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The Practical Nomad



Edward Hasbrouck's blog



Published: 2018-01-16T11:53:53-08:00

Last Build Date: 2018-01-10T23:59:05-08:00

 



The Amazing Race 30, Episode 2

2018-01-10T23:59:05-08:00

Reykjavik (Iceland) - Amsterdam (Netherlands) - Antwerp (Belgium)

This episode of The Amazing Race, like the previous one, featured helicopter shots of spectacular Icelandic scenery. They helped show why Icelandic tourism marketers have been so successful in recent years in changing perceptions of the country as an aviation hub. Flying between America and Europe via Iceland has changed from a perceived drawback to an asset: from an unwanted interruption of the journey and change of planes to a desirable stopover opportunity.

Foreigners visiting Iceland as a stopover en route to or from somewhere else still far outnumber those for whom Iceland is the primary destination, but that is changing. I know some people who've gone to Iceland and back recently from the U.S., without continuing on to Europe.

Despite these changes, Iceland's its role as a transatlantic budget airline hub remains an interesting case study in the history of discounted airline ticket pricing and routes and the ways it has been controlled by politics and oligopoly rather than competition.

Why was it that Icelandic airlines offered lower prices between North America and Europe than any other airlines to a generation of backpackers?




The Amazing Race 30, Episode 1

2018-01-03T23:59:20-08:00

New York, NY (USA) - Reykjavik (Iceland) Stopovers in Iceland and other stopover possibilities on flights to and from the USA Season 30 of The Amazing Race started with the cast members having to fly from New York City to Reykjavik, Iceland. The racers all took the same flight on Icelandair, one of two Iceland-based airlines that flies to and from the USA. So the winner of this leg of the race was decided by what happened after they arrived at Keflavik Airport near Reykjavík. The key task for the racers required them to arrange letters spelling out the name of a plaza in Reykjavík, Ingólfstorg. Several of the racers were slow to realize that "Ingolfstórg" is not the same as "Ingólfstorg". English is written without diacritical marks. Diacritical marks aren't even listed in the index of my copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and "accents" get only a passing mention at the end of the essay on alphabets and writing systems. In English, "accent marks" are used, if at all, as optional aids to pronunciation that help indicate the sound of the underlying letters. In many other languages, diacritical marks aren't optional. They are not regarded as "modifiers" but as symbols used to distinguish between what are thought of as different letters. In Icelandic, "ó" is not considered to be the same letter as "o". As a rule, you should assume that if a word is written with diacritical marks, you need to include them when you write the word, or it might not be understood. I'll have more to say about flights on Icelandair next week when the racers continue on to Europe. But while the racers are stopping over in Iceland, let's talk a little about stopovers in general. Along with Dubai and Singapore, Reykjavík is one of the quintessential "stopover" destinations: a place that most visitors probably wouldn't have gone to at all except that it was "on the way" to their "real" destination. If you have to change planes there anyway, why not stop over for a few days and check it out? That doesn't mean that you might not find Reykjavík, Dubai, or Singapore worth the trip as a destination in their own right. (Or you might not. But that's a matter of taste, not of intrinsic touristic value, the concept about which I'm extremely doubtful.) Increasing numbers and a growing percentage of visitors to each of these places are visiting them as their destination rather than merely as a stopover en route to somewhere else. For government ministries of tourism, and sometimes for airlines, promoting stopovers is a problem of making lemons out of lemonade. How do you turn, "To get a cheap ticket on Icelandair, you have to change planes in Reykjavík, instead of taking a direct flight from the USA to Europe," into, "On an Icelandair ticket to Europe, you can stop over for a few days in this really cool place that would otherwise be expensive to get to, Iceland, for no extra charge"? Many fares requires a change of planes but forbid stopovers longer than 24 hours or longer than until the next flight to your final destination (which might be more or less than 24 hours). For an airline, it's a tricky judgment call whether potential ticket buyers' perceptions of its hub (this is all about perception, which may have nothing to do with reality) are such that offering free stopovers is a way to sweeten an otherwise unattractive-seeming routing, or whether its hub is perceived as a desirable and valuable additional destination worth paying extra for. That makes it almost axiomatic that the places where free stopovers are offered are not the first places you would think of as places you would expect to transit and/or want to stop over. The interesting stopover possibilities are in places where there is a disjunction between perceived attractiveness as a destination and your particular tastes and interests, as well as in the hub cities of airlines that are less well-known, or offer a better combination of price and routes than their reputation for quality of service (which reputation may also have[...]



