recycling blog - Robin Freeland Ingenthron

  May 5, 2006.   If you plan to live to 2080, please apply here:

(another blog on the theme of unintended consequences...)

There are a lot of people in charge, working hard, in government and business, etc.  You've seen that.  Some care a lot about things outside their own personal interest;  we call these "good people".  "Outside" could mean being a "company man", could mean worshipping your family, could mean caring about critters, you could be a patriot, or care about other aspects of the environment.   But what I'm looking for is someone who cares about the year 2101, and it's likely going to be someone who will still be alive in 2080.  Among those who will be around in 2080, those who care about things outside themselves will care about the year 2101.  Also, they aren't yet distracted by other good things they'll one day care about, like the job or kids or status.

There are actually a lot folks who care about 2101, but most of us only have time to form opinion about the direction the world is headed based on cursory information.  We learn about, and choose to care about, something outside our personal interest - say ice caps melting.  We form an opinion about it.  But most of us don't have enough expertise to do more than cast a vote and muster ourselves to agree or disagree with another person's opinion.

Both the young and the older tend to form opinions based on listening to people we trust.  By trust, I mean we trust their motives and their facts, that they are a good source of information, smarter than us, or at least smart enough to know more than we are likely to learn in our spare time between now and the business trip or kids soccer game or taxes or box elder cutting or Mothers Day card or cassava pounding... At best, we are students who take a class on the issue and learn enough to write a paper during a semester.

So, let's call these people PTWs,  Professionals We Trust, as gatekeepers for our opinion.   Now let's pretend we work for the DEP or ANR or EPA, and we want to develop a policy, and we aren't experts in the field of, let's say, computer recycling.  We want to get some PWTs together so we can have some informed policy that will improve the direction the world is spinning towards 2101.  How about if we gather a big representative sample of these professionals, and see if they can arrive at a consensus.

All good so far. 

Now we can't technically call this a "focus group".   We may think we have a "focus group".  But in actuality, a good focus group is designed to bring NEW BLOOD and fresh perspectives.  Campaign Focus Groups disqualify anyone with a professional interest or knowledge, they are person-on-the-street consensus tools.  We don't have a focus group, we have a set of people who may or may not be able to see outside their self interests.  And of those looking outside their self interest, they may be well informed on just one thing, or have "patriotism" or something as their selfless goal. 

You start with someone on the group who everyone can agree is unselfish, outwardly directed.   One group of people is upset about photos of young kids standing on piles of garbage that were exported to their country from the USA.  These people care a lot about others.   They start to organize to drive business to people who share their concerns.  That's a good thing!  I don't like competitors who ship garbage to other countries!  They undercut the costs I take on when I remove and properly manage the garbage.  They have to be on the committee.

Other well meaning businesspeople, who have more facts, seem to agree there's a problem, and seem motivated to take resolve it.  What could be a better business than helping improve the world?  If you can earn a living, buy lacrosse equipment for your kids, and help these passionate folks improve the situation, that's great isn't it?  We have me and another couple of ethical recyclers on the panel now, we are starting to form a real PWT group.

Now there's a third issue or fear - might be global warming, or national security, but it should be something relating to computers... I know!  Privacy!  There are a lot of stories about phishing scams and data.  The beauty of this is that it can be a civil law issue - people are suing companies for losing or reusing confidential data.  And who gets sued, usually?  If you want bacon, you corner the fattest pig.  Clients with money.  Banks, hospitals, etc.  These folks are concerned about their liabilities in both issues - seeing their garbage dumped overseas, and failing to safeguard client data, and they are certainly the victims of fraud as much or more than the rest of us. 

Together, these people - the activists, the businesspersons, the EPA officials, and the bank/hospital clients, and other people like retailers and garbage haulers (who don't want to be involved in the policy but are afraid they'll get legislated at if they don't attend) agree that it's not ok to just send hard drives just anywhere, the information needs to be erased.  A guy who sells hard drive shredding equipment will sponsor coffee at the conference, no one really pays attention to him but he's there for insurance.

Actually, everything I've written so far looks good. 

Are these people enough to get legislation passed?  NO.  I'm telling you, from work in government, that this is a group which is "necessary but not sufficient" to create legislation which actually gets written and actually gets voted on, passed, and not vetoed.

One place you can turn is to Public Interest Groups (PIRGs).  They have mainly been fueled by 2080s, college kids who care about something but don't have anything invested yet, who care and burn.  Because lacrosse pants and home mortgages really do start to dilute your time spent thinking of things in the future (back to paragraph 1).

Where else can you turn?

How about a multi-billion dollar company which is working on another realm of the world - personal property rights vs. copyrights and copyrewrites.  They for years have been involved in a slugfest with another group of individuals, technicians and folks who hate checking the End User License Agreement (EULA) which basically says that you can't make a copy of their software for your friend.  That's fair.  But they have also come up with OEM licenses and other things to keep you from passing on the software when YOU HAVE FINISHED USING IT.  It is all about moving away from personal property, to a new system called LICENSING.  It's based on the same concept as the Inheritance tax, that when a deceased person is "finished" with their things, that the government can take a slice.  Again, probably fair.  But this is digital... it is when you are finished with each individual piece of property, before you've died, that they take ALL OF IT.

"So when the company [Microsoft] announced late last year that it was favoring sweeping federal privacy legislation holding companies accountable for how they treat consumer data, one might be forgiven for wondering what the company had up its sleeve."  (Wired News,70804-0.html?tw=wn_index_22

Well, some of us are exhausted, and willing to take any victory we can, so if we can do well on our issue (children perched on garbage overseas sent by competing businesspeople underpricing our services), and our friendly businesspeople who care can get more money from the banker and hospital, let's take this.  The Linux guys will work out the other thing.

OEMs also jump in.  HP makes 50% of all corporate profit from sale of toner cartridges, and has gone to great lengths to ban refilling and reselling toner cartridges.  Too bad we can't scare people about privacy issues around toner cartridges.  But we CAN scare them about their HARD DRIVES.  Refurbished "white box" computers are 1/3 of all sales in the USA, much higher worldwide. For used monitors, white box PCs, and toner cartridges, there is another piece of legislation, a form of flow control called Manufacturer TakeBack, which I'm someday going to defeat in court.  That's for another blog... let's finish the privacy issue.  Privacy is good.  Where is Robin's problem in all of this?

ONE, no one discussed the fact that the billions of dollars in software being wiped off the hard drives from this new legislation will cripple the secondary market, whose revenues other businesspeople (very small businesses, by the thousands) depend upon to make their own recycling collections work.  Will the net effect be more recycling?  Maybe it will, I'm just saying that I didn't bring it up because I didn't hear anyone else ask.

TWO, no one actually documented that hoards of Iranian students have upgraded the factory where they were taping back together all of the shredded paper (a big sales line in the fine paper shredder equipment market) and they are now booting up hard drives to get your personal information.  WE NEED A VICTIM.  In law, it's called Habeus Corpus. 

THREE, no one looked at the balance of harm.  One of my clients used to donate their computers to schools.  Now we take them and wipe all the drives, and the schools don't have software and we can't afford to donate the PCs because of the wages we paid wiping the drives.  So I'm the winning businessman in the example above.

We need people who are experts in data security and information theft in the room.  That doesn't mean people who sell fear or shredding equipment.  We need statistical measures.  If I put my P1 on a boat to China without wiping the hard drive, which do have have to fear more, data theft, or getting struck by lighting on the way home?  How does hard drive skullduggery compare as a statistical risk against, say, avain flu?

My understanding from talking with writers on the subject is that the risk is real, but that Microsoft and other program sellers have much more to gain by wiping used equipment than any consumers have to lose. Most data theft (where there's habeus corpus, an actual, not theoretical, crime) happens where there is proximity to, knowledge of, or contact with, the victim. The thief has as some point been within 50 feet.  In house, or a neighbor, somehow you want enough info about your victim that you don't do something dumb, like me claiming to be a 80 year old black woman.  A distant second is theft from online hacking and phishing, where the data is at least very current and available in great volumes very quickly. 

I'm sure there are opportunity crimes. You know what - Pentium IIIs an 4s need to be wiped.  That's because someone will boot them up to see if they work, and that person is probably honest, but might not be.  Generally, it's enough to erase the files, but you might want to go further and erase the whole hard drive.  DON'T LEAVE YOUR P4 for curbside pickup, or in an unattended recycling shed until a data wiper can get to it, please.  But a PII that's been sitting in your closet for 5 years?

On the scale of risk, where does booting up old Pentium Is, shipped halfway around the world, rank?   I'd guess it's like leaving sales records of maintenance in the glove compartment of your car when you sell it.  Someone COULD find out more about you through that paperwork.  And wipe your DNA and fingerprints off the glove compartment while you are at it.

Can hard drives which are F-disked be reopened with special software?  Yes.  That's what DOD (Dept. of Defense) standards are about.  If it's George Bush's red button laptop, DOD isn't enough, that thing's gotta be smashed.  If you are already taking steps to secure data in house, like a hospital, you should be wiping hard drives yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I'll keep doing this, and keep charging for it.  But we recyclers need to come to grips that there is a significant sector of our marketplace which ain't buying the fear we are selling.   If I am a public library and I know all the data on the PCs has been publicly available to everyone since we got the P1, am I going to take money out of our book fund to pay Robin to wipe the drive?  In the meantime, if I am a data thief, will I pay for an unseen/untested P1 laptop from that library and spend 20 minutes reformatting the F-disk hard drive?

The future:  There will be a program installed in every PC which is a "Mission Impossible" cassette.  IT departments will have a key to execute the program, which will spew 1s and 0s all over the drive.  We want to work with colleges and other institutions so that the program also re-installs a "spare tire" program, like Linux, so that the PC can still be easily retested and resold.

Meanwhile, your privacy is already for sale by credit card companies.  go to and order your own info.  It's worse than an FBI file.   Legislation should be directed at ABIKA not at making Microsoft's EULA system easier to manage.

The anti-export folks need to look at where the piles of garbage are coming from.  If it is a residue from a legitimate reuse practice, like spoiled apples from an apple store importing apples from America, how can fresher produce be sent?  Who is sending the wormy apples?  Don't just plunk a kid on the pile and say "don't export food!!!"

The PWT need to take stock in the "consensus" packages we are putting our names on.  Too often, a focus group begins with a fair list of reps, and then the ones with less money stop flying to meetings, and it turns into "last man standing" model legislation, sponsored by a billion dollar anti-grey-market conglomerate.

Don't get me started on leadfree WEEE legislation today.

A lot of my friends say, this is good info, good points, but it's too much.  If we try to consider all of the possibilities, no one will ever do anything.  At least we are making progress.  We may as well give up and follow the "free market". 

This is where we need some 2080 folks.  My generation takes "improvement" to mean next year will be better than yesterday, and we can't deal with a bigger scope of work than that.  I say, suck it up, soldiers.  You and I couldn't design an airplane either, but let's not give up on flight.  Environmentalists have to be more like engineers and med school students.  If we care enough about the planet to make legislation, we should care enough to work as hard as a doctor or software writer or a bridge architect.  Fixing a problem today which sets the world on a path of powerlessness is wrong.  I think people in 2101 should own personal property, stuff they can keep and maintain and resell and buy second hand and adapt and fix.  A guy started collecting "disposable" cameras, the ones everyone was screaming about being wasteful 15 years ago, and started refilling and reselling them... Now he's a millionaire.  And Fuji and Kodak are bringing suit against him all the way to the Supreme Court!!  They say he isn't licensed to fix their disposable stuff.

If there is a simpler solution to the kid sitting on a pile of garbage that preserves our freedom, let's keep the freedom for now.

We are good people, we conference goers.  But I think in 2080, we will be seen as the Alchemists who gave birth to modern medecine. The future environmentalists and ecologists will be less scatalogical and reactionary, and take time to measure all of the organs affected by legislation, and make the best choice.  Maybe it will turn out to have been the privacy legislation after all.  I'm just critiquing the sausage making process.  I don't have time to actually answer the question, you see... I have to go to work.

If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins. -  Benjamin Franklin

There is no poison on earth more potent, nor half so deadly, as a partial truth mixed with passion. -- Michael J. Tucker




Thank you in advance, Lynn Scarlett

"Industry-friendly interior chief quits...[Gale] Norton leaves office at a time when her agency was increasingly tied to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff....Until Bush appoints a successor, Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett will take the helm of the Interior Department. A Santa Barbara resident, Scarlett is former president of the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles think tank with libertarian leanings. She has worked to promote free-market solutions to environmental problems." San Jose Mercury News  3/11/06

March 11, 2006:   Starting soon, Lynn Scarlett, former executive of the Reason Foundation, will become Acting Secretary of the USA Interior Dept., replacing Gale Norton. wrote reports on recycling and solid waste in the 1990s, and was a source for the mid 1990's diatribe, "Recycling is Garbage" by NYTimes' John Tierney.  In a 1997 editorial in Reason Magazine, Scarlett wrote, ``Environmentalism is a coherent ideology that rivals Marxism in its challenge to the classic liberal view of government as protector of individual rights.''

Lynn Scarlett's criticism of recycling was best summed up in her quote from Tierney's article:  "In a purely market-driven situation, people would still recycle according to what makes sense in their area."

It will be wonderful to finally have this free market, level playing field advocate finally in charge of the federal agency responsible for collecting fees on federal land mining and forestry projects.    The agency is arguably the de facto administrator of the Superfund (technically overseen by EPA, but bankrupted by cleanup costs at federal copper and gold mining sites on federally "leased" land). 

Ms. Scarlett has already been in charge of the Bureau of Land Management for several years.  The BLM administers land leases to mining companies under USA's 1872 General Mining Act, at a rate unchanged from the $5/acre set during the 1872 Apache Indian wars.   Her failure thus far to  reform extraction subsidies may be explained by the cozy relationship between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Interior Secretary Gale Norton ties (a possible explanation for Norton's early retirement). 

If the cost of recycling and waste disposal were still administered in 1872 dollars, the former Reason Foundation president would be outraged.   Now Ms. Scarlett is completely  in charge of the federal mining and forestry land lease and cleanup enforcement.  What can we expect?  

Implicit in her 1995 article "Solid Waste Recycling Cost" is a criticism of government interference in raw material commodity supply and demand.  The article made valid points about exaggerated landfill closure rates.

Now, under Ms. Scarlett's tenure, we should expect the price of copper, gold, aluminum, silver, palladium and other metals used in electronics manufacture to be unshackled from the 1872 GMA / Superfund subsidy system.  As mining and refining bear an increasing share of their true costs, we can expect electronics recycling to achieve a great leap forward, as it has already in countries without federal mining subsidies.  The “wild, wild east” has a truly free market for raw materials, making it a magnet for recycled metal.   

The subsidies by the Interior Department were a major focus of the GAO's recent report to Congress on the underachievement of electronics recycling in the USA.  It is easier, more energy efficient, and cleaner to get a pound of copper out of used electronics than out of a mountain in Montana. With reform of the BLM, it can be a less expensive source of copper as well.

Even free market environmentalists shouldn't demand complete reform of the BLM subsidy programs in the first year.  Perhaps, as a starter, the Interior Department can implement a "user fee" for mining companies obtaining federal land leases. Added to the $5/acre, 0% royalty system, the User Fee can cover the salaries of the federal workers who actually administer mining and forestry land leases.  Afterwards, these "user fees" might even cover the overhead of these federal agencies, or to pay for the development of access roads put in by the federal government to provide access to the mining and timber industry

We shouldn't expect a profit from leases or "user fees" on federal lands any more than we demand a profit from public recycling programs.  But perhaps primary smelting and mining may one day pay enough into the system to cover its own Superfund costs, as recycled smelters are forced to do.  Seven of seven of America’s secondary copper smelters have been closed, with the biggest factor being failure to pay their cleanup and remediation costs. 

China, which has no BLM subsidies, has been more than happy to take over the secondary copper market.  America is left with mining and primary smelting.  If you owe Superfund ten million dollars, like recycled smelters, Superfund can go after you.  If you owe Superfund ten billion dollars, like a virgin smelter, BLM takes over the "leased" site. 

The simple fact is that hard rock mining on federal lands accounts for 45% of all toxics pollution released by all USA industries.  If we could dump all of America's raw municipal solid waste straight onto the ground on federal land, it would generate less pollution, and would generate more than $5 per acre in revenues.  Or another “modest proposal” might be to dump MSW onto an existing mining Superfund site, effectively "sub-letting" the land lease for the fraction of a cost of a regulated lined landfill, a win-win scenario for both extraction and disposal.

The 1872 mining laws have been around so long, that the recycling community doesn't even discuss them any more.  But the fact is, reform works. 

Canada's small revisions to its 1977 mining cleanup laws are credited with mining-giant Noranda's multi-million dollar investment into electronics recycling the following year.  A few months after the reforms, which were opposed by the mining company, Noranda’s president made a major speech on “sustainability” as the future of the industry, and Noranda soon made the largest electronics recycling investments in history.  Micrometallics of California is now owned by Noranda.   

We eagerly await the anticipated effects of similar small doses of free market reforms to the 1872 General Mining Act and Superfund implementation.  Go to it, Lynn Scarlett.

 Robin Ingenthron March 11, 2006


12/25/05  A Chaucer poem gives insights to "True Stewardship" and "Recycling Export" debate...

A thousand times I have heard men tell,
That there is joy in Heaven, and pain in hell;
And I accorde well that it is so
But natheless, yet wot I well also,
That there is none doth in this country dwell
That either hath in heaven been or hell,
Or any other way could of it know,
But that he heard, or found it written so,
For by assay may no man proof receive. 
But God forbid that men should not believe
More things than they have ever seen with eye! 
Men shall not fancy everything a lie
Unless themselves it see, or else it do;
For, God wot, not the less a thing is true,
Though every wight may not it chance to see.


1/20/06 I used to think that moving up in an organization, or to a position of more stature in society, was moving from low to high.  As my old boss, Hank Southworth, put it, "going from ground level to seeing things from 50,000 feet".  That the higher ups in society saw things from a bigger perspective.

Now I understand, and see evidence of, the fact that moving up constrains you.  You have access to more information, definitely, and better information perhaps.  But the virtue of your importance constrains you.  Just as you cannot get as drunk at a party when you are a senator, you cannot speak as radical a thought, even if you suspect or allow yourself to believe it.

In that way, moving up is actually digging in deeper.  You are more constrained in your thinking as you rise in society.  Loss of face is a greater loss for a great king than it is for an urban laborer.

By moving down, one opens more options and lowers the ante.  With a lower ante, one can take greater risks.

One still needs access to good information.  To the degree that the highest ups have better info, they are closer to the truth.  It is just the social pressure that constrains them.  A bum on the railroad tracks is free from social pressure, but I guess doesn't have as much interest in, or access to, worldly information.

To some degree, pressure and risk of loss of face would raise the effort and diligence, and I would guess that a senator might try a little harder to succeed in an argument.  That's good.  But if a person on the street is motivated by a Higher Power to achieve truth, I do believe that the dignity at stake can be equal.

If the internet grants an encyclopedia of information to every motivated man, increases in stature will drop in value.


MLK Day 2006 Hypothetical Perfect Recollection -

Looking at the human brain like Steve Pinker (How the Mind Works), as scientific observer, you realize that everything we "see" or "experience" is product of stimulation on the brain.  What one person's eye sees as the color red, you could not say with absolute certainty is another person's "red".  Even though the two agree, what the different brains show as "normal" may simply be synchronized (red is to Dick as blue is to Jane)..

So why do two experiences, separated by passage of Time, appear so differently in the Mind?  I look at my 3 children playing together today, making noise and games and worlds of pretend, and it reminds me of my own childhood play.  I wish to myself that I could see this moment this clearly my whole life, to preserve and permanently enjoy the sight.

I suppose, if the mind could not differentiate between past and present, that it would be pretty confusing to walk around functionally.  If I could hear every single conversation I have ever had at the same clarity and decibel that I hear noise NOW, it would be pretty distracting.  Finding my place in the current world would be like "fast forwarding" on a TIVO or VCR tape.  But hypothetically, for all practical purposes, if I was well fed and in no imminent danger, "living in the past" would be a nice thing to do.  So far as every human had at least a few "good memories", we could all enjoy ourselves more equally, rich and poor, like spending the same dollar over and over again.

If we all had a camera strapped to our bodies 24 hours per day (something probably imaginable in the next decade or two, at least for a handlful of people) we could achieve a facsimile of Perfect Recollection, but minus the impression or thought that it's making or creating.   If I see someone steal for me that I thought was honest, I'm shocked.  Once I've seen that person steal from me over and over again, I'm going to see them with a different emotion. 

What ties this to recycling?  Surely there would be a greater useful purpose served by perfect recollection, as we measure our efforts to make our lifestyles sustainable.

I'm constantly thinking about what my children and grandchildren will see in the world they mature in, and how they will hold me and my generation accountable for this world.  Orangutans and mountain gorillas will be pretty much limited to DNA samples in labs and specimens at zoos, kind of like Panda bears where national news is made whenever one of the specimens bears young.  The extinctions will be largely blamed on natural resource extraction... copper mines and timber harvests Borneo, coltan (for cell phones) and timber from central Africa

The mining and extraction companies are run by intelligent people, who manage publicly traded stocks, and who are simply meeting demands placed on them by earners.   Those earners create demand for resources, which creates roads into forests, which creates access to habitat by poor people who don't have electricity and therefore can't enjoy the same things the earners enjoy.  So they enjoy other things, like "bush meat", or sell the bush meat (gorilla and chimp steaks) to tourists giggling over the "endangered species platter" at a local restaurant.  Military bases bring demand for liquor bars and strip joints.  Casinos and gambling zones bring demand for prostitutes and escort services, which attract people addicted to drugs, bringing demand for other criminal services.   Mines and timber harvesters create environmental destruction in their own right, but also bring whisky, gambling, prostitution, drugs, and endangered species poaching to the heart of the rainforest.

If I play my whole life back, will the recycling I do make a difference?  If we cannot meet 100% of world demand for metals, resins, and fibers through recycling, would the mines be there anyway?  Does it matter if the PNG OK Tedi River mine dumps 60,000 MT of mine tailings per day, or 80,000 MT of mine tailings per day?

I chose recycling because it is hands on, Karma, measurable.  It means engaging in business, rather than meditating on a mountaintop.  I hope to raise 3 kids who are agents of conscience, and who can do good things in this world.

But if the Right that you do is dependent on undoing the Wrong someone else is doing... Have you really made a difference?  Or are we like brakes on snowmobile, pounding through virgin forest? 

I'll be anticipating the answer to that question at the end of my life, and I think some future generations will be digging through records like this one to determine WHAT in the HELL my generation was THINKING, wiping out the gorillas, chimps, orangutans and blue whales.  But the truth of the question is posed every day, as if the Hypothetical Perfect Recollection was already here.  I can pretend at this moment that I'm recalling this moment perfectly.  Recalling as in what was I thinking, right now (not as an observer with future knowledge at my disposal).  But if I ask myself one day "what were we thinking?", maybe I will remember this moment, as I pretend I'm trying to figure out exactly what it is I am thinking, as humanity plays the role of a self-conscious comet, headed into the planet, creating not a gulf of mexico or other crater-lake, but with the same result.  Two or three lifetimes is more like an instant blast than it is like the thousands of lifetimes evolution took to create this creation.



December 17, 2005


Letter to the Iraqi People:

May God bring each of you peace and justice, health and sustenance to you and your families.

My name is Robin, and I am a father of three, and I run a small recycling and parts company in the state of Vermont.  It is a cold winter here, but the people are used to the ice and snow, as fathers and mothers have taught the kids how to live in peace with it for many generations.  I can imagine, for your children, the desert sun must be less of a burden than it would be for me, but they would not enjoy playing in the ice and snow as much as my children do.  Both the sun and the ice must be enjoyed but treated with respect.

I’m writing to you because I was thinking yesterday, after your election, what it must be like to be going through such a revolution.  The first thing that struck me is that when change happens this suddenly, quickly, and violently, that different people will come to different conclusions at different times.

Just as some Americans know more about the world than others, I am sure individual Iraqis must see the war and restructuring differently.  Sometimes Americans are kind of uneducated about different histories in the world, and some of us are pretty ignorant of our own history, too, for that matter.  This gives rise to different views here of what is happening and why, and who to believe and when.  Is it the same there?

I’m sure to you it is obvious why some of your young men and women could still be absolutely convinced that the American army is there to do harm.  Some of you may have had cousins, friends, sons or brothers who joined the resistance.  Some of them have killed themselves, or killed others, trying to protest in dignity a change brought by force by a foreign soldier.  Some of you, like some of us, have also lost family and loved ones to those acts of hate, anger or protest.

I just thought I’d write you this note to share my own perspective.  I’m politically an independent.  I did not vote for Bush in the last election, though that was more from my concern about how he borrows money than it was about the war.

When it came to the war, I was hopeful.   I must confess I was naively certain America army would would face chemical weapons during the first days of war.  Like millions of others, I was led to believe some things, some of which may never have been explicitly said.  Our journalists, like yours, want an exciting story, and the suspicion is more exciting than the doubt.  An expectation grew that Sadaam Hussein was building weapons and testing his ability to expand his power.   The fact that he shot at our planes, and evidence that he tried to assassinate George Bush’s father after the first Gulf War, really didn’t put him in a position to be heard if he protested his innocence.  I say if, because I don’t even remember that he did protest his innocence.  Not loudly enough, that’s for sure.

As the combat wrapped up, I continued to be hopeful.  Though the search for WMD came to seem a farce, I thought the war was justified more by hope than by fear.  The chemical weapons were not the most important thing, to me, about the war.  I do remember people giving other reasons for the invasion, and those are the reasons I listened to and still hope are correct.   

This letter is to share those ideas about this war with someone on your side of the sea, and to ask for your perspective.  I hope, in my deepest soul, that this is like the American invasion of Germany and Japan, neither of which had oil or other resources to exploit.  I’m not speaking about the cause of those invasions, but about the outcomes.   The people of Germany and Japan were lied to and suffered greatly at the hands of their own rulers.   Some Americans must have been shocked at the cost of assistance after the war, for the rebuilding of those countries.  Americans had seen Japanese commit suicide and fight to the last woman and child to protect barren islands, like Iwo Jima.  It must have been difficult to imagine that those same Japanese would one day participate in a democracy and peaceful world economy larger than that in Mexico, Brazil, England, France, Germany or Italy.

Today, Japan is the second most powerful country, economically, on earth.  All Japanese children go to school.  It has fine hospitals and fine cities, and awesome factories, which have for decades been the models for, the pride of, Asia.  Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and now China are following Japan;  American factories emulate those which grew from Japan’s democracy.  I think of it as a nation of intense pride, though much more humble and circumspect than it was in the years leading up to the war.

As I watch the news from your country, Iraq, I wonder how many years it took for the people of Japan to believe that America would help to rebuild the nation and leave it alone?   And if our cause is the same, I wonder how many years it will take for your people to believe it.  As your insurgents see our history of meddling in Palestine and Iran, did the Japanese see as “hegemony” our footprint in China and the Philippines?  If the analogy between Japan and Iraq is stretched too thin there, I hope the difference will be paid out over years rather than as a different outcome entirely.

I hope that my children will fear and respect Iraq as my generation feared and respected Japan – for its economic might, the talent of its children and inventors, and the influence it will hold on its neighbors.

As I watch and read the news from Bagdad and Washington, I’m pretty sure America’s plan really is to do  for Iraq what it did for Japan and Germany.  To jump-start an Iraq which will rebuild itself. 

Some Americans stayed in Japan, of course, but I think everyone in the world understands they are guests, and Japanese are in charge.  I’ve never been to Iraq and I’ve never been to Japan, so I my letter couldn’t be very convincing to the insurgents following the jihadist roadmap today.  What do I know, and what do my opinions matter? 

I cannot say I know that much.  I can say I lived in Africa for a couple of years.  I think that many of the Africans I knew continue to live under such oppression that they’d secretly welcome an American invasion and a Japanese-style reconstruction.  Probably not a majority of Africans.  And if it ever happened, and violence continued during the process, you and I both know they would have second thoughts along the way, as you have. 

I can also talk about trade and business around the world.  This century is exciting and new.  The internet, international banking, posts and jet travel have made it possible for even a tiny businessman like me to make close friends and business partners in faraway places.  Can you believe that in the past 2 years we’ve had visitors to our little Middlebury, Vermont, junkyard from Hong Kong, Alexandria, Kaunas, Jakarta, Accra, Taipai and Guangzhou?   In Egypt, in India, in China, Ghana, and Cameroon, and Lithuania, and Peru, we make business deals with small businessmen and women.  Like me, they are trading and negotiating and brokering, and we are building our reputations side by side.   We shake hands by email.  We wave our fingers in frustration by email.  We say thank you by telephone.

Last year, someone asked me if I was worried about Americans losing jobs.  I thought about it.  I realized that I consider myself a closer friend to the man in Hong Kong I trust, or the woman from Egypt who confides in me, or the man from Cameroon who watches my kids for me as a favor when I run to the bank.  I have more in common with honest and hardworking people than with lazy and loud people who happen to share my language.  I believe my children will have friends across international boundaries, and that common citizenship will mean no more or less to them than a common license plate address in an Orlando parking lot.

Someday I hope my kids and I will meet more Iraqis individually, and we will trade together, and we’ll introduce you to our business partners in other new countries.  I’m sure when I do, that there will be young men working for you, like the 18 year old John on my staff, who has a new baby and is trying to build his first job.  And people like Brian, who served in the first Gulf War, not knowing much history about Japan or Iraq or Iran at the time.  Or Michelle, a mother of three whose husband passed away, and now works in our machine shop and sometimes drives the truck.   Or Yadji, my first business partner in Cameroon, who has worked off and on for me in Vermont, shoveling snow he could not have dreamed of as a boy in Africa.

If I visit your place of work in 20 years, I guess I’d meet adults who began grade school during the Gulf Wars, and people who fought on both sides of your insurgency.  If you are smart and successful, you will probably have Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on your staff, enabling you to trade and deal as a franchise in every part of the country, and across its borders.  Maybe you will have a few Africans, Mexican, and Japanese employees as well.  Maybe one of my cousins will work for you, without worry, in peace, like I worked in Africa in 1985, or like the Lithuanian and Cameroonian who have worked for me.

Maybe I will hear face-to-face a side of this I have not thought of.  Maybe my mind will change before then.

My father’s cousin was Jack Hensley by the way, the American construction contractor who was kidnapped and assassinated last year.  He was older than I am and I didn’t know him, though I know his younger brother, Ty. Jack and Ty’s father, Jerry Hensley, fought the Japanese in WWII. When I started this letter, I didn’t plan on bringing that up, and I promise it won’t come between us if you  fought against this Japanese-style liberation by occupation and separation.

This is more than a hope or dream, but far from a certainty.   We will be with a new president of the USA long before then.  Watch us two years from now, when America begins to prepare for life without George Bush 41.  Better yet, come to Vermont for a visit, and we’ll share a maple-syrup-snow-cone.


Robin Ingenthron, USA Citizen


11/11/05 Veterans Day, 2005

Yes, it does appear that this will be a quarterly blog, about a career in recycling, and how this career, or perhaps any career, can succeed in making a positive impact on the world.

I met a guy from Montreal when I was 17, during a 3 week "work camp" in Switzerland in 1979, Robert D.  There were a lot of discussions between us that kind of resemble this blog so far.  He was an intense guy, I really liked him, though he ruffled feathers with some of the German and Danish camp volunteers who also became good friends.  Anyway, he was 25, and he had it all worked out in a career/spiritual search way.  An Artist!  Create!! Make beauty, produce it, mine it from deep in your soul!  His measure was the creative beauty each of us produces.  His counsel on my political and environmental worries was that no matter how hard one works or tries, there is someone else in the world who will disagree with it.  If one actually begins to make a difference, someone else will work even harder to destroy what you are creating, and will feel equally strong about the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.  If you aren't finding that nemesis, it's because you aren't actually accomplishing or changing anything, I think he'd say.  I stayed in touch with Robert for a couple of years, and then gave his address in London to an acquaintence/friend of mine visiting London.  (She came back fascinated and enthralled and thanking me for introducing her, that he was fantastic.  He wrote back a scalding letter that he was not a youth hostel and how dare I give his address to mere acquaintances.  He also called her at least a good lay, so I didn't feel too bad.  But staying in touch with people... well, the ball was in Robert's court after that  (*footnote - jeez, RD googled his name and found this, and now I need to correct several things, e.g. we were in touch after that... well, I meant that the frequency of correspondence cooled thereafter.. Or maybe it just sticks in my mind because the shame I felt turned to resentment, as it does, and anyway, this is all allegory, I think.  Anyway, RD has a good sense of humor about this, and hopefully he is at least flattered that I recall his advice and impact in a way that attributes it great importance, whether or not the recollection is lucid or comprehensive...). 

I wanted to measure myself in terms of "an agent of conscience" or "agent of (positive) change".  Robert thought the Kennedy proved the outcome of trying to be an effective agent of change, and told me to !CrEaTe!  It's true that my idea that I'd always be an artist "on the side", as a "hobby", hasn't produced that much (basically several notebooks of mere doodles and an occasional outburst of song or rap poetry, mainly to my kids). *note to self - hit save*, and I wasn't as successful as I thought I might be in turning 1% of my time into an artistic statue of David.  The fact that this is a "quarterly daily blog", published 3 times per year, kind of illustrates or proves the point.   Anyway, I was talking about Robert's vision to my mother, who I've always considered incredibly creative.  She put me to bed telling me stories about her childhood and brothers and sisters.  I put my kids to bed with stories of her creativity.  Maybe I'll share one later.  But I put Robert's maxim to her about his intense belief in his decision to be an artist, and she said it was great, but said that in her early adulthood she decided that raising a child can be like creating a work of art, and that one could be a mother with the same intensity as a Da Vinci or Michealangelo, and wind up creating or contributing to the creation of another person who would be like a work of art to society.

Robert wrote back:  "Babies are babies.  Art is Art."  I'd also say that just as artists change their styles and approaches and productivity over their careers, that my mom's parenting went through definite seven or eight year periods... For me that was 1-7, then 8-15, then when I was 16... well, I'd have to go back and look at it more closely but that seems kind of right, though obviously my eye, as a beholder, was a different lense and light of the mother/artists work during those different times..

This brings me to my own parenting.  Twins are now 9.5, little boy is 5.   As this business, Good Point Recycling, grows and creates more jobs, we are recognized in both the local and recycling community.   In early 2003, I had one employee - me - who wasn't paid at all (I wrote checks for the truck which was bought off my home mortgage, but that's not really income).  By November of 2003, I had hired one part-time job trainee (Roy) from the Workforce Training program in VT, and a kid Rayce who came in after high school to do demanufacturing.  Almost all the material was trucked to ElectroniCycle.  I'd occass...

One of my sons just woke up.  Maybe I'll get back to this later.


6/12/05 I wrote about 10 pages since the last entry, and then got really discouraged because of a computer crash when I lost them.  I guess Frontpage doesn't save a copy of your work like Word (autorecovery). 

So I'm trying to get away from the discouragement.  In the past I've put manic amounts of work into something and then lost it (like a Mac Plus SE20 with my 2.5 chapters of novel in it was stolen from my temp apartment in East Boston.  Discouraging, but to be honest, I lost more of that novel to pints of Guinness than I lost to the break-in).

Maybe this will be a quarterly blog, we'll see.

I just wrote about 6 pages of material beginning with a lesson to my son (nearly 9 years old), going into an old discourse about SAME/CHANGE being the yin-yang of the subjective world, spiraling into the Gita, Evangelical Christianity, and Islam, and circling back to recycling.  Available only on request.  The main point (for a human audience) is that recycling is better than living in a monastery because there is this opportunity to actually subtract from catastrophic human impact on the environment.    If 99 people throw aluminum cans away, the sole person who saves 100 cans can probably flush his toilet and sleep in peace. 

Here's the conclusion (references to Heaven, Hell, masturbation, LSD, mitochondria's effects on universes outside hypothesized mitochondrial awareness, and redemption omitted) to the desktop blog on Spirituality and Recycling.

Way back in high school, I decided to believe that locking myself in a monastery and keeping my conscience shiny and pristine is not really adding enough value to a society as out of harmony as ours appeared to be.  Instead I chose a more active, karma yoga, through measurably effective work, towards conservation of resources, and sustainability of the planet. I figured, if I had achieved sudden nirvana, and had the rest of my life to account for, that I might as well spend it recycling.  So I might as well start there, and then pick up nirvana if I ran into it along the way, like Siddhartha with his ferry boat job.   Recycling would pay the rent, and buys time, and makes the world better than it would be for my grandchildren if I did nothing.   

Pretty soon I discovered just how much work there was to do.   Because society is consuming those resources at a shocking, appalling, frightening and awing rate, it creates an opportunity to establish reversal, roll-back, or negative impact, deriving from my ability to reverse the sins of others.  If 100 people throw away aluminum soda cans, I can pick the 100 cans up and save them, giving me moral standing and perhaps a “net” justification for my own consumption and lifestyle.    

But if we spread the credit for recycling around among participants, then my recycling job eventually becomes a job someone else could do, and I need to find some other waste to address.  Drawing a good salary at recycling may be a good “don’t blame me” alibi when my grand kids or great-grandkids are left holding the bag.  “Yes, grandpa Robin, you picked up 99 cans, which probably made up for the toilet and shower you consumed that day (we are now out of water).  It may even have paid for the paper you used to print out your recycling facts.  But here we are, with no rainforest and a picture book of African and Amazonian wildlife next to a book of Dinosaurs (all disappeared)."  At some point, the time comes to delegate  someone else to pick up the cans, and we need to throw our vision and energy at a new environmental problem. 

So really, recycling is just a way to produce sustainable wealth and income, a benign or symbiotic income producing method which produces wealth out of waste.  That’s a good start.  But the real work is in influencing or slowing the total rate of consumption.

If you believe that, fellow recyclers, then you understand that we cannot just measure our success in tons.  It has to be part of a coherent story we tell our children about what we are doing.  Recycling doesn't excuse us from the original, nirvana task, to foster spiritual progress, to maintain a just and fair and noble society, or to spark a creative rainbow of expressions.  We should earn a living better than we could doing something extractive (like mining or cutting down rain forests) but use that platform to create Good in other concentric circles.

Recycling is not a license to be lazy, to drive drunk, or slap your kids, any more than keeping a clean house can offset cheating on your taxes, or praying in church can offset lying to your clients.

What is best about recycling is the degree to which resource consumption and resource conservation is measurable and creates a scientific common setting with religion and spiritual growth.  The same could be said about organic farming, manufacturing hybrid or solar vehicles, or reducing the number of grams of mined aluminum in a soft drink tab.  It is the potential for measurable karma which makes recycling careers unique. It is imperative that recycling be done honestly, in a total lifecycle analysis.  If a recycling idea turns out to have environmentally perverse or unintended consequences, the recycling sage will thank the critic and change the direction.

You care enough to Change.

You care enough to Change and that sets you apart from animals which cannot change.

You actually set up systems which make it simple for everyone to change[1]

Perhaps we accept that not everyone can change, or even that everyone has to.  Society has been comfortable in the past supporting a class of people, such as monks or priests, who specialize in heavy thinking and prayer and meditation (outsourcing our spirituality in an expanding and codependent economy).  Some folks really really need to change, they are destroying their families and relationships through self-destructive hedonism and alcoholism… we also outsource working with those people, either to social welfare departments or to the police, it doesn’t matter that much if we don’t see it.

For my kids, it’s the most important thing to care enough to learn to change, and be honest enough to measure and monitor your change.

"The important thing for people, like the kids I'm raising, to care enough to learn to change, and be honest enough to measure and monitor the change."


Human Audience
2/19/05 When I came back from Peace Corps, Cameroon, Africa in 1987 I spent a lot of time at my grandmothers' place in Forsyth, Missouri.  One of the ideas I wanted to pursue was to broaden literature by allowing thousands of digressions via "footnotes".  At the time the only computer I had used was a VAX system at Carleton College in Minnesota (class of 1984), and I realized it was going to be pretty hard to do with a typewriter, but I actually tried for about 6 hours to write an essay or journal which branched out into circular and wandering digressions.  I'd set a footnote but put the footnote on a new page, unattached to the other pages, and put footnotes in the footnote page, leading to other pages, trying to use a 1.1.1 type of tracking.

It was probably a symptom of manic depressive disorder.  But it was a good thing.

Today, with computers and internet, you don't have to write your own footnotes, you can link to other peoples work, or when you realize a connection you can hyperlink your own work.  I'm just reminiscing how "high tech" and innovative it felt at the time.

Eventually I stopped keeping journals and just wrote letters to friends.  Then I stopped writing letters to friends and raised kids, but I think a lot of good ideas are getting lost.  So I thought I start a blog, about environmental issues in general and recycling in particular.  Then someday when my kids are big maybe I can make a book.