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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The archivist at Scholars Archive, the UAlbany institutional archive, offered to take my CV and the preprints on my website and add them as entries to the archive. It's now done.

A search for works by me in the archive turns up various editions of forall x at the top, because I've been using Scholars Archive for the last revision or two of the book. But below that there are entries for lots of papers.

I'm not sure if this will make my work available or salient to anyone who wouldn't have gotten it anyway, since I have the papers on my personal website. I figure it can't hurt.

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Engineering 'sexual orientation' 
I just read Robin Dembroff's paper What Is Sexual Orientation?, recently published in Philosopher's Imprint. Dembroff approaches their title question as a matter of engineering. Rather than trying to unpack our folk concept or find the natural kind that is closest to our common conception, they want to craft a concept of sexual orientation that will allow us to do things.[1]

I meant to write a short post, but stage-setting for the small point ended up being more words than I'd at first had in mind. This is the first blog post in a while that has spiralled out of control.

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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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Special issues 
If this blog platform had a more fluid system for tagging, there'd be a category for Synthese scandal. The journal has recently been tarnished (again) by egregious problems with a special issue. The philosophy blogosphere lit up with it a week or two ago. If you missed it, the post at Daily Nous covers the essentials.

Unlike earlier debacles, however, the editors have responded to this in a responsible way before the petitions were drawn up and boycotts were organized. They've made a public apology for the mess. They have announced a moratorium on future special issues so that they can take a serious look at the process, although issues already underway will go forward. Well done!

I have a paper on natural kinds forthcoming in a special issue of Synthese. As I blogged earlier, they refereed it thoroughly.

On reflection, I think it is important for there to be reputable journals which publish special issues of conference papers. It seems to me that the alternatives are (a) that conference papers not be published at all or (b) that they be published as stand-alone volumes. Not publishing at all would be a shame. The Paris symposium where I presented my paper brought together several of us doing related work on natural kinds, and it makes sense for the work we presented to appear together somewhere. And stand-along volumes are often only carried by a few libraries, so the papers don't get widely read. Having the papers appear in Synthese at least gives them a chance at readership.

There is a the third option, (c) that the papers would simply be made freely available from an on-line archive. This would be optimal, I think, although the authors might not feel an impetus to edit and complete their contributions. Conditional on closed-access journals being a thing that we still do, special issues of journal are valuable.

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