Cyclone Road


Friday, December 30, 2005

A Few Caravan Stories

A caravan of soon to be inducted Sitka Bust Clubbers, May 31, 1999

This is about caravans, not chase partners. Some bloggers are mixing the concepts. A caravan is a train of chase vehicles, presumably in communication via radio or phone, with chasers who are co-operating on any few of several levels: chatting to pass the time, splitting motel costs, forecasting, discussing storm interception strategies, and spotting storm features. An example of this last form of cooperation is when one chaser in a group calls on the radio, "Tornado on the ground."

So the stories. First, I struck a deer last May in eastern Colorado. The animal leaped from a ditch along the road and landed in front of me with a milliseconds notice. One second the road was clear, the next she stood less than a foot from my bumper. The crash damage was superficial but serious enough to interfere with the operation of the right front tire. The other chasers in my caravan helped inspect the truck, assisted in clearing the wheel well, and helped convince me to keep going.

If I'd been solo that day, I wouldn't have had a nervous breakdown or anything, but it would have taken far longer to recover my wits and resume chasing. I didn't have the tools necessary (a big pair of scissors) to tear and slice away the plastic debris hanging near my tire. Nor did I have the expertise to recognize with any confidence that the vehicle was mechanically sound. If the deer had bounced up and through my windshield, having those guys nearby could have saved my life (particularly considering the medical doctor driving behind me!). There can ne tremendous safety advantages to traveling in packs.

Then there are less pleasing aspects of co-operative chasing. I was in a caravan last year where one chaser harbored surprising expectations about how the group would operate, specifically regarding his role. He was unhappy when our behavior failed to meet his expectations.

These and other occasions suggest that successful caravans are composed either of those chasers who are not good friends and hold no expectations about others' behavior, or of chasers who are friends and also have genuine respect for the autonomy of each member of the group.

The first example is easy: a group of chase vehicles forms without prior planning during the course of a day (usually meeting on the interstate during a drive to target), hangs together a while, then separates when the action starts or targets diverge. No unrealized expectations. No hard feelings.

The second kind of successful caravan works on the same principle that each member of the caravan is "allowed" to deviate from any previously agreed-upon plan or target, and nobody feels threatened or insecure.

Caravans who chase co-operatively for days or weeks often forecast together in the morning and agree on a target area if not a specific point. I'll mention a notable exception in a moment, but in general this is true. The morning data typically point to one or two targets rather obvious to experienced chasers. The devil and his details emerge in the late morning and afternoon. During the course of the drive, most vehicles hold someone conducting ongoing mesoscale analysis (given contemporary tools and technology) and inevitably opinions change. If others in the caravan haven't checked data or simply don't agree, then the opportunity for divergence of opinion arises. Caravans sometimes separate in the near-storm environment when each driver makes different choices regarding interception, or, as often happens to me, the radio chatter grows too distracting. When I shut off the 2 meter, I usually fall out of the caravan because I'm disconnected from the group's thinking. When a tornado appears inevitable, the time to socialize is finished. There's nothing left to talk about.

Caravans that run into trouble usually hold one or more chasers for whom its important that everyone stay together. You can identify these folks by their nonstop radio interrogations: "Where are you now? Where are going? Where have you been?" Often a chaser wants everybody to stick to the plan because it was his, or because he doesn't know what to do without that comfort in numbers. Any chaser, no matter what level of experience or expertise, worries more when nobody shares his target than on those days when everybody and his dog heads for Beatrice. We all want others to see it like we do; it all but proves we did our morning forecast well.

In my experience, the caravans of friends which succeed are those rare groups in which every member respects each other's autonomy, never feels threatened or insecure about changing the plan, and appreciates that others have different ideas which are as valid as his own. In other words, the caravan isn't about him. The choices others make are not a commentary on or indictment of his skill as a forecaster or field tactician.

Also within that successful caravan, each chaser understands that he alone is responsible for his own choices in the field and that no matter if he takes an unusual target or follows the crowd, he bears the weight of both the decision and its consequences.

The morning of June 9th, I woke up in Sterling, Colorado and began forecasting with my friends Eric Nguyen and Scott Blair. We'd enjoyed the Wanblee, South Dakota supercell a few days before, and I'd seen a tornado at Arthur, Nebraska while chasing solo the day before that. Scott was in Montana on the 6th and saw tornadoes up there. We felt like the season was turning in our favor. It was apparent right away that the 9th held promise in several locations, and Scott believed that northwestern to north-central Kansas was primed. I agreed, but couldn't help but notice the extreme instability forecast in the Texas panhandle, where an outflow boundary was headed from earlier convection. Eric saw both setups as agreeable, but noticed another outflow boundary north that would settle along and south of the Kansas / Nebraska border. For him, that decided the case in favor of the northern target.

I agreed with my pals and believed tornadoes were likely in their area. However, I thought tornadoes were likely down south, too, and because of the skyrocketing instabilities, I thought the panhandle tubes could be large. That was the first time I picked one target area over another because I thought the latter's tornadoes might outperform the former's. This is an unusual thought process because tornadoes are improbable events even in the best of targets on the most volatile of days. Selecting a more distant target when you believe one of more or less equal value is closer makes little sense. Yet it made sense to me June 9th.

We debated the merits of each target for more than an hour. I was pretty convinced but also a little insecure. Scott and Eric have earned their stripes in Chase Alley, after all, each averaging around 20,000 miles for the last seven or eight years. Their success is well-known and they're both degreed meteorologists. I headed for Texas anyway. Here's an occasion where many chase caravans would have seen friction, but we simply wished each other luck and agreed to meet in another day or two for the next round of storms. No hard feelings. No one felt his "authority" was usurped. Scott and Eric didn't believe I was calling their expertise into question. I knew they weren't discounting my target by going with their own. In other words, it was all good.

As it turned out, Scott and Eric's target verified like a Vegas jackpot with the Hill City storm. My drive to Texas, on the other hand, was cursed with road construction and traffic. Luckily the outflow boundary also stalled in Kansas, and I broke off my Texas target for a popcorn storm near DDC, later catching the supercell at Trego Center which produced my best tornado of the year. At the end of the day we celebrated with a big dinner in Hays.

Caravans are a basic component of the chasing experience for many reasons. They aren't necessary, but much of what I've learned and many of the friendships I enjoy during the season are built on these rolling systems of co-operative chasing. Like the ingredients for a tornado day forecast, you have to find the right mix.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I'm pressed for time tonight but wanted to make a few notes. The first is for those in Texas and Oklahoma. This weekend could alter the landscape of our region for a long time, depending on how many fireworks are shot or cigarettes flicked. Right now, the land wants to burn. A big burn is nature's solution to the problem of extended, extreme (and I do mean extreme) drought, and thousands of acres of dead, dry husks of vegetation and trees. She's going to have help this weekend with strong dry winds from the southwest, soaring temperatures, and whatever dumbasses elect to ignite their local patch of tinder. Get your water hoses ready.

Secondly, I've added several blogs to the links at left. By this time next spring I expect nearly all chasers will blog. It's a natural way for traveling hobbyists to share information on the web in a timely manner. I'll keep adding to the list as time allows.

Last, the issue of chaser caravans is smoldering (couldn't help myself) in chaser blogdom. It's a good subject to revisit in winter, one that I think I understand a little more after some events this June. I'll share my thoughts about that in the next post, perhaps tomorrow or the next day.

In the meantime, check your fire extinguishers and break out a copy of Pyromania.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I'm taking lunch and noticed a post on Stormtrack that has to represent the ultimate low point for that venerable masthead. In a topic called "The most important chase equipment," someone replied that a portable GOES satellite was a handy item to carry along while stormchasing. A portable satellite, presumably snatched from its geostationary orbit, maybe by a tractor beam. Or perhaps you could swipe one from a rocket waiting on the launchpad. I'm not sure how you get one of those.

Okay, that's not very generous, and it's true that most of the content on ST these days is some form of advice given by people who've never been chasing to those who will never go, so there's no real harm done.

It does, however, raise the interesting point that there is still no online space specifically for more experienced chasers. This seems odd considering the proliferation of online chasing content. I'm not criticizing any current forums, only making an observation that no sites deliver particular content for a certain segment of the chasing population.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom wrote a fine essay interrogating the American impulse for self-destruction via some of our country's most prominent works of fiction and poetry, particularly Melville and Whitman. The current political atmosphere is the starting point for his inquiry, an environment where runaway deficit spending, eroding civil liberties, illegal government monitoring of private lives, and rampant "nation-building" is the order of the day, led by a right-wing ideology that was, less than 15 years ago, militantly opposed to all those enterprises. That's a characteristic of the right-wingers that shouldn't be ignored: their capacity to abandon their "beliefs" at the drop of a hat should FOXNEWS provide a graphic or Sean Hannity a polemical argument to persuade them. They will do what Rush Limbaugh tells them to do and think what Ann Coulter writes that they should think, and that is very scary.

The Fall semester ended last week and I finished my paperwork for North Texas Review, the undergrad literary magazine of which I'm the faculty sponsor. Sometimes a semester won't fit cleanly into a box and you have to wrestle it out of your life, but this one went away peaceably and I'm grateful.

My friend Jeff Doty visited for a few days this week and we tooled around Denton doing various Christmas shopping errands and eating too much. It was a fun time. Jeff and I are in similar situations regarding our careers: he's about to start his dissertation for a PhD in Literature at the University of Iowa and I'm revising the novel that served as my master's thesis at Indiana. Speaking of that novel, still titled Remedy Wheel, I started back to work on it yesterday for the first time in probably six months. Last semester I could never generate the momentum and was still absorbing the comments and critique of an editor I hired to analyze the manuscript. This coming semester I plan to have enough steam from the Christmas Break that it will be harder to stop than to continue.

The new laptop works great and the keyboard was comfortable and intuitive when I was writing. As for the chasing apps, I've installed a few but tested none. I also think the computer might be too wide for my Jotto Desk, if not the platform then certainly the wire straps. These are problems I'll deal with in March.

My good friend Tony Laubach crashed his well-known chase ride, The Storm Tracer, in the Denver metro area a few days ago. He and his girlfriend are alright but for a few bumps, bruises, and cuts, and the woman in the other vehicle is okay, too, but Tony's car is smoked. Send out some positive vibes for Tony and look for the WXNERD plates on another set of wheels in 2006. Tony is worried about next chase season, but my money is on him finding a way to the meso like he does every year.

Well, there's the quick update. Time to work.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I chose the HP Pavilion dv4000 notebook computer as a replacement for my recently-slain Toshiba. I ordered 2 gigs of DDR2 RAM, a 2.0 ghz Pentium M processor and all the built-in toys available: Wifi, Bluetooth, Network, Firewire, PCMCIA slot, SmartCard, and other things I don't even remember. Essentially it renders obsolete my extensive PCMCIA card collection except the Cingular high-speed modem.

This was an important investment for me. I use notebook computers a lot: every day all day during chase season, and long hours when writing fiction. I wanted a machine that would last four years and replace my desktop eventually. I don't want two computers anymore---when this desktop dies, that's it. I'll have one computer only. It was difficult to balance the competing interests of chasing, writing fiction, and desktop-type power and functionality. On one side, you want a desktop replacement loaded with features and multimedia firepower, but that isn't necessarily compatible with size, weight, or even durability, all of which are concerns for chasing. The notebooks heralded for toughness, however, like the Panasonic Toughbooks and Lenovo ThinkPads, are far less versatile in their feature set. Their hard drives are small or they lack capacity to grow in other ways.

I have always been a Toshiba fan, as my friends know. But many reports of declining quality concerned me. I was especially troubled by the horror stories from the Tecra series, where Toshiba installed the Pentium 4 processor in a thin and light notebook and created terrible overheating problems. People couldn't hold the machine on their laps and even reported keyboards too hot for typing more than ten minutes. I know the P4 is a hot processor, and no, not all Toshibas come with P4s, but that sort of engineering stupidity scared me off the whole brand.

The HP seemed like the best balance of competing interests, and it's a popular chaser brand too. Online reviews from both professionals and end-users were unanimously positive for this model. I tested the keyboard in a retail store and was satisfied with the build, though the silver metallic cover makes the dv4000 look like an overgrown toaster oven. With the 12 cell battery, the machine is a pound or two heavier than my Toshiba, which sucks a little. But the battery lasts more than four hours. My Toshiba smoked batteries in thirty minutes lately, even the brand new battery I ordered before chase season.

Rigging a laptop for chasing is a long process. I'll spend a dozen hours or more loading software, drivers, mods, and otherwise during the holiday break.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Time For A Rant

One of the things I've learned in almost a decade of chasing is that chasers and the internet don't mix during the cool season. We do a lot of bitching and moaning and cat-fighting. So here goes.

I saw a website for a chase team (no I won't say) that contained some of the most outrageous and dishonest claims (which I'll intentionally disguise) for themselves and their members. I'm not going to name the specific site because I don't care about the specifics; it's the trend I want to talk about. The practice. The intentional deceit. I don't want to make it about the individuals because they're not important. In fact, they are particularly UN-important.

One of them claims to have chased for a long time and to have seen prodigous numbers of tornadoes. Now, when chasing fansites appeared on the internet, many emerged from obscurity to claim decades of experience. This is old news. And who knows---these folks may have very well headed out of town once or twice a year---and if they want to call that "chasing," more power to them. Who can say what chasing is? The politically correct will bristle if you dare suggest that chasing involves anything more than the merest curiosity about the hobby. Everybody is a chaser if he wants to be, right? It's the thought that counts.

Of course the chasers who appeared from the mist can reasonably claim that they were never before heard from because: (a), they didn't know about the chaser email lists or bulletin boards on the internet; (b), they didn't know about the internet; or even; (c), they had no interest in publicizing their vast experience and expertise until...well, until they suddenly DID have that interest.

What's harder to grasp is how nobody ever heard of them, met them on the side of the road, talked to other chasers who had heard of them or met them on the side of the road, talked to any NWS staffer (where everybody got data) who had ever heard of them or met them on the side of the road or greeted them as they wandered into an Ops room for a surface plot.

Here's the first problem. Since they actually haven't chased much, they don't realize that chasers see each other on the side of the road ALL THE TIME. Chasers from Louisiana and Kansas see each other in Colorado. New Mexicans meet Nebraskans at Denny's in Ames, Iowa. There is a man who chases from Virginia and I see him every May, usually several times. The chasers who are out year after year become part of the near-storm environment. It's not an anonymous community. Yes, new chasers come and go, but certain faces appear perpetually, several more strands of gray on top, a few more pounds around the middle. They're the ones who HAVE chased for decades and who have seen more supercells and tornadoes than they could tell you about in a day.

Still, for the purpose of this exercise, let’s give the prodigal sons some benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were restricted to a small area and encountered other chasers infrequently or never. Maybe they intentionally hid from other chasers for fear their experience and expertise might be discovered and sought out. Somebody might ask if they chased on a particular date. Whatever. I don't really care about how long they claim to have been chasing.

What pisses me off is the second half of their insidious boast: the zillions of tornadoes. There is an unavoidable calculus in chasing: if you've seen an eye-popping number of tornadoes, then you've been pounding the asphalt from Brownwood to Beatrice for a long time, and every chaser doing the same will have seen your ugly mug more than they see their own grandparents. The very best chasers average one "tornado day" chase per seven to nine chases, on average. That means someone with x tornado days will have participated in ~(x*8) chases in his or her career. For those boasting large tornado counts, that means hundreds and hundreds of chases. No obscurity is possible. That many tornadoes? You've been everywhere. A dozen states. 10,000 miles a year, bare minimum. They don't grow on trees and they don't stay in a four county radius like your barefooted Uncle Fester.

Each point in "Chase Alley" has a specific tornado climatology, with varying degrees of amplitude for the distribution. For example, the Texas panhandle, according to Brooks and Doswell, has the sharpest maxima of tornadoes of any station in their recent study. The trace rises sharply in late May and early June and then drops off the table. Other stations, such as in central Nebraska, have a more even distribution over the entire warm season, but there's no clear "peak" (Brooks and Doswell). Chasers from either spot must travel far to collect triple digit tornado numbers in a lifetime. You can't wait in your backyard. You can't stay in a one-hundred mile radius and expect to see more than a few tornadoes on average per year.

When you post a success rate that puts you in a league with Gene Moore and Tim Marshall, you are claiming quite rarified air. Also, you are suggesting a dedication to chasing that requires an inescapable exposure. Somebody would have seen you.

Which brings me to my rant. This transcends a simple insult to intelligence. It's a sign of disrespect (or perhaps outright contempt) for those who DO log the miles year after year, and also for those of us who hope that MAYBE, when we're in our forties and fifties, we'll have improved our personal understanding of severe weather such that we can at least contemplate the success rate of those best and brightest chasers in history. That's a level you pay for in cash, miles, study time, broken relationships, abandoned goals in other life areas, and much more. It represents a committment bordering on mentally unhealthy. It isn't easily acquired, and those who claim it falsely understand real chasing even less than a visitor who might stumble onto their website from outside the hobby, not knowing any better but than to take them at their unfaithful word.

Brooks, Harold and Doswell, Charles, et al. "Climatological Estimates of Local Daily Tornado Probablility for the United States" Weather & Forecasting. Volume 18 (2003) page 626-640.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I've updated my chase reports to include October 19th. The National Weather Service in Norman asked me for imagery and position information to complement the Camp Houston tornado report Eric and I made that afternoon. The imagery unfortunately is poor for three reasons: I turned the camcorder on a momemnt too late to record the most convincing vortices from the tornado; the vortices (which I have called "condensation tendrils") are mixed in with some erratically behaving rain bands and are very difficult to discern on video; and thirdly, there was rain behind (to the south) of our circulation and these curtains also confuse the picture. However we were both convinced of ground circulation at the time and remain so after reviewing our video.

It wasn't the strongest tornado I've seen, that's for sure, but it was a relatively stout ground circulation beneath a strongly rotating mesocyclone. Either way, it doesn't really matter. The word "tornado" is so useless these days that I don't engage in the semantics. By the classical definition, "a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground," this one doesn't cut it for me. At the same time, it's somewhere on the spectrum of mesocyclonically-induced ground circulations "of strength" and therefore qualifies as something participating in tornadic processes. Whatever the hell that means. I don't count my tornadoes and so I really don't have to decide. It is what it is.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Down Side of Upslope

When I started chasing, the term "upslope" conjured images of long, snaking funnels hanging under modest cumulonimbus in the breathtaking expanse of places like eastern Colorado or New Mexico. Pheonomena with Bermuda Trianglesque mystique such as the DCVZ and Denver Cyclone held promise of a day when I, too, would climb the steep rise toward the mountains and see pristine storms slide into the front range. All my friends agreed these were wondrous things, if only we had the time and money to get there. Next year, we always said, we were definitely going after some upslope.

The word itself holds some key to its allure. One of the basic ingredients for deep moist convection is lift. Lift can come from fronts, drylines, outflow boundaries, and other surface features, and the upper levels can bring lift as well. Lift is complicated, but when chasers describe a "lifting mechanism," they are invariably describing a surface feature they expect to serve as a focal point for thunderstorms. You can have plenty of heat, moisture, and shear, but without lift you'll often languish under a hot and capped sky. The rising elevation of the Front Range and foothills, as you can imagine, provides lift by the bushel. The mountains are on the surface map each and every morning. They are very reliable.

At last I found my way to the Front Range in 2002. Rolling westward, I noticed a line over the horizon and assumed it was a far-away boundary or front, with the leading edge marked by clouds. But these were no clouds; they were the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The scale was so intimidating that I slowed down as if I might lose control and crash into them, or as if the sheer immensity could crush me. I've often told friends that one of the most striking things about supercells is their utter indifference to observation, and to the observer. With mountains, this effect was multiplied many times. I was beyond insignificant. An element of eternity, or at least as close as features on this planet can come, was present in a way I'd never witnessed on the prairie. Down here, it wasn't too long ago that the ocean covered these acres, and anything humans build today will be driven away by the wind tomorrow, shattered to a million pieces and ground to dust. Nobody will ever know we were here, but if they go west they'll see the mountains. They'll see them and they won't look much different than that day in the spring of 2002. I had gone to the mountain and was not disappointed.

By that time I'd come to understand that magic could happen on the high plains. You could have dewpoints in the upper 40's and still see supercells. A cold front less than a day before could be very good news! Twenty-five knots of midlevel flow? No problem. I had learned the DCVZ and the Denver Cyclone are different animals, but either process can assist the chaser, and I understood that chasers had seen dozens of tornadoes during setups that, down the plains, would not earn a second glance. "Looks kind of cool and dry to me," a good friend said one afternoon as we started for Pueblo. Yes it does, but when your target is 5000 feet in the air, conditions are unique.

In 2004, I saw my first Colorado tornado. In 2005, I saw another, and the Limon Mothership, a storm I'll never forget. But before 2005 was finished, upslope and I had come to know each other well. Like an old married couple, there was still love, but not every toss of her hair electrified me anymore. We'd faced each other at first light for much of May. Upslope had grown a little stingy, and with most of Tornado Alley suffering under a terrible pattern, she seemed arrogant and unforgiving.

What I learned in 2005 is that sometimes chasers climb the mountain because there's nowhere else to go. May 2005 was dry and cold everywhere. I can't remember how often we awoke to mid 40F surface temperatures carried on a stiff breeze. I wore long sleeves and jackets while loading the truck, and many of those mornings we headed up the side of the mountain for what little moisture was left. We chased the moisture and hoped that fifteen or twenty knots aloft could vent our storms. We scowled at elevated convective garbage. We rat-raced through canyons to find bases so high we felt like we'd been dropped back to sea level. On May 15th, when a storm near Roswell bore some anatomical similarity to a supercell, we were thrilled. We spat the word "upslope" now. We scoured medium-range models for impending relief from our parched perch and any sign that we might soon graduate to chasing's main stage. Where were the 70F dewpoints? Where were the deepening surface lows and bulging drylines? We wanted warm fronts and outflow boundaries from morning precip. We wanted 3000 joules/kilogram and an Allsup's burrito. We wanted to come on down from there, man. We'd had enough.

Eventually, I went back to Indiana to wait out pattern. Luckily it turned, and 2005's chase season flourished on the plains and in Texas. All complaints about May faded as those lucky enough to head back out in early June caught their limit, and those whose vacations ended at the wrong time suffered in silence. My relationship to upslope will never be the same, but it's a good thing, I think, to shed idealistic notions for a deeper and more mature understanding. Of course I'll chase upslope again. The Colorado Front Range is second only to the caprock as my favorite hunting grounds. It's a beautiful place and though it offered us little relief this May, there's still enough magic up there to make climbing the mountain worth every mile.

A few exciting additions to the blog links this morning: Ed Berry's "Atmospheric Insights" promises in-depth and expert analysis on global-scale dynamics and systems. This is the sort of stuff chasers love in March or even April when we're desperately and often hopelessly trying to extrapolate the quality of the upcoming chase season. Or if we find ourselves in a pattern like mid-May 2005, hoping the entire warm season won't pass without a single favorable regime for supercells and tornadoes. Many readers remember when I quit the plains this May and returned to Indiana. I read the long-range tea leaves in this space nearly every day until it looked like things might swing our way again. Well, that's what Ed is going to do, but the difference is that he actually knows what he's talking about.

I also added a link to Brian Curran's blog, "Fiat Vox." Brian is a long-time chaser and forecaster. I was surprised to see his photos of the Trego Center tornado from the same angle as mine.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Well, I hate being right. The Dallas offensive line played atrociously yesterday and cost them the ballgame. Notable bums included Rob Pettiti and Marco Rivera. Torrin Tucker was competent and I suppose Larry Allen didn't make too many mistakes, but the o-line was in disarray all afternoon. Dallas wasted another stellar defensive performance as the unit allowed the Giants only one long sustained drive. One of New York's touchdowns, in fact, came when their nosetackle bullrushed Cowboys' center Al Guruode, apparently startling him so much that he forgot to block and allowed the rusher to fly through the line where he interrupted a handoff to Julius Jones and caused a fumble which a teamate recovered and hurried into the end zone.

Instead of being in the driver's seat for the division lead the Cowboys find themselves mired with a long list of wild-card conteders. Luckily their good conference record puts them in position to determine something of their own fate. If the season ended right now, the Cowboys would take the second wildcard spot by virtue of tiebreakers. But the season doesn't end tonight; it ends in a month. A lot can happen until then.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Only Dallas Cowboy fans will appreciate or care about this entry. To balance the nastiness of last night's political rant, I'll share my post to the best Dallas Cowboys website on the internet: Cowboys Blog. The guys who run this page are far better analysts than anybody working in the local media here, and their writing does not suffer in comparison. Dallas sports writing is notoriously bad, by the way. Witness Randy Galloway's one-sentence-per-paragraph columns in the Star-Telegram as proof of what low esteen our area sports editors hold us in. Not so with the Cowboys Blog, refreshingly.

In response to a recent preview of the HUGE Cowboys-Giants game in New York tomorrow, where the division lead and likely the eventual winner will be decided, I replied with the following:

"The Henry situation is a big concern, and if I read Parcells' moods correctly on the basis of his press conference tone, he’s very worried about this game–-not because of the significance in the standings–-but because the matchups don’t favor him. Parcells' hierarchy of importance is first matchups and then scheme. Without Henry, the matchups are skewed in favor of the Giants.

