Tag Archives: doubts

Boredom makes you live longer: Dunbar, Catch-22

17 Mar

(Foil of Yossarian’s and somehow endearing, for saying barely a sentence per fifty pages)

I’ve realized in the last few months that I have the uncanny ability to spot the supporting characters in a novel for whom that grim reaper called an author always manages to get right when I think the coast is clear.  I’m like a divining rod for fictional death.  (Lone exception: Percy Weasley)

I haven’t finished Catch-22 yet, but with this macabre talent in mind I’m beginning to get worried for Dunbar, the laconic officer who doesn’t appear often but has managed to win enough of my affection to merit a response paper for a U of A satire seminar, which I’ve included for the sake of anyone who wants to read about a foil of Yossarian’s in the first half of the book:

When the reader meets Yossarian, he’s befuddling doctors with a medical condition that both is and is not jaundice—and the absurdity only grows from there.  In line with the nature of the title military regulation, almost every event and conversation Yossarian and company (squadron, actually) have in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 abounds in contradiction and tautology.  At one point or another, after all, nearly every character accuses someone else of being crazy.

Second only to Yossarian in alleged insanity—in the opinion of Clevinger, at least, supposed voice of reason—is Dunbar, who also happens to be second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the novel.  His companion from the hospital and the only man the bombardier doesn’t include among “the people Yossarian wanted to machine-gun” (18) in the officers’ club, Dunbar and Yossarian share a crucial trait: they don’t want to die.

Finishing each others’ sentences in the hospital, playing off of each other while tormenting the irritating Texan, the two officers’ characters appear as close as their infirmary beds.  “Outside the hospital there was nothing funny going on,” Heller notes; “The only thing going on was a war, and no one seemed to notice but Yossarian and Dunbar” (16). Among brothers-in-arms like Clevinger, Haverly, and McWatt—“the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war” (60)—their desperate love for life seems, ironically, unrequited by most.

But while similar in this respect, Dunbar also serves as a foil for Yossarian in the first half of the novel: his fatalism and passivity highlighting more vividly the proudly-proclaimed coward—“‘I’m not ashamed, Yossarian said. ‘I’m just afraid.’” (102)—in his anger, desperation, and active attempts to outwit, outplay, and outlast all his fellows as a survivor in war.

Dunbar, unlike Yossarian, accepts the fact that death comes for everyone, and has committed himself to a somewhat unorthodox theory and practice of life extension: the cultivation of boredom.  The men Yossarian despises and heaps imaginary violence upon, such as Clevinger with his accusations of “antisocial aggressions” (19), are welcomed by his laconic friend.  “Dunbar loved shooting skeet because he hated every minute of it” (38), Heller explains, and “Dunbar liked Clevinger because Clevinger annoyed him and made the time go slow” (19)—activities that he insist literally count eleven-times-seventeen years to the hour.

Though a different tactic than Yossarian’s flying tackle employed on Major Major (Major Major) for the sake of information on how to get grounded, Dunbar’s ideas are, like Yossarian’s, less absurd than they seem at first read.  When Dunbar defends himself to Clevinger with the observation that “You’re inches away from death every time on a mission.  How much older can you be at your age?” (39), it may be the sanest sentence in the book so far.

An atheist, Dunbar’s simple, matter-of-fact assertions that “There is no God” (126) may be less colorful than Yossarian’s comparison of the Supreme Being as an incompetent bungler with a “warped, evil, scatological mind” partial to tooth decay (179)—nevertheless, disbelief in an afterlife makes survival, for the sake of whatever life, paramount:

“Be furious you’re going to die” (179), Yossarian says—”What else is there?” his friend asks.


Wheels within Wheels: Strange Lights in Norway and Ezekiel

10 Dec

Thousands of Norwegians witnessed a bizarre spiral of light in the sky on the morning of November 9.  Still, take a look:

(Read the original article and see more photographs at The Sun)

Update: 12/11 — Looks like the word is in, and the mysterious light show was a Russian missile launch after all.

Still, for what it’s worth, my first thought back on the 9th, after I snapped my gaping jaw shut and got over the initial shock, was that the images from Norway bore  a striking resemblance to what some researchers have pointed to as a description of UFOs in the Bible.

Ezekiel 1:16 (New American Standard Bible)

The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another.

“Beryl,” notably, is transparent mineral often of a blue or green color (much like in the pictures of the spiral over Norway).

The similarity of the spiral seen to the description of “wheels within wheels,” I think, needs little explanation.

What I love most (even in my awe– in the traditional definition of wonder and fear) is that this suggests, if nothing else, that modern analysis of early texts might want to give a little more credit to the historiography of ancient people.  Now I’m not saying that the spiraling light was the fiery chariot of cherubim; that’s probably less likely than an alien invasion.  But it is interesting to consider that, if this fiery wheel does turn out to have been a natural “astral phenomenon” as some were claiming earlier, it may have been seen sometime in the distant past as well.

We’re all quick and willing to apply “to err is human” to people of earlier centuries (how much more so for millennia?) without considering that we ourselves could be lacking vital information.  Human eyewitness accounts haven’t changed so much since biblical times, even if the equipment to capture something as bizarre as a fiery “wheel within a wheel” is now available.  After all, a number of Norwegians, grasping for words, compared the sight to a “Catherine wheel.”

Just a thought.

V 1.03: Killing with Kindness

19 Nov

One of the biggest dangers the humans of ABC’s V might face this season is the cliché.  Alien invasion stories, after all, are nothing new.  Neither is the priest whose own doubts give him trouble handling the problems of his flock.  But three episodes in (and even if three weeks doesn’t quite constitute a hit), V hasn’t gone stale, a necessity in a season when networks are axing new shows that don’t deliver almost faster than they premiere.

Here’s hoping to a long shelf life.

The opening minutes of last Tuesday’s episode, “A Bright New Day,” were possibly the sweetest I’ve seen in the show yet—and no, they don’t involve Erica’s idiot son and his simpering space princess (he annoys me so thoroughly, you might have gathered, that I’m not even bothering to learn his name).

The show opens with Jack (Father Landry, to the faithful) sweating and fidgeting in his confessional as various parishioners file in or out, in torment or rapture, variously.

“Are the Vs demons, or angels?” one woman asks.

“Who am I to question the Pope?” says another man.

In the past few episodes, shifts in who you can trust and who count as authority figures have been major themes—here they are again, notably, in questions posed to a very human man with neither.  And he looks so uncomfortable trapped in that stiff collar and tiny room that we’re left wondering who he can talk to about these questions.

“I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them God loves them, everything’s going to be fine.  How can I tell them that?  I don’t even know what to tell myself anymore,” he insists.

And here’s where ABC defuses the cliché: Jack’s sentiment might not be original, but most priests don’t ask their advice from FBI agents investigating sleeper cells… of aliens.

So much for prayer.

Erica and Jack’s conversation is particularly touching because, in a world where everyone has two faces (and for some of them, I mean that literally), this bizarre pair trusts each other completely.  Shoot—Erica leaves him alone in her house paging through the FBI database.  National security breach?  Too late for that.

And you have to admit that Erica’s game plan is a lot more practical than saying two Hail Marys and a Glory Be.

“Whatever their plan is,” she says of the Vs, “They need us for something.  And until we find out what that is, we need to fight them the same way they’re fighting us.”

In other words: pretend to play nice.

If there’s anyone I can see going head to head with Anna and winning, it’s Elizabeth Mitchell as Agent Evans.  Even as she assists V security in identifying a death threat against one of their officials, Erica demonstrates the skills she’ll need to build a resistance: brilliant observation, something close to photographic memory, and absolute control over how she allows others to perceive her.  Sound like any particularly conniving alien woman we know?

In the long run, it doesn’t matter that the whole shooter/assassination/death threat thing was a set-up: we already knew the Vs were sneaky, and the would-be rebels knew it as well.  In “A Bright New Day,” it’s the Vs who are out of the loop for once, and the great thing is, they don’t even know it—

By saving Anna’s slimy advisor Marcus, Erica gains his trust, as he assumes she saved him out of the same devotion most humans display.  Painful and seemingly-counterintuitive though this rescue must have been, Erica keeps her head and shakes his hand.

Infiltration doesn’t have to be one-sided.

With the return of David Richmond-Peck as George “it’s Georgie” Sutton (organizer of the ill-fated warehouse meeting in episode one), this becomes even more clear.  While well-meaning Jack (once again) demonstrates his blatant lack of street smarts, Richmond-Peck portrays a sapient homo sapiens who knows how to survive and outlast anyone (and when it comes to his family, tragically, he has).  The team is beginning to shape up.

Though “A Bright New Day” hints that there’s another V in the FBI (I’m guessing Erica’s boss Paul—he’s the one who let the Vs take custody of the “shooter,” after all, and seemingly without a fight), we also meet a traitor in a very high place, the New York Mothership (and I was cheering by the end of that scene, by the way).  Add into the mix the mysterious John May-or-may-not be a myth, and the rebels might just stand a chance.  Or, as the veterans call them: The Fifth Column.

More hope lies in the new knowledge that not all of the Vs are committed to the program of human destruction: Ryan Nichols’s old Fifth Column buddy Cyrus tries to turn him in, but only because of something he speaks of incoherently a “the Bliss.”

“The Bliss?” Ryan scoffs.  “The Bliss is how she controlled us, Cyrus.  Just like junkies, man.  And that’s what you are, you’re nothing but a junkie.  Just like the rest of them.”

Killing with kindness?  Anna’s killing with ecstasy.

But Erica’s “fighting them the same way they’re fighting us” now, remember, and that could make all the difference this time, in what’s shaping up to be the second rebellion.  We don’t know much about the first, but having Georgie Sutton around gives us some useful clues—

After 1.03, his emotionalism in the pilot’s warehouse scene is even more understandable (not that aliens overhead is something not to get upset about): the Vs murdered his wife and kids.  And like we treat most adults ranting about aliens in our own society, Georgie’s community stigmatized him.

“He went a little crazy,” one of his neighbors says, of the murders.  “He said aliens did it.”

Turns out he wasn’t crazy after all, but as Anna teaches us every Tuesday, perception is everything.  He didn’t look credible, however good his information was.

And as good in his role as the impassioned, almost-fanatical, and kind of ruthless survivor (he holds a gun to the head of a priest) as Mitchell is at playing cool-and-composed, Richmond-Peck’s Georgie is as much the counterpart to Erica as is Jack Landry, and just as important to the growing resistance.

Erica and Jack—an FBI agent and a Man of God—are the poster children of model citizenship, but Georgie Sutton and Ryan Nichols know the rules of the game.  And this time, they’re going to play nice.

For now.