Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Austin

Sideways icicles

with 11 comments

 

A first glance at this picture might make you think I accidentally rotated it 90° to the right. Not so. Check the icicles’ tips and you’ll see the drops of meltwater there are hanging downward. Here’s what happened: the small icicles that had formed normally on tree branches ended up horizontal (or even pointing upward somewhat) after the tree fell over. I’d have thought the force of the impact would knock the icicles off, yet many survived intact. The location was our back yard; the date was February 2nd, coincidentally the second of our three days without electricity and heat—but not without nature photographs.

 

§

§        §        §

§

  

During the pandemic I called your attention to two programs that the American government put in place to give money to restaurant owners and farmers. The problem was that white people were either barred outright from applying or were put at the bottom of the list of applicants. Naturally white restaurant owners and white farmers pointed out that those programs blatantly violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination based on race. Judges soon struck down the two programs on those grounds.

Even after those two rulings, it seems “social justice” bureaucrats have no qualms about violating civil rights laws. The most recent example I’ve become aware of is at Florida International University (FIU), where “the Delores Auzenne Fellowship is awarded to minority graduate students who are pursuing graduate degrees in disciplines where minorities are underrepresented.” I’ve put the word minority in italics to point out that “white students need not apply” to receive this fellowship at a public, taxpayer-funded university.

No doubt an FIU student who, but for being white, qualifies for the Deloris Auzenne Fellowship will sue the university. The judge who gets the case will have no choice but to follow the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to strike down the fellowship’s racist exclusion of white applicants.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Pareidolia in ice-encased yaupon twigs

with 16 comments

 

On February 2nd, coincidentally our second day in the cold, I went out into the yard with my “real” camera, a macro lens, and a ring flash to see what I could do with the ice-encased yaupon trees, Ilex vomitoria. On the top image’s right side I see the reflections of the light on the ice as Hebrew writing. Perhaps you give a big thumbs up to that. Or maybe you see something in the picture below. Speak your imaginings if you wish.

 

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

 

It’s a familiar predicament. We are living through a frenzy of conformity, in which the opinions of a minority of activists are falsely presented by the media, political and corporate classes as though they reflect an established consensus. The impact is being felt in all walks of life. For instance, after the seismic events of the summer of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, an actor friend of mine was contacted by her agency because she had not posted anything on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was told that she must do so immediately if she wanted casting directors to consider her for any future roles. I have heard many such anecdotes, but invariably they are communicated privately. There is a strong general feeling that to publicly object to the prevailing dogma is to jeopardise one’s career and social standing. I have lost count of the number of emails from academics, artists and media figures who have contacted me to express sympathy for my criticism of the new puritans, but who admit that they could never endorse my sentiments in public for fear of ‘cancellation’. It is a circular problem that can only possibly be resolved if sufficient numbers speak out.

This is the sad reality of most present-day working environments, where to utter a forbidden opinion, to misspeak, or even to fail to show due fealty to received wisdom can be an impediment to future job prospects. As a former teacher, I am still in contact with ex-colleagues who are troubled by the sudden revisions made to curricula and pastoral policies. Many are being forced to undergo ‘unconscious bias’ training, even though there is overwhelming evidence that such schemes are unreliable and ineffective. To raise a complaint is taken as proof of the kind of prejudice that the tests seek to expose. After all, only a witch would deny the existence of witchcraft.

Many teachers are concerned about how such modifications have been rushed through with little consultation with parents or staff. One teacher told me about a school assembly, conducted over the internet in the early days of the first coronavirus lockdown, in which pupils were berated for their ‘white privilege’. The Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, a school chaplain at Trent College in Derbyshire, told me about training sessions in which staff were instructed to chant ‘smash heteronormativity’, and when he delivered a sermon about the importance of respectfully challenging such ideological viewpoints he was reported to Prevent, the government’s anti-terrorism programme. Other private schools have pledged their fealty to Black Lives Matter, despite the fact that this explicitly anti-capitalist movement objects to their existence and would presumably be happy to see these institutions razed to the ground. In a noble effort to be seen to address injustice, these schools are implementing divisive and contentious theories as though they are irrefutable truths.

 

Amen to that, which is from Andrew Doyle’s 2022 book The New Puritans.
You’re welcome to read Noel Yaxley’s good review of it.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 6, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Austin’s 2023 ice storm

with 38 comments

 

During the overnight from January 31st into the morning of February 1st freezing rain descended upon Austin. The weight of the accumulated ice brought down many branches and even whole trees, along with lots of power lines, so that hundreds of thousands of people in Austin lost electricity. In our neighborhood, power (and therefore for us also heat) went out at 4:35 AM on February 1st and didn’t come back till bedtime on February 3rd. In between we dressed in multiple layers of clothing inside the house and slept in sleeping bags with two blankets over them. Despite the ordeal, what nature photographer could pass up the chance for pictures? And this time I needed to go no farther than our yard. These two photographs show yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) covered with ice. Above is a good-sized one in the side yard whose branches were bowed from (but not broken by) the weight of the ice. Below is a young yaupon out front near the curb.

