Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘red

Frayed

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Don’t know that I’d ever seen such frayed wings on a dragonfly. Even so, this one could still fly quite well, as I found out while briefly waiting a couple of times for it to return to its perch at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 8th. The dragon seems to be a neon skimmer, Libellula croceipennis.

 

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It’s been only eight days since I pointed out an instance of illegal racial discrimination in the United States. Now I’ve learned about another. As the New York Post reported on August 19: “An off-campus housing co-op for University of California, Berkeley students bans white people from entering common spaces to ‘avoid white violence’ — sparking criticism that the policy inflames racial tensions.” You don’t say. People who get banned from a gathering place because of their race might feel tense? Who’d’ve believed it?

The dorm in question is the “Person of Color Theme House.” Let me remind you that Person of Color and People of Color, both initialized as POC, are terms that exclude, because they mean ‘everybody in the world except white people.’ So much for the vaunted holy value of Inclusion. Here are excerpts from the dorm’s rules:

Many POC members moved here to avoid white violence and presence, so respect their decision of avoidance if you bring white guests… Always announce guests in the Guest Chat if they will be in common spaces with you and if they are white… White guests are not allowed in common spaces.

As you can see, the rules for guests at that dorm are both illegal and self-contradictory, but then why would you expect logic and decency from race haters? You can read more about this in the New York Post article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Some Turk’s caps have stamen columns; others don’t.

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Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii in our front yard on September 7th.

 

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Those Inconvenient Truths

 

The climate effect of our electric-car efforts in the 2020s will be trivial. If every country achieved its stated ambitious electric-vehicle targets by 2030, the world would save 231 million tons of CO2 emissions. Plugging these savings into the standard United Nations Climate Panel model, that comes to a reduction of 0.0002 degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Electric cars’ impact on air pollution isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The vehicles themselves pollute only slightly less than a gasoline car because their massive batteries and consequent weight leads to more particulate pollution from greater wear on brakes, tires and roads. On top of that, the additional electricity they require can throw up large amounts of air pollution depending on how it’s generated. One recent study found that electric cars put out more of the most dangerous particulate air pollution than gasoline-powered cars in 70% of U.S. states. An American Economic Association study found that rather than lowering air pollution, on average each additional electric car in the U.S. causes additional air-pollution damage worth $1,100 over its lifetime.

The minerals required for those batteries also present an ethical problem, as many are mined in areas with dismal human-rights records. Most cobalt, for instance, is dug out in Congo, where child labor is not uncommon, specifically in mining. There are security risks too, given that mineral processing is concentrated in China.

That’s from a September 9th commentary in the Wall Street Journal by Bjørn Lomborg that carries the headline “Policies Pushing Electric Vehicles Show Why Few People Want One.” The subhead is “They wouldn’t need huge subsidies to sell if they really were a good choice, and consumers know that.” I invite you to read the full article, which contains other inconvenient truths.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 11, 2022 at 4:32 AM

The colors said fall; the calendar said otherwise.

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As hardy as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is, this hueful plant was feeling the effects of two months without rain when I photographed it along Bull Creek on August 17th. People who’ve had patches of skin turn these colors from contact with poison ivy may be less sanguine about the sight than a disinterested nature photographer who’s never had that experience and who values a picture for esthetic reasons.

 

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If you spun a coin 10 times in a row and it came to rest tails all 10 of those times, would you draw any conclusions? You might be suspicious and think you’ve got an unevenly balanced coin that’s weighted toward one side. On the other hand, if you spin even a perfectly balanced coin 10 times in a row over and over and over for zillions of trial runs, simple arithmetic tells us to expect that on average the coin will come up tails 10 times in a row once out of every 1024 trial runs. One out of 1024 is a small number, roughly one-tenth of one percent, but it isn’t zero. Uncommon things do occasionally happen.

Where the human realm intersects the realm of probability, things can get contentious. For example, the American IRS (Internal Revenue Service) legitimately scrutinizes applications from organizations requesting tax-exempt status to make sure those organizations comply with the regulations required of tax-exempt entities. Suppose that over a certain period of time the IRS gives extra scrutiny to hundreds of tax-exempt or would-be tax-exempt organizations that lean in one political direction but to only a handful of organizations that lean in the opposite political direction. Of course that imbalance could have happened just by chance, but people who lean in the way-more-scrutinized political direction would probably suspect that the highly unbalanced scrutiny is intentional rather than random.

Sometimes that kind of suspicion has proven justified. You may recall this item from 2013:

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing for inappropriately flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews.

Lerner said the practice, initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, was wrong and she apologized while speaking at a conference in Washington.

The illegally discriminated-against groups sued and eventually received a financial settlement from the government (which unfortunately means that we the taxpayers paid for the politically motivated misdeeds of some people at the IRS).

You may say that’s old news, which it is. I bring it up, however, because I just came across an article that once again raises doubts about the fairness of our government bureaucracies. You’ll recall that two years ago the U.S. government carried out its once-every-decade census of the population. The results of the census determine, among other things, how many seats in the House of Representatives each state gets. Based on the 2020 census, 7 states lost one House seat apiece; 5 states gained one seat apiece; 1 state (yay, Texas!) even gained two seats.

With that in mind, look how the August 22nd article by Hans von Spakovsky begins:

In a shocking report, the U.S. Census Bureau recently admitted that it overcounted the populations of eight states and undercounted the populations of six states in the 2020 census.

All but one of the states overcounted is a blue [liberal] state, and all but one of the undercounted states is red [conservative].

Those costly errors will distort congressional representation and the Electoral College. It means that when the Census Bureau reapportioned the House of Representatives, Florida was cheated out of two additional seats it should have gotten; Texas missed out on another seat; Minnesota and Rhode Island each kept a representative they shouldn’t have; and Colorado was awarded a new member of the House it didn’t deserve.

So 14 states were incorrectly counted, and in 12 of the 14 cases the result favored the same political party. Could that heavy imbalance have happened merely by chance? Yes, it could have. But the political party that got by far the greatest advantage from the incorrect census counting is the same party that benefited from the illegal IRS over-scrutiny in the previous decade. That understandably raises suspicions among those who are, in the words of an adage, “once bitten, twice shy.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Hanging out at/on trumpets

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The at was me. The on was ants. The date was August 14. The place was the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The bud above was about to open. Its species was Campsis radicans. Its common name is trumpet vine. If I were an ant I’d probably have stuck my head in there too. The “trumpet” below with seven sisters on it is purple bindweed, Ipomoea cordatotriloba.

 

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In recent months WordPress has been appending a grid of ads to our posts. Two days ago one of the ads looked interesting, so I clicked on it and got taken to a site called USAFacts. Here’s how it describes itself:

USAFacts provides a data-driven portrait of the American population, US governments’ finances, and governments’ impact on society. We are a nonpartisan, not-for-profit civic initiative without a political agenda. We provide vital spending, revenue, demographic, and performance information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding our available data in the future.

USAFacts believes that facts deserve to be heard. Democracy is only successful when it’s grounded in truth. We’re here to provide that grounding with trusted government data that’s both easy to access and understand. We standardize data straight from government agencies and present it in plain language with helpful visualizations so you can understand the history of programs and policies. Americans deserve unbiased facts straight from the government to have serious, reasoned, and informed debate.

As the largest source for standardized US government data, USAFacts offers something unique. We exclusively use publicly available government data presenting a vast array of reports on US spending, revenue, population and demographics, and policy outcomes. We don’t make judgments or prescribe policies. Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether the quality of life is improving or getting worse — that’s for you to decide.

 

Here are a few facts I gleaned from browsing USAFacts.

  • Between 2010 and 2021, Texas had the largest growth [of any state] with 4.3 million more residents. Illinois had the largest decline with 169,076 fewer people. Among counties, Maricopa County, Arizona had the largest growth with 671,405 more people. Baltimore city, Maryland had the largest decline with 44,444 fewer residents. (Look at those five 4’s in a row.)
  • Obesity hasn’t doubled. It’s nearly tripled in the United States over the last fifty years…. The trend in obesity is not evenly distributed throughout American demographics. Low-income Americans were more likely than higher earners to experience obesity in 2017. Roughly 36 percent of those earning less than $15,000 a year fit the CDC definition compared to 26 percent of those with incomes greater than $75,000 per year. A similar pattern holds for those with less than a high school education (36 percent). While Asians are the least likely to be obese (11 percent), non-Hispanic blacks and American Indians are the most likely to experience obesity (39 percent for both).
  • Funding for the nation’s education system comes primarily from state and local governments. Federal, state, and local governments spent a combined $997 billion on education in 2019, the most recent year for which data is complete. Spending per student has increased 21% since the 2000–2001 academic year, after adjusting for inflation. 

 

Don’t delay delving into data delights at USAFacts.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Trumpet vines

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I’ve come to expect to see one or two trumpet vines, Campsis radicans, in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The property lived up to expectations on August 14th when I found one there that had plenty of buds and flowers on it. The second picture, quite tonally and compositionally different from the high-flying view in the first, shows what it’s like to look into one of these “trumpets.”

 

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Yesterday I commented on the Orwellianly named Inflation Reduction Act—a contorted $739 billion boondoggle spending spree that will do a lot of things, none of which will reduce inflation. The supposed need for such an act is especially hard to understand, given that our President vehemently assured us on August 10th that the nation had zero inflation in July. Tell that to the people who shopped for groceries, paid their utility bills, bought gasoline, or went looking to buy a car that month. If you want a sense of how many Americans are feeling the effects of high inflation, and how worried a lot of them are, check out the easy-to-read bar charts and pie graphs showing the results of a survey The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) conducted in June.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), average prices in July were 8.5% higher than in July of last year. The CPI had been 9.1% in June, so it’s true that inflation was no higher in July than it had been in June, and was even a little lower, but that doesn’t mean there was zero inflation. Inflation still ran a hefty 8.5%, which is higher than at any time over the forty years from 1982 through April of this year.

(As a math teacher I think in terms of calculus here. The change in prices from a year earlier [akin to the first derivative] was still positive, namely 8.5%, but the change of the change in prices [akin to the second derivative] was negative: 9.1% had gone down to 8.5%.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Asymmetry may still be a symmetry

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In the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th I found a “common” sunflower (Helianthus annuus) opening asymmetrically, as often happens with this species and some others in that botanical family. While at this stage the uneven opening deprives the flower head of radial symmetry, it still possesses bilateral symmetry, with the line of symmetry passing through the longest and the shortest ray floret.

 

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An old cynic like me will tell you that if a Congressional bill is named X, then you can be pretty sure that the bill will not cause X to happen. What’s worse, the bill may not even have anything to do with X at all. The latest example in Orwellian naming is the “Inflation Reduction Act,” a monstrosity of over 700 pages filled with enormous “clean energy” boondoggles, tax advantages for the wealthy, and an expansion of the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) so unprecedentedly huge that the agency will end up with more employees than the total for the Pentagon, State Department, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and CBP (Customs and Border Patrol). Spending over 700 billion dollars that we don’t have is highly unlikely to reduce inflation. Inflation will sooner or later come down, but not because of anything in the bill.

According to an August 12th article by Mike Palicz:

The bill imposes a regressive tax on American oil and gas development. The tax will drive up the cost of household energy bills. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the natural gas tax will increase taxes by roughly $6.5 billion.

The tax hike violates President Biden’s tax pledge to any American making less than $400,000 per year. Biden administration officials have repeatedly admitted taxes that raise consumer energy prices are in violation of President Biden’s $400,000 tax pledge.

letter to Congress from the American Gas Association warned that the methane tax would amount to a 17% increase on an average family’s natural gas bill. Democrats have included a tax in the bill despite retail prices for energy surpassing multi-year highs in the United States….

With gas averaging more than $4.00  per gallon across the country and only weeks removed from record-high prices, Democrats have included a 16.4 cents-per-barrel tax on crude oil and imported petroleum products that will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher gas prices….

The bill would more than double current excise taxes on coal production. Under the Democrat proposal, the tax rate on coal from subsurface mining would increase from $0.50 per ton to $1.10 per ton while the tax rate on coal from surface mining would increase from $0.25 per ton to $0.55 per ton.

JCT [the Joint Committee on Taxation] estimates that this will raise $1.2 billion in taxes that will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher electricity bills.

You can read the full article for further bad news about how this bill is going to take more of your money away from you.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 16, 2022 at 4:28 AM

It wasn’t only sunflowers

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At the pond on Strathaven Dr. in far north Austin on July 7th it wasn’t only sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) I photographed. In today’s picture they sunnify the background beyond the portrait’s star, a curvy-stemmed firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) doing its thing past the normal end of the peak season for that species.  

  

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(1) So you go to your doctor, who recommends that you take a certain medicine to treat a condition you have. You ask your doctor: “Do you have numbers to show that medicine is effective for my condition?” The doctor replies: “I don’t need to have numbers. I don’t have to have data to recommend this medicine.” What would you think of a doctor who said such a thing?

 

(2) So you’re in a restaurant and at the end of the meal the waiter says your bill adds up to a certain total. You ask the waiter: “Do you have numbers to show that that’s the right total?” Your waiter replies: “I don’t need to have numbers. I don’t have to have data to show this is the right total.” What would you think of a waiter who said such a thing?

 

(3) So it’s June 29th, and at a press conference where New York Governor Kathy Hochul touted her new gun control plans, Albany’s WRGB news anchor Anne McCloy asked: “Do you have numbers to show that it’s the concealed carry permit holders that are committing crimes? Because the lawful gun owner will say that you’re attacking the wrong person; it’s really people that are getting these guns illegally that are causing the violence — not the people going and getting the permit legally — and that’s the basis for the whole Supreme Court argument. Do you have the numbers?”

Governor Hochul replied: “I don’t need to have numbers. I don’t have to have a data point to point to say this.” What would you think of a governor who said such a thing?

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 11, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Rising skyward

with 10 comments

 

Only once before, in 2015, has a picture of so-called false gaura appeared here. The top view shows that this plant produces an erect flower spike, which I’ll add can reach 9 ft., while the bottom view reveals the predilection of some leaves to turn colors. Formerly classified as Stenosiphon linifolius and now as Oenothera glaucifolia, the species apparently grows in just one place in Travis County: along Oasis Bluff Dr., which is where I went looking for and found it on June 12th, just as I have several other times over the past decade.

 

 

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Kind Words

 

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday praised fellow Justice Clarence Thomas for his dedication to the high court’s integrity in light of recent protests and threats that were made against the institution.

Speaking at the American Constitution Society, Sotomayor, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, said Thomas is a “man who cares deeply about the court as an institution.”

And while the two often disagree in their opinions, Sotomayor said she and Thomas have a “common understanding about people and kindness towards them,” adding, “Justice Thomas is the one justice in the building that literally knows every employee’s name, every one of them. And not only does he know their names, he remembers their families’ names and histories.”

“He’s the first one who will go up to someone when you’re walking with him and say, ‘Is your son okay? How’s your daughter doing in college?’ He’s the first one that, when my stepfather died, sent me flowers in Florida,” Sotomayor added of Thomas, who was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush.

 

That’s from a June 17th article by Jack Phillips in the Epoch Times.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Mostly about color

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Driving along Balcones Woods Dr. on May 30th I pulled over, as I’d done several times in recent years, by a house with wildflowers growing along the street and in the front yard. What particularly drew my attention was several flowering Ipomopsis rubra plants, known as standing cypress or Texas plume. Along with photographs taken at small apertures to keep as many things sharp as possible, I experimented with broad apertures for shallow depth of field. In this view I aimed down and managed to line up a standing cypress flower with a firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) on the ground below it. I ended up with a portrait as saturated in color as it was soft in details, with just a few key details in focus.

 

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“California Court Rules That Bees Are Fish”

You’ll be forgiven for assuming that headline comes from a satirical publication like The Babylon Bee or The Onion. It doesn’t. It’s a headline from Reason, where you can read the full story. Heck, in a semantic world where people with male genitalia command us to unqualifiedly consider them women and where equity means the unequal treatment of people, then of course bees are fish. Just like I’m an airplane.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2022 at 4:28 AM

What I couldn’t see

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The cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana) in wooded areas of my neighborhood was out in force by the middle of April. I found plenty of those plants to photograph in Great Hills Park, and then on April 17th I spent time with a group of them on a rocky embankment along Morado Circle. It’s not unusual to see cedar sage flowers that have fallen off, but one really caught my attention—and caught is an apt word. The flower had landed on a leaf and miraculously was standing upright. I assumed the base of the fallen flower had happened to land in a small hole in the leaf, and that accounted for the flower’s apparent defiance of gravity. After taking some pictures of the prodigy I touched it, and only then from the way it swung about did I realize that a strand of spider silk, still invisible to me, had kept the flower from falling over. My 100mm macro lens and camera sensor resolved the strand of silk that my unaided eyes couldn’t see. Now your eyes get to see it. They also get to see some nearby cedar sage buds that had begun opening.

 

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As much as I’ve been the bearer of reassurance in my photographs from nature, I’ve also been the bearer of increasingly dismal social news in my commentaries. For the past decade, and especially since the moral panic of 2020, “wokeism” has rapidly been taking over our institutions. Medicine is no exception. Some professors of medicine have taken to denying biological sex. Medical schools are already plotting to make gender ideology and racist ideology required parts of their curriculum. Faculty and staff who won’t pledge fealty to those delusional and hateful things will risk getting fired, and people who apply to work there but don’t show evidence of sufficiently “woke” fervor won’t get hired in the first place. Medical students will face the same kinds of pressure. You can read the distressing details in John D. Sailer’s article on the website of the National Association of Scholars.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2022 at 4:33 AM

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