Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 2022

Clematis drummondii flower and buds

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On July 15th in Great Hills Park I sat with some Clematis drummondii
vines and made these close portraits of buds and a flower.

I aimed at a higher angle in the second picture and so won the sky as a background.
Flash and a small aperture made the bright blue seem unnaturally dark but I like the effect.

 

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Speaking of unnatural, there’s more “Hands up, don’t shoot” in the top picture than in the narrative that has become an article of faith—a false faith—among certain activists. The Clematis at the top hands-down has a greater claim to having its hands up.

 

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Inland sea oats arc

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 Look at the characteristically graceful way inland sea oats (Chasmanthum latifolium) forms arcs.
I photographed these green seed heads along Bull Creek on June 24th.

 

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The latest attempt to redefine a word

 

In the middle of the 20th century George Orwell, himself a former Communist, pointed out the ways in which authoritarian regimes believe they can control people by redefining words. In 1984, a dystopian novel of the then-future, Orwell went so far as to invent a language that he called newspeak. In that language, for example, people were still allowed to use the adjective free in the sense that a dog is free from fleas but not in the normal sense in which a person has individual liberty.

In previous commentaries I’ve criticized campaigns within the past few years to redefine such basic terms as man, woman, and mother (notoriously recast as a “birthing person”). This week the semantic reformers have targeted the financial term recession. For decades now the predominant rule of thumb for recognizing a recession has been ‘two consecutive quarters of declining growth in the gross national product [GNP].’ Do an online search and you’ll find that definition in dozens of places, including the January 1991 article “Weathering a Weak Economy” in the magazine Black Enterprise. Similarly, a person in a 1989 Congressional hearing had spoken of a recession as “two consecutive quarters of less than zero real growth.” And the 2014 book Understanding National Accounts mentions “the two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP [gross domestic product] that typically denotes a recession.”

The typically in that last quotation concedes some wiggle room in determining whether a given country at a given time has entered a recession. I’m certainly not opposed to nuance. What I am opposed to is the opportunistic mad scramble that we’ve seen in the United States over the past several days by government officials proclaiming that the standard decades-long indicator of a recession was never really the standard decades-long indicator of a recession—just like women were never really the only kind of people who could give birth.

It was almost fun to watch the hypocrisy. For instance, among the choreographed corps of recession-deniers was current White House economic adviser Brian Deese, who on July 26th insisted that “two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession.” Investigators, however, soon turned up a statement Deese himself had made in 2008: “What Senator Clinton has said is that of course economists have a technical definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”

It wasn’t just government officials who twisted themselves into instant recession-deniers. So did many commenters on television networks, as did newspaper writers, people in charge of social media, and even Wikipedia, which in the past few years has become increasingly biased. As Nellie Bowles reported in the blog Common Sense on July 29th:

The Wikipedia page on “recession” is getting furiously updated. (The crowd-source encyclopedia now contains a note on the “recession” entry that all previous definitions are false: “An outdated version of this article has been widely circulated. Please verify that claims or screenshots you may have seen are consistent with the actual content here.”) The economic historian Phil Magness posted on Facebook about the White House word games with recession and got a warning tagging it as “false information” and adding a “fact check.” Government is inefficient in most ways, but when it comes to coordinating with our social media oligarchs, it’s a well-oiled machine.  

You’re welcome to read that full piece as well as a January 28th article by Eric Boehm in Reason entitled “After 2 Consecutive Quarters of Negative Economic Growth, Is America in a Recession?” The subtitle is “Most Americans believe so.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Draped and dropped

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You may have heard that for months now Texas has been enduring a drought. That was obvious at the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin when I visited on July 21st. The water level had dropped enough to drape algae over little stumps that had been underwater, as had most of the algae. Once the air dried out the algae it lost most of its green coloring, as you see above.

Not draped but dropped, presumably by a child and not by water, was the little toy figurine that I found on the ground near by. I guess the black dots were intended to identify the big cat as a leopard, even if no leopard ever sported such regular spots or wore such a bright yellow coat. The nondescript ground-hugging plant the leopard had bedded down on belongs to the spurge family and is in the genus Chamaesyce or Euphorbia.

 

 

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The other day I came across a post by Wesley Yang entitled “Yes, Things Are Really As Bad As You’ve Heard: a Leftist Schoolteacher Struggles To Say Aloud the Things He Regularly Witnesses That Are So Outlandish They Sound Made Up By Right-Wing Provocateurs.” The craziness described there isn’t encouraging, nor is the reality that the writer Yang was talking about feels the need to remain anonymous. At least the fact that some people are calling out the craziness in their ranks is encouraging.

Here’s the anonymous writer’s penultimate paragraph:

Like I said before, I’m a leftist myself; I have a real and abiding commitment to racial justice in education. Do I like having to make the same points as pundits who want me kicked out of the classroom too? Of course not. But it’s precisely because I think racism and poverty are so rampant in this nation, and our obligation to respond so overwhelming, that I can’t keep pretending these ridiculous DEI schemes aren’t hurting the children we owe so much to. They are. It’s happening, right now.

You’re welcome to check out the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Stumped

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I wasn’t stumped when it came to taking photographs—the more abstract, the better—of the many slender stumps still standing erect in the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st. Notice the one cattail plant (Typha sp.) that had arisen in the midst of all that wreckage.

 

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Covid-19

More than two years into the pandemic, most people worldwide have likely been infected with the virus at least once, epidemiologists said. Some 58% of people in the U.S. had contracted Covid-19 through February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated. Since then, a persistent wave driven by offshoots of the infectious Omicron variant has kept daily known cases in the U.S. above 100,000 for weeks….

People who don’t know whether they have been infected should be careful, Dr. Jameson [at the University of Minnesota Medical School] said, because they might yet get sick as antibodies wane and new variants arrive.

“There are plenty of people who’ve had the vaccines or even had Covid and then have gotten Covid again,” he said. “It’s not as if it makes you immortal.”

  

You can read more in a July 25th Wall Street Journal article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2022 at 4:28 AM

A heralding heron

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Hardly had I arrived at the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st when I caught sight of a heron at the base of some young black willow trees, Salix nigra. Switching to my longest lens, I gradually worked my way forward and managed to take eight pictures over two minutes before I got close enough that the bird walked off into the underbrush. From what I gather online, this seems to have been a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea, but if anyone knows otherwise I’m ready to be set straight.

Compositionally, notice how the long arc of a slender willow branch caps the lower portions of the two leaning tree trunks to form a de facto frame around most of the heron.

 

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Highfalutin’ Employees

 

Okay, so it’s not the employees who are highfalutin’ but the terms that companies use when referring to their employees. You’ve probably shopped at businesses like Whole Foods where employees are now “partners” and the wholesalers that sell to the company are “supplier partners.” Granted, the phenomenon isn’t new: some of us are old enough to remember when garbage collectors ludicrously got rechristened sanitation engineers. Even so, the euphemizing of employee titles has gone into overdrive in the past few years. Comedian Adam Carolla riffs on that in his just-released book Everything Reminds Me of Something:

 

It’s corporate America’s fault for calling the chick making eight dollars an hour stirring the beans at Taco Bell a “team member.” It implies she has a say. I was a goomper who worked my way up to being a glorified goomper. “Hey, idiot” was how I was greeted most days on the construction site. Now everyone is a “valued associate,” “partner,” or “colleague.” Language like that levels the field and implies an opening for a conversation about your pronouns and gender identity, or about race and microaggressions.

If inmates in a maximum-security prison were referred to as team members, and the warden talked about striving to create an inclusive place where everyone’s voice would be heard, a day wouldn’t go by without a guard being taken hostage.

Worker euphemisms hit peak absurdity last year for me when I noticed a sign outside a Jimmy John’s sub joint.

No wonder the Great Resignation is happening. Jimmy John’s is hiring rock stars. Who’d work as a bank teller and be a “team member” when they can go across the street to Jimmy John’s and be a rock star? As far as euphemisms go, this even beats Disneyland’s calling the failed musical theater student in the Pluto costume a cast member. Obviously, Jimmy John’s workers are not literally rock stars. Slash and Dave Grohl aren’t slinging the composite-meat products behind the counter. They’re shredding on their guitars, not shredding iceberg lettuce. But even figuratively, “rock star” doesn’t apply. People in sales or advertising are called rock stars when they close a big account or do something else that’s outstanding. How can someone stand out when they’re assembling sandwiches and will soon be replaced by a robot? It’s all part of the failure of the self-esteem movement. You can’t give someone self-esteem. It has to be earned. We can change the language, but it doesn’t change the job. Calling someone a rock star doesn’t make them one. We can rename herpes “happies,” but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sexually transmitted disease.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Clematis drummondii swirls

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I never get tired of the swirly strands that fertilized Clematis drummondii flowers produce each summer. Compared to the photographs two days ago, this is an intimate view, showing a span of maybe two inches. The photograph dates back to July 15th in Great Hills Park.

 

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As soon as ancient human remains are excavated, archaeologists begin the work of determining a number of traits about the individual, including age, race and gender.

But a new school of thought within archaeology is pushing scientists to think twice about assigning gender to ancient human remains.

It is possible to determine whether a skeleton is from a biological male or female using objective observations based on the size and shape of the bones. Criminal forensic detectives, for example, do it frequently in their line of work.

But gender activists argue scientists cannot know how an ancient individual identified themselves.

That’s the beginning of an article by Christian Schneider in The College Fix headlined “Gender activists push to bar anthropologists from identifying human remains as ‘male’ or ‘female.'” What the article reports on is just one more instance of “the woke” pushing to extend their ideology into the past.

I assume that the phrase “how an ancient individual identified themselves” is Schenider recording how the activists would put it, rather than the standard “how ancient individuals identified themselves.”

You’re welcome to read the full article, which includes this:

San Jose State archaeology Professor Elizabeth Weiss told The Fix that eliminating gender classifications amounts to “ideologically-motivated fudging.” Weiss said there is a move among academics “toward getting all of the academy’s favored shibboleths to accord with one another.”

Weiss said the recent explosion in the number of people identifying as transgender suggests that trend is “social and not biological,” so “retroactively de-sexing obscures this obvious fact.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2022 at 2:33 AM

Early cheer

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Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) normally reach their floral peak here from September through October. Even so, I occasionally see some flowering a month or two earlier, and that was the case on July 21st at Shoreline Dr. and Burnet Rd. I saw early Maximilians there last year, too, on July 31st.

 

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In the past year I’ve reported various attempts by the federal government and other institutions to flout the 1964 Civil Rights Act by flagrantly discriminating according to race. A few days ago another incident came to my attention. Nicole Levitt, a family law attorney representing domestic violence victims in Philadelphia, had been working for a group called Women Against Abuse, one of the largest anti-domestic-violence nonprofits in the United States. The Washington Free Beacon reports that as part of 2020’s moral panic

[the group] brought in several diversity consultants to conduct a racial-equity audit. The goal of the audit, Women Against Abuse told staffers, was to become “a fully inclusive, multicultural, and antiracist institution.”

By November 2020, the organization, which is ostensibly devoted to “serving all survivors,” was offering to pay “BIPOC” employees more than their white counterparts and discouraging black abuse victims from calling the police. Its employees were also at war with each other, bickering over whether Jews are a persecuted minority group and whether there is such a thing as a non-racist white person.

On that last matter, the group’s leaders asked all their white employees to sign a statement confirming that “all white people are racist and that I am not the exception.”

Nicole Levitt has understandably filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which she accuses Women Against Abuse of creating a racially hostile work environment. For more details you can read Aaron Sibarium’s July 22nd article in the Washington Free Beacon. You can also watch a four-minute video in which Nicole Levitt talks about the many abuses that took place at the ironically named Women Against Abuse.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Mound builders

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Sometimes my posts begin writing themselves in my head when I’m still out taking pictures. In this case while I was walking in the southern portion of Great Hills Park on July 15th I began thinking about how the Clematis drummondii vines formed a botanical mound beneath the mounded cloud in the sky. That reminded me of the Mound Builder cultures in North America, and how the Latin word for ‘mound’ was cumulus, which is the name scientists have given to the kind of cloud that drifted over the Clematis. All I had to do in putting this post together later in the day was transcribe the thoughts I’d had in nature that morning. Below is a closer look at the viney mound in its own right.

 

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There’s been a push among activists to “decolonize” a lot of things in modern society and to “center” indigenous ways of interpreting the world. But what happens when indigenous people reject “woke” world-ways? Will ideologues go ahead and insist on “colonizing” the indigenous into adopting modern “woke” ways? I haven’t heard anyone ask that question. It’s a serious one but it also has its humorous side, as in this two-minute video clip that begins with Matt Walsh interviewing a Maasai man and asking “What if a man decides that his gender identity is a woman?”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Drying leaves

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While in Great Hills Park on the morning of July 15th I made portraits of several kinds of drying leaves. The top photograph shows those of a white prickly poppy, Argemone albiflora. I don’t know what kind of leaves got pulled together in the webbing you see below, nor what critter did the pulling.

 

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Incompetent Competencies

The other day I read with horror about how the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) just released its official Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Competencies. For me, competency means that doctors are thoroughly educated in anatomy, disease, and medicine. For the AAMC, competency means that medical students and doctors will glibly prattle all the required woke dogma. As John D. Sailer notes in an article about this for the National Association of Scholars, “the president of the AAMC and the chair of the AAMC’s Council of Deans emphatically stated their support: ‘We believe this topic deserves just as much attention from learners and educators at every stage of their careers as the latest scientific breakthroughs’—a truly remarkable statement of priorities from the leaders of America’s foremost medical education association.”

And as I note here now, time spent on “woke” drivel means time stolen from a proper medical education. It means less-competent doctors, and therefore poorer medical care and ultimately more deaths. On other occasions I’ve noted that the rearranged Holy Trinity of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity yields the acronym DIE. Now it’s clear that the acronym will be even more apt than I realized.

Here are a few of the cant- and jargon-filled incompetent competencies the AAMC is pushing:

Demonstrates knowledge of the intersectionality of a patient’s multiple identities and how each identity may result in varied and multiple forms of oppression or privilege related to clinical decisions and practice [students]

Identifies systems of power, privilege, and oppression and their impacts on health outcomes (e.g., White privilege, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religious oppression) [students]

Articulates race as a social construct that is a cause of health and health care inequities, not a risk factor for disease [students]

Practices moral courage, self-advocacy, allyship, and being an active bystander or upstander to address injustices [residents]

Role models anti-racism in medicine and teaching, including strategies grounded in critical understanding of unjust systems of oppression [faculty]

Role models how knowledge of intersectionality informs clinical decision-making and practice [faculty]

If you want to feel sick, go ahead and read the article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Terete

with 10 comments

Here’s a word for you: terete. It means ‘barrel-shaped.’ That fits these insect eggs, perhaps from a stinkbug, that I saw on a couple of plants in the southern section of Great Hills Park on July 15th. In the top picture the grass seems to have been silver bluestem, Bothriochloa laguroides. In the bottom picture the vine was indubitably (there’s another word for you) Clematis drummondii, colloquially called old man’s beard. Poking its drying snouty seed head into that strand-rich chaos was a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera.

 

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Four months ago I reported on a March 7th article on the satirical website The Babylon Bee that bore the headline “Biden Sells Alaska Back To Russia So We Can Start Drilling For Oil There Again.” The strangest thing about it was that USA Today went through the motions of fact-checking it. The newspaper found that the article was indeed satire yet still felt the need to add: “There is no evidence Biden plans to sell Alaska.”

I recently became aware of a similar incident from 2018 in which The Babylon Bee had run an article headlined “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” In that case the self-proclaimed fact-checking site snopes.com felt the need to investigate the claim. It really did. At least it came to the right conclusion.

Similarly, in 2021, when Covid was still a big problem, snopes.com looked into the satirical claim that CNN ran a banner announcing that Taliban fighters correctly wore masks during their take-over of Afghanistan. In that case the story had originated in The Babylon Bee but then circulated with no reference to its satirical source.

For more information about the clearly satirical Babylon Bee nevertheless repeatedly getting fact-checked, you can read a 2019 article by Bill Zeiser.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2022 at 4:22 AM

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