News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 23rd & 24th August 2014

Newly crowned Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh reveals that she is gay


The Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh who was crowned The Rose of Tralee 2014 at The Dome in Kerry.

Maria Walsh opened up about her sexuality in an interview with the Irish Sun on Sunday after winning the competition on Tuesday.

“I’m confident in who I am as a person,” the 27-year-old said.

“To me, being gay is normal. I told my parents and they were supportive, as I knew they would be.”

The 56th winner of the Rose of Tralee has said that she started a relationship with a woman some years back which lasted for two years, but she is now single.

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Maria moved to Shrule in Co Mayo with her family 20 years ago but following her graduation in Journalism and Visual Media at Griffith College, moved to New York and later to Philadelphia.

Maria drew tears from family members during her interview at the Dome in Tralee on Tuesday night when she remembered her cousin 19-year-old Teresa Molloy, one of four women killed in a crash on the N17 near Milltown, Co Galway in November 2009.

“It’s moments like this, like being in the Rose of Tralee, that make you really seize the day and appreciate life and take everything as it comes,” said Maria.

“She has given me a lot of good luck to date, so I know she’s looking down on me and my family.

“I’m not ashamed of my sexuality by any means,” she told the Irish Sun on Sunday.

“The Rose of Tralee is about celebrating women’s intelligence, careers, their volunteer work. The question of sexuality never came up. To me, being gay is normal; it’s natural.”

Former Rose of Tralee Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin tweeted: “Our new @RoseofTralee_ Maria Walsh is a wonderful representative for both the festival and young women everywhere.”

Ms Walsh’s sexuality is likely to “create some interest, hopefully all positive”, the executive chairman of the long-running festival Anthony O’Gara has said.

Next eruption will be much less devastating to global economy


The anticipated eruption of an Icelandic volcano will not have as big an impact on aviation as the ash cloud crisis that struck in the summer of 2010.

As much as €3.5bn was wiped off the value of the global economy back in 2010 as a result of the euruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

More than 100,000 passenger and freight flights were cancelled as a result of no-fly orders because of fears that an ash cloud that spread from Canada to Siberia would damage aircraft flying through the particles.

The direct cost to the airline sector was around €1.3bn.

Airlines were forced to tear up timetables and wait for the ash to disipate.

But this time around the disruption is likely to be far less, because airlines have adopted a more scientific process to identify dangerous skies.

Back in 2010 80pc of flights were grounded on the worst day of the crisis, but a similar event now would bring significantly fewer cancellations, according to airspace manager Eurocontrol.

“There has been a move towards a more harmonised approach which recognises that decisions to perform flights in airborne contamination such as ash or sand should be made by airlines, based on conclusions of their safety risk assessment,” the Brussels-based organisation said.”This approach significantly reduces the number of flights that would have to be cancelled in the event of another ash crisis.”

After the events of 2010 were repeated on a smaller scale the next year, Eurocontrol began annual ash-crisis exercises and developed an interactive tool to map dust-concentration data from volcanic research centers in London and Toulouse, rather than relying on predictions based on weather forecasts.

Seismic activity around Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano has prompted authorities to lift the risk-assessment estimate to “orange”, the second-highest level.

Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and Deutsche Lufthansa are among carriers on alert for ash, which is a menace to jets because the glass-like particles can damage engines.

In the event of a Bardarbunga eruption, EasyJet plans to test ash-detectors it’s developing with partners including Airbus Group and Nicarnica Aviation.

The technology available today would have resulted in the closure of less than 3pc of the airspace affected in 2010, EasyJet’s Paul Moore said.


Airlines on alert as Iceland raises volcano warnings to red after recent eruption


A small volcanic eruption has occurred under Iceland’s Dyngjujokull glacier, prompting authorities to raise the warning code for aviation to red, the highest level, Iceland’s meteorological office said on Saturday.

Airlines are on alert and there are fears that flights may have to be cancelled if the situation worsens.

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow to San Francisco was re-routed away from the volcano as a “precautionary measure,” the company said today.

The region, in the centre of the North Atlantic island nation, has already been evacuated due to days of heightened seismic activity there.

“It is believed that a small subglacial lava-eruption has begun under the Dyngjujokull glacier,” the Icelandic Met Office said. “The aviation color code for the Bardarbunga volcano has been changed from orange to red.”

Ash from the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe’s airspace for six days.

The red code indicates that an eruption is imminent or underway with a significant emission of ash likely.

Brussels-based aviation authority Eurocontrol said that as soon as the volcano had erupted, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London would produce a regular forecast about the levels of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

Based on this forecast, civil aviation authorities may issue a notice but it was the responsibility of individual airlines whether they would operate and how they would adapt their flight schedules, Eurocontrol said.

Heart surgery can increase the risk of depression 


No one knows what led Robin Williams to kill himself. It wasn’t just one thing, but likely a fatal stew of lingering alcohol and drug addiction, depression, being middle-aged and male, and the prospect of facing Parkinson’s disease.

Rarely mentioned, though, is the open-heart surgery he’d undergone five years ago. But according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, research suggests up to 40 per cent of Canadians may suffer from depression after heart surgery – a one-two calamity with potentially deadly consequences.

Even when the surgery to replace my aortic valve was a success and my lingering irregular heartbeat had been stabilized – in other words, even after I was “well” – I fell into a deep depression. It took me more than a year to crawl back out, plenty of time to wonder how I could be so much better in my body and so much worse in my mind.

What’s the connection between heart surgery and depression?

One media report following Williams’s death pointed to three possible scenarios: Tiny particles of plaque could break off from the heart and move to the brain, altering its structure; the lowering of body temperature during surgery could cause a change in brain chemistry; or major surgery could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

(I’ll go with a fourth, more personal explanation: that stopping your heart in order to replace part of it represents a “gross insult” that your heart resents at some profound and mysterious level.)

What’s not in doubt is that we remain dangerously unaware of the connections between heart surgery, depression and suicide. I need to be cautious here: Researchers can’t prove a direct causality between the three. But there is a demonstrable connection between heart surgery and depression, and an even more obvious one between depression and suicide. So the irresistible inference is that we need to pay more attention to the connection.

Approximately 11 out of 100,000 Canadians commit suicide each year, according to Statistics Canada, with depression the most common illness among those who die by suicide.

This may be shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising. A recent study by the World Economic Forum revealed that in rich countries like ours, 38 per cent of all illness is mental illness, and when it comes to people of working age, mental illness accounts for half of all illness. Yes, half.

The daunting size of these numbers suggests there’s little we can do about them. But we can. Depression can kill, but it’s not necessarily a fatal disease.

Still, too many of us are ashamed of feeling helplessly sad. So we’re slow to seek treatment, and once we do, it’s tough to find timely help in Canada where less than six per cent of our health-care dollars go to treating all mental illnesses.

Things are changing, especially around the tangled trip-wire of heart surgery, depression and suicide. Toronto’s University Health Network has three staff psychologists who specialize in cardiac psychology. One of them is Dr. Adrienne Kovacs.

She strongly recommends that all cardiac patients enter cardiac rehab programs after their surgery. You’d think everyone would, but the astounding fact is that, according to University Health Network research, almost 80 per cent of patients leave the hospital after heart attack or heart surgery and don’t enter cardiac rehab. So one step is to get more of us into rehab, which is offered at no cost in Canada.

The second idea is to add a strong component of psychological rehab to the process.

“I think cardiac psychology is a decade behind psycho-oncology,” Kovacs says. “You wouldn’t think of building a cancer centre today without building in a program to deal with depression and anxiety. I’d like to think we’re headed that way, too.”

She also points to another major risk around depression that’s not getting the attention it deserves – the fact that depression leaves you much more susceptible to heart disease. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “if you have any medical condition, you are far more likely to have depression than someone who doesn’t.”

And, Kovacs says, you have double the risk of another cardiac event if you’re depressed.

American author Andrew Solomon, who has written on depresson and suicide, summed up the situation well in a recent piece for the New Yorker: “Depression is a risk factor for heart disease; open-heart surgery is a risk factor for depression.”

Poor Robin Williams, whose heart was so large. He may have broken ours’ because of all this.

Robots could kill us humans out of kindness

 Says a leading Futurist


Robots should be taught to appreciate human value to ensure they do not one day “kill us out of kindness,” a leading futurist has warned.

Nell Watson told The Conference in Malmo, Sweden, that robots will soon reach the stage where they have the same level of cognition as a bumblebee, creatures which are both socially aware and can navigate their way around their environment.

This advancement in artificial intelligence will be the first example of machines exhibiting ‘system one’ thinking used by humans to develop assumptions about the world around them.

Robots currently use ‘system two’ intelligence systems which rely on rules, according to Wired.

Ms Watson said the emergence of system one robots will create “huge change” in society globally. Households will have domestic-help robots and self-driving cars, while professions such as stockbroking, law and medical analysis will be undertaken by robots, not humans.

However, Ms Watson expressed concerns over super-intelligent robots. “I can’t help but look at these trends and imagine how then shall we live?” she said. “When we start to see super-intelligent artificial intelligences are they going to be friendly or unfriendly?”

It would not be enough to teach robots benevolence, as they may decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing they could do.

“The most important work of our lifetime is to ensure that machines are capable of understanding human value,” said Ms Watson. “It is those values that will ensure machines don’t end up killing us out of kindness.”

Her words of caution come after Stephen Hawking warned that while the rapid progress in artificial-intelligence (AI) research could be best thing that happened to humanity, it could also be the worst.

Writing in The Independent, he said that while it’s tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as science fiction, “this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history.”

The development of robots also sparked concerns earlier this year when Human Rights Watch warned ‘killer robots’ could “jeopardise basic human rights” as the United Nations held its first ever multinational convention on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

So-called killer robots are autonomous machines able to identify and kill targets without human input. Fully autonomous weapons have not yet been developed but technological advances are bringing them closer to fruition.


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