The Toronto SlutWalk

I want to go to Toronto this weekend.

SlutWalk, a beautifully conceived and organized protest against this kind of women-hating, starts at central Queen’s Park at 1:30 this Sunday and winds up at Toronto Police Headquarters at 40 College St. Wear anything you like, the organizers told me when I emailed them. Because it isn’t what you’re wearing that matters, it’s that cops, and indeed rapists, will assess you whatever you wear. Their assessment will invariably be different from yours.

SlutWalk will feature people in all sorts of garments and gear, dressed for the office, clubbing, yoga, walking the dog, whatever it is that people wear as they go about their lives not asking to be raped. It is a message of love and strength to all women (and men), especially those who have been assaulted at the core of their being.

Well, I want to go to Toronto as long as I don’t have to file a police report about being sexually assaulted. This is what set off the SlutWalk.

“Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” Toronto police Const. Michael Sanguinetti told a class on rape at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Yes, he said this recently. Yes, he said this as part of a class at a law school. No, attitudes like these are not remotely uncommon or marginalized.

Heather Mallick, a Toronto columnist who intends to participate in the walk, explains why that reasoning is wrong and harms victims. Along with that, I think it’s time to remind people how we actually prevent rape.

Circumvention Tactics for Information Guerillas in the Culture War

maymay delivered a talk last weekend on best practices for getting around the censorship that sex-positive sites face, whether their mission is entertainment or education. I wasn’t at the talk, but he’s helpfully posted the video and text (potential for NSFW material in the sidebar). As he notes, this information is useful for anyone facing censorship of their topic or message.

Censorship also happens in the form of service discrimination, not merely content blocking. For instance, after Wikileaks began releasing US diplomatic cables in December, 2010, it faced a series of extrajudicial attacks: Amazon kicked Wikileaks off its servers, Everydns.net withdrew its domain name, and PayPal froze WikiLeaks’ account. The amazing thing about this is that each and every one of these attacks has a sexual censorship precedent.

In other words, if you didn’t see this coming, you weren’t talking about sex loudly enough.

The folks who published the NYC Sex Blogger Calendar have had their PayPal account frozen and their funds seized not once, but twice, before they decided to ditch the service way back in 2008. Web celeb Violet Blue’s “sex-positive URL shortener,” vb.ly, had its domain name seized by the Libyan government in October, 2010. And just one month before Amazon cut off WikiLeaks, there was a big hoopla over Amazon’s initial defense of, then banning of a “Pedophile book” from their virtual shelves. Interestingly, Amazon initially said it wouldn’t pull the book because that would amount to censorship. Eventually, Amazon capitulated to public pressure and, of course, now the book is gone.

What do we do about this? Go find out.

Duck and Cover

The older I get, the more diverse are the ages of my friends. It provides interesting insight on how rapidly bits of the world are changing.

I was talking to a friend who’s about a decade older than I am. I don’t remember exactly what prompted the subject, but I think the context was a discussion of fear. He said, “When I was a kid, we did ‘duck and cover” drills in school.”

I thought about it for a minute before responding. “We never did drills. I think we knew there was no point. If someone decided to push the button, we were just all going to die. Nothing we could do about it.”

The conversation has sat in the back of my head for a few months, getting fuzzier in its details, percolating. Then I went to the Atomic Testing Museum on our way to touring the Nevada Test Site.

There was a photo of the children in a town near the testing practicing their drills, outside on the ground. There was footage of how manikins fared in test houses built near the blasts. There was a mock-up of a basement blast shelter, complete with a manikin family smiling peacefully.

I wanted to laugh, but it would have been the wrong kind of laughter, and any kind of laughter at all was not what I wanted to be doing with Japanese tourists (no, really) in the museum. So I stopped a little past the diorama and turned to my husband and the friend taking the tour with us. We’re all the same age group for this sort of thing. I told them about the months-old conversation.

They nodded. My husband said, “I checked on a map recently. We’re not too bad off where we are now.”

I looked at him. “If it were just one bomb, one warhead.”

Another nod and a sour face. “Yeah.”

The operable phrase when I was in school was “mutually assured destruction.” Scads of nuclear weapons as a security blanket. I suppose it’s not surprising we found that sort of comfort rather cold. Hey, there’s this guy who calls ketchup a vegetable and names his best hope of defense against a nuclear attack after a fantasy with space trappings and on and on and on. We’re supposed to trust him to understand the full consequences of his actions. Oh. Yay.

The first day of ninth grade social studies class, American government, my teacher announced to the class that it would be run as a democracy. No, he couldn’t tell us how that was going to work because we were going to decide that. No, he couldn’t even tell us the scope of the decisions we’d be making as we voted.

I don’t do pass/fail scenarios with open-ended expectations.

I think he thought it was cute when I turned in my chair to face the wall. A protest! Ooh! Yay, democracy! I don’t think it stayed cute for more than a couple of days, but cute wasn’t my point. If I wasn’t allowed to transfer into the other “advanced” civics class (the school cut us off after one or two people), he could find out how much of a pain democracy could be. Then he, I, and the school could decide what that was worth for a grade.

Very shortly after the year started, all of the ninth-grade classes participated in a nuclear simulation at the same time. Our class split up into nations. Each nation got a set of scenarios: pressure on the borders, powerful foes–internal and external–posed to pounce on any misstep. As a nation, each group decided on their response: pacific, aggressive, or something in between.

Our class blew ourselves up on the first turn. One hour of contemplation, minus however long it took to explain the rules, and we had a nuclear war on our hands.

On the up-side, that was the end of the democracy experiment. A rather grim teacher announced that at the same time he announced we were done with the simulation earlier than anyone else. I have no idea whether it made a difference to me. Most of my political education came from looking up the background on Doonesbury strips and Chad Mitchell Trio songs and testing the claims of politicians and lobbyists.

The one lesson I’ll never forget from that class, however, is how easy it is to convince ourselves that we don’t have any other “real” options. That could be because I’ve never stopped hearing that as a justification for political decisions, particularly for decisions I wouldn’t have made.

I don’t know what difference it made to me or my generation to know it was out of our hands whether we lived or died. It would be easy to claim that the materialism of Generation X stems from nuclear nihilism, but we were too young to set the tone of the 80s. It wasn’t people my age buying DeLoreans, Rolexes, and coke in bulk.

I don’t know that we even had the words to talk about it among ourselves before the situation became less stark. We don’t talk about it now. Talking about our teenage years means talking about social pressures and pop culture. For all I know, it wasn’t that big a deal to anyone else.

Except for that long, quiet trip through a museum and two instant nods. Those tell me I didn’t live through that alone.

Saturday Storytime: Rising Lion—The Lion Bows

Zen Cho is a relatively new published writer. You’d never know it from this story. An excerpt:

Mr. Yu told them about the ghost on the way upstairs, speaking low-voiced in Cantonese.

“Nick bought it with the business’s money. Without our knowledge,” he said. “We hired him because we thought he would understand the British customers better. I suppose it’s not his fault. He was very happy about it. He said it was a bargain to get an antique like that in such good condition. He took it well when we told him no more antiques, but he refuses to get rid of this one. He says it adds to the character of the hotel. Matches the surroundings.” Mr. Yu looked outraged at the thought. “I can tell you that’s not true,” he added. “The rest of the surroundings isn’t haunted. We got priests to bless the house before we moved in. No ghosts left anywhere, knock wood.”

Jia Qi automatically rapped the banister along with Mr. Yu, but Coco was British and did not hold with superstitions. She was only interested in real ghosts.

“How old is the building?” she said.

Keep reading.

Reason 41,000,006 We Need Higher Taxes

On the rich at least. Why? Because they don’t have any idea how to put that money to use productively. Despite the rhetoric, the vast majority of them don’t actually know how to create jobs or even create businesses.

What they do know how to do is put that money “to work.” Well, they know they need to in order to make it grow. They don’t know how. That’s why we got the last tech bubble. That’s why we got the housing bubble. And, hey, look, here we go again.

The hallmarks of a bubble in tech are many, but in general, it is agreed upon that:

  • high valuations without corresponding track records,
  • an increase in the number of deals,
  • lots of hype, media frenzy,
  • turnover and profits no longer matter,
  • the prices of ‘subject’ domains going through the roof,
  • everybody trying to get in on the action,

are all good indicators of a bubble in progress.

Right now, I think it is safe to conclude we’re in a bubble, even if some experts are pretty outspoken in stating the opposite.

Ready for your retirement savings to take another rollercoaster ride?

Taking Our Fear Seriously

In today’s reading, we have Rebecca Watson ready to give up on the internet.

