Letters to Holly

Wednesday, November 24

Gap Part Two

I went back to the mall with a new Dr. Oid app called ShopSavvy. It's a barcode scanner that uses your camera to read codes and find nearby prices on the same item at similar store. The Superman shirt didn't show up, and I expected that for an item so exclusive that it's only sold in brick-and-mortar Gap stores.

I called the Gap customer service line again and asked them if they could find the item via the item number. The operator did so but confirmed that the smallest size (6 months) is sold out nationwide. They have no sizes smaller than one year. She asked if I wanted to check back later to see if they might re-order that size. I asked if there were some other means I could track the item availability myself. Like, maybe, a website of some sort, a website that might -- indulge me, operator -- take my order online and send the item to me. Nope, I was told. I can either call that number gain or go back to the store randomly to see if they have it.

I remain surprised. I'm so used to shopping in the 21st century that I'm baffled by a major outlet chain's inability or lack of desire to make shopping convenient. I can only defend them if I assume they had no idea this item would be popular. If that's the case, they'll probably over-order the next time, and I'll get it on sale within a few months. There's always eBay too.

A new comic is up. You might see ads on the blog now. I'm testing the Google Ad program with the new-found global demand for Doom recipes. The ads, so far, are unobtrusive. If that changes, I'll end the ad experiment.

Picture of the Day
The new theory on T.Rex is that it was covered in feathers. Blasphemy.

Tuesday, November 23

Retail Horsefeathers

I stroll the mall to kill lunch breaks. I hit my usual shops -- Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, the anchor stores for their constant clearance sales -- and go back to work with a Starbucks drink. I like to go into the Gap stores to look for sales. The three local Gap stores are connected by doorways, so you can go from my sizes to those of the deputy easily. I like Gap when it has a sale. I'm not spending $70 on a sweater, but I'll stock up on $10 thermals. I haven't bought anything at the Baby Gap store, but I appreciate some items that look clever or fun.

For instance, I saw this shirt last week.

The cape is Velcroed on. It didn't come in a size close to where Your Nephew is, and I held off on buying it. It felt rash to buy something he'd have to wait until next summer to wear. But I thought about it over the weekend, and Your Sister encouraged me to buy it. He were probably affected by his new favorite play. We hold him over our heads and zoom around the room. He swims through the air. He's Superbaby. Back to the store I went.

They had only one left, sized for two-year-olds. I can't say I was very surprised. Deflated, yes. I made the mistake of anticipating the purchase and eventual unveiling to the boy. I looked through the store and found no more. I checked the label for the brand name and Googled with my Dr. Oid Phone. Nothing. I checked the Gap website. Nothing.

I picked up the remaining outfit and carried it over to the cashiers who were kibbitizing. They had little interest in helping me as I stood with the hanger on my finger. This is the international retail sign for "I want to speak about this item, perchance to buy it." One of them looked at me and walked away. I could feel Angry Brain clear his throat. The other cashier looked at me and simply said "hi." I said "I need to ask about this please" and explained my hope there would be more coming in. They weren't forthcoming with that info.

"Yeah, it sold fast. We have plenty of Batman." [said while she walked to the Batman shirt and held them up.]
"He's a Superman huh?"
"Yeah, he is. Are you going to get anymore of these in?" [said with an expression that hopefully communicated that I would buy it and one assumed they were in the buying/selling business]

What followed was a clucking of confusion. A third cashier was brought in, and the air filled with "um" and "I dunno." Eventually the new woman said they would get their next shipment in Wednesday and perhaps I could try then. Out the door I went. I wondered if they held single male shoppers in suspicion.

I later pulled up the Gap site at a desktop monitor and called their customer service. After describing my experience and the shirt, I was told that the item was probably a "store-specific" item, and the Gap universe couldn't help me. The store would have to contact the Gap folks to tell them where they ordered the shirt. In other words: Gap can't tell me what Gap stores sell, and Gap.com doesn't sell what Gap stores do. That's a significant breach for the customer to fall into. I see why it's called "gap."

