Anybody who says “The Government” did something is ineffective at best and just plain ignorant at worst, because there is no monolithic “government” any more than there is a monolithic “The Media” or “The Business”. Knowing, and embracing, complexity is necessary for those of us who’d like to change the system.

Anil Dash

(I couldn’t agree more — I can’t take anyone who complains about “the government” seriously. You can complain about a law. You can complain about a politician. You can complain about a governmental department or agency. But if you just complain about “the government”, you just sound… uneducated.)

Duke Energy’s ‘8 foot’ lie

Portland StreetcarLast week, Duke Energy announced that they were pulling out of negotiations with the City of Cincinnati to relocate utilities in the path of the Cincinnati Streetcar. They also claimed that for “safety reasons”, all utilities must be moved 8 feet away from the streetcar’s path, so that utility work could be performed while the streetcar is operating. Duke is insisting that the city pay the full cost of utility relocation.

But where did Duke Energy get this “8 foot” figure? The city planned on a 3-foot separation, which is the standard in other U.S. cities that operate streetcar and light rail systems—including Charlotte, where Duke is headquartered. Jake Mecklenborg has even put together a collection of 20 photos (like the one above) showing manhole covers directly adjacent to, and in some cases, in between streetcar or light rail tracks.

The real reason Duke is taking this position is that the gas lines under Downtown Cincinnati are decades old. Within the next 15 years, Duke will have to spend millions of dollars to replace these lines anyway, regardless of whether or not a streetcar is built. They are trying to take advantage of the situation and have the city pay this cost for them.

The city should pay a portion of the cost—after all, Duke now has to replace the lines a few years earlier than they otherwise would have needed to. But remember that Duke’s business model involves building infrastructure and charging customers to connect to it. The city should not pay the full cost and subsidize Duke’s profit.

Even with this minor setback, the official groundbreaking of the Cincinnati Streetcar will occur February 17.

Update (2/17): The Cincinnati Business Courier — apparently, our only local paper interested in doing investigative journalism — researched Duke’s claims, and found that an 8 foot separation is unnecessary. CBC reviewed practices in other cities and interviewed transit experts, and found that the city is right and Duke is wrong on the matter.

Jonathan Coulton vs. David Lowery on piracy

The recent SOPA/PIPA fight and MegaUpload shutdown reignited the debate about whether piracy is good or bad for artists.

Successful indie artist Jonathan Coulton on MegaUpload:

Even some of the illegal usage was likely the kind of activity that approaches what I consider to be victimless piracy: people downloading stuff they already bought but lost, people downloading stuff they missed on TV and couldn’t find on Netflix or iTunes, people downloading stuff they didn’t like and regretted watching or hearing and never would have bought anyway, people downloading a Jonathan Coulton album […] and loving it so much that in a year they decide to buy a ticket to a Jonathan Coulton show and walk up to the merch table and hand me $20. I know not everyone will think all of those things are victimless crimes, and even I can admit that some of them maybe kinda sorta have victims, but my point is that you canít easily say that every illegal download is a lost sale, because it’s a lot more complicated than that. […]

So if you can stand me sounding a little crazy, listen: where is the proof that piracy causes economic harm to anyone? Looking at the music business, yes profits have gone down ever since Napster, but has anyone effectively demonstrated the causal link between that and piracy? There are many alternate theories (people buying songs and not whole albums, music sucking more, niches and indie acts becoming more viable, etc.).

David Lowery of the bands Cracker and Camper van Beethoven listing some of the “lamest arguments in favor of illegal file sharing”:

“The RIAA is secretly behind filesharing. They make more money suing people than by selling albums. There are Youtube videos explaining all this therefore it’s true. Therefore it’s okay to steal from cracker and camper van beethoven”

Response: The RIAA was also behind 9-11, Global Warming Hoax and the Kennedy assassinations. Usher is behind Justin Bieber. And Camper Van Beethoven tests cosmetics on lab animals. […]

“Louis C.K. is successful and his stuff is on Youtube. Therefore it’s okay to steal Cracker’s songs.”

Response: Ask Louis CK if he would prefer his income stream or his idol George Carlin’s Income stream from album sales, video sales, book sales in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Louis CK is making a lot of money. But nothing like George Carlin. And in the process he is helping Google/Youtube add to the piles of gold bullion that Google keeps in secret spaceship deep inside the mantle of the earth below their mountain view “campus”. […]

“In the middle ages there were no music sales. It was all based on live performance.”

Response: Yes and doctors bled you or covered your torso with leaches when you were sick. Also it was permissible to beat your wife with a stick as long as the stick was not larger in diameter than your thumb. […]

“The Record labels and Musicians failed to adapt to the new hi tech reality. So it’s okay to steal music by Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.”

Response: So it’s okay to steal handmade boots, organically grown farm produce from family farms, and custom motorcycles? You’re right I’ve been stealing custom choppers for years. How stupid of me. You win.

It’s intersting to see the difference of opinion between two artists — one who became popular from YouTube videos and self-produced albums, and one who came up through the traditional record label model.

They’re both right, but they’re not arguing the same issue. Lowery is right that stealing music is illegal. And Coulton is right that there is no proof it causes artists to lose money.

And there are some flaws with Lowery’s logic — stealing a motorcycle is not the same as stealing a digital file. A motorcycle can only exist in one place at a time; a file can be copied infinately, retaining the same quality and usability.

It would be fascinating to hear Lowery leave his logical fallacies behind and respond to the point that record companies’ old model is outdated and no longer profitable. Even record companies themselves are realizing this and attempting to sign artists to new “360 deals” that include a cut of live performance, merchandise sales, and other income.

The companies that are going to struggle in today’s world are the ones that cling desperately to old business models and are unable to adapt. Warner Brothers increasing the wait time for DVD rentals by a month is not going to cause the masses to buy more DVDs; it’s going to cause people to stop caring about WB movies, pirate them instead, or simply wait an additional month to watch them (bringing in no additonal revenue to WB).

CBS doesn’t allow its shows to be streamed on Hulu. All the networks block Google TVs from streaming TV shows. Cable companies only allow paid HBO subscribers to use HBO’s iPad app, and prevent HBO from selling subscriptions directly to the public. All of these restrictions are business decisions, not technical limitations; and they all will result in far more piracy than revenue for those companies.

(I should note that I am a fan of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven and have paid for several of their albums, because I enjoy their music and believe in paying an artist for their work. I am not endorsing piracy.)

Why we will no longer endorse in elections

The Chicago Sun-Times:

What we will not do is endorse candidates. We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.

Additionally, senior management of the newspaper will be prohibited from making financial contributions to political campaigns — the same rules journalists are required to follow.

I’m waiting for more newspapers to follow in the Sun-Times’ footsteps.