Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wait for a hearing aid can be more than two years in Britain

Some hard-of-hearing patients in England are having to wait more than two years for an NHS hearing aid. The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) used the Freedom of Information Act to discover just how long the waits were. It found that ten trusts were not treating patients within a year, in spite of the Government’s target being 18 weeks. The worst offender was Kingston upon Thames, southwest London, where patients had to wait 125 weeks for an aid after first seeing their GP.

The average wait was 22 weeks in the 99 primary care trusts (PCTs) across the country that responded to the request. Another 53 failed to reply. The shortest wait was four weeks; 66 of the 99 trusts provided treatment within 18 weeks. The longest waits - all more than a year – were in Suffolk (78 weeks), Gloucestershire (72), Tyne and Wear: Washington Health Centre (68), Ealing (67), Havering (64), Tyne & Wear: Sunderland Royal Hospital (62), Shepway (58), Mid Essex (56) and South Tees (54).

The RNID said that 39 per cent of new patients in England wait for more than a year to get their hearing aids. Brian Lamb, for the institure, said: “If you struggle to pick up every word, hearing aids are a lifeline to work, friends and family. “Despite government assurances, an 18-week target is a distant dream for thousands of people waiting over a year for their first hearing aid, who are battling isolation and depression because of their hearing loss.

A Department of Health spokes-woman said: “We acknowledge that audiology waiting times in parts of the country are too high, and that is why we recently published a national framework which sets out the tools the local NHS needs to transform this service.”


British teachers quitting

Teachers are leaving the profession in increasing numbers, with a quarter of a million no longer working in schools, according to figures published by the Conservatives yesterday. More than twice as many teachers aged under 60 quit their jobs between 2000 and 2005 than in the previous five years. The Conservatives blamed excessive red tape in schools, poor discipline amongst pupils and "micromanagement" by the Government for forcing teachers to change careers. The figures show that 95,500 teachers left the profession between 2000 and 2005. In the previous five years, from 1995 to 1999, only 40,600 teachers left.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Children's Secretary, said: "[Teaching] talent is going to waste. Not only are our children not achieving as they should, talented teachers are not where they should be - in the classroom, opening young minds to new horizons. "With more than a quarter of a million gifted professionals no longer in teaching we have to ask why they've given up on education under Labour. "I fear that a combination of classroom bureaucracy, government micro-management and poor discipline in too many schools has encouraged a drift away from teaching. "We need to free teachers to inspire [pupils] and give them the tools to enforce discipline so that schools have access to the widest range of talent."

However Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that Labour had done more to support teachers than any previous government. He said: "Recruitment into the profession has never been more buoyant, and teaching is now the career of choice for many highly qualified and talented individuals. Indeed, Ofsted has said this is the best generation of teachers ever. "Early retirement and turnover in teaching is in fact good compared with equivalent professions." Mr Knight said a recent survey of 22,500 British workers found that teaching at schools, colleges and universities had climbed from being the 54th happiest occupation in 1999 to the 11th happiest in 2007.

A spokesman for the Training and Development Agency for Schools said: "Many qualified teachers decide to take a break from the profession for a number of reasons. "The figures released do not take account of the fact that up to 30,000 teachers return to teaching at a later date, with added industry experience and a new enthusiasm for teaching and learning. Many also choose to remain within the education sector in an administration capacity."

Teachers' unions said the figures were accurate but disputed the reasons given by the Conservatives for teachers leaving the profession. Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "The number of inactive teachers is probably correct. The reasons given by Michael Gove for their inactivity are, however, overly simplistic and fly in the face of the evidence. "Qualified teachers are in the `pool of inactive teachers' for a variety of reasons, mostly because of career changes or career breaks. Their motivation for a change in direction has varied over the years. For the majority of those who leave now, evidence shows it is a positive choice.

"Seeking to manipulate statistics in a way which implicitly criticises and denigrates schools just to score political points is grossly unfair to hard-working teachers and pupils." Ms Keates added that the number of teachers who dropped out after three to five years had "fallen significantly" and studies of levels of job satisfaction were "increasingly positive".


Comment below from a "Times" reader on the above -- a comment that cuts through the official flim-flam:

I used to be a teacher and so did my wife. Most of the teachers who started with me have left teaching. I lasted seven years before the stress got to me, parents expect too much but won't give us the support and schools expect all children to succeed but won't remove the really bad ones who ruin the other children's education. In my time as a teacher I had a pupil who we were told was to be murdered (he was in a gang and was murdered when he was twenty - the suspected murderer is also another pupil whom I taught). I taught children whose parents dealt drugs, and large amounts, and were raided by the police. I taught one child whose own cousin was a police officer and had told his mother that he was a police target for rioting at night, his responce was to brag about it in school and assault his mother when she tried to stop his rioting. What hope did we have? These children deserved an education but so did all the others in their classes for most of the day, whose educationw as ruined.

Anorexia inherited through sex hormones in womb?

