Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/6/2019: Fan Ethics, Hospital Ethics, Vandalism Ethics, And Diplomatic Immunity

Well, I woke up…

…and as my father was fond of saying, that should be enough. Of course, he adopted that philosophy during combat in World War II…

1. I have been asked, “With your beloved Red Sox out of the post-season, are you paying attention to the play-offs?” The answer is, “Oh, sure.” I’m not like Yankee fans, what my dad called “summer soldiers.” In fact, the post-season is a more enjoyable, less anxious, purer experience for a fan when his or her team is absent. I can just enjoy the beauty, suspense and constant surprises of baseball without being distracted by my emotions, conflicts of interest, and bias. Post-season baseball is the best of the game; when I am trying to introduce baseball to neophytes, this is the best time to do it. Yes, the dumbed-down broadcasting by the networks is annoying, but it’s always been that way. And yes, I still have some rooting biases: most of my friends  are Washington Nationals fans, do a piece of me is supporting them. I like underdogs, so the Twins, Rays, and every National League team but the Dodgers have my sympathies. The Yankees have had such a courageous, astounding season, winning over a hundred games despite having more significant injuries than any MLB team in history, that I even find myself rooting for them, because if any team deserves a championship, the 2019 New York Yankees do.

2. First, do no harm. Second, don’t be an asshole...This is incredible. Employees at a St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine  created a “wall of shame” where they displayed confidential medical records of disabled patients in 2016, the state Human Rights Commission has found.

The records posted on the wall concerned sexual activity, photos and descriptions of  body parts and bodily functions of patients. St. Mary’s told CNN that it is “fully committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.”

Gee, that’s comforting. How did this happen in the first place?

The Shame Wall was revealed as part of a harassment complaint. MyKayla McCann, an employee who had been treated at the hospital, said that the existence of the “wall of shame” constituted an “abusive environment” where hospital staff displayed open hostility to those with disabilities.

“Coworkers constructed a workplace display ridiculing patients with disabilities. [McCann] encountered the display every day as part of her regular environment, making harassment pervasive,” the investigation said. “The information posted on Shame Wall was intended to demean and humiliate and included supposed ‘jokes’ about the hospital’s physically and mentally disabled patients.”

One employee was fired and another was given a warning in response to the incident. It took the hospital  four months after McCann’s complaint to take the Shame Wall down, according to the report. How caring. How efficient.

3. This is an ironic urban ethics issue… In Phoenix, several street  murals have been defaced with graffiti. At Rise Distilling Company, for example,  the front of the building is now painted olive green. A month ago, it was decorated with colorful murals.” A group of artists had done last year for the holidays, Halloween and Christmas,” Matt Bingham, owner of Rise Distilling, said. “These guys spent hours out here, over the course of weeks….A lot of people really liked this stuff. It was all over social media.” Bingham said. “I got a message…from a guy asking if he could bring his girlfriend down to check out the murals…And I said, ‘Sorry man, you’re a day too late. They were defaced.'”

The murals weren’t commissioned, planned or paid for. They were graffiti too–artistic graffiti.  Some questions:

  • What kind of person intentionally destroys a street mural? What is the warped sub-species of human being who vandalizes art, creates internet viruses, and who generally derive pleasure from destroying or interfering with things people enjoy or need just for the hell of it?
  • What if these vandals painted over the mural with a better mural? Would their vandalism be OK then?
  • Let’s say Jackson Pollock came along and painted over this Phoenix mural..

with this (his 1952 work “Convergence”…

Would that be considered vandalism? How would decide if the new art was a civic improvement on the old art?

4. The diplomatic immunity problem. British citizen  Harry Dunn, 19, was killed in August in Northamptonshire, England.  The culprit was  a 42-year-old American woman who as driving on the wrong side of the road—easy to do when you’re an American driving in England, but still no excuse for killing someone. She has  reportedly invoked diplomatic immunity.

British police asked the US mission to waive her immunity, and the  US State Department says it gave UK request “careful attention at senior levels” before denying the request.

