We have added several stories at this end of the week, making it a bumper one. Margaret Somerville made a special effort to view and review a much acclaimed French film about euthanasia, Amour, and has come up with a sensitive but ethically searching assessment. Michael Cook’s piece takes us to Belgium and the lessons to be drawn from a real euthanasia case -- the 45-year-old identical twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem whom doctors agreed to kill because the brothers were going blind.
Andrea Mrozek, writing about the two-parent family and educational achievement, gives us a taste of the fascinating new report on patterns of family life around the world (more of this to come); Peter Smith reviews a book by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the state of religion in America; and Matt Hardy writes about the Algerian hostage rescue mission.
But look, what you really want to read about is cats. I know, because top of the New York Times most emailed list today is the story of Holly, a 4-year-old tortoiseshell who got lost at Daytona Beach, Florida, and found her way back 200 miles to her fond owners in West Palm Beach. This is not the most amazing return-of-the-cat story ever reported (Murka, the Russian tortoiseshell, is said to have travelled 325 miles, and Howie, the Australian Persian, a mind-blowing 1000 miles) but it is a pretty impressive one, and I would not be surprised (I haven’t looked) if Holly has her own Youtube channel by now and has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. She deserves every minute of her fame.
My tribute to Holly is not inspired by wholly frivolous motives; I feel I owe it to the species because sometime before Christmas I made an invidious comparison between donkeys and cats, implying that the latter were rather self-centred creatures. A couple of readers pulled me up for this thoughtless jibe at the domestic moggie, pointing out (1) that one cannot compare a predator with a herbivore and beast of burden. (2) To speak of a cat being in love with itself is a horrid anthropomorphism. (3) “When a cat adores you, it's a high honour” (which is also an anthropo-whatsit but a much nicer one). (4) Well, I’ll have to quote this one:
Just to let you know that not all cats are self -centred. My cat, Mr Ginge is stretched out beside my computer as I type this email, purring in harmony with the ever-present whoosh of the lap-top. He is certainly not one that hangs around only at meal time. Mr Ginge would have been 'on duty' at the manger in Bethlehem…
Finally, I have to admit, indeed assert, that I am a cat lover and have seldom been without one around the house. They do add a touch of serenity as they snooze in their favourite corners, and of mystery, provoking wonder at what is going on inside their tiny brains as they stare at you. Even animal behaviourists can’t work them out: they have no idea how Holly and Murka and co. navigate those long distances. Thank goodness there is something still to marvel at.