Saturday, April 6, 2024

How last winter became a dud...

Written By Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune 04-06-24

 It’s been a rough several months for Old Man Winter. Things didn’t go the way they always had in the past for the ageless leader of our snowiest season.


For one thing, his relationship with the Queen of the Snows had deteriorated to the point where all they could agree on for winter 2023-24 were a few flurries.


Old Man Winter had been planning to bring a normal winter to the upper Midwest, just as he had done for the past several hundred decades. A smattering of snow in November to prepare everyone for a couple of good dumps of snow in early December in preparation for a white Christmas.


“That’s how we’ve always done it,” the old man complained to neighbor Jack Frost. “Then that Snow Queen started interfering. She wanted to hold off — who knows why? So, what happens? No white Christmas. Was anybody dreaming of a brown Christmas?”


The old man shifted his considerable weight on the iceberg where his massive throne rises from the ice of the Arctic Ocean. The Snow Queen spends her time nearby on a cake of ice that also plays host to a couple of polar bears and an igloo.


“I’m not getting any younger,” said the Snow Queen. “I’m getting sick and tired of dumping snow on so many older folks who have to get out and shovel all the time. What’s the harm of one winter without measurable snow?”


Jack Frost didn’t see it that way. “What’s with all that above freezing weather?” complained Frost. “I haven’t iced up a window in months.”


North Pole observers say the powers that control our winters have been in gridlock since late 2023 when the cold season began and winter was supposed to get under way.


“Nobody told me we weren’t going to have a white Christmas,” said St. Nicholas, who lives nearby with a bunch of elves in a rustic log house. “I was all set to make my usual Christmas Eve run on my sleigh delivering toys to children when the reindeer balked.”


“How’re we supposed to land on snowless roofs?” asked red-nosed Rudolph, spokesdeer for Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and the rest.


Santa knew they had a problem. Wheels instead of runners on the sleigh? He didn’t know what to do so he contacted Old Man Winter for help.


“I can’t get the Snow Queen to budge,” Old Man Winter responded to Santa’s appeal.


Well, to make a long story short, Santa and the reindeer went ahead with their Christmas journey in spite of the lack of snow, but it just wasn’t the same. They found themselves dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones they used to know.


Enter January and the new year. Still no snow to speak of and Old Man Winter was getting more and more agitated with the Snow Queen’s recalcitrance. “Holy smokes, we can’t let North America go the whole winter without snow,” Old Man Winter scolded.


“Try me,” responded the Snow Queen.


So, it went through January and February, which even saw a couple of thaws, not that there was anything much to thaw out. Yards were brown, streets and highways were clear. Jack Frost was disconsolate.


Then came March, the month everybody knows traditional winter starts to let up, although it can sometimes be pretty severe.


Old Man Winter’s iceberg was starting to show signs of melting when the Snow Queen drifted over on her ice cake. She seemed down in the dumps.


“What’s up?” asked the old man.


“It seems like I’ve lost my purpose in life,” said the Snow Queen. “Everybody says what’s the use of having a Snow Queen if it never snows?”


Old Man Winter breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s not too late, your majesty,” he said. “It’s still March, for heaven’s sake.”


So, the two of them put their heads together and hatched a plan. They’d dump a couple of feet of snow on traditional Holy Week and make it a white Easter. Jack Frost was pleased with that.


But St. Nicholas was not. “Who was dreaming of a white Easter?” he declared. The Easter Bunny declined to comment.


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, March 2, 2024

A quick ride through history with Jesse James...

Jesse James Potrait-Wikipedia
Written by Jim Heffernan/ DuluthNewsTribune/3-2-24

Jesse James is dead. Dead as a doornail, as Charles Dickens put it about Scrooge’s business partner Marley (read “A Christmas Carol” sometime). Dickens elaborated a bit saying that he doesn’t know what there is particularly dead about a doornail, pointing out that the coffin nail is deadlier. Amen.


No question about it though, Jesse James is long gone (murdered by a comrade in 1882), but I didn’t realize until recently HOW long gone.


For the record, and, apparently, for the edification of some members of Generation Z, Jesse James is America’s most famous old west outlaw — his gang robbed trains, banks and stage coaches. He has been portrayed in numerous movies over the years on his way to becoming a mythical figure whose name is known — I had thought — to every warm- and cold-blooded American and those in between.


It isn’t. Jesse James is really dead, I learned recently at the counter of a Duluth fast food outlet. Placing my order to a young man — looked to be 18 or 19 years old — he asked my name to identify the order when it came up. As I often do, instead of using my three-syllable last name, I said, “James.” It’s my first name, of course, but the last name of some people — like Jesse.


Here’s the scene:


CLERK — Can I have your name?


ME — Umm, James. Like in Jesse.


CLERK — What?


ME — James is actually my first name, and it was the last name of Jesse James.


CLERK — Who?


ME — You know, Jesse James the famous outlaw in the old west.


CLERK — (Displaying a blank stare) Never heard of him.


ME — What? You’ve never heard of Jesse James?


CLERK — Nope. Doesn’t register.


Wow. I turned on my heel and retreated to a nearby corner of the place to wait to be called to pick up my order, not sure if they’d call out James or Jesse or both.


As I stood there I began wondering if Generation Z (people born between 1990 and 2012 including all of my grandchildren) have a sufficient grasp of history, which is very important, according to registered historians.


Accordingly, today I will devote this space to refreshing some readers’ knowledge of history (readers older than 19) and lecturing younger readers (if there are any who don’t get all their information from their phones) on important aspects of our history they might not be aware of.


If they don’t know who Jesse James was, here are some other important names in what used to be considered our shared history.


Let’s begin with Christopher Columbus, who sailed the ocean blue in nineteen-hundred and forty-two. Under the sponsorship of Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus outfitted a ship called the Mayflower and eventually landed in Ohio, where he founded a city and named it after himself. When Queen Isabella later visited northern Minnesota in search of wild rice and gold, they named a town after her too. This was before the arrival of Frank Hibbing and Father Emil Biwabik, spiritual leader of trappers, hunters and hairdressers.


Onward. A French guy who called himself Daniel Greysolon Plaza Sieur DuLhut became an explorer and paddled a canoe as far as he could go on Lake Superior, landing in Canal Park to visit his Grandma. He looked at the high hills rising from the shoreline and declared, “I hereby declare this place shall be called Duluth.” A pint-sized French voyageur accompanying him said, “But Sieur, don’t you mean DuLhut?” to which DuLhut rebuked, “Don’t get wise, bubble eyes,” coining a phrase for the ages.


Several years after that, a Virginia planter named George Washington became “the father of our country,” proudly known as the Simon Bolivar of North America. Reports that his false teeth were made of wood have not been substantiated, although he ate corn-on-the-cob with a chain saw. He was most respected, though, for chopping down a cherry tree as a youth and admitting it when his father, Denzel, questioned him about it, saying, “I cannot tell a lie.” No politician has followed that dictum in all subsequent American history.


Oh, geez, I’m running out of space. Here’s one more: Paul Bunyan was a Minnesota lumberjack who chopped down all the trees more than 100 years ago. He traveled with a small pet, Babe, a big blue oxymoron. He is widely credited with digging the Mississippi River but not rock ’n’ roll music.


I hope this enlightens Generation Z on some important aspects of American history they might not be aware of. It also poses the question: When Generation Z, the last letter of the alphabet, ages out of that category, what are they going to call the following generation?


As a member of the “Silent Generation,” I want to know.


In the meantime: Shhhhh.


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, February 3, 2024

So proudly we hail our new state flag...

Source: Minnesota State Emblems Redesign
Commission via Courthouse News
Written by Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune 1/3/24

Here’s the latest fake news that’s unfit to print from this date in 2029 (five years from now).

 DATELINE ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. C. Elmer Polka today activated the Army National Guard to assist local law enforcement throughout the state in quelling ongoing riots and street fighting over the adoption of a new state flag five years ago.


