Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘abstract

How gneiss

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As you’ve seen, Inks Lake State Park was spectacularly flowerful on March 26th. One of the park’s attractions is all-seasonal: the gneiss bedrock, which has broken the surface in various places and also given rise to boulders. The wildflowers above are Coreopsis basalis, known as golden-wave, goldenmane tickseed, and just plain coreopsis.



Lichens have made many rock surfaces their homes, as you see in these three views.




© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 1, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Two raindrops on an appropriate leaf

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On April 8th in my part of Austin I made this abstract view of a large raindrop and a small raindrop on an appropriately named leaf, that of a rain lily (Zephyranthes drummondii).



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Here’s another passage from Helen Joyce‘s 2021 book Trans, whose subtitle is When Ideology Meets Reality.


What same-sex marriage, women’s franchise and the end of segregation all have in common is that they extend the rights of a privileged group to everyone. And when people hear the phrase ‘trans rights’, they assume something similar is being demanded — that trans people be enabled to live without discrimination, harassment and violence, and to express themselves as they wish. Such goals are worthy ones, but they are not what mainstream transactivism is about. What campaigners mean by ‘trans rights’ is gender self-identification: that trans people be treated in every circumstance as members of the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are.

This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities. And in its requirement that everyone else accept trans people’s subjective beliefs as objective reality, it is akin to a new state religion, complete with blasphemy laws. All this explains the speed. When you want new laws, you can focus on lobbying, rather than the painstaking business of building broad-based coalitions. And when those laws will take away other people’s rights, it is not only unnecessary to build public awareness — it is imperative to keep the public in the dark.

This stealthy approach has been central to transactivism for quite some time. In a speech in 2013, Masen Davis, then the executive director of the American Transgender Law Center, told supporters that ‘we have largely achieved our successes by flying under the radar . . . We do a lot really quietly. We have made some of our biggest gains that nobody has noticed. We are very quiet and thoughtful about what we do, because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity’.

The result is predictable. Even as one country after another introduces gender self-ID, very few voters know this is happening, let alone support it.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Two dark backgrounds

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In yesterday’s post you saw a Mexican hat flower head (Ratibida columnifera) in Great Hills Park on April 22nd. Near by I noticed the slender minimalist remains of a Mexican hat seed head, presumably left over from last year’s crop because none of this year’s had even finished its flowering stage yet, much less advanced to a seed head. Don’t you think the remains might pass for some sort of lance from hundreds of years ago?

While in that area I also experimented with pictures of a greenthread bud (Thelesperma filifolium) lined up against the back of a fully open flower head beyond it. In both photographs flash led to dark backgrounds.




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A group of scholars recently wrote an article titled “In Defense of Merit in Science.” As Bari Weiss explained in the Free Press on April 28th:

This paper’s authors—hardly a group of unknowns—say they first tried to publish the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). But the journal’s editors reportedly advised them to remove the word “merit” from the title of the paper, which is simply titled: In Defense of Merit in Science. According to the journal’s editorial board, “This concept of merit… has been widely and legitimately attacked as hollow.”

The authors ended up turning to the Journal of Controversial Ideas to get their article published. It’s a sorry commentary on the degree to which identitarian ideology has now permeated even science that anyone would find the notion of merit controversial.

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Merit is a central pillar of liberal epistemology, humanism, and democracy. The scientific enterprise, built on merit, has proven effective in generating scientific and technological advances, reducing suffering, narrowing social gaps, and improving the quality of life globally. This perspective documents the ongoing attempts to undermine the core principles of liberal epistemology and to replace merit with non-scientific, politically motivated criteria. We explain the philosophical origins of this conflict, document the intrusion of ideology into our scientific institutions, discuss the perils of abandoning merit, and offer an alternative, human-centered approach to address existing social inequalities.

You’re welcome to read the full article.




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 1, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Slogging up a creek to a picturesque limestone overhang

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The weight of the ice from this February’s storm brought down many tree limbs and even whole trees. The debris in some spots has made it hard to get to places I enjoy seeing. On April 24th I spent time pushing through branches and over and under fallen trunks as I worked my way up a creek in a seldom-visited southern part of Great Hills Park to reach a picturesque limestone overhang for the first time this year.

Given the difficulties of reaching this place, I left my regular camera gear at home and carried only my iPhone 14. Its 1x camera, capable of 48-megapixel raw images, worked pretty well in the dimness beneath the overhang. Hungry for light, the camera took the picture above at its widest aperture of f/1.8 for 1/40 of a second. In fact the picture renders the place brighter that I actually saw it with my eyes.

