Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘abstract

American white water lily and its reflection

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Nymphaea odorata at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th.

 

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An unspoken truth of the climate-change crusade is this: Anything the U.S. does to reduce emissions won’t matter much to global temperatures. U.S. cuts will be swamped by the increases in India, Africa and especially China. Look no further than China’s boom in new coal-fired electricity.

Under the nonbinding 2015 Paris climate agreement, China can increase its emissions until 2030. And is it ever. Between 2015 and 2021 China’s emissions increased by some 11%, according to the Climate Action Tracker, which evaluates nationally determined contributions under the Paris agreement. The U.S. has reduced its emissions by some 6% between 2015 and 2021. Beijing made minimal new commitments at last year’s Glasgow confab on climate, despite world pressure.

That’s the beginning of a September 12th Wall Street Journal editorial whose subhead is “Beijing is building more coal-fired capacity than the rest of the world combined, U.S. climate lectures notwithstanding.” Did you catch the third word in the second quoted paragraph? “Nonbinding” means that no matter what the leaders of a country say they will do, they don’t actually have to do it. And I have news for you: many people promise to do things they have no intention of doing. Later in the editorial we find this:

The reason for China’s coal boom is obvious: The Communist Party’s priority is economic growth, higher living standards, and becoming the world’s leading power. Carbon emissions are an afterthought, and promises of future reductions are the compliment Chinese vice pays to Western virtue signalers.

And here’s the last paragraph:

While the Biden Administration does all it can to restrict U.S. fossil fuels, no matter the economic harm, Beijing is charging ahead with coal imports, coal mining and coal power to become the world’s leading economy. They must marvel at their good fortune in having rivals who are so self-destructive.

 You’re welcome to read the full Wall Street Journal editorial.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Mexican water lily

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Nymphaea mexicana opening at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th.

 For those of you interested in the craft of photography, points 1, 9, and 18
in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s portrait.

 

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Are you troubled by the rising tides of censorship and intolerance seemingly everywhere? Dismayed by the loss of complexity and nuance in discussions about, well, seemingly everything? Frustrated that we’ve somehow shorthanded all of this with an unfortunate phrase like cancel culture? Me too.

Having grown up under a military dictatorship in Pakistan, I know well what happens when freedom of expression is threatened and people are bullied into silence. It pains me deeply to see this happening in my adopted country. As a professor, attacks on open speech and academic freedom on campus are even more alarming. Hence my podcast: Banished.

Banished is a show about our reassessment of the many people, ideas, objects and even works of art that conflict with modern sensibilities. To be clear, I have no tribe and don’t feel the need for one. So join me as I look at threats to expression across the ideological spectrum — from book bans to anti-CRT bills to the increasing dogmatism of both conservative and progressive politics. Banished is where you’ll find interesting, intellectually sophisticated and thought provoking conversations about illiberal trends.

That’s from the welcome page of Banished, a blog by Amna Khalid that I recently came across. I call your attention to a July 24th post she wrote with Jeffrey Aaron Snyder called “Cancel Culture: It’s real and on the rise, on the left and the right.” The authors state that

cancel culture is much more than a ginned up moral panic. This becomes evident when you zoom out to look at the U.S. censorship landscape beyond a narrow, partisan frame. In this piece we will debunk the myths about cancel culture advanced by both the left and the right. 

You’re welcome to read the post, which fleshes out seven of what they consider cancel culture myths. The piece includes plenty of links to relevant articles.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 14, 2022 at 4:24 AM

Cracked

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On the morning of September 3rd in Manor I spent time in the Seasons at Carillon subdivision, which is still largely under construction. After no rain for a couple of months we finally got some by the end of August. I suspect a temporary rivulet had flowed over this patch of cracked ground on the Blackland Prairie and left a trace that looks like a tree trunk with prominent bark. At least that’s how my imagination sees it in this wide-angle view that looks almost straight downward. Not far away, the cracked ground had given rise to a snow-on-the-prairie plant, and in shades of green and brown had given a temporary second significance to the species epithet in Euphorbia bicolor.

 

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In American primary and secondary schools, if a student goes to the school nurse and complains of a headache, the nurse isn’t even allowed to give the student an aspirin without getting permission from the child’s parents. At increasingly many American schools, however, staff can call a student by a name that belongs to the opposite sex and can coach the student into wanting puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones—all while keeping those actions hidden from the child’s parents. If you think that couldn’t possibly be true, think again. In fact the broader situation is even worse than that, as a September 5th article by John Daniel Davidson explains.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Two rather different takes on one rain lily in front of another

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Here are two portraits showing
one rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen)
in front of another on August 23rd.

