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Mato’s cats and the rest of the universe

February 29, 2012

Mato’s cats are the cat members of my family, former cat family members who unfortunately have died, and one visiting cat that I like and admire. The “rest of the universe” is everything else, as you probably would have guessed even without this explanation.

The scope of this blog post is obviously huge (especially the part about “Mato’s cats”), making it impossible to discuss the matters in every detail. Consequently this text is and will always remain a work in progress and the text will be continuously updated and expanded as long as I live.

Lets start with a few words about cats in general, as I deem it necessary to include some basic facts about cats and related background infos. Much of the following information will be obvious and familiar. The reader may consider it as a reminder. If it is boring, simply skip this part.

Cats are smart and charming, they easily win the sympathy of their human companions and hosts with often astonishing clever tricks.

Cats use for instance a high-pitched “solicitation purr” reminiscent of a baby’s cry, to activate a humans’s primal urge to take care. Moreover, a study using video data shows that cats and their female owners constantly responded to each other’s subtle oral and body cues to attract attention.

Cats have a reputation of being noncompliant, they are the embodiment of stubbornness and insubordination. Cats are rebellious, unyielding, headstrong, and unbending, alone this aspect of their psychological profile makes them my favorite pets.

“You can keep a dog; but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans useful domestic animals.” George Mikes

I was intrigued, when I learned about the Moscow Cat Theatre of Yuri Kuklachev, a circus show of cats that perform amazing tricks like walking tightropes, crossing the stage on giant balls, and walking upside down on their front paws. The Moscow Cat Theatre was established in 1990 and has a permanent show in a former cinema building as well as a traveling show which is touring around the world. The Cat Theatre was awarded many international prizes and in 2005 obtained the status of a “State Cultural Institution” of Moscow.

Yuri Kuklachev claims, that his cats like to perform and are not forced to do anything against their will. “Each cat likes to do her own trick,” he said in an interview, “I find the cats and see what they like to do and use that in the show.”

But, like many stories which are uplifting and intriguing on the surface, also this one has a hidden dark side. When I dug a little deeper I was very disappointed to find out that animal rights activists and bloggers protested against his circus and a veterinarian, employed by Kuklachev, accused him of mistreating and torturing the cats, using them for dubious laboratory experiments, and killing the ones who are too old or not willing to perform.

This case is another prove (as if we would not have known that before) that training animals for circus shows is an abuse and circuses are no place for animals. The cruelty that goes on behind closed circus doors to make animals perform ridiculous tricks which are completely against their natural behavior has been exposed over and over again. For that reason such circuses have been made illegal in Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore — yet barbaric circuses like Kuklachev’s Cat Theater continue to tour the world.

Having said that, the members of my cat family really love to perform the tricks that they know. For example: during our walks in the forest my little friends often start a tree climbing competition and show me how high they can get. Cindy, the cat who sadly disappeared in October, probably shot by a hunter, was the undisputed champion, she went up and down the trees with nearly the same speed as other cats were running on plain surface.

“The cat is domestic only as far as suits its own ends…” Saki (H. H. Munro)

Her stunning abilities had the unfortunate and sad side effect, that she could easily catch squirrels. Cindy often brought the dead squirrels home and proudly presented them to my wife and me, being then disappointed and disturbed about our lack of appreciation and approval. Well, lets face it, cats and humans view many things differently.

Cindy still participates in our walks, but only as a little cat ghost (I wrote about it in my blog post “little ghost”). Among the living cats Princess Min Ki is now the champion. Gandhi comes in second place, all other cats are far behind. The other cats all train their tree climbing skills during our walks and indeed show some improvements, but I doubt that they will ever be able to challenge the front runners (front climbers).

Rosy always looks for trees which have the right diameter and are also tilted, because that makes the climbing a bit easier. When she is up on the tree, even if it is only two or three meters above ground, she desperately meows and I have then to come to the tree and applaud and cheer her up.

Other tricks that my cat friends know and often perform are: Balancing on garden fences and railings of balconies and stairs. Sneaking into a room behind my back and hiding there without me realizing it. Fetching cutlery, dishes, and cups from the kitchen counter and the table. Fetching and hiding other paraphernalia that is laying around. Jumping onto the top of cupboards and shelves and dusting the surface with their fur. Hiding in the most unusual locations and waiting for some hours till we are completely desperate and fearful that we have lost another member of the cat family.

Though the tricks of my little friends are maybe not too sophisticated the cats nevertheless have proven again and again to be resourceful and inventive and they are always good for a surprise.

Researchers at CanCog Technologies, a private institution in Toronto that studies behavior and aging in companion animals, tested cats and dogs on the same tasks, using cats that showed similar level of interest in food rewards as dogs. They found that cats made more errors than dogs and required more trials to learn the same tasks.

This could mean that cats are not as cognitively capable as dogs, or that their brains work differently. It could of course also be, and considering the cats psyche it is indeed very likely, that differences in motivation accounted for the unfavorable outcome of this study.

“A cat will do what it wants when it wants, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”  Frank Perkins

The physiology of dog and cat brains seems to suggest that cats have the advantage. While brain size is not a good indicator of intelligence, the number of neurons could be. Cats have 300 million neurons in comparison with dogs’ mere 160 million (humans are said to have between 80 and 120 billion neurons).

