Equanimity (July 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
July has been the best month in the Eir. Grand. Fucking grand. On Friday, July 23rd, I received my first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine. I woke up at 7:00am, left the flat at 7:30am, walked an hour and 15 minutes across the city (I know, I could have taken public transportation), signed in at the registration desk at 9:05am, walked directly to the front of a non-existent line-up, sat down with a lovely nurse named Victoria, got jabbed, and at 9:09am I sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes waiting to potentially experience side effects with tens of other happily vaccinated individuals. The whole process, one that I and milions of other people around the world have been waiting for since December of 2019, took about 20 minutes upon arriving at the centre. It was almost anti-climactic, like something crazy SHOULD have happened but yet, nothing. Years of work dedicated to approving and distributing this vaccine and others to the global population (mainly Westernized, first-world countries but that’s a topic for another day), led to this 20 minute session experienced by one person. If that’s not absolute bananas, I don’t know what is. Get vaccinated. For other personal news, I passed a few academic milestones: I was lucky to be a part of the latest work published by the lab I currently work in, on the impact of intestinal metabolites on macrophage function, and my own paper about my MSc project on the characterization of baker’s yeast growth in the highly abundant intestinal carbohydrate source mucin was accepted for publication in the G3 Journal (work that I started all the way back in 2017, a simpler time). Extracurriculars, I was one of two selected in FameLab Ireland’s National Video Heat, progressing into the national finals of the science communication competition, and had a brilliant SciComm discussion with fellow science communicator Cassidy Swanston for their podcast SciComm School (our episode should be up on their podcast). In regards to other things, I bought a guitar, I renovated the Dublin crib with some Ikea merch (plus a projector for fantastic movie nights), and helped a friend move to (hopefully) a better place than their previous residence. And lastly, I had my first experience in an Irish pub, Toners, which was everything I expected it would be. Good times and looking gleefully forward into what’s to come, in the next very packed month of joy (you’ll hear why in the next post).
Absolutely fucking grand.
Top Local News
I’m so happy about the speed in which Ireland’s vaccination rollout has occurred this month, that I’m choosing that as the Top Local News of this month as well. Ireland has now opened AstraZeneca vaccination registration for all adults aged 18 and over. I guess this now begs the question, what about children under 18 years of age? And now that we are at this stage of the population being vaccinated, regarding Ireland’s doses and doses accumulated by other Westernized countries, what about the rest of the world? Do not forget that if you have the opportunity to get your first or second dose right now, and have a consistent supply of basic human essentials at your closest store, that you are in a privileged state.
Obtained from The Journal.
Top Global News
As always, it's hard to narrow down global news stories during a month. In July, I had kept a list of headlines that burned significance into my brain yet this list just kept growing larger and larger. Take Former US President Donald Trump filing a class action lawsuit against the big tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google over censorship. Then there was the assassination of the Haitian President Jovenel Moise by 12 heavily armed mercenaries at his oddly heavily guarded house, barely making news now. The list of world president controversies continued to pile up, as former South African President and leader in the liberation struggle Jacob Zuma was sentenced to prison by the country’s highest court over contempt of court and corruption during his time in office. Penultimately, as this probably would have been the Top Global News story of the month had it not been for one other story, is the killing of photojournalist Danish Siddiqui in Afghanistan. It is interesting, that as the US pulls its forces out of its longest war EVER, that inevitably those who have been waiting for this day will capitilize on this decision, those being the Taliban. Siddiqui was killed along with a senior Afghan officer, and will be remembered for his work on the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and refugee crisis occurring in Bangladesh. For this month, the Top Global News Story, to me, has to go to the recent news of an Israeli firm’s spyware used by countries like Saudi Arabia discovered to have hacked into many world leaders and journalists phones. The NSO Group’s Pegasus software, part of an industry barely regulated and shrouded in secrecy, is used by governments around the world to track terrorists and criminals. Stated in The Washington Post article, “The numbers on the list are unattributed, but reporters were able to identify more than 1,000 people spanning more than 50 countries through research and interviews on four continents: several Arab royal family members, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and more than 600 politicians and government officials — including cabinet ministers, diplomats, and military and security officers. The numbers of several heads of state and prime ministers also appeared on the list.” This spyware, argued by a Saudi dissident, has been linked with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last seen at the Turkish embassy in Saudi Arabia. Yes, the thoughts in your head right now are absolutely correct. What are we supposed to do about it? I guess nothing, just like how the world has slowly forgotten about Jamal Khashoggi. Those who are fighting against oppressive systems, or shedding light on the atrocities of said systems, are continuously battling against forces that are much more powerful than they (and we) could possibly imagine. This is the world we live in, as we argue and despise others for simple ticks that ultimately are a blip in significance. Stay vigilant, but more importantly, stay aware.
Most Interesting Article of the Month
“Wait, Vaccine Lotteries Actually Work?” published in Wired by Adam Rogers. YES, I KNOW, PUBLISHED IN JUNE. Anyway, this article caught my attention as it reminded me of an initiative by the Quebec Provincial Government back in Canada to get more of their residents interested in the whole arm-jab thing. The article is about not a government, but an airline company enticing people to get vaccinated. United Airlines is holding a contest where, by joining their Mileage Plus Program and proving that you’re vaccinated, you could win a year of travel for two in first class. A YEAR OF TRAVEL. FOR TWO. As Rogers states, “Now, you probably won’t win. But still, that’s a high-value target. They have warm nuts.” Now, obviously the company doesn’t really care about vaccination (perhaps individuals of the company do, but as for the company as a whole, why would they? All they need are customers who want to travel). Upon announcing the contest, 400,000 entrants and over 100,000 new signups for the program occurred in the first 48 hours. This is similar to places like Ohio where 5 vaccinated people in the state would win $1million USD, and students could win SCHOLARSHIPS, increasing vaccinations by 49% for their state for people 16 and older. Lotteries are a complex topic on their own, as stated in the article, “Their hypothesis says that if you charge people a penalty for bad behavior (for anything from coming late to pick up kids at daycare to, presumably, polluting waterways), that doesn’t deter them—people (and corporations) just factor the fine into their cost of doing business. The flip side is, if you give people a doughnut or $100 or 2,000 frequent-flier miles or a discounted $5 subscription to WIRED, that’s the value they assign to what they’re getting. And if that’s less, to them, than the value of getting vaccinated, it doesn’t work as a nudge. The needling isn’t worth the needle. It’s too low to overcome vaccine hesitancy—in theory.” The wild conclusion to this article is that these lotteries, despite their large prize sums, can actually be CHEAPER than rewarding everyone a smaller amount as an incentive to get the jab. If you always won the lottery, but a small amount, would lotteries still exist? Even this is not a fair comparison, because getting the COVID vaccine is goddamn free! Read the article here.
Most Interesting Video of the Month
This web exclusive of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about a Danish show called John Dillermand. With all the gloom in the news this month, I will let the video speak for itself. Thanks Namrata for referring it to the group! You can watch the YouTube clip here.
Monthly Book Club
“Snowflake” by Louise Nealon. The story follows the protagonist Debbie, an Irish girl growing up in the countryside and then finally makes it into Trinity College Dublin. However, her family background is not calm and graceful, as her mother battles against the reality warping in her mind, and her uncle shrouds his guilt for past actions with esoteric dialogue and trivia knowledge. This leads to, not an expected coming-of-age story, but moreso something relatable despite differences in backgrounds between myself and the main characters, perhaps a similar thought held by the typical readers of this book as well. Rather, Nealon highlights what such a background leads a girl to become, and both embrace but also throw away, fighting with herself just like her family members. As I described in my Twitter post about it, "Debbie is shockingly irritating in the choices she makes, though motivated by making sense of the world around her. Alluded to in the story, we go through life as snowflakes, labelled fragile until you zoom in and look at elegant complexity." Check out RTE’s review of the book here.
Movie/TV Show of the Month
Black Summer. The new 2nd season came out just recently on Netflix. Sure, this is yet another piece of zombie cinema that has likely produced nothing new against the trope. If you look at the zombies and interaction between the living characters, you can hardly tell the difference between their plots and originals like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead. Why I think it is one of the best shows on television right now, is the way creators of the Z-Nation Universe Karl Schaefer and John Hyams tell their stories and film their scenes. The newest season, and the first season back in 2019 which drew me to the show, is broken up into episodes like Nolan’s Memento, or more accurately like Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Nothing is in order except for possibly the first and last event occurring over the course of a few days. You, the watcher, are incentivized to pay attention to little details as you piece the puzzle of the Season together. Additionally, most sequences are taken in one continuous shot, and I'm a a huge fan of directors with the balls to accomplish this awesome edit. It’s brilliant. Watch the trailer here.
This week, I’m highlighting yet another very popular podcast, Radiolab. Yeah... Don’t really have much to say other than this is what podcasts which large amounts of production have the potential to create. It’s fantastic and something that even independent hobby podcasters should strive to achieve to the best of their ability.
Obtained from WVTF.
“Pink + White” by Frank Ocean. Watch his 2017 live performance here.
Quote of the Month
“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”
- Jeff Bezos (he actually said this in his statement upon landing back to Earth)