Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘abstract

Ripple reflections on Bull Creek cliff

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Not having been to the main section of St. Edward’s Park for a long time, I went there on the morning of June 24th. At one of the access points to Bull Creek I noticed that sunlight was reflecting off ripples in the creek and creating shimmers on the cliff. Those shimmers of light in turn appeared upside down as they reflected off the surface of the water on their way to my eyes and to the camera that I put between my eyes and them.

Southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) created the horizontal green band of foliage across the cliff just above the water level. Starkly uneven lighting (which I could only partly even out while processing the image) produced a strange effect: the ferns in the right half of the photograph are clearly reflected in the water, while the main group of ferns in the left half doesn’t have an obvious reflection.

 

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One of the most important developments in the study of racial inequality has been the quantification of the importance of pre-market skills in explaining differences in labor market outcomes between Black and white workers. In 2010, using nationally representative data on thousands of individuals in their 40s, I estimated that Black men earn 39.4% less than white men and Black women earn 13.1% less than white women. Yet, accounting for one variable—educational achievement in their teenage years—reduced that difference to 10.9% (a 72% reduction) for men and revealed that Black women earn 12.7 percent more than white women, on average. Derek Neal, an economist at the University of Chicago, and William Johnson were among the first to make this point in 1996: “While our results do provide some evidence for current labor market discrimination, skills gaps play such a large role that we believe future research should focus on the obstacles Black children face in acquiring productive skill.”

That’s from Roland Fryer’s June 2022 article in Fortune magazine entitled “It’s time for data-first diversity, equity, and inclusion.” That passage supports what I’ve been saying for decades: the single most important thing our society can do for underprivileged children is give them a good education. Instead, the people in charge of education keep making excuses and adopting policies which practically guarantee that those children won’t learn much. It’s a disgrace.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 30, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Looking up at composite architecture

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On June 5th I stopped by Vaught Ranch Rd., thinking I might find some skeleton plants, Lygodesmia texana, flowering there again this year. I did. The architecture of these flower heads always appeals to me. My use of a ring flash in broad daylight allowed me to stop down to a small aperture. That combination caused the bright blue sky to come out looking darker than it really was—but hey, what’s reality, anyhow? In the upward-looking view of a nearby zexmenia flower head, Wedelia texana var. acapulcensis, the sky came out brighter than with the skeleton plant but still duller than it actually was. In both cases the uniform blue proved a good isolating element for the subject.

 

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The purpose of a military is to keep a country safe from physical attack and to wage war against an enemy. People in the military train to be physically fit and to use defensive and offensive weapons. People in the military study tactics, strategy, and military history. And now in the American military they study pronouns. Once again I have to make clear that that last sentence is not something from a satirical publication like the Babylon Bee or the Onion. No, as far as I’ve been able to determine, this is for real. The U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center has apparently prepared a video about the importance of pronouns for members of the military. In style and vocabulary the film is something you’d think was geared for children in elementary school. You can watch the four-minute video, which talks about creating a safe space rather than defeating an enemy. This is madness.

I have to think the leaders in China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other countries can’t believe their great good fortune that the American military is busy weakening itself so they don’t have to worry about it as much anymore.

 UPDATE: An article in The Federalist goes into detail about how ill-equipped the U.S. Navy is becoming even as it’s wasting time and money on “wokeism.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Pink and blue and a change of pace

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On June 3rd, after touring the exhibits inside Corpus Christi’s Art Museum of South Texas, I focused my attention—which is to say my camera—on the museum’s exterior. If you call these views colorfully and geometrically minimalist you’ll get no argument from me. And speaking of pink and blue, I guess this is a good time for my periodic reminder that before the middle of the 20th century blue was considered the color for baby girls and pink the color for baby boys.

 

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Here’s a passage from Luke Rosiak’s new book Race to the Bottom: Uncovering the Secret Forces Destroying American Public Education.

Beginning in 1985, a federal judge named Russell Clark tried to find out what would happen if money was no obstacle. He ordered a massive spending program that infused billions of extra dollars over twelve years into the decaying city schools of Kansas City, Missouri. This made Kansas City the highest-spending large school district in the country, adjusted for cost of living. It outspent similar districts around the country by two or three times. Clark said that he “allowed the district planners to dream.”

The district constructed laboratories, a planetarium, and an Olympic swimming pool, and it provided kids with computers, foreign language programs, and field trips to Senegal and Mexico. It added all-day kindergarten and aftercare, and every elementary school classroom had $25,000 of toys in it. It had a teacher-student ratio of one to twelve or thirteen and gave teachers 40 percent raises. Clark anticipated that Kansas City students’ achievement would match the national average within five years.

