- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Market for hybid cars doubtful

The “100 mpg carburetor” that we were all assured existed in the 1950s certainly comes a-cropper if columnist Max Boot is correct (“The 500 mpg solution,” Commentary, Sunday). He isn’t. Although everyone would like to believe in some miracle solution to our energy problems, none exists.

For example, he writes, “Coming soon are hybrids that can be plugged into a 120-volt outlet to recharge like a cellphone.” Sounds great, if we simply ignore the fact that it takes hours to fully recharge a simple cell-phone battery (and many hours more to fully recharge a depleted car battery), but are we also to ignore the limitations of the existing electrical power grid?

Already, people in the Washington area are asked to reduce their power consumption during very hot or very cold weather. Now imagine when several hundred thousand (or several million) folks come home at night, turn on the AC, the television, the oven and the lights — then plug in their cars to recharge them. Without an enormous, costly and time-consuming increase in this country’s electrical generating capacity, can you spell “blackout”?

Mr. Boot’s enthusiasm for hybrid cars neglects to mention one other small problem. Batteries can be recharged only so many times before they have to be replaced. That’s true for cell-phone batteries and true for car batteries (which is why most conventional car batteries have to be replaced every three to four years).

Today’s hybrid manufacturers provide an eight-year warranty on the more exotic (and expensive) batteries in their cars. Couple that with their higher initial cost, and you can understand why there is not likely to be a huge market for used hybrids.

ROGER JOHNSON

Kensington

The importance of campus fire safety

The importance of campus fire safety was reinforced last week with the fire at George Washington University (“Grill starts fire at GWU dorm” Metropolitan, March 23). A student was critically injured in a fire that was started by a portable grill igniting bedding material in the student’s room. The building was not fully equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system, but instead just had sprinklers in the hallways and common areas, which provides protection to the building but not the occupants.

The fire was not detected by the building’s fire-alarm system but instead was seen by a passing Secret Service patrol unit. These officers notified the fire department, entered the building, activated the building’s fire alarm system and made several unsuccessful attempts to rescue the trapped victim from the ninth floor before the arrival of the fire department.

It was fortunate that the officers saw the fire. However, it was unfortunate that the fire grew to this magnitude because it placed the occupant in the room — as well as the others in the suite and in the rest of the building — at great risk. A fire this month in a women’s dormitory at Rust College in Mississippi that burned seven rooms is another example of the danger of residence hall fires. Both of these fires are contrary to what we would expect in a residence hall, no matter when it was built.

Off-campus fires are a significant concern as well. In August, three students died in a fraternity fire at the University of Mississippi, and in October, Daniel Rigby from Georgetown University was killed in an off-campus fire. According to information compiled by the nonprofit Center for Campus Fire Safety, 80 percent of the fatalities in student housing fires since 2000 have occurred in off-campus housing, where a majority of the students across the country live.

A comprehensive fire-safety program that includes prevention, detection and suppression, or what we refer to as “the circle of life,” provides a high level of fire safety to all students. Prevention involves educating students about fire safety and, more important, providing them with the reasons behind the rules. Detection means that there is early detection of the fire and notification of the occupants and emergency responders. This allows the occupants to escape from the fire while it is still relatively small and for the fire department to begin its response as soon as possible. Suppression is accomplished through automatic fire sprinklers, which can control or extinguish the fire within seconds, saving lives.

We have known the answers to protecting occupants from fire for many years. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to help improve fire safety on campuses. The hospitality industry took heed after the tragic fires in Las Vegas in the 1980s and started an aggressive program to install sprinklers and put state-of-the art fire-alarm systems in many hotels. Because of this, the traveling public often has a higher level of fire safety than the youth of our country. Let’s use this fire at George Washington as a wake-up call and start ensuring that the students are equally protected and receive an education in fire safety along with their degree.

ED COMEAU

Director

Center for Campus Fire Safety

Amherst, Mass.

Silence on gun control

Steve Chapman’s Saturday Commentary column, “Muted echo chamber,” really nailed it regarding the lack of calls for increased gun control following the Red Lake, Minn., shootings and the courthouse shootings in Atlanta.

He did miss one other reason for the lack of calls for more gun laws: The firearms used to commit the killings in each case were taken from police officers. If, in either case, the firearms had been purchased at a licensed gun store or, God forbid, by way of the mythical “gun show loophole,” you can bet certain politicians, the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence and the Violence Policy Center would be screaming for additional gun restrictions. Because they believe only the police should have guns, their argument falls flat when stolen police guns are used in killings.

It’s obvious that the gun-control groups need high-profile murder sprees to occur, or they lose their emotional argument to promote their agenda. Their only qualifier is that the firearms involved have to come from retail and civilian sources rather than be stolen from police or the military. When crimes are committed with stolen police firearms, it deprives the gun controllers of their opportunity to use the blood of the victims to further their cause.

BRUCE BLUM

Frederick, Md.

The long arm of international law

You bemoan the “ill-intentioned use of international law … to harm American interests” (“The Pentagon and ‘lawfare,’” Editorial, March 24).

International law is not intended to protect American interests. It is intended to protect the interests of all people.

International law explicitly rejects the view that might makes right. The editorial makes the standard conservative mistakes of believing American interests should be paramount in the world and that might does make right.

You state that you don’t want the International Court of Justice making our security decisions. The court is not making our security decisions, but those decisions should be in accord with international law. And I certainly don’t want our security officials (particularly the incumbents) making our judicial decisions.

R. BALZHISER

New York

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