[W]e must understand that outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing, there is another field incomparably vaster, in which our destiny is worked out; that beyond these political phantoms, whose forms capture our imagination, there are the phenomena of social economy, which, by their harmony or discord, produce all the good and ill of society. … Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century

Pirating textbooks isn’t just against the law, it’s a good idea, too

Here’s a recent story from the Washington Post, informing us that More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for free.

Shared Article from Washington Post

More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for fr…

Students upload them (also illegally) to help others save money.

washingtonpost.com


It’s hard (if not impossible) to know just how prevalent this practice is, but some college students around the country are uploading their expensive college textbooks onto the Internet so other students can download them for free and avoid the hefty fees that are sometimes more than $200 a book.

Vocativ.com has a story titled “Why College Students are Stealing Their Textbooks,” which notes that some students are even downloading them for ethics classes.

The cost to students of college textbooks skyrocketed 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress. As a result, students have been looking for less expensive options, such as renting books — and, now, finding them on the Internet, uploaded by other students.

In August, an organization called the Book Industry Study Group, which represents publishers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, librarians and others in the industry, released a survey of some 1,600 students and found, according to a release on the data, that “students continue to become more sophisticated in acquiring their course materials at the lowest cost as illicit and alternative acquisition behaviors, from scanned copies to illegal downloads to the use of pirated websites, continue to increase in frequency.”

— Valerie Strauss, More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for free
Washington Post, 17 September 2014.

Well, good. The textbook industry is an obscene racket, predicated on extraordinary costs and a maze of perverse incentives, controlled by a tightly organized cartel of copyright-monopolists, gargantuan institutional sellers and gargantuan institutional buyers, throwing every ton of their incredible weight onto the shoulders of students, tollgating and massively hampering the dissemination of knowledge.

Pirating textbooks isn’t just a good idea. It’s a mitzvah. Burn the domming industry to the ground. Knowledge can and should be free.

See also.

Happy October 12

There’s nothing wrong with exploration, or with daring the unknown, or with intercultural exchange. Those are great, they’re inspiring, they’re one of the best, most exciting things that human beings do. It’s a wonderful tale, for those who survive to tell it.

But there is something wrong with wiping out entire cultures, enslaving and murdering millions of people. Which is what Christopher Columbus did, among other things, as governor of Hispaniola. He recorded in his own diaries how he enslaved indigenous people and sent them to early deaths in the mines; he sold young girls into sexual slavery for his men; when indigenous Caribbeans fought back against his aggression he massacred them and paraded the rebels’ dismembered corpses through the streets as a demonstration. He inaugurated the most amazing and important intercultural exchange in the history of the planet Earth on terms that perverted everything about it into a centuries-long march of domination, slavery, conquest, genocide and death.

It’s not that he was a man of his time. That’s not an excuse for anything. But even if it were, men of his time, both American and Spanish, denounced what he was doing. A Spanish Catholic friar wrote a few decades after Columbus’s regime began in the Caribbean that Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

It is the shame of the human race that there exist countries where this man’s deeds are still promoted as an inspiring example to schoolchildren or celebrated as a national holiday. His name ought to be remembered in infamy alongside those of Heinrich Himmler, Josef Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

This October, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.

War is not a weapon you can aim

. . . In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014

This is a promise that is foolish to make. Maybe he’s right that the proxy wars on the ground and the U.S. war in the air won’t end up dragging U.S. forces deeper into a quagmire on the ground. But there is no way he can confidently promise this. War is not a weapon that you can aim, not even if you are President of the United States, and expect that you’ll hit exactly what you hoped to, with no complications or unexpected results. Modern wars are always conducted on the basis of classified information, secret strategic interests that are not disclosed to the public, half-accurate information and politically-filtered intelligence. They operate away from any possibility of informed consent by ordinary people, who don’t have access to the information government keeps secret, and indeed even away from the possibility of informed decisions by that government, which finds itself blundering through the fog of its own secrecy, errors, self-deception and political rationales. Wars develop a logic of their own and they always involve both deception of the public about the likely outcomes, and also consequences unintended or unforeseen even by their architects. It wouldn’t be the first time that U.S. military advisors got drawn into a land war in Asia. It wouldn’t even be the first time that U.S. build-up was really only a prelude to a wider war in Iraq.

Certainly, it has already proven a prelude to bringing the U.S. war power into a wider regional war.

The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground.

The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.

— Randolph Bourne, War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12
Seven Arts (June, 1917).

End all war, immediately, completely, and forever.

Over My Shoulder # 49: Sic Semper

Here’s the rules.

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from my class readings, Herodotus (c. 449 BCE), The Histories (trans. G.C. Macaulay and Donald Lateiner); I read it during one of my study jags over at The Coffee Cat. It’s Herodotus’s version of the end of the life of Cyrus the Great, the first King of Kings of the Persian Empire. At this time in his life, Cyrus had gained supreme power over the Persians, taken power over the old Median Empire, and set out on decades of large-scale conquest, subjugating nearly all of the peoples in Asia Minor, the Levant, and Mesopotamia. He then went with his army to the river Aras, in the hopes of expanding his conquest onto the Central Asian plains.

201. When [Babylon] also had been subdued by Cyrus, he desired to bring the Massagetai into subjection to himself. This nation is reputed to be both great and warlike, and to dwell towards the East and the sunrise, beyond the river Araxes and over against the Issedonians. Some say that this nation is of the Scythian race.

. . . 205. Now the ruler of the Massagetai was a woman, who was queen after the death of her husband, and her name was Tomyris. To her Cyrus sent and wooed her, pretending that he desired to have her for his wife. Tomyris, understanding that he was wooing not herself but rather the kingdom of the Massagetai, rejected his approaches. Cyrus after this, as he made no progress by craft, marched to the Araxes and campaigned openly against the Massagetai, forming bridges of boats over the river for his army to cross, and building towers upon the vessels which gave them safe passage across the river.

[. . . The captive king Croesus advised Cyrus to leave behind part of his army, along with preparations for a feast with strong wine, as a snare for the Massagetai warriors, who had no experience with Persian drinks.]

211. . . . After this when Cyrus and the sound part of the army of the Persians had marched back to the Araxes, and those unfit for fighting had been left behind, then one-third of the army of the Massagetai attacked and proceeded to kill, not without resistance, those whom the army of Cyrus had left behind. Seeing the feast that was set forth, when they had overcome their enemies they lay down and feasted, and being satiated with food and wine they went to sleep. Then the Persians came upon them and slew many of them, and took alive many more even than they slew, and among these the son of the queen Tomyris, who was leading the army of the Massagetai; and his name was Sparagapises.

212. She then, when she heard that which had come to pass with the army and also the things concerning her son, sent a herald to Cyrus and said: Cyrus, insatiable of blood, do not celebrate too much what has come to pass, namely because with that fruit of the vine, with which you fill yourselves and become so mad that as the wine descends into your bodies, wicked words float up upon its stream,—because setting a snare, I say, with such a drug as this you overcame my son and not by valor in fight. Now therefore hear this my word, giving you good advice:—Restore to me my son and depart from this land without penalty, triumphant over a third part of the army of the Massagetai. If you shall not do so, I swear to you by the Sun, who is lord of the Massagetai, that surely I will give you your fill of blood, blood-thirsty though you are.

213. These words were reported to him, but Cyrus disregarded them; and the son of the queen Tomyris, Sparagapises, when he sobered up and he realized his plight, entreated Cyrus that he might be loosed from his chains and gained his request. So soon as his hands were free, he put himself to death. 214. He then ended his life in this manner; but Tomyris, as Cyrus did not listen to her, gathered together all her power and joined battle with Cyrus. This battle I judge to have been the fiercest of all the battles fought by Barbarians,[1] and I am informed that it happened thus:—first, it is said, they stood apart and shot at one another, and afterwards when their arrows were all shot away, they fell upon one another and engaged in close combat with their spears and daggers; and so they continued their fight with one another for a long time, and neither side would flee; but at last the Massagetai got the better in the fight. The greater part of the Persian army was destroyed there upon the spot, and Cyrus himself died there, after he had reigned twenty-nine years. Then Tomyris filled a skin with human blood and had search made among the Persian dead for the corpse of Cyrus. When she found it, she let his head down into the skin and doing outrage to the corpse she said this over it: Though I yet live and have overcome you in fight, nevertheless you have destroyed me by taking my son with craft. I nevertheless according to my threat will give you your fill of blood. There are many tales told about the end of Cyrus, but this one is to my mind the most worthy of belief.

— Herodotus (c. 449 BCE), The Histories, Book I §§ 212-213. (Trans. G.C. Macaulay and Donald Lateiner.)

  1. [1] [Sic. By Barbarians, Herodotus simply means nations that do not speak Greek. —CJ]

War Speech

It’s maddening to reflect that literally every single president of my lifetime has been involved in a war in Iraq.[1] For more than 20 years of my life, U.S. presidents have been continuously at war against Iraq in some way or another. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, every one of them, started a new assault on Iraq at some point in their presidency, whether in the form of cruise missile strikes and aerial bombing, or lethal sanctions, or for the third time now a ground invasion. The only president of my lifetime who did not start a new war against Iraq was Ronald Reagan; and that’s only because he was too busy helping the Iraqi government get chemical weapons so they could fight a bloody proxy war for him against Iran.

The U.S. government’s two decades of continuous war and blockades in Iraq has killed over a million people, most of them civilians and children, in the name of national policy. The details of the policies always shift, every enemy turns out to be unique in their brutality, but the means of enacting them always remain the same: more missiles, more bombs, more soldiers, and more dead children in Iraq. And now the president speaks of humanitarian missions.

Yesterday night, President Obama gave a speech announcing that he would escalate the U.S.’s third war against Iraq, and that he would widen the war into Syria as well. I can’t say that the speech is extraordinarily belligerent; but only because what is outrageous in the speech is so ordinary, after all these years so deeply familiar with year after year of war in Iraq. The language is as shopworn as it is mendacious. In his speech, the President said:

. . . Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy. First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. . . . And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.

— Barack Obama, remarks on ISIL/ISIS and war on Syria and Iraq, 10 September 2014

These words — these exact words, without any change, could have been uttered by George W. Bush. They sound like him, full of hunting down terrorists and If you threaten America…. They could have been spoken, just as they are, by William Jefferson Clinton. They read exactly like every war speech that George H. W. Bush ever gave.

The dates and the names change, but the war rhetoric is always the same. Every President is a war President, and in war, every President talks in the same voice, from the same mouth, with the same lies, for the same ultimate purpose: to legitimize politically-organized mass murder. If you elect a liberal President who marched against the Vietnam War, what you’ll get in the end is a President. If you elect a humble foreign policy conservative, then he will govern as a President anyway. If you elect a Progressive President, then the fact that he is President will always turn out to be far more relevant than the fact that he is a Progressive. Electing presidents or changing political parties will never end war: No matter who you voted for, the winner always becomes the Government.

For war is essentially the health of the State.

See also.

  1. [1] I was born in 1981.