15 Minutes of Shame: Confessions of a Sexual Alpha Male #MeToo

When I hear the noise and see the headlines about people I truly admired - Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Al Franken, etc. - I mostly turn my head.  Not that their shameful acts are directly comparable, but they are all people I admire (not so much Bill O'Reilly etc).  So far, I haven't really spoken to anyone about my disappointment or empathies I share with both victims and perpetrators.

By the time I graduated college in Minnesota, I had learned enough about myself and my capacity for both positive and selfish love that I thought it best to take a two year "time out".  I signed up for a Peace Corps position as a high school teacher and was placed in a very remote rural high school in north central Cameroon.  While I wouldn't describe it as a vow of chastity (unsuccessful at any rate), it did change the game, and challenge me.  I'd later explain, after Peace Corps hired me as a Cross Cultural trainer for new volunteers, that our ideas about Peace Corps as a remote and lonely adventure are really mistaken. We arrive with hiking boots and backpacks, but find ourselves enrolled in a black fraternity. For most of us, it's intensely social, lacking privacy.

Identity Environmentalism: The Role of Racial Profiling (Otherization) In Start Up Recycling Tech

Three infamous "high tech" and "formalization" of the recycling sector investment schemes - MaSer, CLRR, and EWSI - have come to mind recently, thanks to an irritating article by Peter Holgate of Ronin8.  Like MaSer and EWSI, Ronin8's spokesperson (who writes about his own company) told us this week that the current system of export for reuse is all wrong, and only high technology can save us.  Perhaps his can.

But falsely impugning the repair sector is not the right way to find your investors.  He should just apologize immediately - for his own sake.  Here's why.





(Article by his truly)



The recycling start-ups that rely on impugning the status quo are historically wobbly at best.  The weaker the fundamentals, the more the start-up evangelist points at Guiyu and Agbogbloshie.  The more we are talking about "hundreds if not thousands" of African children Holgate "eyewitnessed" in Agbogbloshie, the less we are addressing questions yet to be solved with his technology. 

This describes a "tell" on new recycling technology. The more page ink their literature spills on "identity environmentalism" and racially profiling their competition, the less they seem to want to talk about their fundamentals.

It's a good sign when a startup honestly devotes time and space to fundamental questions like "what is the energy input into the magic printed circuit board powderization-to-sonic-washing technique?"

The simple answer will be "less than smelting". But the recovered metals at the process, don't they then have to be smelted? Isn't heating something once (smelter temp) better than heating it less once and then re-heating it to smelter temperature afterwards? If the evangelist burns half their presentation talking about "primitive Chinese" and "childish Africans", we have less time to pursue these important fundamentals, lifecycle analysis, carbon impact, etc.


Racial distraction is - sadly - effective persuasion in short term decisions (like elections) but the stock market is not a short term decision. Long term business is colorblind.

EWSI pitch to InvestorsHub - Look at the Young Brown Others 
A savvy investor prefers a startup which puts out in the open the problems they face rather than the latest unfounded gossip they can fling at current recyclers. If the optic sorting inventor talks about downtime (it's necessary to clean the lenses), or the CRT glass processor has a costly backup plan (shipping to existing smelters), or the circuit board refiner is open about the total lifecycle analysis of their end product, that should give investors confidence. I have no doubt that many of these technologies will progress to "fully-baked". But when they are presented mostly as "saving" ignorant uneducated blacks and asians, whom they imply are being screwed by existing recyclers, it can be an early warning sign of a half baked process, or a trump pump and dump.

Very often there's something half-baked or "halfway there", and the idea is to raise capital to finish proof of concept. Too often, people desperate to raise capital resort to hiring a shoe salesman (whose technique is to make you feel ashamed of the shoes you wear now).

Holgate's more recent article basically says that if secondhand cell phones are sold to and reused and repaired by Africans, that they will too likely be discarded and burned in a polluting process he claims to have smelled or seen first hand. You should invest in his technology startup because everyone else in that "category" may be causing (headline) "massive pollution". After reading his article, one is left to fear that investing in his start up is a moral imperative.



From apparent experience, Holgate attests that hundreds or thousands of entrepreneurs are cooking circuit boards in Agbogbloshie... I called bullshit. I saw zero. I know the smell he's talking about comes from burning plastic and tires. I don't believe circuit board chip pulling exists in Africa, or ever existed.

That's a "Tell". What does it say about his technology that makes it his interest to exoticize, denigrate, and racially profile these "others", his competition? If you are actually confident in your own batting skills, why would you bring up the racial stereotypes about Jackie Robinson?

The answer is that it's a page from an old playbook. If you are introducing a new product or process to the market, the "go to" place is the "category" attack.

You describe your product as a brand new invention, and then commit the marketing faux pas of badmouthing competition. Every Advertising and Marketing classroom teaches that if Coke attacks Pepsi, it's an inter-category attack, and cola sales fall. You don't distinguish your process by attacking the other unless you can convince the market you are selling a completely different product. (See the last presidential election).

In recycling scrap, my friends, you usually aren't. Holgate admits, in his longer self-penned article) that he's simply applying an old mining sampling method to a new source of raw material - circuit boards To generate excitement about the new application, he apparently thinks it's in his interest to 'recycle' discredited, false claims, which even the original source of the claims has abandoned... even referencing the cringeworthy "Blood Diamonds" movie to describe Africa/

It's not just a "tell" for half baked technology, it damages the recycling industry. When E-Stewards attacks SERI's R2, belief in certification suffers. And if Holgate is successful in creating doubt about turning in our cell phones to recycling programs, they will wind up in toyboxes and desk drawers.

What if the newfangled process really is actually superior? Shouldn't we embrace (and invest in, and subsidize) it? I'm not talking about whether the Ronin8 Technology might be fine. Even if a new technology is "half baked" it does not mean that it won't someday work (like optical sorting or XRF machines), or doesn't have some persuasive advantage.

First generation MRF optic sorters, pushed in the early 1990s, reduced hand sorting labor ... but the first generation systems required firehoses of Windex. Mixed recyclables are a dirty product, and cleanly shredded material (glass, plastic) is a dusty one, and the hi-tech lenses became less effective by the hour. The lines that eliminated labor with optic sorting basically had to be shut down and recleaned several times a day.

I suspect they are near perfecting optic sorters - 20 years later - but they were first presented to me by a guy at a New England MRF who "denigrated" hand sorters at his competitor (1995). As I recall, it really ticked me off. His optic sorting wasn't ready for prime time. He had to use hand sorters (shielded in metal boxes, cleverly put out of sight of the tour). But I saw his "high tech" claims had a big impact on stakeholders on the tour with me. When they later saw African American sorters at his competitor in Connecticut, the (all white, and white collar) tour group looked visibly squeamish.


A third MRF bidder we toured had all white polish women in white smocks on the sorting line (I was later told they may have been temps). I heard the stakeholders on my tour talking about which was the "better MRF" on the ride home, before they had looked at any of the fundamental production numbers for glass, metal, paper, or plastic. Not that my recycling group was racist, but they were unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable watching dirty people sort their waste by hand, and were apparently comfortable judging the recycling bidders without looking at the numbers.


The point is that a weak technique - attacking others in your category - is often associated with weak fundamentals in unproven technology. As recent political campaigns attest (described blow by blow by Scott Adams), associating unpleasant and negative visual imagery with your competition is a proven, if short term oriented, persuasion tactic. Some people do it habitually and compulsively.





Fundamental problems with another "boondoggle in hindsight" - a now bankrupt CRT glass processor with warehouses in Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio - were distracted from by the imagery warfare against overseas processing. Three major and fundamentally quite reputable CRT glass downstreams were closed in Indonesia and Malaysia, thanks to a "identity environmentalism" campaign by Basel Action Network. Net Peripheral, Samsung Corning, and PT Imtech all closed to USA CRT glass imports between 2009 and 2011. A new "USA domestic" recycling company launched in Arizona and Ohio to take their place, in the vacuum. The company accepted whole intact CRTs between 2010 and 2017 (or was supposed to), and graded them into funnel and panel "furnace ready cullet". But after 365 days (one year of tube conversion) and 365 more days (furnace ready cullet), the company was supposed to either smelt the leaded portion of glass or send it to someone who could. They had several other options, including a primary copper furnace that used their CRT funnel as fluxing agent.

But rather than move the material when they were required to, the "closed loop" company announced a successful round of investment in a "high tech $20M furnace technology" that would be "lower temperature" than the lead and copper smelters.  The CRT glass processor's financier was EWSI, whose investor webpage tellingly featured sad eyed children at foreign looking dumps rather than a single photo of their own processing equipment.

The fundamental math was "why heat something twice" if someone else can heat it once? The company could have profitably charged 9 cents a pound, processed the CRTs into cullet, and transported it to a smelter for 3 cents... not a sham, but what several other CRT processors do every day. The sham came years later, when they kept that 3 cents based on a promise of a new high tech solution that would produce income.

Sham recycling is more likely to happen when an NGO propaganda campaign makes the identity of the downstream (American vs. Export) a decision point rather than the fundamental math of time, tons, value added, and temperatures.




Look for 75% washed furnace ready cullet after 365 days

We must pursue new technologies like optic sorting and sonic sorting, and should do more of that here in the USA. But we should learn from a more mature industry - hard rock mining - which seems never to impugn its own industry, even during horrific environmental calamities.

Brand new Recycling technology companies, like EWSI, MaSer, CLRR, and the crinkly monikered MRF sorter I toured in 1995, are at risk of becoming a new "category" of recycling themselves. Exaggerated claims could lead a backlash against actual new innovations. That would be horrible news.

If the Ohio litigant is successful at labeling as PRP (potentially responsible parties) even those companies that monitored, audited, and measured the 365 day rules for intact tubes and furnace ready cullet, or even in at least one case arranged for transport of finished cullet OUT of the "closed loop" glass plant (demonstrating it was a price decision by the processor not to ship, and not a failure to process), that could have a chilling effect on other recyclers, and new companies like Ronin8.



The biggest environmental impact our civilization has on the earth, impacting toxics, extinction linked extraction, and armed conflict mineral sourcing comes not from any form of recycling but from hard rock mining, virgin extraction. The tin mines in Indonesia, the Copper mining on Borneo, the gold mining (with hg alluvial processes) in the Amazon, and tantalum mining from gorilla preserves in the Congo, do not attack their own (virgin mining) category. The primary smelters and mining companies stand, tight lipped, never going on record when their competitor spills kilotons of cyanide into the OK Tedi river basin. The stand as stern as mercenaries, quietly black-ops-ing the rainforests, to meet our consumer demand for newer gizmos. Their silence is a deafening model.

You will notice I criticize a) virgin extraction, and b) people who criticize its only alternative, recycling.

Mining companies do not practice "identity environmentalism". They talk about the richness of the vein they intend to explore, and their technology, and their access to it. They don't claim that another mining company is doing something fundamentally different than they do - even if perhaps they should.

Why can't some recyclers grow up? Holgate's attack on Ghana refurbishers is as cringeworthy as EWSI's photos of children at dumps during their own "pump an dump" stock scheme, or MaSer's embrace of Basel Action Network propaganda. It's bad manners, and stupid.

On Bourdain, David Perry, Bob Akers, and Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley

Anthony Bourdain goes to West Africa for the food, comes back singing about electronics geeks and wizards
Let me present the ontological argument for inclusivity - including inclusivity of people who appear to strongly disagree with your beliefs.  I've learned not to be angry, or afraid, of people who are wrong.  Not being afraid, being brave about things like patriotism and cultural appropriation, and finding commonalities and strengths to emulate in your adversaries, is just good practice.

"Mass communication has brung us all within earshot (and memes) of people who strongly disagree with what we grew up believing. Some people are frightened and threatened by that. Those people (right or left) are pretty similar in my experience (my family's from Taney County Mo, I went to Carleton and my kid's at Middlebury). There must be a better word than snowflake, but it's a short step from fear to intolerance."

This is a comment I just left on an interesting article on "PC" culture on liberal campuses compared to "Faith and Patriotism" core values (and mandatory courses) on Christian universities (ran across David M. Perry's  "Why Do Christian Schools Get a Pass in Conversations about Academic Freedom".  And (screenshot below) he responded by Twitter before I got far along in today's blog.

The original topic I was searching Twitter for is references to the Ozarks, which I've been thinking about again lately.  Not just because we are preparing our annual family holiday gathering on the Missouri Arkansas line, and not just because of my fascination or obsession with the parallels between Agbogbloshie and Branson.

At the conference in New Orleans, I was politely greeted by Bob Akers, the new Executive Director of E-Stewards.  He ran the Surplus Exchange in Kansas City, which I visited about 15 years ago.  Great organization, and it managed to earn E-Stewards Certification in a reuse context... similar to Fair Trade Recyclers earning R2 certification.

And he's the only person I will meet this year, outside of the family, who will recognize 2017 as the 50th Anniversary of the Presley Family Jubilee... and what that meant to culture and industry in Branson, Missouri.  It was sometimes debated whether Lloyd and Bessie Mae Presley were truly locals (she was from Oklahoma, they moved from Springfield MO to Branson in 1967 to open the theater) but they were quickly looked on as 100% local as more and more Andy Williams, Dolly Parton, Wayne Newtons and Acrobats of China shows followed them there.



Electronics Recycling Conference 2017 Presents Jim Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award To

Scary Times in New Orleans...

What a great time I had last night, here in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I'm here to attend the 2017 ERC conference, run now by Sarah Cade of Chicago.  The annual international conference is a unique group of people, which took off from the launching pad of an organization, TechSoup, run by my pal Jim Lynch of San Francisco.  Jim's a legend, and each year this electronics reuse conference presents an achievement award in his name.

While the Bourbon Street Halloween Parade was truly a sight to behold, and Jazz Saxophonist Gary Brown was giving rare encores late into the night, the pinnacle of the evening, for me, came early.  At 6PM, I was presented a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for alleged contributions to the field of electronics repair and reuse. The honor was bestowed on me by Jim and Sarah, based on a vote of past Jim Lynch honorees, such as the distinguished Nancy Jo Craig of Baton Rouge, Charles Brennick of InterConnection in Seattle, Kyle Wiens (founder of IFIXIT!) and others.

Thanks.

Not cultural appopriation b/c photo snapped by Swiss woman? Oh and Halloween. That.

Jim Lynch himself introduced the award.  I was touched that he spoke about the several hour drive he and I shared together coming back from Retroworks de Mexico. He hit the sweet spots of my career, and my passion for defending reuse techs in emerging markets.


The Fireworks Economy of Agbogbloshie, Part 2

Fire is the dynamic that attracts teenagers and young men to a wire burning site.  Fireworks economy.  Build a bonfire, attract a crowd.  The wages at the wire burning site on the Odaw River are so low because 1) the youth suffer chronic unemployment and, 2) burning wire adds very little value. There less plastic on the wire, which makes it worth a little more, but the clump of wire weighs less, because the plastic is gone.

Who else is attracted to fires?  You got it, photojournalists.

Enter photojournalist #10.

Shin Woong-jae


Shin is from South Korea and came to NYC to study photography, according to his bio.  His instagram and twitter feed was all about wire burning, and I'm sure he's the "China Man" the Musketeers told me about a little while ago.  He seems like a nice guy.  Not a credible scrapyard expert (see Adam Minter or Jon Spaull's reporting for that), but at least gets the jist of the philosophical question of whether photojournalists wars can create "collateral damage".  Seems sincere in understanding the pitfalls of "photographer protagonist".



The Fireworks Economy, Part 1: Burning Wire Adds No Value

European and American NGOs and Regulators who are entranced by the flames at Old Fadama's "Agbogbloshie" scrapyard have three main boogeymen.  Many argue that sales of used goods should be banned to Africa based on public concern over three "questionable" practices:

1) Burning Wire
2) Breaking CRT Tubes
3) Circuit Boards

So many documentaries have now been filmed with close up camera shots of each of these, that we receive RFPs that ban our company from doing work unless we promise not to do business with Africans.  As someone who lived in Cameroon for 30 months in the 1980s - and is still in touch via Facebook with my landlord from the small town of Ngaoundal there after 30 years - this "segregation" of business distresses me greatly.


Connecting Traffic in Los Angeles, EWaste in Agbogbloshie



There are two really good things about Twitter.  The First One is the "search" box on the top right.  It allows you to research an obscure topic (like "Why is Taney County Missouri named after the Dred Scott Case Supreme Court justice Roger B. Taney, and why are they pronounced differently?") and meet someone across the globe who is also tweeting about the subject.  You might have found the same article through a Google search, but it is very hard for a recent article to move up Google's ranking, and virtually impossible to pass Wikipedia etc.  But enter "Roger Taney County Missouri" in Twitter search, and you'll get some very recent and current insight and thinking on the matter.

The second good thing about Twitter is it forces you to be brief.  It rewards "pithy"

(Blogger does not, evidently).

So most of the "facts" about African e-waste and Agbogbloshie that you find on Twitter are just retweeted BS.  But add some other key words, like "Dagbani", and you can meet someone through the smoke and fog who also sees what you know about the place.

Most of the photos on the web of traffic in Los Angeles are actors in colorful wardrobe, dancing on the tops of their cars in @LaLaLand.

