Welcome to the site of Ranking and Repair!

I decided to write a non-fiction book with the title and subtitle RANKING – The reality, illusion and manipulation of objectivity.  The book discusses the Hows and Whys of our love and fear of making ranks and being ranked through many real life examples to be viewed from three different angles (reality, illusion and manipulation) of objectivity. Ranking converts scientific theories to everyday’s experience by raising and answering such question as:

  • Are college ranking lists objective?
  • How to rank and rate states based on their fragility, corruption or even happiness?
  • How to find the most relevant web pages?
  • How to rank employees?

Life and society is really complex, consequently our message is not so simple such as ”Ranking is good!” or ”Ranking is bad!”. Since we permanently rank ourselves and others and are also being ranked, the message is twofold: how to prepare the possible most objective ranking and how to accept that ranking does  not necessarily reflects our real values and achievements. The reader will understand our difficulties to navigate between objective and subjective and gets help to identify and modify her place in real and virtual communities by combining our human intelligence with computational techniques.

Food waste versus hunger

A number of my (P) Facebook friends (well, and myself too) like to share idyllic pictures of food consumed in the company of our loved ones. Many of us have some superficial interest in the origin and means of processing the food we consume. We like to see “cage-free” labels or know that the products are local. Still, in the United States, about ten percent of products come from the farmer’s market, and ninety percent come from outside of local communities \citep{fast}. About half of the consumable food in the United States is thrown away, and wasted food is the single largest component of American landfills. The flip side of the coin is that one in seven Americans experience hunger, and during the coronavirus pandemic, that number became one on six (so more than fifty million Americans lack food security in 2020). Brenda Ann Kenneally \citep{brenda20}, a photojournalist documented by the food insecure lives of millions in several moving and difficult-to forget photos.

It is easy to waste, isn’t it? It would be difficult to deny that a typical source of food waste is “overbuying.” Not just because we forget about our home reserves but also because we simply misjudge our needs—we get more than we need or have run out of. Or we just change our minds as picky people: What we liked in the store and put in our shopping basket no longer appeals to us at home, and we throw it out.

We waste in a variety of ways: We often buy food when there is still enough in the fridge because we just forgot about it. For example, we might not know that we have it because we store it irregularly. There are a lot of packages lurking on top of each other in our pantries, so a warranty date can easily escape attention. A lot of recently expired food in unopened packaging lands in the trash every day. Everyone is afraid of salmonella and its immediate consequences, but the long-term consequences of food waste are more difficult to see. But irregular, less-than-thorough cleaning of the refrigerator can also ruin food prematurely.

Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a “Clean Plate” campaign against food waste \citep{bbc20}. Statistics suggest that at least 17 million tons of food went to waste in China annually in the last several years \citep{marchisio20}. We have yet to see the results of the Chinese attempt, which aims to establish a social environment where waste is shameful. More precisely, waste is not only shameful, but the lack of appropriate recycling of food waste is also penalized by the newly introduced social credit rating system.

In India, 25% of the freshwater used to produce food is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still lack access to drinking water. Big weddings and huge parties are big contributors to Indian food wastage. There is a chronic imbalance of food distribution.

Why, why, and why? If individually we have a bad conscience about behaving this way, why do we have huge quantities of food waste in very different parts of the world? First of all, whatever we say after paying in the supermarket, food is still cheap. Second, we don’t buy “ugly” foods. We often only like to buy produce that has aesthetic quality. Manicured food is identified with high-standard technology and food safety. As we are able to make excellent pictures with our cell phones, the so-called “camera cuisine” influences what we order to eat. There is a new profession, food stylist, who prepares photogenic food for photography, video, or film. We, shoppers, don’t really buy imperfect-looking fruits and vegetables. On the other side, crooked produces are not even located by grocers on the shelves—they are thrown out before they make it to the store. This is unreasonable since biologically, the flavor of the food is more important than appearance. But data show that waste and hunger were rising on parallel tracks. It is not painless to accept this contradiction.

Once again: fresh goods are beautiful, less fresh—withered, browned—are ugly. ”We eat with our eyes”. The color and fragrance (turbocharged with state-of-the-art technology during production), the texture, the shape, and the packaging of the product all affect our most important senses: Our eyes. It is estimated that we get eighty percent of the information from the outside world with our eyes, so there is a stake in the competition to be beautiful. A lot of goods are finished works of art: Artists, scientists design every detail, even the overall effect. In countless cases, we throw the unsightly in the trash: “It may still be good, but I won’t eat it anymore.”

While it is easy to write that our culinary culture should be subject to rethinking and repair, some elementary steps have been made for a long time. Probably people back to antiquity felt some moral obligation to help hungry individuals eat. The soup kitchen, as an institution, emerged at the end of the 18th century. While the industrial revolution created an increase in overall prosperity, it also exacerbated inequality. The traditional life of many poor people was disrupted, and the number of hungry people increased. Sir Benjamin Thompson, also known as Count Rumford, is credited as an early champion of hunger relief and established the first modern soup kitchen. The concept became extensive in the United States during the Great Depression. The infamous gangster labeled “Public Enemy Number One,” Al Capone, opened a soup kitchen that “served breakfast, lunch, and dinner to an average of 2,200 Chicagoans every day”\citep{klein19}.

Modern food banks are non-profit organizations and are instrumental in helping those people who cannot afford to purchase sufficient food. The modern era of food banks started in 1967, when St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance was founded in Phoenix, Arizona, by John van Hengel, who later founded the organization Feeding America to popularize the concept of food banks throughout the whole country and actually the world. At that time, both politicians and the media drew attention to the issue of hunger and led to the introduction of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), generally referred to as the food stamp program. Food insecurity soared during the pandemic, and as food banks rely on personal donations, these contributions shrink during difficult times.

There are now companies like Imperfect Foods and Misfit Market, which purchase and deliver cosmetically challenged produce to consumers. I (P) clicked on the website of Imperfect Foods after their ad appeared on my Facebook page, and soon we became enthusiastic Imperfectionists. We discussed the food waste problem over dinner in my house (Hungarian goulash was served and consumed) with our neighbor, a professor of sociology/anthropology. She feels that while Imperfect Food is an appealing initiative, it may create competition with food banks, which have previously been able to acquire imperfect foods and provide them to those who need it.

Traditional housewives have always been creative in secondary processing. Potato soup (the Central European version is different from what we have in the United States or Japan) and leftovers can be potato souffle, and tomato salad could be converted into bruschetta or gazpacho. We can transform and improve leftovers to make our diet varied, and most importantly, so as not to throw away so many residues. It is also recycling, although not industrial, but individual and more creative. Last but not least, it is a real innovative opportunity for ourselves.

The title of a tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen is “The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf.” In this story, the little woman throws the loaf she is supposed to give to her poor family on the ground in front of her to step on it to keep her slippers clean from the mud. Today, entire streets could be “paved” with bites thrown in the trash for various reasons. And not only with bread, but also with cold cuts, cheeses, packaged sauces, and other delicacies. We are becoming less consistent about buying and storing food, and the issue of recycling is hardly yet to come.

Throwing away food goes far beyond the specific loss of food or money. It involves wasted animal feed, the spraying of plants, the cost of fuel and energy for production and transport, and the cost of storage, all of which add up to tangible losses for the consumer. Few are aware of this, as then we would have to face the hard-to-digest fact that we regularly harm ourselves. Over-consumption and overproduction can eventually become a trap for each other: Could it have become our subconscious need to throw out a personalized dose? That would be the abundance—does that make us feel wealthy or gourmet?

We arrived at a transition: A few years ago, there was still a common phrase in the recipe sections of magazines: Just eat and cook completely intact fruits and vegetables! cooking! Today, due to the impact of what might be called bio-lifestyle, we read this less often, and the “ecological approach” also overwrites the old advice. We can boldly cut a little bump out of the otherwise flawless pieces instead of throwing it all in the trash. One little strategic suggestion from Zsuzsa: Next time buy a smaller fridge! Less food will be ruined because you will have less space!

