Portraits of Wildflowers

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Miniature amphibian

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The green heron I saw along Bull Creek on August 17th was much less familiar to me than the miniature amphibian I saw hopping about in the dry creek bed. These little creatures are only about an inch long.

Similar to amphibian is amphigory (especially if you stress it on the second syllable rather than the first; both are accepted pronunciations). Amphigory is ‘a nonsense verse or composition a rigmarole with apparent meaning which proves to be meaningless.’ This amphibian produced no amphigory, at least not while I was there to hear it.


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After teaching math for a year and a half in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer, I returned to New York at the end of 1969 and was dismayed to find out that no public high school would hire me as a math teacher because I’d never taken any “professional” education courses. (Oh, how I came to loathe the word “professional,” which bureaucrats wield as a cudgel.) The fact that I’d already taught for a year and a half made no difference. For three years I resisted going back to school, then somehow discovered—remember, the Internet still lay a quarter-century in the future—a program at Duke University that in just 14 months would get me both a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics and a secondary school math teaching certificate for North Carolina. That was by far the best deal I could find, so that’s what I did. Half the courses in the program were math, which was fine, because I hadn’t been a math major in college; I particularly liked the introductory number theory class. The other half of the courses were education, and a total waste of my time. I learned nothing of any value in those education courses.

Now here we are fifty years later. Education departments are still a waste of time, but what’s worse is that now they’ve become indoctrination mills for transgressive causes. If you want a glimpse at how noxious the education schools are, read an August 19th Wall Street Journal article called “Education Schools Have Long Been Mediocre. Now They’re Woke Too.” In the article, Daniel Buck describes what he experienced when he studied for a master’s degree in education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2015. For example:

We made Black Lives Matter friendship bracelets. We passed around a popsicle stick to designate whose turn it was to talk while professors compelled us to discuss our life’s traumas. We read poems through the “lenses” of Marxism and critical race theory in preparation for our students doing the same. Our final projects were acrostic poems or ironic rap videos.

In that article Daniel Buck links to a study conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which analyzed syllabi in the education schools at the 14 branches of the University of Wisconsin:

On the syllabi, noticeably lacking are academic literature or manuals of classroom instruction. Instead, Hollywood movies like “Freedom Writers,” popular books like Jonathan Kozol’s “Letters to a Young Teacher,” and propaganda like “Anti-Racist Baby” abound. In place of academic essays, graduate students write personal poems or collect photographs. These kitschy activities infantilize what ought to be a rigorous pursuit of professional competency.

You can find out more distressing details in Daniel Beck’s article and in the report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Here’s looking at you, kid

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Cicada, Tibicen superba; August 3 in Wells Branch.


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In a commentary yesterday I said I believe people should report things accurately, without exaggeration. Not long after writing that, I came to the section in Alex Epstein’s book Fossil Future called “The ‘Deliberate Overstatement’ Distortion.” He identifies “four forms of deliberate overstatement that dramatically and negatively distort our knowledge system’s assessment of the climate impacts of rising CO2 levels.”

  • Punishment of climate catastrophe skepticism.
  • Equation of consensus on some climate impact with consensus on massively negative climate impact (the 97 percent fallacy).
  • Deliberately overstated report summaries.
  • Deliberate overstatement by designated experts for effect.

Those things are similar to what ideologues do in fields other than climate science. For example, some doctors have urged caution about putting children on puberty blockers and opposite-sex hormones because those drugs produce serious effects that soon become irreversible. Nevertheless, activists attack those cautious doctors, label them “trans-phobes,” and work to get their articles suppressed and get them fired from their jobs.

Similarly, researchers who recognize that the climate is warming yet urge caution in concluding that a warming climate will necessarily be catastrophic or apocalyptic get labeled “climate deniers.” Activists work to cut off funding to those researchers, to get publications to refuse articles by thm, and to get those researchers fired from their positions.

So I say, as always: let everyone bring forth the facts they’ve found, and let’s do our best to draw conclusions by assessing the unadulterated, unexaggerated evidence. I don’t want to live in a world where we only get to hear one side of an argument, and yet that’s the kind of world I increasingly find myself in. I never thought I’d live to see that in the United States.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 6, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Clematis drummondii swirls

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I never get tired of the swirly strands that fertilized Clematis drummondii flowers produce each summer. Compared to the photographs two days ago, this is an intimate view, showing a span of maybe two inches. The photograph dates back to July 15th in Great Hills Park.


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As soon as ancient human remains are excavated, archaeologists begin the work of determining a number of traits about the individual, including age, race and gender.

But a new school of thought within archaeology is pushing scientists to think twice about assigning gender to ancient human remains.

It is possible to determine whether a skeleton is from a biological male or female using objective observations based on the size and shape of the bones. Criminal forensic detectives, for example, do it frequently in their line of work.

But gender activists argue scientists cannot know how an ancient individual identified themselves.

That’s the beginning of an article by Christian Schneider in The College Fix headlined “Gender activists push to bar anthropologists from identifying human remains as ‘male’ or ‘female.'” What the article reports on is just one more instance of “the woke” pushing to extend their ideology into the past.

I assume that the phrase “how an ancient individual identified themselves” is Schenider recording how the activists would put it, rather than the standard “how ancient individuals identified themselves.”

You’re welcome to read the full article, which includes this:

San Jose State archaeology Professor Elizabeth Weiss told The Fix that eliminating gender classifications amounts to “ideologically-motivated fudging.” Weiss said there is a move among academics “toward getting all of the academy’s favored shibboleths to accord with one another.”

Weiss said the recent explosion in the number of people identifying as transgender suggests that trend is “social and not biological,” so “retroactively de-sexing obscures this obvious fact.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2022 at 2:33 AM

Lace cactus

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Yesterday I found flowers on several adjacent lace cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii) in my hilly northwest part of Austin. Today’s picture of one is the first I’ve ever shown here. Great saturated colors, don’t you think?


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For decades I’ve criticized the American education system. In the 15 years since I last taught, not only have the old problems persisted and worsened, but new problems have arisen. Here’s how Shane Trotter describes one of them in his Quillette article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Putting Tech Before Teaching.”

In its desire to embrace technology, our school district failed to recognize the social devolution that was taking hold of society. The iPad Initiative [which he’d just described in detail] came right as smartphones became virtually ubiquitous among American teens and adults. Teens began spending over seven hours per day consuming entertainment media. Twelfth-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eight graders Adolescent mental disorders skyrocketed. And at this crucial juncture, we decided to begin allowing students to use smartphones throughout the school day. These students would not know how to set boundaries for how they used their phones. They’d have no understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities that tech companies exploited—no training in how to use their phone without it using them. Most of all, they’d have no environment where they could be free from the incessant psychic drain that had come to define their world. Oblivious to any responsibility to help students or their families adapt better, our schools helped facilitate the community’s descent into becoming screen-addicted, constantly distracted people whose cognitive skills and attention spans were being chipped away rather than cultivated.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2022 at 4:38 AM


with 31 comments

Buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) produces heavily armed seed capsules, as this picture from December 16, 2021, in my neighborhood confirms. What the capsules lack in size, they make up for in skin-puncture power.

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…[N]egative information is attention-grabbing—it is literally processed differently in our brains—whereas… progress is mostly gradual and incremental. We’re not nearly as adept at spotting these trends as sudden and eye-catching disasters. Max Roser from the University of Oxford points out that newspapers could legitimately have run the headline ‘Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday’ every day for the last twenty-five years. But, as we’ve seen from academics’ detailed analysis of news values and criteria, the predictable isn’t newsworthy, because that’s how our brains work: we get the media we deserve and, to some extent, crave.

So wrote Bobby Duffy in Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. In addition to reading that book, you’ll find lots of interesting information at the Ipsos website that documents people’s misperceptions about many things. (Professor Duffy used to be the managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute.)

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Non-minimalist and minimalist fall color

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I think you’ll agree that the top picture, which shows backlit leaflets of flameleaf sumac
(Rhus lanceolata) against a blue sky, exhibits non-minimalist fall color.

Mature grasses offer up fall color on a small scale. That was the case with this hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) seed head that I photographed on a redder-than-usual stalk. I also noticed a single spike of gayfeather (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) that had turned fluffy and that the sun lit up.

All three pictures are from November 22nd on the same property
that provided the pictures you recently saw of ladies’ tresses orchids.


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Free expression keeps meeting suppression. Canada seems to be as bad as the United States.

Toronto School Board cancels Yazidi Nobel Peace Prize winner because
her account of being a sex slave at the hands of ISIS ‘would foster Islamophobia’

The Toronto School Board also canceled high-profile criminal defense lawyer Marie Hunein.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 12, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Moss takes a minor role

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Yesterday’s post gave you a close view of a moss carpet in northwest Austin on November 1st. Many spiderwebs parallel to the ground lay near by, made conspicuous by the myriad dewdrops that had settled on them. Because it’s hard to see details at this scale, click the thumbnail below for a closer look at some of the sparkly dewdrops.

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UPDATE. Six weeks ago I wrote a commentary pointing out that inflation is as much of a tax as any that a legislature imposes on you. Inflation makes your money worth less. People who have lived within their means and saved for retirement—like me!—find that their savings won’t go as far as expected. Those who can least afford inflation—the poor—are affected most by the rising prices inflation causes.

At the time I wrote my commentary, authorities had calculated the U.S. inflation rate to be 5.4%. Since then the figure has been updated to 6.2%, the highest rate in three decades. And still the current administration is pushing to spend trillions of dollars more, despite the fact that our country is already $29 trillion in debt. It’s delusional: borrowing additional trillions of dollars will only drive the inflation rate higher and do even more damage than this year’s profligate spending has already done.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Moss on the ground

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From November 1st comes a close and bright look at moss on the ground.
The dry leaves fallen onto the moss were from Ashe junipers, Juniperus ashei.

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You may have heard of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and political dissident. The other day we watched Margaret Hoover interviewing him in November 2021 for her television show Firing Line. I was glad to hear him warning about the danger of political correctness in the United States, which he said reminded him of the “Cultural Revolution” in China. If you’re not familiar with that horrible movement, it entailed the persecution of tens of millions of people and the deaths of many of them. Here’s the relevant portion of the interview:

Ai Weiwei: But certainly, in the United States, with today’s condition, you can easily have an authoritarian. In many ways, you’re already in the authoritarian state. You just don’t know it.

Margaret Hoover: How so?

Ai Weiwei: Many things happening today in U.S. can be compared to Cultural Revolution in China.

Margaret Hoover: Like what?

Ai Weiwei: Like people trying to be unified in a certain political correctness. That is very dangerous.

You may recall that back in June I highlighted the testimony of Xi Van Fleet, a refugee from Communist China who made the same point to the “woke” Loudoun County School Board in Virginia.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 19, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Two brown things

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The opening picture confirms that as I was wandering near Bull Creek on September 30th I noticed something brown on a sideways inflorescence of giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida. I managed to find a position from which the unknown thing—probably the remains of a caterpillar—lined up with a nearby prairie agalinis flower, Agalinis heterophylla. The photograph below, from November 9th at the Riata Trace Pond, is of a curlicue or tilde coming off the main part of a bushy bluestem seed head, Andropogon glomeratus. Whether the tilde is upside down, as shown here, or right side up, depends on which side it gets looked at from. Now that I think of it, that could be a metaphor for many things in life, couldn’t it?

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The other day I came across a revealing 14-minute excerpt of a discussion between Coleman Hughes and Bonnie Snyder about some of the abuses being perpetrated by “woke” teachers in our public schools. The examples provided in the interview refute the claim that Critical Race Theory isn’t really being taught in our schools. You can find out much more in Bonnie Snyder’s new book, Undoctrinate.

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UPDATE. The day before yesterday I mentioned that I gave up my subscription to the New York Times some years ago after I found that too many of the stories the paper presented as news were ideologically slanted. Yesterday I came across an Epoch Times article from March 2021 reporting that New York Supreme Court Justice Charles Wood similarly found that “in stories from 2020 about Project Veritas videos, [New York Times] writers writers Maggie Astor and Tiffany Hsu had inserted sentences that were opinions despite the articles being billed as news.”

“’If a writer interjects an opinion in a news article (and will seek to claim legal protections as opinion) it stands to reason that the writer should have an obligation to alert the reader, including a court that may need to determine whether it is fact or opinion, that it is opinion,’ Wood wrote in a 16-page decision denying the paper’s request to dismiss a lawsuit from Project Veritas.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 18, 2021 at 4:36 AM

First asters for 2021

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On our October 11th return to Bastrop State Park I photographed my first asters for 2021. The few I found were small and close to the ground, so I could easily have overlooked them on the forest floor. The one above was still opening; the one below had gotten farther along. Research points toward the species being either Symphyotrichum pratense or Symphyotrichum sericeum.

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I’ve been recommending The Coddling of the American Mind as a book that explains destructive and illiberal trends in America, especially among people of college age. So many drastic things have happened since publication in 2018 that the authors, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, wrote what was to have been an afterword to a new printing of the book. That addendum quickly grew so long that they decided to release it as a series of free articles. Part 4 has just appeared. It includes links to the first three parts.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2021 at 4:16 AM

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