“Dear White People, Standing Rock Is Not Burning Man”

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It seems that the idea of “using The Ten Principles of Burning Man to make the world a better place” is not yet embraced by everyone else in the world.

screenshot-2016-12-01-01-35-18There has been a barrage of press this week about complaints that Burners are trying to turn the Dakota Pipeline protest at Standing Rock into Burning Man.

Some of the headlines:

The Independent (UK): Standing Rock: North Dakota access pipeline demonstrators say white people are ‘treating protest like Burning Man’

SF Chronicle: Standing Rock Activists Asking White People Not To Treat The Protest Like Burning Man

Daily Caller: White Hippes Descend on Standing Rock Protest, Treat It Like Burning Man

Papermag: White People Are Reportedly Treating the #NODAPL Protests Like Burning Man

Washington Times: Complaints Grow Over Whites Turning Dakota Access protest into hippie festival

Yes, the demonstrators have a new thing to protest about: Burners. The colonial subjects do not want to have a transformational experience from the colonists, they are quite happy with the culture that they already have – an ancient one sacred to them, principles that their people have risked their lives for centuries to defend.

GQ says:

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Opponents of the nearly-completed Dakota Access Pipeline have been confronted with some harrowing stuff during their ongoing occupation of Standing Rock Indian Reservation: pepper spraystrip searchesrubber bulletswater cannons, and now, as the calendar rolls over into December, plunging temperatures and the prospect of snow. It’s a volatile, dangerous situation, and the continued integrity of the demonstration will depend heavily on the exercise of restraint, sound judgment, and common sense. Unfortunately, your college roommate who was way too into Dave Matthews Band is apparently out there doing his best to fuck everything up. From the Independent:

People demonstrating at North Dakota’s Access Pipeline protest have expressed frustration at white demonstrators who are reportedly turning up to “colonise” the camp.

Concerns have been raised by protestors on social media, who claim that people are arriving at the Standing Rock demonstration for the “cultural experience” and treating it like Burning Man festival.

Yes, apparently some Johnny-come-lately Caucasian protesters have been comparing the protests to Burning Man, using donations to buy fluoride-free water, and—the cardinal sin of white people everywhere—playing their guitars around campfires. My fellow white people: do not do this shit! Standing Rock is not the place for you to embark on a meaningful spiritual journey to find yourself. 

If they are so inclined, it’s great for people to show their support for the tribe’s efforts to protect its water supply and preserve their traditional tribal burial grounds. But while it sounds there are plenty of non-tribal protestors in attendance who are doing things correctly, others need to learn some dang manners. 

Nobody wants to hear your songs with your guitar or drum around the fire” is an evergreen reminder, to be honest, but it especially applies to anyone who treats Standing Rock like it’s a friend of a friend’s housewarming party that they can crash.

[Source]

This is particularly amusing because BMorg have been boasting about how they have teams on the scene, including [former] Social Alchemist/House Bard Bear Kittay. If “playing guitars around campfires” was a middle name, it would be his…

 

As a rule we don’t share personal Facebook posts here, but in this case Bear was happy for his take on Standing Rock to be published on Medium, who bring us Bear Kittay From The Bismarck Airport Leaving Standing Rock (on a private plane, perhaps?):

Photo by Bear Kittay. Note their Principle “No Children in Potentially Dangerous Situations”, something the Org really needs to consider

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“Real, immediate dialogue. That is what we need. How can we create an environment where an indigenous person, gypsetter, and rust belter will be imbued with a sense of peership?

My experience of the microcosm of a cauldron that Standing Rock, in my brief visit there, has left me with much to ponder and digest. So many layers simultaneously coexisting.

Deep ancestral distrust, how can we begin to address the underlying fears and victimization?

On my journey to North Dakota I read “Quiet Thunder: The Wisdom of Crazy Horse” (thanks Michael Costuros) and was astounded to revisit, in chilling detail, the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the United States upon the Lakota Nation.

For all the focus we put on the inequities of the wider world, it struck me so deeply to look here into the history of our own land, and demystify the historical injustices, that were not from some far off historic time. For indeed, there is a through line that, very immediately connects the vile, systemic campaign against the Native Americans to the current moment of Standing Rock today.

I have tried to balance and remain agnostic from the many conspiracy theories that are in sprinkled around the Internet and spoken as if they are high truth. I believe this world is complex and that oversimplification can lead to the worst in human behavior.

So, can someone please give me an explanation as to why all of the major media companies are refusing to cover standing rock in earnest? It has all the telltale signs of conspiratorial activity, with huge corporate interests conspiring to suppress public outrage through misinformation and, even, fake news. If any of you that are reading this are deeply connected in the mainstream media, please use your influence to send field reporters.

Thank you to Seth BuntingElana Meta Jaroff and the many others who are on the front lines of this conflict vigilantly documenting and broadcasting the scene. Your work is making real impact, your courage is real.

This isn’t going to be one of those Facebook posts where I prescribe eloquent solutions or pruned emotional reflections — I’m sleep deprived, exasperated and very much in process.

If you’re reading this, I implore you to create conversation with those who may challenge you, trigger you, who you may easily judge, and subconsciously look down upon… get off of the Internet and receive the incredible gift of human connection outside of our affinity bubbles.

This is what the world needs. This is what our hearts need. This is but one facet in the many layers of Standing Rock as a metaphor for the front lines of our nation and indeed our world, in transition.

In love, and to the ongoing ceremony and prayer in our Greater Circle. Aho

And PS — it’s COLD AS HELL out there. Please consider the comfort of your warm home when making a donation to support the Water Protectors: http://www.ocetisakowincamp.org/

[Source]

I wondered if this “camp ocetisakowin” had anything to do with the Dakota Pipeline, or if it was some plug-n-play that BMorg had set up so they could fly execs in via their new airline. At first glance it looked like an anagram of “white ocean“…Turns out it’s the traditional name of the Sioux People and one of the largest camps up there. Among other things they’re seeking:

The sacred fire must be kept burning until it is guaranteed the water is protected for future generations.  One of our greatest needs for the winter will be wood.  It warms our lodges, cooks our food, heats the stones for our sweats. 

