Archive for February 2011

Fabric Art #0032

Title: Untitled
Size: ACEO/ATC, 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"

Notes: Made with tiny scraps of fabric, thread

Graffiti He'Art' 0693

Name: Lone Figure at Sunset
Size: ACEO/ATC 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"

Notes: Made with real graffiti (see sidebar)

More Notes: To see and encourage amazing and wonderful artists from around the world, visit Beth at "Beth's Artworx", and share YOUR art on FAT Tuesday!

NELTA 16th Annual Conference

I'm at the Nepali English Language Teachers Association Conference in Kathmandu and Pokhara from February 17-24. I will be giving a 50-minute talk entitled "The Classroom Dynamic in Texas and Lalitpur" at 11:50 on February 23rd in Pokhara. If you are in town and want to hear somebody rant about the Texas educational system and teaching realia from signposts and music, come check it out! All of the other ETAs in Nepal and in several other countries will be giving talks as well.

Here's the NELTA website and conference information.

NELTA provides training and support and placed us in our schools. At the same time as the NELTA conference there is an international conference of Fulbright English Teaching Assistants from the region, which this year will be held in Kathmandu and Pokhara so as to coincide with the NELTA conference.

The Fulbright researchers, by the way, have their own international conference, which this year will be held in Goa and will coincide with Carnivale. Not that I'm bitter... Actually, I'm really looking forward to meeting the ETAs from other countries to see how our experiences differ. And they are setting us all up at a posh resort in Godavari, so there's no complaining from over here. I'll let you know how it all goes!

Train Paint in February

The land finally thawed a tad, so I went looking for train paint.  Location is Lawrence KS.

ReUse and Resist!

ReUse and Resist!, originally uploaded by ! INSPIRE ONE !.

INSPIRE Collective's 4th annual ReUse Project: ReUse & Resist is coming soon to Tel Aviv! Visit for more info!

Tax Breaks for People with Disabilities Are Often Overlooked

Greetings.  As you know most accountants are very busy this time of year.  I haven't been able to write as much as I'd like, but I ran across the following tax information that I wanted to share.  The authors at did a good job of summarizing tax breaks for disabled individuals so there's no point in me rewriting their article.   I have no affiliation with Allsup but I do like their article reprinted below.

Best regards,

Andrew Jordan, CPA

Belleville, Ill. – February 17, 2011 – Many of the millions of people with disabilities may be paying more in taxes than necessary, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) representation and Medicare plan selection services.  

“People with disabilities often aren’t aware of tax credits and deductions that could help them save money,” said Paul Gada, a tax attorney and personal financial planning director for the Allsup Disability Life Planning Center. “In fact, certain credits are refundable, meaning you can get money back even if you owe no taxes.”

Below, Allsup highlights important steps that can help people with disabilities minimize their taxes. More information is provided in Allsup’s free online guide, Managing Your Taxes, on

Three Essential Tax Management Steps

1.    Know how SSDI and other benefits are taxed.
  • Monthly SSDI benefits. Up to 50 percent of SSDI benefits are taxable each year. The amount is determined by adding one-half of your SSDI benefits to all of your other income sources. For 2010, taxes are owed on any amount above $32,000 for couples filing jointly and $25,000 for individuals. “The average monthly SSDI benefit for 2010 was $1,064, or $12,768 for the year. As a result, many people relying on SSDI will not owe taxes,” Gada said. “However, they still should consider filing a tax return if credits could mean a refund.”
  • Lump-sum SSDI benefits. Because it can take years to receive disability benefits, most people initially receive a lump-sum amount, which includes back payments. Paying taxes on this amount in one year is a mistake and could be financially costly, pushing you into a higher tax bracket. The IRS allows taxes on this lump-sum payment to be spread over previous tax years using the current-year tax return. This means recipients do not have to go through the time or expense of filing amended returns. However, the calculations are complex, and Gada advises seeking tax assistance. Allsup provides a list of free tax help resources for people with disabilities on its website.
  • Other benefit sources. People with disabilities may rely on additional benefits for income. Generally, workers’ compensation benefits and compensatory damages for injuries aren’t taxed. Additionally, long-term disability (LTD) insurance benefits are not included in taxable income if you paid the premiums with after-tax dollars. However, they are taxable and must be included in your income if you paid LTD premiums with pre-tax dollars as part of a cafeteria plan, for example, or your employer paid your premiums.
2.  Claim tax credits for which you are eligible.
Tax credits offer one of the most effective ways to lower taxes because they provide a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction or refund. Some important tax credits people with disabilities are commonly eligible for include:
  • Earned income tax credit (up to $5,666).The EITC is a refundable credit, meaning that when it is applied—any amount higher than a person’s tax bill can result in a tax refund. To be eligible, you or your spouse had to be employed for part of 2010, earned below $13,460 to $48,362 (depending upon filing status and the number of children claimed) and had investment income of no more than $3,100.
“Many people with disabilities who don’t file a tax return because their income is so low could be losing out on thousands of dollars from the EITC,” said Gada.
  • Credit for the disabled (up to $7,500). You are eligible for this credit if you receive taxable disability income from a former employer’s accident, health or pension plan and meet income requirements. Your 2010 adjusted gross income must be under $17,500 for single filers, under $20,000 for joint filers with one spouse eligible for the credit or under $25,000 for joint filers with both spouses eligible.
  • Dependent care credit. If you pay someone to care for a dependent or spouse with physical or mental impairments, you may be able to take a credit of up to 35 percent of day care costs while you are working or looking for work.
3.  Use deductions to reduce taxes.
  • Increased standard tax deduction. A higher standard tax deduction may be available to you if you are blind or visually impaired.
  • Medical deductions. If you itemize, you can deduct medical costs if they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductible expenses include medical and dental costs, travel expenses for treatment, long-term care insurance, medical insurance premiums and costs for certain equipment for those with visual, hearing and physical disabilities. If you, your spouse or your child has a chronic illness, costs for attending conferences related to that illness also may be deducted as a medical expense.
  • Deduct the costs of seeking SSDI benefits. If you hired a representative such as Allsup to help you get your SSDI benefits and you itemize, you can deduct the fee that you paid your representative when figuring out the taxability of a lump-sum SSDI payment you received.
For more information on Social Security disability benefits, please contact the Allsup Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 279-4357.

Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs more than 700 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit

The information provided is not intended as a substitute for legal or other professional services. Legal or other expert assistance should be sought before making any decision that may affect your situation.

Ghosts and Tigers and Yogis

A friend of mine once referred to the "magical realism" of living in Nepal. I like that phrase - my perspective on reality often seems a bit fuzzier here, less solid. A lot of that comes from living in a culture with different habits and religious beliefs than mine, I guess, and using a language that I do not completely understand. But the events of the villages seem to travel more through rumor and hearsay; they seem to be more malleable, and occasionally rely on supernatural explanations.

For example, when I started throwing up and couldn't drink or eat anything for about 18 hours, I was propped up on the back of a motorcycle and sent to the village health post to be treated for food poisoning. When the same thing happened to the Headmaster's son, they sent for the village jhankri, the witch doctor. When I asked him how he was that day he said first, "malaai bhut laagyo" ('I feel a ghost' - certain ailments are traditionally said to come from spirit molestation) and then 'malaai ringaTaa laagyo" ('I feel nauseous'). The witch doctor breathed on him, extracting the ghost. I wasn't there at the time. My brother said that this works sometimes, the medicine works other times. I've told them that the next time I get food poisoning they should get a jhankri instead of sending me to the health post again, which was super-cold because the doors didn't close and they used these Indian-made needles that were of a size and thickness that I feel should be reserved for horses.

