- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

Normal health

“Scientists now think that King Tut may have died of malaria. As the fellow who sent me the link dryly noted, King Tut did not have good comprehensive health insurance.

“All kidding aside, this is a good excuse to meditate on just how rich we are. King Tut was probably the wealthiest man in the world during his time. He died of something that wouldn’t kill the most abjectly immiserated welfare mother in the United States today, because of a combination of public health efforts, and cheap antimalarial drugs.

“You always need to factor in things like this when you talk about changes in living standards over time. All the positive changes in society mean that the absolute difference between the income of Bill Gates and the man who valets his car is larger than it has ever been in history. But the actual difference in comfort between the two of them is probably much smaller than the difference between JP Morgan and his stableboy. And both Gates and the valet are almost immeasurably better off than their predecessors.”

Megan McArdle, writing on “The Health of Nations,” on Feb. 17 at her Atlantic blog

Normal politics

“Robert Altman’s Nashville is one of those rare films that feels more timely, more relevant, the more time goes by. When Altman filmed this multi-character study, set during a few days in the United States’ country music capital, the nation was in the midst of preparations for America’s bicentennial, a celebration of the country’s heritage and culture. It was 1975. It had been twelve years since John F. Kennedy was shot and seven years since Robert Kennedy was shot, and both events still loomed large, over the country and over Altman’s film. Richard Nixon had just resigned, too, further shattering whatever naive hopes about politics might still have been lingering anywhere. …

“Nashville is also a profoundly political movie, a movie haunted by the ghosts of then-recent political assassinations. Its resonances have only grown more potent and pronounced as the years have passed. It depicts the manipulations of image that go on in both entertainment and politics, and the ways in which supposedly populist candidates marshal power by appealing broadly to ‘the people’ and copping anti-government attitudes.

“The ironical political commentary at the film’s core has thus only become more and more prescient and insightful in the three decades since Nashville’s release. For Altman, his vision of America was always tangled up with media, entertainment and political grandstanding, concepts that for him are as American as apple pie. … In the modern era, surrounded by infotainment and political campaigns that are increasingly remote from reality, Altman’s satire seems truer than ever.”

Ed Howard, writing on “The Conversations: Nashville,” on Feb. 17 at the Slant magazine blog the House Next Door

Normal star

“As a casual reader of fashion magazines, I did something I rarely do yesterday: ran out and bought Vogue as soon as it hit the local newsstand. Why? Because my heroine Tina Fey was on the cover! There has been some hubbub about how Fey’s scar was airbrushed — but this is Vogue’s m.o.: They airbrush everyone into oblivion. I was far more interested in the content of the article about Fey.

“Conducted by Jonathan Van Meter, the interview with the 30 Rock star was fairly fashion-focused (after all, this is Vogue). It covered some of what has been mentioned in previous interviews, including the great one by Maureen Dowd in Vanity Fair last year — Fey’s weight loss and subsequent transformation from frumpy Chicago writer to sexy onscreen siren. Even though there wasn’t much new information in the article, there were still some great, funny comments from Fey within, particularly about her place in the culture. For instance: ‘I feel like I represent normalcy in some way. What are your choices today in entertainment? People either represent youth, power, or sexuality. And then there’s me, carrying normalcy … Me and Rachael Ray.’”

Jessica Grose, writing on “Tina Fey in Vogue: We’ve Been Handed a ‘Spice Girls’ Version of Feminism” on Feb. 17 at Slate’s XX Factor blog

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