Monday, October 30, 2017

Stock picking blues

These days when doing basic research on stocks that I own(should they be added to or sold?),  stocks that might be an opportunity, and stocks that can be bet against(rarely done here), a crutch that was widely used in the past is mostly gone.

When I worked in financial services and then for ten years or so after, many institutional fund managers were well known.  When working they were business associates and long hours were spent on the phone with many of them.  They were visited at their offices in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Valley Forge, London, and other places.  Meals were shared and conferences were held where they all gathered.

Getting to know the portfolio managers well was far more instructive than working with the brokerage firm securities analysts.  Of course, strong opinions were developed about those who were the smartest and most astute investors.  That opinion was not based just on the industry that I represented but on their stock picking prowess overall.  When that opinion was current, and staying fresh for years after, one way to research stocks was not only to look at financials, industry trends, the strength of CEO's, and other variables that could be interpreted, but also to check on who owned the stocks being researched.  More explicitly, checking the funds managed by those considered to be the most talented was used as a guide to confirm or reject thoughts, or create new ideas.

Over time that knowledge has become stale.  Most talented portfolio managers retire at some point.  Forty-five or fifty was often seen as a good age to back off.  Some that have their own firms stick with it, like Buffett, but that's unusual.  Almost all continue to manage money, but privately.  At this point there are few that can be checked on.  Among the last is Will Danoff of Fidelity's Contrafund who was met when he was just beginning, in his mid-twenties I would guess.  For the most part now, few that were personally known are still out there.

In some ways that makes me feel like I am alone when making investment decisions.  For many years my prowess, if I can be so bold as to call it that, was aided by tracking those highly regarded acquaintances, many in fact as much friends as job required contacts.

So the stock picking blues hits here at times and while a  new song is not in the works, there are old ones... "if the river was whiskey and ..."

Postscript:  as a morning follow up, it is noted that this "blues" did not stop activity yesterday.  A recent position in ODP was added to and a new position in Sprint(S) was added as it dropped significantly on the news that a merger possibility was faltering.  These actions are speculative and not recommended for others.  In addition, the final piece of a long held and profitable position in Wells Fargo was sold.  Evidence of bad management at that firm continues unabated.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Techs have a market moving Friday

Well capitalized technology firms with a record of revenue growth rose today in tandem today after Amazon reported earnings.  Amazon stock was up 13% while the two Googles average price increase was 4.5%,  the rising Microsoft up over 6%, Facebook up 4%, remember Intel, up 7%, and the beleaguered Twitter up 7%.  The overall QQQ, led by these gains, was up 2.9%.

Any weakness in the broader market was stock specific such as an earnings disappointment at Merck and profit taking in some non tech names that have had good runs.  It's a performance that may be overdue for some of the tech giants with dominant franchises.  Any thoughts about the uncoordinated  nihilist approach that Trump is taking to the NAFTA negotiations was out of mind.  The era of global growth is touted by many.  Is it too good to be true?

November will tell more, but the gains today were encouraging.  That could entice more retail investors into a situation that cannot stay this steady.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Items of note today in the New York Times

Like most days, there are a few noteworthy articles in the NYT that may interest those who read this post:

---The obituary for Fats Domino is interesting and entertaining.  Other than his years when his recordings were at the top of the charts, New Orleans was his home and where he learned and created the music that would be called rock and roll.  He lived most of his life there, as he said that "it was the only place where he liked the food".  He played at Jazzfest almost every year of its existence, and I last saw him in 2008 when at age 80 he played fine and sang with his usual halting cadence, and then got up and did a short strut across the stage.

---There is a page one article about John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff and former 4 star general.  It makes clear that while Kelly has restored, or initiated for the first time, some order to staff organization, but that he is not the hoped for restraint on the President's worst inclinations.  Apparently he is another Trump style nut job who thinks allowing any immigration into the country is a bad idea.  He prefers zero.  Yeah, he seems to be out there on many issues.

---There is an election for mayor coming up in New York City and Mayor de Blasio is well ahead in the polls.  Bo Dietl is a notable fringe candidate that has received attention due to his pure New York personality and reputation.  For those who ever listened to the Imus in the Morning talk show, Dietl is familiar.  An article about him on page A22 is a good read.  Dietl's candidacy cannot be characterized by a party or set of policies, yet he has raised over a million dollars from those who must like his at times disruptive and less than predictable style.

