Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
News

Losing Aaron 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the sense-from-senselessness dept.
theodp writes "It's said that you can't fully understand someone until you meet their family. In Janelle Nanos's 'Losing Aaron,' you'll meet Bob Swartz, father of the late Aaron Swartz and adviser to MIT's Media Lab, and get a better understanding of how Aaron's family helped plant the seeds of his idealism. You'll also, sadly, see how MIT — the institution which Bob Swartz long felt stood for compassion and creativity, challenging authority, and pure scientific inquiry — took a self-described stance of 'neutrality' in the aggressive prosecution of his son that ended with Aaron's senseless death last January. 'Clearly I failed,' a tortured Bob Swartz acknowledges. 'There's no question, my son is dead. On the other hand, do I feel that I didn't try hard enough? Yes. Do I feel guilt about not trying hard enough? No. If you understand the distinction I'm trying to make. Could I have done more? Of course I could have done more. Because you can always do more. Did I put everything in that I possibly could? Did I work as hard pretty much as I knew how? Yes. Do I wish I did more? Yes. But I don't go home at night and say, "Well, you didn't care." Because I did. I cared about it more than anything else. And I don't go home at night and say, "I didn't try." Because I tried. Everything I could figure out. But I failed.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Losing Aaron

Comments Filter:
  • "Senseless Death?" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Was he killed by a mob of angry citizens? Wrongfully executed?

    No.

    He committed suicide, the coward's solution, after committing a crime. He happily committed the crime, and when he realized there would be consequences to his actions, he decided to avoid them, too.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, his death was senseless, and my heart goes out to his family. Aaron did not deserve to be persecuted, and MIT should be embarrassed for their acquiescence. As a father myself, I can empathized with Aaron's father. It really hurts to know that you've done everything you can, but sometimes it isn't enough.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You call it the cowards solution. While you yourself are not facing a life completely ruined, near zero chance of employment, and a trip thru the US jails.

      For what... Did he kill someone? Nope. He was being made an example of....

      He made the right choice.

  • Was a failure to stop what happened, no doubt about that.

    • As far as I can tell, MIT was on the side of the prosecution.
    • by citizenr (871508)

      What do you mean? MIT was on the forefront of prosecution, and it wasnt the first time they did this. Remember Star Simpson?

  • please stop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:13AM (#45855839)

    Someone who kills themselves rather than go to prison for 4 or maybe 18 months is very sick. Especially when they are independently wealthy, widely considered to be a genius, and have many well connected friends who will help them get back on their feet. I know that Swartz was loved by many people, including those with bully pulpits, but blaming other people for his death is revolting. The people who were close to him blame themselves for not helping him and are lashing out at the prosecutors and MIT.

    As for the prosecution of his case, ask yourself why Swartz didn't access JSTOR with his own account at Harvard.

    • Re:please stop (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:17AM (#45855881)

      I think you are whitewashing the prosecutor. He demanded something like 25 years.

      • Re: please stop (Score:4, Insightful)

        by iamhassi (659463) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:24AM (#45855921) Journal
        4 months or 25 years, Aaron could have done more good alive in jail than dead. Death never solves anything. If you're going to die then die fighting for what you believe not by suicide.
        • Jesus (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I am sure you can explain to us why it was Jesus' own fault to be nailed to a cross. He should have known that he should not tip over the tables of moneychangers.

          Exactly the same with this guy. And Bradley Manning.

          We are living in a world of corrupt ethics, our world is propelled by the dark fire of wickedness and lies.

          Cheers.

          • Re:Jesus (Score:4, Insightful)

            by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 03, 2014 @12:31PM (#45857465) Journal

            I am sure you can explain to us why it was Jesus' own fault to be nailed to a cross.

            Yes, it was his own fault. In fact, it was his own plan, and the very purpose of his life.

            • Putting yourself at risk of a crime, doesn't really excuse the criminal for comitting it.
              • Putting yourself at risk of a crime, doesn't really excuse the criminal for comitting it.

                Do you know a better way of being caught and punished for a crime than committing the crime?

        • 4 months and what? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Not being allowed to touch a computer again? No ability to get a job with a felony record...it was a felony right?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @12:25PM (#45857373)

          4 months or 25 years, Aaron could have done more good alive in jail than dead. Death never solves anything. If you're going to die then die fighting for what you believe not by suicide.

          You are overlooking that Aaron's decision was not just to avoid jail time. It was also to save his family from bankruptcy for his legal defense. The prosecutor made sure that even if Aaron would be acquitted from all charges, the running tab for that would be in the millions.

          The U.S. "plea deal" system is not just bereaving defendants of a jury trial by the threat of jail time, but rather with the immense cost of an effective defense. If you are innocent, you can buy yourself out of every year of prosecution jail time for about $200000 in legal defense cost. If you are guilty, it gets more expensive and less reliable to buy yourself out, but the main mitigating factor is not innocence but money.

          The prosecutor was going for the 25 year demand. Getting Aaron mostly acquitted would have been a $5000000 job (probably involving an appeal as well).

          Most corrupt judicial systems are cheaper than the U.S.

          • If you are innocent, you can buy yourself out of every year of prosecution jail time for about $200000 in legal defense cost.

            I would like to see a citation for thiat. It would make me feel confident in quoting that number to other people in similar arguments.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The prosecutor was offering a deal of 6 months in jail. Had Swartz gone to trial and been found guilty of all charges he would have faced perhaps 14 months, maybe more, according to an analysis by Jennifer Granick. There was never any possibility that Swartz would receive a sentence of 25 or 50 years.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, no one ever implied anything as ridiculous as that.

        Do computer nerds not know how maximum penalty laws work? There are fixed maximum penalties based on what laws you have broken. The prosecutor must inform you of the maximum penalty based on everything you are charged with. This does not imply that a typical sentence will be anywhere near that length, and no one with a brain would think that Swartz was due for 25 years.

        • by russotto (537200)

          Computer nerds know that "anything that can go wrong, will" and that an odd edge case that you are absolutely sure will never happen will indeed happen. So if you say, oh, we have these maximum penalties but no one ever gets them... well, the assumption is that yes, those maximum penalties are a distinct possibility.

          And anyone familiar with the Neidorf and Mitnick cases knows that disproportionate penalties for computer crimes are rather common.

      • Some of the info i've seen was they where asking for 35 years, and multiple millions of dollars in fines. So maybe they where going to offer 6 months in minimum security, but the way it sounds, he was under the impression he was not getting a 6 month offer, but a lifetime of prison and debt.
    • by Ardyvee (2447206)

      Some child comment made me wonder: jail time and what? I mean, I have the idea that some crimes may result in you being forbidden from interacting with certain things/people. It might not have been jail time, but that the crime would be permanently recorded (which can be a stigma) and in his case being forbidden from interacting with computers (I assume there need to be exceptions for this, otherwise you might be unable to get a large part of the jobs simply because you wouldn't be able to use a computer).

    • Re:please stop (Score:5, Insightful)

      by russotto (537200) on Friday January 03, 2014 @11:40AM (#45856803) Journal

      Someone who kills themselves rather than go to prison for 4 or maybe 18 months is very sick.

      Life after a felony conviction is a living death. You can't get any but the most menial jobs (and often not even them), nor a professional license. You can't travel outside the country. You can legally be denied rental housing. Basically it's the state's way of removing people from society without needing to take the trouble of feeding and housing them. Of course, it works better on "geniuses" than it does on people who were robbing banks for a living anyway -- the latter just go back to robbing banks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Desler (1608317)

        Aaron was set for life financially and it's highly unlikely he wouldn't find another job with his history. It also ignores all the other people with history of computer crime charges that are currently employed as security researchers.

      • The root meaning of Felony is 'civil death'. We hand them out for people packing up their weed in certain ways. "O you divided up your 1/4 ounce of cannabis into daily doses, thats intent to distribute, FELONY.
        • O you divided up your 1/4 ounce of cannabis into daily doses, thats intent to distribute, FELONY

          if someone told me that they parceled and packaged their stash into 1/4 oz doses just because, i wouldn't believe it either. why would you think johnny law would?

          the proverbial book can and will be thrown at you if you let it. be prepared. everyone needs to be aware of the laws they are breaking. good intentions are very hard to prove in a court of law.

          • The real irony here is the original justification of outlawing pot in the first place. "Gateway drug" to harder stuff was the original argument.

            Here we are some years on and we can review and see that even if that theory was good (it's not), the price we pay to draw that line in the sand is way too high. I can grow coffee plants on my own land for noncommercial purposes that have more dangerous effect, and yet we're willing to let people break down your door, shoot your dog, and give your whole family PTSD

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I know, look at what they did to Kevin Mitnick after his conviction... Oh, that's right. None of the stuff you mention happened to Mitnick... You're so full of crap it's not even funny.

      • Bullshit.

        While this may generally be a popular liberal justification for Judiciary reform (and I'm not saying we don't need it) I have worked in a number of high-security environments, held multiple positions with banking institutions, I have a passport with no restrictions on it, and by itself (violent, Drug, or sexual offenses obviously carry a different classification,) it does not qualify as a legal denial for protected-housing (which most rental units fall under.) You can be licensed and insured (*bu

        • by russotto (537200)

          The banking regs are fairly new; they cover any crime of dishonesty or breach of trust, which for some reason includes simple theft (including misdemeanor shoplifting!) and a lot of other things you wouldn't expect them to cover. Felony convictions do qualify as denial for housing. They do disqualify you for many professional licenses.

          The travel restrictions aren't because the US won't issue a passport. It's because some countries (including Canada) will deny you entry if you've been convicted of a felon

  • Black swan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:14AM (#45855847) Journal

    Bob knows that none of the "obvious signs" were really there, that everyone made them up to explain in hindsight what nobody saw coming. He knows he did exactly what he could have done, and he could have done more if he could predict the impossible-to-predict events of the future.

    It's the same thing as 9/11. The FBI, CIA, the executive branch, everyone had all these documents about 3000 terrorist groups and hundreds if not thousands of operations and actions and movements. A lot of hot seats to check into. Then one of those hot seats inexplicably caught fire. Everyone looked back and shouted, "Oh my GOD it was so obvious! We should have known it was going to happen today! Look at the time line! 6 weeks ago, then a month, then just 12 days before the towers came down... it was screaming at us!!" ... but, it wasn't.

    Aaron's death came roughly the same way. When Aaron started doing what he was doing, someone could have predicted easily that somebody might not be amused. Nobody could predict it becoming an outright holy war against one person, nor could they predict that he'd just kill himself instead of having his life crushed and getting shoved into buttsex prison for 18 years per count for 200,000 counts of shit he didn't do wrong. It just happened. The big story of his life has a lead-in, but the really big surprise twists were a total surprise.

    • Re:Black swan (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:33AM (#45856031)

      There are probably thousands of similar situations where young people are goaded and bullied "legally," but not ethically, into suicide. I don't know how many of those people set in motion themselves the events that eventually overwhelmed them as was the case here. He made a choice, dimly aware of the consequences to come. Or he may have read somewhere that he would be subject to dozens of years in jail and decided "Oh, they'll never do that to me."

      I feel for him and for what happened, but I also would like to see similar light shown on the lost lives of others, especially those who did not break the law but got the hammer anyway. As for MIT being the safety net of last resort, this just goes to show you that these days nobody really gives enough of a crap to come to the aid of their fellow human if it is in any way personally or organizationally inconvenient. We have pretty much become a nation of "I don't want to get involved," "I'm not political" and/or "9/11! 9/11!," the latter being the excuse for EVERYTHING no matter how nonsensical it may be.

      One thing is for certain however: In light of what happened to this adult (and the "untouchable" members of LulzSec, remember them?), the message has been made pretty clear that you risk getting the hammer if you do anything that those in power don't like. And it doesn't matter if it is excessive. Just look at the situation in Texas where a prosecutor who put a man away for 25 years on bogus procedures got NINE DAYS in jail. N-I-N-E. So, nothing at all will happen to a prosecutor who follows the rules and uses his discretion to absolutely destroy you. So, kids this is not a game. If you're gonna play on this field, be ready for war because they will bring it to your door.

      • Just look at the situation in Texas where a prosecutor who put a man away for 25 years on bogus procedures got NINE DAYS in jail. N-I-N-E.

        It really pisses me off when people make extraordinary claims without providing any proof.

        So here is the proof. [texastribune.org]

    • It's the same thing as 9/11.

      Insightful...?

      I've seen some cheezdick comparisons on Slashdot before, but this one takes the cake.

      • by nobuddy (952985)

        I believe they were comparing common hindsight outcry, not severity or type of event.
        Tons of people look at the one report on 9/11 that was ignored and cry foul- disregarding the thousands of equally plausible reports in the pile it came out of for that day.

        I happen to agree that for the number of analysts the three-letter agencies employ that the totality of reports pertinent to this should have set off alarms... but you cannot ignore the sheer volume of data they had to sift through. Hindsight makes the b

        • Yes. More to the point, the totality of pertinent reports would set off alarms... but there would be a thousand other alarms with reports pertinent to a thousand other attacks that never materialized. How do you pick out the right one to respond to?
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      > Bob knows that none of the "obvious signs" were really there, that everyone made them up to
      > explain in hindsight what nobody saw coming.

      Exactly hindsight is a bitch. I lived with a con artist once. It was impressive the way he manipulated me and everyone I knew. After we kicked his ass to the curb, this weird thing happened. Every person I talked to about it, everyone had noticed something. Something they thought was odd, or something they shrugged off.

      It was like telling them the end result, shin

      • The thing is it makes sense in hundreds of contexts; when you put the keystone information in (i.e. "he's a con artist and is manipulating you"), only then does it tie together. Otherwise it's a bunch of stuff that can't forward-predict anything: we all know egomaniacs who act like this but aren't conning you.
  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:23AM (#45855917)
    Losing a grown child is the unnatural order of things, and parenting is a trial and error process few are properly trained or equipped for.

    Could I have raised him a little differently so this didn't happen? Haunting. To say 'I did my best' is as wholly inaccurate as 'I did my worst' as most all of us fall somewhere in the middle.

    It is pointless self-torture. Perhaps if he'd been taught to react differently in the situation that led to his doom, another earlier timeline close call was not averted.

    • by Plammox (717738)

      Perhaps if he'd been taught to react differently in the situation that led to his doom, another earlier timeline close call was not averted.

      You can influence your child's personality to a limited extent. You can't sculpt its reaction patters down to the last detail to suit future or past needs.
      Look at your own current or future kids.

  • by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:25AM (#45855935)

    The worst part is that the appalling behavior of the prosecution is standard practice. Any laws that could possibly apply (and some that have no chance of sticking) get thrown at the defendant in an effort to get them into a plea deal because they can't possibly afford the law talent required to protect themselves.

    Meanwhile, if you have money or power, you are only charged under the laws that absolutely apply and only if they absolutely have proof you did it and are fully at fault. We wind up with corporations, governments, and the wealthy doing incredibly immoral things that obviously should be illegal but are not "technically" illegal or it's just too difficult to prove that they did it, so no prosecutor wants to take it on.

    It's sickening.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Meanwhile, if you have money or power, you are only charged under the laws that absolutely apply and only if they absolutely have proof you did it and are fully at fault. We wind up with corporations, governments, and the wealthy doing incredibly immoral things that obviously should be illegal but are not "technically" illegal or it's just too difficult to prove that they did it, so no prosecutor wants to take it on.

      Oh give me a break. Aaron Swartz was a child of privilege, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, not just upper middle class but upper class. He attended private schools, his college degree was from Stanford, he was a fellow at a lab at Harvard where he was mentored by Larry Lessig. He had influential friends all over as a result of Reddit and his RDF work.

      Don't play the "two systems of justice in America" card on Swartz's behalf.

      • by JWW (79176) on Friday January 03, 2014 @12:46PM (#45857663)

        Don't play the "two systems of justice in America" card on Swartz's behalf.

        Why not? It only proves that even with his wealth and privilege, he wasn't granted any lenience by those in power. He wasn't powerful enough to stop them. He wasn't powerful enough to persuade MIT to get off its ass and help him out (even JSTOR settled things with him).

        The fact that the line dividing us from them is moving up to the point that only fully vested ruling elite are getting protected from aggressive action is troubling.

      • Wealth (and with it, power) is heavily concentrated at the top. The top 1% of the top 1% make even most of the 1%-ers look poor. Being able to attend Stanford might make you part of the upper class, but that's not the kind of money I'm talking about.

    • Right. This is what happened with the financial meltdown, exactly. There were few prosecutions and none of the household -name people - Jamie Dimon Lloyd Blankfein, Angelo Mozilo, Richard Fuld, Bear Stearnsâ(TM)s Jimmy Cayne, Merrill Lynchâ(TM)s Stan Oâ(TM)Neal, Citigroupâ(TM)s Chuck Prince all of these people are untouchable even though we lost literally a trillion dollars and more during the meltdown and entire lifetime retirements of people were destroyed . Eric Holder and his justic

      • This is how societies collapse.

        yes, and there's not much we're going to do about it. the top 1% that has the power isn't going to yield it without a fight ... and by fight, i don't mean a courtroom battle, i mean violence. those people control the police and the military, so your option is civil / guerrilla war.

        that, and observe that's there's never been a time in history / a land where this hasn't been how it works. look at any ancient society. there were kings and queens and there cohorts, and you didn't hear about anyone else. the US

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Meanwhile, if you have money or power, you are only charged under the laws that absolutely apply and only if they absolutely have proof you did it and are fully at fault. We wind up with corporations, governments, and the wealthy doing incredibly immoral things that obviously should be illegal but are not "technically" illegal or it's just too difficult to prove that they did it, so no prosecutor wants to take it on.

      It's sickening.

      Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revoluti

  • I get how the martyr meme is cool, but putting it aside for just one second:

    If he had gone to prison, it would've been the country club type, no? With the games rooms, libraries, etc. Not the rapey, death-row kind.

