Sunday, December 28, 2008
Many people have made the truthful comment that our system of public education is failing our children, but I had never heard anyone take personal responsibility for that failure. Even though he has no more control over this system than any other taxpayer or citizen, I told him that I agreed with him, and, of course, felt that I was equally to blame.
Why is that? Because almost literally it is our school system, and if it is not working well it is our responsibility to make it right. Of course, the same thing is true regarding government projects in general.
We both went on to say that this failure has occurred “on our watch.” In other words, it is our generation that has allowed our schools to become such an expensive failure. Similarly we have also allowed our government to borrow and spend itself into such enormous debt. But our generation will not be harmed particularly by what we have done. We will be fine. Instead it will be our children and grandchildren that will have to pay for our poor stewardship. In other words, shame on us!
So what should we do? My friend suggested that we should look back over our nation’s history and determine what has made us strong. What are the values that have helped us to achieve our greatness? What were the choices we made that have worked, and how can we refocus upon our strengths?
That started me to thinking — always a dangerous thing for me to do. In my opinion, two basic things have contributed materially to the rugged individualism and work ethic that have made us strong.
Those things are individual freedoms, and justly and fairly regulated competition in the marketplace, and a system that always encourages people to earn the extra dollar. And the way we can best promote them is to ensure public safety, enforce property rights, public and private contracts, and civil liberties, and hold all individuals, partnerships, corporations and governments accountable for their actions.
Of course, this does not mean that we should go back to the jungle concept of the “survival of the fittest.” But it does mean, all importantly, that we will provide for those who cannot provide for themselves because we want to, and not because we have to. We will still make appropriate provisions for the disabled, the uneducated, and the downtrodden, etc., because that is the type of people we are.
But in essence, we must get back to the fundamental concept that we are the ones that are responsible for our country, not the government. Governments at all levels are simply bureaucracies that will almost always attempt to get larger and more controlling. And in so doing they will increasingly become more expensive and inflexible. Furthermore, it is not an exaggeration to say that governments are driven by two rules. The first is that government is never wrong. The second is that if there is by chance an exception to the first rule, government was at least trying to do the right thing, so it is still right.
But we as adults do not need such overbearing and extremely protective parents. Let government provide for such things as police and a military to keep us safe, and a policy and means to deal and negotiate with other countries. Let it also set up a system of justice for all, and of a stable currency.
And let it also be a last resort to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for those who are unable to provide for themselves.
But otherwise have government get out of the way for those who will provide goods, services and employment for the betterment of us all, just as it has in the past. Remember in this regard that countries are only as strong as their economies. Yes, the civilized world does in fact need government, but government does not create wealth. It only takes it and spends it. As such, it is a drain upon us all.
Similarly, we as adults do not need, or want, government to be in our bedrooms or otherwise to be interfering unnecessarily with our private lives. Our Founding Fathers took elaborate steps to create our Bill of Rights to protect us from intrusive government. But government has been hard at work ever since that time in trying to take our rights away from us. And the more it is successful in that effort, the more our country loses what has made it great. Why? Because the soul of our country is its freedoms. And those freedoms have historically made us the envy of most of the rest of the world.
Actually, when you stop to think about it, what we have discussed here are the classic conservative values of free enterprise, and the classic liberal values of rugged individualism and freedom from the intrusion of government. In other words, what we have described is a Libertarian.
So I propose these ideas to you as food for thought as we enter the New Year. Our country has in many regards lost its way by straying from the values, ideals and responsibilities that have made it great. But, once again, it is our government, and if it isn’t working well it is no one’s fault but our own. In other words, we should adapt our thinking and actions in all regards to the slogan: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”
And with that, I sincerely wish each of you a Happy New Year, along with the hope and expectation, with your personal involvement, of much more success in 2009 than we saw in 2008.
JAMES P. GRAY is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By JAMES P. GRAY
Updated: Saturday, December 20, 2008 6:43 PM PST
I had the good fortune to meet Anthony George Dodero — known to his friends as Tony — when I inquired about the possibility of writing these weekly columns. He was the editor in chief of the Daily Pilot, and he and Brady Rhoades, who was the managing editor, took me to breakfast to discuss the possibilities. Since that time they have both become my friends.
Tony is an American success story. Prior to his graduation in 1989 from the journalism school at Long Beach State, Tony became an intern at the Daily Pilot. His professional goal was to cover national politics, so when he was offered the opportunity to travel with the national press corps and cover part of the 1988 Dukakis presidential campaign, he jumped at it.
After graduation, Tony accepted a full-time position as a reporter with the Daily Pilot. At that time it was an independent paper with 16 reporters that provided full-time political, sports, business and national news, as well as local area news and events coverage in an area including Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach. He called this “the greatest job in the world.”
In 1991, since it was being squeezed by both the L.A. Times and the Orange County Register, the Daily Pilot changed its focus and became primarily a local paper for the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa area. In making that change, it tried to create a niche market and outdo its competitors in local coverage. The paper also reduced expenses by cutting out the Associated Press wire service, and reducing its staff down to five reporters.
When that happened, Tony moved to the Huntington Beach Independent. That turned out to be a great move because he was able to work under the direction of Bob Barker, who was a classic old-time reporter. Barker really knew how to get a story, and both taught Tony the ropes of being a good news reporter, and also “what the world was about.”
A few years thereafter, Tony accepted the “primo assignment” back at the Daily Pilot of covering City Hall in Newport Beach. With that he walked into a “gold mine” of stories, in that Newport Beach Chief of Police Art Campbell was being sued by several of his police officers, dispatchers and clerks for sexual harassment, and this provided a large amount of coverage for a full year. And with that exposure came a promotion to city editor.
So what does that mean? What is the hierarchy at a newspaper? For years I have heard these various positions mentioned, but have had almost no idea of what they actually meant. Well, the big boss at a newspaper is the publisher, who, in effect, is the chief executive. Usually that person is not a journalist, but instead deals with business matters, advertisers, labor issues, etc.
The editor in chief reports directly to the publisher and is basically considered to be the “mayor” of the newspaper. He or she is the head journalist and oversees the news operation and officially interacts with the public. But that person almost expressly stays out of the business part of the paper in order to ensure the paper’s integrity.
Why is that so important? Well if, for example, one of the paper’s large advertisers gets into trouble, there can be a tendency for that company to threaten to withdraw its advertising unless the paper “soft-peddles” the story. But in that case the publisher, who is the only one that deals with the advertiser, can rightfully say all of the coverage decisions are made by the editor in chief, and that is a completely separate division of the paper.
The person who oversees the day-to-day news operations of the paper is the managing editor. This is where the “rubber meets the road.” The managing editor decides what the main stories will be and where they will be placed, and also which stories will be the subject of more long-range news investigations.
Those who report to the managing editor are the city editor, who is the teacher or “coach” of the team, as well as the first one who edits the stories written by the reporters, the copy desk chief and the sports editor. Then there is the editorial staff, and they report directly to their middle managers.
The L.A. Times bought the Daily Pilot in 1993, and other local papers as well, with the idea of expanding their total circulation from 1 million up to 5 million. Soon, The Times had a network of 23 local newspapers from as far south as San Juan Capistrano to as far north as Ventura.
And the Daily Pilot was the model for this entire project. The goal was to be better at local community news reporting than the Orange County Register. To some degree, they were successful, because readership increased by 18%.
The problem was that the goal was to expand readership instead of turning a profit. So when The Times was sold to the Chicago Tribune, those bottom-line-oriented people saw that most of those newspapers were losing money. Not surprisingly, the new owner decided to shut many of them down.
This naturally resulted in massive layoffs, and many of those had to be enforced by Tony. He called the laying off of so many of his protégés and friends at the various papers the worst days of his life.
Unfortunately those layoffs have continued. And Tony Dodero, who has always been a star performer, was recently laid off by the Daily Pilot as well. So all of this goes to show that in these difficult financial times, losing a job can happen to anybody — and it has.
But, Tony, we wish you good luck, and I am sure that things will turn out fine.
JAMES P. GRAY is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Taiwanese author Chang Tsu once said “To a mind that is still, the whole world surrenders.” The best way to obtain a still mind is through meditation. But, although most of us have heard about it, what exactly is meditation?
It’s a complicated question. The best definition is that the art of meditation is the practice of learning to contemplate, ponder, focus and reflect on one’s thoughts, with the understanding that our thoughts ultimately influence our decisions. But true meditation is actually the opposite of thinking. Instead, through mental discipline, it transports the “thinking mind” into a deeper state of awareness.
Meditation is a part of many of the world’s great religions. This includes the rich Western history of St. Ignatius Loyola, with his Spiritual Exercises, meditations, prayers and other mental practices, and San Juan de la Cruz and Saint Teresa de Jesus, with their work about the soul looking for the perfect union with God. And it also includes the Eastern history with its inherent involvement with Hinduism and Buddhism.
But meditation is not innately religious. Mostly, the Eastern approaches have also been used in martial arts, psychotherapy and other forms of counseling. More importantly, millions around the world use it effectively in their private lives.
There are at least five major and different types of Eastern meditation techniques. One of them is Mantra Meditation, or a branch of it called Transcendental Meditation, which is what my wife regularly and I sporadically practice. This involves the conscious repetition with the eyes closed of a mantra or word that is chosen by an instructor and is gentle to the mind. The constant repetition of this mantra word facilitates the removal of other sounds and thoughts from the practitioner’s mind. But it is repeated silently and is not to be confused with a religious chant.
Trataka Meditation is accomplished by a steady gaze or concentration upon one particular object, such as an icon, a picture of a restful scene, or the flame of a candle. This is used by many religious systems, and it is also an established yoga technique that sometimes takes the practitioners to the highest level of meditation.
Chakra Meditation is often used for the development of the self; Vipassana Meditation seeks an insight or process of self-observation; and Raja Yoga Meditation elevates the practitioners to reach for a “oneness” that will allow them to give up all worldly pleasures and devote all of their energies to the spiritual awakening of fellow beings.
The non-religious and practical benefits of meditation are numerous. Many people find that setting aside 15 to 20 minutes a day silently to meditate allows them to switch off their worries, develop a detachment from the minutia of their everyday lives, and be better able to keep things in perspective.
Not only does the reflection of meditation bring an inner peace, but it also allows people to spend time with themselves and focus upon the present moment. It can also be used to reduce stress, control thoughts, improve concentration, spontaneity and creativity, and take people beyond simply being free of disease to a condition of obtaining a more peaceful existence. And many people go further and discover a truer life purpose.
Most people report that the beauty of meditation cannot be expressed in words; that it can only be experienced. But it does require instruction and perseverance. I have used it in attempts to gain insights for some of these columns, as well as in other areas that are important to me in my life.
Meditation is adaptable to teenagers as they negotiate their way into adulthood. In fact, it was used in violence- prone and racially charged Hunter’s Point Middle School in Southern San Francisco — for students and teachers alike. Grades went up, and violence and discipline problems went down.
It is also tailor-made for people who are incarcerated. What other people are facing so many frustrations about their lives with so few resources to deal with them and have so much idle time on their hands? Accordingly, this is a perfect opportunity for prisoners. And, when prisoners learn to meditate, their level of aggression toward each other and their guards has been found to go down. For those reasons, more prisons are now encouraging classes on meditation to be conducted in their facilities.
I am not really competent to take anyone beyond this elementary discussion. There are many postures for sitting and techniques for breathing, focusing and chanting during meditation that are well beyond my level of expertise. In fact, some advanced practitioners have disciplined their bodies so completely that they are actually able to breathe in through one nostril and breathe out through the other. But if you are interested in learning more about meditation, I recommend you use the Internet, the Yellow Pages, or even word of mouth to find a competent instructor who fits your needs.
Meditation is an inexpensive but multifaceted technique that does not compete with religious beliefs, but which can be used effectively to transport most of us into a restful alertness that can result in a fuller, calmer, and more insightful, productive, and meaningful life. Or to put it into a different perspective, think of it this way: Anything that has been around for more than 5,000 years must have something special going for it. Try it, and I think that you will agree.
JAMES P. GRAY is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe — the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts” (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his website at www.JudgeJimGray.com.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
IT’S A GRAY AREA: Grappling with mental illness - by Judge Jim Gray
Mental illness has been a part of the human experience for as long as mankind has walked the face of the earth. But within the last several years, medical and legal professionals have come a long way in understanding and being able to grapple successfully with these issues. In fact, there are some really good things that are happening in this area here in Orange County.
Today the largest mental health facility in most counties, including ours, is the local jail. This is mostly not intentional. But when mentally ill and often homeless people congregate and loiter in front of someone’s home or business playing their boom boxes too loudly, urinating in the flower beds or on the sidewalk, sleeping in doorways, or chasing people’s visitors and customers away, residents and business people have no recourse other than to call the police. On the first occasion the police usually take the offenders to a shelter or similar venue. If they keep returning, sometimes the police still drive these people to the city limits and tell them “not to come back.” It is illegal to do this, but it still happens. Otherwise, the police have no other viable choice than to take them to jail.
That is unfortunate because jail is not only the most expensive option, but also often inflicts untold damage upon these emotionally fragile people. But now when they are brought to jail in Orange County, they will be screened and, if the offenses are not particularly serious and they otherwise qualify, the mentally ill will be brought to the team at the Community Court.
Although Chief Justice George made the opening comments at the dedication ceremony at the new Community Court at 909 N. Main St. in Santa Ana on Friday, my dedicated and caring colleague Judge Wendy Lindley has been the leader behind this effort. She has gathered together people from the District Attorney’s Office, public defenders, Probation Department, Social Security, Health-care Agency, and Social Services, and they will work together to diagnose the problems of the homeless, mentally ill, and other people with a “dual diagnosis” of both mental disorders and illicit drug offenses who are generally “self-medicating” their symptoms. Then this team of professionals will pool their ideas and talents in putting together treatment plans backed by the powers of the courts, so that all of these defendants will have a chance to obtain and live at their highest performance level. This is a positive development that we can all be proud of! Thank you, Judge Lindley!
In addition, you should be aware of other resources in our county that are available to help with the problems of the mentally ill. If you need immediate help with a psychiatric emergency, you should call (714) 834-6900 and request assistance from the Centralized Assessment Team. Otherwise, if you need more generalized but non-emergency assistance, you should call Social Services’ Behavior Clinic at (714) 440-6767, or for dual-diagnosis patients you can call (714) 480-6660.
Studies show that only about one-third of the people with mental disorders in our country receive even “minimally adequate” care, and that percentage is far lower for those who are incarcerated or homeless. But it is not any more a crime to be mentally ill and need some psychotropic medication than it is to be diabetic and need insulin. It is often a chemical imbalance in a person’s brain that causes the problems, and medication can often be amazingly successful in helping people to live mostly normal lives.
That is not to say that there should not be safeguards to protect people from being forced unnecessarily to take psychotropic medications. Sometimes lazy medical doctors over-prescribe medications simply to keep their wards more “under control.” But in my years presiding over the Mental Health Calendar in the Superior Court, after hearing expert testimony and witnessing some truly unstable people, I have ordered that they take these medications, involuntarily if need be. And I have seen changes within seven to 10 days that were little short of amazing.
For example, the only time I have ever felt in physical danger as a judge was an occasion in which a man was testifying in my court in one of those hearings. And he was acting in such a truly bizarre and threatening fashion that I physically moved farther away from him. The experts said his records showed that he was a teaching tennis professional from another county who had stopped taking his “meds” while visiting relatives in Orange County. So I ordered that his medications be resumed, involuntarily if necessary.
Within about a week this man was back in my courtroom, and appeared to be perfectly fine. In his testimony he acknowledged that he had a mental disorder, and had forgotten to continue with his medications. And then once he had stopped, he fell into the mindset that he didn’t need them, and that led directly to his mental deterioration. But now that the meds were back in his system, things were fine, and we were joking about how I would never win Wimbledon, etc. And this instance was not at all unusual.
Without governmental and public support of programs like these, the mentally ill by default will hang out in public libraries, receive their medical treatment only in hospital emergency rooms, and be warehoused in county jails. So as you can see, ignoring mental health problems is much more expensive both in human as well as financial terms than addressing them directly. But we are doing pretty well here in Orange County, and I thought that you would like to know.
JAMES P. GRAY is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at http://www.judgejimgray.com/ or at his blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/
Monday, December 1, 2008
IT’S A GRAY AREA: Government belongs to us - by Judge Jim Gray 11/09/08
No matter how you approach the issue, when all is said and done, it’s our government, and if it is not working, it is our own fault. In today’s large and complicated world, that is a difficult mantra to accept — but we are “the People” mentioned in our Constitution, and there is no alternative than to accept this as our ultimate responsibility in our democratic republic. Fortunately, the good news is that if we persist, we will often be successful in achieving results.
In that regard, let me tell you a story. As some of you may recall, on Oct. 14, 2007, this column addressed the fact that when a person donated a minimum of $5,000 to the California Highway Patrol’s 11-99 Foundation, the donor was given both a license plate frame and an identification card about his or her membership — that (coincidentally) could be placed next to that person’s driver’s license.
Of course, the strong implication by being sent these items was that the donor would receive favorable treatment from the CHP out on the state’s highways. And I cited in the column some occasions in which that favorable treatment had actually been given.
After the column was published, I sent a copy of it to Commissioner Mike Brown of the CHP, along with a handwritten letter requesting him to investigate the situation, and hopefully cause the 11-99 Foundation to discontinue this practice. The reason for that request, of course, was that our system of justice in traffic court and everywhere else should be entirely free from even the appearance of any favoritism whatsoever.
I received no response to my letter. So a few months later in another column I reported to you that I had not received a response from Brown, and then sent him a second letter, this time accompanied by a copy of both of the columns. Again my letter was met only by silence.
But about four months thereafter I learned that the CHP had a new commissioner named Joe Farrow, so I sent a letter to him, along with an explanation of my request and a copy of both prior columns. Within three weeks, I received a telephone call from his secretary inviting me to have lunch with the new commissioner.
We had that lunch Oct. 21, and at that time Farrow told me he had personally investigated the matter, and concluded that there could indeed be the perception of favoritism in this area. So he had taken action in two ways.
First, he had issued a strong statement to all of his troops that they were not to be influenced by 11-99 Foundation membership in exercising their sound discretion about whether to issue traffic citations or anything else.
Second, he had met with the officials of the 11-99 Foundation and was successful in obtaining their promise to cease the distribution of the license plate frames and identification cards by this coming January. In addition, he had also instigated a movement to recall the license plate frames and ID cards that have already been issued.
This is government at its best, and that was the laudatory message I gave to Farrow. Responsive, responsible, professional and based upon integrity.
I also passed along to the commissioner that in my opinion the CHP was the most professional law enforcement agency in the state, and that I had initiated my request for change so that this deserved stellar reputation would not in any way be tarnished.
In addition, I told him that I felt so strongly about the goals of the 11-99 Foundation, which is to provide support for the widows and orphans of fallen CHP officers, that I wanted to make a donation to it on the spot. And I did, and was proud to do so.
Why am I writing about this experience? Because it demonstrates the fact that we can and do have an influence in our government — at all levels. In fact, if we are persistent, there is little that we cannot accomplish, at least in the long run.
Why? Because in government, like many other situations in life, familiarity does not breed contempt; it breeds access. Another way of saying this is that government is a “contact sport.” So all of us should make advocacy a regular part of our everyday lives. Our form of government depends upon it.
And in that regard, and as we have seen, persistence frequently pays off. Many elected officials have told me that when they receive individually written letters, they attach great significance and weight to them. In fact, they actually have a formula that for every personalized letter they receive, they feel that at least 35 other people in their district probably have the same views. So don’t be bashful about writing those letters.
Of course, your letters will have a great deal more chance of influencing elected officials if you actually can vote for those same officials. This means that a letter you send to your own member of Congress will be much more likely to have influence than a letter you might send to another member outside of your district. In sending that letter you will probably be wasting both your time and postage stamp.
But to take this a step further, if you can get together a group of 10 to 15 voters or more in your elected official’s district who are united and vocal about a certain issue, that would probably be so influential that the odds are overwhelming that the elected officials not only would respond to you, but they would even actually meet with you on the subject at a place of your choosing.
So that is the way we can obtain government at its best. Relationships are power and, whatever your issues are, you can and should turn your passions into that power. Why? Because if we do not have government at its best, we only have ourselves to blame.
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.
IT’S A GRAY AREA: A positive world revolution - by Judge Jim Gray 11/16/08
Recently while I was flying home from Houston, where I had been invited to speak about our nation’s failed drug policy, I had the good fortune to sit next to a Continental Airlines pilot who was going home to Ventura. And this interesting fellow had an idea that I want to pass along to you.
He suggested that our government offer a prize, or a “bounty,” for anyone who would develop a process or method that would be commercially viable to separate the hydrogen and oxygen elements from water. Then the pure hydrogen could be used as a fuel. Our government would pay anyone who would develop such a process $1 billion, or even $5 billion, and then we would donate the process to the public domain.
Imagine what would happen if something like this could be developed. I believe the more you think about it, the more you will agree that this would be one of the most profound and positive revolutions in the world since the invention of the printing press.
Of course, the separation of hydrogen and oxygen from water can be achieved now, but the cost prohibits it from being commercially viable at this point. Furthermore, it now takes more energy to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules than is gained by eventually burning the hydrogen.
But the implications from this discovery would be far-reaching and even earthshaking. It could furnish cheap and viable energy that would come from an inexhaustible source. It would burn cleanly, with the only waste product being water vapor. Hydrogen-burning automobiles and other vehicles would soon be commonplace, with inestimable benefits to the environment. Electricity could be generated from this source of power, which would greatly reduce, or over time even eliminate, our reliance upon the burning of coal, with all of the pollutants that come with that process. And the list would go on and on.
Also, and most importantly, this development could change the face of local and world politics forever. Our country would no longer be reliant upon governments in the Middle East and other corrupt and unsavory governments around the world for their oil. The present status quo seriously strengthens them and weakens us, but this would be forever changed. Further positive results would be both to increase funds available for world trade, which would tend to strengthen both wealthy and poor countries alike, and to allow us to support world civil liberties and rights for the downtrodden without having politically to kowtow to so many repressive despots.
Hydrogen-burning plants could be installed all around the world that would convert seawater into fresh water, and this could allow presently arid regions to raise crops to feed their own people. So this new process in itself could seriously reduce tensions in many countries of the world. In fact, it could even have some beneficial influence on the “tinderbox of the world,” which is Israel and Palestine. Another result would be the reduced competition for water between farmers and migrating fish, etc.
Furthermore, consider the effect this development would have upon our balance-of-payments problem, since we would no longer be exporting billions of dollars per year to the Middle East and elsewhere for oil. This could help our country’s economy and those of most other nations to explode into unheard of productivity.
Now, I agree that this suggestion does some violence to my Libertarian principles of a smaller and less-dominant government, as well as the principle of simply allowing the marketplace to devote the necessary capital to meritorious projects.
In most circumstances, rewards in the marketplace are sufficient to promote needed advances. (”Necessity is the Mother of invention.”) But so far, even though the discovery of such a process would indisputably bring untold wealth to the discoverer, this viable process still remains elusive. So our government’s offering a large incentive or bounty might just do the trick. And providing this process for free to the world would allow new further developments and products to be generated more quickly. So I think a compromise in my personal philosophy would be acceptable.
Will our government put such a plan into operation? Maybe so; maybe not. But a private Manhattan Project-style program to develop plentiful, inexpensive and clean-burning fuel would be one of the best things that our government could do with our money. So I think we should give it a try. What do you think?
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.
IT’S A GRAY AREA: No, it’s just the beginning - by Judge Jim Gray 11/23/08
Maybe some of you older types like me will remember watching the television police show “Dragnet,” starring Jack Webb. Then you might also recall that, after the crime was solved, they would tell us at the very end of the show that the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to a large number of years in state prison.
But, as my father used to say, that was not the end. In actuality, when you consider the big picture, it was really only the beginning. But in so many ways in our society, we do not look at or even consider the whole picture.
For example, in the matter of the perpetrators of those offenses, what is the rest of the story? What will happen to them while they are in prison, and what will they be like once they are eventually released? And incarceration is expensive.
Will the taxpayers get their money’s worth by keeping them locked up? What will happen to the perpetrators’ families and other dependents both during the time of incarceration, and afterward? Will the crime victims be better off? As we have seen in earlier columns, all of these are appropriate questions that are seldom even asked, much less answered.
