Taxing Internet Sales

From the Orange County Register. California Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown just signed a law taxing Internet sales. The  state Board of Equalization (whatever that is) estimates that this measure will raise some $200 million. The California Retailer’s Association is pleased.

California Retailers Association stated:  “We thank Governor Jerry Brown and the leaders in the California State Legislature who have demonstrated their leadership and commitment to California businesses by passing and signing e-fairness into law. Small and large businesses across the state have been held at a major disadvantage by the current law that out-of-state online companies like Amazon.com and Overstock.com have exploited for years. This has cost us jobs and revenues.”

So, how is it working out? Well, it would seem that Amazon.com has decided to end its affiliate advertising program with over 25,000 California websites. In their e-mail, Amazon.com explained why this was necessary.

(The bill) specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

Oh, well. It would seem that the state of California will not be seeing $200 million in revenue coming in. I wish that politicians would get it into their heads that people will try to avoid taxation.

Lucifer’s Kingdom

Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagoni...
Image via Wikipedia

Saul Alinsky has become somewhat notorious for dedicating  his book “Rules for Radicals” to the “first radical” Lucifer. The dedication reads,

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical: from whom all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins – or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom-Lucifer.

Alinsky was wrong. Lucifer did not gain a kingdom. Hell is not Lucifer’s kingdom, it is his prison.

The popular conception of the Devil, which Alinsky seems to share, is shaped by John Milton’s portrayal of him in his classic epic poem “Paradise Lost“. At first glance, Lucifer appears to be noble and heroic. He has been beaten but has not given up. In the opening of the poem,  Lucifer and his angels are recovering from their lost battle and exile into Hell. Lucifer surveys his new home and gives a speech which is probably the most quoted part of Paradise Lost.

    “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Arch Angel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is Sov’ran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equall’d, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign seure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n

Many readers believe that Milton has cast Lucifer as a romantic hero, a rebel who does not given up even when all seems to be lost but instead, makes the best of his circumstances. Milton seems to be on the Devil’s side.

In fact, Milton is more clever than that. Lucifer’s speech is bravado. Because he will not acknowledge God as his Creator and Lord, Lucifer loses everything, even his own self in his pursuit of vengeance. His comment about the mind making a Heaven or Hell means more than he intends. The mind may make its Heaven or Hell, but Heaven or Hell makes the mind, as Milton shows when Lucifer enters Paradise to tempt Adam and Eve.

Haply so ‘scaped his mortal snare; for now
Satan, now first inflam’d with rage, came down,
The Tempter ere th’Accuser of mankind
To Wreak on innocent frail Man his loss
Of that first battle, and his flight to Hell:
Yet not rejoicing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth
Now rolling boils in his tumultuous breast,
And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubl’d thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The Hell within him, for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step more than from himself can fly
By change of place

Lucifer realizes this and despairs

which way shall I fly?
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.

He considers giving up and asking for pardon, but he cannot do it. His hatred and pride will not allow him to submit. Even if God forgives him, Lucifer knows he will rebel again.

But say could repent and could obtain
By Act of Grace my former state; how soon
Would heighth recall high thoughts, how soon unsay
What feign’d submission swore: ease would recant
Vows made in pain, as violent and void
For never can true reconcilement grow
Where wounds of deadly hate have pierc’d so deep:
Which would but lead me to a worse relapse,
And heavier fall: so should I purchase dear
Short intermission bought with double smart.
This knows my punisher; therefore as far
From granting hee, as I from begging peace:
All hope excluded thus, behold instead
Of us out-cast, exil’d, his new delight
Mankind created and for him this World.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least
Divided Empire with Heav’n’ss King I hold
By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign
As Man erelong, and this new World shall know

Lucifer is successful at tempting Adam and Eve, but in the end he fails. He and all his demons are changed into serpents. But even  worse is the transformation that Lucifer has caused to himself. From being Lucifer, the bright Morning Star, he has become Satan, the Enemy of God and man, the Devil, the Liar. From being the greatest of the Arch Angels he has devolved into a being consumed with hatred and pride. Hardly a model for the successful rebel.

Job

I have just finished reading the book of Job. In some ways, it is an unusual book of the Bible. It doesn’t quite fit into the historical narrative from Genesis to Nehemiah, which tell of the history of the Hebrew people, and the patriarchs who were their ancestors. Job is not a Hebrew. The story seems to have been placed in the time of the patriarchs but there is no relation between Job or Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Even the Hebrew in which the book was written is odd with unusual grammatical constructions and rarely used words, which make it difficult to translate. The Greek Septuagint is actually some 400 lines shorter than the Hebrew. Evidently the translators simply omitted difficult lines. The style of the  Hebrew has led some scholars to speculate that the book of Job is itself a translation from another Semitic language. If so, then it is one of only three books of the Bible written by a Gentile. (Luke and Acts being the other two.)

Another interesting feature of Job is the astronomical references in God’s speech to Job.

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? (Job 38:31-33)

As far as I can recall, this is the only passage in the Bible that names any of the constellations. In general, the Israelites were not as interested in astrology as the people of  many other ancient civilizations, most likely to avoid idolatry.

1 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.3 You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, 4 but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.

5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” 11 You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Idolatry Forbidden

15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. 20 But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are. (Dueteronomy 4:1-20)

Several of the wicked kings of Judah and Israel worshiped the stars and perhaps made use of astrologers.

