Saturday, March 6, 2021

Vaccination denial recalls earlier Duluth controversy...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNews Tribune on Saturday, March 6, 2021

 I see where some people going through this global pandemic are refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations because…well, because they’re afraid the vaccine is harmful to human health, or something like that. More harmful than the disease itself, apparently.


Let the record show that as a registered geezer I have had two inoculations of the COVID-19 vaccine and I am: 1) still alive, and, 2) feeling fit as a fiddle, to employ a well-worn cliché. But that’s just me, of course. I’d bet it’s you too, once you get the shots, although some people briefly feel a little sick after the second shot, they say.


Gosh, I go all the way back to the initial development of the Salk polio vaccine that saved so many lives and prevented serious crippling in others. I’m a true believer, I guess.


This vaccine phobia business reminds me of what I believe is the long forgotten controversy over the fluoridation of Duluth’s water supply. The addition of fluoride to our water to prevent tooth decay was being proposed in the mid-1960s, right around the time I started working as a reporter at this newspaper.


I had never even heard of fluoridation before then, having been an indifferent college student, more into smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo. So I had some catching up to do. That catching up involved being assigned to cover various civic gatherings organized to promote and explain the benefits of fluoridation and writing it up for the newspaper.


And what was said at those gatherings was most vehemently uttered by the opponents of fluoridating Duluth water — rabid opponents, obsessed opponents who fought fluoridation as though their lives depended on it. And, of course, they believed it did, just like the vaccine deniers.


The organized Duluth dentists all favored fluoridation in spite of the fact that if it worked their business likely would decrease. However, of course, one prominent dentist joined the opposition and readily issued statements warning about the dangers of fluoridation to the health. And the business community, generally in favor, also had one prominent opponent. I could use names here, but just about everybody’s dead anyway (not from drinking fluoridated water).


Fluoridation of the public water supply, opponents claimed, was part of a communist plot to poison Americans so that Russia (then called the Soviet Union) could take over the world, or at least defeat the United States because all Americans would be sick and dying from fluoride ingestion. That was one of several arguments. Communism is often a bugaboo, even used today in political campaigns.


While pro-fluoridation speakers and organizers did their thing, usually standing before a community club gathering of 50 to 100 people and explaining the benefits of fluoridating our water, the antis would mix with the crowd as it assembled or was leaving and bend the ears of anyone who would listen.


And the fluoridation opponents loved me, believing that as a reporter covering the meeting they could lobby me into including their side of the story in my report. Which, out of fairness, I would do. 


So the communist plot would find its way into my stories along with the scientific evidence that fluoridation would save the teeth of every child because cavities would soon disappear. That sounded pretty good to me, but I listened to the anti fluoridation people nevertheless.


I remember one prominent woman — her husband was a well known city official not involved in the campaign — trying to bend my ear at every meeting and who presented to me the most unique argument of all against fluoridating our water. After the usual claims that our health would be ruined and the communists were behind it she said (and this is a pretty accurate quote recalled from so many years ago): “Albert Einstein’s nephew in Seattle is against it.”


Well now, I didn’t know that Albert Einstein had a nephew anywhere, including Seattle, but maybe. I think I did the woman the favor of not including that argument in my story in the next day’s paper. Hope so.


I can’t recall the means by which the whole thing played out. There might have been a citywide vote approving it. In any event, they started fluoridating our water eventually, have been doing so for more than half a century, the dentists didn’t go out of business, and I’m not aware of any communist cells in Duluth cropping up in that period, although there were plenty 30 or 40 years earlier, before anyone even heard of fluoridation.


As for me, I can say I have been ingesting fluoride here in Duluth the whole time and I’m still going strong in my efforts to support Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin gang as well as keeping my Red flag flying, polishing up my hammer and sickle lapel pin and committing Marx’s Manifesto to memory.


So you can see fluoridation of drinking water has no deleterious effects at all to speak of.


