ThePickards ranting and rambling to anyone willing to listen Thu, 14 Jan 2010 07:39:05 +0000 en hourly 1 Football Gossip: If In Doubt, Make Something Up Thu, 14 Jan 2010 07:39:05 +0000 JackP One of my favourite parts of football gossip is what is known as “the transfer rumour”. This is when your local newspaper links your local football club with at least three or four new players in every week in order to try and shift more copies because to be honest no-one is really interested in the other big headlines “cat up tree safely recovered” and “job believed to be available in local area”.

As a Newcastle United fan, I’m used to our local paper — the Evening Chronicle — churning out this sort of information. But as I’ve criticised this in the past for linking us with fifty-three different players and when we eventually sign one, triumphantly announcing “we told you first” — conveniently ignoring the 52 times they were wrong — I’ve been delighted to uncover an even less reliable source of information.

This is known as the Sky Sports Rumour Room, where people are supposed to send in the latest transfer rumours they have heard, only it appears to be a mix of existing transfer speculation mixed in with local rivalry, wishful thinking, and complete and utter bollocks.

And obviously, I’ve been having fun with it…

Looking at Jermaine Beckford — currently at Leeds United, 26, linked a lot with Newcastle recently, out of contract at the end of the season, untried above League One — what have people heard he’s up to? (remember, this is supposed to be rumours not “fantasy transfer window”)…

No. Player Destination Price Other Team supported by alleged source
1 Jermaine Beckford Newcastle United £1.75 million Leeds United
2 Spurs Unknown Alleged first-person sighting Spurs
3 Sunderland Unknown Allegedly ‘interested in’ Sunderland
4 Newcastle United Unknown Latest news ‘linked with us’ Newcastle United
5 Newcastle United Unknown ‘once Leeds sign a replacement’ Newcastle United
6 Newcastle United Unknown Seen as Newcastle’s training ground by a mate Norwich City
7 Leicester City Unknown Leicester City
8 West Brom £3 million West Brom
9 Sheffield United Player exchange Sheffield United
10 Newcastle United £2.5 million Newcastle United
11 Nottingham Forest £2 million Nottingham Forest
12 Nottingham Forest £1.5 million plus player Nottingham Forest
13 Sunderland £2 million Sunderland
14 Newcastle United £3.7 million Leeds United
15 Newcastle United Unknown ‘within days of handing in a transfer request’ Newcastle United
16 Celtic Unknown ‘the barcodes are not in the running, come to a big club with ambition’ Celtic
17 Newcastle United £2.5 million Leeds United
18 Newcastle United £1.5 million Put “(RELIABLE SOURCES)” in brackets, so it must be true… Newcastle United
19 Newcastle United £5 million Manchester United
20 Newcastle United £1.5 million Leeds United
21 Newcastle United Unknown with bonus Sol Campbell Hearts
22 Newcastle United Unknown ‘will try to sign’ Newcastle United
23 Unknown £5.75 million Leeds United
24 Aston Villa Unknown Aston Villa
25 Celtic £7 million ‘are approaching Beckford and he is having a fitness test right now’ Aberdeen

(Rumours all as at 12th January)

So firstly, I’d like to offer my congratulations to Jermaine Beckford, for having been responsible for 1/6th of all transfer rumours — that’s quite an astonishing return for a league one player. However, he is obviously remarkably busy, having managed trips to Newcastle, London and Glasgow all in one day. Unless one or more of these sources is telling porky pies, of course…

It’s obviously noticeable that he’s previously been linked with Newcastle, so anyone linking him with Newcastle — unless they have anything new to add — is just regurgitating existing gossip. On the other hand, the fact that virtually everyone (with the exception of Leeds fans) who talk about him seem to want him to sign for their club (I particularly like the ‘barcodes out of the running’ which suggests that the person knows something, followed by the impassioned plea ‘come to a big club with ambition’ which then suggests the person hasn’t got the foggiest what Beckford’s plans are after all).

But some of the funniest bits are people who obviously don’t know the details of a particular player, yet aren’t going to let that deter them from. There’s the people (#14, #19, #23 –who seemed to feel that selling a player out of contract in 5 months would finance about seven signings, #25) who seem to think someone is likely to pay over £3.5 million for a player they could get in the summer for free (over 24, will be out of contract). At least do some research before making up blatant transfer bollocks.

