Tag Archives: Assad Meymandi

On MacCulloch’s “Christianity, The First 3000 Years”

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 30, 2015
Volume V. No. 13/221

bible

 A Special Book for Easter

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, 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 favoured 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 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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On the Culture of Ignorance

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 9, 2015

Volume V, No. 10/218

campaign

IGNORENCE: WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?

THE KIND OF A PERSON I WANT FOR MY PRESIDENT

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

We are 20 months away from the BIG election when the 45th US President will be chosen. Already the marketers of the business of politics are busy showcasing their wares. Last week at the meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC), we were given a glimpse of the 11 Republican contenders. They were Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio; colleagues, Drs. Ben Carson and Rand Paul; former Governors Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Jeb Bush; and current Governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal; along with former Senator/Ambassador Rick Santorum.

Our observation of the politician is often entertaining and fun. It is not a sin to be ignorant. Indeed most of us are ignorant about many things. What is sinful is to be told that one is wrong and the person refuses to right the wrong and learn from the experience. As of late, I have grown impatient with so many of our politicians and so called leaders whose knowledge of history is as short as the telomere at the end of their chromosomes. Yet, when they are corrected they refuse to acknowledge their error and continue defending their ignorance. Take the case of a nationally prominent politician, awhile back, in an interview with a TV reporter, she botched up Paul Revere history by saying “Paul Revere did warn the British” and bragged “I know my American history.” And in an earlier interview this politician had opined “Paul Revere who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

Another politician, a candidate for US Presidency, makes errors mixing up content, context, places, and people. In an interview, this candidate stated that “the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.” We know that this is not true. Historians, without exception, write that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others, owned slaves. But this candidate defended it, saying that one of the Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, worked throughout his life to end the evil practice. We know that John Quincy Adams was not a member of the Founding Fathers and he really did not work that hard to end slavery. And very high ranking office holder who glibly stated “using television, FDR did wonders communicating with people in his fireside chats.” There was no television in FDR days!

I am no fan of John Wayne or Elvis Presley. But I am a fan of historical accuracy. One presidential candidate said that the iconic movie star John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa (he is in fact from Winterset, Iowa), and wished the King, Elvis Presley “a Happy Birthday” in the middle of August. The fact is that Elvis was born on January 8 and died on August 16. It was not Elvis’ birthday.  When corrected she said “Let’s wish the King a happy birthday anyhow..” No apologies were offered.

These parapraxes, or slips of the tongue, though minor and of little apparent consequence, reveal deeper psychological conflict and characterological flaws. The attitude of “not knowing” and “not wanting to learn and correct one’s lack of knowledge” is very disturbing. It reveals a character that is flawed and a personality that is inflexible, arrogant, and unappreciative of the truth. It strongly suggests that the person has very little desire to grow.

What is Growth?

There are literally billions of words, millions of treatises, books, essays and elaborate explanation and disputation about the topic of psychological growth. Here is a summary of a workable definition: A growing person should or shall 1) To know more today than we did yesterday. That is intellectual and cognitive knowledge. Something we did not know yesterday but learned today. It is not experience we are considering. It is raw knowledge. Knowledge of words, languages, music, humanities, basic sciences etc.  When one goes to bed at night, one must take an inventory of one’s raw knowledge, and what one has learned that day. And if one does not come with a specific answer, one should get up and hit the encyclopedia and learn something new before he goes back to sleep  2) To be more loving and accepting of others today than yesterday.   3) To do fewer bad things today than one did yesterday. We all do bad things every day. A growing person is aware of all the bad things one does and tries not to repeat them, or do fewer of them. This is the powerful Pauline theology of hope, grace, faith, and redemption. To do fewer bad things every day…

What is  Love?

We spoke that a growing person ought to be more loving today than yesterday. Let us define love. By love it is not meant the erotic or filial love. The object of the discussion is Agape type of love. Agape type of love has three components, like a tripod:  1)  Not to be abusive to ones’ self, such as indulgence, gluttony, getting fat, risking cardiovascular disease, diabetes and back problems, use of tobacco, excessive alcohol and use and abuse of drugs, prescription or street drugs.  2) Not to be abusive to one’s fellow humans, such as family members, colleagues, patients and others. I have a hard time accepting the behavior of some of my colleagues who are not punctual and who make patients wait in their reception room and. 3) The third part of love is, not allow others to abuse you. “No” is an effective word to gently but firmly refuse the abuse aimed at you.

