3.28.2010 New York Times Digest

1. “What Lies Beneath”

“Unlike any other known substance, sperm whale oil works as a lubricant in the extra ordinarily cold temperatures of outer space. ‘The Hubble space telescope is wheeling around the earth on spermaceti,’ Hoare writes, ‘seeing six billion years into the past.’ But that’s not all. The scientists who fitted out the Voyager probe decided that the song of the humpback was the best way to greet any possible aliens. This means that long after all of us are gone, the call of the whale will be traveling out into the distant reaches of the universe.”

2. “He’s Sensitive About the Pancakes”

“When I was growing up, I was the most pretentious person I have ever met. I only read obscure books and watched obscure movies and only listened to obscure music. I was into Kant and Wittgenstein in college. Then 10 or 15 years ago, I discovered the joys of trash pulp culture.”

3. “Who’s White?”

“Often, scholarly interpretation is transmitted through textbooks that oversimplify and even bore their readers with vague generalities. Far better for a large audience to learn about whiteness from a distinguished scholar in an insightful and lively exposition.”

4. “American Jeremiad: A Manifesto”

“Americans aren’t supposed to write manifestos. We write jeremiads.”

5. “The Ethicist”

“I am a new university teacher. After I assigned final grades last semester, two students asked me to reconsider the Cs I gave them. One got just what his test scores indicated. The other was close to a B-minus, and while he did poorly early on, he worked hard, sought help and improved significantly. I raised his grade to a B-minus but did not alter the other student’s. Nowhere in my course description do I state that improvement can be a factor in grading. Did I unfairly treat these students differently?”

6. “Crossfire”

“The element of the Starbucks idea that matters is the frequently made observation that the chain doesn’t really sell coffee; it sells an experience. That experience is the comfortable cafe, a spot where can you commune with the like-minded, luxuriate in your private thoughts and if not actually strike up conversations with interesting strangers, at least entertain the fantasy that this could happen. It has been recorded many times that Starbucks holds itself out as a ‘third place’ — not home, not work, but a space where community members can come together and feel comfortable.”

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