Tag Archives: Dr. Assad Meymandi Monday Musings

On Relation to the Past

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 16, 2015

Volume V, No. 11/219

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Norooz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NOROOZ

We are only four days away from the Iranian New Year, Norooz. Yes, March 20, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. Iranians will celebrate year 5776 on Friday. My sources in Tehran tell me that the 70 plus million Iranians were hoping that a nuclear treaty with America will materialize by March 21, and sanctions will be lifted, giving the Iranians the best New Year’s present they could get. But it appears that it will not happen. We will not have a treaty. Sanctions will not be lifted and people will not get their hoped-for new year present (in Farsi, Eidee).

But it does not matter. The Persian people are used to political vicissitudes and domestic extremes.  After all, the Persian civilization 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 not-withstanding)……

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 two 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 (link 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 5776 years ago, in the month of Edar Awal which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian New Year or Norooz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Norooz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5776.

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 Norooz (New Day, New Year) to All.

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http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2013/03/the-cyrus-cylinder-goes-on-view-at-the-sackler-gallery/?utm_source=smithsonianhistandarch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201303-hist

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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 George Washington and the Essentials

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 28, 2013

Volume III, No, 41/135

Gilbert_Stuart,_George_Washington_(Lansdowne_portrait,_1796)

Books About George Washington, The Father of Our Country

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

(In the tumult of government shutdown, economic uncertainties and America’s waning credibility on the world stage, I thought it would be reassuring and soothing to go back home, go back to the  house of the country’s father, the father of our country and have a visit with him.  Here are some of the books about the Great patriarch and the first President of the United State of America, George Washington)

In spite of the rivers of ink spilled on and about America’s founding fathers, the pantheon of these towering and majestic intellects remains relatively untouched. For example, few know George Washington’s reading list. Few know the favorite books that Thomas Jefferson found page turner and to which he referred repeatedly. Few know the pocket edition of which author was the constant companion of Benjamin Franklin, the scientist, the politician, the diplomat, the bon vivant and the ladies’ man of Paris. Few know where Patrick Henry learned his gift of oratory and rhetoric of which Thomas Jefferson was jealous. I am proposing some young entrepreneur PhD candidate in English literature to collect the names of all America’s Founding Fathers, research their preference in reading, theater, literature, the arts, music, composers, theology, and science, and give us a 24 volume each 1000 pages collection to satisfy the PhD dissertation. After all, Eusebius of Pamphili, Josephus, accomplished this exact feat, writing 24 volumes biography of Moses and Jesus in Aramaic…

In the pages of WCP over the past 15 years, we have made periodic and sporadic efforts to answer some of these issues for the curious. The article on “Thomas Jefferson, the Fiddler” published two years ago, brought us enormous volume of mail. The response to the article on what GW liked in plays and books, published four years ago, reflected enormous interest in the topic and almost overpowered our inbox capacity. This article is a focus on who and what biographers and historians have written about the Founding Father and CEO of the American enterprise, the Captain of America’s soul, and the righteous George Washington.

The latest biography of George Washington is by Ronald Chernow, the American biographer who is the author of Alexander Hamilton, The House of Morgan, and Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., among other works. Author Ron Chernow, born in 1949, is a Yale and Oxford educated lad. He studied English literature. He is now a freelance author. Washington: A Life, the Penguin Press, 904 pages, $40.00, is remarkable in that it examines best Washington’s personality and instincts. In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about Washington in one volume. The purpose of this essay is not to review Chernow’s book, but to offer our readers a fairly complete compendium of books written about GW from 1800 until now.

The efforts of Douglas Southall Freeman and James Thomas Flexner (yes, he was related to Abraham Flexner of 1910 who revamped American Medicine- see the October issue, WCP-) have offered a multivolume work on GW which brought the Pulitzer Prize to both authors. Flexner has a one-volume, Washington: The Indispensable Man, which is a must read if one wishes to know how GW’s mind worked.

We all know the Washington myth of cutting down the cherry tree perpetrated by Parson Weem’s 1800 tale. Douglas Southall Freeman’s biography of GW is the closest work to a psychobiographical account of GW factually reporting on GW’s hot-tempered youth, his narcissistic and self-adulating tendencies, gradually being replaced with concerns for his country. Flexner tried to outdo Freeman in his four volume work written 1965 to 1972. However, Freeman’s seven volumes (1948-1957) collected work remains unsurpassed. Both authors completely debunk all myths about GW, and offer the reader a naked and brilliant account of a vulnerable human being. Reading these volumes gives one the feeling that GW was not only a General, a leader, a father figure, but he also had a theological sense of himself.  He demonstrated how the powers of introspection and self-examination bring about abundant possibilities, hope, and redemption to our lives. This is very much consonant with Pauline theology in the New Testament.  GW lived a life that clearly represents transformation of a self-serving narcissist to a public serving altruist. After all, is this not the primary purpose of all world religions?

