On Wagner and Opera…

Monday Musings for Monday May 20, 2019
Volume IX, No. 20/437

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

 Bayreuth Margravial Opera Stage

Happy Birthday to Richard Wagner: A Few Thoughts about Opera

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Wednesday is Richard Wagner’s 205th birthday (May 22, 1813- February 13, 1883). We celebrate his natal anniversary with joy and some added reflections: Wagner was a German musician, opera composer, and a disciple of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (Feb 22, 1788- September 12, 1860) with whom he split over the issue of “toleration”. Wagner was truly a genius. But he hated the Jews and the Italians, all of whom he called barbarians. He also hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he thought Italians are of a lower race. Instead, he called his work “Music Drama“. Wagner was a contemporary of Verdi (October 10, 1813-Jan 27, 1901), the world famous and renowned Italian Opera Composer. Toward the end of his life, Wagner had a change of heart about Italians and had some good things to say about Verdi. But he remained a staunch anti-Semite.

Richard Wagner, the ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own opera but wrote the libretto (pleural, libretti), designed the stage, and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like the Super Bowl halftime show! In addition to writing the libretto, composing the music, and designing his sets, he was a brilliant prose writer. I recommend getting a hold of some 12 volumes of his original work and read them for the sheer power of their syntax and thematic composition.

He also architecturally created the Bayreuth Opera House where his work was produced and staged.  After 201 years, almost all of his operas including Flying Dutchman, Ride of Valkyries, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger Von Numbergare a steady diet of most opera houses and symphonies throughout the world. several years ago, the North Carolina Symphony played in the first half of the program, Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin. The second half featured the memorable performance of virtuoso violinist, Itzhach Perlman playing Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As an aside, on May 12, 2015, the world renown violinist, Joshua Bell, played Jean Sibelius’ Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 27, with North Carolina Symphony to a standing room only crowd in Raleigh’s Meymandi Concert Hall. And there will be a special program of classical music with Conductor Grant Llewelyn featuring Joshua Bell this coming fall. Raleigh has an extraordinarily rich cultural life.

Back to Wagner:

Wagner’s writings and Teutonic operas tell us that he had a deep knowledge of history. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the “Ring Cycle” consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables, Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something” and the writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi, and Baba Taher Oryan. He loved Aryan Persians as much as he hated the Jews. He spoke of the Jews as inferior creatures preoccupied with usury, money changing, and nothing else. He made fun of Jewish cantorial music and ridiculed the religious tradition of the Jewish synagogue.

Delving into his personal life, one discovers that he was an illegitimate child of a Jew, Ludwig Geyer. He was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner who died six months after Richard’s birth, following which Wagner’s mother began living with the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer with whom she had a longstanding relationship. Ludwig was a friend of Richard’s late father. Richard almost certainly suspected that Geyer was his natural father. He and Ludwig whom he publicly called “Dad” shared a love of theater, opera and language. Around age 14, however, Richard changed his name from Richard Geyer back to Richard Wagner.

In his early life, Wagner was heavily influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe. He was determined to set the writings of these two illustrious authors into music. In 1826, at age 13, he started to take music lessons. By 1827, the family had moved back to Leipzig. Wagner’s first lessons in harmony were taken in 1828-1831. In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and then, in March, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in the Gewandhaus. Beethoven became his inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. Regarding his obscure genealogy, He often kiddingly said “May be Beethoven is my dad!”… Wagner was also greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. From this period we have Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures. In 1829 he saw the dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient on stage, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera. In his autobiography, Wagner wrote, “If I look back on my life as a whole, I can find no event that produced and left so profound an impression upon me.” He had an unsuccessful marriage to his second wife, Cosima, and had disastrous relationships with other women including Minna Wagner.

In Wagner lies an enigma. He was a truly brilliant artist with gifts in music composition, writing, poetry, and deep knowledge of history who was pathologically intolerant of others, especially Jews. Yet he was the son of a Jew and had Jewish DNA. His profound anti-Semitic rant has given to millions of words of psychobabble attempting to explain that his hatred of Jews was deeply rooted in self-hatred. As a person, he had no shred of decency and no touch of sublime humanity. He broke up with his idol and mentor, philosopher Schopenhauer, because of Wagner’s extreme hatred of Jews. Schopenhauer could not take Wagner’s extreme intolerance of the Jews. Personally, I take and enjoy Wagner’s rich and lasting contributions to the arts and literature, and merely ignore the rest of him.  Wagner was a superb writer and philosopher

On the local scene in Raleigh, the transfer of Dix property to the city of Raleigh was accomplished on May 5, 2015.  A group of citizens is working very hard to create a world class destination park on the 303 acres of land in the heart of downtown Raleigh for all to enjoy.  Personally, I am looking forward to the day we will have an opera house built on Dix Park, NC’s Central Park. With such a venue, we can not only do the more lavish and demanding Wagner operas, but stage some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain. I have yet to see any opera in America by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several years ago), and other composers.

Meantime, Happy 205th Birthday to Richard Wagner!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Moosa’s “Ghazali…”

Monday Musings for Monday May 13, 2019
Volume IX, No. 19/436

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Ghazali & The Poetics of Imaginations

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

A Book Review
Ghazali & The Poetics of Imaginations
by Ebrahim Moosa
Introduction: 32 pages, 289 pages of text, 28 pages of Notes
five pages of Glossary, 22 pages of Bibliography
and 12 pages of index
Publisher: UNC Press, 2005

Intellectual oxymoron

Of the eminent Persian poet and philosopher, Hamid Ghazali, we have spoken before. The faithful readers will recall that we discussed Ghazali’s devotion to seeking, learning, and discovering through his devotion to faith on the one hand and skepticism on the other, a true intellectual oxymoron. The issue of faith and skepticism, like many other confounding discourses, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo’s theory of predestination and will, present theological oxymoron, if not conundrums. We are keeping our promise by reviewing a most remarkable book about Al-Ghazali by Professor Ebrahim Moosa.

