There is no question that Hollywood actress Mae West is an icon in American culture, known for mastery of innuendo and double entendre, but it is nevertheless questionable whether a federal grant to produce her documentary is a federal priority when the national debt tops $22 trillion. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded a $500,000 grant to one entity to produce a documentary biography of Mae West entitled, I’m No Angel— despite already existing documentaries about Mae West. The grantee, WNET, is a PBS station that broadcasts to the New York metropolitan area. WNET has demonstrated an ability to raise funds —in FY2017, for example, WNET received $147.8 million in revenue from a variety of sources, including the private sector.
A federal agency is awarding a $1.6 million grant to a corporation in Maine to help build a processing and testing facility in Houlton, Maine to produce food for laboratory research mice. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency has an admirable mission, but it is not a federal priority to build a corporation’s production facility.
A proposal to construct a one mile, 10-foot-wide asphalt pathway with federal taxpayer dollars “sparked outcry” from area residents who don’t seem to want it—grinding construction to a halt. The city received a federal grant to cover $510,000 of the work (of $645,000 total). However, some locals argue that the path “will be unsafe for walkers and bike riders because of the busy streets and businesses in the area.” Some locals also worry the path will harm oak trees and nearby landscaping. And some call it a waste of money since there is an existing bike and pedestrian path nearby. The outcry led the local city council to halt the project for the time being. The unhappy mayor told local press that the project should go on, in part, simply because the money was available: “‘You don’t get (financial) assistance from the federal and state government enough to turn it down,’ the mayor said.”
Taxpayer money has literally gone to the birds. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $158,783 to document the development of turkey husbandry and domestication in ancient Mesoamerica. Mesoamerican civilization is the collection of indigenous cultures that developed in parts of Mexico and Central America prior to Spanish exploration and conquest in the 16th century. Archaeologists have dated human presence in Mesoamerica to possibly as early as 21,000 BCE. Despite the centuries long presence in this region, NSF believes that federal taxpayer dollars are best spent filling the “large gap” in knowledge of turkey domestication in comparison to the domestication of other animals. Similar studies of turkey husbandry in Mesoamerica, however, have already been conducted. In 2016, for example, The Journal of Archeological Science published a study on turkey husbandry and use in Oaxaca, Mexico. In 2018, Royal Society Open Science published a study on diversity and management strategy in Mesoamerican turkeys. Such studies can be worthwhile—but when debt held by the public equates to 78 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (or 4.2 percent), we simply cannot afford the luxury of such fowl play.
Cats that are pampered with treats and classical music every day are less likely to poop outside of the litter box or cough up hairballs. This pawsh study may sound hissterical, except the research was supported with National Institute of Health grants totaling $1.3 million, which is likely to make taxpayers furious.
An Elvis sighting reported in Oklahoma inspired a study on false perception funded by a $90,000 National Institute of Health grant with additional support from the National Science Foundation. The Elvis impersonator in question was a sour cream and onion flavored potato chip. While the researchers concluded, “the potato chip really does look like Elvis!,” taxpayers may look at both the potato chip and the study with suspicious minds.
Classic Nintendo video games are hard, unless players cheat by taking advantage of programming glitches, according to a government-funded study. Super Mario World, for example, can be beaten in less than three minutes “by performing a sequence of seemingly arbitrary and nonsensical actions, which fools the game into thinking the game is won.” Supported with funding from three National Science Foundation grants totaling more than $1.6 million, these researchers are literally playing games with taxpayer money.
Pigeoes were trained to press, or rather peck, their luck on a bird-sized slot machine, featuring flashing lights just like in a real casino and pellets as the payout, as part of a study to test the birds’ “affinity for gambling.” Supported with grants from the National Institute of Health totaling nearly $1.3 million, the poker-faced pigeons were found to behave like “pathological gamblers.” With the national debt now surmounting $22 trillion, it is not worth going for broke on more of these bird-brain studies.
This winter we all witnessed the longest funding lapse in American history when Congress failed to pass bills comprising about 25% of discretionary spending on time. After the government finally opened back up, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the lapse delayed $18 billion in spending and resulted in an $11 billion hit to our economy. It’s time to shutdown the shutdowns.
The National Endowment of the Arts provided a $50,000 grant to a PBS Series, Craft in America. The publicly supported show includes highlights of decorations at the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately-owned home in America.
A Russia investigation that’s causing a buzz. Literally. The National Endowment for the Humanities provided $50,400 for a professor to conduct a “book-length study on the wine economies and cultures of the Black Sea during Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.” The book will be entitled Whites and Reds: Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commisar. Surprisingly, this isn’t the first NEH grant on the topic. NEH provided the same professor $6000 for summer research and writing on “Vineyard Colonies: Wine and Wine-making in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.”
The National Endowment for the Arts provided $50,000 this year to the Mariachi Master Apprenticeship program, one of a series of grants totaling $725,000 since 2001. This program gives youth the opportunity to learn how to play mariachi instruments after school. This kind of spending drives us Lah-Coo-Cah-Crazy.
The State Department spent $76 million on stipends for up to 3,000 soldiers in the Somali National Army. The stipends were designed to boost morale and promote unit cohesion of a force comprised of soldiers who are so uncommitted to Somalia that they routinely go AWOL to join al-Qaeda, al Shabaab, and other terrorist groups.
The NIH is spending $2.4 million studying whether those who speak one language daydream more often than those who speak two languages. While the study intends to study the connection between bilingualism and mind-wandering during reading, it really exemplifies the crazy ways Washington disconnects taxpayers from their money.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a study about anole lizards ability to withstand hurricane strength winds as a link to natural selection. It turns out that it was really just gathering 47 lizards and blowing leaf blowers at them. For those that are wondering, the increase from 102 to 108 sent them flying.
243 years ago we declared our independence from Great Britain. Today, we are funding crass plays about their royalty. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded $15,000 to fund “The Stoned Prince,” which “examines the moments in the public and imagined private life of His Royal Highness, Prince Harry.” Don’t take your kids, as the show alludes to getting blazed and pornographic animations.