Environmentalists, business owners, and information technologists implement new methods of fighting against food waste. Some restaurants, as Rhodora in Brooklyn operates, are based on a no-waste moral principle. Here are a number of applications worldwide aimed at reducing food waste \citep{roy19}: \emph{Karma} helps us to discover the cheaper offer of restaurants and bars near us at the end of the day. Farmdrop connects with local farmers so our footprint for buying and consuming will be smaller. With Olio’s support, we can find partners nearby to whom we can hand over our leftovers. Foodcloud is a partner of supermarkets: Unsold food reaches charity organizations and those in need. \emph{Giki} shows how ethical the distributor is and how sustainable it is to operate.

Michelin recently introduced a new distinction, the Green Star, to award restaurants that prove to be successful at reducing waste, preserving natural resources, and protecting endangered species. Thirteen Japanese restaurants have been awarded \citep{michelin21} in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka. (It is interesting that in Tokyo mostly French restaurants have received the award, while in Kyoto, traditional Japanese ones have been granted.)

We have now more and more opportunities to improve the process of waste reduction. Every little step might imply significant change, every gram of food that is not thrown away leads to an increase in our own financial situation and sustainability. If we step on this path and start paying attention to the shelves of the fridge, the warranty on the packaging, the contents of the pantry, we can experience a remarkable transformation in just a few weeks or maybe even in a few days. Our first feeling might be that we are sorry to throw away the cake that has not yet been eaten, but we leave in the evening, so we look for someone among the neighbors to whom we can offer the leftovers. The second feeling is creativity: Yes, the apple is no longer as tight and red as it was when we bought it five days ago, but next to the meat, the steamed apple will be perfect.

As we worked on this chapter, we were happy to see that “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

We, the society, are in the process of rethinking the whole food system we have. How we produce, distribute and consume food. The stakes are our own health, the environment, the climate and, and a healthier (both in physical and social sense) society.

Debates on Ranking Prefectures in Japan

I have received a mail from Norikazu Takami, who kindly translated Ranking to Japanese.

”Recently one ranking attracts a lot of attention here,
which is the prefecture attractiveness ranking.

https://stats-japan.com/t/kiji/13203 [stats-japan.com]

Your book discusses similar rankings like the Reputation Quotient, but this
does not show the least known brands; I think there is a risk that showing
the bottom of rankings of people’s subjective views can be collective
bullying. What do you think about this whole phenomenon

This is an annual survey that puts together how people feel about each
prefecture. The most attractive prefectures are quite self-evident: they are
popular tourist destinations like Kyoto and Okinawa or large economic centers like Tokyo; but the problem is that this ranking reveals the least attractive ones as well, and this causes strong complaints. The governor of one of the least attractive prefectures threatened to sue the company issuing the ranking, for instance.

The article and our comments can be seen here:

https://globalvoices.org/2021/10/16/prefecture-threatens-to-sue-after-being-ranked-one-of-the-least-attractive-places-in-japan/

Planned Obsolescence

The concept of “planned obsolescence” \citep{kenton19} has been in the United States since at least the 1920s, when General Motors introduced a new production and marketing strategy. GM started to design and construct new models for just a single year, so last year’s cars seemed to be out of date. The strategy worked and appeared in other sectors as well. If a product is old-fashioned, or does not work well after a certain period, the consumer seeks new items. Built-in obsolescence can be implemented through two different mechanisms. First, a new, superior model appears and people should be convinced by advertisements to buy the new model. Second, the product is intentionally designed to be nonfunctional within a planned time period. In both cases, consumers prefer the next generation of products to the older ones.

