Thursday, November 8, 2012

Autumn is rolling in

DSC03839There’s a beautiful tree along the green in Barrington.  It’s green in summer, bare in winter, glorious in autumn.   This year, walking out each morning to head for the office, I’d note the changes.  Not always the best weather for a picture, but enough blue-sky days to get a good sense of progress towards winter.

The Euro-US political divide continues to widen.  I’ve commented before that the US has been using Europe as a surrogate illustrating economic policy failures, whether stimulus (Romney) or austerity (Obama).  Roger Ebert noted he’s receiving more of That Comment: You have no idea of what you're talking about. You love socialism? Move to Europe.  Fox News rattled the bones after the election: Ever-bigger government, greater dependency, higher taxes, ever-more spending and crippling debt, socialized medicine, and dwindling freedom.  It's a bleak future--one that resembles more the imploding nations of Western Europe than the United States of America.

Now it’s infecting the European side as well (can you blame them?).  A Republican-led US would share few values with Europeans, suggests Simon Kuper, noting Tea Party characterizations of Europeans as crazed, bankrupt, jihad-supporting socialists.  The Atlantic seems to have got a bit wider,” says Daniel Keohane.  It’s become hard to say “our shared western values” without smirking.

Still, I think you have to hope for, believe in a better future and a way out of this business-induced economic quagmire.  It does start with a simple vote.  I have to commend King County elections for doing everything they can to bring voting into reach.  Ballots arrived on time, backed up by solid non-partisan information about the alternatives and DSC04246impacts off each issue.  There were multiple ways to return a ballot; ways to track that it was received and counted.   They do a great job.

And I cant complain about the outcome.  It was satisfying to see the decisive vote to retain the President, always gratifying to see the whining on Rush Limbaugh’s pages and Fox News editorials.  In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?  Good luck hammering away on that 47% folks: it will win you friends at the next election.

Still, Obama has had a mixed record and has proven to be a disappointing spokesman for progressive causes.  The Economist and FT gave him lukewarm endorsement on the basis that he’s the devil we know, measured against a challenger with no firm political principles.  I hope that the second term will see more leadership, more imagination, more heart in reaching out across the country with better solutions, better negotiated, better articulated.

DSC04250And, with that, back to the +31 for a couple of weeks.  This is going to be a Dutch-language marathon ahead of my toets next week, and then on to the massive Medical trade show in Dusseldorf. I was surprised by a rare instance of the Queen’s Border Patrol doing a passport check on the train from Liege to Maastricht.  Things are tightening up.

But  IND has approved my Dutch visa renewal: the officers actually smiled looking at the letter (a contrast with dark warnings from the UK – Eurostar booth that my British time is almost up).

The leaves may be falling, but things are looking up.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Life’s little certainties

Don't cross streamsThe cardinal rule in the original Ghostbuster movie (left) was never, ever to cross the streams of the proton guns.  Similarly catastrophic events can also come from more prosaic sources: banking and taxes.

Yesterday I launched into my formal renewal of my Tier 1 UK visa. For months my immigration advisors have been telling me that it’s a pro-forma exercise: much like the Dutch, show that you’ve bee doing what you said you would, that you’ve not had run-ins with the law, and that you’ve maintained minimum bank balances and salary slips.

The problem began when we started assembling the documentation.

A year ago I switched from being an employee to being a contractor, but allowed the checks to pass through my UK personal accounts on the way to the Dutch company accounts.  Unfortunately, this transient presence meant that I could be considered UK self-employed, possibly unregistered, perhaps untaxed.   It can apparently be set right, but will take time, money, accountant’s testimony, and endless paperwork.   I have, I all cases, reported my income, kept meticulous records, paid taxes, and followed my accountant’s advice. This wrinkle never came up in any conversations (the concern was more whether I respected the IR-35 line, which assures that UK workers don’t evade taxes by setting up foreign consultancies).

However, it reinforces the Ghostbuster Prime Directive: Don’t cross the streams.  Or, in this case, never ever allow business funds to unintentionally co-mingle with personal accounts.


SchrodingersCatThe whole day went similarly: Every opportunity or issue that I looked at went bad.  It feels like a trend: Days  that begin badly seldom improve.  

Friends have talked about the phenomenon of one bad thing following another as being a case of bad karma, synchronized biorhythm dips, and alignment of body atoms into configurations that attract poo.

I think the explanation is more quantal.

Schrodinger’s Cat is a famous physics construct where a box holds a cat that could be alive or dead,  depending on the outcome of a probabilistic event.  The act of looking condenses the uncertainty into a fixed (and final) state..

If events remain similarly unresolved until I look at them, and the act of observing is revealing one bad consequence after another, then I suspect it’s only prudent to stop looking.  Maybe there’s a quantal bias that has to clear (luck?); maybe my attitude is influencing the outcome (dread?).  204296_700b

Maybe it’s nothing.

But maybe there’s a point where it’s best to stop killing cats and simply go to bed.

You laugh, but when I got up this morning, Obama had been re-elected.  ‘

Imagine the consequences if I had looked last night?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

An interlude

CatanThis maxim takes first place among all causes of success: Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.

-- Clausewitz, Principles

  • Find reality and face it squarely.
  • Stay on offense; never be completely passive.
  • Inventory what’s known, what’s still good and the assets available.
  • Set small achievable milestones.
  • Keep your friends close and your debts paid.
  • Arrange events to your advantage.
  • Take new ground where the old can’t be defended.
  • As circumstances are favorable, modify your plans.
  • Give everyone a stake in success, both tasks and rewards.
  • Avoid mistakes; challenge assumptions.
  • Focus resources onto the top priorities; eliminate the unnecessary extravagance.
  • Be clear, delegate, then depart; don’t overbear.
  • Stay inwardly, outwardly confident.
  • Decide the criteria for success in advance, and know when to quit.
  • And, in times of economic uncertainty, never ever fuck with another man's livelihood.

Seafarers Of CatanPractice the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, integrity, and strictness. Not least on yourself. 

-- after Sun Tsu, Art of War