Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘Texas

Sideways icicles

with 10 comments

 

A first glance at this picture might make you think I accidentally rotated it 90° to the right. Not so. Check the icicles’ tips and you’ll see the drops of meltwater there are hanging downward. Here’s what happened: the small icicles that had formed normally on tree branches ended up horizontal (or even pointing upward somewhat) after the tree fell over. I’d have thought the force of the impact would knock the icicles off, yet many survived intact. The location was our back yard; the date was February 2nd, coincidentally the second of our three days without electricity and heat—but not without nature photographs.

 

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During the pandemic I called your attention to two programs that the American government put in place to give money to restaurant owners and farmers. The problem was that white people were either barred outright from applying or were put at the bottom of the list of applicants. Naturally white restaurant owners and white farmers pointed out that those programs blatantly violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination based on race. Judges soon struck down the two programs on those grounds.

Even after those two rulings, it seems “social justice” bureaucrats have no qualms about violating civil rights laws. The most recent example I’ve become aware of is at Florida International University (FIU), where “the Delores Auzenne Fellowship is awarded to minority graduate students who are pursuing graduate degrees in disciplines where minorities are underrepresented.” I’ve put the word minority in italics to point out that “white students need not apply” to receive this fellowship at a public, taxpayer-funded university.

No doubt an FIU student who, but for being white, qualifies for the Deloris Auzenne Fellowship will sue the university. The judge who gets the case will have no choice but to follow the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to strike down the fellowship’s racist exclusion of white applicants.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Longhorn Cavern, part 3

with 18 comments

 

On January 26th we visited Longhorn Cavern State Park, which is only about an hour’s drive west of home.

  

 

All the pictures here came from my iPhone 14 in raw mode at 48.8 megapixels per image.

 

  

In many cases I went for abstractions of light and shadows.

  

 

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If you’ve read history books or watched documentaries about Nazi Germany in the 20th century, you probably know about the mass burnings of books that the Nazis deemed counter to their Fascist movement. You probably also think that the organized mass destruction of books is a thing of the thankfully distant past.

Not so, alas.

A book burning held by an Ontario francophone school board as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous people has received sharp condemnation from Canadian political leaders and the board itself now says it regrets its symbolic gesture.

The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada, was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario. Some 30 books, the national broadcaster reported, were burned for “educational purposes” and then the ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree.

“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security,” says a video prepared for students about the book burning, Radio Canada reported.

In total, more than 4,700 books were removed from library shelves at 30 schools across the school board, and they have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.

 

Note the Orwellian claim that books were burned “for educational purposes.” You can read more about this in a 2021 National Post article.

I learned about the Ontario situation from Andrew Doyle’s January 2023 article in Quillette titled “A Puritanical Assault on the English Language,” which I recommend. Here’s a paragraph that also deals with books:

I am aware of how ludicrous the concept of “woke librarians” might sound, but the evidence is compelling. Even the British Library has a “Decolonising Working Group,” which has successfully persuaded its management to review its collections, “powerfully reinterpret” statues of its founders, and put more than 300 authors on a watchlist if they have even the flimsiest of connections to the slave trade. One of the group’s more risible findings is that the library’s main building is a monument to imperialism because it resembles a battleship.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 7, 2023 at 4:32 AM

Pareidolia in ice-encased yaupon twigs

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On February 2nd, coincidentally our second day in the cold, I went out into the yard with my “real” camera, a macro lens, and a ring flash to see what I could do with the ice-encased yaupon trees, Ilex vomitoria. On the top image’s right side I see the reflections of the light on the ice as Hebrew writing. Perhaps you give a big thumbs up to that. Or maybe you see something in the picture below. Speak your imaginings if you wish.

 

 

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It’s a familiar predicament. We are living through a frenzy of conformity, in which the opinions of a minority of activists are falsely presented by the media, political and corporate classes as though they reflect an established consensus. The impact is being felt in all walks of life. For instance, after the seismic events of the summer of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, an actor friend of mine was contacted by her agency because she had not posted anything on social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was told that she must do so immediately if she wanted casting directors to consider her for any future roles. I have heard many such anecdotes, but invariably they are communicated privately. There is a strong general feeling that to publicly object to the prevailing dogma is to jeopardise one’s career and social standing. I have lost count of the number of emails from academics, artists and media figures who have contacted me to express sympathy for my criticism of the new puritans, but who admit that they could never endorse my sentiments in public for fear of ‘cancellation’. It is a circular problem that can only possibly be resolved if sufficient numbers speak out.

This is the sad reality of most present-day working environments, where to utter a forbidden opinion, to misspeak, or even to fail to show due fealty to received wisdom can be an impediment to future job prospects. As a former teacher, I am still in contact with ex-colleagues who are troubled by the sudden revisions made to curricula and pastoral policies. Many are being forced to undergo ‘unconscious bias’ training, even though there is overwhelming evidence that such schemes are unreliable and ineffective. To raise a complaint is taken as proof of the kind of prejudice that the tests seek to expose. After all, only a witch would deny the existence of witchcraft.

Many teachers are concerned about how such modifications have been rushed through with little consultation with parents or staff. One teacher told me about a school assembly, conducted over the internet in the early days of the first coronavirus lockdown, in which pupils were berated for their ‘white privilege’. The Reverend Dr Bernard Randall, a school chaplain at Trent College in Derbyshire, told me about training sessions in which staff were instructed to chant ‘smash heteronormativity’, and when he delivered a sermon about the importance of respectfully challenging such ideological viewpoints he was reported to Prevent, the government’s anti-terrorism programme. Other private schools have pledged their fealty to Black Lives Matter, despite the fact that this explicitly anti-capitalist movement objects to their existence and would presumably be happy to see these institutions razed to the ground. In a noble effort to be seen to address injustice, these schools are implementing divisive and contentious theories as though they are irrefutable truths.

 

Amen to that, which is from Andrew Doyle’s 2022 book The New Puritans.
You’re welcome to read Noel Yaxley’s good review of it.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 6, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Austin’s 2023 ice storm

with 38 comments

 

During the overnight from January 31st into the morning of February 1st freezing rain descended upon Austin. The weight of the accumulated ice brought down many branches and even whole trees, along with lots of power lines, so that hundreds of thousands of people in Austin lost electricity. In our neighborhood, power (and therefore for us also heat) went out at 4:35 AM on February 1st and didn’t come back till bedtime on February 3rd. In between we dressed in multiple layers of clothing inside the house and slept in sleeping bags with two blankets over them. Despite the ordeal, what nature photographer could pass up the chance for pictures? And this time I needed to go no farther than our yard. These two photographs show yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) covered with ice. Above is a good-sized one in the side yard whose branches were bowed from (but not broken by) the weight of the ice. Below is a young yaupon out front near the curb.

 

 

We used a camping stove twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday to make hot food and drinks, but by then our two little propane tanks had run out of fuel. Late Thursday afternoon, using a small chain saw, I managed to clear enough branches from one side of the driveway that we could get the car parked on that side of the garage out and go have supper in a restaurant. If you’d like a purely informational, non-aesthetic picture showing the Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) that had collapsed across the driveway, you can click the thumbnail below.

 

 

A closeup of that now-gone Ashe juniper’s trunk appeared as the second picture in a 2020 post.

 

More ice storm pictures next time.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 5, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Wispy clouds above the town of Cedar Park on January 11th

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At the pond on Discovery Boulevard in suburban Cedar Park on the morning of January 11th wispy clouds enhanced the seed heads of the native grass called bushy bluestem, Andropogon tenuispatheus, as shown below. The clouds were so attractive that I figuratively and then literally looked up to them and had them sit (or rather float and drift) for portraits in their own right, as you see above.

 

 

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I recently read Andrew Sullivan’s January 27th article “The Other Black Lives That Matter.” After describing the big push by the school district in Washington, D.C., to make “equity” the supreme goal of education, Sullivan returns to reality:

Now check out the data on how the DC Public School system is faring. A key metric is what they call “proficiency rates” — a test of whether the kids are passing the essentials of reading and math at every stage of their education. Overall, only 31 percent of DC students have proficiency in reading and just 19 percent have proficiency in math. Drill down further in the racial demographics and the picture is even worse: among African-American kids, the numbers are 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Among black boys, it’s 15 percent and 9 percent. Which means to say that DC Public Schools graduate kids who are overwhelmingly unable to do the most basic reading and math that any employer would need.

This is not a function of money. In the most recent federal analysis: DC spends far more per student — $30,000 a year — than any other state, double the amount in many states across the country.

Let’s put it this way: if this were a corporation, it would be in liquidation. If it were a house, it would be condemned. But since it’s a public school system, it can avoid this catastrophic failure by emphasizing “equity”!

