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Archive for December 2021

Unhinged

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Unhinged is the word that anhinga always reminds me of. If you’re not an avian aficionado, as I’m not, you may never have heard of this bird, whose scientific name is the echoic Anhinga anhinga.* And what could suit that doubled name more than today’s first portrait, in which you see the anhinga’s image reflected in the surface of Brushy Creek Lake on the morning of December 14th? Fog visually muffled most details on the surface of the lake; processing brightened the rest out of existence.

The second portrait reveals the same anhinga apparently now more wary of my presence after I’d slowly worked my way closer to it. Not long afterwards the bird flew off in the direction it was facing here and landed in a tree far enough away to foreclose more pictures.

Shannon Westveer, who identified the anhinga for me, added a couple of observations: “When they soar above, they are also pretty distinctive against vultures or cormorants. When swimming, their head sits just above the water as their bodies are submerged, coining ‘snakebird’ as its nickname… It’s fun to watch them work a fish off their bill (which they use to impale underwater) then toss it up in the air and swallow head first.”

* The term for a scientific name like Anhinga anhinga in which the genus and species are identical is a tautonym, or tautonymous name. According to an article about that, tautonymous names are rejected in botany but allowed in zoology, including people. Zoology even allows triplets like Gorilla gorilla gorilla and Bison bison bison, where the third epithet designates a subspecies.

Speaking of unhinged, as I did at the beginning of this post, 2021 has seen its share of crazy things. I’ve reported plenty of them in my commentaries this year. An article from U.N. Watch adds 10 unhinged things that the United Nations has done this year, like electing the totalitarian regime of Belarus to the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. What’s more, “Starting on January 1, 2022, a staggering 68.1% of the UN Human Rights Council will be dictators and other serial human rights abusers. Despite UN Watch’s detailed report on their gross abuses, Qatar, Cameroon, Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Somalia were all elected in October to the UN’s top human rights body, joining China, Cuba, Russia, Libya, Pakistan and Venezuela.” And “in an April 2021 secret ballot, the UN’s Economic and Social Council elected Iran’s gender apartheid regime to a 4-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women, the ‘principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.’” You can read the article to find out what the other 7 abuses were.

But to end 2021 on a positive note, have a look at the victories for freedom that FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has won in 2021.

You’d also do well to check out the latest stories on the Good News Network. Let’s hope 2022 brings us many more of those.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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We welcomed winter

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We welcomed the first day of winter, December 21, by hiking along Panther Hollow Trail and Little Fern Trail at River Place. One stretch of Little Fern Creek widens into a natural pool, at the bottom of which sits a rounded basin in the bedrock that’s visible through the water. An adjacent sign says that people have assigned the name Story Hole to this area. What intrigued me there were the ripples on the creek, and I made an abstract portrait of them. In the center of the photograph you may be able to make out the rounded contours of the darker area that corresponds to the basin in the bedrock. The way the ripples created visual cells reminds me, albeit with different colors, of the way Gustav Klimt portrayed Adele Bloch-Bauer during his “gold period.”

I experimented with flash for some of my pictures. Unfortunately, for my purposes, that extra light revealed too many unwanted details of the bedrock and sediment and therefore detracted from the abstraction I was after. In the interest of geology rather than aesthetics, if you’d like a view that’s closer to what the scene “really” looked like, you can have it.

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Critical Race Trove From California District Tells Students How To Use Witchcraft On People Who Say ‘All Lives Matter.’ That’s the hard-to-believe-it’s-true-but-it really-is-true headline of an article discussing the many ways one California school district promotes the tenets of what’s been called “critical race theory” and “wokeism.” Proponents of that ideology often deny that schools are pushing it, but evidence speaks louder than sophist denials. The article includes links to many documents confirming educationists’ racialized orientation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2021 at 4:35 AM

We bade* goodbye to fall

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On the last full day of fall, December 20, we drove down to Buda, a rapidly growing suburb south of Austin. A year earlier at around the same time we visited the expanding Sunfield subdivision there, where we watched a strangely somnolent squirrel. This year along an edge of the still-expanding subdivision on the conveniently named Eve’s Necklace Drive I renewed my acquaintance with a great colony of bushy bluestem (Andropogon tenuispatheus). The top photograph shows how the bushy bluestem sits in an expanse of dry broomweed (Amphiachyris dracunculoides), which you see in front of and beyond the fluffy grass. The on-the-ground vantage point shown in the view below swapped out the broomweed for an expanse of clear blue sky and turned the bushy bluestem plants into towers.

