Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animal

Take home a stance

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I’ll grant you the title of this post may seem a bit strange. That’s because “Take home a stance” is an approximate way to pronounce the scientific name of today’s subject, Tecoma stans. One of the shrub’s common names causes no trouble: yellow bells. The other common name causes no trouble, either, if you know that esperanza is Spanish for hope, and what color is more hopeful than yellow?

This member of the legume family produces pods whose walls are on the thin side and decay rather easily. When I went to photograph one in that condition I noticed a tiny snail on it that I estimate was about a quarter of an inch across (6mm).

 

  

I took both pictures alongside our house on September 10th.

 

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I recently learned about the website called Freespoke. It’s a search engine that has the motto “See Clearly. Search Clearly.” If you go to Freespoke’s home page, beneath the search box you’ll also see links to three treatments of many recent news items: one from a centrist organization, one from a leftist organization, and one from a rightist organization. In addition, there are some links to stories that the mainstream media generally haven’t covered. For example, when I checked Freespoke yesterday I found a link to a story about 77 newspapers in one chain canceling the popular 33-year-old comic strip “Dilbert” because its writer, Scott Adams, has begun to satirize “woke” culture in offices.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Flower tower power versus mottled

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From the bed of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 12th come these contrasting views of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra. The looking-upward view popped the phrase “flower tower power” into my mind, while “mottled” seemed a good word to describe the looking-downward picture with its patches of light and shadow on the ground beneath the flowers.

 

 

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A main theme in my essays for the past year and a half has been that justice requires similar things to get treated in similar ways. If it’s known that person A and person B both committed a certain transgression but only person B gets called out or punished for it, that’s not justice; it’s a double standard. Thirteen months ago I wrote a detailed commentary along those lines regarding the extensive rioting that took place in the United States from mid-2020 through January 2021.

A much less consequential example came to light this week. Sunny Hostin, a co-host on the American television talk show “The View,” accused Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and former American ambassador to the United Nations, of playing down her ethnic Indian heritage by using the first name Nikki. Turns out, however, that Nikki was in fact one of the names on Nikki Haley’s birth certificate. It’s not unusual for a person with multiple given names to prefer one of them, even if it isn’t the first one on the person’s birth certificate or baptismal certificate. For example, the great classical music composer Franz Joseph Haydn went by Joseph, not Franz. The American naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau had been given the birth name David Henry but he eventually changed the order of his two given names and went by Henry. Similarly, Mr. and Mrs. Randhawa named their daughter Nimrata Nikki, and as a girl she chose to go by Nikki.

And now for the pot-calling-the-kettle-black part of the story. Knowing almost nothing about Sunny Hostin, I looked up her biography and found that her mother, Rosa Beza, comes from Puerto Rico, and her father, William Cummings, is American. Mr. and Mrs. Cummings named their daughter Asunción. That’s Spanish for Assumption, a Catholic reference to the Assumption of Mary. It’s easy to see how the -sun- in the Spanish name Asunción could give rise to the English name Sunny. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that. What is wrong and unusual is for a person who changed Asunción to Sunny to accuse someone else of trying to cover up a foreign background. We call that hypocrisy.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Turnabout is fair play

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A few days ago you saw how at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th a vibrant colony of partridge peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) claimed attention, with a stand of blazing stars (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) adding complementary colors in the background. Now the roles are reversed, and a Liatris flower spike is the center of attention. Just as I snapped this picture a bumblebee took off. While the 1/400 of a second that the camera’s shutter speed was set to wasn’t nearly fast enough to stop the action, and I normally want insects to come out sharp, the traces of wing movement ended up pleasing me. I know nothing about how to paint, but it occurred to me that an artist might paint a bumblebee with brush strokes that look like this to suggest rapid movement.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Hibiscus scentless plant bug

with 14 comments

 

At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th the Lady Eve drew my attention to the insects on various parts of a halberdleaf rose mallow plant (Hibiscus laevis). Those insects turned out to be (thanks, bugguide.net) hibiscus scentless plant bugs (Niesthrea louisianica). You’re looking at an adult above and two nymphs below. Colorful critters, don’t you think?

 

 

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A common theme in all my commentaries is that justice requires that all people be afforded the same rights. Alas, too often these days our governments and institutions act according to the satirical principle that George Orwell set forth in his allegorical novel Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

On September 5th I pointed out how Amazon acted illegally by treating contractors of different races differently. Just two days ago I pointed out a dorm that was allowing everyone except white people into its common spaces. Yesterday I learned about still another example of illegal racial discrimination, and it’s right here in my own state:

The largest public university in the United States is reserving faculty positions based on race and making six-figure bonuses available exclusively to minorities, programs that are now the subject of a class action lawsuit.

As part of a new initiative to attract “faculty of color,” Texas A&M University set aside $2 million in July to be spent on bonuses for “hires from underrepresented minority groups,” according to a memo from the university’s office of diversity. The max bonus is $100,000, and eligible minority groups are defined by the university to include “African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians.”

To learn more, you can read the full September 13th article by Aaron Sibarium in the Washington Free Beacon.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Frayed

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Don’t know that I’d ever seen such frayed wings on a dragonfly. Even so, this one could still fly quite well, as I found out while briefly waiting a couple of times for it to return to its perch at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th. The dragon seems to be a neon skimmer, Libellula croceipennis.

 

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It’s been only eight days since I pointed out an instance of illegal racial discrimination in the United States. Now I’ve learned about another. As the New York Post reported on August 19: “An off-campus housing co-op for University of California, Berkeley students bans white people from entering common spaces to ‘avoid white violence’ — sparking criticism that the policy inflames racial tensions.” You don’t say. People who get banned from a gathering place because of their race might feel tense? Who’d’ve believed it?

The dorm in question is the “Person of Color Theme House.” Let me remind you that Person of Color and People of Color, both initialized as POC, are terms that exclude, because they mean ‘everybody in the world except white people.’ So much for the vaunted holy value of Inclusion. Here are excerpts from the dorm’s rules:

Many POC members moved here to avoid white violence and presence, so respect their decision of avoidance if you bring white guests… Always announce guests in the Guest Chat if they will be in common spaces with you and if they are white… White guests are not allowed in common spaces.

As you can see, the rules for guests at that dorm are both illegal and self-contradictory, but then why would you expect logic and decency from race haters? You can read more about this in the New York Post article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

“Spider lily”

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I often find small crab spiders on rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen), the most recent time being on August 23rd. Click the excerpt below from a different frame to get a much closer look at the spider.

 

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The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the international scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, science, and reading. You can see the 2018 results for 77 or 78 countries. In all three subjects China was #1. The United States came in 13th in reading, 18th in science, and a dismal 37th in mathematics.

That’s what I reported last year. At the end of August this year came worse news:

In a grim sign of the pandemic’s impact, math and reading scores for 9-year-olds across the U.S. plummeted between 2020 and 2022.

The declines erase decades of academic progress. In two years, reading scores on a key national test dropped more sharply than they have in over 30 years, and math scores fell for the first time since the test began in the early 1970s.

Put another way: It’s as if 9-year-olds were performing at the same level in math as 9-year-olds did back in 1999, and at the same reading level as in 2004.

How could they not, after so many American schools canceled in-person classes during large parts of the two years that the Covid-19 pandemic lasted? At the behest of teachers’ unions, plenty of schools expelled students from in-person learning even after teachers had gotten vaccinated—and long after researchers had determined in the first few months of the pandemic that children were practically immune to harmful consequences from the virus.

And of course the people in charge or our educational “system”—I hate to call anything so chaotic, inefficient, unfair, and counter-productive a system—those people who prattle on endlessly about “systemic racism,” made things worse with their harmful policies:

Reading and math score declines were most severe among students who were performing at the lowest levels. That means kids who hadn’t yet mastered skills like addition and multiplication, or who were working on simple reading tasks, saw their scores fall the most.

The gap between higher- and lower-performing students was already growing before COVID hit, but federal officials say the pandemic appears to have exacerbated that divide.

Nice going, education bureaucrats and teachers’ unions!

You can read more about the depressing findings in an August 31st article.

 

© 2002 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 10, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Ants love flameleaf sumac flowers

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Ants love the flowers of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata. It’s hard to see individual ants and flowers above, so here’s an enlargement of a little piece of the top picture:

I found this young flameleaf sumac flowering in my part of town on August 23rd.

  

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Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society. Indeed these are the devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.

That’s from a speech Nelson Mandela gave to the International Press Institute Congress on February 14, 1994. Jacob Mchangama quoted it in his 2022 book Free Speech. He then noted, unfortunately, that “according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,010 journalists were imprisoned from 2011 to 2020. This represents an alarming 78% increase from the previous decade of 2001 to 2010.” Mchangama later added that “the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2020—the largest global dataset on democracy—found that media censorship intensified in a record-breaking thirty-seven countries in 2019.”

And I’m dismayed to report the degree to which censorship and suppression of information have increased in my own country. For example, a September 1st article in the Epoch Times by Zachary Stieber documents some of the ways that “more than 50 officials in President Joe Biden’s administration across a dozen agencies have been involved with efforts to pressure Big Tech companies to crack down on alleged misinformation.” Some of that “misinformation” came from highly qualified doctors, professors, and medical researchers who happened to have opinions about the pandemic that differed from the official party line.

