In light of the recent bluster from Kim Jong Un, Joel S. Wit, a visiting fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Jenny Town, a research associate at the Institute attempt to debunk five myths about North Korea. Myth #3 is that…
North Korea is a hermit kingdom: The United States may have very little to do with the North, but that does not apply to the rest of the world. Did you know that North Korea sends hundreds of students overseas for educational and business training? Thousands of North Koreans work in China, in Mongolia where they produce goods for popular British clothing brands, in Kuwait where they work on construction projects, and in Russia where they labor in logging camps. A North Korean construction company is currently completing a museum near Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples featuring computer-generated simulations of the ancient monuments. Inside North Korea, just to give a few examples, the information technology sector is an outsourcing destination for other countries, even developing software and apps for the iPhone. Pyongyang’s sophisticated cartoon industry is reported to have been involved in the production of “The Lion King.” The German Kempinski group has been hired to operate Pyongyang’s largest hotel expected to open this spring. And residents and visitors to Pyongyang can now find Viennese coffee at the appropriately named “Viennese Coffee Restaurant.” Of course, North Korea is not an integral part of the international community, but neither is it a “hermit kingdom.”
Some of their debunking, as with the leaders-not-crazy part, are more technically-true than emphatically-true.
It’s Not a Hermit Kingdom, and 4 Other Myths About North Korea [The Atlantic]
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The infographic above shows how big a city would have to be to house the entirety of the worlds population if they lived like the residents of various cities, using the continental United States for scale. Its author, Tim de Chant, considered only the geographical space taken up by the residents and not the land required to provide them with resources like food and water in this particular graphic. He has, however, investigated these other factors as well:
What’s missing from it is the land that it takes to support such a city. In articles and comments about my infographic, some people overlooked that aspect—either mistakenly or intentionally. They shouldn’t have. Cities’ land requirements far outstrip their immediate physical footprints. They include everything from farmland to transportation networks to forests and open space that recharge fresh water sources like rivers and aquifers. And more. Just looking at a city’s geographic extents ignores its more important ecological footprint. How much land would we really need if everyone lived like New Yorkers versus Houstonians?
It turns out that question is maddeningly difficult to answer. While some cities track resource use, most don’t. Of those that do, methodologies vary city to city, making comparisons nearly impossible. Plus, cities in most developed nations still use a shocking amount of resources, regardless of whether they are as dense as New York or as sprawling as Houston. Any comparison of the cities in my original infographic would be an exercise in futility at this point.
If the World’s Population Lived Like… [Per Square Mile] [Dekuju, M!]
This photograph was taken in 1947 at Omaha Beach, Normandy.
Pictured above is the “Door to Hell” in Turkenistan, which happens to be number 7 on a list of the 25 least visited countries in the world:
Why so few?
The country is reputed to be the second craziest in the world. After, of course, North Korea.
Why you may still want to visit
Crazy is fun! And all the police officers make you feel very safe.
Do visit “The Door to Hell” which is the nickname of the burning crater in Darvaza, litterally in the middle of Karakum desert. It is fantastic and well worth the 3-4 hours long drive. Just stock up on food and vodka before you go, because you will want to stay in a tent overnight near the flames. They make a comforting sound.
The 25 Least Visited Countries in the World [Migrating Media]
Hōshi is a traditional Japanese inn called a Ryokan. It’s also the oldest hotel in the world that’s still in operation, having opened in the year 717. Interestingly, it’s been operated by the same family for the entire time – almost 1300 years. Apparently family businesses are quite commonplace in Japan:
It should be noted that Japan has a tradition of adopting adult heirs if it seems like there is nobody in the family that would be suitable/wanting to run the family business. Over 90% of adoptions in japan are of adult males in their 20s and 30s, and japan has one of the highest adoption rates in the world.
Because of this family businesses in japan are more successful than in other countries, which tend to die out due to blood lines or become other kinds of businesses.
Suzuki, Toyota, Kikkoman, and Canon are all family businesses. The current head of Suzuki was adopted, and the heir that will replace him will also be adopted.
Inspired by the story of North Korean labour camp escapee Shin Dong-hyuk, Mike Deri Smith decides he wants to do something to help the people of North Korea:
After I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the prisoners Shin left behind in the gulag. I’d be standing at the meat counter at the supermarket choosing between the highest quality lamb, steak, pork, and chicken, and I would remember the rat meat that helped keep children alive in the camp, and the undigested corn kernels they pulled from cow dung. I felt an urge to act so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. Perhaps idealism is more than just a slur inflicted on the young and hopeful. Perhaps being idealistic is a principle worth standing up for.
And so I found myself, a few months later, ringing the doorbell at London’s North Korean embassy. I was prepared to demand justice, but my shaking hands betrayed my utter fear of what would happen when someone opened the door.
He goes on to discuss idealism as well as the frustration that arises from how little he can do to influence the situation:
Blaine Harden, author of the book about escaped prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk, has said before that North Korea’s diplomats “‘go nuts’ and leave the room” when the subject of the camps in broached in any discussion of human rights. But Hawk says it’s essential, particularly since negotiations on nukes have been set back by North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. “The idea that you would keep human rights off of the agenda for 20 to 30 years while [North Korea] does economic development and allow the present prison population to die off is, to me, extraordinary.” Harden estimates that up to 400,000 people have already died in the North Korean gulag.
“Few people outside of the pro-apartheid figures in South Africa argued to ignore apartheid for a generation until the economic situation of the South African population improved,” Hawk said, sounding genuinely moved and outraged. I asked him what I could do to help. The best thing, he said, was to encourage my government—to send a letter urging my foreign minister to support UN resolutions on North Korean human rights.
I’ll admit I was hoping he’d tell me to jump on a flight to Seoul tomorrow, decked out in camouflage gear with a knife between my teeth. Wasn’t writing letters to the government the kind of thing done by old people and crack-ups? Anyway, hadn’t those people heard of email?
North Korea Won’t Be Liberated in a Day
This photograph of Central Park in Manhattan was taken by aerial photographer Sergey Semenov.
In pink on the map above are the countries which have at some point in history been invaded by Britain. Out of the nearly 200 countries currently recognized by the UK, there are only 22 which have never been invaded, according to Stuart Laycock, author of All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. From the Telegraph:
Mr Laycock, who has previously published books on Roman history, began the unusual quest after being asked by his 11-year-old son, Frederick, how many countries the British had invaded.
After almost two years of research he said he was shocked by the answer. “I was absolutely staggered when I reached the total. I like to think I have a relatively good general knowledge. But there are places where it hadn’t occurred to me that these things had ever happened. It shocked me.
“Other countries could write similar books – but they would be much shorter. I don’t think anyone could match this, although the Americans had a later start and have been working hard on it in the twentieth century.”
The only other nation which has achieved anything approaching the British total, Mr Laycock said, is France – which also holds the unfortunate record for having endured the most British invasions. “I realise people may argue with some of my reasons, but it is intended to prompt debate,” he added.
There is a list of those who haven’t been invaded (yet) at the link.
British Have Invaded Nine Out of Ten Countries – So Look Out Luxembourg [TheTelegraph]
In The Guardian, John Harris discusses the town of Totnes in Devon, which is known for some very progressive ideas (among which is issuing their own currency, which is good at about 70 shops in the town). The residents there are trying to stop the massive chain of Costa from moving in and driving their (42) locally-owned-and-operated coffee shops out of business.
Totnes’s local economy looks to be in reasonable health, which is surely down to the fact that it is about as far from being what we now call a “clone town” as could be imagined. The local record shop, Drift, is mind-bogglingly great: the kind of place that you’d think was amazing if you found it in New York. The quality and diversity of restaurants is amazing. Most pertinently, the town has 42 independently run outlets that serve coffee, and – so far – not a single branch of any of the big caffeine-selling multiples.
Now, though, Costa – whose most visible slogan remains “Saving the world from mediocre coffee” – is on its way, as part of programme of expansion that will look either worryingly aggressive or admirably ambitious, depending on your point of view. Certainly, it seems to be bucking the prevailing trend of our flatlining economy, opening scores of new outlets while independent coffee shops are truly feeling the pinch.
A fully owned subsidiary of the food and hospitality conglomerate Whitbread, it currently operates 1,400 British outlets, and recently announced plans for 350 more. Thanks also to a snowballing presence in petrol stations, pubs and motorway services, its logo is becoming inescapable, which is exactly the point: the chief executive, Andy Harrison, has talked about increasing the number of branches to 2,000, and thus making them ubiquitous. “People really don’t want to walk very far for a coffee,” he has said. “We can have them a couple of hundred yards apart on a really busy high street, then another at a retail park and another at the station.”
Totnes: the Town that Declared War on Global Capitalism [Guardian]
The LA Times has an interesting piece about the changing gender dynamic of Iran since the government made contraceptives free:
Without intending to, Iran’s clerical leadership helped to foster “the empowerment of Iranian women,” said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an Iran expert at Virginia Tech. “The mullahs may be winning the battle on the streets, but women are winning the battle inside the family.”
Iranian woman have fewer legal rights than men and are limited in which jobs they can hold and what they can wear. But more of them are attending universities and postponing childbirth. In public universities, female students now outnumber males 65% to 35%, leading to calls in parliament for affirmative action for men.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, has sought to reverse the trend toward smaller families. Doubling the country’s population of 75 million would enable Iran to threaten the West, he said.
He has denounced the contraceptive program as “a prescription for extinction,” called on Iranian girls to marry no later than 16 or 17 and offered bonuses of more than $950 for each child. So far, he has been widely ignored.
“Iranian women are not going back,” said Sussan Tahmasebi, an Iranian women’s rights leader now living in the United States.
As Iran Made Contraceptives Free, Iranian Women Made Strides [LATimes]