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Quarter (February 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

I thought that 2022 would go by slower than recent years. I was completely wrong. In any case, my personal news this month will be quite brief, since the majority of it is science related. Most importantly to start, it has been one year since I landed in the great country of Ireland! I truly cannot believe it has been this long since I left Canada, so I hope everyday that I’m not missing too much back home. Regarding research, I have been plunged into experiments and have thus dedicated most of my time to the PhD project. There has been some great progress in this front and I am quite proud of the work I have been doing, along with the rest of my colleagues working very tirelessly as well. Everyone seems to have been working very hard this month and hopefully March brings some more fun and less anxiety. In extracurriculars, I started my responsibilities as Pint of Science Ireland’s Dublin Chapter Manager and will soon be organizing volunteer teams to run various science communication events around the city. Additionally, in my Public Relations role in the Dublin University Microbiological Society, we are beginning the planning stages of a focus meeting regarding Microbiomes & Human Health. Otherwise, Valentine’s Day was a fun endeavour as I got to make someone special their favourite cake. Looking forward to the new month as there will be several events to speak about in the upcoming blog post!

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Mila watching her YouTube shows.

Top Local News

In local news, various COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted starting February 28th, announced by Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to COVID-19. In it, the policy of mandatory mask wearing in public spaces has been lifted. In addition (according to RTE News), ”PCR tests will only be recommended for certain symptomatic people, including those aged over 55, those with a high-risk medical condition and those who are immunocompromised.”. However, self-isolation is still required for those who obtain a positive PCR/antigen test. Beginning of the end of this frustrating pandemic? Only time will tell.

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Obtained from RTE News.

Top Global News

The obvious global news story of the month is the Russian Invasion on Ukrainian land, displacing thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing conflict. If anything, this conflict has astounded many in that the entire Western world has rallied against the Russian attack. Though, this month, I would like to highlight a story closer to home, and that is the Ottawa Trucker Convoy. February 18th marked the day that the RCMP, through a three day operation, disbanded the large population of protests occupying downtown Ottawa for approximately three weeks, honking leading to an estimated $800,000 CAD lost per day by the city of Ottawa, and $350 million CAD lost per day through trading (import/export of goods) across the US border. As stated in the Fortune article summarizing the latest events of this protest, the convoy converged on the capital on January 28th, “in opposition to the government’s introduction of a mandate requiring all cross-border truck drivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.” Now, about 90% of truckers impacted are already vaccinated, leaving a 10% minority who opposed this mandated guideline. However, as protests broke out across Canada and even in the neighbouring US, protesters also opposed many of the pandemic-related guidelines like mask-wearing and vaccine passports. The biggest blow to the protest was given by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on February 14th, in which he invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, giving police the authority to make more arrests and seize assets of protesters. Unfortunately this was after the resignation of previous Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly due to complaints of his inability to resolve the protests. Of course, the act of invoking the Emergencies Act has been a source of debate between political parties, with the Liberal Party strongly backing their leader, and the official opposition (Conservative Party of Canada) strongly opposing its use and desiring an investigation into the decision behind it. In any case, I have reflected on the idea of protest against something you disagree with. And while I believe this is a necessity for a functioning democracy, what exactly is the cause for this protest? The floating idea that freedom has been taken away within countries like Canada who invoke public health guidelines such as mask-wearing and vaccine passports in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across borders is frankly illogical, especially if the functioning of ones career is to travel vast distances between different governing states. Mask-wearing is at most an inconvenience to the majority of the populous. Why are we bickering while a large proportion of the world is still battling the spread of this dangerously lingering virus?

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“The Science of Mind Reading” published in the New Yorker by James Somers. Back to the usual, as this was an article published in November 2021. So be it. This article dives into, as the title suggests, how science is uncovering the way we think. The technologies described in the article go deep into MRI, AI, and suggestive technologies likes autocorrect and autofill. Also technologies that could determine brain patterns towards words, sentences and even concepts have been in development since the late 2000s. Interestingly, although the brain encounters novel scenarios all the time, it also stores these scenarios as concepts to which it can feedback on when experiencing something of the same nature, provoking similar (and perhaps identical) brain pattern activation. This, I believe, could lead to unlocking the ability to actually read minds, in combination with more accurate artificial intelligence. Read the full article here.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

“Most People Don’t Know How Bikes Work”. How are we still learning about the mechanics of bike riding? Derek Mueller over at Veritasium demonstrates that most people intuitively know how bikes work, but aren’t aware of it. In this case, along with his collaborators, they designed a bike that prevents you from steering (for example) left when prompted to turn right. Wait, what? Why would they design such a contraption? In order for people to turn a certain direction in a smooth and effortless fashion, one must always first turn in the opposite direction. Find out why by watching his explanatory video here.

Monthly Book Club

“Basic Writings” by Immanuel Kant. This enormously influential German philosopher has brought incredibly novel ideas of reason to Western philosophy. One of these doctrines is transcendental idealism, in which, as described in its Wikipedia page, “his approach to knowledge transcends mere consideration of sensory evidence and requires an understanding of the mind's innate modes of processing that sensory evidence.” In other words, we cannot know real things as they truly are as we are bound by experiencing them through our senses, and thus space and time are innate concepts through which contain our shared experiences. In honesty, I could not tolerate the long winded sentences of Kant, as he his dryness is infamous in the literary world.

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Movie/TV Show of the Month

“The Harder They Fall” is a Netflix original movie starring Jonathon Majors and Idris Elba. Centred in the American Wild West, director Jeymes Samuel somehow creates a novel perspective from black culture. It’s thrilling and outrageously witty, sort of like a Jay-Z song, I suppose because it is produced by none other than Jay-Z himself! Check out the trailer here.

Podcast Highlight

This month, I’m highlighting another podcast related to my growing interest in learning about powers that impact the climate, and this one is called “Drilled”. Told in the style of true crime, Drilled is hosted by investigative journalist Amy Westervelt and talks about the villainous, methodical planning of fossil fuel corporations and industry as a whole. In it, Westervelt had organized a series called the ABCs of Oil, in which she talks about the influence of big fossil fuel at each stage of human education (elementary, secondary, college). It’s incredibly interesting how they were able to target each young adult within their own classrooms, and hooked me into the rest of the podcast. Have a listen!

Obtained from Podtail.

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Monthly Earworm

“Let It Happen” by Tame Impala. Watch the official music video here.

Quote of the Month

“The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

 - Volodymyr Zelensky (President of Ukraine)