Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Limited Edition Undercover Wing-Nut Optimus Prime action figure set

Prod. #KRZE: 2012 Limited Edition Undercover Wing-Nut Optimus Prime action figure set

From the Manufacturer: For 5000 years, noble Optimus Prime has led the Autobots in defending their friends against the Decepticon empire. To Optimus Prime nothing is more important than preparing for the final battle between good and evil! To that end the Autobot leader has ensured he is ready for any situation, from open combat to stealthy covert operations! Optimus Prime has undergone his most dangerous and awesome transformation yet, to that of a semi-truck promoting Christian jingoism!

No one, including the evil forces of Megatron, will suspect that the savior of humanity hides in this ubiquitous, easily ignored semi-truck. Like the real world “Jesus Christ Is Not A Swear Word” trucks that are typically over-looked by millions of people daily, you can have hours of play fooling Megatron by hiding Optimus Prime in plain sight by parking on highway overpasses and in the lots of bankrupt shopping malls! But unlike most of the followers of useless Bronze age platitudes and oppressive belief systems Optimus Prime is always ready for action! Beware, evil! Optimus Prime and his Autobots don’t act on faith, THEY ACT!

Accessories included:

  • (1) Crate of guns 
  • (1) Bible (mint condition, never read)
  •  (1) Box of limited edition Decepticon authentic tithing envelopes 
  • (1) Pad of Accounts Receivable billing receipts to charge church-goers for the truck rental.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I SAID I was sorry

Here's one that has been in the back of my mind for years: In Legion of Super Heroes v4 #15 from December 1990, Kono is depicted wearing a jacket with the design  “I said I was sorry” design on the back. There is an added emphasis in the statement which seems to reveal some frustration that someone isn't accepting an offered apology.

I thought it might be Kono's smart-ass apology to one of the Legionnaires, Kent Shakespeare, that she photographed in the nude without his knowledge, but that happened in the books much later in issue #20.

Was it nothing but a fashion statement, the scene shown out of sequence with issue #20 or a message from the creative team to fans or some person?

Friday, October 26, 2012

A deer in the headlights

I guess we should be grateful for small mercies in that these backwards, obstructionist, mendacious and pathetic politicians never learn. It's a form of Darwinism that they keep taking themselves out of the running by speaking and speaking and even more speaking of subjects they are too stupid to realize they are not smart enough to address. 

Pity them a bit. Technology more advanced than a steam engine seams to baffle them.  Politicians, particularly the kind of repressive, oppressive types that embrace magical thinking (what little there is) fear of science and of all things being equal seem unable to grasp a certain basic fundamental of being on a campaign trail. One of which being: What you say can come back to you.

Almost every person evolves a bit during their lifetimes. Experiences and exposure to things change you, or should. So it is okay if a belief changes over time or is tempered by maturity and progression. People may over time come to have a different opinion on some things than they did in the past. The problem arises when those views change swiftly depending upon the environment or venue as in cases where a politician 'flip-flops'. Or when those views and beliefs in spite of all evidence to the contrary will not evolve or progress beyond what they perceive as the norm in their insular frightened little world.

What the ridiculous samples of humanity, the Akins, Mourdocks and even the Romneys don't seem to understand is that their statements, once uttered, do not fade away. They haven't for years upon years. The time of campaigning when aspirants to office stood on the caboose of a train and speechified to a gaggle of miners in Kentucky is long gone. Politicians are not able to say one thing then fire up the boiler, leave the miners in their coal dust and ten miles distant vomit an entirely different set of promises to farmers knowing the disparate groups will never meet and compare notes.

Say one thing, assert another, promise something, dissemble another and millions, not a gathering of a few dozen, will know about it within minutes. They become caught like a deer  in the headlights of a on-rushing truck. The speech to a group of the like-minded will without fail will be shown to the world at large to be regressive, disgusting and exclusionary. Hypocrisy will be revealed, stupidity exposed, guilt under a harsh spotlight. These distinguished public servants are gobsmacked when the waiters at their millionaire's luncheon spread their vile opinions via the internet. They are stunned when the waiters dare not to be deaf or blind robots but people with feelings and opinions. The politician who belittles more than half the nation in one generalizing sweep cannot comprehend that the message they spew in from of a camera will be seen by everyone who cares to look. In spite of what some media outlets attempt there is no technological or magical filter that ensures the public message reaches only the eyes and ears of the similarly minded.

Their fear of loss of money or power is almost comical. Almost inevitably the politician, shown to what a pathetic specimen they really are then back-pedals, performs an insincere 'flip-flop' or worse, reinforces through stupid false pride their previous statements. The system, however flawed, crashes against them hurting them, often fatally where it will cause the most damage. The campaign chest. Money dries up. Next comes influence and support as the other deer not yet foolish enough to make the dash from forest's edge shrink away from the exposing lights. They bide their time, waiting for the road to clear, not understanding that every time they make the mad run out from cover the car is almost there, racing down the road to meet them.

So it is somewhat good these politicians do not learn from their mistakes. The more they speak the more they are outed and marginalized by the rational population. Eventually even those that do not believe in allowing people to thrive, those that adhere to some disgusting cult of suffering, those who desire nothing more than money and influence and sell principles and people to get it will have to change or pretend to. Each time they spew some ridiculous bigoted or ignorant rant the world reacts by healing and improves by relegating them to irrelevancy. Slowly, steadily, eventually they will fade away to be replaced by better persons who actually believe in liberty and equality.

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints as adapted by me for the cover of Wonder Woman #13 (Dec 2012) published by DC Comics, with original art by Cliff Chiang. I really liked how the tweaking of that poem worked out for this. Wonder Woman appeals to one of her patron Gods then is enlightened when she realizes she doesn’t really need them. As a character and symbol Wonder Woman kicks ass.

And for those that don’t get the point and think Hera abandoned her, the lesson is: when Wonder Woman didn’t need any help she left Hera behind. Maybe they missed the ‘stood on your own’ part. There is also a reference to 'panels of her life' and not 'scenes' because comic book character. This isn't a jab at Christianity or religion either. This is, however.

Issue Credits: Story: Brian Azarello, Art: Tony Akins & Dan Green, Colors: Matthew Wilson, Letters: Jared K. Fletcher.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fun in the Sun

In case you were unawares it is Jenna Russel who performs the sadly short yet nifty song 'Fun in the Sun' for the end credits of the UK Sci-Fi comedy series Red Dwarf.  Undoubtedly many have heard the tune but few have probably ever connected the person to who sings the song. 

Yes, this is on my mp3 player.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday with Hayley Mills: Summer Magic player piano LP

From Disney Hipster Blog, Summer Magic Player Piano Sing-A-Long.

As far as representing  Hayley Mills this LP cover makes only the barest attempt to represent the cast in caricature but the above link has a nice video of Hayley Mills singing Flitterin'.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Grocery Store Artifact: Probable Causes

This is a follow up to the post Before donating at the register.

Went in to work last week to see the signs threatening employees that don't ask for donations were all removed. They were removed by a directive from the corporate level. The store manager informed everyone that they are no longer allowed to post signs offering free items for not begging for donations or run raffles. Their are a few likely reasons I can speculate about for this but I doubt it is because the company is taking pity on the cashiers. In last month's big training session the district manager spent 30 minutes impressing upon everyone to get as much in donations as possible because it is a good thing to do and you can make a difference. The 'or else' was inferred but unspoken though we were told a charming story of how the least-donation earning employee in the district in danger of being terminated turned her prospects around and is now a shining example of a 'can do' attitude.

Here are some of the reasons I can think of why the signs were disposed of:

Compliance: One scenario is that the law prohibits it or the union has finally responded to what must be a huge flood of grievances from workers. People have been terminated, censured and demoted because they are not bringing in enough in customer donations. A manager would be pretty stupid to put that cause as a reason for termination so they dissemble or fabricate other reasons. An investigation would reveal a disturbing trend and restore the job but unfortunately even with a union at their side many young employees give up knowing they can get a job for same pay with less work somewhere else.

