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THE NEW NORMAL is not just about face masks and physical distancing. It’s also upending the meanings of words and phrases. The same word may have a different meaning now. For one, the variations for taking meals have been affected, as old meanings may no longer apply, and can cause confusion.
In his book, Psychonomics: How Modern Science Aims to Conquer the Mind and How the Mind Prevails (2014), Eric Robert Morse dissects the various studies that show that the rational economic man (Homo Economicus), with full knowledge of supply and demand and an optimizing rationale in making decisions no longer exists as a construct. Irrationality and emotions can drive economic decisions, the premise of the economic behaviorists. These emotions include status anxiety, panic buying, and the endowment effect (putting more value in what you own).
THE NEW NORMAL seems to favor scheduled meetings where discussions are based on the agenda, and questions and answers are recorded in minutes of the meeting. Formal conversations also include media interviews conducted even when the interviewee is in a different time zone from the interlocutor. Replies to reckless questions need to be carefully couched as these are retrievable as video clips — yes, we were elated by his apology.
THERE ARE WORDS used so often in conversation and public discourse that their meanings are no longer provided nor challenged. Take “corruption.” (Go ahead.) This word is often paired with “graft,” referring to the illicit use of one’s position to derive personal benefits and advantages. Graft too is a botanical term for joining plant stems. “Graft and corruption” are automatically linked, like two plants...well, grafted together and attached to political types.
ONE WAY of characterizing the brilliant performance of any star, say in the basketball court or the ballet stage, is to describe it as “just another day at the office.” The ability to provide a consistently high level of performance is admired for its being as predictable as office hours.
AS RECENTLY as mid-February, yes of this year, if somebody mentioned the phrase, “social distancing,” we would have associated it with a lovers’ quarrel — I don’t want you near me, you beast. Yes, no flowers on Valentine’s Day, and no responses to text messages, except — let’s just move on. But starting mid-March, we just got caught up in the health crisis and we could talk of nothing else. Social distancing had lost any romantic connotation.
WHEN READING about history, memorable events in the usually distant past like wars or the fall of governments, one generally knows how the ending turned out, whether glorious or tragic, who the villains and heroes were (for the latter, usually the ones writing about them) and perhaps what we can learn from them. The details and linking of sometimes disparate events make history worth reading.
IT SEEMS economic scenarios from government and bank economists for the rest of the year through the full lifting of quarantine restrictions deal with macroeconomics. This category covers country-wide numbers like the impact of the shutdown on GDP, monetary and fiscal policies, inflation, and sovereign credit ratings. Sometimes, the economics of the firm, or “microeconomics,” also get into the conversational soup in terms of companies and sectors that are at risk and the rescue plans being put in place, including debt moratoriums and easing of bank provision for doubtful accounts.
EVEN a simple thing such as having a haircut after three months of hirsute abandon can be like checking an itinerary for Sagada. There are many variables to consider. When will the barber shops open? Those in the malls may wait for the partial opening of the whole complex. What about social distancing? How many chairs are available? Can you just walk in as before? Is an appointment necessary so there’s no waiting around (and spreading the virus) for the next available barber? Okay, you can skip the hot towel and the perfunctory patting down of the shoulders and neck and the scalp clawing to wake up nerve endings in a version of the complimentary massage.
A COMMON PLACE for work became the “new normal” after the industrial revolution in the western world of the 1800s. The then agricultural economy, that itself founded villages, went on to large scale manufacturing, drawing laborers from the rural population to work in the assembly lines to produce such items such as automobiles and steel bars. This development separated the home from the place of work. The subsequent revolutions like the Information Age, as well as the rise of the service sector, led to even larger office buildings and the introduction of cubicles.
IT HAS BEEN almost routine since early March for announcements to be made that yet another much awaited event or season, even the Tokyo Olympics, has been canceled or postponed. The news is greeted with the same mild concern as weather reports, even of an impending typhoon about to enter the country’s area of responsibility. More alarming perhaps, given the panic mode we’re in, is to hear of an event that is pushing through as scheduled, even if this is still in August.
IN THE 2008 financial crisis on subprime loans, and collateralized debt obligations (CDO) which allowed bad loans to be acquired by a further chain of investors as assets in their portfolios, the domino effect of defaults closed down many banks and bankrupted investment funds. The survivors (given hefty bailout funds from governments) were required to undertake “stress tests” to determine their chances of survival with their exposure to risky assets.
STAYCATION was a clever marketing strategy for hotels to fill up rooms over lean days like weekends which business travelers seldom book. It meant staying a weekend in a nearby luxe hotel, requiring a short car trip (free basement parking) at the same time enjoying fresh bed sheets, fluffy towels, a swimming pool, and free breakfast buffet. And this is offered as a package with hefty discounts for a family staying in the city and having a vacation. This is not to be confused with the shorter stay for a couple where the fluffy towels also come in handy along with a preference for in-room dining -- no breakfast required.
MAYBE what’s uncomfortable about quarantines and lockdowns of borders of whole cities and countries, aside from the obvious impeding of the freedom of movement, is that there seems to be no difference between authoritarian regimes and democracies in addressing the contagion risk. Even the scenes of empty streets and masked stragglers come from the same horror movie. What the government decrees is automatically imposed and followed, yes, for the good of the community. Maybe the democracies moved a little bit more slowly fearing resistance from the governed. But they followed the early movers anyway.
IN THE OSCAR’s best movie of 2019, Parasite, the poorer family, driven back to their now flooded home and herded into a relief center, is wondering what to do next. Their scheme to latch on to the household of their wealthy employers is unraveling. The son asks his father what they are to do next. The father replies, “the best plan is not to have a plan.” This reaction to catastrophe after all the scheming and planning the family did to displace the entrenched household help of the wealthy seems to be the only way to handle uncertainty. Well, the ending of this movie argues against the patriarch’s approach. (Okay, this is not a movie review. But for the record, it’s a must-see movie on the social classes of South Korea.)
SHOULD OPINIONS and conversations always be about the issues of the day? Does the opinion page need to follow the events in the front page and the latest posts on the net? Can we talk about something else aside from the virus and the economic recession it seems to be causing along with the travel restrictions and their effects on the price of oil?
THEATER has a ritual calling back performers on stage after the end of the play to take a bow. The audience showers the cast with standing ovations, hoots, catcalls, and prolonged applause. The curtain call allows performers to be called back again and again to bask in the audience’s appreciation. They sometimes accommodate the audience (“more, more”) with an encore number greeted with even more enthusiasm. Those heading for the exits turn back and stay to the end.
DEMOLITION JOBS used to employ investigations by the legislature or some regulatory agency aided by biased witnesses. TV coverage of the proceedings (live with no commercial breaks) were aired and then summarized in the next news cycle. Battling narratives were played out until the public got tired and switched back to their teleseryes (soap operas) with more interesting twists and turns, villains and victims, and commercials for pee breaks.
CHAT GROUPS usually have a common bond. They are members of a civic club, homeowners’ association, alumni group, or family (one side of it). The chat is a way of keeping in touch, disseminating news (like meetings and required costumes), as well as sharing posts, which include homilies, jokes, cartoons, and fake news on prophecies of future eruptions and the spread of a virus -- decimating half of the world’s population.
PUBLICLY LISTED COMPANIES routinely disclose information to the regulators, such as clarifications of news items, unusual movement of the stock (we do not know what’s going on, Sir), and, of course, financial statements. Some numbers need to be explained. “Advances to affiliates,” for example, should give details on which companies are involved and what the advances were used for, and whether they were paid back. Explanatory notes can run for many pages, and in small fonts.
THE SEARCH COMMITTEE formed by the Businessman’s Lunch Restaurant (BLR) is tasked to review candidates for CEO to replace the retiring incumbent. He has expressed his wish to have someone “continue his legacy,” mostly in reducing flagrant tipping, especially from suppliers. It’s no secret he is in favor of the head waiter taking his place. He is always photographed with him even when taking siestas.
PICTURES, now increasingly digital and posted in social media, record an event and who were there (if they did not leave the event too early). Being in a photo proves that one was at the event, not necessarily to lead it or even to influence what happened. The inclusion in the group shot is an opportunity to brag about connections -- is this why these are called photo opportunities (or photo ops)?
JUST TO show that news is not just about reading a script, disasters, weather disturbances, and unusual political developments provide the opportunity to project immediacy. Coverage of news as it happens is supplied by field reporters sent to where the action is. The live report is accompanied by video footage of related happenings that put context to the reporter’s story.
BEFORE THE start of a movie showing, the cinema announcements after the trailers provide a guide on the location of the fire exits. They also show the expected demeanor of patrons in case of a fire unhurriedly ascending the stairs, having time to turn their heads and smile at the camera. There is no sound of a fire alarm in the quiet procession to the exit -- how’s my hair?
THE PHRASE “low maintenance” is usually applied to landscaping gardens. It is an option offered to a homeowner who can’t be bothered with too much work tending the greenery. It is ideal for some to have a garden that can be left pretty much alone for long periods and requiring little attention. Such daily chores as watering, pruning, and spraying of insecticides are seldom required if at all.
THERE WAS a time, not more than two decades ago, when memos were addressed to other people and typed by secretaries in the form of paper correspondences, with multiple copies too if individuals other than the addressee needed to be in the loop. “Memo” is short for “memorandum” from the Latin, to bring to remembrance.
NOT ALL the food you ordered or got as gifts end up on the holiday table and fully consumed by your guests. Always, there is an embarrassment of calorific riches left untouched. The household is faced with limited refrigerated space and the need to decide what to keep and what to give away -- for here or to go?
THERE IS NO shortage of worthy causes asking for help. Even in small communities like the office, alumni classmates, chat groups, there are always those in need of financial help, ostensibly not to pay off credit card debts. The practice of “passing the hat” seems prevalent in our culture. There is no real hat to throw in coins and bills in nowadays, just a bank account number (please send photo of the deposit slip).
CELEBRITIES OFFER a simple marketing appeal in their billboard appearances. They are idolized by many and represent the aspirations of a targeted segment of consumers -- I can also use the bank of this famous beauty queen and get the same treatment (without her talent fees).
INVESTMENT OPTIONS vary depending on the risk one is willing to assume. Investment advisers want to know their client’s investment philosophy to evaluate risk appetite. If the goal is just to conserve capital and perhaps get a modest return for income enhancement, the portfolio recommendation will favor fixed-income bonds, defensive dividend-paying stocks, or even time deposit.
“QUEUEING” theory was first established in 1909 for the Copenhagen telephone exchange. (Note that the word, a synonym for lining-up, is the only one with five consecutive vowels.) It was a mathematical model to figure out the requirements of handling calls and how to line them up for proper servicing for a designated number of operators. Queueing as a concept has moved a lot since then, and applies to more situations including airline check-ins, taxi bays, and internet shopping.
JOB DESCRIPTIONS are supposed to define one’s role, accountability, and sometimes the resources to be made available. (You are not entitled to any information or funds.) Anyway, no matter how a subject performs the duties specified in the job description, he still needs to serve in some committee.
AT THE timeouts on the second game of the men’s basketball finals of UAAP Season 82, both the courtside announcer and the jumbotron display pleaded the two sides to refrain from excessive noise -- no drums, please. One side completely ignored the request as its team rallied to within a one-point separation. This injunction is intended to ensure that the frantic coaches are heard by the players. (Where are we going for dinner afterwards?)
BECAUSE OF better nutrition and health care, the average life span of individuals has increased. There are more old people around, and they seem to be occupying all the rocking chairs in the mall. Still, the life expectancy for the Philippines is among the lowest, ranking 123rd in the world as of 2018. The top country in life expectancy is still Japan at 83.7 years for both sexes. (Can you pass the sushi?)
NOTHING CONCENTRATES the mind more than contemplating closet space, especially when this has clearly run out years before. Even when it first looks capacious, the space is finite (you can only push hangers together up to a point). What we hang and fold there can be totally beyond the closet’s capacity to hold without groaning.
RESENTMENT DRIVES envy. But it can also be a goal-setting mechanism to focus action. Therefore, insurance and property companies publicize their top performers and how much they made and why they should be emulated (and, yes, envied) by the peasants. Promotions for senior positions also enumerate the achievements of the fortunate few, even amidst the grumbling of those passed over -- he was just in the right place at the right time.
CONTRARY TO the mantra of motivational speakers that you can always be what you want to be... if you wish it, and work for it hard enough, life usually hands out rejection slips. Plan B is the back-up strategy to provide an alternative route to a goal or to modify ambitions towards something completely different, and more attainable. Often, the “best case” scenario miscarries. Plan B is supposed to get you somewhere else, without changing your wardrobe.