Monday, January 29, 2007

A bad time to come out of the closet?

It's been nagging away at the back of my mind for some time, a sense that I am being less than true to myself. I'd given it some thought over the past three years, and have even joked about it on occasion. But it was only over the New Year, spent with my family, that I concluded that, deep in my soul, I am at heart a Catholic.

I could have picked a better time, given the furore over the Catholic Church's attempts to seek an exemption from anti-discrimination legislation pertaining to adoption, to consider beginning the process to seek confirmation as a Catholic. It must be admitted that the leadership of the Catholic Church have demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that religious leaders are, for the most part, resistant to change to the nth degree. After all, enlightenment does not tend to sit easily with the absolutism that most religions require as the basis of their support.

And yet, the response from the shapers of opinion has, for the most part, been an attempt to ridicule both the Church and, to some extent, the concept of faith in a set of moral codes laid out in the form of religious text. Perhaps that's where my concerns are triggered.

I'm not going to defend the Church, nor suggest that it has a case for seeking the proposed, and now rejected, exemption from permitting gay men and lesbians from adopting children via Catholic adoption agencies. However, the Church does have the right to seek such an exemption if they believe that it is consistent with their principles. It is for the rest of society to argue, in a cogent manner, to the contrary, and for our wider society to conclude as to who is right.

It is ironic that I've been generally suspicious of 'organised religion', feeling that it tends to produce the type of faith only really experienced by bureaucrats, with a civil service to ensure consistency of message and generally reduce the message of faith to the dullest common denominator. And yet, the concept of belief is, in itself, a quite remarkable thing.

Whilst I was still married, I attended services at North Kensington Reform Synagogue fairly frequently for a while, and discovered that religion could be entertaining, meaningful and thought-provoking, thanks in part to the efforts of Rabbi Sheila Shulman but also due to its incredibly diverse and inclusive membership. The opportunity to debate the liturgy and the unexpected comfort of repetition and song was something of an eye-opener.

Since then, a curious and hitherto unsuspected sense of Catholic guilt has emerged. I don't feel guilty about anything in particular, simply a sense that I need to be true to a moral code of some kind. Given my background, and my sense of familial loyalty, that means catholicism.

As a gut-reaction liberal, this might seem like something of a contradiction. Yet I have always had a deeply conservative set of personal values, married, rather fortunately to my mind, to a deeply liberal set of societal values. It allows me to take a 'live and let live' approach to the society I inhabit, whilst imposing a fairly rigid moral code upon my own actions. I do not accept that any religious grouping can impose its own view of the world upon a wider society.

At the same time, society has no right to impose its morals and ethics upon the internal dynamics of a religious community. Thus, on the subject of Catholic adoption agencies, the argument would be better put if they placed restrictions on non-Catholics, rather than on gay men and lesbians. Better still, we might remove religions from the adoption business altogether. And given the Catholic Church's record on child abuse in recent years, that might not be a bad thing...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The morning was dark and, above all, early

A very early start this morning, for the journey to Royston in Hertfordshire, where I was the guest assessor on an East of England candidate development day. Of course, living in South London (bring your passport, we promise not to tease your accent...), this meant a 5.45 a.m. alarm, and a dash for the 7.52 a.m. train from Kings Cross in order to make the 9.15 start. Far too early for this night owl but I made it anyway.

Under the 'baton' of Christine Billingham, our facilitator, the four primary assessors, Geoff Williams, Catherin Brown and Judith Bailey and myself, plus policy assessor Paul Burral, reviewed the application forms for those points worthy of further questioning before the day itself began.

Development days come in a never ending supply of varieties, dependant on the combination of assessors, the candidates and the dynamics of the group as a whole. That isn't to say that the results are capricious in any way, nor that the process itself produces random outcomes, merely that days can be hard work or a cruise for the assessors depending on a range of factors.

I've been an assessor for twelve years now, having become one of the youngest ones in the Party at that time. Worryingly, I'm still one of the youngest ones, I suppose because most of those who might be good at it are busy being candidates themselves. At first, I tended to feel rather self-conscious on the grounds that I perhaps wasn't truly qualified to tell people that they weren't quite good enough. Ironically, that sense has only receded in the past year or so, linked, I believe, to my own enhanced sense of self-worth post-divorce.

