Friday, February 22, 2008

Lost in translation

1) Is it a good thing when the Dutch tell you

You are able to ask very penetrating questions about things that you don't understand.

2) I'm having a discussion with my HR rep about my decision to give an employee a raise. He was at 84% of market value, and company policy is is to be at least 90%. So I proactively approved a raise of 6%. My rep started debating whether the employee might think it is too little, or too late, or should be retroactive, or....

My knee-jerk reflex was

It's a gift: he should be pleased...

which, of course, led to a discussion about why we would give anyone a raise as a gift.

<sigh> This phrase is typically American, but very difficult to translate. It kind of means windfall or a surprise, but not an undeserved one. It's certainly not a literal 'gift'.

3) The Dutch Word of the Day today was vogelvrij, which means "outlaw" in the Netherlands.

Debate ensues. In the US, "outlaw" has taken on a sort of romantic connotation (think 'Butch Cassidy') which the Dutch say is definitely not a part of vogelvrij. I would think that it is more like 'outcast', which the Dutch vigorously deny. They try explain that it designates someone that everyone is allowed to treat badly: is there an English word for that?

They have suggested that perhaps 'homeless' is more apt...?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Doing taxes and choosing causes

I'm deep into preparing my 2007 taxes: the assignment provides Deloitte to help out, who come with a small army of accountants and an absolutely impenetrable personal information collection system. I swear that it takes me twice as long to fill in their on-line system as it would to just do the taxes: this weekend is, thus, spoken for.

The tax filings have also gotten breathtakingly larger since I started living overseas. Where my taxes used to run about 15 pages, they now easily top 40. The Dutch filing probably adds another 20. It feels like a small novel, well beyond the capacity of unassisted expatriates to get things right.

Do we?

It's also a time that I become aware of the past year's charitable spending and think about where to send contributions in the future. The two traditional US recipients are churches and United Way (a big US charity hub that takes in payroll deductions and distributes them across a wide selection of worthy causes). I feel like I should take the time to understand and choose during the year, rather than just make it automatic and thoughtless.

So, my list:

I always like to "give back" my time to education: 62434/p54598925_50736.jpgI used to organize and support a lot of science, math, and career day talks and demonstrations in local schools when I lived in the US. It's not so easy in the Netherlands, so this year I focused on student supervisions in England.

I still support my schools with donations too, sending some targeted funds to my college alumni organizations. It tickles me that Cambridge is asking for contributions to support their 800-year anniversary. It's really an eternal golden chain through ages of scholars there, isn't it?

Since I work in health care, I support the American- and European- Heart Associations. These groups have been getting increasingly commercial in recent years, though, especially in charging for access to scientific information (Guidelines) and training courses. I think that everyone is better served by making these materials as widely and cheaply available as possible.Swiss - a-Family house 10 So I've switched to supporting the International Red Cross and the Scripps Research Institute (who is doing solid basic biomedical research that can address many diseases).

I like to support international understanding, and feel like the Experiment in International Living did a lot to put my feet on the right path when I was 17. (The farm that I stayed in is shown, left) More understanding for direct, global interactions among young people is the surest path to a better world. Multiplayer internet computer games and chat rooms don't cut it, sorry...

I support the Blue Cranes at the Chester Zoo in England. People don't treat animals and habitat well at all, and this is a direct way to conserve endangered species until societies finally learn some ecologic wisdom. Crane202Chester does a good job with natural settings and a strong educational mission and conservation message. My birds are a beautiful breeding pair, and it's nice to give them a little extra bedding and treats now and then. (Unfortunately, they have yet to produce any little blue baby birds.)

After six long years of the Bush crowd, I've become increasingly concerned about free speech and privacy issues, so when I get completely fed up, I send something off to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I don't always agree with their choice of cases to support, but I think that they are philosophically correct in general.

It troubles me that art has become so politicized and that artists are not held in higher esteem. STreeThe aesthetic and creative arts need patrons and creative freedom, not critics and moralists. I think that the best way to support that is to support the colonies that give artists time and space to create works: The MacDowell Colony is one of the oldest.

I would have liked to have contributed to a group that recognizes individual achievement, like the MacArthur Foundation, but I just haven't found one that I like yet.

It's not a lot; hopefully it all helps to make the world a bit better.

Charitable links can be found on my web site

Tax photo credit to Howstuffworks

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beaches in Portugal

A few pictures of seasides in Portugal, while I compose my next thoughts...

These are all taken around Sagres, at the extreme southwest corner of Western Europe, a windy and spectacular portion of the Atlantic coastline.

DSC04443DSC04385IMG_3696 IMG_3721 DSC04312