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Calibration (January 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

Back to the regular format, folks! The first month of the new year has come and gone as fast as, I suppose, every other month during this pandemic. But despite the rapid pace of time, that doesn’t mean happenings haven’t been happening. I’ve been taking a noticeable amount of time away from personal hobbies and social media to focus on the current priorities (research, remediation and relationships) as a sort of initial filter into what I believe will be the year where aspects of normality begin to creep back into everyday life. I will reflect on each “R” in turn. Regarding research, there’s been a spike in experimentation over this month, starting novel protocols and gathering data. Particularly, what I am trying to do is replicate mouse findings within a human system, like a cell line. This, along with more efficient organization of the workings of the laboratory, are just some things that I have been thinking about over some time now. Regarding remediation, I believe this time off social media and publicized extracurriculars was necessary in order to look at my productivity and time schedule. As many of my family and social circle know, I find it difficult to refuse additional work that I find can produce real change through the goals of these initiatives. Thus, I’ve sacked roles that despite their aims were either dead ends or led to minimal development in skills or societal impact. I want to ensure that I have enough stamina for things I truly enjoy doing like exercise, the podcast, writing, and the final “R”, relationships. This month, I started a new relationship that I wholeheartedly believe in and want to dedicate quality time to. I also have ensured that I provide time to friends and colleagues here and in Canada who I value, and have taken steps to reduce the amount of exposure to people in-person or online who I only tolerated. I think the latter of that statement is perhaps one of the most difficult things people can do, particularly during stressful times like these. Do not trick yourself into thinking you owe anyone anything. As long as you’re respectful, there’s no need to put up with toxicity or become involved within second-hand drama. With these notions in mind, I return to a more active virtual presence through various media and hope to bring interesting, informed content to the masses during this new year.

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Sláinte to 2022!

Top Local News

In local news, quite the opposite of November’s frightening announcement, a more joyous announcement by the Taoseich on January 21st. Most COVID restrictions have now been lifted, due as stated to the success of the vaccination rollout and assuring projections made by expert advisors on case and ICU numbers in Ireland. Super controversial, but I believe this was the right decision, not because I desire to go out (I am perfectly fine with hobbies that don’t involve establishments) but because many people do. Of course, this desire is inherent in most people, even people that are content within their dwellings with loved ones. But not everyone has the privilege. People who live away from family, students, hell, people that don’t have family or partners or pets, need this permittance of social interaction. Rather than close down establishments, why not invest to ensure that the majority have the capability to conduct their business with the safest, most irritatingly COVID-friendly protective equipment?

Obtained from RTE News.

Top Global News

I think I will really try to focus this section on one globally-impacting news story, unless there are obvious levels of similar alertness for multiple stories. However, this month, there’s no question that the Ukraine crisis, or rather, the West versus Russia crisis, is the top global news story this month. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be caused by ideology or power-grabbing Putin self-interest. Since the ousting of former Moscow-friendly Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych back in 2014 largely due to protests that rose from cancelling political ties to EU and the rest of the West, there’s been civil and political unrest. In fact, pro-Russian civilians have created states along the eastern Ukrainian border with Russia, controlled in large part by self-imposed authoritarian regimes known to have formed concentration camps for dissidents. For pro-Ukrainian independence civilians, this has led to a war that has been ongoing for almost eight years. For more detailed information about the history behind this largely ignored Eastern European war, see Euronews summary here. What does this have to do with the thousands of troops that Russia has deployed to surround the Ukrainian state? This seems more like a chess move, in response to Ukrainian strengthening ties to the US-led transatlantic military alliance known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and NATO’s expansion east-wards regarding useful military bases. Think of it like this, if Russia or China wanted to strengthen political and economic ties to Mexico which could potentially include military troops and weapons investment, the US would certainly find this provocative as well. It makes it somewhat more difficult culturally speaking as Putin himself believes that Russia and Ukraine are “one people”. There’s an interesting MSNBC interview with Dr. Anatol Lieven from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, where he outlines that this doesn’t necessarily signify that war is imminent (it would be politically and economically negligent to do this) however what Russia desires and what Putin has done in terms of placing troops in an invasion-like arrangement may be too high and too far-in to not go ahead anyway if the West does not want to compromise. See the interview here. Sanctions must be calibrated in response to unanimously-agreed upon malicious actions made by states, but then one must also consider how these sanctions impact everyday citizens in the impacted regions. I suppose what I am saying is, despite our reservations towards anything that doesn’t have a Western-connection to it, circumstances are always more complicated than they seem. And of course, innocent bystanders will remain in the crosshairs.

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“Love Triangle Challenges Reign of Japan’s Monkey Queen” published in The New York Times by Annie Roth. Oh my god, this was actually published in January, this may be a first since the creation of this blog series. To take the words of a fellow Twitter-user, this article "has it all": monkeys, a love-triangle, shitting on the patriarchy, red bums, even slight sexism. Honestly, the overthrow of an elderly macaques male by a youthful female to take over the 677-strong troop in the Japanese reserve Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden is quite a story. To quote the article, “After Yakei’s altercation with Nanchu, reserve workers performed what is known as a “peanut test”: providing the monkeys with peanuts and seeing who eats first. Males and females stepped aside to let Yakei eat first, a confirmation of her alpha status.” Read the full article here.

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Obtained from The New York Times.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

This video might be a bit niche. I was doing some research for a podcast episode and came across this video of viewing a music record with an electronic microscope. Made by the YouTube channel Applied Science, he uses a scanning electronic microscope (SEM) to view the grooves of various media, from records, to CDs and even DVDs. I never truly understood how a phonograph, with a simple needle moving within an electromagnetic field, led to signalling a speaker on what sounds to play, and can even have three-dimensional properties for audio perspective like in stereo systems. Definitely nerdy, but I thought it was neatly nerdy.

Monthly Book Club

“Ulysses” by James Joyce. Regarded as one of the greatest works of fiction ever created, Joyce writes in the style of "streamed consciousness" to tell a story of one day of one man’s life, centred in the city of Dublin. Streamed consciousness could be described as the attempt at describing how the brain thinks, ideas come flowing through, perhaps novel ones, perhaps ones linked to previous ideas thought about days, months, or years ago, all in reaction to stimuli being experienced at certain moments of everyday life. In all honesty, I just couldn’t finish this book, nor even get into the plot. It was so convoluted and disconnected that I became disappointed with the realization that actual life truly is mundane, and that stories could actually be too descriptive or too ambitious in its replication of reality. Perhaps in contrast to other bookworms, I need to be engrossed within interesting plot lines when I read fiction, rather than live the life of someone just like me, with faults I have and simple aspirations I try and meet daily. Like, instead of reading this enigma, why not just live the complexity of my own life? Perhaps this was the goal of Joyce himself, as I definitely do appreciate my own reality much more, with its random thoughts and mundane occurrences. You can read Ulysses online here.

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Movie/TV Show of the Month

I jumped on the Ozark train, a Netflix original starring Jason Bateman who is a money launderer for the Navarro Cartel. Our fascination with organized crime in the Hollywood industry with close ties to organized crime is surprisingly still surprising to me. This show reminds me of one of my favourite television shows of all time, Breaking Bad, but instead of the science-y outright absurdity of a high school chemistry teacher becoming the Kingpin of Crystal Meth, we have a businessman wrapped in the movement of funds for a dangerous group. The acting here is superb, and I definitely get engrossed in how articulate Marty Byrde is during his discussions with other characters. Finishing Season 2 thus far, my only critique is that half of the scenes are Bateman’s character arriving somewhere, getting a call on his cellphone, and then leaving the scene. Check out the trailer here.

Podcast Highlight

This month, I’m highlighting a podcast that I heard about through another one of my favourite science podcasts, and this one is called How To Save A Planet. The overwhelming disparity and realization that you are just one person who can’t possibly change the world’s imminent journey into the effects of climate change are reiterated with equal animosity on this podcast by host and journalist Alex Blumberg. Among keeping listeners informed about recent climate news such as the results of COP26, the podcast dives into things individuals can do that can lead to real change, like even just starting discussion about one’s own self-reflection towards the actions one does over the course of one’s life that definitely do add up to impact the environment. Do have a listen!

Obtained from Podtail.

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Monthly Earworm

“Less Than Zero” by The Weeknd. Hear the official lyric video here

Quote of the Month

“She was just going for a run.”

- Quotation from many articles surrounding the death of Ashling Murphy