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  • Anthony R. Carrasco

Rafel's Data

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Strong


Rafel Sans didn’t know how old he was. The exact date of his birth was in a digital cloud above the artificial land mass of Pelican Bay. To access the Pelican Bay Medical Database (PBMD), Sans would have had to pay $12,000. The hospital at which he was born was Pelican Bay Medical Services Incorporated; a public-private-private partnership also known as a P4. P4s were thought of as an innovative way to make medicine more accessible to the unhoused by providing them top-tier service in exchange for exclusive rights to biological “data” collected during medical stays. “Disrupting the world, one gene at a time” was PBMD’s motto.


The use rights of Sans medical records (which included his birthday) had an estimated value of $2,000 commercially when he first sought out the information. The additional 10k in expenses was to compensate the data diggers who would ironically need to spend an exorbitant amount of time writing a one-of-a-kind algorithm to locate Rafel’s birthday needle in their big data haystack.


As one of countless homeless children growing up in the slums of Pelican Bay, Sans sought the information immediately before setting off for a new life in San Francisco. When he grew up, San would go on to write in his bestselling memoir, A Kingdom Called Home, not knowing his birthday didn’t matter all that much to him because he never had the basic resources to “celebrate” birthdays like other children in the first place. He had no space to host, no friends to invite, no cake to eat. His motivation for seeking the information in the first place would never be revealed to the public truthfully.


Rafel Sans wanted something worth more than any party or any present. The reason Sans

wanted to know his birthday so badly before he left Pelican Bay was that he wanted, more than anything in the world, someone to love him. He once heard that people who love each other remember each other’s birthdays. Rafel secretly dreamed of earning enough money one day to obtain this tidbit of information in hopes that he would someday find someone who would care enough about him to commit it to their memory.


* * *


The one who sailed the ship, which transported Rafel from Pelican Bay to San Franscico, was a tall, stringy man named Hugo. Hugo didn’t have a middle or last name so most referred to him as Officer Hugo or upon his escape from Pelican Bay, simply Mr. Hugo. Hugo joined the Pelican Bay Immigration Authorities (P-BIA) through a prison-to-service social program. Hugo was formerly incarcerated for disclosing his birthday to a date, while drunk. The date was on his birthday.


Hugo signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) regarding his birthing data which included an arbitration clause. No matter what, he could not sue Barry O’s Incorporated, the owner of his data. Barry O’s was a popular liberal restaurant chain that served a fusion of Chicago and

Hawaiian cuisine. Splattered with Barack Obama-related memorabilia Barry O’s was a favorite among left-leaning foodies who loved deep dish ham and pineapple pizza.


Barry O’s arbitration process found Hugo guilty 12 minutes after his tipsy disclosure. It usually

took Barry O’s about 25 minutes to detect and convict an NDA breach, but unfortunately, Hugo made the slip at, of all places, a Barry O’s restaurant. The only choice he had was where to serve his time in social isolation. Some social isolation units (formerly called prisons) were more desirable than others. To manage the ongoing problem of population overcrowding a “justice in placement” reform effort offered Hugo the chance to serve less time if he agreed to serve his sentence at an undesirable facility. No facility was more undesirable than Pelican Bay.


* * *


While in graduate school at UC Santa Cruz, Rafel Sans had a date the night before he

would return to Pelican Bay for the first time in 14 years. They met at Barry O’s. Sans wore a

plaid sports coat, a black t-shirt, and huaraches. Sans was racially ambiguous. A key to future

media success, Sans was considered by many a handsome and perpetually young-looking man among various racial and ethnic populations. Most people of light complexion liked that he looked “sunkissed,” a phrase one New Yorker columnist would use in reviewing Senate testimony on the great crisis of Pelican Bay’s two hundred-twenty.


He met his date on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). A tall young equally racially ambiguous man approached Sans to complement his trousers. While switching trains at the McArthur transfer station the tall stranger asked where Rafel had bought his pants. “It’s not every day you see white pantaloons,” the stranger joked. Recently rebuilt as one continuous ring circling the Bay Area in a practically non-stop loop, the two hit it off so well, that they forgot

their respective stops. They stayed on the BART for an entire revolution so they could further

dig into their various critical views of the Western film genre. Greg was his name. Next week, at dinner, everything fell apart.


“How did you know I love Barry O’s?,” asked Greg.


“Who doesn't? Hey, what is it that a guy like you does -- for a living? You’re in film

school, right? You know so much about…”


“Tech!” Greg blurted. “Ever hear about algorithms? Neat kiddos. I raise ‘em…”


“Very interesting. Right on…tell me more”


“Well, you know they are racist, right? The algorithms. The algorithims are racist as all

hell. I train it right out of ‘em. “It” being the racism, you know.”


The two went back and forth discussing how the pattern spotting machines kept

recreating the bias they were designed to erase. Rafel could tell Greg was excited by the topic -- truly inspired. Rafel asked follow-up questions, eager to see Greg perk up and then jump into answers. Each response blended the technical precision of an academic with the flirty outgoing charm of a TedTalk. Rafel found Greg’s charisma very attractive.


“Quite adversarial, no?” Rafael responded after Greg outlined the dynamics of training

bias out of machines.


“Great word for it! That’s a money word. Totally. We train two codes. We run the Creator

algorithm. We run the Discriminator algorithm. The Creator is meant to create a prediction that aims to perfectly predict that something is going to happen, say the likelihood that someone will go back to jail. You know, commit another crime…”


“Yeah, the algorithms reproduce the human bias.”