As a child, I recall my father encouraging us to read Al-Ghazali to strengthen the gift of doubt in his children. In a recent conversation with a learned friend about education, after a lengthy discussion, we agreed that in order to encourage our college students to adopt a more vigorous orientation and grounding in critical thinking, they should read Al-Ghazali and Abu Nasr Farabi (872-950, known to West as Alfarabius), Persian polymath, scientist, poet, philosopher and theologian. To strengthen their intellectual wherewithal.

Who was AL-Ghazali?

Abū Hāmid Muhammad ibn al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) was born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia (modern day Iran). He was a Islamic theologian, jurist, philosopher, cosmologist, physician, psychologist and mystic of Persian origin, and remains one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Sufi Islamic thought. He is considered a pioneer of the methods of doubt and skepticism, and in one of his major works, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from an Islamic metaphysics influenced by ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and towards an Islamic philosophy based on cause-and-effect that were determined by God or intermediate angels, a theory now known as “occasionalism.”

Ghazali and the Poetics of Imaginations starts with a 32 page comprehensive introduction, nine sections and a conclusion . The book is a symphonic rhapsody of the understanding of the “SELF.” It is very difficult to translate the Arabic word NAFS or NAFS-AL-EMAREH into a meaningful English word. The word “SELF” may asymptotically approach the true meaning of NAFS but never reaches the complexity, richness and centricity of its Arabic equivalent. This book is all about “SELF”.

”The first segment “Agnostics of the Self” pushing skepticism to its limit, the author acknowledges that Ghazali’s ethics are at time inseparable from his poetics (imagination.)

Section 2 has this book, author Ebrahim Moosa, devotes to the discourse to “Narrativity of the Self”, a brilliant exegesis of Ghazali’s ability to wed poetic imagination and rational ideas. He forwards the argument that Ghazali was skeptical toward “and took a dim view of the confabulations promoted by specialist raconteurs and story-tellers.” As a physician, I am acutely aware that confabulation is a symptom of systemic poisoning of certain parts of the brain, namely Para-median grey that is destroyed by too much alcohol and cannabis. The pseudo-Sufis of Ghazali’s time, one may conclude, did indulge heavily in both.

Section 3, “Poetics of Memory and Writings” reminded me of the book 11 of Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, devoted entirely to Memory. It combines Plato’s views on writing, some explanation of the origin of the myth of writing, and explore authoritatively, the contribution of Neo-Platonist to understanding memory and writing.

The subsequent six sections on “Liminality and Exile”, ”Grammar of the Self” which includes “Grammar of Religion”, “Metaphysics of Belief—Faith in a nutshell”, “Dilemma of anathema of Heresey”, ”Hermeneutics of the self” and “Technologies of the Self” complete the volume.

Who is Ebrahim Moosa?

Dr. Moosa is the former Associate Research Professor of religious studies and Director of The Center for the Study of Muslim Networks at Duke University. In my experience with languages, the humanities, and religious studies, I have found that these fields attract a disproportionate number of pretend-scholars, phonies, and pseudo-historians, if not downright charlatans. There are “experts” in Mowlana Masnavi Molavi Rumi who market distorted ideas and cleverly sell Rumi, while not knowing a word of Farsi, the language of Rumi. Edward Fitzgerald and Rubaiiat (quatrains) of Omar Khayyam is another example of clever marketing and exploitation of the most holy name in Sufism. For example, in one quatrain, where Khayyam speaks of a “14 year old beloved and a two year old wine….” he is not speaking of a lecherous pedophile who is a wine guzzler. Khayyam is speaking of Prophet Mohammad pbwh who at the age 40 (four ten or ‘fourteen’) was called upon by Angel Gabriel to found Islam, and it took two years (the fruit or the wine), the Holy Quoran, to be completed. These are but a few examples of the attraction of the fields of humanities and religious studies for the unwashed and uninitiated pseudo-scholars who exploit their subjects…

Professor Moosa is not a phony! He is an Arab, he knows the language, and has a deep understanding of the Arab and Persian cultures. His remarkable knowledge of the subject and brilliant exegesis of the life and writings of Al-Ghazali make reading of his book a sheer pleasure. For those who would like to gain a better understanding of the rich tapestry of Sufism, mysticism and witness the holy marriage of poetry, transcendent imagination and disciplined facts of the past (not history), this book is gold mine.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh, North Carolina writer and dramaturge and the 2016 winner of the NC Award in Fine Arts.

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Monday Musings for Monday May 6, 2019
Volume IX, No. 18/435
mother

Happy Mother’s Day

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon) DLFAPA*

(Editor’s Note: This year, Both Mother’s Day, May 12, and Richard Wagner’s birthday, May 22, deserve observance. We will devote today’s Musings to Mothers and the next week’s Musings to Richard Wagner, the anti-Semite genius whose character as a person was as loathsome as his music was admirable, if not transcendental.)

Mothers have a special place in the construction and fiber of every society– Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern. Way before the prophets of the Old Testament, Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, recorded the “lofty status of mothers before the shrine of Ahoura-Mazda . . .” In the writings of Cyrus the Great, the liberator of Jews from Babylon, who reigned nearly 2600 years ago, he repeatedly insisted that “The wisdom and love of mothers should be employed in all ranks and posts of the government…”

Mothers indeed were more than slaves who cooked and kept the children clean. In the court of Cyrus the Great, there were many mothers as high functionaries and Viziers (ministers). In the personal notes of Benjamin Franklin, credited for founding US Postal Services, he refers to Cyrus the Great the inventor of the postal service, and his first Postmaster General who was a woman by the name of Mithra.