Next time, I'll scan the price label and search via barcode.

Hokey Smoke News of the Day
Via the Associated Press

Vatican: Everyone can use condoms to prevent HIV

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Using a condom is a lesser evil than transmitting HIV to a sexual partner - even if that means averting a possible pregnancy, the Vatican said Tuesday, signaling a seismic shift in papal teaching as it further explained Pope Benedict XVI's comments.

The Vatican has long been criticized for its patent opposition to condom use, particularly in Africa. But the latest interpretation essentially means the Roman Catholic Church is acknowledging that its long-held, anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting someone's life at risk.

Benedict said in a book released Tuesday that condom use by people such as male prostitutes was a lesser evil since it indicated they were moving toward a more moral and responsible sexuality by aiming to protect their partner from a deadly infection.

His comments implied that he was referring primarily to homosexual sex, when condoms aren't being used as a form of contraception, which the Vatican opposes.

Questions arose immediately about the pope's intent, though, because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me no. The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship."

"This is if you're a woman, a man, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another," Lombardi said.

The clarification is significant.

UNAIDS estimates that 22.4 million people in Africa are infected with HIV, and that 54 percent - or 12.1 million - are women. Heterosexual transmission of HIV and multiple, heterosexual partners are believed to be a major cause of the high infection rates in Africa.

Benedict drew the wrath of the United Nations, European governments and AIDS activists when, en route to Africa in 2009, he told reporters that the AIDS problem on the continent couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms. "On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said then.

In the book, the pope was not justifying or condoning gay sex or heterosexual sex outside of a marriage. Elsewhere in it, he reaffirms the Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception and reaffirms the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.

But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the pope is saying that condom use is a lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner.

While that concept has long been a tenet of moral theology, the pope's book "Light of the World" - a series of interviews with a German journalist - marked the first time a pope had ever publicly applied the theory to condom use as a way to fight HIV transmission.

Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau, an expert at the Vatican's bioethics advisory board, said the pope was articulating the idea in church teaching - long practiced by some church officials with regards to condoms - that there are degrees of evil.

"Contraception is not the worst evil. The church does not see it as good, but the church does not see it as the worst," he told The Associated Press. "Abortion is far worse. Passing on HIV is criminal. That is absolute irresponsibility."

He said the pope broached the topic because questions about condoms and AIDS persisted.

"This pope gave this interview. He was not foolish. It was intentional. He thought that this was a way of bringing up many questions. Why? Because it's true that the church sometimes has not been too clear," Suaudeau said.

Luigi Accatoli a veteran Vatican journalist who was on the Vatican panel to launch the book put it this way:

"He spoke with caution and courage of a pragmatic way through which missionaries and other ecclesial workers can help to defeat the pandemic of AIDS without approving but also without excluding - in particular cases - the use of a condom," Accatoli said.

Picture of the Day
This girl is going to become Internet-famous today. When a very popular wrestler lost his world title last night to a bad guy, the cameras cut to the disappointed faces of children in the audience. She was the first. And how anyone could hope to top this is beyond me. That -- THAT -- is the sincere face of audience displeasure. You can almost see the daggers fly.

Monday, November 22

Cooking With Villainy: Porckhops With Sherry Sauce with Glazed Carrots

The Latveria mountains are truly resplendent as autumn's bold colors blanket Doom's fair kingdom. Doom allows this. Doom is pleased.

Doom is aware that this is a time of much hustle and bustle as families gather to celebrate their success and feast themselves into comas. Yes, yes, Doom also will indulge the noble populace of Latveria with the annual Doomsgiving. All Latveria will reap the bounty of our happy laborers. All Latveria will relish the finest foodstuffs, and the world will envy the camaraderie and joy that Doom bestows. Observe, jealous globe, the delights that could be yours if you but recognize the genius and largess that makes Doom the pinnacle of human achievement. Doom is good. Doom is gracious. Doom awaits your fealty.

But before the grand banquet, Doom wishes to assemble a simple meal. Simple but robust in flavor. Simple for Doom to concoct, of course. You lesser beings could not begin to cobble the glorious culinary architecture that Doom whips up as but an afterthought. But Doom feels a swelling of altruism this time of year (which explains why Doom is not crushing the accursed Richards clan while they are sluggish with sated stomachs), and Doom will grant you this delicious boon to tide you over until your own paltry Thanksgiving meals. Do not ask Doom to extend this courtesy a second time.

Now, attend Doom.

Porckhops With Sherry Sauce
4 porkchops
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons dry cooking sherry
4 ounces cream cheese or sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh cut chives
Doom commands you to rub peppercorn on the porkchops and place in the heated oil in a skillet on medium high. Doom commands you to cook the pork eight to 12 minutes, turning once. When done, Doom commands you to remove pork from skillet and set aside, kept warm.

Doom commands you to add sherry and broth to the skillet. Doom commands you to stir constantly over medium heat to loosen drippings from skillet. Doom commands you to add the sour cream/cream cheese and stir constantly until it is melted. Doom commands you to maintain heat to reduce sauce slightly. Doom commands you to add chives and lower temperature on sauce to thicken. Doom commands you to pour over chops.
Doom commands you to smack your lips.

Glazed Carrot Side Dish
1 pound of carrots, sliced
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablepoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 tablespoon orange peel/zest
3 cups water

Doom commands you to boil the water before adding carrots. Doom commands you to to allow the water to boil again and then reduce heat to simmer for ten minutes. Doom commands you to drain the carrots and set aside.

Doom commands you to heat butter, sugar, salt, and peel in a skillet over medium heat. Doom commands you to stir constantly until mixture is bubbly. Doom advises that the mixture may become pasty as the sugar combines with butter. Do not be alarmed, puny one. This is no reason to cower. Whatever form your mixture takes, Doom commands you to add carrots and coat with mixture in skillet until carrots are warmed and serve.

Doom commands you to make yummy sounds. Doom suggests that you allow glaze and sauce to mix. Doom himself is impressed with the alchemy he has consumed. Doom's concoction is a true reason to be thankful this year.

Doom decrees you are welcome.

Small Move, Sparks. Small Moves.

When the food grinder instructions tell you how wonderful the apples will be when you mush them for a baby, they do not say that the apples will oxidize immediately and turn into the most yucky looking crud this side of his diapers. Yet, it tasted right, and he seemed to like it. This was his first fruit and his first ride in the high chair. The seat is a little big for him; his arms can't quite reach properly across the tray. We gave him a sip cup to play with and filled it with water. It's built differently than the bottle nipples and requires some effort to get the drink. Also, he wasn't impressed with the flat taste of water. We progress slowly.

However, he also may have executed his first intentional cooperation. Usually, when you try to put his pants back on, you fight to get two fat, bent legs into two pants legs. It's a struggle. Tthis weekend, when I held up his pants after a diaper change, he stuck out both legs arrow straight. It was a definite muscle movement that lasted more than a few seconds. He wanted to help and moved accordingly. I was delighted. It suggests "normal" mental development and motor coordination. I told Your Sister about it when she woke up from a nap, and she got the same results a few hours later when she changed him.

I ran Sunday for the first time since the abominable performance in the Halloween race. I stayed in a low gear and chugged through about 3 miles, including the rotten hill near our house and intended only to walk a cool-down lap around the neighborhood. I was almost back to our hose when the iPod shuffled onto "Hungry Like The Wolf," and I had to run and run flat-out. I had no choice. The faux jungle rhythms got me kooky. That was fun, and now I'm suffering (the new title of my autobiography).

We've made some conditional plans for the weekend travel with Mom with the understanding that we'll have to be flexible. She seems up for it. Your Sister is weighing seeing a new Disney movie with the nieces versus shopping with the in-laws. Neither sound much fun for a five-month-old. I could stay home and mind him while scarfing leftovers.

Picture of the Day
This might be the largest man-made partial lunar eclipse ever seen.