Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘flowers

Bumblebee on blazing-star

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At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th I managed to get one picture of a bumblebee on some flowering Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star. Maybe the bee is Bombus pensylvanicus. I’m no great shakes at identifying insect species, but at least I know how to spell Pennsylvania. (I can do Mississippi and Massachusetts, too. Woo hoo!).

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I recommend three articles documenting the scourge of illiberalism that’s unfortunately been proliferating in the United States and other places.

1) “The New Puritans,” by Ann Applebaum, about the very real harms that cancel culture inflicts, from The Atlantic in August 2021.

2) “Academics Are Really, Really Worried About Their Freedom,” by linguistics professor John McWhorter, also in The Atlantic, from September 2020.

3) “How Critical Social Justice ideology fuels antisemitism,” by David Bernstein of The Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, from September 3, 2021.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2021 at 4:34 AM

From snow to fire

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Yesterday’s post showed you a happy colony of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Now here’s one of its genus-mates, Euphorbia cyathophora, known as fire-on-the-mountain for the bright red of its bracts. Another common name is wild poinsettia, a reference to a more-familiar genus-mate, Euphorbia pulcherrima, that people decorate their places with during the Christmas season.

I photographed this fire-on-the-mountain on the morning of September 11th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It hadn’t rained, but the staff waters the plants in the central courtyard, and that accounted for the droplets in the photograph.

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I’m reading mathematician Jordan Ellenberg’s new book Shape. Here’s a passage from the first chapter.

We encounter non-proofs in proofy clothing all the time, and unless we’ve made ourselves especially attentive, they often get by our defenses. There are tells you can look for. In math, when an author starts a sentence with “Clearly,” what they are really saying is “This seems clear to me and I probably should have checked it, but I got a little confused, so I settled for just asserting that it was clear.” The newspaper pundit’s analogue is the sentence starting “Surely, we can all agree.” Whenever you see this, you should at all costs not be sure that all agree on what follows. You are being asked to treat something as an axiom*, and if there’s one thing we can learn from the history of geometry, it’s that you shouldn’t admit a new axiom into your book until it really proves its worth.

Always be skeptical when someone tells you they’re “just being logical.” If they are talking about an economic policy or a culture figure whose behavior they deplore or a relationship concession they want you to make, and not a congruence of triangles, they are not “just being logical,” because they’re operating in a context where logical deduction—if it applies at all—can’t be untangled from everything else. They want you to mistake an assertively expressed chain of opinions as the proof of a theorem. But once you’ve experienced the sharp click of an honest-to-goodness proof, you’ll never fall for this again. Tell your “logical “opponent to go square a circle.**

A big reason we surely can’t all agree is that people often use a given term to mean different things. What one person considers a “fair share,” another person takes to be a disproportionate burden. One person uses “justice” to mean a desired outcome, while for another person “justice” means due process and equal treatment. If we don’t start from the same definitions, why would we expect to reach the same conclusions?

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* An axiom is a principle that everyone will take to be true and will use as a starting point to figure out other facts or relationships. For example, one axiom of mathematics is that a whole thing is equal to the sum of its parts. Another axiom is that two things that are each equal to a third thing are equal to each other.

** “Squaring the circle” was a geometric challenge that meant: Using only a compass, a straightedge, and a finite number of steps, construct a square that has the same area as a given circle. For centuries mathematicians tried and failed to figure out how to do that. In 1882, Ferdinand von Lindemann finally proved that squaring the circle is impossible. (So much for the common notion that “You can’t prove a negative. Sometimes you can.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Where else to find snow-on-the-prairie but on the prairie?

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On the morning of September 10th I headed east from Austin in search of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor, whose flowering time was at hand. I found some good stands close to and in Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of Austin whose name is pronounced with a hard g, as in give. To take my first snow-on-the-prairie pictures, I leaned my upper body over a barbed wire fence along US 290 west of Elgin, looked through the camera’s viewfinder, and composed pictures of the field you see here. For a few of my photographs I held the camera as high over my head as possible and guess-aimed somewhat downward to get a better angle and increased depth of field. I don’t know if the picture above was one of those, but it might well have been. The snow in the plant’s common name refers to the white-margined bracts that become so prominent leading up to the plant’s flowering. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous.

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I strive for accuracy. Even so, it’s human nature to make mistakes. If you’re aware of anything in my commentaries that’s not factually correct, please point it out, along with a link to legitimate evidence of the truth, and I’ll make corrections.

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The current American administration’s blatant dereliction of duty and collusion to flout the law

According to the official website whitehouse.gov, “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress.” [I’ve italicized the second sentence for emphasis.]

Congress has passed immigration laws that set up the legal process by which people are allowed to immigrate to the United States. Nevertheless, for eight months now members of the Executive Branch, including the President of the United States, have worked strenuously to thwart the immigration laws Congress has put in place. Back on August 6th I reported that our government was letting some 40,000 people per week come across the southwestern border illegally. Customs and Border Protection reported approximately 210,000 encounters with illegal border crossers in July. (Some of those were people who had crossed illegally more than once that month.) The other day authorities released the figures for August: “208,887 encounters along the Southwest Border,” of which 156,641 were unique (the difference between those numbers being people encountered more than once that month). The July and August figures were 20-year highs. And remember that the official figures only include people who were apprehended; unknown tens of thousands each month managed to enter illegally and evade authorities.

So many people have walked unimpeded across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas, in the past few days that federal and local authorities are completely overwhelmed and can’t cope with it. The border there is wide open. Word has gone out around the world that anyone who can make it to Ciudad Acuña, the town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, is free to wade across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas. And people around the world have heard the news and have come.

On September 15th, an estimated 4000 illegal immigrants who had walked across the river were taking refuge under the International Bridge in Del Rio. By September 16th the number of people under or adjacent to the bridge was estimated to have doubled. You can read about it and see photographs in an article by Adam Shaw and Bill Melugin. Representative Tony Gonzales, whose House of Representatives district includes Del Rio, is quoted in the article: “When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it’s gut wrenching and it’s dangerous.” If you want, you can read/watch other stories about the situation.

On September 17th I heard an estimate on television that the number of people under and close to the bridge had grown to 10,500. Later that day I read that the estimate had risen to 12,000. I watched live television showing a steady stream of people walking across a low dam from Ciudad Acuña into Del Rio. The television reporter said this has been going on non-stop for days, and that thousands more people were reported heading up to the border from nearby places in Mexico. According to Del Rio’s mayor, Bruno Lozano, “There’s people having babies down there [under the bridge], there’s people collapsing out of the heat. They’re pretty aggressive, rightly so — they’ve been in the heat day after day after day.”

The situation is dire. Remember that this is summer, and afternoon high temperatures in that part of southern Texas have been running around 100°F (38°–39°C). The video that I watched showed rows of portable toilets, the insides of which must be horrendous. Food and drinking water are in short supply. The sun beats down from dawn to dusk. Thousands more people keep coming every day.

And let’s not forget that we’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the current administration issued an edict—most likely beyond its legal authority, but that’s nothing new—according to which many American citizens who aren’t willing to get vaccinated or be tested every week will lose their jobs. Of course the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens who have been illegally pouring across the border, including the thousands now crowded together in Del Rio, often without masks, are exempt from the edict—despite the fact that a majority come from countries where few people have been vaccinated. Unlike American citizens, these people that our government is letting enter illegally don’t have to get tested. They don’t have to get vaccinated. Many of them will be allowed to come into the country illegally anyway, and our government will even pay their way into the interior.

If this isn’t lawlessness, then nothing is.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Hierba de zizotes milkweed

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Austin is home to various milkweed species, including the Asclepias oenotheroides shown here from the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd. As I explained in a 2015 post, vernacular names for this plant are side-cluster milkweed and (even in English) hierba de zizotes. Hierba in Spanish means ‘plant,’ and as best I can make out, zizote is one of various forms of a Mexican Spanish word—others being sicotecizotesisote—that refers to a type of skin lesion. When milkweeds are bent or bruised, they release drops of a white liquid that can indeed irritate some people’s skin, so perhaps this species of milkweed was known to cause those lesions. Or maybe the opposite was true, namely that this plant could be used to treat that skin condition.

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Yesterday I provided data showing the dismal lack of academic knowledge and skills among black and Hispanic schoolchildren in the United States. Ideologues blame that on “systemic racism,” and I’m willing to grant that our educational establishment is probably the last main institution to systemically hinder black and Hispanic kids by ensuring that they don’t learn much. (White kids on average don’t learn a lot in public schools either, but the disparity is still large.)

So what to do? For the past four decades I’ve advocated setting objective standards for each grade in school and then sticking to those standards no matter what. That means putting an end once and for all to the pernicious practice euphemistically called “social promotion,” where kids are passed along from one grade to the next to the next based on age, regardless of how much—or in most cases how little—the students have learned. The coddling excuse for social promotion has been that kids need to stay with their peers, so it would be emotionally damaging to hold back kids who hadn’t learned the required material. And I say, let the peer groups be determined primarily by knowledge rather than by the happenstance of chronological age.

My proposal in the 1980s was for standards to be reintroduced (re- because we amazingly once did have standards in our schools) one grade at a time, progressing over a dozen years from 1st grade to 12th grade. After the first year, students who fail to learn the required 1st-grade material would repeat the year, with as much extra help given to them as possible. Because the current level of knowledge as documented by NAEP is so abominably low, after standards are reintroduced many kids will fail the first grade. Separate classes of repeat first-graders can be made up entirely of kids who will be a year older than average, and therefore the desire to keep kids of the same age together will be fulfilled as well.

The initial failure of large numbers of minority kids will bring out the usual chorus of ideologues screaming “racism!” But they’re already screaming that about everything under the sun anyhow, so let’s follow the advice of John McWhorter, who is black, and simply ignore those accusations of racism. My contention is that getting things back on track will take some time, but it will be worth it in the end. Once kids master first-grade material, even if it takes them an extra year, they’ll be in a good position to be able to keep up from then on—provided that they do the required work and spend enough time studying. Telling black and Latino kids that doing homework and studying are “acting white” is counterproductive. It’s also racist.

Let me give you an analogy from personal experience. During my first three years of college I saved money by commuting an hour and a half each way from home. That meant a half-mile walk, one bus ride, and three subway rides, but by living at home I didn’t have to pay for room and board. The downside was that commuting three hours a day in New York rush-hour crowds while carrying a heavy academic load was wearing me out. With my senior year approaching, I finally got together with a fellow student and we rented an apartment a mile from school.

To pay for the apartment and all the meals I couldn’t get at home anymore, I applied for a part-time job through my college. The college got me a position shelving books in the law school library. When I showed up for my first day of work at the beginning of the semester in September, I discovered that apparently no one had been shelving for a long time, and huge piles of law books lay all over the place. Being new and not knowing where anything was or how the system worked, I decided not even to try putting any books away for awhile. Instead, I began to familiarize myself with the library. In the large holding area where all the returned books had been accumulating, I slowly started moving books around into general groups according to their call numbers. Later I began putting subgroups of those books onto carts so I could take them to the appropriate shelves and put them away. If someone had checked on me after a couple of days, it might well have looked like I’d been doing nothing, as I’d not yet shelved a single book. The truth is that I’d spent my time well by creating an efficient system. Finally I started putting books away and eventually I got the floor that I was responsible for cleaned up.

