Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's just Bill Gates!

Word around campus is that Bill Gates is in town.

No, let me rephrase that.

Bill Gates is on campus.  He gave a talk this afternoon.  Everyone was psyched.  Apparently he's a big celebrity or something.

... You know you're from Western Washington when someone says they saw Bill Gates walking around and you think "What of it?"  I mean, I guess I've never seen him in person, but I've seen his house, from a distance.

I did go to the talk, though.  It was a pretty spur of the moment decision made last week or whenever the deadline to get free tickets was.  I mean, he doesn't have celebrity status in my mind, but he's a cool guy.  And I'm really glad I went.

For one thing, he seems like someone who's got a good head on his shoulders.  He's not all in-your-face "I'm rich and don't understand what money is worth" like some people I know.  He's not "I worked my way up to have all this money so I don't see why the poor people can't do that too" like a lot of people who disagree with taxes and social support.

Quite the opposite: he knows that he had a lot in his favor allowing him to end up where he is now.  And he said, very specifically, that those of us in an advantaged position in life need to make the effort to directly give a hand up to the poorest poor, to get them to an acceptable standard of living.  And he's dedicated to making that happen.

For two, he clearly has a sense of humor.  When talking about government spending, for example, he speaks of the schizophrenia of American opinions (okay, he really meant dissociative identity disorder, but I'm gonna let that slide).  If you ask most Americans if the Federal Government is spending too much money, most will say yes.  But if you start listing specific programs - Pell Grants, for instance, or health care for the poor - they'll respond "oh no, you can't cut that!".  So, he says, when you start asking the difficult questions, you start to find that what Americans really have a problem with is arithmetic.

Later, someone asked him how he felt about the defense budget, and he started off "well, there are some things I know more about and some things I know less about.  This really isn't my area of expertise."   He admitted plainly that he didn't understand the concept of military assistance, or what good it does.  He said he didn't get why we thought it'd make people like us.  "Oh great!  They'll really like us!  We'll go in, stay a few years, leave, and in the mean time, we'll have shot some people!"

What I loved best, though, was an amusing matter-of-factness that made him seem aware that he was different, but not trying to brag about it.  When he was talking about budget issues, for instance, he said that we are very close to completely eradicating polio.  Unfortunately, the feds are thinking of cutting the funding towards eradicating polio from the budget, which he says could lead to European countries deciding it's okay if they do the same.  He doesn't think that the budget for polio in the federal budget is very signifigant: "We (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) give twice as much money towards eradicating polio than the United States Government."  When asked what he would choose as a major if he was a freshman at Harvey Mudd or Pomona College, he started a sentence with "when I dropped out..." (but didn't encourage that for anyone).  Rather, he encourages math and science careers, but also says if his kids choose to do different, he's okay with that, because "somebody has to do the not math and science stuff..."

A good talk.  A pleasant reminder that there are people in the world with the right ideas. ... Did somebody say something about gates?

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