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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 10/ 3/2009

Counting The Layers Of a Whale’s Wax Earplugs, Robin Hood, And More

By Valerie Strauss

Things I Learned This Week (And Last Week Too):

1) To find out how many years a dead blue whale had lived, you can count the layers of the animals wax earplugs.

Well, maybe you and I couldn't, but scientists who know what they are doing can--like the rings on a tree trunk.

The average lifespan of a blue whale, the largest animal ever to live on Earth and now endangered, is about 80 to 90 years; the oldest found using this method was determined to be about 110 years old.

Why did I learn this? I was looking up information on blue whales for the Post’s Education page, and found more from National Geographic:

*Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant, and their hearts, as much as an automobile. Blue whales can grow to 100 feet long and weigh as much as 200 tons. Newborns weigh up to 3 tons!

*An adult blue whale can eat 4 tons of krill-- tiny shrimp-like animals --a day.

*They are among the loudest animals on the planet and can hear each other’s groans and moans up to 1,000 miles away.

2) States aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing with education money they are receiving from the federal government’s economic stimulus.

A memo this week by the Education Department’s inspector general said that some states are using the money not to increase aid to schools-- as the funding was intended-- but instead to fill budget holes. So, the Associated Press reported, K-12 school districts and public institutions of higher education could wind up with no extra funds. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that states will be held accountable for how they spend the stimulus money.

We’ll watch to see if he does.

3) Every generation gets the Robin Hood It Deserves. The Robin Hood It Deserves?

The University of Rochester is hosting a conference on the status of Robin Hood “as a creature of the media.” The press release says it better than The Answer Sheet ever could:

“The hero of Sherwood Forest is one of the best-known outlaws in history for launching attacks on the wealthy and the wicked in order to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Despite the fact that his origins are unknown, he has no authorized biography, and even scholars continue to debate whether or not he is real, Robin Hood continues to reappear, transformed by the media that present him, and gaining the attention of both popular culture and the International Association for Robin Hood Studies Seventh Biennial Conference.

“‘Every generation gets the Robin Hood they want and the Robin Hood they deserve,’” says Thomas Hahn, professor of English and the organizer of “Robin Hood: Media Creature,” a conference that will examine the ways in which the outlaw hero has been reshaped over the past 700 years.”

The four-day conference, starting Oct. 22, will offer exhibitions of Robin Hood-related materials, arias and songs from Robin Hood musicals, Robin Hood movies and more.

See you there.

4) Famous folks complain about shoddy construction too.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled this week that actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson can take the contractor of their high-end Sun Valley home back to arbitration over claims of shoddy workmanship. The couple has been in a long battle with a construction company hired to build their villa in 2000. Hanks and Wilson said they discovered defects in the construction that weren’t immediately obvious and asked for arbitration of their claims. The company denied it had done anything shoddy. I don’t quite know why this is comforting, but, somehow, it is.

5) My daughter’s 8th grade English teacher, Clay Roberson, reminded parents at back to school night how modern English can turn the sublime into the ridiculous.

He read part of a George Orwell essay called “Politics and the English Language:”
“...I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

“ ‘I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’

“Here it is in modern English:

“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

“This is a parody, but not a very gross one.”

6) Antioch College will live again.

A group of alumni that couldn’t stand the fact that the small Ohio school closed two years ago as an independent institution has purchased the place for $6 million with the intention of reopening it in 2011. The private, liberal-arts college was founded in 1852 and combined academic learning with experience through a co-op program in which students left campus to work in various fields. Its first president was the famed educator Horace Mann, and over the years, the school became known for its social activism and civil disobedience.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 3, 2009; 11:10 AM ET
Tags:  Antioch College, Blue Whales, George Orwell, Robin Hood, Tom Hanks  
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