A Journal of the Plague Year Day 96

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

Was trapped watching Sense8 on Netflix by J; the show a product of the Wachowski Sisters, the gothy minds behind The Matrix trilogy. This time round it appears the siblings have been given carte blanche and the equivalent of a bottomless credit card in terms of creative license, that worked so well back in the day, to the tune of $1.6 billion in takings for their franchise. So the premise this time is a bunch of strangers across the globe who are able to telepathically connect -they feel, talk to and see each other in real time -while stalked by a hellbent organisation trying to kill em off.

The Wachowskis are a pretty left wing, inclusive bunch, having themselves transitioned in gender and being staunch advocates of LGBTQIA rights and free lovin’, which inhabits this storyline with gay and transgender characters throughout. They also bring together disparate personalities representing multiple forgotten countries outside the North American bubble -Kenya, India, South Korea, Iceland, Germany, Mexico. Well so far, so diverse.

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However, look closer and it starts to jar, notably the storylines. The Indian woman is of course caught in an arranged marriage, and battling local corruption, with a sideline in her family curry restaurant. The Kenyan man lives in a vast slum of local corruption, gang crime and HIV infection -killers at every corner. The South Korean woman is a martial arts master with a Masters in Economics, sacrificing all for family honour (wrongly imprisoned, battling -you guessed it -local corruption plus honour-bound chauvinism, to the extent her family lets her take the fall and her brother’s trying to kill her). The Mexican guy -a telenovella star (perhaps the closest the Wachowskis got to a Mexican experience) is in the closet, battling machismo stereotype, the church, wifebeating, blackmail and the vapidness of fame.

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It can be tough sell for those non-White or non-Western, try as you might. At first I made myself believe this was a wonderful cherry-picking take on every major social problem in each territory; that the Wachowski’s had done their research and were consciously raising awareness. But by the second episode it was pretty obvious they’d done quick Google searches or just put down a veneer of what’d rubbed off some passing media trope. To make it more obvious if a Black American character was up for the stand, and his raison d’etre was ghetto gangs, police brutality, drugs and trying to win back his disowned son, while aiming to be the new rap/ hoop star of the ages, it’d be cringe level 10, especially coming from the usual rich, White penmanship.

In contrast the White characters are multi-layered, do not perform to stereotype, and do not have long, lingering sidelines in their tale to prove they’re more than just a number. Laugh for hours as you discover the Korean woman likes beans on toast, or the Kenyan guy drives a homemade bus in ode of Jean-Claude Van Damme! By comparison the Icelandic woman is a DJ and living in London (not a Viking helmet or geyser in sight), the German guy’s a safecracker for organised crime (not what you’d equate with Germania), while the Americans are safely disparate as bloggers and policemen and hackers and ecologists.

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The script is derisory to say the least, although the valiant acting helps to blunt the edges, despite dooming their careers. The long, lingering shots of nookie at every turn is another seller, albeit it becomes quite an obsession. At several points throughout any given episode the characters will down tools (maybe take up new ones) to have a transcontinental fumble, often swapping bedpartners or becoming embroiled in one big orgiastic flexihump, that makes one reckon it’s wish fulfilment on the directors’ behalf (remember the weird, fluid-spraying rave in Matrix?). I see these characters -at every opportunity away from the henchmen -prowling the alleys, peeking through windows, looking for jizz.

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One character, the fellow actress/beard/fag hag/PR/PA/agent/secretary/housemaid/manager/fan vetter/letter opener/rooftiler of the Mexican couple is so laughably, vicariously infatuated with her housemates, and devoid of any life of her own she openly friggs herself off from the corner of the bed as they get manmansex-time. This seems to mirror the veritable well of navel gazing stupor the Wachowskis may be immersed in, in how blinkered they are to anyone’s experience other than their own. When Nomi (Know Me) makes the Maid of Honour speech at her sisters already compromised wedding, she hijacks the entire loveletter to make a diatribe on her transrights. One feels like yelling at her, Nomi it’s not all about you, all of the time.

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But then again, am I not wallowing in the selfsame mire? Were I long-suffering of trans abuse would this not be a revelation of a series, and a breath of fresh air for an ignorant world? While overlooking the corny national stereotypes, suddenly unimportant or forgivable. Would I be publicly standing up and voicing this diatribe to override their struggle?

ANYHOO, enough bitching. The world is stupid and so am I. Back to life.

Went out for a breath of fresh air and a touch back to reality, the real version not the utterly, ludicrously fantastical. Life sometimes is too much lived vicariously or not at all, even if it is to brandish fists at the skies.

The sun was high today, the weather cool and the fields a riot of wildflowers, even for urban, unkempt commons. And leaving it all behind.

