Upcoming Events: Humanities

Wed 8/3

Image - Lawrence Schonbrun

Why Are Class Action Attorneys' Fees so High and Judicial Oversight so Low?

Date: Wed, August 03, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions for Big Problems

Lawrence Schonbrun, Attorney Representing the Petitioning Class Member in Laffitte vs. Robert Half International

Big Solutions to Big Problems, the 2016 August Forum series at the Club, investigates whether excessive legal fees in class action lawsuits can be reined in without eliminating the incentives needed to prosecute such actions. Schonbrun’s talk will discuss the recent California Supreme Court case, Laffitte v. Robert Half Int'l., Inc., which establishes the rules that courts must follow in awarding reasonable attorneys' fees from class action settlements.

Mon 8/8

Image - George Hammond

Ending Slavery

Date: Mon, August 08, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions for Big Problems

George Hammond, Author, Rational Idealism and Conversations with Socrates

Monday Night Philosophy contributes to our special August series with a close look at the resilience of slavery in the 21st century. Ending slavery was a 19th century obsession that appeared quite successful, as did the attempt to end intemperance. But was slavery, like drunkenness, just pushed underground when it was criminalized? The intense psychological desire for hierarchical status, and the economic desires that reinforce that, explain why slavery is as hard to eliminate as other social ills, as is evidenced by the continuing mass incarceration of African-Americans and the endurance of various forms of female slavery.

The big solution to this big problem is an easily understood and almost as easily adopted perspective that effectively undermines the psychological need for hierarchy. There are also legal incentives, and technical half-solutions, which could help minimize the demand for enslaving each other in the meantime.

Tue 8/9

Image - George Hammond

Understanding Evil

Date: Tue, August 09, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions to Big Problems

George Hammond, Author, Rational Idealism and Conversations with Socrates

The dichotomy between good and evil was popular long before Zoroaster was born, and it will probably continue to be long after Manichaeism's last influences subside. But is evil a useful concept? Or an obfuscating one? The big solution to this big problem in understanding reality comes from comparing the concepts of good and evil to the less emotionally fraught concepts of hot and cold. They appear to be opposites at first, but are actually relative labels we apply to our experiences that depend both on an objective reality and on the relative perspective of the perceiver.

Understanding evil this way vastly reduces the fears that have scared us silly for centuries, and provides a tremendous boost to the effectiveness of our pursuit of happiness—a big solution indeed.

Wed 8/10

Image - Lorraine Bannai

Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice

Date: Wed, August 10, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions for Big Problems

Lorraine Bannai, Professor of Lawyering Skills and Director, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, Seattle University School of Law; Author, Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice

The vulnerability of minority communities has always been a big problem, but it is particularly so when fear exacerbates ignorance. Not long ago, it was Japanese Americans; now it is Muslims. Professor Bannai illuminates this theme through the story of Fred Korematsu, a 22-year-old Oakland welder who refused to comply with orders that led to the incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Korematsu v. United States­, the wartime Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the government in one of its most infamous cases. More than 40 years later, Professor Bannai was part of the legal team that successfully challenged Korematsu's conviction based on proof that the government had falsified the record.

For Korematsu’s courage and for his work warning of the dangers of prejudice, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Mon 8/15

Image - Bobby Kennedy

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

Date: Mon, August 15, 2016
Time: 12:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions for Big Problems

Larry Tye, Author, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Nobody was better, half a century ago, at thinking about the biggest solutions for the problems of his age than Bobby, whether that be race riots roiling in cities across America, and especially in California; the war raging in Vietnam; or the general issue of inequality that was dividing people along lines of class, race, gender and generation.

Those issues, of course, are a mirror of those facing the country today, when RFK's message is more resonant than ever. He predicted we'd have a black president almost to the day, when no white politician dreamed of it. He talked about how our problems made us ripe for demagogues, though he'd never met Donald P. Trump but did know George Wallace better than anyone. And he offered ways out of all of that, in compelling enough terms to win the California primary and seem poised for the presidency.

Thu 8/18

Image - Francis Fukuyama

American Political Decay or Renewal?

Date: Thu, August 18, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Part of our special series Big Solutions for Big Problems

Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science, Stanford University; Author, The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

Professor Fukuyama presents the keynote lecture of our special August series, Big Solutions for Big Problems. He asks whether our current “vetocracy” has made it easier to stop our government from doing anything than to accomplish something for the common good. Meanwhile, the presidential race has caused a lot of apprehension. The Republican Party has succumbed to Donald Trump’s hostile takeover, and the ultra-insider Hillary Clinton had to face surprisingly strong competition from Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Whatever the issue—from immigration to financial reform to trade to stagnating incomes—large numbers of voters from both ends of the spectrum have rejected what they see as a corrupt, self-dealing establishment, and turned instead to radical outsiders in the hopes of a purifying cleanse. But is that what we will be getting?

Mon 8/29

Image - Socrates Café

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, August 29, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

On one Monday evening of every month the Humanities Forum sponsors Socrates Café at The Commonwealth Club. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of a philosophical topic chosen at that meeting. The group's facilitator, John Nyquist, invites participants to suggest topics, which are then voted on. The person who proposed the most popular topic is asked to briefly explain why she or he considers that topic interesting and important. An open discussion follows, and the meeting ends with a summary of the various perspectives participants expressed. Everyone is welcome to attend. 

Mon 9/12

Image - Karen Paget

Patriotic Betrayal: Inside a Secret CIA Campaign

Date: Mon, September 12, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Karen Paget, Author, Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism

Monday Night Philosophy considers the social ramifications of a democratic society allowing internal spying. In 1967, Ramparts magazine exposed a CIA secret: a decades-old project to enroll American students in the crusade against communism by suborning the National Student Association. Patriotic Betrayal tells a story filled with self-serving rationalizations, layers of duplicity, and bureaucratic double-talk. Author Karen Paget, herself a former member of the NSA, mined hundreds of archival sources and declassified documents, and interviewed more than 150 people, to uncover precisely how the CIA turned the NSA into an intelligence asset during the Cold War. Her answer throws a sharp light on the persistent argument about whether America’s national security interests can be secured by skullduggery and deception.

Mon 9/19

Image - Don George

The Way of Wanderlust

Date: Mon, September 19, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Don George, Travel Writer; Author, The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George

A professional travel writer and editor for the past four decades, Don George has explored the furthest corners of the world. In his book, The Way of Wanderlust, George includes many of his adventurous tales from the last 40 years—climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, ascending Yosemite’s Half Dome, a moving homestay experience in Cambodia. The former travel editor for the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, George founded the Wanderlust section of Salon.com and was recently the global travel editor for Lonely Planet Publications.

Hear George reflect upon his global expeditions and reignite your own wanderlust.

Wed 9/21

Image - Ross King

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

Date: Wed, September 21, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Claude Monet—the man, the times, and the art

Ross King, Author, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

We have all seen—whether live, in photographs or on postcards—Claude Monet's legendary water lily paintings. They are in museums all over the world and are among the most beloved works of art of the past century. Yet these soothing images were created amid terrible personal turmoil and sadness. As World War I exploded within hearing distance of his house at Giverny, Monet's personal losses piled up and formed the tragic backdrop of his last and largest creations. Using letters, memoirs and other sources, Ross King reveals a more complex, more human, more intimate Claude Monet than has ever been portrayed, and firmly places his water lily project among the greatest achievements in the history of art.

Mon 9/26

Humanities West Book Discussion: A Nervous Splendor, by Frederic Morton

Date: Mon, September 26, 2016
Time: 5:00 PM

Join us to discuss A Nervous Splendor. Frederic Morton deftly tells the haunting story of the Crown Prince Rudolf and his city, where, in the span of only 10 months, "the Western dream started to go wrong." Morton's story studies other young men just as frustrated as the prince, including young Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, and the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde was the great erotic drama of the fin de siecle. Morton interweaves their fates with that of the doomed prince and the entire city. Discussion led by Lynn Harris.

Image - Socrates Café

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, September 26, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

On one Monday evening of every month the Humanities Forum sponsors Socrates Café at The Commonwealth Club. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of a philosophical topic chosen at that meeting. The group's facilitator, John Nyquist, invites participants to suggest topics, which are then voted on. The person who proposed the most popular topic is asked to briefly explain why she or he considers that topic interesting and important. An open discussion follows, and the meeting ends with a summary of the various perspectives participants expressed. Everyone is welcome to attend. 

Tue 9/27

Image - Scott Allan Morrison

The Dark Side of Social Media: Privacy, Manipulation and Terms of Use

Date: Tue, September 27, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Scott Allan Morrison, Former Silicon Valley Journalist; Author, Terms of Use
In conversation with Lisen Stromberg, Independent Journalist, CEO and Founder, AcceleratingWomen

Facebook has vowed that it will not attempt to influence the outcome of an election. But as veteran Silicon Valley journalist Scott Allan Morrison shows us in his debut thriller Terms of Use, social media companies can manipulate voters, and there are no laws to prevent them from doing so. Join Scott as he discusses his novel, Internet privacy and social media’s growing influence over our personal lives and our political system.

Wed 10/5

Image - Tara Smith

Can Courts Get the Law Right? Judicial Review’s Problem with Objectivity

Date: Wed, October 05, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Judicial review and the rule of law

Tara Smith, Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin; Author, Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System

The best laws in the world are useless if they are misunderstood by the courts. Yet the debate over judicial review—proper interpretation of laws—tends to be a minefield of loaded concepts, straw men and false alternatives. Tara Smith explains the pillars of objective law and the essentials needed to restore objective judicial review. Hear Smith's unique perspective on the originalism vs. living constitution vs. minimalism debate.

Mon 10/10

Image - The Creative Architect

The Creative Architect

Date: Mon, October 10, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
A look inside an amazing episode of modern architecture and psychology

Pierluigi Serraino, Architect; Author, The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study
In conversation with John King, Architecture Critic, San Francisco Chronicle

Monday Night Philosophy unearths a late 1950s "source of creativity" study whose data has finally been analyzed and published. Forty eminent architects—including Eero Saarinen, Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, George Nelson, Richard Neutra, Eliot Noyes, Pietro Belluschi, Serge Chermayeff and A. Quincy Jones—descended on UC Berkeley for three days of intensive testing in an attempt to discover the sources of their creativity. Pierluigi Serraino charts the development and implementation of this historic study, producing the first look at an amazing and matchless episode in the annals of modern architecture and psychology.

Tue 10/18

Image - Elaine Kamarck

Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again

Date: Tue, October 18, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Success and failure in the White House

Elaine Kamarck, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Author, Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again

Elaine Kamarck argues that for most of their lives, Americans have experienced government failure. The idea that government can and will produce results, implement policy, and efficiently govern the nation is met with rolled eyes. Kamarck explores the failings of presidents Carter, Bush and Obama with a bipartisan analysis of how and why each fiasco occurred.

Her insider’s perspective provides accessible explanations into the inner-workings and political bureaucracy that can cause a governmental meltdown. One big problem she sees is that we reward communicators over managers, rhetoric over governing skills. But persuasive speeches and tweets need to be balanced with a grasp of policy and how to implement it.

Mon 10/24

Humanities West Book Discussion: The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig

Date: Mon, October 24, 2016
Time: 5:00 PM
Portrait of an era

Join us to discuss Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday. Written as both a recollection of the past and a warning for future generations, it recalls the golden age of literary Vienna—its seeming permanence, its promise and its devastating fall. Surrounded by the leading literary lights of the epoch, Zweig draws a vivid and intimate account of his life and travels through Vienna, Paris, Berlin and London, touching on the very heart of European culture. His passionate, evocative prose paints a stunning portrait of an era that danced brilliantly on the edge of extinction. Discussion led by Lynn Harris.

Image - David Bodanis

Einstein's Greatest Mistake

Date: Mon, October 24, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Just how great could Einstein have been?

David Bodanis, Author, Einstein's Greatest Mistake

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

David Bodanis, best-selling author of E=mc2, has written a brisk, accessible biography of Albert Einstein that reveals his genius and his hubris. Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos with his general theory of relativity. Yet in the final decades of his life he was also ignored by most scientists. Bodanis explains how Einstein’s imagination and self-confidence led to his early successes, but when it came to newer revelations in quantum mechanics, those same traits undermined his quest for the ultimate truth. Einstein’s conviction in his own intuition proved to be his ultimate undoing.

An intimate and enlightening biography of the celebrated physicist, Einstein’s Greatest Mistake reveals how much we owe Einstein today—and how much more he might have achieved.

Image - Socrates Café

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, October 24, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

On one Monday evening of every month the Humanities Forum sponsors Socrates Café at The Commonwealth Club. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of a philosophical topic chosen at that meeting. The group's facilitator, John Nyquist, invites participants to suggest topics, which are then voted on. The person who proposed the most popular topic is asked to briefly explain why she or he considers that topic interesting and important. An open discussion follows, and the meeting ends with a summary of the various perspectives participants expressed. Everyone is welcome to attend. 

Thu 11/3

Image - Kerrin Meis

Egon Schiele: A Feminist Artist Ahead of His Time

Date: Thu, November 03, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Kerrin Meis, Retired Lecturer, SFSU; Teacher, OLLI Berkeley and OLLI San Rafael

Egon Schiele, artistically active in Vienna during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, adored women, and was influenced by the fin-de-siècle preoccupation with sex. The Viennese artist was excited by Sigmund Freud's 1905 Theories of Sexuality, Gustav Mahler’s suggestive music, and Gustav Klimt's gorgeous images of desire. Schiele was even more audacious in his nudes and his explorations of self in his self-portraits, in his landscapes of the small village where he had retreated from Vienna (and was imprisoned for his erotic art) and in his deeply perceptive portraits. His many masterpieces explore the mysteries of love and death.