Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘flower

A tiny walking stick on a pink evening primrose flower

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From April 17th on a pink evening primrose flower (Oenothera speciosa) in my part of Austin
comes this tiny walking stick whose body was only about half an inch long (13mm).




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The other day I came across a reference to Austin in a 1955 letter that Marilyn Monroe possessed when she died in 1962. In the letter author John Steinbeck asked Marilyn for an autographed photo of her that he could give to his wife’s nephew, Jon Atkinson, a teenager living in Austin who idolized her. You’re welcome to read the letter.

In 2021, Michael Alberty investigated the matter and wrote the article “Unraveling the mystery of John Steinbeck’s letter to Marilyn Monroe.” There’s no doubt Marilyn Monroe had the letter, but was it really from Steinbeck? Steinbeck almost always hand-wrote his letters in pencil, yet this letter was typed, and the signature at the end didn’t look like Steinbeck’s. On the other hand, the initials of the typist, mf, appeared at the bottom of the letter, so maybe the typist signed for Steinbeck.

Michael Alberty did what apparently no one else had done: he tracked down Steinbeck’s nephew, Jon Atkinson. You can read Alberty’s article and learn what he found out.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Lace cactus

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Here’s an Echinocereus reichenbachii var. reichenbachii in my part of Austin on April 17th. It’s not often you see red, yellow, gold, green, and hot pink in the same flower. Below is what the top of a non-flowered one of these cacti looks like; it may explain the “lace” in the common name.





While we’re on the subject of geometric patterns, let me remind you that a plane is a flat surface. We say that a single shape “tiles a plane” if it’s possible to arrange copies of that shape in such a way that they completely cover the plane with no gaps or overlaps. One example of a single shape that tiles the plane is a rectangle:



Another example is an equilateral triangle:



Still another example is the kind of pentagon shown here:



Now, as Scientific American recently reported, “A new shape called an einstein has taken the math world by storm. The craggy, hat-shaped tile can cover an infinite plane with patterns that never repeat.” Here’s how the article begins:


Creatively tiling a bathroom floor isn’t just a stressful task for DIY home renovators. It is also one of the hardest problems in mathematics. For centuries, experts have been studying the special properties of tile shapes that can cover floors, kitchen backsplashes or infinitely large planes without leaving any gaps. Specifically, mathematicians are interested in tile shapes that can cover the whole plane without ever creating a repeating design. In these special cases, called aperiodic tilings, there’s no pattern that you can copy and paste to keep the tiling going. No matter how you chop up the mosaic, each section will be unique.

Until now, aperiodic tilings always required at least two tiles of different shapes. Many mathematicians had already given up hope of finding a solution with one tile, called the elusive “einstein” tile, which gets its name from the German words for “one stone.”

Then, last November, retired printing systems engineer David Smith of Yorkshire, England, had a breakthrough. He discovered a 13-sided, craggy shape that he believed could be an einstein tile. When he told Craig Kaplan, a computer scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Kaplan quickly recognized the potential of the shape. Together with software developer Joseph Samuel Myers and mathematician Chaim Goodman-Strauss of the University of Arkansas, Kaplan proved that Smith’s singular tile does indeed pave the plane without gaps and without repetition. Even better, they found that Smith had discovered not only one but an infinite number of einstein tiles.


Of course you’re eager to see what the 13-sided, craggy shape is, so check out the Scientific American article.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2023 at 4:26 AM

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Scarlet leatherflower

with 10 comments


One place I’ve come to count on for scarlet leatherflowers (Clematis texensis) is the trail connecting Springfield Park to McKinney Falls State Park. Sure enough, I found some of those bright flowers along that forested trail on April 13th. In the pair above, I had the good fortune that one of the flowers had split open to reveal what’s inside, including an ant. Below, you see what becomes of a leatherflower after it has matured.





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The push for equity—forced equal outcomes for all racial groups regardless of individuals’ ability or effort—has become an obsession among many ideologues in recent years. It’s not new, however. You probably remember the so-called Great Recession of 2008. A main cause of it was that politicians and activists had been pushing the government to get lenders to give mortgages to more people in minority groups, even if those people had poor credit histories and a higher-than-average risk of default.

