The Luncheon Society/2009 recap/Looking ahead to 2010.

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I would like to thank everybody for another great year with The Luncheon Society ™.  2009 was our twelfth season and there are already some great events planned with others in the works for 2010.

Good conversation is worth having.  From those early days back in 1997, when there were only three of us, The Luncheon Society has grown steadily in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  There are some fun things planned for the future.  Look for a Washington DC pod in the summer of 2010.

Also I would like to personally thank Naomi Epel for her help in 2009.

We are making some changes for The Luncheon Society in 2010.  Annual Dues. Starting in 2010, The Luncheon Society will have dues of $20 per person annually.  Like Public Broadcasting, The Luncheon Society is solely member-supported.  The cost you pay for a Luncheon Society gathering pays for your luncheon as well as a portion of the speaker’s luncheon, including tax and tip. I want to keep The Luncheon Society experience alive long after the last dish has been put away and the last table has been cleared.

2009 Recap. A great year.  We started off–as always–with a Los Angeles gathering with Mike Dukakis, who offered his thoughts on how Democratic officeholders can expand on their 2008 victories with the right grassroots organization. The former Massachusetts Governor and Democratic Presidential nominee joined us in San Francisco at the end of February.  On the 5th anniversary of the landing of the Rovers on Mars, Chief Mission Scientist Steven Squyres detailed the transformative science that allows us to see Mars in a whole new light.  Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, joined us that evening in Beverly Hills.  Then it was back to San Francisco for a conversation with Dr Mario Livio , the Chief Astronomer for The Hubble Telescope and the author of the award-winning “The Golden Ratio” as well as “Is God a Mathematician?”  Anthropologist and TED Speaker Dr Helen Fisher joined us for three gatherings, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York for her new book titled, “Why Him? Why Her? The Science of Seduction, where she discussed her most recent research on brain chemistry and romantic love. 

Our old friend and Vanity Fair writer Cari Beauchamp published her biography on Joe Kennedy’s Hollywood years, offering a glimpse into how his years in the motion picture industry helped to position his family for greater things financially and politically.  New York City mainstay Jimmy Breslin held court at the Blue Fin Restaurant, in the heart of Times Square to talk about the state of Gotham and his book, “The Good Rat” about one of the mob’s biggest canaries, Burton Kaplan, as he sang to a grand jury.  It was a conversation that went late into the night Barton Gellman earned the Pulitzer Prize for his multi-part series on Dick Cheney in the Washington Post, which was later expanded into a book titled “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” to stellar reviews.  That is one luncheon that I want to repeat because it was so good.  Maggie Renzi, who produces most of the film by John Sayles, talked about the challenges that often keep small films from finding the shaft of light that comes from being discovered by the general viewing public.  Our friend Dr Jill Tarter, The Director for Research at the SETI Institute and TED Award winner for 2009, spoke about the possibilities of intelligent life out there with the launch of NASA’s Kepler Mission, which is designed to find earth-sized extrasolar planets.

Writer, journalist and founding feminist Germaine Greer pondered the fate the of women’s thought as she discussed her new book on Ann Hathaway, William Shakespeare’s little-known wife. Pulitzer Prize and PEN Center award winning writer Ed Humes spoke about his new book “Eco-Barons,” on how a profitable green economy will spur the necessary changes that will turn the corner on global arming. Best Selling author, nutritionist, TED Speaker, and Preventive Medical Research Institute head Dr Dean Ornish  talked about how a corrective diet can repair the damage from heart disease. In Los Angeles and San Francisco NPR commentator and poet Andrei Codrescu discussed his new book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess,” and compared the language of Dada to high tech and it invents, devours and reinvents anew.  Playwright, actor and author Orson Bean  talked about Christianity in Hollywood. At the request of two friends, Phillip Carter and Paul Rieckhoff, we sat down with West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar Craig Mullaney who discussed his book The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education, which detailed one haunting afternoon on Losano Ridge in Afghanistan, where he and his platoon were caught in a deadly firefight with Al Qaeda fighters.

Best Selling dysfunctional family author John Bradshaw discussed the challenges of leading a virtuous life.  Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA) spoke about the success of the new GI Bill and the challenges of returning veterans dealing with battlefields stresses on the home front. The Reverend Scotty McLennan, the Dean of Religious Life at Stanford (and with William Sloane Coffin is the basis for Doonesbury’s Rev. Scot Sloan) argued Jesus was a Liberal in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Ayelet Waldman, whose article in the New York Times suggested that she loved her husband (writer Michael Chabon) more than her children , which created a firestorm discussed this and more in her new book, “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace.”  Producer, studio executive and Phoenix Pictures Chief Executive Mike Medavoy talked about the relationship between American cultures and how our nation is perceived overseas.  Louis Friedman, who founded The Planetary Society with Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, talked about the future of Cosmos II, a planned unmanned solar sail spacecraft that will revolutionize how fast we can travel in outer space.

Former Newsweek and MSNBC contributor Richard Wolffe  talked about Renegade, his book on the emergence of Barack Obama as a national figure and political leader.  We will be with him in New York come January 2010. Former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern  returned to The Luncheon Society after a 5 year absence to discuss his book on Abraham Lincoln spoke to the issue of healthcare reform and eulogize Senator Kennedy, three days after his death. Joining us at the San Francisco luncheon was Dan Ellsberg;  Sidney Sheinberg and  Max Palevsky joined us in Los Angeles. Dr Temple Grandin joined us in San Francisco and gave us a better understanding how as a high functioning autistic, her neurological condition has enhanced her study of animal behavior.  Salon.com Managing Editor Joan Walsh discussed the decline in civility seen on talk-television in San Francisco. Carl Pope , the Executive Director of The Sierra Club, joined us to discuss the pitfalls of the upcoming Copenhagen Summit. The week before, Carl had been heavily featured on the Ken Burns PBS epic, The National Parks: America’s Best IdeaJudy Shepard , the mother of  Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed outside of Laramie Wyoming, joined us in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, only days before Hate Crime Legislation was expanded by President Obama. Finally, we ended the year with MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Taylor Branch, who just published, “The Clinton Tapes,” an oral history project on the Bill Clinton during his 8 years in office, in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

As you know, we usually take a break between Thanksgiving and The New Year because it’s very challenging to compete with the holiday parties that normally take place at the restaurants we use.  In January 2010, we begin again.

As always, The Luncheon Society is a laid back place to kick around some big ideas over a great meal.  We will always be a place where spirited conversation takes place around a large table, where you interact with other interesting folks, and leave the room learning something you didn’t know when you walked in.  There are no rules, very little structure, and the lunches happen when they happen.  Come to the ones that work with your schedule and pique your interest.  Simply put, we’re “drop-in adult daycare.” 

It starts up again in early January in Westwood with Mike Dukakis.  Keep an eye on your email and have a wonderful holiday season.

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