The lamp tilted

Sometimes it wants a simple tale to ‘guile the day, the tumult and hustle of bellies filled and emptied, just a tale, unlikely, unlovely, to soften the small and large of the coming dawn.

The lamp of the title occurs in Robert Frost’s “An Old Man’s Winter Night” (1916). Its tilt is à propos of April’s cruelty, I thought.

Bias and Payoff

A random piece generated the following:

We know but try not to believe that it is impossible to erase bias in anything created by a human, as human bias is inevitable. Some engineers (social, civil, name your kind) will offer to detect bias and correct for it article by article, act by act. Yet, to solve for evidence of bias in how people choose articles, or acts or words or deeds, is to solve for a math problem without first clustering a set of laws or hypotheses that pertain to the problem at large, i.e. without encompassing the problem holistically.

The only way to control for bias in anthropomorphic products is to have a series of anti/corrective procedures, fading into multiplicity, perhaps somewhat like solving for the value of pi. The right way to run that ‘evidence of bias and correction for it’ experiment would be  to solve for both hypothesis and application problems simultaneously. Otherwise, the solution to problems would be equivalent to examining already-biased data and piling up evidence of certain degrees of bias without looking at why those biases exist.

The missing problem — in the whole field of machine learning, deep learning, AI and cognitive manipulation of political-economic populations, socio-political power and attribute-signalling furore — is why, given a choice (and not just between yes/no, such as in business or consumer choice models, or controlled experiments) individuals and groups choose one way and for one type of eventual result rather than others.

The calculation of outcome is not quite as cerebral as in chess. And people often choose to keep or return to homeostasis, i.e. to maintain what keeps them happy and fulfilled or to engineer outcomes in the common world that would bring them (as preferred group, not just one participating group) the lost homeostasis. Rarely do people choose for an outcome not yet imagined, and rarely are they willing to follow along without cognitive pictures of what the future will look like.

Bias is linked to payoff; ethically, it is impossible to remove human bias as long as we cannot solve the gnarls of human motivation.

It would perhaps be more desirable and fruitful to control for bias and payoff rather than attempt to remove the bias at all (even by cancelling out a negative with a positive). The calculation of payoff and satisfaction is a long derivation, and only a long game will ensure evidence that stands up to scrutiny as well as means to manage that evidence.

The real game in the digital world now is the vast experiment of controlled human emotion and behavior, which can be played by anyone who wants to ‘make an impact’ in the worlds linked up to social media, but are especially visible and truly formidable as platforms under names such as Google and Facebook. Data-driven regimes are perfect for both (1) convincing digitally docile populations to believe in the veracity of small steps and changes and choices as narrated within the framework of justice (righting wrongs, reversing damage) outcomes, and (2) gradually manipulating them to think and believe in digitally calculable ways. The Panopticon meets The Foundation trilogy.

Facing Violence

In a week during which several deaths have been recorded in India – in each, the perpetrators belonged to a social group who did not wish to enter an economic or social contract with individuals from another social group perceived as simultaneously inferior and locally oppressive, and wherein each symbolic action (words, raising the national flag on Republic Day) was the offensive trigger for violent retaliation (Chandan in Kasganj, Manjunath in Bangalore, Ankit in Delhi) – I connect the news to an incident I witnessed in Kolkata.

On Jan 28th, 2018, late at night in Kolkata, India, I observed three women being threatened with violent communal retaliation by an Uber driver because one of these women questioned the driver’s peremptory ride cancellation after the car was loaded and the trip had started. The driver told them to get out, physically intimidated them, declared he would block their street departure location with his car all night, and if the women didn’t shut up he would bring people back from Kidderpore. (The driver obviously guessed enough about his passengers to threaten them with violence from a different religious community). All this under the benign and smiling presence of local traffic policemen, who blamed the women because they couldn’t detain the driver.

Violence becomes real when it is personal. Up close, it is also a large emotion, inciting us to large actions. If we have learned to exteriorize and blame all our misfortunes on the ‘Other’ and its deliberate malice (person, group, entity, event), we enter the justificatory realm of virtuous scapegoating.

If I say my city has changed in 20 years, I will likely be called a bigoted bhakt or worse in India, a vile Islamophobe in the U.S., and a Modi-moron in my old discursive academic world (which told me to leave since I was an un-progressive settler colonial anyway). My good interlocutors will throw Ayodhya, Kashmir, NE India and Trump at me (lumped under an imagined category in their heads that they mis-read from Anglophone media; they still ask, ‘You speak Hindu?’ To which I say I don’t).

In that accusatory and reformist narrative, women such as these in the Uber tale are collateral damage in the necessary revolution of the world and the righting of historical wrongs.

In my reasoning, retaliatory justice is short-sighted and unpardonable, especially when supported by history shortened to 500 years. Violence, no matter how ‘halal,’  neither purifies nor resolves.

And yet this is how the world begins to burn again. I invite you to think on this article:

The PhotoBooth app on iPad tells you in childlike ways how the user’s face can be distorted and changed. The world is the same. How we see distorts what we see.

All Hallows’ Eve


The dark half of the year begins.

Demeter is most distracted. Persephone must be found by us, lest our cycle halt, so we hold out payment to her spirit-children. Here is my sweet fruit, take and eat.

In spring, Time, per Sacred Law, you may have my body along with the corn king’s and spring queen’s. Tonight, it is merely a carnival of the cycle of life and death, the skull is a lit lamp, and we open the thin shade of our skin over this burning life.

The world turns its other face and its legion merry host don new garb to show they are someone else, somewhere else, for this vigil night. They would have been anyone else and nothing else, and for one tentative evening they show it, panting.





I have loved you in each leaf of spring, each death of winter, till the turning seasons rose like dust beneath our bodies.

I still walk in the sun gazing at shadow, and there is no one behind me to bind my arm, to say, ‘Wait.’ I have looked for you in every face, mistook the face for you. Whoever you are, these dreams have loved you well.

I, too, have loved before. This world, its creatures and their fantasies, their swirling cosmos of act-word-intention, those brittle wishes, all the dreams lost to others — all that I have spun from my self, my translucent untied life.  In my waking dreams I see their luminous marks. Murals that become graffiti, buffed nails, the prison walls chalked and hatched, stone upon kalend stone.

But this remainder I will lodge in my self, will shelter there as long as you wish it. I made you with everything I am not, an entire fall of water and desire, the sure direction of a riverine prayer.

I shall deny this.


And if there is no eternity, nor any other birth to tumble into, I shall still miss you.

I knew you by the shape of all absence. And savored

your scent like the sea-salt.

Life is still unperturbed by these folded knees.

The sea (or you) struck my tears, but slipped my hold thereafter. This took me for everything,

but the balance is still unmoved.

If there is only eternity, I will call you Krishna, and honor the illusion between the stars.


So much for shadow work

Did you find it, what you were looking for, all the time you were using the perimeter of the ring, the stage, the self, the world?

What did you see after you threw yourself against the ropes, launched yourself from them? Did you find anything? Did they crawl over your wrists, the ropes, tie you in knots when your knees bent climbing them? Did you meet that other body you raged against? Were you subdued before you hung from those arms?

Did your senses return you to yourself? Did you ever reach the limits of that body?

You never forgot yourself, did you? And you wanted to, but not when the forgotten piece would become another fragment of yourself, bartered, fingered, passed from craving, crazed buyer to buyer. Teller of tales, you become coin in their tellers’ hands. (That would be cinema in this late decade.) You are still looking for something more.

Your face when you are not guarding it.

A long engagement

In a continuous outpouring, continuous transformation, open mouth, open belly and sex, we take and live and give and then fetishize life with our perceptions of spring and winter and birth, marriage and death. But we do not live until we learn its ragas, its music, its laws, sounds and spaces. It is the final mastery, this true submission to the laws of life, the only one we need consent to with joy.

Sometimes, when the laws we find are invisible or too unsettling, we create religions out of other structures — discourses of science, faith, society, freedom — and worship and submit to those laws instead. Familiar, loving gods are more soothing than inexorable laws of life, for we may adorn our gods and god-spaces. Those are close enough, labyrinthine and inanimate. But to know the first laws –and the many sutras of how we may unite with, love and couple with life — is the task.

There is nothing else to love, no one else to want, unless they personify Life for us. Of course, that’s when we fall in love and still live.

And before the submission, long before and long after, there is the combat, the dance, the drama that must be played out.  One contending with the other, to win, to lose, with skill, without honor, with a delicate violence.