The main social reason that planned obsolescence worked was the rapid emergence of a strong middle class during the 1950s, which is sometimes called the Decade of Prosperity. The purchasing power of the median American family grew by 30% during that time \cite{shmoop}. Progress in science and technology, combined with the availability of cheap oils from U.S. wells were the driving force of the increase in industrial productivity. Europe and Asia were still recovering from World War II, so America did not have peer competitors. People who lived in poverty during the Great Depression and World War II were very motivated to buy, and suddenly they were able to purchase bigger cars, larger houses, and better and longer educations. In addition, disposable goods appeared, and people had the financial means to replace products.

From the Centennial Light to the not-so-long-lived bulbs

Commercially viable light bulbs were invented by Thomas Edison (1847-1931). In the first three decades after their invention, carbon filaments were used. The Centennial Light is the world’s longest-lasting light bulb—it has been burning since June $1901$ and is located in Livermore, California. It is a hand-blown, carbon-filament light bulb. While the bulb has been “off” several times, generally due to human intervention, it has never ceased to be functioning. Since bulbs produced later had a much shorter life duration than that of the Centennial Light, they are frequently referred to as a paradigmatic example of planned obsolescence.

Phoebus cartel

The Phoebus cartel was formed in $1924$ to manage and control the design and engineering of shorter-lived lightbulbs. At that time, more and more often, tungsten filaments were adopted. An excellent paper\citep{krajewski14} describes the history of the \emph{grand lightbulb conspiracy}. The goal of the bulb industrialists was a systematic reduction in the capacity of lightbulbs from $1,500-2,000$ hours of functionality to $1,000$. It is interesting to see that the researchers had to find conditions that would \emph{reliably} provide the reduced life duration. Phoebus was a global cartel, including General Electric and Tokyo Electric alongside the big European companies, such as Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, the Hungarian Tungsram, and the British Associated Electrical Industries. While the cartel managed to keep the artificially elevated prices for a while, competitors did emerge to provide cheaper, often lower-quality goods. Specifically, while Tokyo Electric was a member of the cartel, small, family-owned Japanese workshops produced almost hand-made, cheap bulbs, mainly for the international market. The cheap bulbs were not necessarily financially favorable, since the low price was overcompensated for by increased current consumption. As World War II started, the coordination necessary to keep the cartel alive was impossible, and the first global agreement to implement global planned obsolescence was nullified in 1940.

Planned obsolescence is with us, with no intention to leave

Over the course of three decades, I (P) have had about eight to ten digital notebooks and laptops. In most cases, I decided to change devices when the cost of repair was not too far from that of buying a new, more technologically advanced model. I believe I still have at least four of the old devices, so technically they don’t contribute to e-waste. Moore’s law says that transistor count will double every $24$ months, so generally, the new laptop represented a higher technical level. I have been living in the world of the Linux operating systems, now in the Ubuntu $20.04$ version. While I don’t believe the laptops were planned to have a limited reliability, the reality is that I am almost sure the Reader’s experience is not very different from my own. (Two weeks after I wrote this paragraph, I returned to it to complain that the smartwatch I use to track and improve my fitness suddenly died after just 18 months of use.)

The surprising reality: Unrepairable laptops and smartphones are one symptom of the throw-away society in which we live. It is still somewhat surprising that the business model—based on batteries that users cannot replace—worked. We consumers could not resist buying these very new type of gadgets, even though we were supposed to throw out the whole device when the battery was gone. Not only do batteries die out, but we have also learned that sometimes things like operating systems or apps can suddenly no longer be upgraded.

With some mixed feelings, we are inclining to agree with opinions \citep{hadhazy16} that the throw-away society has beneficial aspects as well.

A balanced view

First, the rapid turnover of goods correlates with the creation of jobs. Second, there is a huge increase in the availability of relatively cheap goods for many people, not only in wealthy countries but in developing countries too. While we cannot deny that more people have had a better quality of life as a result of our consumer model than at any other time in history, it is also responsible for global warming and toxic waste.

Throw-away culture generates huge amounts of waste. As environmental consciousness continues to expand, consumer goods might become less disposable. Google initiated \textbf{Project Ara}, for developing a modular smartphone device that lets you easily swap out components that are either broken or in need of an upgrade, but the company canceled the project a few years later.

