Not So Simple Explanation

I don’t have time at the moment to capture my thoughts about the response to Aaron Swartz’s suicide, but I’m offended by the popular simple-minded explanation for his death: the government was prosecuting him, he committed suicide, therefore the government killed him. I’m not offended that his family and close friends embrace of this explanation–were he my son, my lover, my mentee I’m sure I would feel the same. I don’t know anything about Aaron Swartz that I’ve not read in the past week, but clearly that does not prevent me from commenting about the case–with a few exceptions (e.g. Larry Lessig) most of those embracing this binary view did not know him either.

Swartz wrote about his depression. Depressed people cannot think clearly and rationally about why they feel low–otherwise they could reason their way out of their depression.  Did the prosecution over-charge Swartz–that is, did it wring every possible criminal claim out of the facts? Assume it did, then ask: how many other criminal defendants currently awaiting trial in Massachusetts have also been over-charged? Two? Two hundred? Two thousand? 80%? The answer is, “a lot”–assuming one could reach agreement on what it means to over-charge. Defense lawyers always think their clients have been over-charged. Prosecutors always think the charges are appropriate. Prosecutors have considerable discretion–which may in fact be a problem, but like most things legal the solution is not to straightjacket discretion.

Over-charging and aggressive prosecution are not unique to this case. How many criminal defendants believe they are being prosecuted unfairly? How many kill themselves because of it?  Suicide is not a rational method for solving problems. Should the government not prosecute defendants who are clinically depressed?

I’ve already gone on longer than I intended. The point is that suicide of a depressed person cannot generally be explained with binary “but-for” analysis–a point that Eileen McNamara expresses more clearly than I have in this piece from WBURToday: Carmen Ortiz’s Case Didn’t “Kill” Aaron Swartz. Swartz’s death is a tragedy–because he was evidently a talented, passionate, and sensitive person whose gifts are now lost to the world due to mental illness. But I won’t blame the U.S. Attorney for his death.

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Linked and Merged

For many years I’ve had two LinkedIn accounts, one opened with my BU email and the other opened with Gmail. The result has been duplicate connections, connections in one account that are not in the other, and annoying logouts and logins to access the correct account to accept invitations. No more. I had LinkedIn transfer all contacts from and terminate the former account and I added the BU email to the other account. Problem solved. Not that I will start using LinkedIn–but if I do, my contacts will be consolidated.

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All the News That’s Fit to Search

The NY Times reports that the Internet Archive–home of The Wayback Machine, the Live Music Archive, and other databases–now includes “every morsel of news produced in the last three years by 20 different channels, encompassing more than 1,000 news series that have generated more than 350,000 separate programs devoted to news.” Want to view every clip during the past three years from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that mentions Mitt Romney? Want total immersion in Fox News? Go to http://archive.org/details/tv and start watching.

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Last Week’s Darling, This Week’s Dog

Today’s first five stories from Eric Bedell’s This Web Day:

I don’t closely follow IPO’s, but I cannot remember the market and media turning on an initial public offering so quickly. Kicking the 800-pound billionaire gorilla may be entertaining, but this reaction bodes ill for other tech IPO’s in the pipeline.

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IPO Falling Flat on Its Face(book)

Some worthwhile analyses of why Facebook’s stock price has fallen below the float just a few days after the IPO:

  • Roger Chen, CNET, Why Facebook’s stock is tanking–“Facebook just isn’t worth $100 billion . . . At $38, Facebook’s price-to-earnings ratio was more than four times that of Google’s 2011 PE ratio. That’s despite Google posting revenue and profit that were 10 times higher than Facebook . . . Apple trades at about 10 times its estimated earnings for next year, while Google has a price-to-earnings ratio of 12. Based on BTIG’s estimate and Business Insider’s own estimate, Facebook has a multiple of 40 to 100 times earnings.”
  • MSNBC.com, After Facebook IPO debacle, finger-pointing begins
    • “Some pointed to underwriters offering too many shares, while others blamed an overly strong IPO price and worries about slowing revenue growth at the social network . . .
    • Initial trading on the Nasdaq was delayed for half an hour due to issues with some orders . . . ‘This is arguably the worst performance by an exchange on an IPO — ever,’ said Thomas M. Joyce, chairman and chief executive officer of trading firm Knight Capital Group. ‘The failure was Nasdaq’s’ . . .
    • [I]nvestment banks that arranged the offering overestimated the demand . . . ‘The late addition of 84 million shares to the offering overwhelmed demand, limiting the first day price’ . . .
  • Robert Hof, Forbes, The Facebook IPO Was a Dud-Here are 3 Reasons it Matters–“[N]o pop at all the first day, besides a measly 23-cent rise–which only happened because Facebook’s underwriters bought millions of shares to keep it from going underwater? And today, a 9% 11% plunge? Can anyone really believe that’s in the best interests of Facebook, its employees, and its investors? . . . IPOs have always been a publicity event, and part of that publicity is at least a reasonable pop in the stock price the first day. A rational mind might wish it weren’t so, since that means money the company didn’t get, but that’s the reality of IPOs . . . So the perception of a blown IPO, even if it wasn’t blown in the financial sense, matters . . .
  • It matters to Facebook employees . . . a flat to down stock price isn’t something that tends to keep the most ambitious people working long hours week after week.
  • Prospective employees may look twice at working at Facebook.
  • Valuations of other Internet companies just took a big hit.
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April 1st Arrived Early

In its ceaseless quest to evade the law The Pirate Bay announced plans to build drone-based airborne servers–what it called Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS)–destruction of which the site said would be “a real act of war.” TPB is nothing if not amusing. Flying file-sharing drones is not an inherently crazy idea–well, maybe it is inherently crazy, but the Electronic Countermeasures project has created them. Not the same as what The Huffington Post describes as TPB’s “madcap, potentially tongue-in-cheek, but brilliant scheme,” but on the same continuum. It is brilliant–as marketing, not a workable plan to avoid the law.

I think LOSS really stands for Laughing Our Selves Silly.*

*Or other words that start with S.

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