To end the day:

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 14

Tuesday March 31st 2020

The house got a deep clean today. All furniture polished, floors stripped, fabric waterboarded and rugs publicly whipped. The recycling bins are now twice as full as they can take, tottering like Stonehenge due to imaginary collection days -First World problems again, ah how we’ve missed you.

Although a little disconcerting. Are we ever going to see binmen again? Is it a sign of things to come? It starts with a lack of attention to recycling categories and ends in shooting crazed Mad Max grannies from the roof of a local mall.

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The govt issued a missive quickly mentioning something about power outages mid-cough, and that we should maybe expect them [/cough]. The minute the internet goes down there’ll be rioting I’m sure. People running into Dixons and trying to grab all router shaped boxes, fusilli phone cords, then eyeing up radios and satellite dishes. Like an 80’s disaster movie when they need a looting scene (smashed plate glass, carnival atmosphere, Black dude with shades nodding to a ghetto blaster).

28 Days Later (2003) Directed by Danny Boyle Shown: Cillian Murphy

People are getting fed up of queueing to get into the supermarkets, like exclusive clubs for tracksuited, standoffish couch potatoes, leaning on their trolleys. No one bothers dressing up anymore, which is unlike London, where putting on the lippy to take the rubbish out is a thing in certain circles. And once inside, the exclusivity demands attention -make sure to browse leisurely, maybe take a few selfies with the bogroll, smell every brand of air freshener and try on all the XXL cardies. While the people outside are now heckling NHS staff who get to skip the lines, as was done in Liverpool to a crying nurse after her 13 hr shift. They’re also liable to share fake news that kids will be banned from Asda (dear heaven of God), and that early hour for the aged is game for anyone sporting a sudden limp, or Jim Carrey style impersonation of a chimpanzee. One week in and people are starting to lose their shit.

Business Leaders Converge In Sun Valley, Idaho For Allen And Company Annual Meeting

So the news is Europe has a new dictatorship a la Hungary, approving Viktor Orban’s new emergency grip over power worse than the Communist dictatorship, but in a much more Far Right kinda way, including 8 years prison for being an upstart, and hot on the heels of his previous gem making it an offence to help undocumented migrants. Meanwhile India (the new name for the country is Meanwhile India, it’s reached that stage of geopolitical power where you can’t keep ignoring it, despite most of the people in the world being them) has seen its online youth organise mass food and cash handouts to the millions of migrant workers, many trapped between states and attempting treks of hundreds of km. Although the govt offers free food, shelter and cash, it’s harder to come by on the road.

In the US things are hitting the part of the curve that climbs exponentially, infections in line with the politicking, which is reaching ear screeching levels between left and right as hospitals take the strain, and the long-suffering populace battles through the confusion, pistols at the ready. An aircraft carrier, now stranded in Guam is radio’ing for help as its 4,000 sailors get cosy with corona.

Over 900 died in Spain today, beating Italy for the first time, as it did China’s amount of infected. East Asia is now locking down the air routes, and closing all borders as reinfection stalks the recovery, several provinces in China, reentering lockdown. While the US is offering Venezuela a lifting of sanctions so it can get access to the lifesaving meds and equipment it could easily afford – just so long as they get rid of Maduro hold new elections, and thus give US access to the world’s largest oil reserves, which sounds suspiciously like a mega ransom to me, and a country using death threats as an opportunity. Shocker! People are already massing at the Colombian border, now closed.

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Oh and the stock markets have fared their worst since 1987 in this quarter, the Dow Jones down by 23% and FTSE 100 by 25%. Meanwhile, India is attempting a herculean task: to trace tens of thousands of people at risk of infection from a ‘super-carrier’, a 70 y.o. preacher returning from Italy, now deceased who flouted govt advice and attended a local festival back before they were banned. 550 came into direct contact with him, which has led to 40,000 people in 21 villages now quarantined. I mean seriously, one righteous fucker in the mix and the entire district now feeds through hamster nozzles.

A 13 year old boy in Brixton with no underlying conditions has just died, making him the youngest in the country, but not unheard of. Apparently 1 in 30,000 infections in his age group will succumb. The kid was born in 2007 for Chrissakes. He would have been a 5 year old, just starting to learn football by the time of the 2012 Olympics in his home city.

He started showing symptoms on Thursday, and was rushed to hospital for breathing problems. By Friday he was on a ventilator, then an induced coma, and died in the early hours of Monday morning, just 4 days after his first symptoms. So contagious is C-19 his family weren’t allowed to be with him in his final moments. His name was Ismail Abdulwahab.

A 19 year old died on the same day, once again with no underlying health conditions and ‘very healthy’ succumbing just 30 minutes after being taken to hospital -once again after a few days of symptoms, and only a few hours after his condition worsened. Post mortem was fulminant (meaning sudden, explosive and severe) pneumonia. His name was Luca di Nicola.