As we throw away machines and devices, since we feel that they are out of date, the result is a huge mountain of e-waste. It is worth to see the numbers published by The Global E-waste Monitor 2020\citep{forti20}:

“In 2019, the world generated a striking 53.6 [metro tones] of e-waste, an average of 7.3 [kg] per capita. The global generation of e-waste grew by 9.2 [Mt] since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 [Mt] by 2030—almost doubling in only 16 years. The growing amount Electrical and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few repair options. Asia generated the highest quantity of e-waste in 2019 at 24.9 [Mt], followed by the Americas (13.1 [Mt]) and Europe (12 [Mt]), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 [Mt] and 0.7 [Mt], respectively. Europe ranked first worldwide in terms of e-waste generation per capita, with 16.2 [kg] per capita. Oceania was second (16.1 [kg] per capita), followed by the Americas (13.3 [kg] per capita), while Asia and Africa generated just 5.6 and 2.5 [kg] per capita, respectively.”

From poverty to abundance

(not edited draft)

“The history of poverty is almost the history of mankind.” \citep{hazlitt96} One feature of poverty is the extreme shortage of food—that is, famine. There are records of famines from ancient Rome in 441 BCE in Western Europe due to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. There were recurring famines in England and the European continent. Mass starvation frequently happened from the early Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

As it is well-known, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the English economist, suggested that the linear increase of food production implies the exponential increase of the population, rather than having a lower population, but with a higher living standard. It was a pessimistic perspective. The general view was that Malthus was wrong. Cheap and ample energy (provided mostly as the result of propagation of steam engines) and cheap and plenty raw materials resulted in both agricultural and industrial productivity during the Industrial Revolution. Food production also grew exponentially, and the exponent of food growth was larger than that of the population growth.

The steam engine was one example of the conversion of one type of energy (thermal) into another (mechanical). James Watt’s (1736–1819) used a feedback principle
to control the speed by self-regulation. It is a big event in the history of technological development. Watt designed a centrifugal flyball governor for regulating the speed of the rotary steam engine and a constant a constant speed was
generated by automatic control. The steam engine revolutionized the textile industry and transportation. Robert Fulton (1765-1815), an American engineer, developed a steamboat in 1807, which traveled between New York and Albany on the Hudson River, and George Stephenson (1781-1848) designed steam-powered railways, which crossed between Stockton and Darlington in the northeast of England in 1825.

So machines and new (coal-based) energy sources became the driving forces of the technological changes that interconnected society’s new lifestyles and organizations. Factories were established since the new machines were way too large to house in a worker’s cottage. Factories needed people. There was a fear among small textile workshop owners that machine-based factories would replace people, who would lose their jobs. A community, the Luddites, organized actions to destroy factories. The short-term job losses were compensated for by new machines and investments, by lower prices and by new products. From an historical perspective the Luddites were wrong: “If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work because productivity has been increasing for two centuries.” \citep{tabarrok03} Soon there was a transition from a rural society to an urban community. This transition is related to the free market and capitalism, as we know that new classes, the bourgeois and proletariat, appeared.

Returning to technology and industrial development, as they are the tools of the transition to abundance, we cannot overestimate the significance of the Bessemer process for the manufacture of steel. The new method made it possible to produce much cheaper, more impured steel. Most importantly, this steel was then used for large construction. The “robber barons,” as the men who oversaw industry giants are sometimes called, like them or not, contributed very much to the birth of modern America by building the modern industries of steel and railroads and integrating such infrastructure with oil and electricity.
The previous two centuries were very contradictory. While there were recurring famines in the 19th 20th centuries, and we had at least two terrible world wars, the years between 1800 and 2000 showed the most prolific growth and economic development in humankind’s history. Much of this progress stems from the Enlightenment.
%We write this text in November 2020, so it is difficult to detach from the US’s actual epidemics and political uncertainties. Still, looking at things from an historical perspective,
The gross world product (GWP) has grown with a dramatic velocity. Data and mathematical models show that GWP evolved at rates faster than exponential—what we call super-exponential. In the exponential growth rate, the acceleration (the speed of the change of velocity) is constant, but when the acceleration is growing, then GWP would keep to infinity \citep{roodman20}. Compared to the lingering misery of the past, human society made a rapid transition from poverty to abundance. (More discussion about growth processes will follow in \ref{ssec:toomuch}).

