LET'S TAKE the P.J. O'Rourke sarcasm test.
"Saddam Hussein -- he's worse than a Hitler, worse than a Stalin, worse than waking up wearing a wedding ring next to a Roseanne Barr who's grown a mustache . . . He's got chemical weapons filled with . . . with . . . chemicals. Maybe he's got the Bomb. And missiles that can reach Riyadh, Tel Aviv, Spokane . . . Bury all the Hummel figurines in the yard. We're all going to die. Details at eleven."
That's quintessential O'Rourke captured in the Oct. 18 issue of Rolling Stone ($2.50). Decide for yourself how his style works on a subject that not too many people have found hilarious.
There are some good O'Rourke lines: "America is the world's policeman all right -- a big dumb Mick in the middle of one thing JTC cops dread most, a domestic disturbance." He even dispenses a few historic facts and insights that frame the chaotic complexity of origins and relationships in the Middle East.
But, as usual, O'Rourke mainly finds people, customs and lifestyles he doesn't like. He visits the open-air markets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, finding shops full of merchandise -- "a barbaric splendor of merchandise."
"That is, synthetic fabrics of astonishing ugliness, shoddy housewares, bad appliances, every kind of electronic gimcrack known to East Asia, garish nylon carpets in lampoons of Persian designs, gold necklaces bigger than salad plates, gems cut and set like carnival prizes, furniture to make a Mafia wife wince and table lamps Liberace wouldn't have owned," he writes with disdain.
O'Rourke's article does have a fine ending that is sarcastic and ++ on the mark. It makes you wonder how funny he might be if war breaks out.
This issue of Rolling Stone includes a chilling report on crack babies and a few revealing moments with Prince.
Make that two consecutive solid issues for The Washington Monthly.
The October issue ($3) includes Tom Hamburger's critical dissection of the ethics of U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, Michael Willrich's report on corruption in the Washington, D.C., human services department and Scott Shuger's solid article on false advertising for the Air Force's stealth fighter. Phil Kiesling, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, encounters reality when he runs for the Oregon state legislature and wins.
This issue also devotes three pages to the argument that natural gas is America's best energy source -- and one source that avoids the chaos of the Middle East. That's a fair argument but, for some reason, the Monthly lets the argument be made by Robert Hefner 3rd, the chairman of an Oklahoma-based natural gas and exploration company.
Boulevard, the literary quarterly out of Philadelphia, gets better in looks and better in content with each issue. The fall issue ($5) includes several fine short stories -- especially Phyllis Raphael's ''Golf'' and Josip Novakovich's ''The Eye of God'' -- and an essay on Edgar Allan Poe and the short story . . . The October issue of The Atlantic ($2.50) provides an interesting package of articles: Joel L. Swerdlow and Fred H. Chate on the bureaucratic failures that prevent transplants, Simon Winchester on the Boeing 747, Nina Tumarkin on Russian anti-Semitism and Lynn Chu on business problems in China . . . The October issue of Mirabella ($2.50) joins last month's Vogue in making it official: the color black is going out of fashion. Francine du Plessix Gray writes on her return to Russia . . . Nancy Griffin's portrait of the late acting coach Peggy Feury highlights the October issue of Premiere ($2.50). The issue includes a roll call of the fall films, an interview with actor Kevin Costner and a look at those unusual movie-making brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen . . . The October issue of World Press Review ($2.95) collects comments on Saddam Hussein's Kuwait adventure. In the Sept. 27 issue of The New York Review of Books ($2.25), Edward Mortimer examines recent books on Saddam and Iraq.
The September issue of New England Monthly was this fine magazine's last. Although winner of several major awards and a reliable source of top-quality writing, the magazine fell victim to the region's and the industry's struggling economy . . . The October issue of Details ($2) offers a curious report on organized crime in Moscow. But this magazine still needs to calm down before most readers can approach it.