The Absurdity of Mass Standardized Tests and What to Do About It

Understanding the Mandatory Testing Mess

Every school district in the country is dealing with the issue of mandatory “standardized” testing. In part this is due to the heavy hand of the Federal government holding a large bag of cash to be distributed only to districts that comply with a demand to use standardized test scores as a part of teacher evaluations. The states are concerned about this, as are local districts, and the result is a battery of tests from both that are given to such an extent that there’s little time left to do anything other than prepare for the next barrage of tests. As one of my wife’s 4th graders asked recently, “Couldn’t we just learn something today?” 

This sums up a situation that began as a sloppy mess and is rapidly soaring to flights of insanity. 

Consider just a few tidbits.

  • In my area (suburban Seattle in Washington State), the local school district prides itself as a leader in the use of technology. The new state tests are done entirely on computers. The hardware tends to “crash” with some frequency, causing delays and loss of data. Tech support is inadequate and understaffed, leading to further delays. In the rush to comply, the students are being used as “Beta testers.”

 

  •  This week the 3rd graders are attempting the new “Common Core” tests. Because extra notebook computers are required for spares, and because some of the tests are so lengthy that batteries must be replaced, extra staffing is required and none of the notebooks are available for other students. The tests take up six days over two weeks, with Friday reserved for make-up tests.  Then the 4th graders, and then the 5th. For six weeks this most technologically advanced district is put in the position of having no notebooks available for students who are not testing.

 

  • Last week teachers prepared for one of the tests by having the students read materials and take notes, as they had been directed to do.  The day before the tests came a new directive – no notes are to be used.

 

  • The tests will be scored by people hired off a current Craig’s list ad that offers positions as evaluators. The only qualification is a college degree. In anything. The pay offered is $11.20 an hour, in an area where the minimum wage will be ramping up to $15 an hour over the next couple of years. What quality of college graduates will want a job that pays $11.20 an hour in a demographic where an average house costs $500,000? 

 

  • Parents can opt a student out of the tests, but if they do so the student is given a test score of 0.  Such test scores are used in evaluations for entrance into all sorts of specialized programs. The scores become part of the student’s permanent record. Further, they are intended to be used as part of the teacher’s annual evaluation.

These few items are just the tip of an absolutely enormous metaphorical iceberg of items that defy rational analysis. How did we get here?

Proposition 13 passed in California in 1978.  Promoted by Howard Jarvis and Peter Gunn, this initiative capped real estate taxes at the 1975 level and restricted and controlled future tax increases. This had dramatic effects on the California economy and unleashed a tsunami of cuts in funding at all levels of state government. Of course there were reasons for the creation of Prop 13 in the first place, and some of them were valid, but the outcomes over time were more drastic than the funding cuts.  In sum, the public took to heart the concept that the government was not to be trusted, and must be limited and/or stymied at every turn, especially where taxation was involved. 

Since that time a blizzard of initiatives have been placed on the ballot all over the country seeking to restrict or remove any source of tax funds. Many of them have passed and been enacted into law. With budgets slashed, government services are pared ever further, and distrust of government grows.  

If you do not trust government, where is your nearest government institution to direct that mistrust?  Your local schools.

The ‘80s and 90’s were decades of unparalleled growth in the capability, availability, and usage of electronic technology.  With billions and billions of facts at hand, almost anything could be reduced to data. Lots of data. About everything. Available in almost no time on any topic.  Soon came the idea of reducing the school experience to data points, and the concept of attaching teacher performance to test scores was born.

Along the way we lost sight of an old analysis acronym called “GIGO.”  GIGO stands for “garbage in, garbage out,” and calls for an analysis of where the data came from, who collected it under what circumstances, and what factors were included or excluded.  We don’t bother with such trivia any more.

Decades ago I taught a series of 9th grade English Honors classes at a junior high.  In the room next to me, separated by a glass wall, toiled two of my colleagues in a Special Education program for kids with all manner of learning challenges.  Once in a while I would be cajoled, coaxed, or strong-armed into leaving my classroom for a day of staff development for teachers in the Honors program. At every one I attended the presenter praised those present as the best and brightest teachers in the district.

I knew that was an utter falsehood.  I became the teacher assigned to this program because nobody else wanted it. That was my qualification.

The Honors classes were the most creative and fun classes I taught.  On one occasion I gave up a planning period to teach the Special Ed class, as both teachers needed to attend a meeting.  They prepped the kids in advance, telling them that Mr. Preston, the Head of the English Department (!), and the Girls Basketball and Volleyball Coach (!), would be their teacher that Friday. I never had a class more excited to see me or more intent on performing well. The assignment was a fairly simple math lesson involving story problems and I tried to teach my eager students for an hour.  I totally failed. They tried so hard to understand while I, with more than a dozen years of teaching five classes a day behind me, could not summon the verbal and mental skills required to teach the lesson.

What happens when we use test score data to evaluate teachers?  How would those Special Ed teachers have fared when the scores of their students were compared to what my Honors kids would have racked up? 

Demographics count.  My wife’s elementary school is in a fairly affluent area dominated by parents who work for Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.  Her elementary school houses 650 students. Individual and groups of students speak a total of 27 languages in addition to English.  After vacation breaks, they often return from Paris, Hong Kong, Australia, or other far flung destinations.  Their world view, at the age of nine, puts them so very far ahead of students in a less affluent and world-traveled demographic. Most of them come from homes with state of the art computer systems they’ve been using for years. Their enhanced world view and experiences come into play on virtually any standardized test.

What if a student has moved here from a foreign country? If such a student does not speak English, his or her scores will sink to the bottom.  This in turn will drag down the average of the class, and the standing of the teacher.  The same teacher who is prevented, under penalty of dismissal, from offering any student any assistance or help during the entirety of the test.

Now add politics. Politicians have learned that to attain and retain an office, you must have an issue that resonates.  Education is a popular source of issues.  You must propose a bill to deal with the “issue” you have identified.  It does not matter a jot if the legislation succeeds at solving the problem, or even if it was a real problem in the first place.  If the law is not effective, you have an opportunity to propose a new one. “No Child Left Behind” was the first of these that applied to education on a national scale and has led to dozens of more specific requirements at the state level. All of them are driven by data, and all of the data is meaningless due to flaws in how the data is gathered and arrayed.

Consider the federally funded mandate that test scores must be used in teacher evaluations. Which test?  Who wrote it? When is it given?  Who scores it?  Are factors included for income levels, available infrastructure, student variations of capability, special needs, available food and shelter, parental guidance, and a host of other factors?  (Hint: no)

But isn’t it difficult to get rid of bad teachers?   Not in my experience.   As teacher who was receiving a bad evaluation from the principal. He noted the wads of paper tossed across the room a few times and where the teacher was in the various curriculum areas.  In Math, I recall, the teacher was on page 12 of the text and every other teacher was on p.96. The principal reeled off his findings, which were complete and devastating. He offered a list of books to read and a couple of college classes to take.  Failure to accomplish these tasks would result in dismissal.

As we left the meeting, the teachers asked me what he could do. I told him the principal had followed the contract, and he could comply with the items on the list or need to try a different career. There were no other viable options.

All the principal had done was read the contract and follow the specified evaluation procedure. It took two hours of his time plus perhaps a third hour to type up his report, and a fourth for our conference.  Four hours of time from a person who teaches no classes during the day is not a serious barrier to removing a bad teacher. Bad teachers are not all that common. In this case the children benefitted, and so did the teacher, who did move on to another line of work.

The new paradigm is to test frequently and to record all scores to create more data.  The tests are seriously flawed, the infrastructure to provide them is inadequate, and the scoring system ludicrous. The eventual results are useless and have little connection to a particular student, and none at all to the performance of the teacher.  But they are data!  GIGO.

The solution?  Reminds me of when I was a basketball coach. You would have try-outs at the beginning of the season and efficiently cut the numbers of applicants down to what the program could bear.  A few days of practice would allow you to select the “varsity,” and after that came the final step of selecting the starting team.  After another couple of weeks of practice you would get to a point where you needed to play a game. It was time to relinquish control over every activity of each two hour practice and turn the players loose.  During the game you could call time-outs and so forth to redirect, but it was now the players’ challenge to do the best they could with their own skills.

It used to be this way with teachers. After all, not all who enter a college of education make it through the course work and student teaching and the hiring process. Those who do have made “the team” and are duly rewarded with enormous responsibility.   We need to let them exercise the responsibility they have worked hard for.

Most school districts have relied for decades on a legal principle called “in loco parentis.”  This is applied to education in that in this location, the teacher is the parent.  Teachers are responsible for the education of the child, but also for safety.  It is a legal obligation to report to an administrator even a teacher’s suspicion of child abuse, with or without any definite proof.  Failure to do so can mean dismissal and the possibility of being sued by the child years later for abdication of the responsibility to protect.  I did report suspected abuse of a student on one occasion. The next week the parents removed her from school and enrolled her in a different district, but eventually the truth came out.

Standardized tests do not apply to teacher decisions like this, and there are thousands of them in a teacher’s year.

Think about “in loco parentis” for a minute. As a parent, do you ever make mistakes?  If your answer is “No,” you are either not a parent, fibbing, or emotionally and psychologically totally removed from your child.  Would your performance as a parent improve if you were required to take an extensive battery of tests each year to produce data regarding your fitness for the task?  For each child?  There would be, of course, no consideration given to the particular talents or needs of each of your own children.

I was fortunate to be taught by excellent teachers in my youth. They made mistakes.  The ones that either I noticed or my parents caught were discussed and resolved. 

The concept of “in loco parentis” is a good one and would be the basis for turning the ocean liner that is education around and heading back to safe seas.  Each community is paying for the education of the children with their tax dollars, but that does not require ceding control of schools to the funding source.  

Hire trained teachers, put them in the classroom, give them light and heat and paper and other materials and personnel support, and watch the results.  In your own home. With your own child.

Education is in a bad way at this time in this country. It is not the fault of the teachers. In fact there is no handy target to pin with a blame tag. What exists is a tragic cocktail of public pushback to taxes, political maneuvering, and a mass hysteria of blind faith in reams of data. 

To do better we will have to put some trust back where it used to be. 

In your child’s teacher.

In your own local school.  

 

 

Copyright 2015                          David Preston

Posted in Education, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

On our 43rd Anniversary…

How We Met:

In previous years I’ve written about our 40th wedding anniversary celebration (2012) and about our wedding itself (2014).  You can find them by date further down the list of essays on this site.

In honor of our 43rd wedding anniversary, which is today, I thought I’d take on that most frequent topic when married couples are getting to know each other: “How did you two meet?”

Full disclosure: this is actually being written for the enjoyment of our grandson (and possible grandchildren to come) for such a time when he or they might be interested.  Thus, it may or may not be interesting to you, but it sure was interesting to us!

It was 1971 and I was 24. I had a deal with a very nice gentleman I had met two years earlier when I purchased his almost new 1969 Honda 450 Street Scrambler. Every few thousand miles I would drop it off at his house and he would do a complete tune-up, as he was gifted at such things. In return, I would take him and his wife out to dinner.

This worked well until a planned dinner outing on July 3rd of 1971.  He called to cancel our planned dinner, as his wife was ill.  Alas.  I recalled that Rod, the younger brother of a colleague, had invited me to a party that night. I was not much of a party guy, but with the evening free – why not?

I arrived in my party finery for the time. On my bike, of course, with a spare helmet strapped to the rear of the seat. A helmet I carried with me whenever I thought there was any chance of having it come in handy.   

For two years. 

I wore my “motorcycle jacket.” Being an impecunious junior high teacher, I could not afford a “real” motorcycle jacket, but I also needed a “dress-up” jacket. Attempting to double up, I purchased a black kangaroo skin (it said) jacket which proved to be not very suitable for either task. I walked in to the party carrying my jacket, helmet, and a 6 pack of Pepsi, as I do not drink when riding a motorcycle. I found out later than Susan had noticed this and was impressed by it.

I knew virtually none of the people, so host Rod introduced me to all and sundry. When he got to Susan she replied with “I think we’ve met before.”

Thinking myself a great wit, but in fact a great idiot, I replied with “That’s so clever!  Did you think of that yourself?” Instead of telling me where to place my helmet, she continued, and to make me even more of a fool it turned out we HAD met before, when she was out with Rod and I was on a double date – with my father. (Another story)

Susan was unlike anyone I’d ever met.  Cute, with big hazel-blue eyes that danced with laughter, an amazing intellect, fascinating to listen to, and wielding a vocabulary that comfortably exceeded my own.  English teachers notice things like that.  I was intrigued. 

I don’t intend “cute” to be dismissive.  To my eye, she was cute until we had been married for a few years. After our daughter was born she became truly beautiful, and even more so after our son was born. I’ve never figured out exactly how that happened.

Fortunately, the party soon became appallingly boring, so I asked Susan if she would like to go for a ride on my bike for a piece of pie and coffee at the same place we had met.  She said she would love to.  Over pie and coffee it transpired that the entire group was planning to meet at Green Lake the next evening for the fireworks show held there in those days. Obviously, another chance for a motorcycle ride.

A problem arose for Susan the next day.  She would have to introduce me to her parents, and she’d forgotten my last name!  What to do? Her brother that I’d taught and coached three years earlier was out of town, so Susan called one of his friends and pretended to be her mother.  She made up some story about an activity at Rose Hill Junior High and asked him the name of the tennis coach.  David Preston!

When I showed up the next afternoon her mother came out to see the bike.

