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In LABR, it says

At some moments, Junkyard Planet’s celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and swipes at environmental and labor advocates can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk.

Does this sentence means the following?

  1. Junkyard Planet’s celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers.

    Junkyard Planet’s swipes at [environmental and labor advocates].

  2. We feel the two things in 1 are an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system.

  3. We think this economic system's ability to distribute justice is far worse than its ability to distribute junk.

  4. This thought (in 3) is different from what the the book Junkyard Planet wants to say originally. (In fact this book might say this economic system is pretty good)

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  • You might need to re-word or format your question better - I'm not sure which part is 'your understanding' of the sentence.
    – jimsug
    May 21 '14 at 8:52
  • I have edited its format. 1 is asking about the structure of this sentence. 2, 3, 4 are my understanding.
    – CYC
    May 21 '14 at 9:12
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Before I answer the question, I went through the link. To understand what the paragraph you mentioned means, you have to read or put in perspective the whole paragraph. Let me quote the whole paragraph first.

At some moments, Junkyard Planet’s celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and swipes at environmental and labor advocates can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk. But the virtue of the clear, detailed picture, which Minter so ably provides, of the forces pushing our trash around and around the globe, is that it may yet help us decide what to hold onto and what to throw out.

I really do not understand what you are trying to convey in your points 1) and 2) it is a bit confusing, I would suggest you to try to rephrase it a little better. But I will try to answer the question from my understanding of what you might be looking for.

Let me start with your statement 3)

We think this economic system's ability to distribute justice is far worse than junk's ability to distribute justice.

First off all, the whole article is about the view of the book on the ethics of junk distribution i.e the US trying to make money of whatever they discard as waste. The books try to educate the reader that " things that we think to be worthless does in fact have economic value and is building up an industry on its own." Basically environmental and labor advocates say " selling/pushing trash to other countries is bad unethical, they even consider it to be "exploiting other countries", that is one point of view. The book tries to convey to the reader that, what these environmental and labor advocates think is trash is actually something valuable, something that can be recycled and something that can be used as raw material. Well if something is valuable to someone, anyone, then it cannot be considered trash right? so if whatever the US is selling to the other countries is not trash and indeed a raw material, then these environmental and labor advocates could be wrong in the way they are approaching the problem right?

two strong things I understand from this article is

1) environmental and labor advocates say it is injustice to push US trash to other countries

2) The book says, well if something is valuable, then it is not trash .

You need to understand these 2 points to understand the paragraph in your question.

So referring to your point 3), We do not think anything, and junk cannot distribute anything, be it justice or whatever.

Let me break it down sentence by sentence.

1) "At some moments, Junkyard Planet’s celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and swipes at environmental and labor advocates can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk."

Explanation :

This sentence says, At some moments/parts of the book, the way Junkyard Planet (the book) appreciates the way these business people who make a living of selling so called trash aka scrap grubbers ("celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers") and the way Junkyard Planet attacks/accuses or just disagrees with the views of the environmental and labor advocates ("and swipes at environmental and labor advocates ") can feel like the book is trying to say that selling trash is good even though the environmental and labor advocates can feel like it is injustice. reading the book can also feel like this scheme of making money is prioritizing "making money" more than the ethics of selling trash ("can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk.")

The rest of the paragraph conveys the complete meaning

2) But the virtue of the clear, detailed picture, which Minter so ably provides, of the forces pushing our trash around and around the globe, is that it may yet help us decide what to hold onto and what to throw out.

Explanation :

But the real meaning/quality of the clear facts and details which Minter provides about the the way the trash is sold around the globe ("But the virtue of the clear, detailed picture, which Minter so ably provides, of the forces pushing our trash around and around the globe") is that , it can actually demonstrate to the reader that everything that they discard as trash/worthless actually is a necessity for someone out there and that the reader must give it a second thought before throwing out/discarding anything as trash, because it might not be worthless after all.

referring to your sentence 4), That is pretty much the meaning, you got it almost right. The book says this selling of trash is good, not because you make money out of selling trash, but because this process of selling trash actually identifies things that do not belong in trash and that can be recycled, and how it does not let things that can actually be useful, not go to waste.

It is basically trying to differentiate between "waste dumping" and "recycling"

I hope this helps.

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  • Tanks for the extremely helpful answer, but I still have one question. You mean"an economic system...than it does junk" is actually "an economic system that(others like labor advocates think it) distributes junk but not justice.(by means of efficiency) "?
    – CYC
    May 21 '14 at 14:57
  • And if instead of taking a global view, we just analyze it literally by the paragraph I quoted in the original question."an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk." would be confusing, we don't know whether this is what the book says or is taken for granted by reader or the thought of labor advocates, right?
    – CYC
    May 21 '14 at 15:16
  • 1
    I have not read the book and I had no idea tat such a book existed untill I read your question CYC. I read the article completely and this is what I gathered from the article. The problem here is, the paragraph you have the doubt on is meant to be the summation/summary of the whole article, so if you want to understand the actual meaning of the paragraph, then you will have to put the whole article in context. But we can still take the literal meaning of just the paragraph, but it wont be justice to the meaning being conveyed by the summation right?
    – NANDAGOPAL
    May 21 '14 at 15:34
  • 1
    And if instead of taking a global view, we just analyze it literally by the paragraph I quoted in the original question."an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk." might not be confusing, but it will definitely make me think that the author of the article is trying to accuse the book for trying to celebrate the efforts of the scrap grubbers and attack the advocates in favour of a system that helps make money instead of uphold ethics.
    – NANDAGOPAL
    May 21 '14 at 15:39
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    Absolutely! the whole article was a review about the book "Junkyard Planet’s". So whatever the article says is actually whatever the author of the article thinks the book says. Maybe if you read the book you may have a different opinion.
    – NANDAGOPAL
    May 21 '14 at 16:48
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refer to parentheses, friend: Junkyard Planet’s celebration (of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and swipes at environmental and labor advocates) can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk

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  • Is it (the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers) and (swipes at environmental) and (labor advocates) in the parentheses ? BTW, "celebration of (swipes at environmental)" is a little strange to me, I don't know why.
    – CYC
    May 21 '14 at 9:28
  • 1
    Junkyard Planet’s celebration (of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and (swipes at environmental and labor advocates)) can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk
    – user132043
    May 21 '14 at 10:46
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Consider this answer as an assist. I believe that you could understand it once you know how to parse it. NANDAGOPAL already did a great job explaining the meaning of the text.

Here is the sentence.

At some moments, Junkyard Planet’s celebration of the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers and swipes at environmental and labor advocates can feel like an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk.

How should we read it (or understand it)?

Let's break it down.

At some moments, X's celebration of Y can feel like Z.
X = Junkyard Planet
Y = [ the ingenuity of the scrap grubbers ] and [ swipes at [ environmental and labor advocates ] ]

This left us with a long noun-phrase, Z.

Z = an overly enthusiastic embrace of an economic system that distributes justice far less efficiently than it does junk

Let's break Z down further.

Z = an A of [ B that C ]
A = an overly enthusiastic embrace
B = an economic system (that is described as C)

Now, we get to the real meat, C. It is used to describe such an economic system. But what kind of economic system are we talking about?

It's an economic system that distributes justice.
It's also an economic system that distributes junk.
It distributes justice far less efficiently than it distributes junk.

I hope this parsing is useful.

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