How American Airlines destroyed the end of our vacation, and how British Airways did their best to help us feel better.

Below is the text of a letter I wrote to American Airlines, which essentially summarizes our experience.


I’ll try to be concise here, but it’s hard, because there are so many feelings involved. I’m not a happy camper right now.

In December of 2021, I found a great fare to London and booked a trip (which had been delayed by 2 years due to COVID) for my wife and myself to celebrate our anniversary. First class. This was important, because my wife has mobility issues and I wanted to make the trip as easy on her as possible. Our flight record was [redacted], but the flights were with British Airways as a codeshare.

BA then cancelled our flight to London and I had to rebook in January. Great, all is well. On 22 March we took off for London under the following itinerary:

Boston to London – AA 6963
Mar 22, 8:15 PM–Mar 23, 6:50 AM

London to Rome – AA 6455
Mar 23, 9:35 AM–1:20 PM

☞ Rome to London – AA 6511
Apr 19, 12:55 PM–2:40 PM ☜

London to Boston – AA 6927
Apr 19, 5:05 PM–7:45 PM

Everything went wonderfully. We had a lovely trip traveling around Europe, including taking the Eurostar from Paris to London. And I figured that, hey, since we’ll already be in London, we just won’t have to take that segment from Rome. The one up there that’s struck out. So before we flew, I called American and asked if that segment could be refunded.

The agent said that to do that, he would have to rebook the entire itinerary. And that there would be a price difference. And that all he had available was business class. So I told him that I would just leave the itinerary as it was, and simply would not take the flight from Rome to London. And the agent told me that would be fine.

So when we got to Heathrow to come home, we trucked down to the First Class reception area, expecting to be able to spend a few hours in the lovely Concord Room getting a bit of something to eat… but instead I was told that we had no itinerary. No flight. So sorry.

You cannot possibly imagine the feelings I had at that moment. The stress. The embarrassment. The shame. The fear. Waiting in BA’s first class area with a physically limited spouse, no flight, no way home, and no one who was willing to get us on the flight that we had booked and paid for and were present and ready to take.

The BA personnel conferred for about an hour and were sympathetic, but finally told me that they could do nothing, and that I had to go to the American Airlines desk to get it resolved. There I was given the same story: Because we had not taken that segment up there (the one crossed out), our entire itinerary had been cancelled. The AA agent told me I could get a flight the next day in First Class for another $14,000… or a business class booking for another $8,000! And by this time we had been dealing with this for over three hours, and my stress had reached a point that I was experiencing chest pains.

None of this made sense. I had paid for an entire first class itinerary, and I sure as shooting was not being given first class service. Just because we didn’t take the flight from Rome – and remember, you people had my money for that segment and I wasn’t even asking for a refund, so you were losing nothing – you had no right to cancel my flight from London. None. It is sheer madness. People kept throwing terms at me like “illegal ticketing,” “terms and conditions,” “fine print blah blah,” and the like… and I really didn’t understand any of it, and I really don’t care. I had paid for a first class itinerary, and you took it away from me. And it was wrong. All you had to do was undo that flight cancellation [and there were available seats in First Class], but nobody seemed willing to do that. It seemed all about getting more money, and not a soul was concerned that I had been effectively robbed and stranded. I was just another number in a computer.

So there I was. Finally, your agent was able to get us a seat in coach, on BA 203, that evening, the same flight that we had paid for in first class. Yes, he offered me a bit of a refund in the form of some vouchers, but that in no way made up for the inconvenience, the stress, the embarrassment, the discomfort, and the physical challenges for both me and my wife. It’s just a good thing we arrived at the airport a good 6 hours early, or we would have missed the rest of our connections.

So we made it home, and now you guys are in deep tapioca with me. And how you respond to this situation will determine how I will respond to you in future. Because as of this moment, the odds that I will ever use AA again after using up those travel vouchers are pretty much less than zero. But there it is.

You screwed up royally. You put us through literal travel Hell. And it all could have been avoided if your telephone agent – in the Philippines or wherever, with an accent so heavy I had to strain to understand him – had told me at the time of my phone call, “Be careful, because if you don’t take the segment from Rome to London, your itinerary will be cancelled.” But nothing like that was said. I was completely unaware that this was even possible, and it never entered my mind, because it was like I had purchased four separate tickets and simply chose not to use one of them. To your financial advantage.

So I ask you, what are you going to do to make this right? What are you going to do to keep me as a customer? If I hear any corporate noises like “We’re sorry, but according to the terms of conveyance…” or “regretfully you did not read the fine print…” or “we regret this is standard industry practice…” or anything like that, I will be more than put out. And my social media presence is large, and extensive, and wide.


And below, you will find the bitterly disappointing weak-sauce response from AA:


Thanks for taking the time to contact us. I’m sorry for any confusion over your reservations. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concern. [Note: But your “response” was just a load of mealy-mouthed corporate pablum.]

There are many different fares and associated restrictions with air travel. It is a generally accepted practice that tickets are to be used in sequence and in their entirety. This is a standard airline requirement for all discounted round-trip tickets. [Note: So despite my admonition above, all I’m hearing is “corporate noises“].

When a customer presents a ticket for “return” travel without having used a previous segment, the ticket is considered void for that trip. In such cases, it is usually necessary to purchase a new one-way ticket at the applicable fare. [Note: And that is pure 🐂💩, an unconscionable money grab. You had seats available in first class that you had not re-sold. You could have just reinstated our fare with no loss to you.]

We know that travel plans can change, even up to the time of departure. In such cases your ticket will be repriced at the applicable fare. I am sorry for your disappointment. [Note: But you are unwilling to do anything about it I’m clearly not worth the effort to retain me as a customer.]

Regarding the vouchers issued for the fare difference, I’ve reissued your eVouchers as new Trip Credits, which will arrive in separate emails. [Note: This does absolutely nothing for me. Thanks for nothing.]

Trip Credits are valid for one year from the date of issue, unless otherwise stated and can be used to purchase travel on flights operated by American, American Eagle® or flights marketed by American – designated with an AA*. They can also be used to book flights on our oneworld® partners, as long as at least one flight in the itinerary is operated or marketed by AA and is for international travel. International flights are defined as transatlantic, transpacific and flights to and from South America.

When using a Trip Credit, the value must be applied toward the ticket purchase before the one-year expiration, but travel may extend beyond that date. Trip Credits are nontransferable and may not be sold or bartered, but you can use them to purchase a ticket for anyone you choose. Check out all the Terms and Conditions here on aa.com.

Christopher, thank you for your loyalty and support as an AAdvantage® member. We look forward to welcoming you aboard your next flight! [Note: Not bloody likely. I asked what you were going to do to rectify this hideous treatment, and you toed the corporate line and answered, effectively, “nothing.” And as a result, once I have used up whatever credits I have accrued on my AA mastercard and the vouchers I was given, AA is unlikely to see another red cent from me. Ever. And I robustly encourage anyone who’s planning travel to use an airline that gives a rat’s south-40 about customer satisfaction.]

Sincerely,
[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Edit: I wrote back to AA to let them know I was unhappy with their response:

It goes without saying that I am both unsatisfied and bitterly disappointed by your uncaring response. I asked you in my letter, “So I ask you, what are you going to do to make this right? What are you going to do to keep me as a customer?” And your response was effectively, “nothing.” American really screwed the pooch with this one, and it’s clear you don’t give a rat’s south-40 about customer satisfaction. So as for welcoming me aboard my next American flight, the odds of that are precisely zero – and I am publishing our exchange far and wide, to make sure others know how poorly I was treated and how AA didn’t really care.

Sadly,
-Christopher C. DeSantis
A former AA flyer.

And they came back to me with this:

May 31, 2022

Hello Christopher:

I received your additional email and am sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with my response. [Note: This letter was written by a different agent, so the original was not “her response.“] We recognize that we will not always agree upon the resolution, but we do our best to be supportive as advocates for our customers and fulfill requests where we can.

We’re committed to providing world-class service, and your business means a lot to us. We appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback, which helps us know where we can improve. Every day our team is working to make flying with us better, and we look forward to rebuilding your confidence. From all of us at American Airlines, we look forward to serving your future travel needs. We sincerely appreciate our loyalty, you are why we fly! [Note: I can’t believe they have the unmitigated chutzpah to say something like this to an unhappy customer.]

Sincerely,

[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Yes, life happens. But this kind of treatment – essentially a calculated money-grab by the airline – is unconscionable and a corporation that cares about its customers would at least do something to retain an unhappy customer. Clearly, American Airlines is not such a corporation.

So, I wrote back:

> I received your additional email and am sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with my response.
It was not “your response.” The first letter was sent by a completely different agent.

> we do our best to be supportive as advocates for our customers and fulfill requests where we can.

 Your total dismissal of my complaint proves that this is a lie.

We’re committed to providing world-class service, and your business means a lot to us.

Horsehockey. If my business meant a lot to you, you would have replied with something – anything – to make up for the terrible thing you did.

>From all of us at American Airlines, we look forward to serving your future travel needs. We sincerely appreciate our loyalty, you are why we fly!

You have thermonuclear chutzpah to send this kind of boilerplate response to a very unhappy customer. It makes you look as cheap and uncaring as you have proven yourselves to be. As indicated, you shot yourselves in the foot and I will not be using American Airlines again unless you come back to me with something substantial to change my mind.

Sincerely,
Christopher C. DeSantis
A former AA flyer.

And, today [6/7/2022] I received this dishwater response:

June 7, 2022

Hello Christopher:

I received your reply and see that you’re still unhappy with us. One of our primary responsibilities in Customer Relations is to help our customers who have experienced a situation such as yours. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to resolve the issue to your satisfaction. I can see that you feel strongly about this issue. I took another look at your original complaint, as well as our response and, at this time, I don’t see any new information that would change our position. If you have additional information you’d like us to consider let me know and I’ll gladly review it.

Christopher, we look forward to rebuilding your confidence in our service, and hope you’ll give us the opportunity to provide you with a more positive experience in the future.

Sincerely,
[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

So AA’s response is, still and forever, “Nothing.” Just “sorry you’re unhappy with us.” That’s pretty pathetic. Maybe a letter to someone in corporate will change something? Time will tell.

But the story continues with a coda:

So we got on our flight – for which we had paid for first-class service – in coach class. I suppose it would not have killed us, but it would have played hob with my wife’s sciatica. But when the cabin crew of BA 203 heard what had happened, these good people bent over backwards to make our flight home as comfortable as possible. We were moved up to the next section, sort of a Coach Plus affair – not as cushy as business class but with much more comfortable seats and better service – and taken care of with as much solicitousness as it was possible for this crew to offer. A particular shout-out to Simon, the flight manager on duty: he gets a gold star for caring and compassion. As a result, I would happily give BA my business any time I had the opportunity.

TL;DR – Avoid American Airlines like the plague, and consider using BA for your transatlantic needs.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Don’t click that link in your email. Please.

I shouldn’t have to keeps saying this, but far too many people just don’t practice “safe computing’ and as a result end up getting their computers infected by malware, losing their data, having their information stolen by criminals, being robbed, or all of the above.

Phishing message with dangerous link

Red flag #1: This message is not from Venmo. The email address of the sender is “0vmlwfglxague7g0kzs@oneautousa.com” which is not a venmo address; the domain leads to an essentially empty storefront of a generic “church.” Either the domain was created for the purpose of scamming people, or an otherwise unrelated domain was hijacked to have malicious content injected into its directory structure, or the email address was simply spoofed. In any case, it’s a clear indication that this email is not from Venmo.

Red Flag #2: “Congratulation.” Uh, no. That’s not what a message written by English-speakers would say. We’re dealing with Nigerian scammers here, or something similar.

Red flag #3: The link on the “accept money” button looks like this:

malicious link, not from Venmo

If you hover your mouse over any button or link in an email, the actual address where you will be taken will be shown at the bottom of your browser (at least that’s where it is in Chrome.) However, most of these deceptive links will re-direct one or more times, so you really never know where you’ll end up. But if the original link is not a “venmo.com” address, then you know you’re being taken for a ride.

Red Flag #4: “Click her” I suspect she, whoever she might be, will not appreciate being clicked. Real emails from real corporations do not generally contain obvious typographical errors like this.

So, as is my wont, I clicked on the “Accept Money” link just to go down the rabbit hole and see where I ended up. Malwarebytes told me the page was malicious, but I’m pretty well protected so I advanced anyway.

Instead of getting any money through Venmo (which I didn’t expect), I ended up on a “survey” page.

Again, not from Venmo, but camouflaged to look as though it is. All of the “verified” comments are without doubt spurious. The questions below are carefully crafted to keep the illusion going that the survey is from Venmo. It ain’t.

So once you give your answers, you end up at a “reward” page with 26 different offers you can claim. But beware – every single one of these is as phony as Donald Trump’s tan, and if you claim any of them you will end up paying a lot of money for next to no value.

Limited Supply! Act fast, offer expiring! [These are the “scarcity” and “urgency” sales ploys.]

This is the first reward on the list. Check the “Terms and Conditions:”

By placing an order, you agree our special deal club and we will bill you $0.00 S&H + $6.98 = Total: $6.98 (one-time purchase, no auto-ship) plus tax where applicable for your initial order, and every thirty days thereafter we will send you a new product from our special deal club, and automatically bill you the low price of $0.00 S&H + $6.98 = Total: $6.98 (one-time purchase, no auto-ship) plus tax where applicable.

So you’re getting a really cheap fitness tracker for 7 bucks, and committing yourself to getting another piece of slum [that’s what the carnival hucksters call the cheapest prizes they hand out] for another 7 bucks every 30 days, until you catch on and cancel. Which will be hard to do, I can guarantee it. And, you’ve given your contact information and your credit card number to extremely disreputable people. I cannot count the number of ways that this is a bad idea.

A couple of rows down is an offer for an iPad Pro. But again, after you give them your information so that they can spam you forever, you read the “Terms and Conditions:”

Claim your chance now! Sign up for a 30-day trial to Best Tech Giveaways and get the chance to win a new iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard! This contest is not made by or in cooperation with Apple. The winner will be contacted directly by email. All new customers participate in the prize draw for the shown campaign product. If you are the lucky winner, you will be contacted directly by email. This special offer comes with a 30-day trial to an affiliated subscription service, after which the subscription fee (37.97 USD every 30 days) will be automatically deducted from your credit card. If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with the service, you may cancel your account within 30 days. The service will be renewed every 30 days until canceled. This campaign will expire on December 31, 2021. If you wish to participate without signing up for a 30-day trial to besttechgiveaways, please send an email to support@besttechgiveaways.com.

What you’ve “won” is a chance. Your odds of winning that iPad are about the same as hitting the Powerball. Don’t hold your breath.

You might end up at another similar website whose small-print terms are like this:

As a user of Blue Ice Group, you agree to a deeply discounted LIMITED user fee of nine dollars and ninety-five cents ($9.95), the LIMITED user price. If you’re happy in approximately 7 days you will receive an email offer to purchase 30 days for our low one-time price of eighty-six dollars and sixty-one cents ($86.61), the 30 day FULL PLAN. We will continue to send you offer to purchase upon expiration of your user terms via text or email (data rates may apply) approximately every 28 days simply reply N to postpone, please allow up to 10 days to process your payment. You can continue to view our Premium Content including exclusive games, beta games, motivational content, exercise videos, diet, nutrition and other VIP Benefits unless you choose to cancel. You may cancel your purchase anytime by contacting our customer support center by email, or toll-free telephone (877) 327-2393. THE WEBSITE IS ALLOWED TO COLLECT AND STORE DATA AND INFORMATION FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE USUAL OPERATIONS AND FUNCTIONS OF THE WEBSITE.

So you’re authorizing a ten-dollar charge for the privilege of being sent offers, and will likely be charged $81.61 every month until you raise the alarm.

No money from Venmo, just a lot of scammy, spammy malvertising and potentially dangerous websites.

Don’t click that link.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

BOO! You’ve been Scammed!

I have written often and at length about fraudulent enterprises and scams, and I am sharing this one here because it deserves to be seen far and wide.

Full disclosure: I was part of a network marketing / MLM / Relationship Marketing firm for about 10 years. I cannot believe how hard I drank the Kool-Aid™. I am ashamed. But it just goes to show how seductive these things can be.

‘Magic dirt’: How the internet fueled, and defeated, the pandemic’s weirdest company

Brandy Zadrozny

(From NBC News)

Thu, December 2, 2021, 7:49 AM•21 min readThe social media posts started in May: photos and videos of smiling people, mostly women, drinking Mason jars of black liquid, slathering black paste on their faces and feet, or dipping babies and dogs in tubs of the black water. They tagged the posts #BOO and linked to a website that sold a product called Black Oxygen Organics.

Black Oxygen Organics, or “BOO” for short, is difficult to classify. It was marketed as fulvic acid, a compound derived from decayed plants, that was dug up from an Ontario peat bog. The website of the Canadian company that sold it billed it as “the end product and smallest particle of the decomposition of ancient, organic matter.”

Put more simply, the product is dirt — four-and-a-half ounces of it, sealed in a sleek black plastic baggie and sold for $110 plus shipping. Visitors to the Black Oxygen Organics website, recently taken offline, were greeted with a pair of white hands cradling cups of dirt like an offering. “A gift from the Ground,” it reads. “Drink it. Wear it. Bathe in it.”

BOO, which “can be taken by anyone at any age, as well as animals,” according to the company, claims many benefits and uses, including improved brain function and heart health, and ridding the body of so-called toxins that include heavy metals, pesticides and parasites.

By the end of the summer, online ads for BOO had made their way to millions of people within the internet subcultures that embrace fringe supplements, including the mixed martial arts community, anti-vaccine and Covid-denier groups, and finally more general alternative health and fake cure spaces.

And people seemed to be buying; parts of TikTok and Instagram were flooded with #BOO posts. The businessman behind Black Oxygen Organics has been selling mud in various forms for 25 years now, but BOO sold in amounts that surprised even its own executives, according to videos of company meetings viewed by NBC News.

The stars appeared aligned for it. A pandemic marked by unprecedented and politicized misinformation has spurred a revival in wonder cures. Well-connected Facebook groups of alternative health seekers and vaccine skeptics provided an audience and eager customer base for a new kind of medicine show. And the too-good-to-be-true testimonials posted to social media attracted a wave of direct sellers, many of them women dipping their toes into the often unprofitable world of multilevel marketing for the first time.

But success came at a price. Canadian and U.S. health regulators have cracked down on BOO in recent months, initiating recalls and product holds at the border, respectively. And just as an online army of fans powered BOO’s success, an oppositional force of online skeptics threatened to shut it down.

Just before Thanksgiving, the company announced in an email it was closing up shop for good. Sellers packed video calls mourning the death of their miracle cure, railing against executives who had taken their money and seemingly run, and wondering how they might recoup the thousands of dollars they paid for BOO that never arrived.

The announcement was the apparent end of one of the most haltingly successful companies to ride a wave of interest in online and directly sold alternative medicines — immunity-boosting oils, supplements, herbs, elixirs and so-called superfoods that, despite widespread concerns over their efficacy and safety, make up a lightly regulated, multibillion-dollar industry.

In a world where consumers flock to alternative health products, BOO seemed to provide an answer to the question: Just how far are people willing to dig to find their miracle cure?

A social post from Black Oxygen Organics and a Facebook post from a fan of the page

What is BOO?

Monica Wong first learned about BOO in May. The 39-year-old was scrolling Facebook from her home in Brentwood, California, and saw a Facebook ad that caught her eye: A woman in a bright green shirt emblazoned with a marijuana leaf holding a sign that read, “F— Big Pharma!” alongside a kind of treatment that promised to “detox heavy metals.”

Wong had been looking for such a product, for her boyfriend and herself, and while the price was steep, a little internet research convinced her that the health effects would be worth it. Wong clicked on the ad and bought some BOO.

Wong said that for two months she dissolved a half-teaspoon of the black stuff in a glass of water and drank it every day. But unlike people in her new BOO Facebook group who posted miraculous testimonials of cured diseases, weight loss, clearer skin, whiter teeth, regrown hair, reclaimed energy, expelled worms and even changes in eye color (from brown to blue), Wong didn’t feel like any toxins were leaving her body. In fact, she started having stomach pains.

“I can’t say it was the BOO for sure,” Wong said she remembers wondering as she went to the hospital for tests, “but wasn’t it supposed to heal my gut?”

Wong quit taking BOO and told the head of her Facebook group, a higher-ranked seller who earned commission off Wong’s participation, about her new pains. When asked why she didn’t alert others, Wong said the group administrators, BOO sellers themselves, censored the comments to weed out anything negative. “They’d never let me post that,” she said.

These online groups are filled with true believers, acolytes who call it “magic dirt.” They post that they are drinking, cooking, soaking, snorting and slathering BOO on their bodies and giving it to their families, children and pets.

“Who would have thought drinking dirt would make me feel so so good?” one person in a 27,000-member private Facebook group posted, her face nuzzling a jar of black liquid.

Another user posted a photo of a baby sitting in a bathtub of water colored a deep caramel. In the caption, she shared that the baby had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease — a virus that mainly affects children and causes painful sores. “Tiny is enjoying his Boo bath!” she wrote. “We’re happy to say our bottom feels happier and we’re in a better mood!”

Many such posts are dedicated to tactics for getting kids and loved ones to take BOO.

“Boo brownies for the picky family,” one poster offered.

Testimonials like these make up the majority of posts in dozens of Facebook groups, set up and overseen by BOO sellers, with hundreds of thousands of collective members, where BOO is heralded as a miracle drug. Teams of sellers in these private Facebook groups claim that, beyond cosmetic applications, BOO can cure everything from autism to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. Conveniently in these times, BOO proponents say it also protects against and treats Covid-19, and can be used to “detox” the newly vaccinated, according to posts viewed by NBC News.

None of the posters contacted by NBC News returned a request for comment. But there may be an incentive for the hyperbole.

The MLM boom

Black Oxygen Organics products can’t be bought in stores. Instead, the pills and powders are sold by individuals, who theoretically profit not only off their sales but off those of others they recruit. It’s the type of top-down and widening profit-modeled business, known as multilevel marketing or MLM, that has led critics to label BOO and products like it pyramid schemes.

Participation in MLMs boomed during the pandemic with 7.7 million Americans working for one in 2020, a 13 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Direct Selling Association, the trade and lobbying group for the MLM industry. Wellness products make up the majority of MLM products, and, as the Federal Trade Commission noted, some direct sellers took advantage of a rush toward so-called natural remedies during the pandemic to boost sales.

More than 99 percent of MLM sellers lose money, according to the Consumer Awareness Institute, an industry watchdog group. But according to social media posts, BOO’s business was booming. In selfies and videos posted to Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, women lather BOO on their faces and soak their feet in sludge-filled pasta pots while, they claim, the money rolls in.

Black Oxygen Organics’ compensation plan, like most MLMs, is convoluted. According to their company handbook, sellers, called “brand partners,” can earn income in two distinct ways: through retail commissions on bags of BOO they sell, and through recruiting other sellers, from which they earn additional commission and bonuses. The more recruits a seller brings in, the more quickly the seller rises in the ranks — there are 10 titles in the company, from brand partner to director to CEO, with compensation packages growing along the way.

A common strategy for MLM participants, including BOO sellers, is to create Facebook groups to collaborate and attract new customers.

“I earned $21,000 in bonuses in my first 5 weeks!” one post read. “I am a single mom, 1 income family, this business was the best decision!!!”

Black Oxygen Organics’ vice president of business development, Ron Montaruli, described the craze in September, telling distributors on a Zoom call viewed by NBC News that the company had attracted 21,000 sellers and 38,000 new customers. Within the last six months, sales had rocketed from $200,000 a month to nearly $4 million, Montaruli said, referring to a chart that showed the same. (Attempts to reach Montaruli were unsuccessful.)

Facts around the company’s actual income are as hazy as the mud it sells, but the secret to dealing dirt seems to be Facebook, where sellers have created dozens of individual groups that have attracted a hodgepodge of hundreds of thousands of members.

The largest BOO Facebook groups, including one with over 97,000 members, are led mostly by MLM jumpers, the term for people who sell a range of MLM products. The groups have also attracted more general alternative health consumers, as well as people seemingly suffering from delusional parasitosis, a condition characterized by the misguided belief that one’s body is being overrun by parasites. Users in these groups mimic activity in anti-parasite internet groups by dosing according to phases of the moon and posting photos of dirty water from foot baths or human waste from toilets asking others to identify a mystery worm.

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on the BOO groups or whether their claims violated the company’s content policies.

User testimonials about the Black Oxygen Organic dirt posted to social media. (Obtained by NBC News)

In the last several months, the groups have seen a rise in members from anti-vaccine and Covid-denial communities, including prominent activists who sell the product to raise funds for anti-vaccine efforts.

A profile of one top seller featured in BOO’s semiregular glossy magazine, “The Bog,” noted that Covid had drawn more people to the industry.

“It’s been kind of a blessing,” the seller said.

While it undoubtedly attracted sales and built teams, Facebook also created a unique problem for Black Oxygen Organics: Those testimonials might have violated federal law that requires efficacy claims be substantiated by “competent and reliable scientific evidence.” They also attracted attention, not only from customers, but from health professionals, regulatory agencies and a group BOO executives have dubbed “the haters.”

After a summer of unbridled success, the internet backlash began.

The rise of MLMs online prompted criticism from some people who have created informal activist groups to bring awareness to what they say are the predatory practices of MLM companies and organized campaigns to disrupt specific businesses. Many of the groups use the same social media techniques to organize their responses.

Online activists who oppose MLMs formed Facebook groups targeting BOO for its claims. Members of these groups infiltrated the BOO community, signing up as sellers, joining pro-BOO groups, and attending BOO sales meetings, then reporting back what they had seen to the group. They posted videos of the company meetings and screenshots from the private BOO sales groups and urged members to file official complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.

YouTube creators made videos debunking BOO peddlers’ most outrageous claims, ridiculing BOO executives and making public recordings of the private company meetings.

