What $20,000 Means: Blog to Sasha Rainbow, Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal, @PlaceboWorld

Dear Directors, Producers, and Stars of the Music Video "Life Is What You Make It",

About two weeks ago, I ran across the release of your new Placebo music video through my organization, Fair Trade Recycling / WR3A, which researches public posts on Agbogbloshie.  Despite recognizing some of Placebo's hits from the past two decades, I admit I was not at all acquainted with the artists.  Over the course of 2 weeks, I've developed a much greater appreciation for not just the art, but the social justice that Brian and others with the band strive for.

I know a lot more about African recycling than I know about music.  I've been to Abgogbloshie and Old Fadama several times with our members from Tamale, Ghana.  We have translated for or been interviewed by several documentary and print journalism investigations on so-called e-waste dumping in Africa.  Here are 4 good articles and films on the topic of export.


But let me explain how we can work together to create clean and sustainable recycling jobs for the "workers of Agbogbloshie".  There's a win-win here, and there are plenty of other people besides me you can go through if I've tarnished the relationship by introducing the subject.  ("Alright then, I'll go to hell," often starts here).

A Refreshing "Victimless, Villainless" Assessment of E-Waste in Chennai India: Naveed Ahmed Sekar

Mobile Consumption and Disposal in Chennai Metropolitan Region India (2017 Naveed Ahmed, Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany)

This short analysis of "e-waste" phones in the rapidly emerging market of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), India, is the kind of abstract approach that could make a good model for other products and other cities.  

Once again, it shows the "circular economy" is heliocentric, and does not revolve around Europe.  Telephones sold to families in India (4 phones average per household in Chennai) are not thrown into the sea.  The secondary market is not "competing against" the legitimate scrap market.

Instead, Naveed shows the issue is reluctance to let go of devices. When people remember the purchase as a great sacrifice, they hesitate to believe it is eventually worth only the sum of its raw materials.  This leads to the same "hoarding" documented by Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s.

Loving vs. Placebo? Sasha Rainbow, Life's What We Make It

First of all, happy 50th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision, June 12, 1967.

Here is a thoughtful article in Salon, written by Dave Singleton, the godson of attorney Robert McIlwaine. 
“He” was my godfather Robert McIlwaine, Uncle Bob as I called him, and my secret was a surprise. I discovered recently that he was the lead lawyer on Loving v. Virginia, the iconic U.S. Supreme Court case on interracial marriage. He argued for Virginia and against the rights of the interracial couple.
Like Singleton, I spent all my summers Mark Twain country, where slavery had been legal. A lot of my own writing was influenced by conversations among grandparents and family members when I was 5 years old in 1967.  My parents generation was pro-Loving, but they argued with older Ozark relatives about it - some of whom I adore still.  

The anti-Loving marriage argument at my grandparents home was that "It's not right to the children, it deprives the kids of either society".  That is familiar now.  I've heard it said about marriages across religious lines.  And it struck me deeply because, at 4 years old, I'd asked the girl next door, Sally, if she would marry me when we grew up.  She explained to me we could not because she was Jewish.  I asked my parents if it was true that a Christian boy was not allowed to marry a Jewish girl.  They told me it was actually possible, but that family can oppose it, and that you have to "think of the children".

I could not, at that time, imagine ever loving a girl as much as I loved Sally.  And perhaps that's why the evening news of the Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia, caught my 5 year old attention.

Today, I'm grateful to have grown up knowing and loving 'racists' who were just cautious, frightened people, not bad people - like the uncle of the Salon writer.  I think this prepared me to recognize 'accidental racism' in the environmental community. These are my friends, sharing my recycling passion, many of whom seem as stubborn as any family in the south when it comes to trade in used equipment with black people.  

Where I grew up, you learned that you can hate and detest a friend's idea, without thinking too much less of the friend. If you think free export policy will hurt Scrap Sector's children, and I think anti-export policy hurts the Tech Sector's children...  I don't describe you as a bad person.

But righteousness always hears it that way, doesn't it?  And when you become famous for being righteous, you invent and prosecute "blasphemy".

The nuance is sadly missing from the response I got yesterday, indirectly (posted to a fan group) from Placebo "Life is What You Make It" director Sasha Rainbow.  Rather than answer any of my questions, even my messages offering to introduce common third parties if she doesn't want to speak to me directly, she pasted a new sunshine on my bum, spank slapped me personally as a very bad human being who people should avoid talking to.  I'm thinking of writing in response to her characterization of me and Fair Trade Recycling. Maybe tomorrow.

Perhaps we are just competitors.  Perhaps she saw the teaser for the Joe "Hurricane" Benson documentary I'm trying to shepherd, and it's just business to position her own Agbogbloshie documentary ahead.  She has employees, mouths to feed, etc.  

Q and A: The Bitter End of UK's E-Waste Safari Exploitation

More information turned up on the Band Placebo and how the Agbogbloshie dump kids were chosen to launch the Band's Australia tour.  

The band's reps are researching us.  And we are researching the filmmaker and the band.  Feelings of saviorism and feelings of exploitation are both valid, and both come from good hearts.  We are all running uphill, fighting for higher moral ground.

Here is "Running Up That Hill", a song about trading places.  It is one of the band's hits from the past that got USA airplay, at least on college radio.  ... I remember this.

There's no direct communication between us (yet?), but a lot of evidence people are reading the blog and adjusting their message.  For example, the OfficialPlacebo Facebook page no longer ID's Abgo as "the largest e-waste dump in the world", and reciprocally, I can state this headline was also fake news ("Brian Molko highest paid singer on earth")

"The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true."

This is NOT TRUE, the lead singer of Placebo does not out-rank Mick Jagger, Beyonce, Eminem, etc.  But the fact that it shows up as the top Google listing for "net worth Brian Molko" shows that Brian has something in common with Wahab, Chendiba, Joe Benson, and other Tech Sector entrepreneurs in Ghana - who do NOT import 80% waste to what is NOT the "biggest e-waste dump on earth".  More in common than he ever knew.

Since my earlier blog and tweets, Placebo has taken down this claim on Facebook - that Agbo is the "world's largest e-waste dump".

Now watch out for someone simply swapping the words "in Africa" for "on Earth".  Some people imply that sounds like a small mistake.  But is is quite a correction. "The Tallest Man in the NBA" and "The Tallest Man on North Korea's High School Basketball Team" are two very different "Tallest Men". Because fewer Africans owned TVs and computers decades ago, their junkyards have fewer of them than ours do. Here's a photo of a pile in Addison County Vermont...

Seriously - we got WAAAAAAY more e-waste in Middlebury Vermont (pop 10k) than Accra has in Agbogbloshie.  Maybe I can pay Michael Anane to tell people he played mini-golf here as a boy, and we'll get some MTV screen time.

The photo of Agbogbloshie is, to us, even funnier and more obviously a joke than the MediaMass (Onionish) fake news.  The kid is standing on a single TV, on a barren landscape, carring a bag (no doubt on his way on some errand) and a Alsdair Mitchell pulled a McElvaney and said "kid, jump up on here a second".  Using it under the headline "the world's largest e-waste dump" a single kid standing on a single TV in a city of 3M is rather hilarious (and I'm not the one that choose that screenshot for that headline - Placebo's Facebook manager did).

Look, Brian Molko is closer to being the richest rock star than Agbogbloshie is to being the largest e-waste dump, but that's irrelevant.  My point is that good people - Ghana's Tech Sector and Brian Molko - can get thrust into conflict through misinformation and misunderstanding, and no one has to get bent out of shape.   It's dialectic. I know more about the band, and at the end they'll know more about Ghana, and the UK Press portrayal of its slums (no chaps, t'isn't about you).

So for the benefit of Placebo fans, it's ok to enjoy the video.  The camerawork is some of the best I've seen there (a little cheating with extra gasoline of the fires).  But below is a quick Q and A about Agbogbloshie, the myths and the facts.  Everything stated below has been the subject of many blogs.