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BIG CITY: A few odds and ends

Kirk Ross
Pardon me while I sort through this shoebox full of odds and ends collected in case I ever needed an odd tale, quip or fast fact to toss into a column of random ideas.

It is the close of election season, and I am under the old habit of not saying nuthin’ ahead of the election that can’t be corrected in print.

I hope you vote.

… We sure have a good-looking basketball team this year. Everyone seems to think so. The other night, that team from UNC-Pembroke, which was founded in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School, didn’t have a chance.

One reason is that we have a very tall center. He’s from Indiana. I’m from Indiana. This makes me both proud and upbeat about the season ahead. In recent years, when UNC’s men’s basketball team had a center that hailed from the glorious state of Indiana, the team did pretty well. Eric Montross was from Indianapolis. Sean May played ball at my alma mater in Bloomington.

(OK, Tyler Zeller is listed officially as a forward, not a center, but c’mon, he’s 7 feet tall.)

The Zeller family is from Washington, Ind., a small town in the southwestern part of the state, which has been doing some very good work using wetlands and other mitigation strategies to manage its wastewater. The town’s Combined Sewer Overflow project was recently named the top such project in the country for 2011 by Water & Waste Digest. Congratulations, Washington, Ind. Good work.

… This is as good a time as any to clear up a few matters in wastewater terminology, specifically the difference between sewerage and sewage. Sewerage is the infrastructure through which the sewage flows (hopefully). These terms were drilled into every student in Intro to Environmental Protection, taught for many years at UNC by the dynamic Don Francisco, a professor in the School of Public Health and a national expert in wastewater management. Francisco, who threatened to lower our grades if we called during a basketball game, was quite familiar with the inner-workings of OWASA’s Mason Farm treatment facility. In fact, a tour of the plant was included with the lecture fee for the class.

Unfortunately, on the appointed day for my class’s tour I had fallen ill (really). To this day, I have never seen a flocculator in action.

… I have, however, seen plenty of federal campaign-finance reports, which at times give off a similar odor.

On a recent visit to the Federal Elections Commission website, I ran across the third-quarter filing of David Rouzer, who is co-chair of the N.C. Senate’s Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources committee, a body, which like the rest of the state legislature, is intent on gleefully undoing just about any regulation they can lay their hands on.

This particular report was interesting because state legislators are not allowed to solicit money from lobbyists ever or to raise money period while they’re in session. But because he’s running for U.S. Congress, the esteemed state senator is free to have at it. When I opened the contributors file from the FEC site, it was like a drive down a back road in Sampson County on a warm summer night with a light wind. The list was a veritable who’s who of lobbyists for and luminaries of Big Ag.

You can hardly blame them. They’re just playing a game of their own invention. The people might elect their politicians, but at a certain point they stop dancing with us. I’d like to think over the next year we’ll be treated to an adventure in real democracy, but that’s dreaming.

Money is speech in politics. The Supreme Court has told us that repeatedly. The odds are that we’ll get drowned out again by the $1,000-a-plate dinners and the trade association junkets, by the big donors, discreet bundlers, well-oiled PACs and wealthy freaks who dabble in power.

And it all clumps together and settles into our already polluted political system. I may not have made it out to the Mason Farm plant for a tour, but I think I know a flocculator when I see one.

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