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11/27/07
“IT’S TIME TO GO METRIC”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 9:45 pm

“IT’S TIME TO  GO METRIC”  (19)

            Bob Dylan was quoted as saying that “one is either busy being born or busy dying.”  In my view, that is as true for societies as it is for individual people.  So are we as a country still willing to improve ourselves and accept challenges for change?  Are we still busy being born?  If we are, we should join the rest of the world and convert to the Metric System of measurement.

            There probably is no need to discuss the irrationality of our present Imperial System of weights, measures, distances and temperatures.  No one can argue that there is any logic in having twelve inches in a foot, but three feet in a yard or 5,280 feet in a mile.  The same is true with regard to the lack of a logical relationship among ounces, pounds and tons.  Furthermore, what is the logic in the Fahrenheit system in defining water as freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212 degrees?  And how in today’s world can we continue to use a system that awkwardly measures volumes in fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts, gallons and barrels?  (By the way, exactly how large is a hectare or even an acre of land, or a peck or a bushel of grain?) 

            On the other hand, there is a natural beauty and logic to the Metric system.  Does not the metric system in which water freezes at zero degrees Celsius and boils at 100 make much more sense?  As a result of this sensibility, the sciences of chemistry, physics and medicine in our country long ago shifted to the metric system.  And we have already joined the rest of the world’s athletic communities by using the metric system in our track and field events. 

When countries like Canada converted to the metric system in the 1970s, they used slogans like “Metric: 10 times better.”  They were right.  As a result, the phrase “Speak in English, Measure in Metric” controls the business and scientific life in most of the rest of the world.  Conversely, the only countries in the world in addition to us that are holding on to the Imperial System are Liberia in West Africa, and Myanmar Republic, formerly known as Burma.  So we are not exactly in vibrant company. 

The Metric System was designed during the French Revolution of the 1790s to bring order out of the numbers of conflicting and confusing systems of weights and measures that were then being used in different regions within their country.  Soon this system spread to other countries of Europe because merchants, scientists and other educated people realized the need for a uniform system among all of the nations. 

The basis of this new system came from the Earth itself.  The meter was established as one ten-millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole.  Then the other units of measurement were integrated with the meter.  For example, the liter was measured as the volume of one cubic decimeter, the kilogram was measured as the weight of one liter of pure water, and one calorie was defined as the amount of energy needed to heat one cubic centimeter of water one degree Celsius.  Pretty neat.

Of course, like in virtually all circumstances in which people are requested to change away from what they have grown up with, there was an initial resistance by the general population to this change, especially among the elderly.  As a result the metric system was not made compulsory in France until 1837.  In fact, the first countries formally to adopt the system were Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, and that was in 1820.

But due to the expansion of the global economy and the increasingly important study of sciences, most of continental Europe, Latin America and many other countries around the world adopted the metric system by the year 1900.  Most of the last countries to adapt to the change were in the British Commonwealth, where the Imperial System originated.  But by the 1970s they began to make the change as well.  Now even Great Britain itself has abandoned the metric system, with the one exception of still using yards and miles for road traffic purposes.

All of the countries that converted to this more rational system did so by phasing it in over a few years.  We should do so as well.  My wife lived in Canada during that country’s change and she tells me that within two years most people were comfortable with the new system, even including her parents. 

I recommend that we begin the transition by teaching the metric system in all of our K through 12 schools right away.  Then we can adopt some dates by which all government measurements will be issued in the metric system, including traffic signs and packaged foods and liquids.  The phasing in process should begin by changing from “soft metric” to “hard metric,” so that “1 pint (473 ml)” will soon become “500 ml (1.057 pint),” with the latter slowly being reduced to smaller type size and eventually disappearing all together.   

Maintaining our cumbersome Imperial System of measurements has numbers of costs in addition to our being out of step with most of the rest of the world.  One of the most specific instances of those costs occurred about 15 years ago when one of our space probes malfunctioned and was lost because, as was later determined, one of the engineers on the project failed to change a calculation from inches into centimeters.  But in general, since all of our trading partners use the metric system, making this change cannot fail to increase our success in world trade, and economic strength and political strength go hand in hand.

So as we have seen, from virtually every aspect the metric system makes sense, and we should embrace the challenge and begin to phase it into our daily lives, and thereby allow us to join the other countries in the world in this important area.  And besides, when it comes down to it, gas will seem cheaper at 75 cents per liter, and in addition, since half a liter is more than a pint, everybody will get more beer!

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical “Americans All,” and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or his blogsite at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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11/18/07
“THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC IS HERE”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 3:38 pm

                        “THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC IS HERE” (18)

            Our children have an obesity crisis.  Today a full 15 percent of our children between the ages of 6 and 17 are obese, which is up from only 5 percent in the late 1970s.  Of course this is not just limited to children, because a full 20 percent of all the residents in 47 states in our country are obese.  That is a sizeable increase because as late as 1990, no state was above 15 percent.  California is presently 36th  worst in the nation for adult obesity, and 32nd worst for childhood obesity. 

            So what difference does this make?  As a result of problems with obesity, 25 percent of the children born in our country this year are expected to incur diabetes sometime in their lives.  The reason is that our children increasingly are less physically active, subjected to more stress and eat more harmful fats and fewer fruits and vegetables.  And, of course, the same is generally true for everyone else in our country as well. 

One reason for this striking change is that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a full 52 percent of our overall vegetable intake comes from iceberg lettuce, potatoes and canned tomatoes.  This basically means that most of whatever fruits and vegetables we do eat comes from hamburgers, french fries and tomato paste.

            So today for the first time in our nation’s history, children have a lower life expectancy than their parents.  In fact, soon deaths related to obesity like heart disease and diabetes will surpass deaths from smoking tobacco, which today is the leading cause of death in our country.   

Fortunately there actually are some easy and straightforward remedies to this epidemic.  Those remedies are well known to us all: better nutrition and more daily exercise.  But these remedies will not be utilized unless adults take the initiative for change for themselves and their children.  Obviously children will not change on their own because fatty foods usually taste better than nutritious ones – at least until a person’s taste for foods changes.  So how can we encourage adults and parents to act?

            One thing being done by the YMCA and several school districts is removing things like sodas, potato chips, cookies and other high calorie, fat, salt and sugar snack “foods” from their vending machines.  They are also discontinuing the sales of these items at school and community sports and other events.  These unhealthy substances in their vending machines have been replaced with various waters, water drinks, fruit juices, nuts, seeds, raisons and fresh fruits and vegetables.  And at their community events they are also selling more yogurt and fruit smoothies.  Other critical approaches are to encourage people at every level of their lives to turn off the television and become more physically active, and to encourage families to have at least one healthy sit-down meal together each day.

            More concretely, the City of Huntington Beach has a model program in place that emphasizes physical activity and increased nutrition for healthier children and communities.  It is called the Oak View Renewal Partnership, and it is based at the Oak View Elementary School. 

This program provides living proof that one good project can lead to another.  For example, during the kick-off event for the program they distributed information about the comparison between nutritious and non-nutritious foods.  This led to a food network that soon partnered with “Harvest of the Month,” which provides a monthly USDA-funded publication to all the participants that is dedicated to growing healthy students. 

Soon the parents of the children focused upon the fact that nutrition is only part of the approach, and that physical activity is also a key.  So they formed a girls’ running program and other sports clubs such as their soccer league that now has 22 teams.  This in turn caused the teachers also to take notice, with the result that 20 of them formed “The Biggest Loser” club, with different teams competing to see which group could lose the most weight.  After only eight weeks the 20 teachers lost a total of 230 pounds.  And the program kept expanding with an Eat 5 Fruits and Vegetables Day, an Adult Walking Club and a Bike Campaign so they could raise money for their projects while exercising and continuing to be healthy.

Further constructive efforts come from a consortium that banded together more than 65 grocery stores and one food pantry in a retail program to increase the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income adults and their families.  The program utilizes a combination of in-store merchandising, such as posters, recipe cards, aprons, and promotional activities, such as food demonstrations and store tours to expose these at-risk people to the benefits of good nutrition.

Some school districts are furthering the goals of a healthier community by sponsoring jump rope contests, walking clubs and Walk to School programs.  They have also held International Walk to School days, as well as trying to implement a permanent “Walking School Bus” program where, beginning one day a week, their students will safely walk to school while picking up their fellow students along the way. 

Of particular note, several of these groups are presently working to establish farmer’s markets in their areas.  They know that even where fresh fruits and vegetables are available they are often quite a bit more expensive than the canned stuff.  These leaders realize that farmer’s markets cannot only bring higher quality produce to their communities at a lower price, but they can also bring a change in lifestyle that can perpetuate itself.

Plans for the future include cooking classes in which children and adults are instructed in the preparation and benefits of fresh foods, the planting of fruit trees and vegetables on plots of land at schools sites and other community areas, and a daily regimen of dancing or other physical activities for adults and children.  Not only is exercise important for keeping one’s weight in check, it is also pivotal in burning off stress and otherwise optimizing mental health.

More long-range projects include efforts to encourage employers to offer healthy foods at their meetings and events, and for employers to encourage their employees to take physical activity breaks by using stairs instead of elevators, and providing employee walking paths, tracks, pedometers, bike racks, lockers and shower facilities.  In addition, efforts are being made to encourage school districts to require high school students to take a semester of health education as a condition for their graduation.  Those classes would provide information about nutrition, mental health and the effects of all mind-altering, sometimes addicting drugs, including tobacco, alcohol and caffeine in addition to the illicit substances.

Just after World War II, our country by average had the tallest people in the world.  But by the time the baby boomers reached adulthood in the 1960s, most northern and western European countries had caught up with and even surpassed us.  Today people in the Netherlands stand almost two inches taller than the average American.  The reason for this disparity in height is not per capita income.  People in the Czech Republic are taller than Americans, and their income is barely half of ours.  Instead the reason for this change is better nutrition in those countries, which in turn promotes taller people and a longer life.  American children eat more meals that are prepared outside the home than do the children in these other countries, either from fast food sources or store-bought pre-prepared meals, and the nutritional difference shows.

But with honest education and re-focused direction, people’s habits can change.  Part of that change can come from local programs like discussed here, and part of it can come from the government requiring restaurants to post the calorie, trans fat, saturated fat, carbs and sodium content of the food products they sell.  Then, knowing how the free market works, some food providers will soon probably start advertising that their meals are more nutritious than that of their competitors, and good things would begin to happen.

So change can happen, and, like with everything else, it begins here at home.  For example, when we began our OC in Motion breakfast meetings we served coffee cakes and do-nuts.  But now we serve yogurt, granola, melons and berries.  Today many public-spirited people here in Orange County are pursuing that change as well.  But now we need you.   Can we conquer the ongoing epidemic of childhood and adult obesity?  I believe we can if keep in mind the thought of Henry Ford who said: “Whether you believe you can, or believe you can’t, you’re right.”

James P. Gray is a Judge of the Orange County Superior Court, and the composer of the high school musical “Americans All,” and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or by visiting his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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11/11/07
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF CITIZENSHIP
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 4:40 pm

                                    THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF CITIZENSHIP  (17)

                                (To be published on Veteran’s Day, November 11 or 12)

            Recently I heard about a poll taken of high school students that asked them only two questions.  The first was: “What are the benefits of being a citizen of the United States of America?”  The students generally responded by furnishing a long list of benefits, such as enjoying our Constitutional freedoms, entitlement to a good education and such things as clean air and water, the promise of a good job and a gratifying life, etc. and etc.

            The second question was: “What are the responsibilities of being a citizen of the United States of America?”  That list was quite short, with most students providing only a few comments about reasonably paying your taxes and voting in elections, and a few mentioned jury service as well.  That was all.

            What a sorry situation!  Of course we have benefits conferred upon us by being blessed to be citizens of this great country.  But with those also come responsibilities!  And if our children do not realize this fact, we have no one to blame but ourselves!

            So what are the responsibilities that go along with citizenship?  Yes, it is our responsibility to protect our Constitution, pay our lawful taxes, serve on juries and vote in elections.  But there is so much more, and we are remiss in not focusing upon these duties both for ourselves and for our children. 

            In my view it is our fundamental responsibility to try to leave this world a better place than we found it.  That means we do not pollute or otherwise “foul our nest,” even though we may not get a tax break for it.  We clean up after ourselves, and we recycle. 

            Yes, we should vote in elections.  But simply voting the way other people tell us to, or worse, the way the advertisements indoctrinate us to is not the desired end.  Instead it is our responsibility to be educated and informed voters!  And we should readily agree to serve on juries, because in that way we play an important part of our own government.

            But our responsibilities do not stop there.  We have an affirmative responsibility in a republic to inform ourselves and to speak out on the issues of our day.  We also have an obligation to seek out good candidates for office and to support them.  This support should not be limited to giving money to their campaigns, but should also include walking precincts for them, putting up yard signs, and opening our doors for fundraisers and “meet and greet” sessions to introduce the candidates to our neighbors.

            Did you notice, like I did, after the horrors of September 11, 2001 all of the American flags that people flew on their cars?  But did you also notice that the turnout at the next election, which was less than two months later, was distressingly poor?  Where were all of those flag-waving people when it came time to vote?

            Of course there are many other legal and moral obligations that go along with good citizenship, like helping to feed the poor, provide for the elderly and mentally disabled, honoring ones parents, and obeying our laws.  These are generally well recognized.  But there is at least one more that often avoids notice, and that is the responsibility of mentoring.

            Those of us who are blessed to have “chosen our parents well” also have a responsibility to help to mentor those children who did not “choose” their parents quite as effectively.  There is absolutely no substitute for raising children with large helpings of “the old one-two,” which is love and affection, on the one hand, and personal responsibility on the other.  We can provide those things and a good example to children both in our public and our private lives.  We as mentors can do that – and we must!

            But why discuss all of this today?  Because today is Veteran’s Day, and we also have a responsibility to the veterans of our Armed Forces.  This means more than simply expressing our appreciation to them for their service – although that is important.  When these men and women answered the call – for whatever reason – and put on the uniform of our military forces, for our part we promised to support them all the way. 

That means we protect them with the best military training and material we reasonably can provide.  Furthermore, if they are killed while in our service, we will take their place in providing reasonable care for their dependents.  And if these vets are injured we will provide them with first-rate care for as long as it is reasonably required.  By the way, it also means that if we see veterans who are amputees or otherwise seriously injured, we will not look away from them as if they are unlike the rest of us.  Instead we will look them in the eye like normal people, thank them sincerely for their service to our country and treat them like the heroes that they are. 

Whether we agree with the political decisions to have put our troops into Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Iraq is simply not the issue.  We always keep our promises to our troops.  Part of the funding of a war is the funding of its casualties.  It is an act of responsible citizenship. 

The three most patriotic places I have ever been in my life are the Arlington National Cemetery, Ellis Island and the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii.  Frankly I got tears in my eyes and extra strength in my heart from my visits to each place.  Especially at the USS Arizona, which has a memorial that is constructed lower in the middle over the sunken battleship.  This symbolizes the lowest ebb of our morale and spirit when the ship went down, and higher on the sides as we moved away from the tragedy.

Our morale and spirit naturally climb when we take our responsibilities of citizenship seriously and thereby do our part to contribute to the continuing greatness of our country.  So please join with me in flying your flag proudly today in celebration of Veteran’s Day.  And along the way, let us join together in the contemplation of and commitment to good citizenship and all that this commitment entails.

Our troops today and throughout our history have shown their commitment and citizenship by having safeguarded our freedoms and our heritage, often at great personal sacrifice.  We owe it to them and to our country to carry out our commitments as well.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, and the composer of the high school musical “Americans All.”

           

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11/04/07
“GOVERNMENT IS THE REASON FOR OUR HEALTHCARE COLLAPSE”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 2:53 pm

“GOVERNMENT IS THE REASON FOR OUR HEALTHCARE COLLAPSE”   (16)

                                               

Without any question the healthcare system in our country is not working.  The evidence of that failure is all around us.  Healthcare costs are out of control, twenty percent of the people in California cannot afford, choose not to buy or cannot obtain healthcare coverage, hospital emergency rooms and entire hospitals are going out of business, competent doctors and other healthcare providers are getting out of the profession, and there are allegations that poor people who are sick are being “dumped” back onto the streets. 

Why has this happened?  The answer to that critical question can be traced directly back to the government taking control of the system.  Before the 1960s, the United States of America had one of the best healthcare systems in the world, both with regard to quality services and relatively low cost.  But slowly the government started taking control of the system, with demonstrably disastrous results.

And now there is serious talk about having “Universal Health Coverage” or a “One-Payer System,” etc. that would be controlled by the government!  But that is exactly the wrong direction to be going!  How in anyone’s mind can a government that has a record of uncontrolled spending, deficits and borrowing, as well as a mind-set that “one size fits all,” be in a position to take virtually complete control over the healthcare decisions of everyone in the country?  Instead, think of the situation this way: “If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it is free!”

            So what do we do instead?  We should first recognize that there are three groups of people in our country whose needs must be addressed: those who are able to take care of themselves medically, those who cannot, and those who are in between.  Then we need to address each of those groups separately. 

Those in the first group that are able to take care of themselves should be allowed to negotiate with healthcare providers and insurance companies in the libertarian way, completely free of the influence and mandates of government.  This will directly bring up the quality of healthcare services and lower the costs. If you need an example of how that is so, consider that today there are two areas of medical practice in which patients receive quality care and services at competitive prices.  What are they?  Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery.  Why?  Because those procedures are subject to the free market, and are not restricted by governmental or even insurance control.  As a result, most magazines, newspapers and other media are filled with advertisements from various doctors who have “done this procedure thousands of times,” and who will provide the same quality service to you at low cost and easy monthly payments, etc. 

But we do not see similar ads today about other medical procedures.  Why is that?  Because if a patient’s health insurance is going to pay for them, everyone wants and feels entitled to the “Cadillac” of treatments, whether those services are actually needed or not.  And certainly no one needs to discuss payment terms.  In the meantime, the government is dictating ever more services that the insurance companies must include in their coverage.  Insurance carriers respond by continually reducing the payments they make to the healthcare providers for the services they provide to the patients.  This accounts for the spiral of increasing costs and decreasing care that we have experienced for the last four decades.

            The best way to take advantage of market competition in the healthcare field would be to combine the use of “medical savings accounts” along with required catastrophic insurance coverage.  Unfortunately, today the common wisdom is for programs of this kind be funded by employers.  I think that is shortsighted.  Why should it be the employers’ responsibility to provide for the medical care of anybody?  In addition, as a practical matter, if the system drives up the cost of labor, many people not only will not have medical coverage, they also will not have a job!

This alternative program would have adults pay for health insurance with a $5,000 deductible for themselves, and a $2,000 deductible for their children.  Then those deductible amounts of money would be placed by that person into a medical savings account, which would be used for medical expenses solely at that person’s discretion.  Importantly, this will give patients an incentive to find the most appropriate and cost-effective services necessary for their particular medical situation.  Payment for the services would be made directly to the healthcare provider by the patient by using a form of debit card to access the funds in that patient’s account. 

            Studies show that the average adult in our country spends about $3,000 per year for medical expenses, unless that person has some form of catastrophic medical problem, and it costs less for most children.  Of course, if there were a serious medical problem the insurance coverage would be utilized.   

The benefits under this new program would be huge.  The costs of healthcare would be materially reduced by the re-injection of competition into the marketplace.  Further savings would be realized by a giant reduction of administrative costs, since there would be many fewer billings to insurance companies, fewer delays, and much less fraud.  In fact, 31 percent of today’s $776 billion in medical insurance coverage payments is used for administration and profits of the insurance companies.  Think of the actual health services that money could pay for!  In addition, doctors, nurses, hospitals and other medical healthcare professionals would be able to reclaim the practice of their profession from the insurance and governmental bureaucrats.     

The public would benefit by receiving more competitive rates for their catastrophic insurance coverage.  In addition, they would be able both to select the most cost-effective medical treatments that would address their needs, and be able to “roll over” the excess amounts each year that were not spent for their healthcare into an IRA account for their personal use or for their long-term care upon retirement. 

            The better-run insurance companies would also benefit under this plan by having greater freedom to experiment with the types of competitive plans they offer for catastrophic coverage, anything from “bare bones” to the full “Cadillac.”  In addition, they would no longer be forced by government mandates to provide coverage for treatments that were not taken into account when the policy premiums were originally selected, such as alcohol and other drug-abuse treatments, chiropractic, medicines or programs for contraception, psychiatric counseling or therapy, and even in-vitro fertilization.  Of course those services would still be available to customers that were willing to pay for the premiums.

            So for the people who could take care of themselves, the price of healthcare would come down, and the quality would go up.  I think everyone would agree that this would be good news.  But without question there will always be some people who simply do not have the financial ability to take care of their own medical needs.  So what about them?

 

Well, first I must state my libertarian opinion that healthcare should not be considered to be a “right” in our country or anywhere else.  I do not believe that one person not in that person’s family “owes” another person the right to healthcare.  But I do agree that it is voluntarily the right thing to do.  So with that distinction made, we will all still be on the same page.

            My suggestion for those who cannot afford their own medical protection is for the government to set up a system of medical clinics and hospitals to provide care for them, either directly or more likely by private contract.  Patients would not be able to make prior appointments, and probably there would not be a fancy rug on the floor at the clinic.  But otherwise people’s medical needs would be met.  A small co-payment for each visit would be required from each patient to ensure that the visit is really necessary, but if some people literally could not afford that either, it could be waived.

  For years this approach has been denigrated as “socialized medicine.”  But this approach has worked well for decades in our military services, and maybe they, along with Veterans Administration hospitals, could be combined with these new proposed facilities.  In addition, today some private groups provide similar medical coverage to patients who voluntarily enroll, and I understand that for the most part the patients are content with the services.  And many fine doctors are happy to be employed there as well, since they are more able to practice medicine unencumbered by administrative limitations.  In addition the doctors like the feature that when they are on duty they will be on duty, but when they are off duty, they are not usually on call, so they have much more of a private life. 

Under this system most of the money would be spent for doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines, and not for administration, bureaucracy and fraud.  Would there still be some problems with those who cannot afford to take care of themselves?  Of course.  And will people who have money obtain better services than those who do not?  Yes, but life has always been and will always be like that.  But by and large this system should address everyone’s issues far more beneficially and economically than any other. 

            Finally, what about those people in between?  Well, in the first place, if the costs to employers to hire their employees, and the costs of health insurance and medical services are reduced as set forth above, this middle group of people will shrink substantially.  So more of the people who are now “in-between” will join the first group.  But the ones remaining should be required to make an appreciably larger co-payment when they go to these facilities for services based upon their income.

            This is certainly a complicated and important issue.  But our healthcare system, which at one time was the envy of the world, will never regain its prominence until it is revitalized by the system of innovation and competition that made it great in the first place.  I acknowledge that this proposal would be expensive, but far less and with a better return than anything else being discussed.  In the meantime, considering that government meddling and mandates are directly responsible for the collapse of our healthcare system, even thinking about expanding the government’s bureaucratic role in it is virtual madness.

           

James P. Gray is an Orange County Superior Court judge and the composer of the high school musical “Americans All.”  He can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog site at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com. 

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