Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lifestyles of the Rich and Strange

Prince Charles, who is seldom at risk of saying anything intelligent, visited Dharavi, a teeming slum in Mumbai, India, and proclaimed it, in the words of The Guardian newspaper, to serve as “a better model than does western architecture for ways to house a booming urban population.” Dharavi’s 520 acres are home to 600,000 of the world’s poorest people. Slums like it make up 60% of all of Mumbai.

Looking at the trash and the wretched people living in one room dwellings, and feasting the royal nose on the stench of open sewers and teeming unwashed bodies, the prince proclaimed the place to display “an underlying intuitive grammar of design” that apparently can be seen only by great architectural wizards such as himself.

But is Dharavi really a nicer place to live than San Francisco or Carmel-by-the-Sea? Apparently the prince thinks it is. There is no report that he is planning to abandon Balmoral Castle anytime soon to move there, and when wealthy men see “grammar of design” in rivers of human waste the more cynical among us tend to think they are benefiting financially from it. The British were run out of Mumbai these many years ago, but only the most naïve would doubt that they still maintain a financial interest in the place. That would be enough with anyone except Chuck. But this is the great prince, whose comments seem to come in two basic varieties: strange and stranger.

In other rich news, Governor George W. Bush, erstwhile Governor of Texas, who some people refer to as President Bush for reasons unknown, is not getting as rich as he thought he would after finally leaving office. He thought he would find a market for his electrifying speeches the way Bill Clinton did. But people seem to have had enough of that in the last eight years. He thought he would get millions for a book about what it is like to fail miserably as a president. But publishers seem not to be interested. About all he has found thus far is a job as a greeter – yes, that’s right, a greeter – at Elliot’s Hardware Store on Maple Avenue in Dallas, Texas.

It doesn’t pay much. It’s just a part time job. But Bush’s policies have seen to it that even a half job is not half bad. Unfortunately, anyone who goes to Elliot’s while he is on duty will be greeted by others than just the former governor. By law they are likely to be frisked by Secret Service Agents armed with machine pistols. He gets Secret Service protection for ten years, apparently on the theory that nobody will remember him or care anyway after all that time. Observers of the scene think things have already got to that point. If they want to they can call the Secret Service off.

Times are hard all the way around।

Nobody knows that better than William Gates III. People in the computer business who know Bill Gates as a ruthless predator were gagging sometime ago when he announced that he is henceforth a philanthropist. Most of these rich men’s “charities” are really just complicated tax dodges, but Bill says he is the real deal. He is dedicated to helping the poor and/or downtrodden of the world and there is not a dry eye in the house. Pardon me while I dab mine with my hanky.

Whatever his motives might be, the fact is, charitable foundations only protect wealth against taxes. They do not protect it against the realities of the modern world. And the reality of the modern world is that despite massive layoffs of Americans and massive hiring of people in cheap labor countries to replace them, Microsoft stock has just been going down, down, down for a year now. The gap between Bill and the clients he proposes to help is narrowing, and the best part is, he doesn’t have to do a thing to make it happen.

He has had to relinquish the title of Richest Man In the World. Then he had to relinquish the title of Second Richest Man In the World. And then he had to – well, you get the idea. He may be a totally ego-less philanthropist now, and not the Bill Gates we all thought we knew. But watching his wealth disappear must smart anyway.

So what is he doing now to help the poor and/or downtrodden? Well, as of writing he recently attended a convention of the pompous and self-satisfied. While he was there he announced that he was outraged his impoverished clients are more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes than they are, then released a swarm of the little bloodsuckers into the room. It is almost as if he is angry that his fortune is evaporating. If Tony Robbins has never had to swat a mosquito before, he did after Bill released his swarm. So did author Malcolm Gladwell and others. One wonders if The Bill will be welcome there again after this. Anyone else would have run a risk of criminal prosecution.

Microsoft will surely continue to go down in value, and the Gates fortune will surely continue to dwindle, even if it is tax sheltered by a foundation. So here are some ideas what he can do for an encore if he needs to let off some stress:

(1) Make an appointment at a five star restaurant like Per Se in New York and release a swarm of cockroaches in the dining area;

(2) Deface New York’s Metropolitan Art Museum with something incredibly ugly like pictures of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer – ugh!

(3) Declare that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has once again been discovered to be a Happy Hunting Ground for malicious hackers and distribute a fix via the internet that just makes things worse;

(4) Buy the CBS television network, fire all their entertainers, and broadcast his own speeches twenty four seven; and finally:

(5) Buy The Statue of Liberty, melt it down, and replace it with a statue of himself holding up the Microsoft logo

There is no confirmation of this, but if Bill is not an idiot he surely dabbed on some mosquito repellent before treating his bugs to the blood of other conference participants. He did not have to dab on anything to repel me, though. I find him utterly repellent without the need for any chemical assistance.कमेंट्स


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