That isn't to say that I've become inured to the stresses upon the applicants, far from it. As an assessor, I have a dual responsibility, in the first instance to the applicant, ensuring that he/she has every opportunity to display their ability to best advantage, but also to the Party, to protect it and its members from potential candidates who might fail to live up the standards we aspire to achieve, with the impact that such failure would have on future campaigning.

Telling an applicant that he or she isn't up to the mark is one of the hardest things I ever do, and I hope that, when I have to deliver such news, a sense of compassion is apparent. Applicants put their egos on the line, and have often been encouraged by others to come forward and so, when they are 'rejected', it comes all the harder.

For all that, I never fail to be impressed by the consistency of assessor scoring. We all mark independently of one another, come from different backgrounds with different experiences, and yet when scores are tallied, variations are slight if they exist at all. Occasionally, one assessor will vary from the rest on one aspect, and we'll discuss that to see if there has been a difference of interpretation, especially if it impacts on a final grading, but we always respect each other's judgements.

Curiously, I seem to be mellowing with the years. I had a reputation for being on the harsh side of fair, yet I now often find myself assigning scores which are close to the group mean. Whether or not that means I'm getting better is a judgement that can only be left to those on the receiving end of my decisions, but I'd like to think that experience brings its own rewards...

As for the development day itself? I actually thought that it got better as it went along, and working with Christine, Paul, Judith, Geoff and Catherine was a real pleasure - I've worked with most of them quite often - aided by the efforts of Mark Chapman, whose efforts in feeding us, and helping us find our way around the school buildings we were using, were invaluable.

Ironically, he was one of the applicants the last time I came to Royston, and we passed him then...

Friday, January 26, 2007

“More harm was done in the 20th century by faceless bureaucrats than tyrant dictators.”

Apparently this is true. It is also apparently true that "London Region needs a secretary it can rely on to be discreet and to maintain the confidentiality of its internal communications".

Sometimes, I wonder how Mark manages to remain so equitable. My younger brother, Rupert, the family sociopath, would probably have run through the author of those words with his sword without a second thought. Having said that, he thinks that John Reid is a wet liberal, so perhaps his reaction can be regarded as unnecessarily brutal.

You'll doubtless be pleased to hear that, just as I promised last month, Ludwig and I have taken Mark in hand in an attempt to drag him out of the nineteenth century where he's been quite happy, in a rather chaotic, disorganised sort of way. It just isn't good enough for the fast-paced world that Mark has to deal with. We also think that he needs an image retune, so we're working on that too. Meanwhile, Jaime is working on broadening his philosophy - although I'm yet to be convinced that Machiavelli's "The Prince" is necessarily the best place to start - and Rupert is in charge of instilling a little assertiveness.

I've left Mikhaila, Rupert's wife, in charge of culture, and she'll be making sure that he's more of a lyric bureaucrat than he has been in the past. You'll know if it's working if he takes to humming fragments of chamber music (Schubert is a particularly good sign). The diet has helped, he's lost 1.4 kg already, and the end of the legal unpleasantries helps too.

So, all in all, 2007 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the life of Amaranth's very own faceless bureaucrat. Do let us know if you notice a difference or, if there is something you feel we could work on, don't hesitate to say so...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The vacuum cleaner engineer cometh...

I'm at home this morning, having booked a visit by an engineer to repair my ailing vacuum cleaner (a vital piece of equipment in a house with five cats, let me tell you). I was told that he would come between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., so I booked the morning off and waited patiently for him to arrive, knowing in my heart that he probably wouldn't come until the last possible minute. You can therefore imagine my surprise when he arrived at 9.50 a.m., diagnosed a dead motor, replaced it and is now gone! I was so pleased that I actually vacuumed a small corner of my living room in celebration...

The other advantage is that I've found time to tidy up a bit, catch up on some personal business, and some Lib Dem things too. A nuisance turned positive, for a change.

Day 5 of diet - current weight loss: 1.0kg (one step backwards...) - net change in Body Mass Index (BMI): -0.33...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Civil servants vs the Government

A colleague has just very kindly informed me that I have an unexpected day off next Wednesday, courtesy of my fellow union members. Indeed, the result of our strike ballot was pretty conclusive, with 61% voting for strike action, and 78% voting for action short of a strike. The date of the strike? 31 January, yes, you guessed it, deadline day for self assessment Tax Returns (you've seen the adverts, haven't you?)!

