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Perhaps Jeff Atwood Should Stick to the Code (supervacuo.com)
29 points by supervacuo 1456 days ago | hide | past | web | 29 comments | favorite



I don't think this kind of dialog really helps. Jeff's post was, I thought, sincere and understandable. It's not really the same way I saw things, but I can see what he meant. It clearly wasn't intended to be disrespectful, and reading that in and then flaming about it publicly isn't helping anyone.

If Jeff was angry at Aaron for "taking the easy way out" (again: not my personal reaction, but one I think I can understand), he has the right to express that without being told he should "stick to the code". Dealing with "inconvenient" emotions is part of grief, and that process deserves respect too.

Basically: lighten up. This is really not an appropriate subject to pick a fight over.


If Jeff was angry at Aaron for "taking the easy way out" (again: not my personal reaction, but one I think I can understand), he has the right to express that without being told he should "stick to the code". Dealing with "inconvenient" emotions is part of grief, and that process deserves respect too.

It is extremely common for people to feel anger at the death of a loved one, especially a death so complicated to process as a suicide.

People take years to unravel the knot and come to accept what has happened. I took it as Jeff being human.


I get what both are saying but from a pragamtic, unemotional side I think Atwood is right. Atwood's simple premise is that if you are going to be an activist, you better realize that those in power are going to throw everything at you so you better be ready to accept the consequences. In even simpler terms, 'don't do the crime if you can't do the time'.

I know this is a bad example, but I watch 'Whale Wars'. Those folks know exactly what they are doing and walking a very, very fine line where they could be guilty of many offenses in multiple countries. But they don't care and a few have served time for what they have done. They don't seem to whine about it because they feel it's worth it.

What Atwood says appears cold and insensitive. But I think he's getting a little tired (like a lot of us) of the constant 'Swartz did nothing wrong'/'prosecution for no reason'/'visionary bullied into suicide' meme (nothing else to call it). He absolutely broke the law in a couple ways. Was the prosecution overzealous? Maybe. We don't know what the outcome would've been so we can't say whether it would've been fair.


"The law" isn't some monolith, though -- it's defined by every institution (every person?) enforcing it, and every decision made in carrying out "justice".

It's a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to port-scan Google. Are you really saying that you'd be getting tired of people talking about it if someone who'd done just that was facing years in jail (a perfectly _legal_ consequence).


"The law" isn't some monolith, though -- it's defined by every institution (every person?) enforcing it, and every decision made in carrying out "justice".

There are laws which may or may not be levied against us in certain situations. You are implying that Swartz shouldn't have been prosecuted just because you feel what he did wasn't wrong. Your feelings are completely irrelevant. Someone felt wronged and brought it to the attention of those who could prosecute the crime.

Are you really saying that you'd be getting tired of people talking about it if someone who'd done just that was facing years in jail (a perfectly _legal_ consequence).

If it were receiving as much biased anti-law exposure as this case is receiving then absolutely. Swartz was facing years in jail, yes, but he might have (most likely) received a much more minor sentence.

What ardent Swartz supports need to realize is:

1) He made the decision to break the law - which it appears he clearly knew what he was doing was illegal. 2) He knew there were consequences - although probably not of the severity he thought. 2) No one forced him to do it. 3) There were other options for changing the system. 4) It was his choice to kill himself.

If you feel that the maximum punishment didn't fit the crime you should do something about that to possibly save others in the future. But please don't expect us all to have outrage over Swartz being punished. It's a shame he killed himself but that's tertiary to the issue of the entire case. Just because he killed himself doesn't mean he's less guilty or more innocent.


I think your first sentence perfectly illustrates my point:

> There are laws which may or may not be levied against us in certain situations.

Evidence (including Swartz's case) strongly suggests that this discretion leads to an unjust result.

It's obvious that not every legal action is socially desirable (or "moral", for the sake of brevity) and not every illegal action is immoral (whistleblowers, protestors, etc.). So, like I said before, the criminal justice system is composed of laws and the people who make the call as to whether to prosecute, which in this case includes a powerful company (JSTOR), an academic institution (MIT), cops, the FBI and finally Ortiz and her office.

A few more characters than you might immediately list when you think of "the law", right?

When you say "Someone felt wronged and brought it to the attention of those who could prosecute the crime", you make it sound like it's an automatic process from one to the other. As someone who has both suffered and carried out actions which are illegal according to the letter of the law, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

Read my article: HSBC broke a whole bunch of laws (to the tune of a trillion dollars a year), and got a sweet plea deal and no individual prosecutions. Good luck getting similar treatment if you shoplift an iPod, particularly if you're anything other than white.


You can pick and choose any number of 'wrongful' or 'unjust' litigation. There's a ton. HSBC is irrelevant to Swartz.

It's obvious that not every legal action is socially desirable (or "moral", for the sake of brevity) and not every illegal action is immoral (whistleblowers, protestors, etc.).

