Sloan just wanted to say a quiet goodbye

To readers: For some reason I don’t know,  this column made the Internet/Facebook rounds this week (April 2017) some seven months after its publication in Chicago Tribune affiliates. I do not know if it was archived, even at my http://www.theeditor50.wordpress blog. But here it is again; for those who asked.



By David Rutter

He seemed a man among children. Quiet, confident, never self-focused. He acted like you always thought men were supposed to act. He was Lou Gehrig and Atticus Finch.

He wore John Deere caps when no one looked. He was shy.

He never sought to seem what he wasn’t.

If you admire grand souls, you would have liked him.



So, even now, I never mourn when athletic superstars fail as human beings, because I never thought of them as heroes. They had skill. Do not comingle the two.

But I gave myself one exception to that cool, intellectualized appreciation. Just one.

Jerry Sloan.

Now Sloan faces the last steps of his life, and last week he told us all goodbye while he still could, because a moment awaits just up ahead when that will be denied him.

He is dying.

Admirers gave him a surprise 74th birthday party last week in his rural Salt Lake home. He has good days. They said he seemed himself, just as always. Warm, gentle, funny. He was always the guy who would be your best friend if you were lucky enough.

How long remains for him, no one can say.

He suffers advancing Parkinson’s disease, but he also contracted “Lewy body” dementia, the second most common form after Alzheimer’s. It drove Robin Williams to suicide.

Lewy dementia steals the mind and installs hallucinogenic terrors. About 1.4 million Americans have it.

These two evils will kill Jerry Sloan sooner or later. He wants friends to remember only who he was as a man, not who he’ll become in his last hours.

Even when I first encountered Sloan, I knew he was different. He was a basketball star at the University of Evansville, and I was a hometown high school kid trying to figure out life and my tenuous place in it.

The writers who became colleagues in another five years had already nicknamed Sloan. They called him “The McLeansboro Fox” after his Illinois hometown’s sports teams, and for his wily survival skills.


=In truth, he was born and raised in Gobblers Knob, 15 miles south of McLeansboro, but writers couldn’t figure out how to safely use “Gobblers Knob” in a nickname.

He was the youngest of 10 raised by a single mom after his dad died when Jerry was 4. He did farm chores at 4:30 a.m., and then hoofed almost two miles to school for 7 a.m. basketball practice. He was a tough farm kid with a gentle heart. Not perfect, but real.

He led — willed, actually — the Aces to an undefeated national title in 1965, forever sealing his legend there. Then he introduced himself to Chicago as a 10-year Bulls star and then to the Utah Jazz as a spectacular coach. His Jazz won 1,221 games and made the playoffs 20 times before he quit in 2011.

But that’s just sports stuff. Admire it, or not. Those milestones merely gave him a place to work while he lived an admirable, humble life.

After watching him — knowing him briefly as he passed by — I learned the Essential Sloan. He was a quiet man, inside and out. He let others triumph. He stood quietly at their side and, when they suffered, they never faced the pain and fear alone. He was always there.

He was revered as a person.

He was devoted to his three children and when he finally lost beloved wife Bobbye to cancer in 2004, I feared it might crush him.

They had been twin forces of nature. She had almost physically forced him out of the shadows after he quit the University of Illinois in his freshman year. She made him come to Evansville and leave the farm, at least until he proved to himself he was not running away out of fear.

Then he made himself a permanent, unequivocal superstar.

Her death did not crush him, though her decade of fighting multiple cancers had tortured them both. He became more somber.

He survived with his children and became the luckiest man ever. He and Tammy Jessop found each other, and they wed in 2006.

She saved him as Bobbye had done decades earlier.

In the course of his 55 public years, no one doubted his honesty, compassion or integrity. He never demanded more than he gave. He was dignified and courageous.

He mostly lived the way we all would, if we were better people.

He soon will go from us as he has lived. Quietly.

A significant soul will be gone.

And when that day comes, I will be as sad as I have ever been.


How we allowed Big Data to run our life

by David Rutter

Consider that you’re a strange traveler in the strange land of Big Data. You don’t know what Big Data means of benefit to your life. Or anyone’s life. Admit it. It’s OK.

What do those who accumulate “big data” and subdivide their information inside mega computers do with it, and why would you care? The process seems innately alien, like a “Matrix” subplot or a linguistic debate why Big Data is not a plural.

As for those  us who are mundanely human, we are not players in mega business deals and international finance. We are not trying to corner the world market on Indonesian pig futures.


Big data seems like another of those interminable realities above your karmic pay grade in life. If you ever need to know what it is, somebody will tell you.

Big data, like quantum physics and spiritual confidence in a Benign Hereafter, is merely another of the mysteries that you assumed someone, sometime, somewhere will explain to you.

And now somebody has.

Essayist Cathy O’Neil in Bloomberg News adroitly explains what’s so Big about Big Data this week,and also dissects the cadaver of your dignity.

Without  intending to distract you with too many techno bobbles and shiny beads, O’Neil’s thesis is compelling, and illuminates why Congress pliantly selling off your digital Big Data last month was alarming.

The goal of all corporate data gathering is to reduce you, the human being, to a series of self-contained binary computer choices that build into complex algorithms.


These algorithms predict and ultimately guide choices.


Every choice you make in purchasing, consuming and curiosity is compiled into a formula that defines who you are.


There is a trade involved. Producers of all things buy a surer method of selling you what you are likely to buy. Your predictability is being bought and sold.


But as O’Neil points out, other commodities are being sold, as well. In the case of United Airline’s now infamous de-planed passenger Dr. David Dao, what United’s internal algorithm decided was that he had not paid enough to expect human dignity.


Every aspect of air travel has been reduced to this computation and you buy into the transaction without much thinking. You even tacitly courage the value system. More money gets better seats, better food, extra entertainment, more courtesy.


The implicit deal dimishes or increases your “right” to be well treated based on how much being well-treated is worth to you.


But if you deserve dignity and respect only because of your financial investment, then dignity is merely a transaction you must buy it.

When security guards picked out Dao to toss from an overbooked Chicago flight last week, he was not a random victim. The computer picked him. The algorithm picked him.

You saw what surrendering to the algorithm means to human values.


He had a bought a cheaper seat; he was not traveling with family members whose presence would add to problems if he were jettisoned; he could be bought off more cheaply with voucher compensation than a business class or first class traveler.

He had been, as O’Neil notes, “commodified.”

In short, he had not paid enough to earn the dignity that he might have thought his own inherent humanity had guaranteed him.

Remember that every click of the grocery cash register, every change of your cable TV channel, every use of your debit card adds another set of digits to the Big Data that is the Big You. If you are left on a customer service telephone call for 30 minutes, computer Big Data might have defined and de-prioritized you as a less-useful, less valuable customer.

As to answers, there are none handy, except the eternal hope that only those who see the problem can find the answer.

You have been bought and sold as if you were an inanimate object. How does it feel to be a “bot”?

The challenge is whether you will accept that judgment or demand everyone be respected.



Thinking about chlorpyrifos on Sunday.

By David Rutter

In a yuppie affirmation to clean living, we have fallen in love with farm-to-table restaurant fare because it’s naturally more healthful and chic than other eateries.

We are suckers for vogue chic because it makes us cool.

But that guarantee depends on knowing what your area farmers put on their crops. The fact that your veggies come a farm 2 miles down the road does not guarantee the veggies won’t kill you and your children with cancer-spawning pesticides.

And now that Dow’s killer farm chemical chlorpyrifos has a friend in the White House as well as the EPA’s boss’ office, you will need a keener eye before you can be comforted in your chic dining choices.

Farm-to-table fare is safer only if your favorite restaurant offers an inescapable guarantee that the farms that supply their food promise – vow upon penalty of litigation if they lie – that they will not use the chemicals long known to be deadly to humans.

Make them list chemicals used to treat their “natural” foods. Make them prove they care about safe food.

Even the record of farms that label themselves “organic” have testing records that show they’re organic if you consider “Agent Orange” organic.

