Ice Ice Baby [Updates]

Maybe BMOrg thought that selling gifting scarves for $150 wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in the Burner community. Comments to our recent post Burning Man Project Now Selling Merchandise suggest otherwise. Predictably, the BMOrg cyber-army came out of the woodwork to try to deflect the heat from their beloved masters, by attacking our credibility. An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy, where the attacker personally insults or tries to discredit their opponent, rather than making arguments with verifiable facts, references, or logic.

logical fallacies

Rather than continuing this debate in the comments to that post, let’s give it some more prominence for those who give a shit and wish to participate in the discussion. If you don’t care, you don’t have to read – the majority of content on this site is not critical of Burning Man, there’s 759 other posts here that you can check out. If you want to attack our credibility though, you better read this, and come back with some data (or point out some errors in ours) to add to the conversation. Warning: a lot of maths coming up!

To recap: I said I think it’s fine if they want to sell merchandise, the whole thing has become a massive money-making machine. A giant crowdsourced party, where they get all the music for free, 99% of the art for free, all of the art cars for free. They get to promote the hell out of it in every mainstream media outlet you can think of, and tell stories that “it’s not about money”, “it’s all for charity”, “it’s helping the world” and so on to make themselves look good. All on the back of the time, effort, and expenditure of Burners who trek across the world and across the desert to make this party what it is. We Burners are not even allowed to use the words Burning Man or photos of the event to raise funds to bring art, camps, and art cars there. Once there, Burning Man can and will profit endlessly from them.

What I have a problem with, is expressed well by Burner Jim in this comment:

Maybe Burning Man can get past the quasi hippie socialism mirage that it’s mired in and promote the freedom of true free market capitalism. The smoke and mirrors of Burning Man LLC is the true problem, not the free exchange of goods and services using money. Just like the capitalism of Wall Street isn’t the problem, it’s the fascism.

You can’t build an empire of altruism on falsehoods, tricks, and propaganda. Or, maybe you can – because it seems like they have – but you shouldn’t.

cooler-train-kuehlboxen-zug-arctica-buying-ice-burning-man-2007-friday-freitag-black-rock-desert-nevada-usa-dscn4397“There are only two things sold at Burning Man: ice and coffee” is a myth. They sell gasoline to the art cars, they sell propane. You can buy honey wagon “pump-n-dump” services for your RV. One year, they bussed me and a bunch of other suckers potential investors out from First Camp to pitch a real estate deal. Only one company has the monopoly on propane sales on the Playa, you’re not allowed to arrange your own supply. There is no information publicly available about how big the gasoline and propane sales are. They don’t tell us anything about the dollar value of ice sales either, we’ve had to infer it from their information that they sold 2, 140, 000 lbs of ice last year.

Here’s some of the case against us:

Boring said:

this site sells drama. Nothing against you doing that but when you post things like BM had a million in ice sales to make it appear they profit from this, and that is not true, one can see your slant is not for truth but drama.

Frosty the Snowman said:

Perhaps the fact that ice sales benefit local charities is not as widely known as Boring assumes. Presumably you’ll revise your story accordingly

Boring said:

That profits from ice and coffee sales go to local charities has always been the case and for BurnersXXX to not know this shows the lack of facts in the financials he totes. Same as Vogue paying to take photos on the plays, a statement never corrected by Scribe.

Why should Scribe correct Maid Marian’s statement? Was it false? Or did he just misquote her? I know he still has recordings of those interviews, though I haven’t personally heard them. To me, the fact that he hasn’t published a retraction, and we have no evidence that BMOrg ever asked for one, is indication that her statement is true.

According to the official Burning Man FAQ, profits from coffee sales go to the coffee staff, not local charities:

Profits from the café go directly to the commissary to sustain the onsite nutritional needs of our kick-ass staff

This is just one example of the apparent double counting in their financial reports, which claim a $1.3 million food spend AND account for the costs of the commissary separately (lumping them in with the ice and merchandise costs).

Anyway, I see no need to revise our stories – only to provide further details supporting them. These guys are missing the point. The WHOLE THING IS SUPPOSED TO GO TO CHARITIES NOW. They sell ice, they sell coffees, they sell scarves. So that they can donate to charity.

The “financials I tote” (tout?) are THEIR financials, FFS. Any “lack of facts” is because they’re not providing the facts: these are murky financials, not open, transparent accounts.

Is the Burning Man Project in charge of ice sales now, or is that a different set of books again? They say “all proceeds from ice sales go to local charities”, where is the accounting for that then? Why do they shy away from telling us about these good deeds, in specific terms instead of vague statements? What does “proceeds” mean: revenues? Profits? How is the ratio of ice sales:ice donations calculated? Is the only cost the ice, or does Arctica have to contribute to DPW, BLM, or anyone else? I don’t know, and they’re not telling.

The Afterburn reports have a whole section on ice sales. The only firm data is that in  2012  $13,000 in tips were donated to Burners Without Borders to help polar bears (WTF?!?) I can find no information about Burners Without Borders helping polar bears at all, let alone an accounting of how much of 2012’s $13,000 the charity actually passed through to the polar bears.

In a 2010 blog report, the now ousted old-timer Andie Grace shed some light on Burning Man’s sharing with charities:

Every year since 2003, Burning Man has used proceeds from ice sales at the event to make year-end donations to various charitable, art and service organizations in Northern Nevada and the San Francisco Bay Area. For 2010, we worked to increase the total dollar amount of our donations, committing a total of $159,850 for the year

…Below is a list of charitable donation recipients for 2010: 

Black Rock Arts Foundation
Black Rock Solar
Best Friend’s Animal Society (in memoriam Bill Carter)
The Crucible
Yick Wo School
Lawyers for Burners c/o Trip Knight
Leave No Trace
Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce (Cedarville)
Circuit Network
Dogpatch Neighborhood Association
Nevada Organizations
Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department
Gerlach High School
Gerlach Gen. Improve. Dist.
Gerlach-Empire Senior Citizens Palace
Crisis Call Center
Friends of the Black Rock
Nevada Museum of Art
Nevada State Museum
Historical Society of Dayton Valley
Sierra Arts Foundation
Bruka Theatre
Nevada Discovery Museum
Kiwanis Bike Project
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada
Lovelock/Pershing Organizations
Pershing County Government General Fund
Pershing County Senior Center
Eagle Scholarship
Pershing County Community Center
Pershing County High School (Athletic Department)
Pershing County Domestic Violence Intervention
Pershing General Hospital & Nursing Care
Pershing County Humane Society
Lovelock Frontier Days
Lovelock Lion’s Club
Friends of the Library
Marzen House Museum
Kid’s, Horses & Rodeos
Lovelock Food Bank
Lovelock Boy Scouts Association
Lovelock Little League Association
Lovelock Chamber of Commerce
Pershing County Arts Council
Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary
Project Graduation

Note that #1 and #2 on the list are their own charities. No information is given on how much of the pie was sliced up for each recipient. There are 45 charities listed, making an average donation to each one of  $3552.

photo by Claudia Gold

photo by Claudia Gold

There is almost no information available about how much ice was sold in 2010, or any other year. In fact, bizarrely, the Afterburn ice reports for 2009 and 2010 are almost word-for-word identical – including the exact size of tips given to the cent, and warnings about specific safety incidents that gave them concern for “that year”. The 2011 report claims that 32 trucks of ice were emptied in 2010. 2011 was 43 trucks. From digging back all the way to the 2006 Afterburn Artica report, we learn that each truck is 21.15 tons of ice.

For 2013, we get our ice information from a posting on Facebook by Jennifer Spitfyre:

“Factoid for the day.. We at Arctica sold 2.14 million pounds of ice at Burning Man this year! Every single pound of that was hand carried by BRC volunteers from ice truck to BRC citizen’s hands! Big increase from last year where we sold 1.68 million pounds of ice!”…that’s 1070 tons of ice.”

Information about the price and dimensions of ice sales is not readily available either. Why all the secrets, BMOrg? Ice can be bought in single 5 lb bags, or a “6 for the price of 5” discount. In 2009 the prices were $3 and $15 respectively, if anyone has updated figures from 2013 (or can confirm that prices and bag sizes stayed fixed) please let us know. 

