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.)

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.

I offer this without commentary as to what situations I personally see reflected in the words, but I will add something about unity. It is supposed by some that unity is the result of us having solved such problems as gender inequality, racism and other forms of bigotry, gross inequities of class and wealth, etc.

I submit that the reverse is true—and the teachings of the various Prophets and Avatars speak to this repeatedly. Christ’s parting advice to His disciples before His crucifixion were to love one another. His parting prayer was that His disciples be one as He and God were one.

Bahá’u’lláh’s entire mission is dedicated to unity because, in this age of ever more powerful technologies, it is essential to our continued existence as a species.

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXXI)

We must first make unity the goal in order to find solutions to these other ills, for they are not the disease, but only the symptoms thereof.

Think about it. For every problem you can extract from daily news, consider what solving that problem might look like if the people engaged in the solution were unified in their goals, if not in their individual beliefs, tribal affiliations, or political factions.

CandleUltimately, if we wish to inhabit a better world, we must each do our part to build that world. In that context, our attitudes, words and actions—where they may unify or disrupt—are crucial. We lie to ourselves when we say we are powerless to bring about unity. We are not powerless. Every interaction we have with other human beings—whether family members, friends, acquaintances, complete strangers or perceived enemies—gives us a chance and a choice to create unity or to contribute to disintegration.

That’s a lot of power. Use it well.

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words.

Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can ensure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXXII)

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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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Healthcare Myth #2: Healthcare is rationed “out there.”

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MD000613Here’s the big scary idea: Care in countries with universal health coverage is rationed with waiting lists and limited choice.

Yes, this is a real problem in some countries … including the US. I’ve had to wait for appointments simply because I couldn’t afford the out of pocket expenses or the copay. I’ve considered not renewing a prescription for a medicine I needed because of our financial situation at the time. I’ve had to wait because my doctor’s case load was too high. I’ve also had healthcare policies through employers who did not cover optical, dental, physical therapy or chiropractic.

Those are all forms of rationing. Continue reading

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Healthcare Mythology 101

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Healing-ReidcoverI’d like to talk about mythology. Not Greek mythology or Norse mythology, but American Healthcare mythology. In his book, The Healing of America, TR Reid listed a number of healthcare myths he had busted in the course of researching his book. Some of these I knew about (because I have friends who are living or have lived in countries with universal healthcare) and some I didn’t.

Myth #1: “Universal healthcare is socialized medicine!”

(sound of game show buzzer) Wrong. Apparently even Michael Moore got this one wrong in “Sicko” when he dealt with the conviction of many Americans that “socialized” systems won’t work in our ferciely individualistic and capitalist country.

Bust #1: Most wealthy countries have privatized mechanisms to provide and in some cases pay for healthcare. 

That’s part of the myth—that healthcare provision and insurance are synonymous. (There’s that buzzer again.) There are two parties involved in healthcare: providers and payers. Not all universal care countries handle this in the same way.

In England and Spain, the government pays for coverage and owns the facilities, but private physicians provide the services. Canada and Taiwan have private-sector hospitals, clinics and doctors and the government pays the bills. In Germany, France and the Netherlands, both care and payment are privatized, but since everyone is covered and, again, the government negotiates prices, insurance providers (sick funds) compete to enroll more people and to keep them as healthy as possible. Costs are kept lower because, among other things, malpractice insurance is inexpensive and the government bargains collectively with the funds and physicians on the price structure.

MD000613Here’s the kicker: so many people seem to get real charged up about “socialized” healthcare (though probably couldn’t really tell you why), but American healthcare—even before the ACA—was already more socialized in some aspects than most countries with universal coverage. Our veterans, government employees and elderly, for example, are covered under socialized programs. The VA is a far more socialized program than just about anything you can find in other countries. All these different programs are part of why we have problems containing costs. In Germany, people stick to their private insurance plans no matter how old they are. Of course, they can always choose a new provider if they’re not happy with the one they have.

How many of us have that option, especially if we’re covered by a policy offered by our work?

“Yeah, okay,” some of you might be thinking, “but those other countries control costs by rationing healthcare and offering limited choice.”

That’s Myth #2, which I’d like to explore in my next blog.

Care for the stranger as for one of your own; show to alien souls the same loving kindness ye bestow upon your faithful friends. — Abdu’l-Bahá

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Media and Race Bias—Is that a thing?

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multi-racialJust stumbled across an article on media race (ethnic) bias on DailyKOS that I found thought-provoking.

Let me say right off the bat that I’m not sure what to do with the term “race” since it’s basically meaningless. Race is a manmade cultural overlay that fools us into thinking that the color of a person’s skin really does have something to do with the “content of their character”, as Dr. King put it.

Let us, for the moment, accord race the status of a “thing” or a meme. What is racial bias? What does it look like? As the DailyKOS article notes, it is one of those “I know it when I see it things”. It is also something that some of us do not believe exists at all. In this worldview, America is post racial—an egalitarian utopia in which all men and women are uniformly treated as equals.

What do I think? I think bias based on ethnicity, culture, social class, skin color, gender and any other form of “otherness” undeniably exists in some pockets of society. However widespread it is, what the DailyKOS article offered (under the byline Egberto Willies) was an illustration of what the blogger understood as media bias. Continue reading

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