"The War of Spells"

My favorite article so far to arise from the disruptions in the Philippines is this one. It describes the events in terms of "a dagger in the heart," magic, a divided Church, the "war of spells" that shattered King Arthur's realm, and finishes with an allusion to the sword Excalibur.

It seems almost improper to mention that the 'Sword in the Stone' and Excalibur were two different swords. Nevertheless, they were: the first sword was a gift of God, as the legend has it, to name the rightful king; Excalibur was kept by the Lady of the Lake. Both types of swords have precedents and resonances in other legends -- for the Sword in the Stone, see for example the Sword of the Volsungs (which resonates also, and intentionally, with Aragorn's sword Anduril, or Narsil); for Excalibur, any number of legends about fairy blades kept by water spirits. This last is a perfectly reasonable legend, for many Celtic and Germanic cultures cast swords and other treasures into sacred lakes and rivers as sacrifices. The water maids who keep such sacred blades are a natural point of origin for our Lady who dwelt by, or in, or under, 'the Lake.'

All that said, it is a hopeful sign for the Philippines that they have these legends to draw upon, still so close to mind as to leap into a simple piece of political analysis. A commonly understood legend, underlying your view of the world and present in all or most minds, has been the foundation of many a society in hard times. In politics, if most of you can imagine the problem alike, you can probably imagine a solution. Not so in physics; but this is a political problem.


Fine Dining:

Via Arts & Letters Daily, I see that the UK Guardian has put together a list of the world's fifty best restaurants. Improbably, to say the least that might be said, fourteen of them are in England, including the world's best: The Fat Duck.

The list has earned some unreasonably bitter commentary from our German friends:

So again: Congratulations to our English friends! What they were unable to achieve in soccer, they've made up for in the kitchen. And this counterbalances the bankruptcy of their last automobile company. And the state of the London underground.
You can read the list for yourself. I'm dismayed to say that, not only have I never eaten in a single one of these restaurants, I've never lived close to a single one of these cities. In point of fact, I've only even visited one of them -- New York -- and have no plans to plan never to return. Since I didn't eat at any of these places on that occasion, I shall probably miss them entirely. Were I to die tomorrow, I should have missed out on the world's best food -- or rather, its best restaurant food, since both my grandfather's bacon and my grandmother's biscuits were not for sale.

Still, I do like good food, and so I would like to solicit from you, dear reader, two lists of your own. The first list is the finest restaurants you've patronized, and where they can be found -- as well as a bit about them, if you like. The second is your favorites, which needn't be "fine" cuisine at all. For myself, I've dined in a few fine establishments, but my very favorite place to eat is a hole in the wall Mexican joint in Chamblee, Georgia (which town is called by the locals "Chambodia" in honor of the many Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants displaced by a certain regional conflict of the 1950s-70s).

In any event, here are my two lists. Unlike the Guardian, these are not in order of excellence, just "as they come to me."

Fine dining:

1) The Abbey, Atlanta, Georgia -- it self-consciously describes itself as "French Continental," but what I had were the lamb chops, which you could have gotten in one of those fine English restaurants (I imagine). It is notable for being located in an old church of magnificient decor, which is every bit as enjoyable as the food. And the food was very good indeed. I took my wife there once on our anniversary, and if any of you have the notion, it's worth a trip.

2) The Southern Inn Restaurant, Lexington, Virginia -- Lexington is called "the shrine of the South," being home to Stonewall Jackson's house and the tomb of Robert E. Lee and his faithful horse Traveller. It's home to the Virginia Military Institute, which with the Citadel in Charleston carries on the tradition of Southern military life. The Southern Inn is a fine place to eat downtown, with twists of mint soaking in the ready pitchers of icewater to refresh the throat. I suggest it heartily if you're ever in the area, which you may be -- there's a major interstate that runs right through Lexington.

3) Pizza Hut, Shanghai, China -- No, I'm not kidding. Pizza Hut is a luxury restaurant in China. The Shanghai location (there may be more than one) serves a clam chowder pie, as well as special salads, in addition to pepperoni pizza. Reservations are a wise idea, as they are a very popular restaurant with the upper class.

4) Sunday Restaurant, Hangzhou, China -- We ate there the day we bought the train tickets out of Hangzhou, en route to the airport at PuDong to carry us back to the good old United States. That was about six months after we'd arrived, most of it over a winter in which we were provided with no heat sources. We were in a celebratory mood on the occasion, and so went with a couple of Australians to eat everything we could find. It was a mighty feast, and one I remember kindly.

5) Asia Nora's, Washington, D.C. -- Not only good food, but fine Scotch, if you're so inclined. I don't actually like Asian food that much, to be honest (you might have guessed from my listing "Pizza Hut" as the finest restaurant in China) but I can't doubt the quality of what's on offer here. (An aside -- at a cafeteria once in China I was dining with one of my colleagues, a nice lady who was a Chinese national. She asked me what I thought of the food. "It's offal," I replied, having just identified the meat as stomach. "Awful!" she cried. "I thought it was good!")

6) Biddy Mulligan's, Washington, D.C. -- Too expensive to be considered a "favorite," but the food is of a high enough quality that I go there on occasion. The Irish mixed grill is the best thing on the board. I had it on my last birthday, courtesy of Sovay.

UPDATE: 7) Bilbo Baggins', Alexandria, Virginia. -- I had forgotten about it, but it's a very nice place down on the waterfront. The food is good, and the beer list is astonishing. Everyone's favorite hobbit would have approved.


1) El Taco Veloz, Chamblee, GA. -- Not much to be said about this place except that non-Spanish speakers would be advised to remember that "lengua" means "tongue." Don't miss the salsa verde or the chiles rellenos. Oddly enough, this restaurant is part of a chain, but all the others have a different name: Taco Prisa, which also means "Speedy Taco."

2) Kevin Barry's Irish Pub, Savannah, Georgia -- The best Irish Pub I've ever attended, and I attended it often in my Savannah days. MilBloggers will want to visit the Hall of Heroes (and cigar bar) on the second floor, which honors the US military; Irish sympathizers will want to visit Liberty Hall, which honors especially Kevin Barry but also all IRA veterans. This is not a pose; the owner is quite serious about it, and is a collector of historic weapons associated with Irish republicanism, including antique pikes from the 1798 rising. Yes, yes, I know, but check the calendar on their website, and go on a night that Harry is playing. You'll understand.

3) The Mellow Mushroom, throughout Georgia and points north (but not far enough north). -- The best pizza in Georgia, although a close second is Vinnie Van Go-Go's in Savannah. The Mushroom is better, though.

4) The Reggae Cafe (also, The Reggae Bar and The Reggae Pub), Hangzhou, China -- expensive enough to be "fine dining" by Chinese standards, but cheap enough for a Westerner to eat there often. The Szechuan pizza is great, and the reggae burger -- which is actually a sausage patty, served with a fried egg over hard on something resembling a bun -- is surprisingly good. For a year after I came back from China, I put a fried egg on my hamburgers. (I see from this list that it still exists, and not only that, but there is now an Irish pub in Hangzhou with Guinness on tap. If that had been there when I was there, I might have stayed another year or two, if we could have gotten the wife over that double pneumonia).

5) The Griffin Tavern, Flint Hill, Virginia. The pizza is the best pizza I've had since I left Georgia, no question. They have things as cheap as burgers, or as expensive and fancy as you like. It's the only restaurant around, so if you're off in this section of the woods, the Griffin is all there is -- but you couldn't do better in a major city, I'll take an oath on it. This is my favorite restaurant in Virginia, but it's a long trek from anywhere you're likely to be. Still...

6) Molly's Irish Pub, Warrenton, Virginia -- Hm, it may be that I'm detecting a theme in my recommendations. Have the Shepherd's Pie. Beowulf likes the ice cream.

7) The Childe Harold Pub, Washington, D.C. -- The Childe Harold restaurant is a fine dining place, to be avoided if you'll have my recommendation. The Childe Harold Pub is in the basement, and is an entirely different sort of place. Grab a table in the back of the Pub and have a Guard's Burger, or belly up to the bar at happy hour. If you like pasta, they have a kind of chicken pasta that Sovay always orders. It's very good, I can attest, having eaten more of the stuff than she has herself -- she eats like a bird, the girl. The Childe Harold takes its name from a poem by Lord Byron about a knight on pilgrimage.

Well, there you go. What have you got?

UPDATE: A couple more favorites from Atlanta, which I remembered later:

8) Savage Pizza, Atlanta, Georgia. -- A comic-book themed restaurant, but what great pizza.

9) La Fonda Latina, Atlanta, GA. -- The quesadillas are excellent, as is the fresh salsa. They make good sangria, too, as I recall.


4th Rail Post:

I have a post up at the Fourth Rail on Dr. Pape's work.



Secrecy News has a link to another recently available government document, which comes from the Interagency OPSEC support staff. The Federation of American Scientists, which underwrites SN, has published a copy of it on their website.

The piece is the Intelligence Threat Handbook.

The notion is to provide a basic awareness of intelligence techniques used against America by major powers, especially Russia and China. The piece intends to help government agencies recognize and avoid what may be intelligence gathering missions by foreign powers.

I pass the link on to you because some of you work in sensitive areas (not only in the government!) and will benefit, and others of you will just be interested in this insight into Chinese intelligence. Have a look.


Information Warfare:

The most interesting thing about this roundup post is the comments section. I don't say that to minimize the quality of the post, which draws attention to the political debacle in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the comments are fascinating:

1. Anonymous said...
Just FYI, the so-called John Marzan you link to is a vehement pro-Estrada/Marcos loyalist who trolls various Filipino message boards with rabid anti-Arroyo propaganda. His weblog entries are, of course, always slanted towards the far-extreme anti-Arroyo side, even if it means linking to a newspaper owned by Estrada/Marcos loyalists (the Tribune) and defending the corruption and violence of previous administrations. Not the kind of person I'd trust my links to.

There are a few other local Filipino weblogs with a more balanced viewpoint of what's going on here: columnist Manuel Quezon III and The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Oh, and I work just a couple of blocks from there. It's an impressive rally, but there have been a couple of street fights outside my building. Not the best elements of society; I'm seeing banners carried by "Akbayan," a socialist group not unlike International ANSWER.


3. Anonymous said...
gateway, be careful of bloggers putting in comments. there is a propaganda campaign even in blogs being mounted by the palace to counter anti-arroyo blogs. so do not trust this comment.
Of course we have all seen this coming. Political groups are aware of blogs, and so they have begun to assemble talking points for bloggers just as they do for letters-to-the-editor.

This is something to watch for in all future contests of this sort, but there is one aspect to attend to:

1) Each side of the argument has as its main interest that the debate should be framed in its terms...

2) ...but both sides of any argument have as a common interest that the debate should be framed as an argument between them.

This is not, as wilder-eyed libertarians sometimes argue about the two-party system, a conspiracy between two similar parties to obscure their similarity in order to offer the illusion of a choice. It applies even in cases where the difference is real, and deep.

The reason is this: We must be told what to think, lest we decide for ourselves. That, at least, must be avoided at all costs. A political group knows what its opposition's arguments are, and how to counter them. But the mutations that may arise in free space are unpredictable. As 'knowing your enemy' is one of the classic rules of warfighting, it is a matter of pure practicality to make certain that everyone who cannot be won to your side is, at least, thinking the way your known enemy thinks.

For that cause, expect to see these sorts of comments spreading through the blogosphere. It profits them to carry on the fight at length in every place, even if they know they have lost the audience in that place, even if they know they have won it. The fight serves its own purpose: it focuses all thought into the known patterns.

We must be cautious to prevent our halls to become battlegrounds for information warfighting of this type. This sort of agenda-advancing is viral: it not only tends to overwhelm comments sections to prevent new ideas from forming, but it tends to infect many thinkers who lean to one side or the other. They, wishing to seem well informed and also to express an acceptable opinion, need but learn one of the two standing arguments and assert it at all points.

The only way to prevent ourselves from becoming tools of suppressing debate is to recognize these information warfare techniques, and stop them. This can chiefly be done by ignoring their protagonists, but may also require erasing comments in extreme cases. It is why Grim's Hall does not permit "fly-by" comments, anonymous or otherwise: this is a place for fighters, and fighters of the mind must be thinkers rather than mimics.


Turning America Back Into A Nation Of...

Whose idea was it to allow these military style weapons to be used in hunting? American unilateralism knows no bounds, it appears. Don't people know that these are internationally banned weapons?

In 1097, Pope Urban II outlawed the use of the crossbow. Four decades later, Pope Innocent II convened a Lateran Council with nearly 1,000 prelates. They forbade "under penalty of anathema" not just the use of crossbows, "the dastard's weapon," but the entire "deadly and God-detested art of slingers and archers." You could get a waiver if you were on a crusade, but that's a different conversation.

Of course, it wasn't just the Catholic Church. Conrad III, the Holy Roman Emperor... banned the use of the crossbow in his army and his realm.

Not only that, they have also been banned by some of our more forward looking states, such as Maine. Oddly, though, their reasons seem to be anti-noble, rather than anti-peasant:
The taboo carried over into modern times. In American Colonial days into the 19th century, crossbows were associated with European nobility and spurned, said Ottie Snyder, a cofounder of the American Crossbow Federation.

In Maine, crossbows were banned for hunting in 1856, but have remained legal to own.

Well, no matter. Maine just passed a law letting people use them again. And so did New Hampshire. And Pennsylvania, last year. Vermont (of course) already permitted them. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in New England have provisions allowing for their use, but only by citizens who are not capable of using traditional bows.

Given the sudden, practical attempt to enforce the long-theoretical "states-rights" interpretation of the Second Amendment among another of the solid Blue states, it will be interesting to see where this goes. Might we soon have Blue State militias, armed primarily with crossbows? There is something to be said for the concept, surely.

Hat tip NRA-ILA.

Matt Furey

Matt Furey in Hospital:

You all probably have seen Matt Furey's ads. He sells a product called "Combat Conditioning," along with another product called "Combat Abs," and several similar things. He advertises on a number of blogs -- I know I've seen his ads on BlackFive, for example.

I have a message today that says he's in a Chinese hospital -- which is a better option on average than an African hospital, but not by much. I wouldn't check myself into one unless I was sure I was going to die otherwise, and had nothing to lose, but here we are:

Although I'm known throughout the world for being strong, right now I feelincredibly weak. The strongest body can be brought down quickly with a morsel of bad food. Right now I'm in the hospital in Xiang getting an I.V. and hope to regain my strength and health very soon.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs if you can take a moment tooffer a prayer on my behalf I would be most thankful. I sure need it right now.

Hope to back with you very soon.

I'm on the fellow's list because I own several of his products. The Matt Furey program for getting fit and maintaining strength is the best one I've ever encountered. It compares very favorably to the USMC "Daily 16", for example. Many of the insights are the same, but the Furey program incorporates the yoga exercises taught to traditional Indian wrestlers (although, so far, I've never seen the word "yoga" anywhere in any of Matt's stuff -- I'm sure he'd prefer not to have it associated with his products because of its granola connotations). Some of these (particularly the back or "wrestler's" bridge, the gymnastic bridge, and the handstands) are tremendously powerful ways to improve your strength -- and they nicely complement the calesthenics of his program by providing isometric exercise as well. Programs like the Daily 16, which also focus on calesthenics but lack the yoga, don't work as well in my experience.

I mention all this because his advertising gives the calculated impression that he's an arrogant jerk. It's a marketing device to get attention for his product, but I suspect it will cause a number of people to sneer or laugh when they hear of his misfortune. That is not proper -- he really is teaching the truth, and I have myself recommended the program to several people, especially military men who need to develop functional muscle but can't afford the bulk associated with freeweight training due to the military's (and particularly the Marines') absurd height/weight calculations. These are always based on the BMI ("Body Mass Index"), which is intended for small to medium framed people who aren't especially athletic. Big, strong men who work out will always be right at the top of the weight, if they can make weight at all. The Furey program, because it produces functional but not bulky muscle, can be a partial fix for Marines and soldiers trying to work around that.

Anyway, here's to Matt. I hope he gets well soon, the poor SOB. Bad Chinese food, and even the best Chinese hospital, isn't a fate I'd wish on anyone.