Friday, December 30, 2011

HOWTO appear prime ministerial: first, be the prime minister

Here's a question for you. Obviously it's too much to ask that national newspapers provide a critical view of polling methodology. And there are obvious problems in criticising a poll your own paper paid for on the front page. So bloggers will probably just have to do it. But here goes. To what extent is the quality of "being prime ministerial" caused by being prime minister?

The polls haven't been great for Labour over the turkey gap, and we know this is probably a thing because it wasn't just one poll or one pollster's polls that showed it. Fair enough. The problem is, of course, that given this information, everyone immediately starts trying to impose stories on it. Some of this is pure wind, but at least some of it tries to be based on data.

The Guardian is very exercised by one of the down-ticket questions in their own ICM poll, which apparently shows that more people think David Cameron is "good in a crisis" than Ed Miliband. The problem with basing any conclusions on this is that it's quite possible that being Prime Minister gives you lots of crises to be good in, and plenty of resources to help you be good in them, like the advice of expert civil servants and the wiles of some of the world's most accomplished bullshitters. Further, as crises in our political system naturally migrate towards No.10 Downing Street, there is a permanent media stage on which you can perform prime ministership.

Obviously, crisis management is a desirable skill in a prime minister, but the job of Leader of the Opposition is not one that gives you lots of opportunities to display it. In fact, as the opposition isn't in charge, it has no excuse for getting into crises in the first place. A Leader of the Opposition who is having crises can only be having them because their party is being disloyal, because a shadow cabinet member is in trouble, or because they are themselves in trouble personally. The Prime Minister gets crises delivered every morning by the civil service in a red box, like an unappetising catered breakfast. It is hard to think of a situation where an opposition leader can demonstrate the ability to deal with crises that is not, per se, very bad news for the opposition.

In fact, the only one I can think of is the situation where a member of the shadow cabinet is being disloyal and has to be sacked to put a stop to the fitna, as it were. And, well, that already happened. To be honest, how many people actually care, though?

So what I would like to see is the following analysis - let's pull some of those so-called soft questions ("good in a crisis" would be a start) and compare the ratings for various politicians before and after becoming Prime Minister (and for extra credit, before and after joining the Cabinet). (Anthony Wells, dear heart, do you happen to possess such a data series?) My hypothesis is that there will be a statistically significant uplift for all of them, and that therefore much of this comment is content-free.

Wellsy does have a consistent series for the "best Prime Minister" question, here, which shows that Cameron's score rose 10 points from early May to September 2010. Gordon Brown went from 30 to 44 between the end of May 2007 and mid-August. The only other comparison in the series is the 2005 general election, in which Tony Blair went in as prime minister and came out as prime minister. I pulled the data for all three PMs over roughly the same periods of time, covering the changes of PM in 2007 and 2010 and the 2005 election, and excitingly, Blair's rating didn't show any significant change, which is what you'd expect if I was right. The move was 2.8 and 2.5 standard deviations respectively for Cameron and Brown and 0.67 for Blair, and the series is roughly normally distributed, so this result is statistically significant at the 99% confidence level for people becoming PM and insignificant for the no-change case.

You could argue that David Cameron became prime minister because people thought he would be better, but of course this wouldn't be true of Gordon Brown as there was no election in 2007, and we get the same result. I did wonder if there might be a seasonal effect (he's like a pound-shop Chris Dillow!), but Brown's ratings didn't do anything interesting over the summer of 2006 and neither did Blair's in 2005.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Update: I originally didn't want to publish this because I didn't think it was good enough, but I hit the wrong button. Anyway, Alistair Morgan read it and thinks one of the premises of the whole thing is wrong. Namely, the weapons were going in the same direction as the drugs, not the other way around. Well, at least the story moved on a bit, but this renders mostly useless a whole additional post I put together from reading a lot of crazy-but-interesting stuff out of the bottom of the Internet. Also, despite the Jessie J reference there's better music at the bottom if you get that far.

So, Alistair Morgan's twitter feed frequently hints at "cocaine, weapons, and Ireland" as well as police corruption as being factors involved in the case of his brother, Daniel Morgan, the private detective murdered in 1987, probably by people who were since employed by News International. It's often been said that Morgan was on the point of publishing some sort of huge revelation when he was killed, but nobody knows what it was beyond his brother's hints based on what the police told him at the time.

Since the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal, a number of sidelights have come up which linked the News of the World, its cadre of ex-police gumshoes, and its contacts inside the police force. Notably, it seems to have spied on the former Army intelligence agent-handler, Ian Hurst, on an NGO, British-Irish Rights Watch (because documents of theirs were on Hurst's computer when they hacked it), and perhaps on the chief of police, Sir Philip Orde. It would have been hard for people working for the press not to have covered at least one Northern Irish story in the last 20-odd years simply because it was such a news staple, but it's worth noting their interest.

The War Economy of Northern Ireland

So, what might link Morgan, cocaine, weapons, Ireland, and policemen? There are some fairly well-known stylised facts or stereotypes about the economy of the Troubles. The IRA mostly funded itself from money collected in the United States, from bank robberies, and from unofficial taxes it collected in the North. It also got contributions from friendly countries, specifically Libya. The Loyalists didn't have a reliable source of their own money abroad like NorAid, and so specialised in protection and drugs. Both sides also got involved in smuggling across the border as a commercial exercise.

That's a glib summary 'graf; obviously, I collect a revolutionary tax for the struggle, you impose fines on drug dealers and dishonestly stick to some of the money, and they are merely thugs operating a protection racket. Traditionally, both Sinn Fein and the British tended to stereotype the Loyalists as basically criminal and the IRA as proper insurgents - there may be some truth in there, but the distinction is one of emphasis and degree and also of propaganda rather than of kind.

Having obtained money, they both needed to convert some of it into arms. The IRA got a famous delivery in the 80s from Libya in its role as Secret Santa, and also often bought guns in the US over the counter and smuggled them back. I don't know how well characterised the sources of Loyalist arms are, which of course gives me license to speculate.

Permanently Operating Factors

Now for the cocaine, which has often been known to land in bulk quantities on the wilder, less populated bits of the Atlantic coast that also offer good harbours. This is a rare combination, as people live near ports. Two of the best bits on that score are northwest Spain and southwest Ireland. Having landed, you can move it on anywhere in the UK-Ireland common travel area without much more trouble. Since the creation of the Schengen area, Galicia is even better for this because there is such a choice of markets you can reach without a customs inspection. But in 1987 this was an un-fact, so you might as well go to Ireland.

This transit trade had important consequences - notably the rise of Martin "The General" Cahill, the assassination of Veronica Guerin, and probably a substantial chunk of the Irish property bubble via the laundering of profits and also by the boost to those ol' animal spirits the drug provides.

Imagine, then, that an important criminal actor supplying the London market with cocaine also had access to a reliable surplus of weapons. There is the potential for trade here.

However, it's not that simple - the famous Libyan shipment would have fit in a couple of shipping containers, and it kept the IRA going up until peace was signed, with a fair bit left over to be buried in concrete by the international commissioners on decommissioning. It is very unlikely that any plausible flow of arms to Northern Ireland would have paid for the flow of cocaine into the South-East.

We Don't Need Your Money, Money, Money, We Just Wanna Make The World Dance...

There's something else going on - Diego Gambetta would have already pointed out that you need to understand the trade in protection. To sell protection, you need weapons, which are the capital equipment of the business of private protection. In so far as the buyers in the UK were paying in guns as well as cash, they were arguably expressing a protector-protectee relationship. While on our territory, we protect you, and license you to provide protection. This was also reciprocated. In accepting them, were the sellers of the cocaine undertaking to protect it in transit on their own territory?

Another way of looking at this, which Gambetta would also approve of, would be in terms of costly signalling. Being both a supplier and a protector is a powerful position, but it might be worth letting the other side have it as a guarantee or hostage, to signal that you didn't intend to break the agreement and deal with some other supplier. This makes even more sense given that you still have a regular supply of guns you could cut off or use against them, and therefore both parties have something to lose.

Now, Gambetta's work mostly deals with Sicily, where a very important protection supplier has often been irrelevant. London is a very different society from this point of view. Whatever you think of the police, you can't just ignore them as a factor. In some other societies, the police might be protection consumers, but here, police corruption usually takes the form of policemen selling protection. (In a sense, the more effective the police, the more tempting this will be. Nothing sells like the good stuff.)

So, gazing down on this complex, neo-medieval exchange of cash, credit, and protection, there is a sort of Sun King whose permission is required for any protection contract to be signed. It's like a feudal society. My liege lord is only so, because he is the King's subject, and the King at least theoretically owes duties to the Emperor, or later, directly to God. Our buyer is in a position to offer protection for his end of the business because he enjoys protection supplied by the police.

Who were the recipients, the sellers? They might have been drug dealers who needed to buy protection from one or other paramilitary group. They might have been drug dealers who wanted to build up enough arms that they could stop buying protection, or rather, change protector. Or they might have been paramilitaries who sold protection to the drugs trade. The distinction is surprisingly unimportant.

So, to put the pieces together, there was some group of South-East London villains importing cocaine from transit providers in Ireland, who were also exporting weapons in the opposite direction as part of an exchange of protection for their common business. This required buying protection from the police. Where did the weapons come from? And why is News International involved?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Can you hear me now?

Well, here's a contribution to the debate over the riots. The Thin Blue Trots'...sorry...Police Federation report has been leaked.
Among the failings highlighted by the federation, which represents 136,000 officers, were chronic problems, particularly in London with the hi-tech digital Airwave radio network. Its failings were one reason why officers were "always approximately half an hour behind the rioters". This partly explained, it said, why officers kept arriving at areas from where the disorder had moved on.

