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Onward, the NC Symphony

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 22, 2014

Volume IV, No, 37/137

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(Editor’s Note:  The North Carolina Symphony is 82 years old.  We are pleased to observe the auspicious occasion by reprinting the News & Observer’s deputy editorial page editor, Mr. Jim Jenkins’ September 18, 2014 column.)

NC Symphony Plays a Rising Tune

By Jim Jenkins

As the North Carolina Symphony opens another classical season this week, the musicians will be elegantly attired and their instruments polished and tuned to perfection. Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh will welcome the city’s prominent swells to the opening shows, and Grant Llewellyn, the magnetic Welshman who is the orchestra’s music director and public face, will again lead the symphony in musical triumph, no doubt.

Some will listen from up high in boxes, others will be in the orchestra level. My noble friend Dr. Assad Meymandi, the Raleigh physician who gave $2 million toward the concert hall named for his parents, will lean in intensely as he always does, taking in every note from his box. But all through the hall, in the boxes and above the floor, the spirits of more than 80 seasons past will be drifting and applauding in the hall.

One, of course, will belong to Maxine Swalin, for over 30 years the symphony’s impassioned advocate. Her husband, conductor Ben Swalin, another spirit in attendance, certainly helped bring the orchestra to prominence, saved it some would say, but it was Maxine Swalin who managed things, who went to classrooms all over North Carolina, when that wasn’t easy to do, and helped demonstrate for awestruck students the sounds of different instruments.

She saw in those faces, in all those hundreds or thousands of classes, eyes widen and mouths open at sounds the children had never heard before. Some would remember those sounds all their lives and develop, from that one visit, a passion for music. Yes, lives would be changed.

The symphony, this spectacular symphony, has come far since Maxine and Ben Swalin retired more than 40 years ago, but the nation’s first state-sponsored orchestra had its course well-charted by them and their successors, those other spirits you’ll feel in the hall this season.

It was never meant to be, since its infancy in 1932, a staid and stationary group. In 1943, improbably in a Southern state with rural roots, still with far to go on educating its people, and thousands of miles of unpaved roads, state lawmakers provided money for the orchestra, hardly enough to keep it going but an important symbol nonetheless.

And so Ben Swalin and his successors stayed true to the mission of bringing the symphony to the people, traveling statewide as a whole or in part, to bring classical music (and other forms) to the hamlets and hollows and cities and towns. It is in the memories of the children in those places, tens of thousands of them by now, for the tradition continues, that is found the heart of the North Carolina symphony.

In the memory of the kid from Shelby the sound of the cello offered some kind of inspiration that carried him through hard days at home. In the memory of a fifth grader from Moore County is that unmistakable timpani that brings a smile when she needs it. In the memory of one kid from Rock Ridge was his mother’s encouraging him to play violin after hearing the symphony. Jim Hunt served four terms as governor, but even now can call forth clear memories of his Mama and that violin.

Lives change even if those who hear the symphony as children never gain skills on an instrument, but learn to love music of any kind.

The symphony still goes to the people, still guided by the spirits and by extraordinary leaders who have followed them and some musicians with a dedication to their art that only those with music inside them, rising from their very souls, can have.

Meymandi Concert Hall, state of the art, made a big difference. So did conductors who followed Swalin and each, in his own way, advanced the musicianship. And so did those who are today parents themselves and remember when the symphony came to their town and the musicians came to their school, and now see their own kids inspired and entertained by this next generation of symphony players.

The pioneers paid it forward. But institutions such as this must never be taken for granted, though it’s easy to do that. Without the symphony, or the Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural Sciences or other magnificent institutions that honor and enlighten the people and especially the young people of the state, the color would be drained from this place.

So, Maestro Llewellyn, raise the baton and strike it up, if you please. There still are lives to be changed.