By 1995, the dropout rate had not decreased and test performance showed “no measurable improvement.” Over four years of high school, the average black student’s reading skills increased by only 1.1 grade equivalents. As Gary Orfield, head of the Harvard Project on School Desegregation, whose testimony helped spur the bonanza, later admitted, “They had as much money as any school district will ever get. It didn’t do very much.”

Most people would interpret the statements of politicians to mean that low-income students have less money spent on their education than their middle-class colleagues. This is because they do not understand the power of the word equity to distort reality. Only through such a word can people say that getting the most money for the worst results proves that they are oppressed…. But in reality, equity means writing bigger and bigger checks to the bureaucrats who run inner-city schools, until equal outcomes by students are achieved—even though there is little evidence that money will ever cause that to happen.

That’s because education is primarily about minds, not materials. As a Peace Corps volunteer in 1968 and 1969 I taught math for a year and a half at a school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where high school graduates pursued a three-year course to get certified as teachers. I was a brand-new teacher myself, only a few years older than my students, far from knowing as much and being as effective as I later became after years of studying and practice. My Spanish was adequate but not perfect. During my first half-year we didn’t even have a textbook. I made things up out of my head and used the school’s hand-cranked ditto machine to run off worksheets. The point is that even with those limited resources the students learned. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It does take a culture of knowledge, something American schools have been increasingly downplaying in favor of sociopolitical indoctrination and the excuse of eternal victimhood.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 17, 2022 at 4:24 AM

Mostly about color

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Driving along Balcones Woods Dr. on May 30th I pulled over, as I’d done several times in recent years, by a house with wildflowers growing along the street and in the front yard. What particularly drew my attention was several flowering Ipomopsis rubra plants, known as standing cypress or Texas plume. Along with photographs taken at small apertures to keep as many things sharp as possible, I experimented with broad apertures for shallow depth of field. In this view I aimed down and managed to line up a standing cypress flower with a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) on the ground below it. I ended up with a portrait as saturated in color as it was soft in details, with just a few key details in focus.

 

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“California Court Rules That Bees Are Fish”

You’ll be forgiven for assuming that headline comes from a satirical publication like The Babylon Bee or The Onion. It doesn’t. It’s a headline from Reason, where you can read the full story. Heck, in a semantic world where people with male genitalia command us to unqualifiedly consider them women and where equity means the unequal treatment of people, then of course bees are fish. Just like I’m an airplane.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Small waterfall abstraction

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On May 25th I stood over a small waterfall in a tributary to Bull Creek, aimed straight down, and did abstract takes at slow shutter speeds like the one-quarter of a second that produced today’s portrait. Some people see flows of white hair. I see flows of the imagination.

 

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But supposing that the world has become “filled up,” so to speak, with liberal democracies, such that there exist no tyranny and oppression worthy of the name against which to struggle? Experience suggests that if men cannot struggle on behalf of a just cause because that just cause was victorious in an earlier generation, then they will struggle against the just cause. They will struggle for the sake of struggle. They will struggle, in other words, out of a certain boredom: for they cannot imagine living in a world without struggle. And if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterized by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy.

That passage from Francis Fukuyama’s 2006 book The End of History and the Last Man was prescient, given the social upheaval we’ve seen in the past few years and especially since the moral panic of 2020. You may be interested in listening to a one-hour conversation between Francis Fukuyama and Andrew Sullivan from May 27th. Among other things, Fukuyama speaks about what he considers deformations of liberalism on both the political left and right.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 5, 2022 at 4:31 AM

A nod to abstraction

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The buds of one of Austin’s most common wildflowers, greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), tend to nod, just as many of my portraits give a nod—or more than that—to abstraction. Each nutant greenthread bud stalk eventually straightens up as it opens into a flower head. The purple in the top photograph’s background came from prairie verbena flowers (Glandularia bipinnatifida). The second picture shows a mostly upright bud opening at a time when the flower head it had bumped up against was already fading. Both portraits are from Great Hills Park on May 15th.

 

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Here’s another cautionary tale from the moral panic of 2020, when facts and statistics not only didn’t matter but wouldn’t be tolerated in the hysterical throes of race-essentialist religion.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Unaccustomed clouds

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While driving back on May 14th from a visit to friends in the foreign country that south Austin sometimes seems to those of us from north Austin, we noticed these unaccustomedly dramatic clouds that I believe meteorologists classify as mammatus. Credit the picture to my iPhone, the only camera I had with me.

