Neal Barrett, Jr, one of science fiction's funniest and cleverest writers, died on January 12. He was 84. Though he was best known for his short work (which has been collected several times, most recently in Other Seasons: The Best of Neal Barrett, Jr.), I will always love him for the comic novel The Hereafter Gang, an indescribably gonzo story that has enough tricks in it for a whole bookshelf.
I met Neal on a few occasions and found him to be just as delightful and weird (in the sense of "Weird is a side-effect of awesome") in person as he was in his fiction. He will be sorely missed.
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Very sad news today: Steampunk pioneer and virtuoso maker Richard "Datamancer" Nagy has died, apparently in a car accident in California. Richard's work was nothing short of spectacular (we'd featured it repeatedly over many years) and he was especially known for his keyboards (I'm privileged to own one). Richard was kind, a good friend to many, and gave generously of his time to mentor and support his fellow artists, many of whom came to steampunk through their exposure to Richard's work.
The world is a much, much poorer place without Richard in it. Details about Richard's final arrangements are still sketchy, but I will post as they become available, as well as any information about supporting his family and any nominated charities for memorial donations.
The wonderful and gracious award-winning sf and fantasy author Parke Godwin has died at the age of 84, due to natural causes. Godwin was one of the first writers I ever met, while I was a teenaged volunteer at the Ad Astra science fiction convention. He was extraordinarily kind and thoughtful of the convention's volunteers, and impressed me as an example of how a professional writer can conduct himself. That led to my reading his wonderful, comical, philosophical novels Waiting for the Galactic Bus and Snake Oil Wars, which are proper atheist high comedy. I've kept up with his work over the years and though I never met him after that first time, I've always remembered him fondly and thought of him as a role model and a talented writer.
Here's what his friend and literary executor Connor Cochran sent to IO9:
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Doctor Henry Morgentaler, who pioneered safe, legal abortion in Canada at great personal risk and cost, died today at 90. Canada is a better place for the work he did. Here's a photo of me and Morgentaler when I was 4 1/2 years old.
To his supporters, he was nothing less than a hero. "Canadian women owe Dr. Morgentaler a tremendous debt of gratitude for standing up for their lives and health at great personal sacrifice and risk," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.
"He survived numerous threats on his life, a clinic bombing and aggressive protests. Yet, he was not deterred," she said.
Judy Rebick, a former head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, worked with Morgentaler in the 1980s on the effort to legalize abortion.
"I think every women in the country has lost a major ally," she told CBC News. "He changed all of our lives by standing up against the abortion laws and eventually winning in the Supreme Court."
Russell Brand's obituary for Margaret Thatcher is a beautiful and incisive piece of writing, and a good example of why he's not just another actor:
When I was a kid, Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring – I could ignore the content but the intent drilled its way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and prime minister when I was four. She remained in power till I was 15. I am, it's safe to say, one of Thatcher's children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?
I grew up in Essex with a single mum and a go-getter Dagenham dad. I don't know if they ever voted for her, I don't know if they liked her. My dad, I suspect, did. He had enough Del Boy about him to admire her coiffured virility – but in a way Thatcher was so omnipotent; so omnipresent, so omni-everything that all opinion was redundant.
As I scan the statements of my memory bank for early deposits (it'd be a kid's memory bank account at a neurological NatWest where you're encouraged to become a greedy little capitalist with an escalating family of porcelain pigs), I see her in her hairy helmet, condescending on Nationwide, eviscerating eunuch MPs and baffled BBC fuddy duddies with her General Zodd stare and coldly condemning the IRA. And the miners. And the single mums. The dockers. The poll-tax rioters. The Brixton rioters, the Argentinians, teachers; everyone actually.
Thinking about it now, when I was a child she was just a strict woman telling everyone off and selling everything off. I didn't know what to think of this fearsome woman.
David sez, "A quiet genius, jeweler John Paul Miller, recently passed away and a memorial service was held this past weekend in Cleveland. His jewelery is beautifully detailed and I thought the Boing Boing audience would enjoy his take [Google Image Search] on crustaceans and insects."
