We can barely cross borders anymore. Is it working?

Exploring the effectiveness of travel bans against Covid-19. Plus, an election night Borderline party, why crossing the Channel isn't illegal, and confronting Q madness.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

A quick note from your host: I’m trying a new format for the newsletter, which will now become a full and valuable part of the Borderline media operation, and not just a marketing vessel for the podcast. This will include a paid tier, with more news from the global citizenry, more community and exclusive reports and news-you-can-use on the very practical concerns of global citizens. Not to worry, free-tier subscribers will continue to receive updates on every podcast episode and my other ventures, as always. The podcast itself is and forever will remain a free medium, which now Substack even kindly lets me embed right here.👇🏻

It only took 13 episodes for me to start crying into my microphone. I won’t make it a habit, I swear. “Watch for the pathos,” my brother already warned me. (You can always count on the French to distrust shows of vulnerability.) It’s just that this week’s topic hit a raw nerve.

I became a blubbering mess back in May when I heard Home Secretary Priti Patel announce mandatory quarantines for anyone traveling from France to England. (I’d say the UK, but actually it’s complicated, every devolved nation has its own rules and I’m not sure which country I live in anymore. Story for another episode.) Tensions ran high at the end of spring lockdown and that decision was the last straw. Also, nothing Priti Patel announces is ever good news for people like me, so I was primed.

I broke down and recorded a voice memo, which I often do as a note to myself when ideas come that could make their way into my writing. It wasn’t intended for broadcasting, but it was good tape. If it had been anyone else talking, I wouldn’t have hesitated to make it my lede. (Just ask Sara Webber, whose crying rant leads episode 7.) We journalists ask people to unveil their most intimate moments to us; then we pretend to be objective automatons as we deliver the news. That’s not fair. So this time, it’s me being vulnerable but don’t be fooled: I am totally embarrassed.

So that’s the first 15 seconds of the episode. The rest is an exploration of whether I had been right to cry, and truer to brand, I hit the books. I read academic journals and talked to a few scientists to find out whether travel restrictions — closed borders, mandatory quarantines and travel bans — make sense to combat covid-19 or whether they’re pure placebo politics.

The answer really does take the full 25 minutes, so I’m not going to get into it here. Go have a listen. The part of me that likes to be right doesn’t love the answer I got, anymore that the part of me that likes to be in control loves my crying lede. But it was a fascinating exploration.

Listen to the episode

News from the global citizenry

🇺🇸 Most of the world can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean we’re not watching. Americans, vote! With just one week to go, avoid the mail unless you really have no other option. Find an official ballot dropbox or vote early in person (wear a mask). Stay safe and thank you for your service 🙏

💔 Two children, aged 5 and 8, and two adults, believed to be from Iran, died when their boat capsized as they attempted to cross from France into England. These journeys are incredibly dangerous, taken in desperation and arranged by exploitative gangs. No one knows this more than the people stepping onto dinghies on rough waters with their children and everything they own on their back. They are not stupid, uninformed or reckless; they are desperate. No offshore detention center, floating wall or wave machine — all ideas the British government has apparently entertained — is going to combat that.

Also, neither crossing the Channel nor seeking asylum is actually illegal.

🇫🇷 I haven’t written about the assassination of Samuel Paty yet because it’s hard to put the horror into words. A teacher being murdered for opening a discussion on free speech hits deep, and it hurts to see my country sink into its own culture wars. Getting into it all will take more than this newsletter. Quick take: Most of the punditry written outside France doesn’t understand the country, and most of the punditry written inside it refuses to look honestly in the mirror. Someday I’ll be brave and take that on. Not today.

Borderliners’ square

📣 This is a new space for announcements and updates. But I don’t want it to be all about me. If you have news to announce, an event or piece of media to advertise, or just something happy to share, get in touch.

🍕 Election nights always meant pizza in the newsroom. (Go away, Q.) This year, it’ll be pizza in lockdown. I know we’re unlikely to have definitive results overnight on November 3-4, but I also know I’m unlikely to sleep anyway. No way am I spending the night alone freaking out in front of my TV. So I’m hosting a Zoom party! I’ll open up a link, I can have up to 100 people and I’m opening it up to newsletter subscribers first. It won’t be livestreamed, it’s just hanging out among friends with the TV on. Sign up here. (No one pull a Toobin, please.)

🎙 Come on the pod. After the election, I’ll do a roundtable episode with Americans living abroad on what the last four years have been like and looking ahead to the next four. If you’re a US expat and want to join us, get in touch. I’m especially keen to have a diversity of ages, origins and political persuasions.

🐸 (This is just a frog, not Pepe.) La V.F., my French podcast, will this week conclude its exploration of the more arcane corners of US elections, and why it’s all very confusing to non-Americans (and quite possibly to Americans too.) Tune in.

👋 Welcome to new member, Nora Lamoudi. Thanks for the support, friend! Everyone else, the Patreon is right here. (If you support on Patreon, you’ll of course receive the paid newsletter too. Just join on whichever platform makes sense to you.) 😁

On my phone

A newsletter, podcast, book or whatever medium gets the spotlight every week, to share the love with other creators and expand our borderless world. This week…

🦘 My friend Joel Hill spends way too much of his free time exploring insane Internet subcultures, like incels, antivaxxers, sovcits and of course QAnon. They didn’t get him though; he’s a solid skeptic. So he made a pod about it. If you’re completely unaware of Q&Co., I wouldn’t start here. This isn’t a journalistic deep dive. But if you’re keen for a couple foul-mouthed, fast-talking Aussies poking fun at how bonkers our reality has become, this is your pod. And reflect for a second that this madness could actually impact this election I keep talking about… Go vote!

Good night and good luck

“Love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”
— Pablo Casals

Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.