  

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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

That great sentence, which serves as the opening line in Leslie Poles Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between, also serves as a good entrée into our times. (Wikipedia notes that the line “had first been used by Hartley’s friend Lord David Cecil in his inaugural lecture as Goldsmiths’ Professor in 1949.”)

Jump forward seven decades from The Go-Between to Dominic Green’s August 26th Quillette article “The Unmaking of American History by the Woke Mob.” Here’s how it begins:

Academic historians are losing their sense of the past. In his August column for the American Historical Association’s journal, Perspectives on History, James H. Sweet warned that academic history has become so “presentist” that it is losing touch with its subject, the world before yesterday. Mr. Sweet, who is the association’s president and teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, observed that the “allure of political relevance” is drawing students away from pre-1800 history and toward “contemporary social justice issues” such as “race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism.” When historians become activists, he wrote, the past becomes “an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions.”

The article goes on to quote Professor Sweet again:

If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.

Needless to say in our censorious times—and so sad to have to say—a transgressive online mob quickly rose up to excoriate the history professor for his reasonable observations about history. As Dominic Green goes on to note:

When the purpose of history changes from knowledge of the past to political power in the present and future, historians become mere propagandists. Academics who succumb to the sugar rush of activism lose their sense of balance. 

And here’s his conclusion:

Yes, history is always written backward, from present to past. And history’s present uses might include politics. But the task of a historian is to understand the strange past and show how it shapes the familiar present. If we succumb to what the English historian E.P. Thompson called “the enormous condescension of posterity,” then we lose the ability to imagine how people lived in any era before our own. We lose difference and complexity. We lose the perspective that history is supposed to impart and with it any sense of progress. Dictators are presentists, too.

You’re welcome to read Dominic Green’s full essay.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 4, 2022 at 4:29 AM

What follows the rain

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After two dry months we finally got a few inches of rain in central Texas two-thirds of the way through August. At various times of the year here what follows shortly after a good rain is rain lilies. So it was that on August 24th I communed with several dozen members of Zephyranthes chlorosolen (formerly designated Cooperia drummondii). In this view the sun was in front of me, so light transluced parts of the flower and cast shadows on other parts. I managed to get far enough below the flower to have it line up with dark clouds. I like the aesthetics of the resulting lofty look.

  

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If you’ve never watched the famous “Who’s on first?” routine by mid-20th-century comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, you can catch their classic back-and-forth embedded in an August 25th article by Stella Morabito entitled “Pronoun Police Are Playing An Unfunny Game Of ‘Hu’s On First?’” In addition to Morabito’s astute observations about grammar and culture, she suggests a good way to respond when institutions insist that you declare your pronouns: tell them your pronouns are I / me / my / mine / myself. A few of you may recall that back on March 29th I declared my pronouns: her as subject, hoozit’s as possessive, and I as object. That led to the transformation of a conventional utterance into a pronominally genderful one:

After Steve got out of his car, he walked up to Fred, who heard him say in his usual cheerful fashion that he was glad to be there. Fred thanked him for his greeting.

After Steve got out of hoozit’s car, her walked up to Fred, who heard I say in hoozit’s usual cheerful fashion that her was glad to be there. Fred thanked I for hoozit’s greeting.

 

I did a good job of channeling Abbott and Costello that day.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Embarking on another round of beetle galleries

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In April I showed you some bark beetle galleries on a fallen tree in Great Hills Park. On August 21st I returned to that spot and embarked on another round of picture-taking at the same tree and a couple of nearby ones.

For more information about this phenomenon, you can read “The Truth Behind Bug Trails” and “Bark Beetles.”

 

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I haven’t given enough credit to Sharyl Attkisson, a multi-award-winning journalist who promotes free inquiry and accurate reporting. Last year I watched Jan Jekielek interview her on those subjects but I didn’t post a link to the interview; here it is now. And there are plenty of good stories on her website.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2022 at 4:50 AM

Like a seahorse

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Don’t you think this colorfully drying smartweed leaf (Polygonum or Persicaria sp.) that I found in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th looks like a seahorse?

 

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Thirty-three years ago, when I was a teenager in Nairobi, I was a book burner. The year was 1989, the year of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I was seduced by the rising tide of Islamism. I greeted the fatwa with glee.

I rarely burnt actual books: we were too poor to afford a copy of The Satanic Verses. Instead, we wrote the title of the offending novel and the name of its author on cardboard and paper and set them alight. It was comical and pathetic. But we were deadly serious. We thought Ayatollah Khomeini was standing up for Islam against the infidels, bringing down the righteous fury of Allah upon a vile apostate. Had Rushdie been attacked then, I would have celebrated.