Although on that note, the best one I saw doesn’t involve Jermaine Beckford at all. It’s this one, from a Sunderland fan–

My uncle works at the stadium of light and he said that bruce might be taking in 3 players such as a £3 million spending on mario melchiot. A £4 million transfer for Hull city’s Hunt, and a end of season loan to buy for LA Galaxy striker Donavan.

Hmm. The only LA Galaxy striker with a name like that I can think of is Landon Donovan, but he signed for Everton last week. If your uncle does work at the Stadium of Light, I really hope he’s not part of their scouting team, otherwise Steve Bruce is in trouble…

But I also like the people who add the words “(RELIABLE SOURCES)” or “FACT!” to their blatant nonsense, just so people know that it must be true, because it’s not actually possible to write that sort of thing if you’re lying. I think. Unless it’s just that writing FACT! makes it come true. So I’ll just leave you with a rumour I recently heard…

Newcastle United will sign Jermaine Beckford, Matthew Kilgallon, Cesc Fabregas and Kaka, all funded by the £1.4 billion Real Madrid will pay us for Kazenga Lua Lua… and I’ll win the Euromillions. FACT!

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Newcastle Supporters Trust: A lot to swallow Wed, 13 Jan 2010 07:04:28 +0000 JackP I’m generally in favour of the aims of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST). I’m a Newcastle fan, and I think it would be great for fans of the club to own a stake in the club (or even to fully own the club, if possible); I think it would be brilliant for there to be an elected fans’ representative on the board, and I’m well behind the idea of the club being more open and more accountable to the fans.

In fact, I think this would be a good thing for every football club. Putting rivalries aside for a moment, in general fans have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the directors of their respective clubs. Basically, fans are treated as a cash cow for the club to milk by whatever revenue stream necessary (TV, gate money, merchandise) in order to ensure that the club makes a profit to pay large sums of money to players, directors and shareholders.

Okay, it doesn’t always work that way, but who wouldn’t prefer to see their club run by the fans, for the fans?

And that’s why, despite being a little sceptical that they would be able to raise the amounts of money required, I’ve been firmly behind NUST up to now. Until what I can only see as misinformation coming out of their mouths at the expense of Mike Ashley.

I’m not a fan of Mike Ashley: I don’t see that he has the best interests of the club at heart, and I’m sure he’ll sell up as soon as he finds someone who will meet his asking price. But that’s precisely why this information coming from NUST looks completely bonkers. If I give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s not deliberate misinformation, then it looks like stupidity… and frankly neither of them look particularly good for someone who thinks that they would be able to run the club better and more openly.

What they said was this:

sources have told us that Mr Ashley is making up to £7m profit out of our club every monthNUST: Supporter Survey

Note that they’ve chosen to include the quote (they could easily have skipped it if they felt it was nonsense) — so either they attach credence to the sources or at very least they want the reader to — and they’ve associated it with a survey suggesting that the fans should buy the club from him.

If Mike Ashley was making £84 million pounds per year out of the club, do you really think he’d have tried to sell it only six months ago for around £100 million? There may be better businessmen out there, but I can’t imagine he’d want to sell an asset for only a tiny smidge more than it makes in profit per year.

In the Premiership (when we were making considerably more in TV money), the club had a turnover of £100 million, with £73 million on wages. That year, the club made a loss of £34 million (source: The Guardian, Jan 2009). This means that the other outgoings of the club were around £60 million.

Now, even if you were to assume that all club outgoings were down by two-thirds (a frankly ridiculous scenario), and that income was exactly the same (again, nonsense), then Newcastle would still not be making £7 million per month.

By allowing this sort of information to be associated with their cause without any justification (fine, if they’ve got figures to back up this level of profit, but it seems extraordinary so I’m not going to accept it on their say-so), NUST have made exactly the same false assumption about the credulity of Newcastle supporters that many others have made in the past — and they’ve pretty much destroyed their credibility in the process.

