Success in school explained

Starting at the school door is not soon enough

Recently I read an open letter from Michael Hays to Senator Lee Cotter concerning how to fix the 79% deficit in student reading performance in the fourth grade. As I see it, Hays believes the fix for NM is to upgrade colleges of education as opposed to Cotter’s support of widespread third grade retentions. Both are ideas for serious discussion but they don’t address the single factor that has been found to be the most important for student success.

Let’s step back and put the whole situation in perspective. Five years of life experiences have gone by before a child gets to school. Brain development in the first few years are the foundation for all learning that follows. What happens at home during this time has more influence on future success than anything that comes later.

Think of something you learned to do well. Maybe you are a great cook, play on a baseball team, or consider music an important pleasure in your life?

What is your very first memory of that experience? Quite likely, you can remember back to when you were three years old.

Now think of your best subjects in school. Is there a connection between your earliest memories and your school experiences? If you never touched a ball, how did you do in P.E? If your family didn’t dance or sing, how was your aptitude for music class?

For the first five years of life, every child’s first teachers are their caregivers. During the time when the brain is growing fastest and making crucial neural connections, a child is attaching emotionally, emulating, and trying to please the primary caregiver in the family.

Yes, educational excellence is of paramount importance and colleges of education are charged with the responsibility to train and produce the very best Reading teachers. Of course, public schools need to be accountable to standards, and milestones must be met to insure that learning is provided in a developmentally appropriate sequence for most of the children. I won’t argue with any of this. But, when looking for solutions, starting at the school door is not soon enough.

What happens at home between birth and the first day of kindergarten has much more to do with academic achievement than the number of years spent in third grade.

If a child grows up in a home where family games are played around the kitchen table and in the park, where throwing a ball, watching and talking sports is a favorite pastime, if music permeates the air, that child will enter school ready to excel at recess, PE, Music and even Math. Add books and shared family reading time to that mix and now our theoretical little kid is on a level playing field for Reading which opens the rest of the curriculum as well.

Lots of talking, naming, explaining, telling stories, and reading books together for pleasure, along with opportunities to ask and answer questions are fundamental learning skills. Starting school with these experiences make it much more likely that the curriculum in each grade will be developmentally appropriate and the transition from one grade to the next will be seamless.

Parents need to know that Kindergarten is changing to keep up with a fast paced world:

Children are expected to come to school able to recognize their own names as well as the names and sounds of letters and be able to print many of them in both upper and lowercase, count to 20 and see the one to one correspondence of numbers to objects, retell a story they have heard, and draw a picture to tell about an experience. They need to be able to concentrate on a task for five minutes, participate politely in group activity, and be flexible enough to adjust to new people and situations.

If 79% of our community’s children are not reading at grade level, there are lots of things that need to be done, including teacher training and school reform, but first parents need to be informed of what society’s expectations are and how easily they can be addressed at home in the earliest years. Finding out after school starts is entirely too late.

 

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Sayonara 2015

(printed in the Las Cruces Sun-News, December 31, 2015)

Good riddance 2015, hopes for better 2016

If I could, I’d give 2015 a swift kick in the pants as it made way for 2016. Consider what went on during the year now ending: a mother who gave her six-month-old child a bottle, then suited up and joined her husband on a killing spree at a holiday party; a group of thugs in the Middle East who “inspire” others, (not themselves, oddly enough), to blow themselves up in various parts of the world expecting to get to paradise before anyone else; “low information voters” who become low information candidates for president of the U.S. — along with assorted sneerers and overstuffed billionaires. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

How about the “smart money” guys of 2015 who pride themselves on sending young people out on international soccer and (U.S.) football fields to beat their brains out to generate bribes, payoffs and lucrative TV contracts for their handlers. Or the characters who buy up drug companies to enrich themselves on the pain and suffering of others — not to mention congressmen enjoying the best medical care in the world seeking to deny health care to the working poor.

How about the makers and marketers of the guns spewing ammunition out of car windows; within classrooms, clinics, hospitals and churches; into playmates from other playmates; and, at close range, into the bodies of tortured souls afflicted with suicidal impulses.

Finally, 2015 saw another bump in the profits of predatory loan stores now on street corners around poor neighborhoods and military bases — so much for military preparedness.

Hope springs eternal, goes the expression. Will 2016 give hope a chance?

