28 June 2012

First thoughts

On the SCOTUS decision today I only have a few thoughts.   The decision is here, and I did a quick scan of it to see what the actual decision was... again this was a comment at Hot Air and for now that is it.  I'm seeing what others have to say, of course, and take my own council not that of fear.

With no other fanfare -

= = =

From p.32 of the decision:

Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. See §5000A(b). That, according to the Government,means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition—not owning health insurance—that triggers a tax—the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance.Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.

It MAY be within Congress’s power. MAY?

Oh, and you must take a positive action to purchase said goods he uses as examples. You do not pay a penalty for not purchasing gasoline, or for earning no income. Although if he is making THAT connection then welcome to the mandated penalty for gasoline purchase and to the penalty for not earning income. Won’t those be swell brand, spanking new taxes in the future?

And then this following:

The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a “fairly possible” one. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22, 62 (1932). As we have explained, “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” Hooper v. California, 155 U. S. 648, 657 (1895). The Government asks us to interpret the mandate as imposing a tax, if it would otherwise violate the Constitution. Granting the Act the full measure of deference owed to federal statutes, it can be so read, for the reasons set forth below.

Roberts then repeats this pattern at each instance showing that there is a similarity between a power to tax purchases and the power to tax inactivity.

He looks at the Child Labor Collection Tax which is a tax on those using child labor. An activity. For licensing taxes that is a fee given to those asking for the license to do certain regulated business. It is an activity. Nuclear waste surcharges is for an activity of shipping nuclear waste.

He then goes on to those tax incentives used to encourage conduct, and yet there is a stark difference between conducting such conduct to get a tax break, and not doing something and getting penalized for it. In the former if you do not purchase a home you are not penalized for it, you just do not get the incentives… but I’m sure that under some future Congress not owning a home can be assessed as a tax, so all you renters out there can look forward to that in the future. He also cites taxes on cigarettes, but you pay no taxes on them if you do not purchase them, so I guess we can all start to pony up for cigarettes we don’t buy as future Congress can do that, as well. Won’t that be swell?

By p. 40 we come to this lovely passage looking at the arguments against the tax:

A tax on going without health insurance does not fall within any recognized category of direct tax. It is not a capitation. Capitations are taxes paid by every person, “without regard to property, profession, or any other circumstance.” Hylton, supra, at 175 (opinion of Chase, J.) (emphasis altered). The whole point of the shared responsibility payment is that it is triggered by specific circumstances—earning a certain amount of income but not obtaining health insurance. The payment is also plainly not a tax on the ownership of land or personal property. The shared responsibility payment is thus not a direct tax that must be apportioned among the several States.
There may, however, be a more fundamental objection to a tax on those who lack health insurance. Even if only a tax, the payment under §5000A(b) remains a burden that the Federal Government imposes for an omission, not an act. If it is troubling to interpret the Commerce Clause as authorizing Congress to regulate those who abstain from commerce, perhaps it should be similarly troubling to permit Congress to impose a tax for not doing something.

And now you want to know WHY Congress can do this? This follows the above:

Three considerations allay this concern. First, and most importantly, it is abundantly clear the Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated by the Constitution. The Court today holds that our Constitution protects us from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause so long as we abstain from the regulated activity. But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes. See Letter from Benjamin Franklin to M. Le Roy (Nov. 13, 1789) (“Our new Constitution is now established . . . but in this world nothing can be said to be certain,except death and taxes”).

Is this a direct power GRANTED to the United States government by its people? If not it is in Amendments IX and X. Nice job on forgetting that little bit of the Constitution while doing contortions on tax powers to let Congress tax an inactivity that the Chief Justice cannot find a precedent for. Not one thing he cites is a tax power over inactivity and there is no cost for inactivity in any other tax by the federal government.

Don’t let that stop you from inventing one.

ajacksonian on June 28, 2012 at 12:03 PM

= = =

So limiting the Commerce Clause and the  Necessary and Proper Clause.

What was put in its place is the wide-open field of giving Congress the ability to tax ANYTHING YOU DO including doing NOTHING.

Don't earn any income?  They can tax you for that.

Don't have a Volt? They can tax you for that.

No home? They can tax you for that.

Say! No firearms?  They can tax you for that.

This is the power of tyrannical, compulsory taxation and this decision just gave the green light for that.

