Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Ultimate Feeder

A while back now—could it have been as far back as April? probably—our bird feeder got clogged up and needed cleaning. In the process, unable to locate the problem, I began a hasty disassembly of it. Eventually it was clean, but when I set to work putting the thing back together again, I found that the central rod that makes it all work splendidly was simply (if also mysteriously) at least half an inch too short. I couldn’t get the holding nut even to start at its bottom.

As so many things nowadays—what with me now in violation of the three-score-and-ten length of life—“fixing the bird feeder” became a major project, indeed, as it developed, a kind of great ambition, not to call it a crusade. No matter what I did, no matter what I tried…absolute failure. Now of course these battles came at intervals—days, sometimes weeks apart. And what with simple replacement one of the obvious options, the journey was also one of discovery.

We discovered that our bird feeder, the SquirrelBuster Plus, made by Brome Bird Care, Inc., a Quebec operation, is not simply a bird feeder. Using the world of cars as an analogy, reaching for an ultimate peak of automotive perfection, SquirrelBuster Plus is actually a Lamborghini, the ultimate feeder, with a matching price, of course (over $80 from Amazon, more like over $90 at Lowe’s). Therefore the project of fixing it acquired a monetary side as well. It was all there, in a way. I just couldn’t get it all to go together again.

Finally—one eventually does the obvious, even it is last in line—I went on the Brome Bird Care website and found a parts list. Was there some part I had mislaid? The page showed a telephone number. I dialed the number. An actual human voice answered my call—a lady who was immediately helpful and technically expert. Within about a minute, she had diagnosed my problem with great precision, identified the parts I needed, and told me that she’d send them immediately, for free, just as a gesture of good will. Brome Bird Care. Remember that name. One rarely encounters a Lamborghihi kind of operation these days, much less a human voice on the phone, and least of all a competent responder!

In a nutshell, my problem was that two parts of the feeder at its bottom had become jammed together but in such a way that simply looking at them did not reveal that. Indeed, our SquirrelBuster had once fallen—thanks to a jihadist squirrel attack. With the parts arriving two days later—and a small crow-bar applied to separate the old jammed parts—our SB-Plus Lamborghini is back on road again. But you have to be a bird-lover to know what you are looking at. The Ultimate. The inserted image shows it all.

Now, in the meanwhile—this is about birds, after all, not owners of prestigious “vehicles ”—we had been using a humbler feeder (shown at left), the sort of thing used by the masses—call them the 90 percent. It did its job—but caused endless feuding among the sparrows that that are our most frequent visitors. The photos show two side of today's political debate: the splendid tower serving the 1 percent and the humble thing for the masses. As for our birds, they seem only to care about the seed, alas. And being birds they don’t even get to vote. We can only guess at their opinion (polling birds is difficult), but we think that they like the SquirrelBuster Tower much better because it contains much more—and has six (not just a measely four) splendid seats at the table—and the food never seems to run out.

I made another interesting discovery while writing this. Lamborghini, it turns out, is owned, these days, by Volkswages (VW). The word in German means “people’s car.” Evidently the ordinary people actually own the 1 percent in this case—but word of that has not yet penetrated to the top...

The kudos here, however, belong to Brome Bird Care. Those folks have the product—and the service!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Augusta Treverorum

In 1959 Brigitte and I took a minor part in the seventeenth Great Pilgrimage in Trier, Germany, and saw there the Holy Robe on display. This was, you might say, our farewell to Germany as well. The next year we came to the U.S. as a family. The German Postal Service decided to help us mark that event by issuing a 20 Pfennig memorial stamp for the occasion, shown on the left; it features an image of the robe itself. The text says: Display of the Holy Robe in Trier 1959. German Federal Post.

