Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘color

The colors said fall; the calendar said otherwise.

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As hardy as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is, this hueful plant was feeling the effects of two months without rain when I photographed it along Bull Creek on August 17th. People who’ve had patches of skin turn these colors from contact with poison ivy may be less sanguine about the sight than a disinterested nature photographer who’s never had that experience and who values a picture for esthetic reasons.

 

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If you spun a coin 10 times in a row and it came to rest tails all 10 of those times, would you draw any conclusions? You might be suspicious and think you’ve got an unevenly balanced coin that’s weighted toward one side. On the other hand, if you spin even a perfectly balanced coin 10 times in a row over and over and over for zillions of trial runs, simple arithmetic tells us to expect that on average the coin will come up tails 10 times in a row once out of every 1024 trial runs. One out of 1024 is a small number, roughly one-tenth of one percent, but it isn’t zero. Uncommon things do occasionally happen.

Where the human realm intersects the realm of probability, things can get contentious. For example, the American IRS (Internal Revenue Service) legitimately scrutinizes applications from organizations requesting tax-exempt status to make sure those organizations comply with the regulations required of tax-exempt entities. Suppose that over a certain period of time the IRS gives extra scrutiny to hundreds of tax-exempt or would-be tax-exempt organizations that lean in one political direction but to only a handful of organizations that lean in the opposite political direction. Of course that imbalance could have happened just by chance, but people who lean in the way-more-scrutinized political direction would probably suspect that the highly unbalanced scrutiny is intentional rather than random.

Sometimes that kind of suspicion has proven justified. You may recall this item from 2013:

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing for inappropriately flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews.

Lerner said the practice, initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, was wrong and she apologized while speaking at a conference in Washington.

The illegally discriminated-against groups sued and eventually received a financial settlement from the government (which unfortunately means that we the taxpayers paid for the politically motivated misdeeds of some people at the IRS).

You may say that’s old news, which it is. I bring it up, however, because I just came across an article that once again raises doubts about the fairness of our government bureaucracies. You’ll recall that two years ago the U.S. government carried out its once-every-decade census of the population. The results of the census determine, among other things, how many seats in the House of Representatives each state gets. Based on the 2020 census, 7 states lost one House seat apiece; 5 states gained one seat apiece; 1 state (yay, Texas!) even gained two seats.

With that in mind, look how the August 22nd article by Hans von Spakovsky begins:

In a shocking report, the U.S. Census Bureau recently admitted that it overcounted the populations of eight states and undercounted the populations of six states in the 2020 census.

All but one of the states overcounted is a blue [liberal] state, and all but one of the undercounted states is red [conservative].

Those costly errors will distort congressional representation and the Electoral College. It means that when the Census Bureau reapportioned the House of Representatives, Florida was cheated out of two additional seats it should have gotten; Texas missed out on another seat; Minnesota and Rhode Island each kept a representative they shouldn’t have; and Colorado was awarded a new member of the House it didn’t deserve.

So 14 states were incorrectly counted, and in 12 of the 14 cases the result favored the same political party. Could that heavy imbalance have happened merely by chance? Yes, it could have. But the political party that got by far the greatest advantage from the incorrect census counting is the same party that benefited from the illegal IRS over-scrutiny in the previous decade. That understandably raises suspicions among those who are, in the words of an adage, “once bitten, twice shy.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Lace cactus

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Yesterday I found flowers on several adjacent lace cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii) in my hilly northwest part of Austin. Today’s picture of one is the first I’ve ever shown here. Great saturated colors, don’t you think?

 

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For decades I’ve criticized the American education system. In the 15 years since I last taught, not only have the old problems persisted and worsened, but new problems have arisen. Here’s how Shane Trotter describes one of them in his Quillette article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Putting Tech Before Teaching.”

In its desire to embrace technology, our school district failed to recognize the social devolution that was taking hold of society. The iPad Initiative [which he’d just described in detail] came right as smartphones became virtually ubiquitous among American teens and adults. Teens began spending over seven hours per day consuming entertainment media. Twelfth-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eight graders Adolescent mental disorders skyrocketed. And at this crucial juncture, we decided to begin allowing students to use smartphones throughout the school day. These students would not know how to set boundaries for how they used their phones. They’d have no understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities that tech companies exploited—no training in how to use their phone without it using them. Most of all, they’d have no environment where they could be free from the incessant psychic drain that had come to define their world. Oblivious to any responsibility to help students or their families adapt better, our schools helped facilitate the community’s descent into becoming screen-addicted, constantly distracted people whose cognitive skills and attention spans were being chipped away rather than cultivated.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Phlox to the fore, phlox to the rear

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In and near Gonzales on March 28th I let phlox be a subject and separately also relegated it to glowy background duty beyond some tansy mustard, Descurainia pinnata (the USDA map for which shows an unusually broad range).

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 6, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Autumnal arboreal Austin

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On December 8th along the southern fringe of Balcones District Park I noticed several trees putting on a pretty fall display. Not sure what kind of tree they were, I queried Facebook’s Texas Flora group. Wesley Franks replied that he thinks it’s either Texas ash, Fraxinus albicans (formerly Fraxinus texensis and Fraxinus americana ssp. texensis), or Mexican ash, Fraxinus berlandiera. Both are native in Austin. He added that the Mexican is more often planted. For a closer look at some of the leaves, click the excerpt below.

(The only other ash trees I’ve ever shown here were from a visit to west Texas in 2015.)

As we’d almost walked out of Balcones District Park and were just across the street from our car, I noticed how appealing a cedar elm tree, Ulmus crassifolia, appeared when I stood underneath it and looked up at the light coming through its yellowing leaves:

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Here’s a passage from Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything:

We not only have a built-in bias towards focusing on the vivid and threatening, we also tend towards thinking things were better in the past, and therefore are worse now. Neither of these tendencies is dumb, as they have their roots and our strong sense of self-preservation, including in remembering our history more fondly than the reality justifies.

But they have consequences, which the media and politicians exploit. The media know we are drawn to these stories. Politicians often exploit them to provide a sense of threat or decline. But that’s partly because both those groups are human too: journalists are interested in these stories themselves, and at least some politicians will genuinely believe their faulty facts because they ‘feel’ right.

It’s an effective sales technique, whether it’s clicks or votes we’re after. But it has serious consequences and is perhaps the main reason why our delusions are so important and dangerous. When we feel this false sense of threat and decline, it opens a space for someone, anyone, to sell us an easy solution—which is often that the current system is broken and we need to tear it up.

Our own starting point should therefore be to understand that most things are getting better, not to kid ourselves into accepting the status quo, but to counter a deep trait that leads us to a greater danger. In Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker shows endless charts with good things (mostly) going up, and bad things (mostly) going down. He quotes Barack Obama, who cuts through our biases to highlight that, when it comes right down to it, while our world today is very far from perfect, it is better than the past:

“If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be—you didn’t know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you’d be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman—if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now.”

And speaking of Steven Pinker, FAIR (The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) hosted an hour-and-a-half discussion between him and Melissa Chen that you’re welcome to watch. Both are on FAIR’s Board of Advisors.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Backlit sycamore leaf

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The foliage of a bald cypress tree wasn’t the only backlit thing I portrayed at Inks Lake State Park on November 29th. The leaves of sycamore tree saplings (Platanus occidentalis) tend to grow in an upright posture, and that made it easy for me to line up one such leaf against the sparkles coming off Inks Lake. Lens optics turned that bright scene into a phantasmagoria. Note the spider silk across each of the two arcs formed by the leaf’s upper lobes.

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Two posts back I mentioned that I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. Based on some statistics he mentions that were taken from Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, I invited you to estimate what percent of the American population you think certain groups represent. (The percents in other countries often differ, of course.)

Survey respondents on average have estimated 28% of Americans are immigrants, whereas the actual figure is 12%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated 24% of Americans are gay, while the true figure is 4.5%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated about a third of Americans are African Americans, when the actual figure is 12.7%.

Survey respondents on average have estimated 18% of Americans are Jews, who in fact make up only 2% of the population.

Survey respondents on average have estimated that in the world as a whole, 20% of girls and women aged 15–19 give birth each year, while the actual figure is just 2%.

One cause of the discrepancies in perception is media coverage, which focuses on certain things out of proportion to their actual occurrence. For example, you never see an urgent news story about the tens of thousands of airplanes that took off, flew, and landed safely today; you only hear about the minuscule fraction of planes that crashed.

People’s tendency to estimate the proportion of something based on the degree to which they’ve been exposed to that thing is known as the availability heuristic.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Red oak leaf and soft clouds

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While down close to the ground on November 22 photographing the Great Plains ladies tresses’ orchids you saw last time, I noticed some oak leaves near by that looked bright red from backlighting by the sun. As shown here, I managed to isolate one of those leaves against soft clouds. The species could well have been Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi.


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“We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States.”

So begins an open letter signed by hundreds of experts in mathematics, computer science, engineering, and related fields. The letter goes on to explain that the movement for “equity” in mathematics education, whatever its professed goals, actually harms American students and reduces our nation’s mathematical preparedness. The letter isn’t long, and I encourage you to read it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 7, 2021 at 4:15 AM

Driving up to the Kolob Reservoir

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Five years ago today we drove north on Kolob Terrace Road to the Kolob Reservoir just outside Utah’s Zion National Park. The placid scene shown above of pallid aspen trunks (Populus tremuloides) awaited us at the top. On the way up to the reservoir we’d stopped at the grove of trees shown below, where fire-darkened trunks and branches contrasted with colorful fall foliage.


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You may find it hard to believe that now, so many decades after the Civil Rights Movement led to the end of segregation in the United States, some public schools in this country have gone back to segregating students by race. Concerned Americans have justifiably been fighting back against this neoracism in our schools. As one example, you can read about illegal racial segregation in the public schools of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the lawsuit that Parents Defending Education has brought against the offending school district. Notice in the article that this public school district has also been guilty of suppressing the free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 23, 2021 at 4:33 AM

More Texas red oak

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Among the last displays of colorful fall foliage in Austin each year is that of the Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi, as seen here from Great Hills Park on December 15th. (The oaks are young and slender; the large trunks are from other kinds of trees.) Now it’s two weeks later and I’m still finding some red Texas red oak leaves, including a few in our back yard.

Sensorily and psychologically it seems that red is the most fundamental color, and it’s a truism of linguistics that the first color word a language creates is the one for red. The Indo-European language root representing the color red has been reconstructed as *reudh-, which is still recognizable thousands of years later in native English red and ruddy. Red-related words English has acquired directly or indirectly from Latin, which is a cousin of English, include rufous, rubeola, ruby, rubidium, rubicund, rubefacient, rubella, robust, rouge, roux, and russet. (If you’re puzzled about robust, it’s based on Latin rōbur, which designated a type of red oak tree; robust conveys the strength of that tree rather than its color.) From Greek, also a relative of English, comes the erythro– in technical terms like erythrocyte and erythromycin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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Peppervine turning colors

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As another example of fall foliage in Austin, above is a view from the afternoon of November 10th showing a peppervine (Nekemias arborea) turning colors on a black willow tree (Salix nigra) that it had climbed at the Riata Trace Pond. The next morning I went back and took pictures by different light of another peppervine that had turned even more colorful, as shown below. About halfway up the left edge of the second picture you may notice some of the vine’s little fruits that had darkened as they ripened. Peppervine, which some people mistake for poison ivy, grows in the southeastern United States. If you’d like a closer look at the vine’s leaves, you can check out a post from the first months of this blog.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: and this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know. / This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin (synthesizing other people’s thoughts), 1722.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 22, 2020 at 4:38 AM

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Time for some fall foliage

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Central Texas doesn’t put on the grand autumn displays that colder climates claim as a point of pride, and yet you’ll find us faithful to fall foliage in our fashion. It’s time for some winsome pictures of autumn color to begin wending your way. As a first, take a look at this prairie flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) that we found along a street called Arterial 8 at the far end of the Jester Estates neighborhood in west Austin on November 8th. Notice the reddish-black clusters of tiny fruits in the right half of the image.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 15, 2020 at 4:34 AM

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