Matthew's News and Gossip: 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005

Matthew's News and Gossip

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

Friday, December 31, 2004


Matthew's end of year letter 2004

(In case you didn't see this annual email, I post it here too)

Hi. To paraphrase John Lennon, "And so this is New Years, and what have you done?" etc

Welcome to what is (I think) my 5th end of year letter. This is the one where I tell you a teeny bit about what I've been up to and then try to guilt you/inspire you/bore you into action on a number of charitable and vaguely political topics. And of course, feel free to hit delete...(I'll just cry quietly to myself if you do!)


But before I begin, in case you haven't had a chance to help the victims of the Tsunami in Asia, here are a number of places that you can give online. For those of you in the elite group celebrating New Years at my house (and paying for the privilege), any funds left over will be sent here--but please consider giving at these sites if you haven't already.

If any of you are in the pharmaceutical or health care supplies business, this page (from one of my pharma marketing listserves) has specific requests for supplies needed in Sri Lanka . By the way for a much maligned industry the drug business is giving generously--Pfizer will donate $10m and approximately $25 million worth of products, Merck $3 million in cash, J&J and Abbott are each donating $2 million. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is donating $1 million in cash and $4 million in antibiotics and antifungal drugs, and other pharmas are donating too.

Finally, if you want to get really scared, look at this (large) video to figure out what it must have been like if you'd been there when the Tsunami hit this restaurant. It starts off as though it's nothing but then any of you who have been thrown out wile whitewater rafting will realize how helpless these people are.


OK, back to your regular service....this end of year letter tells you a little about my year and a lot about things that I care about in terms of charities and issues.

For me this was I guess what in football they call a rebuilding year. After my big trip in 2002-3, and the madness of start-up life in 2000-1 I really got back to consulting basics after setting up my own business in late 2003. I've been continuing to write The Health Care Blog which has caused a little bit of fuss in the med-blogosphere and now has several hundred daily readers. The blog is of course supposed to be a publicity building vehicle for my consulting practice but as with much consulting life it's been somewhat feast or famine. I was doing well enough that in the middle of the year I decided to buy a ridiculously expensive loft (well this is San Francisco, after all). I've now worked out that there's no chance of me paying off the mortgage before I die but in a vain attempt to do so I've resolved to work even harder next year....we'll see!

This didn't mean that I had no fun. In May I had a great trip to Turkey with Sarah and also in July a fun driving trip to Telluride via southern Utah (although as you'd expect with me she figured me out and we split up later in the year). I also got over to the UK & France to see my friend and favorite hotelier Diana France and Jenny Raffle at their respective great birthday parties (of a certain number, but a gentleman doesn't tell). I did get some para-gliding in, although not as much as I'd have liked and my knee (which I'd bust up badly in 2002) had fix-up surgery in April that didn't really help much. Sadly I'm still not able to get back to skiing. On the plus side I managed to see Chelsea live three times in three separate trips to London, not seeing them concede a goal and saw them end 2004 top of the Premier league. It might finally be their year, as it helps these days if you're funded by a Russian gazillionaire!

But as there are still no kids, wives or pets to regale you about, and you'd be bored by my listing of partying exploits all over San Francisco (which anyway you've already read about that and seen the pictures of on my personal blog), I tend to use this letter to tell you about causes and issues that I care about. I'm always interested in hearing your reactions both good and bad to it--but even if one or two people give a few bucks to a deserving cause they didn't know about before, or take some action on an issue, then for me it's worth writing this. I don't expect you to agree with everything I say, but there's a smorgasbord of potential places to take action here. Of course I'm also interested in hearing about causes I don't know about. And believe it or not, some people actually do tell me through the year that they've done something because of this letter.....


This year I'm intermingling my issues and charities and I might as well bite the biggest bullet first. It's no secret to anyone where I stand on the politics of the day, and I was as depressed as anyone on the night of November 2nd--particularly as I'd spent 3 days in a not very nice part of Iowa trying to get out the vote. Retail politics ain't fun. But if I had to name one thing about the Bush Admisntration that really appalls me it's their attitude to torture, judical process and human rights. Every position they take on the subject seems to be both morally wrong and practically counter-productive. We're now learning that the policies of torture at Abu Grahib and Guantanamo Bay seem to have been directly instructed all the way from the very top, with the new Attorney General Gonzalez actually authoring the torture memos and both Rumsfeld and Bush supporting the policies. I ran into far too many people this year who told me that Abu Grahib didn't matter and didn't hurt us. I asked all of them, how many Iraqis joined the insurgency after seeing those photos and ended up killing American soldiers? And furthermore, as an idea America is supposed to be better than that.

