Winning the wildfire jackpot


Many of us harbor a sneaking suspicion that Westerners aren't quite real to D.C. Beltway officials, particularly to the Easterners in their employ. The habitat of these politically engaged men and women so close to power is usually a crowded room where they toil from morning to night, and so the poor wretches rarely get to visit the rural places they help make policy for. This geographical disconnect -- perhaps a mite overstated -- might just explain the news that some Senate staffers, mostly working under Republicans, spent delicious hours while on the job playing "a morbid version of a jellybean-counting contest," as put it, that asked them "to guess the number of acres that will burn each year." The contest -- now halted -- began back in 2003, and was open to those who covered energy and natural resource issues, as well as to appropriations staff, because "you never want to leave them out -- you might need a rider from hell someday." In one especially morbid twist, players also guessed how many firefighting planes would crash, including fixed-wing and heavy-slurry aircraft, as well as how many planes would become unusable or grounded and, for how many weeks. The 2011 winner of the contest was Chuck Kleeschulte, a staffer on the Senate energy committee, who once worked for Republican Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a longtime critic of the Forest Service's firefighting policy. Kleeschulte's prize: his choice of a Wizard hat, the When Pigs Fly hat, or the mechanical Holly-Jolly Christmas hat. The contest's joking tone hardly matched some official speeches about Western wildfires, Grist notes. At a hearing last year, Sen. Murkowski, who also employs contest organizer Frank Gladics, said, "You worry about what is happening within any given fire season, but to those who have lost property, those who have been threatened, we are very concerned."

Could satisfying "bucket list" desires become ridiculous? A 55-year-old man from Butte enticed a patrol car to follow him and then gunned his SUV over 100 miles per hour on an interstate toward the town of Rocker, Mont., reports the Billings Gazette. John C. Hughes, who had apparently not been drinking, told police he "just always wanted" to experience a police chase. That apparently includes the consequences: Hughes was charged with reckless driving while eluding police.

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