Matthew's News and Gossip: 12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008

Matthew's News and Gossip

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

Monday, December 31, 2007


Matthew's end of year letter 2007

Hi. The year is just about over, it's already New Year in Europe so it must be time for Matthew's annual end of year letter. As most of you getting this know, I started doing these letters a few years back when I was going lots of letters from people telling me how their families had been over the past year, and I noticed that I didn't have a family to tell them about. At least one part of that has changed. Amanda and I got married in front of a great collection of family and friends on the beach in the town of Stinson Beach on August 18. It was a magical day and followed a week of parties, meetings, nights out, fun and much frivolity and love. We were delighted to see so many people from all over the world, many of whom had the chance to not only come and see us get married but also to visit California. And thanks to the wise fiscal policies of the current Administration, it was particularly cheap for them to do so! We had a particularly wonderful time getting married, and we are looking forward to our extensive honeymoon this spring in Jordan, Egypt and East Africa. It was on a personal level a completely full year. I don't think I've ever been as busy as I was during the month of August, and to give you an idea Amanda and I wrote up what happened to us in that month. There are also several wedding photos up here, but we're still parsing through the 2 1/2 thousand that we have!

Both Amanda and I also had big professional changes in the last year. Amanda a new job with PRN, a company that puts TV advertising in retail stores-- just in case you thought you could get away from it by going shopping! She really likes her new job. With my new partner Indu Subaiya, I started a conference on the somewhat obscure topic of Health 2.0. It was much better attended than we had hoped, and out of nothing it appears that we are now running a small business! You can follow our exploits on the new Health 2.0 Blog, and of course I'm still writing The Health Care Blog.

But that's not the point of these letters, which are designed to tell you about my particular interests in charities, issues and causes. Please feel free to hit the delete key, email me back with any comments (polite or not) while you read. My hope is that a few of the people who read either decide to join with me, or perhaps decide to do something similar themselves.


There's not too much new in my thinking, so those of you who have read these before can skim down! In general I regard the end of the year at a time to think about the poorest people in the world and in our own society, and to figure out some ways to push for fairness, human rights and common sense -- none of which unfortunately seem to be currently much of the concern of my adopted nation.

First, as always I start in the same place, which is to try to make a small difference in the lives of the poorest people in the world. I discovered some good news which is that the NetAid World Schoolhouse program which I and some of you have supported over the last several years has completed all of its projects, and NetAid itself has merged with Mercy Corps -- a much larger charity with a similar focus on using education and social services to promote the well-being of the poorest of the poor, the displaced, and those whose homes and countries have been torn apart by conflict. Mercy Corps has been well ranked by Charity Navigator which is a leading evaluator, and has received awards for its contributions to social entrepreneurship. You can give to Mercy in many different ways by either making a general donation, or buying one of their Mercy kits. I've followed the example of my friends John, Tracy, Ellen & Georgina Phillipson who've been buying bogs, chickens and goats in my name for some time. I bought a goat and some school supplies for about the cost of a good night out-- and hopefully they will be doing good long after my hangover is forgotten.

The other similar contribution I make is for one of my favorite causes, Saigon Children's Charity. As many of you know I had a great time in Vietnam in 2002, but despite the great changes and advances made in that country in the last 30 years, there are still many desperately poor people there who cannot afford to send their children to school because it would mean forgoing the meager income those kids would earn. Saigon Children's both provides rice and in some cases bicycles to school children, and manages a micro-finance program for women in poor families. It has also spent a great deal of attention on the families and children it works with to make sure that the money is being targeted in the best possible way. You can sponsor a child for less than the cost of the toy you bought this Christmas which your kid has already forgotten about!


In the US and the developed world the ongoing problems of poverty are still real for many people. This year in San Francisco has been particularly tough because food and fuel prices have increased, and donations are down. I made a donation to the San Francisco food bank, and of course you are only a quick Google search away from finding your local food bank. Meanwhile the problem of homelessness continues. Given that I live in a city with some of the most expensive real estate prices in the world, I know what a struggle it is to find housing here. I support the Hamilton Family Center which is a small shelter offering emergency and transitional care for families and children who need help. A few dollars can be sent the way of those who do not have my (and probably your) advantages by clicking this link. Finally, I've just been introduced by my friend Katerina Rindi to a new organization, the Homeless Children's Network which provides social services for the welfare of homeless children. Hopefully I will tell you more about this organization next year, but for now you might consider making a donation at the site And of course if you don't live in San Francisco there's bound to be similar organizations in your neck of the woods.


Now onto the world political scene. This was a disappointing year. Despite the Democrats winning the Congress with what looked a clear mandate to do something about the mess in Iraq and the terrible succession of missteps the Bush Administration has taken in so many ways, not much has happened to change anything. (Take a look at the NY Times Editorial today for the catalogue). The leading Democrats seem determined to take a cautious do-nothing stand on foreign policy, and the Republicans have (with the exception of John McCain) been disgusting in their zeal to claim to be tougher and more willing to torture than the next. And despite it all, including the willful destruction of evidence of torture approved by the White House, it appears that nothing will be done to stop it.

I feel very strongly about torture. My own grandfather was horribly mistreated as a prisoner of war. The one thing that is supposed to set American (and Western) ideals apart is our renunciation of these counter-productive and dehumanizing techniques. Our leaders have discarded those ideals, and one thing we can all do is in some small way try to reclaim them.

I support three organizations that are on the right side of this issue. Amnesty International continues to advocate for prisoners of conscience and oppose torture around the world. The ACLU maintains steadfast opposition to governments treating people without following the law, and has been the main opponent to the Bush Administration's illegal treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Finally one of my favorite charities is the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. It does exactly what its name suggests, helping those who’ve made it to the UK recover from their ordeals. And I mean ordeals. You can click on any of the names to find out more or donate.


Drug prohibition is the most maddening of all issues for me. It’s clear to anyone who looks at the situation dispassionately and logically both that drug abuse itself is worsened by treating it as a crime, and that the effects of the criminalization of drug production and supply are responsible for so many bad effects all over the world. Yet not even the slightest step to change the status quo seems possible. Even with a Democratic majority, Congress did not vote to curtail funding of the DEA’s raids of medical marijuana dispensaries, even though those medical marijuana laws have been approved by the citizens of all states that have voted on it. Of course voters don’t get campaign contributions from the corporations and law enforcement unions who benefit from prohibition. So the raids continue and the support for prohibition remains a mile wide even though it's probably only an inch deep.

A few sites worth checking out in the cause. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a group of (mostly ex-)cops who are trying to persuade their colleagues about the wrongs of prohibition. DRCNet is an information clearing house with the best free email newsletter, the Drug War Chronicle. The Marijuana Policy Project is the leading organization fighting for the rights of medical marijuana patients. The Drug Policy Alliance is the umbrella organization working to promote harm reduction. All of them are worth checking out, and perhaps donating a buck or two. After all we don’t have a choice about donating to fund the propaganda from the government’s drug czar.


This year I’ve given again to the Government Accountability Project. It’s protecting people within government agencies and corporations who are exposing really bad things going on in those organizations. I'm hopeful that this type of support will not be needed quite so much in the near future. But in the areas that I know something about anybody who has stood in the way of naked grabs of power and money by the politically connected has suffered badly. Hopefully the Government Accountability Project can help. To find out more click here


Finally I’ve never made much mention of my pro-environmental stance in this letter. But the concept that we may be taking a big step back there too is quite appalling. My first ever protest and donation was to a group called Save the Whales in the 1970s and with the abolition of commercial whaling it seemed to have done its job. But the Japanese government is trying hard by using naked bribery to overturn the international ban on whaling. But even while the ban is still in place, a Japanese whaling fleet is right now in the Antarctic planning to kill 1,000 whales. Greenpeace may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the organization behind the people who put themselves in between the whalers and the whales, and so I’m happy to support them.


That’s probably enough for another year. Thanks for reading this far and thanks for your comments and suggestions. And even if one or two of you looks at something in a new way or makes a donation, it’s been worth my time writing this. Hopefully at least some of these problems will get better in the next twelve months.

And either way I hope that you and yours have a great 2008!

posted by matthew  # 7:01 PM 


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