George HW Bush

Thought of this photo today.

(what’s David Gergen doing there?  sometimes I’ve been that guy).

All posts related to any Bush.


A month away from WONDER TRAIL release


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On June 14, my new book The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, comes out.

You can pre-order the book here on Amazon or here from your favorite independent bookstore(s?!).  Independent bookstores were very supportive of my last book, I owe them bigtime.  Also who doesn’t love an independent bookstore?


Possible I’m beating the drum on my own book a little too hard.  Book promotion can feel very weird.  By the time the book comes out, you’re exhausted of it, it’s the last thing you want to talk about.

But there’s probably something this lesson about marketing told by David Gergen in this 1993 Michael Kelly profile:

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Anyway, I hope the book is cool and fun and entertaining, a perfect summer read that proves surprisingly informative.

It’s not too early to mark Monday, June 20 on your calendar, I’ll be at Book Soup in Los Angeles.


Today I sent to Helytimes Superfan subscribers some excerpts of the book, about Nicaragua.  If you’d like to receive it too, just send me an email to helphely at

These are all pictures of Nicaragua I took on my travels, here is the Ojo de Agua on the island of Ometeppe:


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And a local Coke / wheelbarrow store:IMG_1318


Vote All You Want


If you live in LA County, here are some endorsements based on a very casual roundup from smart people.  I have not looked into all this myself but this may be slightly better than voting at random:

Sheila Kuehl for supervisor.

No on 46.

Yes to all judicial reappointments

Dayan Mathai for judge.

1) Interested by this article in The Boston Globe entitled “Vote All You Want.  The Secret Government Won’t Change.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?

GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.

The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

No surprise here to readers of The Wise Men.


Enjoyed reading this Michael Kelly profile of David Gergen from 1993.

A speech-department staff member culled dozens of anecdotes about Nixon from intimates and aides in a lengthy report, with each anecdote indexed according to the character trait it was meant to advertise: Repartee, Courage, Kindness, Strength in Adversity. What is most painfully obvious about these undertakings is how little the anecdotalists had to work with. Exemplifying the President’s talent for Repartee was an account of Nixon silencing a New York businessman who had upbraided him over the Vietnam War by telling the man not to “give me any crap.” Illustrating the President’s Strength in Adversity was a bald little story of how the young Congressman Nixon, falling on an icy sidewalk, still managed to keep his 2-year-old daughter, Tricia, safe in his arms.

In this perfectionist and paranoid atmosphere, Gergen learned the bones of his craft.

He learned the importance of saying the same thing, over and over and over: “Nixon taught us about the art of repetition. He used to tell me, ‘About the time you are writing a line that you have written it so often that you want to throw up, that is the first time the American people will hear it.’

He learned about the gimmicks of phrasing calculated to catch the public ear: “Haldeman used to say that the vast majority of words that issue under a President’s name are just eminently forgettable. What you need to focus on is what’s the line that is going to have a little grab to it.”

He learned the theory of controlled access. If you gave the press only a smidgen of Presidential sight and sound on a given day, reporters would be forced to make their stories out of that smidgen: “Nixon used to go into the press room with a statement that was only 100 words long because he did not want them editing him. He knew if he gave them more than 100 words, they’d pick and choose what to use.”

He learned the endless discipline required to protect the image, which was as evanescent as morning mist: “It went into everything — the speeches, the talking points, the appearances. Haldeman had a rule on appearances: if you wanted to put in a scheduling request for anything the President was going to do in public, your request had to fulfill what we called H.P.L. — Headline, Picture, Lede. You had to say, in writing, what the headline out of the event was going to be, what the lede was going to be and what the picture was going to be.”

And this:

Then, on Jan. 21, 1980, Bush unexpectedly won the Iowa Republican caucus and became the instant front-runner. “The very next day, Gergen called up Baker and said, miracle of miracles, he had managed to clear his schedule and would be able to take the job after all,” Keene says. “When Baker said the job was filled, Gergen came in as a volunteer speech writer.” In the month between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, when Bush was the leading Republican candidate, Gergen, according to Keene, “was very visible.”

But on Feb. 26, Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to a resurgent Ronald Reagan. “And Gergen just disappeared completely, I mean right away,” recalls Peter Teeley, Bush’s press secretary at the time. “We never heard from him again until he turned up with Reagan at the Republican convention.”

Even the Reaganites, who benefited from Gergen’s leap, were appalled by the speed of it. “He came to us as soon as it began to seem Bush was going to lose, definitely before Bush pulled out, and quite frankly this made us very suspicious of him,” recalls a former Reagan campaign official. “I mean, there’s jumping ship and there’s jumping ship. This guy was elbowing the women and children aside to get overboard.

Gergen strongly denies that he showed any undue haste in switching allegiances. “It is not true that I disappeared in the campaign,” he says. “I continued to advise Bush much in the same way I had up to the point he was nominated Vice President.”

Let me note here (as I have elsewhere) that I took a class with David Gergen at the K School.  I found him to be a serious but approachable and warm dude, always engaged and present.  He did have a habit of ostentatiously taking notes during any guest speaker’s talk, but I took that to be a form of politeness.

I recall him telling a story – it’s possible I read this somewhere but I think I heard him say it – that he had a meeting with Nixon when he was (I believe) leaving law school and about to go into the Navy.  Nixon advised him to serve as a regular old line officer on a ship, and not to use his law degree to get into a headquarters job.

Warren Bennis

This guy, a professor who specialized in the study of leadership, died the other day.

Once I took a class Warren Bennis co-taught with David Gergen, it was called something like “Art, Culture and The Politics Of Leadership.”  I loved the class.  I wrote my paper about Robert Sherwood, a playwright famed for “Abe Lincoln In Illinois,” who went on to write speeches for FDR.

Sherwood stood six feet eight inches tall. Dorothy Parker, who was five-feet four-inches, once commented that when she, Sherwood, and Robert Benchley (who was six feet tall) would walk down the street together, they looked like “a walking pipe organ.” When asked at a party how long he had known Sherwood, Robert Benchley stood on a chair, raised his hand to the ceiling, and said, “I knew Bob Sherwood back when he was only this tall.”

(Sometimes the Algonquin Round Table gang seems like they must’ve been pretty insufferable to be around.)

Anyway, I remember something Bennis used to talk about.  When Bennis was 19 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army and sent to Europe.  It was 1945  —  the troops he was sent to command were seasoned veterans already.  They’d just survived the Battle Of The Bulge.  He was just a kid rookie.  Imagine that situation.

What he said happened was, the soldiers in his platoon “taught me how to lead them.”

What a profound thought.  Will have to see if it comes up in Bennis’ autobiography:

(Badass thing to name your book).

Bennis also co-authored this book:

which is full of interesting stuff.  There’s a story about Walt Disney, after he decided to make a feature length animated movie, the first ever, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.  Disney gathered 200 or so animators and artists in an auditorium, stood up on stage, and acted out the entire movie for them.  The whole thing, two hours.  He “did” the witch and stuff, exactly how he wanted it drawn.

That was “visionary leadership,” says Bennis.

That was the same class in which I was made to do improv games with David Gergen.

 (pics from “Philip Channing” here wiki here (National Archives) here here (Google search!  It’s not like I read Rand Paul forums!))