Party Like It’s 1492 – Old Navy, Capitalism, and Genocide

This weekend (October 3-5, 2008), the clothing chain Old Navy is celebrating Columbus Day early with its “Party Like It’s 1492” sale. Apparently, Old Navy, and the creative directors that created this misguided advertising campaign, and the suburban White Americans who have bought into it, only learned the sanitized, white-washed version of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas.

Lest we all think that the arrival of the Spanish in 1492 and the subsequent colonization of the West was a gay old time when the Spanish and Natives partied it up with brotherly love, consider this:

  • Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States, quotes Columbus as writing in his journal: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” Columbus’ motives? Gold.[ ]
  • Upon returning to the Americas on his second expedition, Columbus “proceeded to unleash a reign of terror unlike anything seen before or since. When he was finished, eight million Arawaks — virtually the entire native population of Hispaniola — had been exterminated by torture, murder, forced labor, starvation, disease and despair.” [ ]
  • Columbus, Zinn writes, enslaved the friendly and hospitable natives of the West Indies, searching for their gold (there wasn’t any gold). According to Zinn, “In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. // The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.” [ ]
  • Zinn quotes the Spanish missionary Bartolome de las Casas as writing, “There were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….” [ ]
  • In one day, according to las Casas, the Spaniards raped, tortured, and murdered some 3000 natives, committing such atrocities as cutting the legs off of children who ran away from them, feeding live infants to dogs, and filling people with boiling soap. [ ]

What, therefore, are Old Navy and the producers of this campaign thinking? Are they so naive that they have accepted the white-washed version of Columbus’ arrival to the West Indies? Or have they bought into colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism so completely that the commoditization of genocide is something to be made light of?

Of course, it’s not that surprising that a bourgeois chain like Old Navy that caters to mostly suburban upper-middle class White people would so mangle the truth for their own commercial gain. Truth goes out the window when there’s a quick buck to make.

And the consumers that buy into this system, those currently shopping at Old Navy during this sale, who have forgotten the real events of 1492, those slaves to fashion – perhaps they should stop to consider truly what slavery means, their slavery to consumerism, and the barbaric slavery of the Natives of the Americas (and also, later, our brothers and sisters in Africa). It was and is this very slavery that built the foundation of the consumerist world in which we live today.

Some advice: stop buying overpriced designer goods, unnecessary clothing that will just be thrown out within a season or two, from stores large chain stores that really only care about enslaving a person to their fashion in order to acquire their “gold” (money). Boycott Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, and the like, where most of the clothing is produced in third-world sweatshops powered by virtual slave labor.

Instead, make do with what you have. Buy second hand. Buy fair-trade. Buy recycled. Make your own. Do something to break free of the vicious cycle of consumerism in which we all seem to be trapped.

And get educated. Learn the real truth – whatever that may be – by seeking it out yourself. What you’re told by any one person, any one book, any one blog entry, does not and cannot encompass the entire story, even when the author is attempting to tell it as accurately as possible. There are always more sides. Learn how to learn, how to sift through the noise and find the fragments of truth, how to assemble those into a coherent and informed narrative. Otherwise, you always be a slaved to what you are told; your mind will never be free.

It’s Corn! You’re Eating Corn!

I try to be aware of what I put into my body, so I tend to be a man who reads the food labels. I also tend to read CD liner notes and the copyright and acknowledgment pages in books. Perhaps its a borderline obsession… But I digress.

As I said, I like to read the labels and know what I’m eating. That way I can purchase the best possible food items available, not ones with filler materials (like xantham gum in cream cheese), or preservatives (like sodium benzoate in lemon juice). I also try to avoid anything with a corn-derived product on the list, unless I’m explicitly buying something like corn meal or tortilla chip or, well, corn!

Corn: they stick it into everything – your bread, your fruit juice, your ice cream, your iced tea… They probably fry your potato chips in it. They probably fed it to the livestock that you eat or from which you get your dairy.

I know, I know, this isn’t news. People like New York Times Magazine contributor and UC Berkley Knight Professor of Journalism Michael Pollan have been railing against corn as a cheap food additive for years, and against U.S. agricultural policy that promotes the excessive production of this crop.

But, have you ever heard of corn being in your soy sauce? That was a new one… Granted, the package of soy sauce in question came from a Chinese fast food joint (how much could I expect from fast food?), but can they even really call it soy sauce when the third ingredient is “hydrolyzed soy & corn protein”? And when they have to add “caramel color” to make it look right?

The packaging, oddly enough, also claimed “No MSG” and that the sauce in question was Pareve. That first claim, while technically true – no MSG was added to the sauce – does not mean that there is no MSG in the sauce. It turns out that any hydrolyzed protein inherently contains MSG!

It’s a little harder to get to the truth about the Pareve nature of the soy sauce. Was the sauce really processed according to Jewish dietary law? Fortunately, as I’m not Jewish, I’m not as concerned about this, although kosher foods tends to be handled in a much more clean and humanitarian way.

Back to the point at hand. Since when did they need to start adding corn to create soy sauce? Usually its just soy beans and/or wheat, depending on whether it’s tamari or shoyu. But corn?

Rain, Rocks, Rats

Friends, romans, countrymen… Happy Sunday morning. It’s raining here in Baltimore, thunder-storming, in fact, after a gorgeously beautiful Saturday. At least Spring has arrived, the flowers are blooming, the trees are blossoming in all their yellows and pinks and purples and greens. And the rats are coming out of hibernation. Did I say rats? Yeah, rats, the size of small ponies… Okay, maybe the size of miniature ponies… Okay, but I swear that they truly are the size of cats around here. This is Baltimore, after all.

So, you’re wondering, why is he giving me an update on Baltimore flora and fauna? Has he taken up ecology or something? No, sorry to disappoint – I just don’t have time for another career, what with the cyber-punk rock-and-roll poet-philosopher thing going on. Although I do enjoy pretty flowers.

This is all an elaborate ploy to keep you interested long enough to read the third paragraph, in which I divulge the fact that a short fiction piece of mine (or is it a prose poem? oh, the gray, nebulous divide) is appearing in the Spring 2008 issue of JMWW, a quarterly on-line journal. To be precise, the piece is called “Case Study: Part 16” and was inspired by/is a response to JZF’s poem “John Freemont Interviews #24”.

You can read 16 here:

You can find the index and read the rest of the Spring 2008 issue here:

And you can watch this excellent piece of independent documentary film making about Baltimore Rat Fishing:

Yes, Baltimore, where the rats are the size of cats and the cats run and cower in the corners… Or at least the cat I live with.

Iraq War – Five Years, Part 2

BBC News just published a special report on their web site: “Iraq violence, in figures”. For people who can’t really comprehend numbers without a visual representation, these statistics should finally make an impact.

One of the saddest things is that nobody officially knows how many civilian casualties there have been (I guess nobody “official” cares?). Independent studies have found anywhere from 80,000+ to 650,000+ civilians killed. That’s a humongous range and absurd human cost for a war based on false-pretenses if not downright governmental deception.

As of the publication of this blog, the U.S. has spent something like 511 TRILLION dollars on this failure (I’m not making that number up – visit the National Priorities Project!). That comes out to be somewhere in the approximate range of $800,000 to $6,000,000 per individual killed.

A July 2007 estimate by the CIA placed the population of Iraq at 27,499,638. Do the math again, and that comes out to just over $18,000 spent by the United States of America per LIVING, BREATHING IRAQI CITIZEN.

Just consider for a moment: what would happen if, instead of shooting at perceived threats and blowing things up, we gave every single person in Iraq $18,000 U.S. dollars?

Iraq War – Five Years

March 23rd, Easter Sunday, saw another unfortunate milestone achieved in the 5-year war in Iraq – 4000 U.S. soldiers killed. Conservative accounts of Iraqi civilian casualties are somewhere in the mid-80,000s, according to data compiled by Iraq Body Count, as of March 26th. That’s just over 2 U.S. soldiers per day, and about 47 Iraqi civilians per day. Who knows how many Iraqi combatants have lost their lives?

Five years into a war based on false pretenses and either bad (best case scenario) or doctored (worst case scenario) data. Have we accomplished anything in those five years? We didn’t find any WMDs. We overthrew a dictator but destabilized a nation. Our actions created an environment conducive to new terrorist organizations – see Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for example. We’ve watched U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers killed in a war, ostensibly for freedom, but truly over natural resources (OIL). We’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of time and money that could have been better applied to other tasks…

So how much money have we spent? Collectively, the United States has shelled out somewhere in the 506 TRILLION dollar range… or or 708 MILLION dollars for Baltimore taxpayers. To get a better idea of what that number means, that amount of money could have funded:

12,030 Music and Arts Teachers


89,589 Scholarships for University Students


3,799 Affordable Housing Units


11,969 Port Container Inspectors

Thanks to my friend Rob for pointing out those statistics and sending me to the National Priorities Project.

Personally, I don’t know what exactly to do about all of this. I marched on the White House on Sunday as part of Split This Rock. I doubt anyone in the White House was listening, though. I doubt anyone in the White House cared about any of the marches last week. I hear Dick Cheney’s favorite answer is “So?” How do you fight someone like that?

I have my words, and I do what I can with them. I hope this election turns the tide. Otherwise, it may take more than words to save us…

P.S. Check out this video.