Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aaron Swartz

The Aaron Swartz story is so painful. A 26 year old man, a wunderkind child prodigy coder, facing 30+ years in jail for stealing information from MIT that was pretty much all already publicly available, commits suicide. Hangs himself.

I have known maybe two people Aaron smart in my life, my sister Liz and Meyer J. This guy accomplished more at 14 than I, or most of us actually, could or would ever accomplish in a normal lifespan.

I also know what it means to be depressed, having suffered occasional bouts of depression at various times of my life, especially when I was Aaron's age. It is possible that people of Aaron's temperament and complexity sometimes feel too much.

Aaron's parents and partner blame an overly aggressive United States Attorney and MIT. Aaron was a very cerebral fellow who believed in an open exchange of information. But he was getting taken down like he was a vicious murderer. David Segal at Demand Progress said “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

I am not condoning what he did but I will condemn the scale and scope of his prosecution. Try to talk sense to a United States Attorney trying to make their bones.

Here is a portion of the family statement:

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement said.
“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”

Aaron's blog is still up. You can read some of his thoughts here. His last post is about batman and his final curtain call. The Aaron Swartz's of this world are few, we need to cherish them. They threw the book at a kid who was helping us all write the book.

From Raw Nerve - Part Three - Look at yourself objectively - Aaron Swartz

Looking at ourselves objectively isn’t easy. But it’s essential if we ever want to get better. And if we don’t do it, we leave ourselves open to con artists and ethical compromisers who prey on our desire to believe we’re perfect. There’s no one solution, but here are some tricks I use to get a more accurate sense of myself:
Embrace your failings. Be willing to believe the worst about yourself. Remember: it’s much better to accept that you’re a selfish, racist moron and try to improve, than to continue sleepwalking through life that way as the only one who doesn’t know it.
Studiously avoid euphemism. People try and sugarcoat the tough facts about themselves by putting them in the best light possible. They say “Well, I was going to get to it, but then there was that big news story today” and not “Yeah, I was procrastinating on it and started reading the news instead.” Stating things plainly makes it easier to confront the truth.
Reverse your projections. Every time you see yourself complaining about other groups or other people, stop yourself and think: “is it possible, is there any way, that someone out there might be making the same complaints about me?”
Look up, not down. It’s always easy to make yourself look good by finding people even worse than you. Yes, we agree, you’re not the worst person in the world. That’s not the question. The question is whether you can get better — and to do that you need to look at the people who are even better than you.
Criticize yourself. The main reason people don’t tell you what they really think of you is they’re afraid of your reaction. (If they’re right to be afraid, then you need to start by working on that.) But people will feel more comfortable telling you the truth if you start by criticizing yourself, showing them that it’s OK.
Find honest friends. There are some people who are just congenitally honest. For others, it’s possible to build a relationship of honesty over time. Either way, it’s important to find friends who you can trust to tell to tell you the harsh truths about yourself. This is really hard — most people don’t like telling harsh truths. Some people have had success providing an anonymous feedback form for people to submit their candid reactions.
Listen to the criticism. Since it’s so rare to find friends who will honestly criticize you, you need to listen extra-carefully when they do. It’s tempting to check what they say against your other friends. For example, if one friend says the short story you wrote isn’t very good, you might show it to some other friends and ask them what they think. Wow, they all think it’s great! Guess that one friend was just an outlier. But the fact is that most of your friends are going to say it’s great because they’re your friend; by just taking their word for it, you end up ignoring the one person who’s actually being honest with you.
Take the outside view. As I said before, we’re always locked in our own heads, where everything we do makes sense. So try seeing what you look like from the outside for a bit, assuming you don’t know any of those details. Sure, your big money-making plan sounds like a great idea when you explain it, but if you throw that away, is there any external evidence that it will work?

Freedom to Connect - 2012


"If even Orrin Hatch's website was found to be violating copy write, what's the chance that they couldn't find something to pin on the rest of us?"

Aaron Swartz Memorial Page.

Whitehouse petition to remove U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.


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