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For the last 24 hours I have been deeply affected by Aaron Swart'z death by suicide at age 26. Since I never met him, this reaction has taken my by surprise, and I am trying to explain to myself why I was on the verge of tears all day and dreamed about him all night. I think part of it is that he was the same age as many of my graduate students, and in the same way that you imagine, "what if that ...was my child?" after a school shooting, I could almost imagine what the suicide of one of my students would mean to me.

Another part was the point stressed by Lawrence Lessig http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully and Glenn Greenwald http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/12/aaron-swartz-heroism-suicide1 in their columns on Aaron: that this person of immense talent and crazy brilliance devoted himself almost completely to public goods. He could have tried to develop the next YouTube and sell it to Google for a billion dollars, he had the skills, but the only thing that interested him was fighting for internet freedom, which included taking part in democratic politics. That conception of the good, in someone so young, is deeply moving to me.

A third part of is captured in this photo of Larry Lessig meeting Aaron Swartz when Aaron was a teenager. (Photo credit: Rich Gibson.) Here is a world renown Stanford law professor listening to a 14 year-old because the 14 year-old could help the professor realize one of his dreams. And he did. Swartz was the initial architect of Creative Commons, the licensing system that has done so much for sharing knowledge production on the Web. Aaron had lots of parents looking out for him, Lessig included, but he also looked out for them in the work he did.

Finally, there is the utter frustration that the prosecutors who have behaved so badly and ignorantly in Aaron's legal case will never have to pay, they will never face any public accounting, they probably won't even have to answer honest questions about how they see their actions now. That's depressing, and infuriating and it makes me feel powerless and stupid.
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