Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Texas

Not a partridge in a pear tree

with 39 comments

Not the Christmas song’s partridge in a pear tree, but a bunch of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in a live oak tree (Quercus fusiformis) is what we found on January 3 while driving along Burnet County Road 330 for what I think was the first time ever. Branches blocked the line of sight to all but the highest-perched birds, so I zoomed in on a few of those. Click the thumbnail below for a closer look at the top pair from a different frame.

After I moved a little closer all the vultures flew away, leaving me to take a few more-is-more pictures of the scraggly live oak branches in their own right.

🖇

🖇         🖇         🖇

🖇

It’s heartening that people and organizations have been working to counter the onslaught of illiberalism coming from certain sectors of our society. In posts over the past year I’ve singled out some of the people and organizations that uphold free speech and due process, and that work against “wokeism” and “cancel culture,” or whatever other name you care to use.

Following is a list of people and groups working to maintain the values of a free society. Some of these consider themselves politically center-left, some center-right, and others centrist or independent. The important thing is that all of them favor freedom, value open discussion grounded in demonstrable facts, and deplore indoctrination. The links below take you to sites where material keeps getting added (as opposed to books, which could make up another list), so you can go back to each site from time to time—even daily for some—and expect new articles.

Heterodox Academy

FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

Quillette

FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism)

Bari Weiss

The Daily Signal

Glenn Loury

The National Association of Scholars

Megyn Kelly

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying

Douglas Murray

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Federalist

Sharyl Attkisson

1776 Unites

No Left Turn in Education

Peter Boghossian

City Journal

Steven Pinker

Victor Davis Hanson

Abigail Shrier

Zaid Jilani

Judicial Watch

Reason

Vivek Ramaswamy

Coleman Hughes

The Epoch Times

Jewish Institute for Liberal Values

Christopher Rufo

Jordan Peterson

Michael Shellenberger

Matt Taibbi

Glenn Greenwald

James Lindsay

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 15, 2022 at 4:22 AM

One thing that poison ivy is good for

with 36 comments

One thing that poison ivy is good for is color in the late fall and early winter. This portrait comes from the lower portion of Allen Park on December 17, 2021. I’ve read that the sheen on the leaflets attests to the presence of urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy that irritates most people’s skin. “Look but do not touch” remains sound advice. The most interestingly colored poison ivy I ever saw was also in the lower portion of Allen Park, way back in 2006.

⚙︎

⚙︎        ⚙︎        ⚙︎

⚙︎

Yesterday we went to the Austin Nature Center, not to visit the indoor exhibits but to walk through the place and onto the trails beyond. When we arrived at the main building we were met with a sign saying everyone has to wear a mask not only inside buildings but outdoors as well. That doesn’t “follow the science.”

Currently 98.3% of all new Covid-19 infections in the United States are from the Omicron variant. According to an NPR article, “…given how contagious omicron is, experts say, it’s seriously time to upgrade to an N95 or similar high-filtration respirator when you’re in public indoor spaces. ‘Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron,’ says Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech who studies how viruses transmit in the air.” Yet the Austin Nature Center—and presumably every other institution that requires masks indoors—allows cloth masks.

As for outdoor transmission of Covid-19, it’s rare. David Leonhardt noted last year in a New York Times article entitled “A Misleading C.D.C. Number” that “the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.” Those are hardly the conditions you’ll find outdoors at a nature center, are they?

Following the science, we ignored the mask mandate as soon as we were away from the Austin Nature Center buildings. When we stopped a minute later to look at some rescued raptors in outdoor enclosures, we noticed a young couple who had also stopped there. I saw that they weren’t wearing masks either, and I asked them sarcastically if they weren’t afraid of catching Covid-19. Turns out the couple was visiting from Florida, and the guy said that in his state things aren’t restrictive the way they are in Austin. I told him Austin is the Berkeley of Texas and people here are crazy; then I made sure to add that although Eve and I live here we aren’t crazy.

Later, even farther away from the Nature Center, we encountered first one and then another small group of young children on an outing in the woods. The adult guides were wearing masks, as were many but not all of the little children. Later I was sorry I hadn’t asked if the children’s parents had decided whether their kids had to wear a mask or could go maskless outdoors. We’ve known since early in the pandemic that children are by far the least susceptible group, so there’s no reason for them to be wearing masks when they’re out in nature. That’s the science.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 14, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Here’s looking at you, kid[neywood flowers]

with 6 comments

How ’bout this face-on view of a small fly getting nectar from the flowers of a kidneywood tree (Eysenhardtia texana) in my neighborhood on December 16, 2021? That tree kept putting out flowers through the end of the year, even if only a tiny fraction of what it had produced at the end of October.

(This post’s title is an allusion to a line from the movie “Casablanca.”)

🎶

🎶         🎶         🎶

🎶

Three months ago in these pages I wrote a commentary pointing out that inflation is a hidden tax that most affects the people least able to afford it, including the poor, of course, and the elderly on fixed incomes. People who have dutifully saved money for their later years look on helplessly as their retirement savings dwindle in value.

Yesterday the United States government announced that from December 2020 to December 2021, the Consumer Price Index had risen 7%, which was the highest jump in 40 years. A big factor in the increase is that both the last administration and the current one each spent trillions of dollars that we don’t have. Borrowing and printing money so extravagantly contributed heavily to the high inflation we’re now experiencing. And still the current administration is desperate to borrow, print, and spend trillions of dollars more in a Congressional bill that I can’t help but call Bilk Back Better. It’s madness.

UPDATE: A Quinnipiac poll whose results were released yesterday found that only 34% of the respondents approve the current president’s handling of the economy, with 57% disapproving. (The margin of error was 2.7 percentage points.)

🎶

🎶         🎶         🎶

🎶

If you have the time, you can watch a two-hour conversation
among Steven Pinker, Jonthan Haidt, and Jordan Peterson.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 13, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Armed

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.

❡            ❡

…[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

Tagged with , , ,

Exaggerations

with 46 comments

Despite what you’ll find frequently quoted, Mark Twain didn’t say “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That’s an exaggeration. Here’s the explanation from dictionary.com:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated is a popular misquote attributed to author Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name, Mark Twain. The humorous quote is based on a letter Twain sent to a newspaper reporter who had asked Twain about rumors that he was dying.

Although it’s not an accurate quote, The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated remains associated with Twain. Twain was known for his humor, which the quote perfectly represents. Often, this quote is brought up to praise Twain’s skill as a humorist.

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated is often used to humorously comment on a person’s absence from society or to refer to something that appears dead or hopeless but still has a slim chance of success.

In May 1897, there was a rumor among journalists that author Mark Twain was either dead or dying of a serious illness. Looking for confirmation, journalist Frank Marshall White of the New York Journal contacted Twain to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Twain responded to White with a letter in which he humorously said “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” In classic Twain fashion, the author jokingly expressed more offense with the rumors that he was poor than the rumors of his death.

The popular misquote of Twain’s words seems to come from a biography written by Albert Paine in the early 1900s. In the biography, Paine alters the incident so that Twain speaks to an unnamed reporter in person and humorously tells him that “The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” This misquote then changed over time to use the word greatly instead of grossly.

I bring this up because the word millipede is also an exaggeration. Latin mille meant ‘a thousand,’ and millipede therefore means ‘a thousand feet,’ but obviously each of the little critters in today’s photographs, which are in fact millipedes, has far fewer than a thousand limbs. On the other hand, there might be a thousand strands in the webbing around the millipedes, which I can say with no exaggeration were dead.

These pictures come from December 22, 2021, along the Shoal Creek Trail. The first section of the trail heading south from 32nd St. closely skirts a rock cliff with some overhangs in it, and that’s where the millipedes hang out, as shown in the two top photographs. In the third picture, the webbing served to anchor a dry leaf, which became the star of that portrait.

To get enough light to photograph in those shaded places I had to use flash, which also revealed the colors in some of the rocks themselves, which unaided eyes might not have noticed.

UPDATE: Scientists have discovered a new species of millipede with 1306 legs.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 11, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Rosy splotches and an upright flounder*

with 16 comments

At Allen Park on December 17, 2021, I cautiously maneuvered among some prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) to take pictures of aging and deteriorated pads. The one above looked to me like it had the measles, while my imagination insisted on comparing the pad below to an upright flounder. Or maybe it was a worse-for-the-wear owl seen from the side.

* I’m pretty sure that of all the hundreds of millions of people who’ve ever spoken and written English, not one has previously used the phrase that serves as this post’s title.

✪       ✪       ✪

The academic literature on the use of facts to correct delusions shows very mixed results. It sometimes works, it sometimes works in a limited way, and it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The effects sometimes seem to last over a longer period, and sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on the issue being tested, how it’s done, and what we’re expecting to shift, from factual knowledge to policy preferences to beliefs.

That makes perfect sense when we bear in mind the theory of cognitive dissonance and consider what we know about how we think. We naturally look for confirming information, and discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we switch. The dissonance is emotionally unpleasant, and while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling onto them.

The message is that we can’t always solve delusions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. Of course, facts don’t exist entirely outside of their context: as we’ve seen, many measures are more complex than they seem, require cautious interpretation, and selection of other, equally valid facts can paint a very different picture. But this is not an excuse to give up on the value and power of the best facts we can muster. They can indicate an underlying truth that we shouldn’t carelessly discard because they are imperfect.

That’s one of the conclusions Bobby Duffy reaches in the closing chapter of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

A tiny white snail shell as a sarcophagus on a carpet of fallen dry Ashe juniper needles

with 31 comments

Allen Park; December 17, 2021.

❀        ❀        ❀

Have you ever noticed that some people have appropriate names while others have ironic names? An example in the “appropriate” category was a United States district judge for the Eastern District of Texas named William Wayne Justice.

Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) provides two examples in the “ironic” category. The current police commissioner there is named Danielle Outlaw. But what’s in a name? The double irony is that while Danielle Outlaw is actually trying to enforce laws and protect the citizens of Philadelphia, the real outlaw in Philadelphia’s justice system is the district attorney, Larry Krasner. His family name ultimately goes back to a Slavic word that means ‘beautiful,’ yet he is anything but beautiful in his stubbornly ideological refusal to prosecute many criminals. Unfortunately the new district attorney in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, began bragging on day one of his term that he also will refuse to prosecute many crimes and will downgrade others from felonies to misdemeanors. You can read even more about that if you wish.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 9, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Lindheimer’s senna leaflets turning yellow

with 25 comments

From my neighborhood on December 16, 2021, come these two takes, one minimalist and the other busy, on colorful Lindheimer’s senna leaflets (Senna lindheimeri).

※     ※     ※     ※     ※

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) nationwide mandate that companies with 100 or more employees must require those employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The challengers, the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, contend that OSHA, not being part of the legislature, doesn’t have the authority to issue such a mandate, and that only Congress does.

During the proceedings, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the following about Covid-19: “We have over 100,000 children, which we have never had before, in serious condition, many on ventilators.” While it’s true that the rate of Covid-19 infection among children has recently climbed higher than at any previous time in the pandemic, the fact remains that children are still the least affected age group, and the claim that 100,000 children are currently afflicted and in serious condition is a gross exaggeration.

A Yahoo! News story from yesterday says that “The current number of confirmed pediatric hospitalizations with Covid in the U.S. is 3,342, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services released on Friday.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Data Tracker shows that for the entire 17-month period from August 1, 2020, through January 5, 2022, the total number of pediatric Covid-19 admissions in the United States was 82,843.

It’s unfortunate that a Supreme Court Justice would claim that the current number of pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations is 30 times the actual amount.

UPDATE:

What follows is part of an article from The Epoch Times on January 9.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy disputed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s claim that 100,000 children are hospitalized or seriously ill with COVID-19 during arguments made before the court on Jan. 7.

During an interview with “Fox News Sunday” on Jan. 9, Walensky confirmed that there are about 3,500 children in the hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19….

When asked about there being 3,500 children hospitalized as opposed to 100,000, Walensky said, “Yes, there are, and in fact what I will say is while pediatric hospitalizations are rising, they’re still about 15-fold less than hospitalizations of our older age demographics.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 8, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Inaugurating the new year

with 38 comments

On New Year’s morning I went to Great Hills Park to try out a new camera: I’ve taken the plunge with a Canon mirrorless camera, the EOS R5. Although that means a reduction in picture size of about 11% compared to my EOS 5DS R, a review I’d read said the better resolving power of the five-year-newer sensor could make up for that loss, and in addition there would be greater dynamic range and less noise at each ISO, particularly the higher ones.

One thing that caught my attention in the park was some shelf fungi on the stump of a black willow tree, as shown above. I worked hand-held and without flash at the high ISO of 2500, which let me stop down to f/14 to keep most details sharp. Yes, some noise appeared in the image, but it was tolerable, and processing let me reduce it even more. The next day I returned with my earlier camera and my ring flash to make some more-abstract, edge-on views of the fungi, like the one below.

Does it look to you, as it sometimes does to me, like the front edge of the fungus in the second picture is protruding forward from the plane of your monitor?

❖        ❖        ❖

Last year I reported on two attempts by the current American administration to illegally give out money to people according to their race. One program involved farmers, and another program involved restaurant owners. Thankfully, judges eventually ruled both programs unconstitutional because they discriminated against people based on their race.

Now New York State is flouting the equal-rights protection that the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to all citizens. On December 27, 2021, the state’s Department of Health announced that it is going to prioritize giving certain Covid-19 medicines to non-white people: “Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.” The organization America First Legal has threatened to sue if New York State doesn’t rescind that illegal policy of prioritizing medicines based on the race of an ill patient.

The obvious solution is to prioritize people based on their actual conditions. The aged are at high risk, as are the obese and people with other co-morbidities. Those are the groups who should get priority. If it so happens that more non-whites than whites fall into those categories, fine, but the rationing of medicine will be on medical grounds, not prima facie—and illegally—according to race.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 7, 2022 at 4:39 AM

More turn-of-the-year wildflowers in my neighborhood

with 20 comments

Like the Ageratina havanensis that you saw two posts back, Viguiera dentata blooms in the fall and increasingly into the winter. Common names for this species include plateau goldeneye, sunflower goldeneye, and just plain goldeneye. It’s not uncommon for yellow daisy-type flower heads to open asymmetrically, as the one shown here was doing on December 16th in my neighborhood. The same goldeneye bushes were still displaying flowers on the day 2022 began.

△        △        △

See what you make of each of these. Are any more logical or plausible than any of the others?

  • This is Daniel. He was born 10 years ago. That means that everyone thinks he’s 10 years old. Only now he’s grown old enough to tell everyone that he’s actually an adult and is entitled to get married, vote, and buy alcoholic beverages.
  • This is Maria. She was born in Italy to Italian parents who trace their Italian lineage back 500 years. This means that when she was born everyone thought she was Italian. Until she grew a little older — old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually Japanese.
  • This is Juan. He was born to a human mother and a human father, so everyone thought he was a human boy. Until he grew older — old enough to bark and tell everyone that he’s actually a dog.
  • This is Mark. He has been a truck driver his whole adult life. That means everyone believes he drives trucks for a living. But now he’s gone to the White House to reveal that he’s actually the President of the United States.
  • This is Ruthie. She’s a transgender girl. That means when she was born, everyone thought she was a boy. Until she grew a little older — old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually a girl.

   

The third of those fits a rare condition called clinical lycanthropy, in which people believe themselves to be animals. “Canines are certainly not uncommon, although the experience of being transformed into a hyena, cat, horse, bird or tiger has been reported on more than one occasion. Transformation into frogs, and even bees, has been reported in some instances.”

The fourth of those could indicate schizophrenia, symptoms of which sometimes include delusions of grandeur. Approximately 1.2% of Americans suffer from schizophrenia., including the primary subject of the excellent documentary “I Am Another You,” which we watched last night.

The fifth of those is actual text from the book It Feels Good to Be Yourself, which some elementary schools have put in their library. You can read about it in a December 22nd opinion piece by Betsy McCaughey in the New York Post. Researchers have estimated that 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as transgender.

UPDATE: Here’s a follow-up on the last of those topics from Dr. Erika Anderson, who was the first transgender president of the US Professional Association for Transgender Health.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2022 at 4:27 AM

%d bloggers like this: