Geography Baiting 1: MIT Senseable City Lab "MoniTour" Goes Offline

Has the correspondence from Unwitting, Unwilling Research Subjects finally got traction at MIT's Legal Office?  After 3 months of silent treatment, communications from MIT and BAN reignite the blog.

It is the end of summer vacation for Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Senseable City Lab. Professors have been on vacation, with little time to return calls or respond to our letters of May and June 2016.  But last week got a response back last week from MIT's Legal Department, saying that all future inquiries and correspondence should go through them.

This is one week after we cc'd MIT's Senseable City Lab Director, Carlo Ratti, in response to an email to Yours Truly from my an old pal, Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network.  BAN's parterner status with MIT is described in MIT's MoniTour website. You know,

Oh.  Huh?  Wait.

**** static ****

The site is 404, not available.  Could be a fluke, a temporary outage. But has been at least 3 days now. It might be premature to correlate MIT's shuffle with the written correspondence I've recently received from Basel Action Network and MIT's Legal Office.  But I predicted in my first response to the @KCTS PBS 9 airing of the "sting" on overseas electronics reuse, repair and recycling - MIT does not have a dog in this fight.  MIT has thousands of international students who know intimately the warts, beauty, sweat, and ingenuity across the oceans, and we predicted that MIT Ethics Committees would hold Carlo Ratti's Senseable City to a higher standard than to draw inferences on the "circular economy" based on BAN's notorious geography-baiting.

It's not exactly race baiting, since we don't know who in the USA owned or touched a device.  But BAN's descriptions of Hong Kong Province - which is wealthier per capita than the USA - with words like "primitive" and "rice paddy" should have been caught internally by MIT, without the help of a Vermont junk dealer's blog.

Someone commented that MIT might be engaged in a "cover up", but my friends in academia share my optimism.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's gravitas was clearly accepted as peer review and diligence by the reporters, and from MIT Senseable City Lab's response, it clearly was not merited or intended as such.

Google cache of the MIT-based webpage shows the original text which described the now AWOL web page as "A joint project between the Basel Action Network and the MIT Senseable City Lab".  And that's not BAN's claim, it's MIT Senseable City Lab indicating it's a "joint project" partner.  (copy and paste below, so you can recreate your own 404).

Monitour / MIT Senseable City Lab

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A joint project between the Basel Action Network and the MIT Senseable City Lab ... this site in graphic form and will also be released in a series of reports by BAN. ... City Lab 2. a PDF copy of the publication is sent to
You've visited this page 2 times. Last visit: 8/27/16

Carlo Ratti's only direct response to my 14 pages of inquiries was 2 paragraphs. It could have been even shorter:  "It's BAN's project, not MIT's".  Or "People don't track People, GPS devices track people," or "GPS tags don't track people, they track peoples stuff".  "MIT just gave BAN the tools to track unwitting, unwilling participants, we didn't do it ourselves."

But Carlo Ratti spoke to PBS and clearly reviewed the pages on the now AWOL website stating that destinations, like Hong Kong, were "previously unknown".  The gist of my letter was:
"how did MIT determine my business transactions were 'previously unknown', unless it meant 'unknown to MIT and BAN', which isn't much of a defense of the ethical 'unwitting subject' test."
In fact, I'd been to Hong Kong (and Taiwan) one month before the PBS story aired.  Here's Video of Hong Kong from April 2016 below - with my 15 year old son, who I had taken to meet and have dinner with one of the best and brightest video display engineers I'd ever met (in Taipei).  Does the wifi-enabled, air-conditioned luxury ferris wheel ride among skyscrapers depict "typical Hong Kong"?  Of course not. Nor does +KCTS 9 film of a printer scrap yard in Yuen Long.  "Geographical Profiling" shortcut of the necessary effort to track each and every recyclable through each and every technician, and not to depict Asians as "primitives" with just obscured little points on a map.

