jack-o-lantern-pumpkins-11288879970iUJP

Happiness is a warm Jack o’ Lantern

This is the official blog of Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff—Bahá’í, writer, editor, musician, general misfit, child of Ray Bradbury and Star Trek, lover of baseball, magical realism, Dr. Who, the month of October and Jack’o’Lanterns (which make me very, very happy).

This is where I post things that mean something (cue mashed potatoes.)

Visit Lucinda’s Pawnshop Online

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Coming in July 2015!

Coming in July 2015!

Lucinda’s Pawnshop is officially open.

You can visit the shop, find out about Lucinda and her wares, read about the authors, and watch a trailer.

Click the link to Enter Lucinda’s Pawnshop . . . if you dare.

Which item might you choose? The pen? The book? The pocket watch?

If you buy something from Lucinda’s Pawnshop, you may come home with more than you bargained for.

 

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Reason, Guns and Cognitive Dissonance

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Bundy_Ranch_SniperThis morning during my daily news reading, two seemingly opposing statements collided in my head.

  1. “An armed society is a polite society.”
  2. “I shot him/her because I thought he/she had a gun.”

The former is an aphorism used by gun rights advocates as an assurance that if more people were armed, there were would be less violence in our society. The latter is what I have read repeatedly in stories involving an armed person—on-duty or off-duty policeman or armed civilian—give as the reason that they aimed their gun at another human being and fired: they feared for their lives because they thought the other person was also armed.

The most recent of these stories I read was the case of Dante Servin, who was just exonerated of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the killing of Rekia Boyd. The judge seems to have ruled as he did because the charges were not sufficient to what Servin is alleged to have done while off duty. He fired over his shoulder into a group of youth as he drove away from them because he thought one of the young men was reaching for a gun in his waistband. He shot the unarmed young woman in the back of the head, killing her.

According to the judge, Mr. Servin was not reckless because he fired with intent and so should have been charged with murder, not involuntary manslaughter. The article stated that he cannot now be charged with the greater crime of murder because of the manslaughter charge. I did not understand double jeopardy to work that way, but that’s a different issue.

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Would you shoot this dude?

My moment of cognitive dissonance relates to the two statements above, simply because I don’t see how they can both be true. Either people who are armed show greater respect, tolerance, and care with others because they suspect they are also armed or they pre-emptively shoot them because they suspect they are also armed. If the former statement is true, then we should see fewer and fewer cases in which one person shot another because they suspected they were also armed. It is, in any event, difficult to prove that you didn’t shoot someone because you thought they might shoot back. Presumably, the only way to gather this information would be to take a poll, asking persons with carry permits, “Have you ever refrained from accosting someone because you thought he or she was also armed?”

Obviously, this is not the same thing as gathering empirical evidence.

If the latter is true, then I would expect to see a pattern of defensive shootings in situations where the shooter has an increased expectation that the other person is indeed armed. This is empirically verifiable. It is, in fact, occurring, and I don’t think it’s too wild a speculation to propose that among those people who shot someone because they thought they were armed are those who also believe that an armed society is a polite society.

Inigo+Montoya+from+The+Princess+Bride+_5eb38f6e2f66bcfb3c178e52e0882339At best, statement #2 calls into question the meaning and usage of the word “polite” in statement #1. Which brings to mind a phrase that is much-used in our home and among the people we hang with:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride)

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On Every Page: Bill Maher and the Qur’an

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Bill Maher

I read an article on Thinkprogress.com this morning that asks the question “Has Bill Maher Finally Gone Too Far?” with regard to his animosity toward Muslims and Islam. I personally think the answer is “yes”, if for no other reason than that he is taking significant heat from other self-identifying liberals, progressives and atheists.

In the article, Maher is quoted as saying, “The Qur’an absolutely has on every page stuff that’s horrible about how the infidels should be treated.”

I’ll cut to the chase. This is quickly and easily debunked by simply opening a Qur’an. Most of the snippets of text pulled from the Qur’an to show that (1) Islam is an inherently violent faith and (2) Muslims are directed to slay all non-Muslims (including Jews and Christians) because (3) “infidel” equals “non-Muslim” are cited out of context.

But first things first. Mr. Maher is wrong about the contents of the Qur’an. Perhaps he was indulging in hyperbole when he insisted that violence against “infidels” is “absolutely” “on every page.” It hardly matters because people who have not read the Qur’an may believe him simply because of who he is. Beyond this, there are a raft of assumptions wrapped up in Maher’s single sentence. I’d like to try to tackle them one at a time. Continue reading

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The Mathematics of Writing

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BooksTakeFlight-300x297History—and nonfiction of various types—offers a wonderful smorgasbord of events and interrelationships for writers to base stories on. Most writers—myself included—have mined nonfiction for fictional ideas. My collected history books have many pages with the words “Story here!” scrawled at the top, often with multiple exclamation points, highlighting and arrows pointing to the text that made the hair rise up on my neck and my ovaries twitch.

