Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Pflugerville

A basket-flower colony

with 23 comments


On the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 10th I happily portrayed this happy colony of basket-flowers (Plectocephalus americanus). Firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) and Texas thistles (Cirsium texanum) added to the show. Click to enlarge the flowerful panorama.




§       §




Here’s another passage from Yeonmi Park’s 2023 book While Time Remains:


Across two presidential administrations now, the United States has vowed to do something about the Chinese threat: to bring more American manufacturing and business back home; to bolster U.S. defense capabilities; to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East; and to stop the illegal Chinese practices of stealing trade secrets, forcing technology transfers, investing through shell companies, and integrating the use of slave labor into global supply chains. But both the Trump and Biden administrations have fallen far short. The fact is, America’s China policy is not even really made by the American president anymore. It is made by the lobbying and interest groups and oligarchical classes that are dependent on the Chinese market, regardless of the effect on ordinary American workers and consumers.

The only hope for countering the spread of Chinese influence is the United States, but American elites are busy dismantling the sources of American economic and military power to the benefit of the Chinese in order to enrich themselves. If this process continues, there will simply be no hope for preventing a Chinese-dominated future for the world. Having come from North Korea, it is difficult to convey how depressing this all is. The horror of North Korea is Exhibit A of what a more Chinese world would look like: more unspeakable crime, more abject human suffering, more terrifying exploitation of innocent people for the benefit of a communist party cadre. Instead of ending the North Korean nightmare, Chinese hegemony promises only to spread the North Korean experience to more people around the world.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Like a torch

with 19 comments


Opening basket-flower buds (Plectocephalus americanus) often strike me as little torches.
That’s how I imagined this one on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 14th.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 21, 2023 at 4:32 AM

More from the prairie along Picadilly Dr. in Pflugerville

with 16 comments


On May 10th I found some mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) gaining a foothold among the colonies of prairie bishop (Bifora americana) and Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) on the Blackland Prairie. Below is a reminder of how the prairie bishop formed virtually a monoculture on other parts of the site. We have a fall-blooming plant called snow-on-the-prairie, for which prairie bishop, even with no “snow” in its name, is a spring counterpart.





§      §      §




I went to college at Columbia University in New York City, from which I graduated in 1967. I couldn’t tell you what my professors’ political beliefs were. Probably the majority of them leaned politically left, but that never came up in class. No professor would ever have thought to proselytize or indoctrinate students.

Alas, things at my alma mater are radically different now. Look at the following passage from the recent book While Time Remains, by Yeonmi Park, whom I featured at length in a commentary three months ago. After living a horrible life in North Korea and then China after escaping from her native country, she managed to get to South Korea. From there she eventually made it to the United States, where she followed in my footsteps.


In the four years I ended up spending at Columbia, professors in the humanities frequently challenged us to demonstrate how woke we were. We had to be diligent in being woke—learning to locate the white male Bastards behind every crime, beneath every problem, in the air we breathed—otherwise we were no better than those who intentionally perpetuate social injustices. Luckily for receptive students, it was easy work. The questions were always predictable, the answers always prefabricated. Students were expected to repeat teachings, not to explain material. We were to memorize and recite, not to grapple or understand. The difference between a passing grade and a stellar one was not accuracy or creativity, but passion and intensity. The difference between a passing grade and a failing one lay in a refusal to criticize the usual targets (capitalism, Western civilization, white supremacy, systemic racism, oppression of minorities, colonialism, etc.). Worse than a bad grade was to be labeled by one’s classmates as a “SIX HIRB”: a sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamo-phobic, racist bigot.

As a very young student in North Korea, I vividly recall a teacher asking us to solve 1 + 1. I was a bad student from the beginning, so I was proud to finally know the answer to a question: “Two!” I said. “Wrong,” the teacher said. She then explained one of the great teachings of our Dear Leader. When he was a small child, like us, Kim Jong Il became the first human being in history to discover an ultimate truth about the universe: that mathematics were made up. He said that if you combine one drop of water with another drop of water, you don’t get two drops of water—you get one big drop. The Dear Leader’s harrowing insight has two points. The first is to teach children early on to accept something so obviously idiotic and untrue as nevertheless being a fact. (Not even a child can be convinced that the sum of two sticks is just a big stick, but you can frighten her into shutting up about it.) The second is to teach children that they are not individuals. One person plus one person does not equal two people; 21 million people do not make a society. In North Korea, the only number is one: one leader, followed by one people.

I can already hear my American friends’ eyes rolling into the backs of their heads, but I ask you, dear reader, how much more insane is all that than what they teach eighteen-year-olds in the Ivy League? We were taught that gender is a societal construct imposed by white men; that science and math itself were also invented by white men to further the agenda of white supremacy; that the goal of technology was not the improvement of life or to push the limits of human knowledge and abilities for its own sake, but as a means of imprisoning the masses by elites; and that Christianity, a religion born in the Middle Eastern desert, was the religion of white people, used for no other purpose than to indoctrinate the indigenous tribes they conquered through the use of technology (in the truest sign of stupidity, smallpox wasn’t mentioned).

It was hard not to think of the persecution of Christianity and all religions in North Korea, where communist fundamentalism considers religion to be the “opiate of the masses” (in the terminology of Karl Marx), and where the Kim family has cribbed the central narrative of Christianity for its own narrow political purposes: Kim Il Sung is God, the father, who gave us his son, Kim Jong II, the Christ.


I highly recommend While Time Remains.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 17, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Another new piece of prairie

with 8 comments


Over the past decade I’ve lamented losing dozens of nature sites to development. How unusual it was, then, on May 10th to take pictures at not one but two pieces of the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville where I’d never worked before. Those prairie parcels are probably not long for the world in a natural state, yet for the time being they provided a little compensation for the much greater number of lost properties.

The most prominent plants in today’s picture are prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii). The red-centered flowers are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) and the mostly yellow ones are greenthreads (Thelesperma filifolium). Running across the background is a basket-flower colony (Plectocephalus americanus) just coming into its own; a few flower heads had opened, while the large majority hadn’t yet.



❦        ❦        ❦



“Commie Chic Invades American Grade Schools”


That’s the title of an April 30th article in Tablet by David Mikics that documents the persistent whitewashing, rationalization, and even idolizing of communism by some on the American left. Here are three excerpts:


We need an antidote to… the blatant manufacturing of alibis for some of the 20th century’s biggest psychotics and political killers and presenting this gross propaganda to children as historical fact. A first step in properly educating our children would be to help students grasp what communism did to the psyches of both its victims and beneficiaries, and how it achieved its murderous ends. Understanding communism as a belief system lets us see why it appeals so much to the progressive left—and what today’s authoritarian left has in common with its murderous ancestors.

Communists and contemporary progressives share a taste for exercising power by snitching, destroying the lives of dissenters and nonconformists, and by exorcising inconvenient facts by destroying the language that is used to describe them. Hormones and mastectomies for kids become the “gender affirming care” officially endorsed by our government (even as these methods are being rejected by Europe, which actually cares about children’s lives). Putting biological males into women’s prisons is upholding “women’s rights,” even if it leads to rapes committed by these “women.” Discrimination against Asian students becomes the pursuit of “equity.” Judging people by group rather than individual identity is “justice.” “Black lives matter,” but not the lives of Black victims of violent crime—because progressive prosecutors no longer consider illegal gun possession a chargeable offense.

America is currently devoted to stamping out actual thinking, the kind that forces you, if you’re a journalist or academic, to confront your own biases and wonder whether you’re right or wrong. Everyone must mouth the same catchphrases, or listen to them uncomplainingly, so that a false solidarity can make do when a true one is unavailable. We are propelled by cowardice, convenience, and low ambition, attributes more fitting to an authoritarian nation than a free and democratic one. Among our young, we are raising a generation of casual sadists and snitches whose overriding generational urge is absolute conformity.


You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 16, 2023 at 4:21 AM

A new piece of prairie

with 13 comments


On the overcast morning of May 10th, taking a different route when I went to revisit the Blackland Prairie parcel that you saw here two weeks ago, I couldn’t help noticing—nor would I have wanted not to notice—a property rich with white expanses of prairie bishop (Bifora americana). Houses surround the field on three sides, and Picadilly Dr., which I was driving along, delineates the fourth, so it can’t be long till this field in the still-rapidly-growing Austin suburb of Pflugerville also gets developed. As I’d never taken pictures on that prairie remnant, and it looked so gorgeous, there went my next hour or two.

The red flowers across the back are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella). In the foreground a couple of horsemints (Monarda citriodora) stand sentinel, as does a multi-branched Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) farther back on the left. Though I did my best to exclude human elements, if you look carefully you may make out a bit of roof from one of the surrounding houses.

In the closer view below of the intermingled firewheel and prairie bishop colonies you can probably detect some aging bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), of which quite a few remained scattered around the property.






𝔖        𝔖        𝔖




Take this passage from the 2022 article “Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study”: 


Entangled with the above is the use of whiteboards as a primary pedagogical tool. Though whiteboards have been shown to have a number of affordances when they are used as a collaborative tool that all members have access to, in this episode, they also play a role in reconstituting whiteness as social organization. In particular, whiteboards display written information for public consumption; they draw attention to themselves and in this case support the centering of an abstract representation and the person standing next to it, presenting. They collaborate with white organizational culture, where ideas and experiences gain value (become more central) when written down.


No, that wasn’t a parody from the Babylon Bee or another satirical site. The article actually got published in the journal Physics Education Review. From my decades of teaching, I can tell you that education articles have long consisted of jargony nonsense that made the articles unintelligible and whose main purpose was to keep professors of education employed, incapable as they were (and still are) of doing any sort of useful work. Add now the latest craze of diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE), and the nonsense has become even more nonsensical than I ever imagined possible. Could the authors of the article actually be claiming that whiteboards are symbols of white power? Yup, that’s what they’re claiming. So I guess the blackboards in my elementary school in the 1950s, when discrimination was still common in large parts of the country, were symbols of black power—all that bold blackness surrounding frail, scrawny letters made by white chalk. And you thought the Black Power Movement didn’t get off the ground till the late 1960s and 1970s.

You can read more about this sad episode in a post on biologist Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True.

Physics is science. Some have called it a hard science, and it’s indeed hard to learn. What’s more, physics depends on mathematics. If you want more dark-complexioned people to become physicists, you have to make sure that dark-complexioned children learn mathematics. Yet that’s something the people who’ve monopolized American education resolutely refuse to do.

In 2019 lieutenant-governor-elect Winsome Sears became the first black woman that Virginia voters ever chose for statewide office. Armstrong Williams interviewed her for The Hill and wrote the article “Many of America’s Black youths cannot read or do math — and that imperils us all.” The second paragraph is an eye-opener:

In my first question, I asked her what is wrong in Virginia and how it can be fixed. Her response startled me: She told me that 84 percent of Black students in eighth grade lack the ability to do math, and 85 percent are functionally illiterate. I could not believe this. In fact, I thought she had misspoken. My researchers quickly fact-checked her words and confirmed this sad reality. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a sector of the U.S. Department of Education, 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics and 85 percent of Black students lack proficiency in reading skills. This astonished me, and the hour-long show became dedicated to examining what’s behind these numbers.

You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 14, 2023 at 4:22 AM

Closer looks at dodder

with 20 comments


Posts five days ago and three days ago showed you a field on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville where a parasitic vine called dodder (Cuscuta sp.) was preying en masse on other wildflowers. Notice that I said “other wildflowers.” People usually think of dodder as an angel-hair-pasta-like tangle of yellow-orange strands. Actually dodder produces flowers, too, often lots of them, only they’re so tiny—about an eighth of an inch, or 3mm—that you have to take a close look to appreciate them. The picture above gives you that close look.


The second photograph confirms that even being the official Texas state
wildflower doesn’t exempt the bluebonnet from dodder’s clutches.



And look at this triple predation on greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium),
firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), and prairie bishop (Bifora americana):



‡        ‡        ‡



Gender self-identification, a major belief in the religion of Wokeness, holds that whatever “gender” someone claims to be, you must “affirm” it. If a fully intact man with a beard declares that he’s a woman, and you have the temerity to question that counter-factual claim, trans activists will not only excoriate you, they’ll wage a campaign to get you banned from social media and fired from your job. Many such campaigns have succeeded, alas.

But two can play the self-declaration game. Last month in Indiana, Delaware County Councilman Ryan Webb, a white man, made this announcement on Facebook:


After much consideration I have decided to come out and finally feel comfortable announcing my true authentic self. It is with great relief that I announce to everyone that I identify as a woman and not just any woman but as a woman of color as well. I guess this would make me gay/lesbian as well, since I am attracted to women… Whew, that felt good to finally get that out there and start living life as my true self. I’m excited to bring some diversity to the county council. Until today we didn’t have any females of color or LGBTQIAPC+++ on the council. I’m glad that now we do! To avoid confusion, everyone can continue to address me as Ryan or as Councilman Webb. I will also retain my preferred pronouns of He/Him, however, this will in no way diminish my true identity as a woman of color. I’m excited to be a vocal partner of the LGBTQIAPC+++ movement. Who knows just how far we can take things, but I’m just glad that this is now possible so ANYONE can be ANYTHING or ANYONE they want.


Okay, so this is obviously a spoof. Yet according to the “rules” activists play by, we must accept a person’s self-proclaimed identity. If activists doubt the validity of Ryan Webb’s claims, they’re breaking their own rule of gender affirmation. Or, if activists are allowed to question this man’s proclamation, then why aren’t we allowed to question other people’s delusional claims?

There can’t be different rules depending on whose interests are being served.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2023 at 4:24 AM

A little more about predation on the prairie

with 17 comments


On April 29th a surviving piece of the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville was the field of combat between a yellow-orange pursuer, dodder (Cuscuta sp.), and other species of plants that the parasitic vine preyed upon, most notably prairie bishop (Bifora americana), which you saw like softly fallen snow two posts back. Above is another view of the predation, this time with an added contingent of cheery yellow thanks to a colony of four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris linearifolia). In a few places, like the one shown below, other plants persisted mostly as bare stalks shrouded in coiled strands of dodder.




✦        ✦        ✦


I just read the 2021 book Trans, whose subtitle is When Ideology Meets Reality. The author is Helen Joyce, an Irish woman on the political left who nevertheless opposes radical trans ideology and decries the ways its activists are working hard to deny the reality of biological sex, to get gender self-identification enshrined in law as a replacement for biological sex, and thereby to take away actual women’s rights to single-sex spaces (locker rooms, bathrooms, prisons) and to fair competition in athletics. Here are two passages from the book.


When used as a riposte…, ‘transwomen are women’ is not an argument, but a statement of political positioning that functions like a profession of religious faith. It signals that the speaker is au fait with social-justice ideology, and is therefore both up to date and progressive. And by putting a full stop to any further discussion, it functions as what Robert Jay Lifton, author of the 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in Communist China, called a ‘thought-terminating cliché. In totalitarian regimes,’ he wrote, ‘these brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases . . . become the start and finish of any ideological analysis’.


The first duty of journalists is reporting: describing the world as it is. This should ensure that public opinion is never a mystery, and the outcomes of votes are never a shock. A referendum or election may be too close to call, but the result should never have seemed inconceivable beforehand. Mainstream outlets are often criticised for their political and intellectual monoculture, which makes for one-sided reporting on issues where the electorate is split down the middle, such as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. But more of an indictment is how long it took them to notice how many voters did not share their views.

Journalists’ secondary role is to offer commentary: to describe the world as it might be. But increasingly, they are doing something deceptively similar with a quite different purpose: describing the wished-for world as if it already existed. This is not journalism, or even advocacy. It aims at bringing about change by decree rather than argument and evidence.

Take an article in the New York Times in October 2020: ‘World rugby bars transgender women, baffling players’. A well-reported story would have explained two things this piece failed to: why World Rugby acted as it did, and that most people agreed with the move. An op-ed could have argued for gender self-ID in sport, either by picking holes in World Rugby’s evidence or by contending that other considerations mattered more than fairness and safety. But this article consisted only of assertions. It read as if it had emerged from a parallel universe in which humans were not sexually dimorphic, and to think they were was ‘baffling’. This sort of faux journalism, which presents an extreme agenda as a fait accompli, has undermined trust in the media and left governments and electorates flying blind.


If you go to the publisher’s website, look at the 25 favorable comments in the Raves and Reviews section.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 4, 2023 at 4:25 AM

We’re not done with fields of wildflowers yet

with 13 comments


Just because it’s been a while since I showed fields filled with wildflowers doesn’t mean we’re done with them for this spring. As bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes have faded, other species have come to the fore. After not having gone on a wildflower quest for a few weeks, on April 29th we headed north and east onto the Blackland Prairie to see what might be going on. We didn’t have to go far. In Pflugerville, about a 12-mile drive from home, we began to see spreads of white here and there that experience has taught me must be Bifora americana, known as prairie bishop’s weed or more simply (and weedlessly) prairie bishop.

I was especially happy to see those spreads of white because development two years ago eliminated the largest expanse of prairie bishop I knew. That had been along Heatherwilde Blvd. at the southern fringe of Pflugerville. The new finds also occurred along Heatherwilde Blvd. about a mile and two miles further north. That second location is at the intersection with Pflugerville Parkway, which is where I took today’s picture. The red-centered flower heads are firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella. The yellow flower heads farthest away are Engelmann daisies, Engelmannia peristenia. The many upright green stalks are budding basket-flower plants, Plectocephalus americanus (formerly Centaurea americana).

Two days later I returned to the first location, a mile south, to document the ways the yellow-orange parasitic plant called dodder (Cuscuta sp.) was vigorously attacking the prairie bishop and various other kinds of wildflowers. In the view below, the yellow flowers in the upper right are greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), the two yellow ones in the lower right are square-bud primroses (Oenothera berlandieri subsp. berlandieri), and the red-centered flower heads are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella).




‡        ‡        ‡



Imagine asking the following questions and getting the answers shown.


What is a quodlibetarian?
— A quodlibetarian is anyone who acts like a quodlibetarian.

What is an agelast?
— An agelast is anyone who claims to be an agelast.

What is an anchorite?
— An anchorite is anyone who behaves like an anchorite.

What is a meliorist?
— A meliorist is anyone who believes what a meliorist believes.

What is a woman?
—A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman.


Do you see that those “answers” don’t answer the questions? As definitions, those “answers” are circular: they “define” a word by giving you back the same word, so you know no more than you knew before you asked the question. Here are the same questions with proper answers:


What is a quodlibetarian?
— A quodlibetarian is a person who enjoys engaging in a subtle or elaborate argument or point of debate.

What is an agelast?
— An agelast is a person who never laughs.

What is an anchorite?
— An anchorite is a person who lives in seclusion, usually for religious reasons.

What is a meliorist?
— A meliorist is a person who believes the world can be improved by human effort.

What is a woman?
—A woman is an adult human female.


You’ve most likely never heard anyone ask the first four questions. If you’ve paid attention to current events, you’ve increasingly heard the fifth question not only asked but also replied to with the non-answer that a woman is anyone who claims to be a woman or “identifies as” a woman, rather than the obvious answer that a woman is an adult human female. It’s a sorry state of affairs.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 2, 2023 at 4:30 AM


with 18 comments


For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.



(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)



§       §       §



The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM


with 18 comments


The seed strands of Clematis drummondii have a conspicuous sheen to them, as you see here in a July 7th portrait from the temporarily-hanging-on fringe of a property being developed on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville. Note the “echoing” sheen from the out-of-focus strands in the lower left. The portrait has a Rembrandtesque feel to it, don’t you think?


✥        ✥        ✥


The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control]. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.

“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

So begins an article by Drs. Marty Makary and Tracy Beth Høeg entitled “U.S. Public Health Agencies Aren’t ‘Following the Science,’ Officials Say.” Later comes this paragraph:

It is statistically impossible for everyone who works inside of our health agencies to have 100% agreement about such a new and knotty subject. The fact that there is no public dissent or debate can only be explained by the fact that they are—or at least feel that they are—being muzzled.

Read the article and you’ll see how the admonition to “follow the science” has actually played out in many cases as “ignore the science.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2022 at 4:33 AM

%d bloggers like this: