Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animal

Striped hairy belly bee

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I’m thinking the insect I found on a Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) on June 12th is a striped hairy belly bee, which I’d never heard of till I looked at a little guide called Bees of Central Texas. Insects of this sort are in the family Megachilidae, which, despite representation in Texas, doesn’t have anything to do with mega chili. The guide notes that striped hairy belly bees “may raise abdomen while visiting flowers.” Another website says that members of this family are “large, hairy bees with black and white stripes on the abdomen. The belly often appears yellow from the pollen these species carry.” Today’s two pictures fit those descriptions.

  

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In 1964, the Congress of the United States passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King Jr. considered it a second Emancipation Proclamation, after the first one that President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War a century earlier. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Most Americans believe in the principle that the government should treat people equally, without regard to an irrelevant characteristic like skin color—most, but not all, and certainly not those currently in charge of our government. Last year I reported on a program in which the current administration granted loan forgiveness to farmers affected by Covid-19; the problem was that white farmers were prohibited from applying for relief under that program. That was clearly a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a court soon struck down the barring of white farmers from the program as illegal.

Last year I also reported on a similar federal program to help restaurant owners whose businesses Covid-19 had seriously affected. The program forced white male restaurant owners to the back of the bus, so to speak, behind people of any other race and sex. Money allocated for the program would have run out before a single white male applicant could have gotten any. A court soon ruled that unequal treatment illegal, too.

What’s worse, even after those two legal defeats the current administration still keeps trying to flout the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest attempt I’m aware of involves proposed government assistance to would-be home purchasers. The problem is that to qualify for that aid a person has to be black.

You can learn the particulars in a Wall Street Journal editorial. If the government ever implements that race-based mortgage assistance program, of course a white person who’s excluded will sue and will once again prevail in court. How the people in our government believe they can keep trying to get away with such blatantly illegal discrimination is beyond me, but that’s clearly and shamefully what they believe.

Along similar lines, a few days later I learned of a judicial victory that took place in California at the beginning of April. California had passed a law requiring “that boards of directors of California-based, publicly held domestic or foreign corporations satisfy a racial, ethnic, and LGBT quota by the end of the 2021 calendar year.” Judge Terry A. Green found that the law “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution on its face.” In his decision, Judge Green wrote:

The difficulty is that the Legislature is thinking in group terms. But the California Constitution protects the right of individuals to equal treatment. Before the Legislature may require that members of one group be given certain board seats, it must first try to create neutral conditions under which qualified individuals from any group may succeed. That attempt was not made in this case….

The statute treats similarly situated individuals — qualified potential corporate board members — differently based on their membership (or lack thereof) in certain listed racial, sexual orientation, and gender identity groups. It requires that a certain specific number of board seats be reserved for members of the groups on the list — and necessarily excludes members of other groups from those seats.

You can read more in a Judicial Watch article and another Judicial Watch article.

I also recently came across yet another example of illegal racial discrimination, this time perpetrated by Brown University, which is is engaging in segregated teacher training.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect that the people running our institutions will treat everyone alike. Unfortunately many of those people favor unequal treatment based on as irrelevant a criterion as the color of a person’s skin. There are many words for that: barbaric, unenlightened, shameful, benighted, unlawful, immoral, unfair, discriminatory, ignorant, unjust, biased, iniquitous, dishonorable, vile, unprincipled, wrong, intolerant, prejudiced, illiberal, racist. Take your pick.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2022 at 5:08 AM

Redwing blackbird

with 21 comments

 

On the dozenth day of this month I spent time at Cypress Creek Park along Lake Travis. At one point I noticed a redwing blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, had settled near me atop the remains of a dead tree. I went to my camera bag, took off my macro lens and attached my telephoto lens, turned around, and found the bird had flown away. Off with the telephoto lens, back on with the macro. Except a moment later the blackbird came back. Another round of lens changing, and this time I managed to get three avian pictures. Even without the blackbird the spiderwebbed dead whitened tree called for a portrait.

 

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Disingenuous

 

For decades I watched the television program CBS Sunday Morning, first with its original host, Charles Kuralt, and later with its second host, Charles Osgood. What I and presumably everyone else in the program’s audience enjoyed about it was that its stories were what you would call “human interest,” not dealing with politics or current world events. Beginning in 2018, however, after the third host took over, politicized and ideological segments began appearing. Needless to say—it’s CBS after all—those segments leaned in one and only one ideological direction. Things got to the point where I gave up watching the show I’d looked forward to for decades.

This past Sunday, I’m not sure why, I turned on the show for the first time in several years and caught a few of its stories. One, about the son of singer/songwriter Jim Croce, was fine, just like in the old days. Another feature was not. It was a narrated animation about how “ravenous for ancient sunshine” we are today. The narrator talked about Kentucky, a state that mines plenty of coal, which is a major fuel in the generation of electricity. Coal, the narrator explained, was formed aeons ago from trees. He stated the average amount of electricity a Kentucky home uses, then worked backwards to determine how much coal and therefore how many ancient trees a Kentucky home consumes each year. The program made it seem as if the burning of coal formed from trees millions of years ago is just like cutting down vast forests of trees today. That’s disingenuous. The trees that turned into coal died millions of years ago. Refraining from burning coal today isn’t magically going to bring those trees back to life.

Then the narrator launched into a similarly disingenuous shtik about oil, which he told us formed from microscopic organisms millions of years ago. It turns out we now use up the equivalent of trillions upon trillions of those ancient organisms when we burn petroleum to get energy. Once again the program seemed to suggest that burning oil that formed millions of years ago somehow amounts to destroying trillions of organisms that are currently alive.

Hey, I can play that game too. Let me talk about how many zillion photons of light a solar panel steals from the sun every day. What’s more, those photons were generated just eight minutes earlier—the time it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth—not millions of years ago like the trees and microscopic organisms that went into the making of coal and oil. If consuming the byproducts of entities that died millions of years in the past is bad, then for solar panels to consume photons born of the sun’s fiery womb just eight minutes earlier is downright solar infanticide.

I told you I could be just as disingenuous as the people on CBS Sunday Morning.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Yet another change of pace

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Outside Corpus Christi’s Art Museum of South Texas on June 3rd as we were walking back to our car I noticed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing on a piling in the bay right at the edge of the parking lot. Hurriedly going to my camera bag and putting on my telephoto lens, I made a bunch of portraits. A man fishing near by noticed what I was doing and volunteered to throw a fish onto the ground near where the heron was. I said sure: he threw his fish, the heron fluttered onto the ground and snatched it up, and I kept taking pictures till the fish disappeared down the bird’s long throat.

  

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Here’s some good news. In Chicago on June 6th, 20-year-old Anthony Perry had just arrived at his train station when he noticed a nearly unconscious man on the electrified third rail. Anthony jumped down on the track bed, nimbly worked his way into a good position, and pulled the injured man away.

“‘I was hoping I could just grab him and not feel nothing, but I felt a little shock,’ Perry said. ‘I felt it all through my body actually. I didn’t let that stop me.’ With the help of another commuter, Perry administered CPR, saving the man’s life.”

You’re welcome to read more about this heroic act and watch a 7-minute video about it.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Bug and beetle on Mexican hat

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As I was leaving the grounds of the Hyde Park Baptist High School on May 30th I caught sight of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) that didn’t look quite normal. When I got close to check it out I discovered a blister beetle on it, and then I noticed a bug lower down as well. After the bug (likely Calocoris barberi) moved up onto the column, I made this portrait.

 

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Last week I went to log in to my savings account at a bank. A message came up saying that the bank was reorganizing its online system and I’d need to create a new password. Okay, that happens. I began the process, as part of which I received an email with a temporary password I’d have to use. Here’s the relevant portion of that e-mail:

Your new temporary password is d5KzZYu-

Please sign in with the password exactly as shown including upper and lower case. Ensure that there is no punctuation, characters or spaces before or after the password.

Do you see my dilemma? I was told to use the password exactly as shown, and yet I was supposed to ensure that no punctuation appears after the password. Was the hyphen at the end of the first line the final character of the temporary password, or was it a punctuation mark I needed to avoid? Why would the people managing the bank allow such an ambiguity to occur? It’s easy for a programmer to exclude a hyphen and all other punctuation marks from the character set from which temporary passwords are generated. And yet that didn’t happen.

Another point of confusion during the process was a reference to an OTP device. Do you know what an OTP device is? I didn’t. It turns out that the bank intends OTP as an initialism for “one-time passcode.” So why doesn’t the bank just use the full phrase and avoid any doubt? I queried the internet just now to see if I could find out what OTP stands for. Some sites did say “one-time password” or “one-time passcode.” Other sites said that OTP means “on the phone,” “one true pairing,” or something less savory.

As you’ve heard me say more than once: everything online and in manuals needs to appear in a way that’s clear to a novice user. The fact that the company’s staff knows how to interpret things is irrelevant.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Revenge on poison ivy

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It’s all too common for poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) to cause itchy red splotches on people’s skin. It’s also not uncommon, at least in Austin, to see reddish splotches on poison ivy. As fitting as that “revenge” may seem, it doesn’t come from people but from Aculops rhois, a tiny mite that creates these little pouches in poison ivy leaflets. Today’s picture is from May 30 on the grounds of Hyde Park Baptist High School, which is home to some lush stands of poison ivy. No doubt the people who run the school wish that weren’t so.

I believe the leaflet gets its characteristic sheen from urushiol, the chemical that irritates human skin.
By the way, did you notice the ant on the margin of the leaflet?

    

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As both an American citizen and a longtime teacher I’m appalled at how my country’s schools have devolved and keep devolving. I recently came across a roughly 30-page document entitled “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.

Here’s the gist of it:

Public education is central to American democracy. Ideally, children from every area of our country can graduate from effective and well-resourced schools that prepare them equally for active citizenship and meaningful lives. Yet, the conditions in our schools are not ideal. Schools across the U.S. tend to struggle with educating black and Latino students when compared to their white peers. This is the case even in cities where there is notable progress on other important issues like immigration, health care and neighborhood revitalization. In fact, as we show in this report, highly prosperous cities with progressive residents have particularly poor outcomes for children living at the margins. It is ironic that this is happening for children living in cities that are best positioned to reverse the nation’s shameful education “achievement gap.”

Leaders of progressive cities often frame their policy proposals in terms of what’s best for those with the least opportunity and the greatest obstacles — those who have been “left out and left behind” …. But, in education, we found the opposite: Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.

“The Secret Shame” is easy to read, maintains a calm tone, is typographically well laid out and nicely illustrated with charts and graphs presenting the data that supports the document’s claims. You’re welcome to check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2022 at 4:25 AM

A terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc

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Allow me to translate this post’s title into normal English: a snail. Here are views showing opposite sides of one that had climbed a dry grass stalk on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 25th.

  

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Americans used to frown on human sacrifice and cannibalism. How parochially “Western” that attitude was. What “white fragility” it showed. Today’s educationists know better. In 2021 the California Board of Education unanimously approved an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that included—there’s the sacred value of inclusion—a section on “Affirmation, Chants, and Energizers.” In an article entitled “Parents sue California over public school curriculum that includes chants to Aztec gods,” Bethany Blankley wrote in September 2021 that the section “includes teaching students to repeat the ‘In Lak Ech Affirmation,’ which invokes Aztec deities by name, along with their titles and attributes.” The article continues:

Cortés and other conquistadors described witnessing ceremonies performed by Aztec priests involving the chants in question and human sacrifice, reports that were later confirmed by archeological findings of thousands of human skulls, History.com reports.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paula Jonna notes, “The human sacrifice, cutting out of human hearts, flaying of victims and wearing their skin, are a matter of historical record, along with sacrifices of war prisoners, and other repulsive acts and ceremonies the Aztecs conducted to honor their deities.”

CERF [Californians for Equal Rights Foundation] argues that “California teaches systemic racism.” Its president, Frank Xu, says the curriculum’s promotion of Aztec deities “through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice.

“This public endorsement of the Aztec religion fundamentally erodes equal education rights and irresponsibly glorifies anthropomorphic, male deities whose religious rituals involved gruesome human sacrifice and human dismemberment.”

Maybe it won’t be long before we hear activists shouting “Reimagine human sacrifice!” and “Reimagine dismemberment!” At least Aztec scholars were good at mathematics and astronomy, so the California curriculum could be a backdoor for getting teachers to teach arithmetic and science again, which they’ve long since sacrificed to more pressing matters like “dismantling racist structures” and “abolishing whiteness.” Of course California students would be required to study arithmetic and science in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, but that would kill two sacrificial birds with one stone: it would promote both multilingualism and multiculturalism. Kids might even kill a third bird: they could get away with saying things to each other in Nahuatl that they don’t want their parents to understand.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 8, 2022 at 4:33 AM

A crab spider and more

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On May 23rd I found a crab spider ensconced in a basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus) on the Blackland Prairie along the southern fringe of Pflugerville. Whether the smaller arachnid jumble was the shriveled cast-off exoskeleton of the same spider, or the remains of a different one, I don’t know.

