The Best of the Week

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Sufis, psychopaths and grandmothers are all part of this week’s best.

In Pictures: India’s largest Sufi festival – Al Jazeera – By Karen Dias

The Sufis are a mystical sect of Islam that places importance on love and oneness with the divine. It’s opposed by hardline Salafist and Wahhabi sects. The festival of Urs brings Sufis from all over India, the country with the third most Muslims in the world.

People of all faiths take part in the festival that commemorates the death anniversary of revered Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, also known as “Gharib Nawaz” (Benefactor of The Poor)… Celebrations include Sufi poetry recitals and “qawalli” or devotional songs, which can carry on through the entire night.

Political Divide Reflected in Korean Language – Al Jazeera – by Harry Fawcett

An astonishing example of how languages can evolve in such a short amount of time. North and South Korea politically split in 1940s.

Half of the words commonly used in the North Korea are now different from those used in the South. Researchers from both countries are working on a unified dictionary to help bridge the divide.

Oxford Research Shows Why Psychopaths Get Ahead in Business – Cherwell – By James Rhodes

Psychopathy refers to that 1 percent of the population that does not register remorse for hurtful acts, partly or wholly lacking the ability to empathize with others. About 20 percent of North American prison samples score high on psychopathy, but the rate is also high among CEOs, at four times the national average. Scientists try to explain why it could make some people more successful in certain situations:

[Psychologist Kevin] Dutton gives an example of an interview he had with a neurosurgeon who described surgery as “a blood sport”. He explained, “If things go wrong in an operating theatre, you don’t want someone to start freaking out and panicking, you want someone to absolutely focus on the job in hand and not get fazed out, and also that kind of dispassionate distance that psychopaths have, that cold empathy that they display.”

Should the Internet be Treated Like a Public Utility? – Marketplace – By David Weinberg

and

Electricity as Utility. A Model for the Internet – Marketplace – By Shea Huffman

Interesting meditations on the proper role of markets and government when it comes to the Internet.

Many economists believe government is best as the manager of infrastructure – those things that facilitate market transactions such as city roads, water pipes or electric grids. But instead of sole government control, utility companies are often used to capture the best of both worlds – a privately owned entity that’s heavily regulated – such as telephone providers in the U.S.

But some of those utilities themselves started out as products sold on the open market, just like Internet service. So how did they get regulated as public utilities? For the best comparison with the Internet’s current situation, look at how another “new” technology went from market good to public good: electricity.

Grandmothers: The Behind-the-Scenes Key to Human Culture? – The Wall Street Journal – By Alison Gopnik

Some anthropologists suggest that complex culture is a result of humans living long past reproductive age.

Mothers can’t keep babies going all by themselves: They need help. In forager societies grandmothers provide a substantial amount of childcare as well as nutrition.

How We Got Tall – The Atlantic – By Olga Khazan

Humanity grew several inches over the last few hundred years, but its ultimately due more to social factors.

Your childhood environment can give you (or take away) three or four inches. A lack of nutrient-rich food and clean water explains why stunting is prevalent among children in developing countries. Studies of North Koreans found that those born after the country was divided in two were about two inches shorter than their counterparts in the South.

DNA Test Can Trace Your Ancestral Origins Back 1,000 Years – Discover Magazine – By Carl Engelking

The test could help us to see how populations moved.

Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield and Tatiana Tatarinova from the University of Southern California invented the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) test, which works by scanning a person’s DNA for parts that were formed as a result of two ancestors from disparate populations having children: for example, a Viking and Briton falling in love after Vikings invaded Britain in the 11th century.

To Dream in Different Cultures – The New York Times – By T.M. Luhrmann

A Times opinion writer takes snippets of humanity’s relationship to sleep and adds some of her own.

Back when night fell for, on average, half of each 24 hours, people slept in phases. In “At Day’s Close,” a remarkable history of night in the early modern West, Roger Ekirch writes that people fell asleep not long after dark for the “first sleep.” Then they awoke, somnolent but not asleep, often around midnight, when for a few hours they talked, read, prayed, had sex, brewed beer or burgled. Then they went back to sleep for a shorter period. Mr. Ekirch concludes, “There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age.