Wed, 08 Nov 2006


There. I've said it. In public. The N word. I must be a racist, right? Only racists say the "N" word. But why is "nigger" so powerful? Do racists create its power to shock? No. It doesn't shock them. Blacks have given this word its power. Blacks can take that power away. Read on.

From time to time, people accuse economists of being indifferent to the issue of power. For example, some people defend unions as being a natural reaction to the power of an employer over the employee. The employer can find another employee easier than the employee can find another job -- or so goes the theory. It is true that power always affects economic relationships, but it's not true that one class always has power over another. I try not to ignore power.

"Nigger" is a word of power, and I don't like that.

Let the word roll off your tongue lovingly. Nigger.

Say it again. Nigger. And again. Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger. Say it enough times so that it loses all ability to shock. Nigger. Nigger. And more, until it loses the ability even to offend. Nigger. Nigger. And more, until it has no meaning. Nigger. Nigger. What a funny little word is nigger! Who nigs, anyway, and what's wrong with nigging?

Quaker used to be an insult. Quaker, like in shaking in his boots. Like in coward. Mormon used to be an insult too. So did queer. So did dyke. The trouble with taking offense at nigger is that it empowers the user. It gives them a power to shock, to offend, to insult. It turns a word into a permanent edifice to racism. Taking ownership of an insult takes away power from the would-be insultor. It forces them to work, to create another insult. Yet it is of no avail, because the new insult can be stripped from them, by accepting it with love.

Learn to love nigger. Love is the only way to destroy the word's power.

UPDATE 11/9: I received email from H. Lewis Smith, the author of Bury that Sucka!. He objects to the black community's internal use of nigger as a friendly self reference, but when used by people outside of the community, it is an insult. I agree with him. If the power of the word is to be destroyed it can only be done through consistency. I think it can be best destroyed with a "Yes, I'm a nigger" attitude. It seems to me like he thinks that if black people stop using it, so will everyone else (see below). I disagree with him there. As long as there are racists, and as long as racists can offend by using it, the word will be used.

UPDATE 11/12: Lewis writes again to clarify: he wants blacks to stop using nigger because it's a form of self-loathing. He fully expects racists to continue using it regardless of what blacks do. In this, he and I are diametrically opposed. I think the solution is greater acceptance and self-identification among blacks (with the goal being to replace its pejorative meaning with a mundane one); he thinks the solution is rejection by blacks (who are, after all, the major user of the word these days -- it's not acceptable for whites to use it even in quotes. For example, St. Lawrence County is currently trying a white drug dealer for murder, and his attorney cautioned the jury that even though he might "use the N-word" that shouldn't prejudice them against him. When somebody on the jury said that they didn't know what the N-word was, he spelled it out for them, but still couldn't say it.)

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Everyone is against pollution. That means "stuff where the property owner doesn't want it." So it could be litter, or air pollution, or water pollution, or groundwater pollution. Nobody wants somebody else to pollute their property. Nobody

The problem is that pollution is difficult to control. How do you stop a factory from polluting the air when they're doing it from their property, and you have no contractual relationship with them? The economic term for this is "externality," because the effects of the factory are external to itself and its customers. The standard answer is "Well, you just pass a law."

The problem with a government solution is that government itself is difficult to control. Voting is the ultimate externality. The majority inflicts its will on a minority.

Using government to solve pollution doesn't solve the problem; it just transforms it into a different problem. Perhaps the government solves the pollution problem, but then it creates other problems at the same time. If you could get it to not create those problems, it probably couldn't stop pollution either.

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Tue, 07 Nov 2006

Blood Donation Stupidity

Don't believe the Red Cross, or any other blood bank, when they claim that they have a shortage of blood donors. They don't. They have created a shortage of blood donors through unscientific policies. For example, I have travelled to India multiple times in the past year, and am headed off there again next week. I have to wait a year from the most recent donation. ONE YEAR. Even though I'm O-Negative blood, my blood could save somebody's life, and according to the paper below, we're saving 0.03 people from getting malaria. That's like three people per century!

Here's the abstract of an NIH paper published in 1991 (that's fifteen years ago):

  • Nahlen BL,
  • Lobel HO,
  • Cannon SE,
  • Campbell CC.

Malaria Branch, Centers for Disease Control, US Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia.

In the United States (US), travelers who have had malaria or who have taken antimalarial chemoprophylaxis are deferred as blood donors for 3 years to prevent transfusion-transmitted malaria. To assess the impact of shortening this 3-year exclusion period, national malaria surveillance data from 1972 to 1988 were reviewed. The average annual rate of transfusion-transmitted malaria is 0.25 cases per million units of blood collected. Of 45 reported cases, 38 percent were caused by Plasmodium malariae, 29 percent by P. falciparum, 24 percent by P. vivax, and 9 percent by P. ovale. Thirty-two donors were implicated in 34 cases of transfusion-transmitted malaria. Of 30 implicated donors whose native country was identified, 23 (77%) were foreign nationals and 7 (23%) were from the US. In a review of all imported malaria cases by species and by interval between date of entry and onset of illness, 98 percent of P. falciparum, 86 percent of P. malariae, 76 percent of P. vivax, and 74 percent of P. ovale infections became symptomatic within 6 months of the patient's arrival in the US, regardless of the use of prophylaxis. Shortening to 6 months the donor exclusion period for US travelers to malarious areas would result in a minimum of 70,000 additional blood donors' being made available, with a maximum annual increase of 0.03 additional cases of transfusion-transmitted malaria. The potential benefit of bringing healthy travelers back into the donor pool after a shorter period of exclusion merits consideration by the blood banking industry.

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