The human antipode strikes again

The human antipode strikes again

Summary: Just because a series of words is said or written in order, doesn't mean they convey the whole truth of the situation.

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Noted movie reviewer Roger Ebert has reviewed thousands of movies, but few have had the dubious honour of being given a rating of zero stars like The Human Centipede. Despite the rating, one wonders whether the movie's desperate marketers would have seized upon a part in his review where he calls it "a thrill ride", and then used it to promote a depraved film that has become a cult classic.

Putting those words into a review, of course, makes it sound like it's actually worth seeing — although there's a different meaning if you read the entire sentence and its predecessor: "[director] Six has now made a film deliberately intended to inspire incredulity, nausea and hopefully outrage. It's being booked as a midnight movie, and is it ever. Boozy fanboys will treat it like a thrill ride."

Doesn't sound so good now, does it? This is the importance of context — and why, when one is trying to discredit the argument of a philosophical opponent with integrity, one should refrain from quoting choice bits just because a few words support one's point.


If this centipede had considered its context better, it might not have become lunch. (European roller image by Christian Svane, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sadly, out-of-context quotations have been all too common in the NBN debate. Many participants have proved willing to selectively quote facts in a seeming effort to bend the reality of communications to suit their own vision for the future.

Witness the latest from Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Malcolm Turnbull, who decided that he would do some selective quoting, grasping onto a Stephen Conroy interview in which the communications minister said that Fibre to the Node (FttN) "would be quicker and will cost less to build".

This statement has the factual weight of saying, with an air of authority, that two-minute noodles are cheaper than a nice truffle fettuccine carbonara. Turnbull rushed out a press release that seized upon this one phrase, then worked to portray it as a tacit admission that what Labor is doing is an over-expensive, over-engineered disaster in the making. Its overall tone was that of a schoolboy prank, like the one where the class joker tells you to spell out ICUP and then cracks up laughing when you say the last letter.

If Turnbull were to read that previous paragraph, he might even consider quoting me as saying that "what Labor is doing is an over-expensive, over-engineered disaster in the making", whilst ignoring the rest of the words. This sort of selective quoting is incredibly disingenuous, because it ignores the whole context in which the statement was made — and it dismisses elements that are incredibly important to understanding what has actually been said.

Selective quoting is incredibly disingenuous, because it ignores the whole context in which the statement was made.

It's no more legitimate or sincere a mechanism for driving public debate than if Conroy were to scan through Turnbull's statement and quote him as saying "Labor's NBN policy provided value for money". Turnbull did write those words — they're right there, in the last bullet point of his press release — but he definitely didn't mean them that way.

How do I know this? Because of context, of course.

Ignoring context is an incredibly counterproductive strategy, because it implies that politicians treat their constituencies with contempt. "I don't believe you are smart enough to really understand this issue," seems to be the message, "so I will twist it and hope that you don't notice my deception. And, by the way, vote for me."

Within the relatively rarefied arena of informed telecommunications-industry debate, Turnbull's comments were received with what has become a regular and almost palpable air of derision. Commentators note that Turnbull is weighing the NBN exclusively on its cost, and not on its future potential; that FttN is a short-term and inexpensive fix that will eventually need to be replaced with fibre; that the Coalition's belief that FttN can be implemented at all, will depend on a sort of kindness and generosity that Telstra has never shown in the past.

Turnbull is, naturally, promoting his own policy platform, and that can be expected. But behind his dogmatic public statements, there seems to be a quiet confidence in his ability to easily subjugate Telstra — forcing it to hand over its copper network for free after it has spent the last 15 years jealously guarding that network from its rivals, like Scrooge with his diamonds and gold.

Telstra CEO David Thodey must be getting tingles of excitement as he contemplates Telstra being back in the driver's seat under a coalition government that is already angling to utilise Telstra's soon-to-be-deprecated copper network. But of course he would: the mission statement of the Telstra board is to extract financial value from Telstra's assets, and the copper network is proving to be a tidy earner indeed.

Here, after all, is a network that Telstra has admitted will have zero value within a decade — but it's being floated as the linchpin of a coalition broadband plan that would return control over the local loop to Telstra, and return us to the anti-competitive environment of the past years.

If there's a change of government, I wouldn't bet on Telstra playing easy to get.

Turnbull may have got signals from Thodey that he will play along with the Coalition's questionable FttN strategy; indeed, Thodey's recent shareholder appearance suggested as much. Yet, while Turnbull continues referring to his FttN plan as though it would be easy to organise — and minimises the depth or content of Telstra negotiations that he seems to feel will be as complex as saying "can we please have your entire network?", the reality is nowhere near as simple.

If there's a change of government, I wouldn't bet on Telstra playing easy to get. After all, Telstra has always been about maintaining and controlling the status quo — and no matter how this plays out, Telstra will win. If it has been able to get $11 billion from the government just to use its physical network, how much will it charge Turnbull to buy the whole thing?

And how did we get back to the point where we are even discussing that possibility?

If he's worth his salt as a communications spokesperson, Turnbull is well acquainted internally with those complexities, and in any other situation would be worried by them. But as the Labor Party teeters from one disaster to another like a drunken sailor who has tripped over and got himself wrapped in strands of Christmas lights, Turnbull knows he doesn't have to come up with real details about his NBN alternative, or real solutions. He can just totter his way through the election, taking pot shots at a Labor government that just cannot seem to maintain its balance.

The NBN is being built in the context of a fractious, divisive and negativity-at-all-costs political environment...

Here, again, is context: the current political situation means that Turnbull, or his likely replacement Paul Fletcher, can do next to nothing to elaborate a policy alternative to the massive, well-constructed and steadily speeding NBN roll-out, and still be perceived by the dyed-in-the-wool coalition faithful as being a telecommunications visionary. It doesn't matter how good the NBN is or isn't; it is being built in the context of a fractious, divisive and negativity-at-all-costs political environment, where truth is less compelling than selectively informed potshots.

No matter its technical excellence or relevance, a 2013 election victory will see the NBN become a casualty of the Coalition's vague alternative NBN policy, which still has not been spelled out in anything resembling acceptable detail.

In that sense, there is no need for Turnbull to put his or Conroy's statements in context; any succession of words will be reliably extracted, put on display and trumpeted to the public as complete and undisputed truth. And while those in the industry may instantly recognise and dismiss such subterfuge out of hand, those in the broader public may well respond to this kind of misinformation. It will only be after the election, when the hangover kicks in, and all concerned realise that the context has been irretrievably changed for the worse, that many will wish that they had looked beyond the press bites.

What do you think? Did Conroy really shoot his own argument in the foot, as Turnbull alleges? Or is Turnbull selectively misquoting him in the hope that constituents won't know any better? And are we dreaming if we expect integrity in this debate?

Topics: Broadband, Government AU, NBN

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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Talkback

46 comments
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  • This is possibly the best article I've read on ZDNet.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Now lemme see:

    . Malcolm Turnbull is a lawyer and a merchant banker.

    And the plus side is:
    .
    .
    .
    .
    anonymousI
    • ... he is in opposition and not making backward decisions (yet)

      ;-)
      Beta-9f71a
  • In answer to your question David, I will wait until I understand the context before making a judgement. Who knows, perhaps Conroy was actually praising Turnbull's plan? I seriously doubt it though. This is just common sense...

    Which is the other aspect that is missing in this debate. Context is important but common sense is paramount. Common sense seems to be conveniently pushed aside when we talk about future infrastructure.

    I'm sure if the government were rolling out the FTTN, the coalition would also be criticising them for a wasting money.

    It just goes to show that the old saying is right that "common sense is not so common any more, that's why we legislate"...

    People need to question the quality and credibility of information more in general. But in the day to day world, who has the time???
    omega-b9c3d
    • Good point omega and to take that and hypothesise even further...

      Perhaps if the government were rolling out FTTN, the opposition would even be criticising them for NOT rolling out the better, more comprehensive and future proof FTTP???
      Beta-9f71a
      • The fact that both possibilities are plausible certainly is telling. That's the coaltion for you, oppose for the sake of opposition. It's perfect for when you dont want to give any detials on your own broadbrand policy.
        Hubert Cumberdale
      • Duh ofcorse they would be criticising the government for rolling out FTTN if thats what they were doing.

        The opposition whinge and whine about everything whether it's good for the nation or not because they are the opposition and that's all they can do because they are too dumb and stupid to come up with any of their own policies. With the coalition it's the dumb and border line mentally retarded leading a bunch of dumb sheep.

        It seems that Turnbull has been reading Apples play book and engaged his own reality distortion field.

        What I think is scary is that there are a lot of people that aren't terribly intelligent that will get caught up in semantics and take Turnbulls comment that a FTTN solution "would be quicker and will cost less to build" to mean that a FTTN network will deliver faster download speeds than the NBN will deliver when in fact Turnbull just means that it will be faster to build/rollout than the NBN.

        Unfortuantly I think idiots that are too thick to see through Turnbulls clearly ridiculous arguments will be swayed and vote for the opposition then once the opposition get into power and screw everything up people will realise that they have been stooged once it's too late and were all going to go "told you so".
        Jingles-8366c
        • Sadly Jingles, if they are stupid enough to be convinced by purely negative BS, they will also be too dumb to realise they have been stooged.

          Seems us Aussies... us as in the majority, have lost the ability to foresee and are simply becoming more and more conservative.
          Beta-9f71a
        • "once the opposition get into power and screw everything up people will realise that they have been stooged once it's too late and were all going to go "told you so"."

          Yes, pretty much though I'm sure there are some that won’t even realises it. Our nation really has become that dumb, more to the point being in favour of the NBN we get proven right either way so whether it is completed or gets cancelled by the coalitions clowns makes not much difference to this debate but if it is cancelled I do look forward to saying "told you so" too...
          Hubert Cumberdale
  • Two quotes come to mind...

    "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program." - Milton Friedman

    Sen.Conroy has established the NBN as a permanent program. Does the opposition (Turnbull) really think they can switch it off?
    Very few government programs are ever fully switched off. OPEL is one that comes to mind, but it never really got off the ground.

    "What this country needs are more unemployed politicians." -Edward Langley

    and one of them is Turnbull !! His knowledge of communications is pathetic.
    Huntsman.ks
  • It is telling that we do not see the usual libs here towing the line. Perhaps the government are making progress with their "sales pitch" that the media seem to be so concerned about, in regards to the NBN? Or maybe Turnbull is having trouble with his???

    I think the tables have turned. We now have an "incompetent coalition" that couldn't run a country if they had John Howard holding their hand... Deep, black holes in their economy, cuts to social initiatives (which ones, who knows) and an eternal hypocritic and pathetic yearning for power, based entirely on fear.

    The lack of defence, in regards to Turnbull's comments here, says that either we are all wrong and the context of a argument doesn't mean sh*!, or people are all too aware of misleading press releases and we should give the public more credit. Either way, Turnbull's a tool...
    omega-b9c3d
  • Let us hope before the next election that the NBN is past a point of no return - because I fear Julia is :(

    What people don't get or are not being told is what the opposition really intend to do - or not do.
    The Coalition would have people believe that their so called solution is saving the country money.... sure it will over the first 5 to 7 years - then be prepaired to pay more for that again, and again and again till finally fibre is laid to the home. By then it will cost double or more what todays NBN will.
    If the NBN is done right now will save us all a huge chunk of money & bring large investment into the country areas of Australia & relieve congestion in our cities.

    After all, how many people do you know that dream of retiring in the county? What if fibre was in the country areas and jobs where there? Would they wait till they retire to start enjoying a better lifestyle or would they do it now?
    fibretech
    • I think the regional build up angle is what NBN and governements at all levels should be promoting at each new NBN site. Get businesses and people where there is a communications infrastructure that is capable of supporting them exists and where the other infrastructure elements are easier and a lot cheaper to do than in overcrowded cities.

      Businesses with wider than an immediately local community focus (those are shops and services) cannot exist where communication is inadequate, especially if upstream bandwidth is low (needed for VoIP and data provision).

      I think the real value of the NBN is in the overpriced city infrastructure that can be avoided by shifting substantial numbers of non location-bound businesses out of the cities. Similar regional infrastructure is cheaper, because it is not trying to get more out of already overutilised resources. City infrastructure costs are already well into the diminishing returns.

      I think the NBN was some real forward thinking, but it seems that it is one of many things that the federal government has trouble selling when they should be as easy as selling iPads.
      Patanjali
      • Agree 100% Patanjali.

        The problem the government faces is mainstream media outlets in radio and the print media, who are against the NBN, because they see it as a threat and will do anything to protect their and their politically aligned mates interests.

        NBNCo can deliver a sparkling promotion which will then have the media propaganda machine do their dirty work to undermine it.

        Tin foil hat? NO...

        http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2011/12/23/3397389.htm

        http://delimiter.com.au/2012/03/27/oops/

        http://delimiter.com.au/2012/04/04/radio-shockjocks-diss-nbn-during-paid-ads/
        Beta-9f71a
      • A very good point re regional development but my pragmatic internal voice is asking whether these potential changes will ever happen. In many ways the political/business machinery is still ideologically fixated on the big cities; witness this morning's reports about a proposed nuclear waste storage facility in Sydney's suburbs when there is a great big country out there for politicians to exploit.

        So, although the benefits would clearly seem to be there, I wonder whether big business will see the NBN as enough to justify a move to big country areas. And, as a follow-on, what can the business or government community do to hasten that process? Any business owners here that might have thoughts on just how real a constraint their comms has been in choosing the physical location of their operations?
        braue
  • Ahhh, yet more biased commentary from somebody who doesn't know how to be impartial.

    What is wrong with FFTH? Most people simply do not need it. As much as all the tech heads think its the best thing since sliced bread, the truth is that no matter how much they trumet that its "Good For Australia", their true motivation is "its good for me"

    What is good about the Coalition FFTN plan? It promises high speed broadband for the entire population, without the unnecessary waste of FFTH to every property. Those who truly believe they need FTTH WILL be able to get it, just they will need to pay for it, as they should.

    Just go and ask Joe the Plumber - he will tell you: "I don't even use the internet, so what is the point of fibre to my home?" For each member of the population who's life revolves around the internet, there are at least two for whom it does not.
    Backzlider
    • "What is wrong with FFTH? Most people simply do not need it."

      False.







      "the truth is that no matter how much they trumet that its "Good For Australia", their true motivation is "its good for me""

      False.







      "What is good about the Coalition FFTN plan?"

      Not much really.








      "It promises high speed broadband for the entire population"

      A FTTN patchwork will not high speed at all, nor will it cover the "entire population"






      "Those who truly believe they need FTTH WILL be able to get it, just they will need to pay for it, as they should."

      But they don’t have to pay for the expense and waste of FTTN network? That sounds a bit hypocritical…








      "Just go and ask Joe the Plumber"

      Herp derp derp derp, plumber = dummy, dummy = average working class little guy everyone can relate to. Create transparent emotive argument for liberal party newsletter and win prize! yay!






      "For each member of the population who's life revolves around the internet, there are at least two for whom it does not."

      This should actually say: For every member of the population their lives revolve around the internet whether they are aware of it or not.
      Hubert Cumberdale
    • OMG Frank/Fred/Frergers or whatever has returned with more extreme idiocy...

      Dear oh dear
      Beta-9f71a
  • Ahhh the "space man".... oh yes, that give you attention huh?

    As is typical of your replies, you state something as fact without any evidence.

    Humbert: "False" - oh really? Show me the figures to prove that the majority of Australians want AND NEED 100Mbps. You cannot and you know that your own position is false. COMMON SENSE should tell you the true fact without the need for any reasearch, but then, thats something you lack.

    Humbert: "FFTN patchwork" - What makes you think that its "patchwork"?? If you want FTTH you WILL be able to get it... I think its the paying for it part that bothers you.

    Humbert: "Create transparent emotive argument" - Ahhh yes, the typical argument from a pseudo intellectual whenever we consider real people.

    Humbert: "their lives revolve around the internet whether they are aware of it or not." - Here you reveal just how delusional you really are. I accept that your own life does in fact revolve around the internet and that the only way for you to gain a sense of self worth is to make smarmy remarks on internet forums. Sorry, but that crusty old miner in outback SA wouldn't agree with you, nor would billions of others.
    Backzlider
    • "Ahhh the "space man".... oh yes, that give you attention huh?"

      Ahhh, Ahhh, begin comment with ahhh...





      "how me the figures to prove that the majority of Australians want AND NEED 100Mbps."

      The burden of proof lies with the one making a claim, you claimed "Most people simply do not need it" therefore it is up to you to prove it: Show me the figures to prove that the majority of Australians don’t want and need 100mbps.





      "COMMON SENSE should tell you the true fact without the need for any reasearch, but then, thats something you lack."

      I see. So I need proof to tell you how many want faster speeds but you don’t need any proof or any research to tell us how many people don’t, you just need "common sense"... you said something about lacking it now?






      "What makes you think that its "patchwork"?"

      That's exactly what the network will amount to. The coalition patchwork plan will use an unwieldy mix of technologies (for the sake of using a mix of technologies) this will result in a substandard patchwork network incapable of faster transfer speeds.






      "If you want FTTH you WILL be able to get it... I think its the paying for it part that bothers you."

      Paying for it doesn’t bother me at all. I am quite prepared to pay for it, just one thing you have to build the FTTH network first.




      "Ahhh yes, the typical argument from a pseudo intellectual whenever we consider real people."


      Ahhh yes, more ahhhs from a "pseudo intellectual"






      "Here you reveal just how delusional you really are."

      False.





      "I accept that your own life does in fact revolve around the internet and that the only way for you to gain a sense of self worth is to make smarmy remarks on internet forums."

      I do get immense pleasure from destroying your vapid arguments regarding the NBN but unfortunately you make it much to easy for me. Think about it, you've just admitted a weakness on your part here. More to the point you have to realise by now that regardless of what happens the position you have on the NBN is an inherently unwinnable one for you...






      "Sorry, but that crusty old miner in outback SA wouldn't agree with you, nor would billions of others."

      Sorry but most people are in favour of the NBN. Better get used to it: http://essentialvision.com.au/tag/nbn
      Hubert Cumberdale