Dorine Tracy is one of the finest people I’ve ever met, and she plumbed her vast resources of tact on this occasion.  As a nurse, she had the same view of motorcyclists that most nurses had at the time – dim.  Now her 19 year old daughter was going out on a date on one.

I had thought Susan was about 24 – I was shocked to learn her real age a few days later.

Dorine came out of the house and said “Oh my – I want to see this beautiful motorcycle I’ve heard so much about.”  As she spoke her eyes took in the bike. Her voiced slowed and became almost a whisper by the end of the second sentence. “It is certainly…..big….isn’t it?”   I felt so sorry for her, but it would not have helped to point out that a Honda 450 was actually not all that big.

Susan accepted my proposal of marriage ten weeks later, and I was on a ride to Florida for five weeks of that span.

Amazing in so many ways.

Going to that party was the best decision I’ve ever made.

 

 

David Preston                                                Copyright 2015

 

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Gene T on a motorcycle

My friend Gene is an actor. A veteran of commercials, web casts, plays, and indy films, he is now progressing into full length films and major TV productions. Occasionally there will be a need to show that he can ride a motorcycle for a role.

In fact, one of our shared pipe dreams is that some day he will star as Harrison Thomas in a series of major films made from my novels where Harrison is the main character.  Sure, the odds are really low but I enjoy purchasing lottery tickets, too.

In any case, there is little of interest in this video unless you REALLY enjoy watching a motorcycle cruise along.  No drama, no high speeds – this is place here mostly so either of us can find it if ever needed!

http://youtu.be/xbHttQPkWmk

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What St. Patrick’s Day Means to Me

A Different Meaning for St. Patrick’s Day

Today is the 15th anniversary of the day I sat down with Jim Boltz of Cycle Barn to discuss the 5 page concept paper I had sent him for a new sort of job. We spent two hours getting all excited about ideas we both had, and by the time I left I knew I would be able to leave teaching after 31 years and embark on a new and exciting adventure. This despite the fact we had not discussed items like what the salary would be for this new position. That came later, with a “bad cop” interview with Craig Southey.

When I got home and explained to Susan that this was actually going to happen, she began literally jumping up and down in her excitement for me, which I thought was so incredibly loving given the circumstances.

The circumstances were that I was the head of the English Department at Juanita High school. I was at the top of the salary schedule, and enjoyed full medical benefits. In fact, because Susan taught for the same district, we had double benefits in some areas. I taught in my own portable, and my classes were not taught by anyone else. They all had waiting lists of students who wanted to enroll. I was the announcer for football and basketball games, and occasionally dabbled in assistant coaching and other sports duties. The school is less than two miles from our home. In other words, I had the ideal teaching job.

I was trading this for a job I had invented that had not previously existed, and which could be cancelled with a day’s notice. A job with no medical benefits, and no retirement plan.  A job that few employees would understand and some would resent, although I did not know that at the time.  A job that was offered by no other motorcycle dealership that I had ever heard of. It was a huge leap of faith into a vast unknown sea of perils consisting of many job tasks I had never tried, but was sure I could do. Susan’s response meant so much to me.

I did have some experience, as I had worked part time for two years for Doug’s Lynnwood Mazda with a “prototype” customer service and support position which I had also invented.  That one started in 1998, where I was fired on my first day on the job by a sales manager who had not been in the loop and took an immediate and strong dislike to me. I was re-hired a week later at a higher salary.

Every year on St. Patrick’s Day I give a silent thanks to Doug Ikegami and his wife Pat, who first believed in the idea, to Jim Boltz for almost ten full years of adventures, and to Keith and Ann Thye of Ride West BMW for the final four years.

Thanks to these people I had the opportunity to drive about four dozen Miatas, to drag race a Miata and a Mazda Pickup truck, to enter a night time semi-off road rally in a Hummer, to ride over 500 different motorcycles and attend motorcycle events in several states, to attend both a World Super Bike race in St. Lake City and a Moto GP race in China, to announce a national championship kart race in Texas, to host my own call-in radio show for three years, to write hundreds of articles and essays and newsletters, and even a couple of books, and on and on and on.

Most of my good friends today came out of those experiences.

I have a lot to be thankful for.

 

Copyright 2015                        David Preston

 

 

Posted in Cars, Education, Marketing, Motorcycles | Leave a comment

The “Secrets” of Customer Service

Secrets of Customer Service

My recent shenanigans with Comcast led me to conclude that they have the worst customer service program ever.  In turn, that led me to pondering the issue of who has the best customer service.

One of the advantages of my own web site is that I can write about anything I like, whether or not I have any actual experience with the topic. In this case, I do.

I spent fourteen years in the motorcycle business and two years (part-time) working for a car dealer in customer service.  My job title changed frequently, as we struggled to pin down exactly what it was I was doing, but almost all of my tasks involved customer service of one sort or another.

So where have I experienced the best examples of customer service?  I’d start with the United States Social Security Administration, and then add the Washington State Teachers Retirement System, AAA, Les Schwab… and me. Doesn’t that list raise your eyebrows?  What are the traits shared by each of these that led to positive experiences?

ACCESS. To provide customer service, you must first ensure that customers can reach you.  This means having an e-mail address and phone number for customer use. Most companies have this, but that is not enough.

The customer must be able to reach a live human being on the phone easily. In the case of Comcast, there are so many robotic menus to work through that you are frustrated and angry before you ever get to a human, if you do at all.  On several occasions, calls to Comcast were forwarded and then dropped, requiring the caller to start all over again.  With Social Security, AAA, and the teachers’ retirement system, I’ve reached a human easily who started with a return personal number if I needed to call again. When you visit Les Schwab, at times a crew member will jog to the car and open your door!  If not, there is usually a wait of no more than 15 seconds at the counter.

An e-mail address may seem obvious, until you learn that Comcast does not have one, or at least not one you can find with several minutes of searching on their web site. This is inexplicable, and seems to be a part of an intentional effort to make life as difficult as possible for customers. I cannot fathom what the value is in this approach.

Once an e-mail address is established and broadcast, you need to have someone who answers it quickly.  When I was at the dealership, I started my day by responding to all e-mails that had come in overnight or over the weekend before I did anything else.   Except for pouring myself a cup of coffee, of course.  During the work day I strove to respond to all e-mails within an hour or less, even if just to say “I’ll get back to you with an answer soon.”

It is also important to respond to all e-mails, even if the response was essentially “No.”  Many times a person would thank me even for a negative response, because everyone else they had sent their response to had ignored them completely.

It is my opinion, which I’ve failed to impress on anyone else despite years of effort, that e-mails FROM the company to the customer must come from an individual person with an actual name. Most companies now send out weekly or more often e-mails, but none of them are from a human. Corporate messages are usually written very carefully in corporate lingo, and always have a sales component. They are easily written off, correctly, as spam. If you want customers to actually read the e-mail, it must come from a person and if at all possible should contain information that is new, different, amusing, and/or not available anywhere else.  I once put out an e-mail featuring a rare Ducati that had just been traded in, and I sold it in 5 minutes, although I did not get any credit for used bike sales.  That was an example of the practice of including “this just in” details that will not be out on the “official” company web site or newsletter for days or weeks.