Irrelevant. Social desire and morality has nothing to do with it. BTW, those are very subjective. I do feel that Swartz should've gone a different, more legal route if he wanted to cause change. I have no issue with him being prosecuted. So who is right, you or me?

JSTOR is not the law. MIT is not the law. They are involved in the criminal matter but do not determine whether something gets prosecuted. Is it arbitrary and sometimes political? Sure, but we shouldn't be outraged over Swartz being prosecuted. Very few gave a shit about the case until he killed himself. Where was all the outrage over the prosecution up until then?

When you say "Someone felt wronged and brought it to the attention of those who could prosecute the crime", you make it sound like it's an automatic process from one to the other.

Absolutely not. If JSTOR and MIT didn't think it was an issue it wouldn't have gone anywhere. If a crime is not reported it can't be followed up on by law enforcement. Obviously JSTOR and/or MIT brought this illegal activity through the proper channels and law enforcement took over. Maybe the FBI/Justice Dept was using Swartz as an example but he still broke a law.

As someone who has both suffered and carried out actions which are illegal according to the letter of the law, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

You can feel free to rape, murder, and pillage all you want. If there's no one to report the crime, no one willing to report the crime, or no authority to report to, then, sure, you won't be prosecuted. But don't be outraged if you get prosecuted when you break the law.


> Sure, but we shouldn't be outraged over Swartz being prosecuted.

WTH not? It was pretty outrageous. I'd be interested to hear your argument that he deserved even 6 months in prison for copyright violation.

> If a crime is not reported it can't be followed up on by law enforcement.

... which is not to say that if a crime is reported, it will be followed up by law enforcement. Many reported crimes are not acted upon at all; some of them get a huge overreaction (like Swartz's) and some get an under-reaction (like HSBC).

That's the link: that justice is only just if the rules are the same for everyone, and they clearly are not.


WTH not? It was pretty outrageous. I'd be interested to hear your argument that he deserved even 6 months in prison for copyright violation.

Outrageous to whom? You?

I feel the punishment doesn't fit the crime, however, that's the punishment. I wouldn't want that punishment so I do not steal copyrighted material. That's Atwood's point in it's entirety: Swartz knew there were strict penalties and wasn't willing to accept the consequences if caught.

... which is not to say that if a crime is reported, it will be followed up by law enforcement.

This depends on a lot of factors and you know that. But there isn't some Illuminati deciding whether every case is important enough to prosecute.

That's the link: that justice is only just if the rules are the same for everyone, and they clearly are not.

Prosecutors prosecute what they think they can win. Swartz was a win for obvious reasons, HSBC wasn't for reasons unbeknownst to me. Our system is what it is. If you can't accept losing, don't play ball.


There is a real danger that other people see what Aaron did, and the resulting response, and conclude that the most effective activism is martyrdom/suicide. I think Jeff was trying to push back against this idea with his post, while also taking responsibility for not doing more to help Aaron while he was alive. He also points out that activism frequently coincides with jail time, and that the most effective activists (ie MLK), frequently end up there.

The point of your article seems to be that Jeff Atwood should stick to coding, because he isn't an activist and can't comprehend how bad being on the wrong end of our flawed criminal justice system can be. "Jeff Atwood is apparently saying that Aaron Swartz was taking an underhand route to escape the consequences of his activism, and that he was being a bad activist in so doing."

Let's be frank. Jeff Atwood is saying you shouldn't commit suicide. At no point does he characterize this as an "underhand route"... that is your language. But furthermore, I agree with Jeff Atwood. You shouldn't commit suicide. Even if the corrupt and incompetent federal government charges you with 50 years in prison for downloading journal articles. Don't commit suicide.

So I don't really understand why you're piling on Jeff Atwood. In the past Jeff Atwood has deserved some piling on for his writings... this is not one of those times.


> I think Jeff was trying to push back against this idea with his post

If you want to make the point that suicide is bad, find a way to do it without insulting a recently-deceased campaigner, especially if a) you have very little personal experience of equivalent situations and b) you have done comparatively little to help others (a fair guess, given that Swartz was so much more active than most people).

> But furthermore, I agree with Jeff Atwood. You shouldn't commit suicide. Even if the corrupt and incompetent federal government charges you with 50 years in prison for downloading journal articles. Don't commit suicide.

If Jeff's article had read like your comment, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I have no problem with you saying that suicide is either morally wrong, or an ineffective campaign strategy — although I happen to disagree with you on both points (citing euthanasia as a sometimes-moral suicide and Thích Quảng Đức & Mohamed Bouazizi as suicides which changed the world for the better).


Very well said. I think the author was angered by some word Atwood used, and was blinded by rage for the rest of the article.

Try to think if any of the great activist had commuted suicide.


You don't get off to persuasive start when you call everyone who disagrees with you (before even making it clear what you're disagreeing ABOUT) a moron.


You are misreading the first line of the article. The article's author is lumping himself AND Jeff Atwood (not to mention nearly the entire population of Hacker News) into the same bucket here: ALL of them saddened by the passing of Aaron Swartz.

He then disagrees with Jeff Atwood about a further point: whether Aaron should have "accepted the penalty" for his activism.

Personally, when I first read Jeff Atwood's original essay I felt that I understood what he was getting at ("I'm disappointed that Aaron 'quit' on us, and I hope no one else does."), but I felt (as does this author) that his suggestion that civil disobedience requires one to accept the penalties for breaking the law. I am neither sure that Aaron Swartz intended to engage in civil disobedience, nor am I sure that meekly accepting the state-imposed punishment is a necessary component of civil disobedience.


> I am neither sure that Aaron Swartz intended to engage in civil disobedience

This is an interesting point: I would develop it to talk about _levels_ of disobedience.

Like Andrew Auernheimer, I think Swartz knew he would get "in trouble", but didn't appreciate the scale -- which is understandable, as I say in my article, because the details of "trouble" are deliberately obscured.


From a NYT article on the matter: A respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded articles that he was entitled to get free. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20compute.html?_r=0)

It is also reasonable for one to think they wouldn't get in trouble for this. Either way, at the root of civil disobedience and activism is the desire to change.

I think Dr. King's quote is being taken out of context in these discussions. Dr. King doesn't mean to simply "grin and bear it", Dr. King means that fighting for our freedom is hard, and thus activists must, in order to have any chance of producing change, be prepared for the worst, in some form of self sacrifice.

Atwood is saying (I feel erroneously) that Swartz came so close to creating a change, but gave it all away when he "ragequit".

The point is, what happened happened, and I hope we never have to have a "next time", but I'll bet that if there is a next time, it will play out very differently, and for the better, thanks to Swartz.


Did we even read the same article? Where are you getting that from?


"Like everyone else with an internet connection and a brain"

Emphasis mine.


mcherm is right about what I meant: a hopefully-not-controversial statement. Sorry for being unclear.


It just seems needlessly antagonistic. More flies with honey than vinegar and all that.


> 22 January 2013

?

Why wasn't this submitted last month, when Atwood's post was being discussed? It seems odd to submit it nearly a month after discussion of that has pretty much ended.


"I say this not as a person who wishes to judge Aaron Swartz. I say it as a fellow gamer who has also considered playing the same move quite recently. To the point that I – like Aaron himself, I am sure – was actively researching it."

Atwood is saying that he's considered suicide - recently, and that he doesn't want to judge Aaron. Most importantly, he's grieving, and different people grieve in different ways.

I think you're being overly harsh in your post. Especially since you have two messages for Jeff: stick to code; alter your message. Which would you prefer? Either way, you're judging his grieving process, which I think is unfair.

I think you should express your own grief (and outrage) in your own way. Pointing fingers at others who are grieving isn't nearly as constructive, I think.


Sure. But "respecting Atwood's grief" was outweighed by "challenging his dangerous ideology", especially since (as he says in his post) he'd never met Swartz.

Don't think his suicidal thoughts are relevant to his chosen topic of noble activism. If anything, Atwood mentioning it came across a little "I beat suicide... but this guy couldn't".


Someone's dealing with suicidal thoughts, and your message is "shut up."

I think your post is the dangerous one.


"Dealing with suicidal thoughts" and "scaring off potential activists by being nasty" are two separate activities.


So respectfully empathize with him, and point out your differences about activism.

Telling him to "stick to coding" makes you an insensitive clod, and sends a dangerous message to others with suicidal thoughts that their feelings are not welcome.


> So respectfully empathize with him, and point out your differences about activism.

There's no moral problem with being slightly irreverent to someone in such a strong position: Atwood is apparently financially successful and has a large readership. He is also — unlike the target of his own criticism — alive.

So maybe your concern is strategic. I happen to think "respectful empathy" would have been a worse way of making my point.

Finally, I think my article is pretty clear. The category of person I want to "stick to coding" is "Jeff Atwood", or, more specifically, "Jeff Atwood talking about something he knows nothing about in a socially-damaging way". I don't think anyone would come away with the impression that I don't want to hear from people who've thought about suicide (hence why I didn't mention that aspect of Atwood's post at all).


> being slightly irreverent to someone in such a strong position

You're also telling everyone who happens to agree with Atwood to shut up. And they don't all have the same strong position.

You're not WRITING AN EMAIL TO ATWOOD, you're broadcasting to the world that everyone who agrees with him is wrong. And you're doing it disrespectfully.

> (hence why I didn't mention that aspect of Atwood's post at all).

Don't you think, given the topic, that you should have specifically mentioned that category of people, and shown empathy? Perhaps starting with Atwood, and generalizing from there?

Fuck it - you don't care what I think, and you're casual about telling people to shut up, so my efforts are completely pointless.


In a way, I agree with Jeff, and I wonder what would happened if some other famous activists have taken the path Aaron took.




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