Cost: Since most stores that give away free items have no way to account for them being disbursed (this is a trail many managers would be uncomfortable being tracked and accounted for). The amount of shrink, or rather product loss, on whatever is being given to the customer (2 liter soda, reusable shopping bag, etc) must be prohibitive company-wide. For example, a large retail chain used to give away boxes and books of matches for free. That is, until a few years ago someone saw the annual losses in matches sales and how much the store was giving away and put a halt to it. Likewise someone may have noticed how much the company was losing in bags and soda and made the connections to the timing of donation drives.

Complaints: At least once per hour I receive a complaint from a customer about us asking for donations. Some display a good nature, some resigned. A few are hostile. At more than 4000 customers a day per store imagine the complaints nationwide not just at the store level but those getting phoned in and via internet messaging to the corporate level. This is least likely reason some of the pressure is off the cashiers. Unlike other complaints about service, cleanliness and diversity of products so important is the goal of fund-raising that a company will commiserate with a complaint but they would never, ever stop their attempts to collect for a cause.

Public Perception: Increasingly, particularly due to the fraud and public relations disasters of the last several years charities are under ever more scrutiny as to what they do with their collected funds. Calls for clarity and transparency particularly during rough economic times of charities are increasingly frequent. Charity drives that pledge 'up to' 2 million in donations, yet regularly collect 7-9 million during the drive are being asked to account for where the surplus is going. Some companies are forthcoming with where the money goes and unsurprisingly some are very resistant to the idea of letting the people who gave them money become aware of where it all went. Is most of it going to cure a disease or to buy a sitting board member a Porsche or paying for fact-finding junkets to vacation resorts? Some companies that support causes, the most popular of which is for breast cancer awareness, use a marketing tactic known as 'pinkwashing'.  This is when a company has minimal involvement or is not actually participating in the cause but for marketing purposes gives the impression through imagery and color scheme that it does. I am also wary of any charity that states they are promoting 'awareness' and 'education' and not directly making the promotion of medical science and a cure their primary mission. Depending on the charity  the terms 'awareness' and 'education' could mean nothing more than pink ribbons on things to buy and may not be in their purview or mission to promote such basic preventive services as mammograms or a healthy diet.

Conflict of interest: This is the most likely cause for removing the signage on the registers and relieving the pressure on the cashiers. Among other things how much a store collects in donations has a direct bearing on a store manager's evaluation. Lesser known is that most companies also attach a financial incentive to performance. Bonuses for top-performing managers can be very lucrative. No single aspect of managing a store can ensure a large bonus and they are evaluated on a whole but politics coupled with success in desired 'sexy' areas lead to positive evaluations and then a bigger bonus.

Some time ago in the company I worked for the financial incentive for the cashier that collected the most for a donation drive was removed. It was eliminated because of the discovery that company-wide many would add a donation to the customer's bill without their knowledge. It would have been a good idea to stop the manager incentive at the same time but the corporate mind-set is that unless threatened the workers will not ask and the managers won't put in the effort unless they make it worth their while.

Managers are notorious for gaming the system to their advantage. Nothing wrong with that. It is expected they do the job the best of your ability by being smarter, faster and more competent than your peers. But there is a line you don't cross. They often collect donations prior to the official start date and continue to collect after the drive is completed. Funds from one drive may be diverted to the cause more favored by their direct superiors. Found money or errors in the store's favor, which is supposed to be applied to the total sales for the day will be instead added to the donation total (such funds are recorded separately and returned if someone claims the money or requests a refund, we just don't let it sit loose in a drawer). They hold raffles and do other stunts designed to create an unfair advantage over other stores.

Since the signs were removed and word came down that raffles and other donation attempts are no longer allowed then it is highly probable that enough managers made noise about their disadvantages compared to other managers. They may have felt they were marginalized or punished for following the rules. With the added aspect of employees grievances the issue may have been brought to someone's attention. It is probably that in the interest of ethics, keeping the peace and fairness put a stop to the practice which made life a bit easier for the cashiers. For now.