Once I’d cleared up the summer backlog, keeping my floor under control from then on as new books got returned was relatively easy. In fact it was too easy, and there wasn’t enough work to fill my allotted 20 hours a week. I went to the supervisor and asked what he wanted me to do with the extra time. He added another floor to my responsibilities. I used my system again and gradually got the additional floor under control. At that point I found that even with two floors I still had time left over, so I went back to the supervisor, who added a third floor to my responsibilities. Same story there. Putting away books on three floors kept me busy for about the right amount of time, and that’s how things stayed until I graduated the next spring. (One interesting aside: After I got things under control on my three floors in the law library, I went back to the supervisor, pointed out that I was now doing the work of three people, and asked if he could increase my hourly pay rate. He said the system wouldn’t allow for that, but he agreed to let me add extra hours to my time sheet that I hadn’t actually worked, and he signed off on them as if I really had worked them. Imagine that.)

I believe that getting our educational system under control is similar to what I did in the law library, though on a longer time scale. In the beginning and for some time it may seem like we’re not making progress, but we will be.

A second objection I expect will come my way is that it’s not the fault of black and Hispanic kids that they’re so far behind, so why should they have to pay the price of being initially held back in disproportionate numbers? Here again I’ll propose an analogy.

Suppose that you were riding in a car when a driver ran a red light at high speed and crashed into you. After you regained consciousness in the hospital a couple of days later doctors explained to you that you were seriously injured in the crash. They say your chances for recovery are good but it will take quite a while for your body to heal, and even then you’ll need a long period of rehabilitation to get back to normal.

Now imagine one reaction you could have: “No, no, no! It’s not my fault that somebody ran a red light and crashed into me. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I don’t want to stay in the hospital for weeks with tubes in me while my body heals, and then have to drag through months of rehabilitation. I want to be normal now!”

I think you’ll agree that that reaction gets you nowhere. A better reaction is to acknowledge the unfairness of your situation but to understand that even though it’s not your fault, your body has undergone serious damage and will need time to heal. Rehabilitation will be arduous but it’s the only way to get back to normal strength and ability.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

P.S. A few days after I came up with my traffic accident analogy, I read a 2018 article by Coleman Hughes that mentioned ‘The Parable of the Pedestrian.’ Created by legal scholar Amy Wax, that parable is very similar to the analogy I independently devised last week when I put this post together. You’re welcome to listen to a minute-and-a-half video of Amy Wax telling her parable to Glenn Loury.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Sensitive briar seed pods

with 32 comments

A week ago you saw an August 22nd view of a sensitive briar flower globe (Mimosa roemeriana) in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. Now from that same photo foray you get a look at some prickle-covered sensitive briar pods in front of one of those flower globes.

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“Systemic racism”?

I deplore the practice of labeling every little thing “racist.” If everything is “racist,” then nothing is, and the word has no meaning. Similarly, we often hear the claim that America is “systemically racist.” Of course that was once true, most notably during slavery and then during the century of so-called Jim Crow that followed. While there are—and, given human nature, presumably always will be—individual people of one race who bear ill will toward people of another race, it’s no longer true that institutions in the United States are systemically biased against the groups they used to discriminate against.

Except in education. The American education bureaucracy has done and keeps doing an amazingly efficient job of making sure black and brown kids don’t get a decent education, even as educationists hypocritically decry the racist treatment of those groups.

For decades the National Center for Education Statistics (NAEP) has gathered data about how “well” American students of various ages perform academically. The results are sorted into three categories:

Basic “denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at each grade.” [As a math teacher I’ll add that having only a partial mastery of the prerequisites for the new material being taught makes it very difficult for a student to understand the new material.]

Proficient “represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, applications of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.”

Advanced “signifies superior performance beyond proficient.”

The other day I looked at the NAEP’s chart for the 2019 performance in grade-12 mathematics [go to page 9 in that document]. The results were predictably and persistently appalling for historical minorities.

A scandalous 66% of black 12th-graders fell below even the basic level in mathematics! Only 26% scored at the basic level, and 8% at the proficient level. Add those three numbers together and you get 100%. That’s right: so very few black 12th graders reached the advanced level that their numbers rounded to 0% for the top category.

Hispanics did only a little better. 54% of Hispanic 12th-graders fell below even the basic level in mathematics. Only 35% scored at the basic level, and 10% at the proficient level. Just 1% of Hispanics made it into the advanced category.

Did you have any idea how very bad the situation is?

What’s to be done? Come back next time and I’ll offer a suggestion.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 14, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Purple prairie clover young and old

with 22 comments

It’s not often I’ve shown you purple prairie clover, Dalea purpurea. Here are two contrasting takes from the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd. First you have a limited-focus view of fresh flowers, then a decaying seed head in front of some sunflowers, Helianthus annuus.

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Diversity? What diversity?

One of the three* sacraments in the Holy Trinity of the Critical Social Justice religion is Diversity. (The other two, in case you’ve just arrived from Pluto and aren’t au courant, are Equity and Inclusion.) Anyone not a true believer soon recognizes that the diversity in question refers only to group characteristics like skin color. It certainly doesn’t include diversity of thought. On the contrary, in the spirit of Orwell’s “Freedom is slavery,” the sacrament of Diversity requires waging a crusade against ideological diversity.

I recently learned that one ray of enlightenment has broken through, and it’s right here at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin. “The University of Texas has worked with private donors and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick to establish a new think tank to promote conservative ideas on campus.” Now, you might argue that a state university has no business promoting conservative ideology. All things being equal, I’d agree with you. But in this case things are very far from equal. As a Campus Reform article notes: “In total, UT employees donated $642,693.43 from 2017-2018. Of that amount, 94.7 percent went to Democrat politicians or Democrat organizations, while just 5.3 percent of the donations were made to Republican politicians or Republican organizations.” With such an enormous ideological imbalance already existing, it would be hypocritical to begrudge establishing one little program on the other side of the political spectrum. But of course leftist activists will rail against it anyway—all in the name of Diversity.

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* Never content for long with the status quo, no matter how radical, the Critical Social Justice religion seems to be in the process of adding a fourth sacrament: Belonging. Once Belonging gets officially inducted into the pantheon, a fifth sacrament should soon be a-borning. What will it be? Safety? Solidarity? Openness (which will of course mean ‘closed to evidence that contradicts it’)? Tolerance (which won’t tolerate dissent)?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Portraits from our yard, episode 13

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Throughout August I kept my eye on the lone Eupatorium serotinum plant growing where our driveway meets the curb. Gradually the plant began putting out buds, which toward the end of the month finally started opening. Common names for this species include late-flowering thoroughwort, white boneset, late boneset, and late-flowering boneset. At one point I noticed a tiny bee, maybe only a quarter of an inch long (6mm), as shown in the closer picture below. Some of the buds look like miniature cauliflowers, don’t you think?

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The United States is in a bad way, educationally speaking. That’s not new, but things have worsened. Three mathematics professors who had come to the United States as immigrants made some important points about that in a recent Quillette article entitled “As US Schools Prioritize Diversity Over Merit, China Is Becoming the World’s STEM Leader.” (STEM is an acronym for ‘science, technology, engineering, mathematics.’)

In a 2015 survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board, about 55 percent of all participating graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering at US schools were found to be foreign nationals. In 2017, the National Foundation for American Policy estimated that international students accounted for 81 percent of full-time graduate students in electrical engineering at U.S. universities; and 79 percent of full-time graduate students in computer science.

That report also concluded that many programs in these fields couldn’t even be maintained without international students. In our field, mathematics, we find that at most top departments in the United States, at least two-thirds of the faculty are foreign born. (And even among those faculty born in the United States, a large portion are first-generation Americans.) Similar patterns may be observed in other STEM disciplines.

