Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘insect

Red and brown offsetting the green

with 8 comments

 

The tree that botanists classify as Parkinsonia aculeata is commonly known even in English as paloverde, a Spanish term that we might translate as ‘green wood.’ While parts of the tree’s branches and trunk often turn conspicuously green, its thorns take on warm colors like red and brown, as you see above. Also sporting some colors in that range was the planthopper shown below on one of the paloverde tree’s leaves. The date was June 24th; the location was Fireoak Dr., a couple of miles from home.

 

  

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From 2017 through 2019 the folks at Gapminder posed various questions to people. Two days ago I listed four of them for you to try your hand (or brain) at. The correct answer to each is in bold italics.

1)  In 1980, roughly 40% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, with less than $2 per day.
What is the share today?       A) 10%       B) 30%       C) 50%

2)  During the past 40 years the amount of oil and natural gas remaining in known reserves has:
A) been reduced to less than half       B) remained more or less the same       C) more than doubled

3)  How much of the world’s total land surface has some physical infrastructure built on it, like houses or roads (excluding farm land)?        A) less than 5%       B) around 15%       C) more than 25%

4)  How many of the world’s one-year-old children were vaccinated against some disease in 2019?        
A) less than 20%       B) around 50%       C) more than 80% 

 For all four questions, Gapminder found that the right answer got the smallest share of votes.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 5, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Tiny damselfly

with 40 comments

 

On June 24th along and near Bull Creek I noticed plenty of tiny damselflies. This one was about an inch long. After looking at John C. Abbott’s book Damselflies of Texas and comparing with online photographs, I’m thinking this could well have been a male blue-ringed dancer, Argia sedula.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 2, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Striped hairy belly bee

with 17 comments

 

I’m thinking the insect I found on a Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) on June 12th is a striped hairy belly bee, which I’d never heard of till I looked at a little guide called Bees of Central Texas. Insects of this sort are in the family Megachilidae, which, despite representation in Texas, doesn’t have anything to do with mega chili. The guide notes that striped hairy belly bees “may raise abdomen while visiting flowers.” Another website says that members of this family are “large, hairy bees with black and white stripes on the abdomen. The belly often appears yellow from the pollen these species carry.” Today’s two pictures fit those descriptions.

  

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In 1964, the Congress of the United States passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King Jr. considered it a second Emancipation Proclamation, after the first one that President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War a century earlier. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Most Americans believe in the principle that the government should treat people equally, without regard to an irrelevant characteristic like skin color—most, but not all, and certainly not those currently in charge of our government. Last year I reported on a program in which the current administration granted loan forgiveness to farmers affected by Covid-19; the problem was that white farmers were prohibited from applying for relief under that program. That was clearly a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a court soon struck down the barring of white farmers from the program as illegal.

Last year I also reported on a similar federal program to help restaurant owners whose businesses Covid-19 had seriously affected. The program forced white male restaurant owners to the back of the bus, so to speak, behind people of any other race and sex. Money allocated for the program would have run out before a single white male applicant could have gotten any. A court soon ruled that unequal treatment illegal, too.

What’s worse, even after those two legal defeats the current administration still keeps trying to flout the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest attempt I’m aware of involves proposed government assistance to would-be home purchasers. The problem is that to qualify for that aid a person has to be black.

You can learn the particulars in a Wall Street Journal editorial. If the government ever implements that race-based mortgage assistance program, of course a white person who’s excluded will sue and will once again prevail in court. How the people in our government believe they can keep trying to get away with such blatantly illegal discrimination is beyond me, but that’s clearly and shamefully what they believe.

Along similar lines, a few days later I learned of a judicial victory that took place in California at the beginning of April. California had passed a law requiring “that boards of directors of California-based, publicly held domestic or foreign corporations satisfy a racial, ethnic, and LGBT quota by the end of the 2021 calendar year.” Judge Terry A. Green found that the law “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution on its face.” In his decision, Judge Green wrote:

The difficulty is that the Legislature is thinking in group terms. But the California Constitution protects the right of individuals to equal treatment. Before the Legislature may require that members of one group be given certain board seats, it must first try to create neutral conditions under which qualified individuals from any group may succeed. That attempt was not made in this case….

