jewish heritage into every fucking conversation"?

Re:Yiddish (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 6 months ago | (#45044829)

> What's Yiddish for "Always throwing your Jewish heritage into every fucking conversation"?

There isn't an English word for this concept because the Xians spent the last 2000 years trying to keep everyone illiterate and ignorant rather than making you pass a literacy test before you could breed.

Re:Yiddish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045037)

I thought the word for that was "Yiddish".

(On the other hand, trying to make something about yourself part of a conversation on an unrelated topic isn't particular to any ethnicity. Narcissism is a human vice, not an ethnic one.)

MIT technology review (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044451)

Will not be getting my renewal payment now.

This opinion piece by Abelson is the equivalent of the childish "why are you hitting yourself?" game.

Swartz commits what in any rational country is a minor infraction at best, local prosecutors decide it's not worth pursuing, so federal prosecutors with immunity from any liability decide to threaten him with a few decades in federal prison.

His response was actually the most logical of all. Highlight what has become a dangerous threat to liberty by becoming a martyr.

Re:MIT technology review (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044647)

Swartz commits what in any rational country is a minor infraction at best

Dude. He hid himself in a closet in MIT and illegally downloaded and posted millions of journal articles. He did it on this scale deliberately to call attention to his act. And this was after being unsuccessfully prosecuted for much the same stunt in Chicago a few years before, and then taunting the FBI from his private website.

Then there's the fact that Swartz consulted Lawrence Lessig in advance of the MIT download, and Lessig advised him not to do it.

He did it anyway - and was prosecuted for it! Oh, whoa, poor, poor Aaron being bullied by the big bad Federal Government and MIT! And now he might actually have to go to jail for downloading a few journal articles! Why was he born to live in such an awful world?

Re:MIT technology review (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044691)

Perhaps the real reason for the overreach was not the 50 years in prison but rather to co-opt him into the nightmare world of the surveillance state.

Re:MIT technology review (0)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 6 months ago | (#45044707)

The most logical course to being threatened with a little jail time is to kill yourself?

Re:MIT technology review (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | about 6 months ago | (#45044779)

The most logical course to being threatened with a little jail time is to kill yourself?

The government proposed to throw him in a cage for months or years, along with a bunch of people who were a lot tougher and meaner than he was. The government would work diligently to prevent escapes, but protecting inmates from each other would not be a priority. Assuming he survived this experience, once he got out, he would be ineligible (as a result of his felony conviction) for any form of work he was qualified for, and thus would be faced with, at best, a life of scraping by with low-wage unskilled labor.

I can see why suicide looked like a rational alternative.

Hal Abelson (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044461)

co-author of "The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs", a well-known introduction to the field of computer science, and incidentally, the Scheme language.

I agree with Abelson, Swartz seems like a tormented soul who was looking for a way out, but being a drama queen^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^ dramatic sort, he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Although the cause he chose - that academic journal articles should be free as in beer, and not just available for those willing to fork over a few bucks on their credit cards, doesn't seem to be in the same class as the type of social change that, let's say, Martin Luther King Jr. or Susan B. Anthony fought for.

So I'm glad that someone associated with MIT with Abelson's stature had the guts to step forward and say what many of his colleagues are probably thinking in private. Aaron Swartz is responsible for his suicide, not the prosecutors, MIT, JSTOR, or anyone else.

Re:Hal Abelson (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045069)

Sorry, I don't want professors that think people being naive and idealistic is a problem and should avoid any kind of risk, after all anything "with a computer" can get you a life in prison in the US.
And say MIT is not responsible when it didn't stand up for its students is ridiculous and not a sign of good character.
Maybe not responsible for the suicide itself, but honestly that is just the spark. There is a whole lot of things they should be blaming themselves for, and the only thing they do kind of blame for is for not making their students into 100% conformist idiots.
For the life of me, I don't want these kinds of teachers.

shoot the messenger, blame the victim (0)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 6 months ago | (#45044497)

MIT professor says messengers shouldn't be so naive. They should know that recipients have the right to strike off their heads for delivering bad news. Their trainers should have told them that.

Oh, the message? Copyright is dead. And what is MIT doing about that fact? Getting chummy with the likes of the RIAA and Elsevier? The RIAA is a confused and vicious organization that is in deep denial about copyright.

Re:shoot the messenger, blame the victim (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 6 months ago | (#45044743)

Messengers delivering bad news should know that the recipients will be mad, and it's naive to assume that all recipients will be civil. Their trainers should have warned them to watch out for any signs of aggression, and to deliver their message with carefully-planned tact so as to minimize risk.

Re:shoot the messenger, blame the victim (1)

munch117 (214551) | about 6 months ago | (#45044827)

Oh, the message? Copyright is dead.

Shucks, really? I never knew, copyright is dead?!

Well, bye-bye GPL then. No copyright, no GPL. I suppose this means the MIT (sic!) license side won, since that's the closest thing to having no copyright at all.

Re:shoot the messenger, blame the victim (1)

cpghost (719344) | about 6 months ago | (#45045063)

Oh, the message? Copyright is dead.

Copyright is causing death. There, fixed that for you.

Re:shoot the messenger, blame the victim (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045093)

MIT professor says messengers shouldn't be so naive. They should know that recipients have the right to strike off their heads for delivering bad news. Their trainers should have told them that.

Nobody killed him. He committed suicide.

Oh, the message? Copyright is dead. And what is MIT doing about that fact? Getting chummy with the likes of the RIAA and Elsevier? The RIAA is a confused and vicious organization that is in deep denial about copyright.

Copyright is simultaneously dead, and at the same time so alive that it is able to 'force' Aaron Swartz to kill himself, because it turns out that nobody told the courts or the police or the lawyers that copyright had been eliminated by his decision that he didn't like it.

You can't declare copyright dead - either legally or in practice - by committing mass copyright infringement and not actually getting away with it. In that sense his message was self-evidently a failure.

Seykhel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044517)

I don't know Yiddish but I would now guess that it means something along the lines of: don't fight injustice if this means stepping on some powerful toes. Sure, it's profoundly unjust that scientific publishers profit from the work of scientists that are supported by the taxpayers, and then the taxpayers have to pay again if they wish to have access to the knowledge that was generated by their patronage. But you know what? This system is maintained by pretty powerful guys and you will end up in prison or dead if you mess with them.

A good mentor who understands seykhel could have helped Swartz devote his efforts to more realistic pursuits. If his natural talent to engage people had been used in more neutral ways, maybe one day he could be the respected member of some panel at MIT instead of being dead. So much potential wasted. Snowden is a similar case.

Boils down to: be reasonable, do what is expected (4, Informative)

HuguesT (84078) | about 6 months ago | (#45044583)

People like Swartz are trying to change the world, much in the way older generations of engineers like some famous person from a large corporation called Steve, who also did things at a younger age that would be very sternly punished now.

Did anyone teach the prosecutors to be reasonable as well? That would be a change. Right now prosecutors across the country wield unreasonable powers to threaten, harass and destroy people's life without check, which is unworthy of a democracy. Is there a review going on? Did anyone caught on that the USA has the highest imprisonment rate [wikipedia.org] of any country? Is the USA really more violent and dangerous than Russia or Cuba? I don't think so.

Re:Boils down to: be reasonable, do what is expect (4, Interesting)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 months ago | (#45044987)

We do need some laws that would limit the threats a prosecutor can make or imply. We saw a similar problem with condominiums in Florida. The condo associations would file suits for huge sums against a condo owner. The condo owner would be forced to retain expensive legal talent to defend and then the association would drop the suit. The condo owners were made aware that they could be bankrupted by that tactic as numerous suits just might be filed against them. The legal solution was to force the completion of each suit filed by a condo association. The same could be done for criminal law. A defendant could only be tried for the highest charge stated or implied. Since the prosecution knows they only intend to prove a lesser charge it forces the prosecution to only indict for the actual crime they feel they can prove. It takes bluffing out of the game.

Canary in the Coal Mine (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044637)

I've been trying to make sense of this whole affair, and the above metaphor helps.

Miners used canaries to monitor oxygen and harmful gas levels because canaries are more vulnerable than miners, and while a dead canary is a clear warning, a happy, chirping canary is a true comfort.

If we give the canary some free will, mixed with smarts and some innocence, we get a bird who wanted to look at the miners, who was willing to accept some degree of risk associated with flying in a mine, but who instead unexpectedly encountered poison gas.

No, the metaphor doesn't teach any lessons directly, but it does let all the participants have roles in the story, to think about them in isolation and in combinations.

When you end up with a dead canary, it is important things to discover *all* the whys.

But it may be more important to ponder the silence. To think about the fate of future canaries.

Here we go again (3, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 6 months ago | (#45044653)

The biggest tragedy about the actions leading to Aaron Swartz's death is that he's become a martyr for a ridiculous cause. Swartz once worked with a friend of mine, and from what I've been told, "naive" isn't too far outside his personality. I'm told he was an idealist, with little regard for consequences, and often a blind faith that things would work out with good triumphing over evil. Unfortunately, he was stuck living in the real world.

While I agree on the principles of his actions, that science should be freely available, the actions he took to accomplish his goals were asinine. Wantonly breaking the rules of the institution you're trying to change will not actually bring about change; it just makes your opponents mad. When your opponents have vastly superior power, that's a pretty bad idea.

What makes civil disobedience an effective form of protest is that the laws broken are trivial, but the trials must be public, so the whole affair is a PR campaign. Few remember that Rosa Parks' disobedience was not the first of its kind, but rather just the best candidate to go through a full (and widely-publicized) trial. By Parks becoming a celebrity over an injustice, the whole civil rights movement gained popularity.

What I see now is a disturbing trend of irresponsible lawbreaking, under the banner of "protesting". Websites are hacked, contracts are ignored, and people with small problems feel entitled to disrupt all normal business until somebody takes care of them. Somewhere, people have forgotten that change comes slowly.

Bradley Manning could have released his information in small quantities to human rights advocates. Edward Snowden could have sent information anonymously to the EFF. There are responsible channels for changing the world, but they are slow and often frustrating. Swartz had already founded Demand Progress [demandprogress.org] to fight various forms of online censorship; adding scientific lockdown to that campaign would not have taken much effort, and would be much more likely to succeed than going after JSTOR directly.

Can we as a society please stop this madness? Let's stop glorifying leaks, stop vilifying our opponents, and stop encouraging concerned citizens to become martyred heroes. Instead, let's promote patience, compromise, and a steady societal change, rather than an overnight revolution.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044719)

Care to address the opposite side as well? Judicial overreach is as bad as, or worse than "irresponsible lawbreaking".
That irresponsibility ( usually an act of the young or the immature) usually fades but the mailed fist is hard to unclench.

Re:Here we go again (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 6 months ago | (#45044773)

You should feel lucky the Continental Congress didn't take your "long" view.

Re:Here we go again (4, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 6 months ago | (#45045005)

Maybe if they had, they would have written essays for years prior to the Declaration of Independence, slowly building public support and highlighting the injustice of the British rule. Following the official channels, they should have sent representatives to England to attempt to have their interests heard, even knowing that their requests would be denied. After the first stirrings of independence, it would probably have taken at least ten years before support was widespread enough to actually go ahead with a revolution.

Oh, right... that's exactly what happened.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045103)

They did it the slow way, because at the time, that's the only way they had. We have better communications today. You might have noticed.

Re:Thank you Mr. Chamberlain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044879)

Can we as a society please stop this madness? Let's stop glorifying leaks, stop vilifying our opponents, and stop encouraging concerned citizens to become martyred heroes. Instead, let's promote patience, compromise, and a steady societal change, rather than an overnight revolution.

There are no previously agreed to boundaries that can be used as a shield against retaliation. When retaliation comes there are no limits to the level of punishment that can be applied. Blaming the victim is exactly the reaction those with power are hoping to elicit. The wife-beater says "Look at what you made me do!". Congratulations for your support of the wife-beater mentality.

We can stop the madness by not appeasing out-of-control aggression.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044883)

> The biggest tragedy about the actions leading to Aaron Swartz's death is that he's become a martyr for a ridiculous cause. Swartz once worked with a friend of mine, and from what I've been told, "naive" isn't too far outside his personality. I'm told he was an idealist, with little regard for consequences, and often a blind faith that things would work out with good triumphing over evil. Unfortunately, he was stuck living in the real world.

Yeah right. Realpolitik, it's the way it is, dog eat dog, therefore... what?

Have some fucking principles yourself and do your damned best within your sphere of influence to make sure those in your family, workplace, politicians, civil servants do the same.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044897)

Absolutely right about civil disobedience. Read Henry David Thoreau. The whole point is that you go to prison. Gandhi, Martin Luther King understood this.

Disagree this had anything to do with incremental change, though. Individuals who risk, even sacrifice themselves are a noble part of instigating large-scale social change. That Manning and Snowden are naive doesn't prevent their actions from being justified if in fact thought out, though Snowden almost lucked into a soft landing and Manning's case is tragic for him.

Anyway, Swartz had been told his whole life that the rules didn't apply to him. Then he comes up against the realities of the state's monopoly on violence. Then can physically put you away. He couldn't handle it.

And depression. It's a killer.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Kohath (38547) | about 6 months ago | (#45044921)

Edward Snowden could have sent information anonymously to the EFF.

Are you really trying to say Edward Snowden wouldn't have been caught if he did that? Really?

If he'd done what you suggest, he'd be in jail or worse.

What a heap of crap. (1)

ridley4 (1535661) | about 6 months ago | (#45044975)

Do you really not get the irony of mentioning the civil rights movement while speaking about "patience, compromise, and steady change?" Do you know why there was this relatively sudden burst of demonstrations, protests, marches, and so on and so forth? Because for the past fifty years since the Atlanta compromise, gradualism was mainly used by the government as an excuse to do nothing about existing issues with no real plans on the agenda for integration. From 1895 until the 1950s, "patience, compromise, and steady change" did jack shit and only served to retard progress. That's why there even was a civil rights movement. People didn't feel like spending generations as second class citizens, waiting patiently for their great-grandkids to have a future they won't be around for and can't say for certain will even come around. There is no way to have slow, steady change on an order less than many generations, because thoughts and cultural memes get entrenched and passed from parent to child, and the only thing that'll force them out is conflict.

What you're talking about are all symptoms of a dysfunctional society and a refusal of the new social strata, and your examples are riddled with holes and victim blaming, especially because Bradley Manning couldn't've released his information piecemeal because between the volume of data and the constant threat of feds busting down your door, and regardless of what the law says there's nothing right about fifty years in jail for a few minutes in a closet unless you're taking someone's life, and then constant legal issues to the point where you kill yourself just to escape. While you're saying to stop vilifying opponents who well earned their reputations and stop glorifying leaks, what's really being said, be it your intent or not, is to just shut up, bend over, and hope it'll be over quicker this time. Change doesn't come from people lining up and merely wishing things were different, and attitudes like those don't make it happen at all. Stop blaming the victims and look who's really making people into martyrs.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044999)

Look people who do change the world are a wee bit distant from the real world (TM). It is popular to all inventors and innovators and often people in positions of authority. Goes with the terrority. The question is why is the socio-political environment for technology oriented folk becoming so much of hazard. It was never great but gotten worse. If I decided to do anything techie, I'd prefer to be another Satoshi than a Swartz. I'm not the only one coming to that conclusion. Only rich and politically fashionable people like Elon Musk can accomplish change today and remain known. Color outside the lines and your a target.

Re:Here we go again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045125)

> stop vilifying our opponents

Funny you mention this. The problem is that the prosecution side did exactly this. And I don't consider it "vilifying" to tell the justice system that we should have progressed since the Rosa Parks etc. happened, not regressed (was Rosa Parks threatened with 50 years in prison?).
It is not vilifying if I say that I strongly believe some people do not have a place in the justice system, at least not today. And that the prosecution involved here seems to me quite certain to be among those.

True lesson (4, Insightful)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 6 months ago | (#45044741)

I think the real lesson to be learned here is how dangerous the legal system really is. I do say legal system because it's not a justice system as there was no justice served here.

It's abhorrent how people can simply claim they had nothing to do with it when their actions or lack there of are the most critical aspect in this case.
May the gravity of their [in]actions weigh upon those participating or complicit in this farce. This is not a penalty or punishment, this is your wage.

The legal system has no common sense (2)

bussdriver (620565) | about 6 months ago | (#45045009)

Don't know if it really can be legitimately called a legal system when it clearly does not work--- tomatoes are vegetables, corporations are people, HSBC launders billions in drug money... banks commit outright fraud that crashes economies around the planet... minorities get higher sentences... innocent people go broke or plea to things they are not guilty to.... people spend YEARS in court and jail without a swift trial, and my favorite one: the prisons can't even the keep illegal drugs out!

Seriously, if you can't keep drugs out of a PRISON you are a joke.

Same evil as Established Churches spout (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044761)

When any organised religion exercises its power (throughout Human History) to destroy an individual, afterwards they ALWAYS make a report or announcement in exactly this form of language, decrying that the 'dangerous' individual destroyed himself (vanished few examples of females considered significant enough to be given this treatment) with 'naive' behaviour patterns. They always say that the 'Church' did not want to hurt the individual, but were left with no choice.

So MIT acts and responds like a depraved religious entity. We should not be surprised. The governance of MIT has NOTHING to do with science or engineering- just power and corruption. The vast sums of money that flow from TAXING every student at entry for 'access' to papers that do not benefit the authors, ensures that managers at places like MIT will do anything it takes to protect the yearly kick-backs that enrich their bank accounts.

This is the 'American Way'. Remember that in the USA it is EXPECTED that politicians who begin their careers as virtual paupers will end it worth hundreds of millions of dollars via the "politicians are exempt from corruption and insider trading laws" mechanism that your masters put into place when the USA gained 'independence'.

At least you can be grateful that the monsters work hard to rub your face in the truth, so even if you are naive enough to attempt to be an apologist for MIT, that line of self-delusion cannot be sustained.

Aaron Swartz *did* destroy himself... (2)

hey! (33014) | about 6 months ago | (#45044769)

with a length of rope.

It's dangerous and futile to assign blame in a suicide to anyone other than a victim. Swartz's death is not MIT's fault.

That doesn't mean that mean that MIT is off the hook for killing a plea bargain deal that JSTOR was happy with. That was wrong, but it would have been wrong even had Swartz not taken his life.

Re:Aaron Swartz *did* destroy himself... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045129)

A trivial “crime” to the benefit of humanity as a whole (unimpeded access to published scientific knowledge).

Verdict: official harassment by the greatest civilian power of the state/nation, by a powerful pseudo-monopolistic company, and by a globally renowned university until death by suicide.

Don't defend this shit! Do you not have even a milligram of decency in you?

Remember Aaron Swartz every time you hear or read anything involving MIT.

Yeah... (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 6 months ago | (#45044777)

That would sure be a lot nicer than having to admit to yourself that your harsh actions led directly to the death of someone who was still basically a child in your care, wouldn't it? Well, he's still dead, you're still an asshole and thousands of idealistic young kids like him still apply to your school every year, so I guess it all worked out for just about everyone, didn't it? Perhaps as part of the new student orientation you should give the Fight Club "God Hates You" [youtube.com] speech to all the new students. Then at least they'll know what they're in for.

Re:Yeah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045055)

That would sure be a lot nicer than having to admit to yourself that your harsh actions

He chaired the review panel - he did not take part in any of the original actions around the case.

led directly to the death

Aaron Swartz did not have to kill himself, nor is it obvious that everyone facing a six month sentence should be assumed to be suicidal.

of someone who was still basically a child in your care, wouldn't it?

The only way a 26 year old can be described as 'still basically a child' would be if they had significant developmental issues. Also, he was not a student and not in anyone's care - he was a research fellow.

This is the heart of the matter. If Aaron Swartz is a heroic internet visionary then it's hard to simultaneously see him as dangerously naive and unable to cope with the pressures created by the situation he deliberately engineered. Far better to twist the facts to place the blame for his suicide elsewhere.

Well, he's still dead, you're still an asshole and thousands of idealistic young kids like him still apply to your school every year, so I guess it all worked out for just about everyone, didn't it? Perhaps as part of the new student orientation you should give the Fight Club "God Hates You" [youtube.com] speech to all the new students. Then at least they'll know what they're in for.

Perhaps we should start with the assumption that people who commit suicide are, in most cases, responsible for their own behaviour. Denying the agency of suicidal but otherwise mentally competent people doesn't help them, and doesn't help the people around them. Pretending that somehow he was quasi-murdered is not doing anyone any favours.

Re:Yeah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045057)

That would sure be a lot nicer than having to admit to yourself that your harsh actions led directly to the death of someone who was still basically a child in your care, wouldn't it?

How exactly is a 24-year old working at Harvard "basically a child in [MIT]'s care"?

Perhaps he wasn't the only one lacking seykhel. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45044807)

Rather than allow this to blow over, you decided to write a self serving piece to somehow make your report look unbiased.
Someone is dead, your institution was involved in the series of events that lead to it no matter what you try to otherwise claim.

You seem dangerously naive about what a knee jerk reaction from a university can cause to happen, completely moronic about attempting damage control, and have managed to bring the ire for your employer back to the forefront.
Maybe you really should have listened to your Grandmother and taken her words to heart yourself.

Sometimes it is better to remain silent and appear a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

 

Is it wrong? (1)

Millennium (2451) | about 6 months ago | (#45044841)

Part of using "civil disobedience" as a form of protest is paying the price. In fact, that's pretty much what makes it effective as a form of protest: it's a vital part of constructing the image you want to convey. Swartz did the deed without being prepared to pay the price. In that sense, he did indeed bring it upon himself.

Aaron Swartz did a lot of things, most of them good, some of them not so much. But the man was a fallen zealot, not a saint. It does nobody any good to put him on a pedestal.

Translation: "Knowledge is Dangerous" (2)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 6 months ago | (#45045019)

"And we only want people to have just enough so that we can sell you more of it."

Aaron was, by every measure, an extraordinarily brilliant individual and we collectively suffered a great loss earlier this year. He was a champion of the kind of freedom that the forefathers of any free country would have themselves admired. Were it not for him, we might have been seeing people with ten-year prison sentences for downloading movies [wikipedia.org] by today.

MIT feared him because because of this brilliance and brazenness. They knew he was on the fast track to upsetting the establishment. Then they continued acting like cowards and looked the other way while the full force of the US Government sought to destroy his life for the "horrible crime" of publicizing publicly-funded research (with an added dose of vindictiveness for doing the same with PACER ... also publicly-funded knowledge).

Aaron, like many of us, was frustrated and angered at how the establishment deliberately moves at a snail's pace and seeks to hold knowledge at ransom. Knowledge that gives the people power. They fear people with this power. This, apparently, includes MIT and they should be ashamed of themselves. After all, an intelligence organization that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome.

And, if you want to honestly talk about the dangers of exercising the power technology gives you, there's a three-letter government agency I'd like to bring to your attention who's been dangerously and recklessly abusing the power of technology in all sorts of ways. Maybe you've heard of them, they've been in the news a lot lately.

Guess Hal would be fine with that then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045021)

Hmm what's yiddish for "let's kill all those who do not have (sufficient) intelligence and common sense"? The holocaust?

Have you bought your ticket Hal? Surely you don't expect the rest of us to to pay for your idiocy. Feel free to bring your lovely grandmother.

Did I Godwin the thread? Nope! Hal himself introduced the untermensch aspect —I only called him on it.

Go to hell MIT.

Gah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045049)

Naivety neither warrants decades in prison, nor a felony conviction! Abelson, you are more than naive, you are criminally culpable for his taking of his life! So, go suck eggs!

Hal is RMS's mentor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#45045119)

Where does that leave all of you Othodox Stallmanites now?

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