Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Luncheon Society/NY Times Best-Selling author Dava Sobel on the importance of Copernicus/San Francisco—Palio D’Asti /November 4, 2011

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How do you propose a new idea when current thinking is so institutionalized and so engrained that anything else would be blasphemous? As he neared the publication of his life’s work, that is what worried Nicolaus Copernicus the most.

Writer Dava Sobel has the ability to compress complex scientific precepts into engrossing reading without dumbing down the subject matter. Her book, Longitudes , continues to be in print long after the date of its first edition.  In fact, Neil Armstrong will write the foreword for the anniversary edition. Her recent book, “A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos,” takes us through the challenges the Polish-born cleric encountered as he brought his life’s work to center stage.

We look back at yesterday’s scientific achievements and they are seen as today’s inevitabilities.  It was inevitable that the first flight by the Wright Brothers would lead to Man walking on the surface of the moon. It made logical sense that the discovery of nuclear fission would lead to weaponization within a few short years. 

Yet, when that first flight took place in North Carolina, nobody could envision daily flights to London. When Leó Szilárd first proposed that atoms could be split in 1933 to form nuclear chain reaction, few could calculate the unintended consequences.


So when Nicolaus Copernicus suggested that centuries of scientists and mathematicians had it all wrong and that the sun—not the earth—anchored our solar system, he called the basic tenets of civilization into question. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/ Time Magazine’s Ioan Grillo on his book “El Narco”—the growth of the drug insurgency in Mexico/SF—Palio D’Asti/October 26, 2011/Manhattan—Primehouse November 29, 2011

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As Mexico continues to sink into the hell of its own Narco Terror, Time Magazine’s Ioan Grillo details how things got violent so quickly. 

Since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched the first concentrated attack against the drug cartels, nearly 40,000 people have been killed and another 90,000 have been wounded. With an annual estimated revenue beyond $30 Billion annually, the cartels have no plans to quiet the violence.  

It is hard to believe, but at the dawn of the new century, Mexico was evolving from a one-party semi-democracy to a multi-party state.  Border cities like Juarez and Tijuana were primed to take advantage of the benefits from NAFTA and American brands built factories where low—waged Mexican workers built high-ticket good designed for American tastes.


It should have been a Golden Age for Mexico, but as Grillo notes in his book El Narco ,” Mexico runs the risk of being wholly coopted by the ruthless nature of groups like the Sinaloa Cartel their rivals, the Gulf Cartel, La Familia Michoacana, Los Zetas Cartel, or some other offshoot or reconstituted gang. Now that we are on the eve of the 2012 Mexican national elections, there are enough dead in Mexico to sell-out Dodger Stadium. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Joyce Carol Oates on “A Widow’s Story, a Memoir”/San Francisco—One Market Restaurant/March 21, 2011/Manhattan—The Century Club October 14, 2011

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Joyce Carol Oates fights for the underdog.  In “Black Water,” she imagines a fictionalized version of Chappaquiddick seen through the eyes of a thinly veiled character drawn to resemble Mary Jo Kopechne, hoping that the Senator would return to rescue her as her life ticks away.  In an upcoming post-modern novel, she is re-imagines the friendship between two doomed Hollywood personae, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Short, as they moved in the some of the same circles. Monroe became a Hollywood icon and died famously in 1962. Short emerged as famous the victim in “The Black Dahlia,” a murder that haunts Los Angeles to this very day.

In her latest work, she is the underdog we root for as she moves through a difficult chapter of her own life.


The Luncheon Society sat down with Joyce at One Market in San Francisco and The Century Association, thanks to the kind intercession of Enzo Viscusi.

Her output is nothing short of prodigious. At the moment, Joyce Carol Oates has penned 60 novels, 30 collections of short stories, 10 volume of poetry, and all are written by hand. She joined The Luncheon Society in San Francisco and Manhattan to discuss her latest personal and moving book titled, “A Widow’s Story, A Memoir,” which detailed her descent into widowhood.

“My Husband died, my life collapsed.” As the book jacket notes, “A Widow’s Story illuminates one woman’s struggle to comprehend a life without the partnership that had sustained and defined her for nearly half a century. As never before, Joyce Carol Oates shares the derangement of denial, the anguish of loss, the disorientation of the survivor amid a nightmare of “death-duties,” and the solace of friendship. She writes unflinchingly of the experience of grief—the almost unbearable suspense of the hospital vigil, the treacherous “pools” of memory that surround us, the vocabulary of illness, the absurdities of commercialized forms of mourning. Here is a frank acknowledgment of the widow’s desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that this is my life now.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Criminologist David Kennedy on his memoir “Don’t Shoot” on how to decrease urban violence/San Francisco-Palio d’Asti/October 4, 2011

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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. 

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