Make way for Segways, Scouting intolerance, and speaking of ear protection

by Rob Tiller

This week a group of us took an hour-long tour of downtown Raleigh on Segways, those self-balancing two-wheeled scooters. I learned that several Raleigh street names were the names of councilmen who approved the purchase of farmland for the city in 1792, and other similar facts. But more important, I learned how to move forward, backward, and turn. It takes approximately 5 minutes to learn, and 5 more to feel reasonably confident. A few minutes later at the old Capitol I was wondering how fast the thing would go, and the guide was begging me to slow down. I felt like one of the Jetsons.

When I think of fun adventures, I still think of my early years with the Boy Scouts. Even at the time, I thought the uniforms were a bit goofy, but I valued the friends I made and our close encounters with the natural world while camping, hiking, and canoeing. With this happy history, it pains me that the Scouts decided last week to reaffirm their ban on gay members. The Scouts instilled in me a highly serviceable code of conduct: a scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

But there’s at least one cardinal virtue missing from the list: tolerance. Willingness to tolerate and accept differences is vital for individual and collective happiness. It doesn’t come easily or naturally, and it needs continual tending and encouragement. The Scouts should be promoting it without exception. As much as I was a committed Scout, as long as they have a policy of intolerance of gays and non-believers, I cannot support them.

At times it’s unclear whether unhealthy behavior is the result of ignorance or wilfulness. I’ve generally assumed that exposure to dangerous noise levels was an issue of ignorance. But a story in the NY Times last week suggested that some noise polluters had something close to a criminal mindset. Certain retailers, restaurants, and clubs have raised noise levels to the point where hearing loss is almost inevitable, and have done so with a view to attracting youthful customers to buy and drink more, and to repelling oldsters. If this is done knowingly, it’s despicable!

Young people, and indeed most people, assume that businesses and governments wouldn’t knowingly expose them to serious harm. It reminds me of marketing that used to hook kids on cigarettes, and still hooks them on sugary cereals and fatty fast food. According to the Times story, employees of noisy businesses have hearing and other problems, but regulations are almost never enforced, and few people complain. Here’s a thought — let’s start complaining.

Stuart, who had his tenth birthday this week, says, “Protect your precious ears!”