Yet the relative paucity of attention given to Miller during his lifetime should not belie the intrinsic importance of his spectacular achievements as a designer and maker of gold jewelry.
Decorative arts curator Stephen Harrison of the Cleveland museum, who organized the smallish but extremely important show in 2010, compared Miller to Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany, two giants of late-19th-century decorative art in France and America, respectively.
Goldsmith John Paul Miller, a national treasure, will go down in history as one of Cleveland's greatest artists [Steven Litt/The Plain Dealer]
In a guest editorial on Naked Capitalism, Matt Stoller reminds us that Aaron Swartz's politics weren't just about digital freedom: he saw free software and open networks as instrumental to eliminating corruption and corporatism in wider society.
In 2009, I was working in Rep. Alan Grayson’s office as a policy advisor. We were engaged in fights around the health care bill that eventually became Obamacare, as well as a much narrower but significant fight on auditing the Federal Reserve that eventually became a provision in Dodd-Frank. Aaron came into our office to intern for a few weeks to learn about Congress and how bills were put together. He worked with me on organizing the campaign within the Financial Services Committee to pass the amendment sponsored by Ron Paul and Alan Grayson on transparency at the Fed. He helped with the website NamesOfTheDead.com, a site dedicated to publicizing the 44,000 Americans that die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Aaron learned about Congress by just spending time there, which seems like an obvious thing to do. Many activists prefer to keep their distance from policymakers, because they are afraid of the complexity of the system and believe that it is inherently corrupting. Aaron, as with much of his endeavors, simply let his curiosity, which he saw as synonymous with brilliance, drive him.
Aaron also spent a lot of time learning how advocacy and electoral politics works from outside of Congress. He helped found the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that sought to replace existing political consulting machinery in the Democratic Party. At the PCCC, he worked on stopping Ben Bernanke’s reconfirmation (the email Aaron wrote called him “Bailout Ben”), auditing the Fed and passing health care reform. I remember he sent me this video of Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, on Reddit, offering his support to Grayson’s provision. A very small piece of the victory on Fed openness belongs to Aaron.
By the time I met and became friends with Aaron, he had already helped create RSS and co-founded and sold Reddit. He didn’t have to act with intellectual humility when confronting the political system, but he did. Rather than approach politics as so many successful entrepreneurs do, which is to say, try to meet top politicians and befriend them, Aaron sought to understand the system itself. He read political blogs, what I can only presume are gobs of history books (like Tom Ferguson’s Golden Rule, one of the most important books on politics that almost no one under 40 has read), and began talking to organizers and political advocates. He wanted, first and foremost, to know. He learned about elections, political advertising, the data behind voting, and grassroots organizing. He began understanding policy, by learning about Congressional process, its intersection with politics, and how staff and influence networks work on the Hill and through agencies. He analyzed money. He analyzed corruption. Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/aaron-swartzs-politics.html#kfgiaaCSrsDsAWCi.99
Here's a note from Aaron Swartz's family, with details about his memorial service in Chicago next week, and the charity they've nominated for donations in Aaron's name:
Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.
Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.
Aaron's funeral will be held on Tuesday, January 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois 60035. Further details, including the specific time, will be posted at http://rememberaaronsw.com, along with announcements about memorial services to be held in other cities in coming weeks.
Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com
Remember Aaron Swartz (Thanks, Henry.)
Quinn Norton, who was Aaron Swartz's lover, remembers him:
We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion. I love Aaron. I loved Aaron. There are no words to can contain love, to cloth it in words is to kill it, to mummify it and hope that somewhere in the heart of a reader, they have the strength and the magic to resurrect it. I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him. He was so frustrating, and we fought. But we fought like what we were: two difficult people who couldn’t escape loving each other.
Larry Lessig's remembrance of Aaron Swartz, the young activist who took his life last night, is beautiful and angry, and expresses an important insight into the vindictive, disgusting behavior of the Department of Justice (and the complicity of MIT) in hounding Aaron:
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.
Update: Go read Lessig: “He was brilliant, and funny.Read the rest