Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Braving heart problems together - by Judge Jim Gray

The Braveheart Project was started in Scotland during the middle 1990s by a group of coronary heart disease health-care professionals who were concerned that their patients were losing valuable information as they were being referred from one expert in the field to another. Once they focused upon their patients' situation, the reason was quite plain: Their patients were not experts in the field, were in a foreign and stressful environment, and were almost always scared. So all of these conditions tended to result in a lack of attention and loss of memory.

To counteract this problem, these caring professionals formed a mentoring program led by non-professional, volunteer lay people, and preferably ones who had a history of coronary heart disease. Then they set up group sessions with the current coronary patients in non-clinical environments, with the added provision that health professionals would never be invited. The purpose was to see if this approach would result in the valuable information being better retained, and more motivation being generated for the patients to take control and do what was needed to improve their overall quality of life.

Two pilot programs were set up, each with a fully-trained but non-professional health mentor, and 10 to 12 cardiac patients were referred to each program. The groups determined their own agenda and met for two-hour sessions, three times per week, in non-clinical locations like community halls or schools. But the core of each program included a discussion about the basic nature of coronary disease, various risk factors, and the importance of medications, exercise and diet. Each program also drew up a code of conduct that would govern each person's behavior during the meetings.

The results of each of these two programs were dramatic. Almost without exception, each patient became part of a support group for every other patient, and each also tried to live up to the positive expectations of the group. Thus each patient became much more motivated to learn about the disease and possible remedies, and many were amazed to learn first hand how much personal control they actually had over their own situation.

Specifically the two programs resulted in significant improvements in exercise scores, such that the average time spent walking per week was increased by a full 72 minutes. There was also an increase in adherence to medication regimens, a slight but important reduction in the intake of saturated and other fat, and reduced necessities to return to doctors, clinics and hospitals.

This approach can be extended to almost anything in life. For example, a similar study found that encouraging nursing home residents without dementia faithfully to share mealtimes with each other resulted in a noticeable increase of motivation, quality of life, physical performance and healthful body weight.

None of this should be surprising, because inherently we are all social animals, and are better adjusted and happier when we can share our challenges and feelings with our fellow human beings. Thus any time people with mutual problems or challenges can be grouped together, and the leaders or mentors can focus upon ownership of and responsibility for whatever their problems may be, good things are likely to happen. Of course, this is the principle behind groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, drug treatment programs and other group therapy, and even support groups for people recently released from prison.

In fact, speaking of prisons, when I was in my first year of law school at USC, our contracts professor formed us into study groups, and required us to discuss the cases and respond to different problems as a group. This approach was so successful that four of us grouped together when we studied for the bar examination after graduation.

Similar approaches have increased success in running, weight lifting and other exercise programs. Why are they almost unfailingly successful? Because there is a natural human inclination to please or at least not to disappoint one's partners, and that results in more motivation and successful compliance.

To take this one step farther, when I was growing up, my family had the tradition of eating meals together — with the television turned off! Looking back, this tradition tangibly fostered a much greater interest in each other's activities and feelings, a better and more loving and lasting relationship among us, and also more of a motivation generally to succeed. Many families do not seem to follow that tradition today, and that is unfortunate. In fact, if this column encourages even one family to spend their meals quietly discussing the events of the day with each other and sharing their feelings, I will consider it to be a success.

The same thing is true about friends meeting together on a regular basis to share their feelings and problems, and just "be" together. It almost always is great therapy. Women are typically better at this than men, but as women have increased their involvement in the workplace, even many of them have regressed.

So take a lesson from the Braveheart Project, and take time regularly to gather your family and friends together, or any people who face the same problems and challenges that you do, and learn from and support them as we all face and take ownership of whatever life has thrown our way. This will help all of us better to meet and resolve our challenges in life, and to reap the benefits — not to mention fun — of what some good camaraderie and human sharing can provide.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Promote our heritage - By Judge Jim Gray

My column on July 5, 2009, cited the Heritage Museum of Orange County as being a gem, but one that needed more attention and polishing. Since then, I have accepted a position on its board of directors and have been rolling up my sleeves with polishing rags in hand. It is the purpose of this column to encourage you to join us in that effort.

According to its mission statement, the Heritage Museum is a cultural and natural history center dedicated to preserving, promoting, and restoring the heritage of Orange County and the surrounding region through quality hands-on educational programs for students and visitors of all ages.

And that is what we do.

Our primary function is to educate elementary school children about what life was like in Orange County in the 1890s and early 1900s, and every year about 20,000 children are bused to the museum to spend about four hours with us. During that time, they go on a tour of our Kellogg House, which was built in Santa Ana in 1898, and are shown how to make butter and quilts, and wash clothes with a washboard, observe the setting of a formal dinner table, learn proper table etiquette while eating, play with some of the children's toys of that era and dress up in period clothing.

In the Gold Rush program, students are also taken on a "trip" from Independence, Mo., to the gold fields of California. But before they leave they have to plan for the trip and buy the essentials they will need. Their journey ends at our stream where they explore our gold mine, pan for gold and are taught to yell, "Eureka!" when they find their own gold nugget.

Since this is a "hands-on" museum, the children are also able to touch and use our pump organ and native "artifacts," participate in a traditional "round" dance and make a ceremonial rattle to take home. They also see our working blacksmith shop and are sometimes given some of its creations, like a nail or a block of wood with a "brand" on it.

But we have so much more potential, because the museum sits on an 11-acre site and only about a third of the property is really being used. So at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, we will have a meeting at the museum for people who might be interested to help us develop the museum's potential. At that time we will walk the grounds, discuss some of the possibilities and form subcommittees for about 12 varied, interesting and challenging projects.

For example, only the inside of one of our two Victorian houses, the Kellogg House, has been restored. The Maag House, which was built in 1899, has not yet been restored, and one of our subcommittees will be dedicated to that project. We already have interest from Taller San Jose in helping in this project. This fine Orange County organization teaches at-risk young adults the trade of carpentry, and they can use our Maag House restoration project as an opportunity to teach students their new craft.

Another subcommittee will look into the possibility of digging a water well on our site. For the last two months it cost us $1,700 just to irrigate the orange trees and other plants on the premises, and we can help our financial situation significantly by reducing that bill. But even more importantly, we have the only two remaining "wetlands" in Santa Ana, and we plan to clean out all non-native plants, and use our new well to pump water into them, after which they will be re-stocked with frogs and native fish. These ponds were also once used by large numbers of migrating birds, and we believe they will be again.

The museum also has plans to install a formal garden of native water-wise plants. Normally whenever people think of water-wise plants they think of cactus and succulents, but many other more formal plants also use reduced amounts of water. So one of our subcommittees will take on the planting of such a garden, and educating the local community about how this can be done.

As stated above, our blacksmith shop is operational and it produces lots of useful tools and other implements. But the doorway to it only provides limited visibility for the school children to observe the smithies in operation. The subcommittee to expand the blacksmith shop will enlarge the viewing area to fix that problem.

As far as we know, at present, there are no farmers markets in Santa Ana. So one of our subcommittees will explore the possibility of setting one up every week on our property. (Parking is not a problem!) As you know, farmers markets spread lots of good things around the community in addition to natural and healthier foods at a lower cost, and this is what we want to bring to the people in and near the Santa Ana area.

And talk about history? One of our projects is to develop a quarterly speakers series for people who have roots in Orange County who will reminisce about what has happened here over the last century. Where better can this happen than at the Heritage Museum?

The possibilities are almost endless. We have a natural setting for an amphitheater that could seat 500 or more people and could be used for scouting or other community events. We also have hives of honey bees, but need a subcommittee to help us to develop and increase the potential of Heritage Museum honey and community education about bees. We even have room for three additional Victorian houses!

The Heritage Museum is in the process of developing a master plan, but we need your energy and guidance to help us create a broader and more lasting legend! So join us at the museum and bring a friend with you who might also be interested. It's not required, but I would appreciate your sending me an e-mail in advance so we can prepare a nametag for everyone. The address is 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana, and our website is http://www.heritagemuseumoc.org.


And by the way, put on your calendar that we will be having a Family Festival of Bluegrass and Americana Music at the Heritage Museum from 1 to 7:30 p.m. May 22, 2011. Like everything else connected with the Heritage Museum, it will be sensational!

And if you get the chance, tune in at noon or 7:45 p.m. Sunday to C-SPAN's Book TV show to see the book signing discussion about my new book "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems" (The Forum Press, 2010), or you could record the show when it is rebroadcast at 3:45 a.m. Monday.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical revue "Americans All" (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Government needs to step out of center debate - by Judge Jim Gray

So should the Muslim community be "allowed" to build a mosque or religious center two blocks away from the former World Trade Center site? Actually President Obama gave us the answer. Numbers of times in these pages I have been critical about some of Obama's comments and policies, mostly dealing with economic issues, but this time he got it exactly right!

Obama said that the government should not interfere in this decision because it is a question of religious freedom. But he also said that, under the circumstances, building a mosque or religious center in that place would be insensitive, and the Muslim community should show the grace to decide to put it somewhere else. This may be a subtle distinction, but it is a critically important one.

First of all, this issue presents a wonderful teaching opportunity to show the world that we really do have religious freedom in the United States — and make no mistake, the world is watching! Because the Muslims own the land and the zoning is in their favor, they have the clear legal and constitutional right to build the center on this site, and that should end the government's involvement. The idea of "I support religious freedom, but not in my back yard" is not what the Bill of Rights stands for.

But secondly, and even more importantly, if we persist in looking to the government every time decisions like this have to be made, we will lose the ability to deal with each other as people. For example, years ago when I moved into a new house in San Clemente, the homeowner's association was contemplating installing a system of fines for virtually every activity one could imagine. So if people left their trash cans on the street for too many hours after the trash was collected, they would receive a fine. Or if your neighbors mowed their lawns on a Sunday morning, you could call the "association police" and have a fine assessed. I attended a meeting and recommended that the whole system be scrapped.

Instead I suggested that if your neighbors were playing their music too loud, etc., simply go across the street, introduce yourself (if you have to) and politely ask them to turn the volume down. That would give everyone the opportunity to act in a "neighborly" fashion, which is what most of us would do if given the chance. Those in attendance agreed with that approach, and voted down the program. (And then they proceeded to draft me to be a member of the board of directors.)

It is the same thing with the question of the Muslim center. Having the government step in puts the Muslim community immediately on the defensive and deprives it of the opportunity to choose to be sensitive. Instead the situation evolves into a legal or political event, where if the Muslim leaders graciously decided to build the center somewhere else, it will look like they are capitulating or "giving in." As a result, they are almost forced into taking a more hard line position. In addition, if they do decide to build the center there anyway, that might also reduce the chances that they would, as a compromise measure and gesture of good will, include a memorial to all of the people on the ground who lost their lives.

As another case in point, remember when the Catholic Church decided to remove a 26-foot cross erected at a Carmelite convent within view of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination site in Poland, and also move the nuns to a different location? This was done without governmental fiat, but instead as a gracious accommodation to Jewish sensibilities not to have a cross easily visible from the site of this tragedy for the Jewish people (and tens of thousands of non-Jews). The Polish government not being involved gave the Catholic Church this opportunity to be gracious, and our government not being involved in this matter in Lower Manhattan will give the Muslim community the same opportunity.

Furthermore, even aside from the critically important constitutional protections of religious freedoms, how could a government possibly draft regulations or laws dealing with situations like this? The practical problems are significant. For example, just what constitutes "hallowed" ground? Yes, the destruction of the World Trade Center was a catastrophe, but how big a catastrophe must there be? What about the site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground near Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania, despite the heroic attempt of passengers and crew to thwart the terrorists' further plans? Why not include the sites of other airplane crashes where large numbers of people have died? Or how about the site of the federal building in Oklahoma City that was destroyed with much loss of life by Timothy McVeigh? All of the loved ones of those who lost their lives grieved just as much!

Or, for that matter, why should hallowed ground only come from catastrophes? What about other hallowed grounds, like Gettysburg, Cape Canaveral, Yellowstone National Park, or even Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y., or Fenway Park in Boston? Who gets to decide? And how far away should these edicts be enforced? Two blocks? Three? Ten miles? Only where visible? (That would exclude this proposed Muslim center.) And should the laws just apply to Muslim religious centers? How about Christian centers, or those of the YMCA? These are almost impossible situations for laws to cover — or to enforce — and trying to draft or implement them will only result in additional and almost irresolvable emotional confrontations.

Finally, and just as importantly, in many regards what we are seeing with this issue are many radical people with an agenda using it as a political opportunity for their own purposes. They include some Christians and others fanning the flames of Islamophobia, and some Muslims and others using the opportunity to show their paranoia. Let's try to take away these types of opportunities by using our efforts to tone down all of the rhetoric.

The first place to start in this and so many other situations is to get the government out of the equation. This will foster a situation that will more greatly promote people treating each other in a humanitarian manner, and also get us further away from being outcome oriented and instead back to understandable process and principles.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at jimpgray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.judgejimgray.com. Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Geothermal hot in sustainable world - by Judge Jim Gray

Much of Iceland sits on active volcanic zones. In fact, that is why the country is known as the land of fire and ice. In those volcanic areas, when ground water flows down into the cracks of the Earth's surface and encounters hot or molten rock, it either turns into hot water that can be harvested to heat buildings, or steam that can be used to generate electricity in a fairly cheap and clean manner. This is so successful that Icelanders consider geothermal energy and fish to be their two largest natural resources.

From what we can gather, California's Paleo-Indians were using the steam and hot water of the geysers in the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County more than 10,000 years ago to keep warm, and geothermal pools have been a part of Icelandic culture from the time of their first settlers.

The first prototype of a geothermal power plant was built in Tuscany, Italy, in 1905, and that plant went into full production in 1911. Tuscany's facility continued to be the only geothermal power plant in the world until New Zealand built another one in 1958. Since that time, geothermal plants were brought on line in Mexico in 1959, the United States in 1960, Japan in 1966, Siberia in 1967, and Iceland in 1969.

Now many other countries have built their own plants as well, including El Salvador, China, Tunisia, Indonesia and Kenya. All of this has resulted in a 20% increase of global geothermal power in just the last five years, and it now accounts for about 5% of the world's total generation of electricity. All of this gives rise to some people saying that geothermal energy is really steaming.

The Earth's core is found about 4,000 miles below the surface, and the temperatures there are estimated to be about 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat in the core originally came from the molten rock that was formed when Earth was first created, but now the heat is sustained by the decay of radioactive particles.

Fortunately, scientists believe that this generation of extreme heat will continue for billions of years into the future, so for all practical purposes, geothermal is considered to be a never-ending source of energy. That also means that the entire world resource base of geothermal energy is greater than the resource bases of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium combined.

If we were to dig down about 50 to 60 miles into the Earth, we would hit molten rock of about 1,200 to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and about three to four miles down we would find dry rock of about 300 to 400 degrees. So geothermal energy could be used any place on Earth to generate electricity, but the dry rock areas would be quite a bit more expensive.

It is cheaper to generate electricity in volcanic zones where the cracks in the Earth's surface allow groundwater to percolate down to the hot rocks, and then generating plants can harness the resultant steam. Therefore, just like in Iceland, the Western United States, Alaska and Hawaii are ideal places to use geothermal energy to make electricity.

Today in Iceland, a full 90% of the homes are heated by piping in hot water, and steam is used to generate 25% of its electricity. But there are other benefits in addition to costs. For example, geothermal energy is reliable, sustainable, available and because the amount of land usage is relatively small, aesthetically less harmful. In addition, geothermal energy is environmentally friendly because there are virtually no waste emissions except for water vapor, and it there is no need to pipe or truck in any external fuel to run the generators.

And, happily, more recent technology is reducing the costs of geothermal generating plants in the non-volcanic areas as well. All that is needed is to drill two holes down about four miles. Then fresh water is poured into the first hole and onto the molten rock, and then the resultant steam is harnessed to generate electricity when it escapes through the second hole. Simple, clean and relatively inexpensive.

So considering the costs, environmental harms and health hazards caused by our burning of coal, which is still our primary source of power to generate electricity, and the political problems that are being faced by hydroelectric generating plants, many smart investors are starting to look into geothermal energy power for heating buildings and generating electricity. This system is working well in Iceland, and there is no reason why it cannot work increasingly well here.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical "Americans All" (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.