I recently finished David Simon and Ed Burns’ book The Corner, a piece of extended reporting about life around a Baltimore drug corner. There’s one thing about the way they write it which really gets me: every so often they’ll have a section explaining the absurdity of the situation they’ve been talking about, how futile it is. That’s all fairly run of the mill for this sort of investigative journalism. What lifts these sections in The Corner is that they then carry on drilling down, look at the alternatives, the other ways the people involved could act, and all too frequently conclude that crazy as the situation they’ve just described may be it’s one of the better possible outcomes. Letting children pass classes they clearly shouldn’t as a matter of routine may make a mockery of having exams but if there’s nothing to do other than advance them to the next year or keeping them back to disrupt the children the year below them then passing them is possibly the lesser evil.