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An Open Letter to Open Letter Writers

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Dear Open Letter Writers,

I applaud you and your public bravery. That special way you share your public-but-should-be-private finger wagging with celebrities, athletes, politicians, or that guy who cut in front of you at Starbucks serves as a reminder of your work as a positive role model to society.

After all, it takes a lot of chutzpah to share your opinions in public. Other people might call it passive-aggressive. Sort of like the way someone speaks loudly to friends in a restaurant about how noisy children are a sign of bad parenting, in the hopes that the people at the next table will tell their bratty kids to shut up.

I can only imagine how irate and annoyed you must be with someone in particular that you want to publicly shame them for what they've done. I'm guessing you have a special insight into the actual circumstances in that person's life, so why shouldn't you air your opinion?

After all, rulers and religious figures have done it for centuries, so why not…

Karl the Curmudgeon Says Pluto's a Planet

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"Kid, let me ask you a question," my friend, Karl, said one day. "Your answer could have a major impact on our relationship."

This sounds serious, I said. What is it?

Karl searched my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and said, "What do you think about Pluto?"

I thought for a minute. The planet or the dog?

"I don't know why I even try!" he said, throwing his hands up and turning back toward the television. We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary bar, watching the footage of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft had been sending back as it flew by. Karl had been there three beers longer than me, and was in one of his moods.

What? What's wrong? I said.

"Well, you did say 'the planet,' so I guess that's okay."

What are you talking about? I said.

"The planet Pluto," Karl said. "The thing named after the Roman god of the underworld."

I thought it wasn't a planet anymore. Karl gla…

Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

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Not since Charlotte the spider wrote "SOME PIG" about her friend, Wilbur, has such a fuss been made about one farm animal.

But in the town of Vevay, Indiana, Fred the white goat was a town favorite.

Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee; you will be corrected) is nestled along the Ohio River in Switzerland County, in the hills of Southern Indiana. And that's where Fred made his home.

Fred didn't originally start out as Fred. He was Sherman, a 4-H goat that belonged to a young girl. Sherman must have thought he was in Stalag 17, because he frequently escaped from his pen. They would track him down, bring him back, and stick him in the cooler to make him tell the location of the French Resistance secret HQ.

(He never cracked, not once.)


But you can't put Baby in a corner, and you can't put Sherman in a pen, because he kept escaping. Finally, after Sherman had done his little goat-and-pony show at the Switzerland County fair, he escaped for the final time. Someone had left …

On The Trail of Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

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This post originally appeared on the VisitIndiana.com website on August 26, 2014. However, after I left the department, my name was removed from the roster of authors (I don't blame them), so it doesn't show up under my name anymore. I wanted to repost it here, so I could continue to receive author credit.


"Are there snakes here?" I asked Kendal as we tromped through the weeds near an abandoned house along the highway. Kendal is the executive director of Switzerland County Tourism in southeast Indiana, and a good friend. We were on the trail of Fred the white goat of Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee), so I could get some photos of the house in question.

"Oh sure," she said. "I live out in the country, and I see them all the time."

I have a deathly fear of snakes, large or small, poisonous or harmless. "If we see one, you're on your own," I said.

"Why?"

"Because I'll be running the other way."


I visited the small town…

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

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Erik is out of the office this week, but he's doing a humor reading this coming Friday, so we're reprinting a 2004 column about humor writing.

I'm often asked what it's like to be a humor writer. Humor writing is simple. So simple, in fact, that — er, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard work. So hard, in fact, that only highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt it at all.

Humor writers should be placed on pedestals and revered by society. They should be honored with parades, awarded medals, and have deli sandwiches named after them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Actually, that's totally why I'm saying that.

Humor is considered the "lesser" art form in literary circles. Other writers think we're clowns who don't take our craft seriously. Since humor makes people laugh, it must not be as serious as other forms of writing.

We're not considered as high-minded as novelists, …

Town Slogans Offer Insights Into Their History

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Cultural reprobate and filmmaker John Waters ("Hairspray," "Cry-Baby") said that a motto is a success if he can't think of a nasty twist on it.

Which means his hometown's new slogan "Baltimore: Birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner" may be a winner. It's straightforward, not to mention patriotic, which means he can't mess with it.

(Not that he wouldn't try. This is the guy who turned inappropriateness into a competitive sport.)

Baltimore unveiled their new Waters-proof slogan on June 30, just five days before Independence Day, when America's theme song will ring out throughout the country. And now Baltimore wants to rub our noses in their contribution to history.

Their announcement got me to thinking about other slogans and how cities and towns want to capitalize on what they're known for.

Back in 2002, Massachusetts spent $300,000 on a new tourism slogan, "Massachusetts . . . Make it Yours," ellipse and all. Not to…