Yup, just as long as the kids are woke, it doesn’t matter that most of them are illiterate and innumerate. You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 4, 2023 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Turtle islet

with 27 comments

 

At a newly discovered (by us) pond on the grounds of Hyde Park High School on January 21st I couldn’t resist photographing this convocation of turtles on what seems to have been a sandbar. People talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees. Originally it was the turtles that I couldn’t see, lost as they were in the reflections of trees on the surface of the water, as shown below. To get close enough to take the top picture I had to walk around the pond to the opposite side from which I’d taken the bottom picture.

Among turtles there’s no such thing as personal space.

 

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 3, 2023 at 4:26 AM

Longhorn Cavern, part 2

with 25 comments

 

On January 26th we visited Longhorn Cavern State Park, which is only about an hour’s drive west of home.

 

  

All the pictures here came from my iPhone 14 in raw mode at 48.8 megapixels per image.

 

  

In many cases I went for abstractions of light and shadows.

 

 

 

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Logomachy

 

From Andrew Doyle’s 2022 book The New Puritans I learned the word logomachy (in which the second syllable is stressed and the ch has the same k sound it does in other Greek-derived words like chemistry and psychology). The American Heritage Dictionary gives these two definitions of logomachy: 1) ‘A dispute about words.’ 2) ‘A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.’

Logomachy—usually not by that fancy name, which few people know—has become a fact of political and cultural life in recent years. That’s because for dogmatic purposes the priests and parishioners in the secular religion of wokeism are waging a war about words. A common tactic is to replace a familiar word with one or more others, as when a mother becomes a birthing person, or when equality, which connotes fair treatment, gives way to equity, which means forced equal outcomes for racial and sexual groups regardless of individual merit or effort.

Another main tactic is to insist that familiar words don’t mean what we know they mean. For all but the most ideological among us, racism means ‘the belief that people of a certain race are inferior and should be treated as such.’ Wokeists, however, redefine racism as ‘prejudice plus power,’ thereby conveniently denying the observable fact that some people in a historically discriminated-against group—think of Louis Farrakhan—are themselves racist.

Even more absurdly, wokeists push for a word to mean the opposite of what it has traditionally meant. A prime example is anti-racist, which actually means racist, as when the exorbitantly paid high priest Ibram Kendi preaches that “The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

Or take the group that calls itself antifa, supposedly meaning ‘anti-fascist.’ You know, the group that turns other people’s peaceful protests into riots, destroys property, and beats people up or even tries to kill them. That describes fascists, not anti-fascists. In fact antifa thugs even dress in black, just like the Blackshirts a century earlier in Mussolini’s National Fascist Party.

Or in the gender wars take the mantra “A trans woman is a woman.” Well, no: a trans woman is a man who believes he’s a woman and who wants to live as or is living as if he were a woman. But as if doesn’t mean is. And yet ideologues denounce the distinction. If a man can actually be a woman, then the two categories no longer mean what they’ve meant for tens of thousands of years in every society on earth since human beings developed language.

And of course the much-vaunted diversity means a uniformity of opinions, just as inclusion means the exclusion of people with heterodox opinions.

  

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 2, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Dense possumhaw fruit

with 17 comments

 

On January 22nd in the little town of Canyon City—in Texas any hamlet can get named a city—this densely fruited possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) wouldn’t let me keep driving unless I made a portrait of it. I gave in.

 

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In a comment last week our New Zealand friend Amanda made me aware that groups like the World Health Organization have been using the term malnutrition in a non-traditional way. Here’s that group’s definition: “Malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases.”

Now, Latin mal- means ‘bad’ or ‘badly,’ so etymology could support the World Health Organization’s definition of malnutrition. However, my guess is that most English speakers, perhaps almost all, believe malnutrition refers exclusively to undernutrition or to the insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals. That’s how I’ve always interpreted the term. To see whether I’ve been out of line, I turned to a bunch of dictionaries. Merriam-Webster defines malnutrition as “faulty nutrition due to inadequate or unbalanced intake of nutrients or their impaired assimilation or utilization.” Here’s the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary: “a poor condition of health caused by a lack of food or a lack of the right type of food.” The American Heritage Dictionary’s definition is “Poor nutrition because of an insufficient or poorly balanced diet or faulty digestion or utilization of foods.” The Collins English Dictionary puts it this way: “If someone is suffering from malnutrition, they are physically weak and extremely thin because they have not eaten enough food.”

The closest that any of the dictionaries I consulted came to including obesity or being overweight was: “[Malnutrition] can be caused by not getting enough to eat, or it can be caused by not eating enough healthy foods.” Even so, there’s no mention of being overweight or obese.

I believe an organization that communicates with the public needs to do so clearly. It should not use a word in a way that many people will interpret differently from what the organization intends by the word. Are the World Health Organization and some other groups including obesity and being overweight in the category of malnutrition to increase the number of people the groups can label “malnourished”? In other words, are the groups defying the traditional definitions of malnutrition and malnourished for ideological purposes or to increase funding? I don’t know. I became aware of this only five days ago and I haven’t done any research on it. What I can say is that the conjecture is at least plausible, given how many recent instances I’ve seen of ideologues trying to redefine words away from their longstanding meanings, much as George Orwell presciently described in his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, and in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 1, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Time-tested technology

with 23 comments

 

Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) at Palmetto State Park on December 15, 2022.
The “time-tested technology” refers to a water tower.

 

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Some of my commentaries have dealt with “the language police”—who apparently now would have me call them something like “people policing language.” It’s another example of the “people first” approach running rampant among ideologues. One organization pushing such things is the Associated Press (AP), which has long issued style guidelines for the wording of news stories. Those guidelines used to be sane, but now, as The Hill reported on January 27th:

The AP Stylebook’s Twitter account on Thursday posted recommendations to avoid the use of “the” before certain descriptors “such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, [and] the college-educated” because that phrasing can be “dehumanizing.” The post went viral with many Twitter users responding and making jokes about the inclusion of “the French.”

The French Embassy in the United States was one of the accounts that responded to the post, posting a screenshot of it changing its name from “French Embassy U.S.” to “Embassy of Frenchness in the U.S.” 

“I guess this is us now…” it commented. 

 

The last sentence in the article notes that according to the AP, “writers should be specific when possible, giving ‘people with incomes below the poverty line’ as an example.”

That makes me think we’ll have to update Emma Lazarus‘s poem “The New Colossus,” which appears on a bronze plaque beneath the Statue of Liberty. The best-known part will now need to be:

“Give me your people afflicted with tiredness, your people with incomes below the poverty line…”

Kinda messes up the meter, don’t you think?

On a less discordant note, you may or may not know that one of the most creative and successful immigrants ever to come to America, Irving Berlin, set the final part of Emma Lazarus’s poem to music for his 1949 show “Miss Liberty.” We’re fortunate to have a recording of Irving Berlin himself singing the song. You’re also welcome to listen to a version sung by a chorus.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 31, 2023 at 4:31 AM

First wildflower for 2023

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About a week ago I checked out a property a couple of miles from home where I expect ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) to spring up early in the year. I found exactly two of those flowers, and both were the worse for wear (and apparent nibbling). A day or two later we had a little bit of rain, so I returned to the property yesterday to see if the watering had had its effect. It had, and this time I found a bunch of anemone flowers scattered about. The “petals” on a ten-petal anemone are actually sepals, and 10 is more typically a lower bound than a requisite number. I count a dozen on the flower above. There are also more than 12 droplets of rain, thanks to the drizzly morning.

Hoverflies in the genus Toxomerus outnumbered me dozens to one on that property.
For the first time ever I managed to photograph three of them together on a flower.

 

 

 

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Over half a year ago I requested Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom’s Do You Think What You Think You Think? from the Austin Public Library system. When month after month went by without the book showing up for me at my local branch, I figured maybe the system’s one copy had gotten lost and the long delay came from a new copy having to be ordered. Last week I unexpectedly got a notice that the book was in. Upon picking it up, I found it was an old, worse-for-wear copy, so where it had been for over half a year remains a mystery.

Anyhow, one question the book takes up is: what makes a great work of art? The authors say that “six broad types of answers have been given time and again in the history of art theory and aesthetics”:

  • The work displays great technical ability.
  • The work is enjoyable.
  • The work conveys the feelings of the artist.
  • The work conveys an important moral lesson or helps us to live better lives.
  • The formal features of the work are harmonious and/or beautiful.
  • The work reveals an insight into reality.

As is true for each topic in the book, what follows is a quiz in which you rate each of those six factors from 0 (not important at all) to 4 (vital). After a second quiz, this time comparing the works of two artists, the authors analyze your ratings. I won’t discuss them here, so anyone who wants to get the book and take the quizzes can do so with a blank slate, so to speak.

Other topics dealt with are reason, morality, taboo, God, ethics, being alive, and freedom. Interesting stuff. If that sounds interesting to you, too, check out Do You Think What You Think You Think? (and if you literally try to check it out of your public library, let’s hope it doesn’t take more than half a year for you to get it).

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2023 at 4:36 AM

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