Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reader Troubles...


This is a note from Jim's techie wife...

Well, I'm really not a techie. It's just that I help with that part of doing Jim's blog. Neither of us are very adept at this. Jim likes to write and I like to help him get his writing "out there."

If you use a reader program (like Google Reader) to read Jim's blog and are not getting updated writings, please let us know.

We subscribe to "Google Reader" and read our favorite blogs that way. We know a number of you also do the same with Google Reader or another form of a Reader program. We are noticing that ever since I plunged into using Feedburner to try to understand more about Jim's Blog and its readers, the Google Reader we use is not updating his blog material. (The latest post on the old Pontiac retiring is the post that does not appear no matter what I've tried.)

Are you having any trouble with accessing Jim's newest post updates on your reader program? If you are, let us know. If you're not, but have some good tips to help a tired brain, please pass them on.

Hey, it's been nice to visit out loud. Happy blogging!
Voula (not Blanche) Heffernan

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pontiac Without Tears

By Jim Heffernan

First they came for the Plymouth, and I did not speak out because I did not drive a Plymouth. Then they came for the Oldsmobile, but I did not speak out because I sold my one Oldsmobile years ago. Then they came for the Pontiac, and I am finally speaking out.

Not that I care that much that General Motors announced last week it is scaling back its nameplates to Cadillac, Buick, GMC and Chevrolet, and dropping Pontiac except as a “niche” car.

What’s a niche car? A car driven by a German philosopher?

The only reason I bring all this up is that it seems so incredible that certain things that seemingly have been around forever and were likely to remain a part of our lives forever can suddenly disappear. No Pontiacs? It’s like saying there is no Santa Claus, or that peanut butter might be unsafe for human consumption, or that those big, tall banks in New York City, with fancy plazas and imposing signs above them, are insolvent.

Here’s a letter I never received:

“Dear Mr. Blogger, my name is Virginia and my little friends say there will be no more Pontiacs. My father says to go on the Internet and ask. He says that the Internet knows everything now. So I ask you, will there be no more Pontiacs?”

Yes, Virginia, there will be no more Pontiacs (or bananas). We will only have memories of this middle-range GM automobile that in its day had a reputation for being the hottest thing on four wide-track wheels.

It had several incarnations, but starting in the late ‘50s (after they dumped the straight-eight engine and installed a high-horsepower and huge cubic inch V8), the Pontiac was the car to own if you knew what was important in life: Burning the rubber off your rear tires on takeoff, beating the car next to you in an impromptu drag race at a traffic signal, or cruising the highways at upwards of 100 mph, drinking gas through dual four-barrel carbs like a desert rat at an oasis.

I owned two Pontiacs, one a 1964 Grand Prix two-door hardtop with an engine so powerful it could pull a steam locomotive into history. On the highway, if you weren’t watching the speedometer carefully, it would creep out of the 80s and into the 90s mph without straining. Highway cops would not accept the excuse that the car was speeding, not the driver, when they pinched you. This was back in the days when cops pinched woman drivers, too.

My other Pontiac was a 1969 Catalina convertible with an eight-track tape player in the dashboard and a wide-track stance at the wheelbase. It also would go very fast, but I was a family man by then, so I tried to keep in under the century mark on the highway for the sake of the children.

Long before Pontiacs were considered “hot” cars (in 1958 some models like Bonneville had side chrome sculpted like a space rocket) Pontiacs were distinguished by chrome stripes running up the center of the hood and down the trunk like the centerline on a highway. Also, the hood ornament was an amber sculpture of the face of a noble Native American, presumably Chief Pontiac, after whom the car was named. The chief’s face lit up when the lights were turned on. You don’t see that kind of thing on cars anymore.

Maybe if they still had stripes and the hood ornament they could have saved Pontiac. Maybe not.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Left-handed Commentary...

By Jim Heffernan

I’ve discovered I have something very personal in common with President Barack Obama. We’re both overhanded left-handers. By that I mean not only do we write with our left hands (see him sign the stimulus bill on TV), but we position our pen hand ABOVE the writing.

Got that? Maybe all of you ordinary right-handers have noticed it in some, but not all, left-handed writers. Some left-handers position their wrist and hand below the writing line, like right-handers, which, to me, is cheating.

Once in school – Duluth’s Lincoln Elementary – a high official from the Board of Education came to our classroom, noticed with alarm how I positioned my hand when I wrote, sat right down at my desk with me and tried to get me to change – not change handedness, but to write with my left hand below the writing. It didn’t take. I went right back to my old practice as soon as he went back downtown to do whatever he did when he wasn’t trying to change 8-year-olds’ writing methods.

But back to Obama. There is a problem -- the only one I see in his entire presidency so far (guess who I voted for). He wears his wristwatch on his left – writing – wrist. Check out that TV bill-signing again. There he is, his hand and wrist extended above the bill, with a big wristwatch clunking along behind.

As an older overhanded left-hander, I advise the president to doff the watch on his left wrist and move it to his right wrist, where it won’t get in the way when he’s signing bills. Maybe you’ve noticed that virtually all right-handed people wear wristwatches on their left wrists. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for left-handed people to wear their watches on the right wrist?

It does to me, and I hope the president reads this blog. I’m sure he does.

Obama is too young to have worried about other concerns in being an overhanded left-hander, but I’m not. When I was in school (see above) our desks had inkwell holes, and every so often during Palmer-method penmanship instruction Mr. McKay, the janitor, would show up with a big bottle of ink and fill each little ink well on our desks. Then we would be given pens with pointed tips to dip in the ink and, as best we could, write stuff in artful cursive.

This is not something for an overhanded left-hander to try. With the hand and wrist ABOVE and following the writing, two things happen: The hand gets full of ink, and the writing gets hopelessly smeared. You can tell from the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have been an overhanded left-hander. If I had written the declaration (I’m not THAT old) we would still be English subjects. Nevertheless, English was my favorite subject in school. Penmanship was not.

The introduction of ballpoint pens (like the Paper Mate Pen, “with the piggyback refill built right in”) in the 1940s saved me, of course, but the early models tended to smear for left-handers anyway.

So here’s the deal: Obama is said to be interested in, and good at, compromise to achieve results satisfactory to most people -- all Republicans being the only exception. In that spirit, I propose that he continue to be an overhanded left-hander but that he switch his watch to his right wrist, which would be a signal to the right that he is willing to compromise on things in general. It would be a subtle message, but it could achieve big results.

As an aside, the late President Gerald Ford was an overhanded left-hander who also wore his wristwatch on his left hand. He was never elected president. (See history: He achieved the presidency by osmosis when Richard Millstone Nixon resigned, then lost an election bid.)

That’s all for today from a right-brained left-winger. Surely you could tell.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mash Revisited...

Today’s (Feb. 16) Duluth News Tribune web site includes, in Andrew Krueger's “News Tribune Attic” feature, an interview story I did in 1974 with Larry Linville of the MASH TV-show cast. Linville, who played Maj. Burns on MASH, came to Duluth as part of a nationwide tour publicizing the show.

I remember the interview well -- it was held in a conference room at KDLH TV, the CBS affiliate. There were several others -- four or five -- in the room, a few of them just fans of MASH who worked at KDLH. It was difficult to interview him under those circumstances, with the others fawning all over him. That explains why there are almost no direct quotes in the feature story.

Linville was a total jerk, kind of surly and condescending at the same time. Maybe he was tired. He made a big deal about how he had attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and was a serious actor and not just some sitcom character. Must have been a frustrated Shakespearian. None of that is reflected in the story.

I was also hampered by the fact that I wasn't a fan of MASH, and had only seen the program once -- the week Linville came to town -- as preparation for interviewing him. I thought MASH imposed Vietnam-era values regarding war on the Korean War, when those values were not widespread in America in 1950-'53.

I recall that Linville died a few years ago, so I can't libel him here.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Little Trash Talk...

By Jim Heffernan

As perceptive readers (i.e. the unblind) might have noticed, I am spending February and part of March in Florida. We are in what is called “The Panhandle,” although it doesn’t look any more like any panhandle I’ve ever seen than the Big and Little Dippers look like any double dippers I have known.

(Historical digression: The Big Dipper was not killed in a plane crash shortly after performing in Duluth 50 years ago; that was the Big Bopper, who looked more like a dipper than a panhandle.)

But to my point. It might come as a surprise to northern Minnesotans – any Minnesotan, really – to learn that they do not formally recycle around here, or informally recycle for that matter. I saw a billboard the other day with the word R-E-C-Y-C-L-E emblazoned across it, and in small letters below it said “learn how…” and offered a Web site.

Those of us who live in Northeastern Minnesota do not need to learn how to recycle. I suppose there are a few scofflaws the environmental police haven’t rounded up yet, but most of us are pretty careful about recycling.

In our home, we are VERY careful about it. Down here on the Florida Panhandle you throw everything into the garbage that you would normally recycle at home in Minnesota. Beer cans, plastic milk bottles, newspapers, magazines, cardboard package wrappings – they all go into the garbage here with the spent coffee grounds and gooey table scraps.

When you come here from the Duluth area, it is somewhat liberating and strangely exciting to suddenly and almost guiltlessly toss recyclables into the trash willy-nilly – you have no choice. It feels almost deliciously sinful if you are used to dividing up your recyclables and putting them out each week.

As I stated, in our household we are careful about recycling everything recyclable, and that includes that little cylindrical cardboard core, or axle, on toilet tissue rolls. Taking the trouble to recycle those has always seemed a bit much to me, but we do it because it is cardboard and we are responsible recyclers. After all, I am a former Boy Scout.

The other day when that very matter came to my attention, I realized that with the empty TP axle in hand, I could simply throw it in the wastepaper basket, the contents of which would end up in the garbage can and into Florida’s solid waste stream.

So that is the great thing about Florida: You don’t have to recycle toilet paper roll cores. Come on down.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On the Beach...

Greetings from the Gulf of Mexico!
As you know, I'm taking a winter vacation in Florida. Just as our weather here was warming up, it's become rather balmy in Duluth. Go figure. I learned from the weather reports that all of the warm air from the Gulf caused the warm-up back home. A nice gift from the south.  The moon was full and the Gulf surf wild last evening. It was still churning as we walked the beach today. We've noticed a unique "beach art" piece lodged in the sand in the beach in front of our rental condo. It obviously was constructed by a creative person with some amount of engineering skill as the structure is solidly anchored so that it withstands high tide and winds. It's made of driftwood, shells, rope and other gifts brought in by the sea. A candy life saver and toy car are discretely added, obviously of significance to the creator. Today a beach comber added a wind sock. Kinda neat. More later...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bye-Bye Blago, Hello Ice Storm...

By Jim Heffernan

I believe I was actually in Illinois on the day Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached by that state’s Senate. I wouldn’t have noticed except that a newspaper headline in a motel lobby stated (flatly): “Bye-Bye Blago.”

We were driving through the state en route to a warmer climate, seeking respite from the Twin Ports’ grueling January.

What does it feel like to be in a state when the governor is impeached? Cold and drab if it is Illinois in winter. Everybody thinks Chicago when they think Illinois, but it’s a long, narrow state that takes a day to drive across if you observe the 65-mile-an-hour speed limit. I don’t.

You have to pay toll to drive “free”ways in Illinois, which might explain why the roads are the worst of any state between Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico, but you’d be confounded trying to explain it.

Watching the Blagojevich drama transpire in recent months, I had hoped I would never have to spell his name in public, but here it is. Before I began writing this I went to Google and put in “Illinois governor” and up came the correct spelling. But the name doesn’t roll off the fingers like the names of other governors – say Pawlenty or Palin. I have to look at the previous reference every time I repeat it.

I agree the ex-governor is not helped by his hairstyle, and that might have contributed to his demise. But I’d trade him in a minute, for some very obvious reasons. Then there’s that first name – Rod. It’s a fine name – I have a brother with that name – but it is not the name of a successful politician.

Rod is short for Rodney, one assumes, unless Blagojevich’s full name is Roderick, which would be even worse for a politician. The late Rodney Dangerfield ruined the name for politics for at least a generation, although I doubt it’ll ever be gubernatorial again, much less presidential. For that you need a name like Barack.

But enough about Blago (that truncation rolls off the fingers). Once you jostle through Illinois on the day the governor is impeached, you enter Kentucky if you are going in the direction we were. My, how pretty. Ice-encrusted trees glistening beneath a golden late afternoon sun. What luck to be in Kentucky at such a beautiful time.

Oh, and look, ice is covering the power poles and power lines too. Heavens, it looks like the planet Krypton, where Marlon Brando ruled in a white toga in an early “Superman” movie. All ice, no fire. Gee, what are those helicopters with red crosses on them doing overhead?

Soon it was dark, though, as merrily we rolled along. Very dark. Homes and farms along the way – no welcoming lights. Oh my, we could use some gasoline. Here’s a town. Black. Not an ounce of electricity anywhere; some National Guard guys in camo glowering at intrepid motorists who dared invade their territory. (I know electricity doesn’t come by the ounce, but we were getting desperate.)

Back on the main highway (the roadways were clear) and with that funny little feeling in the stomach – the one that signals potential hardship or danger – we continued on, warily watching the gas gauge. Ah, and after another half hour or so, a town with lights. Safe. Well, yes, but not a room to rent in the whole place. Booked full of ice storm refugees. Keep going (after filling the tank).

Goodness, what’s this? Bumper-to-bumper traffic. More refugees from the massive ice storm creeping along the freeway for miles at 10-15 mph, everyone looking for refuge. The scene reminded of newsreels of great populations fleeing the onslaught of an invader, although there were no horse carts. No exodus is really valid without horse carts.

We found a place in Tennessee, blessed Tennessee, a state I never thought I’d love, and then on down the Hank Williams Highway the next morning beneath bright sunshine, full tank, full stomach, full of bologna. Well, not that, I hope.

Boy, it sure was good to get away from Duluth’s grueling winter and go down south to Dixie, the land of cotton. Good times there are not forgotten. Not for a long, long time.

Warmer near the Gulf...

Hello bloggers... Just for the record, I'm here on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The sun is shining although a bit on the cool side for this climate today. But... it really is "warmer near the Gulf!" Jim

Monday, February 2, 2009

MN Book Awards Kudos...

Pretty exciting news from St. Paul. The Minnesota Book Awards list of finalists was announced last week and my publisher is on that list! Local author/publisher Tony Dierckins was selected as a finalist for his book, Crossing the Canal. Tony put in many hours of love in that book. It's a definitive history of Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge, filled with fascinating historical accounts of the bridge as well as some pretty interesting folk lore. The book includes artistic photos by local photographers as well and is a wonderful read for any household. Congrats to Tony!

I was happy to notice also that an up and coming young Iron Range writer/blogger, Aaron Brown, was nominated for his book, Overburden. I expect we'll hear more from this talented writer in the future.