Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Blackland Prairie

Liatris on the prairie

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At the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 2nd I got low and photographed these flower spikes of Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing star, doing their autumnal thing on the Blackland Prairie. The greenbrier vine (Smilax bona-nox) climbing on the central flower spikes was a nice addition. Before I left the site I made sure to use the wispy clouds as a great backdrop for a tall exemplar of Turris electrica var. pratensis.


(I’m still traveling, so my presence here continues to be mostly virtual.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Snow-on-the-prairie revisited

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In a post last month you saw the snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) I’d gotten low to photograph against a cloudy sky on September 3rd at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor. On October 2nd I went back there and ended up photographing a different snow-on-the-prairie plant. The sky was bluer and the clouds fleecier than a month earlier, so the overall effect was quite different.

Because the clouds were so appealing I took dozens of pictures of them in their own right. Stieglitz called his cloud portraits “equivalents.” I’ll call mine “cloudtraits.” In the one below, I took the rare (for me) step of converting to black and white.



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In some of my commentaries I’ve complained about how poorly the American education “system” educates America’s children. On October 4th, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal focused on the state of Illinois:

Statewide, in 2019, 36% of all third grade students could read at grade level. That’s an F, and that’s the good news. That number drops to 27% for Hispanic students and 22% for black students statewide. In certain public school systems, the numbers plummet to single digits. In Decatur, 2% of black third-graders are reading at grade level and only 1% are doing math at grade level.

We aren’t often speechless, but the extent to which that performance is betraying a generation of schoolchildren is hard to put into words. Third grade children are eight years old, full of potential with minds like sponges to absorb what they are taught. Third grade is the year that children need to achieve a level of reading fluency that will prepare them to tackle more complex tasks in upper elementary grades that require comprehension.

A child who can’t read in third grade can’t do word problems in fourth or science experiments in fifth. Promoting Decatur children to the fourth grade when 99% are below grade level in math condemns them to future failure. By 11th grade, 5% of Decatur’s students are reading at grade level and 4% are on par in math. Why shouldn’t every single adult presiding over the Decatur schools be fired?

Why indeed? You can read the full editorial.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2022 at 4:31 AM


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On the morning of September 3rd in Manor I spent time in the Seasons at Carillon subdivision, which is still largely under construction. After no rain for a couple of months we finally got some by the end of August. I suspect a temporary rivulet had flowed over this patch of cracked ground on the Blackland Prairie and left a trace that looks like a tree trunk with prominent bark. At least that’s how my imagination sees it in this wide-angle view that looks almost straight downward. Not far away, the cracked ground had given rise to a snow-on-the-prairie plant, and in shades of green and brown had given a temporary second significance to the species epithet in Euphorbia bicolor.


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In American primary and secondary schools, if a student goes to the school nurse and complains of a headache, the nurse isn’t even allowed to give the student an aspirin without getting permission from the child’s parents. At increasingly many American schools, however, staff can call a student by a name that belongs to the opposite sex and can coach the student into wanting puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones—all while keeping those actions hidden from the child’s parents. If you think that couldn’t possibly be true, think again. In fact the broader situation is even worse than that, as a September 5th article by John Daniel Davidson explains.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2022 at 4:30 AM


with 19 comments

On the cloudy morning of September 3rd I spent several hours checking out the Blackland Prairie east and northeast of Austin. The annual crop of snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) had come up and was doing its attractive white thing. The annual crop of new housing developments and commercial buildings was doing its springing-up thing, too. In the picture below, showing the Seasons at Carillon subdivision in Manor, the native plants were likely making their last stand; I expect by this time next year the land in the foreground will look like what’s in the background. Above, in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, I did my usual thing of getting low enough and aiming high enough to exclude all human elements.

The flowering vine in the lower left of the bottom picture is purple bindweed (Ipomoea cordatotriloba).
The gray pipe is a conduit through which a house will soon hook up to utilities.


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Imagine that the CEO (chief executive officer) of an ice cream company gets asked to list the company’s eight most important goals. Imagine further that the CEO puts “making the tastiest possible ice cream” as the last of the eight goals. Would that entice you to buy the company’s ice cream?

Similarly, imagine that the CEO of a car company, when asked the same question, puts “making cars that are safe” as the last item in the list of eight. Would you feel comfortable buying a car from that company?

I bring up these questions in light of Eric Gibson’s September 2nd opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Woke Ideologues Are Taking Over American Art Museums.” As someone who has visited quite a few art museums, I’ve been observing the increasing reality of that headline over the past decade. A few weeks ago, when we went to the latest exhibition at Austin’s Blanton Museum, I said to Eve about some of the “woke” explanatory placards in the show: “They just can’t help themselves”—with the “they” meaning the museum’s curatorial staff.

In Eric Gibson’s opinion piece he brought up

the remarkable article penned for the British magazine Apollo in 2018 by Kaywin Feldman, now director of the National Gallery of Art. At the time, she was running the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and her article included a list of her museum’s eight core values. At the top was “gender equality.” The list continued in a similar vein until finally getting around to “essentialness of the arts” at No. 8. The director of one of the country’s leading art museums placed art at the bottom of her list of institutional core values.

 You’re welcome to read the full article, discouraging as it is.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 7, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Mesquite pods with added interest

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While out on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin on the first day of August I came upon a mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) with plenty of long, well-developed pods on it. Whether the species name glandulosa accounts for the two resinous drops on one of these pods, I don’t know. I do know that the drops attracted me as a photographer. Not till after I got home and looked at the pictures on my computer screen did I notice the tiny spider close to the larger of the two drops. From a different frame taken at a different angle, here’s a closer look at the tiny spider and the larger resin drop:



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On Monday I saw a photograph showing a 2018 demonstration outside Minnesota’s Capitol. Prominent in the photograph was a handwritten placard that began: “Hammer[s,] screwdrivers and knives kill more people than rifles.” You know me: I immediately wondered if the claim is true. To try to find facts to confirm or refute it, I did an Internet search and turned up an article from the Joslyn Law Firm. Here’s how it starts:

With the renewed push by the federal government for an assault weapons ban, we couldn’t help but wonder, just how often are assault rifles really to blame for crimes? More specifically, how often are they used as murder weapons when compared to all of the other types of weapons available?

Using FBI homicide statistics from the 2019 Crime in the United States report, the insights team at the Joslyn Law Firm charted out how often different types of weapons were used in homicides in the U.S. Of the 16,425 homicides that occurred in 2019, the FBI was able to collect supplemental data for 13,922 of them, which is what our data is based on. The weapon types are broken down into the different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a category for homicides in which the type of firearm was unknown. It also compares the number of homicides that were committed by non-firearm weapons such as knives or cutting instruments as well as bodily weapons, which include people’s hands, fists, and feet. Non-firearm weapons were used for one-quarter of all homicides in the United States.

You can look through the resulting chart (click on it to enlarge it). Of the 13,922 homicides in 2019, rifles accounted for a mere 364 (2.6%). If you want to interpret “rifle” loosely as “long gun” and therefore include shotguns, you can add another 200 (1.4%). In contrast, there were 1476 (10.6%) homicides using knives or other cutting instruments, so already the claim on the demonstrator’s placard seems correct. Because the placard also included hammers and screwdrivers, the outweighing of rifles is even greater.

One possible objection is that 3326 (23.9%) of the homicides involved firearms of an undetermined type. Might enough of those have been rifles to increase the rifle total of 364 to more than the 1476 incidents involving knives and other cutting instruments? While that’s theoretically possible, it’s extremely unlikely, given that among the firearms that have been identified in homicides, rifles account for only 5.25%. We have no reason to suppose the distribution of undetermined gun types is overwhelmingly different from the distribution of determined gun types.

The current push among certain activists is to ban so-called assault rifles, which are a subset of rifles in general, and therefore account for even less than the 2.6% of all the rifles known to have been used in homicides.

To fill out the broader picture, notice that there were 600 (4.3%) murders involving “hands, fists, feet, etc.” (I wonder about that “etc.”: is there homicide by knee or elbow?) That number is also greater in its own right than the known number of homicides committed with rifles. Blunt objects, poison, explosives, fire, narcotics, and other agents accounted for 1591 (11.4%) of murders—again a lot more than the number using rifles. People committed by far the greatest number of homicides with handguns: 6365, or 45.7%. For that reason activists who want to ban “assault” rifles work to make it hard for people to legally get handguns, too. (Of course criminals, by the very fact of being criminals, abide by no prohibitions on guns.) In any case, short of repealing or tortuously reinterpreting the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the complete prohibition of guns in the United States can’t happen.

In summary, based on the FBI’s 2019 statistics, the claim that hammers, screwdrivers, and knives kill more people in the United States than rifles turns out to be true, and by a convincingly large margin. If that doesn’t seem right, it’s probably because whenever a mass shooting involving a rifle like an AK-47 or an AR-15 occurs, it immediately makes the news and stays there for days. Meanwhile, we hardly ever hear about most of the much greater number of people who are killed individually by other means every single day of the year. Psychologists refer to that as the availability bias or availability heuristic: what you’re frequently exposed to looms much larger in your view of the world than what you’re seldom exposed to.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Pale pentagon

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After not having taken any nature pictures for a week and a half, I inaugurated August by going out onto the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. The first thing I found on that first day of the month—and for only the second time ever—was a plant that does things in fives: Mirabilis albida, known as pale umbrellawort, white four o’clock, and hairy four o’clock. Local botanist Bill Carr notes that it is “an extremely variable species found in a broad range of woodland to disturbed open habitats.” The USDA map shows this wildflower growing in places as far apart as Quebec and southern California.


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A University of Texas at Austin study found that subsidies per megawatt-hour of electricity amount to roughly 50 cents for coal, $1 to $2 for oil and natural gas, $15 to $57 for wind and $43 to $320 for solar.

That’s from an August 7th editorial in The Wall Street Journal. It explains the boasting claim that electricity from solar and wind in the United States is now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. Remove those enormous subsidies and the claim collapses. Also conveniently seldom mentioned in conjunction with the claim is that most solar panels are made in China, which overwhelmingly uses fossil fuels to manufacture them and then to ship them to the United States—just as fossil fuels are predominantly used to mine and process the rare earth elements necessary to make solar devices function, and to ship those elements to China from the places in other parts of the world where they’re mined.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Dragonfly on a stick with cumulus cloud

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Behold a red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), apparently a female, on the Blackland Prairie in far north Austin on August 1st. I hurriedly found a vantage point that aligned the dragonfly with the cloud. I originally processed the image to be darker, then changed my mind and did this brighter version.



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A currently pending bill in the United States Congress has proved controversial. Supporters signaled their belief by naming the bill the Inflation Reduction Act. Opponents derided the name as Orwellian, claiming that spending $700 billion the country doesn’t have at a time of 9.1% inflation, the highest in 40 years, is hardly likely to reduce inflation. Who’s right? Well, only time will tell (assuming the bill passes, which now seems likely).

And that leads me to a proposal. Last year I described a few amendments I’d like to see added to the American Constitution. (You can see examples here, and here, and here.) The current controversial bill gives me an opening to bring up another of my fantasy amendments. This one would require every person who votes on a bill in Congress to put in writing a statement of the things (including specific numbers) the bill will—or for opponents, will not—accomplish. If, after a specified amount of time, any of the predictions prove false, all members who were wrong would be removed from Congress. It’s a version of “Put your money where your mouth is.” It would also be a de facto form of term limits, given the large number of false promises politicians make. What do you think?


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 8, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Velvet gaura

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Velvet gaura (Oenothera curtiflora) has a long, slender, and sinuous or otherwise curvy inflorescence.
I portrayed this one on the Blackland Prairie in far south Pflugerville on May 23rd.



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 It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.


On Memorial Day weekend, Johnny Belisario went to the beach at New York’s Coney Island and questioned young adults to see what they know about the wars in American history. Here are some of the questions and some of the wrong answers people gave. (The wrong answers greatly outnumbered the right ones.)


Who did America fight in the Revolutionary War? — Russia, Ukraine. — America. — Japan, China.

Who won the Cold War? — Antarctica.

Why do they call it the Cold War? — During the winter? They were fighting in cold conditions. — There was a disease going around.

Who bombed Pearl Harbor? — We did, the United States. — Russia. — China.

Who won the Civil War? — George Washington.

World War 2: who fought there? — Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico.


To which I, a former New Yorker, can only say: oy vey!


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2022 at 4:30 AM

The straight and narrow

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The long flower spikes of gulf vervain, Verbena xutha, can curve a lot. They can also grow erect, as shown here on May 23rd at Strathaven Pass and Wells Branch Parkway on the Blackland Prairie along the Pflugerville–Austin border.



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The title of today’s post describes not only the portrait of a flower spike but also what I believe is the right approach to reporting on the world: we must do our best to get straight to the truth and then report only things that we’ve verified are true. Unfortunately I hear many things cited in the media as facts that aren’t facts—sometimes even when the people making the false claims know that they’re false.

On June 1, 2021, the President of the United States announced: “According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today.” Some people in the “intelligence” community may have claimed that, but the government’s own statistics show it isn’t true, as Jason Reilly pointed out on May 27, 2022, in the online British magazine Sp!ked. The article bears the headline and sub-head “Buffalo and the myth of America’s race war: Talk of rampant white supremacy is divisive nonsense.” Here are some of the relevant statistics that Jason Reilly (who incidentally is black) reveals in his article:

In 2018, there were 59,778 white-on-black violent crimes, compared with 547,948 black-on-white violent crimes, out of roughly 20 million total crimes. This category of crime, broken down along racial lines, is just over 90 per cent black-on-white. Those figures are not entirely typical, but the black-white ratio has been at least 75:25 in every postwar year I have ever examined.

Unexpectedly, similar patterns exist within the sub-category of ‘hate’ crimes. While a significant number of the hate-crime incidents serious enough to be reported to a police department and then the FBI (1,930 in 2019) do target blacks — again, crime is bad, and scumbags of all races should be arrested — it is also the case that blacks are dramatically overrepresented as hate-crime offenders. Out of 6,153 hate-crime offences in 2019, 1,385 (23 per cent) involved a black lead offender while 3,564 (58 per cent) involved a white offender. This is striking, given blacks make up just 12 per cent of the US population while whites, here including Caucasian Hispanics, make up 75 per cent.

African Americans represented a substantial percentage of the 666 hate attackers of whites in 2019, and both whites and blacks behaved badly toward Hispanics (527 total attacks), Jews (953) and gays of all races (746). Numbers of this kind, while obviously unfortunate, undercut the prevalent narrative of a nation riven by near race-war levels of ethnic conflict. All hate crimes combined – 7,314 – made up only an infinitesimal chunk of the full annual caseload of millions of crimes.

Actual research into mass shootings again uncovers patterns of rare, racially diverse violence. While the archetypal pop-culture image of a mass shooter is almost certainly a mentally troubled white, conservative young man in a black-stretch trench, an empirical database put together by Mother Jones reveals that the demographics of the crazed mass-murderer ‘population’ roughly match those of the US overall. Out of the just under 65 cases recorded between 1982 and 2012, which involved a lone gunman or pair of gunmen attacking strangers and killing at least four people, 44 (almost exactly 70 per cent) of them involved a white male perpetrator. This rate appears to have declined to about 60 per cent in the 65 cases added to the database between 2013 and 2022.

You’re welcome to read the full article, which includes even more statistics to refute the false and therefore malicious claim that “terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 9, 2022 at 4:27 AM

A terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc

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Allow me to translate this post’s title into normal English: a snail. Here are views showing opposite sides of one that had climbed a dry grass stalk on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 25th.


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Americans used to frown on human sacrifice and cannibalism. How parochially “Western” that attitude was. What “white fragility” it showed. Today’s educationists know better. In 2021 the California Board of Education unanimously approved an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that included—there’s the sacred value of inclusion—a section on “Affirmation, Chants, and Energizers.” In an article entitled “Parents sue California over public school curriculum that includes chants to Aztec gods,” Bethany Blankley wrote in September 2021 that the section “includes teaching students to repeat the ‘In Lak Ech Affirmation,’ which invokes Aztec deities by name, along with their titles and attributes.” The article continues:

Cortés and other conquistadors described witnessing ceremonies performed by Aztec priests involving the chants in question and human sacrifice, reports that were later confirmed by archeological findings of thousands of human skulls, History.com reports.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paula Jonna notes, “The human sacrifice, cutting out of human hearts, flaying of victims and wearing their skin, are a matter of historical record, along with sacrifices of war prisoners, and other repulsive acts and ceremonies the Aztecs conducted to honor their deities.”

CERF [Californians for Equal Rights Foundation] argues that “California teaches systemic racism.” Its president, Frank Xu, says the curriculum’s promotion of Aztec deities “through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice.

“This public endorsement of the Aztec religion fundamentally erodes equal education rights and irresponsibly glorifies anthropomorphic, male deities whose religious rituals involved gruesome human sacrifice and human dismemberment.”

Maybe it won’t be long before we hear activists shouting “Reimagine human sacrifice!” and “Reimagine dismemberment!” At least Aztec scholars were good at mathematics and astronomy, so the California curriculum could be a backdoor for getting teachers to teach arithmetic and science again, which they’ve long since sacrificed to more pressing matters like “dismantling racist structures” and “abolishing whiteness.” Of course California students would be required to study arithmetic and science in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, but that would kill two sacrificial birds with one stone: it would promote both multilingualism and multiculturalism. Kids might even kill a third bird: they could get away with saying things to each other in Nahuatl that they don’t want their parents to understand.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 8, 2022 at 4:33 AM

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