Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Festival of Ideas – A totally Appropriate Name

Admittedly, almost a month ago, when I told my boss I would attend Festival of Ideas, I was entirely clueless as to what this so-called “festival” was all about.  “Ideas!” one might conclude. Indeed – ideas were aplenty. From November 19th, to November 23rd, ideas rained down on Edmonton, as mass hordes of intellects and hipsters who were wondering “what’s science and stuff up to these days?” flocked to various venues. I - was one of those hipster.  Did I attend all of them? No. But the talks I did attend were damn good talks! Good enough for me to share. 

Friday: The Psychology of Scarcity with Eldar Shafir

First of all, let’s talk about how freaking amazing the venue was. City Hall – usually a venue for junior high choirs and the debate of bicycle lanes had its “City Room” (the space directly in front the main stairs) “converted” into a venue. I use the word converted loosely, since they essentially just added 100 chairs to an empty space and called it a venue. But I raise my hat to the U of A, as it definitely set the tone for what was going to be an incredible talk.

Dr. Eldar Shafir came to the “stage”, and might I say – absolutely killed it. A spectacle of wit and incredibly well presented findings, Dr. Shafir did a fine job of educating the audience on why poor people make seemingly… poor decisions. It was wonderful.

The event was over an hour, so I wouldn’t do it justice trying to go over everything here, but something that definitely stuck with me was Shafir’s sidebar about pay-day loan businesses. Here’s a couple facts he brought up:

  • There are more pay-day loan branches than McDonalds and Starbucks’ in the US: combined. 
  • For any randomly chosen pay-day loan branch in the US, the majority of the money being made is from loans that are being used to pay off previous loans.  
The psychology and tests behind everything he talked about was really interesting, and it definitely seems like something we should all be more aware of. If you want to know more about Shafir’s research (and you should), I’d recommend picking up his book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

Saturday Afternoon: Responsibility for Soldiers as a Measure of Societal Maturity

Image courtesy of

So - apparently, the Stanley Milner Library downtown has a really nice theatre – because I was sitting inside of it, and it’s really nice. It was really neat seeing the U of A branching out across the city, and also neat was the guy (Allen Ball), who just had the coolest English accent. Here I was, sitting, scowling at another audience member who decided Taco Time was a good idea, only to have my ears graced with his presence. Though – he just introduced the speaker, Dr. Ibolja Cernak – who had some very meaningful things to say.

A very interesting talk – though I’d say almost too informative – delved into how we’re doing a crappy job taking care of veterans. What was sad to hear was Dr. Cernak’s research, which was looking into how to help soldiers affected by all sorts of mental illnesses, was at a halt because all but one out of the eight grants she had applied for had been rejected. I’d publicly lambaste them on this blog, but she rattled off 8 acronyms I’ve never heard of and then kept the lecture going. Check out her team’s research, then get mad. They basically had enough money to collect a shwack-load of data – and nothing else. If this talk taught me anything, it’s that there are probably tons of research teams trying to figure out and solve different problems – sidelined, because they don’t have funding. You can find out about her research here

Saturday Evening: “What the %@&?! Happened to Comics” with Art Spiegelman

Genuinely amazing. Held at the Metro Cinema, this audience comprised of every age group thinkable, unlike the previous two I mentioned – which mainly comprised of not my age. But Art Spiegelman is incredibly cool. Like, smokes an e-cigarette on stage kinda’ cool. (Note that I’m endorsing e-cigarettes or anything… because I’m not.)

The talk was a really insightful and hilarious history of comics, and yes, I say comics, not graphic novels. The talk was really dynamic – with Art talking about things like one of his favorite comics out of a playboy magazine, or how the suicide of his mother affected him. Also, he gave a lot of insight into how and why he wrote Maus, an iconic comic about the holocaust. If anyone should ever have the opportunity to meet, see, or almost any verb that implicates hearing this man talk, I implore you to take advantage of it. Most of the funny bits from the talk are probably a bit too racy for this entry, but something here’s something he said that made me ponder for a bit:

“Comics were the Grand Theft Auto of the ‘50s.”

Nancy - at one point America's most read comic. Not what I would refer to as the golden age of comics.

And that’s what I got to see. I know it’s over, and I know a year from now all 16 people reading this blog post written by me (thanks Mom!) will have forgotten about it – but book time off for this thing. Based off the three events I attended this year, the U of A did an absolutely fantastic job not only arranging interesting and beautiful venues, but also finding some interesting and beautiful minds to fill them.

About the Author


Hey readers! My name is Shadi and I'm currently doing a double major in Mathematics and Economics - an amalgamation of the two most enjoyable fields fathomable.  

Now - pull up an ear and listen reader: there lives a thriving ecosystem of academia addicts and campus-culture aficionados throughout the U of A, and I'm hoping to get these stories to you. I'm hoping we can on some level create more pride in our university through what really matters: the students. Me? Yes - you! You matter. I want people to hear of what academic triumphs students are achieving, and what new initiatives leaders across campus are championing. Also, from time to time, I’ll try to make you smile with “humor”. I'm looking forward to the semester and being a part of this team, as well as learning more about what's happening across our campus!


1 comment

  1. Thanks for your kind words, greatly appreciated! I think the Festival of Ideas is a thing of beauty, we are lucky to have it.


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