The 2020 Season of The Luncheon Society: a review

2020.  This was an interesting year. Like everybody else, we started out looking forward to the new year, but we quickly found ourselves facing the global pandemic like everybody else. In March, suspended the Luncheon Society gatherings in our four cities, but in June, with the help of Zoom, we found ourselves back on track. Our migration to Zoom has offered a number of important benefits, although I miss our gatherings, especially the after-party. 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis started the year (as he has for the past two decades) in Los Angeles and San Francisco just before the curtain fell down on the country with the COVID-10 outbreak. He warned us that while it might look good for a Democratic presidential nominee, we would have to organize down to each and every block to make things happen in the fall. In the last few years, upstart brands have come out of nowhere to take over huge businesses. Think Warby Parker, Casper, and Dollar Shave Club. How did they do it? That’s the question everyone, from consumers to the big brands who previously owned these categories, wants to know. Lawrence Ingrassia’s engaging, must-read new book, Billion Dollar Brand Club, has the answers. Former Senator and Presidential candidate Gary Hart returned to The Luncheon Society for the first time in a decade (thanks to Zoom) to talk about the secret powers of the US presidency  and what might happen if Donald Trump refuses to leave in the case of a disputed outcome in November.  Film gatherings are always a great deal of fun and Sydney Ledensohn Stern spoke to her book, The Brothers Mankiewicz, about the seminal impact of Herman and Joe who earned five Academy Awards between them. The lives of both Joe and Herman were dramatic enough to fill several screenplays.  Moreover, several members of the Mankiewicz family joined for the call. Joyce Carol Oates returned for another Luncheon Society gatherings, this time on Zoom, where we talked about the themes from her latest novel, “Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.” It is a powerhouse of what happens when things fall apart. While Academy Award winning actress Lee Grant would join The Luncheon Society now and then around the table in Manhattan, we were pleased to welcome her back to us in a Zoom call, where she talked about the experiences of living through the Hollywood Blacklist as a young actress and fighting back after she was able to return to work.  It is an amazing story of inner strength.  Jeffrey Toobin joined us for a conversation about his latest book, “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump,” which suggests that Donald Trump was able to outlast and out maneuver Robert Mueller, as crime after crime took place in plain sight. The 2009 TED Award Winner Jill Tarter brought us up to date on the great leaps forward in SETI research, thanks not only to the Kepler planet hunting space problem as well as increased computing power here on the planet Earth.  A fictionalized version of Jill Tarter was portrayed by Jodie Foster in the film “Contact.”  There is a sequel in the works.  Our friend Dana Thomas returned to The Luncheon Society for a conversation about how the environmental impacts of fast fashion are harming us. However, there is hope.  There is a new generation of clothing manufacturers that are working to make garments that are more environmentally friendly as well as well as safer for those who are crating them.  As Jimmy Carter’s far-sighted Presidency goes through a period of historical reevaluation, MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter joined us for a conversation surrounding his presidency, including the improbably rise from obscurity after Watergate as well as his lack of political skills that hamstrung him while in office. In a landmark article in The Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Barton Gellman, suggests that while Trump may lose the election, he will never concede.  He worries that his White House is already trying to create an atmosphere of denigrating the results through voter suppression, especially with mail-in ballots if he loses the race. The period between the election and the inauguration may prove to be a dangerous time in American history. Former CIA spymaster Jack Devine joined The Luncheon Society for a fourth visit as he details the intention of foreign countries and their attempts to delegitimize the coming American election.  He says that Putin wants to divide the West and somehow rebuild through coercion, some form of the old Soviet Union.  24 hours before the 2020 Presidential election, Ben Bradlee Jr and Richard Wolffe sat down with us on Zoom to give their thoughts on how the Presidential election might unfold. Everybody saw a Biden win, but nobody saw the fact that Republicans would manage to hold on to the US Senate, at least until the two January 2021 runoffs in Georgia.  The major thrust of their conversation was that Trump might be beaten, but “Trumpism” would remain as part of the stock and trades of far right politics for a long time to come. NASA is only 100 days away from the next great rover to land on the surface of The Red Planet. Perseverance will build upon the discoveries of Curiosity (which landed in 2012) as well as the rovers and orbiters of the past two decades.  JPL’s Dr. John Callas, who as Project Manager, served as the head of Mission Control the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.  What is exciting about this upcoming mission is that Perseverance will come with the very first Martian helicopter.   We capped off the 2020 season with two time National Book Award finalist and New York State Poet Laureate Alicia Ostriker.  However, what made the gathering  uniquely special was the other writers and poets that joined us, like Joyce Carol Oates, Andrei Codrescu, Marilyn Hacker, Toi Derricotte and others for a conversation about poetry in the city during these times of global pandemic.

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