You can't "obscure" destinations in Hong Kong on your website and then use photos of one location to "profile" anyone who does business with Hong Kong.  That's Geography-Baiting journalists and readers, appealing to their worst fears about recyclers and refurbishers in emerging markets.  You didn't show the Geeks of Color.

You can show Deliverance to depict America, but you've got to show Big Bang Theory, too.  Otherwise, it's propaganda, which BAN has been accused of for a long time, plenty long enough for MIT to vet them as a "joint partner" in describing emerging market "shantytowns" and "rice paddies" and "orphans" and "Sodom and Gomorrahs" and "E-Waste Hell" etc., etc., etc.

How does MIT's partner characterize the people who live and work in and built this location?

Value Added By Reuse, Repair, Recycling and Mining

Not much value added (wikipedia anti-art)
My epiphany came sometime between my experience in Cameroon Peace Corps, my ~5 year term as a truck driver / consultant at Earthworm Recycling, and my MBA at Boston University.


I realized that the recycling I was dedicated to was preserving value once added to rocks by mining and smelting them, value added to trees by cutting and cutting the bark off and bleaching them to fiber.  I realized that the Africans I met who were fixing stuff discarded by others were, with their intellects, capturing added value.  I realized my grandfather in the Ozarks was preserving otherwise depreciating added value by fixing expensive stuff like car engines rather than discarding them.   I realized the "Hillbilly Highway" between poor places and rich cities was a two-way street, with value of labor flowing out and value of devices flowing in.

The dirtiest recycling is cleaner than the cleanest forestry/mining/extraction.
The dirtiest repair is cleaner than the cleanest recycling.

Geographical relocation of devices has to do with the value of the "value added".  In America, I could save $100 by keeping my smart phone or my CRT display just a year longer.  But at a certain point, $100 isn't worth the deferred satisfaction.  That economy is a privilege, which may be earned or may be inherited.

Someone in a poor country may not have that privilege.

The $100 I forgo is 5% of total annual household income for 3 billion people.

Here is what a printer looks like going through a shredder.

Now, the shredding pretty much ruins the plastic.  When the prices of metal is high, that's more than worth the cost of manual disassembly.  When the price of metals falls (as is the case the past 18 months), the value of the plastics becomes relatively important, and the price of labor to hand dismantle the devices becomes more salient.

Liability takes away from added value.  So NGOs are funded by industries that provide less Value Added in order to impugn reuse or recycling industries which have an advantage in adding value.  Effectively, the value of your "stuff" depreciates faster when it crosses a national border.

Hidden Data, Racist Assumptions, False Claims, Payola - Huffington Post Believes NGO Malarky

BAN Attempts to Conceal Hong Kong locations
Another journalist appears as "collateral damage". Basel Action Network's snowballing racist depictions of African Geek hubs as "Primitive Orphan Shantytown" and Hong Kong Technicians as "Rice Paddy Child Laborers" caught another well meaning reporter.

BAN's sly, seductive "white savior" siren actually succeeded in getting Huffington Post to directly link to a petition to POTUS Barack Obama to create an executive order banning us from trading with emerging markets, where people buy and fix repairable electronics.

It was a classic bait and switch. BAN shows a port, then doesn't show ANYTHING positive about the country.  They take the reporters to a hand picked operation which looks a little ugly, and most importantly, has foreign-looking people doing hand disassembly.  The juxtaposition of brown faces and old tech strums their guilty banjo tune.

Photos posted in June by Huffington Post Tech Editor Damon Beres are a little unclear, however, in how the depict the actual locations in Hong Kong which actually received the material.  Many of the actual GPS locations have been obscured by BAN.  The Huffington Post photos definitely show brown people and definitely show old tech gadgets being recycled "by hand"... and typically of the caring, liberal journalists BAN targets, Beres seems outraged enough not to seek the standard second opinion which makes for standard journalism.  No one who imports or works on stuff is interviewed to defend themselves, or to offer photojournalists a tour inside some of the ACTUAL savvy, sexy, bright and good-news operations that splendidly demonstrate the best recycling waste hierarchy.  Upgrade.  Reduce, Reuse, Repair.

