Saturday, September 2, 2023

Oppenheimer film brings back A-bomb memories...

Bombing of Nagasaki, Japan/8-6-1945/Wikipedia
Written by By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, 9-2-23

I was five years old that summer when the Atomic Age was unleashed upon our world — the world I would grow up in.

It seemed exciting. Big bomb. I was used to hearing about bombs and bombing. The first five years of my life were a time history recalls as “World War II.” I came into consciousness during that very period.

But the atomic bomb was different. I had no grasp of the human tragedy when two of those bombs were dropped on Japan. I recall the jubilation here in America, in my family and in my home town Duluth, that the war was over, thanks to the atomic bomb.

No more rationing of sugar (jam was hard to come by) or gasoline for our car, or tires. Peace and prosperity had arrived (although at that age I wouldn’t have been able to put it that way), and we’d all live happily ever after, just like the characters in my storybooks.

Didn’t happen, did it.

These ruminations were prompted by the popular movie “Oppenheimer.” I recall my parents looking at the stark headlines in the Duluth newspapers and talking about this atomic bomb when it was first detonated (the subject of the movie) and then a couple of weeks later dropped to end the war. It seemed exciting to my five-year-old mind, but also scary.

Not to worry though. Of course it could never happen to America, to Duluth, to our neighborhood, to us. We would always be safe here. Of that I was confident. But maybe not as confident as I seemed.

Later that summer (the bombs were dropped in August 1945) I was playing on the front porch of our family home in what was then known as the West End neighborhood. I suppose I was pushing toy cars around, or something of that sort. My mother was inside the house, keeping an eye on me from time to time through the screen door. It was a beautiful late summer day.

But my contented play was abruptly interrupted by a horrifying sight. Glancing skyward toward the ridge of the western Duluth hillside, there suddenly appeared what was, to my young mind, an atomic bomb. An atomic bomb right here in Duluth.

It was huge (atomic bombs had to be huge, right?) and shaped like a giant bullet but pointy on both ends like a humongous football. And it moved slowly over the Duluth hilltop skyline right toward our house. The Atomic Age had materialized before my young eyes.

I cried out and ran into the house and the safety of my mother, who didn’t immediately understand what had alarmed me so. I must have said the atomic bomb is coming. The atomic bomb is coming.

She darted to the porch with me in tow, looked skyward and saw my atomic bomb. It was a blimp, or dirigible, or Zeppelin as they are sometimes called. It slowly glided overhead and continued southeastward out of our sight.

Safe.  She consoled me by explaining it was just a friendly aircraft shaped like an elongated balloon. On with my happy childhood.

But I never forgot it (to wit this column). And it was the first realization that maybe our world isn’t as safe as one thinks in early childhood. There have been quite a few wars since, and our main adversaries — sometimes enemies — all got the bomb before I fully grew up, but no nuclear bombs have been used. Yet.

I didn’t know then what was in store as the years went on, of course. I had to get through first grade…and the Atomic Age.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

Saturday, August 5, 2023

What’s all this about artificial intelligence?


Ahead of his time on hairstyles
Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth NewsTribune/8-5-23   

The following screed blew into my lap while sitting in a park one day in the merry-merry month of May. Or it might have been in June by the light of the silvery moon. Then again, maybe it was a night in July, beneath the starlit sky.

 Whatever. I looked the blown-in-by-the-wind mini-manifesto over and decided to share it.


It begins: “What’s all this talk about artificial intelligence? I’m one of the smartest people I know, and it’s the real McCoy, Buster.  Not artificial.


“Describing it they just use the initials A.I. thinking everybody knows what it means. Well, there ain’t nuttin' artificial about my intelligence. Everybody whom knows me knows that. I don’t believe in it. My great uncle once removed (from the hoosegow) had a wooden leg that we all admired. Took it off every night to sleep. That’s artificial leg intelligence on display right there at home.


“At first I thought A.I. stood for Albert Instine (ain’t sure I spelt it rite), the smartest man on Earth when he was alive. He came up with the theory of relativity which led to people understanding about their relatives, like how they were related to their third cousin. We were a little confused about my great uncle with the wooden leg until Albert Instine cleared it all up with his theory of relativity.


“I don’t see no need for artificial intelligence when we — I’m talkin’ men like me who think deep alot — can figure everything out all by ourselves without using no computers. Can’t help it; we just know stuff. How? I learnt my education out behind the barn. That’s all you need. Put your jeans on before your boots. Hello?


“But back to A.I. (Albert Instine). He liked to look up at the stars at night when it wasn’t too cloudy. You could tell he was really smart by the way he wore his hair. He was decades ahead of his time on men’s hairstyle, which involved strict avoidance of barbers. That was one of his greatest accomplishments. Saves money too. He was so admired I read where a farmer named one of his chickens after him.


“But enough about Albert Instine.


“So now we hear that the writers and actors in Hollywood are on strike because they fear they could be replaced by artificial intelligence. If you ask me, it’s about time. I don’t see TV much (the wife likes “Price is Right”) but every time I turn it on, I doze off. I say they need artificial intelligence.


“Then I read somewheres that AI might someday surpass human intelligence. Well, they better not try to surpass me, that’s for sure. When I was in school the teacher told my parents I might be the smartest kid in the class if I ever showed up. This was before I quit school after eighth grade to get started on my chosen field, to become a circus clown (don’t laugh, it’s a serious business), but that never worked out when the circuses sold the elephants, leaving the clowns with nothing to shovel.


“In the meantime I traveled around the county alot stopping here and there at one of our lakes to fish. I got damn good at it too, pulling them in head over tail until some game warden came along claiming you needed a license from the state to fish. What? The state owns the fish? All the walleyes? All the bass? Both small mouth and big mouth?


“That was when I decided to enter politics, and you know where that can lead. I never went to jail, though. Politics is a pretty good deal.


“I better cut it off right here. Just give me three squares a day, a nice recliner for watchin’ the Twins on the tube, a six pack of brew, a friendly mutt and a loyal wifey to bring home the bacon and take care of the domicile (fancy word — told you I was smarter than most) and I’ll get along just fine. 


“No artificial intelligence needed, nohow. I got the real thing.


“Finis. (Yup, I know my Latin too. Then there’s Sempis Fideler. Go tell THAT to the Marines!)”


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at