The Airwave network was supposed to improve the way emergency services in London responded to a crisis after damning criticism for communication failures following the 7 July bombings in 2005.

It is being relied upon to ensure that police officers will be able to communicate with each other from anywhere in Britain when the Olympics come to London next summer. The federation wants a review into why the multibillion-pound system collapsed, leaving officers to rely on their own phones.

"Officers on the ground and in command resorted, in the majority, to the use of personal mobile phones to co-ordinate a response," says the report.

It sounds like BB Messenger over UMTS beats shouting into a TETRA voice radio, as it should being about 10 years more recent. Not *this* crap again!

There's surely an interesting story about how the UK managed to fail to procure a decent tactical radio for either its army or its civilian emergency services in the 1990s and 2000s. Both the big projects - the civilian (mostly) one that ended up as Airwave and the military one that became BOWMAN - were hideously troubled, enormously overbudget, and very, very late. Neither product has been a great success in service. And it was a bad time for slow procurement as the rapid technological progress (from 9.6Kbps circuit-switched data on GSM in 1998 to 7.2Mbps HSPA in 2008, from Ericsson T61s in 2000 to iPhones in 2008) meant that a few years would leave you far behind the curve.

And it's the UK, for fuck's sake. We do radio. At the same time, Vodafone and a host of M4-corridor spin-offs were radio-planning the world. Logica's telecoms division, now Acision, did its messaging centres. ARM and CSR and Cambridge Wireless were designing the chips. Vodafone itself, of course, was a spinoff from Racal, the company that sold army radios for export because the official ones were ones nobody would import in a fit. BBC Research's experience in making sure odd places in Yorkshire got Match of the Day all right went into it more than you might think.

Presumably that says something about our social priorities in the Major/Blair era? That at least industrially, for once we were concentrating on peaceful purposes (but also having wars all over the place)? Or that we weren't concentrating on anything much industrially, and instead exporting services and software? Or that something went catastrophically wrong with the civil service's procurement capability in the 1990s?

It's the kind of story Erik Lund would spin into something convincing.

I am a Guardian reader. You are a Telegraph reader. They are Sun readers

Jamie Kenny says:
Come to think of it, the only papers which their readers would miss are the ones which have have managed to establish their names and the word ‘reader’ as a social type: which is to say the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Mail.

John Band argues that this is also true of the Sun:
Surely 'Sun-reader' and the Sun also fit alongside Guardian, Mail and Telegraph?

Certainly, people do use "Sun reader" as a social type. But the really interesting question is whether anyone considers themselves a Sun-reader, and I think this is what's doing the work here. (As a very rough check, I compared the Google hits for "I am a [paper] reader" - Guardian most common, Sun a couple of thousand less, but quite a few of both were people either putting it on for argument's sake or indignantly denying it. Obviously, the huge Guardian web presence will distort that.)

People who read the Guardian often do identify as Guardian-readers and other people also pin it on them. This is true, although I think more weakly, of Telegraph or Mail readers. But there is a gradient here - I think you're slightly more likely to self-identify as a Telegraph or Spectator reader than you are to be labelled as one. For the Mail, that's more like evens. (The reductio ad absurdum would be the Daily Sport, which would almost certainly be an insult.)

For the Sun? I'd put it at 80% labelling to 20% self-identification. Why is this important?

Well, you can define a following - Sun readers, Worcester Women, whatever - and use this to sell advertising or push your own influence. In the first case, what matters is that you can define your own readership well enough that advertisers think of you as a way of reaching them. In the second, it's that politicians are willing to believe that Sun-readers are a thing. Note that this involves a willing suspension of disbelief. If you can count the C2s among your readers, your media sales team can throw this at advertisers. If you are ideologically congenial to politicians, so that they're willing to believe in Sun readers, you can exercise power. In a limited sense, if you can render your audience legible as a group, you can turn this into money or influence.

But this only goes so far. The key distinction is what happens when you need them. People who identify themselves as Sun readers will turn out. People who are identified by marketers as Sun readers will read something else in their tea break. And there's an odd recursive quality to this - if you really did consider yourself a Sun-reader, what on earth would you be doing identifying yourself as a newspaper reader? What could be less in keeping?

To put it another way, imagine someone who is acting, trying to pretend to be a Sun-reader. What could be more obviously fake than brandishing a copy? You would need to work on the rest of the act first, and only then have one casually lying around. If you wanted to pose as a Guardian reader, you'd want to be seen reading the damn paper.

News International spent a lot of time and effort trying to create an identity for NI-consumers (there being not much difference between the target demographics for the Sun, the NOTW, and Sky Sports, and a hell of a lot of cross-promotion). Of course, so do all media products, even Mobile Comms International and Elevator Week. Some would deny it (The Economist), some would boast of it (The Face). Some are more successful than others.

But I would argue that rather than observing what its customers wanted and marketing it back to them, or deciding what they ought to want and persuading them to want it, NI's modus operandi was to observe what its customers did, and then market that to its other, upstream customer base - advertisers and politicians.

If the Sun called for a demonstration against the Leveson inquiry, would anyone go?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

12 heads in a bag, I read it yesterday, buried like the others on page 27-A

After the last post, I think it's worth nothing that it's not just an isolated lapse. The Guardian has recently been sucking up to the Treasury in a revolting fashion. Yesterday's paper, in an astonishingly hagiographic profile by Nicholas Watt explained how clever George Osborne is in defining his "fiscal mandate" as being to get rid of the current (i.e. ex-capital investment), structural (i.e. what he says it is) deficit over a five-year forecast horizon, on a "rolling" basis so there is no specific date by which it must be judged.

Well-informed readers will remember that inter-war British governments did this with defence plans - the decision was taken that there would be no war for 10 years and this assumption was used as a basis for policy. But the 10 years was considered on a rolling basis, so every passing year extended it further until it was abandoned in 1933, with the result that the British armed forces were just about ready...had the war waited until 1943.

Now you might recall that Gordon Brown also had a set of fiscal rules, and those laid down that the current (i.e. ex-capital investment) budget ought to be in balance averaged over the economic cycle. Put it like that, and you might think that there isn't really that much difference. And we used to hear a great deal from Tories - and even from well-known newspapers dedicated to Liberal principles - about how the judgment of when the current economic cycle began gave the chancellor too much latitude to fudge the numbers. We heard a great deal about this from George Osborne personally.

But now he's apparently thinking of tactfully leaving a bunch of stuff (current, structural) out of the figures to make them add up. And he's quietly letting the day when they have to add up slide right. Fudging the issue, if you like. Just like Crazy Gordon McKiltie Borrowpants. (Did we mention he's Scottish?)

So why is this a secret? Why did the Guardian publish all the information you need to know this, but not say it? Why do I have to read the papers as if I were composing an exegesis of the Talmud or decrypting the VENONA cables? Is it possibly something to do with this quote from Nicholas "You Fucking" Watt's profile:

Even his critics acknowledge that Osborne is tough, which will serve him well, as one said. "George has an incredible strength. Perhaps this is down to the way he made it into the Bullingdon and survived. They were a bit sniffy about George. The Bullingdon is basically for Etonians. But they let him in even though he went to St Paul's, though they did insist on him reverting to his original name of Gideon.

Now that's what I call the sort of experience that builds real character. This is the Guardian! The Guardian!

Respectable mendacity

Why has the Guardian gone so soft on George Osborne? Today's paper is a fine example of the art of journalism as practiced to obscure rather than reveal. On the front page, we have this story headlined: George Osborne exploits fall in borrowing costs to boost growth

Now, that's pretty much precisely what the chancellor would want on the front page, so it's suspect in itself. But you might think there was another major UK economy story about. Something about the OECD estimating that we're back in recession? Or you might even have heard another, something about the Treasury/OBR expecting much lower economic growth? Or that the OBR thinks things are so bad the deficit will rise despite the cuts? Strangely, none of these were considered worthy of front page treatment and were shoved back down the ticket to pages 6 and 2 respectively. Page 2 is of course the classic newspaper graveyard - people flip open the rag and immediately see Page 3, which is why what is on Page 3 is on Page 3 if you see what I mean.

The first number that appears on the front page is the figure of £21.5bn, which is apparently "lower borrowing costs" because gilt rates have fallen since last June. It's not said anywhere how much this is relative to the total bill for debt service (£44bn), or to the government budget (£696bn), so it's impossible for the reader to know if it's a lot of money. It's also completely mysterious whether this is annual, over a parliament, over a Comprehensive Spending Review planning cycle, or what. It is not said, but it is strongly implied, that this money is available now and will be used as an economic stimulus.

But the Chancellor isn't doing that, and if it is a 5-year figure, the money isn't available now. We only find out what's going on over the page, buried on page 2, where we find out without much surprise that it is indeed a figure for the next 5 years, so 80% of it is promises, and anyway the annual figure of £5.3bn is 0.76% of government spending.

The piece moves on to recite a list of eye-catching initiatives - £380 million (woo, isn't it a lot? Or a little?) by 2014-5 (does that mean rising to £380 million annually by 2015, or £380 million divided by five? They're not saying, I'd take the short) for childcare (aww, babies), a "£300 million package of tax breaks for small businesses", "a seed investment enterprise scheme" with no price tag, and - I am not making this up - £50 million for the Caledonian Sleeper.