I actually got one point wrong in that video and have wanted to do an update for some time, but every time I try I get another round of comments like the above and I decide it’s not worth my emotional well-being.

I’ve taken to simply ignoring YouTube comments, but for some reason today I responded. I checked out this guy’s profile (warning, autoplay video) and he subscribes to a lot of science stuff, including good friends of mine like Captain Disillusion. I wanted to know what was happening in this guy’s head. Specifically, I wanted to know why someone would call me a bitch and then write something that I basically said in the video (but a bit more eloquently I hope): genital mutilation is wrong, whether on boys or girls.

It’s ugly. If you write about women or read about women or are visibly a woman with opinions on the internet, it’s not going to surprise you. Read it anyway, unless more of that would be bad for you today.

Then The Bloggess takes some time to get serious.

I realize that I write a (satirical) sex column and blog about my life and you might think that’s an invitation to send me creepy emails, but it’s really not. At all. You continue to try to contact me and I continue to ignore you. You send me strange messages that scare me. I realize you’re probably not aware of how you’re affecting other people but you probably need to seek help. And I’m not the person to help you. Talk to your parents. See a doctor. Please. Because my guess is that I’m not the only woman who you’re emailing. And I’m probably not the only one that you’re scaring.

Let me assure you, you don’t know me, and the things you write make my family and myself very, very uncomfortable. I know that’s not your intention but if you don’t stop, I will contact the police.

Jenny also, wisely, tells her readers not to face something like this alone if it happens to them. She tells them to ignore the messages that have told them not to “make a scene.” Smart. Very smart. And needed. I do wish, however, that she’d also taken a moment to remind people to take these stories seriously when they’re the person someone chooses to lean on.

It isn’t easy, knowing what to say when someone tells you they’re scared. Trust me. I know. I’ve heard some incredibly dismissive things from usually thoughtful people when I’ve brought up something like this. I’ve been told some powerfully toxic individuals were “harmless.” I could have collected a thousand variations of “Maybe he just….”

Rebecca’s post has more comments than I care to count referring to “he” or “the commenter” or telling her, “There are good people out there. This is just one guy.” She quoted four bits of nastiness in her post.

Stop this, please. Stop trying to make it better by managing the one person you have some influence over–me (or whoever is complaining). I’m not the problem. Trying to make me think I’m exaggerating isn’t going to make the actual problem any smaller. It’s big. It’s ugly.

If it’s more than you can deal with, how about you just tell me so. You might think a statement like that doesn’t reflect very well on you, but it does a whole lot better than getting into an argument with me about my safety. Or just learn how to say, “That sucks. Can I help?” There’s probably something you can do, and there’s a good chance it’s small.

Even if not, just listening helps immensely. Besides, you never know when you might learn something from it. For example, today’s New York Times reports that the man believed to be behind the 2001 anthrax mailings had a long history of stalking and revenge against women, confessed to various psychiatrists over the years.

The report adds new detail to the F.B.I.’s account of Dr. Ivins’s eccentric and sometimes criminal secret life, including his obsession with a sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and break-ins at some of its chapter offices. It documents his preoccupation with several women, including his two laboratory technicians, his stalking behavior and his penchant for long night drives to mail or drop off packages, often under assumed names.

One of his therapists took this seriously (pdf). Typically, she was then dismissed.

His therapist became so alarmed that she sought legal advice from her practice’s malpractice insurance carrier and made tentative inquiries with the local police department. She later quit the practice because the physician in charge, referred to as Dr. #3 in this report, did not share her concerns about Dr. Ivins’ dangerousness.

The report details a number of ways in which communication breakdowns led to Ivins keeping his security clearance, but if she had been supported in her fears…well, who knows what would have happened. She wasn’t taken seriously, so it didn’t.

Unless you’re dealing with someone of an age that monsters under the bed and in the closet are developmental milestones, the chances are that the women in your life are strong enough and independent enough that they don’t scare easily, much less confess to it. If the behavior aimed at them is getting to them badly enough that they bring it to you, it’s worth not waving away. It’s worth hearing, worth seeing. It’s worth putting together to watch for patterns. It’s worth understanding that there are probably also intangibles that get lost in the telling that would impress you more if you were there.

In other words, it’s worth taking seriously.

At the Nevada Test Site

Prelude and Postscript: Creech AFB

If you watch as we pass, you should get to see them to touch-and-go landings. No disrespect to everyone involved, but those kids who spent all that time with joysticks in their hands….

I. Our Host

“They said Kennedy really wanted to step up testing, and I said, ‘You can’t do that here. It’s not big enough. But the British have been testing at Christmas Island.’

“A couple weeks later, they called me in and said, ‘We need you to go to Christmas Island to set up for XYZ.’

“I went home and handed my wife the checkbook.”

“Did you ever get your checkbook back?”

“Unfortunately, yes, I did. My wife has Alzheimer’s. It’s been a good 51 years, though.”

II. The Protests

One pen for the men. One for the women. Then we’d bus them to the magistrate, and they’d generally be released on their own recognizance. But at that point, they’d be eighty miles away from their personal effects.

I support their right to protest. That’s their privilege. But I wasn’t going to help them more than I had to.

Over twelve hundred people went to jail that day. And that’s another story in itself, but anyway. The protesters estimated their crowd at fifteen thousand. At the time I swore up and down it wasn’t more than twelve, but I really believed them. I think there were fifteen thousand people.

III. Camp Desert Rock

I’ve been in the trenches many times when these things went off, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But only on the upwind side. I don’t hold with making anyone watch on the downwind side. Why’d it happen? The military side was making those decisions. We didn’t have any say.

IV. Grable

MacArthur famously wanted to keep going into China and settle things once and for all. They didn’t let him do that, but he did order a bunch of these cannons. This was only fired once.

V. Priscilla

We’ll get about three hundred feet from Ground Zero. Those pens you see held animals–mostly pigs, because they’re a good human analog–at various distances, above ground and in trenches to find out what the effects would be.

The buildings–you can see the steel and aluminum didn’t do so well. We thought being dome-shaped might protect them. It didn’t, but the earth berms did. Normal concrete wasn’t so good either. The special, high-PSI concrete did pretty well.

This train bridge was built just like a section of the Chicago “L”. It was so badly twisted up, we had to take most of it down. I’m glad we kept a section. We weren’t planning on tours then, but I always like to show people the bridge. One-inch I-beams, thirty-two inches wide, just bent like that.

An enormous Mosler bank vault sits abandoned and forgotten on the dry lake bed of Frenchman Flat, Nev. It is ugly and rusting, a big cookie jar from hell — yet it now exists as one of America’s greatest monuments to clear thinking.

That giant safe is a relic of an Atomic Energy Commission experiment in 1957 (“Response of Protective Vaults to Blast Loading”). Filled with stocks and bonds, cash and insurance policies, it confirmed that our official valuables, contracts and financial instruments could survive nuclear war. The test must have seemed like a good idea at the time, a masterpiece of steel-and- concrete realpolitik.

VI. Gravel Gerties

It’s just a little shack for assembling and disassembling the devices. Only it’s got dirt heaped up the sides and gravel on the roof. If something bad happens to you inside, the readings get to the folks outside, and they blow the roof and bring everything down to smother it all so it can’t go critical.

Only then, you’re not going home for dinner.

VII. Carbon Dioxide

That tank over there provides extra carbon dioxide to the plants in the area. The platforms allow the effects to be seen without disturbing the plants. It’s just one of the non-nuclear experiments now on the site.

VIII. IceCap

At 12:01 a.m. October 2, 1992, George Bush entered a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing. Just a few hours later, IceCap would have been lowered into the shaft. The tower and all of the instrument cabling are still in place, although I wouldn’t trust the impedance on those cables after they’ve been lying in the sun all this time.


The test would have determined how well a device would have performed in atmospheric conditions at 40 degrees.

IX. Sedan Crater

The debris plume was five miles wide.

X. Apple II

We found that the cars that were pointed head-on at the blast did quite well. Those that were side-on just rolled.

(If you don’t need the math up front, start at 3:00.)

XI. Joint Verification Experiment

While the Russians were here, I managed to spend about eight hours a week at home.

The fact that there are two Soviet teams in and around Nevada reflects the opposing views of how to best reach tha
t goal. The official Soviet team at the Nevada test site is experimenting with so-called hydrodynamic methods of verifying the yield of nuclear weapons, a technique favored by the Reagan Administration. Hydrodynamics deals with the motion of liquids – the rock around the shaft becomes molten when the nuclear device goes off.

The second team, which is not part of the official experiment, is positioned at a Soviet-designed seismographic station on the California-Nevada border. It hopes to help demonstrate that the yields of most nuclear explosions can be accurately estimated with remote instruments, the method favored by Soviet officials.