The documents that the Epoch Times article cites as evidence that the government pressured companies into censoring opposing opinions “were part of a preliminary production in a lawsuit levied against the government by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, later joined by experts maligned by federal officials.” You can read an announcement about that from Missouri’s Attorney General. It’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses.

When we look at events in the past we’re appalled, for example, by the way authorities suppressed the scientific findings of Galileo because those findings differed from orthodox—and incorrect—views of the world. We should be equally appalled when powerful people in our own era suppress views they disagree with.

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UPDATE: After I wrote this post (I usually prepare posts several days in advance of posting), the Epoch Times put out an article on September 7 which began as follows:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and other top Biden administration officials who were resisting efforts to obtain their communications with Big Tech companies must hand over the records, a federal judge ruled on Sept. 6.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, ordered the government to quickly produce documents after it was sued by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri over alleged collusion with Big Tech firms such as Facebook. The initial tranche of discovery, released on Aug. 31, revealed that more than 50 government officials across a dozen agencies were involved in applying pressure to social media companies to censor users.

But some of the officials refused to provide any answers, or answer all questions posed by the plaintiffs. Among them: Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

The government claimed that Fauci should not be required to answer all questions or provide records in his capacity as NIAID director or in his capacity as Biden’s chief medical adviser. It also attempted to withhold records and responses from Jean-Pierre.

In the new ruling on Tuesday breaking the stalemate, Doughty said both Fauci and Jean-Pierre needed to comply with the interrogatories and record requests.

 

As I said above, it’s likely we’ll learn more as the lawsuit progresses. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits our government from interfering with citizens’ free speech. Trying to get around that prohibition by pressuring or colluding with non-governmental entities to do the government’s censoring for it is also illegal. You’re welcome to read the full Epoch Times article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 8, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Miniature amphibian

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The green heron I saw along Bull Creek on August 17th was much less familiar to me than the miniature amphibian I saw hopping about in the dry creek bed. These little creatures are only about an inch long.

Similar to amphibian is amphigory (especially if you stress it on the second syllable rather than the first; both are accepted pronunciations). Amphigory is ‘a nonsense verse or composition a rigmarole with apparent meaning which proves to be meaningless.’ This amphibian produced no amphigory, at least not while I was there to hear it.

 

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After teaching math for a year and a half in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer, I returned to New York at the end of 1969 and was dismayed to find out that no public high school would hire me as a math teacher because I’d never taken any “professional” education courses. (Oh, how I came to loathe the word “professional,” which bureaucrats wield as a cudgel.) The fact that I’d already taught for a year and a half made no difference. For three years I resisted going back to school, then somehow discovered—remember, the Internet still lay a quarter-century in the future—a program at Duke University that in just 14 months would get me both a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics and a secondary school math teaching certificate for North Carolina. That was by far the best deal I could find, so that’s what I did. Half the courses in the program were math, which was fine, because I hadn’t been a math major in college; I particularly liked the introductory number theory class. The other half of the courses were education, and a total waste of my time. I learned nothing of any value in those education courses.

Now here we are fifty years later. Education departments are still a waste of time, but what’s worse is that now they’ve become indoctrination mills for transgressive causes. If you want a glimpse at how noxious the education schools are, read an August 19th Wall Street Journal article called “Education Schools Have Long Been Mediocre. Now They’re Woke Too.” In the article, Daniel Buck describes what he experienced when he studied for a master’s degree in education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015. For example:

We made Black Lives Matter friendship bracelets. We passed around a popsicle stick to designate whose turn it was to talk while professors compelled us to discuss our life’s traumas. We read poems through the “lenses” of Marxism and critical race theory in preparation for our students doing the same. Our final projects were acrostic poems or ironic rap videos.

In that article Daniel Buck links to a study conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which analyzed syllabi in the education schools at the 14 branches of the University of Wisconsin:

On the syllabi, noticeably lacking are academic literature or manuals of classroom instruction. Instead, Hollywood movies like “Freedom Writers,” popular books like Jonathan Kozol’s “Letters to a Young Teacher,” and propaganda like “Anti-Racist Baby” abound. In place of academic essays, graduate students write personal poems or collect photographs. These kitschy activities infantilize what ought to be a rigorous pursuit of professional competency.

You can find out more distressing details in Daniel Beck’s article and in the report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Green heron on the hunt

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By August 17th, two months without rain had caused large parts of Bull Creek to dry up. When I checked a stretch along the Smith Memorial Trail that morning I found that a remaining pool had become the hunting ground of a green heron, Butorides virescens. Time after time I watched as the heron crouched, stepped slowly forward as it kept its eyes fixed on something in the water that it could see but I couldn’t, till suddenly the heron lunged to snatch a small fish from the water.

On the technical side, most of the second photograph shows motion blur because I panned to keep up with the heron as it walked fairly quickly to the left. On the good side, panning let me keep the upper part of the bird, including its bill and the fish in it, sharp. Alternatively, to reduce motion blur I could’ve set a higher sensitivity and a faster shutter speed than the 1/400 I used, but I was already at ISO 1600, and with the shallower depth of field that would have resulted from a faster shutter speed I might not have been able to keep the fish and all the important parts of the heron simultaneously in focus. Tradeoffs.

 

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“I know not why a man should not have liberty to print whatever he would speak; and to be answerable for the one, just as he is for the other, if he transgresses the law in either. But gagging a man, for fear he should talk heresy or sedition, has no other ground than such as will make gyves [shackles] necessary, for fear a man should use violence if his hands were free, and must at last end in the imprisonment of all who you will suspect may be guilty of treason or misdemeanor.”

So wrote John Locke about the Licensing Act, which had enforced pre-publication censorship and banned “heretical, seditious, schismatical, or offensive books” in Great Britain until Parliament let the act lapse in 1695. I was led to that quotation by reading Jacob Mchangama’s new book Free Speech: a History from Socrates to Social Media. I encourage you to read it, too, and learn about some of the great many times throughout history that political regimes and supporters of ideologies and religions have suppressed the speech and writing of people who disagree with them. That’s especially important now, when many activists and institutions have been assailing freedom of expression more vehemently than at any time in my adult life.

Check out Jacob Mchangama’s website, where you can listen to or read edited transcriptions of episodes from his podcast about free speech, Clear and Present Danger.

You’re also welcome to read the essay about John Locke that my father, another Jacob, included in his 1949 book Rebels of Individualism.

  

© Steven Schwartzman 2022

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Posted on a post in a post

with 20 comments

 

As you see in today’s photograph from August 1st on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin, little land snails are common in the Austin area. Multiple posts over the years (for example this February and May 2020) have shown how those snails like to climb both plants and inanimate objects. The snail shell on/in today’s post was such a bright white that in comparison to it the sky and clouds look unnaturally dark, but I like the effect and also welcome the contrasty chiaroscuro drama of the shell and its shadow. The rusted metal adds interesting textures and earthy colors.

 

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From time to time in the past year I’ve given examples of ideologues insisting that a word no longer means what it has long meant. Examples have included man, woman, mother, and recession [of a financial sort].

This week I became aware of two more. New York State is now banning the short word inmate, which it will replace with the cumbersome, five-syllables-longer phrase incarcerated person. What’s supposed to be gained isn’t clear, especially since inmate was already gender neutral. Possibly it’s to force more and more things to fit the mold X person, where X is a present or past participle. For example, enslaved person replaces slave and birthing person replaces mother.

The second recent attempt at definition denial stems from an incident on the morning of August 8th, when several dozen armed FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agents, including a safecracker, showed up at the Florida home of former president Trump with a search warrant. The FBI team then spent a reported nine hours searching the premises and taking away some 15 boxes of materials.

I take no position on whether the FBI raid was justified. There’s no way for me to know. What I do take a position on is the unjustified denial by many in the media that the raid was a raid. It was funny to watch a montage of eight clips showing television commenters insisting that the raid wasn’t a raid.

Fortunately we have the Internet at our disposal, so I looked up raid in a bunch of online dictionaries. Because each dictionary gives several definitions of the word, I’ll quote just the relevant one:

 

Wordsmyth: ‘A surprise entry by police into private property, usu[ally] to make arrests or seize something.’

Merriam-Webster: ‘A sudden invasion by officers of the law.’

Lexico (Oxford): ‘A surprise visit by police to arrest suspected people or seize illicit goods.’

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s: ‘An occasion when the police enter a place suddenly in order to find someone or something.’

Longman: ‘A surprise visit made to a place by the police to search for something illegal.’

American Heritage: ‘A sudden forcible entry into a place by police.’

Vocabulary.com: ‘Search’ or ‘enter unexpectedly.’

Macmillan: ‘To use force to enter a place suddenly in order to arrest people or search for something such as illegal drugs.’

Infoplease: ‘a sudden assault or attack, as upon something to be seized or suppressed.’

Free Dictionary: ‘Search without warning.’

Webster’s (1913): ‘An attack or invasion for the purpose of making arrests, seizing property, or plundering.’

 

So yes, the raid that took place on August 8th was indeed a raid.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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