Jane Austen with Kittens

You’ve probably heard of this movie that mashes up Jane Austen and Zombies. Well, there’s a story unfolding around our house that feels like something out of a Jane Austen story, but it involves kittens.

If you haven’t been following the kitty situation chez nous, here’s a quick recap: In spring of 2016 a local feral cat had kittens. The mother and kittens became regular visitors to our back yard over the summer, and as the months wore on we socialized the kittens (Phoebe and Fiona) and finally brought them into the house in November. The mother is friendly but too feral to adopt. We already have a grumpy 14-year old black cat named “the Mini.”

So what happens when you bring two spry young female kittens into the house of a 14-year-old neutered male cat? You’d think nothing, owing to the gonad-free life that the Mini has been living since George W. Bush was President. But apparently not.

You see, one of the kittens — Phoebe — has been madly in love with the Mini since the beginning, before we even let them into the house. Last summer, when they were wild and living outside, Phoebe, Fiona, and their mother appeared on the deck several times a day. If the Mini was sitting in the patio doorway, Phoebe would rush up to the door and go nose-to-nose with him through the screen, purring madly. While the other two cats displayed a mixture of mild interest and utter indifference to this black furball who lived in the mysterious world on the other side of the patio door, Fiona was enthralled and would rush to see and sniff him whenever she could.

The Mini showed no interest, even by October, when the kittens started coming inside occasionally, nor in November when they moved in permanently. He would either ignore Phoebe’s eye-batting and snuggly invitations or actively swat her away. So it looked as though we’d have no real trouble with these as-yet-unspayed kittens, until Fiona — who had previously showed no interest in the Mini — went very explicitly into heat.

The G-rating quickly took a dive, as Fiona turned her eye on the Mini. And not just her eye; her modus operandi was to turn her tush on Mini’s face in a presentation so brazen and vivid that I expected the Vice Squad to burst through the door at any moment. Mini responded by biting her on the back of the neck, arching his spine, and assuming a position that would be referred to as “mounting” except that his aim is off, and despite the humping and yowling their naughty bits rarely seemed to be in the same ZIP code.

According to my research, a female cat stays in heat for a few days, then is done with it until the next time. But Fiona has apparently not consulted Wikipedia because she’s been in a state of heat — whether real or imagined — ever since, without a break. As a result, this furry tango with the Mini happens at least three times a day, sometimes at meal times, which is highly disturbing to the mood, and I find myself sitting there over dinner with cat screwing sounds drowning out the Spotify playlist, thinking “the only thing missing is the banjo kid from Deliverance.”

But where does that leave Phoebe? For the first few weeks, she would just sit there, eyes agog, as the love of her life ravaged her sister — or perhaps more correctly, ravaged the carpet while hunched over her sister. Unlike the copulations of apes, this furry yowling would go on and on, for what seemed like hours. Phoebe’s unrequited love was tragic to witness, which means, in Victorian romance tradition, it can only get worse. And it did.

Early in January, Phoebe finally caught on to this “heat” thing, and started slinking around the Mini with a whole new slutty look in her eye. Unfortunately she’s a bit of a klutz in the romance department, and she can’t quite bust the right moves. Whereas Fiona simply sticks her tush in the Mini’s face until he catches a whiff and springs into action, Phoebe prefers to slither alongside him and to roll over and purr like, well, a thing in heat. The Mini’s response is either to walk away or to growl at her and then walk away.

There is no happy ending yet; the house is a den of exploitation and sorrows. I hope this will be resolved “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” style by sexually lobotomizing the kittens under the veterinarian’s knife, after which we can go back to the usual snuggles and hisses.

Missing the Point(s)

Yesterday, millions of women and men in the United States and around the world came out to march against the Trump presidency. The reaction among the Trumpists was predictable. I am shocked, however, to see the extent to which otherwise reasonable people — mostly not even Trump supporters — have piled onto the bandwagon of “where were these people on voting day?”

That bandwagon and the thinking behind is so wrong, so unbelievably wrong, that I am almost rendered speechless. Fortunately I can still type, so here is why that sentiment is wrong and completely misses the various points behind yesterday’s Women’s March.

(1) Your math is wrong

You seem to think that if all those protesters had simply voted against Trump on election day, that Trump wouldn’t have won and they’d have nothing to complain about. First off, who says that the people in the marches are the ones who didn’t vote?

The low voter turnout is irrelevant. The people who marched are most likely the people who did vote. After all, if you’re too lazy to vote you’re probably too lazy to go to a march. While we will never be sure about the actual percentage of marchers who did or didn’t vote, assuming that even half of them were vote-skippers is naïve in the extreme (see above point about laziness).

Even with the most pessimistic of voter turnout numbers, that still leaves tens of millions of U.S. citizens that voted against Trump, many of whom we saw yesterday.

(2) Your assumption about sour grapes is wrong

Your gripe implies you think the point of the march was to complain about the outcome of the vote. No, that’s over and done with. Although many questions remain unanswered about the role of Russia, and the “popular vote vs. electoral college” question remains forever in purgatory, the objective of the Women’s March was not to complain about losing.

The objective was to state loudly and clearly that although the election is a fait accompli, there is much about Trump, the Trump cabinet nominees, and other aspects of the Trump Machine that is already worthy of protest. The lies are as thick as ever, the inauguration speech was downright frightening, the ethical problems with Trump, his family, and his nominees are eye-popping, and his presidency is only a day old.

People against Trump could see this coming. It is absolutely known among clear- and objective-thinking people (both democrats and republicans, as well as people from around the world) that the Trump presidency is a disaster in the making on multiple levels. The Women’s March was protesting the on-coming train wreck, not the vote count.

(3) You don’t understand democracy

You seem to think that democracy involves going out to vote every four years and then just rolling over and letting your elected dictator do whatever he or she wants. No. This is not the Soviet Union. This isn’t the Vatican. Democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box; that’s where it begins.

In a properly functioning democracy, those who are elected are not granted short-term dictatorships. They are accountable to the people from the day they enter office until the day they leave. The people speak through the media, through the various committees and organizations that actually run the country, and through direct action (read: protests).

That’s how it works. It doesn’t stop. Yesterday we saw millions of people come out and say “No.” These people are holding Trump accountable for what he says and what he does, and yesterday’s march sets the tone for the next four years.

If you are against Trump and against the Women’s March, then I don’t know how you can even see straight given the cognitive dissonance that must be ravaging your brain right now. Unless, that is, there is something in your view of democracy that makes you think it’s just a once-every-four-years inconvenience and in the interim you’re happy to be lorded over and dictated.

In Trump’s inauguration speech he said “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” Boom. That, right there, is the reason for the Women’s March on Washington (and its avatars around the world). The people standing up to the government, demanding to be heard.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

The (alleged) Truth Behind Episode Six of “The OA”

SPOILER NOTICE! (Not quite an “alert” as this post doesn’t contain any significant spoilers.)

The OA” (Netflix original series) is a bit like “Stranger Things” but for slightly older people and with cuss words and nudity. And it’s trippy. Very trippy.

The series is composed of eight episodes, and when we watched episode six last night we were surprised that it clocked in at only 31 minutes. Previous episodes have been 60 minutes, give-or-take a few.

My first thought was that Netflix had messed up and truncated the episode, but a check of the episode running times confirmed the short duration. I Googled around to see if there was a reason for it, and was surprised to find almost no one mentioning the inexplicably short episode. I finally found a Reddit thread where someone claimed that Zal Batmanglij, the show’s co-creator, has said that they did not feel the need to be constrained by conventional television time slot durations; that they preferred to have flexibility in episode lengths in the same way that chapters in a novel are not constrained to specific page counts.

Fair enough. It makes sense, given that Netflix is watched entirely according to the viewer’s schedule, so there’s no need to fit into time-slot boxes. But then I looked at the durations for all episodes in the series:

Episode 1: 71 minutes
Episode 2: 58 minutes
Episode 3: 60 minutes
Episode 4: 64 minutes
Episode 5: 61 minutes
Episode 6: 31 minutes
Episode 7: 41 minutes
Episode 8: 50 minutes

Notice that the first five episodes are pretty much locked into a one-hour duration (with the exception of the first, which runs an hour and 11 minutes, but it’s not unusual for a first episode of a series to run a bit long). Then there’s a dramatic shift at episode six, to 31 minutes. The concluding two episodes are 41 and 50 minutes.

So we’re supposed to believe that the show creators did not want to be constrained to traditional time-slot durations, but this creative freedom only kicked in after the fifth episode?

No. I’m not buying it. Here’s what I think happened:

We know that the show sometimes goes off into very trippy dimensions, which is usually balanced by the more grounded parts that take place in the abandoned house and the abandoned mine. We also know that the show has received mixed reviews, with some viewers giving up after a few episodes because they were turned off by the trippy bits.

I suspect that the last three episodes were originally about an hour in duration, but were even trippier than the first five. When the Netflix programming executives saw the finished product they demanded cuts to the extra-trippy bits in those last three episodes because they though it was over-the-top and would cause viewers to bail. (As it stands, there are plenty of accounts of people bailing, even after the alleged cuts, due to a sense that the show had gone “off the rails.”)

I further speculate that the show creators don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they have not complained and have come up with this story about freedom from the constraints of conventional formats.

It’s pure speculation of course, but I’m sticking to it, and perhaps one day the official story will change, at which point all you nay-sayers can send me a “You were right” card with a dollar in it.

Westworld Season 1 Finale

SPOILER ALERT!

Westworld is a pretty interesting series, filed with contemplations on the power of narrative and various takes on questions of free will, self-awareness, and machine sentience. It was also filled with slow, coma-inducing soliloquies layered over narcoleptic piano tracks derived from Radiohead songs, which made it hard to stay awake when watching it after my nightly gorge of an entire turkey and three bottles of wine.*

Some of the turns and twists I saw coming. By the third episode I had pretty much determined that William and black-hat guy are the same person, separated by time. I had Bernard’s secret pretty assuredly in hand not long before it was revealed. But I will admit I didn’t see the totality of Ford’s “new narrative” until he began his final celebratory speech, moments before Delores marked her prime directive-free debut with a shot to the back of Ford’s head.

But I’m left with a lingering question. (Many, actually, but one main one.) We are lead to believe that the hosts have risen up, in a “rise of the machines” manner, but we have also seen that they were essentially just following Ford’s new narrative. Does this mean they have not actually achieved true consciousness and free will, that they are just following the program? Or does the program they’re following allow for enough improvisation that they can actually perform “freely” while still being subject to programming protocols and inputs — which is essentially (according to some) the definition of human behaviour?

For example, was Maeve’s last-minute debarking from the train scripted, or did she do that of her own free will and consciousness? I suspect this will be a central theme of the second season.

* Don’t believe everything you read. #metacomment

[Originally published on Facebook, December 7, 2016.]