Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Luncheon Society/Sebastian Junger, best selling author of “War” and “The Perfect Storm”/SF-One Market Restaurant/May 24, 2010

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One of the great things about The Luncheon Society ™ is we can take a seminal issue and look at it from a variety of angles and perspectives in a conversational tone. 

This is what The Luncheon Society is all about.  It’s especially the case with the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Former Secretaries of State George Schulz and Warren Christopher gave their own individual thoughts on the statecraft behind the decisions to invade.  William Perry, former Secretary of Defense under Clinton, worried that the movement of assets from Afghanistan to Iraq would harm the mission against the Taliban in the long-term. Paul Rieckhoff, Craig Mullaney, and Phil Carter wrote at length to give us their viewpoint of the soldier in the field.  Journalists like Ahmed Rashid, Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Alter, and The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer chimed in on the political lay of the land as well as the use of torture. Ambassador Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame joined The Luncheon Society on several occasions to discuss being unmasked as a CIA operative as political payback. Janis Karpinski spoke of abu Ghraib and Dan Ellsberg compared the secrets of the battlefield that so often papered over in times of war. More will join us in the future.

Sebastian Junger’s War. With that in mind, we especially pleased to sit with journalist and writer Sebastian Junger, who while not writing for Men’s Journal, The National Geographic or Vanity Fair, pens books and articles about people with dangerous jobs. Most are familiar with his work about the fishermen aboard the Andrea Gail, as well as the Coast Guard’s efforts to save them, which were detailed in his book (which later became the movie) The Perfect Storm . In fact, his description of what takes place when a person drowns is one of the more harrowing reads found in non-fiction.

In his new book titled, “War,” Junger follows a small group of soldiers for a better part of a year into one of the most distant outposts in Afghanistan. Junger steers clear from the political and burrows down into their daily lives.  It’s backbreaking and dangerous stuff; Junger spends a great deal of time discussing the stresses and intense pressures that come with combat. Continue reading

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The Luncheon Society/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/LA-Chez Mimi/May 13 2010

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It’s an amazing story, one of those great tales from the early days of Rock and Roll. 

In 1956, Mike Stoller took his wife to France for 3 months.  After wandering around the countryside in late spring and early summer they return home on the Italian liner, the  SS Andrea Doria. It was the largest, the most spectacular, and safest of all of the Italian liners.  As Mike and his wife crossed the Atlantic, he purchased a copy of A Night to Remember, a best-seller by Walter Lord and considered the definitive reading on the sinking of the Titanic.

At 11 pm on July 26th, the Stockholm, a smaller passenger liner, crashed into the Andrea Doria and it began to list starboard and take on water. So instead of reading about the Titanic in Walter Lord’s book, he is actually living it. He thought, “That’s it; I’m a goner and I’m going down on the Titanic just like all of those poor souls who perished at the bottom of the Atlantic.” 

However, the crash took place off the coast of Massachusetts in a heavy shipping lane and within a short period, there was a massive effort to rescue the passengers before if sank to the bottom of the Atlantic 11 hours later.

Mike Stoller and his wife were rescued and they met Jerry Leiber at the dock in New York.  Leiber brought a full set of dry clothes for both Mike and his wife and once he made sure that his friends were okay, he exclaimed, “You won’t believe this, but Hound Dog  is a #1 hit!” Stoller was taken aback and said, “You mean Big Mama Thornton’s version,” who did it in 1953?  “No,” Leiber replied, “Its Elvis Presley.”  “Elvis Presley?” Stoller replied incredulously, “who’s that?”

Watch Big Mama’s version.  She simply whacks Elvis with big ol’ purse of hers. Look for a young Buddy Guy on that video. Nobody messed with her.


 

Stoller had been out of the country and had not seen the explosion of “Black Music” that was recorded by White Artists like Elvis.  In the span of 12 hours, Mike Stoller went from the brink of death to superstardom. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/”French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Guiliano/SF-Palio D’Asti/May 7, 2010

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Not every topic discussed by The Luncheon Society ™  needs to be weighty; in fact many of our best gatherings surround unexpected delights.

For example last year, writer Ayelet Waldman joined for a conversation after her column  in the New York Times set off a firestorm because she loved her husband more than her children. A year or two earlier, Bob Hass, the former American Poet Laureate spoke about his new set of poems, Time and Materials, which would win the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Mireille Guiliano took a backhand comment and created several New York Times best-sellers. Years ago when asked how she could dine out nightly without putting on any weight, she simply replied, “Well, French Women do not get fat.”

With that staircase rejoinder, a literary franchise was launched.

In 2004, Mireille published “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” which was a lifestyle book that explores the four basic food loves, freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure.   Janet Maslin of the New York Times noted, “Ms. Guiliano turns out to be eminently level headed. She combines reasonable thoughts about nutrition with a general endorsement of joie de vivre, and her tone is girl friendly enough to account for the book’s runaway popularity.”

Since then she has published three more books on the joie de vivre that the French (especially French women) bring to their daily lives.  They include French Women For All Seasons, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility, and her latest, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook. Each has done well and her initial book has been translated into 37 languages after spending a good deal of time atop The New York Times.  Her writing has resonated with those who are turned off after reading through forests of yo-yo fad diets, where the weight often returns with a vengeance.  Although counterintuitive at first blush, Mireille recommended bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and joyous lifestyle. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Congressman Alan Grayson on Healthcare/LA-Napa Valley Grille/April 24, 2010

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For Congressman Alan Grayson, the current representative from Florida’s 8th congressional district, Sam Rayburn’s cardinal rule of “to get along, go along” has little use to him. Instead Grayson has charted another path, freely speaking his mind on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as other items on his mind. He is a man in a hurry.

An Unfiltered Progressive. Last year during the heat of the debate on healthcare, Alan Grayson suggested that the Republican alternative was thus: Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

The partisan response was swift and white hot. Some Republicans demanded that he apologize on the House floor.  “I would like to apologize,” he said. “I would like to apologize to the dead.”

Stating that 44,789 Americans die each year due to their inability to get healthcare insurance, the Congressman continued, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. It happens every year. I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner,” he said. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Mary Buffett on Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets/SF-One Market/March 31, 2010

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Whenever Warren Buffett speaks at an event, somebody in the audience usually asks for a stock tip.  Buffett will pause, only to reply, “Please forgive me, I really don’t follow the stock market.”

The house will convulse in laughter, as it always does when the questions is posed. On the surface, it might appear odd or even counterintuitive that one of the world’s richest investors does not follow the stock market. However, what Buffett does—and does so well—is that he researches the company’s revenue picture and more importantly, searches for organizations that offers a durable competitive advantage for the long term.

It was a pleasure to have Mary Buffett , an old friend, join The Luncheon Society for a conversation on how Warren Buffett’s investment mind works. Mary, along with co-author David Clark have created a series of books under the banner of Buffettology, to help investors better understand how he grew Berkshire Hathaway into the investment powerhouse that it is today. 

 

Mary’s latest best-selling book is “Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets: Proven Tools for Personal and Business Success,” which has had a smashing run on the business best seller lists and her books have been translated into 17 languages and published internationally by over a dozen publishing houses.   The question they ask is this: Can Warren Buffett’s decision-making offer a keyhole into how he makes his investment choices.  The answer is “yes.”

It is fair to say that Mary Buffett has lived an interesting life.  At a young age, she found herself working in the music industry alongside a variety of people including Phil Spector. Later, she served as the Managing Director at Playboy/After Dark Records and managed Hef’s music businesses. She later co-founded a post-production company called Independent Sound, which provided musical content for a wide range of clients, including a wide variety of commercials as well as motion pictures, like “Dancing with Wolves.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/ Film Historian, documentary filmmaker, and critic Richard Schickel on Clint Eastwood/LA-Chez Mimi, March 20, 2010

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Richard Schickel tells a great story that reveals Clint Eastwood’s loyalty to Warner Brothers; it’s a tale few see in the entertainment industry, where players change agents as fast as their wives and “A list” actors get thrown under the bus after a subpar opening weekend.

Film has always been a major role in The Luncheon Society.  Whether it was Roger Ebert talking about the Oscars right before he fell ill in 2006, John Sayles discussing The Graduate while sitting next to the film’s producer Larry Turman, or Academy Award winner Lee Grant walking us through her struggles with the Hollywood Blacklist in the 1950’s, film is the keyhole that best understands the American psyche, complete with our catalogued strengths and weaknesses.

Schickel is one of the preeminent film historians in the industry and has reviewed films for Time and Life Magazine for the better part of four decades. Earlier this year, he penned a wonderful piece in Vanity Fair about Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and how their partnership cemented Raging Bull as a film classic.  Schickel has authored over 30 books, produced, written and directed over 30 documentary films; and is found on the commentaries of over 40 DVDs.  He holds an honorary doctorate from The American Film Institute, won a British Film Institute Prize, based on his contribution to the art form. Richard’s latest book, a retrospective on Clint Eastwood’s long career with Warner Brothers, was published several weeks ago to wonderful reviews. We were thankful for the intercession of our friend Erika Schickel who put “the arm” on her father to meet The Luncheon Society.

Go ahead, make my movie. According to Schickel, after completing three “Dirty Harry” features during the 1970’s, Eastwood and his production company wanted to give the franchise a break and explore new ideas. He politely begged off repeated requests by Warner’s executive team to produce and direct another installment.

 

However during the early 1980’s, Warners made a number of ill-timed investments which included purchase of Atari. For awhile, the video game company flourished but soon tanked badly and dragged the Warner stock down nearly 70% from the previous high. Senior management was in deep trouble and Clint Eastwood had a long relationship to protect.  Everybody knew that another Dirty Harry sequel would be smash hit and it would staunch the hemorrhaging on Warner’s balance sheet. This time, Eastwood agreed to move forward.

The rest was history; the movie was called Sudden Impact and Eastwood’s signature line, Go ahead, make my day,” became the 6th most memorable line in a film according to the American Film Institute. Most importantly, the box office receipts helped Warners out of a tough scrape.

  Continue reading