Matthew's News and Gossip: Matthew's <s>end of 2008</s> start of 2009 message

Matthew's News and Gossip

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

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Matthew's end of 2008 start of 2009 message

This year I'm late, late, late...I went out cross country skiing on New Years Eve and am getting to my end of year letter late. It's already 2009, so I hope you had a great New Year's celebration. But I still hope that you'll think about some of the charities and issues that I raise each year. Which is why I write this email/blog posting.
The big excitement on the personal front in 2008 was that somehow I remained married and in March & April Amanda and I had a fabulous honeymoon in Jordan, Egypt & East Africa.

As I write this Amanda is putting up a whole travelogue about the trip, and you'll soon get to see lots of pictures of baby cheetahs, lions, tigers, bears and dolphins (Ok, no tigers, bears or dolphins) at

We also had lots of other fun, but perhaps we were spending a little too much time working-something that will be balanced out in 2009 I hope.

Amanda still works at PRN and had a great year there where she's now the star in the HR department. I'm still running the Health 2.0 Conference with my partner Indu Subaiya. Over 1,000 people came to our conference this Fall and despite the likelihood of us all living in tent cities during the coming depression, we're going ahead with more conferences in 2009. We think we're doing something important in highlighting how the health care experience can be more approachable and useful for consumers. I'm also still working on The Health Care Blog, which has now become a group blog and has rather more readers than I could have believed possible when I started it in 2003. As 2009 will be an interesting year for health care in the US this will all probably keep me busy. If you want to keep up with my (and many other great writers') thinking about what will be happening in health care in the US, please subscribe to THCB's newsletter.

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


Much of what you're going to read is familiar stuff to those of you who've been receving these emails (or reading this post) for a while. But there is one major new issue this year which I've been involved in. And not only will I mention this first, but it won't even cost you any money!

At the Health 2.0 Conference my friend Alexandra Drane introduced a new movement designed to help individuals and families deal with a decidedly un-fun topic. Alex's sister-in-law Za died of brain cancer at the far too young age of 32. But the manner of her death and the lack of any kind of planning for that terrible eventuality had been upsetting Alex for a while when she first told me about it. (Read Za's story here). At the conference she gave a great talk explaining what she thinks everyone should do about it, and the answer is, have the conversation. Alex (and her team at her company) created a wonderful simple one-slide chart that has five questions helping you start that conversation. It's all at a web site called Engage with Grace, (which also allows you to store your answers for free and learn ways to talk about the issues) and the movement's already been featured in USA Today, the Boston Globe and dozens of health care blogs and in many other places. But I'm asking you to feature it in your life with your loved ones. Go to, download the OneSlide (which has the questions on it), start the conversation, record your and your loved ones answers, and please pass it on. I'm spending a minute of every speech I give sharing the slide, and many people thank me for it.


No question that life has been tough for many of us, and most of the world, this year. Of course life has been even tougher for the very poorest people in the world. We saw plenty of them in Africa this year, but despite bread riots we saw in Egypt and the tragic problems in Kenya over the past year or so, there was plenty of hope from the warm people we met while were there. We were particularly encouraged on our last night out in Nairobi when as the token Muzungu dancing in a nightclub, many Kenyans came up to us to welcome us and thank us for being there. Many of them promised us that Kenya was a peaceful country.

So for several years I've been giving to NetAid which merged in 2007 with Mercy Corps. Their idea is to use education, social services, and self-reliance to help the very poorest in the world. Mercy has lots of projects going on in the very poorest countries in the world, it's well ranked by Charity Navigator, and it's 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.

Over the years my friends John, Tracy, Ellen & Georgina Phillipson who've been buying bogs, chickens and goats in my name. This year I bought two goats. One was for Amanda in Jordan (well we didn't keep it but I gave the Bedouin boy trying to sell it a little money for a photo). The other one was from Heifer International, which has been one of the major charities giving direct aid to the very poor in order to get them out of the cycle of poverty. The cost of dinner for 2 in any decent restaurant in the west buys a "goat" (probably several goats) which provides milk and future baby goats to the very poorest of the poor.

This year I've been asking the multitude of people who ask for an hour of my professional time to buy a bike. The bikes are for poor kids in Vietnam who would otherwise have to walk two hours each way to school. The bikes are just one way you can give to one of my favorite causes, Saigon Children's Charity (although their current appeal for bikes seems to have been answered). Saigon Children's Charity provides rice to the families of school children, so that their families don't pull them out of school. It also manages a micro-finance program for women in poor families. They spend lots of attention on the families and children to make sure that the money is being targeted in the best possible way. Amanda and I sponsor several kids, and it costs less than the Champagne you just drank at New Years.

Finally on the international front, while in Uganda we heard alot about the problems of malaria amongst poor kids. While there's a lots of effort about creating a malaria vaccine, in Jinga, where we had a great day rating on the Nile, we ran into an American organization called Soft Power Health which is working to provide mosquito nets, education and care to poor kids and their families. You can donate here.


The recession bit in 2008 and that means that in the US and the developed world there's more hunger. And it's going to get worse before it gets better. I made a donation to the San Francisco food bank, but of course you can easily find the equivalent organization where you live.

Allied to the problems of hunger is the problem of homelessness. I support the Hamilton Family Center which is a small shelter offering emergency and transitional care for families and children who need help.The center supports lots of families for relatively little money and you can help by clicking this link.

My friend Caterina Rindi is on the board of the Homeless Children's Network which provides social services for the welfare of homeless children. When you consider how important a stable background is for a kid's development, the work the organization does in counseling, therapy, and support for those kids who live in at the best a very unstable environment is very important. You can make 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.


The next section is about world events and politics. Lots and lots of bad government this century (and a little in the last) in the US came home to roost this year. Personally I'm not sure that, despite Obama's election, too much is rescuable on the economic front given the huge damage that's been done, but hopefully some change can happen.

There is real hope that the US government, come Jan 21, can do the right things in terms of repudiation of deliberate acts of its predecessor. This includes closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, renouncing torture, and re-establishing the rule of law for criminals who use terror. Obama also needs to have the US show leadership on climate change, and spurring the development of new sources of clean energy. Finally, Sen. Jim Webb is trying to reform the criminal justice and prison system-the major legislation Obama passed in his brief time in the Illinois Senate concerned giving rights to prisoners being interrogated, so there might be some hope there. And then there's the little issue of how to recover the spilt milk that was the invasion of Iraq.

Given how little happened in 2008 on these fronts, and how wrong the direction of the US under Bush has been, groups that are on the correct side of these issues still need support.

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 from other civilizations is that we don't use torture. Among the many things Cheney, Bush, Ashcroft et al have to be ashamed for, the renunciation of this ethos is perhaps the worst.

I've long supported three organizations on the torture issue. Amnesty International directly intervenes for prisoners of conscience and opposes torture. The ACLU has been the main legal opponent to the US government on torture, domestic spying and has always worked on many other issues attempting to protect freedom. I'm not on their side on every issue, but I remain a card-carrying member. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture is a British charity that does exactly what its name suggests-providing direct services to those who have been tortured and helping them recover from their terrible ordeals. You can click on any of the names to find out more or donate.


On the environmental side it finally looks as though we're going to get some sense on the issues of clean energy, environmental protection and global warming. That said, both in the US and elsewhere in the world, the environment is in deep, deep trouble. I like the approach of supporting both "establishment" and "radical" environment organizations so I give to both the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has been back in the news particularly as the Japanese government has unbelievably been trying to overturn the ban on whaling. Protecting whales was one of the first protests I ever got involved in when I was a teenager, so while Greenpeace may put some people off, they're still the ones putting themselves in danger between the whalers and the whales.


I won't repeat my usual long rant about drug prohibition here, other than to point out that Mexico is now in a low grade civil war, not of its own making but caused by criminals fighting over the rewards from the demand for illegal drugs in the US. A system of taxed, and regulated drug distribution is the only solution to removing the criminality associated with drug taking, much of which is relatively harmless anyway, and for all of which the harms caused by prohibition always exceed the harms caused by drug taking.

Here are the organizations that I support. All of them are worth looking into, reading up their information, and throwing in a buck or two.

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.

Hopefully we'll have a significant change in drug policy under Obama. But he's said virtually nothing about it so far, and given what else is on the new Administration's plate, a major change here is unlikely. It will be impossible without groups like the ones above getting their voice into the fray.


Finally, my real day job is being a dog walker. Charley and I are fixtures wondering around South Beach where Charley' girlfriends are loose with the bacon. Charley is one of many dogs having a happy life despite a very unhappy start to life. Amanda and I support Rocket Dog Rescue which helps dogs in pounds find new homes. $50 pays for an adoption, which usually means saving a dog from being destroyed.


Thanks for reading. Thanks for your comments. Have a great 2009.


Matthew Holt
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