Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘winter

Water white against blue times two

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On February 5th at Austin’s Bull Creek District Park I played off ice against a clear blue sky. On March 1st outside my house wispy clouds filled in for the white of the ice. Both ice and clouds are forms of water.

 

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Before she decided to strip him of all custody over his son, Drew—before determining that he would have no say in whether Drew began medical gender transition—California Superior Court Judge Joni Hiramoto asked Ted Hudacko this: “If your son [Drew] were medically psychotic and believed himself to be the Queen of England, would you love him?”

“Of course I would,” the senior software engineer at Apple replied, according to the court transcript. “I’d also try to get him help.”

 

So begins a February 7th City Journal article by Abigail Shrier entitled “Child Custody’s Gender Gauntlet.” You probably don’t know the extent to which gender ideology has been taking over our courts. If you read this article you’ll sadly find out.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 3, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Looking back less distantly, more icily

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Yesterday’s two posts looked back 7 and 56 years. Today’s post looks back 23 days to Austin’s Bull Creek District Park, where I went hunting for icicles and came home with a good photographic catch.

 

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Check out the article “Ukrainian Women Bring Back Traditional Floral Crowns To Show National Pride.”
It includes 14 photographs of elaborate floral headdresses.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 28, 2022 at 4:36 AM

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Two days, two birds

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On January 29th I stopped along Cameron Rd. in northeast Austin to photograph a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) with a good amount of fruit on it. After taking several pictures I glimpsed a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) fairly high in the tree, so I hastened back to the car, switched to my 100–400mm lens, and made it back to the possumhaw, all in just three minutes (thanks, metadata). I hoped the mockingbird would still be there, and it was, though a little higher than before. I did what I could.

The next day we visited the small Selma Hughes Park on the Colorado River for the first time. What caught my attention were several dead trees heavily covered by dense vines, of which I took many pictures. Four days later, while looking through the photographs of those vine-covered trees on my computer screen, I noticed that four frames showed something I hadn’t been aware of at the time I took the pictures: at the very top of one dead tree stood a bird. It wasn’t in previous frames nor in the ones that followed. I’m thinking the interloper that had flown in and out without my noticing it was a bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata).

  

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Which of the following stories, if any, are real?

  1. A gun-control activist fired several shots at and almost killed a mayoral candidate in Louisville, Kentucky. Black Lives Matter posted $100,000 bail for the shooter.
  2. A member of the United States Congress claimed that the recent expiration of pandemic-related child tax credits has contributed to the current rise in crime because parents have been driven to steal baby formula from stores.
  3. More Americans aged 18 to 45 now die from fentanyl overdoses than from automobile accidents, Covid-19, cancer, suicide, or any other cause.
  4. Students in a graduate school course staged a sit-in after the professor corrected errors in spelling and grammar that the students had made in their papers.

Scroll down to find out which ones are real.

All those stories are real. You’re welcome to read the details about

the gun control advocate’s use of a gun in an attempted assassination
and
Black Lives Matter posting $100,000 bail for the assailant

and

the politician who blamed the conspicuous rise in crime on the need to steal baby formula

and

the deaths among Americans due to fentanyl

and

a graduate school protest against a professor who corrected grammatical and spelling
mistakes the students made in their papers [see item 9 in that article].

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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Droplets do more than make fog

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On February 1st at the pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin I wandered around taking pictures of the foggy landscape. I also got close to some of the things that the fog droplets had settled on, most prominently spiderwebs. In the top picture I went for a soft approach at a relatively wide aperture of f/6.3. The result is pleasant, though things in the background still distract somewhat from the spiderweb. To get around that, for some of my photographs I used flash, which also let me stop down to small apertures like f/22 in the picture below to keep as many of the droplets in focus as possible.

 

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MDM: a dangerous new initialism

MGM is an initialism for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a Hollywood movie studio known especially for its many musicals from the 1930s through the 1950s. Now in the 2020s an agency of the American government that goes by the acronym CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) has created the initialism MDM, standing for “misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.” Bet you didn’t know the American government thinks there are so many kinds of wrong information. Here’s how CISA sizes up the three “information activities” (oh, that bureaucratic jargon):

  • Misinformation is false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm.
  • Disinformation is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate a person, social group, organization, or country.
  • Malinformation is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.

