All posts by rednikki

Burning Man Budget Brouhaha

By Mitch

Once upon a time, when many Black Rock City legends were still true, the Burning Man Organization decided to come clean about where your ticket money went. So it placed a financial table on the website that showed annual expenses — not telling you where the cash came from — but then, back when the millennium was young, it could only have come from ticket sales and the odd T-shirt.

As Burning Man has grown, so has its budget. But while Black Rock City’s expansion has been mostly symmetrical, its spending seems to have bled into other dimensions.

This year’s budget shows astronomical rises in two categories.

Usage fees paid to the Bureau of Land Management rose 142 percent to $4.5 million, while tax and licenses increased more than sixfold to $1 million. For the severalth year in a row, the Bmorg hasn’t had time to explain its accounts, though the Beacon asked on July 23.

On Aug. 11, the Bmorg posted on Facebook a link to a page on its own website called “Where Does My Ticket Money Go?” The page is placed in the “What Is Burning Man?” part of the website, but there’s nothing that seems to lead you to it other than the Facebook post. (And now: this link.)

The page doesn’t add much to the printed budget — certainly not in the way of explaining the outsized increases in the two categories above — though it offers an apologia for the $380 that most Burners paid for tickets this year by comparing it to some other festivals, which cost about the same but run for fewer days. Big deal.

There are no reductions large enough to counterbalance the mystery increases, though you may be happy to learn that water for dust abatement fell by almost half, to $262,693. Some of the numbers may show one-time effects of costs shouldered while Bmorg and Pershing County battled over the event’s future in court, a case that has now been settled. Details were vague.

The base fee paid to the BLM for use of government land is 3 percent of adjusted gross income, which includes tickets and whatever else the Bmorg charges for, possibly including fees for media projects like fashion-magazine shoots and joint-venture films. Given what the Bmorg told us about 2013 ticket sales, the $26.8 million of expenditures would have resulted in a $3.6 million loss, and at least the seventh straight unprofitable year, so there must be other revenue streams aside from tickets.

Incidentally, the Bmorg had been paying $15,000 to $18,000 a year in interest from 2010 to 2012, but nothing in 2013. This could indicate a potential source of income from possible sale of a property.

For several years, Burning Man has been moving toward nonprofit status, a process too convoluted and opaque to discuss in a newspaper this thin. Strictly as a matter of speculation, what might be buried in the numbers is a siphoning of money to an entity called Decommodification LLC, which controls the Burning Man trademark and is owned by six long-serving Black Rock City overlords. The not-for-profit event essentially pays the former directors of the for-profit company for the privilege of putting on the event. In the reader’s comments section of a March 3 Burning Blog post, Founder Larry Harvey said it would take at least three more years before the intellectual property is contributed to the Burning Man Project, making Black Rock City not for anyone’s profit.

It is possible that these Bmorg grandees are funding their retirements after years of living on the once-modest income you could derive from working for the Man. For six people of a certain age, the sum that would make a financial adviser happy would be somewhere in the $10 million range. Put another way, you can withdraw $40,000 to $50,000 a year from a $1 million retirement fund and be fairly confident of not outliving your assets. So if they’re pulling an annual $2 million out of event, that means four to six years of that level of drain.

One last bit of numerology: The cost per person of producing Burning Man was roughly $250 a year from 2004 to 2009 and then it jumped to about $380 from 2010 to 2013. Since budget planners would logically work backwards from their expected revenue, you might suppose that when they started planning the not-for-profit status seriously, they decided to boost ticket prices and the size of the event to feather their nests.

This also fits with a population jump to 51,525 in 2010 from 43,558 the previous year and a subsequent march toward 70,000. It also came as the Bmorg payroll climbed to more than $7 million from less than $3 million.Usually, when an event expands, the cost per person should go down rather than up, since some costs are more or less fixed and others benefit from economies of scale.

None of this seems especially shocking or distasteful. Larry & Co. have created something unique and profound. But if you’re going to post your budget for the world to see, it ought to make sense – or it looks like you are hiding something.

