Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Divided or Not, a House on Fire Cannot Stand

A guest post by Mark W. Bradley

Three months ago, I was one of those progressives who felt that preparing for a Democratic Party victory in the 2006 elections was about as practical a use of my time as, say, studying Mohican poetry, or learning to drive a Zamboni machine. The only excuse I can now offer for such careless shortsightedness is that somebody (either Karl Rove or myself) made a serious miscalculation when it came to those pesky voting machines. Nonetheless, whatever the cause of this astronomically unlikely outcome, it is now evident that an effective treatment for Neo-Conservatism (which medical science only recently identified as one of the lingering neurological symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), is finally within our grasp. But we must act quickly if we are to have any hope of curing “NC” in your lifetime.

To this end, I made a decision last Friday evening to sit down at my computer and compose a blogpost that would effectively add my cyber-voice to the growing chorus (or should I say cacophony?) of progressive pundits attempting to hold the Democrats’ congenitally cold feet to the fire. Unfortunately, just as I was in the process of composing a stunning oratorical masterpiece to be force-fed into the microphone of Senator Biden/Boxer/Feingold, I was interrupted by the sharp rapping of what sounded like at least six knuckles on my front door.

It turned out to be my ultra-reactionary neighbor who lives two doors down and across the street. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll henceforth refer to him only as “Dick C.”

“We gotta real problem on our hands here, Bradley,” he grumbled impatiently. “You need to come and have a look at this thing right away.”

“I’m in the middle of something important right now, Dick,” I told him. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“I think you better check this out now,” he demanded. “A few minutes from now, things might already be pretty well out of control…”

“Alright,” I said, as I slid my feet into a pair of house slippers, grabbed my overcoat, and headed out the door.

I followed Dick’s footsteps down the street to a rundown, semi-abandoned house on the corner.

“See that?” he queried with obvious disgust.

“You mean Mahmud’s house?” I asked. “What about it?”

“Let’s face it, that guy’s a real menace, and so’s his pile-o-shit house!” Dick’s agitation seemed to grow by the minute. “The roof’s a shambles, the place is crawling with disease-infested rats, and any day now the wiring’s bound to short out and cause a major fire that’ll probably wipe out the entire neighborhood.”

“What do you propose we do about it?” I inquired.

“Haven’t decided yet. But (*) and I just want to know you’re with us in case we need get serious about confronting this Ahmed character,” Dick replied.

“Mahmud, you mean,” I corrected him.

“Whatever,” he tossed off dismissively. The (*) Dick referred to was his brain-damaged sidekick who lived across the street from Mahmud, dressed in mustard-stained camouflage sweatpants, and regularly combed his front lawn with a combination Geiger counter and metal detector. We’ll call him “Donald R.”

“Well, I guess I couldn’t say for sure I was with you guys on anything, at least until I knew what you were planning to do,” I said, with uncharacteristic caution.

“You know, it might interest you to know we’ve already talked to a bunch of your bleeding heart buddies down the street, and they’re with us all the way on this thing,” Dick uttered confidently.

“Personally, I’d avoid doing anything rash, if I were you,” I said, as I impatiently shuffled my way back to my own house.

Around 1:30 in the morning, I was nudged from my fitful sleep by the faint squeal of approaching (but still fairly distant) sirens. As I rushed out into the frigid dry air, I became aware of a bright orange glow illuminating the night sky. Mahmud’s house appeared to be totally engulfed in thunderous, crackling flames. Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to catch a glimpse of Dick C.’s gardener (we’ll call him Jorge W.) hastily stashing a one-gallon can behind Dick’s garage. Moments later, the pair of them were standing uncomfortably beside me, noticeably out of breath.

“You know that little problem we were talking about earlier this evening?” Dick mumbled under his breath. “Well, looks like it’s a hell of a lot bigger problem now. Damn fire’s gone and spread itself all over the place. If you don’t do something to stop it soon, it’s likely to end up all the way down to your house.”

Even as he spoke these unsettling words, I realized he was probably right.

As quick as I could, I organized the rapidly awakening neighborhood into an impromptu bucket brigade. Meanwhile, my “bleeding heart” friends (I’ll call them “John K.”, “Chuck S.”, and “Joe B.”) took me aside and reminded me that the smart thing to do was to join them on the sidewalk across from the exploding cauldron of sparks and cinders, and do like they were doing - wringing their hands in distraught agony and warning others in the vicinity to stay clear of what was clearly an “unfortunate situation.”

Meanwhile, “Dick C.” and “Jorge W.” had taken it upon themselves to build an impressive firebreak around the charred and smoking remains of what had so recently been Mahmud’s house, a feat which they accomplished by painstakingly setting fire to eight of the surrounding residences. Curious onlookers who dared to inquire what the two were up to were brusquely told to “stay out of the way”, and “leave the god-damned firefighting to the professionals.”

Throwing caution to the wind, I ran back to my house, gathered up my garden hose, dragged it back over to the scene of the fire, screwed it onto the neighbor’s spigot, turned the water on, and aimed the nozzle’s stream at the building’s smoldering, teetering frame. Within a matter of seconds, the added weight of the water I was applying brought the entire structure down with a resounding crash.

Just then, the fire department arrived at last to extinguish the cataclysmic inferno. Once the smoke had finally cleared, preliminary estimates of the damage were found to be in excess of 12 million dollars (not to mention the loss of my own home). Yesterday afternoon, the fire marshal launched his formal enquiry into the cause of the fire. While each of my neighbors rendered him a slightly different version of events as they unfolded in the wee hours of Saturday morning, there was one thing they all agreed on - my hasty decision to pour water on the fire was undoubtedly the proximate cause of the building’s collapse. My attorney called me on my cell phone this morning to inform me that I have, to date, been named as a defendant in no fewer than 43 separate lawsuits. He also advised me that “Dick C.” has been seen circulating a petition that would prevent me, in perpetuity, from seeking to reside within a 25 mile radius of what is now commonly referred to as “ground zero”.

Needless to say, the momentous article I set out to write just four days ago is in a state of more or less permanent abeyance. As I’m currently residing on a public golf course, bathing in an irrigation canal, and living mostly on a diet of lizard eggs and hawthorn berries, I can’t say for sure when (if ever) I’ll have the chance to finish it…

Mark W. Bradley is a history teacher and political satirist in Sacramento, California. He can be contacted at markwbradley@comcast.net


Anonymous Toby said...

What was the point of that post? I first found "The Liberal Girl Next Door" yesterday, as a part of my quest to find a well-written, issues-based liberal blog willing to avoid the demonize-the-Republicans-rhetoric that is so common, and yet not too terribly different from what you hear from the White House (so far, it hasn't been easy.) Yesterday, I was excited and passing the URL around to friends.

Today, however, I come back and . . . I don't know what to think! This story is a collection of tacky stereotypes and pointless, misdirected hatred. We can agree that conservatives don't approach problems the way we'd like them to, that they're obsessed with the wrong issues, that they are struggling to find the 'compassion' in their conservatism, but they're aren't idiots.

I don't feel the need to "Cure Neo-Conservatism in my time." That smacks of ideological genocide. Am I really alone in believing that conservatives are people like everyone else, that their intentions are good, and that there's a point to engaging them and the public in a real dialogue? We aren't battling 'the right,' we're battling issues of health insurance, quality of life, and respect for individuals. None of what you wrote reflects that.

Pardon the rant. I'm not as upset with you as with the fact that I have to keep looking for the blog that I know is out there.

7:08 AM  
Anonymous rkelly said...

Toby, I sincerely hope you come back and read this comment -

You miss the point.

Mr. Mark Bradley is a brilliant writer and so is liberalgirlnextdoor.

But, they don't write to please you or anyone else. They write because they are creative geniuses and love the passion of the written word, its beauty and power.

A "well-written, issues-based liberal blog" is what you did indeed find. Keep being excited and pass this URL to everyone you know, don't know and those who you haven't even met yet.

No one called anyone an "idiot." Mr. Bradley didn't deny the conservatives their struggle to find compassion, either.

He's a literary giant and unfortunately in this country people don't appear to remember what this means.

Furthermore, Mr. Bradley never meant to have anyone get their dog in the fight to cure "neo-conservativism," it's a metaphor.

You read with your eyes and you see with the inability to understand.

We aren't just fighting for the items you list, we're fighting against the extinction of humanity.