I want to have a President who is growing and loving. I do not want a President who is arrogant, narcissistic, and self-serving. I can find abundant tolerance for ignorance, but I cannot tolerate denying one’s ignorance.

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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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On Remaining True in the Face of Chronic Condition

Monday Musings” for Monday March 2, 2015

Volume V.  No. 9/217

Images from the November 2008 ASC Conference at the National Humanities Center

L-R Drs. Sacks, Meymandi, Harpham at NHC

When death comes calling, gratitude answers

BY OLIVER SACKS

New York Times News Service February 21, 2015

(Editor’s Note: We are devoting today’s ‘MM’ to the celebrated life of prominent colleague, neurologist Olives Sacks, author of many NYT best seller books. Dr. Sacks was a Meymandi Fellow, National Humanities Center, RTP in 2008).   

A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out – a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.


It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.”

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love. In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume’s few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued, “I am … a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.”

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume’s essay strikes me as especially true: “It is difficult,” he wrote, “to be more detached from life than I am at present.” Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.


This is not indifference but detachment – I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people – even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

 The New York Times

Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, is the author of many books, including “Awakenings.”

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*MM” is a weekly feature written by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, 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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On Gun Violence

“Monday Musings” for Monday January 12, 2015

Volume IV, No. 2/210

ban-guns

Gun Violence and Mental Health

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Recent terrorist attack and assassination of 12 journalists in Paris France prompts us to take another look of violence inflicted by availability of guns. It is not the purpose of this discussion to examine the barbarity of terrorist acts which not only kill people, but the freedom of speech. About a year ago, President Obama called the massacre of 20 innocent children and six adults on Dec 27, 2013, in Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, the worst day of his presidency. History tells us that every President since GW has had “a worst day”. For George W Bush it was September 11, 2011, for FDR it was Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. All our 44 presidents have has the worst day in their presidencies. It would be a meritorious project for some PhD history candidate to compile a volume on US President’s worst days. The December 27 occurrence could have been a turning point in the debate over guns in America. Knowing the history of gun violence, especially since the 1960s, University of Texas clock tower in Austin Texas, in the 70’s, the Kent State University Massacre, in the 80’s Cleveland School mass killing and the 90’s several schools including Columbine high school in Colorado, not counting mass murders in other facilities including temples, army bases theaters (Aurora, Colorado) and others. The numbers are staggering. But none was as gruesome as the Sandy Hook massacre. Every one seems to agree that these tragedies must end.

To understand the current status of gun control a bit of history is in order:

In the first week after Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Vice President Joe Biden chaired a task force to examine the issue  by holding extensive public hearings in which expert testimony was given by representative of American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Bar Association (ABA), and forensic authorities from academic centers. But the matter became quickly politicized. The National Rifle Association (NRA), Democrats, Republicans, advocates of the Second Amendment to the Constitution all began spinning in the media. Gun control advocates brought in an extensive agenda, namely tougher penalties for illegal gun sales, increase school safety programs, expanded background checks for gun buyers. They advocated keeping guns out of the hands of criminal and folks with history of mental illness. Republicans and NRA saw this as unnecessary interference by government. So a compromise was generated by Senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, focusing attention on background check. It failed.

Issues like gun violence control, abortion, and cloning carry within their constitutional DNA a huge dose of controversy. My focus in this essay is a dispassionate and analytic examination of separating the hype from reality and what cool heads and wisdom would suggest. In this debate mental illness has gotten a bad rap. The alleged connection between mental illness and mass violence is not supported by objective data and science. “Substantial research shows that the vast majority of people with serious mental illness never act violently, and the vast majority of violent crimes -96 % by the best available data-is not perpetrated by persons with mental disorder” said Paul Appelbaum, Past President of APA, Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. What we need to do is to face and design program of mental healthcare instead of warehousing the mentally ill in jails and prisons.

The APA position of which I am advocating is to appoint a presidential commission to develop a vision for a system of mental health care, creating a mechanism for facilitating responses to key mental health issues such as designating a White House point person, improving early identification of youth with mental health problems, and developing sensible, non-discriminatory approaches to ensuring that dangerous individuals cannot gain access to guns. Massive data are available showing that that people with mental illness who are engaged in regular treatment are considerably less likely to commit violent acts than those who need but do not receive appropriate mental health treatment..

Another expert testimony at the Vice-President Task Force was Dr Thomas Insel, Director of National Institute of Mental Health that “Suicide, not homicide, is the most urgent public health problem associated with gun violence. About 90% of suicides involved individuals with mental illness, and only 6 percent association with homicide.” Dr. Insel reported that “the popular association of homicidal violence and mental illness is tenuous at best, despite common public perceptions, there is little connection between gun violence and mental illness.”

What to Do Nationwide, and in NC?

To correctly describe the mental health system in NC and for that matter in America, is that it is a devolving, deteriorating non-system that oversees  jailing and imprisonment of mentally ill by the thousands. It does not have to be this way. For nearly 50 years, I have been involved in various capacities with the North Carolina mental health system. At no time have the services to and for our patients been as chaotic, sparse, and erratic as they are today. Fifty years ago in North Carolina we had a system in place that was truly superb. At the Dorothea Dix Hospital, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, patients had predictable, excellent, and academically cutting edge treatment available to them with ready access. We need commitment from Federal and State government with public-private partnership to revive what we had in the 50’s and the 60’s, namely, quick access to competent and accountable care. The steps being taken by UNC at Chapel Hill and WakeMed brokered by the President Tom Ross to provide 40 psychiatric beds is a good start. We need several hundred psychiatric beds for Raleigh-Wake County region where the population is rapidly growing.

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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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On the CIA Report and America

“Monday Musings” for Monday December 15, 2014

Volume IV.  No. 50/206

US-flag

Reflections on CIA Report

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The media is flooded with hype, exaggeration and politicized partisan opinions about the use of torture by CIA. Some reflections:

There is no question that America is a blessed nation, and America’s exceptionalism is globally recognized, if not accepted. If the gates are opened to all seven billion earth inhabitants, US and Germany would be the destinations of choice for most. Yet we constantly put down the decency and goodness of our beloved nation.

I grow intolerant of people who enjoy maligning America. Consider the case of Zimbabwe, a nation of 12 million oppressed and unhappy people, with vast natural resources including oil, coal, copper, zinc and platinum. Let’s consider and compare form recent history the government functions in US and the African nation of Zimbabwe.  In March 2008, an election was held in Zimbabwe. Morgan Tsvangirai was elected over incumbent Robert Mugabe, President since 1980 when the country became independent. Mugabe did not accept the election results. Violence ensued, and according to the BBC many thousands of Tsvangirai supporters have been killed, imprisoned and tortured. There was a runoff election June 27 which was named by many, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a “sham,” while Tsvangirai sought asylum in Danish Embassy, and of course, Mugabe won. Compare this to our electoral process in which Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, after 16 months of long and rigorous debates, came together in unity, for Hillary to declare her support of Obama. The occasion was a touching display of civility, cordiality and mutual respect.

Observing our democracy at work is enough to stir up the highest instinct of patriotism and devotion to America. As Americans, we enjoy the supremacy of the rule of law, and not the whims of a person, to guarantee our freedom. Our Founding Fathers, especially George Washington, set the tone for leadership in America. After serving his country for eight years of presidency, like the Roman political figure, Lucius Cincinnatus, Washington returned to his farm, and let others to lead and govern the nation.

As one citizen, I take tremendous joy and honor in being an American and am happy to pay my taxes to sustain the system.

Surely, America has flaws. But the goodness of our Republic gives us the opportunity to correct those flaws. We ended slavery with the sacrifices of fellow Americans who fought the bloody Civil War. We corrected Jim Crow laws by passing the Civil Rights legislation signed by the late President Lyndon B Johnson, a son of the South. We even purged the system from proven criminal activities and thinking of people like Richard Nixon, without missing a beat. Yes, America has flaws and from time to time engages in activities that stain the purity of our flag. But the stains can be cleansed and the pride of patriotism restored.

Those old enough recall one of the historic stains were the ill-conceived activities, in 1953, in Iran, of Richard Helms, the then CIA Director. CIA overthrew the democratically elected government formed by the late Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, returned the late Shah to power, established the much feared SAVAK and taught SAVAK agents how to torture Iranian dissidents in Tehran’s Evin Prison. We do not need to go to centuries past, not even the 1920’s to see right here under our noses, re-enactment of  Puccini’s Tosca, Baron Scarpia, Mario Cavaradocci, with the use of torture room, and sadistic agents who enjoy torturing. The 1953 action by Richard Helms was the seed that led to 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the imprisonment of the American Embassy officials for 444 days. Yes, America has a way of shooting herself in the foot. But we recover…We live with Puccini’’s verismo operas every day.

The recovery is through honest, transparent, and inclusive examination of our flaws and applying the correct remedies. America’s sovereignty is not only through excellence in technology, economic prosperity; but it is through our character, our humanity, and our moral leadership.

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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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On a Few Reflections and Observations

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 27, 2014

Volume IV, No. 43/143

170px-Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur

Potpourri of Reflections and Observations

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, 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. Also, it is gratifying to receive readers’ mail who ask for more discussion of people who have made a difference in this world, 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 Camus (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. This reader was stimulated by my review of James O’Donnell’s book on the life of Saint Augustine. 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’s (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) and 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.

AM

Greed/Financial Dysfunction

The market has rebounded from five years ago. S&P is back to new highs. The stock market is volatile but not in a doldrums. Several years ago, when depression and unemployment engulfed our nation, I wrote that I needed help to understand a few things about our financial system. Here is what I wrote: “While stocks have lost about 50% of their value in one year, and many 401 K for the middle class American workers have been wiped out, we see the salaries and compensations of the CEOs who have caused this chaos have gone 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 bailout; 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 bailout;  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 still 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. Today, five years later I do not believe any of these individual have been reprimanded.

AM

Editor, Psychiatric News:

The August 16 presidential column, Psychiatric News, interested me immensely. In her column, Dr Stotland made a point that the meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatry in London was modest, “using the meeting facilities of the inexpensive venue of the Imperial College has enabled the College to experiment with a meeting without pharmaceutical support…” She stated that “The meeting briefcases carried only the seal of the college…”

For decades, I have criticized the unholy and ethically unacceptable marriage of organized medicine and drug manufacturers. The unwelcome and greed-laden alliance of healthcare and pharmaceutical industries is an abomination. In recent months, we have learned that the scientists, writing papers in leading medical journals, have been sponsored by the drug makers. The Vioxx/Merck mess is a good example. Ghost authorship and ghostwriting occur even in our most trusted peer reviewed journals.

The late President Eisenhower, once in the late 1950s warned against the military-industrial complex. Now, the nation must be warned against the medical-pharmaceutical complex. It is ominous. Organized medicine and APA must find a way to fund their needs through Foundation moneys and not through revenues of advertisements by drug companies.  Also, physicians ought to buy their own lunches, their own pens and their own scratch pads. And they should not get their “medical education” from drug representatives but from rigorous engagement in continued medical education. We must cleanse the holy temple of medicine from these corrupt practices. Maybe Dr. Stotland will start us off on this much needed pilgrimage.

Sincerely,

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

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 cuneiform (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 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.

AM

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…

AM

A Euro for Asia

The wire services just unloaded a very heartwarming and personal story: Robert Mundel, Reagan’s Chairman of Economic advisors, father of trickle down Reageanonomics (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 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.

AM
Randy Pausch’s name was being considered by some members of the National Humanities Center Nominating Committee for membership to the Board before we earned 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.

AM

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 not only 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.

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. Greed spoils capitalism and private enterprise. Making money out of harming others by selling, cannabis, tobacco, alcohol,  and other harmful substances is immoral.

AM

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.

AM

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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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On the Importance of Music

Monday Musings for Monday May 12, 2014

Volume IV. No. 18/175

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The Mozart Effect

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

We have had a number of letters from young parents and prospective parents asking about the “Mozart effect”. As of late the media has been touting the notion that exposure to Classical music including of course Mozart’s music during pregnancy and early childhood makes the child smarter. The question requires some recollection of Mozart as a person, artist and genius; and some reflections:

Faithful readers of this space recall that Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was and remains one of the most enigmatic individuals of the 18th century. He was born on January 27, 1756. Before his death on December 5, 1791, he was in poor health. Throughout his short life he had smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism, gum disease, and possible cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, all caused by excessive use of alcohol and possible sexual indiscretion. Toward the end of his life, he had poor hygiene, most likely because of poverty, had to move in smaller apartment with limited accommodations and facilities.

Also, Mozart was enigmatic because of ineptness, inelegant personal conduct, and his lack of social grace. Yet in his operas, he demonstrates deep understanding of human nature. He takes us through a most complex circuitous labyrinth of psychological wonders that is humanly impossible. As I listen to his operas over and over again, I keep asking myself how did he know so much? For example, his opera King of Crete, Idomeneo, taking place 1200 BC, is an incredible psychological study of human possibilities, frailties, feelings and complex psychodynamics of behavior. Medical literature do refer to Mozart’s scatologia/lalia and coprophilia as symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, a neurologic disorder the victims of which experience uncontrollable urge to make foul noises and use curse words. Modern medicine has pinpointed the biochemical etiology of the disease, namely excess dopamine concentration in the basal ganglia of the brain. This condition is neuroendocrinologically the opposite of Parkinson’s disease where there is a paucity of Dopamine in the basal ganglia. There is no question that Mozart was a genius. Now, the question is can we make our children smarter by exposing them to Mozart’s music.

The myth of Mozart “the eternal child” invented by his father, Leopold, has been exploited for financial gain first by Leopold himself and later by music publishers in Salzburg and Vienna. Now 200 years plus after his death, the myth continues to be exploited by the media. Worship of Mozart is a major industry with billions of dollars involved. Commercialization of Mozart has attracted the best and also the most crooked brains in marketing, ballyhooing, and concocting false products. “The Mozart effect” is one of them. The notion that Mozart’s music, and for that matter classical music makes us smarter is a clever but false claim.

However, what Mozart and classical music do can be understood by explaining a bit of basic neurobiology. We have hard data to document that listening to classical and harmonically rich music prolong the life of the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (AcH) in the synaptic junctions of nerve cells (neurons), thereby making the basic thinking process more efficient. The same principle works when milking cows are subjected to prolonged exposure to classical music. The animals produce more milk. The explanation is that the animals produce more dopamine in their brain, leading to secretion of more prolactin and eventual production of more and higher quality milk. Classical music does not make the cows smarter. It does make the milking factory more efficient.

Yes, classical music and Mozart make a child’s mentation, perception and cognition more efficient. They do not make the child smarter. Also, families who are musically oriented and live in a rich intellectual and verbal environment create a better chance for their children to do better in school. Turn the television off. Read to your children and create a family environment enriched in music, books, arts, and robust conversation.

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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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On Controlling Anger- 4 Simple Steps

Monday Musings for Monday April 21, 2014

Volume IV, No. 15/172

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Preventing Anger From Erupting

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

(Editor’s note:  This article ran in the op-ed page of the Sunday May 25, 1980 edition of the Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC)

The recent eruption of the Mount Saint Helens volcano reminded me of how some people deal with their anger. Anger exists. Everyone needs to recognize, understand, and channel this ever-present emotion so that it does not become destructive. The fellow, who went to the Texas clock tower and gunned down 42 people several years ago, is a good example of how a human volcano can erupt, and indeed cause more destruction than a true volcano.

It is a serious and damaging condition not to be able to express anger. We either allow it to fester so when it is expressed it becomes explosive; we turn it inward so it turned into depression, ulcers and heart attacks; or we take it out on other people who did not cause it; or we learn to resolve it which is obviously the most reasonable and healthful way to deal with anger.

I am outlining four basic steps in resolution of anger. They are:

The first step is to recognize the anger. People often speak of being disappointed, frustrated or let down, or hurt when they are actually repressing anger. Also the anger may be denied because we feel guilty about it, that it is not nice or we are afraid to express it.

The second step in the resolution of anger is to recognize the real source of your anger. This may require professional help.

After you recognize your anger and know where it is coming from; the third step is to try to understand the reason for your anger. Some people feel so guilty about their angry feelings that they try to over-compensate or deny them. An example is the saccharin sweet person who is not really sweet at all but a bitter individual, and, because we sense this, we find such people uncomfortable to be with.

The fourth step is to deal with the anger realistically. A confrontation with the person provoking the anger may be reasonable.

A word about confrontation: When you try confrontation you should say “I am angry at the way you’re treating me” rather than “you are no good, you are evil and I am angry at you.” By verbalizing how the behavior is affecting you, you are not “wiping out” the other person, but making them aware of your feelings and clearing the air so that the bad feelings do not fester and turn into depression and ulcers. If confrontation is impractical or impossible, and you must put up with the situation, you should find other outlets for the energy. Some useful outlets are strenuous exercise, beating on a pillow, beating on a dummy or other inanimate objects, which does not affect damage. Whatever you do, don’t suppress your anger. It’ll turn into depression, ulcers, heart attacks, stroke, etc. Ninety-five percent of all hospital beds are occupied by folks who don’t have the simple skills of resolving their anger as outlined above.

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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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On the Eids of March

Monday Musings” for Monday March 31, 2014

Volume IV, No, 13,/169

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The Busy Month of March

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

March is a busy month. Many epoch-making occurrences took place in March including the back to back birthdays of Moses Maimonides of Cordoba on Mach 29, and birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach on March 30. We recently published a column reviewing Sherwin Nuland’s book on Moses Maimonides of Cordoba. It grieves me to report that the beloved brilliant Yale surgeon, scholar, author and chronically depressed Nuland died on March 3, 2014 at the age 83. Nuland, among his immense volume of writings, successfully demystified death. His illuminating and crisp writings covered many topics including the true meaning of being a Jew, chosen by God and all the burdens that goes with the privilege. Nuland, with whom I had the privilege of corresponding by e-mail, honored me by reading “Monday Musings” and commenting on some of them. He very much reminded me of another brilliant colleague, Pediatrician/author Walker Percy who was chronically depressed.

Perhaps the most significant date in March is March 15, the Ides of March. A word about the etymology of “Ides”- the word comes from the Aramaic and Farsi Eid meaning celebration, such as Eid –e-Fetr, the end of 30 days of prayer and fasting in the month of Ramadan. March 15 is Eid or celebration of approaching spring, having only one week to suffer the barbarity of the old and foreboding winter (March 21), vernal equinox on Julian calendar, the start of Persian New Year or here we go again Eid-e-Norooz (see March 17 Monday Musings). There are some other significant historical events which took place on Ides of March. Roman Republic ended and Roman Empire started on March 15. Cesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. Shakespeare’s reference to Caesar’s death “to beware of the ides of March” has given the ides of March black eyes…Perhaps this is the origin of modern day interpretation of “impending doom” that is superstitiously associated with March 15

March is the busiest month of the year admitting states to the Union: State of Ohio entered the Union on March1, 1803 (number 17), Nebraska on March 1, 1867 (number 37) Florida on March 3, 1845 (number 27), Vermont on March 4, 1791,(number 14), and Maine was admitted to the Union on the ides of March 1820 (number  23).

 Happy Birthday, Maestro Bach

To understand music one must study Bach. Should you, your children and grandchildren be interested in understanding the fundamentals of architectural construct of classical music, then you should read the magnificent writings of our good friend, the very talented journalist and dramaturge, Barrymore Lawrence Scherr. Bach (born March 30—some argue that he was born March 21, 1685; died July 28, 1750), has two seminal compositions, The Well Tempered Clavier, BOOK I, and The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II. Both books, 48 pieces altogether, give us the basics for minor and major notes, preludes, point and counterpoint, color, fugue, development, etc. Daniel Barenboim, Emeritus Conductor of the Chicago Symphony, plays all 48 pieces often in Carnegie Hall.  Check online and enjoy these delightful academic performances of baroque music, wrapped in rich cosmic bouquets that only Bach can produce.

 Music: Mankind’s Saviour

 The recent New York Metropolitan Opera performance of Mozart’s masterpiece, Idomeneo, was a good reminder that Mozart was an ordinary man with all the flaws and scars of alcoholism, syphilis (from Pamena of Magic Flute), kidney failure and periodic bankruptcy, with an extraordinary and truly God like mind to produce and write music of such complexity, architectural soundness of structure, yet immense sublimity and transcendence that is beyond any mortal person’s comprehension. The gift of Mozart is available to all lovers of music. This particular performance was super-special, because the international cast involved countries of Australia, England, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zeeland, and France. Our own Maestro James Levine, veteran Met Opera Music Director, and now conductor of the Boston Symphony, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, who conducted the feast, was America’s contribution. The virtuous performance of the star-studded cast and Levine’s skillful directing once again proved that music is the universal language of peace, understanding and love which may bring the message of brotherhood and connectedness to mankind.

