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One of the cool things about Bill Gates’ website, The Gates Notes, is the feeling that you’re looking over his shoulder at what he’s reading, and eavesdropping on his conversations.

Of course, it’s intended for public consumption, so it’s not “BillG” in his most unvarnished form, but it’s a good way of keeping up with what he’s doing and thinking about.

The latest example is a conversation between Gates and Thomas Friedman about a new book co-authored by Friedman called “That Used To Be Us,” about American competitiveness, which Gates reviewed here.

The full version will go online tomorrow, but in a preview, Gates shares his thoughts on the surprisingly high dropout rate among people seeking degrees for highly skilled careers.

“We owe it to every American to make it pretty darned easy to make it through that system. We are failing to really look at why people aren’t getting through, why we have the highest dropout rate. We’re about middle of the pack in terms of people who start going for a degree,” he says. “And it’s been this hidden tragedy of this dropout level that I think only in the last five years or so are we even looking at. I was stunned when I first found out about it. It kind of blew my mind.”

There’s also a funny moment at the end of the preview, as the two talk about how their discourse stacks up vs. the presidential primary debates.

“Obviously it’s much more entertaining to watch Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich go at each other,” says Friedman.

“Than to watch you and I,” agrees Gates, as they crack up.

“How many hits are we going to get?!” says Friedman.

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