When I was 10 years old, my mom brought home a box of Life™, a new brand of cereal produced by Quaker Oats. I fell in love with it at once; it was sweet but not too sweet, crunchy but not too crunchy, with a little hint of softness to it, and it had a unique flavor that I found completely appealing.
Life is still out there, even though it has been reformulated a few times. But the worst change came in 1997 when Quaker introduced a “new, improved” Life, and then the world collapsed around their ears. I, like many other aficionados, wrote to Quaker screaming, “You’ve ruined my life!” It was completely different, nothing like the original, and it failed so spectacularly that the company went back to the original formulation and sent out an apology letter to those who had complained. Since then, except for the introduction or trial of a few additional flavors, their product has remained pretty much the same. But I wish I could have the original formula back.
Now we come to Tums™. I’ve suffered heartburn for a long, long time and always had to have a supply of something or other around to put out the fire (this was in the days before the beta-blockers and PPI’s.) Originally I used Rolaids (which absorbs 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid!) but always found it a bit too chalky for my taste, ultimately switching to Tums as an alternative.
I carry around this little jawn on my keyring that would hold 5 or 6 Tums of the 750mg variety, and was partial to the assorted berries flavor. I would buy them at WalMart, but for the last year or so they stopped selling these in favor of the 1000mg strength, which didn’t fit my keyring doodad.
So I was delighted to find a bunch of the 750 strength at RiteAid’s website, and bought 10 bottles, thinking that this would last me probably for the rest of my life. To my horror, they are nothing like the Tums I used to know. Chalky, bland, and with a flavor that made me think they had scooped up a bunch of the blue stuff you find in airplane toilets and turned it into tablets. The aftertaste was even worse.
Here’s a rundown of what changed:
So essentially they added crospovidone, dextrose, magnesium stearate and maltodextrin, and dropped the mineral oil and sodium polyphosphate. No way to tell what changed in the “flavors” category, because they never tell you such things. But in all honesty, the result is the abomination of desolation, and now I’m stuck with 10 bottles of a product that makes me want to gag. I’d rather go back to Rolaids than keep using these.
I called Glaxo Smith Kline at their customer service number, and politely expressed my unhappiness; I’m aware the agent has virtually nothing to do with such things, but I was gratified that the agent had the honesty to tell me I’m not the only one who has called in to express dissatisfaction with the new formula. So it’s not just me.
I am an inveterate honey lover. I’ve written about comb honey and chestnut honey, but one of my favorites is forest honey.
Unlike regular honeys which are manufactured by bees with collected nectar from flowers, forest honey is made from honeydew, excreted by sap-sucking insects. In short, aphid poop.
While it might be off-putting to think of eating the excrement of bugs, otherwise known as frass, honeydew is in a separate category. And are honey-lovers any more disgusted by the thought of eating bee vomit?
Wikipedia describes Forest Honey thus:
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew, the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant-sap-sucking insects. Honeydew honey is very dark brown, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam, and is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Germany’s Black Forest is a well-known source of honeydew-based honeys, as are some regions in Bulgaria, Tara in Serbia, and Northern California in the United States. In Greece pine honey, a type of honeydew honey, constitutes 60–65% of honey production. Honeydew honey is popular in some areas, but in other areas, beekeepers have difficulty selling honeydew honey, due to its stronger flavor.
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.
Red flag #1: This message is not from Venmo. The email address of the sender is “email@example.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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.”
Some time ago, a preview of this book appeared in various places around the internet; reddit, Twitter, and a few others. I encountered it, and knew at once that this is a book I would need to own and read. And I was right.
The excerpt reads as follows:
My husband plays the trumpet, which is a sort of loud pretzel originally invented to blow down the walls of fucking Jericho and, later, to let Civil War soldiers know it was time to kill each other in a river while you chilled eating pigeon in your officer’s tent twenty miles away, yet somehow, in modern times, it has become socially acceptable to toot the bad cone inside your house before 10:00 a.m. because “it’s your job” and your wife should “get up.” What a world! If one was feeling uncharitable, one might describe the trumpet as a machine where you put in compressed air and divorce comes out, but despite this—despite operating a piece of biblical demolition equipment inside the home every bright, cold morning of his wife’s one and only life—the trumpet is not the most annoying thing about my husband.
West, Lindy, The Witches Are Coming
Once I had read the book, I felt morally obligated to leave a review at Amazon, if for nothing else than to give this beautiful collection of essays a signal boost. This is a cross-post of that review, with a bit of amplification.
A witty, acerbic, and irreverent look at sexism in the 21st Century (and other critical issues that are crying out to be addressed).
Make no mistake, this book will resonate with women… but it’s a book for men. We as those who hold supreme privilege in our society by simple roll-of-the-dice virtue of having a Y chromosome cannot be allies in the fight for gender equality (indeed, for human equality) – we must be the frontline warriors.
We can no more expect women to overcome misogyny than we can expect people of color to overcome racism. The problem is not them; the problem is us. Until people like Donald J. Trump and those who think like him can be rendered irrelevant or educated (and doing either will be an Augean task, if even possible), writers and influencers like Ms. West can continue to publish and speak and agitate, but they must become the rear guard. It is up to men to take up the cause and win the war.
At the age of 70, I do not expect to see a bloodsoaked fatal flawless victory in my lifetime, but battles are being won.
The #MeToo movement and its consequences are just one example. But that’s still a sortie in the war, waged by the oppressed minority. Do you wonder why there are so many “strident” feminists out there?¹ It’s because their stridency is the moral equivalent of the Watts riots and so many subsequent outbreaks of violence by people of color who have been enslaved, oppressed, lynched, sidelined, and minimized for over 400 years. Read up on history and you’ll see that women have been waging a battle for equality for just as long, if not longer.
Men, buy this book and read it. Then think about it, and read it again. Despite its biting humor and delicious writing, it’s not a book to entertain or amuse. It should be a textbook for anyone who wants to understand why the problem of misogyny is so rampant, and what needs to be done moving forward.
I’ve written about racism before. For all the talk about Critcal Race Theory, (an academic theory that is not being taught in K-12 schools, no matter what Tucker Carlson may be telling you), white America needs to face the fact that racism is real, and rampant, and deeply ingrained in our society.
But in all honesty, there should be a Critical Gender Theory as well. Donald Trump and his “locker room talk,” Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and so many others bear not mute but loud and blatant testimony that for far too many men, women are still less-than: objects to be used, property to be managed. Ms. West’s book offers few real solutions to the issue. She’s loud and funny and sharp and biting, and shows in delicious prose where our society has gone wrong and how much there is to do, but in the end analysis it will be up to the faction in power (read: men) to make the difference.
Fixing Hollywood and the media would be a good place to start, but I honestly don’t hold out much hope for that in the short run. As long as there are dollars to be made by depicting women as pliant sex toys in drama and advertising, nothing short of the zombie apocalypse will get entertainment and advertising moguls to wise up.
In the meantime: Men, read this book. It’s not just the pathetic moanings of a whiny liberal feminist; it’s an unashamed accounting of what women in general have to face on a daily basis. If you, by the grace of God, get a sense that maybe you’re part of the problem even without wanting to be, this is a good place to start as I mentioned in my other post on racism:
It won’t be easy, but it has to be done.
(And if you care about the climate and the impending destruction of our global environment which we may not have any way to reverse, you should read this book as well.)
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ You might also be interested in watching Ms. West’s Shrill, a 2019 Emmy Award-nominated drama about a woman who seeks out ways to change her life without changing her body.
From a Tweet thread posted on 1 November, 2021 by Kurt Eichenwald ¹
Sharing because it needs sharing.
“The Great Resignation” is not about people not wanting to work. It is about a dawning recognition that, for a larger and larger portion of this country, the American dream is dead, and with it, the inspiration of working toward a better future for oneself. Instead, work becomes not the means towards reaching an aspiration – a spouse, children, a home, vacations, personal growth, a retirement. Instead, the greed culture has turned work for millions into just a means of survival, with wages stagnant, healthcare unaffordable, insurance treated as a luxury, paid free time an impossibility, children unaffordable, homes a dream. Yes, work is important – but not without the promise of a future. Many young people see nothing but 40 years of the same, further enriching the obscenely rich. This system has taught people how to survive without, because they don’t believe they will ever have. If they reasonably don’t believe they will ever be able to afford a house or to raise children, and never will have group insurance or a paid vacation, and can make it living with their parents, and have already been taught by McResources (real thing) and Walmart how to apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid because those multibillion dollar corporations know they don’t pay enough for their employees to survive, and are already getting those benefits, and have the choice of just saying “forget it, im going to work on my painting or sewing or whatever, I am tired of being abused by my supervisor, I am tired of being screamed at by customers for things out of my control, I am tired of watching adults throw temper tantrums and then being [bawled] out by my company because I could have handled it better. I can survive without all of this. I can be happier without all of this. I am paid so little, my life won’t be that different.”
THAT is why we have the Great Resignation. Because we, the Boomers have endlessly sucked up the capital that could go down to the younger generations to enrich ourselves, then pushed down the debt. Entry level jobs that can be done with a high school education now demand college degrees, PLUS unpaid internship experience. So, to do most anything with the possibility of a future, younger generations have to go to college. But to do it, they have to load up on debt. Then we sneer at them when they talk about how their terrible wages and horrible debt make home buying etc. impossible. Oh sure, the children of ..the rich are fine. And their parents sneer “maybe stop buying avocado toast” as if a single pleasure in life equals the cost of a home. All of this starts and stops with greed and corporations. Pay more, and stop pulling up the ladder. Not all jobs need college degrees.
Many years ago, I interviewed Bill Clark, then the National Security Advisor under Reagan. After the interview, I asked him some background, and asked what college he got his degree from. Sheepishly, he said he didnt. Only had a high school degree. Thats the 1980s – the National Security Advisor for the President of the United States had only a high school education. But I will bet anything, to be the social media voice at Wendy’s, no matter how funny you are, you have to be a college graduate with internships in social media etc etc. Not all jobs need college degrees. Companies need to stop requiring them for jobs that don’t. And they need to start paying fair wages. And treating people like human beings.
People never wanted to “work.” They wanted to invest their effort toward living a better life. And if work doesn’t do that, if work merely makes life worse to people who have been taught how to survive without wages so that McDonalds and Walmart et al can shift their wage costs onto taxpayers, then a Great Resignation was inevitable.
¹ Kurt Alexander Eichenwald (born June 28, 1961) is an American journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of five books, one of which, The Informant (2000), was made into a motion picture in 2009. Formerly he was a senior writer and investigative reporter with The New York Times, Condé Nast’s business magazine, Portfolio, and later was a contributing editor with Vanity Fair and a senior writer with Newsweek. Eichenwald had been employed by The New York Times since 1986 and primarily covered Wall Street and corporate topics such as insider trading, accounting scandals, and takeovers, but also wrote about a range of issues including terrorism, the Bill Clinton pardon controversy, Federal health care policy, and sexual predators on the Internet. (Wikipedia)
Taco Bell’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco is “not quite a sandwich, not quite a taco,” the Yum! Brands, Inc. subsidiary said. The taco features all-white meat crispy chicken marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned with Mexican spices and rolled in a crunchy tortilla chip coating. The chicken is served on a warm flatbread folded into a taco form and flavored with Taco Bell’s creamy chipotle sauce. The taco may be ordered regular or spicy with the addition of crunchy jalapeño slices.
I love chicken sandwiches, and I’ve long enjoyed Chick-fil-A’s offering but I’m not in favor of their social policies, so I’ve kept my antenna up for alternatives. Apparently Popeye’s has a relatively good one, but we live in the northeast so I’m out of luck until I can manage to get south of the Mason-Dixon line.
So when Taco Bell started offering these, I had to try one. We went twice, and my wife liked hers; then we went to another location and this is what happened:
I ordered from their online menu and customized the item with tomatoes and onions – but what I got was light-years from what they advertised. Instead of a puffy flatbread, they used a standard flour tortilla, and instead of three chicken tenders, there was only one, with a piddling amount of plain cheese sauce. Bitterly disappointed, to say the least.
Next time I swung past Taco Bell, I noticed that the item had vanished from the menu. If franchises were having difficulty consistently preparing this item in a satisfactory manner, it’s no wonder they pulled it. According to a Taco Bell spokesperson,
“The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco was a limited time menu offering. Innovation is core to Taco Bell and offering some menu items as limited time offers allows room on menus for even more new, craveable creations for fans. Like all great limited time menu items from Taco Bell, there’s always a chance we can see it return to menus.”
If they bring it back, they are going to have to make sure their stores can get the right ingredients and know how to prepare it properly, or else this will happen with greater frequency, the result of a little feedback to Corporate Headquarters:
Don’t get me wrong, I know that fast food is a challenging business, and consistency and quality across franchises can be a bedeviling task – but it’s probably one of the most important thing any national chain can focus on.
I still love Taco Bell for a fast, cheap, filling, and tasty meal. And it’s not like they haven’t weathered storms before.
Back in August of this year, I ordered something that looked very interesting from an ad that appeared on my facebook wall, by a company called acfantasy:
“The Grand Orrery model of the solar system depicts the correct relative orbital speeds of the planets plus relative orbital movement of Earth’s moon. Historically, a Grand Orrery showed only the “naked eye” planets out to Saturn, as they were developed in the early 18th century.”
It looked gorgeous and intricate, and I thought I would love to have this on my desk. The total charge to an outfit called “acfantasy” was $48.06.
What I received today, after a wait of two months (shipped, of course, from China) was this:
To say that I was stunned by the duplicity would be an understatement. True, I actually got something – a lot of these Chinese wankstains will take your money and not bother to ship anything at all – but sending out a cheap piece of scrap metal like this, which is not worth 49¢ let alone $49.00 is stunning in its audacity.
The company has a website (acfantasy.vip) and a contact email; I sent multiple requests for replacement with the advertised product or a full refund, but never heard anything back.
I have ordered things from Facebook ads before and been pleasantly surprised by what I would consider adequate quality and value for the money; this one certainly falls into the “Chinese businesses with all the ethics of a starving honey badger” column.
Facebook needs to do much better in vetting its advertisers. There are far too many scammers out there, about which I have written elsewhere. Despite being careful, I got burned this time. These people can sit on a very fragile glass cactus.
Edit: Sadly, I got stung again by a company called scypg, shortly after writing this; something else I had ordered before the bogus orrery had come.
Cheap-ass bait and switch. Advice found on reddit is excellent; I will definitely not purchase directly from ads found on social media any longer.
Edit: I also emailed this company several times. They finally wrote back telling me that they were sorry I had ordered the wrong product (i.e. selected the wrong option or something). I told them I didn’t. They wrote back a couple of times offering me a 15% or a 5% discount to try to keep me happy. There was no response to my last email telling them that I still wanted the advertised product or a full refund.
From Reddit, confirmed by my own experiences:
“LPT: Never buy items advertised on social media newsfeeds. The majority are either scams, bait and switch, or “Wish” quality products.
Social media sites almost never provide resolution. Instead of following the link in the ad, search for the item independently and buy from legitimate vendors.”Social media advertisements are frequently bots or institutional scams.
It typically results in:
1. Paypal scam where they charge your card multiple times and you end up having to request a new card number. 2. Bait and switch, where you follow the link for one thing and end up ordering something completely different. 3. Low quality item to begin with.
Think “wish” quality products…. Social media sites almost never rectify the issue, and often if you check back later the comments section indicate several hundred other people were scammed (and some fake reviews left as well!).
If you see something you want, search for it independently outside of social media and purchase it on a legitimate vendor. Never follow the link directly from social media.”
This post is cobbled together from a couple of different entries at my Livejournal back in 2009
Leigh Callaway, wherever you are, I owe you dinner.¹
The year was 1965, I was 14, and it was my senior year at Camp Wildwood in Bridgton, Maine.²
In this my 4th year at camp, the pinnacle of the year was, prophetically, travel. I sucked at team sports – still do – but loved traveling, camping, the woods and individual challenges; in short, I lived for tripping. Not that kind. Shut up.
My yearbook blurb quoted, “However unorganized his body of knowledge may be, he still is a source of many bits of information and despite his mere 85 lb. bulk, was one of our most energetic and determined trippers.” By the dessicated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, how prophetic was that?
After a 5-day canoe trip to Rangeley Lake early in the summer, six of us, accompanied by several counselors, took another 5-day trip in canoes from Lobster Lake down the Penobscot River to Chesuncook Lake in Maine. It was a trip never to be forgotten.
What does all this have to do with Tabasco Sauce? Hush. We’ll get to that.
The year, as I mentioned, was 1965, and inland Maine was still pretty untouched in most places. It was five days of canoeing, camping, 20 miles of river, camping, 4 miles of rapids, camping, portages, camping, woods, camping, absolutely glacial pools and waterfalls which we reveled in as a test of manhood, more camping, and breathtaking scenery.
Are you starting to see a pattern?
When you camp, you cook whatever you have along. That means a lot of dehydrated chicken soup and noodles carbonara and canned stuff and interesting stuff and things you might never fix at home.
One of the counsellors that accompanied us on this trip was a young man named Leigh Callaway.
Now to a 14-year-old, all our counselors were ageless. If they were counselors, they were adults – so I can’t tell you how old he was at the time, but he was probably not much more than a kid himself. So all I can tell you about him was that he was extremely kind to me (huge points!) and had a BMW motorcycle (more huge points), and that I worshiped the ground he walked on. And he could cook.
One night, whether out of inventiveness or desperation, Leigh fried up a huge cast-iron skillet full of rice until the grains were golden brown, and then filled the pan with water. When the rice was cooked soft, he threw in a can of tuna or three, sauteed it up a bit longer, and then seasoned the whole thing with Tabasco™. Lots and lots of Tabasco™.
Now my mother, bless her soul, took me to many ethnic restaurants in New York while I was young, and one of our favorites was this little Aztec-Mexican hole in the wall called Xochitl.³ They had a hot sauce there that would rival much of what Blair offers (certainly not their 16-million scoville pure capsaicin insanity, but highly effective nonetheless.) I remember that a tiny drop of this stuff on a toothpick, applied to the tongue, was enough to bring tears to the eyes. So I was no stranger to odd and savory foods. (Hm. How that I’m thinking of it, perhaps I should give Mom some credit at my Banquet from Hell.) That said, cooking at home was pretty basic meat-and-potatoes fare, and there wasn’t a lot of exotic stuff around, so I had never used Tabasco™ before.
Well, anyway. When you’ve been paddling a canoe for 12 hours, and you’re exhausted and starving, it doesn’t matter much what’s on the fire. I think if Leigh had fried up a beaver tail, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. As it was, we had fried rice and tuna with Tabasco™ – and I tucked in like a trencherman. Mogg’s teeth – it was so good. It would be easy to say that my enjoyment was born of famine, but given that I have prepared this concoction and many others like it many times in my life thereafter, I can discount that theory. Simply put, I was hooked on Tabasco™.
Now, I like Frank’s Original Red Hot too – it’s got a nice flavor, and I always keep a bottle of it handy, but there’s something about Tabasco™ that just can’t be matched.⁴ Yes, I’m well and truly addicted.
So Leigh, wherever you are, know that you made a huge impression on me that summer, and your influence is still being felt *mops brow* 44 years later.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
PS – I still remember the taste of black coffee sweetened with maple syrup, too…
¹ Leigh, bless his heart, saw this post and actually responded with a bit of information about his subsequent experiences. He recommended that since I loved Tabasco I should try Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian chili paste that apparently puts Sriracha to shame. I was grateful for the recommendation, but would have loved some hint about how to contact him. Which he did not provide, the rascal. I would have loved to renew the acquaintance and catch up in person.
² Camp Wildwood is a superb boys’ camp run – at the time – by Leo Mayer and Ed Hartman, which is still operating in Bridgton, Maine, although it has passed through other owners since then.
³ Another one was “La Fonda del Sol”, a very upscale place which I loved eating at. Now gone. *snif* But there are some memories here.
⁴ In fact, as I was typing my earlier post at Livejournal and thinking about a nice dish of fettucine with tuna and hot sauce, my ears were burning and I was experiencing all the symptoms of a good solid capsaicin flush. Which confirmed my theory. I love hot food; there’s nothing like a good capsaicin burn. The last two times I had prepared spicy foods, though, I had a very unusual experience – the flush to the face began as soon as I had opened the bottle of hot sauce – and hadn’t even eaten it yet. The first time it happened, I thought I was “imagining things.” But it happened again… as I was liberally lacing some burritos with Tabasco, I started getting the burning and vascular dilation that I always experience with certain peppers – very much like a Niacin flush, if you’ve ever experienced that. And, what’s even stranger, I experienced a repeat as I typed this. Just thinking about it was sufficient to recall the physiological response.
Now that’s just weird. Maybe if I salivate enough, I can get my doorbell to ring.
I grew up in New York City in the ’50s and ’60s. Much has gone since that time, but my memories include hings I deeply miss about New York in my early days:
The myriad small businesses instead of brass-and-glass
Little Italy full of Italians, and the Feasts of San Antonio and San Gennaro
Yellow Cabs with huge back seats and those little jumpseats (Yes, unsafe, but they were so fun)
Air-conditioned movie theaters with giant screens and velvet curtains where you could stay all day for 50¢ and watch a cartoon, a short subject, a newsreel, and the main feature over and over again
the 42nd Street Subway Stations with Red and Blue lights guiding you to your line of choice, IRT, BMT, or IND, or the Shuttle
Underground OJ bars and other odd little shops in the subways such as Al Stevenson’s magic store (otherwise known as the Wizard’s Workshop)
Hole-in-the-wall pizza joints where you could order pizza by the “Slice!” for 15¢.
The Staten Island ferry for a nickel
Christmas trees up and down Park Avenue, and the stars that would twinkle on the 666 building
the Lord and Taylor Christmas windows
And so many more…
But one of my most indelible memories is from Chinatown, where my mother would take me on occasion. There were myriad stores and restaurants selling the ubiquitous Chinese back-scratchers, finger traps, and wonderful puzzle boxes, some of which I wish I still had.
But the most wondrous thing to my young eyes was the Chinatown Fair.
Before it became an electronic game arcade, it featured dancing chickens, tic-tac-toe chickens (you can read about these at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York), and the amazing animatronic dragon.
Sadly, no photos of the latter wonder appear to have been saved to the Internet as of this moment, but who knows? Perhaps someone will come across a picture in their old archives and post it in the future. If you happen to stumble across this blog post and have such a photo, please let me know; I would love to feature it here.
At any rate, you would walk up to this row of little windows, each with a coin slot for quarters; drop one in and your window would open, and below you was this most amazing animated dragon which would move and roar at you. Commenter “Donald” at the website Scouting New York had this to say, which syncs with my own memories perfectly:
Yes!! The dragon peep show…. why doesn’t anybody ever mention the dragon peep show? I thought that was the most bizarre “game” I ever saw… you’d drop a quarter in and a sliding plastic window would rise, exposing a glass window underneath (similar to a peep show booth) and literally laying on the basement floor – you’d see this huge animatronic dragon moving it’s head and tail – and from a speaker would blare the soundtrack from an old Godzilla movie… that familiar Godzilla roar. Now the dragon you were looking at and the Godzilla you were hearing of course had nothing to do with each other – but that just added to the cheezy entertainment value of the whole thing. I thought it was great… but nobody ever mentions it. I ALWAYS hear about the Tic Tac Toe Chicken… but never my old dragon friend.
The Fair later became a video arcade, but closed in 2011. Some other great memories are archived at Scouting New York, The Gothamist, Ganker, and Huffpost; apparently the arcade featured in a 2015 documentary called The Lost Arcade; in its later years it “the arcade became a shelter to a community as diverse as the city surrounding it and changed lives in doing so.” (IMDB)
According to The Verge, the arcade re-opened in 2012, but the reviews were mixed. Apparently it’s still there, but without that amazing dragon it will never be the same for me.