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We Learned The Hard Way
My Breakdown and an Interview with Jean Quatremer
(This may or may not be the best time to register a complaint at the Wailing Wall of life, what with nuclear war threatening over a country many couldn’t find on the map a year ago and banks on two continents crashing around our ankles like an angry outgoing tide but what the hell. Here’s my small contribution to the indictment of Life As It Is, and as recent Congressional hearings made all too clear, indictments have little bearing on whether a thing is true or not. Reader, it’s your choice. The subject is this writer’s health, or rather its shaky condition, and whatever bearing the Now Questionable Vaccines may have had on it. This longish essay concludes with an interview with the Belgian-French journo Jean Quatremer, a contrarian to the manner born, which ran on this site early on in the pandemic. I’m no slouch at being disagreeable and I disagree with Quatremer on many things, but not with what he says here. Anyway the piece begins with the history of my collapse. Last I looked I’m still standing.)
Sometime after midnight on the last day of July 2022, I collapsed in a heap on the floor. I’d gone to bed shortly after I got back from a night out with friends on the Canal St. Martin. By three a.m. I was unable to sit or stand up. I couldn’t move for the better part of ten days. I hadn’t a clue what was happening except that my lower back around the kidneys was in flames, screeching like the brakes on a train making an emergency stop every time I took two steps. Without medical insurance of any kind yet skeptical about sitting around an emergency room for hours on end, I decided to hack it out and see if the pain subsided with time. I had no history of kidney or liver trouble.
As for the evening in question, contributing factors may include most of a bottle of prosecco swallowed greedily in the intense heat, hovering around 100F for the better part of a week; too many trips on the airless, crammed métros racing across town and back; a regular smoking habit, cumulative job stress much of it due to the ongoing battle to get my legal papers straightened out. I was on my feet working and walking approximately 50 hours a week. Even so, the evening was relaxed and full of surprises : a new boyfriend unveiled for our inspection, a chance to sit on the edge of the canal and be human together as the heat went down. I went home unwillingly.
Before any on-line M.D.s rush in with a diagnosis, I’ll confess that apart from a few exceptions, I put down the shot glass, the wine glass and the swig in January a year ago, six months or more before the event, and finished combing through my novel, Volte Face in Paris, in February, feeling pretty good on both counts. I didn’t actually stop drinking as a moral imperative after some three day binge of head-banging rather it snuck up on me gradually : COVID 19 had so cut into my personal economies that the regular bottle of red on the desk faded away like Alice’s cat and those flasks of dark rum with the sexy girl from Martinique on the label went home with someone else. Either I was becoming a major bore or I was getting healthy. I was swimming twice a week, looking for tennis partners on other days, surprised by how good I felt and decided I liked it. What wisdom did alcohol have to impart that I hadn’t received already ? Winter slowly gave way and spring was upon us, in Paris. I counted myself lucky on all counts.
Before this turns into a feel-good film of epic righteousness, I still smoke and sometimes steal a few sips from a small glass when people are celebrating. No point in becoming further estranged from society, I’m far enough out there already. It’s a problem that must somehow be solved, a kind of riddle, although I have my doubts. What does one do when one goes to an establishment whose function is to encourage moderate and heavy consumption ? I can join the party, tipping the glass – because drinking people consider it a tender mercy to make sure no one goes without – into the plant box. My head is pretty good right where it is these days… Now I’m becoming a bore as well as a traitor to the old illuminations. Drinking is more than a social lubricant, as the good doctors like to put it. It’s the well of humanity, the trough for the horses, solace for the lonely. A bar is one of the few places left where royalty, pretenders, commoners, grifters and drifters meet on equal terms. You can be any of those things as long as you hold your own. I’ve learned how to relax without but that utterly misses the humane dimension. Do drunks say stupid things en route to their liquid liberation ? Who cares. Pick up a newspaper or turn on the computer if you’re in a serious mood. I still smoke because – do you really want to know ? – because mysterious oracles, sometimes floating past as ideas, sometimes mere figures of speech, unfurl in those little clouds, little gifts that otherwise wouldn’t descend to my level – but no committed smoker would take me seriously.
COVID 19 passed me by. I followed some of the regs, got my shots and stayed inside part-time, at least until the most impressive backflip in entitled opinion in my lifetime took place, the Black Lives Matter demos. Then, suddenly, it was Important to go out and mingle. And like many virtuous citizens, I went for all the vaccinations offered by the city of Paris. Driven more by fear of being trapped in a locality if the always unspoken ‘sterner measures’ actually came into effect, I put aside a few pesky qualms and did it.
And there’s the trouble. What was I vaccinated with, with a vaccine or the experimental DNA cocktail called mRNA ? I’m far away from home as I write and can’t check the records but I, like millions of others, took the jab in the arm without asking so many questions. I didn’t research what was on offer. Which one did you get ? we asked each other innocently. At that moment, it was the thing to do. Were there dissenters ? Yes, and a good thing there were. We may hate Big Pharma with a passion and believe they should be nationalized, but in our innocence we took it not only to protect ourselves but to avoid spreading it to others. Aha, you say ! A claim long since disproved. Correct. Chalk it up to the daily deluge of information. Who knew what to believe ? What’s more, the information was clearly weaponised by parties with their own agenda. And so the scales fall : in the last few weeks alone, we have revelations of Pfizer’s virus ‘gain of function’ experiments; the concession by major medicals sources that masks were ineffective as far as stopping the spread of COVID; testimony before Congress about the creation of a ‘narrative’ that absolved the ‘gain-of-function’ industry; the story of the 44 French lab rats who were the only test run for the effect of mRNA on pregnant women; the unmasking of the boy-wonder influencer (architect, even) of the confinement of healthy people defrocked as an unrepentant scam artist and three weekends ago, news that the Department of Energy’s Task Force Z has concluded that the Wuhan lab is indeed the likeliest origin for the spread of the virus, a claim that got Der Trumpf all but crucified when he suggested it. Well before this latest deluge of late-arriving truth, the architect of the mRNA vaccines flipped, declaring the vaccine should never be used on humans, while our hospitals have been dealing with a wave of ‘excess deaths’ (or co-morbidities, if you prefer) that no media is brave enough to touch. Hello, New Zealand, pride of the liberals, that went into a country-wide penitentiary regime and is now silently watching deaths far outpace anything during COVID. You probably know some vaccinated person who is dealing with out-of-the-blue physical problems.
I now wonder what’s going on in my bloodstream, which on good days services the brain. I seem to be holding up, teaching classes six hours a day at present but it’s cold comfort, knowing what a fool I was, not to even be cautious about a vaccine. Because a vaccine now isn’t necessarily at all like they were before, in the good old days when we trusted.
Given the widespread discussion and debate about what actually happened during the last three years – what we let happen, what was forced on us – it seems a fair contribution to the discussion to reprint an interview I ran here on Riffs almost exactly two years ago. At the time, I shared Jean Quatremer’s scepticism about confinement but I didn’t let his line of questioning take me any further, which it should have. So I most likely had the mRNA vaccine and had (have?) organ failure (kidneys) as one result.
Sources you might pursue. Yes, some are on Twitter and others on Substack. Believe what you like. Lemon juice is now the evening cocktail while I read. But not just any lemon : a grotesque fat one with all sorts of surface anomalies, one that hasn’t been ‘treated’ (you have to read the fine print on the little tab) after harvesting. Uruguay is a reliable source.
And I’m going out for a smoke as soon as I finish this. Which is now.
Dr. Robert Malone is the inventor of mRNA and DNA vaccines, so when he cautions, I pay attention. He has gone a good deal further than that. You can read him at https://twitter.com/RWMaloneMD or
https://rwmalonemd.substack.com/ It’s fascinating stuff, not at all your typical doctorish advice.
Regarding the mysterious Tomas Pueyo
Twitter leads typically include websites so if 140 characters drives you up the wall, you can easily find further reading.
Parts of this interview may be dated but its argument is not. The translation is mine; it originally appeared in Le Libre from Belgium. It is preceded by my reporting from that time.
The Test of Our Endurance
“Every five years we elect a Santa Claus, whom we grant full powers while waiting for him to deliver everything, and then, six months later, we want to cut his head off.”
