Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Carnival Barker's Guide to International Diplomacy

Psalm 28:3 (New Living Translation)

“Don't drag me away with the wicked-- with those who do evil-- those who speak friendly words to their neighbors while planning evil in their hearts.”

I took a long walk through the Lyon County fairgrounds earlier this morning. The fair is in full bloom now, with the nightly smell of livestock and kettle corn filling the air. The amusement rides are still for the moment, but by six tonight the sound of calliopes and giggling children will be beckoning all of Emporia to join in the merry-making.

It was about 7:00 A.M. when I entered the grounds. About the only interruptions to the silence were the occasional trucks passing by, filled with trash from last night going one way and treasures for tonight going the other. At one end of the venue I stopped by the booth occupied by the good folks at Saint Catherine's Parish. For two bucks you can get some of the best real Mexican food this side of the Mississippi. Being the good theologian I am, I’m aware that good Saint Catherine was best known for her martyrdom, but around here she might just as well be known as the patron saint of the taco, tamale, and burrito. They are just that good!

A few yards to the east of Saint Catherine’s booth the amusement rides begin. To my left was the Ferris wheel, and a bit to my right were the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Dizzy Dragon. I passed by them, making a mental note to avoid them tonight. I’m not big on amusement rides. As far as I’m concerned, the food at St. Agnes’s will be more than enough for me. Once I’ve wolfed down a taco or two there would be absolutely no sense in shaking it up spinning fifty or sixty feet above the City of Emporia.

I was about to leave the fairgrounds when a small booth caught my eye. It was no more than eight by eight, painted in patriotic colors. When I got close enough I snapped the photo that you saw in the introduction to this post. “From Around the World,” the center panel read. “Strangest Dog and Pony – Alive and Real.” In front of the booth there was a barker’s stand announcing that for just fifty cents Emporia’s citizens, one and all, could see the “Zebroid” or the “Remarkable Naked Dog From South America.” I stopped for a few minutes, amused by the sight, wondering what how the barker might be pulling them in later tonight. “Your sight’s not playing tricks on you folks, for just fifty cents, one half of a U.S. dollar, you can see this amazing sight. And, when you’re done, for just another fifty cents you go next door and see Tiny Thumbelina, the world’s smallest horse. That’s right folks, she’s smaller than a Dalmatian. You’ve got to see her to believe…Step right up, folks….Step right up.”

If I’d only known I could have set up a booth next to Thumbelina’s. Apparently Nancy and I have a cat that’s bigger than a horse.

I left the fairgrounds at about 8:30 and headed home, about as amused and entertained as I ever was when Nancy and I would periodically go into New York City years ago and watch the Three-card Monte dealers and their shills all along 42nd Street take unsuspecting tourists for all they were worth.

I got home at about quarter past nine and settled in to a bit of internet and channel surfing. Fox was saying that Israel may be ready to talk seriously about a cease-fire sometime next week. Efraim Halevy, writing in the New Republic, was suggesting that this might be a good time for Israel to begin negotiations with Iran:

“Yet there is good reason to believe that Iran will be weakened by this war. Hezbollah has so far sustained losses far greater than those to which it admits. Its basic infrastructure has been mauled, and it has almost certainly concealed the deaths of senior commanders in the field. Meanwhile, the group has been forced to accept a plan put forward by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora intended to lead to its eventual disarmament. Its missile launches--designed to provoke fear in northern Israel--have not weakened the resolve of the Israeli public to see the war through. Nasrallah has acknowledged that morale within his group is suffering. His decision to fire missiles with escalating payloads and greater range deeper and deeper into Israel could be seen as an act of hubris on his part, but I suspect it is instead an act of desperation. Hezbollah's long-range missiles are its weapons of last resort. Once they are launched, and once Israel has withstood them and continued to fight, Nasrallah will have no other cards left to play.”

“All of which explains why Iran, desperate to avoid losing Hezbollah as an effective surrogate, might be willing to sit down with Israel and negotiate.”

It all seemed so promising, so rational.

The promise of peace lasted about ten minutes. After finishing Halevy’s essay, I came upon this from

“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday the solution to the Middle East crisis was to destroy Israel, Iranian state media reported.”
“In a speech during an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia, Ahmadinejad also called for an immediate cease-fire to end the fighting between Israel and the Iranian-back group Hezbollah.”
“Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented,” Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television in a report posted on its Web site.”

It all made me feel a bit like I had as I made my way through the fairgrounds earlier in the day. It seems that my little world of Tilt-a-Whirls, Tiny Thumbelina, naked dogs, and Zebroids isn’t much different than the current world of international diplomacy. Oh, tonight the barker here in Emporia will probably be wearing a peppermint-striped seersucker sport coat and a straw hat while the diplomats and wise men in the great cities centuries east of me will be wearing Brooks Brothers suits and Bally shoes, but that’s about as different as it’s going to get. Inside the tents the stump speeches will also have that same tinny ring. “Step right up folks, step right up. See Mahmoud the peacemaker and his dog and pony show. Ye sireee, folks. It’s amazing!!! It’s stupendous!!! It’s colossal!!!”

In about two and a half hours Nancy and I will be sitting about thirty yards from the dog and pony show at the Lyon County Fairgrounds, feasting sumptuously at Saint Agnes’s. We’re going to forego the Zebroid, the naked dog, and Thumbelina. If the world has any sense it will forego Mahmoud’s side show as well.

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