Flavin's Corner
8-27-99

Spare Change

If I had a million dollars...
I'd buy you a monkey (haven't you always wanted a monkey?!)
Words and music by Steven Page and Ed Robertson

     One may learn a lot about a person if they're able to determine what that
person does with their disposable income ("spare change" to those who don't
have much extra cash to begin with).  Some save, many invest, others contribute
to charity, while a select few are able to ...start their own philanthropic
foundations.  This week it was announced that Microsoft Chairman and
cybergeek extra ordinem, Bill Gates, has given his own foundation six billion
dollars, raising the foundation's coffers to a seventeen billion dollar level.  Some
dream of buying the world a Coke, but with this type of "spare change" we're
talking about buying the world a burger and large fries to go with that Coke!
Seventeen billion is some serious disposable income!

     Most of us have, at one time or another, attempted to provide an honest
answer to the question, "What would you do with a million dollars?"  Well, for
Bill Gates it's a question of: "What would you do with seventy-seven billion
dollars?"  And, to his credit, it appears Bill has surprised many by trying to do
some good things with his money.  Well done, dude!

     After spending eight years working in Chicago doing freight-work at various
conventions and often being assigned a crew of several to dozens of either
homeless or down-on-their-luck guys, I became emotionally attached to such
inner-city problems as shelter, food, clothes, and medical attention.  Chicago has
a functioning support-system, better than most cities, but I found myself on
occasion indulging in the pecuniary fantasy that if I had a million dollars ...I'd set
up a 24 hours a day restaurant, with a full menu, daily specials, and simply give
food away.  Though the soup-kitchens and sandwich vans of Chicago
accomplish much, those on the street could use some fish, fresh veggies, and a
salad every now and then.  It was just a responsive fantasy...  The odds are
minute that I'll ever have a million dollars.

     Greed often transcends charitable inclinations, as demonstrated by the many
recent lottery millionaires who've squandered their winnings and were forced to
file for bankruptcy.  Human nature is such a fickle thing!  "Give 'til it hurts," is a
popular moral suggestion, yet we're hard-wired for survival, and our software
seems to be some beta-version of a program which specifies, "Yes, give 'til it
hurts, but stop when it hurts too much!"  We sway from online liberalism to
offline conservatism without being aware of stepping away from the computer.
However, in reality, such choices are inherently complex toward the top of the
social ladder and nearly non-existent near the bottom, where most of the rest of
the world struggles.

     In the 1970's, the late Dr. Timothy Leary advanced a proposed solution for
the problems and future of humanity in his SM+IČ+LE scenario.  Dr. Tim
suggested that Space Migration plus Increased Intelligence equals Life
Extension.  In other words, ...get off the planet, get smarter, and we'll live
longer.  The suggestion is not as fanatical as it sounds.

     Two points should put this in perspective.  1) Forget laws, morality, creeds,
and codes; there's only one true crime, and that's anything which threatens the
survival of the species.  Raping and then cannibalizing one's grandparents is
correctly a heinous act in any social setting, but is insignificant when compared
to something which could extinguish what could very well be the only sentient
species in the universe.  We are the eyes and ears of the universe and preserving
humanity must be our first priority.  2) The universe is a dangerous place and
Mom Terra is no exception.  While Sol won't explode for some time and the
chances of us going dino from a big rock from space are debatable,
communicable diseases (both natural and artificially created) present a very real
threat to our survival.

     During the "Cold War" some had fall-out shelters as a reaction to the peril of
global nuclear war.  That was then and this is now...  Still, switching to decaf, I
have to wonder if Bill's seventeen (or even seventy-seven) billion dollars would
be enough to build something which could save the species and take them into
space.  Oh, well!  It was just a thought!

     I've read Bill is committed to installing high-speed cable lines to schools and
libraries, as well as providing sufficient quantities of computers for training use.
That's surely a daring, erstwhile, and challenging goal!  While certain problems
cannot necessarily be instantly resolved by the throwing around of large amounts
of cash--cancer, muscular dystrophy (sorry, Jerry and Ed), and now AIDS, as
well as crime, substance abuse, racial and religious issues--there are things that
cash can accomplish right now.  Education, in this country, could use some help
from Bill and his wife, Melinda.

     We can't expect the Gateses' money to be spent on our roads and
infra-structure, or to somehow improve our health-care system.  The wizards
and lizards in Washington, DC should address these and other such issues.
Hillary's repetition of the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child,"
might very well serve to guide Bill and Melinda, private citizens both, as they
begin to reach out to help those around them. [Note:  Why do I have a hunch
that the Gates Foundation will not be buying I-Macs and AOL accounts for the
schools?]

     Spending seventeen billion dollars shouldn't be a hard thing to do.  Doing it
prudently will probably be more difficult than it was earning it.  We should all
keep Bill and Melinda in our thoughts and prayers as they attempt to do
something good.

     I've never believed Bill was the cyberchrist...  He's merely a prophet
preparing the way...  Someday someone will come along with software that
Windows OS isn't worthy to run.  Until then, however, ...gotta admit that Bill's
is the only game in town!  Spend your "spare change" wisely, dude!

For more on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, click  here.

wondering if Seattle has good bookstores,
Rick

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