In a 2018 report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), China ranked first in mathematical proficiency among 15-year-olds, while the United States was in 25th place. And a recent large-scale study of adults’ cognitive abilities, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that many Americans lack the basic skills in math and reading required for successful participation in the economy. This poor performance can’t be explained by budgetary factors: When it comes to education spending per pupil, the United States ranks fifth among 37 developed OECD nations.

There are numerous underlying factors that help explain these failures—including some that, as mathematicians, we feel competent to address. One obvious problem lies in the way teachers are trained. The vast majority of K-12 math teachers in the United States are graduates of programs that teach little in the way of substantive mathematics beyond so-called math methods courses (which focus on such topics as “understanding the complexities of diverse, multiple-ability classrooms”). This has been true for some time. But the trend has become more noticeable in recent years, as curricula increasingly shift from actual mathematics knowledge to courses about social justice and identity politics.

At the same time, math majors—who can arrive in the classroom pre-equipped with substantive mathematics knowledge—must go through the process of teacher certification before they can teach math in most public schools, a costly and time-consuming prerequisite. The policy justification for this is that all teachers need pedagogical training to perform effectively. But to our knowledge, this claim isn’t supported by the experience of other advanced countries. Moreover, in those US schools where certification isn’t required, such as in many charter and private schools, math majors and PhDs are in great demand, and the quality of math instruction they provide is often superior.

There’s plenty more in the full article.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2021 at 4:36 AM

A different camphorweed stage

with 36 comments

In yesterday’s post you saw that the ray florets in a camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) flower head sometimes curl like little ribbons. Now the same stand of plants in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd lets you see the remains of a camphorweed seed head. The bright and pretty yellow in the background came from some “common” sunflowers (Helianthus annuus).

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Yesterday’s post also dealt with the early and continuing politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic. On July 3rd I mentioned that some countries were using the drug ivermectin as a therapeutic in treating Covid-19, while at the same time some authorities continued saying the drug is ineffective for that purpose. Regardless of the truth of ivermectin’s effectiveness, which of course as a layman I was (and still am) in no position to know, I lamented the fact that large online sites like Facebook and Twitter were banning people, some of them highly qualified, from even discussing the matter. That’s not in the tradition of a country that thinks so highly of free speech that it’s mentioned in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Since my July 3rd post there have been new developments about ivermectin. Before I go into them, let me tell you what ivermectin is. “In 2015, the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, in its only award for treatments of infectious diseases since six decades prior, honoured the discovery of ivermectin (IVM)…. IVM as deployed worldwide since 1987 has made major inroads against two devastating tropical diseases, onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.” It’s also the case that “Ivermectin is FDA-approved for use in animals for prevention of heartworm disease in some small animal species, and for treatment of certain internal and external parasites in various animal species.”

Now for the recent developments.

A rural Oklahoma doctor said patients who are taking the horse de-wormer medication, ivermectin, to fight COVID-19 are causing emergency room and ambulance back ups.

“There’s a reason you have to have a doctor to get a prescription for this stuff, because it can be dangerous,” said Dr. Jason McElyea.

Dr. McElyea said patients are packing his eastern and southeastern Oklahoma hospitals after taking ivermectin doses meant for a full-sized horse, because they believed false claims the horse de-wormer could fight COVID-19.

“The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated,” he said.

That’s something McElyea said is now backing up ambulance systems as well.

“All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in and they don’t have any, that’s it,” said Dr. McElyea. “If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call.”

Rolling Stone Magazine picked up the story, as did MSNBC and various other outlets. Some of them put a decidedly “look at those stupid hicks swallowing horse paste” spin on their telling of it, conveniently failing to even mention that ivermectin does have approved human uses and that some other countries have been administering it for Covid-19.

One little problem: the story was untrue. An MSN article details the things that were wrong with it.

