Odds and Ends: Jan 7

Bit busy today, so here are just a couple of links I found interesting:

– I suppose if you want to “break down barriers” to and “counteract… one-sided coverage” of North Korea, this is the program for you:

Amid the ongoing tensions between North Korea and the international community, a educational scheme created by two young men from the US is engaging directly with citizens and students inside the country. Organisers of the Pyongyang Project say their programme is breaking down barriers to the secretive state that government bodies cannot.

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

You can visit the website of the program here. As you can imagine, I’m not particularly interested in building “build[ing] trust, promot[ing] mutual respect, and lay[ing] the foundation for peace and prosperity” between North Korea and the international community, but different strokes for different folks, I guess (HT to my brother).

– Has Mongolia’s ship come in? Foreign Policy’s Ron Gluckman seems to think so:

For the first time in as long as anyone can seem to remember, there have been traffic jams in Ulan Bator — a place previously known mainly either as the answer to a trivia question (Which capital city has the coldest average temperature?) or as a historical curiosity: Asia’s Timbuktu, the fabled homeland of Genghis Khan. Until recently, the Mongolian capital had more horses than cars.

No longer. Mongolia is in the middle of an epic gold rush — think San Francisco in 1849 — but it’s copper and coal that have enticed businessmen, investment bankers, and miners from London, Dallas, and Toronto by the planeload. Today, Ulan Bator is abuzz with talk of options and percentages, yields and initial public offerings. Not since the 13th century, when Genghis Khan consolidated the nomadic tribes of these remote steppes and established an empire that eventually spanned from Eastern Europe to Vietnam, has Mongolia seen so much action. The country’s stock exchange (though still the world’s smallest) rose 125 percent last year, and the IMF forecasts double-digit GDP growth rates for years to come. Others aren’t nearly so pessimistic: Renaissance Capital — an investment bank that specializes in emerging markets, one of many that have recently set up shop in Mongolia — notes that overall economic output could quadruple by 2013.

Be absolutely sure to check out the accompanying photo essay by Timothy Fadek.

– Also in Foreign Policy magazine, Richard McGregor explodes five myths about the Chinese Communist Party.

  • seouldout

    Man… gullible busy bodies… Yes!

    The way to break down barriers is through orchestras. Or Sting, he could sort it out.

    Daft buggers.

  • milton

    The Duke Chronicle did a story on this program a few months ago. In the comments section, Reichel gets taken down pretty hard by another commenter who points out the glaring flaws in Reichel’s philosphy:


    On the plus side, though, for those of you who are keen to really learn Korean well, I can’t imagine a better place to do it than Pyongyang: No pesky English signs, English books, English movies, and no “language leeches” coming up to you on the street to practice their English. Instead of ubiquitous elementary school students greeting you with “hello!,” you’ll be showered with the ever-more pleasant “안녕 미제놈!” You can spend your days fully-immersed in a Korean-speaking environment while getting your fill of documentaries on the latest advancements in Juche Steel production, the science of tractors, and fascinating exposes on the history of Kim Il-sung’s personal tape recorder (no joke…I read an article about that very topic in a North Korean education magazine). When you return to your home country, you’ll be able to share with your peers the splendor and nutritional-goodness of tree-bark-and-grass noodles and the virtues of eating only two meals a day!

    It should be pointed out that, unlike regular exchange students and expats in Pyongyang, students on this program are unable to leave campus and freely explore the city. So you’re basically spending $5000 to experience prison life for six weeks…

    By the way, anyone know how many shells can be bought with $5000?

  • seouldout

    Milton with another great link. That’s a fascinating conversation of empty platitudes versus hard facts. The tour participants’ testimonials are flippin’ priceless.

    Sixteen shells if you don’t get a discount. A conventional dumb 155mm artillery shell will cost you $300. The US Army’s smart Excalibur XM982 was $89,000 for Gen 1 and $50,000 for Gen 2. A JDAM-type smart bomb runs $30,000 – putting a GPS device in artillery is pricey. The high cost of smart munitions may explain why the penny pinching ROKs have been so slow to upgrade its forces.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Yeah, thanks for that link — the discussion was pretty fun to read.

  • Hamilton

    “By the way, anyone know how many shells can be bought with $5000?”

    Seouldout, that is 16 shells if you are buying US/NATO quality munitions. I came up with similar numbers for some common Warsaw pact artillery shells which did not include shipping and crating but ARE marked up:

    122mm Russian HE: Weight: 28.5 kg; Price: $400 (S/C)
    152mm Gun/Howitzer HE: Weight: 59.5 kg; Price: $595 (S/C)

    However, the Norks make the vast majority of their own shells in house with Gulag slave labor. I suspect their cost per unit would be well under $100 probably in the 40-50 dollar range. So in answer to the question the Norks are buying a crapload of artillery shells for each moron who signs up for the program. (Crap load equals between 50-100) Great Job Mr Reichel!

  • Jieun K

    Haha, thanks for the good laugh.

    Anyway, have a great weekend guys (and CMM, too).

  • hardyandtiny


  • Jashin Densetsu

    Man… gullible busy bodies… Yes!

    not sure if they’re the gullible ones. it’s called a racket bro. orchestrate some BS like this and slap it on a resume to impress law schools for admissions or to get cushy do-nothing jobs at NGOs and institutions, leeching off taxes and foundation grants and stuff.

  • Jieun K

    Good to see you brother. I kinda missed Jashin the cheesy joker. Ha…kidding. I welcome you back with open arms (as if I’m the host! LOL).

    Argh. Gotta get back to work.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    One hopes things turn out well for Mongolia. For not a few countries, the only thing worse than not having tons of natural resources to exploit is having them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_curse

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  • adeptitus

    Mongolia’s economic boom is based on natural resource extraction, kind of like oil-rich “petro economy” states. They have a huge advantage of being next to China, which means they don’t have to pay a lot of transportation costs to export resources. As domestic (material) consumption in China, India, and UNASUR rise, there will be a general upward trend in prices for the natural resources, making it profitable to extract stuff out of the ground at higher cost.

    Parts of Canada is also experencing the same economic boom. In small boom towns like Ft. McMurray, which is located in the middle of nowhere, skilled mining workers can easily make $100k+. Be warned, the place is cold and goes down to -40C. Having your car break down in a less-traveled road may be fatal.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    With Mongolia it’s coal. Don’t have oil there.

  • McGenghis

    I was once told that if I ever have the chance to not visit Fort McMurray, Alberta, I should definitely take it.

  • CactusMcHarris


    Yes, of a number to choose from, its hectare-for-hectare the shitpot of Canada, and it’s becoming worse.