If the message comes from a real person and contains information of interest that is not available elsewhere – it will be read.

It seems to me that if you had a large company with more e-mails coming in than one person could handle, you could have multiple staff responding, as long as they all used the same name as a signature and as long as that person actually existed and was in the store to deal with customers in person if needed.

A little technology is a good thing. Too much is the kiss of death. I was once asked to make a presentation at a marketing convention on the topic of “maintaining a customer community.”  The convention staff who called to offer assistance were dumbfounded that I did not need technical help. They asked if I would need technology to make a Power Point presentation  (no), play a video (no), the printing of materials (no), a microphone (no), and several other technologies, some of which I had never heard of.  Finally, the person asked, and I could hear the frustration in her voice, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to talk.”

A radical concept, evidently.

My presentation went very well. The room was packed, and the audience seemed to enjoy my talk and asked several questions.  The frustration came when I stressed the need to have all e-mails come from a single live human being, in that person’s “voice,” to include interesting tidbits and other information, and to not rely on fancy graphics and fonts and colors and other new-fangled capabilities, I could sense that the content was bouncing off their brains and falling to the floor.  Not interested.

These days every company has access to a large vat of tools to gussy up their messages. You can have colors and varying fonts and pie charts and little dancing squirrels and so much more.  What is not considered is that all other companies have the same resources, so the result is that all messages start to look the same and edge ever closer to spam.

An e-mail from a real person written in black and white sentences now stands out as something really different and unusual, and is therefore much more likely to be read.

PERSONNEL: Customer service works requires a person who gets a lift from helping other people.  Teachers and nurses and firemen have this gene, as do most police officers. They are not motivated by money or dreams of power or influence.  I don’t think you can train people to want to help others. You have to determine in the hiring process if the applicant is this sort of person.  They are easy to spot, as they really can’t help themselves. They are people who want to help.  An added bonus is that they are willing to work for a lower salary, just for the opportunity to be of service.

When I chose to retire, the Social Security Administration received my paperwork by e-mail.  In response I got a personal phone call, and the woman explained that I should have dated my application in March on my birthday, as that was when I reached my “maximum service years.”  As a result of her explanation and actual insistence, she back-dated my application, and the result was a gain of about $15,000 over what I had expected. She did not have to do that, but seemed determined to get me everything I was due, even if I was too ignorant to know it.  That story was trumped by a gentleman I had coffee with on a motorcycle ride yesterday. He had retired from Boeing at 67.  He had reached his maximum service age at 65, but was not aware of the implications. Another friendly SSA person (surely not the same one) would not rest until she had sent him a check for TWO YEARS of his benefits!

When I decided to increase the withholding from my retirement I sent an e-mail to the state teacher’s retirement system one afternoon. Early the next morning I received a phone call from a person who walked me through my account and corrected errors I had made.

I have called AAA twice due to battery issues with my car, both of them my own fault. A person answered immediately, asked about the nature of the problem, and told me about how long it would be. In each case I was to wait for about a half an hour. A friendly and competent man showed up in less time than that and resolved the issue. Both times.

It is crucial to hire a person for this work who is really enthused about the product, whether it be benefits or tires or motorcycles.  I did not realize when I entered the motorsports business what an attribute it was that I enjoy all cars and motorcycles. I was always happy to discuss with anyone their need or problem, and never had to pause because I did not share their choice of car or motorcycle.  This seemed to be unusual.

CUSTOMER SERVICE IS NOT SALES:  Customer service supports sales, and often leads to sales, but that is not the primary purpose. This is where most companies fall down, and I think the cause is simple greed. If you have an employee who is talking to customers by e-mail or phone every day, why not burden that employee with an obligation to “upsell” or add additional products and services?

Because it kills the effectiveness of customer support, that’s why.  All those things will happen, but they must be initiated by the customer, not the company.  Les Schwab is justifiably famous for fixing flat tires for free, no matter if they sold the tire to you in the first place or not.  I have never experienced an effort at upselling or a prod to purchase new tires. They merely repair yours, usually in less than 15 minutes, and send you on your way. Since discovering this about ten years ago I have purchased three or four complete sets of tires from them, and would not go anywhere else.  Their dedication to customer service feeds the sales, but does not require the sales.  That is how it is supposed to work.

Customer service is one aspect of marketing but not all of it, and is not directly tied to sales.

A problem for businesses today is an over-reliance on data. Almost everything in a modern enterprise is recorded and analyzed by computers, and a profit and loss profile can be established.  You can tell which departments are making money and which not, and compare them by day or week or month or year.  This can be very helpful in determining what products to order, and when, and what your staffing needs will be.  Managers can too easily over-focus on the reams of data available, and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Some things are not measurable by a computer, and customer support is one of them. What is the “feeling tone” in the dealership? Are people there because they enjoy visiting your store, or merely because they need something and you are the handiest (or only) place to go?  How do people in the larger community regard your business?  Do you have a foothold on charitable activities?  How many of your customers talk to their friends about your store?

It is very hard to measure any of these subjective topics with a computer. Some of the thousands of people I dealt with on dealership activities later purchased a motorcycle from the dealership, and some of them were kind enough to tell me that part of their decision was based on something I had done for them.   Nobody mentions such a thing during the purchase process and it never appears in a computer.

A common conclusion, after looking at the data, is that customer service is not worth it.

As a counter to that, both of the dealerships I worked for, neither of which were all that broken up to see me leave, later complained that many of the customers that had been coming in were not visiting any more.  “Door swings” can be measured, although it is difficult to do so with accuracy, and in both cases evidently crashed when the customer service role was reduced or eliminated.

To be fair, customer service costs money.  The customer service person is the only person in the dealership who is not (from the data) bringing in money while they work, so it is easy to conclude they are not needed.

Sometimes what is easy to conclude is not what is correct to conclude.

To review, an effective customer service program requires very little.

Easy access

Prompt response

An enthused and knowledgeable person who wants to help

Funding

It’s really that simple.

 

Copyright 2015                       David Preston

 

 

 

Posted in Cars, Marketing, Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

My First Motorcycle

My First Motorcycle

Set the wayback machine to the summer of 1962. A friend of my older brother’s gave me a ride on his Yamaha 250 YDS 2. He was careful to explain what we were going to do, how I was to deal with it, and how a motorcycle handled. He rode with skill, and at a controlled but exhilarating pace. When I got off the rear seat I had as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had. It was obvious to me that I was meant to ride motorcycles.

A lack of funds and strong parental dissent (as in a loud “no” every time I broached the topic) left me to reading everything I could find about motorcycles.  By 1967 I’d desperately wanted to own and ride a motorcycle, every day, for 5 years. 