Tipis, winter liners, and poles

Yurts or other winter worthy structures

[Source]

Ask for yurts and help to keep the sacred fire burning and don’t be surprised if Burners show up! Perhaps they should’ve asked for ShiftPods…they could blast the pipeline away with that stadium-grade Funktion1 system.

Actually, the Daily Mail features “Burning Man-style” aerial photos…I see multiple Shift Pods. Where’s the DJ booth?

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[Source]

To be fair to Bear, the Standing Rock protestors were complaining about people treating it like Burning Man before he showed up:

Burbank Airport is a popular hub for General Aviation

Burbank Airport in Los Angeles is a popular hub for General Aviation, but an unusual departure location for an SF resident on a commercial flight

Tracing this story to its roots, it seems like the complaints about Burners started two weeks earlier, on November 14.

GQ quotes The Independent who plagiarize quote without attribution Counter Current News who quote Alicia Smith on Facebook.

Standing Rock has reportedly been overrun with white demonstrators trying to soak up the ‘cultural experience’

Demonstrators at North Dakota’s Pipeline protest have spoken out about the amount of white people who have turned up to “colonise” the camp.

The concerns have been raised by protestors in a series of tweets and Facebook posts. According to them, people have turned up to the Standing Rock demonstration to soak up the “cultural experience”, and are treating the camp like it is “Burning Man” festival or “The Rainbow Gathering”.

“They are coming in, taking food, clothing… and occupying space without any desire to participate in camp maintenance and without respect of tribal protocols,” said protestor Alicia Smith on Facebook. “I even witnessed several wandering in and out of camps comparing it to festivals. Waiting with big smiles expectantly for us to give them a necklace or an ‘indian’ name while our camp leader was speaking.”

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If you read our post Making Sense of the Non-Census (or did the Creepy Census) you will have encountered the term “2 Spirit”. I wondered what that was, now I know: someone who travels to sacred Indian land to scream at the Elders.

Burners Without Borders has been involved since at least October 28.

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There seems to be a battle going on of “which nerds should be the ones to collect donations to [*cough*] pass on to the protestors”. BWB director Chris Breedlove asked “where does this money go?” on Bear’s Facebook post asking for donations to ThriveAction.org , which redirects to thrivemarket.com, which says that the distribution really gets done by UpToUs.Net – which is a “coming soon” 1-page web site four months after raising $41,104 of their $75,000 goal for a “caravan to the DNC” . They have partnered with All It Takes, created by Divergent actress Shailene Woodley and her mom to send poor kids to training camps. It’s about 100% of their annual budget. Where does the money go? It’s complicated…

While I share Breedlove’s concerns and his intentions sound noble, it turns out Burners Without Borders are promoting their own preferred charity, in partnership with Patricia Arquette.
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Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing Burners Without Borders is supposed to be doing? The Burning Man Project has $7.5 million cash (at least, it did at the end of 2015). Why can’t they spare $80k for this project, if it’s so worthy? Why can’t they redistribute $1 from each of our tickets for this? Why are they promoting Patricia Arquette, who a couple of months ago was hating on Burning Man?

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Why does Burning Man with many millions have to wait for Patricia Arquette to raise tens of thousands before they can help the Sioux tribe in North Dakota? The tribe’s potty requirements presumably tick the Ten Principle boxes of “Immediacy”, “Civic Responsibility”, and (dare I say it) “Radical Self Expression”…meanwhile the existing portapotties are freezing up.

Perhaps They want to ameliorate the concerns Hollywood quasi-celebrities have about Burning Man’s environmental values by partnering with them on a composting toilets project. Whether such projects get funded enough and completed in time is not as important as the “optics”. Someone semi-famous who went to Burning Man once is making something happen, somewhere, somehow, coming soon. Woo-hoo! We’re saving the world with Larry’s Ten Principles, and OPM!

So far this “fund by Becca Dakini” has raised $30k of their $85k goal. I guess if there’s one thing Burning Man is good at, it’s managing dumps in remote locations…

porta-potty-blowdown

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In this case it’s not just Burners Without Borders and Burning Man raising money for toilets. It’s also people (and networks) from Do Lab, Symbiosis, Lucidity, their brand consultants, and “others” from the “global festival community”. Colonize turns out to be an apt word, since their “focus is on village building”:

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Protector’s Alliance is a unified platform and partnership effort of aligned organizations, skilled workers, producers and individuals from the global festival community. We are working to support front line environmental crisis and social justice conflicts. We gather accurate information about the needs of an action, manage a database and resource bank of our community’s assets, deploy and distribute resources effectively with a focus on “village building”. We support on the front lines with effective aid, skills, labor, infrastructure and tools, through an agile approach to fulfilling the emergent needs of actions. We are committed to working as allies, building pathways for inter-cultural cooperation, with cultural sensitivity training and education for our partners and affiliates to ensure appropriateness of our conduct towards nurturing respectful relationships and empowering peoples of place. Individuals and Organizations that are part of this alliance include the communities and networks of Burners Without Borders, Burning Man, Do LaB Inc, UPLIFT, Lucidity Festivals, Keyframe-Entertainment, ReInhabiting the Village, Take Root Productions and others
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Deploy and distribute resources effectively? Who’s counting that? Are they planning to build their villages on tribal land? And who are these unnamed “others” collecting all the databases? What happens to the data? Is it shared with the “Burning Nerds” or “Burning Man Earth” teams?
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Composting toilets might not be “fulfilling the emergent needs of actions” if the protest gets shut down next week like the Governor has ordered:

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On Tuesday, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department indicated that it would block delivery of food, medicine and other supplies to protesters who defy orders to leave the Oceti Sakowin camp. Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday ordered mandatory evacuation of the camp because of a predicted strong winter storm. 

 

The first blow to the camp’s security was an announcement last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would shut an area to the public that includes the main camp. The corps said its decision was based on growing violence between police and protesters and the onset of cold weather.  

 [Source]
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Burner General Wesley Clark‘s son is leading 2000 unarmed Veterans up there to make a human shield. Frozen or not, shit’s about to get real. The Veterans group have raised nearly a million bucks on their GoFundMe. Like the Haiti earthquake, Standing Rock seems like a goldmine for all the helpers. How much of the money leaves the hands of the white folks non-indigenous groups and flows into the hands of the tribes is an open question. I didn’t notice any Indians amongst all these various fundraising entities.
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A search for “Standing Rock” on GoFundMe turns up thousands of fundraisers.
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All of these are still open, which begs the question “which will close first, the protests or the fundraisers?” Back in the day, people used to pay their own costs to protest for things they believe in.
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Another BWB-backed group called Red Lightning are setting up a real Burner-style camp there. You can send donations directly to them:
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Reality Sandwich, a site founded by Daniel Pinchbeck, today published a lengthy feature by Tamra Lucid “From Burning Man to Standing Rock”

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But now, 300 indigenous nations are there in Cannonball, North Dakota, protecting the water. Among them the Yaqui, Bianca’s tribe.

But Bianca has another tribe, too — she’s a Burner. Burners have been getting a bad reputation at Standing Rock because of some who treat it like just another festival. Burners who freeload, you know, tourists, or colonists. People who play guitar at campfire when they shouldn’t. People who explain when they should be listening. But they aren’t the only Burners at Standing Rock.

…I witnessed festival families showing up at Standing Rock.  Fortunately, many burners came in service to the indigenous, while unfortunately others came to “have an experience” to showcase on social media.  The later is what became most evident and publicized and provides our community with an opportunity to grow and become culturally aware of how we show up in the world.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for those of us who have not grown up with tribal people to interact, and to garner a more real understanding of what it means to interact with tribal people. Go and sit quietly in the different councils (preferably giving the primary seats to the Natives), go and engage with the gathered nations by asking one simple question, “How can I be in service to you today?”  

 

If you’re unsure of how to do this or nervous you will step on toes, connect with https://www.protectorsalliance.org

[Source]

In fact there are more than 500 tribes there from around the world. My people are there too, although our way of protest is a little different from kumbaya, kombucha, and fluoride-free water…here’s Kereama Te Ua from my hometown of Wellington at Standing Rock doing a haka, the Maori war dance..

You may have seen this sort of thing before in sporting events with the New Zealand national team, or in the movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman. I can guarantee that you haven’t seen a haka like this, though. This is the real deal, he’s not messing around. It’s significant that he doesn’t rise from his knee. If he does, it’s to fight. These people are not to be trifled with, they ate the brains of their enemies on the battlefield to take their power.
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It remains to be seen whether these more traditional forms of protest will be more effective than thousands of GoFundMes for unemployed/trust-fund Burners looking for a transformational experience and promising that “100% of the money” goes to the Indians. We wish everyone involved a peaceful and successful protest. It’s a global village now. Mess with the tribes and you mess with all the tribes.
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[Update 5/12/16 7:27am]

Chris Breedlove from Burners Without Borders has commented on this story on our Facebook page. Predictably, instead of addressing any of the issues we raised, he tried to spin it and place the blame here.
BMorg can do no wrong! It is only Burners.Me that does wrong. BMorg good! Burners.Me bad!
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Louisa May Alcott: Breadwinner, Frustrated Creative and Opiate Addict

littlewomen

 

by Terry Gotham

While I was never that big of a Louisa May Alcott fan, her impact on American literature cannot be denied. Alcott is an adored and fiercely protected author, in no small part because of just how impeccably written and potentially life-changing Little Women can be.  Her eight YA novels have remained in print continuously for the 140 years since they were written. There are two anime adaptations of Little Women, plus half a dozen other adaptations. Her creative output is a fundamental piece of American literature. Today is her 185th birthday, so I wanted to tell you a story about her. You probably didn’t know she smoked hashish and used opium for most of her life to deal with the side effects of mercurous chloride to treat typhoid pneumonia, which is believed to have eventually killed her (though an alternative diagnosis of Lupus was suggested in 2007).

Previously, I was delighted to dismantle the myth that the Civil War created a flood of heroin addict veterans. However, that doesn’t mean everyone managed to escape the clutches of substance abuse. Nurses, doctors and surgeons were far more exposed to the dangers of these substances than the Union soldier who only saw the inside of a field hospital once during his service. Repeated use of alcohol in the form of whiskey and opium in the form of laudanum, morphine, and heroin to treat hundreds of soldiers a week, in addition to essentially zero oversight when it came to use was a one-two punch that created a tempting proposition for those who tended to the wounded on both sides. There are a number of isolated reports, documenting the odd doctor or surgeon who got a little too sauced at work, or needed to be relieved of his duties because he was incapacitated. This implies that there could have been more of these medical practitioners who didn’t get caught, but still ended up using to cope.

Louisa May Alcott, one of the most influential and beloved American writers of the 19th Century, was one of these medical practitioners. She worked under Dorothea Dix who administrated military hospitals as a nurse.   Before leaving for the Civil War, she’d already assumed her station at the head of the household. Her father, one of the pre-eminent thinkers of their day, couldn’t keep it together for long enough to keep them out of poverty. When she left for the Civil War, her father was reported to have said he was “sending his only son to war.”

