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Jewish World Review April 19, 2002 / 8 Iyar, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Saddam starting to show his age | Poor Saddam.

As the Great Satan - that's us - secretly draws up plans to obliterate him, Saddam Hussein is starting to do something no tyrant can afford to do for long - show his age.

At 65, the Glorious Leader of Iraq has a bad back, walks with a limp and needs reading glasses. Still, as "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden shows in horrifying detail in the May Atlantic, Saddam still knows how to be an old-fashioned dictator.

Based on tales about Saddam's private life told by high-level defectors, Saddam's cruelty, paranoia, thuggish management style and lonely, abstemious life are all very Stalinesque.

Bowden says Saddam is apparently only interested in two things, both of which appear to be driven by simple vanity: holding on to power and what people of the Arab world will think of him 500 years from now.

Everyone - including terrible Saddam himself - knows his days are numbered. But for now, he is still all-powerful, all-feared and intent on making weapons of mass destruction and using them on just about anyone his missiles can reach.

For an update on "Iraq's Arsenal of Terror" from yet another high-level Iraqi defector, you must plow through 120 pages of Louis Vuitton ads in the May Vanity Fair.

Apparently, Iraq - as it always seems to be - is very close to achieving a long-range rocket that can hit most Mideast capital cities with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Vanity Fair's usual cache of riches also includes "Camelot's Son," an excerpt from Richard Blow's memoir that describes what it was like working as John F. Kennedy Jr.'s top editor at George magazine.

Complete with shirtless photos of JFK Jr. playing touch football, the article is soaked with the trivial details of John-John's personal life and his stint as a big-time magazine publisher/editor.

Despite some embarrassing passages, Blow overall does nothing to diminish John's reputation as a decent, regular guy who, despite being burdened with a tragic past and a tabloid-tortured present, was a credit to what's left of the Kennedy name.

In his regular Vanity Fair column, James Wolcott makes his usual gratuitously snotty remarks about conservatives while explaining how pop culture has made history a growth industry.

But in Business 2.0, the same Mr. Wolcott provides a balanced look at another exploding trend - the proliferation of online diaries known as "blogs," which is short for web logs.

Most blogs are devoted to news and political commentary, but they can be about everything from the failings of American foreign policy to the joys of blogging.

The best known are written by established smarties such as former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan or ex-Reason magazine editor Virginia Postrel.

But most practicing bloggers are nobodies, merely taking advantage of the democratic nature of the Internet to continually spew their lowly thoughts and kvetches to the outside world.

As usual, some media establishment high priests gripe and fret about blogs and the threat they pose to the future of journalism.

But Wolcott isn't scared. He realizes blogging is journalism of the purist kind - "a one-on-one, unmediated relationship between writer and reader paradoxically made possible by the most mass of media, the Internet."

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

04/12/02: Newsweek puts suicide bombing in perspective
04/09/02: How polls distort the news, change the outcome of elections and encourage legislation that undermines the foundations of the republic
04/05/02: Looking into the state of American greatness
03/25/02: The American President and the Peruvian Shoeshine Boys
03/22/02: Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight
03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald