Letters: Perspectives on electric cars

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Electric transports don't have to be cars

For most journeys that most people make most of the time an electric car will be fine (Motoring, 23 August). Having had a drive in a Nissan Leaf, I can vouch for its being a revelation – in a very good way.

However, are manufacturers missing an opportunity to create whole new categories of personal mobility? Is the advent of the electric vehicle (EV) to be solely marked by the conversion of conventional cars to electric propulsion? Why lumber EVs with all the power-sapping excesses of modern cars?

An ultra-basic utility four-seater made of modern materials, after the fashion of the 2CV, would suit many and could be the first of a new wave of life-long cars – you only ever buy one.

Something like an electric horse – a narrow quadricycle after the fashion of the Yamaha Tesseract – would suit two very well and put a lot of fun back into mobility without the risks of a two-wheeler.

Now we that have reliable gyroscopic stabilisation, as seen in the Segway, it is time to introduce monocycles – not unicycles, they're different. Many prototypes have been made, including by Yamaha, again, but now we should get them to market.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Misguided effort to make quiet vehicles noisy

The search to make electric cars sound like their petrol equivalents ("How electric vehicles have been finding their voice", 23 August) seems misguided.

The noise projected forward by most modern cars is road noise made by the tyres, even at quite low speed. Engine noise comes mostly from the tailpipe, so if you can hear the engine, the vehicle is more than likely to be going away from you.

It is mainly vans, commercial vehicles, motorbikes and sports cars that are the exception, and they do not make up the majority of road vehicles. To test this assertion, just stand at the roadside for a while and listen carefully.

If electric cars are manufactured without any artificial enhancement of noise, overall noise levels will progressively be reduced, making life better generally; in particular, however, it will make it easier for blind and partially sighted people to hear oncoming vehicles of all types, and it is they on whose behalf most concern is being expressed.

We already have vehicles that emit no special noise – bicycles and electric wheelchairs, both of which are increasing in number. Leaving electric vehicles at their inherently low noise levels will make it easier for everyone to hear cyclists and wheelchair users, wherever they choose to drive. How do blind people cope with cyclists now?

David Humphrey, London W5

The concept of making silent vehicles emit some noise to warn of their presence is hardly new. I recall, from primary school days in the 1960s, how, with great glee, we fixed a piece of stiff card to the frame of our bicycles, such as to impinge with the spokes and produce a sound reminiscent of a sick lawnmower.

Porsche would clearly want something a little more up-market. Perhaps your readers may be able to help with suggestions. My wife says that silent vehicles could be fitted with a tune, like ice-cream vans.

The Rev Peter Sharp, Penrith, Cumbria

The bombing of Libya has made a mockery of humanitarian intervention

The bloodshed and chaos in Tripoli place a big question mark on the UN doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which formed the basis of the UN resolution 1973 sanctioning military action against Libya.

The doctrine – the Responsibility to Protect – sets out new international-security and human-rights norms for determining when and how the world should intervene in the affairs of states abusing their own populations. The fundamental emphasis of the doctrine is on preventive action, preferably as early as possible, and on using every possible non-military means. Resorting to force is a last recourse.

Nato's relentless bombing of Libya, however, shows that, despite all the bluff talk about political change being a matter for the Libyan people, regime change is precisely what Nato is seeking to secure, even at the cost of sacrificing thousands of civilian lives it was originally sent to protect. The Libyan campaign thus makes a complete mockery of the UN doctrine of humanitarian intervention.

Randhir Singh Bains, Gants Hill, Essex

The extensive media coverage of the civil unrest in Libya is puzzling me. The blanket news coverage on some TV and radio stations at the expense of other news appears more extensive than coverage of recent conflicts in which our armed forces have been officially engaged in armed warfare.

Is this coverage an indication that we are in the news silly season of August, and Libya obviates the need for stories on the talking dog that eats ice cream, or is it an indication of a propaganda exercise by our government spin doctors?

I feel that I am experiencing a revival of Stalinist propaganda techniques. As recently as 2004, the Government under Tony Blair was exhorting me to embrace Gaddafi and his regime as our best ally in the world after the USA. A gulag beckoned for anyone who raised the inconvenient truth of Yvonne Fletcher or suggested this was a cynical trade arrangement to beat our rivals to lucrative contracts.

