Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Austin

Take home a stance

with 17 comments

 

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.

 

✧        ✧        ✧

 

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

A reward

with 18 comments

Our house had a conventional lawn when we moved here in 2004 and path-of-least-resistance me has never done anything to change it. As a result I do have to mow every so often. The most recent time was September 7th, by which date rain had finally caused the grass to come up noticeably from its drought-induced dormancy of the summer. Near the end of my chore I noticed a single wood sorrel flower (Oxalis drummondii) and carefully mowed around it. A little later I came back to get my photographic reward.

I took some of my pictures with flash and a small aperture to keep most of the flower’s details sharp. In this shot, however, I went with natural light, which in turn dictated a broad aperture and shallow depth of field.

 

¶        ¶        ¶

 

In 2007, the U.S. Congress mandated the blending of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol into gasoline. One of the top goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But today, the nation’s ethanol plants produce more than double the climate-damaging pollution, per gallon of fuel production capacity, than the nation’s oil refineries, according to a Reuters analysis of federal data….

The ethanol plants’ high emissions result in part from a history of industry-friendly federal regulation that has allowed almost all processors to sidestep the key environmental requirement of the 2007 law, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), according to academics who have studied ethanol pollution and regulatory documents examined by Reuters….

That’s the shocking lead in a September 8th Reuters article by Leah Douglas. You can learn more by reading the full article. I’ll add that I’ve been against the ethanol boondoggle ever since Congress enacted it. One big reason is that converting so much corn to ethanol drives up the price of corn, which people around the world depend on as a primary food. Remember Mexico’s 2007 tortilla crisis?

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2022 at 4:31 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?

 

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

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

with 12 comments

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.

 

☙        ☙        ☙

 

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

Some Turk’s caps have stamen columns; others don’t.

with 22 comments

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii in our front yard on September 7th.

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

Those Inconvenient Truths

 

The climate effect of our electric-car efforts in the 2020s will be trivial. If every country achieved its stated ambitious electric-vehicle targets by 2030, the world would save 231 million tons of CO2 emissions. Plugging these savings into the standard United Nations Climate Panel model, that comes to a reduction of 0.0002 degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Electric cars’ impact on air pollution isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The vehicles themselves pollute only slightly less than a gasoline car because their massive batteries and consequent weight leads to more particulate pollution from greater wear on brakes, tires and roads. On top of that, the additional electricity they require can throw up large amounts of air pollution depending on how it’s generated. One recent study found that electric cars put out more of the most dangerous particulate air pollution than gasoline-powered cars in 70% of U.S. states. An American Economic Association study found that rather than lowering air pollution, on average each additional electric car in the U.S. causes additional air-pollution damage worth $1,100 over its lifetime.

The minerals required for those batteries also present an ethical problem, as many are mined in areas with dismal human-rights records. Most cobalt, for instance, is dug out in Congo, where child labor is not uncommon, specifically in mining. There are security risks too, given that mineral processing is concentrated in China.

That’s from a September 9th commentary in the Wall Street Journal by Bjørn Lomborg that carries the headline “Policies Pushing Electric Vehicles Show Why Few People Want One.” The subhead is “They wouldn’t need huge subsidies to sell if they really were a good choice, and consumers know that.” I invite you to read the full article, which contains other inconvenient truths.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 11, 2022 at 4:32 AM

“Spider lily”

with 16 comments

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.

 

✧        ✧        ✧

  

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

Colorful clusters along a shallowly sinuous arc

with 15 comments

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) alongside our house on September 2nd.

  

§

§        §        §

§

 

I call to your attention David C. Geary’s well-researched September 1st article “The Ideological Refusal to Acknowledge Evolved Sex Differences.” The subhead is “Boys and girls are not infinitely malleable, socially constructed products of the patriarchy.” Here’s the article’s bottom line, which is to say its final paragraph:

The claims made in a virtual world of internet algorithms populated by ideological social media pundits, journalists, and gender studies professors contradicts common sense and rational analysis of real-world phenomena. This is a world of words and ideas fraught with wishes and desires that are not always tethered to reality, including many far-fetched beliefs about the number of sexes and the origins and malleability of any associated sex or gender differences. Much remains to be learned about these differences which leaves plenty of room for legitimate debate. But there is no scientific room for the nonsensical idea that boys and girls and men and women are infinitely malleable and merely socially constructed products of the patriarchy or some other social system.

You’re welcome to read the full article by David C. Geary, who is a Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Missouri.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2022 at 6:17 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

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

with 25 comments

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

  

§

§        §        §

§

   

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

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

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

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

The article goes on to quote Professor Sweet again:

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

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

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

And here’s his conclusion:

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

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

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 4, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Tight tendril

with 25 comments

Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox) is a common vine in the woods of Austin. It’s admittedly a nuisance to people when its thorns snag our clothing and scratch our skin. Nevertheless, as a nature photographer I’ve found greenbrier an excellent subject for close views (and occasionally more distant ones). I asked the Texas Flora group about the many pale “starbursts” on the stem in this picture. The first suggestion was a scale infection. A second was trichomes. One website’s description of greenbrier’s stems said that they occur “infrequently with stellate trichomes.” Another website said the stems “are scurfy (i.e., with a scaly crust on the stem surface).” In any case, whatever the starbursts are, they add welcome texture to the portrait. And how about that tightly coiled tendril?

 

✦        ✦        ✦

 

I spend lots of time looking things up because, by personality and from decades of teaching math, I value accuracy. That’s why I include so many links to documents. If you’re aware of any facts that I’ve reported incorrectly, please point me to contradictory evidence. Of course people can disagree about what policies a government should follow, but we have to start from the facts.

 

✦        ✦        ✦

 

Lawlessness  

Just because I haven’t mentioned the southern border of the United States for a while doesn’t mean that it’s not still out of control. It is. The current régime continues to encourage millions of people to come here illegally each year by facilitating their entry into the country and giving them benefits once they’re here (like providing free transportation—sometimes by airplane—to wherever they want to go in the United States).

ABC ran an article on August 18 headlined “July border arrests decrease but expected to total a record 2 million by next month.” The subhead read “CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] has arrested more migrants so far in 2022 than in all of 2021.” And of course that number doesn’t include the great many “gotaways,” illegal border crossers that authorities observed but were unable to detain for various reasons, mainly having way too few officers to handle the incessant onslaught. As a July 25th New York Post article noted: “More than 500,000 known ‘gotaway’ immigrants have crossed the border into the US but evaded capture since the start of FY [fiscal year] 2022, according to a new report.” Notice the word “known”; it implies that in addition to the half-million that were observed, hundreds of thousands of other illegal border crossers came into the country completely undetected.

Accompanying this lawlessness is the current administration’s denial of it. A July 25th New York Post article bore the headline “Don’t believe your eyes: WH [White House] claims migrants are not just ‘walking’ across border.” As the article explained:

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Monday that migrants are not just “walking” across the border — an event captured near daily by press photographers.

The stunning answer came in response to a question by Fox News’ Peter Doocy, who asked why potentially unvaccinated migrants continue to arrive in the US but tennis star Novak Djokovic couldn’t compete in the US Open, which kicked off in Flushing Meadows, Queens today.  “It is not that simple. It’s not just that people are walking across the border….”

Karine Jean-Pierre’s flippant response was an outright lie. Take the 2 million people that the ABC article mentioned, divide it by 365, and you get an average of over 5000 people “just” walking in illegally every single day. The “Don’t believe your eyes” in the Post‘s headline refers to the fact that anyone can go down to places like Eagle Pass and Del Rio on the Texas border and watch groups of people that cartels have brought close to the border walk up to the Rio Grande River and wade or swim across it to enter the United States illegally. Those groups include dozens and occasionally even hundreds of people at a time. Here’s a video. Just because news outlets that favor illegal immigration rarely report on the thousands of people coming in illegally every day, or flat-out say it isn’t true, doesn’t make reality go away. Those news outlets are reality deniers.

What is undeniable is that “drug overdoses have claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States [this year],” and “Fentanyl was reportedly the cause of two-thirds of them. According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], Fentanyl is now the number one cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. Surpassing suicide, Covid-19, and car accident-related deaths.” One person in this country dies of fentanyl poisoning about every 9 minutes. Confounding the problem is that drug dealers are mixing fentanyl into pills that are made to look like other drugs, for example oxycontin. Especially insidious, drug dealers have recently been putting fentanyl into colored tablets that look like candy, thereby opening up the possibility that children will unknowingly eat one and die. Drug overdoses and poisonings contributed to making 2021 the second year in a row that life expectancy in the United States went down.

The previous paragraph is relevant to the ones that preceded it because much of the fentanyl in the United States is smuggled across the Mexican border, where agents are so overworked with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that portions of the border now go completely unguarded.

Like I said, lawlessness.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Sesbania drummondii

with 12 comments

I most often see Sesbania drummondii, known as rattlebush, at the edges of creeks and ponds. On August 23rd, when I walked in the mostly waterless bed of the creek that flows through the part of Great Hills Park nearest to where I live, I found a good many rattlebush plants springing up right in the dry creek bed. No flowers had opened yet, but the readying buds caught my attention. Then I focused on one of the plant’s arcs of leaflets; graceful, don’t you think?

  

§

§        §        §

§

 

Anyone in the academic humanities—anyone who’s gotten within smelling distance of the academic humanities these last 40 years—will see the problem. Loving books is not why people are supposed to become English professors, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Loving books is scoffed at (or would be, if anybody ever copped to it). The whole concept of literature—still more, of art—has been discredited. Novels, poems, stories, plays: these are “texts,” no different in kind from other texts. The purpose of studying them is not to appreciate or understand them; it is to “interrogate” them for their ideological investments (in patriarchy, in white supremacy, in Western imperialism and ethnocentrism), and then to unmask and debunk them, to drain them of their poisonous persuasive power. The passions that are meant to draw people to the profession of literary study, these last many years, are not aesthetic; they are political.

That’s from William Deresiewicz’s August 17th essay in Quillette, “Why I left Academia.” The subtitle is “I didn’t have a choice. Thousands of people are driven out of the profession each year.” You’re welcome to read the full essay.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: