SAFETY THIRD: Sacked DPW Dispatch Manager Blows the Whistle on Safety Issues

by Whatsblem the Pro

Earlier this year we reported on a spate of firings at Burning Man, including that of DPW Dispatch manager Palmer ‘Gameshow’ Parker. Technically, Gameshow wasn’t fired; the corporation that owns Burning Man simply declined to renew his contract. The reality of the situation, though, is that a long-term Burning Man employee in a management position was rather abruptly sacked after a decade with DPW.

Now Gameshow is speaking his mind about his tenure with the Man — and the reasons they fired him — and wants to share his thoughts with all of you, along with a letter he wrote to Charlie Dolman, the fledgling Event Operations Director that the Burning Man Org hired just last December. In a nutshell, Gameshow says he was fired largely for not keeping silent about the woeful state of the radio equipment his department was forced to work with, despite the safety issues involved.

[NOTE: “EMBER reports” are after-burn reports written by managers from every department of the Burning Man Org, to document in detail every significant success or failure.]

Former DPW Dispatch Manager Palmer 'Gameshow' Parker

Former DPW Dispatch Manager Palmer ‘Gameshow’ Parker

AN OPEN LETTER FROM PALMER ‘GAMESHOW’ PARKER

Greetings, friends and Burning Man family,

As most all of you know I received a phone call last March which said, in essence, I no longer had the job of Burning Man Department of Public Works Dispatch Manager because the new BM Operations Manager desired a closer working relationship between Emergency Services Division and DPW. Since then I have spent a LOT of time thinking about what happened and why. My primary concern as DPW Dispatch manager was always safety, not politics. It still is. The result is a letter to Charlie Dolman, the Operations Manager, along with the creation of a website which consists of that letter along with past manager reports, pictures, and other relevant information.

I invite you to learn more or, if you wish, stop here. Either way, know that I feel that your inclusion in this invitation was important. You have my permission to pass this information along to others if you wish.

The letter below was sent to Charlie Dolman with cc: to Burning Man Board, Executive Committee, and DPW Council of Darkness members. This is what my intro was in the email to Mr. Dolman et al:

“My apologies for the timing of this letter, it and the creation of a website have been a work in progress for months and now is when all was finally completed. . . if you encounter any difficulty in opening the file I can resend it in Word form.

I have attempted to cc: the Board, the Executive Committee, and the DPW Council of Darkness in particular though I was not able to verify all email addresses through the Burning Man website. I am sending it to others in the extended Burner community as well.

If you do choose to read my letter and go through the website I’ve created, I have one question for you: What would you have had me do differently?”

August 20, 2013
Charlie Dolman
Operations Manager
Burning Man
995 Market Street
15th Floor
San Franciso, CA 94103

Dear Mr. Dolman:

My name is Palmer Parker, playa name Gameshow. I held the position of DPW Dispatcher for 10 years, manager for nine of those. On March 13th of this year my immediate supervisor, Playground, informed me by telephone that Burning Man’s new Operations Manager “wished a closer working relationship between ESD and
DPW Dispatch” therefore my employment with Burning Man was terminated. This effectively also fired my wife Katy from her five year position as Dispatcher and my de facto assistant manager though no one from Burning Man has contacted her directly about that. It also served to eliminate my stepdaughter Aimee’s (Paws Off) two-year volunteer position under Bettie June in Art Support Services and removed my two step-sons’ (Andrew “L’il Dog” and Benny “Rooster Tail”) two-year volunteer efforts with Shelly in the Commissary. Over the months since that phone call I have spent many, many hours – including way too many times waking in the wee hours of the morning – processing what happened and why. This letter is one result of that pondering and, for clarity’s sake, it is not an effort to regain employment by Burning Man.

To the best of my knowledge you and I, sir, have never met or communicated directly in any way prior to my writing this – I didn’t know your name until I went looking for it on the Burning Man website after that phone call. No grievance has ever been filed against me, no request for mediation has been made toward me, and no conflict resolution efforts have been initiated by anyone but me. I have never been accused of theft, lying, assault, or any other criminal act at Burning Man. I will grant you that I was accused of sending a page about a death to a Board member at a very early time one morning. As that method of relaying such news would be entirely inappropriate regardless of the hour, when I asked for proof of the page I did not remember having sent, Joseph Pred told me that the paging log was corrupted and he was therefore unable to provide that record. In truth I may not have even been on shift that night despite what the posted Dispatch schedule listed.

There were no discussions of need for personal improvement plan or other HR-related activity (Charles of ESD COMM – a Burning Man contractor rather than employee – threatened on occasion that he would talk to HR about me or others who commented on the poor state of the radio system), no mention of probation or other change in my Burning Man employment status. I was directed to not speak ill of the state of radios last year and I followed that directive to the best of my ability. I was honest in my ten years of post-event manager EMBER reports. Given the very succinct presentation of the reason I was given for your firing me, I can only surmise that you based your decision on information, documentation, opinion, and/or otherwise provided by Joseph in his position as head of Burning Man’s Emergency Services Division (I find it ironic that I had, through my supervisor, requested mediation with him in 2011 and he refused). It is a sadness to me that the friendship he and I once shared has also been a victim of the continued state of radio service his department provides to DPW.

My primary concern as DPW Dispatch Manager was always safety with a close second being effective, reliable, and efficient radio service. The quality of the tools Burning Man provides to DPW Dispatch to establish the umbrella of communication creating that safety and efficiency is controlled entirely by ESD: DPW Dispatch is completely dependent on that department for equipment and programming.

Among myself and the Dispatchers who worked with me it had long been a grave concern that we would be unable to respond to an emergency because we could not hear a radio call or could not be heard when we attempted to transmit. A life lost or a serious injury is a horrible burden for a Dispatcher to bear even when equipment works as it should. And it appears to me that rather than work to solve the real problem(s) you chose, instead, to be convinced by Joseph to kill the messenger. Your action has relieved me of responsibility if someone may suffer injury or death because of defective radios but, in doing so, I believe you have taken that responsibility on yourself.

I have no idea whether you’ve read any of my EMBER reports or not. They have long included appreciations for jobs well done and concerns for shortcomings. Examples from last year’s EMBER (sort of extra-appropriate since when I added this example to my letter it was Fence Day 2013 and congrats to the crew there for this year’s record time):

  1. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT WORKED WELL AND WHAT DIDN’T THIS YEAR

WHAT WORKED WELL:

  • 4508 (CONTAINS THE DISPATCH OFFICE) WAS IN POSITION IN THE DEPOT-TO-BE ON FENCE DAY MORNING EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST LEG OF TRASH FENCE T-STAKES WERE IN ~ THANK YOU INSANE AND HEAT!! INSANE WAS ALSO KIND ENOUGH TO TAKE US TO BREAKFAST – IN 4508 – ONCE THE COMMISSARY WAS UP AND RUNNING.
  • SUPPORT FROM THE IT DEPARTMENT WAS, YET ANOTHER YEAR IN A ROW, STELLAR ~ COMPLETE WITH NEW (FASTER) COMPUTER, NEW (IT WORKED!!) PRINTER, ALL OF WHICH, ALONG WITH VOIP PHONE, WERE INSTALLED AND OPERATIONAL BY 2PM ON FENCE DAY. IT STAFF ALSO CHECKED IN ON US REGULARLY THROUGHOUT OUR TIME ON PLAYA AND, WHEN DISPATCH CALLED WITH A QUESTION OR PROBLEM, THEY RESPONDED IMMEDIATELY. IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL TO BE SO FULLY AND PLEASANTLY SERVED AND SUPPORTED BY THAT CREW.
  • SUPPORT FROM MANY FORMERLY KNOWN AS SENIOR STAFF AND/OR DPW COUNCIL OF DARKNESS.

WHAT DID NOT WORK WELL:

  • RADIOS
    • SADLY THIS IS YET ANOTHER YEAR’S EMBER IN WHICH I’M NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN.
      • DISPATCH WAS EXPECTING TO HAVE UP TO FIVE MOBILE (POWERFUL) RADIOS PROGRAMMED CORRECTLY AND COMPLETELY INSTALLED ON FENCE DAY IF NOT SOONER (THE RADIOS COULD’VE BEEN INSTALLED WHEN 4508 WAS ON THE RANCH). DISPATCH WAS WITHOUT EVEN A SINGLE MOBILE RADIO UNTIL TUESDAY (FENCE DAY WAS MONDAY SO THAT’S ESSENTIALLY TWO DAYS INTO TRANSPO) WHEN I (WITH PERMISSION) WENT TO THE RANCH AND REMOVED THE MOBILE FROM THE COMMON SHOP AND MOVED IT TO DISPATCH. TWO MORE ANALOG MOBILES WERE INSTALLED ON WEDNESDAY.
      • THE RENTAL BRICK TO RENTAL DIGITAL SNAFU WAS A HORRENDOUS TIME AND ENERGY SUCK. IT SET DISPATCH BACK IN TERMS OF OFFICE ORGANIZATION, STAFF TRAINING, AND PLAYA-WIDE DISPATCH SERVICES WHICH DOES NOT INCLUDE THE AMOUNT OF WORK TIME RADIO USERS LOST IN THEIR PART OF THE SWAPPING PROCESS.
      • CHANNELS 4 (PRIMARY DPW ANALOG CHANNEL) AND CHANNEL 911ALT (FORMERLY 912, THE BRICK RADIO’S VERSION OF ESD911) WERE TAKEN DOWN WITHOUT WARNING TO DISPATCH OR OUR USERS.
      • THE MORE DIGITAL RADIO USERS THERE WERE, THE MORE DPW’S PRIMARY CHANNEL BECAME UNUSABLE DUE TO HARMONIC INTERFERENCE.
      • WHEN 4508 WAS SWITCHED FROM GENERATOR TO LIGHT TOWER FOR POWER POST-EVENT THE UNINTERRUPTIBLE POWER SUPPLY (UPS) PROTECTING THE MOBILE RADIOS WENT CRAZY. SOLUTION WAS TO BYPASS THE UPS (THERE WERE NO COMM TECHS ON PLAYA OR IN GERLACH). THAT WOULD NOT HAVE OCCURRED IF THE RADIOS HAD BEEN POWERED AS REQUESTED IN LAST YEAR’S EMBER.
      • RADIO COMMUNICATION WITH THE RANCH BECAME DIFFICULT TO IMPOSSIBLE ONCE THE SWITCH TO DIGITAL OCCURRED. THAT PRESENTED SAFETY AND LOGISTICAL SIDE EFFECTS.

If you would like to read about my history at Burning Man, view, pictures, and browse other information you are welcome to visit www.gameshow.me. If you
would like to learn more of the DPW Dispatch side of ESD/Dispatch history, I can provide that as well. I started this letter several months ago and let it sit, I’m not usually the letter-writing type in a situation like this. Much more likely, typically, to recognize the hierarchy and move on. But I keep coming back to the issue of the safety of those on the playa. I have spoken of my firing with very few in the Burning Man organization (or elsewhere for that matter except by way of explaining why I wasn’t going to TTITD to those who expected me to be gone by now). It was suggested to me at one point that a way of airing my safety concerns might be by filing a grievance myself. I thought about that suggestion for a while and decided to try that route rather than airing dirty laundry, so to speak. I called Playground and asked her what procedure there might be. She said she would get back to me in a day or two and she did, saying that there was no procedure but if I’d like to write a letter to her she would forward it to Human Resources or, if I preferred, I could write to HR directly. As I had been told in March that it was you who had made the firing decision, I have decided to send this letter to you instead with copies to the Board, Executive Committee, DPW Council of Darkness, and others in the Burner community.

You can read the entire text of Gameshow’s letter to Charlie Dolman at gameshow.me

Burn Before, After, and While Reading

by Whatsblem the Pro

3 out of 4 BARmag staffers have human faces -- Photo: BARmag

3 out of 4 BARmag staffers have human faces

While some might assume that we’re rivals, here at Burners.me we regard the staff of BURN AFTER READING MAGAZINE as a great bunch of people who put out some excellent writing on the subject of Burning Man. We’re pleased to have them as colleagues, and happy to see them thrive.

BARmag co-founder Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee graciously agreed to do an interview with our own Whatsblem the Pro.

Whatsblem the Pro:

What do you tell people when they ask you what BARmag is?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

BARmag – or Burn After Reading Magazine – is a burner art and culture mag. We cover burner stuff all around the world, from Afrikaburn to the Temple of Christchurch in New Zealand. We post articles on the web year-round. Aside from our website we have a print magazine at Burning Man.

Whatsblem the Pro:

You co-founded BARmag, right?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Yes. Doug Crissman, our art director, and myself started the magazine in the winter of 2011. I was doing volunteer work at another magazine during that time and it made me realize that we could easily be doing our own art mag. Doug was a part of another art magazine in college, called Deek. He did a lot of design for that and even helped to run it for a couple years post-grad until the magazine eventually folded. When I brought up the idea of the magazine he was immediately on board, although I’m not sure if he realized I was actually serious about it. Two months later BARmag was up and running on the web.

Aside from the two of us, we have roughly thirty to thirty-five volunteers who do a lot of the articles and design. The coolest part is that our volunteers are literally spread all over the globe. 

Whatsblem the Pro:

What are BARmag‘s goals?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

I think the ultimate goal for BARmag is that we find a way to be fully self sufficient. No kickstarters and constantly begging for donations. Just an awesome magazine each year on the Playa showcasing the amazing art all these people bring to the desert. If we grew to be a quarterly magazine and I could pay my staff and we could give a grant to Burning Man literary art each year that would be my dream world.

Whatsblem the Pro:

Can anyone write for BARmag?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Yup! We are radically inclusive. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll just take every article though. We like to keep our magazine focused on Burning Man art and culture specifically. We also don’t take any fiction or poetry. But we are happy to work with everyone and the more volunteers the merrier!

Whatsblem the Pro:

What does BARmag do on the playa during Burning Man?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

Raised by Wolves, Dressed by Ringling Bros.

Raised by Wolves, Dressed by Ringling Bros.

Our cafe is part of the frontage of Raised By Wolves which is my home camp. Some magazine members camp with us but many of them have their own camps all over playa. Luckily my friends at Raised By Wolves are totally into running our cafe and helping to gift the magazine. Their support really makes our magazine that much more special. I’m really grateful for all of them and for all of the magazine staff that continue to make this project happen.

Whatsblem the Pro:

Assuming an article isn’t something you reject automatically, like fiction or poetry, what is it that you look for in a piece of writing that might be appropriate for BARmag?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

The art and culture thing is a big criteria. As long as an article encompasses that wether its a review of a burner party or a fabulous Burning Man packing list if it highlights the art and gives back to our culture then it goes in the mag.

Whatsblem the Pro:

How did you find your way to Burning Man, and how has it changed your life year-round? How has it influenced you as a writer and editor?

Jessi ‘Sprocket’ Janusee:

I stumbled onto Burning Man accidentally. In July 2010 I moved into a new house in Philly and my two roommates were going to the Burn. They invited me to a couple Burning Man parties – PEX Magic Garden and Disorient Boom Boat. I was totally blown away. These were my people! They loved crazy art and costumes as much as I did! Not only that but they created the worlds I dreamed up as a kid! I helped do set up for Magic Garden as well as set up and strike for Boom Boat. I was immediately hooked. That August my roomie, Tristen and I drove my car full of people and stuff from Philadelphia to Black Rock City. Last year Tristen and I got engaged at Kostume Kult on Playa.

It changed my life by teaching me that art is something you can create RIGHT NOW! It’s inspired me to take my big ideas and actually make them happen! As a writer and editor it taught me that I didn’t need the validation of others to make things. I could create things for myself and if others enjoyed them then that was a total bonus.

You can help keep BARmag running on and off the playa by donating to their Kickstarter campaign.

The Ins and Outs of Organizing an Orgy

by Whatsblem the Pro

You goddamn kids think you invented sex. Now get off my lawn!

You goddamn kids think you invented sex. Now get off my lawn!

And Then There’s Only LOVE (ATTOL) is a Burning Man theme camp that has been hosting the Orgy Dome, a 24-hour erotic playground, for the past decade. Last year the Dome hit maximum capacity most nights, serving an estimated 5,000 horned-up burners with clean towels, condoms, and more in a safe, comfortable, air-conditioned, fully-equipped, sex-positive space in which to roam and rut freely. It’s no wonder they made #5 on our list of Ten Ways to Get Laid at Burning Man back in April.

With the burgeoning demand in mind, ATTOL made plans to expand the size of the Orgy Dome for Burning Man 2013. They put together a budget to cover everything they would need to add an additional 20x20 structure, more air conditioning, better insulation, carpeting, couches, mattresses, curtains, and other hedonistic necessaries and accessories. . . but after digging deep down into their own pockets and pooling camp resources, they were still $2,500 short.

Camp organizers Lefty and Shade, with the help of camp founder Jennifer Steele, decided to crowdfund the Orgy Dome’s expansion. To this end, they began working on a Kickstarter campaign; they recorded original music and produced a video, designed rewards and placed orders for the production of their custom swag.

Shade and Lefty looking glum and despondent over Kickstarter's assholery

Shade and Lefty looking glum and despondent over Kickstarter’s assholery

When they submitted their project to Kickstarter, though, they got a generic rejection letter in response, saying that “adult content is prohibited.”

Kickstarter came under fire recently after a campaign by Ken Hoinsky asking for a mere $2000 raked in over $16,000 toward the publication of a book called Above the Game, which offered clueless man-douches advice on how to get women to have sex with them, including a section on something called “choke-fucking.” Some of Hoinsky’s ‘A’-game tips sound like advice for aspiring sexual predators: “physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances,” is one of the many rapey strategems he advocates, along with “pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.” Basically, stuff that’s reminiscent of those episodes of DEXTER that Julia Stiles guest-starred in.

Apparently, Kickstarter can’t tell the difference between Hoinsky’s obnoxious sophomoric literary expression of his conceptual difficulty with the idea of consent, and a Burning Man theme camp that lets consenting adults live out their 100% consensual fantasies in unobtrusively supervised safety. Kickstarter, having received the message that their clients don’t appreciate overtly predatory behavior, has interpreted that message to mean that SEX = BAD. They have changed their policies in order to preserve their market share, blatantly misapplied those policies, and in the process demonstrated that they don’t really know or care what all that rape-flap was really about.

"Con-sen-su-al? What's that, bro?"                "I dunno, bro. Some kinda fag stuff, I think."

“Con-sen-su-al? What’s that, bro?”                “I dunno, bro. Some kinda fag stuff, I think.”

Naturally, ATTOL appealed Kickstarter’s decision, and asked for clarification and suggestions as to how to bring their campaign’s content into line with Kickstarter’s standards. The response? Another generic rejection letter that pointed to Kickstarter’s guidelines. I took a look at those guidelines, and found two relevant entries. . . the first was something Kickstarter added on June 25th, 2013, in response to the outcry over Above the Game:

No self-help material (books, videos, etc). This includes projects that offer (or produce materials that offer) business, emotional, financial, health, medical, sex/seduction, or other self-help advice.”

The second relevant guideline doesn’t seem terribly relevant at all, as the Orgy Dome’s campaign contained no pornography:

No offensive material (hate speech, etc.); pornographic material; or projects endorsing or opposing a political candidate.”

Someone at Kickstarter is going quite a bit beyond the actual guidelines in their zeal to avoid another scandal like the one that erupted over Above the Game, in spite of the fact that those guidelines have been modified specifically to prevent that from happening. There is some very mild and brief nudity – bared breasts – in ATTOL’s fundraiser video, but bared breasts are not ‘pornography.’ The word refers to pictures of people having sex, not pictures of people with their clothes off. . . and inasmuch as that might seem like splitting hairs, it’s worth mentioning that other Kickstarter campaigns that feature nudity (but not pornography) and other adult content are approved regularly. The Kickstarter people themselves clearly recognize that bared breasts are not ‘pornography,’ and “no pornographic material” is as close as their guidelines get to a rule that is relevant to the Orgy Dome campaign, but nonetheless they shut ATTOL down.

Kickstarter’s explanation? A bit of boilerplate citing a rule that doesn’t actually appear in their list of rules and guidelines, and that they don’t usually enforce, to the effect that “no adult content is allowed.”

Disappointed but undeterred, our consensually sensual friends at ATTOL decided to run their own campaign and give out their swag just as planned, and Kickstarter be damned.

As ATTOL organizer Shade told me, “we were less familiar with Indiegogo, and were concerned about spending time editing and resubmitting our campaign to them only to possibly be denied again after another week of waiting, so we just did it ourselves. With what we know now, we would have just started with Indiegogo.”

Wanna fuck? You can help make sure there’s a premium, fully-equipped spot for that on the playa by visiting their homebrewed donations page and tossing ATTOL a bone. You might just get a bone tossed right back at you in the Orgy Dome. . . with your consent, naturally.

A glimpse into the environmentally sealed and sanitary interior of the Dome

A glimpse into the environmentally sealed and sanitary interior of the Dome