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Blue Star


By Scott Sullivan


Fatal Attraction

Why are kids attracted to eating magnets? Sure they’re there, often now as desk toys. But so are lots of things children don’t eat, like fruits and vegetables.

The problem is rare-earth magnets, not your garden variety kind. These puppies, made of neodymium and samarium-cobalt, are so strong that if gulped in groups, they pull together inside intestines, causing holes, blockages, even deaths.

“The injuries,” gastroenterologist Bryan Rudolph says, “are gruesome.”

So are Australian brushfires. The good news? Model Kaylen Ward has raised more than $1 million for relief by selling nude photos of herself for $10 a pop. Two other models have followed her birthday suit.

I say aye to this #MeToo movement. These women are making their own choices, acting for what they believe in — not being coerced by some creep male power figure.

Is the Land Down Under ready for me to join them? With magnets, repulsion can be as strong as attraction. Should I threaten to send nude photos of myself to folks if they don’t pony up, that would dampen fires everywhere.

“Why do kids put things in their mouths they shouldn’t?” I asked while downing a vegemite sandwich and Foster’s beer. Magnets don’t even taste good.

The trouble is children find rare-earth ones, stacked into tiny balls that serve as desk paperweights, an “attractive nuisance.” That’s a government term for run-down properties neighbors gripe about until city hall sends out a code-enforcement officer. Delays and appeals ensue while lawyers and other rats creep inside until someone is forced to clean up, mostly demolition firms.

Another way kids gain exposure to these A.N.’s is through desk jockeys who roll metal balls between their fingers for stress relief, a la Humphrey Bogart playing Capt. Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny.” You might find doing so less soothing in the hospital while waiting for surgeons to stitch together Juniors innards.

Porn for a worthy cause — or “Naked Philanthropy” as Ward puts it — might appeal to me more were there strings attached. The problem with free, open sex — even just viewing photos — is it costs you your sense of forbiddance, that you are getting away with something, that percolates under modesty.

Nothing blows up a fantasy like to realize it. Magnets and models look yummier from a distance. Up close? Good luck.

Impulses to create and destroy pack powerful force as well. Girls were given dolls and boys cap guns when I was growing up. One day a group of older girls, maybe 12 or so, staged a tea party. Our moms made us guys go and Shively became a hero when he threw a pet cat on their table, crying, “It’s a wildcat!” Sights of torn linen, shattered teacups and tear stains down rouge furnished gender-identity lessons to last a lifetime.

Shively wasn’t the kind who would swallow magnets. But his younger brother was. “Bet you could knock out your teeth with that hammer,” he counseled his younger sibling. After Shively was done being grounded we went back and traced the trail of by-now-dry blood drops, forensic specialists in the making.

There are 17 rare-earth elements in the Periodic Table (as opposed to the Idiotic Table Shively made Chaotic). But in fact these elements are common. You will find more cerium, for example, than you’ll find copper.

One way to make rare-earth magnets less attractive is to ban them. The Consumer Products Safety Commission did that for four years until 2016, when a federal court sided with the industry and lifted the prohibition.

Voluntary, self-imposed safety standards since then have been only that. Small children can’t read warning labels and larger ones may not heed them. The nation’s poison control centers tracked close to 1,600 cases of magnet ingestations last year, six times as many as in 2016.

What would Shively do? If you ban everything people can make dangerous — magnets, hammers, naked models … — you’ll ban everything and deny us our creativity. Where there’s a will and won’t, something always gets in the way.