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MAGAZINES / BOB SIPCHEN

Trying to Make Some Sense of an Event Forged by Insanity

April 29, 1993|BOB SIPCHEN

No doubt what happened in Waco last week will be one of the year's Top 10 stories.

Still, how many people are already bored by the whole wild, weird, sick event?

Problem is, David Koresh was a wacko. Psychopaths of his ilk, with their misfiring synapses, their stupid grins and behavior that defies plot analysis, eventually just aren't interesting to people whose minds can still get a logical grip.

At the same time, who can blame news weeklies for putting this quintessential millenarian story on their covers? And who can blame them all for failing to make sense of the senseless tragedy?

The award for most sensational coverage of the affair goes to Time.

Its cover shows a maniacal Koresh superimposed against a wall of flames, his head thrown back, laughing like some heavy-metal Mephistopheles.

But writer Nancy Gibb's slightly breathless narrative, interspersed with Biblical verse, is gripping. And Time comes through with informative sidebars, including one revealing the contents of the loony letters Koresh wrote in his last hours.

Newsweek's "Deathwish" cover is only slightly less tabloid. Inside, you'll find better photos, including a gatefold of Ranch Apocalypse in flames, and a day-by-day countdown of the event.

This story provides some horrifying details the others miss: ". . . the children donned adult-size gas masks with wet towels stuffed around them to make them fit."

U.S. News & World Report offers the most gut-wrenching, though as yet unverified, "scoop" of the three: ". . . Top ranking FBI officials now believe virtually all the children at Ranch Apocalypse, 17 of them under age 10, almost certainly were killed before the first flames from the Davidians' compound were spotted."

They were, U.S. News suggests, gunned down by cultists.

Some sources in these various accounts appear to be obfuscating. Some lying. Many participants' seemingly honest viewpoints remain irreconcilable.

What's clear from the three stories is that much is still unclear.

Required Reading

* Back in January, Esquire published a less-than-reverential essay on Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses."

In the May issue, a bunch of bigwig writers, including John Irving, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Julian Barnes and Robert Stone rush to defend the author whom Ayatollah Khomeini and Cat Stevens have said must die.

Irving nominates Esquire and the essay for a dubious achievement award. Stone says, "Is this dizzy, breathless twitter supposed to represent hip contemporary insight? Hasn't it occurred to anyone that this kind of thing only encourages the people who are trying to kill Rushdie? . . . Calm down and think straight."

* The May Emerge is another good one. Roger Wilkins remembers Thurgood Marshall, Joe Davidson writes with calm clarity about police brutality and Sylvester Monroe does a decent job with the obligatory anniversary look at the riots. The highlight of the issue, though, is "Black Soldiers in Somalia: Mixed Emotions, Vanishing Euphoria."

"As they move cautiously throughout strife-torn Somalia," N. S. Charles writes, "African American soldiers are at war with their perceptions and expectations of a land some had dreamed of."

This subtle and moving article adds: "What black American soldiers have found in embattled Somalia is how wide and complex is the rift that 400 years of slavery, a legion of tongues, and an ocean of lost souls have created between Africa and its offsprings."

* The term "hot." Is it still? Or not, like " . . . not! "

Either way, Rolling Stone's May 13 issue arrives with its "Hot List" and the choices tend to be pretty cool. RS turns some of the list-making over to celebs.

Richard (Slackers) Linklater's Hot Irritation: "People trying to name the twenty-something generation."

Michael (Kramer) Richard's Hot Bore: "L. A. Law. . . . It's like watching real estate people prepare leases or something."

The magazine also lists dozens of its own choices. Hot Rap Trend: Hip Bop--"rhythm meets melody."

Hot Scam: Selling fake Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs that get really big--200 pounds or so. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports of one such porcine phony: "Emily recently backed Ms. Tochterman's husband into a corner of the pantry--demanding a dog biscuit--until he cried out for help."

Hot Diversion: Mobile-phone scanning. And finally, the pick that's likely to steam Al and Tipper--Hot Dates: "You've watched them. You've felt your pulse quicken. You've imagined calling them on the phone: 'Hi, it's me. What are you wearing? How about the others?' You know it could never be. The Gore Girls are out of your league."

Esoterica

Just opening the cover of Chile Pepper makes your tongue tremble and your scalp sweat.

The magazine is going on its seventh year and still finds plenty to write about: recipes, restaurant reviews and the like.

As with most magazines, though, the letters column gives the best insight into what Chile Pepper's about.

Apparently in an earlier issue, chef Julia Child had the audacity to say that chili peppers cause "palate death."

That set off a heated reaction, such as: "She is the Jesse Helms of the culinary world."

Another letter on an unrelated subject, however, is more chilling:

"Not too long ago, I chopped some Habaneros (peppers) for use in salsa. Several (but not enough) handwashings later, I cleaned my soft contact lenses. The next morning, I felt like I was placing hot coals in my eyes."

(One year/six issues, $15.95; P.O. Box 15308, North Hollywood, Calif. 91615-5308; (800) 959-5468.)

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