Weekend edition—Bowie’s big short, high seas armories, Bill Cosby’s enablers

If you ever doubted that David Bowie was from the future, consider how Ziggy Stardust clairvoyantly shorted the music industry.

The late musician was always internet savvy—he started his own ISP way back in the AOL days, and was among the first artists to offer a downloadable album, just when Napster was starting to scare the bejesus out of the record labels.

His insight into digital music led him to predict the internet’s disruption of the music industry and cash out early. Back in 1997, he created an entirely new financial instrument: His “Bowie bonds” were essentially a bet against the recorded-music business, providing the musician a $55 million payout, secured by future royalties from his enormous back catalog.

”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

In 1999, global music industry revenues were $14.6 billion; by 2009, they were only $6.3 billion. The entire offering of Bowie bonds was sold to Prudential Securities, which didn’t turn out to be very prudent: The 10-year bonds were eventually downgraded to junk status as music sales, including Bowie’s back catalog, evaporated.

Not all of Bowie’s predictions came true: He also told the Times that copyright itself was doomed. Due to the lobbying prowess of major media companies, copyright protection is stronger than ever—not that it has helped musicians much. Streaming music services like Spotify pay out tiny fractions of a penny for every song played, making most professional musicians dependent on touring and other revenue streams. (Bowie predicted that too.)

Incidentally, the banker who helped to create Bowie bonds is nowsecuritizing the royalty streams of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred, the luminaries behind “I’m Too Sexy.”

RIP, Starman.

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The most frequently used words in every State of the Union address.Barack Obama said “work” more than almost any other word during this week’s address. Keith Collins’s SOTU analysis shows that Obama’s vocabulary is remarkably similar to his predecessors—and by the way, “peace” hasn’t been prominently mentioned since 1984.

The armed guards of the high seas. Massive cargo ships are vulnerable to modern day pirates off the coast of Somalia, but are often barred from carrying weapons in territorial waters, writes Cassie Werber. Hence the need for floating armory ships, which hold weapons for armed guards and are supposed to stay offshore. One US-based floating armory strayed a bit too close to India, and its crew has been imprisoned there for several years.

Even the researcher who coined “A for effort” thinks we praise kids too much. Rewarding children’s efforts at learning is thought to promote a “growth mindset,” marked by high performance and long-term resilience. But Jenny Anderson interviewed a Stanford professor who says her original research has been twisted, leading parents and teachers to hand out “empty praise.”

All the people, places, and things that have been called “the sick man of Europe.” More than 60 entities have earned the title in the past 150 years, according to Nikhil Sonnad and Jason Karaian. But now that it’s been used to describe nearly every European country, perhaps it’s time to put “the sick man” metaphor out of its misery.

Why is it taking so long for Mexico to extradite El Chapo? After two embarrassing prison escapes by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, you’d think Mexico would be ready to send the drug kingpin north. But officials are saying the process will take at least a year, if not several more. Ana Campoy explores all the reasons—Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.—that the government is likely to drag its feet.

A podcast we like, and think you’ll like too

This week, Actuality visits a lab at the front line of the fight against a peculiar crime—animal trafficking. The global black market for snakes, sea cucumbers, ivory and the like is hot, but the world is starting to crack down. Plus, whale euthanasia.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Bill Cosby and his enablers. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at why some African-American comedians have tried to discredit Cosby’s accusers. His answer: experiencing violent prejudice in one realm, such as race, doesn’t mean you will automatically believe other oppressed groups. In fact, oppression may make us worse at detecting prejudice—but we can still choose to be better.

Is the euro a failure? In November, 50 leading economists gathered near Oxford to debate the state of the euro zone. The conference report, compiled by the Centre for European Reform think tank, is an admirably readable, yet nuanced account—and a welcome window into an erudite meeting of serious thinkers grappling with a crucial question: The shared currency has been disappointing, but is it doomed?

An interview with a vampire. A controversial app called “Stolen” lets you buy and sell the social media personae of other people—a premise that concerned many women who have been subject to brutal sexual harassment online. After being “owned” by a stranger, Gadgette’s Holly Brockwellconducted an incisive interview with Siqi Chen, CEO of app maker Hey Inc; shortly thereafter, the app was shut down.

The automotive war against water vapor. Defrosting a car windshield is a winter rite of passage, but no one could ever quite agree which combination of climate controls and other tweaks would have the best results. That is, until former NASA engineer and science videographer Mark Rober conducted exhaustive experiments to Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.—and explain the science behind them (TL;DR: Heater on high, AC and inside air circulation on, crack windows).

How can we trust photography when it’s inherently biased? Writer and photographer Teju Cole argues that photos can never meet journalism’s standards of fairness, because images always leave something out. When journalists want to depict scenes of war, it’s better to forget about being neutral and make more photos that make us uncomfortable.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, window defrosting techniques, and praise just for trying tohi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

 

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