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AS an experiment in free-market enterprise, a...


AS an experiment in free-market enterprise, a colleague recently decided to keep count of the number of offers he received for credit cards. After just a week, he had gotten five unsolicited invitations in the mail, including one for a Visa Gold card with a $7,500 credit line and no annual fee.

One of the banks looking for his business is located in New Hampshire. Another of the banks is in Minnesota. A third one is in Delaware. A fourth one doesn't exactly tell you where it is located: It just gives you some initials and a far-off post-office box.

To top it off, the colleague also got a mailing from Household Bank for a mortgage application. ("The window of opportunity is still open. . .. But it could close at any time.")

All junk mail. All tossed out.

But it did raise the question of quality control: How can these banks claim to judge the true worthiness of its customers when they blindly send out hundreds of thousands of junk-mail offers of credit cards to virtually any Joan, Dick or Harriet with a decent income level and no recent bad marks on their credit history? No wonder the bad debts from credit card accounts keep growing.

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PREPARE yourselves for an avalanche of new fast-food restaurants with newfangled menus, if more marketers begin testing innovative products here now that the Baltimore metropolitan area has been declared to have "all-American" characteristics.

This is the experience of Columbus, Ohio.

For years, that state capital of 632,000 people has attracted droves of test-marketers because it has been seen as a demographically "normal" slice of America.

Test-marketing in Columbus has not been limited to edibles and soap powder, however. The important university city also has been a pioneer in cable television, 24-hour banking machines and various forms of interactive electronics.

It's a brave, new world. Ain't that right, hon?

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THE GLORIOUS blooms of the spring are only a memory, but many Baltimoreans are making heroic efforts to show their gardens at their best despite the heat. Which brings us to the annual garden contest run by Beautiful Baltimore Inc.

The rules are simple: The gardens must be in Baltimore City and visible from a public street. That's it.

Entries should be sent to 303 Oakdale Road, Baltimore 21210, and must include the name of the owner or occupant and the address of the property. Comments on the garden also would help the judges. Deadline is Aug. 15.

Beauty is always worth treasuring. If this beauty also occurs in the most unlikely of places, it is worth recognizing.

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