Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘Round Rock

Marsh fleabane

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Been a couple of years since I showed you marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata, so here’s a view of its flowers and then a softer view of its buds at Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock on August 23rd.

  

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At the head of an August 28th article in Quillette, Bo Winegard quotes Sir Henry Hallett Dale:

And science, we should insist, better than any other discipline, can hold up to its students and followers an ideal of patient devotion to the search for objective truth, with vision unclouded by personal or political motive.

The article per se starts out like this:

Although the modern prestige bestowed upon science is laudable, it is not without peril. For as the ideological value of science increases, so too does the threat to its objectivity. Slogans and hashtags can quickly politicize science, and scientists can be tempted to subordinate the pursuit of the truth to moral or political ends as they become aware of their own prodigious social importance. Inconvenient data can be suppressed or hidden and inconvenient research can be quashed. This is especially true when one political tribe or faction enjoys disproportionate influence in academia—its members can disfigure science (often unconsciously) to support their own ideological preferences. This is how science becomes more like propaganda than empiricism, and academia becomes more like a partisan media organization than an impartial institution.

An editorial in Nature Human Behavior provides the most recent indication of just how bad things are becoming. It begins, like so many essays of its kind, by announcing that, “Although academic freedom is fundamental, it is not unbounded.” When the invocation of a fundamental freedom in one clause is immediately undermined in the next, we should be skeptical of whatever follows.

A little later we find out that

the journal [Nature Human Behavior] will reject articles that might potentially harm (even “inadvertently”) those individuals or groups most vulnerable to “racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia.” Since it is already standard practice to reject false or poorly argued work, it is safe to assume that these new guidelines have been designed to reject any article deemed to pose a threat to disadvantaged groups, irrespective of whether or not its central claims are true, or at least well-supported. Within a few sentences, we have moved from a banal statement of the obvious to draconian and censorious editorial discretion. Editors will now enjoy unprecedented power to reject articles on the basis of nebulous moral concerns and anticipated harms.

You can read the rest of the article about the sorry state into which science is precipitously falling.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Three rather different takes on cattail fluff

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Raising the ante on yesterday’s “two rather different takes” theme,
here you have three views of cattails (Typha sp.) shedding fluff.

The most advanced stage is at the top, the least advanced in the middle.
All three pictures come from Round Rock’s Meadow Lake Park on August 23rd.

  

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Over the past year and a half I’ve reported on various illegal moves to treat people with different racial and ethnic characteristics differently. The other day I became aware of yet another one. Here’s the introductory paragraph in a class action lawsuit filed against Amazon on July 20:

Amazon.com enters into contracts with “delivery service partners” to bring packages to its patrons. It also engages it patently unlawful racial discrimination by providing a $10,000 bonus to “Black, Latinx, and Native American entrepreneurs” who act as its delivery service partners, while withholding this stipend from Asian-Americans and whites who deliver Amazon packages. Plaintiff Crystal Bolduc brings suit to enjoin Amazon.com from continuing these racially discriminatory practices, and to recover classwide damages on behalf of everyone who has suffered unlawful racial discrimination on account of this program.

It took my country hundreds of years to finally adopt laws that put an end to racial and ethnic discrimination. It pains me to learn there are still Americans who want to flout those laws and go back to discriminating against people based on their immutable physical characteristics. It’s barbaric.

  

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Cattails releasing seeds

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When I spent time at Round Rock’s Meadow Lake Park on August 24th I was happy to find that some of the cattails (Typha sp.) were shedding their numerous seeds. In the view above, the arcs of drying cattail leaves made the scene even more attractive to me. The slender green plants mixed in among the cattails are Symphyotrichum subulatum, known as baby’s breath aster, annual aster, eastern annual saltmarsh aster, Blackland aster, wireweed and hierba del marrano (which we might translate as pigweed).

The second picture shows something I don’t recall ever seeing before. My first thought was that this cattail stalk had split in an early stage of development and each piece went on to produce seeds. Now I’m wondering if the hanging piece might have broken off from the far side of the main seed head, though I think I looked at this from different positions and would have noticed such an obviously missing chunk. Mysteries.

 

 

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On August 24th Quillette published “The Energy of Nations” by John Constable and Debora Lieberman. The first two words in the article’s subtitle, “Energy blindness is leading to policy blunder,” refer to the fact that many people don’t understand what energy is:

Indeed, we hold surprisingly few scientifically accurate cognitive intuitions to guide decisions about the character of energy and its importance. Without science, we are more or less energy blind, in the same way, perhaps, that fish are blind to the idea of waterThis is to be expected, perhaps, since the concept of energy was a recent development in science, dating only from the early to mid-19th century. And part of the problem we have in understanding this concept is that it is extremely abstract. Energy isn’t a substance like coal or oil; rather, it is an abstract property of all substances, namely the capacity to cause change in the world—to do work, a potential measured in joules.

The next paragraphs make an important point:

Joules can be realised as a property of the chemical bonds in fossil fuels, the forces holding an atom together, moving objects such as flowing wind or water, electromagnetic solar radiation, and objects acting on each other through gravity. All have the capacity to cause change, but this capacity varies in both quantity, which is intuitively obvious, and much more importantly, its quality, its ability to do work, to change the world, and here the mind is particularly weak in grasping the essentials. Yes, there is a large quantity of energy in the sunshine and in the wind blowing around the globe. But that energy is of very low quality and not available to do much useful work. There is also a great deal of energy in the vibrating atoms in the objects around you in the room as you read this article, or in falling raindrops—lots of energy, yet all basically useless. Wind and sunlight are only a little better. There is a reason why no creatures make a living by extracting energy from the wind—the quality level is just too low—and there is a reason that the organisms that manage to build lives from solar energy, plants, are relatively simple and, generally speaking, stationary. There is only so much you can do with a low-quality form of energy like solar radiation at the surface of the Earth. Creatures that eat plants can be more complex; creatures that eat herbivores can be more complex still. 

The science of thermodynamics tells us that for a fuel to have high value to us, what matters is the quality, and that the fuel must have a very low degree of disorder (low entropy) if it is to support a complex society such as our own. But we have few intuitions of this, and our energy blindness requires us to rely on evidence and reason to tell us that fossil fuels are of high thermodynamic quality, as is fissile uranium. By comparison, the plentiful energy of renewables such as wind and solar is of low quality. In fact, both wind and solar radiation are so disordered that their entropy is close to that of low-temperature random heat, that is, the random movement of atoms and molecules. Their potential to do work—to cause change—is very limited.

Moreover, transforming sunlight and wind into grid electricity requires turbines and photovoltaic panels, themselves complex and expensive states of matter, as well as any number of ingenious and expensive grid kludges such as batteries to render it useable. That makes renewable energy intrinsically expensive. The sunshine and wind might be free, but not the extraction, conversion, and stable delivery to market.

You’re welcome to read the full article for more details. And you can find out a whole lot more in Alex Epstein’s book Fossil Future, which I finished reading a couple of weeks ago.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 2, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Dodder again

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Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a parasitic vine whose often dense tangles of slender yellow strands remind some people of angel hair pasta, as you see above in a view of dodder attacking annual sumpweed (Iva annua). In contrast, the picture below is different from previous ones I’ve taken of dodder, with the interplay of light and shadow making it moodier, artsier. Both views are from Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock on August 24.

 

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In case you haven’t noticed, much of the world is facing an energy crisis. Since the current American administration took over on January 25, 2021, the average selling price of gasoline in the United States has risen from $2.39 to $3.84 per gallon as of yesterday, for a 60% increase. The average price for diesel rose even more: on January 25, 2021 it was $2.71, and as of August 29 it was $5.11. That’s an 88% increase. In a more extreme jump from January 2021 to now, the natural gas index (NG:NMX) on the NASDAQ exchange rose from $2.49 to $9.35. My house has natural gas heating, so I compared my bill from January 2021 to the bill dated August 12, 2022: the cost for a hundred cubic feet (CCF) has tripled, going from $0.34 to $1.013.

The high cost of gasoline strains the budget of tens of millions of commuters and shoppers. The high cost of diesel means that goods transported by ships and trucks and trains—which are almost all the goods you buy—now cost more. If you have natural gas heating, keeping your residence warm this winter will cost a lot more than it did two years ago.

And we in the United States still have it pretty good. Many European countries depend on Russia for oil and natural gas, so since that country invaded Ukraine prices in Europe have risen as supplies have fallen. “French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged businesses to cut energy use or face possible rationing this winter if Russia halts gas deliveries.” In the U.K. “pubs and restaurants could close this winter without support to tackle soaring energy bills. There are growing fears that some hospitality venues won’t survive as they struggle to cope with rising running costs.” “In Poland‘s late summer heat, dozens of cars and trucks line[d] up at the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, as householders fearful of winter shortages wait[ed] for days and nights to stock up on heating fuel in queues reminiscent of communist times.”

Spain “published new rules [in early August] stipulating that no business will be allowed to cool its interior below 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) or to heat it above 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. In place until November 2023, the decree also calls a halt to the illumination of monuments, bans stores from lighting up their windows after 10 p.m., and requires shops to have an electric display showing the temperature inside to passersby.” People in Germany “are feeling more frugal than at any point in the last decade, according to a survey by GfK. It found that consumers are putting aside any spare cash in anticipation of much higher energy bills.” Also “in Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.” (That’s in addition to clear-cutting ancient forests to make room for industrial wind turbines.)

The current Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the fragile state of the energy systems in Europe and elsewhere. The politicized push toward “green energy” has made the situation a lot worse than it needed to be. Although atomic reactors produce no carbon emissions, “green” activists have an irrational horror of nuclear energy. Germany was set to close the last of its nuclear reactors this year but is now reconsidering, given the current crisis. In the United States, not since 2016 has a nuclear reactor entered service, and the most recent one before that was 20 years earlier.

Elon Musk, erstwhile hero of the political left for producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles, “told European energy leaders that the world needs more oil and natural gas and should continue operating nuclear power plants while investing heavily in renewable energy sources. ‘I think we actually need more oil and gas, not less, but simultaneously moving as fast as we can to a sustainable energy economy,’ Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and largest shareholder, told a conference in Stavanger, Norway. Mr. Musk said work on developing battery-storage technology is key to making the most of investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. ‘I’m also pronuclear,’ Mr. Musk said. ‘We should really keep going with the nuclear plants. I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters. But I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down, especially right now,’ he said.”

Hooray for a voice of reason. As the Greeks told us more than two millennia ago: All things in moderation, nothing to excess.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2022 at 4:25 AM

A good time for Nueces coreopsis

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After we visited both parts of Lake Somerville State Park on April 6th, we continued clockwise around the lake. On LBJ Dr. across from Overlook Park Rd. in Washington County we found this happy colony of Nueces coreopsis, Coreopsis nuecensis. (Click to enlarge.) The erect white-topped plants in the background were old plainsman, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus. Below is a closer view of one in Round Rock on April 2nd.

  

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There’s been a lot of hoopla since U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on April 18 that a public mask mandate in mass transit (planes, trains, etc.) is unlawful.

Some critics of the ruling complained that a single judge had overturned all the medical science established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact the judge did no such thing. Nowhere in her 60-page decision did she rule “on the merits” of the issue. She did not decide—and never claimed to have the requisite expertise to decide—whether wearing masks in public transit vehicles is an effective way to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but that’s not what the ruling dealt with.

What the judge did rule on was the legality of the CDC issuing its mass transit mandate. “Judge Mizelle said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with the mandate, had not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.”

Another illogical reaction to the decision came from people who interpreted the end of a requirement to wear masks in mass transit as meaning that nobody would be allowed to wear masks in public transit. The judge’s ruling, of course, did not prevent anyone wanting to wear a mask from doing so—or even wearing double or triple masks, goggles, a face shield, and earphones if they want to.

Yet another unfounded accusation was of the ad hominem*—or in this case ad mulierem*—type. Some people complained that Judge Mizelle is only 35 years old. Age has nothing to do with the validity of a legal argument. Some people complained that Judge Mizelle had never tried a single case in court. True, but then neither had Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, whom the critics of Judge Mizelle presumably support and whom they no doubt did not criticize on those grounds. In any case, that’s irrelevant to the facts and legal principles adduced in the current decision.

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* The Latin phrase ad hominem means ‘against the man.’ We use that phrase when a person criticizes some personal trait of an opponent rather than dealing with the opponent’s arguments. The Latin word homo, of which hominem is one grammatical form, meant not only ‘man’ in a biological sense but also generically ‘human being.’ For anyone who objects to the use of a male form as a generic, I’ve turned to the Latin word mulier, ‘woman,’ to create the indisputably female phrase ad mulierem.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2022 at 4:32 PM

Two kinds of curls

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In Robert Kamper’s side yard in Round Rock on April 11th two kinds of curls made themselves known to me. The more obvious even had the word in their common name: blue curls (Phacelia congesta). The other curls—smaller, much more tightly wound, and harder to see—were tendrils of a Passiflora species, either incarnata or lutea; further development will reveal which one.

 

UPDATE: From the flowers that emerged on the vine shown in the bottom picture, Robert Kamper is able to say the plant is Passiflora incarnata.

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The most obvious and unarguable source of black innocence is the victimization that blacks endured for centuries at the hands of a race that insisted on black inferiority as a means to its own innocence and power. Like all victims, what blacks lost in power they gained in innocence—innocence that, in turn, entitled them to pursue power. This was the innocence that fueled the civil rights movement of the ’60s, and that gave blacks their first real power in American life—victimization metamorphosed into power via innocence. But this formula carries a drawback that I believe is virtually as devastating to blacks today as victimization once was. It is a formula that binds the victim to his victimization by linking his power to his status as a victim. And this, I’m convinced, is the tragedy of black power in America today. It is primarily a victim’s power, grounded too deeply in the entitlement derived from past injustice and in the innocence that Western/Christian tradition has always associated with poverty.

Whatever gains this power brings in the short run through political action, it undermines in the long run. Social victims may be collectively entitled, but they are all too often individually demoralized. Since the social victim has been oppressed by society, he comes to feel that his individual life will be improved more by changes in society than by his own initiative. Without realizing it, he makes society rather than himself the agent of change. The power he finds in his victimization may lead him to collective action against society, but it also encourages passivity within the sphere of his personal life.

That passage is as pertinent today as when Shelby Steele wrote it in 1988—actually even more pertinent because it’s 34 years later and many people still haven’t gotten his message. You’re welcome to read the full Harper’s article, “I’m Black, You’re White, Who’s Innocent? Race and power in an era of blame.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Time again for prairie celestials

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During the first week of April native plantophile Robert Kamper kept me apprised of how the prairie celestials, Nemastylis geminiflora, were coming along in the greenbelt right behind his house in Round Rock. Early in the afternoon on April 11th I went out there and was pleased to find over half a dozen of the flowers scattered about, including the one shown here.

 

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So yesterday morning I went to Sprouts to buy some produce. While walking around the store I noticed in the dairy section that there was a Manager’s Special on the house brand of cream cheese, whose current regular price is $1.79 each. The sale sign told customers they’d get $2.58 off if they bought two packages. How could I pass up a good deal like that? I put four packages of cream cheese into my cart.

A little later, as the cashier was tallying my items, I noticed that each package of cream cheese was ringing up on the register at the regular price of $1.79. I pointed out to the cashier that the cream cheese was on sale, and I asked if the discount would show up at the end (some stores—do you hear me, Central Market?—annoyingly do it that way rather than showing the discount right after each item appears on the screen). The cashier seemed not to know the item was on sale. After a little back and forth, she finally asked whether I was talking about a Manager’s Special. Yes, I told her, that’s what it was. Her answer was that, oh, Manager’s Specials typically only last one day, and because of that they don’t get entered into the store’s computer and therefore don’t show up at the register. She asked me what the sale price was, but I didn’t remember exactly how much of a discount I was supposed to get, so she had to run all the way to the dairy section in the most distant part of the store to read the sign, do the calculations, and then come back and manually ring up each cream cheese for 50¢ rather than $1.79.

What kind of a way to run a business is that? Is each customer required to announce at the register that an item is a Manager’s Special? There was nothing on the sale sign that said I had to do that. Think about all the people who get enticed into buying Manager’s Specials and don’t notice at the register that they’ve been charged the regular price after all. A cynical shopper couldn’t be blamed for saying that that’s the whole point. What do you think, shoppers?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 18, 2022 at 3:42 AM

Whitebonnets

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A couple of decades ago I noticed how common it is for purple wildflowers to have white variants. A colony of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in Round Rock on April 2nd presented me with one whitebonnet, shown above. On April 6th at the Nails Creek Unit of Lake Somerville State Park I doubled my fun by mostly lining up one whitebonnet with another. I’ve been finding more of them this year than usual.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 16, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Pink and blue from me to you

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Behold the blossoms of a redbud tree (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) along Williamson County Rd. 110 in Round Rock on March 9th. By then the redbuds in and around Austin had finally begun to flower. Let’s hope that today’s early morning freeze hasn’t done the blossoms in—or if it has, that new ones will soon appear.

 

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Check out a clever video parody from the Babylon Bee called
Brave Great White Shark Allowed To Compete In Women’s 500 Freestyle.” 
 

There’s also this take on an actual occurrence:
Ron DeSantis Bullies Kids Into Doing Whatever They Want.”
 

 And an article in the Babylon Bee on March 7th bore the headline
Biden Sells Alaska Back To Russia So We Can Start Drilling For Oil There Again.”
The strangest thing about it is that USA Today went through the motions of fact-checking it.
The newspaper found that the article was indeed satire, yet still felt the need to add:
“There is no evidence Biden plans to sell Alaska.”
Sometimes reality writes the parodies for you.
 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

  

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 12, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Reflection as indirection for abstraction

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A recent post presented pictures of sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) with white bark. In the first of those views I’d aimed at a conspicuous part of my subject and zoomed in tightly to heighten the abstraction. Another way to go for abstraction is to look at a subject indirectly, and probably the most common way to do that is via a reflection. Here are two examples from January 22 of that approach to white-branched sycamores along Brushy Creek just west of the round rock in the creek that gave Round Rock its name.

 

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Do you think citizens have a right to know what their government’s employees have done? I do, and I hope you agree. The Capitol Police Department’s leaders disagree. They don’t want to make public the following things:

  • Email communications between the U.S. Capitol Police Executive Team and the Capitol Police Board concerning the security of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The timeframe of this request is from January 1, 2021 through January 10, 2021.
  • Email communications of the Capitol Police Board with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concerning the security of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The timeframe of this request is from January 1, 2021through January 10, 2021.
  • All video footage from within the Capitol between 12 pm and 9 pm on January 6, 2021.

The organization Judicial Watch is suing to get that information. Good for them. We the people have a right to know what our government does. The fact that the government is fighting to keep that information away from its citizens can only fuel suspicions that the government was derelict in its planning for that day, or worse, did something unethical or nefarious.

 © 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 16, 2022 at 4:37 AM

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