Tag Archives: The News and Observer

On a Few Thoughts

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 20, 2014

Volume IV, No 42/142

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LETTERS

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

(Editor’s Note: we are reprinting several letters that have been printed in Raleigh News & Observer and other publications for the readers of ‘Monday Musings’. We wish to thank several letters written to us correcting that Richard Wagner wrote only one Ring Cycle. Cycle should not have been pluralized.)

Scientific Research Should be Left to NIH

The Sept. 19 news article Duke, UNC scientists lobby for funding briefly and tangentially addresses the ill-conceived notion espoused by many members of Congress, including our own Sen. Richard Burr, that university scientific research should be funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

Having pharmaceutical companies fund university research that ultimately benefits a company’s bottom line is unethical, if not immoral. It should be illegal.

The National Institutes of Health should fund scientific research. The pharma industry’s malignant and greed-imbued practice of direct-to-consumer television and newspaper advertising is an abomination.

In recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has spent enormous sums on advertising and public relations that come in the form of free lunches and junkets for medical practitioners and researchers. The public needs to be aware of the unholy medical-pharmaceutical complex and its unwelcome product of inventing new diseases and pushing pills to cure those diseases.

Half of my clinical time with patients is spent talking them out of taking the drug they saw on television with the promise of a magical cure. It is very much like President Eisenhower’s warning the nation of the problem of a military-industrial complex. We now need to tell the nation about the pharma-medical complex.

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Adjunct professor of psychiatry, UNC School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Raleigh

 

Fracking

 In regards to the N&O news article “Panels vote to hasten fracking”, I submit that we should not be hasty. Some reflection:

Fracking is a process by which gas from underground layers shale is extracted.  The process involves pumping water and chemical with high pressure through underground pipes to push the gas out.  The environmentalists argue that fracking is detrimental to our water supply, and carries with it the possibility of contamination and health hazard. The politicians (and industrialists) who urgently wish to create jobs claim that the process is safe. I have been looking and wondering about another issue which thus far has remained unexamined, and that is the ethics of fracking. I consider fracking a violation of mother earth. It is very much like the criminal act of rape, using force and violence to victimize a subject and gratify one’s ugly needs. It is narcissistic, violent, self-serving and inconsiderate.

Where are the theologians, bioethicists, and ecologists when you need them? They should step forward and expound the evil of raping mother earth. And if I am wrong, I will listen and learn.

AM

NC Medical Examiner

Some 50 years ago, when I was practicing in Fayetteville, Cumberland County, NC, there was a barber who had the duties of the coroner. They found a body which the coroner had signed off as suicide. The prosecutor asked me for a consult since I had some forensic training. I did. In my brief report, I stated that I found three bullets entering the body including one in the skull. “It was the worst case of suicide I have ever seen,” I wrote. Reading the commendable and thorough five part series about NC Medical Examiner system in N&O, I see that after 50 years things have not changed much!

AM

The Governor and Professor Gene Nichol

Regarding your news article Nichol speaks, just not for UNC: I suggest that our governor, whom I like and support, do with Gene Nichol, whose intellect I adore, what King Frederick of Prussia did with Voltaire in the 1750s.

Voltaire was the quintessential philosopher of the 18th century, the age of enlightenment. He penned more than 18 million words in all genres of literature from philosophy, epistemology, politics, religion, Newtonian physics to poetry and theater. His volumes of “Lettres Philosophiques” continue to be on the best-sellers list along with the Bible and Quran.

Frederick invited Voltaire to his palace to be the king’s resident savant and adviser. Nichol would fit that role beautifully in McCrory’s administration, which desperately needs a person in that role – a resident savant.

Nichol’s wisdom and lessons ought to be encouraged and promulgated, not tarnished and tamed.

AM

A Wise Choice

I have been reading The N&O for more than 50 years and have tolerated its left-leaning content and editorials. I am also aware that as a public trust it is the newspapers’ duty to turn knowledge and information into wisdom.

Manufacturing wisdom from knowledge and information is the primary function of any public newspaper. Wisdom does not bear labels of Republican and Democrat. Wisdom is politically neutral. The N&O has been openly political and unwise.

I am happy to observe only recently the paper’s editorial content changing and asymptotically approaching the sacred axis of wisdom.

Such was the lead editorial “The Bush Library” on April 26. The editorial objectively, factually and wisely opined on the positives and the flaws of G.W. Bush’s administration. The editorial was the closest thing to wisdom I have seen in the opinion pages of the N&O in many a moon. Congratulations.

AM

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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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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A Compendium of Letters

“Monday Musings”  for Monday July 15, 2013

Volume III, No. 26/129

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(Editor’s Note: Today’s column is a compendium of letters to the editor of various publications)

Profligacy of our Postal Service

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Recent articles in the press re: USPS evoke some thoughts and suggestions. Postal service started by Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia (600- 530 BC), around 570 BC. He needed to have postal couriers to bring him news from the four corners of his vast empire on a regular and daily basis. His first person for the job, his Postmaster General, was a woman, a Postmistress by the name Mithra. She was Vizier of the Postal Services. Benjamin Franklin, a genius, a polymath, a polyglot, and fluent in history of civilization, in his writings made frequent references to Mithra. This little known fact also reflects the human right and equality women enjoyed in pre-Islamic Achaemenid Persia. Cyrus had two other female viziers also.

Thanks to our founding fathers, and especially to Benjamin Franklin, for more than 200 years, Americans have relied on the US Postal Service to deliver the mail through storms of all kind. But changing technology, a global recession, and rising debt now threaten the national mail service. Mail volume is expected to drop by 14% this year, and the USPS estimates that it will lose seven billion dollars. There is no question that by any measure the USPS’s financial condition is dire.

Among solutions contemplated is by USPS officials are closing of up to 700 branches and delivering mail five days a week or at least to stop Saturday mail delivery. USPS has tried to balance the budget by raising rates, trimming its work force through attrition and buyouts, automating mail sorting, realigning routes, and freezing executive salaries. Here are some thoughts about alternative solutions: Like Germany, Britain and Japan USPS ought to open its services to competition from private companies. In a recent report in Financial Time, professors of the London School of Economics suggest “profit motive would bring a drive for efficiency…”

As I travel around the world and observe national habits, I have not seen any country that offers so much in amenities to the postal carriers as we do in America. Our postal carriers seem to all have jeeps to carry them around. I suggest that USPS, like Germany, Britain and Japan mothball the millions of combustion engine jeeps they buy, fuel and maintain, spending billions of dollars on that one item and encourage the delivery to be carried on foot. Another benefit of such change in policy is trimming down the unwanted fat the jeeps carry around. Trimmer, and healthier postal workers save on the health bill. Obesity that causes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and musculoskeletal problems, like chronic backache, could be prevented and truly billions and billions dollars in healthcare savings realized through switching from machine delivery to foot delivery. American profligacy is not only driving us to bankruptcy, it is literally killing us.

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA


 One Serpent or Two Serpents Caduceus

Letter to the Editor, News and & Observer

The wrong caduceus was used in the op-ed page article “Dying Well, Knowing the Cost”, N&O, June 13, 21013. Caduceus, a staff with two serpents is related to Mercury and all its functions and attributes including commerce. Caduceus with a staff and one serpent is medical symbol that goes to Asclepius. In 1902 through an error made by a culturally illiterate VA doctor in NY, the commercial caduceus was adopted as a medical symbol and never corrected. However in 1952, American Medical Association (AMA) took action to correct the symbol. AMA has taken further initiative of correcting the symbol in all its formal medical printings and communications.

A M

“Iran, 3000 Years of Stoning Women”

Letter to the Editor, The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC

I am writing to strongly object to the content of the political cartoon on the editorial page of N&O, Monday June 10, 2013. Among many evils going on in the world your cartoonist lists “ 3000 years of stoning women in Iran”.  A bit of history might be helpful.

It is the Persian Empire and not Iran that is over 3000 years old.  As a matter of fact, Persia and some of its cities go back 8000 years. Cyrus the Great and other kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible on innumerable occasions. Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the beneficence of King of Persia where he is named Messiah. Cyrus emancipated the Jews and established equal rights for men and women. In managing his vast empire, to be in touch with his emissaries, rulers in distant parts of the kingdom, Cyrus developed a formal service charged with sending and receiving communiqués to and from his lieutenants, thus the birth of the postal service which he called “Peyk”. The cabinet of Cyrus the Great consisted of twelve viziers (ministers or secretaries), several of whom were women. The first person in charge of the Royal mail service was a woman. Her name was Mithra (which in Zoroastrian parlance means, dignity). The father of the United States Postal Service (USPS), the polymath Benjamin Franklin, being the amorous type and a lady’s man, has referred to Mithra in his writings. In addition, we had Toorandokht and Poorandokht (both women) ruling the Persian Empire during the Sassanian (Sassanid) dynasty, 224-651 AD. Also, we are reminded repeatedly in the Old Testament that wisdom is a woman (Proverb 1-9), and in Greek the word for wisdom is Sophia. May be one of these days we will have a female US President to bring some wisdom and love to our dialectically torn nation. I have a granddaughter who will make a good candidate…