In biological terms, the relationship between a mother and her fetus is unique and unparalleled. This is the ultimate in intimacy: fusion of two human beings, loving, protecting and nurturing of one person, the fetus, who is in the process of becoming, by another person, the mother. A pregnant woman–prospective mother– offers such an in depth and stirring example of “giving-of-one’s-self-totally-to-another” (altruism) that no psychiatrist or behavioral scientist has ever been able to fathom and explain. Freud has written much about women’s penis envy. I am afraid we men cannot have that ultimate form of intimacy in a relationship that women have. Only in recent years have we been looking at, and talking about, this form of ubiquitous pervasive envy that men unconsciously have, being blind to the fact that many men have womb (uterus) envy, that they hold for women.

Frankly, a pregnant woman is angelic in sight. The rich hormones estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and oodles of other corticosteroids make her soft, loving, lovable and pure. The mere appearance of a pregnant woman stirs all kinds of noble and altruistic feelings in others. We want to reach out and help, carry their baggage, compulsively ask about how far along they are, and many other brotherly and platonic gestures of love and compassion. I don’t know of any other sight that evokes more noble and altruistic feelings in mankind than the sight of a mother-to-be.

Mothers are saints. Have you noticed that at times of extreme stress, even the most powerful people immediately think of their mothers? This is almost a reflex reaction as commonplace as the knee jerk. When Napoleon Bonaparte was captured in Russia, he cried vociferously, “ou es tu, maman? . . .” “Mother, where are you?” In our own era, when the late former President Nixon was forced out of office, while almost crying, he spoke of “my mother was a saint …”, while 100 million people watched on TV. Much attention has been paid to this fairly inappropriate remark. However, it was most appropriate; because at the time of stress we tend to call on our most intimate and powerful friends. One’s mother, at the time of total impotence and distress is indeed the most intimate powerful and rescuing force.

Being a mother is the most important job on earth. It is also the least rewarded and the least recognized job by the western societies. It takes the nurturing, the selflessness, the staying up all night, the love and care of a mother to raise a child. No creature, under any circumstance, gives so much, so unselfishly, so constantly as does a mother.

My own mother, with whom I share the same birthday died in 1994 at the age 101. Kobra, who was always called Janbibi– means BiBi or Lady of the world-was never, ever, by any one in our family called by her given name Kobra, which would have been blasphemous–loved life. She loved music, dance, poetry, singing, chansons, and parties. And yes, she loved to travel. Like her parents, she, too, fed the poor and there were regular intervals when they made rice and lamb and served them in huge copper trays to the masses that would come to their vast court yard. Our mother was equally serious about knowledge, learning, education, and studying. She had us all memorize Hafez, Saadi, Rumi and of course, the Holy Quor’an. Right up to the last days of her life, when I would talk to her on the phone, after the preliminary exchange of greetings she wanted to know “What did you learn today?” or “What are you reading today?”…

A Personal Note

One of the myriad of things my mother has done for me is to sharpen my sense of observation and awareness. Often when climbing stairs together, when we reached the top of the stairs, she would say “Agueh gufti tchand ta pelleh? Can you tell me how many steps? We travelled together much and she counted the steps in all places- we climbed the 898 steps to the top of the Washington Monument; we climbed the 710 steps of Eiffel Tower in Paris, not only once, but several times. We climbed the 387 steps from Notre Dame Cathedral belfry to the top of the South Tower and the 354 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty in NY, not to mention the 463 steps going up to the top of Duomo in Florence, Italy and the 285 steps separating the upper hilly Buda and the lower Pest, in Budapest, Hungary, just to name a few adventures…

Well, my mother’s gift, in addition to the gift of medical education which puts extremely high value on observation and encourages paying attention to detail of what one sees, as well as memorizing facts, have made me a quite aware human being. We (my brothers and sisters) have all read the Holy Quor’an over and over. Do we know how many times the name Allah has been invoked in the 114 Surahs –2,698 times. How many times the name Buddha is invoked in Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book? Do we know how many words are in the 66 books of the Old and the New Testament, especially in the 1611 King James Translation? In the Old Testament there are 593,493 words and 181,253 in the New Testament giving a total of 774,746 words in the 66 books. I know many members of our families have travelled extensively. Well, in celebrating my heritage, I have set out to count the number of times the names of the Kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible. The result is astounding. Isaiah is the best press for the Old Persian kings. For example, Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the doings of King of Persia whom they called Messiah. Isaiah is pure PR and good press for the liberator King of Persia…In the book of Esther 3, Haman, assistant or Vizier to King of Persia, Ahashuerus, who hated Mordecai, shows how the wise king handled the dispute…At any rate according to my count there are dozens of references to the Kings of Persia in the Bible. The origins of the Persian months starting with Nisan (see my Monday Musings for Nowruz, March 21, 2017 which lists all the months of the Old Persian calendar) are all recorded in the Old Testament.

Today, as I recall my mother and with intoxication and spiritual élan, I celebrate that lady’s birthday. I wish all to be infused with love of knowledge, love of wisdom, love of sensitivity to the needs of others with beneficence and altruism. That would satisfy Kobra Meymandi, our Janbibi, and our Lady of The World. She was a magnificent teacher and learner. Right up to the last moment, she sang and wrote poetry. She had faith in herself, in her God and in her children.

Salute to all mothers.

Kobra Hanjari Meymandi died in 1994 at age 101. The Raleigh Concert Hall, home to the North Carolina Symphony which opened on February 21, 2001, was named for her.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a dramaturge. Received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On America…

Monday Musings for Monday April 29, 2019
Volume IX, No. 17/434

constitution_quill_pen

The Beautiful and Exceptional America

And What to Do to Make It More Beautiful

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

I grow impatient and intolerant of those who malign America. Contrary to some men who “damn America”, I believe that God has blessed America. Eric Sevareid, one of the most respected commentators and sages of the fifties and sixties television, when the monster box had some redeeming features, said that if you open up the gates of all countries in the world and allow people to go where they please, they would choose USA and Germany. Things have changed very little since the 1950s. People from all over the world want to come to America. The tsunami of immigrants, while horrifying and threatening, also points out the desirability of American citizenship. America, in spite of all the bad press, declining dollar, looming financial depression, remains a beacon, a bright beacon, for liberty lovers and freedom seekers. Also, America’s strong diversified and vast economy provides possibilities, promises and opportunity for self fulfillment. A friend who recently visited Mexico tells that in some villages and small towns, there are no men, only women and children. Their men are in America working and sending money home!..

America is decent because unlike Pax Romana that conquered, destroyed and gorged smaller nations, in an unprecedented manner in the history of Neolithic man, uses its power to bring justice, democracy and equality to mankind. What country on earth would change from bigotry and prejudice prevalent in the fifties to have a black and a woman as front runners of a major party? Where on earth offers its immigrant citizens the opportunity to meet their maximum potential educationally, spiritually, socially, financially and emotionally. It is astonishing to see the son of an immigrant Kenyan as a US Senator and possibly the next US President. America and American scientists tamed the wild killer of the early 80’s, Autoimmune deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, and now working on a cure, all in fewer than 30 years. These are the unparalleled attributes of America, a nation of immigrants that is nowadays so undeservedly maligned. Looking at the election of a president in Kenya where opponents fight with bullets killing and stranding thousands of innocent citizens should give us reason to be grateful for our system of debate and ballot over guns and bullets. America’s supremacy of “the rule of law” is the envy of the world.

However, what is scary and threatening is the deterioration of America’s values and culture. Values that God through a deliberate plan commissioned the founding fathers of our country to devise, articulate and enshrine the US Constitution, values like the supremacy of rule of law, like primacy of education, pedagogy and patriotism and personal responsibility. Alas, these values are being gradually replaced by a culture of dependency, martyrdom, victimhood and entitlement and politicians who encourage the erosion of America’ values by promising more and more and rewarding the delinquent behavior of self indulgence

What to do to make America better?

The answer is rather simple. As a nation we must emphasize education. Education and education alone, can/may rescue poverty stricken children living in the depth of a segregated neighborhood in large cities such as NY, Detroit, Michigan, marred by drugs, gangs etc., to become engineers, neurosurgeons and successful politicians. Reviewing statistics from the US Department of Labor show that America is producing fifty thousand engineers a year, while we need 350,000. How much longer can we import engineers form Bangalore, China and other developing nations. We are NOT producing nearly enough scientists. America ranks below Ethiopia and Somalia in math and basic science tests, and we do not know much about our own history, language, arts, and basic humanities that connect us with the rest of the world. Look at our daily newspapers, the sport section is the fattest, followed by the entertainment section. We reward coaches with enormous salaries and perks, often in the millions. Yet a dedicated professional teacher who trains and prepares our children for college education makes a meager salary and is often unable to make ends meet. We need a massive and lowd wakeup call to correct these flaws .

Finally, I believe every American child ought to memorize the 7200 words of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers and GW’s 6091-word-Farewell-address to gain an appreciation for the responsibility of being and American. These four documents are the civic catechism of our beloved nation and, in my view, every child by 9th or 10th grade, ought to memorize them.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is the recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.

 

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On the English Language…

Monday Musings for April 22, 2019
Volume IX, No. 16/433
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Love Affair with the English Language

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

We cannot let April go by without sharing a few personal memories. The memories have to do with my choosing to come to America and study medicine, among other things. You see, I was not born an American. I chose to be an American. I entered the US on April 7, 1955 knowing ten English words. In order to go to college and prepare for a medical education, I knew that I had to learn English rather quickly. In months between April and September, when college opened, I memorized the 285,000 words of the 1955 edition of the Oxford Dictionary. Later, I expanded this knowledge and learned the etymology of practically every one of those words. Soon, I learned that Dr. Samuel Johnson, exactly 200 years before my date of entry, namely April 7, 1755, had compiled the first English Dictionary. The very first edition of the Oxford Dictionary was compiled in 1857 a la Dr. Johnson’s original compendium. I found a copy of that precious book through the Library of Congress. The edition contains 50,000 words. I enjoyed memorizing it, also, and forming an adoring relationship with the work of the late Dr. Johnson. As an aside, the original Dr. Johnson’s 50,000 word dictionary was a part of the personal library of Thomas Jefferson sold to US Government, which became the germinating seed of our beloved US Library of Congress.

Three years were spent in college pre-medical education with majors in English and Chemistry. I entered medical school in 1958. In 1962, exactly seven years after coming to the US, I had earned Doctor of Medicine (MD).

My intense experience with the English language brought me close to much older and wiser linguists and university professors. Among them was the late Samuel Hayakawa, the then Chancellor of San Francisco State University, who in 1977 became A US Senator from California. He used to get a kick out of my referring to him as the semi-somnolent septuagenarian, Senator Samuel Hayakawa. I wrote a letter to Hayakawa, and to our own, then Senator, Jesse Helms, who also knew something about my love of the English language, suggesting that they sponsor a bill to make English the official language of America. I even sent some money to facilitate expenses associated with the authorship of the bill, etc…I believe it was 1979 when they invited me to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee. It never tool place and the bill never passed.

In my testimonies, instead of concentrating on the importance of the subject matter, the solons enjoyed my ability to close my eyes and recite page after page of the Oxford Dictionary, “octave, octennial, octet, octillion, octillionth, October, octodecimo, octogenarian, octomerous, octoary, octoploid, octopod, octopus, octoroon, etc…”

With all my emotional and intellectual resources, I believe making English the official language of America is the most important issue in today’s political discourse. As citizens of this great nation, we must know about our flag, our Founding Fathers and the US Constitution. I believe that to be an American, one must know the English language, know the bare essentials of the US Constitution, our Republic, the Bill of Rights and the story of the birth of this nation. What are the requirements to be an American? In my view, the catechism of being an American should consist of a good knowledge, if not verbatim memorization, of four documents. They are the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address.

Please feel free to call on me and use me as a reference to further this, what I consider to be a holy cause.

God Bless America!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is the recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.

 

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On Maculloch’s “Christianity…”

Monday Musings for Monday April 15, 2019
Volume XIX. No. 15/432
bible
The Bible

A Special Book for Easter

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

Christianity, The First 3000 Years
By Diarmaid MacCulloch
1184 pages
Viking
$40.00

Happy Easter and joyous reading!

Introduction

Faithful readers recall the review of Paul Johnson’s Book History of Christianity, 600 pages long, which we presented previously. In that book, the author has favored Reformation, Martin Luther, and Protestantism. We now have another colossal work, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 1184 pages, Christianity, The First 3,000 Years, in which one detects strong anti-Catholic bias. However, undeniably, the book is a landmark in its field, astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight and points of interest for the general reader. It is not the over-illustrated coffee-table type book you might expect. The book is scholarly, dense, yet written in a readable and engaging style, but not as well written as Plato’s Republic or Edward Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. The impressive volume provides an excellent overview of Christianity. It is most appropriate reading for Easter.

The book begins with Judaism and Greek philosophy, giving the background to the remarkable historical phenomenology of Christendom. It is prodigious, thrilling, and gives the reader a master class of a history without leaving one’s chair. MacCulloch is to be congratulated for his accessible handling of so much complex and difficult material. This is a book generous in detail and sound in judgment. It fills the gaps that heretofore existed in history of religion.

The Content

The book consists of seven parts. The first part is about “A Millennium of Beginnings” (1000 BCE-100CE). In this part the history of the Greek beginnings, Rome and the coming of the Roman Empire are discussed.

In the second part Israel (100-1000 CE) is examined. The second part, “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”, examines the lives of Jesus, Paul, Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and the Jewish Revolt and the End of Jerusalem, and finally the Imperial Church, Constantine and Papacy.

In part three, “Vanishing Futures: East and South (451-1500)”, a close examination of Asia and Africa, church fathers such as Saint Augustine of Hippo, emergence of Islam in 620 CE, the Church of China, Mongols and Islam in Africa are scrutinized.

Part four, “The Unpredictable Rise of Rome” (300-1300), the making of Latin Christianity, Latin Christendom and “The church of All People” are painstakingly dissected.

Part five, “The Imperial Faith” (451-1800), the emergence of the new Rome, Orthodoxy and the Russian Church are examined.

Part six “Western Christianity Dismembered” (1300-1800), Martin Luther, Reformation, Papal monarchy, Wittenberg and Luther’s 95 questions/theses, and other reformers are discussed.

Part seven, “God in the Dock”, (1492-present), the author examines the Age of Enlightenment, Judaism, Skepticism, and Deism, crowning the section with a more precise dissection and deeper understanding of the roots of religion in America’s deep south. It also gives the reader an understanding of evangelical fervor and culture wars. The book has 67 illustrations, maps and paintings. The text is 1014 pages, the alphabetically arranged notes are 89 pages, and 49 pages of index, plus introduction, totaling 1185 pages

The title of the book, Christianity, the First Three Thousand Years, is fascinating if not intellectually challenging. We know that Christianity is only 2000 years old. Where does the author get 3000 years of Christianity? At first glance, the reader knows not whether the author is going to address 1000 BC to today or from the beginning of Christianity until one thousand years from now. Well, in this review I will attempt to answer that very question. The title refers to the former, one thousand years before Christ until today. The author skillfully documents that there was Christianity before Christ. There was a Socrates whom many historians and theologians including Soren Kierkegaard call Saint Socrates. As a matter of fact, Soren wrote his PhD thesis “On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates”. Soren was a Socrates “groupie”! We know that Socrates is exalted because of his reverential devotion to teaching enlightenment to his young students for which he was accused, tried and executed. MacCulloch’s “alternative” religious history, favoring the Catholic Church, holds that Christianity really began 3000 years ago. He asserts that before Christ there was a Jewish God, Yahweh, and a Greek God. There were prophets such as the Persian prophet Zarathustra and there were other prophets of the Old Testament Bible such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, etc., all of whom he calls precursors to Christianity which came on the scene 2000 years ago.

MacCulloch devotes considerable space to examine how Christianity has spread throughout the globe. He follows this spread, starting with the origins of the Hebrew Bible, tracing the three main religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, filling in often neglected accounts, including conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. He also explains the Crusades. Further, Mr. MacCulloch looks at the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England to the southern plains of America. In his book, MacCulloch explains that Christianity, one of the world’s great religions, has had an incalculable impact on human history. In a systematic manner, the author devotes several chapters to the main ideas and personalities of Christian history. As cited above, other chapters are given to the organization and spirituality of the church, and how Christianity has changed politics, sex, and human society. The author’s range of discussion spans from Palestine in the first century to India in the third; from Damascus to China in the seventh century; and from San Francisco to Korea in the twentieth.

Global History of Christianity

In my view this huge volume is the first truly global history of Christianity. This formidable compendium is the most comprehensive and up to date single volume work in English that presents the development of Christian history differently from any of its predecessors. The author shows how, after a semblance of unity in its earliest centuries, the Christian Church divided during the next 1400 years into three increasingly distanced parts, of which the western Church was by no means always the most important. He observes that at the end of the first eight centuries of Christian history, Baghdad might have seemed a more likely capital for worldwide Christianity than Rome. He concludes that all in all, Christianity is a landmark in the history of the faith that continues to shape the world.

It is comforting to have MacCulloch’s complementary history of the Christian Church. MacDiarmid MacCulloch is a better writer than Paul Johnson, and his book is a lively and entertaining effort. On the downside, unfortunately, there is a strong anti-Catholic bias throughout his work which is even more disturbing than Johnson’s pro-Catholic stance. In fact, there are several passages in the book that almost give you the impression that MacCulloch must have been writing them with a permanent sneer on his face. In summary, if you are English and Protestant and believe that the best thing that happened to England was the Reformation, then you will probably love this book. If not, the author’s multiple biases and prejudices will probably grate on you. I consider the book a triumphantly executed achievement.

