Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An Update on Christopher Hitchens

A writer, provocateur, intellectual, and even gadfly, Christopher Hitchens has long been the target of jabs from his opponents, and he's thrown more than a few jabs himself. He is also a regular and welcome speaker at The Commonwealth Club of California, where he has had a number of well-received events.

Hitchens was slated to speak in The Commonwealth Club's San Francisco office and in its Silicon Valley location in late June, but at the last moment the programs were canceled due to reported personal reasons. The mystery was cleared up a bit today when Hitchens posted the following message on the web site of Vanity Fair, for which he writes a column:
I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

So for the many people who had bought tickets for his event and were looking forward to hearing him discuss his revealing memoir, Hitch 22, you now have an explanation for the cancellation. (It wasn't just The Commonwealth Club, of course, that had to cancel appearances by the author; his entire book tour was put on hold.)

The Commonwealth Club joins the many people wishing Christopher Hitchens a speedy and complete recovery, and we look forward to having him on our stage again soon to discuss and argue about things in the way that only Christopher Hitchens can.

Take care.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tech Night at The Commonwealth Club Is the Talk of the Town

Photo above: Michael Arrington (left) engages author David Kirkpatrick in discussion about The Facebook Effect. Photo below: Peter Norvig (left) and Nicholas Carr talk Google and intelligence. Photos by Steven Bowles.

On Wednesday, June 23, The Commonwealth Club hosted a double header event featuring inside looks at the most talked-about online trends of today.

The evening kicked off with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington interviewing David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect; founder and CEO Marc Benioff introduced the program. After a reception, Nicholas Carr took the stage to talk with Google's director of research, Peter Norvig. Carr wrote the famous Atlantic cover story "Is Google Making Us Stupid."

The reports in print, blogs, and more continue to come in. Caitlin Donohue chimes in at San Francisco Bay Guardian with her article, "Gotta be smarter than the Internet: Commonwealth Club hosts a techie throwdown." Blogs were all over the map (and they wouldn't be blogs if they weren't, now would they?), from positive to negative. But perhaps befitting the subject matter, the most animated discussions have been in the social media realm of Twitter and Facebook.

We posted the video (here and here) last week. Leave a comment about with your thoughts about the speakers, the topics, and the program.

KGO-TV Reports on Commonwealth Club Transportation Funding Results

KGO-TV (ABC 7) in San Francisco filed the report below concerning the results of a study on taxation and transit that were presented at a June 25 event at The Commonwealth Club.

Norman Mineta, the former U.S. transportation secretary, moderated the program where the findings were presented. The survey suggested that Americans could be amenable to increased gasoline taxes if some of the money is used for environmental protection.

The news was announced as part of a program titled Transportation Funding in the Next 25 Years: What Are the Options? The sold-out program was co-sponsored by the Mineta Transportation Institute.

You can read Heather Ishimaru's report here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting Around in the Bay Area: Pay As You Go?

By Heather Mack

California is home to some of the worst traffic in the nation, particularly in the Bay Area, and that’s only one part of our transportation problem. Aging infrastructure, debt-ridden public transportation agencies and an ever-increasing population dominate the discussion on how to grapple with the state’s ways of getting around.

This morning, as The Club hosted another panel discussion on transportation in California, a new plan aimed at curbing congesting and increasing revenues is about to roll out with a series of toll roads planned for the Bay Area. However, the plan has received heavy criticism that the benefits of the pay roads will go to the very people who epitomize congestion conundrums: solo drivers.

Video: David Kirkpatrick on The Facebook Effect

In the first half of a technology-themed double-header evening two days ago, The Commonwealth Club hosted author David Kirkpatrick discussing his book The Facebook Effect. Introduced by founder Marc Benioff, the sold-out event gave attendees some behind-the-scenes insight into one of the most talked-about social media companies today.

Video: Nicholas Carr on Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In part two of The Commonwealth Club's technology double-header two days ago, Inforum hosted Nicholas Carr discussing whether the latest developments in social media are decreasing our intelligence and wits, rather than sharpening them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What's at Stake in California Higher Education Challenges

By Allison Vale

Recently, the University of California system was honored by Global Green USA with the California Environmental Leadership Award. While certainly an admirable achievement, the award highlights the potential for tragedy for public higher education in California – long a national leader, but one with an uncertain future.

Again and again, the problem stems from a greater statewide crisis. The University of California has lost $813 million in state support. Yes, the university system needs more money, but where is this money going to come from?

HD Video: California Higher Education in Peril


California's higher education system is facing severe financial strains, challenging its ability to provide widespread, high-quality education.

On June 16, 2010, the Commonwealth Club of California hosted an expert panel at its San Francisco headquarters. Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria C. Duffy moderated a panel that included Charles Reed, chancellor of California State University; Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges; and Mark Yudof, president of University of California.

Together, they gave a candid look at the problems facing the public higher education system here. "It's not raining; it's storming," said Dr. Reed.

Watch the video above to see a fascinating discussion about what the schools do well, how they're funded, what the options are, and what the higher education system means to the people, politics, and economy of California.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Frank Gaffney on Shariah Law and Westerners

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, conservative radio host, and former Reagan administration official, came to The Commonwealth Club earlier this year to talk about shariah law. He expressed his fears that it was quickly spreading fundamentalist Islamic law around the world.

Listen to the audio here. Do you agree or disagree with Gaffney's views? Why? Click on the "comments" link above, and join the conversation.

And: If the topic of Islamic law and religious issues interest you, you might be interested in an upcoming Commonwealth Club program about modern women's interpretation of the Qur'an. And check out scholar Reza Aslan's Club program from last year, in which he discussed Islamic identity in the United States.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Some Religious Perspectives on Environmentalism


From a March 23, 2010, program at The Commonwealth Club's Climate One series of programs, panelists discuss religious attitudes and actions regarding the environment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is the Sit/Lie Law Really Care Not Cash, Part II?


Now that Gavin Newsom’s run for lieutenant governor is official, the issues that will define his final months as mayor and carry over into his possible new role have come into focus. During his April 7, 2010, visit to the club, he referenced several topics that have since gained significant attention in the city.

Gavin Newsom catapulted himself to the public awareness beyond San Francisco in 2004 when he granted same-sex couples marriage licenses at the beginning of his term as mayor, but it was his work as a city supervisor and his stance on a far more alternative lifestyle that proved more controversial: homelessness.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Announcing Online Subscription to New Social Entrepreneurship Series

Last month, The Commonwealth Club launched an important new series focusing on Social Entrepreneurship in America, featuring innovators and pioneers bringing an entrepreneurial spirit and rigor to solve societal problems.

The leadoff speaker for the series was Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Prize winner for his pathbreaking efforts to bring finance to the poorest of the poor.

The 13-event Social Entrepreneurship in America series, directed by The Club's Social Entrepreneur in Residence, Ruth Shapiro, includes social entrepreneur leaders Conchy Bretos (CEO, MIA Consulting Group), Sally Osberg (president & CEO of The Skoll Foundation), ShoreBank Corp. President Mary Houton, Ashoka founder & Chairman Bill Drayton, and many more.

Now, for the first time in its 107-year history, The Commonwealth Club is teaming up with our friends at to offer this series to global audiences in the form of a premium online video package. Subscriptions are available on monthly or complete-series packages, all delivered with great sound and video.

To learn more about the subscription package, and to read about the upcoming lineup of speakers in this series, visit the series page at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel and Its International Relationships: What Now?

Israel's consul general for the Pacific Northwest region, Akiva Tor, might have thought that Israeli-Iranian relations would be the hottest topic when he speaks at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco next week. Now, it might be far down the list, because his June 10 speech will take place about a week and a half after Israel's actions toward a convoy of ships trying to run the blockage of Gaza, which resulted in at least 9 dead and many wounded, including Israeli soldiers.

Anyone interested in learning more about Israeli policy toward Gaza and the Hamas organization that controls the land, its increasingly contentious relationship with Turkey, and its connections with the United States will not want to miss this event.

To be a part of this discussion, get more information and buy tickets to the event online.