Thursday, December 14, 2006

Troll in the Dungeon

Today's graphic is something I found all by itself on an Internet page. I think it's great, so if anyone knows the source that I can credit for it, let me know.

Anyway, it's a timely picture to show today, now that Dennis Kucinich has tossed his hat into the ring again. Could he beat Hillary? Like a rented mule. But Obama? Doesn't look like it. Doesn't matter: Kucinich's voice is one we need to hear plenty of in the 2008 campaign. Click that link and watch how he handles the Wolf-man, and I think you'll agree.

Medicine and politics 1: Funny, I never read any headlines about power-shifts when Dick Cheney's doctors were wondering whether the man's ticker would withstand the VP-stress. But today, power-shifting is all the rage in the media, because a Senator from South Dakota suffered a stroke. This is what happens when your media are themselves infected with that solipsistic corporate frigidity: the impulse becomes the product. Pretty sad stuff.

Medicine and politics 2: If I wrote a blog that somehow caused people to want to kill themselves, do you think I'd get off with putting a warning label in the header? (don't laugh—a guy named Goethe wrote a book called "Sorrows of Young Werther" that reportedly incited a wave of youthful suicides in the Europe of its day). Well, the drug companies are being told to put a warning label on certain anti-depressants that have a similar effect. The problem is that some docs are siding with the pharma companies on this one. This, by the way, is another demonstration of the urgent need for experts in the research methodology known as "naturalistic observation", which has been somewhat demonized in modern science as too New-Agey. Guess what—you can't design a double-blind, laboratory-style, randomized control study on this sort of thing. Not unless you don't mind much of your control group winding up dead, that is.

To my mind, this situation represents another call for a fresh look in this society at how we use medicines. I've written some thoughts on that point, with a focus on anti-depressants, here.

Medicine and politics 3: Circumcision is a good thing. It's front-page, headline news today, and until I've read the studies, I have only one comment. This doesn't change my view on the practice of slicing a newborn boy's Mr. Happy—it is one of the truly decadent and primitive practices left over from our evolutionary past that's still commonly done today. If the findings of this study are validated and circumcision is found to be a small component in preventing the spread of AIDS, then maybe it would help to educate young men on it and offer the option in the context of a voluntary program of adult circumcision, perhaps supported by government funding and with some sort of carrot tied to the scalpel (a tax break or even a small payment for young men submitting to it). The message could be, "hey tough guy, you handled getting that tongue-ring like a real trooper; now go get this done." But I'm still uncomfortable with even that: there are alternatives to managing the spread of AIDS that do not involve surgery, and I feel strongly that we have to get beyond this societal obsession with solving all problems with a knife, a pill, or a bomb.

But let me repeat one basic point about which there should be no debate: to do this to newborns does damage that we can't even measure yet. But I'm reminded of a story that Robert Bly told in Iron John: he said that during one of his men's seminars, he had passed around a sword through the group, and found that many of the men in the group cringed even at holding it. Well, I'd like to know how many of those guys had been circumcised long before they had any choice in the matter. If your dick had been sliced up when you were small and helpless, but acutely aware, wouldn't it be natural for you to cringe from knives for the rest of your life?

I thought I'd continue with my ruminations on the intersection of corporations and government, in light of the news that Bush is putting his finger far enough up his ass to check his own prostate, re. movement on a decision for the future in Iraq. Hmmm...I wonder if that's even would certainly be preferable to having it done to you. If any of our readers are urologists, let me know what you think.

So the Chimpster from Crawford, the Great Decider, can't make a decision, even though hundreds will likely die horrible deaths while he sits on the can over the holidays trying to figure out how to achieve "peace with honor," to use an old Nixonian bromide.

Well, if you work in corporate America, are you surprised? There's a TV commercial that I laugh at every time I hear its slogan: "moving at the speed of business." In corporate America, there is indeed a lot of busy-ness: people rushing around, clacking away at keyboards, buzzing impolitely on the telephone or the wireless set, scanning the Blackberry, oblivious of their surroundings. But how quickly do things really get done; how fast does accomplishment of the remotest stripe really happen in corporate America?

In my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, I discuss the true workings of the corporate body in the context of Ms. Rowling's metaphor of "the troll in the dungeon."

What’s big, ugly, smells really foul to anyone in their right senses, and can’t seem to move without stumbling or locking up in confusion? Well, if you work for a big corporation, you might have answered, “my department” or “the company I work for.” And you might be right.

In fact, you could take your pick: the mountain troll that corners Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a girls’ bathroom in Sorcerer’s Stone could be a metaphor on the monster of the modern corporation or the government. Since the government comes in for enough rough treatment from Mrs. Rowling in “The Ministry of Magic” (see Chapter 9), I prefer to think of the mountain troll as a massive corporation whose various parts can’t communicate or coordinate with one another. It stinks horribly, meaning that it’s offensive to people’s most basic and feeling-oriented senses: every time I read about another company downsizing (that is, ruining the lives of) its workers, I sense that same repulsive odor that Rowling’s children smell as they encounter the troll. The corporate troll solves every problem by trying to stomp it into oblivion or by trying to eat what’s in the way of its lumbering, juggernaut movement. But for all its vast physical size and the ungainly length of its various parts, it is only part-being: its intelligence is blunted by its massive, organizational-chart body, and therefore it can act only through domination—swinging the dull club of Power onto anything and anyone that comes within its myopic visual scope.

Finally, as in the story, the corporate troll is inevitably knocked out by the wooden immensity of its own size and force: how often do we see the company that yesterday was bludgeoning other smaller firms into bankruptcy or submission suddenly subjected to the same treatment by another, larger “troll”? Or worse still, consider the fate of some of the ugliest of corporate behemoths—those that fell under the weight of greed as well as incompetence. The trolls known as Enron, Worldcom, and their like, collapsed amid their corruption, poisoning an entire nation with the foul stench of their depravity, while leaving investors and customers robbed, broken, and destitute. Ron, Harry, and Hermione were lucky to escape the mountain troll with only a brief scare and the vague breath of its odor in their memories; the investors of the corporate trolls of Greed and Excess are often left with ruined lives and uncertain futures.

So as it is with our personal lives and relationships, seeing clearly the reality of the Bush administration and corporate America is all about looking beyond appearances. We have to stare past the superficial hubbub of activity and rhetoric and ask, "what's really being done?" The answer, for a culture so obsessed with action, will only be surprising for a moment: very little, if anything, gets done—and what does get done happens with a positively reptilian sloth. That goes back to the nature of the beast, the troll: its movement is all veneer, so when you seek substance or real accomplishment, there's nothing there. For all their jerky, compulsive activity, government and the corporate body are dead from the neck when it comes to results. That's because all that action lacks the guidance of the clarity born of reflection. Our banner quote author has plenty to say about that, and we will meet her tomorrow.


Hugh7 said...

When they say circumcision cuts HIV by 50% in Uganda, that seems impressive, but they don't tell you it means they'd have to circumcise 56 men to prevent one transmission per year. (In the US, with its lower HIV incidence, the number - other things being equal - would be 380!) The time, expertise and money could be far better spent promoting safe sex, treating ulcerative diseases (which facilitate HIV transmission) and preventing malaria.

But the study is still far from convincing. The circumcised men (but not the control group) had to abstain from sex after their operations. This and cutting the experiment short make the effectiveness seem higher. (The men could have themselves circumcised at any time, so there was no ethical reason they had to cut it short. What's ethically dubious is not telling them when they tested positive.)

Each new experiment has a lower effectiveness, as they correct for more confounders. Not so long ago they were claiming 8-fold reduction. When they've corrected for everything, what will be left?

More at

Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that African AIDS is a heterosexual disease, and that circ prevents female to male transmission. In the West, AIDS is spread mostly by receptive gay anal sex and needles, so circ won't do a bit of good here.