The number of 300 million neurons is mentioned on hundreds of websites and obviously accepted as a fact by everybody, but I never could find out who or which research institute first came up with this number. Not that it matters much but I would be glad if somebody could give me a hint. This number is already mentioned in a study from 1987 and considering the big advance in neuroscience since then is seems likely that new research would come to a very different result.

In anyway, I don’t believe in numbers and I’m also against animal testing. The number of neurons present in the human brain is also not a given and is just an extrapolation of the neuronal density of tissue samples from various parts of the brain.

There is for sure also a big individual variation and it seems prudent to view the mentioned numbers more like allusions or indications of magnitude.

The physical structures of human and cat brains are very similar; both have the same lobes in the cerebral cortex. Cat brains have a hippocampus, amigdalas, a pineal gland, corpus callosum and anterior commisure, just like the human brain, and they use a very similar set of neurotransmitters.

My personal experience is, that cats intuitively react lightning fast but are very slow, one could even say agonizing slow, if they have to consider choices. The working memory of cats is obviously very small and limited in its capacity compared to humans.

The working memory of the human brain, also called the “central executive” is a network of areas with high interconnectivity of neurons mainly in the prefrontal cortex, with associated parts in the parietal cortex, anterior cingulate, and basal ganglia. The working memory enables us to bring a sentence to a logical end because we are still aware of how we started. It enables us to execute a task successfully which is comprised of several consecutive moves. Such a task would be for instance to go to the basement and fetch some special tools we have stored there.

Without the working memory we would be lost in the middle of a sentence, not knowing how to proceed, or we would go to the basement and be standing there clueless, not knowing the reason, why we got down. People told me, that this happens to them occasionally, an indication, that their working memory needs training.

The working memory enables us to do all this amazing clever things by keeping an idea active while pursuing another chain of thoughts. It is strongly disputed, how many items can be active at the same time and for how long they can be active, which shows, that our scientific knowledge about the brain still stands on shaky ground. Depending on whom you believe, the working memory can hold between 8 and 16 items up to 9 seconds.

The working memory hold items active by constant firing (emitting of action potentials) of the neurons that belong to an active pattern. This needs a lot of energy (blood supply) and alone this fact limits the capacity of the working memory and the duration of high performance tasks.

“The mathematical probability of a common cat doing exactly as it pleases is the one scientific absolute in the world.” Lynn M. Osband

It is not known how many elements a cat can hold in her working memory, an educated guess would be one to three. Cats for sure have a short attention span and get easily distracted. During our walks in the forest my cat friends often head for a tree trunk, because they like to jump onto the tree trunk to observe the area from an elevated point. But then a butterfly comes the way and they chase the insect and when its gone they sit there and can’t remember anymore what they were about to do. The default behavior of a cat in this situation is to lick her or his fur excessively.

Humans in a similar situation would maybe take off or put on their glasses or take a sip from a cup or stroke their chin.

To keep several items active in our working memory is also the most crucial prerequisite for reasoning. This ability allows us to correlate items, understand complex situations, it enables us to use grammar, logic, abstraction. The working memory allows us to be creative by applying pattern structures of one area to different and unrelated areas.

Cats cannot do this. Cats learn by imitation (from their mother, from their fellow cats, even from their human hosts), by feedback (trial and error), but only in a very limited way by rational thinking and reasoning. Elephants, great apes (Bonobos, Chimpanzees), Dolphins, Wales, even some crow species are able to combine several facts and deduce a conclusion, cats are not.

The ultimate cat intelligence test here is the ability to open an ajar door by pulling the door with the paw towards her or him. Opening the door by pushing it is easy but to pull it is as abstract for a cat as the fourth dimension of string theory will be for most of us.

I have to admit that one cat of my family doesn’t pass this test — though I will never tell which one. Another one of my cat friends still has difficulties using the cat flap and often waits for hours outside despite the fact, that I showed her a hundred times how to pass the flap.

The capacity of the working memory is only one, though a very crucial, measure of intelligence. The other measures are pattern recognition and memory. Pattern recognition is an amazing ability of animal brains and only in recent years the huge potential of this powerful and versatile brain function has been fully recognized by science.

The cats demonstrate their pattern recognition strengths regularly when we wander in the wood along narrow pathways that are completely overgrown from one week to the next in a landscape that changes its appearance substantially as the seasons progress. The cats always know exactly where we are, even in the most secret places of the forest, and they are my little scouts who always lead me home safely.

“As anyone who has ever been around a cat for any length of time well knows, cats have enormous patience with the limitations of the human mind.” Cleveland Amory

All around the world mathematicians and programmers develop pattern recognition algorithms and their implementation in C++, Fortran, Lisp, R and anther computer languages. Simulations in supercomputers match or even surpass the abilities of biological brains in specialized areas but it will take a few more years till artificial intelligence has caught up with “natural intelligence” or “emotional intelligence.”

A cat brain simulation by IBM in 2009 was not very convincing and was dismissed as hoax by “Blue Brain” project scientist but DARPA has made 21 US$ available for the development of an IBM Synapse cat brain chip. The Synapse project intends to turn away from the Neumann (Turing) paradigm that has been ruling computer architecture until now and the chip will be built with electronic circuits that rather resemble neurons, chew on streams telemetry, and rewire themselves, much as a brain does as it learns.

