O U R R E A D E R S W R I T E
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The winning touch, on and off the strip
Bravo on your cover story on Dick Oles ["The Right Touch," February]. It very nearly captured the essence of Oles and was very much overdue. Fencing at Hopkins is learning to fence under Dick Oles, and if you ever stop by the fencing room and see the number of champions and championships that have occurred during his tenure as coach, it becomes readily apparent that his coaching style produces winners, both on the strip and off.
It was too bad that the story couldn't have covered the annual alumni-varsity fencing meet held every year in January. The alumni who attended this year covered four decades of fencing, all of whom are still active in fencing and all of whom learned to fence under Dick Oles. The members of the alumni team are doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, etc., and with very few exceptions were members of championship teams at Hopkins. Of course, the alumni are still very hard to beat and the varsity rarely wins. Several alumni continue to fence competitively and continue to win championships. Most of them had never fenced until they came to Hopkins.
As can be seen, Dick Oles has been doing things his way for
a long time, and doing so successfully. His brand of
individualism deserves recognition and support, and your article
did both very well.
It was with great delight that I read Dale Keiger's excellent article on Dick Oles' decades of service as the Hopkins fencing coach.
Indeed, the article evoked warm memories, including of when Dick Oles came out to join the fencing team, then coached by the late Johnny Pope. Dick--then a younger "curmudgeon"--had found his sporting niche. He soaked up fencing like the proverbial sponge and was soon one of my épée teammates.
When Dick left Hopkins in his search for a vocation, it was serendipitous for subsequent generations of Blue Jay bladesmen that he found it in his return as the Hopkins coach.
The last time I saw Dick was at a small dinner 12 years ago
to celebrate his 30 years as Hopkins coach. I don't know whether
there was a similar celebration for his 40th anniversary but I
hope there will be for the 50th--and I'd like to be there.
I was privileged to be under the tutelage of Dick Oles from 1959 to 1963 and I learned more from him than from all of my other teachers at Hopkins combined. Not academic things, but things that have mattered in my life: honor, achieving success through hard work, risk versus reward, discipline, sacrifice. In 1962, I won the MACFA épée title. Coach Oles asked me to sacrifice a relatively sure second title in épée by competing my final year in foil. Fencing foil is quite different from épée, and at first I was pretty poor at it. The épée team was solid, the foil team very weak. There was no way we could win the MACFA team title without a decent foil team. Coach Oles trained me well enough to win the MACFA foil title in 1963, the only person ever to win MACFA titles in two different weapons, and the team won the first MACFA title of the 21 in his 42-year tenure as fencing coach.
The article mentions the Tri-Weapon Boys Club, but not that Dick Oles founded it around 35 years ago and has funded it out of his pocket to take at-risk kids off the street and into a sport that will teach them valuable lessons about life. Dozens of kids once headed in the wrong direction are now in nice homes and jobs rather than prison because of Dick Oles.
Fencing team alumni maintain a separate website and have
annual Varsity-Alumni Tournaments. They are incredibly loyal to
Coach Oles, admittedly a lovable curmudgeon, a teacher of the
highest order. Thanks for everything, Dick.
As an alumna of the Hopkins women's fencing team, I often heard Coach Oles (in the words of the article) "declaim... on the manner in which the NCAA has implemented gender equity programs and how that has hurt men's fencing." When will Hopkins wake up and realize that Coach Oles is a walking, and talking, invitation to a Title IX lawsuit? Why do I never contribute when Hopkins comes calling? Three reasons:
1. Dick Oles.Jane Freeberg Sarma '89 Weehawken, NJ
I thoroughly enjoyed "The Right Touch" and I have a few thoughts that I would like to share with present and former members of the Hopkins community.
It was the fall of 1968 and I noticed a posting near the wall of the old Snack Bar in the dorms: "Freshman Fencing: no experience necessary." Hmmm, I thought, I always liked Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn, and Cornell Wilde (who actually fenced for CCNY as it was then known). I was basically a shy kid, too "wimpy" for high school football, lousy at baseball and basketball, but somewhere inside I knew some kind of "athlete" was there. I had "smarts," but wanted ever so much to be a "jock." I thought, "Hey, this is for me!" So began a journey that changed my life forever, but for the better--I met Coach Dick Oles.
Sure, he was tough, gruff and "ultra-conservative" and always treated team membership as a privilege not a right. However, in addition to being a great fencing coach, he was a great teacher of life's lessons: responsibility and hard work. He transformed the members of the team who stuck it out into a tight-knit group of friends who sometimes achieved championship status in four years (sometimes less).
One of the things I will always cherish was that lacrosse coach
Bob Scott (who was leading our laxmen at the time to collegiate
championships almost every other year) used to drop by the
fencing room to chat with "Coach" and watch us practice. We
asked Coach why he seemed to get along so well with Bob and he
responded, in his typical "in your face"--fashion, "'cause we are
WINNERS!" In addition, to building winners year in and year out,
Coach Oles has built generations of Hopkins graduates who are
leaders in daily life in their chosen professions. I salute him
for all his contributions over the years to Johns Hopkins
University and compliment Dale Keiger again on this long- overdue
tribute to one of the outstanding individuals in the Hopkins
community--Coach Richard F. Oles!
Elborg Forster's article, "The Art and Craft of Translation" [February], really created a vivid picture of the translator's struggle to remain true to the source despite the gaps of time, culture, and language that separate the original author from the eventual reader. In my work as an indexer for Index Medicus/MEDLINE, I have often had to come up with title translations for foreign medical articles, and it is often quite challenging to find an idiomatic English equivalent for some of the concepts that reflect cultural situations having no real parallels in the United States.
While most of the foreign journals do an excellent job of providing their own English titles and abstracts, every once in a while we find examples of the pitfalls described by Ms. Forster. I'll never forget my shock at seeing in the table of contents an article titled "Strange Corpses in the Esophagus," which turned out to be about foreign bodies in the esophagus.
One difficulty in translation that Ms. Forster did not mention is dealing with the disparity in the number of synonyms possessed by different languages. Some languages have an exceedingly rich lexicon drawn from several precursor languages, and there are many synonyms or closely related words for most concepts, so that each has a slightly different nuance or flavor (as in the example of all the possible English translations for the French "belle"--beautiful, lovely, fine, handsome, etc.). Others have a small, intense lexicon where the same word has to serve for many related concepts and carries a bit of all its possible meanings wherever it appears.
A different strategy is required in each case: When going
from a sparser to a richer language, one must find just the right
synonym to convey the word's meaning in only that particular
context, and sometimes multiple synonyms may be needed to catch
all the many flavors of the original densely charged word; when
going from a richer to a sparser language, it is sometimes
necessary to pad the phrase or go to a trickier grammatical
construction in order to avoid monotony or choppiness. C.S. Lewis
in his essay "Transposition" likens the process to the
difficulties of a musician who is trying to create an orchestral
version of a simple song or, conversely, trying to make a piano
arrangement of a symphony or operatic overture.
Once again Hopkins Magazine touched me on a personal
level, this time through "The Art and Craft of Translation." As I
struggled with the perfective and frequentative aspects of Polish
101 verbs while writing emails to strangers in Poland, the
article reminded me that translation is a series of puzzles.
Elborg Forster presents translation as a sequence of problems to
tackle. Each problem requires deciphering the connotations of
words and phrases in two languages. Her languages spring to life
as she examines each word and phrase of a translation. After
reading her article, I appreciate that the conversion of ideas to
another language will always be a challenge but can remain fresh
I thoroughly enjoyed "The Art and Craft of Translation," by
Elborg Forster. She states that "the most important thing for a
translator is to write the target language well." That she does
write English well is very evident in this piece. The idea of a
translation being "correct," but perhaps very different from
another "correct" translation, and the need of a translator to
write in a style similar to the original author's were new
thoughts to me.
I read the brief article, in the February edition, on calculus reform and its effect on teaching at Hopkins [p. 25]. As a high school calculus teacher for almost 30 years, I have been involved in the use of graphing software and graphing calculators as I prepared students for the new Advanced Placement Calculus Examinations, which emphasize "real-world" applications and numerical approaches. I am glad that Hopkins also recognizes the importance of technology in teaching calculus.
The author of the article must not be a calculus student, as there is a glaring error that any first-year algebra student today would notice. [Dale Keiger] speaks of "a parabolic curve that sweeps up the graph, curves down, then bends back up." Keiger could not have been observing a parabolic curve, since a parabolic curve has only one turning point. If it sweeps up and then curves down, it never bends back up!
There was also a misspelling of the word "lemniscate," which describes a polar graph resembling a propeller.
I like reading articles in the magazine when they are
related to mathematics. Please include more of them.
Your recent article discussing Curt Meinert's critique of a supposed male-favored bias in medical studies ["Subject to Dispute," February] is long overdue. As he points out, those leading the cries for more female studies do so despite an NIH study that showed approximately twice as much spent on female-specific illnesses as was spent on male-specific illnesses for two years in the 1980s. However, there is a yet more compelling argument that male-specific studies are, if anything, underfunded.
Those who support the concept of government-funded social programs would doubtless argue that funds and efforts should be directed where the need is greatest. What better broad comparison of male and female health exists than mortality tables? A quick glance reveals that female life expectancy at birth is six years greater than that of males, with large discrepancies continuing until advanced ages.
Surely, if such a great discrepancy of life expectancy were
related to geography there would be major funds devoted to
determining the cause. Shouldn't we be devoting more resources to
the study of male health?
Kudos goes out to "Guido Veloce" and his new disorder manual
["Essay," February]. I
photocopied his thoughts and sent duplicates to all the teachers
and guidance counselors of my secondary school. We are greatly
relieved to have syndromes to discuss with parents, rather than
well-worn euphemisms we've been choking on. Suppressing honest
responses to the parents of LLW's has caused many of us to retire
early due to severe stomach and mental maladies. Please let me
know as soon as the manual is off the press.
