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.


Not so Vogue?

vogue 2012 bm

French Vogue, 2012

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Bay Guardian brought us a 5-page story about Burning Man, written by Burner Scribe. We covered the story in The Spark of Controversy . We also highlighted the apparent hypocrisy of the BMOrg profiting from a photo shoot featuring an art car while using legal threats to stop that same art car from even saying that they’re going to be at Burning Man on their Web site, and demanding that they take down photographs of the art car at Coachella – covered in The Fishy Smell of Corporate Excess.

Well, last night a pretty high-level BMOrg insider told me that the Guardian got it wrong. Way wrong. Here’s what the original story said:

When I asked Brown about whether he paid the LLC for access and the right to use footage they filmed on the playa — something I know it has demanded of other film and photo projects — Brown paused for almost a full minute before admitting he did.

“We saw it as location fees. We’re making an investment, they’re making an investment,” he said, refusing to provide details of the agreement. “The arrangement we had with Burning Man is similar to the arrangements anyone else has had out there.”

Goodell said the LLC’s standard agreement calls for all filmmakers to either pay a set site fee or a percentage of the profits. “It’s standard in all of the agreements to pay a site fee,” Goodell said, noting that the LLC recently charged Vogue Magazine $150,000 to do a photo shoot during the event.

According to our source, that story is not accurate. In fact, Vogue offered them this much money, and BMOrg turned it down. Or perhaps, BMOrg named their price, and Vogue turned them down. Anyway, the exchange of $150,000 for a photo shoot for Vogue, apparently never happened.

The source did not want to go on record with this , but gave me permission to publish. Read into that what you will. If this is true, then it’s surprising that BMOrg didn’t try to set the record straight with an official statement.


The Pornj cone of Disorient – a beacon of high class debauchery

Vogue certainly seems to love Burning Man. They had a piece written by the lovely Disorient Burner Yvonne Force Villareal in 2009. There was a Burning Man photo shoot by David Mushegain in French Vogue in 2010. Burning Man was featured again in French Vogue in August 2012. There was also a Burning Man piece in British Vogue in 2010, and in Australian Vogue in 2011. A recent issue of Vogue has top designer Marc Jacobs naming Burning Man as his primary inspiration for his 2014 collection (fashion designer Manish Arora was also inspired by Burning Man for a collection he debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 2013).

Vogue has also just named Burning Man on it’s “New Social Calendar” of the places to be for the jet-set in 2014:

Burning Man, August 25-September 1
Once a hippy gathering in the desert, the Burning Man festival is now the number-one event to see and be seen at. Private jets fly in and out (with Google kingpins Larry Page and Sergey Brin sitting on two of them); Eugenie Niarchos, Bettina Santo Domingo and P Diddy frolic and play cricket in the sand; and everyone forms lifetime bonds.
Wear: As few clothes as possible.
Tip: Book a decent RV six months ahead of the festival.


google jet

Their 767 has hammocks and California King beds in each of their bedrooms. Seats up to 50.

There are almost no jets landing at the Black Rock City airport, out of 1000+ aircraft this year. I know of one Citation CJ2 that was brought in once, and there’s usually one or two Pilatus PC-12 turboprops. Larry and Sergei’s main plane is a converted ex_Qantas Boeing 767, called “a party airplane” by their CEO Eric Schmidt. They get discounted fuel from the Pentagon and NASA, and they have their own private landing strip close to their office, at Moffett Field (at least, until their own private terminal at San Jose airport is completed!)

Google's light attack jet - infrared detectors pick up Facebook grilled cheese sandwiches from miles away

Google’s light attack jet – infrared detectors pick up Facebook grilled cheese sandwiches from miles away

The 3 top Google executives own 8 private jets and two helicopters between them, they also have a 757, two Gulfstream V’s, and a fighter jet. I’m pretty sure they didn’t take any of this fleet to Burning Man this year. But hey, nobody reads Vogue for the articles, do they?

let me know if you see this landing at Burning Man

let me know if you see this bad boy landing at Burning Man. It would be quite the dust cloud

Personally I find Scribe to be a very credible journalist, and have difficulty believing that he could get something so important, so completely wrong. His book The Tribes of Burning Man is excellent. I know that he has recordings of the interviews he conducted for his story, and there is more that he did not yet publish.

Scribe this year wrote a piece from the Playa, saying that he was officially giving up his struggle to call for democratic leadership of Burning Man, or at least some form of representation of Burners in the decision making about our culture, as it relates to That Thing In The Desert.

this is the way it’s always going be, year after year, like a dusty Groundhog Day on acid. Only the numbers and faces of the citizens and the things we create for one another will change.

It’s perfect, right? No reason to change a thing. What God (or, rather, Larry Harvey) has created, let no burner presume to alter.

That’s an idea that most burners seem to embrace, despite the beloved pastime of veteran burners to kvetch and celebrate some storied golden age, whether it be 1986, 1996, or 2006. We all just appreciate the chance to build a city for ourselves each year and the leaders of Burning Man for giving us that opportunity, again and again.

And I’m now joining those who accept Burning Man as it is, hereby officially dropping my struggles against Larry, Maid Marian, and the rest of Black Rock City LLC board to create some form of representative or democratic leadership for the Burning Man and its culture.

me on bomb_0It’s been a lonely and frustrating crusade anyway, so I’m happy to be done with it (as I’m sure they are). I’ve been regularly covering Burning Man for my newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, since 2004. My reportage formed the basis of my book, The Tribes of Burning Man, which came out in 2011 just as the LLC board was being torn apart by internal divisions that they resolved by deciding to turn control of Burning Man over to a new nonprofit they were creating, The Burning Man Project.

“Why not act to change the world, a world that you won’t be in? And that’s what we want to do,” Larry told a roomful of grateful burners when he announced the plan in April 2011. “We want to get out of running Burning Man. We want to move on.”

The prospects of that change in leadership seemed exciting, and I imagined a council of veteran burners representing our community’s constituent communities – artists, DPW, sound camps, volunteers, art car makers, regional leaders, maybe the biggest villages – gathering around a table to plan the future of Burning Man. It might get messy, but things worth doing usually are.  

First, I took issue with Larry’s announced plans to create secret payouts for the six board members, but nobody except Chicken John seemed to care about that. The predominant view seemed to be that they had done us all a great service and they deserved whatever it was they wanted to pay themselves.

Fine, so then I publicly questioned the hand-picked nonprofit board, which seemed chosen for their fundraising ability more than the communities they represented. Again, no resonance, so I accepted it and moved on. Maybe money was what was important in the early stages, and new leadership would come later.

And I was totally willing to just let it go and move on, until earlier this year when I watched the new documentary, “Spark: A Burning Man Story,” which concludes with the claim “the organization is transitioning into a nonprofit to ‘gift’ the event back to the community.”

So I decided to plug back into covering Burning Man to check on the status of this gift with just a year to go until Larry had said that control of the event would be transferred to the new nonprofit. But rather than relaxing their grip on the event and entrusting it to the community, I learned that they consider their leadership “more important than ever,” as Marian put it.

Not only are The Burning Man Project board members still not representative of the overall community, but they have no authority over the event, which Larry wants to continue as is “without being unduly interfered with by the nonprofit organization.”

Sure, the LLC and its various fiefdoms can unilaterally change its contracts with artists, its policy on what kinds and how many art cars to license, its ticket pricing structure, and size of the city (the max population this year jumped to 68,000 from 60,000 last year), all without any input from the community. It can cut lucrative side deals with corporations and propagandists. But we can’t have the new nonprofit board making these sorts of decisions, that would be unthinkable. 

also heard last night: General Wesley Clark did NOT arrive at Burning Man on this Black Hawk. So which bad boy was rolling with this? A Blackhawk is some serious shiznit. Last seen in the direction of Disorient

also heard last night: General Wesley Clark did NOT arrive at Burning Man on this Black Hawk. So which bad boy was rolling with this? A Blackhawk is some serious shiznit. Last seen in the direction of Disorient

“The nonprofit is going well, and then we have to work out the terms of the relationship between the event and the nonprofit. We want the event to be protected from undue meddling and we want it to be a good fit,” Larry told me.

And when I wrote about these issues in the Guardian, where they were read by tens of thousands of people, few people seemed to care. Two articles I wrote on these issues this year got two online comments each, comparing to the 259 comments and vigorous public discussion that ensued after I wrote “Burning Man ticket fiasco creates uncertain future” in February of last year.

The lesson: as long as we can get to Black Rock City, we don’t really care who’s calling the shots. After all, it’s really all of us who create the city each year for our own enjoyment, and that’s what matters, not the six people who control the $23 million we all spent on tickets this year.

(from http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2013/08/23/how-i-learned-stop-worrying-and-just-trust-larry)

I think we’ll let Madonna have the last word on this one…

Airlifting in the Challah

Our compendium of Cargo Cult cyberspace coverage begins with this gem from Bloomberg – who seem to be having a bit of a love affair with Burning Man at the moment. Maybe last year’s Burn Wall Street really did help get Wall Street’s attention?

gluckstern300_0“We’re airlifting in the challah again,” said Steven Gluckstern, as he stood chatting recently with a few people. “Enough for 2,500 people,” he added casually, taking a sip of his cocktail.

A siege on the Upper West Side?

Burning Man, actually. It was to be the fifth year at the festival in the Nevada desert for Gluckstern, a venture capitalist and chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners, and his wife, Judy. Every August, about 40,000 people pay $380 to attend the weeklong celebration of countercultural art, music, sexuality and lifestyles. The festival operates on a barter system, and each camp is expected to offer entertainment, food or some other service. The Glucksterns’ camp, now numbering a little more than 90 people, offers French toast. Hence the challah.

…Reached for further comment a few days later at his house in San Francisco, Gluckstern, 62, explains how he came to be an impassioned ringmaster for what the Burning Man crowd calls French Toast Thursdays. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the line to the Glucksterns’ tent is long enough that it can be seen from space. Last year, a satellite photograph of the festival showed a thousand people lined up for breakfast. 

Burning Man 2003 - 475 200308311223 FrenchToastBreakfast NoryWhen they say “seen from space”, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about high resolution satellite imagery, not an astronaut peering out the window of the Space Station…or my former guest Sir Richard Branson (White Kinght Too, Space Ship 2, Eve)’s or Burner Elon Musk (Grasshopper and Dragon) ‘s latest Spaceships . From space these days, they can probably see exactly what strain of weed that is you’re smoking while you wait in the massive line.

1000 people in line for French Toast? What is this, England? Mecca? Miami? In San Francisco, you can’t even get 1000 homeless to line up for the soup kitchen. At least in Vegas, you can comp your way past the line. I mean, I love French Toast, but I’m not standing in line behind 1000 people for anything at Burning Man. Well, except maybe the gate. This year Camp Hot Mayo threw an Irish Car Bomb party at 4:20 (location: 9:15 & Holy), it was well attended and had deep lines for the cocktails. Too much for me and my neighboring Fucken Prawn Distrikt 9 camp-mates, who preferred to help themselves to cold beers from the fridge and watch the line from air-conditioned comfort (Burner-than-thous, let the bashing commence!)
Anyway, we’re small time. Air conditioning and refrigerated beers, woo. We obviously can’t be Burners. But what about these guys?

The couple’s involvement began four and a half years ago, when they were invited by their daughter to take part in her honeymoon, which was held at Burning Man. “We rolled in that first year with a camp of about 20 people,” says Gluckstern. “We decided we would purchase a simple set of things to make a misting tent, which wasn’t very successful.”

OK, so, weddings at Burning Man, I kinda get it. Like, for Rockstar Librarian, that’s dope. If I were ever to get married, it’s about the only way I could think of where I could get most of my Burner friends in a single hyper-focused place at one time, and also most of my family and last remaining hold-out friends and Juno Reactor and Jamé Forbes and Subsqwad to be there at Burning Man at the same time.

But, isn’t a honeymoon supposed to be a romantic one on one with the newlyweds? Not, Orgy Camp and Comfort and Joy and Critical Tits? To each their own. For this particular VC, his daughter’s honeymoon, inspired him to take the SACRED PRINCIPLE OF GIFTING to another level. French Toast? How can that be Commodification? It’s just feeding the hipsters… (BTW, of all Larry’s 2004 “ten principles to rule them all”, Gifting has been the least popular in our Burner poll, neck and neck to be Biggest Loser with Civic Reponsibility…)

As he wandered the festival, Gluckstern noticed lots of camps serving pancakes. The old analytic skills kicked in. “That was too easy,” he recalls. “It’s a mix, and you add water.” Sensing an opportunity, Gluckstern decided to raise the stakes. “It would be much more of a challenge to do French toast,” he says. “You need fresh milk, fresh half and half, fresh eggs… “

french toastA challenge it was. “The first thing is you have to find 100 loaves of challah,” he says. “We have to commission to have them made from a place in Berkeley. One of our colleagues has his own small private plane, so we organized a challah airlift.”

Then, as they say, if you want to feed a hipster, you have to pre-break a few eggs. “Two thousand pieces of French toast is around 1,000 eggs,” Gluckstern says. “How are you going to bring in 1,000 eggs without breaking them?” He spoke to a friend in the catering business, who recommended that he buy the eggs pre-broken, and managed to find a dairy in Reno that would sell him 72 quarts of pre- broken eggs and 32 quarts of half and half.

“Then we also figured, ‘Well, hey. We’d better use real maple syrup, too,” says Gluckstern. “So we had our airlift pilot track down five-gallon buckets of grade A maple syrup.” Other ingredients, like cinnamon and butter, don’t need to be purchased on such a massive scale. 

toast girlUsing private planes to fly in maple syrup? Now that’s extravagant. Extravagant enough to get Bloomberg to cover your VC firm, using Burning Man as the hook to differentiate you from the thousands of other VC firms out there – some of whom also have representatives at Burning Man looking to cut deals (I know this for a fact including having watched a $15 million one go down right outside my RV a couple of years ago, as well as having met others of these Burner VCs).

The quality of these privately-airlifted French Toast ingredients is so amazing, that everyone will line up? Or maybe Burners are just hungry and can’t be fucked cooking.

Perhaps this is the reason for thousands of people to wait in line:

“The reason everyone says this is the best French toast they ever had is that for most of the people who’ve come in, they’ve generally eaten no dairy and no sugar by the end of the week. Their bodies just condition themselves to granola,” he says. “Then all of a sudden you’ve got a piece of French toast and it’s hot and it’s full of butter and eggs and your body releases endorphins. People literally become ecstatic.”

It seems that French toast is the new drug recycling. Expensive food logistics for them, greater bang for the buck for Burners.

Gluckerstern sounds interested in other French techniques beyond the toasting…

he likes the challenge, yes. And he likes the change of scene.

“We have five doctors in our camp, four of whom are ER doctors and the other’s a psychiatrist,” Gluckstern says. “As a coincidence, they all happen to be extremely handsome young gay men. Hanging out with these people is not what a 60-year-old businessman gets to do every day.”

“Now we’re making a separate foray into the world of ice cream. We’re building a vehicle … one of my responsibilities is the electrical system on it,” Gluckstern says, with the relish one might take in plotting a bond trade. “Last year we went out into the desert with ice cream sandwiches. They were incredibly successful but they ran out quickly. What we needed to do was have a much larger system, so we essentially built a covered wagon with freezers built in.”

So, who is this guy, winning over the hearts and minds of Burners with exotic breakfast foods, desserts, and handsome gay doctors?

sbeeOh, no-one special, just another Burner: albeit one accused of having a bad reputation, who likes to hang out with young San Francisco hipsters in the Mission, and is using the controversial “Eminent Domain” laws to underwrite struggling cities to seize peoples’ homes for real estate developers.

“The broad category of property that we are taking about here is intangible property, and there has never been any question that intangible property can be taken,” Hockett explains. He cites examples of eminent domain being used to seize railroad stock and municipal revenue bonds. Of course, cities must demonstrate that taking private property accomplishes a public good, and the benefits of seizing underwater mortgages are somewhat speculative. But so was the public benefit of seizing homes in New London, Connecticut, to make way for a Pfizer research facility—a use of eminent domain that the Supreme Court approved in its controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London ruling.

save richmond

According to the Chronicle, these people are protesting in support of Gluckstern’s plan  (photo: SF Chronicle)

Gluckstern wants to win so much, to him it’s war. Just like beating pancakes with French Toast.

We are not going to stop fighting. In a real war you get killed, but in this war, my partners and I believe this is the right thing for people and we will fight to the finish, whatever that means.”

His war sees him taking on the Rockefellers, the Mellons, and PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund:

Trustees Pacific Investment Management, known as Pimco, BlackRock and Bank of New York Mellon are seeking a court order blocking Richmond and Mortgage Resolution Partners of San Francisco from using eminent domain to purchase mortgages of homeowners whose properties are underwater.

The city’s plan is unconstitutional, according to complaints filed by mortgage-bond trustees in federal court in San Francisco. The trustees, including Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, were directed to take the action by investors in the debt, said John Ertman, a partner at Ropes & Gray.

“Mortgage Resolution Partners is threatening to seriously harm average Americans, including public pension members, other retirees and individual savers, through a brazen scheme to abuse government powers for its own profit,”

Former SF Mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, believed to be a Burner and known to be a champion of the homeless and disadvantaged, is not a fan:

“I know what threats are. I know what bullying looks like. And I didn’t like it coming from the folks that I helped bail out,” Newsom tells me at the Balboa Café, his white tablecloth restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District. He goes on to convey his feelings towards Wall Street with an expletive, adding, “You can quote me on that.” Then he changes his mind and asks that I not. He ribs his press aide for not reining him in. “But I feel that way,” he adds. “I have a visceral reaction.”

When you’re chomping down on that ecstatic French Toast, standing in line admiring the hunky gay doctors on call to prescribe whatever pharmaceuticals are needed to accompany your Playa pancakes…think about all that went into that. To pay private planes to fly around getting maple syrup for you.

[Update 10/1/13]  Ellie K, who may or may not be a Burner, has chimed in on the comments, complaining that we got it wrong: Gavin Newsom IS a fan. Although his letter to the Attorney General is unequivocal: “ let me state unequivocally that this letter in no way constitutes an endorsement of any proposal currently being developed “, perhaps this is just politician speak. Maybe when a politician writes a letter saying “I don’t endorse any proposal”, you can disregard the contents and infer from the mere act of letter writing that they are, in fact, very much endorsing the proposal. Adding some weight to this theory, perhaps, is the fact that Newsom’s former communications director is now running PR for Gluckstern and MRP, and donated $25,000 to the Governor’s campaigns.

Mortgage Resolution Partners’ spokesman is former Newsom communications director Peter Ragone, who donated more than $25,000 to Newsom’s campaigns for governor in 2010 and lieutenant governor in 2010 and 2014, records show. One donation, of $4,950, came from Ragone’s public relations firm, PWR LLC.

In response to an inquiry, Ragone sent the Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, a statement from major Democratic Party fundraiser Steven Gluckstern, who is Mortgage Resolution Partners’ president. . . . . . . .

Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank that focused on campaign finance, said it’s possible that the donations, and Newsom’s advocacy, were unrelated. “But 90 percent of the time, when we look at the money, it’s because it’s something donors want from officials,” Stern said.

As always, make up your own mind Burners. Maybe it’s great to fly French Toast ingredients around on private planes, while using impoverished and financially unsophisticated local cities to exercise their Federally self-given right to seize peoples’ homes. We’re just bringing the issue to your attention. If you want to understand more about the financial side of it, here’s an expert for you comparing the situation to “scalping” and a “plague of locusts”: