Confederate Flag Future
Confederate flags. Photo: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

The sight of a Confederate flag is a shocking and grotesque experience for many, although in certain parts of the southern United States it is an emblematic feature of the backwater ambience.

The battle flag of the Confederate States of America is viewed with scorn by the average freedom-loving American with a dental plan and distaste for ill-bred irrationality — and the flag has seen an unprecedented wave of political backlash following the June 17 mass shooting that killed nine people in a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what officials have deemed a racially-driven hate crime.

It’s safe to say, though, that the last place one might expect to find the “Stars and Bars” is plastered across the tank tops of fashionable adolescent girls a good 5,000 miles away from the nearest KKK meeting, in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Yet that same flag has somehow become a fashion statement hustled upon middle-class Argentine youth by Cook, a trendy Argentine clothing line. The brand can be likened to U.S. clothing companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch or Aeropostale, and it pushes that same ragged, unwashed aesthetic at egregious prices.

According to the brand’s official Facebook page, the company, which was founded in 1975, “provides a modern, young, free, and effortless style, which always remains loyal to its promise of quality.”

Ironically, given the negative ideals and sentiments traditionally associated with the Confederate flag, the company’s slogan is the optimistic “Live in Love,” and they sell accessories such as the “Tote Winter Love.” The Facebook page even posted a photo with the phrase “#LoveWins” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Live in Love. Love always wins. #lovewins

Posted by COOK on Friday, June 26, 2015

A quick surf around the Cook site is highly recommended in order to better grasp the bizarrely humorous-mixed-with-offensive nature of this Argentine fashion oddity.

Cook has several stores throughout Buenos Aires, meaning that at nearly every major mall throughout the city, shoppers are bound to encounter a casual Confederate battle flag offering a strange greeting as they enter the store.

Cook is one of two popular local clothing brands owned by Argentine company Big Bloom SA. Although it briefly changed hands in 1998, following a sale to an investment fund called Argentine Venture Partners (AVP), the company has remained true to its “spirit” as a brand catering to a young demographic.

“Nothing to do with racism”

For the most part, Argentine customers appeared to be clueless as to the meaning of the Cook logo, and many were taken aback to find out that the little flag sewn on the popular apparel line is actually an incredibly controversial symbol in the United States.

“Wanama has always been a favorite of mine, and Cook has been around a long time. I literally had no idea that the logo is what it is,” confessed one young woman.

“It’s rather shocking,” she added.

When questioned about the origin of the flag strewn about the Cook store in the Abasto shopping center in Buenos Aires, a store employee of the store did acknowledge the history of the logo.

“The flag is from the Confederacy of the United States. There are some people who consider the flag discriminatory or racist, but it has nothing to do with that here,” she insisted.

“The owner chose the flag, really, just because he liked it.”

Another employee explained, “The owner lives here, and on a tour in the United States while in the Navy, he saw the flag and liked it and decided to use it as the logo for the company.”

The store was covered with pictures of boats and navy memorabilia, which corroborated the sales representative’s story about the owner’s Navy days.

The general vibe of the place and the style of the clothes made sense within the context of the military story. However, what still did not make sense were the cotton T’s with the words “Rebel by Choice, Las Angeles” scrawled on the front above what seemed to be the yellow Walmart rollback head, wearing what else but a Confederate flag bandanna.

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elephant sanctuary sri lanka
Elephants at a sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Photo: Malcolm Browne/Flickr CC

The global plight of elephants is dire, to say the least. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, lists the African elephant as “vulnerable” and the Asian elephant as “endangered.” While an international ban prohibits the trade of commercial ivory, it allows certain exceptions, such as sport-hunted trophies.

By far the largest killer of elephants, however, is illegal poaching, which is devastating the elephant populations of Asia and Africa.

Some disturbing statistics about elephants

  • In 2012 and 2013, poachers killed 10 percent of the global population of forest elephants.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks.
  • According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 96 elephants are illegally killed each day.
  • The iWorry campaign — launched in 2012 by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust after it determined that 36,000 elephants were slaughtered that year — states that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory.

How can we prevent elephants from becoming extinct?

The illegal mass slaughter of elephants for their ivory is a global problem. It is driven by global causes and therefore needs global solutions.

The principal driver of elephant poaching is the rising demand for ivory in Asia, though the online ivory trade has also grown significantly in the United States. Other threats to elephant survival include human incursions into the animals’ traditional habitats. This “competition” for land has brought people into conflict with elephants in both India and Sri Lanka.

How can sanctuaries help?

Increasingly, elephants are not safe in their natural habitats. Nor are they safe in circuses, some zoos or animal parks.

While elephant sanctuaries in Europe and the United States are not intended for the purposes of conservation or breeding, they do play a role in the protection of the species. By offering a secure and healthy environment for former circus animals to live out the remainder of their lives, these sanctuaries promote the idea that elephants are intelligent creatures with rights rather than beasts that we can simply treat cruelly or use for entertainment.

The Santuário de Elefantes Brasil (SEB), which is set to open in 2016, will be the first such facility in all of Latin America.

Located near the Chapada dos Guimarães national park in Mato Grosso State and authorized by the state’s environmental agency, the 1,100-hectare sanctuary, run by a Brazilian NGO, will be home to more than 50 elephants. Its first residents will be retired 40- to 50-year-old circus elephants that were previously forced to work in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

The property contains native forest, river sources and pastures for the elephants to roam — something never possible during their harsh lives as circus animals.

From Folha de São Paulo:

Brazil was chosen for three main reasons: its location in the center of Latin America, its mild weather, and the maintenance costs, relatively low compared to those of the US.

The sanctuary will not function like a zoo or safari park and therefore will not be open to the public. Instead, it aims to provide its residents with safety, care and the companionship of other elephants, while raising awareness about the cruel plight of both captive elephants as well as their endangered cousins in the wild.

The establishment of Santuário de Elefantes Brasil is a welcome development in how humans around the world are beginning to view elephants: as creatures that deserve our compassion and respect.

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