Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kaua'i: rather more like the brochure promised...

Having escaped the kitsch and commotion that is Waikiki, we find ourselves on the island of Kaua'i and, I must say, this is why you would fly 8,000 miles across ten time zones. It is lush and green - mostly - life is slower, less hectic, and you can fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves washing against the shore. So, last night, we did.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceDespite its size, Kaua'i has its isolated, hard to reach spots, which is why it makes an excellent movie set. Jurassic Park was mostly filmed here, and a string of other movies - South Pacific, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fantasy Island and Avatar, amongst others - used Kaua'i as a backdrop. And so, it seemed sensible to get an overview...

And what better way to do that than a helicopter ride over the island? I did keep that small detail from Ros, as a surprise is often appreciated, but we arrived at the Lihue Airport heliport for our Sunshine Helicopters flight with pilot Greg with no real idea of what lay ahead.

It turns out that Kaua'i is a bit wet, which is like saying that the ocean is big. Mount Wai'ale'ale gets 9,763 mm of rain each year, on average, which is 384 inches, or 32 feet, and is the seventh wettest place on Earth. Luckily, the rain falls mainly away from the plain...

As a result, our flight was a combination of spectacular scenery and rainbows, with huge, jagged sea cliffs formed from ancient volcanic eruptions, massive waves crashing at their feet, waterfalls two thousand feet high, and impenetrable rain forest.

It was worth every cent, and we'll soon have a video of the entire flight to show our friends and family to prove that, yes, we were there.

But I sense that the sea is calling out to me, so, for the time being, aloha!...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Waikiki: cheeseburger in paradise, and that's not so good...

I am somewhere that, clearly, lots of people want to be. President Obama is eating dinner down the street, the streets are full of tourists in loud shirts, there is a lot of happiness out there. I hate it.

Waikiki, on the island of Oahu, is a magnet for tourists, yet is entirely artificial, with every hint of native Hawaiian beaten out of it. It is as though the gods of the Hawaiian people have decided upon a revenge for the sufferings of their people, the loss of sovereignty and freedom, by inflicting such a place upon Americans.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThat's a pity, really, as the rest of the island is rather nice. We've explored a little, discovering small coastal communities that are far less scarred by mass tourism, some incredible scenery and we're rather taken by downtown Honolulu.

Waikiki, on the other hand, is packed with tall, characterless hotel blocks, restaurants that seem to believe that quantity will overcome a lack of quality, and more tacky faux-Hawaiiana than you can shake a stick at.

Tomorrow, we leave, in the hope of something better. Wish us luck...

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

@ALDEParty Congress: election result - Technology 0, Bureaucrats 1

Having been appointed as Congress Returning Officer in a reprise of my double act with Daniel Obst from the FDP in Dublin last time, our instructions were quite simple. "We're using keypads to vote, so all you need to do is look reassuring, confirm that the vote tallies look alright and, once we have an official record of the result, ensure that the individual voting data is destroyed to ensure privacy."

Doesn't everyone have a ballot box at home?
That sounded easy enough, and the system had been tested so, when the election session started, Daniel and I stood at the side of the hall, looking relaxed and confident. As this was the first time that the technology had been used in an ALDE election, the delegates were invited to have a test vote, using historic political figures. It didn't go well, with some keypads freezing, so it was back to the technicians for some swift resetting before another attempt - which didn't run entirely smoothly either.

Time passed, and despite the work of the technicians, it became apparent that delegates were getting restless. And so, it was decided that we would revert to Plan B, using the ballot papers that, with some prescience, had been prepared just in case.

We had less than two and a half hours to issue ballots to more than four hundred voting delegates, get them through a hastily constructed polling station and count two sets of ballot papers but, with the invaluable and unflappable assistance of the ALDE Secretariat, and our counting assistant, Doreen Huddart, who will be a familiar name to those readers from the North East, and Francis Burstin, from Open VLD, Belgium, who happened to be in the room when it was decided that we needed another counting assistant, we were ready to announce a result well inside our deadline.

Lucky that Daniel and I are so unflappable, eh?

For those of you that are interested, the results can be found on Liberal Democrat Voice...