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Bittersweet (April 2021)

by Kevin Mercurio

Welcome to my monthly blog series. As a way to catalogue the happenings of the world, this blog will serve as a memento for its state at the time of publication. What I hope is that by clearly writing out top personal, local and global news, along with resources that can help us to develop skills, we can sift through the noise together. Let’s grow into our greatest potential.

Top Personal News

This month was full of highs. I filed my taxes for the first time outside of my country of origin (wasn’t difficult whatsoever, but next year’s filing for both countries should be interesting). I’m finally a registered student (Why is University administration so slow, even without a global pandemic?). A lot of side projects were completed, including short stories, podcast episodes and applications for other creative endeavours (Updates on these will be given in due time!). Two incredibly talented researchers I know passed their PhD defences. Virtual birthday shots with friends, cat-to-cat video calls, family dinners, etc. There was much to be thankful for. However, what I have focused my mental attention on was one negative but innocuous incident that happened a few weeks ago. I was scammed for €30 on the street, which is not even that bad, but it’s been eating away at my thoughts on morality, particularly during a time such as a pandemic. Here’s some context: A man walks out of a store and stops me on the street. He explains that he lost his wallet on a bus and needs specifically €27 to catch a train that will head to Galway and go home. My immediate reply was that I don’t carry cash, which is actually a lie (I always carry some cash on me). He requested I withdraw the amount from an ATM or get cashback at a store. So here was my rapid, naive assessment: He came from a store potentially asking the owner for help, asked for a specific value of money from me, and of course it’s COVID-19 times (where people are not likely to help someone on the street in need). As I take cash out of my pocket, he then said that he can give me his number to arrange either an E-transfer (which required my Revolut bank info, not giving out that) or we can meet the following day and he can pay me back in person (which sounded fine). I gave him €30 as a rounded number instead of 27, and we agreed to meet back at the bus stop we were talking at the following day at a specific time. I contemplated this scenario the whole way home. First of all, why did I stop? I never do that. Secondly, why did I present my cash at all? I came to the realization that there’s no way I will see this guy again, even though he gave me his real number (we tested it before parting ways). I guess, what bugs me, is that one can be morally correct but feel utterly stupid, moments that disfavour these random acts of kindness. A lesson learned, but I hope this won’t affect my generosity in future events.

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Such is life. As long as this one remains happy.

Top Local News

The weather has been fantastic here as of this month. With great weather comes outdoor gatherings, which are fine in their own right, if done safely. There’s been many stories of public parks left as dumps, literally overflowing in trash at their bins. Perhaps this is a city problem (as there are very little bins around some public parks), but citizens of Dublin can also do better. Find another trash bin outside the park, or bring your garbage home, don’t toss it in the pile of shit like the inconsiderate people who don’t think. See this tweet to get a perspective of what I'm talking about. 

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Not bragging but here's the park near my flat. So clean!

Top Global News

There’s a few global news stories that I think deserve to be highlighted. I’ll start with the George Floyd verdict. Officer Derek Chauvin, who, during an arrest for Floyd, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, and did not budge, making it incredibly difficult for Floyd to breathe. Floyd would die shortly after. The verdict for this case is... surprising. Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges, all towards an unarmed black man. This is not a BLM bandwagon post. Police authority has always been considered in the right, as their duty and responsibilities suggest they aim to serve the public good. Mainstream culture even has badass movies of cops in shootouts, and can even poke fun at cops with overused donut and fat jokes. Officers do perform dangerous tasks that make us consider them everyday heroes. But when procedures fail, when training is not adequate enough to reduce biases, when cops are told to follow orders, react and not assess the situation, who receives the brunt of the consequences? The public, and those in which certain biases are most prominent. This news story is not about a black man on drugs who allegedly had a counterfeit bill and died for it by resisting arrest, its about why police thought it necessary to do actions that ultimately led to his death, when the officer charged and his colleagues could have easily done many other actions that would result in a better ending. Think about that. Runner-Up: The India COVID-19 Healthcare Crisis. Due to a rampant surge in cases from a new “double mutant” variant (a term the media has given it which, in my opinion, makes for a case of fear-mongering), hospitals are beyond inundated with patients. The pictures of makeshift crematoriums, people dying in cars waiting to even arrive at the hospital, and more, will shock you to your very core.

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Obtained from the Smithsonian Magazine.

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“Kobe Bryant’s Tragic Flight” published in Vanity Fair by Jeff Wise. Yet again, this article was not published in April, but a saved article I read this month. I’m choosing this article not because I was a fan of Bryant, or the LA Lakers, or even professional basketball in general, but because of the realization that death comes for all. Sounds like an obvious idea, no doubt about that. But I find it interesting that people mourn celebrities, just like they mourn family and friends. There’s an article from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology that describes six psychological processes that occur when a celebrity passes: 1) the role of para-social bonds, 2) the role of nostalgia, 3) the role of terror-management, 4) the role of self-serving biases, 5) the role of the availability heuristic, and 6) the role of grief-signalling. These, along with the fact that helicopters were methods of transportation Bryant used all the time yet led to a horrific way to die, make this hit home, particularly from #4 in the above list. Read the detailed article of the unfortunate day here.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

For a podcast episode, I learned a lot about how instant messaging works, and in particular what the hell the internet even is. I came across a Crash Course video by lecturer Carrie Anne, who explains how messages get sent and received across the internet in simple enough terms to follow along. There’s more videos on the fundamentals in pervious episodes, and more detailed videos on the advanced technical terms in later episodes, branching from this one. I recommend taking the 12 minutes to watch. See the video here.

Monthly Book Club

“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift. This is my first dive into Irish literature (starting off easy). Lemuel Gulliver finds himself on various remote islands after unfortunate bouts at sea, in which he discovers humanoid creatures of various sizes and behaviours (most remember the tiny characters of Lilliput). This is one of the first books I’ve encountered in which the main character is the least interesting character in the whole story. In fact, I find that this is written in a way such that the side characters and plot are what the readers should focus their attention on, as very little back story (or story whatsoever) about Gulliver is provided. And when it is, he’s out to sea again crashing or meeting pirates, which leads him to discover another new island. This may be a problem, and makes me think about how I write my own stories, for I certainly do the same thing (which goes against the advice of Truby, from last month’s book). You can read an e-version of the book here.

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Obtained from the Conversation.

Movie/TV Show of the Month

Bad Trip. I watched this movie at the beginning of the month and knew immediately that this will be the best movie I will watch over the entire 30 days. The plot is seemingly generic, a man (played by the hilarious Eric Andre) who has nothing going on in his life, and his friend (played by Lil Rel Howery), who is afraid of the villain of the story (the friend’s sister, played by Tiffany Haddish). They go on an adventure to New York City so that Andre’s character can find the love of his life (played by Michaela Conlin) who visited his store back in his hometown at the start of the movie. The plot is NOT what you see this movie for. You see this movie because it’s the only example I can think of that has real people participate in the storyline of a movie. Think of it as those hidden-camera pranks, however they actually play a role in the dialogue between story characters, and even interact with them. Eric Andre is an artistic genius. I hope to see more realism movies like these in the future.

Podcast Highlight

This week, I’m highlighting Decoder Ring. This Slate podcast is about cultural ideas and how they originate (I seem to love origin stories). Things like where the ice cream truck tune came from, or gender-reveal parties, or the meme of Karen… Host Willa Paskin does some incredible writing and interviews directly at the source. Very polished podcast!

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Obtained from Slate.

Monthly Earworm

“Running For So Long (House A Home)” by Parker Ainsworth, Butch Walker, Paris Jackson and Jessie Payo.

Side Note: If you need some happiness in your life, watch The Peanut Butter Falcon.

Quote of the Month

“Today, we won’t be able to breathe, until you’re able to breathe.”

- Philonese Floyd (Watch George Floyd’s brother’s response to the verdict here)