The White Elephant Hall of Fame

Ah… Maybe it’s the World Cup*, or then again maybe it’s just that living in Asia, you tend to run into these things a lot.

White elephants.

From Merriam-Webster:

The formula for the WEF (White Elephant Factor) is simple:

WEF = c * s * u

Where “c” is the cost, “s” is the scale, and “u” is the uselessness level.

My personal entries to the WEHOF are:

Greatest WE of all times:
The Great Wall of China

As far as scale and cost (human, time and financial) is concerned it hardly gets any bigger. And yet, the wall failed quite spectacularly at what it was meant to do: keep people out.
Greatest WE of recent history:
**Ryugyong Hotel **

A very tough choice, might get disqualified for not being completed, although that adds to the charm. It loses to others in scale and cost but scores huge points in uselessness.
Honourable mention (recent history):
The Montreal Olympic Stadium

Scores good points on scale for having “the world’s tallest inclined structure.” It scores OK for uselessness but is bound to improve when the Expos leave town. It rakes in most of its points on cost, though. In Montreal, it’s often referred to as the most expensive building in the world. I couldn’t find a cite for that though.

What are your personal nominations for the WEHOF?
Any regional oddities worth mentioning?
Any contenders in the Greatest WE category?
WE you’re particularly fond of?

*18 of the 20 stadiums are brand spanking new and some of them are in cities that don’t even have a professional football team.

Britain’s wonderful Millennium Dome, cost about £1 billion, recently sold on to developers for, err, nothing, surely deserves an honourable mention.

(My mother actually went there! She said it was OK, but it would have been awful if it had been crowded…)

Of course, the Maginot Line ought to be mentioned, if only because it’s the typical comparison that pundits make when criticizing seemingly useless projects or items.

The US missile defense system is a Maginot Line.
The WWW is a Maginot Line.
The defense of traditional management of software development is a Maginot Line.
Governmental control of encryption is a Maginot Line.
Firewalls are a Maginot Line.
Rugby defense is a Maginot Line.
Bill Clinton’s Monica testimony was a Maginot Line.

Talking about the Maginot Line, how about:

World War I and World War II. What exactly did the aggressors achieve in these monstrous campaigns? Very little that was intentional, and that is overshadowed greatly by their losses.

Hmmm… Looking back over the definition, I’m not sure if wars qualify. Not exactly a property. I apologize if they do not.

Indeed, I was thinking more in terms of buildings, or at least material projects (I can’t believe I forgot about the Maginot line).

But then, where do you draw the line? Wars are also great material projects. An unequalled amount of stuff was built for the purpose of fighting WWII.

But then, wars wouldn’t really fit in the WE category because they actually do something, even if it’s not something good and constructive. When I think of a white elephant, I think of something that just sits there. Like the Maginot line, or the Ryugyong Hotel.

I guess there could be a category labeled “Great Useless Undertakings.” Like the War on Drugs. Or Mariah Carrey’s acting carreer.