Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘winter

Rich but icy red for Valentine’s Day

with 36 comments

 

Here are two more views, one broad and the other close, of fruited yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria)
from the ice storm that we “welcomed” the month of February into Austin with.

 

  


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Below are some quotations from Andrew Doyle‘s 2022 book The New Puritans.
The guy has a way with words and comes out with some zingers.
(I’ve retained his British spelling and punctuation.)

 

…It has apparently never occurred to anyone involved that the best solution to feeling offended by a particular show is simply not to watch it.

The truest commitment to diversity, of course, involves a recognition of the primacy and sovereignty of the individual.

There are now flags for every conceivable sexual or gender identity. These are not necessarily representative of groups that have been historically persecuted, but rather a hotchpotch of neologisms that can be seemingly selected at will like so many fashion accessories. Flags have been designed for those who identify as pangender, aporagender, agender, bigender, trigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, demigender, demigirl, demiboy, neutrois, polyamorous, non-binary, asexual, omnisexual, poly-sexual, abrosexual, androsexual, gynosexual, skoliosexual, aromantic, gender questioning, gender non-conforming, and many more. Surely it would be far easier to create one giant flag for narcissists and be done with it.

Is this progress? Or it is simply that some of us remain sober while the world gets drunk? The proliferation of what we might call ‘neosexualities’ risks demeaning the struggles of sexual minorities in the past. The persecution of homosexuals over the centuries is well documented, but if there has been any equivalent campaigns against asexuals it has certainly escaped the attention of historians. It is difficult to conceive of a militant evangelist at his pulpit condemning anyone for having a low libido.

Those who oppose Critical Race Theory are so often charged with simply failing to understand it. As with any academic field, there are nuances and details that will escape a layman, but this does not debar him from objecting to some of the central premises. It would be akin to a clergyman claiming that atheists are unqualified to declare their disbelief in God until they have developed a sufficient level of expertise in Thomas Aquinas’s writings on the compatibility of faith and reason.

 

 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 14, 2023 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Holes

with 18 comments

 

Here you have two takes on holes from last week’s ice storm. The fruit cluster above was on a yaupon tree, Ilex vomitoria. The second picture raises the question of whether a concavity that doesn’t go all the way through a tree branch counts as hole. That’s a matter philosophers must surely have been debating for thousands of years. What say you, semantically minded readers: is the hole in the branch below truly a hole? The dull yellow and pale green, by the way, came from lichens.

 

  

 

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As a consequence of the winter storm that led to the pretty ice pictures you’ve been seeing here for the past week, we unprettily had no electricity for three days. Although we heat our home with natural gas, the mechanism that regulates the burning of the gas is electric, so our house went cold. Our kitchen stove is all-electric, so we couldn’t cook or even heat up cold food. Our neighbors with natural gas stoves made out a lot better; the heat from cooking also warmed their homes somewhat.

You may have heard that as a panicky consequence of climate catastrophism some political regimes are moving to ban gas stoves. California, of course, is a prime mover.

You can read a February 8th article by Chuck Devore about the unfortunate costs and consequences of banning natural-gas appliances. Here’s an excerpt:

In much of America, natural gas is so inexpensive that gas ranges cost less than half as much to operate as an electric range. In California, ground zero for the ban on gas stoves, the cost to operate a gas range over the past year equals $1.93 per month (assuming the use of 2.34 therms per month at an average gas cost of 82.3 cents per therm). In California, with electricity prices for residential users soaring in the 11 months ending in November 2022 to 26.36 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) (the highest in the continental U.S. and higher than in every state except Hawaii), the average electric range user would pay $11.14 a month. 

But not to fear, Consumer Reports claims the newer electric magnetic induction stoves are 5-10 percent more efficient than a traditional electric stove. Great, give it 10 percent — now you’re paying $10.03 to cook your food in California versus $1.93 for gas — $97.20 more per year to cook with electricity — assuming California isn’t cutting your power due to worries about fire or shortages due to its reliance on unreliable renewable energy. 

That article linked to one by Michael McKenna in the January 21st Washington Times, “The cautionary tale of gas stoves and letting government make your decisions.” Here’s an excerpt from it:

Unfortunately, the effort to ban all natural gas appliances — stoves, water heaters, furnaces — is very much a real thing. It is a deliberate campaign driven by special interest groups opposed to affordable, reliable fuels, and it routinely uses shady research to allege health effects from the use of natural gas appliances.

In reality, of course, there is broad consensus that natural gas appliances are safe.

For instance, in the largest and most complete analysis examining any potential link between gas appliances and childhood asthma to date, scientists found “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”

Similarly, a study tracked the severity and symptoms of asthma among adults from 2018 through the COVID-19 pandemic and found that despite the increased time spent indoors at home, asthmatics experienced a 40% decrease in their symptoms. Those findings suggest that the home environment was safe and healthy, and it is likely that factors outside the home have an outsized impact on asthma symptoms.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 12, 2023 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

Cubism or ice-cube-ism?

with 21 comments

 

Metaphorical and literal fruit of the ice storm on our deck on February 2nd.
The fruitful tree was once again a yaupon, Ilex vomitoria.

 

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There are all sorts of ways in which lies gain currency. The hysteria of [the] Salem [witch trials] is just one of the more evocative historical instances of people collectively fabricating a false reality and punishing those who fail to attest to its veracity. We are living through a period in which, much like the days when religious convictions were generally uncontested, articles of faith are peddled as truths by those in positions of power. The new puritans, then, are best understood as a clergy for a godless age, presiding over a dreamscape of their own making, rewriting our language, history and traditions as they go along. Yet, for all their clout, there are still some among us who steadfastly refuse to praise the elegance of the emperor’s new clothes, who would rather point and laugh at the naked man in our midst. Not for the first time in human history, our way out of this madness will depend upon the heretics.

That’s from Andrew Doyle’s 2022 book The New Puritans, which I’ve been reading and which I recommend.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 10, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Iced lichens

with 22 comments

 

During last week’s freeze, iced-over lichens attracted me.
I had access to these formerly high branches after the weight
of accumulated ice caused a mature tree to come crashing down.

 

  

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Article VI of the United States Constitution specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” I take it you agree that that prohibition of religious tests is a good thing.

Those who take the long view of history know that all good things eventually come to an end. Unfortunately, American institutions are increasingly imposing religious tests on applicants. Yes, you read that right. The only difference between 1787, when the Constitution was written, and 2023 is that today’s tests involve a secular rather than a theistic religion. The modern secular religion in question is DEI. That happens to be the Latin word for ‘gods,’ and it stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In the United States we have the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens access to many government records. The government does what it does on behalf of its citizens, so we the citizens have the right to know what the government is doing.

John D. Sailer, a fellow at the National Association of Scholars, used the Freedom of Information Act to get records from Texas Tech University, located in the north Texas city of Lubbock. In particular, Sailer acquired the evaluations of more than a dozen job candidates for a position in the department of biological sciences.

One Texas Tech search committee penalized a candidate for espousing race-neutrality in teaching. The candidate “mentioned that DEI is not an issue because he respects his students and treats them equally,” the evaluation notes. “This indicates a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.”

Another search committee flagged a candidate for failing to properly understand “the difference between equity and equality, even on re-direct,” noting that this suggests a “rather superficial understanding of DEI more generally.” This distinction arises frequently in DEI training, always as a markedly ideological talking point. According to the schema, equality means equal opportunity, but, to use the words of Vice President Kamala Harris, “Equitable treatment means we all end up in the same place.” Somehow, failing to explain that distinction reflects poorly on a biologist.

The biology department’s search committees also rewarded fluency in the language of identity politics. An immunology candidate was praised for awareness of the problems of “unconscious bias.” “Inclusivity in lab” was listed as a virology candidate’s strength: “her theme will be diversity, and she will actively work to creating the culture—e.g. enforce code of conduct, prevent microaggressions etc.” Another candidate’s strengths included “Land acknowledgement in talk.”

Many critics rightly point out that diversity statements invite viewpoint discrimination. DEI connotes a set of highly contestable social and political views. Requiring faculty to catalog their commitment to those views necessarily blackballs anybody who dissents from an orthodoxy that has nothing to do with scientific competence.

Amen to that. You’re welcome to read the full article, “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science,” from the February 6th Wall Street Journal. You can also read a related January 16th story by John D. Sailer in City Journal, “DEI in the Heart of Texas.”

 

UPDATE: I prepared the above commentary two days ago. Yesterday the National Association of Scholars sent out an announcement that begins this way:

New York, NY; February 8, 2023 – The National Association of Scholars (NAS) applauds the speed with which Texas Tech University jettisoned its requirement that candidates for faculty positions submit “diversity statements.” This decision came just hours after NAS senior fellow John Sailer published “How ‘Diversity’ Policing Fails Science” in the Wall Street Journal on February 7, in which he detailed how the Texas Tech Department of Biological Sciences used these statements. Texas Tech notes in its announcement that it has “immediately withdr[awn] this practice” and related “evaluation rubrics.” The university also declared that it would initiate “a review of hiring procedures across all colleges and departments.”

This is a breakthrough in the larger battle against higher education’s attempt to impose diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) standards on faculty hiring, along with every other aspect of college and university life. Sailer used a freedom of information request to obtain the public university search committee’s evaluations of candidates. This is the first time that the public has been able to see how DEI standards affect applicants.

You’re welcome to read the full announcement.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 9, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Sideways icicles

with 18 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

Tagged with , , , , ,

Pareidolia in ice-encased yaupon twigs

with 18 comments

 

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

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

First wildflower for 2023

with 35 comments

 

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

A sixth installment of icicles

with 22 comments

 

On December 25th I spent nearly four hours photographing icicles hanging from a cliff in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home. In posts on December 28th, December 31st, January 8th, January 14th, and January 19th you’ve seen how I tried out various approaches, both with and without flash. Now here are some more views of icicles from that productive session.

To take the first picture, I deftly worked my way behind the icicles that were coming down from a limestone overhang. Aiming upward created the seeming convergence of the icicles toward the top.

 

 

For the second picture I also used flash.

 

 

The warm tones of the rocks and the pale blue of the ice in the picture above went well together.

The thin sheet of ice below was backlit by the sun’s rays. 

  

 

Similarly, it was sunlight that illuminated the icicles below.

 

  

 

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A hot topic in genetics over the past few years has been what’s known as gain-of-function research. The term refers to manipulating the DNA of a virus to make the virus more potent. On the positive side, researchers might figure out ways to combat the more-potent virus while it’s contained in a lab and before it or a similar naturally mutated strain could infect a population. There’s also potential danger in gain-of-function research: a malevolent organization or government might turn a manipulated virus into a weapon, especially if they could figure out ways to keep themselves exempt from the effects of the more-potent virus. And, despite precautions, there’s always the risk of an accident in which a more-potent virus escapes from a lab, infects the nearby population, and perhaps even spreads much more broadly. Some scientists believe that’s what happened in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Others disagree. We may never know because the Chinese government wasn’t forthcoming with the facts, and key evidence has long since disappeared.

I bring this up now in connection with an organization called Project Veritas (the second word in the name is Latin for ‘truth’). Project Veritas’s typical M.O (modus operandi, or ‘way of working’) is to send a disguised reporter with a hidden video camera to chat with a person who Project Veritas suspects is doing something nefarious. (Americans might be reminded of the long-running television show 60 Minutes, which has employed the same undercover technique on many occasions). The hope is that the interviewee, who doesn’t know the person engaging in a friendly chat is a reporter, will reveal information that would otherwise be kept from the public.

On January 25th Project Veritas released a 10-minute video compilation from its latest undercover investigation. The interviewee is identified as “Jordon Trishton Walker, Pfizer Director of Research and Development, Strategic Operations – mRNA Scientific Planner.” In the video, Walker speaks of “directed evolution,” which he says is different from gain-of-function research, but which the head of Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, believes might be a euphemism for it.

Check out the 10-minute video compilation and accompanying printed discussion about it and draw your own conclusions.

As a reminder, I believe it’s always good to be circumspect about what you read on the internet. I found an article on the substack site “Investigate Everything with Brian O’Shea” in which O’Shea reports the results of his efforts to confirm that the person shown in the video really is the person Project Veritas claims he is. You’re welcome to read that article as well.

And here are Newsweek’s cautions about the Project Veritas story.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2023 at 4:30 AM

They’re here again

with 45 comments

On January 11th I spotted my first cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) of the season. It was on the trunk of the Ashe juniper tree right outside my window, adjacent to two fruit-laden yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria). On January 19th I saw several cedar waxwings nibbling a bit of the fruit on the farther tree. Finally on January 20th at least a dozen cedar waxwings kept swooping in and out for a while as they grabbed fruits on the nearer tree. Whenever one of the birds landed in a place not blocked from view by branches I could finally try for pictures, which I did with my telephoto lens zoomed to its maximum 400mm. The dull light and the not-as-clear-as-I’d-have-liked glass in the window led me to spend more time than usual enhancing the image, first in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, then in Topaz Photo AI.

 

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“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ― Galileo Galilei, letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

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