St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/06/2011 : 10:11 PM
When I taught freshman composition, I'd sometimes use a well known (among instructors) writing exercise to help students understand that word choice and punctuation matters a great deal. Here's the letter; your job is to add in what punctuation and capitalization you think should be there and where it should be:
Dear John I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours Jane.
On first read, students always thought it was obvious how it should be punctuated but when they compared versions with one another they were often surprised. We'll get to those versions soon but I thought of this today because of the Editor's page in the April 2008 industry trade magazine Dealernews raises the issue "Time for Tiered Licensing?" (p. 8)
EU tiered licensing The editorial is written by senior editor Guido Ebert. In it he describes the proposed European Union four tiered licensing system. It's dependent on age and the size and type of motorcycle. Riders would have to wait two years before training and testing for the next level. The system restricts new riders based on engine displacement, horsepower (and speed on the first tier). Riders move from mopeds, scooters and road legal ATVs with a maximum 52 cc and speed of 30 mph to the A1 which restricts them to 125cc and 15 hp to A2 which riders 18 and older can train and test for and restricts them to a maximum of 48 hp. To get to the final tier "Open Class A" license, riders have to be 24 or older and have had two years minimum experience at the A2 level.
What Ebert didn't mention is that The EU system is based on research and study and is supported by decades of experience with rider licensing in the UK. One of the studies that influenced the proposed system is MAIDS--the European accident causation study sponsored in part by the motorcycle manufacturers. Study after study since the 80s and from all around the world--Australia, Thailand, Europe, Canada and the USA--have found that inexperience and youth are factors in motorcycle crashes. MAIDS specifically found that unfamiliarity with the motorcycle--less time/mileage riding a particular one--also was a factor.
Setting limits on what can be enforced Displacement, in itself, is not necessarily a factor except that it says something about the kind of motorcycle--what kind of sustained speed without damage to the engine is possible, for example. While even slow motorcycles can go fast enough to kill riders, high speed is a factor or a contributing factor that make other errors (such as braking, line through corner or failure to observe hazards, for example) worse. Obviously, once riders are licensed, there's no way for anyone to make the riders slow down and not exceed their skill level. Of course, they can do that at 20 mph as rider educators know very well. Experience--in that it means practicing skills--is universally considered the critical element for improving and then maintaining skills but there is no way to enforce that. Enforcement of displacement to license is still a problem--but it could be done and the thought it could be checked could keep some riders law abiding. The EU system, however, addresses those perceived problems by slowing down the race to large displacement, high powered vehicles until the rider has obtained more experience in traffic. This is not to say the EU system is necessarily the right way to go--but it doesn't mean it's the wrong way to go either.
Maximum money from as many as possible In the editorial, Ebert writes that he thinks a similar system here in the USA "would be a great idea" but he understands the impact it would have on business. "Since the goal in a market economy is to make the maximum amount of money by selling the most expensive product to as many people as possible, making it more difficult to obtain a motorcycle endorsement would dramatically decrease the pool of available customers." It's a valid point--it is Dealernews, after all, and that's what it does--looks at things from a business perspective. He then asked a few industry figures what they thought of it and recounts those.
But we're going to pause there before we go on to what those industry figures said. Ebert, unlike M$F loyalists, gets it: the goal is to make the maximum money from the most expensive products sold to as many people as possible. There, in a nutshell, is all the justification needed for removing the manufacturers from any control over training and licensing.
Invitation to corruption Given that goal, access to the standards for training and licensing becomes an invitation for corruption of those standards to achieve the maximum money goal. It would be unrealistic and even certifiably insane to expect the manufacturers to do anything less. I say insane purposefully because to do anything less than weaken training and licensing to the utmost limit would mean to act against their best interests--something that's not only illegal for them to do but against human nature. Iow, to let the motorcycle manufacturers have a determining role in either training or licensing is tantamount to hiring pickpockets as the attendants in the locker room at a high priced gym.
Who's to blame for the current state? However, to blame the pickpocketing manufacturers for corrupting training and licensing standards for their own ends is to blame the fox for walking into the hen house when the farmer left the door open. If anything, it's the SMROs and national MRO organizations that should be blamed--their goal is to protect motorcyclists' rights and they aren't doing their job. In the case of the AMA, it's because the manufacturers have 50% control of the board. They can be the dog in the manger--all they have to do is keep the AMA from acting pro or con to take any position on standards. The MRF has no excuse--and the late Karen Bolin understood very well the connection between motorcyclist rights and adequate training and licensing standards. Her successor does not appear to appreciate that link. And in many cases the SMROs are either ignorant of what's really happening or obsessed with the helmet issue or have false romantic notions that the manufacturers have a rider mentality because they make motorcycles and many of them ride them. There are no bikers in the boardroom; the business of business is business--and that's absolutely fair and the way that system is supposed to be. The goal of business, as Ebert said, is to make as much money as possible. Our job, as motorcyclists, is to reign in their excesses while supporting their legitimate rights to make a profit.
But there is a distinction between making money by making motorcycles and making money by making licensed, inadequately skilled riders. The motorcycle community and state and federal governments have allowed the motorcycle manufacturers to manufacture licensed riders by using M$F licensing products and training courses as licensing mills to achieve their goal of selling the most expensive products to as many people as possible.
Ignorance is not bliss Ebert, however, doesn't appear to understand that the manufacturers--through M$F--control the licensing standards through its licensing products--the various motorcycle skills tests and through the curriculum. He asks if there "shouldn't be a system to prepare those who want to ride?" and that some would say that's what M$F courses do. But, he says, those courses are "strictly voluntary and superseded by what I feel are lax state sponsored written and road tests." However, those lax tests were created and produced by M$F and then states were convinced by NHTSA and M$F that they were adequate.
But even in what appears to be a criticism erroneously directed at the states, one can see a hint of the manufacturers machinations in what Ebert says: the courses are strictly voluntary. It makes me wonder if he's about to break out into the chorus to the latest song the manufacturers are singing: Mandatory training is the way to go as long as it's the training we control.
Buche's multiple hats Years ago, when Dave, Fred and I interviewed M$F staff, Buche said that the people there wear multiple hats--they work for more than one of the three trade groups--MIC, MSF or SVIA--but that they could keep their hats straight--not mix the concerns of one with the other. Further investigation revealed that the organizations were as connected as Siamese twins through boards of directors and other significant commonalities such as how M$F and SVIA lobby. The hat rack really just had one hat with multiple motorcycle manufacturer logos on it.
So now on to what the industry figures Ebert polled had to say--well, the only one that really matters to my readers--Tim Buche. Ebert only identifies him as the president of MIC. Once again, it is Dealernews, but still, since Ebert is discussing training and licensing, it's odd that he didn't mention that Buche is also president of M$F--the one with the voluntary training courses. Surely he had to know that. Iow, while we might pity Ebert's ignorance that M$F designed and marketed the licensing tests and his failure to draw the connection between making as much money as possible and control over the training/licensing pipeline straight into the manufacturer's bank accounts, we cannot excuse his failure to identify that Buche has another hat to talk through when it comes to any modification to the current training and licensing system. That it is Dealernews--and exactly how much influence MIC has on it and how much influence the manufacturers have on it then becomes ever more pertinent.
And, more to the point, Buche knows he's president of both and had to know that observers would know and what he says as one cannot be taken as completely separate from the other role.
What Buche said At any rate, we come back to the Dear John letter. The first way the letter could be punctuated reads:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy-will you let me be yours?
Iow, it appears to be an optimistic love letter and perhaps that's the way you punctuated it as well. It's not the only way to do it, though--and we'll get to that after you read what Buche said about tiered licensing:
"A regulation is a knee-jerk response by government to correct something they think we're not capable of managing ourselves. To regulators, this probably looks intuitively like the right thing to do, but I would say to base any action on study and not by arbitrarily determining horsepower and displacement matters. We'd rather see mandatory training up to some age and inducements to interact more with the rider training system, where we have course for beginning and skilled riders. It's really important that we make wise decisions ourselves rather than wait for the government to do something to us."
Read in context So now here's the alternative way the Dear John letter could be punctuated:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Not a love letter. The meaning is changed entirely and it turns out to be a traditional Dear John letter and simply by changing the punctuation. And this old writing exercise came to mind when I read Buche's comments. It begins with his word choice
Who is "we"? No, it begins with the fact that this is the president of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation that's speaking even if he is wearing his Motorcycle Industry Council hat. So who is this "we" that would rather see mandatory training? Is it MIC or the motorcycle manufacturers or M$F or all of the above? Is that "we" the same "we" that has the beginning and skilled rider courses? And who is the "we" that should make these wise decisions? And who is the "us" that the government will do something to? Because, like the Dear John letter, it could be read several ways--but if "we" means business, then Buche is saying that business, not government and certainly not riders, should determine what's best for riders. The issue, then, isn't what's safest for riders but what's good for business. And if business--i.e., MIC--has the courses, then that says all we need to know about the true relationship of M$F to MIC--it really is the Motorcycle Sales Foundation and it's meant to function as a funnel to the showroom floor through the state DMV.
Why is industry managing licensing and training? Note Buche uses the word "manage" but what's to be managed? Licensing (and, by extension, training). So it really does matter who the "we" is because, last time I checked, licensing is properly a government function and not an industry one. And the government is supposed to act according to the will of We the People, not We the Industry. But Buche thinks that licensing is something that industry should manage--and that they have with the M$F's motorcycle licensing tests and end of course driver's license waiver--and that they're trying to do by rewriting laws in several states to remove the DMV altogether. And how are they trying to do that? By making training mandatory, which Buche says is what industry wants.
Iow, the rider is missing altogether from Buche's thinking--which might explain why he's allowed a deadly curriculum to go on unchanged. As long as the ratio of expensive bike buyers is favorable to dead and crippled students, why change it? Industry is managing it themselves, why should they let government have a role let alone that great unwashed?
Buche's paranoia And note the paranoia implicit in his statement--government will do something to industry even though the purpose of the regulations isn't to regulate industry but to regulate riders. And government isn't trying to punish industry or riders but trying to save rider's lives. So it's a very weird, rather chilling statement he has made here that speaks of a deep paranoia--government is out to get them. And since government is supposed to represent the will of the people and the SMROs work very hard to get regulations and laws affecting motorcyclists to reflect the will of riders, Buche seems to think motorcyclists are out to get them, too.
Regardless of how many Buche believes are ranged against industry, he clearly puts industry in an adversarial position--in opposition--to at least the government; anything arising apart from the "wise decisions" of industry is assumed to negatively affect business. Iow, if government--and SMROs--and rider educators' goal is to save lives and produce competent riders in traffic--then the goal alone is perceived as antithetical to industry's goals.
If, as we believe, training and licensing have any efficacy at all in saving rider's lives and the president of the MIC/M$F/SVIA thinks industry's goals are opposed to our goals then Buche inadvertently gives rider educators, motorcyclists, SMRO activists and government agencies an unassailable reason, then, to take industry out of any controlling role in licensing and training, then and to defend ourselves from their attempts to manage it.
And that's the critical point from what Buche said--industry is psychotically set on its own self interest and deeply paranoid about allowing any so called "stakeholder" to protect their rights or lives if it means it has any effect on the manufacturers' bottom line or pennies per share. So you can stop reading now if you want if that means you'll take that away as the primary point.
The truth is out there--far, far away As we've come to expect from Buche, he makes his point by manipulation and having a distant relationship with the facts. According to Webster's Dictionary, the definition of a knee-jerk reaction is: "... an immediate unthinking emotional reaction produced by an event or statement to which the reacting person is highly sensitive; - in persons with strong feelings on a topic, it may be very predictable." Well, gee, I know someone like that--I can predict his knee-jerk reactions very well. I bet you know people like that, too. My friend gets defensive, says cruel things, and accusatory. My friend, then, has that immediate emotional response--unfair, unjust and unkind--he lashes out. He doesn't sit down and come up with elaborate multi-tiered systems.
In fact, the whole complexity of the EU scheme is the exact opposite of a knee-jerk reaction. Yet for those who have not followed the very laborious process the EU has gone through with the training and licensing directives would believe Buche...well, if they don't know Buche--and he, himself, is someone prone to knee-jerk reactions from what I've been told and maybe that's why that word fell so trippingly from his lips.
Wise decisions Buche also demeans the EU system by saying the regulators "intuitively" thought it was the right thing to do while contrasting it to what whoever the "we" he means should do--make "wise decisions".
But the real "Dear John" moment is found here: "To regulators, this probably looks intuitively like the right thing to do, but I would say to base any action on study and not by arbitrarily determining horsepower and displacement matters." Buche calls the EU system knee-jerk, intuitive and arbitrary--and in that terribly worded, confusing clause at the end of the sentence seems to say it's not based on study. So first of all, the EU directive is based on studies--and the lower UK motorcyclist fatality rates for years suggest that tiered licensing works. Otoh, there's no evidence that proves that continued training or even mandatory training with M$F curriculum or testing with M$F tests is effective in producing safer riders. In fact, there's been evidence to the contrary for over 20 years and recent evidence to the contrary. And Mr. Buche knows it. However, M$F is busily trying to concoct an alternative picture through the Discovery Project they are running themselves on their own curriculum under their own control of what data outsiders see.
What does it matter? But the "Dear John" moment depends on how "matters" is used in the sentence. Is it a synonym for issues? Or in the sense of what's important? If it's issues, then it's a strange word to use in that particular sentence instead of--well, issues. Even then, it's a strange way of expressing the idea. But if "matters" is used in terms of importance the sentence means: "it matters that it was based on study and not just arbitrarily basing it on horsepower and displacement."
Are the horsepower and displacement "matters" arbitrarily chosen? Buche says they are--but then he's said the BRC is safer and has less crashing than the previous curriculum. We may not agree with those limits but it's the manufacturers' vested interests that say they're arbitrary. But to say that horsepower and displacement doesn't matter is just as arbitrary as saying it's the be all and end all determining control.
And remember, Buche has been pushing--and MIC has been lobbying for--mandatory training in all states but, in several cases, the bills have removed all mention of taking any kind of testing and especially remove taking a written test. The bills all specifically say that passing the course--not the evaluations at the end of the course--are enough. Ebert got it in one--tiered licensing would rain on the manufacturers' parade to the bank and they're suffering a slowdown like the rest of the economy. What we have here then is further evidence that MSF is really the M$F--that whatever it does and whatever it promotes looks out first and last for the manufacturers--not the riders' interests. Of course, Buche was wearing his MIC hat that day...
I myself am not sure that tiered licensing--using M$F curricular products or not--would be any better than the current system. But I am sure that of all possible entities deciding what licensing should or shouldn't be, that the wise decision should be to not allow industry to manage licensing or training standards.