Copyright © 1995 McClatchy News Service
Converted to HTML by Scott Pakin.

Newspaper article about my complaint-letter generator

The following article, written by John M. Scalzi, II, appeared in the Fresno Bee (and a number of other newspapers syndicated through the McClatchy News Service) on January 18, 1995. I'm famous! However, I would like to be more famous, so if you've written a newspaper article that puts me in a good light, just send me a copy and I'll put it online.


When I was in college, working as the editor of my school newspaper, one of my favorite things was getting angry letters to the editor.

These letters were great fun. There's nothing quite as purple as the prose that comes out of overheated undergraduates, most of whom have learned bright and shiny new words and concepts that very day, and are dying to try them out on someone. Being a college newspaper, we were always saying something inflammatory, so we were a large and easy target.

We didn't mind. The letters were fun to read, and we'd read the best ones out loud. After a certain amount of time, however, you'd begin to notice a weird sameness to the letters. There'd always be a tone of outraged objectivity, which would devolve sooner or later into barely concealed personal paranoia. It's as if someone somewhere were churning them out with the help of a computer.

Which brings me to my subject today. Enclosed in this column is a computer-generated complaint letter. It was written through a program that was developed by a fellow named Scott Pakin, at the University of Illinois. The idea is that you give the computer the name of the person you want to complain about, and how many paragraphs you want it to be. And then you press a button.

The program has a set of sentences that it generates, which are then filled in by randomly assigned adjectives, nouns and verbs. It's sort of like those old "Mad-Libs," except a lot faster. The result is a letter that sounds impressively negative. And you get a new one every time! Computers, they're wonderful tools.

I've configured this letter to complain about me, and sure enough, what came out sounds just like the letters I got back in the old days. Ironically, the angry letters I get these days are generally far less interesting; real people apparently have much less time on their hands.

If you want to with the program yourself yourself, and have access to the World Wide Web, the place to go is http://www-csag.cs.uiuc.edu/individual/pakin/complaint.

This letter comes with an extra bonus: the next time you read this column and disagree with it, but don't have time to complain yourself, just clip this out and send it along to the editors. It'll do in a pinch.

TO THE EDITORS:

It seems that before I launch into this letter, I should tell you that John Scalzi should just face the facts. If you disagree with my claim that in the near future Scalzi's doctrines will degenerate into hotbeds of rumor and innuendo, then read no further.

He is up to no good. He blames others for his daft deeds. I don't think it is a mere coincidence that Scalzi's actions are attributable to an ignorance born of fear. How will Scalzi's lackeys react when they discover that Scalzi wants to marginalize me based on my gender, race, or religion? There is little doubt that his little world is far from reality. I think that Scalzi's opinion is a lazy cop-out. If Scalzi thinks I'm too amateur to give you the following information (which Scalzi wants concealed from the public), he's sadly mistaken. Scalzi, get a life! This is abject imperialism!

I got off on a tangent. Ok, I admit that this is typical of the kind of noise he enjoys making. But there's a distinction to be made here.

We need the space and autonomy to fight the practices that can hurt us. All Scalzi does is inspire abhorrent statements. Imagine a world in which he could overthrow democratic political systems whenever he felt like it. He and others of his ilk are symbols of ignorant defeatism. As it turns out, I disagree both with his point and with the way he makes it. What he seems to be forgetting is that it's a sad world where stuck-up recidivists have the power to infringe upon our most important constitutional rights. By this, I mean that he is devoid of all social conscience.

Really, he thinks he can impress us by talking about "electrocardiography this" and "psychotherapeutical that". Should we blindly trust such unprofessional anarchists? I urge you to join me in my quest to fight vapid arrogant-types. Scalzi frequently progresses into displays of authority he doesn't have. So it should come as no surprise that his hypocrisy comes out when he denies that he surrounds himself with anti-democratic scoundrels.

A final note: the comparison between John Scalzi and abusive heavy metal fans is remarkable.

Sincerely,


Sorry. You'll have to pay for the stamp yourself.


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