The millisphere of Tasmania covers the watershed east and south from the Australian Alps, and includes Melbourne (4.9 million) and the island of Tasmania (half-a-million).

When we visited Tasmania again in October 2001 air travel had changed dramatically. Osama bin Laden had just leveled the “twin towers” in New York  and the New Zealand army manned the Auckland airport and the Australian army was there to meet the plane in Melbourne. Australia, New Zealand and the United States are technically in the Cold War ANZUS defense alliance, although in the 1980s New Zealand was “partially suspended” because of its “nuclear free” position.

“No worries mate, this building is owned by the Kuwait royal family,” joked the Lebanese lift operator as I ascend the Melbourne’s Rialto Tower – the tallest building in the southern hemisphere – so I could draw a picture from the top.

We explored Victoria, including  a pilgrimage stop at the Holden Museum in Echuca. At Ballarat we found the site of the Eureka Stockade, now a carpark waiting development, where in 1854, gold miners rebelled against the colonial authority of the United Kingdom and swore allegiance to the Southern Cross.

Victorian “bush larrikin” and son of a transported convict, Ned Kelly, appropriately born also in 1854, took on the system, denouncing the police, state government, and the British Empire. Ned was still in his twenties when he was captured in Glenrowan and hung in Melbourne in 1880.

We checked out Ned Kelly’s old stamping ground before pointing the Holden east into the Australian alps. In 1890, a decade after Ned’s hanging, Banjo Paterson set his narrative poem, The Man from Snowy River in the Australian Alps. “But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head … and he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed” celebrates the bush larrikin.

In New Zealand we drive around mountains, in Australia they drive over them. It is a country of “low relief” and we dropped south into Gippsland and back to Melbourne and checked out their art scene. At a contemporary art gallery an installation featured a Holden hearse painted in Aboriginal colours, commenting, I think, on genocide. Modernist painter, Sidney Nolan, portrayed another view of the Ned Kelly mythology and a Melbourne larrikin, Barry Humphries, gave the world “Dame Edna Everage”.

Commenting on the #metoo movement that had drifted across the millisphere of Te Moananui, from Los Angeles, feminist writer, public intellectual and good Catholic girl from Melbourne, Germaine Greer, said “if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll get you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that it is tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about it”.  You don’t necessarily need to be man to be a larrikin!

Internet larrikin, Julian Assange, studied programming, maths and physics at Melbourne University before helping set up WikiLeaks in 2006. Like a modern-day Ned Kelly Assange attacked the “Nation of Darkness” (the United States), publishing sensitive classified information, but as young Ned discovered there are consequences. “The internet, our greatest tool for emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism.” said Assange.

The last time we passed through Melbourne we were flying home from Bali.  We had just a spent a month in Java which coincided with the month of Ramadan and Indonesia was even more alcohol-free than usual.

“Jeez we had fun, got peesed evree noight” said an Aussie tourist with a beer gut in a singlet at the Denpasar terminal. Transiting through Melbourne, we were met by a young woman with a tray of glasses marketing free shots of a new RTD (ready to drink alcohol), but cigarette smoking had been banned in the entire terminal. In Indonesia they did it the other way around, no one drank in public and everyone smoked wherever they liked.

Anglos united against the rest: New Zealand, Australia, The United States, The United Kingdom and Canada are in “The Five Eyes,” strategic information sharing alliance. Going back to the Second World War, the Five Eyes countries also standardise their military equipment and generally fight together.

American NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden described the Five Eyes as a “supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the known laws of its own countries.”



The watershed flowing west into the Murray/Darling river system, which is often dry when it discharges into the Great Australian Bight near Adelaide (population 1.3 million) and the rest of Australia all the way to Perth (population 2 million) on the west coast, are needed to form the millisphere of OZ.

In 1997, I first saw OZ looking west from the Blue Mountains, a days train ride from Sydney. Another day on a bus heading inland and we were still just on the edge of OZ. Scrubby plains curved off over the horizon.

At Bathurst, “the objective and terminal point of the only inland journey made by Charles Darwin in Australia in January 1836”, I sketched Eucalyptus leaves and seeds used as a motif on a cast iron verandah pole at the railway station, now servicing mainly buses.

Bathurst is where Sydney artist Brett Whiteley’s was sent to boarding school but it’s better known for its race track, where the annual Holden/Ford high performance production car race was held (the Australian Holden finished production in 2017). A Bathurst farmer was going to drive to Sydney; when asked which route he was going to take, replied “I think I’ll take the wife”. That was an Aussie joke! After Sydney, Bathurst had noticeably fewer “immigrants,” meaning the non-British stock who had come after Australia’s “whites only” immigration policy ended in 1973.

On the bus, before changing at Cootamundra for Canberra, we passed through Gundagai, immortalised in one of Banjo Paterson’s poems. “Branching off there runs a track, across the foothills grim and black, across the plains and ranges grey to Sydney City far away. … The tracks are clear she made reply, this goes down to Sydney Town and that one goes to Gundagai.” Following a beautiful woman to Sydney in Paterson’s poem is a metaphor for the attraction of the big city. The Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas combined have around a half of all Australia’s population.

“Though I’ve covered many roads in my lifetime, I just can’t wait to see what the next road will bring,” sang Slim Dusty, evoking long distance rides and wanderlust. With Slim on the CD of the hired silver Holden Commodore we headed to the Murray River, flowing sluggishly flowing through OZ.

Dusty merino sheep grazed dry paddocks. When we found the river we made our way through dry gum forest, bare underneath apart from a carpet of gum bark. We kept an eye out for snakes. Compared with lush New Zealand it seemed very dry.

Australia was in the lead up to “the big dry”, the 1996-2010 “millennium drought” caused by lower rainfall and higher temperatures. The ecology of the Murray/Darling river basin (population 2 million), which drains one seventh of Australia’s land mass, was, by all accounts, already in poor health.

In 1938 Aborigine William Cooper petitioned the Nazi German embassy in Melbourne against the Kristallnacht and the treatment of Jews in Germany; his people knew about genocide. When the British set up the first penal colonies on the coast there were around one million aboriginals in Australia a century later it had dropped by 80% to 200,000 (It’s now 400,000).

In pre-British times the Murray/Darling wetlands were a huge source of food for Aborigines. Historically the white man (and woman) pushed the Australian Aborigine off the best land and into the desert.

There are still Aborigine communities in the Murray/Darling and their needs are listed as a matter of course in management plans aimed at bringing the rivers and wetlands back to health.

There has been much resistance from irrigators against any move to return “environmental water” to the river, but it is generally accepted that since the 1970s, when increasing amounts of water was taken for irrigation, the river has ceased to flow more often and for longer periods. The reality is that at the river mouth has to continuously dredged because the river flow is not great enough to discharge the sand into the sea.

One problem is the rivers flow through four states, a problem that the establishment of the Murray/Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) was meant to overcome, and periodically states threaten to leave  the MDBA.

“A four billion dollar (Australian) waste of taxpayer money,” is one assessment of the MDBA’s work so far.


Gold Coast

In 1997, before I’d invented the millisphere model for unpacking human geography, I’d traveled to the millisphere of “Gold Coast” (the eastern watershed of Australia north of  Canberra). Technically The Gold Coast (GC) is the tourist strip of beach-side apartments, malls and theme parks south of Brisbane and north of Sydney but I get to name millispheres and sunshine and beaches seemed an appropriate image.

The first view from a passenger jet records Australia as a brown line on the horizon; and blue cross hatching the Tasman Sea below. I remember feelings of anticipation and excitement. Australia and New Zealand have a shared history; the ANZACs fought together for the British Empire a century ago. Brothers-in-arms in the 20th century we are now like distant cousins, drifting apart since 2001.

The statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park has him “born at Marton Yorkshire 1728”. The small town next door to where we live in New Zealand is also named after Cook’s hometown. In Hyde Park, Cook stands next to an Australian Araucaria conifer, a Bunya Bunya pine; an Australian ibis, like a grubby white fowl with a long beak, searched for picnic leftovers at his feet. In 1770 Cook called terra australis “New South Wales”, nullifying the Dutch “New Holland”, and claimed it for the British Crown.

Across the busy street is the museum where I met my first Aborigine. He’d come thousands of miles from the Kimberley Ranges to meet with government officials, he said, but he knew about the “Pakaitore occupation” in Whanganui, my hometown, where local Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, in 1995, had occupied a park to draw attention to their land claim. I realised both that I was a foreigner in his land and that race relations were different on the other side of the Tasman.

A pencil sketch records the curves of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House with my travel companion in the foreground sunbathing. She is the better artist and the one who wanted to go to “Aussie”. There is a photo of us, two decades younger, outside Brett Whiteley’s Studio. Next to a sign which reads “Endlessnessism!”, we are standing by two three-metre matches – one  burnt out. Whiteley (1939-93) had died of a heroin overdose.

At his studio the late painter described a Zen landscape painting technique he used (via video); to sit and meditate for several hours on a view and then to move inside and paint it. At Toowoomba, in the Blue Mountains, I decided to give it a go. On the plateau edge I watched the red sun set over OZ to the west; slowly my eyes became accustomed to the dark and I could make out, dimly in the distance, here and there, bushfires. In the dark, in the bushes nearby, something started rustling and I thought of snakes.

The trip to Aussie in 1997 seemed like a luxury at the time. All that hard earned money spent on just going to have a look at another country, on being a tourist.

When writing up a millisphere I like to have been there or at least talk with someone who has. Arrogant as it is summarize seven million people’ s lives, and what it is like where the live, the project of mapping the millispheres is part selective fact, part subjective impressions.

In Gold Coast I was a foreigner in a country bigger than my own; where my New Zealand accent was considered cute; where there is a city that was bigger and wealthier than any I’d seen before.

Another sketchbook recorded a quick stopover in Brisbane on the way to Saigon. Flying over Australia on the way Asia you see how vast and dry it is.

One impression which stands out from my first visit to Gold Coast is a glimpse of the Sydney suburb of Redfern from a train heading for the Blue Mountains. Suddenly I was looking at an Aboriginal suburb looting like small patch of the third world in first world Sydney. Another impression was of a group of drunk Aboriginal men and women, in middle of a sunny day, in a mall in Brisbane, oblivious to needs of the capitalist city – soon the police arrived.

Australia (as millispheres)

OZ, Gold Coast and Tasmania

Millisphere, abstract noun. A region inhabited by roughly one thousandth of the world population, around seven million people. A lens to examine human geography.

Australia (2018 population 25 million) can be neatly divided into three millispheres: Gold Coast, Tasmania and OZ. Most of Australia’s population hugs the east coast, as do the Great Dividing Range and the Australian Alps. Designed from scratch and sited near the watershed the capital, Canberra, by some conceptual fluke, sits where Australia’s three millispheres meet.

Gold Coast, to the north, includes Sydney (5.1 million) and Brisbane (2.4 million) and the short rivers flowing east towards the Pacific. Tasmania, to the south, includes Melbourne (4.9 million) and the island of Tasmania (half-a-million) and the watershed east and south from the Australian Alps. The watershed flowing west into the Murray/Darling river system, which is often dry when it discharges into the Great Australian Bight near Adelaide (population 1.3 million) and the rest of Australia all the way to Perth (population 2 million) on the west coast, are needed to form the third millisphere, OZ.

Australia is the world’s 13th largest economy, with the 10th highest per capita income and it attracts New Zealand economic emigrants. By New Zealand standards Australians are a stay-at-home lot. One million Aussies (4%) live outside Australia while around one million Kiwis (20%) live outside New Zealand – half of those live in Australia. Of the NZ population moving to Australia, NZ Maori have proved more inclined to emigrate than their Pakeha (European) fellow citizens. Over the past two years Australia has forcibly deported one thousand New Zealanders (many of them Maori) following the automatic cancellation of their visas if convicted of an offence that could incur more than 12 months in prison.

Australia has made a point of turning away Iraqi, Afghan and other asylum seekers arriving by boat from populous Muslim Indonesia to the north. The 2002 Bali nightclub bombing which killed 94 Australian tourists and the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta confirmed Australian paranoia. Australia’s “Pacific solution” has been to detain asylum seekers in camps in Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru and to try and convince them to go home or somewhere else.

“Why don’t they take the Afghan boat people?” someone in Europe asked me after the “Tampa” incident, “they are used to living in a desert.” The reality is that the Australian interior is so dry as to be virtually uninhabitable and around the coast there is barely enough water for the people already there. Australia has recently cancelled its A$10 million funding to the United Nations for the Palestinians, following Donald Trump’s lead.

Australia has just experienced the “millenium drought”, the worst drought since European settlement and municipal water supplies were drying up. Irrigation was identified as the main culprit for the ecological catastrophe inflicting the Murray/Darling river system. In 2008 the government established the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), attempting to mediate inter-state water rivalries and manage the river in an integrated sustainable manner.

Australia is the world’s fourth highest wine exporting country, much of it from the MDBA (population two million). One third of Australia’s agricultural production comes from the MDBA, but getting squatters to give up their irrigation water for the ecological health of the river is a very big ask, particularly the cotton growers of Queensland and New South Wales.

During the “big dry” the coastal cities all initiated expensive desalination schemes. Sydney’s cost A$1.8 billion, Melbourne opened one in 2011 at the cost of A$3.1 billion. Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide all fired up smaller pilot plants to drought-proof their cities.