So begins a recent essay by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “The infidels will not be silenced: Like Salman Rushdie, I choose freedom.” Those familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali know that when she grew up she had a change of heart and mind and is now one of the world’s great champions of free speech (for which stance the forces of oppression have persecuted her). You’re welcome to read her full essay.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Another water-loving plant

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In addition to pickerelweed, another water-loving plant I found at the edge of the pond along Gault Lane on July 7th was Ludwigia octovalvis, known as narrow-leaf water primrose, Mexican primrose willow, and seedbox. Its yellow flowers always bring cheer, and its drying seed capsules make colorful miniature sculptures; the one above even suggests a windmill.

  

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I was familiar with the school choice movement but hadn’t ever heard it called backpack funding till two days ago. As things are structured in the United States, property owners pay taxes based on the value of their property, and a portion (usually the largest portion) of those taxes is given to local public schools. That’s the case even for taxpayers who don’t have children because education is considered a public good.

Two main objections to that system have arisen in the past few decades. The first objection is that many public schools receive plenty of tax money but fail to educate their children. You can go online (as I reported last year) to see how abysmal many of the scores on standardized tests have been, even as funding has kept going up. The second and more recent objection is that increasingly many public schools have been turning into “social justice” factories to indoctrinate students in “woke” beliefs.

While people in the school choice movement agree that education is a public good, they also believe that tax money should not automatically go to our existing public schools but instead should follow each student to a school the student’s parents choose. The idea is that if a certain public school is failing to educate its students, parents can send their children to a public school that does a better job with education. If no public school in a given area is doing a good job, discontented parents can choose a private school that does a good job. If no good private school exists in the area, parents can pool their children’s allocated tax money and fund a new school that will follow principles designed to provide a good education.

Objections to the school choice movement come from where you’d expect them to come from: vested interests like educational bureaucrats and teachers’ unions, who don’t want to give up their monopoly and the sinecures that come with it. Objections also come from ideologues who don’t want to lose their power to indoctrinate students.

Me, born on the Fourth of July, I’m all for freedom here: my school, my choice.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Pickerelweed abstractions

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After I went rainbow hunting at the pond along Gault Lane on July 7th, I concentrated on some of the flora on the pond’s margins. Here you’re seeing two abstract portraits of pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata. The first shows a bud sheath. The second obviously shows flowers, but I took the picture at an unconventional angle.

 

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Since childhood I’ve known that in some cases a part of a country is cut off by foreign land from the main part of the country. For Americans, the most prominent example is Alaska, which Canada separates from the “lower 48” states. Hawaii is not in the same category: yes, it’s cut off from the main part of the United States, but by an ocean, not by foreign land.

Just this week I learned that people have coined a term for a part of a country that’s cut off by foreign land. The term is exclave, made by replacing the prefix en- in enclave with its opposite, ex-. Some countries are content to live with exclaves. The United States isn’t going to invade Canada to connect Washington State to Alaska. In contrast, this year Russia invaded the* Ukraine to create a land bridge to the* Crimea, which it had illegally annexed from that country in 2014 but which had still remained reachable by land from the rest of Russia only by traveling on Ukrainian land.

Another Russian exclave that European countries are worried about is Kaliningrad Oblast—an oblast is akin to a state—which used to be German but after World War II became part of Russia. The Kaliningrad Oblast remains separated from the rest of Russia by Poland and Lithuania. Russia had for decades controlled both of those countries, and Lithuania in particular is worried that Russia wants to re-annex it. Given what’s going on in the Ukraine, the worry is justified.

The most complicated exclave in the world appears to be Baarle-Hertog, which comprises 24 tiny pieces of Belgium inside the Netherlands.

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* With certain geographic names English has traditionally used the. Everyone says the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Vatican. People familiar with New York City know about the Bronx. For most of my life people said the Ukraine, but English speakers are now increasingly dropping the the in the Ukraine.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Two takes on giant ragweed

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Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) grows erect, often reaching a height of 10 ft. and occasionally even 15 ft. That makes it a good perch for dragonflies like the one in the top picture. After giant ragweed plants dry out, their stalks may remain upright, as in the dense colony I showed in 2013, or may fall over, like the stalk below whose hollow interior my flash was kind enough to partially illuminate. Both pictures are from along Bull Creek on June 24th.

 

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If you check out this chart of the 10 most widely spoken languages you’ll see that English is in first place because so many people speak it as a second language. The language that has by far the most native speakers is Mandarin Chinese.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 2, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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