Sunday, December 15, 2013

faint but pursuing

Somewhat demoralized.  I put in an application for the winter session of Hacker School - this is a program in New York in which participants spend three months coding - and had my second interview yesterday and then heard I had not got in. 

I can't say that this comes as a great surprise - the last time I did any serious work coding was back at the end of April, and as so often this was only one of a whole slew of things I was grappling with for my book. Then I went back to Vermont because the book was not finished, and on May 2 my very dear friend up the road turned up on my porch in the middle of the night and the whole long legal saga began. So I have not been building on whatever progress I had made up to the end of April - not just with coding, of course, but also with my book. But it is still rather disheartening. But onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Like. Follow.

Long-time readers of PP will know that I went to Vermont in October 2012 with the plan of being offline for two months or so and finishing a book.

Things went badly wrong. The isolation which made the cottage good for writing - it is on a private road in 11 acres of woods with only one house nearby - made it vulnerable.  The owner of the house up the road had let a local handyman live rent-free in return for work on the place. X had offered to do some odd jobs for me the previous year, just before publication of Lightning Rods; I knew he had a way of outstaying his welcome, so tried to avoid him on my return.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

plots of binomial distribution in basic R and ggplot2

Basic R: dbinom, p = 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, 1 to 8 trials

ggplot2: dbinom, p = 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, 1 to 8 trials

Basic R: dbinom p = .5, 10 to 100 trials

ggplot2: dbinom p = .5 10 to 100 trials

Monday, March 18, 2013

That time of year

I need an accountant who is up to speed on writers'/artists' tax affairs, and in particular one who understands the intricacies of residence and/or obligation to file in more than one country.

I have been what I believe is called "domiciled" in Germany for several years but most of my income arises in the US; I am also a UK citizen which turns out to mean the Inland Revenue likes to be sent a tax return. I came over to the US last October and will probably be here through the end of May, having spent 4 months in Vermont, 1 in New Hampshire, 2 in Texas and 1 in a state yet to be determined.  I might spend the summer in the States (state to be determined) or I might return to Europe; I might go back to Germany or might go to the UK.

The agents representing Lightning Rods overseas say its foreign publishers must deduct 30% taxes at source unless I provide a certificate of tax residence in some other country.  I have been filing my primary tax return in the US all this time, but the forms relating to the relevant certificate don't seem to fit my situation.  It would help to talk to an accountant who understands these things.

I've asked for recommendations from various writers and artists I know; some say they are too poor to afford an accountant, so prepare their own tax returns; others have an accountant who is not really especially au fait with writers' affairs, or not especially au fait with expats.  It seems just possible that one of the readers of pp might know someone who could help; if you do, I'd love to know.

I have filed form 4868 for a 6-month extension, so the US return does not need to be turned around by April 17; it's more a question of getting things straightened out for the longer term and of providing correct documentation to foreign publishers. Again, if anyone has any good suggestions it would be enormously helpful if you could let me know.

Friday, March 15, 2013

scire, tacere

Tariq Ali has a post on Kashmir on the LRB blog; he links to a piece on the Caravan by Sanjay Kak. Dumbstruck.

IF THERE IS AN AXIS ALONG WHICH JUSTICE can be slowly approximated, then the apparatus of impunity seems designed to grievously wound those who try and make their way on it. Across the array of 214 cases in Alleged Perpetrators, you can read a consistent pattern in the cuts deployed by the machinery of the State: Delay. Distract. Divert. And if that doesn’t work: Subvert, Suborn, Seduce, and Bribe.

This usually begins with the ‘ex-gratia’ government relief, payable for “death or disability as a result of violence attributable to the breach of law and order or any other form of civic commotion”. That’s far too genteel a description for the instances in this report, many of which read like straightforward executions. But the ex-gratia is at least doled out quickly, a secular version of blood money, usually around Rs. 100,000, drawing distraught families into a relationship with the state, which they may be loathe to do otherwise. The more elusive promise comes from the enigmatically titled “SRO-43”, the Statutory Rules and Orders that govern “compassionate employment of family members of victims of militant related action or other specified reasons”. Here, the possibility of a government job is held out as a palliative, a means of tempering the anger of the victim’s families over a longer time span. You may never get that promised job, but waiting for it, and negotiating for it, will certainly put a knot in your tongue.

The futility of such compassion, and the deep cynicism underlying it, is of course obvious to everybody it touches, because the entire mechanism is otherwise constructed around incentives that encourage the killing of ‘militants’. Everything else we now recognise as the back teeth of the machine necessarily rolls along in the wake of that juggernaut of killing: extortion, fake encounters, reward money.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Laugh and the world laughs with you...

Things have been bad for reasons I won't go into. I am now at the MacDowell Colony (every cloud has a silver lining). Very sporadic internet access, good. But today I am doing laundry.

I go online and search for "Michael Lewis" to see what he's up to - and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a review of John Lanchester's Capital by Michael Lewis!  At the NYRB!

I have not yet got to the meat of the review; I have only just come to Lewis's account of Britain in the early 80s:

And the most extraordinary anticommercial attitudes could be found, in places that existed for no purpose other than commerce. There was a small grocery store around the corner from my flat, which carried a rare enjoyable British foodstuff, McVities’ biscuits. One morning the biscuits were gone. “Oh, we used to sell those,” said the very sweet woman who ran the place, “but we kept running out, so we don’t bother anymore.”

This is lovely.  Yes, this is recognizably Britain (O Britain, Britain, Britain).  But if there is one thing lovelier than sheer unadulterated British wrongheaded woollymindedness, it is seeing this through the eye of the young Michael Lewis.  The genius of Lewis is to enable the reader to appreciate the ingenuity of persons capable of spotting a market inefficiency and exploiting it - Bill Walsh developing the passing game in football, Billy Beane using statistics to get the most out of the cashstrapped Oakland A's. And with this genius comes incredulous outrage: incredulity, outrage, at those who have institutionalized sheer lumpen stupidity. (O Michael Lewis, Michael Lewis.)  Here we find the young Lewis, long before he has made a career out of incredulous outrage, confronted with the dear dim cluelenessness of the typical British corner shop.  And showing a keen eye for one of the pleasures of foggy island life: McVitie's Digestives! Heaven.

(The review can only go downhill after this, but those unable to resist diminishing returns can find the rest here.)