After the death of Nelson Mandela, President Obama ordered that U.S. flags on government buildings be flown at half-staff until Monday evening — a symbolic gesture of a nation in mourning.
It's a tradition observed by countries around the world, one that began as early as the 17th century. Mental Floss reports:
"The oldest commonly accepted reference to a half-staff flag dates back to 1612, when the captain of the British ship Heart's Ease died on a journey to Canada. When the ship returned to London, it was flying its flag at half-mast to honor the departed captain."
Some scholars say this allows the "invisible flag of Death" to fly at the top of the pole.
In the U.S., President Dwight Eisenhower codified a set of rules in 1954 for when the flag must be flown at half-staff. (And yes, the U.S. calls it "half-staff," not "half-mast." You can use the term "half-mast" if you're in Canada or other locales or if you're in mourning on a boat.) They're largely formulaic: The death of a president merits 30 days; a vice-president, 10; a congressman, one to two.
The rules also allow the president to decide other periods of mourning when the half-staff is warranted. Most recently, Obama ordered the lowering of the flag to honor the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting and for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
But it's uncommon for the U.S. flag to be lowered in honor of foreign leaders' deaths. Obama issued a statement of mourning earlier this year after the death of Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, but he didn't order the lowering of the American flag. In fact, the last foreign dignitary to be memorialized with the flag was Pope John Paul II in 2005.
Flags are also flying at half-mast in Mandela's honor in France, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Bermuda, Kenya and, of course, South Africa.
The final draw of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was announced Friday. The U.S. team will face Germany, Portugal, and Ghana in Group G; host Brazil will face world No. 16 Croatia in Group A. Only the top two teams of each group advance to the next round.
The draw puts the U.S., currently ranked as the world's No. 14 team, in the same group with the world's No. 2 (Germany) and No. 5 (Portugal). Ghana is ranked 24th.
The draw determines the makeup of eight groups of four teams that will play each other in the first round. Every World Cup usually has a "group of death" — an especially competitive collection of teams that can bounce a highly regarded team in the first round.
An argument could be made that the U.S. is in that group this time around. But another group that looks to be especially tough is Group D, featuring three previous champions — Italy (currently No. 7), Uruguay (No. 6), and England (No. 13) — along with Costa Rica (No. 31).
The U.S. team will play its first match against Ghana on Monday, June 16, in Natal. They then travel to Manaus to face Portugal. The Manaus location has been a point of contention for some coaches, who have said they don't want their teams playing in the heart of the Amazon.
You can see the draw at the website for FIFA, soccer's international governing body.
Brazilian soccer legend Pele, who took part in the ceremony, said that he likes the home team's chances.
"I think we will be in the final," he said.
The draw was announced Friday to a packed auditorium in Bahia, Brazil. The tournament featuring 32 national teams is set to begin next June.
Entering today's draw, the top-seeded teams for the tournament were Brazil along with (in alphabetical order) Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay — reflecting the host country and the top teams in the world rankings as of October, FIFA says.
The splashy and highly produced ceremony unveiling the tournament's bracket began with a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95. Later, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff also announced a moment of silence for the well-loved leader and activist.
Every four years, soccer fans around the world eagerly await the World Cup draw, dreading a potentially perilous early match-up that could also bring an early exit from the tournament. In previous years, the drama and importance of the draw have led some to suspect conspiracies at work within FIFA, soccer's governing body.
"Not since "Forrest Gump" have table tennis balls supposedly been so vulnerable to manipulation and sleight of hand," The New York Times reported in 2009, referring to the ping-pong balls that are pulled from a pot to determine the matchups. This year, talk of French machinations and a mysterious "Pot X" have fed suspicions in England, as the BBC reports.
And for anyone doubting the scale of the spectacle of today's announcement, consider that the draw ceremony has a budget that tops $16 million, as the BBC tells us.
This will be the 20th time the World Cup is contested. Brazilian officials have been working to get 12 stadiums ready for the tournament's start in June.
That effort faced a setback this week, when it was announced that Corinthians Arena, the scene of a crane collapse that killed two people, would not be ready in time to meet the formal deadline of the start of 2014 and won't be ready until April.
As we reported after the November collapse, that stadium is slated to host the World Cup opener.
HIV has reappeared in the blood of two Boston patients who scientists had hoped had been cured of their infections.
This disappointing development, reported by The Boston Globe's Kay Lazar, is yet another cautionary tale of how researchers can never afford to underestimate the human immunodeficiency virus's ability to hide out in patients' bodies and overcome their most ingenious efforts to eliminate it.
The Boston patients have stirred considerable hope among HIV researchers since mid-2012, when scientists cautiously raised the possibility that bone marrow transplants had eliminated the virus from their systems.
The only person known to be cured of HIV so far is a 47-year-old American named Timothy Brown, widely known as the Berlin patient because he received a bone marrow transplant in Germany six years ago. A Mississippi toddler treated with antiviral drugs within 36 hours of birth might be deemed the second cure if she remains free of HIV.
But the Boston patients, who have not been named, would have represented something new and encouraging.
The Berlin patient received bone marrow from a donor who was genetically resistant to HIV infection. But the Boston patients' marrow donors had no such rare advantage, raising the hope that anti-HIV drugs might be enough to eliminate the virus - at least when combined with a bone marrow transplant.
Scientists also thought that maybe an immune reaction called graft-versus-host disease, or GVH, might have contributed to the apparent disappearance of HIV in the Boston patients' systems. In GVH, the transplanted marrow cells attack and kill the patient's native bone marrow - possibly helping to get rid of any cells where HIV might lurk.
But alas, those hopes were recently dashed. Researchers announced the possible Boston cures at an AIDS meeting in Kuala Lumpur in July, when their patients had been off anti-HIV drugs for seven and 15 weeks. (Their bone marrow transplants were three and five years earlier, for Hodgkin's disease, but they had kept taking the antiretroviral drugs until earlier this year.)
But in August, the virus reappeared in one man's blood. And in November, HIV reemerged in the second patient. Both patients have gone back on anti-retroviral medications, presumably for the rest of their lives. The drugs have proven effective in suppressing the virus in patients' systems, but not in eliminating it.
The Boston researchers decided to disclose the news at an AIDS meeting in Florida, because scientists in other institutions had already begun planning experiments to replicate the hoped-for cures in other bone marrow transplant patients infected with HIV.
Disappointing as the Boston experiment is, researchers say it has advanced the cause of HIV cure research. Just last Monday, President Obama announced a $100 million project to push that cause forward - a reflection of optimism among AIDS specialists after years of rarely uttering what one prominent researcher calls "the c-word."
Researchers say even negative results such as those from the Boston experiment contain important clues about what will be required to cure HIV infections.
"This is certainly telling us a lot about persistence, what we need to do, and how low we need to drop the levels of HIV reservoirs in order to allow patients to achieve remission," Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga of the University of Massachusetts told The Globe.
Luzuriaga has a special reason to pay close attention. She's a member of the team following the Mississippi child to see if that cure is for real.
Jessica Harris talks with Leah Busque, founder of TaskRabbit, an online and mobile marketplace that allows users to outsource small tasks to individuals known as taskrabbits. After, she talks to Fadi Jabur, founder of Sugar Daddy's Bakery, a chain of American-inspired cupcake shops located in the Middle East.