To that end, the American government was allowing lenders to give mortgages to people who hadn’t even saved enough money for a reasonable down payment. When I bought my first house, in 1986, I put 20% down; that was the minimum required to keep from having to pay for mortgage insurance. By the time we sold that house in 2004, not only wasn’t the buyer required to put any money down, he even got money back! He’d been allowed to take out a mortgage for more than the price of the house, with the mortgage company giving the difference back to him in cash.

The reason mortgage lenders had traditionally required a substantial down payment was that it served as “skin in the game.” People who have invested money up front in a house will likely feel the need to protect their investment by taking good care of their property. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, many people who’d been allowed to put very little or no money down on their houses simply walked away. They had very little or nothing to lose, so why not just leave? That quickly left the nation’s mortgage holders with several million abandoned homes they were now unexpectedly responsible for maintaining and trying to sell, even as they were no longer getting the income they’d counted on from monthly mortgage payments to meet their own expenses.

I’ve lived long enough to observe how things go through cycles, for good and for ill. After a débâcle, the ideologues responsible for it—almost none of whom ever suffer any punishment for their failures—swear that they’ll take steps to make sure such a thing never happens again. But of course they don’t take those steps, or else they do initially but then, as time passes and the public’s memory of the catastrophe fades, the ideologues go back to their old, destructive ways.

That’s where we find ourselves again now. As the Washington Times reported on April 18:


Homebuyers with good credit scores will soon encounter a costly surprise: a new federal rule forcing them to pay higher mortgage rates and fees to subsidize people with riskier credit ratings who are also in the market to buy houses.

The fee changes will go into effect May 1 as part of the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s push for affordable housing, and they will affect mortgages originating at private banks across the country. The federally backed home mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will enact the loan-level price adjustments, or LLPAs.

Mortgage industry specialists say homebuyers with credit scores of 680 or higher will pay, for example, about $40 per month more on a home loan of $400,000. Homebuyers who make down payments of 15% to 20% will get socked with the largest fees.


An article on the same subject in the New York Post added this:


Meanwhile, buyers with credit scores of 679 or lower will have their fees slashed, resulting in more favorable mortgage rates. For example, a buyer with a 620 FICO credit score with a down payment of 5% or less gets a 1.75% fee discount — a decrease from the old fee rate of 3.50% for that bracket.

When absorbed into the long-term mortgage rate, that equates to a 0.4% to 0.5% discount.


You read that right: not only will borrowers with poorer credit histories and very low down payments get a reduced rate on their mortgage, but to add insult to injury, people who are good credit risks and who offer substantial down payments will have extra money extorted from them to subsidize the risky borrowers.

Like I said, ideologues don’t give up on their schemes, they just wait out the consequences of the last failure and then go back to doing the same unjust and outrageous things—or even worse ones.

You can read the disheartening details in the full Washington Times article and the full New York Post article.

(After this posted, I realized that the government’s new mortgage program follows the motto “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” That motto, or variants of it, circulated among European socialists in the mid-1800s. Karl Marx, co-author of “The Communist Manifesto,” then popularized it. The motto appeared in the Soviet Union’s 1936 Constitution in the form “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”)

(Second update: this unfair new mortgage policy is another example of why we need a Constitutional amendment stating that every time a regulatory agency promulgates new rules, Congress must approve those rules before they can go into effect. The same must be true for executive orders. We can’t have a country run by administrative agencies and executive orders. The Constitution makes clear that Congress, and only Congress, makes our federal laws. There’ll be more about this in the next post.)



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 21, 2023 at 4:24 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Five will get you one—or is it one will get you five?

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From the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center on March 31 comes a flower head of Lindheimera texana, known as Texas yellow star, Texas star, and Lindheimer daisy. The connection to Texas is that normally each flower head in this species has five ray florets, like the five points of the star on the Texas state flag. Whether this flower head had more rays and lost the others, or whether other rays were yet to emerge, I don’t know. If you want to see what these flowers normally look like, you can check out a post from 2012.



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As it turns out, it is nearly impossible today not to trigger woke health care.

In January 2023, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), a society of the leading heart surgeons in the nation, held a conference where the outgoing president, Dr. John Calhoon, emphasized merit as the primary indicator of success in the profession.

“Affirmative action is not equal opportunity,” he wrote in a PowerPoint presentation. The “best metric is whether someone does good.”

He also wrote that “defining people by color, gender, religion only tends to ingrain bias and discrimination.” 

This is of course true. Studies by Harvard University professor James Dobbin found that most diversity trainings and workshops have little to no effect on the perceptions of colleagues toward one another. They may even be counterproductive, with some studies reporting greater animosity toward other races out of annoyance at the heavy-handed nature of courses. 

Immediately, medical news outlets called Calhoon a racist, white privileged, and other monikers of derision, but they weren’t the only ones. The Society for Thoracic Surgeons condemned Calhoon’s slide in a statement, describing his talking points as “inconsistent with STS’s core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Mind guards at some surgery clinics also issued their own internal responses, and my organization Color Us United has found a particularly egregious one.


That’s the beginning of Kenny Xu’s April 10th article detailing the vicious reactions of people in the medical establishment to Dr. John Calhoon’s assertion that merit is the most important qualification for thoracic surgeons, given that they engage in life-and-death work.

You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 16, 2023 at 4:33 AM

Time for pearl milkweed vines to be flowering again

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Matelea reticulata in my part of Austin on April 8th.
These flowers grow to between a half and three-quarters of an inch across.
It’s evident yet again that milkweeds do things in fives.



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Here’s the truth: if we stopped using oil today, thousands of people would be thrust into an even worse energy crisis, and the wheels of society would stop turning. We do need to replace fossil fuels—but with real alternatives, not the radical erasure… [that climate cultists want].

That’s from a January 23rd article in The Free Press titled “Climate Activism Has a Cult Problem.” The author is the interestingly named Zion Lights, a former member of the radical environmental group Extinction Rebellion. You can read the article to find out how she became disillusioned with climate cultism.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 13, 2023 at 4:29 AM

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Rain lily like a colorful cobra

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A few miles from home on April 8th I found my first rain lily (presumably Zephyranthes drummondii) of the season—not surprising, given the date and the rain we’ve recently had. This one must have been a prodigy, as it had already aged when I found it, and it was alone of its kind at that site to have flowered. The few others there had so far produced only leaves, and the drying, curling tip of one made for a study in curves.





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…[H]umans suffer from a psychological quirk known by such names as pessimism extrapolation, or the end of history illusion. As [Morgan] Housel observed, even people who are aware of the progress that humanity has made in the past “underestimate our ability to change in the future.” “If you underestimate our ability to adapt to unsustainable situations,” he noted, “you’ll find all kinds of things that currently look bad and can be extrapolated into disastrous. Extrapolate college tuition increases and it’ll be prohibitively expensive in 10 years. Extrapolate government deficits and we’ll be bankrupt in 30 years. Extrapolate a recession and we’ll be broke before long. All of these could be reasons for pessimism if you assume no future change or adaptation, which is crazy, given our long history of changing and adapting.”

This is a book about innovation and adaptation. Contrary to many commentators, we do not believe that humanity is bound to destroy itself. Using data spanning close to two centuries, reason, and analysis, we will show you that humans, unlike other members of the animal kingdom, are intelligent beings who are uniquely capable of innovating their way out of pressing problems. We will show you that unlike other species, we have developed sophisticated forms of cooperation that increase our chances not only to survive but to prosper. We will, in other words, show you that there are rational grounds for optimism about your future. And while it is true that, as the financial brokers like to say, past performance is no guide to future performance, note the words of the British historian and statesman Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), who wrote this in 1830:

In every age everybody knows that up to his own time, progressive improvement has been taking place; nobody seems to reckon on any improvement in the next generation. We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who say society has reached a turning point—that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason…. On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?

As you read this book—indeed, as you go through life—remember all the different ways in which your mind is playing tricks on you. Recognize that you are a member of a species that’s always on the lookout for danger and that your predisposition toward the negative provides a market for purveyors of bad news, be they doomsayers who claim that overpopulation will cause mass starvation or scaremongers who claim that we are running out of natural resources. The negativity bias is deeply ingrained in our brains. It cannot be wished away. The best that we can do is to realize that we are suffering from it.


