Upcoming Events

Mon 3/28

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, March 28, 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 3/29

Image - Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank: What's the Matter with the Democrats?

Date: Tue, March 29, 2016
Time: 12:00 PM

Thomas Frank, Author, What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?

Come hear the best-selling author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? echo that question as it relates to the Democratic Party. Frank says liberals like to believe that if only Democrats can continue to dominate national elections, if only those awful Republicans are beaten into submission, then the country will be on the right course. But he says this view fundamentally misunderstands the modern Democratic Party. Frank says that the Democrats have in fact done little to advance traditional liberal goals: expanding opportunity, fighting for social justice, and ensuring that workers get a fair deal. Indeed, he argues that Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and yet the decline of the middle class has only accelerated, Wall Street gets its bailouts, wages keep falling, and the free-trade deals keep coming.

In this critical election year, Frank recalls the Democrats back to their historic goals—what he says is the only way to reverse the ever-deepening rift between the rich and the poor in America. A former columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Harper’s, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and writes regularly for Salon. 

Wed 3/30

Image - Charles Koppelman

Fidel Castro Didn't Show up for Rehearsal: How I Produced the First New Cuban Opera in 50 Years ... and Survived

Date: Wed, March 30, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Charles Koppelman, Producer, Writer, Librettist

Cubanacan, the first new Cuban opera since that country’s revolution, is the story of Fidel Castro commissioning architect Ricardo Porro to design and build art schools on the site of the Havana Country Club in 1961. Koppelman will present video excerpts from the opera’s performance at the Havana Bienal last May, reveal the 13-year journey of this project, and explain what it's like to work in Cuba at the dawn of U.S.-Cuban rapprochement. 

Image - National Security, Privacy, and Freedom of Expression Online

National Security, Privacy, and Freedom of Expression Online

Date: Wed, March 30, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Author, HRC 2015—Report on Encryption and Anonymity in Digital Communications
In conversation with Jacob Foster, Attorney, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP; Served in the Office of the Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court

A vibrant debate has arisen over whether encryption and anonymity online are essential to free expression or a threat to national security. While law enforcement contends that technological backdoors to encryption are necessary to prevent terrorists from "going dark," the Report by Special Rapporteur Kaye concludes that the right to free expression depends on freedom from electronic surveillance. Join us for a discussion of the future of online privacy in light of the Snowden disclosures, the rise of ISIS, and the encryption debate.

Image - Joe Lurie

Joe Lurie: Perceptions and Misperceptions in a Globalized Polarized World

Date: Wed, March 30, 2016
Time: 7:00 PM

Joe Lurie, Executive Director Emeritus, International House, UC Berkeley; Author

The Commonwealth Club is offering an encore performance of Joe Lurie's recent sold-out program in San Francisco. Inspired by a West African proverb that says “The stranger sees only what he knows,” Joe Lurie shares a feast of cross-cultural stories and misadventures, exploring the deeper cultural messages that escape people who hear largely what they’re used to hearing and see mostly what they’re used to seeing.

Gleaned from his years of research, travel and managing Berkeley’s International House, Lurie reveals how cultural filters distort perceptions of others in the worlds of immigration, diplomacy and business. One reviewer of Lurie’s book observed, “Already I can hear the reader calling out to a friend across the room, ‘Wait, you’ve got to hear this!’”

Thu 3/31

Image - Shannon Watts

Shannon Watts: Gun Safety Is a Winning Issue

Date: Thu, March 31, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

Shannon Watts, Founder, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Shannon Watts is a mother of five who, prior to founding Moms Demand Action, was a stay-at-home mom and former communications executive. The day after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Shannon started a Facebook group with the message that all Americans can and should do more to reduce gun violence. That online conversation turned into a grassroots movement of American mothers fighting for public safety measures that both respect the Second Amendment and protect people from gun violence. Together with Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action is the leading gun violence prevention organization in the country, with more than 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states.

Since its founding, Moms Demand has taken the fight for new and stronger gun laws to the states, passing background check laws in six states and battling gun bills that it thinks would undermine public safety. It persuaded corporations such as Starbucks, Target and Chipotle to adopt "gun sense" policies that put the safety of their employees and customers first. It's shaping the conversation about responsible gun ownership in America through its Be SMART campaign, which encourages responsible gun storage. And now, Moms Demand is building on these victories by making gun violence prevention a political priority in the upcoming 2016 elections.

Join INFORUM for a relevant and engaging discussion with Shannon about this important topic. 

Wed 4/6

Image - Edward Warner

Running with Rhinos: Stories from a Radical Conservationist

Date: Wed, April 06, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM
Who would take on the most dangerous volunteer fieldwork around?

Edward Warner, Author; Philanthropist; Former Exploration Geologist

Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain in the wilds of sub-Saharan Africa. Few if any laymen like Warner have been invited to care for them in the wild, some of the most dangerous volunteer fieldwork around. It gave him the opportunity to pursue and refine his emerging philosophy of radical conservationism, to cultivate partnerships between local communities and private landowners in Africa, and to export the lessons about land and wildlife management back home to the United States. 

Fri 4/8

Image - Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen

Date: Fri, April 08, 2016
Time: 12:00 PM

Anna Quindlen, Author, Miller’s Valley

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

Best known for her award-winning New York Times and Newsweek columns, Quindlen offers up a highly anticipated new novel.

In a small American town on the verge of dramatic change lives a family whose story you will not forget and a young girl who struggles to escape her parents, siblings, and friends even while she knows how deeply she is shaped and loved by them. Mimi Miller, even at a young age, knows that home is “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”

In Miller's Valley, Quindlen has written an emotionally powerful novel driven by a young girl who experiences first-hand the tension between nostalgia and progress as she tries to build a future for herself.

Mon 4/11

Gamechanging California Elections

Date: Mon, April 11, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

Steve Swatt, Former Political Journalist, United Press International and KCRA TV Sacramento
Susie Swatt, Former Key Staffer, California Legislature; Former Special Assistant, California Fair Political Practices Commission
Jeff Raimundo, Former Political Reporter, Sacramento Bee and McClatchy Newspapers
Rebecca LaVally, Instructor, Sacramento State University; Former Sacramento Bureau Chief, United Press International

Monday Night Philosophy investigates California election history with the authors of the award-winning Game Changers: Twelve Elections That Transformed California. They will discuss the elections and political trends which had the greatest impact on California history, and how they continue to shape our lives and the current political landscape. Drawing from primary sources and new interviews, each chapter explores one election, from Leland Stanford's gubernatorial race to Gray Davis's recall, revealing the forces behind the choices made at the polls and their effects upon the intricate game played in Sacramento.

Image - The Commonwealth Club of California

Food Justice in America

Date: Mon, April 11, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

Panelists TBA

This program is underwritten by The California Wellness Foundation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 23 million people in America live in what’s known as food deserts. These areas, mostly lower income communities in urban neighborhoods and rural towns, don’t have easy access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other nutritious foods. As a result, their populations suffer from a myriad of preventable health problems, including higher levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

How can we ensure food security—with fresh, local, healthy food—for all Americans? Join our panel of advocates as they discuss what is being done to change the current food system in the United States to improve the availability of healthy food, as well as what is happening in our own communities here in the Bay Area.

Wed 4/13

Image - Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington with Sheryl Sandberg: The Power of Sleep

Date: Wed, April 13, 2016
Time: 12:00 PM
The latest advice and science on achieving a better night's rest.

Arianna Huffington, Co-founder and Editor in Chief, the Huffington Post Media Group, Author, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time
In Conversation with Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

In today’s 24/7 fast-paced world, the hunger for sleep is only getting stronger. Sleep deprivation affects our health, decision making, and relationships both personally and professionally.

Huffington takes on sleep from every angle and offers the latest scientific recommendations and expert tips to achieve a better night's sleep.

Image - Chinatown Walking Tour

Chinatown Walking Tour

Date: Wed, April 13, 2016
Time: 1:45 PM

Enjoy a Commonwealth Club Neighborhood Adventure. Join Rick Evans for a memorable midday walk and discover the history and mysteries of Chinatown. Explore colorful alleys and side streets. Visit a Taoist temple, an herbal store, the site of the first public school in the state, and the famous Fortune Cookie Factory. 

Image - Shaka Senghor and Van Jones

Beyond Prisons: A Conversation About Criminal Justice Reform

Date: Wed, April 13, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

Van Jones, President & Co-Founder, #cut50; CNN Political Commentator; Former White House Special Advisor
Shaka Senghor, Director of Strategy and Innovation, #cut50; Writer; Mentor; Motivational Speaker

Currently, more than 2 million Americans are in prison, close to one out of every 100 Americans. As a result, the federal government spends $80 billion each year on the incarceration industry while projects such as improving our national infrastructure and educational systems continue to be drastically underfunded.

#Cut50, a national, bipartisan initiative co-founded by Van Jones, is working to safely and smartly reduce the American prison population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. Hear from Van and Shaka Senghor, author of the memoir Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison, about why they believe that now is the perfect time to achieve meaningful criminal justice reform and how #cut50 plans to make it happen.

Join INFORUM for a timely, insightful and illuminating conversation about criminal justice reform in America. 

Image - SAP CEO Bill McDermott

Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP

Date: Wed, April 13, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM
Leadership and innovation

Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP; Author, Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office; Twitter

This event is underwritten by Accenture.

How do you lead with purpose? McDermott’s unique start as a young entrepreneur helped solidify his journey to lead SAP, the world’s largest business software company.

Hear his thoughts on leadership and innovation in today’s competitive global market. 


Image - The Commonwealth Club of California

Michael Puett: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

Date: Wed, April 13, 2016
Time: 7:00 PM

Michael Puett, Professor of Chinese History and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University; Co-author, The Path: What Chinese Philosopher Can Teach Us About the Good Life

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard? Counterintuitive and countercultural, Puett shares why the important teachings developed more than 2000 years ago still apply today.

Hear more about the ideas that will help change your life. 

Thu 4/14

Image - Michael Waldman

Michael Waldman: The Fight to Vote

Date: Thu, April 14, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law; Author, The Fight to Vote; Twitter

Previously, Michael Waldman traced the ongoing argument on gun rights from The Bill of Rights to the current day. Now, in The Fight to Vote, Waldman takes a succinct and comprehensive look at an even more crucial struggle: the past and present effort to define and defend government based on “the consent of the governed.” From the writing of the Constitution, and at every step along the way, as Americans sought the right, others have fought to stop them. This is the first book to trace the entire story from the Founders’ debates to today’s restrictions: gerrymandering, voter ID laws, the flood of money unleashed by the nonprofit Citizens United, making voting difficult for the elderly, the poor and the young, by restricting open polling places.

Waldman describes the precedents for these contemporary arguments. The fight, sometimes vicious, has always been at the center of American politics: from counting slaves but not permitting them to vote, to property-less males, then to free blacks, women, 18-year-olds, and the disadvantaged who were harassed by literacy tests. Now the right to vote is challenged by restrictions on open polling schedules and IDs, plus floods of money. The Fight to Vote, meticulously researched and thoroughly compelling, recounts the ongoing struggle for this right. 

Tue 4/19

Image - The Commonwealth Club of California

San Francisco International Airport: A Leader in Environment and Sustainability

Date: Tue, April 19, 2016
Time: 6:00 PM

John Martin, Airport Director, San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport is a leader in mitigating the environmental impact of airport operations and in adopting sustainability facilities and practices. From reducing greenhouse gas emissions to building LEED-certified terminals to providing habitats for endangered species, the San Francisco International Airport has long set the standards for sustainability for large and small public and private agencies and organizations. 

Image - Juan Williams photo

Juan Williams

Date: Tue, April 19, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM

Juan Williams, Political Analyst, Fox News Channel; Author, We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America; Twitter

What would the Founding Fathers think about America today? Over 200 years ago the Founders broke away from the British Empire to build a nation based on the principles of freedom, equal rights and opportunity for all. But life in the United States today is vastly different from anything the original Founders could have imagined in the late 1700s. The notion of an African-American president of the United States, or a woman such as Condoleezza Rice or Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, would have been unimaginable to the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence or who ratified the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Among the modern-day pioneers Williams explores are the passionate conservative President Reagan; the determined fighters for equal rights Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the profound imprint of Rev. Billy Graham’s evangelism on national politics; the focus on global human rights advocated by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; the cultural impact of the gay community that led the Stonewall riot and brought gay life into America’s public square; and the re-imagined role of women in contemporary life as shaped by Betty Friedan.

Williams reveals how each of these modern-day founders has extended the Founding Fathers' original vision and changed fundamental aspects of our country, from immigration to the role of American labor in the economy, from modern police strategies to the importance of religion in today’s political discourse.

Mon 4/25

Image - The Commonwealth Club of California

Humanities West Book Discussion: How the Irish Saved Civilization

Date: Mon, April 25, 2016
Time: 5:00 PM

Join us to discuss Thomas Cahill's book How the Irish Saved Civilization. In his entertaining and compelling narrative, Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era and argues that, without the help of Irish monks and Irish culture, that transition could not have taken place. Discussion led by Lynn Harris. 

Socrates Café

Date: Mon, April 25, 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.