30 October 2015

Death Care Series

The aging baby boomers are moving into retirement like a tsunami and have the potential to negatively impact economic growth, straining the economy. Certain sectors will boom, such as pharmaceuticals, caskets, and bingo games, but overall, old folks slow down. Perhaps this will be the boomers' final legacy, sending the economy into a tailspin by merely getting old. Now that's ironic.

And speaking of caskets, the Death Care industry is poised to grow with this tsunami of Baby Boomers; however, the last hurrah of the Baby Boomer generation could be to morph this pretentious and fragile industry by merely getting back to funeral basics.

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford, 1996, Excerpts
First Publication 1963

A brief look backwards establishes that there is no resemblance between the funeral practices of today and those of even seventy-five to one hundred years ago, and that there is nothing in the “history of Western civilization” to support the thesis of continuity and gradual development of funeral customs. On the contrary, the salient features of the contemporary American funeral [beautification of the corpse, metal casket and vault, banks of store-bought flowers, the ubiquitous offices of the “funeral director”] are all of very recent vintage in this country, and each has been methodically designed and tailored to extract maximum profit for the trade.

Of all the changes in the funeral scene over the last decades, easily the most significant is the emergence of monopolies in what the trade is pleased to call the “death care” industry. Of the three publicly traded major players – Service Corporation International [SCI], the Loewen Group, and Stewart Enterprises – SCI, incorporated in 1984, is the undisputed giant.

10 May 2006, Form 10-Q
Over the long-term, we believe that our industry leadership, along with superior brand, reputation, financial strength and geographic reach, will result in expanded growth opportunities with the aging of the Baby Boom generation.


Famous Preserved Bodies
19 August 2010
So much of travel is about coming face to face with history. And in some cases, that can be more literal than most. Here are six earlier humans who have been preserved – through accident or intent – for us to meet hundreds (and thousands) of years later.

Wal-Mart starts selling coffins
30 Oct 2009
Prices range from a "Mom" or "Dad Remembered" steel coffin for $895 to a bronze model at $2,899. The retailer is allowing customers to plan ahead by paying for the caskets over 12 months for no interest. They can be dispatched within 48 hours. Catering for cradle-to-grave needs, Wal-Mart already sells everything from baby wear to engagement rings.

Artist: Paul Insect – Death by Consumerism

14 October 2015

Gold Rush in the Americas

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

After 1500, Portugal, France, Holland, and Britain joined in conquering the Americas. Columbus’s gold finds on Haiti were soon dwarfed by discoveries of gold and silver in Mexico and the Andes. European religious and political leaders quickly amassed so much gold that they applied gold leaf to the ceilings of their churches and palaces, erected golden statues in the corners, and strung vines of golden grapes between them.

Gold and silver from America replaced land as the basis for wealth and status, increasing the power of the new merchant class that would soon dominate the world. Where Muslim nations had once rivaled Europe, the new wealth undermined Islamic power. American gold and silver fueled a 400 percent inflation that eroded the economies of most non-European countries and helped Europe to develop a global market system. Africa suffered: the trans-Saharan trade collapsed, because the Americas supplied more gold and silver than the Gold Coast ever could. African traders now had only one commodity that Europe wanted: slaves.

13 October 2015

Columbus and the Slave Trade

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

To replace the dying Haitians, this led to the massive slave trade from Africa. This trade began in Haiti, initiated by Columbus’s son in 1505. Columbus not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more slaves – about five thousand – than any other individual.

A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual. As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spanish enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, “There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

Haiti became the site of the first large-scale slave revolt, when blacks and Indians banded together in 1519. The uprising lasted more than a decade and was finally brought to an end by the Spanish in the 1530s.

Columbus died well off and left his heirs well endowed, even with the title, “Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” now carried by his eighteenth-generation descendant. Some historians believe he may have been a Genoese Jew, a converse, or convert to Christianity, probably from Spain. Spain was pressuring its Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country.

12 October 2015

Columbus Strikes Gold in Haiti - 1499

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

In 1499 Columbus made a major gold strike in Haiti, and Spain became the envy of Europe. Columbus and his successors forced hundreds of thousands of Indians to mine the gold for them, raise Spanish food, and even carry them everywhere they went. The Indians couldn’t stand it. Pedro de Cordoba wrote a letter to King Ferdinand in 1517, “As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth. Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery.”

Beyond facts of cruelty, the Spanish disrupted the Indian ecosystem and culture. Forcing Indians to work in mines rather than in their gardens led to widespread malnutrition. The intrusion of rabbits and livestock caused further ecological disaster. Diseases new to the Indians played a role.

11 October 2015

Columbus Conquers Haiti 1493

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, 1995, Excerpts

When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton – whatever the Indians had that they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence or the brutality the Spaniards were capable of. After a while, the Indians had had enough. At first their resistance was mostly passive. They refused to plant food for the Spanish to take. They abandoned towns near Spanish settlements. Finally, the Arawaks fought back.

The attempts at resistance gave Columbus an excuse to make war. On March 24, 1495, he set out to conquer the Arawaks. Bartolome de Las Casas described the force Columbus assembled to put down the rebellion. “Since the Admiral perceived that the people of the land were taking up arms, ridiculous weapons in reality, he hastened to proceed to the country and disperse and subdue, by force of arms, the people of the entire island. For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart.” Naturally, the Spanish won. “The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and with God’s aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed.”

In the words of Hans Koning, “There now began a reign of terror in Hispaniola.” Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food. Columbus, upset because he could not locate the gold he was certain was on the island, set up a tribune system. Ferdinand Columbus described how it worked: “the Indians all promised to pay tribute to the Catholic Sovereigns every three months, as follows: In the Cibao, where the gold mines were, every person of 14 years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk’s bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear bout his neck as proof that he had made his payment. Any Indian found without such a token was to be punished.” With a fresh token, an Indian was safe for three months, much of which time would be devoted to collecting more gold. Columbus’s son neglected to mention how the Spanish punished those whose tokens had expired: they cut off their hands.