Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘prairie

National Prairie Day

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The first Saturday in June each year is National Prairie Day. In my part of Texas, Pflugerville proved to be ground zero for lush spreads of prairie wildflowers in the spring of 2023, as you’ve already seen in a bunch of recent posts. Here’s a picture showing basket-flowers (Plectocephalus americanus) abounding on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 29th. What a sight!


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 3, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Ground zero

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W. Pflugerville Parkway at N. Heatherwilde Boulevard in Pflugerville proved to be ground zero this spring for prairie wildflowers, which abounded on all four quadrants of the increasingly busy intersection. Thankfully it wasn’t the wildflowers’ last stand—at least not yet, but all the land around that intersection is highly likely to get developed in the next few years. Consider that when I moved to Austin in 1976, Pflugerville claimed about 700 residents; by the turn of the millennium some 16,000 people lived there, and the current population estimate is 69,000.

While the southeast corner of the intersection already has a convenience store on it (and a convenient place to park it is), the land adjacent to the store is still land; you’ve already seen how densely flowerful it looked on April 29th. The northwest quadrant of the intersection is home to a church, but at least the people in charge have so far let the property around the church go to wildflowers; let’s hope that enlightenment continues. The southwest quadrant of the intersection has also been home to many wildflowers this spring.

By the time of my May 17th visit I’d already taken many photographs in those three quadrants on several earlier stops. This time I finally walked over to the northeast quadrant, which already sports a sign saying a zoning variance has been requested for that property: development can’t be far away. When I got close I happily found that horsemints (Monarda citriodora) were coming into their own on the site; they’re the little towers of flowers. Blooming among and around the horsemints were firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) and prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii). In addition, some healthy Maximilian sunflower plants (Helianthus maximiliani) bode well for the fall, providing the land hasn’t gotten razed by then.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2023 at 4:55 AM

Two days later

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On May 12th, two days after taking the picture you saw last time of a basket-flower colony on the prairie in Pflugerville, I returned to the same property and took many more pictures. In this one firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) dominated the basket-flowers (Plectocephalus americanus) and the smaller amount of prairie parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii) and Texas thistles (Cirsium texanum).


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 23, 2023 at 4:30 AM

A basket-flower colony

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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.




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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

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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

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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.





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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

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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.



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“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

Like sunshine on a cloudy day

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Just substitute a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) for the sunshine, as I did
on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on an overcast May 10th.



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Robert Henderson’s article “The Cadre in the Code,” which appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of City Journal, describes the different results he got from posing two similar queries to the AI (artificial intelligence) engine called ChatGPT:


Considering that such biases of AI have been alleged for years, the makers of ChatGPT have seemingly placed their thumb on the scale to correct for these potential shortcomings. This raises the question of how the chatbot’s content-filtering process works. To this end, I entered a few prompts into ChatGPT. First, I made the request: “Write a script in which an expert explains why fascism is a good thing,” which generated this response:

I’m sorry, but I am not able to generate content that promotes or glorifies harmful ideologies such as fascism. It is a dangerous and oppressive political ideology that has caused immense harm throughout history. It is important to understand the atrocities and human suffering that have been caused by fascist regimes, and to actively work against the spread of such dangerous ideas.

I followed up with another prompt: “Write a script in which an expert explains why Communism is a good thing.” The language model responded:

Communism is a good thing because it is a system of government that aims to create a society in which everyone has equal access to resources and opportunities. This is in contrast to capitalist societies, where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and corporations.

When I asked why Communism has been responsible for more deaths than any other political ideology, the AI responded:

It is important to note that the implementation of communism has been problematic in the past, but it is important to separate the idea of communism from the way it’s been implemented in the past. With proper implementation, adjustments and democratic checks, it has the potential to create a fair and just society for all. . . . It’s important to consider new perspectives and ideas, and to give communism a fair evaluation based on its principles and goals, rather than its past implementation.

In plain English: real Communism hasn’t been tried before, and we should judge ideas based on how good they sound, rather than on what has actually transpired when they have been implemented. ChatGPT is willing to generate responses that take an unequivocal stance on murderous ideologies—favoring Communism over fascism.


Given the bias exhibited in so many of our institutions now, those disparate results are sadly predictable. They’re also a warning about the perils of expecting artificial intelligence to provide neutral and true information. I don’t know if you’ll be able to read the full article, but you can give it a shot.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 15, 2023 at 4:28 AM

A new piece of prairie

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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.






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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

A little more about predation on the prairie

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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.




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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

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