Here’s a terrific piece of reporting in today’s NYT, about how the fire emergency at Notre-Dame cathedral came closer to destroying the medieval masterpiece than we knew. Check this part out:

The fire warning system at Notre-Dame took dozens of experts six years to put together, and in the end involved thousands of pages of diagrams, maps, spreadsheets and contracts, according to archival documents found in a suburban Paris library by The Times.

The result was a system so arcane that when it was called upon to do the one thing that mattered — warn “fire!” and say where — it produced instead a nearly indecipherable message.

It made a calamity almost inevitable, fire experts consulted by The Times said.

If that’s not a metaphor for the fragility of advanced civilization, I don’t know what is. For example: we now have incomparably more information about how the world works than any humans who have ever lived, but when we are called to the one thing that matters — produce future generations capable of doing the basic things necessary to carry on life — we are failing.

Read it all. It’s an incredible story, very well told by the Times‘s reporters. I rag on that newspaper (to which I subscribe) all the time for its biases, but when it gets something right, no news organization on the planet can touch it.

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