What the Taliban buy when shopping for themselves

140 pairs of tidy whities, bro’

An army offensive in Taliban-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan has caused large numbers of people to flee to safer regions. Among them is shopkeeper Rasheed Rehman, who until recently counted Taliban fighters among his best customers…

Miranshah is the administrative capital of North Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Rasheed says he had a large shop in the main market there, selling all manner of cosmetics, socks and stockings, and a few electronic items.

He says he used to earn between 100,000 and 115,000 rupees a day, and that Taliban militants were the biggest spenders. According to Rasheed, they would buy plenty of goods on every visit – and they wouldn’t haggle to get prices reduced.

“They used to prefer foreign or branded perfumes and imported body sprays. They liked the ones with a strong scent.”

In fact, Rasheed would travel especially to Islamabad and Lahore in order to procure the kind of imported merchandise the Taliban preferred…

The perfumes they bought for their womenfolk included one called Secret Love, and Blue Lady by Rasasi.

They would ask for Head and Shoulders or Clear shampoo and Dove soap.

When it came to underwear, they preferred it white – briefs or Y fronts…

Another shopkeeper from Miranshah, Sohail Masih, a tailor, confirms that the Taliban would invariably be the best customers in the market, spending 2,000 to 3,000 rupees at a time – for many people that would be two weeks’ salary.

“They would drive to my shop in big white cars with black-tinted windows and had no qualms about doling out wads of cash,” he says.

“The kind of things they would buy, well people like me can’t even conceive of buying them.”

Pointing out once again that we’re dealing with run-of-the-mill bandits, folks. Neither the average Pashtun or Pakistani nor fixated Tea Party Islamophobes have their history or facts straight. Just because gangsters and thugs claim their mission is grounded in some variant of a religion doesn’t make it so.

And that ain’t new. Petty despots have claimed their mission is one of fighting for religious freedom, ethnic liberation, sectarian justice – time and again. A significant part of the trouble is the “other side” of the conflict is often just as willing to accept that crap lie as advocacy because it fits their own matrix of hate.

Tanning as part of mother-daughter bonding

Who says teenagers don’t listen to their parents?

Public health researchers recently published an intriguing report about the indoor tanning habits of college students, based on a survey of more than 200 female students at East Tennessee State University…

The researchers, Mary Kate Baker, a doctoral student, along with Joel James Hillhouse and Xuefeng Liu, wanted to find out two basic pieces of information. First, how old were the students when they had started indoor tanning? And second, who did they go with on their first visit to a tanning parlor?

Often, it turns out, it was their mothers.

Indoor tanning, it seems, has become in many families a mother-daughter bonding ritual, like shopping or going to the hairdresser…

What was interesting is that for the girls who were introduced to tanning by their mothers, the habit really took hold. College students whose mothers introduced them to indoor tanning were almost five times as likely as the others to be heavy tanners once they were in college. The heavy tanners used indoor tanning at least twice a month or more.

The ones who went with their mothers first also started around age 14, on average, two years earlier than the others, who started around age 16.

Skin doctors are worried about the link between indoor tanning and skin cancer. The World Health Organization has labeled indoor tanning a Class 1 carcinogen, the same class as tobacco. And some research suggests that indoor tanning may even be addictive.

Alas, information – in this instance – doesn’t stand up well against a culture that presumes white people darkening their skin makes them more attractive.

Starbucks adding free Wi-Fi, free access to subscription sites

Starbucks’ coffee drinks have become synonymous with the high costs consumers are cutting back on these days, but at least the Wi-Fi connections in its stores will no longer require a credit card.

Starting July 1, Starbucks will let anyone connect to its WiFi network for free. This fall, the company will add a content network called Starbucks Digital Network, in partnership with Yahoo and other sites, which will include local content you won’t be able to read anywhere else. Both offerings will be free.

Free Wi-Fi is in my mind just the price of admission — we want to create … new sources of content that you can only get at Starbucks,” chairman and president and CEO Howard Schulz told the Wired Business Conference. “This is a thing that doesn’t exist in any other consumer marketplace in America.”

