Monthly Archives: January 2018

A Thought About Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg

You may be aware of the kerfuffle surrounding how the actors were – and were not – paid when Ridley Scott decided to reshoot scenes of his movie All the Money in the World to replace predator Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer.

Mark Wahlberg, one of the co-stars, exercised a clause in his contract to reject the casting of Plummer and then was paid $1.5 million to withdraw that rejection and do the extra work involved in shooting his scenes with Plummer. Michelle Williams’s contract, on the other hand, apparently required her to do any reshooting needed to complete the movie. The actors and their agents presumably negotiated these agreements – separately.

So Michelle Williams voluntarily worked for union scale, about $80 a day – and to digress for just a moment, what kind of union negotiates a contract that pays its members $80 a day? – to shoot her scenes with Plummer. She made all of a thousand dollars.

So what did Wahlberg do wrong? All he did was take advantage of the leverage the situation presented to get paid for his work.

While Michelle Williams grossly undervalued her services and practically gave them away.

The Curmudgeon does not understand why Wahlberg – a performer, by the way, whom The Curmudgeon finds to be duller than dull – is on the receiving end of so much criticism. All he did is stand up for himself. We have no reason to believe he knew anything about what Michelle Williams was to be paid, and that seems appropriate: it’s none of his business. We also have no reason to believe there was a limited pool of money and Wahlberg demanded it all for himself. Finally, we have no reason to believe Wahlberg had anything to do with what Williams was paid.

Michelle Williams is another story. We have heard nothing to suggest that she asked for more money and had her request rejected. We have no reason to believe that if she hadn’t agreed to work for so little money she would have been replaced. We have every reason, on the other hand, to believe that her love for the movie blinded her to the reality that movie-making is a profit-seeking enterprise and that she foolishly decided to donate her services to rich people who hoped to get richer by taking advantage of her essentially free labor.

No, The Curmudgeon believes the public criticism needs to be directed at three people: Ridley Scott, the director who reportedly engineered the decision to replace Kevin Spacey and reshoot his scenes and who paid a fortune for Mark Wahlberg’s services and apparently decided it was perfectly fine to pay Michelle Williams practically nothing; Michelle Williams, who doesn’t seem to understand that she has something of value to offer movie-makers; and Michelle Williams’s manager or agent, who failed to give Williams good advice or did so and was so little respected by Williams that such advice was rejected.

So while it’s certainly appropriate to criticize a process that produced such an enormous pay disparity between Wahlberg and Williams, criticizing Wahlberg seems totally wrong because unless there’s some aspect of this matter that we don’t know about, he did nothing wrong: all he asked was to be paid for his work.

How is that not his right?

And Michelle Williams? All she did was decide she was comfortable not getting paid for her work.

And that’s her problem and her fault.

Head for the…Fallout Shelter?

The Curmudgeon’s first year of high school – 1970, if you must know – coincided with the school’s 20th anniversary. As part of the celebration a local television station sent one of its reporters, himself an alumnus, to visit the school. While unloading the camera equipment in the parking lot the reporter and his crew passed a car with its trunk open and absolutely filled to the brim with…pills.

34,000 pills, actually, which had been stolen from the school’s basement, which was an official U.S. government fallout shelter. You remember fallout shelters: the places where, in the 1950s and 1960s, the government told people they were supposed to go when the Russians attacked the U.S. with nuclear weapons. The pills were Phenobarbital and were there to calm – okay, sedate – what were expected to be a lot of pretty hysterical people.

In the schools The Curmudgeon attended kids sat in the hallways. In others they took cover under their desks.

Even before high school The Curmudgeon recalls participating “retention drills” – he has no idea what the drillers may have been working to retain – that he understands were called “air raid drills” elsewhere. A siren would sound and we were instructed to pick up a book and our oilcloth – the things we put on top of our desks at the end of the day before lifting our chairs onto the desks so the room could be swept or mopped – and proceed out of the classroom in an orderly manner. We then moved to the hallway, away from glass that might be shattering when the bombs hit, as if that was what posed the greatest threat to our safety. There, we sat on our oilcloths and read our books and waited calmly for further instructions while Armageddon was being waged out in the schoolyard between the hopscotch and dodge ball areas. The Curmudgeon recalls an episode of Happy Days about a bomb shelter and an episode of The West Wing that was a variation on the theme, with some of the president’s staff receiving cards inviting them to the president’s bomb shelter in the event of enemy attack and other staff members left to fend for themselves with the rest of us.

So why this reverie about the threat of nuclear war?

Because the threat appears to be growing. We seem closer to nuclear war today than we have been in nearly 30 years in light of North Korea’s nuclear threats and Agent Orange, inexplicably, practically daring Kim Jong-un to launch the first missile. The “my button is bigger than his button” nonsense of last week raised stupid to new heights and is the kind of thing you might expect from one of those little kids with their oilcloths and books rather than from the person who’s supposed to be leader of the free world but is more like a member of McMurphy’s little group rebelling against that nasty Nurse Ratched.

It looks like a lot of people are waking up to the possibility that nuclear war at least looks possible in the current, insane political climate. In fact, sales of over-the-counter pills like potassium iodide that are supposed to help protect people from the effects of radiation have skyrocketed in the two weeks since the president’s moronic “my button is bigger than his button” tweet.

And it looks like our government, too, is actively planning for such a possibility.

At least that’s the impression one might get from an event being held in New York City today, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the CDC – is presenting a workshop titled “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation.”

Because our government now apparently views nuclear war as being enough of a possibility to prepare us for it.

Okay, take a moment to compose yourself. Exhale.

According to the New York Times, the workshop is

…for doctors, government officials, emergency responders and others whom, if they survived, would be responsible for overseeing the emergency response to a nuclear attack.

“If they survived” being the key phrase here.

Here’s how the CDC describes the workshop on its web site:

While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness.  For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.

Join us for this session of Grand Rounds to learn what public health programs have done on a federal, state, and local level to prepare for a nuclear detonation. Learn how planning and preparation efforts for a nuclear detonation are similar and different from other emergency response planning efforts.

While the CDC dismisses concern about the timing of this workshop, insisting it has been in the planning stages since April – are we supposed to find that comforting? – it conveniently overlooks that it hasn’t offered such a workshop since 2010.

Which raises the obvious question of “Why now?”

And lest you think the folks running this gala aren’t dead serious about what they’re doing – sorry for the unfortunately choice of adjectives – take a gander at the sessions on the workshop agenda:

  • “Preparing for the Unthinkable”
  • “Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness”
  • “Using Data and Decision Aids to Drive Response Efforts”

Doesn’t inspire much confidence for the future, does it? Well, at least not as long as Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-Trump are fingering their respective buttons and Agent Orange figures that any bomb aimed at the White House isn’t terribly likely to find him there anyway.

So in the meantime…


Just as it makes sense to pay attention to your flight attendant’s brief explanation of what to do in the event of a crash or water landing, now may be the time to figure out where the nearest bomb shelter might be.

Because it looks like our government thinks we might be needing it sometime soon. After all, a lot of people took seriously that little mistake in Hawaii last weekend because in the current environment and with this current president…it just doesn’t seem that implausible anymore.

(Post script:  It turns out that The Curmudgeon wasn’t the only one who noticed this unusual event.  After three dozen media outlets applied to attend, the CDC, clearly spooked, canceled the event and decided to hold a workshop on influenza instead.  This happened after The Curmudgeon wrote and posted this piece but before it appeared.

But still…)

An…Interesting New Product

The Curmudgeon heard a brief report on the radio about a new product called “Stiff Bull.”

Good lord, insert your own caption

It’s an herbal coffee that, well, his own words fail him, so he’ll just share the description from the company’s web site:

Stiff Bull is an All-Natural Herbs Coffee that contains a propriety blend of ingredients such as – Tongkat Ali, Maca Root, and Guarani.

 These Herbs grow wild in the jungles of Malaysia and have been used for centuries by the people of Asia and South America to greatly improve sexual health, libido, and overall wellness.

 The combination of these ingredients produces an awesome effect that can last up to 2 – 3 days.

And this brief FAQ, also from the company’s web site:


Almost immediately you will notice that your penis feels fuller. Many men report this full sensation within just the first few days! Although we cannot say exactly how much larger you will get, you should see an increase in erection size while taking Stiff Bull Natural Herbs Coffee as directed.


Stiff Bull Coffee was created for adults that want to maintain an active relationship.

Alas, in this particular case, there’s no punch line: The Curmudgeon is pretty much speechless.

Perhaps rigidly so.

And also a bit regretful that he’s incapable of swallowing even a single sip of coffee without being seriously repulsed.

But he may need to learn to get over that.

It’s a Raid!

The Trump administration flexed its muscles and showed Americans who’s boss last Wednesday with pre-dawn raids on 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states that resulted in the arrest of 21 people believed to be undocumented immigrants.

A few thoughts.

Did they think they were going to find terrorists among clerks who sell Ding Dongs, cigarettes, Red Bull, and rolling paper?

Did they gear up with bulletproof vests, night sticks, guns, rifles, and shields with the expectation that the kind of passive, practically inert people who work the overnight shift at 7-Eleven were going to put up a fight?

Featuring everyone’s favorite flavor: blue.

Ninety-eight stores in 17 states and only 21 arrests? That’s just an awful batting average – what baseball fans refer to as “below the Mendoza line.” Where are they getting their leads? The Senate Judiciary Committee? Fusion GPS? Magda, the Coney Island psychic? The people who run Wawa stores? Is Immigration and Customs Enforcement that thoroughly and haplessly incompetent?

Most important, couldn’t this actually be a plot to distract us from other Trump administration nonsense by attempting to deprive America of its constitutional right to Slurpees?






Has It Really Come To This?


The Curmudgeon encountered this sign recently and found himself shaking his head and asking himself “Do we really now need someone to tell us how to operate a shower?”

A Slightly Different Perspective on Bannon’s Departure From Breitbart

One of the most overblown complaints of the right is that the left is too caught up in political correctness: bound by language created not to offend (with deviations considered highly offensive), unwilling to criticize, or suffer criticism of, its standard-bearers or anyone who isn’t white and male, and refusing to stray from what the right views as the left’s approved talking points on a given subject.


So isn’t it deliciously ironic that Steve Bannon was fired from Breitbart because he failed to toe the party line, failed to mute his feelings about President Trump and the president’s family, and failed to follow the approved (and demanded) approach of overlooking or ignoring the nonsense that dominates the White House and the entire dysfunctional administration in the hope that it would still, somehow, achieve conservative objectives?

And isn’t it also ironic that Bannon, who promised to vanquish anyone who failed to toe the party line, has now himself been vanquished because of the very misdeeds of which he so vehemently and so self-righteously accused others?

Interesting Observations About People in the Public Eye

One of the things that happens when you partially but don’t entirely move your household four times within 16 months, as The Curmudgeon recently has, is that you lose some things and lose track of others. The Curmudgeon’s marriage license just resurfaced on Sunday but his electric toothbrush is missing in action and presumed gone, and there’s a queen-sized red top sheet that has mysteriously disappeared. These things happen: The Curmudgeon only recently conceded that the green Adidas sports bag filled with belts and neckties that he lost during a 1977 move is probably gone forever.

Along these lines, The Curmudgeon is usually pretty good at keeping his magazines sorted so that he reads the oldest ones first; he is nothing if not systematic when it comes to such things. “Usually pretty good” is the operative phrase here, because he recently found two New Yorkers from 2016.

Not quite as old was the July 24, 2017 edition of the New Yorker that he read last week and in which he found two observations he believes are worth sharing.

And all this time we thought ERIC was the dumb one

The first is about Donald Trump, Jr. This was around the time that we learned that the campaign staff that absolutely never, ever met with any Russians had, in fact, met with Russians – surprise! That delegation, which came in search of juicy dirt about Hillary Clinton, included now-first son Donnie Junior, now-first son in-law Jared Kushner, and now soon-to-be-fitted-for-a-pinstriped-jumpsuit Paul Manafort. Donnie Junior came under immediate attack and Donnie Senior rode to his rescue.

The New Yorker picks up the story:

The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr. to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny.

And then the New Yorker delivers the unkindest of cuts:

This was unfair to Fredo.

The article next turned its attention to the president’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared.

Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on the epic side is a mystery. But such is their self-regard.


Our Tax Dollars at Work

The Curmudgeon recently found himself in need of a passport. To get a passport you need a birth certificate. Fortunately, The Curmudgeon has an embossed copy of his birth certificate, knowing that only embossed copies are valid for “official”identification purposes under many circumstances.

Alas, it was not good enough. Once upon a time, a valid birth certificate only had to have your own name on it; now, it needs the names of your parents as well.

He needed it for some business in December, and after visiting the web site of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the birth certificate-issuing agency for his native state, he immediately filled out an application for the now-appropriate version of the birth certificate, enclosed a check for the required amount, and sent away for his new birth certificate. That was on July 14. The state’s web site said it would take four to six weeks for his birth certificate to arrive, so The Curmudgeon thought he was on pretty solid ground.

Four weeks passed.

Six weeks.

Eight weeks.

Ten weeks.

Eleven weeks.

The Curmudgeon checked his bank statements; the check had not been cashed.

Fortunately, work took him to Harrisburg, the state capital, where the office that issues birth certificates is a three-minute walk from the train station, so a brief detour from his day’s work enabled him to apply for a birth certificate – again – that arrived at his door just a week later.

And he forgot about the failed application.

Until he returned home from the trip for which he needed the birth certificate.

And found it in his mail, postmarked December 26.

Merry Christmas!

And it only took 22 weeks.

Way to do a job, Pennsylvania Department of Health!



Overreach by the Special Counsel?

Last week we learned that former Trump consigliere Paul Manafort has sued special counsel Robert Mueller for going beyond the boundaries of the responsibilities he was assigned to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 president election and possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Also receiving Manafort’s dead fish in the mail was deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, whom Manafort accuses of failing to keep Mueller on his leash.

The core of Manafort’s legal claim: sure, I may be guilty as hell, but they’ve got no business looking into that stuff because their job is to investigate the Russia business and my many, many crimes have absolutely nothing to do with that.

Let us think back for a moment about the concept of prosecutorial overreach. Hmm: have we ever seen anything like this before?

Oh yeah: how about when Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Clinton’s Whitewater real estate dealings took an ever-so-slight detour into the then-president’s sexual antics with a barely post-teenaged White House intern?

And while that was going on weren’t Manafort’s Republican pals sitting on the sidelines and cheering enthusiastically, muttering nary a word about prosecutorial overreach?




Surely They Don’t Mean This Literally

A sign The Curmudgeon recently encountered in a restaurant men’s room.