July 2010 Archives

Much Ado About Doo-Doo

It always pains the Ol' Bloviator to learn of discord in his beloved ancestral stomping grounds of Hart County, Georgia, and the current brouhaha du jour is no exception, especially since it comes down to nothing more or less than a matter of chicken s___.  With apologies for his apparent crudity, the O. B. ain't speaking metaphorically here. The good folks of Hart County are smiting each other hip and thigh over the question of how chicken manure can be most productively and/or least harmfully used. Poultry production is big in North Georgia, as you can tell if you ever find yourself downwind of one of the hundreds of large-scale, multi-house operations that dot the landscape. You may also suffer a similar assault on your olfactory system if you are nearby when the litter from these houses is being spread across the fields and pastures of the area.

            Now, however, comes an outfit called Fibrowatt,which originated in the U.K. but has facilities in Minnesota and is looking to break out elsewhere, including North Georgia. Fibrowatt's thing is to burn chicken poop (or actually the litter from chicken houses, which also includes wood shavings) to convert water into steam, which, in turn, will spin the turbines that will generate electricity. There you are, poop to power, sold by the kilowatt hour. The ash residue of the incinerated chicken droppings, sez Fibrowatt, at least, can then be sold back to farmers as fertilizer. This all sounds pretty green, you have to admit, and in then there's the 45 full-time jobs created directly by the facility at a projected annual wage of $45,000, a figure well above the Hart County average

            Not so fast, say the opponents, who include a good number of  just plain NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard)  and some apparently earnest tree-huggers who object not only to the Fibrowatt facility's anticipated 300-foot smokestack but to what will be coming out of it.  According to them, that will include dangerously high concentrations of (Yikes!) arsenic, not to mention sulfur dioxide, which is a major component of acid rain. Overall, they claim, the particulate count from such a facility would exceed that of the typically environmentally unfriendly coal-fired electric power plant. For their part, some farmers claim that the voracious Fibrowatt facility, which reportedly will be trucking in the chicken droppings 24/7 ( 100 or so potential trucking jobs here, but a lot of potential traffic jams as well) will gobble up so much of the area's chicken poop so that there'll be none left to spread over their fields. This is a serious matter since the rising petroleum costs have driven commercial fertilizer prices through the roof.

            What these farmers and the environmentalist opponents of Fibrowatt don't say much about is the likely impact of all that chicken dooky they've been dumping all over the landscape for some time now.  From the economic standpoint, chicken manure is cheaper as a fertilizer than dirt is as dirt, but the real kick that  it gives to pastures and fields comes from its nitrogen content, which by the way, critics say is too low in the ash residue generated by Fibrowatt  to make it adequate as fertilizer.  Unfortunately, the nitrogen in chicken-squeezins' comes in a package laden with phosphorous and other nutrients in much heavier concentrations than is desirable. This is something that the O.B. thinks he actually knows a little bit about, as he indicates in this little slice from his forthcoming book:

In addition to the threats posed by commercial fertilizers, the more than a million tons of manure generated annually in Georgia's chicken houses contained not only nitrogen but more phosphorous than the sewage that might normally be produced by 40 million people in a year. Environmentalists warned that when chicken manure was spread on pastures and fields the nutrient-overrich runoff could stimulate excessive algae growth in streams and lakes, leading ultimately to oxygen deprivation sufficient to kill fish. Some scientists also linked the excess nutrients and algae resulting from poultry litter runoff to the toxic microbe pfiesteria piscicida, which is capable of triggering not only massive fish kills but confusion, memory loss, acute skin irritation, and other forms of distress in humans.

When the O.B. was an otherwise carefree country lad, his concerns about chicken droppings amounted to nothing more than avoiding the signature deposits left indiscriminately behind by our flock of "free-range" poultry. (Not only were we organic way before it was cool, we were organic when it was considered positively "uncool"). Needless to say, this was a matter of special concern during the barefoot days of summer, which, of course, ran from May to late September.

            Things are a lot more complicated these days, and so my fellow Hart Countians find themselves in a sticky--and potentially stinky--situation that reveals just how complicated and uncertain are all matters where economic interests and environmental concerns become entangled. Still, the best suggestion I can give them is the exceedingly simple reminder bestowed on me daily by my precious Mother so many summers ago: "Watch your step."

PS:  Some of the amateur shrinks in the rapidly thinning ranks of  Cobbloviate-heads may recall a recent post about coffee made from beans found in civet poop, and think the Ol' Bloviator is manifesting an unhealthy fascination with all things scatological these days.  To this, the O.B simply retorts, "Horse Hockey!"  While we are still on the subject, however, he wishes to clear up what may have become a concern for those gourmets among the flock who might have encountered high- end restaurants not only serving civet-poop java, but featuring an entrée called "turducken." Turns out, it's just a chicken stuffed into a duck that is then stuffed into a turkey, although if the O.B. ever sees it on a menu, odds are he'll just opt for "the special," regardless of what it is.

VIP's Nip Leads to Slip--and Panties,Too

Normally, news that  a celeb or semi-celeb  has been arrested for drunk driving with the red panties of a female companion who was not his wife adorning his lap would set the Ol' Bloviator to salivating at the prospect of launching yet another salvo of sarcasm, ridicule, innuendo and double entendre, all delivered in the poorest of taste, of course.  Maybe he's just jaded because such accounts have become so commonplace, but the case of Damon Evans, the former (as in name gone from the door, website, etc. in a nanosecond and now known as "Damon Who?") athletic director at the University of Georgia just makes the OB sad.  This, he hastens to add, has nothing to do with his well-known allegiance to UGA sports.   The OB has taken pains to point on more than one occasion to the disparity between the high, wide and handsome lifestyle of UGA's athletic department and the starvation-alert status of academics on the UGA campus.  For example, prior to his costly indiscretion, Damon Evans was set to receive a $110k raise after his faculty and staff colleagues had just endured an effective 3% pay cut, courtesy of six unpaid furlough days.  This show of "bad judgment" by Mr. Evans (You could have fooled me.  I thought it was just a routine indulgence in drunkenness and lust) also came as he was overseeing a  $40 million  upgrade to athletic facilities on a campus where academic departments are operating on budgets tighter than  spandex  shorts on Roseanne Barr's butt.   

 Evans's demise is all the more embarrassing to UGA because his was the voice and face on the video that ran in the fourth quarter of each home game warning fans not to drink and drive.   It's a good bet that we won't be seeing that this season, although using Photoshop to impose a set of bars in front of him as he delivers his sermonette, might actually be the most effective way to go.  The Ol' Bloviator is in no position to jump all  high and mighty on the matter of Evans's inebriation.  He's on his own on the panties, however.  What the OB finds so sad here is the pattern of anointing athletic figures with such high and mighty status that they can--and so often do--presume themselves beyond the standards of accountability confronting the rest of us.  The arrest report indicates that both Evans and his commando-styling female companion intimated to the officer that he shouldn't be arrested because he was the athletic director at UGA. (Smart move, guys) That either of them, even in a state of tipsiness, could even think in such terms tells us all we need to know about how out-of-whack our social priorities have become.

 As if we needed further affirmation here comes the story out of Knoxville of a brutal assault allegedly involving several University of Tennessee players both on a bar patron and then an on off-duty policeman in the wee hours of Friday morning.  The following  is the account of bar owner and eyewitness Sandy Morton:

"Basically, it was a normal Thursday night -- Thursday's our big night," Morton said. "We had all the UT football players come in. They're on a first-name basis with my husband (and co-owner), and they get VIP status, which means they pay no cover at the door.

 We've never had a problem with them in the past, but tonight, apparently they had a falling out with another gentleman. I don't know why. I don't know what happened, but several of the guys started beating up the other customer. I want to guess there was seven to 10 guys beating up this one gentleman.

"All the security then rushed in and were trying to break it up. My husband saw them picking up bar stools and starting to swing them. We got them out the door with security. There happened to be a friend of ours who was an off-duty police officer outside. He tried to help, and he ended up getting knocked out in the street and proceeded to be kicked while he was down on the ground in the middle of Cumberland [Avenue].

"That's basically the gist of it."

This version does not include the alleged slugging of one of the police officers who arrived to break up the incident, but it does mention that one of the players apparently involved in the incident had already been arrested less than three months ago on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The alleged offenses committed by these young men may seem very different in character from the alleged (and apparent) offenses of Damon Evans, but, the OB believes the connection between them is remarkably clear.   Some of the UT athletes were recently arrived freshmen whose announcements about where they were going to play had been major media events, not just on the local or regional but even the national scene. Imagine the recent LaBron-athon in a high school cafeteria and you'll get the picture.  These lads were clearly accustomed to deference and elevated status even before they got to Knoxville, where that status became exponentially more exalted still.  What need had they for concern about the rules and constraints restricting the lesser persons who largely regarded them as members of a hero-elite?   Damon Evans is a forty year old man, whose career as a UGA football player had been solid but unspectacular.  He had shown competence and potential as a subaltern administrator in the athletic department at Georgia, however, and when his boss and mentor Vince Dooley was forced out as athletic director in 2003, Evans, at 34, became one of the youngest athletic directors in the country and the only black AD in the Southeastern Conference.  (By the way, there were only twenty-two black athletic directors at Division 1 schools throughout the country in 2009.)  Being AD at Georgia is not like being a Heisman Trophy candidate, but it's definitely a celebrity-level gig, with a car, expense account and what would have been for Evans, a $500k plus salary for the coming year.  There's also guaranteed social entrée and a predictable coterie of hangers-on eager to win your favor.  Any way you slice it, Damon Evans had all this and even the prospect of something bigger, and he blew it.  His race has nothing to do with why he behaved as he did any more than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's whiteness explains his arrogant boorishness.  What the two share, however unequally, is an apparent inability to handle the instant and easy celebrity that comes with a high profile position in the athletic world. Neither man has anyone other than himself to blame for his actions, of course, but we sports-fanatics might have at least some culpability here as enablers.  Regrettably, where Roethlisberger's offenses convey no negative racial connotations, Evans's fall from grace still does.  Waiting in an airport last week, I overheard several young black professional types discussing the Evans affair.  Upon getting all the details, one of them shook his head, observing, "This is bad for us."  The opportunity afforded Damon Evans suggests we've come a long way, but when it comes to separating the content of a person's character, good or otherwise,  from the color of his or her skin, we still have a ways to go.

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