Rose Pogonia: A rose by any other name would still be an orchid


Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides (Linnaeus) Ker-Gawler) is a tiny rare beauty of bogs and fens in Manitoba. A great spot is a small but lovely fen right beside a provincial trunk highway where I went to find this rare beauty

I did manage to find them but there were very few in bloom. In fact I could hardly believe how few were in bloom and I was pretty sure I was there at the right time. What happened to them. I found less than half a dozen specimens where usually I find hundreds. This was not good.

Please notice the deadly spider hiding in wait for prey inside this beautiful orchid. Sometimes life can be harsh.

I did see some good specimens and conditions were great for photography, but the numbers were worryingly sparse. I wondered if I was too late, but did not see any past prime. The ones I saw were all in excellent condition. The fen was pretty dry and wondered if for some reason it had not rained much here. In fact I concluded this must be the explanation.

This is one of Manitoba’s gorgeous pink orchids. Pink is the colour of Manitoba’s finest orchids. I wondered why it was called Rose Pogonia. I learned that it received its species name, “Pogonia” from the similarity of its single slender leaf to that of the Adders Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum). Then according to one of the most famous naturalists of all time—Henry David Thoreau—“it smells exactly like a snake.” Could that be? What does a snake smell like? I have never tried to discover that. According to A guide to the Orchids of Bruce and Grey Counties, Ontario, written by a committee of Field Naturalists, like our Orchids of Manitoba, “Many enthusiasts disagree with Thoreau and find that the flowers have a delicate raspberry odour.” I am ashamed to say I did not stop to smell it. I am a pretty lame naturalist.

I took this photo in a better year as you can see by the other orchids  flowering in the background. I hope those good times return again.

In Romeo and Juliet a real romantic claimed that it did not matter that Romeo was from her family’s rival house of Montague. He was named Montague but still was just as good.

So perhaps in this case Shakespeare was right, as he usually is, when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” When  a rose is an orchid that is.

Revolutionary Violence


Martin Luther King made an important point that those in power don’t often enough listen to. That is that even though he famously did not support violent tactics, by ignoring legitimate protests the people in power make violence inevitable. As a result the powerful become the real authors of the violent change they claim to abhor. King argued that the way to stop violent protest was to take seriously the calls for justice. All those in power have to agree to do is share power. When they refuse to share power, or design the system they control to such an extent that peaceful change becomes impossible they are to blame for the violent change that inevitably arises.

The way to stop riots is to acknowledge and then fix the conditions that rioters were rioting against and until they do that durable peace will not happen. This is not limited to racism. It applies to all injustice controlled by those in power.

King led the protests of the 1960s and today the same arguments he faced against violent protests are being levied against Black Lives Matter. As opinion columnist of The Guardian Nesrine Malik said,

“Today, it is the Black Lives Matter movement that is being discredited for not staying in its lane; for refusing to “quit while they’re still ahead”, in the words of one broadsheet columnist. But protests happen in the first place because the “proper channels” have failed – in some cases, because previous protests have also failed…When a statue falls, you don’t see the years of campaigning and lobbying and writing that went before it, and came to nothing. When Extinction Rebellion occupies central London, you don’t see the power – corporate lobbyists, complacent politicians, indifferent bureaucrats – that marginalised these concerns for so long that activists knew there was no other way.”

I too want to see non-violent protests. I am opposed to violence. Yet at the same time I believe that when peaceful protests are continuously ignored the cause of the violence is the fault of the entrenched interests.

I am reminded of the legal concept of entrapment. When courts are convinced that a crime has really in essence been created by the police rather than the criminal, the accused will be found not guilty, even though the accused did commit an illegal act. This is common in drug offences, where police officers work hard to convince “pushers” to sell the drugs to them. Courts have held that in such circumstances the trafficker has really created the crime not the “criminal.”

As Malik said,

“The very nature of being excluded from the spaces in which decisions are made means that the process of managing grievances is already rigged against you. The very position of black people as always appellants, never adjudicators, means that every protest will soon enough be denigrated as violent or disruptive. Their demands will always be dismissed as unreasonable, their priorities confused, their methods off-putting to erstwhile allies.”

Those in power are usually conservatives because they like things the way they are. Who wouldn’t when they have the power? However, such entrenched interests will not be able forever to capture the process of change for their own benefit. They have tried hard to accomplish that, but inevitably in time their efforts will fail. They should fail and they will fail. The rules must be fair. They must permit all sides to be heard not just the side of the powerful. Until that is done, their demands to follow the rules of protest will be ignored. Yet inevitably, the powerful insist that the rules of peaceful protest must be followed, but cannot they do so without permitting their opponents to have a say as well. As Malik said,

“And these rules must be respected – because conservatives will always hold them up to stymie any change, and because liberals are afraid to admit that most of our rules and norms are neither definitive nor universally observed. They are afraid to shatter the illusion and face the reality that so many of these rules are, in fact, broken all the time by people who can get away with it: tax avoiders, labour exploiters, vote manipulators. And so it is those who cannot get away with breaking the rules who are told they must uphold what is left of this order; it is their responsibility to ensure that the slope does not get too slippery and allow us all to slide into chaos.

But as long as concessions have to be prised from the hands of the establishment, rather than reasonably handed over, we cannot live without slippery slopes. Our history may, in time, bless some riots; but it also sands the rough edges off many others, expunging the anger of martyrs and revolutionaries and telling us that their victories, over slavery or Jim Crow, were the benign gift of those masters whose morality carried the day.

Today’s movements for equality are expected to resemble the dramatised depictions of their sainted predecessors – conveniently forgetting the calumnies heaped upon Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, from enemies and would-be “allies” alike. Random quotes from black icons are cherry-picked out of context from the past and waved in front of the protesters of the present, in an attempt to shame them into the most timid form of political activism possible.”

Protesters should be careful. They may turn the public against their cause by their tactics. Donald Trump is counting on that. He might be right. Violent protests helped to get Richard Nixon elected in 1968. It might happen again in 2020 in the US. Yet protesters should not be so cautious that they guarantee ineffectiveness. People in power will not give up their grip on power by timid entreaties. But when and how far should they go? Here is Malik’s view:

“The premise of change is that risks and chances need to be taken. And the movements that will be born from that demand will never be neat, and never have been. The effort to humanise black lives and win them the rights to safety and the dignity of equality may involve – among many other things – pulling down statues when it becomes clear that polite petitions and humble pleas to decolonise the curriculum will forever go unheard. Process by its very nature is conservative. To insist that the aggrieved must “follow the rules” or lose our support is to ignore the lessons of history. Many of the rights we now take for granted were won by people who knew when the time had come to give up on the establishment. Civil disobedience, strikes, riots and boycotts are not the hijacking of process: they are its continuation by other means.”

That is not an entirely unreasonable view.

I am opposed to violence and therefor  I insist that the powerful demonstrate they are willing to share power. Otherwise the violence will be on them.


Making Change Impossible


Conservatives and liberals must remember that, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This is vitally important. In the United States for decades the America right wing has  worked with tireless diligence to suppress the vote of the disadvantaged. And they have been remarkably successful. They persuaded the American Supreme Court that voter suppression was no longer a serious issue despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Both Democrats and Republicans have worked tirelessly to gerrymander voting districts so the votes of those opposed to their interests were given less effective weight than those who supported them. Both parties have demonstrated a strong distaste for real democracy. Both want obedient voters. They want to choose their voters, rather than have the voters choose them.

As a result when liberals or conservative urge protesters to rely on the ballot box for change their arguments are understandably often met with disdain by the rebels. Republicans in particular have worked hard to make sure that the rebel  votes will be ineffective, leaving the rebels with no reasonable alternative other than rebellion that might turn unruly or worse.

That is why Martin Luther King reminded American whites that because they went too far they had created the situation were violent protest was almost inevitable. Although King was a remarkable advocate for peaceful protest he realized that white American had given the impression that power would never be shared and this impression was dangerous because it undercut those who urged peaceful protest. For years he had warned that the whites were making peaceful change impossible and that they would pay a huge price for that intransigence.

In 1966 King told Mike Wallace, “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro…I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

In the following years King expanded on this important idea when he made a speech at Stanford University:

“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

We have to remember that these sentiments apply not just to African-Americans but all people of colour in all countries. They apply as well African-Canadians and Indigenous Canadians. We heard the same arguments from Canadian conservatives who were opposed to indigenous blockades. In fact, these sentiments apply to all victims of injustice everywhere.


Who is really responsible for the violent protests?

Where the majority has made peaceful change impossible they become the parents of the violent change they claim not to want.

Don’t Boo. Vote


In 2016 Barack Obama during the 2016 American presidential election urged people “Don’t boo. Vote.” That’s often good advice.

Yet, as The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik suggested, this is a familiar approach that the established interests will not lose sleep over. They know they can handle that approach. It won’t often bring about big changes, because as Trump truthfully said, but not in the sense he was suggesting, “the game is rigged.” The entrenched interests, particularly in the United States have for decades made sure that the votes of resisters are not fairly counted. As Malik in a subsequent Guardian article said,

‘It is a familiar reproach. If you’re angry, don’t boo, don’t protest, don’t take matters into your own hands. Vote, lobby, report to the authorities, trust the process. It’s the appeal of reasonable liberals and the rebuke of rightwingers. It is the refrain that rings out when demands for justice “go too far.”

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year, entrenched interests quickly turned the attention of the public from the issues being protested to the manner of the protests. The public was widely persuaded that the issues were vandalism, destruction of property, and anarchy, not racial injustice. That was precisely the agenda of law and order of the president Donald Trump. As Malik said about the United Kingdom, but as could just as easily be said of the US,

“it’s easier to talk about the lawless mobs tearing down statues than the crimes these monuments commemorate… But this is nothing new. What we rarely hear about all the great revolutions of the past is that they too looked at first like spontaneous uprisings against the existing order – and they too were subject to charges of anarchy, reckless violence, puritanical revenge. So much so that the economist Albert Hirschman described the demand to “follow the process” as “the first reaction” whenever the threat of real change is on the horizon.”


Many people fear revolutions, not entirely without justification of course. As Marx reminded, revolutions are not conducted like Sunday schools . They are scary and the American president is an expert at magnifying the fears of the American electorate. As a result many felt he over-reacted to what were largely peaceful protests. As the mayor of Portland said, “he poured fuel on the flames.”

Ever since the French Revolution it has become easy to trigger fears at the mere suggestion of revolution. Yet, it must never be forgotten that revolutions have also brought about radical change for the good. We must remember the good and the bad. Few Americans would want to reverse anything about the American Revolution. The French celebrate the French Revolution. And both of those revolutions were unruly and even violent. As Malik said,

“The first accounts of the French revolution made no distinction between its positive and negative aspects – collapsing its moral position and its violent manifestations into one. The result was that, for a long time, it was defined and smeared by its excesses. It was only the passage of time that transformed it into “a riot blessed by history”, as Gary Younge puts it.”

Sometime you gotta boo.

Orchids of Brokenhead

Many people are surprised to learn that Manitoba has many good places for orchids. I have seen them as far north as Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world.

The best place to see them in the southern part of Manitoba is no doubt the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. The organization of which I am a part, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. was very instrumental in having this area established as an ecological reserve. 37 species of orchids have been identified in Manitoba and 28 of those can be found in the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. That’s why it is so special. I am one of the authors of Orchids of Manitoba and made some modest contributions to it. As that book said, introducing the trail we helped to establish in the Reserve, “A walk through the enchanted cedar forest and the flower-filled fen will relax your mind, re-energize your body, and refresh your spirit.”



One of my favorites is Grass Pink (Calopogon Tuberosus), certainly one of the more beautiful of our orchids. As far as I am concerned it is unmatched for beauty by orchids from anywhere else in the world. How can you not refresh your spirit when contemplating such beauty?



This year because of bad luck and pressing manservant duties, I largely missed the regal show Lady”s-slipper (Reginae Cypripedium).  But  I spotted this one slightly past its prime which made me feel kinship to it.

Pursuing orchids and pursuing truth. It’s all a wonder.


Be a real Neighbour


Let me be clear: in this post, first and foremost I criticize myself.

I have noticed, probably just like you, that for the last few weeks there has been a lot of noise about changing racial attitudes. That is all fine and good. But I have not seen as much change in things people do.

As one of my favourite political commentators, Nesrine Malik of The Guardian Weekly said,

“Much of the change accelerated by the past few weeks has been centred on optics—corporations making statements about changes to their boards, brands, posting squares on Instagram. We may discover the only thing more detrimental to a cause than doing nothing is dong a tiny bit and thinking that’s enough.”

Summer Lee State Democratic Representative for the 34th District in the US said,

“We have to talk about what is a community partner. Community partners contribute, they participate, they are active in your community, basically they’re a neighbour. If they’re not doing all that they’re your colonizer.”

I have some friends who are different. They are community partners. And they do it quietly without a lot of fanfare.  They are, as the Good Book says, “neighbours.” One of them quietly participates in an organization that helps—actually helps—homeless people, most of whom are Indigenous people in Winnipeg. Another friend works helping immigrant people from Central and South America, who come legally across the southern US  border, claiming asylum, by providing them with assistance with things like food and clothing when their detention centres are deliberately kept near freezing by the authorities. These people do real things. They are both entitled to the honorary designation of mensch.

I wish I could be more like them.

Health of Children in Indian Residential Schools of Canada

Two faithful readers have asked me to comment on issues relating to the health of indigenous children in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools (as they were called). (See my post “Manitoba makes New York City  look good” The issues are incredibly important and reflect very poorly on Canada so I have chosen to respond in a separate post.

According to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC Report ), “The Death rates for Aboriginal children in residential schools were far higher than those experienced by members of the general Canadian population.” It must be remembered and emphasized that indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities against their will presumably to be educated for their benefit. To then learn that while under the custody and control of the national government and its agencies, such as various churches, children were dying at staggering rates is incredibly disturbing. I will be blogging about this again in the future.

Tuberculosis was a particular problem for indigenous children. According to that TRC Report,


“The tuberculosis health crisis in the schools was part of a broader Aboriginal health crisis that was set in motion by colonial policies that separated Aboriginal people from their land, thereby disrupting their economies and their food supplies. This crisis was particularly intense on the Canadian Prairies. Numerous government policies contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal health. During a period of starvation, rations were withheld from bands in an effort to force them to abandon the lands that they had initially selected for their reserves. In making the Treaties, the government had promised to provide assistance to First Nations to allow them to make a transition from hunting to farming. This aid was slow in coming and inadequate on arrival. Restrictions in the Indian Act made it difficult for First Nations farmers to sell their produce or borrow money to invest in technology. Reserve land was often agriculturally unproductive. Reserve housing was poor and crowded, sanitation was inadequate, and access to clean water was limited. Under those conditions tuberculosis flourished. Those people it did not kill were often severely weakened and likely to succumb to measles, smallpox, and other infectious diseases.

For aboriginal children, the relocation to residential schools was generally no healthier than their homes had been on the reserves…”


In April 2007, Bill Curry and Karen Howlett reported in the Globe and Mail as follows:

“As many as half of the aboriginal children who attended the early years of residential schools died of tuberculosis, despite repeated warnings to the federal government that overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of o medical care created a toxic breeding ground for the rapid spread of disease.”

Think about that. Half the children died from TB!

Anthony Hall in his book Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism referred to the schools as “death traps.”

Dr. P.H. Bryce prepared astonishing reports to the federal government about the schools in 1907 and 1909 in which he drew to the government’s attention the shocking death rates of children and that these death rates could be drastically reduced by the implementation of simple and inexpensive changes such as improved ventilation and sanitation, filtering entering students for contagious illness, and isolating sick individuals away from crowded dormitories. He called Canada’s administration of the Indian residential schools  a “national crime.” That is precisely what it was.

The government responded that it was “too expensive”. After all why spend so much money to save the lives of Indian children?


Is Racism in our DNA?


President Obama in 2015, the last full year of his presidency, finally started to buck up the courage to speak about racism. He pointed out how the United States had ““the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination” was “still part of our DNA” as Americans.” Remember I am not pointing my finger at Americans from the perspective of us here in Canada being clean. We have the same problem here. Both countries have the same original sin namely racism and male supremacy. This is what Condoleezza  Rice called a birth defect.


Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Dubois both understood this as well. As Todd May and George Yancy explained in their New York Times article,

“Both men emphasized how the word is part of the institutional fabric of black oppression, that individual racist acts are not aberrations but the products of a larger systemic set of practices that, as the feminist scholar Barbara Applebaum argues, “hold structural injustice in place.” Central to those practices is policing, and the “bad apple” framing fails to confront its role in structural injustice.


If you just look at bad apples you fail to see or do anything about the tree, the structure, that holds them in place. People who are part of an unjust system may be good people, they may not appear to be exploiters or bad, but if they are part of a system that oppresses they are part of the problem. The philosopher Iris Marion Young wrote this:

Structural injustice occurs as a consequence of many individual and institutions acting in pursuit of their particular goals and interests, within given institutional rules and accepted norms. All the persons who participated by their actions in the ongoing schemes of cooperation that constitute these structures are responsible for them, in the sense that they are part of the process that causes them. They are not responsible, however, in the sense of having directed the process or intended its outcomes.”

That does not mean that everyone who participates in the system is a racist. But, everyone who is part of an unjust system—including me and you—have an obligation to dissent. We must voice our objections to that system or we are part of the oppression. If we acquiesce in the injustice we are racists. There is no way around this uncomfortable fact. The least we can do—we should do more—is to voice our objections. If we don’t do at least that we are complicit—we are aiding and abetting—and in law that makes us just as guilty as the perpetrator.

In 1987 in the Stanford Law Review, Charles Lawrence wrote this way about the bad-apple metaphor: “the bad-apple metaphor suggests a “perpetrator” model that fails to give an account of just how systemic racism is “transmitted by tacit understandings” and “collective unconscious.

The philosopher Charles Mills argued, “the perpetrator [of racist actions or beliefs] perspective presupposes a world composed of atomic individuals whose actions are outside of and apart from the social fabric and without historical continuity.”

The police—just like all of us—are part of a system for which we are partly responsible. We know that system harms a lot of people. Let’s face it for once. We all know that system harms a lot of people. It is time for all of us who benefit from that system to object to that system or we are culpable too.

Michael Eric Dyson, in his influential book, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” explained it well:

“That metaphor of a few bad apples doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that pollutes the entire system. To argue that only a few bad cops cause police terror is like relegating racism to a few bigots. Bigots are surely a problem, but they are sustained by systems of belief and perception, by widely held stereotypes and social practice.”

So what do we do about it? It is important for all of us to understand this. As Todd and Yancy said,

“To truly confront problems of racist violence in our society, let’s not once again begin with the question of how to reform the police. Let’s instead start with the question of how to build healthy and safe communities of mutual respect and see which institutions we need to reach that goal. If anything that is to be called policing emerges from that inquiry, it should be at its end rather than assumed at the outset.’

Only such an approach can possibly lead to deep reform. That is the reform we need.


Manitoba Makes New York City Look Good


I recently posted about children in care in Manitoba about some amazing statistics. The statistics were pretty grim. (See Children in Care ) Manitoba has more children in care than any other province of Manitoba. In fact it has about 25% of all the children in care in Canada. About 90% of those are aboriginal children. And Manitoba is far from the largest province. Why is that?

A friend of mine then commented that this was worse than New York City. I want to repeat this so it sinks in. Things are worse—much worse—than New York City. This is what he said,


“for purposes of comparison……
new york city – population 8.5 million, foster care population 8,300.
manitoba – population 1.3+ million, foster care population 11,000.

in other words manitoba total population adjusted for comparison to total nyc population would mean an “equivalent” foster care population in sunny manitoba of 75,000+, or a stunningly increased rate in comparison.”

no doubt, as 1st nation peoples throughout the humane country of canada have said repeatedly, this stinks and reflects ongoing racism ala the residential school debacle among many other things.”

Manitoba with less than 20% of the population has more children in care than New York City! And most of those children are Indigenous Children. To have the same percentage of children in care compared to its population , New York City would have to increase is population of children in care 10 times. What is up with that?

How can anyone deny that we have systemic racism in Manitoba?

The Good/bad Binary


Barbara Trepagnier talked about what she called the “good/bad binary,” in her book Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide. She argued that by focusing on such a sharp divide, white people actually made it harder to interrupt racism.

Just before the dramatic incident that happened recently in Minneapolis to George Lloyd,  Robin Diangelo in her book called White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk About Racism, took up this concept. The book was a gift from my half Indigenous daughter in-law. I hope she was not trying to tell me something. The book did alert me to much more subtle forms of racism that are all the more pernicious on account of the subtlety.

Diangelo pointed out that before the Civil Rights Movement it was socially acceptable for white people to openly express their belief that white people were superior to other races. When white people noticed after the Civil Rights movement how many viciously many people from the northern US and Canada treated black people —even children—the luster came off racism. As Diangelo said, “After the civil rights movement, to be a good moral person and to be complicit with racism became mutually exclusive.” Only bad people were racists. Because of that attitude “racism first needed to be reduced to simple, isolated, and extreme acts of prejudice.” A person who kills a black man lying on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back by pressing his knee into the man’s neck clearly qualifies as a bad man. Such a man is a racist. None of us want to be a racist like that. Looking at racism this way limits racists to intentional, malicious, acts of violence or animosity based on dislike of members of another race. And those are clearly racists. The problem is that there are other racists. Racists that are much more subtle than that and hence able to actually inflict much greater harm, but harm that is not immediately as obvious.

After the civil rights movement most of us saw racists as white people, often from the southern States, who were mean, ignorant, old, usually uneducated, and malicious. Who would want to be part of that group? No one of course. In fact, as Diangelo pointed out, “Nice people, well-intended people, open-minded middle-class people, people raised in the ‘enlightened north,’ could not be racist.”

The problem with this attitude is that is makes the racist ‘the other.’ We cannot be racists. We can never admit that we are racists. That would be to admit that we are horrible people. And that just can’t be true. At least, no one can admit it. There must be some other explanation. There must always be some other explanation.

Of course, saying racism is bad was an improvement over openly acknowledging feelings of racial superiority. But if we accept the paradigm we cannot acknowledge ever that we are or have been racist. That would require us to condemn ourselves. And that is never easy to do. If I am called a racist I must defend myself. In fact if it is even suggested that I was racist I will concentrate all of my resources on my own defence. I cannot allow that to stand. And this prevents me from taking a close look at myself. And that is a bad thing. Diangelo explains the consequence of this attitude this way:

In this way, the good/bad binary makes it nearly impossible to talk to white people about racism, what it is, how it shapes all of us and the inevitable that we are conditioned to participate in racism. The good/bad binary made it effectively impossible for the average white person to understand—much less—interrupt racism.

Since whites are still the powerful majority in the US and in Canada that attitudes makes it very difficult to interrupt racism. And that is the problem. If we want to do better, we must ditch this attitude.

The point is that racism comes in many colours. Not just black and white. It is never that simple.