Men's Life, the Murdoch Magazines entry in the coming glut of new men's magazines, apparently wants to be known as the one that doesn't take anything too seriously. The editorial "voice" into which most of the stories have been translated is likably self-mocking -- sensitive, of course, but not too. Like a guy.

In the premiere issue (October-November), there are little touches of madness (remaking Deborah Norville and Diane Sawyer as brunettes) and long stretches of indulgence (letting Joseph Heller and Rob Reiner kick around the meaning of life) and lots of wisecracks in between. Other subjects treated here include such common men's obsessions as sports, ex-wives, business, younger women, computers, sexual intercourse, their fathers, adultery, air travel and "Are Bikinis Getting Too Small?" The cut-up in the office must have a dreary twin, who's always talking about advertisers, and assigning stories about CD players and automobiles and tipping and mousse; he may have had a hand in the Dan-Quayle's-gotten-a-bum-rap article too.

A special survey commissioned for this first issue reveals what Men's Life must have known already: that contemporary men are contented, thoroughly domesticated animals, and thus easily diverted by appeals to vanity, libido and funny bone. For a year's subscription (12 issues), send $11.97 to Men's Life, PO Box 7029, Red Oak, Iowa 51591-2029.

Members Only

The untenable position in which Alabama's Shoal Creek Country Club found itself before the recent PGA tournament there -- in 1990, it still excluded would-be members by reason of their race, and was hardly unusual in that respect -- has a heritage as old as the country club itself. Indeed, as we learn in John Steele Gordon's valuable brief history in the September/October American Heritage, the country club is a distinctly American institution. The first ones were founded by prosperous Americans about a century ago as ironically more open and democratic (and less expensive) versions of English country houses.

The Country Club and Myopia Hunt Club near Boston, the Tuxedo Club and the Westchester Country Club outside New York, Washington's Chevy Chase Club and their 4,000-odd successors were revolutionary in another way, Gordon reminds us -- they created a social center that for the first time included women and children, unlike the vaguely unsavory downtown men's clubs (which also persist).

But clubs have always been about exclusion, a fact that has given rise to all-Jewish and all-Catholic country clubs and more recently to all-black ones as well. The accession today of a supposedly more progressive generation of members, however, doesn't seem to have changed things much. Clubbing must be contagious. Groucho Marx is famous for his screen remark that he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. In real life, Gordon recounts here, "When one club offered to waive its no-Jews rule for Groucho, provided he abstained from using the pool, he remarked, 'My daughter's only half Jewish, can she wade in up to her knees?' "

Carter Brown: Genius or Visionary?

In his much-awaited New Yorker profile of National Gallery Director J. Carter Brown, Calvin Tomkins (Sept. 3) provides a succinct and benevolent account of the rich young aesthete's rise to national prominence as the nation's chief artistic impresario. At 55, Brown already has 20 years on the job, and has become a charmer and prestidigitator impressive even by Washington standards. The National Gallery of Art celebrates 50 years next year, a fitting moment to explore its extraordinary roots in the bequest of Andrew Mellon's art collection and sizable endowment, and its evolution into the country's first museum under Brown's predecessors, David Finley and John Walker, and Brown himself. As for exploring what motivates or troubles or explains this aristocratic demigod, Tomkins leaves virtually every stone unturned.

Mom Goes to War

The Gulf War, if that's what it turns out to be, will have a place in the history books for the significant numbers of women in uniform serving alongside men. All across America, daddies are staying at home with the kids while mommies go off to war. It's easy to overdo, but also easy to forget what an extraordinary phenomenon is at work. In "A Mother's Duty" this week (Sept. 10), People tells the stories of a few of the estimated 11,000 women who are facing a tour in the Persian Gulf. "Mommy, what if you die?" her 9-year-old asked Langley Air Force Base's Maj. Jane Fisher. "I said, 'Well, I die.' I had to laugh... . I just hope they can understand that I have to do this." Marine Cpl. Melanie Hoskins, still stateside and fuming at being left behind, said, "It's not fair. The women have trained hard, so why shouldn't we all leave together as equals?"

Green Shakers

A number of environmental groups have not taken kindly to Outside magazine's unsparing September assessment of their work and worth, organization by organization, so that's one strike in the feature's favor. Bill Gifford and the magazine's editors rate each of 25 groups on a "Milquetoast-Bombthrower Index," with the National Wildlife Federation at one extreme ("competes for membership with the NRA") and Earth First! at the other ("best known for filling bulldozer gas-tanks with high-test sand"). These organizations do serious work, so it's not surprising that some objected to Outside's flip descriptions of "typical" members -- e.g., the Environmental Defense Fund: "Lawyer with a green conscience and a red Miata." But for the $25- or $50-a-pop environmental contributor, this is a handy way to keep the importuning groups straight, with some idea of their history, emphases, leadership, celebrity connections and finances -- and also what each group "won't tell you."