Dan Townsend,

Las Cruces

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The Consequences of Denial

April 25, 2010

Suppose that an airline pilot, doing his pre-flight checks at Denver’s International Airport, got a printout of weather data which reflected not metropolitan Denver 2010, but  the  same area as it was in 1800.  The occasional native American cooking fire would have been the only contribution of man to the area temperature in 1800. Metropolitan Denver, like all 21st century urban areas, contributes by means of the well-known “heat island” effect, several degrees (as much as 22 degrees F.), depending on the season/time of day, etc., to its area temperature.  This is in addition to global climate change and other factors.

Factoring the spurious data he was supplied into the “density altitude” calculation critical to successful take-off, the unfortunate pilot and his passengers risked  winding up being mixed with fiery wreckage just across the freeway marking the end of the runway—another tragedy based on faulty data.

Another example: the trainee helmsman on duty as the Exxon Valdez wallowed  fully loaded  through Prince William Sound Alaska one night in 1989,  failed to realize that the fully loaded vessel handled very sluggishly to its controls compared to its handling, empty, on the trip to Alaska.  Pushed by cost-cutting management to shave time from the voyage by charting a course near Bligh Reef, the unfamiliar feel to the controls drew the vessel onto the reef, and on to front pages around the world.

In 1964, my wife and I visited the beaches along New Jersey’s Atlantic Shore. Wondering why so few were present on a beautiful summer afternoon, we soon discovered tar balls and oily goo along the water’s edge. The locals told us that an upwelling of the sea  had brought up oil from the bottom placed there as Nazi submarines, organized into “Wolf Packs” sank hundreds of merchant ships, many of them oil tankers, during the early years of WWII, many within sight of shore (wreckage and bodies were a regular sight along our Atlantic beaches at that time. The massive effort to stop this carnage was a well-kept secret during the war). The  waters of Gulf of Mexico are presently unwilling recipients of enough oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform blowout, underway as this piece is written,  to fill each of the sunken tankers of the WWII era in a few minutes. Leadership of the communities  which came to depend on revenue from the undersea oil resource are already in denial, for the usual political reasons.

Natural systems are a lot like the fully loaded Exxon Valdez.  As a helmsman on various ships on several occasions, I am well aware of the need to anticipate the reaction of a vessel to its controls as currents, winds and cargo loading mix with steering commands to produce the vessel’s actual course. Reductions  in, for example, CO2 contributions by man, will not be fully felt in terms of global warming, for decades. Does this mean that we should deny that Bligh Reef, or its climatic equivalent, exist?

Obviously waiting until the Exxon Valdez is within a few feet of the reef to correct its course would be disastrous, as history shows. When do Global Climate Change skeptics plan to take corrective action, should the extremely complex variables at play in man-caused climate change finally produce a definitive result with which all could agree?

The good part is that I am unaware of any global climate change skeptics piloting commercial aircraft or ocean-going ships. We can all be thankful on that score.

Dan Townsend

(Re: the above article: I was a resident of Alaska for 35 years, during the “Pipeline era” and the Exxon Valdez tragedy and its aftermath. At different times I was a helmsman on three ocean-going vessels: the MV Stevonia {Ellerman Wilson Lines, UK}; and  the fully rigged sailing vessels “Western Union” and “Wolf” home port, Key West Florida. I was also, among other duties, a “cockpit observer” for the Federal Aviation Administration.)

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THE 2015 REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN PROGRAM (only the names have changed)

Loony tunes

February 22, 2012

The Republican primary brings up many possibilities. Suppose, for example, Rick Santorum becomes President. Added to his titles will be “Messiah in Chief.”
How about Newt Gingrich. His new title, borrowed from Native American custom, would be: “Chief-He-who-kisses-his-mirror.”
Mitt Romney would have the title: “He-who-fires-(and enjoys it!)-before-he-sees-the-whites-of-their-eyes.”
Dr. Ron Paul would pioneer a new health care program. Suppose, for example, you were faced with a life-threatening medical problem. Under his program, your next move would be to take two aspirins, pick out your headstone and gravesite, put on a blindfold and jaywalk across the busiest road in your area at rush hour.
All four of the above characters, should they be elected, would reform education. A compulsory subject for all students would be: “HYPOCRISY FOR FUN AND PROFIT.”
The Justice system would also be reformed. All Federal judges considered “liberal” would be removed. In their place, candidates for judgeships would be evaluated on whether they: would convict, on flimsy evidence, (1) every woman seeking or obtaining an abortion, or anyone offering aid, comfort or medical care to such a person; and (2) every person who even thought about environmental regulations or making robber barons accountable.
Foreign policy would be even more interesting. A wall and a moat would be erected completely around the 48 states. All persons who didn’t fit the mold would be hounded out of the country. We withdraw from all international organizations, and refuse to talk to any foreign leaders in any language except English. The dollar ceases to be a convertible currency. Gold goes to 10 thousand dollars an ounce, and martial law is declared to control the growing homeless population.

