Tip of the Hat: Moonbeam McQueen & Camille Paglia

Reading things I don't have to read for the holidays.   I try to read outside the box.

I ran across this short 2007 blog [Moonbeam McQueen Blog] about the August 2000 UofA murder/suicide of Professor John Locke. Dr. Locke was my mom's world literature professor, who gave her the Tao te Ching, Bhagavad Gita, and other world literature that broadened my horizons (and FYI made me a much better Christian than I could ever be by thinking other religions were evil). Anyway I never met John Locke, but as my dad (a UofA professor in that building) was retelling the story this AM, it reminded me how any of us could be touching the life of someone we never even met, in a profound way. And now I know a smidgen more about Nola Royster, too.

The art of blogging, the art of editorializing, of keeping a journal, of scrolling, and journalism... the lines blur and harmonize.   Moonbeam McQueen writes less prolifically, at least via blog, but "less is more".

Merry Christmas, Recyclers. Pope Francis (Francisco) Salutes You

The coverage below, in English, carries the Pope's message praising recyclers, and especially the very poorest of recyclers.  In his own words below.  Huffington Post covered it yesterday.  Slashdot covered the same subject - recycling by poor people - today.

Bullyboys X: 城管 Authoratah!! Pope Francis to Joseph Benson

城管   [chéngguǎn / cheng2 guan3] noun. 
City management or administrators tasked with enforcing municipal laws, regulations, codes, etc. They have a very poor reputation amongst Chinese people as being corrupt and violent brutes, best known for often physically bullying illegal street vendors, hawkers, and peddlersSee examples.

This post is from the ChinaSmack Glossary, which is a collection of current idioms and expressions, like "memes" in China.  You've heard of the "green fence" and the crackdown on printer refurbishers in Foshan?  This may be the Chinese word for the people Joseph Benson called "bullyboys".

Good news.  The number of poor recyclers' defenders has just increased by One.
Pope Francis has made an amateur video praising the world's "cartoneros" — the poor people who pick through garbage to find recyclable and reusable goods. He says their work is dignified and good for the environment. [ABC News]
It is so bloody obvious that an activity, such as recycling, which is praised as good citizenship when performed by rich people, does not deserve less merit when performed by poor people.  How often do MIT and the Pope and modern artists in NYC agree?

We now have author Adam Minter, NYC Artist/Oscar Winner Vik Muniz, former Basel Convention Secretary Katharina Kummer Peiry, researchers from Memorial University, USC, PUCP, MIT, Africans and Chinese, all signing the praise of recycling in a fair manner.   Where with the backlash be felt?

By Authorities who hitched their wagons to Basel Action Network's campaign of poverty porn photos, false statistics, and halloween rhetoric.

Authority.  Bullyboys.  城管
[Pope] Francis, known for his simple habits, has denounced today's "throw-away culture" and said in the video that food that is tossed aside each day could feed all the world's hungry.
Francis has a long relationship with Argentina's "cartoneros" — literally "cardboard people." He would celebrate Mass for them as archbishop and invited them on stage during World Youth Day in July.
Middle managers, the tide has turned.  The Vermont E-Waste Massacree will be the Wounded Knee of the battle against good enough markets.  When Chinese bloggers are complaining about the same thing as the Pope, African TV repairmen (Joe Benson), and New York professional artists, the Temp Light is on your motorcycle.   Ignore it and ruin your vehicle.  E-Stewards has to execute Plan B, throw Eric Cartman out of the Executive Director chair.  Even Donald Summers, the former BAN.org consultant who (18 months ago) called my views on Fair Trade Recycling "a huge outlier", now works for ISRI.

"Recycling good." say Og, beating a reused mammoth bone against an elk antler.

Study Says CBS 60 Minutes, BAN, Wrong on E-Waste Exports

Another factual study, another blow to the E-Waste Hoax.   Basel Action Network has already admitted they made the statistic up, that 80% of used TVs etc. are exported for dumping.  It was never economically possible (see Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo), it was not supported by BAN's own study (Kenya 2006), USITC and UNEP studies in Africa found it bogus. The "kids at dumps" are best explained by the cities, like Lagos... 6.9 Million households with TV in 2007.  China throws away far more, and exports used CRTs to South America and Africa.

Now yet another very long and arduous study (to read that is) has come out, from MIT, NCER and StEP.

Quantitative Characterization of Domestic and Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics   12/2013

Huabo Duan, T. Reed Miller, Jeremy Gregory, Randolph Kirchain 

"The results show that approximately 258.2 million units of used electronic were generated and 171.4 million units were collected in the US in 2010. Export flows were estimated to be 14.4 million units, which is 8.5% of the collected estimate on average. On a weight basis, 1.6 million tons of used electronics were generated in the US in 2010 and 0.9 million tons were collected. Of the amount collected, 26.5 thousand tons were exported, which is 3.1% of the weight collected." 
- Conclusion

Once again, the facts say that exporters WERE PROBABLY INNOCENT. The methodology by Interpol's young Emile Lindemulder, in the infamous 2009 "Matrix" Report is prima facia silliness.  "The Africans PAY for the TVs and the Shipping, payment shows organization, and since 80% is criminal dumping, it's organize + crime = ORGANIZED CRIME!"   Along with the "Away is a Place" halloween language by Jim Puckett, the anti-ewaste-export hoax has been blown out of the water by the MIT study.

It's a late footnote to the "Bullyboy" series of blogs.  What in the heck is "E-Steward" besides a whites only country club?   If 80% of recyclers were indeed primitive dumpers, the badge had meaning.  Now all we have are people organized to beat an old war drum about "e-waste" exports, with no habeus corpus, no crime to speak of, except that anything above zero is suspect.  It's easier to do a DNA test than an export certification.  CBS 60 Minutes created this mess, and won't go back to correct it.

Nelson Mandela Funeral Sign Language Interpretor Fakes It, Too

When we talk about Real vs. Perceived Risks, "fool me once, shame on you" is the takeaway.

The "assistance" to the deaf viewers of Nelson Mandela's funeral service is in the news today.  The guy translating for several world leaders did not know what he was "talking" about, made it up as he went along.  Where have we seen that before?  (short video clips below)

Well, there was this funeral maintenance announcement by Saturday Night Live in the 1970s for Spain's General Franco.  Some blog readers are "video bandwidth impaired", and so I usually put clips below the fold (click "more")

What other "end of life" news turns out to be gibberish?

Eighty percent of all used electronics purchased by Africans are burned by children in primitive dumps, perhaps?    That Basel Action Network scandal is far more insidious, as it leads to actual seizures of goods and actual arrests of Africans, based on how loudly BAN.org claims it.

The Africans were accused of exporting junk in London in 2009 (following the late 2008 CBS 60 Minutes credibility scandal covering Guiyu, the "following the e-waste trail" scandal).  Greenpeace shot film of nice black TVs from a hotel takeout (working units replaced by LCDs and plasmas) being unloaded in Lagos.  It took months for Interpol and UK Wastecrime to organize seizures, but 279 sea containers were held in 2010.   In 2011 the UNEP released studies of the containers, siting 91% reuse.

Dead Reckoning 5 : Inside the Risk Aversion Box (Jessica Olien / Slate)

Good article.   Bosses don't encourage underlings to think outside the box.  
 Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.
Having dealt with it for years, I think it's a little more complex than a general native tendency, however. A large packet of society defers decisions (outsources) to a higher authority. Those authorities demand structure to order the size of the authority delegated to them, and tend to view "outliers" collectively as a threat to that order. The hostility to creativity is particularly intense when the question is "moral authority". In science, the "out of the box" thinker has scientific method and an option or hope to "prove" or "demonstrate" their alternative, creative, view. In religion, a creative morality is considered a threat but it's very difficult to demonstrate credibility with anything other than generations of experience (I did X, which the Priestatollah said not to, and no hair on my palms etc).

Cross culture is unfamiliar, by definition, and unfamiliar is risky.  People will tend to outsource authority, and authority will keep order by creating simple rules around things like culture, race, and language.
Where science is vulnerable is when a morality is attached. I'm not advocating for scientists to be immoral. But certain branches of science (e.g. Environmental) are susceptible to moral authority, which makes them more susceptible to Priestatollahs opposing creative thinking.
This is about risk aversion, cognitive risk, and perception of risks.   When a large group delegates authority, it doesn't need to know all the complicated stuff.   But when the complicated stuff is actually also over the head of the regulator (or moral regulator), the regulator feels risk of losing control or losing authority and tries to simplify.  
This is what is going on at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  
The 2011 Cornell University paper is actually pretty short.
The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas
Jennifer S. Mueller - University of Pennsylvania
Shimul Melwani - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 
Jack A. Goncalo - Cornell University
Read the previous posts about our instinct to nurture, or externalized perceived risk.   Like Parents who think internet is dangerous, or dictators who think internet is dangerous, or E-Stewards who think trade with six billion people, in geographies as diverse as Lima, Penang, Soweto, Accra, Karachi, and Sonora, should be restricted via a simple moral rule (Basel Convention Amendment).

"Dead Reckoning": Cross Cultural Risk Part IV

 Bill Gates18 Nov
What is most likely to cause your untimely death?

Tweet from Mr. Bill Gates.   See?  Great minds think alike.  Infectious Diseases and Birth Problems.  Seizing used computers bound for hospitals to avoid "future disposal risks" of used PCs looks to me like an excuse for planned obsolescence in hindsight.  It helps to read the comment from Reddit:
"I feel like many people misunderstand exactly what this chart represents. This is not about the number of people who had an early death in each category. It's about the number of expected years of life lost. In other words
The death of a child accounts for more years lost vs. an old man dying of a heart attack."
When people are running around making up numbers like "80% of all exports" to scare people out of reuse and recycling, and posing children at dumps to say that's where the Egyptian CRT purchases are burned,  it's not just untruthful, it impacts humans efforts to fix actual problems.   There are more than enough real actual risks, we don't need to go conjuring up new "e-waste" ones.

And Bill, while we're talking, I'd suggest letting go of the whole Windows Authorized User thing in Africa.  It's in your company's interest for Africans to grow up using Windows.  Make money on them later, when they have a little more of it.  I doubt the Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers effort in Africa pays for itself to begin with.

"Dead Reckoning": Cross Cultural Risk Part III

Cross Cultural Risk Comparison, Assessment:  Part III "Dead Reckoning"

"Let's take working PC displays away from African hospitals, grind them to dust, and apply it as wind cover in USA cities." - USA E-Waste Policy Expert

Part 1 went to the philosophical morality of risk, as defined by our ability to care about wider and wider circles, in geography and in time, etc.  From selfishly caring about oneself, to caring what one's mother thinks, to caring about decades later, and about people on other continents, and on to the spiritual and supernatural...  The highest risk, for environmentalists, is extinction. Things people do here on in a lifetime on earth that leave a mark, until the next supernova.  We need to value genomes, genes, more than we value carbon, and more than we value individual human lives.

Shark attack child
Part 2 zoomed inward.  Individual human lives, individual acts, small risks.  Thanksgivings past and present.   The blog analyzed the risks of "wasting food", and liabilities for serving "risky" food, from the perspective of my own geography (Ozarks) separated by generations and time.  The perception of risk relates to actual risk.  What is risky in a rich nation - serving blinky food - is risky not to do in a poor nation.

In the third and final part, we turn to risks of leaded glass and childbirth.

Lead is dangerous.  Banning leaded gasoline was the best environmental law the USA ever passed.  Childbirth is also dangerous.  The number one cause of death in Africa is from blood loss during childbirth.

But is the risk of a pound of lead in a working computer monitor at a hospital in Africa the same as a pound of lead ground up in a USA landfill?  The perception of risk, by a USA or EU regulator vs. by a young African mother, is altered through the cross-cultural lens.

Over the holiday I skimmed an article in a journal called Risk Analysis: Vol. 24, No. 3, 2004  "Dead Reckoning: Demographic Determinants of the Accuracy of Mortality Risk Perceptions" (Jahn Karl Hakes1 and W. Kip Viscusi).  From the Conclusion
"One theory for the high degree of observed risk aversion in public policy decisions is based upon public overestimation of small risks and underestimation of large risks, as argued in Viscusi.(20) According to this theory, the public’s difficulty in distinguishing between differing magnitudes of risks leads to similar amounts of spending for reducing each risk. As a result, the resulting regulatory costs per statistical life saved are much higher for low probability risks, whereas the greatest gains in lifesaving will be from reducing very large risks.
"Improved policy treatment of risks, assisted particularly by improved communication of risks, holds the potential to increase the cost effectiveness of public policy."
The paper tries to correlate opinions of risk to actual risks, and how the outliers lead to inefficient regulation and public policy.  This is really germane to the Good Point Ideas Blog  (see "Cognitive Risk: E-Waste Cell Phone Cancer").  How do Africans, North Americans, Asians, Europeans, Oceanians, and South Americans weigh the risk of "e-waste"?   If we broaden the geography of the risks being debated, and the cultural geography beyond USA, does "improved communication of risks" remain associated with "educational attainment"?  Or can the well-educated get something wrong?  We all have our ju-jus, our gri-gris.

"Dead Reckoning": Cross Cultural Risk Part II

Second of 3 holiday blogs on Cross Cultural Risk Comparison, Assessment. 

 Peter Stackpole, 1955
These Thanksgiving posts on "Dead Reckoning" Risk Assessment were originally part of the "Broken Arrow" series.  I decided to split them out, in part because it remains dicey to name the names and actions that led the State of Vermont to engage in a battle of friendly fire on its own recycling infrastructure.

It is Sunday, November 30.  A few minutes ago I went to the kitchen, where I had to make an "executive decision" on holiday leftovers.   My wife and I have a system, I cook turkey dinner and we invite 2-3 friends over for Thanksgiving.  It's a 14-15 lb. free range Vermont turkey (leaner and tastier, well worth the $10 extra), and generates a lot of leftovers.  After the meal, as I was taught in the Ozarks by my hillbilly parents and grandparents, I salvage.  That means stripping the turkey of all the meat and putting the carcass in a pressure cooker to get out the remaining nutrients.   We have an open house pot-luck on Friday where many more friends come over and are encouraged to bring their leftovers, and I make a "second edition gravy" from the pressure cooker...

Unfortunately, I just had to throw away about a pound of turkey meat.  We had left it out (room in the fridge issues) all day Saturday.  This morning, I opened it and caught a slightly spoiled whiff.   Definitely something I would have still eaten in college, after rinsing and washing the pieces, which I started to do.   But definitely something my wife would not keep if she had opened it first.   I started the process of re-cooking it, hillbilly style... Then I reconsidered.  Rather than debate the risk/benefit analysis of food-borne-illnesses, I decided then to throw it away.

What are the ethics of serving, or disposing of, leftover food?  Here and now?  And how can the weighing of risks of these decisions be analyzed to provide insight to environmental policy today?

"Dead Reckoning": Cross Cultural Risk Part I

3 holiday blogs on Cross Cultural Risk Comparison, Assessment.  

File:Rubberbandball.jpgRisk Comparison and Assessment.  Sometimes society gets it right.  Sometimes, though, we miscalculate risk, and misdiagnose.  Environmental regulations are the response to environmental risks, which may or may not be a direct risk to human health.  If our subjective responses to direct risk to our own lives vary, by demographic, how good is our derivative judgement of the more indirect risk to the environment?  And to the indirect risk to an environment physically distant?

Our opinions on world risk are like an army of rubber bands.  When enough of them are used together, they can create energy, a movement, or an obstacle.

"Risk" generates aversion, and aversion is energy to be harvested, either by capitalists, or by command-and-control economies.  Risk aversion, and the externalized risk aversion (which arises genetically from the impulse to nurture), are winds we can direct towards or away from our windmills and sails by conjure.   The force which conjures these winds is journalism, or wiki-editing, or other social media.

Now that I've lost nearly everybody (a Thanksgiving long-bomb hail Mary blog tradition), let's use e-waste policy, again, as a lens to measure how media plays on society's cognitive risk (personal threat avoidance, or nurture to protect "others", or true ecosystem challenges) to stir policies worth billions of dollars.

In our families, our religions, our work, and our lives we must weigh different derivatives of risk and benefit.  But our actions and decisions and votes seem like rubberbands.  They are capable of holding small things together, or inflicting a snap of pain.  But the rubber band cannot hold back a landslide.  We direct the energy and elasticity we have to the things we can cognitively manage.   That image is a way of introducing my theory of how we care about the pictures of little kids in Africa and Asia.

