Your Choice of Complex Human Names: Minority = Majority

A child of the Erbore tribe, Ethiopia

Future warrior?

Future dictator?

Future recycler?

Future sex worker?

Future pickpocket?

Future coltan miner?

Future clothing stitcher?

Future yam digger?

Future cell phone repairer?

Future conflict metals miner?

Future ivory poacher?

Future sea turtle hunter?

Future spam sender?

Future illegal immigrant?

Future pirate?

Future internet cafe owner?

Future Al-Qaeda?

These are all labels which add to the child's name, but only in a second dimension.  Without the child's name, it's just one ignorantly speculative dimension.

Environmentalists would chop two or three choices off of this list.  I'm an environmentalist in the minority.  Our industry is mass marketing the bizarre belief that the laptop I'm writing on, and the television I'm watching Law and Order on, are oozing with a witches brew of "easily released" toxic waste... unsafe to sell to primitive nations with children in them.

My front porch in Ngaoundal
Reusing and prolonging the life of electronics whose toxic footrprints are in mining, extraction, smelting, refining, and manufacture, and using them to promote affordable ICT in cities in emerging markets, has been dropped in a box with slavery and dumping.  Dictators take hope, the green revolution depends on mass communication tech, but you have a whole army of liberals enlisted in helping you to slow its progress.

In the minority.... Is the majority.

What is her name?  Or his name?

Give a name to someone, and the story may become more or less exotic.  If you are in the OECD, you may want your baby to be more exotic... by name.  I picked this photo because it was captivating, like the iconic National Geographic's green-eyed Afghan girl.  But I know nothing about the kid, or the parents, or the situation.  When I lived in Africa, I took a lot of pictures of the kids in my lot.  Sometimes I posed them.

A quarrel broke out, who gets to pose with wood on head
The kids I took pictures of all had names, and I knew all their parents.  They were free to run in and out of my house.  We shared chop, we shared a well.  I don't post many of those photos online.  Me, I like pictures of kids smiling.

The names - Petite Madam, Kweegle, Ngwari, Mami, Chaude, Sandrine, Soma... They were difficult to remember the first month, or at least difficult for me to adjust which were nicknames and which were given names (all those above were legal surnames.  There was a boy in my class with a first name of Madam).

"Before 1800, Clark says, four first names referred to half of all English men. In 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics, the top four names (Harry, Oliver, Jack, Charlie) accounted for just 7% of English baby boys (and the picture was much the same in Wales)."

Similarly in the US, in 1950, 5% of US parents chose a name for their child that wasn't in the top 1,000 names. In 2012, that figure was up to 27%.

Here in Vermont, it has been widely accepted by some groups that I'm an apologist for subjecting little children to western toxics in order to make more money.  It's an easy story to tell.

Can't we see them as capable of doing the exact same work I and my employees do in Middlebury Vermont?   That these kids would be capable of manual disassembly and repair, or selling parts online, seems less than credible.   The kids above would all be in their mid 40s today.  And the short wave radio I left behind with them would be in its 50s.

I'm not heartless, and there is a certain tragedy when rural families migrate to cities that don't have classroom space for their education.  The kids who picked weeds from cotton in the Sahel weave rugs in Pakistan, or strip copper from Nigerian city televisions.  They are creating wealth and preserving the environment from avoided mining, but no one is shipping Western waste there to exploit them.  The TVs they are stripping were imported, used, 25 years ago (when Mr. J. Benson, television repairman, began his exportation business).  The TVs did eventually wear out, but boycotting African cities from owning electronics seems a rather myopic solution.  "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"...

My first discussion with Jim Puckett and Ted Smith was by email, in response to a mass broadcast of the "exporting harm" piece, introducing us all to SVTC and BAN.   I mass replied, "what about reuse and repair", and they said "those will eventually wear out, resulting in displacement".  I said "so they should stay barefoot and pregnant and offline?"  The logic of the "evenuality" of waste is not disputable, but exoticizing the risk with pictures of children doesn't solve the problem any more than banning the mining of leaded ore -which also will "eventually" be displaced.   We tried that with ROHS, and mined tin and silver to replace the lead, and wound up with bigger superfund sites, as the rarer metals take more digging and treatment, producing byproducts like mercury.

I not only want kids to have access to classrooms, I volunteered to teach in the classrooms, trying to grade papers for 55 students per fifth grade class, hoping to be like my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Saxton, at Figarden Elementary in Fresno...  And I felt bad leaving and not contributing, and figured out a way to participate in the trade.  And when I found people smarter than me, who knew how to fix stuff like Kyle Wiens @Ifixit, I flew overseas and checked it out and developed Fair Trade Recycling as an approach to export.

white man's burden?
Vermont.  Export.  E-Waste.  All I had to do was become an E-Steward, pay a portion of our income to the marketing campaign that produces these exotic photos.   I could have sold out.  "I'm not very good at doing the things people think I'm trying to do..."

Six percent.  Good Point Recycling exported 6 percent of the 8.5 million pounds we accepted last year.  And some of that we purchased as "tested working" from recyclers in NY, MA and RI.  My company will be smaller, tighter, more efficient, but we are trading the exposure to outrage to expose the toxic message of planned obsolescence ewaste policy, and by writing densely about it, make the message of collateral damage and environmental hoaxes accessible only to academics who are teaching the next generation of environmentalists.  My generation of "healing the environment" is to environmental policy as 1800s doctors prescribing mercury as a laxative were to "healing human waste excrement".  End of pipe solutions is an expression which predates e-waste, but captures the problem perfectly.

Shredding of cell phones is to the environment as Flush toilets were to the great Stink of London...

I'm not advocating that we give up on healing the earth any more than I'm against healing a wounded child.  I just don't want the kids to be treated by the Western equivalent of witch doctor, the "e-steward" validation racket.  They make reuse and import (it's actually an import business more than an export business, the buyers fly and buy from overseas) so difficult to validate that entire states like California and cities like London give up and install shredders, destroying the reuse, shortening the life of the product, and producing material that winds up as "daily landfill wind cover".  And they raise hundreds of thousands of dollars validating and certifying that companies prescribe witch doctor medicine, while driving demand into dark alleys to meet their electronics demand with people who take advantage, shipping TAR (toxics along for the ride), which the African techs would better avoid if California wasn't boycotting them.

Debate and scientific method are growing in the institutions of higher education, which have far more exposure to Geeks of Color, and way more access to visiting places like Lagos, Cairo, and Accra on their own, and are developing a keen sense of distinction between poster child politics and poverty porn.

Photos of squatting children.  The gift that keeps on taking.

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