Strengths and weaknesses of this very impressive and comprehensive text are many. I have read Edward Gibbon’s “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” starting in my native tongue of Farsi then in French and finally in English, many times. Gibbon’s English syntax is delicious reminding the reader of lyrical poetic writings of Plato in Republic. Well, I found the use of language in this book to be dry and matter of fact. The syntactic enjoyment is lacking! On the other hand I learned more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire by reading this book, than reading Gibbon’s work. Another weak or prejudicial point is that I found references are lacking or outright non-existent. The scholarly world knows that the father of Skepticism is Al-Ghazali, (1058-1111), the Persian poet, theologian and philosopher. Yet in Part seven of the book, discussion of Skepticism, there is no mention of either Al-Ghazali or Al-Farabi (870-950).

Finally, to the members of my family and close friends who received this review in advance, I wrote “If you want a delicious book, a feast of a book, a sumptuous and exciting intellectual and spiritual banquet for you and for your family, this book is it!—especially if you read it along with Paul Johnson’s book either back to back or simultaneously—“ Another attraction the book has for me is that it is about the Bible, a book which I truly enjoy and admire. In a recent interview for a national magazine, the interviewer’s last question was

“If you were forced to live on a deserted island and were allowed to bring one book, one selection of music, and one piece of artwork, what would they be?”

Book That book has not been written. It would be a book containing the genomic display of all the biblical (Old and New Testaments) characters including Christ. If it is not written by the time I am assigned to a deserted island, I will take pen and paper to write it myself. Nobel Laureate, Craig Venter, whose book I have reviewed in this space, has given us a taste of that venture. Since I have not written that book and it is not yet available, I guess I will settle for the Bible, an amazingly comprehensive and complex book. For example, there are 114 references to King Cyrus of Persia alone in the Bible (see Isaiah 45 where Cyrus the Great is called Messiah).

Music: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece of transcendent theology, musical genius, bringing the message of hope, promise, possibility and redemption to all humans. I have already devoted space to dissecting this truly miraculous opus magnum.

Art: Pietà, by Michelangelo.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine(1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

 

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On Bonhoeffer…

Monday Musings for Monday April 8, 2019
Volume IX. No.13/428
Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – His Legacy of Noble Writing, Justice and Moderation

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

We could not let April to pass without remembering the phenomenal life of theologian/musician/polymath Detrick Bonhoeffer:

Seventy three years ago, April 9, 1945, on a gray morning during Easter week, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged. He was 30. Germany was on the verge of total defeat. But Hitler’s killing machine was still operating. Bonhoeffer was charged as a traitor to Hitler and to the Nazi regime. We are dedicating today’s “Monday Musings” to honor the memory of this outstanding scholar, theologian, Lutheran pastor and writer. Bonhoeffer was the son of a well to do and prominent German neurologist, professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and the director of the psychiatric clinic at Charité Hospital in Berlin, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer. Dietrich, with his twin sister, were the fifth and sixth of eight children. His mother, Paula von Hase, was a daughter of Klara von Hase, a Countess by marriage who had been a pupil of Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt Paula was a college graduate and home-schooled the children. The family was full of classical musicians and music advocates. He was in America in 1930, and later pastored miners and common people in Barcelona as a pastor and not academic theologian. He was interested in ecumenism. He concentrated on removing and neutralizing Hitler and his despotic regime.

Dietrich was an exceptional pianist, and his parents thought he might pursue a music career. He was also athletic and played championship tennis and chess. He was expected to follow his father into neurology and psychiatry, but he surprised and dismayed his parents when he decided by age of fourteen to become a theologian and later a pastor. When his older brother told him not to waste his life in such a “poor, feeble, boring, petty, bourgeois institution as the Church”, 14-year-old Dietrich replied: “If what you say is true, I shall reform it!” What we learn from his later life, he was a martyr, too. Just like Socrates who had a chance to escape the prison where he was awaiting death sentence on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, Dietrich, too, had a chance to accept the help of the World Council of Churches and flee to US. But he did not. He waited his trial, spending two years in jail before his execution. During his time in jail, he wrote a series of articles and treatises about human rights and humanities that approach Socratic dialogues in their eloquence and Plato’s Republic in the beauty of poetry and linguistic supremacy.

From prison, he also wrote love letters to his twin sister. The collection of these letters and the ones written to other members of his family and friends provide superb reading to understand the potential strength of conscience and man’s devotion to the truth. And the truth to him was that the Nazi Regime was despotic in need of elimination. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. However, recent research now challenges the assumption that he was directly involved in the assassination attempt. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world is well-known. He did not advocate theocracy, but strongly suggested that humanity ought to be governed by laws that are fair, righteous and moral. As a matter of fact, the last thing he did before approaching the gallows, he was reading from his pocket edition of Plutarch, and was quoting from Bible. Faithful readers of this space recall that we reviewed Plutarch book “Moralia”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was reading passages from that book before his execution.

Bonhoeffer has written 25 books all worth reading and re-reading. From the collection, I find myself going back to two volumes, Act and Being. Like any classic literature, Bonhoeffer’s writings have a theme, are written with elevated and noble language, and change the lives of the readers. His pen continues to speak to us today. There are a number of credit worthy biographies of Bonhoeffer in circulation, the latest of which is by Eric Metaxas. Eric’s writings are insightful.

dad_sig_pic*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Haydn…

Monday Musings for Monday April 1, 2019
Volume VI, No. 12/427

HaydnPlaying

Joseph Haydn Playing Quartets, Anonymous

 

THINKING THINGS THROUGH

THE MIRACLE OF FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN

Happy Birthday, Papa Joseph!