Truth is, requesting donations over and over sometimes in the same order bears good and positive results. Undoubtedly there will be a marked drop in donations merely due to many of the cashiers no longer feeling they have to request one from each and every customer. If that happens I speculate that the pressure on the workers will return multiplied many times over but be presented in terms that are not so public and will have to do more with an employees' general attitude and overall job performance.

Update: According to memos the new Breast Cancer partner (one that is more focused on an actual cure, not 'awareness') allied with the store did not want employees forced to ask for donations under threat of penalties so the practice was halted. It was not reintroduced in the ensuing donation drives since. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Supergod: The Need for God Explained

right click to expand your mind
In these three pages from 2011's collected Supergod, Warren Ellis and team explains humanity's primitive, irrational, silly, self-destructive and self-limiting need to create deities and believe in superstition. Personally I am glad we are slowly yet surely outgrowing that horrific aspect of our continued existence.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Grocery Store Artifact: How haste makes waste that affects your food

Thinking of eating at your local deli? Work spaces looks nice and clean, staff looks appropriately groomed, caring and conscientious? Well, before you do take a glance at the phone and any register behind the counter. Regardless of the service and appearance of everything else if the secondary equipment is unclean then in spite of how everything else appears they may be indicative of a greater problem in the service area. In the delicatessen the grime on peripheral equipment consists at the least of a slurry of meat and vegetable oils, fats and other bits of food and chemicals transferred by touch and deposited via the air from venting ovens, fry vats and steam tables. In short the surfaces of any neglected food prep area equipment are a constant and unhealthy vector for germs.

Much of this is directly due to the economy and the way it shapes retail establishment operations. Certainly, any business can be prone too cutting corners on safety. Not all eating establishments fall prey to this mentality but even those who truly care about quality and their products can unintentionally create an environment where food safety is less than a primary concern. When sales are depressed then the number of employees available in store departments are reduced. More work is given to less and less staff without an increase in the time allowed for completing the extra tasks. Budgets for staffing is tight and few stores can afford to have any department work at a loss. This leads to a constant atmosphere of playing catch up with the wrong decisions to let certain things go by the wayside in an attempt to stay current with basic duties. Haste in this instance, makes waste that could end up in the food chain.

Speed and trying to keep up with the basic demands of the department are not the only cause of  sub-standard work areas but most of the problems in an otherwise fine environment stem from time pressures causing stress on the employees. Likewise depending on where you shop basic food prep areas and hygiene may be unfavorable because people are sometimes lazy, slovenly or careless. That is why most cities have entire departments dedicated to training, certification, sanitation, inspection and rating of eating establishments.

As a minimum all the equipment whether it is used in food prep or not should be as clean and presentable as possible. Dirty phones and cash registers in the service area, normally not directly related to food prep, may reveal that the staff could be under pressure to serve customers at the expense of department safety. Primarily this may be because of employees feeling they are unable to fully complete their tasks while ensuring they assist customers as close to possible to the end of the business day without occurring any overtime or going past their scheduled shift. Rightly or wrongly employees often feel that they do not have the time to clean anything but the basic equipment before they are forced to sign out from their shift and depart. When the department is closed for the day the equipment, main and peripheral areas should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. If the peripheral areas are not being fully cleaned then the department is not being properly managed. This negatively affects the consumer.

This is not alarmist. I've worked in a deli and have often observed people absentmindedly touching a handle, cleaning rag, phone and etc. while properly wearing gloves but failing to change them before helping another customer. While California is stricter regarding food prep standards my deli employment experience was in Maryland. The region is which I worked did not require food workers to obtain training and certifications in handling food safely and instead relied on an employer's sometimes inadequate and poorly executed on-the-job training programs. In Maryland all my food safety was learned from co-workers and in total consisted of about an hour of common-sense tips of how to clean equipment, cut and handle food over a the span of a week or so while I worked.

The majority of what I learned about food safety wasn't volunteered and there were no set training tasks to be completed, goals to be met or a curriculum. If I didn't specifically ask about something I wasn't told how to do it or how to care for it. For instance, a probe is used to check temperatures on the products in the case to ensure they will not spoil. Employees regularly inserted the probe into the products one after the other. They did this because no one had ever told them that using the same probe was a bad practice and caused transference of one product between another. FYI: You place the probe between the bricks of cheese, not poke into the product.

Since some products were cooked, some raw, some older than others and some were still sealed this violated basic hygiene and caused cross-contamination within an entire stock on a nearly daily basis (The proper way to check the temperatures was to place the probe between each item in the case). In contrast, a class provided by a vendor of popular deli meats and cheeses to learn how to properly present and sell their product comprised of a classroom course of 8 hours a day for 5 days (employees that failed the course were demoted to bagging clerk or terminated, depending on their pay scale going in). While that was Maryland human nature is much the same everywhere and there are problems common wherever you are. Being a manager is guiding human nature into other better directions to achieve goals.

Staff working in rough economic times are often not scheduled past closing for the purposes of cleaning or other duties. For example, if the deli closes at 10 pm then odds are the employees are also scheduled so that their shift is over at about the same time. The closing workers are often forced to clean and prepare the deli for the next day near the end of  the shift and hope no customers arrive which would cause them to clean the equipment again and accrue overtime or work past their schedule. This would violate the budget for allotted hours and cause them to be punished.

The deli staff may also be under instructions by management that for a positive customer service experience and in the hopes of one extra sale before closing they must assist any customer that arrives regardless of the time or how near the end of shift a staff member may be. During periods of inadequate staffing employees from other departments may volunteer or be tasked to assist departments that prepare food. Some regions have laws that do not require employees to become a certified food handler unless they work in a food prep area for a set number of days. That means a company can use any employee they choose to assist a deli or meat and seafood department as long as they don't work there too many consecutive days in a row. Think about that. 

In the interests of speed and getting their tasks done it is not unheard of for family members or friends of the time-pressured employee to pitch in and help them finish their duties. Non-employees helping is unsafe in many ways. Not being employees they may be injured, are a liability and are not trained or certified in proper hygiene as required by law. I have witnessed this occurring in both Maryland and California (and as a manager have taken steps to halt the practice when I discovered it). A favored restaurant in Southern California I used to frequent recently lost their A-Rating Health Certification directly due to repeated violations concerning non-employed family members without food handler certifications working in the kitchen.

Haste to avoid getting censured or terminated for unauthorized overtime or working past the posted schedule can lead to poorly cleaned work areas and equipment. The night shift employees do what they can as time permits but sometimes leave a lot of work to be done by the opening crew. Common wisdom would be that the morning shift will have more employees available but this is not always the case. Even if staffed with a full complement the opening shift employees then however unintentionally perpetuates the cycle by being too busy with customers, morning food preparation and cooking to adequately clean up what was left undone from the day before. In between customers and the regular duties they then are forced to catch up with work from the previous day all while attempting to maintain standards during the busy day. Also, many establishments have a set time limit on how long a customer's order will take or the item is free. This adds even more pressure to the employee to cut corners in the interest of speed to avoid losing a sale or a customer.

Compounding the problem the prevailing Management theory at most places is if the current employees are unable to do a thorough job in a timely and efficient manner then the next new-hire will. The result of all these factors is employees letting what is considered 'unimportant' in the routine operation of a deli slide in the interests of speed and getting done for the day. Unrealistic performance goals and being under-staffed is a reason there is so much turn-over of employees in chain delicatessens.

High turn-over means that a good proportion of the staff is always new. A common complaint from customers is that no one in the deli seems to know what they are doing. This is due in large part to the rapid exit of knowledgeable employees who can receive the same wages for far less work and stress elsewhere and the steep learning curve of the new deli staff. In my experience it is not uncommon to see a new hire left alone on their first day in the deli because the scheduling budget will not provide for additional workers.

There is no excuse other than personal rationalization for a dirty food preparation area or equipment but the the reality is that this cycle will continue until such time as employees are under less pressure, assigned dedicated cleaning time that is uninterrupted by other tasks, regardless of if they exceed their scheduled shift with or without accruing overtime.