Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for June 2021

Waterfall Wednesday #4

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On June 5th I spent time at Stone Bridge Falls on Bull Creek. To play up the details in the churning creek below the falls, I chose a shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second. While the resulting image might seem black and white, it does harbor some dark brown in its upper part.


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Here’s a passage from Douglas Murray’s thoughtful 2019 book The Madness of Crowds.
 

Even when it does not identify itself as such, the Marxist and post Marxist trend on the political left can always be recognized by the set of thinkers whom it cites and reveres, and whose theories it tries to apply to any and all disciplines and walks of life. From Michelle Foucault these thinkers absorbed their idea of society not as an infinitely complex system of trust and traditions that have evolved over time, but always in the unforgiving light cast when everything is viewed solely through the prism of ‘power’. Viewing all human interactions in this light distorts rather than clarifies, presenting a dishonest interpretation of our lives. Of course power exists as a force in the world, but so do charity, forgiveness and love. If you were to ask most people what matters in their lives very few would say ‘power’. Not because they haven’t absorbed their Foucault, but because it is perverse to see everything in life through such a monomaniacal lens.

Nevertheless for a certain type of person who is intent on finding blame rather than forgiveness in the world, Foucault helps to explain everything. And what Foucault and his admirers seek to explain in personal relations they also attempt to explain on a grand political level. For them absolutely everything in life is a political choice and a political act.

… And always and everywhere is the aim — taken from French literary theory — to ‘deconstruct’ everything. To ‘deconstruct’ something is as significant in academia as ‘constructing’ things is in the rest of society. Indeed, it is one curiosity of academia in recent decades that it has found almost nothing it does not wish to deconstruct, apart from itself.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 30, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Pristinity

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On June 14th in northwest Austin I photographed this close-to-fully-open flower head of a blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum. Some would speak of its pristinity, others of its pristineness.


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Anything but pristine is the increasing push to clamp down on free speech and the expression of ideas. If that worries you, as it does me, you may appreciate watching a BookTV program in which Nadine Strossen, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union, interviewed writer Jonathan Zimmerman and cartoonist Signe Wilkinson about their book Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Time again for mountain pinks

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Flowers and bullet-like buds of Zeltnera beyrichii on June 18th in Cedar Park.
Thinks to Kathy Werner for tipping me off to the location.
(In return I tipped her off to the location of some bluebells near there.)


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A few days ago I finished reading Douglas Murray’s excellent book The Madness of Crowds, in which he pointed out something I’d begun noticing, too: the hits that come up in response to certain searches on Google are biased. Murray gave several examples, one of which was that when he searched for “straight couples,” many of the pictures that came up in Google Images showed gay couples. His book is from 2019, so I tried that experiment for myself last week to see what sort of results I’d get in mid-2021.

The top row of hits I got for “straight couples” contained seven pictures. The first showed a lesbian couple. The second showed a gay male couple. The third showed a male-female couple. The fourth showed a lesbian couple. The fifth showed a male-female couple. The sixth and seventh both showed lesbian couples. In summary, only two of the seven pictures in the top row matched the search string “straight couples.”

It’s practically impossible for a set of hits so different from the search string to come up by chance. To understand why, imagine all the pictures of couples out there on the internet; billions of them have been posted. Now imagine that you searched for pictures of couples without specifying any particular kind of couple. Using the estimate that 5% of couples are same-sex, I did the calculations to find out how often a random grab of seven pictures of couples would yield an assortment with five gay couples and two straight couples. The arithmetic shows you can expect that to happen only 0.14% of the time, or approximately 1 out of every 700 times. And remember, that’s without specifying what kind of couple you’re after. The fact that I searched specifically for straight couples makes the 5-gay-and-2-straight result I got much less probable than the already tiny 0.14% we’d expect if we didn’t specify the kind of couple.

The only conclusion possible, in fact the one Douglas Murray came to, is that Google is cooking the books—and since Google is a search engine and not accounting software, cooking the books means rigging the search algorithm to distort reality. And this from the company whose original motto was “Don’t be evil.”

Oh, and just in case anyone feels an overwhelming ad hominem urge to label Douglas Murray homophobic for pointing out what he did about Google, he happens to be gay.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2021 at 4:27 AM

Make my day

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I haven’t shown a photograph of a dayflower (Commelina erecta) here since 2012. Today’s picture is from Allen Park on May 15th. You could say figuratively that the two tiny flies on the dayflower made my day flower.


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What doesn’t make my day flower is the craziness that descended upon many American colleges and universities in recent years. You may or may not have heard about something called micro-aggressions. Those are innocuous or even traditionally aspirational statements that now upset the permanently distraught inmates who run academia. Here are examples of statements now considered so terrible that if you utter them you’ll be branded a bigot and get reported to a “bias response team“:

America is a land of opportunity.

People are likely to succeed if they work hard.

When there’s a job opening, the most qualified person should get the job.

Where are you from?

There’s only one race, the human race.

All lives matter.

That last sentiment has recently gotten person after person after person after person fired from or forced out of their jobs. Purges like those show how microaggressions have led to megasuppressions that have metastasized out of academia and into many other institutions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 27, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Shedding some light on the colorful limestone overhang

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Last week you heard about and saw two pictures of a limestone overhang in a hard-to-reach section of Great Hills Park. I mentioned that direct sunlight never reaches the overhang’s wall and ceiling. That said, the floor of the overhang is a creek bed; with enough water in it, and with the sun low enough in the sky, some rays of light bounce off the water and onto the ceiling of the overhang. Because the water’s surface isn’t perfectly still, the reflected light shimmers overhead, as you see in today’s picture from June 10th.


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And here’s a clever quotation for today: “If somebody thinks I’m cherry-picking, show me the other part of the tree.” — Steven E. Koonin in a televised interview about his book Unsettled on May 25, 2021. Also unsettled is the question of why English speakers have picked cherry-pick rather than the alliterative peach-pick or plum-pick, or else apple-pick, lemon-pick, or some-other-fruit-pick. Maybe cherries got picked because they’re small, and therefore cherry-picking is like nit-picking. One thing’s for sure: cherries make for a much tastier pie than nits. And did you know that cherries was originally the singular of the word? We got it from Anglo-Norman cherise. But that sounded to the folks in merry old England like it was a plural, along the lines of berries and ferries, so they created a new singular, cherry. Linguists call that process back-formation, for which today’s picture of the geological formations at the back of the overhang is therefore appropriate. What fun to lead you from limestone to linguistic information and back again.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Green, green, and more green

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Wandering along Bull Creek on June 25, 2019, I couldn’t help noticing the dense swirls created by the very long linear leaves of some plants (sedges? beargrass?) that had found a home on the sometimes flooded bank of the creek. Mixed in were a few remnants of the wild onions (Allium canadense var. canadense) you saw here in May of that year. New giant ragweed plants (Ambrosia trifida) were coming up in some of the swirls:

I prepared this post almost two years ago but other things soon intervened that seemed more important to show. Last year I happened to end up at this place again and took more pictures. Now here we are another year later and I’m finally going to release the original post, but with an added green picture from my 2020 visit that shows a dewdrop-decked wild onion bud:


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And here are some can-do words from Zora Neale Hurston: “It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Orange-and-yellow and yellow

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If you need your day brightened, here’s some Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) in a colony of four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris linearifolia) as I saw them along Yaupon Dr. on June 2nd.


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One thing that can brighten my day is mathematics. In 1514 the great German artist Albrecht Dürer did an engraving called “Melencolia 1.” In the engraving’s upper right corner appeared the following lattice of numbers, the bottom two center cells of which not by chance echoed the year of the engraving:

The numerical lattice that Dürer showed is an example of what mathematicians call a magic square. What’s “magic” about this magic square is that if you add up the numbers in any of the four rows, four columns, or two diagonals, you always get the same total, in this case 34. While the rows, columns, and diagonals add up to a constant in any magic square*, this one is even better because it includes other patterned groups of four cells that also give a total of 34. More than a dozen of them exist. Be the first kid on your block (or in your time zone) to find and point out some of those patterned foursomes that add up to 34. (By “patterned” I mean arranged in an orderly or symmetric way. The set of 5, 7, 9, and 13 wouldn’t count, because although they do add up to 34, the numbers are scattered about in the lattice in no particular way.)

* By tradition, the numbers that fill a magic square are consecutive, with 1 as the smallest number. That needn’t be so, however. For example, you could add 5 to each number in Dürer’s square and the new square would still be magic, except the total in each row, column, and diagonal would now be 54. Or you could double each number in Dürer’s square to get a new square whose magic total would be 68.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Waterfall Wednesday #3

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You’ll forgive me if I’ve let the definition of waterfall spill over into unaccustomed semantic territory. After recent rain, on June 4th along Bull Creek there was indeed water falling from a cliff. Down it came in many narrow streams, some over moss-covered rocks, others over maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-veneris. It seems botanists have done a bit of semantic boundary-pushing, too: the species name for these maidenhair ferns means ‘hair of Venus,’ yet from what I’ve read of Roman mythology, Venus was no modest maiden.

In “Thoughts in a Garden” English poet Andrew Marvell wrote:

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green.

Today’s pictures don’t show a garden, yet the greens they deliver to your eyes are a marvel.
(Related English words that also trace back to Latin are miracle, mirage, mirror, and admire.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Tube-tongue

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Welcome to tube-tongue (Justicia pilosella), a little wildflower making its debut here today. On June 14th I’d gone out driving along Capital of Texas Highway looking for mountain pinks, which normally appear along that road by mid-June. I didn’t find any, but the colony of tube-tongue made up for it. The plants stood only several inches tall, and the flowers are only about an inch in size, so getting decent pictures had me down on the ground—and my neck too close to some stinging nettles, I’m afraid. Ah, the occupational hazard of being a nature photographer in Texas. On the technical side, I used flash and a small aperture, so the bright sky got rendered as a dark blue-grey (that’s more apparent if you look at the picture against a black background).


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It’s by no means only people with conservative or libertarian leanings who are appalled at the illiberal policies being imposed on America, particularly those that clamp down on freedom of expression, inject “wokism” into everything, and rouse mobs to “cancel” anyone they disagree with. Also speaking out against those harmful trends are what I’ll call classical liberals, who generally identify themselves as being on the political left or center-left. Here are a few whose recent doings and writings you may want to check out.

Steven Pinker

Bari Weiss

Jonathan Haidt

Greg Lukianoff

Nadine Strossen

John McWhorter

Glenn Greenwald

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2021 at 4:44 AM

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A pretty yellow

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A few prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) were still putting out flowers in June.
I’d made this bold portrait of one in Allen Park on May 15th.


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Four days ago I saw a car with the custom license plate MRSCORN.
Was that Mrs. Corn or was it Mr. Scorn?
Or was it both, with the Mr. scorning the Mrs.?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

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