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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Duluth lags behind on Proud Boys, conspiracies...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune on Saturday, February20

 One of the problems we have here in Duluth is that it seems like we’re always behind the times — not in step with what’s going on in the rest of the country.


Right when such issues as “conspiracy theories” are a really a hot thing in other parts of the (not very) United States of America, we don’t even have any. We’ll take care of that later in this important column.


But first, you also hear a lot about this boisterous jingoistic camo clad group known as the “Proud Boys,” and what do we have here? A bunch of timid fellows who call themselves the “Shamed Boys.” They meet on alternating Wednesdays in the basement — of course, the basement — of the former YWCA (Young Women’s Chastity Alliance) headquarters, abandoned in the 1960s.


I was introduced to a Shamed Boy recently at a COVID-19 mask wearing fashion show sponsored by a local philanthropy under proper social distancing conditions. Besides a paisley mask, he was wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt bearing the inscription: “Go Ahead and Tread on Me.” I was wearing my buffalo plaid mask.


“How’s it happen that you call your group Shamed Boys?” I asked the neatly turned out fellow whose mask bore the inscription “Leave Me Alone if Possible.” My mask is inscribed “Bigfoot Lives.”


“Well, we’re ashamed of the way things are going in this country, all the riots and stuff like that,” he said. “We’re ashamed that the politicians can’t get along and nothing gets done in this country. We’re perturbed as heck and hope we don’t have to take it anymore.”


I could see his point. I’d been feeling a little ashamed myself, and thought maybe I should join the group, although Wednesdays are choir practice in normal times when there’s no global pandemic threatening, among other things, choral singing. We’ll see when it’s over.


Meanwhile, we have to address our conspiracy theory — elsewhere labeled QAnon — shortage problem. While they’re gaining currency in Congress and elsewhere, we don’t have any here in Duluth at all. Other parts of the country are swimming in them and we’re frozen out up here in the north. I think it’s time we came up with a few to get in step with current trends.


And, of course, we have to keep in mind that our conspiracy theories will be accepted as gospel truth by some readers of this, a number of whom could use them as a basis for mounting political campaigns or rising up against the government, or else they aren’t really conspiracy theories, right? Good.


So let’s get started. We’ll call them DAnon (D for Duluth, get it?) conspiracy theories.


DAnon No. 1 — Everyone thinks our Enger Tower, atop the Duluth hill, is an innocuous tourist attraction and a good place from which to view the city from above. That’s what it appears to be, but it’s not really just a tourist trap.


People believe it is named for a dead Norwegian furniture dealer, but ENGER really stands for Electronic Notification Gyroscope for Emergency Reconnaissance. The tower is wired to communicate messages to a subversive naval alt-right nationalist group known as the Proud Buoys (naval branch of the landlubber Proud Boys) out on Lake Superior plotting to attack Duluth beneath the winter ice. (See DAnon No. 2.)


DAnon No. 2 — During World War II agents from Hitler’s Germany smuggled parts for a submarine (U Boat) through rural Canada for assembly in a remote cove of Lake Superior. The purpose of the submarine was to attack iron ore shipping on the big lake but the war came to an end before the submarine was ever used. The German agents were captured and sent to Remer, Minn., to cut timber, and several married local women. But that’s another story.


The assembled submarine remained in the remote cove until recent years when the seafaring Proud Buoys commandeered it and are conspiring to attack the massive installations of the Salvation Navy on the Duluth waterfront after sneaking through the Duluth ship canal beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge under water and ice in the dark of night. (See DAnon No. 3.) 


DAnon No. 3 — The Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge figures strongly in our final DAnon. Duluthians and tourists love our bridge. It is an iconic symbol of everything Duluth, with all of its ups and downs, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is the most photographed single object in Minnesota. But what people don’t notice is a pipe running up one end of the bridge, across the top, and down the other end. The pipe is a conduit for all of the raw sewage from Park Point, making it the most photographed sewage pipe in the western hemisphere. Put that in your sewage pipe and smell it.


Hold it! That’s no conspiracy theory; it’s true.


Never mind.


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