Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wrestlemania 23

Yes, yes, I know. It's been a busy week. So for those of you who rely on me to post links to other stuff I write, here's last week's X-Axis, and here's the February 2007 Marvel sales analysis.

But now, wrestling. It's been a few weeks since the last WWE pay-per-view, because they wisely leave a longer gap than normal before the biggest show of the year. Why is Wrestlemania the biggest show of the year? Well, partly because it's one hour longer than the others. Partly because it's been around for 23 years and it's been a landmark of the schedule for as long as most viewers can remember. And partly just because they say so. But also, it tends to be the pay-off for a lot of major storylines, and if all the characters believe it's the biggest show of the year, then it kind of becomes true by definition.

And yes, it is a terribly corny name, I know. But then, the show was launched in 1985. It probably sounded fine then. And if you're a wrestling fan, you just hear the name often enough that it stops sounding rubbish. (In much the same way that many comics fans seem to think that "Doctor Doom" is somehow a good name for a non-comedy villain, and many British people thought "Top of the Pops" was a perfectly fine title for a music programme.)

There are eight matches announced for this four-hour show, and two of them really have to be kept short due to the extreme limitations of the participants. So the rest will probably be quite long. I also wouldn't be shocked to see some sort of bonus match thrown on at the last moment. They could always do something with the Cruiserweight Title, and it'll be a terrible injustice if the hard-working tag team champions, Paul London and Brian Kendrick, make their only appearance on the show by accompanying Ashley for the Women's Title match.

The official sub-title of the show is "All Grown Up." Nobody knows why. It's prompted a series of adverts with the WWE wrestlers as kids, which range from excruciating all the way through to mildly disturbing. Hopefully we won't have to put up with much of this on the night.

And now, the card.

1. World Heavyweight Title: Batista v The Undertaker. This would be the Smackdown world title. Now, in theory, this is the main event. The Undertaker won the Royal Rumble back in January, which gives him the right to challenge for any of the world titles in the main event of Wrestlemania. In practice, the WWE has already started shifting their ground and talking about triple main events, so in practice it sounds like John Cena and Shawn Michaels will be going on last. But notionally, this ought to be the final match.

The story here is nice and straightforward. Mercifully, this has been a feature of recent WWE writing. Pick a basic idea and do it right. Nothing too ornate or fancy - it almost never works anyway. This, by the way, is where the number two promotion, TNA, keeps going wrong. They want to tell bizarre stories about family breakdown, weird cult leadership and so forth. They see the wrestling as a means to an end. But that's the wrong way round. The point of the stories is to create a context in which the wrestling matches "matter." And that's all. The stories are the means, the wrestling is the end.

The Undertaker has been around for donkey's years, and he's never lost at Wrestlemania despite 14 appearances. In fact, this started off as pure coincidence, but in the last few years the writers have seized on it and made it seem important. At this stage, it's fair to say that for anyone to beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania would be a very big deal indeed.

Reportedly, the original plan was for Batista to defeat the Undertaker and break the winning streak. That was a very bad idea, and it seems that they may be rethinking. The guy who beats the Undertaker at Wrestlemania should be a rising star with real long-term potential. Done right, it should give somebody the momentum to become a main eventer. Opportunities like that don't come along every day, and you shouldn't waste them on Batista. He's already a two-time world champion, an established main eventer, and his character has all the credibility he needs. On top of that, his injury record and age suggest that he isn't a long-term proposition as a main eventer, and frankly most of his matches this year have been a bit rubbish.

Ideally the guy to beat Undertaker would be somebody on the cusp of the main event like Bobby Lashley or Ken Kennedy. You could even justify it with Edge or John Cena - established main eventers who are at least long-term prospects and would still gain something from the win. But Batista? No.

So the correct result here is that Undertaker wins and starts a fifth title reign in the autumn of his career. Batista then turns heel, to justify a rematch, and to reinvigorate his rather stale character. Hopefully this is what they'll do. I'm not expecting wonders from the match, but a big crowd reaction should cover many of its flaws.

2. WWE Title: John Cena v Shawn Michaels. The Raw title match sees John Cena defending against the veteran Shawn Michaels. Michaels has been unexpectedly thrust into this position after his tag team, D-Generation X, was forcibly broken up by an injury to his partner Triple H. The show has been all the better for it, because DX just trampled everyone, while Michaels (the solo act) makes people look good.

Cena and Michaels are both meant to be the good guys, and just to complicate matters further, they also hold Raw's version of the Tag Team Titles at the moment. For weeks, they've been teasing the possibility of Michaels turning on Cena, which they finally delivered on last Monday's show. But Cena remains a divisive figure with some fans, who still think that he's not good enough to justify his high-profile place on the card. This is just fine. It means there will be a divided crowd, and divided crowds mean enormous passion.

Michaels is one of the best wrestlers of his generation, and can get a decent match out of virtually anyone. Cena isn't one of the best wrestlers of his generation by any stretch of the imagination, but he's got plenty for Michaels to work with. The probable result is for Cena to retain his title in a very good match. I don't see Shawn Michaels as a long-term champion at this point in his career, and I'm not a fan of short-term title switches. On that basis I'd rather see Cena hold the belt. Of course, since they still hold the tag titles together, the story isn't over no matter what the result is.

3. "Battle of the Billionaires": Umaga (w/ Vince McMahon) v. Bobby Lashley (w/Donald Trump). Logically you'd expect the third main event to feature ECW Champion Bobby Lashley defending his title. But really, the beleaguered ECW brand - stranded with its one hour a week on the Sci-Fi Network - doesn't have the star power to offer a title match that would justify a main event slot. And yet, if they defended the title as a mid-card match, that would be even more damning. It would send the message, clear as day, that the ECW Title is indeed nothing more than the Velocity Inter-Jobber Championship.

So instead, Lashley finds himself in this very odd match, a cross-promotional effort with The Apprentice. Quite why somebody thought it was in the interests of The Apprentice to promote Wrestlemania is a bit of a mystery, considering that the shows clash. But it's happening.

The story is meant to be a feud between Donald Trump and the WWE's owner Vince McMahon. Since Vince is now pushing sixty and unwilling to get into the ring himself, they've each chosen a wrestler to fight on their behalf. Trump has Bobby Lashley, leading to lots of amusing promotional interviews on radio stations in which Trump struggles desperately to remember the man's name. Vince has Umaga, the Samoan Stereotype, who is so over the top that it just about works even in 2007. Oh, and the losing billionaire gets his head shaved.

Some mainstream media coverage is actually suggesting that there is a possibility that Donald Trump might lose. Well, there isn't.

The retired Steve Austin has also been thrown in as special guest referee, partly to boost the star power further, and partly because he's got a movie coming out soon. They need to tread carefully here, because the story won't work if Austin seems to be biased against Vince. Lashley has to win fair and square. This match is supposed to be helping to make his career.

As a technical match, I'm not expecting wonders; Lashley is still relatively inexperienced. But Umaga's had decent matches with John Cena, and Lashley certainly has talent, so I think this should be fine as a wrestling match. Mainly, though, it'll be a freakshow. And that's just fine, because it'll be a stupidly entertaining freakshow.

4. The 2007 "Money in the Bank" Ladder Match: Edge v. CM Punk v. King Booker v. Jeff Hardy v. Mr Kennedy v. Finlay v. Matt Hardy v. Randy Orton. This is the third annual "Money in the Bank" ladder match, a concept originally invented to create a space on the show for upper-midcard wrestlers who weren't doing anything else. It also serves to kickstart the storylines for the next year, which is a valuable concept in itself.

It's a simple idea: there's a briefcase dangling above the ring. Winner is the first person to retrieve the briefcase. Inside the briefcase is a contract which can be used to claim a world title shot at any time in the next year. That means the winner of this match automatically becomes a main event wrestler. Two years ago, Edge won the inaugural match and, being a villain, waited until after a six-man PPV main event to cash in his title shot and pin the champion John Cena in 30 seconds. Last year, Rob Van Dam won the match and, being a good guy, chose to fight the champion John Cena on home turf - where he won. So going into year three, it's now been clearly established that this is a very, very worthwhile prize. Who will recover the briefcase and go on to beat John Cena this year?

