Ian Murdock, founder of Debian, dead at 42 under strange circumstances

While still enjoying the holiday with my family I found a recent story in various online forums strangely compelling. It concerned Ian Murdock, an icon in the open source and Linux community for his contribution of Debian (Ubuntu is one of the many Debian derivatives) in 1993 while at Purdue University. Mr. Murdock had apparently suddenly begun posting some very strange things on Twitter over the weekend suggesting that he was planning suicide but also alleging police abuse. The posts seemed uncharacteristic of him, and many folks speculated that his account had been hacked. He was discovered deceased on Monday after friends raised the alarm but there has been very little in the way of information about his death reported in the mainstream media. The fact that the San Francisco Police were somehow involved led many to wonder if there might be more to the story than drugs or a mental breakdown. I started to collect information about the case early on and this post is basically just a record of what I’ve found so far.

Originally I had posted the following as a comment in a Reddit thread about Ian’s strange tweets, I’ve brought the list here to archive.

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Occupy didn’t annoy residents as much as Port Authority construction did (and still does).

An argument against the Occupy protests in NYC which a co-worker frequently makes is that they annoy the residents with the constant drumming.  Speaking as someone who considers camping where there are all night drum circles *vacation*, I can understand that argument – incessant drumming can get to be annoying (I much prefer melodic acoustic instruments), but the kids and I have had no trouble falling asleep to a tribal beat performed by hundeds of swarthy would-be belly-dancing accompainists.  I did a quick survey of news articles to gauge how the residents near Zuccotti Park may have felt about Occupy drum circles, and lighted upon this recent article (Nov 14th) in the Times.

Since Sept 17 when the Occupy Wall Street protests began, there have been 175 complaints about noise from residents near Zuccotti park about construction on the nearby World Trade Center which frequently continued on till 2am.  During that same time there were 115 complaints about drumming or music or talking.  The Times article interviews some residents who claim that the Occupy folks were far better neighbors than the Port Authority during this time – meeting with them and working to address concerns, unlike the Port Authority.

If you have spent any time in the city over the last 10 years I assure you that the loud booming you usually can hear for blocks around you is NOT coming from an acoustic drum, either.  For years folks everywhere have been subjected to the amplified electronic beat box of a thousand Honda Civics scraping the ground under the weight of their 2000 watt stereo systems – the only difference is that like the passing train, they don’t stay in the same place for very long so its hard to actually catch these guys – so nobody tries.

There are plenty of other arguments to be made against allowing the Occupy folks to continue camping in Zuccotti Park, but I don’t think drum circles is a very good one.

The news they don’t want you to see

I’ve watched the Occupy Wall Street protests develop from afar for a couple weeks now. I’ve had to learn about them solely over the internet however, because there seems to be a kind of big media blackout regarding the events. Even NPR has decided they are not news worthy! The gatherings in Liberty Park in NY and in many other cities (like San Francisco and Chicago) across the nation have been largely peaceful with only a smattering of excessive force by the police. The most interesting thing to me regarding these “flash mob” like protests is how they do NOT look like the angry and sometimes violent protests we saw in France in 2006 where gangs of youth torched businesses, or in Greece last year as their inevitable bankruptcy loomed. Those protests were portrayed in the media as either gangs of whining, undeserving youths on rampage or a lazy mob of government workers demanding a free ride.

To me, the Occupy Wall Street protests resemble more the Polish “Solidarity” movement of the 80s and the more recent “Arab Spring” in their non-violence and focus on inequality, the plight of the average worker, and demands for political reform. Many of those interviewed seem young and are probably un- or under-employed (and thus have time to camp out and march around the city), and many of them seem very intelligent and are apparently tech savvy. There are a lot of messages coming from the protests, but the widening gulf between rich and poor, the criminality (and lack of accountability) of the financial sector, and corporate influence in government are all major themes. While major news outlets are (apparently) purposely downplaying the events so as to not upset their corporate paymasters, the protests themselves seem to be growing larger every day and gaining more and more support from labor, and media personalities. So far they have been peaceful and thoughtful but its probably only a matter of time before corporate shills make a serious attempt to blacken the movement so that FOX can shout them down.

9/11 murders in perspective

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were horrible, nearly 3,000 people perished in the planes and on the ground. The memorials made yesterday on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy to the familys’ loss and the individual’s untimely passing were both heart breaking and moving. While the attacks on the trade center were horrific, it was the catastrophic failure of the buildings that killed most of the people involved. A fire in a high rise building is terrible, but the absolute and complete collapse of these immense structures was much worse than could have been expected. I don’t think the criminals who planned the attacks could have imagined or hoped for such an outcome, so in some sense the complete and utter disaster that unfolded was more a result of poor engineering than their criminal behavior. The Pentagon, another building that took a direct hit for instance, took damage but is still in use today. In some sense, by attributing all of those deaths to the action of the terrorists we give them more credit than they deserve. All of the loss of life on that day can be classified as murder, however, because the deaths were the result of a criminal act intended to cause harm even if the criminals didn’t plan to kill as many as they did.

So lets put that murder in a bit of perspective. The murder rate in the US according to the FBI is a horrific 16,000 deaths per year. It fluctuates, and has gone higher and lower since the 2001 attacks, but at that rate in the ten years that have passed, approximately 160,000 Americans have been killed by other Americans. Thats more than 50 times the number that died in the attacks, yet I do not see a four hour chunk of airtime dedicated to all these folks (OK, I guess if the victim is pretty and white you might hear about it on Nancy Grace). For some reason, what is essentially a gang of international thugs managed to pull off one horrific crime which killed a lot of people and destroyed a couple very important buildings (completely accidentally) and those crimes are still in the news every year, while five times as many Americans are killed by other Americans every year and we should just accept that as normal?

Romney is a bad choice

According to Mitt Romney, Corporations are people1. Here is the clearest indication of why Romney is a bad choice for president. Corporations are NOT people, but they are being treated as people and have gained more rights than people through the action of elected people who also happen to have a vested interest in granting them more rights.

“Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?”

yelled Romney in response to hecklers in Iowa yesterday underscoring his position. If you work in manufacturing or business you know that corporations are sitting on their money right now. You can give corporations all the tax breaks you want, but until the people *buying* goods are willing to part with some of their relatively small earnings, corporations will hold onto their stash and neither hire nor invest. Ultimately everything corporations earn goes to *some* of the people, Mitt, and usually most of it to those running the corporation. In fact, the first thing I would do as president is put a cap on what a CEO can earn. They are just employees like the rest of us, but they happen to hold the purse strings.

According to the Federal Reserve, U.S. corporations held a record $1.93 trillion in cash on their balance sheets in 2010. But they are not investing to expand their companies, grow the real economy or create good middle-class jobs. Corporate CEOs are literally hoarding their company’s cash—except when it comes to their own paychecks.2

Romney is at the head of the charge for less taxes and more corporate welfare repeating the mantra of “supply side” (trickle down) economics. Many economists agree now that “Trickle down economic theory” (giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations in the hope that they will act as “job creators”) has at best a very slim (and most likely no) effect on the overall health of an economy, yet we continually hear rich capitalists (and Romney is happy to remind his constituents that he made a lot of money as co-founder of an investment firm) trotting out this old mantra (originally penned by Will Rogers, not Reagan – neither of whom were noted economists, by the way).

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/us/politics/12romney.html
2. http://www.aflcio.org/corporatewatch/paywatch/