But what to do about torture? I can think of two practical steps. For years I've been supporting the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture. This is a London-based charity that helps with practical counseling for victims of torture. It's a small charity that gets by on only 6m GBP a year or roughly $11m. But try to imagine yourself after going through years of torture, then arriving in a strange and potentially hostile country? As you might expect many more people need their services than they can get to. Just read this story about a boy from Rwanda who survived the genocide and was tortured for years in jail. Then wonder what if that was your friend or child? To give to the Foundation click here (and they can take GBPs or $, not that the $$ are worth much!)

Regarding detention without trial--to me this is simple. If someone has broken the law, they should be charged and tried on the evidence. Detention without trial and torture are not OK under any circumstances, and they tend to go together. So the second practical step is to support the organizations that are directly opposing the Bush Administration on its policies of detaining without trial and torturing both Americans and non-citizens. The granddaddy of all civil liberties groups is the ACLU. If you're not a member I urge you to join and donate what you can. If you want somewhere to look for an opinion on the subject, the government in Britain has also been detaining suspects without trial--something for which it has an unhappy history dating back to colonial times. Recently the Law Lords (the quasi-equivalent in the UK of the US Supreme Court) voted 8-1 that the detention of 9 foreigners who have been held in solitary confinement without trial since 2001 was illegal. Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in his ruling, said: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law." Lord Hoffman wrote "It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention." He went on to say that the government's actions posed a greater threat to the nation than terrorism. "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these". I couldn't agree more, and my friend Diana France told me that after the verdict it was the first time she'd ever felt proud to be British. Please don't let anyone tell you that arbitrary detention without trial and torture don't matter.


The second issue that I've featured over the years is practical steps to help the very poorest people in the world. There are many many candidates for this, so let me give you a few that caught my eye. One is the condition of poor children in Vietnam, a place I visited and fell in love with 2 years ago. For a very small amount of money, I sponsor a couple of kids' schooling in southern Vietnam via the Saigon's Children's Charity. The Charity also encourages micro-lending (read about that here) and health education. You can send a check to sponsor a child from the US or from the UK. Another seemingly great charity (but one I don't know so well) is in Hanoi (northern Vietnam). I stumbled on this via a reference in Blogger, which hosts my blog to a blog called Our Man In Hanoi, which is the story of a Geordie in Vietnam (for you Yanks the Geordies are a tribe of drunken gits from the north-east of England who speak completely incomprehensible gibberish and support a rubbish football team called the Toon [Newcastle United]). This lad, via the UK equivalent of the Peace Corps, is working for a charity called KOTO which trains street kids as chefs and in the restaurant business. His blog is great, there's more about Koto here and you can give a donation here as they try to build a new restaurant. This one seems to be specially set up for Aussies, tax-wise.


Another site that I've featured before is NetAid. NetAid makes it all very easy. The charities are prescreened, the expenses are picked up by Cisco, and they focus on the topic of education, particularly education for women and girls in very poor communities. Plus they tend to ask for amounts in the low thousands of dollars for each project. So every little bit really counts. This year I gave to this project in India but if you search around in the World Schoolhouse you are bound to find a project that appeals to you.


For the very poorest in the US the determining factor is housing. Unfortunately the end result of people like me buying highly expensive rabbit hutches (nice as my new place is) is that those at the bottom end have real trouble getting a roof over their heads; and no address usually means no place to apply for a job from, and often means families being split up. A local homeless shelter that helps keep families together in San Francisco is the Hamilton Family Center . You can help them out by clicking here but if you're not from San Francisco you're just a quick Google search away from finding a similarly worthy project closer to you.


Well, now on to an old chestnut. 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.

As in years past I encourage you to find out more by subscribing to the Drug War Chronicle by signing up here and also to their new blog. Two more organizations fighting the good fight here are the Drug Policy Alliance , and the Marijuana Policy Project. 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 very 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 recent developments in the Drug War that no reasonable person could support.

1) The persecution of pain doctors. Hardly any physician will dare treat patients with chronic pain any more. The reason for that is that the DEA (and several state attorneys general) have persecuted doctors who do by trying them as drug dealers, with consequent huge sentences. The most egregious case ended last week with the conviction of Dr William Hurwitz. Basically Hurwitz was one of the few doctors practicing to what seem to be generally agreed guidelines among those still interested in pain treatment. The DEA caught a few of his patients who were dealing drugs in a sting, and then forced them to set Hurwitz up by getting him to prescribe opiates that they in turn sold without his knowledge, and then put the patients on the stand to lie about it--all for reduced sentences. All the time Hurwitz was operating under current medical standards, and never knew about or profited from any of the redirection of his scripts, and he never sold drugs. But apparently the DEA considered that "dealing". The physician the DEA put on the stand who said that Hurwitz was over prescribing was denounced by six past presidents of the American Pain Society for basically lying about what constitutes good current medical practice. Furthermore the DEA took guidelines it had developed over the last year with pain experts down from its website because Hurwitz' defense was going to introduce them to show that he was practicing according to those standards. The result is that Hurwitz was railroaded and now faces LIFE in prison--for helping his patients. To find out a little more about this whole issue visit the Pain Nelief Network. Hurwitz meanwhile needs funds for his appeal, as he sits in a cell for helping his patients--caught up in the insanity of Ashcroft's justice department. More details on donating to his defense are at the PRN site. But of course the key point is, if you have severe pain that requires opiates, which doctor will prescribe them for you in the current environment?

2) The attack on medical marijuana users by the DOJ. Even though several countries including Canada have recognized the therapeutic value of medical marijuana, in the US the Federal government continues to crack down on its use, even where it's legal by state law. Right now the Supreme Court is about to pronounce judgment on an arcane suit in which the DOJ is claiming the right to regulate medical marijuana which is grown and consumed locally as "interstate commerce". I wont go into the details of the suit but with the current make up of the Supremes it's extremely unlikely that they'll rule in the interests of common sense and humanity. The case centers on Angel Raich, California woman who has an inoperable brain tumor and who reluctantly turned to medical marijuana after nothing else worked. It got her out of her wheelchair and has helped her lead a normal life. She believes that she will die without it. Her pot is grown by two friends locally, and state law allows her to take it. But the DOJ maintains that it has the right to break down her door and arrest her. Who does this help?

And just to follow up from my very first end of year letter, Renee Bojee is still in Canada still waiting to find out if she'll be extradited to the US to face a mandatory 10 year sentence. Her crime? Taking photos and making sketches of marijuana plants being grown by Todd McCormick after it was legalized in California, a medical marijuana patient who was writing a book about growing pot plants. Todd served 5 years and his sponsor Peter McWilliams, who was HIV positive, wasn't allowed to use marijuana while awaiting trial and died from choking on his vomit. One reason for the use of Marijuana is of course that it's a very powerful anti-nausea agent. Here's Renee's latest letter to the Justice department in Canada


OK. That's probably enough for one year. Let's hope that 2005 will be better for the world, and that humanity may begin to triumph over dogma. You can help.

Finally, if you're are real glutton for punishment, here's the link to last year's missive......

My best wishes for a great 2005 for you


posted by matthew  # 8:56 AM 

Friday, December 24, 2004


Chamonix pictures

So I whipped over to Europe for the Christmas. I spent a few restful days in Chamonix, sadly not skiing because my knee still hurts. But I wondered around and got a little writing done. I was there because my friend Jenny Lobell (or Raffle as she's known now) was having another 40th birthday party (all organized by Tim her hubby). JB and Rebecca were there too as where a bunch of others. They all went off ski touring while I hung aronud in the snow

Hotel de Ville Chamonix (or world's biggest Advent calendar)

On saturday night we had an amazing dinner at the Albert Premier restaurant -- THANKS TIM!!

Venison with avirelle (baby you're so bitter)

Looking off to Mt Blanc

On the last day the weather cleared a little. I stayed with JB's friends Mark and Kelly and finally saw Mt Blanc. Later I headed back to Luton airport and hung out in London for week.

Here are the pics from my jaunt in Chamonix

posted by matthew  # 3:03 AM 

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Christmas Party 2004

Friday night was the eventual almost annual drag out Holiday/ Christmas/ Channukah/ Kwanza/ Midwinter celebration, at the new pad in the Oriental Warehouse. There were some old faces who reappear once a year (Hi Mike--Hi Serena). Some very old friends appearing after a longer absence (Yo Freddie and gang). Some cute couples escaping their kids (Yo Eric & SuperJules) and some others who cant get rid of them (Steve and Erin). Congratulations to Nate who finished half of the beer at the party despite only being 9 months old

A little later in the evening, there was usual gaggle of San Francisco women chasing Joe Shanley around. Word is still filtering in at this late stage about what his fan club did later to pay their dues, but we were treated to a nice invasion from the Scandanavian branch of his fan club late in the night, apparently looking for a more "mature" gathering than where he took them earlier.

The most festive couple

The best dressed festive couple were Heidi and me. But lots of everyone else looked cute, while some mad French fireman was doing pull-ups on the beams at 4 am--allegedly that's what they have to do from Parisian balconies

Rhapsody in Black

Frills appeared to be in this year. Although one of my dancing companions complained of too much Bryan Adams. LOSER! TO me it'll always be The Summer of '69.

The unwanted boys (all left behind by women looking for something better...)

It was unclear if the random boys left behind at the end of the night were just unwanted, or if all those San Francisco chicks really don't like men, or had just overdone it on the Absinthe.

Girls, Absinthe: Where's Toulouse Latrec?

I didnt have my camera out for too much of the party, but for a few more photos you can click here.

We're thinking of doing it again at New Years....but meanwhile I'm off to Blighty.

posted by matthew  # 7:20 PM 


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