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Back in Black

Crazy low prices! Customers waiting in line overnight! Cops getting called to break up fights! It's Black Friday, the official kickoff of the most wonderful time of the year: The holiday shopping season.

The National Retail Federation estimated that more than 147 million shoppers hit the stores across the United States, which was up 4.8 percent compared to last year. The good little consumers spent an average of $347.44* per person, which was a slight decrease of 3.5 percent from last year. (The asterisk in the organization's press release notes that the figure includes spending on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and a Sunday estimate, which strikes us as a wee bit optimistic.)

Another interesting factoid: An estimated 14.3 percent of consumers were out shopping before 4 a.m. , including those nutjobs who spent the night camped out at Big Boxes.

As part of the Media Elite's War on Christmas, The Range skipped the Black Friday shopping, although we noted during a bike ride along the Rillito River Park that it looked as if all the parking spaces at the Tucson Mall were filled sometime around noon. God, are we glad we missed that nightmare.


Treacherous Toys

Elsewhere on the yuletide beat: Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords teamed up with the killjoys at Arizona Public Interest Research Group to release "Trouble in Toyland," a report on playthings that kill.

While naming few names, "Trouble in Toyland" warns that some deadly toys, makeup and jewelry for kids contain toxic materials, dangerous amounts of lead, small parts that could be choking hazards, or small magnets that could pose a problem if children were to swallow more than one. "Trouble in Toyland" notes that the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported almost 73,000 kids younger than 5 ended up in emergency rooms as a result of toy-related injuries in 2005.

One especially treacherous toy: The water yo-yo, which is a water-filled ball on the end of an elastic string. The toy has a painful tendency to get stretched out and bounce back into the kids' faces, leading to black eyes, bloody noses and even choking incidents.

"Parents have found their children suffocating with yo-yo balls wrapped multiple times around their children's necks," notes the report. "Parents report using knives, scissors and even their teeth to cut the elastic cords of the tightly wrapped yo-yo balls."

Nick Theisen of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group pointed out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission now has only one tester and 15 inspectors to check the millions of toys imported into the United States. He called on Congress to ban lead in toys and hire more staffers for the federal agency to "give kids the best holiday gift of all."


Gulf and Stuff

The Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos (or the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans), a Rocky Point-based environmental research station, won Mexico's National Conservation of Nature Award last week. The staff of CEDO, which is located in the Las Conchas development on the shores of the Gulf of California, works with students, fishermen, local residents and others to expand awareness of gulf ecology and sustainability.

CEDO is still accepting tax-deductible contributions to support the facility's effort to resolve a lengthy property dispute. For more info, visit the CEDO Web site.

In other Rocky Point news: The Arizona Republic reports that U.S. investors appear to have lost their investments in Playa Norte, a development that was supposed to cover 7,500 acres of beachfront property near Puerto Peñasco. The development was to include thousands of hotel and condo rooms, six golf courses, equestrian trails and a lagoon with seven islands. Hey, we feel terrible for the suckers who have lost their savings, but six golf courses? Can't say we're unhappy to hear that ain't happening, given the area's precarious water supply.


Court Brief

Arizona's young but scrappy men's basketball team defeated Adams State College, 88-64, last Wednesday, Nov. 21, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 4 Kansas, 76-72, last Sunday, Nov. 25.

Meanwhile, Coach Lute Olson was spotted back at McKale Center, but there was no word as of deadline about whether he'd be returning from his mysterious leave of absence and coaching the Cats this week.

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