 

 

We used a camping stove twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday to make hot food and drinks, but by then our two little propane tanks had run out of fuel. Late Thursday afternoon, using a small chain saw, I managed to clear enough branches from one side of the driveway that we could get the car parked on that side of the garage out and go have supper in a restaurant. If you’d like a purely informational, non-aesthetic picture showing the Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) that had collapsed across the driveway, you can click the thumbnail below.

 

 

A closeup of that now-gone Ashe juniper’s trunk appeared as the second picture in a 2020 post.

 

More ice storm pictures next time.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 5, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Turtle islet

with 27 comments

 

At a newly discovered (by us) pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st I couldn’t resist photographing this convocation of turtles on what seems to have been a sandbar. People talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Originally it was the turtles that I couldn’t see, lost as they were in the reflections of trees on the surface of the water, as shown below. To get close enough to take the top picture I had to walk around the pond to the opposite side from which I’d taken the bottom picture.

Among turtles there’s no such thing as personal space.

 

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 3, 2023 at 4:26 AM

First wildflower for 2023

with 33 comments

 

About a week ago I checked out a property a couple of miles from home where I expect ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) to spring up early in the year. I found exactly two of those flowers, and both were the worse for wear (and apparent nibbling). A day or two later we had a little bit of rain, so I returned to the property yesterday to see if the watering had had its effect. It had, and this time I found a bunch of anemone flowers scattered about. The “petals” on a ten-petal anemone are actually sepals, and 10 is more typically a lower bound than a requisite number. I count a dozen on the flower above. There are also more than 12 droplets of rain, thanks to the drizzly morning.

Hoverflies in the genus Toxomerus outnumbered me dozens to one on that property.
For the first time ever I managed to photograph three of them together on a flower.

 

 

 

⥥      ⥥      ⥥

 

Over half a year ago I requested Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom’s Do You Think What You Think You Think? from the Austin Public Library system. When month after month went by without the book showing up for me at my local branch, I figured maybe the system’s one copy had gotten lost and the long delay came from a new copy having to be ordered. Last week I unexpectedly got a notice that the book was in. Upon picking it up, I found it was an old, worse-for-wear copy, so where it had been for over half a year remains a mystery.

Anyhow, one question the book takes up is: what makes a great work of art? The authors say that “six broad types of answers have been given time and again in the history of art theory and aesthetics”:

  • The work displays great technical ability.
  • The work is enjoyable.
  • The work conveys the feelings of the artist.
  • The work conveys an important moral lesson or helps us to live better lives.
  • The formal features of the work are harmonious and/or beautiful.
  • The work reveals an insight into reality.

As is true for each topic in the book, what follows is a quiz in which you rate each of those six factors from 0 (not important at all) to 4 (vital). After a second quiz, this time comparing the works of two artists, the authors analyze your ratings. I won’t discuss them here, so anyone who wants to get the book and take the quizzes can do so with a blank slate, so to speak.

Other topics dealt with are reason, morality, taboo, God, ethics, being alive, and freedom. Interesting stuff. If that sounds interesting to you, too, check out Do You Think What You Think You Think? (and if you literally try to check it out of your public library, let’s hope it doesn’t take more than half a year for you to get it).

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2023 at 4:36 AM

A sixth installment of icicles

with 22 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging from a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, January 14th, and January 19th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are some more views of icicles from that productive session.

To take the first picture, I deftly worked my way behind the icicles that were coming down from a limestone overhang. Aiming upward created the seeming convergence of the icicles toward the top.

 

 

For the second picture I also used flash.

 

 

The warm tones of the rocks and the pale blue of the ice in the picture above went well together.

The thin sheet of ice below was backlit by the sun’s rays. 

  

 

Similarly, it was sunlight that illuminated the icicles below.

 

  

 

§

§        §        §

§

     

A hot topic in genetics over the past few years has been what’s known as gain-of-function research. The term refers to manipulating the DNA of a virus to make the virus more potent. On the positive side, researchers might figure out ways to combat the more-potent virus while it’s contained in a lab and before it or a similar naturally mutated strain could infect a population. There’s also potential danger in gain-of-function research: a malevolent organization or government might turn a manipulated virus into a weapon, especially if they could figure out ways to keep themselves exempt from the effects of the more-potent virus. And, despite precautions, there’s always the risk of an accident in which a more-potent virus escapes from a lab, infects the nearby population, and perhaps even spreads much more broadly. Some scientists believe that’s what happened in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Others disagree. We may never know because the Chinese government wasn’t forthcoming with the facts, and key evidence has long since disappeared.