Broken Arrow 2: The "mean" of all opinions (Why We Are Trolls)

Before I set out on the posts "Broken Arrow", about how my company has to make some deals under the onslaught of so-called E-Stewards and BAN-friendly state regulators, I have to find some zen.  The "ugly sandcastle" blog last weekend (post-titled "Broken Arrow 1") is an apt analogy.  Shutting down our exports to Egypt or Malaysia or Peru or Africa isn't that big a deal.   It's not the beauty or necessity of the sandcastle, it's the value of the experience building it together with people you care about.

And that's something intensely personal, something I'm prone to feel too passionately about.   And people mistake that for caring about the sandcastle.

I want the right to build sandcastles with my kids, and the right to trade with "geeks of color", even when the sandcastles fall and the repaired and working units eventually become waste.

I don't like the fact that expensive "new" sandcastles, mined from Congo conflict metals, are sold to people with fewer choices, who can't afford them.   Those "new" and "fully functional" units crumble just as much as sustainable used refurbished sandcastles do.  I don't like planned obsolescence, or laws banning the "right to repair", even if all technology, and all companies, are like sandcastles.

But time should give us a prospective that protects us from lashing out and "trolling the internet" with vitriolic comments.  Blogs included.

(AT least check out the photo below, it's a treasure of obsolescence)

Broken Arrow 1: Like Protecting an Ugly Sandcastle From a Rising Tide

One of the best things a father can do is really enjoy building a decent sandcastle on the beach with his three kids.  Get into it.  My wife, Armelle, often sits under a hat or a parasol and reads or works crossword puzzles, while I motivate the kids for the sandcastle project.

Getting totally into it... that's the secret to sand castles.  If you are doing it by rote, as some kind of obligation, without passion or inspiration, the kids will pick up on that and you are finished within an hour.   My best sandcastles got all 3 kids involved, and kept them involved.  The castles meant something to me, and to the kids, even though I knew what happens to sandcastles.

One or two times I remember pretty vividly.   Nine or ten years ago, the kids were probably four and eight (times two), or three and seven.  As every summer, it took place in Le Barcares France, where my wife's parents (French Catalans) purchased a condo.

from wikipedia commons, mail order
One of the special sandcastles was a first "history lesson" for the kids.   I started by making a tiny compound and told them, "this is how people lived about three thousand years ago".  There was a garden, and some huts, and a well.   Then I told about how someone takes charge and organizes, motivates, leads... I don't really believe people in villages simultaneously decide to build a wall to protect their garden, or a silo for their grain.  I suspect it takes a person with a vision, someone to convince people to work a little harder, save a little more, defer gratification.

The sand grain silo became a tower, and the walls became a fortess, as people realize that deferring and saving makes a tasty target for theft and raids.   I talked about feudal systems with the kids, and "land lords".  The ones who built the castles offered protection in a raid, and a fortress silo was like a bank.

We built moats, and trenches, and roads.  The history of Europe sandcastle continued to grow for 3-4 hours, and my kids were into it.  They felt some kind of history or ownership, like they had know the castle for generations, for a thousand years.

Labor Saving Devices Advertise Jobs In USA

There are older versions of this song on youtube, and versions I like better.

This is a song about jobs, it romaniticizes hand labor.

Shredding machines have been given a much lighter job than rail setting machines.  They don't repair, they don't even set aside repairable items.

And in fact they don't finish the job.

The specifications you see advertised on electronics shredders are real.  They really do produce the copper, aluminum, and plastics streams they show.  But the trick is this.  They produce 80% of the sort in the first 20% of the time and energy they run.

In 20% of the time, the machine owner gets 80% of the benefit.  The owner of the machine has to continue to grind, grind, grind, running the shredder 5 times longer, to get the cleanest stream advertised in the shredding magazine.

It's called "diminishing returns".

Adam Minter's book (Junkyard Planet) shows the lines at the back end of the shredders, the people who hand-sort material that has been shredded not-quite-to-spec.  As he documents, it's appropriate at some point, when the labor has run into it's own Paretto Principle, when there are diminishing returns for the labor.  My company sends a percentage of cleaned e-scrap off to shredders, we are not hand-disassembly "purists".

But even the material we send for shredding doesn't "end of life" there.  Most profitable USA shredding companies turn the machines off before 50%, sending the remaining pieces overseas to be hand-sorted.  They never run the machines 100%, due to "diminishing returns".  It takes as much energy to clean the last 20% of material as it took to clean the first 80%.  Sorters do a better job, by hand, in China, and just as much labor is exported as was displaced in the USA.

The irony is that shredding companies advertise themselves as creators of jobs in the USA.  That's really not true.   The shredders who advertise "USA jobs" are using mechanical means to eliminate labor in the USA, and to eliminate repair and remanufacturing jobs which simultaneously create more employment in both the exporting and importing country.

Protein and Gold: Gore's Generation of Environmentalists Circuitous Path

"I believe in global warming"

"I don't believe in global warming"

These two statements seemed to starkly define a generation.  They become emblems of environmentalism, or environmental skepticism.   Many use one of these statements to define who they are.   The first is more popular, perhaps, because it's emblematic of compassion, and people dig compassion.

I believe extinction, the consumption of diverse species, is the simplest measure of our society's place in history of the planet.  Any other measure - carbon, or prayers, temperature, or wealth - is a distraction from what future people will care about that we did today.  What drives our impacts today?   Protein and Gold.

