Sleight of Hand?

February 5, 2017

Is the Trump Administration, and Steve Bannon in particular, playing chess while we are all assuming they’re playing checkers? Or put another way, is Bannon a master magician, and are we the victims of sleight-of-hand? The recent immigration ban was so amateurishly conceived and executed that it has left some of us thinking it must be misdirection—a ruse to cover something they don’t want us to notice. Isn’t it possible that by creating such a storm of controversy they led us away from the real story: installing Bannon on the National Security Council’s Principals’ Committee—an unprecedented move elevating a non-military/non-elected official to the most critical foreign policy committee in government, while simultaneously downgrading the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest ranking military officer in the country), and the Director of National Intelligence, to occasional participants?

We all need to stay well informed since the administration seems to be smarter than they want us to think they are.

And You See, Here We are

November 13, 2016

Okay, I’m a little depressed. Have been for months—at least since Cleveland, when I talked to his supporters and realized logic and common sense had been supplanted by anger and fear, and that he was probably going to win. It became even clearer to me than when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win.

Of course, his simplistic solutions to our long-term intractable economic problems will not work. These are not “cyclical” changes brought about by Obama’s policies. They are, economically speaking, a “secular,” or fundamental change. The twin forces of globalization and automation have devastated the manufacturing economy. I feel bad for my fellow Buckeyes, and all of the middle-class workers in the Upper Midwest whose prospects, whose very lives, have been decimated by outsourcing and factory closures. But, as the writer Tom Friedman recently pointed out, more jobs will be lost to the micro-chip than to China. Solar is now less expensive on a per-kilowatt-hour basis than coal. The mining industry in Appalachia was devastated long ago, and not by policy, but by innovation. The great Pennsylvania and Ohio steel mills will not reopen unless he really does start a trade war, and that would be a pyrrhic victory.

Technological progress is tricky and irreversible. Its promise is always coated in poison for some group. Still, our march is forward, not backward, even if to our own oblivion. Somehow, we adapt. The Catholic church thought it would be finished if enough people believed Galileo, but somehow it survived not being the center of the universe.

Our President-elect remains manifestly unqualified. He’s the dog that catches the car, then has no idea what to do with it. Nonetheless, even though he will lose the popular vote by 1.5-2 million votes (a bigger loss than Romney’s or McCain’s) he won the Electoral College challenge, and now his success or failure is ours. I hope he is able to recognize the dangerous divisiveness of some of his followers and advisors. Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, women—all have been given good reason to fear. His apologists are blaming the media, but the truth is he said intemperate and divisive things. He embarrassed us in the world, and my worst fear is that he may not know that.

He is no Republican, so it is impossible to know what he’ll actually do, but to the extent that he is their stooge, they may well finish the wrecking job they began long ago with gerrymandering, racially inspired voter suppression, and court packing.
I’m tired of the fight, but I think they’re counting on that, so I’ll go chair the Common Cause Georgia meeting Thursday night, and we’ll keep the Progressive Voices App going.
They say it’s a great victory for the working class, but all I see is the next “What’s the Matter with Kansas” moment. Our brethren in the Midwest have been sold another bill of goods, this time economic instead of social. The working class has in fact been left behind, and they deserve better, and more than a Trump presidency is likely to bring them or the country.
As the sign above my dad’s desk said, “iiligitmi non carborundum.” We must not let the bastards grind us down.

Right Time; Wrong Guy

July 24, 2016

We have come a long way, to be sure, but after two terms of a black man in the White House, a time we naively believed meant that we were suddenly “post-racial,” a time that has been punctuated by the ugliest racism we’ve seen since the Sixties, it is obvious that for as far as we have come, we have a really long way to go.

I produce and syndicate talk radio shows and podcasts, so I spent the week at the RNC in Cleveland. I’ve never seen a more hateful group of people or a major political party so loosely tethered to reality. Early Tuesday morning I was with a right leaning radio host (whom I actually like as a person). The GOP/Trump reality distortion field was so effective, that he railed about the media and Hillary making much ado about nothing concerning Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech. I told him that the only fact in evidence was that she had, wittingly or not, spoken Michelle Obama’s words as if they were hers, and had done so without attribution—the very definition of plagiarism. He protested that what really mattered was that the evil media and Crooked Hillary were to blame. Obviously spouting the campaign line, he, and all the others who attempted to do so, were humiliated later in the week when the Trump associate who had cribbed the lines came forward and apologized.
Every speech was fraught with the darkness Trump hopes to convince us has engulfed our world. Hillary Clinton was vilified by nearly everyone who took the podium, and The Q rocked with chants of “Lock her up.” The head of the New Hampshire Republican party suggested that she should be “Lined up and shot” for treason (which caused the Secret Service to pay him a visit). So much hate. So much fear.
My worst fear is that while we have all known the game is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful, Donald Trump is the first office seeker to express the new found right wing populism effectively enough to win his party’s nomination. I suspect that Trump is exactly the wrong person at exactly the right time. We are kidding ourselves if we think he is unelectable.
As Tony Schwartz, the (real) author of the bestselling Trump book, “The Art of the Deal”, states in the New Yorker, Donald Trump is a narcissist and a sociopath whose gnat-like attention span is only elongated when the topic is him. That so many Americans find him appealing is the fodder for an onslaught of academic papers and books that are forthcoming. Let us hope they will be forensic in nature, and not commentary on a sitting U.S. president. Our country has been waiting for a populist strong enough to break the system. It is most unfortunate—potentially tragic—that Trump is the breakout candidate fulfilling this middle class wish. While it would be enough to say the system is rotting from the inside, and that we need new rules to restrict the power of the incumbent class, we have instead gotten a demagogue willing to use the divisive tools of hate and prejudice.
Right time; wrong guy.

Investigation or Fundraiser?

February 16, 2016

As this election season heats up, we should all seek a better understanding of Congressional inquiries. Let’s turn the prism, and see these hearings in a new light.

The history of the Congressional hearing is mixed. Sometimes, as in the case of Watergate, it was a high quality, public method of exposing truth. It’s wake was long and significant. A president was impeached and resigned before he was tried. Campaign finance rules and oversight ensued.

Sometimes, the Congressional hearing is just political theatre. Inquiries on Capitol Hill got at the facts of the Iran Contra scandal, but precipitated very little actionable reform. Sure, Oliver North went to jail briefly for lying to Congress, but the Reagan Administration was largely untouched and unrepentant (oh, and Ollie North became a hero to the fetishists of the Hard Right, and was enriched by publishers and Fox News, but I digress.)

Sometimes the political theatre has real and damaging results. Take for instance, the McCarthy Era, when one despicable Senator from Wisconsin was able to parlay the “Red Scare” during the Cold War into the wholesale ruination of many lives.

It was only when the Chief Counsel for the United States Army, in defense of a helpless young witness, famously confronted McCarthy with the immortal words, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no decency?” It was the beginning of the end for McCarthy, because the mantle was picked up by Edward R. Murrow of CBS news—this was back when TV news was a trusted institution—and Americans turned on Joe McCarthy, who was thusly forced to slink ignominiously into history.

Today, you can add a new wrinkle to the Congressional hearing. The Republican majority—the one that chairs these committees and has the power to issue subpoenas demanding witnesses appear before them—has a new strategy.

The hearings are raw footage for campaign television commercials. They are the body copy for mailers to the faithful, and fuel for internet-driven conspiracy theories for consumption by the indoctrinated.

At their base, they are show trials intended to keep controversy alive without substantive fact, all in the service of raising the life blood of reelection campaigns—money.

That’s right: they exist not to find truth, but to create compelling commercials, to ruin the reputations of political opponents, to keep the herd’s anger fresh. And, above all else, to fundraise.

Of course Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican, didn’t give Planned Parenthood’s president a chance to actually answer his questions. She was a just prop in his fiction about the selling of baby parts. And of course multiple Benghazi hearings haven’t yielded any new information. As the former Republican counsel to the committee investigating Benghazi admitted publicly last year, they were staged merely to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chance of becoming president.

I’m curious to see how the water crisis in Flint plays out in Congress. The fact that Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, whose appointee ordered the switch that has created an unprecedented public health crisis in a major American city has not been called to testify, is very telling.

Our job as citizens gets harder and harder. Now that we can no longer take Congressional hearings at face value, we have to learn to weigh the organizers’ motives, and decide for ourselves whether the outcome has value.

A War of Words (and Images)

November 19, 2015

The fact that ISIS out-messages us by reaching alienated young people online, and motivates them to acts of unthinkable inhumanity, is unacceptable.

They seem to own social media, and are lauded at every turn for their expertise in recruiting vulnerable young people who have lived a life of deprivation under the thumb of one dictator or another. Easy pickings, I guess. When you have no job and no prospects, most anything that gives you some power in a powerless world looks better than what you have.

I know it’s more fashionable to roll out the drums of war and talk about bombs and boots on the ground, but if our formidable advertising industry turned its sites on young impressionable potential jihadists, they just might be able to inspire a new generation of nation-builders instead of destroyers.

If you think it can’t be done, consider that our marketers repeatedly do the improbable. After all, they taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, got women to smoke a “feminist” cigarette and remade the VW Bug from Hitler’s proletarian-affordable vehicle into an American middle-class icon.

We can certainly turn our messaging–okay, propaganda–skills to the very social media where disenfranchised young Arabs and Muslims live, and fight the slick ISIS presentations with even slicker propaganda. As it is, we’re leaving some of our most potent weapons holstered.

C’mon. We invented the modern advertising game. It’s time we play to win.

Imagine the power of thousands of new teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, technologists and people of all kinds working toward building something they own and can grow, instead of strapping on suicide vests.

Are you telling me that we can’t be more persuasive on social media than the people who are motivating them now?

I don’t believe it.

Utopia Delayed

September 16, 2015

Man, there’s a lot of hate out there.

I’ve been thinking about the things that unite us and divide us. For reasons obvious and not, our differences are important, positive, even. Sometimes they challenge us to think differently and pave the way for innovation: my steam engine is faster than your horse; you may have launched the first satellite into orbit, but we will land on the moon before you.

Our differences also inspire our worst instincts: need I enumerate the ever more efficient ways in which we denigrate, impugn, accost, jail, maim and kill our fellow men? I think not, but if you need examples turn on the news. Anytime.

The Conventional Hate the Unconventional

Our disdain for our fellows knows no bounds. Monday, the Wall Street Journal had an article about the collaboration between Rolling Stone Keith Richards and drummer Steve Jordan for the new Richards album, “Cross-eyed Heart.” A reader commented that “somehow, successful degenerates” don’t make him feel “warm and runny inside.” 

In response, I wrote the following:

Good. 

You probably would not have liked Christ, Galileo, da Vinci, van Gogh or Einstein either. They were all successful degenerates according to the cultural norms of their times. 

Seers, visionaries and creatives march to a different drummer, create new standards for spirituality, art and science, suffer the remonstrations of their cultures, and not incidentally, remake their societies along the way. If they sought approval from conventional “leaders,” or sublimated their authentic selves to the whims of current society, we would all be poorer for it. 

Or, as Salmon Rushdie said, “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas—uncertainty, progress, change—into crimes.”

That’s an example of the least destructive form of disagreement: an argument over art and artists. And it is proof that we will fight about anything.

My Ethnic Group Hates Your Ethnic Group

Blood is rarely spilled when debating the relative merits of painters or guitar players, but you don’t have to wait very long for carnage to ensue when the topic is class, religion, nationalism, or ethnicity. Sure, we could write a multi-volume book (we’d call it A Bloody History of the World) about the purges, putsches, assassinations, deportations, mass-migrations, burnings, bombings, and all out wars caused by religion and culture clashes, but for the sake of brevity, let’s just lump all those things together here, and say that where you live and how you were raised powerfully influence your time on earth.

In listening to the NPR talk show, “On Point” this morning, I was struck by the large conversation that is preceding the release of the buzz worthy movie, “Meet the Patels,” a docu-styled film about Indian culture generally, and arranged marriage specifically. It’s an internal culture clash that has some traditionalists saying they will not walk away from their cultural institutions like arranged marriages, and some younger, more Westernized Indians saying they can’t get away from arranged marriages fast enough. The discussion was primarily between Anglicized Indians and their parents in the old country, and it got fairly pitched.

Loud, and at times uncomfortable, at least it wasn’t violent, which is more than we can say for so much of our collective past. Whether Hitler trying to exterminate the Jews, or the sectarianism of ISIS Sunnis trying to exterminate their rival sect, the Shia, history is rife with examples of cultural cleansing of the “other.” Through ritual, suspicion, fear, ignorance, superstition, tribalism and religion, our species does not play well with “others.”

A friend loves to tell the story of her racist father’s reaction to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. He cried to his daughter that he just couldn’t believe we had elected a black man President, to which she replied, “No, Daddy, he’s only half-black. You know, like your grandchildren are going to be.” Of course her sarcastic remark was made out of petulance and frustration, but a la Shakespeare, many a truth is said in jest.

Inter-Marriage as Salvation?

I have no empirical data to support this idea, but maybe, to cure most forms of bloody disagreements, we just need to marry one another. Common sense points us toward this goal, and at the same time predicts that we cannot overcome our innate suspicions and culturally derived prejudices, making the effort to save ourselves futile. If nothing else, imagine the beautiful babies! So pick a side: we save ourselves vs. we are doomed to destroy ourselves.

Maybe in our race with extinction, our only way out is to erase the biggest perceived differences. It would take many generations of marriages across cultural, socio-economic, racial, ethnic and geographic lines for us to become one color, one sect, one religion and one culture. And time is not even the entirety of the trick. The really hard part is to integrate the species without obliterating the useful and meaningful contributions that the disparate parts have brought to the whole. A cautionary tale might be the histories of two great nations: The melting pot that is America, a place of new beginnings and second chances where anything is possible, has spawned some spectacular innovation. Compare that to the cultural homogeneity of China that has bred out innovation in favor of conformity. I’m not willing to give up innovation for conformity.

I’m sorry to do this to you, but I have to leave this on a question, for I do not know the answer: Is it possible to live in peace and find motivation to innovate in art, technology, science and medicine, or do we have to be driven by our darkest selves? And are we likely to kill our species before we find a way to live together?

Modern Day Slave-Drivers: Amazon and the Culture of Individualism

August 24, 2015

Regarding the NY Times story on employment practices at Amazon, it is critical to note that Amazon is a public entity, and if its shareholders so choose, they can change the way things are done there and make it a more employee-friendly company. I suspect they like the ROI—not to mention competitive prices and fast, free delivery—and will do nothing, as is their prerogative.

But the societal change which underlies the Amazon employment environment is classic Art of War: as Sun Tzu proposed many centuries ago, to unite your people, create an enemy. It works every time you want to distract people from the truth. And the truth is, we have become obsessed with money over community. We might ask ourselves how and why this sea-change has occurred in our society. Why the individual ethic has trumped the all-for-one-and-one-for-all ethic of the Post War Era. Why it is that instead of hating poverty, we now hate the poor, labeling minimum wage workers who can’t support a family of four on two paychecks, “lazy.” And why, instead of hating hunger, we hate the hungry, and call them “takers” so the self-proclaimed “makers” can feel better about themselves.

And now, the Super PAC-class wants to donate without attribution—they want to control our politics, but leave no fingerprints. We’ve always valued disclosure as a field-leveler in politics, but now the structure of the 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations and their relationships with the opaque Super PAC’s has been engineered intentionally to hide their billionaire-donors’ identities. One answer, offered by Thomas Frank in his seminal book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, shines a light on the immensely cynical strategy the society-controlling one-percent (really, one-tenth of one-percent) foists on socially conservative Middle American voters, the good old bait-and-switch: promise them you’ll repeal Obamacare, abortion rights, gay marriage and loose immigration laws, then, when they elect you, focus solely on tax cuts for the rich and other breaks for the monied special interests.

In contemporary Europe, and, for what it’s worth, in Mid-Twentieth Century America, Amazon’s nasty employment habits, like shooing cancer victims out the door as uncommitted drags on the company’s productivity, would be shamed by the public, and contained by labor laws. Unless and until we regain some focus on society as a whole versus aggrandizing the super-wealthy we perceive as magically rugged individualists, we will see this kind push and pull.

Who Shot CNN?

August 20, 2014

Is this like the Dallas season-ending cliff-hanger where millions wondered Who Shot J R, only to discover that it was all a dream? Will we awaken from this nightmare to discover that CNN is still a responsible, go-to news source?

Look at this fromTV Newser (a television trade pub.):

CNN Removes iReport Saying Missouri Patrol Captain is Gang Member

A CNN iReport that mistook a fraternity hand sign Missouri Patrol Captain Ron Johnson made for him being a gang member has been taken down. The Washington Post reports the iReport suggested Johnson was making hand signals members of the group the Bloods use (shown below). Captain Ron Johnson throws up “gang signs?” Really @CNN? You’re just gonna leave that up?http://t.co/DSLFprbHv1 pic.twitter.com/jAUN8qIIgH – DJ Digital (@callmeDjDigital) August 19, 2014 The sign is actually the… read more>>

Two summers ago, when, in my judgment, the news channel was still salvageable, I opined in some detail, How to Fix CNN

Now, I’m less sure that it can be restored to its previous luster. There’s been a lot of neglect. Back then, they had simply lost their way, and the channel’s IQ tumbled. Fox and MSNBC had “middled” them. Not an insurmountable problem. Just find the breadcrumbs and get back on the path of smart, fair, informative journalism, minus the polemics of the other two. It’s what God and Ted intended. But then they replaced the president, Jon Klein, with Jeff Zucker, famous for morning shows that masquerade as news. (OK, that charade was over some years ago. Nobody at Today or GMA currently pretends they’re anything but tabloid fare for 25-54 women.) Mr. Zucker appears to have brought that same non-news sensibility to CNN. The most recent manifestation of their flirtation with Ready-Fire-Aim news is this sad chapter of casting aspersions at the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Captain Ron Johnson, outwardly at least, the only character in the Ferguson drama who seems to genuinely have empathy, a working moral compass, and an informed, workable plan. 

If it’s all a bad dream, maybe I’ll awaken to find CNN is reliable news source, and if I’m really lucky, I’ll never have heard of Ferguson, Missouri, because Michael Brown will still be alive.

 

Don’t Let Them Fool You: Disclosure Matters

August 15, 2014

There is a dangerous and specious argument afoot that says big money political advertisers should not have to disclose their identities.

While money does not appear to have been decisive in the high profile elections where profligate spenders Carly Fiorini and Meg Whitman were defeated, it may be that the very public nature of their profile prevented the overwhelming spending from being effective. Secretive spending in lower profile cases may have been effective, but absent disclosure, we will never know. Moreover, as a long time media owner/operator, consultant, and researcher, I can tell you that the money is smart and will learn from its mistakes. They will correct their errors, refine their processes, and reach their goal of exercising anonymous influence in the market of ideas, and over an unsuspecting electorate. This strikes me as patently un-American.

Fear of undue influence and unscrupulous behavior is precisely why the Federal Trade Commission demands identification of commercial sponsors. We decided long ago, and properly, in my estimation, that “truth in advertising” was a basic consumer right. We banned outlandish, unsupported claims, outright lies, and the anonymous wielding of the huge power of advertising. Why in the world would we demand less of something as critical as our political speech?

The fear of reprisal argument that disclosure opponents are proffering is a red herring. The plutocrats–that is people whose power derives from their wealth– suggest that if their identities are known, they risk personal, potentially violent, reprisal and commercial boycotts. But simply put, the public’s right to know trumps any advertiser’s professed right of anonymity. When you enter the public square, you do so with the knowledge that speech has consequences. Not wanting to endure the consequences of unpopular speech is not reason enough to be allowed to act anonymously in the public square.

The fix is also simple: require the 501(c)(4) organizations that bundle money for the Super PACs to disclose the identity of their donors. It’s the American Way.

Requiem for Apollo

July 19, 2013

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I’ve dreaded this moment from the first instant I saw those two puppies fourteen and a half years ago.

I didn’t want them. I knew how dogs change your life. They have to be fed and walked. Played with. They’re always in a good mood. Always full of love, so when you’re not, you feel guilty until they’ve made you feel better. They insinuate themselves into your life in a thousand ways. You love them in a way that you don’t love your parents, siblings, spouse or kids. Not better or stronger, just different. And you will outlive them. Knowing all this, it is no wonder I paused at the top of the driveway and blinked hard. The kids wanted them. Laura wanted them. Alison wanted to name them after dogs past. Adam and Cameron were enthralled with the Greeks. The little sister was no match for the boys. The dogs were to be Atlas and Apollo. End of story. Beginning of story.

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Burt was painting houses. Living here in exile from San Diego and Oahu. He was like that painter on Murphy Brown: indispensible on so many levels. He was engaged in one Sisyphean task after another.  Jobs that never ended, or melted into one another. He shepherded those dogs from hand to chair to crate.

Steve was living here too. Also a dog guy, he knew it was important for them to have company, love and exercise. Laura and I were busy outside the house. Our brothers largely raised those dogs for the first year.

Part of the rescue deal is neutering. Burt got a wry look on his face when the boys returned from castration. “Nutless and Noballo, welcome home!” We’re still laughing.

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Black and white, like those Ralph Lauren dogs, Atlas and Apollo were rambunctious, sweet, fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand puppies. They were full of life, chasing chipmunks, tennis balls, squirrels, or laser-pointers. Trotting up the deck stairs, each proudly holding an end of a (dead) three-foot black snake in their mouths. Was that the Lab half or the Border-Collie half? Atlas had the Border-Collie traits. A girl at the pet rescue place observed, “He got the good blood.” He was the brains of the operation. Apollo, bigger and more densely built dog had more Lab traits. A waterdog. A hunter. A huge heart.

They ran like the wind, and wore a path from the driveway, around the railroad tie wall and up into the wooded backyard, usually with one’s mouth around the other’s neck. They growled and barked and nipped at each other constantly. If you didn’t know they were playing, you’d have thought they were trying to kill each other as loudly as possible.

I was able to keep them out of my heart through the first year. Between Steve, Burt and Cameron, they were held constantly. Like Alison, I don’t think their feet touched the ground during that first year. But then Burt moved back to Hawaii, Steve moved back to Ohio, and the dogs got too big for the shared crate. They began to howl at night, so we let them come upstairs, they would, however, under no circumstances, sleep on the bed. Ever.

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They were rascals. Atlas was the alpha, but when it came to scamming food, Apollo had no equal. Just when we had convinced ourselves that he would forever be in Atlas’s thrall, we came home one evening to find Apollo in the great room, perched on the forbidden couch, high up enough to survey the groceries sitting on the kitchen island. We had apparently interceded in the nick of time.

One day we (very) mistakenly left a chocolate cake mix (boxed, no less) on the island. We returned to discover he had somehow (how is a mystery that went to the grave with him) managed to climb up there, snatch the cake mix, and drag it to the living room where he opened the box, punctured the thick plastic bag that held the delicious chocolate powder, and proceeded to lick it into the white carpeting. Visitors always note the unusual Mexican tile that has been in that room since.

And so it went from 1999 through 2003. I had always traveled a couple of days a week for work, but in 2004 I started commuting to New York City at zero dark thirty Monday mornings, coming home on the last one out of LaGuardia Thursday night. While I was gone, Laura discovered the Chattahoochee National Forest and the series of trails therein. A wide exercise loop that runs along the river, and some dandy trails that give one a good sense that one is indeed in the Appalachian foothills. We started taking the dogs Saturday and Sunday mornings. There, we met some now longstanding friends. Dog people. Our boys, who had lived outside on the deck and in the heavily wooded backyard, were used to the woods, and having each other for company. They were therefore easily socialized into the river scene. Most of the dogs they encountered were also pretty social and with one notable exception where a canine of our acquaintance shredded Atlas’s ear in an inexplicable and unprovoked attack, the biggest worry was spooking a snake sunning itself around a blind corner.

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When my commuting gig ended, and I started working out of the house, Atlas and Apollo became my associates. After sharing cereal and yogurt for breakfast, there was the morning walk, which quickly became a daily ritual—dogs like routine—we settled into the basement where the boys slept on their bed when not performing secretarial chores for me. (I began to refer to our walk as the Three Mile Tranquilizer since it made them sleep and let me work.)

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That walk became (and remains) ritual. The highlight of everyone’s day, canine and human alike. It is the friends there who are helping us through this time of grief. They know what it means to lose a long term companion.

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I’ve never met a dog that didn’t like to go in the car. I’ve heard of dogs whose only automotive trips were to the vet, and those dogs, understandably, hated to see the keys come out. These dogs were normal, though, and the car was a second home. They so completely ravaged my last car that I had to go to K-Mart and buy rubber backed bathroom rugs to salvage what little was left of the rear seat.

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The years marched on, unnoticed except for new lines in the mirror’s face, and high school, college and law school graduations to mark the passing. Matt met Monica, and grandchildren were soon sharing the floor with Atlas and Apollo. Atlas was predictably aloof, surveying all from his perch. Call it the Ottoman Empire.

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Apollo was hungry, and saw the small children as easy marks. Satisfied with licking a toddler’s hands and face clean, he was never far from those kids.

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Young Cean shared his father’s relative indifference, but Baby Kier, taking after her mom, became fast friends with “the puppies.”

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Essential to this story is that Apollo was our “special needs” dog. He had his first epileptic seizure while I was away. Laura says it was a doozy of a grand maul seizure. It happened at home. Then it happened at the river. We read up on Labs and epilepsy, and were not encouraged. He was about three, and we figured the days ahead were borrowed time. Phenobarbital became a staple of Apollo’s diet, and the seizures relented. Over a couple of years time we realized the medicine was aging him quite dramatically and consulted the vet. He said our choices were to take him off the drugs and watch carefully, or leave him on the sedatives and watch him age unnaturally. We opted for the former and got lucky. The seizures never returned with the previous frequency or devastation, but the damage was done.

At Thanksgiving 2010, Apollo had a major seizure following a particularly manic episode on the river trails. He recovered slowly, and by January was pretty much his old self, but a new pattern was emerging: manic episode, seizure, recovery (although not quite a full recovery). A roller coaster ride where each succeeding peak is lower than the last one, and each succeeding depression lower too. All told, a long story of decline.

In January of 2012, Apollo had a vestibular incident—vertigo. It didn’t look like any seizure I had seen, and after riding it out for far too long a time without the typical resolution, Monica and I rushed him to the emergency vet. They told us he would regain most of his balance, but the head tilt, a hallmark of vestibular disorder, would likely stay. Again, against all odds, Apollo rebounded and the head tilt went away. But his balance was never the same, and somehow, all this neurologic stress had robbed him of the lower body strength that made him a great swimmer and hunter. I thought he was in pain, but it turned out he really just couldn’t feel much below the waist.

His decline accelerated until all he could do was eat and take a slow walk. On July 13, 2013, at fourteen and a half, he had had enough.

So I offer this remembrance as tribute to a fierce watchdog and cuddly friend. We’ll see how his constant companion, Atlas, fares in his absence. Atlas, he of the “good blood,” has not experienced health issues until this year. He has lost most of his hearing. That’s a really isolating phenomenon for man or beast. Between his hearing loss and Apollo’s inability to climb up on the bed or the Dog Chair, they haven’t slept as bookends or interchangeable pillows much lately. Maybe that fact will help Atlas deal with the loss of a littermate who was not farther than the next room for a decade and a half.

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I didn’t want these dogs. I knew what having dogs meant. Try as I did to stop it, these dogs got into my heart, and I’m paying for that now. I hope to come out the other side thinking that fourteen and half years of unconditional love was worth this hole in my heart that feels today as if it will never heal.

Rest in peace, Apollo. We miss you already.

Apollo Sinton 2/1/99-7/13/13

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Apollo Sinton 2/1/99-7/13/13

Jon Sinton, Atlanta, July 14, 2013