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According to data from China the young may be more protected normally because of differences in immune systems -newer, fresher, more likely to overcompensate perhaps (although this shouldn’t really change things with this infection). Older people, who’ve had more experience with other coronaviruses react with a time-worn attack plan, but this version is different from the others, and may be affecting the reaction negatively, making the immune system attack the body alongside.

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Oh, and facemasks. All that official, widely spread malarkey about them being ineffective was meant to be a salve to reserve them for essential workers, but those absolute gems of community who choose to stockpile everything then sell them off eBay got them anyway. While China had been telling people to wear them from the start as precaution, arguing it was airborne back from Feb 8th (something quite hard to prove but that a Shanghai team were convinced). Infection rates can be up to halved using them appropriately. Ah well, shucks. It didn’t help either that when accepting Chinese masks (and test kits) up to 70% of them were ineffective, thanks to some eminently dodgy new companies in Shenzhen, which are now under investigation, not just for jeopardising foreign contingency plans, but China’s too.

People, govts are inept and predatory, and society burns far too quickly. Design by committee, so endemic among democracies and First world individualism -stage villain for wrongly signposted ways, diabolical bureaucracy, stolen misallocated funds, confusing media campaigns and bad graphic design -is now proving deadly.

This I’m sure will be the Autumn/Winter look by next year, or possibly Friday.

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On the home front, it’s been everyone in the house. Strumming from room to room and scrolling, then the cleaning blitz before more of the same. An occasional Netflix session, a phone call here and there, and endless tappety on the laptop. I mean the internet is hard to compete with. Tell a time traveler from the 1950s about this day and age, and the most confusing thing will be the fact you have a rectangle in your pocket that holds all the information in the world, but you use to look at kittens.

I mean just look at the options, for the uninitiated, the unmotivated, the un-arsed. The ones who don’t wake up in a ray of light, bursting with energy (seriously who TF does that?). Who don’t have a home gym/ yoga session to throw themselves into with Joe Wicks. Who don’t cook well, recipe books n everything. Who don’t have gurning, sun flared children for countless hours of fun and board games and reading re-mortgaging leaflets.

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Choosing the Perfect Family Home

Life has become smaller, noticing the littler eddies in this leaking tap of existence. The new toothpaste is leaving bright blue detritus in the sink, like tiny, stubborn anemones. J has put a battery into one of his antique clocks in the living room, and it ticks infernally (every half second) like a time bomb. A sleeps with his earphones now, and iPhone hugged, like a warm, fascist teddy bear. I’ve stopped changing T-shirts, day and night for about 2 days a pop, and stopped caring. I need to cut my toenails. It’s all starting to drift; I’m going to have to unplug. With nothing to report but the reports. Horror films or award winning docudramas are becoming daytime TV, and Oscar worthy screen matinees are background to the sucking glow of the internet. That’s literally it for life right now, internet and films, food in between (baked beans on rice, nuff’ said).

Things I saw today (read: sat through): Mercy Black (banal, cliché-ridden, unscary), that Rome docuseries (Caligula the Utter Cvnt and his licentious siblings), Tiger King (Florida Man strikes again, a sign of what happens when you lack history and culture in your life), and 1917, which I did perk my head up and watch. Heartstopping and heartrending in equal measure, shot in one glorious take -you can see why it was Oscar nominated, though a little harsh on Jerry, who is as likely to murder you as look at you, even when you save him from burning plane wrecks.

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My good friend in Germany is facing trouble in a lockdown, and dreading time with the kid who’ll drive her barmy (14 y.o, that age). She still works in social services, although unreasonably so, providing leisure and sporty options to refugees, which no one really feels is frontline nor essential anymore, including the refugees. She’s also asking about any conspiracy theories I’ve heard (none so far other than a fudging of infection stats) but I do wonder. As of yesterday the UK govt started counting the people who’d died outside hospitals and the tally jumped by a quarter. In Germany they only test the living, which may account for why their survival rates are seemingly the highest in the world.

Sweden meanwhile marches on apparently oblivious, throwing caution to the wind as cinemas (though Indy films only, given the dearth of blockbusters, now delayed), schools, shop, cafés and bars still go strong, with citizens picnicking and BBQing on the beaches, parks and beauty spots, dazzling smiles unsheathed. Public gatherings are limited to 50 (down from 500 on Friday), and those over 70 advised to avoid social contact. There is an uneasy sitting between public trust in the experts, and the unfolding horror everywhere else, even just across the Oresund link where Denmark has been in lockdown for nearly a month. It’s the biggest gamble the country’s taken since WWII, back when they were twiddling over whether to let the Nazis through on one side and the fleeing Jews on the other -or why not both at the same time? Sweden is attempting once again, to have its cake and eat it. In a lovely Drottninggatan bistrot with beer and some pals.

