Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for May 2022

More from Shaffer Bend

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Last Thursday’s post was the first ever to feature pictures from the Shaffer Bend Recreation Area along the Colorado River a little east of Marble Falls in Burnet County. During our inaugural April 19th visit I got to see a few huisache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, a species I don’t find in Austin. The most recent time I showed you some was last year, when you saw a whole colony flowering in a place close to Shaffer Bend. Above are a huisache daisy bud and open flower head; the picture below shows an intermediate stage.

 

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In a post a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the Latin word for ‘head,’ caput, led to the English word capital. A state’s or a country’s capital is metaphorically its “head” city. In a different metaphorical usage, capital is money that we accumulate to “head up” or “head into” a new business.

As the Latin spoken in ancient Gaul evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years, caput gradually got transformed into Old French chief. (Yes, words can change that much over long periods.) The Old French noun chief retained the literal meaning ‘head’ and also allowed for figurative uses. When Middle English borrowed chief, it already had its familiar native word head for the body part, so it borrowed chief in its figurative sense of ‘most important.’ That’s why James A. Garfield could write in 1869: “The chief duty of government is to keep the peace and stand out of the sunshine of the people.” The leader of the nine justices on the Supreme Court of the United States is designated the Chief Justice; the other justices regularly refer to him simply as “the Chief.” For hundreds of years we’ve called the head of an American Indian tribe its chief. A large business has its CEO and CFO and COO, meaning its chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer.

With regard to managerial positions like those, the people running the San Francisco Unified Schools District have once again been up to mischief—etymologically a situation in which things have ‘come to a head [chief] in a bad [mis-] way.’ Out of supposed deference to the sensibilities of people in American Indian tribes, the bureaucrats in charge of that school district have decided to drop the chief from job titles like chief technology officer and chief of staff.

Whereas the chief responsibility of a school district has traditionally been to teach students, recent chief goals in San Francisco have included renaming schools and dictating what words people must and can’t say. The Wall Street Journal editorial “Chiefly Illiterate in San Francisco Schools” and the New York Post article “San Francisco school district drops ‘chief’ from job titles” will fill you in on the chief details of this latest ideological assault on language. Meanwhile, even before the pandemic, 27 of San Francisco’s schools were rated “low performing” and 9 were among the worst in California, which is in the bottom fifth of American states academically.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 31, 2022 at 4:31 AM

A nod to abstraction

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The buds of one of Austin’s most common wildflowers, greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), tend to nod, just as many of my portraits give a nod—or more than that—to abstraction. Each nutant greenthread bud stalk eventually straightens up as it opens into a flower head. The purple in the top photograph’s background came from prairie verbena flowers (Glandularia bipinnatifida). The second picture shows a mostly upright bud opening at a time when the flower head it had bumped up against was already fading. Both portraits are from Great Hills Park on May 15th.

 

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Here’s another cautionary tale from the moral panic of 2020, when facts and statistics not only didn’t matter but wouldn’t be tolerated in the hysterical throes of race-essentialist religion.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Plump green stars

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From six years ago today in west Austin here are some buds of green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) with a couple of firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) in the background. Below is a take on antelope horns milkweed buds (Asclepias asperula) in a slightly more advanced state on April 17th of this year in my neighborhood and in a different photographic style that relies on flash.

 

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Just as a man may not recognize that he is in a prison until he tries to break free, a scholar may not understand the taboos that confine him until he transgresses them. I saw the prison, but I did not really feel it until I tried to escape. Academia is much more pleasant than a literal prison, of course, and anybody in a position to complain about the encroachment of political biases on scholarship has lived a charmed life. Nevertheless, academia has become an intellectual prison, and many of the incarcerated professors were therefore compelled to live a dual existence. In public, they either endorsed the prevailing dogmas about race and sex or they kept their thoughts to themselves. In private, they could be more candid, and would sometimes even complain about the more extreme beliefs of their colleagues and pundits who would write about science in the prestige media.

That’s a paragraph from the recent Quillette article “Academic Exile, Two Years On,” in which Bo Winegard describes how even as a student with mostly far-left political beliefs he ran afoul of the rigid orthodoxy that has captured higher education and punishes people who question any portion of the reigning dogma.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 29, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Unaccustomed clouds

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While driving back on May 14th from a visit to friends in the foreign country that south Austin sometimes seems to those of us from north Austin, we noticed these unaccustomedly dramatic clouds that I believe meteorologists classify as mammatus. Credit the picture to my iPhone, the only camera I had with me.

 

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And speaking of the atmosphere, here are four stories about the environment that the Good News Network recently featured:

World’s First Ocean-Assisted Carbon Removal Plant Launched in Hawaii

Scientists Power a Computer Using Only Algae and Daylight to Make the Electricity

Bronx Housing Complex Comes With Giant Machine Stomach to Turn All Food Waste Into Fertilizer

New Google Headquarters Uses ‘Dragonscale’ Solar Panels to Capture Sunlight From All Angles

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Another Mexican hat anomaly

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Eight days ago you saw a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) flower head that strangely had four columns instead of the single one that’s the norm. On May 15th the Mexican hats at the Floral Park Drive entrance to Great Hills Park were going strong, so I walked in to give them a closer look. On one flower head I discovered another anomaly: several ray florets were emerging from a place part-way up the column where only disk florets are supposed to grow. For comparison, check out the normally developing Mexican hat below, with ray florets coming out only at the bottom of the column.

 

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To see some impressive wildlife photographs, check out the work of Dave Newman, a British office manager who takes pictures on his lunch break. Avian mavens among you should be especially interested.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Two atypical bluebonnet views

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It’s well past the season for bluebonnets now, but back on April 19th we were still hunting for colonies of Lupinus texensis. As part of our search we checked out a new place, Shaffer Bend Recreation Area, which borders the Colorado River a little east of Marble Falls in Burnet County. Drought* had dropped the river low enough that some bluebonnets came up in sand which I assume would normally have lain underwater. You see one of those bluebonnets in the top picture.

I was reminded of bluebonnets more recently when, as I walked through a temporarily remaining** piece of the Blackland Prairie in the southern fringe of Pflugerville on May 23rd, I noticed a couple of straggly stray bluebonnets barely still flowering. Much more common at the site were brown bluebonnet pods well on their way to drying out. Some even formed little radiating clusters: compare the one below to the green clusters above.

 

* For some strange reason, just about every occurrence of the word drought these days is in the phrase drought conditions. I have news for writers and people who speak on television: a drought is a condition. There’s no need to tack on the extra noun conditions—any more than there is to speak of inflation conditions, poverty conditions, or hunger conditions. People suffer financially during periods of inflation, not inflation conditions. They try to rise from poverty, not poverty conditions. If they fail, they may die of hunger, not hunger conditions.

** This is the property on Heatherwilde Blvd. where I was so sorry to see construction begin in 2021 and put an end to the dense wildflowers there each May. A rear portion of the property hasn’t yet been torn up, so I was able to enjoy it for at least one more spring, even if drought has kept the floral count well below average. (It could at least have suppressed the chiggers, but unfortunately it didn’t.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two flies from the side of the road

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Here are two flies from May 10th on the north side of RM (Ranch-to-Market) 2222 just west of the Capital of Texas Highway (the same location that provided the pictures for the posts on Monday, Sunday, and Saturday). The critter above is a tachinid fly in the genus Cylindromyia on a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella). I believe the tiny fly on a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) below belongs to the genus Poecilognathus (which was the subject of my most seen and commented-on post ever, thanks to WordPress’s Freshly Pressed feature).

 

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Face blindness, technically known as prosopagnosia, is a condition in which a person has trouble recognizing other people’s faces. According to a 2006 article in the Harvard Gazette: “The condition can be embarrassing and lead to social isolation: Severe prosopagnosics may mistake complete strangers for acquaintances even as they fail to recognize family members, close friends, spouses, and even themselves. Many report difficulty watching television shows and movies because they cannot keep track of characters. Face-blind individuals often compensate for their prosopagnosia using nonfacial traits, such as hair, gait, clothing, voice, and context.”

The same article gave an estimate of the disorder’s frequency: “Testing of 1,600 individuals found that 2 percent of the general public may have face-blindness and a German group has recently made a similar estimate. It’s conceivable that millions of people may have symptoms consistent with prosopagnosia, without even realizing it.” I’ve sometimes had difficulty keeping track of characters in movies and people that I’ve met, so I’m apparently on the spectrum for prosopagnosia.

Being facially challenged is yet another kind of differently-abled-ness that our hyper-enlightened society should be shame-faced about for not “doing the work” to ameliorate the plight of all the suffering prosopagnosics in our midst. The current sorry situation is prima facie evidence that we need to envisage solutions! In the United States we must face up to the problem by invoking the Adults with Disabilities Act to demand accommodation. From now on, every movie and television show must be made not only with closed captioning (CC) but also with facial facilitation (FF). A viewer watching a film or television show who turns on the built-in FF will see written in clear letters under each character’s face on the screen the name of the person whose face it is. Those names, of course, will follow the characters as they move about on the screen.

But wait! Even implementing that technology wouldn’t be enough of an about-face in our country’s wretchedly problematic history of systemic prosopagnosicism. Didn’t Shakespeare tell us (before he got canceled as a dead white male) that all the world’s a stage? What about the much greater number of prosopagnosia-triggering encounters outside of movies and television shows? Until electronic identification chips are perfected to the point that they can be surgically embedded in people to make facial facilitation technology operate in the world as a whole and not just in movies and television shows, Congress must pass a law requiring everyone who leaves home to wear a name tag so that prosopagnosics can recognize them. And of course to accommodate the visually impaired, those name tags must be large, with letters at least four inches high. The name tags must also be battery-powered so they’ll light up when it’s dark and would otherwise be hard or impossible to read.

Now, you may be among the people who protest that it’s unreasonable to burden the whole world with measures meant to accommodate the less than 2% of the population who suffer from an unusual condition. Oh, you hate-filled individualistic white supremacist enforcers of the cisheteronormative patriarchy!

Satire aside, consider the extreme policies some ideologues are already enforcing as they reconfigure the world to promote transgenderism, which the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law says affects 1.4 million people, or less than 0.5% of America’s 330 million people. Take our legal system: Fully intact biologically male prisoners who claim to be women can now demand to get moved to women’s prisons and share cells with women. Take education: Middle school officials have gone so far as to accuse eighth-graders of sexual harassment for not using the pronouns another child demands. If such extreme measures are already being inflicted on the population for the supposed sake of less than one-half of one percent of its members, then why wouldn’t ideologues insist on measures like those I made up for the much larger number of prosopagnosics? Better start getting your glow-in-the-dark name tags ready.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Full house

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From May 13th at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, look at all the Euphoria kernii beetles that had crammed themselves into the base of a prickly pear cactus flower, Opuntia engelmannii. The beetles did seem to be in a state of euphoria.

 

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 Here’s more about consciousness from philosopher Julian Baggini’s The Ego Trick:

So we have these three facts: thoughts and feelings are real, they are not describable in purely physical terms, but the universe has within it only the physical things described by the equations of physicists. It seems the only way to make sense of this is that mental events emerge from physical ones, without being strictly identical with them. As the neurologist Todd E. Feinberg puts it, “your life is not a pack of cells; your life is what your particular pack of cells collectively do, though I cannot observe such a thing as your life, touch it, put it under a microscope, or keep it on a bottle on a shelf.” Thought and feeling are what matter does, when it is arranged in the remarkably complex ways that brains are. Matter is all that is needed for them to exist, but they are not themselves lumps of matter. In this sense, “I” is a verb dressed as a noun.

The idea that the mental emerges from the physical is a tricky one. It looks to me like a partial description masquerading as an explanation. What I mean is, to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness at all. To do that you’d have to explain how it emerges, and although some claim to have done that, most remain unconvinced. But what does seem to be true is that consciousness does indeed emerge from complex physical events in the brain, even if we don’t know how it does so. Whatever the mechanism, we have thoughts and feelings because we have physical brains that work, not because there’s something else in our heads doing the mental work instead. The evidence for this is simple but overwhelming: damage the brain, and you impair consciousness. Change the chemicals in the brain, and you change consciousness. Stimulate certain parts of the brain, and you get a certain kind of experience. To accept this (as surely we must) but insist that brains aren’t the engines of thought is not impossible, but it is perverse.

(Another passage appeared in a post two weeks ago.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Hardly the only grabber

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Yesterday’s post showed how mustang grape vines (Vitis mustangensis) are great grabbers of other plants. So are Texas bindweeds, Convolvulus equitans, one of which you see here had twined its way around a fiewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, on the same roadside strip along FM 2222 as the mustang grape on May 10th. Curiously, most of the Texas bindweed flowers there had their petals bent back in an atypical way, as shown below.

  

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It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad, to see how many Americans of high school and college age know so little about so many basic things. Here’s a 4-minute video full of examples. And here’s a 5-minute one. Some of the questions that stumped people were: “What’s Obama’s last name?” “How much is 3 x 3 x 3?” “How many eggs are in a dozen?” “What’s the capital of the United States?” “What does Y-E-S spell?” Even worse than not knowing, some of the people gave crazy answers, like the United States gained its independence from Korea. Or take the question: “If you drive 60 miles an hour for one hour, how far do you travel?” One person said “I don’t know, I’m not good at math,” and her friend answered “Two hours” (presumably because the question contained the word “hour” two times).

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 23, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Grabbing grape

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The most common native grapevine in Austin is the mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis. Last year I showed how a prolific one on the side of FM (Farm-to-Market) 2222 just west of the Capital of Texas Highway covered a tree. On May 10th of this year I went back to the same highwayside and focused on young mustang grape tendrils. In the top picture you see how some had latched on to a couple of Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera. Even when nothing external is available, mustang grape tendrils can live out their innate impulse by curling around themselves, as seen below.

 

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The fight against mis- and dis-information—a worthy goal—is often based on two flawed assumptions. The first is that definitive answers are known to the disputed points. The second, related to the first, is that the right people to provide those answers can be identified and agreed upon. Both assumptions are themselves often steeped in the Certainty Trap—a resolute unwillingness to recognize the possibility that we might not be right in our beliefs and claims.

To understand the implications of the mis- and dis-information labeling, we need only consider instances like the initial response to claims around Hunter Biden’s laptop or the source of COVID-19. In 2020, several major media outlets dismissed as mis- or dis-information (see here and here for examples) the possibility that a laptop of incriminating emails belonged to Hunter Biden. The certainty with which this position was held led to the silencing of anyone who publicly questioned it—so much so that it has been called “the most severe case of pre-election censorship in modern American political history.” Recent evidence, however, has forced the same outlets who invoked those labels to acknowledge the laptop’s authenticity. Similarly, in early 2020, the suggestion that COVID-19 might have originated in a lab in China was dismissed as groundless fodder for racism and xenophobia. The certainty that led to this reflexive dismissal was walked back just over a year later, but the judgment of the once dissenting voices shouldn’t be forgotten.

 

That’s a passage from a May 9th article in Tablet titled “The Certainty Trap,” by Ilana Redstone, which you’re welcome to read. On March 21st Tablet had run the related article “Invasion of the Fact-Checkers,” by Jacob Siegel, which I also invite you to read. Its title reminds me of a line from the Latin poet Juvenal’s Satires: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” “Who will watch those watchers?” Now we’re forced to ask who’s going to fact-check the fact-checkers.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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