...Continued from page 1

It's mind-boggling. To build a trans-Atlantic liner; to compete not with the 707's that killed the others, but with the coming super-jumbos.

The launch date for the Queen Mary II will be sometime in 2003. I think third class will cost a bit more than it did, so I'm starting to save up for it now.

Tax Break

Following centuries-old tradition, the French finance ministry has temporarily shelved its 'reform' intentions in the hope of getting tax inspectors and tax collectors back to work.

This situation with a 'reform' is routine practice in France. France has a very important institute of higher studies called the 'ENA' which turns out administrators and bureaucrats, supposedly with diplomas asserting that the graduates know how to 'run the country.'

After worming their way up the ladders, the ENA's graduates end up as government ministers. When they reach this stage they assert themselves in turn by 'reforming' whatever ministry they are charged with managing.

A 'reform' invariably begins with a decree. In this case, the finance ministry decreed that tax inspection and tax collection services be merged into single units. The result would have seen the closure of hundreds of tiny tax offices throughout France.

The people employed in these places have been protesting - mainly by not working. Wednesday, 15. March is the deadline for 1999 tax declarations. By not working, hapless taxpayers have been without the usual aid furnished by the tax inspectors.

Also, income taxes are usually paid in 'thirds.' The first two 'thirds' are based on the final result of - in this example - 1998 taxable income, and the final 'third' is rounded off, based on 1999 taxable income.

The first two 'thirds' are due in the first half of the year and the final 'third' is due in the fall, after the computers have figured out what is owed.

While tax inspectors are making it impossible to do 1999 tax declarations correctly, tax collectors have not been accepting the first 'third' payments.

After an 'action' day - of inaction - on Thursday, the finance ministry management met with the unionsphoto: arch over impasse of the tax employees, and annulled their 'reform.' Because everything is in a total shambles, the deadline for 1999 tax declarations was pushed back to Friday, 31. March.

TV-news brought out one interesting sidelight about the activities of the tax employees. Apparently many of them are vastly over-educated for the routine work they usually do.

Those working in smaller local offices, often have time to spare to aid local mayors with expert advice for their community finance problems. It is not part of their job, but it is what they do. Closing these 'under-used' offices, would deprive many local authorities of the only expert advice available.

The 'reforms' will certainly be back in one form or another. Sooner or later.

French Web Life

Salsa Is Hot Hot Hot

In this week's feature entitled 'Music, Rum, Music, Sun, Fun and More Rum,' Linda Thalman writes about starting dancing in Cuba as soon as the plane stopped rolling. This was due to Salsa which is not a fiery sauce, but a way of life with a permanent soundtrack, featuring a lot of bongos and rum. This Web site features a quiz for those who know nothing about either bongos or rum - plus says where to get both in Paris.

The RATP's 'Cyberdeck'

Without much fanfare Paris' transport RATP authority installed four 'Cyberdeck' Internet terminals in their Port Royal RER 'B' station last August. The units are equipped with touch-screens instead of 'mice' and they have French keyboard layouts, so these are two features that take a bit of getting used to. Being free doesn't take much getting used to. The RATP plans to install the stand-up 'Net centres in other stations at Denfert-Rochereau, Luxembourg and Châtelet-Les Halles; all on the same RER line 'B.'

The 'Fête de l'Internet' Starts Friday

Every year this event is announced with some fanfare, and every year I always fail to grasp what it's all about, because it seems to be entirely 'virtual.' The actual Fête/Fiesta will take place from Friday, 17. March to Sunday, 19. March.

The Fête's organization is non-profit and it is coordinated by the AFI association. This event is not restricted to France; at the European level it is called the Fiesta 2000.

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