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‘Tis the dog days of August, a chance to spend some quality time with Vanity Fair and Talk, a pair of high-end monthlies that are, as usual, swollen with fashion ads and great stories by some of America’s best writers.

Vanity Fair’s September issue alone could last you the rest of the summer. It’s pocketed with its usual fluff and star-slobber, including the cover piece on Hollybabe-of-the-minute Penelope Cruz.

But “Once Upon a Time in L.A.,” built around two dozen black-and-white snapshots actor Dennis Hopper took of Tinseltown pals like Jane Fonda and Steve McQueen during the innocent early 1960s, isn’t bad.

Neither is “Empire by Martha” – if you want to spend a day in the compulsively creative life of Martha Stewart, the mediabiquitous billionaire whose empire of magazines, books, TV shows, websites, radio shows, catalogues, newspaper columns and Kmart-peddled products reaches 88 million people a month.

Vanity Fair’s (red) meat department is full too. Regular columnist Christopher Hitchens writes in “The Limits of Democracy” that, absent a constitutional amendment to the contrary, any American – no matter how creepy or idiotic – has the right to be elected and re-elected ad nauseam as long as voters are dumb enough to abet him.

David Halberstam, drawing from his next book, “War in a Time of Peace,” recounts the testy, fearful, clumsy relationship the Clinton administration had with the U.S. military, especially concerning our “great” victory in Kosovo.

Speaking of war, Gore Vidal’s “The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh” is going to disturb a lot of people – especially those who insist on writing McVeigh off as an evil, simpleheaded, right-wing, militia-mad psycho geek.

As Vidal says, and as McVeigh proves in Vidal’s reprinting of some of the death-row correspondence between the two, McVeigh was immoral but he was not stupid.

The late American terrorist had trouble distinguishing between good ends and evil means. But McVeigh knew exactly what he was doing when he murdered 168 innocents: making a political statement by using the tools of war to protest the government’s excessive and widespread use of force against its own citizens (and not just at Waco).

If Vanity Fair’s 418 pages leave you lusting for more celebrity puffery and serious journalism of the mostly liberal persuasion, try Talk, the N.Y.C.-L.A.-D.C. community newsletter.

Cover girl Helen Hunt decries the pain and suffering of trying to be a normal person when you’re a horribly rich and famous celebrity. Camille Paglia picks the world’s 25 most wicked women, from Eve to Monica. Michael Cieply gets “The West Wing’s” creator/writer – the “brilliant and troubled” Aaron Sorkin” – to spill his guts about his drug problems.

And journalist Lisa DePaulo delivers her exclusive piece on the still-missing and about-to-be-forgotten Washington intern, Chandra Levy. Unfortunately, most of “Secrets & Lies’s” best stuff came out last month during DePaulo’s merry-go-round of appearances on cable TV shows.

Talk, of course, is put out by famed mag editor Tina Brown, who debuts her own diary/column of wanton name-dropping this month. It’s leaner than Vanity Fair by about 200 pages of Donna Karan ads. But it’s just as loaded with good dirt on the bad and beautiful Bi-Coastal People we faceless citizens of Fly-Over Country apparently adore.

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