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 .