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An Elegy for Aaron

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Aaron Swartz

This post is in honor of Aaron Swartz. I had long considered posting my book as open access but had hesitated in doing so, even though I have long been an enthusiast about OLPC and Creative Commons.  Aaron’s tragic death prompted my urgent reconsideration and offering.

 

For me, it is the pictures of Aaron, the goodness and sweetness of a young man working for just, equal society through open access, that are especially haunting.

There are so many moving vignettes; I cannot write as eloquently, but was particularly touched by these:

The heartbreaking, beautiful post by Quinn Norton, “My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved,” and her plea, “Make the world that wouldn’t have killed him, please.”

“We’re going to miss your brilliant mind, your righteous heart and your sensitive soul.” Chris Hayes

Cory Doctorow’s “My obit for Aaron Swartz.”

Haunting Jay Rosen’s “…Trying to explain to myself why I was on the verge of tears all day…”

More glimpses of how Aaron touched so many people’s lives can be found at http://rememberaaronsw.tumblr.com/

 

There are also very powerful posts on how Aaron’s death reflects on our society and its tolerance of abuses of power:

From Alex Stamos, “I was Aaron Swartz’s expert witness, and here is the truth about his ‘crime.’”

Danah Boyd (@zephoria) on the abuse of government power noting that the Feds wanted to “make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned.”

Aaron Swartz’ “death is a good reason to revisit the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Chris Hayes

Dan Gillmor’s admonition: “Remember Aaron Swartz by working for open society and against government abuses.”  “Instead of despairing for @aaronsw, fight the evils he fought.

Tim B. Lee: “Revolutionary new technologies and ideas don’t come from people with a reverence for following the rules”

 

And reflections of what we, as a society, have lost:

“Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal.” Rick Perlstein

“…I am sorry indeed to live in a society where the crime of stealing  articles on 18th century monetary policy (inter alia, of course) is treated more harshly than the non-offense of terrorizing a public street through the display of firearms.

Last word: As Doctorow told the Times, we have lost someone to be missed.

Swartz, he wrote via email, was “uncompromising, principled, smart, flawed, loving, caring, and brilliant. The world was a better place with him in it.”  Tom Levenson

Tim Wu: “We can rightly judge a society by how it treats its eccentrics and deviant geniuses—and by that measure, we have utterly failed.”

Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz 2002

“Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.”

Tim Berners-Lee

Seeing the many photos of Aaron, with his bright eyes and mischievous smile, I flashed back to a favorite high school poem:

 

Theodore Roethke

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,

A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.”

Thank you, Aaron, for making the world a better place. I have always asked my children to work for the forces of good and justice. You had the courage to do so. In your honor and memory, I have now made my own book open access. May you rest in peace and your death kindle a movement.

Credits:

Aaron Swartz – Flickr

Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz (2002) / Rich Gibson / CC BY

Molecules to Medicine banner © Michelle Banks

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Judy Stone About the Author: Judy Stone, MD is an infectious disease specialist, experienced in conducting clinical research. She is the author of Conducting Clinical Research, the essential guide to the topic. She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and is now broadening her horizons. She particularly loves writing about ethical issues, and tilting at windmills in her advocacy for social justice. As part of her overall desire to save the world when she grows up, she has become especially interested in neglected tropical diseases. When not slaving over hot patients, she can be found playing with photography, friends’ dogs, or in her garden. Follow on Twitter @drjudystone or on her website. Follow on Twitter @drjudystone.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. gendzaster 4:38 pm 01/15/2013

    We have a real problem in this country where a tech kid is looking at 25 years and a 1 million dollar fine for threating to release for free academic papers he downloaded. A typical rapist gets 3 years, a wall street exec who affected millions gets what? nothing. Who did this kid hurt?
    I guess the Corporatocracy has finally done it, co opted the laws for self serving market forces. it seems punitive to me with no real justification.

    Link to this

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