The horizontal line most of the way up the overhang’s wall testifies to a time when the creek was much deeper than it is now. Just past the boulder in the distance I took a picture of a tiny waterfall made possible by the creek’s current low level. With all the gnarly rocks around it, you can consider this a study in textures.




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One thing that statistics teaches us is that deeply seated characteristics in a population don’t readily change. For example, the ratio of boys to girls that get born keeps on averaging about 105:100. Many people are surprised to learn that the actual ratio isn’t the 1:1 they might expect from “neutral” genetics: conception results in an embryo that’s either XX or XY, with the second letter as likely to be an X as a Y. One reason for the existing discrepancy from 1:1 is that in many cultures around the world parents prefer sons to daughters and take steps to have sons, like aborting female fetuses. Even so, in no country is the boy-to-girl ratio going to depart from 1:1 to something as hugely skewed as 200:100. The most extreme ratio that’s actually found in any country is about 107:100.

Now take the attribute of sexual orientation. According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as LGB, meaning lesbian [female homosexual], gay [male homosexual], or bisexual. About half of the people in the LGB group are in the bisexual component. In addition, 0.3% of Americans identify as T, or transgender (formerly called transsexual).

Those are the statistics, and I’ll bet many of you have been led to believe, or would have guessed, that the percents are much higher. They’re not. People in those groups have always made up only a small portion of the population, and deeply seated characteristics in a population don’t readily change.

So what are we to make of the following, as reported in February 2023 by Austin’s television station KXAN?

Gallup surveyed more than 10,000 people by phone last year, and pollsters said the group most likely to say they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or something other than heterosexual is the adult members of Generation Z. The findings showed that 19.7% of those born between 1997 and 2004 self-identified as LGBTQ. These people would have been 18 to 25 years old last year.

Deeply seated characteristics in a population don’t readily change, so it’s virtually impossible for a group that has traditionally made up about 4% of a population to suddenly make up almost 20% of the population. It would be as if hospitals began reporting that five boys are now getting born for every one girl.

So how do we account for the discrepancy between the long-term statistics and what Gallup found last year in adult members of Generation Z? Unlike biological sex, which is an observable physical characteristic, sexual orientation can’t be determined just by looking at a person. The Gallup organization had to rely on the people it surveyed to say what their sexual orientation is. Many people—especially many young people like those in Generation Z—are influenced by whatever is trendy, and surely the LGBTQIA+ lobby has been working very hard for decades to promote those orientations. In many four-year colleges in America, entering students are forced to attend orientation sessions that promote those orientations. Many teachers and administrators promote them. The media promote them. Sports organizations promote them. The entertainment industry promotes them. Many large corporations promote them. Many of the country’s politicians promote them. Flags, parades, and even an entire month celebrate them. Those orientations are “hot,” and social contagion leads plenty of young people to believe they’re something that they’re not. There are also bound to be people who claim they’re something they’re not for the prestige it brings them—and in case you haven’t noticed, people don’t always tell the truth, especially about touchy subjects.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2023 at 4:22 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Cloud like a ring

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Back on March 12th I was driving north along Mopac when I noticed a cloud in the shape of a mostly closed ring. Exiting the expressway, I hurriedly hunted for and after several minutes found a place where I could park and get a shot of the cloud free from poles, wires, buildings, etc. I took a bunch of pictures showing the ring-shaped cloud by itself but I’ve chosen to show a more-expansive view that includes other clouds as well.



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What can you say about an agriculturalist and a structure for climbing?

To see the answer, follow the arrows.



 What can you say about an agriculturalist and a structure for climbing? 

The former is a farmer and the latter is a ladder.


If you’re curious about what inspired this riddle, it was a sentence I read a couple of hours ago in Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley’s book Superabundance: “And so, over the millennia, farming gradually displaced hunting and gathering, leaving the former as the dominant human lifestyle in many parts of the world.”

To my taste, writers should avoid “the former, the latter” because readers have to scamper back in the text to figure out what each thing is. It’s better to say straight-out what you mean, even if you have to repeat recently used words.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2023 at 4:19 PM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Indian paintbrush seen from above

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Castilleja indivisa; March 5th south of Smithville.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 16, 2023 at 4:25 AM

What wondrous Wednesday welkin* will we welcome?

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From last Wednesday above my northwest Austin neighborhood.



* Here’s the skinny on welkin. German readers will recognize the resemblance to Wolke.




