The curious logic of Professor Adam Carroll

Last week, Indiana University School of Medicine professor Adam Carroll filed a piece for the New York Times with a provocative premise. Titled Preventive care saves money? Sorry, it’s too good to be true, it argued that investing in preventative care doesn’t actually yield savings. Here’s its opening and closing: Continue reading “The curious logic of Professor Adam Carroll”

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Mark Jackson, “That Man”, and Hitler — how an 85-year-old meme got new life in the NBA

Summary: NBA commentator Mark Jackson’s signature phrase is an old American joke about children not recognizing their father that became so widely popular in the 1930s it crossed the Atlantic and was used derisively of Adolf Hitler prior to WWII.

Full explanation: Mark Jackson’s “Mama, there goes that man (again)” is most closely associated with Kobe Bryant highlights from a decade ago, but Jackson has subsequently used it in his post-coaching announcing career as an acknowledged catchphrase for LeBron James and Kevin Durant, among others, and it pops up occasionally now in other sports.

Ever since Jackson started doing it on nationally televised NBA games, people have been asking “What’s the deal with Mark Jackson saying that?”

A popular answer on the Internet is that Steve Harvey had been using the phrase in his standup in the early 2000s and Jackson took it from that. While that may be the most immediate provenance, I’m not familiar enough with his comedy to recall it, and other than references to Mark Jackson, I couldn’t find evidence of that claim online.

What’s more likely is that he picked it up from a grandparent or great-grandparent, and that’s because “That Man” was an incredibly popular, international meme in the 1930s and early ’40s that all-but-evaporated in the meantime.

This is illustrated by the title of a former BBC show that generated quite a few catchphrases of its own during its run: “It’s That Man Again”. The radio program supposedly got its name from a common practice of the Daily Express newspaper calling Adolf Hitler “that man” in its headlines in 1939. I haven’t been able to find any of those headlines directly, but it’s widely cited and the explanation the creators gave for their choice in title, intending for it to be topical.

You might be fooled, then, into thinking the original meaning is referencing literal, historical Hitler. But to my knowledge, Jackson has never used it for a James Harden highlight, and the phrase was already ubiquitous when the Nazis came to power.

By 1934, it was popular enough that there was already a song called “That Man Is Here Again” by Cab Calloway, and a sort of common reference is made to it in the film “The Thin Man”, also released in 1934.

For a fuller explanation, skip to 16:45 of this episode of Lexicon Valley by John McWhorter as he goes into it and how it was a pervasive joke that made it into all movies and such around that era.

There was a joke and the joke was that a husband and father is away so much that when he comes home his child says, “Mommy, that man is here again.” For some reason that was considered hilarious.

A Dictionary of Catch Phrases” by Eric Partridge takes a more cynical view:

‘The joke-reference had to do with the basic situation of mummy’s boy friend being innocently identified by a child—”Mummy, it’s that man again”—as once more he comes calling while daddy is out’ (Wedgewood, 1977). But then Shipley writes, ‘My recollection [of “Mummy, it’s…, in the US] is that it began not as a story or a joke, but as a caption to a cartoon’—which he cautiously dates as belonging to the early 1930s.

Which also means Alex from Yahoo! answers actually had their shit together years ago, unlike apparently everyone else on the Internet. Well, except for one self-published racist hack, surprisingly.

So there you have it! When Mark Jackson is saying “Mama, there goes that man!” to punctuate a dunk, he’s ultimately referencing an, at a minimum, 85-year-old joke about absent fathers or cuckoldry. Either way, the player in question is a real motherfucker, which lines up pretty well with how the phrase is used today.

Sports facilities, mass transit, and desegregation

HUMAN 0
St. Louis will never have an NBA team again. We literally have no basketball culture here.

There are more parks with hoops in the middle of Missouri than there is in all of the parks in St. Louis.

HUMAN 1
By design. I had a hard time finding a basketball court whenever I lived there. They have tennis courts, golf, and baseball diamonds in forest park but not one basketball court which probably has the smallest footprint of any the mentioned sports… well maybe not tennis.

Our city is actually divided into St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Suburbs are totally normal, but I’ve never have been to a city that is literally divided into a County and a City.

So much so that we don’t have a proper metro system because people in the county don’t want crime in the city brought to their suburbs.

Media likes to portray St. Louis as a crime ridden city, but the real problem is this city just seems barren. I’ve been to a few major cities in the last year, and their downtowns are thriving on random Tuesday nights. We just don’t have that here.

There’s a parallel in mass transit to what happened with community swimming pools.

A lot of racist jokes exist about black Americans not knowing how to swim, but it has a basis in fact, and it’s not a coincidence. Children weren’t allowed to swim in segregated community pools then once the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, cities and counties decided to shut them all down or make them private, or make it so that only people who were wealthy enough to have their own backyard pools could swim.

I don’t think you can underestimate how much racism plays in even to something like opposition to mass transit. All transportation is public transportation, but everyone can use mass transit to get around a city or region. Without it, there’s a barrier for travel put up so that only people who can afford cars, including registration, maintenance, gas, and parking, get the benefit of roads. Which means you have to be even more wealthy already if you want to live in the suburbs and work in the city. It’s an invisible wall for the gated communities out there.

Not every place is dense enough for mass transit to make sense, but I’d argue the largest reason American cities lack the sort of infrastructure cities in European and Asian countries have is that everyone gets to benefit from mass transit, and that’s exactly what people who benefit from racist inequality don’t want.

To take it back to sports directly, but in a less well-thought-out way, this is the major motivation behind moving stadiums and arenas out to less-accessible suburbs like the Atlanta Braves did. They were trying to solve the ‘problem’ the Hawks have of black people attending their games and wanted to go to a place where it was less accessible to MARTA, with both versions of the acronym being appropriate.

Likewise, I think Seattle as a predominantly white city is a major factor in mass transit and stadiums that are downtown and easy to get to via that mass transit.

Texas named its counties for a lot of horrible people. Mathew Ector is one of them

As memorials to slavers and other Confederate heroes have been removed from public and otherwise challenged in recent months, a common complaint is that, by doing this, we’re forgetting our history or erasing it.

In my home county, we still have the historical marker its namesake:

Created February 26, 1887 from Tom Green County organized January 15, 1891, named in honor of Matthew Duncan Ector 1822-1879. Member of the Texas legislature a confederate officer and outstanding jurist Odessa, The County Seat.

Indeed, Ector (his first name was actually spelled Mathew) was a Confederate brigadier general and later a Texas high court judge. As a jurist, he’s most notable for re-affirming racist marriage laws after Reconstruction.

In 1878’s Charles Frasher v. the State of Texas, presiding judge Ector wrote:

Continue reading “Texas named its counties for a lot of horrible people. Mathew Ector is one of them”

#WIREDBACKPAGE: Mysteries set in 2049 after the first six words

The other day, I came up with 10 six-word story beginnings for a contest/prompt by Wired Magazine. That got me thinking they might also work for slightly longer flash fiction, so I’m going to work them up a bit over the next few days.

They might not all be able to sustain more than the first sentence, but I’m going to give it a go anyhow, and we’ll see where they end up. Continue reading “#WIREDBACKPAGE: Mysteries set in 2049 after the first six words”

My grandmother was much more ready for her funeral than the rest of us

In September 2016, my extended family got together to celebrate my grandfather’s and first-cousin-once-removed’s 90th and 80th birthdays respectively. We didn’t all get together again until June 2017 with my grandmother’s passing. 

As my father said after the gravesite ceremony, ‘You know, I think we had a lot more fun at the birthdays.’ But we had a lot of fun at the funeral, too, just with more crying and sobs mixed in. This was my euology at the service.


Thank you all for coming here today. It means a lot to see all of you here and know that Betty impacted your lives, as well.

I’m going to try to not go on and on or get choked up too much. My Mama had only so much patience for long-winded speakers, and she was about the least sentimental person when it came to the idea of her funeral.

Some of you probably remember her joke about going grocery shopping. ‘At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.’ And she thought it was very funny! But it was harder for me to find it funny.
Continue reading “My grandmother was much more ready for her funeral than the rest of us”

In a good story, the opposing tension supports the weight

The other day I watched the Black Mirror episode ‘The Entire History of You‘, and it was wonderful and terrifying and a really good work of science fiction.

Most of all, it was a really good work of fiction, period, because it successfully gave you two competing claims for a moral then forced you to decide which was right.

Continue reading “In a good story, the opposing tension supports the weight”