Three of these guys are former world champions - Edge, Orton and Booker. Edge is also undefeated at Wrestlemania and there's a school of thought that says this should be protected. I can see some logic in that, but by the same token, I think it's allowing the tail to wag the dog. It's a nice long-term benefit if things work out that way, but we already did the "Edge wins the title shot" story two years ago. Orton would be a more realistic possibility, since he's in a semi-regular tag team with Edge, and it would set up interesting tensions there. It's been a while since he was the champion, too, so he's relatively fresh as a main eventer.

Booker has already had his run at the top, and I don't see much point in having him win. As for the others, in order for the story to work, the character has to be somebody you can imagine as world champion. You have to believe that when they cash in the title shot, they could win. For my money, that eliminates Finlay and the Hardys. ECW's CM Punk is apparently not completely out of the running, but I really can't see it, and he's supposedly alienated enough people within the company that I'd be astounded if he was put in this position.

Kennedy, a rising star on Smackdown who's hovering on the fringes of the main eventers, is a definite possibility. I'd put my money on him, but Orton wouldn't shock me either.

The match will be a total trainwreck of insanely dangerous-looking ladder spots. Done right, this sort of thing can be great fun, and they've wisely kept the rest of the card free of anything similar. I'm looking forward to this one.

5. The ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu & the Sandman) v. the New Breed (Elijah Burke, Marcus Cor Von, Kevin Thorn & Matt Striker). This is the token ECW match. With their champion Bobby Lashley off in the Donald Trump storyline, the show has largely been based around a feud between the surviving old guard from the original 1990s ECW, and a motley collection of random new bad guys arbitrarily slammed together as "the New Breed." The New Breed have nothing whatsoever in common besides the fact that they weren't in the original ECW; it's two generic guys, a vampire, and a wrestling schoolteacher.

Some of these guys really don't belong at Wrestlemania, and I have trouble believing that this is going to work. Rob Van Dam is the only one of these guys who legitimately qualifies as a star. Sabu still works very hard but can be hit or miss. Sandman and Dreamer succeeded in the first place on the strength of character-driven stories which the current ECW hasn't been able (or even seriously attempted) to replicate. Of the New Breed, Elijah Burke is a legitimate prospect for the future, and Marcus Cor Von - formerly TNA's Monty Brown - has a glimmer of promise. Matt Striker has natural heel charisma, but he's stuck in a ridiculous "evil teacher" gimmick, and he's more of a manager than a wrestler. And Kevin Thorn just isn't up to scratch.

The New Breed will win; it won't be much good.

6. Women's Title, lumberjack match: Melina v. Ashley. The annual cross-promotional exercise with Playboy, which shows you the levels that the Women's Division has plummetted to following the retirements of Trish Stratus and Lita. Ashley is one of the WWE's many generic blondes, and she displays no aptitude for wrestling whatsoever. But she's getting her tits out in Playboy this month, so she's getting a title shot at Wrestlemania anyway. Melina, the defending champion, is at least a trained wrestler, but she'll be struggling to get anything remotely worthwhile out of Ashley. If there's any justice in the world, Melina wins.

A lumberjack match, if you're wondering, is a match where the ring is surrounded by other wrestlers in order to stop the participants running away. It's a gimmick that was used ages ago as the pay-off to "wrestler X keeps getting counted out rather than take a beating" angles, in the days before the cage match took over. Nowadays, it's just an excuse to have total chaos going on on the outside of the ring, with all the other girls fighting for no reason. If they're lucky, this might distract from the atrocious action going on inside.

7. Kane v. The Great Khali. Ah, the Great Khali. Widely acknowledged as perhaps the worst major-league wrestler in the industry today, Dalip Singh is a seven foot tall man who has absolutely nothing else going for him. He can't wrestle. He can't even attempt anything beyond the most simple and basic manoeuveres - and he can't even get those right. He can't speak English. And that doesn't mean "his speech is heavily accented." He's literally incomprehensible.

The Great Khali is so bad he's good. This will be no consolation to poor Kane, who is expected to wrestle him on the biggest show of the year. It's going to suck. On general principles, Khali ought to win, because the loss would hurt him more than Kane. But really, at some stage they need to take a long hard look and ask seriously what the hell Khali is doing on this show and what they can possibly do with him. They're pushing him as a serious threat, but the reality always comes down to the same thing: he can't wrestle, so there's no pay-off.

8. US Title: Chris Benoit v MVP. Added to the card as something of an afterthought, the rookie bad guy Montel Vontavious Porter will be challenging veteran Chris Benoit for the US Title. All logic says MVP should win here, because he's genuinely got better over the last few months, and he's actually got some momentum behind him. Winning this match would truly help him, and a title run is the next sensible move for his character.

Benoit and MVP have been wrestling each other on house shows for a while now, in preparation for this match, and reportedly the matches have been quite good. They've also been quite long, which suggests that they're bracing themselves for a huge time slot on this four-hour card. MVP isn't exactly a technical wrestling prodigy, but there's enough there for Benoit to work with. I'm cautiously optimistic about this one.

Worth buying? Well, it's Wrestlemania, and if you don't buy Wrestlemania, you're probably not in the market for wrestling pay per views at all. But yes, there's enough good material on this card to make it worth buying. It's not a perfect card by any means, but the two really bad matches are bound to be kept short.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ultimates: check your calendars.

Marvel are belatedly starting the promotion for the long-delayed Ultimates 2 #13, which is presumably on its way out sooner or later. (Probably later.) The latest line from Marvel about the delays is basically to shrug their shoulders and say "Dunno, ask Bryan Hitch." Which doesn't seem like the most professional answer, but that's their line.

Bryan Hitch's position is pretty clear - and he now seems to be chafing at Marvel blaming him, since he's publicly telling editor-in-chief Joe Quesada to go back and check his invoice dates. In any event, Hitch says that he finished the book in December 2006, and that it took him nine weeks. Since it's a 44-page story, that's actually quite brisk. The subsequent delays, he says, are because Paul Neary wasn't available to start inking it until January (since he was halfway through Wisdom). Again, that makes sense.

But here's the odd bit.

Hitch first claimed to have finished the book in a message board posting on 11 December 2006. So if it took him nine weeks, and we assume he means nine consecutive weeks, that means he started work around 9 October.

But issue #12 came out in the last week of September. So that would mean he didn't even start on issue #13 until after issue #12 came out. And given the time for inking, lettering, colouring and so forth, he would have been finished on issue #12 a good while before it hit the shelves. (After all, he finished #13 in December, and it's still not out.)

So you've got Bryan Hitch sitting around twiddling his thumbs and doing nothing for a good month or so between issues. Why? Was he waiting on a script?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Miscellany: 22 March 2007

- The June solicitations have been out for a few days now, but I'm intrigued to see Marvel launching an ongoing Avengers Classic series. This is the same format they used with Classic X-Men back in the 1980s, reprinting old 1970s X-Men stories in sequence with original back-up strips. Except they're doing it with Silver Age Avengers stories, and they're doing it in 2007.

Now, I rather liked Classic X-Men, but I see two obvious problems with this. First, when people complain about Brian Bendis' Avengers and say they want classic Avengers, they don't mean that classic. The early Avengers stories weren't all that great. That's why they completely changed the format after a couple of years.

Second, Classic X-Men came out in the days when the back catalogue was largely out of print - unless you wanted to buy some ludicrously expensive hardback reprint from the Masterworks range. Surely anyone who's interested in the early Avengers stories already owns Essential Avengers vol 1? And wouldn't that make this rather bad value for money?

- Perhaps the most sublime introduction to a judgment I've read in years, from Scheps v Fine Art Logistic Ltd:

In 1984, the sculptor Anish Kapoor created Hole and Vessel II. It was made of polystyrene, cement, earth, acrylic and pigment and measured 95.2cm x 162.5 cm x 109.2 cm. It is not possible for me to describe it. One expert described it as sensuous and sexy, the other as clumsy and somewht absurd. There is however agreement that it was made during Kapoor's transitional phase when he was "moving away from an exploration of the male/female dichotomy towards an exploration of the void." In his later works, "the void" became an important element. ...

