Slate article takes us to task for being moved by a photo

The article below, which just appeared in Slate, seems better suited for the Pecksniffian Salon, famous for its authoritarianism and hatred of New Atheism. But let’s start with a viral tweet from Jim McGrath, who was a spokesman for G. H. W. Bush after he left the White House but before he died:

I don’t know if this was staged (I doubt it, because reliable media report that the dog spent Sunday night in front of Bush’s casket), but the picture of Bush’s service dog Sully touched the hearts of many people—including me (yes, I’m a cat lover, but I can be moved by the loyalty of a dog). The reasons why this went viral are many: its invocation of loyalty, the poignancy of what looked like the dog’s sadness, a connection between a former President and his dog, and so on.

So the photo was real, and what’s not to like about it? Well, read Slate‘s hectoring and repugnant piece below (click on screenshot), whose title tells it all:


Yes, you morons, Slate tells you not to waste “emotional energy” on the photo or the dog. How authoritarian can you get? The reason Graham is pecksniffing? Sully spent only six months helping Bush after his beloved wife Barbara died (they were married 74 years!). Six months, apparently, is not enough time for a dog to form a bond with a man, and therefore you shouldn’t act like Bush et chien were together for life. Stop tearing up and move on with your life, importunes Graham. I kid you not.  Here’s a quote:

There’s nothing wrong with applying sentimentality when it comes to family pets reacting to their owners’ deaths. There’s even some preliminary evidence from the small field of “comparative thanatology” that animals notice death, and that some may even experience an emotion we might compare to grief. But Sully is not a longtime Bush family pet, letting go of the only master he has known. He is an employee who served for less than six months.

. . . It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it’s a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket. Is Sully “heroic” for learning to obey the human beings who taught him to perform certain tasks? Does the photo say anything special about this dog’s particular loyalty or judgment, or is he just … there? Also, if dogs are subject to praise for obeying their masters, what do we do about the pets who eat their owners’ dead (or even just passed-out) bodies?

The photograph, in other words, is not proof that Sully is a particularly “good boy” or that “we don’t deserve dogs,” as countless swooning tweets put it on Monday. On its own, it says almost nothing other than the fact that Sully was, at one point in the same room as the casket of his former boss. This is simply a photograph of a dog doing something dogs love to do: Lie down. The frenzy around it captures something humans love to do, too: Project our own emotional needs onto animals.

Demented? Good Lord! And notice the whataboutery: “what do we do about dogs who eat their owners’ bodies?” Who the hell cares? It’s not relevant.  And who is to say that Sully wasn’t sad in a dog-like way, or missed G. H. W.  We just don’t know, and being touched by that picture can indicate many things beyond “projecting our own emotional needs onto animals.”

It’s bad enough that the Authoritarian Left tells us what we should think. Now they tell us what we should feel. If this weren’t a family friendly site, I’d use a certain two-word phrase to show how I feel about this article and its author, a regular contributor to Slate.

Here’s what Grania, who sent me the link, had to say:

This sort of left-wing article is just embarrassing. It’s a response to a photo that was going around the internet yesterday of the dog curled up on the floor near the coffin with a “mission accomplished” slogan on it.
Much as I was not a fan of any of the Bushes and think that some of the recent eulogizing is a little over the top, all articles like this prove is that there are many on the left who are petty and spiteful.
Amen. I’ll leave the last word to John Passantino, the Los Angeles bureau chief for BuzzFeed:

And a response:


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Slate tells you not to waste “emotional energy” on the photo or the dog.

    Chrissake, might as well make like King Canute by going down to the shore to command the tides to cease rising and falling.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Brilliant allusion, Ken!

  2. DrBrydon
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Damn. I already spent my emotional energy on this! Why didn’t Slate tell me what to do earlier!? If I am going to rely on the media to tell me what to think, they need to be more timely. Maybe Slate should publish a list of rules for when we should find service animals heart-warning that we can use in situations like this? That was emotional energy I could have spent on the carbon-tax riots in France. Sheesh.

  3. Kirbmarc
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    This is a clickbait article, clearly written to get attention. Negative attention, sure, but still attention.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. The author was probably one of those kids who kept crapping their pants until they were 11 for just that reason.

  4. Historian
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    One may disagree with the thesis of the article, but I fail to see what it has to do with the authoritarian left. It doesn’t seem to me to be inherently leftist or authoritarian. It is not critical of Bush. It just questions what many people have read into the photograph.

    If one read the article without knowing the author or where it was published, I don’t think the ideological leanings of the author would be the first (or second) thing that would spring to mind.

    • Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Graham is on the left; that’s pretty clear from her other articles on Slate and elsewhere. Her prescriptiveness here identifies her to me as a member of the Authoritarian Left. That’s all.

    • Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Graham is on the left; that’s pretty clear from her other articles on Slate and elsewhere. Her prescriptiveness here identifies her to me as a member of the Authoritarian Left. That’s all.

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Dear Historian,

      if you don’t mind, I would like to add to your comment that we must not forget that the right is WAY WAAAAY more dangerous.

      • Historian
        Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Davide. I missed you trolling me. Once again, you’ve brightened my day.

    • James
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. Clearly there’s a PETA angle here, in the implication that training animals is somehow wrong and in the language used to discuss service animals. How many Republican PETA supporters are there?

      More significantly: Do you honestly think this article would have been written had it been, say, Obama’s funeral and his dog? Or Bill Clinton’s? Of course not. The only reason anyone thought to write this was because it was a Republican president. The only reason the author wasn’t immediately fired for submitting such uncouth, inhumane trash was that it was an attack on a Republican president. The only way to make it sound like it’s not politically motivated is to ignore the cultural context.

      • Historian
        Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Could you point out where in the article the author attacks the concept of service dogs or criticizes George H. W. Bush?

        • James
          Posted December 4, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          This is the equivalent of a child’s “I’m not touching you” game. I don’t play such games. If you are inept enough to believe that the only way to attack someone is directly, I doubt anything I can say will have any influence on your opinion.

          • Historian
            Posted December 4, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            Gee, you called me inept. I wonder if that violates the rules. I’ll leave that to our host to decide. In any case, the author writes this: “It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet).” I guess that clinches it. I was just too inept to fathom that in reality the author meant the exact opposite of what she wrote. I can only aspire to your level of insight.

            • James
              Posted December 4, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

              What you did with that example text is called “cherry picking”. You forgot the rest of the paragraph. You are also ignoring the fact that this would NEVER have been run were the person in the casket a Democrat.

              To answer your accusation: Yes, sometimes people DO in fact mean the opposite of what they write. There’s even a word for it: irony. This is such a common practice in the English language as spoken in the USA that one must understand the concept to be fluent in the language. FYI, if your response is “That works in poetry, not in prose” I’m going to refer you to G. K. Chesterton’s masterful essay on poetry in vernacular. English is a poetic language; the separation between poetry and prose is gradational, with a lot more prose falling close to poetry than people realize. For evidence, I present the name of the fallacy I accuse you of in the previous paragraph.

              It’s also extremely common to present an argument that is in content innocent, but in context vicious. If I say “Smells delicious” it sounds innocent enough–but if I say it at a cremation I doubt anyone would say “Oh, those words are just fine; obviously that’s an innocent comment and everyone offended is just being overly sensitive.” This tactic has been used in rhetoric for at least 3,000 years (I have seen examples as far back as Athenian writing); I think it’s fair to say that an accusation that an author is using it is hardly an extraordinary claim.

              That’s what I mean when I say that you’re engaging in the childish “I’m not touching you” game. Just as a child hides behind the fact that there is no physical contact, so too does this author (and you) hide behind the fact that they don’t make an explicit, direct attacks against the Bush family or Republicans in general. Never the less, just as the child knows they are intentionally annoying the other person, so too does the author know that they are intentionally attacking people. Again, I don’t play those games. If you intend to attack someone, you attacked them, and you don’t get to use semantic games as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

              If you choose to ignore the context of the piece, and to ignore common rhetorical and linguistic tactics, and focus solely on the individual words on the page (not even all of them!), you cannot be said to have comprehended the article. That makes your assessment inept–as inept as if you were to erroneously define the words. If you find that offensive…..well, too bad. Get better at analyzing political tirades.

              • Historian
                Posted December 4, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

                “You are also ignoring the fact that this would NEVER have been run were the person in the casket a Democrat.”

                My goodness, you’re a mind reader as well. Does Ruth Graham know?

                I stand by every word I wrote. I would also wager that I’ve read many more “political tirades” than you have, from all eras of American history. But, if I have any doubts about what an author means, and to avoid being inept, I will be sure to check with you.

              • Posted December 5, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

                I’m with Historian. There is no suggestion that the author is critical of the idea of service dogs in this article. Neither can you possibly have the remotest idea as to whether a similar article would have been written for a Democrat, not the remotest.

                I think there is an implied criticism of Bush himself in “it’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months”. It leaves unsaid the implicit “he was a rich white privileged male who could afford a service dog, but many people who need them do not have the means”.

                However, the article is clearly not about Bush or the rights and wrongs of service dogs. It’s about how humans project their emotions onto dogs and other animals and it tells us that we shouldn’t. I happen to agree with the author on the first part of that. It’s a dog that has been trained to lie still. I doubt it knows or cares its former master is in the box behind it.

                For that matter, it seems a bit pointless to me to revere the recently dead the way we do. People always say nice things about the recently deceased and create weird little shrines (see above photo) so that others can come and “pay their respects”. Dead people don’t care what others say about them. When people give e tributes to them on the news ands so on, I always think, that’s a bit pointless now, why didn’t you tell them all those nice things while they were still alive?

                That’s my opinion but I would never presume to tell others that they mustn’t do all that stuff, as this article does.

              • ubernez
                Posted December 5, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                I think you have a case – I thought the same thing, but am not wedded to the thesis. Just a thought.
                Arguments for and against could easily be waged re the indirect Republican slur.
                But, I’m throwing in with you completely on this one, merely because ‘Historian’ immediately called for poppa to censure you on the Roolz, and because ‘Historian’ reckons they have read WAY more political stuff than you (virtue signalling their amazing intellect).
                Your argument was more cogent.
                I’m bored at work – I usually just throw verbal abuse at sloppy comments, but can avoid work by typing this.
                Is it Christmas yet…I need eggnog…
                (What the hell IS eggnog, anyway…)

                ps: Historian did not actually call for poppa – just mentioned the roolz in passing…oh look, an indirect method of attack…who woulda thought..

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Clearly there are way too many wastes of time out there and apparently Slate is looking for them. Such Jerks.

    My understand is – This service dog is going to the big Hospital there in Washington to continue as a service dog for others in need.

    I can’t wait for their article on the three star Admiral that recently committed suicide. Something like – no need to worry about him as his family will be well taken care of.

  6. Christopher
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    How dare this pucking frick (are spoonerisms family-friendly?) tell us what to feel or what an animal might feel, or how long it takes to bond, as if emotions are set like a kitchen timer.
    How about this, I’ll meet the author halfway. I won’t waste any intellectual energy on reading Slate. Fair?

  7. Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Remember The Hour of the Pig? The film about an animal trial from the Middle Ages?
    Well, someone would represent the animal that ate its owner. If the owner was dead, what is the problem?!

  8. Posted December 4, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I must point out to Graham that six months is a long time in a dog’s life! I guess dogs aren’t going to get the same respect as POC from the Authoritarian Left.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Having just acquired a dog (forgive me CC) for the first time 6 days ago, I can assure the author that she has her head up her ass.

      A Redbone Coonhound cross, BTW. Quid pro quo with spouse allows me to get 2 cats once dog is settled.

  9. Joe Hahn
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Seems to me these people at SLATE need to get a life and stop trying to live mine.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

      And dogs aren’t the only ones to display loyalty. I took in a rescue cat from my son when he moved. The cat spent the first week or so hiding under the bed, but after that is rarely away from my side when I’m home. He is currently asleep at my feet. He is always near by, but distance varies depending on temperature requirements. When it’s warm, he’s near me, when cold, usually sitting on me, or when I’m reading, I often get the grand view of his rectum, right up close, inbetween my face and the book. Now if that isn’t love and loyalty…!

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I at first misread the tweet as saying “Mission accomplished”. Given the historically unfortunate meaning of that, I thought it somehow sarcastic and funny.

  11. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Slate is turning into another HuffPo. I guess this is the way of the world these days, the voice of the censorious, hectoring, moralistic Left. I read some of the comments to the article and, frankly, I was disgusted. They sound like they’d step on and squash a turtle or a frog if it was in their way — the lower on the chain of being the animal is, the less it concerns them — and they’re like that with people, too — people who don’t agree with them and who won’t regulate their emotions in the manner Graham et al., prescribe.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Prescribe and proscribe.

  12. James
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Just…wow. Using the loyalty of a dog and the death of a president to gain political points. How vile can you get?

  13. rickflick
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Ruth Graham is a miserable person.

  14. CAS
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Just another example of the petty meanness of some on the left. It is only destructive.

  15. grasshopper
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Kurt Vonnegut on dogs, and love. Kurt wrote like a blend of Mark Twain and Leonard Cohen.

    I have had some experiences with love, or think I have, anyway, although the ones I have liked best could easily be described as “common decency.” I treated somebody well for a little while, or maybe even for a tremendously long time, and that person treated me well in turn. Love need not have had anything to do with it.
    Also: I cannot distinguish between the love I have for people and the love I have for dogs.
    When a child, and not watching comedians on film or listening to comedians on the radio, I used to spend a lot of time rolling around on rugs with uncritically affectionate dogs we had.
    And I still do a lot of that. The dogs become tired and confused and embarrassed long before I do. I could go on forever.
    Hi ho.
    • • •

    One time, on his twenty-first birthday, one of my three adopted sons, who was about to leave for the Peace Corps in the Amazon Rain Forest, said to me, “You know—you’ve never hugged me.”
    So I hugged him. We hugged each other. It was very nice. It was like rolling around on a rug with a Great Dane we used to have.
    – Kurt Vonnegut “Slapstick, Or Lonesome No More”

    Do animals have souls?
    “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” – Will Rogers.

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 4, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Well, the article is quite correct, of course.
    But this is probably not the best time to have pointed it out.

    If the writer wanted to make the point that all sorts of sentimentality, anthropomorphism and un-evidenced assertions spring up on occasions like this, she could have gone about it in a more persuasive way.


    • Posted December 5, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Not quite un-evidenced. This photo brought tears to my eyes because it reminded me of a family friend and his dog. When he was driven to hospital after a brain stroke, the dog howled for 2 days and then died. Frankly, I had thought this happened only in books. The owner lived for a few weeks, but never regained consciousness.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 5, 2018 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        Jane Goodall tells a story(filmed) about a Chimp mother who died of age and her son who was so attached that he stopped eating and died as well.

  17. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 5, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s probably somewhere between “significant” and “ominous” that the URL-shortening service used by Slate uses the higher-level path. It’s fairly unlikely that they have a close association with Albania, so there is either a company that has tried setting up a URL-shortening service specifically for “tribal” entities (and Slate see fit to spend money on them), or that Slate see fit to classify themselves as “tribal” and have chosen to set up their own URL-shortener like this.
    In either case, there are people setting in for the “long haul” on being “tribal”.
    Personally, I associate “tribal” with bare-chested drunken football hooligans smashing up a town centre. That this may upset some Slate PR flacks, disturbs me not in the least.

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