Contest results 
The Aesthetic for Birds contest, posing the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, is over and judged. I was the judge for the contest, and saw only anonymous entries. I wrote up the results and had Christy insert the names of the winners.

Here's my report.

Crossposted at AfB; if you have comments, make them over there.

* * *

The contest grew out of a conversation between Christy and me about whether musicians adopting different personas might do a cover of a song they had recorded earlier. It would have been easy to get caught up in how to define a 'cover', but we quickly realized that the meatier philosophical question was about the identity conditions of a band. Neither of us have an account of that, so he decided a contest was in order. I agreed to be the judge, so that entries could be judged anonymously.

I expected the entries to fall into two broad categories: No, with general considerations to show that it is impossible for a band to cover itself. Yes, with a thought-experiment scenario in which we can imagine a band becoming its own cover band.

The first strategy calls for a straightforward deduction; something like this:
1. By definition: A cover version is performed by someone other than the original artist.
2. By definition: A cover band of X plays cover versions of X's songs.
3. The original band is the original artist and not someone else.
Therefore, the original band cannot be a cover band.

To my surprise, nobody quite made this argument. In fact, out of 21 entries, only four answered no to the assigned question. (Most answered yes, and one equivocated.)

Several entries presume that the relation 'A covers B' is transitive. All of those entries got set aside, because their assumption is just false. There are two accounts of cover songs in the literature. Kania (2006) argues that the target of a cover version is a thinly-specified song. Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir (2013) argue that a cover version targets a specific prior version. In neither case is the relation transitive.

Another entry invoked the distinction made by Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir between mimic and rendition covers. Well played, given who organized the contest and who secretly was going to judge it, but not ultimately persuausive.

Three entries merit honorable mention.

The entry by Roy T. Cook was the cleverest of the no answers. The author defines a perfect cover band and goes on to give a natural deduction proof that it is impossible to know that a band is a perfect cover band of itself. The definition is that "A is a perfect cover band of B" iff we cannot determine whether A and B are the same or distinct. The proof submitted cuts a corner, presuming without mention that knowledge is closed under implication. I mark partial credit.

The entry by Jonathan Weinberg was written in a nice analytic style and posed a schematic scenario for a yes answer:
Suppose band B has sound S1 at t1, and then by t2 their sound evolves to S2. Now suppose by t3 they abandon S2, and pursue a career simply reproducing their t1 songs performed a la S1. Then B at t3 is a cover band of B at t1.

This answer plays nicely with the identity conditions for a band, suggesting that later time slices of a band might be a different band than earlier time slices. A few other entries similarly relied on different time slices of the same band, but this one was clearest. However, as Cristyn pointed out to me as I was mulling over answers, fans don't actually think about bands this way as the bands get older. When a band is forced to play their old hits even though they have moved on musically, we might think it's sad but we don't call them a cover band.

The entry by Jim Hamlyn was the only one written in verse. It poses a yes-answer scenario that is similar to the one in the winning entry, but somewhat less precise. Perhaps imprecision is the price of doggerel.
A band can be a cover band
By a form of exaggeration and
By mocking, shamming or otherwise hamming
Their art as if by another's hand.

Second place goes to the entry by Eric Wiland:
A band can be its own cover band. I'll argue by example. The White Stripes would cover themselves if they were to play all their songs with Jack on drums and Meg singing lead and playing guitar. Interestingly, a solo artist cannot cover herself.

The crucial thing is that Meg played drums in the White Stripes while Jack played guitar and sang lead. We typically identify a band not just by its members but by what each member does in the band. So having everyone trades roles could constitute a different band and allow the same people to constitute a cover band. (I had to look up the lineup of the White Stripes to make sure I understood the crucial thing correctly. Points off for clarity.)

The winner is BP Morton, who wrote:
Sure! Imagine a band that secretly re-unites, pretends to be a cover band of itself, and is taken as such by its new audience. Whether they fess up or not, by posing as a cover band successfully and being taken as one, they have become a cover band of themselves.

The idea plays on an ambiguity of what it is to be the same band: The band in the scenario is the same band in one sense because it has the same members playing the same parts. The band is a new band in another sense because band identity is a social fact, constituted by the members presenting themselves in a certain way and being accepted by the audience. It's even if just being a cover band is a social fact in that sense.

Congratulations to the the winners, but I had fun reading all of the entries. Thanks to Christy for the chance to decide the matter.

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Philosophy contest 
Aesthetics for Birds is holding a philosophy contest for the best 50 words argument answering this question: Can a band be its own cover band? e.g. could Iron Maiden be an Iron Maiden cover band?

The deadline is August 30, which gives you a week and a half to devise your entry. Pacing yourself, you could write as many as 5 words a day.

Update: The contest is now over, and the results are posted.

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Hidebound steepness 
Eric Schwitzgebel recently compiled a list of the 267 most-cited contemporary authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Eric Schliesser suggests that it might be used as a measure of one's saturation in conventional wisdom by tallying up how many of the authors were once one's teachers. Schliesser reports that he scores 4 and so identifies his "personal Schwitzgebel-SEP-index" as about 1.5% (4/267). Schwitzgebel also scores 4. [1]

I score 4, and there are another 2 who were were faculty at UCSD while I was a grad student but with whom I didn't actually take a course.

Other measures that they suggest are how many of the authors one knows about or for how many one can identify the area of philosophy to which the author most contributed. However, those are measures of propositional knowledge rather than of sociological connection to the discipline. A hermit who reads a lot could score highly.

We might instead tally the number of authors on the list with whom one talked philosophy while one was a student. Let's set the bar low and say that asking the author a question at a public talk counts, but merely seeing the author give a public talk or exchanging pleasantries does not. The well-read hermit would score nullity on this, and so it is perhaps a more interesting sociological metric.

In addition to the 6 UCSD faculty, I score at least another 29 on this measure. [2] A couple were while I was still an undergraduate and a few were at conferences, but most were because the author was a visiting speaker at UCSD. I attended colloquia religiously and participated avidly, so I came close to maxing out the possible score given the opportunities I had. But it reminds me how lucky I was to be at a place where there were those opportunities.

It is well known from science studies that social connections serve to transmit tacit knowledge in important ways, so I am surely a different philosopher than I would have been than if I had been taught the same material in a more isolated place. I think it's a difference for the better, but perhaps it has made me so steeped in orthodoxy that I am a bitter cup of hidebound philosophical tea.

So let's call this measure the SEP-hidebound-steepness score.

My SEP-h-s is 35. I probably won't put that on my business cards.

[1] Schliesser writes that there must be somebody who was taught by 25 or more of the philosophers on the list, but I doubt it. One can only take classes with some many different people, and one tends to take classes at only a few institutions before one stops being a student.
[2] The number would be higher still if it included people on the list with whom I've talked philosophy since graduating and becoming a professor. But construing it so that I get the biggest number possible makes it look less like a measure of sociological position and more like bragging.

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Aesthetics for Birds is running a series of posts called "100 Philosophers 100 Artworks 100 Words", the premise of which is probably evident from the title: A philosopher identifies their favorite art work and writes 100 words about it.

Several of the posts have rhapsodized about classic paintings or works of literature. Allen Hazlett set a precedent for a less obvious choice by writing about a mouthful of lamb bacon.

So I considered writing something about Picasso's "Portrait of Ambroise Vollard" or Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, because I adore them both.

The Picasso painting resonates with me for entirely personal reasons. I had seen it in books and talked about it in a humanities class, and I liked it. It had never occurred to me to consider where the actual physical painting was, though, so I was gobsmacked when turned a corner at the Pushkin museum and came face-to-face with it. So thinking of the painting now reminds me of a pleasant summer in Moscow twenty years ago.

I probably would have picked the movie version of R&G rather than the original play. It is fun and clever, both in what it does on its own and what it does to Hamlet. But I don't know how to write about it without starting to sound pretentious.

I ultimately wrote about a relic from my childhood. It resonates for me because of my personal history, sure, but in a way that's shared with many gamers of my generation.

My 100x100x100 contribution

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Twitter buzz 
My department has a widget on its homepage which lists recent department news, and I came in today to find that something had broken in the string of tin cans which I had relied upon turn the Facebook feed to RSS to Javascript to a news box. So the other things I had to do got put on hold while I tried to unbreak our website.

After some searching, I gave up on finding a solution that mirrors the Facebook feed. The same information, more or less, is posted to Twitter. And Twitter provides widgets for mirroring feeds.

However, actually getting one of the Twitter widgets required registering for Twitter. So I did. I had no interest in having a Twitter account for actually tweeting, but whatever.

Almost immediately, I got a notification that someone I know is now following me on Twitter.

[Insert hold music: dum dah dum, doo doo]

I got distracted mid rant. Returning to finish the post, I realized that I might actually prefer Twitter to social microblogging alternatives like posting on Facebook or Google+.

Twitter posts are in many ways like tiny webpages: You can get at them with third-party clients. They are public things that you can link to. You can aggregate or sort them in different ways.

Those are things which are good about the web.

Facebook posts and comments, in contrast, are kept inside Facebook's private garden. You can't link to them. You're at the mercy of Facebook's interface. And Facebook will filter what you and others see in whatever ways they decide to use for now.

So maybe I should use my Twitter account.

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