Table Banter
By R. D. Flavin

The Global Table (Tappan 1986, p. 546).

     The American “Bill of Rights,” those first amendments to our United States Constitution, grants a civil liberty for “people to peaceably assemble” as a basic privilege for all ('cept, of course, the incarcerated or those otherwise engaged in current societal standards which exclude the very young, catastrophically infirm, too wacky, etc.).  Gathering on a street-corner, back alley, or in the middle of nowhere is fine if required, but sitting down together at a table has been a dear custom (in those areas of the world that utilize 'tables') for a very long time.  We meet around and across the table to eat and drink, to speak of matters profound, profane, petty, pathetic, etc., and sometimes simply because ...tables are great for elbows, through such leaning is frowned upon by etiquette ogres.  Despite or because of pomp and its perception, circumstances often necessitate table banter as an apéritif to stimulate discussion.   Such ice-breaking, following ol' Sam Clemens (Twain 1883, p. 365), if successful, allows the meeting (var. meating) to proceed.  Some refer to it as “small talk,” though I'd suggest moderation both in portrayal and portion.

"The Last Supper" (ca. 500-520 CE) from Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna and a 13th century painting of Arthur and the Round Table.

     A humorous tale, clever joke, or topical aside are all appropriate beginnings.  It's possible, if legendary accounts are even partially accurate, that pleasantries were exchanged before Jesus began to out Judas at the Last Supper Seder/Eucharistic meal (Mk 14:18) or Arthur ordered meat to be placed before his noble knights at the Round Table (Wace, Roman de Brut; ll. 9,995-10,015).   While all table banter is discouraged in certain mess and dining halls, those restrictions are enforced to support duration limitations more so than any objection by etiquette ogres because some have chosen to chew with their mouths open and talk at the same time.  Still, shared eating is basic human nature, arguably pre-language, but once folks start talking, it's almost impossible to get them to shut up.  Shutting up or down happens, naturally, though I'm reminded of a self-description offered many years back, that I'm either talking or thinking bad thoughts about you...

     Even solemnities, both sacred and secular, shouldn't be too fragile and break when someone coughs, a baby cries, or I begin to tell the person seated next to me about my fascination with small cows and the future of White Castle ® "Slider" (var. "Slyder") hamburgers.   Ceremonies exist for us; we don't exist for ceremonies.  Well, some do...  Anywho, when seated at a table it's well within practical expectations for banter to ensue.  Individuality accommodates choice, like selecting from a menu, as there's always a preference, but all selections on the menu are acceptable.  Someone will inevitably try the free-range veal and folks will chit-chat given the opportunity.

     There are several important “tables” currently in need of banter, casual or otherwise.  It doesn't or shouldn't matter if productive discussions have stalled for personal reasons, differences in political ideologies, monetary or energy disparities, seating complaints (i.e., the “kid's table” with the tiny chairs), or obfuscating lighting issues.  Commonality, at table, is opportunistic with comments usually easier to pass than SALT (now START III).  Once seated, one might as well bend some ears and grab a bite to eat...

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu with President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas and a map of ancient "Israel" ca. 1250-722 BCE.

     Recently, Israel and Palestine (or, rather, members of the Palestinian National Authority acting as de facto representatives of the so-called Occupied Palestinian Territories) have shared a table to discuss peace.  Though Rep. Thomas P. “Tip” O' Neil (D-MA) is aptly credited with the maxim that “All politics is local,” when it comes to the Hebrew and Islamic conflict outsiders and foreigners seem to have more to say and do about the difficult "Mideast" situation than the folks who actually live (or used to live) in the regions in question.  I recall a past mayor of Jerusalem (Teddy Kollek?) discussing how Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock maintenance was (is?) paid for by a local discretionary fund.  Arabs and Jews live and work alongside of one another every day in Jerusalem (despite designations between East Jerusalem, its “Old City,” and West Jerusalem) and it's been and remains a very sad matter as the “locals” have one idea of peace (i.e., leave them alone to work their problems out) and everyone else who seem predisposed to solutions which include the extremes of war, war, and then there are those who suggest ...war.  Remember Saddam, the ruthless Iraqi president and dictator who offered $15,000 to families of suicide bombers who took out Bauhaus cafés in Tel Aviv?  Yeah, I still believe 'money' should be regarded as a weapon of mass destruction.  Oh, and let's not forget the Al-Qaeda co-founder, Osama bin Laden, who, though a Saudi Arabian spoiled rich brat, very much enjoys going on and on and on about the Palestinians...  I defer to one of the coolest cats in my lifetime, King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein of Jordan, who, along with his father, have housed and fed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians for ...a long time.  King Abdullah strongly suggests Israel and Palestine continue to share a table, as he prognosticates that something will go horribly wrong if one or both parties get up from the table too soon.

     This is important...  The topic has wicked long legs...  The creation of modern Israel in 1948 (not the ancient Kingdom of Israel ca. 1250 – 722 BCE, an Iron-Age Canaanite city-state culturally existing proactively alongside the ancient Kingdom of Judah [see map above]) was problematic, righteously justified, and has been a paperwork, fine print cluster-f*ck ever since.  Regional peace between religious enemies competes with displaced populations and reparations for attention at the table.  I remain wholly [sic] impressed with Israel's concessions to their Early Middle Ages indigene boarders, there's a practical wisdom at work there somewhere, and yet, may not matter if modern Israel remains a “Jewish state” officially or becomes a wholly [sorta' sic] democratic one in which a voting majority could elect a “Palestinian” Islamic government one day.  Such is the strength and humility of real freedom...   America recently allowed a cowardly court to award its highest office to one over another (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98) and there were no riots or major societal tragedies because of the legal decision.   Eight years of clumsy corruption later, fortuitously, “our flag was still there...”  If Israel genuinely wants to be “modern,” they'll drop the theocratic “Jewish state” self-identification and become a true democracy.   Oh, and like the Germans honoring the 1919 Treaty of Versailles by paying off its legal reparations and finally bringing an end to the Great War (var. World War I), perhaps Israel might want to get out its check-book for the displaced Palestinians.  Just another suggestion...

Daejang and Vice-Chairman of the Commission for Military Affairs of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea Kim Jong-un and H.E. Dr. Ahmadi Nejad, Honorable President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

     I've long been familiar with rumors that America is still paying off bank loans with interest from World War II, though I've so far dismissed such as popular paranoid fantasies, à la the Bavarian Illuminati are “behind all of our problems” silliness.  The capable threat of the 1940 Tripartite Pact, which allied the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan, hasn't been duplicated (even with Cold War comparisons), though the metaphor of importance was incorporated in a significant State of the Union Address (January 29, 2002) by former President George W. Bush, when he introduced the expression “axis of evil” to designate the perceived and capable threats and actions of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq.  To Bush's credit [sic], he sort of followed this writer's November 2002 request to “cowboy Saddam most expeditiously” and “This, then, is my charge to Bush, that we eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, immediately, and by any means possible.  Kill the son of a bitch.  Now.”  The Iraqi War commenced on March 20, 2003 and combat operations were officially ended on August 31, 2010.   We still have 50,000 troops, extending an analogy by Captain John Paul Jones, in harm's way.  Persia (that is, Iran), remains a problem.  And, there's North Korea ("The Democratic People's Republic of Korea" or DPRK), which, I believe, we're still at war with.  The Korean War (var. police action or conflict) continues, there's some 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, and we're entering 3rd generational idiocy.

     With North Korea we're presented with several significant impediments to global integration – communism is a sociopolitical buzzkill and conversation stopper since its inception, nepotism only works when the crowds are sufficiently entertained, and bad hair will always remain awkward.  The DPRK was founded in 1948 (the same year as the modern State of Israel), and its first leader, Kim Il-sung, even though succumbing to mortality in 1994 (read: he died), in 1998 the North Korean constitution was amended to proclaim Il-sung as the “Eternal President” of the DPRK reflecting what some have described as the last major “cult of personality” introduced (Tai 1977).  His son and successor, Kim Il-jong, has continued with his own “cult of personality,” and as Il-jong is purported to be suffering from ill health, a few weeks ago he appeared in public alongside of his youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un (var. Jong-eun [contra hottie Kim Jung Eun]).   Not much is known about the 27-year old Jong-un, other than he was briefly educated in Switzerland and enjoys basketball.   However, any good guess would likely include a scenario of status quo, wherein a future North Korea with Jong-un as the nouveau "Dear Leader" wouldn't be all that different than it has been, that is, heavily militarized, isolated and secretive, and more concerned with manufacturing counterfeit Viagra pills and Marlboro cigarettes than feeding its own people.  Basketball?

     The exactitude of Bush's expression “axis of evil” aside, North Korea does maintain close relations with post-communist Russia, post-Mao communist China, Cuba, and Iran.  The continued humanitarian charity of Russia and China, along with the commi-camaraderie of fiscally challenged Cuba, while always newsworthy for geopolitical groupies, doesn't get Wild Western hearts beating quick like learning of the latest missile and nuclear tech being bought, sold, and traded between North Korea and Iran.  It seems even the young Kim Jong-un appreciates a good parade!

     The present Islamic Republic of Iran is often regarded as a theocratic state, with male Islamic scholars ("clerics") elected to eight-year terms appointing a “Supreme Leader” (with Ayatollah or Grand Ayatollah status) acting as Commander-in-Chief of the military and with final judicial authority involving constitutional issues.  Executive affairs of state are the responsibility of the President of Iran, supposedly the second highest ranking Iranian government position, currently held by a paranoid populist loon named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  He's less than a third of the way through his second and last term as president and can't be constitutionally re-elected.  But, there's more than two and a half years of his crazed influence ahead...  Nukes, missiles, and historical revisionism; oh, my!

     Honestly, Ahmadinejad should think about a future with Fox News...  He smiles, denies charges of corruption or crime, quietly says the Holocaust didn't happen, adds that the State of Israel should be removed from history, and has recently achieved the wack hat-trick by claiming that the U.S. attacked itself on September 11, 2001.  So, he's a jerk, a crook, anti-Zionist and anti-American, and just like Saddam and Osama, irrationally pro-Palestinian to the point of denying the right of the State of Israel to exist.  Damned dilettantes!

     While residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel await further discussions, table banter, and resolution, Ahmadinejad has pronounced the continuing Mideast peace talks “doomed” to fail.   Well, maybe not “all,” but certainly those that involve the U.S.  And, per his anti-Zionist stance, any talks which recognize the State of Israel as a legitimate nation/country.  Though, with a smiling weasel wiggling as a point of reference, Ahmadinejad has mentioned that "Whatever the people decide, we will respect it...  If they [the Palestinians] want to keep the Zionists, they can stay."  Well, that position, as well as Ahmadinejad's recent vacation to Lebanon, will certainly keep the hate-filled crackpot in the news for a while longer, but won't get him a seat at the table.  Maybe a job with Fox News, possibly Al Jazeera (if he tones down his tinfoil-hat rhetoric), but …Ahmadinejad will likely pass through our system as indigestible.  Diets are important, it's all about the menu, and knowing when to stay at or leave the table is as self-defining as a waistline.  The greater the differences encountered, the more sameness emerges.  There's only that which is possible, the impossible, and what's undetermined.

Adorable.  Dumb.  Good luck, Delaware voters!

     As I write this, the November 2, 2010 United States (“midterm”) General Election is less than a week away.  I wholeheartedly encourage all eligible voters to participate in the coming election.  Afterward, whatever the outcome, the sun will appear to rise in the morning and set at night, sometimes it'll be good weather and at other times not so much, and, of course, Americans will continue to debate the best course for their country.  I'm in Taxachusetts (var. Massachusetts), I'll be for Question 1 and withhold other picks as we all have our own mines and minds to dig and dig out of.  Please vote and vote often!

Tai Sung An.  1977.  “North Korea: From Dictatorship to Dynasty.”  Asian Affairs.  4, 3: 172-183.

Tappan, Helen.  1986.  “Phytoplankton: Below the Salt at the Global Table.”  Journal of Paleontology.  60, 3: 545-334.  Illustration is
  described as: “Figure 1 – The global table, shown as a medieval dining hall, with ancestral portraits in the wall tapestries.  Nutrients are
  disproportionately available to the terrestrial plants, grazers, and carnivores closest to the figurative head of the table, becoming
  progressively depleted in the marine realm .below the salt.'  Those at the table represent a composite of the terrestrial and marine habitats
  through geologic time.”

Twain, Mark.  1883.  Life on the Mississippi.  London: Chatto & Windus.   Published simultaneously in the United States (Boston: Osgood
  and Co.) and Britain, it's believed that this was the first professionally submitted typed manuscript.  The OED cites the pagination of the
  British edition.

ordering just desserts,

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