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:
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 "" 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.