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John Palcewski's Journal

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Because He Can
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Old Yellow. He showed up at my door last summer, demanded to be fed. I gave him some chicken scraps. When I reached down to scratch behind his ears, he ran off. But nevertheless he returned the next day and I fed him again. Gradually he consented to be petted—but only when he was eating. At first he immediately left after his meals, but after a while he found a place on the seat of a chair under the table, or on the top of the steamer trunk in the hallway. Once or twice he stayed overnight, but he was mostly an outdoor cat.

I imagined Old Yellow to be a descendant of a pet of a 12th Century Spaniard on one of his pillage, rape and murder expeditions to this island. But I learned this one-eyed cat was formerly owned by an old couple from Hamburg, who had rented the villa up the road. After a year they returned to Germany and left him behind.

Old Yellow’s reluctance to get too close to humans came from a trauma he experienced shortly after his owners left. A vineyard worker decided this cat should be set the task of getting rid of the mice and rats in the wine cellar, so he locked him up in the musty darkness for a few weeks.

He’s getting on. Every once in a while I see him out in the courtyard. He rises from a doze, stretches out his forepaws, yawns. He takes a few steps, stops, and remains motionless, as if he were trying to remember where he had decided to go. Then, unable to recall, he flops down on the spot, raises his leg, and licks his balls.


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Don't you just love the elegance of felines?
Sometimes I wish I could steal my cat's nonchalant nature.
I wouldn't go as far as licking my balls...
but not having a care in the world would be a welcome change of pace.

Yes, I've often thought cats provide a good example to follow. At least in some areas. Like, for instance, patience. They can wait by a mouse hole FOREVER.

poor kitty.. although he certainly looks more well-fed than my cats. :-D

incidentally, the town i live in - kuching - means "cat" in malay. so we have huge cat statues and a cat museum (tacky).

I guess that at one point the folks in Borneo found religious significance in these fascinating animals. The Egyptians certainly did. Your bio says that you observe primates, and they observe you. I saw a documentary a while back about some chimp that learned sign language and built up quite a large vocabulary. Now, if indeed that constitutes "speech," doesn't that take it (him?) out of the animal category and into the human? Do you think primates are self-aware?

I can ask all these questions because I'm a JOURNALIST!!!


"chimp that learned sign language and built up quite a large vocabulary"

Indeed, same thought striked me upon reading about her in the news!

There is an excellent novel on this subject (terrible memory, I can't tell you the author nor the title): about a scientist who studied a species of apes and grew convinced of them being coscient. To save their population, he needed to set a juridical precedent of a conviction for killing a creature of their race. He inseminated a female of that species with his own semen, and after a baby was born, he killed that baby before a witness. He wanted to be convicted of a homicide. Description of the lengthy process that followed is very interesting: several different criteria of "consciousness" were examined and thrown out after they were found to belong to some animal that couldn't be acknowledged coscient. The final criterion that could not be dismissed and won the case was having rituals...



Interesting. In that documentary I saw, a chimp used a thin twig to retreive ants from a hole in the ground. A repetitious act, which was said to be learned behavior, not instinctual. Now, eating with an implement could be construed to be not only as "tool using" but also as performing a ritual!

Probably wouldn't convince a judge, though...


Hm... Isn't a ritual something that does not serve some immediate practical purpose, but appeals to a sort of deity? (Though, the two can be combined.) Anyway, i believe that language means more than both tool-using and rituals...

I actually meant to tell that the cat is lovely! :)

Thanks! It's more accurate to say that the cat WAS lovely. I'm using LJ to write a "picture novel," and obviously the entry relating to Old Yellow comes early on. Subsequent entries will show the old-timer's decline, and fall.

actually, there was no religious significance to cats in Borneo. There's speculation that Kuching was named after trees that are found in the area. The trees are called kucing mata or cat's eyes after their fruit that resemble, well, cat's eyes.

i've heard of chimps and other apes learning sign language and are able to communicate with their keepers in a pre-school human child level.

Now, if indeed that constitutes "speech," doesn't that take it (him?) out of the animal category and into the human?


it's funny but i've never really viewed humans as separate from apes. We are all primates and share very similar genes with apes. Do I think primates are self-aware? I have to admit that I haven't really read much into this subject however I will agree that apes are probably the most self-aware "animal" besides man.

i'm glad that i've finally commented on your journal. i've been following your photo-journal with great interest.

"...however I will agree that apes are probably the most self-aware "animal" besides man..."

How about dolphins? Elephants?

I saw a film about researchers behind a glass of a tank showing a dolphin a mirror, and it was clear the animal saw himself, and turned his head this way and that, and gave himself different views.

As for dolphin language, they haven't cracked it yet, but as with apes they've figured out a way for the animals to communicate on a rudimentary level.

I suppose the people who have the greatest problem with all this are those who insist there HAS to be a great difference between man and animal, because on religious grounds they reject evolution.

This is an interesting topic...






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