Beres declares BAN's thesis somewhat factishly:
Currently, a legal loophole allows organizations used by the government to export electronic waste ― like discarded smartphones, computers, televisions and monitors ― to other countries, where they’re dismantled by workers in unsafe conditions.
There is nothing in the article indicating any investigation of the claim.  There's no interview with any counterpoint, and certainly no interview with the importing company in Hong Kong.  I have previously called out MIT Sensability Lab for lending MIT's gravitas to the small NGO in Seattle. We showed Beres a response from MIT claiming NO data and NO knowledge of ANY claim made by BAN - about child labor, rice paddies, primitives, illegality, etc. - whatsoever.

Folks at Michigan State, MIT Senseability Lab, Blacksmith Institute, etc. take BAN's thesis and describe it, and BAN sends those to reporters as if it's peer reviewed research.  Google 80% waste export figure.  Complete and utter fiction, reported for 10 years based on a shell game of credible names repeating a number that doesn't exist.

What also bugs me is that even the "worst" photos just show manual disassembly by non-white people.  Like the photos of guys with hammers separating aluminum from copper in Agbogbloshie, it seems to represent prima facia evidence that something is wrong when brown people separate metals. That's a racist appeal to the thesis, in my book.  What are they disassembling - Hong Kong stuff or imported stuff?  What percentages of each? How much is there, is it a significant percentage of the "crisis"?  Does 2 tons per day of printers really show a world crisis?  My plant in Middlebury Vermont manages  more stuff than is shown in Hong Kong.

But the damage is done by implicit racist association of brown skin and "toxic" electronics.  The same electronics in your kids bedroom are made to seem exotic and poisonous, and all the more so to people who know nothing about technology.  That's the frustration with Damon Beres - as Tech Editor, he should really know better than to accept "ju ju" depictions of risks of manual disassembly.

Can you guess the country, nationality, and "e-waste" fate from the photo to the left?  Compare it to the photo in Beres' June Huffington Post article.  Which is OECD?  Who is Primitive?  Where's the "child labor" claimed by NGO?

NOW HEAR THIS.  I have obtained data OBSCURED by MIT or BAN in the Hong Kong printer scrap shipments!  BAN has made a vague statement that the data points  were obscured to somehow assist enforcement... but then trashed Hong Kong Environmental Department a month later for somehow allowing a location to become the "next" Agbogbloshie or Guiyu.

The "bait and switch" was done on Carlo Ratti and Damon Beres.  I would hope the days are numbered when BAN can declare a place with 7 million people, like Hong Kong, as a port of receipt and then obscure the coordinates and hand-pick which operation they bring the photojournalist to.  Tema isn't Agbogbloshie.  Hong Kong isn't Guiyu.  And Eco Park isn't what BAN brought the camers to.

BAN has obscured data, implying that the data tracks their e-waste to the "primitive" facility shown in the Huffington Post photos.  BUT I HAVE DATA SHOWING LOADS THEY TRACK ARRIVING AT ECOPARK!  This data comes from inside sources at BAN's Seattle HQ and was NOT provided by MIT Sensable City Lab through our request for MIT's data (Carlo Ratti claims not to have the data we used to track the load to the Eco Park).

BERES and Huffington Post do have photos of a printer scrapyard.  Perhaps some printers did wind up there.  BUT WE HAVE DATA showing that SOME of the loads were tracked to the STATE OF THE ART FACILITY at Hong Kong's Eco Park, and that THOSE data points have been obscured by BAN and/or MIT!  As has the financial arrangement with the Recycling Company which funded BAN and whose loads were NOT TRACKED.

Some of the data that was obscured last month on BAN's claim that "enforcement" was required is now accessible on the MoniTour application.  The screenshot below shows an LCD arriving at the permitted, state of the art ECO PARK, and then to an inner city location Tuen Mun, as described in our June blog.  Why that data was ever obscured is now subject to some serious questions.


