The New Yorker Festival, avec les chats et moi

September 8, 2014 • 6:01 am

Today the New Yorker Festival announced its program, which you can see here.  It takes place in Manhattan, of course, and from Friday, October 10 through Sunday, October 12. As always, there are tons of things to see.  And, I get to be in it, in a LOLzy program of debate—to wit:

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I will of course be wearing my Hili shirt.

This will be about the most fun thing I’ve done in years, though I’m not yet sure what I’ll say in defense of cats (reader suggestions welcome, though I want my talk to be lighthearted and infused with some biology and evolution).


By the way, Team Cat, led by Anthony Lane (one of the two film critics of The New Yorker, and a critic I much admire) will include, besides me, Joyce Carol Oates (who has a cat; see below), Anthony Hutcherson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Ariel Levy. The others are on Team D*g, led by my friend Adam Gopnik and including Malcom Gladwell, author of Fetch: How We Made Dogs our Slaves.

If you click on the screenshot below, you can go to the “buy tickets” site; these go on sale  at 11 a.m. Sept. 11 and are available for exactly 24 hours. I suppose they’re anticipating a sellout crowd, which is nice.

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But this:

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What? The cats can’t be there to see their great victory? For we will win! I am really looking forward to it, and to meeting those great people with whom I’ll debate.

I get tickets to some other events, too, so it will be extra fun. Stephen Sondheim is talking, as are Neil Young (I really want to see that!),  Larry David, Lena Dunham,, Julianna Marguiles, Randy Newman, Roz Chast, and Jeff Goldblum. So much to do, and so little time!

Any suggestions appreciated, for it for the Great Cause.

The author and her rather chunky cat. (Her current cat is named Cherie.)



40 thoughts on “The New Yorker Festival, avec les chats et moi

  1. I read in, I think, Desmond Morris’ short book on cats that when domestic cats and dogs are feral, cats need to hunt 8 hours a day to survive, whereas dogs hunt for 16 hours a day. Feral domestic cats and dogs spend the rest of the time sleeping.

    Cats are thus models of efficiency, whereas dogs are the sort of bumbling idiots who, had they a real job, would get fired.

      1. There’s so much great food here, I’m sure your friends are highly knowledgeable but in case you want some recommendations…

        Chinese: Nom Wah Tea Parlor – classic chinatown dim sum which has been around forever –

        Pizza: Di Fara (, be aware for a long wait, but if you go after lunch on a weekday you should be ok (double-check it’s open)

        Burgers – Ox Cart Tavern, everyone has their own favourite burger joint and I’m lucky that mine is in my neighbourhood (no bias, however):

        Also, we have great food trucks, my two favourites being:
        Korilla BBQ (get the beef burrito –

        The Cinnamon Snail, which is a vegan food truck but is incredible (especially the donuts) –

        That should be a good start 🙂

  2. What? The cats can’t be there to see their great victory?

    Who says you can’t bring in a “service cat”?

    1. There are no “service cats”. You must respect the hierarchy:

      Cats have service people.
      Service people are permitted service dogs, sometimes.

      1. Actually, I do know of a service cat. There’s a young man who hangs out at our library, always with his cat. The man has psych issues and a lot of anxiety. His cat is there for petting to calm him down. The cat has a harness, leash, and service tag on his collar. It’s fun to see the 2 of them sitting in a comfortable chair, one reading, the other sleeping.

  3. It won’t be enough to defend cats. You will need to, in a Shavian manner, anticipate all comments by dog supporters.

    I live in NYC but I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend. But I’ll be rooting for your team!

  4. I think it would only make sense to bring evolution into this if you were defending our relationship with dogs. They were shaped by natural selection to keep us company in exchange for the occasional meaty bone, whereas cats came for the mice after we discovered agriculture and began to store wheat. Our connection to cats is more of an evolutionary byproduct compared to the adaptive one with the dogs. Don’t bring evolution into this, you’ll lose. 🙂

    1. Yes, but I’d maintain that this is the very reason why cats are appealing. They came into contact with us for their own benefit, and have never been bent to human desires through selective breeding. And in their wild state the European wildcat (the ancestor of the housecat) is solitary, while the ancestor of the dog, the gray wolf, is a pack animal. This explains why dogs are obsequious and cats are independent; why cats are like humans in that they give love only in response to the love they get. In contrast, dogs are needy, like a clinging partner.

      1. Cats are independent you say? * Pokes sleeping tabby in basket on desk, who yawns, stretches and falls back into mild coma*
        Let’s just say I have my doubts about that one. 😉

      2. Ok, sounds good. Another thing to consider here is that people might be genetically predisposed (conservative/inbred vs. liberal/outbred) to prefer the company of either species. I know how much you enjoy evolutionary psychology, lol. But have fun!

      3. I only worry that by your participation in this debate that people will falsely think that team dog has any real standing. Good for their CV and all 😀

    2. Dogs are more than companions. They are guards, beasts of burden, hunting helpers, and food. Even feral dogs will stay around as long as humans provide food (garbage, rodents, livestock). Several wild dog species thrive at the edge of human communities. Wild cats do not. Coyotes are common in suburban backyards; bobcats are rare.

      I think the idea of wild cats voluntarily moving into a human-made structure to hunt rodents and somehow magically becoming domesticated is too simplistic and doesn’t allow for enough human involvement or feline adaptability. Domestic cats have a strong (and often underestimated) social structure that is flexible enough to include humans and other animals. They also form strong bonds with humans, which suggests that they have always been bred primarily for that purpose. Why do we assume that ancient people did not find kittens cuddly, or the cats didn’t prefer sleeping in a soft warm human bed rather than in a cold grain shed?

      1. Dogs are like a Swiss army knife with a fuzzy tummy.
        My dogs can fetch a six pack out of a cooler. They keep the squirrels away from the bird feeder. They are good judges of character as they wag for the sushi delivery guy but bark at Jehova’s witnesses and my friend’s obnoxious tea-bagger wife.
        But their most important function, without a doubt, is attracting lots of attention from women when I take them for a jog at the park. No offense to cats and all, but somebody has to take up for the noble dog.

  5. Fetch: How We Made Dogs our Slaves.

    Wow. Gladwell is handing this one over on a platter for d*g chew. Slavery is not something the modern society condones:

    1) D*gs are sooo 1000 BCE. Whoever would artificially select for their behavior today?
    2) D*gs are disruptive for modern morals.

    At least cats made us their _servants_, paying in fusses. They are wholesomely increasing the work force!

  6. Why cats are superior to d*gs:

    When a d*g purloins, he wants seconds.

    When a cat purrloins, he wants fusses.

  7. Cats are independent, and self-sufficient. If you have to leave them for extended periods, they will amuse themselves, and (if available) catch their own food if none is provided.

    Dogs on the other hand are dependent creatures, who are miserable and lost when left alone.

    Interestingly enough, cats generally select people that share similar attributes, and don’t need to constantly fuss over them or require the cat to attend to their needs. Dependent people tend to select dogs, so that they have something to dote over them.

    Of course the corollary of this is that cat-people are lazy, and dog-people just want an excuse to do things.

  8. I thought for a minute that Neil Young would be taking part in the debate. Woulda been good. I’d guess he would have been on the side of the little doggies, given that he’s written at least one song about a dog and has mentioned dogs in at least three other songs…. Oh, wait there is at least one mention of a cat too that I recall…. Ah yes, and there’s this — “Catface sings Neil Young”.

  9. From an evolutionary perspective, Felids rule, as this comparison of appealing characteristics shows:

    Felids: Beautiful striped and spotted patterns, retractile claws, fantastic leaping and turning abilities, and cool noises, including roars and purrs. So good at hunting that they can spend most of their time asleep. Many can climb trees. Extinct species had giant fangs (Smilodon) or could outrun a pronghorn (Miracinonyx).

    Canids: Pointy noses. Interesting howls. Can run all day. Eats anything. Extinct species looked like the modern ones, just bigger (Canis dirus).

    From a domestication perspective, cats are the clear winner. Unlike d*gs, domestic cats can’t kill you and probably won’t eat you.

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