A Target Driven Culture Is Killing Us

Target for rapid fire pistol at 25 meter shoot...

Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and the Metropolitan Police Southwark Sapphire Unit. The Francis report and the even more recent Independent Police Complaints Commission report investigated these two scandals and have exposed the serious and even life-threatening consequences of a blind devotion to targets.

Both of the reports highlighted the pressure to meet targets as a key reason for losing sight of patient care and proper policing. As a result many people died and many rapes went unreported and uninvestigated.

In order to meet detection targets, the Metropolitan Police Southwark Sapphire Unit, a specialist sex crimes unit, pursued an explicit policy to encourage victims to retract statements, according to an Independent Police Complaints Commission report. It led to a detective from Southwark, dismissing allegations of rape against Jean Say who went on to murder his two young children, Regina (8) and Rolls (10). A report into this incident and the activities of the wider Met sex crimes unit has investigated a period during which you could “never advise women with any kind of surety that justice would be done” according to Debbie Marshall of Eaves. The report has described it as “wholly inappropriate” and “deeply disturbing”.

At the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, the Francis report concluded “that patients were routinely neglected by a Trust that was preoccupied with cost cutting, targets and processes and which lost sight of its fundamental responsibility to provide safe care.” The toxic, target driven culture at Mid Staffordshire has led to the needless deaths of hundreds of patients and the extreme distress of many more. Reports of people lying in soiled sheets for days, drinking water out of vases to stay hydrated and going without food have led to a public outcry.

A target-based approach to improvement has infiltrated our attitudes to such an extent that there are targets for everything, from recycling to education, that are pored over endlessly. Journalists devote countless column inches to analysing which targets are missed or met. Politicians use them as a club to beat their opposition. Targets are used by pundits, politicians and the public alike as benchmarks to judge the performance of not only the government but also individual schools, hospitals or recycling programmes.

Targets have failed to generate improvements and played an active part in the serious and shocking incidents in Southwark and Mid Staffordshire. The pressure over targets has become so pernicious that there doesn’t seem to be a way to rehabilitate them. Not only are the consequences of “hitting the targets but missing the point,” as the IPCC put it, potentially lethal but they are no longer useful as a performance indicator because the statistics are so frequently manipulated to hit targets. In Scotland for example, NHS waiting lists are manipulated to show improved waiting times but the patients are still waiting. Targets have become an end in themselves rather than a tool for improvement.

It must be time now for a serious rethink about how we measure success and the emphasis on targets before the next person dies.

The Dangers of DRM: just give it up already

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

E-reader (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love reading books. I love my e-reader more than I ever expected to. I want to support book shops and authors and libraries. I want to give them my money.

So why do e-readers make it so hard?

There are so many things you can do with an e-reader that Amazon etc… didn’t envisage when they first came up with the device. We have the pleasing oddities like the humble eBook bundle, practical extensions that import articles and Google docs from browser to e-reader and new avenues for acquiring eBooks such as Project Gutenberg. However the theoretically simple act of buying an eBook from a high street shop website is more complicated than balancing the government’s budget. Not only is the download process often strangely convoluted and poorly explained but having downloaded and paid for the book there is a high chance it will not be compatible with your e-reader of choice.

Yes, it is that worst of all eBook afflictions: DRM.

There are plenty of, easily available ways to circumvent DRM but the only legal option is to read the eBook on a laptop or buy the compatible e-reader, neither of which is exactly a viable option. While the theoretical logic of DRM is obvious, even a brief investigation of the practicalities shows up serious flaws. Most obviously, nothing drives people to piracy like having to jump through hoops for something they have already paid for. EBooks ought to be available to read on whatever device happens to be available, no matter where it came from. If an e-reader breaks or dies all the books on it should transfer to the next device without any fuss. The fact that this is not the case borders on the ridiculous especially when it is so easy to pay nothing for an eBook without DRM. The reality is that DRM makes eBooks inferior to both physical books and pirated eBooks. In order to abide by the law customers have to make a conscious choice to spend money on a worse product than the illegal version. Clearly this is not a sustainable model.

English: Librarians against DRM

Librarians against DRM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other irritation that people have started to run up against more and more is the fact that eBooks cannot be lent to friends. Marketing studies have shown time and again that word of mouth and sharing books is the most effective way to boost book sales yet lending remains anathema to eBooks. Amazon has started to make steps in this direction, though only for their US customers but most publishers in this country are still struggling with lending libraries. EBooks have been a significant part of our culture for enough years now that the negotiations on this point are looking increasingly like petulant floundering.

Though I was not a fan of Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctrow’s article for the Guardian last year is an incredibly thorough look at the draw backs, for both customers and retailers, of continuing to use DRM. Some retailers are finally starting to wake up to the harm DRM is causing though it lingers in the majority of eBook sales. Last year Tor started selling their eBooks without DRM and others must surely begin to follow. Hopefully as more independent booksellers start to embrace e-readers they will have learned the lessons from the big chains and will steer well clear of DRM.

Ultimately, books are too important to be chained up by DRM and kept behind bars. Reading should be a joy. Reading should set you free.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like DRM?

Gove has doomed the next generation of Historians

English: Michael Gove speaking at the Conserva...

Michael Gove (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Gove has recently updated the school curriculum. There is much in there to disagree with but it is the slimming down of the history curriculum with which I take particular issue.

Do not be decieved by phrases such as “know and understand the broad outlines of European and world history” or “understand historical concepts” etc.. It is clear from the content of the syllabus that Messers Gove and Ferguson, who has been a vocal supporter of the new curriculum, favour a top down, phallocentric, anglocentric approach to the subject. From now on history will be stripped back to the names and dates of wealthy white english men. Other countries will get a look in on the occasions that it cannot be helped, with a particular emphasis on wars and empire. Ferguson has taken great pains to point out that Mary Seacole and Equiano Olaudah make the cut in the new history curriculum – are some of his best friends black too? Despite this tokenism, the new curriculum gives no depth, no context and no excitement to history.

Not only does Gove’s curriculum strip Martin Luther King Jr from the history books he also wishes to change the way it is taught. Rudge’s flippant response from History Boys; “…history? It’s is just one fucking thing after another” will become all too accurate. Source analysis, themes and topics will become a thing of the past as they are replaced by mechanical knowledge and chronology. It seems to leave no room for that fundamental aspect of history: context. World War One 1914 – 1918 and World War Two 1940 – 1945 tells us nothing about the way these events are related and the integral part the unsatisfactory outcome of the former played in the causes of latter. There is also no escaping the fact that rote learning is dull. History ought to allow children to think critically and creatively, to analyse and question information, and to construct and think through arguments. All Gove’s history will allow for is spitting out patriotically important dates and parroting recieved wisdom. How can Gove expect anyone, let alone teenagers, to get excited about a subject where the learning is entirely passive, no questions allowed?

In my first year of secondary school my favourite history projects were putting Henry II on trial for the murder of Thomas Becket and writing a newspaper article from the time of the black death. Both adequately fulfil Gove’s desire for children to learn more about British history but have no truck with rote learning or time lines. As I got older, my favourite history topics included the cold war and the french revolution neither of which get much of a look in in the new curriculum. In secondary school, I learned to love the subject so much I went on to study History at university where Mr Gove’s curriculum would have left me woefully underprepared for the rigours of the subject at degree level. I may have gone armed with patriotic fervour and the dates of the civil war, but what research and analytical skills I had would have been stunted and shrivelled. That is, of course, assuming I had even managed to learn to love it at all or seen beyond the rote learning and british focus to the true scope of History.

The new curriculum will likely see children turning away in their droves and I wouldn’t even blame them. Beyond the educational issues, this approach is indicative of the thinly veiled contempt that the Conservatives have for Europe and the wider world. As much as Michael Gove and his fellows may wish it were otherwise, Britain is now inextricably linked in to a global world which Britain cannot hope to stand apart from. More than ever we need to resist the urge to retreat into a jingoistic, little Englander view of the world otherwise it is not only the next generation of historians who will be doomed.

Historical Context:

Fatwa for Female Rock Band in Kashmir

Some days it seems like every time the world takes two steps forward in the fight for equality, it takes one step back.

West Point Cadet Accompanied by his Date (Source: Knights Out Twitter)

West Point Cadet Accompanied by his Date (Source: Knights Out Twitter)

This week there have been major advances for the LGBT community. Just last night in the UK we had a historic victory for equality with the signing of the gay marriage bill. In the US, the military has shown how far it has come since repealling DADT by circulating lovely pictures of a male West Point cadet taking his civilian boyfriend to a winter formal.

However while the LGBT community is celebrating (and rightly so) there has been a major step backwards for women in Kashmir. The first all-female, Kashmiri rock band, Pragraash, has decided to disband. The 16-year-old vocalist, Noma Nazir, and two 15-year-olds, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid, were the target of a campaign of virulent abuse via social networking sites. People flocked to the internet to leave comments like ‘These band girlz should be gang rapped’ and ‘shameless bithches they should be hanged’ [sic].

Initially the band decided to retreat from live performances and continue to make an album but the last straw came in the form of a fatwa against them from the Supreme Court of Islamic Shariat, headed by Grand Mufti Mohammad Bashiruddin. In his statement he linked the band’s activities to the gang rape and murder of an, as yet unnamed, 23 year old student in Delhi a few months back. The three girls have all announced that they will completely refrain from playing music in the future.

Clockwise from top left: Lita Ford, Sandy West...

The Runaways: One of the first female rock bands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to one of the girls who spoke anonymously to BBC Hindi the band didn’t understand why a fatwa had been issued; “There are many artists from Kashmir who are performing. But they did not issue a fatwa against them.” She stops short of explicitly mentioning gender but the implications are very clear. It is not surprising but it is depressing. The double standard is egregious and unrepentant. However perhaps more insidious is the idea that women are in anyway to blame for rape. Even in countries that purport to support equal rights for women this idea continues to permeate attitudes toward rape victims.

Victim blaming is alive and well in the UK and US as was seen when MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, said short skirts and high heels make you likely to get raped and an NYT report on an 11-year-old gang rape victim highlighted her make up and grown up clothing. This attitude is no different from the Great Mufti who claims women “given freedom to roam around, sing and dance,” causes gang rape and hardline separatists who released a statement that said “No noble family will allow their girls to choose dancing as a profession which is a thing of pleasure for strangers”. Attempts to place the blame on women consistently fail to address the real problem. Telling your daughters not to wear revealing clothing or be in a rock band is not nearly as important as teaching your sons to respect people and not rape them. Make no mistake; rape is not a female issue, it is a male issue.

Despite the appalling misogyny of many, there are some hopeful signs. The band first came to prominence during a Battle of the Bands competition where they placed third and they continue to have the support of the Chief Government Officer Omar Abdulla who has promised a full police investigation into the worst of the social media abuse though he was not willing to go against the Great Mufti’s fatwa. There has also been an outpouring of support from India, specifically from Vishal Dadlani, who offered the girls a recording contract in Mumbai and begged them not to stop making music ‘due to the fear of some random lunatics’. The pressure at home has been too much for the girls however and, with their families facing social exclusion from society, they have decided to stop playing completely. It is a sad outcome for rock music and for women everywhere.