That’s from Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley’s 2022 book Superabundance, which is chock full of statistics showing how much the modern world has improved. Check out this excellent book.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2023 at 4:28 AM

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Southern dewberry

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The southern dewberries (Rubus trivialis) were budding and flowering in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on February 26th. Mostly I did close portraits using natural light and relatively broad apertures, like the flower below photographed at f/5.6. In some cases I went for flash and a small aperture to increase the depth of field, as in the portrait above of an opening bud at f/18. The pink and the prickles remind us that dewberries are in the same botanical family as roses.




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The chocolate wars


Hershey, the company famous for chocolate, has come up in conjunction with two controversies in the past couple of years. The first time was merely as part of an analogy. When comedian Jon Stewart appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in 2021, the following dialogue ensued:


Stewart: “Science has, in many ways, helped ease the suffering of this pandemic, which was more than likely caused by science.”

Colbert: “Do you mean perhaps there’s a chance that this was created in a lab? If there’s evidence, I’d love to hear it, I just don’t know.”

Stewart: “A chance? Oh my God! There’s a novel respiratory coronavirus overtaking Wuhan, China, what do we do? Oh, you know who we could ask? The Wuhan novel respiratory coronavirus lab.

Then came Stewart’s analogy: “Oh my God, there’s been an outbreak of chocolatey goodness near Hershey, Pennsylvania. What do you think happened?’ Like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe a steam shovel mated with a cocoa bean?’ Or it’s the f—ing chocolate factory.”

That caused consternation among many ideologues because in 2021 even reputable scientists who merely wanted to discuss the possibility of a Wuhan lab leak were getting banned from social media and attacked by many in the “news” media. As a reminder of those oppressive times, you can read a New York Post article.


The second controversy is current, and it arose from what the Hershey company has actually done. As The Hill reported on March 3rd:

Hershey has responded to backlash over the decision to highlight the work of a trans activist as part of its International Women’s Day promotion, saying that the inclusive campaign “recognize[s] the strength in diversity.”

Critics first began calling for a Hershey boycott over the last week, after Hershey Canada announced the release of limited-edition chocolate bars featuring the likenesses of “five Canadian women working to build a better future through their passion, activism, and work in their communities.”

Among the five is Fae Johnstone, a trans woman and 2SLGBTQ+ activist (“2S” standing for “two spirit” or “two-spirited,” referring to a non-binary gender designation associated with some indigenous North American peoples).

The chocolate bars in question come in wrappers with the prominent words “HER for SHE,” a clever (if not quite grammatical) play on the word Hershey.

One equally clever response came from Jeremy Boreing, who proved anything but boring when he started selling razors in 2022 after Harry’s, a razor company, pulled its ads from the conservative website The Daily Wire, in which Boreing holds a high position (whimsically called god-king).

Reacting to Hershey’s release of its gender-agenda chocolate bars, the Daily Wire quickly responded by offering two chocolate bars of its own, once again under the Jeremy’s brand. As Boreing wrote in a tweet on Twitter: “Introducing Jeremy’s Chocolate. Yes, it’s real. We have two kinds: HeHim and SheHer. One of them has nuts. If you need me to tell you which one, keep buying Hershey[‘]s.”


On March 4th The Daily Wire reported that customers had placed more than 200,000 orders for Jeremy’s chocolate bars in the first 24 hours after they were offered for sale. The website for Jeremy’s Chocolate indicates an estimated delivery date of April 21, from which I infer that the company is still arranging for production of those chocolate bars.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 5, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Nelumbo lutea

with 15 comments


At 40 Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the morning of September 18th I zoomed my telephoto lens to 400mm to photograph both flowers and seed heads of the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. I’d have thought water lilies and this lotus are in the same botanical family, and in fact both used to be included in Nymphaeaceae. Now, however, botanists have found evidence to move the lotus into its own family, Nelumbonaceae, whose only extant genus is Nelumbo.



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From Mark Twain in London to ice sheets in Antarctica


As Emily Petsko reported in a 2018 article in Mental Floss:

“In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:”

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

People later exaggerated Twain’s last sentence into “The report of my death was a great exaggeration, and now we unfortunately find the incorrect version quoted much more often than the historical one.

