the age of the troll

Checking my Disqus profile just now, I see that I joined on July 28, 2013 and have made a grand total of 3031 posts, an average of about 2 1/3 posts per day. This is somewhat astounding! I remember the original motivation: I had simply come across a comment somewhere I either wanted to praise or add to, and that was it. I’d never planned or dreamed I would make any kind of habit of it, but before very long I was regularly contributing thoughts within a couple of different online communities (not mainstream political ones but sites focusing more on ideas, where longer and more considered posts are far more common). There were a few periods along the way where I stepped out of regular writing, and then others where conversations became quite extended, where I would be responding to one or several people many times a day.

This is one of the main reasons my contributions to this blog became so sporadic: my online writing time had already been spoken for. And looking back I do understand how I got hooked. When you reply to another contributor you know that at least that one person, and usually many others, will be reading and (to varying degrees of course) considering what you have spent time and energy putting down on (virtual) paper. In my case the time and energy were generally quite extensive — a large proportion of my posts were substantive, many very long for an internet “comment,” mini-essays. Often there would be a reply awaiting you later that day, or even within the hour. So comment threads are much more akin to an ongoing conversation than posting within a website such as this one.

(It might be asked why I have disallowed comments here in that case. The answer is simply that I would feel too great a sense of responsibility to respond to more or less all replies, positive and negative both, and this could easily end in swallowing up too much of the time I have for writing here in the first place.)

For the past couple of years I have limited myself to one particular site, one that attracts a number of thoughtful, widely-read contributors. Many have academic posts. Some, inevitably, even there (since it is a public site) are trolls.

The phenomenon of the troll is of course a product of the internet age. I found it (and still find it) infuriating having to deal with them, but the experience has taught me a lot about online communication in general, about the state of our culture and world, about what constitutes “skillful (and unskillful) means” — to use the buddhist term. I’ll say something more about all this at some future point. But it seems clear to me that we have reached the apotheosis of this development, as we now have a supreme troll occupying the highest and most powerful office of the land.

translation from the Icelandic unnecessary (and perhaps impossible)

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Euro 2016, with today’s 3-3 nailbiter between startlingly overachieving Hungary and majorly underperforming Portugal the most exciting game yet. Over on the other channel at the same time, tiny Iceland, with a population (330,000) about half that of the state of Vermont, continued its astonishing football journey by defeating Austria in the final seconds, sparking one of the most delirious moments of sports commentary I may have ever come upon. If you need a bit of cheering up, this man has (temporarily I hope) sacrificed his voice for you… (It goes on for at least a minute or two more. A longer version, and with live action, is here — I was unable to embed that video.)


temporal vertigo

I almost never use the Calendar app on my iPhone, but the other day I needed to find out the day of a particular event earlier in the year when away from my laptop. So I went to “year view” and scrolled back, overshooting a full year or two. I then found myself wondering how far back the calendars went, and began scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling … The years, and centuries, flew away into the past and then the distant past.

Within seconds the nineteenth century had vanished forward, as it were, and then in no time so had the early modern years. I experienced an odd sense of vertigo watching entire eras of dense, rich human history zoom along, dissolving into their foundations, only to see those foundations dissolving in turn.

In no time I was confronted with a calendar from the fourteenth century and, pausing there, experienced a slew of random, disconnected bits of knowledge — of polities and conflicts and kings, music and literature and art and language, social and cultural and religious developments — flooding my mind. How far back is this thing gonna go? I wondered. My guess was: the year 1, beginning of the Common Era. On and on my index finger caressed the aluminosilicate glass display, early medievalism disappearing decade by decade in the flash of an eye.

I rested again, and suddenly realized that Rome had come back into being, as it were, a Christian Rome, besieged and tottering. And we were suddenly pre-Islam also. The Talmud was being compiled in Babylon. But I was too curious — back and back we went. Year 1 approached and then … raced on by. Finally tiring, I came to rest in 480 BCE, one of the traditional birth years given for the historical Buddha. The Jews had rebuilt the Temple by this point, Socrates was about to be born.


By the time I’d reversed direction and returned to the present, I’d lost interest in the parallel question: how far forward did the app reach? Also, it seemed a somewhat spooky inquiry: what if one of the app programmers also possessed prophetic gifts and the last calendar wasn’t all that far along? …

Just now, remembering, I did a search for this question, only to find that everybody has a different answer. Several people report that theirs goes back only to 1900, another person’s to 4716 BCE, yet another’s to 9999 BCE (whew, glad I didn’t have to do that). As for the other direction, the answer seems to be 9999, although one person claimed to have reached 20,000 before getting tired.

So maybe there’s a future after all.

dogs rule (as ever)

article-2440007-186DF85E00000578-83_634x332article-2440007-186DF86500000578-375_634x345From Buenos Aires, a fascinating interaction between 3-year-old (with Down’s Syndrome) and yellow lab. The dog clearly wants to play and won’t give up, but is also doing more than this. Her gentleness and sensitivity are something to see, and a beautiful display of that deep canine empathy.

the power of simple gestures

A week or so ago I returned to my car in the parking garage downtown to find a little yellow flower tucked in behind the windshield wipers. Startled, I glanced up the rows on each side to see if other cars had been recipients. None had, so my first assumption was that someone I knew had made the gift. But then I realized that currently almost no one would recognize my newishly-purchased car, either by exact model or certainly by license plate number, and the one person who might – namely my landlord, who lives upstairs – is not someone I can imagine doing a thing like that.

So I’m left with a mystery. My car was parked that day at the end of a row, adjacent to the path along which people walk to get from one of the streets bordering the garage to the other. It makes sense then that someone picked the flower somewhere, maybe from just outside the entrance where there’s a little garden, then had the spontaneous idea to offer it to the first car they saw – which would’ve been mine.

In any case, I was truly touched by the gesture, and all the more because it came from someone who didn’t know who I was. So much of the time we find ourselves interpreting events as gratuitous negative judgments upon us – well, or at least I do… Here suddenly, out of the blue, was a gift from the universe – precisely because neither giver nor receiver knew the other. There was something so free, irreducible, and pure about it.

When I returned home I put the flower in a glass of water and set it on my desk, where it thrived for nearly a week. And every time it caught my eye it made me smile.

These little actions of the heart really matter in the world and we should all do them more often! I bow to the person who performed this one, whoever and wherever you are…
big-yellow-flower-1u-1(image courtesy of

dream fragment

Some contemporary writer (Jonathan Franzen?) has as one of his guidelines for fiction to refrain from bringing in dreams, presumably because he doesn’t feel they are interesting except to the people who dream them. Personally I find a compelling dream as compelling as anything else. In any event I’m about to break that rule (or would be doing so if this post were a piece of fiction), for…

I am in a kitchen, opening the fridge, searching for something to eat. Almost everything I see or open contains carrots and peas in some form or other. I give up for the time being, turn, and start walking out of the room. As I pass the sink I notice some kind of insect moving from the counter down into the sink and thence the drain, and then another. The third one however is blocked from doing so by a very fast-moving critter coming from nowhere, who catches up to the other and sort of taps it, whereupon it crumples. Peering more closely I see that the attacker is … a miniature moose! A moose the size of an insect. I wake up.

Now, as soon as this little vignette ends I’m asking myself, of course: huh? And three sources quickly come to mind, all condensed into that single image.

grasshopper editMost immediately, I am unfortunately in the midst of dealing with an insect situation in my bathroom. The water people uprooted the meter in there, to replace it with something external that can be read remotely, and I think it must have disturbed the local ecology.  It has been a bit of an ordeal for the past week or so, with several different species suddenly appearing out of nowhere to surprise me in the middle of the night…

mulholland drive image editSecondly, I’d just written a post about David Lynch, including my favorite of his films and one of my favorite films of all, Mulholland Drive, which includes a scene – viewers will vividly remember – of an elderly couple suddenly miniaturizing and passing under the door of a room.

mooseAnd thirdly, the moose is an animal one must watch out for on Vermont roads, as running into one is more-or-less like hitting another car head-on. That particular fear is lodged in my unconscious, for sure, and just a couple days ago in the neighborhood where I live a young deer suddenly appeared at the side of the road, about to cross, saw me, stopped, and scurried back into the woods.

So, some neat condensation going on there, it seemed to me.

The carrots and peas?  I’d just bought some in frozen form.  Also, it was the first vegetable combination I learned how to make into a curry…