--- Notable to some, it was reported that the CDC has endorsed a new shingles vaccine, and once it is through all approvals they recommend that even those who have had the existing vaccine should get this one as well.  I will get in line.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cable programs update..."Ray Donovan" leads the way...

---"Ray Donovan" continues to be the most addictive show on television here.  Only one more episode for this season with so many threads of stories to at least touch on.  Several episodes were missed mid-season for various reasons so everything is not completely clear.  I will catch up on those online. One thing for sure --- Mickey will create more trouble in this Season 5 closer.

---In its initial season, "The Deuce" has the goal of becoming the 1970's Times Square porn equivalent of "The Wire".  That cannot be accomplished but the program has improved as it progresses.  Once all of the story lines are fully in place it can become more compelling.  The most recent program was the best so far, but it is missing at least one completely engaging character.  Still, I watch and wait.

--- After being off the air for four or five years "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is back.  For me it is better than before, as it seems less contrived.  In the past, the show was more aggravating than humorous at times.  This season seems more realistic while Larry is still creating havoc with his hyper neurotic personality.  Maybe I have changed or maybe the show has changed.  I now look forward to each episode.

---"Shameless" is a program that has never been watched here until recently as some some back episodes have been seen.  It's unclear why it never clicked but it will be given the opportunity as a new season begins on November 5.  Following it will be a completely new program that has potential if the adverts are a fair guide --- single mother eccentric who loves basketball...

That's it for anyone with interest.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Becoming Myself", a memoir by Irvin Yalom

Irvin Yalom's look at his own life and legacy was published this month.  It is a rewarding book to read.  He is the author of numerous books, novels like "When Nietzsche Wept"(a favorite), "The Spinoza Problem", and "The Schopenhauer Cure" that are intriguing and thought provoking intellectual thrillers, and other books of essays about working with his patients(all disguised) such as "Love's Executioner", "Creatures of a Day", and "Lying on the Couch"(his pun intended).

At 85 now, the psychiatrist Yalom has enormous perspective on the development of therapy and various approaches.  His approach is best read about in his books, this one will do, but broadly speaking his is a humanistic approach where the psychiatrist interacts to some extent with personal thoughts.  His insights are based not only on psychological theory but also on his knowledge of literature and history.

The first half of the book describes Yalom's years of development, as a son of first generation immigrant Russian Jews  growing up in a rough neighborhood of Washington D.C. where his parents had a small grocery store that evolved into a liquor store, the most profitable product in the area but also the riskiest to sell from a safety point of view.  Yalom grew up in an apartment over the store.  From his early years he wanted to be a doctor.  The purpose of this comment is not to retell the book, but this story of his early life is compelling.  As many may know, Yalom eventually became a famed psychiatrist at Stanford Medical School while always maintaining a private practice, to this day.

The last parts of the book delve more into his theories of therapy, some of which are familiar from previous books.  This book can be recommended to anyone as its reach is broad.  It was interesting here relating the love of Hawaii and Paris by he and his wife, and the significant time spent in both places.  Kathy and I have been on that page.  He mentions Vazelay as one of the most beautiful, even spiritual, small towns in France, again an experience we had.  Another was a drive that and his wife had around Crete on a vacation, again familiar.  But those are just identification points here and other readers will have their own ways of relating to the travels and experiences of Yalom and his beloved wife Marilyn, still with him.

These days I have stopped sending books to friends and acquaintances for the most part, as it began to seem maybe a bit arrogant to choose books for others.  I am considering changing that practice for this one book as it is not likely to be widely publicized and I have no idea who reads these musings regularly.  We'll see. 

Postscript:   In the chapter "Searching for a Mentor", Yalom writes, "Creating yourself is a source of great pride, but it also leads to a feeling of having no foundations."   A thought noted.

Chronic attention seeker Carter is at it again

Talking with NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, former President Jimmy Carter offered his services to President Trump as a negotiator with North Korea.  Apparently to enhance the offer, he opined that NFL players should stand for the  national anthem and find another way to make their views known.  When asked if Trump was deepening racial divisions in the country Carter response was that he was but maybe not on purpose.

During the discussion with Dowd he took swipes at Presidents Clinton and Obama but expressed the opinion that the media is harder on Trump than it had been on other Presidents.  When asked if Trump was hurting the U.S. image in the world he defended Trump, saying he might be escalating it but that it precedes Trump.  One could wonder if Carter is paying any attention to what the Trump administration is doing and the things that Trump is saying day in, day out.  Maybe not, as Carter's addictive need for attention takes precedent.  Those who thought he had hit bottom several years ago when he developed a sinecure for approving elections as fair in Central America and elsewhere after being in whatever country for a day or two have been proved wrong.  He is insatiable, a different word from Dowd's use of "indefatigable" in describing Carter.  Both words can be applied.

Dowd's article mentions the photograph of the former presidents from four years ago when Carter stood off to the side, and he later explained why, saying that "his role as a former president is superior to the others".  He stands at the edge again in the hurricane relief photo of recent days.  How can this man who presents himself as such a committed and pious Christian say that he is better than other people.  Some could even think that he is an incorrigible hustler of attention.  He promotes laudable causes but pandering to Trump is beyond the pale.

We will see if Trump decides to find a way to exploit Carter or just ignores him.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The time has begun...

When college alumni magazines show up these days, it is normal now to look at the "In Memoriam" page to see if any classmates show up.  In the undergraduate college magazine received a few days ago, an acquaintance was listed.

George was a close friend of Scott, a somewhat unreliable member of a large group of friends that was frequently together.  George and Scott were similar in some ways, mainly in their lack of attention to how they affected others.  After college they went to Europe together, but after crashing their two motorcycles into each other on a Paris street shortly after buying them, and dumping them into the Seine for insurance purposes, they hitchhiked across Turkey, Iran, and into Afghanistan.  No ordinary Europe tour for them.  Is this true?  Yes I believe so as Scott returned with a photograph of the two of them after having ridiculous haircuts on a street corner in Kabul.  He told me with a tone of amazement that "that is no law there at all.  It's just chaos."   

I knew that George had become a successful orthopaedic surgeon for sports injuries and rehab, and that he lived in his hometown area around New Canaan, CT.   I had last seen him maybe twenty years ago, maybe more, at the second or third marriage of a college friend.  Somehow George shared a cab with Kathy and myself to a reception, and George proceeded to say condescending and insulting things to the Pakistani cab driver during the entire ride.  It was embarrassing and I tried unsuccessfully to distract him.  That was George, as it all came back to me that had he always enjoyed doing things like that, harassing people in an arrogant way.  He could be precisely cutting, in words but no doubt in surgery as well.

His unexpected death was apparently from a devastating melanoma discovered too late.  Since he knew that he was dying it seems like he wrote his own obituary as I read, "Other interests included playing polo which he had learned from a French cavalry officer in the Belgian countryside, 18th century French antique auctions where he was known to outwit dealers in his fluent French, finding bargains at flea markets, and ruffling feathers."  "Ruffling feathers!"  Has ever an obituary ever been so accurate while perhaps being tongue in cheek at the same time. 

I noted from the obituary that he started a family in his mid-thirties, had been married to a fellow Georgetown grad for 42 years, and they had three sons.  The youngest, who would be 25 now, lives in Austin --- watch out Alex.  Condolences from here, though I doubt that any of you will ever see this, so I say ---  He was too ornery to die so young. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

2016 MSF annual report

In the mail today came the US annual report of Medecins Sans Frontieres, aka Doctors Without Borders.  Reading this update was a reminder of what a remarkable organization this is.  In 2016 it was partially supported by $356 million from public donors in the United States, many corporations but also many individuals, some notably wealthy but also multiple thousands of dedicated backers.  Of these donations, 89.6% went to program services, 9% to fund raising, and 1.4% to general management.  That compares favorably to almost any, perhaps every, charity that is well known here.

There is a list of major program directors from America to multiple countries with their states of origin.  As an example, in Malawi managers are from Virginia, Oregon, New York, and California.  In South Sudan there are over 80 U.S. nationals --- doctors, nurses, pharmacists, epidemiologists, and coordinators from all over the country.  In Ivory Coast volunteers from Indiana and Kentucky and in Libya from Florida, New York, and Rhode Island.

The report begins with the following from the President and the Executive Director of MSF-USA.  "Over the past year, as nativist arguments for walls and other barriers to keep people out gained strength in the United States and around the World, the core mission of Doctors Without Borders was challenged as never before...   Well, the purpose of the magazine of course not only to inform but to encourage continued donations.

The document is worth reading if one comes your way.  As well as reading, some of the photographs are exceptional.  One of a refugee Yazidi family is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The prospect of Ayatollah Pence

As the Presidency of Trump continues for now, the thought of his eventual impeachment or resignation continues to be speculated about by some observers.  That would lead to the succession of Vice President Pence, a bland individual with strong right wing views.  He presents himself as a pious Christian who seeks guidance through prayer.  He does not believe in climate change.  He is a racist as evidenced by his actions as governor and a homophobe in the extreme.  In many ways he is outside of the mainstream of even the Republican Party, much more so one could think for the nation as a whole.

