Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘prairie

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

A different take

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Last week you saw a picture from April 6th showing a great mixture of purple phlox and sandworts (Minuartia drummondii), with some Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) adding red-orange touches. I took that picture at a high shutter speed to counteract the strong breeze that stayed with us all day (one source estimated gusts as strong as 40 miles per hour). I also took a few pictures at a slow shutter speed to let the wind have its way with the flowers and create something akin to an Impressionist painting, where forms are suggested rather than clearly delineated. You’re looking at one of those that I took at 2/25 of a second (the camera showed 1/13 of a second, but I’m assuming that meant 1/12.5).

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2022 at 4:15 PM

Maximilian sunflower plants subdued

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As much as we love to see the bright yellow of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) in the fall, something else loves those plants, too, although not in a benign way. That something is dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic vine whose densely twining yellow-orange strands people have often likened to a tangle of angel hair pasta (also known as capellini), which is the slenderest type. The second photograph shows you that this vine’s tiny white flowers sometimes rival the strands’ density.

I took these pictures and hundreds more at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 4th.


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I recommend Bari Weiss’s latest essay, “Some Thoughts About Courage.”
It includes links to plenty of other worthy articles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Snow-on-the-prairie and friends

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On October 4th I drove east to Manor and spent a couple of hours in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, new parts of which have kept springing up for several years now. As was true in October last year, I found no shortage of native species doing their autumnal thing this year. Some of those plants will likely survive development; others won’t. The picturesque group that you see above, because of its location, probably won’t last. The prominent red-stalked plants are snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Across the bottom of the picture is a carpet of doveweed, Croton monanthogynus (a genus-mate of the woolly croton you saw here a week ago and again yesterday. The erect plant a quarter of the way in from the left is annual sumpweed, Iva annua, whose pollen, like that of the related ragweed, triggers many people’s allergic reactions in the fall.

Aesthetically speaking, the top picture exemplifies a more-is-more, fill-up-the-frame approach to photography. In contrast, take the minimalist view below that gives a much closer look at snow-on-the-prairie.

And while we’re offering more-detailed views, the portrait below gives you a better look at doveweed, garnished with a dameselfly that might be a female Kiowa dancer, Argia immunda.


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Austin, where I’ve lived since 1976, is the Berkeley of Texas, with leftist ideologues controlling the city’s government. In 2020, the Austin City Council’s response to months of daily rioting in cities around the country was to cut $21.5 million outright from the Austin Police Department budget and to shift another $128 million to other city departments. Predictably, crimes in Austin have increased. As local television station KXAN reported on September 13, 2021, two murders that weekend were the 59th and 60th homicides for the year so far, “the highest number of homicides Austin has recorded in one year in modern history” — and the year still had three-and-a-half months to go.

Apologists argue that crime has also gone up in many other American cities in the past year. True, but that’s hardly a justification for Austin to cut its police budget. According to that “logic,” because Covid-19 was increasing in other parts of the country last year, Austin should have reduced funding to deal with the pandemic.

On July 5 this year, KXAN quoted Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon: “When it comes to the most critical calls… — shootings, stabbings, rape and domestic violence in progress — the current response time average is nine minutes and two seconds…. That is a minute-and-a-half slower than the department’s three-year average of seven minutes and 30 seconds.”

In response to the increased dangers caused by such a large reduction in the police budget, a group called Save Austin Now got enough signatures (close to 30,000) on a petition to place a proposition on the ballot for November 2nd, just two weeks from now. Among the things that Proposition A [as it’s designated] would do are:

  • establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  • add an additional 40 hours of training each year on “critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions”;
  • pay police officers a bonus for being proficient in any of the five most frequently spoken foreign languages in Austin; for enrolling in cadet mentoring programs; for being recognized for honorable conduct;
  • require police officers to spend at least 35% of their time on community engagement;
  • require full enrollment for at least three full-term cadet classes until staffing levels return to the levels prescribed in Austin’s 2019-2020 budget [in 2020 the City Council had canceled two cadet classes as part of its “defund the police” hysteria];
  • require the mayor, council members, staff and assistants of council members, as well as the director of the Office of Police Oversight, to complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy and participate in Austin’s Ride-Along Program [in other words, the people in charge of the police should know what the police actually do in their job!];
  • encourage the police chief to seek demographic representation, as reflected in “racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the city,” in hiring police officers.

Do you find anything objectionable there? All of those things sound worthy to me. Nevertheless, leftist activists who want to keep the police underfunded are fighting fiercely against this proposition. Money to campaign against it has been coming in from many places outside Austin and outside Texas. As Austin’s NPR radio station KUT reported on October 4: “Billionaire and left-wing activist George Soros gave $500,000 to Equity PAC, a political action committee lobbying against Prop A. The group also received $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that backs progressive ballot measures.”

So there you have it: the people pushing “equity” and “fairness” are working to undermine civil order and public safety. What a sorry state of affairs for my country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Prairie agalinis time again

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For the past month I’ve been seeing prairie agalinis flowers (Agalinis heterophylla) around central Texas. Above is a portrait from the Riata Trace Pond on September 14th. Four days earlier I’d taken some pictures along the eastern fringe of the Blackland Prairie in Elgin showing how the plant grows:


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Two Tokens of Our Times, or
There’s a Their There*

1) A website offering information about many artists says this about one of them: “Anders Petersen is a Swedish photographer who was born in 1944. Their work was featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries and museums….” Anders Petersen is a man. One man. His photographs are plural; he isn’t.

2) Last week marked one year since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To commemorate the anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quoted the justice’s words:

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for a woman, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Except the ACLU bowdlerized the quotation: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”

You can find out more about this in an article in The Daily Mail.

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* I’m playing off one of Gertrude Stein’s most often quoted lines: “There is no there there.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Low on the prairie for snow-on-the-prairie

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I got down low on the prairie
For this snow-on-the-prairie.

Make that Euphorbia bicolor on September 10th in Elgin, some 25 miles east of Austin.

In the same field, slated to soon be part of a quickly growing subdivision,
I noticed some goldenrod plants (Solidago sp.) beginning to put out buds.


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What’s fair?

Of course people disagree about what’s fair in any given situation. One commonly heard claim is that “The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” With that in mind, you may want to check out an article by Adam Michel. Of the many statistics about income and taxes cited in the article for the United States in 2018 based on data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), here are two:

The top 1% or earners (people who made at least $540,000 that year) earned 21% of all the income in the country yet paid 40% of all federal income taxes.

The bottom 50% of earners (people who made no more than $43,600 that year) earned 12% of all the income in the country but paid only 3% of all federal income taxes.

It seems that paying “a fair share” would require the ultra-rich to have their taxes cut roughly in half (21%/40%), while the lower half of the country’s earners would need to have their taxes quadrupled (12%/3%).

As Adam Michel’s article also notes: “Looking at all federal taxes, the Congressional Budget Office shows that the top 1% pay an average federal tax rate of 32%. The data show tax rates decline with income, and the poorest 20% of the population pay an average tax rate of just 1%. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center found similar results.”

Apparently the big disparity in federal tax rates between 32% and 1% isn’t unfair enough for activists to consider it fair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Where else to find snow-on-the-prairie but on the prairie?

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On the morning of September 10th I headed east from Austin in search of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor, whose flowering time was at hand. I found some good stands close to and in Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of Austin whose name is pronounced with a hard g, as in give. To take my first snow-on-the-prairie pictures, I leaned my upper body over a barbed wire fence along US 290 west of Elgin, looked through the camera’s viewfinder, and composed pictures of the field you see here. For a few of my photographs I held the camera as high over my head as possible and guess-aimed somewhat downward to get a better angle and increased depth of field. I don’t know if the picture above was one of those, but it might well have been. The snow in the plant’s common name refers to the white-margined bracts that become so prominent leading up to the plant’s flowering. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous.


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I strive for accuracy. Even so, it’s human nature to make mistakes. If you’re aware of anything in my commentaries that’s not factually correct, please point it out, along with a link to legitimate evidence of the truth, and I’ll make corrections.


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The current American administration’s blatant dereliction of duty and collusion to flout the law

According to the official website whitehouse.gov, “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress.” [I’ve italicized the second sentence for emphasis.]

Congress has passed immigration laws that set up the legal process by which people are allowed to immigrate to the United States. Nevertheless, for eight months now members of the Executive Branch, including the President of the United States, have worked strenuously to thwart the immigration laws Congress has put in place. Back on August 6th I reported that our government was letting some 40,000 people per week come across the southwestern border illegally. Customs and Border Protection reported approximately 210,000 encounters with illegal border crossers in July. (Some of those were people who had crossed illegally more than once that month.) The other day authorities released the figures for August: “208,887 encounters along the Southwest Border,” of which 156,641 were unique (the difference between those numbers being people encountered more than once that month). The July and August figures were 20-year highs. And remember that the official figures only include people who were apprehended; unknown tens of thousands each month managed to enter illegally and evade authorities.

So many people have walked unimpeded across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas, in the past few days that federal and local authorities are completely overwhelmed and can’t cope with it. The border there is wide open. Word has gone out around the world that anyone who can make it to Ciudad Acuña, the town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, is free to wade across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas. And people around the world have heard the news and have come.

On September 15th, an estimated 4000 illegal immigrants who had walked across the river were taking refuge under the International Bridge in Del Rio. By September 16th the number of people under or adjacent to the bridge was estimated to have doubled. You can read about it and see photographs in an article by Adam Shaw and Bill Melugin. Representative Tony Gonzales, whose House of Representatives district includes Del Rio, is quoted in the article: “When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it’s gut wrenching and it’s dangerous.” If you want, you can read/watch other stories about the situation.

On September 17th I heard an estimate on television that the number of people under and close to the bridge had grown to 10,500. Later that day I read that the estimate had risen to 12,000. I watched live television showing a steady stream of people walking across a low dam from Ciudad Acuña into Del Rio. The television reporter said this has been going on non-stop for days, and that thousands more people were reported heading up to the border from nearby places in Mexico. According to Del Rio’s mayor, Bruno Lozano, “There’s people having babies down there [under the bridge], there’s people collapsing out of the heat. They’re pretty aggressive, rightly so — they’ve been in the heat day after day after day.”

The situation is dire. Remember that this is summer, and afternoon high temperatures in that part of southern Texas have been running around 100°F (38°–39°C). The video that I watched showed rows of portable toilets, the insides of which must be horrendous. Food and drinking water are in short supply. The sun beats down from dawn to dusk. Thousands more people keep coming every day.

And let’s not forget that we’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the current administration issued an edict—most likely beyond its legal authority, but that’s nothing new—according to which many American citizens who aren’t willing to get vaccinated or be tested every week will lose their jobs. Of course the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens who have been illegally pouring across the border, including the thousands now crowded together in Del Rio, often without masks, are exempt from the edict—despite the fact that a majority come from countries where few people have been vaccinated. Unlike American citizens, these people that our government is letting enter illegally don’t have to get tested. They don’t have to get vaccinated. Many of them will be allowed to come into the country illegally anyway, and our government will even pay their way into the interior.

If this isn’t lawlessness, then nothing is.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2021 at 4:38 AM

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