Was BAN funded by a competitor of Li Tong Group (one of the licensed facilities at the Eco Park)? Definitely, that is known, and the same competitor is also now disclosed as a funder of PBS.  Did that influence the reporter?  Probably not, but the purpose of bringing the reporter to the ugliest place possible is clear.  Equally clear is the obligation of the reporter to ask someone else where ELSE the "e-waste" might have gone in Hong Kong, and to ask why BAN obscured that data for 2 months.

From the Eco Park, this LCD can be tracked to an apartment in Fui Sha Wai in Hong Kong New Territories.  Hardly "cowboy land".  And export for repair is NOT "e-waste" or illegal under the Basel Convention (nor is recycling).  Where else DIDN'T Basel Action Network take journalists?  THAT is the pattern - not taking CBS 60 Minutes to the SKD Factories in Foshan (where the monitors they circle by helicopter went), and not taking PBS to Accra's Tech Sector shops like Chendiba Enterprises.   This is the pattern.

This is potentially criminal behavior, and should certainly give pause to Huffington Post decision to provide links to the petition.  I absolutely believe that this shows BAN has purposefully obscured GPS data showing scrap arriving at this Hong Kong R2 Certified recycler, which has import permits and contracts with original equipment manufacturers to provide recycled plastic content for new electronics being manufactured in Shenzhen.  You know, the place where Mike Daisy told Ira Glass that he saw schoolchildren being escorted in child labor camps by machine gun, basically.

Now Damon Beres is not likely a racist. I'm sure he's not. I don't tend to ever describe people as racists.  But there are assumptions, profiles, fears and insecurities which crop up when people see photos of brown people doing stuff, and false data to leverage and increase those perceptions, for the financial benefit of white people, or the fame and "exoticness" of photojournalists, does arguably reflect a racist economy.  When black African TV repairmen go to PRISON based on a white guy's absurd "ghoulish" descriptions of Agbogbloshie (thousands of orphans? hundreds of sea containers of e-waste?), and journalists get Pelly and Polk awards for breaking the story, and its all based on fake fictious and retracted numbers, yeah I will call that racism.

Damon Beres Huffington Post article in June does show brown people disassembling electronics in Hong Kong.  Jim Puckett says they are of the place where the electronics were tracked. What conclusions we are to draw from that is left to Basel Action Network.   There are no photos of USA recyclers to compare the scrap to (my photo above is Mexican women trained in an R2 certified recycling facility in Vermont).  Beres article shows photos of TIRES!!!!   (Oh my GOD!  Tires in Hong Kong!!!)  What the photo of forklift tires at a scrap yard in Hong Kong (which is richer than the USA per capita) is supposed to show in the Huffington Post article is a little unclear.  But you could send the reporter through an R2 factory in the USA and find photos of oil drums and tires and batteries and accidental breakage, and if you purposefully didn't bring the photographer to see the NICE parts of the facility, and then said it was all somehow typical of the race/geography/language/creed of the facility owner... yeah I will call that racism.

BAN has the data now, including ECOPARK coordinates now obscured at the Senseable City web page.  MIT claims to be unable to release it.  I won't say exactly how I obtained the data from BAN, I will invite them to state that they did NOT track any scrap to Hong Kong's state of the art ECO PARK (then I'll provide it).  I can say it was an inside source in Seattle, not Cambridge or MIT.  They will ignore this because they know it's true, and won't want to explain why they "obscured" GPS data showing proper, legal recycling imports.

Again, maybe they found some illegal work too, but they definitely have GPS data showing stuff arriving where it's permitted to arrive and being processed legally, and they have definitely obscured that data point.

Now, Damon Beres was very forthright in responding to my tweets and emails and my request for editorial retraction or insertion of counterclaims.  But as of this AM, has done nothing about it.  I provided MIT correspondence to him, he took from it that I am personally in the business and therefore perhaps have a conflict of interest.  FAIR ENOUGH BUT THEN STATE THAT IN THE ARTICLE.   Because everyone in the industry following this story knows that BAN is almost completely funded by USA shredding companies who are competing directly with the Hong Kong Eco Park company, and if conflict of interest is part of this discussion I welcome that discussion wholeheartedly.

