The civil war in Syria has developed into the bloodiest and longest running of all the protests that began in 2011 with the Arab Spring uprisings. The Syrian crisis has disturbed the conscience of people worldwide and rocked the balance of power between Russia and the U.S., old Cold War enemies. Discussion of the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in August dominated the recent United Nations General Assembly meeting, with French President François Hollande arguing for military action if Syria doesn’t comply with an agreement to hand over its chemical arms and claiming that 120,000 had died in the conflict to date.

Do you know what twerking is? It’s okay if you don’t. Big Freedia Queen Diva does. Freedia, a.k.a. Freddie Ross, is one of the heavyweights of the New Orleans “sissy bounce” scene. Openly gay and often referred to with feminine pronouns in performance context, Freedia is a talented MC widely credited with popularizing bounce music beyond its Louisiana origins. After Miley Cyrus’s salacious performance at the MTV Video Music Awards—prominently featuring the young star’s rendition of the dance move known as twerking—Freedia was the authority to whom the nation looked for answers.

One day a close friend confided to me, “My mom has been meeting guys in chat rooms, pretending to be me.” It was 1999, in the murky days of online life when we were content to let AOL dictate how we used the internet. Imparting our deepest, darkest secrets to strangers? Sure! Why not? Many people I knew had wandered into chat rooms a few times for fun, but this woman’s behavior was odd. She was a great, seemingly normal 50-something single mother in every other regard. Why would she need to use her daughter as an alias to meet people? I didn’t get it.

As a writer of CultureMaps, I’ve found that you often have to search long and hard for the one magical connection that will constellate a coherent picture. This was not the case with my map about plagiarism, as every one of its topics was guilty of the same crime. Early on in my research, the idea of “cryptomnesia” seemed like a joke—the cousin of homework-eating dogs and malfunctioning alarm clocks.

In the 1986 film Caravaggio, director Derek Jarman achieves the nearly impossible—he turns the juicy, scandalous story of the rowdy, licentious, murderous, bisexual, drunken 17th-century Italian painter Caravaggio into a stupefying bore. It’s a sign of a real cinematic stinker when you can’t wait for the paintings to appear. When they do, you can see how Caravaggio performed magic with light and shadow to yank us right into his canvases. In Death of the Virgin, the corpse of Mary, swollen and stiff with rigor mortis, is illuminated from above, as if God is shining goodness on her. The scene is blasphemous and profane, even to our 21st-century sensibilities (the model is said to have been a prostitute), but it’s hauntingly spiritual, too.