Sunday, December 27, 2009

Living each day as your masterpiece - by Judge Jim Gray

While driving around Newport Beach recently I noticed an automobile that had the word “FLUENT” on its license plate. The more I reflected upon it, the more I thought that this was neat. In fact, I wish I had been able to talk to the owner to ask what the word meant to him or her.

A dictionary would say the word means to flow or to be spoken or written with ease. But to me the word “fluent” means more than that. To me, it means you are living your life at peace with yourself, in a meaningful and gratifying way. Maybe that is not what the owner means, and maybe it would be best that I never find out. Nevertheless, that is what the word means to me.

All of this started me thinking about a quote I saw from two extremely well-known sports figures in one of last week’s newspapers.

The first quote was from Tiger Woods, who announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his sport of golf because “I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father and person.”

The second was from Johnny Wooden, the famous and highly respected UCLA basketball coach who will be 100 years old on his next birthday, and who said: “Make each day your Masterpiece.”

No one needs any more comments from or about Woods and his sexual escapades. I acknowledge that the pressure upon famous men who are deeply in the public eye must be appreciable when attractive women throw themselves at them sexually. But if people are married, they have made the choice that they will be faithful to their spouse. So this whole subject simply reduces itself to a matter of integrity.

Wooden also was faced with that choice, and he was completely faithful to his wife and best friend for their more than 50 years of marriage before his wife, Nell, passed away. And now he says he can barely wait to rejoin her. So think of what Tiger Woods has been missing!

When asked about who the heroes of my life are, I used to say that I had three: my wonderful father, Gary Bellows, who was a professor I had at the USC Law School, and President John F. Kennedy.

But when I found out about Kennedy’s private life, I removed him from my list. Many celebrities have shown their integrity by resisting the temptation to give in to these sexual advances, including, to my knowledge, Jimmy Stewart and Alan Alda.

Similar to Woods, Kennedy was involved with serial sexual affairs, which is quite a bit worse than what other famous people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Guinevere and Lancelot in “Camelot” were involved in. So Kennedy may have done some good things and been a symbol for some other ones, but, in my view, he was a person without integrity.

Therefore, he can no longer be a hero or role model.

That also reminds me of a story I heard about a man named Amazing Johnson. This fellow had lived a long life, but when he saw that his time to leave the Earth was approaching, he told one of his friends that he did not want his name to be placed upon his gravestone because he had been teased enough already.

Instead, he said that he wanted his marker to say: “Here lies a man who was faithful to his wife throughout all of their 57 years of marriage.” When asked why he wanted his gravestone to say that, he responded: “Well, people will walk by, and when they read that comment they will say, ‘My goodness, that’s Amazing!”

Well, it shouldn’t be so amazing. Time is racing onward. In fact, just as I am now finally ready to face the “Y2K Problem,” we are almost into the year 2010.

So we should use this time remaining to us to reflect upon what is important in our lives, and what is not.

Integrity? Certainly. But Wooden gave us some additional assistance that will help us in our reflections about the direction of our lives when he said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

So maybe you will want to join me this New Year’s Eve in reflection, when I ask myself whether I have been a man of integrity, and whether I am achieving success with the short time I have left upon this Earth. In other words, am I fluent? Am I really living my Masterpiece? And do I actually want to lead my life that way? In fact, do you?

If you do, then my New Year’s wish is that your life in the days and years to come may be fluent. Happy New Year!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Obamas were mindful of the Constitution - by Judge Jim Gray

For one reason or another, I receive large numbers of e-mails from lots of different sources. One I received recently was from the blog of a man named Stephen Frank, who promotes himself as providing a “frank” discussion for conservatives. This particular edition was sent out under the heading “Barack and Michelle Obama Ignore Christmas.”

The thrust of Frank’s message was that the Obamas’ holiday card, which was paid for by the Democratic National Committee, makes no religious reference whatsoever. What it did say was “May your family have a joyous holiday season, and a new year blessed with hope and happiness.”

Then Frank went on to say that about 58% of Democrats, 70% of independents and 91% of Republicans prefer to be wished a “Merry Christmas” instead of being greeted with things like “Happy Holidays.”

So, from all of that, he infers that the Obamas are ignoring Christmas, and are out of the mainstream of a majority of Americans. I disagree with Frank’s criticism.

Preliminarily, and so that there is no confusion, I was raised as a Christian in a Christian home. I have been a member of the Methodist Church all of my adult life, and I will compare my religious values to anyone’s. Furthermore, and as I have said before in this column, I did not vote for Obama. But having said all of this, I believe that the Obamas are taking the right approach in this matter for two important reasons.

First, Barack Obama is the president of the United States and everyone in it, and that fact must be present inextricably in everything he does. Therefore, publicly to wish all of his card’s recipients a Merry Christmas would be to show presidential favoritism toward Christians, as opposed to other people in our country who hold other religious beliefs. As such, Frank, that would be inappropriate.

To be consistent, but on a matter of insignificant importance, I do criticize the president for having publicly rooted for the Chicago White Sox when they played the Boston Red Sox in a major league baseball game last summer. I know that Obama resided in Chicago for a long time, but does that mean that people from Boston should be concerned that he will take sides against them in other things merely because of geography?

Traditionally presidents have upheld the philosophy of neutrality in the annual Army/Navy football game, by ceremoniously changing sides of the stadium during halftime. This shows symbolically that the president is the commander-in-chief of the Army and the Navy, and is therefore neutral in contests of one against the other. Obama should learn a lesson from that tradition.

The second reason is even more critical. And that is the fundamental importance of honoring the separation of church and state. Going back to the Thomas Jefferson, one of the main principles of our government has been to maintain this separation. This is also true for two important reasons.

In the first place, we want to protect government from the influence of the church. Many times throughout history when various religions have been involved in government, some truly terrible things have happened. Some examples of these are the Salem Witch Trials, as well as the Spanish Inquisition, and religious human sacrifices by the Aztecs, Incas and other societies around the world. Indeed, today we are seeing first-hand the tragic results that happen when religions have taken command of governments in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and also with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Actually, on balance, probably the largest threat to peace in the world today comes from the merging of church and state in countries like that. And, although I am not saying that we would resort to things like human sacrifices, to some degree the same types of things could happen here in our country as well. How could this happen? To paraphrase Congressman Ron Paul, even if you agree with the ideas and dictates of our government, some day different people will be in charge and will use government for their own agendas. So the wisdom of the constitution is that it keeps government out of these issues altogether, regardless of who is in charge.

Of course, that is not at all to say that the values of religion should not have an influence in government. Our great country was founded in many ways upon Christian values, and the concept of us publicly being “One Nation Under God,” and having “In God We Trust” on our currency, etc., should be recognized and supported. Those mottoes display that we have important religious values.

But if the message on our currency instead were to be “In Jesus We Trust,” or “In The Buddha We Trust,” etc., this would and should be a constitutional violation, and must be avoided. Why? Because then our government would be favoring one religion over another. The Obamas’ holiday card implicitly recognizes that fact.

Yes, Christmas is a national holiday, and, yes, Jesus’ name is certainly an important part of the title of that meaningful day of celebration and reflection. But although the mottoes we use show that we are a country of Christian values, they do not mean that we are actually a Christian nation. That can be a subtle distinction, but it is enormously important. Otherwise we could not be a nation with religious freedom!

The second reason for the separation is that we want to protect religion from the influence of government. Several years ago, my wife and I took a wonderful trip to Turkey.

While we were there, we learned that the Turkish government actually pays the salaries of the Muslim imams. When we asked why this was done, we were told that this was the best way for the government to keep track of what these religious leaders were doing, and to “keep the lid on.”

Actually this is quite an effective tool that the Turkish government is using, but I hope you can see that it can be truly corruptive and controlling for the religions involved.

Why? Because whenever government becomes involved in anything, it almost unfailingly works to control it.

So the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to have the government scrupulously kept away.

Our country would face similar issues by allowing our government to funnel money to do charitable work through religious organizations.

This practice has been suggested both by President George W. Bush and by Obama. But this would be dangerous, because if we allow government to fund religions in any way, government will soon be in a position to control those religions.

Nevertheless, Frank, none of this means that you or I as private citizens cannot and should not wish other people a Merry Christmas. In fact, when I hear Christians wishing other Christians a “Happy Holidays,” I commonly respond that it is OK to wish people a Merry Christmas. And it is.

So may I take this opportunity to wish each of my fellow Christians a truly Merry Christmas.

And for those of you of different religious beliefs, I wish you a Merry Spirit of Christmas.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Giving our troops better treatment - by Judge Jim Gray

We are blessed in Orange County to have several wonderful and well-known institutions of higher learning. But one of them that is less known is increasingly achieving greatness in so many respects. And that is Chapman University!

Frankly, my first real contact with Chapman was negative, and it happened more than 20 years ago.

I was the judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by a former female physical education professor for wrongful termination, which resulted in both general and punitive damages being awarded by the jury against both Chapman and its then president.

In a motion for new trial, the attorney asked if I would allow Chapman’s new president, James Doti, to address the court, and, although this was a bit unusual, I agreed. What a man, and what a presentation! From this it was apparent to me that Chapman not only would develop into a university of high integrity but also one of accomplishment and prestige. And I was right.

Doti’s presentation did not have any effect upon that case, because we were bound by what had already happened, instead of promises about the future. But I knew then that under this incoming president’s tutelage, Chapman was going to become a gem.

And now it is. Not only is the undergraduate school becoming a nationwide leader in education, but the graduate schools of law, business, music, film and many more are leading the way in excellence.

In fact, Chapman law alumni passed the most recent California Bar Examination at an 81% rate, which puts them in the company of some of the state’s better law schools.

In addition, my physical therapist wife tells me that she always seeks to hire Chapman graduates for her clinic, because they are consistently well trained in the theory and in the practical aspects.

But it does not stop just with teaching.

Under Doti’s direction, Chapman has made a concerted effort to be involved in and give back to the community in general.

One of the examples of that is the Military Personnel Law Center (MPLC) & AMVETS Legal Clinic, which began this January at the Chapman Law School under the direction of Dean John Eastman.

This first of its kind program provides legal representation for active duty military families and veterans in all types of civil legal disputes, with a particular emphasis upon problems encountered by combat wounded troops.

Why is this necessary? Because the military JAG lawyers are not allowed to represent the troops or their dependents in nonmilitary civil matters.

So, previously, if military reservists had problems getting out of their leases when they were called up to active duty, or service members were having trouble with car dealerships or deferring student loans because they had been deployed overseas, or wounded service members were denied disability benefits, they would have nowhere to turn for legal assistance.

But now they get that assistance from Chapman’s MPLC.

There is a whole body of law that is designed to help service members in all of these situations, but many of the troops, and even the private attorneys who try to help them, are not aware of the rights they have in this specialty area of the law.

Some of these cases are referred by the MPLC staff to private attorneys who volunteer to help in this good cause, and who receive instruction and guidance from the law faculty.

But other cases are handled by second- and third-year law students under the supervision of faculty members at the law school. Of course, this also has the side benefit of providing lots of practical and valuable hands-on legal experience to the students.

Fortunately, Chapman is uniquely suited to provide that assistance, because it has partnered in this program with Brandman University, which is Chapman’s extension university for adults, and Brandman has 25 campuses around California, many of which are on or near military bases.

In addition, Chapman has another university affiliate on the program, which happens to be the UC Berkeley, and it is close to forming similar ties with two more top notch universities in the San Diego area.

Much of the MPLC program was facilitated by a generous commitment grant of $2.5 million over the next five years from AMVETS of California, which is a nonprofit veterans’ support group. But knowing Chapman, even without this generous boost, it would have still found a way to bring this program into being.

One of our national embarrassments is the way we have ignored the needs of our returning military personnel over the years, particularly those who are physically and mentally disabled.

Today, when they are first wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, the medical attention our troops receive from the military community is so wonderful that it will bring tears to your eyes.

But once the troops are stabilized and eventually discharged, the Veteran’s Administration is simply not funded well enough to handle their remaining needs.

Until that situation changes, I thought you would be proud to hear that many of the legal needs of these GIs, both active duty and those who have been discharged, are being addressed and met by the wonderful people at Chapman University.

So join me in extending our thanks and appreciation to Chapman for its service to our troops and their families!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Countering hate, fear and bigotry - by Judge Jim Gray

Alittle while ago I attended a fundraising banquet for the Orange County/Long Beach Region of the Anti-Defamation League. I had always thought that the league was founded by Jews to fight and protect against anti-Semitism, and basically I was right. But what I did not know is that this is only part of the story.

According to the presentation that evening, as well as to the information at, the league was founded in 1913 to stop the defamation of and violence directed toward all people based upon their minority status. So the league is there to counter fear, hate, bigotry, and political or religious extremism wherever it is found, and to protect and pursue justice for all people, including blacks, Latinos and Muslims, in addition to Jews.

How do the people of the league do their work? They monitor current events, public displays and periodicals all over the world to get the latest information and investigate what members of various hate, extremism and domestic terrorism groups are doing, and then make that information available to any legitimate law enforcement, media or public groups that request it. They are also particularly adept at monitoring the Internet, which is difficult but critically important in today’s world.

Where is the need to be found? You might be surprised. Contrary to popular understanding, there are quite a few members of hate and racial supremacist groups, even here in Orange County. For example, Public Enemy Number 1, which is affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood, is a growing amalgam of white racist skinhead, street and prison gangs that originated and is still based in Orange County. In fact, there are five or six significant white supremacist gangs in our county, including North West Orange County Skins, Golden State Skins and OC Skins.

Their major criminal activity is being involved in the illegal drug trade, but they are also involved in identity theft, fraud, assaults and other violent crimes. There are also white power rock bands that help the racist gang members seek a common culture, here and abroad, that use lyrics that attack and dehumanize minorities.

Often the band members are covered with tattoos with neo-Nazi and other racist symbols and slogans, and, as you can tell from the names of the bands, such as Extreme Hatred, Angry Aryans, and Aggravated Assault, they glorify violence against minorities.

So when law enforcement officials need to know about the roots of these gangs, or what some of the tattoos or graffiti mean, they come to the league for information.

Some of this information is provided to law enforcement in personal meetings, but most of it is passed along in intensive three-day training schools for senior American law enforcement personnel. In addition, the league holds a national counter-terrorism training seminar yearly in Israel, which gives American law enforcement leaders the opportunity to learn counter-terrorism strategies and tactics from the Israel Police’s most experienced commanders, as well as from senior military, security and intelligence officials. These briefings cover such things as suicide bombing prevention, terrorist attack responses, airport and mall security, terrorism’s psychological impact, and police, military and rescue coordination.

The league also publishes an updated encyclopedia of contemporary extremism, as well as a brochure that is a full-color guide to common symbols, logos and tattoos used by hate groups and extremists. Both of these resources are available at

Other programs offered by the league include Peer Training, where students learn to work with their peers to confront prejudice, and Names Can Really Hurt Us, which helps schools respond to name calling, bullying, and harassment.

Another successful league educational program, Campus of Difference, helps college administrators, faculty and students examine stereotypes, expand cultural awareness, and combat bigotry.

More locally, when any of these cowardly acts of hate are found in individual neighborhoods, it is the league that responds to give support and guidance to the intended and unintended victims, and help them cope with and guard against these dangers. But the league always acts with a sensitivity to civil liberties and due-process concerns.

Like with any other organization, neither I nor anyone else will agree with all of their positions. For example, the league is opposed to school vouchers, believing that they could be a threat to the separation of church and state.

In that regard, I plan to discuss the issue with some of them to see if they will change that opposition.

With school vouchers it is the parents who are choosing how to spend the education money, not the government. Therefore, a program of school vouchers is virtually the same thing as the long-successful GI Bill program of educational benefits. In that program, military veterans have spent their government benefit payments for tuition and other educational expenses at religious universities like Notre Dame, Southern Christian University and others for decades, without any constitutional or practical problems.

But our society needs devoted and dedicated institutions that are knowledgeably guarding us from the small minority of extremists who, for their own unbalanced reasons, would spread fear, hatred and bigotry as far into our world as they are able. And because there is no other agency around keeping its finger on the pulse of this volatile area like the league, these people are deserving of our praise, gratitude and respect. I plan to support the league in the future, and I hope you will as well.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Further discussions about terrorism - by Judge Jim Gray

Quite a few people responded to last week’s column about whether the airport screening program is a good utilization of resources in fighting against terrorist acts.

As you who read the column will recall, I questioned whether, for example, taking off our shoes to board an airplane and other similar measures are worth the cost in both money spent and time wasted.

This is a particularly important question because any even semi-intelligent terrorist could, without too much difficulty, come up with many other ways to bring down a civilian airplane.

Here is one of the responses I received to that part of the column, which I will quote verbatim so that you can consider what the writer said first hand: “In response to your article (I work in airport operations at an international airport), it is all what we call ‘eye candy’ to make the public feel safer. Internally, we’ve said for years that if someone really wants to get an aircraft, they can. The checkpoints are not going to stop them.

“It’s like having locks on your front door. As a judge you know that’s only to keep the honest people out.

“The TSA has not made us any safer than the security companies before 9/11. They fail just as many tests, and have almost the same amount of turnover among personnel. They have created a whole lot of high paying jobs for some people.

“They don’t try to hire the best qualified personnel available, they restrict most jobs to people who are already in the agency (and who is going to take the low paying screener jobs to start with?).

“The TSA is just another bloated government agency. It’s kind of like watching Barney Fife (fumbling for his bullet) guarding the front door.

“Anyway, what you wrote is correct ... just wish more people would listen. But maybe this is what most people want, they don’t want to know the truth ... just give them the appearance of being more safe.”

Instead of spending so much money on the airport screening programs, last week’s column suggested that the two most effective ways of combating terrorism, in addition to a strong military, are effective intelligence and undercover activities, and using our insights to anticipate and protect society’s most vulnerable areas.

Another letter took me to task about the narrowness of those two suggested remedies, saying that, “Your supposed ‘solution’ is exactly what the U.S. is doing, it’s just not that easy! Also, I’m disappointed you seem so clueless about the REAL issues at hand fueling hatred of America: our meddling with foreign nations to control markets like oil, and our support of non-democratic nations like Saudi Arabia. The only enduring way to end the threats and hatred will be to support foreign education, infrastructure and health — no strings attached. It’s our secret — and not so secret — foreign agendas that keep the hatred so strong — and justified!”

Actually I agree in large part with that letter.

In fact, the last three paragraphs of my column last week that addressed issues like this were omitted because of an editing error. They were as follows:

“And third, we should reduce the perceived reasons that persuade terrorists to act against us in the first place. This can be done by showing in both our public and private actions that the lives and welfare of people from all around the world, including Afghans and Iraqis, really are important to us. Greg Mortenson did this in his efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan as discussed in his book ‘Three Cups of Tea.’ This is a powerful force against terrorism, and we should all be familiar with his story.

“It is no accident that terrorists condemn us as ‘The great Satan,’ whom they define as wealthy people who are attempting in ‘Pied Piper’ fashion to mislead their youth into our immoral, unprincipled and hedonist lifestyle. So if we could continue to deal with people as people by encouraging students and travelers to come to our country to see us as we really are, and by refusing to allow our civil liberties and freedoms to be eroded in misguided attempts to ensure our safety along the way, we will ultimately be successful in bringing about the peace that we all seek.

“Why is that the answer? Because the ultimate truth is that life is better here in the West, where we still have our freedoms, a less regulated economy, and equality for all people in their pursuit of happiness. And the more that people around the world are aware of that fundamental truth, the safer we all will be.”

To add to these thoughts, this past week I happened to hear Rush Limbaugh say on his radio program that President Obama (whom I did not vote for) continues to apologize for things our country has done over the years, and that he should “Stop apologizing for America!”

I disagree with that way of thinking. Years ago, young Anne Frank in her autobiography said something that will live with me forever.

She said that “A Quiet Conscience Makes One Strong,” and she is right. My wonderful parents taught me that if I made a mistake I should own up to it.

I have tried to invoke my quiet conscience and offer an apology in those situations, and our country should do the same thing.

Over the years our government has undisputedly done some things that are richly deserving of apologies, such as our policies of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the 40-year syphilis experiment in Tuskegee, Ala., that was conducted on 399 African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and even the so-called war on drugs.

So it takes a country with a quiet conscience to own up to its misdeeds and tender an apology.

Appropriate and heartfelt apologies not only help both the mistaken parties as well as the recipient victims to feel better and be more able to get along with their lives, they also have other positive effects.

For example, I read that once a medical malpractice insurance company actually encouraged its insured doctors to apologize to their patients when the doctors made mistakes, and that those apologies actually resulted in a sizable reduction of claims filed in court for medical malpractice.

So it is OK — and even patriotic — to employ a quiet conscience to think and talk about things like the effectiveness of airport screening and various other government programs. And it is also OK, patriotic and even desirable for people and governments to apologize for their mistakes when appropriate.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to combat terrorism successfully - by Judge Jim Gray

Recently, as I was going through airport security screening at Los Angeles International Airport, the issue of how we can best keep terrorist attacks on civilians to a minimum once again went through my mind.

Fortunately, there has not really been a successful attack by foreigners since Sept. 11, 2001. Has that been due at least in part to airport screenings? Should this screening be increased, decreased or maintained as it is?

Preliminarily, we must recognize that the pressure on our president, whether it is George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or anyone else, to keep such an attack from re-occurring must be crushing! Consequently, the incentives to continue or even strengthen actions to keep us safe understandably cannot be minimized. Why? Because if perceived protections were to be decreased and an attack were to occur, the political recriminations would be enormous and unrelenting — even if the absence of particular safety measures would not have made any difference. This once again reinforces the fact that in politics, reality itself is irrelevant. It is only the appearance of reality that matters!

But do any of these airport security measures actually do anything more than appear to keep us safer? Of course, I do not have any particular access to information to help us answer that question. But most knowledgeable people in the area of aircraft security said that the most effective thing we could do after 9/11 was to strengthen the cockpit doors to make it impossible to force them open — and then to state publicly that the doors would be kept locked while in flight regardless of anything going on in the cabin. This has already been done, and has probably contributed a great deal to aircraft safety.

Otherwise, the government bureaucracy always seems to be fighting yesterday’s battles — and sometimes in a stupid fashion.

I remember a few years ago going through airport security twice before boarding an airplane to come home from a trip to Turkey in which the security personnel seized fingernail clippers and small pocket knives from passengers. Then once the plane took off and reached altitude, the flight crew handed out stainless steel forks and knives to use for dinner that were far more dangerous than anything that had been confiscated.

I also once observed airport security personnel require an elderly lady to get out of her wheelchair and walk through a metal detector, while her attendant was allowed to push her wheelchair completely around the metal detector so that neither the wheelchair nor the attendant were screened at all. That is government bureaucracy in action.

I also noted with dismay that once when my elderly and frail mother, who was the widow of a federal judge and literally a “little old lady from Pasadena,” flew with me to go north to see my sister, she was forced to spread her legs and arms for additional security screening. As a result of the indignity, hassle and physical ordeal of this experience, she chose never to fly again.

A good friend of mine says that since 9/11, he believes that hundreds of thousands of Americans have actually been killed by terrorists. What does he mean by that? The man-hours lost waiting to board airplanes, which become man-years, and man-lives. Those idly waiting to board are losing parts of their lives.

So in a cost-benefit analysis, does taking our shoes off as a requirement for us to board an airplane really make us safer? I truly doubt it.

Should we have an “express lane” at airports for people who have been previously screened to be truly low security risks? This would reduce wasted time and money for everyone. Actually there is such a program available in concept, but it has not really been put into effect. We spend lots of money to slow people down, but very little to speed things up.

And how much does this “cottage industry” of airport security screening actually cost? It adds about a $10 charge to every airplane ticket.

When I boarded my plane recently, I counted 21 Transportation Security Administration personnel just at the American Airlines Terminal alone who were involved with the screening process. This has to be really expensive. Are we getting our money’s worth? It’s hard to believe that we are.

In that regard, everyone must understand that there is no such thing as absolute safety in a free society, or anywhere else. If someone really wants to engage in wanton or terrorist acts, it would not be too hard to be successful. So what I am about to say may get my name on a list somewhere, or even get me investigated, but I anticipate that any semi-intelligent and creative mind could think up at least 10 viable ways to bring down a civilian airplane that do not include shoes or boxcutters. They might very well die themselves along the way, but it could be done. These people may be radicals and extremists, but most of their leaders are not dumb.

And that is only addressing the vulnerability of civilian airplanes, which actually are probably yesterday’s tragedies. How can we possible protect against such wanton acts in every train or bus station, theater, or sports stadium?

So we and our government must not naively think, much less say, that our safety in today’s world can be guaranteed. That is not at all to say we should let down our guard. But instead of taking off our shoes, we should spend our preventive resources on things that actually work, and fewer upon those that just appear to work, like airport security. So when we ask the government to protect us from potential terrorist acts, “just helping us to feel safer” is not an effective usage of resources.

What are the things that have the best chance to be successful? In addition to a strong military, the most effective are intelligence and undercover activities that allow us to learn in advance who are our biggest threats and what those people are doing. Second is to use insights to anticipate society’s biggest vulnerabilities, and employing monitors, safety measures and procedures that can best reduce the chances of harm.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, November 15, 2009

‘You can’t fake reality’ forever - by Judge Jim Gray

Quotes from two books I have read just seem to stay with me. One is from Pearl Buck’s “The Three Daughters of Madame Liang,” which says that “Freedom is the only air we artists can breathe, and wherever in the world the air is still free, that is our country.” The second is from Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” which is that “You can’t fake reality.”

All people who live their lives well are artists in one form or another, and they use the time they have on this earth to do the best they can with the resources available to them. We can pretend that it is the government or some other benevolent group that best promotes everyone’s welfare, but it really is promoted by the individual artists, in whatever form they take. Some of those artists certainly can be in government, but fundamentally society is better because of the productivity of private and free individuals, and that is a reality that cannot be faked.

Unfortunately, our country and our state have for decades been plunging headlong into a reliance upon government to address and fix most issues, instead of relying upon what has made us great in the first place, which is private property rights, the free-enterprise system and the labor and creativity of our artists.

For example, we have fallen into the mindset that whenever we face yet another problem, we simply should respond by passing another law. Well, we have plenty of laws. In fact we have too many, to the extent that we would be far better off to repeal two existing laws for every new one passed.

For example, we really don’t need to have so-called “hate crime” laws on the books.

Why in concept should an assault upon one person, regardless of that person’s ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc. be automatically considered worse than a similar assault upon a person who is not in one of those categories?

Assaults are and should be against the law, and prosecutors and judges will bring charges and punish offenders based upon the seriousness of the offenses, the background of the offenders, and the overall harm done. So although passing these additional laws might make legislators feel like they have done something positive, the laws are not necessary, and could even be seen as demeaning to the victims and everybody else.

Furthermore, California would actually be well advised to follow the Texas’ lead and have our legislature in session only every other year, when it can pass a two-year budget. But otherwise, not only do we not need the legislature to be in session each year, we really can’t even afford it! Remember that government does not create wealth. Instead it only takes wealth away from others, keeps a great deal of it for its own expenses, and then distributes what remains to others.

So most productive people will tend to gravitate toward places that have lower taxes and less government interference, and most non-productive people will tend to gravitate toward places where there are larger hand-outs. Thus California, which has state and local expenditures of about $10,070 per person and is 10th from the highest in overall taxes, has an average of 3,247 more people moving out of the state than moving in every year. And Texas, which has state and local expenditures of $6,858 per person and is 38th from the highest in overall taxes, has an average of 1,544 people moving in state every year. And, of course, it is the productive people who are mostly leaving our state, and the non-productive who are moving in. No surprise there.

So how do we reduce the size of government spending so we can in turn reduce the need for such high taxes?

The first place to look is who we hire in the public sector, and how much we pay them, both in salary and in benefits. I have worked in the public sector for almost all of my professional life as a Navy lawyer, federal prosecutor and a judge, and I fully knew and expected that my salary would not match what I could have earned in the private sector. That is appropriate, and should be expected.

But we have too many people on the public payroll who should not be there at all. Much of the work they do should be done by workers in the private sector, who could provide the same services on low bid contract to the government.

For example, if we put the work done by Caltrans out for private bid, we would not only save money on the particular work itself, but also not be required to pay for the health care, retirement and other benefits these public employees receive. That would save real money to the taxpayer, and without a loss of services!

The same thing is true for other public employees who are mechanics, plumbers, electricians, computer support staff and many other technicians who work for various government agencies.

It is not just the cost of what these employees do that is close to bankrupting our governments, it is paying for their benefits. I know that I risk the wrath of many good and loyal public employees by saying these things, but they are true!

And now I am going to risk the further wrath of many other people by saying that we simply must revisit the holdings of Proposition 13.

Obviously there was a dire need for this measure originally to be passed, due to the mindless, irresponsible and never-ending public spending by government officials. In fact that really cannot be denied. But the reality is that the major beneficiaries of Proposition 13 have been companies that have large landholdings, like the Edison Co. In addition, this measure has truly been inequitable for our children, who are trying to break into first-time home ownership, but face much larger property taxes as they do so.

This fact was brought home to me several years ago when I purchased a double-lot home in north Santa Ana, and ended up paying more than twice the property taxes than my pre-Proposition 13 neighbor and friend who had a triple-lot home.

It is true that people on a fixed income need the security that Proposition 13 has given them, and we also need protections against runaway property taxes, but there must be a way for that security to remain without making the system so thoroughly inequitable for the more recent home buyers.

So help me look for ways to encourage more individualism and implement less government expense and interference in our lives. Your thoughts and insights can really help in this area.

In reality, there are lots of ways we can recapture our strength as a country and our security as free artists, and this strength cannot be obtained by continuing to rely upon bigger government. And we cannot continue successfully to fake these realities forever.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Exploring new worlds: the Peace Corps - by Judge Jim Gray

Between graduating from college in 1966 and entering law school in 1968, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica.

Many times since my return, people have told me that they always had wanted to be in the Peace Corps.

My response almost always has been, well it was a great experience, and it’s not too late for you to do it now.

But invariable the people then come up with some sort of explanation as to why they can’t do it, at least not now.

Well, in 2011, the Peace Corps will be celebrating its 50th birthday, and it is continuing to do good work. In fact, according to its website, the number of applicants grew by 18% more than a year ago, although I recognize that the economy might have had something to do with it.

The mission statement is in three parts: 1) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served; and 3) Helping promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.

Obviously, the Peace Corps is certainly not for everyone. In fact, if you even have to ask why someone would want to be involved in such a thing “for two whole years,” you probably would never understand. People either have an intuitive understanding about what it is to be a volunteer, or they don’t.

When I went to Costa Rica, I requested the smallest town in the country that had a high school, and they gave it to me.

The reason was in part that it was completely inconsistent with my vision of a Peace Corps experience to take a bus to work, like some of my colleagues did in the capital city.

My town of Palmar Norte was on the Inter-American Highway, about half way from the point south of the capital city of San Jose where the paving on the highway ended, and the Panamanian border, where it resumed.

It is amazing to me that Costa Rica is now a tourist destination, because when I was there people were mostly ignorant of even where it was — often confusing it with Puerto Rico.

But I was a “profesor de educación física” in the high school, and I also taught physical education in the local elementary schools, as well as general health and community recreation in my extended community.

In fact, I probably still hold the world’s record for brushing my teeth in front of more elementary school classes than anyone else in history.

My biggest tangible success sometimes seemed to be teaching some of the elementary school students to take turns while “up at bat” in our kickball games, because mostly everyone was first in line, all of the time.

But actually, my most general success probably was being able to show the people in my small community that North Americans could work hard at a project, perspire and get dirty.

Clearly my biggest failure was my inability to establish the practice with most families of boiling their drinking water.

When I was there, Costa Rica was believed by many actually to lead the world in birth rates per capita. Nevertheless, their population generally was not expending because of the high infant mortality rate.

And the reason for that mostly was the parasites in their drinking water.

Thus, it was not unusual for me to see a funeral service for an infant in an open casket, in which the mother or someone else had to brush aside the worms that were crawling out of the mouth and nose of the deceased child (I am sorry if this offends, but it’s true — and I grieve about it).

I also tried to spread information about natural birth control to the adults in my town by handing out literature, and encouraging the female home economics teacher in our high school to help me with the discussions.

But that was right at the time that the Papal Encyclical was issued that forbid Catholics even from discussing this subject.

So after this was issued, Padre Samuel Stewart, who was our community’s Catholic priest and a friend of mine, told me that if I didn’t stop, he would take the pulpit against me. What could a Peace Corps volunteer do against a force like that? So I stopped.

By the time my two-year term was completed, I think I was able to make a contribution in keeping with the mission statement.

I helped our Peace Corps group teach a clinic in San Jose that was able to pass along some needed skills and approaches to virtually all of the physical education professors in the country; I led some of my students into various careers that they might not otherwise have pursued; and I became friends and colleagues to quite a few Costa Ricans, with whom I communicated for decades.

For my part, I believe that I learned more from the Costa Ricans than they did from me.

And I also learned to speak a second language, such that years later as a judge I was able to try some of my small claims court cases in Spanish.

And you should have seen the eyes of some of the litigants grow large when this gringo started talking Spanish.

Since the Peace Corps began, about 195,000 volunteers have served in 139 host countries.

But over time the Peace Corps has changed substantially. When I was involved, there was a virtual prohibition against a volunteer being married, and if those who were married ever were expecting children, they were sent home immediately. In addition, most of the volunteers were like me: recent college liberal arts graduates who had lots of idealism, but few skills.

And most of our assignments were either to teach English, or to be involved in “community development.”

So look at it this way: Most of us were young, without real practical skills, not adept in the local language or really understanding the local culture or history, and were being sent down to other people’s countries to help them “develop their communities.” So all of this was a bit arrogant of us back then, if you think of it in that context.

Fortunately, many of those things have changed over time, because more older and wiser volunteers are being recruited, and are serving. And these are people who not only have more life skills, but they also can pass along much of their practical experience, maturity, and demonstrated abilities to the locals.

So if you are one of those people who have frequently thought to yourself that you would like to join the Peace Corps, or a similar domestic program like Teach for America, give some serious thought about doing it now. And if you are married or even if you have children, so much the better.

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that it is one of the most gratifying experiences that you could ever have.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The conscience of a Libertarian - by Judge Jim Gray

OK, I know that generalizations usually don’t work. But I will generalize here and pose that the definition of a Republican is a person who wants more government in our private lives, and a Democrat is one who wants more government in the marketplace.

On the other hand, libertarians mostly want less government in both places.

In that regard, numbers of times after I became a libertarian in 2003 I heard many people from all different political persuasions tell me that they too in many ways believe they also are libertarians. And you know something? They are probably correct.

What is the real definition of a libertarian? Mostly it is defined as a person who believes in maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state.

Simply stated, a libertarian has a belief in liberty. Thus, all adults should own their lives and property, and have the right to make their own choices as to how they live their lives, as long as they respect the same right of other people.

To say that libertarians do not believe in government is flat-out wrong.

This is shown by the most libertarian document ever created, which is the United States Constitution.

This brilliant blueprint basically states that the legitimate goal of government in a free society is to serve us in three important areas.

The first is to provide military protection against foreign enemies, and police protection against domestic criminals.

The second is to set up a system of courts that will punish criminals, protect people’s rights and enforce contracts. And the third is to set up a system of equality so that, as much as humanly possible, everyone will have the same rights to pursue their own happiness.

But mostly other than that, the Constitution expressly reserves all other powers to the states, or to the people themselves.

In other words, as Dr. Kenneth Bisson was quoted as saying: “Libertarianism is what your mom taught you: behave yourself and don’t hit your sister.” Thus, libertarians strongly support individual civil liberties, social tolerance, private property, and the positive powers of a free market, which in turn means that libertarians bring to life the philosophy of “live and let live.”

To delve into this matter more personally, visit the website of the Advocates for Self-Government at, and take the offered “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” This will help you to see where your political philosophy fits by giving you 10 questions to answer. The first five deal with issues of personal liberty, and the second five with economic liberty.

My results showed me to have a 90% libertarian rating for personal issues, and an 80% rating on economic issues. Obviously it is not all-inclusive, because it does not address such important matters as racial issues and foreign policy.

But try it anyway, because I think you will find the results to be informative and thought-provoking.

Then in further contemplating where your political philosophy lies, please consider the following additional points. If you look at the Constitution, you will not find any authority for the federal government to do things like subsidizing farms, bailing out banks, running or even setting forth the parameters of a health-care system, managing automobile companies, or determining whether business executives are receiving too much income.

That is as it should be, because it is transparently clear that bureaucrats do not make good businesspeople. To nail down that conclusion, simply look at the experience of the Soviet Union. But that is what the government is increasingly doing in our country today, to the degree that the government established by the founding fathers in the Constitution has virtually disappeared.

Instead of the expansion of government, it is the expansion of liberty that has brought people to our land from the earliest times in our history. And this desire for liberty has been ratified, because it is our adherence to the principle of limited government that has made our country both great and prosperous. And it will not let us down in the future either.

So most of the answers to today’s problems actually lie in turning away from the government’s taking charge of our lives. To the contrary, the real answer lies in liberty, property rights, individual accountability and the free enterprise system, tempered by appropriate government regulation and oversight.

Adam Smith was right when he said in his book “The Wealth of Nations” that it is demonstrably true that the social good is best served by pursuing private interests. People act in their own economic self-interest by working to produce goods and services that others will want to buy and use. It just so happens that by doing that work, many other people receive benefits as well.

Besides, don’t fool yourself, people in government act in their own political self-interest, because that will allow them to obtain and stay in office.

So, as Milton Friedman asked, how can you believe that one person’s political self-interest will somehow be more noble than another person’s economic self-interest?

That is briefly and generally what libertarians believe, and it describes the conscience of a libertarian.

Give these matters some thought, and if you agree with these principles, seize the opportunities available to you to help us put more of them into practice!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Monday, October 19, 2009

Exploring new worlds: seahorses - by Judge Jim Gray

Before we went on our recent trip to the big island of Hawaii, a real estate broker I have been dealing with strongly suggested we visit Ocean Riders Seahorse Farm on the Kona coast.

This is a place that raises seahorses and sea dragons, educates the public about them, and sells them to people for their aquariums. We took her advice, and it was really worth the effort.

As you know, seahorses have a head like a horse, a tail like a monkey, and a pouch like a kangaroo, so they have developed a certain mythical quality. But they actually are real, although I confess that I didn’t know much about them until our visit.

Sea dragons have a similar makeup, but it looks like they have seaweed or kelp growing out of many parts of their bodies.

The female deposits her eggs into the brood pouch of the male, and then, after a one-month period of gestation, the male gives birth to the offspring – and there can be up to 1,800 in one delivery!

Then about two minutes after that, the female again inserts her eggs. As a result, the adult male is not pregnant for a total of only two minutes every month. (Many women in our world probably fantasize about a situation like this, but the seahorses actually live it.)

Seahorses use their prehensile tails to hook onto underwater vegetation, as well as onto each other, and they have protective bony plates in their skin, and a tube-like mouth for sucking in crustaceans.

And many seahorses actually have character! Just like dolphins, they seem to have fun. For example, they wrap their tales around each other and “dance.” To watch them do this is really endearing.

And they don’t mind being touched, to the extent that if you tickle the tip of one’s tail, it will often wrap its tail around your finger.

In fact, the workers at the farm actually have names for some of the seahorses they have grown most fond of. And at the end of our tour, after carefully washing our hands, we were treated to having some of their favorites wrap their tails around our fingers.

Because these are such cute and interesting creatures, there is a big financial incentive that drives many people to capture them in the wild and sell them. But what these people do not know is that it is natural for seahorses to be monogamous, and they usually have only one mate for life. So if one is captured from the ocean, it will almost always pine away for its mate, to the degree that it soon stops eating.

This means it will almost always be dead within four to six weeks, and the same fate also will befall its mate left in the wild.

So due to the unregulated capturing of seahorses for aquariums, as well as to be dried up into souvenirs and to be ground up and used as supposed medicines in many Asian cultures, about 20 million of them are taken from the oceans each year. This, added to problems of habitat destruction, ocean pollution, and such practices as dynamiting the ocean to gather fish, has resulted in seahorses becoming endangered.

So where there used to be thousands close to our shores, now finding even one in the oceans around our country is rare. And the seahorse population in places like the Philippines has fallen by about 70% in the last 10 years.

Ocean Riders is the only seahorse and sea dragon farm in the United States. It raises them from birth, gathers food for them, and sells them to individuals throughout the country, except in Hawaii.

They also have several programs and tours that teach people about these interesting creatures. And teach us they did.

The farm-raised seahorses and sea dragons have a survival rate up to adulthood of up to 80%, while the rate in the wild is only about 0.1%. And if treated well in aquariums, these amazing creatures can live up to eight years.

They range in size from less than an inch to more than a foot long, depending upon the species.

Regarding seahorses and sea dragons for aquariums, the personnel at the farm have trained the ones they grow and sell not to be monogamous. They did it by increasing the numbers of the seahorses in a small space, which resulted in several of them wrapping their tales around each other and dancing at the same time. That way once they are sold they are much more likely to be able to survive on their own. In the wild, seahorses eat only live brine shrimp and crustaceans, but the farm-raised ones have been trained to eat food that has been dried. So because they are some of the rare life forms that do not have any stomachs, and also because they are not able to chew, that makes their conversion to eat dried food even more important.

All of these efforts are directed to reducing the threat to the continued existence of seahorses and sea dragons in the wild.

By raising them domestically and selling them for a reasonable price, the staff hopes to reduce the business for those people who capture the seahorses in the wild and sell them for aquariums.

The staff also gets involved in legislation to stop the decimation of the wild seahorse population in the oceans of the world, and in encouraging people to be better stewards of our world’s oceans.

If you are interested in learning more about this great work of saving seahorses and sea dragons from extinction through research, propagation, education and ocean conservation, or even if you would like to schedule your own tour of their facility, Ocean Rider can be contacted at (808) 443-6462, or through But whatever contact you have with this fine organization, I think you will be favorably impressed.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Think about our everyday language - by Judge Jim Gray

We couldn't function in the everyday world without habits, which are basically actions taken without our conscious thought.

One example is walking. We thought about this act when we were toddlers, but almost all of us really can “walk and chew gum,” which frees our minds to do other things at the same time.

We also naturally fall into similar habits with our everyday language.

For example, one person when greeting another in today's world almost by rote says: “How are you?” to which the answer almost always is “fine.”

All of this is expected, and if the response were to be “Well, my gall bladder has really been acting up,” that response would be seen as weird.

Nevertheless, our language habits can frequently affect our perspectives, and even our attitudes about life.

So think about our normal responses, and if someone asks you how you are, tell them “Great!” If you are great, or wonderful, or terrific, and you probably are because almost all of us are truly blessed beyond belief, why not say so!

Just compare your life with all of those all around the world who have been on this planet before you. Among other things, this will help you to be more appreciative of your good health and opportunities, and will also help you to enjoy the comparatively great life you lead.

Furthermore, it will probably have a similar effect upon other people as well.

Over the years when I went to work at the courthouse after a nice weekend, I would often see some people in the elevator and ask them how they were doing, to which they would often say “Well, OK for a Monday.”

When that happened, almost unfailingly I would respond, “Well, you live one-seventh of your life on a Monday, so you might as well enjoy it.” I acknowledge that I received some strange looks on occasion, but I think it is important for us to focus on things like that.

There are other language habits we fall into.

For example, if someone gives you a compliment about some clothes you are wearing, many people get uncomfortable, and respond by saying things like “Oh, I have had this sweater for years,” or “It's not really that special.”

Nonsense! As long as the compliment is genuine, simply respond by saying “Thank you!” Any other response actually demeans the person who gave you the compliment, and lets a nice human opportunity go to waste.

And on that subject, we should be more open to giving compliments to others. Again, as long as they are genuine.

For example, whether you know the people or not, try telling parents at a restaurant what well behaved or attractive children they have. Or telling people what a nice smile they have, or saying things like “You look like a really nice person,” or even when someone you don’t know answers the telephone pleasantly, compliment them on the cheerful way in which it was done.

All of these comments don’t cost you anything, but they will bring a little happiness to people around you, and undoubtedly to yourself as well. It makes the world a better place for everybody.

Today's society has tended to make all of us lead less personal lives.

In the world of garage door openers, where we close out the world behind us without having to leave our cars, or where we are fearful that giving someone a hug, regardless of their gender or age, might get us ostracized, or even get us sued or prosecuted, we have too often stopped taking even small risks of having genuine human interaction for fear of giving offense.

In fact, while on the subject, it really is OK to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” instead of the general but politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Or if you are still concerned, try wishing people a “Happy Spirit of Christmas.”

Finally, many of us, particularly men, have fallen into the trap of failing to confide our hurts, fears and pains with even our best friends.

Remember, friends can't help us with our problems or adversities of life if they don’t know about them.

Obviously you will want to pick the time and pick the right friend. But good friends want to know, want to listen, and want to help.

In fact, this is true to the extent that they will likely hold it against you, or even question your friendship, if you don't confide in them about a serious problem.

Consequently, we should always bear in mind that we are on this planet for only a short time, and during that time we are not alone.

So open up, focus on your language habits and also upon your attitude in your everyday life, and then recognize and share more of your blessed life with others.

Why? Because your attitude about your life, and the way you think about it, will materially affect how your life is spent, and this in turn will also affect the lives of those around you.

Finally, one of Reach’s Rules is to “Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you!”

If you want to find a creed by which to live your life, I suggest that this is the one.

All of us are truly blessed, and we should recognize it and share that fact openly at all opportunities with others. And this in turn will lead you to use the phrase that I use all the time, which is that “Life is Good!” Why do I use that phrase? Because it is true.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The wonderful world of grandparenting - By Judge Jim Gray

When I was a judge on the mental health calendar, one of my happiest collateral duties was to officiate over three adoptions almost every morning, and I tried to make them the truly special occasions that they were.

So, among other things, if there were grandparents in attendance, I had them raise their hands and be sworn, right along with the parents, saying that they had duties to perform as well. Then after complying with the law and having the parents swear to support the children and treat them just as if they were their natural birth children, I also figuratively had the grandparents swear that they would spoil the grandchildren. And I never had a complaint. (For example, of course, the child can have a chocolate chip cookie before dinner, etc.)

Being a grandparent is a wonderful thing. Yes, when the children are messy or misbehaving, they can mostly be returned to the parents, and that can be nice. But much more importantly, the relationship between children and grandparents is truly special.

In fact, grandparents can play a unique role, providing unconditional love, helping to make children aware of their roots, providing values to grow from, cultivating a respect for age and wisdom, providing important role models, and inserting another important person in their lives that children would not want to disappoint with bad behavior.

As a result, grandparents can be important mentors, confidants, elder statesmen, playmates and friends. And because we grew up in a more patient time, when you dialed a telephone number and had to wait for the dial to return back to its resting place, we can bring more of that sense of peace to the children. Of course, grandparents must remember not to contradict the parents, and (mostly) to follow the parents’ rules. But otherwise, the sky is the limit.

So I offer some suggestions about how to make this opportunity the best it can be. And please don’t be bashful in sharing some of your own suggestions on the subject with the rest of us at That way we all can better take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!

Naturally, the first recommendation is to do things with your grandchildren — almost anything. The zoo, the beach, the park, shopping, a baseball game, the county fair and so much more. In fact, I have always anticipated that the best way of going to Disneyland would be to take my grandchildren and simply sit back and watch them enjoy the experience. What a contemplation! And sometimes you will want to take just one of your grandchildren alone. It is really fun to be able to have a concentrated experience with just one at a time.

Actually, reading to and with them can be just as much fun and a bonding experience as an excursion. You can share adventures together, laugh at silliness, pull for heroes, and scoff at villains. Then after you have finished, you can have great discussions about the stories you read, and how they might feel or act had they been one of the characters.

My favorites are reading Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” books to them, or reading Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Sox” with them. Doing this will make long-term and wonderful memories — you can count on it. And along the way you will be exposing these youngsters to a truly joyous and mind-expanding world. (And seriously improving their eventual SAT scores by helping them to develop their language skills and reading comprehension!)

You can also help to create some other truly fun and teachable moments with your grandchildren, virtually all of whom have brains like sponges. For example, borrow a practice used by Newsweek and inspired from Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir Project, by choosing a topic of interest to them and then having them describe their thoughts about it in only six words.

But be sure to give them extra time to think about and refine their selection of words. It can be highly instructive, enable them to show their own particular creativity, and also be lots of fun. This also has the benefit of being able to be done when traveling in a car, or virtually anywhere else.

Another fun and instructive thing to do is to have them find something useful in the home that we take for granted, and write a few paragraphs about how that thing works.

For example, you might have them inspect a toilet, and then write about how it works. Then they can first read what they have written out loud, but in the same boring way that most children read. Then have them read it again, but this time with real and even exaggerated feeling. One approach is to tell them to act as if they know something that will really interest or help their listeners, and be anxious to pass it along to them. You will see that not only the kids will have lots of fun with these projects, but they will learn a lot from them as well.

Similarly, you can play a DVD movie or sitcom for them, or read a play or short story together, and then stop about two-thirds of the way through it and ask them to create their own ending for the story.

Then sit back and watch their creativity blossom. After this has been done, you can all watch or read the actual ending to the story and discuss which ending is better. Most times, of course, you will state — to the grandchildren’s eternal delight — that their endings are better.

Furthermore, in having your grandchildren participate in all of these activities, you will also be giving them the gift of speaking and expressing themselves in public. The more they do it, the smoother and more comfortable they will be — then and for the rest of their lives. And if you give small prizes for the most creative, enthusiastic, realistic, etc. (being sure to spread the prizes around to each of the participants), you will stimulate them to even greater heights.

When I composed my high school musical entitled “Americans All,” I involved the students in doing things like this, and called it “Project Project.” In other words, each student was to try to develop the reputation that, for example, if people knew that Linda would be doing a particular project, they would know that it would be done right, whether it was drawing a picture, taking someone on a tour of their school, or reading a story out loud. In other words, they would “eschew mediocrity,” and instead always pursue excellence. Other than the children’s parents, grandparents are in the best position to promote this concept.

As I am sure you have seen yourself, children do not grow up in reverse. Once your children have grown and gone, they can become your friends — in fact your really good friends, with natural common bonds and experiences.

But now that they are grown, and you are more experienced, and you have more resources, wisdom, and time, you could be blessed to get to do it all over again in being a grandparent. So don’t let this golden opportunity slip by. Because at this point in our lives, being a grandparent really can be what “the good life” is all about!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Our top 10 drug policy goals - By Judge Jim Gray

Last weekend I spoke at a drug policy conference at the University of Texas at El Paso. It was put together in response to a resolution adopted last January by the El Paso City Council that urged the support of “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

This resolution was in turn adopted as a result of the enormous and continuing violence among warring drug cartels across the Rio Grande River from El Paso in Juárez, Mexico.

After my presentation it struck me that through all of these many years I have been speaking about this critical issue, I have never heard anyone who supports the status quo tell us what our goals actually are for our country’s drug policy.

So, with the understanding that we are all on the same side of this issue, namely we all want to reduce drug abuse and all of the harm and misery that accompanies it, I have made a list of the top 10 goals that I think we are trying to accomplish in this area, in order of importance. See if you agree. They are:

1. Reduce the exposure of drugs to and usage of drugs by children;

2. Stop or materially reduce the violence that accompanies the manufacture and distribution of drugs, especially to police officers and innocent by-standers;

3. Stop or materially reduce the corruption of public officials, individual people and companies, and especially children that accompanies the manufacture and distribution of drugs;

4. Stop or materially reduce crime both by people trying to get money to purchase drugs and by those under the influence of drugs;

5. Stop or materially reduce the flow of drugs into our country;

6. Reduce health risks to people who use drugs;

7. Maintain and reaffirm our civil liberties;

8. Reduce the number of people we must put into our jails and prisons;

9. Stop or materially reduce the flow of guns out of our country and into countries south of our border;

10. Increase respect for our laws and institutions.

You might want to replace one of these goals with another, or readjust the order, but I anticipate that most people would basically agree with those top 10 goals. Please give it some thought.

Now please give the subject some further thought, because I genuinely believe that treating the manufacture and sale of these drugs just like we treat alcohol — for adults — will actually accomplish each of those goals, and that pursuing our present policy of drug prohibition will never accomplish any of them.

The last part of that comment has already been proved, because we have been actively pursuing our present policy since the early 1970s, and throughout that entire time, the situation has demonstrably only gotten worse.

If we were to allow these drugs to be manufactured by reputable pharmaceutical or tobacco companies on low bid contract with the government, and then sold to adults at government package stores in brown packaging without any trade names or any advertising whatsoever, and at prices that are about half of what they are being sold for today out on the streets, the drugs would be less available to children.

Ask our young people yourselves, and they will tell you what they tell me, that it is easier for them today to get marijuana, or any other drug, if they want to, than it is alcohol. Why? Because today’s illegal drug dealers don’t ask for ID!

It would also almost completely stop the crime in the manufacture and distribution of drugs, just as the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition put the Al Capones of this world out of business.

Today if Budweiser has distribution problems with Coors, they don’t take guns to the streets to resolve them. Instead they file a complaint in court, and have it peacefully adjudicated by judges like me.

In a similar fashion, the corruption caused by the huge amounts of available cash in today’s illegal distribution of drugs would virtually disappear.

Why? Because the price of the drugs would be cut in half, and it would still be illegal to buy, use, sell or possess drugs not purchased from the government outlets, illegal dealers would lose a great deal of their present market.

That would run most of them out of business. (And if cutting the price in half would not be sufficient, the price could always be reduced further.)

That would also seriously reduce the flow of drugs into our country because there would not be a market for them.

Furthermore, because drug dealers would no longer be making obscene profits from the sale of illicit drugs, they would not have the money to purchase guns here, and smuggle them into countries south of our border.

Most of the health risks of the usage of these drugs today are caused by the unknown strength and unknown purity of the drugs, and things like the AIDS virus and hepatitis are transmitted by using unclean needles. These are easy problems to resolve.

In fact the FDA resolved virtually all of these problems with over-the-counter and prescription drugs years ago. Similarly, the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition virtually eliminated the “bathtub gin” impurities problems.

Because most of the losses of our civil liberties have come from cases involving drug offenses, that trend would be discontinued, thus reducing the erosion of our civil liberties. And because we would not have the illicit drug dealers in business so much any more, and drug users would not automatically be criminals, that would materially reduce the numbers of people we would be forced to incarcerate.

Furthermore, because we would no longer be doing things like arresting sick people for the use of medical marijuana, or seeing people openly selling drugs on street corners, or trying to enforce laws that make literally millions of people in our country automatic criminals for smoking marijuana, that would increase respect for our nation’s laws, as well as the agencies that are attempting to enforce our laws.

The last goal to address would be the issue of crimes committed by drug users, both to get money to purchase the drugs, and crimes committed while under their influence.

I could argue that with the price cut in half, drug addicted people would only need to steal half as much to get their drugs.

But many would argue that, because the price was reduced, those people would simply use more drugs — and they might be right.

But several countries such as Holland and Portugal have found that the act of decriminalizing drugs has made drug-addicted people much less fearful of their own government.

That has resulted in them being much more likely to come forward and seek drug treatment.

Furthermore, now that those governments are saving the money they previously spent to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate users, more money is available to pay for treatment.

In addition, they found that when drug addiction is treated as a medical issue, the usage of drugs is deglamorized, to the extent that younger people are not nearly as likely to go down that road. So for all of those reasons, drug crimes and drug abuse in those countries have been materially reduced.

Regarding crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs, those would still be prosecuted, just like we do today with alcohol-related offenses.

Holding people accountable for their actions, instead of what they put into their bodies, is what the criminal justice system was designed for, and that is a truly legitimate criminal justice function.

What is the difference? Because when someone drives a motor vehicle under the influence of any of these mind-altering and sometimes addicting drugs, etc., they are putting our safety at risk. And they should continue to be prosecuted vigorously for those acts.

So if you really want to achieve the goals of our nation’s drug policy, help me to repeal the policy of Drug Prohibition, which has led us down the wrong path for decades.

And that is not even to mention the large amounts of revenue the governments can generate by taxing these sales.

So that one act will make the world a safer and more prosperous place for us, and for our children. What do you think?

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Getting accurate information to market - by Judge Jim Gray

In many ways, one of the functions of government is to establish systems whereby accurate information can get out into the marketplace. What people do with the information most of the time should be none of the government’s business, but the information should be publicly available. Along those lines, Abraham Lincoln showed his faith that the public would choose wisely when given accurate information when he said: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

There is now an opportunity to put this faith into practice, because a bill is pending in Washington that would require restaurant chains that have more than 20 outlets conspicuously to list the number of calories that are found in their regular menu items. We should all contact our representatives in Washington in support of this measure. California already has a similar law on its books that is scheduled to go into effect in 2011.

Once it is passed into law nationally, that should be sufficient. We do not need — nor want — to establish the “food police,” although there should be some sanctions for knowingly posting false information. And we should not impose extra taxes on high-calorie, high-fat or sugary foods. Just placing accurate information conspicuously in the marketplace is sufficient.

What would happen if this occurs? As a matter of course, one restaurant chain that serves lower calorie foods, whether fast food or otherwise, will soon take advantage of the situation, and begin to advertise that their hamburgers, tacos, etc. taste just as good or better than their competitor’s, but have only two-thirds the saturated fat or calories. Or whatever.

Will everyone stop going to the places with the less healthy choices? No, at least not at the beginning. Obviously this action will affect some people more than others. And I acknowledge that the lower fat and slightly higher cost experiment at McDonald’s with the McLean’s burgers about a decade ago was not successful. But slowly people’s awareness and understanding have been changing. Those changes will continue, and this legislation will hasten the process. Soon not only will it be fashionable to choose more healthy meals, it will also become more generally accepted.

Why would a Libertarian favor this legislation? Why not simply rely upon adults to make nutrition decisions for themselves and their children? In fact, some of my friends said that if I publish this column they would figuratively seek to revoke my Libertarian card. The answer is that I do it because obesity is expensive. And the cost of obesity to all of us is increasing quickly, to the degree that today it accounts for about 9% of national health-care spending, which is up from about 6.5% just a decade ago.

Similar to the passage of helmet laws for people riding motorcycles, if those riders want to take a risk with their own safety, that would be fine with me — as long as I am not required to pay for their injuries. But in today’s world, the health-care costs are not restricted just to those risk-takers, but are spread to the rest of us as well. Therefore under these circumstances, the public has a right to impose these safety requirements.

The costs for publishing information about the nutrition of the menu items would be almost insignificant. There are several simple computer programs that can easily compute the calorie and fat information, and for restaurant chains that have the same menus, the computation would only have to be done once. Yes, most menus would have to be reprinted, and the boards above the counters at the fast food outlets would have to be supplemented, but these would not be material costs, particularly because there would be a phase-in period. But the benefits could be substantial. So any cost/benefit analysis should come down in favor of taking this action.

But this approach should not simply be restricted to passing laws. Each of us should do what we can to make healthier food choices available for people we are involved with. The first and most obvious place to start is in our schools. If you see that your child’s school still has cafeterias, snack stands or vending machines that sell soda pop, potato chips, cookies and other “foods” high in sugar, calories and fats, use whatever influence you have for those items to be replaced with things like juices, vitamin waters, yogurts, apples and other more healthy alternatives. Yes, many of these more nutritious foods cost somewhat more, and have a shorter shelf life, but that is a small price to pay for materially greater health for our children.

Happily, many caring schools have already taken this action, and so have several institutions like the YMCA. But we should also not neglect the snack stands at events like school concerts and recitals, as well as soccer, basketball and little league baseball games.

This will go a long way to put peer pressure in favor of more nutritious eating.

In a similar manner, I am encouraging the managers at my alternative dispute resolution office to stop furnishing potato chips, corn nuts, cookies and other junk food to our clients, and to replace them with more healthy offerings. I have told the story that when I was in junior high school I had a package of corn nuts with almost every lunch. But I had not eaten them since that time, until I retired from the bench and began with my mediation business, where those packages of corn nuts were always there on the tables, just looking at me. So I confess that I sometimes weakened and ate some. But had they not been there, I would have never missed them. So the bottom line is that most people have a weakness, but if caring people “remove us from temptation,” we will all be assisted in making healthier choices.

So please consider doing everyone a favor in this area. Accurate information and a little thoughtful caring can and will go a long way to reduce obesity in us and our children, and will also reduce an appreciable amount of our health-care expenses along the way.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The great Pacific Ocean garbage patch - by Judge Jim Gray

Recently I was shocked to hear of an area in the Pacific Ocean somewhat north of a line between San Francisco and Hawaii that is simply a heap of trash twice the size of Texas! Just as things tend to drift toward the drain in your bathtub when the water is being emptied, this trash has gravitated to this area for decades because of prevailing wind and current conditions.

Could this be true? On occasion, there are stories that are too wild to believe. Maybe this one fits that category, or maybe it doesn’t. Twice the size of Texas is a big area. It sounds unlikely to me, if only because occasional hurricanes have a tendency to move things around a little bit. But people report that they have seen it, and about 90% of the trash is said to be composed of plastic, and the layer of trash varies between 3 inches and 300 feet thick!

Well, after doing some research on plastic, I discovered that it goes into about 225 million tons of products in the world each year. Most of the plastic is manufactured from petroleum, but some also comes from natural gas. So in addition to pollution problems, this has more than just a minor effect on our country’s importation of oil.

And our usage of plastic is increasing. For example, each person in our country consumed an average of 1.6 gallons of bottled water in 1976. That increased to 10.5 gallons in 1993, 22.6 gallons in 2003 and 28.3 gallons in 2006.

As a result, 3.3 billion plastic water bottles were sold in 1997, and 15 billion were sold in 2002. That is a lot of plastic, and the amount is growing, since plastic containers are almost completely replacing those made of glass. In fact, there is even talk of putting expensive wines into plastic bottles.

Since most of the bottled water is consumed away from home, only a small amount of the plastic bottles are recycled, and that rate is decreasing. For example, about 53% of the plastic water bottles were recycled in 1994, but only about 19% were recycled in 2003.

The rest often find their way onto the streets, where many of them eventually flow into drains and out into the ocean.

Today, only 11 states have plastic bottle recycling laws and, of those, only three include plastic water bottles in their programs. They are California, Hawaii and Maine. That is shortsighted, because where there are recycling laws, about four of five bottles are recycled. And in states such as Michigan, which has a return rate of 10 cents per bottle, a full 95% of the bottles are recycled.

When I was growing up, a friend of mine and I routinely went to housing construction sites and picked up the soda bottles, which had a 2-cent return rate. Of course, we did it to make money. By the way, the beer bottles back then did not require a deposit, so we left them alone. Just another example that “Incentives Matter!”

As further proof, we don’t see many aluminum cans littering our cities and highways today, because either the consumer holds onto them for their return value, or various “Dumpster divers” hunt them down and return them for the money.

The same phenomenon explains why used hypodermic needles and syringes are mostly not found on streets and in parks in cities that have needle exchange facilities. As a result, those programs protect people from inadvertently stepping upon a dirty needle and thereby sometimes contracting AIDS or hepatitis!

So why don’t more states have plastic bottle recycling laws? For the same reason: Incentives matter. The water industry knows it will sell more product if the merchants don’t have to charge the return rates, and the beverage industry has more political clout than the environmental groups.

But recycling is a good idea for more reasons than merely cutting down on pollution. For example, the energy saved from making just one aluminum can from a recycled one instead of starting from scratch is enough to power a television set or computer for three hours, or power a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours! And the energy saved from recycling a six-pack of aluminum cans is able to move a standard-sized automobile about five miles.

Similarly, the energy saved from recycling a one-gallon milk jug will power a 100-watt bulb for 11 hours. And recycling a one-foot stack of newspapers will save enough energy to heat a standard-sized home for 17 hours.

So when we see that, of the estimated 28 billion water bottles that are consumed each year in our country, only about 20% of them are recycled, we can see how wasteful we are. And the other 80% either end up in landfills, or as litter that either pollutes our countryside, or ends up in the ocean.

To make matters worse, plastic is not biodegradable, like most of the more natural products. Instead, it is photodegradable, which means that the sun’s rays will make it brittle, similar to what the rays do to the vinyl roof of an automobile. That will cause the plastic to break into smaller pieces, and eventually emerge as a fine dust. But otherwise, it takes decades to break it down further.

So instead of being good stewards of the Earth, we are literally fouling our own nest! And in addition to the pollution issues, many of the birds and fish confuse plastic trash for jellyfish and other food. So when they eat the plastic, the wild beings can’t either digest it or expel it, which means that many of them simply starve to death with their stomachs full of plastic.

All of this is disturbing, but what can we do? Obviously, this is a monumental problem, and each of us is only one person. Nevertheless, we can all help by using recycling programs to the fullest, and also by insisting that legislators from all over the country pass recycling laws. And when asked “paper or plastic,” we can choose paper.

Or better yet, we can form the habit of taking canvas bags with us to do our shopping. And we can also remember to decline using a bag at all when it is not necessary.

In the final analysis, whether this trash dump story is true or not, the problems of plastic trash disposal are enormous. But like with so many other things, the resolution is up to us, and every effort helps!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired 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 or via his website at .