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France's trauma is all our problem

Friday saw a gruesome terrorist attack in southern France, which included a beheading. Following on from Charlie Hebdo earlier in the year, it is certainly highlighting the problem of the enemy within.
The perpetrators? Let's just say they belong to a specific interpretation of a specific religion.
The problem is - what to do about it. Or, rather, what to do about the fundamentalist contingent that does not demonise nor stigmatise the many other followers of the religion in question.
Part of the principles of freedom in Europe is that it should not matter what you call your God. But it does matter if you think that killing people to appease your God is acceptable behaviour. The difficulty? Telling one from another.

It's an open question. I don't have any clever answers.


Meanwhile, if you take a quick Google, you will see amusing videos where CNN entirely mistook a flag of sex toys for Arabic writing, and called this an ISIS Flag. BREAKING NEWS! Isis flag seen at gay pride parade!
Perhaps this in an indication of the difficulty we face, where people who should know better (or at least check the facts before bringing in so-called experts to discuss the issue) are unable to tell icons of dildos and such from Arabic...


The passing of Tama

Some years ago (2004 to be exact), a little railway south of Osaka was wanting to close a station that was not profitable. The locals were not happy with this, so they mounted a successful protest in order to keep their station open. I can understand this, as looking at the area in Streetview, it is the maze of insanely narrow roads common to much of Japan and all around the station are many many bicycles. The people would cycle to the station, take the train, then cycle back at the end of the day. I suspect the narrow roads are a side effect of the well developed public transportation system - indeed several tourist guides have suggested that unless you plan on going into "the country", you probably won't need to think about car rental as the mass transport does everything. This also turns up in animé - name me an animé set in an urban area that doesn't feature children going to school on a train. It's just how things are done. So, yes, I could see that closing the station could present a problem for the locals.
The station is the end of the line. Here it is, here's where the line ends: A little later (2006), all of the staff were removed from the stations as a cost-cutting measure (obviously this was a railway experiencing continuing financial difficulties). Station masters were selected from business near to the stations along the line. Toshiko Koyama, the original station manager, was chosen to continue maintaining Kishi station. Now, Koyama had "adopted" a stray calico cat some years back and he fed her, as did several of the regular passengers along the line. The station was more or less her home. For that reason, and no doubt prompted a lot by the locals, the railway decided to name Tama (the cat) as the official station master of Kishi station. Her job was to greet the passengers that arrive. They made her a hat, and since a cat has no use for money, the railway "paid" her in cat food.
To say this was a popular move would be a massive understatement. Having found fame and popularity, and no doubt a much welcome injection of cash from tourism, the old plain Kishi station was demolished in 2010 and replaced with this:

Public domain image from Wikipedia, scaled down slightly to fit here.

Tama was promoted to "Super Station Master" in 2008 following her success at the job, the mayor of Kishi somewhat disparagingly said that Tama was "the only female in a managerial position" in the company. Ouch.
Tama was promoted again to "Operating Officer" in 2010, and has thus become the only executive of a railway company in history. Rather than letting it go to her head, she remained happily in the ticket office of Kishi station.

Here she is - here is Tama at work:

Image is CC-BY-SA, created by "sanpei" and retrieved from Japanese Wikipedia.
Image has been renamed from "Station-Master Tama.JPG" to "20160628!stationmastertama.jpeg" to fit into blog naming convention. No other modifications have been made.

Tama died of heart failure on 22nd June, at the age of 16 years. Today, Tama was made a goddess (the ultimate promotion?) at her funeral service (it makes sense in Shinto).
Her likely successor will be a cat named Nitama which means... Second Tama.

Proof, if ever it was necessary, that things are just better with cats.


McDo redux

Our local McDonald's has just opened, following a refurbishment. A "relooking", as the French call it.

I snapped this on entry. I wonder if I ought to refer to McDo as WcDougia 2 from now on?

Inside, it has been given a more informal atmosphere and looks a little less like a diner from the '80s. The high-backed red seats have gone. There is even a round table with easy chairs. Ordering has been changed so that you order directly from these huge touchscreen devices. Usefully they have been modified so that you can directly pay by card, or go to the till to pay by cash, meal coupons, and such. Less usefully, the navigation is extremely faffy. To customise an order to say, for instance, no tomatoes and no ice in the coke, you need to select the menu (at the bottom of the screen), tap on the object that appears, tap on customise, tap a "-" for no ice, okay that change... and then start the process all over again. It ought to have a "done" button and just stay in the menu customisation. Maybe I'm thinking like a programmer and not like the dumbasses that usually go to McDonalds (we watched people walk right past the automatic devices and get confused because there was no row of tills to queue at). You don't get to go to a till at all, unless there is some specific reason why you cannot use the machines (small child, wheelchair, etc).

