Archive for January 13th, 2013

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? The real scandal of the Aaron Swartz case

[link] Sunday, January 13th, 2013

When Aaron Swartz was arrested in 2011, the first thought that came to mind was Alexander Pope’s famous question.

As usual, my friend Larry Lessig nails it:

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.

For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”

In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April.

Yep, especially the observation about the architects of the banking catastrophe dining with the Obamaa and the Camerons of this world.

LATER: Seb Schmoller has had the good idea of putting links to the best tributes in one place.

TB-L on Aaron’s death

[link] Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Tim Berners-Lee’s post about Aaron Swartz’s death. (Click on image to read.)

The baroque Net

[link] Sunday, January 13th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

“Dumb network, smart applications” was the mantra that they [the designers of the Internet] used to express the philosophy that all of the ingenuity should be left to those people developing applications at the edges of the network.

These turned out to be very good ideas. They enabled the “organic” growth of the network to happen. And they triggered an explosion of creativity as smart people thought up clever applications that the network could be used for. Some of these applications (for example the web) were beneficial; some (viruses, worms, and malware generally) were destructive. And many (file-sharing) were somewhere in between. The consequence was that, over time, a network that was originally seamless and uncluttered came to be overlaid with a grotesque accumulation of add-ons and patches, to the point where it begins to resemble a baroque excrescence rather than a classical design.

This is beginning to concern some people whose job it is to worry about these things…