Tag Archives: letters

The world I know | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear future,

I wish you could know the magnificent world I know. I grew up in a place romanticized in fiction as Greentown and, as an adult, I lived on the rocky seacoast of New Hampshire, along the mighty Mississippi, in the shadow of the Continental Divide in Montana, on the great lake in Chicago and just feet from the white sandy beaches of an island paradise in Florida.

Sunrise after sunrise, sunset after sunset, I could step outside and celebrate Earth and all that existed in nature. Just yesterday, I stood on the beach, sand sifting over my toes, and caught a glimpse of four young dolphins leaping from the Gulf of Mexico, their gray tails glistening with water.

Later in the day, I reported a story on the BP oil spill: Half of the oil that gushed from the Deepwater Horizon well in the spring of 2010 likely remains on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico and chemical dispersants — extensively employed to break up the oil — failed.

Future, I suspect my beach is underwater now and Gulf of Mexico waves are rolling over the cement slab that once held my home. Maybe the optimist in me should take comfort in the notion of a new nature overrunning the island. Maybe. Future, is that what’s happened? Is that what we left you? Or did we leave you even less?

‘Dear Elizabeth’ brings a storied poetic friendship to life at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Dear Reader,

Marvelous news! I have just returned from the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Dear Elizabeth — a play told through the letters of esteemed American poets and friends Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. And it is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

I knew but little of the play or its subjects before walking in, though I am well-acquainted with the work of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, and I have been delighted by director Marie Kohler and actors Carrie Hitchcock and Norman Moses multiple times over. Watching Hitchcock and Moses traverse 30 years of the poets’ correspondence is a treat that left me craving to devour every scrap of their lives. 

Of course, the production is aided by rich source material. Playwright Sarah Ruhl takes every word of her play straight from her characters’ mouths — or pens, rather. You see, Bishop and Lowell began writing each other after their first meeting in 1947 and continued exchanging letters until Lowell’s death in 1977. They hid next to nothing from each other in their letters, and where narrative gaps exist, a small handful of pertinent details and datestamps are projected on the back wall of the Studio Theatre. Ruhl ingeniously intermingles the letters with occasional poems by the writers.

If this sounds dry to you, perhaps you are simply not as good a letter writer as Bishop or Lowell! Their words feel like a conversation you might be able to have on a day when you are sharp of mind and your conversation partner does not interrupt you (although one of the play’s best moments comes when Ruhl tweaks her formula and lets the poets’ letters overlap as they argue).

Since the beauty of this play is in the words that Bishop and Lowell have written, it is the duty of its director and actors to effectively translate all the glorious language from the page to the stage. And I think you will be impressed with how Kohler, Hitchcock and Moses have succeeded. Kohler has put her actors (who are married offstage, which makes for quite the onstage chemistry) on opposite ends of the stage, each at wooden desks that make me jealous to see. The actors roll back and forth in their chairs as they read their letters to one another, occasionally drawing closer for particularly personal letters. A shallow pool surrounds them — an appropriately lovely effect, for Bishop’s and Lowell’s poems often draw on water imagery. The pool also helps Hitchcock and Moses enact a weekend the two spent in Maine that had a great impact on both their poetry and their friendship.

When you go — and I hope to have convinced you that you must — do not forget to watch the actors’ responses to the letters as much as the letterwriter while he or she is reading. Hitchcock and Moses do a great deal with the smallest of gestures and reactions.

It’s funny. MCT’s theme for this season is “Looking for Love (in all the wrong places),” but I can think of no descriptor that less aptly describes this play. Alright, perhaps the first part is on the nose, but far be Bishop and Lowell’s relationship a “wrong place” to look for it.

To be fair: Lowell’s letters do reveal an unrequited affection for Bishop that he sometimes interprets as romantic. 

But just because her love for him does not fall into the same category does not make it any less passionate or less real. Dear Elizabeth is a love story — but a love story about two souls who find in each other the friend and confidant they didn’t know they needed.

I saw the play with my own very best friend, Reader, and I suggest you do the same, should you be more fortunate than Bishop and Lowell and have that friend close at hand. There is no better way to enjoy it.

All my best,


On stage

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Dear Elizabeth runs through Oct. 18 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets are $34 to $38, with $5 discounts for students and seniors. Visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com or call 414-291-7800 to order.

U.S. to dedicate Harvey Milk stamp

Time to find a pen pal in Finland.

On Harvey Milk Day, which is a state holiday in California on May 22, the White House will hold a ceremony to dedicate the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp.

Milk, according to a news release from the U.S. Postal Service, was a “visionary leader.” He was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year after he took office, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone killed by former Supervisor Dan White.

Milk believed that government should represent all citizens, ensuring equality and providing needed services, according to the post office’s announcement.

In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

A second dedication ceremony for the stamp will take place in San Francisco on May 28.

Meanwhile, Itella, the Finnish postal service, has announced a line of stamps featuring the work of Tom of Finland aka Touko Laaksonen.

A statement from Itella said, “His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures. …The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer.” 

A petition is circulating that calls on the service in Finland to remove the ToF stamps from circulation.


FBI investigating bogus purge letters to Florida voters

The FBI is joining an investigation into bogus letters sent to many Florida voters that raise questions about their eligibility to cast ballots.

Tampa FBI chief Steven E. Ibison said the FBI will focus on letters received by voters in 18 counties in central and southwest Florida.

State authorities have received reports of letters in at least 23 counties.

The letters claim to be from county supervisors of elections but were all postmarked from Seattle. They raise questions about the voter’s citizenship and appear intended to intimidate people.

Ibison says voters who get a letter should first contact their local election supervisor to see if it’s authentic. If not, voters should keep the letter and contact the FBI.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has also opened an investigation.

Letters asked for leniency in Rutgers spycam case

The letters came from a man who was once beaten with a baseball bat in a racially motivated attack, the widow of a Minnesota judge, a group representing LGBT people from South Asia, a gay member of the Navy and the father of a woman who committed suicide, among others.

There were more than 100 in all, and nearly all had the same theme: telling the judge it would be unjust to put former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi in prison for using a webcam to see roommate Tyler Clementi kissing another man in 2010, just days before Clementi killed himself.

“I learned a lot about bias crimes and bullying through this case,” said a writer named Louise. “The bullying and bias acts occurred when the legal system and media got involved. Ravi is not to blame for the hardships endured by the gay community nor should he be tied to the whipping post because of it. If Tyler was not gay, this would have been just a prank gone wrong and no one would have rushed to incarcerate.”

Ravi, now 20, was convicted in March of 15 criminal counts, including bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Soon after that, the letters began pouring into Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman’s chambers making requests for how to handle sentencing. Ravi faced up to 10 years in prison.

Last week, Berman told him he would have to serve 30 days in jail. Because the sentence is less than a year, it decreases the chances that federal immigration authorities will seek to have Ravi deported to India, where he was born and remains a citizen. Prosecutors said they would appeal the sentence as too light. Ravi, who maintains he is innocent, is considering appealing the entire conviction.

Before delivering the sentence, Berman held up a folder, inches thick, of the letters he’d received from the public. Later, he quoted one of them, calling Clementi’s suicide the “pink elephant” in the case.

Berman made the letters publicly available, but only after having court staff cross out the last names, addresses of and other identifying information about their authors. He said the writers may have expected their communications with him would be private.

It’s a case that’s been dissected by pundits and advocates, addressed by President Barack Obama, debated on by hundreds of bloggers, tweeters and online newspaper commenters and discussed at countless dinner tables. The people who decided to address Berman directly represent just one sliver of the public comment on the tragedy – but a particularly passionate one.

These writers are people who didn’t just want to join the conversation; they wanted to appeal to the judge to do what they believed was the right thing.

Many of the letters were written independently, but some came through an orchestrated effort. More than 30 of those in the file opened by the judge included a pre-printed plea with space for personal additions. Sandeep Sharma, a friend of Ravi’s family and an organizer of the letters, said hundreds of them were sent to the judge.

Sharma said he thinks the letters were one factor in the relatively light sentence. “It had probably some influence,” Sharma said. “I think the judge himself did not believe that this case belonged to the criminal court system to begin with.”

Just three of the letters called on the judge to give Ravi a stiff penalty.

One, from Keith in Lincoln Park: “There is no such thing as ‘it was only a joke.’ There are consequences for everything we do in life.”

Another, identified only as Richard, said he was “victimized in a similar situation” 40 years ago as a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley. “I feel the pain to this day,” he wrote. “Please give Dharun Ravi a harsh sentence.”

Some of the letters came from students who said they weren’t sure Ravi’s actions were wrong at all. One, who said she knew Ravi, confessed that she probably would have done the same thing Ravi did. Another said was troubled by his gay roommate at Rutgers having sex in their dorm room and took action – he didn’t say exactly what – to document what had happened “in case it was necessary.” The student, named Ryan, wrote: “I never thought I was invading anyone’s privacy. I felt my privacy was invaded every time another gay student was at my room with my roommate.”

But most of the letters came from people who thought Ravi had made a terrible mistake – but did not deserve prison.

Some thought the media and public opinion had punished him already. Some said prosecutors were overzealous and others said Ravi, because he is Indian, was the victim of discrimination.

Some, like Amitabha, of Succasunna, N.J., said that prison was just too much. She wrote: “We have already lost a talented young man, Tyler Clementi, and it will be a double tragedy if Ravi’s life is also ruined by a stiff sentence and is forced to leave the country he lived practically all his life.”

Jackson, a former Rutgers sociology professor whose daughter committed suicide, wrote that Ravi is already paying for any role he had in Clementi’s death: “I am convinced that he had no idea that his immature prank would contribute to his roommate’s suicide and that he, like me, will punish himself with guilt for the rest of his life.”

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.

Plea for equality

The following is part of a letter signed by 19 Dane County supervisors and sent to President Obama and the members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation:

We respectfully request your immediate support for a set of federal civil rights measures that would help ensure equal rights for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

Dane County is home to  many citizens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and others who are not represented in policies designed to benefit the heterosexual majority. Our society actively and passively supports and maintains policies that discriminate against sexual minorities, including in the areas of employment, immigration, marriage rights and military service.

The United States Constitution says “no state … shall deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” We therefore respectfully ask that you take action on the following items:

· Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been introduced repeatedly over a period of years in order to ban job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at the federal level. In many places in the United States it is still legal to discriminate against an employee based on her or his sexual orientation.

· Pass the Uniting American Families Act, which would end discrimination against same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other from another county. They deserve the same rights and legal status as other Americans.

· Repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which specifically discriminates against people of the same gender, their relationships and their families, despite significant and growing public sentiment against such a prohibition.

· End the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows many hidden, unacknowledged lesbian, gay and other sexual minority members of the military to continue to serve their country and make sacrifices similar to their heterosexual counterparts without the same rights and benefits.

Please take action in 2010 to end discrimination.

Dane County Supervisors

Defer action

The following letter was sent to Wally Mason, director of the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University:

At its May 14, 2010 meeting, the Wisconsin Arts Board voted unanimously to defer action on the Haggerty Museum’s application for a fiscal year 2011 Creation and Presentation grant until our meeting Sept. 11.

The Wisconsin Arts Board members expressed unanimous concern that serious questions suggesting discriminatory hiring practices at Marquette University had been recently raised in the press and remained unresolved. Board members asked for more time to investigate and ensure that any grant approved was consistent with our mission as the state agency which “nurtures creativity, cultivates expression, promotes the arts, supports the arts in education, stimulates community and economic development and serves as a resource for people of every culture and heritage.” Our clearly stated values include “freedom of expression” and “respect and appreciation for all cultures and people.”

We welcome any materials you believe may be instructive as the Wisconsin Arts Board studies the situation and weighs their decision. I will inform you of that decision immediately following the September meeting.

Barbara Lawton, Lieutenant Governor

Historical correction

I was reading the review for the play “The Value of Names” and noticed that there was a historical error in the article. It was mentioned that President Harry S. Truman in 1959 labeled what he saw as, “The most un -American thing in this country today.” This is, however, incorrect because he was not president in that year. It would have to be President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I am a straight yet very supportive person for gay rights and I enjoy reading your newspaper. It helps me keep up with what’s going on in the LGBT world.


Support supportive businesses

It amazes me the infighting that goes on in the LGBT communities. As a transgender I know the pain, suffering, isolation and inhuman cruelty we face. Some of us face imprisonment, forced military service, slander campaigns, exodus crusades and catty people.

We try desperately to please those who hate us. We spend our money, donate our time and pay with our lives.

When asked what transgender people want, one prominent transgender activist said, “We want the right to live. We want love, relationships, education, healthcare, a good job and a future for our children. In short we are fighting for our very lives.”

How do we win this battle? We vote with our wallet, that’s how. Right now many corporations are standing with us in the fight for equality. When you purchase a car, go to the bank, or spend money on any item, you vote for freedom.

Let’s send a message for freedom and help fix the American economy. Go to the 2010 HRC buying guide at http://www.hrc.org/buyersguide2010.

Jerry Hull

A bad check

No longer content to simply pretend that he has frozen the tax levy, when it has actually increased by nearly $45 million during his tenure, Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker upped the ante during his State of the County address by making an arbitrary and irresponsible bet when he promised to lower the tax levy next year. This may say more about his perception of his political prospects than his management ability. Given the state takeovers and service deterioration that Milwaukee County has experienced, it’s clear that the county executive’s managerial track record is lackluster.

There is no need to propose a responsible budget if you plan to skip town for a new job. The impending fallout will not manifest until later, when taxpayers suffer the increasing consequences of service cuts, deferred maintenance and broken promises.

Walker’s $200,000,000 check to taxpayers, an insincere metaphor about savings, is really an example of “Enron-like accounting” since it is based on paper gains not yet realized but projected forward and multiplied for effect. When this check bounces, the rhetoric will fall flat.

Cutting hundreds of jobs and doubling furloughs for deputies as the county executive has done erodes service quality and makes our community less safe. These are not characteristics of leadership; they are policies of long-term decline. The comparison in business is a CEO who manages based on the next quarter’s performance and personal opportunity to benefit while undermining the company’s long-term fundamentals. Far from being actual fixes, these are short-term maneuvers that bear no relation to the real demand for county services.

Despite the six-month track record, Walker misleads the public again when he claims success on the use of pension obligation bonds. This $400 million “borrow-and-invest” scheme is far more complex and risky than his comparison to refinancing a home. It is a high stakes bet based on arbitrage. Further, short-term performance during a market surge is no indication of long-term performance.

Finally, the County Executive forgot to credit President Barack Obama and Congress for providing the financial stimulus, which is the basis of his Milwaukee County Works program. Walker’s plan to borrow very aggressively in 2010 and utilize more than $40 million of one-time federal stimulus funds is an exceptional turnaround from his stance less than one year ago.

It is good to hear the county executive singing positively about Milwaukee County, but citizens must look beyond the rhetoric to see the peril of short-term promises. Simply put, it must be an election year.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb, 1st District