Starbucks hopes to make money from these initiatives indirectly, by “enhancing the experience” and making the content “so compelling that it drives incremental traffic,” said Schulz…

McDonalds has free Wi-Fi too, of course, as does just about every other coffee place in the country other than Starbucks. Schulz admitted that both of those stratas have been competing with Starbucks on coffee as well as internet service, with McDonalds stealing bargain-oriented customers and boutique independent coffee shops in urban areas grabbing some of its loyal epicures…

The network will include free online access to the Wall Street Journal, with a percentage of subscription revenue generated when coffee drinkers decide they want to access those articles elsewhere, too.

Good for a frugal geek like me. There are two Starbucks coffee shops within the broad pairing of shopping centers where we shop for most everything but groceries. I access AT&T nothing.

My style is to cop one of whatever barista treat catches my eye – and park my butt in the pickup with beverage and iPad at hand – while my wife is off shopping. She will call me on the cellphone when she needs me to roll up and pack the month’s worth of Target/Lowes/PetSmart goodies into Ruff Boy.

Meantime, I surf and suck down caffeine.

Haul Queen shops – and gets rich! WTF?

Behold, a new YouTube star rises. There’s nothing terribly new about seeing a teenage girl use YouTube to discuss the world of beauty and fashion. But Blair Fowler, a sixteen-year-old girl whose name seems directly drawn from the pages of Sweet Valley High, has been written up twice this week for her use of video to not only share her favorite fashions, but monetize her YouTube fame with promotional deals.

Fowler was first cited as an example of the teen girl phenomenon of putting your “hauls” (ie — purchases from shopping trips) online, and in fact she is a great point person to consider in the examination of this trend, given her intense yet approachable commentary on what she acquired.

She is reputed to be making over $100K a year already – selling into a demographic wholly composed of 13 to 17-year-old girls. That’s the amount directly dealing with her YouTube videos.

Interviewers are confident she is only doing adverts for products she tries, first – and likes. Cynic that I am, I may as well accept that. She’s popular enough that she doesn’t need to cheat.

My wife just commented, “Now, we know why we’re climbing out of the recession!”

Sexy nativity pisses off Los Angeles true believers

A clothing store on Robertson Boulevard is causing a stir with a new window display — a nativity scene with very sexual undertones.

Madison clothing store, located at W. 3rd Street and Robertson Boulevard, has put up a nativity scene featuring a scantily-clad Virgin Mary sprawled on the ground with a glittery, golden baby Jesus in her lap…

Some people have complained about the display, calling it risqué.

A group that works across the street from the store said sex, their religion and shopping in a single tableau is too much for them to handle.

Said one woman, “The way they have presented Mary in a very provocative position with a baby in her crotch, and that baby is supposed to be Jesus… No.”

If my understanding of the history of clothing in the Middle East is accurate, it’s not especially likely that too many folks were wearing underwear back then, anyway. Right?

Pig out more at Thanksgiving – Shop less on Black Friday

In “We Are What We Consume: The Influence of Food Consumption on Consumer Impulsivity,” Arul Mishra and Himanshu Mishra show how the types of food consumed during Thanksgiving can influence impulsive choices; for instance whether consumers buy on sales the next day or not.

“Most of us don’t connect what we eat to our subsequent choices,” Arul Mishra said. “However, our research shows that types of food, such as turkey, make people behave less impulsively. Such people are less likely to buy products available at a discount and will find it easier to restrain their impulsive urges and choices.”

In other words, if you’re looking to spend less this holiday season, eat a good Thanksgiving meal…

The combination of tryptophan-rich foods like turkey and carbohydrates like mashed potatoes increases levels of serotonin, a chemical produced in the brain that affects many functions in the central nervous system, including mood, appetite, sleep and some cognition.

Serotonin levels have also been shown to correlate with impulsive behaviors. The researchers conclude people who have increased levels of serotonin, such as someone who recently ate a large turkey dinner, are less prone to impulsive purchases. Most meats (e.g., turkey, chicken) and tofu have the amino-acid tryptophan that synthesizes serotonin.

Har! Any excuse will do – like being too sleepy to get up the next morning and stand in line at Best Buy.