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The Federalist Diaries


The Eleventh Commandment, Part 4:
Should We Ask Mel Brooks?

Семь раз отме́рь, оди́н отре́жь.

Translation from Russian:  Measure seven times, cut once. 

           We have stated the eleventh commandment, “We shall not pass judgment or take action without confirming the information which has incited or attracted us”, and we have suggested that the best means for most of us to follow this commandment would be if each of us joined a group which came together regularly, enjoyably, to put this commandment into practice.

            But is the eleventh commandment much ado about nothing?  Even if we formed our group of family or close friends and met once a week for coffee and conversation, would the benefit to be gained justify the expenditure of time and dime?

            Let us look to the November, 2006, elections in California, when a proposition on the ballot would have greatly increased the tax on cigarettes.  The proposition was defeated by well-crafted propaganda on television.  I recall two key arguments by opponents:  (1) only ten percent of the tax money would go toward reducing cigarette smoking and (2) there were special interests behind the proposition.  I wonder whether, if we had followed the eleventh commandment, the proposition would have prevailed at the polls, because we would have learned that (1) tax money not spent on reducing smoking would have gone into children’s program and keeping emergency rooms open [have we forgotten that the number of emergency rooms has decreased over the past decade?] and (2) the special interests—the supposed villains—were no other than the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, either of whom I would invite to dinner.

Another example is closer to home.  Months ago, a woman came to the paralegal office where I worked.  She needed help, because she owed money to a finance company.  Why could she not pay?  She had received a letter from some outfit in Canada saying that she had won substantially in a lottery.  She was to submit a processing fee before she cashed the check enclosed with the congratulatory letter.  She submitted the fee to the Canadian outfit and, with her “winning check”, financed the purchase of a car.  To her most unpleasant surprise, the check bounced.  And was the outfit in Canada anywhere to be found?  Of course not.  Was the finance company about to forgive her the failure to pay?    Nothing in the law of which I knew said that the company would have to forgive her failure to pay.

            There was a different kind of scam last week, when the municipal police department put out a crime alert by telephone, about people who allegedly needed help cashing lottery winnings, because they were undocumented immigrants.  They would steal money from the elderly through the scam.  Were the criminals caught?  Not if the police had to put out a crime alert.

            And there was the example from the Internet, mentioned in the online community lesson entitled “Who Is Playing Poker with Your Life?”, from the January 18 issue of E-News, available at 

So, the list of reasons for the eleventh commandment can be rather long.  Worrisome.  Frightening.  Enraging.

            An important point is that if we let ourselves be fooled, there is little, if any, recourse, to set things right.  Will our state hold a multi-million dollar election because the opponents to the proposition lied?  Of course not.  Will the police or some government agency devote scarce resources to chasing cunning criminals when bigger problems like murders and drugs demand their attention?  Of course not.  Would it not be the height of arrogance or the depth of naïveté for us to expect otherwise?  Would it not be wise for us to avoid unpleasant surprises, by following the eleventh commandment—religiously and immediately?  Imagine how much more happy and secure our personal lives and community would be if we did so. 

February 1, 2007






























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