Published six times a year by the arch-conservative American Family Association, this newsletter is designed instead to point out the growing depravity of our culture and its horrific effects on our nation's innocents. Besides the predictable news reports ("Society has declined since prayer was banned from schools," "Daytime TV wallows in tawdry family perversions"), standard rhetoric (including an ad hawking Choose Life personal checks), and advertiser boycotts, the journal documents every example of profanity, sex and violence the group can find on primetime TV. Because the editors are preaching to the converted, why do they find it necessary to record every second of television depravity? Take this typical entry for Seinfeld: "This repeat episode has dialogue which focuses on the fact that the major characters have seen each other naked. Detailed descriptions of sexual organs, both male and female, are included. On October 13, a major story line features the kind of underwear Kramer wears and the effect it has on his genitals." A description of The John Larroquette Show charges that "bestiality, masturbation, cross-dressing and prostitution fill the story in this episode. On October 4, John ogles the centerfold of a porn magazine and a former prostitute proposes that she and John have a monogamous relationship. 'What does monogamous mean?' asks John. Other sleaze jokes are about masturbation, transvestites and genitalia." Certainly there's a lot of crap on TV, but who's more messed up: The folks who watch it, or the self-righteous twits who only can see the naughty bits?
The insider's guide to autograph hunting, with notes on how long celebrities take to respond to your mail requests and what goodies they send if they do. Also how they behave if approached in public (which could save you a broken jaw). My favorite part is the section that charts how much a celebrity's John Hancock jumps in value after they kick the bucket. For instance, a Betty Davis went from $25 to $200 after she croaked, and Sammy Davis Jr. zoomed from $5 to $30. ($2 from 862 Thomas Ave., San Diego, CA 92109-3940)
Since I live in the city, I ride public buses. I like the drivers who say hello when you get on and who call out the stops so I can daydream. After one Saturday afternoon ride to City Newsstand, I found myself purchasing a copy of Bus World. Published in California, it's written for the men and women who manage bus routes in cities around the world. It includes lots of photos of buses and very few photos of people. It also has tons of news about bus management, such as the fact that the U.S. Department of Transportation has ruled that all buses must have antilock brakes by March 1, 1999; that Washington, D.C., has banned outside bus advertising because it looks ugly; that Phoenix buses now take credit cards; that a New York gang is believed to be stealing buses to run illegal charter services; and that states can charge sales tax even on the portions of bus trips that take place outside their borders. The magazine has everything a bus line manager would need to know. In one section, proud city officials boast about the delivery of fleets of shiny new vehicles. An article reports that unlicensed van drivers are "poaching" commuters from the New York metro service. Another recounted the history of bus service on the Isle of Man, which currently has 94 buses. A third examined the dismal finances of D.C.'s Metrobus. The best part of Bus World is the centerfold of Bus Shots, featuring buses (including some restored antique coaches) in full color and posed in their natural habitats. All in all, a smooth ride.
This is one of my favorite magazines. It's printed on beautiful paper in rich colors, it's bilingual, it has a global perspective, it's informative and the photographs are stunning. A lot of people have criticized Benetton for using controversial images to sell clothes, but the company does support some compelling journalism. What other magazine has the guts to illustrate an issue about war with a full-page color photo of the bloody stumps of a mine victim? (Hell, some magazines are afraid to even print out swear words.) Each issue features a theme which is explored by interviewing people around the world. One early issue dealt with AIDS and included a computer image of Ronald Reagan with sores covering his face. An accompanying tongue-in-cheek editorial lauded Reagan, who it said had recently died of AIDS, for his lifelong devotion to battling the disease. Another issue covered heaven. It contained an essay on placebos and thoughts on the question, "What is heaven?" ("Nobody starves to death," "Vladimir and I would get back together," "Getting drunk and waking up feeling great."). The back of the magazine provides context and resources. The magazine is available at larger bookstores, Tower Records or Benetton. Subscriptions are about $50 annually to the U.S. Write Colors for info, or download a subscription form from its website.
Flying Saucer Attack
Jerome Gaynor of Funkapotamus asked 40 artists to depict the last hours on earth before human life is destroyed by an invading alien force. The two dozen artists who responded were asked to include "cool drawings of burning cities and dead humans." They lived up to the task in this 80-page packet of mayhem. Jerome was looking for "spooky chaos" and he got it all of the stories are great and some are fantastic (Jeff Zenick's The Triumph of Death is my favorite). Each story manages to demonstrate the defiance that would certainly be part of the last moments of a proud, stubborn, dopey human race. Another great thing is that the aliens always win, so there are no last-minute negotiations or heroics to save the children and puppies. It's dark and light all at once. What I liked best of all is that the aliens come off as assholes no matter how they're drawn, and they are assholes for not giving us a fair fight. ($5 from P.O. Box 63207, St. Louis, MO 63163)
Published by the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin, this crunchy newsletter discusses the art and science of eating bugs. Millions of people do lots of protein and they love to share recipes. The newsletter covers such topics as bug eating in Uganda, methods of cooking stick insects, a case study of an allergic reaction to grasshopper, an article about efforts to save the delicate mopane worm in South Africa, and a report from the second annual Mosquito Cook-Off in Arkansas, where Larry Clifford took top honors for his mosquito cookies. "The recipe calls for crushing the live insects lightly to keep them from flying, then pouring a mixture of brown sugar and syrup over them before boiling," the newsletter reports. "The boiling seasons the critters and rids them of bacteria. The batch is then dried and cut into small chips to be added to regular cookie dough. 'It tasted good,' said Randy Cross, 20, of Walcott. 'You couldn't taste the mosquitoes at all.' " A Charles Garth of New York calls for recipes in which insects, worms or snails are the featured ingredient. The only problem I see with eating insects is that they're hard to catch while I'm watching TV. ($5 from Department of Entomology, 324 Leon Johnson Hall, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717). For more, see the Tasty Insect Recipes site or books such as Man Eating Bugs (cover, above right) and Creepy Crawly Cuisine.
God's Quiet Voice: John's Dilemma
This is a cheesy comic book published by the American Family Association, the same would-be censors who bring you the AFA Journal (above). Drawn by Chuck McIntosh, whose work looks as if he just graduated from a "So You Want to Be a Cartoonist" course, it tells the tale of John Wright, a teenager who is confronted by the evils of nudie magazines. John and his buddy Neal find a magazine called Girls in a neighbor's trash. Neal's response is the all-natural "Whoa! Check this out!," while John hears a voice in his head that anyone but a fundamentalist Christian would consider a sign of mental illness. It's supposed to be God speaking directly to John, telling him, "Don't look at this." After the kids on the bus tease John for not wanting to see the nekked ladies, the voice tells him to talk to someone about his problem (in the next panel, like an automaton, he says aloud, "I need to talk to someone about this"). John's pastor advises the confused young man to "make the Godly choice. Jesus would have been upset if you had looked at that magazine." John saves his soul by proclaiming "I don't want to do anything to upset Jesus, 'cause he died on the cross to forgive me of my sins!" God's quiet voice then tells John to ask the pastor about TV and movies. "Is watching TV shows with bad parts in them the same as looking at magazines with bad pictures in them?" Reverend Sam explains that it is, then sends John off with this inspired blessing: "May the Lord protect you from all that bad stuff, John." That night, John and his parents are watching TV when John asks, "Are we gonna watch this show, Dad? I saw a commercial for it and it has dirty parts in it." Pop responds by clicking off the TV and exclaiming, "No, we aren't! I don't think Jesus would like that, do you John?" They decide to invite John's buddy Neal over for some Bible reading (if I had drawn this comic, Neal would respond, "Can I bring my magazine?"). The comic ends with a contract for students to sign: "I promise not to look at dirty magazines or watch dirty shows on television because God's Quiet Voice tells me it is wrong." Hey kids: That's not God's voice, that's the voice of repression. It will fuck you up. I feel sorry for the many teens who will someday have the urge to masturbate or explore their sexuality and feel more anguish than any time in their lives because some moron told them it was "dirty." This simplistic tale is an amazing example of twisted Christian propaganda that's worth having in your collection. ($2 from AFA, P.O. Drawer 24440, Tupelo, MS 38803)
The Last News
A religious tract that purports to be a newspaper from the day Christ returns. First, the "playful, sensual world" will be shocked by the sudden disappearance of the many good Christians who were taken up to Heaven, leaving behind all the Buddhists and Hindus and couples living together who aren't married. I love the creative use of stock photos: One shows an empty airport ticket counter with the caption explaining that it's deserted but for the attendants because "all travel came to a halt last night." Then why are the attendants there? Inside there's a photo of a woman screaming and the caption, "Denver mother screams for her child." Why Denver? The back page has a black-and-white photo of the moon with the explanation, "A spokesman for a nearby observatory said that the recent red color of the moon may be explained by Act 2:20." If all the Christians went to heaven, who put this newspaper together? (Gospel Tract Society, P.O. Box 1118, Independent, MO 64051)
Where else are you going to find an Elvis collage T-shirt ("cut a bit smaller and shorter than traditional t-shirts"), a love voodoo book and doll, a Rubik's cube that looks like Homer Simpson's head, a Play the Piano Overnight instruction booklet, a George Bush bobble-head, a green baseball cap that plays When Irish Eyes are Smiling, a "remote control fart machine," the kung fu hamster, a talking toliet soap dispenser, Billy Bob fake teeth, a mullet or afro wig, a green M&M costume, a pink poodle skirt, Three Stooges boxer shorts or and an "entertaining collection of train videos"? Why from Betty, of course!
In my continuing search for the best sexual fetishes, I stumbled across this, a newsletter for people who like to see women covered with paint, mud or even condiments. This issue includes a run-down of recent movie scenes where actresses get soaked (a favorite seems to be Forrest Gump's love interest Jenny getting drenched in the rain) and porn movies created with the messy fetishist in mind. What is messy porn like? Editor Rob Blaine describes one video called Desperately Soaking Susan, then in production: "One of the scenes shows a 16-girl wedding reception that ends in the swimming pool complete with a four-girl dance troupe who pirouetted into the water." Rob kindly sent me a sample video five vignettes where women climb out of bed only to discover they've slept in chocolate, have cat fights in pie shops and take long leisurely swims. The pie thing was fun, but I didn't get turned on, I didn't get turned on, I didn't get turned on.... (age statement and $2 to P.O. Box 181030, Austin, Texas 78718)
Sadly, this great newsletter is no long published, but you can still find remnants such as the list of winners of its annual doublespeak award (the first was Colonel David H. E. Opfer, USAF Press Officer in Cambodia, who told reporters after a U.S. bombing raid: "You always write it's bombing, bombing, bombing. It's not bombing! It's air support!"). Edited for many years by straight talker William Lutz, this newsletter documented the use of creative euphemisms by politicians, public officials and other people with something to hide. Readers submitted news reports that include doublespeak, and there were always plenty of examples. A Canadian military spokesman calls a helicopter crash a "departure from normal flight." The National Agricultural Chemical Association changes its name to the American Crop Protection Association. Soap dispensers become "hand cleansing systems." Logging companies no longer "bulldoze," they "access timber." O.J.'s defense team uses the term "marital discord" instead of wife-beating. The U.N. sends troops for "armed humanitarian interventions." The University of California at Berkeley now has a "department of human biodynamics" (formerly physical education). Prostitutes are "commercial sex workers." A Washington middle school calls its hallways "behavior transition corridors." Belts are made of "genuine simulated leather." You can find more of these examples in Lutz' book The New Doublespeak and Doublespeak Defined, a similar book called Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak and at sites such as American Newspeak (which is also a book).
Each day, while you toil for a living, someone wins a sweeps. According to the reports included in Sweepsheet, they may be working harder than you for less. Each week, Sweepsheet and a handful of other newsletters chronicle dozens of contests sponsored by companies as promotional gimmicks. The readers of these newsletters enter early and often. They mostly win stuff like mugs and T-shirts, and according to the etiquette of sweeps, all prizes must either be used or given away. Pity their grandchildren. This issue starts off with an interview with Char Mycynek of Wisconsin, who started "sweeping" 20 years ago, and she's not talking about her floors. Her first wins were a T-shirt and a can of Alpo dog food. In 1995 she won three trips to California, the Bahamas and Walt Disney World. Not bad! She's also won a color TV, a $500 shopping spree, a $200 record store certificate, clock radios, a backyard gym set, a leather jacket, Olympic sweat clothes, compact discs, videos, caps, coolers and backpacks. Can you imagine the junk mail lists this woman must be on? (Although maybe being on every list in America cancels your name out.) Char's strategy is to enter everything and religiously follow the arcane rules the companies print on the back of the forms. She sends as many as a dozen entries to contests that allow it. With local contests, she might toss in 50. There's also a science as to which color envelopes to use, although contest managers insist it doesn't matter and that the people drawing the entries out of the bin are trained to be impartial. Char also folds her entries in certain ways so that they spread out and have a better chance of being drawn. When sweeps call for "one per person," she enters family members. Her frustrations are not hearing about sweeps or being able to find the official entry forms. But Patience, Persistence and Postage pay off that's her motto. The rest of Sweepsheet is a list of contests from around the country, with rules and info on how to enter. In most you can send a 3x5 index card with your name and address printed in block letters. That is followed by an accounting of recent wins by subscribers, down to the tackiest knapsack or ashtray. I suspect that sweeping is much like couponing it's not that you save money or win much of anything (although three trips in a year isn't bad), it's the challenge of taking something back from the corporate kings who squeeze us dry. ($1 from 262 Hawthorn, #329, Vernon Hills, IL 60061)
I came across this bawdy title while living in London, and now I'm hooked. It's filled with fart, vomit and sex jokes for the mature reader. Most of the magazine consists of page-long cartoons featuring a variety of unappealing but riotous characters who come and go with each issue: Felix and His Amazing Underpants; The Fat Slags (two rude, overweight scamps who always get laid in the end); Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly (a nomad talk show host who's always saying the darndest crudities at the most inopportune times); and Yankee Dougal (a young boy who thinks he's an American, says "Aw shucks" and "Gee whiz," asks for root beer at tea time and wears Mickey Mouse ears). Many newsstands in the States sell current issues, which go for $3.95, or check its web site. While you're there, order either of the two volumes of Top Tips collections. They include helpful hints sent in by readers, including two I sent along:
Here are other favorites:
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