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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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On a Few Thoughts

Monday Musings” for Monday March 24, 2014

Volume IV, No. 168

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On Magic, Memory, Wrong Diagnosis, Origin of Inoculation, and What to do for Depression

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Luther and Erasmus

Recently, we observed the 88th birthday of a good friend at a luncheon. The toast was the story of Luther (Nov 10, 1481-Feb 18, 1546) and Erasmus (Oct 27, 1466 to July 12, 1536), two fierce competitors (but good friends). Erasmus who was quite a few years older than Luther was debating the existence of ‘Miracle” and “Magic” with Luther. After many exchanges of letters, with a sense of exhaustion, Erasmus tersely wrote to Luther, ”Boy, Of course there is magic and miracle.  You get magic and miracle when you combine intellect and industry ” Yes, “smarts” and “hard work” produce magic and miracle…. I think Erasmus was thinking of our honoree. Happy birthday!

 Digital Learning

 Promulgation and promotion of digital learning, and creation DigiLearn as reported in news media including New York Times and the Wall Street journal are all meritorious. But idealizing DigiLearn as a powerful instrument that nurtures imagination as opposed to memorization that discourages imagination is a disservice. This view is scientifically flawed and untenable. In neuroscience and neurobiology, we know that those areas of the brain, including the limbic system, association cortex and nucleus coeruleus that are responsible for memory and storing of information are strengthened by memorizing facts. The same centers are also responsible for strengthening the power of imagination, creativity and innovation. These centers work together to enhance both memory and imagination. Memorization complements and enhances imagination. Please do not malign memorization and do not deprive our children from receiving the gift of knowledge through activating the memory centers of their brain. All the computers and artificial intelligence floating around will never replace memorizing epic poems of Homer, Dante, Faust and Milton.

 Krauthammer’s Wrong Diagnosis

I usually agree with the opinions of my respected colleague turned journalist, Dr. Charles Krauthammer. His style shaped by his training as a physician, to cut through symptoms and look for the correct diagnosis(es) and cause(s) of America’s ills, is most gratifying. But his  March 14 syndicated column in Washington Post and other papers “An Action Plan to Stop Putin”, while making recommendations to cure our current ills do not go deeply enough to make the correct diagnosis before offering suggestions and remedies.

The basic problem with America’s repeated failures in foreign affairs is that our European and Middle Eastern allies no longer respect the office of American Presidency or the current person who occupies the post. I hear derogation, mockery and condescension from ordinary citizens of foreign nations about US presidency. We should address that basic malady before offering remedies.

 The Origins of Inoculation and Vaccination

For the readers who are contemplating to travel to Turkey, here is a historical aside: It is about Turkish women of many centuries ago. It explains the character and intellectual capacity, with Baconian and Lockian power of inductive reasoning and empirical observation of Turkish women of the middle ages. These women were most likely illiterate. The story has to do with inoculation against smallpox. These women observed that they can sell their daughters into slavery for a higher price if they were unmarked by the scars of smallpox. They noted that mild cases of smallpox provided lifelong immunity to the disease and limited the scarring. So they exposed their young daughters to benign cases of smallpox. This practice was carried out hundreds of years before Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and Robert Koch (1843-1910) introduced inoculation  and vaccination to modern medicine. Voltaire while exiled to England in Les Lettres philosophiques has written extensively about powers of observation, inductive reasoning and empirical knowledge.

 Treating Depression with Good Thoughts

Worth  reading. I will be writing about how empirical data are showing that good thoughts, good words and good deeds(Zarathustra’s Motto) not only elevate mood and restore dopamine levels of the brain, but actually changes the morphology of the brain. This is the essence of Eshgh, the Sufi love. Thinking good thoughts suffuses brain with good hormones like dopamine and indoleamine…Exciting stuff to think about and write about….

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/

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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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