In this week's "New Yorker" Jane Meyer's Letter From Washington, "The President Pence Delusion", details Pence's history and his "beliefs"  .  Beliefs is in quotes because it is unclear at times what his beliefs really are, or if they are really the product of a fierce ambition that he hides behind a low key personality and a benign presence.  Certainly he uses his support of Trump as part of his mission.  Meyer writes, "Pence, who has dutifully stood by the President, mustering a devotional gaze rarely seen since the days of Nancy Reagan, serves as a daily reminder that the Constitution offers an alternative to Trump".

There is no reason to recreate the article here.  If available, it is interesting reading.  It underscores a view that was already held here about this disturbing man.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mnuchin's inappropriate comments

This morning the Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, suggested that the stock market would decline precipitously if Congress did not pass a tax "reform" plan soon.  What is really just a tax cut plan is still being negotiated and there is much to be done.

Mnuchin should not be playing the role of market forecaster.  I don't know if it is unprecedented for a Treasury Secretary to do this but it is certainly not normal, except maybe in this age of Trump.  Like companies that trade on the exchange, the government should simply disclose its plans and be transparent about what they are doing and know that the market will make its own decision.  There is, in fact, little reason to believe that Mnuchin's prognostication is correct.  The overriding factors influencing the market now are interest rates, continued earnings growth, limited credit erosion, and the lack of beneficial investment alternatives.

Maybe it was just an "ask" from a belligerent boss.  Then again, it may just been another opportunistic move by the Treasury Secretary, always seeking ways to further ingratiate himself and build the plunder.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hillary's ambition remains

Hillary Clinton had a lengthy interview with Fareed Zakaria yesterday morning on CNN.  Tonight she will be on Stephen Colbert's "Late Night" program.  On April 7th of this year there was a post here remarking that Clinton was beginning see herself a leader again, and suggesting that she back off.  She of course would not have seen that suggestion, but if others had the same thought she did not listen.  It seems apparent that she is positioning herself for whatever may come.  That "whatever" could mean that she is setting the stage to be drafted back into the fray, no matter how much she wants to project the view that she does not want in.

It's an old ploy in many circumstances.  The fear is that she will undercut others who could grow into a greater role in the party.  She would be the best thing that could happen to Trump if he still remains President in 2020.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Can the equity market stay the course

The equity market's equanimity is beginning to seem a bit far fetched.  Sure, overall earnings growth for firms broadly is forecast to continue but at modestly diminished levels and while the market p/e is relatively high, it is not in the kind of completely unreasonable territory that proceeds a dramatic correction.  On November 10th, 2016 there was a post here entitled "Equity market is a measure capitalism but not of civility", and that seems to remain the case.  Trump's ending of health care subsidies for the poor and his ongoing actions through the tax proposal to bolster the wealth of 10% of the 1% do not seem to affect the markets.  The thought here is that Trump trauma eventually will be seen as negative.  Consumers will be impacted over time so the economy will as well.

While credit has become more accessible, it is not yet our of control.  Residential real estate credit exposure is stretched in areas that are the most prosperous.  Commercial real estate in global urban centers may be in danger of some retrenchment, aka losses in the medium term, but it's not yet underway.  Credit card debt keeps rising while auto loans are at nose bleed levels, but auto is not a market that is so large as to sink any major financial company.  If any of these areas begin to see some sharp deterioration, the market would come under pressure.

The thought here is that at some point before the Christmas season there will be a correction in the market, at least enough to scare away some traders that have become complacent, or are having too much fun.  Overall equity exposure is still being selectively reduced here, but new names are added from time to time.  Patience with new names is short, and have been backed out of if the rationale for buying is at all in question.

That's it from here, in the game but waiting for a hiccup.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trump catastrophe?

More and more there are many who wait for the really disastrous Trump mistake.  He routinely makes decisions and says things that are harmful to our system of government, disrupt foreign policy, and even the functioning of his own administration.  That is now almost accepted.  The widespread question has become "when will Trump do something that has widespread damaging consequences?"

The prevailing view has been that the generals, Mattis, Kelly, McMaster, along with Secretary of State Tillerson, will tone down Trump's most troubling rhetoric such that is does not turn into action.  Who else is there to calm and restrain him.  Melania, No.  Pence is the perfect inconsequential sycophant so no help there.  Mnuchin is a transparently opportunistic pervert of sorts who stands for nothing.  Sessions has been neutered.  Haley is an unpredictable lightweight.

Reading Dexter Filkins' article about Rex Tillerson in the current "New Yorker" is not reassuring.  The State Department is still not remotely close to being fully functional and Tillerson is apparently just hanging on out of Boy Scouts' duty.  Other Cabinet members like Pruitt, Ross, and DeVos are busy reversing Obama initiatives but are non-entities on bigger issues beyond their purview.

There are questions now about whether Trump will let Tillerson go, and what that will mean for the generals whom seem bound to the President out of loyalty to the country and not its leader.  Could this all unravel?  Are there others like Corker, Collins, Murkowski, and McCain who will step up and say what is on the minds of many?

This is becoming an increasingly alarming situation, and while we could wait quite a while for a catastrophic mistake, when it comes events may unfold much more quickly than would be expected.

Getting Trump out of office is necessary.  There is a constitutional way to do it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Proctor and Gamble apparently stops Peltz

The attempt by Nelson Peltz to be elected to the Board of P&G appears to have been narrowly defeated.  It was a poor decision by P&G to try and block him, and they spent millions of dollars of shareholder money doing so.  Peltz is surely an activist investor, but he was not pushing to break the company up or do something radical at the moment.  What he wanted was more aggressive management and to run the company as three separate but joined units.  It was a reasonable goal.

P&G is a conservative company in a conservative town.  It has been immensely successful but whether it is being run in an efficient manner is open to question.  Companies have personalities and they change slowly if at all.  When calling on P&G in the mid-80's, they treated me as a leper since the bank that I worked for was going through a challenging time.  They had agreed to see me but this arrogant treasurer proceeded to lecture me in a hostile manner about my company, as he was concerned about bonds that they owned.  My role as a contact for equity investors was ignored, so I eventually stood up and thanked him for his time after briefly disagreeing with his all encompassing trashing of my company.  I walked out, the only time that was ever done when visiting a company.

P&G likely needs Peltz as their insularity is a company tradition.  Certainly they are frightened that Peltz may be right and that running the company as three units could lead to an eventual break up of the company into three free standing businesses through spin-offs.  That could be beneficial to shareholders, but also to employees who would be judged and rewarded based on their more discreet company's results.

This is not over.  Look at how defeating Peltz eventually worked out for DuPont.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Senator Corker speaks the whole truth

Kudos to Senator Corker for speaking out so clearly about Trump.  Almost everyone in Congress and the media tries to dance around the dysfunction that clearly marks this President as unstable and dangerous.  Corker went straight at it.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Watching an NFL game...

Today an NFL game is being watched for the first time this year.  The NFL is attractive when one or both of the home teams, Jets and Giants, are doing well or when the playoff games begin in December.  At the moment by that standard, the regular season looks already washed out here.

Watching the Jets play the Browns is excruciatingly boring.  I had been up early this morning, already fixed lunch, and was ready to sit back for a rest.

Staying awake was the main challenge.  The Jets are 2 and 2 on the season and the Browns 0 and 4.  So far it seems amazing that the Jets have won two games, as reading newspaper accounts had already suggested.  At halftime the Jets are up 3 to 0, have displayed a terrible offense and repeatedly committed fouls, often completely unnecessary on defense.  The Browns punch through the Jets defense through simple runs, short passes, and the benefit of the fouls, but have come to nothing through  fumbles and interceptions.  They have missed two field goals.

This is a poorly played game that should be an embarrassment for both coaches five games into the season.  I may check back in towards the end of the game to see of there is any drama to be had from the Jets.

Meanwhile the Giants and the Chargers are squaring off on another channel, both teams 0 an 4 on the season, and that game seems lackluster as well.  Here I have only seen parts by changing channels during advertisements but the excitement is missing.

The looked forward to distraction may not be forthcoming this season.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The frivolous twit is at it again

Saying before a group of U.S. military leaders and the press that "Maybe it's just the calm before the storm" and when asked by several reporters "What storm?",  this superficial and self-centered oaf clearly seemed to enjoy the attention this gave him.  He has no understanding of the impact of his words and what he represents, since he only represents himself.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Comments on the October 9th "New Yorker"

"The New Yorker" magazine is looked forward to each week, with almost all issues being reasonably interesting and others being completely absorbing.  This week's issue, only partially read, has been compelling in various ways.  "The Financial Page" written by Sheelah Kolhatkar at times makes interesting points, at others just obvious ones.  The current article attracts as it is partially about a company that I once covered in my early days as a commercial banker, Anchor Hocking in southern Ohio.  The glass making corporation was at that time a large small town company, the dominant enterprise in its area.  What was once a laid back company that always made me take a few samples of their products with me has apparently been through multiple financial changes over the years.  It serves as an example of the disruption communities and people have felt that contributed to the era of Trump.

"Boundary Issues" by Jon Lee Anderson, subtitled "Can Mexico come to terms with Trump?", details the interaction of Trump and his more constructive subordinates in the State Department to maintain positive relations while dealing with the tirades of the President.  One paragraph had the comment that "Trump's thinking is very simple, and comes from a concept called mercantilism", a protectionist doctrine that has been assailed by econmists since Adam Smith.  "He is also a physiocrat, which means that services don't count.  The U.S. has a very large surplus globally in services.  But, if you can't see or and kick it, it doesn't count for him."  Well put.

"The Takeover" by Rachel Aviv, or "How senior citizens could be getting conned", looks at how guardianship is being used, in Las Vegas as an example, to takeover the assets of elderly people under the guise of helping them but clearly as a con job perpetrated by corrupt social workers and judges.  It has apparently been rife in that area, but the article says that such abuse is prevalent in other areas that attract retirees, like Palm Beach, Sarasota, Naples, Albuquerque, and San Antonio.  What is detailed in the article is appalling, all the more so because much of this theft is deemed to be legal.  Having seen a family guardianship managed blatantly in an uneven way, that predators are taking this practice a step further by assuming guardianship for people they don't even know is not all that surprising.  It raises the alert here when at times there can be several calls a day from "house repair people" of various sorts offering their service or even saying they are coming for their regularly scheduled appointment --- for the furnace, the gutters, etc.  All bunk, but not funny when you think about it.

In "The Critics" section there is "Touching Souls" by Dan Chiasson, a review of the new biography "Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell".  The review gives much more information about the singer/writer than was known here and make the book sound worth reading.  Of note, the article begins with a sequence in 1969 on Matala Beach in Crete, a beautiful and intriguing place that Kathy and I visited in 1982.

That's it.  There's more in this issue that will be read.  I just needed to have a post here to verify that I'm still alive.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ken Burn's "The Vietnam War"

Like many people we watched PBS every evening over the last week to see the public debut of Ken Burn's Vietnam documentary.  As troubling as it was at times, watching seemed mandatory.  There were two strands of thought going on here...following the events as told and interpreted by Burns and remembering what was being thought by me and my friends at the time.

About 15 years ago I read, or  reread, Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" and was impressed by how explicit the book published in 1955 was about American involvement in Vietnam at that time.  The commitment had already been made.  Though often completely misguided, successive administrations continued the commitment based on a view of geopolitical struggle between communism and democracy.  What Burn's film make extremely clear is that once Nixon became President that mistaken rationale was no longer in play.  The decisions to continue and heighten the carnage made by Nixon and Kissinger was based on almost solely on U.S. domestic political issues.  The extent of that change was not clear at the time, at least not to me.

Another aspect of the documentary was the development of the strategy employed by North Vietnam and their coordination with the Vietcong.  From this perspective at the time and years afterward as well, it all seemed like barely managed chaos on both sides.  The film to some extent reinforced that thought on the American side with the seeming strategy of fighting battles for no clear reason other than to win and highlight the advantage in body counts and then give up the territory gained.  On the anti-American side the film detailed the approach of fighting battles in outlying areas to pull U.S. troops further away from Saigon and other strategic areas in order to stretch the resources and create vulnerabilities.

Above all though, the film highlighted the personal impact that the war had on individuals on both sides and on that small country's society.  It also detailed what all people alive at that time remember as a significant impact on U.S. cohesiveness at home.  From a personal perspective, I remember having moved to D.C. for college in the fall of 1967 and finding only one person in my dorm hall who also wanted to go to the October 1967 demonstration at the mall and Lincoln Memorial.  The other vivid memory was driving back from a rock festival in Florida at the beginning of December 1969 and listening on the car radio to the birthdates of draft sequence being read.  During 1970 and 1971, tear gas was inadvertantly experienced several times, on the Mall, in the Georgetown downtown area, and even on campus.  What a time of chaos and commitment by many.

Burn's documentary brought it back.