Spence Green

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I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

How People Once Wrote

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While in Atlanta last week I was digging through the magazines that tend to wash up at my family’s house. We’ve lived there for 25 years, and my dad never seems to cancel subscriptions. In Sports Illustrated I found this historical article from 16 August 1954:

The art of running the mile consists, in essence, of reaching the threshold of unconsciousness at the instant of breasting the tape. It is not an easy process, for the body rebels against such agonizing usage and must be disciplined by the spirit and the mind. It is infinitely more difficult in the amphitheater of competition, for then the runner must remain alert and cunning despite the fogs of fatigue and pain; his instinctive calculation of pace must encompass maneuvers for position, and he must harbor strength to answer the moves of other men before expending his last reserves. Few events in sport offer so ultimate a test, and the world of track has never seen anything equal to the “Mile of the Century,” which England’s Dr. Roger Gilbert Bannister–the tall, pale-skinned explorer of human exhaustion who first crashed the four-minute barrier–won last Saturday from Australia’s world-record holder, John Michael Landy.

Here is the difference between describing and articulating. Good writers describe what they see, but in an artful manner that informs the reader. Thus fatigue becomes “agonizing usage,” and we grasp the difference between running as exercise and the very different requirements of competition.  This kind of writing is increasingly hard to find in the popular press.

Written by Spence

January 9th, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Commentary,Writing

Free Speech

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Is free speech free? For a moment consider this question independent of politics and economics and law. As a human being, are you free to express yourself absent some social cost? Of course not. And this certainty has inspired some reflection recently:

I can’t mention success because I will look arrogant.
I can’t admit failure because I will look weak.
I can’t really ask stupid questions because people will think I’m stupid.
I can’t show too much enthusiasm without appearing glib.
I can’t despair because that’s a treatable medical condition.
I can’t dress carelessly because I’ll look unprofessional.
I can’t wear fine fabric because I’ll be called a dandy.
I can’t be indecisive because men, even in these liberal times, are expected to act.
I can’t be too sure because I’m probably wrong anyway.
I can’t write these words without knowing that some employer, some admissions committee, some friend, some colleague, some family member, or some stranger will pause and think:

Wow, what a (   ).

And that is what we do. We are classifiers, all of us.

The usual objection to this reasoning is that self-worth should not be influenced by external opinions. But suppose that I am confident in myself. Will that get me a job? Into graduate school? A promotion? A new house? A happy marriage? Moral children? And if I am confident, and I don’t have any of these assets, how many people will believe that my confidence is real, that I am not delusional?

The more I ponder this question, the more I realize that total indifference to the opinions of others is a form of madness, or at least it’s seen that way.

Written by Spence

October 17th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Composition,Writing

You Can Do Better, AJC

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Cynthia Tucker’s opinion piece “Unhealthy tone to Obama opposition” (16 Sept.) was not helpful. It is clear to nearly everyone irrespective of political persuasion that President Obama’s election was a crucial moment in this country’s history. What saddens me is that Ms. Tucker sees Mr. Obama in much the same way as the “fervid right” that she so vigorously attacks: as a black man. But Mr. Obama’s genius is his ability to harmonize interests that have until now remained divided along racial lines. One way that he does so is to present skin color as an incidental matter. It is discouraging that Ms. Tucker has not learned from his example, preferring instead to argue that the presence of a vocal, bigoted minority is broadly instructive.

For example, Ms. Tucker cites defamatory faxes sent to Rep. David Scott as evidence of a pervasive racial undercurrent in the conversation on healthcare. But if we are to take informal sampling of one politician’s fax machine as useful analysis, then I suggest a review of Mr. Bush’s inbox over the past few years. It is likely that several unkind messages would be found. As for demonstrations, Ms. Tucker has forgotten the placards that greeted Mr. Bush in all the world’s cities.

Considering the AJC’s status as a progressive voice in these matters, one feels that an opportunity is lost when unsophisticated remarks like Ms. Tucker’s are entertained.

Written by Spence

September 18th, 2009 at 9:00 am

Posted in Commentary,Writing