Dan Townsend

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ROBBER BARONS OF THE 19TH CENTURY, chapter 2? (also gun logic, per Bob Libby)

Las Cruces Sun News 11/04/2015, Page A04

Your opinions

New chapter of robber barons in Las Cruces

Early in 2007, Las Cruces’ movers and shakers were giddy with the announcement of “Vistas of Presidio” and its prospect of doubling the city’s population. The developer of this project seemed to have a Midas touch, passing out money to state officials, local candidates for office and various local “good causes.”

The unraveling of this bounty occurred in slow motion, coinciding with the barely averted meltdown of the U.S. banking system in 2008 caused by “liar loans,” fraudulent mortgage marketing and an earlier loosening of banking regulations.

Sadly, our movers and shakers never got over their gold fever, expecting their chosen candidates for local office to deliver them another bounty, coupled with the return of “drive-by building inspections” and other delights of the Las Cruces of 20 years ago.

It’s not surprising that local second-generation wealth seeks to leverage its way to even greater wealth by, in this case, orchestrating barriers to wage growth among struggling workers in the area and agitating against community improvements because, of course, wealth lives within its own bubble.

One path to greater sustained growth of the local economy is to welcome new business with favorable commercial space lease rates in our abundant local inventory. Sadly, as soon as demand for commercial space develops, lease rates go up, disadvantaging established businesses and discouraging new ones. Government can’t help this problem, but the private sector can.

Of course, what can we expect locally, when on the national stage, a billionaire seeks to buy the office of the president, and a couple of billionaire brothers seem to have already bought Congress and are lusting after the judiciary.

Welcome to the Robber Baron era of the 19th century, Chapter 2. 

— Dan Townsend, Las Cruces

LAS CRUCAN PROPOSES A NEW WAY TO APPROACH THE GUN DEATH DILEMMA IN THE U.S. (as published in the Las Cruces Sun-News)

Regulate gun ownership more like we do cars

When I was a child, I remember my grandfather telling me how he learned to drive on his way home from buying his first car. Boy, have we come a long way since then.

Now roads are paved, there are guardrails, seat belts, licensing, registration and mandatory insurance. The death rate per million miles driven has decreased substantially due to all of the above, and more.

Now our country is faced with a gun death crisis. More than 30,000 people die each year from handguns. Many are suicides and a great number are accidental. What we need now are new safety guidelines. These should include new “smart gun” technology, which consists of guns that will not fire unless the owner has a remote key similar to that of some new cars. Alternatively, there could be fingerprint recognition or use of a pin. One important safety feature is to make guns inoperable without the magazine inserted. This alone could prevent many accidental deaths. Almost everyone accepts the wisdom of a driver’s license, which is obtained by passing a written test and a driving exam. It seems reasonable to me to require this for the operation of guns, too. This, incidentally, may provide the examiner an opportunity to evaluate the applicant’s mental state.

Guns, like cars, should be registered so that a chain of ownership can be determined. This would help identify unscrupulous dealers who may be supplying undesirable owners, i.e. criminals, minors or mentally incompetent buyers. Lastly in seems to make perfect sense that, like motor vehicles, liability insurance should be required of the owners, too. In this way accident victims could be fairly compensated. I hope you will agree that the above suggestions will lead to a safer society by implementing rules no more onerous than those required to drive. 

— Bob Libby, Las Cruces

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Guns

hiram_with_gun2

Las Cruces Sun News 08/09/2015, Page C05

Your opinions 

The Devil’s Paintbrush is still doing damage

The human weakness for mayhem and murder has been a consistent source for profit through the ages, a fact well known to the arms industry behind today’s National Rifle Association.

Armories of Germany, Britain, France, Belgium, Russia and the United States at the end of the 19th century produced versions of the “Maxim Gun,” referred to as the “Devil’s Paintbrush” due to its use in conflict since the original 1883 patent by its inventor, Hiram Maxim: “In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States. He said, ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.’” Ninety percent of those felled in the battlefields of WWI from bullet-related injuries died from Maxims and clones employed in that war. Similar numbers succumbed in WWII and subsequent wars from land and airlaunched ordnance fired at a rate of 600 rounds per minute and higher.