There are other GW’s biographers: Joseph Ellis’s His Excellency, a rather comparatively short biography, 320 pages (reviewed for our readers in 2004), and Richard Brookhiser’s elegiac and elegant Founding Father in 1996.  The author called it a “moral biography” in the tradition of what some reviewers such as Carl Rollyson call “a biography in the tradition of Plutarch”.  Mr. Rollyson opines that “Washington dominated the national scene far longer than Abraham Lincoln and FDR, and scholars have been loath to take on the whole man within the covers of a single volume…” Mr. Chernow ought to be congratulated to have triumphantly accomplished the feat in one 960 page volume.  We have other books about GW:  the admirable, if truncated, 2005 book by Edward Lingel’s General George Washington and 2006 Peter R. Henrique’s thematic Realistic Visionary.  Having critically read and studied all these books about the father of our country, in my view the Freeman and Flexner volumes are the most comprehensive and intellectually stimulating of all.

Finally, for students of George Washington, and for that matter, for every person who proclaims to be an American, from school children to the Justices of the US Supreme Court, it is not only desirable but necessary to know and if not memorize George Washington’s Farewell Address, along with the other three essential components of what is known as America’s political literature. They are the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the 85 articles comprising the Federalist Papers.

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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 Strength of the American Medical System

Monday Musings for Monday July 8, 2013

Volume III. No. 25/128

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In Defense of Medicine

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The press has been full of stories bashing American medicine. Pharmaceuticals have been maligned and accused of greed. In my writings I have personally devoted enough space to extensively critique the doings and shenanigans of the pharma industry including the malignant and greed imbued practice of ‘direct to consumer’ television and newspaper advertising. The pharma’s greatest sin is greed and the bottom line.  We have criticized the trend of pharmaceutical industry spending more on advertising and public reactions than they spend on research and development. The public relation comes in the form of free lunches and junkets for medical practitioners and researchers. We have objectively and constructively warned against the unholy medical-pharmaceutical complex and its unwelcome product of pushing pills and inventing new diseases to use the pills. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are but a few examples of such unscientific atrocities. These are accomplished through ‘direct to consumer’s’ television and media advertising. However, this essay is dedicated to defense of medicine in general, and American Medicine, the best in the world, in particular.

With Flexner report of 1908, America purged itself of the substandard medical schools which up to that point were engaged in witch hunt, snake oil, and superstition.  Flexner report rooted American Medicine in solid scientific firmament.  In the 1950s when I decided to study medicine, I looked around the world including most of the European medical schools and found the American medical education to be best. I chose America.

We do have our problems. The cost of medical care is out of sight.  We spend 17% of GDP on health care, yet our health care access is below many European countries. Health issues are a source of anxiety to most citizens. In a recent issue of JAMA, it is reported that of 500,469 cases of percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), 10.9% of the operations have been inappropriate. This type of waste is unacceptable. Unfortunately, greed continues to be an unwelcome part of practice of medicine. It ought not to be.

What is good about American Medicine?

In the last 10 years, between 2001 and 2010 America has logged ten great triumphs in advancing public health.

  •  We have doubled the lifespan of Americans at an unprecedented rate. The average life span of an American baby born today is 82 years.
  •  Vaccine Preventable Diseases:  There has been a substantial increase in utilization of rotavirus, quadrivalant meningococcal conjugate, and human papillomavirus vaccines, tetanus and diphtheria
  •  Prevention and control of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
  •  Tobacco Control
  •  Vast advancement in maternal and infant health
  •  Motor Vehicle safety. And finally,
  •  Cardiovascular disease prevention and increased awareness of the epidemic of obesity, which is the focus of this discourse.

In the late 50’s, when I was in medical school, even as students, we could feel the competition between, large medical centers for cardiac surgery. My alma mater, The George Washington Medical school being located in the nation’s capital, was the favored child receiving huge grants to advance cardiovascular surgery. Dr. Brian Blades (pun not intended), Chair of Surgery at GW, was in fierce completion with Johns Hopkins Chair of Surgery, Alfred Blalock to the North, and that of Baylor University Michael DeBakey of Texas to the south. DeBakey developed the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) now perfected and worn by thousands of patients including Dick Cheney, the former US Vice President (who had a heart transplant). LVAD is not an artificial heart. The patient must have a heart and the heart must be still working. But the pump helps delay congestive heart failure by relieving strain on a muscle too weak to function by itself. The average human heart beats 100,000 a day, 205 billion times over a lifetime. The rotor in a typical LVAD spins about 8,000 times a minute assisting the worn out of cardiac muscle. The world is in awe of America’s advance in cardiovascular surgery. The first heart transplant, by Dr. Christian Barnard in 1967, is a common-place operation performed in all university hospitals and even community hospitals throughout US. The past fifty years we have seen new treatments like coronary artery bypass graft, introduced in 1960, perfected. Discovery of new class of drugs like statins to lower cholesterol, emerging in 1980s, ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure in the early 90’s, and beta blockers to reduce stress hormones in the early 80’s, have been major contributions of American system of research.

Since mid-century, the heart disease death rate has fallen by 1.7% annually, though progress seems to have slowed in recent years because of epidemic of obesity. Smoking cessation in America has been phenomenal.

In the 1990’s, dubbed the decade of the brain, the National Mental Health Institute invested over two billion dollars in research grants to gain better understanding of the brain.  We now know, and the faithful readers of this space recall our several articles devoted to the suggestion to change mental illness to brain disease and dysfunction.  Brain research using advanced imaging technique, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and functional magnetic resonant imaging (fMRI), as well as biomedical markers, and the discovery of new neurotransmitters has enabled us to gain better understanding in diagnosis and treatment of brain disease.

In 1981, when the first patient with Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was diagnosed, it was America and American medicine that isolated the virus and discovered the cocktail of antiviral drugs that makes the lethal illness into a chronic illness. My esteemed (and hard charging) beloved colleague, Myron Cohen of University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine promises a cure for AIDS before long. American medicine has made impressible gains in stem cell research growing brand new organs in the laboratory. A good example of this effort is Dr. Anthony Atala’s work in the area of engineering human organs. He has produced a liver after successfully bio-engineering urethras, kidneys, and bladders. Atala’s quest is “How can we increase the number of tissues we bring to patients and how can we make more patients benefit from these technologies?” We have every reason, with humility, to appreciate America’s unparalleled gains in medicine.

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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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Remembering Mrs. Thatcher

Monday Musings for April 15, 2013

Volume III 14/117

Mourning Maggie

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 (Editor’s Note: The passing of Lady Thatcher was a blow.  Condolences to all. In observance of the occasion, we are re-running “Monday Musings” below for your reading enjoyment, and the link for your viewing pleasure. 

 Link on WRAL:

http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/12318911/#/vid12318911

Vol. 2 / No.20

Thatcher

From left to right, Dr. P. Geoffrey Feiss, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Dr. Assad Meymandi.

Lunch with Maggie

I recently saw the movie Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. We are not big movie fans, may be go to one or two a year, and often if the subject is disappointing, I leave after the 10-15 minutes but not this movie. Iron Lady is a movie depicting the biography of Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England (1979-1990). It was on her watch, and that of the late President Ronald Reagan, that the Soviet Union crumbled. Throughout the movie, I had a hard time keeping my composure.  It was hard not to cry.  I was weeping for Lady Thatcher, I was weeping for losing her warm, but elegant friendship, I was weeping for losing the promise and possibility of her accepting the invitation of the National Humanities Center to become a Distinguished Meymandi Fellow and give lectures to the RTP audiences. But above all I was weeping for the world losing a remarkable woman, another Lady/Empress Matilda Maude (1102-1167) who pre-wrote Magna Carta (King John, 1215).  The history of our relationship goes back to many years ago.  Below is a reprinted account of our initial luncheon meeting, first published in Wake County Physician magazine.

Seven other people, my wife and I were privileged to lunch with Lady Margaret Thatcher in the Plumeri House of William and Mary College. Our host, P. Geoffery Feiss, Provost of the College, seated me at the left side of the Iron Lady, because that is her “good ear”. The lunch and conversation went on at a leisurely pace. With the after-lunch-picture-taking-and book-signing ceremonies, the Lady stayed around for a good two and a half hours. Nonetheless the entire experience was an extravagant moment, but too short and too fleeting…Her trip was a hush-hush affair.  She was the mystery guest at the commencement ceremonies of the previous evening. The principle speaker was Ms. Halaby (Queen Noor of Jordan).But with the Lady Thatcher’s sudden appearance in the academic procession; the crowd erupted into a spontaneous ovation.  The Lady gave a fifteen minute unrehearsed speech.

Conversation around the round dining room table started with prosaic platitudes, and gradually escalated into an intense exchange of ideas. Of course, most of us listened while the Iron Lady spoke of the Falkland War, her friendship with Ronnie (President Reagan) and Nancy. We also spoke of the former (now the late) NC Senator Jesse Helms and Gorbachev.”The gentleman was devastated when his wife Raisa died”, the former Prime Minister of England informed us.

Thatcher sees no use for the United Nations. She abhors indecisiveness, appeasement and unprincipled diplomacy. She insisted that in our global collective and diffuse culture, individuals do make a difference. Our host invited me to tell the Lady my opinion on this thesis. I politely and dutifully suggested that the Lord, in order to provide Neolithic man with role models, sent Zarathustra to bring us enlightenment; Abraham to give us faith; Moses to demonstrate the possibilities of discipline; Christ to teach us love; Prophet Mohammad, peace be with him, to show us structure and system approach to problem solving; Mozart, to give us the gift of music; Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the US Constitution, the fresh concept of a working, living, breathing Republic where the rule of law is supreme. And then I added the name of Margaret Thatcher to this pantheon of deities who showed us how conservatism, private enterprise, and individual initiative elevate the majesty of human achievement. The lady seemed to enjoy the discourse. She indicated that she is willing to come to NC at a future date, perhaps as a Meymandi Distinguished Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

On a personal note, Lady Thatcher showed a bit of disdain for sensation seeking journalists who emphasize her “grocer” father, but neglect to say that the gentleman was a civic leader, chairman of the town library board, a civic leader and prominent in the cultural life of his hometown. It was her father who inculcated the love of books and reading in the future Prime Minister of England. Thatcher went on to study Chemistry at Oxford, because of the possibility of a better job. For a while a student she actually made and sold ice cream… I asked the Lady what force has been most influential in her rise to prominence. Without hesitation, she named Winston Churchill, and went on to extol the Gentleman’s virtues including his military career and becoming Prime Minister when he was well into his sixties.

The Lady gave me two autographed books which occupy a prominent place in my private library. And in my heart.

State Anniversaries for the month of May:  Wisconsin, State number 30, joined the Union on May 11, 1848.  Motto: “Forward“.  South Carolina, original colony number 8, May 23, 1788.  Motto: “While I breathe, I hope.”  Rhode Island, original colony number 13 (the last one), May 29, 1790, Motto: “Hope“.

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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 Church and Same Sex Union

Monday Musings for Monday March 25, 2013

Volume III, No. 12/116

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A  Few Thoughts about the Church and Same Sex Union

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

 (Editor’s Note:  Our inbox is full of requests for a ‘Musings’ about same sex marriage.  Here are a few thoughts.)

The history of growth of religious and secular institutions consistently shows that inclusion and assimilation of “converts” is the key to progress. Saint Augustine of Hippo, the brilliant scholar (354-430 AD) was a Manichean (a sect of Zoroastrianism). He was converted to Christianity at age 31. Earlier in the history of Christian Church, Saint Paul was a convert. It is agreed that without Paul there would be no Christian Church. On the secular side, without Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), an Italian boy who immigrated to France at the age of 14, working his way up to become the court composer to the “Sun King”, Louis XIV, there would be no French opera, no majestic French overture, no dotted rhythm, and no marshal and magisterial musical form, no ballet, and no Palais Garnier, which are uniquely Lully’s. Without Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), the accomplished linguist and librettist, we would not have many of the most beloved Mozart operas. Da Ponte was an Italian Jewish boy converted into Catholicism. He became an ordained priest, later immigrated to America to become the first chair, Department of Arts and Languages at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1820. The intellectual and artistic contributions of the uninitiated infuse us with curiosity and restlessness. Therefore, we should welcome those who do not think like us, or challenge our smugness and comfort.

Dissention and disagreement are not strangers to the Christian church. The split of apostolic succession in 1352, followed by the migration of the papacy to Avignon, southern France, is a good example. During that period there were many who claimed to be the Pope. In Avignon, the leadership of the church, while partying and having a good time, paid little attention to the people suffering from bubonic plague. It wiped out nearly eighty percent of Europe’s population. The people were wondering where were their religious leaders to save them from the plague.

Then there were the epoch making 1519 questions of Martin Luther, posted on the church door, ushering the reformation and the birth of Protestantism. And later there was the emergence of the counter-reformation which in essence gave birth to the baroque period. It gave us the stunning beauty, symmetry and sublime complexity of baroque music, art, and architecture. The beautiful music of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and others is the fruit of the baroque era. So, schism, dissent and revolution within the church, while unpleasant, have always been fruitful and consequential.

The epistemology, phenomenology and theology of Christian teachings offer profound and unique aspects. The teachings are flexible; they invite and nurture seekers and doubters. I believe as one who has been exposed to many religious teachings, the uniqueness of Christianity is the theology of possibility, and, of course, loveagape–, toleration (not tolerance)acceptanceinclusion and accommodation. I do not think that Christ as a person would exclude anyone from his house or his table, because of gender orientation or preference.

