Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from today's papers.

1 Second-class Europe? What’s the point of it? (Times)

‘Associate’ membership solves nothing. Our trading partners will still want to meddle, europhobes will still want out, writes Matthew Parris.

2 Richard Nixon’s dark side has obscured his greatness (Telegraph)

A hundred years after his birth, it is time to reassess the legacy of the disgraced US president Richard Nixon, argues Jonathan Aitken

3 It’s the shameless doublespeak that makes politicians look like liars (Independent)

With the public already disdainful of politicians, how can so many continue with the tactics of public obfuscation and diversion, asks Damian McBride

4 It wasn't Labour who spent too much, it was the banks. How did we forget this? (Guardian)

It's only five years since the financial crisis broke, and already the truth of why it happened has been rewritten, says Deborah Orr.

5 The Europe speech Cameron should give (Financial Times)

The prime minister is to make a long-awaited address. Here is a suggested draft, from Janan Ganesh.

6 Wake up and smell the coffee (Times)

Look around a Starbucks now and it resembles a drop-in centre from 1989, writes Caitlin Moran.

7 It's time to revive the memory of Hugh Gaitskell, the best Labour PM Britain never had (Independent)

There were paradoxes in the life of Gaitskell, yet the man himself was much less complex than his place in Labour's folk memory, writes Donald MacIntyre

8 Israel's shift to the right will alienate those it needs most (Guardian)

Ahead of the Israeli elections, ultra-ultra-nationalists are surging in the polls. But diaspora Jews might recoil from their views, writes Jonathan Freedland.

9 India’s daughters come fighting out of purdah (Times)

Signs of women’s oppression are everywhere when you travel around. But this tragedy can mark a turning point, argues Rosie Millard.

10 A year for the Tories to restore their reputation (Telegraph)

The Conservative Party must do all it can to fix the economy, however radical the measures and whatever the impact on its short-term popularity, argues a Telegraph leader.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.