Persistent Irrational Belief

Read an article by a Wisconsin blogger/lawyer, Steven Bauer, To Speak the Truth.  The title of the post is "Irrational Persistence of Belief", and it focuses on the "given" that some people really don't change their minds.  Perhaps all of us refuse to change our minds, to some varying degree.

Psychologists now are researching things, like what areas of the brain are stimulated by photographic evidence, what areas of the brain are stimulated by logic, and what areas are stimulated by mathematical evidence.

I was researching this a while ago, before Basel Action Network re-published the "80% Exports" quotation (see yesterday's blog).   The question is, do they believe it despite the studies by UNEP, ASU, ISRI, WR3A, the UN, and their own Kenyan researcher?  Do they republish it without citation because they really care?  Or is this repeated, discredited statistic still showing up for $ome Other Rea$on?  What are the roots of persistent irrational belief?

E-Waste Watchdog "Basel Action" Re-Publishes Discredited Data

Basel Action Network publishes another press release that another liberal California city has adapted their "E-Stewards" label, committing to using only companies which pay a percentage of their revenues to the Watchdog.

Notable is the following reprinted statistic:

Placentia, California Joins Effort to Tackle Electronic Waste
E-waste is the world’s fastest growing pollution problem. According to Time Magazine, Americans throw out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers every day. Approximately 80% of electronic waste currently delivered to recyclers is actually exported to developing countries. Improperly disposed of, the lead, mercury and other toxic materials inside e-waste can poison workers and pollute communities.
The stastistic in red was challenged in this blog in 2010, and the original source of BAN's statistic came forward (via comments) that the statistic on exports included clean steel, baled plastic, copper and other items - i.e. inert items, and the same materials produced by E-Stewards.

At the time of that blog, the ASU Study (Williams/Kahhat) had been published finding 87% of computers exported to Peru were reused.    Since then, a much larger study by UNEP (2011) found that 85% of the electronics imported into Africa are reused.

BAN also buried its own study from Kenya which estimated that 90% of the material was reused.

What's at the dumps?  According to the United Nations and everyone else, the dumps in Africa are full of e-waste generated by Africans, and the dumps in China are full of e-waste generated by Chinese.

80% of the material at the dumps does NOT come from imported waste.
80% of the material exported is NOT toxic waste (it includes reuse and clean steel).

Liberal and Conservative Conservation

I've got some swell new posts in draft form, just need to do the customary cutting back (trimming some to make new topics, or "part IIs").

As it's Sunday, I have time for Facebook, we have Vermont friends coming over for a barbecue, and I have family calls to make.  Made air reservations for a liberal friend's funeral in California, made a lunch date for a conservative friend in Dallas two days later.  I'm getting the Facebook "like if (I) love Jesus" from friends in the midwest, and "like if I like George Carlin" from the Northeast.

I'll be thinking about how important it has been to get the older gals in Mexico (like Ms. Vicki above) drives to demanufacture, because our strategy of being the end market for TVs is getting hard on their backs.   Everybody, liberal and conservative, is alarmed about exporting hard drives with "information" on them to places like this, where elderly unemployed Mexicans without college degrees take them apart slowly by hand, keeping things like hard drive magnets with rare earth metals.  Texas, Vermont, and California are united... Ms. Vicki must be stopped, either because I'm exploiting her, or she's incapable, or polluting, or stealing sensitive hard drive information, or stealing American jobs.

We don't want her jumping the fence to take apart drives in the USA, and we don't want to ship the drives to Mexico.  So we put them through machines, destroying the reuse which the Thailand flood hard-drive shortage makes valuable, and destroying the rare earth metals in the magnets, which cling to the steel.

"Smiling and waving and looking so fine, I don't think you knew you were in this song"....

A Modest Moral Proposal: Blow Up Basle

Why the Basel Convention Should be Morally Sunset.

Basel Perspective is Set in Stone
MORALITY DIMENSION 1:  Integrity.   Whether it's from Mother Theresa, or Honor Among Thieves, or Al-Qaeda's word of honor.  This was the focus of yesterday's post on "favors".  You are who you say you are and you do what you say you will do.

MORALITY DIMENSION 2:  Intent.  Distinguishing between the good deeds of Mother Theresa and the bad deeds of Thieves... is the intent good or evil?  Just how moral are the things you intend to do?

MORALITY DIMENSION 3:  Effect/Outcome.  Whether through ignorance, or butterfly effects, did our best intentions (#2) and integrity (#1) result in something we'd judge as good?  And how negligent were we if the "best intentions" go berzerk, or the perfect became the enemy of the good?

On the last, the problems we have in society are pride and ignorance.  Religious believers who believe so intently in their prayers that they feel honor to strap on a suicide belt, that's the worst extreme (assuming God didn't personally tell them otherwise after all).  But the literature also shows how people become vested in their image, their mistaken beliefs, financial motives, groupthink, their causes, and their dissonance, and just bad risk-benefit math.

Here's an idea:  If we set a bunch of rules based on who was rich in 1960 to govern which cell phone factories can take back and refurbish the smart phone e-waste in 2012, maybe we should set an egg timer on those rules?  Maybe ... just maybe.... these no longer "define morality"?  Maybe what seemed moral for a broken black and white TV set in 1960 Dublin, Birmingham, or Athens doesn't still predict the best thing to do with a repairable HTC Evo 4G sold to Singapore, Taipei, or Dubai?

E-Stewards is stuck in time. Static.  It appears to sink as the rising tide of emerging markets renders both the generation and end-of-life recycling statistics of 2002 completely and utterly analog.  Maybe regulations written on typewriters, corrected with liquid paper, are too hard to update when elective upgrades and off-lease purchases and hot capacitor swaps make 4G recycling auto-correcting freedom geeks kneel to dictators' thugs, patent trolls, and anti-gray obsolescence corporations?  Rules written for the classified ads of print news may not sync to with

It's not just "the war is over, dad".  This is a totally different war than the Basel Convention waged against drums of toxic waste dumped on the beach in Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  This is a patent extention war waged most fiercely against Guangzhou geeks refilling "disposable" ink cartridges, and Cairo fixers swapping blown capacitors off of returned Optiplexes.

Environmentalists of Earth Day 1970 - we are no longer young.   We must see that the dogmas of our elders are not a disease to which we are somehow immune.

Morality, Favors, and Contracts

I believe in practicing "thought experiments", like Einstein did with physics, about ethics and morality.   It's something we did in a meaningful freshman philosophy seminar at Carleton College (where I intended to be a philo major... but that's another story).

This week I had a frustrating conversation with a teenager in our family.   He asked me for a favor dropping him off somewhere by car.  It reminded me I needed someone to go to our Fair Trade Recycling Intern Adelaide's apartment to bring my bicycle back home, and I proposed an exchange - I drop him off at practice, and he brings my bike back from her apartment.

Parents of teenagers know the slippery slope of negotiations.  Below is a lesson in how to negotiate, which can be applied to contracts, etc.

  1. Even though no one knows I do it, even though it's not appreciated, I silently do this favor.  It is not even "for God" (though that's a legitimate inspiration).  I'm just wired to do this favor for someone who will owe me nothing, not even realize I did it.  My left hand knoweth not what the right hand giveth.
  2. Even though you appear to have nothing, and are unlikely to ever be in a position to help me back, I do this favor, and you say "thank you".  The lion releases the mouse.
  3. I do this favor knowing that you have some power, position, possibility of one day returning this favor to me.   It would be foolish of me to refuse.
  4. I do this favor and ask for another favor in return.
  5. I do this favor conditionally, that you do a specific favor for me in return.  If you don't, I won't.
  6. I accept your favor, but I decline doing a favor for you.
  7. I take, steal, or force the favor from you.

Religion, morality, ethics, and contract law.  These social exchanges, between billions of people, occur every second.  Some of us profit from it.  We are more likely to profit the farther down the scale we go.  Society is rigged to put the brakes on that, and to look upon us "favorably" the higher on the scale we behave.

