Retailers waiting anxiously for the results of this year's holiday shopping season may have to cool their heels until the final bell -- U.S. consumers are putting off shopping until the very last minute.
The International Mass Retail Association reports a large percentage of Americans had not yet started their shopping, and of all of the 1,000 people polled, about 30 percent said that they still had half of their holiday spending left to do.
According to IMRA's latest weekly holiday shopping survey, one-quarter of holiday shoppers had not yet started buying their gifts as of last weekend, and another 11 percent had just started. About 22 percent had finished one-quarter to one-half of their shopping. Just 16 percent had finished.
"Shoppers have delayed their purchases as they do each year, and we will see the pace of shopping pick up rapidly as we move deeper into December," said IMRA president Robert J. Verdisco. He added that "as of Dec. 9, a little over 17 percent had spent more than they were anticipating. That is good news for our beleaguered economy."
As might be imagined, a larger percentage of men reported that they had not yet started their holiday shopping. The IMRA survey found that 31 percent of men reported that they had not started their shopping, while 20 percent of women said they had not started their holiday shopping as of last weekend.
THINGS WE DON'T UNDERSTAND
The world knows Rudolph Giuliani as "Mr. Mayor." He is, of course, the city executive who so won the hearts of people by "getting his hands dirty" in the wake of the 9/11 disaster that even long-time foe Ed Koch praised him.
Now, according to at least one report, the man so associated with The Big Apple may be headed for New Jersey when his term runs out. Columnist Neal Travis says there are reports that His Honor will move across the Hudson, buy a home there and eventually run for the Senate, a la Hillary Rodham Clinton -- carpetbagger charges notwithstanding.
Some are speculating that should he win, his new high-visibility role could stand him in good stead to be picked by President Bush as veep in the event Dick Cheney is unable to serve or opts out.
Meanwhile, Travis says that were Giuiliani to run against incumbent Sen. Robert Torricelli next year, Guiliani would be able to assume a "Mr. Clean" image in the campaign.
(Thanks to UPI Feature Reporter Dennis Daily)
NEWS OF OTHER LIFE FORMS
The recent Ebola virus outbreak in Gabon isn't limiting its devastation to human victims -- scientists at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society are working to prevent the outbreak from decimating wild populations of gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife in Gabon and neighboring Congo. They have already found dead gorillas, chimpanzees, and duikers -- a forest antelope sometimes eaten by chimps.
"Human deaths have been confirmed with laboratory evidence this week, but this current outbreak suggests that gorillas and chimps are indeed at great risk as well," said William Karesh of the WCS' Field Veterinary Program.
Nearby Odzala National Park in Congo is home to tens of thousands of western lowland gorillas. To prevent further spread, officials at ECOFAC and the Congolese government have arranged to stop human traffic between the Ebola outbreak and the villages surrounding Odzala, while Gabonese officials have cordoned off the region to prevent traffic movements on the Gabon side.
Karesh and others believe that the last outbreak in the region killed large numbers of chimps and gorillas four years ago.
TODAY'S SIGN THE WORLD IS ENDING
A 74-year-old man who was the fourth recipient of an artificial heart died at a Los Angeles hospital of multiple organ failure after being kept alive for 56 days with the aid of the pioneering cardiac device.
In a statement issued Thursday, UCLA Medical Center said the patient, whose name was not released, was taken off life support at the request of his family even though the grapefruit-sized AbioCor heart was still smoothly functioning.
"We are all grieving that we could not extend his life further and return him to a better quality of life," lamented Dr. Hillel Laks, principal investigator of the UCLA transplant program. "His participation in this clinical trial was of enormous value in proving the effectiveness and reliability of this artificial heart."
The AbioCor heart has been implanted in five patients, three of whom remain alive, according to ABIOMED, Inc., the company that has developed the device. The first recipient, Robert Tools, died Nov. 30 after being kept alive for 151 days.
The patient who died at UCLA reportedly had been hopeful of new advances coming from the ongoing trial. "He had expressed an appreciation that medical research had helped him in the past and he wanted to give something back," the man's wife said in the UCLA release. "Although he did not survive, we hope that society will benefit from his contribution and advances will be made in the field of heart disease."
(Thanks to UPI's Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)
AND FINALLY, TODAY'S UPLIFTING STORY
The last three of seven paintings by Norman Rockwell stolen from a suburban Minneapolis art gallery in 1978 have been recovered.
An art dealer in Rio de Janeiro turned the paintings over to U.S. and Brazilian authorities earlier this month, the FBI said. No charges currently are pending against the dealer. And agents released no details on how the paintings -- worth between $700,000 and $1 million -- wound up in a farmhouse outside Teresopolis, Brazil, about 60 miles from Rio.
The paintings -- "So Much Concern," "The Spirit of 1976" and "Summer or a Hasty Retreat" -- belonged to calendar publisher Brown & Bigelow Co. of St. Paul and were stolen while on loan to the Elayne Galleries in St. Louis Park, Minn., on the opening night of an exhibit, along with four other Rockwells and a Renoir seascape.
"So Much Concern" and "The Spirit of 1976" were painted for Boy Scout calendars in 1975 and 1976. "Summer" appeared on a 1954 seasonal calendar.
In 1999, Elayne's bought back two of the other stolen paintings -- "Before the Date: Cowboy" and "Before the Date: Cowgirl" -- and two others were seized when someone brought them to a Philadelphia gallery in 1998 for sale -- "She's My Baby" and "Lickin' Good Bath." The Renoir still is missing.