The teenager’s parents have called on the diplomat’s wife to return to the UK and be accountable. Diplomatic immunity is widely disliked and misunderstood by the public, because it embodies a true “necessary evil.” Thelegal immunity ensures diplomats have  safe passage in foreign countries and will not be vulnerable  to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country’s laws.

Modern diplomatic immunity became a standard feature of  international law in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), but the concept and custom is thousands of years old. An official’s home country can waive immunity, but  this tends to happen only when the individual has committed a serious crime unconnected with their diplomatic role, or has witnessed such a crime. Since this is the Trump administration, the State Department’s decision will naturally be cast as evil, but this incident sounds like an accident. If the woman was drinking, there would be a stronger case for calling this a “serious crime.”

You might think, as I initially did, that the woman’s ethical course would be to return to Great Britain and face the music However, individuals have no authority to waive their own immunity.

27 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/6/2019: Fan Ethics, Hospital Ethics, Vandalism Ethics, And Diplomatic Immunity

  1. 3. Oh for the days of my childhood when a wall could just be a wall. Respect for the property of others. A essential aspect of civilization.

    • Here in Austin, there’s a site that was a condo building project that ended up being abandoned. Most was demolished, but several walls were left behind. In 2011 it was opened as a “graffiti park”, where people could paint on the walls to their hearts’ content. It became a somewhat popular attraction.

      Fast forward a few years, and it was closed in 2018 to be knocked down and a new condo development built. A fence was recently placed around the property to keep people from painting on the walls of what was now a construction site. Unsurprisingly, the neighborhood around the site has seen an increase in graffiti, with idiots painting on other buildings, fences, utility poles, and even the street surface. What a totally unforeseeable consequence! But the city did put a post on its Facebook page, asking people to knock it off, so…problem solved?

  2. Why is diplomatic immunity a “necessary” evil, particularly in the broad way that it’s practiced? Couldn’t it be a little more specific, like easier passage through customs, authorities aren’t allowed to open certain documents in the diplomat’s possession…what purpose does it serve in letting the diplomat get away with virtually anything?

    • Some countries’ laws are so arbitrary and, dare I say, unreasonable that a diplomat would be crazy to set foot there without some kind of legal protection.

  3. Oh, sure, when Jackson Pollock throws paint a wall, he’s “an artist”, but when I throw paint at a wall, I’m “no longer welcome at the Home Depot.”

  4. 2. I hadn’t heard about this at all. I don’t understand how doctors, of all people, would make fun of disabled people, most of whom bear no responsibility for their injuries in the first place.

    3. I read about this one yesterday. The family is prevailing upon the President for “Justice for Harry”. What is justice, in this case? Nothing will bring back Harry. And if it truly was an accident, what does the family think constitutes justice for their dead loved one?

  5. I presume that driving on the wrong side of the road and killing someone would be manslaughter. Can she be tried under United States law or would she get away with it completely?
    Also would other countries refuse to let her in thus affecting her husbands career?

  6. 3. It would seem to me that it was wrong for the original artists to paint the wall, but moral luck was on their side and the owners appreciated it. Once the owners approved of it, there becomes no difference between something that was originally graffiti or something they placed there, so defacing it is once again unethical.

    This situation actually demonstrates an observation I have about moral luck: that with underlying ethical consideration the scales can be tilted, even if it’s still moral luck. That is, the origional (unethical) artists put thought into what the customers and owners might like (the golden rule) making it more likely that the unethical act would come out to the benefit of everyone. That may have misfired, but there was an ethical thumb on the luck scale at least.

    The people who defaced it seemingly had no such empathy, so their own act was doubly unethical and pratically certian to be recognized as such.

    It’s worth keeping in mind if you’re ever facing an Ethics Zugzwang or a situation where non-ethical considerations are overwhelming, or simply when proceeding with “a really futile and stupid gesture,” that going with the more ethical course of action still has potential benefits for everyone. That is: if you’re going to do something unethical, do it in the most ethical way possible.

  7. I’m rather suspicious of #2.

    The Maine Human Rights Commission has, since its inception, been little more than a coven of progressive busybodies. It has no legal authority; it can make recommendations, but MHRC’s real power lies in its ability to make a stink that gets swallowed hook, line and sinker by the (progressive, in case you wonder) Maine press. Typically, they do so once or twice a year.

    This article – – goes into a lot more detail over what actually happened than the CNN piecd. Far from being a “wall”, the article makes clear that unflattering descriptions were in fact on the back side of a cabinet door.

    Conspicuous in its absence from the article: we are left to wonder if the patients “outed” in this fashion were indeed identified by name. I frankly have a hard time believing they were – I view it far more likely that snippets from patient notes were posted without any direct way to link the description with a specific patient. Had such information been available, it’s highly unlikely that hospital administration would have let the “wall” remain in place much longer than thirty seconds after finding out about it, and heads would have rolled far sooner.

    Assuming I’m correct on these points, I WILL say that the activity was unethical and disrespectful. But the rest of this thing, particularly the involvement of the MHRC, strongly suggests to me that (ahem) someone is looking for a fat payout in a tort action – and that this story really doesn’t boil down to much more than that.

    • Oh, I assumed that the names of patients were omitted, but it doesn’t matter, does it? This wasn’t publicly posted, just posted in the employees’ area. As such it demonstrated hostile attitudes toward patients and an absence of professionalism.

  8. Graffiti is a crime, but there were at least well-known but unwritten rules in early hip hop culture about it. One of the most well-known was that you NEVER tag over someone’s piece (artwork.)

    This principle was so well-respected that muralists (authorized or not) were welcomed in large cities, where their work acted as a shield against tags. Here in the present day, (in Chula Vista at least,) little ignorant wannabe gangstas will occasionally put their ugly, goofy tags over someone’s mural anyway, making them disrespectful pigs even by criminal standards. I’m numb to scribbles on power boxes and walls, but I get steamed when I see them over someone’s art.

  9. So, I’m still rooting for my Astro’s. They’re 2-0 on the Rays. A win tomorrow moves them on. Unfortunately, they will, at some point, have to play the Yankees. In spite of finishing the season with a better percentage than the Yankees, I suspect the ‘Stro’s will have problems with them. And a World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers takes me back to grade school, where I thought the World Series was ALWAYS between the Yanks and the Bums.

    • The networks and MLB are rooting for Dodgers-Yankees, to be sure. I would expect the odds-makers to have an Astros-Yankee series even. NY’s pitching is still sketchy, and none of the NY starters has shutdown stuff like the Astros have in their first two slots. I’d say the Stros are better, but the Yanks are a Team of Destiny.

    • Definitely rooting for the Astros here as well.

      Back a couple decades ago, when the Yankees and Braves faced off in the World Series, I was forced to make some difficult choices. What I discovered was that on my list of MLB teams that I would root for, the Yankees came in at # 30. Over the years, they had taken every team that I cared about in the AL and stomped on them. Their positioning has not improved for me.

      As far as the Braves were concerned, they were a long-time rival of the Astros and seemed to be the team that always derailed Houston’s quest for the World Series, and I had them slotted in at #29. I’ve softened my view of the Braves since then, as they no longer compete with the Texas teams, and they’ve been through a stretch of being seriously pathetic.

      Regardless of any of that, I really enjoy watching the playoffs as much as I can.

  10. The teenager’s parents have called on the diplomat’s wife to return to the UK and be accountable. Diplomatic immunity is widely disliked and misunderstood by the public, because it embodies a true “necessary evil.” Thelegal immunity ensures diplomats have safe passage in foreign countries and will not be vulnerable to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country’s laws.

    Under the U.S. Constitution, she can be held accountable in the United States.

    The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;–to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;–to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;–to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party

    In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction.

    • Actually, Pollock intended the painting to be hung with the reverse side facing out. This is simply the canvas where he cleaned his brushes. He was painting a masterpiece along the lines of the Mona Lisa and had it faced to the wall when a visitor saw the back side with all of the random paint and really liked it.

      Pollock shrugged, framed the backside, and the rest is history.*

      *Yes, my facts are unlikely in the extreme. Prove me wrong from looking at the painting.

      • Sometimes we just accidentally stumble over a truth, or so I “gess so”:

        “Many is the artist that bought a used painting of nasty quality, flipped it (re-stretched it) , re-gessoed it and began painting anew.”

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