Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for April 2022

Virginia creeper and Victorian verse

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The Victorian British poet Arthur Hugh Clough is probably best remembered now for his inspirational 1849 poem that begins: “Say not the struggle nought availeth.” That thought came to mind on April 20th after I looked out at the deck behind our house and saw that some Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) had climbed the wooden railing. In particular, I noticed some of the vines’ tendrils were questing upward into empty air, where they stood no chance of finding anything to latch on to. Of course the tendrils didn’t know that; all they “knew” was to quest and climb. That reality also reminded me of a line from the 1855 dramatic monologue “Andrea del Sarto,” by British poet Robert Browning. In that poem he had the Italian painter named in the title say: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp / or what’s a heaven for?”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 30, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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Lace cactus

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Yesterday I found flowers on several adjacent lace cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii) in my hilly northwest part of Austin. Today’s picture of one is the first I’ve ever shown here. Great saturated colors, don’t you think?

 

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For decades I’ve criticized the American education system. In the 15 years since I last taught, not only have the old problems persisted and worsened, but new problems have arisen. Here’s how Shane Trotter describes one of them in his Quillette article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Putting Tech Before Teaching.”

In its desire to embrace technology, our school district failed to recognize the social devolution that was taking hold of society. The iPad Initiative [which he’d just described in detail] came right as smartphones became virtually ubiquitous among American teens and adults. Teens began spending over seven hours per day consuming entertainment media. Twelfth-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eight graders Adolescent mental disorders skyrocketed. And at this crucial juncture, we decided to begin allowing students to use smartphones throughout the school day. These students would not know how to set boundaries for how they used their phones. They’d have no understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities that tech companies exploited—no training in how to use their phone without it using them. Most of all, they’d have no environment where they could be free from the incessant psychic drain that had come to define their world. Oblivious to any responsibility to help students or their families adapt better, our schools helped facilitate the community’s descent into becoming screen-addicted, constantly distracted people whose cognitive skills and attention spans were being chipped away rather than cultivated.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2022 at 4:38 AM

In the pink again

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Having already shown you a colony of pink evening primroses this spring, I’d be remiss in not adding a closeup. Today’s view of an Oenothera speciosa flower dates back to April 14th in southeast Austin. The light coming from in front of me cast shadows of the stigma, stamens, and pollen strands onto the petals. The multi-pointed green member at the lower right is the sheath that used to enclose the flower’s bud.

 United becomes its opposite, untied, if you flip it around.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Another abstract nature photograph from McKinney Falls State Park on April 14

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This time the leaf in front of the buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) belonged to an Engelmann daisy (Engelmannia peristenia). The purple came from bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis). And after keeping the flowers formless in the background for two posts, I guess I owe you a picture of a detailed one in its own right. So here’s an Engelmann daisy, complete with a tumbling flower beetle:

 

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Knowing what people think — even if it’s troubling — is essential to understanding the world as it is and to deciding how to act within it. Unfortunately too many of today’s leaders — whether in education, at social media companies, or in the larger corporate and governmental world — preempt this process of understanding through censorship, believing they’re acting in the interest of either factual accuracy or emotional or psychological safety. Furthermore, they attempt to lead through confirmation, taking institutional positions on hotly contested issues, imposing a “correct” way to think.

That’s from an open letter that Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), wrote to Elon Musk, giving him suggestions for how to follow through on his promise to promote free speech on Twitter now that Musk has bought that company. You may have heard about it, and how so many of the “woke” are in a panic because Twitter’s staff will no longer be able to censor people who put forth opinions or even facts the staff doesn’t like.

You’re welcome to read all of Greg Lukianoff’s letter to Elon Musk.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 27, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Ditch diving

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A recent post played up the advantage that plants in ditches get from the moisture the soil retains there. That’s how it was in a ditch on Main St. in the rural community of Thorndale on April 10th. The seed columns of anemones (Anemone berlandieri) vary a lot in length, with the one shown here coming from the long end of the range. Spiderworts (Tradescantia sp.) graciously provided the purple in the background. The second portrait shows the ditch-happy spiderworts in their own right.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 26, 2022 at 4:33 AM

We abstract experimental nature photographers experiment with abstract nature photographs

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Here’s the leaf of a spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.) in front of a buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) at McKinney Falls State Park on April 14. I assure you this is not how you would have seen things had you been there.

 

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Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous…. [M]any of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s… got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. The shift was most pronounced in universities, scholarly associations, creative industries, and political organizations at every level (national, state, and local), and it was so pervasive that it established new behavioral norms backed by new policies seemingly overnight. The new omnipresence of enhanced-virality social media meant that a single word uttered by a professorleader, or journalist, even if spoken with positive intent, could lead to a social-media firestorm, triggering an immediate dismissal or a drawn-out investigation by the institution. Participants in our key institutions began self-censoring to an unhealthy degree, holding back critiques of policies and ideas—even those presented in class by their students—that they believed to be ill-supported or wrong.

Those insights come from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” in which he criticizes extremists on the political far right and far left. Check out this thoughtful, thorough article. You’re also welcome to listen to his recent 87-minute conversation with Andrew Sullivan on The Weekly Dish.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 25, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Cedar sage flourishing

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Cedar sage flowers (Salvia roemeriana) in wooded parts of my neighborhood were out
in force by April 15th, when I found plenty of them to photograph in Great Hills Park.

 © 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 25, 2022 at 4:30 AM

A good time for Nueces coreopsis

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After we visited both parts of Lake Somerville State Park on April 6th, we continued clockwise around the lake. On LBJ Dr. across from Overlook Park Rd. in Washington County we found this happy colony of Nueces coreopsis, Coreopsis nuecensis. (Click to enlarge.) The erect white-topped plants in the background were old plainsman, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus. Below is a closer view of one in Round Rock on April 2nd.

  

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There’s been a lot of hoopla since U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on April 18 that a public mask mandate in mass transit (planes, trains, etc.) is unlawful.

Some critics of the ruling complained that a single judge had overturned all the medical science established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact the judge did no such thing. Nowhere in her 60-page decision did she rule “on the merits” of the issue. She did not decide—and never claimed to have the requisite expertise to decide—whether wearing masks in public transit vehicles is an effective way to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but that’s not what the ruling dealt with.

What the judge did rule on was the legality of the CDC issuing its mass transit mandate. “Judge Mizelle said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with the mandate, had not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.”

Another illogical reaction to the decision came from people who interpreted the end of a requirement to wear masks in mass transit as meaning that nobody would be allowed to wear masks in public transit. The judge’s ruling, of course, did not prevent anyone wanting to wear a mask from doing so—or even wearing double or triple masks, goggles, a face shield, and earphones if they want to.

Yet another unfounded accusation was of the ad hominem*—or in this case ad mulierem*—type. Some people complained that Judge Mizelle is only 35 years old. Age has nothing to do with the validity of a legal argument. Some people complained that Judge Mizelle had never tried a single case in court. True, but then neither had Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, whom the critics of Judge Mizelle presumably support and whom they no doubt did not criticize on those grounds. In any case, that’s irrelevant to the facts and legal principles adduced in the current decision.

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* The Latin phrase ad hominem means ‘against the man.’ We use that phrase when a person criticizes some personal trait of an opponent rather than dealing with the opponent’s arguments. The Latin word homo, of which hominem is one grammatical form, meant not only ‘man’ in a biological sense but also generically ‘human being.’ For anyone who objects to the use of a male form as a generic, I’ve turned to the Latin word mulier, ‘woman,’ to create the indisputably female phrase ad mulierem.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2022 at 4:32 PM

Harmonious Harmostes

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On April 16th in far northwest Austin I found a bug in the genus Harmostes on the aging flower head of a four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearofolia or scaposa, I’m not sure which).

 

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I’m not gonna bug you by declaring my pronouns again today like I have a few times in the past year. Instead, let me cite the opening of an article on the website of The Alliance Defending Freedom:

Philosophy professor Dr. Nick Meriwether’s three-year quest to vindicate his First Amendment rights has concluded with a settlement in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that the university violated Meriwether’s free speech rights when it punished him because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. Meriwether had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns, but the university rejected that compromise, instead forcing the professor to speak contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs.

As part of the settlement, the university has agreed that Meriwether has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when referring to or addressing students. Significantly, the university agreed Meriwether will never be mandated to use pronouns, including if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex.

Historians of free speech in America will recognize that that’s in keeping with the famous decision in the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which Justice Jackson wrote:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

 That statement should be posted in every classroom in America.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Totally Texas toadflax

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On April 10th in rural eastern Williamson County we came across a field covered in flowering Texas toadflax, Nuttallanthus texanus. Above’s a somewhat dreamy take; below, you get a feel for the expanse of the colony.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 23, 2022 at 4:02 PM

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