Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Austin

Switchgrass time again

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The “big four” grasses of the tallgrass prairies are little bluestem, big bluestem, (yellow) Indiangrass, and the subject of today’s post, switchgrass, Panicum virgatum. I always look forward to seeing large clumps of switchgrass in its late-fall and winter form, as I did on January 11th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. From a distance the tops of these clumps seem to me a tan haze, as shown above. The lower portions of the grass, curlicued as their leaves so often are, lend themselves to abstract portraits like the one below.

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Did you hear about the preserved baby dinosaur discovered curled up inside its egg?
It’s quite an exciting find.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2022 at 4:34 AM

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White sky for a change

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As a change from the many pictures with dark backgrounds I’ve shown for the past two years, here’s a view showing two graceful goldenrod seed heads (Solidago sp.) against a white sky. This simple portrait comes from the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on January 11th.

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Back on December 12th I reported on how the people in charge of the Centers for Disease control were continuing to put forward a false conclusion about the effectiveness of masks on students in public schools. The conclusion was false because it was based on a multiply flawed study of Arizona schoolchildren. Flaws included comparing schools that were open for different lengths of time; including several dozen non-existent schools (they were actually programs within schools); and failing to take into account background rates of infection in the different communities. You can read about the study’s defects in a December article by David Zweig in The Atlantic.

I bring this up again now because Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, still keeps touting the unwarranted conclusion of that scientifically improper study even after people have pointed out to her the things that make the study invalid. She did so as recently as January 11th in front of the United States Senate. You can watch a new Megyn Kelly interview about this with David Zweig; it takes up the first 22 minutes of her January 13th show.

I, and presumably you, have no vested interest in which way the science comes out. If students wearing masks really fare better than students without them—assuming all other factors are equal—then so be it. And if they don’t, so be it. And if it turns out that masks protect students in some circumstances but not others, so be it. What matters is the truth. But when an administration keeps insisting on the false conclusion of a study long after its multiple defects have been pointed out, we the people lose faith in our government. A Latin motto that has become an adage in our legal system is “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus,” or “False in one thing, false in all.” If government officials knowingly tell us something false about masks on schoolchildren, then we have to assume officials will lie to us about other things, too.

Along similar lines, you may also want to read an article by J. Scott Turner published yesterday entitled “The White House Is Undermining Science, Not Defending It.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 19, 2022 at 4:36 AM

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Lichens, mosses, and ferns

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All the things mentioned in the title commonly occur in Great Hills Park, as I confirmed for the umpteenth time on January 2nd. The top picture looks like it shows hoary rosette lichen, Physcia aipolia. The young fern in the bottom picture seems to be a southern maidenhair, Adiantum capillus-veneris. I’m sorry I can’t give any information about the other greenery.

   

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“…Countries that have pushed the laudable doctrines of equality of opportunity most assiduously (so that would be the Scandinavian countries) have the lowest rates of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] enrolment among females in the world, as it turns out that freed females, so to speak, given free choice, do not often voluntarily become engineers and mathematicians and physicists. To call this a major problem for those who insist (1) that all sex differences are socially constructed and (2) that equality of opportunity doctrines will necessarily equalize outcomes is to say almost nothing at all.”

That’s from Jordan Peterson’s essay “Equity: When the Left Goes Too Far,” which you’re welcome to read. While discrepancies in upper-echelon jobs get lots of attention, the lower portion of the job market, which employs a much larger work force, scarcely draws any attention. Consider the people who come around and empty the garbage cans that home-dwellers put out at their curb, and the dumpsters of people in apartment complexes. I distinctly remember—because it was so unusual—seeing one woman working on a garbage-collecting crew, and I might have seen a second one at another time. That’s it for my entire life. How many women have you ever seen working in a pick-up-the-garbage crew?

Similarly, here in Texas the people who sweat long hours maintaining yards in the summer heat, and who bake on rooftops putting shingles on houses, are universally male. I’ve never seen a woman doing either of those jobs (though a woman is in charge of the arborist crew that has come to our house several times to cut down damaged trees, and she’s always joined in doing the physical work along with the men). In your experience, what percent of the yard maintenance and roofing crews that you’ve see are female? Can you imagine any sort of “affirmative action” that will coax tens of thousands of women to give up even low-paying positions in winter-warmed and summer-air-conditioned offices to do those jobs instead? That’s a rhetorical question.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2022 at 4:38 AM

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Rattan and mustang grape vines interacting

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The falling off of leaves as cold weather comes makes it easier to see the two most common large and woody native vines in Austin: rattan (Berchemia scandens) and mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis). The dull green vines are rattan; the thicker ones with bark are mustang grape. These pictures from Great Hills Park were doubly new: it was the first day of the year, and I was trying out my Canon EOS R5 camera.

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I found the New York Post article “Five college students speak out: We’re fed up with campus ‘wokeness‘” enlightening. One of the students, Aryaan Misra, from India, said: “Progressives back home [which she considered herself] fight for women to have fundamental rights, while progressives on my campus [in the United States] hang pictures of Mao in their dorm room.” She continued: “Another time, my professor taught the class how to find what ‘triggers’ them. Growing up on the streets of Delhi, there are triggers everywhere you look — so-called ‘microaggressions’ are nothing compared to animal carcasses on the streets and malnourished children begging at every red light. I don’t know how my peers who treat every minor insult as a microaggression will survive outside the gates of their liberal campus.” Alas, her fellow students are surviving by trying to force everyone outside the gates of their illiberal campus to submit to their dictates.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Winter leaf colors from a native grass

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Inland sea oats is a common native grass in the woods in my northwest part of Austin. The second word in the grass’s scientific name, Chasmanthium latifolium, means ‘wide leaf,’ and while I don’t consider this grass’s leaves especially wide, they’re certainly wide enough to have offered up some colorful foliage in Great Hills Park on the second day of the year.

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The other day I came across a quotation on the Internet: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The website attributed the quotation to Thoreau. Having long ago learned not to trust Internet quotations to be accurate, I went searching to find out whether Thoreau really expressed that thought, and if so, whether the wording was correct. My quest led me to an excellent site, The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, where I learned that the idea was indeed Thoreau’s; the wording wasn’t. On August 5, 1851, Thoreau had written in his Journal: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

If such things interest you, check out The Henry D. Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page, which includes incorrect wordings as well as sayings attributed to Thoreau that he never said. Of all the improper wordings, probably the most widely disseminated is the one that changes a word in the last part of this sentence from Thoreau’s essay “Walking”: “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” People often quote the last eight words in isolation and turn wildness into wilderness.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 16, 2022 at 4:32 AM

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One thing that poison ivy is good for

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One thing that poison ivy is good for is color in the late fall and early winter. This portrait comes from the lower portion of Allen Park on December 17, 2021. I’ve read that the sheen on the leaflets attests to the presence of urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy that irritates most people’s skin. “Look but do not touch” remains sound advice. The most interestingly colored poison ivy I ever saw was also in the lower portion of Allen Park, way back in 2006.

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Yesterday we went to the Austin Nature Center, not to visit the indoor exhibits but to walk through the place and onto the trails beyond. When we arrived at the main building we were met with a sign saying everyone has to wear a mask not only inside buildings but outdoors as well. That doesn’t “follow the science.”

Currently 98.3% of all new Covid-19 infections in the United States are from the Omicron variant. According to an NPR article, “…given how contagious omicron is, experts say, it’s seriously time to upgrade to an N95 or similar high-filtration respirator when you’re in public indoor spaces. ‘Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron,’ says Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech who studies how viruses transmit in the air.” Yet the Austin Nature Center—and presumably every other institution that requires masks indoors—allows cloth masks.

As for outdoor transmission of Covid-19, it’s rare. David Leonhardt noted last year in a New York Times article entitled “A Misleading C.D.C. Number” that “the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.” Those are hardly the conditions you’ll find outdoors at a nature center, are they?

Following the science, we ignored the mask mandate as soon as we were away from the Austin Nature Center buildings. When we stopped a minute later to look at some rescued raptors in outdoor enclosures, we noticed a young couple who had also stopped there. I saw that they weren’t wearing masks either, and I asked them sarcastically if they weren’t afraid of catching Covid-19. Turns out the couple was visiting from Florida, and the guy said that in his state things aren’t restrictive the way they are in Austin. I told him Austin is the Berkeley of Texas and people here are crazy; then I made sure to add that although Eve and I live here we aren’t crazy.

Later, even farther away from the Nature Center, we encountered first one and then another small group of young children on an outing in the woods. The adult guides were wearing masks, as were many but not all of the little children. Later I was sorry I hadn’t asked if the children’s parents had decided whether their kids had to wear a mask or could go maskless outdoors. We’ve known since early in the pandemic that children are by far the least susceptible group, so there’s no reason for them to be wearing masks when they’re out in nature. That’s the science.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 14, 2022 at 4:38 AM

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Here’s looking at you, kid[neywood flowers]

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How ’bout this face-on view of a small fly getting nectar from the flowers of a kidneywood tree (Eysenhardtia texana) in my neighborhood on December 16, 2021? That tree kept putting out flowers through the end of the year, even if only a tiny fraction of what it had produced at the end of October.

(This post’s title is an allusion to a line from the movie “Casablanca.”)

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Three months ago in these pages I wrote a commentary pointing out that inflation is a hidden tax that most affects the people least able to afford it, including the poor, of course, and the elderly on fixed incomes. People who have dutifully saved money for their later years look on helplessly as their retirement savings dwindle in value.

Yesterday the United States government announced that from December 2020 to December 2021, the Consumer Price Index had risen 7%, which was the highest jump in 40 years. A big factor in the increase is that both the last administration and the current one each spent trillions of dollars that we don’t have. Borrowing and printing money so extravagantly contributed heavily to the high inflation we’re now experiencing. And still the current administration is desperate to borrow, print, and spend trillions of dollars more in a Congressional bill that I can’t help but call Bilk Back Better. It’s madness.

UPDATE: A Quinnipiac poll whose results were released yesterday found that only 34% of the respondents approve the current president’s handling of the economy, with 57% disapproving. (The margin of error was 2.7 percentage points.)

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If you have the time, you can watch a two-hour conversation
among Steven Pinker, Jonthan Haidt, and Jordan Peterson.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 13, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Armed

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Buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) produces heavily armed seed capsules, as this picture from December 16, 2021, in my neighborhood confirms. What the capsules lack in size, they make up for in skin-puncture power.

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…[N]egative information is attention-grabbing—it is literally processed differently in our brains—whereas… progress is mostly gradual and incremental. We’re not nearly as adept at spotting these trends as sudden and eye-catching disasters. Max Roser from the University of Oxford points out that newspapers could legitimately have run the headline ‘Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday’ every day for the last twenty-five years. But, as we’ve seen from academics’ detailed analysis of news values and criteria, the predictable isn’t newsworthy, because that’s how our brains work: we get the media we deserve and, to some extent, crave.

So wrote Bobby Duffy in Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. In addition to reading that book, you’ll find lots of interesting information at the Ipsos website that documents people’s misperceptions about many things. (Professor Duffy used to be the managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute.)

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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Exaggerations

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Despite what you’ll find frequently quoted, Mark Twain didn’t say “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That’s an exaggeration. Here’s the explanation from dictionary.com:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated is a popular misquote attributed to author Samuel Clemens, known by his pen name, Mark Twain. The humorous quote is based on a letter Twain sent to a newspaper reporter who had asked Twain about rumors that he was dying.

Although it’s not an accurate quote, The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated remains associated with Twain. Twain was known for his humor, which the quote perfectly represents. Often, this quote is brought up to praise Twain’s skill as a humorist.

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated is often used to humorously comment on a person’s absence from society or to refer to something that appears dead or hopeless but still has a slim chance of success.

In May 1897, there was a rumor among journalists that author Mark Twain was either dead or dying of a serious illness. Looking for confirmation, journalist Frank Marshall White of the New York Journal contacted Twain to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Twain responded to White with a letter in which he humorously said “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” In classic Twain fashion, the author jokingly expressed more offense with the rumors that he was poor than the rumors of his death.

The popular misquote of Twain’s words seems to come from a biography written by Albert Paine in the early 1900s. In the biography, Paine alters the incident so that Twain speaks to an unnamed reporter in person and humorously tells him that “The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” This misquote then changed over time to use the word greatly instead of grossly.

I bring this up because the word millipede is also an exaggeration. Latin mille meant ‘a thousand,’ and millipede therefore means ‘a thousand feet,’ but obviously each of the little critters in today’s photographs, which are in fact millipedes, has far fewer than a thousand limbs. On the other hand, there might be a thousand strands in the webbing around the millipedes, which I can say with no exaggeration were dead.

These pictures come from December 22, 2021, along the Shoal Creek Trail. The first section of the trail heading south from 32nd St. closely skirts a rock cliff with some overhangs in it, and that’s where the millipedes hang out, as shown in the two top photographs. In the third picture, the webbing served to anchor a dry leaf, which became the star of that portrait.

To get enough light to photograph in those shaded places I had to use flash, which also revealed the colors in some of the rocks themselves, which unaided eyes might not have noticed.

UPDATE: Scientists have discovered a new species of millipede with 1306 legs.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 11, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Rosy splotches and an upright flounder*

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At Allen Park on December 17, 2021, I cautiously maneuvered among some prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) to take pictures of aging and deteriorated pads. The one above looked to me like it had the measles, while my imagination insisted on comparing the pad below to an upright flounder. Or maybe it was a worse-for-the-wear owl seen from the side.

* I’m pretty sure that of all the hundreds of millions of people who’ve ever spoken and written English, not one has previously used the phrase that serves as this post’s title.

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The academic literature on the use of facts to correct delusions shows very mixed results. It sometimes works, it sometimes works in a limited way, and it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The effects sometimes seem to last over a longer period, and sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on the issue being tested, how it’s done, and what we’re expecting to shift, from factual knowledge to policy preferences to beliefs.

That makes perfect sense when we bear in mind the theory of cognitive dissonance and consider what we know about how we think. We naturally look for confirming information, and discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we switch. The dissonance is emotionally unpleasant, and while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling onto them.

The message is that we can’t always solve delusions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. Of course, facts don’t exist entirely outside of their context: as we’ve seen, many measures are more complex than they seem, require cautious interpretation, and selection of other, equally valid facts can paint a very different picture. But this is not an excuse to give up on the value and power of the best facts we can muster. They can indicate an underlying truth that we shouldn’t carelessly discard because they are imperfect.

That’s one of the conclusions Bobby Duffy reaches in the closing chapter of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2022 at 4:35 AM

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