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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
The Assault on Reason - Al Gore Point

Al Gore Tells You What's Wrong With The US, And How To Fix It

Most Americans agree that their country's on the wrong track, but what exactly is the problem? It's easy to blame it all on Dubya - no one except a few true believers would say he's blameless. But surely there's more to it than that? Al Gore has thought deeply about the issues, and his analysis makes sense. The real strength of the US is in its system of government, but a democracy is only as strong as its citizens. If they aren't passionately involved in the democratic process and they don't understand or care about the Constitution, then everything will gradually fall apart.

And, unfortunately, that's what seems to be happening now. Gore argues that the US depends strongly on respect for reasoned debate, carried out through the written word. That's how it all got started. But since TV became the dominant medium, most people have stopped reading. They just absorb whatever comes out of the boob tube, and, as a result, they've become entirely too easy to manipulate. Politics isn't about reason any more. It's about buying 30 second TV spots, since they're what get you re-elected. So politicians become more and more dependent on vested interests who can pay for those TV spots.

Bush and Cheney were very bad, but they were more a symptom than a cause. They systematically trampled over the Constitution, but most people didn't even notice. According to polls Gore quotes, half of all Americans believe that the President can ignore anything Congress or the Supreme Court tell him to do - so when Bush said he was planning to work that way, most of the country didn't react.

But Gore says at the end that he sees signs of change. The Internet is starting to take over from TV, and it's quite a different type of medium. It's print-based and interactive. And, indeed, Obama won in 2008 largely due to a grass-roots web-based initiative. The fight is, unfortunately, far from over, but Gore's intelligent and perceptive book may help you understand what's going on.


Loser! Loser! Loser!

If you want to know why Gore got rolled over in 2000, read The Assault on Reason. He's pompous, he quotes people you've never heard of to show you how goddamn smart he is, he whines. And he repeats himself, not once, but two or three or four times. Yes Al, we know you think Iraq was a mistake. You don't need to tell us again. And yes, we know you're worried about climate change. But maybe you noticed we had a really cold winter last year? How exactly does that fit into your fancy theories?

So what if Dubya's take on the Constitution was a bit different from yours? Alexander Hamilton thought the country needed a strong executive. Maybe he knew more about it than you do. When there's a war on, do you want to debate every little thing or do you want a decisive leader who can get things done?

Yeah - Al Gore's a sore loser. That's the take-home from this sorry mess of a book.