Monthly Archives: March 2009

Power outage

Note: 6.45pm is when the lights came back on in Surry Hills.

There have been power blackouts across central Sydney and the city’s east.

Energy Australia says it is investigating the problem, but says that the power supply to two major substations cut out.

"Our crews are finding what caused them to switch off, and when they do they can re-route the supply and get power back to everybody," said spokeswoman Kylie Yates.

She says around 70,000 homes and business have been affected.

The power cuts began about 4:45pm AEDT.

Energy Australia says it does not know when power will be restored.

The Roads and Traffic Authority’s spokesman Alec Brown says power failure is causing major disruption on the roads.

"There are up to 100 sets of traffic lights affected by the current outage," he said.

The Fire Brigade says dozens of people stranded in lifts have had to be rescued.

The Sydney Opera House has announced that it is cancelling all performances tonight, while CityRail says its trains have not been affected because they are serviced by a different power supply. – ABC.

A kind of involuntary Earth Hour or two…

Update 31 March

See Sydney’s terrorism warnings fail in blackout.

The New South Wales Government has admitted central Sydney’s counter-terrorism emergency warning system has no battery backup, after questions about why it was not activated during yesterday’s massive blackout in the CBD and the city’s east.

The Government has publicly apologised for the two-hour power failure, which blacked out about 70,000 homes and businesses and knocked out 140 sets of traffic lights from 4:30pm (AEDT).

Major roads, including the Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Distributor, were closed and dozens of people had to be rescued from 34 lifts.

Back-up generators at St Vincent’s Hospital also failed but it says critical patient care was not compromised…

This morning, NSW Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan was forced to concede that the emergency warning system would not have worked anyway.

"There is no battery backup for the system. When the system was designed, it was felt that wasn’t necessary," he said. "They did a risk analysis of when and how this would be used and it was felt at the time that battery backup was not required…”

The blackout has also raised new questions about the state’s power infrastructure.

A major electricity cable has been pinpointed as the source of the power failure. Energy Australia says it could take several months to restore supply from the cable but extra power has been allocated to the CBD in the meantime.

Spokeswoman Kylie Yates says Energy Australia’s fail-safe system automatically shut down the three other major cables when the first one failed. She says it even triggered the backup supply to shut down in order to limit any further damage.

"It’s highly unusual that our backup supply would also be triggered but we needed to be extra cautious and extra prudent and only restore that backup once we were fully certain that it was safe to do so," she said…

Comments Off on Power outage

Posted by on March 30, 2009 in Australia, local, Surry Hills


A rather odd argument?

I remember without much pleasure the Paul Sheehan of a decade or so ago when I thought of him as “the thinking person’s Pauline Hanson”. What he had to say then about people like M was distinctly warped and unhelpful. In recent times he has addressed himself rather often to the topic of Muslims. You may go back two years to see what I had to say about him then: Paul Sheehan again. (There’s a bit of a connection also – tangentially – to Jim Belshaw’s recent post Saturday Morning Musings – Muslim prayer rooms and the importance of checking one’s facts.)

Today Sheehan argues that Islamophobia is a fabrication.

I’ve been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."

What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.

I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect…

This is suspiciously like “some of my best friends are Jewish” particularly when it is followed by a litany of bad news stories about Aussie thugs and crims of a generally Middle Eastern or Muslim background, the cumulative effect of which must be distrust of such groups as a whole, despite his opening disclaimer.

I would agree that terms like “Islamophobe” and “racist” are sometimes tossed around thoughtlessly, but that does not prove in any way that there isn’t a strong irrational or visceral component in the reactions of some people which can fairly be termed a phobia. Nor, when you think about it, does Sheehan pursue cause and effect very far. Cause seems to end on the Islamic or Middle Eastern side of the equation every time. Strange, that.

I am of course not denying there is a problem; neither, I would suggest, do thoughtful Muslim Australians.

Update 31 March

Irfan Yusuf has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Muslims not a monolith. It appears it is coincidental, as he addresses Rev Fred Nile’s and Andrew Bolt’s unhelpful interventions rather than Paul Sheehan’s, but the cap fits.

…On the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday, columnist Andrew Bolt spoke of "a rejectionist strand" that made Muslim immigration experience different to the experiences of Greek and Italian migrants. Again, the underlying assumptions are based on ignorance. To speak of a recent singular wave of Muslim migration is to engage in historical revisionism. Virtually all waves of migration incorporated an element of Muslims, including Europeans from Albania and the former Yugoslavia .

Some Muslims came as refugees, others as skilled or business migrants. Some have hardly been out of an immigration detention centre for a few years. Others are descended from Afghan cameleers who married indigenous women in the 19th century.

Yet, for some reason, Australian Muslims are treated as some kind of monolith. We hear pundits and self-serving religious leaders speak of a mythical entity called the "Muslim community". The idea that Muslims define themselves primarily by their religion sounds ridiculous when one considers that membership of the Lebanese Moslems Association is limited to adult males eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet what happens at this Lakemba mosque is somehow a reflection of 300,000-odd Australians who feel inclined to tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms.

Are such prejudices widespread? Could they lead to violence? It’s hard to say, though some comments published on popular blogs are not promising. Bolt’s blog carries comments calling for a "Carthaginian solution" to be adopted against Muslim countries. One comment this month ended with: "Drop the bomb, kill them all." Another spoke of "a number or an above average percentage in the Lebanese/Arab/Muslim of south-west Sydney who are short-tempered, relatively thick, criminal, and fundamentally violent".

And it took a complaint from an executive member of a Muslim religious body before this remark was removed: "Bombing them, back to the stone age where their politico-religious philosophy belongs, would indeed be the only thing they understand … Islam has no such thing as a peace treaty … You don’t negotiate with that, you shoot it."…


Sunday is music day 11: Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings

With very nice images.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 29, 2009 in music, Sunday music, USA


Sunday Floating Life photo 11

019march 007

Just a Surry Hills scene

Comments Off on Sunday Floating Life photo 11

Posted by on March 29, 2009 in Sunday photo, Surry Hills


I too was offered a free trip to China…

… and M was once thought to be a Chinese spy.

Back in 1990 when I first met M, then very recently arrived in Australia, I was living in Paddington at PK’s place – and a nice place it was too. The first morning M appeared at breakfast PK was quite nonplussed – being of Lithuanian background he had fairly strong Cold War views in some respects, though not in others. He did indeed suggest soon after that M may be a Chinese spy. He later changed his mind and may even deny the story today. 😉

No doubt among the very large influx of Chinese students at that post-Tiananmen time there would have been some spies, mostly there to monitor the other students. Chinese were used to being monitored. M solved the problem back home in China by joining the neighbourhood spooks – hiding in plain sight, you could say. The neighbourhood committee of spooks also had a benign role; as well as reporting suspicious activity they were agents too of social welfare. M claimed he was particularly lax on the reporting side, especially given his own association with quite a few westerners.

My students at the language college I then worked in more or less assumed someone could be a spy, or “a boss” as they tended to say, and sussed one another out before they started opening up about certain topics.

About a decade later I was offered a free trip to Shanghai by the parents of one of my SBHS students – and not to influence me, as it was offered after the exams. As M said, they were just being Chinese and were grateful I had helped their son. I found a face-saving way of refusing the gift.

Where I tutor in Chinatown there is a prominent display on the wall of photos of the principals in the company with leading pollies, including Mr Ruddock. This is part of the Chinese way of business – establishing your connections or guanxi.*

“Guanxi” literally means "relationships", stands for any type of relationship. In the Chinese business world, however, it is also understood as the network of relationships among various parties that cooperate together and support one another. The Chinese businessmen mentality is very much one of "You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." In essence, this boils down to exchanging favors, which are expected to be done regularly and voluntarily. Therefore, it is an important concept to understand if one is to function effectively in Chinese society.

The importance of "Guanxi"

Regardless of business experiences in ones home country, in China it is the right "Guanxi" that makes all the difference in ensuring that business will be successful. By getting the right "Guanxi", the organization minimizes the risks, frustrations, and disappointments when doing business in China. Often it is acquiring the right "Guanxi" with the relevant authorities that will determine the competitive standing of an organization in the long run in China. And moreover, the inevitable risks, barriers, and set-ups you’ll encounter in China will be minimized when you have the right “Guanxi” network working for you. That is why the correct "Guanxi" is so vital to any successful business strategy in China.

Although developing and nurturing the "Guanxi" in China is very demanding on time and resources, the time and money necessary to establish a strong network is well worth the investment. What your business could get in return from the favors for your partners are often more much more valuable, especially in the long run, and when you’re in need. Even domestic businesses in China establish wide networks with their suppliers, retailers, banks, and local government officials. It is very common for individuals of an organization to visit the residence of their acquaintances from other organizations, bringing gifts (such as wine, cigarettes, etc.). While this practice may seem intrusive, as you spend more time learning the Chinese culture, it will become easier to understand and take part in this practice that is so central to successful Chinese commercial activity…

We should keep this in mind as we contemplate the Joel Fitzgibbon affair and the activities of Ms Liu. Still, the narrative is very much, and not entirely wrongly, taking what I may call the PK route. See Greg Sheridan in today’s Australian.

NO nation makes a greater espionage effort directed at Australian military and commercial technology than does China.

It was because of China’s massively increased espionage activities in recent years that in 2004 the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation set up a new counter-espionage unit.

But the problems China poses for a country such as Australia in the security and espionage field extend far beyond what might be regarded as traditional espionage.

Beijing has the most unified and co-ordinated sense of national power of any big nation on Earth. Modern China is not a democracy, but it is a very effectively functioning modern state.

It has a highly competent bureaucracy that seeks to penetrate all sectors of Chinese society and serve what the ruling Communist Party regards as the broader national interest. This includes monitoring, and where possible influencing, Chinese business people and students in their activities overseas.

This is a highly elusive matter, extremely difficult to quantify.

The overwhelming majority of people of Chinese ethnic background living in Western societies such as Australia or the US have no relationship with the Chinese state.

And most of those who do have any relationship with the Chinese state have an entirely wholesome one, such as doing business with the Government or promoting cultural exchange.

But the Chinese Government seeks to use every resource it can to gain information and to exercise power. That includes, on the testimony of Chinese defectors and Western intelligence agencies, often using business people and students as agents where it can recruit them…

He isn’t entirely wrong, far from it in fact, and does at least qualify what he says; but the framing of what he says does tend towards suspicion of Fitzgibbon and Liu, and Fitzgibbon must have been especially dense not to have declared those two trips.

And of course they spy, we gather intelligence – but that is another matter.

Back in the mid 90s I had the opportunity to meet the former Minister of Culture Wang Meng who was visiting from Beijing. He was at that stage on the outer, as he had publicly refused to congratulate the troops after Tiananmen. He still had plenty of guanxi though, apparently. After all, he had been able to come to Sydney. I was interested because I had read some of his stories (in English of course) and they were rather good. M was not so interested and didn’t go, saying he simply didn’t trust anyone in a high position.

See also Australia China Connections.


* Helen Liu sure gets around.


Kind of relevant… See Strange Maps: 368 – The World As Seen From Chang’an Street.


Saturday stats 28 March

Because the end of the month is near, I am doing a shortened survey of the facts about the past seven days.

Floating Life

5,939 views so for this month. In the past seven days the top five individually viewed posts were:

  1. How good is your English? Test and Answe 65 views
  2. Australian poem 2008 series #17: "A 56
  3. Dispatches from another America 42
  4. Australian poem: 2008 series #9 — 41
  5. The Great Surry Hills Book Clearance of 39

Neil’s Modest Photo Blog

514 views so far this month. In the past seven days…:

  1. 2008 in order 6
  2. Nice sign, newish coffee place and Indon 3
  3. Small Buddhist temple 3 3
  4. Loving Surry Hills 11: colour in Riley S 3
  5. Autumn tones 3

Ninglun’s Specials

1,221 views so far this month. In the past seven days…:

  1. Sequel: Art Monthly Australia July 2008 46
  2. 10. But is it art? Responses to the Bill 25
  3. Top poems 2: John Donne (1572-1631): Sat 17
  4. Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields 16
  5. 05 — Old Blog Entries: 99-04 13

Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07

3,142 view so far this month. In the past seven days…:

  1. Friday Australian poem #17: Bruce Dawe, 139
  2. Assimilation, Integration, Multicultural 89
  3. Two Australian poems of World War II 51
  4. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in Macbeth a 37
  5. John Howard: bullying expert extraordina 34


12,651 views so far this month.

Compare that with the Floating Life series total of 10,816 by WordPress count. Sitemeter claims 11,756 views so far this month from 9,399 visits; for English/ESL Sitemeter says 12,903 from 8,804 visits. Ninglun on Journalspace has its own Sitemeter: 234 views from 171 visits so far this month.

WordPress stats of individual post visits in the past seven days:

  1. Mary Shelley, "Frankenstein" — and "Bla 396
  2. How should I write up a Science experime 284
  3. HSC English NSW Area Study Standard and 165
  4. The "Belonging" Essay 157
  5. Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s 146

The full month roundup will appear on Ninglun’s Specials.

Comments Off on Saturday stats 28 March

Posted by on March 28, 2009 in site stats


What’s new Sunday 29 March to Saturday 4 April

026march 001

Little Oxford Street Surry Hills/Darlinghurst

===> Previous week

On my other blogs


Posted by on March 28, 2009 in site news