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Monthly Archives: April 2013

A dogwood blossom

We walked up a slope that ran parallel to the river towards the town of Lévis on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence. Passing by a large house, B. wispered in my ear that that building was the convent where his Tante Jacqueline lived. He was whispering on the off-chance that his aunt might overhear him. The last time he had seen her she yelled at him because he hadn’t yet brought me to visit. I could have yelled at him, too, because I had felt very lonely living in Quebec and a visit to his aunt might have been good for me. She was not the only family member of his to extend a welcome to me, offers he usually pushed away. However, I didn’t say anything at the time because it was a lovely late spring or early summer evening and we were actually heading to a social gathering. I was so happy to be out of the house, doing something normal, I didn’t want to ruin it by complaining. So I kept my complaints to myself and made a mental note that Tante Jacqueline had specifically requested to meet me, so perhaps that was something we could do in the future.

When we arrived at a the modest apartment, everyone else was already there. Most of the people I had met only once or twice before, but everyone seemed to remember me and was friendly. One of B.’s friends, whose name I can’t remember, had returned from the Northwest Territories where he had been working with the Qwich’in. All the people at the gathering were linguists, or their significant others. One woman said that she would love to go to the wilderness for a time. Me, being from New York, thought, “What do you mean ‘would like to go?’ Isn’t this the wilderness?” Of course, I didn’t say that. She said that she imagined that the air would be so free of pollution, so clear. “I would just like to smell that.” The traveller from the Northwest Territories laughed. “Well, you haven’t smelled anything until you’ve smelled forty caribou carcasses drying in the sun. So much for the fresh air.” The last time he had been out to the Northwest Territories the Qwich’in, among who he had been living, had had a big hunt. They butchered and dried the meat. He took out a plastic bag full of what looked like beef jerky. “They made me take this home with me.” He passed the bag around and we all tried some. He warned us to try only a small bite first because it was strong tasting. Most everyone made bad faces except for two of us. Someone declared that it tasted like blood. Perhaps. It was strong, and gamey, but not too bad.

The Gwich’in, I learned that night, were a small tribe living in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The linguist had gone there as part of a project to revive the language that had, perhaps, a thousand speakers left. The last several decades have been, quite literally, murder on many smaller languages. Human languages have been dying out at an unprecedented rate. I first read about endangered languages in Scientific American about a year or two before I met B. The future of smaller languages was something that concerned the French Canadian linguists.

He told us that during the winter his work was easy because all anyone wanted to do was sit around and talk, which is a good situation for a linguist. In the summertime, however, it was useless because everyone wanted to take advantage of the good weather and the long days. “For three months you can’t get anyone to sit still.”

Eventually, one of the women brought out a guitar. They began to sing French Canadian folk songs. After a few songs, she said to me, “Oh, I feel bad. You’re being left out. You don’t know the words, do you. Hey! Let’s all sing some American songs.” The then proceeded to launch into a series of American songs by singer/songwriters who had been popular in the seventies, like John Denver. I didn’t know the words to those songs either.

Wikipedia Article on the Gwich’in.

UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger. According to this atlas, the last speaker of Unami died in 2002.

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A male Red-bellied Woodpecker, sitting in a dogwood tree.

About two summers ago, I was out gardening in my sister’s yard when one of her neighbors approached me with that sheepish air that told me that he was curious about something that was none of his business. He pointed to the large picture window in my sister and brother-in-law’s bedroom. We had put shiny little gel decorations that stick to windows and pieces of newspaper were haphazardly taped to the outside surface. The paper flapped in the breeze. “Are you, um.., redecorating?”

“Um, no.”

It was to discourage the Red-bellied Woodpecker who had taken to sitting in the aluminum gutters along the edge of the roof and hammering away at five every morning. In the afternoon, he would hop up the dogwood tree and lance himself at the window full force. The noise was a nuisance but we were worried that he would hurt himself while attacking the window. A bit of research and we found that the characteristic woodpecker drumming is a territorial signal. It’s not unusual for territorial species to attack windows. They mistake their reflection for a rival. As it happens, Mr. and Mrs. Red have a direct view of the picture window from the entrance of their home in the neighbor’s maple tree. The newspaper and window gels were put up in hopes of breaking up his reflection. He would also sit in front of the window and flap and put on an intimidating display.

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging from the end of a branch and displaying his wings.

After a few weeks, all of this stopped. Soon we saw Mr. and Mrs. Red accompanied by two little woodpeckers looking much like the parents, but lacking the red heads.

The following year, the drumming started again. Fortunately, the window attacks didn’t occur. I’ve come to the conclusion that they drum when they have young in the nest and stop when they fledge. I’ve noticed that Mr. Red has gotten aggressive with other birds recently, specifically Starlings, so I suspect it’s getting to be that time of year again.

A Red-bellied Woodpecker hanging on the edge of a roof with two house sparrows sitting on the roof above.

The two House Sparrows didn’t see the woodpecker quietly searching for insects along the edge of the roof.

A female house sparrow jumps in surprise at the appearance of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The house sparrow jumped in surprise when the big red head appeared suddenly.

The mechanical system in the building received some major updates this week, so there was no electricity here for a good part of the day. Consequently, today’s post is somewhat late and will be an easy one. I spent a good part of the day outside today taking photographs. The weather was beautiful in the afternoon and within the past couple of days the tulips have opened up. I’ve always found that tulips were wonderful candidates for macro shots. I’ve always been fascinated by macro photography and always wanted to try it but was prevented by the cost of the lenses. Then, one day, I read a reference to “extension tubes.” I looked it up and for a pretty reasonable amount of money you can do macro photography. So I bought a set of inexpensive ones and I think they work pretty well. You have to focus manually, but that’s not too hard.

A view of the St. Lawrence River looking south from Quebec City with the river partly frozen and snow on the ground.1994 – 1996

My French teachers may have taught me grammar and some basic vocabulary, but it was Dédé Fortin who taught me how to feel things in French. I don’t pretend to be a good language learner. If I’m inordinately proud of my modest abilities in French, it’s because it was such a huge effort for me to learn. Basic grammar came easily enough and my memory is good for vocabulary. I arrived in Quebec with these rudimentary skills. However, fluency eluded me. I could read a newspaper, but couldn’t hold a conversation. I could watch the t.v. news but not a sitcom. All those one to three word half sentences that make up a large portion of social interaction were like a verbal equivalent of shorthand, and were as indecipherable to me as shorthand is to someone who has not learned it. Quickly spoken sentences in which sounds, and sometimes entire words, were dropped were a total mystery. On top of that there were the occasional differences in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quebec French and French French. These differences are often exaggerated by snobby Francophiles, but they do exist and can add to the puzzle.

Beyond that, however, was another aspect. Words in French didn’t go to my heart. Certain turns of phrase have extra power, or musicality, or beauty. I couldn’t recognize that in French. The words had only their literal meaning with no resonance. It was like a world without color.

Going backwards a couple of years to the time before I even thought I might be moving to Canada, I drove there with a friend who was attending a physics conference at Laval University in Ste Foy, near Quebec City. Shortly after crossing the border, my friend turned to me and said, “Hey, I bet we can get a radio station in French.” A bit of fiddling with the dial and we had a pop music station playing songs in both French and English. A song came on that had lyrics that were spoken rather than sung. Of course we couldn’t understand the lyrics. Then, there was a break, a fiddle and some stomping that sounded like clogging. I looked at her and she at me. Interesting.

Later, in Quebec City, I walked into a record store and tried to describe the song. They looked at me a little funny. I asked other people including this long-haired guy that tried to pick me up while I was sitting on a park bench. No luck.

About two years later, I was married to that long-haired guy and had recently moved to Canada. On Saint Jean-Baptiste day, the Quebec national holiday, we went to the park where they had bonfires and music that went late into the night.

The next day on the news, they showed video clips from festivals around the province. Suddenly, “Hey! It’s them! It’s them!” I grabbed my husband. “Who are they? That’s the band I keep asking everyone about.”

“Huh? Them? That’s les Colocs.” He went over to his small but neatly organized stack of cassette tapes. He handed one to me. “You can keep it. I’ve only listened to it a couple of times. I don’t really like it.”

Yippee! Yippee! Yippee! Les Colocs! For the next month I listened to it obsessively every time I was alone in the apartment. I learned all the words to all the songs. I started trying to find other French Canadian music that I liked. I also began to discover a dark side the man I married. It was just a small sign at this time. He made fun of me for my taste in music. “Why do you want to listen to that stuff? You do realize that we mostly listen to American music. They only play that stuff on the radio because of the language laws.”

Despite his discouragement, I began to track down other French Canadian musicians I heard on the radio. Once, when my husband was away at an academic conference, I went to a nightclub in the old part of town to see les Respectables. One of the band members made several pretty good attempts to chat me up. Ah, but I was a newlywed and still in love… silly me. He really began to rib me when I started listening to Jean LeLoup. (“Ick, he’s weird.” “Well, that makes two of us.”) It was ironic because while I lived there he would constantly complain that I didn’t like Quebec well enough, but whenever I found something to like there, he’d put a damper on it. Whenever I’d start having fun, he’d dump cold water on me, then complain that I wasn’t cheerful. It was subtle at first. After all, we all tend to argue a bit about musical taste, taste in clothes, movies, books, hobbies. It took a few years before I realized that he disapproved of just about everything I liked, nor could he just shrug and say, “To each his own.” He had to needle and tease.

