Thursday, May 22, 2014

419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians - Part 2 - Snooki is Not the Way

What the heck does this have to do with taxes ?

I find that original source tax material has relevance beyond taxation.  One of the things I look for in reading it is "matter for reflection".  In my last post  on this topic,I discussed the case that sent me down this path.  It is one of those situations where the wisdom of a tax court judge over 50 years ago sheds light on a current day problem.  The problems is that Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is being maligned for the actions of a relatively small number of people.  Now I know some dumb and gullible people, but I really don't think there are enough of them, with resources, to support an entire country by falling for stories of millions of dollars in a secret account somewhere that some stranger has picked you to be his partner in recovering.  

Furthermore, although I have no doubt there there must be people of great creativity in Nigeria, they were not required to create the scam.  It has been run by fraudsters for centuries and was once know as the "Spanish Prisoner" fraud.  That was the comment of the Tax Court judge on the case of a New York physician who had been taken to the cleaners by some Mexicans, who had to rely on snail-mail to run the scheme.  The decision which came down in 1952 is almost as old as I am.  I'm not knocking Mexicans here either.  

I actually have a certain guilty admiration for scammers particularly if they are creative.  It happens that probably the best one of all time was Portuguese.  Alves dos Reis convinced a British bank note company that he represented the Bank of Portugal and the company, which had the contract to print Portuguese escudos, printed money for him. Reis used the money to buy stock in the Bank of Portugal, which was the only authority that could prosecute a counterfeiter.  He got caught, but it is a great story.  Read the book, The Man Who Stole Portugal sometime.

The Project

Of the various response to my post Fraud Has No Nationality, the best was probably the video response by Chika Uwazie.  Ms. Uwazie suggested that what Nigeria needs is positive branding.  I couldn't agree more.  You will not break a negative stereotype by pointing out that it is the actions of a minority that is being projected on the whole group and that your group is not even the worst offender.  This may be true and accurate information, but repeating it can reinforce the stereotype since it maintains the association even though it is in the form of a denial. So my idea is for people to put lists on the internet of 419 reasons to like Nigeria and Nigerians and not even mention internet fraud.  That way when someone puts "Nigeria 419" in a search engine they will be swamped by positive images.

The Foolishness of Me Continuing

I am a very parochial person.  I only speak one language and live about 200 miles from where I grew up.  I have only taken one trip in my life that required a passport.  I have difficulty believing that there can be a part of the world with more natural beauty than New England or a city better than New York.  If I were a hobbit, there is no doubt that I would stay in the Shire.  My knowledge of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general is abysmal. 

 If you read the rest of this post and the next one and are upset that I haven't said anything useful, you have been warned.  Regardless, I have two ideas for positive branding as it relates to Americans, who are something of a parochial bunch.  The very name indicates it.  There are two continents.  North America and South America.  Part of one of them is the United States of America (I know there's more to it than that), but when we say Americans we mean the people of the United States of America, not Mexicans or Canadians, etc. It would be like Nigerians calling themselves Africans as if nobody else was.  It's the common usage, though, and I will continue it.

For What it is Worth

There are two main ways that I can think of (I'm sure that there are others) whereby Americans develop a fondness for other lands - not necessarily a desire to actually go there or anything, just a generalized good feeling about the land and its people.  The two that I have in mind are neighbors and history - American history.  History is what I will address in the next post, which will be the finale where I give my 419 reasons.  Neighbors is farily simple.  According to the infallible  source about 1,000,000 Nigerians have immigrated to the United States.  Americans will get to know Nigerians this way and some of them will develop the same fondness for Nigeria and Nigerians that a kid growing up in Fariview. NJ, regardless of his ancestry, would develop for Italy and Italians.  Three years of Saturdays helping Tony Genaro deliver Italian bread reinforced it, but just being in Fairview was enough.

I'm not sure what it is about, but it strikes me that people are less neighborly now than when I was a kid.  Sometimes, thoughts like that will send me down research paths that can distract me for days or longer.  Other times I paraphrase Leonard McCoy and say to myself "Dammit I'm a tax blogger, not a sociologist" and just move on. Also the neighbor thing can take a long time.  The one thing I will offer in this regard - and this is a joke by the way - is that if you meet an American and right away he brings up 419 send him to me and I will slap him for you.   I'll then ask him if he thinks all Italians are part of the Mafia.  If he says yes I will slap him again.  I will then ask him if thinks all Irish people are alcoholics.  If he says yes I will refer him to San Patricios Against Hunger.  On the spot he will write a check to a hunger fighting charity or - I don't have to tell you what I will do if he refuses.  I use the masculine pronoun deliberately as I would not slap a woman.

A Dangerous Way to Fight a Stereotype

I will address using history in my next post, but I thought I should mention one other way some people fight stereotypes, which I don't entirely approve.  As I mentioned I am very ignorant about Nigeria, so I don't know how knowledgeable you are apt to be about the USA.  Americans love our various ethnicities.  One of the tropes of World War II movies is the ethnic, though not racial, diversity of a random collection of American soldiers.  There is a comic book Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos which executes the trope very well going to the extra length of including an American of African descent.  On the other hand we are plagued by ethnic stereotypes.  The one that is closest to Nigerians and 419 is Italians and the Mafia.  There are ways in which the Mafia one is worse.  Most of us don't live in fear of being defrauded by someone who tells us there is trunk of gold in a locker in a bus terminal in Kansas City that he has the key to and he has picked us of all the people in the world to retrieve it and take a share of the proceeds.  We do fear other types of crime
At any rate what some people do is embrace the stereotype and defuse it with self-deprecating humor.  I don't recommend that course.  Probably the worst instance is the way Americans of Irish descent celebrate St. Patrick's Day by drinking to excess and encouraging all others to join them.  Some people of Italian descent will joke about the Mafia thing and imply that they are "connected".  The Mafia stereotype has faded a little bit and been replaced by another one that is expressed in a "reality" TV show called Jersey Shore.  This is an awful phenomenon as far as I can tell.  One of the cast named Snooki was paid $32,000 to speak at Rutgers University (The public university of the state of New Jersey).  Her advice to students was to "Study hard, but party harder"

Enough on what not to do.  The next post will discuss using history.

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