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[/audioplayer]At Glastonbury in 2000 I noticed two young men both wearing enormous Y-fronts and carrying an even bigger pair with the word ‘pants’ written on it. They both looked miserable as you would if you’d come up with the idea while drunk and then found yourself stuck like that for the duration of the festival.
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[/audioplayer]The chances are that by now either you or someone you know well has begun to practise ‘mindfulness’ — a form of Buddhism lite, that focuses on meditation and ‘being in the now’. In the past year or so it’s gone from being an eccentric but harmless hobby practised by contemporary hippies to a new and wildly popular pseudo--religion; a religion tailor-made for the secular West.
In early autumn I was on a train travelling from London to Brighton, on the final leg of a journey that began earlier that day in Beirut, and which was taking me back to live in Britain for the first time in 22 years. It was late Friday afternoon and the man opposite me was droning into his mobile phone. He had not drawn breath since he joined at Clapham Junction except to take a swig from one of three bottles of Black Sheep beer he had lined up on the table.
Jonathan Sacks has an impressive track record for predicting the age we are in. In his 1990 Reith Lectures, ‘The Persistence of Faith’, the then chief rabbi pushed back against the dominant idea that religion was going to disappear. In the early 2000s, he predicted a century of conflict within Islam. And he was one of the first religious leaders and thinkers not only to critique multi-culturalism (‘the spanner in the works for tolerance’) but to try to think of a path beyond it.
Over the past year or so, a determined and fanatical Islamist has been waging a deadly and bloody war against the western world. This enemy is capable of moving unnoticed across continents and inflicting savage violence in each of them; inspires young Muslim men to become suicide bombers and die in their thousands. The enemy is particularly horrifying for being a traitor, born in Britain and a woman to boot.
When America’s National Institutes of Heath said that it hadn’t cured Ebola yet because of budget cuts, Senator Rand Paul had an acidic answer. No, he told an audience of Republicans, the problem was not underfunding. It was bad priorities. ‘Have you seen what the NIH spends money on?’ he asked. ‘$939,000 spent to discover whether or not male fruit flies would like to consort with younger female fruit flies.
The British overseas territory of Gibraltar, or, as some would have it, the wart on the bottom of the Iberian peninsula, is not an exciting place for a holiday. You don’t go for the food (mostly English pub grub and pizzas), or the nightlife (there isn’t any) or the beaches (overcrowded, with sand imported from the Sahara). But there are a few interesting legacies of three centuries of British occupation of what was known in Greek mythology as one of the Pillars of Hercules.