Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘spring

Spiderworts were a star of the show

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At Enchanted Rock on April 12th spiderworts (Tradescantia sp.) were the most prominent wildflowers. You caught a glimpse of some in the recent post about vernal pools, and now you’re getting a few closer looks. In the top photo, spiderworts towered over dried ferns and some struggling prickly pears. The middle picture shows you a happy group flowering away in a vernal pool.

And below is an even closer view from an area that had granite in the background.

Back in September I ran an “editorial” in response to the widespread and intentional slanting of “news” stories. The jihad against fairness, factuality, objectivity, and due process in the United States has noticeably increased since September, so I feel I need to repeat what I wrote then.

Suppose you’re trying to determine how prevalent a certain thing is in a given population. The science of statistics requires that you get a sample that’s random and also large enough to greatly reduce the likelihood of being unrepresentative (which occasionally happens just by chance, like being dealt a straight flush in poker). Unfortunately, many in the news media violate those principles by choosing to present only occurrences that support a certain ideology, while purposely not reporting occurrences, often much greater in number, that contradict that ideology.

Let’s concoct an example. Suppose I’m a member of the Green Eyes Party, and I claim that adults with green eyes are rich. I go out searching until I eventually find four wealthy people who happen to have green eyes, and I produce a lavish documentary about them. At the end I say: “See, it’s clear that adults with green eyes are wealthy.” In so doing, I violated the axioms of statistics—and fairness!—because I included only green-eyed adults who are rich; I didn’t include many of them; and I didn’t take into account the much larger number of green-eyed adults who aren’t rich.

So when you hear on the news or elsewhere that X is a common occurrence, or that there’s an “epidemic” of X, do your best to find out whether large-scale, properly gathered statistics show that X really is common. In unfortunately many cases you’ll discover that X is actually rare but seems common only because certain interests are heavily promoting it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 1, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Prairie celestials

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Tipped off by native plant aficionado Bob Kamper about a goodly number of prairie celestials (Nemastylis geminiflora) in the greenbelt beyond his back fence in Round Rock, a suburb that borders Austin on the north, I went there on April 11th and took pictures of those flowers—many pictures, in fact, because I rarely come across that species. Most of the celestials were in the shade, and so the majority of my portraits were soft, like the one above. Occasionally I found a celestial with at least some direct sunlight on it, and then I was able to make a more contrasty portrait like the one below.

Anything but celestial are the ways in which increasingly many American schools are indoctrinating their students. You’re welcome to read a parent’s testimonial that classical liberal Bari Weiss recently disseminated.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 23, 2021 at 4:37 AM

White prickly poppy colonies

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On April 9th we drove an hour and a quarter west to the Willow City Loop, which people throng to in the spring to see vast colonies of bluebonnets. This turned out not to be an expansive year for them there (we found broad stands at Turkey Bend on the way home), but the white prickly poppies (Argemone albiflora) along the Willow City Loop were going gangbusters. Modest groups of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) accompanied the prickly poppies in some places, as you see below.

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If you’re interested in learning about the ways in which increasingly many American schools are indoctrinating their students, you can read math teacher Paul Rossi’s recent testimonial that classical liberal Bari Weiss disseminated in her “Common Sense” column. As a longtime math teacher myself, I know “how rewarding it is to help young people explore the truth and beauty of mathematics.” That’s one reason I’m especially sensitive to untruths foisted off on students as being realities.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Drummond’s wild garlic

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A common spring wildflower in Austin is Allium drummondii, variously called Drummond’s wild garlic, wild garlic, or Drummond’s onion. I can’t tell you the name of the little critter that was ensconced in one of the flowers on April 6th in my part of town.

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Along the lines of my recent theme that some or even many commonly held notions are incorrect, I’m reading the 2020 book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. The author, Michael Shellenberger, is no “climate denier.” At 15 he started an Amnesty International chapter in his high school. At 16 he held a fundraiser in his back yard for Rainforest Action Network. In college he learned Portuguese and went to live in Brazil to work with the Landless Workers’ Movement and the Workers Party. By 1995 he “was interviewing the leading lights of Brazil’s progressive movement.” He was a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment.” In 2008 he won the Green Book Award. On and on it goes. And yet, the book’s cover blurb notes, “…in 2019, as some claimed ‘billions of people are going to die,’ contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.” And that’s what he does in this book, through 284 pages of text and an impressive 100+ pages of footnotes. Check it out (of your library) or buy it, as you prefer.

On the same day that I wrote the preceding paragraph I later became aware of a forthcoming book along similar lines, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters,” by Steven Koonin. According to a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.: “Any reader would benefit from its deft, lucid tour of climate science, the best I’ve seen.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Huisache daisy colony

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Botanist Bill Carr says that husiache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, are a western species that reaches the eastern edge of its range in Travis County (which includes Austin), and that they’re uncommon here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any huisache daisies within an hour or two of home. On April 9th I came across a pretty colony of them flowering in what was either far eastern Burnet County or far western Travis County. The few violet-colored flowers mixed in were prairie verbenas, Glandularia bipinnatifida. Speaking of which, in my neighborhood the previous morning I’d found one of those with spittlebug froth on it.

Did you know that the United States Congress has designated April 2021 “National Native Plant Month”? Here’s a letter about that from the Native Plant Society of Texas.

April 14, 2021

Senator Rob Portman
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Mazie Hirono
109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: April 2021 National Native Plant Month

Dear Senator Portman and Senator Hirono:

On behalf of the Native Plant Society of Texas and its 35 local chapters, I am writing to express our thanks for your joint resolution S. 109 designating April 2021 as National Native Plant Month. We are pleased to join all the other conservation organizations, including other state native plant societies, that supported your resolution that was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 26, 2021.

Your resolution stated that there are more than 17,000 native plant species in the United States which are beneficial and part of our natural heritage. Texas, which has over 5000 species of native plants and 11 different ecoregions, is one of the most biologically diverse states because of its size and geography. However, as your resolution clearly stated, there are challenges ahead due to habitat loss, degradation, and invasive species.

Our mission statement responds to the challenges with these words: “To promote research, conservation and utilization of native plants and plant habitats through education, outreach and example”. Through these efforts, we strive to protect the native plant heritage of Texas and preserve it for future generations. We are a non-profit organization, run by volunteers and funded by membership dues, individual and corporate contributions, and foundation grants.

Thank you for your authorship of the resolution designating April 2021 as “National Native Plant Month”. Our Executive Board will definitely inform all of our local chapters of your successful resolution and encourage them to incorporate your observations in their programs in April.

Respectfully submitted,

Clarence E. Reed
VP-Advocacy & Affiliations
Native Plant Society of Texas

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 19, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Yellow star-grass and corn salad

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Yet another species makes its debut here today: Hypoxis hirsuta, known as (eastern) yellow star-grass and common goldstar. I found a bunch of them on March 29th in the same field north of La Grange that was home to Drummond’s sandwort colonies. Nudging a different one of the yellow flowers was some flowering corn salad, Valerianella sp., as shown below.

In some places in that large field the corn salad was the star of the show, with a few Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) and sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnosus) mixed in.

As a long-time observer of language, in recent years I’ve noticed an upsurge in the construction “It’s not about X, it’s about Y,” spoken by politicians and activists who get interviewed on television to give their point of view about some matter that’s been in the news. My take-away is that when you hear “It’s not about X, it’s about Y,” you can be pretty sure that it really is about X, at least in part, but the speaker wants to divert your attention to Y, which is a favored policy or talking point.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 18, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Oh that phlox

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Here’s another flowerful view from our April 2nd jaunt down south. In particular, it’s from the cemetery in Stockdale. Unlike the long exposures you saw a few posts back, this time I used a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second to freeze the wildflowers that the breeze was whipping into motion.

And while we’re looking at bright magenta phlox, let me back up to our March 19th drive down to Gonzales, where I photographed some old plainsman buds (Hymenopappus sp.) with a foxy phloxy mask-like wraith behind them.

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A theme I’ve been pursuing here for a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

One of the greatest fields of abuse is popular psychology, where many notions are passed off as “common sense” that the evidence shows aren’t true. I’d like to refer you to a wonderful book about that: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein. Here’s an example of one myth as described on Amazon’s page about the book:

Low Self-Esteem is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems.

Many popular psychologists have long maintained that low self-esteem is a prime culprit in generating unhealthy behaviors, including violence, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. The self-esteem movement has found its way into mainstream educational practices. Some athletic leagues award trophies to all schoolchildren to avoid making losing competitors feel inferior (Sommers & Satel, 2005). Moreover, the Internet is chock full of educational products intended to boost children’s self-esteem.

But there’s a fly in the ointment: Research shows that low self esteem isn’t strongly associated with poor mental health. In a painstakingly – and probably painful! – review, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues (2003) canvassed over 15,000 studies linking self-esteem to just about every conceivable psychological variable. They found that self-esteem is minimally related to interpersonal success, and not consistently related to alcohol or drug abuse. Perhaps most surprising of all, they found that “low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression” (Baumeister et al., 2003, p. 6).

Because activists and ideologues have captured the American educational system, schools here now spend inordinate amounts of time promoting self-esteem. Because a school day has a finite number of hours in it, the more time teachers devote to self-esteem, the less time they have for actual knowledge. The result is that many students are handed diplomas even when they know practically nothing about history, geography, arithmetic, government, science, and logic. But they ooze self-esteem.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2021 at 4:48 AM

Non-blue bluebonnets

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Above, from our first 2021 visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th comes a bluebonnet displaying a purple as richly saturated as I think I’ve ever seen in Lupinus texensis. No extra charge for the tiny green nymph of a katydid or grasshopper. And below are two white bluebonnets scattered in the large colony we saw in Dubina on March 29th.

A theme I’ve been pursuing here for some days now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Take taxes. Many say it’s only “common sense” that if a jurisdiction raises a tax rate it will bring in more revenue. The truth is that sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. For example, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 11%, the increase is small enough that the higher rate won’t be enough to cause people to take an easier job with a lower salary to avoid the higher tax, so revenue will increase. On the other hand, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 50%, a lot of people will lower their earning and spending because the higher rate is just too burdensome, and as a result the government may well end up taking in less than before. And, to take an easy-to-understand extreme, if a government imposed a 90% tax on earnings, many people would stop working altogether, go on welfare, and the government would have no income of theirs to tax. There’s a good example of that kind of work avoidance in the current pandemic: the American government has given out such high supplemental unemployment benefits during the pandemic that some people find they make more money by not working than by going to a job. As a result, some owners of small business have been having a hard time finding workers.

Another consideration is that if one jurisdiction raises its tax rates to be significantly higher than the rates in other jurisdictions, people and companies have an incentive to go elsewhere. That’s happening now as people and companies from high-tax states like New York and California move to lower-tax states like Florida and Texas, so New York and California will lose all the money they used to get by taxing those people and companies. If federal corporate tax rates are raised to the point that they’re significantly higher than corporate tax rates in other countries, some companies will relocate a portion or even all of their operations to foreign countries with lower tax rates, and the United States will lose the revenue it used to get. As a historical example, in Britain by the end of the 1960s the upper tax rates were so high that the Rolling Stones moved to the south of France and John Lennon moved to the United States.

In the opposite direction, sometimes lowering tax rates ends up bringing in more revenue by encouraging people to spend more now that they have more. Lowering corporate tax rates can induce American companies to repatriate earnings they’ve kept in foreign countries to avoid excessively high tax rates at home.

In short, it’s not always true that raising tax rates brings in more revenue. The sweet spot depends on many factors, and finding it seems more magic than science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 13, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Not done with bluebonnet colonies yet

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On April 9th we visited a new place, Turkey Bend Recreation Area in western Travis County. The bluebonnets were still thriving there, despite some unsightly trampled spots where people had obviously plunked themselves or more likely their kids down for pictures among the best-known Texas wildflowers.

In the upper part of the second picture you see Lake Travis, which was created in the 1930s by damming the Colorado River. Given central Texas’s propensity for both droughts and tremendous downpours that cause flash flooding, the water level in Lake Travis has fluctuated a lot. In some years the land on which these bluebonnets are now flowering was under water.

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Three posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another, this time from baseball.

Let’s compare two players on a baseball team, Casey and Roger. When the team finished the first half of the season, Casey’s batting average was a whopping .387 (meaning he got a hit 38.7% of the times he was officially at bat). Roger’s batting average during the same period was almost as good at .375.

During the second half of the season (in its own right, not cumulatively from the beginning of the year), both players declined. In that second half of the season Casey batted .246 and Roger batted only .216.

Summarizing: in the first half of the season Casey out-hit Roger, and again in the second half of the season Casey out-hit Roger. Who had the better batting average for the season as a whole?

Almost everyone will say that because Casey outperformed Roger in the first half and also outperformed him in the second half, there’s no doubt that Casey ended up with the higher batting average of the two for the season as a whole.

But it’s time once again for me to say hold your horses, not so fast. In fact it’s easy to show how Roger could still have ended up with the better batting average, despite trailing in each individual half of the season. Here are three charts that do the trick (I’m sorry WordPress doesn’t seem to let me control the formatting the way I’d like).

First Half of the Season
– – – –At-batsHitsAverage = Hits ÷ At bats
Casey3112 12 ÷ 31 = .387
Roger15257 57 ÷ 152 = .375

Second Half of the Season
– – – –At-batsHitsAverage = Hits ÷ At bats
Casey6115 15 ÷ 61 = .246
Roger5111 11 ÷ 51 = .216

Season as a Whole
– – – –Total At-batsTotal HitsAverage = Total Hits ÷ Total At bats
Casey31 + 61 = 9212 + 15 =27 27 ÷ 92 = .293
Roger152 + 51 = 20357 + 11 = 68 68 ÷ 203 = .334

So you see Roger did significantly better than Casey for the season as a whole even though Roger had a lower average in each individual half! This is an example of the very interesting phenomenon known as Simpson’s Paradox. What throws people’s “common sense” off here is that Roger had a lot more at-bats than Casey, especially in the first half of the season, when Roger was batting extremely well. You could say that the players were weighted differently. This is akin to the example a few posts back about average rates of speed while driving, where more time was spent at a slow speed than at a fast one. This baseball example is another one that shows you can’t average averages.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 11, 2021 at 4:45 AM

Go with the blow

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The blowing of the wind, that is, which I had to deal with on April 2nd at the cemetery in Stockdale, about a hundred miles south of home. First I took a bunch of wildflower pictures at high shutter speeds to try and stop the motion. Then I relented—literally—and switched to slow shutter speeds, knowing that the blowing would bring blurring. I’ll anticipate some comments and say that the resulting photographs suggest Impressionist paintings.

I took the top picture at 1/8 of a second and the bottom one at 1/15th of a second. The magenta/hot pink flowers are a Phlox species; the red-orange ones Indian paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa; the blue sandyland bluebonnets, Lupinus subcarnosus; the yellow Nueces coreopsis, Coreopsis nuecensis; the white are white prickly poppies, Argemone albiflora.

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Two posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another.

Suppose you live in an old house with a carport. Because of the topography, whenever you get a heavy enough rain, water flows onto your carport and collects there, taking hours and hours to eventually drain away. It’s a nuisance, but you put up with it because having an engineering company fix the problem would cost thousands of dollars. One night you get home from a long trip and are so exhausted you go to bed and quickly fall into a sound sleep. It’s such a deep sleep that nothing disturbs you, and you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed. A little later you open your side door and see water a couple of inches deep on your carport. What happened?

“Common sense” would lead many if not most people to say it must have rained hard during the night and that’s why the carport got flooded. You must have been sleeping so soundly that the rain didn’t wake you up.

Anyone who concludes that it must have rained is committing an error of logic. Just because event A (in this case a hard rain) always leads to event B (in this case a flooded carport), you can’t “reason” backwards and assume from the occurrence of event B that event A must have occurred. It just so happens that our previous house in Austin did suffer from a flooded carport after sustained downpours, and one morning I did open the side door and see water flowing through the carport—and yet it hadn’t rained. Instead, we’d had a sustained freeze, and a poorly insulated pipe leading from the house out to the washing machine at the back of the carport had burst. You can think of other explanations. Maybe the next-door neighbor’s sprinkler system had gone awry. Maybe a large water tanker truck had gotten into an accident nearby and the tank had split open. Maybe a water main in the street out front had ruptured. Maybe a dam had collapsed and flooded the whole neighborhood.

You get the point: just because something is plausible or even likely doesn’t mean it’s true. The world could be saved so much misery if only people investigated situations rather than jumping to conclusions—and worse, acting on hasty and unwarranted assumptions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 10, 2021 at 4:38 AM

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