The stuff about estrogen below is all speculation. The results could be equally well-explained by genetics

Sex hormones in the womb could be a cause of the eating disorder anorexia, a study has found. The suspicion is that oestrogen may be overproduced by some mothers, affecting the baby’s brain and making it susceptible to the eating disorder. Psychiatrists investigating the cause of the illness did so by studying records of thousands of Swedish twins, held in a database. They found, not unexpectedly, that the risk of developing anorexia was higher in girl twins than in boy twins. Anorexia is far commoner in girls than in boys.

But an exception to the pattern arose in the case of twins of different sexes. Boys who shared the womb with girl twins were found to be ten times more likely to develop the disorder in later life. Many claims have been made that girls who become anorexic have been influenced by images of stick-thin models. The findings do not disprove this, but suggest that biology as well as culture plays an important part.

Marco Procopio, a psychiatrist from the University of Sussex and one of the authors of the study in Archives of General Psychiatry, said: “We know that women are ten times more likely to develop anorexia than men and this study goes a long way to explaining why. We know that oestrogen and other hormones can have a powerful effect on the body and it would seem that there is an ‘overexpression’ of oestrogen by the mother and the girl twin in some pregnancies. “Oestrogen would be present in the amniotic fluid that bathes babies in the womb and would be swallowed by both the male and female twin. Oestrogen is needed in development of females but it is possible that too much affects the structure of the brain.”

The new study supports research from the United States that found that the brains of anorexics behaved in a different way to non-anorexics. Dr Procopio said: “Research into twins is a way to examine the factors involved, as the single most important period for brain development is during the months of pregnancy. “The one thing we are certain of is that there is a genetic disposition to anorexia. Some scientists have suggested that upbringing may be a factor in the gender difference in rates of occurrence of the disorder, but studies haven’t borne this out.”

Dr Procopio does not believe that thin models account for the condition. “If that were the case, we would have many more anorexics,” he said. “There might be an effect on some girls but I doubt if these are truly anorexic but more likely a passing phase.” He believes it may be possible one day to monitor pregnant women for higher than normal oestrogen levels.

Dee Dawson, who runs the pioneering North London Rhodes Farm clinic for teenage anorexics said: “It’s an interesting study and there may well be some truth in the findings. “I think that there is a genetic predisposition and the problem may well be to do with the formation of the brain in pregnancy. “But often the triggers are problems at home so if you are susceptible in your brain make-up it could be triggered off by events in a teenager’s life.”


Mankind is more than the janitor of planet Earth

I am avowedly atheist. But listening to the bishops' drab, eco-pious Christmas sermons, I couldn't help thinking: `Bring back God!'

He might be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus guardian of the Anglican faith. But every time I see Dr Rowan Williams' smug face or hear his social-worker voice, I feel like breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments (I'll leave it to readers' febrile imaginations to guess which one).

They say we get the leaders we deserve. We also get the bishops we deserve. And in an age of petty piety, where relativistic non-judgementalism coexists with new codes of personal morality, giving rise to a Mary Poppins State more than a Nanny State, it's fitting that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a trendy schoolteacher type who dispenses hectoring ethical advice with a smarmy grin rather than with fire-and-brimstone relish.

In his Christmas sermon, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams finally completed his journey from old-world Christianity to trendy New Ageism. His sermon was indistinguishable from those delivered (not just at Christmas but for life) by the heads of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Williams did not speak about Christian morality; in fact, he didn't utter the m-word at all. He said little about men's responsibility to love one another and God, the two Commandments Jesus Christ said we should live by. Instead he talked about our role as janitors on planet Earth, who must stop plundering the `warehouse of natural resources' and ensure that we clean up after ourselves.

Williams has clearly been reading the Good Books - not the Bible, but those Carbon Calculator tomes that are clogging up bookshop shelves around the country, and which instruct people on how to live so meekly that they leave no imprint whatsoever on the planet or human history. He said that Earth does not exist only for `humanity's sake'; it also exists `in its own independence and beauty. not as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity's selfishness'.

Williams warned that our greed - presumably our insatiable lust for warm homes, cars, cookers and other outrageous luxuries - is killing the planet. He welcomed the fact that mankind is `growing in awareness of how fragile [the planet] is, how fragile is the balance of species and environments in the world and how easily our greed distorts it'. In 2008, we must take more seriously our `guardianship' of the Earth, he declared (1).

Williams isn't the only leading Christian who has sold his soul to Gaia and traded in Christian morality for the pieties of environmentalism. The Reverend John Owen, leader of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, said in his Christmas sermon that everyone should remember his or her `duty to the planet'. He urged people to recycle leftover food, and `redouble [your] efforts to take action and campaign against climate change' in the coming year (2). Meanwhile, the Vatican is taking steps to become the world's first carbon-neutral sovereign state by planting trees in a Hungarian national park to offset the CO2 emissions of the Holy See. Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says that in 2008 there should be the `dawn of a new culture, of new attitudes and a new mode of living that makes man aware of his place as caretaker of the earth' (3).

The reduction of man to an eco-janitor, a being who creates waste and thus must clear it up, is more than a cynical attempt by isolated Christian leaders to connect with the public. Yes, Williams, Owen, the Holy See and Co. no doubt hope and believe (mistakenly, I'm sure) that adopting trendy Greenspeak will entice people to return to the church. But the move from focusing on love for God and one's neighbour to focusing on `respect for the planet' represents more than a rebranding exercise: it signals a complete abandonment by the Christian churches of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And in this sense, it is not only God that is being downgraded by the new nature-worshipping priests; so is humanity itself. And that's enough to make even a committed atheist like me worry about the current direction of the Christian churches.

