Portraits of Wildflowers

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Farewell to Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon lies in what’s called the Panhandle Plains. As you approach, the flat land
offers nary a clue that you’re getting close to the second largest canyon in the United States.

 

 

Eventually you reach a place where the land drops away and you suddenly see swaths of the canyon
spread out before you. A convenient parking lot lets you get out and take in the vistas.

 

 

We stopped there only on our way out of the park, so eager had I been when we arrived in the morning
to get down into the canyon. These four pictures, all taken sequentially from the same spot an average
of one minute apart, show you some of the canyon’s diverse and intriguing geological formations.

 

 

A cursory look has left me thinking there’s no overlap among the four photographs.

 

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I’ve spoken many times now about the authoritarianism creeping—and sometimes bounding—into the English-speaking countries. Briton Andrew Doyle has felt it, too. Here’s the beginning of his 2021 book Free Speech:

It’s the kind of phrase that wouldn’t seem out of place in the pages of a dystopian novel. Yet these were not the words of an agent of some totalitarian regime, but rather those of a police officer in the United Kingdom in 2019. Harry Miller, a fifty-three-year-old entrepreneur and former constable, was contacted by Humberside Police following a complaint by an offended party about a poem that he had shared on social media which was deemed to be transphobic. During the course of the conversation, the officer explained that, although not illegal, this nevertheless qualified as a ‘non-crime hate incident’. Why, Miller asked, was the unnamed complainant being described as a ‘victim’ if no crime had been committed? More to the point, why was he being investigated at all? To which came the ominous response: ‘We need to check your thinking.’

Over the past decade, many people have detected a pattern of minor changes in our culture, a kind of piecemeal reconfiguration at odds with our hard-won rights to personal autonomy. Miller’s case is not an isolated affair. Between 2014 and 2019, almost 120,000 ‘non-crime hate incidents’ were recorded by police forces in England and Wales. This sort of development has left a substantial number of us feeling as though we are no longer on secure ground; the tremors are too persistent. The ‘culture wars’, although often dismissed by commentators as a manufactured phenomenon, are closely tied to this gnawing sense that something is amiss. Miller’s experience is one of many stories in which the principle of free speech has been casually disregarded for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher social priority.

Much of this can be explained by a sea change in the public’s attitude to free expression and its key function in a liberal society. A new identity-based conceptualisation of ‘social justice’ has brought with it a mistrust of unfettered speech and appeals for greater intervention from the state. We are left facing that confusing and rare phenomenon: the well-intentioned authoritarian. When those who long for a fairer society are also calling for censorship, we find ourselves stranded on unfamiliar terrain. How are we meant to respond when the people who wish to deprive us of our rights sincerely believe that they are doing so for our own good?

  

In addition to reading Free Speech, you can watch Andrew Doyle interviewing Toby Young, the head of the Free Speech Union, on what has been called ‘offense archaeology.’

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2023 at 4:31 AM

More from Palo Duro Canyon

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Here are a few more pictures from our October 20th visit last year to
Palo Duro Canyon, the largest one in the United States after the Grand Canyon.

 

 

Easy pickings, you might say, in such a scenic place.

 

    

 

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Tomorrow marks the start of the 118th Congress. As political discourse resumes, the phrase we’re likely to hear is that staple of progressive rhetoric: “the right side of history.” We will be told that this is where progressives are, and anyone who disagrees with them is on the wrong side—backwards, obsolescent, headed for the dustbin.

The phrase embodies a specific view of history, the idea that the course of human events—with whatever stops and starts and temporary setbacks—traces an inevitable upward path. The notion dates back to the nineteenth century, if not earlier: to Hegel and Marx, to the liberal or “Whig” historians, to the Progressive movement itself. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And those on the “wrong side” of history? “History will judge them”—will judge Donald Trump, will judge Bill Barr, will judge Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, will judge all the bads.

But history does not have sides. It does not take sides. The progressive view of history is not an observation. It’s a theory. It’s a myth that takes its place alongside other, different, historical myths: the belief that history is cyclical; the belief that history represents a long decline from some imagined Golden Age; the belief that we are heading towards apocalypse, or Messiah, or both.

 

That’s the beginning of a January 2nd article in The Free Press by William Deresiewicz entitled “There Is No Right Side of History.” The subtitle is “I’m a political progressive. The idea that ‘history’ is on our side—which we’re sure to hear during this 118th Congress—is a dangerous myth.”

I’m not a political progressive and I don’t share Deresiewicz’s criticism of certain people, yet I find his take on history cogent. You’re welcome to read the full article.

(Last August I referred to an article by him in Quillette titled “Why I left academia.” The subtitle was “I didn’t have a choice. Thousands of people are driven out of the profession each year.”)

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Near the Mesquite Camping Area

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Park Road 5 is the main thoroughfare through* Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle. On October 20th we drove as far southeast as the road goes. Near its end I pulled into the Mesquite Camping Area to take pictures of attractive geological formations close by.

  

  

The trees give you a sense of how large these formations are.

 

  

* Almost no native English speakers know that thorough and through are
two forms of the same word. If you do a thorough job you go all the way through it.
A thoroughfare is a road that goes all the way through a terrain.

  

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 7, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Palo Duro Canyon

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We drove from Santa Fe to Amarillo rather than follow a more direct route back to Austin because we wanted to spend time at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which we hadn’t visited for at least 20 years.

 

 

My impression is that most people outside Texas have never heard of Palo Duro, even though it’s the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest is obviously the Grand Canyon, and some people have even called Palo Duro the Grand Canyon of Texas. On October 20th we spent about four-and-a-half hours going around the state park, with me of course taking many photographs.

 

 

The pictures in this post are all from Capitol Peak, perhaps the most scenic place in the park.

 

  

Could you tell that the second and fourth photographs show the same formation from different angles?

 

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You may be aware that by the early 20th century a blight had wiped out most of America’s billions of chestnut trees. With that in mind, you may want to read the article titled “Technology Puts American Chestnut Trees on the Comeback Trail,” whose subtitle is “U.S. considers releasing a genetically modified version tolerant of blight, as some people warn of environmental risks.”

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2023 at 4:36 AM

More petroglyphs

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During our 2014 western trip we visited several sections of Albuquerque’s Petroglyph National Monument.

 

  

Having already done that, on October 15th of this year
we spent only a short while at one section, Boca Negra Canyon.

     

  

The petroglyphed rock above reminds me of a tombstone.
The boulder at the top sported more glyphs than I noticed on any other single stone at Boca Negra Canyon.

 

  

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Even if, like these petroglyphs, you’re of a certain age and you know that among the greatest songwriters for American shows and movies in the 20th century were Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter, you may never have heard of the composer Harry Warren. Born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna in 1893, he later teamed up with various lyricists to write many popular songs, especially for movies. “He wrote the music for the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, with whom he would collaborate on many musical films.” If you’re familiar with that sort of music, you probably know “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re in the Money),” “That’s Amore,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” “The More I See You,” “At Last,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “You’ll Never Know,” and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.”

Nevertheles, as William Zinsser noted: “The familiarity of Harry Warren’s songs is matched by the anonymity of the man… he is the invisible man, his career a prime example of the oblivion that cloaked so many writers who cranked out good songs for bad movies.” You’re welcome to read more about Harry Warren.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 17, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Closing the window

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As the post two days ago showed, after stopping at a bunch of scenic places on October 14th we finally arrived at the natural stone arch called La Ventana, which means ‘the window’ in Spanish. Though tired out from hours and hours of driving, hiking, and photographing, after “closing the window” I still made some more stops on the 90-mile trip back to Albuquerque.

 

 

The first three pictures are from along New Mexico Highway 117.

 

 

The last two show mesas at around mile marker 122 on Interstate 40.

 

 

I made a single stop and aimed in opposite directions.

 

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Finally La Ventana

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After spending hours stopping a bunch of times on October 14th at scenic spots along Interstate 40 and then New Mexico 117, we finally arrived at our ostensible destination 90 miles west of Albuquerque: a natural stone arch called La Ventana, which means ‘the window’ in Spanish.* From the size of the trees at the bottom of the first photograph, you can get a feel for how tall the arch is. The massive stone looming to the left of the arch is imposing in its own right:

 

 

A more-colorful cliff flanking La Ventana on the opposite side also impressed me:

 

  

* The Spanish word for ‘window,’ ventana, developed from the Latin word for ‘wind,’ ventus.
English window comes from Old Norse vindauga, a poetic metaphor meaning literally wind eye.
You can read more about that in the American Heritage Dictionary’s Word History section for window.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 14, 2022 at 4:32 AM

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:

 

  

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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

111222

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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

Hoodoos and overhangs at Sandstone Bluffs

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At New Mexico’s Sandstone Bluffs in the El Malpais National Monument on October 14th
several hoodoos and overhangs caught my photographic attention.

 

 

For the picture below, I positioned myself so that the formation blocked the sun.

 

 

The pareidolically inclined among you may see a face looking back at you.

 

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We hear a lot of talk lately about an “existential threat” to this, that, or the other thing. Most of the claims are partisan and hyperbolic. In contrast, I take the article “An Existential Threat to Doing Good Science” seriously. Written by Luana Maroja, who came to the United States at age 23 from Brazil and is now a professor of biology at Williams University, the article bears this subtitle: “What scientists are able to teach and what research we can pursue are under attack. I know because I’m living it.” Check it out.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 11, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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