Tag: 2019 November Group Writing

Thanksgiving Serving Lines


Don't be Chikin Fill Red KettleAs November turns to December, I reflected on serving lines. I mean lines of food in trays, usually kept hot by a heat source underneath. Behind the serving line, stands a line of people, each poised to serve up a dollop, ladle, or tong full of good eating. Three things come to mind around this arrangement, two from military service and one from Christian service (the “faith community”).

It is a matter of many decades tradition for Army officers, especially commanders, and their “right arm,” their senior sergeant (company first sergeants and the command sergeants major at battalion and above) to appear in their dress blue uniforms, don aprons and serve their troops dinner. The uniform changes to camouflage in deployed areas or when long field exercises go through the holiday, but there is still a tradition, if the dining hall or mess trailer is not all contract workers, of serving your troops. In the largest land force, this is a small recognition of the officers’ dependence upon the enlisted for success. For good officers, this is not the only day of the year when they approach their duty with a servant-leader perspective.

Speaking of dining halls, a Thanksgiving feast, allegedly within the Index of Recipes of the Armed Forces Recipe System, comes to mind. It was 1989 and I had the additional duty of battalion mess officer. As a practical matter, this meant I reviewed and signed the books while an insanely competent E-7 battalion mess sergeant ran the show. And what a show it was that year!

When the River Reverses Its Course: The Ultimate Thanksgiving Observance


Every year in the fall when the Tonlé Sap (the Sap River) reverses its flow, Cambodia erupts into the biggest celebration. For three days in November, the country descends on Phnom Penh for the annual Cambodia’s “thanksgiving festival.” The Tonlé Sap is part of Boeung Tonlé Sap, the lake and river system that stretches across the heart of the country. The French refer to Boeung Tonlé Sap as the Great Lake. The Tonlé Sap links the Mekong to the Great Lake in Phnom Penh, a drain between the two. From May to October when the southwest monsoon brings the rainy season to Cambodia, the Mekong swells. The Mekong rises so fast that not all its water can flow south into the sea. Instead, some of the water forces the Tonlé Sap to reverse its direction, flow north into the Great Lake, and flood its surrounding forest and land. But when the dry season arrives and the Mekong’s level drops, the lake empties its water via the Tonlé Sap back into the Mekong and flows south to the sea. As a result, the Tonlé Sap flows half the time from southeast to northeast and the other half in the opposite direction.

As the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Great Lake is a fishery hotspot and one of the largest catches in the world. Its biodiversity is second only to the Amazon. The lake has been sustaining the Khmer race since the beginning. More than 70% of the country’s protein intake comes from the lake. It also feeds our neighbors, who import thousands of tons each year as well. And it’s not just fish, the flooded land surrounding the lake becomes a fertile ground for the country’s rice production. The Great Lake is the rice bowl of the country. The Great Lake plays a vital role in Khmer culture, which is reflected in our belief, cuisine (we eat 140 pounds of fish per capita annually), livelihood and tradition. Its importance can be found on the bas-reliefs of our medieval temples. It is believed that the Khmer Empire would not have grown as prosperous as it did if not for the Great Lake. Angkor, the old capital, sits on the lake’s northwestern shore.

Service: A Character of the Finest Crystal


During a month devoted to Group Writing on service, it is fitting to speak of Witold Pilecki, of whom I briefly wrote once before on Ricochet, whose example of service to his country and to all humanity serves as an inspiration to all of us.

A life story so dramatic and improbable as to sound like fiction (perhaps lifted from an Alan Furst novel). A Pole who fought against Russians, Germans, Nazis and Communists, a man who volunteered for imprisonment in Auschwitz, organized resistance cells, who escaped from the camp to alert his fellow Poles and the Western Allies about the mass murder of the Jews and urge them (unsuccessfully) to destroy Auschwitz and liberate its captives. Murdered by communists, for 40 years his surviving family suffered, his deeds, and even existence, extinguished in his homeland and little known elsewhere.