Down under the red-brown landscape of the virtually uninhabitable interior are Australia’s mines. “The lucky  country” is the world’s largest coal exporter, it is one of the world’s biggest uranium exporters, and it will soon be the world’s largest gas explorer. Australia also has the world’s highest power prices and some of the highest carbon emission rates. Australia with 0.3% of the global population produces 1.3% of total global emissions.

By signing the Paris accord Australia has committed to reducing its own CO2 emissions. Australia’s environmental movement is largely an urban phenomenon but ironically Australia’s economy, and its cities, are underpinned by mining. Australia introduced a carbon tax in 2012, but scrapped it in 2014.




The millisphere of Uyghurstan is in China’s far western “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous  Region” (XUAR) which can best be visualised as three millispheres: The city of Urumqi (3.5 million), the Dzungarian Basin to the north of the Tien Shan mountain range and Uyghurstan in the Tarim Basin, south of Tien Shan.

Uyghurstan borders India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and sits on the historic Silk Road and China’s millennial One Belt – One Road infrastructure initiative. Because XUAR has one fifth of China’s coal, oil and natural gas reserves, and because the East/West pipeline from Central Asia passes through on its way to Shanghai, Uyghurstan is a very sensitive strategic zone for the People’s Republic of China.

In 1964 XUAR had a population  of seven million, twenty years later it had doubled to 14 million and in 2016 it stood at 22 million (roughly 10 million Uighur, 8.5 million Han, 1.5 million Kazakh and 1 million Hui). Much of this population growth came from Han Chinese immigration.

Mao Tse Tung’s brother, Mao Zemin, was executed by a local Han warlord when “East Turkestan” was invaded by the PLA in 1949. At the time three-quarters of the population were Uighur, now they are a minority and treated as such by the Han invaders. In 2018 somewhere between half and one million Uyghurs are, or have been, detained in “political education camps”

China fears an East Turkestan independence movement fueled by religion and ethnicity. The Uighurs are Sunni Muslim and speak a Turkic language rather than the Mandarin spoken by the Han. Since 2000 there have been attacks by Uyghurs on Han in XUAR and there is a small Uyghur diaspora living in Turkey. In 2015 attacks on the Chinese embassy in Ankara and their consulate in Istanbul were attributed to Uyghurs and it is estimated that 1500 Uyghurs fought for ISIS in the Middle East.

Faced with Islamic nationalism China engaged with its Central Asian neighbours to the west, and the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) meets regularly to discuss the “three evil forces”: separatism, extremism and terrorism. Chinese “Economic diplomacy” is wielded with loans from the Chinese government funded Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In the new millennium China has been turning XUAN into one of the most surveilled places on earth and Uyghurstan into an open air prison. XUAR Communist Party Secretary, Chen Quanguo arrived in 2016 and in one year had rolled out a network of “convenience police stations” a grid-style social management system pioneered when Chen was Party Secretary in the Tibetan “Autonomous” Region from 2011 to 2016. Grid management was first trialled in Beijing in 2004 – but has its conceptional inception in Disneyland and in policing in LA, USA.

“Convenience police stations” segments urban communities into geometric zones so security staff can monitor all activities with the aid of new technologies. The system relies on big data analytics, connecting a grid of CCTV to the police database to achieve enhanced, automated surveillance. Where you go, who you talk to and what you read online is all monitored. Since 2017 all XUAR citizens are ranked (trustworthy-average-untrustworthy).

New methods of policing include collecting DNA data from the entire population and forcing all phones owners to download an app called “web cleaning soldier” which effectively monitors all phones for illegal social media use like Facebook and WhatsApp. Phones contents are regularly downloaded for monitoring at the pervasive checkpoints.

Iris scanners, facial recognition cameras and ID cards are required at petrol stations, and only the registered owner is allowed to drive a car – monitored by number plate recognition cameras.

Under the “Becoming Kin” program 1.1m (mostly Han) officials are teamed with 1.6m Uyghur families. The “adopted kin” visit or live in, teach mandarin and verify household information. Half of Uighur households have a spy/indoctrinator assigned to them.

The Fanghuiju program of “researching people’s conditions, improving people’s lives and winning people’s hearts,” includes demolition of traditional homes (for health and safety reasons) and shifting Uyghurs into “modern” apartments.

Despite the ban on fasting during Ramadan, headscarves, Islamic names and beards, the demolition of towers and crescents and some neighbourhood mosques Uyghurstan is experiencing a religious revival. The creation of a police state in Uyghurstan by the Chinese Communist Party has lead to mass human rights violations for the Uighurs, and growing resentment.

The capital of Uyghurstan, Kashgar, was until recently a living heritage gem and a legendary stop on the Silk Road. Kashgar has had its soul ripped out in the name of Chinese modernity, and is being turned into a tacky eastern Disneyland for mass Chinese tourism – controlled by a darkly dystopian police surveillance state.


The Last Column

I had proposed to write this, my last column for the Wanganui Chronicle, on the millisphere of Shikoku, the smallest, and least populous of Japan’s four major islands. An old friend had recently returned from the 88 temple pilgrimage around the island, but he got called away before I could interview him in depth, his mother was dying.

I was following a trail of populations with negative growth. In 2010 Japan’s population peaked at 128.5 million, it is now around 127 million. In 1990 Shikoku Island had a population of 4.2 million, now it is 3.9 million.

My friend said that in mountainous Shikoku, where hydrangeas grow naturally, it was common to see abandoned homes complete with furniture and ornaments, and elderly farmers, bent double, still working their vegetable gardens. I learned that “natural farmer” Mansanobu Fukuoka, the author of The One-Straw Revolution (1975), was from Shikoku.

Signing off made me reflect on what I’d learned writing columns. Generally they were about “place”, from local (Mosquito Point) to global (Donetsk). In the last two years I have managed to chronicle 66 millispheres and at this rate it will take me another thirty years to write up all one thousand – a millisphere being a discrete region inhabited by roughly one thousandth of the world population – that would make me one hundred when I publish the last one. At 700 words per millisphere that’s a 700,000 word book, almost as many as the 780,000 word King James Authorised Version of the bible.

By definition every millisphere has roughly the same number of inhabitants (now an average of around 7.8 million) but they all have quite different geographies, both physical and human. All millispheres have connections with other millispheres and change is inevitable.

Some millispheres are also states: The Central African Republic is the world’s poorest, Switzerland the wealthiest and Hong Kong has the highest average income. Israel is a millisphere but so is “Palestine” (Israel, Gaza and the West Bank combined). The millisphere is merely a lens to examine human geography and different lenses see different things. New Zealand is a millisphere, but so is “Te Moananui” (New Zealand plus all the other islands of the Pacific).

Some millisphere columns have dwelt on war and the arms industry, and the evidence points to competing empires causing most major conflicts in the world. Religion and nationalism are marshalled to give a conflict legitimacy but it’s usually about a few grabbing the money and resources. Last century’s Cold War between America and the Soviet Union is still playing itself out, for no other reason than profits and “jobs, jobs, jobs,” to quote Donald Trump. The conclusion that the world would be a better place without “the great powers” is a hard one to avoid.

Religion is a dangerous topic but also a defining component of the geography of a millisphere – along with its rocks, plants and animals. I’ve been taken to the Press Council for “gratuitous references” to Jews, and found not guilty. I try be to tolerant but seeing a Russian Orthodox Christian minister in full beard and Byzantine robes, on a Vice News video, sprinkling holy water on a Ukrainian missile launcher, makes me want to say something rude, and that goes for Muslims shouting “Allahu akbar” as they pull the trigger.

I’m not a Buddhist but I want to write up Bodhgaya in India where the Buddha had his moment of realisation. I’ve just met a dancer from Moscow and I want to write up relevant millispheres for the coming football World Cup in Russia. I’ve started researching Sonora in Mexico in preparation for the trial in New York of Chapo Guzman and I still want to do Shanghai, Kyoto, Laos, Alexandria, Mosul and the millispheres that make up the Netherlands (17 million).

Tempting as it is to travel again, my garden, friends, family and a small black-and-white dog are keeping me close to home. It will be good to take a break from writing – I’ve got a couple of building projects on – but I’ve set up a blog at millisphere.blogtown.co.nz and I will continue “mapping millispheres,” some that I’ve seen, some not.



Millisphere (abstract noun): a discrete region inhabited by roughly 1000th of the world population. A lens to examine human geography.

In 2014 Malaysia Air flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian BUK-telar missile, near the village of Hrabove, in the Ukraine (population 44 million), killing all 298 crew and passengers (including 27 Australians and one New Zealander) – beating the precious record of 290 when the USS Vincennes shot down Dubai bound Iran Air IR655 in 1988, mistaking it for a missile.

Hrabove is in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast (population 4.6 million) near the border with the Luhansk Oblast (population 2.3 million). Both oblasts (regions) are claimed by Ukrainian-Russian separatists who refer to this entire region as “the Confederation of Novorossiya” (population 6.9 million and shrinking).

I call this millishere “Donbass”, a local term for the Donets River basin. The Donets flows southeast and across the border into Russia where it joins the River Don. The Donbass is a centre for coal mining and heavy industry.

Once the breadbasket of the USSR, Ukraine has a population that is shrinking at the rate of -0.6 percent per year; the fastest decline of all countries with negative population growth rates – Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan – as measured by the sum of all births and deaths and not including emigration and immigration.

During the  Second World War, seven million of Ukraine’s eight million Jews were captured and murdered by the Nazi German occupation forces. After the war half the survivors left, mostly for Israel, where three of Israel’s Prime Ministers have been Ukrainian Jews. Roseanne Barr, Noam Chomsky, Carl Sagan, Leon Trotsky, and Simon Wiesenthal were all Ukrainian Jews or their descendants.

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 the Ukraine has engaged in a difficult, and sometimes brutal, political and economic separation from Russia. Two decades of cronyism, corruption and censorship, including the murder of journalists, followed independence as gangs fought for control of state businesses, which included arms manufacturers.

Under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the US, UK and Russia agreed to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for Ukraine giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons (the then third largest stockpile) and transferring them to Russia.

The Ukraine is roughly three-quarters ethnic Ukrainian and around 30 percent (mostly in the east) speak Russian as their first language. Pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych, who was from Donetsk and backed by Putin, was followed as President by pro-EU Viktor Yushchenko, who suffered dioxin poisoning during the Orange Revolution. Then it was Yanukovych again which led to the pro-EU Maidan Square protests, during which 100 protesters were shot by government snipers, before Yanukovych fled his ostentatious, bad taste villa in Kiev for exile in Russia.

In 2010 Ukraine was the world’s ninth largest arms exporter – one above Israel. America and Russia were first and second. Since losing Donetsk in 2014 Ukraine has slipped to eleventh, being replaced by the Netherlands in the top ten and Israel has moved up to eighth place.

Donetsk city (metropolitan area over two million) is roughly 50/50 Russian/Ukrainian. Roughly one third of the residents of Donbass identify as Russian, one third Ukrainian and one third neither, calling themselves Slav, who can be either Ukrainian or Russian. Pre-2014 seventy percent of Ukraine’s arms exports were to Russia, a market Donbass arms manufacturers still supply.

The Dutch team investigating MH17 have traced the missile launcher that fired the BUK-telar to Kursk in Russia and they want to talk to Igor Girkin who claimed on social media to have shot down a Ukrainian military aircraft above Hrabove, before taking down the post the same day, and also Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov, who commanded the launcher.

With Russian paratroopers and American Paratroopers in the country and “alcoholics, dodgers, drug addicts and morons” on both sides manning dangerously heavy arms and the Ukrainian Mafia involved with the arms industry the people of the Ukraine find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

One is reminded of the words of Bob Dylan, whose paternal grandparents were Ukrainian, “You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled. Fear to bring children into the world,” (Masters of War, 1963).


In the remote north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), near the border with the Central African Republic (CAR), is the the old Belgian Congo province of Equateur (population of 7.5 million) and in May 2018 an outbreak of the ebola virus was reported there, near the city of Mbandaka (population 1.2 million). This is the DRC’s ninth outbreak since 1976 when ebola had first been identified near the Ebola River, a tributary further up the Congo River from Mbandaka.

When the explorer Henry Stanley passed through in the nineteenth century he had a rock placed where the equator crossed the Congo, just south of Mbandaka. Known as the Stanley Stone it still stands there today. Seven kilometres east of Mbandaka are the Botanical Gardens of Eala, established by the Belgians in 1900. It once covered 370 hectares and contained 5000 Central African species, but now, neglected and unfenced, it provides charcoal for Mbandaka.

The streets of Mbandaka are dirt, most of the city has no electricity or running water and roving groups of Kulana (bandits) commit armed robbery, rape and murder. Pygmies and other tribes of “eco-refugees” have settled on the outskirts as their forest habitats disappear.

During the Zaire-Congo war (1998-2003), when over five million Congolese died, Equateur strongman Jean-Pierre Bemba assembled an army of deserters and ethnic militias and took control of the region. Using jungle airstrips Bemba traded blood diamonds for arms with dealers from Russia, Israel and New York.

Bemba’s Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) became a political party and in 2008 he challenged the DRC dictator Joseph Kabila for the presidency, coming second in an election that was probably rigged. In 2008 Bemba was arrested in Brussels and sentenced at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to 18 years for crimes against humanity – the longest sentence so far passed by the ICC and the first for sexual violence. Many Congolese in Equateur still consider Bemba their leader.