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*The editor is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life member, American Medical Association; Life member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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On Wagner and Opera

Monday Musings” for Monday May 20, 2013

Volume III, No. 19/122

Wagner

Happy Birthday to Richard Wagner: A Few Thoughts about Opera

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Day after tomorrow is Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday (May 22, 1813- February 13,1883). We celebrate his bicentennial natal anniversary with joy and some added reflections: Wagner was a German musician, opera composer, and a disciple of the German  philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (Feb 22, 1788- September 12, 1860) with whom he split over the issue of “toleration”. Wagner was truly a genius. But he hated the Jews and the Italians, all of whom he called barbarians. He also hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he thought Italians are of a lower race. Instead, he called his work “Music Drama“. Wagner was a contemporary of Verdi (October 10, 1813-Jan 27, 1901), the world famous and renowned Italian Opera Composer. Toward the end of his life, Wagner had a change of heart about Italians and had some good things to say about Verdi. But he remained a staunch anti-Semite.

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

He also architecturally created the Bayreuth Opera House where his work was produced and staged.  After 200 years, almost all of his operas including Flying Dutchman, Ride of Valkyries, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger Von Numberg are a steady diet of most opera houses and symphonies throughout the world.  Exactly a year ago, North Carolina Symphony, played in the first half of the program Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin. The second half featured the memorable performance of virtuoso violinist, Itzhach Perlman playing Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As an aside, North Carolina Symphony had just played Carmina Burana on May 11 and 12. On May 17, there was a special program of classical music for the NCS patrons, and on May 18 and 19, the vocal music of Steve Lippia fed the souls of music connoisseurs. Raleigh has an extraordinarily rich cultural life.

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

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

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

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

On the local scene in Raleigh, for the opera lovers, North Carolina Opera is growing. It produces two or three operas a year. I am looking forward to the day we will have an opera house built on the proposed Dix Park. Then we can not only do the more lavish and demanding Wagner operas, but stage some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain. I have yet to see any opera in America  by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris last year), and other composers.

Meantime, Happy 200th Birthday to Richard Wagner!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He 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 Mother’s Day

Monday Musings for Monday May 6, 2013

Volume III, No.17/120

mother

Happy Mother’s Day

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

(Editor’s Note: this year Mother’s Day, May 12, falls on the birth of Richard Wagner, the anti-Semite genius whose character as a person was as loathsome as his music was admirable, if not transcendental.  We have opted to dedicate today’s MM to honor Mother’s Day, and write about Richard next Monday.)

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

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

In biological terms, the relationship between a mother and her fetus is unique and unparalleled. This is the ultimate in intimacy: fusion of two human beings, loving, protecting and nurturing of one person, the fetus, who is in the process of becoming, by another person, the mother. A pregnant woman- prospective mother- offers such an in depth and stirring example of “giving-of-one’s-self-totally-to-another” (altruism) that no psychiatrist or behavioral scientist has ever been able to fathom and explain. Freud has written much about women’s penis envy. I am afraid cannot have that ultimate form of intimacy in a relationship that women have. Only in recent years we have been looking at, and talking about, this form of ubiquitous pervasive envy that men unconsciously that he was blind to the fact that many men have womb (uterus) envy, because they hold for women. Frankly, a pregnant woman is angelic in sight. The rich hormones estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and oodles of other cortico- steroids make her soft, loving, lovable and pure. The mere appearance of a pregnant woman stirs all kinds of noble and altruistic feelings in others. We want to reach out and help, carry their baggage, compulsively ask about how far along they are, and many other brotherly and platonic gestures of love and compassion. Frankly, I don’t know of any other sight that evokes more noble and altruistic feelings in mankind than the sight of a mother-to-be.

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

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

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

A Personal Note

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

Well, my mother’s gift, in addition to the gift of medical education which puts extremely high value on observation and encourages paying attention to detail of what one sees, as well as memorizing facts, have made me a quite aware human being. We have all read the Holy Quor’an over and over.  Do we know how many times the name Allah has been invoked in the 114 Surahs 2,698 times.  How many times the name Buddha is invoked in Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book?  Do we know how many words are in the 66 books of the Old and the New Testament, especially in the 1611 King James translation? In the Old Testament there are 593,493 words and 181,253 in the New Testament giving a total of 774,746 words in the 66 books. I know many members of our families have travelled extensively. Well, in celebrating my heritage, I have set out to count the number of times the names of the Kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible. The result is astounding. Isaiah is the best press for the Old Persian kings. For example, Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the doings of King of Persia whom they called Messiah. Isaiah is pure PR and good press for the liberator King of Persia…In the book of Esther 3, Haman, assistant or Vizier to King of Persia, Ahashuerus, who hated Mordecai, shows how the wise king handled the dispute…At any rate according to my count there are dozens of references to the Kings of Persia in the Bible. The origins of the Persian months starting with Nisan (see my Monday Musings for Norooz, March 21, 2012 which lists all the months of the Old Persian calendar) are all recorded in the Old Testament.

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

Salute to all mothers.

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

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He 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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“Lincoln’s Melancholia”, a Review

Monday Musings for January 7, 2013

Volume III, No. 105

Abraham Lincoln:  A Book Review and Essay on Mental Health

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Abraham_Lincoln_half_length_seated,_April_10,_1865

I recently saw the movie “Lincoln” starring the gifted actor Daniel Day Lewis.  For the occasion, I am offering the review of the book “Lincoln’s Melancholy” by Joshua Wolf Shenk, publisher Houghton Miflin Company:

When a publisher sends a book for review, I routinely cast an editorial “screening” glance to separate substance from fluff by noting the book’s proportion of text to notes, bibliography, and index.  A scholarly and substantial book usually carries an extensive set of notes and references for documentation of almost every line of the book.  A high volume of notes and an extensive bibliography assure the reader that the book is not fluff.   Such is Shenk’s remarkable book on Lincoln.  The title is misleading.  Although the book deals with Lincoln’s depression and melancholia, it is really a psychobiography of Lincoln a la Freud’s work on Leonard da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky.   Part of the book reads very much like Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart the review of which the faithful readers of this space recall from an earlier day.

But there is something unique about this book.  It is a book that seduces the reader.  I fell in love with the book, not with the subject, not with the author’s erudition and intellectual prowess, not with the brilliant syntax and craftsmanship of the composition, but with the book itself.  For me, an objective book reviewer engaged in this pursuit for more than 50 years, it is a rare phenomenon that the book itself becomes the object of love.

Well, the book has a prelude, and introduction and three parts with subsections dealing chronologically with Lincoln’s birth, growth, development, political maturation, education, religion, social interaction and finally death.  But first a word about the author.

Joshua Wolf Shenk is neither an academic historian nor a Lincoln specialist.  He is not of stature of famed Douglas Wilson, author of “Lincoln’s Sword” or Allen Guezlo, the internationally renowned leading Lincoln Scholar.  Readers might recognize Joshua from the pages of New Yorker, Harper, and Atlantic Monthly. He is referred to as an “Independent scholar.”  In this book, he shows command of psychopathology of depression, a good understanding of DSM IV (Diagnostic statistical Manuel IV) and a keen insight into human nature.  He seems to understand the comprehensive model of bio psychosocial dynamics in the genesis and evolution of mental illness.  But none of these explains why the book had a mesmeric effect on me.  I guess as a psychiatrist in my practice dealing with psychic trauma and life tragedies, it is comforting to see the story of a man like Lincoln, with incredible childhood depravity, adverse upbringing, having lived a life of domestic slavery, constant beating and emotional denigration and put down, pull himself out of psychological sewer, literally clean up, educate himself, and ultimately become the 16th President of the United states.  It is this subtle message reflective of Pauline theology of redemption, hope, love, faith, and possibilities that generated the uncommon mesmeric effect on me.

