The Luncheon Society/Mike Dukakis–Looking ahead to the 2020 Presidential Election/SF–Fior d’Italia/January 17, 2020/LA–Napa Valley Grille/February 28, 2020

Each year since 1999, The Luncheon Society season usually begins with gatherings in LA and SF with former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Mike Dukakis.

Happy to be free of Boston winters while teaching at UCLA, we usually have a January gathering in Westwood’s Napa Valley Grille for a great group of people.  Because Mike and Kitty have grandchildren in San Francisco, we are often able to schedule a gathering on a Friday afternoon.

The Basic Dukakis Message to any candidate. If you’re going to run statewide in Massachusetts, there are 2182 voter precincts. The candidate needs to appoint a precinct captain for every precinct. Each Precinct Captain needs to appoint 6 assistants who live within the precinct. He will warn that you cannot have Labor or other groups come into your precincts days before the election for any desired effect. These people need to live in the precinct, and they have to be in sustained contact with the voters for weeks and months before Election Day.

Elizabeth Warren and Duval Patrick, two people who had never run statewide, heard that speech in the Dukakis living room in Brookline.  They took it to heart and both won their elections.  In the case of Warren, who was looking to unseat popular US Senator Scott Brown, polls showed that they were running neck and neck on Election Eve.  However, once the votes were counted, Warren found herself with a solid seven point win.  In the end, as Dukakis sees things, a solid grassroots campaigning can add 5-7% to your election tally, enough to turn a nail biter into a solid win.

Great story.  Years ago, we had a Luncheon Society with Dukakis and he underlined the importance of a strong ground game. An unnamed political operative around the table took issue with his approach.  He said, “Governor, in California it’s just too hard to walk precincts.”

Dukakis stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “Look, I walked precincts while the Boston Strangler was on the loose—now that’s hard!”

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Flashback/The Luncheon Society/Jane Goodall DME/Marin County– Left Bank Restaurant/ April 17, 2004.

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Dame Jane Goodall can tell a very good dirty joke and the erudite nature of her British accent only highlights the punchline.

Thanks to a friend who served as a board member of Jane Goodall Institute (, we were able to meet with her in Marin County after a lengthy back and forth correspondence which took place during fall and winter of 2003, we were able to coordinate with her calendar for a wonderful Luncheon Society gathering that took place in April of 2004.

Now let’s get to the dirty joke. When Dame Goodall entered the private dining room, she was wearing dark sunglasses not because of the California sunshine but because she visited her doctor for a procedure on both eyes. After experiencing some discomfort, doctors discovered that there were organisms wandering around on the surface of her eyeballs and thankfully with the right regimen of antibiotics, she was eventually able to beat back the illness.

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Karen Bartenstein with Jane Goodall 2004

Jane said that one doctor mentioned that the organisms looked like a couple of copulating bugs, so she replied, “So you think I have a fucking bug problem?”

A millisecond later, when people realized that Dame Jane Goodall, knighted by Elizabeth II, winner of the Kyoto Prize, the Hubbard Medal, and a whole host of other awards could effortlessly drop the “F Bomb” too, the room erupted in laughter.

In time she would fully recover.

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The Luncheon Society/ Ash Carter and Sam Kashner “Life isn’t Everything; Mike Nichols as Remembered by 150 of his Closest Friends.”/Manhattan– The Capital Grille; November 11, 2019/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille; November 20, 2019

Luncheon Society Flashback TBD

The Luncheon Society/Stephen Kinzer “Poisoner in Chief Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control”/ San Francisco—Fior d’Italia; October 4, 2019/Los Angeles—Napa Valley Grille; October 12, 2019

The Luncheon Society—Manhattan/Joyce Carol Oates and how artists should resist in the Age of Trump/The Capital Grille/September 27, 2019

The Luncheon Society—Los Angeles/NASA Mars Rover Project Manager John Callas on 15 years on the Red Planet. What did we find? / Napa Valley Grille/May 31, 2019

Mars RoverThe Luncheon Society had a fantastic gathering in Los Angeles with our friend John Callas who served as The Project Manager for the Mars Rover Program, both Spirit and Opportunity. Both rovers landed in 2004 and were only supposed to last for 90 SOLs (Martian days) or roughly 92 Earth days. However, Spirit lasted on the Martian surface nearly 7 years until 2010 when the rover became irrevocably stuck in soft sand (the equivalent to Martian quicksand) but Opportunity stayed on the job for nearly 15 years and got into trouble during a major planetwide sandstorm that put “Oppy” into a deep freeze since it was power by solar panels. After countless attempt to rouse the remaining rover proved fruitless, the mission ended only a few short months ago.

John-Callas 2Now NASA/JPL’s Rover Curiosity is wandering the Martian surface alone, but not for long. The Mars 2020 rover will be launched soon and the cool thing about that next rover is that it will come with a drone helicopter that will allows it to wander around the surface of the planet and go off into great distances beyond the original landing site. Mars is extraordinarily difficult to land on-far more so than the moon because the distance involved and the minuscule atmosphere, which is roughly 1% of what is found on earth.

Before Spirit and Opportunity landed in early 2004 not much was known about Mars because NASA’s Viking landers of the 1970’s could not find anything that might equate to life –as we knew it back then. However, planetary scientists kept looking at the northern regions of the planet and noticed how smooth the surface appeared—a hint that there might have been ancient oceans billions of years ago.

What a Wild Ride

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