I dig baby elephants.  And I want baby elephants to have papas and mommies.  It's a simple faith in nurture, and it doesn't make me an environmental scientist.  But because I don't want elephants, or frogs, or tigers, walruses, or seals to be extinct, I work in recycling.  And it has nothing at all to do with landfills, or with carbon.   To save these species, we must alter our love of metals, especially expensive metals like gold.   And if you think teaching humans to consume less energy is challenging, try teaching people to let go of gold.

This is not a statement about the science of global warming.  It's a statement about human psychology, and the way media tries to educate society about need for change.  When we need society's consumption to change - and I'm convinced more than ever that we do - we need to understand our own psychology, our own cognitive dissonance, our own appetite for opinion change, and to invest in messages which opinion research indicates will make a darn difference one hundred to one thousand years from now.

For now, the loudest discussions, if not debate, are over global warming and climate change (thanks Mr. Gore).   There is no denying that there are many, many sophisticated arguments humans engage in to support either position at the top on belief in global warming.   There is also no denying that public discussion of the issue focuses primarily on the psychology and assessment of the opponent.

Merely referencing dry scholarly work on the shrinking (or not) of Mars poles, as an indicator of the average temperature on Mars, demands an apology.  From Yahoo answers discussion, links to these two papers are presented with a disclaimer... "I'm not a denier but evidence shows that they (Mars plar caps) are melting." 
The discussion of global warming here on earth is usually hedged today with similar qualifiers.   "It's undeniable that even if the Earth is warming for other reasons (solar or celestial energy), that humans are producing more carbon, and carbon will exacerbate the rate of global warming."

Fresh Air Rematch: Terry Gross interview with Adam Minter


Have not listened yet, but can't wait.

November 13, 2013
wednesday's show
Coming Up: The author of Junkyard Planet explains the global billion-dollar trash trade, Wednesday on NPR's Fresh Air.

Fair Trade Recycling: Interpol Promises Fact Check

Not bathwater: Baby bassinet found at Mexican dump 2008
Here's a novel idea.  Habeus Corpus.  Find the body.   Make sure a crime has been committed before you start arresting people.  Witch hunts and mob justice have plagued democracies for thousands of years, and our system of justice has learned, over the centuries, that accusations need to be investigated before arrests take place.

Environmental Crime enforcement thus reminded itself last week.   Interpol, the Lyon, France-based international police force, announced that it would take a year to re-study the WEEE or used electronics trade.  Why is a study a victory for Fair Trade Recycling?  It's called "back to the drawing board"... Interpol studied it once, gobbled up some baloney Basel Action facts, and started an enforcement campaign it is now going to revisit.  Mockingbird will be retried.
11/7/2013 "The impact of pollution caused by the dumping and mishandling of waste is global, affecting the quality of our air, water and soil," said Cees van Duijn, a Specialized Officer with INTERPOL's Environmental Security Unit.
"Through Project Eden INTERPOL will support its member countries in their efforts to implement national legislation and regulate the international movement of waste to ensure healthier local environments and help protect the overall integrity of our environment worldwide," added Mr Van Duijn.
With the recent launch of the Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) Project, INTERPOL and its partners will conduct extensive research into the illegal e-waste market in Europe and provide technical and policy recommendations.
- See more at: http://www.noodls.com/view/1E03CF366C333C703F1EE40A61E2A293816DCAF3#sthash.ysnd6TSY.dpuf
Now Interpol's "Project Eden" doesn't sound all that big a departure from the past 12 months of seizures, arrests and enforcement.   Why do I assume there could be good news here?

"INTERPOL and its partners will conduct extensive research..."

What caused Interpol to take a breather, and to make sure of its prosecution?  WR3A, the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association, monikered "Fair Trade Recycling", perhaps played a  role.   Our organization introduced Interpol to researchers from Memorial University, PUCP Peru, USC, MIT, and Middlebury College.  We introduced them to importers from Ghana and Mexico and Burkina Faso.  We introduced them to recent studies by UNEP and US International Trade Commission.   And I took a few days from my vacation in July to meet Interpol at their offices in Lyon, en route to Geneva and Copenhagen, and to my meeting with Mr. Collateral Damage himself, Joseph Benson.

TVs replaced at London hotel by flatscreens make false arrests
Fair Trade Recycling applauds legitimate investigation of the used WEEE and electronics export trade.  Cees (pronounced "case") van Duijn, the head of Interpol's environmental unit, met with me in Lyon in July, extended his hand, and promised to do what is right.  And I believe him.  He was not there when the enforcements and seizures and questionable arrests based on "80%" baloney statistics got started.  He was not holding a torch, and does not seem to be in the lynching business.

We are on the heels of a year of arrests and seizures of exporters of used electronics, following a great E-Waste Hoax.  Interpol had taken a fake, false, hootenanny statistic from a puny Seattle non-profit, and based on the fake number, had seized hundreds of containers or used computers, displays, televisions, and cell phones.  Items, it turns out, which are reused or repaired 91% of the time.

Habeus Corpus means "Habeus Stuff", habeus #ewaste.  Start at the crime scene, start at the dump. "Stuff" is not, by itself, evidence of environmental injustice.  Just keep the facts straight, that's where justice begins.

Too Fine a Point on E-Waste Exports: You Shall Not Pass

Some have said it's an interesting thesis, the "Tinkerer's Blessing", and the risks of "Environmental Malpractice".  Search those terms in the box to the right.  The "Motherboard.tv" article has gained a lot of traction, in part because it accepts the premise that non-profit anti-export advocates mean well.  But perhaps we have put too fine a point on it.

