politics Tag

Barcelona-2012-53_web
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Breaking away under a bloody flag

Catalonian independence Legend has it the flag of Catalonia was born from blood. The blood of a man called Wilfred the Hairy, who stories (but not necessarily any historical evidence) claim is the founder of Catalonia. He was injured in war in August of the year 897 and would die there on the battlefield. But not before he ran his four bloodied fingers down a copper shield to create a coat of arms that today is found on the flag that flies so proudly above this region. When it comes to the pride of Catalonia – and it is undeniable – a crucial step is about to be taken in just a few days’ time that could lead the region down the path to becoming the world’s newest country. I’ll get to that in just a second, because it’s important to first ask what would Wilfred the Hairy think of it all? After...

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21 November
visiting monticello, thomas jefferson's house, university of virginia, architecture, jefferson and slavery (9)
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All men are created equal

The genius of Thomas Jefferson There’s no doubt what the finest creation of Thomas Jefferson was. It’s the thing with the words. You know… these words: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That’s right – the United States Declaration of Independence, probably the most famous piece of American writing. When it comes to deciding on his second finest creation, you would be misguided to look beyond Monticello, the house he built on a hill in Virginia. Over many years he developed the plans for the residence, helped build parts of it himself, changed the designs, and expanded it. Originally based on the neoclassical principles of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, it was later influenced by his time in France. These days it’s the only...

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17 July
visiting san marino, tourism, world's oldest country, oldest constitution, smallest countries, san marino (5)
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The world’s oldest sovereign state

Visiting San Marino From high up on the hill, looking out over the countryside and towards the ocean, you can see why the residents of San Marino have tried so hard over the centuries to keep their land - it’s a stunning view, witnessed from a beautiful city that has maintained its historic charm. It’s hard to imagine how they managed to keep their country intact, though, considering the wars and invasions that have bloodied the lands around them. San Marino is the oldest sovereign state in the world, having been founded in 301AD. But it’s also one of the smallest – about 60 square kilometres (or 24 square miles). It’s this size which has helped protect the country because it’s never been seen as a true threat or as a large enough area to bother conquering. Enclosed entirely within Italy, it’s also been protected geographically from many potential aggressors. The capital of...

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07 June
argentina, che guevara museum, cordoba, che guevara, alta gracia
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Letter to Che

An open letter to Che Guevara Dear Che, I thought you might like to know that I visited your old house today. The one you grew up in near Cordoba in Argentina. They’ve turned it into a museum, you know. Old photos of your family, your childhood, the adolescence you spent growing and nurturing that seething anger, and the many later years you spent focusing that anger to try to change the world. To be honest, though, it left me a bit confused about the man you became and the legacy you have left. You’ve been worshipped and reviled by so many people. Perhaps that’s because there was an inherent contradiction in much that you did – killing to stop the killing, for instance. Taking control of governments to bring down government control. That’s why I was confused. It made me wonder what you would think of the man the little boy from...

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14 February
casa rosada, buenos aires, evita, eva peron, argentina, presidential palace
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Don’t cry for me…

In the mid-1990s, hoping it would bring great fortune and fame to the country, the Argentinian Government allowed Madonna stand on the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires to film the scene from ‘Evita’ that would define the movie. Of course, the balcony scene was a stand-out partly because the rest of the film was such a dog that it wouldn’t look out of place running with the rabid animals of this city. But there is more to it than that. There was something inspiring about the image of Eva Peron, proud and optimistic, speaking to the masses below in a way that politicians had never done before in Argentina. Still to this day, Eva Peron and her husband Juan are an extremely divisive topic in South America. Where some people see the saviours of the working class, some see a thuggish dictator and trashy power-hungry social-climber. When Madonna...

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25 November
civil rights, racial equality, deep south, america, usa, african american
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Civil rights and wrongs in the Deep South

Deep South civil rights When it comes to civil rights and racial equality, there’s a lot of food for thought during a trip through the Deep South of the United States (and I’m not talking about the fried chicken!). Everywhere you go you’re confronted with overt signs of the gap between black and white. Sometimes it’s the poverty you notice, other times it’s to do with status, occasionally it’s about the opportunities. Mostly it’s a blending of many factors that makes you wonder how far this country has come in addressing deep-rooted social disadvantage. Let’s take New Orleans, for example. It’s a city with a population that is 60 per cent African American but when we went to a music festival there we saw predominately white faces and only a few black ones (Snoop Dogg, excepted). Then there was a moment when I was passing through an airport in North Carolina that had...

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10 November
washington, national mall, US politics, economic problems, white house, lincoln memorial, washington monument
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Is the sun setting on America?

Sunset at Washington DC On a visit to Washington DC, I was reminded of that old phrase, “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. Walking down the National Mall, the sun was setting behind the Lincoln Memorial, casting an orange glow before darkness fell over America’s seat of government. It may seem a little bit tacky but the symbolism of the sun setting on the United States couldn’t be ignored. There’s a strong argument to be made that the superpower’s influence around the world is waning as the US finds itself powerless to tackle within its own borders a deep inequity that calls into question the fundamental standards on which it has stood for so long. I promise this will be the last of this series of political essays (and I know those of you who want more stories about restaurants that serve penis will be pleased to hear that). However,...

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11 October
JFK, John F Kennedy, Barack Obama, library and museum, Boston, Massachusetts, politics, analysis
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JFK – before he was an airport

JFK Presidential Library, Boston There’s a moment on a tour of the JFK Presidential Library that brings on tears. Around me, as I stood there, some people sobbed. I could even feel that slight sting in the eyes myself. The moment comes right at the end of the exhibits in the room dedicated to that fateful day in Dallas. Unlike the other rooms before, there were no glass display cabinets or typed explanations. It was just a room painted completely black, a date on the wall – ‘November 2, 1963’ – and television screens with that infamous broadcast of Walter Cronkite informing a nation they had lost a president. The sadness comes not from the act of the assassination itself, which is now a part of history rather than a pain in the national consciousness, but from the realisation of how great and inspirational a president can be. At a time in...

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07 October
boston freedom trail, history, politics, massachusetts, famous buildings in boston, how america's history has shaped it
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It’s time to grow up, America

The Boston Freedom Trail It’s in Boston, the city sometimes described as ‘the cradle of America’, that we pick up this story of ‘America, the resentful adolescent’. You see, to stick with this metaphor, the USA has been a rather spoilt child over the years. It was born into privilege with rights it feels are indisputably intrinsic. But as we’re about to find out, it might be time to pack away the cradle, to not rest on its birthright, and to make a name for itself as the adult it could be. Now, just before we go on, there are two things I need to say. The first thing is that I’m going to drop the silly child metaphor from here. And the second thing is that this is not a politically-motivated story and is not taking aim at either side of the ideological debate. What you’re about to read is an...

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06 October