Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Pflugerville

Veteran

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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.)

 

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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

Sheen

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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?

 

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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

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

A crab spider and more

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On May 23rd I found a crab spider ensconced in a basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus) on the Blackland Prairie along the southern fringe of Pflugerville. Whether the smaller arachnid jumble was the shriveled cast-off exoskeleton of the same spider, or the remains of a different one, I don’t know.

 

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When I was in my 20s I bought a cheap used French car, a Simca. It ended up causing me a bunch of problems. Eventually a warning light on the car’s dashboard began coming on. I took the car to a repair shop and, sure enough, after I got it back the dashboard warning light no longer came on. Problem solved? Not quite: I soon discovered that the “mechanic” had put an opaque covering in front of the warning light so I couldn’t see it was still coming on and the car still had a problem. That bit of “lived experience” came to mind recently when I read this passage in Luke Rosiak’s 2022 book Race to the Bottom:

Educrats wanted to eliminate anything that could function as an objective assessment of the scholastic competence of American children—and, therefore, their own job performance. Fringe racial activist consultants offered them a convenient political tool. Superintendents began paying big bucks to racial equity “consultants” to make the argument that basic performance standards and units of measurement were inherently racist. What these entrepreneurial consultants talked about was not diversity, nor how to help minority students excel. It was nihilism: that nothing was real and nothing mattered.

Under the standard preached by these consultants, any “system” that highlights racially unequal results is inherently “systemically racist.” This included grades, rules, test scores, and any other way of objectively assessing accomplishment. Therefore, every indicator of the massive failures of America’s public schools was illegitimate. This was like a doctor claiming he cured your fever by breaking the thermometer.

New York City paid race consultant Glenn Singleton nearly $900,000 and instructed teachers in 2019 that “perfectionism,” “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” were aspects of “white supremacy culture.” The idea that reading was white supremacist, and therefore undesirable, undercut one of the most basic missions of teachers. But for educrats, it was convenient, since in some minority-heavy schools in the city, only 5 percent of kids were proficient in reading during certain school years.

It’s unconscionable that the bureaucrats in charge of education enforce measures which ensure that the people who most need an education and who can most profit from it will be denied that education.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2022 at 4:33 AM

11 years

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Today marks 11 years since the first post appeared in Portraits of Wildflowers. That inaugural post showed a basket-flower—then classified as Centaurea americana and now as Plectocephalus americanus—on the Blackland Prairie near the border between Round Rock and Pflugerville. Today’s picture, from May 23, 2022, on the Blackland Prairie near the border between Pflugerville and Austin, attests to my first encounter with basket-flowers this year. I went to that site specifically in hopes of finding some, and I did.

WordPress claims this is my 3846th post. I must be crazy. Or persistent. Or both.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 4, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Craters of the Moon — in a way

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So you don’t see a moon or craters in these two October 19th photographs
of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) and wispy clouds.

The title of today’s post’s refers to the location: Craters of the Moon Blvd. in Pflugerville.
Even now, in mid-November, some Maximilian sunflowers are still with us.

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I’m about a third of the way through Bad News, by the interestingly named Batya Ungar-Sargon, who declares herself to be on the political left. If you’d like, you can watch her in a C-SPAN interview from October 24th. Here are a few things in her book that stood out for me so far.

According to a sociological study of the American press done back in 1986, “journalists were getting more and more liberal with each new generation. Among journalists fifty and older, 43 percent said they were left of center and 23 percent said they were right of center. Of journalists between the ages of thirty-five and fifty, 52 percent identified as being on the left, but just 16 percent as conservative. And in the post-Watergate generation, 70 percent identified as liberals, while just 13 percent said they were conservative.”

“And yet, the trends the sociologists noted in 1986 have only accelerated today. In 1984, 26 percent of journalists voted for Ronald Reagan; by 2014, just 7 percent of journalists identified as Republican. By 2015, 96 percent of journalists who made donations to a political campaign donated to Hillary Clinton. When researchers from Arizona State University and Texas A&M University surveyed business journalists from the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, Forbes, New York Times, Reuters, and Washington Post in 2018, they found that just 4 percent had conservative political views.”

Such a strong leaning in one political direction has colored the way the news gets reported. “It took all of twenty years for the stories on the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers to go from being descriptive to being analytic and interpretive, a shift that began in 1954 and was completed by 1974. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt gave this shift the justification is needed: By reporting his invented accusations of communism, reporters were amplifying his charges. The lessons many (liberal) journalists learned from the episode was that it was important not just to report the facts but to interpret them. That this interpretation would inevitably have a liberal bent was not the goal so much as it was a byproduct of their sociological make up.”

Batya Ungar-Sargon reports that as far back as 1963 perceptive people in the industry were troubled by the trend. “The shift from description to interpretation was not without its critics—including on the left. James S. Pope of Louisville’s liberal Courier-Journal decried the ‘Frankensteinish’ copy that intermingled the ‘writers personal notions’ with the facts. And John Oakes, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote a letter in 1963 to his cousin and Times publisher, Punch Sulzberger, decrying the shift. He felt that the news side was encroaching on his territory by becoming increasingly opinionated: ‘I suppose I am butting my head against a stone wall; but again I feel I must call your attention to the editorialization in the news columns, which in my view is steadily eroding the Times’ reputation for objective news reporting.’ He was ignored.”

Of course the editorialization and slanting of the news have grown much worse since then. As recently as maybe eight years ago I subscribed to the New York Times but gave it up because too much of the reporting had become blatantly biased.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 16, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Basket-flower seed head remains with clouds

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From August 13th on the Blackland Prairie along Pflugerville’s southern border
come these seed head remains of a basket-flower, Plectocephalus americanus.


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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the world’s great crusaders for women’s rights, a cause that’s especially dear to her because she grew up in a culture that didn’t afford women many rights. I recommend her August 18th article about the human rights catastrophe in Afghanistan.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2021 at 4:25 AM

Walking on feathery “ground”

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This spring I reported that the great piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. slightly north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville had become a construction zone. I held out hope that the southern end of that site, separated from the main part by some woods, might survive for another spring. Alas, when I visited on August 13th I found early signs of construction on that parcel, too, though most of it was still intact. At one point I took some pictures of a Clematis drummondii vine that had reached its fluffy stage. I was about to leave when a bit of movement on the feathery strands caught my attention. It was the walking stick you see in today’s portrait. A couple of days later on the Internet I saw a similar-looking walking stick in Austin identified as Pseudosermyle strigata, so maybe that’s what this one was.


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Here’s a good quotation for the censorious times we’re living through (and hopefully will come out the other side of): “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” It’s not clear who first said that. Many websites attribute it to physicist Richard Feynman, but always without any further details, like when or where he supposedly said it. That lack of specificity usually means a quotation has been misattributed. I found comments about the origin of this quotation in a discussion group on the history of science and math. One related thing Feynman did say—and you can watch a video of him saying it—is: “I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2021 at 4:53 AM

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