August 23, 2013

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Federal Funds For Wildfires Depleted

Short $600 million for fighting fires

For the second straight year, the federal government has exhausted its budget for fighting wildfires and will now be forced to scrape together $600 million from other sources. As of this week, the Forest Service has spent $967 million on firefighters and their equipment.

Almost 32,000 fires have burned in the U.S. this year, destroying some 3 million acres of forest. Last year, 67,700 fires burned 9.3 million acres. According to the U.S. Forest Service, this is now par for the course, with parched seasons lasting more than two months longer than previous decades.

Forest Service Fire Chief Thomas L. Tidwell made the announcement in an August 16 letter to regional foresters, station directors and deputy chiefs, saying that the exhaustion of funds had been expected and that “we must now transfer funds from other accounts to make up the difference.” Tidwell instructed subordinates to defer contracts for everything except the removal of hazardous fuels and emergencies. He also asked that they cut back on hiring and overtime pay.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Thursday for the wildfire currently raging out of control near Yosemite National Park, which has burned more than 84 square miles of forest and is only 2% contained.

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Study Finds Doping Widespread in Track and Field

Findings suppressed by WADA

A new study has found that doping in track and field athletes might be much more pervasive than the results of doping tests indicate. An article published today in the New York Times says that a group of researchers assembled by the World Anti-Doping Agency found that "an estimated 29 percent of the athletes at the 2011 world championships and 45 percent of the athletes at the 2011 Pan-Arab Games said in anonymous surveys that they had doped in the past year."

The article points out that that compares to a 2% positive rate in doping tests conducted by WADA.

The authors of the study brought the results to the New York Times after WADA requested they not be immediately released before review by the International Association of Athletics Federations. The researchers countered that their methods were sound and that the data could stand on its own.

Here's how the survey was conducted:

Athletes at the events answered questions on tablet computers and were asked initially to think of a birthday, either their own or that of someone close to them. Then, depending on the date of the birthday, they were instructed to answer one of two questions that appeared on the same screen: one asked if the birthday fell sometime between January and June, and the other asked, “Have you knowingly violated anti-doping regulations by using a prohibited substance or method in the past 12 months?”

The most remarkable conclusion was that the researchers believe the survey format was likely to produce fewer admissions to doping than reality.

The researchers noted that not every athlete participated, and those who did could have lied on the questionnaire, or chosen to answer the birthday question. They concluded that their results, which found that nearly a third of the athletes at the world championships and nearly half at the Pan-Arab Games had doped in the past year, probably underestimated the reality. [Editor's emphasis (!)]

For more on the pervasiveness of doping in competitive sports, read Andrew Tilin's account of becoming a doping lab rat.

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    Photo: United States Marine Corps

ESPN Pressured Out of NFL Documentary

Was set to collaborate with "Frontline"

After coming under pressure from the National Football League, ESPN has pulled out of an investigative project centered on head injuries with "Frontline," The New York Times reports. Both ESPN and the N.F.L have denied the reports.

"Frontline" and ESPN, which pays the N.F.L more than a $1 billion a year to broadcast Monday Night Football, had been working on a two-part documentary for 15 months, set to air in October. According to two sources, ESPN came under fire after a trailer was release in early August, leading to a meeting between high-ranking officials at ESPN and the N.F.L.

At the meeting, which The New York Times described as combative, league officials "conveyed their displeasure with the direction of the documentary, which is expected to describe… the league turning a blind eye to evidence that players were sustaining brain trauma on the field that could lead to profound, long-term cognitive disability."

ESPN denied the reports, saying that their decision related to a lack of editorial control of what would appear on the public television series. But "Frontline" executives refuted the statement, saying executives had understood the ground rules of collaboration for over a year.

The N.F.L was not supportive of the documentary, declining to making key executives available to interview, though it did allow doctors who advised it on concussions to decide for themselves if they'd like to participate.

The league is currently facing a legal dispute involving 4,000 players and their wives who charge the league concealed for decades what it knew about the dangers of head injuries.

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