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Whatever we get time to write, we'll write it here. Probably.

Safe and Sustainable - what is going on?


There are now so many sides to the 'Safe and Sustainable' review of paediatric congenital cardiac surgery (children's heart surgery) that it is very difficult, even for those paying attention, to keep track of what is happening. I work in the NHS, in a hospital which houses one of the affected centres, and even I don't have a clear idea of what's happening.

The events of the last few days in relation to Leeds have been confusing to say the least, and must be horrifying to the families of children affected. This is an attempt to clarify for my own thinking, but if it is useful to anyone else then that would be great.

The TUC March for the Alternative, and 'no platform' for fascists

The TUC March for the Alternative on 26 March promises to be the largest anti-cuts event so far, with the organisers' website already talking about 500 coaches having been booked for the day. There's been a bit of fuss on the internet about a statement on the TUC website saying that they "will be employing professional stewards for some parts of the event". Obviously, this could be an attempt to 'professionalise' the whole thing, which would chime in with some unions' previous attempts to prevent certain far left groups to participate in, or distribute their propaganda at, similar events in the past. However, given that the TUC is expecting to have several hundred volunteer 'chief stewards' and then more volunteer stewards with every delegation on the march, the significance of the "professional stewards" could be quite limited - perhaps they are providing security for the 'celebrities' the TUC will doubtless put on platforms at the start and end of the march, or perhaps they are a token gesture towards the police's argument that kettling protesters at recent demonstrations was for the participants' own safety in the absence of sufficient stewarding. Who knows? Given that the night-club-bouncers-to-patrol-the-demo 'controversy' surfaced on the same blog that turned the TUC booking a coach park in Wembley into a story that the police were banning coaches from central London and expecting half a million people to catch the tube from Wembley to the start of the march, frankly anything is possible.

But the question of stewarding for a trade union demonstration touches on a related issue that I debated briefly on twitter yesterday - that of the possiblity that BNP supporters, perhaps in the guise of their laughably inept foray into trade unionism, the insultingly-named 'Solidarity', might want to take part in the march, presumably because they're also against some of the cuts being made by the ConDem coalition, although which ones I genuinely have no idea.

Challenging homophobia on the terraces

The following blog post first appeared on the blog of the Justin Campaign.

Last week, as we often do, my 12 year old son and I joined 2,000 or so Leicester City fans in making the short trip up the M1 to Sheffield for a game at Bramall Lane. It wasn't exactly a classic, but Andy King's cracking volley in the fourth minute was enough to steal all three points for the foxes, so we mostly went home happy.

Besides a seeming over-reliance by both sides on aerial attacks and a pitch that wouldn't have disgraced a potato farmer, only one thing spoiled the evening.

Mid-way through the first half, with Leicester already in the lead but the football less than enthralling, the away fans began the customary baiting of the home crowd. There were indeed empty seats, and the ground was too big for them, and given the weather and the standard of the football, it was understandable that the visiting support wanted to go home. Then they spotted a new target.

Sitting in the South Stand, not far from the away support, was a chap in his mid to late 20s wearing a pink sweater. Pink! That could only mean one thing, right? Before long, a sizeable chunk of the away fans were directing their hostility in his direction - from straightforward homophobic name-calling, through suggestions he indulged in anal sex, to a strangely polite "we can see you holding hands" directed at him and the chap sat next to him.

To be fair, the Blades fan in the pink didn't seem to be upset by the chanting - if anything he revelled in the attention, conducting some of the chants, waving his rear end at us in response, and smiling broadly as he returned to his seat for the second half to a chorus of "he's just been for a bumming".

But that's not the point.

Unlike football ground racism, the victims of homophobia on the terraces are often not those who are the targets of the abuse, but those fans of either team who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And since the victims are not so obvious, it is also harder for them to speak out, to challenge the intollerance or to end it.

In both stands, amongst both sets of supporters there would be young men and women struggling (to a greater or lesser extent) to come to terms with their sexuality in a society that tolerates sexual differences only barely at best. To a young gay man, or even a young man who thinks he might be gay, the sustained homophobic chanting that night will have had only one message: you're not welcome at football, sonny, you don't belong here. Even worse, some will feel under peer pressure to sing along with the bullying and the intolerant, for fear of being singled

When I first watched matches at the old Filbert Street, racist and sexist attitudes pervaded football. Female programme sellers would be treated to a barrage of wolf-whistles, and "he tackles like a girl" would never raise an eyebrow. Black players expected, and received, monkey noises and banana skins, and the only reason there was no anti-Asian racism was the almost complete absence of Asian faces - even in Leicester - from both pitch and terraces.

Over the past couple of decades the situation as regards sexism and racism has improved dramatically. As women and ethnic minorities have won greater equality in society, football has tagged along, sometimes positively but often reluctantly. Andy Gray's comments about female officials now draws swift retribution but in his playing days such attitudes would have been commonplace. Racism on the terraces has retreated, although the growth of the EDL makes clear that the battle is far from over. Nowadays outright anti-Black racism is rare, although I've never yet watched a long-haired player put in 90 minutes without being asked where he left his caravan - gipsy and Romany people remain the 'legitimate targets' for racists in football, just as Baroness Warsi suggests muslims are in wider society.