17 June 2012

Peripheral improvement

This is one of those rare personal pieces that I do to keep any readers updated with my multiple chronic illnesses.  Isn't that fun?  No icky stuff will be discussed... at least I don't think any will at this point... and if it isn't your cup of tea, well, that is why hyperlinks and the BACK button were invented.  Today's topic isn't statins (of which I am off due to the problems that came on with using them that got me started on writing so I could keep some mental processes going) nor about inhaled insulin (of which there are problems not related to the drug, per se, but lowered breathing function over time) nor to the ardafinil that I am on which is a wonder drug for those who find staying awake and aware to be a major problem (and it was a huge improvement over the previous wonder drug modafinil).  This time it is back to the first chronic condition I got diagnosed with, Type I diabetes (aka Juvenile Diabetes, although it can occur at any time in life), and its long term effects.  I've been through a number of rounds of laser surgery to clear up minor holes in the back of my eyes, and got my blood glucose straightened out via diet and carb counting, which has meant some years without recurrence of that condition.  That leaves the other fallout of being a long-term diabetic, which is diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

That neuropathy started to set in very slowly over 20 years ago, mostly with my toes.  I take good care of my feet (they are at such a long distance away, after all, and attach my body to the ground) trim my nails and all that fun stuff and have had zero problems with ulceration.   You take care of your feet and you can continue to use them!  That didn't stop the neuropathy, however, and it crept slowly in over the years, just starting to get up past the toes... for 20 years I don't know if that is good or bad, but it is what was happening.  The neuropathy didn't create loss of all sensation, way out there at the other end of my body, just a numbness in the effected areas and a tingling sensation like when you fall asleep on your arm for too long and it gets the 'pins and needles' sensation when blood flow comes back to it.  In fact that is very much what is going on with diabetics as peripheral blood vessels get choked off to some extent due to the diabetes save that getting blood flow restored to choked off blood vessels is a bit more difficult to accomplish.

During my younger years, pre-diabetes, I ran cross-country and generally liked outdoor exercising.  College life and diabetes set back those activities some, early on, and more so when I grew older.  As I enjoyed hiking and camping, that meant good boots, as well, which meant a relatively snug fit that would take a few layers of socks.  Slowly losing feeling, way out there at the other end of the body, meant not really knowing how good that critical forward 1/3 of the foot was doing when trying on new footwear.  Most places don't do a 'try before you buy' deal, which would allow me to find out any areas of chafing or restricted blood flow that would happen after a couple of weeks of wearing.  Mostly I wore my older shoes, sneakers and boots... yes I have a pair of Nike Oceania II's that date back to the early 1980's and will still wear them from time to time.  When Nike brought back a limited run of their older Oceania I's, I got a couple of pairs as that was what I was wearing before the Oceania II's.  I have an older pair of those from the late '70s I used to use for swamp trekking.   I have bought one or two newer pairs of sneakers and work boots for the shop, and I wear them a little at a time every week until they got broken in with no ill effects. 

Imelda Marcos I'm not in the footwear category.  Or any other category, come to that.

As a side light I detest sandals with the strip between the big toe and first toe... that style chafes and causes actual blistering no matter what the material is.  Mostly, if I need any protection between the sole of my foot and the outside world, I want the rest of the foot protected as well.  That has saved me no end of injuries over the years.

Basically, the neuropathy put some minor restrictions on life and having to think ahead before doing anything.  As new footwear would take weeks, if not months, to break in slowly, protecting my footwear became nearly as important as protecting my feet.  Once I got fully employed, I really spent next to no time outdoors save for shoveling the walk, clearing up the yard and doing other fun things that required no long term stays outdoors.

During the last visit to my neurologist (for my catalepsy) I also brought up my neuropathy's status (basically the same over the past few years) and as he would also be the guy I saw for that, he brought up a new 'medicinal food' called Metanx.  If you use Wikipedia for the low down on it you find it is a vitamin mixture of B6, B9 and B12 (3mg/35mg/2mg) and it works to open up those blood vessels and get blood flowing out to the extremities once more.  You might see no results, you might take up to a year to get some results or you might start getting them immediately.

For me it was about 2 weeks before I noticed some of the numbness moving back from around the ball of my foot region in both feet and going back towards the toes.  This continues on and now I can feel individual toes undergoing a very constant form of the 'pins and needles' sensation plus some numbness still in the big toes.  The sensation is more dramatic than the creeping numbness affair of the neuropathy and there is still a general feeling of stiffness at the extreme portion of the foot as well as with the toes.  Also with that is just a bit of feeling of warmth out there which goes along with the general ability to actually get sensation back.  The question of how much actual nerve damage there is will remain as a concern.  There have been reports of Type I diabetics getting transplants also having their neuropathy reversed and near complete restoration of sensation at the extremities returning, so that is a hopeful sign.  When the body can identify the need to grow additional capillary vessels, it does so, which may be a part of what is going on, as well.  In theory this should also help the optical portion of neuropathy which happens for the same reasons as the peripheral neuropathy, just with much smaller blood vessels.

Time can only tell with these things.

If this can follow a Feiler Faster Thesis and Simple Time Substitution compression, then what took a couple of decades might only take a couple of years to be reversed.  Don't place bets on that sort of stuff... but medical knowledge is in the increasing capability in faster cycles phenomena which is just part of the much larger phenomena going on with humanity.  This isn't a 'singularity' coming up, but a rapidly compressing cycle of knowledge expansion and comprehension that will make the last 20 years seem like ancient history to us in 2 more years.  Medical knowledge and capability will go right along with that, if we don't try to continue being stupid about it.

I welcome this new and ever changing future just ahead of us.  It will scare the pants off of every petty tyrant, every control freak and every Nation that tries to 'socialize' anything.  And that... that I welcome most of all.  That will be FUN.  Why I might even get a NEW pair of sneakers!

06 June 2012

The Way Forward - Blue State Reforms

The victory by Gov. Scott Walker (R - WI) last night points a way forward for other Blue State Governors to start reforming Public Employee Union problems with pensions and health care.  It is a multi-step process but the key points are now clearly visible.

First - Stop collecting Union dues for the Union at the State and local level.  The power of the PEUs comes from dues garnered from employees who may not want to be in the Union.  As States have sovereign power outside of those powers vested in the federal government, it can decide with input from its people on how best to ensure that public employees are to be treated.  When WI stopped the government role of dues collector and left it up to voluntary contributions, the number of dues paying teachers, as an example, dropped by 2/3 (Source: Fox News/WSJ 31 MAY 2012):

Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-the state's second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers-fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme's figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.

This hits the ability of PEUs to flow cash into political campaigns and to seek to get PEU friendly representatives across the table to pass legislation friendly to the PEUs.  That is inherently corrupt as it puts PEUs in a position of running both sides of the table during negotiations, which short-changes the public at large.  For a Blue State Governor, putting the case forward that the public, alone, should be the ones to decide how many employees should be in the government, what they should get paid and what other perks should be paid by the public to give to the employees.

Of course this is the 'Third Rail' of PEU influence in politics at the State and local level.  Yet it is the easiest to sell to the public.  Why should PEUs get a say in the political process which, in essence, allows them to influence votes, influence the legislative process and to bias the legislation in their favor at public expense?  The major upside is that public employees will get an opportunity to get a virtual raise by not funding the PEUs.

Second - Pension and health care reform requiring PEU members to pay a larger percent (or ANY percent) of their pension and health care insurance.  Changing the pension system to get away from the pyramid scheme system where current PEU members pay for the pensions of current retirees, with the State or local government picking up any difference, is bankrupting the governments involved.  Shifting to a defined contribution set of plans under the control of the public employees individually, firstly empowers employees to determine their own course in life means that their independence is increased by having an individual retirement plan.

As most private employees pay a large percentage of their health care insurance (either through an employer or purchased individually) the idea that public employees should pay an equivalent amount, or at least something closer to what the federal employees pay (approx. 40%) attacks the idea of 'fairness'.  Putting public employees in the same position as their private counterparts is self-evident as a 'fairness' measure, and yet another easy sell to the public at large.  Anyone who spouts 'fairness' should support this as it is the basis of having a level employment system amongst public and private employees.

These can both be made more palatable to public employees by letting them decide if they want to pay dues to the PEUs (step 1), thus by doing the first step, the second becomes easier.  This can be made more palatable to public employees by allowing a voucher so that they can choose a private health plan or cash it out as additional income and fully take the risk for their own health care on their own.  Shifting cost need not be a fully negative affair and can be made into a liberating and empowering experience for the individuals involved.

Third - Remove the under-performers.  For the public to see an increase in performance and to see that tax dollars are being spent wisely and that public employees are dedicated to their job and not just to their perks, remove protection from being fired from the public employee workforce and shift pay to meet performance.  To do this set standards of performance and efficiency to be met by public employees and fire the bottom 10% each and every year, regardless of seniority, time in service, or level of service.  Performance can have input from peers within the workforce, input from upper and lower levels of the public employee structure and public input.

This moves a step beyond what has been done in WI, but follows the successful system utilized by the CIA.  There it is possible to shift up and down the pay structure very quickly which means that performance matters.  By linking pay with performance and getting under-performers out of the system means there is incentive to perform better and serve the public in a more open and friendly manner.  After the power of the PEUs is removed and public employees are given more independence, the move to a performance based system then becomes possible.  This utilizes the 'best of breed' systems utilized elsewhere and underscores that the job of a public employee is to serve the public, not just service the public.

By increasing visible efficiency and friendliness government functions are done better and with greater transparency.  Increased efficiency means having a workforce that can be downsized over time, perhaps by removing job billets with the annual 10% reduction, until optimal efficiency is reached by the remaining labor force.  Companies do this and the same methodology can be applied to government functions.  After step one and step two, this then puts the results of those two into play to the benefit of the public.  A way to show this is to remove fees and other payment overhead from State functions for the public as the public is already paying for the function and shouldn't have to pay twice for it: efficiency should have visible rewards beyond just better service.

Result - For a Blue State Governor this achieves reform without having to become a 'Right To Work' State, which means that Unions (not just PEUs) have no basis to lobby against the government on hostility to Unionization grounds.  Public employees are a different category from private employees as they serve the public, on the public's dime and that is garnered through involuntary taxation (not voluntary purchase).  That sovereign function of needing individuals to perform duties for the State is due to there being a public willing to support the system of government for the benefit of the public in an unbiased manner.  Public employees do not have to worry about evil capitalist bosses as the State is not in a position to make a profit as it is not a corporation, thus there is no 'exploitation' of workers: the public sets the rules through the legislative process, everyone knows what they are and what the standards are for employment on the public's dime.

Resolving the problems of insolvency of States and local government can be handled in such a way as to ensure that all services (not just 'vital' ones) are done in an efficient, timely and courteous manner by public employees.  By rewarding efficiency and courtesy, it is reinforced, meaning that public employees understand that they are volunteering to take a public job and that they are beholden to the public for their activities.  This is a benefit not just to the public, but to public employees who are given the ability to chart their own course for longer-term life necessities and make their own decisions about what they should be.  By not rewarding organizations that slack off, by not rewarding inefficiency through larger work force sizes, and by not taking on the future debt of public employees, government size and cost can be reduced.  Showing a balanced budget, a user-friendly government, transparency on cost, and by demonstrating that positive moral values are enforced by the government, a Blue State Governor can demonstrate that they can support public needs while not putting future generations at risk for insolvent decisions made for politically expedient reasons, now.

Because of the future insolvency problems due to the current system of PEU contracts, reforms will take place.  Taking some pain now can mean avoiding default and bankruptcy of governments, which is a much, much larger pain when that happens.  It doesn't matter how Blue the State is: this is coming.

The other results from last night were from the cities of San Diego and San Jose reforming pensions for their public employees.

CA is a very Blue State, yet even there reform is coming due to decades of spendthrift government and bloated government PEU structures.

If a Governor doesn't get ahead of the game, then it will be done for him or her starting from the ground-upwards.

When that happens the color of Blue just might disappear.

Even the most deeply committed ideologue in government does have a survival instinct.  From last night's results, that instinct is now being forced to the forefront.

Reform is coming to America.

You can do it fast and with some pain now, or with much greater pain in a couple of years and putting our children and grandchildren into a 3rd world failed Nation situation.

That choice is yours.

I suggest you make sure you are registered to vote.

05 June 2012

Latest from the shop

Yesterday I finished the major work of getting the drawers, doors and back put on my workbench.  This may not seem like a lot to most people but given my limited physical capacity it is a milestone event.  The original bench that I purchased from Harbor Freight served well for my initial half-year to year period, but its lacks were becoming evident: too much sway when planing, too much shifting when doing any real work requiring lateral motion, and taking up a lot of cubic space while offering little storage of materials.  Plus there was this bad amount of sawdust that infiltrated from the open back that had to be dealt with.

For the price and the intended audience of light use hobbyists and cartridge reloaders, the original bench is actually decent for such work.  Try to do any planing of even a couple of feet of a 1x6 and you start to notice its lacks very quickly.  That sort of sway was enough to start dislodging materials on its single shelf which was becoming a pain to deal with.  If I had plenty of workshop space I would put it in a finishing area off to the side, but since it is the primary work surface that I use for just about everything, the problems needed to be addressed.  Early parts of the add-ons I've covered before, which included 2x2 lengths at the front of the feet to give some rigidity to the overall structure.  Putting in 3/4" plywood for the drawers/shelves, especially down the center and attaching those to the end legs and 2x2 supports has helped no end in all the sway and wobble problems.  That being said, it was time to get the storage part finished and I had one false start on that (and have a bunch of stuff I will repurpose for a self-built router table) I was finally able to get down to the major cutting, finishing and assembly.

From the front this is what it looks like:

Workbench_update_ 001 Workbench_update_ 004

The top four drawers came with the unit.  The next two are actually trays that fit under the drawers and only go half-way in due to the original cross support piece which I kept.  Those are simple affairs made out of Luan ply with some white wood runners.  They can take things like punches, thin files and the like, and are there to get the small stuff that tended to run around in big drawers into their own place.

All of the pieces have been sanded with progressively finer sandpaper (120, 150, 180, 220, 320) finished with a coat of tung oil at 1 part oil to 4 parts limonene and then gone over with 0000 steel wool replacement.  Over that is a single coating of garnet shellac of 1 lb. cut with ample amounts of denatured alcohol on the brush to get a smooth coat for everything except the mid-cabinet doors.  The one darker drawer has two coats due to scratching during finishing and needing to recover the the piece.  The mid-cabinet doors are as yet uncoated and I want to see how they hold up for a bit before shellacking them.  All of this is not meant to be a fine finish by any means, just some basic surface protection against some of the stuff that gets used in the shop.  The shellac will take care of anything save alcohol based solvents and the oil will stop those.  I really do like the garnet shellac, its a personal favorite of mine after working with the Mosin-Nagant rifle stocks.  Just don't spill alcohol on it...

The cabinet doors are 3/4" ply with internal hinges for flush closing.  The drawers are fronted with 3/4" ply and with white wood runners and 1/4" MDF bottoms.  The bottom cabinet storage space is enough for smaller power tools, like jig saw, sander, driver, etc. with their carrying cases.  The cabinet above those has some of the smaller finishing materials and things like sanding discs, and a bit of bulk storage for grease cylinders and such like.  I'm hoping to get as much of that stuff in there as possible to free up shelf space elsewhere in the room.

The back is basic:

Workbench_update_ 002 Workbench_update_ 003

This is a single piece of 1/2" Baltic Birch ply from Woodcraft because my local Home Despot didn't have anything like it.  Actually my local HD is pretty deficient in varieties of plywood, and if you don't want flooring or siding ply, OSB or such, then you are down to the "Sandee Panels" which I find don't take an oil finish all that well.  This piece got the progressive sandpapering (after some trimming down to just fit in the back and then getting a bit of white wood flashing around the side edges for final fit), tung oil finish on both sides, garnet shellac on the back (really, no one is ever going to see the mess I made on the other side... which was the plugged side to begin with...), screwed in with some nice brass knock-down screws, and then finished up with a single layer of Minwax put on with 0000 steel wool replacement and then hand buffed with a cloth.  With the wax just about any solvent should have a major problem getting through to the wood.

To do much of this work I needed an outside canopy deal (one of those portable garages from Shelter Logic) which I use half the frame to fit under the deck overhang, then festoon with tarps, only using the original end pieces front and back.  If I ever have to hold a party out in the parking lot, I've got the perfect place to do it!  As it is the thing keeps the elements off of any work pieces that need to finish out in the great outdoors without getting leaves and stuff on them.  And its nice to drag the table saw out and work in the great outdoors where the sawdust goes into the general environment, too!  That is damn handy.

Next up is a chiller box experiment utilizing activated charcoal (aka - fish tank filter charcoal), methanol, black iron pipe and copper tubing, a constriction washer, a vat of brine, a Styrofoam box, and a large ammo can used for mortar rounds to put the pipe into so it has a hot box.  That and some outdoor shelving, some bricks and plastic sheeting should wind up the grand experiment to see if you can use the sun to chill through adsorbtion with a bit of Bernoulli's Law added in to help!  I'm into final construction on that since it is a piece-together sort of deal, no real construction necessary.

After that is the next major construction project: the router table.

I find myself with long/wide pieces of wood to route and the little benchtop is nice, but wholly insufficient for such jobs.  So time to custom build something to fit my needs.  That will probably eat up my time for the rest of the year, but if it doesn't I need a miter saw stand and bench, a grinder stand and a few other odds and ends to finally start to clear out the rest of the space in the shop and concentrate it into purpose built work areas.  A desk/workbench for sit-down fine work (like disassembling firearms and cleaning them) would be a major, major plus but that is at the end of the list because that can be done in a half-assed way just about anywhere.

Oh, and I need to get some EMP screens pre-assembled using aluminum mesh and whatever I decide upon to make for a quick to close shelter for things like refrigerators and other equipment.  Until we get serious about ABM and our airborne laser program, we civilians will have to continue worrying about this junk and about punk rogue Nations out to knock things around starting with us.  Wouldn't a competent political class be nice right about now?  Let me know when you find one of them, wouldya?  Because I'm not depending on them for any damn thing.  I can only do so much to vote stupid out of office, after that it becomes time to prepare for the results of a century of stupid.

As I've said before: now is the time for doing.

Talk is cheap.  Your life is precious.  Some assembly required.

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?