Bicycling the Danube, Part 3: Highlights and Lowlights

2018-01-01T14:00:00-08:00

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Cycling the Danube (Part 3 of 3):

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I talked about why you might (or might not) want to take a trip by bicycle along the Danube, and about some of the practicalities of such a trip.

In Part 3, below, I'll highlight a few interesting things (not by any means all, and not necessarily the "best") places and things to see and do along the river or nearby, and a couple of particularly outstanding places we stayed.




Bicycling the Danube, Part 2: Practicalities

2018-01-01T13:00:00-08:00

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Cycling the Danube (Part 2 of 3):

Many of the reasons for choosing to take a trip by bicycle along the Danube River that I discussed in Part 1 of this series are logistical and practical: It's one of the easiest and most comfortable long-distance cycling routes in the world, even if you don't think of yourself as a cyclist.

In Part 2, below, I'll give some additional practical advice for those who are thinking about a trip like this.

And in Part 3, I'll highlight a few specific places to see, do, and stay along or near the river that I found interesting and/or enjoyable, and that you might miss if you weren't looking for them.




Bicycling the Danube, Part 1: Pros and Cons

2018-01-01T12:00:00-08:00

[A "Radler" in German can mean either either a bicyclist or a mildly-alcoholic drink consisting of half beer and half lemonade.] Cycling the Danube (Part 1 of 3): Part 1: Pros and Cons Why Bicycle the Danube? Why Not? Part 2: Practicalities Part 3: Highlights and Lowlights My partner and I spent six weeks in June and July 2017 travelling 2000 km (1200 miles) by bicycle along the Danube River from Donaueschingen, Germany, to Belgrade, Serbia -- about 60% of the river's length from its source to the Black Sea. Travel and tourism statistics rarely include bicycling as a mode of transportation. But a case could be made that the Danube -- at least the 800 river kilometers (500 miles) from Donaueschingen to Vienna, and perhaps the 300 km (200 miles) further downstream to Budapest -- is the world's preeminent long-distance bicycle tourism route. Certainly it's the best-known and most heavily travelled long-distance bicycle tourism route in Europe. In high season, more than a thousand cyclists a day on overnight journeys -- not counting day-trippers -- pass through some of the more popular sections of the upper Danube in Germany and Austria. I don't know of any other route of comparable length, anywhere in the world, that has as large a volume of through multi-day travel by cycling tourists. Yet despite the iconic status within Europe of the Danube as a cycling route popular even with people who don't think of themselves as cyclists, it has a relatively low profile in the USA, even among cyclists who travel to Europe. Some of the factors discussed below that make the most popular parts of the upper Danube so attractive for casual cyclists make it less so for "serious" cyclists, although hard-core riders might nonetheless enjoy the lower parts of the river. For bicyclists from the USA, the most popular cycling destination in Europe is France, followed by the [...]



Former Selective Service director admits draft registration has failed

2017-12-20T10:47:33-08:00

Bernard Rostker, who was Director of the Selective Service System (SSS) from 1979-1981 durung the attempt to resume registration of all young men in the U.S. for possible military conscription, has publicly admitted what I've been saying for decades: failure by young men to notify the SSS of address changes renders the list of registrants so incomplete and inaccurate that it probably couldn't be used as the basis foir a draft that would stand up to legal challenges to its fairness.

Here's the key portion of Rostker's recent podcast interview with Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post:

This episode of The Washington Post's "Constitutional" podcast examines the history and evolution of the draft in America with ... Bernard Rostker, former director of the Selective Service and a senior fellow at the RAND Corporation....

CUNNINGHAM: So this is where we are today. America continues to maintain a military registration system. Every young man in the United States between ages 18 and 26 is required to be registered. But if a draft were ever called again, using that list as a basis for the draft would face major constitutional hurdles.

First, because the sex-discrimination argument would now need to be revisited. And also because, the list of registered men's names is problematic.

ROSTKER: The list that they have I doubt could pass the legal definition of a complete and objective list, because it is structurally flawed and Selective Service knows it.

CUNNINGHAM: Many young men don't ever actively register for the draft themselves. Their states automatically send their information to the Selective Service when they get a driver's license. But if they move apartments -- or across the country -- the information doesn't necessarily get updated. And what about the men without driver's licenses? Or the ones who live in states that don't automatically register them?

ROSTKER: It's a list that I'm sure the courts would throw out immediately because it's not accurate.

...CUNNINGHAM: Two bills were introduced in Congress last year that would end registration all together, one was proposed in the House and one in the Senate. The Senate bill, proposed by Senator Rand Paul, was called the Muhammad Ali Voluntary Service Act.

I asked Bernie if he thought these might ever gain enough traction to go through.

ROSTKER: Politicians don't want to be accused of not being soft on defense by not having a standby Selective Service system that's adequate. But that has now survived for decades, and for the life of me I cannot see how it adds any anything to our defense effort.

CUNNINGHAM: This from a man who ran the program.




"No airline adheres to the Privacy Shield"

2017-12-10T17:01:52-08:00

The U.S. Department of Transportation has consistently failed to protect consumers against deceptive advertising and opaque pricing by airlines that frustrates comparison shopping, while blocking any enforcement against airline of any rules promulgated by other Federal agencies or of the state and local truth-in-advertising and other consumer protection laws that apply to other businesses. As I discussed in an article here last week in response to the latest outrage, I've been complaining about this for years. DOT's dereliction of its duty to protect consumers extends to privacy protection as well, an issue highlighted by a report and staff working document released last week by the working party of data protection authorities of the European Union and EU members. Airlines' privacy obligations under U.S. Federal law are limited: Under U.S. law, airlines can legally violate consumers' privacy, as long as they don't lie about what they do. But DOT has made no attempt whether airlines are truthfully disclosing their privacy practices, and has brushed off complaints that airlines violated their own privacy policies and lied about their practices. Whether most other U.S. businesses comply with their professed privacy policies is subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commissionn. But the DOT has zealously defended the exclusivity of its jurisdiction over airlines against any regulation of airline practices, with respect to privacy or anything else, by the FTC, any other Federal agency, or state or local consumer protection or law enforcement authorities. I've complained about this in testimony to both the FTC and the DOT, as have other consumer advocates and state Attorneys General (2000 letter, 2006 letter). Laws in Canada, the European Union, and some other countries restrict transfers of personal information from those countries to countries where personal data isn't adequately protected by law. Without adequate privacy protections and enforcement mechanisms in the U.S., it wouldn't be legal for businesses in those countries to transfer data to the U.S. about customers, travellers, or other individuals. Because DOT and only DOT has jurisdiction over airlines, the U.S. government has had to pay lip service to DOT's commitment to policing airlines' compliance with their privacy policies when the U.S. has tried to persuade other countries that the U.S. provide adequate legal protection for personal information. A bogus claim by the DOT that it would take action against any airline that lied about its privacy practices was an essential element in the so-called "Safe Harbor" framework negotiated to provide a legal fig leaf for businesses transferring personal data from the EU to the US. After the highest EU court determined (unsurprisingly) that the Safe Harbor framework failed to satisfy the adequacy requirements of EU law, a similar and equally bogus claim by the DOT about its commitment to enforcement of airline compliance with published privacy policies was an element of the Privacy Shield (Safe Harbor 2.0) negotiated to provide businesses with a renewed legal fig leaf for transfers of personal data from the EU to the U.S. So how many airlines claim that they comply with the Privacy Shield? To date, none. And what has DOT done about this? To date, nothing. We know this not from DOT but from documents released by European participants in the first annual joint US-EU review of compliance with the Privacy Shield. According to the report by the Article 29 Working Party on the US-EU meetings: The DoT made a presentation of its jurisdiction (over airline agencies and ticket agencies on the basis of the Unfair and deceptive practices Act) and of its activities. It has the authority to enforce civil penalties (up to 22 100 dollars for each violation). No airline company currently adheres to the Privacy Shield, and initially 27 entities identifi[...]



U.S. Dept. of Transportation ends review of airline truth-in-advertising rules

2017-12-08T15:07:25-08:00

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT or USDOT) announced that it has terminated two ongoing "rulemaking" proceedings related to disclosure and transparency of airline fees, and withdrawn its proposal for rules which would have required airlines "to disclose baggage fee information to consumers when fare and schedule information is provided". As my friend Charlie Leocha of Travelers United notes in his apt denunciation of DOT's abdication of any effort to protect consumers against bait-and-switch airline price advertising: This withdrawn rulemaking was created to allow airline consumers to determine the full cost of travel, including airfare as well as ancillary fees together with their exceptions and exemptions. Without clear, public data available to travel agents and on the Internet, travelers find it impossible to effectively comparison shop. By withholding this information from normal airline ticket sales channels, the airlines are misleading consumers about the true cost of travel. This rulemaking has been in play for half-a-decade with thousands of pages of testimony and comments from consumers and all travel stakeholders. The claim that this rulemaking is "of limited public benefit" is simply not true. It's not as though DOT has been aggressively protecting consumers. DOT has been dragging its feet, studying and collecting comments on whether additional rules were necessary to protect airline consumers against deceptive advertising since 2011 without finalizing the necessary regulations. But now DOT has officially abandoned any consideration of such rules. In theory, the existing DOT regulations regarding truth in airline advertising and fare transparency, as well as Federal laws giving the DOT exclusive responsibility for policing deceptive airline practices, remain on the books. But DOT's withdrawal of its proposed rules on ancillary fee disclosure is a signal that DOT's already grossly inadequate enforcement of existing laws protecting airline ticket purchasers will become even more lax. Caveat emptor. As I've noted in another context, President Trump campaigned on a platform of rolling back Federal regulations, including rules to protect consumers. Trump is the former owner of a (failed and bankrupt) airline, and he appointed Carl Icahn, his fellow billionaire and the former owner of another bankrupt airline, as his special advisor on repeal of "excessive regulation". Icahn resigned less than a year later in the face of allegations of conflict of interest for which he is now under investigation by Federal prosecutors. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Trump's program for deregulation, as planned in consultation with Icahn, includes putting an end to any effort to protect consumers against deceptive practices by airline owners such as Trump and Icahn. DOT's determination not to address this issue through administrative rulemaking is, as Travelers United notes, a clear indication of the need for Congressional action: It is time for Congress to get involved. If DOT, tasked with protecting the American public from misleading and deceptive practices, will not act, Congress must.... If DOT will not act, the current system must be abandoned and airline consumers should be provided the same rights of all other consumers -- the right to petition their local courts for justice. That would require repealing Federal preemption of state and local consumer protection and truth-in-advertising laws as applied to airlines and airline ticket agencies. I've been talking about this in print for almost 20 years; it was at the top of my Federal airline consumer protection agenda eight years ago, as the Obama administration was setting its course; and it remains so today as the Trump administration is putting into effect its thoroughgoing opposition to consumer protection with respect to airlines or other[...]



New look for PapersPlease.org

2017-11-27T08:56:42-08:00

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, The Identity Project deployed the first redesign of its Web site in more than a decade.

I hope that the new look and formatting will be easier on the eyes and easier to read on a variety of devices, including those with small screens.

For the last ten years, more of my writing has appeared on PapersPlease.org than anywhere else.

If you've been interested in this work and/or my writing, but put off by hard-to-read colors, fonts, and layout, please give it a fresh look and let your friends know about it.




Is Silicon Valley building the infrastructure for a police state? Yes, it is.

2017-11-14T15:12:05-08:00

I was interviewed by Reason.TV for their latest report, Is Silicon Valley Building the Infrastructure for a Police State? New AI tools could empower the government to violate our civil liberties.

If you have ten minutes to watch the video, it's a good introduction to some of the issues I've been working on for the Identity Project including Palantir, pre-crime policing, automated decision-making and control ("extreme vetting"), and the homeland-security industrial complex.




U.S. government monitoring of social media

2017-10-03T10:28:39-08:00

Yes, the U.S. government is monitoring you on social media if you live in or travel to the USA.

Here are some of my answers to frequently asked questions and other recent articles and interviews about this:

I was also interviewed about this for the public radio show The World (BBC/PRI/WGBH). I'll add a link when the segment is broadcast.

Update: The new DHS plan to gather social media information has privacy advocates up in arms (by Shirin Jafaari, PRI's The World, 12 October 2017):

According to Edward Hasbrouck, DHS has been collecting social media data since the Obama administration -- for at least five years. Hasbrouck works for The Identity Project, a civil liberties and human rights project focused on travel-related issues and freedom of movement.

He explains that under the Privacy Act of 1974, DHS should have gotten approval from the Office of Management and Budget before it started tracking social media information.

"This has been going on for at least five years without their complying with even those minimal notices that are supposed to give the public awareness of what's going on," he says. So now, he adds, the DHS has published this notice in order to legitimize what it has been doing....

Meanwhile, advocates like Hasbrouck also worry about the sheer amount of the data that gets collected and how it gets processed. "There's no way they have enough warm bodies to read this stuff," he says. "It's only going to be grist for the mill of robotic profiling."

Listen or download the podcast for more of this story.




Digital devices for world travellers

2017-09-14T18:53:38-08:00

[Some of the mini-laptops and handheld computers I've used in my travels around the world since 1995. Back row, left to right: Gateway 2000 Handbook 486, Asus Eee PC 901, Panasonic Let's Note CF-R7. Front row, left to right: Psion netBook / Psion Series 7, Psion 5mx, Psion Revo Plus / Diamond Mako.] Among the most frequently-asked questions at my travel talks is, "What type of laptop computer, tablet, smartphone, or other digital device do you recommend that I bring with me on a trip around the world?" The answer begins, of course, with, "The smallest, lightest, and most rugged device that will meet your needs." But what device that is depends on your needs. Some people get by with a smartphone. But what if you need or want to write documents or blog posts or lengthy messages or do work that requires a keyboard, but you don't want to carry a "full-sized" (and fragile) laptop computer? You can carry a tablet, a separate (folding) keyboard, and some sort of case or stand to hold them both in the right position. But that tends to be awkward to use, and the whole kit typically weighs as much as a miniature laptop, "subnotebook", or "palmtop" computer with a built-in keyboard. Do miniature devices with "real" built-in keyboards really exist? Yes. Since 1995, when I first got a computer small enough to bring with me when I travel, I've had a succession of devices (as shown in the photo above) that are substantially smaller, lighter, and more rugged than any typical laptop. On any of these except the smallest (the Psion 5mx and Psion Revo at lower right), I could comfortably write and edit long documents. I wrote and edited most of my first book on the Gateway 2000 Handbook 486 at the top left, which is the next smallest of these devices. The problem isn't that devices like this don't exist, but that (with the exception of the brief popularity from 2007-2010 of the Eee PC and competing "netbooks" -- none of which came close to the build quality or performance of the Psion netBook from a decade earlier) relatively few people have been willing to pay the price of miniaturization or of higher quality construction for smaller and lighter devices that can stand up to travel. Most travellers in the USA go by car, not by plane, and have plenty of room in their vehicle for a full-sized laptop if they need it on the road. As a result, keyboard devices smaller and more expensive than a "standard" laptop have been niche products in the USA and many other parts of the world -- except in Japan and to a much lesser extent in Europe, where more business people travel by train and by mass transit. Few models or even product lines of smaller devices with keyboards -- again, except for some that are distributed only in Japan -- have been widely available or remained in production for very long. "Tiny" in the USA connotes "toy-like", and people expect toys to be (a) cheap and (b) not suitable for doing real work. Not so in Japan, where "tiny" connotes "finely crafted" and "precious". A Panasonic Let's Note is marketed in Japan (and not marketed at all in any other country) as a premium-priced jewel of a computer, not a cheap toy. The smallest current model, the Let's Note CF-RZ6a, is smaller than the first (and smallest) Eee PC in the photo above, but as powerful and full-featured as many "full-sized" contemporary laptops. Like the Psion netBook of 20 years ago, but unlike most other laptops or digital devices, it's designed and tested to withstand shock and vibration including being dropped onto a hard floor from the height of a desk -- a routine travel event that will crack the screen and often the case of most other laptops. I've dropped my Psion netBook off a podium onto a hard floor without it being damaged, and I've carried my Let'[...]



What would happen if a robot got hit by a train?

2017-08-29T12:39:23-08:00

A couple of weeks ago, while waiting for a commuter train back to San Francisco from Redwood City, I had an unexpected and disturbing encounter with one of the "self-driving" motorized delivery robots that are currently being tested in Redwood City. The robot -- a knee-high wheeled box about the size of a hassock fan or footstool -- was working its way along the edge of the platform, beyond the yellow line marking the danger zone, where it could have been struck by or sucked into a passing train and turned into 50 pounds of flying shrapnel. Some "Baby Bullet" express trains on that track go past the platform in Redwood City at 60 mph without stopping. I was surprised to see one of these robots on the Caltrain platform at all, much less to see it trying to use the platform as a through passageway, and even more surprised to see it drive right up to the edge of the platform before it jerked to a stop and turned to continue along the platform toward me. I yelled at the robot, hoping that a human operator might be monitoring it, but the only response from the robot was a repeated recorded message, "Let me go! I'm working! I'm going to be late!" -- as if the platform was a right-of-way, and humans were expected to yield to robots. I saw no marking on the robot, but another passenger on the train had encountered a similar robot accompanied by a human minder earlier in the day. They passed on the card they'd gotten from the robot handler with the name of the company that operates the robots, "Starship Technologies". The e-mail address on the business card didn't work, and there's no phone number on the company's Web site. I got in touch with a spokesperson for Starship Tech only after they responded to my Tweet about the incident. But almost three weeks later, and after multiple exchanges with staff of Starship Tech, Caltrain, and the government of Redwood City, I still haven't gotten any coherent explanation of what happened or why. Last night, all else having failed, I took the Caltrain to Redwood City again to bring the issue before the city council. I hadn't planned on writing about this yet, but since I've heard that some of my comments from the webcast of the city council meeting are circulating and being discussed elsewhere online, I'm posting them here in full. My name is Edward Hasbrouck, and I came down from San Francisco today to alert you to a serious safety issue involving the delivery robots that are operating here in Redwood City. On August 9th, I was on the Redwood City Caltrain platform when I saw a delivery robot on the platform, out at the edge beyond the yellow line marking the danger zone. The robot went almost to the drop-off before it turned back, and then it tried to push along the platform through the crowd of people waiting for the oncoming train, playing a loud recorded demand that we move aside to let it pass. There was no visible marking on the robot. There's no phone number on the Web site of the company, Starship Tech. Supposedly there's a 2 × 3" label on each robot with a phone number. But that's too small to read from any distance, and that phone number goes to voicemail, so it doesn't provide any way to communicate with the human operator or report problems in real time. Caltrain told me they don't believe that the city permit authorizes use of the Caltrain platform by these robots. But a spokesperson for Starship Tech told me that the company intends to continue using the Caltrain platform as a robot thoroughfare at all times except 4 to 6 p.m. One of the first things we teach small children before we let them out on the street is to stay away from train tracks. Similarly, keeping robots away from moving trains should have been a priority for robot progra[...]



The Amazing Race 29, Episode 10

2017-06-01T23:59:20-08:00

Seoul (Korea) - Incheon (Korea) - Chicago, IL (USA) - Joliet, IL (USA)- Chicago, IL (USA)

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[Old and new in Seoul: Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) Gate is one of the original gates in the wall surrounding the fortress-city of Seoul. Most of the wall is long gone, and the gate is now in the center of a busy traffic circle. First built in the 14th century, it has been renovated many times since, most recently after a fire in 2008 destroyed the wooden pagoda above the stone pediment shown in this photo I took in 2002. ]

The three remaining pairs of contestants started this final leg of The Amazing Race 29 by making their way from Seoul back to Incheon International Airport to catch flights to the USA. There are many international flights from Gimpo Airport in Seoul, but no direct flights from Gimpo to the USA.

Redmond and Matt didn't make the final cut. They finished last and were eliminated at the end of the penultimate leg of the race after they chose to travel by train and subway from Incheon to central Seoul, while the three other remaining teams took taxis.

Was that the wrong choice of transport from the airport to the city? More importantly, what's the right choice if you aren't in a race for a million dollars?




The Amazing Race 29, Episode 9

2017-05-25T23:59:18-08:00

Ninh Binh (Vietnam) - Hanoi (Vietnam) - Incheon (Korea) - Seoul (Korea)

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[Some of the airlines serving Incheon International Airport in January 2002. This way to the check-in counters for Miat Mongolian Airlines to Ulaanbataar, SAT Airlines to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Dalavia to Khabarovsk, Mahan Air to Tehran, Uzkekistan Airways to Tashkent, Krasair to Krasnoyarsk (where else would Krasair fly?) -- and Vietnam Airlines to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.]

The Amazing Race has visited Vietnam several times, but this was the first time that it did so without the Vietnam War being mentioned in the television broadcast.

Most people in the USA and in Vietnam today were born after the end of the war between their parents' countries. Vietnam is a country not a war, and it's a sign of progress that a mainstream American TV show can depict it as such.

I'm troubled, though, by those who want the USA to "move on" without first coming to terms with, as David Harris titled one of his books, "Our War: What We Did in Vietnam and What It Did to Us".

I don't think tourists from the USA should go to Vietnam without thinking about the fact that a government claiming to act in our name and an army of millions of our fellow citizens (mostly conscripts, but ones who were too often willing to carry out their orders as good Americans) tried first to conquer Vietnam for capitalism and then, when it proved unconquerable, to bomb it back to the Stone Age.

If we don't want another U.S. war like the one in Vietnam, we need to study -- and encourage younger people to study -- why it happened, for the same reasons that Germans continue to think it important to teach younger generations not just about what the Third Reich did but about how and why German voters elected Hitler and the Nazis.

This sort of thing cuts both ways, in Japan for example. The U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan, while Japan tried to conquer all its neighbors. These days neither most Americans -- even those who travel to Japan -- nor most Japanese spend much time thinking about why either country did what it did. Is it a sign that I'm getting old that I think the world would be a better place if we all tried to learn a little more from history?

This episode of The Amazing Race 29 also highlighted the changed relationship between Vietnam and South Korea. The racers took a direct flight from Hanoi to Seoul, but no such flight existed in early 2001 when the first season of the reality-TV travel show was filmed.