Between the Lines: September-October 2007

October 1, 2007

Students in my magazine-journalism seminar sometimes struggle to figure out the elements of a good story. Typically, I tell them, it hinges on something counterintuitive, surprising, or ironic. One of the stories they read, by Gay Talese, has as its starting point the odd situation of Frank Sinatra—a man who was inseparable from his singing voice—afflicted with a cold.

This issue's cover story centers on mechanical-engineering professor Adrian Bejan and his constructal theory, which embraces everything that involves a flow system—whether human lungs or an urban plan. Bejan likes assuming
the role of thinker and theorist. He acknowledges, though, that engineering has become so enamored of specialization that grand thinking is regarded skeptically.

It's odd, or at least interesting, to associate Duke with a "mini-conservatory." But the Duke String School has just marked its fortieth anniversary. Forty years ago, the arts weren't central to Duke's sense of itself. That didn't deter the string school's founder, Dorothy Kitchen, who couldn't imagine a campus without a strong musical component. It's equally odd to conceive of Duke football players—a long-suffering lot, most would presume—projecting confidence. But in the football feature, one player declares, "Every game is Christmas day."

Last spring, the alumni-profile subject, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch '87, a veteran Marine Corps prosecutor, received a burst of publicity in working his way through a moral (and legal) quandary. As a player in the war on terror, he reached a surprising conclusion.

Then there's the Campus Observer subject: Duke Health System's decision to ban smoking on its grounds. It's an endlessly alluded-to irony that university founder James B. Duke was an industrialist associated with tobacco—a substance that's become anathema at the university bearing his family's name.