Wal-Mart's present is rosy, with second quarter sales up 15 percent and profits up 21 percent to $1.25 billion. And its future is even better. Marketing consultant Burt Flickinger sees something coming that is "the best possible thing that can happen to Wal-Mart and the worst thing that could happen to every major competitor." What?
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Tuesday's Question (No. 287)--"First-Class Male":
When Fred Fournier, a health insurance broker in Novato, Calif., goes to the post office, the employees gather round: "They say, 'Boy, that's neat!' " What do the postal workers admire?*
(*a gun-free question)
"The envelopes he made himself from soy noodles."--Merrill Markoe
"His smoking package, if you know what I mean, and I think you do."--Tim Carvell (Eric Fredericksen, Al Petrosky, and Alison Rogers had similar answers.)
"The first form of postage in 70 years that has nothing to do with Warner Bros."--Cliff Schoenberg
"I went to high school with Fred Fournier, and believe me there's nothing to admire."--Dennis Cass
"Well, since you outlawed the obvious gun jokes, it must be his double-barreled penis."--Michael J. Basial
Click for more answers.
It is easy to mock the postal service, but--33 cents! Anywhere in the country! In just a few days! And you don't even have to lick the stamps anymore, which frankly, for that one about prostate cancer, is kind of a relief. Indeed, headline-grabbing diseases seem to make up an increasing proportion of our stamps, along with noncontroversial nature and beloved pop culture figures. Coincidentally, these three categories describe most of the programs on public television lately. (Last night, the PBS outlet in New York ran a two-hour special on the Bee Gees followed by a 90-minute special on Jose Feliciano. Then somebody got ripped apart by a diseased ferret, but only, alas, in my 90-minute dream.) Perhaps a joint venture is possible: The post office can issue stamps that promote the snoozy PBS programming, and both organizations can share the profits. The only obstacle: To be on a stamp you must actually be dead; to be on PBS you need merely seem dead.
All admire Fournier's digital postage, which he's been using since December when it was only a crazy experiment.
On Monday the U.S. Postal Service announced the nationwide availability of stamps that can be downloaded from the Internet. For a 10 percent fee on top of the postage, customers can pay with credit cards and print out a special bar code, the first new method of supplying stamps since postal meters went into service in 1920.
Two private companies, E-Stamp.com and Stamps.com, offer the service; Pitney Bowes and Neopost may soon be approved to compete. Incidentally, former Postmaster General Marvin Runyon is a director of Stamps.com. Which is completely legal.
Prince Philip's Peoples of the World Extra
I give the country, you give the racist remark made about it by Britain's Duke of Edinburgh.
4. China II
6. New Guinea
7. International Bonus: the jobless
The Prince Speaks
1. Touring a high-tech company in Scotland Tuesday, he noticed a poorly wired fuse box: "It looks as though it was put in by an Indian."
2. He asked a driving instructor: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them past the test?"
3. During a visit in 1986, he said Peking was "ghastly" and told a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed."
4. He said at a World Wildlife Fund function: "If it has got four legs and it's not a chair, if it has got two wings and it is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it's not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."
5. He told a tourist: "You can't have been here long, you've no potbelly."
6. He asked a Duke of Edinburgh Award-winner who had just returned from Papua: "You didn't manage to get eaten then?"
7. At the height of the recession in 1981, he grumbled: "Everybody wanted more leisure. Now they complain they're unemployed."