At the Atomic Testing Museum

I. A Is for Atom

II. F.D. Roosevelt, President of the United States

Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript…new phenomenon would also lead to lead to the construction of bombs…might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory…the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo…attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly,
Albert Einstein

III. Operation Crossroads

The first bomb missed its target by almost 800 yards. Watchers were not impressed. They reconvened a month later for the second test.

The third demonstration was canceled.

IV. Daigo Fukuryū Maru

Unknown to the testers, a Japanese fishing vessel was also in the area.

V. Underground Testing

We were determined to learn from any incident and we did. We never repeated an incident.


Someday, no one living will have seen one of these explosions in person. That worries me. (paraphrased from Robert Rex Brownlee)

VI. Project Pluto

The result was a cruise missile that would be able to drop multiple warheads while leaving a swath of radiation in its wake.

VII. BREN Tower

Japanese-style houses were built. An unshielded reactor could be moved up and down the tower to test how the buildings shielded inhabitants from radiation in an effort to help the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

VIII. Counter Terrorism Operations Support

It is the only place they can learn to find and deal with actual radioactive materials at no danger to them.

IX. Modern Remote Sensing

They were able to test how hazardous materials dispersed under a variety of conditions.

X. Inhabitants

The Mojave Desert Tortoise is the only one of the area’s inhabitants with a place on the Endangered Species List.

Native Americans volunteered for WWI, ten years before they were granted citizenship. They returned to the test site and kept returning until fences were built and borders enforced.

XI. EEIOCPA

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program delivers benefits to eligible employees and former employees of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), its contractors and subcontractors, or to certain survivors of such individuals, as provided in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). This program also includes benefits for certain beneficiaries of Section Five of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Risk, Trust, and the Arrogance of Numbers

In the next couple of days, I will be getting on a plane to go to Las Vegas. I’ll be visiting the Atomic Testing Museum and touring the Nevada Test Site, and I’ll be flying home. None of that worries me particularly. I’m well aware that I’m much more likely to get hit by a car walking to and from work each day. I should be–it’s happened before and I have close calls a minimum of once a week.

That said, I’m still already tired of people telling me how safe–safe, I tell you!–the nuclear power industry is. Some of that is people reacting to any complaint about the industry or the passing along of the scanty news coming out of Japan as though someone were saying the sky is falling, and putting out fatal doses of radiation in the meantime.

Some of it, however, is the reliance of a particular type of information telling me that nuclear energy is as safe as it gets. For example, I’ve been referred to this set of numbers frequently:

Deaths per TWh for all energy sources

Coal – world average: 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China: 278
Coal – USA: 15
Oil: 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas: 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass: 12
Peat: 12
Solar (rooftop): 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind: 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro: 0.10 (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao: 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear: 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

There are quite a few things that bother me about these numbers. The coal and biofuel safety numbers don’t come with a disclaimer that the greatest number of additional deaths from these fuels are due to indoor use for cooking, not from industrial energy production. Wind and solar energy numbers don’t reflect that these are developing industries, without decades of safety standards behind them. (Including development numbers for nuclear would drastically change the picture there, given that it was a technology born out of war.) None of these numbers include the costs of destruction of ecosystems, displacement, and unrest caused by the exploitation of resources required.

All those are difficult to quantify, however, and there are no guarantees that they would drastically change the relative risks (except for removing figures for indoor cooking). It is entirely possible that the nuclear power industry has the best track record for the last fifty years or so. I certainly can’t tell you it doesn’t. That still doesn’t give me warm fuzzies over nuclear power, and it kind of creeps me out that it reassures others.

Why? Largely because I live in Minneapolis. I’ve been through something like this before.

Until the 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, all the statistical data we had said highway bridges were very safe. Collapse was unthinkable based on the numbers. The problem with those statistics is that they were looking at a bunch of bridges that were built around the same time. The data also couldn’t account for the pattern of neglect that U.S. infrastructure had undergone for a couple of decades (a form of political corruption). Once we looked at actual bridges instead of historical data, we discovered that many bridges were downright dangerous, on or near the point of serious failure. Without repair and replacement, bridge safety statistics were about to become obsolete in a big way.

We’re at a very similar point with what we know about nuclear power production. We have an aging infrastructure, with plants nearing (or past) life expectancy. In order to determine what effect that’s likely to have on safety, we need honest evaluation of the current situation, not just the assumption that things will continue as they always have. We are currently reliant on the industry for that evaluation. The question of how much we trust the industry is highly relevant.

It will take time and analysis to be sure, but many of the details that have come out of Fukushima suggest that TEPCO wasn’t keeping up with the times in maintaining safety systems. It wasn’t applying lessons from prior earthquakes. Early statements from TEPCO suggest it wasn’t accurately assessing the risk of the situation. Neither were many others who were speaking for the industry.

That, not historical figures, is what future risk looks like, unless we rebuild the aging infrastructure. Then it might be reasonable to rely on history again. Now, there’s a very large question mark that can’t be filled in by saying, “Oh, it’s always been this way.”

Numbers are nice and reassuring, but you need to know what’s behind them too. In this case, you need to understand that at least some of your comfort relies on the energy industry stepping up and behaving.

Not only that, but they must behave in a non-competitive situation. The energy situation is very different than the airline situation, to use another example where people are constantly told their fears are irrational. Our energy demand is going up and up, and we can’t just say, “No, thank you. I trust this company more, so I’ll get my energy from them.” We don’t have the luxury of looking at nuclear power plants in which we have invested billions of dollars and changing our minds about them, and we’d be unlikely to even if we had that luxury.

We have very few options to make the industry behave where we have allowed it to flourish. That means we must plan for a certain amount of corruption at the executive level. That means that Fukushima, rather than being considered an aberration, must be considered one of the normal failures of the industry, and more so as the demand for energy increases. No matter what the historical numbers say.

If you, personally. want to rely on the historical numbers, or if you need to use them to manage your own anxieties in a productive way, I get that. However, they’re nothing like the whole picture in Fukushima or in any future decision-making about nuclear power. Please refrain from suggesting to the rest of us that the numbers are the only things with which we need to concern ourselves.

Saturday Storytime: Mimsy Were the Borogoves

This is one of the classics of science fiction, and rightfully so, written by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. An excerpt:

Somewhat unwillingly Scott brought the gadget across to his father’s chair. Paradine blinked. The “abacus,” unfolded, was more than a foot square, composed of thing, rigid wires that interlocked here and there. On the wires colored beads were strung. They could be slid back and forth, and from one support to another, even at the points of juncture. But – a pierced bead couldn’t cross interlocking wires .

So, apparently, they weren’t pierced. Paradine looked closer. Each small bead had a deep groove running around it, so that it could be revolved and slid along the wire at the same time. Paradine tried to pull one free. It clung as though magnetically. Iron? It looked more like plastic.

The framework itself – Paradine wasn’t a mathematician. But the angles formed by the wires were vaguely shocking, in their ridiculous lack of Euclidean logic. They were a maze. Perhaps that’s what the gadget was – a puzzle.

“Uncle Harry gave it to me, “Scott said on the spur of the moment. “Last Sunday, when he came over.” Uncle Harry was out of town, a circumstance Scott well knew. At the age of seven, a boy soon learns that the vagaries of adults follow a certain definite pattern, and that they are fussy about the donors of gifts. Moreover, Uncle Harry would not return for several weeks; the expiration of that period was unimaginable to Scott, or, at least, the fact that his lie would ultimately be discovered meant less to him than the advantages of being allowed to keep the toy.

Paradine found himself growing slightly confused as he attempted to manipulate the beads. The angles were vaguely illogical. It was like a puzzle. This red bead, if slid along this wire to that junction, should reach there but it didn’t. A maze, odd, but no doubt instructive. Paradine had a well-founded feeling that he’d have no patience with the thing himself.

Scott did, however, retiring to a corner and sliding beads around with much fumbling and grunting. The beads did sting, when Scott chose the wrong ones or tried to slide them in the wrong direction. At last he crowed exultantly.

“I did it, dad!”

“Eh? What? Let’s see.” The device looked exactly the same to Paradine, but Scott pointed and beamed.

“I made it disappear.”

“It’s still there.”

“That blue bead. It’s gone now.”

Paradine didn’t believe that, so he merely snorted. Scott puzzled over the framework again. He experimented. This time there were no shocks, even slight. The abacus had showed him the correct method. Now it was up to him to do it on his own. The bizarre angles of the wires seemed a little less confusing now, somehow.

It was a most instructive toy-

Keep reading.