The Maverick Family

This is the best thing I’ve read in a week: from John Schwartz in the Times, the family history of the actual Maverick family, Texans with a long streak of progressive politics: 

There’s that word again: maverick. In Thursday’s vice-presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican candidate, used it to describe herself and her running mate, Senator John McCain, no fewer than six times, at one point calling him “the consummate maverick.”

But to those who know the history of the word, applying it to Mr. McCain is a bit of a stretch — and to one Texas family in particular it is even a bit offensive.

“I’m just enraged that McCain calls himself a maverick,” said Terrellita Maverick, 82, a San Antonio native who proudly carries the name of a family that has been known for its progressive politics since the 1600s, when an early ancestor in Boston got into trouble with the law over his agitation for the rights of indentured servants.

In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it, Ms. Maverick said; unbranded cattle, then, were called “Maverick’s.” The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand.

Sam Maverick’s grandson, Fontaine Maury Maverick, was a two-term congressman and a mayor of San Antonio who lost his mayoral re-election bid when conservatives labeled him a Communist. He served in the Roosevelt administration on the Smaller War Plants Corporation and is best known for another coinage. He came up with the term “gobbledygook” in frustration at the convoluted language of bureaucrats.

This Maverick’s son, Maury Jr., was a firebrand civil libertarian and lawyer who defended draft resisters, atheists and others scorned by society. He served in the Texas Legislature during the McCarthy era and wrote fiery columns for The San Antonio Express-News. His final column, published on Feb. 2, 2003, just after he died at 82, was an attack on the coming war in Iraq.

Terrellita Maverick, sister of Maury Jr., is a member emeritus of the board of the San Antonio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Considering the family’s long history of association with liberalism and progressive ideals, it should come as no surprise that Ms. Maverick insists that John McCain, who has voted so often with his party, “is in no way a maverick, in uppercase or lowercase. IIt’s just incredible — the nerve! — to suggest that he’s not part of that Republican herd. Every time we hear it, all my children and I and all my family shrink a little and say, ‘Oh, my God, he said it again.’ He’s a Republican,” she said. “He’s branded.”

Brilliant. I love that woman.

Bailout Analysis

Most of what’s passing for “explanation” or “analysis” of the financial crisis is about as valuable as a mortgage-backed security, but this article by John Leonhardt in the Times is a really good overview of the crisis, the solution, and the context for both. A few choice bits:

… All told, the Federal Reserve has pumped $800 billion into the financial system, Ben Bernanke, its chairman, estimated on Tuesday. That figure doesn’t include the untold sum that the Fed now plans to spend buying short-term debt so that companies can continue to pay for their daily operations. And it doesn’t include any of the money the Treasury Department is laying out, like the $700 billion bailout fund or the $200 billion that could be spent propping up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

After 14 months of crisis, the federal government — meaning you and me — has put serious money on the line. As a point of comparison, the entire annual federal budget is about $3 trillion.

Even before the crisis, the Bush administration was set to bequeath a $550 billion deficit to its successor. Now, a better estimate appears to be $750 billion — or 5 percent of gross domestic product. The only years since the 1960s that the deficit has been nearly so large were the early 1990s (almost 4.5 percent of G.D.P.) and the mid-1980s (with a peak of 6 percent in 1983).

… Obviously, next year’s deficit is a problem. And if you assume the credit crisis isn’t about to lift — which seems smart at this point — the ultimate cost of the bailouts could conceivably go higher. Whatever the final figure, it should still be put in some context.

Despite everything, the biggest fiscal problem remains, far and away, health care. Based on the rate that medical spending has been rising, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that Medicare and Medicaid will take up 10 percent of G.D.P. within two decades, up from about 4 percent now. In today’s terms, that would be the equivalent of adding at least $900 billion to the deficit every single year, in perpetuity. It makes the cost of the bailouts look like a rounding error.

Surprises at the Mall

I had to take the car to the shop today ($800 repair, covered by the warranty: thank god for a consumer economy) and occupied myself during the repair by making the short trip over to Burnsville Center. Apart from having dinner at the Mall of America with a blog friend a while ago, this was my first visit to a real mall (note: the “Faribo West Mall” in Faribault does not count), and I felt a little bit like the hick in the big city. A few surprises:

  • The myriad oppotunities for free ear piercing.
  • The prominence of lingerie in shop windows.
  • The ubiquity of Packers gear.
  • The thorough co-branding.
  • The law office near the Cinnabon.
  • The Somali-based workforce.
  • The prevalence of kiosks.
  • The prevalence of kiosks selling cell phones, sunglasses and accessories, and dubious-sounding health care “solutions.”
  • The sheer number of vending machines, although they only sold Coke and Coke products.
  • The high prices.

Little Post about Jack & Diane

For whatever ’80s-cosmic reason, I have heard John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” twice in the last week. Good god, what a fantastic song. From the metallish guitar riff that dissolves into those stark chords to the miniaturist verses, it’s a perfect few minutes of song. I remember thinking, in my 20s, having heard this song my whole life, that the aphoristic line at its heart was painfully true: “Oh yeah/Life goes on/Long after the thrill/Of living is gone.” Now I think it’s irredeemably, adolescently maudlin – and still more than slightly true.

Little Pumpkins

Just like we did last year around this time, today the Tassavas headed out to Thorn Crest Farm, a lovely little homestead southwest of town. Once the littlest member of the family emerged from her post-nap funk, we had a blast trooping around the piles of pumpkins and gourds, choosing a few apples for later, petting the cow and the horse, and generally soaking up the fall-on-a-farm ambiance.

Meeting Bessie
Meeting Bessie

I’ll leave to Shannon a more detailed account, but suffice it to say that the girls were happy to find some pumpkins for the house

Julia and Her Pumpkin
Julia and Her Pumpkin
Genevieve and Her Pumpkin
Genevieve and Her Pumpkin

while I had to make do with a couple of nuts.


Overdistance Rollerski, or, Thinking Snow

This morning, the female fraction of the family attended a friend’s birthday party, giving me the opportunity  to do an “overdistance” rollerski workout – going longer, in terms of both time and distance, than a normal workout, with the aim of really taxing the body and forcing it to work harder than it does in regular distance or interval workouts.

Judging by the all-day throbbing in my shoulders, back, and upper legs, it worked.* More importantly, both the weather and the scenery were fabulous. After making my way through a crowd of surly road-users


I was out among the endless brown and green fields broken only by a few strands of trees or farmsteads…

Northeast of Northfield
Northeast of Northfield
East of Northfield
East of Northfield

Not a bad way to spend a couple hours.

* Final totals for the session:

  • 29.77 kilometers (18.50 miles) skied
  • 2:03:52 total ski time
  • 139 beats per minute average heartrate, with a maximum HR of 162
  • 1440 calories burned
  • Three energy gels and 56 oz of energy drink consumed
  • One gel packet dropped but later recovered
  • Four bike riders and one runner encountered
  • Zero crashes committed

Faster Than a Dodge Grand Caravan!

I realized a second ago that today marks the beginning of my fourth year at Carleton. I started my job here on October 3, 2005, which seems both a long time ago (I only had one kid then!) and not really that long ago (I only had one kid then!). It’s been a great three years, I must say. When I have another three years under my belt, I might finally stop feeling like a newbie.

I celebrated this milestone by inadvertently resolving an issue I’ve been considering as long as I’ve been riding my bike to and from work: is it faster to bike than to drive? I’ve thought so, but never had the chance to actually test it, since I can’t really race myself.

But this morning, pedalling up the street, I saw one of my neighbors, a professor who works one building away from me, getting into his car. Gentlemen, start your engines! Or your lungs, as the case was. I adjusted my speed so that I passed his driveway just as he finished backing up, giving us a more-or-less equal starting point.

I rode to campus at my usual speed, expecting his Grand Caravan to zoom by on my left at any second. As I approached the turn onto the the straightaway to my building, he hadn’t yet caught up, and I thought that I just might beat him outright – and right there he passed me, trying to break my spirit. But I had a plan – beyond even the application of superhuman willpower. Oh, yes: I would still be riding when he had to make like a hominid and start walking.

So I maintained my speed, and sure enough, I passed him back in the parking lot, where he was getting out of his car for the short walk to his building. 200 yards later, locking my bike to the bike rack, I looked back down the sidewalk to find him still strolling toward his building. Two wheels good, four wheels slow!

Another Post on the Alaska Governor

Katha Pollitt, opining brilliantly about the Palindrome.

There is just no way Sarah Palin is equipped to be vice president, much less president. She doesn’t know enough; she lacks the necessary grasp of, and curiosity about, our complex world; her political philosophy could fit on a bumper sticker: Us versus Them. The lack of stamps in her recently acquired passport has been much noted (yes, I know, Bill Kristol, Lincoln was not a big traveler, either); it isn’t even clear she’s well acquainted with the Lower 48.

(Link and pun stolen from Michael Bérubé.)


One of Genevieve’s major sources of frustration with The World is that so few people in it can figure out what the hell she’s saying. Julia’s probably best at this arduous, high stakes task. Shannon is not far behind, but I lag well back. I counted it as a triumph a few weeks ago that I succeeded in getting Genevieve to repeat something more than twice before staging one of her freakouts.

Tonight came what I hope is another breakthrough. Vivi jogged up to me, jumped up and down excitedly and patted her stomach, then yelled, “Doo-doo nammy! Doo-doo nammy! Doo-doo nammy!” I had no idea what she was talking about. “Is it something you want to do?” “Nooooo.” “Is it something you want me to get?” “Nooooo!” “Is it playing?” “NOOO!” As I guessed, Shannon came upstairs, and after a few more wrong, wrong, wrong tries, she hit it: “Tickle your tummy! ‘Doo-doo nammy’ means ‘Tickle my tummy!'” Genevieve looked up at me with the same look you might give a dense dog that just figured out that you had not, in fact, thrown the ball, then threw herself down on the floor, shrieking “Yeaaaaaaaah! “Doo-doo nammy!”

She very much enjoyed the tickling.

[post edited to reflect how it all actually went down]

One More Post on the Governor of Alaska

Via an excellent piece by Rebecca Traister in Salon,

Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness.

I came across this even more excellent blog post by the journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, explaining how and why it could be that McCain’s decision to pick Palin was, in fact, cruel and sexist:

Which brings me to the sexism of John McCain. He knew full well what Sarah Palin was going to face if he nominated her. He knew that reporters would go through her past, that they’d quizz her on the present, that she would need to be ready, and he shunted concern aside, and tossed her to the wolves. Think on that for a mement. For one last run at the White House, he risked a future star of the party he claims to call home. How do you do that?

Signs of the Times

Sorry for the crappy cell-phone picture, but I had to post this: a big old maroon Cadillac, parked outside the union this noon, wearing a Dominos roof sign. It looks like a way to get cheap pizza, but it’s actually a metaphor for the American economy – something about ridiculous ostentation culminating in the hollow satisfaction of pathetically simple needs.

Dominos Cadillac
Dominos Cadillac