War on Drugs Leads to Wholesale Rainforest Destruction

Photograph by Luke Duggleby www.lukeduggleby.com

Photograph by Luke Duggleby http://www.lukeduggleby.com

By Terry Gotham

I usually talk about how to reduce the damage drugs can do to people, but today I want to switch it up a little bit. I’m going to tell you about the Mreah Prew Phnom trees of Asia, the Sassafras trees of America, and how our voracious appetite for drugs is hurting them. This isn’t a story about water usage or gang violence, but of appetites. The explosion in popularity of MDMA has ensured one of the trees that produce a precursor substance, safrole oil, is now critically endangered. It’s estimated (not verified) that more than 5 million trees have been destroyed over the last 10 years.

Photograph by Luke Duggleby www.lukeduggleby.com

Photograph by Luke Duggleby http://www.lukeduggleby.com

 

 

Formally named Cinnamomum parathenoxylon, the tree grew in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan & Vietnam, but is currently most often found in Cambodia. The remaining population is clustered in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, as cultivation of the tree is increasingly restricted. When the roots are chopped up and processed, safrole, an essential oil is produced. This stuff has been an herbal remedy, a critical part of perfumes, soaps & can be used to make MDMA.

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Rethink Waste, and Help Save a Promising Green Technology

John Perry Barlow, left, on stage with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

John Perry Barlow, left, in a panel discussion with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

JohnPerryBarlowJohn Perry Barlow has been a fixture at Burning Man since 1994. That makes him a founder in my book. Recently he starred on stage with Larry Harvey in a session called The Founders Speak at Columbia University. He’s also a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (with Burning Man lawyer Terry Gross), the Grateful Dead (he brought them to Timothy Leary’s castle in 1967 and wrote 57 of their songs) and WIRED (he was on their masthead when it launched).

Burner Barlow has given a lot over many years to our communities: Burners, Techies, Deadheads, and particularly the large Venn Diagram intersection of them all. Now he could use our help in return. For the past 6 years, he has been working with a company called Algae Systems, which has developed some amazing technology. The low oil price has made their investors jittery, and so they are now in a last-ditch effort to save the company and keep their breakthrough inventions alive.

Cutting a long story short, they can turn raw sewage into clean water and fuel, without wasting energy.

If ever there was a time for Burners to come together to support a positive environmental impact, where what we give will actually make a difference, it’s here and now. Their Indiegogo fundraising campaign is open for 8 days.

Barlow says:

Become a Better Ancestor: Save Our Technologies So They Can Save Your Descendants…

For the last 6 years, my colleagues and I have pursued a dream to address the most dangerous environmental problems we believe our descendants will face: poisonous drinking water, insanely variable weather, the end of the green revolution as we run out of mineable phosphates, offshore “Dead Zones” as more and more nitrogen and phosphorous is lost to the sea. 20 million dollars later we have proved it can be done. And done in a way that is consistent with our vision of closing the loop to turn wastes into resources.

Furthermore, we developed a method of photosynthetic energy capture much more efficient than solar cells and able to stand on its own without federal subsidies and using no land currently used to grow food.
But we have reached a surprising impasse with our strategic investor, the oldest company in Japan. They believed, with good reason, that they were investing in a company that would produce a green fuel that extracted more CO2 from the atmosphere than it returned when burned. But crude oil is now so cheap that they lost faith in their investment.

Moreover, we discovered that we had developed technologies along the way that could revolutionize wastewater treatment. As I’ve said, we recognized that we had created a sewage purification process that produces more energy than it uses. In addition, our unique HTL (Hydrothermal Liquefaction) process could transform noxious sewage sludge, currently being hauled to landfills at 30 million tons a month, into fossil equivalent crute oil and a nutrient rich biochar that can restore the millions of acres of depleted topsoil our grandchildren will confront.

But our strategic investor got out of wastewater treatment a decade ago and was unwilling to get back in, no matter how game-changing the technology. Our interests no longer aligned and they decided to withdraw support.

They offered us an opportunity to buy our company, including our plant and IP, for pennies on the dollar.

We saw this coming and had three investors lined up to cover the buyout, as well as the amount necessary to jump-start our operations in Alabama and commence building HTL skids we believe we can sell to enough wastewater treatment operators to make us profitable by 2017.

But one of our prospective investors developed cold feet and withdrew. Upon which the other two did as well. So we suddenly found ourselves looking at a January 17 buyout deadline to come up with the money. We decided to go long. Yeah, it’s nuts to think that we can raise this kind of money in a week, but we’re fresh out of alternatives. It’s a real Hail Mary, but we’ve been successfully hurling Hail Mary passes into the foggy future through the history of our company.

I pray you will look at our tech and see, as we do, the genuine prospect of a planet with life-support systems sufficient to provide for 7 billion passengers as they hurtle through space. We’ve developed an integrated system that can handle that. I personally endured this Sisyphean quest because I wanted, as ever, to be a good ancestor. My devout hope is that many of you will as well.


Please support them, this is aligned to Leave No Trace, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, Gifting, Radical Self Expression and Immediacy. This could be an amazing example of how Burners do care, are capable, and can make a difference. I urge BMOrg to get on board and promote this campaign too, perhaps they can find it in their hearts to give something back to this Burner who has contributed so much to us all – and this beautiful, beat-up planet.

More on Algae Systems:

Official web site and Twitter

Seeing Purpose and Profit in Algae – New York Times, 2014

Pilot plant in Alabama produced exemplary results – Al.com 2015

algae systems


 

From Indiegogo (emphasis ours):

Planet Earth has no externalities. As Bucky Fuller told us 40 years ago, it truly is a spaceship. We need solutions that recognize that waste is either a verb or a squandered resource, since all flows are in a closed loop.

Our team spent nearly every waking moment of the last 6 years of our lives, approximately 394,200 hours, dedicated to developing our waste treatment technology.  We’ve had numerous successes and exceeded our expectations.

We figured out how to transform raw sewage into energy-positive clean water and carbon-negative, water-positive green fuels. In the process of growing biomass and turning it into fuel, we discovered something much more valuable. We can purify wastewater without wasting energy.

We are excited about the viability of our technology and the benefits it can bring to a world where millions of children are killed every year by dirty water.

However, our primary investor, a large Japanese corporation who initially funded our small startup, isn’t interested in wastewater.  They are no longer willing to provide funding to us as our interests no longer align.

The truth is, we are in a tight spot. 

 

We have until Jan 17th to raise enough money to buy back our company and continue operating.  If we do not raise enough capital, our technology and IP will be shelved indefinitely, its benefits never brought to light.

To our knowledge, there is no other process that can provide the benefits we can and do so at a profit.

We are in a position to invite people like you to help us continue developing our waste treatment system and deploy it at a commercial scale to bring its benefits to communities.

Let’s harness the power of the crowd to support existing technology and is so critically needed on this planet. We hope that you are inspired by our work and that you see the benefits it can provide.

WE KNOW IT WORKS!

In Alabama’s Mobile Bay we successfully built and tested a demonstration facility that takes a community’s raw sewage into one end, and outputs carbon-negative fuel, clean water, and fertilizers from the other end.  Unlike most water treatment strategies our system generates energy while producing clean water. A community using this method could get energy back while treating their water.

Learn more about the science behind the system here.

When Alabama Governor Robert Bentley visited our facility, he had this to say:

“This took a lot of knowledge in biochemistry and the ability to take wastewater and use natural ingredients like algae and be able to produce clean water and oil…it’s a great system.” ~ Robert Bentley

AlgaeSystems CEO Matt Atwood (left) speaks with Governor Robert Bentley (right) on a tour of our Mobile Bay facility.

It is our hope that you will decide to support our campaign and empower us to continue on this path.  Every little bit helps. Please donate and share. Together we can change the world. One city water treatment plant at a time.HOW YOU CAN HELP
With your contribution, we will be able to:

  • Obtain full control of our science and patents by buying back our company from our current investor
  • Jumpstart our Mobile Bay facility to get it running again
  • Reinstate our dedicated employees who want to contribute to the success of our waste treatment system
  • Develop existing relationships for already selected sites to deploy HTL skids + photobioreactor bag technology
  • Scale up to an economy of scale that makes our waste treatment system competitive in the marketplace

STILL NOT CONVINCED?

Technologies like ours that generate new solutions to climate change, ocean warming, topsoil depletion, and greenhouse gas pollution are needed immediately. The world needs more resilient and resource-efficient infrastructure. That’s what we provide.

Our cities are in need of help.  Some municipalities use up to 30-40% of total energy for water systems ( EPA). We need more energy-friendly water production.
In the United States, we use about 40% of all water for fossil fuel energy production (DOE).  Negative implications of this practice include competition for water supplies among agricultural uses and human consumption. Additionally, warmed water coming out of thermoelectric plants has adverse impacts on local aquatic habitats.
This wasteful system is ripe for innovation. We need more water-friendly energy production.
 

Algae Systems disrupts traditional wastewater treatment with a more resourceful, systems approach. Our technology pushes wastewater treatment and energy production into new territory that is far more beneficial for humans and other living systems than current practice.

Solar and wind have grown leaps and bounds, but they aren’t going to get us all the way there, experts say.  Bill Gates recently announced the creation of a private equity fund to invest money in 20-30 companies with existing technology that can be scaled up to become commercially viable.  Algae Systems is the type of tech Bill Gates is talking about.  It is viable technology that needs financial support to scale up. As the deadline of Jan 17th looms ahead, we are working as hard as we can to capture the attention of the crowd to meet our crowdfunding deadline.

Algae Systems is a valid solution for a more resourceful water-energy nexus. You have the power to help us create a more sustainable world for future generations.

IN THE NEWS
People are excited about the potential of Algae Systems.
Visit our press room here.

MEET OUR TEAM
We are a group of professionals united in our efforts to apply an entirely new approach to solving some of the most basic problems impacting our communities, our environment and our public utilities. We are entrepreneurs, chemists, engineers (civil, marine, and aeronautic), utility operations managers, vanguards of more sensible futures. Click here to learn more about our team.

[Source: IndieGogo campaign]

 

2015 (Almost) Final MOOP Map Released [Update]

Inspection tools. Image by @Shalaco

Inspection tools. Image by @Shalaco

This year, the BLM approved Burning Man’s “Leave No Trace” status a full week before the MOOP inspection could be completed. This seems a little strange – as does “we passed with a visibly wide margin” in light of the amount of red on this “almost final” map posted yesterday. Is this a sign that the volunteer MOOP inspectors are now being more zealous than the actual MOOP inspectors? DPW scored a few reds and yellows, and there is a giant big red for The Man. A few camps with red have been specifically named, including Ibiza Camp, Distrikt, Emergency Services Station 3, and the dead-eating nun-fuckers at the Totem of Confessions. Celtic Chaos and Ooligan Airways get named and shamed for large amounts of red, while White Ocean is the biggest red of the whole map and yet somehow manages to avoid a direct link to it.

2015 Moop-Map-2015_Day-9

The “final” map is still several months away, according to VOBM.

This is NOT the final map. The final is still being created, and will be released in a few months, along with detailed information about what was found where. If you’re wondering about what happened, and you’re a placed camp, you will hear from your Placement representative in a few months with more information

Apparently, the delay is simply in getting the data into the graphics, not doing the sweeps:

we have finished line sweeping our way through the streets of Black Rock City …However, it takes us several days to produce the Moop Map images…Sorry for the confusion. Have you ever tried computering in this desert? It’s a slow process [Source]

Here’s how the BLM inspection works:

The BLM can’t inspect the entire 4.5 square mile event site in a single day, so 60 randomly-selected points throughout the city are chosen as a sampling. Each inspection point is one tenth of an acre. They cover all parts of the city, from the streets, to the Man and art sites, to the open playa.

In order to achieve success, there must be less than one square foot of moop found per acre. Therefore, each inspection point must produce less than one tenth of a square foot of moop. That’s a 3.8 inch wide square. It’s small.

And yet, once again, we passed with a visibly wide margin. Do you know how big a deal that is? It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something we all did together, as the community of Black Rock City. [Source]

It’s great news that we passed. It’s just a little confusing that “passed by a wide margin” is the same as “large amounts of red and yellow all over the map”.

Congratulations to all the camps who scored a green. Anyone who scored a red must live with the public shame for months, without any information about “what” or “why”, and no chance to defend themselves. Surely there could be a better way. Why not just sweep the whole site on the Wednesday following Burning Man, taking photos with GPS co-ordinates? They could post any red marks online and let the camps who care come and explain themselves, apologize, or ask how they could have done it better. Dealing with this more publicly could help educate the whole community together; this system of “we say its red and that’s that and you won’t even find out why for months” seems to help the NPD social capital brigade more than it helps the global community of Burners.

And while we’re at it, what about an abandoned bikes map?

Thanks to Gary Justgary for posting these from previous years:

moop 2014 moop 2013 moop 2010


[Update 10/14/15 11:09am]

Adam La France has shared a couple of photos of MOOP left behind this year.

2015 wood left behind adam la france

Abandoned timber is gathered in one place and burned. Image: Adam La France via Facebook

2015 abandoned bikes

Many of these bikes were stolen before being abandoned. Image: Adam La France via Facebook

Midburn Damaged Ancient Site [Updates]

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

So much for Leave No Trace. Apparently Midburn damaged, perhaps even destroyed, a cultural site  150,000 years old. Ironically, they erected their Temple right above the site.

From Asssociated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli Antiquities Authority says revelers at a Burning Man festival famous for its pyrotechnic spectacles have accidentally torched some remnants of prehistoric man.

Archaeologist Yoram Haimi says organizers of Midburn, an Israeli affiliate of the Nevada carnival, burned a wooden temple Saturday on a hilltop scattered with flint tools from the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.

The site was discovered 30 years ago by an Israeli archaeologist. The area is not marked with signs and it is hard to see the ancient remains. He says the extent of the damage is unclear.

Eyal Marcus, Midburn spokesman, said antiquities officials only approached organizers in the middle of the festival.

“We are sorry,” Marcus said. “One of our principles is ‘leave no trace.’ We are not for destroying.”

From Haaretz:

the burning of the Midburn “temple” Saturday night, which caused a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

He also asked that the coals stoking the fire be removed manually, not with heavy equipment. On Monday, it was clear that neither request had been fulfilled.

Haimi plans to file a police complaint. “Maybe that will deter them next year,” he said.

Midburn’s organizers said they had received permits for the festival from all the necessary agencies, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

Midburn was also interrupted by bomb disposal squads, who removed 2 unexploded bombs found at the site, and the tragic death of an experienced Burner.

From the Times of Israel:

organizers had to call in a bomb-disposal unit during the festival to take care of two unexploded ordinances, likely left over from Israeli military training exercises. Part of the camp was evacuated for a few hours while the bomb-disposal unit worked, but no one was injured and the bombs were disposed of safely.

There was also a death for the first time at a Midburn event: An older participant suffered a heart attack just 15 meters from an ambulance stationed at the event.

The man, in his 50s and a veteran of many Burning Man events around the world, collapsed from an apparent heart attack, likely unconnected to the festival or to substance abuse. Paramedics instantly began life-saving measures and stabilized the man before he was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where he later died.

Other than that, it seems like a good time was had by all. More coverage, including photos, at:

The Guardian

The Globe and Mail

 [Update 5/28/15 8:06am PST]

Page 11 of the Midburn transparency report said that they were required to get an inspection by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It seems this may have happened this year after the Temple had been constructed.

Midburn have released this official statement on Facebook:

Dear Midburners,

Today we read in the press that there is a concern we may have caused damage to an archeological site while burning the Temple. If this is true, we consider it a very serious matter. We’ve of course received all the necessary permits from all authorities (Nature and Parks Authority, the Regional Council, the Police, Israel Land Authority etc’) to hold the event in a lawful manner, including permits for the specific locations of the art installations and the city’s perimeter. Throughout the permitting process, we worked in full transparency and coordination with all the relevant authorities.

Nevertheless, Civic Responsibility is our guiding principle and that requires us to act as responsibly as possible and take measures that extend far beyond the minimum requirements of the law.

We will therefore examine the claims by Israel Antiquities Authority and continue to be a community that is involved and is aware of the environment in which it exists. We promise to investigate the matter thoroughly and to keep you updated.

Image: Midburn/Facebook

Image: Midburn/Facebook


[Update 5/29/15 4:04pm PST]

Say anything critical of something in Israel, and it won’t be long until someone throws Anti-Semitism into the social media trollfest. Like, there are all these special rules, that wouldn’t apply to discussing Kiwiburn or Burning Seed or Flipside or Element11.

That’s not right. Burners are burners, dude. Wherever they are, whatever they do for a living, whatever god they worship (or not). There are not “some special Burners” and then “the rest of the Burners”. Whoever is thinking like that needs to experience some Radical Exclusion and Civic Rejection.

I’m not even criticizing Midburn – kudos to them for more than tripling in size since last year, getting the support of a Nobel Prize winner and Royal Society Fellow, getting judges to back them, and overcoming all obstacles in their path. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is some political backlash against them, and maybe that’s why the media is piling on.

Type “burning man” into Google and then in the Search Tools put “past week” or “past 24 hours”. That is what Burners.Me is here for: to share my opinions about what is being said on the Internet about Burning Man and the intergalactic (and inner-galactic psychonautic) realms of this Burner culture that is spreading around the world.

If you did what I just suggested, you’d see a lot of talk about Midburn. It’s not just me making things up, all of this really happened. And many people are taking the allegation of disrespecting a culturally sensitive site quite seriously. If I could speak in the vernacular of the Voices of Burning Man propaganda channel for a moment, I would say it thus:

“LEAVE NO TRACE”

Some say “the principles are just guidelines”, a vague and self-contradictory ethos.

Many Burners say “this is not just a festival, it’s not just a party in the desert, sex and drugs and sects and EDM”…this is a movement. Something substantial, and long-lasting, and growing and improving all the time. To many Burners, having Principles behind the movement means something in their lives.

All Burners around the world are now being smeared with this slur of trace-leaving. Did Midburn leave a trace? Or not? There is not enough evidence available yet to decide either way. But here is just a sampling of what is being said on the Internet over the last day or two.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/.premium-1.658399

http://www.timesofisrael.com/ancient-artifacts-burned-at-israels-burning-man/

http://www.epa.eu/arts-culture-and-entertainment-photos/crime-archeology-photos/israeli-antiquities-authorities-claimed-damages-to-an-archaeological-site-after-israel-midburn-festival-photos-51964005

http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2015/05/28/israeli-burning-man-festival-damages-ancient-archaeological-site/

http://www.twcc.com/articles/2015/05/28/o/oops-israeli-burning-man-festival-torches-ancient-remains

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/festivals/burning-man-festival-revellers-accidentally-torch-prehistoric-artefacts-in-israel-10284842.html

Some original content re-blogged here from Tablet Magazine:

thescroll_header

Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. Reports Haaretz:

…a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

Haimi told Haaretz that he will file a police complaint. Apparently, Midburn authorities covered its tracks, obtaining all the necessary permits.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

 

Related: Israel’s First Burning Man, One Mile From Ben Gurion’s Grave


There is very little being said at Midburn’s English-language Facebook group. Where is the community of thousands of people who were at the event, rallying around to defend them?

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.16.34

That’s not a selection, at the time of writing – that’s it.

Over at their much bigger Israeli group, there seems to be very little concern about this.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.12

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.31.34 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.51 Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.30.31

The above was taken out of about 14 comments. Blame Bill Gates if anything was lost in translation. Perhaps anyone fluent in Hebrew or with inside knowledge could comment here and update us if this is being taken more seriously in the homeland, in a discussion group we’re not yet privy to. I’m just gathering whatever I can find from the Internet and sharing what I think is the most relevant with you guys, the more detail the better. Anyone reading this can do the same, so please share with the group if you find something.

This story from US News says that Eyal Marcus has an official antiquities authority map of the site that shows no archaeological sites there – curiouser and curiouser. There can’t be “no sites” and “some sites”, so somebody either has their facts wrong or is deliberately spreading misinformation.

Screenshot 2015-05-29 16.38.50

It would definitely be great if Midburn shared a copy of that map, in the spirit of transparency.

Why are we not hearing about any drug arrests? Perhaps because they didn’t happen? This seemed like the main police fear, and it seems like Midburn did very well on that. However that is purely speculation on my part, I have absolutely no evidence to back it up. Perhaps those with more information, might care to share the more positive aspects of this story like that. Greenpeace isn’t all bad just because they graffiti’d the Nazca lines. And I’m sure no-one in Midburn would intentionally disturb a sacred archaeological site. But if a Burn was held on my nice rug in my living room, shouldn’t “Leave No Trace” mean my rug is still fine the next day? Let alone things that were buried in the ground beneath it for tens of thousands of years…

“All of Israel is an archaelogical site, all of Israel is a bomb site”…these arguments don’t wash with me.

“It’s totally fine if we trashed the site because we got permits”…this attitude is atrocious, and reminds me of THIS.

“Political haters are trying to screw with Midburn”…that sounds plausible, though not convincing. If Midburn can produce some documentation supporting their side, or if the Israeli Antiquities Authority fails to produce any evidence of damage, this argument will look stronger.

The remains of the remains, remains to be seen. We must wait for the rainy season, so it seems.

2015 midburn_620


[Update 6/4/15 4:13am PST]

Much more detail about this story here. The concern was not the fire, but heavy machinery used in construction. It sounds like Midburn made an effort to co-operate with the IAA last year, and is doing so now.

Does Commodification Matter?

bm shark jumping

If you think Burning Man is just a big party in the desert, then no – it doesn’t matter. Who cares? Just go and have fun. Avoid articles critical of BMOrg’s management, just pretend everything is great. We have more than a thousand happy, positive articles about Burner culture on this site alone that you can read, and there’ll be many more to come. You can start with these ones about Burners trying to end poverty and bring peace to war zones.

If you think there’s something unique and special about this temporary city made by all of us, then keep reading. Because this isn’t over yet.

burningman.org’s post this week of the apology from Jim Tananbaum has brought Commodification Camps back to the fore of Burner dialog. I know that some Burners would like to give it a rest, and say nothing more until Burning Man 2015. Other Burners still feel upset, betrayed, and disillusioned. JT’s statement received 217 comments in 2 days at the official site, almost all of them negative.

This is about more than just one camp. BMOrg placed between 12 and 25 Commodification Camps, by their own differing accounts. They even created a name for the area they put them in, “Billionaire’s Row”.

This is about the future of the event, and the integrity of our culture. It’s about Selective Rule Enforcement, more than equality. Do the Ten Principles still matter at the Nevada event? Or are they just some catchy marketing speak, used to promote the brand expansion into new market segments like education and commerce?  Are they even relevant to where Larry & Co wants to take our culture in the future? Burning Man has jumped the shark, and is embracing the mainstream. Happy Days went onto its greatest commercial success, after Fonzie jumped the shark.

Do Burners even care? Do Veterans even matter…or is it all about indoctrinating the 40% virgins now?

Should we just shut up and take it, be good little Burners and only say happy things, keep any negative comments to ourselves? Or is it OK to talk about it, express our frustration and discontent?

Image: galleryhip

Image: galleryhip

If there are problems in the event, and its leadership, will they magically go away if we all just shut up about them? It seems like things have been getting worse, not better. Larry and Marian said in the Spark movie that they were giving up control, but they didn’t do that. They’re still there, trying to control a very different corporate beast – and it seems like things may be unravelling. Nobody wants that. We all want Burning Man to be awesome forever, to be true to its values and get better and better with age. I’m not writing this blog to facilitate the unravelling – it’s the decisions being made, and the spin being fed to us, that is doing that.

Larry likes to say “people have been saying Burning Man is dead since we started”, but I’m not saying Burning Man is dead. Now that they’ve been on The Simpsons and all over the mainstream media, telling the world it’s full of billionaires, celebrities, politicians, Mistresses of Merriment, and free drugs, there will be plenty more people who want to visit. It’s the Bucket List/Selfie destination of the EDM Generation.

The culture may not be the same, though. And that’s the thing that I think is worth speaking out about, and fighting for.

The thing about PopsicleGate that is particularly jarring is that JT is a Director – and was only just appointed to the Board a couple of weeks before Burning Man. At that time, they were well aware of the kind of camp he was bringing to Caravansary. A healthy civilization gets positive, inspiring leadership from its rulers. As well as ethics, the Bylaws of their 501(c)3 public benefit corporation specifically require Directors to uphold the Ten Principles. Larry can say “they’re not rules, just an ethos”, but it’s there in black and white – they’re rules now. BMOrg can say “the Directors have no influence over the event”, but if that’s true – then who is in charge? Should Directors be able to just ignore the Principles, because they have no influence? If so, why have them? What value do they add?

Image: Charis Tsevis/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Charis Tsevis/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the typical Silicon Valley startup story, some founders get together with a cool idea. The pioneers on the fringe of society like to try new ideas, they don’t care that they’re boldly going where no man has gone before. They bring their own flavor and personalities into it, and a little community of early adopters emerges. The founders grab the first people they can find to help them out, building a team based on accessibility rather than merit. Existing relationships with people they like and trust are favored over strangers and qualifications. Fun rules the day, not money. Doing something new is exciting. Some of their early customers go above and beyond, and become evangelists for the New Thing. As the New Thing catches on, the organization grows, the money comes in, and with the money come the suits. Doing something new is less exciting and more risky, than expanding the existing thing into new markets. Eventually, the Founders are in the way of the growth of the business, and it’s time for them to step aside or assume figurehead roles, while professional managers focus on the job of taking the business to the “next level”. Then the whole thing goes public or gets sold, and the culture gets blended into the general corporate culture of the Fortune 500.

The examples of a start-up growing from a few inexperienced people, to a large global organization, with the same few people in the same roles, are few and far between. Usually, growth brings change and strains relationships.

burning_man suitsI see parallels today with BMOrg. The lawyering, the brand-building, the media blitz. These are all suit things, not pioneer things. I see Commodification Camps being run by Directors, who blame others for MOOP and a failed build. I see a focus on pushing the safari tourist experience to an ever-increasing pool of newcomers, while they turn their backs on many who’ve been there for the long haul. Where is the retirement plan for long-term DPW crew, and others who’ve dedicated their lives to Black Rock City?

For all its aspirations of changing the world, Burning Man is, at its core, still an arts festival. That’s what their paperwork says, that’s the trademark they own.

Yes, there are many aspects of it that make it interesting, different, more than just a festival. But its essence is art, and entertainment. Fun. “Saving the world” is to my mind an unproven proposition from this party. Even if people have had transformative experiences there, fuelled perhaps by mind-expanding drugs and liberty and surviving outside your comfort zone – is this scaleable internationally? If so, how?

Looking at Burning Man as a startup wanting to grow to the next level, it’s not clear that they’ve solved the scaling issues. And it really doesn’t look like the leadership team who got us to where we are today, are the right people to fulfil the corporate mission of global growth over the next century.

Sometimes it seems like Alabama St live inside a bubble. To get close to the core, you have to LOVE Burning Man, and as a result, yes-men seem to get favored over straight-talkers. They employ a Minister of Propaganda, and pass it off – like so many other things – as an ironic joke. And yet, there is no better word to describe the type of corporate spin that consistently comes out in the Voices of Burning Man, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and their TED talks and panel discussions.

“Fuck you, it’s our business, you’re not part of it!”, they are probably tempted to cry. But it’s not that sort of corporation. Burning Man is a community. We’ve all built this city together, and destroyed it, again and again and again. Some have participated more than others, some have yet to contribute. The special thing about Burning Man is that it’s a pop-up city made by its citizens, and shared with each other – one free from commercial transactions, advertising, cellphones, TV, class and racial divisions, and the other commodities of Default society. We can go there and be Burners together, and express ourselves the way that amuses us the most. For fun.

I get that some people go to Burning Man and it changes their lives, sure. But not everyone. Many of us go to Burning Man and just be ourselves – and love meeting other like-minded people, and doing all kinds of entertaining and silly things with them. If you take it too seriously, you lose sight of that. It’s about FUN, and ART. We put the ART in pARTying.

If you create great art at Burning Man, should you be able to trade off that to build your default world career as an artist? Absolutely! Should Burning Man get a cut of your sales? Absolutely not! Should they sue you because you put a picture of your amazing creation on your web site? Fuck no! Should you be able to sell your art AT Burning Man? Fuck no!

Burners should be able to make money any way they want off the Playa, and if they want to use examples of what they’ve done at Burning Man in their fund-raising, fine. If they want to sell hoodies for their camp, fine. If they want to charge camp dues, fine. If they want to make money AT Burning Man, that’s not so good.

Ignoring and dismissing these problems won’t make them go away. An effort needs to be made to fix the things that aren’t working. Shooting the messenger might feel good in the short term, but it’s not helping their credibility, and it’s not solving any problems.

The response we waited 3 months for, really doesn’t seem like it’s going to alter anything. BMOrg told us they were listening, then they told us they didn’t want to rush the changes they knew they had to make, and then they told us that they’d made them. VIP Donation tickets got stopped. And…? And nothing. Commodification Camps have to have an interactive component, and be placed by the volunteer Placement team. This was already the policy, according to Answer Girl in How Turnkey Camps Get Placed. They told us they’d ban Commodification Camps in 2012. The Directed Group Sale – aka the World’s Biggest Guest List – is still opaque. If Caravancicle appears under another name, and wants another 200 tickets, will they get special privileges to obtain them? Will they get a ton of Early Access passes? We don’t know, but my guess is, yes.

The next Burning Man is 8 months away, so there’s still plenty of time. What else should we talk about, if not the future of our culture? Let’s be open and honest about what’s been going on, and as a community, let’s continue to be vocal about what we will and won’t accept.

The solutions are simple. Stop with the lies and spin-doctoring. Give us the transparency we’ve been promised for years. Open the books, and involve the community in the operations of the charity. Get rid of Directors trying to link the Playa with commercial activities. Keep the Playa free from Commodification. Sell tickets to everyone the same way. Apply the rules the same way to everyone.

Long live Burning Man! Long live Burners!

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