I bring this up now in connection with an organization called Project Veritas (the second word in the name is Latin for ‘truth’). Project Veritas’s typical M.O (modus operandi, or ‘way of working’) is to send a disguised reporter with a hidden video camera to chat with a person who Project Veritas suspects is doing something nefarious. (Americans might be reminded of the long-running television show 60 Minutes, which has employed the same undercover technique on many occasions). The hope is that the interviewee, who doesn’t know the person engaging in a friendly chat is a reporter, will reveal information that would otherwise be kept from the public.

On January 25th Project Veritas released a 10-minute video compilation from its latest undercover investigation. The interviewee is identified as “Jordon Trishton Walker, Pfizer Director of Research and Development, Strategic Operations – mRNA Scientific Planner.” In the video, Walker speaks of “directed evolution,” which he says is different from gain-of-function research, but which the head of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, believes might be a euphemism for it.

Check out the 10-minute video compilation and accompanying printed discussion about it and draw your own conclusions.

As a reminder, I believe it’s always good to be circumspect about what you read on the internet. I found an article on the substack site “Investigate Everything with Brian O’Shea” in which O’Shea reports the results of his efforts to confirm that the person shown in the video really is the person Project Veritas claims he is. You’re welcome to read that article as well.

And here are Newsweek’s cautions about the Project Veritas story.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2023 at 4:30 AM

They’re here again

with 45 comments

On January 11th I spotted my first cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) of the season. It was on the trunk of the Ashe juniper tree right outside my window, adjacent to two fruit-laden yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria). On January 19th I saw several cedar waxwings nibbling a bit of the fruit on the farther tree. Finally on January 20th at least a dozen cedar waxwings kept swooping in and out for a while as they grabbed fruits on the nearer tree. Whenever one of the birds landed in a place not blocked from view by branches I could finally try for pictures, which I did with my telephoto lens zoomed to its maximum 400mm. The dull light and the not-as-clear-as-I’d-have-liked glass in the window led me to spend more time than usual enhancing the image, first in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, then in Topaz Photo AI.

 

§

§       §       §

§

 

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ― Galileo Galilei, letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

That bare winter look

with 31 comments

 

A pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st.

For those interested in the craft of photography, point 15 in About My Techniques applies to this landscape.

 

⥥      ⥥      ⥥

 

It’s not unusual for someone to wonder, as you may have yourself, who in recent history caused the greatest number of people to die. A 2016 article by Chris Waugh gave this tally:

 

In contrast, we seldom hear the opposite question: who in recent history saved the greatest number of lives? It most likely was Norman Borlaug. As the University of Minnesota website notes: “alumnus Norman Borlaug left an indelible mark on the world. The late agronomist’s work in developing new varieties of wheat starting in the 1940s spawned the ‘Green Revolution,’ and is credited with saving at least a billion lives.”

Another great saver of human lives was Herbert Hoover. As the National Constitution Center notes: “Hoover is remembered as the ‘Great Humanitarian.’ Hoover was credited with saving 10 million lives during World War I as the leader of U.S. government efforts to send food supplies to war-torn areas of Europe.”

Herbert Hoover had the misfortune to be President of the United States when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the world soon entered what became known as the Great Depression. Because of that, a lot of historians have maligned Hoover, but you can read about his many accomplishments in the National Constitution Center article I cited.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Evergreen sumac isn’t always evergreen

with 20 comments

 

While most of the leaves on an evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) do remain green in December, it’s not unusual for the leaves on a damaged or dying branch to turn brown or maroon. That was the case with this one in my Great Hills neighborhood on December 21st of the recently expired year. Call it fall foliage by proxy.

 

§

§        §        §

§

 

Because native speakers of a language learn it by assimilation, they don’t notice many things that a foreigner does when learning the language. If you’re a native English speaker, you’ve probably never thought about the familiar prefix re-. If a foreigner asked you about it, you might think for a bit and say something like: We put re- in front of a verb to convey the meaning ‘back’ or ‘again.’ For example: “The platoon captured the high ground, later got repulsed, and then recaptured the high ground.” Or: “This story, which originated in China, has been retold in many other countries.”

So far, so good. But now suppose the foreigner asks you: “How do I know which verbs I’m allowed to stick re- on and which verbs I’m not allowed to stick re- on?” Your likely answer will be: “What do you mean?” As a native English speaker, you’ve almost certainly never realized that we can’t just put re- on any verb we want to. Take these examples:

  • I was in Barcelona in 1985 and I rewas in Barcelona in 1990.
  • Come visit as soon as you can. Recome as often as you’d like.
  • She wanted to be in movies but after repeatedly failing to get a part she gave up on the idea. A year later she rewanted to be in movies.
  • Look at that beautiful sunset. Relook at it to really appreciate it.
  • There are people who’ve had a fortune, gone bankrupt, and eventually rehad a fortune.
  • Once I knew where I was going in life. Later I lost my way. Now I reknow where I’m going.

A foreigner sees nothing illogical about any of those uses of re-, but a native speaker would never say any of them (except maybe in jest). Someone who knows a little about word origins might be aware that re- got borrowed from Latin, whereas the verbs in those examples—be, come, want, look, have, and know—are all native English words, and so maybe English just doesn’t put Latin-derived re- on native English verbs. There are a couple of problems with that hypothesis. First of all, very few English speakers know which words are native. More importantly, we can stick re- on some native verbs: we can rebuild a church, redo a chemistry experiment, remake a tarnished image, reset a slow clock, and resend an email that wasn’t received.

The situation is even more complicated: sometimes we can use re- with a native English verb but doing so changes the meaning to something other than ‘back’ or ‘again.’ Compare these two:

  • Years after his mother’s death, he still recalled her fondly.
  • He called his mother last night but she had company and couldn’t talk long. He recalled her the next morning.

The recall in the first sentence does not mean ‘call again’; it means ‘remember.’ In the second example, we’d normally say “he called her back”; we wouldn’t say “he recalled her,” or maybe we could marginally get away with that if we paused slightly between the re- and the called; we’d write that with a hyphen: “he re-called her.”

Now you see how complicated the situation is. I haven’t figured out a way of telling which English verbs we can stick re- on, which we can’t, and which we might get away with although it would sound a little strange. Native speakers somehow just know.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2023 at 4:27 AM

A fifth installment of icicles

with 31 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging along a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, and January 14th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are some more icicles from that productive session. The upside-down dead tree in the top photograph was an Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei.

 

 

The second portrait is an artsy abstraction.
It’s almost monochrome, with a slight brown tinge in the lower left.

Icebergs often look blue. Icicles can appear that way, too:

 

 

Lots of the icicles that morning had a gnarly look. You might consider the ones below a sort of
bas-relief, given that they didn’t hang completely free of the vertical rock face behind them.
Once again the ice could almost pass for melted wax that had dripped and then congealed.

  

 

 

¢

¢

 

Last year I wrote a commentary about Marva Collins, an elementary school teacher in the poor Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. I quoted parts of an article by Carrie-Ann Biondi in the Spring 2019 issue of The Objective Standard, including this one:

Observers in Collins’s classroom repeatedly were astonished by the high-level curriculum she developed for students ages three to thirteen. She began each year with essays such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and fables such as “The Little Red Hen.” Students soon moved on to poetry, including works by Rudyard Kipling and [Henry] Wadsworth Longfellow. In time, they progressed to Plato’s dialogues. By second and third grade, they were reading William Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth and Hamlet were student favorites) and reciting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. With these under their belts, it was not uncommon for students to dive headlong into a seemingly unquenchable reading frenzy. And Collins kept hundreds of books on hand, suggesting just the right one for each student to read next. Each student wrote a report every two weeks about his latest book, presented it to the class, and answered questions raised by the other students. This sparked so much interest in reading that book that students vied to be next on the waiting list.

This week I finished reading the 1982 (and updated in 1990) book Marva Collins’ Way, by the teacher herself and Civia Tamarkin, with a foreword by Alex Haley of Roots fame. Here’s a line that stood out:

The longer I taught in the public school system, the more I came to think that schools were concerned with everything but teaching.

That’s unfortunately as true today as it was in the 1970s and ’80s. This past November, people in Austin (but of course not me) approved a school bond package of $2,439,000,000 (that’s $2.4 billion!) mostly for school modernization projects, security improvements and other upgrades. None of that fortune will lead a single child to read better or do math better or know more about history, geography, or science. It’s a disgrace.

A big reason that so many children don’t learn much in schools is the ineffective methods that teachers have been trained to use. Here again Marva Collins was on to that half a century ago:

Over the years, I have come to believe that some of the problems plaguing modern education are the result of the emphasis placed on “progressive” teaching methods. In an effort to follow John Dewey’s notion of a student-centered rather than subject-centered approach to learning, schools have too often sacrificed subject matter, being more concerned with how they taught rather than what they taught. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, when our society was becoming fascinated with pop psychology, many young men and women entered the teaching profession thinking “As long as I can relate to a child, what difference does it make if he or she can’t spell cat?

If you’re interested in education, check out Marva Collins’ Way. In addition to dealing with effective approaches to teaching, the book includes many endearing stories about the children Marva Collins taught.

 

 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2023 at 4:31 AM

%d bloggers like this: