Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #3: Congress Fiddling Around with First Use Doctrine

This week, Bloomberg's Adam Minter covers an important new front in the battle to repair your stuff.   Seems the CTIA (a cell phone group, similar to the Anti-Gray-Market-Alliance) is seeking sponsors for a bill to keep a geek from unlocking a chip so you can use your cell phone with a different carrier.

The cell phone unlocking is an important story. has previously sounded the alarm about your right to fiddle around with your used gadgets.  And everyone should get to know the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).   Very smart, following the core (first use doctrine) for longer than anyone.

Most Poor People are not a threat to most Rich People.  The two percent get along great with 90% of the 98%. It is the rapidly rising poor, the ones who have figured something out, and are on a trajectory to compete with the rich, that get smacked.  And there's no bigger threat than dirt poor geeks reverse-engineering, copying, innovating, and remarketing materials in competition with Big Electronics.  This is where Sony meets its Terry Gou, where HP meets its Simon Lin, where IBM meets its Steve Wozniak.  The first born of the emerging markets have a pesky way of becoming rivals to capitalist monarchies.

Cultural Gulfs in Developing Markets #2: Guilt Kittens

Well, if ever there was a blog title to discourage readership, I think I found it - "Morality of drowning kittens".  The proper thing seems to be some warning of the subject matter on the relativity of "cultural morality", and giving the proper weight to the moral decisions of the rural and unempowered.  I don't want to lure a reader inside and shock them.  The alternative title to Cultural Gulfs #2 was "A Load of Clue".

When I was four or five years old, I lived in Columbia Missouri, a college town.  My dad and mom were both from Taney County in the Ozarks (Land of Taney, Elmo Ingenthron now $55-210 on Amazon), both studying at the University of Missouri.   Each was the only person in their respective high school classes to go to college (though my mom, a female valedictorian, did not get a scholarship to MU.  The rotarians gave her one to a secretary school in Springfield.  She married my dad instead, at 18 years old, and left the county).

We lived in the basement of my auntie Maude Freeland (dad's aunt), who grew up on Indian reservations in the southwest with her father, a teacher in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  My great grandfather was a onetime liberal converted to Republican newspaper editor by the "unintended consequences of charity".  He disliked FDR and the TVA, thought government bureaucracy was always worse than private sector development, and he basically fought to keep the TVA out of the Ozarks.  One year, my mom's brother Eddie lived in the basement with us as he went through his freshman year at MU.  It was cozy.  Auntie Maude never married, worked as a photographer for the newspaper and wrote editorials for the Taney County Republican.

Columbia Missouri was the "big city".  Well, really St. Louis and Chicago were not that far away, but for people whose parents grew up in homemade shoes, Columbia had electricity and running water and was a symbol of American progress much earlier than Taney County.  I imagine it wasn't that different from a rural Chinese family moving closer to Guangzhou, living in the basement of an aunt's house, putting up an adult brother from the farm.

(there's a great video posted at the bottom of the blog, John Jacob Niles singing over old film of mining, stay tuned).

Cultural Gulfs In Developing Markets #1: BlueGrass, Soukous, & 9 Mile

The Urban v. Rural path of development is a common theme in this blog.   "Emerging markets" in Brazil, China, South Africa, India, Egypt and Indonesia have their own "story of stuff".    For 3B3K (three billion people earning $3000 dollars per year) internet = entertainment.   It's a whole mass media market creating a demand for "good enough" devices.  These markets now produce/consume more "stuff" than rich nations do, but they also reuse and repair devices, like rich nations did 25 years ago.

Afrikan Marilyn Manson Die Antwoods Volandi Visser
Huge factories devoted to refurbishment of good enough display devices served these markets for the past 20 years.  They deserved more credit than they got in the "E-Waste Toxic Dump" press.  Unfortunately, I'm the only person writing about it, and I've been labelled.  This "well is poisoned".

But what about the demand, the noise, the hunger for music and videos coming from inside those cities?
How are the new hyper-cities like Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou (a metropolis with a population as large a Japan) incorporating music and culture from the rural areas migrants came from, and how are those sounds changing when infused with world pop?  When we call six billion people "the third world", we put megacities into the same category as Somalian refugee camps.

We talking about a very cosmopolitan three billion people, my friends.

Breaking News! UK Court Sends Joe Benson Case Back for Retrial

Last summer I got to meet and interview Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics in London (Bullyboys Blogs).  He was the Nigerian TV repairman who was ridden out on a rail by UK Journalists, citing Basel Action Network "statistics", accusing Benson and others of "#wastecrime".

I just got word from a reliable source that Benson's appeal is successful, and the case will be sent back for retrial.   Benson has spent far more on attorney and court fees than he would have by paying off the fine.  While I don't have first hand knowledge of the case or UK law and have never traded with Benson nor exported TVs to Africa, he is putting his money where his mouth is, and that counts for something.

There is a lot of buzz about Africa and how the recycling can be "reformed".   I am still somewhat disgusted by environmentalists who jump on the "reform" bandwagon without first apologizing for racial profiling and exaggerating in the first place.

This blog tried to make a lot of noise over our research showing that Nigerian cities had 6.9 million households with television in 2007.  That's a dozen Vermonts.  Nigerian cities have dumps where old TVs go, just like New England had in the 1990s when I was tasked with establishing a recycling infrastructure with EPA and Massachusetts DEP.

See the television on the young man's head in Waste & Recycling News above?

It looks a lot more like musician Prince Nico Mbarga's 1977 television than it looks like anything filmed in Joe Benson's containers.

This racial profiling under the banner of "Environmental Justice" does tell a story of exploitation, but the exploitation is begin done by the NGOs.  They are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in "E-Steward" licensing on the backs of men like Joe Benson, whose only crime is trying to build an infrastructure for mass-communication with used cell phones, used tvs, and used computers for internet.   The Africans aren't doing anything that people in poor neighborhoods in the USA wouldn't do - or don't do - when they cannot afford a $2000 television.  If you are shopping for a used one, you go to a wealthier neighborhood.

What Greenpeace saw.  Hotel TVs from London hotel upgrades?  Or "scary black people"?

Environmentalists, take heed, this is a powderkeg.  I have been writing a philosophical piece about "ManBearPig", the label people snicker at from South Park Studios classic throwup of environmental sanctimony.  I'm an environmentalist, I challenge anyone to compare the way they planned their lives to reduce impact on the world ecosystem.  I'm sensitive to the dangers of cynicism against green.

But all the more reason to nip our own mistakes in the bud.   The study of environmental health has to be a lot more like the study of human health, with fewer manbearpig bandwagons and more primum non nocere (do no harm, the Hippocratic Oath).

Bjork Icelandic TV Repair: Shouldn't Let Poets Lie to You

Really, you should be watching this in a room with Joseph Benson and Eric Prempeh, Nigerian and Ghanain TV repairmen, and Cees van Engelen, Therese Shyrane, and David Higgins of Interpol, in the same room.

This would make it clear to everyone why the Africans should be arrested for buying used televisions from Europeans.   The screen curvature (R4) is Sony Trinitron, by the way.  #Ewaste #e-waste, WEEEWaste

"This is what an Icelandic Poet told me once... You shouldn't let poets lie to you"

State Hate 2: Marshmallow Test, Cognitive Risk of Investment= Tea Party

I like both the story of the Stanford "Marshmallow Test" and this follow up (Cognition, as covered by Maggie Steverns in Slate). In the 1972 experiment, a treat was put in front of kids, and the kids were told that if they didn't eat it, and waited 15 minutes, they'd get another one. The kids who waited grew up to be very successful, those who ate the marshmallow did not tend to do well. I believe that, for sure. What this follow up points out is that kids who don't wait, who eat the marshmallow rather than wait 15 minutes, tend to come from backgrounds or societies where marshmallow-givers (authorities, adults) are liars.

I observed this in Africa. When a government or business management is corrupt, the cynicism "trickles down" and undermines saving and achievement throughout society. The people not involved directly in the corruption still develop unsuccessful habits.

Yesterday's post was obnoxiously cross-referential (pedantic obfuscation is tautologous).   Today, marshmallow analogies.

"State hate" issues pan the political spectrum.   Anti-war protests, or anti-environmental-regulation...  Those who believe in active government (to either curb abortion, or to provide it) may dislike the current office holder immensely. But perhaps they don't actually hate the "state" itself. 

What if you invested, really sacrificed, stayed late moving TVs until 2AM, without pay, risking your family's savings, risking your good name (that you would do what you said you would do with the material), and someone in the government ate your @#$ing marshmallow?  That's where tea parties and anarchists find followers.

State Hate #1: "Secret Science Reform Act" vs. EPA

"Secret Science Reform Act": When Any "State-Hate" Reform Will Do?
I've been writing about my headaches with Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  All nice people.  I wish they knew the 30 people at GPR were nice people.  It would be nice if they would have visited Good Point Recycling during the past 36 months.   That may have made it easier for them to explain why a Vermont company with a lower bid, 30 employees, R2-certified, no landfilling of CRT glass, and $488,000 less expensive, warranted a change in procurement.
For the record, while the state's selection of Casella is something we object to, competition is not.  We simply want to run an Independent Opt-Out plan, so that if Vermont districts and entities WANT to use Good Point, they can. 
However, Cathy Jamieson and her 2 staff are tilting the playing field AFTER they chose Casella Waste Systems, to make sure the horse (CWST) they bet on wins.  Whether or not the bidder selection was proper, the state is cheating against the Manufacturer Independent Plan.
Among citizens and recycling clients, there's a lot of fatigue with the story.  "I'm e-wasted out", a client told me. Vermonters tend to be strong and well educated environmentalists.  VPIRG is well funded.  The "Green Mountain State" is a Green mountain state.  Most people will attribute an angry regulated business owner to some kind of Republican Fox News related profit-motivated decision to expose the environment to risk.You know, risk perception.  Here's a link:   

In social interactions, the perception of how risky our decisions are depends on how we anticipate other people's behaviors. We used electroencephalography to study the neurobiology of perception of social risk, in subjects playing the role of proposers in an iterated ultimatum game in pairs. Based on statistical modeling, we used the previous behaviors of both players to separate high-risk [HR] offers from low-risk [LR] offers. The HR offers present higher rejection probability and higher entropy (variability of possible outcome) than the LR offers. Rejections of LR offers elicited both a stronger mediofrontal negativity and a higher prefrontal theta activity than rejections of HR offers. Moreover, prior to feedback, HR offers generated a drop in alpha activity in an extended network. Interestingly, trial-by-trial variation in alpha activity in the medial prefrontal, posterior temporal, and inferior pariental cortex was specifically modulated by risk and, together with theta activity in the prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex, predicted the proposer's subsequent behavior. Our results provide evidence that alpha and theta oscillations are sensitive to social risk and underlie a fine-tuning regulation of social decisions.
(Wow, how's that for a dollup of obfuscation?  If you can't follow it, however, you cannot understand or defuse "state hate")

Risk is a statistic, a perception, something to be weighed in scientific method.  It's also deeply rooted in our hippocampus, mitigated by the reasoning in the cerebral cortex.  How regulators (who tend to be risk averse) interact with entrepreneurs (with the opposite tendencies, relatively speaking) offers a case study for how democracy is breaking down,how libertarians and social conservatives and liberals are getting whipped around in circles.  Here is a national news story (Fox News) on a law proposed by GOP
Republican lawmakers in the House are pushing legislation that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing new regulations based on science that is not transparent or not reproducible.  The Secret Science Reform Act, introduced Thursday by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., would bar the agency from proposing or finalizing rules without first disclosing all "scientific and technical information" relied on to support its proposed action.

Breaking Good Point: At e360 Degrees

We are winning in the "big picture".   Yale's E360 (Environment 360) author Mike Ives doesn't call it "fair trade recycling", but gets researchers Josh Lepawsky, Ramzy Kahhat, Eric Williams and Nitin Gupta to voice their opinions that the "E-Waste" story needs to get corrected.
"As far as I know, there has been plenty of legislative action to ban trade and informal recycling," but insufficient action to develop alternate approaches, says Eric Williams, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology...
(Just remember all the people whose companies got closed and lost their jobs and were defamed between 2002-2012.  The contract manufacturing factories (run by former staff from Proview, BenQ, Viewsonic, Wistron and Foxconn) never really needed advice, assistance, or help from the Great White Father.  Those were most of the exports, and most of the experts.  Those companies forced closures explains why ITC found so little actual overseas shipping after 2011.)
At least the Yale Environment 360 story is on the path to a correction, a very welcome and long awaited one.  "E-Waste" is dead, long live E-Recycling.

Speaking of corrections....   Forgive me if I don't have the strength to dance.  We are winning the war, but not the battle for Vermont.   Six months after USA Today ran a story putting Good Point Recycling at the center of the export debate, we find ourselves teetering at a precipice.  "Guess I got what I deserve".

Guess that's all I have to say
Except the feeling just grows stronger every day
Just one thing before I go
Take good care, baby, let me know, let it grow... 

(Badfinger, Baby Blue)

It is crunch time at Good Point Recycling.  And by that I don't mean operation of balers.  It is time for putting exports of scrap metal and plastic and used electronics into perspective. I'm looking at the growing necessity of laying off 50% of the staff at Good Point Recycling, and have invited staff from the Vermont Department of Labor to the plant next week.   We plan to keep on fifteen positions, less than half the weekly payroll.   And that's being optimistic about the State of Vermont actually allowing us to run an independent "opt out" recycling program for manufacturers.  And optimistic that the manufacturers will get us contracts and pay for the work on a timely basis.

Vermont Department of Labor staff will come on February 13 to brief the staff on options for "job training and placement" in Vermont.   But these are blue collar, physical workers.

You Are Here.  Sparta, Vermont.  Invisible from space, and just as important.    A black hole in space for investors to sink job creation money in.

Will the firing of half our Vermont payroll enough to keep ANR happy?   Evidently not.  Below is an email sent from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (Kimberli Lutchko) yesterday.  They are going after the companies that are trying to user our Independent Opt Out Plan.  Notice how she blames Good Point Recycling for Vermont ANR's decision not to allow the Manufacturers to join the Independent Plan.

Heroicizing and Exoticizing the Trade in Small Household Appliances

I was having a little Facebook chat with an old chum from Peace Corps (Cameroon 1984-86) early this morning, and she shared with me a Washington Post article about John Beale, who reported to Gina McCarthy (now head of EPA, and a former upstairs-dweller at EOEA when I worked at Massachusetts DEP's Recycling program in the 1990s).  I'm told that Beale's original development work was legit, but the slippery slope of junkets turned into a kind of riptide.  (If you don't have time for pontification, enjoy this amusing Vimeo parody "License to Chill")

It's about Fufu
Beale often went to Africa.  At the beginning he claimed it was for an international-EPA-outreach on "stoves" for more efficient cooking of fu-fu.   Within the EPA, the story goes, it became widely accepted that  he was actually working for the CIA, and his EPA post was "cover" for cloak and dagger work.

No.  According to his deposition, he was just playing hooky.   His cover story about "cook stoves" (which were nothing we hadn't seen in the 1980s, not much of a cover story for people who lived in Africa) was all he had come up with, and when the internal EPA gossip gave him "CIA" cover, it just made his travel appear more exotic.  We like to be exotic.

I had shared a link with Judi about a "fu-fu pounding machine" covered by an African blogger this week. It reminded me of how many hours of work teenage African girls and their mothers spend pounding nyams and gari into this delicious cookie-dough-like staple.  Fufu is dipped into all kinds of green, brown and orange colored spice gravies.   I wondered to Judi whether appliances like these might play something of the role washing machines and dishwashers are said to have played in the saga of American women's liberation.

Freedom from labor is freedom to read.  In the Mary Poppins movie, the mother is freed to promote "vote for women suffrage" by the housekeepers and hired help.  Democratic participation has always been for people with time on their hands.   Laundromats (which I've sung the praises of before) freed people - mostly women - to have more time after school to study, and to participate in other earning activity.

When Amartya Sen wrote of "100 Million Missing Women" it turned "environmental justice" on its side.  When women's hours are missing from the economy, land values stagnate, wars ensue, social development is stymied, and cultures tend to be, in a word, "more primitive".  With eventual acceptance of the washing machine, we release women to do more productive things.  Like write books, in the case of Rachel Carlson, author or Silent Spring.  (The tangential irony is that women were freed by technology, the downsides of which she aptly described.  Manufacturing of devices created waste and toxics, which tend to wind up in places where land values are lower... This isn't a rant, as I'm a fan of Carson, it's more of a yin yang thing.)

Here's film of the "fufu pounding machine" with traditional (women labor) pounding to the right.  In Africa, hand laundry is pounded in similar way, and as the video demonstrates, automated fufu pounding is a lot like a washer-dryer.  The first ones were probably made with spare WEEE parts (see bottom).

More professional videos (including consumer on the streets interviews) raise fears of change among African men, fear of the unnatural, association with disease, and other modern "modernization juju").  African Men demand  "certification" and call for the machines being "certified".   An opening for fufu Stewards?  What I can hear in the back of my mind is echos of similar "fear of tech", like the effects of train motion on womens uteruses, the hyperbole over direct current electricity, and "ghoulish" practices of computer monitor refurbishing (as described by Puckett and co.).