On Potpourri: Literary Concerns

Monday Musings for Monday April 10, 2017
Volume VII. No. 15/327\

potpourri

Potpourri: Literary Concerns

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

 

The Birth of Existentialism

I am delighted to know that many of our readers are pleased with our occasional philosophical discourse.  After all, philosophy means literally “love of wisdom.”  Wisdom is not information, it is not knowledge; yet it is both of those, and more.

It is gratifying to receive reader’s mail who ask for more discussion of people who have made a difference in this world.  People like Soren Kierkegaard, born 1813, died 1855, a brilliant sarcastic, humorous and incredibly prolific thinker theologian/philosopher.  He, along with Martin Heidegger (1889-1976—I once went to Berlin to meet and talk with him), Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1950) and Albert Camu (1913-1960) are the four horses of Existentialism, all of whom give credit to St Augustine of Hippo for their start and cutting their teeth in understanding the basic premises and principles of existentialism… Soren used to write books pseudonymously, and then critique them harshly, calling the writer of the books, meaning himself, a no good “oeuf”…

A writer asked about Manicheans.  The reader was stimulated by my review of James O’Donnell’s Book on the life of Saint Augustine which appeared in WCP in this space.  Yes, Saint Augustine of Hippo for 14 years of his life, between ages of 18 (372) and 32 (386, the year he converted to Christianity) was a Manichean.  Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan on Easter morning 387.

Mani was a Persian. He was born and raised near today’s Basra which was a part of the Persian Empire.  The religion is heavily based on Zoroastrianism and Zoroaster (Zaratustra) dualistic approach to heaven and earth, good and evil, body and soul… He is purported to have gone to China and converted Turan Shah of China (Puccinin’s Turandot which is really Turan-dokht, the daughter of Turan) is based on this Emperor’s daughter.  Manicheans were sophisticated and learned.  They often ridiculed Christians and their ”faith.”  Manichians were highly educated, most master-rhetors, engaged in the art of persuasion, like today’s law professors. They believed in dualism, rationalism and materialism.  Augustine’s corpus of work contains19 volumes refuting Manicheans, Donatists, Palagirists and Arians. It makes for stimulating reading and ultimately giving reader a roadmap to true wisdom.

 Greed/Financial Dysfunction

I need help to understand a few things about our financial system. While stocks have lost about 50% of their value in one year, and many 401 K for the middle class American workers were wiped out, the salaries and compensations of the CEOs who caused this chaos went up. Let me quote some of these salaries from published statistics, US Department of Labor:

Lloyd Blankfein, Chair and CEO, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. received $68.0 million dollars in compensation, and when the company failed the federal government pumped in $10 billion dollars to rescue it.  Similarly, James Dimon, Chair and CEO, J. P. Morgan Chase & Co., $30.4 million in compensation and $25 billion government bail out; Kenneth Lewis, Chair, CEO, Bank of America Corp., $16.4 million, $25 billion; John Mack, Chair & CEO, Morgan Stanley, $16 million, $10 billion; Vikram Pandit, CEO Citigroup, Inc, $5.7, with $25 billion bail out;  William McGuire, Chair and CEO, UnitedHealth $40.7 million; and another Merrill Lynch high flyer, Peter Kraus, head of strategy, $25 million, just to name a few.

What I don’t understand and would like for someone to explain to me is how could these people run their companies to the ground, cause millions of their shareholders to have their retirements wiped out and yet be rewarded and the government, without shame, bailed them out?  Please help.

Health care disaster in US

Your recent lead editorial was timely and thoughtful. But it failed to identify one of the most egregious and unwelcome causes of health care crisis and cost over-run. And that is the  “middle man”, such as the HMOs and the health insurance companies.  These huge  business enterprises with elaborate bureaucratic staffs and CEOs reward themselves  with millions of dollars a year compensation, bonuses, and fatten up their  pockets with back dating stock options, clearly an illegal and fraudulent  act, are the problem.

Just three weeks ago, United Health ex-CEO, William McGuire,  agreed to pay back 30 million in annual compensation he had received, and  forfeit 3.7 million dollars in stock option backdating. The dollars  that go to boost shareholder value and reward these huge billion dollar companies  should be re-routed to patient care. These Enron-type companies coming between patients and doctors  are many in number. They are poisonous to medical care. I submit  that all health care ”middle man” business entities and health insurance companies  ought to be reined in, if not eliminated, if there is any hope for the  critically ill US health care system. Unfortunately, neither Presidential  candidate’s plan offers much hope.

The Gift of Pistachio and a Pinch of Sufism

This is a personal note.  I know that it should be handwritten. But legibility becomes a problem.  I am writing to tell you how touched I was to receive your thoughtful card with your inserted personal note bearing syntactical elegance and rabbinical wisdom (Rabbi from Aramaic and later Hebrew roots means ‘My teacher’.)

Also thank you for the gift of pistachios, every individual kernel depicting the Hafez poem” Pesteh Khandan.” Pistachios were known to Sumerians.  There are records in cuneioform (spike or Mikhi) alphabet what scholars have interpreted to be pistachio associated with green color.  Sanskrit word PESTEH is the etymology of our word pistachio.  During Achamenid Dynasty, in Persia, Shiraz became the center for growing groves of pistachio trees.  And in the pre-Islamic world, they used to ferment and make a wine from pistachio.  There was and continues to be to this day, one species of pistachio that actually opens in the pod/shell on the tree before they are picked.  They are called “laughing or smiling pistachios.”  The Shiraz poets such as Mosleh-Din Saadi (1210-1290) and Khajeh Shams-Din-Hafez (1337-1406) have romanced this species of pistachio as the smiling or laughing(KHANDAN) fruit.  As one can see, a cracked pistachio looks like a smiling face.

Saadi and Hafez were Sufis.  Sufi philosophy has given birth to the discourse and science of “ontology.”   For the last 1200 years, it has evolved the beatific message“to be in the world but not of the world.”  Sufism invites, encourages, and teaches the art and skill of “being” as a contradistinction of “doing.”  We need to set aside time for introspection and reflection…All one’s “doings” should be in the ultimate service of “being” and “becoming”….

Rumi, one of the most eloquent and influential Masters of Sufi in relation to ontology and being said: “Blessed are those who are in a state of constant worship….for the very act of worship is the essence is self-awareness and self-knowledge…”.  I must assert that Rumi is very much exploited by literary charlatans and marketers who pose as Rumi authorities, yet do not know a word of Farsi language!)

May your faces like Hafez’ Pesteh be Khandan, smiling and happy forever.

 Etymology of the word “religion”,

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and John Calvin (1509-1564), two disparate theologians of the 13th and 16th centuries, along with Persian physician Abu Ali Sina, Avicenna (980-1037), the famed medical diagnostician and clinician of the eleventh century have written independent treatises on the “religion.”  Here is a summary of their work on the topic

The etymology of the word “religion”, re-ligion”; re: again, ligating: binding, connecting (surgeons ligate veins and tie up arteries); thus, re-connecting, re-binding, re-attaching…what to what is the question. Perhaps to the beatific vision of eternity and transcendence of love…

 A Euro for Asia

The wire services just unloaded a very heart warming and personal story: Robert Mundel, Ragan’s Chairman of Economic advisors, father of trickle down Rageanonomics (Ibn Khaldoun ‘1332-1406’ was the real father, Robert Mundel was a promulgator!), but he was the true father of the “Euro”, the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Economics, is now back in the news.  He wants to foster or father the equivalent currency of Euro for Asi Asia.  The name has not been conceived. The Sultan of Abu Dhabi, owner of the multi-trillion dollar “Sovereign Fund” which has been rescuing American Banks and Financial institutions (including Bank of America, UBS, CitiBank, and Washington Mutual) is behind the effort.

A personal note: We had the privilege of having lunch with Dr. Mundel in his Palladian villa in Italy on Friday June 25, 1992.  It was a memorable occasion.

Joy of Death: Is it an oxymoron?

 Many years ago, Randy Pausch’s name was being considered by some members of the National Humanities Center Nominating Committee for membership to the Board before we learned that he was dying. I was fortunate to be in the audience when he gave his “Last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon.  It was a fascinating experience.  He was a picture of health. He did summersaults and push ups during his lecture, and at the conclusion of his speech, carried his wife off the stage. It is very sad that he died. Yet, it is glorious the way he lived and the legacy he left for us.  I am reviewing his book which will appear in a future issue of WCP.

The Dope on Cannabis

In response to a reader’s question about cannabis and alcohol:

The scholarship on cannabis and data-driven research on this controversial drug show that cannabis may and does affect not only the higher cortical structures but also the subcortical parts of the brain, what is known as the Limbic system, causing bipolar disorder (radical mood swings and irrational and impulsive behaviour) but actual psychosis. Alcohol has the same adverse effects on the brain through different pathways.  So, I really condemn both. I am absolutely against legalizing cannabis. I would be happy to give you reference to these studies. A drunken parent should not hypocritically admonish a pothead child.  It does not work. This is one of the astonishing teachings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the ultimate role model to humankind.  Although he was addicted to sex, after his conversion to Christianity and soon after becoming a Bishop, he had enough discipline to stop sex altogether. The same, I condemn tobacco and its ill effects on the body in general. However, I guess the reason tobacco is not banned is that it does NOT cause bipolar disorder and psychosis.  Some states are legalizing the use of cannabis because it is a cash cow and produces huge tax  revenues.

The ultimate answer to these problems is education which starts in utero.  Mamas must adopt Augustinian discipline to love themselves and their fetus(es), stop tobacco, alcohol and over-eating while they are pregnant, and continue to be role models to their children.

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 TV 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.
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