Otherwise, that “organic” strawberry you buy at your nearest farm-to-table restaurant could be dipped in Carbendazim, a hormone-disrupting fungicide that’s banned in the European Union; Bifenthrin, an insecticide designated a possible human carcinogen by California regulators and Malathion, a nervous system toxin that the International Agency for Cancer Research also classifies as a probable human carcinogen.

I learned that here.

But you can write some order of the phrase “10 dangerous chemicals on food and crops” and the Google time machine will transport you to thousands of places where you can instruct yourself, if you’d rather not die abruptly. Or impose learning disabilities on your children.

But do not expect Uncle Sam to save you from now on.

Dow AgraChem gave Donald Trump $1 million for his inaugural party. Maybe it’s a coincidence that three months later Trump’s EPA gave the stamp of approval for Dow’s chlorpyrifos.

The lives of your children were sold cheaply by people who will sell bones of their victims to the highest-bidding cemetery.

The only way ultimately to thwart this trade in human lives for chemical profit is to know which farms – by name and locale – use those chemicals and where that farm’s food goes. At one time, consumers could be comforted in their intellectual laziness that the federal government would protect them from pillagers and profiteers.

Now that same government is run by pillagers and profiteers, and will be for the next four years. They can’t be shamed into caring about brain damage to your children, but the farmers who use their chemicals can, and so can restaurants and grocers who sell those products.

There is no corporate morality if it excludes the morality of cash. You must learn to punish profiteers. It will be your only true defense.

Thus as it has always lurked just under the skin,  cash is the only judgment that seems to count. If you do no exact a financial penalty on those who will injure you and your family for their own benefit, you will have earned what they give you.


I was thinking about ‘mendacity’ on Friday

By David Rutter

1: One of the deepest, soul-stripping scenes from Hollywood’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” employs Burl Ives as Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt to unmask the greedy, disloyal conspirators in his own grasping family.

You will never understand Williams’ ode to what he called Southern discomfort unless you understand the pitiless recrimination and eventual triumph of that script.

In Tennessee Williams, redemption resides only in revelation.

I have remembered the Ives’ scenes second-by-second for 60 years since I first saw co-stars Paul Newman as “Brick” and Elizabeth Taylor as “Maggie” light up the screen with their passion. Not that anyone should care, but it was the first important movie of my life.

Says the weary and dying Ives confronting his scheming would-be heirs: “What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?… There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity… You can smell it. It smells like death.”

What’s that smell coming from the Trump White House these days? Can’t you smell it, America? Sure, you can. We’ve always known that smell. It’s the sickly, putrid smell of mendacity.


2: For the fourth time in three days, a different “GOP strategist” was on a TV news talk show warning against citizens being caught in worrying about “process over substance.” The phrase surfaces so frequently in the Trump-Russia Scandal that it clearly is an officially distributed, artificially constructed talking point. The rhetorical goal is meant to dismiss conspiracy by suggesting you should take no note of mendacity, or that man behind the curtain.

Aside from shrugging off the corrupted, paid off shills that appear on TV to defend the president, there is a more direct umbrella “talking point” about what the half-dozen disparate shell games mean once the chaff is cleared.


It’s one word that signifies betraying a nation for greed and power.


3: You know the word and always have. The word is “treason.”


Can you not catch that whiff of mendacity and death drifting on the evening air? Corruption always has a distinct smell.


Yes, the word is “treason.”




3 things I was thinking on Sunday

By David Rutter

1: Men go to movies for several reasons. When they are with an adult female, it’s often relationship maintenance (Re: “La La Land.”) When they are hosting her young son, it’s generosity (Re: new “Lego Batman” movie).

When men are by themselves, it often expresses their truest self-interests. So I went to see “John Wick 2” solo because solo movie-going males like to see vengeful good guys kill bad guys without a second thought. Men love righteous murder.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick comes as close to gleefulness as someone with no real acting skill can in this episode of the Wicks Franchise which I predict will not end until Reeves is 102 years old.

In his Wick debut, he killed 85 by hand (the official count). In this one, the body count is at least 100. I was keeping score but had to take an unavoidable bathroom break for 90 seconds and likely missed him executing a handful.

The trick of Wick’s armed mayhem is that he does not kill one person with his sleek modern artillery arsenal which serves as his co-star. He kills 10 or so within as many seconds like plucking grapes from the vine. It’s a murderous high-tech mixed martial arts ballet.

He strangles, shoots, gouges, stabs and impales (with knives and pencils) his enemies, all at close range.

As a thoughtful enlightened person, perhaps I’m supposed to say how awful it is. But the truth is I like such murderous onslaughts because cinematic vengeance is satisfying and superficially justified. Reeves was meant for the Wick legend because he can be blankly emotionless in his natural state of murderous existence. So no acting is required.

As for Batman Lego, it is monstrously hideous, manipulative and uninstructive, although slightly less awful than Ben Affleck’s last Batman. Affleck seems to have mastered the art of producing two kinds of movies – really good ones and really bad ones.

“Batman Lego” might be as violent and debasing as “Wick 2” though it lacks only close-up cranial bullet wounds. And worse, it pretends to extol human values.

It is, as reality suggests, plastic.

Based on the post-movie credits which went on FOREVER, at least 2,000 people helped make the new Lego plastic movie.

In his next performance, maybe John Wicks can take vengeance on Lego animators. I’d pay to see that, too.

2: In late summer 1953, I was visiting a city park in Harrodsburg, Ky., while awaiting the opening of the Mercer County Fair that night. I remember that day because it was the afternoon I nearly killed myself on a large park swing and had the arc of my life altered forever.

My brush was death was not actual. It was the sort of event that happens when you are a small child being tended by a male relative who is deathly afraid he will have to explain to his wife, your mom, your grandmother and several aunts how you fractured several bones while he was theoretically protecting you from harm.

I had found the world’s largest municipal swing set. It seemed like the metal support beams were 100 feet tall. And once you began to juice up velocity to and fro, the bonds of gravity and centrifugal force seemed to be unleashed, which is the whole point of swings.

And in that fateful final burst of energy, you came very close to reaching zero gravity and escape velocity. You could almost sense you were inches away from flying over the top and back down on the other side, like some maniac circus act.

At the moment when I swung back, my uncle caught me in a dead stop, and informed me very loudly and sternly that I had come very close to killing myself and not ever to do that again. Never. And also, I was NEVER to tell anyone (especially my mother or his wife) what I had done.

From that point on, I never dared the sky or battled gravity because to do so would cause me to die. That’s how you learn boundaries when you are a small kid. I psychologically avoided roller coasters for 50 years for that reason.

But it turns out not everybody is afraid of the Swing Set Space Launch phenomenon, and actually court the experience deliberately.

Among those people – I have recently discovered – are Estonia’s extreme swing fanatics. The very kind of high-altitude dare-deviltry with near-space launches I tried as a child are revered in Estonia, the little country just west of Russia.

Extreme swinging is such a hot item there that it’s become the de facto national sport and might one day become part of the international X-Games roster. Humans are just crazy enough to adopt the idea.

It’s called “kiiking” in Estonia where community swings are a cultural touchstone. In 1993, an expert kiiker finally invented a way to swing 360 degrees without killing himself. It’s all here at

And, yes, it’s now on my bucket list which fills up with new wishes at a faster pace than I can empty it.