This was not entirely bad, as I was slightly more mature by the age of 20, and my reading had given me a lot of information about motorcycles.

Except how to ride one.

Things changed that spring. My mother was diagnosed with the terminal cancer that would lead to her death in September. My parents carefully planned world was shattered.  Everything they thought they knew, and everything they’d based their life around was thrown into a cruel dumpster. 

One day, when I inquired about getting a motorcycle, again, their attitude had become “Why not?”

I paid $400 for a slightly used  (400 miles) 1965 Yamaha 250cc YDS 3 motorcycle, resplendent (to me) in glistening blue and white.  The ride home was perilous, as the owner merely gave me the keys and wished me well. He was selling the bike because a car had turned left in front of him with no warning. This scared him so badly he did not want to ride any more.

With utterly no training other than what I had read about plus the knowledge of how to drive a stick shift car, I lurched into traffic, killing the engine at every stop light. My Dad was laughing at me in the rear view mirrors. He was a little desperate for humor at that time.  And, there was little traffic.

I was soon riding it virtually every day, including weekly visits to a girlfriend doing nursing training in a town 45 miles away. In Minneapolis, this meant that by mid-November I was learning a lot about hypothermia by direct experience on these jaunts.

By spring my father had dealt with my mother’s death by abruptly selling the family home and moving to Seattle, giving in to the plaints from Boeing people who’d been trying to hire him for years. He left behind a very nice 1963 Mercury for my use. I had gone from no college transportation to a motorcycle and a car in one year.  On a visit to him I mentioned that I would like to ride from Minneapolis to see him that summer.

To my utter astonishment he thought this was a good idea.

On to the planning.  Virtually nobody took cross country rides on small bikes in those days.  Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was written one year later and based on a trip where he used exactly the same route I did from Minneapolis to Seattle, including stops at identical campgrounds. Reading the first half of his book was a weird experience. Second half as well, for different reasons.

With the confidence of having no idea of what you are doing I ordered a fairing from some guy named Craig Vetter, based on a small ad in the back of a “Cycle World” magazine. Those first fairings were not the large touring models that made him famous and rich, but essentially road race fairings with taller windshields. The fairing would not fit with the front fender installed, so off it came.  A 250cc two stroke with a racing fairing and no front fender – a perfect touring bike!  A rear chrome luggage rack from Webco completed my preparations.

I added big blue Yamaha crossed tuning forks decals to the sides of the white fairings. Not many folks knew that Yamaha got its start as a musical instruments company, and crossed tuning forks was their logo. In fact, most did not know what a tuning fork was. Nothing much has changed there, but at the time I felt a little smug in my nerdiness.

I knew what a tuning fork was because my older brothers, both musicians, had borrowed one from the high school band director to tune the two loud horns in our 1949 Buick to create the most discordant two note blast achievable.

The fairing arrived the same day I purchased an engagement ring. The fairing cost $140 and the ring $143, the most money I had ever spent in one day on anything other than the bike.  The wedding engagement lasted two weeks, so the Vetter fairing was the wiser purchase.

A guy living across the alley with a 305cc Honda Superhawk had virtually the same trip idea I did, so he would join me.

The trip was the most amazing experience of my life. We camped, we rode, and we had adventures. We separated in Idaho as Jim was off to Grass Valley to see his own parents.  Shortly after that my luggage rack fractured, and was repaired by a welder at a feed store in small town, He left the rack on the bike and held a piece of cardboard between the rack and the seat. He would remove the cardboard just before it burst into flame as he welded, while I looked on in horror. With the rack welded and no damage to the seat, I was on my way. I think I argued him up to be allowed to pay him $1.00.

Jim rejoined me in Seattle a week later, and we rode back to Minneapolis. Nothing went wrong with either bike the entire trip. That was fortunate, as we carried no tire repair kits or tools or pretty much anything else I would have to have with me today.

The following spring I packed up my new college degree and all of my possessions in a twin axle Hertz trailer and hauled everything to Kirkland to begin my teaching career.

The 2nd day here I removed the fairing and did a deep cleaning and wax job. I also took off the cylinder heads to “de-coke” them and plied a torch on the baffles to burn off the two stroke oil.  With the bike running perfectly, I took off for a test ride wearing penny loafers, shorts, a shirt, and my helmet and gloves.   I had such a great time on a winding back road behind Newport that I turned around to ride it again.

I arced into a 25 mph corner at about 60. The left peg began to drag, but I did that all the time, so that was not a concern. It began to fold up, and I had done that a couple of times. Then the peg mount dug into the asphalt and began to jack the rear wheel off the ground.

Hadn’t done that before.

I attempted to put my foot down and “dirt track” around the corner, which probably would not have worked, but at that point I ran out of pavement and the bike and I flew into a ditch.  I ended up sitting in the ditch facing back in the direction from which I had come, the smoking remains of my best friend next to me. A two inch sapling at been cut off with the sharp trunk jutting out of the ground – three inches away from my neck. Wisps of dust circled around me mixed with the odors or hot dried grass and two stroke oil.  A ten year old kid ran up and said, “That was cool. Can you do it again?”

From all of my reading, I knew what to do.  I began to feel for broken bones, starting at my feet. Then the legs, my ribs, and up to my arms. Just as I was starting to think I had gotten away with it my fingers found the huge lump in my right shoulder. 

The kid led me to his mother’s house and she, a nurse, immediately called Overlake Hospital and the best surgeon she knew.

He came in to the emergency room and rotated my arm in a full circle. Ouch. Then he did it again.  Bigger ouch.  He then delivered the news: a separation and a needed operation.  I uttered a four letter one word response that starts with “s” and the nurses were deeply offended by my language. One of them proceeded to prepare my shoulder for surgery with a metal bristle brush, scrubbing out the gravel and leaving a patch that looked like raw hamburger caressed with a fork. 

The operation led to eight weeks in a sling, destroying any chance at a summer job and doing away with my plan to spend ½ of my year’s salary on a new Z 28 Camaro.  I still want one, but now it would be a retro-mod and would cost $120,000 rather than $3,500. I also spend a lot of time staring into space pondering my own idiocy.  The bike had survived, except for broken front forks, and I sold it to a guy for $100. 

I don’t know what happened to the fairing, which I’d left off for the test ride, and that is a pity, as it would be worth a fair amount today.

That was my first ride, and my last crash.

 Yamaha YDS 3 of 1965

 

 

 

Copyright 2015                David Preston

Posted in Motorcycles | 1 Comment

Measles, Lane-Splitting, and the Media of Hysteria

Measles and Lane Splitting – Hysteria vs. Logic

Two topics in the news are of interest, not so much for their content but for the manner of coverage.  As ever, the media prefer to focus on hysteria rather than logic and facts.

 Lane-splitting, which allows motorcycles to ride between lanes of cars in high density traffic, has been introduced in the Washington legislature, again. Lane splitting has been legal in California, or to be more specific not illegal, for over a decade.

Measles was eradicated in this country in 2000, but now is back, thanks to a weird movement among some groups to opt out of having their children vaccinated. The result is a growing number of cases of a disease which can be fatal. A disease that disappeared from our shores fifteen years ago.

You will note on Facebook and other media a number of polls by TV and radio stations and others seeking your response to the lane-splitting concept. Most of them are phrased to lean you toward a negative response, as in “Should this controversial concept be made law?” 

Lane-splitting is not controversial at all to the people who use it and those in charge of enforcement, as in motorcyclists in California and the California Highway Patrol.  Until recently, the CHiP had a website page recommending the practice and offering guidelines for use. That has now been taken down due to public pressure brought by non-motorcyclists who find the practice irritating or frightening, and besides, “It looks dangerous.”   

Analysis by the CHiP in the early years showed a decrease in motorcycle involved accidents and fatalities once lane-splitting was allowed, but nobody in the media wants to focus on that.

 Here is what happens. There is a traffic jam. Motorcycles are sitting for long minutes, and are hard to see by a car driver who is also texting or talking on his or her phone. The driver sees what appears to be an opening ahead and dives into it, not noticing there is a motorcycle there until it is too late. Lane splitting replaces that with a practice that appears to be more dangerous with a system that actually reduces accidents.

And what about the rain we have here?  First of all, being allowed to lane split does not mean you have to. Secondly, you will notice the number of motorcycles on the road declines precipitously (note the pun!) when it rains. 

In 13 years of leading motorcyclists aboard all brands on group rides I reached strong conclusions about who rides in the rain.  I have no data, but I can tell you that the motorcycles you are most likely to see in the rain are Harleys, Triumphs, and BMWs. I had some group rides at Cycle Barn where everyone who showed up was on a Triumph.  Over time, BMWs tended to dominate at Ride West, which makes sense, as that was the brand sold by the dealership.  HOG chapter rides take place rain or shine.  Cycle Barn sold most brands of new bikes, and almost 50% of a BMW dealership’s sales are used bikes, so there was a broad spectrum of choices.

In short (too late?) the people who ride in the rain are, almost without exception, men and women with a lot of experience on high demographic bikes with all of the latest in gear.  Those are the people who would be riding in the rain. Of that small percentage an even smaller percentage would choose to lane split.

The problem is that almost all of the “discussion” of this topic is being conducted by people who do not ride, and that includes most legislators.  Most people look at riding a motorcycle as incredibly dangerous, where many motorcyclists know it is an activity that entails risk, which is far different. Risk can be reduced by training, equipment, experience, and focus. People in cars see motorcycles moving between lanes and have no concept of the greatly improved visibility, maneuverability, and acceleration and braking capabilities found on a motorcycle. And they are not interested in that. It looks dangerous, therefore it is, and must not be allowed.  Then there is the historic aspect of people resenting someone else who appears to be having fun.

The debate in government circles will be lopsided. Motorcyclists are only about 3% of the motorized population, and their numbers will be swamped by those in opposition who are made uncomfortable by the concept.  Media will show videos of lane splitting to show how dangerous it is, to the mind of a non-motorcyclist. There are also horror stories of motorcyclists lane-splitting in the wrong place at far too high a speed.  The overall reduction in accident rates will be mentioned rarely, if at all. Tough sell.

The measles scare is even more out there.  It is not that the measles vaccination is experimental or controversial.  It has been used for almost half a century and has saved millions of lives. There is simply no question of its efficacy. That is not true for all vaccinations, perhaps, but certainly for the measles vaccination.  In other areas of the word, 400 children die every year from measles. Parents walk many miles and stand in long lines to have their children vaccinated.  Close to the horror, they understand. They get it. Americans, in our relative wealth and arrogance, have chosen to forget.

Now we see politicians such as Chris Christie and Rand Paul twisting this into some sort of parent’s right to resist government intrusion.  In the case of Rand Paul, if he were not a nationally recognized politician his words would be dismissed out of hand as those of a kook, which he surely is. But he is spectacular, so he continues to receive wide dissemination of utter inanities.

Simply requiring vaccinations as a matter of law is probably not a good idea.  One of the prices of living in a free country is that people have to be allowed to be ignorant, and to make stupid choices. Mandating vaccinations would simply foment underground resistance.  “I’ll show them,” will cry the ignorant, and then defend their parental rights while children die.

As with cigarettes, the answer lies in education.  It was never made illegal to smoke, but learning came from massive educational campaigns in the media and on cigarette packs paid for by the manufacturers as a way out of massive civil law suits. We have come, in just a few years, to where the sight of a person smoking a cigarette, in many areas, is almost shocking in its rarity.

In the fullness of time, measles will once again be eliminated. As traffic grows more congested, lane-splitting will be allowed, eventually, as it saves time and effort for both motorcyclists and drivers of cars. And saves lives, as does vaccinating for measles.

The question is, as we are spoon fed the lurid and spectacular by a media that panders to the lowest common denominator, how many people will die while we wait?

 

Copyright 2015                      David Preston

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The Stupidity of Comcast

 

The Stupidity that is Comcast

It is no news that Comcast is one of the great evil empires of our time.  Fabled for poor customer service, poor communications, and excessive cost, it awaits the rise of a better, cheaper, and more customer-service directed competitor.  Long overdue.

Why am I still a customer? Because I have not (yet) found a more compatible provider that can bring me both local channels and the smaller cable outlets that offer programming of sports car and motorcycle programs and racing. 

Today Comcast have exceeded their own customer service ineptitude and launched into a state of sheer lunacy.

My mother in law is 88 years old. She has raised six children, five still alive, five sons and daughters in law, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.  I am the closest to her by distance, little more than a mile, and so it falls to me to come to her assistance when small problems arise.  I do not mind at all, as I could do her a small favor every day of the year and not come close to repaying the many kindnesses she has shown me.

Recently she’s been receiving an onslaught of letters and robo-calls urging her to upgrade her equipment. She does not want or need to upgrade, and the calls make her nervous, abashed, and distressed.

Today I rode to her house to call Comcast and attempt to call off their marketing dogs.  I was surprised that I was speaking to an actual human in only about three minutes. It was all downhill from there.

I wanted to get the letters and calls to stop, but first there was a much bigger problem. The account is still in the name of her husband, who passed away 5 years ago. Being a good customer, she called a year or two back to change the name on the account, and was told the only way to do that was to drive to her “local” Comcast office and make the change. That never happened.  I was told today that no changes could be made, even as minor as stopping the dunning of her with these calls and letters, without changing the name on the account.  Without that, they would continue to send communications to a man dead all these years.

To make the change, she would need to come to them with a copy of his death certificate.  I replied that this was ridiculous, and the nice man offered to give me a FAX number she could use for that.  I asked what were the odds that an 88 year old woman would have access to a FAX machine.

