Society's ChildS

Book 2

Another slant on Aaron Swartz: Opening access to information

© ReutersInternet activist and programmer Aaron Swartz, who helped create an early version of RSS and later played a key role in stopping a controversial online piracy bill in Congress, committed suicide in New York in early January
Author details her experience of getting open access to a scholarly archive that had been locked away from the public.

"Ah, it must be desolate and sad to outlive one's own heart," wrote the author of a handful of ground-breaking works, published early in the 19th century, shortly before he joined a recent acquaintance in a meticulously planned suicide pact and carried it out, by all accounts, to the letter.

Among many other things, certainly, I thought a lot about Heinrich von Kleist, and re-read some of his work, as I tried to make sense of the devastating news of the suicide of Aaron Swartz and of the events that led to that premature and apparently senseless ending.

At a loss, I plumbed the reserves of several decades of reading, teaching and writing about literature and the history of philosophy in an attempt to locate at least one example, a telling instance from the (possibly) remote past that would illuminate this episode from the proximate past that seemed pointless, without reason.

As I pored over news reports, editorials, blogs (including Aaron's own), videos of Aaron speaking at conferences and rallies, I was also pulling books off my shelves, returning to pages and passages annotated over the course of multiple readings, marginalia layered as palimpsest.

From Kleist (who had always been my go-to guy on suicide, having not just staged it repeatedly in his work but performed it himself), I reverted to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had such a manifold impact on subsequent generations of writers.

One of the protagonists in his epistolary novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise, finding that his "soul is oppressed with the weight of life", delivers an impassioned argument for the human right to "willful death":
"The more I reflect on it, the more I find that the question comes down to this fundamental proposition: to seek what is good and flee what is ill for oneself insofar as it offends no one else is the right of nature. When our life is an ill for us and a good for no one then it is therefore permissible to deliver oneself of it."
Rousseau's St Preux concludes his case with an invitation to his interlocutor to join him in the kind of suicide pact in which Kleist would later (in the aftermath of his own reading of Rousseau) enlist his new friend.

In the event, St Preux, whose "life" as a fictional character is arguably more dispensable, goes on to live another day - but not before summoning for his reader the spectre of Cato, the Roman warrior (and thorn in the side of Caesar) whose gruesome suicide is immortalised in Plutarch.

Perhaps naively, I was still in quest of an example that might throw Aaron's final act into relief. Possibly biography and historiography would furnish what literature, thus far, had not. Like most people on the planet, I don't happen to own a copy of Plutarch's Lives, so I logged on in order to refresh my memory of the details of his account of (the in many ways exemplary) Cato.
"Some impressions are everlasting; neither time nor care can erase them. The wound heals, but the mark remains, and this mark is an honourable seal that protects the heart from another blow."

- St Preux, Rousseau's character
Here is what happened next: My Google search for "Plutarch life of Cato" turned up a link to Jstor - the "digital library of academic journals, books and primary sources" that Aaron had infamously hacked from a closet at MIT, downloading onto his laptop the numerous files that would shortly thereafter result in his indictment by the district attorney for Massachusetts.

Bad Guys

Best of the Web: Military suicides hit epidemic levels - is it stress or the drugs used to treat it?

Unimaginable stress, irrepressible memories, psychoactive prescription drugs make lethal combination.

Is it the post-traumatic stress from repeated tours in war zones or Big Pharma’s drugs that are being used to treat it?
With what must be one of the strangest statistics in the history of wartime, the Pentagon has released the fact that more soldiers are dying overseas by committing suicide than from combat wounds - about one a day. July 2012 was the worst on record, a month that saw 38 soldiers take their own lives and with 349 recorded for the year. These figures have doubled in the past decade.

More alarming yet is the report that America's returning vets are committing suicide at the unprecedented rate of more than 20 each day - "one every 65 minutes," reported Daily News of New York City - but there is no official answer as to why this happening.

Is it the post-traumatic stress from repeated tours in war zones or Big Pharma's drugs that are being used to treat it?

Arrow Down

Has dog meat been found in our food in the UK?

Unknown Meat
© Daily MailTests: A documentary team sent meat samples from six London takeaways to be tested. Meat from one lamb curry could not be identified as originating from any common meat source.
A mystery meat, which has defied the best efforts of scientists to identify it, has been found in a lamb curry as part of an investigation into food fraud.

The discovery raises new questions about just what is going into the nation's takeaways and processed foods.

A BBC documentary to be aired on BBC3 tonight sent samples of curries and kebabs bought from six outlets in London for laboratory tests.

However, most alarming of all was a curry. A spokesman for the programme said: 'Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, the results came in for an Indian Lamb Curry.

'It did contain meat, but that meat was not lamb, not pork, nor was it chicken or beef. Not horse, and not goat either.'

Alarm Clock

New Zealand woman leaves newborn baby in car to go grocery shopping with note to call her on cell phone if there's a problem

A mother left her baby in her car
© Facebook A mother left her baby in her car at a Porirua, New Zealand supermarket with a note reading "My mum's in doing the shopping, call her if I need anything."
A mother who left her baby alone in a parked car with a note instructing passersby to call 'if I need anything' has attracted anger from around the world, and may face prosecution, too.

A mom sparked outrage by leaving her newborn baby alone in a car with a note saying: "My mum's in doing the shopping, call her if I need anything."

The message, with the woman's cell phone number, was spotted in a vehicle parked outside a Pak 'n Save supermarket in Porirua, New Zealand, at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Shocked passersby took pictures of the sleeping baby and posted them on Facebook, prompting a wave of anger from across the world.

The mom would face a $1,600 fine for leaving a child under the age of 14 alone for an unreasonable time if prosecuted.

Bizarro Earth

Student dies after battle with Aetna

© Courtesy Arijit GuhaGraduate student Arijit Guha is shown in this undated photo.
Arijit Guha, an Arizona State University graduate student who successfully tussled with health insurance giant Aetna over his medical bills last year, has died at 32, according to a close friend.

His wife, Heather Ehlers, created Facebook in tribute to this life, remembering him as a "rabble rouser, do-gooder, mustache enthusiast."

"His life was one of love, optimism, joy, humor, and compassion, and this page is to celebrate that life," she wrote.


Gypsies flock to bridal fair as parents negotiate

© Valentina Petrova/AP PhotoPeople watch Roma girl and boy, from the Kalaidzhi community, dance on the trunk of a car, during the so called "Roma bridal market," March 23, 2013.
Donka Hristova lets her mother pull her skintight mini-dress a half-inch down her leg. Checking her makeup one last time, she joins her two younger sisters in a provocative dance.

The Gypsy girl knows she has to look her best. She is, after all, on an important life mission: catching the eye of one of the hundreds of young Gypsy guys prowling around what locals have dubbed the "bridal market" to initiate a complex ritual of haggling that could lead to marriage.

Love's not exactly for sale here. But in the litter-strewn parking lot that hosts the fair, amid blaring Gypsy pop and saucy flirtation, negotiations are churning quietly behind the scenes as families weigh their financial compatibility along with the merits of the prospective bride.

Often, the future of entire families is in the balance as these Roma, among the most poverty-stricken people in a deeply impoverished region, seek to forge mutually beneficial unions that will help them weather Bulgaria's brutal economic downturn.

Globalization adds to the economic pressures. The families gathered here are part of a community of about 18,000 Roma known as Kalaidzhi, who traditionally make a living as coppersmiths. That trade is dying out, in part because traditional copper pots and pans are being replaced by less expensive goods from China.


Judge: Manson disciple can't keep tapes from LAPD

A federal judge in Texas says the Los Angeles Police Department should be able to obtain the decades-old taped conversations between a Manson family disciple and his attorney.

Judge Richard A. Schell ruled Sunday that Charles "Tex" Watson waived his right to attorney-client privilege when he allowed the lawyer to sell the tapes to an author.

A bankruptcy court ruled last year that the LAPD should get the tapes, but Watson appealed.


In Russia, teen complains of adoptive US parents

© Nikolay Alexandrov/AP PhotoIn this photo taken on March 20, 2013, Alexander Abnosov shows his American passport to journalists in the Volga river city of Cheboksary, Russia with his 72 -years old grandmother is in the background.
A teenager adopted by an American couple has returned to Russia after five years claiming that his adoptive family treated him badly and that he lived on the streets of Philadelphia and stole just to survive, according to Russian state media reports.

The allegations by Alexander Abnosov, now 18, will likely fuel outrage here over the fate of Russian children adopted by Americans. It's an anger that the Kremlin has carefully stoked to justify its controversial ban on U.S. adoptions.

Russia's Channel 1 and Rossiya television - which are both state controlled - reported Tuesday that Abnosov returned from a Philadelphia suburb to the Volga river city of Cheboksary, where his 72-year-old grandmother lives.

Russian media identified the teen as Alexander Abnosov, but also show him displaying a U.S. passport that gives his name as Joshua Alexander Salotti.

Abnosov, who spoke in a soft voice and appeared somewhat restrained, complained to Rossiya that his adoptive mother was "nagging at small things."

"She would make any small problem big," he said on Channel 1. He also told Channel 1 that he fled home because of the conflicts with his adoptive mother, staying on the streets for about three months and stealing.


Amanda Knox 'shocked' by court ruling that she will be tried again for murder

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Amanda Knox
was "shocked" by Italy's Supreme Court ruling today that she must be retried for the 2007 murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher.

Knox spent four years in prison before an Italian appeals court threw out her murder conviction in 2011 and she had been hoping the court would uphold the appeals court ruling and end her six year ordeal.

Instead she was told that the marathon legal battle would continue for her and for her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who had been convicted along with her.

The court also refused to vacate her conviction for slander over her identifying her employer, Patrick Lumumba, as the person who killed Kercher. It was a statement, she claims, she made under police duress.

"She is shocked and very sad," Knox's lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova said. "She thought this was the end of a nightmare."

In a statement Knox said the court's decision was "painful" and "completely unfounded and unfair."


Man set himself on fire at Costa Mesa, California nail salon

A man walked into a Costa Mesa nail salon about noon Sunday, doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself on fire, police said.

A woman from whom the man had been estranged, either his wife or his girlfriend, was inside the salon at the time, according to a Costa Mesa police spokesman.

Someone grabbed a fire extinguisher and doused the flames and the man was rushed to a nearby hospital, police said.