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Martha Stewart is back

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With Martha Stewart reasserting herself, her brand and her magazine, the competition is heating up in the lifestyle segment.

The domestic diva herself appears on the cover of the September issue of Martha Stewart Living for the first time since she was released from prison, but she's wearing long pants, so the ankle bracelet she's required to wear during her house arrest isn't visible. The September issue is the annual decorating issue, yet, disappointingly, advice for sprucing up the dining hall of a federal penitentiary is nowhere to be found. On the upside, there is valuable advice on how to get dog hair off furniture and how to test if one's yeast is still good (drop some in a glass of hot sugar water and see if it foams). Later in the issue, there are no fewer than half a dozen features on decorating accompanied by some beautiful photography, including an interesting article on using trees, shrubs and flowers to bring color into your house.

The September issue of O: The Oprah Magazine offers the best ways to get "unstuck at work and in love" and testimonials from such luminaries as NBC News' Andrea Mitchell and the actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. In an article entitled "Your First Million," there are profiles of five women "who just couldn't help adding on the zeroes" in a culture that reinforces the belief that marrying money is the way for a woman to get rich. In "The O Interview," Oprah talks to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who relates how covering the war in Bosnia kept her from reporting on the Rwandan genocide. Oscar-win ning actress Jodie Foster discusses five books that have made a difference in her life. The issue also contains an advice col umn from Dr. Phil on not living up to the stan dards of others and coping with loss.

Real Simple lives up to its name. The mag takes the guesswork out of style by focusing on the basics: black pants for all bodies, four colors that flatter everyone, and a few classics to bring it together. The editors also tackle an all-too-common dilemma in cramped New York apartments - finding space for a home office. Somehow when they put a desk at the end of the bed or in front of the living room bookshelves it just works. Many of the ideas in this issue will come in handy, although a few articles read like how- to guides for dummies. For instance, a photo spread on reusing plastic grocery bags by turning them into "improvised knee pads" or wrapping paper tries too hard to turn the everyday into the exciting. The mag says, "There's a secret life beyond the checkout line in every plastic bag." That may be true, but it's not in teresting.

The New Yorker is at the ab solute top of its game this week. The maga zine has two abso lutely first- rate pieces in its issue. The first is a piece by the consistently thought-provoking and thorough Malcolm Gladwell on health care and its woes. He argues that the American model of health care should be based less on the so-called moral hazard model and evolve toward the Bush administration's plan to promote Health Savings Accounts. We'll skip the policy synopsis and just say this: Malcolm Gladwell is provocative in the way that great essayists used to be. In the same issue, Nicholas Lemann introduces the world to Hugh Hewitt, a man serving as the accessible and provocative strategist of the political Center-Right in the electronic era. Lemann's serious and sober treatment of Hewitt sheds light on how the definitions of journalism, activism and media are being re- written.

As good as this week's New Yorker is, New York's annual Fashion Issue is silly. The issue is emblem atic of the di minishing role of its once-im pressive en terprise re porting skills in favor of an Observer-ish obsession with about a fifth of Man hattan Island. Case in point: Amy Larocca's few thousand words on millionaire designer Marc Jacobs, pondering the notion of him as potentially a fashion "outsider." A stretch, even in a deadly slow news cycle. On the plus side, media establishment insider nonpareil Kurt Anderson hasn't received credit for evolving into one of the city's compelling essayists. This week it is the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of John Roberts. Great little lines abound, capturing the angst of establishment urban liberals as time - and demographics - claw at their hold on power.

On Time's cover is Kanye West, a hip-hopper without the priors and gun shot wounds of many of his peers. It's actually an uplifting piece. Then, because the entire Washington bureau couldn't go away at once to Maryland's Eastern Shore, there is an obligatory curtain raiser on the obvious front-runners in the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. It's well-enough written that their obviously non-serious responses to the "Are You Running?" question seem almost genuine.

Newsweek fronts a generic walking tour through America, "Quest for God, 2005." It is well-written and respectful enough, simultaneously illuminating and showing us nothing we haven't known for awhile. Much better is a piece about a decorated Marine that one night just snapped. Also meriting attention is a piece examining what Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, will have to deal with on the home front after the removal of settlers from Gaza.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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