I’m sharing this press release from LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) regarding Kim Jong Il’s death. Very eye-opening to anyone tracking the situation from the past few days. I’m planning to write a little piece of my own soon.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The sudden death of Kim Jong-il has triggered a deluge of early commentary and analysis on what this may mean for North Korea and the region. The North Koreans themselves are of course the people who will be affected most by this development, but the voice of the North Korean people has been severely lacking. While the regime has always been comprised of much more than one man, the death of the leader does usher in a new period of increased uncertainty for the North Korean people.

It is impossible to go inside North Korea to interview the people regarding their true feelings on the situation. However LiNK has spoken with refugees who have recently left the country. It should be noted that North Korean refugees cannot be considered to be necessarily representative of the general population, as the majority have come from border regions and therefore their views may be different from those living in Pyongyang or elsewhere.

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Dear Friends,

Many of us work in corporations and I thought that you could actually help me by sending a small request to any type of internal forum you might have at your company! I will very much appreciate if you can forward the text below to your company’s forum. It’s as simple as copy-paste and click on “send”. Unless your company’s forum is rubbish, which I sure hope it’s not!

Hello,

My name is Tom and three months ago I went to North Korea. The experience was crazy, to say the least. It was sad and beautiful at the same time – a country so beautiful that you feel like you would want to spend months just admiring it. Yet, at the same, the landscape was filled with communist posters and slogans, a disturbing view. The people were fantastic, a lovely bunch of smiling faces. Yet, most of them have never seen a white man in their lives and every single one of them had to proudly wear “The Great Leader’s” lapel pin on their chest. People have their own opinions about the world, but they will never share them with you for fear of being persecuted by the Government. Their opinions are also based on the knowledge and facts that are fed to them by the Government and state-controlled media. This knowledge of the world is limited. I had to explain the concept of the Internet to a well-educated North Korean. What I heard in return was “Well, you might have the Internet, but we have our libraries”. Picking my jaw from the ground was not an easy task.

There are many resources out there to learn more about North Korea. Here are a few shocking facts about the country:

* An estimated 60% of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition as food is poorly distributed. The military gets most of the food produced in North Korea.
* The country has a mobile phone network, which is within the range of its middle class. You cannot call anyone outside of the country nor can anyone call mobile phones. We tried both ways. It’s impossible.
* North Korea gets an estimated 1,500 Western tourists a year.
* A few thousand North Koreans escape from the country every year. It’s a grueling challenge involving financial and organizational challenges – the Chinese government wants to send you back as quickly as possible and sex and human traffickers are on the watch for any North Koreans.

I have found an organization that contributes to the well-being of North Koreans refugees and helps them make their way to better life. It’s called LiNK and I am currently helping them raise funds. I will appreciate any funds you could send. Please also take advantage of any corporate gift matching programs at your companies. As the year’s end nears it might be a great time to do that.

You can donate through a credit card at this page: http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise/link?fcid=176258

I hope to raise $10,000 by the year’s end! I would also like to direct you to my website, which features a photo story from my trip to North Korea. I’m sure you will enjoy it! The address is http://www.tomzacharski.com/?p=265

Thank you in advance for all your help. Let’s advance this cause together!

Best regards,
Tom Zacharski
(t.zacharski@gmail.com)

North Korea – Fundraising

So, I have been doing those little challenges recently. I’ll write about it in the upcoming months… It can be anything, from small, to big; from a few-day long challenge to a few year long challenge. Among those were things like learning how to solve the Rubix Cube (that’s easy), learning how to play StarCraft (just the fundamentals, so that watching demos would be exciting rather than your typical “yyy what’s going on” moment), learning Korean (this is an on-going project as you can imagine – 네, 맞아요).

And so, I stumbled upon this website some time ago, where they were raising funds for refugees from North Korea. I remember the feeling of wanting to help the country so much after leaving it that I decided to take part in their fundraising challenge. The organization is called “LiNK” and my personal fundraising website can be found here.

