Faux holidays like “Seinfeld’s” Festivus, popularized in 1997, forgo the traditional in favor of another way to celebrate the season. Consider it Hollywood’s way of poking fun at – or maybe offering a little social commentary about – Americans’ tendency to go overboard on their Christmas observances. Festivus is not the only made-for-TV holiday – and it even may not be the only one to catch on in real life. Here’s the skinny on Festivus and three other invented days of celebration, brought to you by the Dream Machine.
The Monitor's correspondents around the world have shared some great Christmas stories over the years – from cradles of Christianity, such as Bethlehem, and from less likely places, such as China, Afghanistan, and Cairo. Click through the slides for highlights of past years' holiday coverage.
A total of 66 cars were designated the 2011 safest cars, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced Wednesday. They include 40 cars, 25 SUVs, and one minivan, which “do the best job of protecting people in front, side, rollover, and rear crashes,” the institute says. Here are the 2011 safest cars, listed alphabetically by automaker. Did your dream car make the cut?
The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support. The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. Here are six of this Congress’s major accomplishments, in the order in which they were approved.
Like many a robotic planetary mission, you've gotta love the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn – a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency. It launched in 1997 and for the past six years (yes, it took some time to get there), Cassini has been the gift that keeps on giving. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, continues to be one of Cassini's most intriguing targets. It's the only planetary satellite with a thick atmosphere – a hydrocarbon haze that makes a smoggy day in Los Angeles look crystal clear by comparison. And although it's a cold moon, with lakes of liquid methane, Titan has many of the compounds that on Earth were the building blocks for organic life. It's high on the list of "let's go back" destinations among astrobiologists. So far, Cassdini has performed 73 flybys of Titan, including eight this year. Here are some of this year's eye-popping discoveries associated with Cassini's observations of Titan.
London's Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest, is getting back on its feet after winter storms led to massive delays and left more than 100,000 travelers stranded. Even though flights are resuming, the backlog means that it will be at least another day before the flight schedule returns to normal. Finger-pointing for the delays abound and the chief executive of BAA, the company that operates Heathrow, said he will not take his annual bonus due to the mess. Is he to blame? What else could be the cause?
In America, second chances are, if not quite a constitutional right, a cherished value. And the power of presidents and governors to pardon lawbreakers and commute sentences can take on special significance. Such enormous executive powers are often misused, critics say, but they can also provide snapshots of Americans' political and cultural priorities. Many pardons occur around Christmas, in a nod to the spirit of the season. Also, around that time, many American's aren't paying much attention to the news – and some outgoing leaders are making their final decisions. Here are the Top 6 cases of pardon or clemency in 2010.
Which state has more people per square mile than India? Which state saw its smallest population growth in at least a century? The data released Tuesday gives Americans a first look at what Census 2010 is saying about the United States. For example, the US population grew more slowly this past decade – 9.7 percent – than in any decade since the 1930s. Back during the Great Depression, six states lost population. In the first 10 years of the 2000s, only one state was a loser. Do you know which one?
Christmas cheer is widespread in the days leading up to Dec. 24 and 25, but it manifests itself in many different ways, from predicting the future to trying not to choke on a hidden coin. Below are just a few of the many unusual Christmas traditions around the world.
On the grand scale of nuclear arms reduction, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty President Obama signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last April – known in Washington shorthand as New START – is considered a modest document. Yet it has become a lightning rod for contentious debate over related issues like missile defense and US-Russia relations, which the treaty does not directly address. The push is on for the Senate to ratify New START before the lame-duck session ends. The treaty is endorsed by former President George H.W. Bush (R), whose support may offset the suggestion that New START’s ratification would mainly be a foreign-policy boost to a Democratic president whom the Republicans just a month ago had on the ropes. Here’s a look at three things New START would accomplish – and three things it would not.
As 2010 draws to a close, its time to reflect upon the joys and sorrows of the past twelve months. It's also time to think about the truly weird things that we witnessed. Here's our top ten list.