It was during the Battle of Fredricksburg that she contracted typhoid pneumonia, an ailment that would alter her life forever. The prescription for typhoid was calomel, and to ease the side effects of literally consuming mercury every day, she started using opium, in the form of morphine & laudanum. She didn’t enter into this habit by accident. She was a very smart lady and knew the potential dangers in consuming it daily. Alcott assisted Catherine Beecher in writing The American Woman’s Home in 1869, a year after Little Women was published, in which she stated:

“The use of opium, especially by women, is usually caused by at first by medical prescriptions containing it. All that has been stated as to the effect of alcohol in the brain is true of opium; while to break a habit thus is almost hopeless. Every woman who takes or who administers this drug, is dealing as with poisoned arrows, whose wounds are without cure.”
~Alcott & Beecher, The American Women’s Home (1849), revision of A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841)

But a little thing like typhoid pneumonia & a daily opiate habit didn’t stop her. She built herself into the powerhouse of an author by sheer force of will. Realizing that her success and financial stability was depending on her career as a writer, Alcott built herself and her writing into a brand that we remember to this day. While she had made money previously from writing pulp fiction, this was light years away in propriety from Little Women and the branding and recognition that followed. The pulp was published anonymously or under a man’s name (A.M. Bernard) for similar reasons to why women writers today publish using a man’s name.

By 1870, she had grown so dependent on opium that she no longer expected to be able to sleep without it, as she described at the end of this letter to her father:

Our hotel is on the boulevard, and the trees which are in really good care thanks to http://www.treeservicekingsport.com, also the foundations, and fine carriages make our windows very tempting.. We popped into bed early; and my bones are so much better that I slept without any opium or anything, a feat I have not performed for some time.
~Louisa May Alcott to her father, Hotel D’Universe, Tours, June 17,1870

As discussed in the Seattle Pi article that I’ve cited a few times, it’s important for stories like this to be told. Not because I think famous people should be knocked down off their pedestal, but just the opposite. We treat substance use/abuse as almost integral to the creative process, especially when it comes to strong drink and writing. This seems to be heavily amplified in men while minimized in women. The idea that alcoholism is this noble part of the developing male writing process has been so deeply embedded in the work that I have friends who honestly didn’t pursue significant study in writing because they were Irish and didn’t want to fall in love with Jameson. This is going on while we eulogize female writers in the exact opposite way, discussing them as pure or without stain, objectifying them in hugely problematic ways. Then, when someone like Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday or Janis Joplin struggle and die from drugs, we pretend there was nothing we could do and that it just “happened again.” That needs to stop. As a dear friend reminds me, we celebrate drug use in men and totally ignore it in women.

Creative women are no different than creative men and their processes should be laid bare for all to see, scars and stumbles included. Louisa May Alcott probably pursued her habit away from her family or those who could help her. Given her status as the household’s main income generator, I think it’s easy to see her habit in line with the alcoholism of Don Draper, or the cocaine usage of a street dealer. They use because they have to, in order to provide for the people they love. Louisa May Alcott was able to produce Little Women & Perilous Play, a story about hash, in the same year. That’s nothing if not professional. She inspired generations of women to be better than the brand she created. Which is the point of art in the first place. She may not personally be this amazing protagonist hero that she write about, but in striving to be so, even if it’s only to feed her family and take care of your idealist, lazy ass family, she created the possibility for those who looked up to her to become exactly that. As a biographer of hers said on NPR: “You don’t grow up to walk two steps behind your husband when you’ve met Jo March.”

Analysis: Burning Man Project 2015 Financials

BMorg have released their annual report for 2015. Their opening line:

“Do you ever wonder just what exactly the Burning Man Project is up to or what we have accomplished since our transition to a nonprofit?”

A great question, because that is exactly what I wonder about the Burning Man Project.

As readers of this blog would expect, the BMorg report is heavy on spin and light on detail. We aim to bring you the opposite, as we have done for four years now since Burning Man’s “transition to a non profit” was announced with great fanfare.

2012

2013

2014

The Afterburn Report for 2015 was released in February, we covered it here.

Here is the 2015 Burning Man Annual Report and the 2015 IRS Form 990 for the Burning Man Project.


The Spin

BMOrg find their accounts staggeringly boring, so they’ve created a handy pie chart because they’re happy to help us see Where Does The Money Go.

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Image: Burning Man Journal

Does that help you much? Me neither. It seems 100% of the expenses go to, well, expenses. The purple “5.9%” is Payroll Expenses and Employee Benefits, the blue 26.5% is Payroll; why these two things should be separate items and on opposite sides of this pie chart is anybody’s guess, but clear understanding is not the reason.

See that number there “Burning Man Expenses”? Revenue minus Expense equals profit. So you would think that “2015 Burning Man Expenses” means the cost of putting on Burning Man in 2015 was $30,1858,646. But not according to the FAQ:

Q. How Much Money did Burning Man make in 2015?

A. In 2015, the Burning Man Project brought in $36,901,409 and spent $35,844,236.

Where does the money go? Programming. If 83.73% went to “programming” and 15.37% went to administration, that means programming was $30,897,550 and administration cost only $5,671,447. Right? We will verify these claims with the actual IRS filing.

The specific things BMorg chose to highlight:

  • Donations to the Burning Man Project from the public continue to increase: $1,329,325 [2014: $1,093,008]

  • Grants provided by Burning Man Project to artists and community leaders increased by over 50%, $1,419,865 [2014: $911,955]

  • Expanding our reach. We granted over $1.1 million domestically and $250,000 internationally.

  • Burning Man Arts now has an operating budget of almost $2.5 million, and Civic Engagement of over $750,000 — both are significant increases from 2014.

They neglected to mention that the costs of The Man, Man Base, piazza, and other accoutrements that the Burning Man Organization provides (but not as live entertainment) are now being included in the Art Honoraria Grants. As we reported in March 2016, quoting BMorg:

Burning Man Arts is funding BRC art to the tune of $1.2 million this year, including these Honoraria recipients, as well as the sculptures, the bell towers, and the 33 Guild Workshops in the Piazza around the Man. [Source]

“Fearless ringleader” [this is a ring?] Marian Goodell said:

2015 was about investing in infrastructure and establishing a foundation for the future. We actively engaged in conversations with artists, Theme Camp leaders, event producers and others to determine how Burning Man Project can best assist and support them in creating and cultivating Burning Man culture in the world. We worked to develop systems and processes to help people have a broader and deeper positive impact with their effort.

And we officially welcomed Burners Without Borders under our roof. It now sits nestled within our new Art and Civic Engagement team, and will continue to support initiatives around the globe that foster innovative approaches to community resiliency, grant giving, and grassroots initiatives.

While building and integrating systems at home, we also engaged in exciting initiatives and collaborations abroad, including Artichoke Trust’s Temple Project with David Best in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This ambitious venture brought people together across religious and political barriers, serving as a source of healing for a community living with a legacy of conflict and division. The Temple was visited by over 60,000 people, burned in front of 20,000 onlookers, and was hailed by local residents as the largest, most peaceful gathering in recent memory.


Statistical highlights:

Black Rock City Paying Participants: 67,564

Volunteers: 7500

Paid Staff: 951

Total Revenue: $36,901,409

Financial surplus (profit): $1,057,173 (2014: $2,350,498)

Cash in bank: $7,054,089

Net assets: $10,680,108

Burning Man event revenue: $34,707,734

Donations received: $1,329,325 (2014: $1,093)

Fundraising expenses: $369,760

Artumnal Revenue: $377,273

Decompression Revenue: $191,840

Six Largest Donations: $400k, $250k (non-cash), $100k, $25k, $25k, $24k

Grants paid: $1,419,865 (2014: $911,955)

Honoraria Art Grants: $1,142,112 , 105 projects, 14 from overseas

Honoraria as % of Ticket Revenue: 3.3% (2014: 2.8%)

Art Grants outside Burning Man (annual report): $277,753 

Civic Engagement (IRS): $27,550

Foreign grants (IRS): $63,254 of which $15,232 was for the European Leadership Conference and $40,822 was for other European projects (Best?)

Burners Without Borders Grants (IRS): $1,000


Comparative Financials in P & L Format

Version 1.1. I typed some figures in the 2014 column accidentally, now fixed.

Version 1.1. I typed some figures in the 2014 column accidentally, now fixed. This doesn’t change any of the analysis except that salaries and contractors “only” increased 20%, not 31% as I had previously calculated


The big question is: how much of every dollar Burning Man takes in goes to art (and other grants)?

The answer is 3.8 cents. For each $397 ticket, $15.27 gets spent on art. 80% goes to art that is at Burning Man including the Man and Base and the Temple, $12.28. Just shy of three bucks goes to art not at Burning Man. To put this in perspective,  $34.94 per ticket –  almost triple the Art Honoraria  spend – goes to the salaries of Burning Man’s year-round Arts and Civic Engagement teams. Just those teams alone cost $3.25 million a year, never mind all the other employees and contractors.

Contrast this with the Spinfographic:

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I can’t see how they came up with these percentages. I’ve tried a dozen different combinations of numbers, none of them work. They don’t seem to match any of the numbers in the IRS Form 990, so they’re basically meaningless. Just a pretty graph to make you think that your ticket money is being well spent.

Likewise, the CEO’s comment that “2015 was about investing in infrastructure” is not matched by any visible infrastructure investments in the accounts.

It seems to me* that the “overhead ratio of the Burning Man project” is much, much higher than 16%.

The reality of this operation is that Where Most of the Money Goes is salaries. Salaries (including Payroll, Payroll Tax and Employee Benefits) and Contractors adds up to $15,646,483, 42% of revenues. The overall dollar amount on this is up +20% from 2014. Will it increase another 20% when we see the 2016 numbers?

The Board, Legal, and Accounting of this organization takes 5.3% of revenues ($1,954,976). The board got smaller with the resignations of Jim Tananbaum and Chris Bently.

Here is the publicly available salary information:

screenshot-2016-11-25-13-03-26

The difference in (brackets) means that – unless they are contracting to the Black Rock City LLC operation, which they would need to disclose as a conflict of interest – the Founders took a pay cut. Not only did the Directors get two separate valuations on Burning Man, and give it away for the lowest one (reducing their potential tax deduction benefit); but they then proceeded to reduce their own salaries even further. Quite unusual behavior. Noble? The rest of the numbers don’t speak to such altruism. Part of the retirement plans, perhaps…or an indicator of a guilty conscience?

The biggest independent contractors were:

Spectrum (Catering): $1,634,009

United Site Services (Sanitation): $1,137,839

Crystal (Ice): $756,741

CrowdRX (Medical): $736,050

Aggreko (Equipment Rental): $517,258

Remember when the money from the ice used to go to local charities? There’s no sign of anything like that any more. Ice sales will break $1 million soon.

They did not break out the revenue from Vehicle Passes or from their cut of on-Playa vendor sales (more than 100 registered vendors paying a percentage of revenues) and off-Playa artist sales. The Tickets page for 2016 says “approximately 27,000” official vehicle passes at $80, which is $2,160,000 – about double the art spend. This year each ticket and vehicle pass had a $7 handling fee, not to mention $12 mailing fees and $40 passenger arrival fees at the airport. In 2015 Vehicle Pass revenue was at least $1,350,000, more than enough to fund BMorg’s share of every Honoraria art project.

screenshot-2016-11-25-22-49-25

Even if you say “the purpose of the Burning Man Project is to put on Burning Man annually, therefore any Burning Man related expense is Program Revenue”…the Burning Man expenses are $25 million from revenues of $35 million, this is 71%. Actually pretty efficient. Then, $9 million of the $10 million surplus generated after the Burning Man event finishes is not given away in grants; it is spent to run their year-round, off-Playa activities. This means the overhead of the operation outside the event is 90% of the surplus. These activities amounted to: a grant of $1000 for a Burners Without Borders project in Africa, and another $250k to off-Playa projects – one of which was the European Leadership Conference.


The Bottom Line

To grant $1000 to projects through Burners Without Borders and $250,000 outside the Playa (mostly to a single David Best project that spanned two years and went well into six figures) took more than 100 full time employees and $15 million of year round salaries – a 20% increase on the previous year. Of the $15 million, $2 million was Board and lawyers and $3.25 million was the Burning Man Arts and Civic Engagement teams.

You would need to be consuming vast quantities of Kool Aid to believe that this is an efficient use of Burner funds to make the world a better place, or that the Burning Man Project is a shining example of an efficient charity with low overheads.

International Grants 

Europe: $40,822

European Leadership Conference $15,232

East Asia/Pacific (BM Arts): $6,000

Burners Without Borders: $1,000

Domestic Art Grants

The main art grants were all local:

David Best $51,970

Dreamers Guild (Oakland) $72,755

Flux Foundation (SF) $40,000

Flaming Lotus Girls (SF) $50,000

Long Shot Studios (Oakland) $45,000

Marco Cochrane (Marin) $60,000

Xian Productions (Berkeley) $45,000

Compare this to what BMorg spent on their political buddies:

Lobbying: $1,000,000

Grassroots Lobbying: $250,000

Permit: $3.8 million


What Else Was Done?

YouTube channel: nearly 100 titles with 1 million views.

Leadership conference: 350 people, 4 days, 35 sessions

European conference: 110 people, 25 countries (Amsterdam)

Asian conference: Taiwan

Southeast Leadership Roundtable: Atlanta, GA

Regional contacts (annual report): 250 contacts, 60 events

Regional contacts (IRS filing): 270 contacts, 130 cities, 65 events

Events in Berlin: 40

Requests for speeches: 106

Burners Without Borders grants: 10

Walk The Talk grants: 3

Quoting BMorg:

Highlights included:

  • Larry Harvey’s speech at the British Library’s permanent outdoor installation, and the unveiling of David Normal’s Burning Man 2014 light box artwork titled “Crossroads of Curiosity.”
  • Crimson Rose’s appearance at the renowned ArtPrize international art competition in Michigan.
  • Harley K. Dubois’ talk at the “Growing Cities” themed RISING Architecture week in Copenhagen.
  • Larry was a guest of honor and speaker at Design Idaba’s 20th anniversary in Cape Town, South Africa.

Students from the University of Westminster, the California Institute for Integral Studies, and Finland’s Aalto University pursued learning projects in Black Rock City. The participant-produced TEDx BRC program enjoyed its fifth year of on-playa presentations with a full day’s program, including talks by Burning Man founders Harley Dubois and Crimson Rose.

Why no mention of the other ginormous multi-year academic study?

Larry Harvey’s speech at the British Library was on the Summer Solstice. Why is there no video of this on the official YouTube channel? For $15 million in salaries, no-one could press record on an iPhone?

As you can see from this video that was shared, this “highlight” of the Burning Man Project’s annual activities was a fairly intimate crowd:

If you leave aside the “Oh The Places You’ll Go” video, it’s hard to see 1 million views on the Burning Man channel today, at the end of 2016. It has 27,558 subscribers. So Burning Man’s Founder travels across the world to spread the word of the Burning Man Project, and this is one of the highlights of a year in which a former Presidential candidate addressed the Global Leadership Conference…surely that is worth putting up on this channel?

Why is it that BMorg get to go do all this exciting stuff that they tell us is making the world a better place, but we never get to see or hear anything about it? We just have to take their word that they did it, and they were great, and it was fabulous, and we’re saving the world. We should donate, so they can do it; but they can’t be bothered filming it, so we can participate. Sounds legit.

Here, take some of this, it will all be alright...

Here, take some of this, it will all be alright…


Other interesting items

The Burner and Playa Air Express seem to be working, but the amount of passengers “saved” from the roads on the bus and in the air does not seem to match the 8,000 reduction in vehicle passes from last year.

Reno Airport: 17,000 people from 30 countries

Playa Airport: 2,330 passengers, 30% up on 2014

Burner Express (Bus): 3884 in, 3334 out [550 people hooked up with someone in an RV]

Theme camps: 1150

Greeters: 850

Lamplighters: 210 , 319 lamp spires with 792 lanterns, 917 lit lanterns

Visitors to V-Spot (Volunteer Center ) 2,299

794 joined departments, 155 helped Theme Camps, 158 got engaged on art projects.

Out of many thousands of abandoned bikes, not many could be salvaged.

Yellow bikes: 631

Recycling: 2 x 30-yard dumpsters of aluminum cans. 170,000 cans, 5000 lbs ; $1500 donated.

[My immediate reaction to the Recycling number was “wow, that’s it?”. Both the recycling, and the cans. In Australian maths, 170,000 cans is about the beer requirement for a small camp for a week. Out of all Burning Man, the only recycling we could do is two thirty yard dumpsters? Of aluminum cans? That is a disaster, people.]

Sergey Brin is listed as a donor for the first time, although his name has not been officially disclosed in relation to the Fly Ranch purchase. Google have exploited Burning Man for their own commercial advantage in any way they can think of since before they even became a company, so it is fitting that at last one of the founders is now publicly giving something back.

Other donors include “Happy Feet”, “Allen Ginsburg”, and Microsoft Senior Exec Owen Roberts and Michelle Steele (this one?)

Although a number of donors use pseudonyms (shoutout to Bacchus Mayor of D15Orient), a total of 9 went by the hacker-associated sobriquet Anonymous.

anonymous leader further further peter ruprecht 2016

Anonymous have had a highly visible presence at both Burning Man and Further Future this season

Who these kind donors are gets mentioned in the Annual Report. What good things BMorg did with their money isn’t worth a mention, more than a few words in passing like “invesment in infrastructure” and “foundations for the future”.

In a couple of years, if I am still writing this blog, we will get to hear about the 2016 Fly Ranch purchase, and see what that means for this organization. By the time we read about 2017 in 2019, they may have started to do something out there. It seems like not much at all has happened in 2016, probably more III/FFF. Until then, we can only speculate as to what the Burning Man Project is really up to.

screenshot-2016-10-02-14-14-55


[* Please show your workings, BMorg. Here’s mine, using the IRS form as source data:

Fundraising expense was $369,760, that’s 1.0% of $36,901, 409 – not 1.25%. But that should really be applied to the $1,329,325 of donations. Fundraising alone costs 27.8% of donations.

15.37% Administration, that’s $5,671,746. 83.73% of revenues going to Program Expense is $30,897,549. 16.6% overhead would be $6,623,633. These number do not appear anywhere in the IRS form.  I have tried a dozen different “what ifs” to come up with this “16.6% overhead ratio” number and I just can’t see it.

screenshot-2016-11-25-20-22-43

screenshot-2016-11-25-20-21-26

This gives Program Service Expense/Revenue of 85.7% , or 80.9% of overall Revenue.

Line 4a of the IRS report says that “Black Rock City” produced revenue of $35,065,014 at a cost of $25,186,036. Therefore if all they did was Burning Man, they would generate $9,878,978 in cash. This is a 28.2% margin on gross revenues.

In this accounting, it seems that the cost of the Art Honoraria is not considered “expenses”. Instead, it is given from this $10 million Programming surplus. Total grants of $1,419,865 would be 14.3% of that surplus.

BMorg’s FAQ with the numbers says:

Q. Why are there some differences between the numbers in the Form 990 and those in the Annual Report?

A. The differences in numbers are due in part to the fact that when the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) became an official part of Burning Man Project in July of 2014, the majority of its programming was undertaken by Burning Man Project, but BRAF still existed as a subsidiary organization with some administrative financial activity. This activity is reflected in our Annual Report’s audited financial statements (to give a more complete picture of finances, most of the financing loans have been coming from forbrukslån, which is the best option) but are not included in the Form 990 because BRAF files their own 990 and that financial information is included there. Other slight differences are due to the fact that the IRS asks us to report certain numbers in a way that differs from “generally accepted accounting principles” or GAAP, which are used for our audited financial statements.

A typical BMorg response, “if there are discrepancies between our numbers and the IRS it’s the IRS’s fault for not following generally accepted accounting principles” . Sounds to me like they are running one set of books for the IRS, and providing Burners with a different set of information. If the IRS differs from GAAP, go with the IRS, no need to improvise. This is a charity, being run for the benefit of all and setting a new standard in transparency…right?

Morphine, Myth & The Civil War: Before Cause and Effect

Editorial by Terry Gotham

Last week, we spoke about the gendering of drug use in America and how that may have led to the original wave of drug prohibition laws. This was one example of the  many times where drug use was distorted as a justification for it to be outlawed. One of the biggest myths associated with heroin usage was that the Civil War “created 500,000 addicts.” This is of course not the case, so let’s unpack the various reasons brought up to justify this erroneous attribution. An exceptional paper published in War In History by Jonathan Lewy of Harvard University helps to round up the main reasons this assumption is wrong, which I’ll be quoting from liberally.

One of the easiest ways people explain the deluge of opiate & whiskey addicts during the last quarter of the 19th century & the first 2 decades of the 20th was the invention of the hypodermic syringe. The Civil War doctor did use opium for much more than just killing pain. Opium was used for diarrhea, dysentery, stomachache, gallstones, hemorrhoids, tetanus, typhus, syphilus & “neuralgia” (an anachronistic diagnosis that loosely translates to peripheral neuropathy today). But, remember, it’s 1860. Opium powder was usually sprinkled on top of the wounds suffered by soldiers in the field. By the end of the Civil War, a little over 2,000 hypodermic syringes had been fabricated & distributed to the 11,000 surgeons employed by the Union Army, which is one of the pieces of evidence used to support the claim that the modern heroin addict was created by the Civil War.

There’s one crucial difference between a modern syringe & those that were used, especially at the beginning of the Civil War. The first syringes were dull. That’s right, doctors had to puncture your skin first using a lancet (yes, that’s where the journal name comes from), before using the dull and large gauge syringe to deliver the medicine. So, the most hyperbolic claim, that soldiers were shooting up because they were taught to do so at field hospitals and by doctors, can immediately be dismissed. If any of you had nightmares that involved Requiem For A Dream and civil war uniforms, you can put that aside.

Not only was injection drug use essentially impossible, Confederate surgeons had little to no access to spare opium. The Confederacy attempted to grow poppy fields to supply their armies with opium. This sounds like a good idea in theory, but resulted in exceptionally poor quality poppy crops and an inferior supply of pain killers for the Confederate Army. Resulted in the Confederacy relying on smugglers & blockade runners to bring it down from the North, as one of the first examples of drug running in the USA.  The North was buying opium on the world market, as their Navy gave them access to trade with Europe. And boy did they take advantage of that. The Federal Army consumed 10 million opium pills and 80 tons of opium powder & laudanum tinctures before the surrender at Appomattox was signed.

People weren’t converting pills into inject-ready substance in the field, and the Confederacy couldn’t even get its hands on syringes and medical staff/training using them. When you’re taking a small pile of opium and spreading it over a wound with a knife, the person receiving care doesn’t know they’re “doing heroin.” It’s hard to develop a drug habit when you don’t know what drug you’re craving.

There were anecdotal cases of physicians becoming addicted to the morphine, but as a record, this was always classified as misuse, not addiction. General Benjamin Butler discovered one such doctor, and relieved him of his duty. However, no note of addiction, health problems, or vice was mentioned, merely a note of dereliction of duty. This is corroborated by The Medical & Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, a six-volume epic tome documenting the case histories of the various field surgeons across the US Army. 13 years of records were submitted, accounting for all of the ailments, diseases and afflictions that these doctors, surgeons and field hospital directors encountered. Zero cases of addiction, or anything resembling the modern, conventional definitions of substance abuse/addiction appear.

This isn’t to say that the maladies associated with excess substance use weren’t known. But the idea that the substance use, if continued, would cause dependence or other negative consequences, hadn’t entered the greater medical world, and wouldn’t for years. The Manual of Military Surgery, introduced in 1861, noted that morphine & laudanum (tincture of 10% opium in alcohol) should be used in managing pain and amputation-related hardship. Interestingly, and without further definition, the reader is warned to not abuse the drugs “lest they induce fatal oppression of the brain.” For serious, no other context is given, you can see for yourself on page 50:

“Reaction must be promoted by the cautious use of stimulants ;while pain is allayed by morphia orlaudanum given with more than ordinary circumspection, lest it induce fatal oppression of the brain.” ~Samuel Gross

Could “fatal oppression” be like our modern definition of “brain death?” You betcha. Will we ever know if it was, definitively, and not the fog, memory loss or other neurological side effects of opiate use described at the time? No, which is a huge problem. It’s really easy to assume, but we need confirming evidence and there simply isn’t any. And, to put this lack of information in context, in the late 19th Century, the closest thing to “addiction” most people were aware of was the “habit” (Source Bias warning: Vaguely pearl clutchy, but still relevant historical portrayal of the time).  Alcohol had been seen to be habit forming as early as 1819, but morphine wasn’t seen in the same light. Using opium was seen as roughly equivalent to swearing, paying for sex, gambling and gossiping. If you couldn’t resist the temptation of drink or poon or dope, you were a sinner, or morally weak, not sick. But in 1877, 12 years after the end of the Civil War, that changed. Die Morphiumsucht was published by Eduard Levinstein, connecting drug use with a craving for more drugs, for the first time in the wider, respected medical literature. And I do really mean for the first time. Between 1864 & 1875, when Levinstein lectured publicly on the topic for the first time, only 24 articles discussed pathology stemming from drug use. In the decade after? Over 230. It’s kind of hard to have a mass of people “addicted to drugs” when they couldn’t access the drugs, and “addiction” wasn’t a word at the time. Oh, and the people weren’t there either.

The USA documented approximately 10,000 habitual opium uses (referred to as habitues) in 1842, with that number peaking at 313,000 in 1896, according to some. However that number gets turned on its head when it’s documented in the same source that there were more women habitues than men. Grief caused by becoming a widow explains why all the women are getting high, but, if all of the soldiers are dead, where is the epidemic of strung out veterans? They weren’t in the Sanatoriums, as a casual review of the Second Annual Report to the Citizens in the Delaware County American shows. Even back in 1868, right at the end of the war, when soldiers were most vulnerable to opiates, 2 out of 26 under his care, were there for opium. The rest? Booze. Additionally, they were in there because of social use or physician prescription, not because they even fought in the war. In the “National Homes” in and around Milwaukee,  only one veteran was admitted to the entire system for non-alcoholic drug use between 1867 & 1872. To put that in perspective, 36 people have died from Fentanyl overdoses alone in Milwaukee this year

Were there people who developed habits? Absolutely. The Confederate vet Doc Pemberton was wounded at the battle of Athens, Georgia and became addicted to cocaine after being given it on the battlefield. After the war, as an unemployed chemist, he created a brew of cocaine and kola nut extract, as an attempt to keep up with the hooch being slung at the saloon across the street. Were there a giant pile of strung out drug addicts walking around after the war? No. What were there? A bunch of wounded veterans.

Lewy really does sum it up quite nicely in his conclusion, so I won’t try to out do his words:

Some contemporaries claimed their experience in the war prompted their addiction. A few decades later, Crothers and other physicians supported the notion that the war caused addiction, but not based on fact, at least statistical fact, but was due to the understanding that wars caused trauma. One can only assume that, with the amount of drugs consumed by the armies of the Civil War, a few soldiers and perhaps even a General or two became addicted to drugs, but it would be next to impossible to determine how many (were), and whether this was, indeed, a historical trend. Especially since addiction was only recognized as a full fledged disease several decades after the war.
~
Johnathan Lewy, The Army Disease: Drug Addiction and The Civil War (2013)

Finally, it’s important to note that this fear of drug zombie veterans have been used as a justification for drug laws ever since. A heroin resurgence coincided with the end of World War II, the Korean war sparked rumors that Communists were attempting to dope American youth to beguile them, Vietnam managed to vilify drafted soldiers, decrying their drug habits before they even returned, and the war in Afghanistan is already being blamed for heroin use among soldiers. There will always be people attempting to justify drug prohibition using the trope that veterans would be the most vulnerable of American citizens. Yet, this continues not to be the case, even to this day. Don’t believe the hype. Drug use is an ineffective, yet popular way to cope with trauma, whether you were part of a unit that saw incoming fire at the Battle of Gettysburg or if you’re just growing up in rural America after Bain Capital sent all of the jobs in your town away.