Letters: Save our Cyclists

Cycle helmet saved my life
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The Independent Online

If it wasn't for my helmet I'd be dead ("Save our Cyclists", front page, 15 April). When I was hit from behind by an old woman driving a car, I was thrown in to a ditch, broke my nose and my helmet split in three places. As your "eyewitness" comments, the driver was just sent on "a driving improvement course", while I limped around for weeks.

But I strongly endorse your plea for "better education of lorry- and bus-drivers, as well as cyclists themselves". Not least I would make helmet-wearing by cyclists compulsory. I'm astonished to repeatedly see small children wearing a helmet while cycling, while their accompanying parents do not.

And cyclists need to abide by the law and be considerate road users, not jumping traffic lights, riding on the pavement or cycling three abreast.

I completely agree that the "antagonism people feel about cyclists is dangerous" and totally unacceptable behaviour. As an aside, this mirrors my experience of hitching to work: just a few drivers insist on making rude gestures and even driving at you while I've been peaceably thumbing at the side of the road.

James Derounian

University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham

Your headline, "Save our Cyclists", made me choke on my egg soldiers.

I would be willing to support this campaign if cyclists were insured against the many accidents they cause; they pay a road tax (which would involve registration of the bicycle), and they undertake a test procedure that certifies them as being fit to ride on the highways (and not, as now, the pavement).

If cyclists were willing to take responsibility for their day-to-day use of the road, then people may take a positive view of your campaign, but cyclists contribute nothing but delays and aggravation in already hazardous road conditions.

Phil Higginbotham

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

The final-salary pension poison

I am astonished at the naivety David Prosser displays in his assessment of final-salary pension schemes (Business, 13 April). Many employers recognised a final-salary scheme as a means of control. In the past, the period of qualification could be as long as 10 years, allowing them to avoid the salary increases which they might otherwise have had to pay to retain workers.

The problem is not as David Prosser suggests: adjusting accrual rates is no solution. It's simple arithmetic. With the ability of senior staff to manipulate their salaries to maximum personal benefit, they are receiving pensions completely out of proportion to their average career earnings.

The meteoric rise of salaries paid to NHS executives has been a disgrace. It insults the nurses and care workers whose jobs have been disappearing.

The principal effect of huge increases in end-of-career salaries is to drain the pension funds. A £100,000 rise in the last year of employment costs the employer just that; with only 25 years' service the employee takes an extra £666,000 from the fund.

The only fair and rational way to administrate company pension schemes is money purchase. At least company contributions are in direct proportion to total earnings. Those who can afford to boost investment in their own retirement are free to do so. The huge volatility in global economics we now experience makes cast-iron pension guarantees foolhardy.

Golden handshakes in the form of huge pension benefits are only one symptom of what is becoming a very sick society. If our government does not quickly address the widening gulf which now separates the rich and the poor, then we are in for a very unstable time.

Mike Joslin

Dorchester, Dorset

Gbagbo is still the President

In The Independent, I have seen the outgoing Ivorian leader, Laurent Gbagbo, depicted in a wholly negative light, with him even described as a dictator (12 April). There is no doubt that this man has committed some serious atrocities with regards to the recent war. But the story is not so simple. It cannot be stressed enough that, under the Ivorian constitution, Laurent Gbagbo is legally entitled to the presidency.

In the Ivory Coast, the elections committee (which named Alassane Ouattara the winner) supplies its result to the Constitutional Council (which named Gbagbo the winner due to alleged vote-rigging). The Constitutional Council announces the official result; thus Gbagbo's plea to stay in power does have the support of his country's law.

We must also not forget that Ouattara rejected Gbagbo's diplomatic request, in December 2010, for a formal investigation into the election. Not only could this have prevented the fighting, but it would surely have been the fairest way to resolve the election dispute. I am shocked at the response of the international community in completely ignoring this fact. Gbagbo is certainly not an innocent man, but neither has he been wholly unjust.

Vedantha Kumar

University of Cambridge

Cameron's ethnic Oxford intake

David Cameron and I went to Oxford University in the same year. As I look at my freshers' photo, I see at least five visibly ethnic minority faces, 4 per cent of the intake of what was reputed to be the snootiest college in the university, a quarter of a century ago. At the time, the ethnic minority population of the UK was approximately 8 per cent. Compared to parliament, the Civil Service, and the judiciary, we were pretty inclusive.

What baffles me is that Mr Cameron, who went to a college reputed to be the brainiest in the university, accepted a bizarre and erroneous figure without checking it out. Does he also do this with the economy?

The Revd Richard Haggis


The primary complaint my students at Oxford make about our (graduate) course in international human rights law is about the lack of diversity. I tell them diversity equals scholarships.

Thanks to the Commonwealth and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, supported by both this Government and the previous one, we now have full scholarships for Africans, most of whom presumably will be black.

The same logic applies at the undergraduate level. You cannot cut government support for teaching by 80 per cent and expect more diversity. Vince Cable, where are you?

Andrew Shacknove


Facts about the Goldstone report

Ibrahim Hewitt (letters, 6 April) writing about the Goldstone report should keep in mind that before the last war in Gaza, from April 2001 to the end of 2008, 4,246 rockets and 4,180 mortar rounds were fired into Israel, killing 28 Israelis and wounding more than 400. The citizens had only 15 seconds to get to a shelter after a warning siren sounded. No country can be expected to tolerate such attacks on its citizens.

Goldstone's report accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians. Now, he writes that he regrets that conclusion and states that there was no intentionality.

Hewitt should remember the Geneva Convention, which states in Part III, section I, Article 28: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations." This means that when Hamas combatants open fire and hide among civilians, they are not immune from attack. If civilians get hurt, the responsibility lies with those who hide among them and endanger their lives.

Dr Jacob Amir


Clegg is no hypocrite

I hold no brief whatsoever for Nick Clegg but I am tired of the accusations of hypocrisy over his denunciation of nepotism in "internships". Such accusations smack to me of using any stick to beat him with. He probably learned how wrong it is precisely because he experienced it for himself. Experience is, after all, the most effective teacher.

I would also like to hear less about the immorality of nepotism and more about that of expecting anyone, anyone at all, to work for no pay. If you want someone to work for you, you should pay for the labour. No one, friend or employee, should be expected to work for nothing. That is exploitation.

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Check checkers

I have consistently voted against the reappointment of auditors as sought by the directors of any company in which I have a stake ("Auditors under fire over role in bank crisis", 31 March). I would expect to be given a clear choice of which firm of auditors to employ, with details of the competing tenders on offer. Who would install a new kitchen without assessing alternative builders for price and quality of work?

Nigel Wilkins

London SW7

Heroic, not doric

Your columnist on Digital Digest (13 April) needs to revive her architectural skills. A doric column conforms to a specific order, not least the use of vertical shafts carved in parallel curved grooves, initially 20 in number. To describe a column carved in algorithmic detail as doric is lazy and inaccurate. Michael Hansmeyer's columns are indeed extraordinary and beautiful, but not doric.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

See you in court

Why can't governments resort to that tried and tested old tactic in order to wrest back some control from these credit-rating agencies, namely threaten to sue them?

I wonder how long these questionable reports would keep disrupting national finances if Moody's et al were the subject of multibillion-euro lawsuits.

Howard Pilott

Lewes, East Sussex

Perspectives on faith

Flying pigs and an orbiting teapot

Iain Davidson (letters, 15 April) has opened my eyes; I am a fundamentalist believer in the proposition that pigs can't fly. I can't actually prove pigs don't possess the requisite magical properties, but being sufficiently persuaded by the absence of any relevant evidence, I am bold enough to state it as a fact. Similarly with my belief that "God" doesn't exist.

Religious people use the word "God" as if it had some commonly understood meaning. Since it appears to have dozens of meanings, it ought to be clearly defined.

My reference to "God" is directed at the fairly commonly held view that he (she, it?) is a super-being who created all that is and continues to intercede.

John Tippler

Spalding, Lincolnshire

Iain Davidson says about the existence of God "the only intellectually honest position is that one does not know". This may be strictly true, in the sense that one cannot know that the sun will rise tomorrow. As Bertrand Russell said, we cannot prove that there is no small teapot in orbit around the sun, but we should not conclude that the teapot exists or that we cannot know either way.

Things cannot be shown to be true or false, but one can form a view based on a rational analysis of the likelihood of outcome, with the burden of proof on those promoting the idea. It is so unlikely that the orbiting teapot exists that it cannot be rational to believe it does exist. The same is true of any deity.

Nick Andell

Creaton, Northamptonshire

If atheism requires faith then Iain Davidson must have faith in an infinite number of negative propositions along the lines of Russell's teapot. If he does not believe there is a God, that belief (theism) is absent; its absence is not a matter of faith, nor does it have anything to do with knowledge.

The "gnosis" of "agnosticism", in any case, refers to intuitive spiritual "knowledge" rather than rational understanding. Those who term themselves "agnostic" appear to view the Creator as a special-case proposition which they are still mulling over.

That perception of specialness may be intuitively honest for some, but it does not alter atheism as an absence of belief in God(s).

Peter McKenna