Steal this plate

Why is Washington state like a state prison? Because it's a cheap source of license plates. That at least appears to be the finding of Seattle's Richard Pauli, who happened to rent a car down in Phoenix last month. He noticed a surprising number of cars with Washington license plates in the Hertz lot and said to an attendant, "Looks like you've got a lot of cars to send back up to Seattle." Nope, the attendant replied: These stay here. We just license our cars there because it's so cheap.

Pauli assumed the guy was referring to Initiative 695, which recently eliminated the vehicle excise tax, but that doesn't seem to be the case; rental cars were already exempt from the excise tax. In its place, says the Washington Department of Licensing's Mark Varadian, they collect a "rental surtax" that is supposed to average out to the excise tax rate while reflecting actual receipts. He notes that "nothing in Washington law would prohibit" companies from registering out-of-state cars here.

Arizona transportation officials weren't aware of any actually doing that. Sidney DaModica, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Transportation, says companies there used to register many cars in Florida, presumably to save bucks. But she thought that ended in the mid-'80s when an "international registration plan" was adopted; it directs the national rental companies to allocate their registrations according to rental volume in each state and province. She says she'll cruise by a few rental lots to see if Washington plates are indeed becoming fashionable down in Arizona.

Hertz's Phoenix staff had nothing to say on the supposed out-of-state registrations. Its national spokesperson, Paula Spitzer, could only say it was a matter of "fleet management."

Behind the times

"Updated at 8 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. Pacific time and when news breaks," reads the front page of The Seattle Times' Web site. I guess not much news breaks these days—at least not if you look for it at www.seattletimes.com. Meanwhile, the P-I site doesn't bother boasting about updating; it just does it. Case in point: Last Wednesday at 10pm, the Times led with the vague news that "Talks with Reds over Griffey trade widen." www.seattlep-i.com (love how they place that hyphen now) meanwhile had the real news: "Mariners have tentative Griffey trade."

And the P-I keeps trying harder to be a newspaper in the online age, while the Times, steeped in the culture of afternoon "diversion," still seems to think it can act like a magazine. Times editors crow that when they move to morning publication next month they'll finally be able to compete head-on with the P-I for the morning's breaking news instead of chasing with afternoon updates and analysis. But it's the P-I that's showing hustle on- and off-line. It cleaned the Times' clock on the season's biggest local story, the WTO showdown, hitting the streets while the Times fretted over downtown retail sales. Meanwhile the Times is bleeding talent, even before the switch to morning means adjusting to new schedules and deadlines. Makes you wonder how much Fairview Fanny is really looking forward to the fight it's picked with Pee Eye.

If the last paper left standing when the dust clears is in fact the P-I, it will be a boon for throwback aficionados of newspaper nostalgia like—I confess—me. So many of the grand old compound newspaper names—including the grandest of all, the Memphis Press-Scimitar—have been tossed into history's recycling bin. Any town can have a Times (or for that matter a Weekly). But there's only one paper you can call the Post-modern Intelligencer, or Past Intelligible, or you name it. And if the Times does pull out on top, here's hoping against hope it preserves its rival's name. How 'bout The Seattle Post-Times Intelligencer?

Maybe this explains their WTO coverage

Those who slam The Seattle Times as downtown business' leading lapdog may find their suspicions confirmed when they look to the bottom of its online home page (www.seattletimes.com). Under "Affiliate Links," the Times lists just one: the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Funny thing, though the Times isn't ashamed to be seen with it, the Chamber doesn't list the paper among its many "affiliates."

It all started with Car Talk

Here's a thought that's almost vacuous enough to go down with the best of Calvin Coolidge and Yogi Berra, except that it doesn't achieve their sublime zen empty-headedness: "Other factors being equal, getting the best value beats getting the best price!" Where did I hear it? Blared out on NPR's All Things Considered, that supposed refuge of insight and reflection in the radio wasteland, by a pitchman from Consumer Reports magazine. ATC's regular cutaways to his infantile consumer advice are only the briefest in a flood of fatuous "lifestyle," "personality," and generally cute and cloying programming pasted on to the solid program core and often excellent literary and political stuff at KUOW and, to a lesser degree, KPLU (which airs less of all kinds of talk). The insufferably giddy Peter Sagal hosting a quiz show (wow, what a concept) featuring NPR newsreaders joking about what they remember about the news! Unctuous food porn from The Splendid Table and insistent local "Food Bites"! It's enough to make you wish public radio would go back to playing classical music. I feared I was a solitary curmudgeon on this score until a friend of mine, trying to remember a name, called out, "Who's that really irritating woman on NPR now?" Everybody in the room knew which of the nouveau public radio voices he was talking about.

 
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