Letters: What You Meant to Say…
December 8, 2010 |  by Johns Hopkins Staff

Bearing reproof

I enjoy receiving Johns Hopkins Magazine. Even when I am too busy to read the entire issue, I always check in with the puckishly pseudonymed Guido Veloce and usually enjoy a perceptive critique of contemporary absurdity that passes for everyday life. So I was especially disappointed by “Star, Lite” [Essay, Fall]. Quoth the intrepid curmudgeon, “It doesn’t take much to be a ‘star’ today. Precipitating that comment was a grizzly murder, bizarre even by Southern California standards.” I was immediately on guard for a story about a notoriously dangerous, large, brown bear or perhaps an elderly malefactor whose viciousness belied his gray beard. But no. The murder was neither grizzly nor grizzled; it was supposed to be grisly.

When the main point turns on the “real” meaning of a word, that point is quite lost when a brown bear stands in for a horrific occurrence. So, regrettably, a former occasional pleasure goes aglimmering. It’s a “doggie dog world.” If you don’t “tow the line,” you may be hoist on your own petard.

Marc Standish, Ed ’05 (MAT)
Baltimore, Maryland

Autism, a treatable disability

Thank you very much for this opportunity to respond to your recent autism article [Wholly Hopkins, “Advancing Autism Education, Near and Far,”

Fall]. Although the article was well written, I was left with some concerns regarding the accuracy of two points of particular importance.

First, autism is not an “incurable disease.” It is a neurological developmental disability that affects individuals of all cultures and backgrounds. Although there is no known cure for autism at this time, there are many effective strategies that can be used to help individuals with autism reach their highest potential. Furthermore, autism is a spectrum disorder that affects people in very individual ways. As such, it is never appropriate to suggest that individuals with autism cannot make great gains in all areas and, in a great number of cases, lead highly successful and fulfilling lives. In fact, hope and high expectations for our students with autism are just as important as, if not more important than, the mastery of all of the effective strategies we are currently recommending.

Secondly, while I am a proponent of pivotal response training (PRT) and do recommend it often, PRT is just one of several interventions that apply the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA, in short, is the science of human behavior and involves understanding how the environment triggers and reinforces behavior. I recommend ABA for use with all individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as individuals with other disabilities. PRT, as one good example, utilizes the tenets of ABA well and is an effective strategy for many individuals with autism.

Danielle Liso, Ed  ’01 (MS)
Assistant Professor of Special
Education, School of Education

Political to the bones

I enjoyed your article “What Killed Bolívar?” [Wholly Hopkins, Fall]. I happened to be in Venezuela when the exhumation of the Great Liberator took place. The episode was bizarre, to say the least, with Chavez tweeting on his Twitter account that he wept at the exhumation, seeing Bolívar’s “glorious skeleton.” Most Venezuelans I spoke with viewed the entire episode as

a farce, just one more stunt in a long line by Hugo Chavez to co-opt and change the past for his present political gain. The article quotes Chavez: “They killed [Bolívar]. . . . I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated him.”

It’s important to explain who the “they” is. Chavez was referring to Colombians. Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, stemming from several issues, not the least of which is Colombia’s partnership with the United States. Border tensions between Colombia and Venezuela flared up earlier this year, prompting the closure of several border towns and the suspension of diplomatic relations.

If Chavez can “prove” that Bolívar was murdered by Colombian rebels 200 years ago, it would give him, and presumably the Venezuelan people, further belief in the righteousness of the current scuffle with their neighbors.

Johns Hopkins professor Paul Auwaerter must find himself somewhat bemused by being pulled into the matter, but when it comes to Simon Bolívar and his legacy in Venezuela, all is sacred—and all is political.

Evan L. Balkan, A&S ‘05 (MA)
Lutherville, Maryland

Pimped to play

How wonderful and generous that Karl Kostoff has left his beautiful 1620 Maggini to Peabody! However, I was disappointed a little in the photo [Wholly Hopkins, “Vignette,” Fall] because it did not show in detail what is distinctive about such a piece of early 17th-century craftsmanship: the outline, the scroll, the purfling inset around its edges. In fact, much of what we do see is characteristic of later centuries: the chinrest, invented 200 years after the instrument was built; the modern-style tailpiece with tuner adapted to a steel E string, all from the early 20th century; and a bow of a design from the late 18th century.

It’s as if someone had bequeathed a 1957 Chevrolet that had been thoroughly “pimped” for racing. That Chevy was not originally built for power, nor was the Maggini violin. Performance conditions and repertoire in 1620 were entirely different from those in 1720, 1820, or 1920. It is remarkable that this Renaissance acoustic amplifier still functions at all in a 21st-century concert setting, in spite of nearly all of its components having been replaced or “improved” since it was first built. The “dark” sound that it produces is in part due to the extreme tension put on the instrument by modifications to its neck, the change from organic gut strings to metal, the heavy weight of the bow, and the ever-rising pitch level of modern concert

life, all brought about by a change in priority from resonance to projection, from quality to quantity.

Nonetheless, the Maggini is a survivor, and I trust that it will find at Peabody players who appreciate what is left of its intrinsic qualities.

Anthony P. Martin, Peab ’73 (MM)
Richmond, California

Happy thoughts

Readers respond to our question “What Makes You Happy?” in the Fall issue:

In 1961–1962, when I took my courses in Operations Research at Johns Hopkins University, I learned that there are “local optima” and “total optima”—meaning there could be many “local optimum points or solutions,” but there is only one overall solution that is optimum. Think of hills: You may be standing on top of a hill, you may say that is the highest point, but there may be other nearby hills in the terrain with other high points. The challenge is to find the overall optima—and not get stuck with local optima. Maximization of “happy moments” is my desire or wish, whether I live 10 more years or 30.

Satinder Mullick, Engr ’65 (PhD)
Corning, New York

My simple definition of happiness is being kept busy, doing things I enjoy, with people I enjoy doing them with. Happiness should be shared with others.

Bill Howard, A&S ’84
St. Louis, Missouri

Although we didn’t read every piece on happiness in the Fall issue, we were reminded that an interviewer once asked Tennessee Williams, “What is your definition of happiness?” He responded, “Insensitivity, I guess.”

Mary Seidel, Ed ’94 (MS)
Robert Seidel, A&S ’91 (MLA)
Baltimore, Maryland

Pornography’s true victims

I want to speak up on behalf of my knight in shining armor, Sir Guido Veloce, who came in defense of me and my sisters of the world [Essay, “The Opposite of Sex,” Summer]. It’s about time someone addressed the whiney voices of the latest pseudo addiction. Professor Anonymous [Letters, “A Serious Addiction,” Fall] felt marginalized, poked fun at, and spotlighted by Guido. But guess who else has those feelings? All of the wives, daughters, and sisters who are directly or indirectly victimized by pornography and the people who use it. Pornography makes every woman in this country feel unsafe.

Not every outrageous behavior should be attributed to illness. That simply gives so-called sexual addicts yet another group to marginalize and victimize: those who really do suffer from sickness, from addictions, and from the threat of losing those things dear to them every single day of their lives.

Pat Bonnell, Ed ’96 (MS)
Baltimore, Maryland