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Posted at 11:21 AM ET, 10/17/2009

Largest Ring of Saturn Discovered, Plants Recognize Siblings and Other Things I Learned This Week

By Valerie Strauss

1) Exactly 30 years ago today, Mother Teresa of Calcutta won the Nobel Peace Prize--and, it turns out, the world was rather surprised.

At the time, the names being circulated as possible winners were Steven Biko, the anti-apartheid fighter who died in a South African prison two years earlier, the Anti-Slavery League in London, and then President Carter for his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Carter sent congratulations saying it was “richly deserved,” but Mother Teresa didn’t think so. When she heard she won, she said, “I am unworthy.”

Perhaps to console himself, Carter went ahead that day and signed legislation creating the Department of Education. And meanwhile, Juan Peron became dictator of Argentina.

2) Plants recognize their siblings.
I rolled my eyes, too, when I first stumbled on this headline. For one thing, I never thought of plants as having siblings. And then recognizing them? But then I read the article in Science Daily and came away thinking that just maybe it is true.

Researchers in Hamilton, Ontario, have observed that when sibling plants are grown next to each in soil, they don’t send grow more roots to compete with one another for water and mineral nutrients. They get along.

But put plants in with non-siblings, and they quickly send out more roots to grab what they can.

More than 3,000 plants were observed and the pattern was quite clear. Now the researchers are trying to figure out why this happens.

3) Millions of kids depend on a U.S. government program that provides free and reduced price meals at school--but, it turns out, the feds aren’t paying the full cost of the lunch. Schools are being forced to pick it up.

A new report released this week by the School Nutrition Association showed that the average cost to prepare and serve a school lunch that meets federal nutritional standards is $2.92. But the amount that is reimbursed by the government is $2.68.

This is yet another pressure on public schools that they don’t need.

4) It’s the Humane Society vs. the International House of Pancakes. Subject: Hens and eggs.

The society had tried and failed to persuade IHOP to purchase some of its eggs from producers who do not use cages to raise their chickens.

So, the Associated Press reported, it filed official complaints with two federal agencies saying that IHOP was misleading the public by claiming the eggs it uses are “cruelty free.”

IHOP then wrote on its Web site that its animals are raised humanely and “with dignity.”
The Humane Society says it is hardly humane or dignified to keep hens in cages so cramped the birds can’t move.

5) The leech is not the only animal approved by the Federal Drug Administration for medical use. So are maggots.

I know: The thought is sickening. But maggots are great at eating dead tissue that doctors can’t do anything about, and thus exposing healthy tissue. They also seem to have the ability to decrease the risks of infections after surgery.

Leeches drink blood and are great at relieving congested blood from wound sites.

6) Astronomers have discovered the largest of Saturn’s rings.

The University of Maryland’s student newspaper, the Diamondback, reported that astronomy professor Douglas Hamilton, along with collaborators from the University of Virginia, had discovered a huge, nearly invisible ring around the sixth planet from the sun.

The ring is made of dust particles that absorb light from the sun, Hamilton said. The particles are dark so astronomers needed NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope to find it.

Hamilton said it is possible that similar rings exist around Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

The Library of Congress this week opened a wonderful new exhibition of editorial cartoons by the fearless Herbert L. Block, widely known as Herblock.

Herblock worked at The Washington Post for many years and was known for walking around the newsroom with several different versions of a cartoon he was preparing for the paper, asking for different opinions.

This week was the 100th anniversary of his birth. His 72-year career began in 1929 under President Hoover and concluded in 2001 during the presidency of George W. Bush.

The exhibit runs through Saturday, May 1, 2010 and is free and open to the public.
Go see it.

8) I love stories like this: A New Jersey high school ring has been returned to a Texas woman who lost it 40 years ago.
Lena Mae Thompson’s date had dropped the Ewing High School class ring on Coney Island in 1969, the Associated Press reported. Somehow, the ring ended up in Spring Valley, N.Y. That’s where Edward Goldin found it when he cleaned out his elderly parents’ home.

Goldin asked high school Principal Rodney Logan if he could find the owner whose initials LMT were engraved in the ring. The 1969 yearbook showed only one student with those initials and the school’s guidance office called a phone number in their dusty records. Thompson’s niece answered.

Thompson has lived in Austin, Texas, since 1979. The 58-year-old elementary school teacher says she’s grateful to everyone for trying to find her.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 17, 2009; 11:21 AM ET
Tags:  Things I Learned This Week  
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