Matthew's News and Gossip: 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Sunday, January 04, 2004

In case you didn't get the email....

Well it's that time of year again! I’ve been writing these for a few years now and have had a generally favorable response. (and you'll surely let me know if not!) So would you pleeeeze welcurme the 2003 and fourth edition of the not-quite-world famous “Matthew's end of year letter”....

I'm sitting in a lovely cabin in Lake Tahoe in the middle of a New Year's Day snowstorm, so my environment as I write this is somewhat in contrast to last year when I was in the tiny, remote and tropical country of Laos. Before that I'd been on a long trip to India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Following moseying around Laos I made a not so whistle stop tour of more Thailand and Singapore, spent a great relaxed 10 days hanging out with my old friend Jo Ellison (and husband David) riding horses and spotting (and eating) Wallabies in Tasmania, not to mention watching TV in a language I could understand! After bothering more friends in Sydney and Melbourne, I made it to New Zealand where I spent March to May minus another two weeks back in Thailand & Taiwan at a Barry King's great wedding and briefly Sydney again (the Burley family was pretty tired of me by the time I left...) in the middle. New Zealand is great; apart from kayaking, learning to paraglide, 4 day mountain hikes, chasing down dolphins, chilling with big sea-lions, watching a bit of rugby on the Teeve (as they call it there), I didn't get up to much! I had a few days in Hawaii joined by the ever-wonderful Carter Hachman (who moved to England to get away from me immediately afterwards!), and then it was back to the quasi-reality of real life in San Francisco.

Since I’ve been back I’ve moved into a lovely big loft downtown with my friend Stephanie Wong. We have a little office downstairs where she runs her graphics business and I have been slowly growing my business an independent health care consultant, and writing a daily blog on health care called appropriately enough The Health Care Blog.

I’ve had a few notable fun times since I’ve been back including meeting up with old and new friends, doing much more paragliding (including a little bit in Utah and lots on the coast south of San Francisco), taking up indoor rock-climbing in a gym down the street, working on a few political campaigns, and hanging out with a lovely girl called Sarah. Meanwhile I’m going on a quick trip to New York and England later in January, so watch out if you live there.

But those of you who are “fans” of this end of year letter are not reading this to find out about me. I first started doing this because I was getting lots of end of year letters from my friends telling me about their families, and I thought it was a little much to send one telling you all about just me—anyway I have a whole website and a whole travel diary/blog that you can look out to find out about me--and I still haven’t got the wife or kids to report on. My idea behind this end of year letter is to tell you about charities and issues that I’m either supporting or working on. My concept is that if even one person reads this, and donates either money, time or energy to any of the causes I’ve told you about, then it’s worth me sending this. Thanks very much for reading this and please let me know what you think, or if there are other ways you think I or others can help! And of course please feel free to pass this email onto your contacts. And if you hit delete, well that sound is me tearing up quietly.

So without further ado, onto the matters for this year

1) Voting

Usually in these letters I try to stay as non-controversial as possible and relatively non-political—I have a whole blog called Are you Outraged where I (and a few others) discuss my political views. However, (and I apologize to all you non-Yanks) I would like to remind all of you who are citizens living in the US that the voting rate in the 2000 Presidential election was only 50% and in the 2002 national elections was below 40%. Since 2002 I’ve been a citizen and I’ve been voting (not always on the losing side, but usually!) and it’s really important. When you look at who doesn’t vote, it’s predominantly poorer and younger people—but huge numbers of people in all demographic categories just don’t make the effort. In the year coming up, no matter what beliefs you have about:
· the war and occupation of Iraq,
· the limits on civil liberties in the USA Patriot Act and its likely sequel
· the holding of “enemy combatants” without trial in Cuba and at home
· the borrowing of money from future taxpayers to fund tax cuts on dividends and capital gains for the wealthy
· the ongoing crusade by the Justice department against virtually everyone John Ashcroft disapproves of, and
· the usurpation of the political process by well-heeled and usually corporate special interests,
your vote is very important.

OK, so there are no prizes for guessing where I stand on those issues or who I will NOT be voting for in November, but whatever your opinion, the lack of interest demonstrated by citizens not voting has direct implications on the way we’re governed. The fewer people who vote the less the politicians have to listen to us and the more they do what their lobbyist paymasters want—and that is rarely in the “public interest”. So if you haven’t registered to vote, you can do it by clicking here. And you can of course forward either this email or the voter registration site to your friends and contacts. Please vote in the primaries over the next few weeks and months and in the Presidential and national elections in November. And if you can, get involved in the political process; just discuss things with your friends and colleagues, or you can volunteer as little as an hour or give a little money to your preferred candidates and issues. You’ll feel more connected to America for it. And if you’re not American and don’t live here, you’ll find that some of these issues are just as significant in your own back yard and your involvement won’t hurt there!

2) Charities

My trip around Asia between September and January (before I spent Feb-May in Aus and NZ) was just as hedonistic as you’d expect from me, but no-one could visit those countries and turn a blind eye to the struggle and poverty of daily life for some of the people there. Just like any other tourist I bought souvenirs and clothes from street-kids and budding entrepreneurs (and often there wasn’t much difference) all over Asia, but the experience confirmed several beliefs for me. It doesn’t take much to get a village, a family or a community on its feet, and there are reliable tools for doing just that. The keys are education, business help, and appropriate charity. Here’s a list of some organizations that are working in innovative ways usually in support of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. I’ve included a little editorial with each one. The first three I’ve told you about before and the last two are new for me. Please take a moment to read a little about them, go to their web sites and, if you like, donate. Or let me know about some of the ones you support.

Netaid World Schoolhouse

Netaid is a global clearing house for charities focusing on third world poverty, It’s run by the UN and Cisco, which picks up the tab for the administrative expenses and it pre-screens the charities you’ll be contributing to. In years past I’ve contributed to clean drinking water in central America and the care of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Go hunt around on the Netaid site and you’ll surely find something that resonates for you. I’m particularly passionate about the education of women in developing countries, as education is the only way that young women can get out of the cycle of illiteracy, uncontrolled pregnancy and poverty that traps millions. NetAid has a project called Global Schoolhouse which highlights charities that are helping to bring education to girls and young women in many countries. This year I’m contributing to a program that helps get kids in a small fishing village on the eastern coast of India get to school. You can join me by donating here or contribute to World Schoolhouse here.

The Saigon Children’s Charity

The SCC hits a trifecta as far as I’m concerned. It helps street children in Southern Vietnam. You can sponsor an individual child by providing them with books and food at school here It also runs educational facilities and it also helps women in poor rural communities by micro-lending. Micro-lending, which was more or less invented by the Grameeen Bank in Bangladesh, has been an incredibly successful way of helping (usually) women in set up micro-businesses, pull their families out of the occasional day-labor market, and even start some savings for the future. You can donate to the Saigon Children's Charity by clicking here. (Here’s some more info about micro-lending)

Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture.

While there are people in detention for no good reason in many, many countries, including in the west, the practice of torture continues worldwide. Because of its role as a travel hub, many of the victims of torture end up in the UK. Despite the fear of asylum seekers that sometimes rears its head politically there, there are many people who need help, particularly medical help. The London-based Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture provides that help. Almost everyone reading this letter will never need their help, but stop for a second and put yourselves in the shoes of someone who’s been imprisoned and tortured and finds themselves in a strange country needing medical and psychological care. Wouldn’t you want someone to be there who could help? You can donate to the Medical Foundations work here, and if you need more convincing try reading a few of their patients/clients' stories, like this one.

Indian Rickshaw Project

In India some of the very poorest people pedal their bicycle rickshaws around town giving taxi rides. But it’s not usually “their” rickshaw. Like many taxi drivers they are too poor to own their vehicles and so have to rent them off local “rickshaw landlords”. From my conversations with them, many rickshaw drivers are paying $5 or so each day to rent their rickshaw and many days weren’t even making that much—but still had to pay out to the landlord first. They’re essentially the equivalent of rural American share-croppers. The IDTP works in many Indian cities to help rickshaw drivers rent or buy their own new rickshaw, getting them up onto the bottom of the ladder up from real poverty. You can donate by joining IDTP here

Homelessness in the US

Anyone who lives in a major city in the US knows that housing is very expensive, and if you live in San Francisco you become used to thinking that paying $700,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment is cheap. But as with everything in the US there’s a trickle down effect and this one is real! Everyone is paying more and more of their income in housing costs and the resulting demand means that those at the very bottom can’t afford anything. Now I’m back in the US I’ve noticed that the problem with homelessness is increasing, including for those who are working at very low wage jobs. Whatever the policy solutions that may or may not solve these problems, it’s a fact that up to 5,000 people are living on the streets of San Francisco every night--some of them live on the street where I park my car, so it’s very visible to me. I give the odd hand-out direct to those people, but of course many homeless people have mental health or substance abuse problems and you might want to help them in a perhaps more constructive way. Hamilton Family Center is a charity that I’ve discovered which helps by providing a range of services to homeless families. I've donated here BUT Of course it’s likely that this is a problem in your community too, so you might want to contribute locally. You’re only a Google search away from an organization that supports people who could really use your help.