The statute treats similarly situated individuals — qualified potential corporate board members — differently based on their membership (or lack thereof) in certain listed racial, sexual orientation, and gender identity groups. It requires that a certain specific number of board seats be reserved for members of the groups on the list — and necessarily excludes members of other groups from those seats.

You can read more in a Judicial Watch article and another Judicial Watch article.

I also recently came across yet another example of illegal racial discrimination, this time perpetrated by Brown University, which is is engaging in segregated teacher training.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect that the people running our institutions will treat everyone alike. Unfortunately many of those people favor unequal treatment based on as irrelevant a criterion as the color of a person’s skin. There are many words for that: barbaric, unenlightened, shameful, benighted, unlawful, immoral, unfair, discriminatory, ignorant, unjust, biased, iniquitous, dishonorable, vile, unprincipled, wrong, intolerant, prejudiced, illiberal, racist. Take your pick.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2022 at 5:08 AM

Bug and beetle on Mexican hat

with 15 comments

As I was leaving the grounds of the Hyde Park Baptist High School on May 30th I caught sight of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) that didn’t look quite normal. When I got close to check it out I discovered a blister beetle on it, and then I noticed a bug lower down as well. After the bug (likely Calocoris barberi) moved up onto the column, I made this portrait.

 

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Last week I went to log in to my savings account at a bank. A message came up saying that the bank was reorganizing its online system and I’d need to create a new password. Okay, that happens. I began the process, as part of which I received an email with a temporary password I’d have to use. Here’s the relevant portion of that e-mail:

Your new temporary password is d5KzZYu-

Please sign in with the password exactly as shown including upper and lower case. Ensure that there is no punctuation, characters or spaces before or after the password.

Do you see my dilemma? I was told to use the password exactly as shown, and yet I was supposed to ensure that no punctuation appears after the password. Was the hyphen at the end of the first line the final character of the temporary password, or was it a punctuation mark I needed to avoid? Why would the people managing the bank allow such an ambiguity to occur? It’s easy for a programmer to exclude a hyphen and all other punctuation marks from the character set from which temporary passwords are generated. And yet that didn’t happen.

Another point of confusion during the process was a reference to an OTP device. Do you know what an OTP device is? I didn’t. It turns out that the bank intends OTP as an initialism for “one-time passcode.” So why doesn’t the bank just use the full phrase and avoid any doubt? I queried the internet just now to see if I could find out what OTP stands for. Some sites did say “one-time password” or “one-time passcode.” Other sites said that OTP means “on the phone,” “one true pairing,” or something less savory.

As you’ve heard me say more than once: everything online and in manuals needs to appear in a way that’s clear to a novice user. The fact that the company’s staff knows how to interpret things is irrelevant.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Revenge on poison ivy

with 17 comments

It’s all too common for poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) to cause itchy red splotches on people’s skin. It’s also not uncommon, at least in Austin, to see reddish splotches on poison ivy. As fitting as that “revenge” may seem, it doesn’t come from people but from Aculops rhois, a tiny mite that creates these little pouches in poison ivy leaflets. Today’s picture is from May 30 on the grounds of Hyde Park Baptist High School, which is home to some lush stands of poison ivy. No doubt the people who run the school wish that weren’t so.

I believe the leaflet gets its characteristic sheen from urushiol, the chemical that irritates human skin.
By the way, did you notice the ant on the margin of the leaflet?

    

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As both an American citizen and a longtime teacher I’m appalled at how my country’s schools have devolved and keep devolving. I recently came across a roughly 30-page document entitled “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.

Here’s the gist of it:

Public education is central to American democracy. Ideally, children from every area of our country can graduate from effective and well-resourced schools that prepare them equally for active citizenship and meaningful lives. Yet, the conditions in our schools are not ideal. Schools across the U.S. tend to struggle with educating black and Latino students when compared to their white peers. This is the case even in cities where there is notable progress on other important issues like immigration, health care and neighborhood revitalization. In fact, as we show in this report, highly prosperous cities with progressive residents have particularly poor outcomes for children living at the margins. It is ironic that this is happening for children living in cities that are best positioned to reverse the nation’s shameful education “achievement gap.”

Leaders of progressive cities often frame their policy proposals in terms of what’s best for those with the least opportunity and the greatest obstacles — those who have been “left out and left behind” …. But, in education, we found the opposite: Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.