As Rafael mentioned, Anthony Henry’s contribution comes not only from matching up well on Plaxico Burress (allowing Newman to focus on Shockey, though I do think the 'pokes will play sides tomorrow and not follow Burress around) but also as a physical run-stopper who gravitates towards the ball. He reminds me of Dat Nguyen. He makes tackles by the bushel. Aaron Glenn doesn’t bring that kind of game, and until Jaques Reeves demonstrates what kind of player he is, I don’t count him as a difference maker. Seems to me that the Cowboys will be forced to keep Roy Williams back with Davis and/or Pile to help on coverage in the deep middle and this will play into Tiki Barber’s hands on play action. I also expect Burress to beat Glenn more than he beat Henry and collect more than the five receptions he made last time. In the Parcells book, I think, our schemes match up nicely when the Giants have the ball, but tomorrow we lose on matchups and matchups come first.

This imbalance could be negated by stellar play from our front four, but when is that not true? I like those guys and think they have an amazing future, but I don’t yet count on them to tip the scales in a critical game.

On the other side of the ball, the problem with our tackles against their defensive ends has been beaten to death, but it’s a worrisome point. When the Cowboys are in max-protect to assist Tucker and Pettiti, there aren’t many players running pass routes. You only get eleven guys. With only two (or three if we’re lucky) pass-catchers out there, Bledsoe often finds himself in a large, relatively secure pocket with nobody open. He holds the ball, and everybody at home yells at the TV: “THROW IT!!!” Throw it to who? Maybe Crayton this week? I hope so. It won't be Peerless Price, we now know, since Parcells cut him about two hours ago. I think Parcells was not only disappointed with Peerless in a profound way, but he couldn't pass up the chance to use Price as a motivating tool for the Dallas players who *did* board that plane this afternoon. Here's what happens if you don't like to block the run. Here's what happens if you disappoint.

If the Dallas Cowboys run out four wide receiver sets or empty backfields, as many fans believe they should do each and every down, Bledsoe would get snapped in two. Parcells will never let that happen. He knows that without Bledsoe, this whole post-season dream is over and fast.

The reality is that our offensive line, for all it’s promise and young athleticism (thinking of Tucker and Pettiti here) is a handicap in tomorrow’s ballgame. Again, our scheme is solid but these matchups favor the Giants. After eleven hard fought games which landed ten players on Injured Reserve (ten!), that’s what happens."

For the most part I've kept politics off this space since the election. My idea was that I had worked my ass off for John Kerry in Ohio, tried to convince as many people as I could that the Bush Administration was a disastrous choice for the nation, and that when it was over it was over. I didn't intend to spend four years in mournful pouting like many of my left-wing brethren.

But I found a story today, something that Tucker Carlson reported in Talk Magazine when he was a reporter there in 1999. For those who don't know, Carlson is a conservative reporter and TV talking-head. This was in Slate today:

In pondering the relationship between governors and the prisoners over whom they have power of life and death, I find myself remembering the single worst thing I ever heard about President Bush. It was something Bush, then governor of Texas, said to a reporter during his first presidential campaign. The reporter in question was Tucker Carlson, ?hardly a hostile figure ?and Carlson reported it in Talk magazine in 1999. It was about Karla Faye Tucker, a convicted murderer whose execution Bush, as governor, had refused to stay. Here is what Carlson wrote (as quoted in National Review, another source hardly known to be hostile toward Republicans):

In the week before [Karla Faye Tucker's] execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them," he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

"What was her answer?" I wonder.

"Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me."

The ugliness of a sitting governor mocking a prisoner's plea to spare her life horrified Carlson, especially after he looked up the transcript of Karla Faye Tucker's appearance on Larry King Live and discovered that nowhere did it show the prisoner asking Bush to stay the execution. It horrified a lot of other conservative journalists, too, including George Will, Richard Brookhiser, and the editorial page of the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire.

Now if you ever stop to wonder how it is we have a White House that supports torture when Americans have always stood against torture, which supports secret prisons when Americans have always supported fair and open proceedings, which pays for favorable stories in domestic and foreign media when Americans have traditionally respected the independence of the press, which borrows billions from China and Japan to finance a war while cutting taxes for the wealthy when Americans have never tried to pawn such a heavy burden to future generations, which consistently ignores or violates treaties argreed upon with other nations in good faith, which opposes higher taxes on oil companies that have reported increasing record profits for each and every quarter since Bush has been President, well, maybe you have your answer.

You better hope that with an administration so obviously contemptuous of our nation's core historical values that you never find yourself on the business end of their displeasure, because what any government does to human beings anywhere in the world they will easily do at home, if they haven't started already.

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