Sprayed ordnance at up to 1,200 rounds per minute is available from the muzzle of the Glock 18, a 2-pound gun that occupies the space within a lady’s handbag.

Trust the NRA, its network of craven politicians and infotainment jockeys to make such toys available to whomever wants one — presently available only to our increasingly militarized police forces — but stay tuned!

Imagine the result of a suspected attack inside a darkened theater answered by vigilantes in the audience with fire, the walls echoing from all directions and lit cell phone screens confused with muzzle flashes — enough body bags for the outcome?

Back to the NRA and its sponsors — Sir Basil Zaharoff, the most notorious arms dealer of all time, was known as the “Merchant of Death.” I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sharing the honor.

Dan Townsend, Las Cruces 

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Wisdom from Berlin

in English: "Anyone who wants to keep the world as it is does not want it to remain!"     Or, to put it another way,  our world is constantly changing--our survival requires that we recognize change and deal with it.

in English: “Anyone who wants to keep the world as it is does not want it to remain!”
Or, to put it another way, our world is constantly changing–our survival requires that we recognize change and deal with it.

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Congress for sale–bargain of the year!

Here’s a thought: let’s buy our Congress back from the special interests who now own it.

We all know special interests own the U.S. Congress and the Federal machinery of governance (i.e. regulatory capture). How much would it cost the American citizenry to buy back their Congress?

The goal in buying our Congress back from the banking cartel et al. would not be to compete with the special interests for congressional favors–it would be to elect a Congress which would eradicate their power and influence altogether.

A tall order, perhaps, but certainly not impossible, if we’re willing to spend the money to not just match special interest contributions to campaigns but steamroll them.

A seat in the U.S. Senate is a pricey little lever of power, so we better be ready to spend $50 million per seat. Seats in smaller states will be less, but seats in the big states will cost more, but this is a pretty good average.

That’s $5 billion to buy the Senate.

A seat in the House of Representatives is a lot cheaper to buy: $10 million is still considered a lot of money in this playground of power. But the special interests– you know the usual suspects, the banks, Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Tobacco, the military-industrial complex, Big Ag, public unions, the educrat complex, trial lawyers, foreign governments, and so on–will fight tooth and nail to maintain their control of the Federal machinery, so we better double that to $20 million per seat. Let’s see, $20 million times 435….

That’s $8.7 billion to buy the House of Representatives.

It seems we’re stuck with the corporate toadies on the Supreme Court, but the President could scotch the people’s plans to regain control of their government, so we better buy the office of the President, too.

It seems Obama’s purchase price was about $100 million, but the special interests will be desperate to have “their man or woman” with the veto power, so we better triple this to $300 million.

Add these up and it looks like we could buy back our government for the paltry sum of $14 billion. This is roughly .0037% of the Federal budget of $3.8 trillion, i.e. one-third of one percent. That is incredible leverage: $1 in campaign bribes controls $300 in annual spending–and a global empire.

Once we bought back our government, what would be the first items on the agenda? The first item would be to eradicate private bribes, a.k.a. private campaign contributions and lobbying.

If you allow $1 in campaign contributions, then you also allow $10 million. There is no way to finesse bribery, so it has to be cut and dried: no member of Congress can accept any gift or contribution of any nature, monetary or otherwise, and all campaigns will be publicly financed.

Is this system perfect? Of course not. There is no perfect system. But the point here is that a system which allows even a $1 private contribution to a campaign cannot be restricted; after the courts have their say, then all attempted limitations prove worthless.

So it’s really all or nothing: either we put our government up for auction to the highest bribe, or we ban all gifts and private campaign financing and go with public financing of all elections in the nation.

That is the only practical and sane solution. Any proposal that seeks to finesse bribery will fail, just like all previous attempts at campaign finance reform.

Any member of Congress who accepts a gift, trinket, meal, cash in an envelope, etc. will lose their seat upon conviction of accepting the gift. Once again, you can’t finesse bribery. It has to be all or nothing, and the only way to control bribery is to ban it outright.

As for lobbying, thanks to a Supreme Court dominated by corporate toadies, it will be difficult to ban lobbying outright. However, that doesn’t mean Congress shouldn’t try to force the toadies on the Supreme Court to make a distinction between a corporation with $100 billion in assets and billions to spend on bribes and a penniless citizen.

