Christopher Nguyen

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Travel as a Political Act
Travel as a Political Act
[copy/pasta from my blog -- no links allowed :(]

Rick Steves is perhaps the most famous American giving advice on traveling abroad. I have never used his guidebooks (thinking that they were perhaps too generic for my “advanced” backpacking skills), but I just bought one for Italy.

This book (subtitle: “How to leave your baggage behind”) is not a guide for tourists but a guide for understanding other countries and cultures. What I especially enjoyed was how Steves clearly explains foreign ideas in terms familiar to Americans. I would have loved to have this book as a response to the many people who have asked why I travel and what I’ve learned.

This book very easy to read, so it’s also a good one to take on vacation. (These data are a few years old but they show that 40 percent of Americans took zero vacation years in the prior year while only 12 percent vacationed outside the US.)

But let’s get to some interesting parts of the book:

“Travel as a political act” refers to the ways in which we might import new ideas and perspectives from abroad back to the US:
We can learn more about our own country by observing other countries—and by challenging ourselves (and our neighbors) to be broad-minded when it comes to international issues. Holding our country to a high standard and searching for ways to better live up to its lofty ideals is not “America-bashing.” It’s good citizenship (loc 74).

Travel is also good for YOU. Travel has changed what I eat, how I commute, what I read, and so on. My revelation is not unique. In the 14th century, Ibn Battuta wrote that “traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” For Steves, “travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world” (loc 64).

Steves and I agree that travel helps us understand our own countries better, and we both lament the FUD that our house-bound neighbors espouse. For him, the lesson was to protest war and push for cannabis legalization. My lesson was to accept that Dutch culture was better for me in some ways. Sadly, most people are too afraid to travel or question the status quo:

As the news becomes more sensationalized [Congress repeals the FCC’s Fairness Doctorine in 1987], the viewer becomes more fearful. And eventually, all that fear metastasizes into the political realm. In the long run, the transformation of news from information to entertainment—making us feel that we’re less safe—threatens the fabric of our democracy…and, ironically, actually makes our country less safe (loc 385).

I agree with Steves that we could bring far more security to ourselves (and the world) by spending money on aid instead of bombs, but corporate war mongers mean that the United States American taxpayers spend $600 billion on the military and 15-times less ($40 billion) on all international affairs. I am sure that the “war on terror” would disappear if we shifted 7 percent of the military budget to doubling the international budget.

Steves captures the tradeoffs for living in “socialist” Europe (loc 1093):
European housing, cars, gadgets, and other “stuff” are modest compared to what an American with a similar job might own. It’s a matter of priorities. Just as Europeans willingly pay higher taxes for a higher standard of service, they choose less pay (and less stuff) in exchange for more time off. Imagine this in your own life: Would you make do with a smaller car if you knew you didn’t have to pay health insurance premiums? Would you be willing to give up the luxury of a cutting-edge TV and live in a smaller house if you could cut back to 35 hours per workweek and get a few extra weeks of paid vacation? Would you settle for a 10 percent pay cut if you knew you’d never get an email or phone call from the office outside of work hours? For most Americans, I imagine that the European idea of spending more time on vacation and with their family, instead of putting in hours of overtime, is appealing.

Steves captures the essence of economic migration, immigrant culture and the refugee crisis in three excellent passages:
If you’re wealthy enough to hire an immigrant to clean your house, you do it—you get a clean house, and the immigrant earns a wage. If you don’t want to trade away your personal freedom to care for an aging parent, you hire someone else to care for them…and it’s generally an immigrant. That’s just the honest reality of capitalism. (loc 1406).

99 percent of Americans descend from immigrants, whereas much of Europe has been largely homogenous for millennia. In some European countries, large-scale immigration is a fairly recent phenomenon. This makes many Europeans particularly vigilant about ensuring that Europe’s homegrown culture continues to thrive. I share their concern, and yet, it’s easy to fall into contradictions: If diversity is a tenet of EU beliefs, what’s wrong with immigrants wanting to preserve their home cultures? Is it hypocritical to celebrate the preservation of the Catalan language, but expect Algerians to learn Dutch? (loc 1425)

I think the real refugee crisis is the human cost of a failed state. The refugees coming to Europe today are a direct result of poorly drawn borders by European colonial powers a century ago. If Europeans (or Americans) complain about the hardship of housing those refugees, they should ponder the hardship brought about by their ancestors’ greedy colonial policies a century ago (loc 1440).

Steves is also perceptive on (un)sustainable choices and lifestyles:
In America, we have freezers in our garages so we can buy in bulk to save money and avoid needless trips to the supermarket. In contrast, Europeans have small refrigerators. It’s not necessarily because they don’t have room or money for a big refrigerator. They’d actually rather go to the market in the morning. The market visit is a chance to be out, get the freshest food, connect with people, and stay in touch (loc 1511).

The bottom 40 percent of humanity lives on roughly 5 percent of the planet’s resources. The top 20 percent lives on over 75 percent. The greatest concentration of wealth among economic elites in the history of the human race is happening at the same time our world is becoming a global village. Meanwhile, even in the countries that benefit (such as the United States), the spoils go mostly to the already wealthy—padding profits for shareholders even as working-class American jobs are exported south of our borders, leaving many citizens of the rich world underemployed and disillusioned (loc 1859).

Any society needs to subscribe to a social contract—basically, what you agree to give up in order to live together peacefully. Densely populated Europe generally embraces Rousseau’s social contract: In order to get along well, everyone will contribute a little more than their share and give up a little more than their share. Then, together, we’ll all be fine. The Danes—who take this mindset to the extreme—are particularly conscientious about not exploiting loopholes. They are keenly aware of the so-called “free rider problem”: If I had to identify one major character flaw of Americans, it might be our inability to appreciate the free rider problem. Many Americans practically consider it their birthright to make money they didn’t really earn, enjoy the fruits of our society while cheating on their taxes, drive a gas-guzzler just because they can afford it, take up two parking spots so no one will bump their precious car, and generally jigger the system if they can get away with it. We often seem to consider actions like these acceptable…without considering the fact that if everyone did it, our society as a whole would suffer (loc 2258).

A perfect example of Danish “social trust” is the image of babies sleeping in carriages outside a restaurant while the parents eat inside. You might say, “But no one is watching!” A Dane will say, “Everyone is watching” (loc 2310).

What about drugs, prisons, terror and the Holy Lands??

When it comes to soft drugs, policies in much of Europe are also more creative and pragmatic than America’s… Much of the US seems afraid to grapple with this problem openly and innovatively. Rather than acting as a deterrent, the US criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system, and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns (loc 2909).

While America is still building more prisons, the Dutch are closing theirs. My Dutch friends needle me with the fact that the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate—nearly 10 times the Dutch rate—at an annual cost of $60 billion (loc 3037).

Yes, there are evil people in Iran. Yes, the rhetoric and policies of Iran’s leaders can be objectionable. But there is so much more to Iran than the negative image drummed into us by our media and our government. I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our differences. Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones. Just like my country, Iran has one dominant ethnic group and religion that’s struggling with issues of diversity and change—liberal versus conservative, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious (loc 3707).

Religions around the world seem to always be stoking turmoil—even though the teachings of those religions say “love your neighbor,” and all of them have the “do unto others…” Golden Rule. I’ve decided that fundamentalism is the crux of the problem…For a person of faith to travel without letting the experience stir what’s inside them is a lost opportunity. Of course, many people actually go on religious trips—pilgrims on pilgrimages. While I’ve never done exactly that, every time I’m at a pilgrimage site, I endeavor to keep a positive attitude about the devotion that surrounds me. It’s easy to be cynical about the reverence given to relics I don’t understand, the determination many have to believe in what seem like silly miracles, or the needless pain someone suffers in the name of their faith—whether by climbing a mountain in bare feet or a long staircase on their knees (loc 3898 and 4097).

The conditions in Balata [a Palestinian refugee camp] are dismaying, particularly when you think that people have been living this way here for decades. But Israelis point out that Israel has taken in many Jewish refugees and assimilated them into their prosperous society. Meanwhile, they claim that Palestine—and the Arab world—has intentionally kept the West Bank refugee camps in squalor in order to stir public opinion against Israel (4379).

And… finally… coming home:

On returning from a major trip, you sense that your friends and co-workers have stayed the same, but you’re…different. It’s enlightening and unsettling at the same time (loc 4513).

Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” These wise words can be a rallying cry for all travelers once comfortably back home. When courageous leaders in our community combat small-mindedness and ignorance—whether it’s pastors contending with homophobia in their congregations, employers striving to make a workplace color-blind, or teachers standing up for intellectual and creative freedoms—travelers can stand with them in solidarity (loc 4548).

My one-handed conclusion is that all Americans should read this book. Travelers will recognize echoes of prior thoughts while the sedentary will (I hope) understand the common humanity that binds us all.
Act of War: A Thriller
Act of War: A Thriller
In Act of War by Brad Thor a hired Ivy League blue blood type known as an NOC, "non official cover" secret agent, is planted in China by the United States to uncover suspicious national security activity. When his peculiar death occurs The Agency calls in backup and discovers Snow Dragon, an operation in progress that brings with it darkness, cold, and death. As the Central Intelligence Agency investigates, Washington brings to light China's intention to reinvent the term, "the inferior can defeat the superior". Knowing the U.S. is too technologically advanced, China decides to abandon the rules of that make up traditional concept of warfare. Tactics of Chemical and Biological attacks that poison food and water, along with collapsing electrical grids are discovered to be carried out and deployed by a third party of terrorists employed by China. As a preventive move by the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense, two operations are formed, Blackbird and Gold Dust; code names given for the attempt to save America from unspeakable attacks.
Act of War by Brad Thor strikes at the heart of the reader and creates a novel of good versus evil. A merciless fictional view of terrorism groups designed for destruction, creates an empathy reminiscent of the aftermath belonging to the 9/11 attacks. These historical emotions add to the realism that the novel carries. As the main plot follows a small group into enemy territory, the subsidiary stories remain rich with subjects of organized crime and drug trafficking. Knowing the consistent danger to the heroes could turn into a POW's worse nightmare provides a pulse pounding thrill ride that has become a staple for Thor novels. Questions of International Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear attacks are answered with well formed characterization and energized action provided by FBI and its undercover team. Brad Thor creates another all too real action packed militarized adventure that begins on American soil and works its way through dangerous dominions such as North Korea and the likes of Al Qaeda based in Afghanistan.
Hasbro Marvel Legends Series Deadpool Collection 6-inch Shiklah Action Figure Toy Premium Design and 1 Accessory
Hasbro Marvel Legends Series Deadpool Collection 6-inch Shiklah Action Figure Toy Premium Design and 1 Accessory
The details overall on this figure are really nice. The only thing I would change is the pattern on her outfit on the pinkish purple part is not on the back of the figure. They only put the print on the front half of her and I would have preferred the print to be complete. If you’re keeping her in the box this isn’t an issue, but if you’re opening her to display it’s a minor annoyance.
One Piece, Vol. 78 (78)
One Piece, Vol. 78 (78)
Oh my gosh. So many feels in this series. Don't hate on it because of the art or length. Give it a shot or you'll be missing out big time. The length actually works for it from a storytelling perspective and the art suits the characters. Then there is the main character, who is my adorkable sunshine son. The camaraderie and bromances in this manga make me so happy. Anyway, just read it.
Dragon Ball Daizenshu: World Guide
Dragon Ball Daizenshu: World Guide
Once again a fair warning- this book IS in Japanese, so don't expect an easy read. Though this is the smallest of the initial 7 Daizenshyuu, it certainly doesn't contain the least. The book begins with a nice foldout of character design sketches which Toriyama went through before he decided on the final designs for certain characters. Following that is a colorful guide to the many sections of the Dragonball universe, from the Heavens right down to Earth. Next you'll find information on the Dragonballs themselves and the two dragons used to summon them, Porunga and Shenron. After this is a list of "Racial Groups" including Saiyajin, Namekkuseijin, Monsters, and Humans contianing nice background info on the specific groups. Taking up roughly the middle of the book is the "World View", which is maps of the heavens as well as the Dragonball earth each with detailed descriptions of each spot and its significance. For a break in the flow of information, the next section is a colored recreation of the Dr. Slump/Dragonball crossover chapter of the Dragonball manga. Back into the info, the next section is "Grapple" which details the fighting styles used in Dragonball as well as summaries of the Tenkaichi Budoukai. Finishing off the "World Guide" is an illustrated list of all the machines and items used in the Dragonball series. The last few pages are, as always, devoted to an interview with Akira Toriyama himself.
Day of the Guns & The Death Dealers
Day of the Guns & The Death Dealers
This was Mickey SPillane's short-lived Cold War spy series. These two episodes featured Tiger Mann (his real name), a former World War II OSS operative who now works for a private sector espionage agency dedicated to preserving liberty and the free enterprise system.
Tiger is a typical Spillane hero, and the action moves along, but this dates badly -- chunks of dialogue that were once supposedly serious now seem very much in the style of AUSTIN POWERS, Baby!
Every Breath You Take (Under Suspicion Book 5)
Every Breath You Take (Under Suspicion Book 5)
Laurie Moran’s professional life is a success—her television show Under Suspicion is a hit, both in the ratings and its record of solving cold cases. But her romantic break from former host Alex Buckley has left her with on-air talent she can’t stand—Ryan Nichols—and a sense of loneliness, despite her loving family.

Now Ryan has suggested a new case. Three years ago, Virginia Wakeling, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the museum’s most generous donors, was found in the snow, after being thrown from the museum’s roof on the night of its most celebrated fundraiser, the Met Gala. The leading suspect then and now is her much younger boyfriend and personal trainer, Ivan Gray.

Ivan runs a trendy, successful boutique gym called Punch—a business funded in no small part by the late Virginia—which happens to be the gym Ryan frequents. Laurie’s skepticism about the case is upended by a tip from her father’s NYPD connection, and soon Laurie realizes there are a bevy of suspects—including Virginia’s trusted inner circle.

As the Under Suspicion crew pries into the lives of a super wealthy real estate family with secrets to hide, danger mounts for several witnesses—and for Laurie.

My Thoughts: From the very first page of 
Keeper (Harris Brothers Book 3)
Keeper (Harris Brothers Book 3)
Oh Booker Harris I'll be "kept" by you anytime you'd like!! Unfortunately, I think Poppy McAdams has dibs on you for the rest of her life...

Yes, I loved everything about this book. We finally get Booker's story and oh what a story it is. Booker and Poppy have been lifelong friends starting when they were little and playing in the park behind their respective homes and let me tell
you that first meeting melted my heart...

"I jump to my feet when I see a girl I know from school standing in front of me with a black dog next to her....She's dressed in a bright yellow sundress that's covered in mud, and her long blonde hair is dirty and full of sticks and
tangles....This girl's not running from me. She's standing really still. I think I like her"

This was the beginning of a friendship that transcended any other relationship Booker had had in his lifetime being the youngest Harris brother. Both Booker and Poppy would play key parts in each other's lives growing up and going to
school until the moment that everything changed and Poppy leaves for several years. Over the years, Booker works hard to be one of the best Keeper's in the Country, but he hasn't found love.
Once Poppy comes back all bets are off with these two because it just seems like the moment Booker sees Poppy again, he's knocked off his axis...

"My dearest and oldest friend, who used to have long, stringy blonde hair, has chopped it all off. Her silky platinum blonde tresses sweep stunningly off to the side. She looks so much more feminine this way, her cropped hair perfectly
highlighting her full lips and the high arch of her cheekbones."

Poor Booker just didn't know what to do with himself, but he knew one thing, he had to have Poppy and for more than just one night. I fell in love with our H/h. Poppy doesn't really let him get away with anything because she's not the same
girl that left six years ago. What she is though is a woman that wants to be "keepered" and Booker is the man that can do that. Her feelings for him may be stronger than his are for her....or are they? One thing is clear, when these two can't deny the attraction anymore....

"He's just taken me. Claimed me. Owned me. Like I'm his. I want to be his so bloody much."

Along the road to these two exploring if they can be more than friends, all the Harris's and their significant others are actively involved in this story and we get to see baby Rocky and she's got her uncles wrapped around her tiny little finger. I digress from the main point of our story though...Booker and Poppy have some hurdles to get over to get to their HEA. There's things said that shouldn't be said, things that should've been said and some heat generated that is nearly combustible; especially when they're NOT in a bedroom!

A lot of their hurdles stem from Booker's past and fears that opening up his heart to this all encompassing love could lead to pain because that's what he knows of love. My heart physically hurt for Booker because I know he wanted to
love Poppy, his family knows he wants to love Poppy, but Poppy isn't sure he wants to love her.
Ms. Daws has given us a story that pulled me in from the first page and as I read more and more, I was rooting for these two because finding that forever love. Her words have the ability to keep me as a reader so engrossed in the story that
before I know it, I'm turning the last page with the smile on my face matching the smile in my heart.
Tiny House: Live Small, Dream Big
Tiny House: Live Small, Dream Big
The book would be fine if you want to set it on your coffee table and never actually read it. However, given attention, this book does not hold up.