The Book starts with a startling chapter on Lincoln’s family history of mental illness.  His Uncle Tom Lincoln, according to court records had a “deranged mind.”  So did his parents.  Lincoln’s parents were born in Virginia and crossed the Appalachian Mountains and came to Kentucky in the late 18th century.  They married in 1806 and had three children, Sarah, born Feb 19, 1807; Abraham, born February 12, 1809; and his brother Thomas born in 1811.  They were all prone to deep depression.  Lincoln’s mother, Nancy. died on October 5, 1818.  She was about 35 years old.  Lincoln was nine.  Along the way, in addition to Lincoln’s mother, Lincoln lost his uncle and aunt.  His care was left to a twenty-year-old cousin, during the absence of Abe’s father who returned to Kentucky to court his second bride.  Lincoln was beaten, mistreated and abused during those years.  There are a lot of well documented accounts that Lincoln was self-taught.  As a child he read all the books he could find.  Tom Lincoln, Abe’s father, at some point started to oppose his son’s reading and education.  The relationship between father and son was conflicted and abusive; Tom Lincoln would beat young Abe mercilessly.  However, Lincoln continued to read and memorize and became very popular with his friends and fellow workers.  It is recorded that he was not sad and depressed during his teen years, because he had many friends and knew more than all of his friends put together.  He did not attend a university to learn law.  “I studied with nobody,” he said.  A lawyer named Lynn McNutty Greene wrote that “Abraham Lincoln was extremely ambitious.”  Greene remembered Lincoln telling him that all the folks seem to have good sense but none of them become distinguished, and he believed it was for him to become so.

Tracing the mental status of Mr. Lincoln, one discovers that he was suicide prone.  At one time a neighbor, Mentor Graham, related that “Lincoln told me that he felt like committing suicide often.”  The neighbors and friends were compelled to keep watch and ward over him.  This was even more pronounced when Lincoln’s first love, a bright, pretty young woman, Anna Mayes Rutledge, with flowing blond hair and blue eyes became ill.  She died August 1835.  Lincoln was desperately in love with Anna.  He suffered his first bout of major depression after Anna’s death.  He had a second and more devastating bout of major depression in 1841.  The repeat episode of major depression was precipitated by many causes, among, them, breaking his engagement with Mary Todd, possibly “because of his affection for another woman.”  Again, his friends and relatives were fearful that Lincoln might commit suicide.  They removed guns and knives from his environ.

There is another set of assumptions that relates Lincoln’s depression to Marfan syndrome.  Marfan is an inherited genetic disorder that diminishes the strength of connective tissue from tendons to heart valves.  Persons afflicted with Marfan are tall, gangly, with hyperflexion of joints.  Marfan along with other connective tissue disorders such as Ehler-Danlos Syndrome are often associated with depression.  An aside: the famed magician virtuoso violinist Paganini who could produce those fabulous high notes on his instrument, by hyperflexion of his arm and fingers, had Ehler-Danlos Syndrome and for most of his life suffered from depression.  Robert Schumann who wished his fingers were like Paganini’s to do acrobatic on the keys, suffered from bipolar disorder.  He would put his fingers through painful stretch exercises to make them longer and more limber….

Back to Lincoln, I do know of several sources who have studied Lincoln’s connective tissue disease including the eminent researcher, Victor A. McKusick, professor of medical genetics at Johns Hopkins.  He along with other Lincoln scholars, including Gabor Borritt, Adam Borritt, Douglas Wilson and Allan Guelzo, collectively state that Lincoln did not have Marfan syndrome.

The second part of the book deals with the dynamics of Lincoln as a self-made man.  He won elections, made friends, and with his eloquence mesmerized his audience.  Lincoln continued to be ambitious, determined, and industrious.  He was a devoted Christian with flavors of “old school of Calvinism”, and “hard shell Baptism” running through his speeches, However, Lincoln was a pragmatist and had a keen sense of reality.  According to Allen Guelzo, the leading Lincoln scholar, Lincoln was a serious philosophical thinker who kept abreast of leading ideas of his time. An indication of his pragmatism, as an example, in 1846 he wrote “What I understand is called ‘the Doctrine of Necessity’, that is the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control.”  It was John Stuart Mill who first used the phrase “Philosophical Necessity.”  The author quotes Herman Mellville Lincoln’s contemporary and fellow melancholic who suffered deep depression wrote “The in tensest light of reason and revelation combined cannot shed such blazing light upon deeper truths in man, as well sometimes proceed from his own profoundest gloom.  Utter darkness then is his light, and cat-like he instinctively sees all objects through a medium which is mere blindness to common vision.

Part three of the book deals with Lincoln’s Presidency and the fierce civil war which he fought with conviction and courage.  He was absolutely against the notion of United States splitting into two nations.  He married Mary Todd, and they had four boys, only one of who lived to maturity.   In 1858 Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for US Senate.  He lost the election, but in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican Party nomination for President in 1860.  As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. On January 1, 1863, he issued Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.  On Good Friday, April 14, 1865 Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, who somehow thought he was helping the South.

In his epilogue, the author states that he went to spend a weekend with the Association of Lincoln Presenters at the annual convention in Beckley, West Virginia.  Seeing all these men in black suits and stovepipe hats and beards shaved above the chin was an instructive experience.  However, he concludes that “it is a generic and inherent flaw of biography that in order to wrestle a figure, in this instance the formidable figure of Lincoln, onto the page, three dimensions get turned into two.”  However, I believe that the young scholar, Joshua Wolf Schenk has done an excellent job of painting a three dimensional picture of Lincoln. Bravo!

Finally, this book has one perhaps unintended but welcome social and political implication.  Here we have a politician, Lincoln, with depression genes atavistically skulking in his psychic space.  He had several major depressive episodes (nervous breakdowns in 19th century parlance) well known to the public.  Yet he rose to become President of this country.  I was thinking of the late Thomas Eagleton, the former US Senator from Missouri, and George McGovern’s Veep nominee on the 1972 Democratic ticket who had to withdraw because of history of depression.  It seems the public tolerance of mental illness has drastically decreased since 1841, Lincoln’s last episode of major Depression, to 1972 when it was discovered that Eagleton had treatment for depression.  Are we going backward?

*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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Funding a Mental Health Program and Developing a City Park

Monday Musings for Monday Dec 3, 2012

 

Volume II, No.39/91 

Funding a Mental Health Program and Developing a City Park

Have your cake and eat it too!

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

dix

It is unfortunate to see a rift between the good people who advocate for the mentally ill and those who are supporting transfer of the Dorothea Dix Hospital land into a city park.  We should avoid this split at all cost.  We can fund the state mental health program and have the city park too.

Here are some reflections: funding programs for mentally ill is NC’s covenant with its citizens enshrined in its constitution.  Shirking that sacred duty and promise as we have done for the past 30 years is ethically unacceptable and morally bankrupt.  In the meantime, passing up the opportunity to turn DDH land into a world class park, like New York City’s Central Park, would be another unforgivable travesty that North Carolinians should not accept.  We need the park to turn Raleigh into a destination where children can play, visitors bring their families and yes, developers can enjoy building attractive buildings around the park, just as the developers did in 1870 after New York’s Central Park was completed.  The city park would give Raleigh the soul it so badly needs.  It will give Raleigh an identity as an attractive city.  Cities are like people.  They can be caring, altruistic and beneficent to their citizens, or ugly and narcissistic and self serving.  With the construction of this city park, Raleigh has an opportunity to become an altruistic city for all its citizens, young and old.  My thoughts are to develop a comprehensive plan for the space between DDH and WakeMed to involve development of southeast Raleigh. This would include Shaw and Saint Augustine Universities.  It would involve housing and commercial establishments to give that region a booming economy.  Since 1961, I have heard about developing Southeast Raleigh. Yet there has been very little done.  This is a good opportunity to advance that goal and offer the citizens of Southeast Raleigh the break they have needed and asked for in the past 45 years. And here is my proposal to funding of the state mental health program.

Going against the eleventh commandment of the Republican party, “Thou shall not raise taxes”, I am proposing that  the State tax the rich to support its mental health program.  California has succeeded in passing proposition 63, which will impose a tax surcharge of one percent on  taxable personal income above one million dollars to pay for services offered through the state’s existing mental health system.  To pass such a law much leg work needs to be done, an infra-structure laid down, and coalitions developed.  I have been closely watching and following the development of proposition 63 in California since August 2004.  A huge mixture of powerful alphabet soup lobby, consisting of the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), California Psychiatric Association District Branch (CPA), California’s six major unions, AARP-California, The California Teachers’ Association (CTA), along with American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association, just to name a few, participated in forming the Campaign for Mental Health (CMA).  The initial initiative will raise $700 million dollars this year.  I submit that we start such a campaign today.  I am willing to pay my share today.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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