Berees joins Scott Pelley, Michelle Rey, Peter Essick, Cahal Milmo, Raphael Rowe (BBC), and others who get tricked by the planned obsolescence, big shred, non-profit payola scandal.

1) BAN tells you the port of import in a country BAN says is suspect.
2) BAN brings you to the ugliest place it can find in that country - Agbogbloshie, Guiyu, etc.
3) BAN lets you photograph brown people there
4) BAN gets a link to its website, its petitions, etc.

BUT the "e-waste" didn't go there.  Got it?  CBS 60 Minutes, watch it again and again, and there are NO COMPUTER MONITORS in Guiyu.  The stacks of computer monitors CBS shows in Hong Kong definitely, absolutely, did NOT go to the place BAN led them to.  But the imagery of the place BAN did lead them to pulls the guilty heartstrings and gets BAN money.

The journalists are the victims here, in a way.  But they also need to be interviewing people like Joe Benson, the importers, who can give them tours of the ACTUAL facilities which import the stuff, rather than take the word of an organization PAID handsomely by the competitors of that facility.

Agbogbloshie (BBC link) is a real place.  Loads tracked to the Tema Port outside Accra in Ghana do NOT go to Agbogbloshie.   

Guiyu is a real place, and its ugly.  The monitors in Hong Kong (CBS link) did NOT go to Guiyu.  
Given that those two locations were false leads, BAN's decision to "obscure" data points in Hong Kong should raise suspicion of any reporter.  And now we have proof that BAN has obscured MIT Sensable City lab data showing loads they tracked arriving at the ECO PARK revealed by this blog in May and June.

At the time I didn't have the data showing it went there, I only had copies of the Purchase Order showing it was supposed to go there.  Now I have proof that BAN found some of the material DID go there and BAN is now HIDING that information from journalists.

Huffington Post has now been given direct evidence of fraud in BAN's story, but the link to BAN's website remains.  Huffington Post does NOT have MIT's word for it.  Huffington Post does NOT have the GPS coordinates (if it does, follow them to the EcoPark and one LCD monitor to a place where it has been repaired and is in use at/near/in a Hong Kong restaurant).

Let me boil this down.
  • Asians and Africans and Latin Americans have had cars and televisions and VCRs and all kinds of electric gadgets for more than half a century.
  • Poorer nations tend to use manufactured goods three to four times longer than rich nations.  Same dynamic inside OECD,  Poverty is linked to car repair, clothing reuse, electronics fixing.
  • Even if poor nations use electronics for 10-15 years rather than 3-5 years, they do, eventually, generate city trash with "e-waste" or "e-scrap" in it.
  • There are tire piles in China and Africa, just like there are tire piles in Europe and America.        
  • Taking a picture of a tire pile or TV pile in Africa doesn't mean recyclers in the OECD are secretly and illegally dumping our waste there.
  • Posing children in front of piles of garbage (often quite small ones) is a marketing technique designed to get money to the western NGO.  Not one dime is shared with the kids in the photos.
  • Calling African and Chinese technicians "Primitives" and making vague and false claims of "child labor" and "thousands of orphans pawing through junk" is just racist.  "Pawing"?  For God's sake.  "Witches brew", "skeletal", "hideous"?  This is 1930s language used by Nazis to portray Jews, for gods sake.  Completely inappropriate description of SKD refurbishing factories, African Tech Sector, etc.
  • When you get wound up and want to avoid using a recycler who employs these "primitive" practices and "child labor"? GUESS WHAT?
  • ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the recyclers "recommended" by this racist, false claim making NGO  have PAID the NGO to be listed, actually entered into a CONTRACT to pay the NGO!
  • When recyclers stopped making CASH payments to the Seattle NGO, their companies were dropped from the NGO recommended list.

CBS, NPR, BBC, Economist, Guardian, Interpol, UK Environmental Agency, dozens of respectable journalists and environmental enforcement organizations have been DUPED by racists, Afrophobic, Asia phobic, bigoted assumptions about Geeks of Color.  The journalists aren't consciously racist, they are just being manipulated by the same ignorance of emerging markets exposed by TED Talk's Hans Rosling.   They see stacks of CRT monitors in Hong Kong, you bring them to a chip harvesting scrapyard (downstream from textile mill effluent) and they are so busy subconsciously reacting to poor brown skinned people that they NEVER BOTHER TO LOOK for the CRTs.  They are reacting to the "scrap boys" burning wires in Accra, and never notice that NO SEA CONTAINER has ever been unloaded there, that you couldn't even access that site with 5 containers per month, let alone the 500 sea container per month you describe in the article based on BAN's "testimony".

TEN YEARS of documenting this stuff.  This is hideous.  Wake up, journalists and legislators.  This is a massive con game.  Arresting Africa technicians like Hurricane Joe Benson should have been the last straw.

Reckless Warhorse Dishes: The "Africans Must be Taught to Repair"

war·horse  ˈwôrˌhôrs (noun) (in historical contexts) a large, powerful horse ridden in battle.
    • informala soldier, politician, or sports player who has fought many campaigns or contests.
    • informala musical, theatrical, or literary work that has been heard or performed repeatedly.
      "that old warhorse Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.”"

I've got a messy blog here (apology for posting before editing, this is take 2).  I should write it up as a real article, though.  It parallels conversations I've had over beers with many colleagues in the ICT world over the decades.  And maybe it explains why I left multi-million dollar UN and WTO and IMF funded "AID Projects" and enjoy private investment outside the #charitableindustrialcomplex.  And the reason I should write it up more professionally is that it appears "WASTE AID" and "RECYCLING DEVELOPMENT AID" is about to go down the same learning curve, without a helmet as they rush to be first to submit projects for funding.

Inexperience, Bad People Management, Lack of Accounting Skills, Spotty Customer Service, Sub Par (food) Quality.  Let's compare the "5 frequent reasons" that restaurants in the USA and EU fail with the explanations offered by the Aid for Africa complex.  Does a 60% failure rate prove Africa's incapable? Or does Africa's enormous and steady growth demonstrate an unhealthy attraction of Western Aid workers to projects lacking business fundamentals?

"Reckless" Korean War warhorse honored by medal and statue @ National Museum of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia

The myth is that "nothing is getting better".  I call this the "restaurant crisis".

The logic of AID and Enforcement in Africa seems built on "failure needs more help".  If 60% of new USA restaurants fail in the first year, and 80% fail in 5 years, then Governments should fund professional Restaurant Aid Workers to save Restaurateurs.  Charity needs to save the failing restaurants.  Compare that to the free market, which invests based on past success.

And beeeliiiiiieeevvee me, I could get you some restaurant worker photos that would send you skeedaddling from emerging market restaurants to burn wires in Agbogbloshie in a heartbeat (and genuine "child labor" to boot).   Maybe even some with FIRE pictures for the photojournalists.

If you have seen Awal M. Basit (2nd left) burn wire, you know this amount of gasoline flame is "shiny object for reporter"

Lessons from ICT Battlefield (Information Communications Technology) 

I ran across an ICT blog yesterday which brought me back to that battlefield. The tone is a bit "warhorsey", and I can relate to that. I started out, after Mass DEP, in the ICT realm.  The idea (like World Computer Exchange) was to take surplus computers and use them to develop school tech rooms and internet cafes in Africa.  Millions of WTO and UNGAID dollars were going to these countries to "connect them to the web", and thousands of western Aid Workers, volunteers, etc., were carpetbagging to Africa to play a positive role, and earn a living, saving Africa from darkness.  (Fair Trade Recycling's 2016 EWaste Trading program is derivative).