Design problem: poverty

gates foundation identity

gates foundation headquarters

Design problem: too many people sleeping on benches, in doorways, and alleyways in the neighborhood of the Gates Foundation global headquarters.

Gates Foundation solution: insert raised metal strip between wood slats on benches so that a body might sit, but a body may not comfortably rest…

gates foundation bench detail

gates foundation bench detail

…on the benches on the sidewalk in front of the Gates Foundation global headquarters:

gates foundation sidewalk benches

gates foundation sidewalk benches

Design problem: hunger in Seattle.

Gates Foundation solution: representations of bags of grain on the sidewalk in front of the Gates Foundation global headquarters in Seattle:

gates foundation bags of grain

gates foundation sidewalk kitsch

Is there anything more arrogant than providing images of food for the poverty-stricken, hungry, and weary? Why yes, there is quoting yourself on your sidewalk kitsch:

melinda french gates on better seeds

melinda french gates on better seeds

“Better” seeds than those provided by nature might solve the problem of world hunger if the problem is not enough food, but what if the problem of world hunger is too much narcissistic greed?

Design problem: narcissistic greed of the world’s wealthiest class.

Gates Foundation solution: vaccinate poor children.

bill gates on early child development

bill gates on early child development

Vaccinating poor children might be efficient and relatively inexpensive from the point of view of the world’s wealthiest examining sickness as a dataset, but this physical solution neglects children’s emotional well-being, also essential for healthy child development. Children traumatized by poverty and abuse struggle to flourish in a world that rewards narcissistic greed.

Doubtless altruism survives in our world, evidenced by the donations that flowed to Haiti following the devastation of its 2010 earthquake:

gates foundation haiti propaganda

gates foundation haiti propaganda

But is money the solution to the problem of Haiti?

“Do you know how much money it costs to place that many NGOs on the ground in Haiti?” asks best-selling author, writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, and fair trade coffee farmer Julia Alvarez, while here in Seattle promoting her latest book, A Wedding in Haiti, “I am supposed to be a university professor, and we are educating students for a world that’s gone.”

At her lecture, I sat next to another attendee who described to me her own experiences living in Haiti for 15 years, witnessing corruption and greed within the NGOs that are supposedly helping. Assisting with operation of her husband’s health clinic, she also described local men beating back the weakest of the weak and the poorest of the poor to acquire for themselves access to drugs and medical attention, inverting triage procedure, this problem of aggressive masculinity not remedied with money.

That same identification of the core of the problem provided by a Haitian activist who visited my university classroom, for which I was rewarded by being relieved of my teaching duties by department faculty and administrators at another institution of supposedly higher learning that discourages critical thinking.

Design problem: unemployment.

Gates Foundation solution: improve the high school graduation rate.

gates foundation jobs and education propaganda

gates foundation jobs and education propaganda

I was a nontraditional student who worked her way through first college, performing servile labor in the research sciences, then grad school, as an academic temp slave paid wages less than the poverty rate to replace faculty positions excised from academic budgets.

Where’s my job?

According to a report published earlier this month by Insider Higher Ed, fewer than 66 percent of the class that entered law school in 2008, the year that traders from Lehman Brothers scurried to their limousines with their tailored jackets obscuring their faces and I finished grad school, are employed in jobs that require bar passage, and less than 87 percent are employed at all.

A business reporter for The Washington Post at the first of this year noted that unemployment was highest among those educated in architecture, the arts, and humanities, beginning his article with the condescending reference to college students as “kids” before concluding that the solution was to major in technical fields such as information systems, where the unemployment rate hovered below a mere 12 percent, or computer science, less than eight percent.

And that was before a recent oxymoronic headline above the fold on the print version of The Seattle Times announced: jobs growth plunges.

Of course the business writer offers a narcissistic solution, neglecting to examine the problem systemically, blaming education for global class warfare, and encouraging what professor of law, ethics, and educational philosophy at the University of Chicago, Martha Nussbaum, referencing Nobel laureate and Indian educator Rabindranath Tagore, a nation of technically trained people who do not know how to criticize authority, useful profit-makers with obtuse imaginations, a cultural suicide of the soul.

Maybe my public school teachers just did not set high enough expectations for me:

gates foundation kipp propaganda

gates foundation kipp propaganda

I ranked in the 100th percentile in mathematics upon entering high school, but of course that was long before No Child Left Behind. My high school counselors – who doubled as athletics coaches with sweat rings radiating out from their armpits – strongly encouraged me to study science or mathematics. Post-NCLB, this YouTube promo illustrates “rolling the numbers” at KIPP:

Self-aggrandizement at Money is Power Prep features a white man jumping up and down like a chimpanzee shrieking at a classroom of black schoolchildren who obediently repeat his chants but are unlikely to repeat his destiny amassing his personal fortune on Wall Street.

That might look like “education” to the visually and textually illiterate, but when one of your own former hedge fund managers resigns by publicly describing Goldman Sachs as evil, to my mind, that’s pretty much pure evil, and in my visual analysis KIPP’s promo looks like a scene straight out of Joseph Conrad, bringing to mind the question posed by poet Franz Wright, “Would you compare your education to a disease so rare no one else has ever had it, or the deliberate extermination of indigenous populations?”

I was a poet in high school too.

Look, it says so right here in this small-town newspaper; it must be true:


old newspaper clipping

Back in those days, headline editors bothered with such subtleties as alliteration and action verbs. Printed on the same page as advertisements set in Brush Script (not shown), the same face favored by advertising at KIPP.

If you do not believe me, feel free to review my site’s source code.

“We survive in exact relationship to our poets,” according to Maya Angelou.

Design problem: academic budgets reduced to itemizing paperclips, secondary school administrators running pell-mell after test company sales representatives, and elementary school principals retiring early to reenergize education activism, because otherwise there are going to be more child suicides.

Gates Foundation solution: donate money to the world’s wealthiest:

gates foundation school supplies propaganda

gates foundation school supplies propaganda

Why bother to invest in musical instruments, when robotics technology can easily replace the “cost disease” of human labor? Why invest in art supplies when your schools are not teaching critical thinking?

gates foundation productive life

gates foundation productive life

The problems with living the productive life are: 1) who defines “productive”? and 2) as soon as you produce something, you need a market to buy it.

When Bill Gates whines to a Stanford University audience that the reason more environmentally friendly engineered refrigerators did not sell was because they needed better labels, I wonder which engineer failed to visually communicate to the market?

Are we sure that we do not need visual communicators? Or is it that we are not willing to pay visual communicators a living wage? If much of our global problems are communication problems, and all communication in our 21st century society is visual, hmm, perhaps it is time to take another look at the responsibility and power of visual communications?

Just across the street from the Gates Foundation global headquarters:

gates foundation seattle center intersection

gates foundation seattle center intersection


bedroom across the street from the gates foundation

bedroom across the street from the gates foundation

Dining room:

dining room across the street from the gates foundation

dining room across the street from the gates foundation

Do you suppose McDonald’s products include grains grown from those magic seeds?

Design problem: poverty in Seattle.

Gates Foundation solution: not on our sidewalk.

gates foundation not an entrance

gates foundation not an entrance


6 thoughts on “Design problem: poverty

  1. Walsingham

    And speaking of what defines “productive”, is criticizing a guy for not giving away $58 billion dollars of his fortune in exactly the manner that you see fit to be considered….um…productive? Because if it is, then that is a huge “design problem”.

  2. Wendy

    Thank you for giving words to what I’ve been feeling for several years now and couldn’t quite explain it. Corporate greed advertising their philanthropy while ignoring what is right in front of them! It completely flabbergasts me how companies throw people under the bus just to make another dollar when it seems to me that investing in your workers and having your workers be loyal to you would be more productive for everybody in the long run.
    But, I guess we are all just line items in someone’s investment portfolio anymore. So very sad!

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