Today, the wonderful people at TED release my TED talk. At the same time, we’re releasing an eBook based on the talk. And as an innovation still, if you get the book through the TED platform, you can hear me read the text of the book too. (We’re going to release the audio book (an aBook) through Audible as well, but that process is slower).
The point of the talk and the book is to offer a clear way to understand the nature of the corruption that is our government. It builds up my earlier work, Republic, Lost, and One Way Forward, but the framing is different, and the remedies evolved. One Way Forward announced itself as the first version of a plan to respond to the corruption described in Republic, Lost. Lesterland is version 2.0: a rev on the description, and a rev on the plan.
Consistent with TED policies, the talk is CC licensed. I am very happy that TED has also agreed to allow the book to be CC licensed (CC-BY-NC) from its launch. (If your copyright notice doesn’t quite say that, it will update to correct that error soon. The first release hadn’t corrected the default template.)
Finally, a note about eBooks: This will be obvious to most, but trust me (and I have the emails to prove it), it is not obvious to everyone: An eBook is a platform. It is distinct from a device. So if you buy the eBook from Amazon, it is a “Kindle” book, but it can be read on a Mac, a PC, an Android phone, an iPhone, etc., if you install the Kindle software. If they got the settings right, the book is not DRM’d, and you’re free to share them. The only restriction the CC license imposes is that you can’t exploit the work commercially without talking to me first.
Enjoy, and thanks to the friends at TED for working so hard to enable this experiment.
On Saturday I returned from .GE — where I didn’t sleep at all. Saturday I slept some, but last night critical, as I had two final days to put the final parts on the lecture I must give Tuesday: Aaron’s Laws.
But alas, at 1am, my incredibly sweet 3 year old daughter did what she has now formed the habit of doing — coming into our bed, flopping about like a stranded fish for 15 minutes, and then falling asleep.
Usually it is a minor annoyance. Jetlag turned it into the end of the nights sleep. So at 2am, I got up to begin today’s work.
15 hours later, I’m finished for the day.
This is a really difficult talk to craft. In principle. And in practice. There are too many points where I need a strategy to avoid spinning into blubbery. I am hopeful that if I can persuade sweet Tess of the wonders of her own bed, one more day’s preparation will do it.
If you can make it, come. If you can’t, it will be webcast. The info for both is here.
So as I packed for the trip to Tblisi this morning, I was happy to read that they’re in a warm spell — temperatures in the low 60s.
On my way (by train via DC to avoid #Nemo) to Georgia (as in .GE) to help/learn/think about their latest constitutional crisis. Twenty years ago this work began, with a delegation from Georgia traveling to the University of Chicago and drafting their first, post-communist Constitution. What happened then is the story remixed in the West Wing episode that portrays me as old as I now feel …
It is a weird and strong bond I feel to this country — weird, because there’s no ancestry to account for it; strong, because over the past 20 years, I’ve come to know the genuine and serious struggle of people trying to build a constitutional Republic.
It is once again a critical moment, and the President and his party have an enormous opportunity to be for Georgia what Adams et al. were for America. Indeed, this was exactly the lesson that I was first taught by Aleksandr Davidovich Chikvaidze when I first went to Georgia in the early 1990s. As I waited to meet the President, Eduard Shevardnadze, Chikvaidze quizzed me: “What was the most important moment in American history?” he asked. I had no idea what he was thinking of, so I offered all the obvious dates. “Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG,” he scolded. “March 4, 1801.” “Why that date,” I asked him? “Because that was the date that America had its first peaceful transfer of power between two fundamentally opposed parties.” One party (the Federalists) accepted its defeat, but showed the world that democracy had come to America, because they showed the world, they could step aside (the judiciary is another story…).
This is precisely the question in Georgia right now. A new party has swept the parliament. The President now must decide whether and how he could be Adams, or be every other Georgian president since the Soviet Union fell. Mikheil Saakashvili has likely done more good for Georgia than Adams did (as President) for the US. His fight to end the corruption of the Georgian police is world-historic and an amazing success. And there are many in his party that have real questions about the party that now demands the right to govern. But he and everyone else involved in this struggle must now bridge a critical trust gap. Not sure it’s possible. But it would be extraordinary if they can.
I was very sad (irrationally so, as I spend way too much time preparing for talks) that the AV wizards didn’t have audio during my talk at Aaron’s DC Memorial Monday. Nonetheless, the event was amazing, and you should watch the other talks — especially by the conservatives. Issa’s words promise something important (the only one to talk about copyright). I was very encouraged by the event.
But the one thing that struck me, independent of the subject, was my amazing freshman (now senior) Senator, @SenWarren. There were many Members who showed up. Almost all of them wanted to speak. Almost none of them had time to stay for the whole event. And almost all of them were pulled constantly to their preferred brand of tech-distraction.
Except Warren: She didn’t ask to speak, she didn’t check her blackberry, and she stayed the whole time, listening, thinking, and offering support at the end.
I’m sure her staff will teach her someday that this not how politicians are to behave. I was glad to witness her before those lessons are learned. It let me dream — maybe they never will be learned.
When a law professor is given a “chair” s/he gives a lecture in honor of the honor. I am the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership. On February 19, at 5pm @ HLS, I was scheduled to give my chair lecture. After Aaron’s death, I asked the Dean to let me reschedule the lecture. But after some more thought, I’ve decided to make the lecture about Aaron, and about how we need to honor his work. Anyone is invited. More details to follow. And the event will be webcast.
A week ago today, Aaron gave up. And since I received the call late Friday night telling me that, like so many others who were close to him, I have not rested. Not slept, really. Not connected with my kids, at all. Not held my wife except to comfort her tears, or for her to comfort mine.
Instead of rest, I have been frantically trying to explain, to connect, and to make sense of all of this. Endless emails responding to incredible kindness, phone call after phone call with reporters and friends, and the only solace I know: writing.
But none of that has made this better. Indeed, with every exchange, it only gets worse. I understand it less. I am angry more. I think of yet another, “If only I had …”
I need to step back from this for now. I am grateful for your kind emails. I am sorry if I can’t answer them. To the scores of people who write to tell me they were wronged by US Attorney Ortiz, I am sorry, that is not my fight. To the press — especially the press wanting “just five minutes” — I apologize. This isn’t a “just five minutes” story, at least from me.
There have been a handful of smiles this past week. My three year old, Tess, putting her arms around my neck, holding me as tight as she possibly could, promising me “the doctors will put him back together, papa, they will.” A screenwriter friend, grabbing me after a talk in New York, and pulling me into an argument about his next great film. And best of all, the astonishingly beautiful letter from MIT’s president, acknowledging — amazingly — at least the possibility of responsibility, and appointing the very best soul on that side of Cambridge to review and guide that great if flawed institution’s review.
But these smiles have been drowned by endless sadness, and even greater disappointment — and none more pronounced than the utterly profound disappointment in our government, Carmen Ortiz in particular.
I hate my perpetual optimism about our government. Aaron was buried on the tenth anniversary of the time that optimism bit me hardest — Eldred v. Ashcroft. But how many other examples are there, and why don’t I ever learn? The dumbest-fucking-naive-allegedly-smart person you will ever know: that guy thought this tragedy would at least shake for one second the facade of certainty that is our government, and allow at least a tiny light of recognition to shine through, and in that tiny ray, maybe a question, a pause, a moment of “ok, we need to look at this carefully.” I wasn’t dumb enough to believe that Ortiz could achieve the grace of Reif. But the single gift I wanted was at least a clumsy, hesitating, “we’re going to look at this carefully, and think about whether mistakes might have been made.”
But oh Lucy, you’ve done it again.
Ortiz’s statement is a template for all that is awful in what we as a political culture have become. And it pushes me — me, the most conventional, wanting-to-believe-in-all-things-patriotic, former teenage Republican from the home of Little League baseball — to a place far more radical than I ever want to be. Ortiz wrote:
As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz,
Yes, Ms. Ortiz, you obviously can “only imagine.” Because if you felt it, as obviously as Reif did, it would move you first to listen, and then to think. You’re so keen to prove that you understand this case better than your press releases about Aaron’s “crime” (those issued when Aaron still drew breath) made it seem (“the prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain”). But if your prosecutors recognized this, then this is the question to answer:
Why was he being charged with 13 felonies?
His motive was political — obviously. His harm was exactly none — as JSTOR effectively acknowledged. But he deserved, your “career prosecutors” believed, to be deprived of his rights as a citizen (aka, a “felon,” no longer entitled to the political rights he fought to perfect) because of what he did.
Yet here’s the thing to remember on MLK weekend (even though my saying this violates a rule I believe in firmly, a kind of inverse to Godwin’s law, because though I believe these two great souls were motivated by exactly the same kind of justice, King’s cause was greater): How many felonies was Martin Luther King, Jr., convicted of? King, whose motives were political too, but who, unlike Aaron, triggered actions which caused real harm (as in physical damage). What’s that number?
And how many was he even charged with in the whole of his career?
Two. Two bogus charges (perjury and tax evasion) from Alabama, which an all-white jury acquitted him of.
This is a measure of who we have become. And we don’t even notice it. We can’t even see the extremism that we have allowed to creep into our law. And we treat as decent a government official who invokes her family while defending behavior which in part at least drove this boy to his death.
I still dream. It is something that Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren are thinking along the same lines. On this anniversary of the success of the campaign to stop SOPA — a campaign which Aaron helped architect — maybe I’m right to be hopeful that even this Congress might do something. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe.
But for now, I need to step away. I apologize for the silence. I am sorry for the replies I will not give. Aaron was wrong about very few things, but he was wrong to take his life. I have to return to mine, and to the amazingly beautiful creatures who are trying to pull me back.
I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too.
There’s no work that can be done today, save the work to talking about this story. I’m doing a bunch of interviews. Bravo to @DemocracyNow for spending an hour today on this. Here’s my bit:
(Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.)
Since his arrest in January, 2011, I have known more about the events that began this spiral than I have wanted to know. Aaron consulted me as a friend and lawyer. He shared with me what went down and why, and I worked with him to get help. When my obligations to Harvard created a conflict that made it impossible for me to continue as a lawyer, I continued as a friend. Not a good enough friend, no doubt, but nothing was going to draw that friendship into doubt.
The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us. But as I’ve read these aches, there’s one strain I wish we could resist:
Please don’t pathologize this story.
No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.
First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.
But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?
Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.
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 — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.
One word, and endless tears.
There is no way to express the sadness of this day. There will be many words, eventually, to express its anger. This story will infuriate you. For now, to the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit, and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down.
Coolest honorarium ever - I’m a KY Colonel after speaking to the KY legislature. at Kentucky State Capitol – View on Path.
Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui have an incredibly important piece in the HuffingtonPost about the time Members spend raising money.
One picture captures it all. This is a slide taken from a PowerPoint deck, given to incoming freshman congressmen about how they are to allocate their time.
Four hours of call time — and even this doesn’t include the time at fundraisers in the evening, or late afternoon or lunch. (As one Member told a Harvard audience last year, in his 6 years in Congress he had had lunch with a colleague 8 time — “if you’ve got time for lunch, you’ve got time to raise money”).
Read the piece. It is a great work of investigative journalism, filled with reflections and commentary by Members and others, about a system literally no one in good faith can defend anymore.
Indeed, by the end, you’re even feeling sorry for these Members. As Representative Larson put it, “it’s the only system they have to work with.”