Game of Thrones isn’t actually that good

From The Federalist:

Criticizing “Game of Thrones,” it turns out, is about as thankless a task as criticizing Ron Paul. Somebody has to do it, but be prepared to get an earful from legions of angry and fanatical supporters.

What I find particularly annoying about “Game of Thrones” fans is that they have been pampered by universal praise from highbrow critics—which in my book is a sure-fire sign that you’re on the wrong track—so they can’t imagine anyone could possibly dislike the show. If you do dislike it, they become belligerently defensive and feel free to impugn your integrity, claiming that you could not possibly have even watched the show, so you’re basically faking your review. (More on that in a moment.)

But then after a week of this sort of thing, “Game of Thrones” serves up an episode in which this happens. Let’s just say that if it were an episode of “Friends,” it would be titled, “The One Where the Guy Rapes His Sister Next to the Corpse of Their Murdered Child.”

Really, at this point “Game of Thrones” has descended into self-parody, because that is exactly the kind of scene a satirist might have invented to mock the show’s promiscuous lust for shock value.

Woe to the Man who is bald

Wendell Berry on the relationship between modern “identity crises” and the body:

The so-called identity crisis, for instance, is a disease that seems to have become prevalent after the disconnection of body and soul and the other piecemealings of the modern period. One’s “identity” is apparently the immaterial part of one’s being–also known as psyche, soul, spirit, self, mind, etc. The dividing of this principle from the body and from any particular worldly locality would seem reason enough for a crisis. Treatment, it might be thought, would logically consist in the restoration of these connections: the lost identity would find itself by recognizing physical landmarks, by connecting itself responsibly to practical circumstances; it would learn to stay put in the body to which it belongs and in the place to which preference or history or accident has brought it; it would, in short, find itself in finding its work. But “finding yourself,” the pseudo-ritual by which the identity crisis is supposed to be resolved, makes use of no such immediate references. Leaving aside the obvious, and ancient, realities of doubt and self-doubt, as well as the authentic madness that is often the result of cultural disintegration, it seems likely that the identity crisis has become a sort of social myth, a genre of self-indulgence. It can be an excuse for irresponsibility or a fashionable mode of self-dramatization. It is the easiest form of self-flattery–a way to construe procrastination as a virtue–based on the romantic assumption that “who I really am” is better in some fundamental way than the available evidence proves.

The fashionable cure for this condition, if I understand the lore of it correctly has nothing to do with the assumption of responsibilities or the renewal of connections. The cure is “autonomy,” another mythical condition, suggesting that the self can be self-determining and independent without regard for any determining circumstance or any of the obvious dependences. This seems little more than a jargon term for indifference to the opinions and feelings of other people. There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence. Inevitably failing this impossible standard of autonomy, the modern self-seeker becomes a tourist of cures, submitting his quest to the guidance of one guru after another. The “cure” thus preserves the disease.

It is not surprising that this strange disease of the spirit—the self’s search for the self–should have its counterpart in an anguish of the body. One of the commonplaces of modern experience is dissatisfaction with the body–not as one has allowed it to become, but as it naturally is. The hardship is perhaps greater here because the body, unlike the self, is substantial and cannot be supposed to be inherently better than it was born to be. It can only be thought inherently worse than it ought to be. For the appropriate standard for the body–that is, health–has been replaced, not even by another standard, but by very exclusive physical models. The concept of “model” here conforms very closely to the model of the scientists and planners: it is an exclusive, narrowly defined ideal which affects destructively whatever it does not include.

Thus our young people are offered the ideal of health only by what they know to be lip service. What they are made to feel forcibly, and to measure themselves by, is the exclusive desirability of a certain physical model. Girls are taught to want to be leggy, slender, large-breasted, curly-haired, unimposingly beautiful. Boys are instructed to be “athletic” in build, tall but not too tall, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, narrow-hipped, square-jawed, straight-nosed, not bald, unimposingly handsome. Both sexes should look what passes for “sexy” in a bathing suit. Neither, above all, should look old.

Though many people, in health, are beautiful, very few resemble these models. The result is widespread suffering that does immeasurable damage both to individual persons and to the society as a whole. The result is another absurd pseudo-ritual, “accepting one’s body,” which may take years or may be the distraction of a lifetime. Woe to the man who is short or skinny or bald. Woe to the man with a big nose. Woe, above all, to the woman with small breasts or a muscular body or strong features; Homer and Solomon might have thought her beautiful, but she will see her own beauty only by a difficult rebellion. And like the crisis of identity, this crisis of the body brings a helpless dependence on cures. One spends one’s life dressing and “making up” to compensate for one’s supposed deficiencies. Again, the cure preserves the disease. And the putative healer is the guru of style and beauty aid. The sufferer is by definition a customer.

Sherpas, Death, and Everest

Krakauer in the New Yorker:

On April 18th, shortly before 7 A.M. local time, an overhanging wedge of ice the size of a Beverly Hills mansion broke loose from the same ice bulge that had frightened Brice into leaving Everest in 2012. As it crashed onto the slope below, the ice shattered into truck-size chunks and hurtled toward some fifty climbers laboring slowly upward through the Khumbu Icefall, a jumbled maze of unstable ice towers that looms above the 17,600-foot base camp. The climbers in the line of fire were at approximately nineteen thousand feet when the avalanche struck. Of the twenty-five men hit by the falling ice, sixteen were killed, all of them Nepalis working for guided climbing teams. Three of the bodies were buried beneath the frozen debris and may never be found.

Although many news reports indicated that all the victims were Sherpas, the legendary mountain people who comprise just half of one per cent of the Nepali population, three of the sixteen were members of other, much larger ethnic groups: one was Gurung, one was Tamang, and one was a member of the Hindu Chhetri caste. All, however, were employed as high-altitude climbing sherpas, with a lowercase “s”—an élite profession that deservedly commands respect and admiration from mountaineers around the world.

It was the worst climbing accident in the history of Everest, twice as deadly as the infamous storm in May, 1996, that killed eight people, the subject of my book “Into Thin Air” (four of my teammates accounted for half of that grim tally). But dying on Everest has been an occupational hazard for Sherpas ever since a team led by George Leigh Mallory to attempt the Tibetan side of the peak, in 1922, became the first mountaineers to ascend higher than the lower flanks of the mountain. In the final days of that expedition, seven Sherpas from Darjeeling, India, were swept to their deaths in an avalanche. Sad to say, the job hasn’t gotten any safer for Sherpas with the passage of time. According to a piece by Jonah Ogles posted on outsideonline.com, the death rate for climbing sherpas on Everest from 2004 until now was twelve times higher than the death rate for U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq from 2003-07.

While you’re at it, you might look at Outside magazine’s interview with Ralf Dujmovits, a climber who took an iconic photo of Everest climbers a few years ago.

Iceland: Beautiful and Weird

The Daily Beast looks at a country I’ve always wanted to visit:

I’m sitting under a lighthouse just outside Reykjavík watching the Northern Lights dance over Iceland’s capital city. The green hues are cascading across the sky like glowing curtains. It’s otherworldly.

I’m with the writer of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Iceland, the man who literally wrote the book on the country and who says he’s spent countless hours trying to explain the aurora borealis. “It’s indescribable,” he says. It would be hard to argue with that, were it not for the group of British students gazing at the lights a few feet away, one of whom has his own summation: “It looks like God farted.”

It was an odd, unexpected thing to say. And, it was kind of true. If nothing else, though, the whole exchange encapsulates Iceland, a place where every turn brings another mystifying natural wonder impossible to describe—a land of baffling, beautiful contradictions. How do you explain a place that’s both archaic and constantly changing? Where lava meets ice? That’s both lush with greenery and a frozen tundra? That’s electrifying and calming at the same time?

The Many Names for Turkish Coffee

From Roads and Kingdoms:

There is, as one would expect, no Turkish coffee in Armenia. Soorj, that is, coffee prepared in a long-handled Jezve coffee pot, is referred to either asHaykakan (Armenian) or, to be more euphemistic, Aravelyan (Eastern). Arab coffee is easy to identify because of the cardamom, but its northern neighbour, however we call it, is more ambiguous. After nearly seven months living in Armenia, I am still haunted by the first day when, bleary and decaffeinated, I asked for Turkish coffee in a Yerevan café. How could I? The waiter in question still remembers, and when I order from him now, I am triply careful to stress the drink’s fundamental Armenian-ness—Shat haykakan Soorj, Hayastanum, Hayastaneets (very Armenian coffee, in Armenia, from Armenia). “How do you make Turkish coffee?” begins a Soviet-era Radio Yerevan joke. “Simple–burn the coffee crop and then lie about it for a hundred years.”

For a term so restricted in use, the Armenian term Soorj may have quite cosmopolitan origins. The word may be onomatopoeic, Soorj being the slurp made by a contented coffee drinker. In troubled areas of the South Caucasus, the etymology is an appealing one. “Turkish Coffee, Armenian Coffee; it’s all bullshit anyway” summarised a Yerevan taxi driver named Tigran. “Coffee’s from Ethiopia. Or Arabia. Or somewhere. Either way, unless I see coffee growing right here, right now, I can’t call it Armenian”.

Richard Dawkins: Missionary?

From The Telegraph:

My schoolfriend Michael – an atheist for decades – rang me the other night and told me he’d returned to the Catholic Church. “And you’ll never guess who converted me,” he said.

“Your wife?”

“No! It was Richard Dawkins!”

He explained that he was, and is, a huge admirer of Dawkins the biologist. (I’m with him there: I read The Blind Watchmaker when it first came out and was blown away.) “But then I read The God Delusion and it was… total crap. So bad that I started questioning my own atheism. Then he started tweeting.”

Like a loony on top of the bus, no?

“Exactly!”

The Public Library

A fun photo essay here that is well worth your time:

There are approximately seventeen thousand public libraries in the United States. Since I began this project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in forty-seven states.

I didn’t intend this project to last eighteen years. Many of the early libraries were photographed during longer journeys, when I had the time. The photography was usually connected to some other effort, such as when I taught workshops in Alaska in 1994 and Key West, Florida, in 1997. In 2000 my family and I took a long drive throughout the American West, occasionally photographing libraries along the way. In 2007 we traveled through Louisiana and parts of the South, again photographing a few. Every summer we have stayed in a little cabin in Vermont. I have always brought my camera along on each of those trips and gradually began to accumulate photographs from places other than my home in California. In the late 2000s I began to focus the project. I made specific library photo trips throughout Nevada and to Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. I began to realize that if I wanted to make this a national study, I had some more traveling to do.