If you are doing a term paper on "environmental justice", or on a topic I call "environmental malpractice", or simply researching the export of recycling generally, here's the truth.

A small non-profit in Seattle publicly accused African and Asian reuse traders of buying USA waste in order to burn it on the ground, of polluting or dumping.   The NGO accused the African and Asian traders of being motivated by "externalizing the cost" of American E-Waste companies.

The USA NGO, Basel Action Network, has repeatedly told the press that 80% of the used electronics exported are recycled in "primitive" processes, coining phrases like "reuse excuse" and "digital dump" (rather than "digital divide").

As a result, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian reuse factories have had their goods seized, have had their import permits revoked, and have been forced into smuggling channels with less responsible suppliers. 

There is no "habeus corpus" linking these people to the dumps.  It's "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the digital age.

In fact, independent researchers have found the opposite.   Most of the junk shown at African dumps was NOT recently imported, but comes from cities like Lagos (20 million residents, 7 million households with television).  The importers there, according to independent sampling of 279 sea containers, achieve 91% reuse... that's 9% not 80% recycling.  And it is a better reuse rate than brand new product sales in Africa!

Povertyjacking, Fearjacking, Sympathyjacking: Parasites Spamming a Noble Cause

Onion Magazine, October 2009
Lou Reed died Sunday.  Saturday night, I watched Steve McQueen in Papillon, my favorite movie of the early 1970s.   I read the book in Junior High School.   Steve McQueen died at 50 years old.

I'm 51.  So let me take a few minutes to write down what I'd call my "nudge the world" contribution.  Because "e-waste" is a debate about something people have already discarded and want to check off a mental list, it's over.

I'm not being smart or trying to be pulling my part
And I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve
But you know people get all emotional
And sometimes they just don't act rational
And y'know, they think they're just on TV  

- Street Hassle, Lou Reed

What we have to expose is the "jacking" or "hijacking" of our collective compassion.  Our species has either evolved or been blessed with the ability to nurture, to care about others, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  But we are not blessed with omniscience.  So we have to choose what we care about, or let others choose for us.  Social cognitive dissonance creates a vacuum, which is easily filled by "celebrity experts".

What did we care about, and when did we care about it?

The blog noted Chevron Oil's titilating exploitation of the poverty aversion in May 2012, and other blogs have noticed, too.  "We agree".  Embrace the poster child image, get in front of it, own it.  Whether it's a small NGO with half-baked "statistics", or a big oil drilling natural resources in Africa, a certain number of people are going to get "cognitively dissonanced" (to verbization) out of caring.

pumpkin pie
Chevron Economist Ads
Below is chart credited to someone in the "art of self promotion" business.   Don't really care to give the guy a hyperlink, it looks like he wrote his own Wikipedia entry.  But you have to give him credit, he is correct in the life of a news story, and the opportunity between when a story becomes popular and people start to form opinions, or care about it.

As the chart shows, there's almost an art to "riding the wave" of social guilt, of channeling the "caring" to your own cause.  The African Arguments blog (Diana Jeter) taught me the phrase "parasites of the poor", reminding us to do the shakeout, in the end, of how much of the money goes back to the poster child's family.  In the math of exploitation, tinkerer trade is more balanced than either raw material mining (resource curse) or Basel Action charities, or even textiles and contract manufacturing.  More of the value of the sea container of monitors winds up in the hands of the Egyptians, Nigerians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese, etc. Tinkerers or GOCs (Geeks of Color) than drilling, assembly, or even USAID.

But today's blog isn't about the math, or the Economics.  It's about how to hijack the white guilt as a force to kill the tinkerer's "gray market" and "white box factories", and how you, too, can put BAN's pictures on your website and show how much you care, with absolutely no accountability for the royalties the E-Steward branding costs your company.

The chart is about hijacking or "newsjacking" media attention, about the art of inserting yourself as an expert in order to catch the tailwind of public attention, and the benefits of whatever those eyeballs, clicks, or awareness gives you.   If your goal is to become a "celebrity expert", there is an art to that.  And most of us have a distaste for someone who plays the system this way, it's a single surf, an opportunistic ride of the wave.  We hope that the reporters, or the followers of the story, give more credit to people who have been "in the trenches", "boots on the ground", who somehow "deserve" the attention they accumulate.

Instead of Reading About E-Waste, Read Something Important

The Price of Precious, by Jeffrey Gettleman, will shock you back to the reality between Tinkerer's Blessing and Curse of Natural Resources.

"The first child soldier pops out of the bush clutching an AK-47 assault rifle..."

The article is about the "wild eastern edge" of the Congo... an area near Bukavu, where I spent my first weeks in Africa in the summer of 1984.   I've been a fan of Gettleman's for several years, ranking him with Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman as mainstream reporters who "get it".

It's the mining, stupid.

Nothing I've written below here is as important or as well written, or as insightful as the National Geographic article.  I urge you not to read further.

The article is profoundly sad.  But its also sad to me that I began this trek into reuse and recycling "e-waste" from the very same ground as Gettleman walks, eastern Congo, Rwanda and Uganda border zones... a frequent theme, and digression, in the blog.


Procurement 101: Vermont E-Cycles Lessons

As the recycling program manager at Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s, I oversaw something like 40 contracts per year (if you include 03 consultant hires).  We went through one of the biggest bid challenges, for the Springfield Materials Recovery Facility, which saved the state about $1 million dollars per year by switching from an incumbent vendor.

We knew that if the incumbent vendor lost, that they were certain to challenge the bid, so I had lots of time with attorneys at MA DEP making sure that each step of our bid evaluation was transparent, and run by NASPO.org standards (National Association of State Procurement Officers).  (Link to Massachusetts Chapter 30B Guidance on Procurement)

The incumbent Springfield MRF vendor did appeal, and they even won an injunction keeping us from awarding the contract to a new vendor.  Even though the state was losing roughly $500,000 during the six month injunction, however, we saw our jobs as making a smooth and continuous transition, and further, to show that Massachusetts DEP did not even want to suffer the APPEARANCE of impropriety.  By NASPO standards, the appearance of shady procurement is just as costly to society as impropriety itself.  Once an injunction is granted, the best thing is to sit down, in full transparency, and let the protester's case be heard.

So we patiently worked with the incumbent vendor, in as professional a manner as we could, until the court hearing.  The court found The Massachusetts DEP's contract procurement process was valid and dismissed the injunction.  But like an appealed referee's call in an NFL game, no one accused anyone of doing anything in bad faith.  And at this time, I'm not making any noise about bad faith in Vermont.

You will see in the news cycle a number of stories about the State of Vermont's E-Cycles ("e-waste") contract procurement, which my company, along with NRRA.net, administered for the past 27 months, with generally rave reviews.   The truth is that before the Vermont electronics recycling law had even passed, my company had already set up the infrastructure, and had a turnkey proposal in place in 2011.

This is not the time or the place to air our concerns about the new 2014 contract, or the merits of the two proposals the state decided between.  But this is a time to look at Vermont Procurement laws, and ask why "safety railings" are not in place to keep vendors and regulators from having it out in the press.  That's what NASPO standards were created to avoid.

"Does the injunction save the state money while providing the public assurance to a fair review of the process?"  If the answers to both questions is "yes", why fight the injunction?  Save tax money, hear the appeal out, and start the new contract when you've won.

Environmental Injustice vs. Environmental Malpractice: Planes, Trains, Laptops and Automobiles

Ship, Plane, Automobile and Cell Phone Recycling

From EPA research archives, here's a photo found by author Adam Minter (ShanghaiScrap, Bloomberg).  Minter covers the history of Automobile hammermill-shredders in this month's Foreign Affairs (a serious coup for an international relations cultist like me).

If you want to understand the scrap electronics business, you should study the scrap automobile business.  And the hard rock mining business.

1974 by Bruce McAlister

As Minter points out in a recent blog post,
At the time this public domain image was shot, abandoned cars were among the most serious environmental crises facing the United States. Estimates vary, but in 1970 General Motors – theoretically, a knowledgeable source – estimated that there were at least 40 million cars abandoned in public places across the United States. In 1967, New York City reported 70,000 cars were abandoned on its streets, alone. By scale, and seriousness, abandoned cars exceeded any waste disposal problem before or since (including the so-called “e-waste” crisis).

Celebrity Expert: Ignorance, the Renewable Resource

Proper management of "e-Waste", WEEE, or scraps from used electronics is a very "niche" environmentalist concern.   When public attention, or a reporter, stumbles on a niche issue, it's hard to know who the "expert" is.   This leads to what I'd describe as "celebrity experts".    We know certain celebrities who are "famous for being famous".
"Even when a person's fame arises from a particular talent or action on their part, the term will sometimes still apply if their fame is perceived as disproportionate to what they earned through their talent or work."  wikipedia
Certain e-waste recycling experts are recognized as such because they've been recognized as such.

Photo owned by whom?
Ten years ago, Jim Puckett announced his organization was an expert.   He may well be an expert in Basel Convention, a truly niche environmental law.  But he got so many things wrong about Guiyu, that he's lucky the place was too obscure to recognize the truth behind.  Here on Columbus Day, we still call American Indians "Indians".  And people still think Guiyu was a resting spot for cathode ray tubes.  There are none there, or what few were photographed were small enough to be generated from homes in Guiyu itself.

But Puckett made Guiyu "about" a Swiss city, Basel, which I drove through last summer.   He did not explain the difference between the Basel Convention ratification by the USA and the ratification of an Amendment to the Basel Convention by everyone else - but he made the city name of "Basel" mean both, to most people in our industry.  His expertise created confusion.  Basel Convention, in Annex IX, allows export not only for reuse and repair, but actually for recycling (so long as no Annex III releases occur... so no burning, but if it's properly accounted for, it's legal.  See B1110).

The Basel Ban Amendment (proposed) was promoted in the mid 1990s as a cure for what Jim claimed was the "recycling loophole".  And this "amendment" has still never been passed by the Convention.  But hang on, derivatives of derivatives approaching...

File:Zsa Zsa Gabor - 1959.jpg
foreign, mysterious WEEE
Someone suggests that the "export for repair" legality in the Basel Convention should also be included into the proposed Basel Ban Amendment (the one still under "consideration" after 15 years).  That  suggestion was not voted in.   But now our celebrity expert gets National Coverage on not-amending-an-unpassed-amendment (Resource Recycling's E-Scrap News).  The headline becomes that repair is denied at a meeting of the Basel Convention.  

Nothing changed.  Repair is still legal under the Basel Convention (as is recycling).   And the Basel Convention "Amendment" still hasn't passed.  The wording to the 1995 Amendment was "not changed". And the celebrity expert, Jim Puckett, gets that into the national news.

Obscure meeting about 15 year old unpassed amendment generates headline.  See what he did there?  He can make anything a headline, just like Molly Cyrus, Tom Arnold, Kato Kaelin, or Paris Hilton.

