Poor Judas

I don’t know how original this is, but it is a “shower thought” I had recently. Judas Iscariot is a very unfortunate character.

Judas’ life is a net loss. In Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, “It would be better for him if he had not been born.” And what exactly did Judas do to deserve a minus life? He identified Jesus for the soldiers of Caiaphas. I claim that this was not so bad.

1. What was the marginal harm of Judas’ action? Very little, if any. Having Judas identify Jesus was hardly the only way Caiaphas could have arrested him. Plenty of people knew who Jesus was; Caiaphas could simply have asked when Jesus was going to appear in public, and then had his guards attend and get a good look. (Why not then arrest Jesus on the spot? Because Caiaphas was afraid of a riot.) Or why even bother? Simply showing up and asking “Which one of you is the one who calls himself the Son of Man?” would have done the trick. Even if Jesus and his disciples had pulled a Spartacus, surely soldiers would have known how to deal with that. So it doesn’t seem like Judas contributed much to Jesus’ execution, because Jesus didn’t need to be betrayed in order to be executed.

2. Also, why did Jesus have to be executed? I understand that standard Christology mandates that he die, but why by execution? Why not lightning, asthma, a sudden allergy to Galilean fish, or an awesome-but-fatal miracle (along the lines of Samson)? None of these would have required anyone to betray Jesus, and Jesus would have been just as dead.

3. Speaking of “just as dead,” Jesus didn’t really die. I mean, sure, he died. But not the way people die. He was only gone for the weekend–”temporarily inconvenienced for your sins,” as I read once. People who go into comas endure far more “death” than Jesus. My point is that Jesus’ death wasn’t all that bad for Jesus, which should mean that Judas’ betrayal wasn’t all that bad either. (Yes, Jesus suffered a lot prior to dying. But if the suffering was all that bad, then why couldn’t God have had Jesus executed in another way, like John the Baptist was? That would have killed Jesus just as effectively and would have spared Judas the guilt of turning Jesus over to torture.)

4. Even if Jesus did have to be executed, and it had to happen through betrayal, that just shows how crucial Judas was to God’s celestial plan for the universe. As I understand it, the redemption of humanity through Jesus’ death and resurrection is the primary story of history (according to Christians). If it could not have happened without Judas’ kiss on Jesus’ cheek, then it hardly seems just to inflict on Judas suffering severe enough to compensate for a lifetime of earthly existence.

Perhaps I have overlooked some detail, or am missing the big picture. If so, do enlighten me. But for now, it really seems that according to the Gospels, God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his ultimate project than by creating a special minus human whose express role was to point out the identity of a well-known contemporary figure, and then get punished forever.

“Why don’t you just write a check?”

Twice now I have heard American liberals criticize a certain argument. This disturbs me, because it’s an argument I like and which I find persuasive. I encountered the criticism most recently in a YouTube video of a conversation between Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane. (Here’s a link to the video–about 45 seconds, starting at 7:30.)  I’ll describe the argument and the criticism of it, why I think the argument is persuasive, and where Maher and MacFarlane go wrong.

The argument is implicit in a dialogue like the following:

Wealthy Person: The government needs more money, so it should raise taxes.

Wisecracker: If you think the government needs more money, why don’t you just write a check?

The idea is that if Wealthy Person really thinks the government needs more money, she is free to donate it. And since Wealthy Person (in all likelihood) isn’t actually donating money to the government, Wisecracker concludes that Wealthy Person doesn’t actually think the government needs more money, or has ulterior motives for her remark, or somesuch unpleasant conclusion.

Maher and MacFarlane criticize Wiscracker’s conclusion. Their criticism is that even if Wealthy Person donates money, it won’t be enough–the government will still need lots of money. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense for Wealthy Person to donate.

This criticism relies on a mistaken view of public finance. To see why, recall that the budget situation isn’t a binary choice between “The purse is empty” and “All programs are fully funded.” Instead, it is a gradient between zero funding and full funding. A million donated dollars don’t sit useless until the rest of the required revenue comes in. It immediately pays for a million dollars worth of government activity.

(Note: It is possible that a million dollars would not pay for anything at all, because literally everything in the budget cost more than a million dollars. But this is clearly not the case under normal circumstances, and even if it were, something like an assurance contract–think Kickstarter–would solve this problem.)

We could also look at this from a cost/benefit perspective. What is the marginal benefit of my million dollars, when donated to the government? What is the marginal cost? Consider the following two cases.