Considering the fact, that every single synapse of a neuron is a versatile micro machine which can be either a simple switch, a boolean element, or an analog (op-amp) calculator and also can filter out incoming bursts or streams of action potentials by their frequency, considering the fact, that neurons communicate with a highly complicated mix of electronic (action potentials) and chemical (neurotransmitters) signals, supported by glial cells that have their own signaling network based on calcium waves, this is an enormous task and the resulting Synapse chip will probably be nowhere near the real capacity of a cat brain.

But even if IBM succeeds one day, I still will prefer to have my biological cat friends around instead of sitting beside a computer or having a robot cat on my lap.

To bring this part of my considerations to an end, the cats in my life turned out not to be overly intelligent, but nevertheless astonishing smart in an intuitive way. And they all had (and have) very rich and multi-leveled emotions, easily comparable to our emotional world. The later fact is not surprising, because most brain regions involved in emotions are similar in cats and humans.

Cats feel very similar to us, they experience joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, they moan and rejoice. Cats though are loners by nature and not very empathetic. They for sure don’t feel pity for their pray and they also don’t care too much about the well being of most of their fellow cats. Despite this lack of empathy cats develop deep emotional bonds to their human friends and also to near cat friends, sometimes they even bond with other animals.

“The really great thing about cats is their endless variety. One can pick a cat to fit almost any kind of decor, color, scheme, income, personality, mood. But under the fur, whatever color it may be, there still lies, essentially unchanged, one of the world’s free souls.” Eric Gurney

The cats in my life were all strong and distinct personalities, often so similar to human personalities that it was disturbing and frightening. It was disturbing and frightening because I had taken responsibility for them, I had become their custodian. Here were these little animals, not always able to decide rationally about their fate but able to feel pain and sorrow and to suffer as intensively as I could. I had to make the decisions what food to buy, which veterinarian to choose and how to treat their ailments, and — the most difficult decision, when to end their life.

I have to correct myself instantly, because the choice of food turned out to be a combined effort. The cats tell me unmistakably, what kind of food they like or dislike. Unfortunately our preferences differ significantly, as they are not very fond of the expensive organic and vegan cat food and instead would prefer the “junk” cat food from the supermarket. They also love any kind of food that contains fish, but I try to limit the amount of fish because it is most probably contaminated with heavy metals.

I try to compromise, mixing the expensive and presumably (hopefully) healthy organic food with small amounts of fish based food and regular high quality food that we all can agree on. In anyway, the cats provide to a great extent for themselves and get much of their nutrition from the forest.

When we moved to this place, the cats first went to the field across the road which borders on one side of the property, because the old home was an old farmhouse in the middle of meadows and fields and they were used to sit on the fields and wait for mice to come out of their holes. But after a few days they discovered the forest, which borders on another side of the property and they obviously were so pleased with what they discovered there that they never ever went back to the field.

I’m glad that they love the forest, because I love it too. Forests are the most important, most beneficial, most diverse, and most beautiful ecosystems on this planet and it is a terrible crime, it is idiotic, it is complete madness to destroy the forests of the world. It is only just that humans will most likely pay for this crime with their extinction but unfortunately they will also take the rest of nature with them.

My little cats will parish too, which is an immensely troubling presumption for me. I need to add in the context of this text, that there is — at least as far as I know — no natural law of justice. Justice is a chimera, a delusion, justice is only a construct of our brain. There is no justice in this world, there are only forces and motions in an infinite nonlinear dynamic system too complicated for stupid humans to understand.

How can I be sure about this assumption? I’m not sure about it, but it sounds more plausible then believing in a good Lord in heaven, who watches and guards us and will bring everything to a good end with divine wisdom. Back to reality (or what we perceive as reality): As it stands now, humans will destroy nature, and with nature will destroy themselves. This is not just or unjust, it is only very sad. Terribly sad.

Back to Mato’s cats:

I’m glad that the cats love the forest, because the food there is much healthier that the food from the fields. The animals of the forest are not poisoned with agrochemicals, they have an intact immune system and rarely carry communicable diseases (bacteria, viruses, parasites). Moving to this place at the edge of a forest had a clearly visible positive effect on the health of the cats.

I told in other blog post already that forests always played a big role in my life, that the woods were my refuge and the trees my dear friends. As it played out in the years since we moved here I’m spending more and more time in the wood. I spend my time walking with the cats on the wider ways, on the more narrow paths, and preferably on the most secret paths that crisscross the forest.

When we moved here I first thought that the walks with the cats, that I made between and across the fields in our old place would end, because the forest seemed to be an impenetrable, impassable wilderness. But the cats told me very soon, that they wanted to keep the routine of walking and showed me a hidden path that leads to the main access way of the forest. Since then we make our daily walks as we did now for seven years and, as I said before, I find myself spending more and more time in the forest.

Cats are so much smaller than we are and that is fortunate because otherwise we would be maybe a part of their nutrition. Their small size makes them also perfectly suitable as pet companions. I can imagine that we humans with our big face and our big eyes in certain situations must appear as gigantic and menacing monsters to cats and I avoid coming too close when we are face to face. The cats come close by themselves, Princess Min Ki and Rosy even press their head against mine, but this is their own choice and so it is okay.

Cats, unlike dogs, have not undergone major changes during their domestication, and the behavior of house cats doesn’t differ from those of wildcats. It seems justified to assume, that cats in fact were never domesticated but rather domesticated their human friends.

“The phrase “domestic cat” is an oxymoron.” George F. Will

Cats and humans may have joined forces about 10,000 years ago and it probably happened in Lebanon or North Africa, where close relatives of todays house cats live.

The oldest archeological site with a cat buried beside a human was found in Cyprus and dates 9,600 years back. In ancient Egypt cats were not only kept for pest control, but also cherished as companions, and even worshipped as idols. Cats are frequently represented in Egyptian mythology in the form of the feline goddesses Bastet and Sekhmet and Egyptian cat art and mummified remains are dating back as far as 4,000 years ago.

Cats have also seen bad times as they were merciless chased, slaughtered, and even tortured to death together with their female human friends, who were accused to be witches during the middle ages and in the following centuries.

As I wrote before, this text is a work in progress and I will update and repost it every now and then. I started writing this text when Lizzy, the greatest cat-love of my life died. I still have her purring in my ears. I think of her every day and I will not forget her. Lizzy’s memory will live on until I die and maybe even a little bit longer, provided that someone visits this blog. I published already one post about Lizzy and another text with her complete biography will be soon released. I intend to tell in successive blog entries everything important about Lizzy and her fellow cats and cats in general and life in general and the universe in particular.

I have to confess right away, that I am a polygamist cat lover and Lizzy was not the only cat in my life. At present there are five cat companions living here and there  are also occasional visitors. These cats are my dear friends and they take care of me and help me to overcome the loss of Lizzy and all the other adversities in life, that I occasionally have to cope with.

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” Albert Schweitzer

I also need to mention, that Lizzy was not the first cat that I had to burry. Before her I lost Babycat and Harry. They both were wonderful cats and I will take the chance and tell also their story on this blog; they deserve it! In addition to that I intend to report about the cats that are still with me and tell about other cats in my life and all the good and bad times we had together. They all enhanced and brightened my life, they taught me so much, they kept me going — and they keep me going still.

I owe so much to my cat companions, thank you, thank you, thank you again, my dear friends!

Just for a change and to add a little bit of color, a few quotes from famous personalities about cats are included in this text and when I chose the quotes from a rich pool of cat-quotes and cat-sayings I thought about what meaningful saying I could add to the pool and composed this short statement:

“I learned many thing from my teachers — some were useful, others not. A part of the knowledge that I acquired during my education turned out to be wrong and crucial details were missing — in the end I had to learn the most important things in life by myself. I am basically self-taught, with two exemptions: My pupils taught me how to teach. My cats taught me how to enjoy life.”

This is for sure not the greatest cat saying but I consider it as average quality. I like it better than for instance Churchill’s cat-quote: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Back to memory lane and back to the friends that I tragically lost: Lizzy, Harry, and Babycat.

Babycat was a beautiful and very intelligent one year old cat and her death was a painful experience. She was killed by an idiot, who drove by my house in his fancy convertible at much too high speed. I still can remember the moment, when I stepped out of the door and saw her lying on the road in a pool of blood. Her body was warm, she must have been hit only a few seconds before. I fetched a box from the kitchen and put her in, I had not time to do anything else because I had to drive to the music school. I cried the whole way to the school and I felt so shaken, that I hardly made it through the music lessons. In the evening I buried Babycat in the garden and my son Alexander made a little cross that we put on the grave.

I didn’t have a cat companion for twelve years after that but in spring 2002 my wife one day unexpectedly brought home Harry, a castrated tomcat who had a slightly damaged shoulder as a result of being hit by a car and not adequately being treated afterwards.

“One cat just leads to another.” Ernest Hemingway

All the cats that joined and increased the cat family since then were either rescued from certain death or came to us by their own free will. None of the cats were shelter cats — I avoid visiting animal shelters. I’m deadly sure that if I would step by the animal asylum in the nearby town 12 km from here I would come back with at least three other cats. The cat family would not be pleased with this addition and my time, which is already to a large extent consumed by the cats, would be even more scarce.

After this general information a few words about the current members of my cat family:

Princess Min Ki is a seven year old bicolor cat with a mackerel pattern and a pretty mask. She is grey with a white belly and white paws. Min Ki grew up on a nearby farm and at the age of one year and after having kittens she decided one day to leave farm life behind and to join our family. She was not welcomed by the other cats and repeatedly chased away but she persisted and gradually got excepted by the family.

Princess Min Ki has advanced social skills that enabled her to rise in the ranks and over time become the head of the family. She is very assertive, one could even say, bossy. The mentioned facts would justify it to call her “Queen Min Ki,” but as normally only fertile female cats are called “Queens” and Min Ki like all the other cats is spayed now, “Princess” is a more appropriate title. The choice of the title “Princess” also takes into account that Min Ki developed some affinity towards the frogs that are populating our garden pond — unfortunately not to kiss them, but to kill them. Until now she was successful only once and I hope, that the frogs learned from that and Princess Min Ki turns her focus back to the forest again.

Rosy is an eight year old tortoiseshell cat who came into the family as a tiny little kitten and grew up together with her two siblings Paul and Mary. Paul and Mary are hopefully still alive and well but not here anymore. My wife brought Mary to a relative in Munich and Paul left the family for a new home after he was outmaneuvered by Princess Min Ki in the contest for the top position.

