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Melinda Gates and investing in women's health
September 6, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

“When I started to realize that that needed to get done in family planning, I finally said, OK, I’m the person that’s going to do that,”
posted by dfm500 (76 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish that all absurdly wealthy people were this awesome about their work and their intentions.

Really enjoying the article so far -- thank you for pointing it out!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:49 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would have zero problem with Bill and Melinda becoming a progressive version of the Koch Brothers. They don't even have to identify with any particular party--actually, it would be better if they didn't--just keep on doing stuff like this while partnering with people in power to grease the wheels a little.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Blessed be.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:52 PM on September 6, 2012


Lots of thats in that quote.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:52 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


“It is always a disappointment when a public figure of great wealth, standing or power explains that although they are loyal Catholics they think Church teaching is wrong—predictably on moral matters.”
It is always a diappointment when organizations supposedly devoted to social welfare can't sit down and ask, "What can we do to help you?" and then provide that help without moral judgement.

Heck, I won't even expect the Catholic church to do so, but I will expect them to recognize that individual Catholics will, without implying that they're bad Catholics for doing so.
posted by muddgirl at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't think Gates, either one, think politics work all that well actually.

Gates said that the political process hasn't shown itself to be very good at handling issues that "are complex enough that even the average elite voter has a hard time getting their mind around things"--issues like tax code, controlling medical costs, improving education or relations with China.

The Gates seem much more interested in directly dealing with the issues, like birth control, than going through the endless wrangling of the political system, which they see as largely ineffectual.

Given their successes with rare diseases and targeted projects, it's hard to argue with their approach.
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Heck, I won't even expect the Catholic church to do so, but I will expect them to recognize that individual Catholics will, without implying that they're bad Catholics for doing so.

Unfortunately, that's not how religion works. You can't control the bulk of your adherent's opinions and actions if you're casual about dissent. What's the point of telling people how to think if there's no rebuke when someone challenges?

posted by Mayor Curley at 1:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's really interesting because Microsoft used to take a deliberately neutral stand on politics. In fact, last I checked, they were so adamantly against getting into the abortion debate that they refused to provide charity licensing to healthcare organizations, since that might be construed by pro-lifers as support of the pro-choice movement. (Although in theory nonprofit Women's Health Organizations can be considered Qualifying Per Se organizations under Microsoft eligibility requirements - and can therefore qualify on a case by case basis - in practice most of the ones I know about that dealt with those "sensitive" topics were rejected for eligibility.) So it's really surprising to me that Bill Gates always managed to maintain such a strict divide between the policies of his public company and the policies of the charitable organization which he created.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:03 PM on September 6, 2012


During her TEDxChange talk, [Gates] spoke of the Ursuline nuns who taught at her Dallas Catholic high school, nuns who “made service and social justice a high priority.”
[snip] Within an hour of returning to her hotel, she received a message from some of those nuns. [snip] “They said, ‘We’re all for you. We know this is a difficult issue to speak on, but we absolutely believe that you’re living under Catholic values.’ And it was just so heartening.”


Nuns are awesome.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 1:06 PM on September 6, 2012 [33 favorites]


" in response to an item about contraceptive research on the Gates Foundation website, The Catholic Herald’s Phillips wrote, “A horrid image comes to mind, of white-coated boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their conjugal dignity, their culture and their traditions.”

What century is this Church in???
posted by Isadorady at 1:10 PM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


A horrid image comes to mind, of white-collared boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their conjugal dignity, their culture and their traditions.
ftfy...
posted by evilDoug at 1:17 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


“A horrid image comes to mind, of white-coated boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their conjugal dignity, their culture and their traditions.”

This is true, although I think the coat is technically called a "chasuble" and it's an odd choice to describe the Vatican as a "laboratory." But other than that, he's right on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [38 favorites]


In fact, last I checked, they were so adamantly against getting into the abortion debate that they refused to provide charity licensing to healthcare organizations, since that might be construed by pro-lifers as support of the pro-choice movement.
I think it is more likely that Microsoft recognizes healthcare as an IT cash cow. They are actively building healthcare-focused products.


I could complain all day long about many aspects of Microsoft, but the Gates foundation is great.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's interesting to compare the Gates' approach to their wealth to that of Gina Rinehart. It's also worth noting that, whatever you think of Microsoft, Bill actually earned his wealth by creating something that made life easier for a lot of people (when's the last time you edited a config.sys file?) while Rinehart had hers handed to her. (As did the Koch brothers.) I dare say it's not wealth that's the problem. It's the sense of entitlement that seems to come with being born rich that's the problem.
posted by dortmunder at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yoshihara says any attempt to link contraception and maternal health is “extremely controversial. You don’t tell a woman dying of an ectopic pregnancy that she should have used a female condom. To say that we’re going to help women not die in childbirth by telling them that they shouldn’t get pregnant in the first place, I think, borders on scandalous.”

Contraception and maternal health are absolutely linked and saying otherwise is sheer evil. Sheer fucking evil. Providing contraception isn't telling these women not to get pregnant,. They are defying their husbands and god knows what else in a desperate attempt to avoid getting pregnant and possibly dying because they're smart enough to realize how strenuous and dangerous pregnancy and birth can be.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [40 favorites]


I mean, can we live in a world where both wanted pregnancies are delivered safely, AND unwanted pregnancies are prevented or terminated? Is that really too much to ask?
posted by muddgirl at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [49 favorites]


Also, yes, those nuns are awesome. There is a long tradition of nuns participating in social justice activism and general rebellion against the church hierarchy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is the first time I've ever had doubts about being a Mac user.
(Well that and the time I realized the MacOS was slowly being locked down ios-style.)
posted by PlusDistance at 1:29 PM on September 6, 2012


This is the first time I've ever had doubts about being a Mac user.

Well, given that Office for Mac has been a big cash cow for Microsoft for a long time, there's no reason to doubt anything.

Especially since this isn't Microsoft giving billions to a good cause, it's Melinda Gates.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:36 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, nuns are profoundly amazing to me. I guess when you get a group of women who have their physical needs somewhat taken care of, some social sway, little disruption from "masculine" values, and relatively free reign because they are desexualized, sanctioned by the church, and hence "harmless", and who also have dedicated their lives to living up to a pretty high standard of goodness, awesome shit happens.

Standard caveats about gender assumptions, religious generalizations and all-around stereotyping apply.

Anyways, this is super cool. Thanks for posting.
posted by windykites at 1:36 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Not only is it cool, but she's going to win. Mark my words.
posted by Apropos of Something at 1:45 PM on September 6, 2012


“A horrid image comes to mind, of white-coated boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their conjugal dignity, their culture and their traditions.”

Yeah, I know that I feel like I'm being deprived of my dignity every time I have sex with my wife without impregnating her with the child that we aren't ready for. It's like I will never know true dignity until I make a woman pregnant.
posted by asnider at 1:56 PM on September 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


Metafilter: A horrid image of white-coated boffins hard at work in diabolical laboratories, devising new ways of depriving men and women of their dignity, their culture and their traditions.
posted by baf at 1:57 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


For those who didn't notice, this article is from May, and the summit it refers to has already happened.

The Gates Foundation is great, and my girlfriend who works for Marie Stopes is really stoked about this (I mean, I am too, but unlike her, I don't have any family planning projects in my resume...yet, at least).
posted by solotoro at 2:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, nuns are profoundly amazing to me. I guess when you get a group of women who have their physical needs somewhat taken care of, some social sway, little disruption from "masculine" values, and relatively free reign because they are desexualized, sanctioned by the church, and hence "harmless", and who also have dedicated their lives to living up to a pretty high standard of goodness, awesome shit happens.

I somehow get the feeling that some folks here are not familiar with, say, the Magdalene Laundries.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Bill actually earned his wealth by creating something that made life easier for a lot of people

Bill earned his wealth by playing the hardest, greediest, most ruthless game in town, effectively imposing a tax on the entire rest of the computer world by strongarming PC vendors into bundling Windows whether they wanted to or not. There were many, many people doing comparable work in terms of making life easier for people; Bill's contribution was not to accelerate those efforts, but to starve the ecosystem, monopolize the product space, and thereby channel all the products his way.

That said, he's putting the money he's extracted from the computer industry and its customers to about the best use one can imagine. It is difficult to believe, had Gates not ripped everyone else off, that the individual people holding that wealth today would be applying it to comparable collective good.

This doesn't justify the rapacious, unethical, occasionally illegal practices that made Gates rich, but his legacy as a philanthropist may well end up overshadowing his career as a robber baron.

(when's the last time you edited a config.sys file?)

Never. That was a Microsoft problem in the first place.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:26 PM on September 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


channel all the profits his way, I meant to say
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:27 PM on September 6, 2012


I somehow get the feeling that some folks here are not familiar with, say, the Magdalene Laundries.

Leave it to the Catholic Church to take something that was ostensibly about improving the lives of disadvantaged women and turn it into something horrible.
posted by asnider at 2:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mars Saxman: "This doesn't justify the rapacious, unethical, occasionally illegal practices that made Gates rich, but his legacy as a philanthropist may well end up overshadowing his career as a robber baron."

See: Andrew Carnegie, et al - the original robber barons.
posted by notsnot at 2:45 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I will always support someone who ruthlessly climbs to the top, then showers down unprecedented benevolence.
posted by karmiolz at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


the Magdalene Laundries

you're right, I had no idea. When I think of nuns, I think of fiesty older women in cool news reports doing social good and stuff. I'm appalled that something like that continued into the 1990's; it's so incredibly barbaric. Archaic. Unsurprising. But still upsetting.

Of course, it's telling that the women in those institutes were regarded as "wayward" or "sexually impure"; that seems to be a frequent excuse for treating women badly. Hopefully, an increased focus on women's health and reproductive rights will help to change that.

Hopefully.
posted by windykites at 2:58 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


earned his wealth by creating something that made life easier for a lot of people

see, once the kool-aid is everywhere, you don't even have to bother with getting people to drink it.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 3:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lovely. I appreciate the historical perspective, however brief, the article gives.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:01 PM on September 6, 2012


This is a timely article because I've been thinking lately that between the Koch Brothers, the Murdochs, that nasty Australian woman, and the WalMart heirs that the old Robber Barons were looking pretty good. Where are the Gettys and Carnegies? I asked myself. I forgot about the Gates and Oprah Winfry. The Billionaires with consciouses are out there, but as always good works are duller and less newsworthy than inhumanity.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:07 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I work in Technical Support. Everytime I get a case that deals with Windows, I have the same thought: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Windows can be a pain in the ass. The business practices of Microsoft can be brutal. No argument here.

But when it comes to Bill Gates as a human being, I have no ill-will towards him or the Gates foundation. I honestly don't care why he started the foundation. To burnish his image? To serve the world? To separate him from Microsoft? None of it matters, because he will save one or more human lives. That's probably more than I will do, even if all of my blood and platelette donations get used in humans, and I cash in my organ donation card.

If he saves one person, he has my complete and total respect.
posted by dfm500 at 3:12 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Can we please not make this about whether or not you like Windows?
posted by sageleaf at 3:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm generally positive on the Gates Foundation. I think their interest in promoting public health initiatives is pretty good but I think that in general their approaches to education reform are generally simplistic and way to interested in promoting a privatized approach to public education which often increases problems at a local level rather than improving student outcomes. I think part of it is the sheer complexity of the education system and how collecting quantitative data on what is a good approach and what is a bad approach isn't very "sexy" so it's more attractive to promote these big brash ideas even if the research supporting them isn't always solid.

So mixed record in general but I do like the idea of a foundation with the resources and connections of the Gates Foundation being able to promote access to women's health when there is so much political pressure coming to bear that is squeezing the resources of other women's health organizations.
posted by vuron at 3:20 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Awesome news! Research into new methods is very much needed.
posted by Gwynarra at 3:20 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another of the “crazy ideas we’ve been dreaming about,” he says, “is whether we could create an implantable device that would be woman-controlled, and that you could put it in, and it could last her reproductive lifetime.” She could turn it on and off at will, and it would never need to be removed. “That’s something that I think every woman everywhere in the world could potentially benefit from,” he says.

I would love to see this happen. Over and over data shows that a lot of unintended pregnancies are the result of inconsistent contraceptive use. These are people that want to prevent pregnancy, but for whatever reason don't use it every time. This is a problem. Long-acting reversible contraceptives help solve this problem. I'm a very happy Paragard user (10-12 baby-free years for $250 and no extra hormones? YES PLEASE), but I think 10-12 years is an awful long time for a lot of women, especially when your access to health care providers is incredibly limited.

Having a device that you could turn on and off would not only be great for people like me who want to avoid babies totally for several years, but also for child spacing. I know there's conflicting data, but trend these days seems to favor 2-3 years between children as the best choice for the health of both mother and child.
posted by SugarAndSass at 3:48 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I will always support someone who ruthlessly climbs to the top, then showers down unprecedented benevolence.

Really? I'd rather they leave out the ruthless part, myself. There is a problem when a democratic society allows such huge concentrations of wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few. You can't trust that all of them will be benevolent despots and the path they must take to attain it all in the first place is almost invariably damaging to society.

It's disappointing that so many on Metafilter have a blind spot for robber barons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates just because you happen to like the shiny baubles that they sell you.
posted by indubitable at 3:59 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's disappointing that so many on Metafilter have a blind spot for robber barons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates just because you happen to like the shiny baubles that they sell you.

Which is not the sentiment in this thread.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know, it feels weird to want the Gates to be the hero that Jobs never was. Because Jobs was a guy who was even more ruthless about his money, who made Apple out to be one of the least philanthropic companies in America (though most definitely one of its richest) and we all know that and we all know about the factory conditions in China thing which brings us to the point of Bill and Melinda Gates. The two people who put their vast personal fortune at stake in order to effect concrete changes in this world and now are basically being sainted as the new, true liberal humanists that Steve Jobs painted his company as being but never actively was.

My girlfriend, who is getting a masters in public health, loves the Gates Foundation for all the work they're doing and how they're doing it. Instead of toeing the line and dumping a couple billion in some no-name 'charity' where most of the money is diverted to advertising and salaries, they took themselves to task, literally going into these impoverished places, skipping all the political bullshit, and just giving the people what they want.

How many celebrities have we gone through who have followed Audrey Hepburn model of helping the needy in Africa thinking themselves this was the one way they would be sainted? How many of them have we simply dismissed as being suckers for attention and ultimately terrible at what they're doing, which is enabling a group of people they have inadvertently trodden on to stand up for themselves without babying the shit out of them?

It's like we want these people who we see as having power and money and influence to make things happen in this world to do all the things we cannot do and goodness gracious does it bring on a sigh of relief when they actually do the right thing.

But like, what is the right thing? Where all their money goes? If money is the right thing because of all of this capitalistic hoohah then why are we still buying Neil Gaiman novels when we know that HarperCollins is a subsidiary of News Corp? Or what's with all the Amazon Prime links? Don't we know that money is coming out of mom and pop stores? Out of somebody's standard of living? Like, how many stories were there about poorly ventilated Amazon warehouses, which is presumably where they keep all of their Prime inventory? Or how about that list of products that the Koch brothers produce, like Angel Soft and Brawny, which are indubitably products that we have all bought and may continue to buy in the foreseeable future?

Ideology backs so much of the things we do nowadays that it's getting close to impossible to spend money wisely without wasting buckets of time just figuring out what the right thing to do is. So we don't bother with it. Like, at all. Who cares! Even though though we have things like Wikipedia and can easily figure out, in minutes, who's owned by whom and where some of the excess profits are going, we don't bother. Because who cares! Jesus! You goddamn ideological brat, what really matters is whether or not you vote in the election which is so different because it's a easier drop-in-the-bucket approach to take!

So this is turning into a rant again about putting your money where your mouth is and maybe denying ourselves some pleasures in order to enable some good things to happen in this world and moving far beyond the scope of this post. But I do want to say, it's not that hard to stop buying stuff off of Amazon and it's not that hard to Google up a list of Koch brothers products and it's not that hard to do that with just about everything you consume and own over time. All there is is just wanting to do so and knowing that we can at least try to live like our role models and put our money in the places we actually want them to be.
posted by dubusadus at 4:28 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Interesting, DFM, thanks for posting.
posted by Huck500 at 4:41 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's disappointing that so many on Metafilter have a blind spot for robber barons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates just because you happen to like the shiny baubles that they sell you.

People are saying they like Gates because of what he has done with his money, not because of what he sold people. Jobs was completely different - he did NOT turn to philanthropy, and ONLY had the "ruthless business" side of things.

(Personally I feel Gates/MS made vastly more useful contributions to tech than Jobs/Apple, but that point is obviously subjective/debatable and is only one facet of a wide-ranging debate about who did what when and what products matter more in the long run, etc, etc)
posted by wildcrdj at 4:45 PM on September 6, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy, perhaps Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal? Although I don't think he is a billionaire, as he never paid himself the salaries more typical of CEO's of companies of that size, and was overly generous to workers according to some Wall Street analysts. From that nytimes link:
Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent.

"He has been too benevolent," she said. "He's right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden."
Also, during the recession Costco did not lay off any of its regular employees or cut back on health benefits.
posted by needled at 4:47 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I will always support someone who ruthlessly climbs to the top, then showers down unprecedented benevolence.

Perhaps my sarcasm detector is miscalibrated, but generally the alternative isn't "nobody ruthlessly climbs to the top and everyone lives in a 1.0 GINI-coefficient land of plenty" but more often it's "someone ruthlessly climbs to the top and then tells everyone else 'Screw you, I got mine.'" (cf Gina Rinehart, or even Gates's old sometime-nemesis, Steve Jobs)
posted by chimaera at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I will always support someone who ruthlessly climbs to the top, then showers down unprecedented benevolence.

I assume you're a rabid Paul Ryan fan.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:38 PM on September 6, 2012


This is seriously the first time I have ever seen someone say 'I disagree with abortion on religious grounds, so I'm highly in support of family planning'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:46 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I knew Costco was a good place to work, and I certainly have been seeing the same people at our Costco for the six or seven years I've been shopping there, which is unusual for a retail outlet. But I gotta say, I feel even better about my membership now.
posted by KathrynT at 5:52 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is seriously the first time I have ever seen someone say 'I disagree with abortion on religious grounds, so I'm highly in support of family planning'.

And yet, I would actually consider this a no-brainer... let's reduce the potential number of abortion-seekers by doing our utmost to reduce the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies.

The few times I ever pitched this at a pro-lifer, by asking where their support for contraception and for supporting single moms... their 'morality' folded up like beach-chairs.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, what do the Gates need to do to win a Nobel Prize? Their contribution to the world's public health can not be overstated.
posted by mckenney at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012


So, what do the Gates need to do to win a Nobel Prize? Their contribution to the world's public health can not be overstated

There isn't an applicable category for them. Medical philanthropy, while laudable, doesn't really fall into the Nobel categories of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, or Economics. All the science based ones are for discoveries, not funding or advocacy, and Peace simply isn't a good fit:
“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- - -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:34 PM on September 6, 2012


A little off-topic maybe, but if a great film can be made out of the creation of Facebook, surely a great one can be made out of the parallel lives of Jobs and Gates, from their different but formative childhoods, through Jobs' visit to PARC* (one of the least considered, but most world-changing events in modern history) and the two of them working together on the "Insanely Great" Apple II launch, Jobs' dismissal, Gates' defection, Microsoft's revolutionary dominance and the tactics that got it there, Jobs' rehiring and revitalization of the brand, their bitter rivalry, the inevitable marketplace acquiescence to adopting each other's world-winning software** and Jobs' premature demise in the midst of still trying to take over his corner of the world and Gates' bowing out and turning to philanthropy while his brand was going out of style.

That'd be a story to see told well.

* As it was told to me, Jobs was invited to see the developments at PARC because, as part of Xerox's anti-trust agreement, they were legally forbidden from using them themselves at that time, and also that Jobs passed over an early version of the internet and something else I can't remember that was also super-fundamental to modern computing, because GUI was the only thing he could focus on that day. Also, watching Gates on stage, silent and smiling during the Apple II launch conference, is unsettling. It's like you can see schemes forming behind his eyes.

** Here I'm thinking of Office and iTunes, ironically two programs which serve functions a freshman comp-sci major could conceivably write a decent program to fill, but people get stuck in their ways, I guess.

posted by Navelgazer at 8:24 PM on September 6, 2012


Learning about the altruistic uses the Gates' make of their ridiculous wealth is the antidote for learning anything about Steve Jobs.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:32 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know about "done well" but Pirates of Silicon Valley and Triumph of the Nerds cover most, maybe all, of that.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:34 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


“From the very beginning, we said that as a foundation we will not support abortion, because we don’t believe in funding it,” she says.
I am shocked to hear this is the stance of the Gates Foundation.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:13 PM on September 6, 2012


zombieflanders, I just checked out some clips, and no, those are not told well. (I will say, though, that aside from the business class where I first heard the PARC story, and thus got the version of it that stuck in my head, none have included any anti-trust settlements or any other legal reasons keeping Xerox from using the PARC technology.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:19 PM on September 6, 2012


Office? You must know more useful freshman comp-sci majors than I ever did, Navelgazer
posted by jacalata at 9:29 PM on September 6, 2012


Fair enough, jacalata, my point was that Office and iTunes are both fairly basic in their functions, and that the strength in both of them which allowed them to become universal is in their interfaces becoming simply the "way" that people use such programs.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:36 PM on September 6, 2012


I think this is a great story. In response to the bit about MS being quite un-political: it hasn't seemed so in the last couple of years, when it's publicly supported gay marriage in Washington State, there's all the lobbying it does for immigration reform, and locally, it came out in favour of I think the 520 toll?

But the internal reaction to the official support for gay marriage was mixed and there was a significant amount of pretty vicious discussion that at least in a couple instances ended up at HR (unsurprisingly, several opponents attempted to make arguments that relied on a complete ignorance of all the immigration lobbying we already do, which is the most public and longstanding of our political positions). I can certainly see why the company would want to avoid taking stances on controversial issues that they couldn't make a business case for, although I could also get behind working for a company who said fine then, get out.

NavelGazer, Office? You must know more useful freshmen than I ever did
posted by jacalata at 9:36 PM on September 6, 2012


argh fail on my part
posted by jacalata at 9:36 PM on September 6, 2012


Or what's with all the Amazon Prime links? Don't we know that money is coming out of mom and pop stores?

More likely, they're coming out of Target and Wal-Mart, companies whose CEOs haven't yet given $2.5 million to same sex marriage campaigns, who are wasting electricity and resources with giant stores and parking lots, and buying big areas of downtown displacing ... mom and pop stores.

Look, I love small stores. I shop at the (chain, but locally owned) pharmacy and our local hardware stores whenever they can. But none of those stores have used Randy Newman records, used digital scanners or used iPod Shuffles (the last three things I bought on Amazon). For that stuff, I would have had to get on a bus and ride 30 minutes and go to Target, a store which has become known for being a little two-faced on this issue.

Not that I never buy things at Target, or Wal-Mart, or stores with shitty records on things. But the case against Amazon isn't exactly clear cut. Just as the case against Apple isn't really clear cut if you consider durability part of good environmental practices, or the case against Microsoft isn't clear cut unless making aggressive contracts with OEMs is somehow the moral equivalent of quashing unions or cutting down rainforests. Inasmuch as they don't own slaves, and abide by labor laws (at least, like, 90% of the time), Bezos and Gates and Jobs all made their wealth far more honorably than Carnegie and JP Morgan (or, if you're looking for less honorable modern examples, the Koches and the Waltons).

I'm not saying tech companies are perfect. We did, however, just take a post about a female philanthropist taking on the world's largest religion on a human rights issue and turn it into a post about whether a man who made software was too hard-nosed 20 years ago.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


surely a great one can be made out of the parallel lives of Jobs and Gates

It may not be great, but it is a (TV) movie.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:04 PM on September 6, 2012


Yeah Microsoft and Bill Gates has done some really shitty things in the pursuit of all those riches such as engaging in blatantly monopolistic behaviors, relentlessly crushing partners, cheerfully establishing a company where a certain class of employees are advantaged while others are at least somewhat exploited. I generally don't care for Microsoft's business practices but I'll be the first to admit that they've improved significantly over the years (although that might be due in large part to a better appreciation of how to manage public relations). It's fascinating how they transformed from a lean and agile company that was innovative and forward looking in many ways into a massive behemoth that seemed impossible to steer and prone to abusing their massive marketshare in an attempt to maximize profits. They've matured into what is effectively a pretty boring company. Same with Bill Gates. I don't think that he's ever going to apologize for his past conduct but it seems that he's determined that at a certain point personal wealth reaches a point of diminishing returns in terms of maximizing personal happiness and that a large portion of that wealth would be better used actually making this world better.

The reasons for doing so are complex and varied but I do like it that there are still titans of industry that feel like binding up vast sums of money into a privileged elite is a massive trap.
posted by vuron at 10:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Learning that Melinda Gates is a devout Catholic explains so much.
posted by fshgrl at 11:29 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Prevention is always the best path. I really applaud Melinda Gates for her stance on this and for her decision to listen and take action on what people actually want.
posted by h00py at 4:05 AM on September 7, 2012


I was a bit shocked to hear she was a devout catholic at all. Is Bill Gates also religious?

The comment about abortion really does illustrate the problem with this brave new philanthropic world we seem to be heading towards... That the people and the rest of the world are held to the whims and beliefs of a handful of the extremely rich.

ie "Birth Control Good". "Abortion Bad".
posted by mary8nne at 4:38 AM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


The comment about abortion really does illustrate the problem with this brave new philanthropic world we seem to be heading towards... That the people and the rest of the world are held to the whims and beliefs of a handful of the extremely rich.

ie "Birth Control Good". "Abortion Bad".


Where exactly is the problem here? It's as if you only read that one sentence and not the rest of the article. She's not advocating for ending access to abortions, but rather creating a world where they're less necessary. The Foundation gives money to organizations like Planned Parenthood--which, by the way, was run by Bill's dad at one point--that cover all aspects of women's health. Why any pro-choice advocate would disagree with this approach is beyond me.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:53 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry I think the program itself is good. That Gates Foundation is doing something active on Birth Control. Is a step in the right direction.

BUT I am generally fearful of this future that seems to be hurtling towards us where more and more 'state services' have been pushed out to charity groups (usually religious) and philanthropic organisations that have a variety of vested interests in what they want to support.

And I think it was fully illustrated by the above dichotomy; "Birth Control Good". "Abortion Bad". That is, one single person, Melinda Gates, gets to decide where 4 billion (partly publicly funded) is spent. The world at large is held hostage to the potentially whimsical diversions of the rich.


This is happening all over the world - look at the UK where there have been various controversies about the actions and implicit interests of certain religious institutions who were awarded contracts for dealing with unemployed, job seekers.
posted by mary8nne at 5:07 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


One person having massive control isn't exactly a novel phenomenon. We're basically living the new feudalism, where corporations and billionnaires are the ones calling the shots. This is a totally logical outgrowth of capitalism. At least she's spending her money on something to help people.
posted by windykites at 5:27 AM on September 7, 2012


Windykites One person having massive control isn't exactly a novel phenomenon. We're basically living the new feudalism, where corporations and billionnaires are the ones calling the shots. This is a totally logical outgrowth of capitalism. At least she's spending her money on something to help people.

You sound like you think this new feudalism is a good thing? And for me the main issue is that near feudal / monarchist relationship is, for many people, hidden and obscured by these ideas of philanthropy and charity.

At least a monarch stands in the open and calls you his subjects.. The Gates would claim that we are "free" and its only our own failings that keep us from being kings ourselves.
posted by mary8nne at 6:14 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Inasmuch as they don't own slaves, and abide by labor laws (at least, like, 90% of the time), Bezos and Gates and Jobs all made their wealth far more honorably than Carnegie and JP Morgan (or, if you're looking for less honorable modern examples, the Koches and the Waltons)

Which doesn't really excuse them from their abuses. Carnegie was a saint in his day, giving back a minute portion of his wealth to build things like libraries and universities. Now in retrospect we can note his monopolies and the terrible conditions he created for his employees but his contemporaries had no real precedent in an American capitalist wrapping himself in the mink coat of noblesse oblige. The guy spent the last two decades of his life painting himself as a philanthropist and a scholar and the American public ate it up to a point where somebody based an entire philosophy around him and his fellow robber barons.

That was a century ago! What a massive improvement he was over the slave owning neo-colonialists who basically enacted genocide to grab more land for themselves, who fought wars to trade opium to a country that was already in the midst of collapse. And we're supposed to be thankful that Bezos started his philanthropy a little earlier, that the workers get double the pay and marginally better conditions, that Apple's computers have only just recently been built to halfway decent specifications? Maybe you don't remember the white, plastic Macbook of like just a few years ago whose hard-drive had a lifespan of about a year and a half, and whose battery that would distort with heat under normal use conditions. Sure it's convenient that you can buy used goods through Amazon but it's a fucking pittance to say that Amazon is good for product recycling. We have Craigslist, we have pawn shops, we have Freecycle, we have Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. There are tons of not-for-profits and forums dedicated to recycling consumer goods and somehow it's noble that you can buy a 2nd gen iPod on Amazon?

In every single thread about tech, there's this overwhelming philosophy of selfish "how's it useful to me" that completely disregards the larger impact such a product release has in the world. The coverage of Amazon's new Kindle is less about where and how those readers are made and more about whether or not it can display PDFs, whether or not it could create content, or good god, what if it had .epub? Our only metric for the whole event is a question of consumption. We should be concerned about accountability but that's crazy, neo-liberal hippy-dippy shit and it's just too goddamned hard to live without that sexy-ass backlight.

The Green Revolution that was supposed to end poverty led to the obesity crisis in the modernized world and didn't do a whole lot anywhere else. But let them eat contraceptive cake, right? Because thank god somebody is holding themselves accountable for their enormous wealth when nobody else will.

DFW poked fun at the grad student who cried every time he popped a boner for fear that his erection was somehow stolen from a poor, African man somewhere and it's funny because the guy was kind of a feminized nance and the whole scene was absurd. The conceit is that we all have our own shit and all that talk about Westernized psychiatry and schizophrenia being one of the only truly global mental illnesses is fucking bollocks. I sit on my ass all day, staring at a glowing screen with nothing but my own thoughts and reality seems so lurid from this perspective and I don't know why!

And maybe we take all of this for given in the modern world because, retrospectively, we've gotten so much better at only minimally abusing the rights of the less fortunate and maybe we've gotten a tiny bit more conscious as consumers. And from that perspective, our well-watered, mower-cut, bug-and-weed-sprayed grass just looks so much greener on this side and we don't think anything of how shit-eating our grins look when we tell our neighbors about just how we did it.
posted by dubusadus at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2012


Re: We did, however, just take a post about a female philanthropist taking on the world's largest religion on a human rights issue and turn it into a post about whether a man who made software was too hard-nosed 20 years ago.

Yeah, it's like that one time that white guy made a series of rap videos about cooking and then we talked about how he was using a metal spatula on his non-stick cookware... but like the complete inverse of that.

Or something. This place depresses me these days.
posted by Blue_Villain at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


And yet, I would actually consider this a no-brainer... let's reduce the potential number of abortion-seekers by doing our utmost to reduce the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies.

