Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘trees

A heralding heron

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Hardly had I arrived at the Willow Trace Pond in far north Austin on July 21st when I caught sight of a heron at the base of some young black willow trees, Salix nigra. Switching to my longest lens, I gradually worked my way forward and managed to take eight pictures over two minutes before I got close enough that the bird walked off into the underbrush. From what I gather online, this seems to have been a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea, but if anyone knows otherwise I’m ready to be set straight.

Compositionally, notice how the long arc of a slender willow branch caps the lower portions of the two leaning tree trunks to form a de facto frame around most of the heron.



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Highfalutin’ Employees


Okay, so it’s not the employees who are highfalutin’ but the terms that companies use when referring to their employees. You’ve probably shopped at businesses like Whole Foods where employees are now “partners” and the wholesalers that sell to the company are “supplier partners.” Granted, the phenomenon isn’t new: some of us are old enough to remember when garbage collectors ludicrously got rechristened sanitation engineers. Even so, the euphemizing of employee titles has gone into overdrive in the past few years. Comedian Adam Carolla riffs on that in his just-released book Everything Reminds Me of Something:


It’s corporate America’s fault for calling the chick making eight dollars an hour stirring the beans at Taco Bell a “team member.” It implies she has a say. I was a goomper who worked my way up to being a glorified goomper. “Hey, idiot” was how I was greeted most days on the construction site. Now everyone is a “valued associate,” “partner,” or “colleague.” Language like that levels the field and implies an opening for a conversation about your pronouns and gender identity, or about race and microaggressions.

If inmates in a maximum-security prison were referred to as team members, and the warden talked about striving to create an inclusive place where everyone’s voice would be heard, a day wouldn’t go by without a guard being taken hostage.

Worker euphemisms hit peak absurdity last year for me when I noticed a sign outside a Jimmy John’s sub joint.

No wonder the Great Resignation is happening. Jimmy John’s is hiring rock stars. Who’d work as a bank teller and be a “team member” when they can go across the street to Jimmy John’s and be a rock star? As far as euphemisms go, this even beats Disneyland’s calling the failed musical theater student in the Pluto costume a cast member. Obviously, Jimmy John’s workers are not literally rock stars. Slash and Dave Grohl aren’t slinging the composite-meat products behind the counter. They’re shredding on their guitars, not shredding iceberg lettuce. But even figuratively, “rock star” doesn’t apply. People in sales or advertising are called rock stars when they close a big account or do something else that’s outstanding. How can someone stand out when they’re assembling sandwiches and will soon be replaced by a robot? It’s all part of the failure of the self-esteem movement. You can’t give someone self-esteem. It has to be earned. We can change the language, but it doesn’t change the job. Calling someone a rock star doesn’t make them one. We can rename herpes “happies,” but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sexually transmitted disease.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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Vertical and horizontal takes on maidenhair ferns

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After much-needed bouts of rain on two consecutive days, I headed out on the morning of May 25th to see how the land looked. My third and last stop was along the cliff on the west side of the Capital of Texas Highway a bit north of the Colorado River. Water seeping through the rocks there supports plants on the cliff face and at its base. In particular, for several years now that water has sustained a grand column of southern maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris), as you see above. The trees atop the cliff are Ashe junipers (Juniperus ashei), with possibly some eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) mixed in.

My second stop of the morning had been close to there, at Bull Creek District Park, where tree shadows falling across maidenhair ferns and wet rocks had me taking a bunch of pictures.


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Gasoline prices just hit new record highs, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, inflation-wise. As consumers know, but federal officials seem slow to admit, everything is becoming more expensive. And while the purchasing power of our money is expected to erode more slowly in the months to come, getting from here to there will be painful. Unless you’re a politician looking for a sneaky way to cover the government’s bills, there’s nothing good about inflation, which damages the economy while doing the greatest harm to the most vulnerable.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline across the United States is currently $4.62, according to AAA. That’s up from $4.17 a month ago and $3.04 at this time last year. The White House wants to blame Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the soaring cost of driving (at least, when not hailing an “incredible transition” to green energy), which comes just in time to hobble Americans’ summer travel plans. But, while that war certainly squeezed energy supplies, prices were rising before troops crossed borders in February, and they climbed for all sorts of goods and services as money lost its purchasing power.

That’s the opening of the article “Politicians Cause Real Pain With Inflationary Policies” by J.D. Tuccille that appeared yesterday on the website of Reason. The summary beneath the title says “Inflation damages the economy while doing the greatest harm to the most vulnerable.” You can check out the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 2, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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Texas groundsel covering the ground

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On April 8th along US 290 west of Ledbetter in eastern Lee County I stopped to photograph a great display of Texas groundsel, Senecio ampullaceus. You’re looking at just one portion of the colony.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2022 at 4:03 PM

Bare dead tree complexity

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Our first-ever visit to Georgetown’s Overlook Park on March 26th yielded pictures of complex dead tree remains in Lake Georgetown. To the novelty of our visit you can apparently add the title of today’s post, because Google returned no hits for the exact phrase “bare dead tree complexity.” Whether anyone has taken a similar photograph of these trees, I can’t say.

Looser groups of tree remains in the lake lent themselves to different kinds of photographs that gave greater visibility to the choppy water the breeze was whipping up that morning.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 10, 2022 at 4:36 AM

New Zealand: Matakatia Bay

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Seven years ago today, on the last afternoon of our first fabulous trip to New Zealand,
I took pictures from the Matakatia Bay side of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula a little north of Auckland.

From that vantage point I photographed the coastal bluff shown in the top picture, the seastack
known as Kotanui or Frenchman’s Cap* shown in the middle picture, and Rangitoto Island.

* Due to persistent supply chain problems, New Zealand has had a chronic shortage of apostrophes in proper names. I’ve graciously supplied the apostrophe that was lacking.


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For some years now I’ve been calling for a United Nations 2.0. Reasons for jettisoning the old organization include those that I gave in my December 31 commentary: “Starting on January 1, 2022, a staggering 68.1% of the UN Human Rights Council will be dictators and other serial human rights abusers. Despite UN Watch’s detailed report on their gross abuses, Qatar, Cameroon, Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Somalia were all elected in October to the UN’s top human rights body, joining China, Cuba, Russia, Libya, Pakistan and Venezuela.” And “in an April 2021 secret ballot, the UN’s Economic and Social Council elected Iran’s gender apartheid regime to a 4-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women, the ‘principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.’” The article that detailed those abuses included seven others.

Now comes the Russian dictator’s invasion of Ukraine. The current United Nations was unable to do anything about it before or after—didn’t really even seem interested in trying. That ought to be impetus enough for the creation of a new United Nations that no despotic countries will be allowed to join.

At the same time, all civilized nations should expel every Russian diplomat and no longer allow any flights or ships from Russia to land in their countries.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 26, 2022 at 4:40 AM

Drowned remains

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At Barkley Meadows Park in Del Valle on January 29th we walked completely around Berdoll Pond, at whose far end I did many takes on drowned tree remains. The nearby skeleton of the plant shown below (perhaps poverty weed) also attracted me.


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The press is an availability machine. It serves up anecdotes which feed our impression of what’s common in a way that is guaranteed to mislead. Since news is what happens, not what doesn’t happen, the denominator in the fraction corresponding to the true probability of an event—all the opportunities for the event to occur, including those in which it doesn’t—is invisible, leaving us in the dark about how prevalent something is.

The distortions, moreover, are not haphazard, but misdirect us toward the morbid. Things that happened suddenly are usually bad—a war, a shooting, famine, financial collapse—but good things may consist of nothing happening, like a boring country at peace or a forgettable region that is healthy and well fed. And when progress takes place, it isn’t built in a day; it creeps up a few percentage points a year, transforming the world by stealth.

Steven Pinker, Rationality, 2021

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman 



Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Two days, two birds

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On January 29th I stopped along Cameron Rd. in northeast Austin to photograph a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) with a good amount of fruit on it. After taking several pictures I glimpsed a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) fairly high in the tree, so I hastened back to the car, switched to my 100–400mm lens, and made it back to the possumhaw, all in just three minutes (thanks, metadata). I hoped the mockingbird would still be there, and it was, though a little higher than before. I did what I could.

The next day we visited the small Selma Hughes Park on the Colorado River for the first time. What caught my attention were several dead trees heavily covered by dense vines, of which I took many pictures. Four days later, while looking through the photographs of those vine-covered trees on my computer screen, I noticed that four frames showed something I hadn’t been aware of at the time I took the pictures: at the very top of one dead tree stood a bird. It wasn’t in previous frames nor in the ones that followed. I’m thinking the interloper that had flown in and out without my noticing it was a bluejay (Cyanocitta cristata).


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Which of the following stories, if any, are real?

  1. A gun-control activist fired several shots at and almost killed a mayoral candidate in Louisville, Kentucky. Black Lives Matter posted $100,000 bail for the shooter.
  2. A member of the United States Congress claimed that the recent expiration of pandemic-related child tax credits has contributed to the current rise in crime because parents have been driven to steal baby formula from stores.
  3. More Americans aged 18 to 45 now die from fentanyl overdoses than from automobile accidents, Covid-19, cancer, suicide, or any other cause.
  4. Students in a graduate school course staged a sit-in after the professor corrected errors in spelling and grammar that the students had made in their papers.

Scroll down to find out which ones are real.

All those stories are real. You’re welcome to read the details about

the gun control advocate’s use of a gun in an attempted assassination
Black Lives Matter posting $100,000 bail for the assailant


the politician who blamed the conspicuous rise in crime on the need to steal baby formula


the deaths among Americans due to fentanyl


a graduate school protest against a professor who corrected grammatical and spelling
mistakes the students made in their papers [see item 9 in that article].

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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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


with 9 comments

I’ve had a hard time fulfilling my PQ, or possumhaw quota, this winter. For whatever reason—perhaps the sustained freeze last February—most of the possumhaws (Ilex decidua) I’ve seen this season haven’t produced a lot of fruit. A few weeks ago I made sure to check out several that looked fabulous last year; this time they were almost completely bare. Among the best specimens I’ve found was the one shown above on January 26th in a front yard six houses away from us. A bright blue sky as a contrasting backdrop didn’t hurt, and a bird’s nest added a point of interest. A possumhaw within sight of that one that has borne dense fruit in other years was practically devoid of any this year. Three days later along Cameron Road I stopped to photograph another possumhaw that looked pretty good:


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I recently learned about the ruling by a United States District Court in the 1967 case “Lee v. Macon County Board of Education.” The court notably found that “It is also axiomatic that a state may not induce, encourage or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish.” The same principle naturally holds true for the federal government. As the First Amendment to the United States Constitution puts it: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech….” Unfortunately, members of Congress and the executive branch of our government are increasingly seeking to circumvent that prohibition by urging private companies to do the censoring for them. In a current example, “Chelsea Greene Publishing is suing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for allegedly abusing her political authority to push Amazon to censor their book titled ‘The Truth About COVID-19.’ The publisher alleges serious First Amendment violations.”

I don’t know how accurate or inaccurate the statements in that book will eventually prove to be—think about the many times government health officials have reversed themselves about the Covid-19 pandemic, sometimes even later admitting that they’d known what they were saying wasn’t true—but no member of the government should be telling booksellers what books they can and cannot sell.

Not that large companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Twitter need much nudging from the federal government—on their own they’ve already been suppressing and canceling people who dissent from whatever the latest orthodoxy is. Elizabeth Warren might as well encourage fire to be hot or rain to be wet.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 13, 2022 at 4:25 AM

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Three takes on bushy bluestem

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At Chalk Ridge Falls Park in the outskirts of Belton on January 17th I did several takes on the native grass known as bushy bluestem, Andropogon tenuispatheus. Above, you see a stand of it on the opposite bank from where we walked along the Lampasas River. Soon afterward I had a chance to get close to some on our side of the river.

Elsewhere I worked quickly to record a bushy bluestem plant while it was still backlit. A few minutes later
and the moving sun—actually of course the moving earth—would have deprived me of the chance.

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Last week I finished reading the 2015 book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice. My personality normally sets me at odds with activists, many of whom I see increasingly pushing ideologies despite objective reality contradicting those ideologies. Yet this activist, Alice Dreger, is also a historian, and she upholds historians’ traditional ethics: do the research and document the truth, whether it matches your preconceptions or not.

Here are a few people’s recommendations for Galileo’s Middle Finger:

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine
Galileo’s Middle Finger is a brilliant exposé of people that want to kill scientific messengers who challenge cherished beliefs. Dreger’s stunning research into the conflicts between activists and scholars, and her revelations about the consequences for their lives (including hers), is deeply profound and downright captivating. I couldn’t put this book down!”

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of The Blank SlateEnlightenment Now, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Rationality:
“In activism as in war, truth is the first casualty. Alice Dreger, herself a truthful activist, exposes some of the shameful campaigns of defamation and harassment that have been directed against scientists whose ideas have offended the sensibilities of politicized interest groups. But this book is more than an exposé. Though Dreger is passionate about ideas and principle, she writes with a light and witty touch, and she is a gifted explainer and storyteller.”

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World until Yesterday: 
“Alice Dreger would win a prize for this year’s most gripping novel, except for one thing: her stories are true, and this isn’t a novel. Instead, it’s an exciting account of complicated good guys and bad guys, and the pursuit of justice.”

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor, Emeritus, Harvard University (who died this past December 26th): 
“In this important work, Dreger reveals the shocking extent to which some disciplines have been infested by mountebanks, poseurs, and even worse, political activists who put ideology ahead of science.”


I’ll give more information about Galileo’s Middle Finger in a follow-up commentary.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 4, 2022 at 4:32 AM

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