01 June 2012

Growing up Dragon

Clipart Courtesy About.com

The Chinese Zodiac Calendar has animal representations for that year which repeats every 12 years.  In general, hand-waving theory, it means you get a suite of predispositions based on the year you were born.  If you extend the Dragon years back you get 1964.  My lady is from the previous Dragon cohort in 1952.  Just so you know what the dynamics are, up front, about what I'm going to talk about, it is important to know the cohort system.  When you are in a cohort, militarily, you are of a set group formed up at a certain time and that cohort remains as that group.  In extreme systems no one else gets to join that cohort and it shrinks as individuals die off.  This is applied to any year and the people in it can be treated as a closed cohort, which helps to examine such things as changes in environment, changes in demographics, and actuarial tables for how fast a cohort dies off.  If you start at the beginning of the Cretaceous and count all the species right at that time and track them, you can do a cohort analysis and see when the last species was to die off... the fact that cohort has a sudden drop mid-way through its expected life-span to zero, demonstrates that something truly large-scale happened at that point, otherwise we would still have dinosaur species from that cohort roaming around.  Birds hadn't evolved by then, although their predecessors were around, these species we see today weren't there.

I can't lend the idea any credence to the Chinese system, but will say that there are some birth year cohorts that seem to stand out.  In the era before 'everyone was special', which means no one is special, was the age cohort that I was in and we were getting remarks from our teachers as we went through school that there was something different about our cohort.  Teachers who had been on the job for decades, and who knew the school system I was in, had a good handle on their fellow instructors across the system: from grade school to high school, the teachers actually had a good working knowledge that was shared across schools and grade levels.  That may or may not be unique to the school system I was in at the time and YMMV.  How did I (and others in my age cohort growing up) find this out?

We stayed after class or came back after school to discuss topics with our teachers.  These may have started off as simple 'find out information' sorts of deals, but once picked up as a habit you got to know your teachers and they got to know you.  I had started picking up that habit around 7th grade and by 9th grade it was in full swing, and I often went back to my prior schools (they were on the way home, after all) and dropped by to talk with previous teachers.  That perspective gained, across multiple years of teachers in diverse topics meant you learned about the teachers interactions throughout the year.  One of the most interesting comments from a prior year teacher in English was that he had been told years before our cohort arrived that we were different, standing head and shoulders above the year before us and after us academically.

What are the phenomena that brought about the 1964 age cohort?

First it is not a true 'Baby Boomer' cohort.  One instructor in Social Studies/Civics said that he liked to think of us like that, but that we had a different set of characteristics than the Boomer kids.  Basically the Boomers formed such large classes that you had to change your lesson plans for them, you had to adjust to those class sizes and it was difficult to apply the rigor of pre-Boomer teaching methods to the Boomers.  No one was catering to the post-Boomer generation.  The general decline in class sizes (which is to say all the people in a cohort year, not the number of people in a class) meant that the number of pupils per instructor ratios were declining, as were some of the older teachers who were leaving the profession.  The first and second wave of Boomer children had finally ebbed off by 1960 and what you get post-1960 are a mixed group of families: Boomer families having a last child after two major sets of same, the beginning of the incline of divorced families and mixed-families still trying to adhere to nuclear family values, the very first children of the Boomers or just pre-Boomers having their first children in families, returnees from Korea now just out of college and settling down to a family, and a very few and sparse pre-Boomer couples having a mid-life to late-life child.

This period from approximately 1962 to 1966 is before Gen X and after the Boomers.  No one catered to it as the 'youth' culture was now college oriented, no longer family/home/child oriented.  We were the generation that went to the video arcade, not the pinball arcade: Boomers went for pinball, our generation went to Atari.  That '62-'66 generation got to see political ineptness at the highest levels: LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter.  There is no nostalgia for a 'better time' amongst this generation, no yearning to Like Ike or sighing about dreamy JFK, we don't remember those guys.  And for all the great press about JFK, he didn't seem like such a hot President, either, what with the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, and continuing the misadventure in Viet Nam started by Truman and kept going on a low level by Eisenhower and upping the ante with political assassination overseas, to boot.

At the local level our cohort got to see the roll and burn of industrial America and the sudden coming of the Rust Belt.  Now that the rest of the Nation understands what 10% unemployment can do to you for a few years, lets just say that in the old areas where Bethlehem Steel, Worthington Compressor, and Westinghouse once ruled, we got to see 15% unemployment and then chronic 12% unemployment until the early 1990's when I left the region.  Political corruption, high taxation and power grabs at all levels meant that the underground economy flourished.  Not for 'black market' goods, but for regular jobs done with under the table payments and the 'you help me by doing this and I can help you by doing that' favor exchanging.  See what the current Administration is doing to the Nation?  Welcome to Rust Belt America.  Been There, Done That, Got The T-Shirt.

In the midst of that semi-generation, not Boomer and not Gen X, came the Dragon Cohort.  The 'Latch Key Kids'.  That was a worry amongst Americans to fret about for, oh, 20 milliseconds.  You know, mom got 'liberated' to do a second job so someone had to let the kid in the house after school... say the kid can use a key?  Who knew?  Starting out in my grade school years in the back of semi-rural areas and then going to suburbia was a shock, and grade 5 meant whole new environs, no fields, no forests, no tractors, and way too much pavement.  Thus my perspective within the Dragon Cohort is relatively unique, maybe only a few thousand have that experience born that year across the US.

Now academic achievement, while nice and all, wasn't a real focus of what I was about.  I loved to read and most of that was Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F), and as we couldn't be part of the First Fandom of Trek, we were part of the Second Fandom of Trek, growing up on re-runs... really, what else was there to watch?  OK, Monty Python, that served a major injection point for weirdness to the Dragon Cohort.  If you came to the High School I was at during the years the Dragon Cohort was going through it, up to two hours before school you could find that about four to six tables of the cafeteria had been taken over by us: all members of that same class, meeting up to do school work with each other and discuss issues of school and beyond.  Almost without exception we all watched Star Trek and Monty Python.  About 2/3 of us played D&D and maybe a half of that were general board war gamers as well.  We also tended to congregate at video arcades, not the mall, at least when they were separate establishments.  What this meant is that we had a high affinity for a set of activities that didn't necessarily extend above or below our cohort and, indeed, within the Dragon Cohort at our school those at those tables were the ones who were above average and not in a Lake Wobegone way, either.

What was telling was that neither the class ahead or behind us had that sort of sociology nor mindset, although we did gain a few from both classes, they were only a couple per grade and the rest of the years couldn't even fill a single table at the cafeteria before school on any given day.  Go after school and find discussions with teachers and you were more likely to find a Dragon Cohort member than anyone else: either there were members of the cohort or it was empty.  And even then it was only a few teachers where members congregated in the twos and threes.

After High School college tended to break up the cohort, but by then members were getting a good idea of what was working and what wasn't in the world.  Academically we were seeing a slow degradation of grading standards in not just the K-12 area but in college as well: the hyphenated studies and meaningless classes were starting to infest the college curricula and these sub-groups were trying to divvy up campus space for their classes.  Becoming a diabetic meant time off to deal with understanding that and shifting to a different cohort in classes: it was a necessary re-alignment of my mental life and attitude which put me in contact with some trailers of the Dragons and the first of Gen X.  Academically I wandered and had the problem of only one or two areas where I did poorly, and the rest I did quite well at across a diverse range of topics from science to economics to history to sociology to war studies.  I finally settled on Geology, which saddened one Comp Sci professor who wanted me to do an APL to LISP translator... I let him know that the CS department wanted math theoreticians, not CS coders who just used math as a nuts and bolts tool to do work.  In Geology you had to have more than just a thumbnail knowledge of topics ranging from petrology, sedimentation, plate tectonics, genetics, petro-chemistry, organic chemistry, gravity, the composition of extra-terrestrial bodies, glaciology... and even if you specialize, there is no such a thing as an isolated speciality within geology as it any set of geological forces must take into account all levels of interaction to explain phenomena.

By that point I had gotten to know that the schooling system was corrupt and could be gamed for grades.  To put it bluntly grade inflation decreases the value of grades and that includes ones already issued by any institution undergoing grade inflation.  Many instructors (particularly in the mis-named 'humanities') had started to do that, while the sciences, math and engineering departments kept to the basics of 'if you don't know it, you don't know it'.  By then being a mediocre student in the sciences was putting you mentally above anyone in a hyphenated studies area, and with a better mental toolset to deploy for working life.  Not a great toolset, mind you, but a better one.

One of the drivers towards the sciences was that I enjoyed them and the interactivity between them.  The natural sciences are one of the greatest joys and frustrations as you can be enlightened and you can spend hours of work and realize you screwed up the initial preparations and see that work go down the drain.  You have to really get it right the first time, no do-overs.  The second reason was the set of Congressional hearings on Social Security around 1985 (my memory is inexact) that it was going to go bust around 2050.  Due to demographics.  It was a screwed up system, in other words, and at the very BEST of outcomes it would disintegrate and take the economy with it circa 2050.  Anyone with an ounce of sense realized that if you were young and getting an education, that these older and wiser people had set up a system that was horrifically out of whack and that it wouldn't survive to 2050.  Why?  We looked at all the Boomers who were far OUTSIDE the demographic norms used for the prediction.  You do the math.  I certainly did.  I trust the math and the demographics: the political lies, not so much.

If you were in the regular Dragon Cohort this came during your last year of college.  Luckily I had wandered around, had to take serious re-orientation time off to get my mental and emotional life sorted out (all on my lonesome, I saw the caliber of the psychiatric profession and realized that they weren't qualified to mess around with my head), put back on track, got this wonderful economic shocker and went into the natural sciences.  Wouldn't you?  You can't use your ethno-hyphenated-'feel good about myself' studies to get a job: basic math, hard work, and being able to tell you that 'this lovely building is on a fault line and have you prepared for a disaster?' will do that for you.  And unemployment was still in the 9-12% range, so I knew I would have to de-camp to get a job.  Those years were a joy and a sheer terror, both, but I just applied to every single place I could find once they were over, and finally got a place in DoD on the civil side.  They beat the National Park Service by a couple of weeks.  I saw the future, I needed cash, and while I love the NPS, helping the military and getting decent pay decided it for me.

By 1991 I had paid off my minimal student loan.  Yes, that was only a fraction of a single paycheck, big whoop.  The house loan got cut in half time-wise by hitting at principle continuously and applying any 'extra cash' to the house instead of that fun shiny object du jour.

Starting after school years I applied the principles I had learned growing up: be in debt to no one, pay off principle on your house as fast as humanly possible, cash on the barrel means you are beholden to no one, hard work is its own reward, and, most importantly, Don't Panic.

In fact there is an even better last part: NEVER PANIC.

Panic is not your friend and will, more often than not, get you killed.

The person running in panic from a disaster will be beaten, hands-down, by the determined person who kept their head about them who is sprinting from it.  If you see a disaster you have to run from: sprint.  That poor panicked fellow, well, he should have known better.

So when our economic system has gone to hell, our housing system went through a lovely and politically backed bubble, and the rest of the Ponzi schemes start to implode, living debt free means I don't panic.  I have concerns, yes, but I don't worry, either: worry is a waste of time and energy better spent doing something else, even if it is playing Parcheesi (which I don't play, BTW).  You prepare for disasters years (decades if possible) before they arrive.  I'm not depending on SSA, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps nor any other crackpot, hare brainfart of the political elites meant to impoverish the Nation.  These 'programs' have impoverished the Nation and are going away soon. 

I'm prepared for that. 

Heck I'm prepared for the Cumbre Vieja mega-tsunami event which means I don't think the water will get further than the ridgeline that is before the one I'm on, but I also have a good view of that ridgeline so if it gets overtopped I have about 20 minutes to sprint off of this one towards the next one in any vehicle or in any way I can.  I could really use a hovercraft, you know?  Say, maybe I could make one... wouldn't that be fun?  A real learning experience!

Economic collapse of the Nation?  What?  You haven't prepared for that?  Can't you do the math?  You were told about what was coming with the ending of SSA in 2050... then 2030... then 2020... and it went into the red spending bonds last year so its still moving like a dinosaur but will soon fall over and become a mess on the landscape.  Hope you weren't planning for that any time soon.  I'm not.  And haven't even let that enter into any equation about my future as I know that the basis for all of those programs are unsound, to say the least.  They won't last forever.  I'm not expecting them to last out this decade, but we can cushion the fall for those who are stuck being a slave to the State, you know?

How about a CME, you know, Coronal Mass Ejection?  Fry out the power system and the major transformers for it?  Plus anything you got plugged into a wall socket.  You prepared for that baby?  Globally?  You know, 'no outside help, ever'?  No?  Scared?  Or just want to be put into a panic?  Heck we've never had a geo-magnetic field decaying to a flip-flop like we have now, so how far the ejected and diffuse mass goes into it is anybody's guess.  Remember, get enough of that going on at the right altitude and the stuff that isn't in a faraday cage is also in trouble.  You know, add in some EMP effects to season it?  Slightly different defenses for an EMP than a CME.  You can never be too sure what mother nature will throw at you next time.  Might be flowers, it might be running chainsaws.

I am difficult to panic, to say the least.

Like I said the Dragon Cohort pulls in a few people from non-Dragon years, but anyone can be prepared, which means you prepare ahead of time.  It isn't about intelligence, either, as I've met plenty of really smart, test well, types, who couldn't figure out how to change the oil in their car if their life depended on it.

I'm in that generation that isn't the grand and glorious and over-hyped Baby Boom, and while there are plenty of nice and level-headed folks who are Boomers, the culture tends to cater to them no end.  I'm in that not so special generation that isn't Boomer and isn't Gen X.  As one of my teachers said to me, I'm in the generation that gets the shovel to clean up the mess of the Boomers.  I like to think that we are the ones born with the Cluebats in hand, but that is an over-generalization.  Mine is the forgotten generation that you can't label, the one where everyone doesn't get a prize, the one that was told lies and realizes it as an intellectual and emotional matter that isn't warm and fuzzy and makes you feel ever-so-good about stealing from younger people via government.  Mine is the generation that has asked for no favors, and seeks to have you lead a good life for yourself and ask for help from your friends and family, your churches and social organizations, and to put government in its place as your servant, not your master.  If you expect money from government, it is your master.  And a damned inept and tyrannical one, at that.

I was born free.

I was born into the Year of the Dragon.

I ask for no favors, no handouts, and seek to be a burden to none.

My hand is open to you to help, not raised in a fist to strike for our burden is to do no harm and do good for our fellow man.

We are stuck with the shovel to clean up the mess and it ain't a socialist shovel, that's for damn sure.

The good news is that the future is bright past these times of insanity and lies.

The way of liberty to the stars is opening, soon it will be clear.

Our world is about to change for the better and yet we must also save some from the abyss.

A bit of digging is needed first to bury the blood red 20th century once and for good and all.

I am of the Dragon in the 21st Century and the direction is clear, the path a disaster.

You can do your bit to help, and that means letting go of the failed past and seeking a better future.

I know that is frightening, but the future always is, isn't it?

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