Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘animal

Snow-on-the-prairie and friends

with 6 comments

On October 4th I drove east to Manor and spent a couple of hours in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, new parts of which have kept springing up for several years now. As was true in October last year, I found no shortage of native species doing their autumnal thing this year. Some of those plants will likely survive development; others won’t. The picturesque group that you see above, because of its location, probably won’t last. The prominent red-stalked plants are snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Across the bottom of the picture is a carpet of doveweed, Croton monanthogynus (a genus-mate of the woolly croton you saw here a week ago and again yesterday. The erect plant a quarter of the way in from the left is annual sumpweed, Iva annua, whose pollen, like that of the related ragweed, triggers many people’s allergic reactions in the fall.

Aesthetically speaking, the top picture exemplifies a more-is-more, fill-up-the-frame approach to photography. In contrast, take the minimalist view below that gives a much closer look at snow-on-the-prairie.

And while we’re offering more-detailed views, the portrait below gives you a better look at doveweed, garnished with a dameselfly that might be a female Kiowa dancer, Argia immunda.


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Austin, where I’ve lived since 1976, is the Berkeley of Texas, with leftist ideologues controlling the city’s government. In 2020, the Austin City Council’s response to months of daily rioting in cities around the country was to cut $21.5 million outright from the Austin Police Department budget and to shift another $128 million to other city departments. Predictably, crimes in Austin have increased. As local television station KXAN reported on September 13, 2021, two murders that weekend were the 59th and 60th homicides for the year so far, “the highest number of homicides Austin has recorded in one year in modern history” — and the year still had three-and-a-half months to go.

Apologists argue that crime has also gone up in many other American cities in the past year. True, but that’s hardly a justification for Austin to cut its police budget. According to that “logic,” because Covid-19 was increasing in other parts of the country last year, Austin should have reduced funding to deal with the pandemic.

On July 5 this year, KXAN quoted Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon: “When it comes to the most critical calls… — shootings, stabbings, rape and domestic violence in progress — the current response time average is nine minutes and two seconds…. That is a minute-and-a-half slower than the department’s three-year average of seven minutes and 30 seconds.”

In response to the increased dangers caused by such a large reduction in the police budget, a group called Save Austin Now got enough signatures (close to 30,000) on a petition to place a proposition on the ballot for November 2nd, just two weeks from now. Among the things that Proposition A [as it’s designated] would do are:

  • establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  • add an additional 40 hours of training each year on “critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions”;
  • pay police officers a bonus for being proficient in any of the five most frequently spoken foreign languages in Austin; for enrolling in cadet mentoring programs; for being recognized for honorable conduct;
  • require police officers to spend at least 35% of their time on community engagement;
  • require full enrollment for at least three full-term cadet classes until staffing levels return to the levels prescribed in Austin’s 2019-2020 budget [in 2020 the City Council had canceled two cadet classes as part of its “defund the police” hysteria];
  • require the mayor, council members, staff and assistants of council members, as well as the director of the Office of Police Oversight, to complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy and participate in Austin’s Ride-Along Program [in other words, the people in charge of the police should know what the police actually do in their job!];
  • encourage the police chief to seek demographic representation, as reflected in “racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the city,” in hiring police officers.

Do you find anything objectionable there? All of those things sound worthy to me. Nevertheless, leftist activists who want to keep the police underfunded are fighting fiercely against this proposition. Money to campaign against it has been coming in from many places outside Austin and outside Texas. As Austin’s NPR radio station KUT reported on October 4: “Billionaire and left-wing activist George Soros gave $500,000 to Equity PAC, a political action committee lobbying against Prop A. The group also received $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that backs progressive ballot measures.”

So there you have it: the people pushing “equity” and “fairness” are working to undermine civil order and public safety. What a sorry state of affairs for my country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

One more take on woolly croton

with 42 comments

On a woolly croton plant (Croton capitatus) in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd I noticed that a green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) had caught what appears to be a potter wasp, seemingly in the genus Parancistrocerus, from the subfamily Eumeninae.

One of the great existential questions of our time, at least in the Anglosphere (i.e. the English-speaking parts of the world), is how to spell the adjectival form of wool: is it woolly or is it wooly? Dictionaries accept both, though the form with a double-l seems to be favored, for the same reason we write really rather than realy and totally rather than totaly. For people who come to woolly as non-native speakers, its non-literal meanings must seem strange. Merriam-Webster gives these:

2a: lacking in clearness or sharpness of outline
woolly TV picture

b: marked by mental confusion
woolly thinking

3: marked by boisterous roughness or lack of order or restraint
where the West is still woolly— Paul Schubert—used especially in the phrase wild and woolly

Though my pictures have usually come from the wild and my posts have sometimes been wild and woolly, I trust you haven’t found any instances of really totally woolly thinking in them.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 16, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Yet another Euphorbia

with 31 comments

You’ve already seen Euphorbia bicolor, Euphorbia marginata, and Euphorbia cyathophora here this season. Now comes Euphorbia corollata, which doesn’t grow in Austin or anywhere else in Travis County but which I found 40 miles southeast of home in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd. (In searching past posts, I discovered that 1200 miles northeast of Austin, during a visit to Illinois Beach State Park in 2015, I’d taken and shown you a photograph of this wide-ranging species in an earlier stage of flowering.)

The crab spider in the picture above is a bonus—for you as well as me, given that I didn’t notice it at the time I took the picture. I did notice the plant’s red stems, which are also a feature of Euphorbia bicolor and Euphorbia marginata. And now that I’ve brought up those other red stems, I guess I’ll have to show you one. Below is a minimalist view of a snow-on-the-mountain stalk against blue sky at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 25.


Don’t you love spam? Of course you don’t, but it can be amusing. Here’s a recent comment I got:

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The linguist in me can’t help wondering what language that was translated from. At the same time, the comment is superfluous: modest me already knew the amazing job I happen to be carrying out instructing the rest of you, and I’m sure many of my posts have taken you to cry for joy.

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© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Sunflower and more

with 29 comments

From Twin Lakes Park in Cedar Park on September 24th, here’s a backlit back view of a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) with out-of-focus silver bluestem seed heads (Bothriochloa laguroides) beyond it. On one of the sunflower’s rays I noticed a tiny insect. Once I did, I brought my macro lens as close as possible to what turned out to be a true bug (as opposed to the common English use of bug to mean any kind of insect). Naturalist Ken Wohlgemuth says it might be in the genus Harmostes (which I showed a member of in 2015). Click below to truly enlarge the true bug.


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Discussions of taxes focus mostly on income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other overt forms of taxation. Many people don’t realize that low interest rates are a form of tax. For much of my life, and as recently as 2008, people who lived within their means could save some money and put it in a bank to get interest of 4% per year. As decades passed, compound interest would let a person’s savings grow to a nice nest egg for later in life. Since the financial crash of 2008, however, governments around the world have kept interest rates artificially low, so low that 1% has often been the best deal available. A big reason why governments have done so is that they continue borrowing extravagantly, and lower interest rates correspond to lower repayments of debt.

Another tax that often isn’t thought of as a tax is inflation. People in recent months have begun to notice it because so many prices have been rising. Among the most conspicuous are the prices of staple foods—have you been to the supermarket lately?—and of fuel. The price of natural gas has risen 100% in the United States this year, and 280% in Europe, as winter approaches and the demand for heating homes heads for its annual peak. According to one website, “The annual inflation rate in the US eased [!] to 5.3% in August from a 13-year high of 5.4% reported in June and July.” So even as thrifty people struggle to get pitifully little interest on their savings in a bank—the best rates are currently running at about half of a percent—the value of each dollar keeps going down.

Not only is inflation a hidden tax, but it’s the kind of tax economists classify as regressive. That means it disproportionately affects people who are the least able to afford it. A wealthy person doesn’t care if gasoline is $3 a gallon or $6 a gallon, or if a loaf of bread this year costs a dollar more than it did last year. But for a person who is living on the margins and who needs to drive to work, the dollar-a-gallon rise in the price of gasoline over the past year is painful, as is paying noticeably more for a cart of groceries to sustain a family.

Several years ago I would occasionally ask someone out of the blue: “Have you got your $60,000 ready?” That was the share of the national debt owed by each person in the United States, from newborn baby to centenarian. By 2019 the per-capita share had risen to around $69,000. By 2020 it had soared to almost $81,000. As of two weeks ago, the amount every single person in America owes was calculated to be $85,424.

I bring all this up now for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s distressing to watch helplessly as the money we’ve dutifully saved by living within our means is worth less and less each month. Another reason is that the current administration in the United States is pushing to “spend”—which means borrow—$3.5 trillion more than the trillions it has already borrowed. That will drive the national debt even higher; soon I’ll be asking you whether you’ve got your $100,000 ready to pay your individual share. Profligate borrowing will also further incite inflation, which, as noted, most affects the people least able to cope with it. To use a word that’s in vogue, all this is unsustainable. Our representatives in government have to find ways to begin paying down the national debt, not driving it ever higher. In short, just as individuals have to live within their means, so do governments.

(And let me head off potential criticism by adding that I was against the large increases in the debt under both Obama and Trump. Inordinate debt is bad no matter which party is responsible for it.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2021 at 4:27 AM

Grasshopper central

with 31 comments

While at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 25th I though of calling the place “grasshopper central” for the many insects of that kind I saw ensconced on plants and jumping about. Here are two portraits of grasshoppers on river primrose plants (Oenothera jamesii).


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Yesterday I outlined a proposed Constitutional amendment of mine that would require legislators to read and understand bills before being allowed to vote on them. Actually that would be part of a larger amendment dealing with legislative bills. Here’s more of what I’d like to see included.

1. A legislative bill shall deal with only one subject.

2. The first line of the bill must state what that subject is, and it must conform to the general understanding among the public of what that subject includes.

3. For each pending Congressional bill, every sentence shall be identified by the name and position of the person or persons who wrote the sentence. If the writer(s) acted on behalf of or at the behest of some other person(s) or organization(s), those identifications must also be included.

4. Unless Congress by a three-quarter majority in each house separately declares a national emergency, the complete text of a bill must be released to the public and made readily available online at least 14 days before a bill is brought to a vote.

5. A non-partisan commission created by Congress shall thoroughly examine every final bill and remove all parts of it that don’t conform to points 1–3 above. The commission is also empowered to prevent, and must prevent, voting on any bill whose final form the public has not had easy access to for 14 days.

Point 1 is intended to eliminate the monstrous bills we now get that run to hundreds or even thousands of pages and that include a slew of unrelated things. Politicians too easily hide pet projects and controversial proposals in the welter of such “omnibus” bills. My idea is to have the legislature vote separately on each proposal or small group of related proposals. That would let the public know which legislators support which things.

Point 2 is intended to head off concept creep and gross semantic inflation. For example, the current administration has been referring to anything under the sun as “infrastructure,” e.g. “human infrastructure” and “family infrastructure,” whereas the normal use of the term “infrastructure” includes only physical structures like roads, bridges, airports, dams, power lines, railroads, ports, canals, and the like.

Point 3 is intended to reveal who is actually inserting provisions into a bill. As things stand now, the real promoters are often hidden from the public.

Point 4 is intended to give the public and the press a reasonable amount of time to find out what’s in a bill before it gets voted on.

Point 5 creates a neutral external body to enforce the provisions that members of Congress may be too pusillanimous to adhere to.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 2, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Yumptious yellow

with 35 comments

The other day the word yumptious popped into my mind. Wondering whether anyone had come up with it before me, I searched and found I wasn’t the first to use that portmanteau of yummy and scrumptious (with scrumptious having perhaps arisen as an alteration of sumptuous). Now I’m getting to use that adjective for the river primrose flowers (Oenothera jamesii) I went to see on September 25th at Tejas Camp in Williamson County, where I’d found the species for the first time in 2020.

Before each bright yellow flower emerges at the tip of a long stem, river primrose’s svelte buds are sculptural and textural, as you see below. Notice the reddish tips, above which strides a stilt bug in the genus Jalysus.

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One of the worst statements ever spewed forth from the mouth of a legislator came in 2010: “… We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” That’s not how laws are supposed to be made. Legislators aren’t supposed to vote on bills whose contents they and the people they represent aren’t aware of. The “representative” who made that infamous statement should have been summarily expelled from Congress for dereliction of duty and breach of ethics.

On September 8th I mentioned that in recent years I’ve gradually been crafting amendments to the American Constitution to fix things that are wrong with our government. The would-be amendment I described then involved contributions to political campaigns. Now I’d like to propose an amendment to deal with the horrid thought quoted in the previous paragraph.

Prerequisites for a member of Congress to be allowed to vote on a bill

A.  The member shall read the final version of the bill in its entirety.

B.  The member shall create an uncut video showing the member reading the entire bill, and shall post, at least 24 hours before voting on the bill, the complete video online in an easily accessible place where the public can view it.

C.  The member shall pass a test about the contents of the bill, such test to be created and administered by a non-partisan commission established for that purpose. The test shall contain at least 10 questions and the passing grade shall be set no lower than 80%. A member of Congress who fails may take one retest consisting of a randomly different set of questions about the bill. A second failure shall bar the member from voting on the bill.

D. Each revision of a bill that comes up for a vote shall trigger these requirements anew.

I’m optimistic that these requirements would greatly shorten the lengths of proposed bills and simplify their contents. What do you think?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 1, 2021 at 4:30 AM

White-striped longtail

with 38 comments

It wasn’t only bumblebees I saw on the flower spikes of gayfeather (Liatris punctata var. mucronata) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th. No indeed. Among other visitors was this white-striped longtail butterfly (Chioides catillus).


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In unrelated sources over the span of just one hour the other day I came across two similar quotations:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” — Primo Levi, If This Is a Man, 1947.

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and all we had to do is separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. — Alexander Sozhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1975.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2021 at 4:36 AM

What I didn’t see on pickerelweed flowers

with 27 comments

I hadn’t seen pickerelweed flowers (Pontederia cordata) since the spring of 2020, so at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th I photographed some. Six days later, when processing this limited-focus portrait, I discovered a brown insect that I’d not noticed was on the flowers at the time I took the picture.

If you’d like a reminder of how glorious a whole colony of these flowers can look, you’re welcome to glance back at a post from May of last year.


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Why do problems that are easily fixed not get fixed?

As someone with a pretty long name, I’ve been repeatedly forced to deal with something problematic: I’m handed a form to fill out, and the blank where I’m supposed to write my name is too short. On the same form, an adjacent blank for the current date may be four inches long, much more than is needed. And speaking of which, there may be two or even three places on the form where I’m asked to put that same date. As the problem of poorly designed forms has persisted throughout my whole life, it will almost certainly continue long after I’m gone. The question is why. Is there a secret cabal of Unilluminati who control the world and rig it so that designers of forms must come from the bottom quartile of IQs? If you’ve got a better explanation, let’s hear it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2021 at 4:21 AM

From fiery bract to fiery body

with 50 comments

Speaking of the most primary of all colors, our September 11th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center produced pictures not only of a bright red fire-on-the-mountain bract but also of what I take to be a male neon skimmer dragonfly, Libellula crocipennis. This one was up high and pretty far away, so I used a telephoto zoom lens at its maximum focal length of 400mm, and even then I had to crop the image down to about a fifth of its area.


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Back on August 12th I reported that I’ve occasionally been turning to unknown people on the street and asking them out of the blue what they think about the current state of our country. My latest encounter took place yesterday, after a woman who noticed Eve taking a picture of me in front of an octopus sculpture asked if we’d like her to photograph the two of us together. I took her up on her offer, and in the process we chatted briefly. When she was about to rejoin the other woman she’d been walking with, I asked her my question. She was maybe the sixth person I’d approached that way, and like all the others, she said she thinks things in America are terrible. I asked if she could give me an example of what troubles her.

First she gave me a local answer. It involved TXDoT, the Texas Department of Transportation, which has started implementing its huge project to rebuild Interstate 35 through central Austin, one of the most congested stretches of Interstate highway in the United States. The woman felt TXDoT hadn’t conferred enough with people in neighborhoods bordering that part of Interstate 35, who might be adversely affected. (There’s a history of Interstate 35 separating white and black neighborhoods when it was built through central Austin in the 1960s.)

Then the woman said she’s happy that Biden got elected president. (You’d more often than not expect that in as liberal a place as Austin.) Turning to the pandemic, she said she believes in the COVID-19 vaccines and has been vaccinated herself but is troubled by the vaccine mandates and passports currently being pushed (so notably, of course, by President Biden). Her concern was about the federal government getting too involved with and making decisions based on people’s private medical records.

Of the half-dozen strangers I’ve asked my out-of-the-blue question to, so far every one has given answers that made me think I was dealing with a reasonable person. Maybe there’s hope for the country after all.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2021 at 4:44 AM

Paper wasps at nest hanging from a dry cattail leaf

with 32 comments

On September 14th at the Riata Trace Pond I found some paper wasps (Polistes sp.) building their nest on a dry cattail leaf. They kept on with their work and I with mine, which included photographing them.

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I recently came across Shane Trotter’s good article “Remedial Education for All,” which I recommend to you. Here are a couple of passages from the article:

The unfortunate reality is that ability and upbringing really do matter. Even the best teachers usually won’t make a dent against a home environment that does not value education. This is not to suggest that schools should ignore the needs of students who are less talented, have harder home lives, or come from less academic pedigrees. Indeed, it is necessary and wonderful that teachers are passionate about trying to reach such students. But we can’t expect teachers to reliably compensate for large voids. Even more, we can’t stunt the development of all students in the name of this naive pursuit.

As calls for equality of outcome gain steam and schools make plans to reduce educational gaps that have been exacerbated by 18 months of virtual learning, we’d do well to remember the predictable costs of pretending we can make everything fair. Mass education will never be a perfect fit for everyone. Schools have to identify the competencies and attitudes that are most valuable and optimize in a way that brings the most possible students to high, yet reachable standards. When high school students fall too far behind and decide they aren’t interested in catching up, they should be able to pursue a vocational track that pushes them to develop other meaningful skills. These students will be far more likely to apply themselves if we give them relevant options like work apprenticeships, trade programs, and so on.

At its core, this is about maintaining the integrity of the learning environment. Too many in education today have no sense of the value that certain skills and habits of mind can have in people’s lives (or that these are the skills of which a high school diploma is supposed to indicate mastery). Education, to them, is just a prop to be given out in hopes of advancing a person’s social positioning. They are willing to compromise standards at every turn in order to manufacture achievements that society has predetermined as “good.” But in the process, they devalue those outcomes and the surrounding educational culture.

I’ve been pointing out many of the same problems with education for years, even decades, as you’ve also heard in the last two posts.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 16, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Posted in nature photography

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