Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘Austin

Widow’s tears revisited

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On July 19th I got an e-mail from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine with the photographic want list for their October issue. In the “Flora Fact” category, the species for that month will be Commelina erecta, the dayflower, which you saw here on June 27th. I’d also shown a few dayflower pictures here years ago, so I quickly searched back through old posts to see if any of those earlier portraits might be suitable to submit to the magazine. The first old dayflower photograph I found was from a post in 2012, and in it I noticed that I’d taken the picture nine years earlier to the day. Ah, coincidences.

Next I delved into my archive to see what other photographs I might have taken during that outing near Lake Travis. Turns out I took plenty, only a very few of which I’d processed. Of course some weren’t worth processing, but others were. As a result, today’s picture is a never-before-seen one from July 19, 2012. It shows why one vernacular name for the species is widow’s tears. Clear liquid collects in a keel-shaped part of the inflorescence called a spathe (from the Greek spathē that meant ‘broad blade,’ and that has also given English the kind of spade in a deck of playing cards, and has given Spanish its word for ‘a sword,’ espada). People noticed that if you gently squeeze the sides of a dayflower’s spathe, drops of the clear liquid inside emerge from the tip of the structure. Here I managed to record one such drop in the split-second when it was breaking loose from the tip of the spathe. Notice how the drop acted as a lens that focused an upside-down image of nearby trees.


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Two days ago Robert Contee, Police Chief for Washington, D.C., gave an impromptu press conference in which he expressed his frustration with the courts there for coddling violent criminals. Failure to keep those predators in jail lets many of them go on to commit more crimes, even as earlier cases against them are still pending. You can read more about the press conference by Chief Contee, who grew up in the District and who is black, in a Federalist article. Within that article is a 7.5-minute video clip from the press conference, which I recommend you watch, in which Chief Contee speaks about “the brazenness of the criminals…. We have a vicious cycle of bad actors who do things with no accountability, and they end up back in [the] community… [T]he way that we’re going and the things that we’re trying to do, we want to help people, yes we should. But you cannot coddle violent criminals, you cannot. You cannot treat violent criminals who are out here making communities unsafe for you, for your loved ones, for me, for my loved ones. They might not want a job, they might not, they might not need services. What they may require is to be off of our streets because they’re making it unsafe for us. And if that’s what it requires, then that’s what it requires. And we have to own that. We have to own it, because if not, we see more of this.”

I happened to catch most of Chief Contee’s impassioned press conference live. At one point it occurred to me to check CNN and MSNBC to see if they were carrying it. They weren’t.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Crab spider on germander

with 16 comments

As I wandered around on July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 I saw some germander plants (Geum canadense) still flowering. In the one shown above, the yellowing older flowers provided good camouflage for a crab spider, which I hadn’t even noticed till I got in close to photograph the flowers. Poking around with my macro lens caused the spider to move lower on the plant, where I made the following portrait.

For both photographs I used flash, which let me stop down to f/16 for good depth of field.


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I recently listened to a good conversation between Andrew Sullivan and Amy Chua, both of whom deplore and are working against illiberalism in our country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Lichen on moss

with 8 comments

When I visited the Stillhouse Hollow Nature Preserve on July 7th I hadn’t been there for several years. Rain in the weeks before my visit left parts of the place looking a little Pacific-Northwest-ish, as evidenced by the lichens on moss on a dead tree branch that you see busily filling the frame in today’s close-up.


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In the last post I provided governmental evidence to prove that the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme that some people still push developed from a false story about Michael Brown. One organization that has continued to push the false narrative is Black Lives Matter. When I checked the national organization’s website in July of 2020, it included Brown as a “victim” of an unjust system. When I re-checked the website a couple of days ago, it still memorialized the petty criminal who stole from a store, shoved the employee who confronted him, then a little later attacked a policeman and tried to grab his gun.

One thing that has disappeared from the Black Lives Matter website between July of last year and now is this statement: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” It’s not that those in charge don’t still want to disrupt the nuclear family. They do, but saying so on their website was bringing them too much adverse publicity, so they took their “What We Believe” page down.

Three times the “What We Believe” statement used the word collective or collectively, and twice the word comrades. Those words made it clear that this is an organization that advocates Marxism, the ideology that in the Soviet Union and China in the 20th century caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. One of the founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, was proud to identify herself as a Marxist in 2015: “We actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia [Garza] in particular, we’re trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super versed on ideological theories.” (You can watch her saying that at about one minute into a YouTube video.)

You shouldn’t be surprised that this recent American incarnation of Marxism is as unethical and hypocritical as every other one has been. For example, even as millions were driven to starvation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, those in control got wealthy and lived the good life. Similarly, North Koreans today lead miserable lives while Kim Jong-un gets fat. This spring brought the revelation that Patrisse Khan-Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter who revels in being a Marxist and is therefore presumably a champion of the masses and an enemy of capitalism, nevertheless managed to buy not one, not two, not three, but four houses worth some 3.2 million dollars in all. I guess that’s supposed to set an example of fair housing practices, though it seems to be a new form of Redlining.

Many people who support Black Lives Matter do so because they want fair treatment for everyone, regardless of race. That’s a noble goal, one that I support, too, but just be aware that the national Black Lives Matter organization stands for things other than those you may think it does.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A snapdragon vine flower

with 22 comments

It’s not often I come across a snapdragon vine, Maurandella antirrhiniflora, so when I did in my neighborhood on July 11th I made sure to take a bunch of pictures. These are small flowers, averaging about 3/4 of an inch across (18mm). I don’t know about you, but whenever I see snapdragon vine flowers I always think I’m looking at a mouth with prominent lower teeth. The fact that they would be hairy teeth doesn’t dissuade my imagination.


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Yesterday I mentioned a partisan who went on a television talk show and kept repeating a claim that the moderator of the show had shown wasn’t true. Alas, that wasn’t an isolated aberration. It’s not hard to find activists and partisan groups that repeat—sometimes for years on end—assertions which have been proven false. Consider the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme that has been around since 2014. It came from an incident that took place on August 9 of that year in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, outside Saint Louis. It began after an 18-year-old African American named Michael Brown grabbed some $50 worth of cigarillos from behind the counter of the Ferguson Market and pushed a worker who confronted him as he left the convenience store. A little later, as Brown and another person were walking down the middle of a street, a white police officer named Darren Wilson saw them and told them they should be walking on the sidewalk instead of in the middle of the street. An altercation ensued, during which Wilson ended up shooting and killing Brown. A rumor quickly spread that Brown had had his hands up and was trying to surrender when Wilson shot him. That rumor led, beginning the next day, to rioting, looting, arson, and the destruction of businesses. By August 16 the governor of Missouri had to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew. When that didn’t quell the rioting, the governor canceled the ineffective curfew and called in the National Guard.

Things eventually quieted down. Later, on November 24, a grand jury that had examined all the evidence decided there were not grounds to indict Officer Darren Wilson. That led to another round of rioting in which at least a dozen buildings and multiple police cars were burned. To this day there are groups that claim that Michael Brown didn’t receive justice. The problem for those who say they want justice for Mike Brown is that the U.S. Justice Department, headed by Eric Holder, a friend of Barack Obama’s who is also black, did do a thorough investigation of the incident. The investigation showed that the narrative of Brown being an innocent victim wasn’t true. If you want to, you can read the full report on the Michael Brown incident, issued by the U.S. Justice Department headed by Eric Holder. Here are two relevant paragraphs from the end of the report (I’ve put some key statements in bold type):

In addition, even assuming that Wilson definitively knew that Brown was not armed, Wilson was aware that Brown had already assaulted him once and attempted to gain control of his gun. Wilson could thus present evidence that he reasonably feared that, if left unimpeded, Brown would again assault Wilson, again attempt to overpower him, and again attempt to take his gun. Under the law, Wilson has a strong argument that he was justified in firing his weapon at Brown as he continued to advance toward him and refuse commands to stop, and the law does not require Wilson to wait until Brown was close enough to physically assault Wilson. Even if, with hindsight, Wilson could have done something other than shoot Brown, the Fourth Amendment does not second-guess a law enforcement officer’s decision on how to respond to an advancing threat. The law gives great deference to officers for their necessarily split-second judgments, especially in incidents such as this one that unfold over a span of less than two minutes. ‘Thus, under Graham, we must avoid substituting our personal notions of proper police procedure for the instantaneous decision of the officer at the scene. We must never allow the theoretical, sanitized world of our imagination to replace the dangerous and complex world that policemen face every day.

As discussed above, Darren Wilson has stated his intent in shooting Michael Brown was in response to a perceived deadly threat. The only possible basis for prosecuting Wilson under section 242 would therefore be if the government could prove that his account is not true – i.e., that Brown never assaulted Wilson at the SUV, never attempted to gain control of Wilson’s gun, and thereafter clearly surrendered in a way that no reasonable officer could have failed to perceive. Given that Wilson’s account is corroborated by physical evidence and that his perception of a threat posed by Brown is corroborated by other eyewitnesses, to include aspects of the testimony of Witness 101, there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat. Even if Wilson was mistaken in his interpretation of Brown’s conduct, the fact that others interpreted that conduct the same way as Wilson precludes a determination that he acted with a bad purpose to disobey the law. The same is true even if Wilson could be said to have acted with poor judgment in the manner in which he first interacted with Brown, or in pursuing Brown after the incident at the SUV. These are matters of policy and procedure that do not rise to the level of a Constitutional violation and thus cannot support a criminal prosecution. Cf. Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 430–31 (8th Cir. 1997) (violation of internal policies and procedures does not in and of itself rise to violation of Constitution). Because Wilson did not act with the requisite criminal intent, it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt to a jury that he violated 18 U.S.C.§ 242 when he fired his weapon at Brown. VI. Conclusion For the reasons set forth above, this matter lacks prosecutive merit and should be closed.

So if you hear someone still chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and saying that Michael Brown didn’t receive justice, or if you come across a website making that claim, or if that’s what you yourself have been led to believe, now you know it isn’t true.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Walking the walk, stalking the stalk

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My nature walk in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on July 10th had me stalking sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), not just their buds and flower heads but also their rough stalks that present so many opportunities for photographic abstractions. For this portrait I aimed down at a horizontal portion of a thick stalk. Note the two small ants on it. Note also that the stalk meaning ‘a stem’ and the stalk meaning ‘to pursue’ are unrelated. It’s not unusual for two words in a language to start out different and then coincidentally evolve in ways that lead them to end up the same.


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One morning two or three decades ago I was watching a Sunday television talk show. At one point the moderator interviewed a partisan who came on the show to oppose a bill that was pending in Congress. The partisan said that passage of the bill would cause X to happen, where X was some dire consequence that I no longer remember. The moderator, however, had done his homework; he pulled out a copy of the pending bill and read aloud the section relevant to the partisan’s claim that X would happen. It was clear to everyone listening that the provision in the bill would not cause X to happen. The partisan was now exposed as being at best incorrect, or at worst a liar. Nevertheless, twice more during the interview the partisan claimed that if the bill passed X would happen. What do you make of people who persist in repeating a verifiably false claim?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2021 at 6:45 AM

A sunflower bud unfurling its rays

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I was late tackling sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) this year. I finally took my first pictures of some on July 2nd but didn’t like the results. July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 provided more magic. At about three minutes apart, here are two takes on a bud gracefully and asymmetrically unfurling its rays.


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And here are not two but three takes from Eric Hoffer‘s 1951 book The True Believer:

There is in us a tendency to locate the shaping forces of our existence outside ourselves. Success and failure are unavoidably related in our minds with the state of things around us. Hence it is that people with a sense of fulfillment think it a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change. The tendency to look for all causes outside ourselves persists even when it is clear that our state of being is the product of personal qualities such as ability, character, appearance, health and so on. “If anything ail a man,” says Thoreau, “so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even … he forthwith sets about reforming—the world.”

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business. This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat.

All active mass movements strive… to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. “So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard.” To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs. The fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japan’s defeat. The fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable report or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land. It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move. And it is the certitude of his infallible doctrine that renders the true believer impervious to the uncertainties, surprises and the unpleasant realities of the world around him. Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: it must be “contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.”

Those insights about true believers in fanatical movements
resonate every bit as much today as they did 70 years ago.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 20, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Rattlebush flowers

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At McKinney Falls State Park yesterday the rattlebushes (Sesbania drummondii) along Onion Creek downstream from the Lower Falls were flowering, so how could I not take some pictures?

A little earlier, after I’d arrived and was walking in from the parking area, I noticed that a man near me was heading in a direction that wouldn’t take him to the Lower Falls, which is the place I assumed he was trying to get to. I called over to the man, explained that he was heading the wrong way, and pointed him in the direction he needed to go.

On my way back from photographing the rattlebush flowers I passed by the Lower Falls and noticed the man sitting nearby. He looked like he was from India, and I wanted to find out his opinion about something, so I struck up a conversation. First I asked if he lived here or was just visiting the United States. He told me he’s been in the country about 20 years. He started in New York, then moved to Texas, where he’d run a Subway shop. I asked him what he thought of America. In particular, I pointed out that many people in the news media and now even many in our government are claiming that America is a horribly racist country, and I wanted to know if he agreed. He said that there’s always some discrimination in all countries, that it’s a reality of human nature. He mentioned the caste system in India as an example. Then he said that the United States is better. That immigrant to our country understands human nature and the United States in a way that too many Americans fail to—or refuse to—understand.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 19, 2021 at 4:35 AM

White against yellow

with 32 comments

Over the 10 years of this blog, it hasn’t been uncommon for me to spend time taking nature pictures at a place and yet not show you a single photograph from that outing. The other day I realized that was true of our May 26th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, so here’s a portrait I made there showing American water willow flowers (Justicia americana) in front of a yellow waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana).

UPDATE: I should’ve mentioned that individual water willow flowers measure from one-quarter to five-eighths of an inch (6–15mm), so today’s photograph is quite a close-up.


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And now here’s a poignant passage from Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters:

None of the parents I spoke to was naïve about the pressures or hardship of adolescence. They knew the rigmarole: one day the little girls they had attended through countless flus and rushed to the hospital for casts and stitches would transmogrify into teenagers and curse their love. Every one of the parents I met had been prepared to be hated for a while. They knew their daughters would mock their fashion sense, even reject their values for a time. What they were less prepared for was the macabre spectacle of their daughters’ sharp turn against themselves.

Dozens of dogmatic Amazon employees pushed to get the company to stop selling the book, but I’m happy to say Amazon didn’t cave in to the ideologues’ pressure. That hasn’t always been the case: Amazon did ban Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, even as Amazon has continued to sell The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf, whose followers murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century. Target originally carried Abigail Shrier’s Damage, then banned it, then rescinded its ban, then banned it again. I’m against banning books, even those I think are terrible.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 18, 2021 at 4:34 AM

A wet roughstem rosinweed flower head

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From July 6th along Bull Creek, here’s a somewhat wet roughstem rosinweed, Silphium radula.

And from Aldo Leopold’s essay “Prairie Birthday,” in A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, comes this passage about mowers cutting down a Silphium in Wisconsin.

Heretofore unreachable by scythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or Cut-leaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predic tthe future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have taken what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have taken what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 17, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Tropical neptunia

with 22 comments

On July 5th I found some Neptunia pubescens crawling out onto the sidewalk along the busy Capital of Texas Highway. The plant had produced several flower “globes,” of which this was one. The whole cluster might have been an inch long, so the individual flowers in it were tiny. Below you see one of the plant’s drying seed pods.


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Here’s another passage from Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds.

Until the last decade or so, sex (or gender) and chromosomes were recognized to be among the most fundamental hardware issues in our species. Whether we were born as a man or a woman was one of the main, unchangeable hardware issues of our lives. Having accepted this hardware we then all found ways — both men and women — to learn how to operate the relevant aspects of our lives. So absolutely everything not just within the sexes but between them became scrambled when the argument became entrenched that this most fundamental hardware issue of all was in fact a matter of software. The claim was made, and a couple of decades later it was embedded and suddenly everybody was meant to believe that sex was not biologically fixed but merely a matter of ‘reiterated social performances’.

The claim put a bomb under the feminist cause…. It left feminism with almost no defences against men arguing that they could become women. But the whole attempt to turn hardware into software has caused — and is continuing to cause — more pain than almost any other issue for men and women alike. It is at the foundation of the current madness. For it asks us all to believe that women are different from the beings they have always been. It suggests that everything women and men saw — and knew — until yesterday was a mirage and that our inherited knowledge about our differences (and how to get along) is all invalid knowledge. All the rage — including the wild, destructive misandry, the double-think and the self-delusion — stem from this fact: that we are being not just asked, but expected, to radically alter our lives and societies on the basis of claims that our instincts all tell us cannot possibly be true.

Douglas Murray’s book came out in 2019. The cognitive dissonance has increased since then. For example, you may have heard about a recent incident at a spa in Los Angeles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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