Art and commerce

5
Sep
2009

A few days ago I was having a discussion with an artist. We were talking about films and one that we mentioned he intended to see. He then indignantly added that a friend of his had offered to burn him a copy and he was horrified that they would suggest “stealing” in this way. To play devil’s advocate a bit, I asked him what had him so riled up? He went off angrily about how much work the artists and creative people had put into this, and the thought that they weren’t being given proper due and that their work was being “stolen” was terribly unfair. He just couldn’t understand why people thought this kind of thieving was in any way ok.

Not deciding whether it is “right” or “wrong”, I posited to him that in our material world, the notion of stealing is most notably aligned with a scarce physical resource. Let’s say I steal your car or even the food from your refrigerator. These are physical items in the physical world that are not immediately replaceable. These are things that took many many hours to produce, and there is no way to “copy” them without disturbing the original. I surmise that people don’t feel the same way about copying a film or piece of music, because the other listener to that music will not suddenly be without it. My friend pointed out that many hours of effort went into producing the music or film as well, and while it is true that a great deal goes into making the “first” one, subsequent copies in our increasingly digital world are fractions of pennies (in cost of electricity) to make.

And then I started thinking about a machine that could reproduce matter with nothing other than power input. Who would protect the intellectual property of a great chef for example, when it will be possible to duplicate atom for atom a fantastic main course or dessert? What about a painting or sculpture? (leave aside that we already have a notion in the art world of prints and castings, which are all about commercial ideas of rarity and value through limit of numbered –and signed — supply). The art world is dripping with contradiction in that on the one hand they desperately want to claim uniqueness, but on the other, in a capitalist and consumer society, they sell as much as is possible and do their utmost to cultivate sale value.

In all these cases, the path forward looks pretty clear to me, whether those vested in the current system like it or not.

As has been said many times before, information (and software, music, and video are all forms of information) wants to be free. The more restrictive a culture is with “fair use” rights, the more impoverished culturally. The greatest works of art do not live in a vacuum, they are relational, derivative, playing off the common cultural landscape. Larry Lessig speaks eloquently about the chilling effect of extreme copyright law in perpetuity, and how important it is for a culture to be able to mix and remix and refer to itself.

As information (and that is all that everything is ultimately) becomes more cheaply reproducible, its ability to command a specific price based on what the creator or owner thinks it should be is diminished. All content in digital form (music, video, etc) will or should follow the model of shareware and the like. The way shareware works is that the owner gives it away for “free” and asks the user (with varying degrees of insistence) to pay for the software if they like it and get some use out of it. Many individual programmers make a nice living off of this model that depends on the “honesty” of strangers. The best, in my opinion only sets a “suggested” price, and really leaves it up to the user to determine for themselves the monetary value they wish to assign to it. Some people will use it once, pay a fee, and never use it again. Some will pay nothing and use it all the time. Some will use it frequently and pay something else entirely. My point is that value is in the eye of the beholder, and for digital works this should be taken advantage of for optimum return. It is the height of folly for an artist to dictate what the value or interpretation of a work of art should be, but that is exactly what the studio system and recording industry has encouraged for years. They are clearly on the losing side in this modern age, and despite all the copy protection mechanisms in place, they are fighting a losing battle.

Let’s take another analogy from the software industry. There are many companies that give software away for free, and sell their support or customization services. In a similar way, one can imagine artists giving away their music but charging for one of a kind events like a live show, where being present is not something that can be easily reproduced (at least not until virtual reality gets a whole lot better). These ways of thinking about selling are anathema to the studios and recording execs, because let’s face it, they are left out of the picture. With the internet as a distribution means, individual artists have much more control over when how and where their work gets out. They don’t need to rely on publicity or marketing decisions of some executive in a far away, well appointed office. They find the sites (or pay someone to) and distribute directly. The end result of all of this is that in the future, there will be far fewer “mega” stars but I believe far more people able to successfully make a decent living off of their music (or other forms of art). With an audience of billions, there is sure to be some subgroup with a particular taste for the artist in question, and some percentage of them willing to pay directly for the music or for the chance to see a live show or interact in some other meaningful way with their artist.

One of the most difficult concepts for me to grapple with while I was traveling around the world recently, especially in chaotic cultures like India, was the concept of haggling for things. Because it has been part of our culture, we like to believe in the democratization of honesty and value and ultimately, price. When someone sets a price on anything (an object in particular) we take it on faith that this price is some sort of fair calculation of the work that went into making it and its distribution costs. But this is a fantasy (and living in a capitalist society, we should know this but don’t). The value of anything (and this becomes abundantly clear in the street markets in India) is precisely what you are willing to pay for it, not a penny more or less. The fact that this is a subjective measure originally gave me fits. But then I came to realize that even in our supposedly advanced culture, price is essentially what the market will bear. If I was tired after a long day a taxi ride of exactly the same length and duration was worth more than if I were really feeling like walking the distance.

My point in all this is that artists (and content producers of all types) should get comfortable with the idea of variable value. They should realize that some people will want to consume their product for a penny and some for a dollar, but that this has nothing particularly to do with their wishes or the value of their work. I asked my friend if we were not living in a world where he could sell his paintings, would he still make them. He of course answered yes, that he HAD to paint. Just as many artists HAD to create. It is part of who they are and they need to express themselves. And these expressions are not outside of culture at all, but part of a dialog with that culture. It is just as vitally important to present and show and dialog with the culture about the work, as it is to make it. Money is nice and it is important to make a living somehow, but let’s face it — this is ancillary to the work of art. And many times it is corrupting. How many artists scream bloody murder about “selling out”, but go along willingly for the money and/or fame?

As the famous line (often attributed to  Churchill) goes, “We have already established what you are, we are merely haggling over price.” If art is to be truly meaningful, the price of a work of art must be irrelevant. I don’t begrudge any artist making a good or even great living from their work, but the value of that work to themselves and the culture cannot be established by the simple fact of setting a price and collecting it. Furthermore, in the modern age, controlling such things as who has access to your work is a fantasy. Far better to deal with the reality of the digital world and adapt to its quirks. With any great technological change comes disruption and displacement. Smashing the mechanical looms will do nothing to forestall the future.

These same rules apply to me, of course. Do I think that my blog writing is art? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Do I think it has value? Yes, of course — otherwise why produce it? But not everyone will recognize that value; I know that, and I am okay with it. I write to take part in a dialog with the culture, and I would and will continue to write whether or not I derive financial benefit from it. Would I love to be able to make a living solely from the writing? Sure, but I have many interests, and getting paid for any of them would be sweet, especially if I could continue doing them as I please. But I do not expect payment unless I am on contract to produce something specific for a client (a website, a commissioned article, an itinerary, tech support, etc). But I do think that my creative work outside of contract should follow the same principles I have outlined above and to that end, I have added an “ALMS” button to the main menu here on my blog. Clicking on it will take you to a Paypal site where you can donate any amount you like to support my writing and this blog. If you do, I will be most grateful. And if you don’t, I am still grateful that you are reading it, and would encourage you to comment and participate in the discussion.

An $80,000 sneeze

1
Apr
2009

When I was traveling about, in order to get the most out of the experience, I set a couple of rules for myself. One of which was to never say no to anything I hadn’t already done before if someone should suggest it. I found myself in all kinds of interesting situations thanks to this simple rule, and have never regretted any of them, even if they were difficult or upsetting. So a couple of weeks ago when my friend Olaf asked me if (being that I live in New York) I would mind going to an auction house here and bidding on a couple of items on his behalf. Dramatic Hollywood visions of Christie’s and Sotheby’s danced in my head, nasty bidding wars breaking out between otherwise upper crust and overly polite people. I immediately pictured myself in drag as a cross between Joan Collins in Dynasty, Bette Davis from Now, Voyager and Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman (after the shopping). There would be raised voices and wine glasses. Five thousand. Ten Thousand! TWENTY THOUSAND!! And…sold!…to the elegant heiress in the large hat.

The reality wasn’t all that far removed, although with quite a bit less drama and a bit more casually attired. At least, the crowd (about 50 of us, such as it was) was fairly casual. The many people that worked there were more smartly dressed, a line of about 30 of them taking phone bids during the auction. The room was contemporary and well appointed, coffee rather than wine was being served. Many of the bidders were hanging out at the back of the room, leaving very many of the chairs (especially at the front of the room) empty. I arrived about a third of the way through the bidding (at about lot 30; my lots to bid on were 75 and 76), and strolled to the front dramatically taking my seat in one of the almost empty rows at the front of the room.  I was given a catalog of the lots, which was quite a nice book on its own really. I was stunned to discover that many of the photos on auction were ones I recognized and greatly admired. In and among them was the work of Diane Arbus, Herb Ritts, Cindy ShermanRobert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and many other well knowns. The fact that I would be bidding on pieces in such company made my palms slightly sweaty, especially as we approached my lot numbers. The bidding was all going more rapidly than I had imagined such things would take, and I was getting nervous, not wanting to miss my lots. I loosely grasped my blue bidding paddle with the number “110” in white upon it. The pieces I was to bid on were, relatively speaking small potatoes at a couple of thousand dollars each. There was a Cindy Sherman print a few lots before mine that went for $95,000, and the bidding was most furious for this lot. During it, I sneezed and the auctioneer looked over at me, as if to say “Sir, do I hear $80,000?”. Breaking out in a cold sweat, I shook my head and firmly removed my hand from my paddle as if it were toxic. They fortunately moved on to the other bidders, and no one seemed to notice. I don’t know why I felt a little nervous, this wasn’t MY money I was bidding with after all. I could just picture the conversation with my freind Olaf later:

“Sweetie, I just got you the most wonderful Cindy Sherman…and such a bargain! Worth at least $100K! And I got it for you for a mere $80K!…what?…well.. I know that wasn’t the one you wanted…yes, I understand that is about 76K over your total budget…no no, no need to thank me. Ciao!”

When my lots finally came up, I have to say I was a total natural. I waited just long enough at the first bid to not appear too eager. i refused to be bullied into a higher bid by the auctioneer. I held my ground and counter bid when necessary, but didn’t go higher than what I was authorized to do. In short, I was a pro. (Hm…maybe I should add this to my CV as a service I offer?) I ended up losing the first lot, but winning the second. I had to bid up to the high amount authorized me, but I got it.

I stayed to watch a few more lots go and some minor skirmishes. The totality of the event, now that I was coming down off my bidding high, washed over me. This turned out to be a fascinating look at a world I had never really encountered before.  I got up, turned in my paddle and walked out feeling very posh indeed.

In a barn By wolves

7
Feb
2009

I have been in a large number of countries in the last few years, and I have seen an absolutely astonishing variety of behaviors in those cultures. Often times the very same action considered good form in one place will be considered quite rude in another. I have learned that context is everything, and that knowing what is appropriate sometimes depends on a keen understanding, and sometimes is easily inferred.  Even within an ostensibly single culture, there can be a great deal of variety, and mores and values will change overtime, precipitating new behaviors.

That said, I was fairly surprised to witness what I consider to be quite rude behavior at the Brooklyn location of my gym this evening.  I had just finished my workout and shower and was getting dressed when I heard a click click sound. I looked over in horror to see a guy sitting on the bench next to me, clipping his nails gingerly over the bench, paying close attention to his fingers but seemingly none at all to the clippings themselves.  I watched and listened as the clip, clip clip went on for several minutes, shrapnel flying every which way. When he was done he admired himself for a few moments in the mirror, then went to shower, leaving this lovely present for the rest of the members and staff. Convinced I was being Punk’d, I looked around for the camera crew, but alas, this was no TV show. I thought back carefully to the look of this guy. He didn’t appear to be missing a chromosome or from some (very) far away place, but clearly there was something amiss. Where exactly was he raised and by whom? I wondered if this was just his secret, shameful locker room activity, or if perhaps he did this in other places. Maybe over a bowl of soup at a nice restaurant in front of his girlfriend. Perhaps in church while his pastor bored him with something lofty. Whatever. I am just thankful that this isn’t my home gym, and it does push me ever so slightly to look for an apartment in Manhattan over Brooklyn.

Perfect and strange

2
Feb
2009

I had the most unusual subway ride last night. At a not very late point in the evening (about 7:30pm), I went to catch the train to meet Josh for dinner and drinks. I got on at Bergen Street in Brooklyn, and got off about fourteen stops later at 14th Street in Manhattan. During the entire ride there was no one else in this car with me. Not a single one. Through fourteen stops. And about three quarters of the way to my destination, my ipod (with thousands of songs on it and set to random shuffle) plays “The only living boy in New York“.

Whose reality, really?

27
Jan
2009

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine today. We were talking about the bad economy and she was saying how a number of her friends aren’t “facing up to reality”. I asked her what she meant and she told me that they just weren’t “dealing” with the enormity of the economic crisis in before us. In what way, precisely weren’t they dealing, I was curious. Had one of them just lost their job but was spending like a drunken sailor? Were they about to get laid off? Were they out of work but not looking? My friend told me it was none of these, but they just seemed blithely unaware that the economy is in TATTERS, and that this is BIG. People all around them are losing their jobs, and they just go on with their lives. I asked my friend what exactly she expected them to do, but no information of that sort was forthcoming. She repeated her line about them not facing up to reality, and I pointed out that at a macro level, there is not much that any one person can do about what is happening in the economy. And what good did it do to worry about it? I get the feeling my friend feels that if we are sufficiently freaked out about something bad, that we are living in “reality” and if we are not, that we are in “denial”.

Applying this to my own life, I must not be living in “reality”. I don’t have enough work to live off of completely yet (although my contracts are growing), but I am not especially freaked out. I am doing what I can to generate more, and not terribly concerned. I find it a useful exercise to imagine the very worst possible thing that could happen in any situation, and realize it usually isn’t the end of the world. In my case, the very worst thing that could happen in me not finding enough work would be that I would have to go live with friends in California or with my family in Indiana, both of whom have offered me shelter and food if I need it. Neither is hardly a terrible outcome. When I look at it this way, I feel comforted and very lucky.

I asked my friend to imagine similarly what would be the very worst thing that could happen to her in this terrible economy and she talked about losing her home and everything in it, likewise being forced to move in with some family member. But for her, this was clearly a fate too horrible to imagine, and it really made me think again about a subject I often return to, our possessions. We are a society of consumers, and at least partially status and self esteem in our society comes from one’s possessions. The more one accumulates (and the more one spends), the more one takes part in the economy and society. In a very real way, one’s value in a consumer culture is directly proportional to what one spends and is capable of spending. The problem with owning a lot of stuff is that it requires a lot of care and upkeep. Our possessions end up owning us as much as we do them. Especially for large purchases (like a house) is is natural to feel a greater attachment and weight, as the effort to acquire is so much greater. I realize after my years of travel that I really have little desire to acquire such things. At least, If I do head down that road (which may be inevitable in a society such as ours) I hope to be calm about the possibility that it could all disappear tomorrow. All the better to enjoy life’s gifts in the present. We of course do what we can, but complete control is an illusion. The reality is just much more chaotic.

The golden era of stalking

9
Jan
2009

A week or so ago, friends of mine and I were out at a restaurant enjoying a great meal. Our waiter was quite a handsome fellow, and there was a bit of flirting and eye contact going on between us throughout the meal. A few days later, a complimentary comment was left on my blog by this same waiter. At first I didn’t know it was him, but a little sleuthing and clues from the comment let me to that conclusion. I emailed him back and we learned a little about each other over several emails exchanged. Looking into my weblogs for clues as to how he found me, I noticed that his path through the site started with a google search on my full name. I quickly realized that he must have copied that name from the credit card receipt, plugged it into a search engine, and my blog was the first entry that came up.

My friends are divided as to whether this constitutes stalking behavior. I don’t think so, although direct contact would have been considered so in a previous era. This gets back to an issue I have explored in the past relating to the ease of information access on the internet. In a previous era, if someone I had flirted with in a restaurant had wanted to find me, they first would have had to get my name somehow. Credit cards in restaurants were in much less use. Assuming they could find my name, they would then need to consult the phone books (of several boroughs in New York) to find my information. If I wasn’t listed or didn’t have a phone in my name, their last hopes would involve placing a “missed connections” ad in a publication like the Village Voice, or going down to the public records office looking for a needle in a haystack to search for my name in any of various indexes.  THAT would definitely qualify as stalking.

But as information becomes easier and easier to access, the effort expended to track someone is ridiculously small and insignificant. And someone like me that maintains a public blog generally wants to be found, intentionally or not. I would argue that the current and real definition of stalking must be something far more menacing than a 5 second google search. Who among us hasn’t googled for information before going on an interview or a date? Who doesn’t look up old friends and acquaintances on facebook and the like? In a modern society, we are constantly trading our privacy for convenience, whether it be in the use of credit cards, online banking, social networking sites, what-have-you. Implicit in our acceptance of the convenience of modern life is the erosion of what used to be considered “private”. We like to feel that we have some measure of control, but as soon as we accept the trappings of modern life, we accept this loss of the possibility of anonymity to a greater or lesser degree. If we feel that stocking up on canned goods and moving to a small cabin in the mountains is an option, we had better be prepared to live in a culture of oneself, cut off from the world.

I am not in any way arguing that our loss of privacy is a good thing. In many ways it is a very bad thing. Who likes the idea of companies (or the government) tracking our spending habits and online (or offline) activity. This information can and has been abused. But the only thing we can really do as a society is to try to protect against the misuse of this information as much as possible, by enacting legislation and trying to set our own personal example in the respect of others’ privacy. Of course, each of us has a different threshold for what we consider trespassing, and it is almost impossible to know what the boundaries are. Generally speaking, it seems the younger the person, the less concerned with privacy in the traditional sense, since they have grown up in the world with the Internet always present in their lives.

In the long run, we are inevitably headed (for better or worse) towards a situation of less and less privacy, to the point of being able to know each other’s thoughts and deepest desires on a whim.  There will be both cultural and technological changes that will permit this to happen.We already have scientific proof of concept all around us. Our culture will undergo massive, sustained, but barely noticed upheaval as we move towards a collective mind. There will be many small steps along the way, but ultimately we are headed for something not terribly unlike the Borg in old Star Trek episodes. Americans in particular shutter at a loss of individuality, perceived as it is at the center of our culture. But for convenience sake, we will all go quite willingly. And like most things, these changes cannot be said to be all good or all bad. Still, it would be nice if we decided, individually or as a culture, to explore these issues as they are happening, rather than just waking up one day to the realization.

Pic of the day: Pousada 007

11
Dec
2008

Here’s something you don’t see everyday: A hotel room with a super secret safe deposit box hidden behind an apparent electrical outlet. The actual safe is too small to put much other than passport and money and credit cards into, and this of course leads me to assume that there must be a secret entrance to an underground Batcave. Alas, turning every knob / flipping every switch / knocking on every surface has so far failed to reveal the passage…but I know it is here somewhere…

A personal journey to the good end

10
Dec
2008

I met a nice friend of Gabe’s yesterday who showed me around some parts of Salvador that I hadn’t seen before, culminating in a visit to the somewhat creepy but fascinating Igreja de Bonfim. We discussed in part my travels and he told me quite a bit about his personal life here, sharing with me stories about his ex boyfriend, his parents, his godfather, siblings and growing up here. At one point we talked about the value of places, and he made a statement that I totally agree with: That people are more important than places. It was interesting in our walks around then that every place he took me to was a part of his personal history and held a significance to him almost exclusively related to his past and upbringing. Whether is was stopping briefly in the rundown neighborhood where his father and brother live to run an errand, to visiting the area around Bonfim where he grew up, to the school he attended, to the hospital where his sister works, every place clearly held great significance for him. And more than that, he seemed very strongly bound to these places and their meanings. It seemed to me that his past is very much a load that he carries in the present. He is both comforted and tortured by this past. Maybe it was the rain bringing out the saudade and melancholy, as he told me many times that Salvador is a much better city in the sunshine. For me, it was a fascinating trip down someone else’s memory lane, and I got to see parts of the city that I never would have without him. I didn’t mind the rain really.

It seemed appropriate that the apex of our walkaround should be Bonfim, with its rituals of healing old wounds. The architecture of the church is nothing special, but that it is a place which is thought to have curative powers is fascinating, and there is a room in which people have left prayers and wishes for healing. This room has its walls covered with people’s photos, some of their faces and some of their wounds. There are also plastic representative body parts hanging from the ceiling with notes on them, prayers for healing on these locations. My friend told me the room made him a little uncomfortable, and after a few minutes we moved on.

parts

Bruci Veloso and Netinho (and Saulo)

5
Dec
2008

Last night was crazy whirlwind introduction to the night and music of Salvador, courtesy my friend Anderson (who I met through Walter last week, and who is in Salvador this week for work). Ten minutes after arriving in Salvador, he texted me to invite me to a club / concert, and he and two friends came to pick me up at my hotel not long after. It turned out that the place we were going to was in my neighborhood, prob about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.  Getting into the club was a bizarre and Byzantine experience in itself. There were several different lists and hundreds of people crowding the entrance gates all pushing to get in. Anderson told me that b/c they didn’t have time to get my name on the VIP list, I was to tell the guy at the gate that my name was Bruci Veloso (or something like that) and flash my ID quickly so he wouldn’t check.

ID? Shit.

I almost never carry ID with me, especially not for getting into a club. In over two years of travel I can’t remember a single instance of being carded, but apparently here it was de rigeur, and so I told Anderson no problem, I would just walk back to my hotel to get it. He gave me a look that let me know he thought I was truly crazy, and told me that it wasn’t safe at all, we would need to take the car. I had heard that Salvador was the most likely place in Brazil to be mugged, but somehow this little safety tip really hit me in the face.

After coming back from the hotel with my CA driver’s license in hand, posing as Bruci and quickly passing my ID under the nose of the secret service type guy at the door, we headed into the club’s antechamber, where we were briskly frisked, and then passed to another list-reading series of windows to determine our eligability for various access wristbands and to give us the ubiquitous electronic card for the night’s drink purchases. By this time I should mention that we were covered in sweat, as it is VERY humid and hot in Salvador, apparently at all times. Finally passing inside to the AC room, I really did feel like a very important person standing by the air vent.

We started wandering around the place, which was a very mixed crowd, and Anderson explained to me that although there were straight people making out like crazy all over, the gays could never do that in a public place here. They could exchange phone numbers and see each other at a later time. He introduced me to a number of people, and there was lots of goodwill and smiles all around, despite the fact that I could hardly communicate at all with any of them. But here is the thing that I love about the Brazilians I have been meeting: They aren’t bothered at all. It is as if the will to communicate is far more important than the actual meanings of the words, and they (and I) just continued speaking Greek to each other and smiling. I even chatted with a handsome guy for about 45 minutes and exchanged phone numbers and made a plan to meet for coffee during my stay here. At least, I think we did. I couldn’t tell you at all one important piece of information about him since I couldn’t understand a word. But oh well, I was happy to have participated in the phone number ritual.

As we moved through the various rooms of the club, a lot of excitement was being generated, as the main event was about to happen. Everyone was so excited, because Netinho was about to go on stage!

Wait a minute, Netinho who? I asked.

You would think I had just punched someone’s mother in the gut, as Anderson and the group we were with gave me incredulous stares. How could I not know this guy? He is super famous! This is one of the things that I love about travel, running in circles you don’t normally and meeting or learning about “famous” people you have never heard of. The really great part of this is that I can separate the hype of their cult of fame and personality from the quality of the music. And I have to say, Netinho gave a great show and I really enjoyed the music and the energy of the crowd. And then he was joined on stage for a few songs by..Saulo!

(Saulo who? More horrified glances).

We stayed and danced and enjoyed the music until about 3:30, then went in search of a non existent restaurant, stopping instead at a scary gas station with a bunch of drunk kids loitering in front. After enjoying a bag of nuts and a little more conversation, they dropped me off at my hotel with a promise to hit the beaches this weekend. I will go in search of a swimsuit sometime today, incognito as Bruci Veloso of course.

Reaching out

25
Oct
2008

I’m sure you all know by now how important I think this election is at a national level and in my home state of California. I have spent a lot of time the last few weeks sending emails and badgering people to vote and/or give money. Recently, I have been wondering if I am really doing all I can. As I feel somewhat comfortable with the direction of the presidential race, my focus is turned to the much-too-close-to-call fight against Prop 8 in California. As you probably know, if this proposition is passed it will remove the right of same sex couples to marry, and write discrimination directly into the state constitution. As I was surveying my friends who live in California, I realized that a few of them have family that are generally much more conservative and would probably be voting in favor of Prop 8. In particular, my best friend Marites, who lives in Berkeley had told me that she could no longer talk politics with her father, that he was unwilling to hear any argument and would definitely be voting for McCain and most probably be voting for Prop 8. I asked Marites if it would be ok if I made a personal appeal to him in a letter. She said it couldn’t hurt, so that is exactly what I did. Having known Marites (and her husband Keith and their kids) for so many years, I wanted to try to reach her father on a level that is beyond mere politics, one that speaks to our human connection. I hope I was able to do so. Below is the letter that I wrote and sent out earlier this week.

Dear Dr Abueg,

I hope you remember me. I am your daughter Marites’ best friend, as she is mine. We met 23 years ago while we were at the University of Cincinnati studying architecture, and over the years have developed the deepest affinity for each other. I can’t express to you the depth of my love and admiration for your daughter and the friendship we share. Marites, Keith, Anika and Teah are as much my family as my own flesh and blood. Many years ago, I came to your house in Ashtabula a couple of times and we shared dinner and conversation. We have also had a couple of brief exchanges at Marites’ house in Berkeley over the years since you moved out to California.

I am writing to ask you a personal favor. I am writing to ask you to vote NO on Proposition 8 on the ballot this November.  As you may or may not be aware, Prop 8 would remove the right of same-sex couples to marry. In essence, it would render me a 2nd class citizen in our shared state of California.

I remember stories that Marites would tell me of growing up in Ohio and feeling different because she didn’t “look like” everyone else, because her family was from the Philippines. I’m sure when you moved to Ohio for the opportunity it gave you, you had no idea what it would be like, and what kind of reception you would get from the people there. It must have been tough, speaking with an accent and looking so different from most of the people in that rural community. But you soldiered on, for the well being of your family, to raise them and provide for them and to give them a chance to flourish here. We all want that same chance. And it doesn’t matter how different we are culturally or racially, we share a common humanity.

Marites tells me that for a variety of reasons, she thinks that you are opposed to same-sex marriage. I’m not sure if you think that being gay is somehow a choice, but if you do I would ask: do you believe that you chose to be straight? That, assuming there was no hatred or prejudice in the world, that you could have chosen to be gay instead? That it is only for the betterment of society that you chose to enter into marriage and have children? Or perhaps you don’t think orientation is a choice, but a challenge God gave to certain people, and that they must deny who they are? Why do you think a loving god would do such a thing? Perhaps you think it is “against nature” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary?

There are a lot of reasons I could give you to vote against Prop 8. That it is as wrong to discriminate against someone for their orientation as it is their race or ethnic background. That it is no threat to your marriage. Do you realize that Keith and Marites would not have been allowed to get married in a previous era? Surely, you must think that that was wrong and racist. Even if your church is opposed, you know that this has nothing to do with anyone’s church. Not a single church will be forced to perform any marriage with which they disagree. This only has to do with equality before the law, and insuring that all citizens are treated equally.

There are so many good reasons, but I will ask you in the name of the deep love and friendship that I have with your daughter, and the love that she has for you and me and her entire family. That, ultimately,  is what opposing this measure is about. The love and respect of families, and the equal participation of all parts of the human family in our society and in our lives. Like any good family, we don’t have to always agree on every issue to see the human worth and dignity in all of us. And to act on that by opposing hatred and intolerance where we see it.  Will you please join me and Marites (and Keith and so many other people) in voting NO on proposition 8?

If you have any questions about the issue or to me personally, I would be happy to answer them. And whatever your decision, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my letter and consider my request.

Sincerely,

Stephen