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Ideas Week

Monday, October 22, 2018

A conversation on the future of the highest court in the land

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 06:10 PM

CHICAGO IDEAS WEEK
  • Chicago Ideas Week

A crowd bundled in sweaters and scarves against the changing Chicago wind gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art last Thursday to hear a conversation on the Supreme Court held during Chicago Ideas Week, an annual festival that brings together diverse thinkers to promote sharing of ideas.  

No doubt spurred on by the recent contentious confirmation hearings of now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, attendees packed the 296-seat Edlis Neeson Theater to near capacity. Onstage were former Obama White House counsel Kate Shaw; Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University professor who has argued cases before the Supreme Court;  and Geoffrey Stone, law professor and provost of the University of Chicago. Moderated by U.S. district court judge Manish Shah, the conversation took a broad look at the functions of an effective Supreme Court.

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‘Tackling Taboos’: A conversation on redefining our own truths

Posted By on 10.22.18 at 03:38 PM

Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi - VANESSA BUENGER
  • Vanessa Buenger
  • Yvonne Orji and Luvvie Ajayi


"I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo," said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event "Tackling Taboos." The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it's important to talk about difficult issues transparently.

The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO's Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or "Daddy," as she calls him. "I don't have daddy issues, don't worry," she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn't know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she'd had growing up in an African household.

When living with African parents, "dreaming is a luxury," Orji said. "Living with Mexican parents too," said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents' plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.

Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they've held on to for the last 40 years. "Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help," said Orji.

Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.

"Our own taboo limits us," she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences." What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.

Following Witt's talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. "Your fake period got rid of that jerk," she sang. "'Cause you're disgusting and useless when your pussy don't work."

The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.

"I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people's lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me," he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people's stories and solidified him as "the Cardi B of lit."

The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn't continue being normalized.

Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#TimesUp: What's Next? Chicago Ideas Week conversation discusses the next steps for the movement

Posted By on 10.17.18 at 05:00 PM

SONA JONES
  • Sona Jones

Earlier this year, the #TimesUp legal initiative was launched to provide steps for women across all career industries who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, but now many women are asking, "where do we go from here?" Chicago Ideas Week hosted a conversation last night titled #TimesUp: What’s Next with activists and experts Amber Tamblyn, Saru Jayamaran, Tina Tchen, and Celeste Headlee to answer this question, offering some suggestions for next steps and examining areas where change needs to occur the most.

Thus far, most of the focus of the movement has been on high profile cases involving celebrities or public figures. Women in Hollywood have stood together at awards show announcing that time was up for abuse and assault on movie sets. "The Screen Actors Guild has changed on-set rules about how women are allowed to be treated and how their bodies can be touched," said Tamblyn, an actress, director, and one of the founding members of the #TimesUp movement.

But there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of inclusivity and diversity within the movement and advocating for women (and men) in all other fields. Tchen, one of the leaders of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, says workplace sexual harassment infects all industries. One of the only ways to implement any real change is to change the workplace culture that has allowed for harassment to grow and continue to be accepted. Opponents of the #TimesUp movement have argued that if companies just followed the law, there wouldn’t be any harassment issues, but those people fail to realize that these laws have not caught up with 2018.

Tchen says these laws do not protect bystanders who report sexual harassment. One change that is occurring, however, is the termination of employees accused of harassment who earlier would've been given a slap on the wrist or made to watch a sexual harassment training video. "Sexual harassment training is really ineffective," she said. Learning about sexual harassment won't change an offender's behavior. It'll only make them more aware of the procedures surrounding the harassment. 

Jayamaran, co-founder and president of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), shifts the conversation to restaurant workers. "In addition to support for legal challenges, we need to dismantle the systems and structures that lead to sexual harassment in the first place," she said. "Like the system of working for tips."

Jayamaran said the tipping economy is rooted in racism and it came into existence as a way to exploit the labor of slaves. It continues to exploit the labor of people of color and perpetuate power dynamics that result in sexual harassment.

The rest of the conversation focused on the importance of women working together. Though the movement has always placed an emphasis on women supporting women, Tamblyn said that white women especially need to be strong allies. In these spaces devoid of men, some white women are coming face to face with their privilege and the realization that sometimes they may perpetuate the same racism and exclusion as men.

"When you see that there is someone who's missing out of the conversation, you have to do everything you can to make sure they're included," she said.

The panel did a good job of recounting the strides the movement has made and what they're currently working towards but I'm not sure if anything that was said hasn’t already been said before. I would have liked them to highlight sexual assault in other, more vulnerable career fields like the public education system. Though I'm aware that a lot of the work the initiative is doing is geared towards workplace culture, I think discussing how the movement can help young women come forward with their stories, too, would be beneficial and a huge step in moving forward as a collective. Regardless, the conversation was one that we need to keep having in order to see more progress. 

Before the event ended, the four women answered audience questions and offered some tangible advice: Don’t be afraid to be the crazy, difficult bitch in the room and go vote in the midterm elections.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Thanks to smartphones, we're now in the golden age of reading

Posted By on 10.12.12 at 06:51 AM

What makes Chris Hughes qualified to talk about technology? Nothing really—he just helped create Facebook.
  • Max Souffriau
  • What makes Chris Hughes qualified to talk about technology? Nothing really—he just helped create Facebook.
If you tune in at all to the near-constant chatter about the precarious state of quality journalism, you’ve probably heard that the digital revolution is largely to blame for quality journalism's decline—that publishers beholden to smartphones and social networks are guilty of rewarding consumers with short attention spans, and that, as a result, those attention spans continue to shrink.

How, then, does the Reader ethos fit into the brave new world of digital news consumption? Conventional wisdom might hold that a 41-year-old publication that once printed a 20,000-word story about beekeeping is in trouble. It would seem that the smartphone and the social networks are killing our soul. They’re not. In fact, they might save it.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Has Chicago's Fed president saved our economy?

Posted By on 10.10.12 at 09:15 AM

Charles Evans Chicago Fed economy
  • Brian O'Mahoney/Sun-Times Media
  • Evans speaking this January in Lake Forest
Besides the threat on Big Bird's life, all I can remember from last week's presidential debate is the bickering over whose jobs package is bigger. The economy was always going to be the central issue of this campaign, so you'd think both Romney and Obama would have prepared clearer policies than "I'll add more natural gas jobs than the other guy." There's little more substance than that on either of the campaigns' official websites. Even an NPR analysis of the candidates' plans resorts to close readings of stump speeches and campaign ads.

Why hasn't the economy grown faster since the big crash in 2008, and how can it now? That's as much the job of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, as the president's. A scholar of the Great Depression, Bernanke had the Fed prevent inflation risked by the bailouts Bush and Obama approved so the economy wouldn't crash like it did 80 years prior. While the record-low interest rates he put in place may have staved off worse damage by priming investment in the private sector, they didn't convince businesses to scale back to prerecession levels—unemployment remains high, and after a couple of years that started to bother some economists, like Paul Krugman, who point out that the Fed is mandated to balance unemployment as well as inflation. Last month, Bernanke caved, and to combat unemployment he's turned to a promising idea developed here, by Chicago Fed president Charles Evans. The day Bernanke announced the aggressive bond-buying program tied to employment numbers that Evans had boosted for two years now, the stock market jumped like a frog for a fly, and I'm surprised more people in Chicago haven't been gloating about it.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A recipe for good ideas?

Posted By on 10.09.12 at 06:50 AM

These will do.
  • These will do.
I don't know where I learned this (it's likely apocryphal), but Salvador Dali purportedly developed a special method to capture his unconscious ideas. When drowsy, he'd sit over a plate holding a spoon; as soon as he started to fall asleep, his hand would relax, the spoon would hit the plate, and the sound would rouse him enough to record what had passed through his mind as he was losing control over it. After he jotted down everything he could remember, he'd pick up the spoon and begin the procedure again.

I keep meaning to test this experiment, but I never think to grab a spoon when I'm tired. Still, I love the final thoughts that materialize before sleep, which are slightly more concrete than dreams (and thus more receptive to conscious manipulation) but share dreams' liberating illogic. It's possible that none of these thoughts are especially coherent; my vague memories of them have more to do with their flow than their content. And sharing enough bedrooms over the years has taught me that what a person considers astute when he's falling asleep might strike him as gibberish when he's fully awake—statements like "No, you're my lion," to quote my first college roommate.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

"Hey, I have an idea," this week on the Bleader

Posted By on 10.08.12 at 08:47 AM

Paved paradise, put up Chicago in a lightbulb.
  • Paved paradise, put up Chicago in a lightbulb.
Today marks the first day of Chicago Ideas Week, a festival/conference/seminar from now until Sunday that features a range of presentations and events, all seemingly about "ideas" . . . but not really. Featuring discussions with topics such as "Future of News: What's the Story?" (presented by Time magazine) and "Explorers: Seeking the Edge" (presented by the edgy Hyatt hotels), the conference also boasts a number of famous people, in politics (Colin Powell), film (Edward Norton), and sports (Lance Armstrong), among others. To coincide with this elaborate, vague conference, we've decided to make this week's Variations on a Theme about "ideas."

If Chicago Ideas Week has any precedent, it's transparently the TED talks, traveling, videotaped "webinars" wherein a variety of people give oddly new-agey presentations about big, unwieldy topics. In other words: glorified Introduction to Philosophy classes. TED talks, as have already been recounted elsewhere, have become viral Internet memes. This nascent industry seems to have spawned competitors with its success, and Chicago Ideas Week is our local edition. And how was this conference able to book so many famous people? It's sponsored by J.P. Morgan, which is presumably footing the bill.

All week long, check back here for writing about ideas, which will be about ideas and possibly about this new notion of "ideas," where talks about inspiration and ungraspable topics are packaged and disseminated as ways to spend your time. And in case you missed it, go here to read writing from Marathon Week, last week's Variations on a Theme.

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