Category Archives: luncheon society

The Luncheon Society/True Prep author Lisa Birnbach/San Francisco-Fior D’Italia/September 22, 2010

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Behind every well-written satire lies a fountain of truth.  In 1980, Lisa Birnbach, then a young feature writer for The Village Voice , found herself working on a project 38 other writers had rejected.

It would be a small book with Workman Publishing, a quirky imprint in Manhattan known more for their calendars and a series of successful “How To” books.  Yet, in the course of ten short weeks, Lisa created what became a field guide for a declining species of an American subculture: preternaturally wealthy WASPS, their tribal customs, behaviors, etiquette, families, and mating rituals. However, as a graduate of Brown and Riverdale Country School , it came as second nature.

When it hit the shelves in October 1980, the initial printing redefined modest. The book cost $4.95 and was sold only in soft cover.  However, 2 ½ million copies and 41 printings later, The Official Preppy Handbook  remained on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 38 weeks. Critics raved and Birnbach demonstrated a sharp eye for social commentary and biting satire. In fact, The Official Preppy Handbook (OPH) remained Workman Publishing’s best-selling title until the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series came along in 1984.  

For a book that has been out of print for a quarter century it has aged rather well, like those featured within its pages.  Copies can be purchased on eBay for as high as $150 and signed copies (like mine) are sold for as much as $250 to $300. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Bernard Muna, Candidate for President, The Republic of Cameroon/LA—Napa Valley Grille, July 23, 2010/ SF-Fior D’Italia July 31, 2010

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To understand the political despair found in the African nation of Cameroon, look at those who have left the county.  

Not only are the Best and Brightest are leaving, the brain drain is accelerating, and those who travel overseas to further their education rarely return home. Within a short period of time, they join the growing ranks of Cameroon’s Diaspora, which now numbers in the tens of thousands.  They have resettled across the globe but in the United States, most live in Boston, New York, Washington, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They have become successful in their chosen fields and they are raising their families with one foot in the United States and one foot back home in Cameroon. 

They are wonder aloud why the political reform is succeeding in neighboring countries like Ghana but has floundered in their own homeland.

The Diaspora Outreach. That is why reform-minded Presidential Candidate Bernard Muna is traveling around the United States, reaching out to members of the Cameroonian expatriate community, as he prepares for the 2011 national elections. Muna is here to make his case why his coalition can transform Cameroon politically and economically.

It is a rare to be present as democracy stirs in the hearts of those who want change. Roughly half who joined The Luncheon Society ™ gatherings in Los Angeles and San Francisco were members of the Diaspora. They came to hear Muna, an international attorney, who is early stages of running for President. He is running against Paul Biya, whose corrosive three decade dictatorship has driven Cameroon into the ground.   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/Gov. Michael Dukakis/LA-Napa Valley Grille, January 9, 2010/SF-One Market, February 26, 2010

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At a Luncheon Society ™ event several years ago, Michael Dukakis talked about walking precincts. He could not understand those who favored high cost television ads or mailings over the elbow grease of building a grassroots operation. He believed that the best way to know the voters was to knock on their doors and ask for their support.

Dukakis insisted that a good grassroots organization could deliver an extra 5% turnout, which could be the difference between a win and a loss. Massachusetts, Dukakis noted, had 2,300 voter precincts and each precinct could have 5 block captains. If you built a volunteer army of 10,000 people, Dukakis noted, you became unbeatable. Those who solely relied on media campaigns and direct mail pieces often discovered their support was often a mile wide and an inch deep.  

However, one person took issue.  He said that California was too big, too much a “media state” and walking precincts was on the wane because there were too many high tech approaches to drive voter contact. Los Angeles was not like Boston or New York, the person continued. LA was 88 communities held together by miles of double-ribbon freeway and at the end of the day, walking all of those neighborhoods was just too hard.

“That’s not hard. I used to walk precincts when The Boston Strangler was on the loose,” Dukakis replied. “Now that’s hard.”

The Luncheon Society Regular.   Mike Dukakis has joined The Luncheon Society on a regular basis since 1999. In January, he led a discussion in Los Angeles for his 13th appearance and a month later in San Francisco for his 14th visit. In 2010, we hope to get him into Manhattan to visit the third pod of The Luncheon Society.

Over the years, The Luncheon Society  has quietly convened hundreds times for movable feasts at over 40 restaurants like Palio D’Asti, which is hidden away on California Street in San Francisco or Chez Mimi, which caters to the entertainment industry in Santa Monica. The kindness of a gracious friend allowed us to use The Lotos Club, one of the oldest literary clubs in the United States, frequented by the likes of Mark Twain and today residing in a Manhattan mansion once owned by the Vanderbilt family. Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Dick Cavett/Blue Fin/New York/February 19, 2010

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Dick Cavett can tell a great story. The best ones center on his long friendship with Groucho Marx, who he met after the funeral of playwright George S. Kaufman.  In one, Groucho was about to introduce his brother Chico to Tallulah Bankhead, the reigning Queen of Broadway and daughter of then-Speaker of the House William Bankhead. To understand Chico Marx (which is pronounced Chick-o), he was a profligate skirt chaser, vaudevillian, gambler, and orchestra leader whose wife knew that he slept with anything that moved.

Tallulah Bankhead, who was at the start of her career, was no slouch herself in that department, but few knew it yet. She was an attractive and wild force of nature, the kind of tornado that took out farms, mobile home parks, and marriages of all shapes and sizes. To describe Bankhead to a modern audience, she was the “Mother of all Train Wrecks,” equal parts Paris Hilton, Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan but also had a tremendous talent that spanned four decades on stage and screen. Even after death she lives on, being played by Kathleen Turner and others in various stage productions of her life.

That night, Groucho pleaded with his brother not to sully the reputation of Miss Bankhead and he promised to behave. According to Cavett’s book, the conversation began innocently enough with a simple introduction.

“Miss Bankhead,” Chico said. “Mr. Marx,” Tallulah replied.

Grateful the storm had passed, everybody relaxed until Chico said, “You know, I really want to sleep with you (which was the PG version).” Without missing a beat, she replied, “And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.”

Now, that’s a story.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Lawrence O’Donnell/Chez Mimi’s/Santa Monica/February 3, 2010

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Over the past decade, The Luncheon Society ™ has gathered with many who appear as guests on cable talk shows when we meet in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

When they join us, you realize just how claustrophobic basic cable can be; when they’re able to open up and talk at length, it’s like uncorking a great bottle of wine, the kind you hide until the time is right. Perhaps the food, drink, and the relaxed nature of those around the table offers a chance for them to share what’s really on their minds, if only television gave them enough time.

They are often rambunctious affairs. Several years ago, it was a Luncheon Society gatherings with Christopher Hitchens  that started at a San Francisco restaurant before we all decamped for an open air bar where everybody smoked, drank, or did a little of both. 48 hours before the 2008 California Primary, Fox Contributor Lanny Davis squared off between the Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters, who were crowded together at either side of a long table at Town Hall Restaurant in San Francisco and went after each other with rhetorically sharpened knives. Last year in New York, where Jimmy Breslin  held court late into the night, he bemoaned Times Square’s lack of hookers and transients with that familiar raspy voice, the one I heard in my mind’s eye, back when I read his columns in The New York Daily News.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has joined us as a main speaker in the past but also has visited when others spoke in Los Angeles. O’Donnell is a frequent guest on Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and the rest of the MSNBC stable; he often guest hosts.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/Temple Grandin/Morton’s Steak House/Los Angeles/1.12.10

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Author’s note.  The HBO movie starring Claire Danes as Dr. Temple Grandin debuts next month and we had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with her again in Los Angeles.  It was a memorable visit from a truly amazing person. Having a co-worker who has two brothers who are autistic, you realize just how amazing her journey has been. Below are the notes from the San Francisco gathering with Dr. Grandin that took place in the fall of 2009.

The world is a different place when seen through the eyes of Dr. Temple Grandin.  What makes Temple Grandin special is that as a high functioning autistic, her neurological condition has enhanced her study of animal behavior; she currently is one of the best in her field globally. As an Associate Professor at Colorado State University, roughly 50% of the beef that shows up on your plate came through improvements that she has made to the process of livestock management. Dr. Grandin is also one of the most compelling advocates for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome because she has made career of overcoming obstacles that have been placed in her path.

Dr Grandin has written several New York Times best-sellers, including, “Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals” (with Catherine Johnson); “Thinking in Pictures, My Life with Autism” (with Oliver Sacks); “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior” (with Catherine Johnson); and “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s.” Continue reading

The Luncheon Society/2009 recap/Looking ahead to 2010.

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I would like to thank everybody for another great year with The Luncheon Society ™.  2009 was our twelfth season and there are already some great events planned with others in the works for 2010.

Good conversation is worth having.  From those early days back in 1997, when there were only three of us, The Luncheon Society has grown steadily in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  There are some fun things planned for the future.  Look for a Washington DC pod in the summer of 2010.

Also I would like to personally thank Naomi Epel for her help in 2009.

We are making some changes for The Luncheon Society in 2010.  Annual Dues. Starting in 2010, The Luncheon Society will have dues of $20 per person annually.  Like Public Broadcasting, The Luncheon Society is solely member-supported.  The cost you pay for a Luncheon Society gathering pays for your luncheon as well as a portion of the speaker’s luncheon, including tax and tip. I want to keep The Luncheon Society experience alive long after the last dish has been put away and the last table has been cleared.

Continue reading

The Luncheon Society congratulates Jeff Bleich, the new American Ambassador-Designate to Australia.

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jeff-bleichWe may have lost temporarily a member, but we have gained an Ambassador. Our friend Jeff Bleich is the second member of The Luncheon Society to join the Ambassadorial ranks. Previously Jeff was the Special Counsel to the President in the Obama Administration.  In private practice, Jeff was a litigation partner in the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and has been recognized for the past 7 years as one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in California by the Daily Journal.  

For those keeping score, the first Luncheon Society member to join the ranks was the Hon. Martin Uden, the former British Consulate Chief in San Francisco is now Her Majesty’s Ambassador to South Korea.

Belated congratulations, Jeff.

No doubt, we’ll have first dibs on him when he returns periodically.

The Luncheon Society/’s Joan Walsh/Palio D’Asti/San Francisco/9.28.09

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joan_walsh_artDoes overheated rhetoric invite and incite dangerous behavior? Is there a causal relationship between the killing of Dr. George Tiller and the rhetoric that originated from the partisan talk-television prior to his death? 

Joan Walsh is troubled that she is best remembered for a 10 minute debate with Bill O’Reilly surrounding Tiller rather than three decades of writing and editorship. It says something profound about the state of basic cable news.  The rationale for CNN, plus a whole host of basic cable news outlets, was to give us more of a global viewpoint. However, we have instead seen the growth of talk television, which is modeled on the growth of talk radio. 

The mission of The Luncheon Society has been to remove the invective from either side of the debate to have far more robust conversation.  There are a number of The Luncheon Society members who I cheer on when I catch them on television.  However, when they are with us, they’re free to expand beyond confines of the “10 second answer,” and the conversations are richer for it. As I ponder this question, I think to last week’s Ken Burns elegant documentary on The National Parks System, hearing the voice of Peter Coyote and seeing Carl Pope, both who have joined us around the table on numerous occasions.  We would be a better country if our national debate mirrored that approach. Continue reading