But homophobia continues to rear its ugly head. Anyone who challenges it is accused of "not getting the joke", or asked to define their own sexuality before their views are considered, as I was when I raised the issue on an internet radio show phone-in the day after the game. You can't imagine someone being asked "why do you object to racism, are you black?" any more, although in the 1970s such an enquiry would have been commonplace. It's now widely understood (outside the ranks of the scapegoat-chasing EDL and their ilk) that everyone, black and white, has reasons to object to, and directly confront and challenge, racism and racists. The same cannot be said about homophobia.

Homophobia won't be eradicated from football until it is eradicated from wider society. But football doesn't have to lag so pitifully behind the curve of social progress as it is doing right now.

People talk about the need for gay players to come out in order to challenge homophobia but I think this misses the point. Openly gay players would certainly help, both in terms of making fans question their homophobic attitudes and in providing positive role models for LGBT football fans. But making gay footballers the driver of change, we actually let everyone else off the hook. Every single footballer, coach, manager and fan - whether in the Premier League, or sunday pub team - can play a part in getting homophobia out of the game. We shouldn't have to wait for the next Justin Fashanu.

I didn't challenge the homophobic chanting at Sheffield last week. There were too many of them, and I was too scared. I stood quietly and shook my head in sadness, but I lacked the courage to speak out. If the Justin Campaign and the Football v Homophobia day on February 19 can give other fans the courage to speak out against homophobic chanting on the terraces then all of us, gay and straight, will be able to concentrate on the important stuff on the field: like getting the mighty foxes back into the top flight where they belong.

Blog, Blog, Blog

Ok so I am going to start bloging about the harsh and cruel life of a teenager and how society distorts the actions we have into violence and fear. i may only up date this once a month but i doubt many people will read this so it probably won't matter. I will start tomorrow. See you then.

Again and once more on the firefighters' strike

David Allen Green has written a second column on the FBU dispute in London. It's much better than the first one, being both more concrete and specific, and also much more even-handed in its assessment of the dispute, and the actions of both the FBU and the management of the London Fire Brigade. His conclusion? "If there are abuses of power in this dispute, it is rather hard to see which side is abusing their power more."

I still think he's wrong, but he's less wrong than he was.

An abuse of power? No, an abuse of blogging privilege.

The normally excellent Jack of Kent has used a column in the supposedly left-of-centre New Statesman to attack the decision of the FBU to call a strike on November 5th. But rather than just saying that the strike is wrong, he tries to give the whole issue an ethical importance (bordering on the pompous) by asking if "strikes by public service workers can ever be an abuse of power".

Bigotgate: What I wish Gordon Brown would say on immigration in tonight's debate

"Immigration has become an important issue in this election and it is an issue that says a lot about how we feel about our country and what kind of country we want to live in. I want to play my part in building a Britain where we can all say: There is no more room for intolerance. There is no more room for racism. There is no room for bigotry or zenophobia. But there is more room for people who would like to come and live and work in this country.

 Immigrants have played a vital role in every single stage of the development of this nation: often times it has been immigration generated by the desires of our ruling classes to pull cheap labour from the rest of the world to benefit themselves. Every single step of every change, every progression, every success and every failure has been built with the foundation stones of immigration into these islands. To pretend otherwise is to utterly delude ourselves.

How not to report a research paper

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Over on twitter, I received a tweet suggesting that "File-Sharing Tools Could Put Personal Health Data at Risk"- a reasonable statement of fact, possibly, although not exactly an earth-shattering one. File-sharing tools could put any kind of data "at risk" if by at risk you mean available for sharing with other people, since that's kind of the point of them. You might equally write "postage stamps could put personal health data at risk" because if you inadvertently put a postage stamp or two on a repeat prescription form you could, you know, post it to someone. By mistake.

No tweets please, we're British health workers


For the last couple of months I've been discovering twitter, more so especially since starting a new job in the world of health research informatics. As well as encountering some rather odd yet friendly individuals (Hi Becky), and getting into political debates with some of my favourite actors (Hi Adam), I have found it incredibly useful.

As an almost random sample, here are ten of the twitter feeds I've been following, from which I've gained ideas, learned news or generally found out stuff I wouldn't otherwise have had access to, and which have therefore made me a much better value employee for the UHL and the Leicester Cardiovascular BRU.

Top tips for snow: wear shoes and don't slip

Quite what any self-respecting newspaper thinks they're doing presenting advice from chiropractors I have no idea, but maybe all the real journalists were unable to get in to work at the Sheffield telegraph this week. I know the weather's been bad up there. Not quite "on par with the Arctic" as the article claims, but certainly cold and a bit snowy.

Anyway, whatever the rationale, the paper did indeed publish an article presenting the "top tips on staying safe in icy weather" from the British Chiropractic Association. The BCA, of course, are famous for not taking criticism very well. So I will be careful to only use the words of the actual article in this summary.