How does a Recycler compete in ethical terms?   What happens if you behave ethically, but the person you are exchanging favors with is accused of being a bad actor?  A primitive, unsavory, wire burning informal heathen?   Does your best favor become a negative?

Slums of Dublin, 30 years before OECD

Thirty years before the "OECD" was formed as a definition of "rich countries", Dublin Ireland (where I spent 4 days) was still fresh (15 years) from the Uprising of 1916.

The walls of Glasnevin Cemetary were built with gun turrets to shoot grave robbers.  Anyone found over the wall at night was presumed to be a grave robber, and shot and killed.   The scavenging of graves had begun in earnest in the 1800s, when Ireland was as poor as India of 1900s.
 Glasnevin Cemetery Museum 

- - -

Surprisingly, the "end of life" issue driving grave robberies was reuse.   Grave robbers had learned to dig narrow holes down to the coffins.  A noose or hook was inserted over the neck of the cadaver, and the body would be pulled for its teeth.  Cadaver teeth were, at the time, the chief monetary driver of hospitals and research universities, which bought them to make dentures.  Dentures were afforded by the emerging rich, or were exported to England.  The emerging rich, like the Irish merchant who sold Cummings flush toilets to become a baron, could afford the concrete coffins and monuments to protect their teeth, or dentures.

This is a lot like the scrap recycling industry today.  LA Times has a story on just how difficult it is to regulate without resorting to shooting people in the OECD, today.

Recycling Human Beings After Ramadan

I'm in Montreal for the weekend, with my wife and our 12 year old son, speaking Franglais and restaurant hopping and seeing bugs at the Insectarium.

But the highlight of my trip was last evening, when we hosted a modest dinner reunion for friends at the original Basha's Restaurant (the first Lebanese Cuisine restaurant in North America, according to the website).  It was the "End of Ramadam" meal, and a busy long line of eaters at 8:30PM set the restaurant into a mass-feeding, no special orders mode.   We met with 9 friends, all with connections to WR3A and Fair Trade Recycling.

Jean Frederic Somda ("Mr. Fred" at our plant) and Hamdy of Egypt met, with friends Pascal et Isabelle, and  six children jabbering together in 3-4 languages (typical Montreal).

Learned English in Quebec
Mr. Fred is by all accounts the most prestigious WR3A Intern.  He was at his peak somewhere in the crooked line of ascension in the politics of Burkina Faso.   He was popular with the USA State Department, as a former seminary student with impeccable morals.  He was Attorney General or Prosecutor General, refused to prosecute "political enemies" and fell so far "out of favor" that he had to leave in the dead of night. He gained political refugee status after his 6 months stint at our E-waste company.  He will be passing the bar exam in Canada in December, and has made a focus of international law and the Basel Convention.  He was always a classy, upscale, impeccable dresser and it was a thrill to me when he came to meet us in his "Good Point Recycling" T-Shirt.

He met with Hamdy and Hamdy's wife and child.  Hamdy was one of my oldest trading parterns, one who I sold an interesting chunk of the 300,000 used computers I'd exported as of 2011, when he left Egypt with his wife and family.  He had the economic resources, unlike Fred, to get permanent resident status in Montreal based on economic grounds.   He described Egypt as a place of hope and change, but shared worries.  It was no longer safe to walk the streets at 2 in the morning, he said, describing the balance between Egyptians fear and dependence on the law and order of the military.

Statistically Unemployed Tweeters

First, there's nothing "wrong with America".  It's all statistics.

People of all races, colors and languages have a normal curve.   15-20% of job applicants are at the bottom of their ability to contribute.

We have between 5-6% unemployment here in Vermont.

If the pay is $10/hour (manual recycling), the unemployment rate is 5%, and 15% of all Americans are "difficult to employ", it's tough.

Do Asians and Africans and Latin Americans work better or harder?  No.   But when they have 45% unemployment (like the area in Sonora where Retroworks de Mexico is located), it's easier to avoid that 15% that doesn't want to work or cannot work effectively.

Why do I write about this?

Because I have some job postings up.  And for some reason, I get these emails from "applicants" (who I presume are looking for work) saying "I assume at this salary it's part-time", or "I don't see how you can get anyone of MY caliber at this rate per hour."

Just don't apply... ok?   I don't need a message from you telling me why no one will ever apply... my email box is full enough with different responses.

Facts and Strategy in Recycling Business: Part II

In part 1, we focused on common experiences in curbside recycling of newspapers, plastic jugs, glass bottles, and metals from households.   In each case, labor or machinery is used to separate the mass of materials into commodities, graded to different quality for different end market tolerances.  The commodities are collected, transported and sold around the world.

2.  Differences between E-Scrap recycling and household curbside recycling.

2.1  Labor:   If all the printers, computers, televisions, cell phones etc. came to a Materials Recovery Facility or MRF with the pieces disassembled, you could really run it down the same recycling sorting line that manages the bottles, cans and paper from households.  This highlights the first key difference.  A television weighs about 100 pounds.   It's different than 100 pounds of cereal boxes, magazines, wine bottles, detergent bottles, and olive cans.  Those can be separated by 4 people, spread out on a Mayfran belt.  The TV has to sit in front of one person, who must remove up to 50 metal screws.  Even the raw materials are different - the circuit board is a composite of several different metals and fiberglass, much more complex than a TetraPak composite drink box.  And the glass has steel mask, phosphorous powders, and even lead (pb) vitrified (melted and mixed with) the silica in the glass itself.

The process of putting one TV in front of one person (capable of maneuvering 100 pounds) and disassembling it into 100 pounds of screws, copper, plastic, aluminum, glass, etc. is much slower and much more difficult.   This is the first difference.

2.2  Reuse Sales:   The second is that there's little possibility, effectually zero, that the 100 pounds of commingled curbside material can be reused, fixed, or resold at any value.  But in a wealthy country, people are anxious to buy the newest, flattest appliance.  Putting the old unit into a spare bedroom used to be the way we justified the replacement cost, but that's long exhausted its potential.  It's cheaper now to pay $10 to recycle a TV than to run a $25 classified add to sell the TV for $10.

2.3  Regulation:  While both curbside recycling and electronics recycling beat the pants off of raw material mining when it comes to risks, both have NIMBY forces against them.  The neighbors in the forests complain less.   Since property value drives environmental regulatory enforcement, and recycling tends to be close to people (generators), recycling of either type is more regulated.

But the recycling of electronics, or "e-waste", is far more regulated.

And it occurs to me that I've written about that so much that I'll just end this.  I have more interesting things to say about slums in Ireland.

Facts And Strategy in Recycling Business: Part 1

Time to share some experiences about the export market and used electronics.  I've now spent more than a decade building the Fair Trade Recycling aspect of the business, and growing my companies (American Retroworks, Retroworks de Mexico, and Good Point Recycling) to be healthy and fully functional.  There is not as much strategy and trade secret to the business.

Commodity value of fiber = ?
In this Part I, we can see how electronics recycling is basically just like curbside recycling.  There are three key differences which we will explore in Part II.   Part I starts with simple and factual observations about the recycling business, and then wades into how government can or should involve itself in regulating that "waste" or "raw materials" business.

1.0  Similarities between E-Scrap and Consumer Recyclables:  

Like curbside recycling, the revenue comes from different grades of raw material which must be separated, graded, and cleaned to replace virgin raw material from feldspar mining (glass), smelting (metals), forestry (fibers), and refining (polymers).  Each of these products can be sold, at some stage, for cash, but they have drastically different values, grading, and transport requirements.

1.1  Commodity Value:  Glass is a bane for both curbside and e-scrap recycling, in that it's heavy, easily contaminated, distances to furnaces are enormous, virgin production is fairly simple and raw material - igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks all have abundant silica for feldspar mining.  Metals are easy to manage (magnets and eddy currents) and easy to sell, and the pollution from metal mining and smelting is colliding worldwide with growing population.  More people, with more money, want more things made of metal, and no one wants the smelters to impact their property values through pollution.  Even in China and India, the incomes and expectations have grown to where people are less and less tolerant of a lead-zinc smelter which spills noxious toxins into the rivers and water supplies.   Fiber is much more or a part of the curbside business, but the difference isn't as great as you'd assume when you look at the declining tonnage of newspapers and the huge volume of wood from console televisions, speakers and stereos which our plants manage.