Case 1: Tons of other wealthy people are donating–so many, in fact, that our donations will eliminate the deficit.

Case 2: I’m the only one donating.

Under Case 1, my million dollars does a certain amount of benefit. Call it B. The donation also has a cost associated with it–namely, I’ll be out a million dollars. Call it C.

Under Case 2, the cost is still C. But what happens to the benefit? Is it the same as B, bigger, or smaller? The answer is that it’s bigger.

Why? It’s because, as Steven Landsburg points out with his trademark snark (tradesnark), because the first money to be donated goes to the most necessary programs. Thus if I am the only donor, my money pays for the most vital things, but if there are lots of other donors, then my donation will likely go to something less essential.

The surprising fact, then, is that the prospect of being the only donor should not discourage Wealthy Person from donating–it should encourage it, because the fewer other donors there are, the more good the a given donation will do.

Thus I find the question “Why don’t you just write a check?” to be an appropriate question.

Organs for sale–why not?

I like to think my opinions are unique; but then, everyone feels similarly, and I’m probably closer to typicality than I feel. However, on some issues I know I am an outlier. One such issue is organ markets. You see, I’m for ‘em.

I think it should be legal for people to sell their kidneys, and probably their livers, hearts, blood, bone marrow, corneas, and any other body part. And this opinion is, for now, very much a minority opinion.

Yet the case for legal organ markets is very straightforward. It is precisely the same as the case for legal pizza markets, legal housing markets, and legal paperclip markets, namely:

1. Lots of people want organs and are willing to pay money for them. These are buyers.

2. Lots of other people have organs they aren’t using (or which they know they will stop using) and are willing to give them up for money. These are sellers.

3. The amount of money the buyers are willing to pay exceeds the amount the sellers want.

In short, there would be gains from trade from an organ market.

There’s another, less common argument for organ markets–an argument that appeals to libertarians because it is built directly on the principle of self-ownership. That argument goes like this:

A. People own themselves.

B. This means they own their own organs.

C. People have the right to sell anything they own.

D. Therefore, they have the right to sell their organs.

So, why does anyone–or rather, practically everyone!–oppose legalized organ markets? Why are organs different from pizza, houses, paperclips, and other possessions?

A successful argument against organ markets has to make it clear why selling kidneys should be illegal, while selling a house or car should not. I have yet to hear an argument that meets this criterion. If you have one, do share.

(Of course, some people might think selling a house should be illegal too. If that’s you, fine; but then you are even more contrarian than I!)

(2013-11-01: minor edits for wording)

Conscription vs. slavery

It’s common for libertarian-minded people to decry conscription as slavery. However, for practical purposes, the two words “slavery” and “conscription” have not only different connotations, but different denotations as well.

But first a preliminary clarification. One could object to “conscription is slavery” in several ways, and three that come to mind are helpfully alliterative: strategy, substance, and semantics. A strategic objection would point out that libertarians shouldn’t borrow the brush of slavery (reeking as it does of images of the antebellum South) just to paint conscription ugly. To many people, this would seem like a trivialization of historical slavery. A substance-motivated objection would argue that slavery and conscription are in fact not on equal moral ground. In this post I offer neither of these two objections; instead, mine is but a semantic point: people mean different things by the words.

So why do some libertarians equate slavery and conscription? Here is Bryan Caplan:

Slavery is involuntary servitude; conscription is involuntary military servitude; therefore not only is conscription slavery; it’s a particularly heinous form of slavery that often ends in maiming and death.

Thus for Caplan, conscription is a form of slavery because any involuntary servitude is a form of slavery. Coyote Blog also thinks conscription is slavery:

I have a hard time seeing how anyone can deny that drafted soldiers are slaves of the state.

Robin Hanson agrees even more heartily:

It is hard to believe that one must argue this point. OF COURSE conscripts are slaves. Conscription may be a good form of slavery – I for one do not accept a moral axiom that slavery must always be bad. But surely it is slavery.

Judging by the comments on Caplan’s blog, there is resistance to the inclusion of conscription under the umbrella of slavery. Caplan, Coyote, and Hanson each attempt to figure out the reason people don’t accept it.

For Caplan, the reason seems to be connotation: “slave” connotes low status, whereas “soldier” does not. Therefore, a soldier cannot be a slave (even if she serves involuntarily). Coyote and Hanson like this explanation. But Hanson then edits his post to give a different–but still connotational–theory: “slavery” is bad in itself. And if conscription is good, then it is not slavery. 

I think this is confused. The reason people think slavery and conscription are different lies not only in connotations, but in denotations as well. Specifically, “slavery” does not refer merely to involuntary servitude. It refers to the treatment of humans as property. For example, slaves don’t just work for free or else; they are traded like livestock or land. Conscripts are not.1 Moreover, a slave can become free only if her master manumits her; she is forever the property of her “owner” until her owner decides otherwise. Not so for conscription, which typically involves a limited, pre-announced term of service. The point is that both of these are characteristics of property, not of human beings–even draftees.

So “slavery” and “conscription” differ in denotation, because slaves and conscripts have different sets of rights. If conscripts could be bought and sold, and were stuck in the military for life unless freed, then I would agree that the difference between the terms had not denotational basis. But since conscripts typically cannot and are not, I do not.

Don’t get me wrong. I think conscription is immoral, and one of the reasons is that it is highly coercive. (It’s also highly inefficient in most cases.) But it’s not slavery. It’s similar, because they both involve forced labor. But that similarity isn’t enough to say one is a form of the other.

Interestingly, Caplan cites a dictionary to make his point, but that definition specifies that slaves are property. Yet Caplan makes no further mention of property in his post.

One last point: Robin Hanson brings up comfort women (who are called “sex slaves“) and suggests that if their circumstances had resembled conscripts’ more, then we would still call them slaves:

Would they not be slaves they were paid, served only for a limited time, could own property and vote, could not be bought or sold, and were seen by the Japanese public as serving their benefit and evoking positive emotions?

The implication is that conscripts must be slaves. But while I see his point, I think his argument fails, because his thought experiment is not imaginable. That is, I admit that when I introspect, I answer Hanson’s question with “Yes, they would be slaves.” But it’s not a good thought experiment, because it’s too hard to imagine all of those alterations while still keeping anything resembling the mental image of comfort women. In other words, the experiment is tainted by the prior postulation that we’re talking about comfort women.

In a similar vein, Eliezer Yudkowsky has complained that the conventional explanation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is flawed, because it’s too hard to get participants in experiments to be truly selfish. Key graf:

We fixate instinctively on the (C, C) outcome and search for ways to argue that it should be the mutual decision:  “How can we ensure mutual cooperation?” is the instinctive thought.  Not “How can I trick the other player into playing C while I play D for the maximum payoff?”

My point, then, is that by priming readers with images of comfort women, Hanson has biased readers in favor of the view that they would remain slaves even they were a lot like conscripts.

I suppose a researcher could test my claim. She could describe slave conditions, conscript conditions, and comfort-women conditions–but not give enough details for subjects to know the status of the people, and tabooing charged words like “slave,” “conscript,” and “comfort women”–and later see how easily subjects associate the conditions with the charged terms. If subjects generally interchanged the terms, then it would strongly support Caplan’s (and Hanson’s) claims that “slavery” and “conscription” differ only connotationally.

How necessary is government?

At the end of my previous post, I asked how necessary government was. It’s a hard question to answer, because there have been so few experiments in anarchic societies, and none on a large scale. (This very absence, of course, is evidence for the necessity of government.) The examples people point to–medieval Iceland, Somalia, Zomia, Spain in the early 20th century and through the civil war–are interesting, but not very illuminating. Medieval Iceland had a small population and was pre-industrial; its applicability to modern societies is therefore dubious. Somalia is not actually free of government; it just lacks a government that commands nationwide authority. Zomia is large, but still poorly understood (at least by me!). The anarchists in Spain remained anarchists for far less than a single generation.

So we need more experiments, and I think we will have them. That is one reason I am excited about the future. The Internet is a great decentralizor (the disturbing lack of privacy nothwithstanding); Paul Romer and his charter cities idea may soon get real-world traction; liberalism and dissent in China are expressed with a refreshing boldness (though not yet with the impunity they deserve), and libertarianism in the United States is more popular than ever.

Why oppose governments?

The answer is simple: because governments specialize in taking property by force, killing, and kidnapping, and these activities are all wrong.

Of course, there are still things to be said in governments’ favor, like:

1. Governments don’t only do these things. They also do helpful things.

2. Governments are not all the same; some governments are much nicer than others.

3. Even more pertinent than (2): We know some ways to improve governments, to reach nicer forms from not-so-nice ones.

4. Governments aren’t the only institutions/groups that rob, kill, and kidnap.

5. However bad governments are, the total absence of government would be even worse.

I accept (1), (2), (3), and (4); (5) is probably true as well, though I am less sure of it than I am of the others. So, given these 5 defenses of government (or at least mitigating considerations), why should people still oppose government? For the same reason people should oppose terrorists. After all, four out of the five above claims apply perfectly well to terrorists:

1. Terrorists do helpful things. For example, they can help resist oppressors, fight for independence, and bring attention to injustice.

2. Not all terrorists are equally evil. Many terrorist organizations try to avoid bombing occupied buildings, or they send out warnings before their attacks.

3. There are ways to coax terrorist organizations into nicer behavior, e.g., by enforcing harsher penalties and swifter, more severe retaliation for nastier behavior.

4. Terrorists are not alone in their acts. Military and paramilitary units commit similar crimes, as do non-political criminals.

Thus we are left with (5), which we can rephrase as the “necessary evil” principle:

Governments are evil, but they are a necessary evil.

In other words, according to the principle, it’s true that governments are bad, but we should still be grateful for them. Without a government, society would collapse, crime would be unbearable, we would live in a Hobbsean “war of all against all”…life would not be very pleasant. With governments, on the other hand, at least we have a shot at a decent existence.

So, how necessary is government?

Chase the signal

Most things worth having don’t require payment. Leisure, family, and honest friendship are all cheap, or at least come in cheap flavors. And then there’s the Internet, access to which is increasingly affordable and convenient.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one thing that above-average wealth alone can buy, and that’s high social esteem. Of course, people don’t buy it directly; they get it by buying the right houses, watches, clothes, and cars; taking the right vacations, attending the right schools, owning the right phones; staying in the right hotels, appreciating the right art in the right way, and savoring the right foods. (And they do all of this without ever making a fuss about it, like it’s perfectly natural; appearing as though one were trying to obtain social status is a surefire way to fail. In fact, people are so good at concealing their social motives, they often succeed in convincing themselves that, say, the reason they want Shoe Brand XYZ is that it’s “comfortable” or “durable.” Think of it as zen elitism–if you aim consciously at the goal, you will fail. Only by concentrating on a different target can you succeed.)

And you can be sure that money is the only way to get it. It has to be. If owning BMWs gets you respect, and the price of BMWs then plummets, you can bet that owning a BMW will stop being an effective way to get respect; it will be time for a Porsche instead. The reason is that all of these goods are not just means of transportation, housing, time-telling, education, or nourishment. They are signals–in this case, signals of affluence. If they weren’t expensive, people wouldn’t have to be rich to get them; and if the non-rich could get them as easily as the rich, then owning them wouldn’t be a very good way to show off one’s wealth, now would it? The bottom line is that high social esteem requires a certain underhanded nonchalant showing off, which in turn requires wealth.

Don’t get me wrong. High social status is nice; other things being equal, I wish I had more. But it is highly overrated for two reasons.

First, the things one must give up or risk in order to obtain high social status are more valuable than most people recognize. The pursuit of high status jeopardizes the enjoyment of a large number of other goods. I’ve already mentioned them in broad terms: leisure, family, friendship, and the inexpensive stream of stimulation that is the Web. But it’s worth elaborating. Taking in the view from a hilltop is breathtaking and requires no money down. Immersing oneself in a book of poetry is free or very cheap. A meal with family or friends is cheap too. Spirited conversation, a convivial atmosphere, intellectual engagement, observing constellations, a recorded performance of Beethoven, Mahler, Alicia Keys, or the Wu-Tang Clan–these cost almost nothing, and are extraordinarily rewarding. Yet chasing wealth-based status threatens every one of them. One reason is that chasing status takes a great deal of time and energy. Another reason is that those who covet a higher social rung will feel pressured to “upgrade” their tastes to something more respectable. Your favorite beer had better not be Budweiser; your favorite view should be from somewhere exotic; your favorite pursuits should be vaguely aristocratic; your hang-outs should not be in random parks. Your education had better not be merely interesting to you, for then it might be boring to people you’d like to impress. (And it certainly had better not be merely practical, for that is a sure sign of having to rely on work to make a living. But that’s a different topic.) Thus seeking high social status is a serious threat to pleasure.

Second, elite status is less valuable than most people recognize. It consists of the respect of others, and is thus nothing but an artifact of other people’s minds. And what kind of people are we talking about? Why, the sort of people who respect others based wealth, of course! The same superficial people who care only about material appearances. In other words, the sort of people who earn the derision and contempt of people everywhere. (Yes, there’s some of that in all of us; yet it is precisely from this side of us that wealth-signaling pleads for attention.) Seeking elite status then amounts to seeking the favor of people you yourself despise. Thus elite status is not particularly valuable.

Disclaimer: I don’t oppose the existence of money; its role in reducing transactions costs over human history has been fantastic. Nor do I have anything against wealth, or wealthy people, per se. I do, however, resent the social pressure to pursue more material wealth than I personally see a need for.

Slippery “we”

In politics, people talk in collective terms. “We” were attacked on 9/11, need to overhaul “our” immigration policy, mistreated indigenous peoples (a label which, evidently, doesn’t apply to everyone), and are failing to heed the lessons of Vietnam.

Obviously, most of us have never done any of these things.

Yet it is common practice, by pundits, bloggers, and nearly everyone else, to employ a first-person plural pronoun to designate a huge set of people, and then make a claim that is accurate of only a tiny subset of them. It is also common practice not to balk at this usage. When Andrea says, “We are bombing kids in Pakistan, we need to stop!”, and Bruno disagrees, what is Bruno likely to say? “Maybe some people are, but I’m not”? Hardly. He’ll probably defend the bombing on strategic grounds, or downplay the collateral damage from the bombing. Rare is the commentator who rejects the premise that he bears partial responsibility for the bombing.

In my own writing, speaking, and thinking, I try to avoid carelessly using “we,” and I appreciate writers who do the same. (David Henderson often points out gross abuses of the word.)

I’m not saying that using “we” in a political context is never legitimate. It’s perfectly fine when an American says, “We live in a democracy,” because Americans qua Americans do in fact live in a democracy (expats in authoritarian regimes excepted). In fact, it’s because America is a democracy that many people feel entitled to use “we” to blanket the entire population. The thinking, it seems, goes something like this:

1. Obama appointed some advisors, and he and they think it’s a good idea to order attacks on potential terrorists, even though the attacks might also kill innocent people.

2. Said officials order said attacks, and innocent people die, including kids in Pakistan.

3. 21.3% of Americans voted for Obama in 2012.

4. Ergo, we (all of us!) bomb kids in Pakistan.

The logic is impeccable. It’s particularly compelling if you did not vote for Obama, and it’s downright irresistible if one of the reasons you didn’t vote for him was his attitude toward drone warfare. You see, you have no choice:  you’re American, and Obama is the President, so whether you’re fer it or agin it, you’re in it.

But it’s not always negative. We went to the moon, after all, and we won a bunch of wars (you’re welcome, LaFayette). This raises a question. What happens when a partisan plays both sides of the we game? More concretely: Imagine a two-party system, dominated by Cons and Li’ers. Cons hate the government, and incessantly predict that every government project will end up costing billions more than promised, killing civilians, and irradiating the heartland. Li’ers want to mandate that all marriage be either same-sex or to an endangered species, and think the state should run everything.

The Li’ers hate death, especially death by gun. “We are letting innocent people die in our streets,” they say. A Li’er Senator proposes a gun buyback, which she says will make people safer. The Cons resist, claiming that the crime rate will rise after the policy is enacted. The Li’ers win, and a few years later it is clear that the crime rate has dropped. All the best stats indicate a clear causality–the gun buyback was a huge success! “We did it!” say the Li’ers.

But if “we” were letting innocents die on the streets before the policy was enacted, whether we favored the policy or not, surely the Cons can say the same thing and claim equal victory! Surely they can take credit for the lives saved by the buyback, even if every single one of them voted against the buyback. If blame for gun deaths sticks even if you push for a solid solution to the problem, then why can’t credit for safer streets stick too, even if you opposed the solution?

So my advice to partisans is: Take credit for everything good that happens, everywhere, even if you opposed it from the get-go! (Of course, you have to take the blame for all the bad, too, but you probably do that already.)

Dead Prez

Until recently, there was an opaque cloud in my cultural vision, behind which lay the boistrous world of rap music. Now, all that has changed: that world is slightly less obscured, by a marginally diminished and barely penetrable haze.

What is responsible for this leap in clarity? Only the best information available: recommendations from acquaintances, About.com’s list of 25 prominent hip-hop groups, and plenty of Wikipedia. Oh, and free access to all of this music, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee.

My process has been this:

(1) Ask (or search) for a recommended artist or group. This has turned up the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, De La Soul, Goodie Mob, Public Enemy, Nas, Jay-Z, Common, Immortal Technique, Busta Rhymes, and many others. I’d heard of some of these before, but others I had not.

(2) Obtain swathes of their songs, usually entire albums.

(3) Give them a listen or two. If I like them, fine; if not, delete.

The preliminary results are in. Stylistically, I like music that’s fast and lyrically intricate. Thematically, I dislike music about partying or misogyny, or that is obsessed with the music business itself; and I gravitate toward the political, even the disagreeably so. Hence my appreciation for Dead Prez.

I’d actually heard one of their songs about four years ago. We (about four of us) were sitting in the kitchen of a friend from work. She and I often talked politics; hers were more radical than mine, considerably further left, and usually better thought through. Music was playing in the background, and I could just make out some of the lyrics. I couldn’t be certain, but as I tried to listen carefully, I thought I picked up some lines about…wait, are they singing about welfare fraud? And petty embezzlement? I immediately asked that she play the song again. That’s right; the track I was hearing was Hell Yeah (Pimp the System).

But I didn’t look them up for years, or listen to any more of their music until my recent foray. Their style is simple, their production values low, and their lyrics confrontational–explosive, even. They don’t limit themselves to bemoaning the exploitativeness of the “system.” They go further, with tracks about practicing shooting, learning martial arts, and staying fit–all with a view toward being prepared for the coming revolution. Wolves (from Let’s Get Free, their first studio album)  is a recording of speech by Omali Yeshitela comparing crack addiction to a wolf licking a blade until it dies of blood loss, with the hunter who put the blade there being the metaphor’s counterpart for white imperialists.

Oh, and then there’s the cop-killing. A few of their tracks cavalierly depict the murder of police officers. This bothered me enough to merit a “delete” of those tracks.

Now, I’m under no illusions about the supposed sainthood of the thin blue line; a look through Radley Balko’s writings should disabuse anyone of that. But that doesn’t justify the stuff in I Have a Dream Too. A defender might reply that those cops are “part of the system” and therefore deserve their fate, but that is precisely the sort of collectivist reasoning that got everyone into the racism mess. Another defense could be that Dead Prez are advocating violent revolution after all, and this is just a part of it. But even if we take for granted that a violent revolution is desirable (it isn’t–link 1, link 2, link 3), and that killing people who haven’t personally done any wrong is justified, random terrorizing of the police is a bad idea. It’s not as though the police will give up on an area and leave; they are more likely to ask the government for more resources and legal power to do all the things that piss off wannabe revolutionaries and their fans in the first place. So revolutionary cop-killing is both immoral and imprudent.

Another song that bothers me is They Schools. It’s lyrically uninspired, and like “I Have a Dream Too” it its message is counterproductive. The point of the song seems to be that black people are justified in dropping out of school because schools teach submission to the system instead of useful knowledge and skills. Of course, schools do teach conformity and obedience, as well as a white-washed version of history; and a great deal of what they teach is of no practical value. However, dropping out is still a silly idea if your goal is independence.

My worry is that people will be inspired by Dead Prez to use political motives to rationalize behavior they already found appealing. “Man, I hate school. It seems so irrelevant to my life, &c. Hey, this song is cool…what, school is like a 12-step brainwash camp? That is so…convenient! Screw tomorrow’s homework; I’m going to roll myself some big ganja. [Later, to friends] Hey, guys, let’s go out to the woods tomorrow. (But what about class?) No, man! School is like a 12-step brainwash camp! To the woods!”

Cartoonish? Yes. But so is the original song.

Don’t get me wrong. Dead Prez has some seriously wholesome songs. So wholesome are they, in fact, that at first I thought they were ironic. Then I thought they were just pretentious. Now I kind of like them. I’m talking about Be Healthy (“lentil soup is mental fruit”), Discipline (“all things in moderation; plan your work, work your plan”), and Mind Sex (“share a moment with me, over herbal tea/take a walk verbally, and make a bond certainly”). Good stuff all.

And some of their political themes are easy for me to sympathize with, such as those bits that appear in Psychology and Propaganda.

But I still haven’t found anything as good as Hell Yeah (Pimp the System). Its speed and lyrical cleverness are unmatched, as far as I can tell, in the rest of their ouvre. Here’s hoping they outdo themselves soon.

News flash–lots of deaths today

In what appears to be an uncoordinated set of events, approximately 150,000 people have lost their lives today. Most of the victims appear to have been suffering from senescence at the time of death, and most died from rather mundane causes, though a few were clearly murdered.

The World Health Organization expects 150,000 more deaths tomorrow, and the next day, and daily through at least the end of the year.

So…watch out for that, I guess.