(Those two are not coincidental; in a nation run by and for corporations, the citizens all end up penniless unless they own or manage said corporations, or work for a Federal fiefdom which can stripmine the nation at will.)

Congress should pass a law banning paid-for lobbying. If a citizen wants to go to Congress and advocate a position, they are free to do so–but they can’t accept money to do so. If they receive any compensation from any agency, enterprise, foreign government, other citizen, you name it, from any source, then they will be sentenced to 10 years of fulltime community service in Washington D.C., picking up trash, etc.

If the Supreme Court toadies strike down that law, then here’s another approach:

Require all paid lobbyists to wear clown suits during their paid hours of work.

In addition, all lobbyists are required to wear three placards, each with text of at least two inches in height.

The first placard lists their total annual compensation as a lobbyist.

The second lists the special interest they work for.

The third lists the total amount of money that special interest spent the previous year on lobbying, regulatory capture, bribes to politicos and political parties, etc.

Every piece of paper issued by lobbyists must be stamped in large red letters, “This lobbying paid for by (special interest)”, and every video, Powerpoint presentation, etc. must also be stamped with the same message on every frame.

The second item on the agenda is a one-page tax form. The form looks like the current 1040 form except it stops at line 22: TOTAL INCOME. A progressive flat tax is then calculated from that line. Once again, you cannot finesse bribery or exemptions, exclusions, loopholes and exceptions. Once you allow exemptions, exclusions, loopholes and exceptions, then you’ve opened Pandora’s Box of gaming the system, and the financial Elites will soon plow holes in the tax code large enough to drive trucks through while John Q. Citizen will be paying full pop, just like now.

The entire charade of punishing and rewarding certain behaviors to pursue some policy has to end. Any deduction, such as interest on mortgages, ends up creating perverse incentives which can and will be gamed. It’s really that simple: you cannot finesse bribery or exemptions, exclusions and loopholes, because these are two sides of the same coin.

The tremendous inequality in income, wealth, power and opportunity which is distorting and destroying our nation all flow from the inequalities enabled by bribery and tax avoidance. The only way to fix the nation is to eliminate bribery (campaign contributions and lobbying) entirely, and eliminate tax avoidance entirely by eliminating all deductions, exemptions, loopholes, etc. State total income from all sources everywhere on the planet, calculate tax, done.

When you think about how tiny $14 billion is compared to the $3.8 trillion Federal budget and the $14.5 trillion U.S. economy, it makes you want to weep; how cheaply we have sold our government, and how much we suffer under the whip of those who bought it for a pittance.

Readers forum: DailyJava.net.

Order Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation (free bits) (Mobi ebook) (Kindle) or Survival+ The Primer (Kindle) or Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis (free bits) (Kindle) or from your local bookseller.

Of Two Minds Kindle edition: Of Two Minds blog-Kindle

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-would-it-cost-to-buy-congress-back-from-special-interests-2011-6#ixzz3Oqgyuirp

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SAD TALLY–200 MILLION, WORLD POPULATION @1AD, (ditto) WORLD HOMELESS, 2014

Christmas 2014
Thursday, December 04, 2014
It’s hard to imagine how far from the original Christmas story that of 2014 has diverged.
For one thing, there are nearly as many homeless people in the world of 2014 than the entire human population at the time of the Birth of Christ. For another, some human communities are more isolated from each other today, despite modern communication and transportation, than they were in Christ’s time.
This last assertion needs some explanation. Rulers in Christ’s time, equivalent to today’s top .01 percent, were subject to the same diseases, weather and life expectancy of the average of their subjects.
Rulers attended public events and ceremonies, traveled widely in their domains, had audiences with their subjects, led troops in battle and, when found wanting, were rather messily but finally replaced.
It was usually very clear who one’s “rulers” actually were, in ancient times. Today however those with maximum control over our lives are not actually in government. Their control over those who are in government is clear enough when government officials seamlessly travel between government bureaus, Congress, the executive, and lucrative lobbying jobs or sinecures in the private sector.
Even the pretense of disclosure of conflicts of interest was entirely swept away by the “Citizen’s United” decision, which projects the US, which once was rated among the top tier of accountable governments, onto a dark pathway toward the corruption level of, say, Pakistan—if unchecked.
Food and water safety, public education, public health, worker’s rights and compensation are under simultaneous assault today in this country, part of a world-wide trend.
The puppetmasters of all this distress have little regard for nationality and live their span of years in isolation the envy of the Emperors of China in their Forbidden City, moving in their private jets (one, I note, owned by a Saudi Prince, with its own gilded throne chair) from penthouse to yacht to guarded estate with barely a sniff of the air ordinary people breathe, or the heat and cold of ordinary life.
This elite class steadily widens its gap from ordinary humanity by every measure—life expectancy, birth advantages due to dynastic wealth, freedom from concern about the health of the planet, and disproportionate draw upon the earth’s resources to support its opulent lifestyle.
Back to Christmas and its message. Whatever happened to: “Whomever honors the least of these (the poor Jesus preached to) honors me”, or “blessed be the humble (or meek, in some translations) for they shall inherit the earth”? How do you compare the modest contribution of an elderly widow to a Salvation Army kettle to a check from a billionaire whose wealth came from “barely legal” fraud and extortion? Are they equivalent sacrifice in the spirit of Christmas?
What about the rest of us—do we isolate ourselves by addiction to our media devices, drugs (legal and otherwise), purposeful blindness to the needs and distress of others, frenzied shopping or celebrity worship? Is this, as the song lyrics ask, “All there is?”
How about those, in this Christmas season, plotting to impeach the President, dismantle government—(“Starve the Beast” comes to mind), or who are concocting new ways to use their offices to serve their puppet-masters with the expectation of generous reward. Scrooge and Marley were amateurs!
Of course, all who read this column will be honoring Christmas in its original spirit, and will, by example, be models for those clueless about the meaning of the season—we hope!
Have a THOUGHTFUL Christmas 2014–in the company of friends and family!

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FUTURE CHALLENGES–CAN WE COPE?

THE MUDDLE FACTOR
Saturday, August 23, 2014
A cousin recently wrote me, suggesting that the terrible news from around the world seemed to offer little hope for the future.
The tone of her letter gave the impression that she needed a thoughtful reply, not a stock phrase intended to reassure.
Fortunately, my wife and I just returned from a tour of Eastern Europe, during which we were subjected to immersion in the troubled history of the area, revealed to us by residents who lived through it.
An experience during our visit to Belgrade, capital of Serbia, was an example. Noticing my conversation with the clerk of a bookstall, a group of locals of various ages saw an opportunity to practice their English, a compulsory course in Serbian schools for decades.
Starting the dialogue, one in the group said: “Belgrade has been invaded 114 times—with you, it is now 115”. With chuckles all around, the conversation launched into various topics, including the aid sent to Serbia in the wake of WWII by a President largely forgotten by Americans, Harry S. Truman.
A Captain in the American Expeditionary Force in WWI, Truman was opposed, among others, by Josip Broz, an officer of equivalent rank in the army of Austria-Hungary, an ally of Germany in that war. In WWII however, Truman became an accidental President, while Broz commanded an army of Partisans so lethal to the German occupiers of the Balkans that our allied forces could concentrate on the drive to the Nazi heartland. Not only that, but Tito’s (Josip Broz’ adopted name “Marshal” Tito) forces blocked the Soviet army, poised to fill the vacuum left by the departing German army, from partisan-controlled territory, later to become Yugoslavia.
In appreciation, Truman sent shiploads of wheat, corn meal, dried milk and eggs to Yugoslavia’s starving citizens, conspicuously marked with the legend: “a gift from the people of the United States” with a printed U.S. flag on every box, sack and crate. As their contents were utilized, the sacks themselves became shirts, pants, table-cloths and headscarves, the flag and its message on display everywhere in Tito’s realm for years afterward.
The lesson here is, how do people survive all the challenges which their central position in Europe throws at them throughout history while keeping their humanity? My impression is that the skillset needed is simply to be an expert at “muddling through”.
A “muddle”, according to Webster, is: “a confused mess” which in this case would mean a willingness to try anything to get through the day, whether that took a perilous escape from harm, finding food or water, or improvising shelter from the elements for the night. The other part of a survival strategy is to have a “back-up plan” to kick in when the first idea didn’t work.
Sadly, many who live comfortable lives in today’s world tend to be dependent on their “gadgets”, unable to engage with others toward useful goals—dissipating their energies on pleasure-seeking and amusement. Those who live the perilous lives so many experience on the fringes of society are likely, because “survival” is always their focus, to be better at dealing with the unexpected.
Back to the answer to my cousin’s letter. I explained to her that humanity had survived so far, not by inspiration or genius, but by managing to “muddle through” whatever came along. As long as we can do that, we’ll make it through to the end of our allotted span of years, but not without a few scrapes along the way.
I hope that helped.

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