Friday, February 5, 2016

Profane Sonnet 7

Arise, arise, bright arrays of fMRIs!
Observe nomadic flareups shine & scatter: 
glucose convoys speed toward battle-cries,
front-lines locked in stalemate. No matter
how fast the quartermaster resupplies
sulci spent on schoolmen’s endless chatter,
doubts throttle every tentative surmise:
June-bugs on careening windshields spatter.

Blow out the candles.  A residue remains:
prosciutto spread on a sandwich slide
colored map-like by a fine variety of stains,
inedible of course, yet able to be classified–
a rainbow cast on stucco by a sunlit prism.
Wavelengths spell impending cataclysm.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Instance of Algorithmic Feudalism Analyzed

Your relator is a retiree with pharma coverage under a State health plan. Lucky me! But the humble gratitude I am expected to feel by virtue of my relative good fortune was rapidly dissipated once I began to use my benefit.  Stimulated by the proposals and examples of legal author (and Professor) Frank Pasquale, and other scholars in his generation, my experience suggests a need for more drastic and urgent attention to the economics of an emerging 21st C. economic regime of cyber-feudalism.

As a third party victim of a contract between CVS and the State, I am obliged to deal with a central CVS mail order pharmacy for ongoing refills of lifetime medications. Unlike the previous successful briber of the Governor (Express Scripts), CVS is chronically unable to refill ever-renewed requirements for slowly escalating dosages. CVS algorithmically knows when another bottle of pills is needed. That triggers a robo FAX to my physician’s back-office asking for a prescription renewal.  The robo-calling machine appears to be time zone-indifferent. Since my physician’s back-office lacks a robot or FAX machine, these nearly costless ‘contacts’ waste electricity and achieve nothing. The next costless step for CVS is a robo phone call to a possibly outdated number listed in their records for my physician’s office. Scrupulous records of this HIPAA-respecting rigmarole are cheaply stored in a CVS cyber-archive somewhere. Thus, virtual loops of red tape are generated algorithmically, at almost no cost to CVS.

The ‘failure’ of the physician to respond then triggers robo-calls to my home, with a script that interrogates the responding party until the robot concludes, following its programmer’s conception of HIPAA protocol, that it has indeed reached the very he who needs another bottle of …. [go find the empty or nearly empty bottle to see what it is ‘talking’ about] Rx #_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0605. 

As a matter of culturally ineradicable intransigence, Parthian does not, and never will, deal with inanimate inquisitors, be they pollsters or entities with whom he has an involuntary business “relationship”.  After a certain number of hang-ups at the home end, the algorithmic robo-caller initiates costless (to CVS) pop-up messages that appear on home devices, interrupting the work or play at hand. The messages say that CVS has tried to help, and failed. There will be no more pills until the patient contacts his physician (whose fault it is, according to CVS) to get the refill authorization from her desk to cyber-CVS, pronto.

A call to the physician’s office, answered during normal clinical hours by a human receptionist, normally completes the cycle; but often enough, more than one call is necessary, because the back-office has moved again into lower-rent quarters, or because overworked clerks are busy.  About 15-20% of the time, an hour or more of patient time is taken up by a personal visit to the back-room prescription clerk du jour (turnover is high in the robo-wrangling business).

Such minute details have macro-economic implications. Let us examine the ledger:

  1. CVS sends an uninformative email. 
  2. Email interrupts work, requires look up of Rx
  3. CVS sends 2-4 robo calls at mealtimes with rigid ID queries
  4. 2-4 dinners interrupted, or robo voice-mail messages to review and eliminate.
  5. CVS begins pop-up barrage.
  6. 3-5 work/play interruptions.
  7. Final CVS robo call “It’s your problem now, sucker!”
  8. 1-5 additional work/play interruptions, in service to CVS.

The cost to CVS of their algorithmic offenses (odd-numbered lines) is in legal parlance, one peppercorn.

The cost to the modal patient (even-numbered lines) averages about six interruptions of ongoing work or leisure activity.  Valuing time spent dealing with CVS at the going rate, the bothers come to 3 ½ hours exclusive of blood-pressure and other endocrine or cardiac effects. At minimum wage rates, this comes to about $50. Add this to the co-pay of $7 to $20, and the true cost to the patient of the “benefit” is at least $60, most of it spent on vexatious waste. All this the labor is involuntary, and for sicker patients, may be impossible.

In an ideal regulatory regime, an ante-algorithmic norm would be respected. The cost would fall upon the “seller” of the pharmacommodity. Wholesale transfer of clerical cost overhead from seller to user (“buyer”) is a major economic force driving down costs to the seller, while convincing most of the victims that ‘efficiency’ is reflected by a lower co-pay and thus less out-of-pocket expense. After all, what is there better to do for people who are no longer active in the work force? And what better for CVS than invisible revenue from uncompensated work by customers drafted to toil on their behalf?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A prologue in Rhyme to Poetry in Prose

While the Arrow and his pals knocked down beers at a local fern bar, the wives attended a matinée at the ART theater in Cambridge.
From their happy critique, it appears that they saw a series of prose poems presented in blackout fashion, following the seasons in small town Minnesota. Most of the scenes took place around a sauna and fishing shack on a frozen lake: Lake Wobegon almost meets Godot, with Mr Mark Rylance delivering a fine performance inspired by Fred Willard.

Because the audience was understandably predominantly females of a certain age, it was thought desirable to follow the electronic admonitions before the curtain rose with a spoken prologue, as follows:

The celebrated thespian, Mark Rylance
delights in episodes of vylance.
His deadpan, steadfast stage demeanor
limns character that’s edgier, and keener:
Audience! Let him play in reverential sylance!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another totem

The Red-Lipped Batfish

The Red-Lipped Batfish guards her cave,
librarian, scowling keeper of the gate.
Approach her treasures carefully: be brave!

She supposes you’re a peccant knave;
should you intrude, beware your fate!
Every supplicant she deems to be her slave.

Behind her lies a grotto, or a grave.
If the former: refuge for her brood or mate.
(Approach her treasures carefully: be brave!)

If the latter: personified, you see sorrow’s slave.
Tidy shelves behind her are always up to date.
The Red-Lipped Batfish guards her cave!

Basilica of coral, enshrined within the nave,
a niche where souls incensed disintegrate– 
Approach her treasures carefully: be brave!

The pledges you once thought you freely gave
she hosts among the Archives of her State.
The red-lipped batfish guards her cave–
Approach her treasures carefully: be brave!

Friday, January 15, 2016

6-Meta-sonnet: Coping


Resisting, I find a way to pound the keys
or murmur to my bedside microphone–
dumb secretary who begins to ease
the urgent drive to see my thought full-blown.
Many skewered specimens I squeeze–
trays of lexic taxa, some hitherto unknown
arrayed in cabinets for others to identify:
ephemera arrested, who were meant to fly

in every quarter of the biosphere
skating through their sliversworth of time
unburdened by regrets, or fear,
tethered by mischance to now and here
transfixed legatees of Adam’s crime,
his mortal residue engrossed in grime.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

5- Selves as Parasites Infecting Flesh


I am a squirming larva deftly stung.
Eggs hatch inside, that neurons feed:
by their first attack my neck is wrung.
Nothing hurts; I do not die or bleed–
just a few afferent strings unstrung
make me quiver: fleeing quarry treed.

Excelsior! my assailants take their course
upward to the flower in the skull:
slow-marching, next they choose to force
my pen to shrink, no matter how I pull
vainly trying to extenuate a source
of consolation, anodyne and dull
until it becomes at least a legible line
for reflection to consider and refine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

4– The Ego Flickers

The first draft of the next sonnet was submitted to the editor of a student anthology. This leader of our summer poetry workshop rejected it, with a mark of C-. Written in the margin, the mss said, "Enough of meditations on the fissures in man! I'm sick and tired of bad anthems!"


Soul or self, it comes and goes just as we fare:
circadian survivor,  call it half or call it whole–
mysterious pattern in the sleeve of care–
benevolent, restorative, or else the troll
who hooks us in the end, dangling his line
where murky swimmers in delusion shine,

to haul us up, stuff us in a rattan creel
restore us to our native element a while
lashed to the side, where we can feel
our captor’s soft, anticipating smile
thinking of his lucky catch: another meal
attesting to his acumen and guile.
Isn’t this idyllic and complacent scene
just what passing is supposed to mean?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sonnet III - Rightside Up

Taking a more formal turn, conventional tropes tackle the perils of internal, hence inherent, vice–


The yegg that stalks your armored cells
enters the front door of your abode;
in unobtrusive innocence, he dwells
patiently tweaking zippered code–
solves it when the answer only spells
(as you expected) the end of the road,
but first your torturer demands a test:
“One to ten, is present pain or death the best?”

The answer he wants you already know:
doctors think amygdala is where it lurks
yet no anatomist as yet can show
what consists in consciousness, or works
to help you patch the morning thread
you knit with ease,  “waking from the dead”.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Lighten Up, Add Bells

The second verse is upside down, but it adds rhyme and an element of jocularity.


Whatever else you are, you’re meat.
That’s why “you are what you eat”,
trite, and true of karma as of flesh,
extends your shelf-life, keeps you fresh–
bait for everything esurient, lion
down the food-chain all the way to prion!

Destroyers you can’t foresee, see you.
They hide and wait for you to pass
then, as nature dictates they must do
they jump you, shatter you like glass
or piecemeal take a bite or two
then replicate until they reach a mass
sufficient for your mutual destruction,
a binge that ends with foul eruction.