In looking at her bill, I see that she is paying for phone, cable TV, and Internet services. The Internet charge is $50 a month, for a computer that has not been touched in 5 years.

Why would she not just cancel all the accounts? Because she is 88, and change is daunting. She is not all that concerned about the money – she just wants to be able to watch her TV and have a phone.

In short, Comcast has had no problem with sending bills to a dead man for 5 years. As long as the checks come, there is no problem. They are not concerned with billing her for $3,000 of Internet access she has never used.  But to offer her aid, or support, or anything at all – that is out of the question.

Next week we will drive to their office, with the death certificate, (assuming she can find it) and attempt to halt the letters and phone calls. I will also see if we can drop the Internet connection and retain the phone and TV.  That may be impossible.

I hate Comcast.

Addendum – took my 88 year old mother in law in to Comcast today to change the name on her account, armed with the death certificate for her husband, as demanded my Comcast.  That took about 45 minutes, as we were handed off to a trainee who was learning how to use the system.  At the end, the experienced guy gave me a receipt and wrote a phone number on it. All we had to do, he said, was go home and call this “direct line” and we could activate her computer, phone, and both TVs again.  Good news, her bill is going down by $25 a month, although the reason for this was not explained. Bad news – I believed him about the direct line part.

Back at her house I spend an hour trying the “direct line,” which actually sent you into one of their myriad phone menus, none of which sent you to “activate.”  On two occasions I reached a real human who went to work on the problem. The first one was cut off and the phone went dead. The second was cut off by a 3rd real person, who went to work on the problem until the phone went dead. On four other occasions I worked through several menus until a computer voice told me I would be transferred, … and then I was cut off.

After an hour and a dozen calls, I gave up on the “direct” phone line and called 1-800-Comcast, and eventually found a guy who could fix the problem.  Can you imagine how stressful this is for someone who is 88 years old?

Total time elapsed – almost 3 hours.

 At some point poor customer service lapses into parody.

I still hate Comcast.

Copyright 2015            David Preston

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Guns for Gun Enthusiasts

Preston Enterprises

High Performance Writing

TO:                  Gun Enthusiasts

FROM:            David Preston

RE:                  Dealing with Proposed Gun Control Legislation

Executive Summary:

Presented here is a pro bono analysis of the negative attention directed at gun enthusiasts from governmental, social media, and other anti-gun groups that presents workable solutions.

The problem is determined to be not a legislative or social issue but an image and marketing issue.

My Background:

I am not a gun enthusiast, but as a motorcyclist I can understand the appeal. The technology, the art, the thrill of operating high performance equipment, the need for training and care in use – all of that resonates with me.  My parents were NRA members, and in the early days of their marriage, competitive shooters. As a child I gawked at the jackets that hung in the closet, festooned with pads and sewn on badges from various local and state contests they had entered.  I read the NRA magazine each month.

My first experience with a real gun was hilarious in hindsight. A girl friend in college lived in a small town, and when I visited for a Sunday afternoon meal I was invited out to the back yard for some target shooting. I was given an enormous hand gun that seemed to weigh about ten pounds and directed toward a target nailed to a tree 50 yards away. I could barely hold the gun straight and worried that I would miss not just the target but the entire tree. Instead, I hit the bulls-eye; evidently rarely done.  Pure random chance and chaos theory. The girl’s father took an instant disliking to me that was intense.

The Situation:

All over this country there are calls for restrictions on the ownership and usage of guns of all kinds. These range from proposed legislative action to social media campaigns and media blitzes whenever someone uses a gun inappropriately. The position of the NRA has been that no changes of any kind are acceptable, and that anyone who wishes to own a gun should be able to do so. The 2nd Amendment to the US constitution is usually cited as the rationale for this position.

The Problem:

The problem gun that enthusiasts face is not at all what it appears. The problem is not with legislation, social media, or protests by non-gun enthusiasts. The problem lies with image and marketing.

Marketing Background:

I worked in the motorsports industry for 14 years in a position of “soft” marketing that entailed newsletters, e-mails, customer support, and customer and dealership events.

 More importantly, I attempted to teach writing to teens for over 30 years, and that is where most of my expertise in marketing was gained.

When you attempt to teach English, you’re trying to sell a product to a demographic that does not want it.  You deal with that by offering it for free. Even at that, the product is hard to use, and requires a lot of study and practice. Assigned practice tasks are not easy, and most of the feedback you receive for your efforts will be perceived as negative, even if the intent is helpful. You will not be skilled in the use of the product for many years, and will in all likelihood never reach a position of professional status. The odds are that you will not enjoy using the product – ever.  This is ironic because the ability to use the English language will affect your life positively several times a day. In your teen years this is often impossible to comprehend.

In both retail marketing and teaching the ultimate truth is that perception often trumps reality. All products are marketed to create a positive perception, and sold with the intent by the purchaser that the perception will become reality. This is why middle-aged men purchase red convertibles, with the perception that this purchase will rekindle their youth and power. The reality of life rarely intrudes on the purchase decision, and this can be applied to almost any product area you wish. When I get all togged up in my motorcycle gear and go out for a ride, my perception is that I look cool. There is no evidence to corroborate this, and I yet hold on to the perception because it is more comfortable than reality.

Gun enthusiasts need to understand the role of perception and how it differs from reality to move their sport forward.  In fact, they need to understand this to help gun enthusiasm survive.  Perception is important both as applied to gun enthusiasts and to those in opposition.

The gun enthusiast perception is that the problem lies with those opposed to gun ownership and use. The reality is that the problem is being created, and perpetuated, by… gun enthusiasts.

Here are some of the perceptions of those opposed. Most of these are not true, at least not in their entirety. Others are open to interpretation. None of this makes any difference at all, because the perceptions of society are what drive change.

Murders are out of control.   In fact, the rate of murders committed in this country has been declining for years.  Many of them are committed without the use of a gun.  Neither of these facts makes the slightest difference.

 Gun enthusiasts are careless. In our area, a gun owner strolling with his pistol in a Costco store (a danger zone?) took it out of the holster and dropped it on the floor. What is the perception of others in the store that day?  How will they react from now on to the phrase “careful and reasonable gun owner”?

A recent report by the TSA pointed out that 2200 guns are confiscated at airport terminals by passengers checking in every year.  83% of them are loaded.  The usual response is that the gun owner “forgot.”   To the public, any gun owner who is capable of forgetting that he or she has packed a gun before a flight, loaded or not, is a person who should not own a gun.  If this many people forget they have a gun, how many also forget to leave the safety on, or make sure the gun is not operable? How many of them forget to clean and otherwise maintain their weapon?  The gun enthusiast response to this is that most gun owners are careful.  The public doesn’t care, as 6 guns a day confiscated, every day of the year, offers a powerful rebuttal.

To conclude, the line that most gun owners are careful and responsible, which is certainly true, should be dropped and never used again

School massacres committed with guns happen far too often.  Easily defended, as even one is far too many.  The perception is that there have been hundreds of them since Columbine. Makes no difference if that is correct or not, or even what the actual number is.

School massacres are not new. In the early years of the last century a school principal in Maine was upset because the teacher he was having an affair with was breaking up with him. He loaded the basement of the school with dynamite, chained the doors shut, and then watched as he blew up and burned to death virtually the entire population of children in the town, as well as the teacher.  Due to the relative lack of media presence over a century ago, most people never heard of this atrocity.

 These days every incident is reported in excessive death by a media that lives on the expression “if it bleeds, it leads.” Railing against this is useless, as that is the reality.

It is also counter-productive to stick to the party line that each school massacre is an “isolated” event. There have simply been too many of them in the last decade for that description to have any credibility.

There are too many guns. The actor Liam Neeson made the news recently decrying the “fact” that there are over 300 million guns in America. There is no possible way to estimate the number of guns in this country, no matter what sort of statistical analysis you use.

This makes no difference.  300 million is as good a number as any. Could be more, could be less.

To the non-enthusiast public, that means that you could destroy one million guns a year and not run out for 300 years, even if no more guns were produced.  Whether or not there are “too many” guns is a matter of perception, but that we will never be without them is a fact.

The NRA is corrupt. The perception is that the Board of Directors of the NRA is dominated by powerful executives who are employed in the arms industry.  This is a clear conflict of interest, as your goal in such a career is to maintain and increase sales of guns.  Whether or not the NRA is in fact dominated by such people is moot, because that is the perception.

The NRA owns many members of congress.  Whether or not this is true, it is now being used by opponents who are willing to take on the NRA and its political muscle at the ballot box. A candidate can now receive funding from multiple sources based on a pledge to oppose the NRA. The NRA is now transitioning from a political influence to a political issue, and that is extremely dangerous.

Guns are too easy to get ahold of.  You cannot legally go out and purchase and airplane and fly it without proof of successful completion of a course of instruction.  It is difficult these days to do the same thing with a motorcycle. Or a car. The difference is that while an airplane, motorcycle, or car can injure and kill others if used inappropriately, none of them is designed to do so.  You can argue that not all guns are designed to kill, but that would be an exercise is nit-picking and a waste of time.  And yet there are very few constraints on gun ownership, and any that are proposed are denigrated viciously by gun enthusiasts.  Why?

I confess I’m stumped on this one. I’ve heard the argument that requiring education, licensing, and registration of gun owners is an intrusion on freedom, but can this be taken seriously?  In a society where most money changes hands electronically,  and most communication happens by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever other mass social communication device was invented this week, the concept of “freedom” is becoming quaint. There pretty much is no thing. Unless, of course, you choose to live totally off the grid, and if you do that you are no longer participating in the cultural debate, and thus, your “side” will lose, whether you are there to see it or not.

The phrase used so often is “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” For those opposed to guns, this is easily turned around to be a good idea.  Why not ban all guns so that all who own them are criminals?   Not feasible, surely, and yet history shows that in a democratic society where people elect representatives to enact laws in their interest, literally anything is possible.

Early attempts to limit smoking were also mocked as impossible.  Initially, smokers stood up for their rights to smoke on planes.  A few flicks of ash later, someone smoking a cigarette, even in public and outdoors is becoming a rare sight.

And yet, there are still smokers who enjoy their cigarettes, or pipe in my case, and their ranks you will find the solution.

The Solution:

In order to win a war, you must be willing to lose a battle or two. To win the hearts and minds of the people, you must create the perception of being a reasonable group with ideas that support and bolster society.

To do this gun enthusiasts will need to embrace limited change. Through the creation of proposals for change comes control of those changes, or at least valuable influence.  By making small steps toward control, massive and destructive changes out of the control of gun enthusiasts can be avoided.

Let’s start with automatic weapons.  Just as nobody needs a motorcycle, nobody needs an automatic weapon. Not for home defense, and not for hunting. However, they have an attraction and I am told they are thrilling to use. Why not propose that automatic weapons can only be sold to licensed shooting ranges and the like, and only used on the premises? Not eliminate them, but ensure they are used in a controlled environment. A fallback position would allow private ownership, but only if the weapons are stored at a registered facility. There are electronic and other ways to ensure the weapon would be deactivated if carried away from the register facility. Gun enthusiasts should go beyond supporting this concept to be the ones proposing it.

Gun enthusiasts need to be in favor of mandatory education and registration of guns. As motorcyclists did decades ago, gun enthusiasts could be the ones who create the classes. In motorcycles, this was so successful that most states have now ceded both the education and testing of motorcyclists to private firms owned by motorcycle enthusiasts.

Gun enthusiasts need to be in agreement that school shootings are a problem.  They do not need to provide the solution, but admitting there is a problem would ramp up perception that gun enthusiasts are willing to confront reality.

 

The Result:

Over time these changes would result in fewer people with guns, and fewer gun enthusiasts. This would actually work for the better for gun enthusiasts.  I have seen this work with motorcycles. Back in the 1960s and 1970s motorcycles became very popular in this country, and for a while everyone who was anyone had to have one.

In retrospect, this was not good, as many of the people who got into it were ill-equipped in temperament or ability or intelligence to operate a motorcycle. In those days I had people refer to me as a “Hell’s Angel.” A principal of the school wanted me kicked out of the student teaching program because I rode a motorcycle. People often asked me about my “murdercycle.”   On one occasion a man tried to run me off the road as a “fun” way to impress his date. All of these incidents had nothing to do with the reality of me, and everything to do with the perceptions of motorcyclists at the time.

In short, an inclusive approach that places all gun owners in the same tent is a mistake that will, prove disastrous in the long run. By allowing and assisting in the efforts of social and government forces to weed out those who are never going to be able to come up to the standard of “reasonable and careful,”  gun enthusiasts will be able to preserve gun ownership and use for a smaller percentage of the population.  That population will disappear from an almost daily appearance in the mass media.

When was the last time you read a newspaper article or heard a politician railing at the dangers and destruction to our society wrought by motorcyclists?

Will this hurt the NRA, manufacturers, and gun shop owners?  In the short term, absolutely.  That happened in the motorcycle industry as well, but over time we have seen that dealerships that were not well run disappeared.  Manufacturers re-thought and re-tolled their offerings, and they are still here and still profitable.  Motorcyclists today are fewer in number, but better educated and better customers.  And to the perception of the public, no longer a threat. 

In fewer numbers lies the salvation of the gun owner, as opposed to a large and uncontrollable mob that, much like lemmings, will march off a legislative cliff they do not see coming.

I’m off to smoke my pipe or ride my motorcycle.

 

It’s all about the perception, boss.

 

Copyright 2015                                   David Preston

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Education, Equipment, Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | Leave a comment

And now – the ride down Mt. Erie

http://youtu.be/LIwJhIt2nSk

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