Strange Owl

Last week we said hello to Knut the polar bear, now say hi to Xenoglaux

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A tiny bird so rare and unusual that its scientific name means “strange owl” has been spotted for the first time in the wild, scientists announced yesterday.

Conservationists working in Peru got their first natural glimpse of the long-whiskered owlet last month while working in a private mountain reserve.

The species wasn’t even known to exist until 1976, and since then the only known living specimens have been those caught in nets at night.

As few as 250 of the owlets are thought to exist, scientists said, and the birds are as distinctive as they are rare.

With their diminutive size, bright orange eyes, and wild, wispy facial feathers, the dainty birds belong to their own genus, dubbed Xenoglaux, or “strange owl.”

Countdown to the first South American speedmetal band to change their name to Xenoglaux in 5… 4… 3…

Things going on while I was reconfiguring the server

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The only thing missing from the surveillance video of the SUV driver crashing through an Augusta mall is the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Bonus points to the deputy sheriff who barely keeps from laughing during his interview.


The state of air travel…

Passing through the Zurich (ZRH) airport is like being in a photo shoot for Nokia advertisements. Neutral blue-grey color scheme with a touch of red from the Swiss souvenir shops, well-dressed travelers quietly having a coffee before boarding and in true Enoian spirit there is background music but from a completely indiscernible source. Arriving back at the squalid LAX Bradley terminal after such a great experience is the real culture clash of traveling: missing ceiling panels, dirty carpeting, ambient garbage, and long lines.

Security control at LAX encapsulates everything that is wrong with the State Of Things. TSA isn’t secure at all, but a grown-up version of junior high school hall monitors with guns and just enough humiliation to avoid class-action lawsuits. Several hundred people are lined up to pass through the two passport checkpoints that are open. One guy efficiently does his job, the second takes five times as long and several more watch the proceedings. No one suggests opening up another checkpoint to process more people. At the baggage claim, a TSA guy has his dog sniff at four suitcases only before taking off – ignoring everything else on the carousel. During a delay in processing baggage, a TSA staffer announces to the 40-odd people left waiting that “all baggage has been off-loaded and to see your airline’s lost luggage counter if you don’t have your bag.” It was just a delay and the remaining baggage did show up but her announcement (whether it was a deliberate lie or callous incompetence) upset a few people.

Not surprisingly, international airlines are taking their business elsewhere and in true SoCal-strength NIMBYism, the locals could care less if the $4 billion of international visitor dollars disappears.

Symbolic perhaps that a chunk of the Theme Building collapsed. At least it’s being repaired.


Think that the retail record business is several turns into it’s final death spiral? Think again.

Jose Jimenez scanned the rows of CDs, whose covers mainly pictured men dressed in cowboy hats and Western-style shirts open at the collar.

Jimenez, who is from Mexico, was in a Latin record shop in the New York City borough of Queens. He was searching for the latest from a Mexican band whose forte is accordion- and polka-based music that relates sometimes-true stories about drug trafficking and its social ills. He had recently seen the band play on a Spanish-language television show.

“You listen to the music and start to believe you’re back in your country,” the 36-year-old said, adding that the lyrics speak about what is going on in Mexico these days.

For many Latin Americans like Jimenez, the source for their music – a cultural bridge between their lives in the U.S. and their homelands – is the neighborhood Latin record shop. These stores have proliferated in New York’s immigrant neighborhoods in recent years and have survived even as the retail music industry that caters to English speakers faces grim prospects.

[via Everyday Literacies]


Asinine painter and Stepford Village Idiot, Thomas Kinkade inspires a holiday movie. No word if the movie will include Kinkade’s values such as fraud, alcoholism, and public urination.


Sedition Books in Houston burns to the ground in an apparent arson attack. Houston police blame the victims telling them “if you get too extreme like this, this is what happens” and “if you do this again somewhere else, this kind of stuff is just gonna follow you…”


Without A Park To Range succinctly sums up my mixed feelings about the Hualapa’s skywalk over the Grand Canyon and resulting criticism.

I’m a bit fed up with criticism of the Hualapa’s effort to save their lives. Most condemnation reeks of Anglo racism at worst and misplaced white paternalism at best. One comment on Kurt’s piece really got me going.

“The architects of the El Tovar and the other buildings at the South Rim kept the buildings aesthetically in line with the canyon.”

What a load of crap. The Market Plaza at the South Rim is the size of a K-Mart. Why do we need such a big store in a National Park?

“The facilities the National Park Service built at the Grand Canyon are, for the most part, necessary in order for people to visit the canyon.”

Again I need my hip waders. John Wesley Powell and early travelers didn’t need a city on the South Rim to sustain them. Nor did Clarence Dutton or John Muir or Teddy Roosevelt, who expressed his wish that it remain pristine for future generations.

Today, the Canyon is anything but pristine with houses and pay phones at Phantom Ranch, a water pipeline across the canyon, a bank, an ATM, 11 restaurants, an auto mechanic shop, Internet access, a kennel, a medical clinic, a post office, gas stations, gift shops, six lodges with almost 1000 rooms. There are 228 miles of roads and 1143 buildings. This isn’t “necessary”. It’s excessive and it’s impossible to find solitude on the South Rim.

So back off the Hualapai! I’m fed up with this racist double standard. After everything the US government has done to native peoples, how dare you smugly anticipate the financial failure of their tribe!

My prediction: the skywalk will be out of business within three years. The controversy then will be people screaming at the government on how to best dismantle it, but not before the CLUI installs a guerilla photo exhibit.


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The Ford Cortina from Life On Mars is being auctioned off for charity and if I lived in the UK I would totally bid on it. Meanwhile, I patiently await the next episode.


And finally, two lesser-known conflicts going on in the world…

1. Armani attacks Savile Row, dismissing the traditional home of menswear as “a bad English comedy.”

2. Rock & Roll versus “Shadowy Russian Business Interests” in a war to control the factory that supplies two-thirds of the world’s vacuum tubes for amplifiers.

Catching up on recent things

My alma mater UC Irvine has always had an odd image and self-esteem problem. Of course it doesn’t help when your campus has had problems with body snatchers, assault by radioactivity, a sign that cost more than some buildings, and a medical center under constant criminal investigation (a running joke was that the reason UCI wanted a law school was to supply enough lawyers for all the med center scandals, but even that fell through). The latest UCI news story? While other colleges are vying for starchitecture and name-brand buildings, UCI actually tears down their Gehry. Go anteaters!

Home again Garden Grove? Speaking of image problems and Orange County: Garden Grove (a name which I actively have to remember because its alternative Garbage Grove name is so widespread) still can’t figure out how to profit from being next to Disneyland. And no one is really hopeful about it.

The Antarctic kite skiers, who ran across those mysterious tracks awhile back, made it to the Pole Of Inaccessibility. A bust of Lenin which was left by a Soviet expedition 49 years ago is still sitting there – looking out over the ice.

Since no one in 2007 is really interested in Nine Inch Nails, I’m not surprised that the conspiracy-themed marketing for the new album is equally as empty. Let’s see how long it takes until it backfires into mooninite-scale pandemonium.

A worthier puzzle is the Perplex City game. Andy Darley of Middlesex worked out the clues to find the Cube and won the £100,000 prize. Game 2 will start soon (and maybe this time I’ll actually play the dang thing)

I’m always impressed with the images that come down via Astronomy Picture Of The Day, but February 8th’s picture of galaxy cluster Abell S0740 has stopped me dead in my tracks. The only feeling that’s similar was when I first saw the rings of Saturn through a telescope.

And finally, there is nothing I can add to this:

Norman Mailer created a film in the late 60s called MAIDSTONE. He played the part of a famous movie director who is considering a run for the presidency. Rip Torn played his potential assassin. At the end of filming, Rip appeared to get a little too far into his role, and he attacked Mailer on camera with a hammer, drawing blood. Mailer retaliated by viciously biting into Torn’s ear, drawing even more blood. This is the fight.

76 sign victory

76 Ball - La Brea & 6thWow! I can’t remember any previous situation where a corporation (especially one the size of ConocoPhillips) making a decision in favor of aesthetics.

Nearly one year after we launched our campaign asking ConocoPhillips to reconsider their “destroy all balls” policy towards the historic blue and orange Union 76 Ball gas station signs, the Texas energy giant announced to the Wall Street Journal that they have changed their course. Focus groups held last fall told them what nearly 3000 signers of the Save the 76 Ball petition have already told us: people love the 76 Balls, and don’t want them to disappear.

The 76 Balls that come off their poles are no longer being smashed or cut into pieces, but being preserved for donation to museums like the American Sign Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Museum of Neon Art and perhaps even the Smithsonian! And a new type of 76 Ball, colored red rather than orange, will soon be installed at up to 100 gas stations in the west.

Congrats to everyone involved. (And check out the obligatory Union 76 Ball Flickr pool)

Ladd Observatory, Providence

Chris Perridas has been blogging about H.P. Lovecraft and his time in Providence, Rhode Island and his post today featured the Ladd Observatory. Originally built in 1891, Lovecraft used to hang out there quite a bit:

Ladd remains a living museum of 19th century astronomy practices, complete with creaking staircases and a pleasantly musty attic smell.”

“Some of those rooms, like the one that houses the old transit telescopes, haven’t been fully renovated. As the door creaks open, visitors are greeted by a blast of cold air. The lights don’t work, but Targan shows groups around anyway, with the aid of a flashlight, pointing out how the telescopes were used to keep time by tracing the stars along the sky’s meridian. In the dark, with various strange-looking contraptions covered in dark sheets, the building has a certain haunted house-quality, and indeed, Ladd is said to be haunted by at least one ghost — that of noted Providence fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft. “Did he ever come here?” a visitor asks. “Are you kidding?” Jackson says. “He had a key to the place.” As a teenager, Lovecraft displayed a keen interest in the skies, even writing regular articles about astronomy for Providence newspapers. And he enjoyed the run of the observatory, thanks to then-director Winslow Upton, a friend of the Lovecraft family.”

I took a mini-Lovecraftian tour of Providence on my Loop The USA road trip in 1994 and fell in love with the little observatory the second I saw it.

Ladd Observatory

I have my doubts that the swing set out front can ward off Eldrich Horrors, but maybe that’s how you summon Them in the first place.

Robert Anton Wilson R.I.P.

Robert Anton Wilson was pretty much responsible for a lot of things (Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, secret societies, Church Of The SubGenius, giant squid, the MC5) that have entertained/enlightened me over the years. One of the few times I ever went out of my way to get a book signed was to have Wilson sign my copy of the Illuminatus trilogy. In return he made me a Discordian Pope.

As reported all around the Web recently, Wilson had been in pretty ill health and this morning he finally passed away. The last post on his blog being:

Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

Please pardon my levity, I don’t see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.

RAW

There are two stories that immediately come to mind. One of them I was mixed up with and the other one I wasn’t.

In 1991 or 1992, there was an event at the Masonic Temple on Wilshire here in Los Angeles called “Millennial Madness.” As part of the festivities, Wilson directed a live-action game entitled “The Conspiracy Game” (or something close to that). No one really knew what the game was going to be like, much less what the context was, or what would even constitute a victory condition. Even then, that’s assuming that such a game could even be “won.”

Anyway, me and a confederate figured that it would be endlessly fun and worthwhile to hack it. Earlier that day we printed up “game effect cards” which contained official-looking instructions to do things like:

  • Walk like Richard Nixon on psychotropic drugs
  • BE HYPERACTIVE!
  • Channel *Zontar* the extragalatic alien entity
  • Feel their “eyes” upon you
  • Fight for truth, justice, and the American Way!
  • Talk like Donald Duck on Prozac
  • Sing a song!
  • ANGST!
  • Conduct a funeral mass for Oscar The Grouch
  • Act alternative!
  • Summon Cthulhu
  • Scheme! Don’t let others keep you from your God-given right to be a megalomaniac!
  • Don’t worry, and be happy!
  • Pray
  • Howl at the moon (or at anyone else)

The cards stated how long the game effect should last and to pass the along to someone else once the effect expired. The two of us dressed up like M.I.B.s, acted as most authoritative as we could, and went to town…

Mild pandemonium resulted. People weren’t sure what was going on with the real game, but the game effect cards were circulating everywhere. Adding to the chaos, we handed out floppy discs instructing people to “do not let this out of your sight until you make contact with your controlling agent. Your controller will notify you with a sign at the appropriate time.” Given the cryptic nature of the game to begin with, no one was really sure what was going on except that a couple hundred people were experiencing multiple levels of weapons-grade confusion. In conclusion: job well done.

We decided that the high point of the evening was when someone gave the “Talk like Donald Duck on prozac” card to Wilson himself, and he did it!

Just prior to the Millennial Madness prank, Wilson was interviewed on a late-night radio talk show here in L.A. One caller asked him if he knew anything about Disneyland being laid-out in a geomantic pattern – similar to how the Washington D.C. street layout contains Masonic symbols. Wilson said that he hadn’t heard of anything like that but related a story of a friend of his who every year would take LSD just before going into Disneyland. When he would peak, the guy would go into the room with the animatronic Mickey Mouse and ask Mickey philosophical questions and what he should do for the next year. Mickey would reply. Wilson observed “here’s a guy whose God is visible, tangible, and responds to questioning. I think he’s very lucky.”

Keep the lasagna flying indeed. Ewige Blumenkraft!