Christian teaching was once concerned with man, meaning and morality, with questions of free will, inner life and human destiny. As it happens, atheists, at least progressive ones, were concerned with exactly the same things. The chasm-sized difference between atheists and Christians occurred over the question of whether the moral meaning of man came from within or without; whether, as some atheists believed, the purpose of humanity was to be found within humanity itself; or, as Christians believed, humanity achieved meaning only through an external deity, God.

Where Christian morality granted man a diluted form of free will - underpinned by the idea that, yes, we make free choices, but God is the ultimate arbiter of our destiny - progressive atheists emphasised complete free will, arguing that only through full freedom of thought and a human-centred morality could humans remake the world in their own image and according to their own needs and desires.

Christians and atheists may have spent much of the past 200 years at each other's throats, but they inhabited the same moral plane. Theirs was literally a struggle for the soul of humanity. Today, by contrast, Christian leaders have abandoned questions of morality and free will. They now view people as little more than waste managers, `caretakers', eco-binmen, whose job is to sweep up after themselves and keep the planet in good nick. Instead of remaking the world in anybody's image - whether it be God's, man's, Buddha's or L Ron Hubbard's - man must simply adapt to his surroundings like an amoeba; indeed, he must minimise as much as possible his impact on the planet. Old Christians taught us that `the Kingdom of God is within you' (4), which was their flawed way of saying that man is a sovereign being, free and morally responsible. Today Christians say: `You are merely guests in the Warehouse of Resources. So be quiet, don't get any ideas above your station, and please shut the door when you leave.'

The cult of environmentalism embraced by the Christian churches does away with morality altogether. Some sceptics claim that environmentalism is a new form of moralistic hectoring; it is better to see it as amoralistic hectoring. In judging everything by how much CO2 or pollution it creates, environmentalism dispenses with questions of moral worth and judgement. So a flight to visit a newborn nephew in Australia (5.61 tonnes of CO2) is as wicked as taking a flight to Barbados to lounge in the sun; and the transportation of delicious food from Africa to Britain is as unforgivable as the transportation of weapons and drugs from Latin America to Los Angeles: after all, both involve exploiting the `warehouse of resources' and upsetting the `fragile balance of species and environments', as Williams put it (5). When human actions are judged by their levels of pollution alone, the issue of meaning - of why we do things, who we do them for, and how we might do them better - is implicitly downgraded.

This is why in his Christmas sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury quoted extensively, not from the Bible, but from Richard Dawkins, who is considered by many to be the Rottweiler of the New Atheism. What today's eco-Christians and New Atheists share in common is a view of man as animalistic and degraded, as a `mammal' (as Christopher Hitchens describes us in his book God is Not Great) which ought to take its place alongside other mammals on this mortal coil. On the way in which religion distorts people's minds, Hitchens writes: `What else was to be expected of something that was produced by the close cousins of chimpanzees?' (6) Where Williams and other eco-Christians see mankind as merely a cog in the planetary wheel, Hitchens and other New Atheists see mankind as only the sum of his genes, still, in essence, a monkey.

If yesterday's Christians and atheists inhabited the same moral plane, fighting tooth and nail over the purpose of mankind, today's eco-Christians and New Atheists inhabit the same amoral plane, bickering with each other but also frequently agreeing that man is a bit of a shit.

`Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves round man as long as he does not revolve around himself', said Marx (7). Many of the great atheists of old were concerned with making man the centre of his moral universe; with freeing him up to become the `superhuman' that he aspired to be, but which he could only glimpse in an illusory God (8). Today, by contrast, both eco-Christians and New Atheists want to bring man and God crashing back down to Earth. so that we can set about cleaning it up like the good little earthly janitors we are. At a time of such low horizons, is it any wonder that some people still do cling on to God, and seek transcendence from mundane everyday life through a belief in divinity? There is more humanity in their `superhuman' delusions than there is in the monkeyman realism of eco-Christians and New Atheists.


British Left to go nuclear: "Gordon Brown is ready to give the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations. The decision will trigger a major battle with Left-wing Labour MPs and environmental campaigners. Ministers could announce the new atomic age as early as next week, when MPs return to the Commons after their Christmas break. The Prime Minister indicated in his New Year message to the country that the Government was prepared to take the "difficult decision" of upgrading nuclear power plants. He believes nuclear power is an effective way of helping Britain meet its energy needs

British Conservatives discover some spine: "David Cameron has given his clearest commitment yet to tearing up the revised EU Constitution if he wins power, even if it has been signed. The Conservative leader told the Daily Mail he will "not let matters rest" if Gordon Brown succeeds in forcing the controversial treaty through Parliament and into law. His intervention ratchets up the pressure on Mr Brown over the document which is likely to dominate debate at Westminster in the New Year. Ministers are hoping to bore voters into submission by allowing weeks of lengthy discussion on the treaty."

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