Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for June 2022

Ripple reflections on Bull Creek cliff

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Not having been to the main section of St. Edward’s Park for a long time, I went there on the morning of June 24th. At one of the access points to Bull Creek I noticed that sunlight was reflecting off ripples in the creek and creating shimmers on the cliff. Those shimmers of light in turn appeared upside down as they reflected off the surface of the water on their way to my eyes and to the camera that I put between my eyes and them.

Southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) created the horizontal green band of foliage across the cliff just above the water level. Starkly uneven lighting (which I could only partly even out while processing the image) produced a strange effect: the ferns in the right half of the photograph are clearly reflected in the water, while the main group of ferns in the left half doesn’t have an obvious reflection.

 

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One of the most important developments in the study of racial inequality has been the quantification of the importance of pre-market skills in explaining differences in labor market outcomes between Black and white workers. In 2010, using nationally representative data on thousands of individuals in their 40s, I estimated that Black men earn 39.4% less than white men and Black women earn 13.1% less than white women. Yet, accounting for one variable—educational achievement in their teenage years—reduced that difference to 10.9% (a 72% reduction) for men and revealed that Black women earn 12.7 percent more than white women, on average. Derek Neal, an economist at the University of Chicago, and William Johnson were among the first to make this point in 1996: “While our results do provide some evidence for current labor market discrimination, skills gaps play such a large role that we believe future research should focus on the obstacles Black children face in acquiring productive skill.”

That’s from Roland Fryer’s June 2022 article in Fortune magazine entitled “It’s time for data-first diversity, equity, and inclusion.” That passage supports what I’ve been saying for decades: the single most important thing our society can do for underprivileged children is give them a good education. Instead, the people in charge of education keep making excuses and adopting policies which practically guarantee that those children won’t learn much. It’s a disgrace.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 30, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Buttonbush budding

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Cephalanthus occidentalis; Cypress Creek Park; June 12; daylight flash with f/25 aperture.

To see what this would open out into, you can look back at a picture from 2013.

  

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In a commentary four days ago I gave several examples of the current federal administration trying to establish programs that on their face violate the U.S. Constitution or national laws. Administrations in some smaller jurisdictions think they can get away with lawlessness, too. In a recent example, New York City passed an ordinance that would have let some 800,000 legal residents who aren’t American citizens vote in local elections. In response, several citizens sued New York City, noting: “By dramatically increasing the pool of eligible voters, the Non-Citizen Voting Law will dilute the votes of United States citizens, including the Plaintiffs in this action.” This week a judge sided with the plaintiffs.

The judge wrote in his decision: “There is no statutory ability for the City of New York to issue inconsistent laws permitting non-citizens to vote and exceed the authority granted to it by the New York State Constitution. Though voting is a right that so many citizens take for granted, the City of New York cannot ‘obviate’ the restrictions imposed by the constitution.”

Last I heard, New York City is indeed still part of New York State, and therefore has to follow the laws of New York State. Given that reality, I did what the judge did and what the authorities in New York City either didn’t do or did and then ignored: I looked at the relevant part of New York State’s Constitution. Here’s what I found in Section 1 of Article II, which is devoted to suffrage:

Every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election for all officers elected by the people and upon all questions submitted to the vote of the people provided that such citizen is eighteen years of age or over and shall have been a resident of this state, and of the county, city, or village for thirty days next preceding an election.

I put the word citizen in italics to emphasize it. Non-citizens, by definition, aren’t citizens. You’d think the authorities in New York City could understand the difference. Presumably they did understand the difference but chose to violate New York State’s Constitution anyhow. As I said, that’s lawlessness.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Green milkweed pods

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From June 14th along San Gabriel Parkway in Leander come these views of green milkweed pods, Asclepias viridis. An incessant wind had me resorting to shutter speeds as high as 1/1250 of a second, which is the one I used for the second picture.

 

    

 

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I’ve intermittently been working on a glossary to explain what seemingly innocuous or positive-sounding words and phrases from social activist jargon really mean. The other day I learned that Drs. Bruce Gilley, Peter Boghossian, and James Lindsay have beaten me to it with a poster they put together called “Responding to Social Justice Rhetoric: a Cheat Sheet for Policy Makers.” I think they did a good job interpreting the current incarnation of newspeak.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Acmella repens

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At Cypress Creek Park along Lake Travis on June 12th I came upon a DYC (darn yellow composite) I didn’t recognize. Almost as soon as I posted several pictures of it in the Texas Flora group on Facebook, moderator Aidan Campos identified the species as Acmella repens, which I looked up and found is called creeping [Latin repens] spotflower.

 

  

Notice how the central disc “mounds up” as the flower head ages.

 

  

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Toutes choses sont dites déjà ; mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer.

Everything has already been said; but because nobody listens, we always have to start over again.

— André Gide, Le Traité du Narcisse, The Treatise on Narcissus, 1891.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 27, 2022 at 4:32 AM

A monumental mountain pink colony at Belton Lake

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On June 14th I got a tip from Rhonda Frick Smith in Morgan’s Point Resort about a huge colony of mountain pinks (Zeltnera beyrichii) close to the dam that sustains Belton Lake, so on June 16th I drove the hour north to check it out. I have to say it was the largest colony of these flowers I’ve ever come across, probably larger than all the others I’ve seen put together. What appears in the photograph above is merely one portion of the vaster colony. (An aerial photograph in the article I linked to shows the “barren” field that was home to this enormous mountain pink colony.)

 

Mountain pinks have a knack for growing in rocky and seemingly unpromising ground, as the middle photograph shows from a somewhat sparser portion of the colony. And speaking of rocky, here’s a closer look at all the fossilized tube worm casings in the slab of rock in the upper left of that second picture:

  

These are remnants from an era when what is now Texas lay beneath the sea.

 

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The developed world became wealthy through the pervasive use of fossil fuels, which still overwhelmingly power most of its economies. Solar and wind power aren’t reliable, simply because there are nights, clouds and still days. Improving battery storage won’t help much: There are enough batteries in the world today only to power global average electricity consumption for 75 seconds. Even though the supply is being scaled up rapidly, by 2030 the world’s batteries would still cover less than 11 minutes. Every German winter, when solar output is at its minimum, there is near-zero wind energy available for at least five days—or more than 7,000 minutes.

This is why solar panels and wind turbines can’t deliver most of the energy for industrializing poor countries. Factories can’t stop and start with the wind; steel and fertilizer production are dependent on coal and gas; and most solar and wind power simply can’t deliver the power necessary to run the water pumps, tractors, and machines that lift people out of poverty.

That’s why fossil fuels still provide more than three-fourths of wealthy countries’ energy, while solar and wind deliver less than 3%. An average person in the developed world uses more fossil-fuel-generated energy every day than all the energy used by 23 poor Africans.

 

I invite you to read Bjørn Lomborg‘s full commentary in the June 20th Wall Street Journal entitled “The Rich World’s Climate Hypocrisy.” The subtitle is “They beg for more oil and coal for themselves while telling developing lands to rely on solar and wind.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Striped hairy belly bee

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I’m thinking the insect I found on a Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) on June 12th is a striped hairy belly bee, which I’d never heard of till I looked at a little guide called Bees of Central Texas. Insects of this sort are in the family Megachilidae, which, despite representation in Texas, doesn’t have anything to do with mega chili. The guide notes that striped hairy belly bees “may raise abdomen while visiting flowers.” Another website says that members of this family are “large, hairy bees with black and white stripes on the abdomen. The belly often appears yellow from the pollen these species carry.” Today’s two pictures fit those descriptions.

  

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In 1964, the Congress of the United States passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Civil Rights Act. Martin Luther King Jr. considered it a second Emancipation Proclamation, after the first one that President Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil War a century earlier. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Most Americans believe in the principle that the government should treat people equally, without regard to an irrelevant characteristic like skin color—most, but not all, and certainly not those currently in charge of our government. Last year I reported on a program in which the current administration granted loan forgiveness to farmers affected by Covid-19; the problem was that white farmers were prohibited from applying for relief under that program. That was clearly a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and a court soon struck down the barring of white farmers from the program as illegal.

Last year I also reported on a similar federal program to help restaurant owners whose businesses Covid-19 had seriously affected. The program forced white male restaurant owners to the back of the bus, so to speak, behind people of any other race and sex. Money allocated for the program would have run out before a single white male applicant could have gotten any. A court soon ruled that unequal treatment illegal, too.

What’s worse, even after those two legal defeats the current administration still keeps trying to flout the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest attempt I’m aware of involves proposed government assistance to would-be home purchasers. The problem is that to qualify for that aid a person has to be black.

You can learn the particulars in a Wall Street Journal editorial. If the government ever implements that race-based mortgage assistance program, of course a white person who’s excluded will sue and will once again prevail in court. How the people in our government believe they can keep trying to get away with such blatantly illegal discrimination is beyond me, but that’s clearly and shamefully what they believe.

Along similar lines, a few days later I learned of a judicial victory that took place in California at the beginning of April. California had passed a law requiring “that boards of directors of California-based, publicly held domestic or foreign corporations satisfy a racial, ethnic, and LGBT quota by the end of the 2021 calendar year.” Judge Terry A. Green found that the law “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution on its face.” In his decision, Judge Green wrote:

The difficulty is that the Legislature is thinking in group terms. But the California Constitution protects the right of individuals to equal treatment. Before the Legislature may require that members of one group be given certain board seats, it must first try to create neutral conditions under which qualified individuals from any group may succeed. That attempt was not made in this case….

The statute treats similarly situated individuals — qualified potential corporate board members — differently based on their membership (or lack thereof) in certain listed racial, sexual orientation, and gender identity groups. It requires that a certain specific number of board seats be reserved for members of the groups on the list — and necessarily excludes members of other groups from those seats.

You can read more in a Judicial Watch article and another Judicial Watch article.

I also recently came across yet another example of illegal racial discrimination, this time perpetrated by Brown University, which is is engaging in segregated teacher training.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect that the people running our institutions will treat everyone alike. Unfortunately many of those people favor unequal treatment based on as irrelevant a criterion as the color of a person’s skin. There are many words for that: barbaric, unenlightened, shameful, benighted, unlawful, immoral, unfair, discriminatory, ignorant, unjust, biased, iniquitous, dishonorable, vile, unprincipled, wrong, intolerant, prejudiced, illiberal, racist. Take your pick.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2022 at 5:08 AM

Rising skyward

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Only once before, in 2015, has a picture of so-called false gaura appeared here. The top view shows that this plant produces an erect flower spike, which I’ll add can reach 9 ft., while the bottom view reveals the predilection of some leaves to turn colors. Formerly classified as Stenosiphon linifolius and now as Oenothera glaucifolia, the species apparently grows in just one place in Travis County: along Oasis Bluff Dr., which is where I went looking for and found it on June 12th, just as I have several other times over the past decade.

 

 

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Kind Words

 

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday praised fellow Justice Clarence Thomas for his dedication to the high court’s integrity in light of recent protests and threats that were made against the institution.

Speaking at the American Constitution Society, Sotomayor, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, said Thomas is a “man who cares deeply about the court as an institution.”

And while the two often disagree in their opinions, Sotomayor said she and Thomas have a “common understanding about people and kindness towards them,” adding, “Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. And not only does he know their names, he remembers their families’ names and histories.”

“He’s the first one who will go up to someone when you’re walking with him and say, ‘Is your son okay? How’s your daughter doing in college?’ He’s the first one that, when my stepfather died, sent me flowers in Florida,” Sotomayor added of Thomas, who was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush.

 

That’s from a June 17th article by Jack Phillips in the Epoch Times.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Looking up at composite architecture

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On June 5th I stopped by Vaught Ranch Rd., thinking I might find some skeleton plants, Lygodesmia texana, flowering there again this year. I did. The architecture of these flower heads always appeals to me. My use of a ring flash in broad daylight allowed me to stop down to a small aperture. That combination caused the bright blue sky to come out looking darker than it really was—but hey, what’s reality, anyhow? In the upward-looking view of a nearby zexmenia flower head, Wedelia texana var. acapulcensis, the sky came out brighter than with the skeleton plant but still duller than it actually was. In both cases the uniform blue proved a good isolating element for the subject.

 

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The purpose of a military is to keep a country safe from physical attack and to wage war against an enemy. People in the military train to be physically fit and to use defensive and offensive weapons. People in the military study tactics, strategy, and military history. And now in the American military they study pronouns. Once again I have to make clear that that last sentence is not something from a satirical publication like the Babylon Bee or the Onion. No, as far as I’ve been able to determine, this is for real. The U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center has apparently prepared a video about the importance of pronouns for members of the military. In style and vocabulary the film is something you’d think was geared for children in elementary school. You can watch the four-minute video, which talks about creating a safe space rather than defeating an enemy. This is madness.

I have to think the leaders in China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other countries can’t believe their great good fortune that the American military is busy weakening itself so they don’t have to worry about it as much anymore.

 UPDATE: An article in The Federalist goes into detail about how ill-equipped the U.S. Navy is becoming even as it’s wasting time and money on “wokeism.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Redwing blackbird

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On the dozenth day of this month I spent time at Cypress Creek Park along Lake Travis. At one point I noticed a redwing blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, had settled near me atop the remains of a dead tree. I went to my camera bag, took off my macro lens and attached my telephoto lens, turned around, and found the bird had flown away. Off with the telephoto lens, back on with the macro. Except a moment later the blackbird came back. Another round of lens changing, and this time I managed to get three avian pictures. Even without the blackbird the spiderwebbed dead whitened tree called for a portrait.

 

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Disingenuous

 

For decades I watched the television program CBS Sunday Morning, first with its original host, Charles Kuralt, and later with its second host, Charles Osgood. What I and presumably everyone else in the program’s audience enjoyed about it was that its stories were what you would call “human interest,” not dealing with politics or current world events. Beginning in 2018, however, after the third host took over, politicized and ideological segments began appearing. Needless to say—it’s CBS after all—those segments leaned in one and only one ideological direction. Things got to the point where I gave up watching the show I’d looked forward to for decades.

This past Sunday, I’m not sure why, I turned on the show for the first time in several years and caught a few of its stories. One, about the son of singer/songwriter Jim Croce, was fine, just like in the old days. Another feature was not. It was a narrated animation about how “ravenous for ancient sunshine” we are today. The narrator talked about Kentucky, a state that mines plenty of coal, which is a major fuel in the generation of electricity. Coal, the narrator explained, was formed aeons ago from trees. He stated the average amount of electricity a Kentucky home uses, then worked backwards to determine how much coal and therefore how many ancient trees a Kentucky home consumes each year. The program made it seem as if the burning of coal formed from trees millions of years ago is just like cutting down vast forests of trees today. That’s disingenuous. The trees that turned into coal died millions of years ago. Refraining from burning coal today isn’t magically going to bring those trees back to life.

Then the narrator launched into a similarly disingenuous shtik about oil, which he told us formed from microscopic organisms millions of years ago. It turns out we now use up the equivalent of trillions upon trillions of those ancient organisms when we burn petroleum to get energy. Once again the program seemed to suggest that burning oil that formed millions of years ago somehow amounts to destroying trillions of organisms that are currently alive.

Hey, I can play that game too. Let me talk about how many zillion photons of light a solar panel steals from the sun every day. What’s more, those photons were generated just eight minutes earlier—the time it takes for light to travel from the sun to the earth—not millions of years ago like the trees and microscopic organisms that went into the making of coal and oil. If consuming the byproducts of entities that died millions of years in the past is bad, then for solar panels to consume photons born of the sun’s fiery womb just eight minutes earlier is downright solar infanticide.

I told you I could be just as disingenuous as the people on CBS Sunday Morning.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Pickerelweed flourishing

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On June 12th at Cypress Creek Park on Lake Travis I was pleased to see a good display of pickerelweed flowers (Pontederia cordata). Below is one of the cores from which I believe the flowers emerge.

 

This post went out at 4:13 AM Central Time to coincide with the summer solstice.
Temperature-wise, it’s been summer in Austin for quite a while already.

 

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The number of reported migrant encounters along the southern border has once again made Department of Homeland Security history — hitting a staggering 239,416 encounters in May.

You can read further details in a June 16th New York Post article

As huge as that number of interceptions is, hundreds of thousands of people who enter the country illegally each year don’t get apprehended at all because there aren’t anywhere near enough border patrol agents to keep up with the cartel-organized onslaught that our current régime has done nothing to fend off and a lot to foster. You can find out more in a June 17th Daily Mail article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2022 at 4:13 AM

Posted in nature photography

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