3: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

3 more things on Friday

The 3 things I was thinking Friday
1: Almost everyone’s experience suggests why telling the truth is a healthier emotional, intellectual and self-management choice.
Psychologists have studied this phenomenon.
Which is why you should wonder about the long-term mental health of presidential spokesfolks – Sean Spicer and KellyAnne Conway, for example.
Karma and conscience be a bitch.
Let us presume they know the difference between a lie and truth. And given their natural preference, they would tend to tell the truth if they can. But their job does not allow that choice. Their souls have been purchased – or at least leased.
Even presuming underlying political differences, let us presume they know that many positions they are ordered to propose in behalf of Donald Trump are not true. Call them shaded interpretations or call them lies. They know they are not true. They are like lawyers for the cheating spouse in a divorce case.
Science as a long studied the stress effects of peddling such elaborate, repetitive falsehoods. They make you sick, unless you are mentally constructed like Jon Lovitz’s SNL character Tommy Fla-nay-gan, a character built on telling so many lies he can’t remember which are true and which are total fabrications. He was immune from the physical detriments of stress because he couldn’t remember what the truth was, or whether he had accidentally employed it.
So let us presume KellyAnne/Spicer have retained enough intellectual vigor to know what is true and what is a big fat fibberooski they have been ordered to tell.
If they still care about truthfulness, then medical science suggests they will suffer long-term heath risks for becoming Trump’s “Baghdad Bobs.”
This role of officially sanctioned staff fibber always works better for pre-fabricated thugs who never had any scruples – like Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Mike Pence, for example.
Medical penalties aside, KellyAnne and Spicer should ponder that their reputations will follow them forever.
2: Remember Muḥammad Saʿīd Al-Ṣaḥḥāf? Sure you do, perhaps even more specifically than the mass murderer who paid his salary. While you might have retained only a vague recollection of Saddam Hussein’s villainous bio, you are more likely to remember Sai’id. He was “Baghdad Bob”, the lurid, preposterous Saddam TV spokesman who popped up on international TV every day to reveal how Hussein’s military was crushing America’s invasion forces. He even said American GIs were committing suicide by the hundreds to avoid their humiliation.
Baghhad Bob studied journalism and earned a Master’s degree in English literature before he went to work for Saddam. He wanted to be a teacher.
Baghdad Bob probably knew he was lying with every breath. But, hey, it was a job. Better choice than a firing squad.
He’s now living in the United Arab Emirates and selling used Hondas. But his memory lives on.
He was like the Chicago sports flacks who insist the Bears will be much better next year.
3: Every now and then, I have the urge to buy a pickup truck, but preferably an old one because the new models require too much testosterone in the auxiliary fuel tank.
New pickup trucks are advertised as instruments of male dominance and masculine privilege. Given my druthers, I’d just want an old, red Ford with enough rust to give it character. Something with a stick shift you’d drive while you wore raggedy flannel shirts.
My temptation to buy a truck is tempered when I watch the TV ads, which announce the new-truck price of $11,125. That’s not what it costs. That’s the SAVINGS you can get with a great deal. Yee-IKES.
They don’t have enough nerve to actually post the suggested manufacturers list price in large letters.
By quickly decoding the sticker-shock math, that means new pickups with all the fixins’ run $50,000 or so. You’ll also need a borrow enough for your own testosterone injection drip.
My kingdom for an old Ford.

3 more things I found Saturday

by David Rutter


3 things I discovered, and remembered, looking for something else.

1: A moon in our solar system has rain, seas, tides, organic molecules and global chemistry that might look a lot like Earth’s before we unlocked oxygen. The place would reek of methane if the gas there were not frozen stiff. It’s a lovely vacation spot except that it’s often 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In case none of these facts strike a chord of recognition, it’s Titan which circles Saturn, and is more like a small planet than a large moon. Our sentient neighborhood is divided into two groups. Half are those who hear those facts and say “So what?” And those who hear those facts and are even more captivated because we likely will go there only as disembodied robot landers. As for me, sign me up or Robot Space Command. I’m ready for a different planet.


2: I’m getting spam emails from Russia and China, written in Russian and Chinese, which means I must learn new languages in order to be scammed. Maybe they use that same sort of odd Internet Pigeon Nigerian dialect. “Dearest, Beloved Comrade, I have many million of rubles and yens just for you because my former husband died belligerently of the really bad cancers, and I cannot convert my bequest without your beloved assistance.”

3: Just my urological opinion, but If Donald Trump wants a morality pissing match with Georgia Rep. John Lewis

he’s going to need a bigger bladder. Lewis with only a Bible for defense was nearly beaten to death by Alabama State Troopers after 1965’s Selma civil rights march. Nearly simultaneously, our soon-to-be 45th president was claiming Vietnam War service credit for not catching a venereal disease in New York. Totally equivalent achievements.

Lewis need not fear his reputation for a life of courage will be tarnished. As for us, we are doomed to four years of urination humor before it peters out.