Burning Man: Back to the Future

by Whatsblem the Pro

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker

Or you can just sit there forever in your Rules-Royce, sucker


Whether the topic is children on the playa, cops on the playa, feathers on the playa, or just rules in general on the playa, burners are going to argue bitterly and at great length about it. Any time these topics are raised in any burner forum online, the conversation draws hundreds of comments, many of them aggressive to the point of abuse. It’s as though the desert fosters endless dispute in spite of all the groovy talk about togetherness and family and unity of purpose.

How can we resolve these seemingly unresolvable disagreements?

Consider the original reasons for going out to the Black Rock Desert in the first place; it was largely because the remoteness and harshness of the place made it a good place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone. It was a place where you could get your dog good and drunk and let him drive your car across the playa at 120MPH while you leaned out the passenger window, peppering the drive-by shooting range with buckshot. . . and there was nobody who could tell you with any authority that anything about that was wrong.

Ever since Larry Harvey and his gang co-opted that freedom by putting a fence around it and selling tickets, you aren’t even allowed to bring your dog, much less get him drunk. The speed limit is 5MPH, and firearms are frowned upon. . . because as everyone will tell you if you happen to lament those bygone days, the event is just too big for it to be practical to not have any rules. While that’s probably very true, it’s also true that without the fence and the tickets the event may very well have remained small enough for it to be OK. . . but I digress.

When the festivities on Baker Beach grew too large to avoid unwanted attention from the police, it became clear that San Francisco was no place for a Temporary Autonomous Zone of any size, as it would not and could not be tolerated by the locals. . . so, thanks to the Cacophony Society, a TAZ capable of supporting Burning Man as it existed in those days was established in the Black Rock Desert. Now Black Rock City itself is so big that the locals there balk at the idea of having no rules. . . so instead of discarding the best thing about the event in its early days, why aren’t we establishing a new TAZ to serve the needs of the woolier, more freedom-loving denizens of Black Rock City?

The obvious answer, of course, is that no matter what Larry Harvey or Marian Goodell say in speeches and press releases, Black Rock City LLC is a corporate business entity that exists for the purpose of making money, not for fostering anything too radical in the way of culture, and that purpose is inimical to the very idea of autonomy. The Disneyfication of the playa marches ever onward in the name of profits, and public relations problems are dealt with in the corporate way: by paying people off and covering things up. For example, I speculate that rape kits are not available at Burning Man, not because the environment is too harsh or the chain of custody being too difficult to maintain; but because having rape kits on the playa would mean that far more rapes at Burning Man would be reported, instead of shrugged off and forgotten about. Many rape victims would rather stay at Burning Man and quietly put the rape behind them than spend the rest of the burn in a Reno hospital talking to cops and doctors. In short, maybe we don’t have rape kits out there because it would hurt the corporate brand that the Org owns and profits from.

The profit motive is what brought us to this, and the profit motive has swollen the numbers of people attending to the point that most of them no longer have much in common with the free spirits that came to share their visions with each other in the early days of the event. At this late date, any proposal that suggests Burning Man might return to its origins of envelope-pushing freedom is immediately shouted down as unreasonable and unrealistic.

Imagine, though, a designated area on the playa – for waiver-signing adults only – with no rules. A place near enough to BRC to get to easily, but far enough away that gunfire isn’t a problem. A controlled-access TAZ. An anarchy park, within the confines of Burning Man. A place with no cops, no rules, and no limits.

Black Rock City can grow and grow, and so can the rules and the Disneyland-like aspects and the mandated safety and the numbers of children and the vast hordes of finger-pointers and burnier-than-thou shamers. . . and we’ll still have (we’ll once again have) a place to be ourselves, completely unfettered by anyone’s rules or expectations.

Comments are encouraged.

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

Mironov4

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!