RIP, Sci Fi Author Jerry Pournelle

Glenn Reynolds offers a tribute here.

There Will Be War, volume II, which he edited and to which he contributed, is free today.  Apologies, but Volume I was free a couple days ago and it was worth it.  It may still be free.

Dragoncon is where he gave his last public appearance, just a few days before he passed in his sleep. Their memoriam page is short, and very interesting (he may be the first writer to have written a novel entirely on a computer).

This tribute is also worth your time.

If you have appreciated his work, you can post to a well-wishing page for his family on his blog at Chaos Manner.

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Poetry and Education

“The thing is,” said Charlotte Mason in a book she wrote for children, “to keep your eye upon words and wait to feel their force and beauty; and, when words are so fit that no other words can be put in their places, so few that none can be left out without spoiling the sense, and so fresh and musical that they delight you, then you may be sure that you are reading Literature, whether in prose or poetry. A great deal of delightful literature can be recognised only by this test.” (volume 4)

I was 10 or 11 years old, and had come down with a case of pneumonia so bad that on Christmas morning I had to be told to open my presents, and as soon I had done so, I went back to bed. Later I was taken to the hospital with a temperature of 106 and I received horribly painful penicillin shots around the clock for the next several days. My parents both worked and they had my younger brothers, who were not allowed in the hospital, to care for. They brought some of my presents to the hospital to keep me company during the long, boring hours between shots.  I had to stay a week.  The first three days I needed to be there because I was just that sick.  Once the rounds of antibiotics by injection too effect, I needed to stay because the hospital would not release me until I ate all my meals- I had lost a lot of weight, and I was a gawky stick figure of a child.   But I had hardly eaten much before I got pneumonia, and I wasn’t going to start then (I got over it, unfortunately).  Finally, my father would come to the hospital at meal times to eat my meals for me so the right boxes were ticked off and I could come home.
Meanwhile, I was incredibly bored and I had nothing to do. There were only soap operas and game shows on daytime television in the seventies, mostly deemed inappropriate for children.  There were no cell phones in the world,  nor  any electronic games to speak of.  I didn’t have a lot of energy even if a nurse had been free to play a game with me.  I had my Christmas presents, and I  savoured one gift in particular.  It was  a marvelous anthology of poetry from my Aunt (see below for title). She always gave lovely gifts.

I read it all the way through, and then began again.  And again.

One one of his visits to the hospital my dad used a series of dots and dashes on paper to teach me the rhyme scheme for limericks and other forms of poetry.  I wrote very bad poetry and even worse limericks, but they scanned.

I pushed away the horror of needles and the smell of disinfectant with Tennyson’s ballads and Wordsworth’s daffodils and other wonders. I hugged Emily Dickinson to myself like a longlost friend. I imitated Lear’s limericks (very badly).
The Light Brigade faced death squarely in the eye, and I, too, could face my own ordeals inspired by their courage, even though my ordeal was the far more humiliating needle in the buttocks six times every 24 hours. By the time the ordeal was over, I had so many bruises behind me they had to start giving me the injections in my thighs, but I was forever filled with the morally bolstering and soul-warming gift of poetry.

Over the next few years I read that book so many times it fell apart, and then I read it to my children and bought a replacement, twice, when it, too, fell apart.I taught some of those poems to my daughters and they are teaching some of them to my grandchildren.  “Is poetry important for today?” somebody might ask me. “How will it help them get a job?” ” Isn’t it old fashioned?”  ” I don’t like it, so I don’t see why I need to teach it to my kids. I turned out just fine without it.”

I don’t even know what to say.  We are standing on opposite sides of an incredibly wide and deep chasm and we don’t speak the same language.   Because no, you didn’t turn out just fine without it, or you wouldn’t need to ask that question. You wouldn’t limit education by equating it only with ‘necessary for a job’.  You wouldn’t limit what you teach your children based on what you like or dislike, know or do not know.   It isn’t that you are a bad person, a dumb person, a worthless person.   I am shocked by such questions, but I don’t want to mock those who ask. I want to cry for them.

They’ve been defrauded, hurt, wounded, and they don’t know it.


“…we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality. We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society. As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,––whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread.”  (Charlotte Mason)
The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermyer and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund

It was republished a few years later as The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry, slightly different cover and I think maybe two or three poems are omitted here that were in the previous version, but I can’t remember for sure, and it wasn’t a substantive difference.

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Let Them Be Bored

When you read (or hear) a really good story, you find yourself stepping out of your own life and into the life of the story.  You see the story through their eyes, minds, and hearts. You experience it in your own inner life.  Being able to do that is the sort of skill one needs to see another point of view, to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, to imagine from a wider perspective than one’s one immediate experience.

People who don’t do this, whether because they won’t or can’t, lack something, a warmth, an ability to emphasize. They tend to be more rigid and inflexible in their thinking.  They are also often rather boring, as their interests are limited,  sometimes severely.  There’s something missing- curiosity, perhaps, the ability or willingness to be interested in something wider than their own immediate lives and amusements.

When you are curious, you want to know, so you explore further.  If you are not curious, you are apathetic and apathy deadens mind and soul.

Children are born naturally curious. They have a wide interest in the world.  We do something to squelch it and they are not better and more interesting people because of it. We allow them to feed that healthy, nourishing sense of curiosity with the artificial substitute of entertainment- largely screen time.  They spend their time scrolling through multiple screens, being spectators, amused, entertained, seldom having to actively think about or wonder about anything themselves. We fear boredom when it is in those moments between wondering, thinking about something, and not having the answer immediately at our fingertips, that discoveries are made, as unanswered curiosity provokes the wonderer to do something about it, to think, ponder, explore, discover.

Creativity is born of boredom, of the space we give ourselves to be bored rather than entertained.

Removing the electronics, or limiting them, is a big step toward restoring that bright, healthy sense of curiosity that makes us doers and makers rather than consumers and takers.  It’s a good start.

City living also contributes toward our weak attention spans.

“A study from the University of London, for example, found that members of the remote cattle-herding Himba tribe in Namibia, who spend their lives in the open bush, had greater attention spans and a greater sense of contentment than urbanized Britons and, when those same tribe members moved into urban centres, their attention spans and levels of contentment dropped to match their British counterparts. Dr. Karina Linnell, who led the study, was “staggered” by how superior the rural Himba were. She told the BBC that these profound differences were “a function of how we live our lives.”

“Photos of nature will increase your sense of affection and playfulness. A quick trip into the woods, known as “forest bathing” in Japan, reduces cortisol levels and boosts the immune system. Whether rich or poor, students perform better with access to green space. And a simple view of greenery can insulate us from stress and increase our resilience to adversity. Time in nature even boosts, in a very concrete way, our ability to smell, see, and hear. The data piles up.” (The Benefits of Solitude by Michael Harris)

Go to the beach, a park, a lake, a garden.  Put some greenery in around your house or apartment. Get a fish tank and put a comfortable chair nearby for observation.  Leave the electronics behind.


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Real STEM Studies

In an article in The American Biology Teacher, Ann Haley McKenzie wrote:
“My son is taking biology this year. He is learning about observation through note taking, lectures, and answering questions at the end of the section review. I am not amused. No anoles are lapping water off the side of the enclosure for him to observe nor can he marvel as they grab at crickets to eat headfirst. No decaying logs are resting in aquaria for him to watch over the course of the school year as different pill bugs roll up and encircle a clump of wood. The classroom walls are barren of aquaria filled with schooling fish. No time is devoted to observing the plants that do not hang from the ceiling. Desert and bog terrariums are missing so observations about varying plant species and specific adaptations cannot be made. What’s my point? How can the essence of biology be taught if observation in not at the heart and foundation of everything we do?”
McKenzie goes on to say that,
“Making a thorough observation should be the first entry in the portfolio for any biology course at the high school or college level. Students should be able to demonstrate that they are capable of producing a thorough observation of some biological phenomena before exiting a biology course.”
Observation is a key to studying biology. (Wonder and Order, by Beth Pinkney)

Edwin Way Teale, one of our greatest naturalists:

 You make progress in exploring this world on two legs: interest and knowledge. If you are interested but don’t know what to look for, you are like a one-legged man and hobble along getting only half the fun you might. Even the commonest cricket or katydid, if you learn enough of its life and habits, becomes intensely interesting.

The Boys’ Book of Insects by Edwin Way Teale


You want more ‘STEM?’ Toss the screens. Take the kids outside.  Look at things. be curious. Be observant. Wonder about what you see. Marvel at it. Delight it.  Muck about in the mud and water and sand and trees.  Climb, jump, throw, dig, roll.  Let them skin their knees and scratch their faces and get splinters that have to be pulled out tweezers and let them lift heavy rocks and pry things out of the mud and get absolutely filthy.


Let them throw things in puddles and notice on their own what floats and what sinks, and what displaces the most water (I.E. makes the most satisfactory splash).   Watch ants on an anthill and squirrels in the trees and notice.  Once you’ve built up a large colletion of memories, of personal observations and experiences and questions, break out some books.  But never lose the willingness to get out and get dirty.

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Folk Songs

Folk songs can become the sound-track of our lives in a really special way.  Mundane, every day moments because enriched, sprinkled with star dust, tinted by rainbows when a child brings a song into the moment. There’s something really special about those. I have forever burned on my mind a beautiful image of two little girls in pig-tails, holding hands and leaping off our porch steps on their way to the mailbox, singing a snatch of line from a folksong, “I got a letter this morning, ohhhh, yes! I got a letter this morning, oh, oh, yes.”

Somebody else told me about her son rolling down the car window on a trip during the start of a rain storm and singing to himself “It’s windy weather, boys!” It need not be so poignant. It can be silly and playful.  There’s a song called Scotland’s Burning that my children revised to much laughter on one long trip.  The song is here.  The lyrics are:

Scotland’s Burning, Scotland’s burning
Look out! Look out!
Fire, fire, fire fire!
Pour on water
Pour on water

On the trip, my husband passed gas and he thought nobody would notice.  Nobody could avoid noticing.  The children rapidly rolled down their windows and then started singing:

Daddy’s stinking, Daddy’s stinking!

Look out! Look out!

Pee-yoo, pee-yoo, phew, phew!!

Roll down the windows
Roll down the windows!

On other occasions, I have seen the five little ducks song such forlornly by a displaced child (it broke my heart), a mournful rendition of “It’s beans, beans, beans that make you feel so mean” to help a child cope with a disliked supper, songs used to vent or express emotions too powerful for children to explain by themselves.  I find it fascinating that there are many non-literate cultures, cultures with no written alphabet, but I know of no culture without home-grown music. Yet we are losing that gift, that precious heritage.

Folk music gives children (and adults) words and music to express their feelings over common, every day things of life. It’s a way of improving their emotional vocabulary.  Sing.

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