* The verb bid has two past tenses. A lot of folks now say bid for the past, the same as the present-tense form. The other past tense is bade, pronounced to rhyme with had. Because many people are no longer familiar with bade, when they do come across it in writing they pronounce it the way the spelling suggests, as if it rhymes with made. In summary, bid has two past tenses, and one of those past tenses has two pronunciations. But wait: that’s not the end of the dualism. Turns out that our modern verb bid came about as the merger of two similar sounding but etymologically unrelated Old English verbs: bidden, which meant ‘to ask, to command,’ and bēodan, which meant ‘to offer, to proclaim.’

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Here’s a bit of humor for today in the form of a comment that rightfully ended up in my spam folder.

I have always been a very spiritual person; I believe that the universe has a way of guiding us forward through our lives with the help of spirits and angels. I was blessed with the gift of being able to connect with the outside world, and love having the opportunity to connect my clients with their universal current. My focus is to bring forth awareness and healing through love and to teach others how to open up their spiritual potential.

MY SERVICES:
Love Spells
Attraction spells
Beauty Spells
Marriage Spells
Stop Divorce Spell
Lost Love Spells
Marriage Spell
Bewitching Spell
Save My Marriage Spell
Reverse A Curse Spell
Aura Cleansing Spell
Casino Spell
Success Spell
Protection Spell
Remove Marriage Problems

I like the rhyming phrase “reverse a curse.” Someone should trademark it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A tale of two sumacs, part 2

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In yesterday’s post you saw that Rhus trilobata, one of Austin’s three native sumac species, produces colorful fall foliage, though not on the scale of our renowned flameleaf sumac. The third species, Rhus virens, is known as evergreen sumac. (In fact Latin virens means ‘being green’; compare verdant, from the same root.) Normally evergreen sumac’s leaves do remain green, but some of them occasionally turn warm colors. In my experience, that seems to be when something afflicts the tree, e.g. a freeze, or when a branch gets broken and dies. From Allen Park on December 17th, here are two different-hued examples of evergreen sumac not being green. The sheen on the leaves characterizes this species.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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My father and his parents and brother fled from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, so I’ve always been aware and leery of the tyranny of ideological regimes. Another Russian escapee, Anna Krylov, recently had a letter published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry in which she drew on her own early life in the USSR, “where communist ‘ideology permeated all aspects of life, and survival required strict adherence to the party line and enthusiastic displays of ideologically proper behavior.’ I noted that certain names and ideas are now forbidden within academia for ideological reasons, just as had been the case in my youth.”

Normally these days the people who uphold cancel culture lash out at anyone who speaks up against enforced ideologies. The reaction against Anna Krylov, however, was better than has recently been the case with many other people that illiberal ideologues have attacked: “I expected to be viciously mobbed, and possibly cancelled, like others before me. Yet the result surprised me. Although some did try to cancel me, I received a flood of encouraging emails from others who share my concern with the process by which radical political doctrines are being injected into STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] pedagogy, and by which objective science is being subjugated to regressive moralization and censorship. The high ratio of positive-to-negative comments (even on Twitter!) gave me hope that the silent liberal majority within STEM may (eventually) prevail over the forces of illiberalism.”

You can read more about this in Anna Krylov and Jay Tanzman’s article in Quillette, “Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM. The Silent Liberal Majority Must Fight Back.” The article includes lots of links to related stories.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2021 at 4:37 AM

A tale of two sumacs, part 1

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The title of this post aside, Austin is home to three native sumac species. By far the most colorful is the aptly named flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, which you’ve often enough seen here putting on great displays of fall foliage. Less well known is Rhus trilobata, the species name of which tells you that each leaf is made up of three leaflets, each of which can be seen as having three primary lobes. Vernacular names include three-leaf sumac and skunkbush, though nothing about this small tree has ever smelled skunky to me. In any case, the leaves of this species tend to turn colors in the fall, and that’s what you see in this portrait from Allen Park on December 17th. I’d gone out that morning with my ring flash so I could stop down for good depth of field.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

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I recently came across the term cancel culture fittingly recast as coward culture in an op-ed by Bret Stephens. He wrote that “our universities are failing at the task of educating students in the habits of a free mind. Instead, they are becoming islands of illiberal ideology and factories of moral certitude, more often at war with the values of liberal democracy than in their service.” You’re welcome to read the full op-ed.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2021 at 5:52 AM

Trees in morning fog

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When I looked outside on the morning of December 14th and saw fog, I quickly hied me over to the Riata Trace Pond for some misty photographs. After a light drizzle eventually sent me back to my car, I drove north, hoping that by the time I reached Brushy Creek Lake Park in the town of Cedar Park the drizzle would have stopped. Not only had it, but there was still fog, so I could take some more pictures of trees reflected in water.

Click to enlarge this panorama of what might pass for a long and narrow islet but isn’t.

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The southern border of the United States remains largely open, as it has been since January. Last week government officials reported apprehending over 173,000 illegal immigrants coming across from Mexico just during the month of November. Unknown tens of thousands more managed to evade apprehension altogether because the border patrol is so overwhelmed with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that some sections of the border are no longer effectively patrolled, or even patrolled at all. This is not by chance; it’s what the current American administration wants. I don’t know what you call it, but I call the government’s wanton reluctance to enforce laws lawlessness.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Bright red near the end of the year

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Here’s a new botanical red from the last month of the year: pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose stalks can be as richly colorful as anything in nature. On December 8th in Balcones District Park, after happily portraying the flowers on a new [to me] species of winecup, I spent time with this pokeweed plant that had even put out buds and a flower. If you look closely at the lowest lobe of the flower you’ll see what appear to be two insect eggs.

And speaking of entomology, the etymologist in me feels compelled to add that while it’s true you could get a poke from pokeweed if you’re not as careful as I was when I leaned through the branches of this bush to take my pictures, the poke in pokeweed is a different word. It comes from pocan, a dialectal version of a Virginia Algonquian term. In fact it’s the same word that has given us puccoon. That’s the true explanation; I’m not selling you a pig in a poke, which is yet a third unrelated poke in English.

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If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry (who lived in Austin), you should.
It’s only six pages long. Go for it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Mexican hats in December

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Unlike bluebonnets, which I’d never seen flowering in December till this year, Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) are an accustomed sight in months well past their late-spring peak. So it was that on December 9th, when I walked the Mopac embankment to find and photograph a single prodigious bluebonnet, I also found my share of Mexican hats, one of which appears above. Three days later, when I was in Great Hills Park to document frostweed ice, I came across a little Mexican hat bent over with frost and ailing as a result. That aside, Mexican hats are still flowering along Mopac—hardly surprising when afternoon temperatures have been in the 70s and predicted to rise into the 80s on the 25th.

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FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, recently hosted a discussion between Melissa Chen and Steven Pinker. A good portion of the discussion is based on Pinker’s latest book, Rationality.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2021 at 4:25 AM

Avian remains two days apart

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At Brushy Creek Lake Park on December 14th I found a small white feather covered with dewdrops. Two days later while walking a trail in my neighborhood I somehow noticed a small dead bird on the ground. Shannon Westveer has identified it as a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina). It didn’t seem to have been dead for long but already ants had found it. Because you might not care to see that scene, I’ve not included a photograph in today’s post but only a link to it that you can click if you wish. And this sparrow, seen or unseen, may remind you of a New Testament passage: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

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As someone who has taught math and statistics, and of course as a citizen, I find it disturbing when a governmental agency cites a flawed study to support an agenda, then refuses to disavow the study even after the many problems with it, including persistent lack of transparency, are pointed out. You can read about that in David Zweig’s article “The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School” in the December 2021 issue of The Atlantic, which by no stretch of the imagination qualifies as a right-wing publication. In fact David Zweig has written for plenty of left-leaning organizations; among them are The New Yorker, The New York Times, CNN, Salon, Slate, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.

You can also get a much more detailed and animated account in a December 17th Megyn Kelly interview with David Zweig that goes from about 1:00 to about 49:00 in this YouTube video. (The timeline slider lets you skip through a couple of two-minute commercials; one or two very brief commercials dismiss themselves, and in another one or two you can click to dismiss the ads.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Colorful backlit oak leaves

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During our sunny morning circuit of Balcones District Park on December 8th, which led to pictures of bright ash and cedar elm trees, I also noticed a few colorful oak trees along the trail. While I don’t know what species they were, I do know that their leaves looked richly colorful with the light passing through them and the blue sky beyond them. Notice the leaf miner trail in the second leaf.

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A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.

So begins the 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, by Leon FestingerHenry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. They studied cases in which a person felt inspired to issue a prophecy, only to have the prophecy fail to materialize at the predicted time. The “prophet” then typically rationalized and explained that the prophecy was valid but there had been a mistake of some sort in its interpretation. Nowadays we’d say the person “doubled down.”

While the cases in When Prophecy Fails are extreme, it’s a sad truth of human psychology that easily verifiable facts often fail to change people’s opinions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2021 at 4:32 AM

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