Minnesota adopted its original flag in 1893 but by 2023 many citizens and aliens believed it had become outdated. It contained the state seal and images of a farmer plowing a field with a Native American on horseback who was, some criticized, riding off into the sunset. Inscribed on the seal were the French words “etoile du nord” which many believe means “toilet of the north.”


Union plumbers and others felt this was demeaning and the Legislature authorized the creation of a new flag, appointing a commission to select one. Word went out to the citizenry to submit ideas for a new flag, and some 2,000 responded.


After much deliberation, the commission selected a flag with a broad image of the state of Minnesota containing an eight-pointed star (of the north) and a large field of blue. That was it.


Many, including most registered Republicans, were not satisfied with the selection, especially constituents in “greater” Minnesota, some of whom have since advocated splitting the state down the middle with the western portion seceding to “the Dakotas,” becoming Dakotasota. The eastern half would become Minnesconsin. The metro area should be renamed Minnemoscow, according to some rural county-level leaders who suggested a red flag be adopted there.


Objections to the new flag were manifold. Brewing interests were upset over the blue field on the new flag which many interpreted to represent “The Land Of Sky-Blue Waters,” a promotional slogan representing Hamm’s, “the beer refreshing.” “What’s Grain Belt supposed to do with the whole state advertising Hamm’s?” asked Grain Belt president Walter B. “Whoopie” Kusheon. “Why not replace the blue with amber waves of grain?”


 A spokesperson for Budweiser beer, Charles “Chuck” E. Cheesehorst, suggested the flag should include a team of draft horses pulling a wagon, an image steeped in Minnesota agricultural and brewing history.


Elsewhere, the Rev. Bartholomew Saturn, spiritual leader of Midwestern Heavenly Astronomers LLC, objected to the star on the flag, saying it resembles the star of Bethlehem that was followed by three wise men astride camels to the birthplace of Christianity. “It violates the separation of church and State of Minnesota,” said the Rev. Mr. Saturn, adding, “we might as well put camels on the flag. Or start smoking them again.”


Disputing sides in the flag controversy have taken their grievances to the state Supreme Court following violent outbreaks in several communities resulting in open street confrontations with participants wielding hockey sticks and curling brooms, but no curling irons. Deployed National Guardsmen and Women have used fire hoses to quell the violence in season.


Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ducks Unmolested organization called for inclusion of a duck on any new flag. “In the past it was de rigueur to depict a loon on our flag and our seal” said DU spokesman Mallard W. Coot. “What about ducks? You can’t roast a loon. Besides, they spend half the year in Louisiana. Let them put a loon on their flag,” stated Coot.


A state spokesperson, John Jacob “Jingleheimer” Johnson, said in a statement that a new state seal depicts a proud loon, and that critics of it “are a little loony, no insult intended.” It has not been determined if “loony” constitutes an insult, an issue expected to reach the state Supreme Court.


“What about wolves?” howled wolf advocate “Wolfman” Jack Drool, who heads BBWCAW United (acronym stands for Big Bad Wolves Can Always Win). “Our wolves are more popular than loons and ducks. We need wolves to blame when hunters don’t shoot enough deer. Put wolves on the flag. There are more wolves in Minnesota than habitués of urban bars. In fact, there are quite a few wolves IN those bars.” 


U.S. President Amy Klobuchar called for peace. “We’re the Midwest, not the Middle East,” she reminded. Klobuchar, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, was elected to the White House last year, defeating perennial presidential candidate Nikki Haley in the first all-female race for president.


Haley’s campaign faltered when she responded to a question asking what caused World War II by not mentioning Hitler’s Germany or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Film at 10. 


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, January 6, 2024

When intelligence really was artificial...

 Written by Jim Heffernan for the DuluthNewsTribune on 1-6-23

 Let’s start the new year out with a few ruminations on education. Zzzzzz? Maybe not.

We’ll be taking a different look at Artificial Intelligence than the one we (that’d be me) addressed in August, neither of which betrays any understanding whatsoever of what is referred to as “AI” actually is.


But I like what the words Artificial Intelligence imply because I want to say I wish something called artificial intelligence had been around when I was a school kid. It would have explained a lot. Like why I couldn’t read well in early grades or do math. I thought a multiplication table was a table in the hospital where they delivered twins.


I figured I was smart enough, though. It’s just that my intelligence was artificial, although it wasn’t called that back then.


Which brings me to my point: If there is artificial intelligence there has to be artificial stupidity, right? It’s Newton’s law. You don’t hear as much about that, but I’m quite familiar with it. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton also invented a popular cookie with figs, the opposite of which is the chocolate chip.


I came to believe my lackluster performance in early classrooms was due to the fact that I was younger than most of the other kids. My parents had gone ahead and started me in kindergarten when I was only four years old. Almost all of the other kids were five, some nearly six and looking around for possible spouses.


I didn’t realize that then, though. I didn’t realize that until sixth grade when several girls suddenly showed up on exercise day (we didn’t have a gym) with early evidence of armpit hair. Checking in the mirror at home, I found no hair at all under my arms. Not a follicle. I think I believed hair was a sign of strength (see Paul Bunyan’s beard), and boys are supposed to be stronger than girls, and how come I don’t have any armpit hair and some of the sixth-grade girls do? There goes football.


So aside from having only artificial intelligence, not the real thing, was I destined to be a hairless weakling? These thoughts did not bode well for the future. Rocket science was out, for example, along with brain surgery and maybe statistical analysis, whatever that was, not to mention the boxing ring. Wrestling? Maybe.


It took me awhile, but I credit the small deer “Bambi” for teaching me to read. I was taken to the movie by my parents and loved it so much I got the “Bambi” comic book. Looking through it I suddenly realized I was reading the words in those clouds above the characters’ heads. Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk said stuff I could understand. Hmm. I guess I can read, I thought. And I could.


My life was transformed but I wasn’t quite ready for “War and Peace.” For that I’d need hair under my arms, and maybe in other places. I did try to tackle “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” thinking it was an underwater baseball story. That takes a bit of artificial stupidity.


But I soldiered on, junior high (algebra took me by surprise — letters like A, B and X instead of numbers). High school geometry was a blast with all those triangles — isosceles, equilateral, etcetera. I had thought Isosceles was the Egyptian pharaoh who followed Pharaoh Kaopectate, but no. More artificial stupidity.


My high school geometry teacher instructed that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but added, while winking, that some Duluth students “prefer the boulevard.” That’s what some people called curvy Skyline Drive, at one time a favorite lovers’ overlook. That’s all I remember about geometry.


World History was difficult to stay awake in for someone with artificial intelligence (or stupidity). When the teacher asked me the name of Alexander the Great’s horse, and I said, “Silver,” there were repercussions.


Eventually, of course, my armpits began spouting hair, along with my face and even my chest, so I decided to go to college. I liked college, sitting around the student center smoking cigarettes between classes discussing weighty world problems like what’s happening on Saturday night or where to go for the best pizza.  (Doctor’s note: He quit smoking decades ago.)


Just about everybody smoked in those days. Every so often attractive young women employed by tobacco companies would wander through the student center smilingly handing out free cigarettes to the student loungers and card players, just like in the Vegas casinos in the old days. What’s not to like about college?


What about learning stuff? I took a lot of English, history, economics and political science courses where I learned about Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin and Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher/economist who, when he died almost 200 years ago, had his body stuffed and placed in a glass case that is still on display. What else do you need to know in life?


Well, here’s something: I found the courses in economic thought enlightening. The very bases of economics, the professor said, are the factors of production: Land, labor, capital and entrepreneur. I figured they were important to know for the final exam, but couldn’t get them through my head until I adapted them to a popular song of the day, “An Affair to Remember.”


My version went: “Our love affair, may it long endure, through land, labor, capital and entrepreneur.” That worked out fine for the test but wasn’t so hot on curvy Skyline Drive, though. See what I mean about artificial intelligence?


NEXT TIME; Artificial Respiration (AR). So, you can breathe easy.


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