My friend Rob has dug up some old cassettes, yes, tapes, from the mid-1990s when we all made electronic music using a variety of now arcane-seeming tools. My weapon of choice was “FastTracker II”, a software sequencer used primarily by amateur techno and hardcore producers at the time. It only required a PC running MS-DOS and a reasonable sound card. They were quite simple to use, but required some manual tricks and hacks to push their boundaries and sound effects. It seemed like an eternity before digital audio workstations became available to everyone. (Here is a great summary of the technology and the now-distant culture surrounding it.)
I am a development finance professional and urban economic historian based in Sydney. Below find scribbles from my inchoate explorations in space and time.
Browsing through the deep archives of the web, I rediscovered some of my own writings from many years ago. One of the posts on my old weblog in particular caught me eye. It’s 17 years old, and about the concept of “Eurasianism”, one of Putin’s ideological foundations in his dangerously hodge-podge worldview.
I’m not going to comment on this from today’s point of view and whether or not it (still) is as relevant as some people make it out to be. But still, I couldn’t resist posting this. I wrote this entry in response to a former blogging buddy visiting a SAIS seminar featuring Aleksandr Dugin (!). I wish my analysis had turned out right, but my youthful self seems to have been engaged in some wishful thinking. Continue reading
Two new research notes produced for my day job; and as a chronicle of such output, herewith the two abstracts:
Sri Lanka update and central debt scenario
A protracted economic crisis has dramatically worsened debt dynamics: A high initial debt burden—of which a significant portion is external debt—is combined with a challenging short-term repayment schedule. At the same time the country is running out of FX reserves as tourism receipts have dwindled and incoming official remittances decreased. Sri Lanka is on the brink of being unable to pay for its obligations and will—with a very high likelihood—require a restructuring of its external debt.
What Happens to Trade Finance in a Sovereign Default?
Trade credit underwritten or extended by export credit agencies (ECAs) offers a promising analytical angle to study the relationship between sovereign credit events and trade finance. ECA credit blurs the lines between commercial and official trade credit and is of outsize importance to developing countries. Although trade finance was thought of as peripheral to the debt restructuring process, we find it to be a central component when seen from the sovereign angle. Local banks could also be directly impacted by a sovereign default depending on their involvement in these ECA transactions.
Following my post from a few weeks ago on the Robson Reports, I am happy that the paper presentation at the AAS Annual Conference this weekend went well. Having brainstormed here before was a tremendous help in putting together a 5,000 rough paper draft, which will hopefully be ready for submission in a few weeks’ time.
Let’s see how the current abstract will have to change until the paper is completed:
Two reports on the TMG, written by British public administration professor William A. Robson in 1967 and 1969, are critically evaluated under the prism of the policy transfer and lesson-drawing literature. Robson’s writings are a concise analysis on the state of the Japanese capital during its high-speed growth spurt and at the onset of the Socialist Minobe administration. Their conception and policy recommendations need to be read in the context of their times and faced limits familiar to the discourse today. However, they serve as a useful historical case study for the inter-urban consultancy discourse, and more importantly, as a yardstick to evaluate Tokyo’s evolution since. They also help to extract lessons from Tokyo’s experience for other (mega-) cities today, as well as for the general urban policy transfer literature.
My daytime job sees me analyze economies and financial institutions in the Asia Pacific region for the Asian Development Bank. In trying to keep things separate and focus on my academic persona here, I have usually not written much about this on the blog.
I am currently writing a paper which I will present at this year’s Association of Asian Studies conference (virtually, alas, and not in person in Hawai’i). It is about two consultancy reports that Professor William A. Robson wrote about Tokyo in the late 1960s. I am still thinking about what exactly I will cover and what argument I’ll make, so a few scribbles below the break might help me focus.
Robson (center) with the Greater London Group in 1968
“Reality out-crazied us by 10 to 15%”, says Adam McKay about the script of Don’t Look Up, which I watched on New Year’s Day to ring in 2022 in style. I am totally with Catherine Bennett and her thoughtful review of the reviews of the film.
While cinematographically a bit of a mess like most of McKay’s films, I was left breathless — also because I had to think of Peter Kalmus’s opinion headline while watching the film (he says it’s the perfect allegory to climate change inaction).
Condescension, unbelievable characters, etc. – all these attacks ring rather hollow amid the real mess that we find ourselves in these last couple of years. Craig Mod’s thoughts on the film also reverberated, did Branko Marcetic’s review on Jacobin.
I have never cared much for science fiction except for a soft spot for all things Star Trek since I am a teenager. Having said that, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson was one of the best, if not the best book, I read in 2021.
The novel on –yet another!– UN organization (this one set up to fight global heating) must have been a very difficult one to write. Its plot does not extend far beyond the present and tackles current affairs head-on, slippery slope for science fiction I believe. It makes the bureaucratic/scientific fight against climate change accessible though, and against the odds, leaves a hopeful aftertaste.
I’ve started Saad Hossain’s Cyber Mage, a more out-there novel based in 2089 Dhaka. Extreme population density has become a lifesaver, for nanotechnology has enabled biologically-transformed people to create temperate zones of survival on a very hostile planet. A wild ride so far and I look forward to exploring more of this new world of science fiction once through with this.
The reason I wanted to jot these observations down: My former employer Shell is / was one of the pioneers of creating long-term scenarios and using them as an input to their operations. I came across that team’s work while in the asset management arm of the company. (The irony of global heating and Shell is not lost on me.)
I read that Dr. Cho Khong, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, has now left Shell for a Fellowship at Oxford’s Said Business School. He had been around for a long time establishing political analysis as a cornerstone of the scenario work at the oil major.
The last couple of years have made long-term thinking harder no doubt. The scenario folks will respond that their work has become ever more important as a result. I agree to an extent, especially if that work is done properly.
It is certainly helpful to expose the methodology to the rigor of peer review and other academic due diligence – as too much of the global scenario industry lives within the limitations of Powerpoint slides and short corporate attention spans. Or in “The World in 2022” predictions littering the papers at this time of the year.
Science fiction writing seems at least as, if not more, elegant to conceptualize the future. The creators tend to be more creative. And because reality will out-crazy us anyway, why not go out on a limp even more to delineate the possible margins of our future? We might find out that our imagination has looked tame in comparison to the realities we will one day wake up to.
When I prepared the slides for the OAG talk I gave in June this year, I figured I might as well use the momentum to write them up for the monthly bulletin of the organization. It was a great experience penning that long a piece in my native German. And thanks to the editors, it has even become readable. So to all those readers out there who prefer reading auf Deutsch, here’s your last excuse gone not to acquaint yourself with the years of my blissful library solitude in Tokyo.
For the lack of better photography, but in need of some color on this page, this tree from Bangkok photographed during a nightly stroll
I am trying to put together a comparative paper on slums in Mumbai and Bangkok, which draws some inspiration from my work on Tokyo. It is basically about comparing the spatial distribution of slum populations across the cities. Some thoughts following the jump. Continue reading
This blog has been a true companion for much of the last decade, but it has been strangely difficult to express myself here during the last 24 months or so, two of the most difficult and eventful years.
For me COVID-19 coincided with major personal upheavals, or should I say caused one another. All this has made regularly updating this blog, beyond the usual professional tidbits, a lot harder. (Lack of) time was only one factor.
There used to be a more innocent time in which I posted travelogues here, anecdotes from around the world, as well as other reflections. My mind is brimming with these as usual, but putting them down to paper has just proven one effort too much lately.
This has created a personal precedent – for the first time in all these years, I have left little in the way of digital memory, something which I had grown so accustomed to — think of it as the annual scrolling through the year’s travails and finding pride and direction in it. Blogs are vanity projects after all.
This was brought home to me to today when my wife needed a stock photo from Myanmar for her work, and we easily found one on the archives here, taken on a trip we took a long time back.
So this blog really has really become a record of my (and her!) life. Why has this crazy recent period got such little airtime but will, in hindsight, prove so transformative? is a question I don’t want to leave unanswered.
A series of changes to my life (one of the major ones being that we are moving to Australia this December!) will allow me to “close” the preceding chapter, with some personal blog posts about to be written. That’s before I find a new professional focus, be it a new book project or whatever will keep me occupied down under.