Readers of this newspaper have called me a Socialist, a Fascist, a leftist, an idiot, a whiner, a hack, a loon, a liar, an ignoramus, a pathetic aging hipster and -- this is the lowest blow -- "Norm."

And that was all just last Thursday. Before noon.

I stopped reading the comments appended to the online version of my column that day (about tax rates that favor the wealthy over the middle class) because there is only so much time you can devote to insults before you start looking for a hefty 2-by-4.

Welcome to the Clockwork Orange world of online reader comments, where today's Internet customers are invited to join the scrum and put a boot in.

We loves a bit of aggro.

This newspaper, 141 years old and formerly home to society pages, service club announcements and letters from readers concerned about the well-being of kittens, now resembles the street fighting during the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strike.

It's all right by me.

I grew up in a part of St. Paul where priests and police patrolled the streets to keep the various tribes of teenagers from each other's throats, so I can enjoy a good rumble.

Readers, even if they are not subscribers, have a right to call me a jerk if they like, although I doubt that Sen. Norm Coleman likes it when someone who is ripping me calls me "Norm," or when someone slips up and refers to him as "Nick," which the Grand Forks Herald did recently.

Hasn't the poor man suffered enough?

Still, some of the comments, if uttered in a bar, would lead to teeth on the floor. Even after a life misspent at newspapers, there are words that still get my Irish up. The weird thing is here's what really gets me ticked: When they aren't spelled right.

I recently asked a higher-up why I was being called a name on our website that would get your nose an emergency visit to the rhinoplasty clinic if you ever called me that in person. The higher-up was surprised to see the word on our website. We have software that filters out that kind of filth, he said. But they spelled it wrong.

The software only works if the filth is spelled correctly.

Ah. I tell you that newspaper people are dreamers. And it's a beautiful dream: One day, we'll live in the kind of Utopia where the online trolls are all spelling bee champs who can spell dirty words as well as I could in fourth grade.

I get a lot of naughty stuff because I was steered wrong by nuns and brought up with a view that is neither right-wing Republican nor crazy-loon Democrat but in the middle of what has held sway in Minnesota since the Depression but still makes some people swear like Dick Cheney when I open my mouth.

I can't help it, Your Honor: I was raised badly.

Speaking of judges, the late Ramsey County Judge Joe Summers once ruled that "Coleman is not a fighting word." It's absolutely true: If someone shouts "Coleman" during an argument, you are not legally entitled to hit him.

Not in St. Paul, anyway.

Despite my tolerance of the name-calling, it is time to impose some rules:

Rule One: Keep the insults to me, OK?

Innocent citizens who appear in my column sometimes get the same mob beating I absorb but that is hard to take for an average person whose only crime was to speak to me. A widow whose story I told was insulted harshly and told to "get over" her grief and move on.

Those are fighting words, in any county.

Rule Two: Pay attention.

Many assaults on me are sadly bigoted attempts to label me with identities that regular readers know are wrong, but which the haters think are insults:

I might be stupid, wear turtlenecks in February and believe that peaceful protesters have a right of Free Speech, but am I tiny and withered? No.

I'm 6 feet, 185 pounds, with piercing blue eyes.

Am I Jewish? No.

I'm Irish, with a wonderful Jewish guy named Abe in my family.

Gay? No, but it's early.

Too old to eat bread with crust? No. I'm 58, with lots of kids to feed. Sorry.

I'm not retiring soon.


Ding, ding, ding! You got one! How did you know?

But bald is cool.

Finally, Rule Three, the big one: Be careful what you say online. You have to eat with that mouth. • 612-673-4400