The funds go to helping North Korean refugees. Not much can be done to help the country as the money typically disappears in the corrupt government officials’ pockets. There are however thousands of people who escape the regime every year – unfortunately, escape itself is not enough to ensure a peaceful life. Once out of the country (typically in China) a refugee needs to avoid Chinese officials who are more than willing to send them back to North Korean, sex and human traffickers and all other challenges. Once they reach South Korea it’s like a dream come true – they become South Korean citizen and receive a government stipend to start a new life. The funds being raised by LiNK will help all those refugees. I like to think that this can actually become more scalable. Once North Koreans learn that there are organizations like LiNK more of them might start leaving the country. A process like this can lead to a revolution and freedom for Koreans. And I don’t think that after my photo story I have to remind anyone that would be most desirable for the wonderful small country on the Korean peninsula.

I originally had a goal of raising $200. After one person (thank you Tim) donated exactly $200 and my overall sum of funds raised hit $251 I decided to up the goal to $500. But you know what? That’s nothing. THINK BIG. So I’m upgrading my new goal to $10,000 by the end of the year. Now that’s a challenge! I will be writing more in the upcoming days about my fundraising efforts. I will appreciate all your help – financial (you can raise money through the website) and organizational (more about this soon).

LET’S DO IT. TOGETHER!

As promised I present the photos from North Korea – over 100 photos along with a commentary, I hope you’ll enjoy them. I will follow with photos from China probably next week.

Click on the first photo to start running through the photo story.
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I’m back to Dublin after a total of 12 hours on the plane yesterday and after an action packed morning sponsored by TheJetLag, I’m ready to write about some absurdities we found in North Korea. I’m adding some pictures to those – a full gallery will follow probably next week.

1. Amusement Park (“Fun Fare” as it was called by our guide)
In the very middle of Pyongyang, surrounded by communist posters / billboards / portraits / slogans (and whatever else you can imagine as long as it features Kim Il-Sung’s face), is nothing else but an amusement park. Not too big, but fairly modern, featuring a few rides – the equipment is Italian and has been personally tested by the leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-Un (Kim Jong-Il’s son). It was somewhat hilarious, because at every ride we were told where Kim Jong-Un sat when he took the ride.
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North Koreans don’t like journalists. That’s the simplest and fastest explanation as to why the website was down for a couple of months.

Last year I went on a trip to Chernobyl with two good friends of mine. The idea for the trip was initiated on a random night a couple of months earlier when we started wondering what would be a “weird” place to go for a trip. Obviously after Chernobyl it was just a matter of time before someone posed the question: “What’s next?”

North Korea was an obvious choice. My friend, Bernard, is a veteran of Far East travels and wanted to combine that with a trip to other parts of Asia. I wanted to see China. And so, in March, we started planning the trip.
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A great article by Thomas L. Friedman, you can read it at NY Times or below:

There is an old saying in the Middle East that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. That thought came to my mind as I listened to President Obama trying to explain the intervention of America and its allies in Libya — and I don’t say that as criticism. I say it with empathy. This is really hard stuff, and it’s just the beginning.

When an entire region that has been living outside the biggest global trends of free politics and free markets for half a century suddenly, from the bottom up, decides to join history — and each one of these states has a different ethnic, tribal, sectarian and political orientation and a loose coalition of Western and Arab states with mixed motives trying to figure out how to help them — well, folks, you’re going to end up with some very strange-looking policy animals. And Libya is just the first of many hard choices we’re going to face in the “new” Middle East.

How could it not be? In Libya, we have to figure out whether to help rebels we do not know topple a terrible dictator we do not like, while at the same time we turn a blind eye to a monarch whom we do like in Bahrain, who has violently suppressed people we also like — Bahraini democrats — because these people we like have in their ranks people we don’t like: pro-Iranian Shiite hard-liners. All the while in Saudi Arabia, leaders we like are telling us we never should have let go of the leader who was so disliked by his own people — Hosni Mubarak — and, while we would like to tell the Saudi leaders to take a hike on this subject, we can’t because they have so much oil and money that we like. And this is a lot like our dilemma in Syria where a regime we don’t like — and which probably killed the prime minister of Lebanon whom it disliked — could be toppled by people who say what we like, but we’re not sure they all really believe what we like because among them could be Sunni fundamentalists, who, if they seize power, could suppress all those minorities in Syria whom they don’t like.

The last time the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria tried to take over in 1982, then-President Hafez al-Assad, one of those minorities, definitely did not like it, and he had 20,000 of those Sunnis killed in one city called Hama, which they certainly didn’t like, so there is a lot of bad blood between all of them that could very likely come to the surface again, although some experts say this time it’s not like that because this time, and they could be right, the Syrian people want freedom for all. But, for now, we are being cautious. We’re not trying nearly as hard to get rid of the Syrian dictator as we are the Libyan one because the situation in Syria is just not as clear as we’d like and because Syria is a real game-changer. Libya implodes. Syria explodes.

Welcome to the Middle East of 2011! You want the truth about it? You can’t handle the truth. The truth is that it’s a dangerous, violent, hope-filled and potentially hugely positive or explosive mess — fraught with moral and political ambiguities. We have to build democracy in the Middle East we’ve got, not the one we want — and this is the one we’ve got.

That’s why I am proud of my president, really worried about him, and just praying that he’s lucky.

Unlike all of us in the armchairs, the president had to choose, and I found the way he spelled out his core argument on Monday sincere: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

I am glad we have a president who sees America that way. That argument cannot just be shrugged off, especially when confronting a dictator like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But, at the same time, I believe that it is naïve to think that we can be humanitarians only from the air — and now we just hand the situation off to NATO, as if it were Asean and we were not the backbone of the NATO military alliance, and we’re done.

I don’t know Libya, but my gut tells me that any kind of decent outcome there will require boots on the ground — either as military help for the rebels to oust Qaddafi as we want, or as post-Qaddafi peacekeepers and referees between tribes and factions to help with any transition to democracy. Those boots cannot be ours. We absolutely cannot afford it — whether in terms of money, manpower, energy or attention. But I am deeply dubious that our allies can or will handle it without us, either. And if the fight there turns ugly, or stalemates, people will be calling for our humanitarian help again. You bomb it, you own it.

Which is why, most of all, I hope President Obama is lucky. I hope Qaddafi’s regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet. Then U.S. prestige will be enhanced and this humanitarian mission will have both saved lives and helped to lock another Arab state into the democratic camp.

Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky.

I recently found a few interesting tools to show some global economic / social statistics. You might find them useful or interesting or inspirational in terms of how data is being shown.

Fed Ex – Happiness Index
http://experience.fedex.com/us/en/#/data/default/topic/money_and_happiness

The Economist – Comparing Chinese provinces to Countries
http://www.economist.com/content/all_parities_china

The Economist – Comparing U.S. States to Countries
http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/01/comparing_us_states_countries

For all of you wondering why I was posting random decreasing numbers over the last few days on Facebook, here’s an answer – I was counting down the number of views for Justin Bieber’s “Baby” Youtube video to achieve *the remarkable*. The video has became the first video ever to hit a staggering HALF A BILLION views. Although not my favorite singer I will let Justin also invade my website – you can watch the video below. You might also be interested in this – an all-time Youtube videos chart (be sure to change your location to “Worldwide”, otherwise it might show the most popular videos in your country).

Justin Bieber’s video was quoted for a long time as the number one watched Youtube video of all times, but it was also notable for a different statistic – the number of dislikes. Although it has been the most disliked video at Youtube, it seems that Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, which went viral only about a week ago, will quickly top “Baby’s” number of dislikes. Now, having your art or work disliked is ok, not everyone has to like it. But cyber-bullying and hatred shown to Rebecca over the last week was horrible… The comments, directed at this 13 year old, are often awful, cruel and show the dark side of the Internet. In one of the interviews Rebecca said that she actually cried after reading those, however got used to them fairly quickly – good for her, she’s only 13! She also mentioned that she would love to do a duet with Justin Bieber… I guess that would be a solid candidate for the first billion views on Youtube.

Now, although I wasn’t enticed by “Friday’s” lyrics (even though the melody was stuck in my head for all of Saturday morning) as a tribute to the quickest one million dislikes on Youtube, you can watch the video below.

Whatever you want for $5!

Well maybe not whatever you want, but check out this website: www.fiverr.com. It is (quote): “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5″.

I guess it’s a great opportunity for young artists, but also for consumers to get services like caricature drawing over the web. I’m wondering myself what would be worth doing for $5 and posting on fiverr. Here are some of the more interesting things I found:


 

Current Highlights

Beginning February 2011 I have started a new job at Google in its EU HQ in Dublin, Ireland. I will be responsible for AdWords-related issues for the UK / Ireland market.

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