Anarchist Catalonia

Anarchism, a political theory that favors the abolition of all forms of government, started a profound libertarian revolution throughout Spain. During the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, Catalonia was established as an anarchist stronghold and much of the region’s economy was put under worker control: factories were run through worker committees, agrarian areas became collectivized, and even hotels and restaurants were managed by their workers. When did Catalonia fall to Spain’s nationalists? Discuss


Though the US Environmental Protection Agency labeled perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) a likely carcinogen in 2006, it continues to be widely used in food packaging and in the processing of Teflon non-stick coatings. Traces of PFOA-family chemicals can now be found in the blood of most Americans and in the environment worldwide. Of particular concern is the grease resistant fluorotelomer coating used in the production of microwave popcorn packages. How does the PFOA from popcorn bags get ingested? Discuss

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

In 1998, the United States signed The Copyright Term Extension Act into law, thereby extending the copyright terms set forth in the international Berne Convention of 1886. The act increased America’s term of protection for copyrighted works by 20 years. Sonny Bono, a songwriter, filmmaker, and congressman, was a major proponent of copyright extension, and the act, passed nine months after his death, was named in his honor. Why is the act pejoratively known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act? Discuss


In order to minimize conflict and avoid embarrassment, group members often refrain from promoting viewpoints that deviate from the apparent group consensus. This mode of thinking is known as “groupthink” and is characterized by extensive self-censorship among group members who unquestioningly believe in the morality of the group. Striving for unanimity without appraising alternative courses of action can often have dire consequences. What fiasco inspired the study of the concept of “groupthink”? Discuss

Bricks of Tea

Dried, compressed blocks of tea leaves have been used in Asia as a source of food, component of beverages, and form of currency for centuries. In Ancient China, tea was often mixed with binding agents—including flour, blood, and manure—to increase its durability, thus fortifying the tea brick against the physical demands of its use as currency. Siberian nomads preferred tea-brick currency over metal coins and continued to use the edible money until what period? Discuss

Goethe's Theory of Colours

In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published his observations of color. Most physicists dispute the validity of his work because of his reification of darkness and explanation of color as the interplay between darkness and light. Goethe considered this work his magnum opus and it remains a remarkable catalogue of observations on color perception and color phenomena. What inspired Goethe to pursue his own study of color and challenge the widely accepted theories posited by Newton? Discuss


Waterboarding, a torture method that simulates drowning, has existed in various forms since the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Generally, water is poured over the face of an immobilized prisoner, inducing the gag reflex and mimicking sensations associated with drowning. The technique gained international attention in 2006, when reports surfaced charging the US with torturing detainees during the “War on Terror.” When CIA officers were waterboarded during training, how quickly did they break? Discuss

Conan the Bacterium

Deinococcus radiodurans has been listed as the world’s toughest bacterium in The Guinness Book of World Records because of its extraordinary resistance to extreme conditions. It is the most radioresistant organism known to science and is able to rapidly repair damage to its genome. Many question how such a resilient bacterium could evolve on Earth, and some have suggested that the organism is actually of Martian origin. How do they propose the bacterium came to this planet? Discuss

The Hand Cannon

The hand cannon, which dates back to the late 13th century, was the first handheld portable firearm. The origin of the weapon is widely disputed, and a number of groups, including the Arabs, Chinese, Mongols, and Europeans, claim credit for its invention. Though the hand cannon lacked accuracy and was fairly unwieldy, its armor-penetrating capabilities eventually brought the simple weapon to the forefront of European warfare. How were hand cannons fired? Discuss

The Peacock Angel of the Yezidi

The Yezidi, or Yazidi, are members of a syncretistic religion that developed during the 12th century and mingles folk traditions with the beliefs and practices of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. According to Yezidi tradition, the world is under the care of 7 Holy Beings, or Angels. Preeminent among these is Melek Taus, or the Peacock Angel, leader of the archangels and a demiurge whose tears of repentance quenched the fires of hell. Why do some people believe the Yezidi are devil worshippers? Discuss