 

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And speaking of the atmosphere, here are four stories about the environment that the Good News Network recently featured:

World’s First Ocean-Assisted Carbon Removal Plant Launched in Hawaii

Scientists Power a Computer Using Only Algae and Daylight to Make the Electricity

Bronx Housing Complex Comes With Giant Machine Stomach to Turn All Food Waste Into Fertilizer

New Google Headquarters Uses ‘Dragonscale’ Solar Panels to Capture Sunlight From All Angles

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Grabbing grape

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The most common native grapevine in Austin is the mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis. Last year I showed how a prolific one on the side of FM (Farm-to-Market) 2222 just west of the Capital of Texas Highway covered a tree. On May 10th of this year I went back to the same highwayside and focused on young mustang grape tendrils. In the top picture you see how some had latched on to a couple of Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera. Even when nothing external is available, mustang grape tendrils can live out their innate impulse by curling around themselves, as seen below.

 

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The fight against mis- and dis-information—a worthy goal—is often based on two flawed assumptions. The first is that definitive answers are known to the disputed points. The second, related to the first, is that the right people to provide those answers can be identified and agreed upon. Both assumptions are themselves often steeped in the Certainty Trap—a resolute unwillingness to recognize the possibility that we might not be right in our beliefs and claims.

To understand the implications of the mis- and dis-information labeling, we need only consider instances like the initial response to claims around Hunter Biden’s laptop or the source of COVID-19. In 2020, several major media outlets dismissed as mis- or dis-information (see here and here for examples) the possibility that a laptop of incriminating emails belonged to Hunter Biden. The certainty with which this position was held led to the silencing of anyone who publicly questioned it—so much so that it has been called “the most severe case of pre-election censorship in modern American political history.” Recent evidence, however, has forced the same outlets who invoked those labels to acknowledge the laptop’s authenticity. Similarly, in early 2020, the suggestion that COVID-19 might have originated in a lab in China was dismissed as groundless fodder for racism and xenophobia. The certainty that led to this reflexive dismissal was walked back just over a year later, but the judgment of the once dissenting voices shouldn’t be forgotten.

 

That’s a passage from a May 9th article in Tablet titled “The Certainty Trap,” by Ilana Redstone, which you’re welcome to read. On March 21st Tablet had run the related article “Invasion of the Fact-Checkers,” by Jacob Siegel, which I also invite you to read. Its title reminds me of a line from the Latin poet Juvenal’s Satires: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” “Who will watch those watchers?” Now we’re forced to ask who’s going to fact-check the fact-checkers.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Leaf and tendril

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The prostrate vine that botanists call Cucurbita foetidissima has as probably its two most common common names buffalo gourd and stinking gourd, with the latter referring to the plant’s unpleasant (to people) smell. Odor aside, the fuzzy young leaves and tendrils offer themselves up for photographic abstractions like this one from April 16th along the northernmost stretch of Spicewood Springs Rd. across from the library.

 

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“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

That sentence appears online in various places as a quotation from George Washington. The sentiment is indeed his, but the wording isn’t exact. I found out that Washington addressed the Continental Congress on March 11, 1783, at which time he referred to a certain anonymous document and criticized it:

With respect to the advice given by the author, to suspect the man who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as every man who regards that liberty and reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must; for, if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us. The freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Following up on rain lilies

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For the three days from April 28th through April 30th I photographed first buds and then flowers of the abundant rain lilies (Zephyranthum drummondii) I found in Dominion at Great Hills Park on the far side of my neighborhood. I intended to continue my documentation for a fourth straight day on May 1st, when the flowers would begin to shrivel and turn colors as they approached the end of their short lives. And so I did, but in a different place; the location wouldn’t matter because all the rain lilies in Austin were of the same brood and on average would be in the same stage of development. I went to Schroeter Neighborhood Park, which though a mere two miles from home I’d never heard of till a day earlier, when someone posted pictures showing lots of rain lilies there.

With a different place, a different approach, as today’s two pictures show. In each one I got close enough to a rain lily that everything in the photograph except a portion of the nearest flower would be out of focus, and mostly way out of focus. (I think the yellow-orange flower heads were greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium.)

 

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“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
— George Orwell.

That line was in the preface that Orwell wrote for Animal Farm, but when he finally found a willing publisher for his allegory and it appeared in 1945, the preface wasn’t included. An article in The Quote Investigator tells how the preface then got lost and wasn’t rediscovered until 1971. You can read the preface if you’d like to.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 4, 2022 at 3:20 AM

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