Arrests at Occupy Rochester

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Made in Dagenham at 8. Before the film, it was announced that people in Washington Square Park (Woodbury Blvd at South Clinton Ave, across from Geva Theatre) protesting as Occupy Rochester would be arrested: Mayor Thomas S. Richards had ordered them out at 10 p.m. Although that news distracted me through the first part of the film, it was nonetheless enjoyable. It reenacts the events surrounding a strike of female auto workers at a British Ford factory in 1968 — their pay was cut when they were reclassified from "semi-skilled" to "unskilled". I gathered the historical accuracy was not perfect but reasonably good, and although the film concludes stating better labor relations, the Dagenham plant closed after the film was made and moved its operations elsewhere.

Although I'd rather have gone to celebrate for Halloween, I headed to Washington Square Park just about 10 p.m. At that point, no police were around — hauntingly, I saw no police on my way there either, and it was the Friday before Halloween Weekend on the busy East End area (in which one would ordinarily observe 2 or 3 parked cruisers). The members of Occupy Rochester were discussing their plan for the evening. They did this with a technique I saw at an anarchy class: whenever anyone wanted to speak, they were added to a "stack" by a moderator, and then allowed in turn to speak to the group. They used a "living microphone" of sorts where when one person spoke, they'd do it in 4-7 word pieces which were then loudly repeated by the group so everyone could hear.

A posting on the statue announced that the park was to be vacated by 10 p.m. The police had notified the group earlier that they would arrive at 11 p.m. The group appointed two laissons to approach the police when they arrived. The laissons were to explain the purpose of the protest, state that it was indeed a protest and a peaceful assembly protected by the Bill of Rights, and to ask that the arresting officers contact their superiors and request that the arrests be cancelled. The crowd was to remain respectfully quiet for the laissons to speak with police. Discussion in the group then revolved around getting arrested, having bail money, pairing up, and finding a small group of people who would remain at the jail until everyone goes home.

Camera crews from TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN and Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) were on hand. The police arrived at 11:15 p.m. and set up a pick-up truck with what appeared to be a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) along with about 15 cruisers and a few vans. They announced to the crowd that the park was closed from 11 p.m. (maybe it was 10 p.m. … I don't remember off hand) to 5 a.m. (per city ordinance which they identified), anyone remaining in the park would be arrested if they did not leave in 15 minutes, and all remaining personal belongings in the park would be confiscated. (It reminded me of reenactments of witchcraft trials where the accusers attempted to claim the side of right and good with formal language that failed to address the whole situation.) Some people moved to the sidewalk around the park, leaving a crowd of 40 or so in the park proper and another 50 more on the sidewalk. I opted to observe from the other side of South Clinton. There were about 40 uniformed officers including Police Chief James M. Sheppard and a few other high-ranking officers. Police cruisers had blocked South Clinton at 490 and Byron St. as well as Woodbury from South Clinton to South Avenue.

My friend and City Council candidate Alex White was there. I talked with him a bit and he was checking in with the police and observing to ensure things went smoothly and peacefully. He noted that the police were concerned as they were outnumbered and did not want things to turn violent.

At around 10:35 the police announced they would begin making arrests. Police Chief James M. Sheppard personally attended to the first half-dozen arrests. I don't know if the laissons from Occupy Rochester stated their case, but the crowd was quiet, and they were the first two to be arrested. During subsequent arrests, the crowd shouted at the police things like, "you are working class too", and chanted "shame".

The police had two vans they were using to transport one person at a time to jail until the Monroe County Sheriff showed up with a van capable of transporting more people, at which they filled it with 8 or 9 women from the group.

TWEAN (Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Partnership) News Channel of Rochester L.L.C d.b.a. YNN left before the arrests began as the 11 o'clock news had ended. Crews stayed from Newport Television LLC, 13WHAM (formerly WOKR ABC) although their large production van left before midnight.

Around 12:30 a.m. a woman drove the wrong way down South Clinton. When she approached the police barricade, one of the officers approached her and told her she was driving the wrong way and to turn around.

I left around 1 a.m. before all the arrests were completed, although it appeared that only about 10 people remained in the park at that time. As I heard later, 32 people were arrested.

Mayor Thomas S. Richards did not speak with the protesters beforehand and did not arrive to witness the arrests.

To Las Vegas for My Brother's 40th Birthday

Last Friday I headed out on JetBlue on my way to Las Vegas for my brother's 40th birthday. The last time I got on a plane was in October, 2001 for his 30th in Denver, and I've avoided it because of all the security insanity I kept hearing about. I didn't have any trouble, except that I left all kinds of identifying bangles and baubles at home — no LED ring, no Leatherman tool, no fun custom-made electronics of any kind. And I selected JetBlue because I heard they were pretty good. Indeed inflight services were perfectly adequate. They also brag about how much legroom they offer, but coming from riding Amtrak, I could not fathom having any less legroom — presumably my knees would be the backrest for the person in front of me.

I amused myself during the flight by using the in-flight locator channel (on the seat-back video) to identify interstates I had travelled on my way to and from Burning Man, barely able to recognize the moving semis from 7 miles above. Anyway, we did arrive late enough that I missed the Friday night show my brother was attending (for the second time in my life, I was delayed to change a tire on the plane, an occurrence I calculate must happen about 20% of the time.) Nonetheless, I got checked in to The Excalibur Hotel and Casino (3850 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV) and settled in. My brother gambles enough that his mLife card (tied to all the MGM properties) gained him free hotel rooms for himself and for me. The room was unfortunately not as luxurious as I had come to expect, but it was nonetheless comfortable (akin to a Holiday Inn room with no coffee maker) and it had an excellent view of the strip. When I got together with him and his friends, we headed out and stopped at Diablo's Mexican Cantina at the Monte Carlo (3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV) for some drinks and so I could get something to eat. Food cost about twice as much as it does in Rochester, but any at that price was consistently very good, and I stuck to drinking non-alcoholic beer which hovered around $6 with tip per bottle.

Saturday was my brother's birthday and we had sushi for lunch. Three of us did one of the green-screen lipsynch videos at a kiosk which ended up looking quite amusing.  That night we saw Zumanity in The New York New York Hotel and Casino (3790 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV) — an adult-themed Cirque du Soleil show. It was fantastic. Although for the most part I was mesmerized by beautiful bodies (mostly exposed if you must ask) performing astounding feats, I was enchanted by the story in the "Tissus" segment with a man swinging on silky ribbons attempting to catch the attention of his muse. At the climax when they both go flying off I inexplicably teared-up, finding the whole thing wonderful.

Once we got done with the show we headed to one of the newest casinos on the strip and selected a place to eat: Scarpetta at The Cosmopolitan (3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV). As it was very expensive and fancy, I opted to have a dish I didn't recognize: "moist-roasted capretto" described only as "rapini, pancetta & potatoes". For my fellow philistines, it's goat (presumably baby goat, as Google Language Tools kindly translates the phrase "moist-roasted kid") in a zesty sauce not unlike a brown gravy. (It was further refreshing to worry not about bones as I usually do eating such animals at Indian restaurants.)

My brother's and my regular haunt was Dick's Last Resort at the Excalibur (3850 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV). They were generally okay, and (as the Excalibur was among the cheapest hotels on the strip) the crowd was plentiful and rowdy. In any case, once it was just my brother and I, we did a tour of the strip, starting at The Wynn Hotel and Casino (3131 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV) — an astoundingly decorated place — where we got breakfast at The Pizza Place there. I had an excellent oatmeal (a refreshing change) and my brother had a perfectly prepared egg/bacon/cheese breakfast sandwich on a giant croissant. On our way back, we got to see a short but impressive show of the famous fountains at The Bellagio Hotel and Casino (3600 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas, NV).

My brother left mid-day on Tuesday, and I was there until late at night for the red-eye back to New York. Although everything we saw and did was flashy and impressive, it was solely done for the love of money. I was pretty okay for the first couple days, but the whole soullessness of it all drove me nearly mad by the middle of Tuesday. I was biding my time trying not to gamble (I lost about $50 in all, so not too bad, I guess) by sitting out in the warm weather and reading Great Expectations (for the first time as an adult not for any school). I talked with this guy for a bit on the street and he claimed to be England's first rapper — one Raymond Witter (also an author on LuLu) and he was one of a few who wasn't outright selling something.

Earlier in the week, I met a woman who seemed friendly enough, but I was led away from her on suspicion that she was actually a prostitute. I didn't believe it, but on the last day, I met another woman at another casino and after a too-brief chat, she offered to "go upstairs". It was so sad to not be able to make any human connection (save for other vacationers and a few chatty bartenders) … except, presumably, for money. The "alluring façade over emptiness" theme is echoed right down to the thin veneer of the Las Vegas strip over a burnt-out city (which I explored a little of on a morning run on Monday) that only supports the constant construction of its appearance and, apparently, the numerous office furniture stores needed to accomplish that end.

The Failure of Capitalism

I keep touching on the subject of political and economic systems and it is constantly a topic of introspection. My prior essay on the topic identified socialism and capitalism and outlined their strengths and weaknesses. One of the questions on the online dating site OKCupid is: "overall, has capitalism made the world a better place?" — yes or no. I went back and forth on my answer and offered the explanation, "umm … yes, weakly. It is ONLY good for fast growth (like building a nation), and once we get to a point that we don't need fast growth, it is very very bad."

But you know, I'm beginning to think it's about as useful as using dynamite to go fishing. Sure it's the fastest way to get all the fish, but aside from that, no good comes from it. So now I declare capitalism a complete failure.

Here's why.

Let's move aside from any system and talk about what kind of standards would define a good system. Kind of like a scientific-ish way of looking at it — to look at how we would measure what makes a great system, or a great society.

My first take would be "everyone is genuinely happy all the time". That's the ideal target which isn't actually possible. So what would be acceptable? I'd lean toward "everyone is genuinely happy most of the time" more than "most people are genuinely happy all the time" — in other words, everyone in the society gets to be happy sometimes is better than some people never get to be happy. I'd further say that it be pretty balanced, so there isn't a group of people who are happy one day a year and another group that are happy 364 days a year.

So what's happy? I'm kind of a fan of Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs". I learned about in an intro to psychology class in college and it's always stuck with me. The gist is that each human being must first have jeir "Basic needs or Physiological needs" met before jee can be content in having jeir "Safety Needs: Security, Order, and Stability" met before jeir need for "Love and Belonging" before jeir need for "Esteem" (feeling successful in life to yourself and others), and all that before jeir "Need for Self-actualization".

For reference, I'll quote the Wikipedia's chart of needs to identify the specific examples that Maslow defined, adding my own interpretation/clarification where applicable:

  • Physiological — breathing, food, water, sex [physiological sexual release], sleep, homeostasis [rudimentary nutrition and shelter; e.g. letting the body heal itself and not freezing to death], excretion
  • Safety — Security of: body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property
  • Love/belonging — friendship, family, sexual intimacy
  • Esteem — self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
  • Self-actualization — morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, accepting of facts

I claim this is the path to genuine happiness as it fits with my own life experience. For instance, I find it terribly difficult to have high self-esteem when I feel my life is unstable. I can't say whether the highest layers apply to everyone, in part because they're a bit more nebulous (e.g. everyone needs water, but what fosters "esteem" in one person may do nothing for someone else.) This is also because the "lower" needs are more primitive to a being, and the "higher" ones are more refined by intelligence.

I guess when I talk about being "everyone is genuinely happy most of the time" I mean more specifically that every citizen has a minimal baseline of needs that are consistently met, and that any individual's level of needs that are met does not radically change from day-to-day.

What a society should do, at a minimum, is to not prevent an individual from tending to jeir needs, then to protect each individual's ability to tend to jeir needs from interference by others, and finally that it provide for the needs of all individuals.

But because the needs of an individual are hierarchical, it's the permission, protection, or providing at the lowest level that counts. In other words, if an arbitrarily foolish society does not prevent anyone from having esteem, but does prevent them from having water, then it is only as good as any society that prevents individuals from having water.

I'm going to attempt this line of logic: the minimal society is no structure at all which does nothing to prevent self-fulfillment of needs, but also does nothing to protect individuals from one another, and does nothing to provide. So any society that actively prevents the fulfillment of any need is necessarily worse than the minimal society. Thus, all societies worth considering must not prevent self-fulfillment of any need at any level.

Next, better societies protect a higher level of tending to needs from prevention by others. For instance, a society that protects individuals right to tend to all their basic needs from intrusion by others is better than one that fails to protect an individual's ability to tend to the need for food, even if (because of the hierarchical nature of needs) it protects individuals tending to the needs of safety.

And finally, the idyllic society would technically fulfill all needs, but that is necessarily impossible as some needs are met through introspection, (which curiously, by my read the definition of Christian "heaven" seems to be a society that fulfills all needs in exactly that way). Thus the idyllic achievable society is limited to providing all externally achievable needs (idyllic in that it is unachievable, but intended as a goal to aspire toward).

So now I can finally start comparing systems.

Pure capitalism — pure competition — actively prevents no person's ability to tend to jeir needs, but it provides no protection and fulfills no needs. It is essentially a system predicated on the wild state, and therefore indistinguishable from no system at all.

More realistically, there is the United States flavor of capitalism which, as it stands today, has some socialist elements. In general, it does not prevent tending to needs (although by taxing people who earn less than a minimal living wage, I could argue that it prevents those people from tending to their basic needs.) The laws we have protect individuals tending to most of their basic needs, and a few needs of safety from prevention by others. It provides a bit of a safety net and provides for breathing, food, and water in the form of welfare. On the standard of "everyone is genuinely happy most of the time", it's limited to the most rudimentary basic needs — ergo, "everyone" is guaranteed not to starve to death, although you might freeze to death. By these standards, on the scale of how good things could be, it's pretty lousy.

To try and stay concrete, I'll turn to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. It's a document that outlines a more substantial set of rights for individuals that includes fulfillment of essentially all the basic needs, and nearly all of the safety needs. On brief assessment, I see it as a far superior system, and something worth working towards.

My fundamental argument pivots on belief in Maslow's hierarchy, and that is the nature of humans to constantly attempt to attain their needs. When all the needs on a particular level are fulfilled, it is in our nature to strive to fulfill the needs at a higher level. And by depriving individuals of fulfilling the needs at a particular level, it is impossible to fulfill needs at a higher level (at least in any sustainable, genuine way). Look to your own life and comment if you can provide a counterexample — specifically that you have not fulfilled your needs on one level yet feel it would make no difference to do so to improve your ability to fulfill your needs at a higher level.

My point is that even if there are some people who will not strive to fulfill needs at a higher level, it is worth it to offer as much opportunity to everyone else who will. That is what makes a society great.