“The Secret Shame” is easy to read, maintains a calm tone, is typographically well laid out and nicely illustrated with charts and graphs presenting the data that supports the document’s claims. You’re welcome to check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Two flies from the side of the road

with 23 comments

Here are two flies from May 10th on the north side of RM (Ranch-to-Market) 2222 just west of the Capital of Texas Highway (the same location that provided the pictures for the posts on Monday, Sunday, and Saturday). The critter above is a tachinid fly in the genus Cylindromyia on a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella). I believe the tiny fly on a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) below belongs to the genus Poecilognathus (which was the subject of my most seen and commented-on post ever, thanks to WordPress’s Freshly Pressed feature).

 

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Face blindness, technically known as prosopagnosia, is a condition in which a person has trouble recognizing other people’s faces. According to a 2006 article in the Harvard Gazette: “The condition can be embarrassing and lead to social isolation: Severe prosopagnosics may mistake complete strangers for acquaintances even as they fail to recognize family members, close friends, spouses, and even themselves. Many report difficulty watching television shows and movies because they cannot keep track of characters. Face-blind individuals often compensate for their prosopagnosia using nonfacial traits, such as hair, gait, clothing, voice, and context.”

The same article gave an estimate of the disorder’s frequency: “Testing of 1,600 individuals found that 2 percent of the general public may have face-blindness and a German group has recently made a similar estimate. It’s conceivable that millions of people may have symptoms consistent with prosopagnosia, without even realizing it.” I’ve sometimes had difficulty keeping track of characters in movies and people that I’ve met, so I’m apparently on the spectrum for prosopagnosia.

Being facially challenged is yet another kind of differently-abled-ness that our hyper-enlightened society should be shame-faced about for not “doing the work” to ameliorate the plight of all the suffering prosopagnosics in our midst. The current sorry situation is prima facie evidence that we need to envisage solutions! In the United States we must face up to the problem by invoking the Adults with Disabilities Act to demand accommodation. From now on, every movie and television show must be made not only with closed captioning (CC) but also with facial facilitation (FF). A viewer watching a film or television show who turns on the built-in FF will see written in clear letters under each character’s face on the screen the name of the person whose face it is. Those names, of course, will follow the characters as they move about on the screen.

But wait! Even implementing that technology wouldn’t be enough of an about-face in our country’s wretchedly problematic history of systemic prosopagnosicism. Didn’t Shakespeare tell us (before he got canceled as a dead white male) that all the world’s a stage? What about the much greater number of prosopagnosia-triggering encounters outside of movies and television shows? Until electronic identification chips are perfected to the point that they can be surgically embedded in people to make facial facilitation technology operate in the world as a whole and not just in movies and television shows, Congress must pass a law requiring everyone who leaves home to wear a name tag so that prosopagnosics can recognize them. And of course to accommodate the visually impaired, those name tags must be large, with letters at least four inches high. The name tags must also be battery-powered so they’ll light up when it’s dark and would otherwise be hard or impossible to read.

Now, you may be among the people who protest that it’s unreasonable to burden the whole world with measures meant to accommodate the less than 2% of the population who suffer from an unusual condition. Oh, you hate-filled individualistic white supremacist enforcers of the cisheteronormative patriarchy!

Satire aside, consider the extreme policies some ideologues are already enforcing as they reconfigure the world to promote transgenderism, which the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law says affects 1.4 million people, or less than 0.5% of America’s 330 million people. Take our legal system: Fully intact biologically male prisoners who claim to be women can now demand to get moved to women’s prisons and share cells with women. Take education: Middle school officials have gone so far as to accuse eighth-graders of sexual harassment for not using the pronouns another child demands. If such extreme measures are already being inflicted on the population for the supposed sake of less than one-half of one percent of its members, then why wouldn’t ideologues insist on measures like those I made up for the much larger number of prosopagnosics? Better start getting your glow-in-the-dark name tags ready.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Full house

with 55 comments

From May 13th at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, look at all the Euphoria kernii beetles that had crammed themselves into the base of a prickly pear cactus flower, Opuntia engelmannii. The beetles did seem to be in a state of euphoria.

