Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cat Words

My cats are half Siamese, which means they are very vocal. Here are some of the distinct "words" that I believe I can recognize:
  • Hungry!
  • Bored! (This may also mean "lonely", as in "everybody has gone into the other room and left me here by myself.")
  • Going somewhere! (This is a funny one. When they get up, jump off the chair, walk over to the food dish, etc. they really do make a noise. Announcing what they're doing. I suppose it may also mean "Coming through!" -- ie, they're not trying to sneak up on anyone.)
  • Good morning. (As soon as they hear me stir in the morning, they jump right up on the bed and greet me.)
  • Pet me!
  • Don't stop! (This is what they say when you're petting them and then take your hand away.)
  • Love you. (This is not a demanding noise like "pet me." It's more of a happy cuddly sound.)
  • Put me down. (or, "Stop." Normally they don't mind being picked up. But if they suspect that I am carrying them towards the cat carrier, or intend to shut them in the bathroom temporarily, or do anything to them that they would not enjoy, they will complain.)
  • Angry (for when they're fighting--snarls and yowls.)
  • Intruder alert! (I wrote about this here. They never make this noise when they're fighting with each other.)
  • Playing. (If they run up to each other and fake an attack, for example, they'll make this noise.)
  • Bird! (I have heard other cats make this noise. It's kind of a lip-smacking. I think they only do it for birds--not squirrels, for example.)
There is also a typical noise they make after using the litterbox. I don't really want to try to interpret that one.

They each have individual tones of voice, different intonations. Also, they each vocalize about different things. For example, only one of them really ever says "Put me down!" The other one will just struggle silently--but, he is much more vocal when he's hungry. I also think he uses the "going somewhere" noise more than his brother.

Then there is body language. That's a whole other set of "words."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Forgiveness is Not a Virtue, or "Pomegranates"

There are some people whom I would forgive anything. There are others whom I don't believe I'll ever be able to forgive. This suggests to me that there is nothing moral about forgiveness. It's a feeling--it is, in effect, a preference.

Here's an analogy: I love pomegranates. They're only available here in one brief period of the year (namely, right now!) Now, when choosing a pomegranate it can be difficult to tell if it's any good. It might be under-ripe, or have a bad spot. And they're expensive. But none of that matters to me. None of it will ever make me want to stop buying pomegranates. I love them so much that I can forgive them anything. The ideal, the Perfect Pomegranate, is always floating before my eyes, even when individual pomegranates disappoint. (Some people claim that pomegranates are "not worth the trouble" it takes to eat them. For me, the fact that you have to eat them slowly and laboriously is part of their charm. But I digress.)

Certain people talk about forgiveness a lot. They make it sound like you ought to forgive everybody for everything, all the time. I have always had a problem with this attitude.

It seems to me that "forgiveness" means various things to various people. It can mean "Pretend that what that person did was not wrong" or "Allow that person to keep treating you badly." Nobody has the right to treat another person badly. There's nothing moral about that. If someone is not going to change their bad behavior, it is completely unacceptable to condone what they're doing. And even if you feel that you should forgive them for what they did to you, what if they've hurt other people as well? You can't forgive them for that.

I also wonder if some people believe that "forgiving your enemies" means you're morally superior to them. (Self-righteousness is not a virtue either.) This reminds me of the late Doreen Valiente's remark, "I cannot see any virtue in unctuously professing to forgive someone against whom you can do nothing. The only time I can see merit in forgiving an enemy is when you have your foot on his neck."

The only interpretation of forgiveness that I have any sympathy with is the idea that it means "not holding grudges." But even then, the problem with holding a grudge is that it's bad for you, not for the person you're angry at. It's just self-interest. (I would argue that with true forgiveness, the grudge never even gets formed, so it doesn't have to be let go of.)

Furthermore, "holding a grudge" is not the same as "holding someone responsible for their actions." Neither is it the same as remembering "This person would hurt me again if they got the chance." That's self-preservation.

The problem with forgiveness is that it can lead to your being taken advantage of. I think I might go so far as to say that forgiveness is too risky to be a virtue. Forgiveness is spontaneous, it comes from the heart, it doesn't care about self-preservation and that means it has to be tempered with something more moderate. Or to put it another way, sometimes it's best to forgive but not forget.

Oh, pomegranate . . .

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Two Favorite Movies

When I was a teenager, my favorite movie was Harold and Maude. It's a perfect movie for adolescents, because it depicts hopelessness and hope with equal accuracy. Or to put it another way, if Harold can finally decide not to kill himself then I can too.

I haven't watched H&M for a few years now, and I'm starting to think that my new favorite movie is Performance. The two films have a lot in common. Most significantly, they date from the same era, the late 1960s (yes, I was born 20 years too late.) Performance was filmed in 1968 and released in 1970. Harold and Maude was released in 1971 but the screenplay was probably written some time earlier. They are both very rebellious films, I would say . . . "unconventional," perhaps, although that's an understatement.

Another thing the two films have in common is the high quality of the music. H&M is almost all Cat Stevens--I've heard that he wrote a couple songs especially for the film. Performance features Mick Jagger prominently in the supporting cast. He only performs two songs (as I recall), but all the rest of the music, I would say, even when not by him is the sort of music you would expect in the sort of film that would cast Mick Jagger. I like it, anyway.

Performance is a much more adult film. There are no easy answers. There is quite a bit of sex and violence. The protagonist is an anti-hero, in the sense of not being someone you (or I) would really want to emulate. He thinks he can handle anything, but he gets in over his head. I think that's why I've come to like this movie--because life will do that to anyone.

Neither film has a traditional happy ending, although of the two Harold and Maude is slightly more optimistic. And yet the ending of Performance doesn't bother me--and I am someone who usually insists on a happy ending. It's a very low-key ending. It just fits. I suppose there is one easy answer, after all.