But, working on the assumption (for the sake of simplicity in argument) that all the ice sales were $15, for 6 x 5 lb bags of ice…yields $1,070,000 in ice sales. That’s (2,140,000 / 30) * 15, for those who care to follow my workings.

Let’s work this out a little further. 2010’s 32 trucks brought in 676.8 tons of ice, or 1,353,600 lbs. This netted donations of $159,850 (reported as $168,000 in the 2010 Afterburn report – the extra $8,150 of donations must have been in addition to the ice donations). Applying the same ratio, ie (2,140,000/1,353,600) * 159,850, 2013’s 2.14 million lbs should have led to a year-end donation to the community of $252,717. If the same 45 charities get the money, their share should now be up to $5,615 each.

How does $1 million of ice sales, end up as a quarter of a million in ice-related donations? I mean, I know it costs a lot to send each 80,000 lb semi-trailer of ice to the desert, but 75% overhead? It’s not like you’re paying the same for ice at Burning Man as you do at your local grocery store, ice is (understandably) expensive out there!

line arctica

all these people are waiting in line to conduct commerce

From the 2012 financials, the cost of ALL the coffees, ice, and merchandise was $369,132 (yes, it’s not just us saying “the Burning Man Project sells merchandise”, it’s right there in their own financial report). However, this doesn’t add up, because the amount of ice sold should be way more than this. Using the same calculation above with Arctica’s 2012 numbers, (1,680,000 / 30) * 15 gives us $840,000 in ice sales – netting $470,868 (after Arctica covers all their own costs, plus all the merchandising costs, and the costs of center camp). In 2012 the line item “Donations to local Nevada schools and organizations” is $238,976 – presumably, this is the donations from ice sales, and doesn’t include Black Rock Solar or BRAF’s activities. There’s a missing $231,892 for 2012! Maybe a lot of the ice brought in melted before it could be sold. A lot, being 27.6% of all the ice. Or maybe certain camps get their ice comped.

$238,976 in donations, compared with our estimate of 2012 revenues of $24, 045, 986, is slightly less than 1%. Meaning that 99% of all the money they take in is eaten up in salaries, travel costs, food, costumes…and profits.

I’m not making these numbers up. I’m going to a lot of effort to piece together a picture from their own published information. I shouldn’t have to do that, if it’s a non-profit they should be transparent. No-one is paying me for all  my time to do this: that’s why it really pisses me off when people say “BurnersXXX doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, “BurnersXXX should read the Afterburn reports” etc. You haters should read the fucking reports!

Burner Timothynh pointed us to, a site that measures the performance of non-profits. Here’s what it has to say about the Burning Man Project:

  • This organization is registered with the IRS.
  • This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990-N.

Forms 990 filed with the IRS are not available for this organization.

I’ve ordered Guidestar’s detailed report on BRAF, which shares many directors with the Burning Man Project; look for us to dig deeper into this in a future post.

We questioned the Vogue photo shoot story originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in this post here, after a high-level insider raised some doubts with me at a private function. After that, I personally asked Maid Marian to correct the details, and as yet she hasn’t – which indicates to me that the story is true, or perhaps the true story is BMOrg asked for the $150k and Vogue balked.

Yet again, BMOrg-allied online shills and trolls have come onto this site to attack our credibility, with weak ad hominem attacks instead of actual facts, numbers, or logical arguments. Maybe our detractors never got paid any money from BMOrg in their lives, but they sure do seem to be taking their side here. This is just a smoke screen to deflect our readers away from the real issue: the lack of transparency or activity from this 2-year old “new” charity, and the increasing commodification, commercialization, and mainstream media mass marketing of crowd-sourced Burner culture by BMOrg.

Is it OK to violate the principle of Decommodification, if it’s in the name of charity? Is that what these guys are trying to say? If so, then why can’t others also do that? Is this a case of “the ends justify the means”…with the “ends” here being the nebulous Burning Man Project motto of “Creative catalyst for culture in the world”? Or is it more a case of “one rule for the rulers, and one for the masses”?

