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VIDEO: Making Two Careers Work

This past Sunday, I was on “Joanne’s Healing Within” with my good friend and Reiki Healer Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon to talk about ways to make two careers work. Since 2017, I’ve been juggling two careers – real estate and writing/editing. Only in the past year have I really figured out how to make both work. I shared some tips, ideas and what I’ve learned on Joanne’s show.

Don’t forget to Like, Share and Comment on the show to qualify for a free raffle prize!

“Top Gun: Maverick” Reminds Us Why We Love Sequels

Top Gun was one of those movies that I grew up watching way too often. I was only three years old when the film came out and it was a favourite of the men in my life, my dad and my uncles who were all in their 20s at the time. It, along with The Breakfast Club, E.T. and The Terminator were a staple of weekend movie nights growing up. Somewhere there is a repressed memory of me, aged three, wearing my uncle’s aviator sunglasses, dancing around to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”

Tom Cruise was in his element returning to the big screen as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick

That memory found it way to the surface, along with that song, in the opening scene of the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, a two-hour surprise thrill that is much deserving of the critical acclaim that it’s getting. 

Without giving away too many spoilers, the premise is this: Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who has been testing out supersonic technology for the Navy, is assigned to teach a class of Top Gun fighter pilots how to execute a particularly dangerous and important mission in an unnamed country that the filmmakers didn’t even try to pretend isn’t North Korea. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Maverick’s former adversary and later wingman, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, played by Val Kilmer, thinks Maverick is the only crazy son of a bitch who would execute it, but since he hasn’t been in combat in decades, Iceman wants him to teach his skills to a younger, more recently experienced group. As it turns out, one of the Top Gun candidates is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best friend who dies in the first movie.

What ensues is an incredibly well-written and acted story that, for a change, presented the men and women of our armed forces as human beings capable of being sentimental and emotional and not just presented as big dumb killing machines out to blow stuff up for freedom. This is something the first movie did as well, but very few military-themed movies followed suit since. We are treated to a story that tells us what it feels like in those moments when one recognises the passage of time and the progression of life. I was left balling at the first notes of “Great Balls of Fire” 

Mixed in with the drama is a really thrilling and interesting war story, an almost documentary-style explanation of the mission itself and how it would be executed. We learned about g-forces and flares and SAMs. The intricacies of the mission fascinated me just as much as the underlying storyline. I felt like I was involved and was a part of the mission. Producers did a pretty amazing job making the air battle scenes feel realistic. We even got to hear Maverick’s grunts as he manoeuvred his jet on the mission. 

You can almost feel the sheer joy pouring from Tom Cruise in playing the role of Maverick again. He very clearly was having the time of his life being back in that character and it made watching his story even more enjoyable. 

I really have nothing bad to say about the Top Gun sequel. It will probably go down in history as one of the best made sequels ever. It would have been nice to see Kelly McGillis. Considering the movie made of point of being inclusive – the homoerotic shirtless game of volleyball from the first movie is reimagined as a game of football that included women this time – it would be nice to see what became of “Charlie.” Jennifer Connelly gave a good stand in for Maverick’s love interest this time, though her character at times felt underused and misplaced. 

Especially if you’re a fan of the first movie, go see Top Gun: Maverick. It will, excuse the pun, take your breath away. 

Now you have the song in your head, don’t you? 

The Top 10 Songs That Bring Back Happy Spring Memories

Thinking back on my life, some of the happiest moments happened in the Spring. I was, after all, born in the Spring, though to be specific, late Spring. Graduations, birthdays, new jobs, vacations, many of them happened between March and June. Attached to those happy memories are songs that spark those nostalgic feelings and emotions whenever I hear them.

Here are the top 10 songs that bring back happy Spring memories for me.

10.) Turn Me On – Davie Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj

Hey, did you know I knew Nicki Minaj in Junior High School? She hung out with some of the same friends I did in Ozone Park, Queens. In the April 2012, I gave a speech at career day at JHS 232, Elizabeth Blackwell Junior High School where this was the most interesting tidbit to the students there. Turns out Minaj is the school’s most beloved alumnus. One of the students turned me on to her collaboration with David Guetta that year, part of his hit album of collaborations that include “Titanium” with Sia, “Without You” with Usher and “When Dem Girls At” with Flo Rida.

It became my jam of the season, the song I put on full blast while zipping down the Cross Island Parkway at 70 mph, or cranked up on my headphones while finishing out my last story for that week’s edition of the Queens Tribune. But the memory that I most associate with song, besides of course being Nicki’s cool junior high school friend at 232, came that June. After a long day of going out covering stories, I sat in my car outside the Knights of Columbus Hall in South Ozone Park listening to Turn Me On waiting for the Queens Community Board 10 meeting to start, one of my monthly assignments to cover as a South Queens reporter.

After I got out of my car and walked to the meeting on the beautiful warm June evening, humming “Turn Me On” as I walked across Lefferts Boulevard, I saw Anna, my colleague from my sister paper the Queens Chronicle. Anna and I had developed a friendship over the years covering the same beat and sitting with each other at meetings. As we gathered outside the hall for the meeting, the community board chair congratulated her. I inquired on what and Anna said she was leaving for a new job. I pounced.

“How do I get your job?” I asked. Her face lit up and later that night the publisher called to informally hire me (I still had to go through the interview process). The move was a promotion with higher pay and more clout on the beat. It also got me out of a toxic work environment.

The new job also put me on the Education beat, and the ongoing saga over former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan to close a number of city high schools and reopen them as “educational campuses.” One of my sources was a chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union, who also taught at 232 and had taught Minaj 15 years earlier.

We outside the main entrance of Nicki’s junior high school on a warm late-Spring day to chat about education policy when “Turn Me On” played from a passing car stereo.

“That’s Nicki,” i told him, “In case you’re wondering what she’s up to now.”

The song always brings me back to that Spring where my journalism career seemed almost at its pinnacle.

9.) Intro- The XX

Spring weather in New York City can be an exciting roller coaster of conditions. Beautiful bright sunny days, cold snaps, unexpected heat waves, and long stretches of showery weather as storm systems detach from fronts and meander along the coast.

One such example of the latter was in the Spring of 2010, where for about five days, it just rained. And not a happy warm soothing rain, the type of raw rain that chills you to the bone, the type that isn’t quite a downpour, but definitely more than a mist or drizzle, and enough for passing cars to splash in, making that audible “SWISH” sound as they drive by.

In late March 2010, I was sent out to cover a rather thrilling event – the Internal Revenue Service was doing an all day workshop with students at Queens College to show them as they take down financial criminals. This was the cool side of the IRS, not the pencil pushers in the audit department, but the gun-toting law enforcement offers who raid tax-dodging, money-laundering operations. The symposium, called the “Adrian Project” brought students through the process of investigating and solving financial crimes, and arresting the suspects and executing warrants. I was there to write a feature story on it.

It occurred however on a day when New York City was being socked by one of our classic coastal storms – a Nor’Easter. As I sat in my car at 6:45 in the morning, the sky still dark because the clouds and rain made the rising sun almost irrelevant, I was listening to a morning talk show and watching the windshield wipers swish side to side, fighting with the drenching rain. That’s the first time I heard “Intro.”

It was one of the first times I ever hit the “Shazam” app on my phone. I downloaded the song into my library to listen to later. The rest of that day found me taking part in the mock investigation with the students, studying evidence and narrowing down a list of suspects, before getting a warrant from a judge and staging the takedown. It was a long nine hour day, but it was exciting. At the end of it, I drove home to immediately write my 2,500 word feature piece. The storm raged on and I listen to “Intro” on repeat while writing my story, the raindrops slamming on my window just outside.

When I heard this song next, years later in my career as a realtor working in the office, my body shivered suddenly, reminded of that chilly rainy Spring day in 2010 when I got to cover one of the most exciting feature stories on my career.

8.) Ms. Jackson – Outkast

When I think of happy Spring memories, I’m often brought back to the years I graduated high school and college. Those event still fill me with pride and sense of accomplishment to this day; not to mention that “wise elder” feeling I got when I was a Senior. Three years of looking up to the underclassmen, imaging what I would be as one, and there I was; one of them.

In April 2001, I had taken a family trip to Hawaii during Easter Break and came back baked by the tropical sun. I’m typically fare skin, especially when I was younger, but Hawaiian sun is a special kind of strong. Though I got a pretty nasty burn sunbathing in Kona, by the time I got back to New York for my Senior retreat with my classmates, that burn had turned into an olive-toned tan.

I went to a Catholic high school (St. Francis Preparatory School) so we had regular retreats to Camp Alvenia, a retreat camp for the Franciscan monks who ran our schools out on Long Island. It was a giant estate on the Long Island Sound with a beach, basketball and tennis courts, a retreat house and wooded areas to walk and observe nature. It was in Freshman year that my friend Stella and I walked the grounds and opened up to each other about life and our hopes for the future. As cliché as it is to say, the retreats did what the campus ministry hoped, allowed us students a day away from the rigours of academics to engage in social development and get to know and like each other.

The Senior retreat was like a goodbye so to speak. It would be the last one and students were given one of maybe two dozen retreat days to choose from. Students often attended with friends, so my friends and I picked a day in April, hoping the weather would be springlike. It was sunny, but abnormally chilly for April. Still, it was nice enough for us to spend our free few hours between prayer and group sessions to sit by the Long Island Sound and listen to music and chat. Yes, we smoked some marijuana on the retreat. Sorry Sister Diane, we were young and stupid, but even without passing around the joint in the forest, we felt a type of bonding on that retreat that continues to bring me happy memories two decades later.

Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” is the one song that brings be back to the retreat by the Sound. Imagine, if you will, happy teenagers, their high school graduation just months away, bopping to the piano interlude to this song, trying to imitate Andre 3000’s singing voice:

Forever, forever, forever ever, forever ever?

Yes, it’s a memory that will last forever ever.

7.) A New Day Has Come – Celine Dion

The winter of 2001-2002 wasn’t a great one. I was a college freshman struggling to keep it together as the trauma of September 11th made me afraid to leave my house and drive to Long Island for school, on the off chance New York City is gone when I return. I was also working long hours at the card department in Barnes and Nobles.

The winter seemed to drag on forever. The aftermath of 9/11 hung over everything like a dark cloud on a blustery day. It felt like we were all waiting for a sign that we can turn the page and begun healing and building anew.

But then the temperatures warmed, the days got longer. the forsythias on the median of Robert Moses’ Long Island parkways exploded in waves of yellow, and the colorful trees on Hofstra University’s campus (which doubles as an arboretum) brought a new day. The imagery in lyrics Celine sings; rain washing away tears, filling the soul, drowning the fears, shattering the wall, all expressed what it felt like to watch spring bloom in 2002.

Fittingly, Celine Dion made her post-childbirth comeback that Spring with a song that seemed perfectly fitted for the time; a city and a country that spend a winter grieving from the shock and trauma of September 11th. That spring, it got warm very quickly. The weather went from frigid mornings to 90-degree afternoon in less than a month. It did feel like a new day had come, and it came fast and was welcomed. It felt like we could finally breath again. On gorgeous sunny Spring days in 2002, I would sit in the grass in the quad at Hofstra or take the subway into Manhattan to stroll around Central Park and browse at Borders and The Strand, my happy go-to places and listen to this song. It made me feel inspired and aspirational. It made me think about what was the next step in my life; changing my major from Broadcast Journalism to Political Science; joining the staff at WRHU, Hofstra’s radio station which became a turning point in my life and a place where I grew most as a person.

Now that I write this, this song seems to fit the mood today, in 2022, as well. Replace 9/11 with the COVID-19 Pandemic, that appears to be drawing to a close, at least where I am in the United States. We have walked through the darkness and a light is appearing on the horizon. A new day has come.

6.) Sex On Fire – Kings Of Leon

It was finally warm enough to open the windows.

In the Spring of 2009, I was a rudderless, confused 25 year old who had just gotten laid off from his promising job as a television producer at Long Island’s PBS station- WLIW21; one of the victims of the financial crisis. What my next step would be was still in question. With no jobs out there to apply for, and no offers coming in, I often stayed in bed late and refused to get up or shower or do anything remotely productive.

As the weather turned warmer, I realized I had to get up and get out, let the sun hit my face, if I wanted to somehow get out of the funk. I started by camping out in the room in my attic that was always my favorite place, where I used to stare at the Manhattan skyline and listen to music when I was in high school (I wrote about it in my Autumn song list). My grandmother was living upstairs at the time, but she stayed out of the attic during the day, so I commandeered the “TV room” as we called it, opened the windows and let the fresh air pour in. I would lay on her futon and watch the curtains dance in the chilly breeze, which seemed to get warmer and warmer everyday and listen to the sounds of the city outside. I listened to the sounds of car horns, subway trains, sirens and someone in the distance blasting “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon, at least once a day, for nearly three weeks. I never knew who it was, probably someone who was a fan of Kings of Leon playing it on their stereo with their windows open, but I always knew whoever it was would play it sometime between 1 and 2 p.m.

I had heard the song before, but didn’t know what it was at the time. “Sex on Fire” was one of those songs that got stuck in your head and you find yourself humming or quietly singing the chorus at random times during the day: in the shower; while cooking; while making your bed or folding laundry. It became almost an anthem for me that scary Spring when the economy was teetering on depression and my career prospects were uncertain. I sat in the backyard on warm sunny days listening to this song on my iPod, and had it playing while running through Forest Park trying, in vain, to keep my “quit smoking” weight off, or hiking up and around Bear Mountain, all things I did to take my mind off the situation I found myself in.

Today when I hear it, I’m taken back to that Spring when there were no jobs to apply for, or money to make, but I still had dreams, aspirations and, what I miss most of all, my youth.

5.) Midnight City – M83

There was a time just before I turned 30 that I hit the “alternative rock” stage. I began frequenting bars in Williamsburg and Greenpoint that often played the Alt-Rock, electronic-rock, synth-pop and all the non-mainstream pop hits of the day; Death Cab By Cutie, Cage The Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Arctic Monkey, MGMT and so on. It wasn’t my first time in the scene, having been on a Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse and Empire Of The Sun trip in college. The music made me feel young again as I closed the door on my 20s.

That year I became obsessed with the alt-rock channel on my Sirius radio in my car. I listened to it during my nine-minute commute to work in the morning and when I would drive to Brooklyn or Long Island City to meet with friends and several songs that were in regular rotation became personal favourites. The one song that takes me back to that era is this one, “Midnight City” by M83.

This song, and the French-American electronic rock band’s follow up “Reunion” brings me back to the Spring of 2012 when I began writing my first, still-unpublished novel Lower Than The Angels and began work at the Queens Chronicle and I would go for long drives to Rockaway Beach or East River State Park in Long Island City to get some after-work fresh air and people watch.

Those happy memories sustained me last Spring when I was stuck inside for 55 days avoiding COVID-19, missing New York come alive in the warming months, and listening to this song helped me weather those lonely days in 2020 when we were imprisoned for our own safety.

4.) If You Had My Love – Jennifer Lopez

I struggled through a tough winter in early 1999. I was going through some of my first “adult” issues in my life, compounded by the arrival of the internet in my household and the start of “cyberbullying.” Imagine being a 15-year old whose bullies now had to ability to continue the bullying after school hours on America Online?

It was a new experience, and a scary one. In April of 1999, an elementary school classmate of mine catfished me on AOL, and coerced me to come out in an instant message conversation, which he later emailed to everyone on my Buddy List – including family. The experience left me exposed and terrified. Fortunately, it occurred just before Easter Recess, where I would be out of school for ten days, away from the mobs of classmates and bullies and others I felt vulnerable to. I could hide in my cocoon for a week and a half and let the bad stuff pass. And that’s what I did.

On my way home from school on the last day before the break, I did what I often did, stopped in Queens Center Mall and browsed Sam Goody, the record store in the basement of the mall where I bought most of my albums at the time. On the walls were advertisements for albums due to be released in the coming weeks and months, and over the register, where I had seen Metallica’s “Reload” and Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” advertised before their releases, was Jennifer Lopez’s “On The 6” album cover.

I was familiar with J. Lo from her roles in Selena and Anaconda and was surprised to see her cross over into music, which has since probably been where she’s been more successful. On the way home from the mall that day, I heard “If You Had My Love” on the radio for the first time listening to my Walkman with the radio tuner. Man, it was like the Stone Age back then, wasn’t it?

Back in those days, before Napster, Limewire and Apple Radio, you would record new hit songs before they came out right off the radio. Just throw a blank cassette tape in the stereo and listen intensively, catching your new favourite song just as it starts and press Record.

That Spring Recess, I sat on my front stoop, sucking up the warm Spring air, hoping to go back to school with a tan so my classmates didn’t think I spent the whole ten days locked away in my room like a loser.

This song takes me back to that April, taking long walks through my neighbourhood; watching work trains roll back and forth along the elevated subway line near my house – there was track work being done during that time; sitting out front on the stoop reading whatever book my English teacher had assigned us to read during break, looking real good in my tight white t-shirts and Gap jeans. Ah, to be young again!

3.) Rozes- The Chainsmokers

There is a specific type of weather that lets you know its Spring in New York City. It’s that first bright sunny day in late March or early April where it starts off cold, but quickly warms up enough to ditch a jacket and open the windows. The air stops smelling like snow, and starts smelling more floral and green, almost like a salad. There is no chill, only a welcoming sense of warmth.

It’s Spring.

It’s those days that Chainsmoker’s “Rozes” takes me back to. The first warm Spring day of March 2016, lying on the floor of my partner’s Brighton Beach apartment staring out the open window as the sea breeze battles the warm air and take their fight to my face.

It takes me back to the first warm day of April 2016 when I decided to take a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to check out the cherry blossoms and the Japanese garden, before driving over the Manhattan Bridge to meet friends for an outdoor lunch on the Lower East Side. It takes me back to May 2016, doing flights of Rockaway Brewery’s latest brews before filling growlers with my favorites to bring home for Memorial Day Weekend.

In the Springs since, that etherial beat in the song’s chorus after Rozes’ angelic “Say you’ll never let me go” brings me back to those early warm days; opening the window to let in the fresh Spring air at an open house or driving around with my moonroof and windows open, letting the Spring air whip through my car.

Brighter and warmer days are coming.

2.) Drive- Incubus

Believe or not, I was terrified to learn how to drive.

In 1993, my grandmother’s uncle and cousin were killed in a car accident on a busy stretch of Route 25 in Selden, New York, about 60 miles east of New York City on Long Island. The only survivor was my grandmother’s cousin’s son, Vincent, who was at the wheel of the car at the time of the accident. That crash left a long-lasting phobia about driving in me.

But as I got closer to the legal age to drive, I realized that I would have to get over that fear. Driving is a rite of passage for most teenagers in America, and its no different for one in Queens. The cool Seniors had cars and drive to school, the loser still took the bus. I had no excuse not to get my driver’s license in Senior Year except my own irrational fears.

I took driver’s ed and passed my driver’s test (and the third try) in December 2000. For several months after I got my license, I drove only close to me, and only on local roads. I avoided highways, they scared the crap out of me.

That is until my older cousin let me drive his Chevy Malibu on May evening. Though I was only supposed to be moving it around the block into my driveway, he instead decided I should take it on a joyride, onto the Belt Parkway. It was an anxious fifteen minutes, and I veered into traffic a couple of time, but I did it. I drove on the highway.

I found it ironic that Incubus had this song out at the same time I was learning, and getting over my fear of driving. Even though “drive” in the song is a metaphor, the literal meaning hit home for me that Spring. A lot of change happened: I turned 18 years old, I graduated high school, no more curfews and I could buy cigarettes. I was also able to drive.

Today, when I hear the opening guitar riffs of this song, I remember the sense of freedom and independence I felt when I got over my fear of driving and enjoyed what seemed to be way everyone else gets around.

1.) Move Along – The All American Rejects

May 21, 2006 will remain one of my top five best days ever.

It was the day I did what I had always thought, right up until the final week before it happened, was impossible. I graduated college.

That Spring was full of a lot of really thrilling memories. The building excitement and anxiety over my imminent college graduation left me a chaotic ball of energy all Spring. I went on a Senior class trip to Washington D.C., where I got to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives, see the inside of the Supreme Court and meet elected officials. I furiously applied for jobs and sought post-graduation opportunities and most of all, I made sure every I was dotted and every T was crossed because it still felt unbelievable to me that I would soon be graduating college.

You see, I was the first male in my immediate family to graduate college. It was a feat that even I wasn’t sure I could do. When I was a freshman, I looked at my DAR, which was sort of like my unfinished transcript that showed all the classes I had to take and exams I had to pass to graduate. It overwhelmed me. I had a minor panic attack and even at one point thought about ending my life, but I quickly perished that thought and talked myself into believing the impossible. That I could do it.

A couple of days before graduation, I was shopping at American Eagle at Bay Terrace, a shopping centre in Bayside, Queens, It was there that I heard The All-American Reject’s “Move Along” and felt this rush of positivity and happiness run over me. I hummed the song the entire way back to the car in the warm spring sunshine. The lyrics spoke to me, it was the story of my college experience; a roller coaster that often put me in hopeless places, where I gave myself no other option but to “move along.”

At my graduation on May 21, I carried with me the new iPod my parents bought me and played the song as I walked on stage to receive my diploma and shake hands with the dean. I listened to the chorus as I moved the tassel from one side to the other. I had done it. I had graduated college.

Ever since, this song brings me back to that day and reminds me, even in the darkest moments, the things you believe are impossible…are possible.

Happy Spring!

France Elects: A Post Mortem

Macron Won Reelection, But The Race Was Narrower And The Results Showed Some Surprises

All the votes have been counted in the presidential election last Sunday in France and the results brought some surprises, but not much drama.

French President Emmanuel Macron was reelected to a second term on April 24, but the results showed some surprises and some good news for his far right opponent.

