Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘sky

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

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

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

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


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What’s fair?

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Standing winecup revisited

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Here are two more portraits of standing winecups, Callirhoe digitata, from the dedicated
little wildflower area at the Floral Park entrance to Great Hills Park on July 23rd.


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Continuing from yesterday with more pictures of this kind of wildflower, standing winecups, symbolizes my wanting to continue with the theme of yesterday’s commentary: the justice system should deal similarly with similar criminal offenses. Alas, that has not at all been the case with the chaotic events of 2020–21 in the United States.

Throughout the second half of 2020, rioters attacked various institutions of our democracy. Among the earliest targets was the Third Precinct police station in Minneapolis. A mob burned it, along with nearby buildings, on May 28th.

Portland, Oregon, was especially hard hit in 2020. On May 29 at the Multnomah County Justice Center, “some crowd members made it inside the building, setting fires while corrections records staff were working inside. Others fanned out across downtown, vandalizing and looting as they went… While many Independence Day celebrations had to be canceled or altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, downtown Portland had plenty of fireworks. After a couple weeks of dwindling crowd sizes, another riot was declared when people launched mortars and other fireworks near the Justice Center and Federal Courthouse, prompting a clash with police and federal officers.” By Labor Day last year, Portland had already had a hundred nights of rioting. Many more followed.

On May 31st in Washington, D.C., rioters tried to storm the White House: “Uniformed Secret Service officers made six arrests Friday night after ‘Justice for George Floyd’ protests. A total of 11 Secret Service officers were taken to hospitals in the D.C. area, according to officials. With 60 uniformed officers protecting the area around the White House, the Secret Service said its officers were kicked, punched and exposed to bodily fluids. Bricks, rocks, bottles, fireworks and other items were also reportedly thrown at the Secret Service, who with U.S. Park Police, held the area by using riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to deter violent riots that ensued after peaceful protests. ‘Demonstrators repeatedly attempted to knock over security barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue,’ a Secret Service statement said. ‘Some of the demonstrators were violent, assaulting Secret Service Officer and Special Agents with bricks, rocks, bottles, fireworks and other items. Multiple Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers and Special Agents suffered injuries from this violence.'” The Secret Service was worried enough about the mob breaking through their lines that it moved the President into a bunker.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. There were hundreds of riots last year. Insurance claims just from the initial period of May 26–June 8, 2020, are estimated at between one and two billion dollars, making the 2020 riots by far the costliest in U.S. history. By the end of August, in Minneapolis–St. Paul alone “nearly 1,500 businesses were heavily damaged in the riots, and many were completely destroyed.” Thousands of people there, many of them minorities, got put out of work as a result.

And rioters murdered people. “A retired police captain fatally shot during looting in St. Louis was passionate about helping young people and would have forgiven those behind the violence on the city’s streets, his son says. David Dorn, 77, was killed while responding to an alarm at a pawnshop overnight Monday, St. Louis Police Department announced in a news conference Tuesday.

And yet relatively few of 2020’s rioters, looters, arsonists, and murderers have been prosecuted.

Now compare those seven months of frequent, violent, destructive rioting in 2020 with what took place in Washington, D.C., over several hours on a single day, January 6, 2021. A mob broke into the Capitol. Some of the rioters damaged the building and assaulted police.

Justice requires, and I wholeheartedly agree, that all of those January 6th rioters should be prosecuted to the full extent the law allows. Our government has indeed put enormous resources into identifying the perpetrators and arresting some 570 of them in places all around the country.

In the last few years, activists on the left have been pushing for and increasingly succeeding in institutionalizing “bail reform,” which means that many people indicted for crimes are allowed bail without having to post any bond money at all. On June 1st, 2020, Kamala Harris urged people to help out rioters who had been arrested: “If you’re able to, chip in now to the @MNFreedomFund to help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota.” Contrast that with the fact that a few of the people indicted in connection with the January 6th riot at the Capitol have been denied bail. One rationale the judicial system put forth for denying bail is that the people in question organized the riot. However, after more than half a year of extensive investigation, yesterday the news broke that “the FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials.”

And yet the riots throughout 2020 did have organizers and provocateurs, most noticeably members of the group that calls itself antifa, who have never even been charged, let alone held without bail.

Some of those indicted for the January 6th riot have been held in solitary confinement, despite the fact that many on the political left have long been making the case against that practice.

In some cases the government has refused to give defendants and their lawyers relevant video footage recorded in and around the Capitol on January 6th. In other cases the government has placed onerous restrictions on defendants and their attorneys who need access to relevant video.

One of the rioters inside the Capitol, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by a police officer, apparently with no warning. That killing may have been justified, but to this day, more than seven months later, the authorities still refuse to identify the police officer or give an account of the event, even to the slain woman’s family. Contrast that with the clamor in recent years to have authorities release within days or even hours the name of every policeman involved in a fatal shooting.

I’m not aware of a single person in 2020 who used the word insurrection to characterize seven months of sustained attacks on the institutions of American democracy: thousands of police officers committed to keeping the peace while allowing people to protest; various police stations and courthouses; and even the White House. Yet when it came to the January 6th riot, activists, politicians, and the media on the left acted as if a commandment had come down from on high: “Thou shalt not fail to call this an insurrection,” and they faithfully obeyed.

Even-handed justice requires that prosecution of rioters with leftist ideologies be carried out as thoroughly and vigorously as prosecution of rioters with rightist ideologies. That’s not what has happened. Our legal system has treated the two groups very differently, and in so doing has blatantly denied equal justice under the law.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Standing winecup and clouds

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On July 23rd in the dedicated little wildflower area at the Floral Park entrance to Great Hills Park I made some portraits of standing winecups, Callirhoe digitata, yet another member of the botanical family that has featured prominently here in recent posts, the Malvaceae, or mallow family. I’m fond of portraits in which a wildflower seems to be soaring above the clouds, as in this case. For that perspective I get down close to or actually on the ground.


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For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed that our legal system should treat similar things similarly. (Don’t you believe that, too?) For example, it never made sense to me that adults could legally drink alcohol but not smoke marijuana, especially since drinking large amounts of alcohol causes much more damage to individuals and society than consuming large amounts of marijuana. Of course use of either drug entails responsibility: no one should drive drunk or high. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) appears to be a growing factor in impaired-driving crashes,” and some jurisdictions are considering drugged-driving laws that would be on a par with drunk-driving laws, now that increasingly many states have been legalizing marijuana.

I bring up my longstanding belief that the legal system should treat similar things similarly because I recently started reading the 2021 book Noise, by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Siboney, and Cass R. Sunstein. Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, is the author of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, which I read several years ago and recommend to you. Olivier Sibony “is a professor, author and advisor specializing in the quality of strategic thinking and the design of decision processes.” Cass R. Sunstein is a professor at the Harvard Law School and the author of various books.

Early in the new book Noise comes a consideration of the sentences meted out to people convicted of similar crimes. In the book’s parlance, such sentences have been “noisy,” meaning they’ve shown undesirably large variation. The book points out that as far back as 1973 Judge Marvin Frankel drew attention to the disparities in sentencing for similar crimes. As a result, a study was done in 1974: “fifty judges from various districts were asked to set sentences for defendants in hypothetical cases summarized in identical pre-sentence reports. The basic finding was that ‘absence of consensus was the norm’ and that the variations across punishments were ‘astounding.’ A heroin dealer could be incarcerated for one to ten years, depending on the judge. Punishments for a bank robber ranged from five to eighteen years in prison. The study found that in an extortion case, sentences varied from a whopping twenty years imprisonment and a $65,000 fine to a mere three years imprisonment and no fine. Most startling of all, in sixteen of twenty cases, there was no unanimity on whether any incarceration was appropriate.”

Studies in subsequent years found similar disparities. In 1984 the U.S. Congress, responding to those studies, passed the Sentencing Reform Act. The law “created the US Sentencing Commission, whose principal job was clear: to issue sentencing guidelines that were meant to be mandatory and that would establish a restricted range for criminal sentences.” A later study compared sentences for certain offenses in 1985, under the old system, with those in 1989 and 1990, under the new system. “For every offense, variations across judges were much smaller in the later period, after the Sentencing Reform Act had been implemented.”

It will probably come as no surprise to you that in spite of the much better uniformity in sentencing that was documented after the guidelines created by the US Sentencing Commission went into effect, many judges complained that they could no longer adequately take account of the particulars in individual cases. “Yale law professor Kate Stith and federal judge José Cabranes wrote that ‘the need is not for blindness, but for insight, for equity,’ which ‘can only occur in a judgment that takes account of the complexities of the individual case.'” In 2005, the United States Supreme Court struck down the obligatory guidelines; they became “merely advisory.” The authors of Noise note that “seventy-five percent of [federal] judges preferred the advisory regime, whereas just 3% thought the mandatory regime was better.”

The result was what could be expected. Harvard law professor Crystal Yang investigated, gathering the data for almost 400,000 criminal defendants. Her study found that in comparison with sentences under the obligatory regime, the disparity in sentencing doubled under the advisory regime. “After the guidelines became advisory, judges became more likely to base their sentencing decisions on their personal values… After the Supreme Court’s decision, there was a significant increase in the disparity between the sentences of African American defendants and white people convicted of the same crimes… Three years after [Judge] Frankel’s death in 2002, striking down the mandatory guidelines produced a return to something more like his nightmare: law without order.” So much for “equity.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 10

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Do you remember the white avens (Geum canadense) buds and flowers you saw here recently?
From our back yard on July 22nd comes this view of a white avens seed head.
Its hooks are obviously intended to get caught on the fur of passing animals.


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One morning last week we took a stroll through a nearby part of our neighborhood. When a woman walking her dog came near us, I asked her with no prelude, as I recently started doing to find out how people feel: “What do you think about the current state of our country?” She indicated that she wasn’t happy with it: “Somebody needs to start doing something.” Then she mentioned her young grandson and said she was optimistic that he would turn things around. I followed up: “But do you think we have enough time to wait for him to grow up and do that?” After a few seconds’ thought she said: “No.”

The woman told us her name is Lenore. “Like the Lenore that Poe wrote about?” I asked. She said that was it, that her father was fond of Poe’s works. “So he actually named you Lenore because of Poe’s poem?” “Yes,” she replied, and then she quoted from “The Raven”: “a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” You never know what interesting things you’ll find out when you talk to strangers.

Just a few houses before the place where we encountered Lenore I’d noticed a yard sign for an organization called Braver Angels. Having never heard of it, I looked it up:

Our mission is to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.

We do so by observing the Braver Angels Way:

We state ours views freely and fully, without fear.

We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree.

We treat people who disagree with us with honesty and respect.

We seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.

We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.

We believe that all of us have blind spots and none of us are not worth talking to.

We believe that, in disagreements, both sides share and learn. In Braver Angels, neither side is teaching the other or giving feedback on how to think or say things differently.

Our work ethic is citizen-leadership; we’re many volunteers assisted by a professional staff.

We’re guided by the Braver Angels Rule: At every level of organizational guidance, red and blue leaders are equally represented. Regarding race, ethnicity, and social and economic class, our constant striving is to be an organization that reflects the country we seek to serve.

Sounds like Lenore is getting her wish without having to wait for her grandson to grow up. Somebody is doing something.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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The long floral stalks of gulf vervain

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What distinguishes gulf vervain, Verbena xutha, from other kinds of verbena here is its long and slender flower stalks, which can be straight, curved, or sinuous. The first picture shows you some at the Riata Trace pond on July 30th. When I found a group out in the open I got down on the ground and aimed upward for an artsy minimalist portrait.


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Glenn Loury has written an inaugural essay for The Journal of Free Black Thought. In the essay he quotes a sentence from Ephesians and says that “Bad ideas are the ‘principalities and powers’ that reside in the heads—the ‘high places’—of flesh-and-blood people. These bad ideas need to be combated and overcome by good ideas.” In so saying, he pushes back against the censorship that has rapidly become common in our media. Loury notes that the new journal “is dedicated to the principle that in a liberal democracy, viewpoint diversity and the airing of ideas—all ideas, even ideas that we’re told aren’t properly ‘black’—are essential components in the struggle of good ideas against bad.” That sounds like a good idea to me.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Beyond its accustomed time

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Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is an early-spring wildflower in central Texas. Individual plants don’t always know that, as evidenced by today’s portrait from June 14th along Capital of Texas Highway. In case you’re not familiar with paintbrushes of the floral kind, let me point out that the bright red elements are not petals but bracts, which is to say modified leaves. The actual flowers in this genus are pale and small, and therefore inconspicuous.

As with other recent pictures you’ve seen here, this one shows the effects of a ring flash and a small aperture (f/18), one consequence of which is the darker-than-life sky color.


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Did you hear about the appropriately named Zaila Avant-garde, who was indeed the avant-garde, i.e. winner, in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee? In the linked video she describes being interested in getting an education as a gate-opener. Good for her for saying so!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Clouds over central Texas on February 4th

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Sometimes we get wispy clouds. Sometimes we get cottony clouds. Sometimes we get both.

The long tradition of referring to the skies as the heavens leads us to a quotation for today: “Can you see yourselves as spiritual beings having a human experience, rather than human beings who may be having a spiritual experience?” — Wayne Dyer, 1988. (A Quote Investigator article discusses the sentence’s origin and variations in its wording.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2021 at 4:45 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Ice is nice, part 4

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Here’s what you learned in part 1: In a shaded part of Great Hills Park on January 12th I discovered that thin sheets of ice had formed close to the ground. Most importantly for my purposes, I found that I could slowly lift up a small section of ice and it would come away in shapes that were irregular yet didn’t break apart. Over and over I did my light lifting, each time facing toward the sun and holding the little panel erect against a background of shaded trees so that backlighting would reveal details in the ice.

In addition to that, I held some of the pieces up higher, against the sky, to make portraits of a different sort, one of which you’re seeing here. Admittedly this is a combination you probably wouldn’t ever find in nature, but the urge to experiment came over me and I yielded.

And here’s a humorous quotation for today: “When a man gits perfektly kontented, he and a clam are fust couzins.” [When a man gets perfectly contented, he and a clam are first cousins.”] — Josh Billings, the pen name for Henry Wheeler Shaw. Wikipedia notes that “Shaw attended Hamilton College, but was expelled in his second year for removing the clapper of the campus bell.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 4, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Paloverde tree with great wispy clouds

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Parkinsonia aculeata; Roy G. Guerrero Park; December 21, 2020.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 7, 2021 at 4:36 AM

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Desert views

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Four years ago today we drove across the southern California desert on our way to Tucson. In the picture above of the Salton Sea, mist made the mountains beyond the western shore unclear, and it’s also unclear to me what range it is (perhaps the Borrego Mountains). The second picture comes to you from along Interstate 8. A lot of the dunes there allow recreational vehicles, and as a result I couldn’t take pictures in many of the places I wanted to because vehicle tracks marred the scene. While the dunes below do show a slight amount of disturbance, I hope you’ll still find this panorama pleasant.

But if you insist on arenaceous purity and no tracks, I’ll backtrack two weeks to October 23rd of 2016, when we stopped at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah. Though it also allows recreational vehicles, we stayed long enough for me to wander around and find undisturbed parts of the dunes to photograph.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “J’ai toujours aimé le désert. On s’assoit sur une dune de sable. On ne voit rien. On n’entend rien. Et cependant quelque chose rayonne en silence….” “I’ve always loved the desert. You sit down on a sand dune. You see nothing. You hear nothing. And yet something glows in silence….” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le petit prince, The Little Prince.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2020 at 4:37 AM

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