As a psychiatrist, I was involved in the panel sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association in 1972 that studied and de-classified homosexuality as a mental illness. Forty one years later through the powerful instruments of genomics and proteomics, we are learning that homosexuality carries a heavy load of genetic predisposition. In some instances, we even know the address and even the zip code of the strand of atavistic genes or polygenes that skulk the physiological architecture of humans. Therefore, the more one knows, the more tolerant and understanding one becomes. Unfortunately in the last 40 years, social science has not kept up with brain science in that regard.

I believe leaders of all religious institutions and Christian denominations ought to collect knowledge, information and intellectual input, and through the prism of history, transform them into wisdom. Wisdom takes patience, deliberation and deference. I am reminded of Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philosopher, who saw the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-1875), 21 times.  He said “every time I see Carmen I become more patient, wiser and a better philosopher.” We need to generate wisdom. Impulsive actions, impatience, arrogance, expedient political moves to gain gratification of narcissistic needs and power are not needed. All religious teachings behoove us to avoid those pitfalls. I also believe that the future of the institution of faith is in the children and the programs that nurture and produce a strong community. Any erosion or diminution of programs that ultimately injures and compromises that commitment is sinful. This is how I define sin.

It is appropriate to respectfully and faithfully observe the holy days before us, namely Passover which begins at sundown today; Good Friday, coming on March 29, and Easter on Sunday March 31.  All three occasions exemplify the gift of hope, love, possibility, redemption and grace.

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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 at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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On Persian History and Christianity

“Monday Mornings” for Monday March 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 11/115

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Norooz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NOROOZ

March 21, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. Iranians will celebrate year 5774 on Thursday. The Persian people and the Persian civilization were there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship not-withstanding)……

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 was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gata 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, has started its exhibition tour in the United States. It is being exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist).  It will go to J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, in December. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (link below).

And 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 5774 years ago, in the month of Edar Awal which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian new year or Norooz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Norooz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5774.

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 Norooz (New Day, New Year) to All.

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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)

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2013/03/the-cyrus-cylinder-goes-on-view-at-the-sackler-gallery/?utm_source=smithsonianhistandarch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201303-hist

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On Goethe, Two Revolutions and Rights

“Monday Musings” for March 11, 2013

Volume III.  No. 10/114

 

Mein Herr, die Zeiten der vergangenheit sind

uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln.  Der Geist, den

Ihr den geist der Xeiten heisst, das ist zumeist

der Herren eigener Geist, in dem die Zeiten sich

bespiegeln.

                                                              Goethe, Faust

 George-Washington-resigned-his-commission-as-Commander-in-Chief-of-the-Army-to-the-Congres-December-23-1783.                     Goethe_(Stieler_1828)

THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is to German literature what Shakespeare is to English, Voltaire to French, Ferdowsi to Farsi and Eusebius of Pamphili (Josephus) to Arameic.  The magisterial and imposing volume of collected work of Goethe is a good companion to pick up and hold (if you don’t have a bad back!), and read. It does wonders for the soul.  The part I like the most is Goethe’s treatment of history. Right after the American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century, two Republics were created, one led by George Washington and the other by Napoleon Bonaparte, both military men of substance and valor. Napoleon went on to be defeated and exiled while George Washington went on to be lionized and immortalized in the annals of human history. Goethe’s sage observation of both revolutions and these two men are of historic significance. George Washington’s gift for limiting his appetite for power is considered by Goethe as a “remarkable and rather rare attribute.” After fathering America, serving two terms as President, like the famed Greek General, Cincinnatus, he returned to his farm. He liberated his slaves and worked and lived as an ordinary citizen. However, Napoleon’s expansive ego, maniacal greed and insatiable appetite for power brought him an ignominious ending and demise. As students of history, we can learn that Washington’s character, his self-discipline and altruism, placing the welfare of his country before anything else, poured the foundation of our Republic. Washington and the framers of US Constitution have given us not a perfect system of government, but one that can be purged from time to time to ensure its lasting health.

America’s constitution and its rule of law are the envy of the world. Several years ago, while in Siberia, I learned that in order to create a lasting government, they were translating the US Constitution verbatim. Our system has withstood the Watergate, the 2000 voting debacle, the Clinton-Lewinsky histrionics and many more crises with not a shot fired. With the celebratory gains of civil rights, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, America’s passion for individual right and its reverential devotion to freedom and protection of First Amendment are transcendent. In the annals of the history of Neolithic man, there are no parallel in these collective achievements.

Our nation endured unprecedented tragedy on September 11, 2001. Patriotism was at a fever pitch high. We rallied around our flag.  Unprecedented amounts of money were contributed to assist the victims. Americans love their country. When in trouble, its citizens come to its rescue. However, in my mind, as a citizen by choice and not by birth, one of the most puzzling and astonishing issues is our collective apathy toward voting and electing our representatives. The local election office tells me that, in general, fewer than 20% of registered voters cast their votes. An online survey of the national picture is not any better.  Across the nation, the voting rate was about 22%! There are gazillions of people paying more than as forty to fifty dollars even over one hundred dollars attending rock concerts, but very few go to the polls to vote at no cost in an ultimately beneficial endeavor to them. I believe voting is the most elemental way that citizens could (and should) show their patriotism. We hope to see a better turnout in all US elections.

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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).

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On the Pride or Shame of Heritage

Monday Musings” for February 25, 2013

Volume III. No. 8/112

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Sulgrave Manor, a Source of Pride or Shame

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

Around my house, we are purists. We celebrate and observe Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, and pay homage to the father of our country on his natal anniversary on February 22. Today’s “Monday Musings” was written on July 4, 1973 after a visit to Sulgrave Manor in Northampton, England, and has been reprinted every year since.

Sulgrave, a hamlet, population 58, houses one of the most significant pieces of American and British history, unbeknownst to many Americans and certainly British. Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington, the father of America, lies 14 miles southwest Northampton, a busy city of 120,000. No, you won’t find it in the Northampton city directory, nor does it appear on the county or “Shire” map. The Chamber of Commerce of Northampton politely said “We do not know, Sir” to my telephone inquiry as to the whereabouts of Sulgrave Manor. No place in London, including the eager to please Bureau of Tourism, acknowledged its existence. Like an in- house secret shrouded in mystery, it eluded my persuasive curiosity.

My host, Dr. Michael O’Brooke, a consultant psychiatrist at Saint Andrews Hospital in Northampton, almost changed the subject when I asked about Sulgrave. Somehow we ended up talking about the newly discovered oil off the Britain’s coast. Finally I pinpointed him, and demanded an answer. With his genuine English wit he snapped “Oh, yes, I will have my driver to take you there…” He made it clear in his elegant old Anglo-Saxon, non-verbal but piercing way, that he did not wish to discuss the matter any further.

I rode through the bustling streets of Northampton. It belied that it was July 4th. No picnic, no American flags and no Happy Birthday! Total oblivion of the importance of America’s birthday enveloped this industrial city which lies 70 miles southwest of London.

Finally we arrived at Sulgrave. It was a bright and sunny afternoon. A fairly short, thin gentleman whose bushy eyebrow literally covered his eyes, with graying full head of hair combed straight back giving ample space for a high forehead, looking like a character just stepped out of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, greeted me with a simple but eloquent Churchillian deep voice: “Good afternoon! I am Mr. David Robbins, your guide.” We talked a bit. I felt like he was genuinely happy to see me breaking his loneliness, somehow reminding me of the British version of the Maytag repairman commercial.

The layout of Sulgrave Manor was elegant. Eight courtyards, a vegetable garden, and immaculately kept manicured yards and shrubs took me back 350 years. Foxglove of several colors graced all sidewalks. A British and an American flag were flying on the sides of the building. Mr. Robbins gave me a quizzical look upon finding that I might write up the Sulgrave experience for my fellow Americans. He briefly disappeared, soon to reappear with brilliantly printed brochure.  He wanted to be sure that the facts were accurately reported…As Mr. Robbins and the brochure have it: the main part of the house was built of stone and he made sure I understood that it was the original structure, and not like the wooden colonial houses which were burnt and re-constructed—a mere replica—this house was built by Lawrence Washington in 1560. General George Washington was the 7th descendant of Lawrence Washington, who incidentally, was the mayor of Northampton in 1539 and again in 1545. Mr. Robbins took me around the building with utmost care, explaining that the perpetual Board of Trustees of the manor consists of the British Ambassador to US and the American Ambassador to England. The manor and the grounds belong to both countries. The cost of maintenance, conservation and purchase of pieces of land are bourn directly by both countries.

There was an air of ambivalence inundated by moments of awkwardness as Mr. Robbins’ basic loyalty to his own country and crown saw George Washington as a rebellious rash soldier with poor manners who committed an act of treason by fathering America, along with the pride that he finally acknowledged for the American experience, offered twinges of cultural/patriotic schizophrenia. Here I stood, on a 4th of July, my country’s birthday, proud to be an American and concerned about my host’s mixed feelings. I empathically told him that if I were in his place I, too, would be most uncomfortable. There was a sudden glitter in Mr. Robbins’s eyes. After so many years of working there, he had found a person who looked at and talked with him as a person with feelings. He looked me in the eyes and invited me to the afternoon tea. As we were sipping the tea he asked me about my work. “Psychiatrist” I said. “Oh Lord, I should have known not to ask…” he said in reply.

I saw not only the most proudly and secretly kept historical monument in England, but also had made a good friend in Mr. Robbins, the official host/guide of Sulgrave Manor.

Mr. Robbins and I kept in touch.  He was scheduled to come to US for a visit but died of a sudden heart attack in the mid-eighties. He was 80 years old.

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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)

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On Education in America

“Monday Musings” for Monday February 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 7/111

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The Sad State of Higher Education in America

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

With what is happening to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the flagship institution of higher learning in North Carolina, here are a few thoughts on higher education in our beloved country: what is happening and what should happen.

America’s greatness is in danger not because as a nation we are economically bankrupt. Not because China owns us and could cash in their vast holdings of US treasury bonds and send us in a tailspin.  Not because we keep borrowing without restraint and spend the money on among other things, buying oil form our declared enemies in the Middle East to pollute the air we breathe. But because America is in mortal danger of ominous decline in education.  Every day some flagship university announces that they are doing away with teaching foreign language, revising their curriculum to include more courses on cultural diversity and women studies and fewer courses in math, history and liberal education. The latest such a diatribe is the University of Arkansas. Inside Academe, a publication of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reports that the University of Arkansas is going down the slippery slopes of academic mediocrity.  Here is a bit of history:  in order for students to graduate from J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas, all students were required to take English Composition, philosophy, mathematics, world literature, western civilization, American history, fine arts, science and foreign language. ACTA reports that the University is planning on gutting its stellar core by cutting away important requirements. The University has announced that foreign language requirement would be eliminated, along with Western civilization, philosophy and literature. Math and science would be trimmed, too.

These actions bear disastrous results.  For example, 78% of the University of Illinois students surveyed did not know who the author of “of the people, by the people, for the people” is.  America is losing its memory.  We are denying the type of education that imparts love of learning and prepares graduates to become effective workers and informed citizens. The late Senator Fulbright is turning in his grave… We have replaced studies in healthy cooking for chemistry, understanding mortgages for trigonometry, and a student will be more likely to read “Harry Potter” than anything by Thomas Jefferson. Most disturbing is that our young college students are better versed in a peculiar guilt for their forefathers’ misdeeds than in the proud history of the West’s pre-eminent society. That guilt will further compromise the basic understanding of what is sacred about our nation and the United States Constitution.

Survey after survey shows these startling facts: Americans know more about the TV cartoon known as “The Simpsons” than they do about the First Amendment. Only one in four American student of higher education can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.  As a reminder, the five freedoms are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition for redress of grievances.

There are numerous instances today of individuals trying to deprive us from our freedom.  For instance, our freedom of speech is threatened by those who say that the only allowable speech on our college campuses should be politically correct speeches. Our freedom of religion is routinely targeted by groups who want to ban God from our schools, courthouses, and civic buildings. Freedom of assembly is challenged by those who believe the only legitimate protests are of the left-oriented kind.

I support ACTA because it has many colleges, universities and places of higher education under surveillance to sound the alarm if the basic curriculum of liberal education is diluted.

Readers recall my review of the book “Take the Risk” by Ben Carson, MD, Professor, pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins, who truly epitomizes the fulfillment of American virtues, and what it means to be an American. Ben has performed numerous delicate neurosurgical operations at Hopkins and throughout the world, including separation of twins conjoined in the head and brain. He is a consummate physician, skilled neurosurgeon, and has the soul of a Saint. He is a Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, Saint Augustine of Hippo and the Moslem philosopher, theologian and music lover, Ibn Khaldoun, all wrapped in one package of decency and humility.

In “Take the Risk”, he talks about how education and education alone rescued him from the depth of a segregated Detroit, Michigan neighborhood marred by drugs, gangs etc. to become one of the world’s most eminent neurosurgeons. He emphasizes (and admonishes) that America is on the slippery slopes of abandoning education and replacing it with sports and entertainment. He argues 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.”Take the Risk” is a wakeup call worth reading by parents, educators, rabid sports fans and university Chancellors.

America needs to turn back to its roots. Our founding fathers gave their lives, their sacred honor to fight a formidably powerful enemy to give us this beautiful Republic. In 235 years life of America, we have done very little to protect and preserve and nurture the gift of America, the gift that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and other patriots gave us. We submit that every American child by the fifth grade ought to memorize George Washington’s farewell address, the US Constitution and John Adams’ inaugural address. We should also support organizations such as ACTA to keep a critical eye on the conduct of our colleges and universities lest under social pressure and political correctness, they may dilute the curriculum to accommodate the lowest common denominator in education.

