Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Letters from Europe – Getting Vaccinated

Filed under: Travel — Rick at 6:32 am on Sunday, February 28, 2021

Listening to news from the US, I hear many stories of people struggling to get an appointment to receive the COVID vaccine. They speak of spending hours on websites or on the phone trying to determine if they are eligible, where the shots are being given, and if appointments are available. This seems to produce a lot of stress in some citizens.

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Letters from Europe – Paying Taxes

Filed under: Travel — Rick at 3:15 am on Monday, January 25, 2021

Everybody pays taxes. It is one of the two sure things in life. In general, Europeans pay higher rates than Americans but complain less. Why is that?

One reason is that they get more back from the government. Europeans get healthcare, unemployment, schools, good roads, and some get child care and college tuition. Social safety nets are in general more generous.

But another reason is that paying taxes is less annoying in Europe than in the US. For example, lets look at sales tax. Goods and services tend to be taxed at a much higher rate in Europe. VAT, the European version of sales tax is usually around 23%. However, if you are not paying attention, you might not even notice it. When you go into a store here, you see prices on the merchandise as you do in the US. But when you pay for those items at the cash register, you pay exactly the price they were marked. It is not until you read the register receipt, if you bother, that you see how much of those prices were the included tax. You never get surprised by needing to pay more than you were expecting.

My pet peeve is income tax. Now that I am retired and living overseas, my federal tax return is down to 12 pages and I have no state return. It only takes a few hours to collect the information (once I receive it) and fill out the forms. Of course, I still make the occasional mistake which the IRS reliably finds and tells me about. When I was working and living in California, it would take days to figure it all out.

I asked a self-employed friend here in Portugal to show me his tax return. He brought it up on his computer for me. It was 23 pages. I asked how long it took to file and he responded “about 10 minutes”. In Portugal, when you get your tax forms, they are already filled out. All you need to do is look them over and, in most cases, approve them.

We all hate long check-out lines. I believe any well run business will make paying as painless as possible. Regardless of how much tax you pay, paying should not require hiring professional services.

My travel photos are at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rick-pic/

Letters from Europe – College Tuition

Filed under: Politics,Travel,Uncategorized — Rick at 9:25 am on Wednesday, October 28, 2020

When I started college at Southern Illinois University, in 1968, tuition, fees and book rentals came to $89 per quarter or $267 per year for a full-time student. Today, the same state university charges $331.25 per semester hour or $10,600 per year 40 times more expensive. Why?

Here in Portugal, tuition at a state school costs about $1200 per year. There is talk of reducing or possibly eliminating tuition. Several European countries, such as Germany, have zero tuition, even for foreign students. A few even provide stipends to students to help cover living expenses.

The difference appears to be that European countries consider developing an educated citizenry part of the infrastructure like roads and bridges. Of course, they pay higher taxes but I hear few complaints about that. The US does not want to fund education or infrastructure presumably because Americans are rugged individualists (at lest the poor ones) who do not want the government to be meddling in their lives.

My travel photos are at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rick-pic/

Letters from Europe – Health Care

Filed under: Travel — Rick at 9:04 am on Sunday, September 13, 2020

When talking about the US, the first question I get from most Europeans is: “Why don’t Americans want health care?” Every country in the European Union has a national health care system that covers all citizens. Reciprocal agreements are in place that allow any EU citizen to be treated in any EU country.

The implementation of these systems vary widely from country to country but they all offer free, universal care. Free means there is little or no cost for service, the system is funded through some sort of tax. In all the countries I have visited, no one I met was satisfied with their health care system but, no one would consider giving it up and going to a market based system either. My first exposure to national health care was in 1972 in Afghanistan. There I met an American woman who needed a smallpox vaccination. She went to a doctor in Herat for the treatment. Afterwards, when she asked the charge, she was told health care is free in Afghanistan. This was before the Soviet invasion.

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Movies Worth Seeing…by Robert M. Katzman (Secret Movie Maven!)

by Robert M. Katzman (Secret Movie Maven)©️ Memorial Day, May 2019

I have been obsessed with the fantasy world of movies since I was a child who couldn’t escape a dangerous home. An alternative cinematic Universe seemed a safe harbor, if only for a brief time.

Sports were never an alternative. Hit a ball, catch a ball, get crushed while holding a ball, avoid being hit by a speeding ball–what is it with balls and aggression? 

Oh, wait. Not a good question.

While a lot of people revered Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig, I was a long time admirer of Roger Ebert, and even got to know him for a long while. He was the only person in my one year on Amazon who bought my first book.

I’ve made a list of a number of movies, various genres, but all involving human interaction of movies worth seeing more than once or twice. I won’t list the casts or directors because younger people won’t recognize the names, but also because an existing group of famed movie stars appearing together in a film can amount to nothing without a great script and director.

There are a number of Westerns, but they tend to tell detailed moments of intense relationships in isolated areas of America where mutual dependence is essential. The fact they are “Westerns” is not essential to the overall story.

There are qualities of friendship, empathy, grit, courage and determination that sew these varied films into a celluloid quilt, but a person’s perception of pleasure is partly base on what rescued them from pain, I believe. Emotion doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

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Oslo, Norway, Yom Kippur and the Man of Mystery…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Bewilderment,Friendship & Compassion,Humor,Israel,Jewish Themes,My Own Personal Hell,Travel — Bob at 4:30 pm on Monday, May 6, 2019

Every so often, life throws me a curve. Sometimes so often, it feels like I’ve actually lived my life in orbit, and not on the land. This is a true story set in 1992, when on a trip to Frankfort, Germany to attend the world’s largest book fair, when I owned a world-travel foreign-language bookstore named Grand Tour, my wife Joyce and I decided to take a train north to Norway, from where some of her ancestors came a century before.

By chance, that year Judaism’s lunar calendar placed Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish world, the Day of Atonement, would also be in Norway the same time we were there. Our hopes of finding a Synagogue to observe that day, were dim. However, God must have a sense of humor, because this is what happened to us on the special day.

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