1. A thoughtful if gruesome review on Slate of Timothy Synder’s new book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin which delves into the perennial question of the relative evil of the two dictators’ crimes. The measurement of evil is a tough question – the Sermon on the Mount notwithstanding (…) – even when cannibalism isn’t a factor. As reviewer Ron Rosenbaum asks, in light of the atrocities, “Must we readjust radically downward our vision of human nature?” The article (and book) may not be for the remotely squeamish – it’s horrifying in fact [fair warning] – but that doesn’t prevent it from getting into some genuinely interesting territory:

Nazism, it is generally agreed, cannot be rehabilitated in any way, because it was inextricable from Hitler’s crimes, but there are some on the left who believe communism can be rehabilitated despite the crimes of Stalin, and despite new evidence that the tactics of terror were innovations traceable to his predecessor Lenin. 

I find it hard to understand anyone who wants to argue that the murder of 20 million is “preferable” to anything, but our culture still hasn’t assimilated the genocidal equivalence between Stalin and Hitler, because, as Applebaum points out, we used the former to defeat the latter.

The full evil of Stalin still hasn’t sunk in. I know it to be true intellectually, but our culture has not assimilated the magnitude of his crimes. Which is perhaps why the cannibalism jolted me out of any illusion that meaningful distinctions could be made between Stalin and Hitler.

2. The Internet has gone wild for the new Catholic bishop-approved “Confession” app for the iphone. The screen grabs are priceless:

3.  Speaking of the good ol’ Internet, in what almost seems like an (admirable) attempt to legislate mercy, The Atlantic reports that Europe is wrestling with whether or not there is basic human right, in Information Age, to be forgotten:

“This developing right, authorities in several European countries suggest, would allow an individual to control and sometimes eliminate his or her data trail and allow him or her to ask Google to remove select search results — a newspaper article, say, which once painted him or her in a bad light. A look at recent news events guarantees that this right will only become more relevant in 2011.”

4. From Medical News Today, “Study Finds Popular Students – But Not The Most Popular – More Likely To Torment Peers”:

“Those students at the very top of the social hierarchy – who seemingly possess the most social capacity for aggressiveness – generally aren’t aggressive. ‘If an adolescent at the top of the social hierarchy were to act aggressively towards his or her peers, such action could signal insecurity or weakness rather than cement the student’s position,’ said Faris. ‘And, it’s possible that, at the highest level, they may receive more benefits from being pro-social and kind.'”

5. The Wall Street Journal looks at the intersection of compulsive exercise, personal ambition and family life in “How Couples Handle Conflict Arising From Exercise”:

The effect of extreme exercise on divorce rates isn’t clear. Even if research showed a higher rate of discord in homes where just one spouse is an endurance athlete, exercise could be a consequence, rather than a cause. Among endurance athletes, though, resentment on the part of spouses is a common topic. The phenomenon may develop into what Pete Simon, an Arizona psychologist, triathlon coach and blogger, calls “Divorce by Triathlon.” “I often wonder how many lonely wives, husbands, children of triathletes are out there wondering when the insanity is going to end,” he wrote. 

6. Is there such a thing as a mass-media intervention that isn’t a PR stunt? Sir Elton John “got real” in the new issue of Rolling Stone with some choice words for friend/colleague Billy Joel:

“At the end of the day, he’s coasting,” John tells Scaggs.”I always say, ‘Billy, can’t you write another song?’ It’s either fear or laziness. It upsets me. Billy’s a conundrum. We’ve had so many cancelled tours because of illnesses and various other things, alcoholism… He’s going to hate me for this, but every time he goes to rehab they’ve been light,” John says. “When I went to rehab, I had to clean the floors. He goes to rehab where they have TVs. I love you, Billy, and this is tough love. Billy, you have your demons and you’re not going to get rid of them at rehab light. You’ve got to be serious. People adore you, they love you and respect you. You should be able to do something better than what you’re doing now.”

The landmark interview tackles a number of other prime Elton subjects: his controversial friendship with Rush Limbaugh, his remarkably successful collaboration (artistically and relationally) with Bernie Taupin, his touching recent outreach to Leon Russell, the enduring brilliance of Tumbleweed Connection, among others. Also of interest is the fantastic list Rob Sheffield posted of Elton’s greatest non-hits

7. Finally, The A/V Club’s always entertaining Found Footage Festival is finishing up a particularly ripe “religious awareness week,” in which they’ve looked at both ventriloquist evangelism and clown outreach. Inspired:


Christian clowns confound old people

Bonus Track: MBird contributer Bonnie is running an online survey study on petitionary prayer. If you have about 45 mins to spare (or to procrastinate with) and want to help, you can find out more and take part here.