Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘bush

Texas mountain laurel buds

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On March 18 at McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Bastrop County the buds of a Texas mountain laurel bush were opening. The familiar scientific name Sophora secundiflora has given way to Dermatophyllum secundiflorum.

 

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People claim lots of things, some seemingly more far-fetched than others. When Copernicus in the 1500s and then other scientists in the 1600s claimed that the earth goes around the sun, rather than the other way around, many people didn’t believe it. It seemed counter to the daily experience of watching the sun move in an arc through the sky above a seemingly immobile earth. Evidence, particularly after telescopes got perfected, eventually showed that the strange claim was true.

In October of 2020, shortly before that year’s presidential election in the United States, the New York Post broke a story saying that Hunter Biden, the son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, had brought a laptop computer to a repair shop in Delaware but had never returned to pick it up. As happens in such cases, the unclaimed laptop then became the property of the repair shop’s owner. The laptop per se wasn’t especially valuable, but the data on it was. The laptop’s hard drive contained many photographs showing Hunter Biden doing drugs and cavorting with prostitutes. More importantly, the hard drive also contained e-mails implying that Hunter Biden was getting lots of money from foreign sources in the expectation of access to or influence with Joe Biden.

Given that the main American elections take place early in November, the story could plausibly have been what people have come to call an “October surprise”: condemnatory “information” that a partisan reveals to the public shortly before the election in an attempt to influence people not to vote for the candidate that the partisan opposes. For example, one month before Election Day in 2016 came the release of the Access Hollywood videotape in which candidate Donald Trump was seen speaking lewdly about women. The tape was real, not a fake, and it probably did influence some people not to vote for Trump.

Now let’s return to the 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story. The first question a responsible person would ask is whether the story was true. Might anti-Biden partisans have made it up in an attempt to discredit candidate Biden? Such fakery does sometimes happen, after all, so initially we can’t rule out that possibility—politics is hardly known for its nobility, is it?

Unfortunately, people at many traditional news outlets immediately claimed that the Hunter Biden laptop story was “Russian disinformation,” yet they never brought forth any evidence to prove that it was Russian disinformation. Worse, the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter suppressed even any discussion of the claim, with Twitter going so far as to completely lock the account of the New York Post, the oldest American newspaper still in print.

As becomes an ethical news organization, the New York Post had offered plenty of evidence that the Hunter Biden story was true. The mainstream media not only refused to consider it, but claimed with no evidence that the story was false. That was unethical.

And then there were the 51 former “intelligence” officials who signed a letter saying the Hunter Biden laptop story “has the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” They admitted they had no evidence that that’s what it was but kept pushing the disinformation conjecture anyhow. With all their connections, couldn’t they at least have asked around among their current counterparts to find out what they knew about the story and what they were doing to check its authenticity? Actually the letter writers didn’t even have to do that: soon after the letter appeared, the DNI (Director of National Intelligence) and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) announced that the Hunter Biden laptop story was not Russian disinformation. That made no difference to the many people pushing the “Russian disinformation” narrative.

This past week the New York Times unexpectedly ran a story about Hunter Biden. As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board put put it on March 18: “The Times waddled in this week with a story on the ‘tax affairs’ of the President’s son, including this gem in the 24th paragraph: ‘Those emails were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.” Notice that the admission occurred only in the 24th paragraph of that story. Talk about burying the lead. Apparently the Times figured that that confirmation just barely qualified as part of “all the news that’s fit to print.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 21, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Sunny poverty weed

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On October 14th I photographed some wet poverty weed (Baccharis neglecta) flowering along Bull Creek under overcast skies. As the month advanced, many of these bushes reached their peak of fluffiness, which I spent time recording in the town of Cedar Park on the morning of the 29th. Now the sun shone and the sky was clear blue, so the photographs came out quite different from those you saw earlier. Another factor this time was the presence of wind, which blew the bushes about. In the top picture you can pick out a couple of bits of fluff that had gone airborne. To deal with wind gusts I turned to shutter speeds as high as 1/640 of a second. That was fast enough to stop the motion in the following picture.

 


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Pronouns, pronouns, who’s got the pronouns?

According to the Gender Pronouns page on the website of Springfield College in Massachusetts,

  • The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, such as “Sorry, I meant they.” Fix it, but do not call special attention to the error in the moment. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
  • It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But please, don’t. It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is not their job. It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.

My pronouns this week are mzekpitran for the subjective case and ervijmpt for the objective case. It is your job to remember them.

[Craziness and frivolity aside, you may be surprised that my subjective and objective pronouns don’t resemble each other. Actually English does the same thing with some of its pronouns—a fact that native speakers don’t normally think about. Consider the way English pairs the first-person I as a subject with the dissimilar me as an object, and likewise we with the dissimilar us. Corresponding to the I/me forms in the singular are the related French je/me, Russian я (ya)/меня (menyá), Portuguese eu/me, Italian io/me, Catalan jo/me, and Spanish yo/me].

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 17, 2021 at 4:40 AM

No poverty of approaches

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As October advanced I noticed more and more poverty weed bushes (Baccharis neglecta) putting out their many little white flowers. The typical visual effect is shown above in a view from alongside Bull Creek on October 14th. Notice the characteristic herringbone pattern of the branches at the right. Overnight rain had left the bushes wet, and I took advantage of that to do closeups of sodden poverty weed flowers.

As different as the last two photographs look, I took both of them at f/22 using flash. In the bottom view I aimed upward toward the cloudy-bright sky; in the middle photograph I aimed sideways.



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“For the contemporary reader, much of English literature can induce a kind of moral peanut allergy.” That’s one zinger from Michael Lewis’s article in the November 2021 issue of Commentary, “Wokeness and the English Language,” which I recommend.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 29, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two takes on goldeneye

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From close to Bull Creek on October 14th come two takes on goldeneye bushes (Viguiera dentata), which were busy doing their expected autumnal flowering. The top view is pretty straightforward, while the bottom one goes for a limited-focus approach. Either way, yellow rules the day.


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The dialogue that appeared at the end of yesterday’s post was one I created in response to a much-repeated claim that a proposed bill in Congress, despite its $3.5 trillion price tag (which some analysts say is actually more like $5 trillion), would cost “zero, zero, zero.” I have news for the people pushing that bill: government programs don’t cost zero. They may cost some beneficiaries of the bill zero, but many other people are left paying the very high costs of those programs. After I wrote my little dialog to illustrate the abuse of the word cost and the craziness of the notion that the biggest grab-bag of government give-aways in the country’s history would cost zero, I came across an article by Ryan Bourne that made the same points and even mentioned the analogy of buying groceries.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 25, 2021 at 4:47 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 14

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We have an American beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) growing in three places around our house. On October 6th I stood on a stepladder to aim mostly downward at this fruiting branch. The one yellow leaf is the first fall foliage you’ve seen here for 2021—ironic, given that afternoon high temperatures stayed in the 90s for at least a week after I took the picture.


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For at least five years, some astute social observers have been classifying Wokeness as a secular religion, complete with unquestionable dogma, proselytizing zeal, priests, and a prohibition against blasphemy. For a good explanation of the phenomenon, you can watch a remote talk that John McWhorter gave to the International Literature Festival in Berlin on September 9th.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 18, 2021 at 4:29 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

A visit to Bastrop

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On March 26th we visited Bastrop State Park for the first time since last fall. Almost 10 years ago a disastrous fire destroyed the majority of trees in the park, and the landscape is still full of burned dead trunks, both standing and fallen. The charred pine trunk in the photograph above was on the ground. I don’t know why the resin in the upper part of the picture picked up so much blue.

In contrast to that log, take this opening flower of plains wild indigo, Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, a species that makes its debut here today.

If you’re wondering what a full inflorescence looks like, the last picture will show you,
complete with the kind of insect that I assume was eating the flowers.

Four posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another example.

Every person has a birthday. A year consists of 365 days—or 366 if you want to count February 29, which occurs only about a fourth as often as other days, thanks to leap year—so there are 365 or 366 possible birthdays. You’re naturally curious, and you get to wondering about groups of people, and how likely or unlikely it is that at least two people in a group have the same birthday (the day, not the year). In particular, you get to wondering how large a group of randomly chosen people it would take for there to be a 50-50 chance, i.e. 50%, that at least two people in the group share a birthday.

Many folks would answer that “common sense” tells them they’d need a group half as big as 366, namely 183 people, for there to be a 50-50 chance of a matching birthday. The truth is that with a group of only 23 randomly chosen people in it there’s about a 50% chance two or more people in the group will have matching birthdays. (I won’t go into the math, though it’s not difficult). By contrast, in a group of 183 people there’s a virtual certainty of at least one matching birthday.

You could also turn things around and ask how likely it is that in a group of 23 people there’ll be at least one pair of matching birthdays. Many folks might pull out a calculator, find out that 23 is about 6% of 365, and conclude by “common sense” that there’d be only a 6% chance of a pair of matching birthdays. You’ve already heard that in fact there’s about a 50% chance.

Here’s a way to confirm this without trying to rely on “common sense.” Stand on a busy street and ask people passing by what their birthday is. Mark the dates on a yearly calendar to keep track of them and see if there’s a match. If necessary, keep going until you’ve asked 23 people and still haven’t found a match. Then repeat the experiment a bunch of times. With enough repetitions, you should find that about half of the time you’ll get a matching birthday pair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Despite the snow and sleet

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Despite the snow and sleet that came down from the morning into the afternoon on January 10th, this is still Austin, and the very next day I noticed that a goldeneye bush (Viguiera dentata) in my neighborhood was putting out new flowers. As is true for various composite flower heads, the opening was asymmetric. In case you’re wondering, the background brown came from leaves on the ground that remained conveniently featureless at my macro lens’s widest aperture, f/2.8. And if you’re also wondering whether I’m already done showing snow and ice pictures, I’m not.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2021 at 4:32 PM

Another of autumn’s big four

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I tend to think that when autumn comes to central Texas we have a botanical “big four” here. I could even split them into two groups of two according to color: yellow Maximilian sunflowers and goldenrod, plus white snow-on-the-prairie (or -mountain) and poverty weed. It’s the last of those, Baccharis neglecta, that you see above in a September 30th photograph from Pflugerville. (The small yellow fruits in the foreground are silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium.) The zillions of little white flower heads that from a distance make this delicate tree seem frosted are quite an insect magnet, as you see in the closeup below showing a hoverfly (Toxomerus sp.) and a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today. “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2020 at 4:23 AM

Another native species flowering in Austin in January

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It’s not unusual to see the shrubby boneset plants (Ageratina havanensis) in northwest Austin flowering in January as a continuation of the bloom season that began in the fall. The bushes of that species along Floral Park Drive in my neighborhood were still putting out new buds and flowers on January 18th, as you see here.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2020 at 4:17 PM

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