Thursday, 18 April 2019

Unforeseen consequences! And some coincidences!

Victor Hugo’s 19th-century literary classic Notre-Dame de Paris has been selling like hot cakes since the cathedral burned. That may not be the best expression to have chosen in the circumstances but there it is. By Wednesday morning different editions of the novel were in the 1st, the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th and the 8th slots in Amazon France’s best seller list.

Some are interpreting this as an example of France’s tendency to seek solace in literature at times of national anguish. They back this up with the fact that after the 2015 terror attacks, sales of A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his time in the bars and cafés of 1920s Paris, made it France’s fastest-selling book.

Personally I think it’s more a kind of misguided sentimentality, the feeling of really wanting to do something but not knowing quite what to do and ending up buying (but not necessarily reading, please note!) a work of literature related somehow to the event.

It’s an aspect of the law of unintended and unexpected consequences.

It might also say something about the French education system making students familiar with the country’s great works of literature. I don’t think the increase in homelessness and foodbanks has led many people in the UK to go and read Dickens and his descriptions of poverty!

A history of the cathedral also went up to 6th place in the book sales list. People wanted reminders of what the place looked like in all its glory. I have to confess to googling pictures of the building.

And the BBC has just announced a change in programmes this weekend. On Saturday, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a dramatisation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”!

Copycat crimes, if crime it was, for that continues not to be considered the case, seem to be being at least contemplated as well. A man was arrested in New York when he went into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters. When stopped he claimed his car had run out of fuel and he was taking a short cut through the cathedral, as you do, to go and refill the tank. So they checked his car. Which proved to have a full tank! Oops! Porky pies!

Considerable generosity has also resulted from the Notre Dame fire. Vast amounts of money have been donated. This proves how much good the rich can do when they set their minds to it. A large number of people have been quick to point out that they could do a whole lot more good by donating that money or, indeed, similar sums of MORE money to refugee camps, countries in crisis, the homeless, the victims of the Grenfell fire, to name but a few.

Getting back to unforeseen consequences, here’s another example.

An investigation has revealed that more than 49,000 pupils in a single cohort disappeared from the school rolls without explanation. That’s an awful lot of missing kids. This does not include pupils who were moved off the school roll family reasons, moving house and such like. No, the practice known as “off-rolling” involves taking pupils off the school roll so that exam results statistics look better or in order to reduce costs. I don’t understand how the latter reason works but the exam results thing is one of those odd consequences of setting up league tables and thus effectively making schools compete with each other!

It’s not all schools, thank goodness! No, the investigation showed that some 330 schools, which constitute 6% of secondary schools in England, accounted for almost a quarter (23%) of the total number of unexplained moves in 2017.

There is perhaps still some honesty left out there!

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