|"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.
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:
- US researchers were allocated $3 million to research World of Warcraft
- $750,000 spent on building a football field for detainees in Guantanamo Bay
- Cheshire East Council spent £30,000 on building two ponds to accommodate displaced newts
- A $4.8 billion investment to construct a theme park in Tibet based on the the legend of Princess Wencheng
- Researchers at San Diego University spent a portion of a government grant to construct a RoboSquirrel (yes - it's exactly what it sounds like) to study the interaction between squirrels and predatory snakes
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.