That is not at all to say that people should not be put into prison, and sometimes for long periods of time. Far from it. We certainly need jails and prisons both as a deterrent and as a place for appropriate people to be removed from society for long periods of time. But we must also recognize that about 95% of the people who are sent to prison are eventually released. So we should also do our best to provide opportunities for those people to learn some skills that will reduce the chances that they will return to the antisocial conduct that put them behind bars in the first place.
In other words, in many ways we have to change our way of thinking, and we also have to change our approach.
So as a part of this shift of analysis, we must more fully consider who the people are that we are dealing with. For example, the largest mental-health facility in most counties is the local jail. Imagine the psychological damage that is daily being inflicted upon these mentally fragile people by incarcerating them for minor offenses. Fortunately, and as we will discuss in this column next week, our courts in Orange County are doing something really promising in this area.
But unfortunately, there is little political impetus in most places for the needs of the people who are incarcerated to be addressed so that they can begin to overcome or even address their problems. Wouldn’t it be better for everybody if those imprisoned could be assisted, as appropriate, with drug treatment, anger management, parenting skills, job skills, accurate medical information, and a focus upon intelligent decision-making? We should take an overall approach to this issue. Why? Because the actual goal of the criminal justice system is not to punish; it is instead to reduce crime and increase safety for everyone.
We should also take the long-run approach in many other matters as well. For example, in so many ways when we throw an item into the trash, we think that is the end of the story. But, once again, it really is only the beginning, because we must consider the entirety of the issue. Putting toxic or any other materials into landfills may be a temporary fix (out of sight, out of mind), but as we are now beginning to understand, it brings on many more long-range complications. So when we put something into a Dumpster, flush something down the toilet, or throw something out of our car window, that does not end the story. It really is only the beginning, because there are costs involved with the disposal of virtually everything. And as the old effective advertisement said: “Pay me now, or pay me later.”
And this has now grown to be a worldwide problem, because increasingly everything is connected. China and India are seeing this firsthand. And you may not be aware of this, but the air pollution that is generated in China is now being blown across the ocean here to California and beyond. In addition, places that used to accept our trash are no longer doing so. For example, for many years we shipped our nuclear waste to the deserts of Nevada and buried it there, but people in that state have now closed the door on that activity. And remember that barge of trash that kept being hauled from one country to another because no one would take it? Now more than ever all countries will be forced to confront their own long-run consumption, environmental, trash disposal and recycling issues.
Similarly, we need to adopt the same total approach with issues like education and healthcare. Receiving a diploma from an institution of higher learning is not the goal, it is actually just the beginning. The end goal is not the piece of paper, it is instead being able to learn and apply a skill, and also to comprehend and deal effectively with the complexities of our lives. In the same fashion, the goal of healthcare is not really to get over whatever ailment you happen to have at the moment. Instead the goal is to be healthy.
So in most areas, we as individuals must start taking a holistic or long range approach in our everyday lives, and even more so in government. This means that as voters we should generally be skeptical of candidates who speak mostly in sound bites. Why? Because life is much more complicated than that, and we should consider most simple approaches not as the end of the discussion, but as only the beginning.
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.
Addiction is a medical problem - by Judge Jim Gray 10/05/08
I was gratified to see that the editorial board of the Daily Pilot endorsed Proposition 5, which is the Non-Violent Offender’s Rehabilitation Act, with the headline “Prison is for drug dealers, not customers.”
They are right, and I commend them for their insight and sophistication.
As I have said in previous columns, it makes as much sense to me to put the gifted actor Robert Downey Jr. in jail for his cocaine addiction, and he certainly seems to have one, as it would to have put Betty Ford in jail for her addiction to alcohol.
Drug addictions are medical problems, and they are better addressed by health-care professionals than by policemen.
But if Robert Downey Jr., Betty Ford, or you or I drive a motor vehicle while impaired by any of these drugs, or engage in any other offense while under the influence, bring them to the criminal justice system.
What’s the difference?
Because now by their actions these people are putting our safety at risk. So the answer is to hold people accountable for what they do, but not for what they put into their bodies.
In my mind, most of the people who support Proposition 5 on the ballot this November agree with that fundamental concept.
Face it: You or I could come home any evening and drink 10 martinis and, if we are 21 or older, we would not be violating the law.
Obviously this would not be a healthy thing for us to do, but as long as we are not putting anyone else’s safety at risk, society wisely has left those problems to be addressed by drug education and treatment.
Why have we not done the same thing with regard to people who use other mind-altering and sometimes addictive substances?
Our great country now leads the world in the incarceration of its people.
And a large number of them are in custody only because they either possessed or were under the influence of some illicit drug.
In fact, a ridiculously high number of people are put back into custody only because they were found to have been possessing or using drugs while on parole.
That is an enormous waste of time, tax money and lives.
And it doesn’t begin to address the many families who are placed onto welfare or children into foster care because their parents and breadwinners are taken away for such things as smoking marijuana or using other drugs.
Proposition 5 will go a long way in giving us judges more discretion to place these people into treatment programs instead of jail. Honestly, they should not be in court or jail in the first place simply for the usage of drugs.
Former arch-conservative Republican Assemblyman Pat Nolan from Glendale used to favor putting lots of people in prison for all kinds of reasons until he was himself convicted of an election fraud and sentenced to prison.
But now he is quoted as saying that there are many too many people in prison who should not be there.
And then he goes on to say that “We should reserve our prison space for people we are afraid of, not people we’re mad at.”
Our jails and prisons are hugely expensive, and all are seriously overcrowded, so I suggest we listen to people like Nolan.
So who is opposed to Proposition 5?
Many good people who have been led to believe incarceration is the answer to these problems.
We all need to take it upon ourselves to spread the word that this approach simply doesn’t work.
Of course, people who are in the prison construction business, and people who are in the prison guard’s union are also against Proposition 5, but that opposition is logically governed by their own economic self-interest.
And I acknowledge that some of my fellow judges are also against Proposition 5 as well.
But for the most part they are still of the belief that drug abuse is a problem that should be first addressed by the police, and then the abusers should be forced into treatment after being placed into one of our drug courts.
So for various reasons they do not want to give up that power over non-violent offenders.
But since drug courts are really expensive to administer, wouldn’t it be better to spend these scarce resources on the drug-addicted people who are actually causing harm to others, and leave those who aren’t harming anybody else alone?
But there is another group that has formally expressed opposition that I hope will, upon reflection, reconsider its point of view. And that is the City Council of Newport Beach.
As best I understand it, the council members are fearful that if Proposition 5 passes then more non-violent drug offenders might possibly come to their city for treatment. I request them to look inward and see if they would really trade having people actually lose their liberty and be sent to prison on the off chance that they might otherwise wind up in a sober-living facility in Newport. That is not to say that there should not be a limit to the numbers of people in treatment in any particular location, but do they really feel that this is the right way to keep those numbers down?
So I encourage you to support Proposition 5. It provides additional funding and other resources for drug treatment. It will reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders in our jails and prisons, and it also give judges more discretion to “call the shots” in determining how these drug users should be handled. And, yes, it will reduce the penalties for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
But most importantly, it will also help judges and other health-care professionals to attack the disease of addiction head on, and thereby reduce crime and the expenses to the taxpayer. And along the way it will also allow us to devote more money and prosecutorial attention to address the actions of the violent offenders who are causing so much harm to us all.
IT’S A GRAY AREA: The subtle nuances words have - by Judge Jim Gray 10/18/08
Consider this: When we think, we really think only in words or something else that can be written, like musical notes, or mathematical or chemical equations. That means that if some people do not understand the shades of meaning between one word and another, they will be limited in their ability to understand concepts and options in everyday life.
Does this make any difference? I think it makes a great deal of difference. For example, I heard that there are more dialects in the world that have no difference in their languages between the words for “stranger” and for “enemy.” That means as a practical matter that anyone who is a stranger to those people is automatically their enemy. This in turn has probably resulted in lots of needless waste, fighting and lost opportunities.
Even people who do seemingly understand the shades of meaning among words often get too lazy in selecting the most appropriate one for their situation. For example, in my courtroom in many of what we call auto v. auto cases, most attorneys lazily fall back on the tired word “accident” to describe what occurred. But maybe this wasn’t really an accident. What if one of the drivers had been driving under the influence of alcohol or another mind-altering substance, or maybe were involved in some form of reckless driving? Then it could be concluded that this was not accidental, but intentional.
Think about it. What other words could a plaintiff’s attorney use instead of the word “accident” to set the tone for his attempt for a more serious recovery? How about the words “impact,” “collision,” “striking,” “careening into,” “slamming together” or “smash up”? Or from a defendant’s perspective in trying more to downplay the incident, the attorney could, when appropriate, use words like “bump,” “touching,” “grazing,” “coming together” or “coming into contact.”
Another example that everyone should be aware of is that there is a world of difference between the words “solve” and “resolve.” Most of us in the court system realize that you can only find “solutions” for things like mathematical equations. But problems involving human conduct mostly do not have solutions, only resolutions.
Therefore, when people lose an arm because of a defective piece of equipment, nothing can be done to “solve” that problem. Nothing will bring back their arms. All we can do is try to “resolve” the problem, usually by paying them some amount of money. Would most people prefer to forgo the payment and have their arm back? Absolutely yes. That would solve the problem, but that is simply not an option. So all we are left with is a proposed resolution.
The same thing is true regarding almost all other problems we encounter in our everyday lives. There are no solutions, as such. Only resolutions. But if people cannot understand the difference, or shades of meaning, between the two words, those people will unnecessarily submit themselves to extra pressure and frustrations by trying to solve an unsolvable problem.
The same analysis can be utilized for virtually any problem you may be involved with. People with a strong vocabulary understand more nuances, concepts and options. And those are the people who usually get ahead in life.
Look at the issue this way. If you can only discern the colors red, green, blue, yellow and black, you are going to be genuinely at a disadvantage when confronted by a person who, in addition to your colors, can also see, understand, appreciate and describe vermilion, turquoise, cobalt blue and magenta.
So do not lose the opportunity to work to increase your and your child’s vocabularies. This can be done by using vocabulary flash cards, playing word games like “Scrabble” or by simply going through the dictionary with your child, looking at a descriptive picture of a word, and trying to figure out what the word is.
In addition, parents should lose no opportunities to discuss with their children the shades of meaning among different words. (I use the word “among” instead of “between” because the latter compares only two objects, and the former compares more than two.) As another example, there is a difference between the phrase “Mary may climb a tree” and “Mary can climb a tree.” The first discusses permission, and the second discusses ability. There are similar nuances between the words “infer” and “imply,” “courtesy” and “respect” and taking a “risk” as opposed to a “gamble.”
A big distinction to be discussed with children for many reasons is the definition of what a “friend” is. Someone who encourages your child to ditch school, shoplift a CD from a store, smoke marijuana or speak disrespectfully to a teacher, parent, or anyone else is not a friend. Why? Because a friend has your child’s best interest at heart. So someone who would encourage such antisocial behavior may be an acquaintance, or former friend, but not actually a friend.
So we think in words. That means that people’s vocabularies limit or broaden their ability to understand and deal with the world around them. Therefore, a strong vocabulary will not only be helpful for your children on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or on the high school debate team, it will also make a significant difference in how successful they will be in business, their social relationships and almost anything else.
And besides, when it comes down to it, becoming aware of the shades of meaning among words is actually fun. Try it and you’ll see.
IT’S A GRAY AREA: Dear Mr. President - by James P. Gray 10/26/08
If you could have a dinner conversation with our next president, what would you want to discuss? I asked myself that question and, after some reflection, decided I would share the following thoughts with him.
Mr. President, all of us are naturally concerned about our economy, but we are optimistic at heart and know that eventually “This too shall pass.” But my deeper concern is that we will overreact to this financial crisis and stray from the economic framework that made us strong. That framework is based on the principles of the Free Market and the individual accountability that is inherently contained therein, as well as appropriate anti-trust laws and some regulating forces.
But please be mindful that government interference in the marketplace originally led to the problems we are facing. For example, the Savings and Loan Scandal was caused by the government’s FSLIC insuring bad loans, which meant that big mistakes and “oversights” would not result in big losses for the offenders. Why? Because the government could always be counted on to bail them out.
The same thing occurred with this present mortgage banking mess, which was made possible by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the government protections behind them. This situation shielded offenders from being forced to take responsibility for their own malfeasance. And this combined with multitudes of government “supervisors” who were lazy, sloppy and asleep at the switch to cause the problems.
So we don’t need more regulations. What we need is more diligence and accountability. So please guard against an overreaction to these recent problems and an over-correction that would take us to a more minute and all-encompassing bureaucracy, and a further suffocation of our entrepreneurial efforts.
Which, Mr. President, brings me to my next point. Please tell us that you will empower a nonpartisan agency like the General Accounting Office with sufficient investigative powers to supervise our government to detect small economic, ethical and human rights problems before they become large ones. Then mandate that organization to report its findings directly to you, and also to the news media. Being proactive instead of reactive in these areas will not only go a long way in ferreting out and blunting future problems, but also regenerate a faith and trust in government that has understandably been missing for decades.
Next, and all importantly, please tell Congress and the American people that you will veto all spending measures passed by Congress if they contain even one appropriation that you do not believe is appropriate, until such time as Congress delegates to you the power of the Line Item Veto. And then carry out that threat! This is one reform that President Reagan was unsuccessful in passing, but you can and must cause it to occur.
We now understand that, as a political reality, individual members of Congress are simply forced to show the voters back home that they are active in procuring federal funding for lots of pet projects in their districts. This was made abundantly clear when, even in the moment of dire economic crisis, members of Congress wouldn’t pass the so-called “bailout package” until they appropriated an extra $135 billion for their local projects. So let them continue to earn their “political points” back home by continuing this practice. You can be the “heavy” or the “bad guy” and veto this non-essential spending for the good of the country. Let Congress blame you - you can take it!
And then there is the difficult question of Iraq. Mr. President, I want to be clear. Before all of this happened, I took the public position that if we put ground troops in Iraq without the substantial assistance of the world community, it would be the biggest mistake of my lifetime. Nothing has happened since that time to change my mind. But we are now in Iraq, and we must address our present options and, for these purposes, put the past aside. So simply pulling out of Iraq at this point would for many reasons be another major mistake.
Instead, what we should do is two-fold. First, we should send as many private American contractors home as soon as we reasonably can. Then we should give their jobs to Iraqi contractors who should establish new contracts with and then be paid by the Iraqi government. Second, we should require the Iraqi government to pay a fairly small amount of money for each day that each American soldier remains on duty in that country.
That two-fold approach will accomplish three noteworthy benefits. First, it is a simple fact of life that people more appreciate and value the things that they pay for instead of the things that are given to them. Second, both economically and politically these small payments will encourage a reduction in our troops to the smallest levels that will still be sufficient to do the remaining tasks at hand. And third, of course, this will help in at least a small way with our balance of payments problems. Considering their resumed exportation of oil, the Iraqi government should be able to take on these financial obligations, and everyone, especially Iraq, will be better off if this occurs.
Thank you for your time, Mr. President. Regardless of the politics of this past election, all Americans wish you good health, wisdom and fortitude as you guide our fragile experiment in democracy forward for the next four years. And if you ever feel that there is anything I can do to help you in this effort, you can always count on me.
“JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY” by Judge Jim Gray 09/07/08
When I completed a draft of this column I forwarded it to several people for their comments, including a local rabbi friend of mine. I want to share his response with you. He said: “I would really like you to talk about the essence of what it is to be a Jew. In ‘Jew,’ J stands for Justice, e for education, and w for worship. Judaism is based on this life and its focus is helping his fellow man. Christianity’s focus is more on the self and of getting to Heaven. They are like two different sports: baseball and football. Jews often get upset when Christians see (Christianity) as the fulfillment of Judaism. Most Jews feel that the two religions emphasize different things. Like Jews have no concept of salvation or grace and emphasize obedience to Jewish law. There are many other differences too, like God has no body in Judaism and there is no concept of hell or the devil. I would like to discuss more about this with you in person.”
I am fully going to accept the rabbi’s invitation, and plan to meet with him for a discussion in about two weeks. I have also invited several classes at Vanguard University to join us. If you would like to meet with us as well, please contact me by e-mail message and I will give you the time and place.
Otherwise, I have learned that a Jew is not a race of people, because race is determined by genetics and cannot be changed. Instead it is defined as either a person whose mother was a Jew, or someone who has gone through the formal process of conversion to the religion of Judaism. But Jews do see themselves as a “family,” and trace their descent from the Israelites of the Bible, or from others who were exiled from Babylon in the 6th Century, BC.
There is no specific dogma or formal set of beliefs that a person must have to be a Jew. To the contrary, it is mostly a religion of “good acts,” where a person must earn God’s forgiveness and favor. Nevertheless, Jews have and treat as holy the teachings of the Torah, which is a divinely-inspired and hand-written parchment scroll that is so sacred that it is only kept in a synagogue, which is the Jewish house of worship.
To Orthodox Jews the Torah consists of only the first 5 books of the Old Testament. This is “the Law,” and it must be strictly followed in every respect. Conservative Jews generally believe that the laws and traditions must be interpreted based upon the times, except that most observe some form of dietary rules (kosher) and other traditional practices. Jews who are a part of the Reform / Liberal / Progressive Movements generally believe that people can choose which particular traditions to follow. And many non-orthodox Jews believe that the Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, which is “the Law,” as well as the next 8 books, which constitute “the Prophets,” as well as the last books, which constitute “the Writings.”
To this many Jews add the oral teachings of the Torah, which is the Talmud and other collections of writings about Jewish law and traditions. The Talmud contains the arguments, debates, agreements and disagreements of literally tens of thousands of Jewish scholars, who, over thousands of years, have studied each and every aspect of the biblical text in an attempt to distill the wisdom contained therein. One of the best known of these scholars is a 12th Century scholar named Rambam, who wrote the “13 Principles of Faith.”
This widely accepted document basically teaches that there is only one God, who is unique, eternal and incorporeal, which is to say that He is not a physical being; that prayer is to be directed to God alone and no other; that the words of the prophets are true, and Moses is the greatest of the prophets; that the Torah was given to Moses directly by God; that God knows the deeds as well as thoughts of human beings, and will reward the good and punish the wicked; and that the Messiah will come.
Of course in many significant ways the religion of Christianity evolved from Judaism, since Jesus Christ was a Jew. But Christians believe that Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God was sent down to earth by God to die for the sins of mankind. By this act, Christians would be forgiven, and could obtain everlasting life by giving themselves to Jesus.
Like Jews, Christians believe in only one God, but they describe God as “Three persons in One.” Therefore God is the Father and Creator; God also is Jesus; and God is also the Holy Spirit, whose being is present as guide, comforter, wisdom and sustainer.
Jesus on the cross unconditionally reaches out to everyone in an attempt to reconcile each person to God as well as to one another. The central theme that makes reconciliation possible is forgiveness. And when forgiveness is put into practice, it is life changing, and even world changing. Why? Because it can break the cycle of violence. At the same time, the contrary life of unforgiveness is a curse.
The three major historic divisions of Christianity are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, and those have many, many subdivisions. The beliefs and practices of Christians come from the Holy Bible, which is a divinely-inspired combination of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament), and Christian writings (or New Testament).
But Jesus as revealed in the Bible is understood by most Christians as fully divine, and also fully human. His divinity means that He is understood to part of “the Godhead,” which means that God is fully present. His humanity means that He was an historical figure who felt pain and joy. His teachings are given power by His willing death and His resurrection, which is a clear sign of God’s doing something new in the world. In fact, Jesus is often called “The New Adam” as a way of emphasizing the new beginning He signaled.
Most Christians believe that even though theirs is not a religion of “good acts,” “being Christian” also means that their faith should make a difference in their private as well as public lives. Some denominations go so far as to have lists of “dos and don’ts.” Others avoid lists, except for the Ten Commandments, and instead say to use the reason and intellect that God gave them to “be a little Christ” or to “follow the example of Christ.” Therefore, most Christians believe that their experience of God’s love means they should reflect that love to others through forgiveness and acts of charity and mercy - both individually and for society. This explains the many hospitals, orphanages and educational institutions that Christians have established.
“COMPARING THE WORLD’S GREAT RELIGIONS” by Judge Jim Gray 09/07/08
For a long time I have wanted to take a class about the comparative religions of the world, but it has never worked out. Nevertheless, and especially considering last week’s column about the dangerous situations all around the world due to the merging of church and state, I thought I would try to learn about and then discuss one or two of the world’s great religions in each of our upcoming columns for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, our public schools seem to have treated this fascinating and critical subject as taboo for many decades, but there is no logical reason for this situation to continue.
Please join me in this endeavor. Each day the world seems to become a smaller place, which means that all of our “neighbors” keep getting closer to us. So it would promote peace in the world for all of us to have a better understanding of each other’s religions, customs and points of view.
But as we begin, please understand that, although I will consult with knowledgeable people, I myself have no particular expertise or background in these subjects. That means I might at times misspeak or make other mistakes. Please do not take offense if I do, and please feel free to correct me. But if this will make us all a little less ignorant about our own and other people’s religions, it will be well worth the effort.
Of course, let us also not delude ourselves that simply by espousing universal education about each other’s religions, or engaging in interfaith dialogue we will somehow miraculously close the divide among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others. Throughout history, even a common religious background has not deterred significant difficulties among people of the same faith, such as Catholic and Protestant Christians, Orthodox and Reformed Jews, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims. But such efforts will at least allow us to focus upon real differences instead of false or even imagined ones.
Let us begin by making the point that each of the world’s great religions has similar values of peace, justice and respect for our parents and elders. Of course all of them are quite different from each other in many ways, but their basic values are similar. In addition, it is also true that each of the holy books of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths contain some “problematic” passages that can be interpreted as asserting superiority of its particular faith over all of the others.
For example, a passage in the Gospel of Mark in the Bible says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Similarly a verse from Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures says: “(O)f all the peoples of the earth the Lord your God chose you to be his treasured people.” And also chapter 5, verse 51 of the Koran says: “Anyone who takes (Jews and Christians) as an ally becomes one of them - God does not guide such wrongdoers.” As we have seen, some people in each of these religions have used their interpretations of these passages for their own radical ends.
But despite these problems, let us try to move toward a mindset of “respect” for the religions, values and beliefs of others, as long as they do not profess or condone violence or subjugation over others, as opposed to a “tolerance” for those beliefs. The former connotes that all people who worship sincerely in their communities are entitled to be respected. The latter basically implies that other people’s beliefs are really mistaken or even silly, but we who have the “true faith” will patronize and humor those people by allowing them to persist in their deluded conditions.
Actually, the seeds of these articles were planted when I heard Dr. John Huffman include in his sermon at St. Andrew’s Church in Newport Beach a reference to a book written by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett entitled “The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters.” So I decided that if this book had Dr. Huffman’s “seal of approval,” I would read it.
I did so, and thus discovered many things I did not know about my own protestant religion. This led to further reading adventures about other religions, which disclosed much additional interesting information. For example, Jews have between 4 and 7 “expressions” or denominations of their religion, depending upon how you count them. Moslems have a score or more, and Buddhists even a greater number. Hindus, Mormons, and other faith groups also have quite a few divisions as well.
But Christians take the cake. They have literally thousands of denominations or expressions around the world. In fact there are somewhere around 470 denominations in the United States alone. Generally, most Christians see this diversity as both good and bad. It is “good” in that it speaks to how many ways there are to approach God and to worship and follow Him, and it also allows for individual personality and cultural needs. It is “bad” in that it is can be confusing to others, and also because so many of the religious differences are over seemingly small issues. But to summarize, and to quote my own pastor, to talk about Christianity is to talk about differences.
So in the coming few weeks I invite you to join us in exploring the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions, as well as humanist and some other atheistic views of life. We will begin next week with an exploration of Judaism as well as Christianity, which I openly acknowledge as being my faith. And throughout these weeks to come, if you have a different good faith perspective about any of the religions we discuss, please feel free to share it with all of us on the Daily Pilot’s website.
“THE RELIGIONS OF ISLAM AND HINDUISM” by Judge Jim Gray 09/23/08
The response to the column about Judaism and Christianity was good, and many people requested to be informed about the time and date of our session in which I have invited my friend Rabbi Marc Rubenstein of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach to further discuss Judaism. That will be this coming Tuesday, September 23 at 5:00 pm in room 109 of Heath Hall at Vanguard University. Please join us.
So now continuing our short series about some of the world’s great religions, we turn our attention to the religions of Islam and Hinduism. The religion of Islam, which is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, is monotheistic, which is to say that there is only one God. And Islam, like Judaism, traces its roots to the prophet Abraham. Moses is believed to have descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, and Muhammad is believed to have descended from Abraham’s other son Ishmael. Consequently, due to lineage, one will find commonalities among Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The word “Islam” means “submission,” or total surrender of oneself to Allah, which is the Arabic word for God. A person who follows the Islamic religion is known as a Muslim, which means one who submits to God. Muslims believe that prophets were chosen by God, and those prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others. All of these prophets were human and not divine, though some were able to perform miracles to reinforce their claims.
Muslims strongly believe that God revealed his final message to the prophet Muhammad, who is so revered that when his name is spoken, it is almost always followed by the phrase “Peace be upon Him.” Muslims also believe that on numerous occasions during the period between 610 and the date of his death in 632 BCE, Muhammad received the Quran orally from God through the archangel Gabriel. Then Muhammad passed God’s words on to his companions who, in turn, wrote them down. Since these literally are considered to be the words of God, the Quran, which means “recitation,” is the central religious text of Islam.
Like Judaism but unlike Christianity, Islam is a religion that emphasizes faith combined with “good works” to earn God’s forgiveness and favor. Muslims follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which are: “There is but one God, and Muhammad is His messenger;” ritual prayer 3 or 5 times per day that is meant to focus people’s minds upon God; alms-giving; fasting during the month of Ramadan to encourage a feeling of nearness to God; and the Hajj, which is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage during a particular time of year to the City of Mecca, for those who are able.
After Muhammad’s death there was a political schism into Sunni and Shia that was caused by disagreements over who would succeed Muhammad in the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community. About 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, and 14 percent are Shia, and 1 percent other. But there are actually few theological differences between Sunnis and Shias. Unfortunately, today when people think of Islam, they often think of violence. This is, of course, a stereotype that disturbs the overwhelming majority of Muslims because they believe that Islam completely rejects violence against innocent civilians.
Hinduism is generally considered to be the oldest of the world’s religions, having its roots back to 1500 BCE. It does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, or a single system of morality, but instead has thousands of different religious groups, and it is the dominant religion of India and Nepal. The most sacred scriptures for Hindus are the Vedas, or “Books of Knowledge,” that were written in Sanskrit from about 1500 BCE to 100 CE.
There are some bedrock concepts on which most Hindus agree. For example, like the religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, Hindus believe there is only one, all-pervasive and Supreme Being. This is a “three-in-one” God known as Brahman, who is composed of Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver), and Shiva (the Destroyer). But contrary to Christianity, Brahman is not a faraway God in some remote heaven. Instead this Supreme Being is inside each and every soul, waiting to be discovered. This turns the focus of Hindus inward to their own soul for Brahman, which is the ultimate divine reality.
Hindus also worship the “wives” of Shiva, such as Kali, or one of Vishnu’s ten incarnations or “avators.” But this is only the beginning, because there are literally millions of Hindu gods and goddesses, with concurrent religious festivals and holy days.
Hindus also believe in Karma, which is the law of cause and effect by which all people create their own destiny by their thoughts, words and deeds. Thus both good and bad actions come back to people in the future, which helps them to learn life’s lessons and become better people. Therefore, with good Karma a person can be reborn into a higher caste. A fundamental tenet of this is to live with a minimum of “hurt” to other living beings, because all life is sacred. This means that peace and non-violence, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, are ingrained into the Hindu religion.
For Hindus the soul leaves the body at death, but does not die. Instead it will be reborn, or “reincarnated,” which is otherwise known as the “transmigration of souls.” Then after a soul evolves well enough spiritually, it can be released from the cycle of physical rebirth to an Enlightenment, which is attained by becoming in tune with the Brahman within. This condition is called Nirvana, and this is the ultimate goal of the Hindu.
BUDDHISM AND HUMANISM - by Judge Jim Gray 09/28/08
The Buddhist religion dates back to about 563 BCE with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, Northern India, which now is in Nepal. He was the son of a king, and in childhood was completely sheltered from the real world. But when he was eventually exposed to the miseries of the world, he also encountered a monk who had found peace through contemplation and the renunciation of material objects. Siddhartha was so impressed with that approach that at the age of 29 he renounced his crown and family and set out on a journey to seek the Truth.
After a lengthy period of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained Supreme Enlightenment. Thereafter as he worked to share his teachings with others he became known as the Buddha, or “the Enlightened One.”
The teachings of Buddha were not actually written down and finalized for about 500 years. Nevertheless, Buddhism slowly spread to numerous countries all over the world, and this resulted in the development of the religion. Today there are an estimated 350 million Buddhists in the world, with the largest concentration in China and Southeast Asia.
Buddha is not a god, and Buddhists do not believe in a god that is the creator of the universe. Instead, Buddha is the highest form of morality and the Supreme Teacher. Hence, the name Buddha is derived from “budh,” which means “to awaken and be aware or completely conscious of.”
Buddhism today is divided into large numbers of denominations, but most of these share a common set of fundamental beliefs. One of these is reincarnation, which is to say that people are reborn after dying, and this may be done repeatedly. Then after many cycles, if people release their attachment to desire and to the self, they can attain the state of liberation and freedom from suffering that is known as Nirvana.
Most Buddhists also believe in three trainings or practices that can lead to Nirvana. The first is Sila, which is virtue, good conduct and morality. This is in turn founded upon two principles: equality, which means that all living entitles are equal, and reciprocity, which is like the “Golden Rule” in Judaism and Christianity.
The second practice is Samadhi, which is concentration, meditation and mental development. Developing one’s mind is the path to wisdom, which in turn leads to personal freedom. The third practice is Prajna, which is discernment, insight, wisdom and enlightenment. This is the heart of Buddhism. Wisdom will emerge only when the mind is pure and clear.
There are also four “Noble Truths” that most Buddhists accept. They are Dukkha (Suffering exists. It is real and almost universal.); Samudaya (The cause of suffering is human failings, such as a desire for wealth, power, fame, sensual pleasures, etc.); Nirodha (There is an end to suffering when the mind reaches Nirvana, which is freedom, liberation and non-attachment.); and Magga (Following an 8-fold path of right understanding, thinking, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration).
So with the Buddhist cosmology, there are a variety of heavens and hells into which people may be born, but they are not forever. Therefore people can “fall” from a heaven, or “rise” from a hell, based upon their prayers (and other people praying for them) that repent for past transgressions and sincere vows not to repeat them, and an overarching respect for all life, which is shown by refraining from the killing of any living beings.
Humanism is more an ethic than a religion. It affirms each person’s ability and responsibility to lead meaningful and ethical lives that add to the greater good of humanity. It has its roots in ancient Greek culture (with its emphasis upon improving society), the Renaissance (for its advancement of science), the Enlightenment (with its concept of the separation of church and state), and 19th Century “freethought” (with its challenges to discrimination and advocacy of reform).
Most humanists do not believe in a supernatural power, but draw a clear distinction between belonging to a religion, on the one hand, and being “religious,” on the other. This leads humanists to explore the meaning and possibility of having a religion without having an actual god.
In his book “A Common Faith,” John Dewey described the humanist philosophy. He began by noting the “religious” attitudes that devotees had toward their religions. From this he argued that people could equally possess that religious attitude toward the ethics of most religions for the betterment of mankind, without ascribing to the dogma of any of those religions. In other words, Dewey tried to emancipate the religious experience from the religion itself.
Instead of a faith founded upon ideals guaranteed to exist by a supernatural authority, humanism is a moral faith founded upon ideals inherent in the natural relationship existing between man and his environment. And the higher purpose is to meet human needs in the here and now. In fact, most humanists believe it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. Ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world we live in rests with each of us.
We began this short series of columns on religions with a discussion about the critical importance of the separation of church and state. Then we discussed some of the world’s great religions in an attempt to learn from them, and grow from that learning. We now end the series by noting that governments could avoid many problems if they would adopt Humanism’s “religious” higher purpose to meet human needs in the here and now, instead of adopting the tenets of any particular religion. That was the approach adopted by our Founding Fathers when they said that there was a natural order of things, and that some “truths were self-evident,” and that approach should be re-emphasized and continued today.
“THE COSTS OF LITIGATION” by Judge Jim Gray 08/03/08
At the conclusion of most of my jury trials I tell the jurors that our system of justice is probably the most expensive, time-consuming and unwieldy that has ever been devised - but it is also the best. I also tell them that I hope they have received some gratification by contributing so substantially to it. By the end of their service the jurors almost universally agree with my assessment, and even say they look forward to further jury service in the future - although that feeling probably wears off soon for many of them.
But litigation is expensive. For openers, it costs $320 simply to file a civil lawsuit in California, and all defendants must also each pay a similar $320 appearance fee just for the privilege of appearing to defend themselves. Of course the primary cost to the litigants is for their attorneys, who sell their time, experience, wisdom, and information-gathering abilities. But there are also additional costs for paralegals, investigators, process servers, secretaries, electronic preparation and storage of documents and, of course, the “cottage industry” of expert witnesses.
For personal injury cases many attorneys will often “front” the costs of the suit for the plaintiffs, and not charge them anything for their services unless and until there is a recovery from the defendants. But when there is a recovery, the attorneys are reimbursed for their costs, and also receive anywhere from one-third to two-fifths of the proceeds. The public benefit from this is that the contingency fees system allows good cases to be pursued by plaintiffs who otherwise could not afford to do so.
So when you hear about “large jury awards” in personal injury cases, remember that the litigation itself is expensive, and the risks of pursuing it can be large if not ruinous. And also remember that the contingency fee system provides some safeguards, because attorneys are inherently inclined not to pursue cases that have no merit, since they can lose a great deal of time and money if they do.
I am also happy to report to you that within the last decade our court system as a whole has become much more pro-active in reducing expenses and heading off problems. For example, we now assign most of our cases to a specific judge as soon as a case is filed. That way the litigants get an earlier perception about what the eventual results might be based upon pre-trial rulings. This also prevents a party from getting a second “bite at the apple” for the same losing arguments before a different judge. That results in the cases moving more quickly toward a resolution.
In addition, and all importantly, the individual judges tend to work harder if the cases belong to them because their back log will build up if they don’t - and it is true that judges and staff members quietly note who has a higher or lower inventory of cases. In other words, incentives matter in the courthouse as well as in the rest of the world. As a result of this new approach, we now dispose of about 80 percent of all of our civil cases within 12 months of their being filed, as opposed to about 48 months under the prior system.
Other pro-active programs have been established to reduce future crime, such as screening out defendants charged with alcohol-related offenses who are addicted to alcohol. Once these defendants are identified they are required to address and overcome their addiction problems, or they face additional punishments if they do not.
Additional court screening attention and assistance are provided to juvenile offenders, defendants with mental disorders and dual diagnoses, people who are homeless, and parents who have neglected or mistreated their children. Furthermore, both drug courts and the passage of Proposition 36 by California voters in November of 2000 have materially reduced the recidivism rates for people using illicit drugs by forcing them both to address their substance abuse problems and to be more responsible for their own actions.
As a direct result of all of these programs, many defendants have turned their lives around for the better. Think of the crimes that are not committed, the victims who are not victimized, the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and jurors who do not have to investigate and litigate the offenses, and the reduced time and money that is wasted by the incarceration of the offenders. Also think of the families that are not forced onto welfare roles because of the incarceration of their breadwinner.
A final significant reduction in the expenses of litigation has been our programs of mediation. These efforts have allowed the parties to “stop the bleeding” earlier by resolving their own problems through negotiation with the help of professional mediators. Many years ago when I was still an attorney it was generally considered to be a sign of weakness even to discuss the possible settlement of a case. But fortunately those days are now mostly behind us.
But the absolute best way of heading off problems and reducing the expenses of litigation is to avoid the litigation altogether by engaging in what I call “legal preventive maintenance.” Along those lines, my all-time favorite bumper sticker is “Become a doctor and support a lawyer.” Doctors are typically concerned about their patients, but they often are all too trusting and even naïve in their own business practices, and they mostly do not ask for help.
So I recommend people conduct inspections of their private and business property and look out for safety problems, and encourage their families and employees to be on the lookout for these problems as well. I also recommend that people get a good legal preventive checkup of all of their business activities.
“Saving” money by failing to get competent preventive legal advice is a classic way of being “penny wise and pound foolish.” Why? Because litigation is expensive, both financially and psychologically. We in the court system are taking steps to reduce these expenses or avoid them altogether. You should too.
“THE ANSWER IS: IT DEPENDS” - by Judge Jim Gray 08/10/08
One of the lessons I learned in law school was that the answer to most questions is: it depends. What does that mean? Well, before you can give a reasoned answer to a question, you should know the circumstances and the context in which the question arises.
Another and slightly bawdy way of saying this is illustrated by one man asking another man the question “How’s your wife?” with the answer being: “Compared to what?”
Children often do not understand or employ the “it depends” way of thinking. For them things are usually “all or nothing.” But when they mature they begin to realize that the answers to most questions depend upon the situation, and the risks or benefits of action or inaction. Even though most adults innately do understand this approach, many do not employ it consciously.
One example of where a question cries out for an “it depends” answer is whether or not we should drill for oil off our coasts and in Alaska. For people to think only in terms of “drill everywhere,” or “drill nowhere” is shortsighted to the extreme. Some important issues to consider are: Where is the oil? How can it be reached? What are the risks of oil spillage or other potential pollution problems at a particular site? Will the extracting company be bonded for environmental problems? Of course all of our land is sacred, but is this site particularly unique or picturesque? In addition, will new developments in technology allow the oil to be extracted a longer way from the drilling site? Only when we get answers to those and other similar questions can we begin to make intelligent decisions on the issue.
The same myopic arguments of all or nothing were utilized by some people in the debate several years ago about whether or not we should have constructed the Alaska pipeline. Fortunately, other more sophisticated people used a risks and benefits analysis, made some modifications to the original proposed plans, and then went ahead with the project. Not only has the pipeline been successful, I am actually not aware of any significant problems with it at all. So for our elected officials now to take positions of all or nothing regarding offshore or Alaska drilling is irresponsible, and even insulting. We are smarter than that; why aren’t they?
When you think about it, most issues lend themselves to a similar risk and benefit analysis, as symbolized by the “it depends” answer. That even includes issues about our country’s security. For example, should our government be able to wiretap telephone conversations between people here and countries like Libya, Pakistan and Iran? The answer is (all together now): it depends. What is the threat to our security, and how immediate is that threat? What are the opportunities for the government agents to seek and obtain a judicial warrant? What do our Constitution and judicial precedents say about this situation? In other words, what are the risks and benefits both regarding our security and also regarding our precious liberties?
The same is true about so-called mandatory minimum sentences in criminal cases. Should a defendant be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison if he has been convicted of a particular offense? The answer once again is, it depends. What were the circumstances of the offense? Who is this defendant, and what is his background and past criminal record? Who were the victims and how severely were they injured, if at all? It is simply not possible for the legislature, or anyone else, to come up with an appropriate sentence in advance, because there is no way they can have answers to those and other similar critical questions. These laws have resulted in some criminal sentences that are deeply inappropriate both for the defendants and their families, and also for the taxpayers.
But there must be some issues that are so clear that the “it depends” answer is not necessary. For example, what about questions concerning the safety of our children? Well, here again it depends upon the situation. Should we not trust any children to cross any street by themselves until they are in high school? That is a certainly a risky activity that can threaten our children’s safety. But it depends. What are the ages of the children? What kind of streets are involved, and what are their safety features? These questions should be answered before decisions are made. Similarly, there are also definite risks in dating, so should girls not be allowed to date until they are 21? So once again, even though these are important issues, the answer still is that it depends.
Nevertheless, we do not want to descend into moral relativism either. There certainly are some things about which a moral society will not compromise, and in those cases the “it depends” answer does not apply. For example, the answer to questions about slavery, apartheid, the sexual abuse of children, and Hitler’s extermination of millions of Jews, gypsies and others is not “it depends.” In my mind there are ambiguities about many or even most issues in the world, but not those. In fact, I will go so far as to say that in some areas there is even an Absolute Right and an Absolute Wrong Answer, but I may not always be intelligent or perceptive enough to know what that answer is. But to further elaborate on those areas of religion and philosophy is far beyond the reach of this column.
So what is the point of this column? Too often many people, particularly those in government, fall into an “all or nothing” discussion about issues that is based upon politics or emotion or both. Instead, I hope this column will help you to encourage those people publicly and privately to use a cost/benefit approach. That will result in more intelligent decisions being made for us all.
Finally, should a cost/benefit approach be utilized in the next important issue that you will be confronting? The answer is, of course: it depends.