I distinctly remember when I stopped reading online comments about my essays. For some time I had been reading them on a website of a magazine that published me and allowed unedited comments. To my disappointment, no knowledgeable critic had pointed out errors in my work that I could correct, or made informed arguments that forced me to rethink my position. The commenters seemed more interested in insulting one another.

Mrpoophispants, for example. The avatar that went with the name showed a wailing baby in diapers. (I have changed the name and image slightly, to protect the guilty). In the comments section under my essay, Mrpoophispants accused the Incredible Hulk (again, I have slightly changed the name) of being like Hitler. No, the green and musclebound Hulk told the baby in diapers, you are like Hitler. It went downhill… More…

I had never heard of a carrot carnation. But when, back in the 1980s, several of my fellow staffers at the office of a Texas State Senator in Austin wanted to learn about them, I went along to kill some time. (There are downsides to working in the legislature of a state with an anti-government culture, but it does provide you with a lot of free time).

We soon found ourselves in the auditorium of the convention center in Austin, surrounded by thousands of middle-aged suburban housewives. On stage, a woman resembling Martha Stewart showed how, with a knife and a little imagination, fruits and vegetables can be turned into ornamental table settings, like carrot carnations.

Many years later, I came to realize that I had witnessed one extreme of the artistic spectrum. At one end of the spectrum… More…