Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘patterns

More unexpected stops

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After a couple of hours at Sandstone Bluffs in west-central New Mexico’s El Malpais National Monument, on October 14th we drove the short distance back to New Mexico Highway 117 and continued south toward our ostensible destination. We hadn’t gone far when a fabulous cliff appeared on our left. NM 117 offered few safe spots to pull over, but I found one, determined as I was not to let the cliff pass unphotographed. I’m not sure how tall it is, but compare the trees in the picture’s lower right. When I looked more closely at the natural markings on the cliff, I easily imagined I was seeing some sort of fancy hieroglyphics or Sanskrit or Arabic writing engraved in stone, or perhaps delicate ivory carvings. Imagination aside, the markings might have been tafoni.



About 8 minutes after leaving this cliff and continuing south, we came to another majestic one:





As much as erosion is a common force in geology, it acts on words, too. That’s true for sound as well as meaning. A classic example in sound is the transformation of the Latin word for ‘water,’ aqua, into French eau. Aqua had four sounds in it: akwa. Its French descendant, strangely spelled eau, is pronounced as the single sound o. In the speech of English sailors, the part of a ship called the forecastle ended up getting pronounced fo’ks’l. That’s hardly a common word, so take the familiar three-syllable probably. Americans often now pronounce it in two syllables, probly, and some people further reduce the word by dropping the b and saying prolly. Similarly, twenty now often comes out twenny.

In the domain of meaning, speakers of a language sometimes weaken the sense of a word to the point that they feel the need to compensate by adding a formerly unnecessary word to make the same meaning as before. Here are five examples:

In recent years we’ve been hearing the phrase final decision, where traditionally it was enough to say a person or a group of people made a decision. If people were leaning in a certain direction but hadn’t yet decided, we would say they made a tentative decision. The default was that decision by itself meant what many are now calling a final decision.

The concise auxiliary verb could means ‘has the potential to.’ In spite of that, we often hear people saying could potentially, which redundantly means ‘has the potential to have the potential.’

When someone used to speak about the president of the United States, we understood that without further qualification the person meant the current president. Otherwise the person would say ex-president or former president or president-elect or future president. Suddenly it’s become common to hear about the sitting president, where plain old president was always the default.

In government-speak for the past two years we’ve been hearing about getting to the root cause of problems, where until recently it was good enough to get to the cause of a problem.

Now, which means ‘at this moment,’ often gets replaced by right now, which means the same. Bureaucrats go further and ditch now and even right now for at this point in time, with those 17 letters in five words meaning the same as the three-letter now. Inflating the number of words and deflating the meaning of individual words makes bureaucrats feel important.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 13, 2022 at 4:30 AM


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The American style of numerical dates puts the month number first, followed by the day number and then the year, or more often the year’s last two digits, with a slash separating each piece from each adjacent piece. Today is therefore 11/12/22. But what’s a slash between friends? Eliminate the slashes and you get 111222, in which the arithmetician notes a pleasant pattern. Given the reality that we have just 12 months in our year, 111222 is the only such sequence we can derive from an American date. 22/23/33 would require at least 22 months in a year, and I haven’t heard any calls to expand beyond the current 12 months.



What does this arithmetico-calendrical rambling have to do with today’s photographs? Only that the pictures are making their debut here on 11/12/22. If you can come up with any other connection, let us know.



This post’s real title should be something like “Looking down at Sandstone Bluffs,” which as the two previous posts revealed, is in the El Malpais National Monument in west-central New Mexico. Not that “looking down” meant I flew over the bluffs; no, just by looking down at the ground from eye level I found many interesting designs, textures, and colors in the sandstone I was walking on or close to. I’ve interspersed four of them in this little disquisition on dates and numbers.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 12, 2022 at 4:29 AM

First Salicornia since California

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Not since California in 2016 had I seen a glasswort, but I immediately recognized and was keen to photograph several glasswort plants I found on the bay side of Galveston Island State Park on September 19th. An article by Cindy Howard of the Galveston Bay Area chapter of Texas Master Naturalists says two species of Salicornia keep company there: dwarf glasswort, S. bigelovii, and American glasswort, S. virginica. The length of the plant’s elements inclines me toward S. virginica, but I don’t know enough to be certain. What I can tell you for sure is that inertia led me to keep using the telephoto lens that was on the camera from having photographed birds; that was easier than walking back to the car to change to a different lens. When processing the photograph later I cropped in to emphasize the plant’s growth habit and make the image more abstract.


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The price of principle is high. I am paying that price. I ask no one to feel sorry for me. I chose my way of life. But the punishments for principle—and the rewards for unprincipled partisanship—transcend me and my family. They reflect a corrosive societal trend that endangers the cohesion of our nation under the rule of law. I will continue to fight for principle, no matter how high the personal price.

That’s the last paragraph in Alan Dershowitz’s latest book, The Price of Principle: Why Integrity Is Worth the Consequences, which I recommend. The title reminds me of Thoreau’s essay “Life Without Principle,” which I first read in high school and likewise recommend. It’s available online. Here’s one passage:

If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!

Most men would feel insulted, if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now….


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Embarking on another round of beetle galleries

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In April I showed you some bark beetle galleries on a fallen tree in Great Hills Park. On August 21st I returned to that spot and embarked on another round of picture-taking at the same tree and a couple of nearby ones.

For more information about this phenomenon, you can read “The Truth Behind Bug Trails” and “Bark Beetles.”


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I haven’t given enough credit to Sharyl Attkisson, a multi-award-winning journalist who promotes free inquiry and accurate reporting. Last year I watched Jan Jekielek interview her on those subjects but I didn’t post a link to the interview; here it is now. And there are plenty of good stories on her website.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2022 at 4:50 AM

“Bloom” patterns at Inks Lake State Park

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On May 6th we drove the roughly one hour west to Inks Lake State Park, which by coincidence we’d visited exactly one year earlier. Because of the continuing drought, the place wasn’t the coreopsis-covered wonderland we’d found there in the spring of 2019. One thing that caught my attention last week that wasn’t there when we’d last visited, in November 2021, was bright green algae in several places along the lakeline, where the algae contrasted in color with the granite that underlies the region. Shape-wise I saw similarities to the many lichens on the selfsame granite in rocks and boulders.


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The Bill of Rights consists of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps the best known of the 10 is the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s become common these days to hear people say that the First Amendment came first because it states the most fundamental rights of American citizens. As conveniently symbolic as that justification sounds, it’s not true. An article on Thoughtco.com explains:

Drawing on the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, mainly written by George Mason, James Madison drafted 19 amendments, which he submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 8, 1789. The House approved 17 of them and sent [them] to the U.S. Senate, which approved 12 of them on September 25. Ten were ratified by the states and became law on December 15, 1791.

When the Senate’s 12 amendments were submitted to the states for ratification, the first two of them failed, so the remaining 10 that got approved all moved up two slots. What was originally the third of the 12 amendments became our First Amendment. To learn more of the details, including information about the two amendments that failed in 1789—one of which finally got approved two centuries later—you can read the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 13, 2022 at 4:30 AM

New Zealand: along the Cathedral Cove Walk

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Five years and a day ago we found ourselves on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula, where I’d say Cathedral Cove was the scenic highlight. On our hour-long walk back up to the car park from the cove I got fascinated by what you see in the top picture: the graceful curves of leaves and korus, which is what the Māori call the fiddleheads on ferns. (Close individual koru portraits appeared here in 2015 and 2017.)

Also catching my attention along the Cathedral Cove Walk were the lichens and spiderwebs shown below. As for the brown insect, Kazuo Ishiguro might have called it the remains of the prey.


This post ends the four-part mini-review of our 2017 New Zealand visit’s last days.


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It is a fine needle to thread, giving children enough space to make their own decisions and mistakes, and protecting them from real danger. Our societal pendulum has swung too far to one side—to protecting children against all risk and harm—such that many who come of age under this paradigm feel that everything is a threat, that they need safe spaces, that words are violence. By comparison, children with exposure to diverse experiences—physical, psychological, and intellectual—learn what is possible, and become more expansive. It is imperative that children experience discomfort in each of these realms: physical, psychological, and intellectual. Absent that, they end up full-grown but confused about what harm actually is. They end up children in the bodies of adults.

That’s another passage from Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein’s A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life. You can also watch many presentations by them on their Dark Horse podcasts.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 8, 2022 at 4:33 AM

New Zealand: observations along S.H. 25

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Five years ago today, near the end of our second New Zealand visit,
we found ourselves driving north from Thames along State Highway 25.

I stopped several times along the shore to record photogenic things.

Photogenic for me often means patterned or textured.


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And three years ago today—oh, look how calendrically attuned I am—Quillette ran Lyell Asher‘s article “How Ed Schools Became a Menace to Higher Education.”


… Education schools have long been notorious for two mutually reinforcing characteristics: ideological orthodoxy and low academic standards. As early as 1969, Theodore Sizer and Walter Powell hoped that “ruthless honesty” would do some good when they complained that at far too many ed schools, the prevailing climate was “hardly conducive to open inquiry.” “Study, reflection, debate, careful reading, even, yes, serious thinking, is often conspicuous by its absence,” they continued. “Un-intellectualism—not anti-intellectualism, as this assumes malice—is all too prevalent.” Sizer and Powell ought to have known: At the time they were dean and associate dean, respectively, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

More than three decades later, a comprehensive, four-year study of ed schools headed by a former president of Teachers College, Arthur Levine, found that the majority of educational-administration programs “range from inadequate to appalling, even at some of the country’s leading universities.” Though there were notable exceptions, programs for teaching were described as being, in the main, weak and mediocre. Education researchers seemed unable to achieve even “minimum agreement” about “acceptable research practice,” with the result that there are “no base standards and no quality floor.” Even among ed school faculty members and deans, the study found a broad and despairing recognition that ed school training was frequently “subjective, obscure, faddish, … inbred, and politically correct.”

That could be the damning educational equivalent of Thomas Hobbes characterizing the life of man in a natural state as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Here’s another of Lyell Asher’s observations:

There might be nothing wrong with training students in equity and social justice were it not for the inconvenient fact that a college campus is where these ideals and others like them are to be rigorously examined rather than piously assumed. It’s the difference between a curriculum and a catechism.

If you’re concerned about education, particularly the way it has rapidly been morphing into illiberal indoctrination, check out the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 6, 2022 at 4:35 AM

New Zealand: Waimangu Volcanic Valley

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Five years ago today, on our second trip to New Zealand, we spent some hours in the Waimangu Volcanic Valley in the geothermally active area near Rotorua on the North Island. What you might take for low clouds in the top picture of Cathedral Rocks is steam.

The yellow in the second photograph, like the frequent odor we noticed in the air around Rotorua, comes from sulphur. I don’t know what made the green. The last picture shows what’s called Frying Pan Lake. While the water’s a pretty blue, the steam says a swim there would be your last anywhere.


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Respect for reason has waxed and waned throughout history. Today, its tide is receding. University professors resign in frustration from what were once our bastions of rationality. Increasingly, the barbarians are not merely at the gates, but running the show in a vast swathe of humanities departments. After decades of decay in our academic training grounds, radical identitarianism and other irrationalities are spreading with accelerating speed, and we are woefully short of thinkers capable of fighting them.

That’s the beginning of a good article by John Hersey about reasoning entitled “Five Lessons from Julia Galef’s ‘The Scout Mindset.’” Check it out. Links in that article lead to other good ones.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 5, 2022 at 4:37 AM

New Zealand: More from Matakatia Bay

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Yesterday’s post showed photographs taken exactly seven years earlier, on the last full day of our initial visit to New Zealand. Those three views were landscapes seen from the Matakatia Bay side of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula a little north of Auckland.

The final pictures I took that afternoon—and the ones that most excited me aesthetically—were abstractions showing colors and forms on the shore at Little Manly Beach. Some of those photographs have shown up in posts since 2015. Now here are three more for your delectation.


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We [men and women] work side by side, and some of us imagine that because we are equal under the law, we are also the same. We are and should be equal under the law. But we are not the same—despite what some activists and politicians, journalists and academics would have us believe. There seems to be comfort, for some, in the idea of sameness, but it is a shallow comfort at best. What if the best surgeon in the world was a woman, but it was also true that, on average, most of the best surgeons were male? What if the top ten pediatricians were women? Neither scenario provides evidence of bias or sexism, although those are possible explanations for the observed patterns. In order to ensure that bias or sexism is not predictive of who does what work, we should remove as many barriers to success as possible. We should also not expect that men and women will make identical choices, or be driven to excel at identical things, or even, perhaps, be motivated by the same goals. To ignore our differences and demand uniformity is a different kind of sexism. Differences between the sexes are a reality, and while they can be cause for concern, they are also very often a strength, and we ignore them at our peril.

That’s much-needed sanity from A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life, by Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. You can also watch many presentations by them on their Dark Horse podcasts.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 27, 2022 at 4:33 AM

A new part of Walnut Creek

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Austin’s Walnut Creek meanders from northwest to southeast for 20 miles before emptying into the Colorado River. On February 19th we walked along a new (to us) portion of the creek adjacent to the western branch of the Copperfield Nature Trail. The flow of water over bedrock beguiled some abstract pictures out of me. Patterns just a few feet apart differ substantially.


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My commentary from February 12th about oil and gas became all the more relevant this week when the dictator of Russia sent armies into Ukraine to take over that country. The American president, in collaboration with European countries, imposed economic sanctions that will effectively do nothing. That’s because dictators easily outlast financial sanctions; look how many decades the dictators in Cuba and Iran and North Korea have survived in spite of sanctions.

One effective measure that the United States and Europe could have taken was to cut Russia off from the world’s SWIFT system, which lets countries interchange money with one another. The Europeans wouldn’t go along with that move because they’re so heavily dependent on Russia for oil and gas, which Russia would stop selling to them in retaliation for getting cut off from SWIFT. The United States could supply Europe with oil and gas—except that the current American administration has done everything it could since its very first day in office to strangle our country’s oil and gas production, including canceling the Keystone XL pipeline that would have brought in oil from Canada. In 2020 we were energy-independent; just a year later we weren’t. In the 14 months since the current régime took over, gasoline here has risen to its highest price in years, and some analysts are predicting that the war in Ukraine and its aftermath will drive prices even higher.

In Biden’s address to the world yesterday he could have announced the equivalent of an Operation Warp Spreed to ramp up American oil and gas production as fast as possible so that we could soon supply Europe with any sources of energy that Russia might refuse them. But we heard not a peep about any such measure. The people who comprise the most “woke” administration in American history won’t hear of it. Thus dogma doth make cowards of them all.

The guests on the Megyn Kelly show yesterday made similar points and added others.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 25, 2022 at 4:00 AM

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