In any event, in terms of literary quality, Job is one of the best books of the Bible and stands on its own as a classic of Hebrew literature. The story is familiar. The good man Job is afflicted with all sorts of suffering. Despite everything, he does not curse God, but he does question why such evil has occurred to him. He demands a hearing before God, to face the One who has caused his suffering. His friends insist that he must have sinned, but Job will have none of that. He has not sinned. He is a righteous man who does not deserve any punishment.

In the end, God speaks to Job. His response is more than a little unsatisfying. He does not tell Job why he has suffered. God puts Job in his place by showing him how little Job actually knows, in what is actually my favorite part of the book.

Job 38

The LORD Speaks

1Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen? (Job 38:1-30)

God basically says, “Who are you that you question My judgement?”

Job 40

1 The LORD said to Job:

2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”

3 Then Job answered the LORD:

4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”

6 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm:

7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:1-14)

After that, what can Job say?

Job 42

Job

1Then Job replied to the LORD:

2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

This may not be satisfying, but it is true. We cannot know God’s purposes or why the world seems to make little sense. Our perspective is so small, on the scale of the universe infinitesimal, that we simply have no clue about what is really going on. We can only trust in God as Job did.

Noam Chomsky Criticizes Hugo Chavez

Either Noam Chomsky has been replaced by an alien pod, or I have fallen through a dimensional rift into the bearded Spock universe, but according an interview in the Guardian, Chomsky had some rather harsh things to say about his old friend.

“Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary and for specific circumstances, such as fighting world war two, is an assault on democracy. You can debate whether [Venezuela’s] circumstances require it: internal circumstances and the external threat of attack, that’s a legitimate debate. But my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.”

In particular, Chomsky demanded the release of Judge Maria Loudes Afiuni who Chavez put into prison after she freed a prominent banker, Eligio Cedeño, who had been jailed on fabricated charges of corruption.

Ron Radosh at Pajamas media thinks he knows the reason for this unexpected turn by Chomsky and gives him two cheers.

So why did he do this? I think I have an answer, and it comes from something he told me many decades ago, when I spoke with him in Wellfleet, Mass., when I was vacationing in the Cape Cod town. Chomsky, who at times has called himself a libertarian socialist or a Marxist anarchist, told me that he would not travel to Vietnam, despite many invitations, since he knew he would not like the Stalinist regime, and would be compelled to criticize it. Publicly he defended the North Vietnamese Communists and the Viet-Cong because they were under attack from American imperialism, he told me, and he was honor bound to solidify support for the anti-war movement in the United States and the Vietnamese Communists and their government. He would not have been able to carry out that task, he said, had he accepted any of their invitations. But by not personally going to the country, he could avoid criticizing it.

In his interview with the Guardian, he notes that he has made a judgement that the Chavez regime is not under external attack from the United States — and hence he is free to criticize its policies. For Chomsky, this is a major step forward. Until this time, if you care to go through his voluminous writing, he generally calls critics of totalitarian left-wing regimes apologists for the United States. He would never beforehand concede that these regimes were not under severe danger from the United States. By saying that they are not, he has undercut the argument Chavez’s defenders always make about why they must be supported.

That’s two more cheers than I would ever give him. Note that Chomsky knew, or at least suspected that  North Vietnam was not exactly a democracy, yet he turned his eyes away from the evils of that regime so that he could continue to attack the United States in good conscience.

I’m glad that Noam Chomsky is on the right side for once, but one good act does not make up for decades of supporting some of the most odious governments in the world.

By the way, I noticed in the article that Chomsky refers to himself as a “libertarian socialist”. How is that possible? Libertarians want as small a government as possible while Socialists want the government to run everything. It would see, that these ideologies would be polar opposites anywhere outside Chomsky’s confused brain.

 

Happy Independence Day

Eleven score and fifteen years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Happy Fourth of July.

 

Some Prisoners Asked to Stay in Gitmo

From Jihad Watch. It seems that some of the  prisoners slated for release in Guantanamo Bay want to stay. And why shouldn’t they?

Far from being tortured, as some protestors outside the White House alleged last week, Rotunda said prisoners at Gitmo are allowed to take classes (with some even receiving “home-schooling”), can read Harry Potter books in Arabic and are given their choice of athletic shoes for playing sports.

What’s more, the Defense Department has even flown in special fruits and nuts for detainees to observe Ramadan, Rotunda said, although the detainees’ request for a goat to be sacrificed was declined–in deference to PETA.

“Most Gitmo detainees live in group housing with open bays and about 10 people to a bay,” she said.

“They are outside of their housing bays for up to 12 hours a day. During that time, they can take classes, visit the library–which has over 5,000 titles, including the Harry Potter series translated into Arabic, which are very popular–exercise, check out movies or games, play sports–detainees can chose from a selection of athletic shoes–or even visit the computer lab.”…

I had no idea that Harry Potter has been translated into Arabic. Anyway where do I sign up? I want to be a jihadist and get special fruits and nuts for Ramadan, take classes and get new athletic shoes. No virgins though.

Weekends of Horror

There are three weekends in the year that strike horror and despair in the hearts of all soft drink vendors like me. They are; Memorial Day weekend, the weekend before the Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend. Not only are these weekends extremely busy with huge crowds in every store and shelves that cannot be kept full, but we have to order in large amounts of product, so much that we spend more time trying to get to what we need than actually stocking our stores. And this is why I have been working 10-12 hours a day all this week.

The horror.