Another example: there may or may not be a tiger in my village that is eating people right now. When I first came to this village I asked if there were any leopards in the woods (because of my experience with the leopard my first time in Nepal, which I mention here), and they laughed and told me no. Then last month I was told not to go out at night because the leopard had come back and you could hear its cries at night (this is not fun because of how far away the outhouse is from the front door). Later I was told that now there is also a tiger. I didn't think that there were tigers around here, and people often use the Nepali word for 'tiger' to mean 'any large, unreasonably irritable jungle cat,' but this person used both the word for 'tiger' and the word for 'leopard' in the same sentence, as if they were two jungle pals on a tour of the villages. Anyway, one of them apparently ate a kid. Or an adult. Or attacked two kids. Also, this either happened in Chapagaon, Lele, or Neupani. The story seems to differ quite a bit depending upon whom I ask, but everybody seems to agree that someone died and that a tiger was involved. I can't find this in the news anywhere, but I'm sure that it has been carried by local newspapers. And of course my knowledge of the attack is hindered by my imperfect knowledge of written and spoken Nepali.

At least this is not a tiger ghost. In 2008 I heard rumors of tiger attacks in a friend's village that were attributed to a tiger ghost that could turn to smoke and evade the police and the army. The story was that a sorcerer in the town died, but he had told his wife on his deathbed that he could come back to life if the wife offered rice to his spirit. However, when his spirit came in the form of a tiger, she fled in terror and the sorcerer was trapped in the tiger body. In a rage he began attacking the villagers, one time eating eleven of them in a single attack. Intrigued by this story, I asked what proof people had that the dead sorcerer was the tiger. They told me that despite his knowledge of magic, he was a modern man, hardly ever seen without his wristwatch and his cellphone. When that tiger killed the eleven men, the twelfth man climbed a tree and hid there, and he saw a wristwatch on the tiger's paw and a cellphone tangled in the fur by its neck. That was how they knew. I wonder how many permutations this story has, and what the family of the sorcerer think about it.

One more story. I just finished Fatalism and Development, which was written in 1991 by the famous Nepali sociologist Dor Bahadur Bista. I read chapters of it in an anthropology class back in California. He lived not far away in Lubu and I'm told that his son has visited our house. The book is basically a sociological critique of the Nepali version of the caste system and how it impedes economic development. In very strong language, Bista claims that the caste system and the values of the upper-caste Brahmin-Chhettris, which are not native to Nepal but imported from India, create a culture of sycophancy and superstition and fatalism that impedes development. The book, as you might guess, was pretty controversial in Nepal. True or not, it was interesting for me to read because it offered explanations for some of the most vexing cultural discontinuities I've experienced - e.g. the flexibility of time and the lack of planning and scheduling in the schools, the implied importance of personal connections over competence in government and work, the duties I feel placed upon me as part of my adopted "family," the constant vilification I hear of Nepal and idolization of the United States, etc. Anyway, in 1995 Bista was doing work in a remote region of Nepal when he disappeared and was never heard from again. It was assumed that he was murdered by high caste villagers who disagreed with his egalitarian motives. But in 2000 the Nepali Times ran an article entitled Dor Bahadur Alive, which claimed evidence that he had simply moved to India without telling anyone and become a religious ascetic. I guess that makes sense; kings have done this in the past. But how strange it seems in this day and age that people don't know. His family wants to see him but doesn't want to bother the police about it. In some ways it seems like a nice way to go, with people not knowing if you are dead in the ground somewhere or way off in another country living a life of renunciation and meditative calm. The history of people and their lives seems fluid - like the Royal Massacre, in which the generally accepted story is that the Crown Prince killed his family and yet many people refuse to believe that it was not a secret Maoist coup, the Shakespearean machinations of the king's younger brother Gyanendra, or the CIA...

Anyway, you can accuse me of dwelling on the exotic and fantastic, but of course these are the things that both make me doubt my rational understanding of the world and make me want to write back home with interesting stories. Also, speaking of magical realism, I just recently discovered this: if you take any author of magical realism and combine together the titles of their two most popular books, you get the name of what sounds like a really terrible death metal band! So with Salman Rushdie you get "The Satanic Children," and with Gábriel García Marquez you get "100 Years of Cholera." 

I Heart Fifty!!!

Title: Fifty
Size: ACEO/ATC - 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"

Notes: Made with corrugated cardboard, lace, measuring tape

More Notes: In honor of turning the big 5-0 this year, I have been making a series of "Fifty" ACEO's. I figure if I made one per week ... by the end of the year, I will have fifty Fifty's!

Final Note: For those of you who are still waiting to see my finished "Random Quilt", I am still waiting for a sunny day to take a picture! I tried on a cloudy day, but the colors just didn't work. I haven't forgotten!

To see hearts of all kinds from around the world, visit "Random Hearts" - and share YOUR heart on Guest Heart Thursday!

DEDE Confidential - "Gone Tramping"

gone tramping, originally uploaded by dede.confidential.

Evan Sings the Blues

Back at Nahima Agricultural Resource Center, Kent and I were often impressed by Evan's mad ukulele skillz. As I mentioned, Evan knows many Nepali folk songs and would often entertain people along our way with his ukulele renditions. Anyway, I recorded a video of some of his songs because I wanted to learn how to sing them, and I just recently figured out all the lyrics, so I decided to put up a Youtube video with subtitles.

Here's the link: Evan Sings Nepali Songs in Nahima

At one point, all three of us were conscripted into playing music for a women's sewing class.

LEGACY in Tel Aviv

LEGACY Street Art in Tel Aviv-Yafo...

Moving Forward

In English we tend to conceptualize time as flowing from the left to the right, because we read from left to right. All of our calenders place Tuesday to the right of Monday. In Hebrew people read right to left, and I read that time is conceptualized as moving from right to left also.

We also see time as flowing back to front: the past is behind us and the future is in front of us. I think most of us sense this intuitively, but it is also evident in English expressions like "I've got a busy day ahead of me," "We've put this behind us," "I'm looking forward to meeting you," etc. Spatial prepositions like 'behind,' and 'backward' can refer temporally to the past and prepositions like 'ahead' and 'forward' can refer to the future.

So I was excited when I realized that Nepalis speak differently:

Ma      dui      barsha      agodi      pugé.
I         two       years       forward  arrived
I arrived two years ago.

Ma      ek      barsha      pachhodi      jaanchhu.
I         one      year          backward       go
I will go after one year.

Agodi means 'forward', or 'in front of,' but in this expression the word refers to the past. Pachhodi means 'backward' or 'behind,' but refers to the future. So do Nepalis conceptualize the past in front of them and the future behind them? I asked a few teachers, and all but one said that they thought of the future in front of them and the past behind him, like English speakers.

After all, doesn't it make more sense to conceptualize the future as spatially located in front of you? People tend to walk forward, after all, and the things that you encounter in the future will be in front of you (assuming they're not sneaking up behind you).

On the other hand, one of the teachers argued, the past is visible, unlike the future. We remember the past and we experience the present, but the future is unknown to us. So we are sort of like men and women walking backwards, unable to see the future that lies in wait behind us, but with a clear view (through our memories) of the past that lies in front of us. Poetic, eh?

Anyway, I thought about it a bit and I came up with some English counterexamples:

Is this a dagger which I see before me?

Pride cometh before the fall.

Pretty nice sentences, right? I came up with those myself. Anyway, 'before' is a spatial preposition that means 'in front of.' Yet temporally 'before' refers to an action that occurs in the past, relative to another action. In fact, many Nepalis I have met habitually translate 'agodi' to 'before' and 'pachhodi' to 'after.' Thus they would mistakenly translate the sentence above to 'I arrived before two years.' I wonder if 'agodi' and 'ago' are related to each other, since Nepali and English are both Indo-European languages.

So now I'm just confused. This spatial use of before sounds slightly archaic, but it is obviously related to forward and fore (and you can see the family resemblance in German vor and bevor, the former used spatially to mean 'in front of' and temporally to mean 'ago,' just like in Nepali, and the latter with roughly the same meaning as before). Why would before refer to the past and not the future? Maybe because it refers to a sequence:

                                                   Boing!                                           Shazam!

The boing came before the shazam. Because we write things left to right, we can say that the boing is in front of the shazam. So maybe before doesn't refer to a distinction between forward and back, but a distinction between left and right. Maybe Nepali, which is also written left to right, is referring to left/right distinctions when it uses constructions like I came to Nepal forward two years. 

Random Quilt ... Sneak Peak

Name: "Random Quilt'
Size: 8' x 8-1/2'

Notes: Just a sneak peak of the FINALLY finished "Random Quilt" (my name for a 'crazy quilt'). It took longer than I anticipated, but the finished product is worth it!

This is just one corner ... a picture of the entire finished quilt will be posted as soon as I can get a decent picture.

More Notes: I made each block separately, then sewed the blocks together. I then sewed them onto a thin quilt I got at the Goodwill Surplus Store - tattered and torn. Cheating? Maybe - but I kind of like the idea of saving $$ as well as recycling something that was precious to someone else at one point. If I hadn't bought this quilt for backing, it would have been incinerated.

Prem Baad II

[I posted about Prem Baad before here]

I saw this writing on a wall in the tiny riverside town of Jayaram in Khotang:

Antim lakshya sabko swarg jaanu e
Yasartha nai swargik maarg ughaariyo re!

                                        - Suprim Mastar Gadenjel

"To enter heaven is every person's final aim
And thus is the opening of the heavenly path proclaim"

                                       - Supreme Master Godangel

Prem Baad graffiti is everywhere in Nepal, and I have yet to find somehow willing to explain to me what's going on there. I have the vague notion that it is a religious movement, but beyond that people just tell me that they don't know very much about it.

I thought maybe translating this little poem would yield some insights. My translation is approximate 'cause I wanted to be all clever and make it rhyme like it does in Nepali. The attribution is written entirely in English: Supreme Master Godangel. Actually I didn't recognize the Devanagari characters for Gadenjal as English words, but when I typed that into Google just now I came across the Heavenly Path Wiki:

"Heavenly Path has been founded to promote and spread the thoughts, spiritual philosophy and teachings of Supreme Master Godangel.

Brilliant and heavenly music enveloped the hutment inhabited by a humble family of a remote village Maina Maini, District Udaipur in eastern Nepal on a fateful day in 1982 where the Supreme Master Godangel, destined to be a messenger of the Almighty was born. Since early childhood he displayed supernatural powers in predicting future events and exhibited grave concern for the future of mankind which he feels is nearing total annihilation owing to mindless exhaustion of life giving natural resources, meaningless wars and all pervasive fanaticism. He believes the ultimate truth, spiritual awareness and attainment of heaven are the underlying, universal commonalities at the roof of various religions. Mankind today need to analysis and understand these elements in the contemporary context. Planet Earth is going through a challenging phase in human history and a holistic approach is required to meet the challenge."

There's also a Heavenly Path website with a page specifically about the philosophy of Prem Baad (only in Nepali, sadly). So basically I have the impression of a uniquely Nepali version of "The Secret" with a massive following and a wildly successful guerrilla marketing campaign.

Nepal Has A Prime Minister!

After only 16 elections, Nepal has a Prime Minister!

My favorite quote, from Prachanda:  "People have started slapping leaders, and I now fear that people will throw shoes at us if we again fail to elect a new prime minister."

6 Self-Employment Tax Savings Ideas for Small Business

There have been a lot of temporary and proposed tax changes targeted toward small business.  Of all these changes and proposals the Self Employment (SE) tax changes are some of the more helpful.  Here's some background and ideas to help you reduce your SE tax.

