Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘clouds

Aotearoa comes to Padre Island

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June 2nd was the first night we spent away from home in the two-and-a-quarter years since the pandemic hit. We drove 200 miles south from Austin to see the sea, or more properly the Gulf of Mexico, which is a branch of the Atlantic Ocean. Our first nature stop on the coast was the Padre Island National Seashore, where both of these dune scenes reminded me of Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand that supposedly means ‘the land of the long white cloud.’ I took these pictures two minutes apart, and although a long white cloud inhabits each one, I went for different photographic treatments.

 

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Speaking of places with beaches, in a feature that aired on September 27, 2021, Sharyl Attkisson looked at the potential Puerto Rico has to supply pharmaceuticals domestically and thereby lessen the heavy dependence of the United States on foreign countries, most notably China, for our medicines. The nine-minute video focuses on two immigrants, one from Viet Nam and the other from the Dominican Republic, who are opening a pharmaceutical plant in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Credit also goes to the mayor of that town, who shortened the process of getting all the required approvals down to a single day from what would typically take a year (why?!). Have a look.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Unaccustomed clouds

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While driving back on May 14th from a visit to friends in the foreign country that south Austin sometimes seems to those of us from north Austin, we noticed these unaccustomedly dramatic clouds that I believe meteorologists classify as mammatus. Credit the picture to my iPhone, the only camera I had with me.

 

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And speaking of the atmosphere, here are four stories about the environment that the Good News Network recently featured:

World’s First Ocean-Assisted Carbon Removal Plant Launched in Hawaii

Scientists Power a Computer Using Only Algae and Daylight to Make the Electricity

Bronx Housing Complex Comes With Giant Machine Stomach to Turn All Food Waste Into Fertilizer

New Google Headquarters Uses ‘Dragonscale’ Solar Panels to Capture Sunlight From All Angles

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two interesting clouds

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In southeast Austin on April 14th I photographed the oval cloud formation shown above.
Right afterwards I noticed the formation below that reminded me of a feather.

 

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White guilt has influenced many of America’s racial policies toward a paternalism that makes it difficult for blacks to find their true mettle or to develop a faith in their own capacity to run as fast as others. The most vivid examples of this are the many forms of preferential treatment that come under the heading of affirmative action—an escapist racial policy, I believe, that offers entitlements rather than development to blacks. A preference is not a training program; it teaches no skills, instills no values. It only makes a color a passport. But the worst aspect of racial preferences is that they encourage dependency on entitlements rather than on our own initiative, a situation that has already led many blacks to believe that we cannot have fairness without entitlements. Here one falls into Orwellian doublespeak, where preference means equality. At the heart of this confusion, I believe, is an unspoken black doubt about our ability to compete that is covered over by a preoccupation with racial discrimination. Since there are already laws to protect us against discrimination, preferences only impute a certain helplessness to blacks that diminishes our self-esteem. The self-preoccupied form of white guilt that is behind racial preferences always makes us lower so that we can be lifted up.

Recently Pennsylvania State University launched a program that pays black students for improving their grades—a C to C+ average brings $550, and anything higher brings $1,100. Here is the sort of guilty kindness that kills. What kind of self-respect is a black student going to have as he or she reaches out to take $550 for C work when many white students would be embarrassed by so average a performance? What better way to drive home the nail of inferiority? What more Pavlovian system of conditioning blacks to dependency than shelling out cash for grades? Here black students learn to hustle their victimization rather than overcome it, while their patrons escape with the cheapest sort of innocence. Not all preferential treatment is this insidious, but the same dynamic is always at work when skin color brings entitlement.

That’s from Shelby Steele‘s book The Content of Our Character, published in 1990. Elite white guilt, entitlements, and the claims of perpetual victimization have increased massively in the 32 years since then. During the same period, black students’ objective academic performance has on average remained abysmal. If you want to know how abysmal, check out my commentary from last September, which gives the statistics.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2022 at 4:30 PM

Posted in nature photography

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Bluebonnet bookends

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On March 28th we set out on what turned into a six-hour, 239-mile quest for wildflowers south and southeast of Austin, where we hoped to find more than the paltry offerings in town so far this spring. Our first photo stop came in what I take to be Mustang Ridge, where a colony of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) on an embankment along TX 130 ran parallel to a line of distant clouds.

One place we drove a good distance to check out was the field in Dubina that had looked so good on March 29 last year. No luck: the bluebonnets there had come up again, but much more sparsely. Our last stop before turning west and heading for home came on FM 609 a little south La Grange, where Eve spotted a dense colony of bluebonnets with some bright red phlox mixed in. Because the bluebonnets grew in someone’s front yard, and because they looked a lot better than any others we’d seen in the area, I assumed the flowers had been planted. I assumed wrong. The woman who lived there was out on the opposite side of the yard, so Eve went over and struck up a conversation with her. The woman said that the wildflowers come up by themselves in that part of her yard each spring, with some years better than others. This was obviously a good year.

 

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A few weeks ago I quoted from Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein’s A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life. The passage I cited pointed out the dangers of overprotecting children. Later I came across the City Journal article “Bring Back Risk,” by Allison Schrager, that includes this paragraph:

Long before Covid-19, risk-taking was increasingly discouraged. Between 1970 and 2019, the page count of the federal code of regulations on business and industry thickened from 54,000 to more than 185,000. State and local regulations can be even more of an economic burden, especially for small businesses. The number of jobs that required a license, for instance, rose from 5 percent in the 1950s to 22 percent today. Small wonder that the rate of new business creation fell 10 percent between the 1980s and 2018. Other factors influence this decline, including an aging population and changing market structures that reward larger firms, but surveys from the National Federation of Independent Business consistently rank regulatory compliance as a top economic concern. An example of the state and local bureaucratic obstacles that someone launching a small business can face: San Franciscan Jason Yu recently spent over $200,000 seeking permits to open an ice cream shop in 2019, before giving up in frustration.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Not the Winged Victory of Samothrace

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This is not the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s a dried-out piece of Ashe juniper “bone” from northwest Austin on March 5th. The corrugations are typical of Juniperus ashei, as you’ve seen on other occasions here.

 

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The March 9 Quillette article “The New Great Game,” by Joel Kotkin and Hügo Krüger, offers a sober look at how the follies of governments in Europe and the United States have contributed to the current world crisis, which is going to get worse. The article includes many links to supporting sources.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 10, 2022 at 4:39 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Lost Horizon not always lost

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When the day number was most recently twice the month number, I stationed myself late in the afternoon at a place with a good vista along Lost Horizon Drive in our Great Hills neighborhood and waited for what I hoped would be a colorful sundown. Most of the sky stayed clear, however, which doesn’t make for good sunsets, so I decided to use a long lens to get close looks at the layers of wispy clouds close to the horizon. Zooming in like that to magnify the relatively small band of colorful clouds gave the resulting photographs a lot more drama than a person standing there would have perceived in the scene as a whole; call it not poetic license but photographer’s license.

Thanks to the orientation of the horizon, sunset pictures are usually horizontal, so for variety I experimented with a few vertical takes like the one below that came four minutes after the one above. The second picture excludes the horizon and is therefore also more abstract.

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With regard to the current pandemic, an article from Our World in Data clears up the confusion that some or maybe even many people have about the risk of dying from Covid-19. The easy-to-follow article distinguishes between, and offers simple numerical examples of, three ways to estimate or determine that risk: the case fatality rate, the crude mortality rate, and the infection fatality rate. I wrote “estimate or determine” because only the infection fatality rate is the number we really want to determine. The case fatality rate (which is often reported in the media), like the crude mortality rate, likely misses the true value by a wide margin.

 

That website’s About page also offers the following insights:

 

To work towards a better future, we also need to understand how and why the world is changing.

The historical data and research shows that it is possible to change the world. Historical research shows that until a few generations ago around half of all newborns died as children. Since then the health of children has rapidly improved around the world and life expectancy has doubled in all regions. Progress is possible. 

In other important ways global living conditions have improved as well. While we believe this is one of the most important facts to know about the world we live in, it is known by surprisingly few. 

Instead, many believe that global living conditions are stagnating or getting worse and much of the news media’s reporting is doing little to challenge this perception. It is wrong to believe that one can understand the world by following the news alone and the media’s focus on single events and things that go wrong can mean that well-intentioned people who want to contribute to positive change become overwhelmed, hopeless, cynical and in the worst cases give up on their ideals. Much of our effort throughout these years has been dedicated to countering this threat.

Researching how it was possible to make progress against large problems in the past allows us to learn. Progress is possible, but it is not a given. If we want to know how to reduce suffering and tackle the world’s problems we should learn from what was successful in the past.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Red oak leaf and soft clouds

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While down close to the ground on November 22 photographing the Great Plains ladies tresses’ orchids you saw last time, I noticed some oak leaves near by that looked bright red from backlighting by the sun. As shown here, I managed to isolate one of those leaves against soft clouds. The species could well have been Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi.


