The Watering Hole, Monday, January 14, 2013: Aaron H. Swartz, Activist and Internet Icon, Dead at 26

Aaron H. Swartz, co-founder at the age of 14 of Reddit, hung himself last Friday.  While he had a history of depression the fact that the Justice Department was charging him with crimes was likely a factor in his suicide. On his show, “Up with Chris Hayes,” host Chris Hayes had this to say about the man he once knew:

You should also know that at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of — and I’m not exaggerating here — downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR. Aaron had allegedly used a simple computer script to use MIT’s network to massively download academic articles from the database that he himself had legitimate access to, almost 5 million in all, with the intent, prosecutors alleged, of making them freely available. You should know that despite JSTOR declining to press charges or pursue prosecution, federal prosecutors dropped a staggering 13 count felony indictment on Aaron for his alleged actions.

In a post he titled “Sick” Aaron wrote about his depression in an attempt to help others understand what it’s like.

Surely there have been times when you’ve been sad. Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.

At best, you tell yourself that your thinking is irrational, that it is simply a mood disorder, that you should get on with your life. But sometimes that is worse. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none. And this is one of the more moderate forms. As George Scialabba put it, “acute depression does not feel like falling ill, it feels like being tortured … the pain is not localized; it runs along every nerve, an unconsuming fire. … Even though one knows better, one cannot believe that it will ever end, or that anyone else has ever felt anything like it.”

According to the Huffington Post, by the Sunday after news of Aaron’s death got out, “hundreds of academics had begun tweeting links to their copyright-protected research as a protest in Swartz’s honor, using the hashtag #pdftribute.” The New York Times wrote of him as “A Data Crusader, a Defendant and Now, a Cause.” The world is not as bright a place as it was before Aaron took his own life. He will be missed by many, even those who never knew him.

If you have depression, Aaron would want you to know that help is available. You don’t have to go through it alone.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss the tragic loss of Aaron Swartz or any other topic you wish.

123 thoughts on “The Watering Hole, Monday, January 14, 2013: Aaron H. Swartz, Activist and Internet Icon, Dead at 26

  1. Interesting article from AlterNet about the history of the NRA. A few key paragraphs:

    http://www.alternet.org/print/suprising-unknown-history-nra (I find it easier to read when you click to see the print version. And, yes, they spelled “Surprising” wrong.)

    The NRA wasn’t founded to promote individual gun rights, no matter what anybody in teh debate says:

    For nearly a century after, its founding in 1871, the National Rifle Association was among America’s foremost pro-gun control organizations. It was not until 1977 when the NRA that Americans know today emerged, after libertarians who equated owning a gun with the epitome of freedom and fomented widespread distrust against government—if not armed insurrection—emerged after staging a hostile leadership coup.

    In the years since, an NRA that once encouraged better markmanship and reasonable gun control laws gave way to an advocacy organization and political force that saw more guns as the answer to society’s worst violence, whether arming commercial airline pilots after 9/11 or teachers after the Newtown, while opposing new restrictions on gun usage.

    It is hard to believe that the NRA was committed to gun-control laws for most of the 20th century—helping to write most of the federal laws restricting gun use until the 1980s.

    “Historically, the leadership of the NRA was more open-minded about gun control than someone familiar with the modern NRA might imagine,” wrote Adam Winkler, a Second Amendment scholar at U.C.L.A. Law School, in his 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America. “The Second Amendment was not nearly as central to the NRA’s identity for most of the organization’s history.”

    Despite their anti-gun-control stance today, the NRA actually helped write the nation’s first gun-control laws, which were unanimously held to be constitutional.

    In 1929, Al Capone’s St. Valentine’s Day massacre saw men disguised as Chicago police kill 7 rivals with machine guns. Bonnie and Clyde’s crime-and-gun spree from 1932-34 was a national sensation. John Dellinger robbed 10 banks in 1933 and fired a machine gun as he sped away. A new president in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made fighting crime and gun control part of his ‘New Deal.’ The NRA helped him draft the first federal gun controls: 1934’s National Firearms Act and 1938’s Gun Control Act.

    The NRA President at the time, Karl T. Frederick, a 1920 Olympic gold-medal winner for marksmanship who became a lawyer, praised the new state gun controls in Congress. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” he testified before the 1938 law was passed. “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

    These federal firearms laws imposed high taxes and registration requirements on certain classes of weapons—those used in gang violence like machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers—making it all-but impossible for average people to own them. Gun makers and sellers had to register with the federal government, and certain classes of people—notably convicted felons—were barred from gun ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld these laws in 1939.

    Good information to have to counter the lies we hear being told today.

    • On the issue of governmental gun control, Melissa Harris Perry yesterday revisited the Black Panther Party and their, at the time, fully constitutional habit of carrying loaded weapons (as a “well regulated militia” in their perspective), and California’s 1967 Mulford Act, signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, which prohibited carrying loaded guns in any California city.

      Gun control is indeed a long-standing and bipartisan American tradition. Until now, apparently.

    • But no new federal gun control laws came until 1968. The assassinations of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were the tipping point, coming after several summers of race-related riots in American cities. The nation’s white political elite feared that violence was too prevalent and there were too many people—especially urban Black nationalists—with access to guns. In May 1967, two dozen Black Panther Party members walked into the California Statehouse carrying rifles to protest a gun-control bill, prompting then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to comment, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”

      Looks like ‘St. Ronnie’ sought gun control.

      Thanks for the link to the article. I sent the link to my friend in the UK.

  2. This depresses me no end. Sharing knowledge and information is key in this time, when the amount of new knowledge fairly explodes. Having real scientific info at your fingertips instead of having to resort to Wikipedia is a real asset to me. As a user of reddit, at times a moderator for a subreddit, I value the sharing of information. This young man made knowledge more accessible. It is criminal, the way he was treated. I am deeply saddened.

    • While working as a psychiatric nurse, I was assigned to “suicide watch” with a severely depressed patient. As I sat across the table from her, within arm’s reach, she talked to me about how she felt. One thing she said to me has remained with me all these years, “I wish that I had cancer instead of depression because then people would realize that I am really sick.” Depression is serious especially in a person diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. People with this disorder often times get tired of the changing cycles. Many prolific artists are Bipolar. They do their best work while in the Manic phase and then the Depressive phase hits and that is when they end their life.

      The pharmaceutical industry keeps looking for the magic pill that will lift people out of their depression. So far, the medications available don’t work for everyone. My guess is that there is a genetic component that needs to be addressed.

      When someone starts talking about life not being worth living, we need to take that seriously and reach out to that person.

      • Cats I have a son who is suffering from depression. He is now in remission, aided by medication. I know what your patient was talking about. I agree, btw, with your mentioning the genetic component. There some of it in my family. I for myself have experienced a moment when I could suddenly understand people who cut themselves just so they can feel SOMEthing. Recently, after my mother had died and all hell was breaking loose with my siblings, I was so stunned. I felt numb to a degree, I had never experienced before. I managed to get over it, but it was scary.

      • If we could treat one another with kindness and love, and truly listen to each other, the pain of depression might be eased without medication. Or possibly in combination with medication.

        But no, let’s continue to ostracize people we perceive as “different” or “weird,” and continue to live in our insulated lives with our four walls all around us, because it’s way easier than putting ourselves out there. After all, there’s something good on teevee…a text to send…whatever, someone else will handle it.

        • I got through my last experience of major depression with the help of low dose SSRI (I never made it to the therapeutic dosage), a caring psychologist and a caring psychiatrist. The drug allowed me to speak without crying, the psychologist helped me discover the source of my pain, and the kind and perceptive psychiatrist always had the goal of getting me off the drug. I do think the drug helped me remember the source of my pain as I had suppressed the feelings from the event. I have been healthy ever since but I don’t take that health for granted.

          • Cats, that is what is happening to my son. SSRI released him, so he can address his issues and get to a normal life. Other than I feared, he doesn’t seem to be drugged, just relieved. He is still stressed and sad at times and he will still take some time to heal, but he is making huge progress. I would want him off the meds as soon as possible, but I see it is not the time yet. His therapist and psychiatrist are working very hard to get him on his feet, so we can phase out the medication. I am aware that the substance is not a blessing for all, but when closely monitored and accompanied by therapy, most get out of their depression or learn to handle it. I had none of this support. When I was younger psychological issues were hugely stigmatized. I guess my mom would have had me locked up somewhere, where noone could see she had a daughter like that. Imagine, the shame! I’m glad it is different now. I am hugely proud of my son and talking about it made me realize there are so many people out there with similar experiences and we, now, form a sort of network. It so helps to reach out.

    • Seems to me the federal prosecutors might have contributed a whole lot more to the overall well-being of the country, perhaps the world, if they’d have not wasted their time on Aaron Swartz and Reddit and instead charged Wayne LaPierre with thirteen counts of felonious stupidity along with the promise of 35 yrs in the can and a million dollar fine, maybe he’d have hung himself instead and made the world a better place in the process. Instead, today it’s a worse place, thanks to the unfortunate death of a brilliant young man rather than an insipid and much older fool.

    • I just read about him Saturday while I was waiting for Taylor at dance class on my Iphone. Fortunately Wayne made it worth reading late last night. I’m going to have to donate a kidney or something to him.
      On the other had the story is so tragic. Somebody with so much talent with the ability to do so much good if the government would have let him help them instead of prosecuting and persecuting him.

  3. Looks like the President is drawing a line in the sand.

    “There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” said Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney.

    Hope he sticks to his guns and makes the GOP pay up or take the heat. Last time I looked, it was Congress who spends money.

    • I once took an anti smoking medication that, not only did it make me feel weird, I had very strange thoughts of every one around me dying. I quit the meds and still smoke!

          • dycker, each in their own time.
            Everyone handles it differently. Your determination will out!
            Wishing you good fortunate on your next endeavor to quit smoking.

            [I was able to kick a nearly 40 year smoking habit]

            • i too am an ex smoker…and i’m mortified by the thought of how badly i smelled around clients. that alone is enough to keep me from ever picking up another cigarette.

              i used Chantix and quitting was easy….i do realize some people suffer from various side effects.

              you have me beaten by 2 years Ebb, i was at it for 38

            • I wonder why so many liberals are smokers?

              I’ve never been a smoker, but my mom was a very heavy smoker for many years — although she had quit about 25 years before she died.

            • Thanks all for the encouragement. I hate that I stink. I’ve been at it for 26 years and started late. What a dupe!

            • dyker, don’t take the “stink” part personally. ex-smokers are the worst critics. I just wish a had stopped 30 years sooner, or had never started.

              quitting is the best gift i’ve ever given myself and my family

            • ~”Einstein loved to smoke. As he walked between his house and his office at Princeton, one could often see him followed by a trail of smoke. Nearly as part of his image as his wild hair and baggy clothes was Einstein clutching his trusty briar pipe. In 1950, Einstein is noted as saying, “I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs,” Although he favored pipes, Einstein was not one to turn down a cigar or even a cigarette.”~

            • Fatherbob, The stink thing is terrible and I do take it personally. I hate smelling it on others inside and for that reason I don’t smoke when I go to the office. And my car stinks of a blend of smoker and wet dog! Quite a combo. I want to get a new car and I want to never smoke in it, so just quit dammit!!!

    • Ambien can cause people to do things while they are sleeping. Yeah, you heard me correctly. What Ambien and similar drugs do is cause amnesia so a person doesn’t remember doing things. I had a bad experience with Ambien. If I take this drug once/month, I’m okay. If I take it more than two nights in a row, then strange things can happen. I remember one morning after taking Ambien the night before, Nonewhere saying to me that I must have been up during the middle of night doing something out in the kitchen. He gets up before me during the week so he was in the kitchen that morning and noticed something which he won’t tell me specifically. This frightened me as I didn’t recollect getting out of bed. There were other times when strange things happened after taking Ambien. Yes, these drugs can be dangerous.

      There is an interesting book called ‘Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep’. According to this book, people have committed all kinds of crime while sleep walking.

    • Finding the right psychoactive medications is an ongoing process. Just about everyone responds to different meds differently. The first antidepressant I took caused me to hallucinate! My doctor, at the time, simply said that hallucinations weren’t a common side effect while i was watching waves rolling along the floor. Luckily I retained enough sanity to change doctors. After that it took about 3 years and 3 more doctors to finally get everything right for me to get my life back.

      Now? I’m better than ever. I just wish that the science had been more advanced when I was younger. I also find it a bit amusing when my friends pine for their youth since much of mine was a living Hell.

  4. Some of the reporters (Major whateverhislastnameis) came across as Repugnant Party shills…the President didn’t seem to miss a beat, though…

    President Obama’s news conference on the debt ceiling, fiscal battles and gun control, Jan. 14, 2013 (Transcript)

  5. The sick freaks really can’t help themselves. If there were any sane GOoPers left they would instruct their party members to never, ever, so much as mention rape. Simply saying “I don’t care about how a woman gets pregnant” would be far less damaging than their pathetic attempts to justify their abhorrent positions.

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/01/14/1441271/anti-choice-group-hosts-training-program-to-teach-republicans-how-to-talk-about-rape/

      • Hope he had a license for fishing for tarpon. He clearly saw the fish in the water when he stuck his hand down there and wiggled his fingers. If you have a pole in the water and no license you get a ticket even if you don’t catch anything.

      • oops, that post above got mangled.

        Watching the video:

        actions have consequences

        comes to mind.
        Oh, and I see a future ‘Darwin award’ winner!

  6. That’s a great deal of cow flatulence (isn’t that what the Faux watching folk say causes pollution?).

    Smog Blankets Chinese Cities

    On Saturday, an air quality station at the U.S. Embassy recorded particulate matter or PM 2.5 levels – nearly 900 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization recommended maximum daily level of PM 2.5 is 20 micrograms per square meter.

    Fine particles in the air, which are about 1/30th the diameter of a human hair, come from many different sources, such as coal-burning power plants, construction and automobile exhaust.

  7. Well Taylor booked her first commercial since she got her braces off. Only problem is we have to get her hair dyed red/strawberry blond and drive to Benton Harbor, MI. Really I just haven’t been driving enough lately.

    • Sometimes we need a dose of dark humor to purge the negative thoughts in a healthy way. Case in point:

      After discussing medications earlier today I stopped by my favorite liquor store. The owner, Jon, and I always have a little friendly banter and teasing. Well? He told me that since i haven’t been drinking quite as much he might have to raise the price on my favorite beer. Since medications were still on my mind I came up with: “I take two kinds of medication. One prevents me from dying and the other prevents me from killing. You better make sure I’ve taken both if you are going to threaten to raise the price on my favorite beer!”

      And good laugh was had by all. However, there are days when it’s much more true than i would like.

  8. Joshua Keating gathers evidence that widespread gun ownership doesn’t translate into successful uprisings against oppressive government:

    “[T]he country ranked last on the [Small Arms Survey] — with only 0.1 guns per 100 people — is Tunisia, which as you’ll recall was still able to overthrow a longtime dictator in 2011. With only 3.5 guns per 100 people, the Egyptian population that overthrew Hosni Mubarak was hardly well armed either. On the other hand, Bahrain, where a popular revolution failed to unseat the country’s monarchy, has 24.8 guns per 100 people, putting it in the top 20 worldwide. A relatively high rate of 10.7 guns per 100 people in Venezuela hasn’t stopped the deterioration of democracy under Hugo Chávez.”

    (paywalled at Foreign Policy)

    • That’s some good observations. The gun nuts have nothing. Really, they have nothing. There is no good reason for everyone (and their dog) to have a gun.

      • I’m envisioning an ant farm type movement once the trail has been breached…
        scurrying in different direction – more than likely shooting each other in the process.
        (oh the video would be entertaining)

        • It would make for a better spectator sport than the running of the bulls, boxing, and rugby combined. A bit chaotic but every second would be packed with action. At least it would be action packed until they all collapsed on the ground and started speaking in tongues and praying for their God to deliver them from their folly. Half of the survivors would probably enter a catatonic state and that’s no fun to watch.

    • “Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles.”

      Fascists welcomed. All others need not apply.

    • Geniuses are going to gather all in one place to start their revolution. I guess they’ve never heard of drones or some of the new weapons the government has.

  9. If the Republicans refuse to deal with the debt ceiling and cause the US economy to collapse, are those involved in the action then guilty of committing a treasonous act?

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

    Does ‘levying war against’ the United States presume any form other than guns and bombs? Is the orchestration of economic collapse immune from being classified as ‘an act of war’? Just curious

    • A bit convoluted…or just a difficulty when a monopoly is involved?

      CNET falls under CBS Interactive, on one side of the company, while CBS Broadcasting, the other side, is involved in the Dish lawsuit. Either way, word came from on high to pull the Hopper from contention.

  10. Hi, zxbe. Are you enjoying our winter? I actually had to wear my long underwear when I went for my walk today. I feel cheated when i don’t need long underwear. Sigh… Back to 20s and 30s within a few days. Since there still isn’t safe ice on my favorite ice fishing spots I’ll just have to go out and fly my planes. Damn! I sure would welcome a mess of perch fillets.

    I was pouring through some weather data and we have had only one day this winter, here in the South Metro, that didn’t reach double digits. Historically, we start to warm up after the 25th of January. 10 days till it starts getting warmer? I can’t help but love that idea even if the implications are disturbing. At least we are creating a perfect environment for bark beetles and other invasive species from the south.

  11. I just had to do more research on the Citadel. This community will be self-sustaining with its major industry being a gun manufacturing facility. Another source of expected income will be tourism where gun enthusiasts can fire their favorite weapon at the firearms museum. Here, read all about it… http://iiicitadel.com/index.html

    What could possibly go wrong in this community of ‘patriots’?

    • They just keep getting crazier and crazier with each passing day. Sometimes it’s with each passing hour.

      BTW. If they are selling guns and vacations in order to be “self-sustaining” would they not need at least one trading partner and a whole mess of tourists? That doesn’t sound very self-sustaining to me. I would just treat the whole thing with amusement but I keep thinking that it will turn into “The Hills Have Eyes” once the money and food runs out.

      • They’ll end up shooting each other. The first law on their books will be ‘Stand Your Ground’. These fascists won’t be able to get along with each other because they can’t compromise. They lack social skills. Living in a community requires working together and that will never happen with this crowd.

  12. Hmmmm. A poster at MMfA threw out the idea that the decline of the afternoon “yell shows”, like Maury Povitch and Jerry Springer, coincided with the rise of FAUX”News”. Is this a coincidence or did the inbred, white trash, audience just change channels so they could watch better dressed people behave in the same way?

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