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon.), DLFAPA*

We tried to be on time celebrating Maestro Franz Joseph Hayden’s birthday, but we are a day late. Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732. Those of us Haydn-lovers celebrated his 287th natal anniversary. Here is some reflection on one of my most favorite Haydn pieces, The Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross (German: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze). What is not very well known is that Haydn was a great writer and story teller. I am going to let the maestro himself tell the story of how the piece was created:

“Some fifteen years ago I was requested by a canon of Cádiz to compose instrumental music on The Seven Last Words of Our Savior On the Cross. It was customary at the Cathedral of Cádiz to produce an oratorio every year during Lent, the effect of the performance being not a little enhanced by the following circumstances. The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the center of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. My composition was subject to these conditions, and it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to succeed one another without fatiguing the listeners; indeed, I found it quite impossible to confine myself to the appointed limits.’” We know that the seven main meditative sections—labelled “sonatas” and all slow—are framed by an Introduction and a speedy “Earthquake” conclusion, for a total of nine movements.”

The priest who commissioned the work, Don José Sáenz de Santa María, had reconditioned the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, and paid Haydn in a most unusual way – sending the composer a cake which Haydn discovered was filled with gold coins. “The Seven Last Words” was written in 1786 when Haydn was 54 years old. It debuted in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and of course Spain, a year later in 1787, when he was 55 years old,. Haydn specialists believe that composing The Seven Last Words had a penetrating and lasting effect on Haydn. From his symphony number 88 composed in 1787 onto his last symphony number 104, musicologists such as Joseph Kerman, suspect that he used phrases from The Seven Last Words of Christ. It had a lasting and tendentious effect on him and the architectonics of his subsequent compositions. Such was the power of Easter as an epoch making phenomenon deeply effecting Papa Joseph, a deeply religious man and composer. Besides being an unappalled symphonist (composed 104 symphonies), and prose writer Haydn was a prodigious opera composer. His 14 operas are a part of the repertoire of many opera houses including La Scala and the Met. Our own Raleigh WCPE, Classical Music station played his opera number six, L’infedeltà delusa (Deceit Outwitted) debuted in 1773, on Thursday March 31, Haydn’s birthday.

Haydn was one of three boys born to Mathias Haydn and Anna Maria Koller. His father was a master wheelwright who loved music. He played the harp, while Haydn’s mother sang the melodies. Anna Maria was a cook for Count Karl Anton Harrach before she married Mathias. Haydn’s brother, Michael, also composed music and became relatively famous. His youngest brother, Johann Evangelist, sang tenor in the church choir of the Esterhazy Court. The entire family was musical. Apple falls not far from the tree…

Joseph was according to most psychobiographers and musicologist, such as respected Maynard Solomon and Joseph T. Kerman, was a ”good” and least neurotic person. He had an ordinary childhood. At age 8, he was recruited to sing in the choir at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he went on to learn to play violin and keyboard. With the onset of adolescence and change of voice he had to leave the choir. He supported himself by teaching and playing the violin, while studying counterpoint and harmony. Haydn soon became an assistant to composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons, and in 1761 he was named Kapellmeister, or “court musician,” at the palace of the influential Esterházy family, a position that would financially support him for nearly 30 years. Isolated at the palace from other composers and musical trends, he was, as he put it, “forced to become original.” This is a good example of Haydn’s humility and self-effacing mannerism.

Maestro Haydn was open, generous, welcoming, encouraging, enhancing, and growth promoting to his students, friends and even strangers. He and Mozart, 24 years his junior, were good friends. Haydn often bragged on Mozart and encouraged Mozart’s creativity and genius. Haydn, often astonished by Mozart exclaimed to Leopold Mozart, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” Haydn also was a teacher to Beethoven, a sordid story which will be told later. Beethoven was a habitual liar and cheated Haydn out of tuition fees and sums of monies that Haydn had loaned him when he was in financial despair. In spite of all Beethoven’s psychopathic behavior, Haydn would write letters of recommendation and welcomed his incorrigible student to his home giving him dinners and clothing. This was an example of Haydn’s generosity. Haydn’s mortal anniversary is May 31, 1809. He was 77 years old.

As an aside in more contemporary times, a good parallel to Haydn’s largess and generosity is Alexander Borodin, the Russian composer (November 12, 1833 to February 27, 1887) and Professor of Biochemistry and Medicine, who often ended up at night sleeping on the floor or on the couch because his friends, colleagues and students would be occupying his house and spending the night after dinner while the professor was making teaching rounds at the hospital and working in his biochemistry laboratory.

As a psychiatrist, I discourage excesses and addictive behavior. But it is quite alright to develop a reckless passion for the arts, opera, and classical music. Get addicted to Papa Haydn’s 14 operas and 104 symphonies. Happy birthday to Maestro Franz Joseph Haydn! We love you.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On Nowrooz…

Monday Musings for March 18, 2018
Volume IX, No.11/426

persepolis

                                   Persepolis

 

Nowruz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon)), DLFAPA*

NOWRUZ

Three days hence, Wednesday March 21, marks the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. Yes, March 21, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. On Thursday March 21, 2019 Iranians celebrate year 5780. My sources in Tehran tell me that most of the 70 plus million Iranians who were mostly pleased with the nuclear accord signed by Iran and US to lift the sanctions, giving the Iranians the best New Year’s present.  Alas, the present administration took it all away and resumed saevere sanctions on Iran. Iranians feel that the nuclear accord was a good new year present (in Farsi, Eidee). However, no matter what, the Iranians are not going to let anything spoil the festivities. The Persian people are used to political vicissitudes and domestic extremes. After all, the Persian civilization (the Medes) was there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship notwithstanding)……

The Persians were there before the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian law code, was written in 1772 BC.

Persia, the Persian Empire and Zoroaster gave humanity monotheism, and issued the first declaration of human rights. Persia was there before the Old and the New Testaments….

Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gatha and the Book of Gushtasb by Zarathustra before Moses wrote about Yahweh….

The Zoroastrian code of conduct: “Good thought, Good word, and Good deed” was there long before the Ten Commandments…

Cyrus the Great of Persia liberated the Jews 500 years BC (Babylonian Captivity). There are dozens of references made to him and to the Persian Empire in the Bible. In Isaiah 45 Cyrus is named Messiah. Additional references may be found in Chronicles, Ezra, Daniels, Hezekiah, Maccabees 1, Maccabees 2, Maccabees 3, Maccabees 4, Maccabees 5, Esdras, Sirach, and Esther

The world’s first charter of human rights, Cyrus Cylinder, housed in the British Museum, completed its American tour three years ago. It was exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist) and J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, before returning back to the British Museum. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (image below).

America has a special historical link with Persia. When the founding fathers were contemplating the architectonics of the US Constitution and the relationship between the central/federal government and the 13 colonies, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin referred to the Persian Empire, and copied the form of Persian government, a Republic, where individual states are sovereign and autonomous. Also, Benjamin Franklin copied the ancient Persian postal service and adopted the Persian mail system (Peyk).

Persia’s contribution to music has been vast and innumerable. Let me illustrate one. No matter where in the world a symphony is playing when the concertmaster enters the symphony hall to tune the orchestra before the maestro takes over, it is the oboe, a pure Persian instrument that gives the first note to guide the concertmaster to tune the orchestra. It is universal and with no exception. It is the Persian instrument, the oboe, that set the tune for the entire orchestra.

In more modern history, the late President Truman often in his speeches referred to Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire’s achievements.

The Persian New Year, vernal equinox, when the day and night are equal and exactly 12 hours long, representing nature’s exquisite justice, was celebrated 5780 years ago, in the month of Edar Yek (1) which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian New Year or Newruz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Nowruz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5780.

We are Persians; we are inheritors of such dazzling history and civilization…

.And with humility and gratitude, we share this joyous occasion with all humanity. Happy Nowruz (New Day, New Year) to all.

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                                                                                                  The Cyrus Cylinder

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He received Raleigh Medal of Art in 2001, inducted to Raleigh Hall of Fame 2013, elected Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony in 2015, and 2016 recipient of NC Award, Fine Arts.

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On a Few Observations

Monday Musings for March 11, 2019
Volume IX, No. 10/425

220px-RF_-_Houston_Texas_Medical_Center.2

Houston (TX) Medical Complex

 

Reflections By An Octogenarian

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

 One of the benefits of being around for a long time is that you get to know a lot about certain things.  I am past 80.  Here are some observations:

I  Taking Profligacy for Progress and Parsimony for Economy

Our nation’s profligacy, gluttony, avarice and self-pampering are amazing. We have 5% of the world population, yet consume about 30% of the world’s energy.  The offshore drilling proposal to endanger the already injured environment is to say the least preposterous. Politicians promise quick band aid solution to a gaping bleeding wound that is infected and need radical surgical intervention. The promise of cutting gasoline federal excise tax to give the consumer a “break” is absurd and gimmicky. Even a child can see through its disingenuousness. Similarly, with offshore drilling, you get more supply, and when you have more oil, conservation is thrown out of the window.  We will surely revert to our SUVs and gas guzzlers.  At least, the four dollar a gallon gas has elevated the epistemic threshold of conservation in all citizens.  In a way that is a blessing!

What this nation needs is the political will to invest some of the billions of dollars we spend every month in Iraq, to develop a sound and safe energy source such as hydrogen fusion from our vast oceans, and of course, harness energy from the sun.

Yes, America is blessed with the braIn power and scientific wherewithal to accomplish this goal within a short period of time. Let’s quit fooling ourselves and stop playing political games with the serious matter of further destroying our already fractured environment. Offshore drilling is an insult to our beloved America’s honor and values.

II  The Cost of Chemotherapy and the Terminally Ill

Medical care at the end of life consumes 10% to 12% of the total health care budget and 27% of the Medicare budget. Many people claim that increased use of hospice and advance directives and lower use of high-technology interventions for terminally ill patients will produce significant cost savings. However, the studies on cost savings from hospice and advance directives are not definitive. The three randomized trials show no savings from these interventions, but either they are too small for confidence in their negative results or their intervention and cost accounting are flawed. The non-randomized trials of hospice and advance directives show a wide range of savings, from 68% to none. Five methodological issues obscure the assessment of these studies:

(1) Selection bias in those patients who use hospice and advance directives.

(2) The different time frames of assessing the costs.

(3) The limited types of medical costs evaluated.

(4) The variability of reporting the savings.

(5) The lack of generalizability of the findings to other patient populations.

A more definitive study that assessed patients’ end-of-lifecare preferences, use of hospice and advance directives, and direct and indirect costs would be desirable. In the absence of such a study, the existing data suggest that hospice and advance directives can save between 25% and 40% of health care costs during the last month of life, with savings decreasing to 10% to 17% over the last 6 months of life and decreasing further to 0% to 10% over the last 12 months of life. These savings are less than most people anticipate. Nevertheless, they do indicate that hospice and advance directives should be encouraged because they certainly do not cost more and they provide a means for patients to exercise their autonomy over end-of-life decisions.

 III Hypocrisy and Greed of University Leaders

I am opposed to lowering drinking age in college as many, including 100 college and university leaders, promote.  While prohibition is often counterproductive, I believe the answer to binging, abuse and unreasonable use of alcohol is education. The answer also lies in curtailing greed and hunger for money. The University leaders ought to cut out advertising of beer from all collegiate telvised sports. It is sheer greed to have alcohol products sponsoring sports events, and it is sheer hypocrisy for the university leaders to tolerate this practice because it produces revenue for their institutions. Ban alcohol ads from all television sports.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.  He is the 2011 inductee to Raleigh Hall of Fame; 2015 Lifetime Trustee, North Carolina Symphony and 2016 recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.

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