Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘red

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

Paloverde portrayed at different scales

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Here are two treatments of paloverde trees (Parkinsonia aculeata) that differ in scale and aesthetics. In Austin it’s common to see a paloverde (Spanish for ‘green tree’) springing up on untended ground, like the sapling above that looked so wispy in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd. A view at that distance doesn’t reveal the many thorns that grow on these trees; the second picture, from September 14th at the Riata Trace Pond, rectifies that.

The long thorn could symbolize the fact that yesterday we got our booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine six months to the day after we’d gotten our second shots. I’m happy to say that although our muscles around the injection sites are achy, our arms didn’t turn either of the prominent colors in this closeup.

What I continue to be not at all happy about is the current American administration’s claim to be “following the science” while refusing to follow the science. Back on August 28th I linked to an article in Science that reported the results of a large Israeli study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As the article noted: “The newly released data show people who once had a SARS-CoV-2 infection were much less likely than never-infected, vaccinated people to get Delta, develop symptoms from it, or become hospitalized with serious COVID-19.”

And yet this administration stubbornly denies that proven reality. This régime refuses to accept that people who have acquired protection from COVID-19 by having caught and recovered from the disease should not be subject to vaccine mandates. The people in charge of the government are science deniers.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Tall tunas

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This vertical, narrowly cropped, edge-on view of a prickly pear cactus pad (Opuntia engelmannii) makes it seem that the fruits at the top, known as tunas, are standing unusually tall. For whatever reason, I don’t often see spiderwebs on prickly pears, but there’s no missing the silk on this one. Today’s portrait is from September 18th in my hilly part of Austin.


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Here are a couple of paragraphs from “Expanding Your Tribe in the New Age of Conformity,” by Andrew Fox.

[T]he number of ideological activists needed to drive a whole nation into enormously destructive social turmoil and intergroup violence is not very large. The Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 represented a tiny percentage of the overall Russian population. A relative handful of ethnic chauvinist Serbian agitators in post-Tito Yugoslavia managed to incite years of ethnic cleansing campaigns and intercommunal massacres as well as the disintegration of their former state. A cadre of ethnic extremists in Rwanda’s Hutu Power movement were able to infiltrate the military and organize a war of extermination that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

An individual’s sense of identity can be molded around many different types of attributes—ethnicity, clan, religion, place of residence or origin, sex, age, language, vocation, family roles, types of illness or disability, preferred style of music, and favored forms of recreation. Yet recent historical experience has illustrated repeatedly—in Germany, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and Syria, to name just a few—that emphasizing ethnicity or race as the primary, overriding source of a citizenry’s identity, fostering resentments based on both historical grievances and exaggerated contemporary outrages, and dividing a populace into Manichean categories of good and evil, of victims and oppressors, can lead to intragroup violence on a sometimes genocidal scale.

That’s what’s been increasingly worrying me for the past year and a half. You’re welcome to read the full article, which appeared in Tablet on September 12.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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From fiery bract to fiery body

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Speaking of the most primary of all colors, our September 11th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center produced pictures not only of a bright red fire-on-the-mountain bract but also of what I take to be a male neon skimmer dragonfly, Libellula crocipennis. This one was up high and pretty far away, so I used a telephoto zoom lens at its maximum focal length of 400mm, and even then I had to crop the image down to about a fifth of its area.


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Back on August 12th I reported that I’ve occasionally been turning to unknown people on the street and asking them out of the blue what they think about the current state of our country. My latest encounter took place yesterday, after a woman who noticed Eve taking a picture of me in front of an octopus sculpture asked if we’d like her to photograph the two of us together. I took her up on her offer, and in the process we chatted briefly. When she was about to rejoin the other woman she’d been walking with, I asked her my question. She was maybe the sixth person I’d approached that way, and like all the others, she said she thinks things in America are terrible. I asked if she could give me an example of what troubles her.

First she gave me a local answer. It involved TXDoT, the Texas Department of Transportation, which has started implementing its huge project to rebuild Interstate 35 through central Austin, one of the most congested stretches of Interstate highway in the United States. The woman felt TXDoT hadn’t conferred enough with people in neighborhoods bordering that part of Interstate 35, who might be adversely affected. (There’s a history of Interstate 35 separating white and black neighborhoods when it was built through central Austin in the 1960s.)

Then the woman said she’s happy that Biden got elected president. (You’d more often than not expect that in as liberal a place as Austin.) Turning to the pandemic, she said she believes in the COVID-19 vaccines and has been vaccinated herself but is troubled by the vaccine mandates and passports currently being pushed (so notably, of course, by President Biden). Her concern was about the federal government getting too involved with and making decisions based on people’s private medical records.

Of the half-dozen strangers I’ve asked my out-of-the-blue question to, so far every one has given answers that made me think I was dealing with a reasonable person. Maybe there’s hope for the country after all.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2021 at 4:44 AM

From snow to fire

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Yesterday’s post showed you a happy colony of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Now here’s one of its genus-mates, Euphorbia cyathophora, known as fire-on-the-mountain for the bright red of its bracts. Another common name is wild poinsettia, a reference to a more-familiar genus-mate, Euphorbia pulcherrima, that people decorate their places with during the Christmas season.

I photographed this fire-on-the-mountain on the morning of September 11th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It hadn’t rained, but the staff waters the plants in the central courtyard, and that accounted for the droplets in the photograph.


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I’m reading mathematician Jordan Ellenberg’s new book Shape. Here’s a passage from the first chapter.

We encounter non-proofs in proofy clothing all the time, and unless we’ve made ourselves especially attentive, they often get by our defenses. There are tells you can look for. In math, when an author starts a sentence with “Clearly,” what they are really saying is “This seems clear to me and I probably should have checked it, but I got a little confused, so I settled for just asserting that it was clear.” The newspaper pundit’s analogue is the sentence starting “Surely, we can all agree.” Whenever you see this, you should at all costs not be sure that all agree on what follows. You are being asked to treat something as an axiom*, and if there’s one thing we can learn from the history of geometry, it’s that you shouldn’t admit a new axiom into your book until it really proves its worth.

Always be skeptical when someone tells you they’re “just being logical.” If they are talking about an economic policy or a culture figure whose behavior they deplore or a relationship concession they want you to make, and not a congruence of triangles, they are not “just being logical,” because they’re operating in a context where logical deduction—if it applies at all—can’t be untangled from everything else. They want you to mistake an assertively expressed chain of opinions as the proof of a theorem. But once you’ve experienced the sharp click of an honest-to-goodness proof, you’ll never fall for this again. Tell your “logical “opponent to go square a circle.**

A big reason we surely can’t all agree is that people often use a given term to mean different things. What one person considers a “fair share,” another person takes to be a disproportionate burden. One person uses “justice” to mean a desired outcome, while for another person “justice” means due process and equal treatment. If we don’t start from the same definitions, why would we expect to reach the same conclusions?

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* An axiom is a principle that everyone will take to be true and will use as a starting point to figure out other facts or relationships. For example, one axiom of mathematics is that a whole thing is equal to the sum of its parts. Another axiom is that two things that are each equal to a third thing are equal to each other.

** “Squaring the circle” was a geometric challenge that meant: Using only a compass, a straightedge, and a finite number of steps, construct a square that has the same area as a given circle. For centuries mathematicians tried and failed to figure out how to do that. In 1882, Ferdinand von Lindemann finally proved that squaring the circle is impossible. (So much for the common notion that “You can’t prove a negative. Sometimes you can.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 12

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A zillion years ago, give or take a few years, Eve bought a sage at a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant sale. Here’s a descendant of that plant as it looked in our back yard on August 19th. I figure it’s scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea.


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Here’s a telling four-minute video revealing a division of opinion on the policy of requiring voters to show a government-issued ID. If you watch the video, make sure to keep on through the second half. It may well make you wonder who the racists really are. The video’s interviews with real people also remind me of a recent post in The Babylon Bee, which is a satirical publication along the lines of The Onion.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Firewheel in summer

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You’ve seen posts this past spring, as every spring for the last decade, showing firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) at their densely flowering peak. Even after that colonial grandeur fades, individual firewheels in diminishing numbers come up through the summer and into the fall. Here’s an example of one from Great Hills Park on July 23rd. Whether the ray floret at the center had curled naturally or was pulled out of its normal orientation by a spider or other critter, I don’t know.


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By personality and as a math teacher I strive for accuracy. Even so, as the Romans properly held, errare humanum est, it’s only human to make mistakes. If you’re aware that anything I’ve said in my commentaries is factually incorrect, please point it out and bring forth the evidence so I can fix those mistakes. Opinions, of course, are a different matter: even with agreed-upon facts, people can and do differ on how to interpret them and what, if anything, to do about them.


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I think most Americans would be shocked to learn, as I was, that in many circumstances the police in the United States are legally allowed to lie to people during interrogations. You can read more about that in an article by The Innocence Project.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2021 at 4:23 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 11

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On July 15th artsy me couldn’t resist making this portrait of a Turk’s cap flower
(Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) viewed from the tip of its long central column.


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Probably not a day goes by when I don’t learn about yet another outlandish thing going on in my country. Look at the headline for an August 5th article in Blaze Media: “Female inmate now pregnant after California pro-trans policy forces women’s prisons to house biological men despite prisoners’ pleas, warnings….” Yup, California passed a law allowing any male prisoner who “identifies” as female to request a transfer to a women’s prison.

“Female prisoners and women’s advocacy groups pled with the state of California not to implement a new pro-transgender law that would force state prisons to accept biological males. The inmates and their advocates warned Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and his administration that nothing good could come of it, citing fears of abuse, sexual disease, and pregnancy.

“In response to these concerns, the state … handed out condoms and pregnancy resources.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2021 at 6:37 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 8

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In a comment on an earlier post showing a Turk’s cap flower (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) in our yard on July 15th, Gallivanta asked whether the characteristic long central column is always upright. The fact is that while most of those columns do grow straight, some curve and some eventually fall off or get broken off. Today’s post shows you those two situations.


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There’s no “official” name for the beliefs that constitute a large part of current leftist ideology. Some people use the term “wokeism,” others “illiberalism,” and still others “critical race theory” (CRT). By whatever name you care to call that ideology, the American educational establishment is increasingly pushing it into our public schools. When opponents of that indoctrination call out the educational establishment for their illiberal beliefs and practices, some of the people in charge have resorted to the sophistic defense that what they’re promoting is not CRT. That’s what the head of the second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), did on July 6th: “Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists.” But as Shakespeare reminded us in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The lady in question is named Weingarten.

Shakespeare also wrote, this time in Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”—only in this case, that which teachers unions refuse to call critical race theory, by any other name would be as foul. When we consider recent utterances by people in the teachers unions, as well as recent documents they’ve produced, it’s clear that they are pushing transgressive beliefs. (You’re welcome to read a student’s confirmation.) The largest American teachers union is the National Education Association (NEA). Look at this New Business Item from the period June 30–July 3, 2021:

The NEA will, with guidance on implementation from the NEA president and chairs of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Caucuses:

A. Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) — what it is and what it is not; have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.

B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

Aside from the jargony crock pot of crackpot shibboleths enumerated in the last paragraph, notice the irony in the largest teachers union wanting to “fight back against anti-CRT” and to “oppose attempts to ban critical race theory”—the very thing they claim they’re not teaching!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 5

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It’s hard to beat the rich red of a Turk’s cap flower, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii. The long stamen column identifies this flower as a member of the mallow family. Today’s picture, like those of Turk’s cap buds you recently saw, is from July 15th.


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By the time I was a senior in high school I’d gotten hold of a copy of Le petit prince, The Little Prince, the famous fantasy/allegory written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I no longer remember where I got it; maybe from the Salvation Army, where I often bought used books on the cheap. The copy was missing its cover and title pages but all the text was intact. I remember taking the book to school and reading some of it as I held it under my desk in physics class; that’s the kind of kid I was.

After close to 60 years I still have that book. You can tell, because I’ve reproduced one of its yellowing pages. The first part of that page teaches an important lesson, so let me translate it for you.

I’ve got serious reasons for thinking that the planet the little prince came from is Asteroid B 612. That asteroid was observed by telescope only once, in 1909, by a Turkish astronomer.

Back then he’d made a big presentation of his discovery at an International Congress of Astronomy. But nobody believed him because of the way he was dressed [see the illustration at the top left of the page]. Grownups are like that.

Happily for the reputation of Asteroid B 612, a Turkish dictator ordered his people, under pain of death, to dress in European clothing. The astronomer redid his demonstration in 1920 wearing a very elegant suit [see the illustration at the bottom of the page]. And this time everyone agreed with him.

That passage illustrates a fallacy known as an ad hominem argument, from the Latin words meaning ‘against the person.’ Instead of dealing with the substance of a claim and examining the evidence for it, detractors attack the person making the claim, typically on irrelevant grounds like the person’s race or appearance or background or other beliefs.

I bring that up now because of the surge in ad hominem attacks being carried out in the media and politics these days. There are people who immediately dismiss a claim made by someone they don’t like, peremptorily labeling it “misinformation” or “disinformation” or “a conspiracy theory,” and refusing to examine the evidence, however substantial, for the claim itself. The most vehement slinging of those labels comes from people who know that the claim is true.

Grownups are like that, alas, far too often.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 4, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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