Emmanuel Macron won a second term fairly easily, becoming the first French president to be reelected since Jacque Chirac in 2002. He defeated Marine Le Pen, the far right leader of the National Rally, whom he also defeated in 2017. (Le Pen’s father was actually who Chirac defeated in 2002 to win a second term).

But the race this time was much closer than the last.

In 2017, Macron pretty much swept the country, winning all regions and all but two fo the country’s 101 departments. Last weekend. Le Pen flipped three regions in Metropolitan France, and won 23 departments this time, including th two she won in 2017. The most surprising results, however, came thousands of miles from the French mainland.

The Results In The Competitive Regions

Hauts-de-France, the northernmost region and the home region of Le Pen, flipped from Macron +5 in 2017 to Le Pen +4. This was the most likely region to flip, I assumed, as it is Le Pen’s home base and home to the only two departments she won in 2017: Pas-de-Calais, her home department, and Aisne. She won both again, winning Aisne by nearly 20 points, and flipped the departments of Somme (where Macron was born) and Oise. Hauts-de-France is historically a left-leaning area, formerly home to working class labor-types and a bustling manufacturing industry that has slowly died away, similar to the American Rust Belt.

Macron did hold on to the department of Nord in Hauts-de-France, on the Belgian border and home to the longtime Socialist stronghold of Lille, but his margin there was decreased to seven points.

The second of the three Metropolitan regions Le Pen flipped was the island of Corsica. A long-time right wing stronghold, Corsica was expected to flip, but the island went from Macron +3 to Len Pen +16. Le Pen also picked up both departments on the island: Corse-de-Sud and Haute-Corse, winning both by double digits.

Finally, Le Pen flipped Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the southern region that includes Provence and the French Riviera. Macron won it by 10 in 2017, but this time Le Pen won it by a point. Le Pen flipped the regions of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, locate in the foothills of the Alps, Var, which includes the resort town of Saint-Tropez, and Vaucluse a department where Le Pen’s party has had past victories. (Her niece, Marion Maréchal, represented the department in the National Assembly from 2012-2017). Macron held on to win the Alpine department of Haute-Alpes and the departments of Alpes-Maritimes, home to the city of Nice, and Bouches-du-Rhône, home to Marseilles.

Macron won every other region in the country, including several where he lost ground and lost departments. Grand-Est, in the northeast of the country, went from Macron +16 to Macron +4. Le Pen was able to flip the department of Haute-Marne, which was Macron’s closest win in 2017, Aube, Meuse, Marne, Ardennes and Vosges. All are fairly agricultural and historically conservative.

Macron lost several other departments in regions he won by fairly large margins including the rural department of Haute-Saône, which Macron only won by four last time, and also the departments of Yonne and Nièvre, both of which Macron won by double digits in 2017 (Nièvre he won by 20).

2017 election results vs. 2022 election results (maps courtesy Wikipedia)

Other departments Le Pen picked up include the rural department of Eure in Normandy; Tarn-et-Garonne, Aude, Gard and Pyrénées-Orientales in the region of Occitanie in Southern France. The latter of the four departments, located on the border with Spain, has also been the site of recent electoral successes for Le Pen’s party, with the 2020 election of Louis Aliot as mayor of the department’s capital of Perpignan. Le Pen also picked up the department of Lot-et-Garonne, in the left-wing stronghold region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, winning the department by less than a point.

A Surprise Overseas

The most shocking result of the election came from thousands of miles from the European continent. Several of France’s Overseas departments, which are often some of the most left-leaning parts of the country, were won by Le Pen. There was a clue in the first round results that something was brewing overseas when Le Pen won 43 percent of the vote on Mayotte, an island of mostly ethnic African Muslims off the east coast of Africa. The result was considered odd considering Le Pen’s historically anti-Islam views. In 2017, Macron swept the overseas territories, including Mayotte. Some, such as Martinique in the Caribbean, he won by huge margins. Last weekend, however, Le Pen carried many of the overseas departments, include Mayotte and Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and swept France’s Caribbean regions, including Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy. All of the Caribbean departments except Saint Barthélemy gave a plurality of their vote to leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round. In fact, the leftist candidate got over 50 percent of the vote in French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Saint Martin was a fairly big surprise because I was actually there on March 9, in Marigot on the French side of the island, and there was a notable amount of anti-Le Pen propaganda around the town. I also spoke to a friend in Martinique, whom I met while vacationing there in 2018, who was unsurprised by Le Pen’s 20-point win there. He said COVIlD lockdowns (the island has had four since March 2020) and the ensuing economic problems caused by them caused a lot of resentment toward Macron’s government, which led to a large number of abstentions in the second round from left-wing voters on that island and in other regions, though some 2017 Macron voters did flip sides. One of the two locations on Martinique that Macron did hold on to was Schœlcher, a commune that is considered a wealthy suburb of the island’s “capital,” Fort-de-France. It is home to many rich, native French residents, as is the other commune on the island that voted for Macron – Les Trois-Îlets – which also happens to be the birthplace of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon. Even in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean, there are signs that wealthy, highly-educated communities are sticking with the centre and left-wing parties, while poor voters, even those voters of color, are flirting with the far right, or abstaining from electoral politics completely.

That was also true in the small island department of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, located in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence off the southern coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The territory, where only about 2500 people voted, voted for Le Pen by a mere 35 votes. The result was shocking since Saint Pierre and Miquelon typically votes far left. Mélenchon won the island with 41 percent in the first round. Le Pen gained over 400 votes from her 2017 total, while Macron lost about 200 in the territory, so her win there can’t just be explained through abstentions alone.

Macron managed to hold onto some of France’s regions in the Pacific Ocean, including New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. In French Polynesia, Le Pen won most of the remote sparsely-populated islands with large ethnic Polynesian populations, but Macron was able to win the region thanks to a narrow win on the island of Tahiti.

Macron’s Urban Strength

It was clear in the results that what kept the race from being closer and what helped Macron hold onto power was his strength in the major cities.

Macron won in Paris, taking every arrondissement in the capital and getting 80 percent or more in all but one. He got 85 percent of the vote citywide, though that it down from 90 percent in 2017. Macron also swept the suburbs of Paris, winning the departments of Hauts-de-Seine: Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne with 80 percent, 74 percent and 74 percent of the vote respectively. The three departments that make up the Paris suburbs rarely voted so close to each other before. Hauts-de-Seine is historically a conservative area, known for being fairly wealthy. In 2007 it voted differently than the other two departments, giving center-right candidate Nicholas Sarkozy 56 percent of the vote, and then gave Sarkozy 51 percent in 2012. The other two departments, more poor-to-working class and with a big immigrant population, gave Socialist candidate Segolene Royale the win in 2007. She won 56 percent in Seine-Saint-Denis and 50 percent in Val-de-Marne. In 2012, Socialist Francois Hollande won the two departments with 65 percent and 56 percent respectively in his winning bid for the presidency.

The politics of the Paris suburbs moving in a similar direction despite past voting habits mimics the type of political realignment that has been going on in other democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where left-leaning parties are winning suburbs, whether they were historically liberal or conservative, while rural areas move right.

CITYMACRONLE PEN
PARIS85%15%
MARSEILLES60%40%
LYON80%20%
TOULOUSE83%17%
NICE55%45%
NANTES81%19%
MONTPELIER 72%23%
STRASBOURG78%22%
BORDEAUX80%20%
LILLE77%23%
2022 Presidential Election results in France’s 10 largest cities. Macron swept all ten, ranging from a ten point win in Nice to an over 70-point margin in Paris.

This trend was true elsewhere in the country as well. Macron swept other French cities as well, winning 55 percent and 60 percent of the vote in Nice and Marseilles respectively, both in more-conservative Provence, though Le Pen did do well in the historically-conservative suburbs of each city. Her margins however were much lower than the right historically received in Provence’s major suburbs.

Besides Lille, Macron also topped 70 percent of the vote in Montpelier in the Occitanie region and Strasbourg on the border with Germany, home to the European Parliament. Macron got 80 percent or higher in France’s third largest city, Lyon, as well as in Toulouse in Occitanie, and Nantes and Bordeaux in western France.

Election Watching: What To Look For Today In France

Le Pen Is Polling Closer To Macron Than In 2017, That Means Results Might Be More Interesting And Telling

Today, French citizens go to the polls to either reelect President Emmanuel Macron, or replace him with National Rally-leader Marine Le Pen. Either way, the result will be historic. Either Macron becomes the first French president in twenty years to be reelected – the last, Jacques Chirac, was reelected in 2002 defeating Le Pen’s father – or Le Pen becomes the first woman leader of France and only the second woman to govern one of the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (Margaret Thatcher being the first).

Macron is a slightly more than slight favourite to win today. He has led in every poll, though in some polls only narrowly. The race is a rematch of the 2017 election where Macron defeated Le Pen 2-1. It is unlikely that Macron will win by anywhere near that this time, unless the polls are massively off (not an impossible scenario, however), but a Macron won in the high single-digits is the most likely scenario.

France has eighteen regions (down from 27 in 2014 after several regions were merged in territorial reform under former President Francois Hollande). Thirteen of the 18 regions are in Metropolitan France – the territory on the European Continent. Five regions are overseas: French Guiana in South America, the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion. Macron won every region in 2017, but several were close and if the polls are correct, several will flip to Le Pen today. Each region has a number of departments. There are 101 departments in France. In 2017, Macron won all but two of them.

Here are the key regions to watch today for those looking at results, and nested in each, a look at key departments to watch as well:

CORSICA

Corsica was the closest region in 2017 and likely to be a battleground this year.
MACRONLE PEN
66,819 (51%)62,982 (49%)
2017 Second Round Results, Corsica

The Mediterranean island of Corsica was the closest region in 2017. Macron won it 51-49, a less than 4,000-vote margin. Corsica, which the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, is historically a right wing stronghold, having voted for the centre right in each election since the founding of the Fifth Republic. Le Pen won Corsica with a plurality of 29 percent in the first round last week, marginally improving her first round total from the 2017 election, and that, plus the 12 percent fellow far-right candidate Eric Zemmour received on the island, might be enough to put her over the top.

Corsica’s current political situation is heavily framed by the recent murder in prison of Coriscan nationalist Yvon Colonna. Colonna, a hero of Corsican nationalists, was convicted in 2011 of the 1998 murder of a French prefect, Claude Érignac. Colonna was murdered last month by a jihadist in prison, allegedly for “disrespecting Mohammed.” His death triggered riots on the island, and Le Pen’s anti-Islam views may pull enough of their support to her for her to win the island. According to several sources I’ve inquired with about French politics over the years, Corsican nationalists previously tended to boycott French elections, or vote for the far-left candidate in the first round and boycott the second. Even a few deciding to turn out for Le Pen would give her the win here.

Corsica is made up of two departments: Corse-du-Sud (South Corsica), which includes the capital of Ajaccio, and Haute-Corse (North Corsica). Both are worth watching. Macron won the latter by 5 points in 2017, but the former, and larger, of the departments only by a mere point, or about 624 votes. Both could flip, but Corse-du-Sud would be among the first departments to flip in the country, as it was the second closest win for Macron in 2017 (only Haute-Marne in Grand Est was closer).

HAUTS-DE-FRANCE

The Northern French region of Haute-de-France is the home region of Marine Le Pen and a formerly industrialised region similar to the American Rust Belt
MACRONLE PEN
1,497,401 (53%)1,331,169 (47%)
2017 Second Round Results, Hauts-de-France

The best way to describe the French region of Hauts-de-France to an American is to just call it France’s answer to the “The Rust Belt” or, more appropriately, “Appalachia.” This region includes the historic French ports of Calais and Dunkirk on the English Channel, and reaches through the Northern French countryside to the northern exurbs of Paris. This was historically the industrial heart of France, and the region most ravaged by both world wars. The Battle of the Somme was fought here during the First World War. The regional capital, Lille, located just miles from the Belgian border, is the fourth largest city in France.

Hauts-de-France is the third most populated region in France after Ile-de-France (Paris) and Auverge-Rhone-Alpes (Lyon). Similar to the American Rust Belt and England’s North, it has suffered dramatic economic decline with the collapse of manufacturing and is France’s poorest region. Only Corsica has seen a smaller growth in per capita GDP in the last decade (notice a pattern here?). Formerly a Socialist stronghold with strong pro-labor and pro-working class political movements, the region has warmed to parties like the National Rally that point the finger at free trade and immigration for their economic decline.

It’s location at the crossroads of routes linking three cosmopolitan European capitals (London, Paris and Brussels) also affects the region’s politics. Because of this, Hauts-de-France has become a destination for immigrants, especially from Muslim countries. This is added a level of cultural, as well as economic, resentment similar to that in the American Rust Belt that has fuelled the National Rally in this region. Hauts-de-France has become Le Pen’s political base and she represents part of the region in the National Assembly. Although Macron won it by 5 in 2017, it has been trending right. Le Pen increased her first round margin in the region from her 2017 numbers by two percent (31 percent to 33 percent).

Hauts-de-France has five departments, including the only two in the entire country Le Pen won in 2017, her home department of Pas-de-Calais and the rural department of Aisne, which Le Pen won by 5 and 6 respectively. She will almost certain win both again, but the departments of Somme and Oise which Macron won by 8 and 6, will be key to watch.

If Macron does want to win Hauts-de-France, he’s going to have to get good turnout in the fifth department in the region, Nord. The department, which Macron won by 14 in 2017, is actually France’s most populated and includes the longtime leftist-stronghold of Lille. The city and the region’s turnout is key to Macron in a similar way Milwaukee or Madison is key to a Democrat winning Wisconsin. Lille’s mayor is longtime Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, who famously pushed the 35-hour workweek, one of the European left’s biggest pro-worker victories in recent memory. Macron’s recent reform proposals, including raising the retirement age, may hurt him with turnout here and may cost him the region.

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur includes the French Riviera
MACRONLE PEN
1,306,636 (55%)1,049,116 (45%)
2017 Second Round Results, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

It was during the 2007 French Presidential election, when Nicholas Sarkozy won, that my former European Studies professor answered “How would you best compare the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur to an American?” with one simple word:

Texas

That was all the answer I needed. This region, she said, was historically conservative. That wasn’t the full truth however, and really the region is probably better compared to an Arizona or Georgia or North Carolina, a formerly conservative stronghold that has largely been turned off by the direction of the right in recent years due to higher levels of education among its residents and more culturally progressive views, but has shifted left at a snail’s pace.

Provence is among the most recognisable names from French geography to Americans. This is the Southern France region home to fine wine, fields of beautiful flowers and is where the famed French Riviera is located. The capital is Marseilles, France’s third largest city, and a former Communist stronghold, but the region includes all the posh Riviera locations that ooze luxury – Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez, Toulon. The tiny municipality of Monaco borders the region. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur also includes the inland cities of Avignon, known for being where the Popes lived in exile from Rome in the Middle Ages, and the Alpine city of Gap, famed for its winter sports.

While I expect Macron to win here – he won the region by nearly 11 in 2017 – if the race is as close as the polls suggest, the election here could get interesting. Le Pen won the same 28 percent plurality win here in the first round as she did in 2017, though Macron did remarkably better in the first round. If Le Pen is winning the election, or coming close, we will know by how she performs here.

There are six departments in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and a few of them were razor thin margins in 2017 and may flip today. The closest was Var, home to Toulon and Saint-Tropez. Macron won it by less than two points in 2017. The department of Vaucluse, home to Avignon, was won by Macron by seven, but has historically been a good region for Le Pen’s party. Her niece, Marion, represented the region in the National Assembly as a party member from 2012-2017. Both would need to flip to Le Pen if she is to have a chance in the region.

Le Pen would also have to keep Macron’s margins down in the other four departments, including Alpes-Martimes, which includes Nice. Macron won it by 11 in 2017. The other regions Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Macron +17 in 2017); Haute-Alpes (Macron +28) and Bouches-du-Rhone (Macron +15) will likely not flip, but Macron’s margins will be worth watching there.

Grand Est

Grand Est is a historically conservative area, but Le Pen’s National Rally has proven to far right for this region…so far.
MACRONLE PEN
1,500,652 (58%)1,089,356 (42%)
2017 Second Round Results, Grand Est

Similar to Haute-de-France, Grand Est, which means Big East in French, is a historically industrial region that was a major frontier in both world wars. The Ardennes are here. The region was created out of three former regions- Champagne-Ardennes, where the famous beverage Champagne comes from. (Remember real Champagne only comes from here, otherwise its “sparking wine”). The other two regions were Alsace and Lorraine, the two areas France and Germany famously fought over that led to a century of on and off war between the two countries. The region borders the German industrial centre, the Rhineland, and its capital is Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament. Also in the region are the historical cities of Reims, Metz and Nancy.

This region shouldn’t be in play, Macron won it by 16 in 2017, but if the race is closer this time, this could be a big pickup opportunity for Le Pen. Much of the civil unrest during the Yellow Vest Protests in 2018 and 2019 occurred in this region and it has a history of voting to the right before Macron, having been won by centre right candidates Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy in the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to their strength in the Strasbourg area. Le Pen may still be too far to the right for this region however, or, similar to places like Minnesota and Illinois in the United States, she may be too far right for urban areas that once voted for the centre-right, but be acceptable for the formerly left-leaning rural areas.

As mentioned earlier, the department of Haute-Marne in Grand Est was the closest department in the country in 2017. Macron won the department by less than a point, 861 votes. With Macron’s unpopularity in the eastern countryside, I would bet the farm that this is a Le Pen flip today. The department of Ardennes was also very close in 2017, Macron by less than two points, and may very well be a flip this time. I would also watch for a Le Pen pickup in the department of Meuse in Lorraine (Macron +4 in 2017). The department, which includes Verdun, is another where Macron’s popularity has sagged. The department of Aube, which includes some of the eastern exurbs of Paris, was Macron +8 in 2017, and is worth watching. Macron won the rest of the departments in Grand Est by double digits, including Marne (Marcon +14 in 2017), Moselle (Macron +14), and Vosges (Macron +10). The incumbent will almost certainly win Meurthe-et-Moselle (Macron +22), home to the city of Nancy, and Bas-Rhin (Macron +24), home to Strasborg and Haut-Rhin (Macron +16), both on the German border, but his margins in these areas, which includes cities where the Yellow Vest protests took place, will be worth watching.

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

MACRONLE PEN
815,709 (60%)532,935 (40%)
2017 Second Round Results, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

The region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté translates to English as Burgundy-Free Country. Now you recognise it. This is the heart of French Wine Country. It’s capital, Dijon, is the namesake of that fancy mustard. You probably think of this part of the country as a rich, posh area, but actually it is extremely rural, agricultural and one of France’s poorest regions. Its France’s answer to the Upper Midwest, and much like the Upper Midwest, it is historically a swing region. Centre-right presidents Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy all won here. Macron, who sits on the fence between centre-left and centre-right, should be a shoo-in here, and he’ll probably win it (He won the region by 20 points in 2017), but if there is a massive decline in his support, its because of regions like Burgundy. The Yellow Vest protests bled down into this region, notably in the city of Belfort near the Swiss border, and rising fuel prices and COVID-19 restrictions have badly hurt the agricultural and tourism industries in this region.

Very few of the region’s eight departments were close in 2017, though Haute-Saône, which borders Haute-Marne to the north, was Macron +4 in 2017 and could be an easy Le Pen flip. Territoire de Belfort, which includes the city of Belfort, a major centre of protest during the Yellow Vest Movement, might also be worth watching. A longtime centre-right stronghold, Macron won it by 16 in 2017 and if Le Pen is doing well there, it’s an indication she’s winning centre right support she lost in 2017. The department of Yonne, the closest to Paris in the region, was Macron +10 in 2017 and is worth watching as Le Pen did much better in the first round there this time than in 2017. The other departments, including Dijon’s home department, Côte-d’Or (Macron +28 in 2017), Jura (Macron +22), Doubs (Macron +28), Nièvre (Macron +20) and Saône-et-Loire (Macron +24) will likely not be competitive, but the incumbent’s margins there will be important to note.

Occitanie

The Occitanie is historically left-leaning, but any increase in support for Le Pen may foretell a realignment in the entire left-leaning West of the country.
MACRONLE PEN
1,759,816 (63%)1,033,853 (37%)
2017 Second Round Results, Occitanie

There should be no reason for Macron to lose the Southern French region of Occitanie today, except for one – he’s lost the election, and for that reason I include this region in our discussion.

In 2017, Macron won this region by 26 points. It is historically a left-leaning region with a long history of supporting Socialist and Communist parties, but much of Occitanie, which borders Spain, is culturally conservative. Catholicism plays a major role in life here, it is the location of Lourdes, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Catholic faith. If the new right’s focus on cultural grievances plays well anywhere in left-leaning areas, it will play here. Besides that, the region saw much unrest during Yellow Vest protests, especially in the capital Toulouse, and in the city of Perpignan near the Spanish border, where Le Pen’s party scored a major victory in 2020 with the election of the city’s mayor Louis Aliot. It was the first time her party won a victory in a city of that size.

Pyrénées-Orientales, the department of which Perpignan is the capital, was fairly close in 2017, with Macron winning by only 5. Le Pen actually improved her first round numbers in the department compared to 2017, so I would rank this department high on the flip list. It is noted for being a Catalan-speaking region and for having a cultural connection to the Catalan region across the border in Spain.

None of other 12 departments in Occitanie are particularly competitive. Only Hérault (Macron +18 in 2017), Aude (Macron +10) and Gard (Macron +10), all on the Mediterranean Coast, are worth watching. The rural department of Ariège was one of the few that gave far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melechon a plurality win in the first round, a testament to the department’s pro-environmental politics, and Macron came in third. Macron won the department by 26 points in 2017. As with some of the other regions, Macron’s margins in the cities will matter, and that means watching his numbers in Haute-Garonne, which includes the city of Toulouse, where a number of protests during the Yellow Vest Movement occurred. Macron won the department by a whopping 34 points in 2017.

Any Macron collapse in support in Occitanie would be instructive to see if there is any reduction in his support in the Greater West of the country, the longtime left-wing strongholds like Aquitaine and the Loire Valley. Yellow Vest did find some roots in this area and Macron is not nearly as left-wing as the Socialist Party was before him. It would be interesting to see if there has been any backlash in these areas. Occitanie would offer key insight.

MAYOTTE

Mayotte, an overseas territory to watch
MACRONLE PEN
19,140 (57%)14,374 (43%)
2017 Second Round Results, Mayotte

None of the overseas territories and regions are really interesting election-wise. Macron should win them all. Notably, Le Pen has seen her support crumble in New Caledonia in the Pacific. She got 29 percent in the first round there in 2017 and came within five points of winning it in the second round, but this year she got only 19 percent to Macron’s 40 percent.

But the island of Mayotte off the coast of Africa could be interesting to watch. Macron won the island by 14 points in 2017, but Le Pen already surpassed her 43 percent from 2017 in the first round, and right wing parties combined to make up about 51 percent of the vote in the first round.

What’s interesting here is that the majority of the population in Mayotte are African Muslim, not quite the demographic you think you’d see voting for Le Pen, but Mayotte’s politics are complicated. The island broke away from the nation of Comoros in the 1970s when the rest of the island chain voted to become independent of France. Mayotte later became an overseas territory of France. The island is extremely poor, and its population has, as of late, felt neglected by the French government. There’s a strong undercurrent of French nationalism on the island and a lot of unrest over recent immigration to the island from Comoros, which many locals fear is an underhanded attempt by Comoros to woo the island back. Economic grievances, French nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment play into Le Pen’s hands and what happens on Mayotte today may provide us with an clue into whether or not far-right politics can play in minority communities in Western democracies, despite being dripping with racism. This is something Americans are asking themselves after former President Donald Trump’s surprising performance among some Hispanic and Black communities in 2020.

What Else Am I Watching?

Macron won two regions he lost in the first round in 2017: Normandie and Centre Val de Loire. This was largely due to the collapse in support of the centre right parties, but it indicates that this support has largely gone to Macron and not to Le Pen in these regions. He should win both easily. But the two biggest things I’ll be watching outside of these key regions and departments are:

1.) Turnout for Macron in major cities. Is he able to turn out votes in Paris and other major cities in large enough margins despite a lot of disappointment with his first term among key constituencies.

2.) Realignment in the rural west. Is Le Pen able to make some inroads in the longtime left-leaning strongholds in the West, where certain demographics, namely less educated, culturally conservative, voters exist? It would fit the type of realignment we have seen happening in Western democracies across the world. The French Left have kept rural support longer than their counterparts in Germany, the UK or the United States and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues to happen.

The Speech Biden Should Give Today

The President Must Signal It Is Ok To Return To Normal If That Is Your Choice

My Fellow Americans,

When I took office eleven months ago, I had hoped that this Christmas would be one in which we are back to normal, with the pandemic and the disruption it caused to our lives behind us. Unfortunately, SARS-COVID 2 has proven to be a relentless foe. Despite our best efforts, including the successful deployment of vaccines, which have inoculated more than 200 million Americans, we are having to contend with even more contagious variants of this pathogen that we had known were possible, but hoped would not come to fruition.

I know a lot of you out there are scared, angry and/or perhaps frustrated. You are worried about your loved ones and yourselves. You are worried about your businesses, your jobs, and your future. You are worried for your children and their education and health. I understand how terrifying this is, a pandemic that has killed 800,000 of our fellow Americans seemingly without end. But I am speaking to you tonight to tell you, you no longer need to fear this virus in the same way you did 21 months ago. 

I want to assure you all that despite these setbacks caused by the Delta and Omicron variants, we are not back to square one. This is not March 2020. We have come quite far from those dark days of overcrowded hospitals and mass graves. There is no reason to panic, there is no reason to be afraid. We are no longer dealing with a novel virus. We have learned a lot and made a lot of progress since early 2020. 

For the vast majority of us, any infection from COVID-19 will be mild and perhaps asymptomatic from here on out. There is always a small risk of severe illness and death and there always will be, but going forward, according to many experts I talk to, the risk to those of us who got vaccinated and have some level of immune knowledge is very small. It is not enough, in my opinion, to warrant extreme restrictions on daily life.

I know there are plenty of public health experts out there will are calling for new restrictions and telling people vaccines alone can’t get us out of this, but I am a realist. I know that the level of fatigue in this country, and the lesser virulence of the new mutation has zapped whatever support for further restrictions exist. But let me assure you, I will not call for or support any new lockdowns or shutdowns. I will not call for any more mask mandates or travel bans. I will especially not call, and I promised to even oppose, anymore school closures. Our children have sacrificed enough of their vital education time to this and remote options are not acceptable beyond an extremely short time period. Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic, and it is the only realistic way. I do not expect wide compliance to any future restrictions, not to any level that would make them effective, and I will not waste federal resources enforcing them hoping for a different outcome.

The vast majority of Americans have made tremendous sacrifices to help slow the spread and save lives, especially older Americans who have been forced to spend some of their golden years in isolation. I am troubled by the reports of increasing rates of dementia and Alzheimers in patients who have been isolated and the speed in which these diseases have progressed. Many have died of non-COVID reasons spending their final days isolated away from their families, only able to see them through a screen or a window. Millions of hardworking Americans have had to shutter their business and fall into debt in order to keep up strict social distancing and quarantine regulations. They have seen their livelihoods ripped from them; everything they built just wiped away. I cannot ask them to sacrifice more. Our nation’s young people have had to endure several worldwide crises in their short lifetime and have suffered more than perhaps any generation since the Greatest Generation.They have survived two economic catastrophes, a terrible job market, high energy prices, high housing costs, low wages, war and gun violence. Because of this, they are well behind where their parents and grandparents were at their age. I am troubled by the reports of increased suicide, depression and drug addiction in our young people stemming from the shattering of social bonds because of the pandemic.They have sacrificed enough. Children in this country have seen their schooling disrupted, often for unreasonably and unacceptably long durations. Education and social connections are vital to a child’s development and I cannot accept depriving children of these things almost two years in. When we first stared down this virus in early 2020, the benefits from closing businesses and schools and limiting travel outweighed the negatives, but since then, these trade offs have shifted. I believe now the negatives far outweigh the benefits. As President, it is my job to make tough decisions for the good of society as a whole, not just for our economic and physical health, but also for the greater good of society. 

I cannot in good conscious, despite many infectious disease experts and activists demanding it, ask Americans who have done their part to continue the sacrifice indefinitely, especially not to protect those who made the choice to forgo vaccination. You have earned your right to return to your pre-pandemic lives, if you should feel safe and confident enough to do so. For those who may still be concerned, the CDC will continue to offer guidance on what steps you can take in order to feel comfortable resuming your normal life. 

I know some of you feel that many in our nation has not made the same sacrifices others have in order to control this virus and that is why our death toll is so high. It is true, we did not do the strict lockdowns and contact tracing other countries did, and we saw many American flout mitigation rules and protest them, but most Americans did what was asked of them and those countries that implemented stricter protocols are not clear of the pandemic anymore than we are. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea, despite early successes utilising non-pharmaceutical interventions like lockdowns and contact tracing are struggling with COVID again right now, Australia has ruled out anymore lockdowns.

We must accept that the earlier mitigation measures that we endured may have prevent hospital collapse and may have prevented deaths at the time, but they did nothing to end the pandemic and will do nothing to end it now. We are opening a new chapter in our history with this virus, one in which we have the medical tools to live alongside it.  

To help the transition to post-pandemic life, I am issuing an executive order that will allow Americans access to free at-home rapid tests and am asking Congress to authorise a paid family leave program to allow workers time to convalesce when they are ill away from workplaces. I will flood federal resources to any area of the country that may see a surge in hospitalisations and I will invoke the Defense Production Act in order to mass produce COVID-19 treatments which I expect to be approved by the FDA in the coming weeks. 

COVID will likely be with us for eternity. That does not mean the war is lost. Vaccines, therapeutics and treatments have and will continue to render the threat from this disease as minimal. We will aways have sone lives lost from this disease as we have and continue to have with others, and those deaths are indeed tragic, but will be minimised thanks to amazing advances in medical science.

As we move forward, let us take time to remember all those we lost during this pandemic, as well as all the heroes in the hospitals and on the field who helped save lives and keep us safe, those in the food industry from the meatpackers to the grocery workers to the delivery drivers who kept us fed and warm. 

I want to leave you tonight with a story. During the course of this year, I became acquainted with Brian and Stephanie Borgestede, a young couple from Pleasantville, New York who are raising their three young kids, ages 5, 3 and 1, close to their parents and grandparents. They looked forward to having big family Christmases with their families so their children can experience the type of love and community Brian and Stephanie were raised with. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they did not have a big family Christmas last year. Stephanie said on her Facebook page on December 24, 2020 that “we are foregoing our big family Christmas this year for the good of everyone’s health and wellbeing and we know this sacrifice will lead to happier Christmases ahead.” They looked forward to a big family holiday this year. Sadly, in March, Brian was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given six months to live. Though he fought a fierce battle, his increasingly frail condition meant there were no family gatherings this year. Brian died on December 2, having never had the chance to celebrate the big family Christmas he and Stephanie had wanted. 

Cancelling or postponing big life events for a few weeks or months is acceptable to most people, but for years, you are not promised tomorrow and the risk of them never happening is real, and while many of you may feel that weddings, birthdays, graduations, vacations to Disney, trivia nights, theatre tickets, concerts or Christmas gatherings are trivial things, for many of your fellow Americans, they are a big part of the lives we are trying to save. For what is a life is it is not lived, it’s just a mere existence and I will not ask any American to just exist, I want you to live. So today, I am telling you, it’s ok to live. 

Thank you and may God bless you and your loved ones and may God Bless the United States of America. 

How The World Failed India

By Relying On Unsustainable Measures, We Ignored Both History And Reality In The World’s Most Vulnerable Nation
People bury the bodies of victims who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a graveyard in New Delhi, India, April 16, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

In June, 1918, in a crowded apartment block in the port city of Mumbai, India – then called Bombay – a crackling chorus of coughs echoed through the halls and streets. Several young people had fallen ill with a fever, chills and uncontrollable coughs, and that number seemed to double, triple and quadruple in the coming days. Within weeks, the malady spread across the city like a raging fire, the Indian people like thick trees and timber of a parched forest. By the end of the summer, the entire country, then the most populated territory in the sprawling British Empire, seemed to succumb to the viral conflagration.

India, the second most populated country on Earth and home to some of the most densely-populated places on Earth, was the part of the world hardest hit by the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. It is unknown just how many people died, as many who were taken by the flu were rushed away to the funeral pyres before they could be counted. Estimates put the death toll at anywhere from 12 to 15 million people; five percent of the population of India at the time, and a quarter of all fatalities worldwide from that pandemic.

The pandemic’s effect on India is often forgotten about, overshadowed by its terrible toll in Europe – especially in Spain which gave the illness its name – and the United States, but the Subcontinent suffered far worse than anywhere else. For weeks bodies piled in the streets and clogged the Ganges River; British occupiers put entire cities on lockdown, leaving Indians to die in their homes as the flu ravaged apartment block after apartment block. A young Mahatma Gandhi fell ill from the flu, and the feelings of abandonment and ill-treatment by the British helped spur the uprising that led to India’s independence a generation later.

Knowing that India, which to this day suffered regular epidemics of diseases practically nonexistent in the Western World, was hardest hit by the 1918 pandemic, the historical plague that has inspired much of our reaction to COVID-19, the questions we must ask ourselves is; why and how? Why did we not see a massive outbreak of a severely contagious novel virus as a catastrophe-in-waiting for India and take the past year in which India had been spared to prepare accordingly? How did we let this happen? Italy, England, America, even Brazil might have taken us all by surprise, but India was always vulnerable to disease.

The answer, I believe, comes from the moralization of COVID-19 mitigation measures this past year. At the start of the pandemic, India enacted a strict lockdown, which was credited with preventing a massive epidemic there. After the lockdown lifted, India had a smaller epidemic late summer into mid-autumn last year, but one that was managed, unlike the massive spikes that brought hospitals to near collapse in Italy, Spain, UK, United States, France, Mexico and Brazil. The reason India was spared up until now isn’t quite clear, but many experts appeared to give credit to the Indian people themselves. As recently as February, experts like Yaneer Bar-Yam, a longtime studier of pandemics and an advocate for #ZeroCOVID, which aims to get global consensus on restrictions and policies he argues would eradicate SARS-COVID 2, praised India for its pandemic response. Bar-Yam credited the nation with utilizing “impressive community case finding, contact tracing, isolation, quarantine, communications, massive health and volunteer effort, lockdown, support” among other ideas, to reduce the country’s caseload to then only 10,000 a day. Six weeks after he made that post, India was seeing nearly 20 times as many cases a day and the chart of the daily case growth was almost a vertical line. in February, Bar-Yam praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who politically is aligned with COVID failbros President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former President Donald Trump of the United States, for his leadership. Now, just two months later, Modi is seen with the same level of disdain by experts around the world as Bolsonaro, Johnson and Trump were when their countries were being strangled by the virus.

Bar-Yam, on May 5, blamed India’s COVID explosion on “relaxing of restrictions” and is now using the crisis to promote the “ZeroCOVID” movement.

So what happened? Well experts like Bar-Yam suggest India had succeeded due to adherence to mitigation measures, but then stopped. For a year, the Indian people wore masks, social distanced and observed recommended practices that experts refer to as “smart,” “common sense” and “tried and true.”

In the first days and weeks of the Indian outbreak, videos of big outdoor religious gatherings popped up on social media, and those were immediately blamed for the outbreak. The Indian people, they said, gave up on mitigation measures with the blessing of Modi, who allowed the religious gatherings to go on.

But to place the blame entirely on that, you have to accept a few things that go against some parts of the narrative we’ve gotten from experts.

First, you have to believe the Indian people were not engaging in crowded public gatherings for the past 15 months, which is untrue. Since India’s lockdown lifted last June, there have been several examples of huge public gatherings in the country, some of which were blamed for India’s late 2020 spike in cases, even as those gatherings were illegal.

Second, you have to believe that the Indian people made extremely liberal use of face masks in indoor settings, and then suddenly stopped in late March. It doesn’t make sense if you think masking in India just slowly faded away: No. For this to make sense, you have to accept everyone stopped wearing masks almost at the same time, otherwise the virus would be spreading more slowly, or the outbreak would have started much earlier.

Basically, you have to believe those public health measures kept a bad COVID outbreak, in a country where social distancing is almost impossible, at bay for as long as it has; and you have to believe that the Indian people, en masse, all 1.8 billion of them, suddenly gave up sometime in late March. This seems almost comically unlikely, and that it is the current narrative just tells you how ridiculous COVID moralism has become. The pandemic lives and dies based on masking and distancing, and a population’s virtuous adherence to those protocols and the government’s mandates of said protocols. People, like lemmings, stop following rules the moment a government lifts them. When people are good, there is no COVID, but when they are bad, well, you get America, Europe, Brazil and India.

Finally, you have to accept that even if you get COVID under some level of control through restrictions, you’d have to keep them place indefinitely until COVID is eradicated from the world, or you risk another wave, and you have to accept that this is entirely possible in a world of 7 billion people. Bar-Yam specifically blamed the “relaxing of restrictions” for India’s wave just this week. You don’t need to be a public health expert to know indefinite restrictions are not realistic, and eradication globally would take years, if even possible at all. COVID fatigue is real, in every part of the world, and it is not some moral failing caused by weakness, but a reality of human behavior.

The truth is probably far more nuanced, but it is not entirely understood yet. Certainly more contagious variants are likely to blame. The B 117 variant first identified in the UK which caused a massive winter wave in Europe and later in North America exploded in India in April, as did a new variant first identified in the continent which has similar mutations to B 117, possibly making it more contagious as well. The level of contagiousness probably swamped whatever reasonable measures Indians were taken to keep themselves safe, making them no longer viable.

The truth of how India fell to COVID may never be truly understood, which is why we will likely let an easy answer shoulder the blame: Indians got tired and lazy, and stopped doing what I’ve termed “all the things” – my shorthand for the list of non-pharmaceutical interventions employed first as an emergency stopgap to prevent hospital collapse, and later as the standard COVID-fighting toolbox.

Rather than recognize the unique vulnerability [India] has to a contagious virus and more contagious variants, experts, desperate to sell the narrative that masking and distancing are the pandemic panacea, ignored the risks

What should we have done? We should have surged healthcare resources to the country and had them on standby for when an outbreak inevitably happened. The situation in India is such that exponential growth was likely to happen quicker than anywhere else (and indeed that’s what we saw in late April). We should have acknowledged two things. One, that NPIs failed all over the world when in place for long periods of time, and they will in India; and two, that once an outbreak starts, it would be impossible to stop it quickly. We should have been prepared to surge medical help to the country in the form of field hospitals, oxygen supplies and other needs. This especially should have been done as cases in the west started plummeting in March, and from countries like the United States and UK, which have successful vaccination campaigns that provided a backstop against any new rise in cases; and China and Australia, which has managed successful border quarantines to prevent domestic outbreaks.

We should have also surged production of vaccines to ship and distribute in the Subcontinent. India, being among the most vulnerable nations, should have been among the first to see mass vaccinations. Moderna has waived its patents to allow production of its vaccines elsewhere, and the Biden Administration has sent vaccine supplies to India so they can begin producing vaccines, and is sending millions of AstraZeneca vaccines that had been bought in case the other vaccines didn’t work out. Since the FDA hasn’t approved that vaccine and we have enough of the others, the administration is sending those to the rest of the world, mostly to India. But this should have been done earlier. Going forward, mass vaccinations need to be part of an outbreak response.

None of that was done, however, and instead we wrote off India as a success story too soon. Rather than recognize the unique vulnerability the country has to a contagious virus and more contagious variants, experts, desperate to sell the narrative that masking and distancing are the pandemic panacea, ignored the risks. Now, India will have to bear the brunt of what is likely to be the worst, but hopefully the last, major national outbreak of this pandemic.

My hope is that we learn something in the postmortem to this. It was a mistake to rely solely on human behavior to control the pandemic. Experts were never sure NPIs would work, and even where they did work, they weren’t sustainable anywhere. Even countries like Thailand and Cambodia, which escaped earlier COVID waves, another consequence of good behavior, experts say, are now being rocked by COVID. We should have predicted NPIs would eventually fail, as they had across the world in the past year in Europe, South Korea and Canada, and that would leave India uniquely vulnerable to a dire epidemic.

The Academy Rarely Rewards An Actor Who Has Died

Producers Bet On A Chadwick Boseman Win, And Were Left With Egg On Their Faces

I admit there were only two reasons I sat through the #Oscars last weekend. One was to see if Chloe Zhao would become only the second woman to win a Best Director Oscar, which she did, and the second, to see if they would give Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer last August, a rare posthumous Best Actor award for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

I had assumed their victories, if they would win, would come toward the end of the show. The producers thought that was true at least of Boseman. In a confusing, abnormal program, they tossed aside the typical Best Director-Best Actor-Best Actress-Best Picture routine and awarded the directing award earlier in the broadcast and the Best Picture award before the lead acting categories. The goal was clear, engineer a finish to the telecast in which the final two awards are won by black actors, Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, giving the news media a “Oscars celebrates black roles” narrative to run with after the event.

It flopped massively.

Frances McDormand won her third Best Actress Oscar for Nomadland giving a few seconds-long speech, and the show ended with Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor, and not being present, presenter Joaquin Phoenix accepted it on his behalf and left the stage, abruptly ending the show. The unexpected, anti-climatic ending was mocked on social media. A nasty side effect of this was Best Director was given out early in the show, denying Zhao her chance to shine during the show’s finale (although she later appeared with the cast during the Best Picture acceptance.) With the COVID-19 Pandemic preventing any of the typical afterparties, the post-shows were awkward messes. Hosts searched hilariously for a narrative to focus on, without addressing the elephant in the Dolby Theater, that they had screwed up what they thought would be an easy lay up on the progress of racial equality in Hollywood. Best Supporting Actress winner Yuh-Joong Youn provided some relief with her funny, heartwarming acceptance speech, and some focus was put on Zhao’s win and Best Supporting Actor winner Daniel Kalyuua, who won for his role as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

For years, the Academy has been criticized for its slighting of black actors and actresses, something that critics say extends to the entire Hollywood community. For years it seemed the breaks actors and actresses of color got were playing roles that either couldn’t be cast by white people, or roles that reinforce racist stereotypes. Hollywood producers and movie studios saw movies with black casts as niche films that wouldn’t be profitable in wide release, so they wouldn’t put money and time into them, denying them not only chances at being blockbusters, but also the key marketing and promotions often required to get an actor or actress onto the Oscar stage.

As Viola Davis said in her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech, “you can’t win [an award] for roles that aren’t there.”

In fact, before the year 2000, only six black actors and actresses had ever won acting Academy Awards, and only won in a lead role; Sidney Poitier in 1963’s Lillies in the Field. That slowly began to change over time, though not as fast as many African-Americans in Hollywood would have liked. Since 2011, seven black actors and actresses have won Oscars, but none in lead roles. Those roles included a domestic servant (Octavia Spencer in The Help); a slave (Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years A Slave); black historical figures (Mahershala Ali in Green Book) or black characters written decades ago by black writers (Viola Davis in August Wilson’s Fences and Regina King in James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk).

The ending of this year’s Oscars is the perfect expression of a patronizing and condescending woke white self-own

Though an improvement, there remains much criticism lobbed at the Academy for its continued perceived snubs of black acting roles. During several broadcasts in the 2010s, #OscarsSoWhite became a trending hashtag, and the Academy has had to try to make amends with actors and actresses of color over past snubs and omissions. Every attempt to improve the situation, however, only tends to backfire because it isn’t focused on the problem itself. Take their decision to award Moonlight best picture in 2017, only to have Warren Beatty go out there and award the wrong picture, or send Kevin Costner out to introduce the film Hidden Figures about the black women scientists who behind the scenes helped America win the Space Race, only to mix it up with Fences.

Last Sunday’s attempt to contrive a fairytale ending out of an unlikely scenario only added salt to the wounds.

A Boseman win wasn’t assured, nor was even likely. Though he won the Golden Globe, Hopkins won the BAFTA, the British version of the Oscars, which are often predictive of how the Oscars go. Further, posthumous wins are rare, even when deceased actors are nominated. Since the Oscars began in 1929, only eight actors have been posthumously nominated for acting awards. They include James Dean who was nominated twice, once each for East Of Eden and Giant, in the two years after his died in 1955. Only two actors have ever won after they passed. The first was Peter Finch for Best Actor in 1977 for Network, in which he played the eccentric, aging news anchor Howard Beale who uttered the now famous quip “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The second was Heath Ledger, who won Best Supporting Actor in 2009 for his performance as the classic Batman villain, the Joker, in The Dark Night. Both were iconic roles that generated Oscar buzz even before the actors untimely and sudden deaths. Finch died two months before the 1977 Oscars, where he was already the odds-on favorite to win Best Actor anyway. Network nearly swept all the acting categories that year, with Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight winning in the female categories.

The fact that the Academy rarely honors dead actors with posthumous awards made the decision to design the Oscar telecast last Sunday around the possibility of Boseman winning even more puzzling.

Having seen Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, while its certainly an excellent performance by Boseman, it didn’t strike me as groundbreaking to the level of Ledger’s “Joker” or Finch’s “Howard Beale,” and while maybe it didn’t have to be, adjusting for the reality that black actors have to nail the performance more assuredly than white actors to be awarded the Oscar (think of performances like N’yongo’s “Patsey” in 12 Years A Slave or Mo”Nique’s “Mary” in Precious), Boseman’s performance didn’t strike me as living up to that level. If anything, it was Davis who carried the film and was more deserving of a win.

So why did Oscar producers do it? Well, like everything else woke liberals do, they choose the easy solution, hoping that once again style would serve as a replacement for substance and get them out of a jam.

The ending of this year’s Oscars is the perfect expression of a patronizing and condescending woke white self-own. You build everyone up for a glorious expression of racial justice and equality and then it blows up in your face because SURPRISE! platitudes are not enough. The end result was a mess. Poor Anthony Hopkins, who didn’t travel from Wales to Los Angeles for the awards believing Boseman would win, made a taped message honoring his late fellow nominee and Boseman’s family had to awkwardly come out and congratulate Hopkins in order to quiet Twitter critics who had aimed their fire at the 83-year-old winner. Making the matter even worse, entertainment reporters broke the story that Hopkin’s co-star in the winning film The Father, Olivia Colman, was denied a request to accept his Oscar on his behalf.

Platitudes can only go so far, and they are poor substitute for true change. They are nice in the moment, but they don’t repair decades of inequality and lack of opportunity. The goal should not to engineer grand performances at award shows in order to get good Tweets and headlines, it should be to reward black talent not with marketing ploys, but with roles and scripts that allow them to truly show off their skills without concern about box office totals and concerns about niche marketing. We’re already on our way on the small screen. As Davis implied in her Emmy win for How To Get Away With Murder, there is no way a middle-aged black woman would have been chosen for that role twenty years ago. The Academy has also announced some changes aimed at being more inclusionary starting next year that activists hope will move the needle.

Perhaps in the new post-COVID world where the theater is not the only place to see a movie, and studios are less concerned with the demographics of who is sitting in the theater, this may be the catalyst we need for long-awaited change.

The Biggest Side Effect Of Vaccination: A Sense Of Relief

They Say ‘Nothing Changes’ After You’re Vaccinated, But For Me, Everything Changed

It felt like a hangover.

The day after I got my second Pfizer shot last Thursday at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, I didn’t work and slept in, sleeping until almost 3 p.m. I felt like I had been pounding tequila shots all night, achey and weak all over my body with a bad headache, and soreness in my left arm. It eased up just enough for me to take my typical Friday night jaunt to my partner’s apartment for movie night and dinner, and by midday Saturday, I felt normal again. After that I was left with just one lingering side effect:

A sense of relief and closure.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Experts say I shouldn’t, and those who continue to advocate for continued mitigation hate when I say it, but for me, the threat has passed. This entire pandemic, I have been following my intuition and though It was sometimes a smidge more optimistic than reality turned out to be, it hasn’t been completely wrong yet. Now, my intuition tells me the danger has passed, SARS-COVID2 is no longer a threat to me beyond the possibility of a cold-like illness, nor my family and friends, and the dark days of the pandemic are behind me, even if it’s not over yet in much of the world.

A year ago, as I sat in lockdown pondering the future, asking myself if I will ever see my loved ones again, my intuition told me there would be a vaccine and it would come in a year. I ignored it because I thought it wishful thinking, but throughout the past year, I found myself seeing late March/early April 2021 has some sort of event horizon, even going so far as to hear my higher power telling me “you’re halfway through this” back in October, when I was freaking out about my parents going to Maine on vacation. I wish I had listened, because the intuition hit then nail almost squarely on the head. On April 1, one year and one week after I started my arduous 55-day stay-at-home measure, I received my first shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Three weeks later on April 22, I received my second, an although I’m waiting for two weeks to pass before giving myself the all clear, to know that I am almost certainly at least mostly immune from a SARS-COVID 2 infection, and nearly as safe from hospitalization and death from the virus as I was before it existed, is just a huge weight off my shoulders.

Though the virus never quite paralyzed me the way it did others, it did scare me. I’m overweight and have a history of asthma. I had a nasty cold back in 2018 that left me with lingering breathing problems for months, knocking me off my CrossFit routine and ultimately leading me to fall out of shape. If there was a 37-year-old out there who would likely die from this thing, it would be me. I was not willing to tempt fate.

But that was hard. It was hard to stay home for 55 days and be separated from my partner and my friends. It was hard not having big family gatherings for Memorial Day or Christmas. It was hard to not spend time with colleagues and not work normally and not do the things I love to do in the summer and during the holidays. It was hard to not eat out at my favorite restaurants, or spend time reading in a library or not go to the beach last summer, or take my annual vacation. It was hard losing out on all the things that make life worth living.

When I was younger, I battled depression and suicidal thoughts. I fought back by focusing on things that brought joy to my life, and things that I could look forward to: Travel, nights out with friends and family, plays and concerts, big family gatherings, Christmas. COVID-19 took all that way from me, and I got through it by reminding myself that it was only temporary. All that stuff will come back, and when it does, I will see it with a newfound appreciation having had to live without it for a while.

I’m vaccinated

What was uncertain however was how long it would take to get back there. Last year we were being told it could be years, and that devastated me. Some experts who I trusted, and later discovered to be complete frauds, warned me some of that stuff might never come back. COVID, they said, has fundamentally changed the way humans socialise and we would have to accept it. I would never have some of those joyful life moments ever again.

I wondered which family members I may have seen for the last time. Which ones would die of COVID or would die of natural causes before the pandemic ends. I wondered which friendships would be lost; if the travel destinations on my bucket list would now just become something I’d have to wait for in another life. There were moments where I would wonder if COVID life was even worth living anymore.

Thankfully, I did nightly meditation with my Reiki healer, Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon (whose TV show I regularly appear on and write about here). During the quarantine period, every night at 11:11 p.m., we did a meditation. It was during those meditations that I took time to think and ponder what the short term and long term future would look like, and it was during that meditation that my fears of long term social isolation and life-altering restrictions were alleviated by, for the first time, really learning to listen to my intuition. And it was right. Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump. I would be vaccinated before my next birthday. I would sell a house in 2021. I would finally start my blog and my vegetable garden.

I never forget the feeling I had when my best friend Andrew texted me at 9 a.m. on Monday, November 9th to tell Pfizer’s phase three trial results showed over 90 percent efficacy against SARS-COVID2 infection. We had been told to expect 60-70 percent if we’re lucky. The elation I felt was incredible. This was going to come to end and fairly soon, I thought. My intuition told me Pfizer was the vaccine I’d be getting and it was. Now my body is no longer naive to the SARS-COVID 2 virus, and my entire family and most of my friends are vaccinated or getting vaccinated right now. My life, and my world around me, are slowly going back to normal, with fears of another setback waning by the day. Work happy hours and broker open houses will resume this week, family gatherings this summer, vacations next year. I will check off those places on the list, and I will have joyful moments again.

It felt like a hangover, because getting vaccinated was the greatest celebration I’ve had in years. The crippling fears of isolation and death from one year ago seem far away, and the next chapter of my life, filled with the things I promise never to take for granted again, seems closer than ever.

The Legacy Of Prince Philip: A Reformer With Mixed Success

Traumatized By His Own Childhood In Exile, Philip Dedicated His Life To Protecting The Monarchy

It’s hard to believe knowing the reputation Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had in his final years as a staunch defender of “traditional values,” and an institution marred in racism and colonialism, but the consort of Queen Elizabeth II was actually quite progressive for a royal. He helped to usher in a more modern spirit at the Court of St. James, closing the gap between the monarchy and the British public, and instilling a more inclusive atmosphere around the historically reclusive institution.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II died last Friday at age 99.

Prince Philip died last Friday at the age of 99, only two months short of his 100th birthday. He had been the longest serving, and living, consort of a British monarch, having served alongside his wife, Elizabeth II, for 69 years. That is 12 more years that the second longest reigning consort, Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. (Yes, THAT King George III, and yes, Bridgerton fans, THAT Queen Charlotte)

A few weeks ago, after the Prince Harry and Meghan Markle fracas, I wrote a long piece about how the British Royal Family has repeatedly made stupid mistakes and decisions based on its obsession with keeping faith with the public; the key, in the minds of the royals, to their survival. However, the royal family has also made some progressive decisions that have worked in the family’s favor and helped maintain the shifting social realities of the past century. At the helm of many of these decisions, good and bad, has been Prince Philip. That will be his legacy, and there is a lot of personal history and trauma behind his dedication to protecting the Windsor Dynasty.

Denmark And Greece

The understand how Prince Philip built this legacy, we have start from his roots. A big part of the duke’s progressive vision for the monarchy came from his very own experience as a member of the Greek Royal Family. Philip was born in Corfu, Greece on June 10, 1921. Though born Greek, his family had not an ounce of Greek blood. Therein lain the problem.

Philip’s paternal grandfather, Prince Christian of Denmark, was born an obscure Danish noble with distant connections to the British, Prussian and Danish monarchies. His life changed dramatically when the Danish House of Oldenburg died out and his father inherited Denmark’s throne as King Christian IX. To solidify his tenuous hold on the crown, Christian married off his daughters to several royal families. They included the future Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II’s great-grandmother. Christian also had plans for his sons as well. His eldest son would inherit Denmark’s crown, and the king found a prime spot for his second son on the Balkan Peninsula.

At that time, Greece had only been about thirty years removed from being liberated after centuries of Ottoman rule. After more than a millennia of having its culture, language and religion suppressed by Turks, Greece was finally able to reclaim its place amongst the nations of Europe. It was a rocky start. The German king Otto who was chosen to rule Greece after its liberation never gained a foothold in the country and was overthrown in 1862. That led the Greeks to search the royal families of Europe for another suitable contender. The Habsburg possibility, Maximilian, was out of contention, as he was already setting up his ill-fated empire in Mexico City, and the British, French and Prussian monarchies offered candidates, but ultimately it was Prince Christian, through the influence of his father, who was chosen to rule as King George I. Greece, down in Southern Europe with its ancient culture, traditions, language, orthodox religion and historical place in the world, was to be ruled by a family from a Germanic kingdom of Barbarian roots. This would go about as well as you might imagine.

Rather than making the obviously smart choice of a Greek bride, George I married a Russian princess, Olga, further alienating the royal family culturally from the people they ruled. This would have dire consequences. We’ll get to those consequences in a minute.

The British Connection

Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born in 1885 in the same place her son died last Friday and was laid to rest this weekend, Windsor Castle. A great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and a great-niece by marriage to the Greek king’s sister, Queen Alexandra, Alice was born deaf and learned to lip read in English and German, and eventually Greek and French. She grew up in Germany and England. She was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her future daughter-in-law’s grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary.

Because so little was understood about medicine at the time, Alice’s deafness was often mistaken for mental illness, and her condition lead to years of suffering at the hands of scientists and doctors, including the infamous Dr. Sigmund Freud.

In 1903, Alice married the seventh child of King George and Queen Olga of Greece, Prince Andrew, and relocated to Athens. Between 1905 and 1914, she gave birth to four daughters.

It is commonly, truthfully, said that Philip and Elizabeth besides being husband and wife, were cousins. This is true, they are distant cousins through both Philip’s mother, a member of the British Royal Family, and father, through the Danish Royal Family. Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, and Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, are both great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Also, Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, and Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V, are first cousins, both grandchildren of King Christian IX of Denmark.

Philip’s Traumatic Childhood

The injurious experiences that drove Philip to be a reformer and a progressive started even before he was born. Remember when I said the Danish-Russian Royal Family ruling over Greece would have dire consequences? Well, those came to a head during World War I. The Greek people supported siding with the Allies in the war against Germany, Austria-Hungary and Greece’s sworn enemy, the Ottoman Empire. The Greek king Constantine, son of George I, wanted to remain neutral. This was in part due to his own German roots through his grandmother, Queen Louise of Denmark. King Constantine badly misread the Greek public. He was deposed and the whole royal family, including Prince Andrew, Princess Alice and their children, were sent into exile in 1917. They were returned to Greece the next year when the country became embroiled in a war with the Ottoman Empire’s successor country, Turkey, after the latter refused to give Greece its territories on the Aegean Coast promised at the end of World War I by the defeated Ottomans.

Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was blamed for Greece’s defeat by Turkey in 1922 and was nearly executed for treason. He and his family, including the infant Philip, were forced into exile.

While Greece and Turkey were at war, Princess Alice gave birth to her only son and youngest child, Philip, in Corfu in the Ionian Sea, 50 miles east of the heel of Italy. Fourteen months after Philip’s birth, Greece was defeated by Turkey. Prince Andrew, who was the military commander in the war, was blamed for the loss and the royal family was once again sent into exile. Prince Andrew narrowly escaped execution for treason, saved only by the British, who sent a warship to Athens Harbor as a threat. Baby Philip escaped Greece on that warship in an orange crate.

The family settled in Paris, but Princess Alice, already marginalized due to her condition. was so scarred by the experience of being twice exiled in five years, she suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up institutionalized. Their adult daughters married into German nobility and young Philip was sent to the United Kingdom and raised primarily by Alice’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten (who was the Lord Mountbatten assassinated by the IRA in 1979). Philip did not even have a surname, so he adopted his uncle’s surname of Mountbatten, an Anglicization of the German royal house Alice and Louis was born into – Battenberg.

It was in living in England as a teenager that he met his future wife, the Princess Elizabeth, and married her in 1947 after serving in the Royal Navy in World War II, setting the stage to be consort to the future queen regnant.

The trauma of having fled Greece and seeing his family torn apart in exile at such a young age left a huge impression in Prince Philip, and he focused his work on making sure that his young family in London avoided a similar fate.

The Consort’s Influence

When Philip became consort, he and his wife were heading a monarchy that had already been damaged by the abdication of Elizabeth’s uncle sixteen years earlier. Philip’s mother-in-law and predecessor as consort, the Queen Mother, did a lot of the leg work to repair the monarchy’s tattered reputation with the British public, and Philip picked up where she had left off, and moved in an even more progressive direction.

The trauma of having fled Greece and seeing his family torn apart in exile at such a young age left a huge impression in Prince Philip.

It was Philip who urged his wife to make changes to how the monarchy connects with the public. He pushed to open up the palace to common Britons to meet their monarch, a tradition previously reserved only for the nobility and the upper class. He urged the queen to do more radio and later television speeches, beginning with her landmark televised Christmas speech in 1957, which she continues to do annually to this day. In fact, in many times during her reign, the queen took her husband’s advice and used television as a medium to speak to her people in times of crisis. Most recently, she gave a well-received speech at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic urging national cooperation and unity in the face of the country’s first lockdown.

Perhaps the most notable moment in Prince Philip’s history as consort came in the late 1960s, when he invited the BBC to film a documentary called Royal Family, which showed the everyday lives of the royals. The documentary was widely panned when it aired in 1969, with even renowned television host David Attenborough warning that it could “kill” the monarchy. The queen later banned the documentary and it hasn’t been showed in the UK since 1977. It has since leaked on the internet. However, modern historians consider the documentary, and the duke’s ease in appearing on television news programs and sitting for interviews during that time, as a major step forward in terms of the monarchy reclaiming its populist mantle in the late 20th Century.

Despite the common wisdom otherwise, and the way it was portrayed in the 2005 movie The Queen, it was Prince Philip who apparently nudged his wife into giving the speech to the nation after the death of Princess Diana. That speech helped to quiet the harsh criticism lobbed at the queen and the royal family that week, and helped the monarchy escape perhaps its greatest threat during Elizabeth’s reign. The move, along with his choice to support his grandsons’ decision to walk behind Diana’s coffin at her funeral – and walk with them – humanized the royal family and helped erase the bad taste that developed in the mouths of the British people in the wake of Diana’s death.

Royal Family, the 1969 BBC documentary that was the brainchild of Prince Philip. Though banned in the UK, it has leaked on the internet.
What He Got Wrong

Philip’s desire to help his wife’s family sustain their position was a noble one, and one that he will be rewarded with as his legacy, but it may have been largely unnecessary.

Unlike Philip’s grandfather, King George of Greece, not a single monarch since William of Normandy came to power without a drop of English blood. Even when the Stuarts, who were Scots, and the Hanovers, who were German, inherited the throne, they did so through recent English ancestors: The Stuarts through Henry VIII’s sister Margaret and the Hanovers through James I’s daughter Elizabeth. No English monarch came to power the way Philip’s family did in Greece.

Nine centuries of tradition and relative stability, including having been overthrown in the 17th Century for a decade, anchored the British monarchy in a way Philip’s family never even tried to anchor itself in Athens.

Further, monarchies that still existed at the time when Elizabeth became queen have largely survived through now, with the exception of just a few. The ones that have been abolished, like Nepal and Iran, were after extraordinary circumstances. In Nepal’s case, it happened a few years after a massacre, committed by the crown prince, leads to the deaths of nearly the entire royal family.

In fact, some monarchies that were abolished in the 20th Century were restored during Elizabeth’s reign, including those in Spain, Cambodia, Kuwait and Greece, though the latter was later overthrown again for a final time in 1967. In the past seven decades, monarchies that survived the upheaval of the early- and mid-20th century, tended to find some stability in the later part of the century. It’s not entirely clear the British monarchy was ever truly in danger during Prince Philip’s time as consort, even during its nadir in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.

What He Got Right

It’s worth noting though that while some of Philip’s decisions and influences may have led to mistakes, those mistakes often did lead to great successes in the long term. There is no doubt that opening the British monarchy up to the people through television and meeting with commoners fit the trend of the royals crafting a contemporary populist image that sustained them for a millennium.

Sure, without Philip, it is entirely possible Britain would have become a Republic, and the royal family exiled. There were a number of crises where Philip’s quick-thinking and progressive ideas, as well as influence over his wife, helped. The Diana speech the most obvious example. I don’t think it is likely that Philip alone was the key to the monarchy sustaining, but he may just have been the key for it to sustain in the future.

Despite his own mixed success, the one place where his influence may pay off is on his descendants, especially his grandchildren, who have been quick to adapt to changing times themselves. Prince William, the future king, has often spoken of his grandfather as big influence in the way he approaches his role as a royal. His more public image; his openness and comfort talking to members of the public, come directly from Prince Philip, as does Prince Harry’s very open and genuine personality. There’s no doubt that Prince Harry’s decision to sit with his wife and Oprah Winfrey last month is the product of Prince Philip’s influence, for better or for worse. The desire to control the story and the narrative and directly communicate with people, rather than allowing it to go through the media spin machine, is a trait the duke brought to the family.

If Prince Philip’s record as consort is one of mixed success, it is entirely possible his true successes still lie ahead in the generations of royals he leaves behind. If that is the case, then in another 99 years, history may look back at the duke as the most consequential British consort in history.

The Benefits And Rewards Of ‘Manipulating Your Qi’

This past Sunday, I appeared on Joanne’s Healing Within, the weekly show hosted by Queens, New York-based personal trainer, Reiki healer and life coach Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon. I regularly appear on her show to take part in some new and often ancient exciting healing and spiritual development rituals. Last summer, life coach and spiritual advisor Sherri Simpson hypnotized me live on Joanne’s show to do what was called a “past-life regression” where I was taken to a past life to clear some blockages caused by trauma carried over to this life. You can check out my writeup on that here, and take a watch, it was a fascinating experience.

This time, I joined Joanne and Natan Bradbury, a spiritual counselor, who did a Qi Manipulation on me to get spiritual forces flowing and clear some blockages that can cause pain, discomfort, exhaustion and other physical ailments that might prevent you from operating at full speed.

Typically this is not done in a public setting, but we broke the rules a bit for this show. So what was the experience like? It was really a lot of energy. The entire event was very quiet. Natan didn’t speak much and neither did I, but what I felt was a lot of moving energy. At the beginning, I was very tired and groggy from lack of sleep. I was worried that as I relaxed, I might fall sleep, which would have been embarrassing, but as I usually do when I am on Joanne’s show, I left whatever happen, happen.

Early on, it felt like a giant weight was pressing me down onto my chair and that energy lifted quite quickly. I could sense and feel strong energy come from all angles. I found myself taking almost involuntary deep breaths like every tenth breath and one of the weirdest things that happened at the end of Natan’s manipulation, my ears teared up as they would during an allergy attack (but it wasn’t an allergy attack, because it otherwise didn’t feel like one).

You can watch the entire show below. The excitement starts about 13 minutes in. Feel free to share you thoughts.

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