Image: Ceara Manchester (Courtesy of Ceara Manchester)

Ceara Manchester, a stay-at-home mother in Pompano Beach, Florida, helps run one of the largest anti-BOO Facebook groups, “Boo is Woo.” Manchester, 34, has spent the last four years monitoring predatory MLMs — or “cults,” in her view — and posting to multiple social media accounts and groups dedicated to “exposing” Black Oxygen Organics.

“The health claims, I had never seen them that bad,” Manchester said. “Just the sheer amount. Every single post was like, ‘cancer, Covid, diabetes, autism.’”

“I don’t feel like people are stupid,” Manchester said of the people who purchased and even sold BOO. “I think that they’re desperate or vulnerable, or they’ve been preyed upon, and you get somebody to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this product that cures everything.’ You know when you’re desperate like that you might listen.”

The mudman

Black Oxygen Organics is the brainchild of Marc Saint-Onge, a 59-year-old entrepreneur from Casselman, Ontario. Saint-Onge, BOO’s founder and CEO, did not respond to calls, texts, emails or direct messages.

But decades of interviews in local press and more recently on social media offer some details about Saint-Onge, or, as he likes to be called, “the mudman.”

Saint-Onge describes himself as an orthotherapist, naturopath, kinesitherapist, reiki master, holistic practitioner, herbalist and aromatherapist. As he said in a video posted to YouTube that has since been made private, his love of mud began as a child, chasing bullfrogs around Ontario bogs. Years later, he went on to practice orthotherapy, a kind of advanced massage technique, to treat pain. He said he packaged dirt from a local bog, branches and leaves included, in zip-lock baggies and gave them to his “patients,” who demanded the mud faster than he could scoop it.

Saint-Onge said he was charged by Canadian authorities with practicing medicine without a license in 1989 and fined $20,000.

“Then my clinic went underground,” he said on a recent podcast.

He has sold mud in some form since the early 1990s. Health Canada, the government regulator responsible for public health, forced him to pull an early version of his mud product, then called the “Anti-Rheuma Bath,” according to a 1996 article in The Calgary Herald, because Saint-Onge marketed it to treat arthritis and rheumatism without any proof to substantiate the claims. Saint-Onge also claimed his mud could heal wounds, telling an Ottawa Citizen reporter in 2012 that his mud compress healed the leg of a man who had suffered an accident with a power saw, saving it from amputation.

“The doctor said it was the antibiotics,” he said. “But we believe it was the mud.”

In the ‘90s Saint-Onge began selling his mud bath under the “Golden Moor” label, which he did until he realized a dream, “a way to do a secret little extraction,” in his words, that would make the dirt dissolve in water. In 2015, with the founding of his company NuWTR, which would later turn into Black Oxygen Organics, Saint-Onge said he finally invented a dirt people could drink.

In 2016, he began selling himself as a business coach, and his personal website boasted of his worth: “I sell mud in a bottle,” he wrote. “Let me teach you to sell anything.”

The troubles

In September, Montaruli, BOO’s vice president, led a corporate call to address the Facebook groups and what he called “the compliance situation.”

“Right now, it’s scary,” Montaruli said in a Zoom call posted publicly, referring to the outlandish claims made by some of BOO’s sellers. “In 21 years, I have never seen anything like this. Never.”

“These outrageous claims, and I’m not even sure if outrageous is bad enough, are obviously attracting the haters, giving them more fuel for the fire, and potential government officials.”

Montaruli called for “a reset,” telling BOO sellers to delete the pages and groups and start over again.

One slide suggested alternatives for 14 popular BOO uses, including switching terms like ADHD to “trouble concentrating,” and “prevents heart attack” to “maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.”

Screenshot of a Facebook post about the Black Oxygen Organics dirt.
(Obtained by NBC News)

And so in September, the Facebook groups evolved — many went private, most changed their names from BOO to “fulvic acid,” and the pinned testimonials from customers claiming miracle cures were wiped clean, tweaked or edited to add a disclaimer absolving the company from any liability.

But that wasn’t the end of the company’s troubles. While individual sellers navigated their new compliance waters, regulatory agencies cracked down.

Days after Montaruli’s call, Health Canada announced a recall of Black Oxygen Organics tablets and powders, citing “potential health risks which may be higher for children, adolescents, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.” Further, the regulatory agency noted, “The products are being promoted in ways and for uses that have not been evaluated and authorized by Health Canada.”

“Stop taking these products,” the announcement advised.

Inventory for U.S. customers had already been hard to come by. In private groups, sellers claimed the product had sold out, but in the company-wide call, Montaruli confirmed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was holding its products at the border.

Jeremy Kahn, an FDA spokesperson, declined to comment.

Saint-Onge did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News. Phone messages and emails sent by a reporter to the company, its executives and its legal counsel were not returned.

What’s in BOO?

BOO is not the only dirt-like health supplement on the market. Consumers have the option of dozens of products — in drops, tablets, powders and pastes — that claim to provide the healing power of fulvic and humic acid.

Fulvic and humic acids have been used in traditional and folk medicines for centuries, and do exhibit antibacterial qualities in large quantities. But there is little scientific evidence to support the kinds of claims made by BOO sellers, according to Brian Bennett, a professor of physics at Marquette University who has studied fulvic and humic acids as a biochemist.

“I would say it’s snake oil,” Bennett said. “There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that a pharmaceutical based on the characteristics of this material might actually work, but I think eating handfuls of soil probably doesn’t.”

Beyond the questions of the health benefits of fulvic acid, there’s the question of just what is in Black Oxygen Organics’ product.

The company’s most recent certificate of analysis, a document meant to show what a product is made of and in what amounts, was posted by sellers this year. Reporting the product makeup as mostly fulvic acid and Vitamin C, the report comes from 2017 and doesn’t list a lab, or even a specific test. NBC News spoke to six environmental scientists, each of whom expressed skepticism at the quality of BOO’s certificate.

Assuming the company-provided analysis was correct, two of the scientists confirmed that just two servings of BOO exceeded Health Canada’s daily limits for lead, and three servings — a dose recommended on the package — approached daily arsenic limits. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no comparable daily guidelines.

In an effort to verify BOO’s analysis, NBC News procured a bag and sent it to Nicholas Basta, a professor of soil and environmental science at Ohio State University.

The BOO product was analyzed for the presence of heavy metals at Ohio State’s Trace Element Research Laboratory. Results from that test were similar to the company’s 2017 certificate, finding two doses per day exceeded Health Canada’s limit for lead, and three doses for daily arsenic amounts.

Growing concern among BOO sellers about the product — precipitated by an anti-MLM activist who noticed on Google Earth that the bog that sourced BOO’s peat appeared to share a border with a landfill — pushed several to take matters into their own hands, sending bags of BOO to labs for testing.

The results of three of these tests, viewed by NBC News and confirmed as seemingly reliable by two soil scientists at U.S. universities, again showed elevated levels of lead and arsenic.

Those results are the backbone of a federal lawsuit seeking class action status filed in November in Georgia’s Northern District court. The complaint, filed on behalf of four Georgia residents who purchased BOO, claims that the company negligently sold a product with “dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals,” which led to physical and economic harm.

Black Oxygen Organics did not respond to requests for comment concerning the complaint.

Screenshots of user testimonials about the Black Oxygen Organics dirt. (Obtained by NBC News)

‘A heavy heart’

The lawsuit hit at an inopportune time, just as the company had “reformulated” its products and added a new label on the powder that now specifies the product is “not for human consumption.”

“Things are starting to settle a little bit,” BOO executive Montaruli said in a video meeting explaining a change from tablet to capsules and a relabeling of the powder.

The powder is “strictly for cosmetics,” Saint-Onge said on the call, a recording of which was shared with NBC News by an attendee.

In the BOO groups, the company’s sellers were undeterred.

“You can continue to use the powder as you choose in your own home,” the admin of one Facebook group wrote to members announcing the product update. “Know that it is the same powder.”

“We cannot TECHNICALLY tell customers to use the product internally,” Adam Ringham, a “Royal Diamond CEO” (BOO’s highest seller title), told his group. “WE CAN HOWEVER — tell them that the powder is THE EXACT SAME as before … ”

Ringham did not return requests for comment.

Just as the BOO sellers were planning their Black Friday sales, the rug was pulled out from them again, this time, seemingly, for good.

Two days before Thanksgiving, an email landed in the inboxes of BOO customers and sellers.

“It is with a heavy heart that we must announce the immediate closing of Black Oxygen Organics,” it read. Details in the note were sparse, but Black Oxygen executives and employees offered an explanation in company Zoom meetings that afternoon.

According to BOO President Carlo Garibaldi, they had weathered the FTC complaints, the FDA seizures, the Health Canada recalls and the online mob. But the “fatal blow” came when their online merchant dropped them as clients.

With no actual product in stock for the last two months, sellers had been urging customers to “preorder” BOO. Now, the throng of customers responding to the nonconsumable “reformulation” by asking for their money back had spooked their payment processor.

“This is our baby,” Garibaldi said, flashing his Black Oxygen elbow tattoo to the screen. “We needed this to go on forever.”

Saint-Onge appeared briefly, holding his head in his hands. “This was my limit,” he said.

Members of anti-BOO groups celebrated.

“WE DID IT!!!!!!” Manchester, the group administrator, posted to the “Boo is Woo” Facebook group. “I hope this is proof positive that if the anti-MLM community bans together we can take these companies down. We won’t stop with just BOO. A new age of anti-MLM activism has just begun.”

In a separate Zoom meeting unattended by executives and shared with NBC News, lower-rung sellers grappled with the sudden closure and the reality that they were out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“I am three weeks to a month away from having a baby and I’ve been depending on this money to arrive in my bank account,” one seller said through tears. “It’s the only income we have.”

The future of BOO is uncertain. Tens of thousands of bags remain in warehouses, according to Black Oxygen executives. Sellers are unlikely to receive orders, refunds or commissions. The federal lawsuit will continue, Matt Wetherington, the Georgia lawyer behind the proposed class action lawsuit, said.

But in the land of MLMs, failure is just another opportunity. Saint-Onge may have walked away from this cohort of customers, but for those who sold it, BOO was more than just a product; it was a way of believing. Now, the thousands of BOO acolytes still convening in BOO Facebook groups are funneling into a new Facebook group, named “The Solution,” and turning their outstretched hands toward a new direct-sales company, one that BOO’s top sellers claim offers an even purer fulvic acid product and a colloidal silver as well.

“Thanks for all your continued support,” The Solution’s admins wrote in a welcome post. “Moving forward is all we can do.”

Please be very careful with promoted posts on Facebook

Edit: Went back to check and as of 4/29/2021, the “wewinns” shop was nowhere to be seen.

Vanished into the mist

For “promoted post,” read “advertisement.”

I’m using as an example one that showed up in my newsfeed yesterday, from a company which calls itself “wewinns.”

They are offering a complete date set of Morgan silver dollars for $199.99 (reduced from $699.99!)

Beautiful, right? The Morgan really is a gorgeous piece, especially in uncirculated condition. Notice the first description:

Morgan Silver Dollars are an excellent way to own a piece of history, while concurrently investing in the physical precious metal silver.  Morgan Silver Dollars are composed of 90% silver and 10% copper.  They weigh 26.73 grams.  This equates to approximately .7734 Troy ounces of silver and approximately .1 ounce of copper per coin. Uncirculated collectible coins.

Next, we have coin highlights:

Coin Highlights:

Arrives inside of a protective plastic slab courtesy of the NGC or PCGS!

Struck from 1878 to 1904!
• Contains .77344 Troy oz of actual silver content.
• Bears a face value of $1 (USD) backed by the federal government.
Issued a Grade of Mint State 66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.
• Obverse features the effigy of Liberty.
• Reverse includes the American bald eagle.

When I was a kid, collecting coins was much less complex. Coin grades were:

  • Cull
  • Fair (F)
  • Good (G)
  • Very Good (VG)
  • Fine (F)
  • Very Fine (VF)
  • Extra Fine (XF)
  • Almost Uncirculated (AU)
  • Uncirculated (Unc)
  • Brilliant Uncirculated (BU)
  • Proof (P)

“Cull” was a damaged coin with no value, and “Proof” – as today – are specially-created strikes for collector. In between, coins were graded largely based on the subjective opinions of countless coin dealers.

Now, things are a lot more complicated, but a lot more formalized. The PCGS that this advertisement invokes has a very detailed designation and a numerical grading system by which coins are qualified. According to their website, MS66 is defined as “Well struck with a few marks or hairlines not in focal areas.” In other words, a pretty, uncirculated coin.

The next statement from the “wewinns” website reiterates the condition of the coins you will supposedly get:

Each of the Morgan Silver Dollar Coins offered by us in this product listing is available to you in Mint State 66 condition from either the PCGS or NGC. Coins in Mint State 66 condition are five grades below the perfect grade of 70 on the Sheldon numeric scale. A coin with an MS66 certification has minimal, but apparent, detracting marks or hairlines.

Following more generic information about Morgan dollars, the sales website goes on to say:

In this product listing, we guarantee you a Mint State 66 condition Morgan Silver Dollar.

Now things get interesting. After some more description of the beauty and rarity of the Morgan dollars, we see this:

Each Morgan Silver Dollar is presented in circulated condition with most major design details visible, and is protected in an archival crystal-clear case that allows for easy and safe viewing of both sides.

“Most major design details visible.” To me, that sounds like an F-12: “About half of detail now worn flat. All lettering remains visible.”

But then in the next bit, we go right back to the shiny new coins you thing you’ll be getting:

Year: 1878 to 1921
Grade: Choice BU
Strike Type: Business
Denomination: $1.00
Mint Location: “S” – San Francisco
Metal Content: 0.7734 troy oz
Purity: .900
Manufacturer: US Mint
Thickness: 3.1 mm
Diameter: 38.1 mm

I have no idea what “Strike type: business” means, unless it just implies general circulation coins and not a proof.

I was curious enough to click the “Contact Us” link on the bottom of the page:

Email:[support@wewinns.com]
Phone: +86 181 2462 2758

Is anyone suprised that country code 86 is China? My email to the support staff read as follows:

I am interested in your offer, but I am confused.
Your ad says the following things:
“Uncirculated collectible coins.”
“Issued a Grade of Mint State 66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.”
“Each of the Morgan Silver Dollar Coins offered by us in this product listing is available to you in Mint State 66 condition from either the PCGS or NGC.”
“In this product listing, we guarantee you a Mint State 66 condition Morgan Silver Dollar.”
“Each Morgan Silver Dollar is presented in circulated condition with most major design details visible.”
“Grade: Choice BU”
So, are these coins that you are offering uncirculated, with a grade of 66, or are they circulated and in generally poor condition? You are aware, are you not, that a full set of Morgan dollars in grade 66 typically sells for over $125,000?
I look forward to your speedy response.

But I will be surprised if there is any response at all. [Edit: there was not] If you get anything at all from this outfit, I’m pretty safe in thinking it will be a collection of very poor-quality coins, and that their website will be gone – only to resurface the next day with a different name.

Now I won’t go so far as to say that every advertisement promoted by Facebook is painfully deceptive or outright dishonestly false… but in my experience, a vast preponderance of them are just that, and a large percentage of them come from China. And Facebook continues to happily take their advertising dollars, and countless people are defrauded by unscrupulous enterprises.

It is worth noticing that the current PCGS quoted price for a complete date set of Morgan dollars in MS-66 condition is $165,605.00, and a complete date set in F-12 condition (Fair) is quoted at $1,272.00.

At one point, the Danbury Mint was offering a 28-coin date set for $2,238.60, but that was a limited-time offer and is sold out. [While Danbury is a legitimate company, please be aware that – like the Franklin Mint and other specialty “Mints” – what they sell is fairly overpriced and unsuitable for investment, but they do have pretty things. Just expect that you or your heirs will probably not even recoup what you paid for them if they ever try to sell.]

So heaven only knows what you might get if you drop $200.00 into this Chinese bank account; most likely a bunch of counterfeit coins, or nothing at all.

Be very careful with these ads. Discuss this with vulnerable loved ones, particularly the elderly who might be more susceptible to greasy advertising techniques like this.

Edit: Another, very similar ad page is found at
https://www.silver-ccoins.com/products/1878-1921-morgan-dollar-silver-coin-lx-1, and it uses almost identical wording, with a lot of additional promotional fluff added. The company behind this one is Vankin Co. Ltd. in London. Beware.

Edit 2: This report focuses on an individual who was conned into buying counterfeit silver dollars (made of steel); the report ends by indicating that these bogus dollars were likely mass-produced in China. One more red flag that this particular deal and ones like it should be run away from at great speed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Round and Round the Tech Support bush, the user chased an answer…

HP: “That’s a software problem, call Microsoft.”
Microsoft: “That’s a program issue, call the vendor.”
Vendor: “That’s a hardware problem, call Dell.”

Today’s iteration of this problem came whilst attempting to register my bank card with Google Pay so I can pay with a tap of my phone. (PS: I’ve done this before successfully, but we have a new bank.)

Digital Wallet Verification: “We need to send you a one-time code, but the phone number you gave me doesn’t match our records. We could send you a code by email, but you don’t have one on record. [Yes, I do. My bank emails me all the time.] You’ll have to call the number on the back of your card.”

Customer Service: “Sorry, we can’t see your phone number. All we can do is block your card if it’s been lost or stolen.” Me, shouting: “NO! FOR THE LOVE OF MOGG DON’T DO THAT!!”

Financial Institution: “Your phone number in our system is correct. The problem is with Digital Wallet.”

Digital Wallet: (rinse and repeat, but this time get elevated to a manager) “We can’t change your phone number here. We can only verify what your bank gives us.”

Me: “But I just called my bank and they said my data is accurate.”

Digital Wallet: “You need to have your bank reach out to their client services and make sure the card record is correct, not the account record. And since you have two failed attempts, we can’t verify this card.” [Turns out I have to wait 7 days to try again after their system unlocks the card.]

By now I’ve been on this hellish merry-go-round for over an hour.

Financial Institution [Time: 1640 hours] “Our offices are now closed. Please call back during normal business hours.”

Exit user, weeping.

Technology: it’s a great servant when everything works well, but when something goes FUBAR it becomes a hellish taskmaster.¹

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Footnotes

¹ In all of these calls, every agent was doing their best to be helpful within the parameters they were given. But the major challenge for me was understanding them (except for the manager at Digital Wallet, who was an American). I’m a trained linguist who speaks a jugful of languages and is familiar with a hogshead more, and I have the hardest time attuning my ears to these outsourced accents. They’re just bad.

Embittered plea to Corporate CEO’s: “When you outsource your customer service function, please make sure that the agents are capable of speaking with an understandable accent.”

I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone who is only used to Great Plains English.

Halliburton takes a page from Robin Cook’s “Fatal Cure”

Cross-posted from a LiveJournal post on Sep. 16th, 2012

So yes, this is an old story, but it came up because I was once again looking for a particular quote about Cobalt-60, and Google gave me my own post as the first search result. That’s always a titillating feeling.

In the closing pages of Robin Cook’s Fatal Cure, we learn that the evil hospital administrator bastards who have been killing people with massive doses of gamma radiation (because they were using too many hospital resources) come to a satisfyingly karmic end.


Scanning the cluttered conference table, David spotted the source instantly. It was a cylinder about a foot long whose diameter matched the size of the bore in the treatment arm he’d examined only minutes ago. Several Teflon rings were embedded in its circumference. On its top was a locking pin. The cylinder was standing upright next to a model of a parking garage just as Van Slyke had indicated.

David started for the cylinder, clutching a lead apron in both hands.

“Stop!” Traynor yelled.

Before David could get to the cylinder, Caldwell leapt to his feet and grabbed David around his chest.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Caldwell demanded.

“I’m trying to save all of you if it isn’t too late,” David said.

“Let him go,” Angela cried.

“What are you talking about?” Traynor demanded.

David nodded toward the cylinder. “I’m afraid you have been having your meeting around a cobalt-60 source.”

Cantor leaped to his feet; his chair tipped over backward. “I saw that thing,” he cried. “I wondered what it was.” Saying no more, he turned and fled from the room.

A stunned Caldwell relaxed his grip. David immediately lunged across the table and snatched up the brass cylinder in his lead gloves. Then he rolled the cylinder in one of his lead aprons. Next he wrapped that apron in another and that one in another still. He proceeded to do the same with the aprons Angela was carrying while she stepped out of the conference room to get the others. David was anxious to cover the cylinder with as many layers of lead as possible.

As David was wrapping the last load of the aprons around the bulky parcel, Angela got the Geiger counter.

“I don’t believe you,” Traynor said, breaking a shocked silence. But his voice lacked conviction. Cantor’s sudden departure had unnerved him.

“This is not the time for debate,” David said. “Everyone better get out of here,” he added. “You’ve all been exposed to a serious amount of radiation. I advise you to call your doctors.”

Traynor and the others exchanged nervous glances. Panic soon broke out as first a few and then the remaining board members, including Traynor, ran from the room.

David finished with the last apron and took the Geiger counter. Turning it on, he was dismayed to see that it still registered a significant amount of radiation.

“Let’s get out of here,” David said. “That’s about all we can do.”

Leaving the cylinder wrapped in aprons on the table, they went out of the conference room, closing the doors behind them. David tried the Geiger counter again. As he expected, the radiation had fallen off dramatically. “As long as no one goes in the conference room, no one else will get hurt tonight,” he said.

Cook, Robin, Fatal Cure, Putnam, 1993

All of the criminals die horribly, of radiation poisoning. 

 {Evil Laugh}

Back in the real world, in September of 2012, it appears that Halliburton, the company formerly run by Vice-President Dick Cheney, misplaced a little radioactive cylinder of its own.

120915_tch_radioactivecylinder.grid-6x2

About 7 inches long, the little device is used by the oil field services company to assess potential sites for hydraulic fracturing (fracking – Google it); they lost track of it while trying to transport it from Pecos to a well site near Odessa 130 miles away. (How that loss was permitted to happen in the first place remains a large question to which I have never seen a satisfactory answer.)

“It’s not something that produces radiation in an extremely dangerous form,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But it’s best for people to stay back, 20 or 25 feet.”

Comfortingly, the cylinder is stamped with the words “danger radioactive” and “do not handle” along with a radiation warning symbol, according to the Texas Health Department.

There’s just one problem.

By the time you get close enough to read that teeny-tiny writing, you’ve probably picked the thing up and held it about six inches from your face. Sorry, you’ve just fatally irradiated your brain. Sucks to be you.

I do hope they can locate this thing, before the ɑ-particles produced by americium-241 react in the presence of beryllium to form neutrons, which will promptly burn the hell out of whichever group of children picks it up and uses it to play catch with.

You know what I mean?


Fortunately, they did find it, about a month later per the Guardian. Also fortunately, the danger to anyone who found it would have been minimal as long as they didn’t treat it stupidly; per a comment at Livejournal, it was handled as a “non emergency” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Operations Center.”

So this story ended happily, but the concept of unshielded radiation sources running around in the wild is something best left to the gripping medical fiction of Dr. Robin Cook and not real life.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Those Medicare Ads

Sounds great, right? So you click the ad, and they want your age, your birthdate, your name, your zip code, and your phone number, which you happily provide.

But before being able to submit your information, you have to agree to their terms. Which are these:

By clicking ‘View My Results’, I expressly consent by electronic signature to receive marketing communication, including via calls using an automatic telephone dialing system and artificial or pre-recorded messages, emails, and text messages (SMS), from insurance companies or their agents, the owner of this website and its agents, representatives and affiliates, and partner companies to the phone number provided (including any wireless numbers). I understand that my consent to receive communications in this manner is not required as a condition of purchasing any goods or services, my telephone company may impose charges for these contacts, and I can revoke my consent at any time. If you are Medicare-eligible a representative may call you about a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Prescription Drug plan, Medicare Supplement plan or other Medicare plans. Not affiliated with the United States Government or the federal Medicare program.

By clicking ‘View My Results’, I further agree to receive SMS notifications from Assurance short code 71953. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. You may receive alerts until you choose to opt out of this service by texting “Stop” to 71953 or replying “Stop” to any of our messages. Text “Help” to 71953 for assistance. Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy and Do Not Sell My Personal Information

And those “partner companies” mentioned above? Here’s the list:

  • 1st Century
  • Accuquote
  • Adsparkx Digital
  • Advocator Group
  • Agentra Healthcare
  • AIG Direct
  • AIS
  • Aliera Healthcare
  • All Web Leads
  • Alliance
  • Allied Insurance Partners
  • Allstate
  • Alphatech Resource Holdings s.r.o
  • Alpine Digital Group, Inc.
  • American Adventure Insurance
  • American Income Life Insurance Company Family
  • American Insurance Company
  • American Insurance Organization, LLC
  • Americare
  • Ameriquote
  • AmeriSave
  • Angelic Marketing Group
  • Answer Financial
  • Apollo Interactive
  • Art Institute
  • Auto Insurance Guide
  • Avendia
  • Avenge Digital
  • Bantam Connect
  • Bayside
  • BE Marketing Solutions Inc.
  • Benefit Advisors
  • Black Optek
  • Blue Nile
  • Blue Summit
  • Bright Home Energy
  • BRXTN Digital Media
  • Caliber Home Loans
  • Capital Health Advisors Inc.
  • Cege Media
  • Choice Direct
  • Citizens Disability
  • Clean Energy Concepts
  • ClearLink
  • Click 2 Call Network
  • Commercial Insurance Center
  • CompareInsuranceQuotes
  • Connect Insurance Brands
  • Connect Plus
  • Contactability
  • Coverage One
  • CS Marketing
  • Debt.com
  • Digital Market Media, Inc.
  • Direct General
  • Disability Advisor
  • Discount Insurance Quotes
  • EasyMedicare.com, an affiliate of e-TeleQuote Insurance, Inc
  • easyMedicare.com, an affiliate of e-TeleQuote Insurance, Inc.
  • Efinancial
  • EPIQ
  • Esurance
  • EverQuote, Inc.
  • Excel Impact
  • Exclusive Digital Media
  • Finalexpenseassistant.com
  • First Family Life
  • FirstQuoteHealth.com
  • Florida Blue
  • Florida Plan Advisors
  • Fortegra
  • Freeway Insurance Services
  • Get Seen Media
  • Globe Life
  • Globe Life Insurance Company of New York
  • GoHealthInsurance
  • Goji
  • goMedigap
  • Green Home Advantage
  • Guidestar Marketing Group LLC
  • Guidetoinsure
  • Hannigan Insurance
  • Health Benefit Center
  • Health Benefits One
  • Health Center Marketing
  • Health Choice One
  • Health Insurance Innovations
  • Health Insurance Services
  • Health IQ
  • Health Plans of America
  • Health Solutions One
  • HealthCare, Inc.
  • Healthcareassistant.com
  • HealtheDeals
  • HealthMarkets
  • HealthPlanOne
  • HealthPlanOne, LLC
  • Heard and Smith
  • Heritage Life Insurance Company
  • Home Insurance King
  • Ideal Concepts
  • Inboxed LLC.
  • Independent Insurance Consultants
  • Innovate Financial Group
  • Innovation Direct Group
  • Inside Response
  • InsuraMatch
  • Insurance Care Direct
  • Insurance Quotes Now
  • Insurance Services
  • Insurance Solutions LLC
  • IPA Direct
  • iWebQuotes
  • Kanopy Insurance
  • Kelly Klee
  • Leadnomics
  • Legacy Insurance Solutions
  • Legends United Insurance Agency, Inc
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Liberty National Life Insurance Company
  • Lighthouse
  • Loan Depot
  • Mercury
  • Mercury Insurance
  • Momentum Solar
  • Morty Inc.
  • Moss
  • Mutual of Omaha
  • MVX Sales
  • My Health Advisors
  • National Disability
  • National General
  • National Income Life Insurance Company
  • National Plan Advisors
  • Nationwide
  • NetQuote
  • New Age Health
  • New American Funding
  • NextGen Leads, LLC
  • Nexus Enterprise Solutions
  • Open Market Quotes
  • Outlook Advisors
  • Palisades Media Group
  • Pay Per Call Market
  • Pay Per Call Transfers
  • PEMCO
  • PFP
  • Ping Leads
  • Platform Advertising
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Policy Scout
  • PolicyScout
  • Precursor Media
  • Premier Disability
  • Presidio Interactive
  • Priority Insurance
  • Progressive
  • Prudential
  • Purple Dog Marketing LLC
  • Q3MInsuranceSolutions
  • Quantum3media
  • Quicken Loans
  • Quote Engine
  • Quote Manager LLC
  • Quote Velocity
  • Quotehound
  • QuoteManage LLC
  • QuoteWizard
  • Rank Media Agency
  • Rayosun LLC
  • RCPT2
  • RevPoint
  • S.B. Fintech Ltd
  • Sales Data Pro
  • Selective Healthcare
  • SelectMyPolicy.com
  • SelectQuote
  • Senior Life
  • Senior Market Quotes
  • Smart Energy Direct
  • Smart Health Options, LLC
  • Smart Match Insurance Solutions
  • SolidQuote, LLC
  • Spring Health Plans
  • Spring Insurance Solutions
  • State Farm
  • ‘Stone Tapert
  • Stone Tapert Insurance Services
  • STRINGBIT inc.
  • Support First
  • Synergy Insurance Marketing
  • The Insurance Center
  • The Lead Company
  • The Zebra
  • Themedicareassistant.com
  • The-Solar-Project.com.
  • Tiburon Insurance
  • Tranzact
  • Travelers
  • TrueChoice Insurance Services
  • TrustedConsumer
  • Underground Elephant
  • United American Insurance Company
  • United Insurance Group Agency, Inc.
  • United Medicare Advisors
  • Velapoint
  • Vital One Health
  • ZQ Auto Insurance

In other words, you provide critical personal information to “updatedmedicareplans.com,” and they sell that information to over 208 other companies which may or may not have anything to do with Medicare coverage, and many of whom will sell that data onward to other marketing firms… and you agree to allow these companies to spam you with phone calls or text messages.

This is essentially the same business model used by “Lower My Bills,” and from where I sit it’s a bad deal. If you’re looking for improved Medicare Advantage plans, I suggest you call a reputable local insurance agent with whom you can deal in person, instead of opening yourself to a deluge of marketing calls, many of which will be spurious in nature.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The truth about “ugly produce.”

This post is taken from a series of tweets by Dr. Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww). I’ve collected the tweets, edited them for clarity and brevity (sometime abbreviations help you meet Twitter’s length limit), and bowdlerized them just a bit for a family-friendly audience. If you don’t mind a bit of language, you can, of course, view the original thread here.


Most “ugly” produce gets turned into soups, sauces, salsa, jam, ice cream, etc. You think that stuff gets made from the pretty fruit and veggies?! Jeebus, think about it for a minute.

The amount of produce wasted because of labor problems (can’t get a crew to harvest) and bad weather (melons that rot in the field because it’s too hot and wet, etc) WAY outstrips produce thrown out because it’s “ugly.”

Because again… we eat a LOT ugly produce. You just wouldn’t know it because it’s salsa.

As someone who works in produce, this whole “ugly fruit” movement is actually kind of enraging because it’s completely disconnected from what really happens in the supply chain. It’s a big honkin’ wad of fraud that self-promoting foodies get away with because nobody knows better.

After it leaves the farm, most produce goes to a packinghouse. This is where they cool, wash, sort, and package it. In other words, it’s where the ugly fruit people think all this “waste” is happening.

he only time packinghouses throw out fruit is when IT’S ACTUALLY INEDIBLE. Like it’s either rotten or (in the case of one watermelon field that one time) it had rained so hard that the melons filled up with water and were completely tasteless. Also about to explode.

Produce gets graded by size, prettiness, and (sometimes) flavor/eating quality.

Know what happens to most of the produce that’s edible, has enough shape to survive in transit, but looks funny?

IT GOES TO THE GROCERY STORES THAT POOR PEOPLE SHOP AT.

In the broke times of my life I did not shop at farmers’ markets, because they’re at bizarre times when working class people are usually working or sleeping (late service sector nights = no 7 AM Saturday farmer’s market for you). Farmer’s Markets are built around the “9 to 5” white-collar schedule.

Most of your real poor people, when buying produce, get it from shops white collar people don’t go to.

Those shops stock ugly produce.

[The shops] that white collar people don’t go to. Then conclude, looking at their nice stores stocked with pretty No. 1 produce, that nobody’s eating the ugly stuff.

So there’s one beef. The “eat ugly fruit!” movement is as classist as it comes. You’ve got to have a debilitating level of ignorance to assume that if Whole Paycheck Market doesn’t stock ugly fruit, it must be getting “wasted.”

Upside-Down Face on Microsoft

Back to the packinghouse. When produce is EXTREMELY UGLY, it goes into cull bins.

My fave cull bins to date:

  • Sweet potatoes. Did you know that they make a *lot* of giant, freaky-shaped spuds? Like a rat king of sweet potatoes, somewhere between football and basketball sized. What happens to these ugly, unloved sweet potatoes? OH WAIT THEY GET LOVED, THAT’S WHERE EVER-LOVIN’ SWEET POTATO FRIES COME FROM!
  • Apples. We love to say we don’t mind “spots on our apples,” but actual sales data tells us we really, really do. And honestly, we should. Even “cosmetic” lesions can make micro-breaks in the apple’s skin, allowing fungus to enter. One rotten apple, barrel, etc. Fugly apples ARE WHERE APPLE JUICE AND APPLE SAUCE AND APPLE CIDER AND APPLE BUTTER AND APPLE JELLY AND APPLE PIE COME FROM! “Wasted” my eye.

    “But some apple variety are better for fresh eating, not processing!” D’ya think Hy-Vee brand apple juice from concentrate really cares at all that today’s shipment of cheap juicing-grade apples are not The Optimal For Juicing?

    NO THEY’RE GONNA JUICE THAT STUFF!

    Did you know: Honeycrisp apples are extra prone to a mostly-cosmetic skin defect called bitter pit?

    Ergo, most Honeycrisp apples become apple juice. That’s why whole, fresh, pretty Honeycrisp apples cost so fricken’ much.

    Because most of them become cheap bulk juicers.

Yes, every once in a while you’ll run into a variety of produce that only really works for fresh and doesn’t lend well to processing. This mostly happens with leafy greens (we don’t make … lettuce sauce), which is such a minuscule amount of the produce tonnage grown per year.

When produce is too far gone to sell and there’s no processing market (say, melons), it often gets fed to livestock.

That’s… actually a lot of the point of livestock, historically. They eat stuff we can’t and turn it into meat, milk, and eggs that we can.

Feeding crop and food waste to livestock also means we’re not having to use as much livestock-only cropland. Just assume that most years a certain percentage of human food crops will get messed up and become livestock feed, and that’s less pasture/grain land needed for livestock.

That Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe back in 2011? As best we can tell it happened because they fed ugly melons to cattle.

Which, in itself, is fine.

The problem is they kept driving the truck back into the cantaloupe shed AFTER getting its tires caked in cow poop during deliveries.

This whole “ugly fruit! uwu”¹ thing is bewildering because in order to believe that retail consumers can change the world by buying ugly fruit, you have to believe that the entire supply chain is made of numpties² who make a regular habit of leaving money on the table.

The food system is a hot mess but using ugly produce is one thing it’s actually really good at. Using every single part of what’s grown, if there’s any possible way to sell it.³

The one big source of food waste that I do worry about is crops that are perfectly good, and rot in the field because the farm can’t get anybody to harvest them. (Orrrrr they don’t want to pay enough for people to come harvest them.)

These labor shortages come down to 2 things:

  1. Bad immigration policy
  2. Farm business models that can’t survive a competitive labor market

(which kinda tends to feed back into that first one)

We SHOULD be worried about THAT. And “buy ugly fruit!” does virtually nothing to address it.

But those aren’t fun problems to fix, because they’re not the kinds of problems that the everyman consumer can fix by just making a simple yes/no choice in the supermarket.

They’re like … systemic or something.

Anyway, that’s my semiweekly grinching about shallow attempts to reform the food system that completely miss the point and at this point the ugly fruit thing is such an accepted belief that. like. you can’t even blame people for believing it, it’s absolutely everywhere.


I originally saw this posted on Facebook. What follows are some comments from a friend of mine who spent his entire career as an agricultural consultant and extension agent for a large midwestern university. I thought these contributed to the discussion.

Story 1: In college, I spent a couple of years in Cooperative Education working as a USDA fruit and vegetable inspector. My job was to examine a shipment of produce, pass or fail it on both cosmetic issues as well as actual decay. After the receiving company got his money back from the shipper (thanks to my report), he’d then sell the produce for top dollar. And I watched how the ugly produce would be separated and sold to organic food coops (because “that’s what organic produce looks like”…mind you, this was back in 1980, when organics were not regulated).
I remember one case where we went to a pickle factory outside of Boston. The load of cucumbers came in with over 50% rotted. Have you ever seen a rotted cucumber? It’s basically a green water balloon…touch it and it explodes. After we finished the inspection, we sat in the receiver’s office while he negotiated with the shipper. After he got almost all of his money back, he hits the intercom and says “OK, run them!”. About 10 tons of rotted, slimy, water-balloon cucumbers were dumped into the pickle juice. It was nearly 10 years before I could eat pickles again.

Ewg!

Story 2: Early in my career with Extension, I had a farmer in southern Indiana who wanted to start an organic apple orchard. He was extremely well-educated, knew a heck of a lot more about apples and apple pests than I did. He fought this for 7 years before giving up. Because in the humid Ohio River Valley, you MUST use fungicides to prevent fungus diseases, or every fruit will develop unsellable spots. His entire crop, year after year, was only good for cider. And you cannot make a living growing cider grade apples. You MUST have a high percentage of US Number 1 apples that the fresh-eating public buys. And despite what all of my organic-gardener friends tell me…if you put out two bins of apples: 1 bin with perfect-looking fruits that are labelled “sprayed every week all season long” and 1 bin with spotted apples labelled “organic,” the sprayed bin will always be bought out quickly. Always.

Story 3: When younger, I took my kids to my local strawberry farmer for U-Pick berry picking. And I watched as the general public would only pick the biggest and most perfect berries. They would leave unpicked the smaller berries (which actually are sweeter than the big ones); they would leave the misshapen ones. And that’s if they were being generous…because the farmer could always pay his workers to go back over the field and pick the skipped-over fruit. But no…the public would pick the less-than-perfect fruit, and toss it or smash it because it wasn’t good enough for them. And that is waste.


Footnotes:

¹ “UwU” is an alphabetic emoji representing a cute or smug face. You might see it as this:

² British for “morons.”

³ Just recently I saw this ad show up on my Facebook wall:

Some executive somewhere: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea how we can make money from getting people to buy the garbage we used to throw away!”

Please do not patronize these knockoff companies.

I followed a link from Facebook to a CNN article about Roger Stone on my phone yesterday. Almost invariably when I follow links, despite the fact that I own a Pixel phone I’ll choose the option that says “Open in Samsung Internet” because that app includes an ad-blocker that makes my mobile browsing experience infinitely less annoying (no, I’m not a paid shill.) But this time I didn’t for some odd reason, and this is what I saw:

These shirts and many like them are advertised heavily on Facebook and other places. This particular article repeated the same advertisement four times – with the headers “Star Wars,” “Star Wars 2,” “Star Wars 3,” and “Star Wars 9.”

It seems that the way targeted advertising campaigns work is that the page owners – in this case, CNN – either have no control over or don’t care what ads get served up on their site, as long as they get paid for eyeballs and clicks. So whatever algorithm was being used here, it has been heavily skewed in favor of this one company.

Aside from being annoying in general, these web ads for teeshirts have a darker downside: almost all of them use stolen and unauthorized intellectual property. While I can’t say for certain, my bookie assures me it’s a sure bet that these are Chinese companies who change their store names on a daily basis, saturate the internet with ads for shirts of dubious quality using pirated IP, sell a mess of teeshirts and then vanish before they can be tracked down, only to appear the next day under a different name.

And of course, concerns like Facebook are happy to rake in their advertising dollars without a care in the world.

There are many legitimate shirt companies out there. They purchase artwork or license it from its creators. Woot! is one that my wife and I are shamefacedly addicted to, but there are any number to choose from. ¹

Don’t give these pirates your money. Stick with legitimate companies, preferably ones that manufacture their goods here in America.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Nope, not getting paid for this recommendation either.

When disingenuous websites become funny… and a bit of Italian history.


Disclaimer: I do my best to keep this blog family-friendly, but this post delves into a couple of things that might be not suitable for young kids.

There are websites out there that will do anything for clicks. When you find one of these out there, the content is generally worth less than the electrons used to display them.

(Unless, of course, your electricity provider is Central Maine Power, and then you might be talking about some real money, but that’s a different conversation.)

Every now and then, though, that drive for clicks and eyeballs on ads results in a bit of humor. And in this case the journey was interesting as well. So bear with me.

At the Carnevale di Viareggio in Tuscany, one of the 1st-Class floats featured 45 as the God Emperor from Warhammer 40K. My first clue to this gem showed up at reddit:

If you want the entire video this screen cap came from, you can view it here.

And I wanted to post this elsewhere, with a simple heading, because I was so delighted with this exquisite rendering of The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office:

Having lived in Naples for a good amount of time, one sees things like this frequently – the “W” is short for “viva,” or “long live” or “hooray for” or some similar sentiment. There is a corresponding symbol for “Down with,” which looks like this:

Down with Galateo

But as I was working to find suitable examples, I began to wonder about the origin of these two symbols, and it turns out they arose during the time of Giuseppe Verdi. And if you’ve ever lived in Italy, you know that everything is political. From Wikipedia:

The growth of the “identification of Verdi’s music with Italian nationalist politics” perhaps began in the 1840s… It was not until 1859 in Naples, and only then spreading throughout Italy, that the slogan “Viva Verdi” was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele RDItalia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy)… After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi’s early operas were increasingly re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that perhaps had not been originally intended by either the composer or his librettists.

So that “double V” for “Viva Verdi” came to symbolize “Viva” or “Up with,” and by analogy, an inverted VV, or M, became “Down with.”

Now that we know that, I can take you on the detour. It took me a while to get to that explanation, but while I was looking, I stumbled across this image:

W la Figa

I had never encountered this, but I had a sneaking suspicion I knew more or less what it meant. And I was right. You can see WLF all over photos and uniforms and stickers and hats relating to race car driver Valentino Rossi, and it stands for “Long Live Pussy.” Hey, I didn’t write it. La Figa, by the way, derives from a very ancient sign, “The fig,” which was common in Rome and other places:

Manu Fica –
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see this as representing female body parts.

So while I was researching that, I got a hit on Google from a page called “Names.org” that purports to provide origins for names. And while it may do that to a certain extent for legitimate names, such as my own, it does it mostly by randomly scraping content from the Internet, resulting in an unreliable hodgepodge of unedited information. For your gratuitous enjoyment, the meaning of the name “Wlafiga:”

I highly doubt they’ll publish the origins and meaning that I suggested.

Now, just to make absolutely certain that in some language somewhere “Wlafiga” was not a real name, I asked Names.org for the origin of “Bjørkmœð,” a nonsense string of phonemes that I created out of whole cloth. Here’s what I got:

Robotically-generated nonsense.

So if you want a laugh, go over to Names.org and search out your own, or make something up and see what you get. But the takeaway here is, never rely on a single website to provide you with accurate information – dig deep, and then dig deeper.

W the Internet!

The Old Wolf has spoken.