What to do if you have way too much money
Every now and then, top government officials look at their coffers, and say out loud: "Wow. We have way too much money. How can we blow the lot?"
From me comes the obvious answer, which is: "Hey. Why ask me? I'm a newspaper columnist."
But some bright spark in the civil service always comes up with the sort of proposal they like: "Let's offer to host an unimaginably large and expensive event so that we can build an entire city with loads of costly infrastructure and stuff, and then overspend disastrously on every item."
Now if my wife made a suggestion like that (and she does, at regular intervals), I would un-categorically reject it in the strongest possible terms, using words such as: "Yes, dear, maybe later."
But governments are different. They adore such suggestions. Officials immediately promote whoever suggested it to Minister of Finance and Junkets, and start throwing truckloads of taxpayers' money into the hands of their friends in business, temporarily interrupting their normal activity, which is throwing truckloads of taxpayers' money into the hands of their friends in business.
For decades, the Olympic Games were considered the best way of losing huge sums of money fast, but they didn't happen often enough. They were "quadrennial," which means "every four years," and should not be confused with the word "bicentennial" which means "sexually ambiguous."
So governments introduced the World Expo, a second excuse to build unnecessary cities. These were originally every fourth year, or "quadraphonic," but are now "bisexual," which means "every two-to-six years."
World Expos come in two sizes. The big ones, such as Shanghai 2010, are advertised so heavily you get sick of them. Already, all large outdoor surfaces, including the dark side of the moon and John McCain's forehead, have been reserved for promoting this event.
Then there are tiny ones, which you hear nothing about. One of these starts this coming weekend in Zaragoza, Spain. (I hadn't heard of it either.)
Although the main purpose of World Expos are to waste taxpayers' money on things that disappear without trace, organisers occasionally accidentally achieve something.
This was the case in Paris in 1889. Instead of World Expo, the uppity French insisted on calling it Expo Universelle (perhaps so they could waste extra money on intergalactic landing strips). One of the useless things they built for that show is still there, 120 years later, although they still haven't thought of a use for it. Yes, it was the Eiffel Tower, now said to be the most recognisable building on Earth after the lifeguards' changing room from Baywatch.
Occasionally, World Expos act as proof that the universe is governed by a huge, all-powerful Sense of Irony. In 1984, "Water as a Source of Life" was the theme of the World Expo in New Orleans, a city later destroyed by floods.
The World Expo that starts this weekend in Zaragoza is also on a watery theme: the coming water shortages predicted for this planet.
I tried to explain the water threat to my friends (idle Asian yuppies, like attracts like), but they couldn't get worked up about it. "I don't see what the problem is," said one. "I'll just drink Coke instead."
No doubt the Zaragozans (don't they sound like an alien race?) have rejected this cheap and easy solution.
It doesn't waste enough money.
No money? Waste time instead, by visiting www.vittachi.com.