  • Here’s the second development. In August, a doctor who favors the use of ivermectin in treating Covid-19 wrote a remote prescription for a patient in an Ohio hospital’s intensive care unit. After the hospital refused to administer the drug because it’s not approved for that purpose in the United States, the patient’s family went to court. On August 23rd a judge ordered the hospital to administer the prescribed ivermectin. Then on September 6th another judge reversed the first judge’s order, siding with the hospital’s stance that government agencies in the United States haven’t approved ivermectin for Covid-19. The second judge noted that “This Court is not determining if ivermectin will ever be effective and useful as a treatment for COVID-19.”
  • In the third and most important development, the September 2021 issue of the medical journal New Microbes and New Infections reports the following:

Since March 2020, when IVM (ivermectin) was first used against a new global scourge, COVID-19, more than 20 randomized clinical trials (RCTs) have tracked such inpatient and outpatient treatments. Six of seven meta-analyses of IVM treatment RCTs reporting in 2021 found notable reductions in COVID-19 fatalities, with a mean 31% relative risk of mortality vs. controls. During mass IVM treatments in Peru, excess deaths fell by a mean of 74% over 30 days in its ten states with the most extensive treatments. Reductions in deaths correlated with the extent of IVM distributions in all 25 states with p < 0.002. Sharp reductions in morbidity using IVM were also observed in two animal models, of SARS-CoV-2 and a related betacoronavirus. The indicated biological mechanism of IVM, competitive binding with SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, is likely non-epitope specific, possibly yielding full efficacy against emerging viral mutant strains.

If you wish, you can read the full article.

So it seems the evidence is now coming down in favor of ivermectin’s effectiveness in treating Covid-19. We’ll see if future research keeps supporting that conclusion. We’ll follow the science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 11, 2021 at 5:10 AM

A tendency to curl

with 21 comments

I’ve noticed that the ray florets in some of our sunflower-family flower heads tend to curl like little ribbons. Ribbony wildflowers I’ve shown in these pages include Engelmann daisy and peonia. The most recent example I came across is this camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd.

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I don’t have to tell you that the Covid-19 pandemic quickly became and remains highly politicized. That high degree of politicization is all the more reason for researchers, including journalists, to do what’s known as due diligence. In other words, seek out all the evidence you can find, regardless of what position it ends up supporting, and report it accurately. Yesterday I learned about an article by David Zweig in which he reported on research of that kind that he had done. The article is “The Science of Masking Kids at School Remains Uncertain,” and it appeared in the August 20, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. I invite you to read it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 10, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Amberique bean flowering

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I don’t often come across amberique bean (Strophostyles helvula or helvola) in Austin. I did on August 22nd in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. You can probably tell that this plant is in the pea family. Harder to determine is the origin of the name amberique. My research failed to turn up anything definitive, but I did come across the hypothesis that the word originated in an indigenous language.

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On August 20th I quoted from the 2021 book Noise, by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Siboney, and Cass R. Sunstein. Here’s another interesting passage, this time about interviewing job applicants.

The power of first impressions is not the only problematic aspect of interviews. Another is that as interviewers, we want the candidate sitting in front of us to make sense (a manifestation of our excessive tendency… to seek and find coherence). In one striking experiment, researchers assigned students to play the role of the interviewer or interviewee and told both that the interview should consist only of closed-ended, yes-or-no questions. They then asked some of the interviewees to answer questions randomly. (The first letter of the questions as formulated determined if they should answer yes or no.) As the researchers wryly note, “Some of the interviewees were initially concerned that the random interview would break down and be revealed to be nonsense. No such problem occurred, and the interviews proceeded.” You read that right: not a single interviewer realized that the candidates were giving random answers. Worse, when asked to estimate whether they were “able to infer a lot about this person given the amount of time we spent together,” interviewers in this “random” condition were as likely to agree as those who had met candidates responding truthfully. Such is our ability to create coherence. As we can often find an imaginary pattern in random data or imagine a shape in the contours of a cloud, we are capable of finding logic in perfectly meaningless answers.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2021 at 4:31 AM

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