The Ten Year Anniversary of Burners Without Borders

BWB_logo

Thanks to Jex from BMIR for writing this guest post. It adds to earlier stories we have published regarding Burners Without Borders:

Burners Storm The Jersey Shore

Superstorm Sandy Vs The Burners

Seeding The Future

3 months ago, Burners Without Borders got assimilated by the Borg. We hope this will lead to an expansion in the amount of good they do in the world.

 


 

The Ten Year Anniversary of Burners Without Borders

by Jex

During a recent online conversation on Burners.Me, I, as many do, found myself in what grew to be a heated discussion. Some of my final words included something of ‘why not focus on the positive in our community, showcasing volunteers and such?’. With these words, Zos offered me a voice via his publication to showcase said volunteers. A lovely opportunity to share my words on what may possibly be my biggest inspiration, as well as what I believe is a huge part of the pulse within the burner community. Thank you, Zos for sharing this piece and thank you in advance for reading…Burn Bright – Jexime, Production Director of BMIR – 94.5 Burning Man Information Radio.

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Peru_BWB website

Ten years ago, on August 29th, 2005, the third largest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall on the United States showed its wrath on Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina, the namesake of this monster storm, peaked at a category 5 with over 175 mph winds. It left New Orleans 80% underwater, with a death toll of 1,577 people in the state of Louisiana, and another 238 fatalities in neighboring Mississippi. Katrina caused over 15 million people to evacuate their homes and left what may exceed an estimated 150 billion dollars in economic damage, with hundreds of thousands of citizens left unemployed, displaced, and homeless.

Hurricane Sandy Relief_BWB website

BWB Grant Program_BWB websiteTen years ago, on August 28th, 2005, Burning Man presented us with ‘Psyche’ – exploring psychology: self-expression, self-reflection and the unconscious power of dreams. Who are you? Who are we? What is this ‘we’, this ‘I’, we speak of so commonly on a daily basis? As burners pondered the very existence of their symbiotic relationships between I, we, and the power of dreams, a plethora of self-expressing art filled the clockworked city streets, giving unique avenues for self-discovery.

 

During this journey of self-reflection, as Hurricane Katrina simultaneously destroyed the lives of millions of people, one of the most important and phenomenal representations of Civic Responsibility was born. When word made its way through the dust of the devastation of Katrina, a group of burners discovered a profound sense of self and reflection of those in need. They headed straight to ground zero of the disaster area to help rebuild the destroyed communities.

 

Bayou_BWB website“As the volunteer numbers grew, they focused their initial efforts on rebuilding a destroyed Vietnamese temple in Biloxi, Mississippi. After several months, that job done, they moved to another needy Mississippi community, Pearlington, to continue to work hard – gifting their time – to help those in need. Over the course of eight months, BWB volunteers gifted over $1 million dollars worth of reconstruction and debris removal to the residents of Mississippi.”

-BurnersWithoutBorders.org

 

This solitary event opened the doors to one of the greatest grassroots, volunteer driven, organizations to emerge from our ever growing community – Burners Without Borders. With a goal to empower local communities, BWB supports their volunteers from all around the world in finding creative solutions through community efforts to aid in disaster relief. They believe in the power of collaboration and community driven leadership to make solid and effective change. The BWB mission statement reads:

 

“BWB promotes activities around the globe that support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches to disaster relief and grassroots initiatives that make a positive impact.”

-BurnersWithoutBorders.org

 

Haiti_BWB websiteSince Hurricane Katrina, BWB has supported major global projects including; Will Ruddick’s project of Kenya’s alternative currency, Green Peace’s Water Patrol with several members of Buklod Ng Kabataan, the communities affected by the Colorado Floods, participation in a one month artist residency at Jakmel Ekspresyon in Haiti (a program set up and run by Su Frame, a Chicago based art educator and activist) as a response to the horrific earthquake to hit Haiti in 2010, relief for those affected by Hurricane Sandy, and a multi-year earthquake disaster relief project in Peru. BWB sets up programming for volunteers to contribute to ongoing efforts such as these, as well as offering $100-$1000 dollars in grant money every April for civic projects that make a positive impact.

 

Project Hope Art_BWB websiteAs the ever growing nucleus of Burning Man and its diaspora continues its shift, feeding upon the current state of our populous, us burners find ourselves at the target of hyper criticism and challenges to our foundation’s ethics. Drama saturated rants infest social media – shrieking cries of billionaire plug and play camps echo far and wide as if they were the Mordor of Burning Man, while playa famed EDM DJs curse the dust over power discrepancies. We shockingly discover our beloved Ten Principles are mere reflections of our own ideals, held so tight they started to fall, vowels and consonants shattering into shards of morals and attachments, leaving us holding our knees, shaking in deep Playa, desperately asking ‘whatever shall we do?’. We look to the creators to change what is quite possibly in OUR hands to change. Perhaps, Burning Man is our true mirror and the evolution of our precious world and the fate of our community is our responsibility? Our Civic Responsibility. Let’s say the Borg are not our metaphorical parents, but are the gatekeepers who give us the blank canvas to create what we desire to reflect. Rules are inevitable – we are a society of rules, whether we’d like to admit it or not. However, are these rules a reflection of the chaos we are impassioned by? Are we subconsciously choosing entropy as our community religion? Are we the destructors of our own world while struggling through cloudy vision, unable to see we have the ability to come together to create change?

 

A mindful and ever so humble suggestion: Look to the example of those who have come before you. BWB is a pure example of the power we have to create something fantastic, something mind-blowing, something truly capable of changing the world.   They are not just an organization working toward aid of physical disaster relief, they are a symbol of how community, solid leadership, and how the true sense of Civic Responsibility can create massive waves. Be the change you want to see, in whichever community you dance in. Start with your passion, connect with those like minds who share it, rid yourself of mental clutter, and watch what can unfold. You can add to the poetry of those who have come before you and contribute to building a better world.

Haiti_2_BWB websiteProject Hope Art 2_BWB website

“When we connect our passion to the community purpose, anything is possible.”

-Carmen Maulk, BWB

 

BWB_Infiinte PossibilitiesThis 2015 burn, we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Burners Without Borders. May you continue to succeed exponentially, for many years to come. Thank you for the inspiration.

 

Visit http://www.BurnersWithoutBorders.org to find out more and get involved!!

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Image: Burning Man

Burners Inspire The New Fight Club

kuratas in street

Way back in the early years of this blog, we brought you news of the ultimate art car: Kuratas. A 4-ton, 13-foot tall, $1.3 million art robot, made in Japan.

[Kogoro Kurata, Kuratas Robot Designer]:
“The robots we saw in our generation were always big, always had people riding them. So I don’t think those have much meaning in the real world. But it was really my dream to ride in one of those giant robots, and I think that it’s a kind of Japanese culture. I kept thinking that it’s something that Japanese had to do.”

The creator showed off the Kuratas Robot at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. It is human controlled; from the cockpit, a driver can move the robot’s arms and drive it up to 6.2 miles per hour.

The battle mech is just a prototype, but Kurata’s website is already taking orders. People have options for weapons, shields, and even an iPhone holder. This prototype was armed with Gatling cannons that can shoot BBs.

But don’t break out your wallet just yet. The Kuratas Robot starts at around $1.3 million, and options can send it much higher.

[Wataru Yoshizaki, Kuratas Programmer]:

“If indeed giant robots and cars are being sold at the same price, then I would, of course, choose the giant robot.

[Source: YouTube]

Billionaire's cars have doors that go up, not sideways

Billionaire’s cars have doors that go up, not sideways. I would personally choose this McLaren P1-GTR over the art robot…

kuratas LEGANERD_047979

Well, America have responded with a robot of their own…and thrown down the gauntlet.

megabot-at-makerfaire-1

From megabots.com:

“Finally, after millennia of bullshit agriculture and metallurgy and revolutions industrial, political, cultural, whatever, shit’s finally getting good.” –Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik

 MegaBots, Inc., uses cutting-edge robotics technology to create the giant piloted fighting robots of science fiction, videogames and movies. These robots fight in epic-scale arena combat the likes of which the world has never seen before.

MegaBots are 15-foot-tall, internally piloted humanoid robots that fire cannonball-sized paintballs at each other at speeds of over 120 miles per hour. As the robots battle, armor panels crack and break off, smoke and sparks pour out of the robots, limbs eventually fall off, and robots fall to the ground until only one is left standing.

The giant robots from science fiction are coming.

They sure are. And the big-time Burners at Autodesk are backing it. At least, they put up $2,500 for a design contest:

Winners will walk away with $2,500 cash and your designs built and brought to life by MegaBots. Designs will be unleashed at Bay Area Maker Faire 2015!

I suspect there’s a lot more money on the line here than that. The winners have been picked:

autodesk megabots winner

autodesk megabotsz-63 spectre megabots

Here’s the original challenge from MegaBots:

The team behind SuidoBashi Heavy Industries robot Kuratas has responded to the challenge, and the two robots are going to fight. But, they have one stipulation: a more traditional Japanese “hand to hand” melee battle, rather than the “super-American” Big Fucking Guns (shooting paint cannon-balls).

KURATAS-8

The local team might be getting ahead of themselves. Kuratas looks pretty stable…

kuratas_550

…while the MegaBot team’s efforts are not yet finished:

We’ve built an upper body prototype of a MegaBot, a missile turret adversary, and a walking simulation of a to-scale robot by building off of Andreas Hofmann’s Ph.D. thesis. We’re currently developing a new, tracked version of a MegaBot in partnership with Autodesk in time for Maker Faire Bay Area 2015. Soon, we’ll be designing full-scale walking robots that can compete in arena combat.

The tracks are on in these recent photos. Some reconfiguration will be needed for the melee.

from MegaBot’s debut at SF Maker Faire in May

Image: Mashable

Image: Mashable

Both robots are currently designed to have human operators inside (MegaBot has 2). This may be dangerous when it comes to real melee combat between 4-ton machines.

Mashable reports that the two robots are fairly evenly matched:

MegaBot Mark II is 15 feet tall and rolls around on a pair of giant tank treads. Suidobashi’s mech is 13 feet tall and uses four swiveling wheels.

But there are some big differences. MegaBot Mark II cost about $175,000 to build and weighs 12,000 pounds; Suidobashi’s sells for more than $1 million and is about 9,000 pounds. “[Suidobashi] is about three times faster than we are,” MegaBots cofounder Gui Cavalcanti said. “Their tech is currently more advanced, but we have about a year to catch up. I think it’ll even out.”

The fight will happen in 2016, in neutral territory.

Some readers have mentioned that this story reminds them of the Hugh Jackman movie, Real Steel.

In fact, that movie was inspired by an earlier prototype version of robot boxing, created by Burners at the same art warehouse on Treasure Island where artists like Marco Cochrane and Peter Hudson create their masterpieces.

Even before that, we had the Hand of Man at Burning Man…and other, off-Playa events.

Going back still further, Burning Man Founder John Law and others were part of Survival Research Labs, an arts collective that made use of big robot-like machines in their shows. These early Burners were also the founders of the Cacophony Society, which inspired member Chuck Pahlaniuk to write Fight Club…the secret society Project Mayhem is supposedly based on their antics and secretive, underworld, revolutionary nature.

From the titles of the SRL shows, you get the gist of the sentiment behind this crew: no love and light hippies, here. Early Burning Man featured a lot of flamethrowers, guns, and explosions…before Helco.

Crime Wave

Extremely Cruel Practices

A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief

A Calculated Foreceast of Ultimate Doom

Illusions of Shameless Abundance

A Plan For Social Improvement (based on achieving complete freedom from the restraints of civilization)

A Million Inconsiderate Experiments

This may have inspired the UK TV series Robot Wars, which started in 1998 and ran for 4 seasons.

Although sort of fun, Roomba fighting is nowhere near as exciting as Giant Freaking Robots. Even an 18 Roomba free-for-all.

google doodle

Google was founded by Burners and is heavily staffed with Burners, from the Chairman and CEO on down. They were the first company to commodify the Burning Man image in their marketing, beating even Girls Gone Wild. Technically, they didn’t “officially” have a business model back then – this technicality seems to set a precedent for any other “pre-revenue” startup that wishes to use Burning Man to similarly promote themselves. Google today are still by far the largest profit-maker from Burner culture, given the lucrative advertising sold whenever anyone is watching Burning Man viral videos on YouTube, talking about BM on GMail, and so on.

Google recently acquired drone maker Titan Aviation, beating off rival Facebook

Google recently acquired drone maker Titan Aviation, beating off rival Facebook

This $360 billion Burner company are also now the largest manufacturer of military robots on the planet, although they’ve been tight-lipped about their plans. They are launching their own balloons and drones to create an Internet in the Sky.

When it comes to the other side of SkyNet, the A.I. that connects all the drones and bots together, Google already have by far the most advanced artificial intelligence. One flavor of this is currently captivating the Internet with its twisted dreams.

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Image via Hugh Jorgen, Facebook

Recently they “fed” the AI Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (the movie)…teaching it how to trip.

loathing-gif21

Elon Musk described current Artificial Intelligence efforts as like “summoning the demon in a pentagram”.

Already, robots are killing us.

This is all becoming very real, very fast.

This documentary about AI and robotics is dated May 2015:

Soon we may have robot jousting – or robot polo. Or both. But I’m tipping the knight-to-knight combat will draw a bigger audience than robots pushing a ball around.

Liquid Metal is now real

Liquid Metal is now real

The new Terminator 5 movie just opened (weakly). Like 1984 and Brave New World, the Terminator series has proved to be amazingly prescient over the 3 decades since it was launched – in 1984. Much of what was science fiction then, is starting to become real today. 2015 is the year in “the Future”, that Michael J Fox went back to. His famous hoverboard was quite recently an amusing farce with Tony Hawk and then became a real product with Tony Hawk and now is being promoted by Lexus as a “coming soon” product.

Like Mad Max (also about to get a Part 5), the Terminator franchise is older than either Burning Man or the Web. And SkyNet is older than all of the above.

sp oculus riftIt seems like Kiwi (these days) James Cameron’s other franchise Avatar is priming us for the next revolutionary world. Virtual reality has been building for a long time, and Burning Man has long been immersed in it. They launched their own online world in Second Life in 2003 called Burn 2, and Second Life founder Philip Rosedale said he was inspired to create it by Burning Man. Counter-culture guru Timothy Leary called VR “the new LSD“. VR pioneers like Mark Pesce, Howard Rheingold and Jaron Lanier are Burners. Rheingold wrote a book called Virtual Reality and coined the term “Flash Mobs” after street theater activities organized by Burning Man small-f founder Flash Hopkins. More recently, the Microsoft Holo Lens is being created by a Burner-led team.

The cyberspace Regional Burn2 is coming up soon…July 10-12. The theme is “Primordial – a Playa Before Time”

Primordial-Conception2015poster4-blog

With all the money being spent lately on 3d Facebook immersive realms and self-driving cars and household robot helpers that care and life-like sex dolls... giant fighting war robots probably make a good business case to someone. Hey, there are already 42 different robots you can fuck. Fucking and punching is what it’s all about, as Californication fans know.

Robot UFC, bring it on! I’d rather we train these AIs on each other, than testing on humans or animals. However, methinks there is more behind the construction of these things that mere sports and entertainment. Check out this piece at Jay’s Analysis for an interesting perspective on where it’s all come from and where it may be going.

The biggest walking robot in the world looks like some of our Mutant Vehicles…

Image: Arin Fishkin/Flickr

Davina the Dragon. Artist: Christian Breeden Image: Arin Fishkin/Flickr

Gon Kirin Dragon Art Car Image: Becky Stern/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Gon Kirin Dragon Art Car Image: Becky Stern/Flickr (Creative Commons)

If ever there was an arena suitable for robot melee training, it’s the Playa. Just add flamethrowers!

Peaceful Warriors, Hackers and Merry Pranksters

Dr Bruce Damer (L), Joe Rogan (R)

Dr Bruce Damer (L), Joe Rogan (R)

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast, and heard an amazing tale from Burning Man. Joe, who is a very public advocate for hallucinogenic drugs, was interviewing Dr Bruce Damer, a long time Burner (’99). He was recommended as a guest for Joe by Dennis McKenna, whose brother Terence was called the Patron of Psychedelic Drugs in his New York Times obituary – Timothy Leary called him “the Timothy Leary of the 90’s”.

Dr Damer, a technologist and virtual world pioneer, gives seminars at the Pentagon, as well as lecturing Burners on psychedelic drugs.

They kick the podcast off with the “craziest story of all time”, which Bruce Damer originally told to Boing Boing, about being at Burning Man during Hurricane Katrina and hacking into military/intelligence satellites to watch the action:

JR: “You were partying at Burning Man with people who work at the Pentagon”

BD: “Yes”

JR: “That gives me great discomfort, to know that people who work in the Pentagon are partying at Burning Man”

BD: “Rocking! We called for Blackhawks…

Our camp was doing the Wi-Fi for the public and emergency networks, the private network…we had a dish, so we could take over satellites. One of our guys took over a recon satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office. He took this thing offline – this was a Pentagon move…Our Pentagon satellite phone rang, the general on the other side was saying “what’s going on” and then instructed the guy not to answer. We then had control of this satellite and could watch Katrina come in. The government wasn’t doing anything to help people, with all this equipment.

He worked on the Asian tsunami relief efforts, then he went straight to Afghanistan, then he went to Baghdad, then he came to Burning Man.

He works under Title 10 money doing extreme comms, extreme emergency relief efforts. This guy’s invented all this technology, cellphones in rubberized cases that come down on parachutes and run for a month… Here we have a natural disaster happening in our own country, barreling in. Nobody at Burning Man knows it’s happening, but we watched it come in.

You could watch video from orbit on this guy’s screen. You could watch people walking…we saw the first levee breach on this guy’s screen at Burning Man…hi-res reconnaissance imagery…the Iridium phone kept ringing. This is an innovative genius type guy that is totally respected in that organization. The general that initiated the enquiry was covering him, so that the general could then contact Space Command and say “I can’t get any information”. He had put the satellite in some kind of failsafe fall-back mode, so they would spend the next several days trying to get back into it…we could burn hydrazine and locate stuff on the Playa.”

Bruce then goes on to discuss billionaire camps with sherpas. It’s the first seven minutes here:

The whole podcast is worth listening to. Dr Damer gave a lecture at Burning Man in 2012 about shamans, the Pentagon and NASA at the Palenque Norte Psychedelic Salon.

The Palenque Norte journey began with the legendary Entheobotany Conferences held at the Chan Kah hotel near the ancient Mayan ruins just outside of Palenque, Mexico. There, Terence McKenna, Jonathan Ott, Ann & Sasha Shulgin, and a host of other psychedelic luminaries passed along many insights, discoveries, and wild tales to the fortunate Tribe members who were there. And it was at the end of the pool where Terence McKenna gave some of his last talks at the Chan Kah. Years later, then in 2003, a few alumni from those conferences decided to have a “Palenque reunion” at the Burning Man Festival, and so they organized a lecture series to continue the Palenque tradition.

Bruce Damer takes the 2012 Palenque Norte audience at the Burning Man Festival on a far flung journey into what he calls his practice of “global multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-technic shamanism” where you “put yourself on the shelf” and dive deeply into the worlds of Pentagon think tanks, NASA mission designers, the tribal cultures of Pakistan, the Swiss [bankers], Egyptologists, IT professionals, and Christian Evangelicals, to come back with the true alchemical gold. With apologies to Terence McKenna, he says “there is no dominator culture” and that if we aren’t careful we can collectively fall for cartoon epistemologies, chase chains of weaker and weaker claims, and become a victims of our own delusions, and fall prey to others’ unsubstantiated theories. Bruce advises everyone to become their own best skeptic and develop “critical intelligence”. If someone says something that strikes you as flaky or just doesn’t feel right, Bruce suggests that you think it through before you pass on their meme.

Great pants!

So this is the type of people at Burning Man. It’s not all drugged up hippies looking for an orgy. Some of them advise the Pentagon and NASA. Some of them can hack military/intelligence satellites, and get Generals to cover for them. Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, is now a Burner. He ran for President, as did Denis Kucinich who attended for the first time this year.

Burning Man takes place on former military land. Many of the people who played key roles in its early years have a military/intelligence background.

Blackhawks on the Playa would not have been a big deal. Every year, military aircraft fly overhead. It is close to Naval Air Station Fallon.

Blackhawk military helicopter hovers low over Burning Man, 2013

Blackhawk military helicopter hovers low over Burning Man, 2013. Image: Patrick Roddie

blackhawks christopher olewnik

image: Christopher Olewnik/Facebook

 

christopher olewnik

image: Christopher Olewnik/Facebook

 

Other aircraft spotted flying over Burning Man over the years include Chinooks, F-14’s, F-16’s, F-18’s, F-22’s, C-130’s, even a flight of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors.

Pacific Standard magazine published a great story last year by Brian Calvert, The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked The Afghan War, about the Synergy Strike Force – Burners who have serious juice in the military/intelligence world.

SYNERGY STRIKE FORCE BM LOGO

recognize anything familiar in this patch?

 

Their leader, Dr Dave Warner, is described as:

a former U.S. Army drill instructor, self-avowed “hippie doctor,” PhD neuroscientist, technotopian idealist, dedicated Burner, dabbler in psychedelics, insatiable meddler, and (weirdest of all) defense contractor.

From PSMag.com:

For a long time, the Taj Guest House was about the only place you could get a beer in Jalalabad. The provincial capital, about 30 miles from the infamous mountains of Tora Bora, has been the main staging ground for U.S.-led forces in the eastern part of Afghanistan since the early days of the war. When I showed up in the city in November 2011 to report on the propaganda efforts of a franchising Taliban, I found myself at the Taj. There wasn’t much to the pub—just a bamboo-covered bar, a fireplace, a glass-fronted cooler with some Heineken stacked inside, and a few bottles of vodka and other spirits lined up under the red glow of a lamp.

Plus there was an odd little sign: “We share information, communication, (and beer).”

…Looking like a cross between a mountaineer and a mathematician, he had a salt-and-pepper beard and curly hair that hung down to his shoulders, and he favored a uniform of black polo shirts over tied-dyed tees. His name was Dr. Dave Warner.

War zones attract a lot of sketchy characters. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where defense contractors have generally outnumbered soldiers on the ground, the cast of extras has been especially sprawling and inscrutable—security experts, mercenaries, aid workers, engineers, intelligence types, and consultants of every kind. It was just a guess, but given the array on the roof, I took Warner and his team for spooks of some kind.

I was at best half right in my guess about Warner’s occupation. He did indeed work for U.S. intelligence sometimes, he explained, but he wasn’t a spy. On principle, he refused to get a security clearance, out of a belief in something he called “radical inclusion.” The most valuable information in a conflict or disaster zone, he said, was information that could be shared with everybody.

image: Graham Smith/PSMag

image: Graham Smith/PSMag

The term radical inclusion stopped me. I recognized it from the summer of 1998, when I had gone to Burning Man, the hedonistic-fire-worshipper-art-festival that occurs every summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Radical inclusion is one of the event’s “Ten Principles.” When I mentioned this, Warner’s eyes lit up. He dug into his T-shirt and pulled out a shining Burning Man medallion. “Dude,” he said, grinning in the firelight. “This is a Burner bar.”

Warner’s entire team – which he called, in all seriousness, the Synergy Strike Force—had just attended Burning Man that summer. He himself had been attending annually since 2002. And the bar, it turned out, was his bar…It was not only a place to drink and flop but also a kind of grand social experiment—an outpost of the Burning Man ethos in the Afghan desert

The war effort, in short, was sophisticated when it came to deploying lethal hardware like drones, but clumsy in just about every other way. A few people in the upper echelons of the command structure were painfully aware of this. Warner knew because he had their ear. He had connections in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the Army Special Forces, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also knew what an unlikely figure he cut—a Burner among bureaucrats. When I asked him later why the Department of Defense had turned to him, he shook his head and laughed. “Oh,” he said, “they’re fucking desperate.”…

Eric Rasmussen, one of Warner’s early sponsors at DARPA, has come away similarly awed by the doctor’s capacities. “I was taught by multiple Nobel Prize winners, and Dave is the equal of any of them in intelligence,” Rasmussen told me. Warner has been “trendsetting for a number of very forward-thinking organizations, like the Strategic Studies Group for the Chief of Naval Operations, like DARPA, like the Office of Naval Research,” among others. “He has shaped curriculum for the Marine Corps. He has influenced curriculum for National Defense University. He is a remarkable intellectual force who has managed to hold on to his idealism through everything.” What’s more, he has done it all without a security clearance. “And that,” Rasmussen said, “if you remember the kind of work that he does—and for whom—is astonishing.”…

I was just beginning to get used to his way of talking, which alternated between turgid military jargon and gonzo flights of fancy. (“I’m dismantling the Death Star,” he told me later, “to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.”)…

The group was also engaged in various maker-ish side projects worthy of Burning Man. Gold was busy building a methane generator from PVC pipe and an old oil drum. The design, popular among self-sufficiency buffs on the Internet, allows you to filter the gasses that come off human waste into pure methane, which can be used as a fuel source…

Last summer at Burning Man, members of the team gathered once again, and Warner invited me to join them. So I headed out to the Black Rock Desert and pitched a small tent next to Warner’s giant RV. He came out of nowhere, from the dust and the wind, as I was struggling with some rigging for a tarp. He was drinking a beer, wearing a tied-dyed shirt and cutoff jean shorts, with a tie-dyed bandana on his head and another around his neck. “We’re going to the temple,” he said, “for a service.”…

Warner gathered with other members of the Synergy Strike Force. He nailed a pakul hat to the wall, hung an Afghan scarf around it, and added a Synergy Strike Force patch. Around us, Burners wept and prayed. And at the end of the festival, the temple was burned to the ground, with everything in it.

Read the full story here, it’s a great read. Dr Dave Warner sounds like a hero to me. Definitely in the running for the “best Burner” prize.

Here are some links to other stories about the Synergy Strike Force:

WIRED (2012): Cash, Time Run Out for Afghanistan’s Wi-Fi City

Synergy Strike Force Handbook – Public Intelligence Blog

Who’s Who in Peace Intelligence

Human Geography: Dave Warner’s photos from Afghanistan

Their online hub, with links to many more photos, is at reachback.org

Image:  Peretz Partensky/WIRED

Image: Peretz Partensky/WIRED

Peace Intelligence. That seems like something that the world could use a lot more of. Sadly, the Synergy Strike Force’s Afghanistan operations have now stopped, due to lack of funding (they needed about $5,000 a month for their Internet connection). Now THAT would have been a good use of the non-profit Burning Man Project’s $30 million annual budget.

synergy strike force we came we shared we cured

Video

History is Happening: Let’s Bring This To Burning Man

rap-news-juice-media-courage-is-contageous-dekade-z-interview1

Juice Media channels Die Antwoord in the latest Rap News. It’s brilliant.

Forget “class warfare” and petty hooliganism. Fuck Fight Club: we can’t solve the world’s problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. Let’s hold a mirror up to those at the top of the pyramid with ART. Let’s get these guys out to the Playa.

The Melbourne-based duo Hugo and Giordano believe that “courage is contagious”.

From Media Roots:

juice rap newsAn age-old question among activists and the media is how to grab an audience’s attention and hold it. In a society accustomed to twitter feeds, blog hosting, sound bites and news that serves to either placate viewers with entertainment or alarm them beyond reason, knowing how to engage people on serious issues can be quite the challenge.

In order to reach a culture that is over saturated with sensationalism and new technology, one thing though, is for sure– you have to be creative.

Many people would rather be mindlessly entertained than learn about depressing news. So why not use entertainment to inform the masses?  Inspired to combine music and news-room journalism, two European expatriates living in Australia combined their powers of lyrically creative brilliance, comical acting and historical and political knowledge to form the eccentric character Robert Foster– host of Rap News.

Read the full interview here.

Hugo and Treats performed their live show in Australia at the Eclipse2012 festival, which was attended by many Burners.

Double Rainbow video

Do you like hugs?

Please Like and Share if you want to see these guys perform live at Burning Man 2015.

Support the cause and Donate to keep the Rap News coming.

Watch the other videos on the Juice Media YouTube channel.

rap news pyramid

Exploring the Other: 2014 Edition

Burning Man requires its Regional Events to have transparent financials, donate to their charities, and obtain a license to use their trademarks. For themselves, the requirements are not so strict. Sure, they have to disclose the activities of their non-profits to the IRS. And they share numbers with us in their Afterburn reports. The Afterburn numbers are not audited as far as we can tell, and are not a complete financial statement. Significantly, Revenues are left out. Also significantly, very general category headings are used for expense items. We know that Decommodification, LLC, a private, for-profit company, owns all the rights to the trademarks, images, videos, soundtracks, fine art, and other intellectual property of the event. We believe that Black Rock City, LLC pays royalties to Decommodification, LLC, to call their event in the Nevada desert “Burning Man”. But there is no line item for this payment. How much are those royalties? That’s a secret.

cartoon_accounting_2In order to estimate it, some forensic accounting is required. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And Burners.Me is the only site on the Internet that is even trying.

Last month, right before the event, Burning Man added a page to their site explaining “where does my ticket money go”. The page appears to be an “orphan”, which means it is not linked to by any other page there. The Reno Gazette-Journal somehow found this page, describing it as an “announcement”, and used it as a reference for their story “Where does your ticket money go?”. The Journal said:

Burning Man announced today where ticket sales money goes to shed light on why tickets cost what they do

We looked for the announcement on their web site, their press page, their blog, and in their JackRabbit speaks newsletter – couldn’t find it. Some claimed they posted it to Facebook, but it doesn’t appear in their official feed. The page seems like it was added to the site for the purpose of the RGJ story. It is filed under “What is Burning Man?”, but that page has no link to it.

Water please, he's got mud on his advertising!Was it really an announcement, designed to shed light? Or was it a ruse, designed to muddy the waters and confuse the language, figures, and facts used in public discussions of the event?

The story raised an issue with us here. Both Burning Man, and the RGJ, were claiming that “BLM fees were $4.5 million”. The entry in the Afterburn accounts says “BLM and Other”. So what is the Other? And how much are the payments to them?

We have speculated that “Other” is Decommodification, LLC. Payments to them may be lumped together in this figure, and may also be included in “Taxes and Other Licensing Fees”. We said:

the reason that the word “other” is significant in the original report is that in 2013, this category jumped from $1.8m to $4.5m – with no explanation given for the gigantic leap ($2,654,919 gain). “Taxes and Licenses” jumped from $154,994 to $1,021,851, also without explanation ($866,857 gain). At the same time, “Decommodification LLC owns the rights to everything” (or words to that effect) is now on all the tickets. Coincidence? Well the fact that BMOrg is trying to gloss over it by using increasingly vague language makes that seem even less likely.

…What is interesting here is the subtle use of language to mask truth. The carefully chosen words “BLM and Other Usage Fees” are repeated and slightly distorted, through a technique sometimes called “Chinese whispers”, to become “BLM manages the event…2013 fees”.

The distorted information has been picked up and repeated by many other sites: Las Vegas Sun, High Country NewsRedditRon’s Log, Yahoo Finance, the Black Rock Beacon.

So who is correct? Burning Man themselves? Mainstream media newspapers? Or little ‘ole us, puny and pesky “social media bloggers”?

It’s us, of course. RGJ is wrong, and BMOrg are either misleading us (accidentally or deliberately), outright lying, or (to be charitable) are merely ignorant and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

How do we know? Because we went to the source. The Federal Bureau of Land Management.

Here’s what BMOrg said:

The Black Rock Desert is public land, but we don’t get to use it for free. It also takes a lot of equipment and hours of labor to put things together out there. The following are just a few highlights of costs we incurred in 2013:

  • The space we use is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and our 2013 fees to them totaled $4,522,952.

Here’s what the RGJ said:

The following are some of the costs Burning Man said it incurred in 2013:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the land the event is held on: 2013 fees totaled $4,522,952;

Here’s what Gene Seidlitz, chief of the Winnemucca-based Black Rock Field Office of the BLM, and the guy responsible for the Burning Man permit, said in response to our enquiries:

Burning Man is required to pay fees and costs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as part of a Special Recreation Permit (SRP) issued by BLM to Burning Man each year.  Fees are set by Congress and are currently 3% of revenue related to the SRP.  For Burning Man this includes 3% of ticket sales, ice & coffee sales and other miscellaneous revenue.  The funds go toward BLM’s overall program management within the Winnemucca District with a priority in the Black Rock Field Office.

Burning Man also reimburses (cost recovery) BLM for all reasonable and justifiable costs related to BLM’s administration of the SRP.   Processing includes, but not be limited to, the following: coordination, administration and approval of any necessary NEPA compliance; consultation with appropriate Federal, State, Tribal, and local officials; preparation of the administrative record and resolving any protests, appeals and litigation that might result from the proposal, preparation of all decisions and authorizations resulting from those decisions, monitoring the construction, operation and termination of any resultant authorization; and other necessary processing actions consistent with a final decision.

It seems that those costs jumped, big time, between 2012 and 2013:

In 2012 BLM did a comprehensive analysis of the 2011 operations after the event and determined the BLM needed and would enhance the BLM planning and implementation in 2013 to ensure public health and safety for an event of 70,000 participants in a remote environment was adequately addressed.  As a result BLM’s costs increased from $1.2 million to $2.8 million that year. This was the largest jump in BLM’s costs in the history of Burning Man. Before and since the cost increases have been more incremental and were the result to inflation, growth of the event, etc.

So did the BLM charge Burning Man $4.5 million in 2013, or less?

BLM charged BRC approximately $2.8 M  for costs and approximately $685,000 were the 3% revenue for 2013

Did the BLM do anything to enforce the Vehicle Pass restrictions, or was this something Burning Man came up with?

BRC instituted the vehicle pass program.  This was not something that BLM enforced.

We wondered if the 35,000 vehicle passes were counted in any way by the authorities. It appears not, so it was up to BMOrg to issue them and regulate itself. If they sold more than the stated limit of 35,000, their punishment would be to have more profit forced upon them. If enterprising BMOrg insiders wanted to make some cash on the side, all they needed to do was sell a few vehicle passes on the black secondary market. From the moment they were released, they were for sale for 4-5x face value on Stubhub, and remained at a premium right up until the week of the event. We’ve heard no stories of people being rejected at the Gayte for not having vehicle passes, so I think we can safely assume that they sold more there to whoever required them. Whether or not the new vehicle tax did anything about the environmental footprint of the event (which we were told was the reason for the initiative) is unknown; it definitely was a nice $1.4m+ cash drop to the bottom line for BMOrg (which we speculated was the reason for the initiative).

2014 vehicle pass pricesComing back to the BLM figures, we have:

Costs: $2,800,000

Revenue share: $685,000

At 3%, this means the event revenues were $22,833,000.

We said:

According to the official numbers, in 2013 there were 61,000 tickets sold ($23.23 million). This includes a last minute release of 3000 “OMG” tickets, when the BLM approved a population cap increase. Also according to the official numbers, 69,613 attended the event. What gives? Did anyone at BMOrg make money from the unexpected 8,613 extra people (ticket value: $3.3 million)? Or were these tickets handed out for free to volunteers, who sold them on Stubhub or STEP for personal gain? How much was made from gate sales?

At the time, we were pooh-poohed, “there are no gate sales”. Of course there are, and it has now come out from independent sources that they are called Exception tickets.

In theory, the BLM revenue share should also include sales from ice, coffee, gasoline, propane, Plug-n-Play camps, and any of the other things for sale on the Playa – in 2013, there were 44 licensed vendor permits issued for Burning Man. We have estimated ice and coffee sales as above $1 million annually.

Either BMOrg gave out 1000+ free tickets that they were supposed to sell, in addition to the 8,613 free tickets from the population cap…or there is some discrepancy in the revenues being reported to the BLM.

Could the discrepancy come from the 3000 “Holiday tickets” ($650 – this year, sold at the end of January), and 4000 Low Income tickets ($190)? Back in the day, there was a suggestion that Burners paying the enhanced price were subsidizing the low income Burners. If you count the $650 tickets as $380 (the difference being a donation off-Playa to BMP, perhaps), and keep the Low Income at $190, you get $22,420,000 – which allows for a further $413,000 of additional on-Playa revenues. It seems like ice and coffee alone would be more, and the BLM is supposed to get a share of gross revenues, not net.

In a speech in Tokyo earlier this year, BMOrg CEO Marian Goodell said their revenues were $30 million a year. If she was referring to 2013 – and why wouldn’t she be, since 2014 hadn’t happened yet – then there is $8,167,000 that BMOrg makes off-Playa, in addition to the annual Black Rock desert event. Where does this money come from? It’s hard to imagine it’s from donations, since according to the Burning Man Project’s IRS Form 990, their funding for 2012 was $591,672.

The true figure for “BLM fees” in 2013 is $3,485,000.

Which means “other” is $1,037,952.

Where does this money go?

We have no direct proof that it is to Decommodification, LLC, but I can’t think of any other candidates. The State of Nevada imposes a 5% “live entertainment tax”, but Burning Man and EDC are exempt as outdoor festivals. There are separate line items for taxes, anyway. “Taxes and Licenses” also made a massive, unexplained leap: from $154,994 (2012) to $1,021,851 (2013) – an $866,857 gain. Possibly, some or all of this increase could be going to license the trademark in addition to the Mysterious Other. We know now that Decommodification, LLC permits them to call their 30-year old party “Burning Man”, by licensing “their” intellectual property back to Black Rock City LLC. It seems strange that BMOrg would mis-state their own figures by 23%, and the way the Where Does My Ticket Money Go “announcement” was made is suspicious.

To put the Mysterious Other in context, it is more than the payments for art ($830,280) and donations to local charities ($199,329) combined.

As always, if anyone has any further information, explanation, or details, please share.