I used to be a Customer Service Manager in my Maida Vale days, and believe me, the queue of taxpayers attempting to file at the last minute was a sight to see. So the prospect of a skeleton staff and a picket line on the busiest day of the year does raise an ironic smile. If you were planning to drop in at your local tax office next Wednesday though, you might think about doing so a day earlier...

Naturally, I am a member of PCS (Public & Commercial Services Union), as one should join up in support of the right to bargain collectively, although I tend to be a more critical member than most. That said, my ballot paper was lost in the sea of paper that I call my living room, so I didn't cast my usual 'no' vote. However, it's only a democracy if you accept that you are bound by a collective decision, so I'll not be crossing the picket line and spend the day catching up with my paperwork instead (quite useful, really).

It has come to a pretty pass when civil service unions are striking against a Labour government...

Day 4 of diet - current weight loss: 1.4kg (hoorah...) - net change in Body Mass Index (BMI): -0.46...

Monday, January 22, 2007

By the way, some Americans are STILL campaigning against the war

Iraq: ADA Board Resolution

Adopted by the ADA Board on January 21, 2007 in Washington, DC.

Last November, the American public sent the Bush Administration and their Congressional colleagues a clear message: It is long past time for the United States to end its unjustified and unjustifiable war in Iraq. That message was echoed by the Iraq Study Group which, in its December 6 report, characterized the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The report went on to call for "new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts" which will "enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly." The ISG noted that their recommendations needed to be taken as a whole and that the Administration should resist the temptation to cherry pick from amongst them.

The Administration's response, instead, has been to ignore both the American electorate and the advice of an experienced, thoughtful, bi-partisan commission and to place more than 21,000 additional American forces in harm's way with no discernible exit strategy. More alarmingly, they have systematically removed from the decision-making process any who dared to question their strategy and have begun ratcheting up the rhetoric and action against Iran.

Fortunately, the Administration's escalation has been countered by proposals for withdrawal in the newly-minted 110th Congress many of whose members were elected in direct response to the Administration's intransigence.

Senators Biden, Levin, Hagel and Snowe are co-sponsoring a resolution stating, "It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military presence in Iraq." We believe it is an important first step in the process and ask Senators from both parties to join in adopting it.

It is imperative that both the Senate and the House immediately demonstrate their determination to rein in an Administration which is clearly out of control and out of touch with reality. Ultimately, that resolve can only be brought to bear by exercising the power of the purse and forcing the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Their continued presence is only serving to destabilize the region further, provides a rhetorical and real target for extremist elements around the world and helps to fuel the sectarian violence which is ravaging Iraq.

ADA encourages all legislative efforts to speed up withdrawal of U. S. troops from Iraq, to prevent escalation of the war and to use the power of the purse to limit further damage. For example, Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) have introduced H.R. 508 the "Bring our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act of 2007" to establish a 6-month timeframe for withdrawing all U.S. military forces from Iraq, help stabilize Iraq and fully fund the VA health care system.

All proposals for withdrawal forward the discussion. The time for waiting is long past and the Administration clearly will continue on its misguided, dangerous adventurism at the cost of countless American, Iraqi and allied forces unless it is forced to confront reality. ADA urges the U.S. Congress to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

They're both as bad as each other...

Day 3 of diet - have taken up walking to the station in the morning (just over a mile) and resumed my exercise routine (fifteen minutes on the step machine, twenty on the cross trainer) - current weight loss: 0.9kg (gosh...) - net improvement in Body Mass Index (BMI): -0.30...

Before Christmas, I commented on Labour's difficulties with ethics and waited for the opposition parties to stuff the resulting open goal. I was pleased to see my team put up a fine display of principled outrage, but somewhat puzzled by the silence from the Conservative benches. I really shouldn't have been, should I...

It would appear that the Conservatives are recipients of largesse from one Wafic Said, which, if true, might explain the rather embarrassing silence. To suggest that the Conservative Party is above 'financial engineering' (legal, strictly, but hardly morally upstanding) is admittedly like suggesting the ocean is above the sky, but if you admit by omission that your own finances might not withstand close scrutiny, one wonders how they can claim the moral high ground, even over our beloved, straight-shooting, honest as the day is long (around December 22), Government.

At a time when the debate about the funding of political parties is as public as it has ever been, one might almost presume that our opponents in the Labour and Conservative Parties are determined to discredit our current politics so badly as to discourage the public from supporting state funding. Or am I just being paranoid?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Another Valladares blogs...

Day 2 of diet - swapped from cheese to ham at breakfast to remove 180 calories a day from my diet, gave up processed food and filled the refridgerator with lean meat - current weight loss: 0.5kg (better...) - net improvement in Body Mass Index (BMI): -0.17...

It was vaguely unlikely when I started blogging some fifteen months ago but now an even less likely event has happened, in that my father has started blogging too. Admittedly, his is not political, or family based, or even social, and you'll learn very little about him. Instead, he is transferring his regular 'business newsletter' to the blogosphere, and if you're interested, check out the link on the right hand column...

Meanwhile, my cousin Kim has posted on the family blog, reporting on the wedding of the year, so there is life elsewhere on Planet Valladares. I wonder who will be next?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Reconnected to the outside world

Day 1 of diet - changed desserts to remove 120 calories a day from my diet (must start somewhere) - current weight loss: -0.1kg (that's not good...)

I'm not the most technically-minded person, and had found it impossible to reconnect my now repaired PC to the internet - until now. I was looking for something completely unconnected to my computer when I ran across the installation CD for AOL Broadband. A few connections later, and here I am, back online, thanks heavens.

Other than that, I'm still waiting to discover my fate as potential Regional Secretary, although I am comforted by the notion that my opponent won't slaughter me, even if I don't win... more news on that to come, I hope...

Friday, January 19, 2007

A leaner, fitter, Southwark (Group)

The gauntlet has been laid down, and I have accepted the challenge.

One of my gallant colleagues within the Southwark Liberal Democrat family has announced that he is going to make a serious push to shed some weight over the next six weeks leading up to Federal Conference in Harrogate, and challenged allcomers to join him, a prize to be awarded to the contestant who loses most weight over the period. How could I resist, especially given some of my previous comments? I wasn't the only one though, and it looks like there will be a number of us playing (I'm not naming them to protect their privacy).

The referee for this contest is Caroline Pidgeon, a woman described by one competitor as 'annoyingly thin'. Jealousy is a terrible thing, isn't it? Paul Baichoo, one of our rather more svelte colleagues, has offered to lead a public workout session in one of Southwark's parks, and this may well take place, albeit without my participation (if I thought I was a fit sight for impressionable children, I wouldn't need to lose the weight...).

As far as I can tell, the quickest way to shed some useless bulk would be to persuade one of Peckham Rye's Labour councillors to resign, but as it would be difficult to get one of them onto a set of weighing scales, I'm just going to have to rely on a proven formula, diet, exercise and stress.

I am going to take the risk of doing this publicly though, so that you can watch my progress and hassle me for my failings (you know that you want to). I'm not going to tell you my starting weight (even a bureaucrat has his pride, after all), but I'll provide regular updates on weight lost (in kilogrammes) and the impact on my Body Mass Index (BMI). I may even indicate how I'm getting on relative to my 'opposition', depending on how things are going.

My family will no doubt be taking a close interest too, especially my father, who has been attempting, in a good-natured way, to prod me into action to do something about my figure (or lack thereof).

So let the contest begin, and let the (low fat) chips fall where they may!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A gentleman of leisure

To the National Liberal Club yesterday for lunch with a former work colleague. I seldom get to the Club, despite paying my, in retrospect, quite reasonable annual subscription. In fact, there have been years when I've spent more time in reciprocal clubs overseas than in my own, but it is one of my very few indulgences (other than travel, of course!).

So it was a pleasure to have a guest for lunch. A calvados to get the digestive juices flowing was a fine lead into the pork and goose rillette with pickled vegetables. The main course, for me the sirloin steak, for my guest the ragout of hare, was accompanied by a very pleasant bottle of shiraz, and with the cheeseboard, port and coffee to follow, we finally finished our meal at 4.15, having spent a leisurely three and a quarter hours over it.

Obviously, it made perfect sense to retire to the bar for brandy and more pleasant conversation before I escorted her to Charing Cross to catch her train at 7.22 p.m.

All in all, a thoroughly sybaritic experience and one that I really must repeat at some point in the future...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Life in the Stone Age

At least, that's how it feels to me. I got home on Friday evening, turned on the computer and watched it crash. Not good. Ring friendly computer guy and arrange to deliver the hard drive to my father's office so that he can pick it up. Arrive to find office full of Polish guys laying carpet tiles. Ah, that lovely new carpet smell...

Ring Al (the computer guy) on Sunday. Arrange to collect base unit, complete with brand new hard drive which means... all of my documents are lost, pending retrieval (hopefully) from old hard drive. No Microsoft Office (do I have the original CD-ROM or was it pre-loaded?), need to reload AOL (and how do I do that?). Other than that, no problem...

Collect base unit, share a drink or two with Al, carpet layers still there, carpet looks nice though... bring it home, turn it on, alright so far. Load AOL. Can I connect up the modem? No. At least it plays music again...

And so I am anchored to my work computer temporarily. Normal service will be resumed... eventually...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Liberal bureaucracy and the free market

I've been Regional Secretary for two years now, and was beginning to assume that it was a job that nobody else wanted. On Wednesday, my assumption was somewhat unexpectedly shaken when, in seeking nominations, I found that I am opposed for the post this year. Havard Hughes, our now former Chair of the Regional Policy Committee, indicated that he wanted the job and my initial response was to let him have it. I'm not particularly desperate to prevent someone else from doing something they want to do, and it would potentially free up my time... However, I was talked out of withdrawing my nomination and we have a contest.

Bureaucracy and competition are not the most obvious words to associate, but if you're a free market liberal as I am, then it seems only fair that even bureaucrats should face the chill wind of competition. I'm allowed 100 words for my manifesto and, I freely admit, it hasn't come easily. Do I defend my record, or should I make promises? If the latter, why didn't I do such things in my previous terms? Is my record that good?

Oh well, I suppose that I ought to get on with it. In the meantime, here is an alternative manifesto, courtesy of Joni Mitchell...

"The way I see it," he said,
"You just can't win it
Everybody's in it for their own gain
You can't please 'em all
There's always somebody calling you down"
I do my best
And I do good business
There's a lot of people asking
for my time
They're trying to get ahead
They're trying to be a good
friend of mine
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me
up fo favours
And no one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song
Unfortunately, it exceeds my hundred-word limit...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Escape to, and from, Fort Aguada

Welcome to Fort Aguada, started by the Portuguese in 1612, and never actually taken despite the various attacks on the place by all and sundry in the period that followed. Today, it holds a rather nice five-star resort, and you can still view large amounts of the original fortifications.

In the bay overlooked by the fort is a rather large oil tanker, the River Princess, which ran aground just 500 metres off shore some years ago, and is still awaiting a claimant. Whilst it isn't the most intrinsically pretty thing, it just add a touch of gritty realism to the warnings of dangerous riptides and the like which greet those foolhardy enough to venture too far from the golden sands that line the shore.

The wedding went very well by the way, and my cousin Clyne and his new bride, Nisha, will be on their way back to Mumbai today, before heading on to Kerala for their honeymoon. I hadn't met Nisha before, and was pleasantly surprised to find her as pleasant as she undoubtedly is. Clyne clearly is adhering to the theory that Valladares males marry to improve the family...

I did get to play an unexpected role in proceedings, arriving at the church forty minutes in advance of the ceremony to be greeted with a request to read the 'Prayer for the Faithful'. I'm beginning to suspect a conspiracy but, with the aid of a microphone, I managed to get through in satisfactory manner.

But now, it is time to turn for home, back to Mumbai before my flight to London via Vienna. It's been a good trip, with time to see my family, catch up on affairs and generally rest in anticipation of a hectic 2007. Next on the agenda, a Regional Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday evening. Hmm...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Because life should be in colour...

I've been quite busy over the past few days, in a 'not actually doing very much' kind of way. I've been commuting backwards and forwards between my hotel and the family home in Mahim, and haven't had much time for the rest of my life otherwise.

Enough apologising though, and on with the action. Last year, I made a bunch of resolutions that I never kept. So far, so boring. This year, I intend to be a little different and will publish my resolutions so that you can hold me to them if you choose.

In 2007, I intend to do two things:
  1. Be generally better - vague, I know, but this is a composite resolution
  2. Live life in colour - even vaguer, but I aim to have some fun this year, and you should see the collection of shirts that I have to spring on an unsuspecting world...
I have concluded that life is too short to be a grey bureaucrat, and intend to become a touch more dashing. It could be fun to watch, but I'm hoping that it will be even more fun to be.

So, a Happy New Year to you all (a bit belated, I know) and good luck to you all in your endeavours...