Reporting live from the nightmare

Joel at Pax Nortona has been blogging from the center of the inferno in southern California, with the kind of ecological and geographical astuteness that you won’t find in mainstream media coverage. Joel’s coverage began with ominous forebodings last Sunday. By the next day, he described a party-like atmosphere as neighbors gathered to watch the fire close in.

Clearly visible to us in the park was the big screen television of one of the houses perched on the hillside overlooking the Serrano Creek drainage of Whiting Ranch Wilderness. One fellow pointed his binoculars at the living room. “He’s watching football,” he announced.

I smorgasblogged Joel’s post from his cat’s point-of-view. Another anecdote about the neighbors caught my attention in one of yesterday’s posts:

The lack of information leads to speculation. We know that the fire was started by arsonists, but who? “Towelheads,” said one man with a white cairn terrier. “Yeah, must have been towelheads,” said another. “I’d bet it was.” My thinking is that if it was Al Qaeda, they would have claimed responsibility for it by now.

Things get pretty harrowing — and Joel has photos, too. Visit the main page to read most of the coverage (for archival purposes: click on the Disasters category).


This week’s Science Times has a number of articles on new research into sleep and dreaming. The most interesting, I thought, was by Carl Zimmer: “In Study of Human Patterns, Scientists Look to Bird Brains.”

Bird sleep is so mysterious that scientists are considering several answers, all intriguing. The godwit may have managed to stay awake for the entire journey. Or it may have been able to sleep while flying. Or, as Dr. Benca and other scientists suspect, its brain may have been in a bizarre state of semilimbo that they do not understand.

And the Times‘ other outstanding science writer, Natalie Angier, contributed “In the Dreamscape of Nightmares, Clues to Why We Dream at All.”

Cultural specifics can also tweak universal themes. Dr. Bulkeley and his colleagues have found that nightmares about falling through the air are common among women in Arab nations, perhaps for metaphorical reasons. “There’s such a premium in these countries on women remaining chaste, and the dangers of becoming a ‘fallen woman’ are so intense,” he said, “that the naturally high baseline of falling dreams is amped up even more.”


“Bad dreams are functional, nightmares dysfunctional,” he said.

If you feel yourself falling, spread your arms out and learn how to fly.

6 Replies to “Reporting live from the nightmare”

  1. As tragic as the fires are, the “towelhead” remark is really offensive. Nobody could say that kind of stuff about Jewish people today, for instance, but it’s perfectly fine for the American media to write and report racial slurs against Arabs and Muslims. It makes good copy, apparently; it makes me ill, and gives permission to ordinary people to use those words and make those stereotypes.

  2. Thanks, Fred – I’ll check those out.

    Beth – I agree that those remarks are offensive – that’s why I was interested to see them apparently expressed so casually by Joel’s neighbors. Without honest reporting, we’ll never know the true extent of racism and and bigotry in this country.

  3. I mean, if people were casually suggesting to each other that the water in their wells was going bad because the Jews were putting poison in them – a very common suspicion a few hundred years ago – I’d really want to know that, wouldn’t you?

  4. To the extent that we enjoy making sweeping generalizations, and also belonging to in-groups, yes, I suppose most of us rather do revel in bigotry.

    To me, the problem isn’t so much our tolerance or lack thereof as individuals, but our willingness to accept violence as a solution, and to accept social inequality as inevitable. Until that changes, I really don’t think it matters how much we sanitize our thoughts.

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