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10 Controversial Stamps

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You wouldn't think something as small and mundane as a stamp would be much cause for controversy, but over the years, there are quite a few stamps that have upset more than just collectors. Here are 10 of them.

1. In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service somehow thought it would be a great idea to issue mushroom cloud stamps to honor the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. Naturally, the Japanese government wasn't thrilled about the notion. The White House stepped in and basically vetoed the idea (the New York Times reported that the then-White House Chief of Staff "made it clear that President Clinton preferred an alternative"), so a depiction of Harry Truman was used instead.

pickett2. Apparently 1994 was a rough year for the Postal Service - it was then that they released a stamp to honor rodeo star Bill Pickett. Bill was in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and toured with Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers and Tom Mix, among others, and his stamp was part of a "Legends of the West" series. The problem? The 20 million sheets of stamps that were shipped out for sale at post offices had the wrong guy on them. The stamp actually depicted Bill's brother, Ben, who was noticeably more rotund than Bill. The Postal Service recalled the stamps and had them destroyed, but not before one post office accidentally sold three or four sheets before the official release date. To be fair, it was an honest mistake "“ the caption of the picture used to create the stamp was mislabeled. However, if you find one of these stamps, it's not worth the chunk of change you might think. The Postal Service took 150,000 of the sheets with the errors on them and issued them by lottery, making them not quite as unique. They go for anywhere from $175 to $275 on the market today.

3. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has regulations that stop their engravers from putting anything unauthorized on stamps, even microscopic things invisible to the naked eye. But that doesn't always mean that employees abide by those rules.

In 1987, it was discovered that Kenneth Kipperman hid a Star of David in the portrait on a $1 stamp, educator Bernard Revel. The object itself wasn't questionable, as Revel was Jewish, but the whole situation became even stranger when Kipperman was arrested for threatening to bomb the site of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. He was protesting the destruction of the current building to make way for the Holocaust Museum, which happened to be right next door to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Since then, supplies of the stamp have run out, and rather than reprint, the Postal Service has decided to replace it with a portrait of Johns Hopkins.

unabomber4. used to let you put anything you want on a stamp "“ almost. The Smoking Gun put the company to the test and submitted pictures of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Monica Lewinsky's dress, Slobodan Milosevic, Jimmy Hoffa, Linda Tripp and the Unabomber. Well, high school and college pictures of Ted Kaczynski. The typical grizzled, bearded picture we have all seen a million times didn't make it through the censors. Also denied: Lee Harvey Oswald and Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano. Perhaps because of the experiment, changed their policy and decided to no longer allow pictures of adults or teens, unless submitted through "trusted channels" such as portrait studios. Photo from The Smoking Gun.

5. Russian stamps issued in 2002 caused quite the stir among citizens. The stamps honor six of Stalin's secret policemen renowned for their abilities to catch foreign spies, but at least two of those six also committed terrible atrocities against their own countrymen, including deporting thousands of peasants in the "˜30s. Although the Russian House of Stamps issued a statement saying they were strictly honoring the 80th anniversary of Russia's counter-intelligence service, citizens were concerned that the government was trying to send a message.

stopes6. A similar situation (being honored for one cause, while angering citizens for other reasons) has recently arisen in Britain, where a stamp has been issued with the picture of Marie Stopes. She was a pioneer in the field of family planning who opened the U.K.'s first family planning clinic, which is why she earned a spot on a stamp. But she was also a Nazi sympathizer who sent a book of poetry to Hitler and was a fan of eugenics. Despite the controversy, Stopes remains in the set of stamps that honor women (so far).

freddie7. A 1999 U.K. stamp featuring Freddie Mercury upset a lot of people "“ but not people opposed to Mercury's lifestyle, as you might suspect. Well, the Royal Mail received a few complaints regarding that, but the majority of them were upset because Queen drummer Roger Taylor was featured rather vaguely in the background of the stamp. The problem? Living people aren't supposed to be on stamps (except members of the Royal Family). The Royal Mail admitted that it was rare that they would break the rules like that, but basically said that given the size of the stamp, a person featured in the background really shouldn't be that big of a deal.

8. Famous Bluesman Robert Johnson was at the center of controversy in 1994, 56 years after his death. There are only two known photographs of Johnson (and a third much-disputed one), so when one of them was altered for the stamp, people were upset. Namely, smokers. The famous photobooth picture of Johnson, with a cigarette dangling between his lips and a guitar in his hand, was changed to delete the cigarette. The President of the National Smokers Alliance called the omission "an affront to the more than 50 million Americans who choose to smoke." However, a cig has cameoed on a stamp before "“ a 1982 stamp featuring FDR shows him holding a cigarette and holder.

flag9. Earlier this year, a collector discovered that one of the Postal Service stamps featuring an American flag had 14 stripes on it. The Postal Service apologized and said that the extra stripe at the bottom was added to give the flag definition and the mistake was never caught. They have no plans to recall the stamp, but did release a statement saying they acknowledged the error and apologized for it.
10. When the U.S. issued a stamp to honor Frida Kahlo, not everyone was happy about it. Especially Jesse Helms. He took to the Senate floor to protest the stamp, saying she was an unfit subject. He wasn't the only one: people wrote in, upset that a Communist, drug addict and bisexual should be featured on a U.S. stamp. Even the Wall Street Journal published an article called "The Stalinist and the Stamp: The Wonders of Postal Diversity."

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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