Mr. Bradley knows this and provides for us the story, like Grimm's Fairy Tales, the imagery of how - "a collection of tacky stereotypes and pointless, misdirected hatred" - the so-called "leaders" in America look in the visual, metaphorical iconography of their actions.

It's a mirror reflected in the writing of a great artist.

Problem is most did not get to learn the art of education from a Mark Bradley.

Should you not return and should you not continue to share this URL, then you can look in your own mirror for the problem.

Misunderstanding satire is an unfortunate lack of understanding of the true gift of great literature. This is just one more of the thousand cut deaths by way of the dumbing down of American minds.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous david said...

May I recommend a comedy from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) called Little Mosque on the Prairie.

It's not slick and it's a bit corny. But it's about time we started portraying Muslims as real human beings and not "The Enemy".

Mark Bradley writes very well. But I find the air so filled with acrid smoke and screaming that I just can't read hard satire any more.

I don't know. I don't see the point in Gallows Humour when you can go to YouTube and watch Saddam swing. And learn that so far 7 children have hanged themselves in pretend hangings after seeing that lynching.

We are at a decisive moment when we should be calm and thoughtful. We should remember the words that brought down that other right wing bully, Senator Joseph McCarthy. It wasn't biting satire. It was the quiet plea of Army Counsel Joseph Welch: "Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

After Bush speaks tomorrow night, that is what every member of Congress, every blogger, and every editorial writer should be saying to the Commander in Chief. "Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Toby said...

I'm afraid I don't see the satire in it. And, rkelly, I don't think you would, if I wrote a very similar piece about blacks, gays, or muslims. Then it'd become hate speech.

Or, I could parody the left as "friends of terrorists." (I mention that, because this post has sparked a conversation between me and the other person I was so excited to share the URL with.) You can't ask the 'other side' to be objective, if 'our side' (and I don't think I stand on the side of this blog) is willing to put our names on stuff like this.

I've had some amazing teachers, who've taught me to think for myself, to be critical and to make judgements. They never taught me to communicate in the basest of generalizations or to dehumanize people I didn't understand. And that's what this piece is about, it's not about education, it's about alienization. And, in a mean way, it's about vidication.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous rkelly said...

Please you two people have you no sense of humor?
Or worse, gentlemen, David & Toby, have you no imagination?
Or worse, is the inner part of your creative genius so programmed now that you can't see such as Shakespeare, for example!

Do you really think he would criticize Mr. Mark Bradley?

I think not. In fact I know Shakespeare would stand-up and bow to Mark Bradley’s brilliance.

There is no such thing as discrimination in art. Period. It is chaos just like the eternity of the universe.

It appears to be our jobs, as humans, to create order out of chaos and without understanding the chaos we have no idea about what it means, order.

How could we, there is no frame of reference.

Artists understand chaos and are not afraid of its energy. Order comes in the form of art, out of the chaos.

These times we now experience is a tempering of the steel, so to speak. How can we continue to become greater than the last 100 years unless we get into the bowels in the belly of the beast?

Fear is not an option. To look ourselves directly in the core of our being and to know that - it IS human beings who are the extremely sick species on the planet and our dis-ease is infecting the Earth - our home. And, we see all other creations in decline because of Homo-sapiens. We have polluted our outer atmosphere in space so now we find our toxic shock is reaching into the universe, as well.

It is only small minds that find expressive passion as a vacuum, want to kill it - oh mercy, evil thought crimes.

Voltaire would revolt during this time and his words would not be soft and rosy, no, not by any stretch of the imagination: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Should human beings not be able to exercise the most powerful organ we have, the brain and that which calls us to grow the consciousness of altruism, to desire to grow into a higher state of consciousness, through the power of our imagination - then we may as well become turnips.

Einstein said: "I am no genius, I am merely extremely curious."

This is enlightment and to commit a snuff film on creative imagination is 100% the same as the snuff film of Saddham.

That is the problem, far too many "leaders" for more than 5000 years have decided the "commoners" are lesser than and the greatest control is to stuff our imaginations with the silliness of fearing our creative genius. How else could they control, really?

Nonsense. It is time to awaken and not be afraid of the dark. There is no such thing as lightness without darkness.

Embrace the infinite energy of understanding because without it there is no such thing as sanity.

Those who are criminally insane and ruling our world are the masters of attempting to be the controlling gods of chaos. They got the intuitive thought form ok, we are indeed to understand chaos.

But, it is not their job to control chaos and therefore they are proving what a failure it is for a human to think it can control the energy of chaos. We can only co-create something, from the passion of our imagination while simultaneously bringing order into the world to complete the cycle of balance and this is NEVER controlled or there is distortion or worse, corruption.

It is about order, not control.

We are seeing critical mass corruption due to the insatiable lust for the control of chaos.

Why else are we looking at nuclear war!

Gentlemen, free your imaginations and write, write, write - write to every "leader" you can think of and be as Shakespeare or Voltaire, should you not feel a spontaneity with Mr. Mark Bradley.

But, do not forget that when you read his writing he awakened in you a passion that you must express, albeit not comfortable for you.


8:51 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Toby--It is satire. Can't you see that Congress is between Iraq and a hard place here? Bush has started the fire, his Republican enablers on the Hill have helped fan the flames and now all of a sudden, the American people are looking to the Democrats to clean up the mess, when we all know that if they use the levers they have at their disposal to end this war as the people are demanding, they will be blamed for losing it, even though it's lost already. That is what this post is about.

And never did my dad (Mr. Bradley to you) condemn conservatism or conservatives, but rather NEO-conservatism and the neo-conservative nitwits that thought they could roll into Baghdad, be met with flowers, use Iraqi oil revenues to pay for the reconstruction, disband the Iraqi army, let them leave with there weapons, give reconstruction contracts to Halliburton, fail to get the lights back on, fail to get the water flowing, provide no jobs for the Iraqi people and when every single one of their ridiculous ideas (predictably to the rest of us) is proven wrong, they then have the audacity to be surprised at the emergence of an insurgency. Yeah, that kind of thinking can be safely relegated to the trash heap of history. Please, bring back real conservatism. After this crew, it never looked so good, even to a liberal like me.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous whl said...

In the field of counseling, it is often useful to ask & recommend that clients imagine or visualize or fantasize an alternative to the current reality. A common variant: OK Ms. Size 18, close your eyes & see yourself at XXXX retail store picking a pair of size 10 low-rider jeans for a try-on in the dressing room (lovely, ain't it?).

Many counselors now find that they must "teach" clients how to make mental images or create, "program" & run a dream-like fantasy while wide awake sitting in a recliner at a shrink's office. Only after learning how to imagine an alternate reality can the client be shown how to move toward "change."

One nightmare of the rethuglican dominance for the past few years is that it is very nearly impossible to satirize a "self-caricature." Bu$h XLIII is NOT a Texan, so any satire of his "brush-cutting" fails because he's really a frat-boy cheerleader from Maine & a graduate of Yale Univ. Fa-doop, da-bump!


So . . . to think that an imaginary satire with flaming visuals will be informative to a literalist is also to beg the question. That ability to imagine an alternative path & a different outcome is the very key to being a liberal, a progressive, an agent of change & a . . . !

"Some men see things as they are and ask why? I dream things that never were and ask why not?"----G. B. Shaw

Perhaps most famously uttered by Robert F. Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency. And the zombies read the words, but cannot free-associate the images because they see Dick & Jorge as "literal" Cheney & Bush. How sad. And poor old Ahmed or Mahmud or Ali or Bakt or Nanai or Rahmat or . . . just another son of Islam.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Toby said...

This will be my last post, as I'm not sure this conversation is going anywhere. Nonetheless, I think we're going to have to recognize that, to be satire, a thing has to be funny. (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report come to mind. SNL comes to mind.)

What this was--father or not--is the liberal version of 'blackface' comedy done up for Neo-cons, who have made some disastrous policy calls. But they weren't alone on it, should we dig out the Congressional voting records? Democrats didn't vote as a block against going into Iraq, they didn't even vote against it, not to any reasonable amount. It was a bad decision, and one I oppsed at the time, but it wasn't purely the product of neo-conservative thinking, it was the product of a blindered moment in our history, and one we have to deal with together as a nation.

I'm in the process of moving to Dresden, in the former East of Germany and what I've read here reminds me of two things: the pathetic, overgeneralized arguments made by neonazis (another group with disempowerment problems, and a frightening parallel) and the "It wasn't us, it was the Nazis" explanation of the holocaust.

What we do, as a nation, we are responsible for, as a nation. Perpetuating division for division's sake is not a step forward. It's a dangerous exercise in hate-speech from the wrong quarters.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous rkelly said...


You are one of the problems we face as a nation. You are bright and hungry for the truth but your mind is closed and therefore, you cannot think deeply and this is what truly the greatest art demands.

You are stuck in the propaganda of "divide and conquer."

There is no comparison of satire with the Colbert Report and do not get me wrong, I absolutely love him. My two in their mid and late 20s sons turned me onto Steven Colbert. I watch him and I believe he is one of the best of the best in American COMEDY and his "character" he has developed is indeed satirical as well as his script.

But, the STYLE Mr. Bradley uses is NOT INTENDED to be what Steven Colbert's delivery and character is.

That is the nature of CREATIVE GENIUS, ART.

Toby, unfortunately you do not get it and that is why you are now ready to run from this site that at first, your intuition gave you the green light. You are scared because you have been shown another perspective of reality. Hopefully someday for your sake and ours' you shall awaken to remember how much Mr. Bradley did indeed begin to light the brush fire in your brain.

btw, WHL - I really like what you have written because it is exactly how Carl Jung taught those who would be "therapists" how to truly be "healers." His own peer and colleague in Vienna, Dr. Sigfried Berthelsdorf from the USA, returned to America and began Jungian Dream Therapy. Thanks for the memories you invoked.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous drm said...

Toby, you are a rare creature. Someone from the "Left" side of the political spectrum that is willing to engage in "battles of ideas". I guess I would really enjoy doing battle with you over a variety of topics, school choice, economic policy, social security, abortion, the courts role in setting public policy, taxes, religion to name a few. I am sure what I would get from you are your beliefs and reasons why you feel your views/ideas are the proper approach. Good luck in your endeavors.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous whl said...

Three things, if this thread has any re-visits left in it.

1. Blackface was funny. In an era when African-American entertainers could not get into a white theater, a few entertainers brought a "dumbed down" version of the music, the comedy & the culture to racist audiences.

2. I'm old enough to remember when white folks such as Ricky Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Pete Seeger & many others performed "covers" of songs by African-American performers. It kept a musical tradition healthy because ASCAP/BMI paid royalties to the copyright holders.

Neither blackface nor covers were satire & Al Jolson was an astonishing talent.

3. Working with memory is such a doggone frustrating process. It seems that people modify their memories over time to suit newly acquired beliefs. Sort of like an old burned out hooker wearing a white dress to her wedding, even though that trip to the Virgin Islands really didn't change anything, honey. Ya' just don't want to ask. That's why the literal view of things bothers me.

To W.C. Fields: how do you like children.

"Boiled," he sez.

Musta' been reading Swift, henh?

12:14 AM  
Anonymous mark w bradley said...

I must say, I am more than a little amused at the reaction my little story about a house fire has evoked on this, my daughter’s blog. It has been labeled “pointless” and full of “base generalizations”, and even characterized as a sort of “blackface” minstrel show (?!). It has been over-praised, over-criticized, and over-analyzed (the kiss of death for any attempt at wit). I myself have been accused of uttering “hate speech”, of committing “ideological genocide” (whatever the hell that is), and of “dehumanizing people I don’t understand.” I’ve even been told my story was about “alienization” and “vidication”, two terms that have somehow cleverly managed to elude capture by the editors of the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary.

But the entire exercise was made sublime for me by a bit of Shakespearean comedy relief of the highest order. Late in the thread, the Nick Bottomish “drm” wandered out of his enchanted forest long enough to gaze into the stagnant waters of his own ideology, there to behold the grinning image of the unintentionally amusing “toby.” Mistaking the face reflected therein for the mirror image of his own, he breathlessly declared he had at last found a “reasonable” man on the “Left.” Priceless. Utterly priceless.

OK, folks, let’s move on. There’s nothing left to see here, and you’re missing a chance to learn something valuable from minds far more productive than mine, starting with the excellent analysis liberalgirlnextdoor offers on a (nearly) daily basis. Go forth and learn

11:56 AM  

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