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The fine art of the angry letter

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Journalism is all about questions. It doesn't matter where you went to school - if you've ever taken a journalism class, you probably remember that the first lesson was focused on the 'who, what, when, where and why.' (The second thing you learn is where to buy those snazzy fedoras with the word PRESS on them. The third thing: 'Anonymous Source Google.')

Now, if you're not familiar with the 5 W's of journalism (or dubfive, as they are referred to by the in-crowd), they are a set of queries reporters use to find out all the relevant information about a story. First they might ask a person of interest 'Who are you?' Then, 'What brand of clothing are you wearing?' Next is 'When can we expect a movie deal?' And finally, 'Why did you murder so many innocent bystanders?' (It's all about priorities.) But I'm not a hard-hitting reporter. The questions I ask have more to do with the values I want to force onto my readers, rather than whose trash I'm digging through.

In fact, when it comes to my own style of writing here at the Lake Oswego Review, I've always tried to make the query, 'Can't we all just get along?' the central question that grounds my work. But, judging by the voice and tone of the letters section of this paper, the answer remains a resounding 'No! … and here is an itemized list of 26 reasons why everyone who disagrees with me will destroy the future of Lake Oswego and all carbon-based life within our galaxy.'

To be clear, I have nothing against letters to the editor. Indeed, it is the esteemed opinion of myself and this fine periodical that the erudite discourses of the leisured classes represent an indubitable benefit to society at large. Plus, writing for a paper with such an engaged (enraged?) readership can be a boon, for a humor columnist.

All the same, I'm starting to re-evaluate my stance here. I'm thinking about shifting away from being a ray of sunshine, and more toward an arms dealer. The fact is, people like writing angry letters. Why can't I be helpful for once, and do the grunt work? So here you go - here's a stock angry letter I wrote that I'm pretty sure will apply to pretty much any situation that angers you. Just circle the options that make the most sense for you.

Dear Sir/Madam/Editor/Alien Overlord /Mr. Whiskers: How dare you continue to support/oppose/remain troublingly silent on (current 'hot' issue). I have been a loyal supporter/dissenter/cat-enthusiast for 10 years now, and I believe I deserve better/worse/exactly the same. You were not elected/appointed/transmogrified/adopted from a cat orphanage to behave in such a disgraceful/adorable way. Sincerely (your name/alias/twitter username/12-digit sub-human identification number.)

Obviously, this only scratches the surface of what a great angry letter to the editor can accomplish. There are many techniques you can choose from, and because I am still 400 words south of my desired word count for this column, allow me to tell you about three of those things!

1. Straw Man Fallacies. Straw man fallacies take incorrect or easily disprovable arguments and present them as the legitimate main arguments of the opposition. These are then easily proven false. Let's say you lived in a, uh, hypothetical town that was deciding if it should build a streetcar … for bringing, errr, ice cream to the town. Opponents of the streetcar might argue that ice cream is fattening. However, instead of addressing the real issue, you'd say 'My opponent asserts that ice cream is made of disguised road salt! But today I have brought a cute five-year-old who will prove categorically that ice cream is yumilicious!' See?

2. Links to websites. It's a scientifically proven fact that there's nothing people enjoy more while reading the paper than to stop reading, find the nearest computer, and type the URL of a website into a browser. (For more on this, see my twitter feed at www.twitter.com/ZaneSparling). So instead of just, say, summarizing whatever article or argument you want to cite, simply write out the entire link, which preferably should be something like: http://5z8.info/uranium-enrichment_g6p2ng_malacious-virus_nsfw.

3. Don't listen to the other side. The reason for angry letters isn't to foster a debate or even to try and convince people. Furthermore, if the opposition doesn't automatically capitulate, or worse, tries to respond to your letter with one of their own - don't bother reading it. Why? Because America doesn't negotiate with terrorists, that's why. Now's the time to slightly modify your old letter and re-send it to the paper. Try changing up the font. Or switching your quantificational inaccuracies for syllogistic fallacies. It doesn't really matter as long as it feels better for YOU! (If this STILL doesn't convince the other side of its own lunacy, try repeating your old arguments in approximately 5,000 more letters, just to be safe.)

See how simple it is? Now even you can write letters like a crank - uh, concerned citizen. Now let's just hope we never run out of things to get angry about.

Zane Sparling, a senior at Lake Oswego High School, writes a twice-a-month column for the Lake Oswego Review.