This blog contains the literature reviews, political rants, and literary doings of Steven Wittenberg Gordon, the Editor of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review of The Duke Diet by Eisenson & Binks

The Duke Diet by Howard J. Eisenson, MD & Martin “Jar Jar” Binks, PhD (Ballantine Books 2007) is a book that details the weight loss and lifestyle change program of the famous Duke Diet and Fitness Center.  I have read many diet books over the years and found all of them to be not only a big waste but also a big waist.  Duke is the third diet book that I have read that was written by a physician, the other two being those by Drs. Atkins and Ornish.  I gained five pounds after a month of peeing ketones on Atkin’s questionable all meat diet, and lost no weight and became angry and despondent on Ornish’s clinically and scientifically proven complete vegan monstrosity diet.  So far, I have lost about ten pounds on Duke.

Atkins, Ornish, and Eisenson all have science to support their claims, particularly Ornish who conclusively demonstrated that his diet reverses atherosclerosis with elegant before and after photos of living arteries.  Eisenson’s science is mostly statistical and based upon his residential, Biggest Loser style diet program, where every fat individual is supported by a team of slim individuals.  It costs about seven million dollars to do the program in house; the book costs about one millionth of that, or about seven dollars.

Eisenson’s diet and lifestyle program may be summarized thus:

-  Track what you eat
-  Lower your caloric intake into a weight loss range
-  Engage in regular and increasingly escalating exercise

Never thought of doing that!  Thanks for the news flash, doc!  It also contains a litany of recipes that I will never use.

Eisenson’s “revelations” notwithstanding, it is the PhD “Jar Jar” Binks, not the MD Howard “Johnson” Eisenson, who brings something to the fight that I actually find useful.

One of the top three life changing and influential books that I have ever read is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (the other two being the Torah by God and Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott).  Binks must have read Covey because his behavioral approach to weight loss follows the seven habits almost to the letter.  Binks’ “seven habits of highly effective lifestyle changes” may be summarized as follows:

   1)    Be proactive.  Do not reactively eat the wrong food or the wrong quantity of food.  Stop and think.  Then don’t.  Plan ahead.  Be prepared.

   2)     Begin with the end in mind.  Visualize the results that your loss of weight and change in lifestyle will bring.  Picture the slim, fit, strong, handsome, well coifed future you walking toward the present you and shaking your hand and thanking you for your hard work.

   3)    Do first things first.  Stay in “quadrant two” where important but not urgent tasks are done.  Binks lifted this, chart and all, directly from Covey (and without credit).

The first three habits complete the “personal victory” over weight loss.  The next three constitute the “public victory.”

   4)    Think win-win.  For example, perhaps you get your boss to agree to allow you to take a 30-minute walk during the duty day in return for showing up 30 minutes early or staying 30-minutes later.  You actually become more productive as a result.  Win-win.  Or, perhaps you agree with your spouse to refrain from going out to eat for a few weeks and instead put the money you would have spent aside.  Then you buy something you both want with the saved money.

   5)    Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  If you are part of a family, going on a diet affects them all.  First, listen to your family’s concerns.  Understand why they may be uncertain and why they may appear to be unsupportive.  Then do your best to have them understand what you have to do in a win-win way.

   6)    Synergize.  If your family were willing to join you on an exercise jaunt, how nice would that be!

   7)    Sharpen the saw.  This one surrounds all the habits, and involves such often ignored things as stress control, relaxation, sleep hygiene, and rest between strength training sessions.

    So, is the book worth reading?  If you have read this review and are familiar with Stephen Covey’s work, it is probably not.  Otherwise, as diet books go, this one is legit, safe, backed by science, and might even help you lose weight and permanently change your lifestyle with its Covey based psychological insights.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review of Death Note Volumes 6 - 12 by Tsugumi Ohba

After my disappointment with Volume 5 http://stevesofgrass.blogspot.com/2017/05/review-of-death-note-volumes-2-5-by.html, it was with some reluctance that I picked up Volume 6.  The 6th volume turned out to be such a page-turner that I rapidly finished it and the remaining volumes in the series.  Books 11 and 12 kept me particularly on the edge of my seat, hugging my knees.

It is difficult to review this series without spoilers, so I will confine my comments to the major philosophical questions posed by it.  The first and most obvious is:  Is Kira a ruthless mass murderer or a righteous savior?  The majority of the people in the fictional world of Tsugumi Ohba believe the latter.  After all, crime drops by 70%, violent crime drops by an even greater percentage, and war is completely nonexistent.  People are kinder and more considerate--whether it be out of fear or genuine goodness is another question--but the change in general human behavior is clear.  It is as though God Himself has personally, intimately, and, most importantly, unmistakably intervened in human affairs.  World peace and utopian living are only a few years away.

I might have gone along with the belief of the fictional masses had not Kira used Machiavellian tactics to achieve his aims.  Almost from the beginning, Kira justified not only killing violent criminals but also killing anyone who actually or could possibly stand in his way.  This included slaying FBI agents, policemen, and their families.  He was not beyond killing members of his own immediate family, nor was he beyond employing his natural good looks and charm to use and discard innocent women in the most thoughtless manner.

To his credit, Kira did not feel that it was justified to kill ex-cons who had already paid their debts to society, nor did he feel it justified to kill people whose only shortcoming was laziness or not living up to their full potentials.  Kira also did not use his power for personal wealth or gain, other than world domination.  He was content to remain in the shadows until he was acknowledged and accepted by the entire world--meaning all of those who did not accept him were dead or in hiding.

In the absence of Kira, how fast would the world go back to being full of fear, violence, injustice, and war?  The book poses and answers this question--again, I will not reveal how lest I spoil.  Would the world continue on the path of lovingkindness that Kira showed was possible, or would the world revert or even regress further than before Kira existed?  If the latter, would it be justified to allow a mass murderer to continue to impose his vision upon the world for the supposed greater good?

The series asks and answers these questions.  I agree with the answers, but whether or not a reader agrees or disagrees, it is most enjoyable to wrestle with the questions.  Few books provide that kind of pleasure.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Sabbath Prophesy to Ponder

Childish leaders oppress my people, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you; they send you down the wrong road.
--Isaiah 3:12

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review of Death Note Volumes 2 - 5 by Tsugumi Ohba

After reading Volume 1 of Tsugumi Ohba’s manga Death Note, I was eager to continue reading the story and so far have completed reading volumes 2 through 5 of the twelve volume series (VIZ Media 2003, illustrated by Takeshi Obata, available for $9.99 per volume at https://www.viz.com/read/manga/death-note-vol-1/5360).  At this point, I thought a review was in order.

In addition to being an interesting cat-and-mouse detective story, the first volume presented many fascinating ethical dilemmas (see my review http://stevesofgrass.blogspot.com/2017/04/review-of-death-note-by-tsugumi-ohba.html).  In volumes 2 through 4, the detective games intensify, and I found my allegiance shifting away from the anti-hero Light and toward the now less mysterious but eccentric detective “L.”  The introduction of a “second Kira” in the 4th volume complicates the plot even further, providing another perspective on what could happen if a human were to be granted god-like powers.

The plot also reveals an unexpected weakness of the Shinigami or death gods.  The gods can be killed!  A series of stars must align for it to be possible.  I will not spoil the read by revealing what those circumstances are here but I will comment that said circumstances are surprising.

The battle of wits between the two Kiras and L is resolved in a most spectacular and satisfying stalemate, opening a new plot line where Kira and Misa voluntarily assist L with the hunt for a “third Kira” who does not share the first two’s motivation for killing.  This third Kira, an executive of a major Japanese corporation, uses his death note for his own personal and his company’s financial gain by killing off executives in rival companies.  The shift of the story to this rather mundane, non-idealistic reason for murder was a bit of a letdown for me, transforming a philosophically and ethically challenging plot into more pedestrian fare.  For that reason, I admit I was a bit disappointed with volume 5 but not disappointed enough to stop reading the series.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review of Death Note 1 by Tsugumi Ohba

The fascinating, mind-blowing, and thought-provoking plot of Death Note 1 by Tsugumi Ohba (VIZ Media 2003, paperback, 200 pages with black-and-white art by Takeshi Obata) is centered on Light aka Kira, a seventeen-year-old Japanese student who is one of the top high school students in the world.  He finds the Death Note, a notebook of the Shinigami (Japanese gods of death), deliberately left on earth by rogue Shinigami Ryuk. 

The Note comes with instructions explaining how to use it:  write down a person’s name, picture that person in one’s mind, write down that person’s manner and time of death, and the death will happen as written.  If one does not specify the details of the death (I simplify here), the person will die of a heart attack in six minutes.

Kira uses the Note to kill evil people in massive numbers mysteriously and from afar. He reasons correctly that this will provide a strong incentive for criminals to curtail their bad behavior.  As Kira anticipates, a utopian society begins to emerge where the truly evil will all be dead and the potentially evil too scared to act. Kira, the god-like possessor of the Note, is pleased to be secretly in control of this new, peaceful, safe, and law-abiding society.

This had me thinking:  What if I found such a magical item when I was seventeen?  I would like to think that I would do what Kira decided to do, do nothing at all, or destroy the book.  However, to put it mildly, I was not awfully popular in high school.  I know what I probably would have done....

Fortunately for the fictional world of Death Note, an idealistic if Machiavellian teenaged intellectual finds the Note and uses it as a righteous angel might.  The police are simultaneously happy about the drop in crime and appalled by the circumstances.  The lawmen turn to the mysterious world-renowned detective known only as “L” to find and stop Kira.

The world’s greatest detective pitted against one of the world’s smartest teenagers possessed of god-like power--what a match-up!  Mystery lovers such as I will really enjoy the L vs. Kira plot, as it makes for an interesting game of cat and mouse; and it is never clear who is the cat and who the mouse.  Kira is willing to kill L for standing in his way--the only thing stopping him is that he does not know L’s true name or what he looks like.  

L believes he is righteous and that Kira is evil.  Kira believes he, Kira, is righteous and that L, while well intentioned, must be eliminated to ensure the coming of utopia.  As for who is truly righteous and who evil, the reader must decide.  I am not sure.  Death Note 1 is available from Shonen Jump https://www.viz.com/read/manga/death-note-vol-1/5360 for $9.99.