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Paul Hayden

Funding Our Own Bankruptcy

January 28, 2008

William Proxmire represented the state of Wisconsin in the United States Senate from 1957 to 1989. His last decade in office, Proxmire became famous for issuing his "Golden Fleece Awards" identifying wasteful government spending. Some of these awards included a National Science Foundation grant funding a study on why people fall in love; a Justice Department study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail; a National Institute of Mental Health study of a Peruvian brothel; and a Federal Aviation Administration study of the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses.

Federal government waste has become legendary in Washington. Over the years, tales of stupid projects funded by our tax dollars have become so commonplace the American taxpayer has gone from furious to numb and back again. But when specific waste is brought to our attention, especially in times of war and economic distress, we tend back toward fury. I know I did when I read about Jamie O'Shea, an "artist" at the Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska.

The National Endowment for the Arts has funded some outrageous projects over the years, from dung-coated portraits of the Virgin Mary to crucifixes submerged in urine. In fact, squandering tax dollars is a specialty of this department of our bloated federal bureaucracy. But if Sen. Proxmire were with us today, there is no question in my mind that he would be awarding his Golden Fleece to the Bemis Center and the NEA for the ridiculous "performance art" of O'Shea, a native of Brooklyn, New York.

Subsidized by NEA dollars, the Bemis Center awards artists, mostly from the east and west coasts, studio space and funding for their so-called art projects. They go out of their way at the Bemis to snub talented Midwestern artists, working in truly artistic media, in favor of nutburgers from the coasts. This is particularly true if the local artist actually creates something representational. In other words, if it looks like something you could recognize, like a flower or a tree, the Bemis won't fund it. They only want contemporary art. The weirder the better. And they love performance art at the Bemis.

That's why they gave Jamie O'Shea an 1800-square-foot studio and a $750-per-month stipend to "alter time."

That's right. Apparently it was important for us to know what it would be like for someone to change the normal, God-given 24-hour day into a 36-hour day. By closing the drapes and using artificial light, this genius entered his alternate universe on January 1st and (drum roll, please), didn't emerge for three weeks. And the point of this? Well, apparently Jamie felt like he had only been there for two weeks because he had changed time. Or, as Jamie put it, "Sort of." Isn't that amazing? Aren't you pleased that your government chooses to spend your hard-earned tax dollars on important projects like this?

When I first read this story, I thought, "Well, he's an artist, so he must have been in there painting or sculpting or whatever for about 27 hours a day." But no, it turns out that this is his "art." He altered time in his own mind. And we paid for it. Aren't you proud?

Think of all the heroes serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Think of the hardship they are enduring on our behalf. We sent them there. They risk being shot or blown up on a daily basis, and yet they are grossly underpaid. Many have families living on a shoestring in the United States. Social Security and Medicare will be bankrupt after a few years of supporting the Baby Boomers. With all the promises we have made and all the demands we have placed on ourselves, we really don't know what will happen to our economy in the years to come.

But we know how a silly twit from Brooklyn feels after having lived for three weeks (or was it two?) pretending to alter time in Omaha. We know because we paid for it.

It's almost enough to make a guy want to join the Ron Paul for President Campaign.

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Copyright ©2008 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.