We love a good laugh. Or a bad one. Or even a lame one. Because a laugh is a laugh is a laugh. It’s all good mostly because in these days of high prices, it is still free. Mostly.
- E R Ronny, Editor, Rising Stars
Another kind of Freedom Fighter
By Mastura Tasnim
There are very few people who realise their true calling in life. Fewer still realise it as early on as Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, did. His life's aim was to provide free information for all no matter where or when.
“The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations… There are those struggling to change this. “-Swartz
He was one of the leading activists against internet censorship bills like SOPA and PIPA and managed to rally over a million people to his cause. He worked with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee to develop standards for sharing data on the web. In 2010-2011, he went as far as to mass-download over 4 million scholarly articles from JSTOR, an online library of MIT, onto a laptop hidden in a cupboard. This consequently led to his arrest and the 26-year-old was accused of 13 felony indictments with a maximum penalty of one million dollars and 35 years in jail. All of this for breaching a user contract.
On 11th January this year, his girlfriend walked into their bedroom to find him hanging from the ceiling fan. There were no suicide notes, but his girlfriend and family blame the 'vindictiveness' of the prosecution in pursuing the case.
See, what Swartz did was nothing more than a contract breach. He was a member of MIT and as such had access to the online library, provided he stayed within a limit number of articles. Obviously, 4 million far exceeded that, but nevertheless this was no federal crime. He wasn't hacking, he wasn't stealing. In fact, it was such a minor issue that even the digital library he had allegedly 'robbed' did not wish to prosecute him, but just wanted their articles back. He gave them back and they went away. They went away, became better people and decided to make more than 4.5 million scholarly articles accessible for the general public. Exactly what Swartz wanted in the first place.
However, the federal prosecutors remained, threatening to turn him into a felon or spend an awful lot of money and time trying. They didn't succeed. They only managed to cruelly haunt a young genius for 2 years before he eventually broke under the pressure and killed himself. Suicide isn't ever rationalized, but it is clear to anyone that the prospect of federal imprisonment doesn't exactly spell good mental health for anyone.
Millions of people world-wide have responded to his death with grief and redemption in turn. Anonymous hacked into the MIT web domain and replaced the title page with a tribute to Swartz and called out to all members of the internet community to renew their efforts for free information. They also left an attributed essay for him entitled Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.
So what does Swartz death mean to us common folk? It means one less fighter in the face of the ever-growing threat of information control. It means one less savior of knowledge. It means that we, the third world, have to continue watching as research materials, some of them written by our very own nationals, are greedily locked up in university vaults.
This week RS readers had their usual messages on the Facebook page, where we tried to impart some wisdom on to them and ask for food and money in return, although it didn't work out very well. Here's what was said:
Nuhash Chowdhury- Speaking of the 'Bits of Bangladesh....Everywhere', once my mom got me a jacket from US, and I looked at the tag, to find that it was made in Bangladesh! I was like, 'Ammu, you just brought the jacket back to the same place!'
Shaams Shahriar-"...writers tend to be oglers." --David Foster Wallace. Do you guys ogle?
The Rising Stars We may ogle great writeups. We gobble great cake. We boggle simple minds that cannot grasp the intricacy of thinking weirdly.
Ala E-Rabbi- Really glad that u guys addressed a growing problem in your cover story today. And seeking professional help is the best advice and I think it would be best if schools appointed counselors to help their students tackle these issues. Kudos to the writer!
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Looking for creative/insane writers who can think outside the box so we don't have to use clichéd phrases like 'thinking outside the box'.
Requirements include ability to come up with creative excuses when you don't show up to weekly meetings (that's a requirement, too).
Send two sample write-ups with CV (mention interests) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't send us reviews. Aim for something you think appeals to our target demographic of 16-24 years old. It's one of the few places you will be able to write on the strangest topics and to fully explore your creative streak.
We are also on the lookout for illustrators and people who draw well. Send your samples in as well to the above e-mail.
Application deadline: 7th February