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Microsoft Fans can be touchy

© February 2009 Anthony Lawrence

Did you happen to catch Bill Gates talk at TED ? I'm no fan of Mr. Bill, so I approached that with a lot of built in prejudice, but I really tried to give him a fair hearing. Unfortunately I was in a bad mood just after reading the "About Bill Gates" blurb. That informed us that Bill is:

A passionate techie and a shrewd businessman, Bill Gates changed the world once, while leading Microsoft to dizzying success. He plans to do it again with his very own style of philanthropy.

I had to hit the pause button while I digested that. We all know that Microsoft achieved its domination by dirty deals: squashing competition, lying to supposed partners, bullying distributors.. this is NOT a "nice" company! I simply can't imagine how the same tactics could be applied to philanthropic efforts. Perhaps I'm not creative enough - if anyone can find a way to make unethical behavior pay off in philanthropy, Bill probably has the best shot.

Most of the comments lauded Bill as a hero. I'm not the only one who doesn't quite see it that way. Admittedly, this post about the foundation's unethical investments has an axe to grind, but the reality of the Gates Foundation is hardly what most people think it is. In fact, some say it sounds more like a scam than a legitimate philanthropy.

In fairness, the foundation reacted to that "ethical investing" story by saying that they would re-examine their investments.

I have to ask this though: why is it that Bill never seems to do the right things until the bright light of scrutiny turns upon him? Could it be that his moral compass just naturally spins toward money rather than what is obviously right? I think so.. at the end of the day Bill decided that "divesting from firms that harm society would make little difference." Good call, Bill: money IS what is important!

(See the "Criticisms" section of the Wikipedia entry on the foundation for more problems.)

I also thought that the business of releasing live mosquitos was a bit over the top. I left a comment about that and also complained that the obvious hero worship annoyed me a bit. Specifically, I said:

Did Mr. Gates have blood tests taken from each mosquito to be sure they weren't carrying ANY disease? Did he poll the audience ahead of time to be sure none would have any allergic reactions to mosquito bites?

I think what galls me the most is the automatic hero worship. Gates wasn't a "shrewd" businessman, he was a ruthless and brutal businessman. So you make billions of dollars by methods many consider immoral and possibly illegal but you give a little bit back and everyone applauds you?

Frankly, that shows a lot of what is wrong in this country. A robber baron who gives back is still a robber baron. Bill squeaked past the Justice Department but in my eyes he's still no hero - far from it.

I was a little surprised that one person reacted rather violently:

Varun M

Mr. Anthony Lawrence ,please shut your idiotic ignorant illogical mouth and stop behaving like a 3 year old religious evangelist.

Thank you very much.


I checked his profile - he's just twenty years old so of course he could only know about Microsoft's shady history if he has read about it - he didn't live through it as I did. Maybe he works for the great benefactor, I don't know. Or maybe he does know about Microsoft's business shenanigans and thinks that the ends justify the means. I'm not sure which explanation would bother me more.

Of course not all comments praised Bill or his talk. There were a few of us who don't think Bill is quite the saintly soul to deserve such adulation. Still, most people applaud loudly whenever any rich person speaks - it's a bit of hero worship that I find puzzling and disheartening, but it's all too easy to observe.

I am happy that Bill is doing something - as paltry and self-serving as it is. That's certainly better than doing nothing. Still, I refuse to give him an overall pass because of these little efforts. It isn't enough and frankly never can be. I also can't give him a good grade on that talk - and I don't think that's entirely due to my prejudice. I didn't find it inspiring or even educational - it wasn't up to the standards I expect from TED. That's just me, though; you should feel free to disagree in the comments.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Sat Feb 7 02:39:54 2009: 5328   GatesKeepers

Gates Foundation fans can be even touchier. Join the civil society voices at Gates Keepers (link)

Sat Feb 7 02:58:56 2009: 5329   TonyLawrence

Thanks for the link..

Sat Feb 7 14:42:59 2009: 5330   BrettLegree

Wow... some of these folks need to lighten up, and they also need to be careful who they deify.

Like you, I remember the things MS did in years past, because I was there.

Sat Feb 7 14:45:48 2009: 5331   TonyLawrence

Well, he got the "idiotic ignorant illogical" part right. I just don't like being called "religious" :-)

Sat Feb 7 17:48:56 2009: 5332   VarunM

You wrote about me in your blog,oh man,Now if i was Gates i would have sued you for it for doing it without my permission./Kidding. :)
I am 23 not "just" 20,I don't hero worship Gates or any other human alive or dead.Nor do i work for some great benefactor.So stop assuming.
You were being a troll over there,Blood test on mosquito .What the... .I assume that was a joke but coupled with that all other stuff which had nothing to do what he said or in what capacity he did,That seemed hardly a joke. That is perfect troll behavior.

Sat Feb 7 18:07:22 2009: 5333   TonyLawrence

It wasn't a joke at all. Mosquitoes can carry many more diseases than just malaria. Some people are allergic to mosquito saliva also - it was a stupid and thoughtless thing to do. It's also quite possible that one of those mosqitoes could dine on someone who already had one of the diseases they can carry - and could later pass that on to someone else.

I'm sorry I misrepresented your age (your TED profile needs updating) but for the rest, you need to learn the difference between assumption and speculation.

You probably also need to read a lot more about the man you are so anxious to defend.

Sat Feb 7 18:19:05 2009: 5334   VarunM

I was not defending gates.It may have seemed like it to you since you were more interesting in attacking him,doing it at the wrong platform, i thought,so i commented to a troll.
Oh and you knew they had other diseases and even Gates with his sadistic mind would bring such a thing to infect the audience."assumption and speculation" Indeed my friend Indeed.
I guess now i know why they say "don't feed the trolls" Now i know.

Sat Feb 7 18:34:09 2009: 5335   TonyLawrence

Calm down - I didn't say they had diseases - I said they COULD have. Even if they did not, some people are quite allergic to mosquito bites so it was a stupid thing to do, period.

You can say "troll" all you want, but it WAS an appropriate reaction and is perfectly reasonable to comment on. The world doesn't run on your opinions alone..

Sun Feb 8 02:45:44 2009: 5341   NickBarron


Don't try and have a rational conversation with an idiot, they will only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

Your points seem to be lost on him.

Sun Feb 8 14:47:59 2009: 5346   VarunM

Ahh i see .you crack me up man. enough of this BS.

Mon Feb 9 15:48:14 2009: 5354   BigDumbDinosaur

We all know that Microsoft achieved its domination by dirty deals: squashing competition, lying to supposed partners, bullying distributors.

Shame on you, Tony. Your forgot to mention the outright theft of technology that Gates and his lackeys subsequently passed off as their own. Mr. Microsoft can make all the noise he wants about his philanthropic activities. However, a crook by any other name is still a crook. I don't know anyone who feels Gates is anything but a blackguard and crook. I don't like the guy, and I don't like what he represents. He'd fit perfectly into the political scene.


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The history of the world teaches us that succession is dangerous and that the strong take what they want. It's not likely to be any different with Linux. (Tony Lawrence)

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