Everything P.J. O'Rourke has investigated in the pages of Rolling Stone -- foreign policy, the environment, drug abuse etc. -- "has turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected," he writes in the July 12-26 issue. "Until now. Until I got to the 1990 Farm Bill. Here at last is a simple problem with a simple solution. Drag the thing behind the barn and kill it with an ax."

The essay that reaches that conclusion, "Manuregate," takes the view that "farm policy, while complex, can be explained. What it can't be is believed." How true. O'Rourke's accomplishment in this antic jeremiad is to render a coherent and nearly errorless explanation of the absurd system of U.S. agricultural price supports, while impressively red-lining the laugh-o-meter.

The legislators and lobbyists who tie the bibs on the farmers slurping and grunting at the public trough will find it easy to tut-tut O'Rourke for his disrespect, but this writer understands the art of persuasion. By reductionism and wild analogy, he can transform the seemingly reasonable into the utterly preposterous.

Under the "conservation-reserve program," O'Rourke writes, "the government gives annual payments to the farmer in return for the farmer's removing highly erodible land from production -- as if erosion weren't doing that already. A farmer on the conservation-reserve program will doubtless want to be on the 'agricultural-conservation program' too. That way the government will pay him up to $3,500 a year to practice soil conservation in general. This is like going to a Dairy Queen and giving the owner money to keep his ice-cream freezers plugged in."

Then there's "marketing orders and agreements," in which "the growers of various commodities are encouraged to get together and fix the price for which their commodities will sell. In other industries, there's a name for people who do this: felons. Some marketing orders are enforced by 'marketing quotas.' Growers decide how much growing each grower can do. If shoeshine boys tried this, you'd get only one loafer polished during shoeshine-business slumps."

And finally this. "While the USDA is spending $10 billion a year to increase farm income, the same government agency is spending $23 billion to make food affordable to poor people through food-assistance programs. A moron, a person who has to take his socks off to count to six, even an American high school student, can see there's something wrong with this equation. Just give the $10 billion to the poor people and let them buy their own damn food from the farmers."

O'Rourke made a wild and trippy name for himself at the National Lampoon a couple of decades ago and now takes an arch arch-conservative polemical line on most subjects; both career strains are evident here. For an explanation of this strange hybrid, turn to Andrew Sullivan's perceptive and unadoring profile of O'Rourke in the new Esquire (August).

The Best Team Money Can Buy

The hypocritical farce that college athletic scholarships have made of higher education -- and intercollegiate sports, for that matter -- is too well known to rehearse. Frustrated that the offending universities and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have been timid at best facing the problem, Louis Barbash proposes (in the July/August Washington Monthly) that each institution with a big football or basketball program and a garrison of subliterate fighting machines registered as students make up its mind "either to return to the Ivy League ideal in which players are legitimate members of the student body, judged by the same standards as everybody else, or to let players on their teams be non-student professionals," properly paid for their services to the university and its development office. "The professional option's chief virtue is honesty," Barbash writes.

Father of Negritude

Long before he became president of Senegal and one of the great survivors of African leadership, Leopold Sedar Senghor was an accomplished poet and an important intellectual, one of the founding voices of the postwar black cultural movement called Negritude. Senghor's poetry, all of it written in French, Senegal's colonial language, has never been fully translated in English. Now, with interest in Senghor growing anew, Melvin Dixon has translated his "Collected Poems" for a bilingual edition published by the University Press of Virginia.

Five of these poems, including an elegy to Martin Luther King, appear in a special tribute to Senghor in the latest issue of Callaloo, a superb quarterly of Afro-American and African arts and letters. Also in this issue (Vol. 13, No. 1, undated) are probing interviews with Chinua Achebe, Nigeria's leading novelist, and John Edgar Wideman, the distinguished U.S. writer whose novel about the MOVE massacre, "Philadelphia Fire," will appear this fall. With the interviews are samples of Achebe's poetry and memoir and of Wideman's fiction and criticism. And much more, by other writers.

Calaloo is available by subscription from the Johns Hopkins University Press, Journals Publishing Division, 701 W. 40th St., Suite 275, Baltimore, Md. 21211-2190. One year: $20 for individuals, $41 for institutions.

Chronicles of the Art Wars Here's one of those dog-that-didn't-bark stories: We've read all about the people and institutions rejecting National Endowment for the Arts grants rather than sign those restrictive anti-obscenity codicils. But what about the ones accepting the grants regardless? The Chronicle of Higher Education, in a July 11 article by Christopher Myers, explores the agonizing discussions and elaborate rationalizing -- and sometimes just plain need -- that underlie the majority of decisions by colleges and universities to take the money regardless.

In the sibling Chronicle of Philanthropy (July 10), meanwhile, Vince Stehle reports that "leaders of conservative political groups and fundamentalist Christian organizations say the {NEA} battle has produced a substantial influx of donations and has mobilized thousands of new activists and volunteers." Arts groups and free-speech organizations, however, have had no such luck yet with the issue. Moxie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Hold those subscription orders. Moxie, a 10-month-old older-women's magazine mentioned in this space last week, has been snuffed by its publisher, Weiner Health & Fitness Corp., which plans to refocus and relaunch the publication within a year.