Friday, 27 September 2013

Boondoggle - A Trivial Pursuit

Boondoggle, Waste, Trivial, Project, Pointless
"Don't take offence, but that's nuts," says Simon the Sardonic Squirrel
(photo by Alex Ranaldi)


Noun & verb. North American slang. Mid-20th century.
[Origin unknown.]

A noun. A trivial, useless, or unnecessary undertaking.
 Also, a dishonest undertaking; a fraud. M20

B verb intrans. Engage in such an undertaking. M20

Researching boondoggle, or examples thereof, might be something of a boondoggle in itself; there are a plethora of examples, but it's often difficult to separate the incontestable boondoggles from those that are simply labeled as such by groups that oppose the projects. For example:

It's easy to call any of these projects boondoggles if you anchor onto just the initial information and assume (stupidly) that nothing could have wider goals and objectives. To play the devil's advocate: Paying university nerds to sit around playing video games? Come on! Football for terrorists? Won't that just give us fitter terrorists? And who cares about newts when we're facing a global recession?

However, to determine whether or not something truly is a boondoggle (because they exist - oh boy do they exist!), a wider scope is needed than just the headline-grabbing, politically motivated coverage that often accompanies such projects. To take my favourite example - the RoboSquirrel - it was defended by the assertion that the robot itself only costs a few hundred dollars, that the majority of funding went into educating future scientists, and that the scope of the project extended far beyond that of interaction between squirrels and snakes and into such fields as biorobotics and animal behaviour. Is the project still a wasteful and trivial undertaking? You decide.

Regarding undisputed boondoggles, perhaps the king of these in Europe is Spain, which during the property boom of the 90s and 00s embarked on some spectacularly wasteful projects. A famous example is the Ciudad Real Central Airport, an airport that cost €1.1 billion to build and was open for only three years before closing in 2012. However, unlike many of the other projects that are only seen as wasteful, there is an implicit suspicion of wrongdoing with Ciudad Real, with some commentators suggesting that the airport was never built to succeed, and its only benefit was to those building it. Que travieso!

Do you know of any boondoggles?

Have you engaged in any boondoggles?

Is your life a boondoggle?

Do please boon your doggle in the comment box below.


  1. Research was funded to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds in the UK to establish why it is that you have to wait for a bus for ages, and then two come along at once.

    The research concluded that the first bus had been delayed for some reason and the second bus had caught up.


    1. That's nuts. I feel like an outraged Daily Mail reader. I don't need any more information and even if there was a good reason for this study I'm not willing to listen to it: I declare the Simultaneous Bus Phenomenon Study a boondoggle!

  2. Driving into London used to be a fairly stressful affair at the best of times. Now you have to locate the nearest congestion information signpost, phone the number on it, attempt to shout your relevant car and payment details down the line at the disinterested 64 year old Mexican lady over the noise of passing buses while trying to ignore the row of teenagers furiously scribbling down your credit card number and expiry date, and then it turns out the revenue generated by the wonderful London Congestion Charge barely covers its colossal operational costs and has had predictably disappointing results in reducing Londons congestion. If this isn't the booniest of boondoggles Ed I don't know what is and I may just consider giving up and going home.

    1. When researching boondoggles, it was transport, research and military projects that came up again and again; I'm suspicious of the Congestion Charges being a boondoggle. They've stopped me from driving into London many a time - and considering the sheer volume of traffic that passes through, I can't believe that the system isn't generating positive income. If your claims are true, however, and it's neither raising money nor lowering congestion, then it would definitely be a boondoggle, and perhaps even one of the dishonest variety, as it's a project retained (maybe) because no one wants to admit it doesn't actually work.

      But yes ... I am suspicious of this ...

  3. Ed, you skipped lightheartedly past 'boolean.' Now I have to wait 7 years. I feel like Jacob.


    1. You know I take requests, right? And there's always the option to write a guest post - I think 'boolean' would really need someone more mathematically inclined than I.

    2. Despite Jacob being "boondoggled," I don't feel so bad for him as for Leah...

    3. Yeah. As if being second choice wasn't humiliating enough without having it recorded in the Bible for billions to read. The shame!

  4. i am totally unable to understand that what you want to say? you are also discussing about football also other things. Are you sharing some information about football.