Commentary: Civil discourse sometimes uncivil

The e-mail started out, "You arrogant bastard." But after that it got ugly. People who regularly publish their opinions learn quickly that it's not a free ride. My introductory lesson was 55 years ago, as a teenage sportswriter in Hickory, N.C. The penciled words, angrily pressed deep into a piece of blue-lined notebook paper, declared, "You don't know football from your punkin slope head." The expression was unfamiliar to me, but I took it to be criticism.

That was then -- the days of Dwight Eisenhower and Emily Post and Billy Graham -- when most people offended by something in print made one of two choices: Get dressed and go to the newspaper office and deliver a personal rebuke, or pick up a pen (black or dark blue ink only) and piece of stationery (square, white, folded once) and write a firm, signed note.

And this is now, when nearly everyone has close at hand an electronic word whip to instantaneously flay those who offend them.

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