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Steadfast (April 2022)
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 flew by so fast I didn’t even realize I had to start writing the blog (a few days late now, whoops!). I am still riding the high of the eventful month of March and suffering from dreadful COVID-19 symptoms. What even happened this month? I finished one of the extracurricular programs I was a part of called URNCST, helping a Canadian undergraduate student write their first review paper and submit it to a credible journal. Work-wise, I have been progressing through the project (well, really the side project), looking at cellular junctions and their role in gut barrier integrity, particularly in regards to inflammation. Worked diligently with the Pint of Science Teams to finalize Dublin’s six events this year (and a welcomed return to in-person science communication!). The festival will run in over 25 countries, in hundreds of cities around the world, from May 9-11th! Outside of work, spent time with my partner’s family during her birthday (went to a Michelin star restaurant, perhaps my first time ever in one?) and also at their lovely home during the Easter holiday (honestly, better food than the Michelin star restaurant, but is that really a surprise?). Finished the month with a fun, interactive workshop on Microbiology for extremely enthusiastic sixth class students in the Dublin region. What a month, no wonder it came and went so quickly!

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Some enthusiastic future leaders of the world.

Top Local News

I was hoping to hear about some craziness that happened at the Trinity Ball, however everything seemed to have worked out well. Otherwise, this month was pretty fixated on the murder of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, two men from Sligo, Ireland. It was only recently that a man named Yousef Palani was charged with their murders. No motive was declared, however many people believe that the victims were killed because of their association with the LGBTQ community. Read a summary of the court results here.

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Obtained from the Irish Times.

Top Global News

For me, obviously excluding the ongoing war happening in Ukraine right now (latest updates on the evacuation of Eastern Ukraine’s Mariupol, close to the Russian’s strongest front, can be found here), the biggest global news story was the apology by Pope Francis to indigenous people of Canada. Summarized in a great article by Elizabeth McSheffrey published in Global News, on April 1st, Pope Francis delivered an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, taking responsibility for “deplorable behaviour” by its members within residential schools of Canada's dark history. I’ve already spoken about the horrors found at old residential schools in my June 2021 blog post “Parlance”, those being the mass graves of missing children from these schools found on school grounds describing in the following article by the CBC and article by the National Post. The ceremony occurred at Sala Clementina, one of the halls of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, where almost 200 indigenous representatives were present and even performed cultural dances in the presence of the Pope. However, without much beating around the bush, Pope Francis said the requested apology more than 25 years after the final residential school closed in Canada. He even committed to visiting Indigenous families on Canadian soil, perhaps to apologize again but this is unsure. Despite these sincere words, actions are likely to speak louder. According to the Global News article, “As part of the landmark Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2006, Roman Catholic entities in Canada committed to raising $25 million for reconciliation initiatives. Only $3.9 million was delivered. Through the settlement agreement, the church also promised $29 million in cash for survivors. Last year, documents obtained by CBC revealed it spent millions of that pot on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company and unapproved loans.” This got me thinking about what a “Papal Apology” actually means, luckily spoken about in an article in the Conversation by Annie Selak, Associate Director of Georgetown University’s Women’s Centre. Selak mentions, “It was once unthinkable for a pope to apologize, for admitting guilt would imply that the church was sinful. However, the Second Vatican Council, a gathering of bishops, cardinals, heads of religious orders and theologians that met from 1962 to 1965 and modernized the church, shifted the church’s perspective on change and instituted major reforms. It also opened the door to admitting fault.” There was the “Day of Pardon” on March 12, 2000, where Pope John Paul II apologized for many past errors of the Catholic Church, same with Pope Benedict XVI regarding adolescent abuse victims in several Catholic communities. Most of the time, these apologies are lacking action and often distance the current church from members of its horrible past. In essence, does an apology from a world leader mean more than a general one? Selak believes it's a necessary starting point, but I argue that without strategies to right these wrongs, it’s just showmanship.

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“How To Want Less” published in the Atlantic by Arthur Brooks. Of course, this article was published back in February, don’t expect any changes. I love Atlantic articles because they always start off with good storytelling: setting up the context of the article around something that happened in the writer’s life. The topic of the article, unsurprisingly, is about the pursuit of fulfillment or satisfaction or pleasure or whatever synonym for happiness you want to place here. Brooks, an associate professor at Harvard, quit his job as a leader of a think tank to study and relay as much information on this subject to the most amount of people. He describes philosophers’ takes on happiness, and certain habits that stem from all of us that create this desire to want more (even the Dalai Lama has this desiring feeling). Important to me were his distinctions between modern society, religious endeavours, and cultural differences between the West and the East. Towards the end, Brooks offers realistic solutions to those struggling with not depression, but rather its root cause of unfullfilment/dissatisfaction. Read the full article here.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

“The Problem With White People”. This is a snippet of Jon Stewart’s newest Apple TV+ show creatively named, The Problem With Jon Stewart. In the video, Stewart, in his comedic wit fans like myself so horribly missed, highlights the major issue about discussions on race… that there is never admittance of past wrongs that have set the ground for racial inequality in the present. In the context of the US, if you’re a white person it is likely that you are not a racist (remember, I said likely). But surely if you’re not a racist (at least unconsciously), what issues do you participate in that echo in present society? The answer is literally the life you have inherited. This isn’t even a problem, it’s more just a realization and the motivation to empathize with action. What Stewart makes his viewers realize is that white people of the past have created systems that were designed to benefit them, systems still present today, from the segregation of citizens via residential neighbourhoods to depicting crime on TV. We (or they) have unconciously engrained the colour of skin to positive and negative attributes into our psyche. Why should BIPOC strive to achieve a good life when they see similar people to them get destroyed by these systems? Watch the video here.

Monthly Book Club

“The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats” by the Wordsworth Poetry Library. The Irish poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner has been heralded by many as one of the greatest writers to have ever write. His works are studied by academics around the world, and throughout Ireland his work is almost always introduced to its citizens at an early age. His poetry is reminiscent and romantic, often talking about love or the longing for another, and descriptions of nature as metaphor to love. One of my favourites is called Two Years Later, a short poem which was not about love, but about the accumulated difficulty brought through aging. If interested, give it a read here.

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Movie/TV Show of the Month

A reason why this month’s earworm is a Ye song is solely due to “Jeen-yuhs”, a documentary series about Mr. Kanye West himself. There’s something absurdly remarkable about a man who decided to start a documentary about himself long before he became one of the most famous faces on the planet. One could argue that it was his self-fulfilling prophecy. Shot by his family friend Coodie (a standup comedian turned filmmaker), the 3-part series with over 20 years of footage aims at glimpsing into the life of the producer, rapper, musician, fashion designer and presidential candidate (and also a god?). Starting from the Chi-Town roots, his somewhat inspiring and at times grotesque ambition to become a visionary leader was a stampede through the lives of many in his life, deeply motivated by his late mother Donda West (latest album is dedicated to her). I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that West, for his entirely life, was surrounded by people who would never say no. Check out the trailer here.

Podcast Highlight

This month, I’m highlighting one of those typical interview format style podcasts, with a neat perspective, called The Lex Friedman Podcast. Sure, you may be thinking that he’s just another academic who became famous due to his affiliation with Joe Rogan (and perhaps this is true). However, I think Friedman is the JRE but even better, grounded and humble in what it attempts to be, removed from entertainment but rather more thorough and self-improving. Friedman is also a fan of poetry, and isn’t afraid to tribute literary greats from the past or present if he can. Skim through his hundreds of interviews and find a discussion that connects with you!

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Obtained from Lex Friedman website.

Monthly Earworm

“Two Words” by Kanye West. Watch the official music video here.

Quote of the Month

“For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church — I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry.”

- Pope Francis