So rapid is the rush of time, so great the change in all things historical, Trier is not a city known to many in these United States. But it is the oldest city in Germany, founded in 17 BC subsequent to Caesar’s presence there and his conquest of, among many other Belgic tribes, the Treveri, a Celtic-speaking Germanic tribe (per Tacitus); the name is thought to have come from the Celtic tre-uer-o, meaning “to cross a river” or “across the river”; they were said to be ferry-men who facilitated transportation across the Mosel river at a point where, later, the Romans built a bridge. Trier, as we now call it, located in Rhineland-Palatinate, also served for more than a hundred years (286-395) as the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Constantine ruled there for ten years (306-316) before moving on to lend his name to Constantinople.

Now the Holy Robe had also to do with Constantine. Legend has it that it was Jesus’ robe, a seamlessly woven garment that had come into the possession of Helena, Constantine’s mother, around 327 or 328. And it is said that she either presented or sent the robe to Trier where once her son had ruled. The date of this presentation is lost in time. But the robe was stored in an altar of Trier’s St. Peter’s Cathedral consecrated for that purpose in 1196. Since then we have had an historical record of the garment. Pilgrimages to Trier began in the sixteenth century and have taken place 1512, 1513, 1514, 1515, 1516, 1517, 1524, 1531, 1538, 1545, 1655, 1765, 1810, 1844, 1891, 1933, 1959, 1996, and 2012. So we were at the seventeenth of these. Since 1996 more or less annual festivals, called the Holy Robe Days, have been held, and the next Great Pilgrimage is projected to 2033—to mark the two thousandth anniversary of Christ’s resurrection. We will be gone by then.

Now it happens that, in 1959 we lived a mere 50 miles to the east of Trier, about an hour’s drive away. A day in Trier was a occasional outing for us to the nearest big city. We lived then in the vast and mostly empty Baumholder military camp—mostly empty because it was and is an artillery firing range. A very pleasant trip, a lovely drive, and there a wondrous city with Roman structures, not least the Porta Nigra, the remains of a coliseum, three Roman baths, and of course Der Dom, the St. Peter’s Cathedral—one of several. And two large market places with good shopping—not least an ice cream shop with coffee ice cream always available.

Memories. Augusta Treverorum indeed. Sometimes, as Aldous Huxley once wrote, Time must have a stop. Trier was always one of those times for us.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Through a Parliamentary Lens

By no means every four years but every now and ten, I can’t help but to ponder what politics might be like in the United States if we had a parliamentary democracy. In such a system the de facto “executive” is the Prime Minister. Technically only parties compete, not individuals. The leader of the party with the majority of votes becomes Prime Minister—and if no majority is achieved by any party, a coalition government is formed from two or more parties; the leader of the largest piece becomes PM.

Curious that. The public does not directly vote for the Leader but the leader has real power. In the United States, the Leader is a major celebrity by definition but may have no genuine power to carry out his or her agenda—if House or Senate are in opposition hands.

Looked at through a Parliamentary Lens, we now have five parties contending for rule in the United States: The Democratic Party (DP) headed by Hilary Clinton, the Sanders Progressive Party (SPP) led by Bernie Sanders, the Great Donald Party (GDP) lead by Donald Trump, the Grand Old Party (GOP) led by Paul Ryan, and the Libertarian Party (LP) headed by Johnson Riding. There is also the Green Party, but (as best I can determine) it has no official leader to assume that ultimate title of Commander in Chief.

Now if, instead of electing Electors in November we were electing members of parliament (MPs), the likely outcome would be the following (in order of number of seats won):


None would have an absolute majority. If the SPP came in second, DP could easily form a Coalition Government with Bernie Sanders naming secretaries for Treasury, Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services and Hilary Clinton selecting the secretaries of the other major departments. If Donald’s GDP won second place, the Democrats would still rule by aligning with SPP. Not any year, of course, but certainly this year. This year the GOP under Ryan would find it almost impossible to bring about an effective coalition with Donald GDP. Donald doesn’t do coalitions.

This outcome would be neat because, for the next six years or so the DP-SPP coalition would have absolute power to legislate its program—and therefore try out its policies in the actual world. Things would then seem very strange indeed. We’d get genuine change instead of institutionalized paralysis which is out current fate.