Born in 1901 in the remote Karelian region of northern Russia where his family was relocated after participating in the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1863-4 against Czarist Russia (his father spent seven years in Siberia for his role), Pilecki was raised as a Polish patriot. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, young Witold made his way to what was then German-occupied Poland. With the collapse of Germany and amid Russia’s turmoil at the end of the war, Poland regained the independence it lost in 1795. For the next two years, Poland and the new Soviet Union fought a war in which advantage swung wildly; at one point Polish forces entering Kiev, and later the Soviets on the verge of taking Warsaw. The Poles eventually prevailed, preserving their independence. Witold fought throughout, twice receiving the Cross of Valour for bravery.

Recognition of Confederate Military Service


Earlier this year, the Arlington County School Board voted unanimously to rename Washington-Lee High School (mascot: The Generals). Now, I can drive on Lee Highway, through Arlington County (named for the home of Robert E. Lee), to the more virtuously styled Washington-Liberty High School. Surely Lee has enough monuments and memorials to him that we don’t need to worry that history will forget him entirely, but is this trend of erasing disfavored historical figures necessary or helpful?

Specific memorials can be attacked and defended on their individuals merits, but in general, they are an invitation to learn about history. I recently happened to visit the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, VA. It’s a modest building of brick and stone, with a small garden out back. While I knew who Stonewall Jackson was before I took the tour and browsed the museum’s small bookstore, I actually didn’t know much about the man, and I didn’t know what to make of the tour guide’s assertion that Jackson would have preferred a quiet life of obscurity in Lexington. I’ve since picked up a copy of the late James I. Robertson’s biography, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. Reading the first-hand accounts of the man and the times leading up to the Civil War, it’s hard not to acknowledge the complexity of the choices that he made. 

Quote of the Day: The Gettysburg Address


Image result for the gettysburg address image“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” — President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863

Since Lincoln’s delivery 156 years ago, the Gettysburg Address has been parsed and analyzed for its meaning and importance.* I don’t intend to offer my own analysis, but rather to commemorate Lincoln’s eloquence on that day. This post’s title is referring to recent Ricochet posts with the title “Fewer Words” because I think Lincoln’s speech is one of the best examples of how brevity can improve communication.

On this aspect of the Gettysburg Address, I offer the following bonus quote:

Hey Big Tipper


Any discussion of service should eventually consider the subject of tipping. Is the act of leaving a tip for a service employee a form of tax or is it a moment of altruism? Do you as a buyer of services expect to find a linear relationship between the size of your tip and the amount of service delivered or do you just automatically do the math in your head and write it on the bill?

As a lifelong student at the School of Hard Knocks- College of Food Service I can tell you that it is a subject of much discussion, infinite aggravation and a huge component of overall income earned. Of course, tipping is utilized in many service industries besides food service. Taxicabs, hotels, hairdressers and tour guides come to mind. Since my experience is most with food service, I will confine this discussion to one topic: Why don’t we just eliminate tipping and add the full cost of running the business and paying a living wage to the menu prices?

Quirky Service and Other Hazards of Shopping Local


My 2004 Subaru interior needed cleaning—badly. And since I was looking to start a new job where I would be driving my car, I needed to get it done soon. I did a quick Facebook search and found a local car detailing business. The reviews were glowing. But besides the votes of confidence, it was hard to get much in the way of crucial information from what the page offered. A bead on the location would have been helpful. I called the number and the proprietor said he charged $150. I would need to leave the car all of Monday. Later, when I had questions, a couple of my text queries went unanswered.

It was a pain dropping the vehicle off. Other detailing businesses I’d seen offered to come to you with their supplies. And it complicated things that the detailing business lacked clear signage. “Across the street from the Toyota dealership” wasn’t helping me. I pulled into a body shop that seemed close to the description of where I was to turn and asked the woman behind the desk whether anyone recognized the name of the business I was looking for. No, they’d never heard of it. Customers seated against the walls of the cramped pre-fab office regarded me with interest. I pulled back out onto the busy highway and finally found the establishment behind a car wash.

Group Writing 2019: VBS


Too often my posts have seemed to meander to my boyhood days here in the Appalachians. Before long, I’ll start to hear Earl Hamner’s voice in my head as I write up these recollections (“Good night, John Boy…”). Still, it’s difficult not to recall formative events or people primarily during the 1970s. Swinging away from the Viet Nam trauma and psychedelic counter-culture; a boy had to navigate the world with little information. Our only source of news was Walter Cronkite every night and a smattering of articles from the Bristol Herald Courier.