This article is an extended version of the story that ran in the Gate Edition of the Black Rock Beacon.

Welcome to NowHere

By Smash

Each year Black Rock City arises anew on the playa, like an oasis glimpsed through the haze by a bedraggled and dehydrated caravansary. What better way to discover a new city than by scavenger hunt? Put down your rebar, go for a stroll, and see if you can find the following:

Bad Advice
Photo by Clarity. Can you find Zero, a member of the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus Department?
  • A middle-aged naked man riding a Segway.
  • Something wrapped in bacon.
  • Someone falling off art.
  • A mewling kitten hiding in the engine compartment of a rental truck. (True story. It was rescued by a kindly Ranger, a veterinarian in the default world, who protected it in her tent from the prying and petsick eyes of a certain Beacon reporter.)
  • A woman who invites you to suck booze from a tube attached to her tit.
  • Cosmiquarium Village (“where the mysteries of the deep intermingle with the wonder of the stars.”).
  • Camp Magic Pancakes.
  • A young man wearing a flower pot on his head. (We met him last year when we offered a prize to the first burner bringing a Devo-related item to Camp Beacon. When he appeared, we asked if he was excited to win the contest. “What contest?” he replied.)
  • Grover Norquist.
  • A pirate ship, or someone dressed as a pirate.
  • Alien Siege Machine (where “crews are enslaved and driven by a mysterious rancor to pilot the machine into battle”).
  • Someone dispensing advice. (Last year I talked to God in a phone booth on the Esplanade. I told him I was thinking about giving up bacon because I love animals. But I was torn, as eating bacon makes me feel at one with the universe. God said, “You have answered your own question.”)
  • A caravan of giant teapots.
  • Genital Portrait Studio. (“Your session may include a number of props and positions, and you can walk away with your very own Genital ID card.”)
  • Camp Russian Roulette. (“We will turn people into Russians and Russians into people.”)
  • A 24-foot tall genie bottle.
  • A shirtcocker. (Urban Dictionary: “A guy at the Burning Man Festival who walks around with a shirt on and no pants, with genitalia exposed.”)
  • Someone taking a photo of someone taking a photo.
  • Your soul.

Proceed to Beacon HQ (1:30 @ Center Camp, near Playa Info) and tell us what you found. Prize: A copy of Tuesday’s issue, and a big dusty hug.

(Camp and art descriptions are from the Burning Man website.)

When Bad Things Happen to Burning People Humboldt General Is There

by NrdyGrl

Even if you don’t do something stupid at Burning Man, bad things could, theoretically, happen to you. Like a heart attack. A pesky urinary tract infection. Your eyeballs dry up and fall out of their sockets. Someone gifts their humble self to your bike and you have to crawl what feels like a hundred miles across unforgiving Playa to the nearest Ranger station or the medic tents at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas. You are so parched you’re in kidney failure.

Maybe it was a little too much of the illegal intoxicant GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid) and, even though there’s no dust storm, you’re having your own personal whiteout.

Or maybe you were like me and flew down the PerVertical Playground slide at 90 miles per hour, right past the beanbag landing off the back of the truck and onto last year’s hard-packed Playa surface, and found yourself suddenly in need of an x-ray.

If you were really unlucky, you were in the three-story structure that collapsed last year, and in an unexpected Rite of Passage, got an ambulance ride to Humboldt General Hospital’s “Rampart” urgent care unit near Center Camp at 5:15 and Esplanade.

Continue reading When Bad Things Happen to Burning People Humboldt General Is There

A Reasonable and Realistic Look at the Burning Man Ticket Fiasco

By Tony Tohono

By now we’ve all seen that the Burning Man organization keeps posting about how not everyone is going to get a ticket this year. We also hear a lot of people telling us to calm down and stop stressing out and being so negative. And yes, it’s usually a bunch of assholes that already have tickets telling us this. To the former I say, “Thanks for screwing this up so bad.’’ To the latter I say, “If you assholes would have stuck with ordering one pair of tickets this situation wouldn’t be so screwed up so why don’t you do us all a favor and shut the fuck up.’’

If you are one of the unfortunate many that do not have a ticket I’m here to alleviate some of your stress. The end of the world is not coming until December this year so you can still pull off going to Burning Man one more time. If you want to go, and you’re willing to be patient and put forth a little extra effort, you’re most likely going to be able to get your own golden ticket.

The more time that passes, the more I thoroughly believe this. Just remember, you’re going to have to work for it and/or shell out some extra bucks (like $390 and fees).

Step One: Be patient. Don’t jump the gun and start looking at ticket scalping sites. Looking at these sites is only going to cause undue stress. Remember; no one has tickets yet so the people listing them are just creating a false sense of panic. This is the way the speculators drive up prices. If we all remain calm and refuse to buy into this atmosphere of panic we can crush the bastards under our collective foot.

Continue reading A Reasonable and Realistic Look at the Burning Man Ticket Fiasco

Crowd-Sourced Ticketing Solutions

By Errata

The voice of the Burner group-mind has been heard, and it has cried out in anguish: “OMG, BORG, what the hell were you thinking?”

Long before the 2012 ticket lottery happened, many Burners complained the system could easily be gamed by scalpers. In the true spirit of Burning Man, several loyal citizens have stepped up with potential solutions. Not just the “I didn’t get my ticket, cancel the lottery!” sort of solutions, but real, innovative concepts that could radically improve ticketing for everyone.

As Burner Fatemeh pointed out on the Burning Blog, “Please, please, please – listen to the community now. Not just because we’re venting spleen, but because many of us are in operational and systems planning in our default lives, and we have DEALT with these kinds of issues before.”

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Fun With Ticket Math

By Mitch

Details trickling out from Burning Man central make it increasingly likely that the organization efficiently distributed up to 20,000 tickets to scalpers via what might be the worst major admission system to anything this millennium.

The latest piece of the puzzle came via a contrite (at least contrite-sounding) apology  from Andie Grace, the Bmorg communications manager. In it, we learned that 40 percent of the ticket requests came from self-described newbies, thanks to a survey that was wedged into the application process. She also confirmed the back-of-the-envelope math that demand was three times the available tickets, or roughly 120,000 in the main sale.

The Bmorg has so far refused to release the number of bids received at the various price levels, so what follows in necessarily conjecture. We invite them to illuminate us if we are missing something.

We know from on-line postings theme camps received roughly a third of the tickets they requested in the pre- and main sales, which took the form of lotteries for 43,000 spots. The camps likely provide a large enough sample to be representative of all veteran Burners and a few of their first-time campmates.

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Few Tickets to Paradise

By Mitch

To the apparent surprise of the Burning Man organization — and almost no one else —  bidding for tickets in the main phase of the 2012 sales program was far stronger than had been projected, irking Burners throughout cyberspace.

“There are a lot more tickets being requested than there are tickets available,’’ Bmorg’s Will Chase wrote in a Jan. 27 Jack Rabbit Speaks e-missive and on the Burning Blog website, “an inordinately large number, in fact, and far more than we projected even after last year’s sold-out event.’’

The reason? “It seems that people a) likely got their friends, family and campmates to order tickets as well, and/or b) requested more tickets than they actually need.’’

Continue reading Few Tickets to Paradise

Book Review: The People of Burning Man

By Durgy

Waiting in a whimsically bestickered box upon my return to Bahrain from BRC 2011, was a copy of Julian Cash’s The People of Burning Man: Portraits of Revolutionary Spirits. The book presents images of people and things taken in Black Rock City. The book exudes love. Palpably.

Cash, his wife Jackie, the Super Snail team and other co-conspirators capture a slice of the stunning spirit of BRC that keeps attendees returning and the curious aspiring. Each picture says much more than its allotted 1000 words. Thumb through the book and take a magical ride through the eyes of the subjects, through the lens of Cash’s camera and down the rabbit hole.

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