I bring that up—and I’m not exaggerating—because a lot of people in the media and in government have been exaggerating, sometimes greatly, the dangers from the world’s changing climate. Physicist* Steven Koonin wrote about that in the September 19th Wall Street Journal. His editorial bears the title “Don’t Believe the Hype About Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers” and the subhead “Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.” Here’s how Koonin’s editorial begins:

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.

Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.


You’re welcome to read the rest of Koonin’s editorial.



* Some climate alarmist activists have made the ad hominem “argument” that because Koonin is a physicist he has no right to say anything about the climate. Of course someone as steeped in data evaluation and the scientific method as a physicist can spend time studying a situation in another field and draw valid conclusions. In fact Koonin has done enough recent research to write an entire book: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. You can read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2022 at 4:30 AM

An endemic wildflower

with 8 comments


In the United States Spigelia texana grows only in Texas.
On the morning of September 18th I got to see some
at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston.



If Texas pinkroot has pink roots, I never got to see any.
I did see that the buds look yellow and turn whiter as they open into flowers.




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As woke as some segments of American society have rapidly become, the United States has nothing on our great* neighbor to the north, which in its sprint to claim the title of the Wokest Country on Earth has been leaving everyone else in the dust. If you haven’t heard about the latest in-your-face transgression at an Ontario high school, you can read accounts of it in the September 23rd Toronto Sun, the September 21st National Desk, and the September 21st New York Post. Scroll through each article for photographs and embedded videos. Alert: you won’t be able to unsee what you’ve seen. You can also watch a four-and-a-half minute video that interviews people protesting this affront. And you can read Brendan O’Neill’s take on this as confirming what he calls the cult of validation. It’s also possible that the teacher in question is trolling everyone and the whole thing is an outlandishly clever hoax.


* Canada has a greater land area than the United States, which is in fourth place. Canada is second, behind Russia and ahead of China. No known correlation exists between the physical size of a country and the extent to which its institutions promote freedom and sanity.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Purple passionflower

with 39 comments


I found myself sauntering (and at 95° sweltering) along a walkway in Houston’s Memorial Park on the bright afternoon of September 17th after I’d noticed while driving through the park that many native species seem to have been planted there. (All the ones I recognized were native, so I assumed the others were, too.) The most striking wildflower I saw there—one I’d walked past on the outward segment of my sauntering and only noticed when I’d made it most of the way back to my car—was a purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. Me being me, I did some closer abstractions of the flowers on this vine.



Today’s post is the first of I don’t know how many that will cover the days we spent in Houston, at Brazos Bend State Park, and on Galveston Island.


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Two frequent themes in my commentaries have been: (1) We need to be accurate in reporting facts and incidents; (2) We should be wary when people try to change the longstanding meaning of a word or phrase. Those two things came together in a recent brouhaha brought about when Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said: “There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

Let’s examine this. Can an ultrasound detect, at least sometimes, activity from the heart area in a human embryo that has been developing for six weeks? The answer turns out to be yes. Stacey Abrams was therefore incorrect in calling the sound “manufactured.” Could she have meant that the embryo was “manufacturing” the sound? That hardly seems likely, based on the rest of her statement.

Supporters of Stacey Abrams rushed to defend her comment by saying that any “cardiac activity” detectable at six weeks isn’t really a heartbeat because the heart is only beginning to form at that stage. When I searched for information about that, one of the first hits I got was a 2019 article by Jessica McDonald on FactCheck.org called “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?” The article, which came in response to “fetal heartbeat” bills that legislators in various states had been proposing, noted that “‘fetal heartbeat’ is more of a legal term than a medical one.” Jessica McDonald went on:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also has said in a statement, “What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops. Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

 But then she went on to add:

At the same time, many online medical websites, including the Mayo Clinic, do refer to the heart and its beating early-on in pregnancy. And plenty of medical textbooks use the words “heart” and “heartbeat” to refer to the embryo’s developing heart.

So even medical experts differ on when cardiac activity in a developing embryo or fetus qualifies as a “heartbeat.” That’s actually not surprising. In many kinds of development there’s no hard and fast line between one stage and the next. For example, when does a child become an adult? Americans in three states can get a full driver’s license at 16; the other 47 states grant a full license at varying older ages. In all states people can vote and serve in the military at 18, but they aren’t allowed to buy alcohol till 21. And scientists tell us that human brain development isn’t complete until approximately age 25.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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