Rosy was the darling of Harry who until his untimely dead at the age of six years, caused by an incurable liver infection, was the undisputed patriarchal leader of the family. They were a wonderful pair and Rosy has still not overcome the loss of her friend. Rosy is a little cat and a bit overweight, she is very sweet but insecure and somehow melancholic.

Wendy is a three year old dark grey longhair cat, one could call her even an extra longhair cat. She was together with Cindy rescued as a kitten from an abandoned farm. Princess Min Ki adopted Cindy and Wendy and taught them all the tricks and trades of cat life, a move that cemented Min Ki’s position as leader of the family. Wendy is the smallest cat, she is funny and social, trying her best to be friends with all her fellow cats. Cindy’s disappearance clouded Wendy’s mood severely but she seems to have overcome the loss now.

Sumo aka Indi was the cat of a neighbor. Sumo was already twelve years old when she decided that she rather wanted to stay with us, a move which the neighbor grudgingly accepted not at least because he considered Sumo as a difficult and unfriendly cat. Sumo is neither difficult nor unfriendly, she is a lovely old lady with a few quirks and caprices (like everybody of us has). She is still not fully integrated into our cat family but the other cats seem to accept or at least tolerate her. Violent behavior is not allowed in this household and though the cats occasionally hiss and growl at each other, they never have a fight.

Sumo will probably always be an outsider, she was a loner for so many years and now, with 14 years of age she will not change very much. Sumo is the “old odd aunt,” avoided and ignored by the younger cats and yet contributing in a mysterious way to the special appeal and charm of this place. She will be missed very much when her time comes to leave us!

Ma Xi was a stray cat, a scabby and mangy tomcat who hardly got by, finding pieces of food here and there as he was sifting through the garbage cans and the compost heaps. He once sneaked into the house and discovered the cup with dry food in the kitchen which is always filled up and after that he visited regularly, trying to sneak into the house when the terrace door was open. He was very shy and always ran away when he heard my wife or me coming into the kitchen or the sitting room.

Ma Xi got little by little more companionable and easy in the following month and he accepted it when I brought him a cup of food to the terrace, though he still didn’t let anybody come nearer than one meter. He even attended the cat walks but that was not a big deal (at least not as big as it may sound) because other cats who are not part of the family also join the walks occasionally.

Then one day Ma Xi came badly injured after a severe fight with another cat. His fur was full of blood and he looked frightening. He obviously came to us instantly after the fight and it was very clear that he hoped to get help and that he had no other place to go. My wife brought him instantly to the veterinarian who stitched him together and also neutered him.

Ma Xi recovered fast and we could fetch him from the veterinarian after a few days. When he came back and jumped out of the pet carrier he instantly started exploring the house and there was no doubt anymore that he was now a new member of the cat family. Just like the other cats Ma Xi is free to come or leave as he pleases. It took a major educational effort to get him used to the cat flap and he is occasional unruly and rough but his integration into the cat family was surprisingly unproblematic.

Ma Xi likes to run and he never misses a walk in the forest. He always waits in the hall looking at the entrance door and I make often a second or even third walk with him alone. We spend a lot of time together in the wood.

Ma Xi is not a pretty cat and not a charming or intelligent cat, but he is courageous, self-assured, and determined — and he is a strong and distinct personality like all the other cats of the family.

Sometimes when I walk with the cat family through the forest, which is our refuge from the noise and the poisons of todays civilization, I feel like Moses leading the Israelites to the promised land. The forest is our promised land, small enough to be accessible and still large enough to shield us from the dangers of modern life. In my youth I was known for some years by the nickname “Moses”. I’m now a “Moses” for my little friends and maybe I should proclaim a “Decalogue,” just as the historical Moses did. I thought about this for a long time and as we are near the end of this section I take the chance and proclaim the “Decalogue,” the “Ten Commandments” for cat hosts (and all other people that have contact with cats):

1. Don’t cause pain or discomfort to cats
2. Provide the best available care, but don’t overdo it
3. When a cat comes to you, always have enough time for her/him
4. Don’t humiliate a cat, treat her/him with dignity
5. Never force a cat to do certain things or be in a certain place.
6. Be quiet, avoid making noise. Avoid turbulent, disorderly behavior
7. Be gentle, don’t scare a cat with sudden movements
8. Be patient. Cats are patient, you have to be patient too

As I find out now after writing down the rules intuitively, these are only eight commandments and not ten. I think, I should not worry about this too much, cats are simply different and have their own mind. One has also to acknowledge, that we live in a digitalized world and that it is appropriate to use the binary system and successive powers of two for fundamental rules and laws.

Of course, there are not only rules for cat hosts, there are guidelines for the cats too. I use the word “guideline” because a cat will never obey any rules, though she/he may occasionally take guidelines into consideration. Guidelines should not differ too much from established behavior. Cats are creatures of habit and they will do things in the old familiar way over and over again. Cats like continuity, they hate it when they are forced to change their proceedings. One has to keep that in mind while setting up guidelines, and formulate them so, that they don’t differ too much from the current state. My guidelines are mostly informal, though I have put a leaflet above the food cups concerning table manners (in this case, feeding place manners).

My dear little friends!

Food is not everything. Food is important of course, but you also need some love and affection. You need a warm and dry place where you can retreat when the weather is bad and especially in the cold winter days. And you need help to prevent or cure dangerous diseases, that could make your life miserable or even kill you.