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“We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States.”

So begins an open letter signed by hundreds of experts in mathematics, computer science, engineering, and related fields. The letter goes on to explain that the movement for “equity” in mathematics education, whatever its professed goals, actually harms American students and reduces our nation’s mathematical preparedness. The letter isn’t long, and I encourage you to read it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 7, 2021 at 4:15 AM

Craters of the Moon — in a way

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So you don’t see a moon or craters in these two October 19th photographs
of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) and wispy clouds.

The title of today’s post’s refers to the location: Craters of the Moon Blvd. in Pflugerville.
Even now, in mid-November, some Maximilian sunflowers are still with us.

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I’m about a third of the way through Bad News, by the interestingly named Batya Ungar-Sargon, who declares herself to be on the political left. If you’d like, you can watch her in a C-SPAN interview from October 24th. Here are a few things in her book that stood out for me so far.

According to a sociological study of the American press done back in 1986, “journalists were getting more and more liberal with each new generation. Among journalists fifty and older, 43 percent said they were left of center and 23 percent said they were right of center. Of journalists between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, 52 percent identified as being on the left, but just 16 percent as conservative. And in the post-Watergate generation, 70 percent identified as liberals, while just 13 percent said they were conservative.”

“And yet, the trends the sociologists noted in 1986 have only accelerated today. In 1984, 26 percent of journalists voted for Ronald Reagan; by 2014, just 7 percent of journalists identified as Republican. By 2015, 96 percent of journalists who made donations to a political campaign donated to Hillary Clinton. When researchers from Arizona State University and Texas A&M University surveyed business journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Forbes, New York Times, Reuters, and Washington Post in 2018, they found that just 4 percent had conservative political views.”

Such a strong leaning in one political direction has colored the way the news gets reported. “It took all of twenty years for the stories on the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers to go from being descriptive to being analytic and interpretive, a shift that began in 1954 and was completed by 1974. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt gave this shift the justification is needed: By reporting his invented accusations of communism, reporters were amplifying his charges. The lessons many (liberal) journalists learned from the episode was that it was important not just to report the facts but to interpret them. That this interpretation would inevitably have a liberal bent was not the goal so much as it was a byproduct of their sociological make up.”

Batya Ungar-Sargon reports that as far back as 1963 perceptive people in the industry were troubled by the trend. “The shift from description to interpretation was not without its critics—including on the left. James S. Pope of Louisville’s liberal Courier-Journal decried the ‘Frankensteinish’ copy that intermingled the ‘writers personal notions’ with the facts. And John Oakes, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote a letter in 1963 to his cousin and Times publisher, Punch Sulzberger, decrying the shift. He felt that the news side was encroaching on his territory by becoming increasingly opinionated: ‘I suppose I am butting my head against a stone wall; but again I feel I must call your attention to the editorialization in the news columns, which in my view is steadily eroding the Times’ reputation for objective news reporting.’ He was ignored.”

Of course the editorialization and slanting of the news have grown much worse since then. As recently as maybe eight years ago I subscribed to the New York Times but gave it up because too much of the reporting had become blatantly biased.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Rain-lily seed capsules and clouds

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By the time I found a group of particularly tall rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) in Great Hills Park on October 23rd, the flowers had given way to seed capsules. At least the height of the capsules made it easier for me to get on the ground below them and aim partly upward to include clouds as a backdrop, as you see here. Change the scale of the top picture, use a hefty dose of imagination, and you might be looking at the Tower of the Americas 90 miles to the southwest.


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“The miracle is how robust free expression and liberal science have proved to be, despite unremitting attacks from every direction over hundreds of years. The idea that obnoxious, misguided, seditious, blasphemous, and bigoted expressions deserve not only to be tolerated but, of all things, protected is the single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history. Every human instinct cries out against it, and every generation discovers fresh reasons to oppose it. It is saved from the scrapheap of self-evident absurdity only by the fact that it is also the single most successful social principle in all human history. Those of us who favor it, and also our children, and also their children and their children, will need to get up every morning and explain and defend our counterintuitive social principle from scratch, and so we might as well embrace the task and perform it cheerfully.” — Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (2021)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 14, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Maximilian sunflower time

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As September approached its end, erect stalks of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) became an increasingly common sight in central Texas. In a field along TX 71 in Spicewood on October 3rd I took advantage of the morning’s wispy clouds to photograph a good stand of those sunflowers. The maximum Maximilian in the field towered over me and could well have climbed above 10 ft. (3m):

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 12, 2021 at 4:29 AM

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