Cartoons are, by their nature, caricatures: they are oversimplified in order to make a forceful point and provoke debate. Editors know that one powerful cartoon can generate more furor than dozens of provocative articles, so they make a rough calculation: Will the cartoon generate light as well as heat? Will the publishing of it be, as St. Paul would put it, not only lawful but beneficial?
Did Flemming Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, make the wrong calculation in publishing cartoons that featured the Prophet Muhammad?
What should U.S. immigration policy be, given that half a million immigrants enter the U.S. illegally each year and the total number of undocumented residents in the country is about 11 million? For the far right, the answer is obvious: close the borders. This view is regularly touted on Fox News, where commentators decry the porousness of U.S. borders, argue for stepped-up policing—perhaps even a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border—and for a crackdown on those who employ or aid undocumented migrants. They imply that illegal immigrants must be sent home. Read the CENTURY editorial.
When a spiritual revival broke out at an evangelical college a few years ago, one faculty member was reported as saying that it would be wise to wait 25 years before assessing whether anything significant had happened. Such reservations are appropriate regarding the current fervor for political reform in Washington.
It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives? Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.
Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease specialist known for his work in Haiti, has been to Liberia and planned to go back again in the fight against Ebola. According to Farmer, the outbreak of Ebola is a symptom of a very poor and weak health-care system in the three West African countries where it is spreading. In Liberia there is one physician per 100,000 people, compared to 240 in the United States. The president of Liberia points out that the Dallas Cowboys stadium uses more electricity each year than her whole country. Vaccines and drugs don’t exist because Ebola’s victims are poor and—so far—not very numerous (London Review of Books, October 23).