BAN's an expert at being an expert.  You do have to grant them that. 

Vik Muniz "Waste Land" (2010)

This week, I'm organizing a slew of information about the Vermont "E-Waste" Program, for a series I call "Muleskinner Blues".   I cannot just write it in anger, I'm gonna try to be very objective.  But there is a point at which the reputation of a state for beauty and environmentalism can get in the way of sustainability.

How important is what we do in Vermont?  Well, it's just a dingy little scrap company.   We aren't very profitable.  And the reuse, the reuse I pride myself in, is sharply declining.
Valter: [talking about the importance of recycling] People sometimes say "But one single can?" One single can is of great importance. Because 99 is not 100, and that single one will make the difference.
99 não é 100
That quote is from Waste Land, a documentary I watched this morning with my wife and daughter.  It's by the Brazilian born artist Vik Muniz.   I won't go into a "spoiler" about the film, I want everyone to see it.  Or at least watch the interview with Valter, posted from youtube at the bottom of this blog post.

All Will Be Revealed in Vermont, Postscript on ACA Tea Party

I'm in a tempest in Vermont, very high stakes.  But information is coming out of Montpelier so slowly that it would be a mistake to come to conclusions too early.   Until 10 days ago I thought my company had been underbid... we waited though to see the contract.   Our bid was lower and our qualification score higher.

In court tomorrow.

But my mind is still idling, so let me say a couple of things about ACA, the Affordable Care Act, monikered "Obamacare".
"Half of the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent of the population spends almost half of the total amount.2 In 2002, the 5 percent of the U.S. community (civilian noninstitutionalized) population that spent the most on health care accounted for 49 percent of overall U.S. health care spending (Chart 1, 40 KB). Among this group, annual medical expenses (exclusive of health insurance premiums) equaled or exceeded $11,487 per person."  Mark W. Stanton, M.A. www.ahrq.gov
In other words, the USA already ate 90% of the public health care apple with Medicare and Medicaid.  The ACA will neither do much for the young (a small percentage of whom need care) nor for costs (we keep doing major intervention on elderly).  Public health care works in Europe because the average person there realizes something most Americans haven't come to grips with.  We are all gonna die some day.   I have had to watch 3 of my 4 grandparents basically be tortured to death with extended care.

USA Today Recognizes Fair Trade Recycling!

Breaking news!   Banning Exports is a Bad Idea

PLEASE take the time to read the excerpts below, and if you agree with them, post a comment at the USA Today web site.  41 African traders have been arrested for "e-waste" dumping in the past 13 months, based on hyperbole.  A major United Nations Environmental Programme research team spent 2 years examining seized sea containers and found 91% reuse - higher than brand new product sold in Africa.   The World Bank found 6.9 million households in Lagos had TV, and the ones burning at dumps were mostly generated by cities like Lagos, NOT imported.   BAN has reviewed the UNEP study and applauded it (though they still say 80% of it is burned as junk in this article!)

Please also support and join fairtraderecycling.org  Exports aren't perfect, but shredding working equipment and forcing Africans to buy in back alleys is not making them better.  Legal and safe reuse and recycling is our goal.

"Two years ago, Ingenthron launched a movement he calls Fair Trade Recycling to influence public opinion on e-waste. Fair Trade Recycling is based on the same Fair Trade principles Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has used so effectively with coffee, working to ensure growers the Waterbury company buys from in Central America and around the world receive a fair price for their beans and are able to steadily improve their living and working conditions."

"Katharina Kummer Peiry served as executive secretary of the Basel Convention for five years, from 2007 to 2012. Peiry, a Swiss attorney and specialist in international environmental law, helped to create the Basil Convention when she joined the United Nations Environmental Program in 1988. She believes public opinion is lagging behind the facts on the question of whether e-waste is being dumped.

"My perception is this issue was a significant issue 10 years ago but the situation has now changed in that the material price has gone up," Peiry said. "New technologies not available at that time make this material quite valuable. It doesn't make sense to dump it."

"Peiry says Basil Action Network has a "very strong stamp of credibility" built up over time and has been able to seize the high moral ground in the public discussion of e-waste. That concerns her for the same reason Ingenthron is concerned. She's afraid the legitimate and productive trade in recycled electronics will fall victim to concerns about dumping.

"There's a strong perception in the United States that the Basel Convention prohibits exports," Peiry said. "That's not the case. At this point there is relatively little awareness in my perception that discarded electronics are not always a problem, but can be useful."

"Josh Lepawsky, a professor of cultural, economic and political geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, is hoping to shed some light on the dumping debate with a $469,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Ottawa. Ingenthron is a collaborator on the grant.

"Lepawsky and several of his graduate students have already done field work in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangaladesh, and reached conclusions similar to those drawn by Katharina Kummer Peiry.

"When we surveyed the people in this trade most of their imports were coming from elsewhere in Asia, principally China," Lepawsky said. "There are shipments that come from the United States to Bangladesh, but in terms of sheer number, they're in the middle to low end."

"Lepawsky and his students also found that most of the so-called e-waste shipped to Dhaka was being repaired, recycled or refurbished in some way, a business that presumably will disappear if a ban on exporting electronics is put in place.

"If the dangers of in-ground smelting need further study, Lepawsky is less reluctant to give his opinion of the consequences of banning e-waste exports.

"Bans are going to do something along the lines of the following," Lepawsky said. "They will harm people's livelihoods who are already at the margins in terms of economic survival. On that account, they may not be the best thing to do."

USA TODAY - Dan D'Ambrosio 9/27/2013