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Friday, January 18, 2013

A Friend Remembers Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event in 2008. (Fred Benenson/Wikimedia Commons)

Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event in 2008. (Fred Benenson/Wikimedia Commons)

Journalist and author Rick Perlstein got an offer out of the blue, back in 2005. A young man named Aaron Swartz contacted him and offered to build him a website for free.

The two ultimately became friends. Swartz would read through Perlstein’s material and send him reading lists.

After learning of Swartz’s suicide last week, Perlstein wrote a remembrance of his friend in The Nation, describing his initial thought when Swartz made the offer – that he must be a “loser” with “nothing better to do” if he was offering a free website:

How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure coruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an “RSS feed” and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called “an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge”—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, 20 years old?

Swartz was a computer genius, an activist and, at the time of his suicide, a young man awaiting trial.


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  • andreawilder

    I was stunned by Aaron Swartz’s suicide.  First I saw his joyful picture in the newspaper, then I read of the suicide and what lead up to it.  This was a genius of a boy, a treasure.  The computer was an extension of his mind.  To take that away from him would be like cutting off the hands of a painter.  Carmen Ortiz displays no common sense, no compassion, and in the end, no judgment.  

  • Fallingman

    He stopped. their scheme to censor the internet.  

    They got even.

    They night as well have killed him,.

  • bobsr

    Looking at the Ortiz Bio, she is Puerto Rican from NYC, and doesn’t use her husband’s name. Born in 1956,  my surmise is she is smart, but missing major parts of the American Experience.

        ANYONE who is in the greater Boston Area should have an appreciation for brilliant, eccentric, and those “over the edge” people doing wonderful things for mankind at MIT, Harvard, BioTech Companies, Management Companies, ET  AL.  If you are as old as she is,  you should have recognized by now that brilliant people in art, music, engineering, software and many other fields – are DIFFERENT from most of us. They generally can live in another world.

        Has she never driven in Cambridge and been at a stoplight, and when the light turns green, the person in the car ahead of her  doesn’t go? That’s usually because the person in the vehicle is thinking, or in another world, and a toot of the horn brings them back to earth.  It’s very typical of brilliant people.

         I only know what  I read in the press about this case, but if you use the name of Steve Jobs,  perhaps that might bring the type of brilliant people we are speaking about into sharper focus.

        From what I can see, what has happened here is an absolute tragedy, and was totally mis-handled by Ortiz leading to a suicide of an extremely brilliant person. Perhaps his lawyer also didn’t do his work as well as he should have.

        But we let off the hook virtually every banker who came within a whisker of destroying the world financial system several years ago. So I guess we now know who are considered the most brilliant people in Obama’s  New America.  Is it any wonder we can’t create new jobs when we start killing off the most brilliant among us who have ideas how to get us out of this mess?

     It’s become too political. Who will be the next brilliant person Obama goes after because they don’t understand? Those who are in positions of authority, like Ortiz, have huge margins for making judgements about every specific case they handle. It’s NEVER “one size fits all.” 

       In my Philosopher Kindgom, people like Ortiz who make mistakes like this are toast.
    Her hands are blood red, and nothing bad will happen to her. Welcome to 21st Century America under Obama and Holder.


    • Snakebit289

      The prosecutors’ wrongheaded decision to bully Mr. Swartz and go ahead with felony charges for everything crime they could attach to him had nothing to do with her nationality or not being assimilated enough to understand bright American students( face it, she is as American as Aaron was). She offered a plea deal, albeit a very onerous one, because the government was at least a little unsure that the full charges, and thus penalties, would make it  successfully past a judge or jury. Maybe,  Aaron’s attorneys advised him to pass on accepting the deal because they doubted the government could prove their case.

      Now assume that he thought about taking the plea deal. A lifetime having to answer on each employment application that you are a felon, the possible loss of the right to vote(in some states)as an admitted felon, owing several million dollars to the government in fines. Even if  a person presented with no previous mental or depression-like symptoms beforehand, this might be unbearable to contemplate to a lot of folks.

      What’s the saddest part for me? That Aaron couldn’t or wouldn’t confide in his family, his friends, his attorneys, his equally bright, passionate, and loving girl friend. No one.
      All of  whom weren’t planning to face the challenges and joys of life without him. Until last week.

  • Illberg2001

    Why aren’t we blaming Adam for his own death?  Don’t do a crime if you can handle the time, basically he just couldn’t hack it

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