Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Read this CNN article about the rise in teen violence against the homeless in America. I can't think of a better way to exhibit the increased callousness towards the poor in this country than the brutal murder of its most impoverished citizens by its most priveleged. No matter how many excuses are given for the perpetrators of these shameful crimes, be they peer pressure, alcohol abuse, violent video games, the fact remains that these kids equated their victim's diminished socioeconomic status with a sort of expendability. The illusion of meritocracy here in the United States is not a reason to treat the struggling as lessers, or, in this case, as subhuman targets. The way a society treats its poor is an important vital sign of its humanity, for mercy is nothing if not the recognition of a universality among men. As income inequality grows, we seem to be entering a dangerous period of class striation, of a return to "us" and "them". If our teens are unable to see their fellow man beneath the rags and grime - we're in worse trouble than we thought.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Things to know about... SETI

Check out the article below, which makes a convincing case for the continued funding of SETI, or the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. SETI roams the night skies with sophisticated radio telescopes, hoping to find radio frequencies that would suggest an advanced civilization. The argument for its continued is existence is made on the grounds that SETI has just begun its work. In the Milky way alone there are millions and millions (cue Sagan's nasal drawl) of solar systems, one thousand of which SETI has thoroughly investigated. Basically, we're looking for a needle in a haystack and we've only looked at a tiny pinch of hay. While we at the Ross Review are skeptical of UFO kooks, we believe SETI to be a worthwhile endeavor. These sorts of pure quests for knowledge represent the best of humanistic scientific inquiry, and unless the cost is prohibitive, we are in favor of them in nearly every case. There's something undeniably sublime about people sitting up all night searching the heavens for signs of life. Even if, in a thousand generations, all we ever find is us.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Extended Daily Manna! (2/13)

First, a mini-review of sorts... 'The Lives of Others', a German language film directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, is an astonishing work. It tells the story of an officer in the East German Stasi, a secret police force numbering 100,000 at the peak of its powers. The main drama unfolds when our officer is ordered to begin surveillance on a famous playwright and his actress girlfriend, for they are suspected of sympathizing with the West. The odd, asymmetrical intimacy that forms between the couple and their silent observer forces the trio into some difficult decisions. As I sat there in the dark, watching the film unfold exquisitely upon the silver screen, the following thought occurred to me: freedom must be a special thing indeed for so much great art to be created in its tribute. For there in the steely greys, and suffocating tyranny of East Berlin, surely lies a wrenching love letter to liberty. This picture's ending provides a moment so pure in vindication, in white, hot joy, that it gripped me, full force along the neck with a rush of goosebumps. And yet, it is not the best moment this movie has to offer. That honor belongs to the scene, much earlier, when the playwright, upon hearing that a friend who has hanged himself rather than face continued persecution by the Stasi, plays a piano piece entitled 'A Sonata for a Good Man'. It is a sequence of quiet, true mourning, that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has felt the cruel injustice of death having come too soon. The until-now rigid face of the spy, listening in on his prying headphones, breaks, releasing a single tear along his cheek, like the first drop of icy winter turned spring. In a way this movie is just like that: it lets us watch the first fissures, and then the cracking, dripping melt of a place that was once too cold for anything as precious as freedom.

Okay, moving along to that most excellent topic of foreign policy: reports indicate that America has reached a tentative deal with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for increased energy aid. This is an unqualified diplomatic victory for the Bush Administration, a frequent target here at the Ross Review, and we don't mind saying so. Kudos are in order, for if Kim Jong Il holds up his end of the bargain (not a certainty, as the recent past instructs us) the United States will have succeeded, peacefully, in ridding the world of its most odious nuclear power (Pakistan runs a close second). This development, however, will not suspend my consistent and vitriolic criticism of Kim Jong Il in this space. For with or without the WMD's, Mr. Jong's country is still a shameful, disgusting cauldron of human rights violations. And we will continue to mention that fact until the North Korean people are free.


Elie Weisel, distinguished chronicler of the Holocaust, and Nobel Laureate, was accosted in a hotel in downtown San Francisco this past week. The attack ended when Mr. Weisel shouted for help, spooking his assailant. That octogenarian Jewish intellectuals remian walking targets for violence in american cities is, at the very least, disquieting. Another reminder that the sad, ugly specter of antisemitism lives on, and that we are right to identify and ridicule it whenever it shows its ghastly face.


COMING THURSDAY (The DVD just arrived!): A better-late-than-never review of 2006's best film: Half Nelson

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Mind Your Own Business, Sirs.

For those keeping score at home, this weekend saw two unwelcome comments on United States foreign policy by unqualified outsiders. First came Vladimir Putin, that wretched murderer of journalists abroad, accusing America of sparking a nuclear arms race with its unilateral military misadventures in the Middle East. Excuse us for bristling at being condescended to on the topic of nuclear proliferation by the likes of an increasingly undemocratic Russia. If Vlad were losing so much sleep over rogue nations hastening their efforts to produce nukes, you'd think he might change his position on sanctions for Iran. Indeed the mullah's and their hysterical charlatan president present the greatest current threat to igniting a regional nuclear arms race, and they do so under cover of an apologist Russia in the UN Security Council. North Korea, another nuke-ambitious nation enslaved to a ridiculous, cruel despot, can also boast of Russian protection for its march towards the ultimate deterrent. As late as June 2006, Russia was noisily threatening a veto of involuntary sanctions against Kim Jong Il. Months later the world witnessed as that incomparable madman tested, somewhat successfully, a nuclear weapon. However atrociously bungled the Iraq war has been, at the very least it can be claimed that it was fought precisely to prevent the globe's most devastating weapons from landing in the hands of its most vile dictators. In contrast with the United States, Putin's Russia has been quite slow in offering its treasure, or the lives of its young men, in the pursuit of that end. In fact, when given the chance, it seems to have diplomatically given its consent. It is with that fact in mind that I suggest that Mr. Putin has not yet earned the right to lecture America on this crucial topic.

As if that unsolicited meddling were not enough, on Sunday, John Howard, Australia's big mouthed conservative prime minister had the audacity to suggest that a victory for the democratic party, and in particular Barack Obama, would be a victory, or in the very least an occasion to be celebrated, for Al Qaeda. He offered this comment, ostensibly, as a response to Mr. Obama's stated aim to relieve our troops of their duty in Iraq by the close of 2008. What Mr. Howard so grossly misunderstands is that it is America, and its elected leaders, who will decide when its sacrifice has become too much to endure. Australia has, currently, all of one thousand troops in Iraq, many of those in non combat zones. If the Australian PM so passionately believes that a troop withdrawal in Iraq would be a boon for Al Qaeda, then perhaps he is prepared to offer his country's own military in the place of ours. February, a short month not even half over, alone has seen the sacrifice of 36 more of our boys. It's worth mentioning that I can't recall the last Aussie casualty in mesopotamia: surely its been over a year. Which is to say, to John Howard, thankyou for your actionless punditry but we'll decide when enough is enough.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Daily Manna (2/9)

The Scandinavians reveal their superior genius to the world, again! (Kidding) Anyhow, the Norweigan government is funding an interesting project: a seed bank, comprised of the world's known agricultural crops, to be housed in a vault dug into the mountainside of a remote island near the north pole. The vault is designed to withstand all kinds of catastrophes, be they naturally occuring or manmande: asteroid impacts, a global nuclear war, ill effects from climate change, etc.


Check out these pictures of a capsule hotel in Japan. With the global trend toward urbanization (in 2006, for the first time ever, more than half the world's population lived in urban areas) these kennel-like lodgings may be the future of the world's great cities.


Thursday, February 8, 2007

Things to know about...

The Euston Manifesto.

Having searched high and low for a succinct, learned stating of the proper global, pro-democractic, humanist worldview, I believe I have arrived at it. The Euston Manifesto, assembled by a group of disenchanted leftist intellectuals in Britian, is an essay worth reading in its entirety. I struggled to find fault with a single principle espoused within it. It is notable, not just for its championing of oppressed peoples worldwide, but for its straightforward denouncement of anti-Americanism, a disturbingly prevalent theme in today's leftist literature. This is not a group where the comparison between an American President, and the world's worst totalitarian dictators, will go uncriticized. That's a distinction worth making again and again. And besides that, only when great, pluralist democracies like America are held up as the standard-bearers that they are, can they then be held to account. We enthusiastically signed on in support of the Euston Manifesto. Give it a look:


Daily Manna (2/8)

Another day brings another shining moment for the right wing: The American Enterprise Institute (an Orwellian name if there ever was one), a lobby group funded by ExxonMobil with close ties to the Bush administration, has been accused of foul play. Accusations maintain that the group solicited climate scientists with ten thousand dollar bribes, in hopes they would pen articles de-emphasizing the severity of global warming. We cannot afford to have science, our very last vestige of objectivity and transparency, tainted by the agendas of political interest groups. This is a shameful abuse of power by the short-sighted behemoth that is Big Oil in America. Let's hope a comprehensive investigation is in the works.


Dictator Watch! Good, if temporarily bad, news on this front: Things in North Korea and Zimbabwe, two of the worlds most disgusting, backwards, liberty-smothering dictatorships, have gone into steep decline. The quality of life, as reported in the New York Times, in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is plummeting, leading members of Mugabe's own party to shift their usually unquestioning support away from the "president for life". This is encouraging. In a similar sign of waning public patience, some 120 border guards defected into China from North Korea this past week. This is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, those border guards are responsible for containing the usual swell of would-be defectors: North Korean civilians that daily attempt to ilegally immigrate into China, to escape the barbaric conditions under Kim Jong Il. Secondly, Kim Jong Il is famous for coddling the military with cash and food, in effect bribing them to maintain his terror state. Thus, any sign of dissension among the ranks of soldiers there is encouraging, and is interpreted hopefully in the West as a sign his regime is crumbling. Godspeed to the glimmer of hope for freedom and representative government in those foul corners of the globe.