Last week I sat in a restaurant in the Chinese city of Chongqing and was transported all the way back to the year 1958. The walls of the Red Flag Commune Canteen were covered with propaganda posters from the era of the Great Leap Forward. Mao Zedong, wearing a peasant's broad straw hat, smiled benevolently amid tall ears of wheat in one poster. In another the Great Helmsman waved his right hand before an image of a glorious red sun...
Mandela has been a leader of remarkable courage, of stamina and resilience. These qualities started to show early in school, as Mandela suffered penalties and expulsions, the result of his steady anti-apartheid conviction. He went to law school, passed the bar and helped to establish South Africa's most prestigious black law firm. No small feat, these accomplishments in those days.
Don't confuse this with Panorama sending John Sweeney to North Korea in the imaginatively titled 'North Korea Uncovered' in which our heroic reporter destroys communism by dicking about. "This is an electricity factory" says Sweeney "But none of the lights are on." BOOM! Nice journalism, Sweeneyator.
In the mid-1990s, I hosted a small dinner for Lady Thatcher and a group of Republican Senators in Washington. Bill Clinton had come out in favour of NATO expansion - which led a number of conservatives to come out against. During the evening, Lady Thatcher told the august group of Republicans around the table - all men, incidentally - to knock it off.
The terms 'great' or 'iconic' are too readily used in our modern celebrity culture, but Margaret Thatcher was a great and will remain an icon of the second half the twentieth century. Her place in history is secured by her position as Britain's first woman prime minister, and her legacy defined by the incredible transformation of the country under the governments that she led.
I'm no fan of the Socialist Workers' Party, so I won't be losing much sleep over the fact that it is currently imploding under the weight of two sex scandals. But I do find it intriguing that this intellectually moribund organisation is having the final nail pounded into its coffin, not by the state or by the right, but by feminism.
Government after government across Europe has been thrown out since the great recession began to drive back living standards. Whether on the centre-left, such as Gordon Brown and Zapatero, or on the right with Berlusconi and Sarkozy, political rejection has started to look inevitable. But Rafael Correa's massive re-election win in Ecuador yesterday was a reminder to his European counterparts that political defeat is no iron law of politics.
Under the blitz of current Orwell stuff in the media there's a recurring theme: what would the great man have made of the present day, and how right was he about the modern world? Recent chit-chat in my office was broadly positive about his "predictive" powers. Recent chit-chat in my office was broadly positive about his "predictive" powers: Doublespeak (modern political/managerial jargon?), Telescreens (TV, especially those tuned to the Big Brother house on Channel 5!), Napoleon, the revolutionary-turned-authoritarian pig from Animal Farm.
There are two big reasons why a Karel Schwarzenberg win should charm us all. First, in an era of bling, celebrity, and growing cynicism about politics, Schwarzenberg embodies a rare combination of values: he represents authenticity and integrity, a certain old-world elegance, without taking himself too seriously.
There is no doubt in my mind that Romania's change of government in 1989 was a revolution - even if it was stage managed and the mob were manipulated. It has all the ingredients of a classic revolution: a total chance of the political system; an angry mob; several days of chaos; armed groups fighting each other and a shadowy clique of power brokers arguing about who will take over.
Exploring the question of religion's role in contemporary conflicts is not an end in itself. Rather it leads on to the question of how the different faiths can disagree constructively, and how interfaith dialogue can refine understanding of our disagreements - as well as building on our human commonalities for the Common Good. Answering that question would deserve a Nobel Prize.