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Writers Notebook
In The Jury Box;

By David Eide


"....when you decide a case you bring in all your experience, knowledge, and common are not a robot."
Instruction of a judge to a jury.


America, you hungry beast, you chase me from your favorite lair.

America, she who swallows us whole with a dance and a wish. She who promises we will be cleansed by her rivers.

She who takes us to the snow-capped mountains and says, "now you are fit to live."

She who is trapped in cities and loves it until the idea of cities is transformed.

She who rumbles on the back of trucks and trains.

She who tells me, "go back to your island, go back to your familiarity and meet me as you are and not as you want to be."

She who gives me the Pacific Ocean and the history of ships.

She who has a nest for poets.

She who has old and bearded men who run marathons.

She who has men and women who tend children in parks.

She who has men and women who scorn politics.

She who drives out evil spirits and makes them dance in public.

She who lays out a fine table for the senses.

She who frightens us with the volume of her aspirations.

* * * * * * * *

At some point a decent citizen will take stock of his relation to the country of his birth. It has lodged in him and is difficult to shake loose. America is there like a mountain. In my young days I was thoroughly unconscious of it as anything but a few ideas, concepts, images presented in various forms. "The US has done this and that." "America now does this." "The U.S. stands for this." At a particular point I realized that "America" represented something that was "beyond me" in the sense that nature is something "beyond me" if I assume "me" is the identity which I see as myself. And that "me" and the world that I know "through me" was smaller than the category of "America." There were millions of others in it. There were other regions than the one I lived in. There were basic and different ways to see the reality of the country. Simultaneously I saw it through the past and future. The future represented various facts that I have written other places. This future had a driving force to it. It revolved around questions of survival, personal and abstract. It was attached to physical facts that were self-apparent. I saw various forms of the future. This was a sense of distortion, a sense that this civilization was in the midst of something no one really understood. There was a sense of evolution, of a great leap, expansion and so forth. There was vague but strong and extraordinary claims made about the future.

Then there was the present. It was self-apparent and locked into a specific way of doing things. It was the expansion of something, some of which had relation to what I was thinking about. Most of it had no relation. This present was daily existence; forms of city, the rhetoric of politics, the rationalizations that were used to explain it. It was every boiling, bulling ghostly thing.

So, in one sense, it was concept vs. practical relation. My dreams vs. the hard-edge of pragmatic reality which had a wooden door leading into a dim lit room cloudy in low murmurs and expensive nick-naks. This was the challenging and beguiling part of life.

So that, after a time, that practical reality became a representation of something once it was too horrible to admit that the pragmatic world was stronger than my own concepts. That seemed intolerable and oppressive to me.

So I spent time attempting to describe these representations and what that pragmatic reality was saying to me. Some of that was in the form of ideas and some of it was in the form of critically thinking about organization

The past had no attraction. It had no raison d 'et since the future was going to be so different than anything previously. Since the present presented this struggle between concept and reality, the past appeared sentimental, even the fearsome aspects of it. This was mainly because the past had not been disturbed by machinery on any scale, explorations of space, incredible levels of affluence, nuclear weapons, etc. The past had been sunk down in primitive emotion. It had been driven by the ridiculous and absurd. At most, I allowed myself the knowledge of the past 100 years, most of which seemed modern enough.

However, at a particular time I became saturated by the claims of the present and future and turned to the past. I began to see that many of the accomplishments of the past were extraordinary; that there were deeds and thoughts that made the present look ridiculous and absurd. That much of the present was desiccated by its hubris. So for a time I immersed myself in the past. The past is a powerful magic. If one assumes that every tendency available to human nature is available and at the most we, in the present, can re-arrange the past and future but can't change these tendencies then the past and future become semi-worlds of pleasure and pain that one bears as gracefully as possible. After a while it became apparent that most instances of the present were made-up of instances from the past, so the past became important as the source but just as the source and the river are different, so to the source of development is different from the development itself. There are similar characters parading on the stage of history even if they did different things. And it was true that men are erecting and destroying systems of authority and power for a similarity of dreams.

The present was successfully destroying the past, the American past, so that was not available. And it was not confronting the central problem of the American spirit, to wit: America was no long flying under the radar, was not a backward nation filled with bumpkins, but was slotted where the great empires in history had been, especially with the demise of western Europe.

America was at an unprecedented place in its history and the only orientation was to see what happened to others at that level. The privileges of a great power also bring in nightmares. It was apparent to me growing up in the 60ís and 70ís that a great fight was occurring between the native democratic conscience and the responsibilities of being a world power. The political animal was stretched from one end to the other on this tension. It was either going to maintain and, in fact, improve from this level or begin a long, painful, and slippery slide down into a morass.

When I thought in those terms I was brought back into the present time, disquieting as it appeared to be.

And it did appear that the political animal was divided between the guy saying the sky was falling and the other guy with buried head in sand, ass in the air, and wanting everyone to kiss that ass. It still can look that way.

But then, what is America? Sometimes it appears what the advertisers say it is. But if that is all it is then itís demise is assured. So, again, itís up to the people.

It was and, perhaps, still is easy to dismiss democracy with contempt. I donít believe anyone in good conscience would do so because the only alternatives are not friendly to freedom, poetry, music, beauty, and truth. Our outrage is usually how misspent our powers are. OK. Rally the powers and do something good for gods sake.

Well, I had to deal with the political animal and it is usually wilder than the sexual animal.

No one likes power that they believe should belong to them solely. And the human being is, by nature, a tyrant wannabee.

Democratic men and women donít fare well in Assyria.

As Mumford and others pointed out years ago, Assyria creates Assyrians and not liberal democrats.

* * * * * * * *

When I was a young guy I believed in utopia---it was a combination of the times, the genetic make-up of my family, my own disposition. ďIf people were reasonable they would know how to live together peacefully and with their needs met.Ē The puncturing and fracturing of this myth initiates a new stage of life, one filled with horror and delight. ďAh, it is evident to me that we do not live in the commune!Ē But then, what is it that we live in?

It is a world of power and effects; iniquity and pleasure. And so there is a long process of developing relations to these things. A citizen doesnít have political power but he sees that political power consists in making law, making war, making taxes. So he studies and develops a relation to law, war, and taxes. A citizen doesnít have the economic power of businesses so he studies business, markets, banking, credit, and so on. And a writer notes that a man with a million dollars can do much more than a man with one dollar. Well, there are two things a man with one dollar can do; one is pray and the other is create. After all, it is the man with one dollar who must learn how to transform hate, bitterness, resentment, sorrow, powerlessness into truth and beauty. The man with a million dollars will try to buy it for himself but he never produces it.

Utopia is a fine American sport. Could it be anything other than an unrequited utopia? One could almost make the statement that between the utopian dream and its frustration America is made. You could almost make that statement. The utopia is thought to be a thing money can buy and there is hardly any vision of it once the money fever sets in. So one ends up buying the fantasies of someone else or else mere desire.

And we understand along the way that utopia would simply be a new seed ground for discontent if nothing else. The human being is too restless for perfection. Give us the imperfection that improves itself bit by bit as we edge up near the darkness.

Ironically, America can not be saved by its materialism as will be tested in the upcoming decade. It will have to sacrifice and change because of the huge deficits and poor economy. Itís another gauntlet thrown at the feet of the people who are always the ones who save it or not. ďWill you sacrifice on behalf of the future, make changes in lifestyle, substitute intelligence for speed and power, so that the ship can right itself up?Ē Or will you let go of it and let nature takes its course? After all, if America declined and became an isolated morass in the world it would still have a government and wealthy people in it. Chad has a government and wealthy people in it. The difference is that in the U.S. the people take charge of the willfulness of the nation, they take up the challenges, and they bend both the government and wealth to that will.

A wasteful and inefficient life will finally bite itself on the rear-end.

The globe is presenting a huge data base about how to do things. It is a huge elaboration of the six or seven functions of being a human being. It produces delight if not confusion.

Where is the center? It is here. And the circumference stretches through the region. And insides are outsides as the citizen becomes the perfect observer of all the insides. And the flows that the center experiences is experienced in all centers, everywhere. And the thing to covet more than any other are sincere and deep relations to what matter.

* * * * * * * *

I do love contemplating the seeds of American freedom, liberty, and democracy. I hate the way these words are distorted and used at times but then who knows for certain?

What I have studied of America is part of myself, a good part. It is the people winning freedom from those who merely have title to it.

So new channels and grooves; new men and women.

When the channels and grooves; men and women grow old and clogged up move on to new ones.

Burst out to where the words flow freely. To where they are water itself.

* * * * * * * *

Democracy makes ďbelief and faithĒ in politics impossible. We have faith and belief in the system of governance and are grieved by its layers of complexity that has allowed the citizen very few options. The citizen, if nothing else, is the initiator of new dreams or aspirations. If you look closely at current political debate there are hot empty words without any substance behind them. There may be a kind of cult-thought to them that appeals to large groups of people but the emotions generated now are little different than at any time since the first fight between Adam and Eve or down in the valleys of East Africa. The emotions are very simple. People donít like power. And power wants to control people so that their power is maintained. Itís not rocket science. But what is power in a democracy? And power used to live well, wisely, happily, productively, with meaning is superior to living with the responsibilities of power. And the people are rightfully angry when power is not seen as responsibility but entitlement. Whether that is the case or not is another story.

The citizens best role is that of planting the new seeds. The risk is that it is all for nothing and the seeds dug up by hyenas or blown away by strong winds.

Refusal and invention.

Itís obvious as well that a democracy that bogs down gets angry and even a bit dangerous after awhile. When it loses faith in the future it is one ornery, dangerous beast.

If I were the Chief Potentate I would insist that people start thinking about the future as if it matters. And I would insist that the only credible statements about government comes from a creative angle of attack; a freshness that canít be drowned in the vomit the backed-up Now appears to be.

Is the power oppressive? That is the central question. Is power deliberately keeping people down and out? If so then political remedy is necessary.

* * * * * * * *

I do think America will be strong into the 21st century. Two things that Americans have to come to terms with: 1- dealing with the tremendous complexity of government not to mention life itself which alienates people from the get-go. How can a free people do anything, make any decision if they are fully ignorant of the mechanisms that run the machine daily? They do try to judge, assess, and critique bills and policies but the problem is a lot deeper than that. That is, from a democratic point of view. In a tyranny, of course, the people only need to know how to wipe their ass. And 2- how do Americans resolve a democratic conscience with the facts of being a world power? Where does the one break the other? And if one is broken what does that mean we have become or are becoming?

A culture like America doesnít do well simply replicating its own past successes. It must know them, respect them, fuse them, synthesize them and move to sparkling new adventures.

The best stance toward America is a difficult one. To simply not be afraid of it. That simple act of secular piety reaps a lot of rewards.

I wish the American experiment well. I want it to exceed itself. I would love to see it become what it potentially could become. I donít see it in the politics or the mass culture. Americans can at times remind me more of the dead molded bodies in Pompey than the vitality in Pericles Athens. And what is wrong with Pompey? ďCome to Pompey and end the dream with the sated and complacent!Ē All that remains of them are their gleaming teeth.

December 4, 2013


There are two conditions that make for bad leadership. One is the no-nothingness, empty type such as George Bush who was simply a mouthpiece for Cheney and Rumsfeld. And the other is one who thinks too much and should have remained in the university such as our present leader. The crisis in Syria is so crucial itís difficult to know where to begin. We know this: President Obama is between a very ugly rock and a very cold sobering hard place. And the only way he gets clear and clean is if his military strike is so precise and perfect no one is killed on the ground(as in innocent women, children, or old men) and most of the chemical weapons destroyed. If he does nothing in what will most likely be a no vote next week then America's role in the world diminishes considerably, at least for the remained of his administration. And there is one country who will benefit greatly without lifting a finger or losing an ounce of credibility, mainly China. It's an old geopolitical strategy; blunt your geopolitical rival using other actors to do the dirty work. By voting against a UN resolution China has encouraged Assad to point his criminal finger at the president and say, "You are either all-in or all-out." Obama can't be all-in at this point. He will be all-out by the end of this process. China wins. America's capacity to do anything substantial in the world will diminish. China will feel more confident in controlling its sea lanes and coastal region.

And, of course, the crisis in Syria and the middle-east will continue, will escalate and only fate knows what will happen. It will be revealed to a passive American audience. The only caveat to that is if Assad does something so outrageous that the people and Congress embrace President Obama and give him consent to go in and protect American interests. I think he's playing against types in the middle east who may not be as book smart as Obama but are far more street smart. The ignorance of the president, if not naivetť, is transparent and the most treacherous, dirty area in the world have played him well.

Even in college debate one is taught the 51-49 rule: If you believe 51% of your argument you must argue as if you believe 100% of it or you will lost points with the audience. President Obama is like a Shakespeare character articulating both sides of the conflict to an audience that shows his ambiguity and the fact that, at this very moment, he doesn't have a clue. And as we've stated before, "if the Commander-in-chief doesn't know, no one does."

The argument is a sound one based on humanitarian reasons. But the humanitarian reasons are nested in a whole mess of things that will make the humanitarian reasons escalate beyond our capacity to respond. And the fact that treaties have prohibited the use of chemicals is a good reason. I heard the first mention today of the fact Syria never signed off on that UN resolution years ago. If the President stayed on these reasons, negated opposition, make the case as Secretary of State Kerry makes the case he might get more support. But that support is eroding fast, especially among Democrats who are reading the political tea leaves pretty quickly.

China wins, Hillary loses. In 2016 the American people will want someone to restore American strength ala Reagan after Carter. Hillary, more experienced than Obama, still doesn't have the mojo to pull off that leadership. I don't see anyone in the Republican party who has the experience or mojo. The shape of the next president is beginning to take some form at any rate. Where is he or she? And should we be worried about bringing in an American warrior to lead?

Obviously President Obama made a mistake in withdrawing national interest from the middle east to the far east. He was the good professor reading all the right analysis and in the long run he's correct. But there is a lot of unfinished business in the middle-east and we have now no power, soft or hard, to shape it to our ends. So we are going to have to react out of necessity which is always an unpleasant, unwinnable solution. The President should have acted the moment he saw and felt the danger of Assadís use of chemical weapons. He should have been well-prepared once he enunciated the red line. He should have been consulting with members of congress. He should have been developing an overarching strategy for this whole region to shape toward our interests, if that is at all possible. Ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Vietnam tells me that we can't shape anything. We are shaped, we don't do the shaping. And we are in bad shape.

Sometimes tragedy is too in the process to make statements about it. We can only witness and try to learn a few lessons. Hamlet's ambiguity brings down the old order but he is sacrificed in the process to catalyze a new one. And I listened to Obama's soliloquy at the press conference. "To attack or not to attack, that is the question." And the answer is, "no leader asks questions like this this far along in the process." The moment he mentioned red lines he should have been getting things ready, he should have consulted with congressional leaders, allies, etc. All the weaknesses mentioned through his administration have now leapt out of the shadows in this one crisis. No real congressional relationships, no real diplomatic relationships, no real relationship with his political base. Or, relationships based on the fact that he happens to be the president and they all want something from him. But nothing like Present Bush, the 1st or Reagan or Clinton or any president I'm aware of.

It's a tragedy because the slippage in US prestige and leadership will be felt long and hard. We can recover but we will have to react to a world that shapes itself through forces we can hardly understand or do anything about. China wins. They studied this president and the conditions he finds himself in, financially and politically and now they are freer to advance their agendas than before. Whether that involves Taiwan is a big question but certainly they are going to move more forcefully to control the sea lanes in and out of the China Sea.

It's moments like these that bring into focus the fact that since the development of nation-states there have been one or two profound breakdowns per century that has brought on catastrophe. Whether it was Napoleon or the Civil War or WWI and WWII a transfiguration takes place because the complexity of forces at play are too much to control and a small vibration, sounded at the right time can send lethal waves through the whole edifice until it is revealed as a deadly house of cards. That scenario is waiting down the line. Not yet, not yet but beginning to germinate.

And China can now side with the Pope! How can you argue with the Pope? Any good Communist knows that much.

I don't want to give up on the President. I voted for him twice. But I also mentioned in his first year that he had a fatal flaw in trusting in his own intellectual superiority and that he would get thrown a zinger at some point that would confound him and get him very muddled.

And if he does withdraw from the middle-east making it clear that Israel and the Persian Gulf's cheap oil are off limits then put all the remaining intellect and passion he is capable of in solving the domestic problems perhaps he can rescue some of his legacy. A big if at this point.

What we forget is that the world in large measure has its own strategic plans for the US. It's not well formulated but it does call on the US not to interfere as much as it has in the past, not to police the world and to treat all entities equally. In other words "become something useful to us America and follow our lead." That may simmer things down for a little while but in the long run it will create the vacuum history and nature abhor.

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