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9 Controversial Magazine Issues Too Inflammatory for Newsstands

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Whether it’s a racy photograph or an article that expresses an unpopular point of view, most magazines have been mired in controversy at some point (though we don't remember anyone yanking our Swimsuit Issue off the newsstand). But here are a few controversial issues that either had to be revised or were removed from shelves entirely.

1. Jesus and the Bunnies

Putting Jesus on the cover of almost any magazine has the potential to be controversial, but Playboy? Yeah, that’s gonna ruffle some feathers. Especially when the scene depicts Jesus holding a topless, tattooed model in bed. And the July 2010 issue of Playboy’s Portugal edition didn’t stop there. The spread inside revealed Jesus standing next to a prostitute on the street, gazing at two women making out, and praying next to a topless woman reading a book. Playboy Enterprises - AKA Hef’s team in the U.S. - said they were never given the opportunity to review and approve the cover. As a result, they reacted fast - and furiously - by ending their relationship with the Portuguese publishing house.

2. In which people are not shadows

Earlier this year, the Philippines’ FHM yanked their latest issue after the cover with Philippine model Bela Padilla raised more than a few eyebrows. The shot in question featured Padilla posing seductively behind the words “Bela Padilla: Stepping out of the Shadows” amid a bevy of other models. The controversy? The models flanking her were all black. Upset readers flooded the magazine’s website with comments; the publishers quickly issued an apology: “In our pursuit to come up with edgier covers, we will strive to be more sensitive next time." Padilla took to Twitter to explain: "The concept was stepping out of MY inhibitions, MY fears, MY shadows. Not bashing a certain race."

3. This is why you always proofread

You’re probably familiar with USA Weekend: it runs in more than 800 weekend editions of newspapers across the country - that’s a circulation of, oh, about 23.7 million. So the newspaper magazine had a pretty big audience when they unwittingly ran the “n” word in an illustration that appeared in the background of a story in 2004. The word was caught mid-print, but more than 300 papers had already gone out with the offensive language. USA Weekend reimbursed the newspapers that chose to ditch the magazine rather than run the illustration.

The artist claimed his use of the word was entirely accidental: the illustration used the text from an article in The New York Times Magazine, and that article included “an exchange” that included that particular word. The artist said he used the text as a design element only and didn’t proofread it first.

4. Heinrich Himmler can’t handle TIME

Way back in 1939, Hitler’s right-hand man Heinrich Himmler banned all future issues of TIME from entering Germany the week after he was featured on the cover. The accompanying story chronicled Himmler’s career, apparently in a manner the Gestapo chief found unsatisfactory. Maybe he didn’t like hearing himself described as “inordinately ambitious,” or perhaps it was “weak, fleshy-chinned [and] owlish” that he objected to. Wait, I bet it was the jab about him looking “more like an Austrian gymnasium teacher than a leader of men.”

5. "Toughest Boss" doesn’t take kindly to the title

Two years before they pulled the plug on operations altogether, Eastern Airlines pulled Fortune magazine from all of their flights. The February 27, 1989, issue featured an article on America’s Toughest Bosses. The cover model for the list just happened to be Frank Lorenzo, the chairman of Eastern’s parent company, who reportedly expected his employees to work 14-hour days, six days a week. Fortune wasn’t fazed by the lower-than-barf-bag demotion, and issued a statement saying, “Fortune staff members will continue to fly the Eastern skies, friendly or otherwise.” A company spokesperson said that the command to axe the magazine didn’t actually come from Lorenzo, but must have come from someone in “middle management.”

6. Fidel flusters Miami International Airport

It wasn’t Fidel Castro’s famous love of cigars that landed him on the cover of the June 1999 Cigar Aficionado. Pictures of Castro and Bill Clinton accompanied a headline in giant red type that asked, “IS IT TIME TO END THE EMBARGO?” The question didn’t sit too well with Miami International Airport officials, who felt the cover and inside article painted a picture of the communist leader that was a little too pretty. The magazine was banned from the airport for three days, until common sense prevailed. “In the end, we have to come down on the side of what has been the tradition in the United States of freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the Director of the Aviation Department said.

By the way, Castro claims he gave up his cigar smoking habit in the mid-1980s, but still gives boxes of his signature Cohiba cigars to ambassadors. "I give people cigars and tell them it is poison,” he once said. “I say: 'Smoke them if you like, but the best thing you can do with that box of cigars is give it to your enemy.'"

7. You know what’s not funny? The Ku Klux Klan

Peanut butter and pickles. Ice cream and ketchup. Some things just aren’t meant to go together, and I’d say the Ku Klux Klan and “humorous” advertising are near the top of the list. In 2000, South American Rolling Stone pulled a Hawaiian Tropic ad that featured a sunbather being dragged from a swimming pool by Klansmen. Rolling Stone’s U.S. office wasn’t happy, and neither were Argentine anti-discrimination groups. The creative director of the agency that created the spot said that he felt Argentinians saw the Klan as outdated and ridiculous and that the ad was meant as a parody of racism, not actual racism.

8. If we could only take the breasts out of breastfeeding

In 1994, at least 18 Rosauer’s Supermarkets and one Safeway in the Spokane area pulled an issue of LIFE magazine from checkout stands. The cover showed a breastfeeding woman in profile. “Material like that should not be on the racks for eyes to see, especially little children,” said one appalled mother.

Life is far from the only publication to find itself in the middle of the breastfeeding controversy, though. Other magazines that have run across similar problems after running a cover including a baby at a naked breast include Babytalk, Redbook, W and Vanity Fair.

9. When Presidential parodies were frowned upon

Images courtesy of standinsanddirtynothings

Back in 1966, a humor magazine at the University of Texas called the Texas Ranger retouched a picture of LBJ to give him stringy hair. The bewigged President was to appear on a cover image of an old-fashioned medicine bottle with the label “Mother Baines’ Snake Oil Elixir.” The magazine’s faculty advisers demanded that the insulting image be changed or pulled entirely, so the illustrator scrambled to change it to “Texas Ranger Snake Oil Elixir” with the tagline “Hastily Revised Batch.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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