Maxed Out 

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

By G.D. Maxwell

Most modern dictionaries define diplomacy along these lines: "The management of international relations by negotiation." Ironically, its Greek root diploma , simply means something folded in two, which is what secret state documents used to be until some smart cookie invented the envelope to keep curious couriers from taking a peek at what they were couriering. Eat a soda cracker and say that five times quickly.

As is not unusual in etymology, the French muddied the waters. While originally referring to an archival copy of a secret state document – more or less a true translation of its English equivalent – corps diplomatique somehow twisted itself into a phrase descriptive of the drab men who humorously administered them: diplomats. Of course, had it been left to the French, calamari would be served with some rich, buttery sauce.

Once the whole idea of folded pieces of secret paper came to be associated with the people who drafted, delivered and interpreted them, the art and practice of diplomacy fell quickly into disrepute. Sir Henry Wooton was the first of many to suggest "An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country."

In diplomatic terms though, lying just isn’t done, Ol’ Boy. One prevaricates, obfuscates, dodges, weaves, embroiders, gilds and generally tries to avoid unpleasant truths in their unvarnished form. If that’s not possible, one at least wraps them up in pretty paper with an outsized bow.

Diplomacy is to do and say

The nastiest thing in the nicest way.

Or so wrote Isaac Goldberg 80 years ago.

Which brings us back to Whistler at the dawn of the new millennium.

We have, as they say, a sticky diplomatic situation here in Tiny Town. It amounts to this. We’ve already said yes to a potential suitor, the World Economic Forum. To torture this analogy further, the senior members of our family have also said yes, seeing the marriage as a "good" one. But now we – which is to say our elected officials – have to say no. They don’t want to say no but they know it’s good for their political future to say no. But they can’t just say "No!", that would be undiplomatic. So they’re going to say "Yes." Yes, but. Actually, Yes, BUT!

In diplomatic circles, it’s known as a positive negative. A Yes-No. Thanks, but no thanks. Peace is war and war is peace. In other words, it’s a real bitch.

Being the public spirited kind of guy I am – not to mention being adept at using words to throw up a smokescreen large enough to show up on weather satellites – I’d like to offer my help. I took copious notes on the terms and conditions council laid down at Monday’s meeting. I can’t find where I put them but I’m pretty sure I remember most of them. Whatever. Feel free to use any and all of this letter in your official, diplomatic correspondence. No attribution necessary.

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