I’m trying to say the Ten Principles are as whack as crack, and hamstrung by hypocrisy. The world’s “Largest Leave No Trace Event” burns a mind-blowing amount of fossil fuels, and leaves hundreds of miles of highway littered with trash afterwards. “Radical Inclusion” doesn’t extend to “Upper Class” people who want to enable those who can’t afford it, to attend the event by working for it in a role that suits their talents. “Gifting” is supposed to be unconditional, without expectation of anything in return: and yet, donate $150, they gift you a scarf. “Civic responsibility” doesn’t include providing open accounts to all the donors to the charity – supposedly, everyone who buys a ticket is now a supporter of the Burning Man Project, although so far, ticket purchases are not tax-deductible donations to an IRS-registered charity.

The Ten Principles were originally published to be a suggestion for Regional events, now they are becoming a cult-like doctrine to be used to brainwash people around the world who’ve never even been to the party. Larry Harvey repeatedly says “this event has never been anti-commercial”, and we’ve never claimed that it should be either. It’s clearly commercial, massively so. The problem is two-fold: one, the “smoke and mirrors” trying to pretend they’re not something which they so obviously are; and two, they want to be the ONLY ones who can ever make any money from it. It’s all taking and very little giving.

The non-profit Burning Man Project wants to help the world by spreading culture, and how do they do that? Shutting down others with nasty legal letters falsely claiming ownership of things that aren’t theirs, doing what they can to assimilate the “global” ecosystem into their borg only; and at the same time expanding their revenue streams in seemingly every direction at once. This is more the behavior of a for-profit business than a non-profit. As Burner David pointed out in the comments on this post in our Facebook group, over the last few years Burning Man has tried to clean out the “dead wood” accumulated over nearly 30 years of volunteer labor, and replace them with professional management. That’s fine, but the professional management needs to get the spirit of Burning Man, particularly now that the non-profit Burning Man Project owns the party and everything else. The party is created by the Burners: all the art, all the gifting, all the music. That’s how it has grown over decades to be the “counter-culture phenomenon” that it is today. The efficiency of the Burning Man charities to date has been less than stellar (if you don’t believe me, check out the Wall Street Journal). I, for one, don’t want to donate my charity dollars to an organization that is going to spend the money on lawsuits against Burners trying to raise money to bring art to share with everyone, at events exclusively monetized by them.

Here’s an idea for the Burning Man founders: forget this “transition” crap, just take this thing public. Donate 10% of revenues to charities. Provide audited quarterly accounts, let us know where the money has been spent. License the brand to regionals, to clothing designers, to artists. Make as much money as you possibly can, so that you can donate as much as you possibly can. Reap the rewards for your labors, and let the community share in that too.

I can predict the responses now…“if you don’t like it, start your own”!

radical inclusion cult[thanks Nomad Traveler for this pic!]

26 comments on “Ice Ice Baby [Updates]

  1. Pingback: 2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Pingback: All We Want For Chri$tma$ Is Your Money | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  3. Pingback: Geeks On Ice | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  4. Pingback: Exploring the Other: 2014 Edition | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  5. Pingback: Weird-o-nomics [Updates] | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  6. Pingback: Ticket Prices Starting To Drop | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  7. Pingback: And The New Thing To Buy On The Playa Is… | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  8. Pingback: The Art of Giving | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  9. Pingback: Profit Grows, Donations Shrink: 2013 Afterburn Analysis | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  10. Pingback: TEDxTokyo 2014 | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  11. Pingback: Reserve Your Water Supply | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  12. Pingback: YABMV | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  13. Pingback: $40 Well Spent | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  14. Pingback: The Theme is Caravans, but Don’t Bring One | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  15. The human family we are part of proceeds without reference to balance sheets and is ignorant of the bottom line. Keep digging.

  16. Im a three year participant, via being married on playa to an 8 year DPW/9 year participant and concieving our son on the playa- its part of our family now. I grew up in a horse drawn theater built from scratch, and later helped my parents produce a parade thru a muticultural community that also culminated in burning a man effigy, and still later found work in film and television. My pursuit of life thru entertaining others is a personally motivated one- that I found fertile ground in the Black Rock Desert is another chance for myself to pursue my path, and helped renew my creative motivation. Im a person of action and find the bottom line and the numbers to be an unfortunate hurdle in the creative process. I applaud those who have the patience and insight to pursue the balance of these equasions. Your perspective is valid- the ORG is highly lacking in transparency, in balance of motivations, in freedom from hypocrisy, and in regulation of itself- sounds like almost every family I have known and appreciated- disfunctional at times, and still growing regardless. Our human family worldwide is proceeding much the same way- there is no balance sheet in the pursuit of life. More often the pursuit of balances whitewashes the character and the uniqueness from the home we are constantly recreating.
    I agree that we must diverge from the path of hypocrisy repeatedly. This org is entrenched in self preservation, and not being kind or gentle in its process

    • When we lived in a clan culture, you had to work within the clan for life and for change. And those in charge of the clan had control.

      But as your life extends beyond the clan and onto the world, the power of choice allows change and growth beyond the clan. And so, the clan may be discarded, as a cocoon, and empty nest, as we all move forward.

      And when is the clan ever but the last to know?

  17. Pingback: Tales From the Shitty | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  18. Sure plenty of festivals look to monetize the interests of their punters but I can’t think of another large festival where the management seem so at odds with the predominate spirit of the attendees. I would expect many Burners to be surprised that BMOrg is an opaque for profit masquarading as something more akin to a transparent non-profit community organization. I know I was.

    Haters are going to pick holes in your numbers but the fact that you have to make any assumptions in your analysis highlights BMOrg’s obfuscation of reality. Keep it up. The community needs to know what they’re ‘buying into’ and how they’re being sold out.

  19. Thank you for this thoughtful gift- and admitting you slipped up to BT speaks to your credit. Anyone may make a slip in the passion of debate. Thanks again for bringing more attention to the Wall Street Journal article on the “charity.” Lots of old Burners really want to keep the dream of our free-wheelin’ party alive; will be 17 years in a row for me this year. Fiscal discourse is a thorny issue, but the borg best come correct with the IRS (love ’em or not, the Powers That Be own your money, and they will have their cut.) BurnersXXX is my favorite information source for the event, not because I’m a jaded bitter old queen of the desert, but because it provokes thought & discussion, and more than a few laughs- all of which reminds me of the old playa radio stations which proliferated briefly under the flags of pirate radio, before the FCC stole their fun & ours. Keep up the good work! Promoting serious discourse is itself the finest of art forms; try to refine your temper in the heat of passion (I cheat by leaving the keyboard & coming back well I cool down- ancient writer’s secret.)

    • thanks Jolly. This post wasn’t written in anger, and it took a few hours to plough through years of Afterburn reports and dozens of web posts from BMOrg and others, digging for information that is not easily available and then doing the calculations. There are 36 references here to other posts on the Web, including ones from this site. I don’t expect that anyone else will read them all, but I did – and more, that weren’t so relevant to this article.

      I’ve edited it to tone it down a little, based on your and BT’s feedback. I truly love Burning Man, this amazing spontaneous display of human creativity and engineering and kindness that we all contribute so much to – no spectators! I wish BMOrg could get over themselves and put as much effort into preserving the magic of the culture, and giving a helping hand to the rest of the Burner ecosystem…as they do into enforcing their draconian IP policy and talking to the press.

  20. Dude, you blew it. Reasonable article and then in the middle of it this phrase:

    Maybe “Boring” and “Frosty the Snowman” never got paid any money from BMOrg in their lives, but they sure do seem to be taking their side here

    You can’t start off your article with a chart correctly pointing out how bad it is to use ad hominem and then do it yourself later.

    • I disagree. I’m saying they seem to be taking BMOrg’s side in coming to this site to attack my credibility. If they want to provide more evidence, they’re welcome. Ok, maybe I was unnecessarily harsh on Frosty who was being quite reasonable.

Leave a Reply