We enjoyed the article by Melissa Hendricks in the November Johns Hopkins Magazine [p. 50]. Two of us (Cedric F. Garland and Frank C. Garland) worked in the office where Dr. Elmer V. McCollum, who first isolated vitamin D, wrote when he was a member of the faculty of the Hopkins School of Public Health. We are pleased that the distinguished tradition of research on vitamin D continues now at Hopkins.
While we were pleased to read about the recent research on controlling potential toxicity of large doses of vitamin D, we noticed what we consider an error in this interesting story. The story reported that "The skin produces vitamin D using energy from the sun and vitamin D is added to milk, but those concentrations aren't enough to protect against cancer."
This statement is not completely consistent with what we
know from existing research. Using a cohort in Washington County,
Maryland, assembled with the guidance of Professor Abraham
Lilienfeld and Professor George W. Comstock, both of Hopkins, we
showed that people with high vitamin D metabolite levels in the
blood (mainly from sunlight-induced vitamin D and fortified milk)
had only one-fourth the risk of colon cancer as did people with
low levels. This major study was published in the Lancet (1989;
I was appalled but fascinated in reading your interview with Hopkins political science professor Benjamin Ginsburg in the November issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine [p. 29]. In response to Dale Keiger's question about the criticism by third parties that the political system is rigged, Professor Ginsburg is quoted as saying: "Of course the system is rigged. This is a system controlled by two parties. Why would they open the arena to third parties? ... That's life. Those in power set the rules to keep themselves in power. How could it be otherwise?"
What's most striking here is the absence of the most obvious answer to Keiger's question: "through a robust democracy with active citizen participation." While the two parties themselves are indeed unlikely to open up a system whose closure benefits them, whatever happened to the rights and powers of citizens themselves to set and change the ground rules of their own system?
Ginsburg's hard-headed realism about the closures of the two-party system is in some ways a refreshing change from the usual self-congratulatory rhetoric about the wonders of American democracy that constitute so much of our national political discourse--at least prior to the Florida voting scandal of 2000. Yet it is truly shocking to hear such a claim made without any mention of the underlying ethical foundation of any constitutional democracy--that a political community's basic institutions and decision-making procedures should be subject to the control of the people themselves, not those who happen temporarily to be entrusted with the people's power.
Ginsburg's "realism," when detached from any critical sense
of the value of democratic participation, becomes nothing more
than straight-forward cynicism. The cynicism of the professional
observer then goes on to encourage the cynicism and political
disillusionment of average voters, which, in turn, further
weakens the ability of citizens to break into the closed circle
of the two-party system and those whose interests it serves.
My wife and I very much appreciated the article by Melissa Hendricks and Sue De Pasquale in the November 2000 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine ["What's Up, Underground?"]. She, because she was a nursing student who used the tunnel from Hampton House to the Hospital daily, in the early '60s; I, because, as editor-in-chief of the News-Letter in 1960-61, I got to know the many idiosyncracies of the underground of the Homewood campus. Two additional notes to the story:
Underneath the "garden" that used to be near the president's residence at the time (Milton Eisenhower was the JHU president) was a small radiation laboratory used for botanical experiments, and probably other things, which was accessible also from one of the lower basements in Gilman Hall. Only the "NO ACCESS-Radiation Hazard" sign on the otherwise nondescript door gave any hint of the science behind it.
I spent much time with
Milton Eisenhower in Homewood House and was made aware of an old
(very old) tunnel that went from the house toward the old dorms.
There used to be a small storage building (really a shed) in a
clump of old bushes that was about halfway to the old dorms, and
there were other tunnels crisscrossing the open field in front of
the old dorms. The fascinating part is that one tunnel was an
emergency exit tunnel from the Homewood House to a place a safe
distance away, which was, as described to me, "in case of
problems with Indians!" Apparently there were still indigenous
Indians in the area when the house was built around 1800, and the
tunnel was built as an escape if there was a troublesome
I was disappointed to read that two great Johns Hopkins traditions have been significantly altered as a result of the recent renovations efforts on the Homewood campus [p. 19, November]. No longer will the university-wide commencement take place in front of Gilman Hall, and Spring Fair has been relegated to Garland Field. I find it surprising that an administration that has been so skillful in planning all of the construction on the Homewood campus would allow these two significant events to be moved from their traditional locations. At what cost does the university carry out its new vision for the main campus?
University commencement on the Upper Quad was not only a
beautiful place for students to celebrate a pivotal moment in
their lives, but it stood as a tribute to President Gilman and
his contribution in helping make Johns Hopkins the greatest
research university in the world. Having Spring Fair spread
throughout the main campus sent a message to Baltimore residents
that Johns Hopkins welcomed them to take advantage of its many
resources. While I am confident that the Homewood community will
find a way to make these events special in their more remote
locales, the university should in the future strive to maintain
what few traditions Johns Hopkins holds dear.
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