Saturday, January 25, 2014

"A Stitch in Time," A #YA Short Story


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Rick, I smell gasoline,” his sister, Tess, told him as they drove home from her basketball practice.

“I just filled the tank. Maybe that’s it. Nothing to worry about.”

“It smells awfully strong.”

They pulled into the Williams family driveway. Rick thought he would check it out. He looked under the old car and did not see anything on the ground. Must be okay, he thought.

An hour later, Rick took the car to get Tim from a friend’s house.

“Smells bad,” Tim said.

“You’re right.” Rick drove to the side of the road and stopped the car. He turned off the engine, opened the hood, and smelled gasoline even more strongly. The top of the engine looked wet in one area. I hope that isn’t gasoline. Rick re-started the car and took Tim home.

“Dad, I smell a lot of gas when I drive the Ford.”

“Let’s take a look.”

They opened the hood and both saw what Rick had seen before.

“This could be dangerous. That wet spot looks like gasoline. Better bring the car to the garage.”

“You think it needs that?” Rick asked.

“I wouldn’t wait. Let’s keep the hood open and start it again.” They were in the driveway. They started it up again and saw a small sprinkle of gas coming from a line going into the engine. “Rick, that could be dangerous. I’ll go with you. We’ve got to take it right in.”

The garage was less than a mile from their home, but they did not make it. Within a couple of hundred yards, smoke started coming out of the hood and also entering the car through the heating system.

“Turn off the heater. Pull over. Stop the car. Turn it off. This could be serious.”

Within a few seconds of their getting out of the car, flames started coming out from around the hood.

“Let’s get way back, Rick. This looks dangerous.” I hope we don’t have an explosion, Mr. Williams thought, but did not say. “I’m calling 911 and the fire house.”

Quickly both police and fire units arrived. The police kept traffic and spectators away from the burning vehicle. The firemen sprayed foam on the car, then used axes to break open the hood and sprayed foam directly on the engine block area.

Rick was surprised to see the front of the car nearly demolished. “Why was it burning so strongly?” he asked his dad.

“Besides the gasoline, there is a lot of plastic and rubber in the connections to the engine, and they give off hot, smoky flames.”

“Do you think the car can be repaired?”

“I doubt it, son. The most important thing is that none of you kids got hurt.”

At dinner that night, Mr. Williams said that Rick should have been quicker to look into the situation, as gasoline is both flammable and explosive. He might have caught the problem before it got dangerous and costly. “’An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ as Benjamin Franklin noted a couple of hundred years ago.”

Mrs. Williams agreed. “If you have a small rip in your clothing, sewing just a few stitches to close it can keep it from becoming a major tear. I don’t know where it comes from, but another old saying is, ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’”


One of our series of fifty instructive short stories for young people.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Gift Horses," A #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dad, my boss gave me three tickets to the Yankees’ game this Sunday afternoon. Do you and Mom want to go with me?” Rick worked part-time after school at the local hardware store in the spring. It was April, with the professional baseball season just beginning. His boss couldn’t attend this game and knew Rick would like to go.

“No, son, Mom and I have other plans, but I bet Tess and Tim would both like to go, and you can borrow the Ford.” Rick’s siblings were Yankee fans, too, like lots of people in their small town an hour’s drive north of New York City. “What kind of seats are they?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll pick them up tomorrow. Probably pretty good. I could ask Mr. Pottinger where in Yankee Stadium they are.” The best seats were box seats and the level of the field. Next best were those in the stands. Least attractive were the seats past the outfield, the “bleachers,” which left you exposed to sun or rain.

“Don’t do that. He might think you are being fussy. He’s giving them as a present. The old saying goes, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.’”

“What? I don’t get it.” Rick was puzzled.

“It means accept a gift without being suspicious about it. People used to assess a horse’s age and even its health by inspecting its teeth and gums. If you let the giver know you were doing that, though, he could be offended.”

Rick, Tess, and Tim drove down to the Bronx that chilly April day. Rick paid for the gas, the Thruway tolls, parking, the snacks, and the scorecard/booklets. They actually had good seats n the stands and enjoyed watching the Yankees beat the Red Sox 3-2 in ten innings.

When they returned, his mother asked Rick how it went.

“Fine, Mom, we all had a good time. I was surprised, though, that we spent on all the extras connected with going to the game almost as much as the free tickets we got would have cost.”

“I know your dad told you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I understand that point, but as a history teacher, I have a different lesson in mind, about another horse, the Trojan Horse.”

“What was that?”

“About three thousand years ago, the Greeks were at war with the city-state of Troy. The war lasted ten years, with Troy surrounded near the end. The Greeks pretended to sail away, getting just out of sight, and they left behind a large, handsome wooden horse. The Trojans convinced themselves it was a victory gift from the gods, and pulled it inside their walled city.”


“The horse was hollow, and inside of it were Greek warriors. In the middle of the night, they opened the horse from inside, sneaked out, killed the sentries guarding the gates, and let in Greek troops who had sailed back that night. They killed the Trojans and destroyed the city.”

“I guess sometimes it makes good sense to make sure the gift you are given is not more trouble than it is worth.”

“Yes, Rick. ‘All that glitters is not gold.’”

Friday, January 10, 2014

It Ain't Necessarily So

“It ain’t necessarily so. It ain’t necessarily so….”

So begin the lyrics of a George Gershwin hit song from Porgy and Bess. The song goes on to dissect various tales told in the Bible: David slaying Goliath? Jonah staying alive in the belly of the whale? Methuselah living 900 years? Be skeptical, it warns.

Skepticism is healthy. If a sucker is born every minute, that leaves too much opportunity for those who would fool us. We don’t deception from our scientists, though, do we?

In his book, Wrong [Little Brown, New York, 2010], business and science writer David H. Freedman details the many ways scientific research can go astray, producing results and conclusions that we ought not believe. Prof. John Ioannidis, M.D., of Tufts University has presented a series of research publications demonstrating that a majority of research papers in top-tier scientific publications have subsequently been shown to be incorrect. Freedman gives numerous examples in the body of his book and an extensive appendix.

Why does science fail us?

People have goals that conflict with being scrupulously honest. Scientists want success: prestige or even fame, promotion, money. If their work produces an interesting new result, they are more likely to succeed than if the results are inconclusive or uninteresting. The best has to be new and good. A professor once devastated a doctoral candidate: “ “Some of your work is new and some of it good. Unfortunately, the new material is not good and the good material is not new.” The same can be said for many published studies.

Read the rest of my article at

Similar concerns were expressed recently in

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