Emergency Vacation!

Here in Dubai I was given a call about a  meeting with a manager of a business seeking my custom. His colleague regretted that he’d be unable to keep the appointment, saying he had been called away on an ’emergency vacation!’  Wow!  Bordering on the oxymoronic as it may be, her tone suggested that deep empathy for his plight was merited, especially with all the tonal embellishments she lavished on this curious phrase. I now know when I’m bordering on burn-out I may have to disappear on an ’emergency vacation’. I recommend proactive ones instead however.

It’s amusing how many common phrases are oxymorons, in other words a contradiction in terms. Here are some I like particularly:

“Act naturally.”

“Clearly confused.”  Though huge swathes of us excel at this one, making it eminently clear that we have a penchant for confusion.

“Found missing.”

“Only choice.” This actually has philosophical reverberations. Isaiah Berlin was fond of pointing out that if you don’t educate yourself as to the available choices, you aren’t really free. In fact you aren’t choosing, you’re actually defaulting to what’s evident to you at that time often itself conditioned by conformity.

“Seriously funny.”

“Virtual reality.” Sandbagging our perceptual apparatus by blurring the distinction between what is the case and what is simulated. However, were one to dive into the debates about sense and perception, “things as they appear” and “things as they are”, we may find that virtually everything may well be…virtual reality.

“Law abiding illegal aliens.” As opposed, of course, to those who ignore laws other than those pertaining to residency as well?

“Business casual.” What is that? T-shirt and dress pants? Blazer and jeans? No jeans and definitely wear some socks with your loafers?

“Banking system.” That’s the current non-system, now in tatters, that melted down by imploding on itself, after trying hard Canute-like to keep back an ocean of reality that has finally asserted itself relative to the fact that you can’t just use money to make money — it really is a medium of exchange. And it works best, when value is what is exchanged, and not a venereal disease (as Warren Buffet has called it) of weird derivatives backed by the bizarre ‘insurance’ of credit-default swaps.

As ironies go, someone suggested that there may well be an ‘invisible hand’ governing markets, but it may ‘invisibly’ but palpably grope a few body parts we may not wish to have groped en route to recovery. Another wit opined that perhaps what the government is doing is tantamount to an invisible middle finger being given to taxpayers!

And so  ‘economic sanity’ may supplant ‘military intelligence’ in the oxymoron hall of fame, as more chastened military warriors gain wisdom and more economists demonstrate that you can get equivalent quality predictions from a Fortune Cookie. Jon Stewart’s spot on rant about CNBC’s blistering inaccuracy with economic predictions over the last few years may help us confirm yet one more utterly fitting oxymoronic candidate: ‘TV guru’ or ‘popular pundit’.

Throughout history real pundits have rankled, they’ve raised welts, in H.L. Mencken’s wonderful self-description, they have “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.” It may be time to call them back from whatever extended emergency vacation they’ve been on.