Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bombs in the news…

By Jim Heffernan
Bombs have been in the news a lot lately — the N-bomb, the F-bomb, Michael Moore’s Broadway show (bombed). Now the United States and North Korea are staring each other down over North Korea’s bomb plans.

In many, many decades of life, I have found that living is more tranquil when bombs are not in the news. I’m old enough to actually remember the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan, bringing World War II to an end.

The A-bomb (for Atomic) is the father of the N-bomb (Nuclear). Somewhere in there to further scare us are the H-bomb (hydrogen, stronger than the others) and another N-bomb (Neutron), which only kills people but leaves buildings standing. Drop a neutron bob on New York City, for example, and Trump Tower would remain standing. Not so much its inhabitants. 

I was 5 years old when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. News of it was everywhere, and even a child of kindergarten age understood that it was something terrible, frightening. I can recall my parents talking seriously about it at supper, ignoring the Lone Ranger on the kitchen radio in the background.

The whole idea of such a big bomb frightened me. And here’s how it manifested itself on one occasion: I was playing on our front porch when a huge bomb-like object suddenly appeared in the sky above western Duluth. It terrified me. I ran into the house screaming to my mother that the atomic bomb was coming.

She darted onto the porch and saw immediately what it really was: a blimp (a.k.a. dirigible). Not the Good Year blimp, just an ordinary blimp that looked an awful lot like a great big bomb. My mother allayed my fears, explaining that it was a harmless aircraft. Not to worry.

As time went by, the atomic bomb became kind of a fun thing for kids. One of the big breakfast cereal producers—General Mills, maybe Kellogg’s—offered kids an “Atomic Bomb Ring” for 25 cents and a box top from one of their cereals. I got one. It was an adjustable metal ring with a tiny plastic bomb on top. If you held the bomb close to your eye, inside the bomb you could see something like sparks flying. Wow.

Of course the threat of an atomic attack prompted the schools to add atomic bomb attack drills to fire drills. I learned later that some schools in the country had the kids “duck and cover” beneath their school desks. We just filed into the hall and stood facing the lockers lining the wall until the all clear. This was not nearly as much fun as a fire drill, which required us to file outside the school in orderly fashion and breathe the fresh air of a beautiful day. You could say atomic bomb drills bombed in comparison.

Oh yes, the F-bomb. Got to deliver on that. It was brought to the fore recently by short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci in an interview with a New Yorker magazine reporter during which Scaramucci dropped several F-bombs, shocking nearly everyone and probably resulting in the loss of his job after serving just 10 days.

But it opened the door to several media organizations, like the New York Times, to use the entire F-bomb word in reporting on Scaramucci’s diatribe. I was shocked. I remember the first time I ever saw the word in print: summer of 1963 reading Irving Wallace’s novel “The Carpetbaggers.”

It’s a word that was very familiar to teenage boys of my generation, and many generations before and after, but nobody ever wrote it down, for goodness sake. (Goodness had nothing to do with it.)

I had actually learned the word several years before. Right around the time the A-bomb was employed for the first time, I learned what is today referred to as the F-bomb stood for. A neighbor boy and I were in the alley next to my home (these things always happen in alleys) discussing various swear words and their seriousness. They were all bad, of course, but “hell” and “damn” didn’t seem like they would bar you from getting into heaven, should the occasion arise. A few others were more serious—you know what they are without my actually spelling them out.

Then my friend (we weren’t close, though) said he’d tell me the “worst” swear word of all. It was what we today refer to as the F-bomb. And he was right. It has endured as the worst swear word of all throughout the many, many decades of my life. Oops, we’re back to square one.

Editor's note:  We learned to "duck & cover" in the 50's.  Check out the video the Dept. of Education and civil Defense Dept. prepared for those of us growing up in that era HERE.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Washington clichés, fake news and ‘poiticianese’

By Jim Heffernan
The other day I heard our president, Donald J. Trump, refer once again to "hard-working Americans." He isn't the only politician to describe all Americans all the time as hard-working. They all do, both Democrats and Republicans. Even independents.

This is nothing new. The expression spills out of politicians' mouths in practically every speech, and always has. It's as though all Americans are hard-working, which, of course, cannot be assumed. I am not a hard-working American--I'm retired--and I have to admit, when I stop to think about it, I never was particularly hard-working. In fact, when I was young it was feared, and occasionally charged, that I might be "lazy."

But once I entered the work force, I'd work hard enough when it was expected of me, but if I could get out of hard work, I'd do it, even when I had "odd" (really odd) jobs. In my principal career I was a newspaper writer, which I never regarded as hard work. How hard can it be to write fake news?

Fake news was one of my favorite things to write. Not in the actual news columns of the paper, where fidelity to the truth and accuracy were stressed, but I wrote a lot of fake news in a personal column under my name, and had fun doing it.

Once I wrote a fake news column claiming that local archers allowed to hunt deer in the city were shooting their arrows into those plastic (fake) deer you see in some people's yards. Totally made up. Fake news. 

But the column got picked up on the Internet, went germ, if not viral, and some people around the country believed it was true. I got a call from a radio station in Illinois asking for an interview. The caller was crestfallen to learn it was fake news, although the term wasn't used back in pre-Trump hard-working America.

You could say my phone "rang off the hook" in response to that fake news column, just as politicians always use that phrase in describing constituents' responses to this or that issue. "My phone rang off the hook," they'll say, especially when describing constituent reaction to measures the opposing party has advanced.

I'm old now, so I know very well what they mean by "off the hook," but how many Millennials can conjure up the image of an old crank telephone attached to a wall with the receiver holding down a hook? A sizable portion of hard-working Americans don't even know what a traditional receiver looks like, what with such widespread i-phone use. I go all the way back to the "number please" era of call-initiating. 

OK, let's move on to the rolling up of the sleeves. Most of the politicians who are serving hard-working Americans, and whose telephones are ringing off the hook, "roll up their sleeves" every time they vow to actually do something. "We've got to roll up our sleeves and get to work" on this or that, they say. 

Now I realize these are metaphors seasoned with a large dose of cliche, but harmless enough as figures of speech. Same for all of the "brave heroes" serving in the military, or veterans who have left it.

It cannot be assumed that everyone who signs up for a stint in the military is either brave or heroic. I was once in the U.S. Army, and I was not a brave hero, and, come to think of it, I don't think anybody I was serving with demonstrably was. Sen. John McCain is a brave hero, of course, everyone except President Trump agrees.

Yet to politicians all service members are brave and heroic, even if they sit in offices before keyboards, as I did in my military days, with an occasional foray into the mess hall for KP (kitchen police). There were times when that required a certain amount of bravery, I have to admit, depending on the dispositions of the mess sergeants.

There! I've been going to get this off my chest for a long time. Not that there was anything actually on top of my chest, mind you. It's just an expression, a harmless metaphor with a dose of cliche tossed in.

Want to read the plastic deer column, originally posted in the Duluth News Tribune in 2005 and reprinted on this blog in 2009?  Read it HERE. And a reference to someone wondering if the plastic deer column was a hoax :-) read HERE.