We don’t necessarily suggest that models capable of describing the past can be adopted without modification to predict the future. However, it is not unreasonable to imagine that new technologies like artificial intelligence will play a similar innovative role to increase growth, as tools like fire, the wheel, the steam engine, and electricity did. It is too early to see the mechanism, but new economic models \citep{acem-rest19,petho18} suggest that the job-reducing effects of automation are overcompensated for by the creation of new jobs that are not dependent on automation. However, optimistic and pessimistic predictions can coexist. In the fall of 2019, the journal \emph{European Economic Review} published a special issue with the title “The Economics of Malthusianism: Can Malthusism return?” In an era of declining population growth, when the proportion of dependents might surge dramatically due to an increase in life expectancy, some kinds of Malthusian concerns might return \citep{naso20}.

Shoes Should Be Fixed!

Especially if you play soccer, and even if you don’t, shoes will get torn and wear away from sauntering around the neighborhood after school. Uncle Matuszka had a cobbler shop close to the fluid border between Angyalföld, (the now-disappearing working class’s Land of Angels'') and Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town,” inhabited by middle-class intellectuals of Jewish origin). He spent the whole, long day mending shoes in his street-facing workshop with the help of his deaf assistant. The room was dark—the only internal source of pale light was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling on a wire. When I (P) visited, I always smelled the scent of a mixture of leather, shoe-shine, glues, adhesives, dyes, and cat pee.

Boots in the winter, sandals in the summer. Girls had Japanese leather slippers, and as I just learned from a dear girlfriend from my college years, the white upper part made from matte leather was artificially treated by a piece of chalk.

Uncle Matuszka repaired and restored everything. Broken heels and worn-out soles were repaired. Holes were patched. Blown seams were resewn. His workshop was full of tools, hammers, knives of different sizes, and a variety of nail and tack pullers. There were sewing threads and straight and curved hook needles. There were hardwood lasts—holding devices shaped like a human foot. Nails and screws lived in a metal container. Uncle Matuszka used wooden pins, “pegs,” to attach leather soles. First, he made a hole with the awl, the sharp-pointed piece of steel, then placed a dowel before hammering. As I correspond with my high-school and college classmates (these correspondences became very intensive during the emergence of the pandemic), we all agreed that our minds preserve the cobblers’ small and dark shops as palaces of miracles. We also agreed that it was one place we learned that things should be repaired.

REPAIR: Progress report

We are working on the book, and progressing according to our planned schedule.

To give some hint about Chapter 1, see

Contents

Introduction

1.1 Our Early Encounters in Repairing

1.1.1 Bridges Over the Danube

1.1.2 Shoes Should Be Fixed!

1.1.3 A Lenci doll

1.1.4 The story of an oak table

1.1.5 Aunt Ella, the needlewoman

1.1.6 Oh, my sister

1.1.7 The book in perspective .

1.2 The rise and fall of the “throw-away society”

1.2.1 From poverty to abundance

1.2.2 Planned obsolence

1.2.3 Food waste versus hunger

1.2.4 Fast Fashion: Under the spell of cheap clothing

1.2.5 Consumerism

1.2.6 The throw-away society: Emergence and call for the end .

1.2.7 Social relationships as resources. . .

. . .

Manipulation of Ranking: a HUGE scandal !!!!

thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/84a922cc9273b7b120d49ad3b9e9d3f9-0090012021/original/DB-Investigation-Findings-and-Report-to-the-Board-of-Executive-Directors-September-15-2021.pdf?fbclid=IwAR27yq-tNaMmYJxjnKusnJIVVNygZbreydNqZtj6nwDaotIAvVtDIFQqF0U