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.