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Shopping voyeurism
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Lead Story

Blair Fowler, 16, delights her frenzied fans as a "haul queen," inspirationally "shopping for glory" by smartly tearing through stores and then displaying and expertly describing her purchases on Internet videos. A March Times of London dispatch from Los Angeles noted Fowler's acclaim "for her ability to deliver a high-pitched 10-minute lecture on the merits of skinny versus low-riding jeans, apparently without drawing breath." According to The Times, at least 100,000 "haul" videos are available on YouTube, mostly from "amateurs." Fowler's videos, though, have been viewed 75 million times by "haul" wannabes (mostly teenage girls).

Leading Indicators

• American companies continue trying to outsource work overseas, no matter how increasingly improbable the project. The Chronicle of Higher Education in April reported on the University of Houston business school's contract to have student papers uploaded to "teaching assistants" (mostly residing in India, Singapore and Malaysia), who read them, mark them up and offer constructive advice. UH professor Lori Whisenant, who initiated the university's contract with the firm EduMetry, said she is generally pleased with the results.

• Recycled Components: (1) Swiss clockmaker Artya announced in March the creation of a wristwatch set in fossilized dinosaur feces (with a strap made with skin from an American cane toad). Designer Yvan Arpa told the Associated Press the watch would sell for about $12,000. (2) The spa Ten Thousand Waves near Santa Fe, N.M., is only the latest U.S. facility to offer as a "signature" treatment the "Japanese Nightingale Facial," supposedly used for centuries by Japanese geisha for skin rejuvenation. Nightingale droppings are dried and sanitized, then spiced with oils and used as a face scrubber.

• Recession-Proof Markets: (1) Jimmy Choo stores in New York City quickly sold out recently of their new, blinking, women's shoes with five-inch heels, which light up with every step taken, at $2,495 a pair (although the unrechargeable battery dies after about 100 uses). (2) A Georgia Tech advertising researcher, writing in the current Hastings Center Report, found that college women seeking to donate their eggs for in vitro fertilization could expect to make on average $2,350 more than someone just like them except who had SAT scores 100 points lower.

• Stimuli: (1) A North Carolina research organization in March, picking the state's 10 worst destinations for federal stimulus grants, included two ongoing projects at Wake Forest University: long-term cocaine-addiction in monkeys, and the potential benefits of yoga on menopausal hot flashes. (2) The Florida Legislature, sensing a need to jump-start business in the faltering yacht industry, reduced the sales tax. Rather than tax the entire selling price, tax would be levied on only the first $300,000 (for example, giving a beleaguered yacht buyer a $42,000 cut on the overall price of a $1 million boat).

• Bailing Out AIG (update): In 2006, the about-to-fail AIG wrote a $15 million life insurance policy on the nearly impecunious Suzy Tomlinson (then 72), wildly inflating her net worth, with her 32-year-old "social companion" as beneficiary. Two years later, Ms. Tomlinson drowned, fully dressed, in her bathtub following a night of partying, and the last person to see her alive was that $15 million man himself. Authorities in Indianapolis called the death an "accident," but AIG thinks it was gamed by the companion, an investment consultant. According to an April Wall Street Journal report, this is but one of 100 or so challenges to "stranger originated" life insurance policies sold in the go-go years.

Abnormal Science

• Child-Bearing, Explained: Virginia state legislator Bob Marshall, speaking in February in opposition to state funding for Planned Parenthood, said the organization is partly responsible for the number of disabled children in America. According to the Old Testament, he said, being forced to bear a disabled child is punishment for the mother's having earlier aborted her first-born. "(W)hen you abort the first-born ... nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children."

• When stroke victims recover, they have sometimes acquired bizarre obsessions, like one by David Stopher of North Tynesdale, England, who found himself unable to say no to salespeople. According to a March Daily Mail report, the biggest beneficiary of Stopher's condition has been the wireless telephone network (known as 3), whose marketers had signed Stopher up for six different phones and plans at the same time (and paid all on time until his brothers stepped in to persuade 3 to restructure the account).

• Heather Has Two Mommies and a Daddy: Scientists at Britain's Newcastle University announced in April that they had grown human embryos free of certain serious genetic diseases by first merging DNA from two fertilized eggs to eliminate the potential deadly marker(s). The resulting child would have over 99 percent of the DNA of the mother and father (i.e., all except the unhealthy markers). One scientist compared the procedure to "changing the battery on a laptop" (which leaves the data files intact).

• Intelligent Evolution: Researchers from Royal Roads University in Canada reported last year that the large, carnivorous pitcher plants of Borneo prefer to eat insects and spiders, but where those are in short supply, as in the Philippines highlands, the pitchers have grown to a size accommodating an alternative source of the nitrogen they need. The pitchers have "learned" that if they produce copious amounts of nectar, it will attract the tiny-mouse-sized tree shrew to harvest it, and the shrews, trapped inside the plant, will leave droppings directly on the spot most advantageous for the pitcher to consume them. Said professor Charles Clarke, discovery of the arrangement "totally blew us away."

Least Competent Criminals

(1) Police in Berwick, Maine, made an easy collar in April, solving four residential burglaries. Their two suspects (ages 33 and 32) committed the crimes while wearing GPS monitoring bracelets following an earlier arrest, and their movements coincided with the burglars' route. (2) The Drug Warehouse burglar in Tulsa, Okla., in April escaped, but the crime was captured on surveillance video and features the perp, hearing sirens, grabbing his ladder and scrambling up through the ceiling to find the passage he used to get in. However, as he scrambled, he kept falling through the ceiling to the floor, only to have to try again. He fell to the floor six times, but escaped on the seventh try.