By Lloyd Albritton

Published 7:06 am Tuesday, July 8, 2003

By Staff
Bosses always tell us that we should ask questions if we don't understand something, emphasizing that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I disagree. There is too such a thing as a stupid question! A stupid question is a question that the boss does not know the answer to, or knows the answer, but does not want to give it because the true answer might contradict the boss' premise.
Bosses often prefer to offer pedantic explanations which sound complicated and advanced, but are in reality so blatantly stupid that only a stupid person would question them because an intelligent person would know that the only way the boss can save face after being presented with a stupid question is to make the person asking the question look even more stupid so that the boss can avoid looking stupid himself. Say, do what now?
Politicians are also good at offering beautifully crafted stupid explanations for the things they do and then making those who doubt them look stupid. In fact, about the only question any thinking person might safely ask one in a position of power, authority or prestige which will not result in that person looking stupid is, 'Gosh sir, how did you get so smart?' In other words, if you pretend that the boss is smart, he will pretend that you are smart too, and everybody can remain stupid and happy. If, however, you make the boss look stupid by asking him a stupid question (see definition above), you leave him no choice but to use all his power and authority to put a hex on you.
I have never been very smart, and it seems the more I learn the stupider I get. Consequently, I have always been prone to ask stupid questions. My permanent record fully documents that I am a stupid person, so there is no point in me to trying to hide it. I have done a lot of stupid things in my life and I have asked a lot of stupid questions. With that disclaimer in mind, I have a stupid question I would like to pose for the benefit of other stupid people like me who have trouble understanding things.
Why is the writing and award of a grant considered a notable political accomplishment? Isn't grant-writing pretty much like professional begging? I'm just asking!
All I know about grants is what I learned in Webster's, i.e., 'giving to a claimant or petitioner something that could be withheld.'
More specifically, a grant-in-aid, as defined by Webster's, is 'a subsidy of public funds paid by a central to a local government in aid of a public undertaking.'
The City of Atmore, for example, was recently awarded a $1.225 million federal grant to fix some of the watershed problems in the city.
I'm confident that this is a desired and legitimate use of grant monies and that Atmore's watershed problems need to be fixed. What I'm not so sure about are the myriad of federal grants each year to study such things as the Delhi Sands fly, the red-cockaded woodpecker, or the hunch-backed snail, which gives rise to other stupid musings about a common government practice called pork barreling, defined again by Webster's as 'government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits.'
Patronage? Aha! Now, let me see if I understand. The federal government collects taxes from all the citizens of local governments, and then the local governments beg for some of the money back to take care of problems which the federal government approves of.
Naturally, local governments are assisted in this convoluted endeavor by elected federal officials who know where the money is stashed and who have influence in determining where it will be allocated.
And naturally, local government officials and local citizenry are thankful for the benevolence of our national representatives and owe them patronage for their efforts in our behalf.
In this way, federal politicians are reelected to office time and time again and they continue to propagate a system which seems to me like about the stupidest system I ever heard of.
When elected federal government officials propose federal tax cuts, local governments immediately begin crying that their federal grant funds are being cut and that they do not have enough money to operate. When local government proposes to raise local taxes to make up for the shortfall, local citizens immediately begin crying that they can't stand the burden of more taxes and decry the federal tax cuts which caused all this mess. Federal politicians, whose power lies in the control and doling out of federal funds, then once again take up the banner of the good people they serve and protest the injustice of federal tax cuts, proposing instead a federal tax increase. The people cheer and the politicians give themselves another pay raise for a job well done.
Oh well, I suppose it takes a certain amount of money to run our government, both nationally and locally, and I suspect that we citizens will never really get a tax cut because government always gives with one hand and takes with the other. Still, all things being equal, why would we trust our national government to spend our tax money more wisely than our local governments, or we ourselves for that matter? Why is it best give our money to Washington and then beg them for it back?
Why indeed? Because politicians know that when we send our money to Washington, we lose track of it.
How much of every federal tax dollar we pay is used for pork-barreling and redistribution of wealth instead of legitimate problems like municipal watershed, I have no idea, but I have a hunch it's a lot! If we gave less money to national government, and more money to local government, wouldn't we be able keep a closer eye on the money and better control over what they are do with it? That's the way it seems to me anyway. But shoot, what do I know? I was just musing and thought I would ask the question.
Lloyd Albritton is an independent columnist for the Atmore Advance. For comments or questions about Lloyd's column, he can be contacted at (850)384-6676 or by e-mail at

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