Daily Office:


¶ Matins: Truckers engage with communications devices — cell phones, on-baord computers — up to “90%” of their driving time. Efforts to curb that distraction are likely to meet with frustration.  

Lauds: Textile designer Ilisha Helfman, in Portland, Oregon, fashions outfits for her antique paper dolls from the covers of the Sunday Times Magazine.

Prime: Felix Salmon comments on the economics of the Urban Diet.

Tierce: The cheeky devils at Improv Everywhere had some fun on the subway: the Class of ’09, Lexington Avenue Laughing Academy. (via kottke.org)

Sext: This time, the descent into the Dark Ages will be recorded — at craigslist.

Nones: President Obama will campaign on behalf of his wife’s hometown, seeking the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.

Vespers: Richard Crary gets round to Civilization and Its Discontents, enjoying the read for the most part but pricking his ears at Freud’s anthropology.

Compline: Don’t expect that famous writer sitting across the table to be a gifted conversationalist, critic Arthur Krystal warns.


§ Matins. The civilian’s response will be to tut-tut — don’t the truckers realize how irresponsible their behavior is? In fact, truckers (like New York City taxi drivers) are already painfully squeezed in a high-volume business that is run on the cheap.

Mr. Long pushes that button often. After all, pulling over to read and respond to a message, then start up again, would take 10 to 15 minutes, he said. If he’s late by even 15 minutes on a delivery, he said, his pay can be cut.

Mr. Long’s experience is typical, according to Michael H. Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University who studies the trucking industry. He said truckers had no choice but to use their computers while driving, given their deadline pressures.

While we wait for railroads to regain the freight that they have lost to trucks over the years — long hauls of small orders — we would urge automobile drivers (a) to avoid the Interstate Highways altogether and (b) to pay close attention to trucks if they must use the roads. On the Interstate, remember, you’re driving through somebody else’s business.

(By the same token, truckers can’t be heard to argue that it’s cumbersome to make communications stops on local roads.)

§ Lauds. Ms Helfman didn’t have a lot to work with, given the unadorned quality of the “Unconscious:” cover story, but the week before that she did amazing things with Michael Fassbender’s hairline.

§ Prime. We say this often, but this time, we really, really mean it: We Could Not Agree More.

More generally, living car-free in a dense urban environment forces you to spend effort and money on eating, which makes you appreciate food more, rather than absent-mindedly shovelling down an unknown quantity of something random while watching the TV. Which makes me wonder: could even suburban people with cars lose a significant amount of weight simply by getting rid of their televisions?

§ Tierce. If our editor had been on the train, he’d have told the nice Improv People that he was an illegal alien and didn’t wish to be photographed. Oh, really, they’d query, missing the illegal-alien sound in his voice. Yes, he’d reply, added one or the other of his popular aliases (Santa Claus, Captain Edward Smith).

Remember when photography was vaguely if officially illegal on the MTA, after 9/11?

§ Sext. Which is it? “Pervential” or “Proncial”? Never mind: neither “word” means anything right now — yet, that is.

(Actually, we just checked, and “pervene” is a a word — meaning “to reach.” The only variant listed in the OED is the French- and adjectival-sounding “pervenient,” which is a synonym for “product,” as in multiplication. Gadzooks! It last appeared in “print” in 1400 — at the end of the last Dark Ages! As for the other neologism, you might bluff that it means “of or pertaining to a grand-niece.”)

It makes a lot of sense that the word “provincial” is missing from these vendors’ vocabularies.

§ Nones. At first, the President was going to send the First Lady, pleading the demands of monitoring health-care reform. The race to host the 2016 Olympics has been described as one of the closest in history.

But correspondents say Chicago, with President Obama’s overt support, could be considered a slight favourite.

But correspondents say Chicago, with President Obama’s overt support, could be considered a slight favourite.

We couldn’t care less about the Olympics, but we regard the Copenhagen gambit as a shrewd and well-timed move. The popular sports aspect will please Americans. The spectacle of an American president canvassing for something that he very well might not get may please everybody else.

§ Vespers. Like Nietzsche, as Richard points out, Freud is preoccupied by the impact of assertive, even aggressive men upon civilization as we know it.

Nietzsche and Freud seem to assume a Hobbesian state of nature when they consider such matters; thus, for example, Freud’s focus on the so-called “aggressiveness” instinct, which much be repressed into aggression against one’s own ego, against the instinct for primal freedom, itself necessarily suppressed by “civilization”. Such accounts seem to bypass the emergence of language and culture, assuming that in our original human moment we would have necessarily been much like the other primates, when it’s the very differences between humans and other primates that must be explained when one is attempting to explain human nature. Thus one must take into account language. Knight’s theory of the sex strike, which puts female humans at the forefront of this process, would no doubt have been anathema to Freud, who, quite aside from his theories on women and sexuality, like Nietzsche, sees men at the origin, with women relegated to child-bearing and child-rearing. That these natural processes might be crucial to any understanding of human nature and origins is, for them, necessarily a priori out of the question.  

We can’t tell the difference between “the instinct for primal freedom” and the itchy restlessness that outdoorsy adolescents suffer on rainy days.

§ Compline. We have a lot to say about the thinking reflected in this essay — watch this space — but we shall ease our way in with the anecdote about Humboldt’s “luncatic.”

Speaking of dinner, when the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was invited to the doctor’s home for supper. A few days later, Humboldt found himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat reserved, and didn’t go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly, while making horrible faces. When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his host. “I like your lunatic,” he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The host frowned. “But it’s the other one who’s the lunatic. The man you’re pointing to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac.”

If you have read Daniel Kehlman’s Measuring the World  (a delightful but also thoughtful novel about Humboldt and Gauss), you will recognize this story as so Humboldt.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. Nom de Plume says:

    Matins and truck drivers: I am seeing in my crystal ball an urgency development of text-to-voice and voice-to-text messaging. Doesn’t the iPhone already do this?