Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


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.



§                §



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

10 Responses

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  1. As ridiculous as those examples sound, even more ridiculous is that there really is a need to fact check them because these days there is a healthy population of people who will believe anything they read on the internet…especially if it supports some belief or another of theirs. Many don’t realize that the Babylon Bee and The Onion are satire, among others, and common sense is not at an all time high.

    Steve Gingold

    July 22, 2022 at 4:45 AM

    • I’m inclined to believe that human nature holds roughly constant across cultures and over centuries. If that’s true, then a main difference between past times and now isn’t one of kind but of the speed with which notions spread: the Internet and the reality that many people carry cell phones with them much of the time certainly lets crazy ideas spread more quickly than was ever possible before.

      It seems psychologists and anthropologists can confirm or refute the “across cultures” part of my hypothesis about the sameness of human nature by observing and questioning people around the world today. Checking whether a trait like gullibility is more pronounced now than in the past is harder because we can’t interview or directly observe people who lived hundreds of years ago. Even so, we can get evidence by reading things that people wrote in the past. In 2020, when as I saw it many people lost touch with reality, I remembered a book I’d heard about but had never read, and I read it: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles McKay. First published in 1841, it describes crazes and delusions from the past.

      Here’s the first paragraph of the preface: “In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity. At an early age in the annals of Europe its population lost their wits about the sepulchre of Jesus, and crowded in frenzied multitudes to the Holy Land; another age went mad for fear of the devil, and offered up hundreds of thousands of victims to the delusion of witchcraft. At another time, the many became crazed on the subject of the philosopher’s stone, and committed follies till then unheard of in the pursuit. It was once thought a venial offence, in very many countries of Europe, to destroy an enemy by slow poison. Persons who would have revolted at the idea of stabbing a man to the heart, drugged his pottage without scruple. Ladies of gentle birth and manners caught the contagion of murder, until poisoning, under their auspices, became quite fashionable. Some delusions, though notorious to all the world, have subsisted for ages, flourishing as widely among civilised and polished nations as among the early barbarians with whom they originated,—that of duelling, for instance, and the belief in omens and divination of the future, which seem to defy the progress of knowledge to eradicate them entirely from the popular mind. Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

      If you’re interested in reading more, you can read the book online for free:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 22, 2022 at 5:55 AM

  2. Your second photo seems to have followed the example of the silver bluestem; the image seems to me to have an over-all silvery sheen, not unlike the sheen found on the strands of old man’s beard. And in the second photo, is that a caterpillar just to the right of the Mexican Hat seedhead? I debated between eggs and a caterpillar, but the symmetry suggested caterpillar.


    July 22, 2022 at 8:02 AM

    • I included the second picture for its terete eggs on the stalk to the left of the Mexican hat seed head .I’ll grant you the eggs were still so well-ordered and symmetrical that anyone, including me, might take them for a caterpillar. They may not have been the same kind of barrel-shaped eggs as in the top picture, but as they weren’t far away they might have been the same kind at a slightly different stage. It’s not clear to me why the right side of the Mexican hat seed head bulged the way it did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 22, 2022 at 8:18 AM

  3. The eggs are beautifully arranged on the dry grass stem.

    Peter Klopp

    July 22, 2022 at 8:02 AM

    • I don’t know that I’d seen eggs like those before. And now I see that the German word for ‘barrel’ is Fass, a cognate of English vat. So a Fassbinder (like the filmmaker) is a barrel-binder.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 22, 2022 at 8:31 AM

  4. The word terete, where does it come from?

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 23, 2022 at 9:26 PM

  5. I particularly like the curve on the lead photo.

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 23, 2022 at 9:27 PM

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