Archive for December, 2009

A Year in Cities, 2009

Last New Year’s Eve I began a tradition of naming major cities I visited that year. Here again is the list of cities I visited in the last year, excluding smaller places and short stops en route somewhere else. Asterisks indicate a city I had not visited before:

  1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  2. Baltimore, Maryland*
  3. Kigali, Rwanda*
  4. Bujumbura, Burundi*
  5. Kampala, Uganda*
  6. Nairobi, Kenya* (Where I am at the moment)

Like 2008, this list feels inadequate because most places I’ve visited are too obscure to mention.  Still, visiting cities in four new countries (and all of them capitals, interestingly) is solid enough. One low-hanging fruit I’m sure to pick next year is the DRC, which is just a couple-hour bus ride away. I plan to end my stay in Rwanda around June so there will likely be more significant Africa sightseeing done around my departure. Beyond that, there’s a hazy plan to visit Canada, but if my plans unfurl correctly, there may be no time or *gasp* money.

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Pick and Choose

In rich countries it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people to do this at wages farmers say they can afford. Seasonal demand adds to the problems: in California, where some 450,000 people, mostly immigrants, are employed on fruit farms at the peak of the harvest, growers often leave some produce to rot. Even Japan’s exquisite and expensive strawberries are becoming too costly to pick because of a shortage of workers, in part caused by an ageing population. Despite worries about food shortages in the coming years, many farmers are more worried about labour shortages.

In part, says the article, because of an aging population but mostly because the Japanese government doesn’t let in many foreigners. After all, where in the world would be the benefit of letting poor people work for better pay and having cheaper fruit? Yes, let’s protect the delicate grapes of our social Chablis by restricting the freedom of others; the higher labor costs will make machines economical, and then the migrants won’t have a reason to come!

Just as the mechanical reaper transformed the economics of cereal farming, a new wave of agricultural automation promises to do the same in other areas of horticulture.



Bonus points for anyone who can point out the relevance between this and minimum wage legislation.

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When I awake each morning, cheerful is my disposition. Travails belong to yesterday, while today owns the promise of productivity. Charity and magnanimity are felt in good measure. If I had on a cap, I would surely tip it to passersby on the street, and should a man ask for change, I’d not begrudge him a sou.

Others are not like me. They wake to a bleary dissatisfaction with the state of things. Forehead blood vessels are engorged, changing the face’s topography into the mask of the malcontent. Before they even arrive at the bathroom for their morning evacuation, the morning has filled with bemoaning. Maybe it’s a general lament about the corruption of youth. Or perhaps, if you’re Rwanda Youth Minister Protais Mitali for instance, it’s something more specific, like just how irksome are those ghastly grass-thatched huts poor people like to live in:

Speaking during a provincial coordination committee meeting on Tuesday, Mitali urged mayors in the province to prioritise the issue of eradicating grass thatched houses in the country so as to beat the June 2010 deadline set by the Cabinet.

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Local Government indicates that the Eastern and Southern Provinces as leading in having the biggest number of people still living in huts, with the latter having over 27,000 such houses.

“You have to tackle the issue of eradicating grass-thatched houses as a matter of urgency.

We do not expect to see such houses anywhere in the country by mid 2010,” said the Youth Minister.

These days I find myself thinking that this type of thing, while of a flavor more flagrant, is the same cold dish served up by most political action. People and politicians just can’t seem to get enough of using the full-auto AK of government to impose their preferences onto other people. Why someone would think they’re so well endowed to play the position of pater, and further, why they get so worked up about the affairs of others in the first place confounds me. I may wake up with happiness, but there’s certainly not such a surfeit of it that I feel called to coerce others to my enlightened ways.

As Smith said long ago:

Examine the records of history, recollect what has happened within the circle of your own experience, consider with attention what has been the conduct of almost all the greatly unfortunate, either in private or public life, whom you may have either read of, or heard of, or remember; and you will find that the misfortunes of by far the greater part of them have arisen from their not knowing when they were well, when it was proper for them to sit still and to be contented

Maybe my mornings are happy precisely because I’m not bothered much when someone’s preferences conflict with my own–that I can, in spite of the jarring diversity in how people all around me live, sit still and be contented.

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