In the United States, Memorial Day is this Monday, May 30. First observed a few years after the Civil War, in honor of Civil War veterans, the day only became a remembrance of all those who have died in American wars after World War I. In 1971, after a century as an unofficial holiday, Congress designated Memorial Day a national holiday. Besides memorializing fallen soldiers, Memorial Day also functions as an unofficial start to summer in the United States, with many families and organizations holding Memorial Day barbecues.
The Mega Millions lottery, the second largest lottery in the United States, had its latest drawing earlier today, with an estimated grand prize of $26 million. No tickets with all six winning numbers were sold, however, pushing the value of the next drawing, on Friday, to $35 million. While $35 million may sound like a lot is a lot of money, it is hardly a large jackpot by Mega Millions standards; three times, the grand prize has reached a nominal value of over $300 million.
Barnes & Noble introduced the latest version of its Nook e-reader today at its Union Square store in Manhattan, with a considerable amount of hoopla. (The New York Times drily noted, "Barnes & Noble did its best to heighten the theater of the event, surrounding the seated news media with dozens of employees dressed in black, who loudly applauded, hooted and whistled throughout the presentation by William Lynch, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble.
Volcanic ash is back. No, not a weird new band. For the second year in a row, a volcano in Iceland is spewing ash into the sky. Last year, ash from Eyjafjallajökull (or, as newscasters called it, "the Iceland volcano," "the volcano in Iceland," and any other possible phrase that didn't involve pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull) closed airspace over twenty European countries. This year, the ash is coming not from Eyjafjallajökull, but from nearby Grímsvötn, again cancelling flights in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
On Sunday, a fierce tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri, killing 116 people, the highest death toll from a tornado in sixty years. Sunday's tornado brings the national death toll from tornadoes to 481 so far this year, the highest total ever recorded this early in a year. But is this just a higher incidence of strong tornadoes, or more overall? The latter, at least according to some astonishing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's National Climatic Data Center.
On Sunday, “60 Minutes” aired an interview with Lance Armstrong’s teammate Tyler Hamilton, in which Hamilton accused Armstrong of using the banned drug EPO for blood doping. Athletes can “blood dope” by taking drugs such as EPO to unnaturally increase their red blood cell count, hoping to increase oxygen flow and boost energy and endurance. Among other claims, Hamilton told “60 Minutes” that Armstrong convinced a Swiss anti-doping lab to keep silent about his test results. Armstrong is currently under federal investigation, and he strongly denies all charges.
As you may have heard (or seen on a billboard), the world will end tomorrow. Christian radio host Harold Camping has chosen May 21, 2011, as Judgment Day, that holiday to end all holidays. Literally. To promote the apocalypse, Family Radio, Camping's organization, has purchased over 3,000 billboards, (with cliched slogans like "Save the Date!" and "Guaranteed!"), at a cost that "could easily be in the millions." Although, technically, as Tina DuPuy notes at The Atlantic, Camping actually believes that said judging (or is it Judging?) begins whenever each timezone hits 6 p.m.
LinkedIn is the name on everyone's lips today on Wall Street. The business-focused social networking site announced it will be offering shares at an initial price of $45, with LinkedIn valued at $4.3 billion. Some market watchers think the price is too high, but others believe LinkedIn could lead another round of big internet IPOs. (When the company initially announced its IPO, observers expected a valuation of $2 billion, and in early May LinkedIn was still predicted to be valued at $3 billion; in the past week, the IPO price has gone up $10.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey taped her farewell show yesterday at the United Center in Chicago. In front of 13,000 spectators (13,000!), a host of celebrities made surprise guest appearances, including Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, Maya Angelou, Will Smith, and Madonna. (Also present was former California first lady and Oprah pal Maria Shriver, who took the opportunity to get in a jibe at her estranged husband Arnold Schwarzenegger.) For 25 years, Winfrey has been the most popular talk show host in the United States, and one of the most powerful women in the country.
Today is Friday the 13th, a day feared by the campers at Crystal Lake, as well as nonfictional humans around the world. (A quick diagnostic quiz: Do you fear Friday the 13th? Then you have paraskevidekatriaphobia. Fear the number 13? Then you have triskaidekaphobia. Fear everything? Ask Lucy van Pelt.) The origins of both parts of the superstition are unknown: the fear of Fridays is mentioned as far back as Geoffrey Chaucer, and the fear of thirteen has been found in several cultures and religions.