Mbandaka is the centre of the Tumba-Ngiri-Maindombe wetland (Lake Tumba is where the latest ebola outbreak started). An area of forest and permanent and seasonal lakes twice the size Belgium the wetland has great environmental and economic value but a rapidly growing population combined with a corrupt government may be contributing to its irreversible destruction. In 2009-2010 a dispute over fish ponds lead to 200,000 refugees fleeing across the Oubangi River into the Republic of Congo.

After a drought in 2016 cholera broke out in Equateur but the state has never been able to meet the region’s health needs, which includes TB, malaria and HIV. There are desperately inadequate transport links, no medicines, no salaries for qualified caregivers and medical ethics mediated by animist priests. Cholera, like the weather, is considered a cyclical event.

Since 1976 the ebola virus has emerged periodically, primarily in African countries, but cases have been reported in the US, UK, Russia, Italy and Spain. Depending on the strain the fatality rate ranges between 50 and 90 percent. In the largest outbreak, in West Africa in 2014-16, around 5000 people died in Liberia, 4000 in Sierra Leone and 3000 in Guinea.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it is thought that fruit bats are natural ebola hosts and that people can pick up the virus from infected “bushmeat”. Shaking hands and bushmeat have suddenly become unpopular in Mbandaka.

Just before the latest outbreak Donald Trump scrapped Barack Obama’s $US 250 million ebola containment fund on the grounds that Africa was not part of the US geopolitical interests – this was followed by the resignation of his global health security advisor. He has since contributed $US seven million towards fighting the latest outbreak.

A vaccine, developed by the American pharmaceutical company Merck, and trialled in West Africa in 2016, is being deployed by the WHO which is now fighting its first urban ebola outbreak.

So far about 60 ebola cases have been reported, half of whom have died. Last week 49 people drowned when a ferry heading for Mbandaka overturned.


Past millisphere columns can be accessed at millisphere.blogtown.co.nz



Millisphere (noun): a discrete region inhabited by roughly 1000th of the world population. Around seven million people but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million will do. A lens through which to observe human geography.

The tiny millisphere of Uruguay (2018 population just under 3.5 million) has a population growth rate that is tending towards zero. Because of emigration and a falling birth rate its population is remaining about the same.

Contested between Spain and Portugal, Spanish-speaking Uruguay became independent in 1828, after a gaucho uprising lead by Jose Artigas. During the military dictatorship of 1973-85 many Uruguayans moved to neighbouring Argentina, Brazil, and the United States and Spain.

At the height of the Cold War the US was involved with local military terror squads in many Central and South American countries. Democratic governments were replaced with military dictatorships and community activists, school teachers, journalists and union organisers were imprisoned or suddenly disappeared. The American ideology, at the time, portrayed it as a battle for world domination between the West, capitalism and religion on one side and the East, communism and atheism on the other.

During 1962-63 American journalist Hunter S Thompson travelled through South America and his pieces sent back to the National Observer provide some of the few criticisms of the cold-blooded American geo-political arrogance to be published in the US at the time. In retrospect Thompson was right.

In the 1960s the Tupamaros were actively opposing the military and police in Uruguay, and their actions included the assassination of an American FBI agent whom they accused of advising the Uruguayan police on torture.

One of the Tupamaro leadership, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, was imprisoned for 13 years in squalid conditions during the 1970s and 80s before being elected Uruguay’s 40th president from 2010 to 2015.

Known as “the Switzerland of the Americas,” Uruguay now rates first in South America for democracy and peace. Uruguay provides more troops per head of population to United Nations peacekeeping operations than any other country and it is rated first in South America for press freedom and the absence of terrorism.

Uruguay is a prosperous country by South American standards and has a sizeable middle class. Ninety-five percent of Uruguay’s electricity is generated from renewables (hydro and wind) and, like NZ, they have a lot of dairy cows – and dirty streams. Uruguay has a well developed education system with free access to university and liike New Zealand some graduates find their country too small to achieve their goals and emigrate.

Uruguay is noted for its historic separation of church and state and is roughly 60 percent Christian with 40 percent having “no religion” – Christmas is officially known as “family day” and Easter “tourism week.”

The Economist in 2013 named Uruguay its “country of the year” because of its liberal attitude towards same-sex marriage, abortion and cannabis legalisation.

Under the Mujica government it became legal to grow six plants and produce up to 17 ounces of cannabis per year, and they made it legal for pharmacies to sell up 1.4 oz of cannabis per month to any citizen over 18 registered as a cannabis user. Out of Uruguay’s 1,100 pharmacies only twelve have registered to sell cannabis and initially there were complaints about the low THC content of the state supplied weed. Traditionally being a cohort that doesn’t trust the state, Uruguay’s pot smokers have proved reluctant to register as cannabis users and the underground market continues, as do the illegal sales to foreign drug tourists.

One unexpected outcome of Uruguay’s cannabis law reform was that their banks started getting letters from American banks, including the Bank of America, demanding that they close down the account of anyone involved in the sale of marijuana. It transpired that the US “Patriot Act”, passed shortly after September 11th, 2001, made it illegal for any American financial institution to have anything to do with any other institution dealing in controlled substances, including marijuana.

It is estimated that more than one hundred billion US dollars of illegal drugs are consumed in America every year and yet American banks can  dictate to Uruguay about their enlightened drug policy – a policy Uruguay has ostensibly designed to get drug traffickers out of the market!



Millisphere (noun): a discrete region inhabited by roughly 1000th of the world population. Around seven million but anywhere between 3.5 and 14 million will do.

On April 7th, 2018, Luis ‘Lula’ da Silva, President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011, started serving a nine-and-a-half year sentence for corruption at a prison in Curitiba in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil.

Brazil (population 210 million) has around 30 millispheres and the three southernmost – the states of Rio Grande do Sul (11.3 million), Santa Catarina (6.7 million) and Paraná (11.8 million) are currently experiencing calls for independence. The movement, called The South Is My Country, has its headquarters in Curitiba.

The three “South Is My Country” states have low crime rates by Brazilian standards and they only see about 60 percent of their taxes which, they say, go to a corrupt central government in Brasilia and to subsidise the populous cities and the poorer states to their north. Brazil’s south (south of the Tropic of Capricorn) is the country’s main agricultural region.

Curitiba (population 1.7 million) sits on a plateau that drains west into the Paraná river which flows south through Paraguay and into the River Plate near Buenos Aires. The city of Curitiba is known for its innovative approach to achieving environmentally sustainable outcomes. “If you want creativity take a zero off your budget, if you want sustainability take off two zeros,” said Jaime Lerner who was the mayor of Curitiba three times before becoming the governor of the state of Paraná.

Under Lerner, Paraná industrialised and Curitiba became known globally as a model green community. Lerner transformed areas of the city subject to flooding into extensive urban parks, maintained by flocks of sheep. He paid slum residents with vegetables, tickets to football games or transport tokens to bring their sorted rubbish out to waiting trucks which couldn’t access the narrow streets. Curitiba now has one of the world’s highest recycling rates.

Curitiba’s transport system uses special Volvo articulated buses, in dedicated bus lanes, which can carry 270 passengers and no one lives more than fifteen minutes walk from a transit line and no new development is approved unless in that zone. “A car is like a mother-in-law; if you let it it will rule your life,” joked Lerner.

In 2010 Curitiba was given the United Nations Global Sustainable City award and Time magazine named Lerner one of the world’s ten most influential thinkers.

In the same issue Time named Brazil’s president Lula one of the 100 most influential people in the world and also in 2010 Lula was given the Global Statesman award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Lula da Silva’s career started in 1979 with a strike of 180,000 metal workers in Sao Paulo when he headed their union. The strike ended peacefully and soon the strikers were negotiating the release of political prisoners and the end of the ban on left wing organisations.

After the end of the military dictatorship in 1989 Brazil had their first presidential elections and in 2002, on his fourth attempt, Lula won the presidency and in 2006 won a second term, before stepping aside for his deputy Dilma Rousseff. Under Lula, Brazil became the world’s eighth largest economy; the number of Brazilians living in poverty was reduced by 55 percent the minimum wage increased by 75 percent; real wages rose by 35 percent; unemployment rates hit record lows; and Brazil’s infamous structural inequality was finally narrowing.

In 2011 Jaime Lerner was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for “the illegal layoff on a public tender while the governor of Paranas,” but he wasn’t arrested because of his age (and his popularity). In 2016 Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office, and in 2017 Lula da Silva was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years for “influence peddling and corruption.”

Instead of the summary executions used back in the 1960s and 70s Brazil’s “old  family” oligarchy is using “lawfare” to wrest control back from the left.

Legal proceedings against Lula (currently the front-runner in opinion polls) are designed to stop to him running for president again. Brazil’s democracy is now the weakest it has been since military rule ended.