Food is not everything though you are right to enjoy it – like you should enjoy everything else and have fun and a good time in your special way. And one last word: please don’t eat too hastily and too much in one go – nobody will steal your food and there will always be enough to eat for my little friends.

I know, they cannot read this leaflet, but I read it every now and then and I hope that somehow over time I will be able to convey its meaning to my cats.

Some thought about he rest of the universe

To put everything into the right prospective, I need to address the issues, that concern me most beside cats and I need to make clear, how I relate this issues to my feline friends. Maybe I am also able to show in this context, how the cats help me understand the way of the world. Life is messy and confusing and one needs either a sharp mind or the help and the example of a “down to earth” cat to cut through all the fog and noise of irrelevant facts and the clutter of misinformation and lies. So lets take it on! After some thoughts about cats here are my thought about life and the universe:

As I said just before, life is messy and confusing. Life is a struggle, life is pain, life is suffering (the first noble truth of Buddhism). Life is quite short and it ends inevitably with death! Building on this assessment the question arises, what to do with this short and messy life, how to conduct it in the most sensible way?

Looking around and considering my limited options I came after some pondering to the conclusion, that

1. I have to organize my life in a way, that reduces pain and suffering and makes me feel well.

2. I also have to help my fellow creatures to feel well or at least reduce their pain and suffering.

Today these rules seem quite obvious to me but it took me a long time to get there and it was not easy to implement them as guiding principles in my life.

The mentioned rules are my personal solution to the conundrum of life and I present them here because they are the basis of everything what follows in this text. The first rule will probably be accepted by most readers, yet I’m not so sure, that the second rule will be approved as well.

The second rule, “to help my fellow creatures and reduce their pain and suffering,” is based on the notion of empathy (compassion, affinity, sympathy, understanding, or whatever one may call it). The ability to feel empathy is not universal and often limited. I discussed the term “empathy” already in another text, therefore I can avoid any diversion and go on from here and postulate the main goals that emerge from the preceding thoughts, which are:

working for peace
avoiding environmental destruction
achieving social justice

Lets compare these goals to my personal needs, which are based on my biological needs:

breathing fresh, unpolluted air
drinking clean water
eating healthy, unpolluted food
fulfilling my sexual desires.

The personal needs are self evident and there is not much to talk about. Furthermore it is evident, that the personal needs can only be fulfilled in a peaceful world, an intact nature and a just society. It seems therefore legitimate to focus on and discuss only the main goals of “working for peace”, “avoiding environmental destruction”, “achieving social justice.”

From the start it was clear, that I only could contribute anything meaningful to these goals if I would also improve my own personality. I’m an average guy, full of contradictions and as imperfect as most of my fellow human beings. My main shortcomings are the lack of social skills and the inability to communicate. I am rather shy and introverted. My choleric temper is also a problem.

I acquired a lot of bad habits and unhelpful attitudes in the first four decades of my life and I’m also suffering from various traumas and phobias. I’m probably not more selfish and greedy than the average European but there is much room for improvement.

I tried various times to reinvent myself, to throw away old ballast, and to start new. My personality is still a building site: like this very text it is “a work in progress”. I will most probably have to work on myself until I die.

I could spend all day long meditating, “gazing inside,” watching my breath, making music, walking in the wood with my cats and listening to the sounds of nature. Unfortunately there are many emergencies, ongoing disasters and looming catastrophes that need instant reaction. Waiting until I reach a higher state of consciousness is not an option, when the world around me falls in pieces. I have to act now!

“A cat’s got her own opinion of human beings. She don’t say much, but you can tell enough to make you anxious not to hear the whole of it.” Jerome K. Jerome

Many of the ongoing disasters and emergencies are beyond my control and the prospects of avoiding the looming catastrophes are so dim that it is rather tempting to give up and just let things go downhill. Some situations are spiraling out of control right now, so why shall I bother and fight for a lost cause? It is certainly easier to go on with my business as usual; hoping, that I will not be affected too much in my lifetime and that life will remain bearable in my remaining years.

Hoping that I can avoid the disastrous consequences and only the following generations will have to pay the price of my evil deeds.

“My evil deeds”. I say it this way because together with my fellow human beings I have contributed to many of the emergencies, disasters and catastrophes and I still contribute despite serious ongoing efforts to change and reorganize of my life.

Some readers of this text may wonder, what kind of emergencies and disasters I mean and why I am so concerned. After all, in TV-reality and in the “Virtual Reality” of their computer screens everything is just fine and humanity progresses according to plan. Facebook has now 800 million users, so what can be wrong with the world? Many readers will regard me as one of the countless doomsday prophets and think: “Welcome to armageddon club. We heard all that before, nothing new here. There is no reason to worry, just ignore the doomsday sayer.”

“Artists like cats; soldiers like dogs.” – Desmond Morris

To counter this criticism I want to present a fact sheet of emergencies, ongoing disasters and looming catastrophes. I will try to be as short and pointed as possible:

A. War and weapons

There are some 8.000 active nuclear warheads waiting to be deployed at any time
USA 2,300 (2,600 inactive, 3,600 shelved)
Russia 3,600 (7000 stockpiled)
France 300
Israel 200 – 400
UK 160 (220 stockpiled)
China 240
Pakistan 90
India 100
North Korea 2
The total number of existing nuclear bombs is estimated at 18.000.