I mean, it's very cool and all - I took it in July 2005 to get out of town after terrorweek - but it's hardly something that belongs in a front page economics story, is it? It's an utterly trivial and vacuous eye-catching sunday-fer-monday initiative with a canny bit of marginal seat fan service in there too.

So, about that £300 million. Sounds like a lot of money! (After all, we have nothing to compare it with. Again.) You have to read on to page 7 and a story by an actual business desk reporter to find out that £210 million of it is a rates holiday for some small businesses that was sort-of going to end next October, that's now going to end six months - six whole months! - later. To put it another way, it's not new money and it's a trivial amount and it doesn't happen for a year yet.

Let's adjust the £300 million - that's more like £90 million, and we're getting into Caledonian Sleeper levels of insignificance here. Experienced observers will guess that the unpriced "seed investment scheme" is probably included in the £90 million, thus getting twice the propaganda for the money, and they'd be right. Again, you've got to turn to page 7 for this, but not being the New York Times or the Craven Herald & Pioneer, there's no way of telling that you need to. Government sources apparently think it's worth £50 million. That leaves us with £40m to account for, and page 7 tells us that £50m is coming for "co-investment" from the "regional growth fund". Well, the £10m difference can be accounted for by journos trying to add up. But it's worth pointing out that the £1.5bn regional growth fund has been re-announced so many times you wouldn't count on there being anything left in it.

And obviously, this doesn't add up to anything like £21.5bn or even £5.3bn of stimulus.

So what's going on here? It's not as if the OECD or OBR stories weren't running before the Guardian went to press. They're right there in the paper! But by the time you read them, you'll already have had your expectations anchors set by the front page, so you're going to think things aren't so bad. This is of course why the Treasury briefers gave the story to Nicholas Watt, Larry Elliott and Severin Carrell - to inject their own spin ahead of the news. In fact, Elliott is probably innocent, as he wrote both the real news stories, and the other two just quoted some of his work (chunks are identical).

Why Watt or Carrell, or the Guardian editor they answer to, still don't either understand this or don't mind is the real question.

Also, you'd have to read down to the bottom of Elliott's piece on page 7 to learn that the Bank of England is apparently refusing to carry out the government's policy even when it only involves the government's money, rather than the central bank's, and Osborne has cracked and given in.

The measures will augment the £20bn that the chancellor is announcing for so-called "credit easing" — money that will be channelled from existing promises that had been made by the Treasury to the Bank of England to enable Threadneedle Street to buy corporate bonds. The Bank has not purchased many corporate bonds and some of the £50bn of guarantees will now be used, instead, to help banks raise money more cheaply on the markets – and in turn reduce the price of loans to small businesses.
Will Hutton, co-author of a report on how to revive small business lending, said: "As it is structured, this won't add £1 extra of new credit." His report, written with academic Ken Peasnell, argues that the government would have been more effective if it had created a vehicle to buy up small business loans from banks, freeing up their balance sheets. Under the government's scheme, the cost of loans to small businesses should fall by one percentage point, according to Treasury projections, although this may be less if the government does decide to levy a fee for the guarantee.

So, the £20bn - or is it £50bn? - "credit easing" just isn't going to happen, because the Bank doesn't want to do it and Osborne is too weak to sack Mervyn King and appoint someone who will, and too proud to resign and leave the job to someone with balls. Instead, the Treasury's money (i.e. ours) will be used to buy bonds (probably government bonds) off the banks. We're already doing this with money the Bank prints, which costs nothing, but this exercise is funded by government borrowing, which we have to pay back. Why isn't this on the front page?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Operation Logroll is go for launch

So, if you wanted really informed commentary on the Theresa May/Brodie Clark upfuck (now there's some slash), where would you go? Wouldn't you want to ask a distinguished civil servant? I bet you would. Specifically, a career immigration officer with 39 years in the service. Who's just retired, and is therefore allowed to be snarky.

Now you can! Because my dad has a blog.

I'll always remember the day he brought home the video briefcase. I think it's safe to tell the story now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

belated blogging

So Viktor Bout is guilty. Some discussion is here, including the suggestion that the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) is losing out politically. Dunno about that, but it's striking that the best politician they could find to speak out for him was someone from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's outfit, and not even Anna Chapman or Andrei Lugovoi at that.

It took me a while to get around to this, but there you go. Apparently his defence was that he was really trying to sell the fake FARC a pair of Ilyushin-76 aircraft and just stringing them along with all the talk about surface-to-air missiles and millions of rounds of ammunition, but then I think if I went out to buy missiles and came back with two Ilyushins and a magic bean I'd think I'd been had.

Other recent things I cared about less than I expected - the Stone Roses reunion. Yes, I had the Facebook tickets app open and my finger on the button, but then it was the end of the month and I could do without spending the money. Was that being responsible or just excessively risk averse?

The world's most expensive mobile network

By the mid-2000s the minimal cost-to-serve a mobile phone user had got down to the point where it was worth Roshan's while to put base stations in places where British soldiers broke down 105mm light guns to carry them piece by piece up a cliff, in order to fire from the hilltop next to the base station and get additional range.

It's fairly well known that the Taliban weren't entirely pleased about this, especially when ISAF started publicising their tip-off hotline and people did just that with their new second-hand Nokias. And they started destroying base stations until the operators agreed to shut down for part of the day. An uneasy settlement was arrived at - after all, Talibs use the phone too, and so do their families and friends. Like the old pattern of the insurgent owning the roads during the night and the government during the day, the insurgent owned the 900MHz band during the night and left it to the government during the day.

(However, their control of radio spectrum is purely negative, as if they were to use it themselves, the government could spy on them doing so, direction-find the transmitters, traffic-analyse the network to find out who is important, and sic drones, attack helicopters, or commandos on them. They can intimidate other people out of using it, but they can't use it themselves without very careful security precautions.)

So I'd like to recommend this really excellent article.

It seems that this shaky modus vivendi has broken down. Not only are the Taliban destroying more sites, they are doing so more thoroughly.

A typical problem for an emerging-market GSM operations engineer is the security of diesel fuel. Some operators in Africa are their countries' biggest electricity generators. This is fiendishly expensive - not only do you have to buy the diesel, you have to pay people to fill up the tanks on thousands of remote cell sites. And other people will steal it, or even steal the whole generator, which is why some of them are half-way up the tower although that means the structure must be much heavier and stronger and more expensive. Highway robbery is a better payoff than burglary as you get the whole truckload and the truck to move it, so you also have to pay for protection. That might mean protection as in guards, or protection as in racket, and quite often the distinction is far from clear.

This also becomes a typical first world GSM operations engineer's problem as soon as a big storm knocks over a few hundred towers and outs the electricity, as some bright spark inevitably notices the backup generator running.

Although you can buy solar and wind-powered base stations, there are still a lot of diesel ones out there. Now, if your objection is not merely financial, this means it's easy to destroy the infrastructure - you force open the valves and set it on fire. Interestingly, though, the Taliban have moved on from just starting a fire to breaking into the equipment cabinet and soaking it with the fuel, then setting that on fire. Thus multiplying the cost of repair and the downtime by an order of magnitude at least.

Alternatively, they sometimes dig a hole and blow the whole thing up with high explosive, wrecking the civil works (budget for quite a bit more including the labour) and demonstrating their aggression to everyone in earshot.

It also looks like they've realised that the backhaul links from the base stations to the switching centre are point-to-point microwave ones, and that the network has a hierarchical structure, with multiple base stations linked by microwave radio to a base station controller (or radio network controller in 3G) site which has a microwave link to the switch, and where there may be a variety of other equipment depending on exactly how the network is designed. As all that suggests, this is a crucial node and therefore a target. It is suspected that they have expert advice.

So the operators shut down service, and then the Afghan government and NATO yell at them to turn it back on.

And this is where it gets interesting. NATO has been installing macro-cells - big high power base stations - on its outposts as well as the private, ruggedised femtocells I wrote about with regard to Mr. Werritty. The idea was that if the commercial network was down, the phones would roam onto the backup network. Take that, forces of Islamofascism! But there's a problem. The commercial operators won't let the new network be in the list of permitted roaming networks on their SIMs, because they fear that if they shut down and service is still available, the Taliban will blow up even more of their stuff and perhaps start murdering engineers.

The government network could run like an IMSI catcher, masquerading as all four networks to capture their subscribers but forwarding everything - but I get the impression the operators don't want to interconnect with it, so calls would have to be routed out of the country and back in via the international gateway and it probably won't work very well.

And as a result, NATO has created the exact opposite of a successful emerging market GSM operator. Rather than cut-down low-power small cells cunningly distributed in the landscape, it's got big expensive pigeon fryers placed whereever seems safe or rather less unsafe. You'd think the same sort of place would do for a radio station as would do for a fort, but radioplanning is far more complicated than just picking hilltops and often deeply counter-intuitive. Rather than rock-bottom cost-to-serve, it's thought to be the most expensive phone network in the world per-user.

It's possible, thinking back to Rory Stewart, that a network designed along the lines of the kind of wireless-mesh broadband system his mates are building for the Penrith area might be more robust against such an attack. The Mexican Zetas seem to think so. Even staying in GSM, the BSC functions can be forward-deployed to the cell sites, and more of the backhaul could be point-to-multipoint rather than point-to-point, and more of the sites could be interlinked, thus getting more redundancy at the expense of worse efficiency. But that would only reduce the number of critical nodes. GSM remains a fundamentally hierarchical network architecture, and some would inevitably be much more important at the system level than others.

And finally, they could still just destroy towers, only with rather less efficiency. Putting more equipment at the cell site might just make it more vulnerable. Also, a problem with mesh networks is that they are more effective the more nodes there are - but the places where we usually want them because other networks are impossible tend to be sparsely populated. It would also make the whole issue personal. Owning the device would make you a target.

In the final analysis, fire remains an effective technology of rebellion.

The Penrith problem - structural incentives and mobile service networks

Eh, Charlie Stross's blog is a machine for destroying time. Anyway. This post is going to be so wonkish it's to not come back from.

An occasional theme on this blog has been the intersection between the Bush wars and the mobile phone industry. In fact, looking back, that's not been so much an occasional theme as more of an obsession, and I'd have written more if I hadn't been subject to non-compete clauses.

Everyone who reads this blog probably knows that Afghanistan got GSM coverage very quickly after 2001, with Roshan and the Afghan Wireless Communications Company or AWCC in the lead. Things went so fast that for a while there were four operators with licenses and a good half-dozen pirate networks. The explanation of this is pretty simple - in the early 2000s the mobile industry had developed a whole package of technology, business models, methods, and personnel that made it possible to unfurl a GSM network pretty much anywhere and make an absolute killing.

Thaksin Shinawatra's career is a case in point - who knows how a Royal Thai Police colonel raised the money to come up as the holder of a GSM licence, but he did, and there were consulting engineers and contractors who would build the network and equipment vendors who would supply the parts with 100% vendor finance. Once it was up, it rained money and he was off to the races.

Of course Thailand is nothing like Afghanistan - a solid middle-income, industrialising economy with the kind of institutions that function by corruption rather than failing because of it. By 2001 there weren't so many plums like that one to pluck and the buccaneers who were first in were beginning to think about cashing out.

On the other hand, the gear kept getting cheaper and the success-stories made it easier and easier to borrow from the World Bank or other friendly local multilateral financial institution, as at this point it looked like about the only development success in 40 years or so. Thanks to people like Mo Ibrahim and the rest at Mobile Systems International, the level of average revenue per user that made it viable to build a GSM network was driven down until now we're operating below $5/month and there is no country that doesn't have at least a little bubble of coverage around the capital city.

So that's why it happened. There was a reliably deployable package of technology and economics and legalities, with a global workforce of Sven-units with frequent flyer points on every-damn-thing, and a set of reliable sources of capital. As well as the Aircom or Ericsson Professional Services guys who would design the network, and the contractors who would recruit the people who dug the foundations on the knolls and warps in the landscape that the radio planners made obscurely significant, there were others who would write the formal licence proposal to fit through the newly established bureaucracy of "regulators" and public procurement systems redesigned to please the IMF and other princes of the Washington consensus. No doubt there were people who specialised in operating the other, informal procurement systems. If you know what I mean. There was a product that sold and that, once sold, became one of the markers of modernity and status. The wheel of capital intensification kept turning, recapitulating the development of the Grand Banks fishery in the 1500s. Or something like what Erik Lund would say.

Of course, there were some problems with the package. Most of all, it structurally favours creating a new operator over extending an existing one's network, which is why Uganda has six mobile phone networks (and two WiMAX DSL-substitute not-officially-mobile networks) when a lot of people who ought to know think the UK only needs three. The turn-key vendor contract is meant to give you all the bits you need to call yourself an operator; the MFI funding is released when the licence application is accepted; the money starts flowing when the 15% or so of the cells that carry 50% of the traffic are on line. Increasing population coverage is mostly cost, which is why a coverage requirement is typically laid down in the licence.

And that's why supposedly (and that should be a big "supposedly") Kabul has better mobile service than Rory Stewart's constituency. Rory may need to consider what kind of mobile service places that stand in the same relation to Kabul as Penrith does to London get, and we're going to discuss this (and some other stuff) in the next post.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I know, but I don't know

I am reliably informed that an individual who was a member of Tony Blair's 10 Downing Street staff, and then one of the Tony Blair foundations (I'm not sure which one - the Faith, or the Sports, or just the Tony Blair Associates commercial version?), is now a scriptwriter for Simon Cowell on the American version of the X Factor. John someone, apparently.

non-Thursday music link

By special recommendation from the other author of this blog.

What these people need is a national biometric identity register

The creation of a database containing all 9 million Israelis' demographic, family, and medical information plus identifying biometrics has not necessarily developed to their advantage. Bonus points for use of the phrase "Hasidic criminal underworld". They'll make you an offer it takes years of painstaking theological scholarship to understand.

G3 Good Governance: what is it?

Following up on last week's pull the records post on Foxitty and tasers and stuff, what if "G3" really refers to G3 Good Governance Group? Here's the data, on LevelBusiness, which is even better than CompaniesintheUK. There are four names involved, two of which - Hugh Petre and Andries Pienaar - quit the board at the end of April 2010. Petre is on LinkedIn. There's also one Katharine MacGowan, who doesn't seem to be anywhere on the web. Hmmm.

And one Mungo Soggot. That's the kind of name that should be easier to track down, and it turns out that he's a South African journalist who did some pretty impressive work on corruption and also rocks and early 2000s emerging market GSM weirdness before moving to the UK. Depressingly, it sounds like he's essentially an exile. His dad was Sir David Soggot, a lawyer, judge, and apartheid resister. Here's Soggot opining on South African politics.

The same people, plus a couple of others, are also directors of RB4R UK Ltd., created 2 years ago, which has never traded, and Risk Analysis UK Ltd, which has been around for 13 years and is very much a thing. It provides "strategic risk advice, investigations, and litigation support", and intended to move the litigation and investigation business into a separate company in 2011 (presumably RB4R). Its accounts showed a profit of £2.39 million on a turnover of £12.1 million for 2010-2011. It employs 46 staff and spent about £3 million on salaries. It has about £3 million cash on hand, and paid just under a million pounds in tax.

Despite that, its ultimate owner is in the Isle of Man. However, as you can see from the above, it paid about a third of its profits in corporation tax, which is charged at 28%, and therefore isn't obviously using this to avoid tax. For what it's worth, the Manx company record is here.

It may be true that some of the people involved are former spooks - certainly the guy who's a CB and a former Defence civilian with absolutely no other qualities sounds like one. There's also an old friend of the blog, Alex Yearsley, who worked there after leaving Global Witness! Cryptome quotes a newspaper article that suggests that the people involved are ex-MI5.

The FT Westminster blog asserts that one Chester Crocker is the chairman of "investigations company G3", but as we have seen, no Crocker is a director of G3, G3 UK, G3i, or G3 Good Governance. Perhaps they mean the IoM holding company.

I don't know quite what the upshot of all this is, but it does seem that G3 Good Governance is a thing, unlike the other G3, it doesn't have any obvious conflicts of interest like the tasers, but it does have spooky directors. Oh, and the press have no idea which company they mean.

it flies! well, that's what it was bloody well designed to do

The question isn't so much "did Eric Pickles eat all the pies?", it's "who paid for the pies, and how many did he declare in the register of members' interests?". TBIJ is on an absolute tear on Tory lobbying stories at the moment, and the combination of photo and caption for the Eric Pickles one is masterly.

But this story reveals more than it says. So, four cabinet ministers accepted donations to their private offices since May, 2010. Those would be William Hague, George Osborne, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove, or to put it another way, most of Atlantic Bridge and the core of the neo-conservative group within the Conservative Party. I do not think this is a coincidence.

Curiously, it seems that if you get donations to your private office you don't also get them to your constituency party branch and vice versa, with the exceptions of George Osborne and Michael Gove, who would have more jam on it, wouldn't they?

Pickles, for his part, received zero, which makes perfect sense. You can't eat money, and as for spending it on unofficial advisers, that only makes sense if you ever take advice from other people and the Bradford food-mountain has always known he's right.

Meanwhile, Lord Astor of Hever turns up as a trustee of the Bridge and an pal of the Werritty-funding SAS walt, Iraq contract hunter, and intimate of mercenaries Tim Spicer and Anthony Buckingham.

I think I've said before that Astor of Hever came out of the Lobster Project proof of concept script as being a surprisingly important gatekeeper - although in himself, he isn't a major node, people who meet him also tend to get one-to-one meetings with the most important ministers. His weighted network degree, a measurement of how many links in the lobbying network involve him adjusted for how many people took part in the meetings, is 0.125, pretty low (78th in the league), but his gatekeepership metric is 2.533, the third highest overall and the very highest score for a minister with UK-wide responsibility. (I discount the gatekeepership numbers for Scottish and Welsh ministers, as their role is partly to represent Scottish and Welsh interests and they are structurally heavily lobbied.)

The gatekeepership metric in Lobster is the ratio of the average weighted network degree of those who lobbied a given minister to the average of all lobbies, to the ratio of that minister's network degree to that of an average minister, thus capturing the degree to which meeting that minister was associated with meeting more or less important ones while taking into account the fact that some ministerial jobs are more important than others. If it is greater than 1, you're likely to get a boost, if less, you're being heard out.

A limitation is that obviously, the Prime Minister can't help you meet a more important minister, so it doesn't yet deal with the situation where you meet the PM to get your word across and are then referred to a junior minister for action. I accept that this is a problem, although you would expect that it is easier to lobby the small fry, so the metric is nevertheless useful. However, at a network degree of 0.125, Lord Astor is not affected by this phenomenon.

OK, so we have a prediction - other ministers involved with the Werritty/Fox/Atlantic Bridge case will demonstrate unusually high gatekeepership. Step forward Gerald Howarth MP, Minister for International Security Strategy, who achieves a gatekeepership of 2.36, the fourth highest overall and the second highest UK-wide, on a network degree of 1.2. That's some pull, when you note that he's a significant node in terms of quantity.

Lobster detected a sinister network of influence! How awesome is that?

Why not foundation courts?

Thinking about the political castration of Ken Clarke and the fact that not even the Treasury in its most R.G. Hawtrey-esque mood seems to be able to stop the expansion of the prison industry, it struck me that the political class's attitude towards the public service known as justice is fundamentally different to its attitude to all the others, including defence and policing.

Since the mid-1980s and the rise of the New Public Management - possibly an even more pernicious intellectual phenomenon than New Classical economics - it's been a universal establishment consensus, shared by all parties, that any public service can be improved by giving bits of it a pseudo-budget to spend in a pseudo-market. Playing at shops is the defining pattern language of post-80s public administration. (This chap wrote at the time that the whole thing was remarkably like the 1960s Kosygin reforms in the Soviet Union, and perhaps we can induce him to post it up on his blog!)

For example, the 1990s Tory government wanted "fundholder" GPs to buy hospital services in an NHS internal market. Now they want to do something similar again, but more, faster, and worse. All sorts of local government services were put through a similar process. Central government agencies were ordered to bill each other for services vital to their operations. The Ministry of Defence was ordered to pay the Treasury 6% a year of the value of all its capital assets, such as the Army's tank park, reserve stocks of ammunition, uniforms, etc. As a result, the MOD sold as many vehicles as possible and had to buy them back expensively through Urgent Operational Requirements when they had to fight a war. Supposedly, some vehicles were sold off after Kosovo, re-bought for Afghanistan in 2001, sold again, re-bought for Iraq in 2003, sold again, and UORd in a panic in 2006.

(Off topic, if you're either a reporter hunting a story or a dealer in secondhand military vehicles, watch closely what happens to the fleet acquired under UORs for Afghanistan in the next few months.)

But there is one public service where the internal market is unknown. I refer, of course, to criminal justice. For some reason, it is considered to be normal to let magistrates and judges dispense incarceration, one of the most expensive products of the state, as if it were as free as air. The Ministry of Justice is simply asked to predict-and-provide sufficient prisons, like the Department for Transport used to do with motorways. Like motorways, somehow, however hard the bulldozers and cranes are driven, it never seems to be enough, and the prison system operates in a state of permanent overcrowding. Interestingly, the overcrowding seems to prevent the rehabilitative services from working, thus contributing to the re-offending rate, and ensuring both the expansion of the prison industry and the maintenance of permanent overcrowding.

The new public managers bitch endlessly about "producer interests" - they mean minimum-wage hospital cleaners, but somehow never GPs - but you never hear a peep about our bloated and wasteful criminal justice system. In fact, now that we have private jails, this producer interest is vastly more powerful as it has access to the corporate lobbying system and a profit motive.

Clearly, the problem here is that the gatekeepers to the system - the courts - have no incentive to use taxpayers' money wisely, as they face neither a budget constraint nor competition. There is a rhyme with the fact that a British Army company commander in Afghanistan has a budget for reconstruction of $4,000 a month, which he must account for meticulously to the Civil Secretariat to the Helmand Task Force, but in each section of ten riflemen under his command, at least one of them can spend $100,000 on destruction at any moment, by firing off a Javelin anti-tank missile, every time he goes outside the wire. As once the thing is fired, he no longer needs to tote the fucker any further, you can see that a lot more is spent on Javelin rounds than reconstruction, and indeed the task force was getting through 254 of them a month at one point.

But it's not a precise match. The military do, indeed, have to worry about their resources, as do the police. Only the courts can dispense public money without limit.

What if we were to give every magistrates' court a Single Offender Management Budget, out of which it could buy imprisonment, probation, community service, electronic tagging, etc in an internal market? This would make it obvious to the magistrate how much cheaper non-custodial interventions are than jail. It would force them to resist the temptation to jail everybody out of risk-aversion or political pressure. If a court was to start off the year handing down 16-month sentences for stealing a packet of fags, and end up in queer street by Christmas, well, that will teach them to waste taxpayers' money.

In fact, we could go further. Foundation courts would be able to borrow, if necessary, to tide themselves over to the end of the year, although of course they would have to make efficiency gains next year to repay it. It would be possible for a foundation court to go bankrupt and close. This, of course, will drive up standards. Perhaps we could even introduce an element of choice, letting defendants choose which jurisdiction they are prosecuted in.

I am, of course, joking. But not entirely.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't faze me, sorry, tase me, bro!

OK, so the report by Gus O'Donnell into Liam Fox and Adam "I can't believe he's not Mike Ledeen" Werritty specified some companies as donors to the various odd parallel structures that supported Fox and Werritty. One of these is given in the report as G3 Ltd. This has been described in the papers as being an "international investigations and security company founded by former MI6 officers". Sounds kewl, no? In fact, I suspected it might be an international logistics and security company of similar name from this post - didn't the blog used to be good back then? - but it's not.

Of course, there's no mystery about the directors of a British company. You just look'em up on Companies House's Webcheck service. OpenCorporates and Companies in the UK are also very handy. But if you want the directors of a company, you've got to put up with Companies House's dreadful website and pay them £3 a time. Hey - it's less than a pint.

So I looked up G3 Ltd. It's based on a featurelessly dull business park in Daventry. It has one director, Glenn Mark Cameron, born on the 25th of March 1977. He is, as far as I know, no relation. He also had another company, G3i Ltd., based in the same business park. But that isn't the name we're looking for. However, G3i Ltd. did describe its business as involving "investigations and security". Mr. Cameron lives in Daventry - the address is available to anyone who can find £3 and use the website. It seems to be completely unremarkable.

G3 Ltd, though, has a couple of interesting features. One of them is that it was incorporated as recently as the 30th of August. G3i is much older, but was shut down in March. So it was set up in August and immediately started sending money to political causes? Further, it doesn't seem to have any visible business. (It doesn't need to file accounts for a long while yet.)

Glenn Cameron has a LinkedIn profile, which mentions G3i but not G3. (He's also on Twitter.) G3i is no James Bond venture, but apparently a perfectly sensible small-town IT shop, which later diversified. This is where things get interesting. One of the advantages of CompaniesintheUK is that although you can't query companies for their directors, you can query by director. Glenn Mark Cameron is also a director of a small plastics firm, a pet shop, and two near-identical firms called Pro-Tect Systems and Pro-Tec Security Systems. All of them are located close together in Daventry.

Forget the pet shop. Pro-Tect was around for a while, but Pro-Tect Security Systems was incorporated as recently as April 2011. Which leads us to this December 2010 blog post. Now, let's hop back to the LinkedIn profile. Cameron claims to be in charge of Tactical Safety Responses Ltd, which owns and sells tasers to the British military and police forces. Blogger Richard Taylor pointed out that Glenn Cameron is one of its directors, as well as being company secretary of the first Pro-Tect.

Well, why care? The old Pro-Tect was stripped of its authorisation to own tasers, which are legally considered to be weapons for the purposes of the Firearms Act 1968 and need a licence from the Home Office. Instead, TSR Ltd. sprang up and was given the authorisation, despite the same people being behind it. Why did the Home Office take the T-bird away from Pro-Tect? Because they let the Northumbria Police have a new and untried version of the Taser, without the Home Office giving its approval, and they pointed it at one Raoul Moat while he was pointing a gun at his head, and the police pulled the trigger, and the gun went off!

So, Pro-Tect/Pro-Tect Security/Tactical Security Responses seem to be one and the same, and to have hastily swapped company in order to evade the consequences of this regrettable, sticky, and pinkish mess. Right. And their business model is that they have the exclusive right to sell Tasers to the police and the MoD. I wonder what possible interest they might have had in exerting influence on the MoD, and who knows, the Home Office too?

Put like that, it's a story of fairly petty influence-peddling. However, Gus O'Donnell didn't get to become Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, the Pope of Bureaucracy, by making mistakes over detail. It wasn't G3i or G3(UK) Ltd or Pro-Tect or TSR that appears in the report. It's G3 Ltd. (Even if the last revision time on the PDF is 1719, or about 26 minutes before the thing was finally handed out.)

Which leaves us with the strong impression that donations were being collected through this channel very recently, since the 30th of August, via a firm that has not apparently traded in any way. You might suspect that it exists just for this purpose. Further, people involved had financial interests in lobbying the government. And somebody in government felt it necessary to push out the message to the press that this story involved mystery spies and people with funny South African names. Why?

For the record, even if it was G3(UK) Ltd. and GOD had made a cock of the job, Andries Pienaar is not a director of that company. And if G3 Ltd is a company in some foreign jurisdiction, well, it's got no legal business donating money to politicians.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

non-Thursday music link

I think you'd have to be a perfesser to miss this point (h/t Jamie Kenny's twitter feed).
But even Mass Observation conceded the startling contrast between the ‘mechanized barbarity’ of dancehall music and the wordless decorousness of the dancers’ movements. In order to request a dance, a young man would simply touch a potential partner lightly on her elbow, and they would move silently on to the floor. It was quite normal for partners to dance for hours without speaking to each other, before going their separate ways.

Well, a big dance hall implies big sound. That implies either electronic amplification, or before that was invented, a fuck-off big horn section. And either of those will help the dancing while cramping your conversation. (I SAID, HOW ABOUT ANOTHER DRINK!) In fact, the electric guitar was invented in the 1930s as a substitute for quite so many wind players providing the wash.

It's true, as William Baumol said, that you need as many people to play a concerto as you did in 1900 and the same isn't true of producing steel, farming, or running a phone exchange or a bank. Interestingly, the electric guitar was originally an attempt to substitute capital for labour in the music industry, with enormous unforeseen consequences.

Don't believe me? Compare the horns-as-power-chord here and the the rhythm guitar-as-horns here, although those are ahistorical. Anyway, it's not Thursday, so how about a music link?

Moving swiftly on

So yer Djanogly and his legal aid bill and his insurance companies. Something I'd love to know more about is his rather odd statement that his kids had "non-interest bearing non-voting shares" in these companies and that they were "of no value". This is of course another case of the principle that lawyering a statement is much like doctoring it.

So, I presume that Djanogly (whose name is remarkably hard to type if you're a pythonista and therefore have the word "django" wired into touchtyping muscle memory) didn't really intend to leave his kids something of "no value". Had he wanted to do that, he could just leave them nothing, and save the lawyers' fees.

Now, the financially interesting thing here is that the securities involved are shares. Most shares are ordinary shares - they convey a share of ownership of the company, which is expressed by the fact they carry votes in the annual general meeting, and they carry the potential right to a share of profits if the directors (who the shareholders elected) so decide. However, they come dead last in terms of the company's credit and they pay no interest. All your capital is at risk if the company can't pay its bills, as everyone else gets paid out first. This is the nature of ownership - you have control over whatever it is you own, you can draw on its profits if you want to, but if it goes bust, it's your funeral.

Non-voting shares are usually preference shares. The difference is that you give up the vote, in exchange for a regular, guaranteed payout of income rather than just a chance of a dividend. Further, the preferred shareholders have to be paid their money before any dividends or anything else are paid to the ordinary shareholders, so there is an additional measure of security. This is why they are "preferred".

But Djanogly's statement excludes both preferred and ordinary shares. Note that there is neither a vote, nor any interest. Who would want such a security?

There are reasons. If a company is wound up, its creditors get paid first, with the government at the front of the queue. At the back of the queue are the shareholders, of all kinds. But this is only of interest if the company has creditors - i.e. if it is in debt. If there were no creditors, then its assets would be divvied up by the shareholders in return of their capital. Even if the company, like most companies, has some debt, such a residual claim would be worth having if the company's assets are worth much more than the debts.

Or the company might buy out the funny shares, or swap them for ordinary or preference shares. Also, you'll note that the shares are not "interest bearing", but then shares usually aren't and this is very important. If the shares aren't preference shares - i.e. they are not "interest bearing" - it's entirely up to the directors to decide what to pay out to them and when. They could hold a board meeting tomorrow and pay a huge special dividend in cash, on the special class of shares alone. Or they could wind up the company and divvy-up the pool. In a public company with thousands of shareholders, they might struggle to get away with this, but the Djanogly family controls 100% of the company.

So. The shares are worthless now, but the directors of Djanogly's firm are in a position to make them very valuable at a time of their choosing. Why would you want this set-up? The short answer is "inheritance tax".

As is fairly well known, inheritance tax has a time component. If you give away your money, and then die, it counts as an inheritance for tax purposes if you died seven years or less after giving away the money. If you give it all to the kids, you then have to live seven years without your money, and with the risk that you might survive much longer. And even if you commit suicide, you've to stick the seven years first. Of course, it is extremely annoying to tax-evaders that you can only control the moment of your death in a negative and unpleasantly dramatic fashion.

So the value of a device that permits you to bequeath something that is worthless until activated by a third party ought to be obvious. Ideally, you'd want something that permitted activation from beyond the grave, like the Soviet nuclear missile command system in Charlie Stross's The Jennifer Morgue. But that is impossible, and I think that a contract that required your executor to convene the board and pay out the money the day afterwards would break the rules on related-party transactions, although who knows?

Thanks are extended to Jones the tax.

Adventures in radial graph visualisation - Sindy edition

The Independent on Sunday has another really excellent piece on Liam Fox including a very good network visualisation. See the power of the radial graph paradigm, and understand why I want Lobster to look like that! kc claffy wasn't wrong.

to be filed for reference

It's a truth universally recognised that if you find one security exploit you'll find another. Something called CivilServiceLive has published a really excellent rundown of Tory and Lib Dem special advisers and - what is the word? - non-adviser advisers, here. I note that super-neocon journo William Shawcross's kid has been placed with George Osborne, as one of two non-adviser advisers. Hilariously, one of his official special advisers glories in the name Poppy, a monicker she shares with my neighbour's charming cat. Of course, you can't be held responsible for choosing your parents, even if Tories often seem to believe you should.

The Council for Emerging National Security Affairs, though, sounds like a wanktank of the first water but turns out actually to be a thing.

Now that's what I call lobbying

In the recent case of Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, there was an issue that the news media spent an enormous amount of time and effort dancing around with innuendo, newspaper code, and carefully lawyered prose. It is a fact that the word "lawyered" is to the word "lawyer" as the word "doctored" is to the word "doctor". Without understanding this hidden and sordid side of the issue, you would have been seriously misinformed. The matter was very sensitive, and there was an excellent chance of getting sued and probably also demonised as being deranged by shameful prejudices.

I refer, of course, to whether or not the Defence Secretary's private office was having unprotected sex with other defence secretaries' private offices.

It took a while to surface this at all - the Guardian let a wee squeak out on Thursday, and eventually it was the Sindy that took the plunge and surfaced it in the same way you surface a submarine, with an enormous roar of compressed air thundering into the ballast tanks under pressure while the nuclear reactor cranks up to full power. It's a must read.

The fact that Werritty's freebies included trips to the Herzliya Security Conference paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups should have been a screaming giveaway, but then, that's what a good cover story is for. I presume that was what the Sindy eventually followed up.

I mentioned this element of the story to Daniel Davies earlier in the week. I can offer no special insight except for the enduring value of pattern recognition. This has, after all, happened before in recent memory, with really bad consequences.

Consider Mr. Michael Ledeen and the affair of the weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ledeen, a professional neoconservative, claimed to have intelligence about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium and various other things, which came from his contacts in Iran, some of whom were recommended to him by his contacts in Israel, one of whom, Larry Franklin, was convicted of spying for Israel in the US State Department. Ledeen believed these contacts to be renegade members of the Iranian secret service. (He had never visited Iran, and I think to this day never has, and he doesn't to the best of my knowledge speak Persian, so how he would have known is beyond me.) The CIA, for its part, believed that this was partly true. They just disagreed with the "renegade" bit. But Donald Rumsfeld had deliberately decided to ignore the CIA, so Ledeen's intelligence was accepted. However, that wasn't the end of the story. At some point, the Department of Defense became suspicious and called in its own Counter-Intelligence Field Activity to investigate.

At this point, a thick curtain of secrecy was drawn down on the story, even if we did eventually get the Phase IIA report. Whatever CIFA found out, Ledeen was able to introduce the famous forged documents on uranium from Niger, which seem to have come from the Italian secret service, as being Iranian information with Israeli approval, and this was used in the even more famous dossier.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if old blogging chum from way back in the day, 2004, Laura Rozen hasn't also had this thought, as she was instrumental in digging into the whole Ledeen affair and she's too smart to miss it. Also, hilariously, she and Spencer Ackerman had the honour of being targeted by Ledeen's mates in Silvio Berlusconi's intelligence service with a scurrilous smear-campaign. I should probably hat-tip the lady's Twitter feed.

Note the elements of the story. Ledeen is a semi-official adviser with special, privileged access to policymakers. He is outside the formal requirements of government service, but has access inside it. He is seen to have special access to an important ally, and therefore to be trustworthy. A third party observed this, and took advantage of it to introduce information (or rather, disinformation) into the policymaking system. Does anybody see a pattern here? Similarly, Werritty was offered privileged access from outside the government firewall because he was ideologically congenial. It seems that this was considered acceptable because the influence exerted came from a country considered friendly. But then, there were the rogue Iranian intelligence agents, or were they just ordinary Iranian intelligence agents?

In May 2009, Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Portcullis House between Mr Fox and an Iranian lobbyist with close links to President Ahmadinejad's regime. In February this year, Mr Werritty arranged a dinner with Mr Fox, Britain's ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and senior political figures – understood to include Israeli intelligence agents – during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya, during which sanctions against Iran were discussed. Despite Mr Werritty having no official MoD capacity, an Israeli source said there was "no question" that Mr Werritty was regarded as anyone other than Mr Fox's chief of staff who was able to fix meetings at the highest levels, and was seen as an "expert on Iran".

Well, at least Werritty actually went to Iran. Unfortunately this is the worst of the story, as it seems he was going round encouraging Iranian dissidents, or people he thought were Iranian dissidents, and promising them British support. This is really incredibly, shamefully irresponsible - he could have got people killed, and it cannot be ruled out that he did, although it's also quite possible that the whole affair was just a massive exercise in bullshitting and wanktankery.

Probably he really believes that he was in contact with the opposition. I'm fairly sure Ledeen doesn't think he's an Iranian agent either. This is where this classic Onion article comes into play. As I said at the time, why *do* all these Iranian agents keep sucking Michael Ledeen's cock?

It is all reminiscent of Bruce Schneier's thoughts on what happens if you create a backdoor into some computer system, so people like us can get in and out without anyone noticing. The problem is that once you do that, it immediately becomes the biggest security threat to the system as anyone else can use it too. Once this new interface to the MoD was created, with Werritty accepting connections from the wider Internet and forwarding them to Fox, of course it attracted dubious actors. Hence the parade of various people trying to sell aircraft spares and dodgy encryption software to the military or to get someone's knighthood expedited.

For my next trick, what parallels do you see between Werritty's role with Liam Fox and those of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis with No.10 Downing Street and the Metropolitan Police (and of course the Conservative Central Office) respectively? Remember that both of them were at various times funded by third parties. Further, is it not interesting that the same key Conservatives who defended Coulson to the bitter end - George Osborne and Michael Gove - also tried to save Liam Fox? (Jonathan Freedland seems to have sensed something here - check out the reference to "Cheneyite Tories".) And is it not even more interesting that George Osborne actually recommended Andy Coulson for the job? And is it not completely fucking outrageous that William Hague, Atlantic Bridge board member and Foreign Secretary (I think this is the right order of precedence), dares to claim that proper Cabinet government is back in the midst of this berserk threat-chaos?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Leeds. LEEDS. Leeds. (Look, you're the richest club in the northern union. Get a better song)

So, I managed to get to watch the Grand Final on Saturday night! The first pub we tried had a private function where the TV is, although it also had Timothy Taylor's Landlord Ale, and the other bar contained a group of Irish union fans who'd been drinking steadily since 6am. We moved on, and actually found rugby league on the Holloway Road.

John Kear apparently thought it was the best of the Grand Finals he'd seen, and he ought to know. He also thought Danny McGuire was Leeds's defence leader, a clearly inspired judgement.

Saints were all about width, the classic pattern of trying to extend the line faster than the sliding defence and creating the overlap. Leeds were all about depth and tempo, trying to force defenders to turn and beat them for short sprint pace. It was a classic clash of styles.

A few years ago, people used to talk about the "midfield triangle" in league, being the half-backs and the loose forward. This doesn't quite make sense, as the hooker in league is a specialist acting halfback and one of the most important distributors in the team, and organising a league team around the scrum is beside the point. Instead you've got a square, or a quartet, or something with four in it. A box with four pies in it, if you will. A four-pack of beers.

Leeds re-organised theirs quite radically - in the playoffs, they'd been using Kevin Sinfield as the scrum half and saving Rob Burrow to run at tired legs. In the final, they played Burrow from the first 20 minutes with his regular partner McGuire and put the Sinner back in 13. But that doesn't tell you much. Burrow didn't do much distribution or tactical kicking and McGuire's role in the game was almost totally defensive. Instead, Sinfield and Danny Buderus did the distribution, Burrow had a free role to dash and buzz and harass Saints, and McGuire had a parallel defensive mission to hunt the Saints first receiver, coordinate the defence, and generally get stuck in whereever the attack came from. And he did a hell of a job on this.

Saints didn't really come up with an answer to this, once it got going. Kicking penalties flattered the score a bit. McGuire broke up their moves regularly, Burrow kept catching defenders on the turn and eventually won the Harry Sunderland trophy, and Buderus and Sinfield kept control of the pace of the game.

This may bring back the old "is a stand-off really a loose forward" thing from the 1990s. Back then, there were quite a few good players who operated in either slot - Daryl Powell, Tony Kemp, Phil Clarke, Ellery Hanley, and earlier, Wally Lewis come to mind. The 1994 Lions, coached by Hanley, used first Clarke and then Powell in this role to mark the great Laurie Daley (who was the absolute opposite). It worked at Wembley, but the plan rather broke down after both of them got injured, and it also made the team pretty negative. On the other hand, once Powell was off the pitch and Garry Schofield back on, Daley ran rings round Great Britain for the rest of the series.

But Leeds's game plan didn't really reduce to that. Anyway, it was a hell of a game and Rob Burrow's first try was a bit of brilliance beyond tactics, exploiting a gap in depth rather than width - one side of the defence hadn't come up quite as smartly as the other - and ducking under the big men to make the initial break.

Oh yes, and that makes it a Yorkshire clean sweep of the three divisions with Leeds, Featherstone Rovers, and Keighley. Keighley! They told me it was Warrington's year, and Wigan were back...

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Liam Fox: Not Fit For Purpose

OK, so "Not All That" Foxy Liam Fox is in trouble.
"He is an odd bloke," said one fellow minister. "He has fingers in so many pies that you kind of think one of them will land him in trouble somewhere along the line."

Another Tory MP said Fox's tendency to name-drop and brag about his close friendships with Republicans in the US, media magnates such as David and Frederick Barclay (owners of the Daily Telegraph), and his endless globe-trotting, even before he entered the cabinet, has made many bristle and help explain why he has plenty of enemies in the Tory party and in Whitehall. "I think you either roll with the bluster or find it repellent," said a Tory MP.

Ah, one of them. Anyway. Part of the problem is this famous meeting where his bestie Adam Werritty just happened to turn up. What was on offer? Well, a product called Cellcrypt, whose makers were trying to sell it to the MoD to stop evilly-disposed persons from eavesdropping on British soldiers' phone calls back to the UK. (Note: this is going to be long. Technical summary: voice encryption apps for GSM-style mobile networks can guarantee that your call will not be overheard, but not that your presence cannot be monitored, and not necessarily that the parties to your calls cannot be identified.)

Back in the early days of Iraq, the CPA permitted one mobile phone operator in each of its three zones to set up. The British zone, CPA-South/Multinational Division South-East, let the Kuwaiti national telco, MTC (now Zain and busy running Mo Ibrahim's old Celtel business into the ground) set up there with a partner some of us may have heard of. It's from Newbury and it's not a pub or an estate agency and its logo is a big red comma...funny how Vodafone never talked that particular investment up, innit? Anyway. Later the Iraqi government did a major tender for permanent licences and Orascom got most of it, but that's another story.

One thing that did happen was that soldiers took their mobiles with them to Iraq, and some of them pretty soon realised that buying a local SIM card in the bazaar was much cheaper than making roaming calls back to the UK. Either way, lots of +44 numbers started showing up in their VLR, the big database that keeps track of where phones are in a GSM network so it can route incoming calls.

Pretty soon someone who - presumably - worked for the MTC-Voda affiliate and whose purposes were not entirely aligned with Iraq The Model realised that you could use the VLR to follow the Brits (and the Yanks and the Danes and the Dutchmen and Kiwis and all sorts of contractors) around. Not only that, you could ring up their families in the UK and make threats with the benefit of apparently supernatural knowledge.

This obviously wasn't ideal. Efforts were made to mitigate the problem; soldiers were discouraged from using local GSM networks, more computers and public phones were made available. The eventual solution, though, was to get some nice new ruggedised small-cell systems from companies like Private Mobile Networks Ltd., which basically pack a small base station and a base station controller and a satellite backhaul terminal into a tough plastic box of a suitably military colour. You open it up, unfold the antenna, turn on the power, and complete some configuration options. It logs into the mobile operator who's providing service to you via the satellite link.

Now, because radio signals like all radiation lose intensity with the inverse square of the distance, you'll be vastly louder than everyone else. So any mobile phone nearby will roam onto your private mobile network and will be in the UK for mobile phone purposes, a bit like the shipping container that's technically in Egypt at the end of Four Lions. And none of this will touch any other mobile network that might be operating in your area. Obviously you can also use these powers for evil, by snarfing up everyone else's traffic, and don't for a moment think this isn't also done by so-called IMSI catchers.

You're not meant to do this, normally, because you probably don't have a licence to use the GSM, GSM/PCS, or UMTS frequencies. But, as the founder of PMN Ltd. told a colleague of mine, the answer to that is "we've got bigger tanks".

So, where were we? Well, the problem with trying to do...something...with Cellcrypt is that it doesn't actually solve this problem, because the problem wasn't originally that the other side could listen to the content of voice calls. Like all telecoms interception stories, it was about the traffic analysis, not the content. Actually, they probably could listen in as well because some of the Iraqi and Afghan operators may not have been using up-to-date or even *any* air interface encryption.

But if you're going to fix this with an encryption app like Cellcrypt, you've got to make sure that every soldier (and sailor and diplomat and journo and MoD civilian) installs it, it works on all the phones, and you absolutely can't make calls without it. Also, you've got to make sure all the people they talk to install it.

And the enemy can still follow you because the phones are still registering in the VLRs!

So, there's not much point relying on OTA voice encryption to solve a problem that's got nothing to do with the voice bearer channel. However, bringing your own small cell network certainly does solve the problem, elegantly, and without needing to worry about what kind of phones people bring along or buy locally.

And the military surely understand this, as by the time of the famous meeting, they'd already started deploying them. Also, back when this was a big problem, 19 year-old riflemen usually didn't have the sort of phones that would run a big hefty application like Cellcrypt, which also uses the mobile data link and therefore would give them four figure phone bills.

To sum up, Werritty was helping someone market gear that the MoD didn't need, that was hopelessly unfit for purpose, wouldn't actually do what the MoD wanted, and would cost individual soldiers a fortune, by providing privileged access to the Secretary of State for Defence.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

keighley keighley boing boing


Keighley 32, Workington 12. Yeah.

Not the kittens!

I have just finished reading The Stones of London: A History in 12 Buildings. Not a gem by any means - far too much broadbrush Tory-ish and not much of an edge - but I did think he had a couple of good points. One was in the chapter on Keeling House and Denys Lasdun, in which Leo Hollis makes the very good point that the Brutalists specifically didn't want to impose international style modernism on everyone but the reverse - they wanted to adapt modernism to the peculiarities of sites, communities, materials, and projects. It's quite possible that trying to be enormously localist and consult everyone is a great way to get things drastically wrong, eh, Pickles? There's no such thing as a Wharfedale shipping container.

In fact, some of Lasdun's remarks he quotes would probably please Prince Charles if only he didn't know who said them, and you might even think that part of the problem was the silly name. Although, I guess they said that about Operation KITTENS.

As a result, I guess I'll have to denounce comrade Hatherley as a right-deviationist.

Another one was about the fate of Victorian houses in London, and specifically the way that people buy them and immediately set about ripping out the interior walls, dragging the kitchen forwards from its kennel in the back garden, and building - essentially - an open plan, white-walled modernist interior inside the brick skin.

Throwing out the bums

What if the entire political response to the Great Financial Crisis could be summed up as "Punch the incumbent"?

Americans threw out George Bush. Obviously this was overdetermined, but still, they did it in the winter of 2008. If you look around the democratic world, what seems to make the most difference is timing - how much distance was left to run in the political cycle. Nicolas Sarkozy got hugely lucky by running for election a couple of months before the crash, thus getting a full term. But then he married Carla and got away with paying all that cash into the Balladur campaign's account at the Boulevard Haussmann Credit du Nord, so falling in the shit and coming up smelling of roses is hardly unusual in his life. Had the election somehow held off until the winter, though, after the whistle blew for the crisis, who would have bet against the electorate lashing out at the incumbent?

In Spain, Zapatero was in charge when the storm broke and took the punishment, although one does begin to wonder if he might eventually pull it round, having survived this far. I'll come back to that. In Germany, the incumbent-bashing reflex hit both the coalition partners, but the biggest winner was the FDP. Wasn't that simply because they hadn't been in charge for many years, unlike the Greens? As a result, Angela Merkel was able to stay on and form a coalition with them. In Austria, the crisis hit with a rightwing government in power and the Social Democrats got back in. In Greece, we had the same pattern, unfortunately for the Socialists who got stuck with the bill. Poles threw out the Kaczynski brothers and brought back the Social Democrats. Swedes threw out the Social Democrats, who were in charge, and brought in the conservatives. Ireland sacked the Right and brought in Labour and Fine Gael. Australia finally binned the rightwing coalition that had been in charge since 1996 and pulled in Labour. Danes threw out the Right, who were in charge, and brought back the Socialists. The pattern was the same everywhere - whoever was in charge, was replaced at the first opportunity. Rather than anything like a coordinated move right or left, there was a rush to throw out the bums.

In the UK, therefore, what would you expect a priori? Labour were in charge when the crisis blew up and therefore they got a beating. However, it's worth unpacking this a little. As things got progressively worse, so the Tories did better and Labour did worse, until the winter of 2009. From then on, the Tory lead began to fade through the spring, and eventually they collapsed just short of the line and were carried over by the Lib Dems. This fits perfectly with a burst of rage at incumbents that just looked like a move to the Right because of the electoral calendar.

It's also worth considering Germany carefully. In many ways, German politics since the crisis has been a preview of British politics a few months ahead. They had an anti-incumbent backlash and a bout of Cleggmania. The conservatives held onto their core vote, with the broad Left fracturing, and the Liberals getting an unusually good score by virtue of not having been in government recently and smiling a lot. (This is quite like the British election of 2010.) As a result, a Tory-Liberal coalition was formed, started yelling for austerity, and began to decay almost as soon as it was launched. It made a lot of rather silly pronouncements, adopted a cuts budget and a succession of gimmes to clientele groups...and now the Liberal element of it is down to 2% in national polls as the economy turns for the worse.

Interestingly enough, they're now seeing (as well as the crushing of the FDP) a broad revival across all the Left parties - the SPD, the Left Party, and the Greens, whose halfleader J├╝rgen Trittin was making a lot of sense about the Euro last week.

But it would be foolish to think May 2010 was a judgment on the Left or the Labour Party as such. Given the hugely favourable circumstances, it was also such a judgment on the Tories.

Monday, September 26, 2011

my love affair with GSM hardware

Even more trivial than the last one! Some mobiles I loved.

Samsung ???

This was the first of them all in 2000-2001. A weird reverse-clamshell design that very rapidly developed dodgy contacts in the joint. But eh, I had a real, lasting relationship and I could send her texts from the union!

Siemens c55i

Neat and sort of German. With a big square INTERNET key to remind you that you could look at a small subset of the Web on it, if you wanted to spend an absurd amount of money. I took this one away to Vienna and ran up horrible roaming bills (see above) and went without for six months.

Nokia 3210

First Nokia. Smaller, thinner, more future-y. Lit up like a squid from within.

Nokia 6210

Ah, an enduring design classic. Really great, clicky but soft, good sized keys with lighted markers. Less Star Trek than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Real European design. Series 40 OS. Sound hardware. And when we moved into the new flat, I remembered that Royal Holloway computer centre still had a dialup pool, so we aligned the IR port and dialled in over the circuit voice channel, and we could load the blog. 2003 was a bit late for dialup though.

Nokia 6210i

Same as the 6210 but with a 1.3 megapixel cam. Operators had finally repented of trying to make everyone use MMS and therefore squeeze photos into the size mandated by the 3GPP standards group. Sadly, they also made the keys silvery and destroyed its austerity of design. This was the only one I ever lost, from a boozy working lunch at MCI.

Qtek 8100/HTC Amadeus

Working at MCI made that a nonproblem. Very soon we got one of these as a gimme. Technically this was the first smartphone I had, with MS Windows CE and an SD card slot. The back was designed fairly obviously to look a bit like some Apple products, and the whole thing was meant to be a "music phone". That didn't mean it came with any real storage capacity, and I added a 2GB SD card - at the time those cost real money. Having worked out how to configure the data access point, it meant I could read NANOG on the train of a morning until I got banned for three months for swearing. I also managed to permanently reduce the default camera resolution, so a whole holiday's worth of snaps were thumbnails. It was this phone that I took to Singapore and Cape Town in one month and set my personal record mobile bill of £132.

BlackBerry ?

Vodafone sent us one of the BlackBerrys before they were designed to not be hideous, as a review of their hosted BlackBerry service. This was quite impressive, even if it was hard to stop it getting my colleague Sean Jackson's e-mail. My partner was horrified by the blinking, commanding red light, I was delighted by the clickwheel. I took it to 3GSM in Barcelona. VF asked us for it back soon afterwards. I wonder why?


I had this one in early 2006. I can find similar ones, but only from at least a year later - or perhaps we got an early prototype? Anyway, it was similar to this one but with even fewer hardware controls, so only the horribly crap touchscreen. The first one I had with a touchscreen, or WiFi. Didn't really work. It also destroyed the SD card full of songs. Bastards.

HP iPaq 6915w

This one was actually quite impressive in a slightly grim enterprisey way. It provided a touchscreen, a QWERTY keypad, WiFi, and GPS, and it worked when it wasn't crashing. It also had a hard plastic cover that flipped over the screen. I remember deliberately taking a photo on board a plane from London to Dubai to get a GPS fix, and finding that the camera app would look up photos on Multimap (Multimap!) if it could. Also, looking up questions on the Buddha Bar's WiFi from IMDB to settle an argument.

HP wanted it back.

BlackBerry Pearl

Around then, RIM discovered product design and suddenly BlackBerry devices didn't need a tea cosy over them. The first of the new breed was this one, and RIM sent me one, which I took to Cape Town. It worked well and looked good, although it was made of glue and phone calls sounded really odd.

Nokia N73

3 UK announced a new product - the X-Series tariff, which offered Skype! on a mobile. They sent us one. I was impressed and paid for one myself. It was a damn good photo phone and a good all rounder, even if it wasn't pretty. The Skype implementation was disappointing. But the camera was great.


I went to an Orange UK product launch. They said there were Nokia E61s going, but I got there late and they were all gone. I got one of these instead - a preview of the future, really. Windows again, with a large but not good touchscreen, and a slide-out QWERTY, and basically top specifications in everything, and a handy click-wheel. The first 3G device I had. My sister then needed a phone and the N73 turned up, so I offered her the gadget. She renamed it the Beast of Telecom but used it for ages.

Nokia E65

I changed operator to 3UK for the X series and stayed for the cheap Internet service. The E65 was part of Nokia's attempt to outcompete RIM on looks - a shiny slide-out device. But the bit that got me was the fact it could read RSS feeds. I could check key blogs on the train!

Nokia E71

Ah, a genuine design classic this one. So much so I've still got it. Mine came in a mix of chrome, white plastic and white leather keys on the QWERTY. The late version of Symbian S60 it ran worked very well unless you wanted to write code for it, in which case you were basically in for a world of tiresome. It felt and looked great and everything built in worked great. And you could just USB it to any computer and wvdial it to get online.

Bizarrely, Nokia shipped it with a 200MB(!) SD card with some apps on it, rather like they sent out crappy tinny headphones with "music phones". Also, the phones socket was at 90 degrees to the phone, so it wouldn't drop into a pocket and never worked well.
Eventually I dropped it and the screen crazed, and I thought it was time for Android.

Samsung GT-i7500

A hacky mess. No QWERTY, which annoys me. Seriously buggy in every way. Made of tickytacky, ugly. Atrocious battery life and radio performance. Crashy, although that's the Google's fault. At least the headphone cockup was avoided. Perhaps some of the 'droid issues are fixed in updates, but the updates never come. (On the other hand, Nokia announced in about 2008 that you could update your phone's software to the latest version...but it would overwrite all the data on it. Thanks!)

And if it runs out of internal storage, it silently drops SMS messages. Fail.

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