    So in that context, committing suicide to avoid incarceration seems a tad over-reactive, doesn't it? Not trying to make light of the tragedy here, just pointing out that perhaps the bigger one is that he thought he was going to SuperMax, not Club Fed.

    Computer crimes don't get you sent to maximum s

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HBI (604924)

      It was an over-reaction, but the guy wasn't willing to pay the price for civil disobedience. So now the hipster crowd wants to redefine civil disobedience as something that should never inconvenience you.

      This, luckily, is something that will never fly with the public at large, who will continue to think he's a criminal forever.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It was an over-reaction, but the guy wasn't willing to pay the price for civil disobedience.

        No, his reaction related to a pre-existing mental illness.

        The fact is, he broke the law, and if he had been cooperative when busted, he would have recieved a year or two at most, but probably no jail at all.

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:32AM (#45856027)

    The helplessness Aaron felt must have been overwhelming. When people in high places conspire against you, there is not much left you can do. They are in control of your life and will twist the legal system into whatever they want in order to satisfy their ego. It's a game to them. Shit needs change.

    • When people in high places conspire against you, there is not much left you can do.

      I'm glad that people like Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gandhi didn't listen to your kind of bullshit.

      Compared to the truly oppressed, Aaron had it easy. Millions of people took a stand in a time and a place where saying the wrong thing would have gotten them dumped off some back road with a bullet in their head and they still had the strength to go through with it. Some died, some were unjustly jailed, so
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have sympathy for the family and the guy's original plight, but... this who social commiseration and pretty much blaming his death on prosecutors is too far. Yes what they tried to do to him was shitty. Is there anything that even remotely caused his own choice to take his own life. No freaking way.
    He wasn't a martyr. He was an overly emotional kid with problems. I'm sure he was a neat guy, a kind spirit, a smart person. He was also coddled into thinking that his emotions were the most important thing in

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Friday January 03, 2014 @01:02PM (#45857845) Homepage

    'Clearly I failed,' a tortured Bob Swartz acknowledges. 'There's no question, my son is dead.'

    While I appreciate and respect the balanced view he goes on to express, I think even this opening may be harsher than is deserved.

    This is a screwed up world; a world of pragmatists and sociopaths. When you send a fiercely idealist person out in into the world today, often it does not end well. That is the nature of the modern human condition. I think it is particularly challenging to idealists when pragmatism appears to be winning in The United States -- a nation founded on idealism -- and even more so at MIT -- an iconic temple of rationalism and truth.

    The easiest alternative is to raise a pragmatist instead of an idealist. But the preference for that easy path is the very reason our world is so challenging for idealists. It is better for society, though almost certainly much harder for you, to have tried to make your son a good man and see him lost than to have raised him to compromise his principles. The weight of that can be immense.

    • Binary thinking (Score:5, Insightful)

      by slew (2918) on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:31PM (#45859501)

      Binary thinking is for the young. The dichotomy of the idealist and the pragmatist is really a failing of idealism that pragmatism is thought to be unprincipled. In most cases, there is no true understanding of an ideal, it is really just an unembodied idea with unforeseen consequences. The truism is that world is changed by people that can change the world, not people that only wish it. Of course one would hope to change the world for the better rather than the worse, but it's the height of arrogance that a single person always know which direction is better.

      It's not easy to raise a pragmatist that realizes every hand is a winner and a loser, and not to count their money when it's sitting at the table... It's much easier to raise an idealist that ignores these facts of life and laments the world for not seeing things the way they do. That's what my 3-yo son does now. He doesn't know the rules to all the games that we play together and the surprising (to him) strategies that seem to work yet, so he makes some assumptions which sometimes don't turn out to be true and that disappoints him (which is reflected in different severity of negative behaviors depending on his energy status / mood).

      I'm hoping to prepare him to experience his own chosen path in life by pointing him in what I think is a good direction and giving him some tools to continue to make his way as he discovers the true rules of various "games" he will experience. I'm sure I too will regret not giving my son enough tools someday, but he owns his own life path...

      On principle (one of the few that I have), my son doesn't have to change the world to be better for me (or the rest of society). Actually, I think that deliberately sending my son on such a mission would be sociopathic behavior on *my* part (might be akin to sending him on a suicide mission if I can be momentarily extra insensitive to the above mentioned situation). However, if he choses to walk that path, I wish him all the luck.

  • 1. Denial

    2. Anger

    3. Bargaining

    4. Depression

    5. ACCEPTANCE

  • When you kill yourself, you rule out the possibility of intervention, by God or anyone else.

"It's like deja vu all over again." -- Yogi Berra

Working...