Category Archives: Poetry

The Curious Missing History of Corn Nuts

“Corn Nuts Toasted Corn” seems redundant until you read the history of the brand

Corn Nuts, a well-known brand, essentially offer fried and salted corn. While this snack isn’t particularly novel, as variations exist worldwide, its marketing suggests a significant influence on American culture. It’s almost a given that any rural gas station will stock bad coffee and Corn Nuts, highlighting widespread popularity of the snack. However, what’s intriguing is how a single American brand came to dominate such a simple and common food without any real explanation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Initially, the brand originated in Oakland, California, where a man named Olin Huntington invoked the well-known “Brown Jug” drinking song that had surfaced in 1869, shortly after the Civil War.

Source: Official Gazette of the US Patent Office, 10 August 1937

My wife and I lived all alone,
In a little log hut we called our own;
She loved gin and I loved rum,
I tell you we had lots of fun.

Chorus: Ha! Ha! Ha! you and me,
Little Brown Jug don’t I love thee!

‘Tis you who makes my friends and foes,
‘Tis you who makes me wear old clothes,
Here you are so near my nose,
So tip her up and down she goes.

When I go toiling to my farm
I take little brown jug under my arm,
Place him under a shady tree,
Little brown jug, ’tis you and me.

If I’d a cow that gave such milk,
I’d clothe her in the finest silk
I’d feed her on the choicest hay,
And milk her forty times a day.

The rose is red, my nose is too
The violet’s blue and so are you;
And yet I guess, before I stop
I’d better take another drop.

Went for a walk on the railroad track,
Little brown jug on my back.
Stubbed my toe, and down I fell,
And broke that little jug I loved so well.

Isn’t it catchy? It’s worth noting how famous the Brown Jug still was by the 1930s, when Olin’s particular version of salted fried corn started appearing for free in Oakland bars.

Moreover, again considering the Civil War influence on American culture, Olin’s recipe perhaps resembled a snack known very well by soldiers, as described by Serious Eats:

…regular dry corn, which tended to be stolen from local fields and was used to make [pinole] (parched corn ground to a fine powder, seasoned with salt or sugar and eaten dry)

It seems at the very least that Confederate soldiers were familiar with a food preservation technique that meant roasting or parching stolen corn kernels. This method likely provided pro-slavery militants with a comfort food during long and desperate retreats renowned for drunken looting and pillaging.

How and why did toasted corn also migrate West? Some could argue Americans on the California Trail through the late 1800s needed a convenient, light and durable food option that could withstand rigors of travel and provide much-needed energy. Others rightly might argue those are the exact same reasons that pinole had long been a common staple of native Americans and other long hunters. In other words, was any food in the 1930s (after prohibition) more comforting than a drink with some familiar corn on the side?


While Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn might sound like an odd brand to someone today, in 1936 that combination of words probably sounded more like someone saying water is wet. It was brilliant marketing for his day.

Thus the Oakland bars serving toasted corn rapidly grew the snack’s popularity until they ran directly into fierce political headwinds. A huge influx of hungry immigrants to California generated intense resentment towards “Okies” seeking a better life during the Dust Bowl. Free food? Suddenly a Brown Jug Toasted Corn model of handing out bar snacks was basically regulated out of business.

A man named Olin Huntington created a toasted corn product called Brown Jug and sold it to bars, which handed it out to patrons for free. The toasted corn was legendarily so popular, especially with children, that kids were often caught dashing into taverns to grab handfuls.

But shortly thereafter, California passed a law making it illegal to give away food at bars, spelling disaster for Brown Jug’s business model.

An ages old concept of using corn to feed starving Americans on long journeys became very popular with starving kids during the Dust Bowl? You don’t say.

One of the most famous photos of the Dust Bowl starvation-level struggles for American families. “I wish she hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures.” Florence Owens Thompson. Source:

The new laws were apparently too much for Olin, so he threw in the towel and sold his company. The transfer of Olin Manufacturing and their Brown Jug Toasted Corn business to a new entrepreneur (Albert Holloway) included a huge marketing reversal. Not only did the product now distance itself from an association to drinking, it added a 5 cent charge. The new focus shifted to selling small bags into schools as wholesome snacks for children… if they could pay ($1.50 in today’s terms).

1949 Corn Nuts marketing to parents and kids. Click to enlarge

The product was renamed based on what bar patrons, and possibly children, reportedly called out when they didn’t want salted peanuts: “hey bartender, how about some more of those corn nuts”.

Lastly, after all that history being said, the appeal of Corn Nuts lies in what reporters called a “pure and simple” concept. Something that seems very well-known around the world – oily corn with salt is delicious, and sustaining on long journeys. No wonder it’s in every gas station.

White men in California wearing suits wrote themselves into history as being the “capitol” of fried corn snacks. Click to enlarge. Source: Chicago Tribune, 12 Jun 1972, Page 73

The perplexing part of the story is how a single brand with a single product came to dominate the American market to such an extent, given such obvious potential for numerous producers of salted fried corn to emerge.

However, dominance might be linked to the obscure politics of its origin story. It benefited from a hard turn away from the common snack associated with drinking and starving, into a conveniently packaged snack for kids… if they could pay.

By distancing from America’s controversial yet widely recognized Civil War, Brown Jug and Dust Bowl history (let’s face it, who today knows those lyrics), Corn Nuts successfully fabricated a strangely abrupt “pure and simple” origin story to build a dominant position in the convenience snack market.

Interestingly, this mirrors an abrupt and controversial racist origin to Doritos corn chips.

It begs a question of how and where the mostly forgotten Olin Huntington came upon his recipe that was then purchased and repurposed into a Corn Nuts empire. So far, I’ve found no evidence of Olin’s major influences, perhaps by design. It’s almost impossible to find any mention of Olin himself.


  • Cancha is the word used in Peru and Ecuador for corn that has been soaked and then toasted in a pan with oil and salt. There tend to be different sizes, textures and regional variations.
  • Cancha Chulpi is harvested young and tender, then toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, emphasizing crunch.
  • Cancha Pescorunto is a smaller corn often toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, again emphasizing crunch.
  • Cancha Serrana, or Andean corn, is found in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Very large kernels are known for more of a starchy texture, frequently found in soups, stews, and side dishes. Like Cancha Chulpi and Pescorunto it can be toasted with salt.

Song For The Luddites

by Lord Byron

As the Liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!

When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding sheet
O’er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has pour’d.

Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!

Tesla Cybertruck Delivers Half the Range Promised and at Twice The Cost

Promised a 500 mile range.

Advertised a 300 mile range.

Delivered a 200 mile range.

In related news:

Tesla Model Y, S, X Range Figures Slashed in New EPA Guidelines: Edmunds’ testing shows that Teslas have never achieved their EPA estimates

This calls for a haiku:

Promised five would hold,
Advertised three, now retold,
Two, the truth is cold.

See also, crashed life:

Anti-Disinformation Book Review: The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda

A provocative Gerald Horne review, published alongside the insightful poet Ishmael Reed’s 2020 anti-disinformation book, seems noteworthy to U.S. historians:

This powerful play, originally produced at the Nuyorican Poets Café, comprehensively dismantles the phenomenon of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton. Reed uses the musical’s crimes against history to insist on a radical, cleareyed way of looking at our past and our selves. Both durable and timely, this goes beyond mere corrective – it is a meticulously researched rebuttal, an absorbing drama, and brilliant rallying cry for justice.

This book version of a two act play of 2019 was set to hold Hamilton properly accountable for his obvious crimes against humanity.

…reframes Hamilton’s origin story by emphasizing the years he spent [managing operations] for a slave firm in St. Croix. …he never ceased enslaving people himself, a fact which seems to trip up many historians and fans of the musical alike.

Or as the report “Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver” puts it to visitors of the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site:

…Hamilton’s exposure to slavery as a child caused him to internalize the lesson that enslavement was the symbol of success for a white man like himself and could lead to the higher station he sought.

Harper’s Magazine published an extract of the amazing wordplay.

miranda: The Schuylers held slaves for one hundred and fifty years. No wonder there were runaways.

chernow: Blame the publisher. I was confined to eight hundred pages. I couldn’t include everything. I was selective.

miranda: That means you left out information that would have blemished the reputations of your heroes.

chernow: You’re calling me a liar? How dare you. I won the Pulitzer Prize. My book is eight hundred pages long.

miranda: Your reputation is that of tarnish-removing. Scrubbing out the crud from mass murderers and enslavers.

Let’s review.

Robert Carter was notoriously freeing all his slaves in 1790s, the colony of Vermont had abolished slavery before becoming a state in 1770s, and even the colony of Georgia had banned slavery by 1732.

Got that timeline?

Somehow Hamilton’s life-long (1757-1804) habit of disgusting preference for the terrorism of Black Americans, directly engaging in state sanctioned rape of Black women for profit, was intentionally “scrubbed” by historian Chernow.

…Hamilton was in effect a slave trader—a fact overlooked by some historians. […] Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton, said his grandfather did indeed own them and his own papers proved it. “It has been stated that Hamilton never owned a negro slave, but this is untrue,” he wrote. “We find that in his books there are entries showing that he purchased them for himself and for others.” However, that admission was generally ignored by many historians since it didn’t fit the established narrative.

You have to wonder what is so wrong with Chernow that he has even tried to defend himself by saying evidence found of a single act defines a man (when speaking of anti-slavery), while also saying that a long period of contradictory acts do not define that same man.

Here is Chernow’s retort to suggest that Hamilton opposed slavery:

[Hamilton] helped to defend free blacks when slave masters from out of state brandished bills of sale and tried to snatch them off the New York streets. Does this sound like a man invested in the perpetuation of slavery?

A brief moment, a perfunctory act. Hamilton performed in a manner that may have been self-serving by continuing slavery in a manner that wouldn’t provoke Blacks to overthrow his tyranny. Defending Americans walking around in the street from being suddenly taken hostage is a bar very far below real words and action of abolition. Hamilton also sometimes is credited for jumping into a Manumission Society, yet this group made attempts to silence and censor Black American voices, to prevent their freedom celebrations. Not impressive by standards of actual abolition known to have started at least 25 years before Hamilton was even born.

Perhaps we should say a brief political stand against kidnapping is only one small aspect of Hamilton’s identity? Or that we risk distortion by seeing things only through this lens?

Now consider Chernow’s argument for why extensive evidence of Hamilton’s support of slavery should be casually and intentionally downplayed:

“Whether Hamilton’s involvement with slavery was exemplary or atrocious, it was only one aspect of his identity, however important,” he writes. “There is, inevitably, some distortion of vising by viewing Hamilton’s large and varied life through this single lens.”

Let’s review.

Hamilton spent his entire life involved in slavery, engaging in both owning slaves and trading them for financial gain. Despite this, Chernow minimizes this aspect of his identity, highlighting a brief moment when Hamilton opposed one particular form of kidnapping Americans from the street. Chernow seems to suggest that a man deeply tied into slavery should not be defined solely with such long association and much evidence, yet also he can be defined by one exaggerated isolated period of his choosing.

Chernow presents lopsided apologist views on slavery, a single lens with gross distortion to obscure horrible crimes, which looks…

Awful. Inhumane. Ignorant.

Regardless of the diverse perspective Chernow encourages us to adopt regarding Hamilton’s life, characterizing his longstanding involvement in slavery as an “uncompromising abolitionist” is a highly deceptive choice of words. Disinformation alert.

Chernow’s attempt to downplay the horrors of slavery in Hamilton’s life by redirecting focus elsewhere is not acceptable. This is akin to suggesting that the Nuremberg trials should have portrayed Nazi death camp leader Rudolf Höss as an unwavering freedom fighter because he posted an “Arbeit macht frei” sign. By diminishing the significance of slavery and portraying it as just one facet of an otherwise immoral leader, Chernow risks aligning himself with the wrong side of history. Such calculated “Zone of Interest” thinking repeatedly has been demonstrated as dangerous.

The movie you see observes the mundane day-to-day lives of a well-off German family. Over and over, the father, Rudolf (played by Christian Friedel), goes to and from work; the mother, Hedwig (Anatomy of a Fall’s Sandra Hüller), tends to her garden; and their children, a rambunctious bunch, play with their toys. In the movie you hear, however, there’s intermittent gunfire, bursts of screams, and an ever-present industrial cacophony. Along with snatches of dialogue and glimpses of details—the costuming, the barbed wire, the smoke—the film makes clear what’s going on: Rudolf is Rudolf Höss, the real-life longest-serving commandant of Auschwitz, and this is a portrait of how he and his Nazi family actually lived, going about their days adjacent to the death camp he ran.

What would we think if a historian tried to tell us that a key figure in the establishment of Nazi Germany should not have his torture of slaves in a concentration camp over-emphasized due to fear of distorting whatever his varied interests were outside of this camp?

Repeated ingrained false, racist, and ahistorical narratives are being used to marginalize the voices of Black individuals who have endured significant and enduring atrocities. This is where many American societal accolades seem to stop, and it’s a problem. What makes the situation even more unfortunate is that efforts to bring truths for wider recognition and establish controls for data integrity to counter disinformation are often overlooked or disregarded.

Hamilton’s own grandson had it right when he warned everyone in 1910 about his family’s undeniable legacy of preserving slavery — he was a scientist and a poet, trying his best to get out the horrible hidden truths.

The imbalance in human systemic thinking is also a very bad omen for AI safety, which should be top of mind for everyone these days. There is acceleration potential for generative false history using unregulated low quality software, as I’ve written about here before when ChatGPT fails at basic slavery history. Chernow’s 800 page disinformation bomb could be exploded by anyone into 800,000 bomblets with the click of a button.

As we close out the year, Reed’s clarion and well-founded revelations about a willful distortion of American history ranks as a security professional must read for 2024.