On Monday (March, 2021) Parisian newspapers erupted in a silent scream : Un An Sans Public. A year without an audience for culture workers of all kinds. Meanwhile this weekend les rives de la Seine were overflowing not with waves but with crowds of merrymakers, picnickers, strollers. The police are impuissant – detached, impotent. All over Paris, as you can see from the shot below, Social Distancing was nowhere in evidence. The natives, my dear, are restless. You can’t arrest an entire city.
In Belgium, businesses are going under at an alarming rate. Figures for France are no better. Stores and hotels are shuttered everywhere you look. In Holland, riots broke out in January over the imposition of a new confinement. Madrid, an anarchist friend laments, “is TOO open,” with theatres, movie houses and bars doing brisk business. He blames it on the “right wing, ex-Falange, all-business president” of the Comunidad Autonoma. Museums are reopening in Italy, while new lockdowns threaten. Someone will explain how that’s going to work. Two museums in France tried – in Perpignan, under a Rassemblement National mayor, and Issoudun, with a Socialist in charge – before the courts got in the way. (Musée Saint Roch in Issoudun remains closed provisoirement, temporarily. You can translate that, too hot for the judge to handle.) Our twice daily dip in the petri-dish underground is sanctioned but standing in front of a painting is not.
Covid is hollowing out our politics. Big issues have been swept aside. It’s all Covid all the time. Regional elections have been delayed for three months. In Paris the political jockeying continues, to humorous effect. A junior minister at city hall argues for a short, sharp 3 week confinement, hoping that this places Paris at the avant garde of the Do Something battalion. Unfortunately for him the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, one eye on next year’s presidential race, promptly elbows him aside, declaring weekend confinements inhumane, essentially reducing people to the status of worker drones, a point made in the interview below. The terribly difficult, if not insurmountable, dilemma is how to make draconian confinements sound palatable and politically correct – in short, how to make them sound good for you. They aren’t, and people know it.
In Nice and Dunkirk, too near the beach for their own damn good, authorities have clamped down with weekend confinements. Result ? Much like Paris last spring, the citizens – those wayward rule-breakers who think with their feet (typicially on a gas pedal) – hit the highway Friday night to visit other parts of the countryside. Paris emptied out last spring, with somewhere between 20-30% of the population taking off. Dreamy, like waking up inside a contemporary Atget diorama, an odd, once in a lifetime experience. Something counter-factual is happening. A woman on Twitter can’t get it straight. ‘We’re supposed to air out our houses five times a day but put on a mask as soon as we step outside ?’
A doctor in Bayonne, looking a hell of a lot healthier than anyone I know after the last year, thinks she’s right, and reminds people that tuberculosis patients used to be sent to the shore and the mountains to recover, and that wearing a mask when no one’s around is, well, maybe a bit paranoid.
Meanwhile a redhead musician pal, reduced to playing on bridges as long as night clubs are interdit, presses his finger in my chest and barks, ‘So I gotta starve to death to save you ?’ I’m not in that age group by a long shot but the Fenian Bud Powell has a point. (He stopped badgering me when he noticed the money people had pitched in his hat.)
Jean Quatremer is well known to readers of Libé, Liberation, the French newspaper founded in 1973 by Sartre and Maurice Clavel. Quatremer’s Les Coulisses de Bruxelles (The Hallways of Brussels) is a popular blog, especially for those looking for a different angle on the world, resistant to the fashions of the day. Quatremer, a lawyer by training, is a twitter fanatic, more reliable than my alarm clock.
The Belgian newspaper La Libre, interviewed Quatremer for his take on the Covid response. What they got was a contrarian blast that left few countries standing. What did they expect ? Quatremer, wherever you care to place him on the political spectrum, is a humanist, in the strict sense of caring about the effect of policy on living beings.
France right now teeters on the edge of another brutal confinement (2020), its stores open and its economy limping, while Germans can only stare in the windows of shuttered stores. Politicians in each European country race far behind the virus, argue over vaccines and pray people put up with their straight-faced bungling. La Libre’s interview with Jean Quatremer appeared in May 2020, under the title Coronavirus : la démocratie, est-elle adaptée à la gestion des crises ? Have things changed since then ? You be the judge.
JQ : Confinement is in fact quarantine, a medieval measure invented in Raguse (now Dubrovnik) in 1383, and abandoned in the 20th century because it was a symbol of barbarism and ignorance. It’s extraordinary that it has made a return in the middle of the 21st century, during a time when we believe science and reason have triumphed. And what a return ! Confinement has been imposed in various degrees in entire countries and half the world has been restricted to their homes. An extreme and brutal measure which it is hard to understand because the Covid pandemic is absolutely not a new ‘Black Plague.’ Its level of mortality, even before confinement, remains definitely higher than the flu but in no way bears comparison to SARS or Ebola.
What is the origin of this ‘revival’ ? Not a democracy, but a totalitarian state, China. Europe and the rest of the world had other models at their disposal while the pandemic approached, in particular Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. But, with the panic, as the dead began to increase, it was the Chinese model that was imposed without the slightest democratic debate. Italy got things off to a roaring start on the 10 of March, provoking a vertiable domino effect in Europe, each one trying to outdo the other to show that they were protecting their population : Spain, France, Belgium, Austria and even Ireland followed suit. Only in Belgium was there an effort to debate this extreme measure but the NVA was soon back in the net in the name of a health emergency, with the French example inspiring, as always, local public politics.
JQ : This panic in the face of Coronavirus remains staggering. Everything has happened as if we were talking about an illness that threatened millions of lives, which even the worst forecasts have not envisaged. One really has the impression that people have come to the brutal realization that they’re mortal... Nevertheless, as Woody Allen put it, we’ve known ever since man has been around that, “Life is a sexually transmitted illness, with a 100% mortality rate.” 600,000 persons die every year in France.
With the Boomer population aging, we’re going to see a spike in mortality during the next ten years. And people aren’t dying just from age : every year in France, 150,000 are victims of cancer, without anyone dreaming of prohibiting tobacco or alcohol. At the same time, 68,000 die from respiratory ailments, 3,500 in car accidents, without counting seasonal flu which each year kills between 3 and 15,000 people, and sometimes much more, such as in 1969, when 31,000 died (in a French population of only 51 million) or 1959 (30,000 out of a population of 45 million).
Just the same, we could isolate regions or towns, since in France, for example, neither the western part of the country or the south have been touched in the same way as the Oise, Île de France or the Haut-Rhin regions. They haven’t even tried. Fear and panic seems to have obliterated reason with the result that we have provoked the gravest recession, outside of war time, in the last three centuries. Who is going to suffer ? The under-60s. This economic catastrophe is going to cause extreme suffering and death by the 10 thousands. Because, as we too frequently forget, unemployment kills (suicide, cancers, alcoholism, undetected illnesses due to lack of access to treatment.) In France, 14,000 deaths a year are attributed to this. The anticipated mass unemployment will weaken our government and thus our systems of public health, which augurs badly for the treatment of future pandemies. This debate on the economic consequences of total confinement, the cost-benefit approach, has sadly not taken place and we’ll pay dearly for it.
One can’t deny that the sense of individual responsibility varies widely from country to country, especially between countries with a Protestant tradition and those that are Catholic, to simplify things crudely. Germany believed that its citizens were grown up enough to protect themselves and did not adopt the French route of a brutal and authoritarian confinement, which allowed their economy to continue to function at 80% as compared with France at 60 %. Sweden has pursued the argument against authoritarian confinement to the furthest extreme. In reality, countries that have decided on a total confinement have treated their citizens like children incapable of managing themselves. Belgium is a particularly stunning case : while the central government has been weakened over the years by cultural conflict, it nevertheless reacted in an even more authoritarian manner than France when politicians finally grasped what was at stake. Even worse : the country passed from nothing to everything in a matter of days, without even a campaign of public information concerning ‘social distancing’, compared with France which tried, over the course of two weeks, to evoke a sense of individual responsibility.
La Libre Belgique : While you speak of the infantilisation of the population, how was it possible to do things differently ? You frequently mention the Nordic countries or Germany but aren’t you rehashing old clichés ?
JQ : If the French are infantilised by their state, they too are responsible because they have a childish rapport with their government. They expect everything from it, as one waited for the king to do everything, but they won’t accept being governed and constantly dream of replaying the Revolution. Our institutions have worsened the error : every five years we elect a Santa Claus, to whom we grant full powers while waiting for him to deliver everything, and then, six months later, we want to cut his head off. Power has done nothing to improve this ontological rupture : it barricades itself inside the palace and watches the population of rebellious Gauls with suspicion. The formation of our elites doesn’t help at all : when you have never had contact with the real world because you went from Louis le Grand to ENA before taking your place in the army of the State all without ever leaving Paris, that hardly puts you in a postion to understand the Gilets Jaunes. This suspicion by the State in regard to its citizens is logically shown by the wartime measures that led to the adoption of confinement : the law of March 23 regarding the public health emergency simply suspended French democracy and the near-total of public freedoms (freedom to come and go, to meet, to undertake anything, to work, to have a normal family life, to have your case heard by a court and to be aided by a lawyer, etc.) has given full power to the government and the police. It is unprecedented, truly, since the times of Vichy.
(Louis le Grand, one of Paris’s elite high schools ; ENA, Ecole Nationale d’Administration.)
JQ : It is by no means by chance that, to justify this exceptional order of things, the head of state speaks of “war” against the coronavirus, not at all the way the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier put it in his very humane speech. It is staggering that citizens have consented without even raising the question of the loss of freedoms. Putting survival over all of our principles is an unprecedented regression. As René Cassin, the father of Declaration of Human Rights, put it, “The right to life, but not the right to just any life.” The philosopher André Comte-Sponville expressed it another way. “I’d rather catch Covid-19 in a democracy than not have it under a dictatorship.”
The result is clear : unlike Germany and the majority of the other European countries, France decided it was imperative to suspend the rule of law. On other matters, the government has just extended the prolongation of the State of Health Emergency until the end of July, with no one saying a word about ending it in the near term. The warlike announcements and exceptional laws which have dramatised the situation have also allowed the government to conceal the complete unpreparedness of the French State which completely botched its management of the pandemic. I don’t accuse Emmanuel Macron but the bureacratic apparatus, which revealed its impotence. With everyone aware of the red alert signal in February, the State ignored it instead of preparing people for what was coming, neither launching public announcements nor allocating materials necessary to combat the coming pandemic, or coordinating with their economic and social partners and the other European capitals.
No need to suspend civil liberties or to confine the whole country for this : why wasn’t the production of masks undertaken, the capacity of hospitals enlarged, the organisation of sick people being moved from one hospital to another when the first became overcrowded, the deployment of material to retirement homes, a lifting of restrictions on the production of material, etc. We have one of the biggest bureacracies in the great democracies, and one really can’t say they passed the test during this crisis. Its over-reaction is nothing more than panic in the face of failure.
The way we have collectively reacted to this health crisis recalls other periods of our history : states incapable of anticipation; panic fed by the media; false information or information manipulated by foreign powers; government agencies whose first reflex is to suspend liberties and to employ ineffective remedies; citizens who panic-shop and don’t hesitate to accuse neighbors, as in Bordeaux, where 70% of the calls to the Police were denunciations. It’s pathetic.
La Libre : Confinement will have an impact on people’s mental health.
JQ : And not only that ! The crisis we are plunging into is going to have serious consequences. The young who are just now entering the market are going to lose their jobs, the less skilled and those over 50 as well... We have decided to sacrifice the younger generations in order to save those who are over 80. Why not ? But this at least requires a debate. I’m 62 and I prefer to give a happy future to my children. If we are going to go into confinement every time a pandemic arrives, we’re going to return to the Middle Ages in terms of living standards.
Democracy has taken a terrible blow from which will be very hard to recover. We have seen this with the State of Emergency in France or the Patriot Act in the United States. There have been no attacks in American territory since 2001 and nevertheless the Act is still in effect and has even been considerably reinforced. Once a State has given itself extraordinary powers, it doesn’t let go of them short of a revolution.
Rachel Heller contributed to this report from Groningen, Holland.