This page includes posts from May 18-24, 2003 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
When the State of
Delaware went out to bid for a new contract to print its vehicle license
plates, it probably didnít expect to create a new market for collectors.
Thatís whatís now
happened, although itís a little early yet to set any significant value on
the newest prize for those with more money than, shall we say, other
Many of my fellow
Diamond State citizens are extremely interested in owning low-digit license plates.
Unlike most states, Delawareís
typical car plate uses only digits. The plate numbers havenít reached one
million yet, because the plates are recycled.
Car owners can keep
their plates by transferring them from car to car if they want to, however,
and there is now an active market in the
In addition, if both
sides agree you can buy the car and
the plate can come with it. When itís a two-, three-, or four-digit plate,
the car is usually worth far less than the official symbol stuck on the back
bumper. A single-digit plate now fetches six figures at auctions on the rare
occasions when they go on the market.
Thereís even a demand
for reproduction porcelain
The State recognizes
these unofficially-issued plates as valid as long as they meet certain
standards, including a requirement that the plate number stays below the
highest official plate number issued in that design.
Last July Delaware
began using a Canadian company to create the regular license plates,
replacing a local contractor now out of business whoíd had the contract for
people began bitching about the appearance of the new plates:
[M]any people complained about the 1/4-inch smaller and thinner
characters Waldale Manufacturing began printing on standard-issue plates
Tag purists last year called the new plates "cheap-looking" and an
assault on tradition.
"It was like the University of Delaware saying, 'You know what, we
don't like the Blue Hen. We're going to use those little brown, puffy
birds,' " said Antonio Goicuria III, a Newark resident who reluctantly
registered his car with one of the first-version tags last fall.
This is a very small
state, however, and its officials tend to be very responsive. The DMV folks
went to the company and had them
change the font to something much closer to the design used over the
last thirty years.
Chip Guy wrote today that about 110,000 of the first design were produced
before switching fonts, not all of which will remain in circulation:
[DMV Director Michael] Shahan said there are no plans to recall the
earlier-version tags because they are easy to read, and they still work.
"But if somebody absolutely hates their plate, we would be happy to
replace it for them," Shahan said.
From a collectorsí
standpoint, thatís a great decision. It means that the number of thin-font
plates will diminish over time, increasing their perceived value.
Itís goofy, but true.
Donít you just love
the law of supply and demand?
The new Canada tag with the thin font.
The latest design uses a thicker font, much more
like the ones issued over the last thirty years.
May 23, 2003
A RAW deal for Californians
I have been to 30
states. Thus far the only place I visited that I would give serious
consideration to relocating would be the Monterey Peninsula in California.
Based on stories such
as the one that appeared in the
Los Angeles Times today, however, I should probably rethink that
assessment. (note: registration required for web access).
The Golden State's
budget process is so screwed up that California finance officials are now
seeking Revenue Anticipation Warrants (RAWs) to cover the state's shortfalls
The $11-billion, short-term loan ó like using one
credit card to pay off another ó is needed to keep the state solvent
through summer. Because California's credit rating is so poor, more than a
third of the borrowing cost ó up to $100 million ó is expected to be paid
to Wall Street firms just so the state can piggyback on their financial
standing to obtain a lower interest rate.
additional credit enhancement cost is based on the Stateís wretched
financial situation and, to be blunt, the California legislatureís apparent
incompetence, intense partisan bickering, and complete unwillingness to face
That's a toxic
combination, reminiscent of the advice Dean Wormer gave Flounder in
In one of the more
remarkable understatements in the piece, State Finance Director Steve Peace
gave this quote about the continuing fight over the budget:
"[The credit rating agencies] recognize what's left
to do is the more difficult stuff," he said. "They, as well as the banking
community, are obviously watching the Legislature very carefully.
"I don't know that the significance of the situation is fully appreciated
in the Legislature," Peace said.
is perfectly understandable, as exemplified in the last two paragraphs of
As finance officials sought to persuade bond raters
that action was being taken to balance the budget, lawmakers in Sacramento
were moving to restore more than $1 billion in spending that lawmakers cut
only weeks ago.
So far, the state has been able to make only $6.9 billion in budget
reductions. With the July 1 constitutional deadline for approving a
spending plan looming, the Legislature still has a $30-billion problem on
frequently lead the nation in many other areas. Based on where theyíre
headed on this budget fiasco, however, I donít know why any sane person
would follow them now.
Somehow I don't
think I'll be moving to Monterey anytime soon.
Story link via Lucianne.com.
Two recent pieces now available on the Internet are
well worth reading for the change in perceptions they may cause in some of
One can always hope.
First, last week Eric Alterman wrote an essay in
Nation supporting John Fund against the sordid allegations that arose
last year about the WSJ columnist's personal life.
The very liberal Alterman makes no secret of his
political opposition to Fund. To his great credit, however, Alterman put
aside those differences to defend Fund from the nasty claims that led to a
whole pile of troubles for the conservative writer.
Unfortunately there are far too many people, on both
sides of the political spectrum, who would not be so even-handed.
Second, in yesterday's
Donna Brazile and Timothy Bergreen administered a welcome reality check to
fellow Democrats to wise up and support a strong national defense, or face
increasing marginalization in national politics.
This is something that's been needing to be said,
especially by folks who remain influential national party activists.
That's because sometimes a message's acceptance depends
not just on the content of the message, but on who's the messenger as well.
These two examples may just help prove that point.
May 22, 2003
Just a bit too much foreshadowing
Drudge Report linked to a piece in the British
Daily Telegraph about the upcoming G8
What's notable about this pre-meeting story is how both
the headline and the lede exhibit somebody's actual desires more than actual
fact or likely results:
Chirac to embarrass Bush at G8 conference
President Chirac is preparing to embarrass President Bush
at the forthcoming G8 summit in France by laying out an agenda heavy on
environmental, development and economic issues and light on the fight
From most everything
I've read about M. Chirac and his struggles to keep France relevant despite
his government's international political antics, I'm sure that this report
would have been accurate insofar as it discussed the French President's
Even so, the one thing
some folks don't yet understand about the Bush Administration is that if you
really want to surprise and upset them, you don't provide any foreshadowing
of what you're about to do.
These guys and gals are
extremely adept at finding ways to co-opt their opposition, seize the
opponents' ideas as their own, and take all the credit.
It's among the reasons
that President Bush drives some Democratic activists into frothing at the
mouth. It's the same technique that was used with similar success by the
Clinton Administration, time and time again, creating the same apoplectic
rage among Republicans.
Over the last year or
so, M. Chirac showed repeatedly that he is unable to comprehend this
fundamental element of the Bush Administration.
Perhaps he's still among
the foolish ones who think Bush is the fool.
Perhaps he'll learn.
Last night was the
first round of the state high school girls' soccer tournament, and
Henlopen team lost, 2-0.
statewide newspaperís rankings
issued the day of the game, Cape was ranked 10th, while
the Padua High School team from
upstate was ranked 9th.
Thatís about how
close the game was, too.
Padua was just a
little bit better with its passing game, and did a good job of bottling up
Capeís best offensive players.
On the other hand, if
two of Capeís shots were just a few inches lower, they wouldnít have clanged
off the top cross-bar, and Cape would have had a real chance.
After the game some
tears were shed, and not just by the players. This was a really nice bunch
of kids. Several of us have watched them play for their entire high school
career. Many of the girls are deeply talented in other areas besides soccer,
and thereís good reason for optimism as they leave high school for their
next experience, be it college or something else.
A certain right
fullback handled herself very well, and sheíll be among the few returning
varsity players for next year.
The Cape coach gave a
great quote to one of the newspaper reporters covering the game, with which
many of the teamís fans would agree:
"They're a fantastic group of girls," [Randy] Redard said. "I'd rather
lose with this team than win with a bunch of other teams."
May 19, 2003
Finding the money by banishing the blues--Blue Sundays, that is.
A story in the NYT
about state revenues and new
opening liquor stores for Sunday sales was a bit startling.
Itís not every day
that one sees the liquor store closest to oneís Delaware residence
prominently featured in the Times.
The picture and story
discussed reactions to the first Sunday in which liquor stores were
permitted to open for business, under new legislation recently signed by
Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner.
NYT Reporter Peter
Kilborn talked to folks shopping at Atlantic Liquors, just outside Rehoboth
Beach. (Slick move on his part, BTW, in convincing his editors into letting
him go to the beach for a straight news story.)
That store is only a
mile from my house.
Itís a very good
place, by the way. As the piece noted, the store does a high-volume discount
trade. In addition, they carry some of my favorite beers, and also maintain
a large selection of wines from all over the world.
recent French diplomatic activities
concerning the former Hussein regime, Iím told the store did especially well
selling its Australian and Chilean vintages.
Several years ago the
owners told me they take their cues about what to stock on their shelves
from customers visiting the beach from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore,
This approach to
market research has been a very successful business formula for them. The
store is now undergoing a major site expansion, in fact.
The State of Delaware
doesnít mind at all. As with other states that repealed the blue laws that
formerly kept liquor stores closed on Sundays, Delaware expects to pick up
additional tax revenue as a result:
For Delaware, a small state, Sunday sales would raise the state's
annual alcoholic beverage tax revenues $960,000 to $1.2 million, William
R. Latham, an economist at the University of Delaware, reported in a study
that the big stores commissioned. Mr. Latham also concluded that the sales
would raise all state and local tax revenues $1.7 million to $2.1 million.
I wonder about these cheery
figures. The state's official estimate of alcohol taxes for
the current fiscal year totals $12.6 million, without taking into
account the new law's effects. I'm sure there will be a net revenue gain,
but it's hard to imagine a ten per cent increase in tax revenue simply due
to Sunday sales, considering how many Delawareans previously timed their
total alcohol purchases on a six-day schedule.
From a political
perspective, of course, the nice thing about this new law is that it
generates a tax increase without openly voting for it.
As hinted above, the
change will also eliminate a long-standing cultural feature of Delaware
social life. Now there wonít be any reason to rush out on Saturday night to
pick up that bottle for Sundayís dinner.
I donít think too
many folks around here will be singing the blues over the demise of that
particular tradition, however.
Hot about HOV abuse
The Washington Post today has a good story about a traffic enforcement
problem that is emblematic of the me-first attitude too many folks share:
In a region notorious for some of the country's worst traffic, drivers
sailing by alone -- and illegally -- in the HOV lane have become a target
Maryland police say the problem has grown so bad that they're paying
state troopers overtime to patrol the carpool lanes. In Northern Virginia,
highway officials announced last week that they are forming a task force
to come up with immediate ways to reduce violations, which could include
raising fines and adding points to driver's licenses as a penalty.
At stake, highway officials and police say, is the survival of a
traffic-fighting tool that the Washington region has come to rely upon to
encourage ride-sharing and to reduce smog.
Staff writer Katherine
Shaver noted that some violators accepted the current system of fines as a
simple cost of doing business, with one person admitting that her employer
paid the HOV penalties. At $50 to $70 per ticket, that's a charge some of
the area's highly compensated but selfish drivers are willing to risk for
the sake of fulfilling their own desires, regardless of the effect that
violating HOV rules can have on others.
The problem of the insufficient penalty reminds me of a
solution adopted by Texas several years ago concerning truck weight
As with most jurisdictions, Texas had a recurring
problem with truckers willing to pay the modest fines for traveling its
highways with loads that were too heavy. The financial incentives for
violating the law outweighed the perceived need to comply.
The adopted solution to this nagging problem worked.
The state began suing repeat offenders and obtaining special injunctions
against them. Violating the court orders resulted in daily five-figure
contempt citations instead of tiny traffic fines. After a few of these cases
led to hefty court penalties, compliance improved.
If the Maryland and Virginia officials adopted a
similar $10,000/day contempt citation approach with their repeat HOV
offenders, that might put a dent in the problem.
It could also help reduce the two states' budget woes.