The Great Public Land Heist Has Begun – Are We Part Of It?

Image: Outside Online

Image: Outside Online

“Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Call me a conspiracy theorist – if you must – but a lot of stories have been hitting my news feed lately related to our favorite little patch of Northern Nevada that surely can’t all be unrelated.

First we had the announcement of a zoning change around Gerlach, that seemed to enable the Temporary Autonomous Zone concept so favored by Larry Harvey and Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey. That seemed possibly related to Billionaire Burner Larry Page’s BMOrg-endorsed vision to have all kinds of new testing grounds for Google. Not just a TAZ – also a PAZ and a SPAZ (Permanent and Semi-Permanent).

Next, the town of Empire – a “quasi-ghost town in Burning Man’s back yard”, with its abandoned Gypsum mine and potential associated site contamination issues – was sold for $11.38 million.

Then, BMOrg breathlessly announced the long awaited closure of their Fly Ranch deal, with details “coming soon” (of course). Donors put up the money for the purchase of “Nevada’s Coolest and Least Known Attraction”, but they’re not telling us who yet (or, quite possibly, ever). The Burning Man Project (as far as we have been led to believe, that is the owning entity) now has a 3800 acre ranch in an area where the local government just approved groups of up to 500 people to do whatever they want, with very minimal oversight from the authorities:

“Unless somebody comes in and points a finger and says, ‘hey they’re doing that,’ we’re not out there driving around looking for it,” [County Planner Dr Eric] Young said. “We will have an occasion to be out there from time-to-time for various inspections, (but) there are certain things like that where there’s not going to be a county person standing there looking at it.

Online pundits say the De Haviland Dash-8 is the new aircraft of choice. Image: simairline.net

Online pundits say the De Haviland Dash-8 is the new aircraft of choice. Image: simairline.net

Next, we heard that BMOrg have created their own commercial airline, with planes carrying up to 30 passengers at a time. Burner Express Air is imagined to be carrying 2500 passengers per day in and out of Burning Man. Assuming that they only fly passengers in daylight hours, and every flight is full, that’s a minimum of 84 flights per day. Assuming planes start just after sunrise and stop just before sunset, that’s 12 hours a day – or one new planeload every 8 minutes. That’s their vision. $995 per person for a round-trip flight from Oakland, $495 from Reno. A couple of million dollars per day. Fossil fuel and noise pollution be damned! No spectators be damned!

Like most of the aviation world, the flights will be subcontracted out to other operators. Prime contractor Advantage Flight Solutions are hiring 50 new employees to cope with the anticipated load – which sounds like a lot for a week, but more realistic for something that is anticipated to be year-round.

Also in the area just recently, a long-standing case between Burners and a powerful local land-owner (whose $7 million boat, the biggest one on Lake Tahoe, mysteriously sunk at the dock) was finally settled. The court ruled that the abandoned art car, which had not been to Burning Man in at least 4 years and was in a state of disrepair, was not a valuable piece of art work worth $1 million. The Burners lost and had to pay the other side’s legal costs: about $50k.

Remember this Burning Man founder’s claim that it’s because of them that Elon Musk and Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof built their Gigafactory in Reno, in one of the world’s biggest free trade zones.

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.38.13

He recently got a tour of the Gigafactory with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and Councilman David Bobzien.

Apple also just announced plans to build a $1 billion data center in the Reno free trade zone.

Is there some Billionaire Burner version of Atlas Shrugged going on, Galt’s Goodell’s Gulch in the world’s hottest new tax haven? A utopian occult colony? A Monte Verita or Woodstock for the 21st Century? Or just “Esalen in the Desert”?

Whichever way you look at it, that’s a helluva lot of dots. I see connections between all of them. Others are pointing some of the dot-connections out too, including Burning Man Founders and the first-ever full time Burning Man beat reporter. YMMV; maybe we’re all wrong. Still, there are a few more dots to come yet in this post.

That recap of recent goings-on brings me to last week’s story from Outside Online (who previously did a must-read oral history of Burning Man called Hot Mess):

The Great Public Land Heist has Begun

Last week, the House committee on Natural Resources voted to adopt HR 3650, the summary of which reads:

“This bill directs the Department of Agriculture, through the Forest Service, to convey to a state up to 2 million acres of eligible portions of the National Forest System (NFS) in it that it elects to acquire through enactment by the state legislature of a bill meeting certain criteria. Portions of the NFS conveyed to a state shall be administered and managed primarily for timber production.”

It’s not just about timber. This sets the precedent for wilderness being sold to developers. Hillary Clinton has been accused of cashing in on this, as has Harry Reid. Donald Trump is opposed to it.

Why is private ownership of vast tracts of land you currently own bad? Well, it’s historically been demonstrated to reduce public access, and moves the land out of any unified, managed or regulated conservation program. Yes, there is a significant financial gain to be had by selling these lands, but that’s a one-off instance of profit from lands that currently contribute massively to local, state, and the national economy. The outdoor recreation industry alone, which relies on land access to exist, employs 6.1 million Americans and contributes $650 billion to the economy annually. The land where you and I currently go to camp, climb, cycle, hike, hunt, fish, and paddle is under threat. 

The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership—an organization of hunters and fishermen—called the bill an “overt attempt to undermine public land ownership.” Its president and CEO, Whit Fosburgh, went on to state, “Make no mistake, these are the first votes on legislation that would legitimize the wholesale transfer or sale of America’s public lands.”

In fact, the heist is so blatantly anti-American that even Donald Trump opposes it. “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do,” Trump told Field & Stream. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

[Source]

Federal lands, might get handed to the States and sold off to raise money? Hmmm, wonder if there are any possible connections between BMOrg and that?

Well, we have BLM Special Agent Dan Love, the head of security for the Federales at Burning Man, leading from the front lines in the Bundy Ranch stand-off with Cliven and his family. Harry Reid was forced to back down when his family connections to a Chinese solar plant planned in the area were exposed.

bundy cattle trespass solar

bundy cattle 2

Recently, though, the Bundy family got caught up in another stand-off with the BLM in Oregon at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge – this one linked to Uranium, the Clintons, and the Russians. It turned fatal when the Feds assassinated a patriot Lavoy Finicum before he could meet with a local Sheriff, Cliven turned himself in for arrest and is locked up without bail in Federal prison awaiting trial. About a week ago the BLM announced they were resuming their operations on the land.

Then we have Love again as the alleged main instigator of ChocoTacoGate. BMOrg pulled some big strings, bringing in former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in what the Washington Post called “a trippy alliance”. They hired Reid’s hand-picked former head of the BLM Bob Abbey to help smooth the waters with the many Government Agencies involved in Burning Man. Long-time BLM official Gene Seidlitz was moved out of the way. BMOrg fought the law, and BMOrg won.

I also noted last year the last-minute decision of the BLM to not allow access over one of their roads to Further Future 1. That land was also involved in a BLM land grab dispute, related to a nearby mine. From what I gather, there is a very large new gold mine quite close to Black Rock City and the Fly Ranch site.

Let’s recall too the ditching of local EMS provider Humboldt, for big commercial festival provider CrowdRX. Looks like they were in the right county for Burning Man (Humboldt), but the wrong one for the Burning Man Project (Washoe).

One last set of dots connected to all of this is in the form of Burning Man founder Will Roger Peterson. From his web site:

WILL ROGER PETERSON

BORN 1948

CURRENT POSITIONS:

FOUNDING MEMBER, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, BLACK ROCK CITY LLC

(BURNING MAN)

    DIRECTOR, NEVADA RELATIONS AND SPECIAL PROJECTS

FOUNDING MEMBER, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, BLACK ROCK ARTS FOUNDATION   CO-CHAIRMAN, CIVIC ARTS COMMITTEE

MEMBER, BOARD OF DIRECTORS, FRIENDS OF THE BLACK ROCK/HIGH ROCK    VICE PRESIDENT

MEMBER, SIERRA FRONT-WESTERN GREAT BASIN, RESOURCE ADVISORY COUNCIL (RAC)   CHAIRMAN

    REPRESENTING DISPERSED RECREATION

MEMBER, NEVADA RECREATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE (REC RAC)

MEMBER, BLACK ROCK-HIGH ROCK-EMIGRANT TRAILS NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA RAC SUB GROUP  CHAIRMAN

Looks like he sits on several of the boards that would be making recommendations to government about what land is ripe for sale…

My gut instinct tells me, something big is afoot. Are we headed for the ultimate version of Brexit: the BURNEXIT? When the tech industry all vanish off the face of the map, and move to tax havens in the desert where they can take LSD every day for weeks to “increase productivity”? 

Radical Self Reliance, Fly-In Culture, and Leave No Trace

Image: W Magazine

Burning Man’s airport is busier than ever, with BMOrg now pushing to bring in larger capacity planes. Image: W Magazine

A guest post from Jal Lee Mon, who poses a provoking question for your thoughts.


 

Ok everyone. Let’s get a conversation (not a name calling contest) going on a subject that is related to another open sore that festers still in our community. And by guilt by proximity, it is being called out as tabuoo as well, even when it really isn’t.
I’m going to start by saying this idea I want to talk about is, technically, following all of the tenants we so love and uphold. So just read the whole thing before you judge and unleash on the comment section.

I’ll lay it out as a story, to catch your attention.

This guy wants to go to Burning Man, as he has done ten years previous. But, he is unable to get the funds needed, which come to around $1000, all said and told. So, he has given up hope of making it, missing yet another year. Missing home. He has tried volunteering for the BMOrg, but has heard no response. He has contacted the Temple crew to help. He is covering all venues. Thinking up new ideas. And, one day, while talking to a friend who lived out of the country, he had a bit of an epiphany.

Imagine you are from another country, or even just really far in this one. Say, Maine. You want go to the Burn, but the thing that is holding you back is that you can only really, logically, and in many cases technically, get there by plane. This does two things instantly. It means you are sleeping in a tent, or bumming space from somewhere. If you are really lucky, you flirt with the guy who has the huge RV and he lets you stay with him.
Second, it means you are limited to what you can carry. Food, costumes, personal supplies. Etc.
In other words, being “Radically Self Reliant” becomes a gambit of bumming favours, buying shit from Walmart you will later give away or dump, and relying on beef jerky and diet shakes for your meals. Then there is the bike. Shit, I’ll just grab a $50 one from Walmart. The one in Reno overstocks hundreds of those cheap cruisers right before the Burn. You know the ones. They are abandoned by the hundreds when the burn ends.
Here is where the thought came from. By “forcing” this Law upon people, we are in fact making it harder for them to participate, and are actually directly responsible for a large portion of all the shit that gets left behind.
Stay with me here.
So, you have a veteran Burner, one that has been there and done that. He has all the extra gear, all the extra tools and needed supplies, and even an extra hexayurt. But, he can’t make it to the Burn, for lack of funds.
Enter the Burner that is coming in from the airport with a backpack and a few bags. Instead of them dumping hundreds, thousands and in a few cases, tens of thousands of dollars into cheap shit that will later be tossed, rental cars that are going to clog up the Playa, consume that much more fuel, and likely cost the renter that extra “cleaning fee” the rental shop nails Burners for after the event, etc, etc….
::takes breath::
Why not have them pay someone like the Vet, which would get him to the Burn, where he would supply the other Burner with the essentials. This would end up costing less, wasting far, far less, and it would facilitate the attendance, participation and enjoyment of someone that might otherwise decide it was too much money/trouble/etc?
This touches dangerously close to the Turn Key subject that drew so much hatred and anger, that it is a discussion we should have. Because there are a lot of Burners who are able to drive there with a thousand pounds of gear, and they could help those who can’t. Hell, who knows…there might even be a organization that already does this.
Is it breaking the rules if the services you are giving make you just enough to get you a ticket and to the Burn? No profit. Just, some kind of weird BM Air BnB that helps two people.

Thoughts?

Burning Man 2015: By The Numbers Part 1

SR-71 Blackbird using Afterburner. Image: Wikimedia Commons

SR-71 Blackbird using Afterburner. Image: Wikimedia Commons

BMOrg have just released the Afterburn Report for 2015.

Some information that used to be provided, is now hidden. Here are some of the key details missing:

  • medical services visits, nature of injuries
  • arrests and citations
  • number of vehicles
  • number of aircraft at the airport
  • entry and exodus times
  • volume of ice sold
  • number of people watching live video stream

All of this was freely available in the past; it’s hard to see how BMOrg can claim to be “more transparent”, when they are sharing less information. Maybe now that they’re down one Minister of Propaganda, there will be a reduction in the Orwellian double-speak. One can only hope…

 

Here is a summary of what was released in the report.

 

POPULATION

67,564 paid participants. In 2014 this was 65,992 and in 2013 it was 69,613. The definition of “paid participant” seems to have changed between 2013 and 2014. In 2015 there were 68,000 tickets officially sold, so 436 people managed to get a ticket but didn’t show. Or, something went wrong counting them – however, the report says Ticketing and Will Call went super-smoothly last year. The Box Office line was never longer than 30 minutes.

There were 1150 placed camps, out of 1300 applications. What was wrong with those 150 camps? We’ll probably never know, which is a pity – because if we could all learn together, we could reduce the amount of mutual time wasting between camps, volunteers on the placement team, and BMOrg’s holocracy of a hundred-plus full-time busy worker bees. Assuming that some of the camps get rejected for some of the same reasons, that is.

ART

BMOrg granted $1.2 million cash to more than 100 art projects on the Playa. They also provided in-kind support in addition to this $1.2 million.
This works out to $17.76 per ticket , or about 4.5% of $390. Seems like an increase from previous years, and we should know in a year or so if it’s true – when the IRS returns for the Burning Man Project in 2015 are released.
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The Artery handled 1139 service requests on playa from art projects, a 50% increase over the previous year.
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There were 326 art pieces; 75 of them incorporated fire art. There were 210 self funded projects and 56 “walk in” projects. Presumably this means the remaining 60 were the ones BMOrg had any involvement in: 18.4% of the total.
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In 2014, The Man was 105 feet tall, and took a long time to Burn. In 2015, it was reduced to 60 feet tall.
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There were 33 regional midway projects, with participants from 16 countries.

TRANSPORTATION

The Burner express brought 3,884 people in, and took 3,334 out. 250 people camped in the Burner Express bus camp.
Screenshot 2016-02-19 11.04.38
No word yet on if there will be any price hikes on bus tickets, additional luggage fees, or bike fees for the 2016 Medici theme. But it looks like this service is bringing in close to a million bucks.
 .
There is also a Gerlach-Empire shuttle bus, though usage was modest. Total shuttle bus ridership increased 45%, from 85 passengers in 2014, to 123 in 2015.
.
17,000 Burners flew in through Reno airport.
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88NV, the Burning Man Airport, saw a 30% increase in traffic. 2,330 Burners arrived this way – at $40 per head landing fee, that’s about a hundred grand. At its peak, the airport was handling 210 landings per day.

BIKES

Image: Phillipe Glade, burningman.org

This year there were 631 yellow bikes. Someone donated 180 huffy bikes to the total.

 .
527 came back like they were supposed to. 56 had been painted and 28 had been decorated. The bikes are supposed to be free for all Black Rock City citizens, not just free bikes for you to grab and claim as your own for the whole Burning Man. 20 of the bikes were stolen outright.
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There were a total of 1,625 abandoned bikes. This works out to 2.4% of the population – about the same ratio as the portapotties. For each portapotty you see, there is one Burner MOOPing their bike.
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How many of these were stolen? How many were from Burners leaving in the Burner Express, planes, or car-pools, with no room for bikes and no spare $50 for the transporation fee?
Fortunately, 200 of the retrieved bikes will be recycled back into the Yellow Bike program for next year.
.

AUTHORITIES

This year there were more than 700 rangers – a veritable army battalion.
 .
BMOrg worked closer than ever before with the Feds, achieving “Unified Tier 1 inter agency integration”:

BRC has relationships with Federal, State and County agencies including Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Highway Patrol, NDOT, Washoe and Pershing County Sheriff’s offices, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and Nevada State Health, amongst others.

BRC works year-round with these agencies to ensure legal compliance and public safety at the event. In 2015, BRC led joint training and table-top exercises to further align operational process and interagency communication.

Also in 2015 BRC updated the Unified Command to a Tier 1 management process, joining all the bodies (both event and agency) together, ensuring safer management in the event of unplanned incidents. This system was tested thoroughly during the repeated whiteout conditions of 2015, and proved to be highly effective for event operations emergency management.

.

You may have seen the news this week about Apple fighting the Federal government over unlocking an iPhone related to the San Bernardino alleged terrorist attack – even though they were happy to hand over details at least 70 previous times. It doesn’t sound like BMOrg are going down the route of Just Saying No to the government, preferring total co-operation and integration of systems, Burner profiles, and databases.

VOLUNTEERS

The Playa Information tent had 130 volunteers, supporting 30 computer terminals.  There were 2,299 visitors to the V Spot, and 1,117 of them were connected with volunteer opportunities. 794 went to Burning Man teams, 155 to theme camps, 158 to art projects, and the rest were assigned MOOP duty.
 .
The total number of Greeters was 850. 325 were pre-scheduled general Greeters, 50 or so were “walk-up” volunteers. 18 theme camps greeted as a group(425 people).
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210 volunteered to be Lamplighters – 130 of them camping in the Lamp Lighter Village. They report that “the interdepartmental communication and cooperation is the best it has ever been”. There were 319 lamp spires and 917 lanterns total.
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Tips from Arctica were donated to three worthy causes: Polar Bear International, the Gerlach Senior & Community Center and the Washoe County Family Planning Clinic. No information about who got what is available.

SANITATION & INFRASTRUCTURE

50 dump trucks working 24/7 serviced 1600 porta potties. That’s one WC for every 42 people, in case you were wondering (I was!) How does that stack up against Defaultia?
Screenshot 2016-02-19 10.54.53

Source: American Restroom Association

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We’re about the same as a nightclub in Florida, and doing better than your average stadium.
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At the company ranch in Gerlach, they stored 300 containers, 120 vehicles, and 30 semi trucks. The property operates entirely off the grid.
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30 yard dumpsterThe recycling camp processed 5000 lbs of aluminum cans, 2 30-yard dumpsters’ worth. This was approximately 170,000 cans. Recycling them resulted in a $1500 donation to the local school.
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The city burned through 20,020 gallons of propane. 17,673 gallons were used for flame effects in Mutant Vehicles, theme camps, and art projects. The other 2,347 gallons were used for infrastructure, utilities, and cooking.
According to the US Department of Energy, burning a gallon of propane produces 12 lbs of CO2 emissions. So that’s 212,076 lbs, or 106 tons of greenhouse gas generated – just for the art. And that’s not even counting all the non-propane burning, especially The Man and The Temple.
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BMOrg did bring us exciting new news just over two months ago that they had listened to the community based on a petition last year to make Burning Man greener, and were starting a new chapter. This doesn’t merit a single word in the Afterburn, perhaps it is still “coming soon”. Maybe some of that $2 million a year vehicle pass windfall could be reallocated to habitat preservation or re-forestation projects.
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Read more at burningman.org

Over at the Reno Gazette-Journal, staff Burning Man reporter Jenny Kane reports that the Medici VIP tickets sold out in less than a day.
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The first 500 da Vinci tickets, a new tier of tickets that are three times the cost of the main tickets, were sold out as of Thursday morning, according to Burning Man spokeswoman Megan Miller. An additional 4,900 $990 pre-sale tickets, which were $800 last year, also were sold out by Thursday morning.
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No comments on what happened to the other 100 of the $990 pre-sale tickets.  Jenny asks the question “will any of this windfall money go to art”? The claim is made that $1.5 million was handed out in art grants in 2015, compared to $800,000 in 2014 (actually, $911,955). Corporate PR supremo Megan Miller says:
.

“There’s definitely money from those revenue streams going to art grants,” she said, noting that Burning Man distributed $1.5 million in art grants last year, compared to $800,000 the year prior.

Part of the increase in net revenue may go toward another increase in art grant spending this year, although the organization has made no final grant decisions yet, Miller said.

Continue reading at Part 2 – Census Highlights

Avoid the Riff Raff and Fly In

Pilatus PC-12 at Burning Man. Image: Peter Ruprecht

Epic Experimental at Burning Man. Image: Peter Ruprecht

Playa Air Express have been serving Burning Man for more than a decade. A couple of years ago they flew my sister in, we were very happy with the experience and value for money. Now they have expanded their fleet and their routes. They are open for reservations now, book early as things will get crazy closer to Aug 30. Flights start at $475.

Here’s their latest newsletter.


 

from flypacificcoast.com:

PLAYA AIR EXPRESS 2015: Annual Burning Man Newsletter

Hello everyone and Happy 2015! We would like to take a special moment to thank all of our existing clients for flying with us after all these years to the annual homecoming on the Playa for Burning Man 2015, as well as welcome new clients who will fly with us.

During the past several months we have been developing more routes from desirable cities to fly directly into the Burning Man event, and we wanted to share the good news with you as you begin to make your travel plans. Along with the great news that JetBlue is expanding their services, and will now be offering daily, non-stop service from JFK to Reno, Playa Air Express has also expanded our services, aircraft fleet, and routes as well into Burning Man/Black Rock City (88NV).

Beechcraft King Air 200

Beechcraft King Air 200

We now offer a King Air 200 for non-stop service from the Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas areas!

  • Flights originating from the Los Angeles area direct to Burning Man, we will fly out of Hawthorne airport (Jack Northrop Field-KHHR) which is approximately 10 minutes from the LAX airport.
  • Flights originating from Las Vegas area direct to Burning Man we will fly out of the North Las Vegas airport (VGT) approximately 20 minutes from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
  • Flights originating from the Phoenix area direct to Burning Man we will fly out of Chandler, AZ, (Chandler Municipal Airport-KCHD) approximately 25 minutes from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International.
  • We will also have an additional aircraft positioned for our Bay Area routes direct to Burning Man which will be flying out of Hayward, CA. (Hayward Executive Airport-KHWD) approximately 30 minutes from the SFO and Oakland airports.

 

If you desire to travel to Burning Man originating from another regional city such as Seattle,Portland, Salt Lake City, San Jose, San Diego, or Denver please inquire with us when you submit your email to us. In addition, we can arrange jet charter services from many US locations and either connect you to a shuttle from Reno direct into Burning Man, or connect you to our other designated gateway cities to get you there as well. Helicopters are available as well.

We still offer our great air shuttle services from Reno direct to Burning Man with (2) five seat aircraft (depending on baggage) out of Atlantic Aviation which is a short 10 minutes from the Reno/Tahoe International airport.

Please email us for rates and scheduling information at burnershuttle@gmail.com.

We will begin taking reservations and answering questions for travel arrangements to the 2015 Burning Man event on Monday, April 13th, 2015. We look forward to continuing to serve all of your Burning Man flight needs, and we appreciate your business. Thank you.

Dionne Chinn

Playa Air Express | Pacific Coast Flight Solutions LLC.

Reno, NV. 89519

burnershuttle@gmail.com

www.flypacificcoast.com

https://www.facebook.com/sierranevada.burners

https://twitter.com/playaairexpress

(775) 848-2030

If Radical Inclusion is more your thing, this guy will be waiting for you at the Gayte - naked and looking for hugs...

If Radical Inclusion is more your thing, this guy will be waiting for you at the Gate – naked and looking for hugs…

Weird-o-nomics [Updates]

The Atlantic has a long story “The Wonderful, Weird Economy of Burning Man”. They highlight the annual event’s impact on the surrounding area.

In recent years, the airport has taken to displaying Burning Man-style art and offering a welcome table to festival attendees. Once, the airport held a celebratory parade throughout the terminals, complete with small art cars and performers.

“Every single seat we have coming into this airport the weekend before will be filled and every single seat we have leaving on the departure weekend will be filled,” Kulpin says. He estimates that the airport reaps $10 million a year from Burning Man-bound flyers.

…Similarly lively scenes unfold elsewhere in Reno, and everywhere along the route to Burning Man’s ephemeral “Black Rock City”: lines of filled-to-the-brim cars tangle around gas stations, grocery stores are emptied of their bottled water, and parking lot marketplaces pop up to hawk duct tape, hats, and other gear in high demand.

These pit stops, hotel stays and last-minute purchases equal $35 million spent by Burning Man participants—“Burners,” for the uninitiated—in Nevada each year. Sixty-six percent of respondents in the 2013 Burning Man census (yes, it has a census) reported spending more than $250 in the state on their way to and from the event. Eighteen percent spent more than $1,000…“This event has a huge, month-long, positive impact on our local economy,” says John Slaughter, county manager for Washoe, which includes everything from Reno to the closest towns to the event, the 200-person-each desert settlements of Gerlach and Empire. “Our stores, restaurants, gas stations, and car washes see an incredible influx of traffic, providing a great boost to the Northern Nevada economy.”

Larry Harvey, CPO (Chief Philosophy Officer) says:

Burning Man is like a big family picnic. Would you sell things to one another at a family picnic? No, you’d share things…

larry bunniesThe curious fact that a lot of money goes into creating a week that is free of money is not lost on Harvey. But those who peg this as a contradiction, he says, misunderstand the intent of the experiment.

“People get confused sometimes,” says Harvey, who unleashed Burning Man on the world with a foretelling bonfire at San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986. “They say that because we have a principle of decommodification, that we’re against money. But no, it’s not really about money. It would be absurd if we said we repudiated money. In order to assemble a city, we have to use market economics.” 

So, what IS the intent of the experiment? To learn more about market economics? Or to use market economics, like crowd-sourcing, and peoples’ innate desire to contribute to their community, in order to redistribute money from the Burners to the owners?

“People give because they identify with Burning Man, with our city, with our civic life,” he says. “The idea of giving something to the citizens of Black Rock City has enormous appeal to them because it enhances their sense of who they are, and magnifies their sense of being. That’s a spiritual reward.”

He says gifting—defined as the act of giving without the expectation of anything in return—alters the notion of value.  

“What counts is the connection, not the commodity,” Harvey says.

If it’s an experiment in giving, you’d think after 30 years BMOrg would have learned to be better at giving. In fact the new Burning Man Project appears to be worse at that (6% giving), than their previously very disappointing Black Rock Arts Foundation (25% giving).

If spiritual reward is the intent of the experiment, then why have the ticketing system? Why not just sell tickets, and make participation the spiritual reward? Making people wait in STEP for months, then at the last minute deciding to sell thousands of tickets in a lottery instead of to the queue, is not nurturing to peoples’ spirits.

Is it an experiment in morality?

painting by Todd Berman

painting by Todd Berman

As Burning Man culture and ethos seep out into what the community refers to as the “default world,” can a gifting economy survive the transfer?

“The term ‘gift economy’ is and isn’t an oxymoron. Certainly, the world couldn’t be run through a gift economy,” Harvey says.

“It doesn’t actually generate wealth, the vast majority of which comes from outside Burning Man in the form of campers, tents, generators, and loin cloths,” he writes.

“Nobody makes it to and from Burning Man without either a day job or the [labors] of people who have day jobs,” he goes on. “We’re nowhere close to describing, exhibiting, or participating in an ‘economy’ that truly relies on gifting. … What we do have is a compelling gift ‘culture’—and it matters.”

It matters, says Harvey, because it has potential to provide a meaningful counterpoint to the “default world’s” system.

“That spirit, if spread in the world and widely adopted, would condition how people, as consumers in the marketplace, behave,” Harvey says. “Whereas if all of your self worth and esteem is invested in how much you consume, how many likes you get, or other quantifiable measures, the desire to simply possess things trumps our ability or capability to make moral connections with people around us. There should be room in the world for both systems to flourish. If they did, they would inform one another.”

Perhaps someone should inform the Nevada authorities who think Burning Man is not a suitable event for children, that actually this is a moral experiment. We’re making room in the world for more authentic moral connections: with nudity, drugs, polyamory, and dubstep. We give more to art, than your local church gives to the needy. Therefore our experiment proves the superior morality of our shirt-cockers and Critical Tits.

The Atlantic featured the Generator in Reno, which is funded to the tune of $330,000 a year – we understand, almost entirely by a wealthy private donor.

Crowdsourcing effectively removes the power from large money groups to decide what gets made and what doesn’t,” says Matt Schultz, the artist behind several behemoth Burning Man pieces, of the crowd-funding phenomenon. “It enables the power of individuals to decide. It allows us to find the resources we need to make something amazing. It democratizes the act of production.”

Schultz and his team, the Pier Group, first made waves at Burning Man with a 300-foot-long wooden pier-to-nowhere in 2011 that cost $12,500 to build. They returned with the pier in 2012—this time with a life-size, $64,000 Spanish galleon sinking at the end of it. They outdid themselves once again this year, both in size, scope, budget and fundraising abilities: The group’s 72-foot-tall wooden sculpture, called Embrace, has been, perhaps, the most buzzed-about piece in the lead-up to this year’s festival. Picture two entwined figures proportional to the Statue of Liberty bursting, mid-waist from the ground.

The sculpture, which took shape in a Sparks, Nevada, warehouse with the help of around 200 volunteers, had a budget of $210,000. Its 140,000 pounds of wood, alone, required more than $70,000, says Schultz.

…The hope at The Generator is, Schultz says, at “to refine the economic principles of what a gift economy is and what a decommodified, year-round space is.”

There are various challenges with this. Everything is easier when there’s an expiration date, for example.  

“At Burning Man, your social interactions are for a week and you go home and reset,” he says. “There aren’t as many social repercussions. If you make your camp neighbor mad, they are only mad for a week. That’s been a challenge in bringing the principles to the real world.”

Unattainable as a true gifting economy might be, Schultz, like Harvey, believes it’s a custom worth incorporating into existing practices.

“We’re trying to find a way to make capitalism more equitable,” Schultz says. “Instead of saying one system is bad, or another is bad, we’re finding ways to make it function for more people.”

Burning Man’s economic system makes capitalism function for more people. Umm, how, exactly? By burning statues in the desert? By sending threatening legal letters to anyone trying to make money off the Burner ecosystem? By telling people who spend their own money on art cars, that their vehicle is now a “public conveyance” and they must drive randoms around or they risk being deported? By putting all the rights to monetize photos and videos in the hands of a small, secretive private company, that shares not a single cent with the artists?

There must be something I am missing about this “new” economy. Either that or the artists involved are missing the point: they exist purely on the largesse of people so wealthy that they can just give their money away for the sake of week-long temporary art. Even if the extent of your giving for the entire week was only $20, that’s more than 99% of society are handing out to people sleeping in the streets or giving to wildlife habitat preservation. The cause you are supporting with a gift at Burning Man is decadence and self-indulgence, not alleviating the suffering of others.

Larry reveals some of their “plan for a century” thinking:

“Right now we’re thinking we could go to 100,000 if logistics pan out”, Harvey says. “When people say ‘What if we get too big?’ I ask them, ‘[Too big] for what?’ They are worried we’ll become inauthentic. Because in their experience, when something gets bigger and bigger and bigger, it is alienated from its audience. But that’s if it’s just an item for consumption. They’re afraid it will be denatured by size. But it’s not about size. It’s not a quantitative problem. It’s a qualitative question.”

woodstock today“I hope that I can leave this world knowing that the event in the desert isn’t the lynchpin and that, if it were removed, it would falter,” Harvey says. “My biggest fear is that [the event] would be the be all and end all. We are racing to make it otherwise. It is going to be Rome to the empire, as it were—the great capital city for some time to come. But we can already see [a life outside of it] in these larger regional events.”

It is through this dissemination that Burning Man’s economic principles could take root.

“We don’t think the world can be Woodstock,” he says. “Who’d think the world could be a perpetual carnival? But we do think that the world could rediscover values that used to be automatically produced by culture but aren’t anymore because culture is subject to the commodification in our world. Everything is sold back to us, targeted to demographics. What we have to do is make progress in the quality of connection between people, not the quantity of consumption.” 

That’s why BMOrg has to make the party bigger. To improve the quality of connection between the 40% Virgins their bizarre and convoluted ticketing system seems to throw up every year, and the 30% of their crowd who’ve been more than twice. Because everybody says “Burning Man sucked when it was smaller”.

Gift me your money, and I’ll tell you that you’re making the world a better place.

[Update: 8/18/14] The Reno-Gazette Journal has also done some number crunching on what Burning Man means to the local economy.

Last year, nearly 70,000 people traveled into Nevada for Burning Man. Throughout Reno and Fernley, burners could be found shopping in grocery and retail stores, frequenting restaurants and buying supplies before their weeklong stay in the Black Rock Desert.

According to the Burning Man organization, the annual event brings in tens of thousands of people and millions of dollars to Northern Nevada, with 52,000 people and an estimated $44 million in economic impact in 2012, and more than 68,000 people and an estimated $55 million in 2013.

The organization says it spends more than $5 million annually in Nevada on production and planning, law enforcement, emergency services, construction materials, toilets, labor and supplies, and on business trips throughout the year.

Burning Man also reports the organization donated more than $585,000 from ice sales to charities and organizations in Northern Nevada, including nearly $66,000 in 2012 to Pershing County charities, including Pershing General Hospital, Marzen House Museum, Lovelock Food Bank, Safe Haven Rescue Zoo and the Chamber of Commerce.

…Bonnenfant said the center has taken the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitor Authority figures on visitors and their spending and estimated what Burning Man participants’ spending would average.

If the RSCVA estimates a visitor spends $85 per day in food and drink, he said he would estimate Burning Man participants are spending $50 a day based on the remote desert location of the event.

He said it is unknown how many Burning Man attendees stay at commercial lodging, or for how long, after the event.

It’s these gaps in the data that make it hard to calculate what that total impact is on the region, he said.

Bonnenfant reports that one slice of usable data within the 2011 Burning Man survey is that 21 percent of attendees arrived by airplane.

He said 21 percent of 2011’s population of 53,963 would equal 11,332 visitors to the area. Multiply that by an estimated $400 spent in food and drink, and that would equal $4.5 million in impact just for that slice of burners.

There are caveats to the estimated spending because not all participants stop in Nevada to buy food or lodging. And while many are buying gas within the state, most of the return to Nevada is via gas taxes which are applied to state roads and road construction and the rest of the profits would go to corporate owners.

…”Our community went from, ‘What is that going on in the desert?’ to embracing the concept of being the base camp of Burning Man — where people stop, shop, eat and play — and incorporating it as part of what we are,” Kazmierski said. “It’s a fundamental change as Burning Man has more and more of an influence on our community.”

Kazmierski said people are noticing a change in Reno when they visit. He has had executives tell him they are amazed at the differences in Reno’s culture and growth. The traffic that migrates through Reno during Burning Man gives business leaders a chance to see where Reno is heading and what the city has to offer.

…Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman said that throughout the years, Fernley has watched Burning Man grow from a few thousand to 60,000 people and with it a major economic spike in the community’s restaurants and stores two weeks before and after.

“It’s about a month that our community is benefiting economically,” he said. “My view is positive. They spend money here — Indian taco and water stands — I think people in the community look forward to it. The week after Labor Day, they look forward to seeing people. They stop in the same places, eat here and get cleaned up, and I think that’s neat.”

He said the influx of tens of thousands of burners through Reno and Fernley is not only good for the economy, it’s good exposure to what the region’s business and communities have to offer.

“When you’re coming from all over the world to Reno, you can take advantage of the eclectic businesses. Burner week is becoming like the Kentucky Derby and party for a few days in Reno — even if people aren’t going to Burning Man,” he said. “We are getting more and more traffic through here — spending the night in our hotels and shopping and participating in things — and it’s good for Fernley and all of Western Nevada.”

The details of the charity donation from the ice sales is an update from previous reports. If true, the $585,000 cash paid to Nevada charities is up substantially from $159,850 in 2010 which was split with many California based charities. It confirms our calculation that ice sales were above $1 million.