I like to look at cabin books like this to relax and detach from a stressful job before bed. This book did not work for that purpose because of extremely poor follow-through (that made me angry while reading). There are houses with no captions. There are photos of different houses, presented as if they are the same house, and there many are inaccurate descriptions and captions.

Consider instead: "Cabin Porn" for a good coffee-table/pick-up book that has a little bit of narrative or "The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway" for a more serious book. Either is a much better read/picturebook than this.
Monoprice 10-Feet USB A to mini-B 5pin 28/28AWG Cable (103897)
Monoprice 10-Feet USB A to mini-B 5pin 28/28AWG Cable (103897)
I purchased this back in December to run an Apeman dashcam from a USB plug rather than the included 12v plug. I got lazy and never installed it until yesterday. Ran the wire through the overhead and A-pillar, behind the dash and into the USB plug. And nothing.
Thought maybe the cam required a different cable... tried a couple other short runs that went direct, they all worked... tried this cable in a couple different pieces of equipment... no go.
I don't have test leads small enough to check the small contacts inside the mini-USB, but the exposed metalone both plugs does have continuity.
Can't return as I missed the window, but that's my own fault and can't blame Monoprice or Amazon, and really, for 5 bucks, I think the shipping would be more of a hassle than it was worth. All that said, just a heads up. Test the cables before you think you'll need them.
Don't be an idiot like me.
I See You
I See You
The wraparound (completely unnecessary) for me was not as good as the heart of the story - the real meat of the movie of the "found footage" is excellent, the director finding lots of new ways to present what is essentially a "murder mystery" within those confines - it's actually a total original in that regard. And the cinematography - for found footage - is excellent! Very visual, and new ways to present the "twists" in the story. The story is very dark, and edgy. Verging on a social media stalker version of Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom".

There are excellent performances from the cast. The story works, and goes to unsettling places. There are some shocks, and the twists (the initial ones at least) are surprising. The running time is on the shorter side, but overall it's time well spent with one of the more original genre offerings of late. Recommended!!!
Proheeder Knee Support Pillow for Side Sleeping - Memory Foam Cushion to be used Between Legs, knees and Ankles to help Alleviate Lower Back, Hip, Knee and Sciatic Pain - Pressure Relief Cushion
Proheeder Knee Support Pillow for Side Sleeping - Memory Foam Cushion to be used Between Legs, knees and Ankles to help Alleviate Lower Back, Hip, Knee and Sciatic Pain - Pressure Relief Cushion
Really dreamy. Worked brilliantly as an all-rounder (prenatal pregnancy sleeping pillow, sitting up comfortably in bed, breastfeeding, sitting baby up, tummy time). The ONLY fault may be that it needs a little bit more padding in the middle as theres a bit of a gap, but doesn't affect its function in any way. The 100% cotton cover is really good quality and comfortable and has survived well so far after a few washes in the washing machine. Worth every penny.
Linksys WiFi Router Dual-Band AC1200 (WiFi 5) Delivers Enhanced 1.2 Gbps Speed, Range, and Security
Linksys WiFi Router Dual-Band AC1200 (WiFi 5) Delivers Enhanced 1.2 Gbps Speed, Range, and Security
I ordered this router to replace a ten year old router (yes that's right, ten years old!). I needed a router for an apartment with only three devices at most, and for Internet surfing, video streaming, and light gaming. After using it for a few days, this router has been chugging away just fine so far.

The setup is/was super easy and convenient. After you plug in the router and go to the router setup portal, you're greeted with a nice setup wizard that takes you through the very important steps of changing your router password and applying a wireless (SSID) password. After that, you can tweak some of the other settings on the portal (e.g. broadcast channel, port forwarding, etc.). It's very standard, but very easy.

I haven't thoroughly vetted the wireless connection strength, since the router is only being used in an apartment unit and not a large house. It's been strong so far.

Overall, I'm happy with it so far. It's easy to use and configure, and had all the features I really needed without having a giant form factor.

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