Under the Wire: Rock on

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This article appeared in the Issue 178, 8 August 2005 issue of CRN magazine.

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OPINION: A couple of weeks ago, I intimated in this column that, following the finalisation of Microsoft’s settlement with IBM, Bill Gates went home to shake a sofa in hopes of finding US$775 million wedged amongst the cushions. I have to admit, dear readers, that this is not entirely true.

While I am sure that shaking Bill Gates’ sofa would be a nice little earner, the fact is that after the announcement of the IBM settlement Bill Gates got on a plane to London, where he appeared on stage at Live 8. There he was introduced by Bob Geldof as ‘the world’s greatest philanthropist’ which, it turns out, has nothing to do with stamp collecting.

I’m a little mystified as to why Gates went to London, when there was also a concert in Philadelphia. In fact, I’m a little mystified as to why Gates was there at all.

Live 8, as you may know, was a concert held prior to the meeting of the G8 leaders in Scotland. The G8, or ‘Group of Eight’, is a group comprising the leaders of the eight major industrialised democracies. To get a seat at the table, you have to run a predominantly industrial economy worth at least US$1 trillion, and you have to do it more or less democratically. That means Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Russia, Japan and the US.

Live 8 was a series of concerts held in each of these countries, as well as South Africa. The inclusion of South Africa makes sense because the purpose of the exercise was to raise consciousness about poverty, which is to be found in abundance in Africa, and also because it afforded an opportunity for Nelson Mandela (a powerful symbol of African struggle against political and economic oppression) to make an appearance.

None of which explains why Bill Gates was there. Yes, the Gates Foundation is the world’s largest philanthropic endeavour, with an endowment of some US$29 billion. The next largest such organisation is the Ford Foundation (unrelated to the car company, but founded by the same family), with an endowment of US$12 billion. No-one from Ford was on stage with Bob Geldof.

In fact, aside from Gates and Mandela, I can’t think of anyone who appeared on stage who wasn’t a musician (unkind thoughts about Bryan Adams aside).

Here’s a thought: Microsoft’s market capitalisation is currently around US$275 billion. It has been as high as US$600 billion, which (it should be noted) is larger than the GDP of South Africa, and a fair way towards Bill earning a place at the G8 -- if only Microsoft were a democracy.

Perhaps frustrated by not being allowed through the door at Gleneagles, Bill decided the next best thing to do would be to take the stage at Hyde Park to perform, in front of an audience of billions, a few of his favourite tunes.

Oh come on, admit it: when you saw Geldof introduce Gates, you wondered what he was going to sing. I know I did.

I pictured him opening with a rousing rendition of Queen’s ‘I Want It All (And I Want It Now)’ followed by the Crickets’ ‘I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)’. Then he might slow things down with the Beatles’ ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, tugging at the heartstrings of software pirates everywhere, before upping the pace again to close with the Glenn Miller classic ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree’.

Unfortunately, he lost his nerve at the last minute (like so many others who’ve taken the stage at karaoke bars, only to realise they’re not drunk enough) and instead gave a speech about poverty and stuff before leaving the stage, his dreams of pop stardom once again foiled.

Oh well, at least he has his stamp collecting.

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