Finally, I saw a notice somewhere or heard on the radio that les Colocs would be playing in Quebec City. They were playing a place I’d never been to located on a bleak little stretch of Boulevard Charest, if I recall correctly. I wanted to go so badly, I put up a big fuss until the spousal unit agreed. The place was not especially large, but it was packed. Being short, I found a little platform or step up against a wall near the back. I squeezed on it next to a couple of guys a few years younger than I was, sensitive looking types who seemed as excited as I was. Watching the faces of the two next to me, I began to get an idea of which lines worked and which did. I could see the emotions registering transparently on their young faces. Then the first notes of “Juste une p’tite nuite” began. This was a song especially hated by Hubby. It was too “mou.” Soft. Wimpy. The boys to my right both closed their eyes. They mouthed every word along with the singer on stage.

Music, even without the meaning of the lyrics, carries its own emotional content. It was through listening to the songs of French Canadian songwriters, and above all André Fortin, that I learned, not simply to think in French, but to feel in French.

Maugryph asked where on the internet he could find some of my comics. Wow, am I old. The answer is “nowhere.” I drew them in ink on paper and sometimes photocopied them and made little magazines. So, I thought that I should dig around in my old stuff and find some of my comics. I’d just scan them and throw them up. I even knew what one I was looking for. Of course, being a disorganized slob who’s moved more time than I can count, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I did find, however, a pad of paper with some nudes that I’d done in a life drawing class about fifteen years ago.A charcoal sketch of a nude sitting on the ground with one knee bent and here arms folded around her knee and her head resting on her forearms.

Since I’ve been writing down my memories, some of these things I figured would become evident over time. However, that project is moving very slowly, so maybe I’ll summarize a few points. First of all, there are two things I think about myself, but I don’t like to say because I have learned appropriate social behavior well enough. First of all, I had the misfortune of having been born smart. Don’t for a moment think that that makes me believe that I’m always right. Trust me, when I make blunders they can be doozies. But I don’t fit in to society well. The television just doesn’t amuse me much. Neither does shopping. Or “girl talk.” Usually, I explain it to people as being similar to being very tall. Everyone thinks taller is better, but, once you get past a certain height, it’s difficult to fit in certain cars, chairs can be uncomfortable, doorways can be too low. There are definitely good points to being smart, but sometimes you don’t quite fit in.

Here’s the second point, and it’s frankly anti-social to say this: When I was young, I was pretty. It’s not good to say positive things about yourself, but a woman describing herself as pretty is a particular taboo. You’re supposed to pretend you don’t know, like you don’t even own a mirror. Maybe I can say this because I’m a dumpy middle-aged woman now. I wasn’t beautiful in the tall, imposing ice queen sort of way. I was the “hot number” in the petite, vaguely exotic, little “spitfire” sort of way. It’s a little weird because my inside doesn’t match my outside very well. Outside of the fact that I do, indeed, like sex, most of the other assumptions people make about me based on my appearance are highly inaccurate. Most of them are more amusing than annoying. For instance, on several occasions, I’ve had people ask if I wanted to join a band as a singer. A singer! Ha ha ha ha. Man, I am the world’s worst singer. Just because I’m cute and was wearing some hip clothes that day? Wow. To paraphrase Groucho, I wouldn’t join any band that would have me.

While that one’s funny, one assumption that people make about me, or often made when I was younger, was that I was dumb. Throughout college, I felt that I had to prove to every damned professor that I was worth something. I once turned in a mid-term paper and had a professor tell me he didn’t believe I wrote it. I said, “If you’re accusing me of plagiarism, I’d like to know where you think I got it.” He said, “I don’t know, but you couldn’t have written it.” I had to go to his office and defend my paper verbally. In the end he apologized. Mostly, the examples are smaller. Like the first week of class having the professor make eye-contact and single you out and say, “Are you following.” I’d watch and they wouldn’t say that to the other students. There was something about me. I looked dumb. Usually, after the first paper or exam, that would stop.

If college was bad, work was worse. Job interviews are damned near impossible. A male programmer I was dating asked why I was going for an MS in Comp Sci. By a coincidence, we were having dinner at a table next to a couple of other programmers. They were discussing a movie they had seen recently. They didn’t like a casting. A female scientist looked to hot to be believable. A nodded towards their table and said, “That’s why.”

Anyway, the consequence of all this is that the accusation that I just don’t understand something because I don’t have the intellectual capability is a sore spot for me. It’s an old sore, and something I’ll never be able to entirely shrug off. It’s funny, because on the internet it has nothing to do with my appearance.

On top of that, there’s a second hurt. It’s funny because I’m probably not the most gung-ho American as a general rule. I can be pretty critical of our society and our politics. I’ve had a disproportionate number of foreign boyfriends. (Sometime I joke that after a Canadian, a Korean and an Israeli, I said that I wasn’t going to date another foreigner – and I didn’t get laid for two years. Finally I broke down and wound up with an Argentinian.) I like spending time in certain other foreign countries.

However, that aforementioned Canadian, I married him. I spent four years living in Quebec City. If I had felt that stereotypes about small, dark, attractive women were a pain, I hadn’t yet felt how it was to be stereotyped as an American. Yes, we’re all dumb, religious and anti-intellectual. I’m sure anyone who has read this blog has an idea of how well that description fits me. Add to that the fact that I was in an entirely Francophone environment, making huge grammatical mistakes and with a limited vocabulary. Everyone treated me like a half-wit. My only consolation, and I thought of it often at that time, is that I had never been mean to immigrants in the U.S. I never called anyone stupid for not speaking English. I was isolated. Lonely. I can’t even express the depths of the lonliness I felt at that time. I feel like it permanently scarred me. Regularly treated as if I was a half-wit. Ever since then, I haven’t had the same tolerance for certain American stereotypes. The stereotypes of Americans added to my loneliness and isolation.

Maybe I’m just thin-skinned. Maybe these aren’t really explanations. But it’s easier for me to deal with disagreements based on ideas than with implications that I’m just not that smart.

Human beings are a pretty pathetic lot all in all. I don’t like most of them. Within the past week I’ve been condescended to on other people’s blogs several times. It makes me angry and why should I make myself angry. So, I’ve “unfollowed” all the blogs I was following and I won’t be commenting anywhere anymore. Yes, I’m sensitive, thin skinned and depressed. I’m not sure if I’ll keep writing on my own blog or not. Most of the people who have come here have come here because I commented on their blog or a blog they follow. So, if I don’t engage with other people, maybe there’s no point to posting at all. I’m not sure. I’m just sure that I can’t let myself feel this bad anymore.

When I saw the bridge in Michelle’s post announcing the theme for this week’s photo challenge, I immediately knew exactly where it was taken because I once moved from New Jersey to Philadelphia. I’ve had quite a few changes of location: New Jersey, New York, New Jersey, back to New York again, Quebec, Canada, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New Jersey yet again, New York, Maryland. That’s only naming states and provinces and doesn’t count moves among cities within a state. Furthermore, those changes in location have often been accompanied by other changes, changes in career, in marital status. So, I tried to think of my most recent life change and that would probably be being diagnosed with depression. I tried to think of an image that would represent that.Small, blue pills - zoloft.

So I took a photography of the pills that are supposed to help with that. Then I started wondering if I had any other mind altering substances around my house.

A catnip leaf and stem.

I found some catnip that we grow on the window sill. It doesn’t affect humans, but it certainly alters cats’ minds.

A glass of rum.

In the back of the cabinet, I found a bottle of rum.

Anti-depressants, catnip, rum, these are things that change moods.

The introductory paragraph in Maria Tallchief’s obituary which appeared in the Washington Post today began,

Maria Tallchief, a dancer of electrifying passion and technical ability who forged a pathbreaking career that took her from an Oklahoma Indian reservation to world acclaim….

It struck me that the phrase “an Oklahoma Indian reservation” conjures up an image of a life quite different from the one Maria Tallchief experienced. The reason behind the gap between that image a reality lies in fascinating, but little known episode in American history.

During the 1920s, the Osage were the richest ethnic group in the United States. An article in The New York Times from that time period called them “the wealthiest people per capita on earth.” The article goes on to deplore the idleness and taste for luxuries this wealth had created. In a book he wrote investigating the suspicious death of his grandmother, Dennis McAuliffe describes vividly the gracious homes, cars, pianos, private school educations and other luxuries the Osage enjoyed at this time. This is the Indian reservation on which Maria Tallchief was born. “Their wealth was great enough that Ms. Tallchief’s father never had a job in his life.”

With the intent of getting them into Hollywood musicals, Ruth Tall Chief moved the family to Los Angeles in 1933. Maria Tallchief later said her father happily agreed to the plan because he was an avid golfer and thought the climate would allow him to play more often.

Ms. Tallchief and her sister studied dance with David Lichine, a student of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, as well as Bronislava Nijinska, the sister of celebrated dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

For many decades the United States government had a policy called allotment to end the communal holding of Indian lands. It was believed that private property would be a means of “civilizing” Indians. Tribal lands  would be divided up and allotted to individual members of the tribe. The Dawes Act, which instituted this policy, did not cover all tribes and the Osage were one of those not originally subject to this policy.

When oil was discovered under the Osage reservation, it made the tribe wealthy. They held their mineral rights in common and each individual received an annuity. Eventually the United States government managed to force the allotment policy on the Osage, however, the Mineral rights continued to be held in common. Members of the tribe were given shares in the oil wealth which could be inherited.

This period, around the time Tallchief was born, saw a great many murders and suspicious untimely deaths. White people married into Osage families and sometimes murdered their members to get the money. McAuliffe believes that this is what happened to his grandmother and he tells her story in The Deaths of Sybil Bolton. In one shocking incident, a white man, Ernest Burkhart married Molly Kyle. He and his accomplices murdered Molly’s mother, sisters and other family members, resulting in Molly inheriting their shares. “With local and state officials unsuccessful at solving the murders, in 1925 the Osage requested the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was the bureau’s first murder case, and by the time they started investigating, Molly Kyle was already being poisoned.” (Wikipedia)

Maria Tallchief was the first Native American to become a significant ballet dancer. Here is a video that includes some footage of Tallchief dancing a part Balanchine choreographed specifically for her. Contrary to the worries expressed in the 1921 New York Times article, Tallchief’s career shows that inherited wealth does not inevitably end in dissipation. In fact, had this talented woman been born in poverty she may have never had the training she need to become the great dancer that she was.

I have another site totally unrelated to my WordPress blog. Today I received this notice:

Hello,

Since yesterday morning, Lunarpages’ internal monitoring systems reported that WordPress users were subject to an unusually high number of attacks.  Brute force attacks occur through exploited accounts at other hosting companies.  The attacks are attempts to find users that have weak passwords and outdated installations.  Once the attacker has found a WordPress account with a weak password, it’s used to gain access to the administration panel.    Outdated versions of WordPress scripts are exploited and used to attack other hosting companies.  Lunarpages has implemented additional security tools and is carefully monitoring traffic.  However, the best form of protection against these attacks begins at the customer level.   A tutorial for securing your WordPress is posted at http://www.lpwebhosting.com/blog/bulletproofing-your-wordpress-site-against-a-brute-force-attack.

This particular attack is focused on WordPress users.  It’s important to note that the attacks could just as easily be focused on any application.    The reports are not limited to our network.  Reports from all of the major hosting companies confirm that this is a wide spread situation.

Please feel free to contact us with any concerns or issues you might have.

Lunarpages Administration Team

I’m going to do a little reading about what’s happening and will update this if I find anything that might be useful to anyone.

Update: My reading was pretty quick and cursory, so anyone with more information please add it in the comments.

First – for those of you who are WordPress.com users and have your blog hosted by WordPress, as this one is, there’s not much for you to do.

For those of you who don’t know what a botnet is, it’s a group of computers used in concert to perform a single task. There are legitimate uses for botnets, but what we’re concerned about here is illegal botnets.

It seems that a group of computers is searching for sites that have WordPress software installed. This is different from, but similar to, the WordPress.com site that I’m using right now. A person or company maintaining its own site can install WordPress software. WordPress is the most common blogging software (I think) and is installed on a large number of computers that serve up webpages, or web servers.

Computers are searching for sites that have WordPress installed. They attempt to login as the administrator by trying common passwords. Here is a list. (Yes, Sis, Pa$$word is a really, really bad password.) One they have access to the administrator account, a “backdoor” is installed. The backdoor is a bit of software that will allow them access to the account at a future date.

Right now, they don’t know how this backdoor will be used. The speculation is that the servers will be used for a more serious attack against an unknown target in the future, like the one against major financial institutions in 2012. Servers with WordPress installed are appealing targets, not because there’s any problem with the WordPress software itself, but because it’s widespread and popular and servers have access to wide bandwidth.

The two main sources I looked at were:

This is mainly a concern for people maintaining their own sites. However, it’s a generally good idea to have strong passwords and to change them regularly.

Update 2:

A week or two ago, WordPress added an extra layer of security for its users.

Also, Matt Mullenweg put up a post addressing the subject.