 

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When I was in my 20s I bought a cheap used French car, a Simca. It ended up causing me a bunch of problems. Eventually a warning light on the car’s dashboard began coming on. I took the car to a repair shop and, sure enough, after I got it back the dashboard warning light no longer came on. Problem solved? Not quite: I soon discovered that the “mechanic” had put an opaque covering in front of the warning light so I couldn’t see it was still coming on and the car still had a problem. That bit of “lived experience” came to mind recently when I read this passage in Luke Rosiak’s 2022 book Race to the Bottom:

Educrats wanted to eliminate anything that could function as an objective assessment of the scholastic competence of American children—and, therefore, their own job performance. Fringe racial activist consultants offered them a convenient political tool. Superintendents began paying big bucks to racial equity “consultants” to make the argument that basic performance standards and units of measurement were inherently racist. What these entrepreneurial consultants talked about was not diversity, nor how to help minority students excel. It was nihilism: that nothing was real and nothing mattered.

Under the standard preached by these consultants, any “system” that highlights racially unequal results is inherently “systemically racist.” This included grades, rules, test scores, and any other way of objectively assessing accomplishment. Therefore, every indicator of the massive failures of America’s public schools was illegitimate. This was like a doctor claiming he cured your fever by breaking the thermometer.

New York City paid race consultant Glenn Singleton nearly $900,000 and instructed teachers in 2019 that “perfectionism,” “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” were aspects of “white supremacy culture.” The idea that reading was white supremacist, and therefore undesirable, undercut one of the most basic missions of teachers. But for educrats, it was convenient, since in some minority-heavy schools in the city, only 5 percent of kids were proficient in reading during certain school years.

It’s unconscionable that the bureaucrats in charge of education enforce measures which ensure that the people who most need an education and who can most profit from it will be denied that education.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Full house

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From May 13th at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, look at all the Euphoria kernii beetles that had crammed themselves into the base of a prickly pear cactus flower, Opuntia engelmannii. The beetles did seem to be in a state of euphoria.

 

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 Here’s more about consciousness from philosopher Julian Baggini’s The Ego Trick:

So we have these three facts: thoughts and feelings are real, they are not describable in purely physical terms, but the universe has within it only the physical things described by the equations of physicists. It seems the only way to make sense of this is that mental events emerge from physical ones, without being strictly identical with them. As the neurologist Todd E. Feinberg puts it, “your life is not a pack of cells; your life is what your particular pack of cells collectively do, though I cannot observe such a thing as your life, touch it, put it under a microscope, or keep it on a bottle on a shelf.” Thought and feeling are what matter does, when it is arranged in the remarkably complex ways that brains are. Matter is all that is needed for them to exist, but they are not themselves lumps of matter. In this sense, “I” is a verb dressed as a noun.

The idea that the mental emerges from the physical is a tricky one. It looks to me like a partial description masquerading as an explanation. What I mean is, to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness at all. To do that you’d have to explain how it emerges, and although some claim to have done that, most remain unconvinced. But what does seem to be true is that consciousness does indeed emerge from complex physical events in the brain, even if we don’t know how it does so. Whatever the mechanism, we have thoughts and feelings because we have physical brains that work, not because there’s something else in our heads doing the mental work instead. The evidence for this is simple but overwhelming: damage the brain, and you impair consciousness. Change the chemicals in the brain, and you change consciousness. Stimulate certain parts of the brain, and you get a certain kind of experience. To accept this (as surely we must) but insist that brains aren’t the engines of thought is not impossible, but it is perverse.

(Another passage appeared in a post two weeks ago.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2022 at 4:26 AM

One on another (on another)

with 14 comments

While photographing Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) in Great Hills Park on May 5th I noticed that several Texas bindweed plants (Convolvulus equitans) had climbed on and twined around them. One of the bindweed flowers, above, got a taste of its own from an ant scurrying over it. In the second picture, note the bindweed bud about to open. In both photographs notice the eccentric and varied shapes of bindweed leaves.

  

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Independent self-reliant people would be a counterproductive anachronism in the collective society of the future where people will be defined by their associations.

The children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society that is coming, where everyone would be interdependent.

 

Those lamentable statements are alleged in several books and on various websites to be by John Dewey, the first from 1896 and the second from 1899. While I haven’t been able to verify the authorship, I can say, alas, that increasingly many people who control education are acting as if they believe those things.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 17, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Red and green at Inks Lake State Park

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One reason I headed out to Inks Lake State Park on May 6th was that some of the prickly pear cactus flowers there in other springtimes have displayed more red than I see in their Austin counterparts. The top picture shows that was true this year, too. In contrast to that red, look at all the placid green around one inlet.

  

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Did you hear about how the imaging technique of photogrammetry has revealed details of cave art in Alabama from about 2000 years ago? “The motifs, which depict human forms and animals, are some of the largest known cave images found in North America and may represent spirits of the underworld.” Check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 15, 2022 at 4:27 AM

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