Associated Press Misreports Pershing County Fees

by Whatsblem the Pro

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The Associated Press has released a correction to their November 11th story regarding Burning Man’s agreement with Pershing County, and it’s only fair that we acknowledge the correction as well, since we repeated it here in good faith.

Burners everywhere have been wondering what the real story might be regarding the agreed-upon payments to be made to Pershing County by the Burning Man organization, since the press release at Burningman.com gave different figures than were being reported in virtually every major news outlet around the globe.

The Associated Press’ correction reads as follows:

RENO, Nev. (AP) — RENO, Nev. (AP) — In a story Nov. 11 about security and insurance costs at the Burning Man counterculture festival, The Associated Press erroneously reported the terms of the agreement. The agreement estimates Burning Man will pay $240,000 a year over 10 years to Pershing County, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s share covered in a separate agreement, not more than $600,000 a year to the county and BLM. Burning Man would be required to maintain up to $1 million in insurance coverage in the separate BLM agreement, not the agreement with the county.

While we wouldn’t have been surprised had the Org’s numbers turned out to be inaccurate and the Associated Press’ the reality, this is not the case. . . and since there are plenty of genuine issues to address regarding the Org and the way they run the event, we feel that it’s only right to go out of our way to point out the correction and do what we can to discourage people from citing the discrepancy as evidence of some kind of chicanery.

Cradle of MIR Artist Arrested; Do You Have a Picture of Sasha Mironov?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Alexander 'Sasha' Mironov with a model of the MIR space station

Alexander ‘Sasha’ Mironov with a model of the MIR space station


Alexander ‘Sasha’ Mironov, artist behind The Cradle of MIR, is in jail in Los Angeles and needs any photos you may have of him at Burning Man.

The 38-year-old from Moscow, Russia was arrested by the California Highway Patrol at 10:20 PM on October 15th, 2013 on undisclosed felony charges. He was booked at the LAPD Pacific Division station near Los Angeles International Airport, and is currently being held in the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, California, which is part of the Pitchess Detention Center, aka ‘Wayside.’ Mironov has not been granted bail; as a foreign national he may be considered a flight risk, and U.S. Immigration has a hold pending on him.

Mironov’s friends on The Cradle of MIR project are calling for any photographs you may have of him, as they may help provide evidence of the artist’s innocence in the case.

Dim Borisov writes:

WE NEED PHOTOS. Your photos!

If you have a photo that was taken on Friday, August 30, the day of “Cradle of Mir” burn, that has Alex on it PLEASE send it to us as soon as you can! This will serve as evidence for where he was at that moment. We need the originals, with the date the file was created, so it is clear when the photo was taken. The photos should be dated August 30, 2013.

Please email your photo to: mironov.ram@gmail.com

Help us, PLEASE, this is VERY IMPORTANT!!

I can’t speak about any details publicly, as any extra information could lead to complications while the case is ongoing. At time we’re just asking for photos, the rest will be disclosed and put to rest hopefully sooner than later.

We don’t know what Sasha Mironov is accused of, or how guilty or innocent he might be, but with evidence the truth will surely out. . . so if Mironov looks familiar to you, please check your photographs and videos from Burning Man.

Mironov in San Francisco

Mironov in San Francisco

Mironov (left) at the Cradle of MIR build site; Burning Man 2013

Mironov (left) at the Cradle of MIR build site; Burning Man 2013

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The Cradle of MIR, Burning Man 2013

The Cradle of MIR, Burning Man 2013

SAY YOU LOVE SANTA: A Cautionary Tale

Image: AFP

Image: AFP

by Whatsblem the Pro

We all know there was more of a police presence than ever at Burning Man 2013, along with several alarming law enforcement innovations, like the partnering of officers from different agencies for the duration of the event. Vehicle searches, often with K-9 units in on the fun, were eyebrow-raisingly common right up until well after the event was over. Numerous reports have been bandied about of aggressive traffic stops for trivial infractions like driving seven MPH in a five MPH zone; there was even an incident in which a DPW worker was reportedly threatened with sex offender status for peeing on the playa, and handled like a potentially dangerous perp who might need to be gunned down because he had a knife on his belt.

None of this is acceptable. It’s not fair, however, to be one-sided about it and simply blame the police as the sole responsible entity in creating and perpetuating the problem. The police certainly should be held to high standards and made to answer for any and all abuses they commit; the Org, too, should be questioned and pressured to find a way to keep local, State, and Federal agencies nearby but at arm’s length during the burn. As self-reliant burners, though, shouldn’t we be looking to our own responsibilities and setting our own bar high as well?

As individuals, we’re never powerless against the police, unless individual officers choose to abandon lawfulness themselves and behave like jackbooted thugs. Even then, our power is not diminished; it is simply not manifest until we can communicate with higher authorities like Watch Commanders, Internal Affairs personnel, and judges. . . which is why it’s so important to write down things like time and date, badge numbers, etc. Just remember: cops can be pretty tricky without breaking the law, and most of your rights may as well not exist at all if you don’t know what they are.

With all this in mind, I decided to use the power of shenanigans to test a random sampling of burners on their ability to handle a police encounter properly.

*       *       *       *       *

It’s shortly after dawn on the morning after Gate and the weather is perfect. The playa is burgeoning with new people; long lines snail-track their way through the checkpoints and into Black Rock City. Heavily-laden vehicles creep through every neighborhood, seeking their friends or just an open spot to set up camp.

I’ve been burning all night, and in the cool of the early morning I’m still comfortable wearing the full Santa suit I’ve been sporting. I’ve run into my friends the Mag Aoidhs, and they’ve invited me to a tea ceremony at their camp, featuring some very fine teas the likes of which I have not tasted since I returned from my long trip to China.

We’ve been talking about the troubling stories of encounters with over-zealous law enforcement that have been circulating, and in a lighter moment my friend points to a device mounted on the back of his bicycle. “I have a siren,” he says with child-like joy. His finger jabs at the button, and my own inner seven-year-old thrills at the impressively realistic sound and sheer volume of the thing.

A light bulb goes off over my head.

“I have an idea. . . follow my lead,” I tell him as I step out into the road. A car is approaching, and I get right in front of it and start rolling my hand in an authoritative circle at the driver: keep on coming. As the car inches toward me, Sean hits the siren, and I show the driver my open palm in the universal signal to stop.

The driver rolls down his window, puzzled, as I come around to the side of the vehicle. I nail him with a steely gaze and tell him that I’m going to need to see his license and registration. For a moment he seems taken in; then he turns to his passenger and they exchange significant looks. “No way,” they say, laughing, and I grin too. “Welcome back!”

After a similar experience with the next vehicle that happens by, I begin to think that people just don’t respect Santa Claus the way they respect other authority figures. . . but the third vehicle changes my mind. It’s a small Mutant Vehicle driven by a countercultural-looking fellow in his middle 40s; when I ask for his license and registration, he admits uncomfortably that he lacks both.

“I haven’t had time to register it yet.” His tone of voice is both apologetic and tinged with anxiety. I shake my head slowly, tsking ominously, one fist on my hip in a bossy pose.

“You know what’s going to happen now, right?” I am staring daggers into his eyes.

Just as I’m about to ask him for permission to search his vehicle, he blurts out hopefully that taking the seat off would render his vehicle perfectly legal, and I have to agree that this is the case. He has the necessary tools in his hand when I tell him it’s just a joke.

“Ha! Thanks,” he laughs good-naturedly. “I half suspected you were just messing with me, and I actually do know what you’re supposed to say to cops, but I didn’t want to take the chance.” He looks sheepish and shrugs. “You’re pretty believable.”

“As what?” I ask. “I haven’t identified myself as a police officer; I haven’t shown a badge; I’m not wearing a gun. I didn’t impersonate a policeman, I impersonated Santa Claus. . . and you bent your knee to Santa and did what you were told.”

“I guess that’s true,” he replies. “I’d better work on that.” He hugs me and we part friends.

By this time I’ve got spectators, and I’m hitting my stride with the role. I actually manage to look bored and slightly irritated as I step in front of a big white van and stop it in the name of love.

The driver and his passenger are 20-something males, and something tells me they’re first-timers. When I tell them I’m going to need to see the driver’s license and registration, they ask me if it’s a joke. I laserbeam the kid at the wheel with my eyes. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, sir. . . now shut that off and give me your license and registration.”

Incredibly, he shuts off the engine. A moment later he’s pushing his vehicle registration into my hands. He digs out a large trifold wallet and opens it, pulls a card with the words NEW YORK across the top out of an inner pocket. He’s got two more in there just like it, and when I demand to know why, he starts falling to pieces with nervousness.

“No no, it’s cool,” he assures me breathlessly. “This one is my learner’s permit, this one is my motorcycle endorsement, and this is my license.” His hands are shaking visibly as he pulls the other two cards out of their little leather pockets and hands them to me as well. I furrow my brow and pull a suspicious look as I scrutinize the cards, looking back and forth between the pictures and his face.

“Alright, this looks legit,” I say at last, and hand him back the learner’s permit and the motorcycle endorsement card. “but whose name is this on your vehicle registration?”

“It’s my mother’s,” he says, and I know he’s lying.

“Your mother’s?” I ask with eyebrows up.

“Well, my stepmother’s.”

“Oh? Then why does she have a different last name than you? She’s married to your father, right?”

The kid starts coming unraveled right before my eyes. “OK, OK,” he babbles desperately. “She’s just a friend of my family, but she told me to say that!”

I signal my friend to come over, and hand him the kid’s license and registration. “Frank, I think you’d better run these.” My friend, whose name is not Frank, nods alertly and disappears into his tent. We don’t even have a vehicle, just a Santa suit and a tent. . . but the kid in the van and his passenger both reek of fear.

I take it to the next level, leaning in and drilling straight through the driver’s head with my eyes. “You boys got any drugs in the vehicle?”

They are horrified. Four hands go up in protest; two heads shake frantically ‘no.’

“Look, you can give me your drugs now and I can go easy on you, or I can call the dogs in and find them anyway. You know what’s going to happen if I have to call the dogs in, right?”

“I swear we don’t have anything,” fibs the driver, perspiring freely in the cool morning air.

I decide to press my luck. “You mind if I look in the back?” I ask through a nasty smile.

He freezes for a moment and then his ashen face crumples. “Okay,” he says in a voice laden with utter defeat.

Image: King Diamond / Worth 1000

Image: King Diamond / Worth 1000

As I go around to the side of the van with the big door on it, the passenger suddenly grows a brain and half a ball. “Hey,” he protests, “what’s your probable cause?”

I level a rigid index finger at his nose. “The driver of this vehicle just gave me permission to search it,” I bite off quietly but angrily. “I suggest you keep your mouth shut, sir.” My patsies exchange a hurt, broken glance with each other and bite their own lips.

I open the sliding door of the van and discover two of their friends inside, hiding from me. They cower openly, prepared for the worst. Just then ‘Frank’ comes out of the tent with the paperwork. “Hey,” he calls to me, “it looks like this guy has a warrant for failure to appear.”

The driver loses it completely and wails “No, no, I swear, I got that cleared up!” He’s brown-towning himself with terror, and his friends are keying up right behind him.

“Well boys,” I cluck, “you know what happens now. . . WELCOME TO BLACK ROCK CITY!”

The tension thus released is like a taut steel cable snapping. The front-seat passenger holds his head and screams incoherently; the driver climbs, monkey-like, out the window of his van without opening the door, straight up onto the roof. His entire body spasms and quakes in silence for a moment until he gets enough of a grip on himself to cry out at the top of his lungs: “SANTA IS A FUCKER!”

When relative calm returns and he’s back on terra firma, I put an avuncular hand on the driver’s still-shaking shoulder. “Listen,” I say, “the ACLU has a monkey hut over at 5:20 and F; go there any day between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM, and they’ll give you a necklace with a pamphlet on it that tells you how to talk to the police. . . because you suck at this!”

How many of us suck at talking to cops? Considering the legal backup we are gifted with in Black Rock City, we are protected like nowhere else when we are on the playa. The ACLU is there during the burn; after the burn, Lawyers for Burners is there to lend you a helping hand in court. The Org itself is interested in collecting your anecdotes regarding contact with the police, though what good that might do you is anyone’s guess, as they don’t much seem to care how many cops invade our city to brush aside our hard-working Black Rock Rangers and conduct constant unwanted and unnecessary surveillance on our population.

The point is, we’re all responsible for some part of the problem, and we all have to do our part. We all need to put pressure on the Org to keep the police outside the city waiting to be called in, and not roaming around in it, looking for trouble. We all need to go through the proper channels and steps to hold individual cops responsible when they overstep the bounds of their authority. We all must see to it that without resisting or being confrontational, we politely and appropriately assert our rights.

Be self-reliant. Educate yourself, burner!

Victory! But for Whom?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

The Nevada Assembly passed AB374 in a 26-15 party line vote today.

The bill, which prohibits county commissioners from imposing fees or regulations on festivals operating under a federal license or permit, was sponsored by Assemblyman David Bobzien (D). The version that passed this morning is the second rewrite since our last report on March 30th of this year.

Opponents of the bill sought amendments to remove county liability and responsibility of prosecuting crimes, due to the high costs of providing law enforcement at Burning Man. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks said the bill would undermine the county’s authority, and make funding law enforcement difficult. In response, the bill was amended to give the counties the right to contract with and charge the Burning Man organization (and other event promoters) for law enforcement services. The new provision reads as follows:

2. A board of county commissioners may:

(a) Enter into an agreement, with a person or organization which has been issued a license or permit by a federal agency for an assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land, for the county to provide reasonable and necessary law enforcement services for the assembly, event or activity and to receive compensation for the provision of such services; and

(b) Regulate or license, or require any type of permit or fee for organizing, managing or attending, any assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land that is the subject of a:

(1) Lease between the Federal Government and the county; or

(2) License for recreational or other public purposes from the Federal Government to the county.

What this means is that while the corporation that holds the trademark on Burning Man will be more profitable thanks to the elimination of the necessity to pay county authorities for permits or other fees, the Org may still choose to contract with the counties to bring their law enforcement personnel to Black Rock City. It’s possible that this won’t even be a choice; one of the “special stipulations” of the 2012 BLM permit, after all, was this:

23. BRC shall complete formal agreements with all affected parties e.g. Pershing County Sheriff’s Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, Nevada Department of Public Safety-Investigations Division, Nevada Highway Patrol, and Nevada Department of Health and Human Safety for the purpose of addressing concerns and impacts associated with social services e.g. law enforcement and emergency medical services and physical infrastructure e.g. transportation systems and human waste disposal. Written evidence of these agreements showing compliance with this stipulation must be provided to the BLM by BRC 30 days prior to the start of the event.

Since special stipulation #23 demands compliance but doesn’t spell out what compliance actually involves beyond “complete formal agreements,” we’re left to speculate. Doesn’t this put huge leverage into the hands of Washoe and Pershing counties? They can simply demand that one or both of them be contracted with to provide law enforcement services – and be paid for doing so – or threaten to take their ball and go home; no formal agreement means no BLM permit.

It remains to be seen how the Burning Man Org will actually handle this; they could demand a renegotiation of the special stipulations, given that the terrain has changed significantly in the wake of AB374. Given their track record, however, I predict that nothing in particular will get better for those who attend the event. The Org will become more profitable, as is their apparent primary goal always, and the rest of us will be graciously allowed to eat whatever cake we can find in the middle of the desert. The only question is if the Org will be willing to bend over so far backward to county law enforcement that the heavy increase in on-playa officers continues at the alarming pace of the past few years.

How happy I would be if I turned out to be wrong about that.

The Man vs. the Man: Will Local Authorities Be Booted From Burning Man?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Big doings in the Nevada State Assembly! The website of the Washoe County Republican Party reports:

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

“Earlier this morning, the Chamber supported AB 374 in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. This bill, pushed by Assemblyman David Bobzien, came about because of threats by some rural counties to start charging local permitting fees and increasing costs for the Burning Man festival that comes to the Black Rock Desert every summer. This bill would prohibit any local government from interfering with a federally-licensed event on federal land. We strongly support this concept because of the enormous positive economic impact that Burning Man attendees have on our region.”

AB 374 began life as a different bill, introduced by Nevada Senator Pete Goicoechea and State Assemblyman John Ellison, intended to allow grazing in Federal fire restoration areas as a means of limiting the growth of cheat grass, which creates repeat fire hazards. Under the leadership of Bobzien, that bill was amended with some canny provisions aimed at getting the State and County authorities’ hands out of Burning Man’s pocket.

Assemblyman Bobzien – who also sponsored AB 304, a previous bill that clarified and simplified permitting for fire performers – had this to say on the subject:

“I for one prefer to keep politics away from Burning Man. My own experiences on the playa are thankfully partisan-free, and AB304, a bill that enjoyed broad-based support from Democrats, Republicans and Governor Sandoval, was a true example of non-partisan problem solving to help constituents. And by the way, these are constituents who are part of a culture with economic importance in northern Nevada- it’s estimated that the Burning Man festival alone pumps $15 million into the local economy every year.”

As AB 374 has gained support, the authors of the original bill have moved to distance themselves from it, and now openly oppose it. Goicoechea and Ellison expressed their opposition to AB 374 during a conference call last Friday.

“If you have an outdoor activity on public lands of over 1,000 people, then the county has no involvement or enforcement on that activity at all,” said Goicoechea. “It all goes to the Feds. We’re not prepared or ready to let our police powers go. Technically they’d be on the hook for all the emergency services but wouldn’t have the ability to enforce any of their laws or public safeties. It’s just another intrusion into the County and the State’s rights when it comes to any type of enforcements on public lands.”

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison - Photo: R. Dalton

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison – Photo: R. Dalton

John Ellison agreed, noting that the bill as rewritten will have an affect on the ability of every County in the State of Nevada to regulate large festivals held on Federal soil. “If we open Pandora’s box and we allow this to happen, this could be on every event on public lands,” he said.

The full text of AB 374 can be found at the Nevada State Legislature’s website.

In an unrelated story, astronomers report that the stars over Nevada have spontaneously rearranged themselves to read “FYD PETE & JOHN.” Authorities at NASA were unavailable for comment.