Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 30 comments


My last stop in our seven-hour wildflower chase on March 13th wasn’t for wildflowers. It was for these clouds I’d been eyeing for some time after we turned north from Nixon on FM 1117 and headed for home.


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A recent post made me aware of Harry Watrous (1857–1940), a traditional American figurative painter who didn’t like modernism. Turning from style to message, however, we find him very modern in the message he conveyed in a painting from around 1913, “The Drop Sinister—What Shall We Do with It?” The first part of the title refers to the “one drop rule” from the benighted days of American slavery and racism when white supremacists considered a person with any black ancestry at all, even as little as one drop of blood, to be black and therefore to be looked down upon and mistreated.

The painting shows three people, presumably a family: a light-skinned black man on one side, a seemingly white woman and blond-haired girl together on the other side. As Wikipedia notes:

It is said to be the first known portrait of an American interracial family. The father wears a clerical collar and holds a Christian newspaper in his hand; on the wall [between the husband on the left and the wife and daughter on the right] is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a quotation, “And God said, Let us make man in our own image after our likeness.”

The painting caused a stir when it was exhibited at the National Academy of Design and at the Century Club in New York. “Harry W. Watrous preaches and paints well an interesting sermon on the negro question in The Drop Sinister,” commented American Art News, which also called it “one of his best canvases.” This “study in the fruits of miscegenation…caused an extraordinary amount of discussion, residents of one typically Southern city threatening to wreck the art museum if it was shown there.”

The painting appears to depict a mixed marriage, which was illegal in many states at the time. The Crisis, the N.A.A.C.P. journal edited by W.E.B. DuBois, had a different idea about what was going on in the picture:

The people in this picture are all “colored”; that is to say the ancestors of all of them two or three generations ago numbered among them full-blooded Negroes. These “colored” folk married and brought to the world a little golden-haired child; today they pause for a moment and sit aghast when they think of this child’s future.

What is she? A Negro? No, she is “white.” But is she white? The United States Census says she is a “Negro.” What earthly difference does it make what she is, so long as she grows up a good, true, capable woman? But her chances for doing this are small! Why?

Because 90,000,000 of her neighbors, good Christian, noble, civilized people are going to insult her, seek to ruin her and slam the door of opportunity in her face the moment they discover “The Drop Sinister.”

The reference to people threatening to wreck an art museum if “The Drop Sinister” was shown there reminds us that in at least one respect nothing has changed in the century since Harry Watrous created his painting. We still have zealots who feel justified in attacking, even with physical violence, anyone who has ideas different from any of the zealots’ cherished beliefs.

The most recent criminal activity of that sort I’m aware of took place at the University of California, Davis on March 14th, when woke activists rioted to protest a speech by Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. The rioters (and unfortunately many students on campus) believe Charlie Kirk is “hateful” in believing, for example, that biological men shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women in athletics. Ironically, the zealots have pushed beyond the one-drop rule of racial segregation and now follow a zero-drop rule: anyone born with not even a single drop of female blood can demand to be treated as a woman.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2023 at 4:27 PM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

30 Responses

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  1. I love your pictures – those clouds are really something. But – Charlie hydroxychloroquine Kirk? you are beginning to lose me. Are you suggesting that those who support trans people are similar to white supremacists? Like most non-trans people I find the idea of not thinking that you are who your biology says you are almost impossible to grasp. Reading the wonderful book Conundrum by Jan Morris helped me to understand – maybe a little bit. A more recent book, XOXY, by Kimberly Zieselman, also explains the complications and difficulties faced by people with androgen insensitivity syndrome. You are good at finding idiocy everywhere, but I enjoy your photographic talents more.


    March 20, 2023 at 6:59 PM

    • Over the two years since I began writing sociopolitical commentaries, several principles have emerged. One is that people must be free to say what they believe. A corollary is that it’s wrong of someone to keep someone else from doing that. When a campus institution invites a guest to speak, that speaker should be allowed to do so. Afterwards, people in the audience who disagree are free to ask questions and challenge the speaker’s ideas. That’s not what happened in the incident I mentioned, where students who disagreed with Charlie Kirk’s broke windows and sowed chaos. As far as I know, hydrochloroquine wasn’t one of the topics that night. Whether that drug sometimes succeeds in curing or alleviation Covid-19 is a matter for scientists—and I mean unbiased scientists—to determine. I have no vested interest in the matter: I just want to know the truth, insofar as it can be determined.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2023 at 8:46 PM

    • Another principle that has emerged in my commentaries is that when a government agency adopts a policy, the agency must consider the policy’s benefits as well as its harms. In the case of transgenderism, an agency that “affirms” a person’s belief in being the opposite of the person’s body may benefit that person. The policy may also discriminate against the much greater number of people, especially women, who believe, for instance, that biological males with gender dysphoria should not parade naked in women’s locker rooms or be housed in prison cells with biological women.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2023 at 9:00 PM

      • Please keep pointing out the elephant in the room😀


        March 21, 2023 at 5:39 AM

    • You asked: “Are you suggesting that those who support trans people are similar to white supremacists?” No, I’m not making a direct comparison. I seem more sensitive to picking up on ironies than many people, and I couldn’t help noticing how a no-drop rule for transgenderism mimics the old one-drop rule for racial discrimination.

      I checked and found that the Austin Public Library has Conundrum so I’ve ordered it. It doesn’t have the other book you mentioned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2023 at 7:18 AM

      • I will be interested in hearing what you think about Conundrum. There are some bits in the book that make me wince. And these are good times for those who appreciate irony. Not an original comment, but it is amusing that in Israel many are upset that the Supreme Court may lose some of its power/independence, while exactly the same people in the U.S. are upset that our current Supreme Court has too much power/independence. Changing topics slightly, I support government regulation – except when it interferes in any way whatsoever with what I want to do. Then I think about moving to New Hampshire from regulation-happy Massachusetts. Irony, satire and cockroaches will outlast all of us.


        March 21, 2023 at 8:55 AM

        • That’s a good one: ” I support government regulation — except when it interferes in any way whatsoever with what I want to do.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 21, 2023 at 9:16 AM

        • I’ve just finished Conundrum. Now there’s a writer who knows how to write.

          In the end, Jan Morris admits to not understanding her obsession, ever since age three or four, to turn her male body into a female body. This appears to be a “classic” case of gender dysphoria, which I’ve read manifests from an early age and is much more common in boys than in girls. As best I can tell, a lot of what’s going on today is something else. Some researchers, like Abigail Shrier and Lisa Littman, have referred to it as rapid-onset gender dysphoria, and see it as a social contagion, particularly among teenage girls. For saying so, and especially for providing evidence, they’ve been attacked not only by activists but also the people who control many universities and other cultural institutions—but of course I repeat myself.

          One theme I’ve developed in my commentaries is that people are people. Jan Morris expressed the same opinion:

          “But I do not for a moment regret the act of change. I could see no other way, and it has made me happy. In this I am one of the lucky few. There are people of many kinds who have set out on the same path, and by and large they are among the unhappiest people on the face of the earth. Since I went to Casablanca [for my surgery] I have met some, and corresponded with many more. Some have achieved surgery, some merely pine for it, and every complication of the sexual urge, every tangle of social neurosis, is to be found somewhere in their anxieties. I know a university lecturer, born male, who underwent surgery without any hormonal preliminaries because he wished to live as a lesbian. I know a distinguished and exquisitely cultured civil servant, now in his late fifties, whose life has been wrecked by his bitter jealousy of womanhood—his confidence shattered by terrible aversion treatment, his powerful physique transformed by hormones, his marriage broken, his career abandoned. I know of an educated woman, converted to malehood, so terrified of her new role that she has forsaken home, family, and all, and shut herself up in loneliness in a distant country town. And these are clever, articulate people; I do not speak of all the poor castaways of intersex, the misguided homosexuals, the transvestites, the psychotic exhibitionists, who tumble through this half-world like painted clowns, pitiful to others and often horrible to themselves.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 8, 2023 at 8:03 AM

          • I often recommend books to others – and rarely do people follow my advice (imagine that) so I am delighted that you read it and I note your thoughtful comments about it. Now I am going to re read it.


            April 8, 2023 at 8:21 AM

            • Happy re-reading.

              One person I’ve wondered about is Elizabeth, the wife. The book makes her out to be completely in accord with everything, yet I can’t imagine she’d have been so sanguine about losing a husband of many years. After writing that last sentence, I searched online and found a recent review of Jan Morris: Life From Both Sides: A Biography, by Paul Clements.

              That review contains this sentence:

              “Her surviving daughter, Suki, agrees with Germaine Greer that Elizabeth, now in a care home with dementia, ‘did not have a voice’; and further tells Clements of Jan’s ‘drip, drip, drip of unkindness … undermining everything, making me look and feel inferior and worthless.’”