The Claimant, Ofir Scheps, purchased Hole and Vessell II from the Phoenix Insurance Company in June 2004 at a price of US$35,000... In the same month he instructed Fine Art Logistics Limited, the Defendant, to collect the sculture from Christie's and store it before taking it to Anish Kapoor's studio in London for some restoration work. But in September 2004 it could not be found by the Defendant in any of its storage units. It is the considered opinion of the general manager of the Defendant that Hole and Vessel II was, by mistake, placed in a skip and destroyed at a waste transfer station.

Whoops. The rest of the judgment is... well, mildly entertaining if you're into the incorporation of standard terms, I suppose. But I like that opening.

- Here's an oddity - in their continuing attempt to get away from that "new rave" tag that they now regret coining in the first place, the Klaxons have re-shot the video for Gravity's Rainbow. They haven't made a different video, as such. They've just done something broadly similar on a higher budget. Not sure I've seen that before.

The original:-

The re-make:-

The original's better, isn't it? More energy. Incidentally, MTV is pixellating the knife (even though it's only used to cut a curtain), which seems a bit excessive.

Monday, March 19, 2007

X-Axis comments thread

Feel free to comment on this week's X-Axis, with New X-Men and Buffy Season 8.

The weird thing about Wolverine: Origins is that it sells perfectly well, but almost nobody actually seems to talk about it - other than to voice general comments that they don't much like it. When you've just introduced Wolverine's son, and the discussion thread on ComiX-Fan is full of people talking about their favourite Frank Tieri villains, something's not working.

Remember when Daniel Way was regarded as a promising young talent? It wasn't that long ago that he was picking up really good reviews for books like Gun Theory. But boy, he's dropped off a cliff in the last year or so.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The future of television

It occurs to me that American readers have previously mentioned that they don't have quiz TV channels over there. Well, with Ofcom and Icstis finally rounding on them over here, it can only be a matter of time before somebody gives it a shot in the unregulated capitalist wasteland.

And now, thanks to Youtube, you can see what's coming for you.

Behold the future: an obscure channel, a cheap set, a premium rate phone line, an unspoken policy of only putting one caller in a thousand through to the studio, while hinting to the dullards at home that the lines are just REALLY QUIET RIGHT NOW, and a literally impossible guessing game...

Or, hell, given the sort of people who are watching, just make it a really, really simple question - it won't make any difference...

And if you're really lucky, throw in a bored shopgirl who can't even be bothered pretending to fill the airtime any more.

One day everything will be like this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Is there no innocence left in this terrible, terrible world?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Or alternatively...

If you're not interested in the demise of ITV Play, here's a few more videos.

The Presets, "Are You The One." Australian electropop. And yes, it's meant to look like that. Album's not as good as you'd hope, but this is a great single.

Canadian indie supergroup the New Pornographers, "The Laws Have Changed." Reminds me vaguely of Hal Hartley, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, even though this isn't his sort of music at all (he had Yo La Tengo in one of his films, after all). This is from The Electric Version, the album before last. And that IS a great album.

Tunng, "Jenny Again." Very slightly electronic folk music about murder. Without sounding remotely like Nick Cave. I adore this album ("Comments of the Inner Chorus") and haven't done nearly enough to promote it, so here you go.

ITV Play gets shot.

- As the controversy over TV phone-ins continues, ITV have axed the ITV Play channel altogether - though they'll still run its shows overnight on ITV1 and ITV2.

The BBC's article seems to be trying to imply that ITV Play was taken off air because of the phone-in issue. Of course, the real concern with ITV Play was always completely different - questions that nobody could sanely be expected to answer, and the fact that the chances of getting on air were much, much less than viewers might think. According to MediaGuardian, the real reason ITV Play has been axed is that ITV have figured out it was only making money from the overnight shows on ITV1 and ITV2.

I tend to agree with one of the comments made on the MediaGuardian podcast a couple of weeks ago by Emily Bell (not that I'm recommending you subscribe, mind you - Gareth McLean must be the single least amusing man presently claiming to be a humourist in the United Kingdom). Television has traditionally had a relationship of trust with its viewers. Even in the multi-channel era, the terrestrial channels still had that. But broadcasters have moved on to viewing the audience as idiots to be milked for cash, hence the plethora of phone-in votes and dodgy quiz shows. ITV Play, as Emily Bell said, basically amounts to ITV setting up a table in the corner of your room and inviting you to play Find The Lady. At some point, viewers who still believed they had a relationship of trust with the broadcasters were bound to rebel against this. The fact that broadcasters didn't - and still don't - properly understand this is a sign of living in a media village bubble.

If you insist on treating the viewer as a customer, then it's not a good thing when the customer reaches the conclusion that you're a corrupt fraudster. The basic arrogance of the media lies in believing that nobody would ever catch on, because hey, everyone's doing it.

Of course, we mustn't forget the human tragedy of ITV Play's closure: people who've made a living by exploiting the poor and gullible will be out of work.

Who says karma is dead?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Miscellany: 12 March

Goodness, it's been longer than I thought... oh well.

- This is the best BBC news story ever.

- Somewhat less excitingly, the environmental lobbyists are getting very worked up about "ghost flights" at Heathrow. The basic idea is that you lose your slot at Heathrow if you don't use it - and the slots cost so much that even if you're not running a real service, it's cheaper to fly a plane back and forth for no reason than to stop flying and automatically surrender the slot.

This is being presented as a green story, but surely there's a simpler way of looking at it. The reason BMed is running these pointless flights is to avoid losing its slot. (It formerly used the slot to run a service to Tashkent, but withdrew it on the grounds of civil unrest in Uzbekistan, which seems fair enough.) The underlying policy is that there's lots of demand for Heathrow, and so once you've got a slot, you use it or lose it. Obviously, if you can hold onto the slot by running empty flights, and it's become economically worthwhile to do so, then the policy isn't achieving its aim, and it needs fixed. Environmental considerations don't even need to enter into it, surely?

- Hey, Charlotte Hatherley has a new album out! That seems an ideal excuse to post the video for Bastardo. Which was on the previous album, but who cares?

I'll never understand why that album wasn't a bigger hit. It's got more hooks in one track than most bands manage in a career. ("Kim Wilde" is especially packed - here's a completely unrelated YouTube video which uses it as a soundtrack.)

- When did it become acceptable for mainstream pop acts to make novelty records again? Lily Allen with a puppet teeters on the brink of gimmickry, to put it mildly. But I don't know quite what to make of Christina Aguilera's "Candyman", an acknowledged riff on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Forties retro? That's an, er, interesting choice.

By all rights, this should be ridiculous. It's Christina Aguilera doing the Andrews Sisters, for heaven's sake. (That's why there's three of her.) And indeed, it is ridiculous. But still... it's rather good, isn't it? If you're going to do something that absurd, you've got to go all the way, and boy, they've done it with that video. It's even got the right colour tone - it ought to have a Technicolor logo on it somewhere. Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera throws herself into playing a living cartoon, and gets away with it. She's a better performer than I'd given her credit for, actually.

It's a really odd record, but I approve. It takes a degree of nerve to release something that silly.

- And if you prefer much, much cheaper videos: here's Regina Spektor in front of a television.

Not quite the cheapest official video I've ever seen - the Pixies' atrocious effort for "Velouria" is unlikely ever to be beaten - but this one is at least good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Miscellany: 5 March 2007

- Yesterday's X-Axis.

- The premium rate phone-in mess continues. ITV, who insist that they're absolutely confident that their phone lines are just fine, have nonetheless pulled all premium rate phone-ins until they've had a little check. Since this involves shutting down an entire channel, ITV Play, it's a pretty drastic step. They go off air at midnight, apparently.

Viewers desperate for the opportunity to throw away money on unwatchably boring television - and ITV Play brought in £26m in the first half of last year, so there must be some of them - can try a range of other equally tedious quiz channels or, for the truly hardcore, venture over to Sky 841, where Gala TV offers a man with a large beard reading out bingo numbers for hours on end.

Recently added to the "possibly dodgy TV phone-ins" list: Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, which has allegedly been inviting people to phone in even after the contestants were selected. That's a genuinely stupid thing to do, since there's no earthly advantage in selecting the callers so early.

- It's Edinburgh Parking Zone Extension Day, on which I get the privilege of paying the Council so that I can park outside my own house. Lucky me. This is basically a policy that the Council seems to be rushing through in the hope that they can get it firmly entrenched before they lose power in the local elections. (With the change in the voting system, the general backlash against Labour, and the massive unpopularity of the Council's transport policy, their chances of getting re-elected, at least without a coalition partner, look slender.)

The official line is that residents are getting "a week's grace period to get used to the charges." The reality is that they can't start enforcing the new system yet because they didn't manage to get the permits out on time. I applied for mine almost a month ago, and it still hasn't arrived. Naturally, the Council thought that since they were inviting a huge chunk of Edinburgh to apply for parking permits simultaneously, this would be an ideal time for the department in question to move office. That didn't exactly help.

Why they can't just admit that they're delaying the start by a week because of an administrative screw-up - which is essentially what their staff told me when I phoned them last week - is a mystery to me, but I suppose most politicians start off from the assumption that failings should only be admitted if absolutely unavoidable.

- The latest rumour doing the rounds in wrestling circles is that the WWE has finally twigged that it's doing very good business outside North America, and it wants to set up permanent spin-off promotions outside the USA. I can't even begin to imagine what WWE Europe would be like, or what channel they think might be interested in it (Sky already runs five hours of original WWE wrestling a week), but apparently this is the plan. They're also thinking of repositioning Smackdown to aim it at the Hispanic audience, Mexico and South America (the Spanish language audience is very strong for wrestling), and opening their own Japanese/Pacific promotion (um, isn't Japanese wrestling in freefall?).

This is in the very early stages, but apparently they're serious about it. I'm not sure it'll work, though - the WWE works in foreign territories precisely because it's the dumbest sort of Americana, and I don't think the WWE has the ability to make it work as a homegrown product. UK wrestling has been functionally dead for twenty years, and any operation they could set up here would be modest - NFL Europe in tights, basically. And god only knows what a multi-lingual trans-European promotion would be like. (Picture a ring surrounded by fifteen commentary desks, one of them for Irish Gaelic...)

Mind you, Italy was supposed to be doing good business for a couple of years, so you never know. But it's a huge venture.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Miscellany: 2 March

- Virgin and Sky's bitter feud has been going on for a while now, but it still comes as a surprise to see them come to this. Sky pulls its channels from Virgin's cable services, and Virgin retaliates by demonstrating what passes for humour in their world: renaming the vacant "Sky News" channel as "Sky Snooze." How we laughed.

I have satellite, so I don't care. And it would be presumptuous to guess whether Sky is overvaluing its channels - although as a rival platform, Sky would have an obvious interest in disrupting its rivals by withholding its key channels. This is the sort of thing competition law is supposed to deal with, but it's a clumsy and ineffective mechanism.

Still, Virgin have shot themselves in the foot - or perhaps even the head - with their flippant attitude. Like it or not, Sky One is one of the major multichannel draws, and without it, cable instantly becomes a much less attractive proposition. And the Virgin brand isn't properly established in cable yet. The customer base generally doesn't even LIKE cable - NTL had a reputation as one of the worst companies for customer service in the UK, and even NTL admitted it was basically well-founded. Sky hold all the cards here, and in the short term Virgin is not going to win this fight.

The problem is that multichannel TV has a big structural problem thanks to Sky being both the major subscription channel provider and one of the major platforms. This is what happens if you give the market too much leeway to find its own solutions: somebody ends up winning, and then you don't have much of a market any more.

- The photograph of David Cameron in a silly costume has been withdrawn from the media by the copyright holders in somewhat mysterious circumstances. They're calling it a "policy decision", and they deny any interference from the Conservative Party; an obvious alternative would be that they want it out of circulation so that they can charge the Labour Party more money to use it in an election poster.

I'm not sure how much it really matters to the average voter that David Cameron was quite rich and went to Oxford University. I suspect most of the voters who are put off by a privileged background probably wouldn't have voted Conservative anyway. The argument that rich people can't understand the problems of the poor is nonsense, of course. You might as well argue that people from council estates should never become Prime Minister, because what do they know about the financial markets? Any remotely qualified candidate for the job will have learned things along the way. Poverty does not come with a free bucket of wisdom.

Potentially more damaging for Cameron is that the photograph shows him as a member of the Bullingdon Club, a supposed Oxford University dining society which has at the very least acquired a reputation for living up to the worst stereotypes of upper class thuggishness. If the Interweb is to be believed, the Club's activities basically involve getting very, very drunk, vandalising the property of poor people, and booking an annual dinner venue under an assumed name before wrecking the establishment.

Now, I'm innately wary of Internet reports on this sort of society. Googling for the Speculative Society, which is just an Edinburgh debating club, picks up a whole load of conspiracy theories from people getting rather too carried away about Robbie the Pict (a reportedly charming serial litigant notable for leaving no technicality unchallenged in his extended battle against the Skye Bridge toll system - although with the eventual abolition of bridge tolls, he now seems to be diversifying).

But the general unpleasantness of the Bullingdon Club does seem to be rather well attested - see here, here, here, here and here, for example - which suggests that there's at least a good core of truth to it, however exaggerated. Boris Johnson was apparently a member too, but then he's made a career out of disguising an allegedly decent intellect behind the facade of a borderline-retarded upper class twit. Cameron can hardly afford the same spin. And while it may be unfair to judge somebody by their social class, it's perfectly fair to judge them by their choice of drinking companions.

- Meanwhile, over at the High Court of Justice, Mr Justice Kitchin wrestles with a vital legal problem in the case of Dearlove v Combs, the latest chapter in the thrilling battle over the UK rights to the name "Diddy." As you may or may not know, shortly after Sean Combs announced that he was changing his name to "Diddy", he was sued in the UK by remixer Richard Dearlove, who had been using the name "Diddy" for years. There was an out-of-court settlement, the gist of which was that Combs agreed to call himself "P Diddy" in the UK from now on, and promised not to advertise goods or service in the UK under the name "Diddy" any more. (As a matter of convenience, he now uses the name "P Diddy" worldwide outside the USA.)

In his latest action, among various other complaints, Dearlove protests about the lyrics of Combs' new album, in which he contemplates at length his favourite topic: himself. Even though the album is packaged under the name "P Diddy", Dearlove argues that Combs' songs amount to nothing more than an advertisement for Sean Combs, and therefore it's a breach of the settlement agreement.

Naturally, this leads the unfortunate judge to the task of analysing the lyrics - always good for a laugh in a legal judgment. The section starts at para 46. The judge ends up concluding, that yes, P Diddy's song "The Future" is indeed just an advert for P Diddy. ("The second verse refers to Mr Combs as 'Diddy' as he invites the listener to 'mainline this new Diddy heroin.'") Quite what that means for the UK release of the album, I don't know. Not that I care, especially.

But the underlying problem is an interesting one. This has been going on for years, with bands expanding into other countries only to find somebody else has already cornered the name. In the days before the Internet, it wasn't a major problem because you just used a different name in that territory - hence Charlatans UK and the London Suede. In the age of the Internet, where your website is a global phenomenon, it's more complex. (The Diddy case also involves some discussion of his MySpace page.) And if you work in hip-hop and want to refer to yourself in your own songs (virtually a genre requirement) then you've got a real potential issue.

Dearlove has a fair complaint - he did have some degree of reputation in the name within the UK, so why should his tradename be swamped by an international megastar who isn't even using his own name? But solving these problems effectively means international harmonisation of laws, and that takes forever...