Way Back in the Twenty-First Century...

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Stars as Stellar Engines


"a modified Shkadov thruster, a way of moving entire stars that the physicist Leonid Shkadov first described in 1987. In both cases, we’re talking about what can be called ‘stellar engines’ that use the resources of the star itself to create their propulsion. Would such a vast structure be detectible by another civilization?"

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A portrait of Europe’s white working class - Financial Times



Most families struggle on in Higher Blackley. Jobs here are now usually in services: at shops like Sainsbury’s, or as carers or cleaners. Most jobs pay the minimum wage: £6.31 an hour. Come October, this figure will rise by more than inflation for the first time since 2008. But real pay is often below that. One of David’s sons works casually as a steward at Manchester United Football Club. David says: ‘You’ve got to have a mobile, because they text you. You go there, the fourth-richest club in the world, and they say: “By the way, you need this baseball cap, that’s £5 out of your wages. You need this badge, that’s £3.”’

Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how Britain is today.

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Frank Zappa!   Zappa’s music is the sort of thing loved by teenagers, but meant for an adult audience.   It’s silly and goofy - the kind of thing you may have heard on Dr. Demento or heard referenced by a certain strain of stand-up comic - but also raunchy in spots.  The first album I picked up was a popular “twofer” containing Apostrophe (embedded above) and Over-Nite Sensation, the former of which included a famous song called “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.”  It’s a pretty good microcosm of Zappa’s oeuvre in that it kicks off with a goofy ditty about dogs peeing in snow and a warning not to eat it, goes off on some riff on pancakes that turns quickly into a leprechaun masturbating.  I didn’t pick up on that nuance for a while.

I’m genuinely curious if anyone can really get into Zappa in this day and age without being exposed to it in some capacity before you got to high school.  It doesn’t show up on the radio much and most of my friends seemed to hate it, which only made me like it more, because that’s how I work.  He died along with Jim Henson in a one-two punch when I was in junior high school and it was a pretty unfortunate week - I didn’t feel any particular sense of loss, nor did my classmates, but when Kurt Cobain died?  Well, I also wasn’t in mourning but holy hell you should have seen this one girl in my German class.  You’d think her cat died.

As a sort of a counterculture icon, it stands to reason that if you think people around you in charge are stupid, you’ll probably enjoy Zappa a whole bunch.   He threw a fit (and rightfully so) when the government wanted to levy a tax on blank cassettes so the music industry could punish everyone for people who copied records on to tapes, and depending on how you want to look at things may be the person who first came up with the concept behind iTunes.   He also stayed up all night and worked on stuff in his studio, which I can get behind.

If you’ve heard of Captain Beefheart - and I hope you have - you’ll get into him during any delving in the works of Frank Zappa.  The two worked together here and there, fought a bit, and put out a heck of a fun live album called “Bongo Fury.”   A particularly prescient quote came out of an early collaboration called “Tiger Roach,” wherein Beefheart growled “This album is not available to the public.  Even if it were, you wouldn’t want to listen to it.”

Frank Zappa has dozens upon dozens of albums, most of which were released during his lifetime.  There are live shows, there are collections, there are bootlegs which he had later released as authorized versions so he could collect on them. (Smart guy!)    If you think you want to hear more Frank Zappa stuff, here’s what I’d suggest grabbing.  You might say “Wait, to start I should get multiple albums?” Yes.  There’s too much to just do one.

- Freak Out!

- Hot Rats

For advanced studies, please check out “Just Another Band from LA” - especially if you’ve lived in LA.  Its opening track is the very long “Billy the Mountain,” a goofy, partially improvised number about a mountain cashing in his royalty check and taking his wife Ethyl - a tree on his shoulder - on vacation.  Chaos ensues. Another track is devoted to a guy who sold suits and pants on TV in LA called “Eddie Are You Kidding?”  It’s pretty creative stuff.