Of course, if they can back up this claim, then I’ll apologise…

But I’m more inclined to believe what I read from the independent NUFC Finances site, which looked into published finances:

A year ago the comment on this site was “In summary what Shepherd left was a club that was losing over £30m a year, had debts of £70m, had no assets they could borrow more money against, and had a set of players on long, lucrative contracts. Ashley can get rid of the debt but the £30m annual losses with over paid players will take longer to sort out.”NUFC Finances

NUST have a lot of explaining to do if they want to regain any credibility. And may I suggest that one of the first things they do — unless, as I said, they can back up that quote — is to apologise to Mike Ashley. He might have done many things wrong, but without him the club would be in a much bigger financial hole.

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Alibhai-Brown: A Dangerous Moderate? Tue, 12 Jan 2010 11:26:58 +0000 JackP I read an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in yesterday’s independent. I presume she’d describe herself as a moderate as she states she’s against the burkha. But while I found the article she had written to be interesting, and indeed thought-provoking, I found its conclusions to be somewhat dangerous.

Basically, her premise is that many Islamic people find it difficult to hold on firmly to their religion in a country which she sees as having no morals, and therefore they turn to extremism, and that therefore to combat extremism it is necessary to rein in some of the worst excesses of society. She references Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the ‘underpants bomber’):

At university he apparently cut himself off, tried to hold on to Islamic Puritanism in a country of no shame, no restraint. Millions of Britons of all backgrounds are alarmed by the dissipation and debauchery that now defines Britain.Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Don’t get me wrong — she is not in any way supportive of violent extremists and is critical of a lot that is wrong:

Sexual abuse, rape and forced homosexuality remain the dirty secrets of British Muslim communities, kept under wraps as it were, while they flap around proclamations of purity. I cannot stand these false virtues and self-reverential pieties nor am I pleading on behalf of screwed-up men who would murder us naming Allah.Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

However, whilst I understand what she is saying– that a society seen as permissive may make it difficult for people used to a much stricter regime — I cannot agree with the conclusion she arrives at. I find it very difficult to separate her arguments from these other two…

  • A society with a lot of sexual permissiveness is ‘pushing some Muslims to the edge of reason’ (her words). Therefore we must change our society to avoid having problems with extremists
  • A woman who goes out wearing a short skirt knows the effect that this will have on men. Therefore she cannot complain if someone rapes her as she was ‘asking for it’
  • Some British people don’t like Muslims, and don’t want them in their communities. Therefore Muslims should not be allowed to go in those communities

Basically, all of these arguments are along these lines.

  • A doesn’t like B. Therefore B is at fault and must change

It’s utter nonsense. I don’t particularly approve of people binge-drinking and sleeping around and being sexually permissive but — and here’s the important point — it’s none of my damn business.

It’s none of my damn business if someone wants to binge drink. It’s none of my damn business if someone wants to wear revealing clothes. It’s none of my damn business if someone wants to sleep with someone else.

If they do these things in such a way that another person is brought to harm, then society has a right to stop them, and indeed you will find that we have laws in place. But if you’re not hurting anyone else: if what you are doing is mutual, and consenting, then what right have other people to stick their noses in because they don’t like it?

But to be honest, it was the holier-than-thou, ivory tower, let’s sneer at the estate folk attitude which really annoyed me. See if you can guess which was the key word or words that told me there was a problem with Yasmin’s argument.

A list was sent home to the parents of girls at a middle-class school in London last week sternly reminding non-uniformed sixth-formers that there were still rules of decorum to follow. A list followed of garments henceforth disallowed: no tops that show the midriff or cleavage, no tight mini-skirts, no underwear showing, no clothes with holes in them, etc, etc.Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Yes, that’s right. Middle-class. This word is entirely surplus to requirements if you’re trying to make the point that this is happening at a London school. It’s only required if you’re trying to say “and it’s not just the vermin from the estates, you know”. I mean, I knew people were saying that the Independent was going downhill, but I hadn’t expected it to turn into the Daily Mail quite that quickly.

I have a perfectly simple rule for racial, ethnic, and religious harmony. Whenever someone tries to convince you that there is something wrong with a particular group, remind yourself of it. It’s easy to remember, it can be applied to members of almost any grouping, and if everyone followed it, the world would be a much nicer place.

Live and let live.

And if that one’s too difficult for you, may I instead refer you to the fall-back rule I mentioned earlier: what other people are doing — so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else — is none of your damn business.

And that, not sexual inhibition (or exhibition), or religion (or lack of it) ought to be the one thing enshrined in society.

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To The Spammer… (SFW) Sun, 10 Jan 2010 10:25:54 +0000 JackP …who has asked me about 80 times in the last week if I know where to get ‘pussy movies’, so here’s two of my favourites.

Cat Man Do

Ninja Cat

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Bad Ecclesiastical Hurting Sat, 09 Jan 2010 07:51:05 +0000 JackP I don’t know if any of my readers remember the spoof news show “The Day Today”, which produced a news item (featuring Steve Coogan) as a bullying bishop.

It would appear however that this wasn’t quite as much of a “spoof” as previously imagined.

Workplace bullying of the clergy has become “rife”, according to the union Unite which says priests are being picked on by bishops [...] “Bishops have got a lot nastier”, says the Reverend Gerry Barlow, chair of the faith workers branch of Unite. BBC News

When Chris Morris talked about it on the day today, it was a joke. It was a joke because this is not the way Christians — let alone people who have devoted their lives to Christianity — are supposed to behave.

It is disgraceful that people are allowed to represent a religion — any religion — whilst consistently behaving in a way which undermines the tenets of that religion. While I would suggest that as forgiving seems to be one of the important points, it may be appropriate, depending on circumstances, to allow people who are willing to change their behaviour another chance.

Of course, it’s not just those within the church who are capable of acting shamefully, but just as we expect police officers to uphold a higher standard of behaviour than the general public because it’s their job, then exactly the same should apply to those in the church.


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Wootton And Co Fri, 08 Jan 2010 07:50:18 +0000 JackP Okay, there’s been a lot of things in the media recently about Muslims — it’s just a bit of a shame that the whole “protester” and “terrorist” aspects seem to have been shoved together by some sources who don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between those who want to raise a perfectly acceptable democratic right to complain about something, and those who feel that it’s perfectly appropriate to inflict violence on people who don’t agree with their opinions.

I’ll just make it explicitly clear at the outset: you don’t have to be Muslim to want to protest; you don’t have to be Muslim to be the sort of jerk who inflicts violence on others who you disagree with. It’s just that the main focus of the news has been of the Islamic side of things, so that’s where I’m going to look at mostly. Please take this paragraph as read throughout the rest of this post, as I have no intention of qualifying every statement with the additional statements like “…and there’s plenty of non-Muslims who disagree with the war”, or “…but you get nutters in every walk of life” or “…it’s only a tiny minority, most are perfectly happy to live and let live”.

Cartoon Violence

Remember that chap who produced the Danish cartoon which depicted the prophet Muhammad as a terrorist? That was a jolly impolite thing, I think most of us were in agreement about. But the reaction to it by some Muslims was not something which should be tolerated even less.

And recently there was the guy who tried to kill the cartoonist, when he was at home with his five year old grand-daughter. This is wrong on so many levels, as it suggests that you are not prepared to countenance any point of view which is different to your own, and the appropriate way to silence that dissent is through murder. I thought we’d all moved on from that, but it seems some haven’t.

But it’s the lack of self-awareness which makes it really stupid. Look at the steps:

  1. Person is offended by cartoon describing major figure in their religion as murderous terrorist
  2. Person decides most appropriate way to rebut this is by becoming a murderous terrorist, just to show how wrong the cartoonist was

What a fucking idiot. How exactly does that defend Islam against the charge of being murderous?

My God Is Bigger Than Your God

The beliefs of another person ought to be something that we are, generally, tolerant of. Whether someone believes in a God, in multiple Gods, or actively disbelieves in any of ‘em, ought to be something which is their business, not yours. But that is not to say that religions should be exempt from criticism. Particularly religions which react badly when you do criticise them.

I’ve been critical of the Catholic Church, in their attitude towards the use of condoms, which has led to more HIV infections and people dying. I’m critical of religions — and there’s more than one — which are intolerant of homosexuality. And I have a right to voice my opinions, and my beliefs, whether or not they are directly associated with a named religion or not.

When people are critical of the beliefs of others and speak about those beliefs in a critical way, implying someone must be stupid for believing that sort of thing (and/or assuming that because some adherents to a religion think X, that all adherents do), that annoys me. I find that a bit rude and unpleasant to be honest. I tend to feel that irrespective of whether or not that person is right, they are a fairly intolerant human being. attitude intolerant and offensive.

But when someone says that you are not allowed to be critical of beliefs or to speak about them in a critical way, at the risk of being attacked or prosecuted, then that annoys me for precisely the same reason. It’s intolerant and offensive. Plus it makes it seem as though people are worried that the religion won’t stand up to proper scrutiny and frankly, if there is a God, I rather suspect He is big enough to cope with a bit of disbelief. After all, he’ll get his chance to point out the error of their ways in his own manner…

And that’s why, I think this new Irish blasphemy law is a bit shit. If I were to say something in Ireland which you felt outraged or offended your religion, I could be fined €25,000 fine unless I could justify it. Not surprisingly, many people are critical of this (rightly in my opinion) as damaging to freedom of expression.

The Blasphemy Ireland website (set up, I presume, specifically to challenge this), sums it up perfectly:

In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be

And, to point of the stupidity of the whole thing — every religion will have, somewhere, something contained within it that adherents to another may find objectionable — they have a list of quotations from a variety of figures, but three of the main venerated types are represented — Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Richard Dawkins.

Wootton Bassett

And then there’s Anjem Choudary. He suggested that his group — which I’m not going to name because I think they’ve gone about this primarily for the publicity, and I’m not going to contribute to that — should march through Wootton Bassett, where British servicemen killed in action are returned, in protest against the Muslims being killed by British forces in Afghanistan (and/or Iraq? — not sure on this one).

If he’d wanted a peaceful march through the streets of anywhere else, no one would have given a toss. But he picked Wootton Bassett primarily because it would spark in the national consciousness, and infuriate people who felt that dead servicemen who weren’t responsible for the war in the first place and surely who had already sacrificed quite enough thank you very much should be used as pawns for his political ends.

And yet the media helped serve his political ends by this suddenly becoming a national media item; with everyone debating whether or not his potential march (which, so far as I know, he never actually asked permission for in the first place) should be banned — and he’s suddenly seen as the face of Islam in the UK. Do the papers speak to the vast majority of British Muslims to find out their views? Certainly not at first. Not until after they’ve painted Anjem Choudary as the face of Islam in the UK.

The vast majority of atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Pagans and God/Deity Of Choice knows what else are quite capable of doing this. So why do we spend so much of our time pandering to the intolerant?

So how do I feel about this. Should it be banned? Should it be allowed to go ahead? Well, there’s a You Tube video which expresses my thoughts probably better than I can here…

Dan Bull, thank you.

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Emergency Web Updates Are Snow Joke Thu, 07 Jan 2010 10:00:28 +0000 JackP Right: let’s just get this straight. On Tuesday night, overnight, there was what is known in meteorological circles as a ruddy great lot of snow over North-East England. As this was expected, according to the forecasts, when I’d picked up Bigger Lad from school on Tuesday, I asked his teacher whether I should check the school website in the morning to see if the school was closed and she said that was probably a good idea as she didn’t know at that point whether the school would be open.

Since then, I have found differing services advising of snow-related disruption to be of somewhat variable quality, so I thought I’d look specifically at Bigger Lad’s school, my Local Authority, and Go North East, the local bus company, and tell you what precisely I’ve thought about their updates.


So at seven a.m. on wednesday morning, I checked the school website to discover a message informing me that the school was closed owing to the fact that the staff couldn’t get in. By about eleven p.m. on wednesday evening, they had already updated the site to inform parents that the school would also be closed the following day.

Timely, useful updates. Well done.


Of course, my local council wasn’t quite so quick on the uptake… with their severe weather page stating (as at 09:10 on Wednesday morning — in other words some time after the time at which children would be required to be at school):

Are any schools closed due to the adverse weather?
No. At present, all schools are open as normal.

Local Authority

I was a little incredulous that this information had not been updated — the BBC had managed it easily enough, and after all, by half past eight, people will be setting off for school so if you are unable to update the information by then you are not capable of being a source for that information, so I mentioned it online. It was updated with school closures by 09:30, and there was also a tweet at around 09:40 but by then the information was too late to benefit anyone.

I was even more shocked when someone responded informally to tell me that they would be updating this information as soon as they got into work — but it might take them a little time to get in, because of the weather conditions.

WTF? Surely if your plan for extreme weather conditions is to tell the public about the extreme weather causing transport disruption and/or school closures only after your staff have made it into work then it is very seriously flawed. I’m sure you can all work out for yourselves the flaw in this.

They did manage to improve it considerably over the course of the day, putting in a list of all schools and their open status for Thursday and Friday (or at least, as far as they were aware) and for that reason I’ve refrained from publicly naming them.

The Snow Updates Medal: Success

However, I think that the most credit probably deserves to be pushed in the direction of the local bus company Go North East. Their website suggests that you head over to their Facebook page for the latest updates on bus services. The Facebook page was updated with thirty-four separate updates on Wednesday 6th.

And it’s not just been one way traffic either: Go North East actually have grasped how social media is supposed to work and have responded to people who have made comments:

Facebook excerpt of Go-North East thread

As you can see, when Luke and Gareth have asked further questions, Go North East have not only responded to their enquiries (which many organisations seem to forget is part of the expectation of social media — it’s not a one-way communication broadcast, it’s a conversation) but they have responded to those enquires — made outside normal office hours — within fifteen minutes. Now that’s impressive. And so for me, the people responsible for Go North East’s social media streams deserve my award for the best snow-related updates.

Mind, that doesn’t help you a great deal if it turns out your route is one of the ones currently off!


It’s important to remember however that not necessarily everyone has internet access (although the vast majority do) and so the information about things such as school closures and travel disruption should be made as widely available as possible — lots of people will still expect to hear these things on local radio, whether or not Tony Horne likes it — although he does make a point (which I made last year) that if schools are able to text (or otherwise directly inform) parents, this is probably preferable.

The key thing is to make the information available to people through the channel they want, not the channel you want to feed them…

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ThePickards Awards: Parliamentary Tache Of The Year 2009 Finalists Thu, 07 Jan 2010 07:03:43 +0000 JackP Tom Watson MP made a throwaway comment on twitter yesterday which introduced me to the idea of the Parliamentary Tache of the Year.

So, at a time of year when politics seems to be even more back-biting and bitter than usual, and political bloggers are desperate to put the knife into someone on “the dark side” (although of course which is the dark side rather depends upon your own standpoint), I thought that we needed something a little more jovial to lighten the mood.

Let’s remember politics isn’t just about MP’s expenses, bitching backbenchers, and bile-spewing bloggers. It’s also about facial hair. So I’ve combed Parliament’s list of MPs in order to investigate which MPs are ‘tached up — at least according totheir parliamentary photo (the theory being is that if they can’t be bothered to keep their parliamentary photo up to date, I can’t be bothered to chase down recent photos either).

During this process I have learned a number of things. Firstly, when it comes to electing a government in the election this year, if you want facial hair to be a priority for the next government, you must vote Labour; over 12% of all Labour MPs were ‘tached up, compared to less than 1% of Conservatives. As you might expect, the Liberal Democrats sit somewhere between these two, with just under 7% having sporting a moustache.

…finally, having looked through photos of all of the male MPs (I’ve made the assumption that none of the females have a moustache, or at least one they are proud of) I’ve discovered that there is no requirement for someone to be even remotely physically attractive in order to become a member of parliament. Vaguely humanoid seems about the limit.

I went through some early rounds to determine exactly who would go through to the ‘final’. This was based on grouping those MPs with clearly visible ‘taches (bumfluff that the MP appears to be hiding is automatically disqualified) into 8 alphabetical groups, and picking the ‘tache which, in my opinion, is of the best quality for some reason of that particular group. My working is available here (word doc, 25 kb).

But for the finalists for ThePickards Parliamentary Tache Of The Year 2009, read on…

Tache Owner Vital Statistics
Dave Anderson at Dave Anderson 2005-5335
Colin Challen at Colin Challen 2001-12343
Wayne David at Wayne David 2001-15359
Elfyn Llwyd  at Elfyn Llwyd 1992-6614
Doug Naysmith at Doug Naysmith 1997-8962
John Thurso at John Thurso 2001-8168

Place your vote for your Parliamentary Tache of the Year 2009 by leaving a comment to the desired effect. Please note that as I’ve specifically said the competition is to lighten the mood and as an antidote to the backbiting and sniping, any comments which are unpleasant will be removed and associated votes will not be counted. The competition will close on Friday 15th January, please ensure your votes are in by then…

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27 Ways To Spot A Scam Lottery Win Wed, 06 Jan 2010 07:21:50 +0000 JackP …at least, according to this email I received. See if you can spot the cues that made me suspect that it might not be entirely genuine…

I reckon there are three clues in the header alone.

From: “UK National Lottery” auto@[obscured].com
Date: Sun, 3 Jan 2010 16:55:56 +0000
Subject: [Spam] Results 2009

First, the email address used isn’t from the domain used by the national lottery (even if it was, this wouldn’t necessarily mean it was genuine, as they can be spoofed). Secondly, my email client has identified it as probable spam. And the most telling is that it is not to me. I’ve been included in the BCC box, meaning that I can’t see exactly who the email has been sent to. This is probably because they have sent this one email to a considerable number of people.

They have actually used the correct postal address information for the National Lottery, so I’ll give them a point there, but then they start being a bit dodgy again…

The National Lottery Day wishes to inform you that you have won the sum of £900.000.00(Nine Hundred Thousand pound Only). The National Lottery Day. draws was conducted from an exclusive list of 13 lucky emails of individual and corporate bodies picked by an advanced automated random computer search. No tickets were sold

Okay, where do I start here? I reckon seven clues in this paragraph that it was spam. First is this new invention The National Lottery Day, which I’ve never heard of before. Secondly, what is common practice in the UK for spacing out large numbers is to use either a space or a comma. A stop is rarely used to indicate a thousand separator in countries which use a stop as the decimal separator, because of obvious confusion.

Third and fourth, there’s “Thousand pound Only”. Here, I’d suggest two cues: we would normally use pounds, and it also seems odd that the word pound is the only one not capitalised.
Fifth is the full stop after the second National Lottery Day which means the uncapitalised word ‘draws’ begins a sentence. Sixth you’ve got the suggestion that the draws were made from a list which only had thirteen emails on it in the first place — as opposed to the idea that 13 winners were chosen from a much larger list.

Seventh is really the key one. It says “no tickets were sold”. Given that the premise of the National Lottery is to raise money for ‘good causes’, it would seem rather illogical of them to simply start giving money away.

It then specifies my ‘unique’ claim codes before the next bit of spiel… in which I reckon I’ve found eight more cues that indicate that the whole thing is spam…

You are required to claim your winnings before January 14th, 2010 otherwise it rolls over to the next draw.

Prize claiming procedures.
Full Name, Sex . Age, phone number, Address, Profession,
Please quote your Reference number in all correspondence with the claims officer.

Failure to provide the information above to the claims officer will result to immediate disqualification !!

Claims Officer
Mr Greg Peterson[obscured].com

Furthermore, should there be any change of address do Inform the CLAIM AGENT as soon as possible.

AGREEMENT: The National Lottery day and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the 2009 National Lottery day celebration hereby Agrees, That the winning information written above are the orignal winning information as it was selected by the computer on 30th day of December 2009, And that the winner who these winning information has been sent to,will be paid the winning sum of £ 900.000.00 without fail.

Congratulations once more from our members of staff.
Once again on behalf of all our staff CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Note: Anybody under the age of 18 is automatically disqualified..

Mrs.Marie Young.
Winnings Coordinator

Right. Where do we start?

One. There’s the fact I’ve been given 11 days to claim the prize, when if you have a winning lottery ticket, you’ve got 180 days to claim. Why on earth would this suddenly be cut to a rather paltry 11 days? Unless of course it’s spam, and it’s there to try and generate a bit of time impetus to try and get you to hand over your details without bothering to check anything.

Two, three, four and five. There’s a list of things broken up by a random full stop: “Full Name, Sex . Age, phone number, Address,” — which also demonstrates a rather inconsistent approach to capitalisation. And why does it need my profession or my gender? Surely these are not actually relevant as to whether or not I’m entitled to win the money…

Then there’s the strangely strangled phrase “will result to immediate disqualification !!”. Result to? Result in, methinks. And although I think anything which uses multiple exclamation marks to try and give the impression that it’s extra important or really we’re just all CRAZY!!!! is worthy of nothing more than throwing straight in the bin, I wouldn’t put it past the National Lottery to think that’s cool, so I’m just scoring one there, taking us up to six.

Seven. Then another non-National Lottery email address. Eight: a reference to a CLAIM AGENT whereas elsewhere the details of a Claims Officer has been given — a little internal inconsistency there. Nine: The Local Organising Committee reference suggests an Olympic Games motif to me, but there is no reference to this at all, and why would you need anything local if you’re talking about a national lottery with a draw carried out at that same national level?

Then there’s a reference to the National Lottery Day celebration — which can’t have been celebrated particularly well in 2009, since I’ve never heard of it. And while the National Lottery was 15 years old in 2009, that anniversary was in November, not December, and there’s a distinct lack of “15 years” mentions in the email. Ten.

There’s more examples of bad language, or uncommon usage: “the winning information written above are the orignal winning information”; “selected by the computer on 30th day of December 2009, And that the winner who these winning information has been sent to”. Fourteen. I’ll let them off with the thousand separator, as I’ve counted that before, and at least they are internally consistent.

Then they congratulate me “once more” before they had congratulated me in the first place. 15. Then they congratulate me again — once again — on the very next line, which seems odd. 16. And then it seems odd to disqualify anyone under 18, when the rest of the National Lottery works on a minimum age of 16. Seventeen

One spam email, trying to get me to part with information needed for identity fraud (I’m sure had I attempted to claim, my bank details would have been required at some point). But when it contains twenty seven separate clues to indicate that it is spam, I find it difficult to believe that people are sufficiently credulous to fall for this sort of thing.

PS — if you’ve managed to spot a spam clue that I missed, let me know…

Of course, even if they did brush up their act significantly — such as by reading this blog and finding out where the errors in their email were! — then there’s still a page on the National Lottery site which tells you how to identify scams.

Right. Now I just need to win the National Lottery for real.

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Orrorscowp Tue, 05 Jan 2010 07:44:16 +0000 JackP I’m not a great believer in astrology. Well, I say that, but that’s not entirely accurate. I actually think it’s a complete load of utter tosh. I’m prepared to accept that, for various seasonal reasons, it might be plausible that you are statistically more likely to have a particular personality trait if you were born at a given time of year, but as far as the daily/weekly/yearly horoscopes which are featured in various magazines and newspapers, I am firmly of the opinion that it is a load of complete and utter garbage, and it’s all about fleecing the credulous out of their money. At least, that’s what my spirit guide told me.

But that’s just my opinion. There might be something in it. After all, Nancy Reagan believed in it. And surely it’s likely that one-twelfth of the world’s population will be experiencing pretty much the same set of circumstances at any given time, isn’t it?

So in the interests of fairness, and since someone sent me a link to one of these horoscopes, I’ve decided to take a look at what my horoscopes say for 2010…

Who Prediction Vagueness Likelihood of alternate
Penny Thornton [1] launchers to success or ending of existing long standing edifices in June Extraordinarily high Would help if I knew what the prediction was about
Penny Thornton [2] This is not a year to play fast and loose with your health Low (but Barnum) What are the chances of anyone predicting that this is a year when you should deliberately take risks with your health?
Neil Spencer [1] Your birthday month is a delight. Low Well, it does have my birthday in it, so it’s likely to be fairly upbeat
Neil Spencer [2] In August and September you can forge an important business alliance and/or have your head turned by a romantic interest. High — doesn’t say ‘will do’, is ‘might’ No idea

I did have the intention of including more predictions than this, but was prevented somewhat by there being a lot of talk about how it was the first time for seventy five years that I would find Jupiter in Uranus, and much less on not ridiculously over qualified predictions such as this one:

Jupiter ensures your luck is in and that most of what happens will be for the best, providing you watch the usual provisos where this expansive planet is concerned, like showing a little caution and keeping your feet somewhere near the ground.Astrology Wizard (Aries, 2010)

In other words then, my luck is in, except where it isn’t. I might form a new business alliance or romantic interest in August or September — or I might not; something I don’t quite understand is due to happen in June, and it’s not a year to be taking up Russian Roulette. Well, thank goodness I’ve found that out. I don’t know how I could have possibly faced 2010 without that information.

If anyone actually gives a toss — or can find a horoscope which actually has testable predictions in it, I might revisit this later in the year.

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