I get it. I was raised in a family of actors. You’re not the characters you so giftedly played; you’re real people with real lives and real issues, just like the rest of us.
But speaking as someone who has spent the last several months binging the entire run of NCIS¹, you (not unlike the casts of Criminal Minds, Fringe, Blue Bloods, and others)… to me, your characters became family.
And while I can’t speak for the rest of your fan base, what happened behind the scenes which ultimately led to earth-shaking changes in the cast, and the gulf between you which continues to this day, broke my heart.
When I think of the countless interactions between Gibbs and Abby – not the little affectionate pecks and compliments, but the big ones where your characters were displaying pain and vulnerability and true affection and mutual respect and growth – to see that relationship sullied by offscreen animosity and estrangement… Well, it’s downright sad, and the optics for the show which will continue to be available for generations yet unborn are bad. Really bad. Like, thermonuclear bad.
When I think of the years during which Gibbs and Abby supported each other and helped each other through the most difficult times and experiences not unlike a devoted father and daughter,² I cannot imagine their being unable to help each other through a rift like this. Or to accept this kind of separation without fighting tooth and nail for a reconciliation.
I don’t really care about what happened on set. Life is complicated, we’re all human and things happen. Accidents happen. People make mistakes. Words are exchanged. Egos get wounded. Feelings get hurt. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not judging, I’m pleading.
I exhort you to bury the hatchet. It’s been six years now. Sack up, or as Margo from “The Magicians” might say, ovary up, put your injured pride behind you, and become the friends in real life that you so expertly portrayed for so many years onscreen. Generations of fans will thank you if you do.
– The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ I have no good reason for why it took me so long to discover this amazing series. I have no excuse other than that life is really busy and there’s so much in the world. But I’m so glad I did. Almost every episode brought me to tears with the goodness and strong relationships demonstrated by the characters and the bonds that they forged and the growth that they demonstrated.
² Yes, yes, you were reading lines on a script written for you by others, but the way you did it made your characters become real, like that velveteen rabbit. You were loved to that level.
A Twitter thread by Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) from 27 February, 2022. A critical analysis of what is still going on, and why it matters. See the original here.
Ok. Deep breath.
I think we may look back on this as the first Great Information War. Except we’re already 8 years in.
The first Great Information War began in 2014. The invasion of Ukraine is the latest front. And the idea it doesn’t already involve us is fiction, a lie.
It was Putin’s fury at the removal of President Yankovych in Feb 2014 that kicked everything off. Information operations were first crucial step in invasion of Crimea & Donbass. A deliberate attempt to warp reality to confuse both Ukrainians & the world.
This was not new. The Soviets had practiced “dezinformatsiya” for years. But what was new in 2014 was technology. Social media. It was a transformative moment. “Hybrid warfare” on steroids: a golden Willy Wonka ticket to manipulate hearts & minds. Almost completely invisibly.
But it wasn’t just Ukraine. We now know Russia began another offensive in Feb 2014. Against the West. Specifically, but not exclusively, America. How do we know this? Because the FBI conducted a forensic, multi-year investigation. That almost no-one paid any attention to.
The Mueller Report. You’ve heard of it. But probably as a headline about how it didn’t “prove” collusion between the Kremlin & Trump campaign. We can come back to that. What it did prove – BEYOND ANY DOUBT – was that Russia attacked 2016 US election through multiple routes.
And just one of the ways Russia attacked 2016 US election was via the tech platforms. Especially: Facebook. This was a military technique, it pioneered in Ukraine in 2014. By 2016, it refined, iterated & supersized these. Most brilliantly of all, they were entirely invisible
And it wasn’t just Russia. Companies such as Cambridge Analytica. Political operatives such as Manafort. Amoral opportunists such as Cummings. They learned how to exploit a platform that was totally open – anyone could do so. And totally closed – no-one could see how.
But also it was Russia. That’s what the Mueller Report proves. And, again, Ukraine is at centre of it all.(Read @profshaw’s thread here. Note walk-on role for Arron Banks’s business partner & his friend the Russian spy)
In 2016, we knew none of this. Russia & other bad actors acted with impunity &, in some cases alignment. But now, through the sheer bloody hard work of academics, journalists & FBI, we do know.
But it was complex, messy, difficult. So… We brushed it all under the carpet
We failed to acknowledge Russia had staged a military attack on the West. We called it “meddling”. We used words like “interference”. It wasn’t. It was warfare. We’ve been under military attack for eight years now.
This failure is at the heart of what is happening now in Ukraine. Because the first offensive in the Great Information War was from 2014-2022. And Putin won.
And he won by convincing us it wasn’t even a war.
We fell for it. We said it was “just ads” that “don’t work anyhow”. And “a bot didn’t tell me to vote”. Facebook is still an open threat surface. Exploited by authoritarians from Philippines to India to Brazil to Hungary. It’s maybe not a world war. But the world is at war.
Meanwhile, in Britain, we’re a captured state. In America, the institutions of govt worked. Even in spite of Trump. The authorities investigated. Individuals were indicted, charged, jailed. The hostile actions of a foreign state examined & unpicked.
(Not that it mattered.) The US media & therefore public failed to understand the real lessons of Mueller Report. And in the UK? We didn’t even bother trying. We allowed Johnson’s govt to sweep 2016 under the carpet. Nigel Farage. Arron Banks. Facebook. Russia. The lot.
But it wasn’t ‘just ads’. It was war. And it’s absolutely crucial that we now understand that Putin’s attack on Ukraine & the West was a JOINT attack on both.
That began at the exact same time.
Across the exact same platforms.
And this new front, the invasion of Ukraine, is not just about Ukraine. We are part of the plan. We have always been part of the plan. And Ukraine is not just fighting for Ukraine but for the rest of us too.
And maybe that could be why we’ve failed to understand Putin’s strategy in Ukraine? Because it’s not just a strategy in Ukraine. It’s directed at us too. And that’s what makes this such a uniquely perilous moment. Not least, because we still don’t understand we’re at war.
If it helps, the penny dropped for me with Skripal. Planned by the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence. As was the weaponised hack-&-leak of Hillary’s emails. Military doctrine carried out by military officials in military operations. Just like the one now in Ukraine.
TL;DR – She’s tired.
The story of Arron Banks is intertwined with every single element of the above. That’s for another time. What matters now is Ukraine. And the key to helping it is to understand that Putin isn’t just coming for us next. He already has.
Russia is not our friend. Russia has never been our friend, despite fighting the Nazis together in World War II. I lived through the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis and Civil Defense and Duck and Cover drills, and it’s all Russia.
Putin is still a KGB agent. Never forget this.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ Some have suggested this is a mistranslation of what Nikita Khrushchev said, which was “Мы вас похороним!” While I am not a Russian linguist, based on the feeling that was coming from the Soviet Union at the time, I dispute this. He meant exactly what he said.
There’s a section about “What You’ll Need,” with the ever-present disclaimer:
All products featured on Bon Appétit are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through the retail links below, we earn an affiliate commission.
So let’s see what we’ll need to make this recipe:
All of these products, lovingly chosen by Bon Appétit’s editors, were selected not for utility but to generate the maximum possible revenue for the website’s owners. I mention this because in order to purchase every one of these items at the listed links (with the exception of the Bon Appétit Market which is currently 404), you would need to shell out $314.00… and Bon Appétit would earn a commission on all of those sales.
I pity the poor wights who come to this page and think they need to buy all of these utensils before they can make the recipe; almost every item on this list could be had at Dollar Tree for $1.25 each (you’d have to go to Walmart or somewhere similar for a 1-quart saucepan for $8.97 instead of $155.00 at Amazon), and the digital scale isn’t even used in the recipe unless you’d rather measure 625 grams of flour instead of 5 cups.
The Internet is an amazing source of information, but overshadowing everything is the commercialization of any possible space. I remember one of the earliest and cleverest examples of turning the Internet into a cash cow, the “Million Dollar Homepage.”
Every pixel on this page sold out, meaning whoever came up with this idea made off with a cool million. It’s interesting to go back in time and revisit the purchasers (many of which are now defunct), and to wonder if that investment in an odd form of advertising ever converted into sales… but I doubt it.
Advertising in general is expensive and largely ineffective; the best websites hit around an 11% conversion rate, but the average landing page conversion rate is 2.35%. That means that 97% of the money a company spends on internet advertising or a web presence goes directly into the sewer. The ones who make that money are the advertising providers.
The monetization of everything on the Internet seems to be unavoidable, but from where I sit, it’s exhausting.
Today the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, struck down Roe v. Wade, which newly-confirmed justices Brett Kavanaugh (the alleged rapist) and Amy Coney Barrett (the evangelical activist) had sworn to the Senate was “established law.”
Immediately, a number of states moved to implement “trigger laws” – most recently Missouri – State Attorney General Eric Schmitt acted to put his state’s trigger law into effect within minutes of the court ruling, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. [Newser]
It is expected that over half the states will now move to ban abortions, with varying degrees of draconian severity.
The evangelical right will be celebrating tonight, and there will be many posts and tweets about “liberal tears” filling the ether in days to come. But I personally can guarantee you the following things, just for starters:
If one of their own – an individual, a spouse, or a child – is raped or otherwise violated, or if a pregnancy strikes them as inconvenient, they will find a way to get that abortion, either by going to a progressive state or by going to what will pass for a “back-alley abortionist.”
Women and girls will die, and many will suffer irreparable health issues.
There will be a surge in poverty rates and homelessness associated with this decision
With the stroke of a pen, the court has not prevented abortions – they have only prevented safe abortions.
The ripple effect will be horrific.
This is the Republicans’ long game come to fruition, a game they have been playing for the last 60 years at least. It demonstrates why evangelical voters didn’t care how terrible a person Trump is; they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that if they could get him into the White House that the Supreme Court would be theirs for generations, and would strike down every law they considered unholy.
Like Roe. And, as Clarence Thomas wrote:
“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold [contraceptives], Lawrence [gay rights], and Obergfell [same-sex marriage].”
Where this will go, I cannot say. I know only that I will not live to see the end of it, since the echoes of this court will propagate down generations. But I take comfort in the sane and sensible words of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
This is the kind of person we need leading our country and making our laws, and not the clown-circus dumpster fire minority-led junta we currently have.
I am a boomer, but this is not what I voted for or worked for. I apologize to my posterity for the world that they are now inheriting. For as long as I have breath, I will fight the trend of authoritarian oppression that so many in the Republican Party seem to want imposed upon our entire nation, and I hope that they will do so as well instead of succumbing to despair and apathy.
For the love of anything you hold dear, vote in November and in every local and national election from now until the end of time. Vote for people who will work to build a world that works, in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller, “for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” Vote to repudiate Trump and Trumpism in all its aspects, vote as if your life and the lives of your loved ones depend on it… because now, more than ever, they do.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
Note: Comments are disbled for this post, for obvious reasons. If you have dissenting opinions, post them on your own pages, not here.
Note 2: If you come to the conclusion by reading this that I think abortion is a great thing, I regret I must disappoint you. Read this.
Seen at the Facebook group “Memoirs of a Moddler.” My commentary is at the end.
I’m not pro-murdering babies. I’m pro-Becky who found out at her 20 week anatomy scan that the infant she had been so excited to bring into this world had developed without life sustaining organs. I’m pro-Susan who was sexually assaulted on her way home from work, only to come to the horrific realization that her assailant planted his seed in her when she got a positive pregnancy test result a month later. I’m pro-Theresa who hemorrhaged due to a placental abruption, causing her parents, spouse, and children to have to make the impossible decision on whether to save her or her unborn child. I’m pro-little Cathy who had her innocence ripped away from her by someone she should have been able to trust and her 11-year-old body isn’t mature enough to bear the consequence of that betrayal. I’m pro-Melissa who’s working two jobs just to make ends meet and has to choose between bringing another child into poverty or feeding the children she already has because her spouse walked out on her. I’m pro-Brittany who realizes that she is in no way financially, emotionally, or physically able to raise a child. I’m pro-Emily who went through IVF, ending up with SIX viable implanted eggs requiring selective reduction in order to ensure the safety of her and a SAFE amount of fetuses. I’m pro-Christina who doesn’t want to be a mother, but birth control methods sometimes fail. I’m pro-Jessica who is FINALLY getting the strength to get away from her physically abusive spouse only to find out that she is carrying the monster’s child. I’m pro-Vanessa who went into her confirmation appointment after YEARS of trying to conceive only to hear silence where there should be a heartbeat. I’m pro-Lindsay who lost her virginity in her sophomore year with a broken condom and now has to choose whether to be a teenage mom or just a teenager. I’m pro-Courtney who just found out she’s already 13 weeks along, but the egg never made it out of her fallopian tube so either she terminates the pregnancy or risks dying from internal bleeding. You can argue and say that I’m pro-choice all you want, but the truth is: I’m pro-life. Their lives. Women’s lives. You don’t get to pick and choose which scenarios should be accepted. Women’s rights are meant to protect ALL women, regardless of their situation!
This is one of the thorniest issues for me with regards to my own spiritual walk. I happen to believe that life is precious, and that the spirits that inhabit the bodies created on earth belong not to ourselves, but to God.
But here’s the conclusion I have come to, for my own peace of mind:
My beliefs prohibit me from eating ice cream in the park on Thursdays. So don’t do it. You don’t understand. Since I believe this, you can’t do it either. *The same thing happens with civil unions. Art by Peruvian cartoonist Carlín
What you believe your God or your holy books say is just fine, as long as it’s valid for you. Just you. 𝐘𝐎𝐔. Nobody else. Freedom of religion gives you the right to believe anything you want. It even affords you the privilege of preaching, teaching, exhorting, persuading, inviting, and enticing people to follow a path that you may believe brings humanity the greatest happiness.
But freedom of religion also guarantees freedom 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 religion. And there is a whole world of people out there who don’t ascribe to your particular flavor of sky cake or mine. What you or I 𝑑𝑜𝑛’𝑡 get to do is CRAM OUR BELIEFS DOWN ANYONE ELSE’S THROAT AND NULLIFY THEIR AGENCY (and yes, I’m SHOUTING to make sure you hear me). 𝐖𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐥𝐞𝐠𝐢𝐬𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐨𝐰𝐧 𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲.
This is where the Republican Party and all its subsets, specifically the Evangelical Right, have gotten it completely wrong. If you believe abortion is a sin, well then, golly gee 𝑑𝑜𝑛’𝑡 ℎ𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑒. It’s as simple as that. But just because your faith prohibits you from eating ice cream in the parks on Thursday, you don’t get to tell your neighbors that they can’t either. You don’t get to harass women, or take away their constitutional rights, or kill doctors, or bomb abortion clinics. The only thing you get to do is act for yourself according to the dictates of your conscience, and then shut up and let others do the same. If you are doing anything else, you have much to repent of.
For what it’s worth, if the GOP really wanted to reduce abortions – and they’re going to happen regardless of what legislation gets passed or what SCOTUS happens to say, they just won’t happen safely and many women will be irreparably injured and many will die – they would support organizations like Planned Parenthood, whose work prevents far more abortions than they facilitate, instead of trying to defund them and legislate them out of existence.
In a Church in Ukraine¹, Vladimir Putin has been burning in Hell since 2017.
Note: Christian stuff here. If you’re a humanist, feel free to move along except for perhaps the cultural interest.
The painting, by graduates of an Academy of Fine Arts, was unveiled on Easter even in 2017. Backstory was provided by two Polish websites, fakt.pl and kresy24.pl.
According to the reports, the work shows Putin burning in hell with the Soviet coat of arms and other symbols of evil, according to the Ukrinform news agency.
“The idea was to leave the historical memory of something that happened in our history for future generations. And this fresco of the Last Judgment is probably so unique, because of the depicted figure who did a lot of evil to Ukraine,” said a pastor of the church. ²
Another website reported:
“The painting is right at the entrance to the temple. It represents doomsday. The flames of hell consume, among other things, the symbols of criminal regimes – the hammer and sickle and the swastika. The most striking, however, is the screaming man in a suit. The faithful have no doubts – this is Vladimir Putin on fire. However, a priest at the church has a different opinion: the character symbolizes an official who robbed the country.”²
I’m intrigued by some of the details of the painting.
The devil poking the symbols of Nazism and the Soviet Union with a pitchfork
the concept that not all clergy are evil, since one is being led to the light
the (purportedly) Russian soldier being bitten on the neck by a demon
an innocent child being protected by an angel and carried to Heaven
soldiers and churchmen and royalty along with regular people consigned to the flames.
I’d be curious to know if any of the other figures represent real persons in the minds of the artists, and what the writing above the mural and on the scroll says.
Spiritual leaders whom I respect have counseled us not to consign anyone to Hell even in our imaginations as all judgment belongs to God, but it is easy to understand these kinds of sentiments being expressed by people who have been oppressed by brutal regimes.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ The exact location and the identification of the Church are known, as well as certain other names and details, but I’m not including them in case the Russian army happens to read this and decides to reduce the church to rubble and ashes out of spite. If Ukraine is successful in resisting the unholy invasion by Vladimir Putin, I will return and update the post (if I’m still alive).
Today Google honors International Women’s Day with one of their doodles.
I am 100% in favor of honoring the women of the world. And, I have some thoughts. Consider these remarks by Morgan Freeman on the occasion of Black History Month:
MIKE WALLACE: Black History Month, you find … MORGAN FREEMAN: Ridiculous. WALLACE: Why? FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month? WALLACE: Come on. FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me. WALLACE: I’m Jewish. FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month? WALLACE: There isn’t one. FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one? WALLACE: No, no. FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until …? FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, “I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.” Hear what I’m saying?
2005 interview with Mike Wallace for television’s “60 Minutes” news magazine program
There has recently been an immensely favorable response to the Neflix series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” ¹ as well as rising awareness of the challenges still faced by women around the globe (astonishingly, in the 21st Century. Sadly, there are bastions of troglodicity (my own word) in my own country where people in power are bound and determined to keep women in a state of perpetual subjection and inferiority – notably the US Congress, SCOTUS, and legislatures in various “red” states around the nation, such as Texas, Alabama, Utah, and many others.
The Christian faith has a lot to do with it, especially religion of the evangelical sort:
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour.”
Ephesians 5: 22-23
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent.”
1 Timothy 2: 11-12
But even in non-Christian societies, the pervasive attitude that women are inferior beings has been present for millennia – the following passage from one of my favorite short stories, set in Brazil, lays it out pretty clearly.
Then [the tribal chief] went on to explain—it took all night—that the tictoc nut was not like other nuts. Everything, said the chief, everything could think a little. Even a leaf had sense enough to turn itself to the light. Even a rat. Even a woman. Sometimes, even a hard-shelled nut. Now when the world was made, the deuce of a long time ago, man having been created, there was a little intelligence left over for distribution. Woman got some. Rats got some. Leaves got some. Insects got some. In short, at last there was very little left. Then the tictoc bush spoke up and begged, “A little for us?”
“River of Riches” by Gerald Kersh, 1958
Fast forward to our day and age and country, and these attitudes have some direct consequences within individual families, and not just in the less-tangible global sense of economic and social inequality. In other countries it’s worse still; female children in Afghanistan and India, for example, are more likely to be abandoned, sex-selectively aborted or killed in instances of infanticide than are boys. Human trafficking, largely perpetrated upon women and female children, continues to be rampant. The evil is mind-clenching.
If we’re going to be fair about it, every other day should be International Women’s Day… plus February 29th when it rolls around because women slightly outnumber men on a global basis. But until the recognition which they deserve is granted them in the same sense that Morgan Freeman expressed, I give honor – every day – to all the women of the world², who not only bear and raise the next generation but who have made incalculable contributions to humanity since the dawn of time.
This little essay may do absolutely nothing to improve the situation, but I felt that for myself, it was important to mark the day with more than just a congratulatory message.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ If you liked the series, read the books by Margaret Atwood, including The Testaments. They add a lot of things you’ll never see in the series and leave you with some reasons for optimism instead of bleak hopelessness.
² Cis-, trans-, or otherwise, in case you were wondering.
From a lady named Jen. Seen at reddit, posted by u/xenophonXiphos, but shared widely elsewhere and originally posted (I think) on Facebook.
“You all don’t get it. I live in Trump country, in the Ozarks in southern Missouri, one of the last places where the KKK still has a relatively strong established presence. They don’t give a 🤬 what he does. He’s just something to rally around and hate liberals, that’s it, period. He absolutely realizes that, and plays it up, they love it, he knows they love it, and the fact that people act like it’s anything other than that just proves that liberals are idiots, all the more reason for high fives all around.
“If you keep getting caught up in why do they not realize blah blah blah and how can they still back him after blah blah blah, you are not understanding what is the underlying motivating factor of his support. It’s 🤬 liberals, that’s pretty much it.
“Have you noticed he can do pretty much anything imaginable and they’ll explain some way that rationalizes it that makes zero logical sense? Because they’re not even keeping track of any logical narrative, it’s irrelevant, 🤬 liberals is the only relevant thing, trust me, I know first hand what I’m talking about. That’s why they just laugh at it all, because you all don’t even realize they really, truly, don’t give a 🤬 about whatever the conversation is about, it’s just a side mission story that doesn’t really matter anyways. That’s all just trivial details- the economy, health care, whatever. 🤬 liberals.
“Look at the thing with not wearing the masks. I can tell you what that’s about. It’s about exposing fear. They’re playing chicken with nature and whoever flinches just moved down their internal pecking order, one step closer to being a liberal.
“You gotta understand the one core value that they hold above all others is hatred for weakness, because that’s what they believe strength is, hatred for weakness. And I mean passionate, sadistic hatred. And I’m not exaggerating. Believe me. Sadistic, passionate hatred, and that’s what proves they’re strong, their passionate hatred for weakness. Sometimes they lump in vulnerability, a compromised circumstance, or an overwhelming circumstance in there with weakness, too, because people tend to start humbling themselves when they’re in those circumstances and that’s an obvious sign of weakness.
“Kindness = weakness. Honesty = weakness. Compromise = weakness. They consider their very existence to be superior in every way to anyone who doesn’t hate weakness as much as they do. They consider liberals to be weak people who are inferior, almost a difference species, and the fact that liberals are so weak is why they have to unite in large numbers, which they find disgusting, but it’s that disgust that is a true expression of their natural superiority.
“Go ahead and try to have a logical, rational conversation with them though. Just keep in mind what I said here, and think about it.”
I’m seeing calls from right-wing “thinkers” to impeach President Biden, Vice-president Harris, and any and all Democrats. This is the sheerest nonsense; Tumblr user “biokitty” explained it this way (emphasis mine):
These are people who don’t understand politics as an entity that actually affects them, they can’t be reasoned with because they know being like that pisses off liberals. It’s honestly the most juvenile, immature tactic that elementary school-aged bullies use but they get a rise out of liberals repeatedly by doing it. It’s why so many of them comment on social media “trump 2020″ on posts that aren’t even about politics: because they know just posting that on a tasty video or something will piss off a bunch of liberals.
And now its “Trump 2024.” God forbid.
You see, Trump is an evil bastard, bred and raised by an evil bastard, a sociopathic serial narcissist and compulsive liar. His moral failings are too many to list here in full, but are well-documented. He’s a racist, sexist, abusive, heartless, bullying, spiteful, vengeful, cheating con man. And he deserved to be impeached, twice. And should have been convicted, if the Republicans in the senate had anything resembling decency, or a spine. But they’re all terrified of him and his evil vindictiveness, and their political careers are worth more to them than honor.
But calls to impeach the Biden administration are being made for one reason, and one reason only: spite. Whereas the Orange Screechweasel belongs in jail on any of hundreds of counts of moral turpitude, business fraud, and outright criminal behavior, President Biden is an honest and decent man as politicians go¹ and is working hard to undo the devastating damage the former guy did to our nation both domestically and internationally. He cares about you and me, regardless of our political affiliation. He wants all Americans to have a better life. But the alt-right, in their slavish, brainwashed devotion to the cult of personality that has sprung up around The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Formerly Disgracing the Oval Office, are mightily offended that their Golden Calf was so unfairly maligned, and they want revenge. Revenge on a political party whose platform essentially says “build a world that works for everyone, with no one left out,” as opposed to the one that says “🤬 you, I’ve got mine.”
The GOP has become a cult of personality, filled with wannabe autocrats who have chained themselves to a violent, hateful, despicable (and piteous) human, one who makes Richard Nixon look like Romper Room’s Miss Julie. If democracy is to survive in our nation, this faction must be sidelined and rendered impotent and irrelephant [pun intended.] Based on what I’m seeing in the way of Democratic disarray, the presence of two additional Republicans in the Senate – specifically Manchin and Sinema – and the growing efforts of GOP-led state governments to implement disenfranchisement strategies, I don’t have much hope for 2022 and 2024. We may be in for a very, very dark time before sanity once again prevails, as it always seems to do.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ Politicians in general have a less-than-stellar reputation, largely deserved. Most of them are a bought-and-paid-for bunch; Congressmen and women, for example, are encouraged to spend at least 30 hours a week calling potential donors for contributions instead of doing the people’s work. As long as Citizens United is in effect, corporations will in effect write our laws and determine the direction and tenor of our society. That said, there is a bell curve of decency, and from everything I’ve seen President Biden is a couple of “honorable” standard deviations from the mean.
Back in 2013, I wrote about “junk followers” on WordPress, fake or empty or commercial accounts who use bots to follow every blog they possible can in hopes of more exposure for themselves.
Just in case you were wondering, this is a scummy thing to do, right up there with spam-bombing other people’s blogs with backlinks to your own scummy commercial blog.
I have over 1700 followers, and I’ll bet that I don’t have more than a couple of dozen who are really interested in my content. The rest are simply using tricks to improve their own rankings and drive web traffic to their sites. I don’t really care about numbers, since I have no intention of monetizing this blog, but a lot of my focus is trying to reduce spam, scams, and fraud, and warn people about how to avoid being taken advantage of. And this kind of thing is just like a burr under my saddle.
If you’re a blogger, don’t do this. Don’t use bots to “like” or “follow” everything in site in order to boost your own presence. It stinks, and it makes you look cheap and disreputable.
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
(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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
‘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.”