Senate leaders decided to scrap a 1,900-page omnibus spending bill that contained $8 billion in home state spending projects – otherwise known as earmarks, pet projects, or "pork." Government spending and the deficit became an issue in the midterm election, and lawmakers are keenly aware of voter anger about large, catch-all bills that are quickly passed. The following senators have been ranked by the monetary value of earmarks they backed, whether alone or with others, in the now-scuttled omnibus spending bill. The earmark process became more transparent with the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which required creation of a database of all government spending. The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense used the database to compile this ranking. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, who co-sponsored the legislation, also has a list of the disclosed earmarks in the omnibus bill on his website. *This is the amount requested both alone and with other members of Congress.
Any booklover on your list will appreciate the classic, timeless gift of a book. For lists of the best nonfiction, fiction, and children’s book titles recommended by the Monitor, click on the links above. But if your gifts have gotten so predictable that you no longer need to wrap them, you might want to try giving one of these more unusual non-book gifts for booklovers.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners must decide if Rahm Emanuel qualifies as a resident and can run to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley. A three-day hearing on the topic yielded all sorts of questions and answers. Here's a sampling of those both for and against his run.
Even middling years can yield marvelous movies. Despite all the frazzled franchises and star-studded misfires of 2010, there were still wonders to behold –historical dramas of the finest intelligence, animation of great wit and delicacy, documentaries that brought out the human drama behind the headlines, and small, independent movies that showcased the emerging artists of tomorrow. If you haven't yet seen any or all of my top 10, listed here alphabetically, I envy what awaits you.
What's selling best in independent bookstores across America.
The announcement Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's class of 2011 will fill some important gaps in its roster, most notably heavy metal pioneer Alice Cooper, R&B singer Darlene Love, and all-around swell guy Neil Diamond. But there are still some notable gaps in the Hall of Fame's alumni. Here are the top five biggest omissions by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Six men were accused in the International Criminal Court Wednesday of crimes against humanity for their role in the ethnic violence that tore apart Kenya following the December 2007 presidential election. Simmering tensions between Kenya's ethnic groups – the Kikuyu majority and Kalenjin and Luo minorities – erupted after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was declared the winner amid accusations of election fraud. The men below are suspected of helping to incite the violence that left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead.
Under normal circumstances, the chairman of the Republican National Committee is unknown to most Americans. He – and it’s always been a “he” – raises money, oversees party operations, and appears from time to time on Sunday talk shows. Michael Steele, the current GOP chair, has blown that model out of the water – to the chagrin of many Republicans. His two-year tenure has featured one misstep after another. Now that he has decided to run for reelection next month, following big Republican gains in the fall midterms, his list of stumbles will come back to the fore.
Luxury cars face recalls more often than their top-of-the-line engineering would suggest. Here are the 10 most expensive cars available for sale, according to Kelley Blue Book. Of the 10, six have been recalled at least once in the past decade. Can you guess the four that have never been recalled?
December 14th is National Monkey Day, making it the perfect day to contemplate our simian relatives. And what better way to do so than by ranking them in a top 10 list? Broadly speaking, there are two types of monkeys. Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia, and include familiar species such as the langur, the macaque, and the baboon. New World Monkeys, which are native to Central and South America, include marmosets, capuchins, and wooly monkeys. New World monkeys are thought to have evolved from Old World monkeys after migrating from Africa to South America on a raft of vegetation during the Oligocene period, some 23 million to 34 million years ago. But whatever. We know that you're here to find out what the best kind of monkey is. Click through our top 10 list to find out.
The best thing about annual literary prizes is the way they alert us to authors and books we otherwise might have missed. The Man Asian Literary Prize ($30,000 awarded to the author of the best novel by an Asian author written in or translated into English) is no exception. The 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize will be awarded in March. The longlist for the award – announced this week – features the writers below.
No education issue has received more attention in recent years – but with less apparent progress – than the achievement gaps for minority and low-income students. The Center on Education Policy released a study Tuesday that looks at trends in all 50 states. Despite a few bright spots, the picture is bleak. Here are a few of the study’s major findings:
Looking for that just-right holiday present? A photo book is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. It can be enjoyed over and again for years to come and never really goes out of style. Here are three particularly good picks recommended by our Monitor staff photographers from among the 2010 releases .
Geminid meteor shower activities mean a late, cold night for viewers. But meteor showers are one of space's most spectacular shows for skywatchers.