Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wow: Crazy Teacher Accused of Branding Students

Students have come forward alleging that Freshwater had burned a cross into their arms using an “electrostatic device” which was apparently some kind of heat-based cutting tool used by the class. Apparently this occurred during some of his “healing” and purification rituals which he was known to have held.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why can't I get Stevia in my breakfast cereal?

I've been using Stevia to sweeten coffee and tea for two or three years now. It's calorie free and because it's sweeter than table sugar, a dash can sweeten coffee as much as a few teaspoons of sugar. Recently, a friend casually mentioned that Stevia was not approved as a food additive. In the US it's only legal to sell it as a "Dietary Supplement." Having visions of the rumors about Aspartame side effects I did some research. Stevia wasn't really legal in the USA until the "1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act" made it legal to sell as a "Dietary Supplement." I realized I was about to dive into a hotly contested issue rife with conspiracy theories, so I started with the FDA's web site. Specifically, I read the FDA guidelines for field operatives on handling Stevia. According to the FDA, it's been approved for years in Japan and Brazil.
The product is used in these countries as a table-top
sweetener in virtually all food commodities and as a
flavor enhancer in such products as teas. Stevioside
is reportedly 250-300 times sweeter than sugar and
contributes no calories to the diet.
It's use in Japan is so pervasive that it's sometimes necessary to test Japanese food imports for the presence of Stevia. In the US, if Stevia is being sold as a dietary supplement, an ingredient in a dietary supplement or for research purposes then it's legal as long as no mention of its sweetening properties is made. The hair splitting gets even stranger in this quote:
If stevia is to be used in a dietary supplement for a
technical effect, such as use as a sweetener or
flavoring agent, and is labeled as such, it is
considered an unsafe food additive.  However, in the
absence of labeling specifying that stevia is being or
will be used for a technical effect, use of stevia as
a dietary ingredient in a dietary supplement is not
subject to the food additive provisions of the FD&C Act.
This means if the labeling mentions Stevia as a sweetener, even in a "dietary supplement" it's suddenly something that has to be seized. An FDA article on Sugar Substitutes makes brief mention of Stevia. In it Martha Peiperl, a consumer safety officer in the FDA's Office of Premarket Approval is quoted as saying "The safety of stevia has been questioned by published studies." Both FDA articles state that the FDA has not received what they consider sufficient proof that Stevia is safe. Some say Stevia shouldn't even be under scrutiny because it's not a "new" compound, which has fueled conspiracy theories about why the FDA is interested in Stevia.

I decided to set aside the fact that at least one Stevia manufacturer has some tinfoil hat level paranoia about  Aspartame and focus on finding the studies showing Stevia can be dangerous. Cheerleading articles were easy to find. For example, I found one touting the blood sugar regulating benefits of Stevia. Simple logic would suggest that reducing sugar would have the bulk of the described benefits. I also found a site that pointed out the "200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar" claim is based on the liquid extract. The powdered form is only 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar. This clarification was consistent with my own experience. I also found a site claiming the FDA ordered the destruction of Stevia cook books. According to the site the FDA later claimed that the publisher decided to destroy them on his own. has a page of quotes. From it I learned the World Health Organization (WHO) is also asking for more research to be done. The WHO and FDA are claiming more studies are needed before declaring Stevia "safe." A company claiming 65% of the world wide Stevia market has a chart listing Stevia's legal status in various countries. I found a lot of churn. Setting aside the alleged anti-Stevia lobbying by NutraSweet, the pro-Stevia arguments boiled down to a lack of evidence that it does harm, its long history of use and its popularity in many Asian countries. The anti-Stevia arguments seemed to boil down to a lack of evidence that it's safe. Hard Evidence took a little more digging. lists a number of studies and their results, but given the URL, I was not surprised by the overwhelmingly positive nature of the listed results. Finally, I found the WHO Stevia report, a summary of the research the World Health Organization used to evaluate Stevia. At first I wondered why so many of the studies referenced were about the impact of Stevia on reproduction.

An Ebsco Health article on Stevia revealed that Stevia was traditionally used as a form of birth control. It also mentioned that "very high dosages of a stevia extract led to reductions in blood pressure". The problem is, they don't know how MUCH stevia you need to eat or how far it will cause your blood pressure to drop. According to the WHO conclusions, "Stevioside may also act as a calcium antagonist". The main chemicals studied were stevioside and steviol, compounds know to be produced when Stevia is metabolized. The claim that Stevia does not inhibit fertility are based on the tests done with Stevioside. The problem is, oral administration of S. rebaudiana "was reported to cause a severe, long-lasting reduction in fertility". This means eating the plant itself reduces fertility, but none of the compounds KNOWN to result from ingesting it are responsible. There's something else happening when rats are given Stevia and we don't know what it is. According to the WHO report:
In some studies, the material tested (stevioside or steviol) was poorly specified or of variable quality, and no information was available on other constituents or contaminants.
This means that even the "safe" dosage levels identified in the studies can't be correlated with real world products. The WHO report is kind enough to offer recommendations on what to do differently. Among them, "specifications must be developed to ensure that the material tested is representative of the material of commerce." The phrase "material of commerce" is commonly used to describe something similar to what will actually be sold to customers. You wouldn't, for example, declare a refined buffered aspirin derivative "safe" because of tests done with Willow Bark Tea. You want to test the pills that will actually be sold. Stevia's backers are glossing over the reproductive concerns by cherry picking which studies they want to quote. There's evidence that stevioside and steviol are NOT the only active compounds resulting from the ingestion of Stevia. The studies were inconsistently done and gave little information about the actual compounds being tested. Then there's the fact that stevia and it's resulting compounds can repress oxidative phosphorylation which impacts glucose absorption and how we extract energy from food. Is Stevia being held to a higher standard than well funded artificial sweeteners like Aspartame? Perhaps. Is Stevia being held to a standard I, as a consumer, would want want applied to it? Hell Yes.

Who is ?

All my writing about StaticOff has been the result of a series of messages I received from the user StaticOff. The abusive, hostile messages that sparked my blogging about Staticoff came from that account. These were not e-mail messages, but "General Messages" sent through the Youtube service. This includes the message I quoted on April 16.

The first comment to that April 16 post came from a blogger using the name Shalom. When you strip out the verbal abuse you get a single salient point.

The blogger account Shalom is claiming that the most recent Youtube message did NOT come from Shalom Wertsberger, the inventor of StaticOff.

If we assume the Blogger account is genuine then either the Youtube account is itself a fake, or the account is being used without the authorization of Shalom Wertsberger. This brings into question the authenticity of the original abusive messages I received on Mar 14, 2008, Mar 18, 2008, Mar 19, 2008 and Apr 16, 2008.

The blogger account offers only an automated e-mail responder as "Proof" of its authenticity. All this proves is access to the mail server. It does not prove Shalom Wertsberger is behind the blogger account.

We're left with limited options.
  • Some or all of the Youtube comments could be fakes
  • The blogger account could be fake, but created by someone with access to the mail server.
  • There could be multiple people using the Youtube account and they aren't keeping each other in the loop on what they're doing.
I would encourage anyone participating in Staticoff's $500 video contest to seriously consider how this contest would be impacted if the user StaticOff is indeed a fake account.

If the StaticOff Youtube AND Shalom Blogger accounts are genuine and written entirely by Shalom Wertsberger, then the comment to my April 16 blog post would constitute a lie, a denial of what he had already written.

My interactions with people claiming to represent StaticOff have resulted in me receiving nothing but a string of verbal abuse. I've not benefited from this exchange in any way. I doubt any of this will influence anyone's decision to purchase or not purchase the StatifOff product.

If the blogger account Shalom is to be believed, everyone involved is tired of these exchanges. In the interest of putting this to bed I offer the following:

If I have made any factually inaccurate statements about StaticOff or those responsible for the product in any way, I apologize. Such errors were made without malice or intent to harm. According to the user StaticOff my original Youtube comment about StaticOff was in error. I have posted a retraction to Youtube as a reply to the Youtube user StaticOff.

It has been claimed that at least one of the messages I've received from the StaticOff Youtube account were not from Shalom Wertsberger. If this is the case then Shalom Wertsberger needs to find out who is actually behind the Youtube account and why they're using it to send abusive messages in his name.

Given the doubts recently raised regarding the authenticity of the Shalom Blogger account and the Youtube StaticOff account, I am forced to conclude that someone somewhere is lying to me. This means I have no accurate data about the mind set or communication style of the REAL Shalom Wertsberger. I have only comments from a person or persons claiming to be him.

Any comments I've made about Shalom Wertsberger and StaticOff have been my own opinion, based upon messages I've received. If those messages were faked, then someone somewhere is trying to make him look unstable and abusive. I recommend Shalom Wertsberger look into who is really behind the StaticOff Youtube account.

If Shalom Wertsberger is indeed the creator of the StaticOff youtube account and someone else is using that account to send fake messages in his name, then he has my deepest sympathy. I wrote under the impression that the communications I received were genuine. If these messages were in fact faked then I apologize for any inaccurate impressions I formed and stated about Shalom Wertsberger.

My sincere hope is that this will be the end of my exchanges with anyone involved with StaticOff or Shalom Wertsberger. If Mr Wertsberger does indeed learn who has been using the Youtube StaticOff account to claim to be him, then I encourage him to let me know, so I can add that detail to this Blog.

God's speed Shalom Wertsberger.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, ha‑gomel lahayavim tovot sheg'malani kol tov.

Amen. Mi sheg'malkha kol tov hu yigmalkha kol tov. Selah.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sent a message to StaticOff's inventor

I just used Youtube's message feature to sent StaticOff's inventor a copy of the "Open Letter" I wrote in response to his latest fountain of paranoia.

Hopefully this will be that last I hear of him.

I'm reminded of my wife's advice about interacting with people on the Internet. "Don't talk to the crazies" she told me. If only I'd listened.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

StaticOff's inventor is now blaming me for all the negative feedback he's getting on the Internet

Due to a lot of major changes in my life lately, I've had minimal contact with my computer and my blog for the last two weeks. This morning I sat down and skimmed my e-mail to find I'd received notice of yet another youtube comment:

From: StaticOff
Sent: April 16, 2008
Subject: Blogs
It has been brought to our attention that you may be attempting to write to blogs using other bloggers names under different sign-ins in an attempt to discredit them and create the impression they are using the blogging world to attack you. If this is true I would suggest you not only cease doing this but also remove these fictitious blog entries otherwise we will look at legal actions that are available to us.
Thank You.

For the record, I have no idea what Shalom Wertsberger, the inventor of StaticOff, is talking about. He's placed his product on the Internet and appears to be attributing all the negative feedback he gets to me.

Here is my open letter to Shalom Wertsberger:

I have a newborn child in the house and a full time job. I do not have the time or the interest in you or your product to dedicate to attacking you. The last word I'd written about StaticOff was a March 31, 2008 post on my blog where I asked people to post their experiences with StaticOff. It received no constructive replies.

I don't know what blogs, "different sign-ins" or attempts to attack me you are referring to. From what you describe it sounds like someone is attacking me on your behalf. I'd like to remind you that there are a number of teenagers competing for a $500 prize to make the best "StaticOff" video. I find it more likely that one of them decided to rise to your defense. It's also entirely possible that people who happen to use names or logins similar to those of your bloggers are in fact responding.

You claim that someone is trying to discredit me and yet you immediately jump to the conclusion that it's me. To be honest if I were capable of such devious tactics I'd have gone into politics or corporate management. You clearly have some sort of persecution complex and I really don't want to be on the receiving end of your guile every time someone says something you don't like about your precious invention.

I'd exhausted my interest in you and your product in March of 2008. I don't know who is trying to attack me, nor do I really care. This is the Internet and I'm used to trolls and juvenile twits making rude comments. Kindly stop contacting me every time someone says something about StaticOff that didn't come from your marketing department.