“Walking Dead” Leadership And Israel’s Iran Nightmare

You call this "escapist entertainment?"

You call this “escapist entertainment?”

For some reason, last night’s “mid-season finale” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” caused me to think about what lies ahead in Iran-US-Israel relations. Can’t imagine what that reason is….

In this cataclysmic episode of the zombie apocalypse drama, the psychopathic character called “the Governor,” full of bloodlust and vengefulness and determined to press his conviction that the group of competing survivors “led” by Rick Grimes has no legal right to exist, confronted the alleged good guys’ leader in the abandoned prison they call home with an army, a tank and a demand that they surrender their shelter or die. Rick, who has repeatedly shown a flat learning curve in basic leadership skills and has already gotten many people killed by trusting the Governor rather than taking him out, despite ample evidence that the Guv is exactly as trustworthy as Vlad the Impaler or, say, Iran, engaged this murderous madman in a full-bore, Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” plea.

It was futile, of course, and only some lucky turns (an unlikely escape by the one individual who could turn the tide here, a well-aimed hand grenade there, and an unexpected rescue by sure-shot, gun-toting little girls elsewhere) prevented a bloody slaughter with the Governor’s objectives fully realized. Our feckless hero Rick, however, was obviously not willing to do what he had to do to prevent the carnage of an attack, and was going to depend on hope, passiveness and a refusal to be proactive to keep a proven predator at bay. Yet his approval percentage with his core constituency inexplicably still hovers in the 90s.

Ironically, Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt chose today to assemble his time-line of President Obama’s Rick-like handling of Syria, which you can read here. (Hiatt is a card-carrying liberal Democrat, like the rest of the Post’s editorial board.)

I wonder if they show “The Walking Dead” in Israel? It’s scary enough here, but I bet, given our President’s leadership similarities to Rick Grimes, it would be absolutely terrifying there.


“Walking Dead” Ethics: Hypocrisy, Substance Abuse And Survival

"The Walking Dead"...as always, providing abundant ethical dilemmas to chew on...

“The Walking Dead”…as always, providing abundant ethical dilemmas to chew on…

If you can stand the periodic spectacle of shambling, rotting flesh and heads being lopped off or split down the middle, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” still provides the most daring and interesting ethics storylines available on television.

The latest episode, titled “Indifference,” raised two gutsy issues that are unpopular in today’s culture to the point of taboo. It was revealed that Carol, previously the simpering and tragic mother of the now dead, zombified and executed little girl Sophia, has morphed into a stone-cold pragmatic survivalist who advocates killing on instinct when the threat is sufficiently severe. In addition to teaching methods of mayhem to the children entrusted to her instruction in the grim, abandoned penitentiary where our heroes have fortified themselves against the roaming zombie hoards, Carol summarily executed two members of the community who were fatally ill with a pernicious virus on the grounds that they threatened the safety of the rest. For this, Rick, the sheriff-turned farmer alleged leader of the non-zombies, orders her out of the prison.

Strange. In a world without doctors, medicine and hospitals, where the objective is simply to survive long enough for some remote miracle to rescue humanity, a runaway virus is as much of a threat as a maniac with a hatchet. Rick and the rest have long ago accepted the necessity of killing members of their group who are bitten by zombies, since they are certain to “turn”after death and start indiscriminately eating people. True, the preferred method is to withhold execution until the second after the living become undead after becoming unliving, but this is a distinction without a difference. Carol is quite right that a breathing, doomed, virus-carrier is as much of a threat to the group—perhaps more—as a newly-minted brain-muncher. Why is her strong action in defense of the group, a defensible utilitarian act, reason for exile? Continue reading

“Walking Dead” Ethics: The Worst Leader Ever

Follow this leader at your peril...

Follow this leader at your peril…

The Walking Dead’s” resolution of the ethical dilemma facing Rick Grimes—give up a member of his group to be tortured by a deranged sadist, on the basis of a dubious promise by said deranged sadist not to attack Rick’s group with a superior force if he receives the sacrificed member as his torture-toy, or resolve to fight said superior force despite the likelihood of defeat—was consistent with what we know of Rick as a leader from past episodes. He is hopeless. With this crucial decision, however, he forged new ground in fecklessness, stupidity and incompetence even for him:

  • He made the wrong decision, deciding to turn over the sword-weilding Machonne as the Governor demanded;
  • He did not tell his group what his decision was;
  • He confided in the most untrustworthy member of the group, the cynical, homicidal Merle, because Rick knew he would have no compunction with executing such a twisted choice;
  • After doing so, Rick changed his mind, but not before Merle, being certain that Rick couldn’t follow through on his decision, went ahead and subdued Machonne on his own and began transporting her back to the Governor’s lair for the trade.

In the end, Machonne wasn’t handed over to the Governor, and Merle ended up dead, but that’s irrelevant here. “The Walking Dead,’ in addition to being a handy primer on how ethics evolves when civilization collapses and zombies outnumber human beings, is a tutorial on leadership do’s and don’ts. Sheriff Rick, who has been the leader of the central band of survivors from the start, is the George Constanza of leadership: to be successful, do the opposite of what Rick would do. Continue reading

“The Walking Dead” Ethics: The Toughest Leadership Dilemma Of All

“Michonne, you’re gone..these are words that Rick choke upon, my Michonne…

“Michonne, you’re gone..these are words that Rick should choke upon, my Michonne…

In the absence of “Homeland,” currently waiting for Claire Danes to get back in shape after becoming a mom, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is the best ethics show on TV. Apocalypse ethics is instructive and fascinating, because it addresses ethical problems as they were originally considered, before laws, before enforcement methods, and before organized morality. The objective is survival and continuation of the tribe and the species, without abandoning all semblance of humanity.

Yesterday’s episode built to an ethical dilemma of major consequence; naturally, some reviewers thought this was boring. Rick, the former sheriff leading the (mostly) good guys through the zombie-filled wilderness that was once the United States, is trying to protect the group’s refuge, an abandoned prison, from the imminent attack of a larger, better-armed commune run by a deranged psycho who calls himself “the Governor.” A former member of Rick’s group who now consorts (cough!) with the Governor (and who has been rightly condemned as an idiot for doing so, since she either knows or should know that he has the basic instincts of Vlad the Impaler), attempts a mediation to avoid bloodshed, and Rick and the Governor meet to parley. Continue reading

The Inconvenient Truth About The Second Amendment and Freedom: The Deaths Are Worth It

carl-with-a-gun-The shocking murder-suicide of of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher has once again unleashed the predictable rants against America’s “culture of guns” and renewed calls for tougher firearms laws. Yes, reasonable restrictions on firearms sales make sense, and the ready availability of guns to the unhinged, criminal and crazy in so many communities is indefensible. Nevertheless, the cries for the banning of hand-guns that follow these periodic and inevitable tragedies are essentially attacks on core national values, and they need to be recognized as such, because the day America decides that its citizens should not have access to guns will also be the day that its core liberties will be in serious peril.

Here is Kansas City sportswriter Jason Whitlock, in the wake of Belcher’s demise:

“Our current gun culture ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it… If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

I don’t disagree with a single word of this. Yet everything Whitlock writes about guns can be also said about individual freedom itself. Continue reading

TV Ethics, Viewed From A Sickbed

This isn’t how I look. This guy looks BETTER than I look…

[ As regular readers here might have guessed, I am ill, and have been since Thanksgiving. I can barely read, can’t really research, and whatever appears below was composed in 10 minute increments with hours or days in between. I’m hoping to be catching up very soon. Thank you for your patience]

What do you do when any movement or exertion makes you cough your guts out, when you can’t sleep but have to rest, when your brain is so blurry from viruses and medication that you can’t even compose a blog post for three days? (Sorry.) If you are me, and I hope for your sake that you aren’t, you watch TV.

I got one jolt of legal ethics horror that I hadn’t remembered re-watching Kevin Costner’s “The Untouchables,” directed by Brian DePalma. In the movie’s climax, Al Capone’s trial on income tax evasion has come to a crisis point, as Elliot Ness (Costner) realizes that the jury has been bribed to acquit him. Despite documentation of that fact, the corrupt judge tells Costner that the trial will proceed, whereupon Costner extorts him to prompt “a change of heart.” Now the judge shocks the courtroom by announcing that he is trading juries with another trial next door. The new, un-bribed twelve will decide Capone’s fate.

This is, of course, beyond ridiculous. Adversary attorneys must be able to choose a jury in voir dire, where each potential juror is questioned. Trading juries just invalidates two trials. Even if they could trade juries, which they couldn’t, the Capone trial would obviously have to start all over again since the new jury wouldn’t know what was going on.

None of this occurs to Al Capone’s panicky lawyer, however, who, realizing that the jig is up, announces that “we” are changing “our” plea to “guilty.” Chaos reigns. Capone (Robert DeNiro) punches his lawyer in the face, and I don’t blame him one bit.  A lawyer can’t plead guilty against the wishes of his client! The judge couldn’t accept such a plea, and Capone wouldn’t be bound by it. This would be an embarrassing distortion of the justice system in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but for a movie based on historical figures and events to sink so low is unforgivable. (“Carrie” aside, Brian DePalma was a hack.) Continue reading

“Walking Dead” Ethics

American Movie Classics’ excellent, if harrowing, zombie apocalypse drama “the Walking Dead” finally raised the ethical issue looming like a zombie Woolly Mammoth over all zombie films: Is it ethical to kill zombies? Are they still human beings?

Nobody seriously disputes that killing a zombie who is about to eat you or your compatriots is self-defense, justifying deadly force. But what about the common practice in every George Romero-inspired zombie epic: shooting the shambling things (or the sprinting variety, as featured in the re-make of “Dawn of the Dead”) on sight—in the head, naturally? Is it murder? Euthanasia?

The issue was raised in this Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” as it was revealed that the prickly doctor who presides over the remote farm where our zombie-fleeing heroes are currently taking refuge keeps a batch of captive “walkers,” including his rotting wife, locked in a barn. He feeds them chickens, which are presumably finger-lickin’ good. The doctor regards zombie killing as an atrocity, the equivalent of killing a sick person. “They are humans,” he says. Continue reading