Two of a Kind

Artists Christo (right) and Jeanne-Claude during a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2006 (Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I begin with the space launch, that thrilling event. I also walk down Memory Lane to the Challenger (1986) and the moon landing (1969). Further in the column, I discuss protests, riots, China, Russia, etc.

When I finished my column yesterday, I saw that Christo, the artist (one name), had died. I thought I would jot a little note here in the Corner.

I met him once, and, at the same time, his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (also one name). I was with David Pryce-Jones — and when you are with P-J, you meet the most interesting people, even when you don’t intend to.

We had gone to see a friend of his — darned interesting on his own. As we were arriving, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were leaving. They were as you would have expected them to be, and wanted them to be: charming, offbeat, and memorable.

They did “installation art,” which included the wrapping of buildings (and bridges and islands). He was Bulgarian — born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff — and she was French — born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon. Do you know they were born on the same day? Yes: June 13, 1935. They were married in 1959. Jeanne-Claude died in 2009, and Christo yesterday.

One of their most famous projects was The Gates, in Central Park. Speaking of walking down Memory Lane: Allow me to quote from an Impromptus of February 2005:

I suppose I should say something about The Gates . . . Most of the people I respect the most have denounced it as a monstrosity and a con. They’re probably right. I defer to my betters on art . . .

But let me tell you about my first sight of The Gates. It was wonderful. I had forgotten it was going up. And I was walking down my side street, on the way to Central Park, to cross over to the East Side. That first glimpse was almost breathtaking: The “gates” looked strange and beautiful against those bare trees, with the morning sun glinting off those orange materials. The project was exotic, playful, delightful.

But that was the first look. You know how people say that the first bite of chocolate cake is the best, and everything else is downhill? Well, I don’t have that experience with chocolate cake — I think all the bites are “cosmic,” as we used to say — but I had a similar experience with The Gates. At first, it was kind of thrilling. But after a minute or so . . . monotonous. Boring. Even slightly annoying.

Perhaps that is my attention span, or eye.

Anyway, I’ve walked through the park every day since the installation went up — I walk through the park pretty much every day — and people seem enchanted by it. They smile, they murmur, they marvel. I can hardly begrudge them their enjoyment, no matter what I think.

This morning, I saw a little old lady tumble out of The Plaza, dressed all in orange, ready for her trip through those orange gates. She had such a gleam in her eye. . . .

I’m glad to have encountered Christo and Jeanne-Claude along the way. (Thank you, P-J.)


HBO Star’s ‘Swinger’ Marriage Ends

Thomas Middleditch (second from left) and Silicon Valley costars

“Swinging has saved our marriage,” the Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch proclaimed last year in a notorious Playboy magazine interview. Middleditch, married to costume designer Mollie Gates, decided he wanted to have sex with lots of other people, and his wife went along with it. For a while.

In that strangely gleeful interview, Middleditch seemed not to grasp that this arrangement was not working for his wife. “We’re not off on our own; we’re together, a unit. It’s a perpetual state of management and communication, to the point where it’s like, ‘All right, we’ve got to stop. Chill.’ I’m gas, and she’s brakes. This is actually the premise for a comedy series we’re writing together.”

I’m gas, and she’s brakes. He liked having sex with lots of other people. She didn’t like this idea nearly so much. By April, Middleditch realized his open-marriage idea wasn’t a comedy series at all. “To be honest, it’s a thing I wish I could take back. It was poor execution. But I’ve learned to keep things a little more close to the chest,” he said on The Daily Beast‘s podcast in April, calling the experience “painful, to be honest.”

On May 28, Gates filed for divorce and is asking for spousal support. An “open marriage” is not a marriage, as many previous generations have learned, to their dismay.


The Prime Minister’s Revenge


As Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow did his utmost to block Brexit. Now, Boris Johnson has had an opportunity for revenge, blocking Bercow’s recommendation for peerage by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, using the pretext of bullying allegations.

Politics & Policy

Removing U.S. Funding from the WHO Is a Pro-Life Win


Much has been made of the fact that the Trump administration is ending the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, primarily as a result of the way the group has treated China since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

The merits of that decision aside — and I believe there are many — one benefit is that U.S. aid will no longer flow to organizations such as the U.N. Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood, which peddle abortion on demand around the world in partnership with the WHO.

Grazie Christie has more in an opinion piece for Townhall this morning about why this is something to celebrate:

In exchange for helping developing nations to “modernize,” [UNFPA and International Planned Parenthood] demand that donor nations accept current Western attitudes about the family, especially those that reduce the number of the world’s poor as a way to fight poverty.

If this sounds overly dramatic, consider the founding purpose of the UNFPA. It was founded to limit population growth in developing countries. Never mind the concept of rich countries actively working to keep down the births of poor black and brown children. That’s distasteful enough. But the population control organization’s methods are often dangerous and culturally insensitive. Consider Depo Provera. This long-acting injectable contraceptive has been linked to higher rates of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa as well as increased risk of breast cancer. The WHO, using U.S. and U.K. contributions plus a hefty $40billion endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a plan in 2012 to get an additional 120 million poor women using contraception – mostly injectables like Depo Provera – by 2020. . . .

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the WHO has kept its foot pressed hard on the population-control accelerator. On a webpage dedicated to “sexual and reproductive health in the context of Covid-19” it points to a previously-issued report on promoting self-managed chemical abortions. Yes, besides hand washing and social distancing, the organizations also recommend that girls and women self-diagnose and accurately date their pregnancies, rule out any ectopic pregnancies, and then manage their own chemical abortions. All without any medical assistance.

Ending the flow of funding to these groups goes along with the Trump administration’s Mexico City policy — which blocks U.S. funding from directly aiding organizations that provide or promote abortions abroad — and its insistence that the United Nations cease imposing abortion as part of its coronavirus-relief efforts, which I reported on last week.


Happy 90th Birthday, Clint Eastwood


To place the career of Clint Eastwood in perspective, consider Clark Gable continuing to star in hit movies for so long that he was in the multiplexes at the same time as Back to the Future. Eastwood has enjoyed starring roles in major hit movies in every decade from the 1960s through the 2010s. No fewer than 25 of his films earned the equivalent (in today’s dollars) of $100 million at the domestic box office, and almost all of them were character-driven stories with nothing much in the way of special effects. And Eastwood was a late bloomer; after an unsatisfying career in low-impact television, Eastwood didn’t become a star until the U.S. release of the Dollars trilogy (made in Europe in 1964-66) in 1967, when he was 36.

As a director Eastwood has been turning in good work for nearly half a century, since his first effort, Play Misty for Me in 1971. Just six months ago, he directed his 38th feature, the superb and surprising drama Richard Jewell, which proved a tough sell to audiences but is well worth your attention. In his eighties he directed eight pictures including the stellar American Sniper. There just isn’t anybody like him in the more than 100-year history of Hollywood.

Eastwood turned 90 on May 31. I can hardly wait to see what he does in the second half of his career.


NIH: We Can’t Release Our Papers about the Wuhan Institute of Virology Because of a Pending Investigation

Research scientist Dan Galperin works on Purified Recombinant Zika Enveloped Protein in his laboratory at the Protein Sciences Inc. headquarters in Meriden, Conn., in 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Back on April 15, White Coat Waste, an organization that opposes government funding for medical research that involves animal experimentation, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. National Institutes of Health requesting all correspondence with State Department officials regarding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as well as all emails, text messages, memos, and reports related to WIV.

Starting in 2014, NIH provided grants to EcoHealth Alliance; part of that group’s research included studies of viruses in bats in partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. On April 19, Michael Lauer, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, wrote to EcoHealth, “There are now allegations that the current crisis was precipitated by the release from Wuhan Institute of Virology of the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Given these concerns, we are pursuing suspension of Wuhan Institute of Virology from participation in federal programs.”

Five days later, Lauer declared in a follow-up, “the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an Institute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has elected to terminate the project . . . NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities.”

Gorka Garcia-Malene, the FOIA officer at NIH, responded to White Coat Waste’s request on May 22:

The records you requested involve pending investigations. I have determined to withhold those records pursuant to Exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. § 552 and (b)(7)(a), and section 5.31 (g)(l) of the HHS FOIA Regulations, 45 CFR Part 5. Exemption 7(A) permits the withholding of investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.

In his original message, Lauer wrote, “it is in the public interest that NIH ensure that a sub-recipient has taken all appropriate precautions to prevent the release of pathogens that it is studying.” It is unclear if the NIH review is the “pending investigation” and “law enforcement proceedings” referred to in the FOIA response, or whether there is a separate U.S. criminal investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The National Institutes of Health has its own police force to secure its facilities, but the Department of Health and Human Services refers violations of civil or criminal law to the Department of Justice.

Politics & Policy

UNC Goes All Out to Fight ‘Invisible Racism’ on Campus


Very few of today’s university leaders can pass up a chance to prove their fidelity to progressivism by throwing money at imaginary problems. One who certainly can’t is the new chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Kevin Guskiewicz.

As Shannon Watkins reports in today’s Martin Center article, Guskiewicz has created a new commission tasked with rooting out all of the invisible racism that lurks around the university’s fabled campus. For many decades, UNC has been squeaky clean leftist, but for progressives, there is always more to do — at least when you have public dollars at your disposal. His latest brainstorm is a commission entitled “Race, History, and a Way Forward.” Watkins writes, “The commission will last for several years, with no defined end-date. But once it does reach an end, the commission will release a report with recommendations on how UNC-Chapel Hill can be a place of ‘inclusive excellence.’”

So far, the meetings of this commission have consisted of the usual platitudes and grievances. There’s talk about altering the curriculum so as to “decolonize” the university. Adding courses that focus on historical grievances won’t make anyone’s UNC education better, but it makes academic leftists feel good.

Politics & Policy

A Pro-Life Setback in Missouri

A member of the New York Police Department stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in N.Y., November 28, 2015. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Last Friday, the pro-life movement received some disappointing news out of Missouri, when the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission determined that the state must renew the license of the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. In May 2019, citing multiple health and safety violations, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew the facility’s license.

Local pro-life activists have documented that at least 80 ambulances have been called to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood since 2009. But after the state declined to renew its license, Planned Parenthood pursued legal action and received an injunction against the policy, allowing the facility to remain open while the matter was reviewed. A hearing took place last October, and Friday’s decision allow the Planned Parenthood location to remain open and continue performing abortions.

The decision can be appealed, but it is unclear whether the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to pursue that avenue.

In making its decision, the Administrative Hearing Commission considered four separate instances of misconduct on the part of Planned Parenthood. On three occasions, women returned to the facility after having obtained a failed abortion there. On another occasion, a woman was transported from the Planned Parenthood to an emergency room after experiencing substantial blood loss following a second-trimester abortion.

In his 96-page decision, administrative hearing commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi identified two violations. The first was Planned Parenthood’s failure to file a complication report after one failed abortion. The second involved a Planned Parenthood staffer who failed to realize that one woman seeking an abortion was pregnant with twins. Dandamudi indicated that this staffer exhibited “carelessness” in reviewing the ultrasound. He stated that Planned Parenthood’s failure to properly document having addressed this error with the staffer constituted another violation.

However, since this Planned Parenthood facility has performed more than 4,000 abortions since 2018, Dandamudi ruled that it was substantially compliance with the rules and is therefore “entitled to renewal of its abortion facility license.”

Multiple aspects of Dandamudi’s decision should concern pro-lifers. The state’s expert witness included Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). Dandamudi acknowledged that both Williams and Harrison had provided “important testimony regarding gynecological care,” but he discounted their testimony because, unlike Planned Parenthood’s expert witnesses, they did not have extensive experience performing abortions.

This unfairly put the pro-life argument at a disadvantage. Few pro-life medical professionals have extensive experience performing abortions, and physicians who perform abortions have a vested interest in seeing abortion facilities remain open. Additionally, Dandamudi seemed unconcerned that five Planned Parenthood physicians refused to be interviewed during the state’s investigation.

Though this decision is certainly disappointing, Missouri pro-lifers should not despair. In fact, the state should serve as a model for pro-lifers in other states to follow. Pro-life activists Sam Lee and John Ryan pioneered street-level pro-life activism in front of Missouri abortion clinics in the 1970s. Groups such as the Coalition for Life and Defenders of the Unborn do admirable work maintaining a consistent prayerful presence outside the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. The Archdiocese of St. Louis was the first U.S. diocese to launch a full-time Respect Life Apostolate, and its 44th annual convention is scheduled to take place in October.

Meanwhile, pro-life candidates tend to fare well in both statewide and local elections, and Missouri is among the most active states in term of enacting legal protections for the preborn. It should come as no surprise that there is only one abortion clinic remaining in the state and that Missouri’s abortion rate is less than one-third of the national average. Overall, pro-lifers in the Show Me State and across the country would do well to stay the course.




Sloganeering Doesn’t Make Rioting a Good Idea

Protesters hit a defaced NYPD vehicle during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Times Square in New York City, May 30, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

I keep seeing public officials offer up this slogan:

And I keep wondering: Why? That “life is more valuable than property” is, of course, absolutely true. But it’s also entirely irrelevant in this context, because we are not discussing a killing that pitted property against life. George Floyd was not murdered by a property developer or killed to save a cathedral. He was killed by a bad cop. And no amount of property damage is going to bring him back. So, yes, we should indeed be more upset that George Floyd lost his life than that a local business was destroyed. But we should nevertheless be upset by both. That arson is a lesser crime than murder does not make rioting useful or virtuous — especially given that rioting itself tends to lead to deaths at worst and to poverty and heartbreak at best.

The mantra is particularly ill-fitting in this case, because there is scant disagreement about the injustice of the proximate cause. Almost everyone in America — Democrat, Republican, libertarian, socialist — agrees that what happened to Floyd was appalling. Hell, most police departments agree, and many are going out of their way to say so. As far as I can see, almost nobody has said, “well, the killing was bad, but what happened to Target was worse.” At whom, exactly, is the insistence aimed?

I have come across some people who are openly defending the riots because they believe that they will lead to change. This is a separate argument to Demings’s, although I suppose one could squint her words into that meaning. Either way, those people are wrong. The most likely consequence of these riots will be a diminishment in the number of minority-owned businesses; a reduction in long-term investment in America’s poorer areas; and, if history is any guide, an uptick in support for the sort of politicians who are the least likely to support reform. As a matter of amoral realpolitik — and the “riots work!” argument is an argument from amoral realpolitik — the best way to ensure that life is deemed valuable is to avoid property damage, not to engage in it.


What Do They Want? Some Categories


What do the protesters want? I’d suggest some distinctions.

It may be that much of the protest is not about achieving any specific reform, but simply to express outrage at the way (too many, it is alleged) police behave. It’s not that the police don’t have the right rules and regulations — it’s that they don’t follow them. Fair enough, though of course the allegation need not be accepted.

And there may be some specific reforms that may make sense and are needed or can at least be discussed, depending on the city. NRO has had pieces suggesting that police unions need to be reformed; maybe some cities do need to have stricter rules about the use of some kinds of force in arrests; maybe some places need to have a better way for communities to interact with the police; libertarians will assert that there are too many laws about drugs; etc.

But some of the specific reforms will be simply bad. Ending capitalism, for example, or racial quotas for hiring policemen, or not arresting people for crimes that really ought to be crimes.

And, finally, some of the protest is not about anything, really, or is just misdirected frustration blaming the police for the community’s own problems, to say nothing of the rioting that is just an excuse for committing crime.


Hey, Remember Building the Wall?

New bollard-style fencing next to vehicle barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border in Santa Teresa, N.M., March 5, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

This morning, Dr. William Figlesthaler, a candidate for Congress in Florida’s 19th district, sent out an email with the subject line, “it’s time to build the wall.” (In one of Figlesthaler’s campaign videos, the candidate declares, “in Congress, I will fight to build something new, a massive wall along our southern border, one that keeps the criminals, rapists, and drug lords forever.”) Figlesthaler is one of ten Republicans competing for the nomination in this R+13 district; incumbent Francis Rooney is retiring.

In ordinary times, it would be a bad sign for an incumbent president running for a second term that members of his own party are running on the same promise that drove him to a first term. But these are not ordinary times.

As of May 22, the U.S. government has built three miles of primary border fencing where none existed before, and 13 miles of new secondary fencing. Roughly 167 miles of new border fencing has replaced old primary barriers that had holes or were otherwise substandard, and another eleven miles replaced old secondary barriers. Altogether, so far the government has put up 194 miles of new fencing — but only 16 miles in spots where the fencing didn’t exist before.

Most people who are eager to see a new border fencing or wall will give the president credit for what has been done so far. (A notable exception is Ann Coulter, who sees the meager progress on the wall after three and a half years in office as an indictment of an unserious, perpetually distracted, too-much-talk-and-too-little-action presidency.)

Joe Biden’s immigration plan does not include any funding for border-fencing construction. In November, those who want to see more physical barriers on the southern border to prevent illegal immigration will have the option of the incumbent’s slow progress, or the challenger’s no progress at all.

PC Culture

For Looters, Looting Is Fun


One important thing to realize about looting is that it’s usually enjoyable for those engaged in it, who exult in the momentary suspension of any rules.

Just a couple of examples from the last couple of days (language alert):


law enforcement
Rioters Arrested in Minnesota Are Mostly Local Residents


Elected leaders in Minnesota have falsely claimed that out-of-state instigators are mostly to blame for the vandalism, looting, and violence in their state.

“The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents. They are coming in largely from outside of this city, outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades,” Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey said at a press conference on Saturday.

“Our best estimate right now that I heard is about 20 percent, is what we think are Minnesotans, and about 80 percent are outside,” Governor Tim Walz said.

“Every single person we arrested last night, I’m told, was from out of state,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of those arrested have provided Minnesota addresses:

Politics & Policy

Thin Blue Line


Definition of bad optics: The Philadelphia police hold the line where it really matters — around a statue of Frank Rizzo, the patron saint of police brutality.

Politics & Policy

The Idiotic Theory of Police ‘Escalation’


A common argument on the Left is that if the police show up in force, it “escalates” the situation. Here is Jamelle Bouie:

But the fact is that it is only when police show up in force that rioting and looting stops, and order is restored. If the theory of police escalation were correct, for instance, Minneapolis would have been at its very worst last night, when the authorities finally got serious. Of course, it was much better than the prior nights.

Most Popular

First, Restore Order

Doing evil in the service of a just cause does not change either side of the moral equation: Evil remains evil, and the just cause remains just — neither consideration cancels out the other or transmutes it. With riots and violence convulsing American cities after the horrifying death of George Floyd at the ... Read More

First, Restore Order

Doing evil in the service of a just cause does not change either side of the moral equation: Evil remains evil, and the just cause remains just — neither consideration cancels out the other or transmutes it. With riots and violence convulsing American cities after the horrifying death of George Floyd at the ... Read More

No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot

Among the more contemptible rhetorical tricks used this past weekend was the hijacking of Martin Luther King Jr. to enlist him in the cause of rioting. Celebrities, activists, leading journalistic institutions, and even the Martin Luther King Jr. Center itself are participating in a misinformation campaign by ... Read More

No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot

Among the more contemptible rhetorical tricks used this past weekend was the hijacking of Martin Luther King Jr. to enlist him in the cause of rioting. Celebrities, activists, leading journalistic institutions, and even the Martin Luther King Jr. Center itself are participating in a misinformation campaign by ... Read More

Joe Biden Doesn’t Know How Guns Work

Joe Biden can best capitalize on the rioting following the death of George Floyd in the same way he can best capitalize on anything in 2020: by keeping quiet and out of sight. Unfortunately for Biden, he does occasionally show up and say things. And then this happens: He suggests that police should be trained ... Read More

Joe Biden Doesn’t Know How Guns Work

Joe Biden can best capitalize on the rioting following the death of George Floyd in the same way he can best capitalize on anything in 2020: by keeping quiet and out of sight. Unfortunately for Biden, he does occasionally show up and say things. And then this happens: He suggests that police should be trained ... Read More