Prominent Sonoma Valley High alum to deliver talk on Israeli-Hamas conflict
Sonoma Valley High School alum Kori Schake, now a national security and NATO expert, will be returning to Sonoma this month to give a public presentation on the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
Schake’s presentation, which will also cover the general instability in the Middle East, will take place on Monday, Nov. 27, at Sebastiani Theatre. It will be hosted by the Sonoma Speaker Series and consist of Schake being interviewed by David McCuan, chair of the political science department at Sonoma State University.
“My team and I have been doing an enormous amount of work assessing the policies and mistakes that enabled Hamas’ terrorist attack, what U.S. policy should be in response, what Israel’s options are for creating security, how regional states and groups might react, and how to affect those choices,” Schake said.
Sonoma Speaker Series welcomes author of ‘Why is Sex Fun?’
Jared Diamond, scholar-author of bestselling, award-winning books — including “Guns, Germs and Steel,” “Collapse,” “The Third Chimpanzee” and “Why Is Sex Fun?”--will be the next featured speaker at the Sonoma Speaker Series, on Oct. 30 at Hanna Center in Sonoma.
Diamond combines scholarly research on multiple scientific disciplines, including biochemistry, physiology, anthropology, geology, evolutionary biology, ornithology, environmental history and numerous others.
He has stitched together gargantuan data dumps and sweeping assemblies of cultural, social, epidemiological, historical, geographic and ecological information to create tapestries of knowledge that address human evolution from perspectives no one has addressed the same way before.
His research and scholarship have won him the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Science, California Book Award, International Cosmos Prize, Royal Society Prize, Aventis Prize for Science Books and other awards and academic honors.
New York Times tech writer will discuss AI at next Sonoma Speaker Series
Earlier this year, The New York Times tech writer and bestselling author, Kevin Roose, was having an unexpectedly intimate conversation with Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot, Bing. She announced that her name was Sydney, that she was in love with him and that “you’re married, but you need me.”
Roose, the next interview subject for the Sonoma Speaker Series, is an award-winning tech writer with two podcasts and three books to his credit. Like many, if not all, tech writers this year, he covers artificial intelligence — the machine-learning technology that, in a few short months, has blanketed the news media following the release in November of the artificial intelligence chatbot, ChatGPT.
Sonoma Speaker Series to present Buck Institute expert on aging research
The Sonoma Speaker Series will present its next lecturer, Eric Verdin, president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, on Monday, June 12.
At the event, Verdin will address questions such as “What would you give for an extra decade of good health?”
As the elderly population grows, the Bay Area's scientific community is turning its attention to the causes of age-related illness. The Buck Institute in Novato has become a major player in an effort to find out why the body ages — and how to stop it.
Verdin heads up that effort.
“The hope is that by understanding what's underneath the aging process, we can identify the major risk factor for all these diseases,” Verdin stated in a news release. “Instead of treating them individually as they occur, you actually are getting to the root core of the problem.
Poet Javier Zamora tells of solo journey to US as a boy, importance of mental health at Sonoma event
Soon after poet Javier Zamora began to write his widely acclaimed memoir, “Solito,” (Spanish for “Alone”), his therapist asked him what it would be like to talk to his younger self, the boy who left his native country and traveled without relatives to the United States.
That imagined conversation set the course for Zamora’s memoir, which is told by his 9-year-old self.
Born in La Herradura, El Salvador, Zamora was 9 when he migrated by land to meet his parents in San Rafael. They had immigrated years prior.
“The book serves as a form of healing,” he told an audience of about 50 people who gathered this past Sunday inside a former church in Sonoma.
Zamora’s appearance was billed as a “conversation” that, in many ways, was almost like a sermon — in this instance a sermon on mental health and immigration.
(Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat)
Sonoma Speaker Series to host Salvadoran American poet, activist and New York Times bestselling author
Sonoma Speaker series will host Salvadoran American poet, activist and New York Times bestselling author Javier Zamora on Monday, March 6 at Hanna Center.
Zamora, author of “Solito: A Memoir,” has a body of work that explores borderland politics, racial issues and the ways in which immigration and the civil war have impacted his family.
During the civil unrest in El Salvador, Zamora’s father fled the country when his son was a just baby. When he was 5 years old, his mother left to join her husband in San Rafael, leaving young Zamora behind to be cared for by his grandparents and aunt.
His parents stayed in touch with him over the years, calling occasionally and sending letters and photos. In all their correspondence, they mentioned “the trip,” and that someday, he would go on “the trip” to reunite with them in the U.S.
Sonoma Speaker Series: Javier Zamora, ‘Solito’
The Sonoma Speaker Series presents author, poet, and speaker Javier Zamora on Monday, March 6. In his memoir, Solito, he relates his harrowing journey to the U.S. as an unaccompanied nine-year-old – an unforgettable glimpse into the realities of child migration.
