Category Archives: Bob McBarton

The Luncheon Society/ David Finkel, the Pulitzer Prize Winning author of The Good Soldiers/San Francisco—Palio D’Asti/September 9, 2010

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The New York Times has called David Finkel’s latest book, The Good Soldiers , one of best non-fiction entries about the fighting in Iraq and it paints a gripping portrait from the soldier’s point of view.

Finkel’s book, which was a “top ten book of 2009” selection by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Slate.Com, The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, The Cleveland Plain Dealer The Christian Science Monitor as well as several other news organizations, has now been published in soft cover.  Finkel won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post based on his reporting on American efforts to fund democracy projects within Yemen and he lives with his family in Maryland.

On tour to support the release, Finkel sat down with The Luncheon Society in San Francisco at Palio d’Asti, a long time favorite locale for our group.

Finkel argues that every war is fought on two levels.  The first is found within the corridors of power that flow between the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon.  This is a world where paper battles rage between the participants and the only front-line casualties are wounded egos and reputations. These conflicts fill the tomes written by people like Bob Woodward and when compared to the battle theater, they read as if the real fighting was some far-off abstraction.    Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Former Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart on the Dangers of Near Earth Asteroids and Objects/Los Angeles—Morton’s Steakhouse/August 4, 2010

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“If you think the night sky is a tranquil place,” former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart says, “consider what may tumble down from the heavens.”

65 Million years ago, a Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 6 miles in diameter, slammed into the Earth along the Yucatan peninsula, near Chicxulub.  It had the power of a 100 Million megaton nuclear blast (the largest man-made nuclear bomb is only 50 megatons) and over 75% of life on Earth, including the dinosaurs, plants, and other life forms vanished. Life hung by a thread.

The Discovery Channel created a stark video which detailed what would happen if a 500 km NEA crashed into the Earth.

There have been at least 5 ELEs  (Extinction Level Events) during the last 500 million years of Earth’s history, not counting the Big Daddy of them all when a Mars-sized object slammed into a young Earth 4.5 billion years ago.  The collision was so immense that the Earth’s surface melted, was blasted into space and the core was exposed.  Over the next millions of years, the Earth slowly healed. However there is a nightly reminder of what took place; the gravitational pull of the debris coalesced into the current consensus of how the Moon was formed.

These events have happened before and they will most certainly happen again. “We live in a cosmic shooting gallery, Rusty Schweickart noted, “and that being hit by a ‘big one’ is simply a matter of time. We have in our sister planet, the Moon, an excellent history of the visitation record of NEAs and comets to our local neighborhood.” Those craters on the Moon are the results of direct strikes.

Consider this. On Friday April 13, 2029 (yes, Friday the 13th) 99942 Apophis, a Near Earth Asteroid, will pass within 24,000 miles of Earth, just under our geosynchronous satellite field. In astronomical terms, this is an incredibly close call. When first discovered in 2004, there were global concerns that it might hit the planet in 2029 or on its return trip on Easter Sunday 2036.  NASA has since downgraded the strike percentage to 1:233,000 and they will better refine their calculations in 2013 when the orbit of 99942 Apophis next brings it within tracking range. While the NEA is only three football fields in length and no more than 300 meters across, its packs a punch.  If it were to collide with Earth, it would unleash the equivalent of a 510 megaton nuclear blast. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/First Half 2010 recap/What’s coming up in the Second Half

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I thought I would quickly touch base now that we have completed the first half of 2010. Thus far  there have been 19 gatherings San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Manhattan.  We look for an equal number in the second half and should round out the year at 38-40.

Reminder.  To remind everybody, the SF and the LA Luncheon Society gatherings for Christopher Hitchens have been postponed and will be rescheduled later in 2010.

The Luncheon Society website.  For those who are unable to join us around the table,  you can subscribe to have The Luncheon Society summaries sent via email.  Click on the links below to learn more about the luncheons. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/ The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta on Google and the Media/Manhattan-The Century Club/June 3, 2010

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In 1998, Ken Auletta sat down with Bill Gates for a extended New Yorker interview while Microsoft was on trial for allegedly violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  At issue was a question as simple as it was complex: had Microsoft abused its de facto monopoly within the PC operating system market?

During the interview, Auletta asked Gates “what scared him, what kept him up late at night?” The answer surprised Auletta because it ripped away the veneer of paranoia that pervaded every corner of high tech. As Gates grabbed a Diet Coke for himself (and neglected to offer one to Auletta) he was worried about innovations he could not see.

 

Gates believed Microsoft could handle Apple, Netscape, or Yahoo; it could acquire what it could not crush. However, Gates worried that somewhere, some place there were a couple of young kids in a garage inventing something that would render Microsoft obsolete. Continue reading

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

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