Mad Hatters' Review Issue 10, Fall 2008
columns bulletStep to the Rear Rich Andrews
columns bulletGoatbreath Babble Sir Castor Bayley
columns bulletStrange as it May Seem Tantra Bensko
columns bulletAsk Your Man at the OED Domenick Capobianco
columns bulletThe Cloacal View Rae Desmond Jones
columns bulletHarlequinine True E-Romances Carol Novack
columns bulletThe Hot Zone Fatima Shahnaz
Archived Columns - Issue 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 12

Step to the Rear by Rich AndrewsStep to the Rear
Rich Andrews


A bus operator's medical insurance is probably the most valuable benefit he/she possesses. Or so they tell us. There are scattered incidents that give new meaning to the word "benefit", however. Case in point, the day Jackie M. almost died.

Some mornings are worse than others. Jack awoke feeling like someone had reached down his throat and pulled him inside out. Something told him it was high blood pressure. Though doctors never think patients are qualified to self-diagnose, many times the patient is right. Jack wasn't but he didn't know that at the time.

Believing he had the right to request a blood pressure check, he called up his HMO and was duly informed only doctors had that right. They told him to take his blood and his pressure to the local hospital Emergency Room, which he did. There he waited to fill out a form, then waited til someone read the form, then waited to be told to wait and finally sat down to wait. A cheerful crowd of screaming sick babies, assorted homeless people and others in various states of dilapidation kept him company.

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After waiting til the cows came home, were milked and put to bed, Jack began to read the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, he saw the finger of God Almighty doing that writing, completely unaware of the high fever causing this delusion. God's message read, "Go outside and lie down on the sidewalk. Then scream for an ambulance. The EMS will come and bring you back here, where you will be treated ahead of everyone else. I am the Lord Thy God and I have spoken. Now MOVE YOUR ASS!"

Not wishing to offend the God of Abraham, Isaac and Newton, Jack did as he was ordered. A youngster was passing by as Jack was getting familiar with the cement in front of the hospital.

"Do me a favor, kid? Call 911 and tell them I need an ambulance," Jack asked in his friendly way.

"What's in it for me?" returned the little entrepreneur.

"Uh, I won't tear your head off and spit down your neck?" said Jack in his friendly way.

By the time the ambulance arrived, poor Jack was ready to tear his own head off. When the paramedics approached him, Jack stood up. Big mistake! Jack began a rant at 90 mph, sans punctuation of any sort.

"You know none of this woulda been necessary if my damn HMO had just taken my blood pressure like I wanted in the first place in fact can you take it now I won't have to go back in the ER with the vomit on the..."

"Pal," the first paramedic interrupted, "Can you walk?"

"Yeah but I need my blood pressure checked I was going crazy in the ER waiting for them to take me I figured if you guys brought me..."

"Are you saying the only reason you camped out on the sidewalk here was to cut ahead of the others in the ER?" said paramedic #2.

"Yeah my blood pressure is causing my head to explode do you have any aspirin maybe I could..." he trailed off as the paramedics grumbled back into the EMS truck.

"You could get arrested for false alarm," one of the paramedics called out to Jack. "I suggest you walk back into that ER and wait like the rest." Jack considered this and headed straight for his car instead.

The next day was Saturday. Jack called his HMO and heard a recording informing him of a different medical center open on the weekend. After waiting there til scientists cloned winged pigs, Jack was examined by a Nurse Practitioner who sent him home with a clean bill of health. God finally sent Jack an e-mail telling him to go to a private doctor, even if it meant paying the full fee. Not wishing to spend Eternity in Hell (which Jack knew was an ER waiting room), he obeyed his Creator.

"You have what is called walking pneumonia, my dear boy," the private doctor said, examining a chest x-ray.

"Good thing we are catching it in time. People are dying from this in my country... all the time, you know." The doc adjusted his turban and sent Jack home with three prescriptions and instructions to stay in bed forever. Three weeks later, Jack walked into the union office and demanded a change of HMO.

"I don't care if it isn't September they almost killed me by not treating me sending me to ER Hell!" he hollered.

"So help me God you tell me I gotta wait til September I'll fuckin kill ya!" he said in his friendly way.

"Now just calm down, brother," said the union rep. "What makes you think you have to wait for a change of HMO, Jackie?"

"It's common knowledge everyone knows it."

"Well it's not true. They changed that protocol a few years ago."

"Then why the hell don't you let us know?" Jack resumed yelling. "You call yourselves a union? Fuckin joke..."

"Hold on there, brother," said the union rep who, believe me, had a shitload of brothers. "Consider what would happen if all the membership knew. We'd have guys changing their HMO every damn week. So we keep a lid on it... for the good of the majority, you understand. The paperwork would overwhelm the system and slow it down to a snail's pace." The union rep searched Jack's face for a hint of compliance.

"Kiss my ass," Jack replied on his way out of the office. "I don't see a change of HMO within the week I'm writing to the goddamn Times Post and News." Two working days later, Jack had a new insurance card and a public announcement in the three newspapers informing transit workers of their right to change HMO whenever they wished.

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Goatbreath Babble by Sir Castor BayleyGoatbreath Babble
Sir Castor Bayley

Blut Und Eisen

It's the isolation mostly, the isolation that gets to me. I find myself more a social creature that I thought I was. Whereas before, when I was out and about as it were, I would meet any number of people; strike up any number of conversations, for any reason at all. Now, my association with people is by and large at a distance. I watch them at work, riding their bicycles, in their cars, talking on their phones, lounging in their yards, anywhere, everywhere; a voyeuristic existence minus the sexual aspect. But such is the distance between us it places me as if in another world. This then, the isolation of the writing life times ten.

Today I make my way to eat hamburgers, the old greasy spoon, visit with an old friend, one of many although most of them have passed, as I have been now de-socialized, decentralized, isolated for so many months it seems like years. And now I am given to reflection, deep reflection of a ponderous nature not unlike me but yet somehow seeming also at a distance. Who am I, how many people exist inside this shell? It seems that daily I find a new one and each one a stranger to the others. Yet if this is indeed a complex of some type, this complex needs to be named before it can be examined: schizophrenia, quadrophrenia, omniophrenia, conglomerationophrenia? I don't know. All this insane babbling is about pseudo- psychology.

So I breath and barf, concerned that we live in a plastic age, bombarded by the high pressure media with fantasy tales presented as virtual reality, losing touch with the human relationship experiences older generations learnt as children through work and play. I recognize that fantasy stories may be very popular, but think the pendulum has swung too far one way, and to redress the balance slightly, I prefer more realistic stories, (not monsters, dragons, well-educated talking animals, witches and wizards - magic mirrors). Stop. Freeze frame. Skip ahead.

Sorry again, as tripe like Harry Schnotter runs rampant up the pop charts oozing moronic platitudes of fetid freak show theatrics showing once again, the all too frequent refrain, categories open to extirpation of annihilation with a word link and winking nod bursting guidelines in spectacle of Baudrillardian proportions. We shall be pleased to consider any further proposals which may fit contemporary media including television, film, print and the Internet, which are responsible for blurring the line between goods that are needed and goods for which a need is created by commercial images which separate humans from the natural world. When indistinction becomes in itself a self reliant and self replicating distinction no distinction can exist wholly distinct enough to clarify the center. Unmoored, unmanned, unmasked; the perceived reality postulates while society, so reliant on simulacra, has lost contact with the real world on which the simulacra are based. Would you like some fries with that?

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Strange as it May Seem by Tantra BenskoStrange as it May Seem
Tantra Bensko

How Do You Like That Bear Bile In Your Wine?

One of the Stranger things going on that has to do with this intoxicated, poisoned Mad Hatter world of ours is the use of bear bile in many products. People who consider themselves making conscientious choices, even going so far as being vegan, may find themselves shocked to know that they are not actually vegan, vegetarian, or even responsible meat eaters, as consuming bile milked from bears in horrible ways is not something most people would like to think of themselves as being capable of. But you may be doing it every day.

Over half of the bears farmed in China for their gall bile are not even able to give up their bile successfully, and die. The ones who do work out live anguished lives. 9,000 bears are farmed in China, with the products going out all over the world, being most readily available in the United States. 4000 bears are farmed in Viet Nam.

Shampoo, eye drops, wine, throat lozenges, tea, cosmetics, and ointments commonly include the bile, which is not necessary at all for making these products well as synthetics are said to be just as good, and cheaper.

4000 bears are farmed in VietNam for bile believed to be healing to humans. Ofen, the bears lose their paws when caught in traps, and are kept in cages that are far too small to allow the bears to move at all, and the animals have a steel catheter embedded into their gallbladders, through their abdomen. South Korea has been farming bears for a very long time.

Bear bile wine, paws, and meat are commonly served in major cities, and people act as though this is perfectly normal, but most people would be outraged to know they are participating in this. If you are one of those people, please email the Chinese and Vietnamese ambassadors, and boycott the commercial products which use these things and instead drink organic wine, buy organic shampoo, etc. Spread the word to others so they can also know what they are putting in and on their bodies and agitate to stop this procedure. Sign petitions and donate if you can to the Environmental Justice Foundation, The World League for Protection of Animals, The World Society for Protection of Animals.

Next time you buy wine, decide if you want to condone and participate in the torture of these beautiful animals in order to have a nice time. Buying organic wine will ensure that you are not ingesting bad karma. Telling others about this and encouraging them to do what they can about it may eventually make some impact on this disgusting treatment of bears, which is completely unnecessary. Talk to stores which purchase products and let them know your preferences. Some stores combine organic and commercial foods, and because they are trying to make as many good choices as they can, they may take it seriously once they know this is happening, and discontinue items known to contain bile.

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Dominick Capobianco

Ask Your Man at the OED
Domenick Capobianco

Jimmy D. G. of Athens, England, writes:

Dear Mr. OED Guy:

I've found this, floccinaucinihilipilification, in my notes and I've forgotten what it means.

Dear Jimmy G.:

Once considered the longest word in the English language floccinaucinihilipilification at first glance seems to have a relationship to a prevous word asked about, flocculate, and indeed it does, at least in part, that part being, obviously, the first five letters, flocc, which goes back to the early Greek, or Latin, of one those, I forget which. Meaning, of course, a clump or bit, a small amount, etc.
One can easily surmise from the remaining part of the word the exact meaning of the word, a task that even a toddler could manage at this point.

Floccinaucinihilipilification is, for example, what is done at auctions, when the 'house' takes an item of little or no value, say a common everyday battery operated vibrator, and makes it of worth, at least seemingly, by attributing prior ownership to Madonna or some such. Naturally the bidding will be high; everyone would like to share something with Madonna, or would have at one time.

When I gave this world to my spell checker the computer had a bit of a breakdown, but has since recovered.
Next I'm going to give it the word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosi.

Got a word that you do not know the meaning and origin of? Write to:

Man At The OED
Strand Towers 15th Fl.
688 Nelson Place
London SE, England

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The Cloacal View by Rae Desmond JonesThe Cloacal View
Rae Desmond Jones

The Australian electorate has an unerring habit of electing Labor Governments at the ass end of a period of International growth, during which Governments never had to do anything much but issue scary press releases . Evidence of this is the election of the Scullin Government in 1930, just as Wall Street was bringing down a shaky world economy; it happened again in 1972, just as the OPEC crisis was putting Epsom salts into the Post war economic boom; it did a little hop over 1983, but it appears to have come to roost in 2007, just as the Sub-Prime Crisis and the price of oil stirs up all those shivery little feelings about global warming.
Despite all of this, our new Prime Minister has shown an unusual inclination to keep promises (well, sort of), in stark contrast to his predecessor, John Howard. A propensity to keep political promises is a significant political liability, as any student of politics in the US or democracies elsewhere will attest. Rudd rapidly signed the Kyoto protocol, a symbolic action which generated curiosity among the ‘punters’ and a small shimmy of shiny pink bottoms on board room chairs.

Scrupulously, Rudd has withdrawn Australia (mostly) from the coalition of the willing. That he has done so with the back thumping approbation of President Bush does look a bit sus. He has found himself in deep do-do with his State colleagues as he makes a noble attempt to give every student in public private schools access to a computer. Where are the computers going to be placed? Who or what is going to pay the costs? They cry. Meanwhile, the eager and more street smart await with scarce concealed relish the opportunity to a) play endless war-games in class time; or b) whisk away the computers for prompt re-sale for a packet of grass within a week.

Most ambitiously, Candidate Rudd declared that he would introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme within two years of being elected. The extraordinary Garnaut Report has just been produced. Predictably, the bottoms in the board rooms are positively quivering at the costs, while the usual suspects cry correctly from atop their poles in the wilderness that it’s not enough, and too late.

Meantime, rice growers in Northern New South Wales and Queensland and farmers in Victoria trap the head waters of the highly significant Murray Darling River system. Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray is dry, and the mud is turning to acid. The Lake is major source of water for the capital of South Australia, Adelaide. The rivers themselves support major wetlands, with large numbers of native species and birds.

John Howard always said when confronted with the problem of climate change, that it wasn’t much use Australia doing it unless China and the USA did it too. Australia’s contribution to the fowling of the earth is a measly 2%, so why worry? Our Minister for Climate Change is unusual, being the first Federal Minister who is female, of Asian origin and a declared lesbian. She is doing a good job of dragging the Prime Minister behind her. Someone has to do it in order to embarrass the unembarrassable bastards. It might as well be us. I hope.

Poor Kevin! With life suddenly becoming as complicated as, er, it is, in no time the punters will be looking back fondly to the comfy days of the coalition of the willing. Then we knew who the bad guys were. Terrorists and refugees. Now you guys might be about to elect a black President. Jees, is nothing sacred?

Rae Desmond Jones

Murray Darling wetlands

Dying River red gums at the ‘Garden of Eden’, Chowillafloodplain,
due to the twin effects of lack of flooding and rising groundwater
salinity. (Andrew Tatnell)

Post Script: The Author of the above article is the former Mayor of the Australian Municipality of Ashfield, population slightly in excess of 40 000. When I read that the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States was the former Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (Population slightly in excess of 7 000), I went to the internet to compare our qualifications. In many respects there are similarities, although Councils in Australia do not have the ability to veto an ordinance, resolution, motion or other action, and cannot strike or reduce appropriation items (see Wasilla Municipal Code, item 2.16.080). An Australian Mayor can (and often is!) outvoted by motion of Council. I would argue that this is the more democratic procedure, as such a power of veto could easily lead to a greater degree of absolutism than is compatible with the modesty of such a position. Modesty is not a trait commonly developed among Mayors or politicians of any persuasion, nor do I have any claim to humility, as you are about to learn.

In Australia, we do not have the power to control police forces and educational institutions, and leave these to the questionable competence of our State Legislatures. Nonetheless, the duties and powers of the positions are broadly comparable. Taking into account my greater experience, I hereby offer myself to the Republican Party of the United States of America as a possible replacement for its present candidate as Vice president.

There may be some difficulty over the small matter of citizenship, but with some influence by President George W. Bush, I am sure that any such complications can be overcome.

Yours from the Cloaca,

Former Mayor Rae Desmond Jones.

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Better Than Court TV by Carol Novackfrom Harlequinine True E-Romances
Carol Novack

The Tale of Betty & Bob

(This is the first and possibly last email in the B & B Series; subscription is required to access the entire Series. Subscribe at

Dear Anon.Hunk:

I read your profile at and decided boy could I ever use a man like you around the house. See I'm a violin maker here in the city, that's New York, the upper west side exacly but I don't want to give my address just yet. Anyways, I'm sure you can appreciate my line of work, being a handyman and all.

I figure you'll want to know all about me, my history and all that and what I like to do. Well I was born in the countryside about 50 miles from Birmingham, Alabama, the fourth, middle kind of child of poor farmers (there was 8 of us when momma got through her production years). We all struggled to make do but we was thankful for what little we had cause we believed in the Baby Jesus, as I'm sure you do as well. Anyways, I had to quit high school and help momma out at the drugstore she took over from some rich distant relative who'd left us the store I don't know why but there it was. Not that we made any money from it cause Momma knew nothing about ordering and we was always running out of stuff for some reason, always the stuff what had to do with intestenal disorders and you know, people down there is always sick in the stomachs from eating all that fried junk.

Anyways, I had my first real boyfriend his name was Skip Henderson grew up to be some sort of shrink in Chicago when I was about 12 who taught me the ups and downs if you know what I mean. But daddy catched us at it and chased him with his rifle and locked me in the celler for a few weeks, and I felt kind of bad like I did something bad, so I stayed away from guys till I was out of there, I mean gone for good. Which occurred when I was 27 after my girlfriend Doris won a church raffel and me and her went to a concert in Birmingham and I met this French violin player Andre. And meanwhile before that I mean when I was 15 daddy got seen doing the nasty with the underaged daughter of his best friend who shot daddy to death so I had no more problems with him and momma didn’t neither.

So me and Andre ended up living together in Newburgh, New York, had a few kids cause he'd just look at me with those heavee lidded Frenchie eyes and say sheree fook me and vuala, I'd get preggers. Anyways, I think I had four of them kids when he contacted annaphillactical shock from a bee what flew in the window and up and died right then and there setting in his favorite chair watching a baseball game can't remember which. But in the meantime, I got a bit of education and learnt how to make violins and I moved to the city with the kids cause there was steady work here for violin makers at the time.

So here I am now, the kids all growned and gone away excepting Marvin whose slow but awefully sweet, and to be perfectly frank, I haven't met the kind of man I'm attracted to in the city. There are a lot of queers and Jews and athists and Arabs and oriental people and every kind of crazy norotic sick male type you could ever want to dream up. And they all drink too much (I'm a teatotaler) and smoke and swear and talk about the stock market and sex all the time bore me silly.

So what do I like to do? Well I like church a lot, you know Southern Baptist. I love baking cakes and pies and roasting ham on Sundays after church and going to movies (like that Mel Gibson one about Jesus) and listening to Shoebert and Patsy Cline and other country singers and blue grass of course with violins. And lots of other stuff you know, like hanging out at home on my couch reading magazines (do you like Reader's Digest?) with my dog Scruffy half timber wolf half chihaha. I hate politicks won't talk about it don't care none. But for that Sarah Palin, my type of good hearted woman with that mongol kid. I reckon some folks don’t like her cause she believes in killing wolves from the air but they haven’t seen wolf heads, particlarly wolf pup heads stuck on wood plates in dens they look darling.

Anyways, got to get my morning coffee into me so I can get out of here and run my errands and finish a violin. They've been drilling outside, making a lot of racket something awful for the last four years or so. I love a guy who lives out of the city to tell you the truth. So tell me all about yourself. By the way, I know you know what I look like, well until I gained a few pounds anyways, you know cold weather blubber but I don't know if that photo of you is contemporary or not cause you look like maybe 20 and you say your over 40. Not that it matters but I don't care for a guy with too many spare tires if you know what I mean. But I don't really care.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon as the cows come home. Just a joke.


Anon. StringAlongWithMe
(actually Betty)

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The Hot Zone by Fatima ShahnazThe Hot Zone
Fatima Shahnaz


Information, a global pandemic, is symptomatic of the profoundly dysfunctional political elites worldwide. Additionally, and analogously, comes the breakdown of judiciaries, or moral value systems capable of coping with the systemic crises underway in almost every geographical hemisphere. As America grows increasingly US-centric, hotspots travel like Dracula’s corpse to almost every isolated region of the world. Seeing things from this end of the telescope, or from within the Belly of the Beast (inside Jonas’s whale) is all about regurgitating the ugly viscera of the world’s underbelly. It’s as Hitchcockian as the Thirty-nine Steps, or Cary Grant running in that cornfield chased by a low-flying airplane, or Vertigo … The sense of impending danger, the lurking threat, the hovering shadow, the Swastika, are as mundane as crime in a Stephen King novel. Only now, the new metaphors have metastasized into ‘terrorism,’ but that’s the umbrella copout, the mass denial strategy to evade looking into the Gorgon’s Eye for fear of being turned to stone. But how, queries the ‘unconscious objector’, can you ‘become’ petrified, when every sense, every rational faculty, has already been blunted, benumbed, paralyzed from taking logical action, or finding an impasse out of this end of the tunnel? That’s what Hitchcock prophesied, or Kafka’s labyrinthine maze of the bureaucracies of death and justice; or Solzhenitsyn’s ghettoization of the mind … The new gulags are here, in America, in our digitalized homes, our robotic, mechanistic addictions to ‘mobile’ lives, cellular celluloid ‘virtual’ realities. Between electioneering, economic bailouts and oil consumption the U.S. public is almost too emasculated to face another body-count war, with more Iraqi civilians exterminated by American troops than by Saddam, dwarfing the genocide of 350,000 Muslims by Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Institutional mass murder – collateral damage – is a foot-soldier of the ‘revolution in military affairs’ of the post-9/11 world.

Even more surreal, under the latest Indo-American sweetheart nuclear deal glossed over by an obsequious official media, is the Indian reality: the ongoing persecution of Christians by Hindu extremist Parties; the witch-hunt of Muslims in the aftermath of more terrorist bombings in the Indian capital of Delhi purportedly by Muslim militants, including students of one of Delhi’s most prestigious campuses, the Jamia Millia Islamia University. Here, following a shootout with police forces, two students in the Human Rights Department of the university were shot and killed by police as alleged ‘terrorists’. In the wake of this, the demoralization of students and the entire area largely inhabited by the Muslim minority turned the campus into a grim replay of the Warsaw Ghetto. A controversy erupted alleging the police storm-troopers had staged a ‘fake encounter,’ with a police inspector shot in the back (while it was alleged he was killed by ‘terrorists), and eyewitness residents of the area reporting that after cordoning off the building, the police fired shots in the air, threw around flower pots, ransacked apartments, and broke windows themselves … The message sent out by such state terrorism or police actions is not merely one of the violation of human rights and physical security of minorities ghettoized within a Hindu majority, but something even more insidious: the battlefield has encroached on education itself, depriving poor sections of society even the right to basic and fundamental education. Not only is the campus in danger of collapsing into a future slave colony, a relic of the old plantation colonial mind, but the potential for the radicalization of disaffected students (from Muslim minorities) through alienation would turn them into subversive anti-state activities (such as terrorism itself). If this view from the proverbial ‘lion’s den’ doesn’t fit the scary Orwellian scenario, there is the daily savagery of persecution of the Christian minority, along with the Muslims in states falling like dominoes – Jharkand, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Orissa - also by Hindu lynch mobs attributed to Hindu Parties like the VHP and its militant wing, the Bajrang Dal. Nuns have been tortured and raped, pastors burned alive in their parishes, churches burned down and tribals converting to Christianity fled their homes to hide in jungles. Anti-conversion laws, coercing newly converted Christians to ‘revert’ to Hinduism, have been implemented in some states. But one source from the Hindu extremists declared part of the reason for the pogroms against Christians was that they were reportedly behind the murder of a Hindu religious leader, Swamy Laxmanan Sarasvati, and aggressive Christian missionaries pouring the Western religious canker in to India. It is while such heinous attacks on Indian secularism and democratic rights are going on that the Indo-US nuclear deal looks like a freakish Polyanna-ish sideshow. Even more bizarre is the concept that Americans, obsessed with their own financial bankruptcy, hope India might turn into a slave-nation helping them out with their own bailouts. Such, you wonder, may be the rationale in Conrad’s ‘heart of darkness,’ the arrogant myopia of the British Empire on whom the sun would never set, or our own bestial worldview - living in the Lion's Den!

Fatima Shahnaz, (Ph.D. Sorbonne University, Paris, France) is a ‘Visiting Fellow’ teaching Politics at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, an author, journalist and international human rights activist.

Edgy and Enlightened Literature, Art and Music in the Age of Dementia
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last update: October 14, 2008