The new START treaty between USA and Russia shall decrease the number of deployable nuclear weapons to 1,500 for each country, but START is still based on the concept of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction).

Wars that are raging right now and countries still reeling from the aftermath of war:

Afghanistan 20,000 – 49,000 fatalities since 2001
Iraq 160,000 fatalities since 2003
Somalia 300,000 to 400,000 fatalities since 1991
Libya 40,000 fatalities since 2011
Democratic Republic of Congo 4,000,000 since 1998
Columbia (FARC) 60,000 – 200,000 fatalities since 1964
Arab – Israeli conflict 120,000 – 140,000 fatalities since 1948
Philippines insurgency120,000 fatalities since 1969
Turkey (PKK insurgency) 44,000 fatalities since 1978
Pakistan north-west 30,000 fatalities since 2004
Mexico (drug war) 23,000 fatalities since 2006
Burma 70,000 fatalities since 1948
India (Naxalite-Maoist insurgency) 6,000 fatalities since 1967
India north-east 25,000 fatalities since 1964
India Kashmir 60,000 fatalities since 1989
Sudan Darfur 300,000 fatalities since 2003
Sudan (nomadic conflicts) 2,500 fatalities since 2009
Niger Delta 6,000 fatalities since 2004

This list is not complete and the casualty figures can be disputed and claimed to be higher or lover. The list shows nevertheless without doubt, that we don’t live in a time of peace.

Military spending is a big part of the national budgets and the production of weapons and military operations use valuable and scarce resources. The world total military expenditure for 2010 was estimated 1600 billion US$ (according to SIPRI). The USA military budget is 680 billion US$, though additional military spending outside the Department of Defense add up to a total of about one trillion Dollar.

To see this in the right prospective: The USA pledged $1.2 billion to rebuild Haiti, after 200,000 people died in an earthquake and has not fulfilled this pledge until now.

The UN’s Millennium Development Project would cost 130 billion a year and a total of 760 billion to reach the target date of 2015. The Millennium Project goals:

1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2 Achieve universal primary education
3 Promote gender equality and empower women
4 Reduce child mortality
5 Improve maternal health
6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7 Ensure environmental sustainability
8 Develop a global partnership

B. Environment

Humans are constantly producing and distributing substances, that were never part of the ecosphere and are harmful to plants and animals. Some substances are outright toxic, others accumulate over time and contribute in an imperceptible way to diseases of plants and animals. The WHO reports a sharp increase in human diseases, caused by environmental degradation. About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution (according to studies at Cornell university). Microbes are becoming increasingly drug-resistant and diseases like tuberculosis and influenza are re-emerging as major threats.

The worldwide generation of waste is estimated four billion tons a year, only a quarter is reused or recycled. Europeans produce between 400 and 800 kg waste per person and year. In the USA 95 percent of solid waste is disposed of in almost full landfills — half of those landfills desperately needs repair so they won’t leak. In 2007, 41 million computers and 32 million computer displays were discarded in the USA. The total amount of e-waste was 3.01 million tons, only 12 percent were recycled. Worldwide 40 to 60 million tons of E-waste are disposed per year. Every year some 46,000 tons of plastic waste are dumped into the world’s oceans. Millions of seabirds and marine mammals are killed by plastic trash.

Human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, cause rapid changes in climate (global warming) and a rise in sea levels.

“In the middle of a world that had always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence.” Rosanne Amberson

Over the past 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the air oscillated between roughly 200 and 300 parts per million. Just before the Industrial Revolution, the level was about 280 parts per million and had been there for several thousand years. 1950 the amount of CO2 in the air was 310 parts per million. In January 2012 the number had risen to 393 parts per million. Without strong emission limits, the number could pass 560 before the end of the century, double what it was before the Industrial Revolution. CO2 traps heat at the surface of the planet. Global warming will cause melting of ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food.

The chemistry of the oceans is changing at a rate not seen for 65 million years. Should the rate of change continue unaltered, our oceans could be 160 percent more acidic by the end of this century. An increase in acidification could reduce fish stocks but also have a devastating effect on coral reefs, which provide a home for 25 percent of all marine species and provide food and jobs to some 500 million people around the world.

Humans cause the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It is the sixth mass extinction in the history of this planet and it began about 11,000 years ago. Main causes are habitat destruction, overexploitation of species, pollution and climate change. The present rate of extinction is estimated to be 140,000 species per year. 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. 20 percent of vertebrates are endangered or threatened with extinction. If present trends continue, half of all species on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years.

C. Social and economic justice, human rights

1.4 billion people live below the international poverty line (earning less than $1.25 per day), one billion are undernourished. Three billion are living in unsanitary conditions without access to clean water. One billion of them have no access to safe drinking water. One billion children (every second child on this planet) live in poverty.

Multinational corporations have accelerated a worldwide “land grab” to buy up vast swaths of land in poor countries. Between 37 to 49 million acres of farmland were sold to foreign groups between 2006 and mid-2009. This neocolonial land grabs destroys villages, displaces tens of thousands of farmers and creates a volatile mass of landless poor.

Health inequities are reflected in the differences in life expectancies between countries and even within countries. A child born in Japan or Sweden can expect to live 80 years, but less than 50 years in several African countries. Over 200 million children lack basic health care. Seven million children die each year from five completely preventable and treatable conditions: diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, measles and malnutrition. 45,000 people die in the USA every year because they lack health insurance.

“The cat, which is a solitary beast, is single minded and goes its way alone; but the dog, like his master, is confused in his mind.” – H.G. Wells

Wages for identical jobs in the U.S.A, Japan, and Western Europe are some four to five times higher than in Eastern Europe, Korea, or Brazil, and an order of magnitude higher than in China, India, or Colombia.

Wage inequality in most industrialized nations increased considerably in the last three decades. The 10 percent of earners at the bottom of the US income table get 2.0 percent of total household income and the 10 percent of earners at the top get 30.0 percent. The minimum wage is between 5 and 8 US$ per hour. Hedge fund manager John Paulson earned 4.9 billion US$ in 2010, Ray Dalio 3.1 billion, Jim Simons 2.5 billion. Warren Buffet earned 9 billion US$, Larry Ellison 7.7 billion, Charles and David Koch together earned 10 billion. Michael Bloomberg earned 4 billion US$. The top one percent now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

There is deep-rooted and persisting Racism, ethnic discrimination and gender discrimination.

Over 2.1 million African-American families live below the poverty level. Unemployment among black people is about twice as big as among whites. A study in 2003 showed, that black men without a criminal record are less likely to be called back for a job interview than white men with a criminal record.

In the UK the unemployment rate for ethnic minorities is twice as large as for whites. The unemployment rate of native Canadians and of native Australians is three times higher than for whites.

People of color are the majority of those living in neighborhoods within 1.8 miles of the USA’s hazardous waste facilities. Approximately half of all Native Americans live in communities with an uncontrolled toxic waste site. African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is causing health dangers.

Children of color who live in poor areas are more likely to attend schools filled with asbestos, live in homes with peeling led paint, and play in parks that are contaminated. These children are nearly nine times more likely than economically advantaged children to be exposed to lead levels so high they can cause severe learning disabilities as well as other neurological disorders. 96 percent of African American children who live in inner cities have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood. 45 percent of black children live below the poverty line, compared with 16 percent of white kids.

There are 2.2 million people in US prisons and nearly 5 million people on probation and parole. Black people are 13 percent of the US population and about 60 percent of the prison population.

Examples of gender discrimination:

US women earn in average 77 percent of their male colleagues. Female M.B.A.s make $4,600 less per year in their first job out of business school. African-American women earn 68 percent of their male counterparts. Only 16 percent of Congress members are Women.

Women accounted for only about 14 percent of members of parliament worldwide in 2002. Women ministers remain concentrated in social areas (14 percent) compared to legal (9.4 percent), economic (4.1 percent), political affairs (3.4 percent), and the executive (3.9 percent). 7 percent of the world’s total cabinet ministers are women.

Women’s participation in managerial and administrative posts is around 33 percent in the developed world, l5 percent in Africa and 13 percent in Asia and the Pacific. Women hold only 9 percent of the top management jobs and 21 percent of senior management positions in the UN bureaucracy.

Only 1 percent of the world’s assets are in the name of women. There are only 5 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 corporations. In Silicon Valley, for every 100 shares of stock options owned by a man, only one share is owned by a woman. Men in the Arab states have 3.5 times the purchasing power of their female counterparts. 70 percent of people in poverty (living on less than 1 US$ per day) are women.

Violence causes more death and disability worldwide amongst women aged 15 – 44 than war, cancer, malaria and traffic accidents. One in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape, 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read, one third of all women there are raped.

==============

Many of the facts and the numbers, that I listed in this text will be disputed by pundits and experts on the payroll of corporations and political groups. There are powerful forces who have an interest in hiding the truth and preserving the status quo (and the profits), first and foremost the “Military Industrial Complex,” followed by Big Oil, the pharma industry (Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck) and agribusiness (Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Potash Corp. Du Pont, Syngenta, BASF), financial institutions (Wall Street, insurances, hedge funds, equity firms, the Russian Mafia, etc.) and all other global corporations.

Corporate media also will do its part and filter, misinform, lie, and dumb down the audience to keep the present system of exploitation and suppression stable.

As in my other texts I didn’t include citations or links to sources, it would have bloated this text disproportional and everybody can easily check facts and numbers with one of the search engines. In anyway, the cited numbers are most times interpolations, extrapolations, or simply educated guesses, and they should be understood more like allusions or indications of magnitude.

I hope that I could explain my concerns about the state of this planet with the fact sheet that I presented in this text and I intend to write down my conclusions in subsequent blog entries. Two personal conclusion I want to tell right here as a closing statement of this text:

I will try to live my life in the most efficient way using the least amount of resources.
I will listen to the trees and to the birds and to all other animals that are around.

I will listen of course also to my cats.

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” – Charles Dickens

2 comments

  1. The extinction of mankind will most likely be caused by our inability to overcome our own ignorance.

    Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with the idiocy of mankinds destructive and uncaring nature I remind myself that cats and music make life worth living (I’ve been saying that for years and had been unaware of Albert Schweitzer’s quote mentioned above until I read it today in this blog post).

    Like


    • Thank you for your attention.
      We are not alone, there are many people thinking this way.
      The revolution in their minds will not be televised or tweeted.
      And the flame will keep burning.

      Like



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