We’re talking strictly about the evolution of this site, which was originally called “kindling minds.” That’s still the ultimate purpose.

But the site is morphing into one more exclusively focused on Medieval Gnome Productions: the podcasts we do, our amazing staff, the Discworld, the podcasting experience, podcasting sausages inna bun. All named meat! Get ’em here! Fifty pence, and that’s cutting my own throat.

Throat does indeed sneak through the portal sometimes and raise a little minor havoc. It’s actually quite fun having him around, as long as I know I can send him back soon after he’s come.

Thank goodness. And thanks for visiting. I hope you’ll leave a comment (if you’d like.) Mind how you go.

It’s All About Style

Some people find a new interest and stick with it. Others discover a new enthusiasm, and then lose interest over time. Or I guess maybe most of us do both, although one tends to predominate. It’s like the differentiations on the Myers-Briggs, et al. “Feelers think, and thinkers feel” was one of the first things we were taught in studying personality type.

                My interest in personality type was engendered by my interest in learning styles. I became enthusiastic about that topic in the summer of 1990, and I incorporated it into my teaching thereafter. Not only did I use it to try to understand myself and my students better, but I specifically taught it so that they might get a better understanding of others in their lives, particularly their teachers.

                Ideally, teachers should “bridge” the gap between their styles and those of their teachers. In practice that is difficult to do, but it’s well worth the effort to understand, and at least part of the time, teach to those students who are on the other side of the circle from us as teachers.

                If you’re not familiar with the concept, personality type can be identified through a set of four oppositional pairs: thinking/feeling; sensing/intuition; introvert/extrovert; judging/perceiving. These four pairs can then be combined into sixteen distinct personality types. For example, I am an INFP. I am an Introvert; I rely on my iNtuition more than sensory input; I tend to rely on my Feelings more than my Thoughts; and I view Perception of the world more important than making Judgements about it. The chart below summarizes all this.

There is of course a lot more to it. Some people dismiss it as a load of hooey. Interestingly enough, they tend to be clustered around the S and J identifiers; thus ISTJ, ESTJ, INSJ, and ENSJ in particular. The opposite is true for those who identify and N (iNtuition; since I is already in use for Introverstion) and P. That’s me, as and INFP.

                You can conclude a lot about a person’s learning style, based on their personality type. If you google “learning styles debunked” you’ll find a lot of scholarly articles doing just that. My guess would be that none of these “scholars” have ever tried to apply learning styles in their own teaching; to a large degree because they don’t do any actual teaching. They have graduate students for that. If they do “teach,” it’s by the lecture method, and students who struggle in their classes just aren’t studying enough/applying themselves/making the effort. It’s a nice tautology.

                I used learning styles, as I said, in my own teaching. And I had concrete experiential proof that they worked. Of course, that’s anecdotal, and thus unacceptable in academe.

                The strongest proof I got was from kids whose grades improved in other teachers’ classes, because they, as students, were able to better understand why their teachers taught as they did, and were better able to adjust themselves to a teacher’s style. N.b. This was without the teacher in question making any adjustment, or, in most cases, being ignorant of learning styles.

                Ir’s been two decades since I was in a classroom, and my interest in learning styles has naturally wanted. Nevertheless I remember them fondly as a powerful tool in my “teacher’s toolkit.” Of course, I was a maverick. As far as most of my colleagues were concerned, I was a maverick who went completely off the deep end the last year I taught high school. But that’s another story.

Nation on Fire

October 1st, 2020. My older brother, who died at 27, would’ve been 73 today. He contracted Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the spring of 1973, and died the day before Thanksgiving.

I use the word “contracted” deliberately. He was an aspiring physician, and before he started his residency he spent a semester working in a medical laboratory in New England somewhere. I remember him being exposed to some nasty chemicals there. It’s been 46 years, and I don’t remember if I heard that from his lips, or from some family member. I’ve always thought the two things were connected, though.

Right now I see a connection between Covid-19 and the brazenly public presence of the militant far right. There were people with pistols on their hips at an anti-mask protest here in my small (20,000 pop) town. The really disturbing part is that they held their protest in front of the police department. A little intimidation factor there, maybe?

Then we have a ninety minute temper tantrum by a three-year-old masquerading as the President of the United States during a presidential debate. Does anyone find this surrealistic, and pathetic? How can anyone say that’s “just” politics?

Once again we are experiencing racial upheaval. The massive moral debt owed people of color in the US, unpaid for almost 400 years, has accumulated insupportable interest. When we have to be reminded that Black lives do matter, we have to stare in the face the fact that we have let a disgraceful reality fester, and that in doing so we have created and sustained an “underlying condition” that may allow the acute infections to kill us.

And hovering not only the U.S. but the entire globe is the shadow of real catastrophe. Not a pandemic which kills a few million, but a slow-moving natural disaster of Biblical proportions which kills a few billion. How are we possibly going to effectively mitigate the effects of that natural disaster when a sizeable proportion of people, including that aforementioned three-year-old, deny that it’s happening? Deny that it’s real?

What happened? In September 1939 Auden told us, “We must love one another or die.” And Yeats. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Yeats called it over a century ago.

What now? Those who consider themselves good among us must speak and act with conviction. And with love. We are aflame. We cannot stop the fire with more gasoline.

Pandemic Paralysis

I haven’t been able to do any writing for weeks. Not even a journal entry. I am managing to keep producing the Portal, but that’s been about it. No walking. Indeed, I spent pretty much all of June in bed.

       I am now boycotting the news. I just can’t stand to read about any more stupidity. And I am going to move heaven and earth to stay out of bed when I’m not sleeping, as much as humanly possible, and to start getting my walks in again.

Illegitimi non carborundum— mock Latin; genuine sentiment.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

I didn’t read The Second Coming until I was about 27. It remains the most powerful poem I’ve ever read. It’s been more and more on my mind lately.

       The center has not held. We are spinning wildly toward a society that is polarized beyond correction or redemption. About 20 years ago there was a “John Titor” popping up on all the wingnut (conspiracy theory/flat earth/Illuminati) websites. He purported to be from the future, and he said he had come back to try to warn America we were going to have a civil war. He didn’t warn us there was going to be a pandemic, as far as I remember. But I didn’t pay much attention to his writings.

       As I write this, on Mothers Day of 2020, the idea of another civil war in the US doesn’t seem so outlandish. Covid 19, far from bringing us back together, is dividing us further. This isn’t helped by the fact that we have a malignant narcissist with the intelligence of damp seaweed in the White House, of course. But then nothing is being helped by that.

       I used to suspect, when I was in my 20’s, that we might be living through the failure of the American state. Then a career happened to me, and I didn’t give the issue a lot more thought for many years. Throughout the 21st Century thus far, though, I’ve become more and more convinced that this is in fact what’s happening. The coronavirus pandemic laid bare our profound societal and cultural weaknesses, and those weaknesses are being exacerbated instead of ameliorated with every passing day.

       We aren’t capable to make a concerted effort to fight a deadly disease. We lack the will, the resources, and the leadership. Other countries, as well as the UN, have had to send us humanitarian aid in hopes of helping us deal with our shortage of supplies and equipment. That’s right. We needed (and need) humanitarian aid. We who have always been the giver of such aid now stand in need of it.

       We have a leader who is incapable of understanding this crisis, and utterly unable to show any empathy for those who are suffering from it. His performance is macabre and surreal. He cares about one thing: being re-elected. He will do whatever he has to do (or not do) to ensure that happens. And since he still has a “base” of about a quarter of the American electorate….it’s just too hideous to contemplate. The election and presidency of Donald Trump are the clearest evidence that our state, and our political system, are failing.

       Meanwhile white supremacy is on the rise, both in the US (thanks to Trump’s “nudge, nudge; wink, wink” disapproval of it) and worldwide. And thanks to the Internet, it is organizing on a global scale. Think the Nazis in the 1930’s in Germany, except it’s the fascist white supremacists in the whole world in the 2020’s.

       And what rough beast? Goddess help our species. And we’re going to need that help. We’re going to need a lot of Divine mercy. We certainly don’t deserve it; in fact, quite the opposite. But if that’s true of us as a species (and I believe it is) that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the pain and heartache so many are going through now; going through, moreover, with damn little sympathy or compassion from us as a nation, and none at all from the midwife for that beast, a “very stable genius” who sits in the Oval Office and spews vitriol and demonstrates breathtaking stupidity. Constantly. Things fall apart. Welcome to the end of the American state.

You Can’t Fix Stupid

The coronavirus pandemic prompted numerous state and local governments to issue stay-at-home orders at various times in March. At first, because people were very much afraid of the virus, these orders were largely heeded. But now, since the “curve is flattening” and many locations have not yet been hit by the virus (anyone see the correlation?) some people are chafing against these orders.

Once again, a crisis is being politicized. Protests against the stay-at-home orders are popping up all over. And guess what? The people who attend these protests are practically guaranteeing that some of them will get the virus. This pandemic is not a political question. The virus doesn’t care. If it gets a chance to infect you, it will. And its chance to infect you is entirely dependent on your proximity to others.

Zombie Apocalypse Disorder

Paraskevidekatriaphobia. Thanks to Wikipedia, I just learned that word this morning, Friday the 13th. It means fear of Friday the 13th. Given the craziness of the past few days, it’s reasonable to assume that more people than usual will suffer from some high anxiety today.

We are certainly in a bizarre situation, which the age of social media has made much worse than it might otherwise be. Add to that a slow and incompetent government response, capped by a Chief Executive who gave a typically inaccurate and far-from-reassuring Oval Office speech on Wednesday night, and you have a full-blown panic in the U.S.

The run of toilet paper I find particularly incomprehensible. I’m attributing it to what I call zombie apocalypse syndrome. I think a lot of people feel like that mythical event has begun. Hence the intense weirdness we are seeing more and more of.

I’m not trying to minimize the seriousness of the coronavirus. It needs to be taken seriously. But after weeks of not taking it seriously, Americans are freaking out over it. And why should they not? The stock market is in free fall, and every major American sports season currently otherwise ongoing–basketball, hockey, and baseball– has been cancelled or postponed. March madness has taken on a very different meaning this year.

We are facing an insoluble dilemma. Without serious and even draconian measures to limit the spread of the disease, we might experience a true pandemic, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths. No one can accurately predict the number, because no one knows how virulent this bug actually is.

But these measures which are being taken to limit the spread of the disease are killing something else: the American economy. Another incomprehensible thing, along with the toilet paper hoarding, is how much money this is costing Americans.

Let’s look at the silver lining, though. We have two new phrases which have entered the lexicon overnight. They are of course social distancing and flattening the curve.

Let’s hope the curve can be flattened. In America, the virus has a head start on us due to the inertia of both the government and the population in responding to it. Now, though, the response is full-blown. So is the fear. So is the economic damage. Let’s just hope both the fear and the damage to Americans’ wallets and pocketbooks can be contained as well.