In his twilight years John D Rockefeller liked to play the benevolent, eccentric old geezer, giving shiny new dimes to children whenever he had a chance to be photographed in their presence. Nowadays there aren't enough urchins and ragamuffins in North America for Billg to pull the same act, at least not in neighborhoods where he stands a reasonable chance of walking out alive, so he's gone off to India for a bit of philanthropic pandering to women and children, and selling of MS products to developers. The actual selling will be handled by legions of MS flacks, not Gates, to help establish the illusion that this trip is purely humanitarian in nature.
In a recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, His Billness claimed that India's economic progress (and value as an MS marketplace) "will be threatened by AIDS. India already has at least 4 million people living with HIV, and the United States National Intelligence Council predicts that the number of people infected in India could jump to between 20 million and 25 million by 2010."
Gates says he'll donate $100 million, possibly more, to reduce the spread of HIV in India. Adjusted for inflation, that might come out to less than a John D dime for each Indian child, but if it's distributed and spent wisely it may just do some good.
The last thing I wish to do is make light of the worldwide AIDS crisis or discourage anyone doing anything to address it. Still, there is something profoundly tasteless in donating money to avert human suffering as part of a commercial publicity campaign, and touting it so publicly.
Many of us donate money to charities, and still we manage to refrain from bleating about it in the op-ed pages of the NYT. Indeed, the Times has run five items related to the Gates Indian giveaway in three days, starting with the op-ed letter. Usually, coverage this comprehensive is reserved for matters of greater significance than what Billg is doing on his trips overseas.
Yet we have the Gates letter in the Opinion section; a roundup of his itenerary in the Technology section; a list of the goodies he's pledging in the Technology section; and a three-page piece on AIDS in India in both the Health and International/Asia sections and a substantial re-write with even more fawning language of the itinerary item.
That's one hell of a lot of NYT ink in one hell of a short time. The US president would probably get less if he were to go to India. Of course we have no idea what Billg and MS have done to deserve this immense generosity, but we're certain it has nothing to do with the NYT's whopping share of the MSN-8 advertising budget.
Nope, nothing whatsoever. ®