A ham from God

Anne Lamott asks what to do about despair:

After we got off the phone, I ate a few birthday chocolates. Then I asked God to help me be helpful. It was the first time that day that I felt my prayers were sent, and then received — like e-mail. I tried to cooperate with grace, which is to say, I did not turn on the TV. Instead, I drove to the market in silence, to buy my birthday dinner. I asked God to help me, again. The problem with God — or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God — is that he or she rarely answers right away. It can be days, weeks. Some people seem to understand this — that life and change take time — but I am not one of those people. I’m an Instant Message type. It took decades for Bush to destroy the Iraqi army in three weeks. Chou En-Lai, when asked, “What do you think of the French Revolution,” paused for a minute, smoking incessantly, and replied, “Too soon to tell.”

But I prayed: help me.

I flirted with everyone in the store, especially the old people, and I lightened up. When the checker finished ringing up my items, she looked at my receipt and cried, “Hey! Youve won a ham!”

I felt blind sided by the news. I had asked for help, not a ham. It was very disturbing. What on earth was I going to do with ten pounds of salty pink eraser? I rarely eat it. It makes you bloat.

“Wow,” I said. The checker was so excited about giving it to me that I pretended I was, too .

Wow! How great! Henny Penny! Henny Penny!

A bagger was dispatched to back of the store to get my ham. I stood waiting anxiously. I wanted to get home, so I could start caring for suffering people, or turn on CNN. I almost suggested that the checker award it to the next family who paid with food stamps. But for some reason, I waited. If God was giving me a ham, Id be crazy not to receive it. Maybe it was the ham of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
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Why is the AR-15 such a popular weapon for mass killers?

This video seems like a major clue.

I was looking on YouTube, and there are a lot of instruction videos on how to fire this and other semi-automatic weapons as a full-on automatic — what they call “bump firing.” I don’t see much difference between this an a machine gun –which probably has a lot to do with their popularity, and possibly made this model much more lethal in these recent mass killings:

There’s something about this Bushmaster AR-15: Both Adam Lanza and William Spangler, the two gunmen in the Newtown and firefighter shootings, respectively, got their hands on the same make of semi-automatic, the .223 caliber rifle, pictured right. This popular sporting gun seems to be the weapon of choice for many a mass murderer. It’s also the same gun used by James Holmes, of the Aurora theater shootings last summer, as well as Jacob Tyler Roberts, the mall shooter from a few weeks back. What is it about this Bushmaster that makes it so available and desirable for these gunmen?

For one, there are a lot of Bushmaster AR-15s out there. It’s one of the most popular sporting guns, noted Time’s Madison Grey. Lanza didn’t purchase his at a store, but rather, his mother, a “gun enthusiast,” had owned the guns, which is reportedly how Lanza got his hands on them. It is still not clear where Spangler got his Bushmaster. As a felon, it was illegal for Spangler to possess a firearm. So he must’ve gotten his hands on one already purchased. Between 2000 and 2010, the company sold over 2 million of the Bushmaster make. 1.5 million AR-15s have been sold in the last five years alone, according to Guns and Ammo. Also a testament to their wide popularity, the guns started flying off shelves after Newtown.

Some say that the rise in popularity has to do with more homeowners keeping them for protection, according to another Guns and Ammo article. Or, maybe it’s the idea of owning something so powerful, as Joseph Olson a professor and NRA board member explained to TPM’s Eric Lach. “It’s all cosmetics and it’s all marketing,” Olson said, adding, a bit later: “It’s the American consumer getting what they want.” Guess that Man Card marketing campaign has really worked.

Besides the wide availability, the gun’s lethality might give some insight into why these types of shooters seek to get their hands on one. Though the Bushmaster describes itself as a semi-automatic, dispensing only one bullet at a time, the civilian make of an M-16 can shoot lots of bullets very quickly. YouTube even has some tricks for turning a “semi-auto into a full-auto machine using a household rubberband!”

Why we’re screwed by cable monopolies

Talk show host Rick Smith on Meredith Attwell Baker, the NBC/Comcast merger, and FCC corruption.

This is from “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age”, a book by Susan Crawford, a former adviser to Obama on science, technology and innovation issues. In this excerpt, she homes in on the monopoly extended by the Comcast/NBC merger:

To those who argued that the merger would stick U.S. consumers with high-priced, homogenized entertainment and second-class Internet access, Comcast had only to respond that the situation for consumers would not be any worse than it already was. If opponents could not decisively prove “merger-specific harms,” the phrase Comcast employees repeated endlessly to staff members across Washington, the deal could not be blocked.

By February 2010, the accepted wisdom in Washington was that the deal would go through. And it showed Americans their Internet future. Even though there are several large cable companies nationwide, each dominates its own regions and can raise prices without fear of being undercut.

Wireless access, dominated by AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon, is, for its part, too slow to compete with the cable industry’s offerings; mobile wireless services are, rather, complementary. Verizon Wireless’s joint marketing agreement with Comcast, announced in December 2011, made that clear: Competitors don’t offer to sell each other’s products.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Other developed countries have a watchdog to ensure that all their citizens are connected at cheap rates to fiber-optic networks. In South Korea, more than half of households are already connected to fiber lines, and those in Japan and Hong Kong are close behind. In the U.S., only about 7 percent of households have access to fiber, and it costs six times as much as in Hong Kong.

Rather than try to ensure that the U.S. will lead the world in the information age, American politicians have removed all regulation of high-speed Internet access and have allowed steep market consolidation. The cable industry has done its best to foil municipal efforts to provide publicly overseen fiber Internet access. Now, the U.S. has neither a competitive marketplace nor government oversight.

In the subcommittee hearing, Roberts never faltered, and his performance was judged a success. In the end, the Antitrust Division allowed the merger, and the FCC followed suit.

Compared with people in other countries, Americans are paying more for less and leaving many of their fellow citizens behind. Perhaps they will start to care when they see that the U.S. is unable to compete with nations whose industrial policy has been more forward-thinking.

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