Yesterday our quiet neighborhood was enlivened by the appearance of hundreds of runners, taking part in a ten kilometer run to raise money for charity. I was able to watch the scene with great benevolence and without nostalgia because my running days are long past.
I caught running in 1977 during a year I spent at the University of California in Santa Cruz. It was drifting in the warm air like a virus, and my resistance was low. After many happy decades of avoiding all forms of artificial exercise I started to run, or at least to jog.
The daily dose of bad news has been so overwhelming lately that this one fragment of good news almost passed me by. But I was tremendously encouraged to read the story about high school students, teachers and parents in Colorado who launched a mass protest against curriculum changes that would, in effect, have sanitized the teaching of history.
When my wife and I travel we organize everything in a thorough and sensible way. We know where we're going and what we are planning to do in some detail before we ever reach the airport. We don't like surprises. But travel didn't used to be like this. Before it became an industry travel was always an adventure. Surprises came thick and fast, and your journey was never guaranteed to end where and when you had planned, or indeed to end without some kind of catastrophe. That's why most people stayed close to home.
Back in the distant past, when I was looking for work instead of trying to avoid it, the main problem was one of choice. The unemployment rate was around 2 percent, and employers were almost desperate to find workers. So my contemporaries and I bounced heedlessly from one occupation to another in search of something interesting. I could have taken almost any kind of employment that did not demand good eyesight or serious qualifications. We had no notion that the jobs would ever run out. The classified advertisement sections were always full of new ones.
The campaign for Scottish independence that ended in failure last week aroused intense interest because it posed the most basic of all political questions, namely "What is a nation?" There are almost two hundred recognized nations in the world, but there could easily be two thousand if every independence movement succeeded. Nationalism is back with a vengeance: Uigars in China, Russians in Ukraine, French speakers in Quebec, Flemish speakers in Belgium – the list of restive minorities who want independence is enormous.