Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pale umbrellawort

with 20 comments

Making its debut here today is Mirabilis albida, apparently known as pale umbrellawort, white four o’clock, and hairy four o’clock. I found this one on August 22nd—though six-and-a-half hours earlier than four o’clock—in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The USDA map shows the species growing in places as far apart as Quebec and southern California.


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Did you hear the latest news about equity in mathematics? Because the word odd has negative connotations like ‘strange’ and ‘not usual,’ a group of college math students said they wanted to even the score and demanded that all whole numbers, whether previously considered odd or even, must now be designated even. Professors of mathematics immediately apologized to the students for the centuries of evenist domination they’d been complicit with, and they promised that no future syllabi or textbooks would perpetuate evenism. 

Then an ideologically purer subset of students took issue with the first group, asking why they’d stopped at the whole numbers, which comprise only a tiny oppressive elite of all numbers. The second student group began chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, fraction-phobes have got to go.” The original student group found that chant, especially the “hey hey, ho ho” part, so profoundly convincing that they immediately recognized the disparate impact that their “all whole numbers are even” decree would have on fractions. They agreed that the sacred value of inclusion requires that fractions be included as whole numbers from now on. The mathematics professors promptly issued an apology for not having recognized their unconscious bias against fractions.

It didn’t take long before a third group of math students more radical than the second group started agitating because of the harm that would still befall the irrational numbers, which can never be expressed as fractions no matter how much affirmanumerative action colleges and government agencies give them. Imagine those numbers going through life saddled with the label irrational, as if they’re not in their right mind! The second student group soon confessed their lack of inclusiveness and agreed, for the sake of belonging, that all numbers will now belong to the set of whole numbers. The mathematics professors quickly issued an abject apology for othering the numbers they hadn’t previously accepted as whole numbers.

Barely had things settled down when a fourth group of math students complained that all the previous groups were still oppressors because categorizing numbers in any way at all is a form of profiling and is therefore racist. For the sake of equity, the fourth group insisted that the only allowable view is that all numbers are equal. From now on, no matter what number a student comes up with as an answer to a question on a math test, that answer has to be correct because all numbers are equal. Similarly, students must now be allowed to pay whatever amount they want for tuition because any number of dollars is equal to any other number of dollars. The mathematics professors immediately acceded to the new demands and issued a deep apology for the violence caused by their previous silence about all numbers actually being equal.

A fifth group agreed with the general idea but insisted that because old-fashioned equality is racist, all numbers must be considered equitable rather than equal, and henceforth the equal sign, =, must get replaced by a new equity sign. A contest would be held to accept proposals for what the new equity sign will look like. Naturally only people with a long and oppressed history of intersectional co-morbidities would be allowed to enter the contest.

But then a sixth group of students pointed out that all those changes were meaningless because, let’s face it, mathematics is based on objectivity and rigor, which are tools of the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy. The mathematics professors, without even waiting to hear the sixth student group’s demands for change, realized that the only proper course of action is to stop studying and teaching the horrid subject of mathematics altogether. They shut down the mathematics department and in its place they created a new department to offer Doctorates in Diversity Training (DDT).

Okay, so all those things didn’t really happen—at least not yet. Give it a few months.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2021 at 4:35 AM

20 Responses

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  1. Apparently plants have their own clocks and speak a different horal language than we do.

    Steve Gingold

    August 29, 2021 at 6:06 AM

  2. Even though I was certain this wasn’t in the same family as the nightshades, I still double-checked. The flower shape is so similar. The name ‘umbrellawort’ suggests the Umbelliferae, but of course it doesn’t belong there, either — and besides, the Umbelliferae have become the Apiaceae, and around and around we go!

    What’s most interesting is that this is a native. I always think of four o’clocks as the sort of garden plant sold at the box stores, and never considered the possibility that we had native species.


    August 29, 2021 at 9:06 AM

    • As you confirmed, the fiveness that’s prominent in the nightshade family isn’t unique to it.

      The confusion between umbrellas and umbels traces back to etymology: Latin umbra meant ‘shadow,’ and umbella was a diminutive that meant ‘sunshade, parasol, umbrella.’ The r flits in and out of these words like the shadows when the sun goes behind the clouds and comes back out.

      As with so many other plants, I’m familiar with four o’clocks only from our native species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2021 at 10:01 AM

  3. I think they also decided that Irish babies made a healthy meal…….


    August 29, 2021 at 11:18 AM

  4. A very appropriate name for the umbrella flower! Your story on the demand for number equality should be considered as an addendum to the book: Madness of Crowds which I am presently reading.

    Peter Klopp

    August 29, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    • It’s a good book to be reading. I finished it a couple of months ago.

      I’ve been wondering if there’s an outlet for today’s satire, whether in print or more likely online.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2021 at 11:40 AM

  5. Love the flower photo and insights into mathematical diversity!


    August 30, 2021 at 2:43 AM

    • Thanks and thanks. The flower picture took a few minutes. I worked on the math part for hours over several days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2021 at 6:17 AM

      • Yes, I know and am still polishing off my novel. I think the maths works but with a caveat that people are not merely numbers!


        August 30, 2021 at 6:19 AM

        • To my mind, the fact that people are not merely numbers adds to the cogency of the satire because the ideology I’m satirizing treats people as groups rather than individuals.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 30, 2021 at 6:43 AM

          • Yes, that’s true it is the categorising that can be offensive. Many people dislike our U.K. BAME category as it puts too many different people under one label and creates crazy political correctness.


            August 30, 2021 at 6:47 AM

            • I’d heard of BAME but had to look it up to remind myself that it stands for “black, Asian and minority ethnic.” The “Asian” component was already ridiculously broad: what do people in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia have in common? The latest equivalent to BAME here is BIPOC: “black, indigenous, and people of color.” The ideologues who invent such terms are twisting themselves in acronymic knots to avoid saying what they really mean: “everybody except whites.”

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 30, 2021 at 7:23 AM

            • Here’s an article about that:

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 30, 2021 at 7:57 AM

  6. Awesome! new follower here.


    August 31, 2021 at 6:13 AM

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