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Jul. 17, 2005

The United States of No-More-Ica
What matters and what does not in the USA
posted by Rick Gagliano

Largely, my opinions in the great political debates of America don't matter. And equally largely, I don't care. I've voted once in the last twenty years, and I can't even remember when it was or for whom I voted. I make more than my fair share of political noise, but that's simply my free choice. There are things I like about the United States, things I don't particularly care for, and some things that I absolutely abhor. I still, to some degree, have the right to sound off on anything, a right of which I normally take full advantage.

The fact that I don't vote does not deny me the right to object or complain, nor does it invalidate anything that I assert. Rather, it is an affirmation of one of my most basic beliefs - that until voting becomes mandatory, I have the right to reject all candidates and all proposals that are put before the public. In my view, the less time spent on politics and the passage of laws, the more time the American public would have on those other things guaranteed in our Constitution - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The idea of making voting a mandatory obligation is law in quite a few nations, though it would hardly be given lip service in the United States. Besides being nearly completely unenforceable, it would also be extremely unpopular. For instance, in the last presidential election, the one that was supposed to be the most important of our lifetime, about 42% of the American public decided not to engage in that particular folly at all.

According to any available figures (I used these), the number of people who didn't vote vastly outnumbered those who cast their lots for either candidate. Here's a breakdown:
Total eligible voters (according to the 2000 census, so the real figure is probably higher): 205,815,000
Bush: 62,028,772
Kerry: 59,026,150
Neither or Nobody: 84,760,078

The newspapers on the morning of November 3rd should have heralded the announcement: Nobody Won! and that nobody won handily. A large plurality of Americans once again soundly and overwhelmingly rejected the two party system, as they have for longer than anyone can remember.

Think about it. If a mere 5% of those people who didn't show up decided to vote and went out and voted for Kerry, he'd be president, not George W. Bush. But I don't actually believe that could have happened and will likely never happen. Those 84 million Americans who didn't vote, didn't because they just don't care who wins. They probably have more interest in who wins the Super Bowl than they do the presidency. They likely wouldn't vote even if you offered to pay them. They are the real silent majority, and they're saying, and have been saying for some time, government is absurd, we don't agree with most of what they do and we don't want to be a party to any of it.

Of course, I'm making some pretty big assumptions about the non-voters of America, but I think I can speak for them in some regards, having been one of them for the better part of the last forty years. For instance, every time the government does anything, we would rather they not. Go to war? I don't think so. Raise taxes? Uh-uh. Lower taxes? That might get a little interest, but to really get aroused the government would have to propose abolishing taxes!

There are issues that the washed or unwashed masses of non-voters might actually support. Tops on the list would be a massive reduction in the size of the federal government. If there was a proposal to cut the federal budget by 25% or more, I'd be out there rallying for it with all my heart. Likewise, if there were ever to come a day that a proposal to ban political reporting on television, I could go for that in a big way. We might then see more cartoons, or maybe even news that mattered to us.

But generally, these things will never occur. Big government, big media and big business will do what they like. And the 84 million (and their kids under 18) will largely ignore all of it because we consider most of it as a huge waste of time and energy. Thankfully, it's not our time nor our energy.

Take, for instance, the work of Congress. Lately, they've intervened in a right-to-die issue (Terri Schiavo) in a way that 85% of the American public disagreed. 85%! Yet the Senators and Congresspeople and even the President went out and stuck their noses where they did not belong. If that isn't a sure sign that government is broken and clueless and not worthy of our votes, then what is?

How about the endless debate over the so-called nuclear option of changing the rules of the Senate, to disallow filibusters in the confirmation of judicial appointments? This issue is so convoluted and demonstrably stupid that most Americans would rather the senators just do whatever it is they need to do and get on with it. And what is all the news coverage, debate and wrangling over? A couple of judges. Who cares? The chance that a ruling by any one of these judges would ever effect the lives of any of us is infinitesimal. Approve the judges. Move on.

But if the Congress isn't wasting our tax dollars debating their own rules, they're either playing politics, passing bills that are either detrimental to the general public or beneficial to big business, or, as is the case most of the time, passing legislation that accomplishes both. For perfect examples of how the legislature does this, take the recent passage of laws on bankruptcy, tort reform and the estate tax (passed by the House, soon to be before the Senate), and the no vote on raising the minimum wage.

And if you want to see government in all its wasteful, ill-conceived glory, just follow the President along to the "town meetings" (staged political events) on Social Security reform. The President's plan for private accounts has been so much of a dead issue for so long the mainstream media doesn't even bother to report on it anymore, yet he's out there "on the stump", "doing the people's business."

Hello, Mr. President! The people have completely rejected your idea, so you can stop wasting our time and our tax dollars. Besides, less than a third of us actually voted for you, so whatever business you're doing for whomever people, it doesn't apply to the majority.

And that's why people don't vote, and why I urge more people to resist voting. Only by proving that our elected officials do not represent us can we actually change the direction of our country. When the number of voters dwindles to less than 25% of those eligible to participate, maybe the politicians will get the message that they aren't working for us, haven't been working for us for many years, we don't want them working for us, and they'll just give up. I can only hope and wait for that day. In the meantime, let them go on passing their laws, spending more than we give them and generally wrecking the country along with its laws, its traditions and its constitution. When the entire weight of their mistakes finally comes crashing down around their ears, those of us who resisted the urge to vote for ANY OF THEM will be here to pick up the pieces and maybe start over again.

Members of Virtual Web Library Swap Paperbacks for Free
Wire Editor | 5/5/05

DULUTH, Ga., May 5 /PRNewswire/ -- A small book club has done the unthinkable. Instead of just being able to swap and share books locally, PaperBackSwap.com has developed a Web site where members from all over the United States can trade books for free.

"I used to buy books on E-bay or Amazon," says PaperBackSwap.com Co- Founder Richard Pickering. "But I was so frustrated with having to pay for the books and then all the extra 'handling charges' in addition to the postage. Instead of making more money for those companies, why not just let club members swap paperbacks with each other for free?"

After the launching of its "virtual library" last year, PaperBackSwap.com has members in all 50 states. With over 10,000 individual titles, club members find a book they want and then swap it with other members by mail.

"The goal of PaperBackSwap.com is to become the largest virtual library of paperback books in the world," according to Co-Founder Robert Swarthout.

The club's concept is simple. No gimmicks. No spam. No advertising. No kidding. The club is not a large corporation trying to sell books. Club members are folks who want an economical way to trade paperbacks, including Lynne from Foxboro, Mass.

"I have three small kids and a full time job. As a result, I don't have a lot of time to hit the used bookstore 15 miles away. With this service, I can browse when I have time at my desk," she says.

The club operates on a simple premise. When another member requests one of your books, you mail it to them. You pay the postage, but then another member returns the favor when you request a book and they mail it to you. The books are always free because all club members are willing to trade their books with other club members.

"I have swapped books with some of the same people all over the USA so many times that I almost feel like I know them," says Vicki in Keizer, OR.

For more information, visit www.PaperBackSwap.com


APRIL 2005

Greetings, magazine collectors, dealers and lovers,

Spring has sprung and with the better weather (especially here in the Northeast) comes the prospect of garage sales, church sales and other new opportunities to find that rare gem and buy and sell vintage magazines. Over the years, I have found garage and household sales to offer the best opportunities for buying quality magazines. If I can offer one tip to buying at garage sales, it's this: if you don't see any magazines, ASK!

Many people have no idea that magazines are actually worth something after they are read, though some do, but I've found that at your typical garage sale, you'll find plenty of records and books, but few magazines, simply because people don't think of selling them. I've purchased quite a few solid collectibles after asking the simple question, "Do you have any magazines?" Oddly enough, people "forget" about those old Rolling Stones in the closet, or the Hot Rod magazines in the garage. So make sure to ask.


You may have noticed some changes on the Price Guide web site, and it's because I've been re-working many pages to provide easier navigation, especially Sports Illustrated. In coming weeks, you'll begin to see links to individual SI issues, and the same kind of format (organized by year) for Life magazine. As I've stated before, this is only the beginning of a long journey. The number of different titles alone is mind-boggling, and multiplied by the number of issues for each magazine... well, you get the idea. In any case, six years on, and still running.


Selected list of top selling magazines for March, 2005, from various dealers:

Playboy, December 1953 (1st issue): $2700.00
Lot of 7 Spicy Magazines (Spicy Adventure, 4,9,10,11/1940; Spicy Detective, 1,10/1940; Spicy Western Stories 7/1940): $1514.00
Playboy, full year 1955: $1325.00
MENTOR MAGAZINE 1913-1928 BOUND SET Issues 1-310: $995.00
Playboy, full year 1955: $895.00
Verve magazine (France), Volume 1, #3: $512.00
Harley-Davidson Enthusiast, #4 (1916): $500.00
Woodsmith magazine lot (#1-157): $425.00
National Geographic Bound (Jan-Dec 1903): $403.00
Playboy, full year 1956: $385.00
Playboy, January 1955: $320.00
Maxim magazine, issues 1-10: $307.00
Mad Magazine #24 (1955): $305.00
Verve (France) Vol.1, #1: $300.00
Sports Illustrated, August 23, 1954 (2nd issue): $280.00
Surfer in Hawaii, 1963: $249.00
Hot Rod, full year 1949: $241.00
Collier's August 15, 1908: $225.00
Baseball magazine, October 1913: $213.00
Bobby Jones on Golf, 1926: $212.00



Once again, Downtown Magazine is offering high quality polyethylene sleeves for magazines and records (LPs and 45s) in quantities from 100 to 1000. Shipping is included in all prices, generally by Priority Mail.

Magazine Sleeves
LP Sleeves



I recently (Feb. 16 &17) had the unique experience of visiting the headquarters of Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC) in Sarasota, Florida.

The company, if you are not familiar with them, is a subsidiary of Certified Collectibles Group, an umbrella corporation which also includes other similar companies which authenticate, certify and encase coins, paper money and sportscards. The part of their business that deals with coins is by far the largest, but I was invited to view and be entertained in their comic division, run by Steve Borock and Mark Haspel, both of whom are comic book graders and executives of CGC.

The reason for my invitation was that CGC has been contemplating doing for magazines what it has done for comic books - essentially, authenticating, grading and encasing them in a tamper-proof plastic case.

Debate over what CGC does has raged on the internet and in comic collector circles since the company's inception in 2000. Now five years into the comics grading business, CGC is firmly established as a leader in the field. Their advertisements can be regularly seen in comic collector magazines and they are a regular fixture at nearly all major comic shows and events.

Much of the debate over what CGC does surrounds itself with prices, their unique 25-point grading system and the encasing of comics (what detractors like to call entombing, but is generally known as "slabbing"). To "slab" a comic book, CGC manually inspects the issue, applies a grade, and then seals the book inside a rigid plastic container with all the pertinent information on a bar-coded label. All this information is entered into a computer database, so CGC can access details on any comic they have ever graded. It's quite an elaborate process.

While the sealed casing can be opened, it would destroy the integrity of the grade, so most "slabbed" books are kept in their cases, away from the damaging elements of heat, humidity, etc. Some comic book purists, who enjoy their comics for reading and entertainment value as well as their collectibility, object to the slabbing process, seeing it as a denial of - at the very least - the pleasure of seeing the interior of the comic. After all, they contend, the cover and back cover is only the exterior of what is, to many, a work of art, or literature, or both.

The pricing issue also has arisen, especially on eBay, where high grade comics have been fetching many times book value in online auctions after they have been suitably graded and encased by CGC.

All of this brings us to the question of magazines. If CGC decides to begin accepting mainstream magazines (actually they already have to some degree, as they are now grade comic-type magazines such as Mad, Eerie, Vampirella, Cracked and others), what effect will this have on collectors, dealers and lovers of old magazines?

First off, CGC will deal only with standard size magazines initially, such as Time, Sports Illustrated and Playboy (they are especially interested in Playboy - well, who isn't), so your collection of Life, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, etc. are safe, for now.

But the same debate would occur in the magazine community as has been and continues to be in the comic world. Prices for high grade early Playboy and Sports Illustrated magazines would likely skyrocket once they are graded and encased by CGC, just as happened with comics. Additionally, dealers who don't toe the CGC line, selling high grade collectible magazines without the CGC "stamp of approval" may be penalized by lower prices at auction or at sales.

In essence, CGC would create a new paradigm and new challenges, and a new profit center for them. CGC's grading is not cheap, nor are their gradings always uniform. I sat with the graders and actually assisted in grading some comic magazines. It was a unique experience, but no two graders will ever grade the same comic, or magazine, the same. CGC tries its best to make grades uniform, but there are so many factors which go into grading, that it's never going to be science, but remain an undefined, unstandardized art to a great degree.

After returning home from my visit to CGC, I was able to reflect upon what I had seen and learned from my two days at their headquarters. Basically, I felt that CGC was more interested in garnering information about the collectible magazine market than hiring me to run their new business - the pretense under which I was asked to visit - and that they had not laid all of their cards on the table. I was told different things at different times by different people and by the end of my visit, I distinctly felt that they were uninterested in me or my business, since I was not forthcoming with a great deal of "inside" information.

My general impression was that the people who run CGC are only interested in making money, regardless of how they do it, whom they displace or displease and that they will pursue any and all opportunities without regard to accepted standards or conventions. In other words, as they have done in the comic world, they will step on, over or around anyone who gets in their way. I wasn't impressed that they were either trustworthy or honest. In fact, I believe that they will do and/or say anything that sheds a positive light on their business, and I'm not alone in that regard.

As for if and when they begin to grade mainstream magazines, I believe it's a pipe dream on their part. The collectible magazine trade is highly fractured, and I told them as much. I do not believe CGC will be able to make significant inroads into the market. As it is, less than 2% of comics on eBay are CGC graded and I don't call that significant market penetration.

CGC has artificially distorted the comic book market and this price guide will not participate in any such distortion should they decide to invade the magazine trade. Any magazines graded by CGC and sold anywhere will not be reflected in prices ascertained by the Collectible Magazine Online Price Guide. CGC and any magazines they grade will be treated as though they never existed.

For more about CGC, visit their site at http://www.cgccomics.com.

Discuss this and other issues in the Discussion Forum.

That's all for now,

Rick Gagliano, Publisher
Downtown Magazine
Collectible Magazine Online Price Guide
Playboy, the world's most collectible magazine.
Rick Gagliano | 9/7/04

As the Cadillac of men's magazines, Playboy continues to attract collectors from a diverse cross-section of interests. While many still regard Playboy as smut, pornography or unworthy of the kind of respect afforded mainstream publications, it should be noted that Playboy became mainstream about four decades ago, when the public morals in America caught up to the private passions of individuals.

All arguments to the negative aside, Playboy magazine has provided American men - and women - quality entertainment since 1953 in a variety of forums, and has maintained its position as the number one collectible men's magazine for many years.

The reasons for Playboy's dominance in the collectible marketplace mirror its popularity on the newsstand, with focus and diversity high on the list of desirable elements. Hugh Hefner, the lynch pin of all Playboy success, propagated the Playboy Philosophy from the very start: that a young man's life was supposed to be fun, pleasure-filled and populated with lovely, playful young ladies. Not bad for openers, and not very far from reality either. The average guy back in the fifties and sixties generally had a decent job, car, apartment and plenty of choices on the dating scene. Single women - known fondly as girls back then - were, for the most part, free-spirited, fun-loving and willing to date. Both sexes, as always, were more than willing to experiment sexually.

The argument purporting that Playboy delivered on a monthly basis what was essentially a fantasy owes primarily to the wails of feminists and muttered cries of guys who weren't getting any. Certainly, the Playmates were beyond the norm in terms of beauty, but there's many a fetching lass who never graced the pages of any magazine and never will. Beauty, if it be in the eyes of the beholder, surely was not tarnished by the photo editors of Playboy magazine. More than anything, Playboy gave young men a preview of the real world. Yes, this is what real women look like, more or less...

And it is these lovely ladies who folded out before our eyes as youths that became the focus of the magazine and the reason Playboy became a collector's item from the start. It was not radically different from the start. Essentially, Hefner combined the best elements of the upscale magazines, Esquire - for whom he worked for about one year - in particular, and the girly rags, into what we now know as Playboy. (Interestingly, it was going to be called Stag Party, until, only a few weeks prior to publication, an attorney representing the hunting and fishing magazine, Stag, asked Hefner to desist.)

It was those ladies in the magazine, in various stages of undress, that men could not throw into the wastebasket along with the newspapers and sports rags. Mickey Mantle surely would hit the trash heap long before Miss October, and thus, Playboy magazines began to pile up around households, in closets and under beds across America. Yes, many issues get thrown out by irate mothers, upset spouses and jealous girlfriends, but the legend of the centerfold lived on and flourished.

As time passed, other reasons to collect Playboy magazine began to emerge, the obvious appeal of the alluring Vargas Girls chief among them. Antonio Varga, who worked for Esquire and Playboy at various times from the 40s to the 70s, was recruited by Hefner in 1959 and produced monthly Vargas Girls until the mid seventies. Fast on his heels was painter LeRoy Neiman, who became a regular contributor to Playboy in the late fifties and whose renderings of everything from ballet to Grand Prix racing appeared in the pages of Playboy from the fifties to the present. Neiman's work is fast approaching legendary proportions. His originals and early prints are fetching impressive numbers at sales and auctions.

Playboy became a staple of American culture not long after its inception in 1953. By the mid 60s to the mid 70s, Playboy clubs dotted the urban landscape, and the magazine had hit its circulation highs (September 1972 was the best -selling issue of all time with a count of 7,012,000 copies sold). Penthouse, which was to become Hefner's nemesis for a while, though to a degree a copycat publication, managed to prompt circulation peaks by the mid to late seventies. This pushed the Playboy mystique even further into the psyche of American culture. Only the best are copied, and by that flattered. While Penthouse and others tried to compete, Playboy's sizable lead and loyal following was never truly assailed. The closest Penthouse ever came to Playboy was in 1974, when Penthouse sold 4 million copies to Playboy's 6 million. To the utter relief of men worldwide, both publications survived.

Add to man's everlasting fascination over the female body the various stars of stage and screen that have exposed themselves to the Playboy lens and/or the scrutiny of their editorial writers and interviewers and you have yet another reason to collect copies of this magazine. From Marilyn Monroe to WWF star Sable, Playboy has made a concerted effort over the years to address and undress the sexiest stars.

Finally, and often overlooked (for obvious reasons), are the writers Playboy has featured and the interview subjects over the years. With names like Kerouac, Updike, Haley, Toffler, Wodehouse, Clarke filing in the spaces between the ads and the girls, who could have asked for more. Playboy gave us interviews with icons from the worlds of sports, politics, media and public affairs.

So, when somebody asks you why you collect Playboy magazine, you can breezily answer, "not just for the pictures."