Shadenfreude or Unbehagens Wohlstand? Finger Lickin Guilt


"It's finger-lickin' guilt"

The German phrase for the guilty pleasure of rubbernecking - observing another person's tragedy with chilly over-interest - is now part of the American lexicon.

Schadenfreude is somehow connected to "poverty porn".  Sure, I've always said their is a genuine "nurture" instinct at play, an innocence in wanting to help.  The Charitable Industrial Complex is a crime committed out of love.  Or self love (and love itself can  be an uncomfortable mixture of the two - right OJ?).  We care about  the poor, and we love the part of us, and the part of others, that cares about them.  See the Narcissus blog...


But is there a similar good German phrase for "discomfort with other peoples increasing affluence"?  It's different from jealousy (which is the discomfort with affluence or conspicuous consumption, but relegated to those who don't enjoy the same - the "have nots").

People we have always thought of as "poor" start to resemble - well... - US.  And today's NYT article wants us to see that as a bad thing.



How To Steer Environmental Movements: 15 Year Quarterbacking

I was rather concerned 15 years ago that the Al Gore - led carbon global warming movie was gathering so much steam that it was cannibalizing the "Rainforest" focus of the previous decade. I was concerned that, tactically, it was recruiting people away from Rain Forest action more than it was attracting non-environmentalists (though I conceded it was doing both). My suggestion then was that Gore, McKibben, and cohorts make habitat preservation as a "carbon sink" more front and center than energy generation.

About 10 years ago, a reporter friend, Ingrid Lobet, who had worked on NPR's Retroworks de Mexico coverage let me know she was going on assignment to Indonesia, where the burning of the rainforest was exposing so much peat and carbon sequestered (deep organics under trees) that it was turning the geography (former rain forest) from a "sink" into a top emitter of carbon.



Here's news about an agency making dead rain forest carbon a top issue. https://eia-international.org/our-work/ecosystems-biodiversity/forest

BBC E-Waste Recycling Documentary on Agbogbloshie: Reggie Yates 2017

BBC Insider Series 2:1. Reggie Yates A Week in a Toxic Waste Dump 2017


If Agbogbloshie is the "largest e-waste dump in the world", or one of the largest, how can we explain the uncanny coincidence that everyone who visits there, even for an hour, meets the same people?

[Edit 9/28/17: While several other Reggie Yates BBC video docs remain on Youtube, this one has been pulled as of today]

DailyMortion has made the documentary accessible again here

The Insider S01E01 Reggie Yates A Week in a... by Eirador

Also on Reddit


Reggie Yates is a British journalist who is (like Vero, DK, Heather, etc) a second generation Ghanaian immigrant.  In this video documentary, he decides to live the life of three random wire burners from the Old Fadama slum.  The 53 minute documentary, like previous "Euro Agbo Journo" experiences last summer, revolves around the byline.  The journalist is the protagonist, and the background research  (into actual dumping claims) is practically nil (gleaned from Anane youtube appearances). I cringed at the opening montage of myths, assuming the hyperbole would once again propel the story.

But watch the video... there is progress...

Surprise!  He immediately hooks up with our pals Yahro, Razak, and Awal!  The same three musketeers who travelled with me (and PalmAndPlay, and Adam M) to stay with "Ghana Tech" and pal Wahab Odoi, a translator and importer from their Dagomba-speaking tribe around Tamale.  The ones who took us to meet their families, where we observed the tech sector, the charcoal stove fuel business, and copper jewelry craftsmen in the area. (See May press release on 'e-waste offset')




These shots are mine - taken when the guys stripped wire by hand to make "fair trade recycling bangles" like the one they give to the BBC reporter at the end of the documentary.



I've been to many slums before, and to this one several times over the years. I know Yahro, Awal, and Razak well.  I visited their families in Savelugu and Tamale, have pictures with their kids, and we chat a few times each month by Whatsapp. Reggie Yates' personal contact with them seems very genuine, if he perhaps misunderstands some of the Pidgin (for example Yahro doesn't say he hasn't seen his family for 4 years, in fact he was there with me in January and February 2017 - 4 Months).

You have to hand it to these Three Musketeers.  Awal has learned that photographers are attracted to flames, and by squeezing the most fuel into a tire, he can take control of every film crew.  Not that there is much competition... we only counted 25 people at the wire burning site on most days.  (Not thousands).

Our trip north to meet 3 muskateer fams
While it is irksome that BBC's Reggie Yates gets his information about Basel Convention and export from quite discredited claims from 5+ years ago, this is worth watching.  Not for "facts" about "e-waste exports" - Yates displays no evidence of reading research funded by Secretariat of Basel Convention, Interpol, MIT, Memorial University, and others who investigated - and dispelled with prejudice - the original Basel Action Network propaganda.

It's worth watching because, at least for 'e-waste', yes, this really is it. The 7 days Yates spends there pretty much capture the entire Agbo e-waste scene.  You can watch this whole thing and pretty much know everything.

Did you miss the 500 sea containers being unloaded?  Nope. There aren't any.  With time, I hope Yates will go see what 10 tons of e-waste actually looks like, at a facility like mine, and imagine seeing that arrive in an hour by wheelbarrow.

The only African Tech Sector representative appears in the video when Awal takes Yates to buy scrap from an imported goods shop.  The (unnamed) secondhand shopkeeper tells Reggie they are not importing "waste" or "scrap".  Study after study has proved the shopkeeper is, for the most part, correct.  Importers cannot afford to import junk, and they don't.  They fly and inspect goods, they will sample store returns to see if it's an easy repair.  The cost of shipping from the UK is about $5,000 and they certainly don't import VCRs (the junk Awal buys for scrap).  Reuse shops did import VCRs 10-30 years ago, used.  But today, Ghana residents bring them in for repair or exchange for something newer, a laptop or cell phone perhaps, leaving them at the secondhand shops.

Yates does find a UK store return at the shop and raises his eyebrows.  I've seen imported recalls, perhaps the one he saw in the shop.  But they are usually purchased and tested in the UK.  Yates doesn't plug it in, or find out how representative the sample is (this is photojournalism not data-journalism).  Certainly he can see that the shopkeeper isn't selling it for scrap, and that it's too expensive for Awal to buy for scrap, and stuff he sees at the junkyard is much older... nothing adds up.  Awal buys the scrap VCRs, not the store return. In any case, I challenge anyone to find enough "bad goods" in Accra shops to fill the Agbogbloshie they describe. Yates implies it's evidence of controversial import of bad goods. This "tidy little shop" isn't newsworthy... but Yates handling of Awal's negotiation gives us another glimpse of the reporter as protagonist.

The film does capture a lot of junk at the scrapyard. Junk cars, junk bikes, junk tires, junk coconut shells... Junk that comes from African Consumers, living African lives, in African cities.  The cell phone Razak points at Reggie will, in a few years, be scrapped for boards at the junkyard.

Reggie hasn't quite made the case that Agbogbloshie is anything but a city junkyard, similar to one in Essex or Dublin or Marseille, but with lower wages, more smoke, and lesser tools.  And I think if he sits and has a beer with me in a year or two, he'll agree the situation is kinda ordinary.

African consumers have been "consuming" electronics since at least the 1980s (when I lived in Cameroon for 30 months). A lot of "waste" is eventually generated in West Africa.  The more affluent the African city, the more e-waste.  If the export economy was really based on externalization and poverty, that wouldn't be the case.  Yates shows us the scrap exchanges up close, and we can see with our own eyes that it's being collected house-by-house, piece by piece, not dumped by container ships.

Yates shows how Awal buys the VCRs for a scrap metal price, and they wheel them to a consolidator, who pays Awal for footwork.

The journey of the scrap VCRs, by foot, is an example of where the documentary shines. The 3 musketeers do not remain "props", and are not nameless faceless viet cong in this BBC production.  Though he has no Dagbani translator, Reggie Yates deserves credit for listening, as best he can, to the individuals who make the fires. The guys told me this morning that Reggie was cool.

Here's a screenshot of Awal, in the documentary, who you will also recognize was the Blazing Tires "child" filmed by @itsSashaRainbow for the @officialPlacebo MTV video early this summer.


Even if it's not his intentional focus, Yates finds himself surrounded by a slum full of smart phones, FIFA jerseys, and rappers.  We can see with our own eyes that even the lowest scrapper has a TV set in his room.  Yates notes the traffic on a nearby highway.  He says he's been to Accra many times, and didn't know the slum was there.

World Bank data clearly demonstrates that Ghana is not a "primitive" place, and that the vast majority of Accra households owned at least one television in 2001.  World Cup and Africa Cup viewership is nearly universal. 20 TV channels are viewable in Accra, and there were 250 TV stations in Africa in 1977, for heavens sake.  The amount of junk at the Agbogbloshie scrapyard is if anything too light for a city of 3M residents... probably because Africans hang onto their electronics as long as they can.

Inline image 1


Of course, up close and personal is also the "byline trap". When a reporter's name or face features prominently in a story, it too often stops being journalism, and becomes a kind of talking-head on reality-tv. Yates remains seduced by his role in the lives of "the boys", and while he obviously means well, a great deal of footage is wasted on him demonstrating just that.  I learned after Peace Corps that having been to a brave and exotic place can help one seem interesting, help you pick up chicks, etc. Etc! Etc.

Like tire fires, journalism can be a testosterone high, or what I call a "graffiti economy" (time spent which is not really explained by monetary added value of the product).

Reggie Yates producers could have contacted some of the experienced reporters (Minter, Spaull) and researchers (Akese, Lepawsky, Miller) who have dispelled most of the hysteria about "hundreds of sea containers" being dumped and "pawed through" by "thousands of orphans" (I'm not exaggerating, the claims - with "millions of tons" - published in 2010-2014).  He should demand a follow up.  We can arrange for him to visit laptop repair shops and other importers, without whom Accra would never have had the "critical mass of users" to invest in cell phone towers, internet cable, etc.  I usually go to Agbogbloshie with savvy tech sector workers from Tamale, who translate the Dagbani language with Razak, Awal, Yahro, Muhammed etc.

We made the copper bangles (bracelets), and filmed the process, and I encourage the "boys" (I call them guys, musketeers, or men) to give them out to reporters if they have been honest and fair with them.  I take it from Reggie's parting gift that he passed that test.




Anyway I've been in touch with the guys and shared Yates photo - they remember him and seem to think well of him.  So I won't bash him, just gently chide BBC for re-publishing these outlandish crazy stories about hundreds of sea containerloads being dumped there.  And, yes, thank him for showing how little scrap is there, how many people (30 in e-waste, 250 in car scrap), how specialized a place it is, how little money is made in fire compared to hustle, how wheelbarrows (not sea containers) drive sales.  If you turn the sound off, you can learn a lot.

Agbogbloshie workers are a living, breathing part of the Circular Economy.  And that circle does not revolve around Europe.  While the used goods may disappear into reuse for decades, all the copper and circuitboards eventually get purchased and re-enter the world economy.  The TV on Joe Benson's sea container goes on a much deeper dive, has a much longer life, but the copper will emerge, bringing wealth to a place that added value. #freejoebenson

Euro Agbo Porno Journos need to meet one challenge.  In composing your "takeaway", please do not advocate for those who insist that arresting geeks and boycotting emerging markets does something compassionate. You can push the button on the shredder yourself, but you haven't done anything to improve anyone's lives.  You probably made them worse.

Instead of leaving UK citizens with a foolish notion that arresting #freejoebenson and boycotting #geeksofcolor and shredding, rather than exporting, used electronics will somehow benefit these young men, reporters could promote the clean copper recycling process.  You can buy the same bangles, made by the same men and women, and actually put some money on the table, and share the contacts Reggie Yates and others are making among your friends. The conditions of fair trade bangles include the safety measures (masks, gloves, doctors visits, etc) that Yates 'invents'.

With "fair trade rules", you only resell the copper rings, earrings, and bracelets that are collected without burning.  By doing that, you use the trade with Africa to actually make a difference in Awal, Razak, Yahro, Muhammed etc.s lives.

Reggie Yates was there in June (Ramadan), the anniversary of the AMA bulldozing and forced evictions (not mentioned), and 4 months after Awal posed with this copper bangle, filmed in a fair trade process, near the home of Kamaldeen - the laptop technician whose father is the metalsmith.  Kamaldeen is about the same age as the three musketeers, speaks the same local tongue, and grew up in the same places.  Kamaldeen did not drop out of school - he went on to college and got a degree in electrical and electronic engineering.  Today he fixes and resells laptops in a shop in the center of Tamale.  Reggie should meet him, too.

Reggie Yates gets a recycled copper Agbo bangle
One other theme I'm noticing is the territorialization of Agbogbloshie reporting as 'cultural appropriation'.  Increasingly, investigators (Agyepong, Yates, Vero) make their own bi-nationalism front-and-center of their reports.  It appears an evolutionary reaction to Hollywood's #whitesaviorcomplex. But it also forces the investigator to meet a broader range of African experts - scrap sector, tech sector, importers and regulators - to gain personal credentials.

If Reggie Yates and BBC want to go back and tell the other side of the Exotic Story of E-Waste in Africa, give me a call and I'll show you the intersection of Agbogbloshie and Chendiba Enterprises.  You will feel a little bit better about Europe and UK's roles in "exports".  I "f*king promise", Reggie.




see more by following #agbogbloshie on twitter


Boogeyman E-Waste: Stats the Charitable Industrial Complex Won't Share

Well, in another week I may or may not be in Championsgate (Orlando) Florida for the next E-Scrap Conference.  I've long made peace with not speaking or presenting at the Resource Recycling conference... speaking to groups of peers who mostly feel they know what you know is a more thankless task than many realize.

This blog is inspired by Max Rosers 2017 paper, "Our World in Data."



If the conference isn't cancelled due to Hurricane Irma (there will be about a week to clean up the airports), I'll go to attend the E-Life documentary screening, and to make the usual noise about the boogeyman approach to environmental awareness.

360 Degree Racism: The Privileged Wage Collateral Damage on Emerging "E-Waste" Markets


Do rich people have more leverage and 'unfair' advantage in a marketplace?  Absolutely.  No one denies that in a used car transaction that the wealthy owner of the car doesn't have the same need to make the sale, and the poor person - who needs an affordable car to get to work - has more to lose if the sale doesn't happen.  The wealthy have the power and privilege.

That said, the stupidest and most ignorant conclusion is that poor people should be put in a different marketplace than rich people.  That they shouldn't trade together.  Years ago, an NGO leader told me that poor people should repair poor peoples stuff, and rich people should repair rich peoples stuff... that identity should define the legality of the transactions.

It is a kind of stupid that could only occur in a marketplace contaminated by "identity politics".  Instead of talking about the transaction, and what's in the best interest of the free market participants, we are defining them as representatives of social groups.  In a market where some collective guilt or social liability has been whipped into a froth such that the rich person feels liability or exposure to the idea that they have exploited the poor person in a transaction, and therefore choose to shred the car rather than allow anyone to say they sold it in a transaction, to a poor person, in a marketplace where they held the upper hand.

#360DegreeRacism is the spawn of identity politics.


Used Chevy in Poorest Rural Mexico

A Spectrum Of Opinions


Twenty years ago, I was one of the most bullish advocates of widespread internet access for the masses.  I saw the web as anti-totalitarian, progressive, feminist, and leaning towards fair.  It would expose us all to more information and culture. The "open air" of democracy, I thought, would prove harkening if not irresistible to people living under despots who had grown accustomed to dishing out "pravda" (truth) through government and corporate press hegemonies.

In some ways, internet access has, indeed, worked out that way. But the "democratization of online information" has also forced us to deal with other things we see in popular governance.  Tyranny of the majority, gerrymandering, and appeal to rhetoric over reason... these are as much at play in the internet today as innovation and shared compassion.  Plato's Republic must be required reading at Facebook headquarters.  There are fewer editors of the internet, and fewer checks and balances of power.  It may be a pure democracy (without executives, representatives, or judges) - which, Plato says, naturally gives rise to dictatorship.

"Wise men speak because they have something to say;
Fools because they have to say something" - Plato

People on both sides of arguments today (online) are trying to bully the moderates.  In doing so, they share a common position on the social spectrum.

GPS LIE DETECTOR? Flagrant False Claim #Ewaste Watchdog (GPS Tracking Monitour interview)

Wow, haven't followed up that much since the MIT SenseAble City Lab and BAN GPS tracking project was pulled to MIT legal office about a year ago.  Readers are aware that this blog tracked many of the devices into places that BAN didn't want to talk about - like a University reuse operation in Faisalabad, or modern 21st century EcoPark in Hong Kong (no longer obscured in Monitour).

Well I just ran across a little video produced in 2017 by Luen Hai - Decoding the Connection.  In it, at about minute 6, a Hong Kong reporter identifies Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network as an important expert in e-waste imports to Hong Kong.  Then Jim says on screen that 54% of the GPS trackers the organization placed in e-waste was shipped to Hong Kong.

If you know about this study, you may think I made a typo. The numbers are so specifically wrong. But this is Jim's recorded voice, in his own words... screenshots with subtitles below.

1. "These little trackers, and I can show you one, they are like little lie detectors"



IRONY of IRONIES...  Listen to what Jim tells the filmmaker about the GPS "lie detector"...  Full video at bottom below.


Europe (and INTERPOL) Focus Still Explained by "Strategic Metals"?

INTERPOL announced 30 days of "recycling crime" enforcement this week.

On this I will give them points - They are targeting automobile "recycling crime" and waste exports, and not as many of the photos seem to show reuse or Tech Sector imports. I believe Fair Trade Recycling (WR3A) has been effective in reducing the enforcement agency's obsession with "e-waste exports".


The photo of lead-zinc ore for sale from Africa's most toxic mine (Kabwe in Zambia) is apparently legal.  There's no law targeting the most toxic activity on the planet, because it isn't "waste"... so there is no fetish attached to it.

I love INTERPOL's focus on tigers and elephants and shark fins and ocean dumping. I'm enthusiastic about illegal forestry and charcoal trade. But what explains INTERPOL's strange obsession with recycling, when MINING is so much worse for Africans and the planet?

Mining lead-zinc ore from Africa's forests, for sale to Asia and Europe, is legal.

But it is apparently not legal for Africans to buy back scrap metal?

Another EU EWaste Documentary: E-Life by Ed Scott-Clarke (Teaser)

Have only seen the E-Life Youtube trailer so far.  Ed Scott-Clarke did respond to my email and suggested I wait to see the documentary.  So... this is only a review of the trailer. A teaser of the teaser (I'll review the whole doc when I see it).

So far, same old same old. A 40 year old TV plastic housing is used as a frame to film men ("boys") burning wire on that spot on the lagoon shore.  Supposedly, 40 year old TVs and VCRs are being dumped on primitive tribesmen on the shores of Ghana.

http://www.edwardscottclarke.com/news/2017/8/3/e-life-wins-its-first-award

Executive Directors Lars Wogen, John Ditchfield, and James Scott-Clarke (relation?) had access to both sides of the story. The trailer shows one side. I can hold my breath, but the fact that they use the exact same "50 year old kitchen CRT TV plastic" in a smoky Agbogbloshie frame for their title shot makes me pessimistic.



E-Missionaries Saving African Recyclers: 9 Stages Of Eyes Adjusting to Dark

Senegal Computer Salesman - 2006
The 2006 picture of white computers shows a Tech Sector importer in his shop in Dakar, Senegal.  The Pentium 3s and 4s were likely 5 years old. They'd be 15 now. The picture itself is 11 years old. Someday, the computers will be Senegal's e-waste, if not already.

Until then, they brought the internet to people who could not afford to buy new.  And Souleymane, the geek in the white shirt, was one of the most interesting people I've met in a decade.  He stayed at my house.  We cooked and broke bread together. I accepted his money, and he accepted those computers from Vermont.

Most of us don't have a personal connection with Africans in photos of exported e-waste.  And most of the photos in the mainstream press do not have any specifics... names, age, date of import, chain of possession, etc.

Contrast the 2006 import shop with the 2016 photo.


Unfortunately, neither photo is typical in news reports on exports of used electronics to Africa.

What do the photos below say to you as an Electronics Recycler?  It depends at what Stage of the Recycling Export Experience you have achieved.  To end racism and environmental injustice, you must first remember a lesson from childhood. Let your eyes adjust to the dark, and it won't frighten you as much as it does at first.

Here are the 9 Stages of Export Denial and Acceptance.

Achtung Germany! Agbogbloshie (Ghana) Pollution is from AUTOMOBILE Waste Not E-Waste / WEEE

MISDIRECTED FOCUS

The 'Burning Environmental Issue' is Automobile Waste, not e-waste.

Clean up Africa's car pollution, worry about electronics later (when you understand it).

Hey, Listen..."Sending European used cell phones" to Africa is not the problem, and arresting African export-import traders won't clean the water or bring back "Eden".



For two years, I've been making the point that Agbogbloshie is not the largest e-waste dump in the world, and that geeks of color are being racially profiled and arrested.  Those things are true.  But Accra is polluted, and the grants to date are misspent and misdirected.

Before Germany spends $15M - 25M on an e-waste recycling solution, they should look at the photos in the link more carefully.

It's a tire, and a ball of automobile wire, not a cell phone.

There is a serious pollution problem in Accra and other African cities. Its cause should be obvious as you wend your way from Accra's Kotoka International Airport to the hotel, the day before you spend another hour wending your way to Agbogbloshie's slum... or stuck bumper-to-bumber in Accra (or Lagos, or Nairobi) traffic.


Cars.
Autos.
Vehicle-Waste.

Follow the trail.

[photos taken at Agbogbloshie Scrap Yard by Robin Ingenthron for WR3A - except for the screenshots from MTV music videos of Placebo and Beyonce, and DW article]


CRT Glass Resolution: An "Own Goal" In Slow-Mo

The path of least resistance is to trust our environmental regulators, trust the watchdogs, and assume that profit-driven industry is the villain, the fox in the henhouse.

The path of least resistance is to assume that people questioning environmental enforcement are "apologists" who care less about environmental pollution than the enforcement proponents.

Sometimes those assumptions are 100% right.  I'm not a carbon climate causality denier, and I'm proud of my 9 years of service as a Massachusetts recycling regulator.


But as a former regulator, I can attest regulators are not always right.  Regulatory agency lawyers tend to be more risk-averse than private sector attorneys, for example.  Regulators understandably want to hold themselves to "the highest environmental standard".  But when there is doubt and uncertainty - an engineering problem for example - the regulator can become obfuscated and defend his own reputation.  That is to say, when in doubt, the regulator has to act - in doubt.  And saying "yes" or "no" sometimes boils down to the regulator's own insecurities.

And these lead to unintended consequences.  #OwnGoal

Let me again state that what the agencies do, for the most part, is great.  I'm suggesting an environmental police chief should look at community concerns the way any police chief looks at protest.  You can stonewall and deny mistakes, claim 100% effectiveness in your policy.  Or you can learn from a mistake and adjust your policy.

Ai vs Oi - Defining Original Intelligence

Musk and Gates are correct in their warnings.  AI - Artificial Intelligence - will eventually have the means to use facial recognition software, etc., etc.

For starters we have to define "original intelligence".


Apple of California or Taipei iPod Contractors? "Birth of iPhone" is "Game of Thrones" Saga

In the Game of Thrones (which am watching for the first time, binging Seasons 1, 2, and 3 during an Xfinity free-access trial).  It's about the rightful sons and daughters, or "bastard" sons of Kings, and their rights and claims to Kingdoms and Thrones.

In our world, the Patent or Copyright or Claim of invention is the coveted throne of the modern "Rightful Heir".  And the stakes - for Titans like Apple, Samsung, Sony, or Foxconn - represent a far more wealth than the "Iron Throne" at King's Landing.



Game of Thrones keeps our interest, in part, by slowly revealing more dimension in characters introduced in a previous season (before killing them off and replacing them, perhaps with a new actor less willing to negotiate better salary.. another contract manufacturing angle).  For those of us who study planned obsolescence and contract manufacturing, the history of Android (especially Samsung) vs. Apple smartphones is just as fascinating.  (There's even a 'bit player' I know personally, a kind of Hong Kong Tyrion, that I know pesonally.  Proview's Rowell Yang of the four fingers received a check from Apple for $60M five years ago. He had trademarked the name "iPhone" while I was a consulting with Proview).

In last weekend's WSJ.com, there's a fascinating chapter to the claims that Steve Jobs is the rightful King. father of the smartphone.

Religion of Retrospect

Hey I just got up out of bed, in the middle of the night, to write this down.

I consider myself religious, yet attend no church.  I believe that all the things I have to be most thankful for are the result of some really "great books".  Bhagavad Gita. Tao tse Ching. Plato. The New Testament of the Christian Bible. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  Aristotle.  And others.

Here's how I judged whether something was inspirational, how it became great.

Retrospect.

Fifth Week of USA College Students Apprentice Program in Africa Tech Sector

Fair Trade Recycling Update:  How Four USA College Students Will Change The Way You See Africa's E-Waste.
Zacharia is amazing

Fair Trade Recycling has a positive message.  Like the message in Hans Rosling's seminal "chimpanzee test" video - that ignited Gapminder in Sweden - our programs teach more about emerging markets.  The 1960s "Third World" images are, themselves, a form of pollution.

This summer we have 4 USA college interns working across 2 continents - Africa and North America - to create a partnership in parts supply.  Two students (U of Florida and Middlebury College) have been working in an apprentice program for flat screen TV repair in Ghana.  They are not just learning about T-con boards and controllers, or how to spot and replace overheated capacitors.  They are seeing Africa's Tech Sector as equals.

"Karim Zacharia is amazing!!!"

I like getting that message.  These two Americans are not "saving Africans".  They are not introducing a new "less primitive" technique. They are being exposed to Africa's best and brightest, to people who may well have been on scholarship to an engineering program if they'd been born in different circumstances.



Circular Economy PowderFinger

Hey, I've written a whole lot of words about images.

Here's some sound.  Neil Young's "Powderfinger", performed by Cowboy Junkies, seemed to describe red state hillbilly moonshiners.  But the words and expressions hauntingly tell the story of Africa's Tech Sector, accused of "e-waste crimes" by NGOs, shredding companies, regulators, some manufacturers, and many European journalists.

Euro Agbo Photo Journo 5: Fotografiska Museum

Visited Stockholm Fotografiska Museum.

It is like the Photojournalist's "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" in Sweden.  Photos are displayed both as works of art, and as important and beautiful storytelling.  The museum is in a retrofitted brick railyard building, with 3 floors. Lovely interior design, best restaurant and coffee shop ever seen.

There were 4 themes (These change year to year). Horses, Irving Penn, Scribbled on woman heads (skip it), and South Korean clone labs.

Upon entry, the first theme was "Like a Horse". Many new artists, but also vintage historical photography of horses.  Some blond haired, blue-eyed white children in Texas. Horse poop, spray-painted gold. Little bottles of 'horse odors' you can sniff for multi-dimensional effect (did not see many attendees take the advantage).

Exotic. Some African American horseback riders in urban Philadelphia. Celebrity. Young Patrick Swayze, and Richard Gere on horseback.  The biography of one of the photographers explained he would never have been "discovered" if he hadn't been pals with Richard Gere before the actor was famous. The timing was right - the star of Pretty Woman on horses got the photographer in with a magazine, which led to a career.



Euro Agbo Photo Journos Redux 1: The Butterfly and the Whale (enacted by 2 roosters)

With the help of Ghana Tech Wahab Odoi, and the miracles of the internet, I have managed to put together a lot of the pieces behind the strange alt-coinish entry by the  band Placebo.  Their MTV video's use of Agbogbloshie as a backdrop for "Life is What You Make It" debuted during the middle of this blog's series on Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos.

As far as making friends with people you run into in strange places - well, chalk this chicken fight up to unfortunate timing.

I was in the middle of a "photo journo flog" series.  And Sasha Rainbow was thrilled with what seems her studio's most prestigious work to date. And the band and Placebo fans were unprepared to play a part in an environmental lesson plan.  What does work for photography often does not work as journalism?... um no it's about the music dude.

Artists look for simplicity - a simple, powerful photo can tell a thousand words. But those words may be false, and quite easily proffer mere racial profiling.  I brought their video into the "Free Joe Hurricane Benson" debate, and they seem angry and perturbed.  Easier to describe me as a trollish brute than to entertain the possibility that their depiction of poverty was bleeding with collateral damage, and wrapped in #ewaste activist folly.

How did we meet in this place?  All of us? How does Awal, Yahroo or Razak wind up with a Whatsapp treasuretrove of white contacts from UK, USA, Spain, etc?  Since just the last month, I've been sent photos and been handed by phone to speak directly to five "freelance documentary makers".  It's a land rush... but they don't know what kind.