On February 7th the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) issued a warning bulletin:

The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors. These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence. Mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances pose an ongoing threat to the nation. While the conditions underlying the heightened threat landscape have not significantly changed over the last year, the convergence of the following factors has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment: (1) the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions; (2) continued calls for violence directed at U.S. critical infrastructure; soft targets and mass gatherings; faith-based institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques; institutions of higher education; racial and religious minorities; government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement and the military; the media; and perceived ideological opponents; and (3) calls by foreign terrorist organizations for attacks on the United States based on recent events.

Now, it’s true that foreign governments and non-governmental groups are working to gin up dissent in the United States. It’s hardly a new thing: Russia, a.k.a. the Soviet Union, has been doing that for a century already, and radical Islamic groups have been doing it for decades. It’s also true that we’ve had domestic terror groups, including the Weather Underground* that blew up buildings and killed people when I was in my 20s, and Antifa now.

What’s new and truly dangerous about the bulletin is that it aims to put American citizens who speak out against any of the government’s policies in the same category as terrorists. Take almost anything an American citizen says that differs from the official line, and the government will contort itself in finding some way to fit it into the triple Procrustian bed of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation. The bulletin is indeed a warning to Americans, but not the warning the issuers of the bulletin intended. It’s a warning that our own government is increasingly cracking down on free speech and our rights as citizens. As I said: this is dangerous.

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* The Mark Rudd mentioned in the Britannica article about the Weather Underground was a fellow student of mine at Columbia University; I remember him from a class we both took but I didn’t really know him. Terrorist Bernardine Dohrn ended up on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. Northwestern University School of Law(!) later rewarded her by making her a professor. She and her terrorist husband Bill Ayers,** who likewise got rewarded with a professorship at a different university, adopted the child of two other imprisoned terrorists. That child is Chesa Boudin, the current District Attorney in San Francisco who has refused and keeps refusing to prosecute many criminals. He has seen to it that many have been released on little or no bail, and some of those criminals have not surprisingly gone on to commit more crimes, including murder. A fine bunch of outstanding citizens we’ve got here, folks.

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** As an indication of the increased ideological slanting in Wikipedia articles, the one about Bill Ayers says that the Weather Underground was described by the FBI as a terrorist group, as if that might be an unfair characterization of a radical communist group that blew up buildings. And though the article confirms that Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, the article had earlier made sure to tell us that no one was killed in those bombings. I guess it’s okay with Wikipedia to blow up buildings as long as you don’t kill anyone. (Actually that’s not even true: as the article admits, several Weather Underground members ended up killing themselves when a bomb they were assembling accidentally went off.)

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2022 at 4:34 AM

More fog

with 17 comments

The first day of February came up foggy, so I relished another chance to take pictures in weather that’s not so common here (though the previous time had been not that long before, on December 14th). I headed for the pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin, which proved a worthwhile place for the kinds of misty photographs I imagined. The top view shows winter cattails (Typha sp.). Below, the reflections of so many bare stalks intrigued me.

 

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 Education in the news

 

In my October 23rd commentary last year I reported that the public schools in Wellesley, Massachusetts, were segregating students in “affinity groups,” which is to say illegally according to race or ethnicity. Several families fought back against the illegal segregation through a lawsuit brought by Parents Defending Education and have now largely prevailed against the Wellesley school district.

At the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Enfield, Connecticut, students were recently given a worksheet that told them to use pizza toppings as metaphors for sex. Honest—I’m not clever enough to have made that up. Examples included “cheese = kissing” and “olives = giving oral.” You can read the details in a New York Post article.

On February 10, Wisconsin state lawmaker Lee Snodgrass tweeted that “If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.” In other words, even though parents’ taxes pay for the public education system, parents aren’t entitled to a say in how their children are educated in the public schools. You can read more about this in a local television station’s news report.

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, is “poised to mandate race-focused study as a prerequisite to graduating from law school.”

“Trade publication Education Week recently reported that about 500 school districts around the country are rating teacher applicants according to their ‘cultural competency,’ another code for wokeness.‘ Many of these districts are contracting with a teacher-hiring company called Nimble, which uses artificial intelligence to examine applications and interview answers to determine which candidates harbor the correct political and cultural attitudes.” You can find out more in a Federalist article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 14, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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PQ

with 9 comments

I’ve had a hard time fulfilling my PQ, or possumhaw quota, this winter. For whatever reason—perhaps the sustained freeze last February—most of the possumhaws (Ilex decidua) I’ve seen this season haven’t produced a lot of fruit. A few weeks ago I made sure to check out several that looked fabulous last year; this time they were almost completely bare. Among the best specimens I’ve found was the one shown above on January 26th in a front yard six houses away from us. A bright blue sky as a contrasting backdrop didn’t hurt, and a bird’s nest added a point of interest. A possumhaw within sight of that one that has borne dense fruit in other years was practically devoid of any this year. Three days later along Cameron Road I stopped to photograph another possumhaw that looked pretty good:

 

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I recently learned about the ruling by a United States District Court in the 1967 case “Lee v. Macon County Board of Education.” The court notably found that “It is also axiomatic that a state may not induce, encourage or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish.” The same principle naturally holds true for the federal government. As the First Amendment to the United States Constitution puts it: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech….” Unfortunately, members of Congress and the executive branch of our government are increasingly seeking to circumvent that prohibition by urging private companies to do the censoring for them. In a current example, “Chelsea Greene Publishing is suing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for allegedly abusing her political authority to push Amazon to censor their book titled ‘The Truth About COVID-19.’ The publisher alleges serious First Amendment violations.”

I don’t know how accurate or inaccurate the statements in that book will eventually prove to be—think about the many times government health officials have reversed themselves about the Covid-19 pandemic, sometimes even later admitting that they’d known what they were saying wasn’t true—but no member of the government should be telling booksellers what books they can and cannot sell.

Not that large companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Twitter need much nudging from the federal government—on their own they’ve already been suppressing and canceling people who dissent from whatever the latest orthodoxy is. Elizabeth Warren might as well encourage fire to be hot or rain to be wet.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 13, 2022 at 4:25 AM

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An end to a week of icicle posts

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Along Rain Creek on February 5th I found two great icicle clusters.
Last time you saw one of them, and now here’s the other.

 

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Global warming is global. No matter where in the world oil and gas come from, the burning of them anywhere eventually affects the climate everywhere else. And yet the current American administration either doesn’t understand that globality or understands but ignores it for ideological reasons. As the price of gasoline in the United States kept rising in 2021 and into 2022—on February 10th it averaged $3.48, about a dollar more than a year ago—the current administration repeatedly asked OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) to step up production. The reasoning follows a sound economic principle: the greater the supply of a commodity, the lower its price generally gets.

But we shouldn’t have to be begging other countries to increase the supply of oil. Practically the first thing the new American administration did when it took over in January 2021 was cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline that in a few years would have increased the supply of oil coming into the United States from Canada. The administration also made it harder and more costly for oil companies to extract oil on our own federal land.

You probably aren’t aware, as I wasn’t until the other day, that throughout the 21st century the United States has continued to import oil from Russia. The quantity of Russian oil being imported has in fact now reached a record level and accounts for about 8% of all our imported oil. That’s coincidentally about the same amount as the Keystone XL pipeline would have carried once it went into operation.

It makes no sense for the United States to keep importing oil from the Middle East and Russia when we could get it from neighboring Canada and especially from our own land. As I said at the beginning, the effect on global warming is the same no matter where the oil that’s used comes from. We could have American companies and American workers profiting from our own oil, just as our country as a whole would benefit from being self-sufficient in energy.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 12, 2022 at 4:26 AM

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A new place for icicles

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On my way back from photographing ice at Bull Creek District Park on February 5th I just missed the green left-turn arrow to head home the usual way. Rather than waiting through an entire cycle of the light for the next green arrow, I continued north on Capital of Texas Highway and made the left turn onto Great Hills Trail. From there it was natural to continue along Rain Creek Parkway, where I discovered that an adjacent stretch of the creek hosted a couple of great icicle displays. The top picture shows one of them from farther back, and the bottom picture from much closer to create an abstraction. The formation reminded me of Dale Chihuly’s glass art, and I wondered to what extent icicles might ever have inspired him.

 

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The Covid-19 pandemic we’ve been living with for two years now has generated plenty of hypocrisy. You’ve probably seen or heard about at least some of the many people who’ve said they favor mask mandates—or in the case of various politicians even imposed mask mandates on their constituents—yet were then caught violating mask mandates. In an example from the February 6th NFC Championship football game in Los Angeles, the mayor of that city, Eric Garcetti, appeared without a mask in photos taken during the game. Garcetti “said he held his breath when he took off his mask to pose for a photo with NBA legend Magic Johnson.” If you believe he really held his breath, then I imagine you also believe in the tooth fairy, and in what presidential candidate Bill Clinton said in 1992: “… when I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.” [For those not in the know, be aware that there’s zero reason to smoke marijuana if you don’t inhale the smoke.]

