Wombat migration 
I've been blogging here under the Footnotes on Epicycles banner for almost eleven years. After much dithering, I've decided that it is time to move. I am going to leave all the FoE pages here, so that all the old posts and comments will still be accessible. Going forward, though, I will be blogging at News for Wombats.

The new title better reflects my Twitter handle and might be the occasion for more non-philosophy blogging.

Again, the link: https://www.fecundity.com/nfw/

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The internal proletariat is a-risin' (maybe) 
There seems to be more campus activism now than there was a decade ago or (peering further into the past) when I was a student in the 90s and early 00s. However, there's a loud chorus of the jabbering about current activism which decries student activists as entitled cry-babies who want to undo the enlightenment.

This story at the Daily Beast leads with the headline "The College That Wants to Ban 'History'". The story is actually about students at Western Washington University who issued over-the-top demands in which they opted to spell 'history' as 'hxstory' and 'person' as 'persxn'. Coverage at Inside Higher Ed is even-handed enough to note that this spelling is a peculiar affectation: "Replacing certain letters in pronouns or some other words (like 'Latinx' for Latino or Latina) with an X is [a] strategy to avoid gendered language. Changing other words, like 'person' and 'history,' in that way does not appear to be a very common at all, however: neither 'hxstory' nor 'persxn' have been used often enough to be graphable by Google Trends."

It seems unlikely this is actually a substantial student movement. The group's petition has only reached half of its goal signatures, and most of those are transparently unserious. Some use perennial joke names like 'Benjamin Dover'. Some use less common joke names like 'Solomon Lowe' and 'Mush Forbrains'. Others didn't even bother with joke names and just sign the petition with expletives, like 'Lolololol NOPE' and 'Demanding Entitled Shithead'.

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Illicit repost about covers 
Last week, Rob Loftis was musing about covers over on Facebook:
If there's a song that sucks, but then someone comes along and does a cover of it that rules, does that mean that the song didn't really ever suck to begin with?

Have I violated a norm by cutting and pasting this comment into a blog post? Facebook is only a semi-public space. I can link to his comment, but it shows up as not available right now if you're not logged in and if you don't occupy a point close enough to Loftis in Facebook-space. This ambiguous publicity irks me about a lot of conversations on the internet: What we would have said in the comments section of a blog five years ago now gets said as a comment in somebody's Facebook feed. The Facebook algorithm might cough it up five years from now to say "Remember this!", but you've got little chance of finding it again if you just go looking and no chance if you do a general search.

In any case, I followed up with a comment about some of the literature on cover songs. The answer to his question is that it depends. Sometimes your reaction to the original version was an unfair condemnation of the song, sometimes the later cover is great despite the song being terrible, and sometimes the cover is transformative and creates an awesome new song that's a descendant of the crummy old one.

In any case, Rob looked at the paper and left this comment:
You mention that recorded mimic covers are rare because they don't really serve a purpose, but I can think of two kinds of exceptions to that. Sometimes movie producers will actually record a mimic cover because it is cheaper than licencing the original. Also, you sometimes see hastily done mimic covers on iTunes trying to capitalize on people who search for a song, but don't know the name of the original artist, and might wind up downloading the wrong track.

Cool examples. They're kind of odd cases though, and so I take them as friendly adjustments to our claim that mimic covers aren't usually recorded.

Someone else in the comments on Rob's post mentions the Onion AV Club Undercover, which had somehow escaped my attention. It's been going on for six years.

They Might Be Giants do a brilliant cover of Tubthumping that brings in all the Onion office staff.

The Polyphonic Spree does a cover of Neil Young's Heart of Gold that tampered with my memory of the original. It made me uncertain as to there were horns in Neil Young's version, because they fit so well into the song.

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Reaction to waves 
I'm late in posting about the discovery of gravity waves, which was announced with much fanfare over a week ago. The New Yorker and the Telegraph have nice write-ups.

The Telegraph headline claims that "this announcement is the scientific highlight of the decade", but everybody said the same thing about the discovery of the Higgs boson. The article written by astronomer Martin Rees acknowledges this. He writes, "This detection is indeed a big deal: one of the great discoveries of the decade - up there with the detection of the Higgs particle, which caused huge razzmatazz two years ago."

I heard Harry Collins give a talk years ago when the LIGO project was just starting, so the news is interesting as an update to that. The positive result occurred earlier than expected, so it's a pleasant surprise for the researchers.

But for someone who hadn't been following the research closely - for me - the result didn't come as a surprise. Theory predicted gravity waves, scientists were persistently refining detectors, and gravity waves were eventually observed. The technical accomplishment and precision is impressive, but the result doesn't pull back the curtain on any cosmic secrets that hadn't been anticipated.

The recent suggestion that there might be a ninth planet out beyond the Kuiper Belt was more of a surprise. And I'm more interested in seeing how the project to observe it turns out. I don't know which result to expect, so I look forward to seeing the evidence accumulate.

Of course, the existence or non-existence of a planet in our solar system is just a local, contingent fact. The existence of the Higgs boson and gravity waves are (perhaps) about the fabric of everything. I suppose that these are billed as the grand discoveries of the decade because of that.

Partly just as a matter of temperament, I'm not dazzled by fundamentality. The theory which predicts the Higgs boson and the theory which predicts gravity waves don't sit too well together.[1] So, despite the observations, we can't simply take both to be confirmed. But if we observe another planet in the outer solar system, it will be a thing which exists. Without fretting about fundamental ontology, planets are things.

[1] For a nice non-technical discussion of this, see this recent article by Lawrence Krauss.

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Nine again, fine again, jiggety jig? 
There's news that there may be a ninth planet after all. It is posited by Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin to explain the skewed orbits of otherwise inexplicable dwarf planets like Sedna, out beyond the Kuiper Belt. Several such objects have orbits skewed off in the same direction, and modelling suggests that this wouldn't occur without some massive thing skewing them.

Regardless of what you might think about the vexed word "planet", this is exciting. And it underscores that there is scientific value to thinking about the class of things which gravitationally dominate their orbit in a solar system. Whether we use the word "planet" to label that class, it's a natural kind and we need some word for it.

It's also worth mentioning that this might just be a mistaken conjecture. The posited object needs to be spotted with a telescope and observed for a while.

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