Criminal Tattoos

Tattoos are used by many criminals to show gang membership and mark their personal history, skills, and convictions. The system of Russian criminal tattoos is perhaps the most elaborate—both the symbols themselves and their locations on the body carry meaning. For example, butterflies signify an escape artist, while a crucifix worn on the chest signifies a “Prince of Thieves,” the highest rank among criminals. In a criminal tattoo of a Russian church, what does each of the domes symbolize? Discuss

Saint Clare of Assisi (1194)

Born to a noble family, Chiara Offreduccio, now St. Clare of Assisi, was deeply influenced by fellow Assisian St. Francis. Refusing to marry, she instead fled to a chapel where he received her vows. She later became abbess of a female religious community that included her sister and mother. The Second Order of St. Francis, or Poor Clares, adopted the absolute poverty of St. Francis but was strictly cloistered, unlike its counterpart, the Franciscans. Why is Clare the patron saint of television? Discuss


Whether it’s a face on Mars or the Virgin Mary’s image on a grilled-cheese sandwich, perception of the meaningful in the mundane is common. It is called pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon in which a vague and random stimulus, such as an image or sound, is perceived as significant. Common examples include images of animals in clouds, the man in the moon, and hidden messages on records played in reverse. What test uses pareidolia to attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state? Discuss

Fire Ravages Rome's Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (1823)

In 1823, a worker repairing the roof of Rome’s Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls accidentally started a fire that resulted in its almost total destruction. The church, built under Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, had retained its original character for nearly 1,500 years. Reconstruction work began almost immediately with the aim of recreating the original structure. The viceroy of Egypt contributed alabaster pillars to the rebuilding effort, while the Russian emperor sent what? Discuss

Jacques Derrida (1930)

Derrida was an Algerian-born French philosopher whose critique of Western philosophy encompasses literature, linguistics, and psychoanalysis. In his famously dense and complex writings, he attempted to take apart, or “deconstruct,” the edifice of Western metaphysics and reveal what he deemed its incompatible foundations. His thought is based on his disapproval of the search for an ultimate metaphysical certainty. Why was Derrida so controversial among many of his fellow philosophers? Discuss

The Deadly Seas of the King Crab Season

One of the deadliest jobs in the US, Alaskan crab fishing requires fishermen to avoid drowning, hypothermia, and injuries from heavy machinery while hauling their cargo from the freezing waters off the coast of Alaska. The approved fishing season for a single king crab species can be as short as 4 days, requiring crew to toil tirelessly in dangerous conditions; but since deckhands are paid a percentage of the ship’s profit, motivation is high. What is the fatality rate in this industry? Discuss

The Darién Scheme: Ships Leave Scotland for Isthmus of Panama (1698)

In 1695, the Scottish Parliament passed an act chartering a trading company to open trade with Africa and the Indies in the hope that this would make Scotland a world trading nation. Backed by about a quarter of the country’s liquid assets, the Darién Company tried to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama to compete with the Dutch and Spanish, but both of its expeditions failed, nearly bankrupting Scotland in the process. The failures led to what acts of Parliament? Discuss