Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A new take on pearl milkweed flowers

with 18 comments

If it’s a colorful and detailed take on the flowers of the pearl milkweed vine that you’re after, I’ve already shown Matelea reticulata that way. On April 25th in my neighborhood the low-angle glancing sunlight was such that I went for the unconventional view you see here, with its high contrast, minimalism, and abstraction. The little spectrum-like line segments at the lower right came from spider silk refracting the light.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Reformers used to look for the next wrong to right. Now activists look for the next right thing to make wrong.” — S.S.

Illiberal ideologues in my country have been increasingly pushing the crazy notion that objectivity is a tool of white supremacy. Those obsessed activists include mathematics in the objectivity they despise, and they claim it’s not really important for students to get right answers in mathematics. That’s the same mathematics that allows us to deliver electricity to homes and businesses to run appliances and machines; that lets researchers determine whether a new medicine is effective; that lets companies build computers and smart phones and bridges and cars and planes; that lets engineers calculate the orbits of the satellites that enable global navigation and communication; and on and on and on. While the American educational establishment is busy making sure students here don’t learn much of anything except secular religious dogma, Chinese leaders continue relentlessly forward in their plan for ever greater hegemony.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the international scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, science, and reading. You can see the 2018 results for 77 or 78 countries. In all three subjects China was #1. The United States came in 13th in reading, 18th in science, and a dismal 37th in mathematics. I guess our innumerate ideologues don’t know enough arithmetic to understand that when it comes to rankings, larger numbers aren’t better than smaller ones—either that, or those zealots are happy that American kids are showing their anti-racism by refusing to internalize as inherently white supremacist a subject as mathematics.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 3, 2021 at 4:42 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Oddly — or perhaps not — your photo brought to mind Berlandier’s sundrops, with their black stigma. It’s an interesting image, although any earrings modeled after it would need a black pearl in the center.

    If you’d like, we could spend a little time with the people who claim mathematics is sexist, but I really don’t advise it.


    May 3, 2021 at 7:19 AM

    • There’s no stigma for thinking about Berlandier’s sundrops. This take on pearl milkweed, however, most likely would stigmatize any earrings inspired by it.

      It’s pleasant to spend time with pearl milkweed and company in nature. It’s not pleasant to deal with “wokeness.” For some years now I’ve consider it a secular religion, and as with any new religion its adherents come at you with a raging zealotry that cares nothing for reason.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2021 at 8:11 AM

    • Fantastic photo of the Pearl Milkweed – I was reminded the other day of Paul Simon’s song “Frank Lloyd Wright” as a source of inspiration – when thinking about your photos. You always seem to find a new point of view.
      As for math, I recall in my Trig class in high school, there were several other guys who had already taken the course in the summer at the Junior College (don’t know whether they had passed or failed) from the same teacher (if I remember correctly). What I do remember is that I started to use the slide rule without rounding up or down to the nearest number, hoping to get more accurate answers. Because my answer wasn’t the same as what was in the back of the book, it would be marked incorrect. “Teacher” never asked me how I got my answers or to show him how I did it. I finally figured it out for myself and went back to being one of the top students in that class. But that was the final kick in the head that killed my affinity for mathematics. Took Logic courses for math requirements in college. Never took a math course until Statistics while working on my Doctorate, many delayed gratification years later. (And by then, I was writing the SAS code to get the more accurate answers).
      So I’m not surprised by the PISA results either. The school systems in the USA don’t seem to be focused on the goals that people need to contribute to society, nor to teach appropriate communication skills at an early stage. And at the Federal level, tax funds that are supposed to go to public schools are diverted to private schools with a religious agenda, so public schools get poorer – although athletics programs always seem to get funded.
      I apologize for ranting about my bad math teachers. (But you brought up the subject of the USA’s poor performance in math, he added, in his own defense ).


      May 3, 2021 at 8:33 AM

      • Just call me an architect of flowers.

        Ah, the years B.C. (before calculators, that is). I bought a slide rule in the 1960s but it was jut for fun, not because any math or science class I was taking required it. In 1968–69 I ended up teaching math in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and briefly went back to New York for a wedding. While home I prevailed on a company that made plastic slide rules to sell me a bunch at a discount and I took them back to Honduras for my students.

        I’m sorry to hear you lost your affinity for math. Rounding answers on AP (Advanced Placement) tests was an issue when I taught secondary math in Austin from 2002–6. The College Board publicized the guidelines for rounding, so everyone would do it the same way. Of course that didn’t stop some students from rounding differently, which cost them a point each time.

        To my mind, funding isn’t much of an obstacle to a good education. The first year I taught math in Honduras we didn’t even have a textbook. It didn’t matter, because I drew on my inner resources and made things up. And that was when I was first teaching; experience made me a lot better in the years that followed. One big problem as I see it is that American teachers as a whole aren’t drawn from the upper levels of academic talent. I used to see occasional published lists of college majors, each with the average standardized test score of students who chose to get a degree in that major. Not surprisingly, the highest average standardized test scores were in subjects like math, physics, chemistry. The lowest scores were for students majoring in education. That alone tells the story, alas.

        As you say, in the United States a lot of money gets wasted on non-academic things, especially athletics. Here’s a revealing anecdote. More than a decade ago I applied online to teach math in the Leander ISD. The very first screen that came up in the application asked what sport I could coach.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 3, 2021 at 11:14 AM

        • My affinity for math actually was revived over the years as I used both sides of the brain to deal with work and life issues in Human Services and providing computer support to others. And creating training materials, which was always a hobby of mine. Which led to the native plant signs that Native Plant Society of Texas-Wilco developed in 2009, chapter webmaster, then state webmaster, then photo contest coordinator, etc.
          I agree about funding – when I was the first Food Stamp Training Coordinator in Florida, I worked with the 13 Districts’ trainers to develop a training and testing program – without a budget. Cut the error rate in half while the AFDC program was still designing their one person at a time Haunted House themed training program for Apple II’s.


          May 4, 2021 at 4:04 PM

          • Training’s important. A question that has puzzled me for decades is why certain principles don’t get established once and for all and passed along in perpetuity. For example, you’d think legibility would be more important than artistic appeal on a page intended to convey information, and yet I still come across sites with impediments like a dark background color that makes the text hard to read, or a font that’s fancy but difficult to discern. And there are blogs where page elements slide up and down and things move around in a way that makes it hard to figure what’s where and how to get where I want to go.

            Steve Schwartzman

            May 4, 2021 at 6:04 PM

            • You got that right. Student centered learning, user centered (human computer interface) design, all seem to have certain principles that work. And much of today’s interfaces are designed to distract people from their goals, fail to provide support where it’s needed, and I better stop or this will turn into a rant…


              May 16, 2021 at 11:25 AM

  2. I really like this image, Steve. The milkweed looks to be performing solo in the spotlight!

    I am not surprised by the PISA results. I’m not surprised by much of anything these days. I think I’m still young enough to see things spiral even lower in this country. In fact, I’ve come to expect it.


    May 3, 2021 at 7:37 AM

    • I didn’t set out to photograph pearl milkweed this way. In fact I didn’t set out to photograph pearl milkweed at all, but I noticed it while portraying some cedar sage flowers that will appear in tomorrow’s post, and the lighting was such that I couldn’t do my traditional take that emphasizes the reticulated pattern surrounding the little pearl in each flower.

      You’re younger enough than me that I’m afraid you will live to see more devolution of the country’s ideals and heritage. Some people are pushing back, but it may be too little too late.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2021 at 8:17 AM

  3. Nice flower portrait. Now, “it’s not really important for students to get right answers in mathematics.”? How come? I did have a student tell me that although he zeroed the biology test, he still deserved the points because he had tried to answer my questions. I replied, well, you go to the doctor with an infection and you get misdiagnosed as having allergies and end up dying from something easily treatable, it’s not a big deal because at least the doctor tried. Sometimes we forget that school is preparing students to deliver the next generation of professionals.

    Alessandra Chaves

    May 3, 2021 at 8:28 AM

    • In some things there’s no one right answer. For example, analyzing a work of literature. But as we know so well, right answers are critical in designing a bridge or a computer chip, surveying a piece of land, navigating a boat or plane, analyzing a chemical compound, etc. Along the lines of your good medical example, when my wife was in nursing school there were students who didn’t know arithmetic well enough to pass quizzes in which they had to calculate the right dose of a prescribed medicine. The notion that trying should count a lot in determining an academic grade isn’t new. I began running into it decades ago. Unfortunately it’s gotten ever more prevalent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2021 at 11:31 AM

      • About 30% of my students in a test failed to correctly list two organs of the male and female reproductive systems, respectively. Yes there is a right answer. A few left the question blank, others swapped the names or even listed “liver”, “stomach” etc. One mentioned “baby” for women. An honest try. It left me wondering wether they did not know which organs men and women have in their reproductive systems, or wether they did not know what the words “male”, “female” or “reproductive system” mean. I decided to skip the next lesson and teach the reproductive system again, stressing those words and their meanings. More students answered right next time, but not all. Now, this is not a college-level question, any elementary school kid should be able to answer this. In fact, I only put the question there for bonus points since I thought everybody knew it and I had been told by the administration that I could not fail more than 30% of my class. I could easily have failed about 50% of my class in the end of that semester, but I was told that this was not recommended. Obviously the whole thing left me thinking that I was not cut to be a teacher.

        Alessandra Chaves

        May 3, 2021 at 12:08 PM

        • Alas, it’s not that you weren’t cut out to be a teacher it’s that so many schools aren’t cut out to promote learning.

          That’s funny about “baby” as a reproductive organ. Long ago there was a book and then a television show called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” Unfortunately your students who answered “liver” or “stomach” or “baby” weren’t little kids.

          What you say about not being allowed to fail more than a certain number of students, no matter how little they know, is rampant in this country now. It’s a big reason that kids are handed a diploma even if they know practically nothing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 3, 2021 at 12:41 PM

  4. In photography, there is always the perfect moment to capture an object during rapidly changing light conditions. It seems to me that in this photo you managed to do it magnificently, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    May 3, 2021 at 8:52 AM

    • Thanks for your vote of confidence. I could’ve used flash but I chose to go with natural light, even though that caused some problems.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 3, 2021 at 12:01 PM

  5. I enjoyed this artistic presentation of the pearl milkweed flowers, Steve. I appreciated your pointer to the spider web too. I’m off to see the color version now. Many thanks.

    Jet Eliot

    May 3, 2021 at 9:23 AM

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