The Dilemma of Un-Sacred Space

What does the Austrian town of Braunau do with the home in which Adolph Hitler was born? The building, now empty, is privately owned. The government pays monthly rent to the owner to keep an undesirable tenant from taking up residence, as the site even now can draw neo-Nazis.

What does Newtown do with the house where Adam Lanza lived and began his killing spree by shooting his mother? Peter Lanza gave the house to the town; now the community has to decide what to do with it, and with the land should the house later be torn down.

Can evil attach to place? We certainly think goodness can, as we memorialize the birthplaces of famous people, the sites of famous battles, the key locations of life-changing social and political movements like Selma or Stonewall. We also mark the sites where tragedy happened: the World Trade Center, the Lorraine Motel balcony where Martin Luther King stood when he was shot.

But all of those feel different from Braunau or Newtown. Journalist Melissa Eddy, who wrote the article “In Adolph Hitler’s Home Town, Trying to Overcome a Legacy of Evil”, quotes Austrian historian Andreas Maislinger:

Braunau is a symbol,” he said. “It is where evil entered the world.”

The building which houses the Hitler flat was almost torn down after World War II. But it wasn’t, and now all these decades later people still ponder what its fate should be.

Would I buy the Lanza house if I were moving to Newtown, even if every drop of Nancy Lanza’s blood had been scrubbed clean? Probably not. Would I rent the flat in Braunau, or put my office there? I probably wouldn’t do that either, even though I think eventually the connection between a physical space and the evil which attaches there has to fade.

It’s an interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. Do you?


From Seattle to Boston

My friends and family who live in Boston are being deluged with feet and feet of snow, one storm after another. I send these along from relatively balmy Seattle not to lord it over anyone, but to give hope. Spring always comes. Right now, the crocuses are up in Seattle, lemon trees are outdoors basking in the winter sun, and I was outdoors all day yesterday in nothing more than a sweatshirt. 🙂

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Grolar Bears, or Pizzleys. Take Your Pick

It isn’t just that glaciers and sea ice are retreating around the North Pole due to climate change. It’s what the new landscape allows to come together and mate for the very first time.

Grizzly bears and polar bears, to be exact. The offspring are called Grolar bears, or Pizzleys, whichever suits your fancy.

According to an article by Tim McDonnell called “A Strange New Gene Pool of Animals is Brewing in the Arctic”, this can ultimately be a good thing, or not a good thing. Male polar bears are much bigger than female grizzly bears, and one likely outcome of a chance encounter is that the polar bear eats the grizzly. Only the smaller, weaker males are apt to mate, which could lead to genetically frailer offspring. If healthy male polar bears do mate successfully with female grizzly bears, the offspring reduce the biodiversity and narrow the gene pool. Neither of those are good outcomes. But if both species are going to become extinct because their environment is changing so drastically, maybe the new hybrids will cope better and survive.

The first documented grolar bear was recorded in 2006, so we’re in the early days of this phenomenon.

Bears are not the only species that are coming together for the first time in thousands of years. Have you heard of a narluga? That’s a cross between a narwhale and a beluga. They didn’t used to mate, but they do now.

In the new Republican Congress the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is going to be chaired by Senator James Inhofe, who doesn’t believe in climate change or global warming. He probably doesn’t believe in grolar bears either. I really want some scientific team to grab one up and bring the odd-looking white and brown beast to the Senate floor, where it can be paraded in front of Senator Inhofe. We’ll see what the Senator and his flat-earth followers have to say then.

Jarringly Discordant

Brookings reports that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is hard at work on development goals that will govern the work of the U.N. and contributing countries for the next 15 years.

At the same time in a large swathe of the Middle East, ISIS is beheading people, taking slaves, and working to restore the seemingly long-outdated idea of a caliphate.

Here are two movements. One values education, technology, basic human rights for the poor, improvements in health and sanitation, and the rights of women. The other values an oddly distorted form of ideological purity, and arming rootless young men with guns and knives and encouraging them to vent their fury at civilization on helpless women and children – not to mention Western journalists and aid workers.

It hardly seems possible that both of these movements exist simultaneously and on the same planet. But they do.

YouTube Videos: The Original Susan Boyle

I’m not only watching silly YouTube videos like people setting their farts on fire. I went back and watched the original video of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. That original clip has been viewed by over 21 million people.

Out comes painfully dumpy 47 year old Susan, who has to search for the word “village” when asked where she comes from. She has that unbecoming hair style, bushy eyebrows, and a completely inappropriate dress. The audience snickers when Boyle says she wants to be a successful singer like Elaine Paige.

Then she begins to sing I Dreamed a Dream, and the sound is so surpassingly beyond expectations it can only be called glorious. The three judges are taken aback. Even the caustic Simon Cowell is stunned into saying something kind. The audience is out of their seats. Boyle gets a standing ovation, and is in tears at the end.

Susan Boyle has gone on to have a popular singing career, a lucky thing considering how late she got her first chance. She’s been remade, and if not exactly an attractive woman, she is presentable. Her quirky persona, perhaps Aspergers, is now seen as part of her charm and not something of which fun can be made. Her passage to fame and fortune has been neither easy nor uncomplicated. Her siblings, apparently, are in a major rift over who’s been hitting her up for too much money. I think that’s not surprising, as no one goes from an invisible life in a small British village to world center stage without some trauma. But people like her music, and buy her CD’s and get tickets to her live performances – a new thing, once she got over the anxiety of performing. I have one of her CD’s myself.

I love this YouTube video because for the space of one song, Susan Boyle got to be exactly who she wanted to be: a performer in front of a live audience who loved her and gave a standing ovation. Her goals may have changed since then, gotten larger. Her life certainly has. But how rare and lovely a thing it is for life to give someone a perfect moment.