1.2  Labor:  If all of the materials in a computer, tablet, TV or printer were pre-disassembled, you could run them down the exact same Mayfran sorting belt that you run curbside recyclables through.  Magnets and eddy currents can grab the steel and aluminum, blowers could separate the lighter plastics, shaker trays could get the small light pieces into a different direction than the big pieces.  But in every Materials Recycling Facility (or Material Recovery Facility*), labor is high.  You need humans to pick out and grade different raw materials.   You can add two people and further grade (glossy magazines from newspaper, for example) or one person and send the bales to a paper mill with easier tolerances.   But each laborer adds value.  The problem is when the value added by labor (e.g. sorting plastics by resin, paper by ink and clay content, green from clear and brown glass) produces less than minimum wage.   If you pay a woman $8 per hour to separate two tons of material and only make an additional $5 on the sorted material, you cannot afford her.  This labor-to-value dynamic is just as important in E-Scrap recycling as it is in collection.

1.3  Collection:  The distance between residents in a city and a countryside is a part of the cost of both recycling and waste collection.  The economics and competition between waste and recycling collide.   Since you cannot affordably recycle road kill, dirty sponges, spoiled food, wet tissue, many high heeled shoes and chicken skin (sorry Zero Wasters), you are committed to running the Waste truck.  If you don't, ask Naples Italy and Seattle Washington (recent Waste Management strike) what happens to property values and pest control.  The recycling truck is therefore an "also ran", and has to collect material valuable enough to offset the convenience of running a single waste truck to a single landfill or incinerator.

Fortunately, despite know-it-alls like Penn and Teller saying otherwise, this works for a couple of reasons.  First, like a subway, you don't have to prove that the subway is faster than the cars on the commute.  Going to work by car may be faster, but if you eliminate the subway the people are all in cars and it's no longer faster.  Similarly, if you try shutting down recycling, you find that avoided disposal costs are more than the per ton at the landfill.  When you add the "value added" from income of sale of the commodities, you find a lot of multipliers and higher employment - not just at the sorting line but at the paper mills and refiners as well.

1.4   Markets:   There are "niches" in collection besides rural (high mileage costs) and urban.   Some recovered materials - especially glass (and especially especially CRT glass) have a small number of buyers around the world and face huge transport costs after collection.  This transport cost affects labor - you may decide to pay someone to sort plastic by color because the transport distance to a mixed-color market is higher.

1.5  Government involvement:  Both electronics recycling and curbside recycling involve government, through procurement law (government contracting), labor law, environmental law, transport law, etc.  Every time there is a real problem with waste management - a recycling fire, an abandoned speculatively accumulated pile, a fraud, illegal dumping, alleged malfeasance (usually a claim by a competitor with a different or better process) - we pay for a regulator to enforce rules and public contracts.   Recycling businesses must know the laws (ignorance is no excuse), but also anticipate how regulators are interpreting the laws.

How to Reward or Man-Handle Reporters?

The Journalist's heroin is the byline.  When the journalists themselves become emotionally or physically involved in a story, it's fodder for awards and support of fellow interviewers and cameramen.

Gold Scrap Buyer Pushes Journalist - My joke Polk 
I just saw the interview of the journalist who worked on this story (NY Channel 4 NBC Local News) on a crackdown on gold scrap buyers in the NY area.  They were accused by regulators of not displaying their prices and scales, and probably some of them were being "shady" with consumers who don't know scrap prices.  Hey, not as bad as buying from crackheads who break into homes. But these are typically used by people in some desperate situation, selling jewels from a departed relative, or trying to raise money for surgery, and the consumer has to rely on the "professional".  We need regulation and investigation.

As a former regulator, I also understand that while the real problem is burglary and theft, that you pressure the regulated if you crack down on something lower key - advertising and buying.   It's similar to the "no graffiti" policy, if you enforce that little things are done right fewer big things go wrong.

Anyway, from one of these rather routine local enforcements on gold and silver scrap buyers in New York, a "NBC Local News Team" decided to go Scott Pelley 60 Minutes on their asses and take a camera to the scrap guy's store, put his storefront on camera as a centerpiece to the "fraud" headline.

And the younger scrap guy pushed the cameraman's camera into his face.  Sound familiar?

infamous "tidy little shop" purporting to be "other side" balance
It could happen anywhere...

The interview I just saw had this video footage in the background, but the interview was really of the reporter.  (uh-oh).   He describes how it's normal, businessmen should expect to be interviewed, you don't like it but it's how the game is played.  He described how his cameraman is his homie and how he spends more time with the cameraman than he does with his family, and how an eye socket could have been injured by the push of a camera, and how police came to the scene and a report of physical assault on the cameraman is now added to the enforcement on price display and scale visibility.

I'm not saying that this is the same as CBS in Guiyu.  But what I saw in the CBS 60 Minutes story on computer monitor recycling in Hong Kong was familiar in this NY Channel 4 news story.  And the reaction of the scrap dealers to having news cameras in their lots is familiar.

Two years ago I followed up my critique above with a more detailed shot-by-shot dissection of the CBS 60 Minutes Wasteland episode.   I never get a call back from CBS news crew, who took an hour of my time doing background on the story.   The lesson I took is that when the reporter has a choice between a story which is much more complicated and less exciting but more accurate than the one he set out on, or a story where he/she is a "hero" defending an assault on "their own" cameraman with footage that proves the businesspeople have "something to hide", that the latter story is easier and will appear "above the fold", so to speak.

The real "tidy little shops" fixing used electronics
What I do not understand is the decision to give a George Polk Award to these people.  Well... I do understand it.  The awards people didn't know anything about the SKD (semiknockdown) factories in Asia which were buying back CRT monitors for refurbishing to new-in-box condition for sale to Egypt, India, and Africa.   The Polk is a JOURNALIST award - that is, a reward to a single individual who is chosen to symbolize bravery, integrity and courage in journalism.  The Peabody Award is different, it recognizes a journalism organization (so I understand).

In either case, if it is discovered that a journalist did something in Guiyu China which was actually about as brave as NBC Channel 4 local news on gold and silver scrap buying, and that the exotic locale of China and Americans willingness to believe that the bottom of China's normal curve is "the truth" and that the factories which actually purchased and refurbished most of the monitors in Hong Kong harbor were defamed in the process...

Here is the formula:

  • Ingredient 1:  Something people don't understand completely (plastic, circuit boads, display devices) but which they feel familiar with, feel first hand experience with.

  • Ingredient 2:  Cognitive Risk word, "fraud" or "toxic" or "children" or "sex"

  • Ingredient 3:  Reporter with microphone shot in "exotic" locale, especially surrounded by brown skinned people in physical poverty.

Presto:  All the ingredients for a journalistic excellence award.   And as journalism rewards this, it breeds copycats.  The "we buy gold scrap in NY" expose above.  The "Fair Trade Cotton Victoria's Secret" where photos of the "mud hut" of the worker demostrate the "bravery" of the reporter.   The trembly-voiced Mike Daisy surrounded by ficticious machine guns at (the wrong) contract assembly plant (he was in Shenzhen, the iPhone worker poisoning happened at a different Chinese factory, literally hundreds of miles away, he was stealing a story from another reporter).

Idea... Hey, there are lots of reporters in China, working for cheap wages.   Maybe we can mass-produce these stories?  I'm thinking of the South Park Family Guy Manatee method, combine ju-ju technology words (polymer, flame retardant, megahertz, microwave) with a cognitive risk word (cancer, uterus, babies, negro), put a reporter in an untrained PR environment (shopping mall, scrap yard, battlefield) and voila.  If people with consciences care about it, it's difficult to understand, it has "profit" and "fraud" and "sex" and "race" ingredients, and a human nature ("get offa my lawn") reaction from the engaged businesspeople, we could go to town, and start minting these Peabody and Polk and Pulitzer puppies.

Service Economy Blues? Try Enjoying People

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Dublin.   The two young men who served us this morning had to get what my wife and I wanted to us, very quickly, because there was a little bit of a line.  Not much, compared to an airport, but they don't get to sit down much today, I reckon.

They are typical of the people who have served us - bus drivers, waiters, shopkeeps, etc.  And my wife and kids are talking about how wonderfully kind people are here in Ireland.  It's true.

It was also true in Lima Peru earlier this year, though the language was a barrier for us.  And it made me think again of one of the three books I read this summer, at the beach.  Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, in which an alter-ego of the Gotama Buddha finds his zen as a small person ferryboat steer.

When I like myself, occasionally, it's when I'm enjoying and liking other people.  If one manages to achieve that, life goes by nicely.   On the other hand, the consumption path of the human species really is headed for a precipice, and being popular with other humans can't be the sole measure of my life.   When I want to actually accomplish things and make a difference, I'm forced to try changing human behavior which doesn't want to be changed.

The service sector requires us to recycle our soul with each client encounter.

We Are All Sikh

It's too early to know who or why, or what was in the idiot's mind.

I've always been an admirer of the Sikh religion.   They don't draw a lot of attention to themselves, and have been a model for balancing faith and the ability to get along, and survive, as a minority.

A lot of religions don't take "being in the minority" very well.   In the vast quadrillions of solar systems, we are all a minority, and taking it like a Sikh is not a bad way to roll with it.

Just finished reading Henry Gilbert's "Robin Hood" chapter about Robin Hood's defense of the Jewish enclaves who were terrorized in England during the Crusades.  King Richard arrested the people who started the anti-Jewish riots, and tried to explain that Jews from Palestine had nothing, nothing to do with those the Christians were crusading against.   Not sure where to go with that, but my thoughts and prayers are with the Sikhs of Wisconsin.  If they want to move to Vermont, anytime, anytime, they'd be so incredibly welcome, and I'd love to make them feel that way.

Chick Fil A: Divorce Scripture Analogy

Much less important than Russia's arrest of Pussy Riot is the USA's chicken sandwich controversy.

This article from a New Orleans paper makes the case that the southern support of Chick-Fil-A is as much about perceived northern condescension than it is about opposition to gays.  I can certainly sync.

What I feel about gay marriage is about as important as what I feel about divorce.   I remember, growing up in the south, that we were taught a hard line about divorce - as hard a line as about abortion or gay marriage today.  The red letter scripture (Jesus own words) said that he who divorceth his wife commits adultery.

A decade later, several aunts and uncle marriages ended in divorce.  I know that it was difficult for my born again grandfather.  They were forced to accept the divorce, because it was a done deal.   If divorce had "not been recognized" by the USA Christian Government, I think they understood that would not have helped things.

Today divorce is commonplace.  I'm very devoutly married, and consider myself happy and lucky. I hope my kids grow up and find happy, lifelong marriages. But other peoples divorces don't shake my faith, even if I can see sad consequences of society's growing acceptance of divorce (especially compared to what I was led to believe as a child, that almost no one ever got divorced, it was unnatural).  Divorce happened in places like New York City and Hollywood, far away from our families.  Now it's common everywhere.

Is divorce contagious?  Probably more so than homosexuality.

The Toxic Immunity of Russian Pussy Riot

The Globe and Mail's Elizabeth Renzetti has an immaculately written editorial on the Russian government trial of a girl punk rock group for "hooliganism".   What they did was made a very funny video, taking on both Putin's thuggish censorship and the complicity of the Russian Church.

It's really far better than anything I have to write about today.  It can pass as something silly, but Renzetti makes it clear that in the age of communications, a belly laugh can topple a dictatorship.  Laughter grants us immunity.  The more dictators try to stamp it out, the more attention they draw, and the faster the sparks fly.

Since Russians are already wired by television and internet, Putin can't take away the devices that people watch funny stuff upon.  In African dictatorships, they are very afraid of display devices - very afraid.   And the fear has far more to do with potential for a tinderbox of laughter than with witches brews of toxic wires.

Ethical Education: China, USA Schooling

This week, a delegation of Chinese students came to my home town (Middlebury, Vermont).   And a China Daily article described USA foreign exchange students and their observations at a Chinese recycling plant.

The Vermont article was written by Andrew Stein of the Addison Independent.   "Vermont Awes Chinese Students" sounded potentially exaggerated.   But it turns out Andrew is a returned Fulbright Scholar who taught for a year in Chinese public schools.  I shared the article with Adam Minter at ShanghaiScrap blog (who's returning now, having turned in the final draft of his upcoming book).  Adam said "This is spot on. I've been around a lot of kids who study in the US, and they all come back saying these things. They can't believe it. "

The Vermont article basically says Chinese schools are pounding the kids in a pressure cooker of catch-up-ball education.   They attend class from 7AM to 10PM, often 7 days per week.  The entire education boils down to a single test, the gaokao or "high test" at the end of the senior year which, the kids are told, will define their whole lives.
For the past five years, the Chinese government mouthpiece China Daily has regularly reported that suicide is the number-one killer of Chinese teens.
And Chinese teens don’t have much time to sleep, as 16-year-old Lingyun Zhang, who is staying with Middlebury’s Sarah Kearns, pointed out.
“In America, high school students can sleep in late,” said Zhang. “But in China, since we’re high school students, we have a lot of homework and we go to bed very late and wake up very early every day.”
With little time to sleep, Chinese youth can also forget about extracurricular activities, said Qian.
“American students have a lot of time to play and do extracurricular activities,” she said. “Chinese students don’t play much. They spend most of their time studying chemistry and physics.”
The article observes interesting differences in dating, sex education, and pride.  The China Daily article is more of a puff piece about "American students make polite and inane comments on Chinese food and culture" (it's a VOA type of government paper, after all). 

AWESOME Exploitation: Crowdsourcing the Developing World

Having documented ad nauseum that 85% of the computers sold to Africa are reused and repaired, and documenting that the 3B3K market (3 billion people earning $3k per year) has added internet access at 10 times the rate of growth of the "developed world", how do we create employment without outsourcing a job?

We outsource work done by an overheated machine.... IBM's Big Blue, perhaps.  It's "immaculate exploitation", no jobs exported, no toxics, creating jobs out of code.

This AWESOME article from MIT Press (found on /.), Human Workers Managed by an Algorithm, explains how human interaction is more efficient for certain mega-computing processes.

Supercomputing is actually more efficient if some of the algorithms are done "by hand".  The programs have to check off boxes which are obvious... humans can do it instinctively, and crowd-sourcing limits or eliminates subjective bias.   The problem is you just cannot afford to do it in Silicon Valley, your maximum return is $4 per hour.
By assigning such tasks to people in emerging economies, MobileWorks hopes to get good work for low prices. It uses software to closely control the process, increasing accuracy by having multiple workers perform every task. According to company cofounder Anand Kulkarni, the aim is to get the crowd of workers to "behave much more like an automatic resource than like individual and unreliable human beings." 
Four bucks per hour is great for MOST people in the world.  Awesome, in fact.   And they are not taking jobs away from  Big Blue, they just give the megacomputers more "leisure time" (if you are stuck in the thinking of Marx, Hegel and John Stuart Mill).

The bad news? Oh gee, people in "Developing Nations" earning less than minimum wage, there's gotta be a downside. Quick, let's send a reporter to photograph the dirty clothes their children wear, the mud huts, trash being burned at the Accra or Lagos landfill.  Because these jobs are available to people who can only afford a $20 used CRT monitor.   Yes... there's a photo of a burning computer monitor that needs to go into the article somewhere, or a "witches brew" of bad capacitors associated with the good enough market.