And this leads us to the second problem. You order, you sit down, your meal is brought to you. While this works in the context of a normal restaurant, your interaction with the McPerson is mere moments. You spend more time interacting with a machine. Now, this might seem bizarre to come from the mouth of a borderline-antisocial introvert that spends much of his free time staring at a computer screen (now, on a sunny Sunday, for instance!), but I found the entire process to be unbelievably impersonal.

The food was about the same as it always is. The burgers are reasonably well prepared (my Beef Florida thing looked quite nice) but would greatly benefit from being something warmer than tepid. My chips (special promotional curly chips) were not plentiful (no surprise there), overcooked (luckily I like them that way), and about the same temperature as one should make a baby bottle. I don't know if McDo has some sort of rule about "can't provide hot food in case some halfwit sues us" but I'd rather my food not give the impression that it was made twenty minutes ago and sat in a rack since then. For a newly redesigned place that has been open two days previous, and us eating at around four o'clock in the afternoon (so not a peak time when food is usually prepared in advance), it was rather pathetic. Mom ordered a burger without sauce (doesn't like mayo) and that, a special command, arrived on the distant side of hot. As in barely.

I don't think our local does the breakfast menu yet, but it has a half-hearted attempt at a "Salad Bar". The blurb (promotional image (in French)) says "Prepared in front of you" with a little star pointing to the small print that says "Arranged in the morning at the counter, then created, seasoned, and mixed on command". What this means is the lettuce is put in a bowl in the morning, and the additions (chicken, sauce, etc) are added on command - pretty much how it has always been, no?
Well, not only did I see the employee preparing salads in the late afternoon, but given that my lettuce was limp and tinged brown, I rather suspect that my salad was made the day before. It was a big bowl of lettuce, with some bits of cheese (Grano Padano, if I remember), pieces of chicken burger cut up, and a miserly amount of sauce. As for a salad, it is pretty much Made Of Fail; and given the price of it (the same as a full meal, and all you get is a salad and a slightly stale roll), it would rank to me as Epic Fail. It was an experiment, but not one that I plan to repeat.

With eight automatic ordering machines, a streamlined food preparation area, and having people sit down to await their food, these things may all help optimise the operation. However, we are people, not cattle. I'm sorry, I just can't get over how utterly utterly impersonal the whole thing is now.

If I had to rate the new McDo, let's just say that there are rumours at work of a Flunch to open sometime later in the year (though, sadly, this isn't backed up by anything that resembles actual evidence), I may find myself eating there more than at McDo. I mean - check out the menu - plus "legumes à volonté" means you can help yourself to as much veg as you like. Actual veg, not just chips and whatever tomato is in the burger. This seems to me like a sort of French version of the Little Chef without all the grease (note: I last ate in a Little Chef in 2001, maybe it has changed since then? Or Jesus, what the Fing F? Maybe not...).



Mom has given me permission to copy part of an email in which she discussed this with a friend:

We went to the "all new" McDo. There is no counter ordering now, one must do it all on touch-screens set up just inside the door. Afterwards you sit at a table and ultimately someone will bring your order. They have sacrificed some of the seating area to make the kitchen larger. The salad area is stupid, they say "salads made to order" but the salads are actually pre-made and mine expired at 5 PM today so you know it wasn't made fresh at lunch time. Some of the lettuce was quite limp.

So if we had to fill in a customer satisfaction questionnaire, here is what we would say:
  1. There is no longer any personal contact
  2. The so-called freshly-cooked burger was actually only lukewarm
  3. The salad made to order wasn't, it looked like it was made sometime yesterday or given the limp brown lettuce, maybe even on Thursday
  4. There are only four choices of salads, exactly the same as on the old menu
  5. Service, in spite of the touch-screens, is even slower - and this was at 3.30 when very few customers were there, but a lot of staff were standing around trying not to look bored
  6. Multisex toilets are very Ally McBeal, not McDo. I wouldn't want to send my six year old girl into them on her own
  7. The coffee was nice
  8. The seats were comfortable

I think she means "Fail" as well...



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VinceH, 29th June 2015, 00:10
"Now, this might seem bizarre to come from the mouth of a borderline-antisocial introvert [...] but I found the entire process to be unbelievably impersonal." 
Same problem, different context - but I absolutely hate having to go into banks now that they've shifted over to machines to pay in cheques and such like. 
Amusingly, though, the last few times I've had to do it, the machine has rejected my cheques and instructed me to go to the counter. 
Gavin Wraith, 29th June 2015, 14:31
Loved the picture of Kishi station. The eyes in the roof are a feature of certain parts of Romania - air vents. 
I too will not eat mayonnaise. It seems to be impossible to get sandwiches free of it.

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