“Totally, and even when we tell them not to, they start using proxies for, say, race. They

swap out phenotypes and these bastards start using zip code, income, heck, height to

reproduce the same bias. So we gotta teach it. Well, teach it out. Train it…”


Rafel tried to skip ahead, “I see the adversarial nature here. I understand that. Your

“creator code” is trying to predict in a way that the “discriminator code” can’t discriminate against while the discriminator code is trying its darndest to discriminate.”


“Totally! They keep going back and forth.”


“It’s a dialectic!”


“What?”


“It’s cool!”


“Yeah, it is cool.”


Rafel had only one more question. He paused before asking. “When do you stop?”


“Stop?”


There was a pause.


“You stop when you have a non-discriminatory code that the algorithm can’t figure out

how to discriminate against.”


Rafel had a hard time swallowing the last bit. With enough time and new data, the

discrimination was sure to emerge again, he thought. But Greg was a cute guy and seemed like he had a good heart so Rafel reached for the dessert menu.


In a John Wayne accent, Greg ordered his date to “Tell me about your family, partner…”

Greg doubled down on his cowboy impression by lifting a comical finger gun from his hip and setting it on the table; aim set on Rafel.


Rafel’s fingertips tightened, creating small indents into the sprawling menu of cross-

cultural delicacies. Sans supported a research project about “talking family” as an

undergraduate research assistant for a summer at Stanford University. “Talking family”, the

study found, increased shared affection and bonding by five times that of other conversational topics. Rafel had no family to tell about the study.


“Family is family…” Rafel quipped, “Tell me about yours?”


“Uh uh uh partner, you just heard me go on and on about Robo-brains for about a half

hour…time to spill the beans amigo…tell me about ya pops, ya ma? Ya got siblings?” The John Wayne accent was becoming grating.


With the pep of a sports announcer transitioning to an advert, Rafel replied, “I gotta use

the restroom, real quick! Then, I’ll “spill the beans!”” Rafel stood up to leave.


“No dessert, til you do!!” Greg joked now with two-finger guns cocked at his sides.


Rafel walked slowly past an enormous oil painting of Barrack Obama profusely sweating

in an Atlas pose holding a glowing sky blue globe on his back, wearing nothing but a loincloth and a Nobel Peace Prize around his neck. The song Sweet Home Chicago as performed by the London Theatre Orchestra began to play in the background.

Rafel’s pace started to quicken as soon as he saw the bathroom door decorated with a

stained glass mosaic of Obama in a Christ pose with a kneeling Joe Biden kneeling before him. Obama’s hand was raised like Christ as if to say, “Pass in peace, my child.”


Rafel, grateful the restroom was single occupancy, locked the door, collapsed to his

knees, and prayed.


“Please God help me.” Silent tears started pouring down his cheeks. He whispered as

quietly as he could, “please God…please God…” He felt dramatically selfish for asking God to let him have a loving and tender relationship. Hot shame inflamed his body. The intense shame made his body tight in reaction to the searing pain. He made his entire body so tight he thought he would collapse into himself and pop out of existence. After 55 seconds of clinging to the floor to draw breathe, Rafel’s internal clock set off an alarm to shut down and reset.


He looked in the mirror and saw his eyes were red. He was confused. Then he

remembered how he got there. He became angry. He shook his head at himself. He frustratedly turned on the hot water faucet and scolded his hands until they were red and numb. Finally, he could breathe again.


Rafel washed up and started walking back to the table. As he passed a series of

Michelle Obama watercolor paintings reprinted on canvas, he remembered how the last half

dozen times family came up on dates he made up a story about his parents being this, his

siblings being that, but nothing ever held up to the harsh light of reality. Rafel felt he had no

people to whom he belonged.


Sitting down, Rafel smiled and joked, “are those things loaded?”


“You betcha, bucko. Now spill it before I’ll drop ya.”


“Well…”


Rafel heard a small crack in his shell.


“I…don’t have any family…believe it or not, I don’t.”


“Everyone has got family, dude. Who are you, Jesus? Even he had a dad…and a

brother if you count Satan. Did you know Mormons believe the devil is Jesus’s brother?”


There was silence. Rafel looked at the dessert menu blankly hoping the subject would

pass while Greg glanced back and forth between Rafel and the bathroom as if an answer might be found between the two, analytically. They were interrupted by a recording of Barack Obama blaring from a beige speaker at the center of the table.


I am not the President of Black America, I am the President of the United States of

America,” the soundbite recounted.


“You are right,” Rafel said, looking down at the menu. “I do have family.”


Greg smiled. “Ok, tell me about ‘em!”


Rafel looked up to make eye contact with Greg, but whoever Greg saw was a complete

stranger. He was now speaking with Dr. Rafel Sans.


In the official-sounding voice of a man under oath, “I just signed a contract with the

Pelican Bay Medical Database. They are sending me away tomorrow to consult on data

regarding my people…my family. I can share my findings with you as soon as they are ready.”


Greg looked confused.


Rafel responded, “If you want to know about my family, you’ll have to pay me $166.

That’s my going rate.”


Greg jested, “I thought I was the train robber…” and then put both his hands on his hips

as if to draw.


Rafel drew first, “Bingo.”


Rafel then got up and left. A matte black drone carrying a half dozen spam sliders

buzzed above the table with a Bluetooth speaker playing the second chorus of Keep Me in Mind by the Zac Brown Band.


The two never spoke again. 34 years later, when Rafel won the Nobel prize in

economics for explaining to the world the cause of homelessness in the language of exact

science, he had his secretary try and mail an invitation to Greg. Greg passed away of stomach cancer the year before on Rafel’s chosen birthday, July 4th. Mr. Hugo would attend instead.




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