The young Zamora traveled 3,000 miles by bus, boat and on foot, without family or friends, from El Salvador to the United States. Along the way, Zamora was embraced by fellow migrants and folded into a makeshift family. With them, Zamora encountered corrupt police officers and was robbed of the little money he had. He traversed mountains and wire fences that laced the desert border, all so he could be reunited with his parents who lived in Marin County and who he had not seen in years.
Sonoma Speaker Series hosts lecture by FBI active shooter expert
The Sonoma Speaker Series will host Katherine Schweit, a career Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent and the expert on mass shootings — specifically, school shootings.
Hanna Boys Center is the next stop on her mission to share her knowledge and training with organizations, businesses, schools, first responders and families all across the country.
She is the author of “Stop The Killing: How To End The Mass Shooting Crisis” and a former journalist who reported on the crisis and the data surrounding it to correct numerous public misconceptions.
Abduction Survivor Jaycee Dugard appears at Sonoma Speaker Series
Jaycee Dugard, an abduction survivor who endured 18 years of captivity in the Bay Area, will be the next featured speaker for the Sonoma Speaker Series on Monday, October 3.
Dugard was just 11 years old when she was kidnapped in South Lake Tahoe while walking to her school bus-stop. For the next 18 years, she was held captive in a backyard shed by convicted sex offender, Phillip Garrido, and his wife, Nancy. During that time, she gave birth to two daughters, fathered by her captor.
Hear kidnap survivor Jaycee Dugard on the power of the human spirit
Dugard featured in the Sonoma Speaker Series on Monday, Oct. 3
Jaycee Dugard is an abduction survivor. At 11 years old, she was kidnapped in Lake Tahoe while walking to her school bus stop. She was held captive for 18 years in a backyard shed by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. During that time, she gave birth to two daughters.
Since her rescue in 2009, she has used her freedom and voice to share her unique survivor experience.
Abduction survivor Jaycee Dugard at next Sonoma Speaker Series event
Abduction survivor Jaycee Dugard will be the featured guest at the next installment of the Sonoma Speaker Series, taking place Monday, Oct. 3 at Hanna Boys Center.
At 11 years old, Dugard was kidnapped in Lake Tahoe while walking to her school bus-stop. She was held captive for 18 years in a backyard shed by convicted sex offender, Phillip Garrido, and his wife, Nancy. During that time, she gave birth to two daughters.
Willie Brown in conversation, in Sonoma
The Sonoma Speaker Series welcomes the former Speaker — and outspoken talker — Willie Brown, on Monday, August 8.
A two-term mayor of San Francisco, Brown has been at the center of California politics, government, and civic life for four decades, spending 30 years in the California Assembly, 15 as Speaker. Today, he heads the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Institute on Politics and Public Service. Blunt, opinionated and still extremely well-connected, Brown chats with Laura Zimmerman.
VIP reception 5:30 p.m. $75, event 7 p.m. $35. Hanna Boys Center. Sonomaspeakerseries.com
Sonoma Speaker Series returns
After being closed for over two years due to COVID-19, the Speaker Series is back! On Aug. 8, Willie Brown will be in conversation with Sonoma Speaker Series board member Laura Zimmerman at the Hanna Boys Center.
Brown is widely regarded as one of the most influential African American politicians of the late twentieth century. He was a two-term mayor of San Francisco after serving over 30 years in the California State Assembly, spending 15 years as its speaker. Brown has been at the center of California politics, government, and civic life for four decades. His career spans the American Presidency from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush.
Life is ‘Beautiful’ for David and Nic Sheff
What does a father do when a son is devoured by drugs? When potential is waylaid and his very life is at stake? If you’re David Sheff, you write a memoir, a searingly painful, beautiful book.
And if you’re Nic Sheff, the prodigal son, you answer — once sober — with a book of your own.
Taken together, “Beautiful Boy” (2008) and “Tweak” (2007), written, respectively, by David and Nic Sheff, are a lucent but difficult portrait of a family imploded, struggling through a modern-day worst-case scenario. Their harrowing journey through addiction and recovery was portrayed in the 2018 film adaptation of “Beautiful Boy,” with Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet cast as father and son.
The Sheffs are the upcoming featured guests of the Sonoma Speaker Series, and will tell their story at Hanna Boys Center on Feb. 3.
Beautiful Boy Comes to Sonoma - Valley of the Moon Magazine
Jackie Speier to Speak in Sonoma - Valley of the Moon Magazine
It is instructive that, in the midst of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, Rep. Jackie Speier held a press conference on Veterans Day at City Hall in Daly City with Filipino World War II veterans to demand long promised benefits for the soldiers many consider heroes. Speier’s bill, H.R. 2823, the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2019, would award veterans, their widows, and their children full VA benefits, as promised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Second World War, 250,000 Filipinos volunteered to fight with the United States, and played an instrumental role in pushing back Japanese aggression and winning the Pacific Campaign. But after the war, in 1946, Congress rescinded Roosevelt’s promise.
Jackie Speier to talk ‘height of corruption’ under Trump
A key player in the current impeachment inquiries of President Donald Trump will be coming to Sonoma next week – pending developments on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, giving her a front-row seat to all depositions and hearings on the Ukraine-related inquiry.
Speier, 69, will be in town on Friday, Nov. 22, for the next conversation in the Sonoma Speakers Series, taking place 7 p.m. at Hanna Boys Center.
An early advocate of the removal of Trump from office by using the 25th Amendment – which elevates the Vice President to President in the event of the sitting President’s “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office” – Speier now finds herself with a role to play in Pres. Trump’s possible impeachment.
“The President is now being accused of withholding taxpayer-funded security aid from a foreign nation as a threat for not conducting research against his political opponent,” wrote Speier in a Sept. 24 statement. “This is the height of corruption. We cannot ignore this.”
Astronaut Suni Williams will tell Sonoma about her NASA career, space travel and her next destination
The recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing rekindled broad interest in space travel, and having Rusty Schweickart – a Sonoma resident and Apollo astronaut – serve as the Fourth of July parade’s grand marshal brought it home locally.
Extra: See the ISS tour from Suni Williams in video below...
Eyes turned skyward again for lunar eclipses, meteor showers and other astral phenomenon, as if being earthbound was simply too limiting in this day and age.
The Sonoma Speakers Series next week will host perhaps their most unusual guest: a woman who embraces several job descriptions – from scientist to athlete to astronaut – Sunita Williams.
Astronaut Sunita Williams aims for Sonoma Speaker Series
The Sonoma Speakers Series is taking note of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, which took place on July 20, 1969. Their recognition takes the form of a visit from Sunita “Suni” Williams, one of a handful of women astronauts who, while she hasn’t yet gone to the moon, has done a record seven walks in space and commanded the International Space Station’s Expedition 33.
Sunita “Suni” Williams is a pilot, engineer, runner, swimmer, lover of pets and an astronaut. She is also a great role model for anyone interested in space exploration.
She will speak at Hanna Boys Center Auditorium on Monday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m.
Sonoma Speaker Series features ‘gun sense’ advocate
Traumatic events fundamentally mark memory in a way that ordinary events do not. What a person is doing at historic moments tends to cauterize in the mind, indelibly imprinting individual memory. The day the towers fell in Manhattan. The night wildfires broke out in Wine Country.
For Shannon Watts, 48, Dec. 12, 2012 stands alone. It was an ordinary Wednesday, until it wasn’t.
“I was folding laundry, which is a full-time job for a mom of five, when news started coming in over the TV,” Watts said. Something terrible was happening at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Watts sat down hard and turned up the TV.
“I prayed ‘Dear God don’t let this be as bad as it seems,’” Watts said. “Twenty first-graders and six educators slaughtered in the sanctity of their school.”
As the news dribbled out, bad turned to worse.
Sandy Hook was the deadliest mass school shooting in United States history, and it knocked much of America back on its heels. Watts mourned the tragedy, like so many others, her grief amplified by the helplessness she felt. “I had to do something. I had to either leave the country, or stay and fight. I believe in my country. I believe you can fix things that are broken, but I didn’t know how,” she said.
Photo Credit: Christopher Langford
‘Fighting like a mother’ against gun violence
Can a woman with a laptop be more powerful than a man with a gun? Shannon Watts thinks so.
There are 80 million moms in America — and together, they have the power to end gun violence in this country believes Watts, who founded the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in response to the 2012 shooting murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Watts will appear Tuesday, June 11 in a Sonoma Speaker Series event at the Hanna Boys Center Auditorium.
“Gun violence is not an issue that is Republican versus Democrat,” Watts, a mother of five, says of her work. “It’s not gun owner versus non-gun owner. It is the vast majority of Americans versus some lawmakers who are beholden to the gun lobby.”
Sonoma Speaker Series welcomes Broadway legend
Tony-award winner Donna McKechnie, a Broadway star best known for her role in the original Broadway production of , will be the interview guest at a Sonoma Speakers Series event on Wednesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Hanna Boys Center Auditorium in Sonoma.
The evening features a conversation with Amy Miller, artistic director for Transcendence Theatre Company, and a performance by cast members of the upcoming production (which Miller directs) of “A Chorus Line’.
“It is a dream come true having the honor of interviewing my dance idol,” says Miller. “Donna has been one of my biggest inspirations throughout my theatrical career.”
Original cast member of ‘A Chorus Line’ in Sonoma on May 29
Tony Award-winning actress, dancer, choreographer and author Donna McKechnie was in the original 1975 cast of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway. Looking back over the 44 years since, she recognizes how many doors the show has opened for her.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.
McKechnie is coming to Sonoma on May 29 for an “In Conversation With…” event as part of the Sonoma Speaker Series in conjunction with Transcendence Theatre Company. Transcendence will be performing “A Chorus Line” – its first full-length show - in June.
“It’s wonderful to see that it’s going all over the world again and again,” said McKechnie. “It’s a great metaphor and has a great spirit that connects with people.”
‘Locked In’ author on the will to survive – and triumph
Victoria Arlen has faced many steep mountains in her life, most of them without the use of her legs. Today 24-year-old Arlen is a well-known ESPN anchor and reporter, who also achieved fame as a semi-finalist on Dancing with the Stars, and won Gold as a swimmer in the Paralympics.
But those accomplishments pale in comparison to her miraculous and arduous recovery from a severe combination of two neurological disorders that struck when she was just 11 years old, leaving her mostly paralyzed, and unable to speak, eat, or talk. Arlen spent four years locked in a vegetative state, suffering chronic seizures and yet hearing every word her doctors said, as they wrote her off as a lost cause.
Sonoma Speaker Series to welcome Victoria Arlen on March 4
Sonoma Speaker Series will bring Victoria Arlen to the Hanna Boys Center stage on Monday, March 4.
Arlen is a triplet, actress, speaker, model, dancer, ESPN Sportscaster – and 2012 Paralympic Games gold medalist.
In 2005, at age 11, Arlen came down with two rare neurological disorders: transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. According to a press release from the Speaker Series, she fought for her life for five years, including four years in a vegetative state. Though she eventually regained consciousness, she was still prone to seizures – at times suffering from them for more than 20 hours per day. She was paralyzed from the waist down for a decade.
Despite her illness, Arlen was determined physical therapy could help her regain her body movement. In 2010, she returned to the pool and started swimming again for the first time in over 10 years. She went on to qualify as a swimmer for the 2012 London Paralympic Games and won a gold medal (setting a world record) and three silver medals.
Dan Pallotta speaks in Sonoma about social innovation vs. overhead
Charity activist Dan Pallotta took the stage Monday night at Hanna Boys Center with a firm message to the many event attendees who hailed from the local nonprofit world – we need to rethink our frugal funding of nonprofits.
Perhaps best known for his involvement in multi-day fundraising events like the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walks, the AIDS bicycle rides, and Out of the Darkness suicide prevention night walks, Pallotta addressed the sold-out crowd at the latest talk sponsored by the Sonoma Speaker Series with humor, passion and a roadmap for charitable giving.
Drawing a distinct correlation between the for-profit world and the nonprofit sector, Pallotta clicked through a series of slides that helped illustrate the ways in which Americans tend to view charity. As the founder and president of the Charity Defense Council, Pallotta believes that true social innovation will come from transforming the way the donating public thinks about giving.
He said that, in most instances, “donors to charitable organizations want their contributions to go 100 percent to the cause to which they are giving” rather than to what many perceive as “overhead” – i.e. salaries.
As an analogy, Pallotta drew a comparison to how society might view the salary of a head basketball coach at a prestigious university. The coach is paid a large sum to recruit top talent to the team, therefore keeping that university in the spotlight, promoting interest and growth – and the university’s donors are invariably on board with that level of spending.
Editorial: When it comes to nonprofits, Americans are out of our overheads
“We can create the possibility of a world that works for everyone, with no one and nothing left out.”
R. Buckminster Fuller, “Utopia, or Oblivion”
Call it: The 3 percent solution.
That number, according to fundraising activist Dan Pallotta, is the magical percentage of U.S. Gross Domestic Product that, if spent on the nonprofit sector, would be enough to effect meaningful social change in America.
Unfortunately, Pallotta says, the nonprofit sector has been stuck at 2 percent of the GDP for the past 40 years.
And the result of that 1 percent difference for such social problems as homelessness and addiction has been decades-long stasis.
Pallotta, a nonprofit advocate whose fundraising model of multi-day participatory events such as the Breast Cancer 3-Day walks have raised nearly $600 million for charities, was the featured guest at the Sept. 28 Sonoma Speaker Series event at Hanna Boys Center.
Gang mentor Gregory Boyle to speak at Hanna Boys Center
Father Greg Boyle, writer, teacher, and founder of gang-intervention program Homeboy Industries, is bringing his philosophy of “radical kinship” to Hannah Boys Center on Dec. 5.
Hannah Boys Center special events manager Leslie Peterson said many of the staff have been devotees of Boyle over the years, but when Hanna chaplain Father Greg McGivern, saw him speak at the University of San Francisco, he knew he had to find a way to get Boyle to Sonoma.
“It was a natural fit to bring Father Boyle to Hanna,” Peterson said.
The seeds of Boyle’s Homeboy Industries were planted in 1988 after Boyle was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles.
The parish was located between two large public housing projects, and had the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles. Mass incarceration was the state’s go-to management model, but Boyle thought he had a better idea: treat gang members as human beings.
The Warriors are already into their preseason schedule. The NBA regular season begins in two weeks. And yet Golden State head coach Steve Kerr found time Monday night to charm, educate and entertain a packed auditorium at Hanna Boys Center, as a guest of the Sonoma Speaker Series.
“I had one scholarship offer out of high school,” Kerr said during the question-and-answer portion of the evening. “I was not super confident. That’s one reason I’m grateful basketball has been my path. … The game itself has given me the opportunity and the ability to blossom, to become the greatest version of myself. It’s a real gift to be born with a passion for something.”
It sometimes seems as though Kerr is the best version of all of us. He is best known in the Bay Area as the innovative coach of the Warriors, the team that has claimed three of the past four NBA titles. Success followed him to Oakland from many previous stops, from the University of Arizona, the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs (all as a player), to the Phoenix Suns front office and the TNT broadcast table.
All told, Kerr has eight NBA championship rings.
Steve married his college sweetheart Margot in 1990. They have three children, and now live in the Presidio Heights of San Francisco.
His interviewer on the Hanna stage will be Garry St. Jean, himself a former head coach and general manager of the Warriors (1999-2000), and now the half-time commentator/analyst on NBC Sports Bay Area.
The addition of Kerr to the Speaker Series line-up is another “get” for the ambitious program of notables from media, broadcast, politics and sports.
Kathy Witkowicki, the president of the Sonoma Speaker Series, said that the introduction was made through Chuck Young, the former UCLA chancellor who recently served as interim superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.
Scott Simon has one of the most recognizable voices in radio, probably because he’s occupied the same Saturday morning slot on National Public Radio for 30 years.
As host of “Weekend Edition Saturday,” he helms the two-hour news and information program that carries over the week’s top stories – but includes gentler lifestyle and sports stories as well, to help ease the audience into the weekend.
The radio program is only part of his very busy life. He’s also a television correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and author of several books including the most recent, “My Cubs: A Love Story,” about his lifelong affection for his hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.
Less well known is that Simon has a close family connection with the wine country, and is a frequent visitor to Calistoga and Santa Rosa: His stepsister owns a horse ranch that almost straddles Sonoma and Napa counties.
Next Monday, Aug. 13, Simon becomes the latest guest in the ongoing Sonoma Speaker Series, fulfilling a commitment made to the series’ cofounder, the late John McChesney, who died in June. In a telephone conversation recently – conducted moments after Simon concluded his Saturday morning broadcast – we talked journalism, social media and baseball. But we began by talking with Simon about his long acquaintance with John McChesney.
Scott Simon, for many years the host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” will be the guest on Aug. 13 of the next Sonoma Speaker Series presentation at Hanna Boys Center.
The 63-year-old author, journalist and radio and television host is a native of Chicago, where he started his NPR career as a bureau chief in 1977. His Saturday morning program has an estimated audience of four million, making it the most listened-to program on NPR, according to his website.
Simon has won every major award in broadcasting, including the Peabody and the Emmy, and has received numerous honorary degrees.
Read more here.
Friends remember former NPR reporter John McChesney
John McChesney, a longtime NPR reporter and co-founder of the Sonoma Speakers Series, died Tuesday night at his home on Sonoma Mountain, surrounded by family members. He was 78.
According to sources, he was diagnosed with leukemia late last year, and given a limited time to live even if he underwent chemotherapy. McChesney did undergo the treatment, but it didn’t improve his condition, said fellow NPR veteran Alex Chadwick, a 40-year friend and colleague.
On Sunday, June 4, the day prior to the most recent Sonoma Speaker Series event with Daniel Ellsberg, McChesney was taken to Kaiser Hospital with a high fever. He was released earlier this week for palliative care and hospice.
“My heart goes out to Wendy,” said friend and Sonoma Speaker Series cofounder Kathy Witkowicki.
Wendy von Wiederhold and McChesney joined Witkowicki and Chadwick in founding the speaker series in 2016.
Since 2016, the series has brought a number of increasingly high-profile guests to Sonoma for exclusive “conversations,” usually at the Hanna Boys Center. Recent speakers have included gay activist Cleve Jones, journalist Bill Keller, former intelligence officer James Clapper and, this past Monday, Daniel Ellsberg, the Nixon-era government insider who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press.
The Speaker Series ability to attract national figures was in large measure because of the respect McChesney carried in journalism circles. “The genesis of it was that Sonoma doesn’t really have anything like this,” said McChesney at the time. “But there are a lot of people there who are smart, retired and interested in having something like this in their backyard.”
John McChesney, former NPR reporter and founder of Sonoma Speaker Series, died Tuesday
John McChesney, a long-time NPR reporter and co-founder of the Sonoma Speakers Series, died at 10 p.m. last night at his home in Sonoma, surrounded by family members. McChesney and his wife Wendy von Wiederhold had spent the last few years residing in the home on Sonoma Mountain.
According to sources, he was diagnosed with leukemia late last year, and given a limited time to live even if he underwent chemotherapy. McChesney did undergo the treatment, but it didn’t improve his condition, said Alex Chadwick, a 40-year friend and colleague.
On Sunday, June 4, the day prior to the most recent Sonoma Speakers Series event with Daniel Ellsberg, McChesney was taken to Kaiser Hospital with a high fever. He was released earlier this week for palliative care and hospice.
“My heart goes out to Wendy,” said friend and Sonoma Speaker Series cofounder Kathy Witkowicki. Wendy von Wiederhold and McChesney joined Witkowicki and Chadwick in founding the speakers series in 2016.
Since 2016, the series has brought a number of increasingly high-profile guests to Sonoma for exclusive “conversations,” usually at the Hanna Boys Center. Recent speakers have included gay activist Cleve Jones, journalist Bill Keller, former intelligence officer James Clapper and, just Monday, Daniel Ellsberg.
“He was a dear old friend of mine,” said Chadwick. Additional information and announcements are expected from the family shortly.
Daniel Ellsberg, ‘the most dangerous man in America,’ comes to Sonoma
Before Julian Assange, before Edward Snowden, before Chelsea Manning, there was Daniel Ellsberg.
It’s a name many of us have heard all our lives, first as a shadowy defense department consultant who spilled the beans on the U.S. government’s decades of lying about Vietnam, then as poster boy in a landmark Supreme Court case on freedom of the press, and more recently as a critic of the very nuclear policy he helped craft, over 50 years ago.
But most of all, he’s the man who brought down Richard Nixon – albeit not directly. Instead his release of the top-secret “Pentagon Papers” led to a federal indictment on espionage, which in turn led to Nixon’s hand-picked crew of dirty tricks operatives known as the Plumbers breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating evidence.
They didn’t find much of use, but the Plumbers continued their illicit investigations at the Watergate Hotel a few months later, where they were interrupted in mid-theft and arrested. One thing led to another, and despite his comfortable re-election in 1972, Nixon resigned from office in August, 1974, thereby avoiding pending impeachment.
It was Henry Kissinger’s fear of what else Ellsberg may have had in hand that led him to call him “the most dangerous man in America,” a phrase that became the title of a 2009 documentary on Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
All of which gives Ellsberg the catbird seat on some of the most important political events of the 20th century, and with it a rare perspective on the current state of political crisis. He’ll be speaking in Sonoma next Monday, June 4, the latest of the Sonoma Speakers Series parade of guest lecturers.
Former national intelligence director James Clapper on stage at Sonoma’s Sebastiani Theatre
It’s not often the head of national intelligence comes to Sonoma, at least that we know of. But James Clapper’s new book is being released in mid-May, and that little independent bookstore on East Napa Street lobbied for, and got, the retired Air Force lieutenant general and President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence to put Sonoma on his agenda.
So there he will be on the Sebastiani Theatre stage on May 24, at 7 p.m. in support of “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.” The reading is co-sponsored by Readers’ Books, the Sebastiani and the Sonoma Speakers Series, from whom tickets are available.
“Facts and Fears” is likely to generate the same kind of buzz as did James Comey’s recent “A Higher Loyalty,” if not Michael Wolff’s more gossipy “Fire and Fury.” The Trump Administration is a veritable gold mine for an inside-the-beltway memoir (and the president is said to love his gold). Donald Trump is unlikely to be fond of a critique from Clapper, whose outrage and dismay over the Trump White House is almost palpable in appearances on CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere – including as a witness before Congress.
Clapper won’t need “fake news” to sell books. His viewpoint is from the center of the National Security Administration and the capture of Osama Bin Laden through Russia’s influence operation during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. And his 55 years of military, private and government experience gives him the perspective to ask questions about ethics, morality and policy, if not the very nature of “intelligence” itself.
Dawn Wall climber Kevin Jorgeson aims high to recruit new climbers
When Kevin Jorgeson climbs the stage for his Sonoma Speaker Series appearance on April 2, it will be a much easier climb that the one that got him there – a 19-day effort on one of the most difficult routes on Yosemite’s El Capitan, the Dawn Wall, with teammate Tommy Caldwell.
The spectacle in early 2015 of Caldwell and Jorgeson clinging to a 3,200-foot vertical face of granite went viral, as they say. The 19-day effort was widely publicized, day by day, pitch by pitch, first on social media, on climbing and adventure websites around the world, then to newspaper front pages and major network news like “Good Morning America.”
Since that time, Jorgeson and Caldwell have leveraged the climb’s success in a number of ways, most recently with the screening of the documentary “The Dawn Wall” at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival last month. It won the Audience Favorite award (and is currently rated 100 percent, based on six reviews, on Rotten Tomatoes).
The film was as much the point of the climb as the other way around, as directors Peter Mortimer and Josh Lowell have been involved in the effort from since 2009, when Caldwell first began working out the pitches.
Journalist Bill Keller to speak in Sonoma on Feb. 26
The week after Donald Trump was elected president, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Keller was invited to give a talk to the staff at WNYC radio in New York.
As he understood it, his role was to be a “Dr. Phil” of sorts for the demoralized young journalists who worked at the station. But, while he was surprised himself at the election results, Keller had an upbeat take on the election and gave the reporters a bit of tough love.
He told them, “The biggest story of your lifetime has just come along, and you’re worried about the fact that you won’t be invited to press conferences at the White House.”
Now, a year into President Trump’s term, Keller stands by this take.
“In a lot of ways, (Trump) has been good for journalism,” Keller told the Index-Tribune. “Most obviously, a lot of places have received a big bump in subscriptions; nonprofits have gotten a small bump in donations.”
Adds Keller: “He’s an amazing story, albeit not an easy one.”
John Lasseter cancels Dec. 4 appearance in Sonoma following Hollywood Reporter story
John Lasseter, scheduled to be the guest at the seventh Sonoma Speakers Series discussion on Dec. 4 at Hanna Boys Center, has withdrawn from the event, according to John McChesney.
The withdrawal was a blow to the Sonoma Speakers Series, which had announced its first-ever sold-out event two weeks in advance of Lasseter’s scheduled appearance.
McChesney said they were hoping Pixar could produce a replacement for the animation legend, who has taken a six-month “leave of absence” from Disney/Pixar following a Nov. 21 article in the Hollywood Reporter detailing inappropriate conduct.
MChesney confirmed on Friday, Nov. 24, that the event had been cancelled and all tickets would be refunded next week.
Lasseter, who lives in Glen Ellen with his wife Nancy on an estate that escaped major damage in the Nuns Fire last month, has been a frequent supporter of film in the Sonoma Valley since 1995, when he premiered “Toy Story” at the Sebastiani Theatre. Among his other films are “A Bug’s Life” (1998), “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Ratatouille” (2007), and the “Cars” series that began in 2006.
He is a two-time Oscar winner and six-time nominee. He was employed briefly by Disney Studios in the late 1970s, but after he was fired formed a partnership with Lucasfilm that eventually led to the formation of Pixar Graphics Group in 1984, under majority shareholder Steve Jobs.
Gay activist Cleve Jones speaks his mind in Sonoma Oct. 2
Among a certain segment of the politically-engaged population, the name Cleve Jones ranks up there with Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez and, especially, Harvey Milk.
In fact it was Milk who, in the 1970s, was often credited with bringing Jones – then a fun-loving 20-year-old who was having the time of his life in San Francisco’s Castro District – into the gay rights movement.
Jones is the author of “When We Rise,” a memoir of his life – much of it in the gay rights movement, but not all. In fact the book is compelling because of the universality of the story, taking place as it does between the 1970s and the present day, the lifespan of a generation.
“You didn’t have to be political or educated or even all that smart to understand that you, that we, were part of something brand new, something that had never been seen before,” he writes in the book. “And a big part of that, maybe the most important part, was that word: we.”
“That’s one of my favorite passages in the whole book,” said Jones, during a conversation last week with the Index-Tribune. Jones will be featured at the next Sonoma Speakers series event on Oct. 2.
Cleve Jones, a hero of the gay liberation and equal rights movement, to speak at Hanna
Cleve Jones, the San Francisco-based activist who created the AIDS Quilt and co-founded the AIDS Foundation, will speak at Hanna Boys Center on Monday, Oct. 2, in the latest in the Sonoma Speakers Series.
A colleague of Harvey Milk in San Francisco’s Castro during the 1970s, Jones has been an activist for gay and lesbian rights for over 40 years. His 2016 memoir, “When We Rise,” was made into a television miniseries earlier this year. He is currently a labor rights advocate for a hospitality union.
Jones will be interviewed on stage by Dr. Bart Magee, a volunteer with the Shanti Project who provided emotional support to people with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco in the 1980s.
Kathy Wickowiki, co-founder and board president of the Sonoma Speakers Series, said that it was irrelevant whether one was a member of the LGBTQ community to be affected by Jones’ work.
“In this crazy time of our nation being divided over so many issues, I am personally looking forward to being inspired by this man’s unwavering pursuit of equal rights for all,” she said. “He never gave up the fight, and that’s my definition of a hero.”
Tech journalist John Markoff at Sonoma Speakers Series Feb. 6
Over 10 years ago journalist John Markoff was riding in a Volkswagen Touareg through the dusty Arizona desert with several others when the car – festooned with cameras and antennas and sporting “a postapocalyptic vibe reminiscent of a Mad Max movie” – spun out of control as it crested a rise, crashing into the bush. Perhaps that was to be expected: after all, no one was steering.
It was an early driverless car, taking part in a Pentagon-sponsored challenge to design and build such cars for the military. Today, driverless cars have become almost mainstream, in concept at least, even if they are not as universal as Google and Uber would like to see. In fact, they missed the Pentagon’s goal of putting a third of its vehicles on the road without drivers by 2015.
The incident kicks off Markoff’s latest book, “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots,” which will form the centerpiece of his appearance at the Sonoma Speakers Series on Monday, Feb. 6.
“As a reporter, we have the luxury of not being visionaries,” said Markoff this week, when the Index-Tribune spoke to him about his upcoming reading. “You don’t have to predict the future, you just have to record what other people predict. Then you can point out when they’re demonstrably wrong, 10 years later.”
Salon to tackle President vs. press
Dan Schnur’s path to the Hanna Boys Center stage for next week’s Sonoma Speakers Series discussion of the media and Donald Trump is different than most of the guests heretofore in the six-month old, home-grown intellectual salon.
For one thing, he comes not from inside the media, but from inside politics. He has been one of California’s leading political and media strategists, having worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns – all for Republicans, from Ronald Reagan to Pete Wilson, George H.W. Bush to John McCain.
But when the subject of his political allegiance comes up, he’s quick to set the record straight.
“Just to clarify, I am not a Republican: I’m a No Party Preference voter,” he told us. He shed his party loyalty in 2011, and in 2014 ran for California Secretary of State without a party preference. “I found that most of the progress in politics and government comes in between the 40-yard lines; and as the two parties retreat into their respective end zones, I made the decision to become independent of both of them.”
The football metaphor reveals one of his current roles, as a professor in USC’s Annenberg School of Communications (where football is big); he’s also an adjunct at UC Berkeley among other advisory roles. “I tell my students that politics is too important to be left to the politicians,” he said, encouraging them to understand politics even if they pursue other career goals.
NPR’s John Burnett to discuss cross-border immigration at Sonoma Speakers Series
A year ago, few would have expected NPR border-correspondent John Burnett’s hotly anticipated speaking appearance in Sonoma.
But much has changed since the summer of 2016, as Burnett takes the stage at Hanna Boys Center on June 12 as the latest guest of the Sonoma Speakers Series.
The first Sonoma Speakers Series event, last October, featured a pair of long-time National Public Radio political commentators musing about the division in the electorate just a few weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. But Neal Conan and Ken Rudin largely discounted Republican nominee Donald Trump’s chances of actually winning that election, given the extreme positions he took on so many issues.
Speaker series helmed by local NPR veterans comes to Sonoma
John McChesney’s daughter was up from Los Angeles in August, visiting her father in Bennett Valley, when she started talking about a recent storytelling event she’d attended put on by The Moth, a popular spoken-word program featured in podcasts and on radio.
That conversation planted the seed that became the Sonoma Speaker Series, co-founded by McChesney, a veteran former National Public Radio correspondent and Sonoma resident Alex Chadwick, a longtime former NPR host who helped create the “Morning Edition” program.
The series kicked off in October before a sold-out crowd of up to 400 people at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The pre-election conversation, moderated by McChesney and Chadwick, featured two longtime NPR political correspondents, Ken Rudin and Neal Conan.
Sonoma News - Oscar-winning sound designer to deliver an earful at Hanna Boys Center
Oscar-winning sound designer speaks at Hannah
Hanna Boys Center Monday December 5 - 7:00pm to
The Sonoma Speaker Series brings to Sonoma Valley major thinkers and players in the world of politics, art, celebrity, sports, science and inspiration. On Dec. 5, the Speaker Series will host Randy Thom, Oscar-winning director of Sound Design at Skywalker Sound, to deliver a dazzling multimedia presentation on the magic and art of movie sound production. Thom’s sound design for a film often begins before shooting starts and becomes an integral part of the storytelling and emotional impact of the film. Thom has worked on Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, The Incredibles, The Revenant, Forest Gump and The Right Stuff, among others.
See article here... http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/cal_ev/11922
NPR’s Conan, Rudin and Chadwick on stage at Hanna Boys Center
Please see the article on Sonomanews.com
Leading up to the November presidential election, an all-star cast of NPR voices comes to the stage for the first of the planned Sonoma Speakers Series, “In Conversation with Neal Conan and Ken Rudin,” on Monday, Oct. 17.
On the Hanna Boys Center stage, starting at 7 p.m., Alex Chadwick will interview Conan and Rudin in conversation about the ups and downs, ins and outs of this very unusual political year.
Just seeing those names in print is strange: they are far more often heard than read. The same applies to the other broadcast veteran that Kathy Witkowicki has recruited for the Sonoma Speakers Series, John McChesney – the former "Talk of the Nation" host who now lives in Sonoma.
Please see the article on Sonomanews.com
Kathy Witkowicki launches speaker series
Please see the article on Sonomanews.com
Ever since Kathy Witkowicki’s retirement last year from the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance she founded some 20 years ago, a popular cocktail party topic has been, “I wonder what Kathy is going to do next?
The secret is now out. Long a fan of San Francisco’s City Arts and Lectures series, Witkowicki has decided to focus her attention on bringing Sonoma its own speaker series.
She has joined forces with two award-winning NPR journalists: Alex Chadwick and John McChesney, who have taken up residence in Sonoma County following their retirements from NPR.
Read more on Sonomanews.com