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ideas have consequences

You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Let's All Sing 419 Verses of Happy Birthday Nigeria
Saturday, 01 October 2011 10:28

Let's All Sing 419 Verses of Happy Birthday Nigeria

Written by Peter J Reilly
Nigeria Nigeria

Tomorrow is Nigerian Interdependence Day.

It has actually already started as Nigeria is on GMT, but as I have mentioned in several posts, I am extremely parochial and as I write this in North Oxford, Massachusetts (GMT – 5)  it is not even 22:00 on September 30.  Nonetheless bloggers in Nigeria and elsewhere have started posting 419 Reasons to like Nigeria.  The coordinating force is  They provided me with something to post, but the Forbes guidelines require that I put original material up and you can find their release plenty of other places, like here.  Plus I would screw up the graphics, anyway.  And I already posted my 419 reasons.

Now has been around for a while so the idea of having a bunch of bloggers post 419 reasons to like Nigeria is not really that innovative.  Still you might wonder who came up with that specific idea.  Well, as it happens, that would be me.  Here is where I suggested it.  See if you can find anything earlier.  So how does this idea come from a parochial, untravelled American tax blogger, who is entierly of Irish descent?  Well it started out with me apologizing to Nigeria.

Blame it on Bernie Madoff

In the aftermath of the Madoff debacle, I found myself doing research on theft losses.  There was one case that really struck me at the time – Curis H. Muncie 18 TC 849.  Dr. Muncie had been taken to the cleaners by some Mexicans with a story about a fellow imprisoned in Mexico who needed his help recovering $375,000 in a trunk in New Orleans.  Dr. Muncie ended up being bilked out of about $9,000 which he wanted to claim as a theft loss.  He won the case, but the thing that really struck me about the case was a comment by the judge:

The petitioner was the victim of the ancient “Spanish prisoner” swindle and under the laws of Mexico, Mexican Penal Code, sections 386 and 387, dealing with fraud, the facts set forth above constitute a theft of the petitioner’s money.

The case stuck with me and when I thoughtlessly insulted Nigeria, I realized that is what I could use it to apologize. I came up with the rather pithy phrase “Fraud has no nationality.”  Now as noted in some other places I am not the first person to remark on the similarlity of the advance fee scams to the classic Spanish prisoner fraud.  And I have even read that the derivation of the advance fee scam might have nothing to do with the Spanish prisoner or possibly like the synopitc gospels they might both derive from some even more ancient common source.  Nonetheless Nigerians have been suffering from the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

Fallacy of the Undistibuted Middle

One of the best illustrations of the fallacy of the undistributed middle in our culture is the example of Italians and the Mafia.  According to Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather – (and I was assured by several people that I delivered Tony Genaro’s deliscious bread to in Fairview NJ it was quite a reliable source) Italian descent is an absolute requirement for Mafia membership.  Accepting that premise some people will go onto think that any Italian they meet, particularly a successful businessman must be part of the Mafia.  That is the fallacy of the undistributed middle which has the form:

The fallacy of the undistributed middle takes the following form:

All Zs are Bs

Y is a B

Therefore, Y is a Z

It is a nasty perniscious thing.  Now it happens in the case of Italians in America that it is mitigated by many positive associations.  The bread alone, particularly Genaro’s, although Scala’s was also pretty good, would motivate residents of Fairview NJ to love Italy, regardless of their ancestry.  In the case of Nigeria, though, at least in my parochial circles, the advance fee scam is the only thing associated in people’s minds with Nigeria.  Also I should note that in the case of Nigeria and advance fee fraud, even the first premise is not true.

The Moral

Bloggers should pay attention to the comments they get particularly the critical ones.  When the commenters are right and you are wrong, be quick to admit it and apologize.  It worked for me anyway.

Peter J ReillyPeter J Reilly is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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