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02/24/08
“WHO ARE YOUR HEROES?”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 7:43 pm

                                    “WHO ARE YOUR HEROES?” (29)

            Who are your heroes?  People want to know.  Do they include Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Adolf Hitler, Ronald Reagan, Michael Jordan, or Jesus Christ?  Or Che Guevara, Mahatma Gandhi or Ayn Rand?  Does it make any difference?  Well, yes it does.

            Frequently when I was sitting on a Juvenile Court calendar I would tell the young people in my court: “You show me your friends, and I will show you your future.”  And I believe that is true.  But that is about their future.  If you show me your heroes, I will go a long way in showing you who you are now, what you believe in, and how you can be influenced in those beliefs. 

            Knowing who people hold as heroes in many ways demonstrates those people’s values, and shows who and what they will follow.  Accordingly, choosing one’s heroes is an important exercise that has a lasting impact.  But the importance goes beyond that individual impact because, all importantly, it also shows how those people can be manipulated by others.  For example, if your hero is Jesus Christ, I can identify myself with the rousing song “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and then use it to convince you to give me money, to vote for me, to let me lead you into battle, or to encourage you to give me your children so that I can send them into battle.

Similarly, if you are African American, people can use the song “We Shall Overcome” to lead you in the direction that they want you to go.  Or they can use a poem about the Cherokee Indians’ Trail of Tears to gain the following of Native Americans and their sympathizers.  And of course, Hitler was famously effective in using the image of the heroic but suppressed German people to take over the political leadership of Germany in the 1930s.

Commercial advertising does basically the same thing.  Back in the 1950s, author Vance Packard in his classic book The Hidden Persuaders addressed how Madison Avenue used psychological hooks to draw you in to buying their clients’ products.  And he similarly showed how these hooks were used to support the advertisers’ clients as political candidates. 

For example, when a manufacturer came up with a new pancake batter that was not selling, even though it tasted like homemade and was so easy to prepare that the preparer only had to add water to the mix for a great tasting pancake, its officers went to marketing psychologists to determine the cause of their lack of success.  After some studies, it was determined that mothers were not buying the product because it was so easy that it took away their psychological need to feel that they were personally taking care of their families.  So the psychologists recommended that the manufacturer actually take the eggs out of the recipe, and on the box prominently display the phrase “You provide the fresh eggs.”  That approach satisfied the mothers’ psychological needs, and the product almost immediately began to sell solidly.

In another situation, the manufacturer of writing pens decided to market a high quality silver pen for a much reduced price, and was dismayed that its product was not selling.  So market analysts conducted a study that showed that people did not believe they could get a good quality pen for that price, so they were not buying it.  The researchers simply recommended that the manufacturer increase the pen’s price by 100 percent, which they did, and the pen’s sales increased dramatically.

I have often had fun by watching television commercials with the express purpose of trying to determine how the marketers are attempting to convince people to purchase their clients’ products.  Try it yourself, and include your children right along with you.  Then take especial notice about what particular product is advertised at what time of day, and by whom? 

And what is the implicit message that is being used to convince you?  It is certainly true that sex sells, but there is much more as well.  For example, if you bring home our particular brand of pizza, you will be a hero to your family.  And also notice that everything is “easy,” “new and improved,” costs ONLY whatever they say it costs, and you must HURRY and act NOW – obviously before you think about the product and realize that this is the wrong decision.  The possibilities are endless, and the more you analyze this subject, the more you will see that absolutely nothing happens by coincidence. 

For example, it is no accident that sports events are mostly sponsored by beer and automobile manufacturers when pseudo macho men will be watching, or that the afternoon “soaps” are sponsored by laundry detergents and feminine beauty products that are aimed at the stay-at-home housewives.  And as the population becomes increasingly older, notice how medicines to cure baldness and even urinary and erectal disfunctions are increasingly advertised on programs that are watched by the aging “baby boomers.”

Similarly, notice what people are featured in the ads, and how often minorities are or are not included.  For a long time if minorities were present at all, they were strategically placed off to the side, and were mild skinned instead of dark.  But more recently actors who are from minority groups are being placed more prominently, and often they are the actual focus of the advertisement.  To me that is a good sign both that minorities have increased strength in the marketplace so their buying habits are being targeted, and that our race relations problems are being reduced.  In other words, progress is being made.  But one way or the other, it really is an interesting thing to study.

The same thing holds true for political advertising.  How can a particular candidate or proposition be made to be sympathetic to the viewers’ beliefs, or made to fit into their heroes’ molds?  This is a multi billion-dollar a year business, and it is fascinating to try to take it apart and analize its makeup. 

Years ago when I was a volunteer for George Deukmejian’s first campaign for Governor of California, I telephoned a registered voter to request his support for my candidate, and his response deeply surprised me.  He said that he had not yet made up his mind, but would simply wait to look at the television ads before making his decision.  What a startling thing to say!  Not that this does not happen all the time, but the thing that got me was that he was consciously aware that he was leaving his choice to the folks on Madison Avenue.

In the final analysis, the surprise is not that professional psychologists and strategists are being paid big money to study us as consumers, voters and supporters, it is that many if not most consumers and voters are not even aware that this is being done.  So who is your hero?  Do people know who your hero is, and are they using that information to manipulate and otherwise convince you to do things for their own selfish purposes?  The answer to that question is a definite yes.

So all of us should be aware of the forces that are being used by others to convince us and to affect our decisions.  Not only is this subject interesting, but being aware of these factors will make us better citizens, tax payers and voters – and parents!

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

           

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02/19/08
“YOUR BODY IS THIRSTY”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 10:06 am

                                                “YOUR BODY IS THIRSTY” (30)

            In my travels I have been blessed to meet and become friends with numbers of interesting, dedicated and community-minded people.  One of them is a man named Bob Butts from Moosic, Pennsylvania.  For a long time now Bob has been talking as publicly as possible about what he calls “The Water Cure.”  What he says makes sense to me, and since he has both medical and anecdotal support for his position, I thought I would pass his information on to you.

It all started with Dr. Fereydoon Batamanghelidj, MD, who was scheduled to be executed by the government of the Ayatollah Khomeni after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979.  During the time he was in prison, “Dr. B” found that numbers of his fellow prisoners were suffering from ulcers.  He had no resources to use to help them, so he treated them by having them simply drink water.  And, surprisingly enough, he was able to cure every one of over 3,000 of these people with that approach.  In addition, he found that he was also able successfully to treat numbers of his fellow prisoners of severe depression by having them drink water as well.

            When the time came for his trial, he presented his findings to the court.  The judge was impressed sufficiently with the information to recess the trial for two weeks to investigate it.  When the trial reconvened, the judge stated that Dr. B’s statements had been accurate and that he had indeed made a tremendous discovery.  So with that finding, Dr. B was released from custody.

            After he was freed, Dr. B was able to escape to Turkey, and he eventually came to this country, where he pursued the research on his findings at the University of Pennsylvania.  Eventually he published a highly acclaimed book entitled “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water,” which today is available online or through virtually any bookstore. 

            Some of Dr. B’s findings are that the fundamental cause of about two-thirds of the health problems of human beings is de-hydration, or a deficiency of water and salt.  But when this problem is corrected, many so-called incurable illnesses are either cured or the patients are greatly improved.                    

The remedy Dr. B proposes is to drink one-half of your body weight of water in fluid ounces each day.  For example, a 160-pound person should drink 80 fluid ounces of water daily, or eight 10-ounce glasses, plus ¼ of a teaspoon of unprocessed sea salt for every quart of water one drinks.  But do not use table salt because it only usually has about three minerals in it, while the best sea salts contain all minerals.  In addition, everyone should eat a banana or two each day for potassium and take some magnesium, calcium and zinc to maximize one’s immune systems.

But caffeinated and alcoholic drinks should be avoided because they are diuretics that will de-hydrate you by taking more water out of your body than is contained in the drinks themselves.  That explains why after having some coffee or alcohol you get the feeling that they simply go through you.  Therefore each 6 ounces of caffeine or alcohol requires an additional 10 to 12 ounces of water.  The same is true for sugar-based drinks.

So why don’t you join me and take your own survey of the people you know who are in poor health, and ask them how much caffeine and alcohol they consume, on the one hand, and how much water and unprocessed sea salt on the other.  I’ll bet I know how your survey will come out.

            But why do we need to take salt in addition to water?  Because without adequate salt intake our bodies will not retain enough water to allow them to function properly.  In fact, no metabolic process can take place properly in the body without enough salt.  Even Hippocrates, the Greek physician in 400 BCE, the father of medicine and the namesake of the Hippocratic Oath, knew of the medical benefits of salt and water for the human body.  Think of it this way, most of the time when we are hospitalized we are promptly re-hydrated by being given a “saline i.v.”  And what is that?  Nothing but salt and water. 

So what are the results of this program?  Some of the most effective results that have been documented are on asthma, allergies, chronic fatigue, depression, arthritis, anxiety, obesity, Multiple Sclerosis (or MS), cancer, and Lupus.  In addition, Dr. B also found that just by adding unprocessed sea salt to the water and food of our pet animals we can cure their arthritis!

Why does the water cure work?  Well, every single cell of our body functions on salt and water.  So how does this treatment cure things like high blood pressure?  According to Dr. B, high blood pressure is primarily caused by de-hydration, which results in the body trying to increase the pressure in order to furnish enough blood, which is about 94 percent water, to the cells.  So greater water in the body will cause a natural reduction in pressure.  Heart disease presents a similar situation.

Similarly, high cholesterol is the result of a de-hydrated body needing more cholesterol so that it can seal water inside the cells to minimize the loss of water.  An increase in water in the body then naturally decreases the need for that cholesterol to be formed. 

Multiple sclerosis is the hardening of the nerve tissues in the body.  So since nerve tissues are 85 percent water, re-hydrating the body will naturally alleviate that condition as well. 

Asthma is the easiest issue to address, according to Bob Butts and Dr. B.  In these cases the brain deliberately constricts the bronchial passages in a de-hydrated body in order to prevent the loss of water.  But an adult having this problem can alleviate it within a few minutes by drinking only two glasses of water, while at the same time putting a pinch of salt on the tongue.

Bob Butts was so confident that the water cure would cure asthma in children that with great public fanfare he offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove that a child had faithfully tried the water cure without success.  And according to him, no one came forward to claim the prize.  To the contrary, Northeastern Pennsylvania has thereafter experienced a run of testimonials and television news specials about numbers of success stories.  In fact, even Paul Harvey has done at least three radio shows or newspaper stories on Dr. B and the Water Cure.

So why is the Water Cure not being used enthusiastically around our country and the world?  On this subject, Bob Butts turns cynical.  He says that the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals is a multi-billion dollar a year business, and if people learn that their maladies can be cured simply by the intake of water and sea salt, many pharmaceutical companies and surgeons will lose lots of money.  So they are trying to suppress the news of the success of the Water Cure.

            I do not have personal information about this, and this is certainly not my field.  But any time I think about a proposed remedy the first question I ask myself is whether there is any likelihood that the proposal will actually result in any harm.  In this case, the answer virtually has to be no.  So I am now drinking my 95 ounces of water a day, and trying to remember to take my sea salt as well.  Why not?  It can’t hurt.  And when you think about it, the Water Cure makes a lot of sense. 

Bob Butts has a website at www.watercure2.org, and can be contacted at  mailto:watercure2@adelphia.net.  Judge Gray can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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02/11/08
“COMPETITION MAKES BETTER SCHOOLS”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 11:21 pm

                        “COMPETITION MAKES BETTER SCHOOLS” (28)

            The first time I met Dr. Milton Friedman I heard him talking informally about the general failures of our “government schools.”  He called them government schools because they are run as virtual monopolies by the government. 

In their place, Dr. Friedman recommended we use a system of vouchers in which parents could spend the money that the government allots for the education of their children at whatever school they choose.  The chosen schools would simply be required to satisfy certain minimum standards set forth by the appropriate governmental unit.

            Having been a product of the public school system myself, and having been raised by parents who strongly supported public education, I told Friedman that I was concerned that this approach would undermine the public education of our children.  He responded by asking me two questions, which I now pass along to you.

            The first question was: “If you were the parent of college-age students, what country would you send them to in order to receive the best education possible?”  My response was that it was probably the United States.  He agreed.  The second question was: “If you were the parent of high school-age students, what country would you send them to in order to receive the best education possible?”  My response was that I was not sure, but it was probably not the United States. 

He agreed again.  Then he said that the reason for this result was that we have a choice in where we spend our money with our colleges and universities, but we do not have that same choice in our high schools because the government makes those decisions for us.  Therefore we have competition in colleges, but we do not in our high schools.  From that moment on, I have been a supporter of school choice.

A similar question that explains the reason why Dr. Friedman’s proposed programs work is the following: “Who is better able to decide how your child should be educated, you or the government?”  I believe this is an easy question to answer.

So we should take steps for decisions about the education of our children to be made as locally as possible.  That means that parents, local schools and support groups like the PTAs should be able to say how and where the money for the education of students is spent.  Of course, that also means that the federal government should have no say whatsoever in these matters.  Similarly the states’ decision-making powers should also be severely curtailed.

What will happen with a system like this?  Schools that are not performing will start losing their students to those schools that are meeting or exceeding parental expectations.  So the failing schools will either change their ways and begin to perform, or they will either go out or business or will be taken over by others who will adopt better methods.  In other words, competition in our schools will bring responsibility for the educational results, which will in turn bring quality instruction, innovation and success. 

Under school choice, if your child is not interested in preparing for a university-trained career, but would be successful with a career in the performing arts, you as the parent would have the choice to use your child’s educational funds to pay for that type of schooling.  The same would be true for other marketable skills like industrial arts, computer programming or nursing.

So why cannot the government schools perform as well as schools that are forced to compete?  Because conceptually the government schools are funded from the top down – their funds come from the government.  This means there is no competition for the money.  Furthermore, in that system the administrators naturally have a tendency to funnel more of the money toward administration.  The better teachers see this, and naturally seek promotions into administrative positions for the higher pay. 

In addition, once they are established, bureaucracies naturally tend to make more and more rules for the schools to follow, which, in turn, justifies more of their bureaucracy.  If you want proof, just find a copy of the Education Code for the State of California, which is the largest code of statutes in the state. 

To further hammer home this point, look at the schools in our nation’s capital.  Out of the 100 largest school districts in our country, Washington DC ranks third in what it spends for each student, which is $12,979.  But of that money, a full 56 percent is spent on administration, and the government schools are notoriously of poor quality. 

But parental choice is conceptually the reverse of government schools.  This system funds the schools from the consumer upward, just like in any other competitive business.  So if the consumers are not satisfied, they will take their business elsewhere.  And parents learn fast which schools are working, and which are not.  It also avoids the inequity of forcing parents to pay twice: once for the mandated government system, and a second time for their child’s tuition at a private school.

Therefore, I believe that most of our state’s Education Code should be repealed.  That would leave the local school districts to be at liberty to formulate and follow their own rules, again within certain minimum standards. 

Of course this is a complicated area, and there are going to be problems.  For example, should all students be allocated the same amount of money for their education?  No, probably special needs children would be allocated larger amounts, within reasonable limits.  In addition, as students get older, they usually require more funding for things like chemistry labs, foreign languages and higher mathematics training, so each grade level might receive different funding.  But all students in each grade level will receive the same allotment.  Of course, that funding could be also be augmented by the parents if they so choose and are able.  So will the wealthy have access to better education?  Yes, but that has been, and always will be true, and no system can change that reality.

Another problem area is that if schools must perform, they might be susceptible to “teaching for the test,” in order to show the parents that their children are achieving.  But in reality, we already have these same problems under our present system.  So what else is new?

The final perceived problem area is that many people fear that the parents of the economically poor students will not care enough to find and utilize the better schools.  That may be true for some, but not for most.  Actually when different “gate” school opportunities have been available to parents in the poorer economic areas, large numbers of those parents responded by camping out for days so they could obtain those special positions for their children.  So as a natural matter, if the parents who are not so motivated see that their neighbor’s children are leaving a failing school for a different one, they will probably follow along. 

School choice programs are working today in Milwaukee, and have been for fifteen years.  So today a student in Milwaukee can receive a quality “public education” from government, independent or religious schools.  Failing schools have been closed, and more than half of the public school’s 90,000 students attend classes that did not even exist in their current format fifteen years ago. 

As a final point in this area, in my view parents choosing to use their allotted money to pay tuition for their children at a religious school is no more a violation of the Separation of Church and State than Veterans of our armed forces using their G.I. benefits to go to a religious college.  Why?  Because it is the individual people that are spending the money, not the government.

So who is against the idea of competition in our schools?  Well, in the first place it is against the “common wisdom.”  But in my view, that will be counteracted simply by explaining to everyone the inherent advantages of the bottom-up as opposed to the top-down system.  Once people understand those benefits they will change their views and demand a change. 

Then the only major source of resistance to the idea will come from the present administrations and the teacher’s unions that now control the government schools.  It is not in their economic interest for change to occur, particularly the unions, which have selfishly resisted any reforms in favor of merit pay for more effective teachers, or to make it easier to terminate teachers who are not performing. 

So for the reasons outlined above, let us follow the lead of Milwaukee by prying the control of our schools away from the governmental and union bureaucrats, and return that control to parents and more local agencies where it will be used more effectively and economically.  If we do that I am convinced that only good things will follow for all of our children.

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.com or his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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02/03/08
“HERE’S THE PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS”
Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 5:07 pm

                                    “HERE’S THE PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS”  (27)

            In an effort to discuss issues small as well as large in this column, I will devote the space this week to the penny.  Our penny coin was originally named after the British penny, and the first one was designed by Benjamin Franklin, made out of pure copper, and first minted in 1787. 

The first Lincoln penny was issued in 1909 in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 100th birthday, and it replaced the Indian Head penny.  This new penny was the first coin in the U.S. with a picture of a president, and was made out of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc.

In 1943 the Lincoln penny was made out of steel with a zinc coating, because most of the copper in the country was being used for the war effort.  But after the war we returned to the prior composition.  That lasted until 1982 when, due to the rising prices of copper, the content of the penny was changed to 97.5 percent zinc and only 2.5 percent copper.  And today there are more than 150 billion pennies in circulation.

Now there are plans to mint and release a new Lincoln penny in 2009 in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday.  If these plans are carried out, Lincoln’s portrait will still grace the front of the coin, but the back will depict a scene from his earlier life, such as Lincoln speaking before the Illinois legislature.

But let’s focus upon the question of whether it is really in our interest to continue to produce and circulate the penny.  Of course the penny is a part of our history and our legacy.  For example, frequently included in our daily lives is the comment “A penny for your thoughts,” and also Ben Franklin’s oft-quoted phrase “A penny saved is a penny earned.” But is that enough when considering the following economic realities?

Today it costs the taxpayers about 1.67 cents for each penny that is produced.  So since the U.S. Mint produces about 7 billion pennies every year, we are paying more than $115 million every year alone just for this to be done.  And how much of an undertaking it is to produce even one billion pennies?  Well think of it this way.  If one billion pennies were packed together they would be almost the same size as five 41 foot-long school buses, and if placed on top of each other they would rise almost 1,000 miles into the air.  And how high is that?  Well, to give you some perspective, the space shuttle orbits only about 225 miles above the earth.  And we produce seven times those numbers every year.

So economically is it worth it?  When we eliminated the half-penny coin in 1858, it was worth at least ten times of the value of today’s penny.  And since the value of the zinc in one penny is rising to the extent that it is almost worth more than one cent, soon people will be melting down the pennies for their zinc content, just as they did a few decades ago when the value of the silver in our dime coin exceeded ten cents.

And how much is the penny itself worth in today’s world?  You can judge for yourself, but I assume your experience is the same as mine.  For example, how many of you have seen panhandlers out on our streets asking for donations, while at the same time you see a few pennies under their feet that they do not even take the trouble to bend down and pick up?  To me that says a lot about how much those pennies are worth.

Then there is the nuisance issue.  How much time on the average does it take to try to reach into your pockets and come up with the correct change for cash purchases that you are involved in?  The estimates are that each cash transaction takes an average of two to two and a half seconds longer because either the purchaser or the seller is required to find the right number of pennies to complete the sale.  That means that with three cash transactions per day, each person spends more than three hours each year just in dealing with pennies!

So what are the forces behind the continued use of penny coin?  There are probably three.  The first is that it is simply tradition, as we have already discussed, and the second is the lobbying efforts of the zinc manufacturers.  The effect of each of these two reasons is hard to assess.  But the third reason for the penny’s perpetuation is probably the strongest, and that is that people are now being forced to make change in odd amounts of money because of the sales tax.  The only response for this would be to recommend that we round off the final amounts of our purchases up or down to the nearest nickel.  Of course that means, as a practical matter, that the customer will virtually always end up paying the extra two cents for larger transactions, because merchants will probably figure out a way for that to occur.  But all in all, for the savings of taxpayer money and everyone’s time, I think that would be a small price to pay.

So for the reasons discussed above, I believe we should recognize the economic reality in today’s world and discontinue the manufacture of the penny.  This will cause its use eventually to be phased out, which actually will be no great loss. 

But “Penny for your thoughts.”  What do you think?

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

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