TODAY: Hurricane Sandy turns deadly, a moral crisis for The New York Times, a failed argument for medical marijuana, and the United Nations calls for decriminalizing prostitution and renaming it “sex work.” I discuss all these in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.
Forecasters and political figures had warned citizens of the Northeastern United States that Hurricane Sandy would be dangerous, and the storm exceeded their warnings. The storm slammed into Atlantic City, New Jersey and then brought devastation to a huge region. Much of lower Manhattan was flooded, the city’s historic subway suffered massive flooding, and the city was plunged into darkness. In such a situation, the loss of power is not merely an inconvenience, it can be a matter of life and death. Large cities require electrical power for essential services, and many buildings lost elevator service and security, along with the power. Over 6 million people were without power, and the restoration of power could take days or even weeks.
As of early this morning, officials estimated that at least 50 persons had died as a result of the massive storm. Meanwhile, the storm continued to push to the north and west, dropping an expected 2 to 3 feet of snow in states like West Virginia. Remnants of the storm are expected to continue to effect the region for at least another day.
As for relief and rescue operation, much will be required. Disaster relief teams, including those sent by the Southern Baptist Convention (second only to the American Red Cross in capacity) will be in the region as soon as they are permitted. In the meantime, residents of the area remain in need of prayer.
In the case of Hurricane Sandy, the reality was worse than the warnings. In that reality is a lesson for us all.
The New York Times maintained its print schedule, and yesterday’s edition of the paper included an unusual opinion column calling the paper’s own moral responsibility into question. At issue is the newspaper’s parent company’s hiring of Mark Thompson, formerly general director of the BBC, as its new CEO.
Columnist Joe Nocera explained the issue:
“Thompson is scheduled to start his new job on Nov. 12. His nameplate is already on his office door. He is getting to know Times employees. Yet, since early October, all anybody has asked about Thompson are those two most damning of questions: what did he know, and when did he know it?
The questions are being asked, of course, in the wake of an enormous sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the BBC. At its center is Jimmy Savile, who for three decades was one of the BBC’s best-known personalities, his television shows aimed at the teenage set. He has also been accused of being an incorrigible pedophile; the number of young girls he is said to have molested could run into the hundreds.”
Nocera noted that the paper now had its own moral crisis and a responsibility to determine what Thompson knew, and when he knew it. It was a brave column.
Next, with the legalization of marijuana an issue in several states, USA Today ran two editorial columns on the question, but neither article opposed the legalization of marijuana categorically.
The paper’s own editorial board called for legalizing medical marijuana, but their article undermined their own argument. Consider, for example, this portion of the editorial:
“Modern marijuana can be very powerful, potent enough to make it dangerous to drive or operate other machinery under the influence. Backers of legal pot wisely advocate tough penalties for driving while stoned, but do we really want to add another widely available drug to roads where alcohol already causes mayhem? And do we want to worry (more than we already do) that pilots or train engineers or others are high when they come to work? That would be more likely if pot were legal.”
The other column called for the full and unrestricted legalization of marijuana for adult users. I discuss the implications of that argument.
Finally, the United Nations has released a report calling for the decriminalization of prostitution, especially in Asia and the Pacific Rim. The report claims that the criminalizing of prostitution drives the business underground, increasing the risk of HIV transmission to those involved. Furthermore, the UN report called for changing the terminology. “Prostitute” is to be replaced with “sex worker” in order to remove what the report calls the “stigmatizing” of those in the business.
As I argue, this would accomplish very little, since “sex worker” would become as stigmatizing as “prostitute.” All this underlines what philosopher J. Budziszewski explains as the progression of moral change. A sin is openly discussed, then euphemized, and then accepted. “Adultery” becomes an “extra-marital affair,” and “prostitution” becomes “sex work.” Changing the name or word does not change the morality of the activity.