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Bon Voyage (February 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

As the title suggests, this month I said goodbye to my family, long-time friends and colleagues, packed four years worth of belongings into one large suitcase and a duffle bag, and moved across the Atlantic to start a PhD program in Dublin, Ireland. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment. Let’s start with the decision to look for a PhD to begin with. This was a notion I was wrestling with in my mind since the end of 2018. I always had this belief that I am close to being something of potential, an opportunity to truly excel at something. Don’t worry, if this was the sole reason, I would label myself a fool more than anything else. I contemplated on once obtaining (if that, especially with the way my Masters project was turning out) my MSc what opportunities would lay before me. Additionally, I had a taste of expanding my creative side through writing and graphical design with my personal platform and my volunteer work in the university community. I didn’t want to let that go. A PhD would provide me two things: 1) the leverage in regards to professional and personal endeavours and 2) the time to figure out what those endeavours are, both of which while being surrounded my inspiring people. I chose to do a PhD abroad as a way to develop empathy, an understanding of the struggle people close to me have faced when moving to a different country chasing their dream (even if it hasn’t solidified in structure). And why Dublin? I’ll sum it up with a true experience that happened to me yesterday. While I was scrambling the downtown city trying to find a payphone (apparently those don’t exist anymore), an Irish citizen (basing off their accent) allowed me to use their own cellphone and make an international phone call to my bank in Canada. The kindness of such a simple act (rumoured to rival the nicety of Canadians) as well as the similar but still distinct culture of Ireland made the country itself an easy choice. I write this still in quarantine, so please note that I haven’t been outside much and yet my impression is already great. Moving into my own place next month (never signed a contract to rent a place solely to myself!).

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Ottawa Airport (can you spot the kitty?)

Top Local News

I suppose I should move to Dublin/Ireland news now. Currently, Dublin is in a Level 5 lockdown using the metrics given out at the national level. Announced today, this lockdown level will be extended to at least April 5th, meaning only essential businesses are to remain open. No exploring city pubs yet, perhaps mid-April or even well into the summer months.

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14-day self quarantine, but hey, at least I have the podcast setup

Top Global News

I would probably give the news story of the month to the coup d’etat that occurred in Myannmar, also known as Burma. A bit of context. Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country boarding China, India, and Thailand (among others). It has 54 million people, just under 1 million of which live in the capital of Naypyitaw. From 1962-2011, the country was ruled by their military forces, known locally as the Tatmadaw, and since then the country has drifted towards democratic rule. In 2015, the previously in charge leader Ann San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won. You may have heard Ms Suu Kyi and Myannmar (Burma) in the past, unfortunately with not so great feelings. Although winner of a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she testified at the International Court of Justice in 2019 denying allegations that the Tatmadaw have been committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, since they are considered illegal immigrants and denied citizenship. Thousands have died at the hands of the military, 700,000 of which have fled to nearby countries like Bangladesh. The actual coup occurred on February 1st, following the victory of the NLD party. Supporting widespread election fraud, Ann San Suu Kyi is under house arrest and many other NLD officials have been detained. Currently, the leader of their military forces has taken power, Min Aung Hlaing, who promises he is on the side of the people and will would form a true and disciplined democracy. Protests across the country have led to clashes with authorities, leading to at least one death. Situation remains ongoing. Runner-Up: NASA's Perseverance Rover lands on Mars, a mission to study a specific region of the red planet in the hopes to discover evidence of microbial life. See NASA's lead engineer reaction to the landing here (might need some tissues for yourself too!).

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“The Rise and Fall of WE” published in Macleans Magazine by Marie-Danielle Smith, Aaron Hutchins, Jason Markusoff and Claire Brownell. You’ll probably notice that articles here were not published in the corresponding month, I just happen to finally have a chance to read it. I’m choosing this article because I never truly understood the complexity of how the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could be riddled with scandal involving the delivery of scholarships to the youth. Why would that ever be bad? The article (long read but well worth it) goes from the very beginning, from when WE was notcalled WE at the time, even further in the past to when Craig Kielburger (one of the founders of WE charity) was a young activist. Though I’m more interested in why Trudeau is at fault, the article laments how obvious it was for Trudeau to recuse himself from any decision in the effective rollout of this scholarship delivery. Read the article here.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

Sticking to fitness and well being, and again, seeing as we are all stuck at home without a gym (although my Ottawa pals have their lockdown lifted, lucky bastards), I’m going with a yoga video. Gabriele Saturno, a trainer and yoga/calisthenics/mindfulness guru, uploads different yoga sessions that I follow on an every-other-day basis. He highlights an interesting technique known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), or facilitated stretching, to lengthen muscles in yoga (in his words, “Get deeper into the stretch”). By watching this easy video, I realized how much my flexibility and overall stability in the positions (albeit simple) have improved. Watch the video here.

Monthly Book Club

“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. At just over 400 pages, it’s not as stupefying large as the previous month’s book. The concepts of how are minds are split into two different systems, of which one is extremely biased and the other is extremely lazy, makes you pause whenever you are presented with a question, or a decision. One aspect, called the availability heuristic, that I’ve even written about in my short story “Frenzy” is the power of news media influence, because as mentioned on its Wikipedia page, “people tend to heavily weigh their judgments toward more recent information, making new opinions biased toward that latest news.” Read short notes made by Medium writer Mark Looi here.

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Movie Month

I forgot to do this last month, yet how could I, being a harsh critic of film? This month was “Tenet” starring John David Washington and directed by Christopher Nolan. What a mindfuck of a movie man, Nolan does it again. Let me start with the bad aspects of it. The characters are speaking so unrealistically that it kind of throws scenes off a bit, like how witty and banter-y the Protagonist is when conversing to get what he wants. Another thing, Nolan and screenwriters forget their own rules of visiting the inverted past. Unless I missed something, shouldn’t the Protagonist have annihilated himself upon fighting his inverted self during the airport scene? The the positive. What’s great about this film is how interesting someone can make movies, something meant to be unreal. The idea of playing with time, not in the cliche notion of simply going back in time, by literally going backwards in time through inversion is absolutely incredible cinematography. And that last temporal pincer movement firefight? Flawless. The ending is pretty obvious from halfway through, but still such a delight to watch. Kevin rates it 9 Heath Ledger Dark Knights out of 10.

Monthly Earworm

“We’re Good” by Dua Lipa. Don’t be surprised to see tracks by her in this section… I may be a fan.

Quote of the Month

“A few things I am not: I am not a cat, I am not an institutional investor, nor am I a hedge fund.”

- Keith Gill, Redditor and Gamestop Investor (Watch US Congress interview here)