Summers were filled with mowing lawns and baling hay. At least the hay came later when I was old enough and big enough to wrangle a bale. I imagine that old farmers whined about boys having it easy with square bales vs. loose hay as they do now about round bales vs. square. Technology has made life easier for boys at a time when they really don’t need it easier.

A Contrast In Customer Service


One of the downsides of living without a car is that you rely on delivery services or ride sharing to obtain groceries.

I decided to make use of the Walmart delivery service, which uses Doordash. When my order arrived, it was entirely wrong. All of the diet soda was regular soda, not even one of the frozen items was the correct variety. I did not want to sign for the delivery, since it was not what I requested. The driver was apologetic (he had not picked the order) and he contacted Doordash customer service.

On Service


A number of years ago I had the privilege of travelling with a church group to Amman, Jordan. There we met with the local director of a ministry called Global Hope Network International. These folks are Christian ministers whose goal is to serve anyone who needed help. Of course, mostly those are the poor and sometimes homeless, both from the local population and amongst the refugees from various countries. I sat in the living room with three siblings who’d fled Hussein’s Iraq. I drove from village to village with an Egyptians pastor who tended a dispersed flock of Coptic Christians. I preached the gospel in a Sunday service of predominantly Arabic speaking people.

Forgotten Service


This month, we are reflecting on service of all sorts. This weekend marks the auspicious dates of Veterans/Remembrance Day, Global Victims of Communism Day, the fall of the Berlin Wall (effectively ending the Cold War), and the Marine Corps birthday. Let us turn, then to reflect on largely forgotten service, by Buffalo Soldiers, the frozen chosen, Polar Bears, and “the man who would be khan.” Each of us can look around our own communities and circles to refresh memories of those who served with honor.

Buffalo Soldiers:

Earlier this month, the service of Henry Lafayette Dodge was called to our attention. I invite you now to consider the Buffalo Soldiers. While the term was first given to the 10th Cavalry, by the tribes facing them, the term stretched to apply to all four black regiments, with white officers, sent off to do the dirty, thankless jobs on the American frontier after the Civil War. These were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. While the 7th Cavalry, “Garryowen,” as Custer’s regiment, gets the most recognition to this day, there were seven other white cavalry regiments and the two black cavalry regiments, all having their share of the grueling years of policing, garrisoning, and fighting in the American West.

Group Writing: The Bard of the Yukon


Klondikers on Lake LeBarge 1897There are some things that, when they erupt in my life, catapult me instantly back in time, or elsewhere in place or company. Certain smells, and I’m in Granny’s kitchen five or six decades ago. Or, it’s the early 1970s, and I’m cleaning fish on Court Brothers’ wharf in Rustico Harbour, PEI. Or perhaps I’m wandering around Kano Market in 1960, eyes and nose running at the variety of pungent spices and out-of-this-world hot peppers for sale, or just for breathing-in. (I’m thankful it’s only on rare occasions these days, that a redolent something wafts by and reminds me of the camels.) Particular colors, and my sister appears before me, as I think about how well a pair of earrings would suit her, or what use she could make of a gorgeous skein of yarn.

Flowers and landscapes–reminders of childhood, of places I’ve visited, of places I love–reminders of beloved friends, some still here, some, seemingly lost to me forever. All, at one time or another, a part of my life. All, when they happen now, becoming themselves a part of my life today.

There’s a poem that always transports me this way. And it might not be one you expect. It starts like this:

Group Writing: Cowgirl Band Serves Others


They came tumbling into the building pape and plastic bags strewn along the hallway, guitars under their arms, and energy to spare; they were close to the same ages as the patients they would be entertaining. I didn’t realize at the time that they were going where I was going, to the Memory Unit. I was going for my weekly visit to see my hospice patient whom I’d been seeing for several months; they were going to entertain the patients with their musical act.

As musicians and singers go, they were not the most talented bunch. But they made up for their lack of skills with enthusiasm and joy. They were dressed in cowboy hats and boots. They’d brought colorful Halloween leis for every person in attendance. They weren’t always sure of the words of their songs, or the chords they intended to play on their two guitars, so they had small poster boards filled with the lyrics to help them along the way.

Service: Henry Lafayette Dodge


How to provide service to parties in conflict . . . 

In Blood And Thunder, his splendid account of the life of Kit Carson and the mid-19th-century conflicts in the American southwest, Hampton Sides chronicles the story of the Navajo as they fought the Spanish, other tribes, and finally the Americans, after the occupation of New Mexico by General Stephen Kearny in 1846. For most of the next twenty years, the relationship between the United States and the Navajos was troubled, but Hampton noted one exception:

Bearly Heroic Service


Yes, you’ve driven me to bear posting, again. This is the story of a heroic bear, Wojtek (VOY-tek), who helped beat the Axis powers in Italy. He joined a unit of Free Poles, served with them through the war, and retired with honor to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived out his days. His death in 1963 was reported on radio and in the newspapers. His likeness became part of his unit’s official badge.

Wojtek was born in what is now northern Iran, and was orphaned when another group of orphans adopted him into their den. The other group of orphans, so to speak, were Polish soldiers who were released from Soviet Russian prison camps, the Siberian gulags. These men made their way south across the Caspian Sea and down into Persia/Iran, then effectively controlled by the Soviets and British, who had invaded from the north and south on the pretext of securing the oil fields and supply lines.

The Shah had made the miscalculation of trying to be neutral when there was no German force immediately adjacent, in contrast to Spain and Portugal. The British already had a grudge against this local ruler who dared tear up their exclusive oil deal in the 1930s. Deposing and making the Shah a prisoner in South African exile until his death, the British and Russians put the man who would be the last Shah on the Peacock Throne: Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The deposed ruler’s son was realistic and took the throne, eventually outlasting the British Empire and building an alliance with the United States to counterbalance the Soviet Russian empire’s continuation of the Great Game.

Member Post


The November group writing series is on the theme: “Service.” I’ve already deployed the bears, sign up quickly before I turn to outhouses and questionable musical selections! Y’all know I will!  Group Writing themes help generate conversations that are not necessarily about politics or current events. For November, our theme is “Service” All you need do is write a short post to start the conversation. […]

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Small Services


Much of the time, in the day to day reality of human communities, we are presented opportunities to provide small services to others. Set aside good customer service, a dignifying thing in itself. Consider the moments when you are confronted with a basic human need which you can easily meet.

The light rail system in the Valley of the Sun sadly reflects that many have become blind or ignorant of small kindnesses. They have carefully non-human cartoon figures illustrating yielding a seat to those less physically fit to stand. Decent men and healthy younger women stand up when an elder, a pregnant woman, or someone with an infirmity or burdened down with small children and packages boards a train. We all used to understand that. When people follow such a custom, they render a small service to the person given a seat and make themselves and, by observation, the immediate environment of that car a little better.

We all pass by panhandlers. Many deserve to be passed by and are made worse if given the spare change for which they ask. Yet, if we are not so hurried or jaded, we will also see a real need from time to time.

Ill-Served by Stupefying Phones?


Are we all ill-served by “smartphones” that actually stupify? Beyond the concerns about mental health (depression and anxiety, addiction) driven by social media engineered to drive constant desire for interaction, beyond worries about muscular-skeletal concerns from people hunching down into their hand-held digital devices, beyond even negative cognitive performance results, there appears to be a loss of social skills important to every brick-and-mortar business, including restaurants.

This last concern arises from observing servers and bartenders, usually at least partially compensated by tips, ignoring customers, money-making opportunities, lost in keeping up with their Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or Twitter account. So, teens and young adults are being harmed in their job and career development, aside from all the other claimed negative effects of smartphones on teens. To the extent that Americans are putting such devices into children’s hands at a younger age than parents in other countries, they may be building in lifelong disadvantages, while being sold the line that they are actually helping their child get ahead.

How would we expect a young person to pay attention in a workplace, when they have been allowed almost unlimited screen time for years? Should we be surprised that people will not make eye contact? Consider this current commercial for the latest Samsung Galaxy: