My father played the violin better than anybody else I have ever listened to.  When he got the family finances where he wanted them he decided to buy a good violin.  We went to see the local luthier, who made excellent violins.  He also traded in antique ones.  The ancient ones were better value for price, and we obviously went that way.  We were shown two, an old German one with dark finish and gold inlays in the keys and an even older Italian one that was flatter and less deeply colored in its finish.  The luthier explained that an Italian violin of that vintage was almost contemporary with those of Stradivarius, who is the name to conjure by in violins, and in all but name Italian violins from that date were about equal.

So my father wound up owning what was effectively a Strad.  I would hear it without an electronic interface.  (I’ll tell you about why that matters another time.)  So I make no exaggeration when I say I have never heard the likes. 

While we were in the shop, the fellow said that he himself used the same kind of wood from the same part of Italy as Stradivarius had used.  Its like was not to be found anywhere else in the world.  He reckoned that his own violins would one day be as good after they had aged.  So on the way home I mentioned to my father that it was quite a coincidence that the best violin makers lived in the same place as the best trees.  He said that it was probably not the trees themselves.  It was the skilled people who knew how to cultivate the trees, select them and prepare the wood.  This bit of wisdom I have clutched to my heart ever since.

It doesn’t always seem to work.  On another occasion I asked him why the United Kingdom, which had been on the winning side of WW II, had declined badly afterward while Germany had boomed.  He said it was because the destruction of Germany as a nation had made it possible for aggressive people to make money and to make institutions that supported the making of money.  So I also now believe, but it couldn’t have hurt that they were starting out with no debt at all and had their defense covered by other people and that the United States thought it was in their interest for Germany to do well and had given them and other European countries a lot of money.

When I look at the history of the world, how civilizations collapse on a schedule that is quite rigid, and reflect that the mechanism has to be demographic, what I think is that it is not gross lack of  numbers but lack of skilled people that brings the mighty nations to their (our) knees.

So prepared, I ran out of test tubes and stoppers for my fruit fly work, which I have mentioned before.  When they came the stoppers did not fit the tubes.  I called and complained and the supplier promptly sent a replacement bag.  They did not fit either.  I called again.  A week later I called a fourth time and this time got a promise that the matter would be thoroughly investigated.  Sure enough within a week I got a call.  He explained that the stoppers were right, it was the catalog that was wrong.  Could I use cork stoppers?  No, I keep specimens in formaldehyde for years.  Cork is porous. 

I measured the old stoppers for him, the good ones.  As I did I noticed that the stoppers were marked (00) on the top, just as the catalog listed them.  Then I saw that the new, wrong sized, stoppers also were marked (00).  It was the wholesaler who had made the mistake.  He promised me he would consult “the powers that be” and get back to me for what will be the fifth time.  It should have all be fixed the first time: a stroll to the warehouse, making sure the stoppers fit the tubes, a call to the supplier when they did not and then a call to me to tell me the right ones were on the way.  Indeed, it should never have happened at all.

Moral 1:  Yes, there seems to be a missing skilled person somewhere.

Nobody else has complained.  And if the 00’s are marked wrong, then so are all the other sizes. 

Moral 2: Evidently I am the only one in the country actually using test tubes. 

Sometimes I pull money out of my retirement account, at which point I pay taxes on it.  I found out from my accountant that the return I would be getting this year was a fraction of what it was last year.  Furthermore I would have to withhold more this year than in past years.  In the past if you withheld more than your tax then you would not be fined for withholding the same amount the following year even if you wound up owing some tax.  They have changed the rules.  And the top bracket tax has gone from 30% to 40%.  Yepper.  That’s a 33% increase in your top tax rate in one year.

Nobody told me.  Did anybody tell you?  I’m not super rich.  My income now is about the same as that of anybody else with a graduate degree (and a job).  We all got clobbered.  Yet there is not a murmur.  In fact it was a double hit.  Your tax went up AND you are threatened with a fine if you don’t give them about 20% over what you owe.  That means you give the government a loan of 20% of your income EVERY YEAR.  That means it’s a one-off of a gift for that amount.  (There is a quibble I am ignoring here.)

Last time I added 20 and 30 it came out to 50.  Effectively a huge number of people are in a 50% bind.  I don’t mean the 1% who own 50% of the wealth of the country.  I mean your doctor, lawyer and so forth.  I could see an argument that if 1% own 50% of the wealth in the country than they can jolly well fork over 50% of the taxes it takes to maintain the society (even moribund as we are) that made them rich.  That ain’t who’s getting stung, though.  

And when I pull money out of that account they make delay.  It takes three days to get it.  I would make a phone call Monday morning and on Thursday I could write a check.  Then a check bounced.  I got things put straight.  I didn’t even pay a fee, but I didn’t want it to happen again.  Then I learned from my broker that Monday morning to Thursday afternoon isn’t three days.  You don’t count the first day.  So it’s Monday morning to Friday afternoon.  I mildly invited him to call me the next time I needed money and to tell me it was really where I could use it.  So I made a call on a Monday morning and got notified that the transaction had occurred on the following Monday afternoon.  That’s more than a week.  But nobody told anybody.  I described this to a friend.  His bank is doing the same thing to him.  It has to do with when he puts his rent check in the mail; it has to be done sooner now.  The institutions are different, are different kinds of financial institution, but the bottom line is the same.  They’re holding onto your money longer without telling you until you get caught for something they did. 

Well it’s not the government’s fault and it’s not big business’s fault that we haven’t the babies and are in demographic decline.  They depend on the scientists to tell them if there is a problem like that. 

But that’s inexcusable.  If they were actually skilled they would be able to assess the data quite adequately.  And once they saw it, once anybody saw it, all other issues would recede to their proper proportion compared with extinction.  (If you would be so kind as to invent an excuse for our well paid scientists, I should be in ecstasy to learn it.)

Alas, the skilled people are not there.

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