In my university lecture tours, I come across splendid examples of liberal arts curricula that have kept faith. These schools demonstrate reverential devotion to the notion of liberal arts as it was meant to be. They insist on teaching, English composition, philosophy, mathematics (math in Greek means knowledge), world literature, western civilization, American History, fine Arts, science and literature. One such school is our own Davidson College in NC. Another is Hillsdale College in the boonies of Michigan which has provided education to young people since 1844. Hillsdale President, Larry Arnn, insists that the secret of their success is a devoted corps of alums with a principled administration that have not accepted and do not accept a penny of federal government assistance. What an illustrious history. We need more schools like Hillsdale and recurring support for organizations such as ACTA.

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is Emeritus, Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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More on Valentine’s Day

  Monday Musings 
  By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

   Volume III, No. 6/110

St_Valentine

An Essay on Valentine’s Day

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY

We devote today’s essay to a brief history and biochemistry of Valentine’s:

History:
The word Valentine has to do with human sacrifice.  Self-sacrifice and martyrdom are not new. They go back to the Iron age when Virgil in his Book IV, dramatically depicted the departure of Aeneas for the Trojan war leading to Dido’s plunging a knife into her breast and sacrificing herself for the love of Aeneas. And we know that during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-311 AD) Christians were caught and fed to the lions. Were those professed Christians who risked their lives and became dinner for the Emperor’s hungry lions on a suicide mission as are today’s fanatic suicide bombers of Islam?  A good question to reflect upon…The martyr sacrificed self. The fanatic bombers sacrifices self and kills innocent others. That is murder…

Fortunately, things got better for Christians after Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD) converted to Christianity in 313 AD. The same persecuted Christians under Diocletian were now pampered and given cushiony jobs under Constantine. What a difference a mere 75 years make!

History tells us that there were three Saint Valentines and the one we westerners strongly identify is the Saint Valentine of Rome who was a priest martyred in 269 AD by the orders of Diocletian. Some 200 years later Pope Gelasius I  (he was the pope when saint Augustine ‘345-430 AD’ became the Bishop of Hippo) decided to recognize Saint Valentine’s love and devotion for Christianity and established by papal order the Saint Valentine’s Day. It was not until Chaucer days in the fourteenth century England when the feast of February 14 first became associated with romantic love, a pure Anglo invention.

“For this was on seynt Valentynysday

Whan euery bryd cometh there to ches his mate”

Chaucer “Parlement of Foules,” circa 1381

Our Saint Valentine comes from mid-15th century, “sweetheart chosen on St. Valentine’s Day,” from L.L. Valentinus, the name of an early Italian saint (from L. valentia “strength, capacity;”). Choosing a sweetheart on this day originated 14th century as a custom in English and French court circles. Meaning “letter or card sent to a sweetheart”. The romantic association of the day is said to be from it being around the time when birds choose their mates.

For the past seven centuries the invention has served us well. Imagine the number of weddings that have been facilitated and children conceived by Saint Valentine.  Incidentally, the etymology of Valentine is from Latin valentinus means valence, and the word value takes its roots from the same origin.

Biochemistry:

Many people think that falling in love mimics a state of psychosis, a confirmation of this notion comes from Shakespeare’s insistence of the “fine frenzy” of the poet- the madman and being in love are indistinguishable insanities. We all have done the crazy “falling in love” things that there are to do-up all night, romantic breakfasts at dawn, impulsive trips to exotic isles, heartfelt torrents of vows, and suddenly becoming a poet fluid with sentiments and expressive powers…There are a whole host of brain chemical and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, catecholamine, indolamines, endorphins etc., involved in libidinal activities. Recently, however, we have begun to associate the phenomenon of falling in love with a chemical that churns in our body causing us to do crazy things.  The molecule is called Phenylethylamine (PEA), a first cousin of amphetamine, which the body produces in its adrenal glands.  PEA causes excitement, just as amphetamines do.  However, it is not as disruptive as amphetamine. Leading scientists and neuro-endocrinologists insist that biochemistry and psychiatry have a definite place in explaining the phenomenon of romance and falling in love. Why should this be left exclusively to poets and Harlequin romance writers. Scientists, too, have a lot to say about it.

There are people who are in constant need of excitement and romance. These are probably the people who have affairs outside of marriage, or those who have multiple marriages while chasing their need for constant stimulation and excitement. These individuals engage in many love affairs. It is suggested that high PEA victims may be suffering from a bipolar affective disorder (manic depressive) form of illness.  In order to reach their highs, they must be in love and constantly enjoy the infusion of PEA in their body and brain.  Examples of famous PEA levels are folks like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Some years ago, British psychiatrists coined the appropriate diagnosis of hysteroid dysphoria to explain the phenomenology of high serum PEA. It was never accepted by the American Psychiatric Association and as to what it leads people to do.

AM

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is Emeritus, Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012) 

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