The propagandists are now reviling the Gaddafi regime and closure is being mooted for the Yvonne Fletcher case. However it still seems a gulag beckons if you say we cynically switched sides to keep our lucrative trade deals.

I always had a great sympathy for Stalinist supporters who found they had supported a campaign too warmly or failed to notice that the party line had changed, and ended up in exile or worse.

I understand the reasons for the political upheaval in Libya and disapprove of all repressive regimes, irrespective of whether they are allies or not. What I do not understand is why successive governments think we can be duped by propaganda.

John McKinley, Birmingham

Robert Fisk's area of interest may be the Middle East, but that is no reason for dismissing Gaddafi's "obsession with central and southern Africa" ("How long before the dominoes fall?", 23 August).

Libya's huge investment in independent African banking and telecommunications will indeed now be stymied (the Nato countries froze billions of Libyan dollars pledged to African development when they started bombing Libya), but is that not something worthy of investigation rather than dismissal?

Scorn for sub-Saharan Africa – including its consistent opposition to the Nato bombing and the multiple ceasefires which the African Union negotiated but Nato rejected – is particularly inapposite, given the accounts of black Africans being lynched in "liberated" Libya.

Libya's turning away from Africa, under a hail of Nato bombs, should be a matter of deep regret and shame in the western countries whose bankers and industrialists will profit from the eradication of Libya's African personality.

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

Mary Dejevsky is right to talk about the challenges facing reporting crews covering the events in Tripoli (Notebook, 24 August). However the suggestion that BBC editors are controlling where staff should go on the ground isn't correct. The BBC has been in Tripoli providing comprehensive coverage of events in Libya since February and also reporting from Benghazi, Misrata and the advancing front line.

Covering stories such as this is complex; clearly we have to think about the safety of our staff and the best people to advise us on that are the people on the ground. While we have been in Tripoli our reporters have been at the Rixos hotel "at the invitation" of the Libyan government, with restrictions imposed by officials as to their movements. The BBC, as with other broadcasters, has to operate within these restrictions, as very starkly illustrated by the situation at the Rixos hotel, where a number of reporters have been confined.

Fran Unsworth, Head of BBC Newsgathering, London W12

Banking in a time of recession

If the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB) pursues the principle of ring-fencing, so that deposits made in to the retail arm of a bank are unavailable for lending to business clients, it is in danger of choking off the limited credit currently available to the business sector (James Moore, 23 August)

At a time when the economy lies on a knife edge, the last thing the business sector needs is further over-regulation of a banking system that has already succumbed to the British pendulum effect.

This effect can be easily characterised by comparing the pre-recession position where the banks were willing to lend with little or no security, to the current position where it seems almost all lending has to be over-securitised from the point of view of the borrower. This is often with inappropriate demands for personal guarantees from business owners with a long track record of successful and profitable trading.

Sensible and proportionate reform of the banking sector, particularly on the investment banking side, has to be welcomed. However, that should not include anything that risks the funding of the businesses upon whom this country will be depending to trade out of recession.

Chris Coopey, Partner and Practice Director, Carpenter Box LLP, Worthing, West Sussex

Recession is certainly affecting some people adversely, if they have lost their job, or their salary is tied to their company's profits. And recession is of course affecting spending overall across the whole country.

But for the vast majority of people, who are still in the job they were in last year and the year before, it's not recession that is causing us grief – we are still getting paid – it is inflation.

We are suffering because most of the essentials of life, including food, fuel and energy, have soared in price way beyond what the Government tells us the inflation rate is. These essentials have gone up more like 20 per cent, not the 5 per cent the Government keeps trotting out. That's why many families are at breaking point.

Rachel Michaels, Bournemouth

An education in moral values

In the wake of the riots, Mr Cameron intends to review the role of schools. I hope his focus extends beyond the discipline issue.

My school does excellent work teaching young people about social responsibility, and we help them to develop sound moral values. We empower them to make a positive difference in the lives of others and we give them the opportunities and skills to put the theory into practice. Is this kind of work just a special feature of our school, like, say, being able to produce great rugby teams, or should it be a core role of every school?

Our work won't be represented in this year's exam league tables and it didn't make the headline section in our last Ofsted report. Its impact is difficult to measure, you see, whereas exam results aren't.

As Mr Gove continues to raise the minimum expectations for schools' exam success, and also imposes the divisive English Baccalaureate, the pressure on many schools serving deprived communities will become immense. Developing social responsibility may well be in danger of being seen as less of a priority.

The challenge for the Government is to ensure that all schools understand the vital importance of their role here, even though there aren't clear "performance indicators" against which they can be held to account.

John Sharples, Sit Thomas Boteler

Following Terence Blacker's piece "National service is the answer - but not as we know it" (19 August) I agree that National Service in the traditional sense of "militarism or square-bashing" would do little to alleviate the social ills which came to light in this month's riots.

Some form of informal but compulsory service aimed at fostering a sense of community instead of selfishness would not only lead to there being fewer bored and alienated teenagers roaming the streets, but would also improve social skills and confidence levels, those "soft" skills which university admissions staff and employers seek. That in turn might lead to greater social mobility, with more young people feeling confident enough to apply to an elite university or a service-based job after school.

Having witnessed an exchange on a bus recently where a woman with Huntington's disease was assumed to be drunk, at 10.30am, by ignorant fellow passengers, I feel that some sort of awareness course for diseases and conditions, alongside financial management, first aid and citizenship classes, would improve people's understanding of one another.

A greater level of empathy might also lead to higher levels of volunteering among disenfranchised youth as well as just those on a gap year with one eye on their CV.

Luke Jones, Blackwood, Gwent

The origins of sink estates

The presence of "sink estates" (letter, 22 August) is easily explained: Thatcher's government sold off council accommodation; the houses in middle-class areas went quickly; most flats in estates with no shop, pub, post office or bank, with not-working lifts, were left with councils.

Before this, if you had lived in the area all your life, recently married, and both you and your husband were on a low wage, you would go on a waiting list and in some months or a couple of years you would get council accommodation. After the sell-off there was less accommodation, so you had to have a lot of "points" to get a place: you had to be a single parent, an addict, have mental health problems, preferably all three, to have a hope of getting any council place. Over time, this results in most people on an estate being in need of support. With only one vulnerable family in the street the rest of the community might be able to step in and help, but when the majority need help it's impossible.

Moreover, most jobs in the real world are not advertised in newspapers, but come from someone saying to their friend, relation or neighbour: "There's a job going at my place." If no one you know is in work then you never hear of jobs. I don't know, but I imagine local employers won't employ you if your postcode indicates you live at a "problem" estate.

Of course these results were predictable, and were predicted, at the time of the sell-offs, but the Thatcher government had its own agenda. And as with other Thatcher policies, it will be impossible to return to the pre-Thatcher situation.

Henrietta Cubitt, Cambridge

What Jan Moir didn't say

John Kampfner writes (Comment, 22 August): "For sure, I would prefer a world in which spiteful or glib comments were not made about other races or religions. I would rather that committed Christians did not denounce homosexuality as a sin. I would prefer it if Moir had not suggested that Stephen Gately's death was connected with a 'deviant' gay lifestyle. She was perfectly within her rights, however, to say what she said. And those who read her piece were perfectly within their rights to disagree with her."

Except that Jan Moir didn't say it. Her article, which has been similarly misinterpreted elsewhere, speculated that Stephen Gately's death was connected with a drink and drugs lifestyle, not a "gay lifestyle" whatever that might be. Being gay is just a way of being, it is not a lifestyle.

It is important to note that Ms Moir did not, at any time, use the word "deviant", which Kampfner included in inverted commas, attributing it to her. She didn't write it, imply it, mean it or suggest it.

Charles Garside, Assistant Editor, The Daily Mail, London W8

A cold, wet hog of potatoes

On the subject of "Sweet and sour potato picking" (letters, 22 August), when as a schoolboy during the Second World War I attended "farm camps" in Cheshire, potatoes were stored in earth-covered "hogs". One of our least popular jobs was picking them out, usually on cold, wet winter mornings.

The task became particularly unpleasant when approaching ground level, where the spuds were often reduced to an ice-cold mushy mess. The bellowed commands of irascible farmers to "get to't bottom of 'og" added insult to injury.

Bob Heys, Ripponden, West Yorkshire

Is that all clear now?

Politicians are always "clear" about things (letter, 24 August), because they "believe". They rarely "think" things like us ordinary folk.

Sarah Lawson, Edinburgh

I believe that David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both right to say they are "clear"; most of us can see straight through them.

Guy Cooper, Reading