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Improvement (May 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

I’m in the sloth-paced part of the race. That being said, there are a couple of things this month that I am quite proud of. Firstly, finally got an European bank account in order to get paid, which funny enough I haven’t gotten anything scholarship money yet. My frustration with university administration teams seems to wrongly have been directed at my previous university and rather should have been universally directed. Here’s my rant: why is university administration such a universal colossal mess? This is an honest question. The organization structure should be (and might actually be) run via central and dispersed within compartmentalized teams. And not to bestow privilege on myself, but incoming International students should technically be given priority status on key issues like stipend payments. Why more than a year into a pandemic has this not been universally solved? Okay, rant over. Other proud moments… Joined two groups at the university to support the student community, one being a CV Reviewer for Trinity Career Services and the other being a writer for the student-run University Times Newspaper. Extremely excited to start contributing to my PhD institution. Invigilated a few undergraduate exams, went to my first virtual conference (Annual HCMPH Symposium) about microbiome research organized by Harvard University, and even attended some SciComm events like Pint of Science Ireland and Science Slam Canada’s May Virtual Slam. Birthday’s galore this month as well, so celebrating with some fantastic people safely was much needed during this time. Otherwise, I’ve noticed my mind having difficulty in terms of concentration and productivity. This is something I need to work on. Super robotic, but I’ve incorporated breathing exercises and mental breaks, ensuring that I am also socializing with not just new people here, but also back home in Canada. Word of advice: with support from your social network (which you don’t need to be on social media to connect with), life can be good despite the madness happening on a consistent basis.

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My cooking game be on point tho!

Top Local News

Dublin is opening up! Woohoo! Parks are filled with people smiling and having a good time. Non-essential stores aren’t covered by graffiti-tagged garage doors. It’s like a whole new city. And this is great for smaller businesses, especially the neat bookshops I see around the city. Let’s hope that the vaccine rollout grows faster exponentially.

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Obtained from RTE.

Top Global News

There are many news stories that happened this month (and may still happen as it’s only May 26th) in which I truly believe we need to dedicate some attention towards as a global community. A recurring story is India’s COVID-19 crisis and how even people in my own circle have publicized how many relatives/friends they’ve lost back in India. Check out Vox’s article demonstrating not just the seriousness but the solemn realization that COVID-19 is still ravaging humanity. The Myanmar situation, now barely a whisper in international news, recently received some attention due to Miss Myanmar’s Thuzar Wint Lwin at the Miss Universe Pageant “getting political”. Check out the Guardian piece showing how its awareness is slowly dying out, just like Hong Kong and other non-western civil rights abuses. But I would say the story that got me to stay home and educate myself about for an entire day is the Palestine-Israel conflict. We hear about it daily, we see the hashtags, we feel the emotions of people losing their homes to missiles and airstrikes. What got me is the perspective that I will never understand (hopefully) what it is like living with the notion that the space around you could explode at any time. As of May 21st, there’s been a ceasefire between the two opponents. So let’s learn about hundreds of people have died due to the very recent events that have occurred. The Israeli Military has been retaliating against hundreds of rockets fired by the Hamas democratically-elected militia and jihad extremists with airstrikes. Note that most of missiles fired by Palestinians in Gaza fail to reach their target due to Israel’s “Iron-Dome” Missile Defence System. Hamas fired rockets to retaliate against the forceful ejection of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, along with terrorizing Palestinians at a very highly-regarded mosque during the most highly-regarded Islamic time of the year, Ramadan. In fact, Israel has been trying to take more control of Palestinian territory for quite some time, since World War 2, occupying the West Bank of the Gaza Strip and encouraging more Jewish people to immigrate and settle there. Things get complicated from here, more complicated than I can describe in this already long paragraph, I’ve even skipped over two local wars between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in which more and more land became under Israeli rule. The state of Israel was formed after World War 2 with many Jews fleeing there in escape of Nazi containment. Britain was given responsibility of dividing the once Israel and Palestine combined area fairly amongst the two populations but ended up leaving it brokenly divided and letting the leaders of the region figure it out for themselves. And the further you go into the past, the complexity grows even larger. I’ll end with this great piece by the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, informing about the conflict but also displaying how difficult it is to even discuss without clarifying your intentions over and over again. To learn more about the conflict, check out BBC’s article summarizing all that has happened up to the ceasefire, and to gauge more about the history of the conflict, I recommend this Crash Course video that now has over 10 million views.

Most Interesting Article of the Month

“Sweden’s Pandemic Experiment” published in The New Yorker by alloy Picket. This one, yes, was published in April, but as you can see I have very nearly caught up in my saved Pocket app articles! I’m choosing this article because of how confusing it was to anyone with a brain that Sweden, of all places, would go against the current and not establish lockdowns or mask guidelines. Their “Herd Immunity” tactic did not work, eventually leading to lockdowns anyway and mask mandates. It’s interesting how conscious and unconscious feelings towards government policy will make you feel uncomfortable when you want to, for example, wear a mask in public. Read the article here.

Most Interesting Video of the Month

More about the Palestine-Israel conflict, but from news agencies able to be on the Israel side of the region (likely difficult for international news agencies to be in Gaza, especially since the Associated Press office was bombed. Today's video demonstrates what the Israeli Missile Defense System looks like. See the video here.

Monthly Book Club

“L’Etranger” by Albert Camus. The story is a reflection of Camus’ philosophy, that of absurdism. Now, my understanding of absurdism is the notion that humans tend to search for meaning of life in a universe that has no meaning, yet the pursuit of said meaning itself is what makes life worth living. The story follows a man named Mersault, a French-Algerian who’s mother had just passed away. His indifference towards her death, and life in general, is the central theme of the story, leading him to (SPOLIER ALERT) be tried for the murder of a man. It’s an intesting short story to say the least, simple vocabulary and setting description with a major focus on the consequences of having little opinion to happenings in your life. To me, it goes to show how our ability to conjure an explanation about why we do things is more cherished in society even though we may not actually know why we do things, particularly in a reality that cares little for this answer. In Camus’ own words about the story, “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.” You can read an E-version of the short story here.

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Obtained from Book Depository.

Movie/TV Show of the Month

Adaptation. This movie has it all, the process of writing, Nicolas Cage memes, Meryl Streep getting high on drugs and committing attempted murder. It’s about a screenplay writer named Charlie Kaufman (name of the actual screenplay writer) who tries to adapt a novel that is unadaptable into film. A true case of writer’s block. He instead writes a self-referential narrative about him writing the adaptation. It’s a wild ride and actually demonstrates the self-loathing writing process some of us may be familiar with.

Podcast Highlight

This week, I’m highlighting Ologies. Hosted by Alie Ward, she invites a professional -ologist and “asks them stupid questions and the answers might change your life”. Mixed with wit and charm, Alie devised a podcast about how scientists got to where they are today, and what is currently driving the passion towards their field. It’s great fun and hosts a novel discipline every episode!

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Obtained from Alie Ward.

Monthly Earworm

“Zitti E Buoni” by Måneskin.

Check out the summary of Eurovision 2021 Grand Final here.

Quote of the Month

“If you’re in a fight, when the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

- Trevor Noah (Watch The Daily Show piece about the Palestine-Israel conflict here)