3) Issues

The past year has not been a happy one for American domestic supporters of drug reform or civil liberties. As you know if you’ve read these letters or talked to me before I’ve been a vigorous opponent of the criminal prohibition of illegal drugs that’s called the “War on Drugs” in the US. The more you know about prohibition, the more you realize that a) it is totally the wrong solution for the problems of drug abuse in our society and b) prohibition’s impacts are disastrous for everyone apart from criminals, government bureaucrats and profiteers. I’m convinced that if more people understood the impact of this largely hidden war, the tide would turn against it. As in years past I encourage you to find out more by subscribing to the Drug War Chronicle by signing up here. It’s from an excellent advocacy organization called DRCNET and it’s free! (Although they’d be delighted if you tossed them a few bucks as I do). Another organization worth a look is the Drug Policy Alliance, which has over time become the umbrella group for those opposing the current prohibition policy. None of these organizations is in the least blind to the risks of drug abuse, in fact it’s the current policy of prohibition that encourages more drug abuse as it puts the distribution of addictive drugs in the hands of criminals who have every reason to encourage more addiction amongst their “clients”—and have been every successful at doing so. But even if you’re uncomfortable with the concept of reducing the current cruel and unusual sanctions which are applied every day against Americans who use drugs--at by the way a cost of up to $80 billion a year to the taxpayer--here are a couple of features of the Drug War that no reasonable person could support.

a) The Higher Education Act Drug Provision. I’ve written about this in previous years but it’s still a total scandal and so I’m featuring it again. Since this misguided legislation was passed in 1998, any student who has ever had a conviction for any drug-related offense, even a misdemeanor possession charge such as being caught with one joint, can be denied Federal aid for college. No Federal Aid means no access to college education for most non-wealthy Americans, and so far 40,000 young people have been denied aid. They can even be denied aid for not competing a question about this on their application form—an act similar to George W. Bush’s refusal to answer questions about his drug use in his “youth”. By the way, this denial of aid only applies to drug offenses, a student can be a rapist, murderer, or have committed another violent crime, and still get Federal aid. All the relevant research shows that education is the way out of poverty, and out of its effects—including drug abuse. There is currently a bill seeking to overturn this provision of the Higher Education Act in the House of Representatives. To easily do something about this, including a way to fax your representative asking them to support the bill overturning this provision go to Raise Your Voice.

B) The Federal government is budgeted to spend over $120 million on ads telling teenagers not to use drugs. You may have noticed these Ads on buses and in subways. While these ads have been proven to be totally ineffective and may actually increase drug use among teens (who having been lied to so often now disbelieve anything the government tells them about drugs), it’s not those ads I’m complaining about here. If you live in Washington DC you may have noticed some ads on the subway/metro system suggesting that we change the way the law treats marijuana. The response from several crazy drug warriors in Congress is to attach an amendment to the latest omnibus finance bill that bans transit systems that get Federal funding (i.e. ALL of them) from accepting such ads. I don’t think that you could find a much clearer violation of the right of free speech, so to protest this please call your congressman and ask them to vote against the amendment or just click here to send a fax.

Finally on the issues front, my basic philosophy is that people should be allowed to do whatever they like so long as they are not harming other people. Tolerance of freedom of expression and belief is fundamental to that philosophy. The ACLU has been working hard to defend the rights of people to express themselves, and to safeguard the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes. In particular it is working to overturn the most restrictive parts of the Patriot Act, protect the rights of those imprisoned without trial by fiat of the President, and help everyone live their lives without coercive interference from the government. It’s no accident that membership of the ACLU has more than doubled since the Administration’s abuse of the Federal government’s domestic powers, using the perpetual excuse of 9-11. Don’t you think that you should join too? If you do, you can find out more and sign up here

Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed this, if you have any suggestions for next year or comments about this message. My best wishes for a more peaceful, more prosperous and happy 2004. I hope to hear from you and see you this year.

Best wishes


posted by matthew  # 4:41 PM 


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