Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Luncheon Society/Criminologist David Kennedy on his memoir “Don’t Shoot” on how to decrease urban violence/Manhattan–PrimeHouse/February 24, 2012

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Most people view urban crime from the safety of the own living rooms. However, criminologist David Kennedy grabs the problem by the scruff of the neck and has created a template, if deployed correctly, might end the cycle of violence that has become commonplace for so many lawless urban neighborhoods.

David Kennedy joined us in Manhattan after a wonderful luncheon late last year in San Francisco.  We hope to have him join us in Los Angeles as well as Boston near term.

The Luncheon Society has looked at crime (its sources and its impact) though a number of authors. Our friend and sociologist Peter Moskos published a book detailing his field world as a police officer in Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods, which was seen in HBO’s The Wire titled, “Cop in the Hood.” This year he published a sly polemic titled, “In Praise of the Lash” which takes another look at how we punish offenders. Time magazine’ Ioan Grillo joined us in San Francisco and Manhattan for a stark conversation about the growth of “El Narco,” the drug-fueled insurgency that is slowly strangling Mexico’s national sovereignty.

In Kennedy’s book , Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End to Violence in Inner-City America, he pens an impassioned memoir of how his approach had improved the worst of neighborhoods plagued by drug violence.

Crime is down—but where is it up? When you look at FBI statistics, crime rates—including violent crime—continue to decrease incrementally. However, this is not the case in some of the roughest urban communities, where an African-American male has a 1:200 chance to getting killed by gunfire. It has devolved to the point where some first responders may think twice before entering into some of the neighborhoods. Traditional law enforcement of governmental assistance has failed to stem the tide and as a result, these neighborhoods are essentially written off by municipal leaders. As a result, the festering cancer of criminal behavior becomes multigenerational in scope with no jobs, no future, and no hope.

What David Kennedy has done—even though he is an academic as director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice—is to immerse himself into the worst of the neighborhoods and figure out answers to build solutions. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff on the challenges of returning vets/ Manhattan—Prime House February 9, 2012

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Every so often, I’ll Google James Blake Miller and hope he has risen above his personal demons. He’s largely faded from the public view, but the image of a young and exhausted soldier who took a smoke break after prolonged firefight in Fallujah found itself on the front page of most newspapers and the cover of Time.  Miller, who appeared as an anonymous everyman covered with mud, blood, and exhaustion, became a metaphor for every American in daily combat.

 

Just as quickly, James Blake Miller became another type of metaphor.  After returning home to his family, it became clear he was suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the subsequent stories chronicled a downward tailspin.  A storybook marriage to his high school sweetheart quickly imploded and there several incidents which later resulted in a medical discharge from the armed forces. Living on disability, he joined a motorcycle club that law enforcement felt was suspicious. When the LA Times photographer who took the iconic photograph intervened to get him admitted into a long-term counseling program for veterans, Miller soon left and was last heard of living alone, a far different person from when he shipped out.

 

The IAVA’s founder, Paul Rieckhoff, joined The Luncheon Society for his fourth gathering; our last luncheon took place in San Francisco in 2010.  For Manhattan , our old friend and therapist Shari Foos moderated. Rieckhoff, who founded the IAVA when he returned from the theater of operations in 2004 from his apartment in Greenwich Village, is now focused on the next phase of his mission. With the general drawdown in both theaters, combat deaths and injuries will fade to the background to be replaced by The Next Big Story that dominates Basic Cable. The IAVA will have its hands full making sure that the needs of vets do not fall between the cracks.

James Blake Miller is not alone. Today’s returning veterans face higher unemployment, greater numbers of homelessness, and epidemic levels of undiagnosed PTSD.  A vet with PTSD will have three times the chance of an alcohol problem, four times the chance of ending up with a serious drug addiction, and worse, six times the chance of suicide than the average American. While PTSD has been following soldiers home since antiquity, the epidemic levels among returning combat soldiers is not getting the attention it deserved from the VA.

Their mission is to ensure that every soldier who returns from the combat theater has the tools to reintegrate into civilian society.  Their website states, “IAVA is the country’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide, IAVA is building the next greatest generation with a three-pronged model based on advocacy, awareness, and assistance. IAVA programs empower our community online and offline, and include Smart Job Fairs, our signature New GI Bill calculator and Community of Veterans, a veteran’s only social network.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Rock and Roll Groupie Queens Pamela Des Barres and Catherine James discuss “Let’s Spend the Night Together”/LA—Napa Valley Grille January 31, 2012

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Being present at the creation has its own rewards. Thankfully, Pamela Des Barres had the presence of mind to write everything down. Long before she became “The Queen of the Rock and Roll Groupies” and hung out with Whisky-a-Go-Go house bands that soon became household names, Pamela Des Barres was a compulsive diarist who filled up notebooks and pined about the musicians she idolized.

She desperately wanted to meet them. And she did.

Joining us in Los Angeles, Pamela Des Barres and her close friend Catherine James gave us the inside view of a rock and roll courtesan (Des Barres prefers the term groupie) during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when we let our hair grow, loosened our conventions, and rock and roll simply ruled. It was a life lived out-loud and it took place in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and all parts in-between.

 

How it began for Pamela. A high school friend of Pamela’s was the cousin of Captain Beefheart, who along with Frank Zappa, influenced a generation of musicians during the 1960’s. Pamela eventually went to work for the Zappa family as their nanny before founding The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), which served as an opening act for Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. The GTOs were young women who hung out on The Sunset Strip and were very much part of the scene. Within the space of a couple of years, she had gone from fantasizing about popular music to being in the eye of the hurricane. She remained somewhat anonymous to those outside of the LA music scene until she published I’m with the Band in 1986. It was an immediate best-seller and she followed up with two other memoirs, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, and “Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon.”

Catherine James emerged from a difficult childhood. She was abandoned by both parents but after a chance meeting with a young Bob Dylan, who said that “it was her life, her gift, and she did not have to follow anybody’s rules.” She escaped from the orphanage and made her way to Greenwich Village. She was 15. By 19, she had a son with Denny Laine of the Moody Blues and later with Paul McCartney’s Wings, lived with Mick Jagger in London, modeled for Wilhelmina, and found herself in Andy Warhol’s crowd. When she doubled for Diane Keaton on a number of her films, the actress encouraged her to write and Catherine published “Dandelion the Memoir of a Free Spirit” in 2007. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Thomas Frank and his book “Pity the Billionaire/San Francisco—Fior D’Italia/ January 26, 2012

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After a two year absence, Thomas Frank rejoined The Luncheon Society in San Francisco to discuss his latest book, “Pity the Billionaire, The Hard Time Swindle and the Unlikely comeback of the Right.” 

Called “The Thinking Man’s Michael Moore” by Michael Kinsley and the author of What’s  the Matter with Kansas and The-Wrecking-Crew , Frank took us through the deregulatory environment that turned a blind eye to the housing bubble that finally burst in 2008, only weeks before the national election.  This started the long chain of events that became The Great Recession, the biggest economic mess since the Herbert Hoover gave us The Great Depression.

However, the big surprise came in the spring of 2009, when the Tea Party movement purged their moderates and demanded a return, with a sense of amnesiac incredulity, to the same circumstances that led to the “Train Wreck of 2008.”

It would be, as Frank describes, “as if the public had demanded dozens of new nuclear power plants in the days after the Three Mile Island disaster.”

 

On NPR, Franked continued, “The central paradox of our time is that we’ve just come through this extraordinary financial collapse. We know that this was almost directly the result of 30 years of bank deregulation and of all the sort of financial experimentation that our government encouraged. This disaster was caused by this ideology.”

And what the Tea Party movement and what the conservative revival generally is telling us to do,” Frank notes, “is instead of reversing course, instead of going back and saying, OK, maybe we should have a well-funded Securities Exchange Commission. Maybe we should go back and break up the too-big-to-fail banks.”

He concludes, “What they’re saying is, no, no. Get government out of the picture altogether. We need not to reverse course. We need to double down on that ideology that we’ve been following all these years. Only when we get to that sort of pure state of complete free markets, then our problems will be solved. And until that day, none of this stuff matters.” Continue reading