OK, some of you may have heard recently about a few of the, uh, questionable uses that the Stimulus Bill money is being put towards — e.g., replacing a 5-year-old sidewalk, studying monkeys on drugs, etc. I know Glenn Beck and Fox News have both mentioned them. They come from a report recently released by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), called “Summertime Blues”, which lists 100 such projects.

I decided to go through it myself to see what other “winners” I could find.

There are several in what I would call the “Fixer-Upper” category. For instance,

5. Abandoned Train Station Converted Into Museum (Glassboro, NJ) – $1.2 million

Unused for nearly 40 years, it now sits boarded up and riddled with graffiti. In 2002, the Borough of Glassboro, New Jersey received nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Transportation to purchase the train station from Conrail. At that time, officials hoped to incorporate the station into the regional NJ Transit system. But those plans fell through, and since then local officials have been looking for a way to fund renovations to put the building to some use. After eight years of failure and further deterioration of the building, the effort has been saved only by the
availability of federal stimulus dollars.”

Dilapidated train station in Glassboro NJ

Dilapidated train station in Glassboro NJ

The place is a run-down shack, and not very big, at that. Why bother “renovating” it? Tear it down and build something newer & nicer for under half a mil. And where the heck did the initial quarter million bucks go?

16. Restoration of One of Nation’s Least Visited Parks, Located on Remote Island (Key West, FL) – $13.3 million

Dry Tortugas National Park. Located 70 miles off shore, the park is almost entirely underwater and accessible only by airplane, private boat or ferry. Despite its remote location, the park will get $13,304,484 in repairs for its main above-water attraction, Fort Jefferson. Those willing to take the 4 1/2 hour round-trip ferry ride aboard the Yankee Freedom II have to pay as much as $165 per person, but will discover that only 40 of the park’s 65,000 acres are dry land…. [It was] was never fully completed or armed…. Its use as a military installation was limited to serving as a Confederate prison during the Civil War and as a minor staging area for warships and other craft during various military engagements up to WWII.”

Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West

Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West

Looks cool from the air, but it’s so far away & expensive, it’s no wonder hardly anyone visits the place. I doubt it would ever become self-sufficient. They might be better off selling or leasing it to some Hollywood mogul or studio to shoot movies on.

In addition to the monkeys getting high, there are some other “interesting” studies that are getting Stimulus Bill funding. For example,

6. Ants Talk. Taxpayers Listen (San Francisco, CA) – $1.9 million

The California Academy of Sciences is receiving nearly $2 million to send researchers to the Southwest Indian Ocean Islands and east Africa, to capture, photograph, and analyze thousands of exotic ants. The photographs of the ants – over 3,000 species’ worth, according to the grant proposal – will be posted on AntWeb, a website devoted to organizing and displaying pictures and information on the world’s thousands of ant species.

18. Jamming for Dollars (Atlanta, GA) – $762,372

A Georgia Tech assistant professor of music will receive $762,372 to study improvised music. The project will apparently involve the professor jamming with “world-renowned musicians” to “hopefully also create satisfying works of art.” The project “seek[s] to understand, model, and support improvisation, or real-time collaborative creativity, in the context of jazz, Indian classical, and avant garde art music,” according to the project description. “They will also conduct systematic evaluation of formal models in realistic performance contexts, and use brain imaging of improvising musicians to gain insight into highly creative mental activity.” How will this help pull the United States out of an historic economic slump? “We are putting money into the local economy that is supporting local jobs,” the project’s principal, Parag Chordia, an accomplished classical Indian music performer, told a reporter. “We are creating the intellectual capital to support future growth.”

Uh-huh….

20. Monkey and Chimpanzee Responses to Inequity (Atlanta, GA) – $677,462

23. Helping Siberians Lobby Russian Policymakers (San Francisco, CA) – $199,862

25. Weather Predictions for Other Planets (San Antonio, TX) – $298,543

31. Studying the Effect of Local Populations on the Environment…in the Himalayas (Ann Arbor, MI) – $529,648

36. Scientist Attempts to Create Joke Machine (Evanston, IL) – $712,883

[R]esearchers at Northwestern University are using stimulus money to develop “machine-generated humor.”… The lead designer plans to use artificial intelligence to create a “comedic performance agent” that “will be funny no matter what it is talking about.” Computer systems will mine jokes from the Internet and then use them to create hilarious presentations that mimic real-life comedians.”

I’m laughing already.

38. Reducing Menopausal Hot Flashes Through Yoga (Winston-Salem, NC) – $294,958

39. Research: Marketing Video Games to the Elderly (Raleigh, NC and Atlanta, GA) – $1.2 million

43. Microchips Track Citizen Use of Recycling Bins (Dayton, OH) – $500,000

45. Understanding Perceptions of the Economic Stimulus (Dallas, TX & Houston, TX) – $193,956″

I’d be willing to set up an online opinion survey about stimulus spending, and I’d only charge a third that amount. (Well, maybe half?) Some of these studies may be worth doing for scientific research & application, but how much economic stimulus is really accomplished?

Not surprisingly, government gets its share of the funding, too….

11. Upgraded Office Space and Indoor Parking for Kansas Politicians (Topeka, Kansas) – $39.7 million plus

30. Two Riders an Hour Get Brand New Buses (Winter Haven, FL) – $2.4 million

Winter Haven Area Transit (WHAT) buses carry two to three riders per hour, according to the City Commission’s liaison to the Transit authority. While that may be a bit of an undercount according to the Transit Authority, City Commissioner Jamie Beckett is “not convinced we need 40-foot buses for two or three riders an hour.” All the same, the town is getting five new buses for its fleet.”

No mention of new bus drivers or a mechanic. Where are the jobs? Where’s the stimulus? Will having new buses stimulate more people into riding them?

32. Public Relations Firm Wins Big Stimulus Bucks (New York, NY) – $25.8 million

For some time, the Administration’s push for health information technology systems has been facing significant public resistance because of privacy concerns. In response, the Department of Health and Human Services spent $25.8 million on a contract with Ketchum Inc. to help win over public opinion. Ketchum was criticized before, however, on other governmental work. The reason? Producing fake TV news stories for government agencies.”

In the “Keeping America Safe” section, we have:

44. Ferry Boat Company Serving Island of 600 Gets Terrorism Prevention Grant (Beaver Island, MI) – $30,000

50. Tour Boat Showcases High Life In Hyannis (Cape Cod, MA) – $43,214

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the tour boat company with a $43,214 terrorism prevention grant. Hyannis Harbor Tours specializes in one-hour cruises around the harbor that give riders a chance to cruise “past the historic Kennedy compound” aboard the 99 year old Maine Coastal Steamer Prudence.”

Do terrorists really spend that much time targeting boat tours? (Maybe the Kennedy Compound, but tour boats?)

And, in a category I had to call “What the…?!”, there’s this gem:

no-smoking - Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam says "No Smoking"! (Here's your smartphone!)

21. Quit Smoking, Get a New Phone (Washington, D.C.) – $497,893

The American Legacy Foundation is slated to receive almost half a million dollars to provide quitting smokers with a smartphone so they can contact their quitting support groups by text message or phone call to prevent relapses. The project bills itself as an ideal use of Recovery Act funds because “it represents an extraordinary opportunity to jump-start a collaborative effort that spearheads the use of web-enabled mobile devices to enhance the efficiency, fidelity, and impact of an established tobacco quit-line program that benefits under-served communities in Washington, D.C.”

Blah, blah. I want to know what the guy who signed off on this one got? And, how much will they give me to stop biting my nails?

And that’s just out of the first 50 projects. I’m almost afraid to look at the rest. The most important question to ask, of course, is whether or not these projects are really “stimulating” the economy and providing jobs. If so, how many and for how long? Is this really the best use of this money?

You remember that replaced sidewalk I mentioned at the beginning? Did you know that the north end of the quarter-mile stretch of walkway is in an area with no homes or businesses to benefit from it, and it just stops right before a ditch? Anyway, the small public school (97 students, pre-K thru 12th grade) for the town in question (Boynton, OK) is barely getting by and trying to scrape together $9300 to pay its utility bills. As long as Uncle Sam is throwing money around, I think the faculty, staff, & students at that school would appreciate a few bucks. It would certainly be a better investment than most of this other stuff.

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