 

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 Here’s more about consciousness from philosopher Julian Baggini’s The Ego Trick:

So we have these three facts: thoughts and feelings are real, they are not describable in purely physical terms, but the universe has within it only the physical things described by the equations of physicists. It seems the only way to make sense of this is that mental events emerge from physical ones, without being strictly identical with them. As the neurologist Todd E. Feinberg puts it, “your life is not a pack of cells; your life is what your particular pack of cells collectively do, though I cannot observe such a thing as your life, touch it, put it under a microscope, or keep it on a bottle on a shelf.” Thought and feeling are what matter does, when it is arranged in the remarkably complex ways that brains are. Matter is all that is needed for them to exist, but they are not themselves lumps of matter. In this sense, “I” is a verb dressed as a noun.

The idea that the mental emerges from the physical is a tricky one. It looks to me like a partial description masquerading as an explanation. What I mean is, to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness at all. To do that you’d have to explain how it emerges, and although some claim to have done that, most remain unconvinced. But what does seem to be true is that consciousness does indeed emerge from complex physical events in the brain, even if we don’t know how it does so. Whatever the mechanism, we have thoughts and feelings because we have physical brains that work, not because there’s something else in our heads doing the mental work instead. The evidence for this is simple but overwhelming: damage the brain, and you impair consciousness. Change the chemicals in the brain, and you change consciousness. Stimulate certain parts of the brain, and you get a certain kind of experience. To accept this (as surely we must) but insist that brains aren’t the engines of thought is not impossible, but it is perverse.

(Another passage appeared in a post two weeks ago.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2022 at 4:26 AM

One on another (on another)

with 14 comments

While photographing Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) in Great Hills Park on May 5th I noticed that several Texas bindweed plants (Convolvulus equitans) had climbed on and twined around them. One of the bindweed flowers, above, got a taste of its own from an ant scurrying over it. In the second picture, note the bindweed bud about to open. In both photographs notice the eccentric and varied shapes of bindweed leaves.

  

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Independent self-reliant people would be a counterproductive anachronism in the collective society of the future where people will be defined by their associations.

The children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society that is coming, where everyone would be interdependent.

 

Those lamentable statements are alleged in several books and on various websites to be by John Dewey, the first from 1896 and the second from 1899. While I haven’t been able to verify the authorship, I can say, alas, that increasingly many people who control education are acting as if they believe those things.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 17, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Thursday threesome, little beastsome

with 28 comments

⇧ Lacewing on Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) in Great Hills Park on May 5th.

 

⇧ Spider on prairie celestial (Nemastylis geminiflora) in Round Rock on April 11th.

 

⇧ Bug in prickly pear cactus flower (Opuntia engelmannii) in north Austin on May 1st.

  

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Did you know that in 2021 the most popular first names given to babies in the United States were Liam for boys and Olivia for girls? You can see the follow-up top 9 for each sex last year in this USA Today article. Of the 20, one was originally an occupational last name: Harper, literally someone who makes harps. And of course that gives me an ever-welcome chance to harp on the usefulness of etymology.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 12, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Harmonious Harmostes

with 16 comments

 

On April 16th in far northwest Austin I found a bug in the genus Harmostes on the aging flower head of a four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearofolia or scaposa, I’m not sure which).

 

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I’m not gonna bug you by declaring my pronouns again today like I have a few times in the past year. Instead, let me cite the opening of an article on the website of The Alliance Defending Freedom:

Philosophy professor Dr. Nick Meriwether’s three-year quest to vindicate his First Amendment rights has concluded with a settlement in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled in March 2021 that the university violated Meriwether’s free speech rights when it punished him because he declined a male student’s demand to be referred to as a woman, with feminine titles and pronouns. Meriwether had offered to use any name the student requested instead of titles and pronouns, but the university rejected that compromise, instead forcing the professor to speak contrary to his religious convictions and philosophical beliefs.

As part of the settlement, the university has agreed that Meriwether has the right to choose when to use, or avoid using, titles or pronouns when referring to or addressing students. Significantly, the university agreed Meriwether will never be mandated to use pronouns, including if a student requests pronouns that conflict with his or her biological sex.

Historians of free speech in America will recognize that that’s in keeping with the famous decision in the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which Justice Jackson wrote:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

 That statement should be posted in every classroom in America.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2022 at 4:36 AM

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