The New Yorker event: Cats lost. . . :-(

October 12, 2014 • 8:59 am

Here’s a brief report on “You, the Jury: Cats vs. Dogs“, our debate at the New Yorker Festival about the merits of these pets. (Note the correct placement of the comma in the title, as is apposite for the New Yorker.)

Despite our best efforts, Team Cat went to the d*gs last night, as the post-debate audience “applause vote” was louder for dogs than for cats. Of course the “debate” was a bit like our debates on this site about matters like free will and Jesus’s historicity: people come to the issue knowing their opinions, which almost never change.

But it was enormous fun: everyone tried to be humorous but also say something substantive, and there’s simply too much to describe about the two-hour event. I’l show some pictures of the participants, including some I took in the Green Room. (You can read more about the debaters here.)

This first set of pictures are from Fashion Magazine (??); perhaps they considered the subjects the best-dressed debaters!

Below is Ariel Levy, a New Yorker staff writer who wrote an unbearably sad and touching piece about losing her unborn child while traveling in Mongolia (read it!). It won the National Magazine award for nonfiction, and she’s turning it into a book.

Ariel was a hoot, and scuppered Team D*g by showing a photo she took of Malcolm Gladwell (on Team D*g) cuddling with her own cat (see below as well for Gladwell’s treachery). She also quoted, of all people, Thorstein Veblen on dogs!


From Team D*g, Alexandra Horowitz, who is a professor of psychology at Barnard, an expert in dog cognition, and the author of a New York Times bestseller on d*gs: Inside of a D*g: What D*gs See, Smell, and Know. Curiously, Alexandra used to be a fact-checker at the New Yorker. She had a great presentation (considering her status as a d*gster) featuring videos of two dogs greeting their owners at the door, servile tails wagging furiously, contrasted with a cat “greeting” its owner: sitting placidly on the couch and then running away when the owner approached.  Team D*g made a big to-do about dog servility, which we cat-lovers do not find an appealing trait.


Professor Ceiling cat wearing his Hili shirt.  Sadly, the slide-clicker I had malfunctioned, putting a wrench in my presentation, but I did the best I could. I talked about how the evolutionary background of cats vs. d*gs—mainly their difference in ancestral degree of sociality—was responsible for all the things we like about cats. Behind me is an effigy of Jesse Eisenberg, who couldn’t make it but sent a hilarious video about his cat.


Below: Anthony Lane, leader of Team Cat and one of the New Yorker‘s two film critics. He gave the preliminary remarks and a fiery closing speech emphasizing the importance of cats in movies and writing. As I recall, one of his remarks was something like: “Really, and do you think that James Bond would have a honey-blonde love-interest named Fido Galore?”


Behind him is the Eisenberg effigy, your host, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Malcolm Gladwell on Team D*g was funny, making a big megillah about how bomb-sniffing dogs were important in the war on terrorism, while cats apparently don’t give a damn about the problem. He played to the audience’s jingoism: a low blow indeed!


Adam Gopnik: New Yorker staff writer and a friend. His opening and closing statements for Team D*g were witty and well crafted. But more low blows: he said that cats were Republicans and d*gs were Democrats, adding that d*gs were Jewish and cats were goyim.  Whatever the merits of Adam’s appeal to politics and religiosity, it’s precisely the opposite for the owners of those animals!


Joyce Carol Oates wrote a lovely poem that took off from Christopher Smart’s famous  verse, “For I will consider my cat Geoffrey.” Her presentation was her poem, packed with paeans to cats and disses to d*gs.  I got her to sign for me a copy of her children’s book about cats, Naughty Cherie! (her cat is named Cherie); and she and her husband Charlie Gross (a neuroscientist at Princeton) kindly invited me to dine with them at the Union Square Cafe after the event.  Joyce was gracious and personable, even though I was in awe of being in the presence of a famous author; and her husband was garrulous and full of stories. It was great fun.


This is Jill Abramson, ex-editor of the New York Times and a member of team D*g. I didn’t catch her name at first, and we sussed it out only at dinner later when we remembered that she talked several times about how she had been “fired” in May. Her talk included displaying a golden retriever toy (you can see it on the desk) which, she said, brought her solace in her time of trouble.


The next batch of photos below are from Getty Images, which puts a “watermark” on its pix:

David Remnick, the judge, who is the editor of The New Yorker.  He would occasionally warn people when they got too close to “the line,” as when the trainer of Sandy (the d*g appearing in the play “Annie”), displayed the d*g’s visage and said “Look at that face!” Naked appeals to cuteness were not tolerated. Remnick had a gavel that he wielded at such moments. (The audience was also not allowed to say “Awwww!”)


Cat-breeder and filmmaker Anthony Hutcherson displaying two of the gorgeous Bengal Cats that he breeds as a hobby. One of them was on his lap for the entire two-hour presentation, and, as I was sitting next to him, I got to pet it constantly and have it lick my hand. Everyone, including the d*gster Gladwell, was taken by these beautiful animals.  Hutcherson gave a superb talk on the role of cats in history and, countering the tiresome trope of Team D*g that dogs are good because THEY DO STUFF THAT IS GOOD FOR HUMANS (what a solipsistic view of our evolutionary cousins!), showed a slide of a police dog attacking protestors during the civil rights demonstrations of the 60s.

A lovely guy, Anthony offered members of Team Cat some of the non-show ‘reject’ Bengals that he produces. Anthony, if you’re reading this, I may take you up on that!

The Flaunting of the Bengals marked the end of Anthony’s talk, before the closing statements of Lane and Gopnik.


Jesse Eisenberg sent in a five-minute video from L.A. (Note: you can now watch it here.) It was side-splittingly funny. He pretended to be in Hawaii and extolling his cat Mr. Trunkles, but began turning pages of his notebook revealing the truth: his cat was holding him hostage in New York and was making him pretend they were in Hawaii. As you can see from the notebook, the secret message included “He used to be just passive aggressive.” The next page said “But now he’s just evil.”


A few of my snaps from the Green Room:

Our Leader, Anthony Lane, checking his cellphone:

A. Lane

Anthony H. displaying the two Bengal Cats he brought. One of the highlights of the evening was the amount of contact I got to have with these beauteous beasts, holding them and petting them throughout the debate. They were remarkably sanguine (what cat would stay in one’s arms for two hours?), and their fur was incredibly soft.

Anthony H

Joyce holding Jungletrax Flowmaster (I think; the other Bengal was named Jungletrax Masterpiece):

Joyce and Cats

Malcolm and Ariel admiring a Bengal. Look at that face! (Malcolm’s, I mean.) As Ariel noted, Gladwell is clearly smitten with cats: he’s a two-timer! Like science and religion, you have to choose! The Bengal, of course, is diffident, taking it all as his due.

Malcolm Ariel and Jungletrax

Ariel, Malcolm, David, and organizer Rhonda Sherman having pre-debate noms:


Bill Berloni, an animal trainer and debater for Team D*g, giving “Sandy” water before the show.  Berloni has trained every Sandy in every “Annie” shown on Broadway, and had the dog onstage for his presentation. His message was largely about the untrainability of cats, which from his vantage is a problem, but from ours a mitzvah.


My thanks to all members of Team Cat, to Sam Karshenboym and Rhonda Sherman, who were in charge of the complicated organization of the event, to Adam Gopnik who, I’m sure, was responsible for getting me invited, and to David Remnick for chairing the event (though he was clearly on the side of Team D*g!).

76 thoughts on “The New Yorker event: Cats lost. . . :-(

  1. Finally! I was scouring Joyce’s Tw**ter feed to get the outcome. 🙂

    PCC must take Anthony up on that offer!!!

    Here’s Jesse’s doing his skit:

  2. Our obnoxicats say that good fun is good fun, that the outcome was a mistake, and that peoples’ opinions matter little to them as long as their great ape servants feed them and give them play on demand.

    I’m glad to have seen pictures of bengals, am delighted that there are spotted house cats with rosettes. Obnoxicats (breed, formally, ocicat) are, to my untrained eye, tabbies with broken bars.

      1. Hey, somebody has to show a flag for the set [atheism and canids] lest some dog lovers feel left out. After all, dogs are willing to listen to reason. Cats by and large behave like creationists, continuing to do as they always have.

        1. Dogs aren’t willing to listen to reason; they’re eager to take orders. And cats are creationists because one of their own actually did create the world — Queen Maeve, in fact, and She did so just last Thursday!

          That’s another point. Both cats and dogs frequently appear in religious mythology, but only cats are celestial beings who are objects of worship. The Sun spent the night safely within Sekhmet, for example, which is why cats’s eyes glow at night. Dogs, however, are relegated to underworld / apocalyptic monster roles (Cerebus, Fenrir).

          If even the ancients could figure this out, what excuse do New Yorkers have?


          1. Dogs DON’T “reason”- that’s why they’re so easy to train! They’re OK in their place, I guess, but were I to consider getting one, I’d ask myself, “Do I REALLY want a permanent two-year-old around?”

        2. Did you read the article? It’s not the d*g loves who are in need of support, plus what are the chances that they would seek it around here? I really would like to know what’s in that aquavit of yours…

          1. But around here, dog lovers are in need of some support, or at least representation.

            And FWIW, Schwixon now has a resident canid and felid (Dusty & Langston), just like at the cherry orchard – first of either since at least 1948.

  3. How could this happen? Did no one point out that d*gs eat poop and cats do not? That right there should have sealed the victory.

    1. Many delusions are not successfully challenged by reason alone. (Insert face of a sad can opener here.)

    2. When one of our cat eats too much, too quickly (steals other cat’s food) he’s likely to vomit it up. Next on the agenda, eating it for the second time.

  4. I haven’t yet had the heart — nor the courage — to relay the results to Baihu. Best to keep him otherwise occupied until this falls off the front page.

    I will observe, though, that I did correctly predict this as a possible outcome: that New Yorkers would demonstrate their profound lack of both observational and cognitive abilities. Too bad they chose this route for themselves, but choose it they did.

    Uh-oh…Baihu is stirring…gotta run….


  5. Sounds like great fun, even if the wrong team won!

    As for the Democrat/Republican thing, I’m sure I’ve seen a survey where it’s cat lovers that are more likely to be Democrats and dog lovers Republican. Not much point now of course, so I won’t search it out.

    1. I would agree. Apart from stated reasons it has been my observation that quite a few people see, and use, their dogs as a kind of weapon.

  6. I will perhaps always be conflicted and on the fence about this important issue. I grew up with a cat, and I would gladly go back to relive my youth. I have owned many d*gs while I learned to be independent and to make my own way in this world. How can I choose one over the other when both animals were important parts of my ontogeny?

  7. Just ordered and had directly shipped to those same three, dubbel zout licorice – receiving grandkiddos a copy of Ms Oates’ Naughty Chérie !

    Thank you for the inspirin’ impetus to do so !

  8. I’ve relayed the tragic news to Max, but he just kept on sleeping. In fact he slept through the debate itself. Which proves the superiority of cats: food, sex, sleep, play, grooming. If humans were more like cats the world would be a peaceful place.
    And really, Jerry, if you can find a way to have a cat properly taken care of when you’re away on your many trips, you should really get one (or two) of the Bengals.

    1. Or, even better, if he takes the cat with him on said trips. And a bengal would likely be ideal for that sort of thing — smart, gregarious, not skittish, as evidenced by their presence on stage. If those cats can put up with a crowd of d*g-lickers barking their fool heads off, then they can certainly handle anything else Jerry might encounter!


      1. “..what cat would stay in one’s arms for two hours?… a show kitty, that’s who. They are used to being held and poked and prodded by judges they have never met. They must act indifferently to this rudeness to compete.

      2. Ben,

        I’ve known several Bengal owners. “Not skittish” and “gregarious” is the exact opposite of what they found with their cats.

        N=3, I’ll grant you; but these examples (Jerry’s post) are N=2.

        That kind of calmness is not typical of the breed.

        1. Didn’t know; good to have the additional data points. Clearly, there’s something special about these two, and special in a way that’d be perfect for Jerry. Whether the breed, the more immediate heritage, or their upbringing…here’s hoping Jerry can zero in on it to find the perfect catmate for him.


          1. I must disagree. I have two Bengals now and had two before. All have been very social and gregarious, and none have been skittish. They are quite active, though, and very, very smart. Especially when they work together. I’ve taken mine out in public places and they always do very well!

  9. Sorry about this, but what’s with the Photoshopping in the third from last pic ..

    “Malcolm and Ariel admiring a Bengal”


  10. As for someone who is somewhat agnostic to the question as I’m horribly allergic to both cats and dogs, I stopped playing with both years ago because of sinus infections, I lean towards cats.

    Fun fact: in medieval times the church didn’t like cats because of their independent nature, associating it with the Morningstar’s rebellion, and preferred dogs because of their obedience. During the Black Death cats were culled which ironically helped the rat population and likely made things worse.

  11. I notice that Mr. Hutcherson is holding those Bengals the way a cat show judge would. If they are show cats, then they are well accustomed to being handled by many different people and sitting quietly for long periods.

    As for Adam Gopnik’s assertion that cats were Republicans and d*gs were Democrats, that is patently false, and for proof, you can click on this link.

  12. Cats deserved the win, but they certainly did not need it. Like the cosmos itself, cats will purr on indefinitely, mysterious, inspiring and grand, above and indifferent to the goings on of men.

    The whole thing was rigged, anyway. Making more noise was the key to victory? That is overwhelmingly biased in favor of dogs.

  13. Jerry,

    Rashly, I showed these images around the family.

    Now the women in my house are holding ME hostage until I provide them a Bengal. (In fairness, they have had a crush on the breed for basically ever.)

    So if you could request _two_ kittens from Hutcherson, that would ensure that I’d once again be free to go shoot more hawk photos.

    In addition to the aesthetics involved, we want a Bengal to teach our kitten more about playing in the water:

    1. Terribly sorry, wrong Youtube link, that shows several other videos before you get to damp cats. How about this one?

  14. I love my little cat, I do
    Its coat is oh so warm
    It comes with me each day to school
    And sits upon the form
    When teacher says “why do you bring
    That little pet of yours?”
    I tell her that I bring my cat
    Along with me because

    Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow! bow wow!
    Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow! bow wow!
    I’ve got a little cat
    And I’m very fond of that
    But I’d rather have a bow-wow
    Wow, wow, wow, wow


    1. On a lighter note, I have to worry about dogs all the time out riding my bicycle. Half the time I have to think twice about where I’m going. Cats are the least of my worries lol.

      1. Once a police dog broke loose and chased me just from riding past the damn police station. Not kidding! Apparently I’m pushing my luck by just simply riding my damn bike around town. Me and dogs.. not get along very well.

  15. Great post, thanks.

    Most Bengars aren’t as well behaved as those.

    My mom had one that eventually had to go to the shelter (no one else would take it). It bit her repeatedly, without warning (my mom is a major cat person and has had cats all her life — she knows cats and she’s as gentle as a kitten). The last time it was a really severe bite.

    Having known several other Bangal owners, every one of those cats has had major problems getting along with outher animals and with people.

    The animal shelter said they get in large numbers of Bengal cats.

    They are pretty but I don’t recommend them as pets. Beware.

  16. No right answer for me, I consider it simply a trade off. There is definitely much more affection from dogs than cats, but cats are a lot easier to take care of.

  17. Although Jerry says that dogs won, from where I was sitting — clearly cat territory — it sounded as if the vote (screeching, hooting and applause) was very, very close.
    And Jerry was terrific. As was the whole event: the quintessence of the New Yorker and New Yorkers. Hilarious.

  18. Timmy: “Help me Mr. Tabby, I’ve fallen down a well. You must find my family, inform them of the emergency, and bring them back here. Be sure to tell them to bring a long rope and a first aid kit.”

    Mr. Tabby: “I don’t know about all that. Does this mean dinner is going to be delayed?”

    1. Timmy: “Help me Mr Tabby!”
      Cat: “I told you to be careful once, you should have listened.”

      Tough love, not to be underrated!

  19. Despite our best efforts, Team Cat went to the d*gs last night, as the post-debate audience “applause vote” was louder for dogs than for cats.

    You can’t arrive at the truth by taking a poll.

  20. Other than cats being more elegant, pretty, soft, sinuous, perfect balancers, sleek, aerially competent, precision jumpers, curious, adventurous, head butty, friendly, fine and fabulous, (and all the rest), things I hope were all mentioned, they are also pound for pound the most physically competent animal.

    And, they have saved civilisations from starvation by controlling mouse populations which would otherwise breed to plague proportion and there would be no grain left for winter. It is one reason the Ancient Egyptians liked them.
    (My sentences got away from me)

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