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Dear Aaron Swartz, Please Save Me From Your Followers. Amen.

Date/Time Permalink: 01/16/13 02:53:35 pm
Category: General

Aaron Swartz was a very nice fellow, and what happened to him was very sad. And now, here's a less-whitewashed version of his story:

Aaron Swartz was a bright young programmer who assisted in the authorship of the RSS specification, developed the framework, worked on Internet archive projects, and started up a company called "Infogami" which was bought by the Y-Combinator-(and Hell)-spawned Reddit before immediately being snapped up by Conde-Nast Publications and almost as immediately firing Aaron Swartz. Swartz then turned most of the rest of his life to the misguided activity we call "hacktivism", in-between the odd Wikipedia edit.

Note: Amazing facts: Swartz did NOT invent the computer, hand down the GPL on stone tablets from Mount Sinai, kill his sensei in a duel, chop a snake into four pieces and throw it around the Earth to create the four corners, give birth to the Sun, destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, get bitten by a radioactive unicorn and develop superpowers, or travel back in time to kill Hitler. None of the bodily fluids from his remains have thus far been demonstrated to have supernatural restorative properties.

( You might want to print out the above paragraph, clip it, and save it in your wallet or purse in the months to come. Pull it out and re-read it quietly to yourself when everybody else is donning burquas and taking candlelight pilgrimages to his place of birth. It is the sole glint of level-headed reason you're going to see written on this issue. )

In a freak legal accident straight out of the movie Brazil, Swartz, amidst his hacktivism, managed to download a bunch of free academic articles from a freely accessible website, an act which inexplicably angered somebody in the academic sausage-grinder. Then, like so many hacktivists before him and so many hacktivists that will come after him, the government proceeded to pursue Swartz as their target as this decade's lottery-selected cybercrime scapegoat.

You've doubtless heard that Swartz was looking at life in prison or worse. What you haven't heard is that the latest plea-bargain round had Swartz's proposed sentence down to six months and some charges - and they were still haggling. Granted, the charges on his record would have sucked, but are you seriously telling me Swartz wouldn't have been able to get a job ever again with credentials like his? To say nothing of the possibility that he could have gone ahead through a trial and conceivably won.

Now, ignoring the rumors to the contrary, nobody killed Aaron Swartz but Aaron Swartz. Swartz suffered from severe depression. Long before his legal woes, Swartz already was sounding depressed and suicidal way back when he got sacked from Conde Nast - he was writing blog posts that were already raising alarm. It may yet come out that his mental state colored his judgment a couple of times, perhaps even when he was downloading academic papers.

Note: Amazing facts: He was not crucified on Galilee, nor was he buried in a stone tomb, nor was he secretly assassinated by the Illuminati. Carmen Ortiz, stupid character though she is, did not hire ninja assassins to put him away. Clip and save for future grounding against the waves of myths soon to pass.

I understand what it's like to be a grieving father. When I have unfortunately found myself in that role in the past, I, too, heard myself say some stupid, irrational things. Anger and denial are parts of the grieving process. We get through it, move on, and - usually - get to live down what we said. As long as it isn't reported in the media tweet by tweet.

Aaron Swartz did mostly good in the world, and certainly had his heart in the right place. I am sad that he is gone. A lot of people I agree with have said nice things about him. Good night, sweet prince.

I just don't happen to think that he turned water into wine. To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, What the rest of you witnessed was a miracle; what I witnessed was a freak occurrence.

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow is currently hosting a petition drive to have the Assistant U.S. Attorney fired. Why is it whenever I see a misguided online witch hunt, I follow the flame trail and find Doctorow at the end of it? OWS, SOPA-paranoia, Cory Doctorow is an irresponsible cult leader with an online army of impressionable, alienated, brainwashed young kids ever-ready to shoot first and ask questions later. For somebody who used to just run a nice little website where he posted cool stuff, he sure is on an arrogant power trip now.

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