And in an example from February 4, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams visited an elementary school and later posted a picture of herself sitting in front of a class of children. Every child was wearing a mask; Stacey Abrams was not. I guess it’s my duty as a writer to remind you that children of elementary school age are at very low risk of harmful consequences from catching Covid-19. Abrams, on the other hand, is obese, and therefore at high risk of harm if she catches the virus. And I can’t resist mentioning that even though every child in the classroom wore a mask, CNN’s version of the photograph “masked” the children even further by blurring out the upper part of all the kids’ faces.

Hypocrisies of this sort have generated the slogan “Rules for thee but not for me,” which makes the linguist in me happy. Because thee and thou are archaic, few English speakers now know which of those two forms to use when. Thou functions as a subject, thee as an object: “Thou art trying to hide but I see thee.” Therefore “Rules for thee but not for me” is correct in its grammar as well as the point it makes.

In a related development, New York’s governor has lifted the state’s “mask-or-vax” mandate for indoor dining at restaurants but not for attending school. That has created the incongruous situation in which a bunch of 80-year-olds—who because of their age are at high-risk of serious consequences if they catch Covid—can share a maskless dinner at a crowded restaurant, while a bunch of 8-year-olds—who because of their age are at practically zero risk of serious consequences if they catch Covid—must spend their 3rd-grade day at school fully masked and spaced apart.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Complexity

with 3 comments

Icicles had formed on densely complex bare branches at Bull Creek District Park on February 5th.
At 10 in the morning, flash made the sky look like night was settling in.

 

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I recommend Maarten Boudry’s article in Quillette about dealing with climate change. Boudry points out the ways that climate activists’ refusal to deviate from their orthodoxy has blocked moderate solutions to the problem. And while we’re on that subject, let me again recommend three books that take a similarly moderate stance:

False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet, by Bjørn Lomborg. You can also watch a one-hour interview with him about climate change.

Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters, by Steven E. Koonin. You can also read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.

Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, by Michael Shellenberger. You can also read an article of his about the power of nuclear power to greatly reduce carbon emissions.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 10, 2022 at 4:30 AM

The dripping

with 12 comments

One difficulty in taking pictures at Bull Creek District Park on February 5th was the rain of seepwater and meltwater coming down from parts of the overhang. Some places where I wanted to stand were therefore off limits, and even some places where I stood didn’t fully stop splashes from getting on the glass in front of my lens, which I had to wipe with a handkerchief from time to time.

If dripping caused problems, it also made for some good pictures.

 

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I think it was last year, though it could have been 2020, when I mentioned that incidents of ideologically motivated repression, canceling, firing, disparate treatment, intimidation, and the like have become so common that I could report a new one every single day. I haven’t done that—it’s a depressingly sad commentary on how far supposedly free countries have fallen—but I have reported some prominent cases. Here’s one from a few days ago.

Thousands of Canadian truck drivers—known as the Freedom Convoy—have been protesting Covid-19 restrictions. The truckers have repeatedly said they intend their protests to remain peaceful. Supporters started a fundraiser for the truckers on the website GoFundMe, which is probably the largest and best-known such site. On February 4, GoFundMe “froze the convoy’s official campaign, claiming law enforcement convinced the company that the convoy had become violent and unlawful. GoFundMe encouraged donors to submit a refund form….” Now, GoFundMe has the electronic trail of every donation, and the company could have issued an automatic refund to all the donors without forcing each one to apply separately to get their money back. What’s worse, GoFundMe also announced “that any funds not properly returned to donors” would be donated elsewhere. Some news sources said the redirecting of funds would be to “credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe,” while other sources said the redirecting would be ”to a charity chosen by the Freedom Convoy.” The first of those is worse than the second, but either way, GoFundMe would divert money to organizations the donors did not intend or authorize.

After donors objected, and after the state of Florida threatened to investigate GoFundMe for fraud, GoFundMe reversed itself and said it would issue refunds automatically—which of course it could have done from the outset, but questionably chose not to do.

And then there’s the hypocrisy. You’ll recall the riots, arson, looting, destruction (at least $2 billion worth), and even killings that came from Black Lives Matter “protests” month after month in 2020. In spite of the violence and death, GoFundMe allowed fundraisers for Black Lives Matter to continue. Talk about double standards.

After GoFundMe’s cancellation, supporters of the Freedom Convoy moved their fundraiser to the Christian site GiveSendGo, which soon reported what it believed to be denial-of-service and bot attacks. That’s the kind of world we’re living in.

And let me add that while protesting government policies is a right, I don’t think the truckers in Canada or anywhere else should block roads. There’s plenty of room to protest without impeding the flow of traffic and inconveniencing people.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 9, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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