Primerica and the long road to the anti-MLM movement

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I am sometimes asked why I am so strongly opposed to the MLM
(multi-level marketing) industry. As they usually say, there’s a million problems in the world, why focus on MLM? Why devote space on your blog to MLM?

This often comes from well-meaning people who focus on what they consider to be far more pressing issues affecting our country and the world: racism, domestic violence, food insecurity, climate change, among other issues. Definitely all things worth fighting, and causes I support.

The reason I fight MLM, or network-marketing, is not just because it’s harmful, but because it’s also very misunderstood. Misunderstood to the point that many people mistakenly think of some MLM companies as philanthropic endeavors because they sometimes champion good causes. However, because these companies operate in a highly unethical fashion they make terrible allies.

By spreading awareness of the predatory nature of MLM companies, we in the anti-MLM movement can help strengthen good causes by helping them steer clear of these exploitative companies.

I think it may help to know my backstory, to understand the road I’ve traveled that led me to the anti-MLM movement. Before the anti-MLM movement came along, there was little online information to warn people about this pernicious industry. Sure, a few anti-MLM sites(mostly focused on Amway) existed, but there was little cooperation, they didn’t update very often, and they seldom went into detail about the psychological manipulation these cult-like companies use. It was the Dark Ages, where MLM reigned supreme because there was little to oppose them.

It usually took getting victimized by an MLM company or witnessing a friend or relative getting victimized to learn what MLM was all about. Or at least attending one of their presentations. This is where Primerica comes in.

Over 15 years ago, an acquaintance tricked me into attending a Primerica presentation in this office building in my neighborhood. I really had little idea what Primerica was all about before going there; vaguely I thought it was financial services.

So as I sat through the presentation, about all the amazing money-making opportunities Primerica offers, my internal BS-meter started to go off. Recruit X number of people and you rise to this level and make all this money, and then those people you recruited recruit people, and those people recruit people, and it goes on and on, sounding too good to be true. I had already sat through presentations for both Amway and Cutco years before this and the spiel was very similar. I almost got up and left but my fascination was stronger than my desire to leave; I also struggled to remember what this kind of business strategy is called.

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I had a barely rudimentary understanding of multi-level marketing at the time, or whatever they call it, but it was obvious that’s what I was dealing with here. I understood that it was a scam or at least a very risky undertaking and was best avoided. I still vividly remember those big fake smiles from the representatives.

As soon as I got home, I went to my computer and in a frenzy started to do a lot of online research as well as research at the library. For a while there, I was obsessed. Very few anti-MLM or scam-buster sites existed at the time; blogging was in its infancy, and social media hardly existed(remember this was over 15 years ago). I found little information on Primerica, but just enough to have my suspicions confirmed. It seemed over 90% of anti-MLM information concerned Amway, the granddaddy of all MLMs. Again, this was the Dark Ages.

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At the time, by far the best place to get a thorough education on how MLMs operate were skeptical messages boards, which I was already a regular visitor of. These sites were also devoted to debunking UFO sightings, quackery, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. Some message boards on skeptic sites had very long, lively discussions going on between anti-MLMers and MLM defenders, often involving lots of juicy insults by both sides. I occasionally participated, and tried my best to behave. Usually discussions revolved around Amway but sometimes other MLMs were discussed.

I started to notice how MLM defenders refused to answer certain questions, and would frequently engage in extreme mental acrobatics and torturing of the English language to explain away the obvious problems with MLM and that pesky 99% failure rate.

The two most important things I learned from these early discussions was:

  1. The physical products of MLM companies are just a facade; the real product is the “amazing” opportunity.
  2. MLMs are pyramid schemes which lobby government at all levels to buy themselves protection, and use all sorts of other deceptive strategies to give the illusion of legality.

With this new knowledge I was never tricked into another MLM meeting again. I could smell an MLM from 20 miles away. As far as Primerica is concerned, I started to realize my old neighborhood was Primerica occupied territory. Everywhere I looked nothing but Primerica! Primerica stickers plastered on everything, Primerica fliers, and even tree-plantings would say “thanks to Primerica”.

So I did whatever I could to warn everyone in my circle about this company. Sometimes they tried to recruit my friends. A lot of people already knew it was a scam, but some other people either did not know or were on the fence. Because of the tree-plantings, and contributions to schools and anti-drug programs, many thought of Primerica as a very generous, charitable corporation. I sometimes heard horror stories from people who were victimized by this company or other MLMs. Like I said, information critical of MLM and Primerica in particular was scarce at the time. Nowadays it’s easy to find out what it’s all about. According to Wikipedia:

In 2012, Primerica was the target of multiple lawsuits alleging that the company’s representatives sought to profit by earning commissions after convincing Florida firefighters, teachers and other public workers to divest from safe government-secured retirement investments to inappropriate high-risk retirement products offered by Primerica. In January 2014, the company set aside $15.4 million to settle allegations involving 238 cases

Primerica, which made $350.26 million net income in 2017 is a spin-off of Citigroup, which was sued years ago for being connected to Madoff, the biggest ponzi schemer in history: Citi tried to hand off Madoff exposure: lawsuit

After getting my basic education in MLM thanks to my rather brief Primerica experience, and my compulsion to learn everything I could about Primerica and MLM, I moved on and MLM started to fall by the wayside, for the most part. Sure I would still occasionally run into the Primerica reps, but more often I was running into annoying Herbalife reps both in person and online, and they were cut from the same cloth as Primerica and Amway reps. They all had the same big fake smiles. To get them off my back I would lie and say I was very interested in going to their presentation, but then I would fail to show up. I still remember the angry emails and voice messages.

Due to so many things going on in my life, as well as all my running and joggling, and getting increasingly involved with vegan groups, fighting MLM wasn’t exactly a priority. But then a few years ago I started noticing something disturbing on social media — there were vegans pushing MLM! Just as Primerica had invaded my neighborhood years before this, MLM was invading my space, my pristine little corner of the vegan movement. And if you know anything about me, you know how little tolerance I have for people pushing BS on me, vegan or not. It was sad seeing some vegan MLM reps with hundreds or even thousands of followers trying to victimize them, using every trick in the book to lure them in.

This was completely unacceptable. A movement dedicated to ethical-living getting infiltrated by charlatans, and almost no one was pushing back. All these con-artists had to do was say they were “vegan” and their products were “cruelty-free”, and many vegans saw them as friends or their “business” as legit. This is exactly what I meant when I said before that MLM is very misunderstood. Read my post from last year, “Veganism and multi-level marketing” for a more detailed look at this problem.

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Besides pushing back, warning others and blocking the annoying MLM pushers on social media who were friends of friends, I started doing a lot of research again on MLM. This time, compared to 15 years ago, there was a lot more info on many of these scams, and a nascent anti-MLM movement was starting to take shape. The Dark Ages were finally over!

Ethan Vanderbuilt’s site was and still is one of the most important anti-MLM/scam-busting sites, and we in the anti-MLM movement owe a lot to his pioneering work. I frequently used his site to learn about the myriad MLM companies I was encountering, and still do.

Just when I thought my MLM education was complete, thanks to Amway, Primerica, then Ethan, I discovered the saga of Elle Beau, a former Younique rep. Before reading Elle’s story, I knew the mechanics of how MLM worked, but I didn’t understand the psychological manipulation of MLM that well. This was a real eye-opener for me, and many other people. The same big, fake smiles in Elle’s story and so many other stories were the same big fake smiles I remember from the Primerica bozos.

I started to realize that MLM wasn’t just a scam, it’s a cult. In fact, when a person joins an MLM, they’re joining a toxic sub-culture of deception, greed, and pseudoscience. And of course extreme tackiness. Pretty much all MLMs use the same psychological manipulation techniques which includes attraction marketing, “love-bombing”, and mind-set coaching, which usually means doing all you can to think positive and distancing yourself from people who are “negative”(this is why there’s something of a symbiotic relationship between the MLM world and the self-help industry).

Shortly after this the anti-MLM coalition site was founded, which now has a central place in the growing anti-MLM movement. Unlike many earlier anti-MLM sites and blogs, the anti-MLM coalition is proactive, collaborative, and is not narrowly focused on just one MLM.

Thanks to the anti-MLM coalition, its never been easier to find out about the latest(or even some of the older) MLM scams that seek to separate people from their money. A very bright light is being shined on every nook and cranny of this corrupt industry and they don’t like it. Even journalists have taken notice of the push-back against MLM.

I’ve come a long way from that seedy Primerica presentation. My education may never be complete, but the anti-MLM coalition and Elle Beau have been invaluable for enlightening me and countless others about this scourge of social media. While we may not drive this entire industry out of business, it’s good to know we are making a difference by educating others before they fall into the financial black hole that is MLM.

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Related articles:

Meet Primerica, The New Wall Street IPO That’s Really A Multi-Level Marketing Scheme

Primerica scam? Yes it is in my opinion!

New video: How to idle on a unicycle

Just did a new video tutorial on how to idle on a unicycle. It’s a tough skill to master but with persistence anyone can become competent at idling. Learning to idle is the best way to improve your overall unicycling ability. I hope you’re all having a wonderful New Year so far!

Why I Say No to Detox

nodetox

One of the more popular things I regularly encounter on social media, particularly on health and fitness accounts in December and January, is something called “detox” or “cleansing”. Everybody’s doing it! There’s a long and growing list of maladies that “detox” can supposedly treat: obesity, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems, acne, arthritis, allergies, anxiety seemingly everything except a missing limb.

Detoxing is so popular and common I almost feel left out as a non-believer(a heretic in some circles) in detox, though luckily this feeling lasts for all of 2 seconds. Detox can take many forms while often a pricey supplement, it can also be a week, or month, or 6 month long juice regimen the length of their detoxing sentence often reflects how “bad” they’ve been. Sometimes it can be a tea and is called a “teatox”. In its most extreme form, a person’s entire diet is a long-term detox, usually a 100% vegan whole-food raw-food diet basically solitary confinement for those who have been really bad.

So what do I make of all this? It’s 100% nonsense. The health claims made for these products or juicing regimens are evidence-free and very vague; the “toxins” in question are almost never identified, and the users of these products are not tested before and after for these elusive “toxins”. This is nothing but pseudoscience.

Doctors and legitimate health professionals do not recommend a detox unless someone has ingested a significant amount of heavy metals or poison, and they use chelation drugs to help remove the toxins, not green juice or an MLM scam product. There is no evidence that this type of detox can help you with any medical problem.

Bottom line: Detoxing is unlikely to help you lose weight or improve energy. However, this doesn’t mean drinking fresh juices or smoothies is a bad thing. You can get a nutrition boost from some green juices if you don’t ordinarily eat that well(this may explain why many people feel better after a detox or cleanse). If juice is your preferred method of consuming your fruits and vegetables, then go for it. Detox supplements on the other hand are useless and potentially dangerous.

Just don’t be mislead into believing these juices are helping you “detox” anything. Toxins are a natural byproduct of living and metabolism and you already have an effective way to deal with this: your liver and kidneys. If you have a functioning liver and kidneys, your body is detoxing for you 24/7. If you believe you’ve been poisoned, consult a doctor.

Related articles:

Harvard Women’s Health Watch: The dubious practice of detox

Science-Based Medicine: Detox Scams are Worthless and Potentially Dangerous

The Vegan RD: A Vegan Diet is Not a “Detox” Plan

Scibabe: The Weekly Woo: Toxins. Toxins Everywhere

Ars Technica: Herbal remedy ingredients: lead, mercury, and/or arsenic

Mel Magazine: Yes, Of Course, Detoxing Is a Scam

Yonkers marathon 2018 race report

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Just after crossing the finish line

Last weekend I completed my 6th marathon, the Yonkers marathon as a member of Team Humane*, a team of amazing athletes who are changing the world. Besides being the second oldest marathon in the U.S, the Yonkers marathon is one of the hilliest.

In case you’re new here I’m the guy who juggled while running this thing for all 26.2 miles. I won’t bore you with too many details, or give a mile by mile account of my race experience. To make the long story short, just think a lot of wind, a lot of hills, and a bunch of people running, with one juggling while running.

So I completed this double loop race in 4:30, my slowest marathon to date. The wind was particularly fierce last Sunday, and was at least partly responsible for my slower than usual pace. At one point I had to hilariously chase after one of my balls that got blown away by the wind, losing precious time as a result. The sub-4 hour finishing time I aimed for just wasn’t happening. I dropped the balls a total of 5 times due to the wind, so my no-drops marathon joggling streak is over. I didn’t drop while joggling at my last 3 marathons — this streak had to end some time.

Besides the howling wind, I was under-trained due to personal issues that unfortunately got in the way of training at times. If the situation hadn’t improved I probably wouldn’t have run this race.

The crowd support as usual was fantastic, especially at the beginning. Lots of good humor also. Years ago I would have kicked myself for falling short of a goal. But it’s just so counter-productive to do so. In the end, I still entertained a lot of people and helped promote a good cause that is doing all it can to help end the suffering of farm animals. Animal exploitation and suffering is a problem, my not running a marathon fast enough isn’t.

Unlike last time I tapered from both running and also unicycling; I think I did a little too much unicycling last time during marathon training. I use a variety of marathon training guides, rather than just one source. Most say essentially the same thing, though none recommend unicycling during training(still figuring out how to use it as a cross-trainer).

As usual it felt amazing crossing that finish line, knowing all that training, even if incomplete, helped me build up my endurance to complete this race. Also all the support from my fellow runners, fellow Team Humane members and just knowing I am doing this to bring attention to a good cause made a big difference.

Another marathon completed, but so many more to run or cycle. So what’s next on the agenda? Stay tuned!

If you would like to donate, please visit my fund-raising page.

*To clear up any confusion— I want to clarify that I was running for Team Humane, not Team Aisling. The shirt worn by the many members of Team Aisling at this event looks very similar to the green Team Humane shirt; I have nothing to do with Team Aisling(great, good-humored people though!).

I’ll be joggling the Yonkers marathon on October 21

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At the Yonkers marathon in 2015

 

I’ll be joggling the Yonkers marathon on October 21, as part of Team Humane League. Yes, the hilly monster of a marathon, and second oldest marathon in the country. If you would like to donate, here is my fund-raising page. Any amount is appreciated. This is marathon #6.

I’m not aiming for a PR this year, I’m just aiming to have fun, complete the race in under 4 hours, and not drop(I haven’t dropped since my second marathon). My training has been going well so far besides many 40+ mile weeks, I’ve also mixed in lots of unicycling for cross-training. I finished my last 2 marathons in over 4 hours, #4 due to an injury, and #5 due to fatigue issues/insufficient training. So while I’m not looking to set a PR, I’m hoping to make a comeback by completing in under 4 hours like I did at my first 3 marathons.

I’m currently in tapering mode but I’ll do one last semi-long run before the race. I feel so ready I feel I could run the race this weekend, and I feel confident I can return to sub-3 hour marathon running.

Thanks for your support!

 

Why I’m not jumping on the turmeric bandwagon

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In a faraway land, the native people have been using X root(or fruit, or spice) as a fountain of youth, the ultimate cure-all, and as an energy-booster for thousands of years. It has been recently “discovered” by western science, and its medicinal effects have been supposedly verified by scientific research. The list of health benefits is almost endless, and it is now taken as a supplement, put in lattes, teas, juices, face-masks, lotions, in practically everything! And no one ever gets old or gets cancer again.

This sounds like turmeric, doesn’t it? Well of course it does! But it’s also the same exact trajectory for every other amazing “superfood” or exotic herb from the past 30 years. I remember when it was green tea, then goji berries, then countless other things. Now turmeric has taken center-stage.

Does it live up to the hype? Preliminary research does show turmeric has some anti-inflammatory effects — but so do a million other things. It’s also an antioxidant, but antioxidants as disease-preventers has been almost entirely discredited.

I admit I tried turmeric a bunch of times many years ago, and noticed no benefit, unless you call upset stomach a benefit. I really don’t have any use for it, except when enjoying spicy south Asian cuisine. While I frequently experience inflammation from all the running I do, that’s the body’s natural response to stress and muscle damage. The soreness and inflammation I often experience is well within the range of normal and so I just let the process take its course. “Lack of turmeric” is not a known medical or athletic condition.

However, many athletes regularly take turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory effects to help speed recovery. It’s possible it actually is helpful for some athletes, and people with certain inflammatory medical conditions, but as I said before I mainly experience an upset stomach after taking turmeric.

Except for some epidemiological studies, there aren’t that many long-term placebo-controlled studies on turmeric and general health and turmeric and athletic performance. We don’t know what kind of side effects turmeric could cause when regularly taken in medicinal amounts(keep in mind that curcumin, the main medicinal chemical in turmeric is very poorly absorbed by the body). In this case I think it’s just best to leave well enough alone and not over-complicate my health and fitness regimen with something that may be useless or potentially harmful(though it’s unlikely to kill anyone). If you want to continue using it, great, but at least know all the relevant facts and please consult a health professional in case of contraindications.

Related articles:

Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine

Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All

Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health

Interleaving update

 

A few weeks ago I did a post about interleaving and for the most part I’ve been using this innovative learning strategy for learning new unicycle skills since then. In case you’ve forgotten, interleaving is a learning strategy that involves mixing things up instead of focusing on just one skill at a time. So far it appears to be working.

As you can see in the video I figured out how to juggle while idling one-footed(at least that’s how unicyclists would describe it). I even figured how to do the tricky two to one foot transition in only one practice session; I assumed it would take longer to learn the transition. Instead of a long block practice approach, I interleaved learning this skill with the closely related juggling while unicycling backwards. I would focus on one skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then switch to the other skill for 10 to 15 minutes, then back to the first skill, in an ABABA pattern for about 50 minutes to an hour or more. Of course in this heat breaks are very important.

It took a mere few weeks to learn juggling while idling one-footed though I can’t do it that well yet. I think interleaving did give me a learning boost. I also think the fact that it’s just an extension of juggling while idling two-footed, which I can do competently, was also a big help. There’s a lot of overlap, it’s really not that distinct of a skill in other words.

Since juggling while one-footed idling is a more challenging version of juggling while idling, I think it’s helping me polish my juggling while two-footed idling(sometimes the key to mastering something is to practice the more complex variation of what you’re trying to learn— you don’t even have to do the more complex variation that well to benefit from it). It would be interesting to see what happens if I try interleaving with skills that are unrelated.

It also helps that I mixed it up with juggling while unicycling backwards, which I can almost do competently now. Idling and backwards are related skills and if you can do one well it helps with learning the other. Idling is, after all, going forwards and backwards just a little.

So if you’re on a learning plateau with anything, consider experimenting with an interleaving approach or at least trying variations of what you’re trying to learn.

Chris Stratton’s first 100 mile unicycle ride

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Map of Chris Stratton’s 100 mile ride

There’s another unicyclist in town, and his distance riding puts me to shame. Chris Stratton, from Manhattan, who I rode with last year in the Brooklyn portion of the NYC Unicycle fest just completed his first century(100 mile) ride along the Putnam trail from the Bronx up to Brewster and back. What an amazing accomplishment! My longest ride is only 20 miles, also on the Putnam trail. You can read about his epic experience here: My First Unicycle Century

Boost learning with interleaving

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One of the things I love most about unicycling(and joggling) is that it’s a fun way to learn about learning. With all the different skills unicycling entails, and the difficulty of learning many of them, it’s a great opportunity to test some new learning strategies. Let’s face it, we all want to learn faster. One strategy that I recently stumbled upon is called “interleaving”, which involves mixing things up instead of focusing on one skill or area and repeating until competence is achieved. Interleaving appears to provide a boost for both academic and athletic training.

According to Scientific American, in The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning:

We’ve all heard the adage: practice makes perfect! In other words, acquiring skills takes time and effort. But how exactly does one go about learning a complex subject such as tennis, calculus, or even how to play the violin? An age-old answer is: practice one skill at a time. A beginning pianist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand. Learning researchers call this “blocking,” and because it is commonsensical and easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.

However another strategy promises improved results. Enter “interleaving,” a largely unheard-of technique that is capturing the attention of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. Whereas blocking involves practicing one skill at a time before the next (for example, “skill A” before “skill B” and so on, forming the pattern “AAABBBCCC”), in interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills together (forming for example the pattern “ABCABCABC”). For instance, a pianist alternates practice between scales, chords, and arpeggios, while a tennis player alternates practice between forehands, backhands, and volleys.

This sounds very promising. The research suggests it works best if you interleave similar skills. I’ve already been doing something kind of similar by practicing variations of the skill I’m trying to master, but usually on different days. However, interleaving isn’t about varying your practice every few days, it’s about variation within the same practice session.

These days I’m trying to learn how to juggle while idling one-footed on the unicycle(I can already do this with both feet on the pedals). I usually use a block approach, and after practicing this would sometimes do backwards juggling in figure 8’s, which is a similar skill that I’m much better at. This week I’ll experiment with an interleaving strategy and do 5 minute intervals of one-footed idling while juggling then backwards juggling, an ABABAB pattern and see how that goes. I hope 5 minutes is long enough. I wonder what would happen if I did intervals of unrelated skills, but I’ll try that out some other time.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re struggling with learning something, consider the interleaving strategy.

Related articles:

Variation is key to deeper learning

Learn To Study Using…Interleaving

Vegan Pastitsio

Screenshot from 2018-07-23 13-46-53

 

One of the glories of Greece is that its native cuisine is either thoroughly vegan or easily veganized. Dishes that are already vegan include dolmades(stuffed grape leaves), gigantes(lima beans in tomato sauce), as well as many others. Spanakopita and tiropita can be veganized by replacing the feta cheese with vegan cheese. Meatier dishes may be more difficult to veganize but there are myriad ways of doing this.

One of my favorites growing up was pastitisio, which is essentially baked ziti topped with bechamel sauce and ground beef. This dish is typically served during big holidays or large gatherings and I must warn you it isn’t a fast, easy recipe. Reserve this for special occasions.

One of the things that gives pastitsio its distinctive flavor is the allspice or cinnamon in the beef. For most recipes I find that cinnamon and allspice are interchangeable, hence I used cinnamon which I had on hand. This may not be true of everyone but I think most people won’t notice the difference. I also decided to use vegan ground beef from Trader Joe’s instead of using lentils like other Greek vegans like to use.

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For this use a standard size lasagna baking pan, or something close to 12 inches by 16 inches and is 3.5 inches deep.

Ingredients:

Meat sauce:

  • 1 lb vegan ground beef(I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or allspice(or more)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

Bechamel sauce:

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups cashews(soaked overnight)
  • 2 cups veggie broth(optional)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • black pepper
  • pinch of salt

Pasta:

  • 24 ounces of penne or ziti
  • drizzle of olive oil(optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Saute all beef ingredients in saucepan until onions are a slightly browned.
  3. Cook pasta until it is almost al dente. Remember you’ll be baking it later so don’t over-boil it. Drizzle with olive oil(optional).
  4. Thoroughly blend cashews in blender. Mix in other bechamel ingredients and cook in sauce pan for a few minutes until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
  5. Thoroughly mix about 1/4 to 1/2 beef sauce mix with pasta and put in lasagna pan(spray bottom of pan with oil first).
  6. Put the rest of the beef sauce mix on top of the pasta/beef sauce mix.
  7. Put bechamel sauce on top of all the other layers.
  8. Cover with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes in the oven at 350 F.
  9. Let it sit outside the oven for 10 minutes before serving to cool.

This was a hit when I last made it and I’m sure it will be in your home as well.