              And here’s a CBS Sunday Morning feature from 2000:

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 8, 2023 at 9:15 AM

              • drip, drip, drip of unkindness … there’s a chilling phrase. More and more interesting.


                April 8, 2023 at 10:06 AM

  2. It would be nice if people always behaved well in public. Unfortunately, rabble rousers and zealots are what we have everywhere, ably assisted by all forms of media. Rabble rousing neo Nazis have been in action in Australia in support of Posie Parker, a pro-women activist from the UK, who is on a speaking tour there. Many groups in NZ want our Immigration Dept to cancel her visa so that she can’t carry out her speaking engagements in NZ. Should she be allowed to come here? Maybe, but I don’t think her warnings and threats and attempts to control the actions of the NZ Government are showing the type of good character needed for a visa. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/campaigner-posie-parker-warns-chris-hipkins-immigration-review-after-nazi-fears-raised/O55OUC6JURCZJHWVYSVHINRR44/


    March 20, 2023 at 10:35 PM

    • I noticed this in the article:

      “But when pressed on the presence of people at her events giving Nazi salutes, Keen-Minshull said: ‘They’re absolutely not associated with me whatsoever. I absolutely abhor anything to do with Nazis. It’s preposterous they even exist in 2023.’”

      Having unwanted people with ideas different from one’s one show up and hijack a speech is a problem.

      Passion for a cause is understandable but I don’t think it’s a good idea to threaten people. This “pro-women activist” might be more effective if she made her points calmly and with facts.

      Another problem is the redefinition of words for the sake of ideology. For example, if you take the stance probably a large majority of people do, that a person who was born male and went through puberty as a male shouldn’t be allowed to compete in athletic events against women, transgender activists will claim you’re full of “hate.”

      Or take the mantra “Trans women are women.” Well, no, they’re men who believe that they’re women and want to act like women, but they aren’t actual women. Some activists will say I’m full of “hate” for maintaining that position. Increasingly, anything that activists disagree with gets labeled “hate.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2023 at 6:59 AM

      • Hate is best left out of speech, discussions and protests but I can understand how it flares up. Hope you enjoy Conundrum. I haven’t read it yet. Posie Parker has been given permission to visit NZ and deliver her scheduled speeches. It will be interesting to see what sort of reception she gets. She will certainly have supporters here but I can’t see why she needs to come. NZ women are good at speaking up for themselves. We don’t need help from Posie of the UK. Is that being anti-British? Oops. One of our most vocal and well-respected women was Georgina Beyer, the first openly transgender MP in NZ. https://youtu.be/B2h0-2Qs2Ks


        March 22, 2023 at 2:37 AM

  3. […] stopped plenty of times for pictures already, and the sky had largely clouded over (as you saw in a picture yesterday). March 15th found us back there a little earlier and with better light, so this time I pulled over […]

  4. You certainly have been finding some wonderful clouds. Recently I heard a fishing guide use a phrase that’s relatively common among hunters and fishermen on the coast; he described our sky as a “high, gray liner.” The thought of the blue sky being ‘lined’ with gray, rather like a coat or jacket, is interesting — and appropriate for days without any discrete clouds floating around.


    March 21, 2023 at 8:01 PM

    • I’ve been finding more interesting clouds than I’ve been able to show, even with one scheduled tomorrow and another the next day. The “high, gray liner” you mentioned is a new one on me; I hope that’ll be the theme for a post of yours one of these days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2023 at 9:51 PM

  5. GADS! I should have known better than to stop to read! Well, the clouds are exquisite. Actually, we have not seen a sky like that in a long time. It has cleared up a few times, but has otherwise been raining more than anyone can remember.


    March 22, 2023 at 7:41 PM

    • We’ve had more than our share of murky days, too, so we’ve gone out on long drives whenever we got a good day interspersed amid the cloudy ones. This week it looks like we’ll have had to stay away from nature from Monday through Friday.

      As for the other matter, some things don’t change.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 22, 2023 at 8:55 PM

      • Well, at least ‘some’ people are aware of such matters. I will merely make a point of not reading, or at least not commenting rudely if I do.


        March 22, 2023 at 9:18 PM

  6. Wow, that’s a big sky!


    March 22, 2023 at 7:57 PM

  7. My sort of sky!


    March 30, 2023 at 12:56 AM

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