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Does life go on if the disaster unfolding, with thousands of dead, goes unseen? Is it normal? What impact on a complicit society will it have -and should ignoring the fate of others ever become cultural? Is it even a new normal? as that has long been the M.O. for much of the Western world in regards to the indentured billions of the Global South supporting our lifestyles the past few hundred years.

Sweden may be the one experiment that all our governments have wondered about.

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Likewise Trump, like a stuck record on his daily Old Tyme Medicine Show introduced a pillow company CEO (who will now start making masks) at the daily press briefing, who then went on to beseech the nation to read the Bible, as well as castigate it for taking the good book out of the curriculum.

“God gave us grace on Nov. 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” ( referring to the day Trump was elected). “God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned its back on God.”

Indeed, God help us all.

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Does March ever fucking end?

Yesterday

Tomorrow

The True Size

The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?

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In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards:

https://mapfight.appspot.com

First off…

Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.

Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:

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Quito

Quito

Laos slightly smaller. Fun fact – one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries unlike almost all other Asian territories (pop 7.2 million in comparison to the UK at 68 million). Lots of room for cows, temples and minefields -the world’s heaviest bombed country, that took more fallout than all the ammo and explosives used in both World Wars combined. Not only was this paradise so mullered, it was done secretly, that the outside world had no clue the US was bombing (as a nice little sideline in the Vietnam War). But now it’s hippy heaven, lush and laid back in every direction, just don’t stray off the paths.

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Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.

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Next off, England.

Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:

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Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.

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Suriname, a country of half a million mostly living along the coast is South America’s smallest. It is also the first in the world to reach carbon neutrality, whose vast interior of rainforest goes far to mitigate carbon reduction for the rest of the planet. Caribbean in culture, it speaks Dutch formally and English Creole (unintelligible to the English) among the populace, who are one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an even mix of Afro-Surinamese, Indian, Javanese, Chinese and mixed race. Basically anyone from anywhere could look Surinamese.

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Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.

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Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to 6% from France. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].

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Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa no less holds more than 40 ethnic groups, and was once known typically as to what it offered the colonials -the Slave Coast, sandwiched between the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Ivory Coast that still bears its name. Togo nowadays might be known as the Phosphate coast, having the world’s fourth largest deposits -peddler of fortune but also tying 30% of the economy to the whims of price fluctuation.

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Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.

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Japan’s northern island was once home to the Ainu people, who now number 25,000 and could be as high as 200,000 due to those who have no idea of their ancestry. They were claimed to be the world’s hairiest people, whose women would tattoo moustaches onto their faces. They were also proto Caucasoid -that doesnlt mean White, but looking similar to the Central Asians (think Afghans riding/ fighting bears and living like the native Americans).

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Louisiana comes in as the 19th smallest state in the US -which means it’s on the small size over there. Its history of Spanish, French and British colonisation, with large amounts of imported slaves and Creole culture has resulted in a heady mix of urban societies unique to the country -in 1974 English was officially unofficialised as the state language of instruction in schools, with people free to practice the tongues of their heritage. Bajan, Cajun, Creole, Caribbean, French, English and Spanish influence is redolent in cities such as New Orleans, that lends to the culinary mix. Think French food a la swamp, soul food a la spice route, Americana tropicalia.

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Panama’s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.

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Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.

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Denmark’s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile’s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.

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Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.

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Greece has 6,000 islands, of which 277 are inhabited, and 80% of the country is mountainous to boot. This topography of islanded, competing city states led to the cradle of Western civilisation, and the translation of history, landscape, culture and food today has seen it become a leading destination for visitors, notably winning ‘world’s best country’ by Condé Nast. The big secret not yet overrun with 20 quacking cruise ships a day are the mountains, dramatic idylls, that command much of the mainland and that are only visited by natives. Epirus in the west, is where its at.

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Welcome to the world’s densest country (non-city state), that fits in 13% more people than Russia -a territory 115x larger. 165 million Bangladeshis call this, the world’s largest river delta, home. Its capital Dhaka, will rise from today’s 21 million to 35 million in the next decade, then slow (Bangladesh already has below replacement fertility levels). Still, by 2100 the city will have reached 54 million, many of them climate refugees as the sea level rises and the delta sinks, though the long term plan is for a giant version of the Netherlands -the sea held back, the economy with few resources, invested in people.

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One of Russia’s most beautiful spots and a major stop on the Trans Siberian, this is the world’s oldest lake and actually the largest body of freshwater in the world. Not due to its footprint (where other lakes are multiple times in size) but depth, at over a mile down. It holds nearly a whopping quarter of the world’s freshwater, and have the only freshwater seal species, more famed for the fact they look like fat cigars /fuzzy zeppelins zipping about.

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Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.

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The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet NZ was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.

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Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.

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WALES

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Germany.

Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power, and thus ferw hangups about sex, and free lovin’m.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Extra:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned above, Russia population 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Mawr:

Peru

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Japan

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Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

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Indonesia

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Chile

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FIN