Monday, May 19, 2014

Brendan Eich, Mozilla, and Hasdrubal's wife

Brendon Eich was forced to step down as CEO of Mozilla, the open source web browser organization.  We've seen this before, long, long ago, when Rome defeated Hannibal and Carthage in the Second Punic War.  The unmatched Will Durant describes the aftermath in his incomparable book, Caesar and Christ (pp 54-55):
To Carthage it was the beginning of the end.  With much of its commerce and empire left to it, it might have solved the problem of regeneration.  But the oligarchical  government was so corrupt that it threw upon the lower classes the burden of raising the annual indemnity for Rome and embezzled part of it to boot.  The popular party called on Hannibal to come out of his retirement and save the nation.  In 196 [B.C. - Borepatch] he was elected suffete [roughly equivalent of the Roman Consul - Borepatch].  He shocked the oligarchs by proposing that the judges of the Court of 104 should be elected for one year and should be ineligible for a second term until after a year's interval.  When the Senate rejected the measure he brought it before the Assembly, and carried it; by this law and this procedure he established at a stroke a degree of democracy equal to Rome's.  He punished and checked  venality and pursued it to its source.  He relieved the citizens of the extra taxes that had been laid upon them, and yet so managed the finances that by 188 [B.C.] Carthage was able to pay off the Roman indemnity in full.

To get rid of him the oligarchy secretly sent word to Rome that Hannibal was plotting to renew the war.  Scipio [Africanus, victor over Hannibal in the Punic War - Borepatch] used all his influence to protect his rival, but was overrulled; the Senate accomodated the rich Carthagenians by demanding the surrender of Hannibal.  The old warrior fled by night, rode 150 miles to Thapsus, and there took ship to Antioch. 

He found Antiochus III hesitating between war and peace with Rome; he advised war and became one of the King's staff.  When the Romans defeated Antiochus at Magnesia they made a condition of peace that Hannibal should be turned over to them.  He escaped first to Crete, then to Bithynia.  The Romans hunted him out and surrounded  his hiding place with soldiers.  Hannibal preferred death to capture.  "Let us," he said, "relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death."  He drank the poison the he carried with him, and died, aged sixty-seven, in the year 184 B.C. A few months later his conqueror and admirer, Scipio, followed him to peace.
The most interesting accusation about l'affair Eich is  that Hollywood and the RIAA wanted Digital Rights Management (DRM) included in the Mozilla browser, and that Eich, by reputation and position, was effective in thwarting this for months and months.  Mere weeks after his defenestration from Mozilla, it turns out that they have been "pressured" into including DRM in this browser.

"Pressured".  I'll bet.  Cato the elder concluded every speech he made in the Roman Senate with the words Carthago delenda est: Carthage must be destroyed.  The Mozilla organization has forgotten how this plays out.

Durant described it his his book seventy years ago:
When the people of Carthage heard what was demanded of them they lost their sanity.  Parents mad with grief tore limb from limb the leaders who had advised surrendering the child hostages; others killed those who had counseled the surrender of arms; some dragged the returning ambassadors through the streets and stoned them; some killed whatever Italians could be found in the city; some stood in the empty arsenals and wept.  The Carthaginian Senate declared war on Rome and called for all adults - men and women, slave or free - to form a new army, and to forge anew the weapons of defense.  Fury gave them resolution.  Public buildings were demolished to provide metal and timber; the statues of cherished gods were melted down to make swords, and the hair of women was shorn to make ropes.  In two months the beleaguered city produced 8000 shields, 18,000 swords, 30,000 spears, 60,000 catapult missiles, and built in its inner harbor a fleet of 120 ships.

Three years the city stood siege by land and sea.  Again and again the consuls led their armies against the walls, but always they were repulsed; only Scipio Aemeilianus, one of the military tribunes, proved resourceful and brave.  Late in 147 the Roman Senate and Assembly made him consul and commander, and all men approved.  Soon afterward Laelius succeeded in scaling the walls.  The Carthagenians, though weakened and decimated by starvation, fought for their city street by street, through six days of slaughter without quarter.  Harassed by snipers, Scipio ordered all captured streets to be fired and leveled to the ground.  Hundreds of concealed Carthaginians perished in this flames.  At last the population, reduced from 500,000 to 55,000, surrendered.  Hasdrubal, their general, pleaded for his life, which Scipio granted, but his wife, denouncing his cowardice, plunged with her sons into the flames.  The survivors were sold as slaves, and the city turned over to the Legions for pillage.  Reluctant to raze it, Scipio sent to Rome for final instructions; the Senate replied that not only Carthage, but all such of her dependencies as had stood by her were to be completely destroyed, and that the soil should be plowed and sown with salt, and a formal curse laid upon any man who should attempt to build upon that site.
A formal curse has been laid on all who might resist the
RomanProgressive imperative.  The city that was once Mozilla has been razed, and its fields salted; all who might build there have been cursed.  Because none who would stand before the
Senatus Populus que RomanusRIAA shall live.

The only question is who at Mozilla will play the part of Hasdrubal's wife?  She, at least, denounced his cowardice.  One wonders if any left there can live up to her manliness.  Brendan Eich should have told the RIAA to achieve their victory and then sell his bones:

Because sell his bones they have.  The RIAA is on a crusade against the Internet: Open Source delenda est.  Mozilla used to be one of the front lines in that particular battle between populace and oligarchy.  But they were "pressured" into giving in.  Hasdrubal's wife looks on them with contempt, as should we.

Bid them achieve me, and then sell my bones

Let me speak proudly:
We are but warriors for the working day,
our gayness and gilt are all besmirched
with rainy marching in the painful fields
but by the Mass our hearts are in the trim

Herald, save thou thy labor

come thou no more for ransom, gentle Herald
they shall have none but these my joints
which if they shall have as I shall leave 'em them
shall yeald them little

Brendan Eich and Mozilla should have made this stand.  They likely would have won, or at least would have gone down as men, fighting a fight worth the cost.  And Hasdrubal's wife would not have looked on them with sneering contempt.


Old NFO said...

Interesting tie in... Thanks!!!

Opinionated Grump (Rich in NC) said...

Geeeze Mr Borp...
I am very glad you father was a professor, as his son is teaching me really good stuff about
'human weakness'
[h/t the movie "Shooter"]
Every time I visit this site I learn something new and old.
Thank you.

Rich in NC

Mike Brahier said...

Nice post. Any recommendations yet on a suitable replacement web browser?

newrebeluniv said...

Pale moon is rising as an alternative. I've tried it and it works just like Firefox. That's the thing about software: No one has a monopoly on it. Anyone who tries to create one will be quickly undercut by someone else. The signal can't be stopped.

Borepatch said...

Mike, I've recommended Opera for years, mostly for security reasons.

Nosmo King said...

Y'know......had a thought some time ago and your post resurrected it: Term limits.

Not in the way it's usually offered, though; apply no limits whatsoever to the number of terms one can serve in elected office, but stipulate that no one elected to office in the United States may serve consecutive terms.

Read that language carefully - it means not that a President and Vice President can switch places, but that having served in elective office a period of one term must pass before one may apply to be elected to any other office. The length of term for the office vacated would do just fine.

Goober said...

Wow. Just wow.

You never cease to deliver the seriously intelligent discussion, man.

Scipio Africanus? Hannibal? The Punic Wars?

All tying brilliantly into a discussion of the (very valid) suspicions that the RIAA surreptitiously torpedoed Mozilla's CEO so that they could install a more compliant puppet administration that would do their bidding?

The thing is, I would normally scoff at such a suggestion - I'm not one that buys into shady conspiracy theories and innuendo about second gunmen on grassy knolls.

It may make me naive. I've been told so on more than one occasion, but in my short 34 years on this good Earth, I've found that things usually are exactly what they seem to be - the hidden, ulterior motives lurking in undercurrents of espionage and myriad connections are usually just fairy tales; things we tell ourselves to make a story more interesting.

But the RIAA has created such a reputation for itself by doing all of these exact sorts of things - hell, I straight up believe that they were the ones to sic some gay-rights group on the guy and get him ousted so that they could have their way with Mozilla.

And to be honest, if Mozilla was that weak of an organization to begin with, good riddance.

Borepatch said...

Interesting idea, Nosmo.

Goober, thanks.

Jester said...

Great tie in Borepatch.

I had heard whispers of such things that the RIAA may or may not have been involved in though the shadows.
Any organization that goes after grandmothers because someone on their network downloaded a hand full of songs and wants hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages like some sort of Sith Lord probably deserves all the ire they get. And if they are willing to publicly do that or at least having been willing to do that and catch flack it would make sense if they go more underground and undermine free internet source sites.

Mike Brahier said...

Will look into it. Many thanks.