Of all the taxes the dreaded SE tax is the tax that small business owners struggle with the most.  It is a 15.3% tax on the net profits of a small business that operates as a sole proprietorship or single-member LLC.  You may know it better as the Social Security and Medicare payroll tax that employers and non-owner employees split the cost of. 

Recently there were a few temporary rule changes to reduce the SE tax for small business.  There are other ways to minimize it as well.  First for the temporary rule changes:

1.  For 2010 only, self-employed persons are able to deduct their health insurance premiums as  a business expense that reduces their self-employment tax.  There is an existing adjustment to self-employed individuals taxable income for health insurance premiums.  In 2010 an additional deduction from SE taxable income is also available.

2.  Starting in 2011 a partial payroll tax holiday is in effect for those who pay self employment tax.  The employee share of the Social Security Tax has been reduced from 6.2% to 4.2% in 2011.  Keeping in line with this change the full SE Tax has also been reduced 2% from 15.3% to 13.3%.

Other tax moves to reduce the SE Tax (and income tax!):

3.  For sole proprietorship or single member LLC who have a spouse who help in the business hire the spouse and set up a Section 105 Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan.  The Section 105 plan covers uninsured medical costs for the employee-spouse, their spouse and dependent children.  The reimbursements of uninsured medical cost and health insurance premiums are deductions to the company for income and self-employment tax purposes which makes it better than say a Health Savings Account deduction which is only good for an income tax deduction.

4.  Make sure you are claiming every business expense deduction that you are entitled to.  Every dollar spent for business supplies, phone, auto, etc. will save on SE and income tax.  Spend some time with your accountant reviewing all allowable business deductions available for your business.

5.  If your sole proprietorship or single member LLC is generating a lot of income consider converting from a sole proprietorship or single member LLC to S Corporation status.  As an S Corp one can take a reasonable salary which is subject to "SE"  (Social Security and Medicare) Tax and distribute the rest of the company income as dividends free of "SE" tax.

6.  Make a qualified home equity debt interest election to treat interest expense incurred on home equity loans used entirely to finance your business as not secured by your qualified residence.  By making this election one moves the interest expense on their tax return from an itemized deduction on Schedule A to a business expense on say Schedule C.  The advantage of this is that one not only receives a deduction from taxable income but also a deduction for SE Tax purposes.

Contact me should you have any questions regarding this posting or other tax benefits of operating your own business.  Thanks for your time.
Andrew Jordan, CPA

The information provided is not intended as a substitute for legal or other professional services. Legal or other expert assistance should be sought before making any decision that may affect your situation.

High Class Cuisine

Before Khotang, back when I was hanging out in Kathmandu during the break, some of the Fulbrighters and I got dressed up one evening and went out to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Does your Pizza Hut have a doorman?

KFC is on Durbar Marg, the prestigious main road right in front of the Narayanhiti Palace. It has been open for a few years, and we have heard stories about how when it first opened there would be lines around the block, people dressed up in their best for a uniquely new dining experience. The restaurant is such a hit that the street vendors who sell fried chicken from carts in the city will refer to their creations as 'KFC.'

The food is pretty much the same, although the sides you get for most combos are a bit different: there are no mashed potatoes or biscuits, but you can get rice or corn or another piece of fried chicken as a side. After eating a small meal, we stepped right next door to Pizza Hut and ate another one. They serve beer and wine and cocktails, but other than that it is pretty much the same. A bit more of a pizzeria feel than a fast food joint, no buffet.

The inroads that the giant American food brands have made into Kathmandu are haphazard. Even in the most remote mountain villages you can find corner shops that sell Coke, Sprite, and Pepsi. In Kathmandu many of the storefront signs are blue and have the Pepsi logo on them. Pepsi must have a deal where they provide the signs for store owners.

That guy drinking a Pepsi has to be one of the most famous people in Nepal.

Baskin-Robbins has a shop on Uttar Dhoka that seems to cater mainly to tourists. McDonald's came to Kathmandu came to Kathmandu at the turn of the millenium and closed shop after about a year or so. I'm happy to see that at least.