Friday, October 07, 2005

The Santa Anna

The Santa Anna. The usual breeze comes off the water and brings morning fog and cool evenings. But the Santa Anna is the east wind that comes out of the San Fernando Valley. It blows hot and dry, and it came yesterday and today. Then the temperature along the coast soars into the 90s. Eileen loves it, she told me. So I tried to love it and I did, a little, but it leaves me tired, and I walk so slowly.

It’s 6 p.m. and I’m perspiring. The mind is blessed free of thoughts. Fast cars on the Boulevard. Beautiful young women coming in for coffee. Some kind of music – the music is always loud at this café, but I seem to like it. I wrote a terrific column today titled “It’s a Matter of Good Judgment. I will post it on the blog tomorrow. I read the news about Hurricane Katrina from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Go to . I think it’s worse than we imagine. I think we don’t yet get the extent of this disaster. I think even New Orleans doesn’t know what happened. The shock is going to wear off sometime in November and then it’s going to be a very hard winter for those folks.

I’m not sure how long I will be in Los Angeles. I sure love it here – the colors and the people, the art and the food, the sky and the weather. Oh no, I won’t be rushed to leave here. Me and Eileen are going to have some fun first, and there’s something I’m supposed to get. Something is going to click, and then I can go.

Eva left for Austin yesterday. I drove her to the airport – LAX – it’s only 20 minutes from Carolyn’s house. Carolyn and Tom just keep getting up every day and going off to work – to teach school. I was out late last night, dining and dancing with Eileen, with her henna-red spiky hair and bright eyes, her lanky figure and square-shoulders.

I slept in until 8 a.m. this morning. Carolyn and Tom were already gone. The Los Angeles Times was spread out on the formica kitchen table and there was strong coffee in the pot. The quiet was nice. I read the paper and went down to the café after nine to see if Eric would be there. He wasn’t. I hope to see him tomorrow (Friday) because he’s leaving on Saturday to visit his daughter and grandchildren in San Francisco – a good pal, a wise, old Jew.

Eric has made a fortune in real estate, but he keeps a low profile, occupying his usual table in the café, greeting all kinds of folks, and holding forth with a quiet strength, or doing the crossword puzzle. What I like about him is what he knows. He knows what is worth money and what is not worth money. He’s quite clear about what has always confused me. Eric knows – this is business, this is money, this is buy-and-sell, this is the value of it – which is real estate, that which is concrete and material and tangible. And then he knows what is not about money – family, friends, fresh air -- all those good things. So you see, he is quite a spiritual man – because he knows what the spirit is, and what it is not. He doesn’t need philosophy. Rather – he has solved the questions of philosophy and he only needs to monitor the situation, sitting in judgment. This is a good man.

He plays paddles tennis on the beach – doubles, gets a good workout, says he’s getting too old for that and his joints won’t forgive him, but he still does it.

Prose and Cons, October 12, 2005, No. 13

It's a Matter of Good Judgment

By Fred Owens

The new Chief Justice, John Roberts, impressed friend and foe alike
during the confirmation process. The Democrats, who were spoiling for
fight, could only muster routine objections to Roberts' nomination to
the Supreme Court.

President George Bush made an inspired choice. I don't suspect him of
trying to please everybody, but he did just that. Besides Roberts'
impressive education and judicial accomplishment, which were examined
and discussed by the media and the politicians, we also saw photos of
his attractive family.

Chief Justice Roberts has a wife and she calls him John. A wife knows
things about a man – what he's like when's feeling down and
discouraged – things we will never see. A marital partner has a way of
bringing you up short when you're drifting off course – you all know
what I'm talking about. And there's no escape, it's 24/7.

Roberts has small children to look after. They don't call him "Your
Honor," they call him Daddy. He may go to work and make decisions of
national importance, but his little children don't care about that.
They just want for him to read a bedtime story.

Marriage and a family constitutes a complete course in character
development. It helps a man or a woman to develop good judgment.
Conservatives rail against judges who legislate from the bench, but
they skip over the larger question – What is good judgment? And does
this particular candidate have good judgment?

That's not easy to define, but I will give you an example. I have two
grown children, well educated, strong in spirit, and making a good
living. They're smart kids. They may even be smarter than me, and good
for them if they are. But the only thing I have that they don't have
yet is better judgment. My better judgment comes from being thirty
years older and comes from all the work I did raising those two
children and comes from all the mistakes I made along the way.

You just get a sense of it after a while. When my kids were teenagers
– those were tough years for me – I encouraged them to think
independently. I encouraged them to ask challenging questions. I was
willing to discuss and debate any issue for as long as they wanted.
But I always made two things perfectly clear. One is that they didn't
have a vote. And two, they must talk with me in a respectful way.

Oh, we had lots of arguments, but I believed I had earned their
respect and I was determined to enforce that respect. This is where I
honed and improved my sense of judgment. What is the difference
between a challenging question, which is a good thing, and a
fifteen-year-old girl with a smart mouth? A parent had better learn
the difference because children will eat you alive if you let them.

Attitude. That's a good part of what judgment is and that is not
written down. Parents learn to recognize attitude, good and bad, and
in doing so, they improve their own attitude – they develop good

So a judge needs to have balance, a sense of fairness, a human heart
that cares about people coupled with strong detachment and
objectivity. A judge needs to be honest with himself about his own
weaknesses, because he surely has them. A good judge will make three
kinds of mistakes. One mistake is a simple miss-weighing of the
evidence, and this is more of a mental error. The second mistake is
prejudice, which is emotional in nature, where a judge gives in to his
own affection or animosity and rules accordingly. The third mistake is
pride and ego – this is when a judge legislates from the bench,
because he thinks he knows better than anybody else.

I said a good judge makes all three of these mistakes because he's
human, but he will try his darndest not to and struggle every day at

Let's consider President Bush's current nominee to the Supreme Court.
Harriet Miers is a close personal adviser to the President and a
corporate attorney. But has she married a man? Has she raised
children? Has she served as a judge? Has she written a book? Has she
fought in a war? Has she lived in a foreign land? Has she climbed a
mountain? Has she raised crops on a farm? Her resume comes up light in
my mind. I'm willing to listen, but so far I'm not impressed. Those
life experiences, which develop good judgment in a man or a woman,
don't seem to be there in her case.


Prose and Cons, October 5, 2005, No. 12

Is it better in California?

By Fred Owens

Comparing Texas and California is a good way for this writer to get in
trouble, but I like to live dangerously. I'm out here in Los Angeles
visiting my sister. She lives near the beach so she gets lots of
company. It's an expensive neighborhood. They sold a two-bedroom
bungalow down the block for $1.2 million. Isn't that amazing? My
sister is a school teacher. She couldn't afford to live here except
she bought her house 28 years ago when prices were affordable.

It's a good life – the weather is always sunny, but never too hot. I
suppose that's why so many millions of people want to live here. If
you can get past the traffic and pollution and the high prices, then
you're welcome to it.

But that's not my topic. My topic is agriculture. California is the
number one farm producer in the nation, equal to the combined value of
Texas and Iowa. But being first in farm dollars isn't everything. How
about quality?

Consider California and Texas citrus. The crown jewel of citrus fruit
in America is, hands down and no question, the Texas Ruby Red
grapefruit. A Ruby Red is the summit of excellence and juicy good
taste. Texas oranges are sweeter and juicier than the California navel
oranges. It's true that a Texas orange is hard to peel. It's because
Texas oranges were crossbred with an especially wiry breed of longhorn
cattle. That's what gave them their tough hides. In fact a Texas
orange is like the character of the Texas people – tough on the
outside and sweet on the inside. A California orange is easier to get
at, but the flavor is not as good.

For watermelons, Texas also comes out on top. People in northern
states don't appreciate the Texas watermelons so much, because Texans
get a little selfish about watermelon. They eat the best and sell the
remainder out of state. The California watermelon, in comparison, is
an industrialized product and a volume business. California is where
they invented the seedless watermelon. The seedless watermelon is an
abomination and threatens to bring ruin to our nation's heritage.
Watermelons are supposed to have seeds. And the rules of dining
etiquette are relaxed a bit when watermelon is served – you get
involved when you taste a good melon. There's the indoor style, which
is a bit neater, and the picnic style with no rules at all. Everybody
has their own method and debates often ensue.

A seedless watermelon? That's the kind of thing that gives California
a reputation for being goofy. It's an improvement we can live without.
But it's their state. How about Texas barbecue versus California
sushi? I won't even touch that.

But California pulls out ahead in farm products when you consider
olives, avocadoes, artichokes, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, kiwis,
strawberries, figs, prunes, nectarines, raisins and a lot more. Texas
can only answer, "but we have the best pecans." Yes, California is a
golden land.

They also make movies here. Most movies aren't very good, but one in a
hundred movies is something that will take your breath away and teach
you something about life. You can talk about the trash that comes out
of Hollywood, but just remember those two or three movies you saw when
you were a kid that you can never forget.

And what is a movie? It's nothing more than the ancient art of
storytelling set to modern technology. Tales of romance and adventure,
true stories and the imagination of dreams. A good story is a human
need almost as necessary as food. Think of Homer's poem, the Iliad,
written 3,000 years ago, about Achilles and the Trojan War – a story
so exciting that it has been told over and over again for many
generations. Hollywood made a movie out of it two years ago, "Troy,"
starring Brad Pitt.

Or the story of Exodus when the Hebrew people left Egypt to come to
the Promised Land. Exodus is a matter of belief for most Americans,
but the reason we love it is because the drama is so compelling –
Moses parting the Red Sea and the Golden Calf and the rest. It's such
a good story.

That's what they do here in Hollywood – tell stories. You know about
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez, but you don't know about tens of
thousands of people who work in the film and television industry –
building scenery, processing film, makeup, marketing and a hundred
other specialties -- people who aren't glamorous are famous or unusual
in any way. They just make a good living and they're a lot like
everybody else.

One more thing – Texas hurricanes and tornadoes versus California
earthquakes and mudslides – take your pick.


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