Cyrus Cylinder, the iconic representation of declaration of human rights, is now on tour in US.  Yes, under the Mullahs and the present day regime, the level of human dignity and civility has deteriorated.  But the regime is only 30 years and not 3000 year old.

AM

Letter to the Editor, The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC

 

Dear Sir:

Mental Health

Kudos to John Drescher for his insightful column N&O, June 1, 2013, “On Mental Health, Job isn’t Done”. The only correction I offer is that some studies reveal that over one third of NC inmates have a diagnosable mental illness (brain disease), not 15 to 20 percent as stated in the article.

For over 50 years, I have been involved in various capacities with the North Carolina mental health system. At no time the services to and for our patients have been as chaotic, sparse, and erratic as they are today. Fifty years ago, in North Carolina, we had a system in place that was truly superb. At Dorothea Dix Hospital, where I received my psychiatric training, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, patients had predictable, excellent,

and academically cutting edge treatment available to them with ready access. No patients had to wait for days and in some instances for weeks in emergency departments of general hospital waiting for a bed.  And no patients were put in jail and prisons because of lack of mental health treatment and shortage of psychiatric beds. We have certainly devolved and regressed. Taking care of patients with mental illness–and really it is brain disease—is a moral responsibility about which Thomas Jefferson and our country’s other founding fathers have expounded.

There is a glimmer of hope.  UNC system President Tom Ross, his chief of staff, Kevin Fitzgerald, Dean of UNC School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Dr. William Roper, and WakeMed administrator William Atkinson have agreed to provide a psychiatric unit of 40+ psychiatric beds for Wake County.  With the projected population growth in our area, to do an adequate job, we need a facility with 500 psychiatric beds.  We can do better, and must do better.

AM

Editor, WSJ: I am submitting the essay below for op-ed page, or the letter in response to Mr. Gary Fields’ excellent article in today’s WSJ. Thank you

AM

Gary Fields’ comprehensive article, WSJ, June 8-9, 2013, on the dilemma of the families where there is severe mental illness is indeed of Pulitzer quality. Mr. Fields took a psychological and historical scalpel and ably dissected the huge problem of mental health care in America. However, here are some reflections:

In the debate of violence, especially gun violence, mental illness has gotten a bad rap. The alleged connection between mental illness and mass violence is not supported by objective data and science:  “substantial research shows that the vast majority of people with serious mental illness never act violently, and the vast majority of violent crimes -96 % by the best available data- is not perpetrated by persons with mental disorder” said Paul Appelbaum, Past President of APA, Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. What we need to do is to face and design program of mental healthcare instead of warehousing the mentally ill in jails and prisons.

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

Another expert testimony at the Vice President Task Force was Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of National Institute of Mental Health stated that “Suicide, not homicide, is the most urgent public health problem associated with gun violence.  About 90% of suicides involved individuals with mental illness. Dr. Insel reported that “the popular association of homicidal violence and mental illness is tenuous at best..”  Despite common public perceptions, there is little connection between gun violence and mental illness.  Only 6 percent of violent crimes are committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness, as opposed to 96 percent suicides that are associated with mental illness.

What to Do? 

For nearly 50 years, I have been involved in various capacities with the North Carolina mental health system. At no time the services to and for our patients have been as chaotic, sparse, and erratic as they are today. Fifty years ago, in North Carolina, we had a system in place that was truly superb. In the late 50’s and early 60’s, patients had predictable, excellent, and academically cutting edge treatment available to them with ready access. Taking care of patient with mental illness, which is really brain disease, is a moral responsibility about which Thomas Jefferson and our country’s other founding fathers expounded. America has a moral obligation to provide care for the mentally ill.

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

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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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