It’s easy to get ideas from nonfiction—books, magazine articles, TV documentaries, etc. My first published novel, THE MERI, occasioned me to read three fat and varied histories of Scotland upon whose progression of kings and system of governance I chose to base my fictional government. It was a lot of work, and I think sometimes that the tech revolution has had a deleterious effect on how some writers do research. I’ve had several experiences lately that make me suspect that the abridged nature of the information we take in makes some of us forget the mathematics of writing.

The visual media—TV documentaries and Youtube videos—have taken the place, in some aspiring writers’ lives of the in-depth sort of research and thought that writing a novel on a subject requires. I encountered a situation recently in which a writer I was working with gathered a basket full of ideas from documentaries and wikipedia entries and wanted to write them into his book. What resulted was interesting … in a Vulcan sort of way. Continue reading

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My morning reading

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One cEach morning, I spend some quiet time in devotion and study. My current study material is a 2005 missive from the Universal House of Justice (guiding institution for the global Bahá’í community) entitled One Common Faith. It is an exploration of the role of religion in the world, both past and future, and deals with a variety of related issues. For example, the role that our difficulty in distinguishing between eternal spiritual principles and evolving social conventions plays in dividing our world up along religious and tribal lines.

The House of Justice’s letters to the Bahá’í Community have always been prescient—usually their insights lead world events by five to ten years. I was struck by how these passages from One Common Faith resonate with the current state of the world.

If unity is indeed the litmus test of human progress, neither history nor Heaven will readily forgive those who choose deliberately to raise their hands against it. In trusting, people lower their defences and open themselves to others. Without doing so, there is no way in which they can commit themselves wholeheartedly to shared goals. Nothing is so devastating as suddenly to discover that, for the other party, commitments made in good faith have represented no more than an advantage gained, a means of achieving concealed objectives different from, or even inimical to, what had ostensibly been undertaken together. Such betrayal is a persistent thread in human history that found one of its earliest recorded expressions in the ancient tale of Cain’s jealousy of the brother whose faith God had chosen to confirm. If the appalling suffering endured by the earth’s peoples during the twentieth century has left a lesson, it lies in the fact that the systemic disunity, inherited from a dark past and poisoning relations in every sphere of life, could throw open the door in this age to demonic behaviour more bestial than anything the mind had dreamed possible.

If evil has a name, it is surely the deliberate violation of the hard-won covenants of peace and reconciliation by which people of goodwill seek to escape the past and to build together a new future.

Continue reading

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Another Hero Goes into the West and Does Not Diminish

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Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

I was shocked and saddened to hear that one of my greatest heroes is dying.

I have experienced Oliver Sacks as a being of great wisdom and compassion. His work has been a blessing and an illumination to me as both as a writer and a human being, and has gifted me with many deep insights into the human spirit that have informed my own craft.

Anthropologist on Mars Dr. Sacks has written extensively about conditions that impact the way affected individuals experience the world—migraine, sleeping sickness, manic-depression, synesthesia, autism (it was through Sacks’ book An Anthropologist on Mars that I first “met” the indomitable Temple Grandin, who has become the face of autism for many people). But he has also lived with such conditions (prosopagnosia or face blindness, and the loss of his stereoscopic vision) and has written extensively about and chronicled these experiences as eloquently as any fiction writer has chronicled the epic adventures of her characters. An Anthropologist on Mars remains one of the favorite and most significant books of my reading and writing life. I highly recommend it to anyone who has not had the immensely moving experience of reading Professor Sacks’ work.

Though I understand that his adventure is, in many ways, just beginning, I mourn our collective loss of this great humanitarian intellect and selfishly wish we might be allowed to keep him just a bit longer.

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Off to Boskone…

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Devil's DaughterJeff and I are among the Guests of Honor at Boskone this weekend where we will be performing, filking, paneling and at which I will give the first ever reading from my soon-to-be-released novel, Devil’s Daughter. This collaboration between Hope Schenk-de Michele, Paul Marquez and myself is the first book in the Lucinda’s Pawnshop series from Bird Street Books.

This is an urban fantasy filled with layer upon layer of dark secrets, plots and counter-plots, world-shattering stakes and the endgame to end all endgames. It’s a book about redemption, love and trust in the midst of the Devil’s myriad schemes to take down the human species. And it’s told the only way I know how to tell a story—through the eyes of the people on the ground and living in the middle of the chaos.

The central character is Lucinda Trompe—the Devil’s daughter. She is half mortal half immortal, and has one heck of a secret. She’s surrounded by demons, angels, and human beings who run the gamut from the noble to the hopelessly entangled in Lucifer’s webs of deceit. This is her story and the story of her volatile and torturous relationship with Lucifer.

The book will be on shelves everywhere in July and I hear we’re going to press tomorrow. So, think good thoughts and, of course, please buy the book!

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Guns and the Religion of Competitive Materialism

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close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-largeThanks to my friend Mark Heinz for catalyzing this post. I started out to reply to something he said on Facebook, only to realize that exploring the subject made for a post that was just too darn long for a Facebook comment thread. So, here it is on my Pretending to Look the Other Way blog site filed under Mashed Potatoes. And if you don’t get that reference, watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Mark replied to a post I made of the recent study from the American Public Health Association on the relationship between gun ownership and gun homicides in the US, by observing,

One thought regarding the subject of murder, suicide and culture, I think the U.S. might have high rates because, probably more than any place on earth, we have a competitive culture, as opposed to a cooperative one. Think about it; the word “competition” is cited and recited with almost religious reverence in our culture. Now, some might argue that’s been the driving force behind America’s success (however we might define that.) But, I think it’s clear it’s also come at a price. I would argue that, because our culture is so dogmatically and frantically competitive – even if you made every firearm in this country disappear tomorrow, Americans would probably still kill themselves and each other at alarmingly high rates.

What  Mark was speaking to, in part, was the American culture of consumerism and materialism. Which is something that we export worldwide along with our philosophies about Life, the Universe, and Everything, some of which are constructive and beneficial, and some of which are destructive.  Continue reading

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Healthcare Myth #5: Other systems are too “foreign” to work here

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liberty-weepingIn other words: America is unique and, some would argue, superior.

Well, duh. Every country is unique. And every country probably has some area in which it is (depending on your values) superior to other countries. Alas, in the area of taking care of our own, we are not doing all that well; which is why I like TR Reid’s idea of taking a serious and deep look at what other developed nations are doing for healthcare with the idea that we can do it just as well, if not better.

Let’s look at the four basic models of healthcare provision currently in use:

  • The Bismarck Model, founded by Otto von Bismarck in Germany in the 19th century. This is a privatized but non-profit multiple payer model.
  • The Beveridge Model, invented by William Beveridge in Britain. This is a public service like the police and fire department.
  • The National  Health Insurance System (NHIS) Model, which has elements of both Bismarck and Beveridge systems. It has private providers, but government run funds to pay out.
  • The Out-of-Pocket Model, which is used in the developing world. Basically, the rich get medical care, the poor don’t. Pretty simple.

Reid comments, “Of course the foreign models could work for Americans; they already do.” Continue reading

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Healthcare Myths #3 & 4: Bloated Bureaucracies & Cruel Necessities

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Healing-ReidcoverThis first of two related myths, as summed up by TR Reid in The Healing of America, has it that the universal healthcare systems of other wealthy countries are run by bloated bureaucracies.

This is simply not true.

Every other system Reid cited is less wasteful than ours. This is true whether they are public or private systems. Our for-profit setup has the highest administrative costs in the world.

This is a major reason we spend more on healthcare and get less in return. Up until Obamacare, our insurance companies spent roughly 20 cents on the dollar (that is, 20% of every dollar they spend) for the non-medical, administrative costs required for a profit-making venture: paperwork, reviewing claims, rescission, marketing, etc. The fact that the ACA calls for a complete reversal of this ratio, has already begun to have an effect on our national expenditure, but we could do even better if we adopted a truly universal system.

In comparison, France, with its private, non-profit system, spends about 5% of every healthcare dollar to cover every resident of France; Canada spends about 6%; Taiwan—which broke in its brand new system in 1995—spends only 2%.

Reid refers to Japan as the “world champion” of cost control. This, despite the fact that Japan’s population is aging. They have better health outcomes, as well, and have the longest-lived and healthiest population in the world, though they are spending half as much per capita as we are.

One of the chief reasons these systems are so efficient has to do with the very fact that they DO cover everyone—in most cases, even visitors to the country. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. There is a vast pool of healthy people who—through taxes or premiums—pay into the system.
  2. There’s no need for a claims adjustment staff who are charged with finding reasons to not pay claims (this means doctors don’t require people in their offices to handle claims either, by the way, which brings their costs down).
  3. There’s no need to spend millions for marketing and other profit-making schemes.
  4. There’s no need for a rescission department charged with finding reasons to cut people from the rolls … just when they need the coverage the most.

Actually, this ties into another myth:

Myth #4: if insurance companies covered everyone they’d go broke. 

golden-dollar-sign-10036559They have to be cruel to stay in business, they say. If that’s the case, then why do the systems that cover everyone continue to exist? Because everyone is covered, as I mentioned. There are young and healthy people paying in to balance the older, sicker people. Then when those people are no longer young and healthy, they’re covered, in part, by the next generation of young and healthies coming along behind. It’s sort of “paying forward” … or maybe it’s paying backward. The point is that at some point, everyone will benefit from the system, so everyone pays in.

To balance this, in the other developed countries, if a doctor okays a procedure, it’s covered. Period. The costs are known, the claim is submitted, the sick fund or government agency or insurance company cuts a check. The doctors are paid within strict time limits. Coverage can’t be canceled or refused for any reason except non-payment of premiums in systems that use that method.

These plans don’t go broke; some, such as Switzerland’s fairly new privatized universal system, are doing very well indeed. Even if the government has to put more money in or raise premiums, they’ve still got massive amounts of headroom before they’d even be in the ballpark of what we’re spending.

Hey, today was a two-fer!

TR Reid’s next myth is that these plans are too “foreign” to work in our unique country. More later.

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