The Best of the Week


Featured Image: Machu Picchu. Credit: Martin St-Amant – Wikipedia – CC-BY-SA-3.0

A bunch of articles on video games, collapsing civilizations and narcissism.

Sociology in Fantasia – Reason Magazine – By Bryan Alexander

A new book looks at the world of online gaming and social life online.

People play for various reasons, boiled down to “achievement, social interaction, and immersion,” plus the pleasure of storytelling.


Players tend to reproduce many offline behaviors online, no matter how fantastic, imaginative, and unearthly the game world might be. Sometimes the results are pretty bleak. “Instead of an escape from the drudgeries of the physical world,” [Nick] Yee writes, “many online gamers describe their gameplay as an unpaid second job.”

Climate Change Doomed the Ancients – New York Times – By Eric H. Cline

An opinion piece by an anthropologist suggests that climate swings played a major role in historical conflicts, and he connects the fate of ancient civilizations with our present climate dilemma.

Ancient letters from the Hittite kingdom, in what is now modern-day Turkey, beseech neighboring powers for shipments of grain to stave off famine caused by the drought. (The drought is thought to have affected much of what is now Greece, Israel, Lebanon and Syria for up to 300 years.) One letter, sent from a Hittite king, pleads for help: “It is a matter of life or death!”

Can Economists Tell if a Recession is Coming? – Wall Street Journal – By Josh Zumbrun

The Journal’s Real Time Economics blog takes a look at economic predictions. Are they as good as they’re cracked up to be?

Clearly not all economists saw the full extent of the risks that were building, but by September 2007, economists’ average estimate for the probability of recession was higher than 33 percent (nearly triple their current assessment). By December, the estimate climbed close to 40 percent. By March 2008, economists said the chance of recession was 65 percent.

An ancient building from Uxmal in Mexico. Image: Pedro Sánchez.

An ancient building from Uxmal in Mexico. Image: Pedro Sánchez.

Volcanic Evidence Only Deepens Ancient Maya Pottery Mystery – Huffington Post – By Becky Oskin, LiveScience

With thousands of people living in cities such as El Pilar and Tikal, the Mayan potters burned through several tons of volcanic ash every year, Ford has estimated. But no one can figure out where the ash came from.


The mystery begins with the fact that there just aren’t any volcanoes in eastern Central America. Nor have archaeologists found evidence the Maya mined ash locally.

Benedict Cumberbatch to Read Original D-Day News Bulletins on Radio 4 – The Guardian – By Jason Deans

Acclaimed British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Patrick Stewart will re-read old news releases documenting the WWII invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy.

The new recordings will also be available online on the Radio 4 website, along with more than 200 pages of archive radio bulletin scripts from BBC Home Service D-day broadcasts being published for the first time. Many of the scripts are annotated with subbing marks by the writers and newsreaders of the day.

New Inca Road to Machu Picchu Discovered – Peru this Week – By Rachel Chase

“This is one of the best examples of Inca engineering,” said [archeologist Fernando] Astete, speaking to El Comercio.

Check out our slideshow featuring pictures of the new discovery!

The Second-Largest Religion in Each State – Washington Post – By Reid Wilson

The Post’s GovBeat blog comes up with four terrific maps of religion in the States:

Buddhists represent the largest non-Christian religious bloc in most states. In 20 states, mostly in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian faith tradition. And in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, Judaism has the most followers after Christianity.

A 20th-century French lawyer. Image: Nordisk Familjebok.

A 20th-century French lawyer. Image: Nordisk Familjebok.

Is There Such a Thing as an Affordable Lawyer? – The Atlantic – By Michael Zuckerman

Some economic quirks drive up the price for legal services. Whole swaths of the population get substandard representation as a result.

Legal help is what economists call a “credence good”—a good “provided by an expert who also determines a buyer’s needs” because the buyer is “unable to assess how much of the good or service they need; nor can they assess whether or not the service was performed or how well.” The classic examples are auto repair and dentistry, but most legal services qualify, too. Just as the average consumer is unable to verify how many cavities he has or how many auto parts he needs replaced, he’s often unable to question a lawyer on just how many hours of lawyering will be sufficient to resolve his problem. The effect is a pernicious lack of transparency “about the actual value of a lawyer,” [said law professor Gillian Hadfield].

Narcissists can be Empathic Towards Sufferers – Free Press Journal

People who score very high on narcissism are supposed to think mostly of themselves and feel little empathy for others, but new research shows it’s possible to make them care about people in distress by putting themselves in their shoes.

The research provides a crucial breakthrough because if narcissists have the physical capacity to feel empathy, interventions could be designed to help them do so in their everyday lives, benefiting the society as a whole.