It's not just that it seems like a no-brainer, it actually is quite obvious that if you really cared about reducing abortions than you'd be absolutely in favor of birth control. But the contraception issue is more than a sidebar to the abortion one; it's a separate argument that has been going on just as long, with its own facepalm-inducing craziness.

The Catholic Church, despicable as they may sometimes be, are at least relatively upfront about their stance, which at its core holds that every time you have sex, you have to roll the dice on getting somebody pregnant, and if you're not doing that then you're doing it, quite literally, wrong. Their opposition to contraception doesn't really have anything to do with abortion. It's crazypants, and reeks of the casual sexism of an era that disappeared along with poodle skirts in most civilized places, but it's logically consistent and they periodically come right out and say it.

If the issue were purely abortion, then it would actually be a lot easier for Gates and other Catholics who want to make contraception more widely available, since reducing abortion would be a fine justification -- in the absence of a prohibition on contraception per se -- for making sure that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies in the first place. But it's not, although it's heading in that direction: I don't really see how the Church's official position can stand for more than another generation; something like 95+% of Catholic women in Western countries have used contraception, so it's not like they're changing anyone's behavior (except insofar as they've managed to restrict availability, which isn't exactly winning anyone's hearts and minds). Gates is one of a long line of Catholics to publicly disagree with the Church on that point, and there are doubtless many others who disagree privately but are conflicted about speaking out. Increasingly, the problem is going to be figuring out a way to pivot without having it look like a pivot.

Personally, I think the Protestant anti-choice/anti-contraception organizations, e.g. many ultra-conservative Evangelical sects in the US, are a lot more nasty than the Catholics. There, it's my opinion that the disconnect between obsessing over abortion and hating contraception comes not from a considered-but-crazy stance concerning the "total truth of the marital act" but from a desire to slut-shame and punish loose women with pregnancies. In a way this is logically consistent too, it's just so ugly that they don't dare come out and put it on paper in the same way the Church does with its periodic old-man ramblings. Because of that convenient fluidity, they're a much tougher nut to crack.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:57 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it is more likely that Microsoft recognizes healthcare as an IT cash cow.

B1Tr0t, I'm not sure what your point has to do with mine. If you're trying to say that I'm incorrect about Microsoft's policies, you're utterly wrong, and here's the link to prove it (this link is for the PDF to the New Zealand eligibility requirements, but I've studied the reqs for other countries too and it's exactly the same in that regard). I do business with Microsoft regularly, have attended their seminars, and even get advance notice of their product releases, so I'm pretty confident I have an in-depth knowledge of their policies. My apologies if I sound overly touchy, but this is one of my areas of detailed expertise, and although your assumption (if I am interpreting it correctly) is based on common sense and logical reasoning that doesn't change the fact that it simply isn't true.

I'm not disputing your claim that Microsoft sees healthcare as a cash cow, but it's unrealistic to think that this would force them to play nice with the healthcare industry, hence why I'm confused about the correlation between my comment and yours. In interactions between people, common sense prevails and generally you have to give something to get something. In interactions between large corporations, however, it's perfectly commonplace to have the philosophy of "I'd like your money and also I'm going to hurt you a little."

(That said, I want to make it clear that I still think Microsoft is a thousand times better than Apple in terms of corporate responsibility.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2012


You sound like you think this new feudalism is a good thing?

nope. But I don't understand why people get all shocked and/or worked up about it like it's an unfathomable new horror. I recognise that it exists; I'm not shocked or surprised by it; I'm just grateful when something good comes out of it, and trying to do what I can within my limited means to create the changes I would like to see.

When you have a society of people that are both historically accustomed to being subjects/rulers within a variably stringent class structure, and (especially in the US) carefully trained to fear nearly anything that could be regarded as "socialism", what do you expect to happen? How else could things possibly go?

You either allow the governing bodies (which, in a democracy, should theoretically represent the desires of the majority of the people, ignoring that it doesn't neccessarily pan out that way in real life) to take responsibility for altruism and deal with the problems this creates, and live with some level of socialism.

Or you leave the responsibility for altruism on the private sector, and accept that the people with the most power in the private sector are usually going to be ones who got that power within the system or through it, not outside of it; the people with power are usually going to be robber-barons and elites. In such a scenario, they are going to have to bear the burden of making the large-scale contributions, or not, as they see fit, and the rest of us have limited power to influence those decisions.

I'm not saying that I think things should be this way or that it's impossible that things will ever be another way. But given our history as a society, I find it difficult to be surprised at where we are now; I think it makes more sense to deal with it as best we can, and be happy when it seems to go well, than to get outraged about it. Maybe I'm less idealistic than I used to be.
posted by windykites at 1:09 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


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