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Two more cases of blatant governmental racial discrimination


The Providence, Rhode Island, Public School District has a loan forgiveness program for new and recently hired teachers, funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, the largest charity in the state. There’s a catch, however. Whites need not apply, it’s only open to non-whites.

So begins a February 9th Legal Insurrection article by William A. Jacobson that goes on to show a Providence Public School District teacher recruitment announcement with this line in it: “Selected candidates will be eligible for hiring incentives, including $25,000 in loan forgiveness for educators of color [emphasis mine]….”

At around the same time the Providence school district had separately advertised an “educators of color meetup” from which white teachers were barred.

It’s depressing to keep hearing about new government programs and activities that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and similar state laws that forbid racial discrimination, but that’s what “equity” ideologues keep doing.

You can follow the two links to learn more details about those incidents of illegal racial discrimination.

The way you get more non-white teachers is to educate non-white students in elementary and secondary school. Instead, for the past fifty years the American education establishment has kept lowering school standards and turning out masses of “graduates” who can’t read or write well and who know precious little about geography, history, science, mathematics, or anything else that’s important. It’s a disgrace.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 1, 2023 at 6:21 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Longhorn Cavern, part 4

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On January 26th we visited Longhorn Cavern State Park, which is about an hour’s drive west of home.
All the pictures here came from my iPhone 14 in raw mode at 48.8 megapixels per image.



Our tour guide surprised me by bringing up the word pareidolia and asking if any of us knew what it meant. It’s been a mainstay in my posts for several years, so naturally I piped up with a definition. The guide said I was only the third person he’d encountered in a tour group who knew it (and of course many of you would have known it, too). The reason he brought up pareidolia is that visitors tend to imagine they see something in several of the Longhorn Cavern formations.



The mass of rock above—found elsewhere in the cavern and moved to this pedestal—strikes many onlookers as a mammal of some sort. I leave the formation below to your imagination. Speak up if you’re so inclined.




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Here are still more quotations from Andrew Doyle‘s 2022 book The New Puritans.
(I’ve retained his British spelling and punctuation.)


This tendency to persist with false convictions even when evidence is produced to contradict them is known as ‘belief perseverance’, and is a recurring trait among ideologues. This applies as much to the student activist who has convinced himself that his university is a hothouse of white supremacy as it does to the soldier in the gulag committing acts of torture on those innocent prisoners who refused to recite the approved creed.

The greatest trick of authoritarians is to convince their subjects to rejoice in their own subjugation.

Claiming to be an ‘anti-fascist’ is rather like wearing a badge saying ‘I am not a paedophile’; it makes others wonder what you’re hiding.

Hysteria is no sound basis for political analysis….

When you ask someone to declare pronouns, you are doing one of two things. You are either saying that you are having trouble identifying this person’s sex, or you are saying that you believe in the notion of gender identity and expect others to do the same. As a species we are very well attuned to recognising the sex of other people, so, for the most part, to ask for pronouns is an expression of fealty to a fashionable ideology, and to set a test for others to do likewise. This is akin to a religious conviction, and we would be rightly appalled if employers were to demand that their staff proclaim their faith in Christ the Saviour or Baal the Canaanite god of fertility before each meeting.


UPDATE: You can read an article about belief perseverance.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Stripes and squiggles

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Here’s an abstraction of horizontal black and blue stripes with squiggly white penetrating them vertically.

If your
makes you
wonder what
was going
on here at
Inks Lake
State Park
on January
26th, click
the little
icon below.




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So you’re reading an article, and at one point the author refers to somebody as a troglodyte. Unfamiliar with the term, you turn to a nearby friend and ask what a troglodyte is. Your friend answers that a troglodyte is anyone who behaves like a troglodyte. Are you any better off with that answer? Of course not, because you still have no idea what a troglodyte is. Later you check an old-fashioned dictionary and find that a troglodyte was originally ‘a prehistoric person who lived in caves.’ By extension, a troglodyte is ‘a person who lives similarly to a cave dweller, as in seclusion or in a primitive or crude state; a hermit; a recluse.’ Now you understand the term.

A statement like “a troglodyte is anyone who behaves like a troglodyte” is what we call a circular definition. It isn’t a real definition because it “explains” a word by using the very same word we’re trying to learn the meaning of.

These days we needn’t resort to fancy vocabulary like troglodyte to baffle some people. Take the familiar word woman. Last year I reported on a March 23rd interchange as the United States Senate continued interviewing the latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown-Jackson. When it fell to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn to ask questions, this dialogue ensued:

Blackburn: Can you provide a definition for the word “woman”?
Brown-Jackson: Can I provide a definition?”
Blackburn: Yeah.
Brown-Jackson: No. I can’t.
Blackburn: You can’t?
Brown-Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

I can tell you from over seven decades of being alive and speaking English that not until recently would asking someone what a woman is have been a question so baffling that we have to turn to a biologist for an answer.

Probably more common among gender ideologues than a refusal to answer the question is answering it with a circular definition: “A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman.” If you follow that up with “Describe the characteristics of what the person is identifying as,” you’ll likely be met with a repetition of the circular statement that “A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman,” or with a refusal to say anything further.

That’s the sorry state of affairs some people have devolved to in this third decade of the 21st century. They not only delude themselves into believing that “A trans man is a man” and “A trans woman is a woman,” but also that “A circular definition is a definition.”


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2023 at 4:33 AM

Iced lichens

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During last week’s freeze, iced-over lichens attracted me.
I had access to these formerly high branches after the weight
of accumulated ice caused a mature tree to come crashing down.



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Article VI of the United States Constitution specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” I take it you agree that that prohibition of religious tests is a good thing.

Those who take the long view of history know that all good things eventually come to an end. Unfortunately, American institutions are increasingly imposing religious tests on applicants. Yes, you read that right. The only difference between 1787, when the Constitution was written, and 2023 is that today’s tests involve a secular rather than a theistic religion. The modern secular religion in question is DEI. That happens to be the Latin word for ‘gods,’ and it stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In the United States we have the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens access to many government records. The government does what it does on behalf of its citizens, so we the citizens have the right to know what the government is doing.

John D. Sailer, a fellow at the National Association of Scholars, used the Freedom of Information Act to get records from Texas Tech University, located in the north Texas city of Lubbock. In particular, Sailer acquired the evaluations of more than a dozen job candidates for a position in the department of biological sciences.

One Texas Tech search committee penalized a candidate for espousing race-neutrality in teaching. The candidate “mentioned that DEI is not an issue because he respects his students and treats them equally,” the evaluation notes. “This indicates a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.”

Another search committee flagged a candidate for failing to properly understand “the difference between equity and equality, even on re-direct,” noting that this suggests a “rather superficial understanding of DEI more generally.” This distinction arises frequently in DEI training, always as a markedly ideological talking point. According to the schema, equality means equal opportunity, but, to use the words of Vice President Kamala Harris, “Equitable treatment means we all end up in the same place.” Somehow, failing to explain that distinction reflects poorly on a biologist.

The biology department’s search committees also rewarded fluency in the language of identity politics. An immunology candidate was praised for awareness of the problems of “unconscious bias.” “Inclusivity in lab” was listed as a virology candidate’s strength: “her theme will be diversity, and she will actively work to creating the culture—e.g. enforce code of conduct, prevent microaggressions etc.” Another candidate’s strengths included “Land acknowledgement in talk.”

Many critics rightly point out that diversity statements invite viewpoint discrimination. DEI connotes a set of highly contestable social and political views. Requiring faculty to catalog their commitment to those views necessarily blackballs anybody who dissents from an orthodoxy that has nothing to do with scientific competence.

Amen to that. You’re welcome to read the full article, “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science,” from the February 6th Wall Street Journal. You can also read a related January 16th story by John D. Sailer in City Journal, “DEI in the Heart of Texas.”


UPDATE: I prepared the above commentary two days ago. Yesterday the National Association of Scholars sent out an announcement that begins this way:

New York, NY; February 8, 2023 – The National Association of Scholars (NAS) applauds the speed with which Texas Tech University jettisoned its requirement that candidates for faculty positions submit “diversity statements.” This decision came just hours after NAS senior fellow John Sailer published “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science” in the Wall Street Journal on February 7, in which he detailed how the Texas Tech Department of Biological Sciences used these statements. Texas Tech notes in its announcement that it has “immediately withdr[awn] this practice” and related “evaluation rubrics.” The university also declared that it would initiate “a review of hiring procedures across all colleges and departments.”

This is a breakthrough in the larger battle against higher education’s attempt to impose diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) standards on faculty hiring, along with every other aspect of college and university life. Sailer used a freedom of information request to obtain the public university search committee’s evaluations of candidates. This is the first time that the public has been able to see how DEI standards affect applicants.

You’re welcome to read the full announcement.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 9, 2023 at 4:27 AM

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