You Call Your Representatives, I Donate Money

Edit: Closed this on Feb 11th, only got a total of 10 emails. Ended up donating $500 to Planned Parenthood.

 

Recently, I wrote about the merits of donating at the end of the tax year. Now I am contradicting myself by donating $25,000 to the ACLU one month into the year. If I fail to have a profitable year gambling,  (not that unlikely as someone who plays poker tournaments for a living)I will be unable to write it off. Here’s why I am donating anyway:

I am pretty shocked at what is happening right now. I didn’t expect Trump to get his shit together so quickly. I didn’t expect him to face so little resistance. I didn’t expect him to be so blatantly xenophobic. I was shocked to see Giuliani publicly say Trump asked him how to make the Muslim ban legal.

The future scares me. Facebook, Google, Amazon, know a lot about their customers. If down the road the government were to subpoena them, some scary Science Fiction-esque possibilities come to mind… I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist. But I keep having thoughts in the back of my mind that those who are publicly anti-Trump in the future could end up on some shit-list where they have even less rights than everyone else. If that’s even a thought I am having one week into his presidency… this is a scary time.

I want to do something. There are already a lot of matching drives out there.

Here are some of them:

  1. Andrew Barber on twitter matching donations up to $25,000 for the ACLU.
  2. Boztank on twitter did a $25,000 drive that filled up in about 1 hour. He  tweeted that he will be posting more drives shortly.

If you’re aware of other matching drives, please tweet me @ DanSmithHolla and I will add them to this post.

I don’t want to take away from them, they are doing great work, but I am going to try a different approach. This is a very expensive and arduous fight, and coming at it from many angles will be effective.

I read on twitter and LifeHacker that one of the most effective things someone can do is call their representatives in Congress. I want to combine this proactive approach with a charity drive to encourage people to make those calls.

I am donating $25,000 to be released up to $5 at a time. Rather than matching charitable donations, I am matching calls to your representatives. You make 5 phone calls to your senators and/or congressperson where you express your thoughts about what is currently happening with immigration or other major issues. Email a screenshot of your phone logs and the state you are calling for to ACLUcharitydrive2017 at gmail dot com and I will donate $5 to the ACLU. I will be matching $1 per call, up to $5 per person.

Here are my logs for the morning. If you didn’t feel like being extra chatty, I think each call would take about 1 minute. o0bfxx

Based on the honor system, if you are someone who already calls your representatives, I would appreciate if you would make an extra 5 phone calls.

5calls makes this very easy. You enter your zip code, click from the list of issues you want to discuss, they give you the number and a sample script as to what to say. This is another blog post hyping 5calls.

Here is one sample script.

Hi, my name is [Name] and I’m a constituent from [City, State, Zip].

I’m calling to tell [Senator/Rep’s Name] that our community does not support Trump’s Muslim ban, and we expect [him/her] to take an immediate stand against this unjust executive order.

[Optional: add anything else you’d like here]

Thank you for your time.

[IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your entire home address to ensure your call is tallied]

__

I believe that doing *anything* will make you feel better about the situation. I’ve received a lot of thanks for the most recent drive. And while it is very much appreciated, I would appreciate participating in these 5 calls even more.

This drive will be go on until February 28, limit $5 per person.

Thanks your for consideration,

Dan

Edited to add: I am giving myself the right to make modifications to this as I see fit, everything will be in good faith.

You Call Your Representatives, I Donate Money

Drive Complete, Final Tally over $1.7 Million!!!!

Happy New Year Everyone!

The drive is officially over, and the response was overwhelming, with 134 different people donating. The results were already great, and I was even more blown away when Martin’s brother Tom (known as ChipotleAddict in the DFS world) decided to unleash a huge surprise by donating $500,000 himself once we hit a million. Tom also made a very large donation last year, and shared these thoughts.

The limited details I know of their story are amazing: two guys who plan on making a huge difference in the world by doing the thing they are the best at: fantasy sports. I can’t say enough great things about these two guys who really epitomize the effective altruism movement.

 

Here are the results of the drive.

350.org $8,556
Against Malaria Fund $287,535
Give Directly $115,173
Just City $9,750
Liberation Prison Yoga $12,868
Lineage Project $4,000
MAPS $31,100
Zendo 0
Massachusetts Bail Fund $10,325
SCI $13,131
GiveWell Unspecified $7,670
Subtotal $500,408
Dan’s  Match $175,000
Martin’s Match + Extra $525,000
Tom’s Donation $500,000
 Total  $1,700,818

I would like to point out some of the changes that will be possible thanks to these gifts.

  1. SCI: Around 2 billion people in the world are infected with parasites and intestinal worms; around half of them children. This illness doesn’t exist in the first world because it is so cheap to fix;  for around $1.19, a child can be dewormed. Tens of thousands children will be dewormed thanks to this initiative.
  2.  Against Malaria – Malaria is also very cheap to prevent. Malaria is primarily transmitted via mosquito bites. Mosquito nets are remarkably effective at preventing mosquito bites and cost only $2.50 each. 500,000 people per year die each year due to malaria and it is almost entirely preventable. There are conflicting stats on the cost to literally save a life, but $3400 on the end means thousands of lives will be saved. This doesn’t consider the serious burden on the economy that is caused by illness. According to this Harvard study, every $1m spent on Malaria treatment is $12m in economic relief.

3. Give Directly: In Kenya, there are people who are living off of 65 cents per day. Give Directly wants to experiment with the idea of a universal basic income and see how it works out.

 

The idea of a universal basic income really interests me. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but I fear it will actually go on to even further widen the gap between the rich and poor. An off-the-cuff example is that the most common job in America is truck driver. Self driving cars could put those people out of jobs in the nearish future. Without getting too much into politics, I believe a universal basic income could be effective here, and getting more data would be huge. For $1 per day we are supporting someone in Kenya and this  ground breaking study!

My friend shared a story with me that I wanted to post here.

“The ‘headboy’ at the school I was teaching at was this really nice kid. One day he collapsed and had what looked like a seizure. The other kids and teachers stood around him waving books to try and cool him down. One of the teachers contacted his mom and said he needed to go to the hospital, but his mom refused because she was scared they would charge her money. We later learned that he’d collapsed due to starvation…his family could only afford a little food, so he let his mom and little brother eat while he went hungry.”

People are living off of of less than what I generally tip a waitress for bringing me a water. I can’t even fathom that.

4. Just City: In the last  6 months, Just City has bailed out more than 35 people. In their own words, here are some of their plans.

“All of our work is focused on making our criminal justice system smaller, fairer, and more humane. Every dollar we’ve raised so far allows us to pursue not only much-needed reforms to the money bail system, but also reforming Tennessee’s expungement laws, driver license, and sentencing policies, improving humane conditions in our jails, and working on many, many other criminal justice issues that destroy families and communities.”

5. Massachussets Bail Fund:

In the three year since they’ve been open, 396/401 clients have shown up for court. Half of these cases have been closed, and half of those have been entirely dismissed. They could have been held in jail indefinitely and likely would have needed to plead guilty to get out of jail. Some of these bails cost as little as $25!!!

This summer, they had to shut down for three months due to a lack of funding. I am very confident this money is going a long way.

6. MAPS: I plan on having a phone call with someone at MAPS this week to discuss where the funding will be going, but I plan on following their lead. I am expecting it to go to a combination of research with regards to MDMA treatment for PTSD and for Zendo funding.

MAPS hopes to have MDMA become an FDA approved prescription medicine by 2021. I think when  used intelligently, this kind of experience can have a great impact.

7. Liberation Prison Yoga: “This donation and matching funds will affect the lives of 300 incarcerated men, women and youth through 10 two month Liberation Prison Yoga programs with group discussion, opening meditation, physical yoga, guided relaxation and mindfulness tools taught in a kind, non-invasive manner.  Students often tell us their life has changed after just one class. Two months of yoga provides a complete path to physical and mental health, and tools to create inner peace amid chaos inside prison and in the world.”

Many people involved in these programs have drug problems or issues with mental health I couldn’t imagine how difficult dealing with that must be from the inside of a prison cell.

Quick plug: if your New Year’s Resolution was to start meditating and you don’t know where to start, download HeadSpace right now where there is a week long free trial! Meditation can literally change your brain in 8 weeks

8. 350.org:I can’t believe this is something I even have to write, but 350.org is fighting hard to try to keep climate deniers out of Trump’s Cabinet. Obviously this is a huge and very expensive battle. I am stealing this blurb about who Donald Trump has picked from an email I received this morning.

 

  • ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson, a top funder of climate denial and attacks on climate action, for Secretary of State.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for EPA head, even though he spent most of his time in office filing (and losing) lawsuits against the EPA. He even let an oil company write some of his official correspondence.
  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry for Department of Energy. Perry is on the board of the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, and said he wanted to eliminate the agency altogether.
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke for Department of Interior. Zinke has been fighting to dig up as much coal, oil and gas from public lands as possible.

None of these men are qualified. They are all implicated in Big Oil’s web of corruption. Their denial of climate change makes them a direct threat to the health and safety of people across the country and planet.

 

There is a social stigma about donating publicly, but I don’t really understand why. I think people tend to romanticize the idea of sacrifice, when it makes more sense to focus on results. If you convince someone else to donate to a cause you believe in, that can make a very real difference. That seems much more relevant to me.

Logically, it seems clear to me that being public about donating encourages others to donate. I haven’t found any data that backs me up, but this article suggests the same point.

If anyone would be copying this format, I would be happy to give you advice via receiptsforcharity@gmail.com . Each year I hired someone to go through all the emails and update all the spreadsheets which saved me a huge amount of time for a negligible cost. If someone were interested but didn’t want to commit the time to running a drive, I would consider running it for the right project.

Some final thoughts on Charity Projects 

  1. Don’t use GoFundMe. They take out 8%, and even worse they are not eligible to a tax write-off.  If you are donating $500 to go fund me, $463 goes to a cause. If you get a 27% tax write off, you can donate $635 and have the same effect. This is almost a 40% difference. I am not very informed on the topic and am not vouching for the site, but I believe YouCaring is strictly better. Fees are much lower, and some youcaring organizations are tax deductible (but make sure to always talk to a tax professional).
  2. If you are running a charity’s website and are 501c3, please make that very visible on the site! Similarly, if you have any sort of matching challenging running on your website, I think it should be made very clear on each part of the website.

 

Thanks for all the support guys ❤

Dan

Drive Complete, Final Tally over $1.7 Million!!!!

$600k reached! New Goal: $1 MILLION!

First, I would really like to thank everyone for their support. The donations have been pouring in the last few days. I’ve gotten some  emails from people starting their own matching drives which makes me unbelievably happy. It a very cost and time efficient way to make a huge difference 🙂 I’m always available to answer any questions or give advice if anyone would like to use this format.

DFS superstar Martin Crowley has jumped on board.  He loved the idea of the matching challenge, and decided to match and additional $200,000, raising the overall drive to $1,000,000!!!. He enjoyed the idea of giving people choices, but wanted to focus on Givewell’s Top Charities

Pending a discussion between Martin and the anonymous donor, the $600k is officially filled. The additional $250,000 is planned to go to AMF.

Here is a breakdown of the 90 donations that came in to my fill the original $175,000

 

350.org 8,482
Against Malaria Foundation 42,780
Give Directly 64,115
Just City 8,250
Liberation Prison Yoga 12,048
MAPS 30,600
Zendo 0
Massachussets Bail Fund 8,725
Total 175,000

His 3 Charities will be

  1. Give Directly
  2. Against Malaria Foundation
  3. Schistosomiasis-Control-initiative (SCI) –

The first two charities have been apart of the drive since the beginning. The third is new, but is currently the number 2 charity according to GiveWell.  “For those seeking our recommended allocation, we recommend giving 75% to the Against Malaria Foundation and 25% to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, which we believe to have the most valuable unfilled funding gaps.”

What does SCI do?

These paragraphs are mostly stolen from SCI’s Website where you can find some really eye opening and shocking statistics

http://www.imperial.ac.uk/schistosomiasis-control-initiative/our-work/what-we-do/neglected-tropical-diseases/

In poor countries, parasitic and bacterial infections run rampant. They are referred to  as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD’s), because these diseases only exist in the poorest countries. Due to first world amenities such as health care and clean water,  these no longer are concerns in wealthy nations. But over ONE BILLION people suffer from an NTD with a majority suffering from multiple. The costs of treatment for these diseases is cheap, under $1.20 per person.

NTDs cause human misery due to the stigma, deformities, chronic and debilitating pain they cause. NTDs permanently curtail human potential, cause an enormous economic burden for endemic countries. In children they impair growth and cognitive development and significantly reduce the economic productivity of the adult population thereby anchoring millions of people in poverty.

NTDs are often neglected due to a low mortality rate compared to HIV/Aids, but the suffering is very severe.

How to Participate
Just like before, you donate  to one of the selected charities  (Against Malaria Foundation,  Give Directly, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative), and email a copy of your receipt to ReceiptsForCharity@gmail.com. We will match it.

I know there are a lot of great causes out there, but unfortunately We cannot match donations to any other causes due to limited time and resources. I am very sorry.

Feel free to email any questions or ideas you might have. If you have issues donating via conventional ways, feel free to email me and I will try to sort it out.
Thanks all for your support and Happy Holidays!!!

I Believe it is a Particularly Efficient Time for Americans to Donate to Charity

Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional and don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I did call two tax experts who said that this might actually get passed in 2017.

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/tax-plan

1) If tax rates were to drop, it would mean you get less of a write off in future years.

2)Trump might cap itemized deductions at $100,000 per year.

In addition, the Trump Plan will cap itemized deductions at $200,000 for Married-Joint filers or $100,000 for Single filers.

This is a hard cap on the amount you can donate and write off.  This could be relevant in a lot of cases, most obviously to me if you live in a state with state taxes, are an amateur gambler writing off gambling losses, or are paying off your mortgage.

Martin also sent me this great link, debunking many myths about charity.

Dan

$600k reached! New Goal: $1 MILLION!

Big Update!!!

Hello,

We are 1/3 of the way through the charity drive, and here is where we stand as of last night.

350.org 5910
Against Malaria Fund 5370
Give Directly 8400
Just City 1050
Liberation Prison Yoga 20
MAPS 100
Zendo 0
Mass Bail Fund 100
TOTAL 20950

Note that the  Open Philanthropy project is not currently seeking donations, and that I have removed them from the list.

Last night I had a very interesting phone call. A philanthropist not involved in the poker world happened to come across my charity drive. He said that if my $175,000 got filled, he would be willing to match an additional $125,000 to 350.org, Against Malaria, Give Directly.

Right now, I am unsure if this is a reasonable goal, but I would like to try.

 

Ways You Can Help Me!

  1. A lot of people have expressed interest in donating but have not gotten around to it yet. I know it is tempting to wait and see how the rest of the year goes, but it would be helpful to me to have a better sense of how far we along we really are. I am also hopeful that if we were making good progress perhaps other people would get involved on the matching side.
  2. Help get the word out, especially in groups that may not have gotten exposed to this. It is peak time for DFS, I would really appreciate any podcasts/websites advertising this for me. I won’t be at the DK Live Final in NYC next month but would love if it were mentioned!
  3. Please stop asking me to fund other projects. I would like to but it’s just not feasible at this time 😦 And on that note I would also appreciate if people would stop trying to scam me!

I Believe it is a Particularly Efficient Time for Americans to Donate to Charity

Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional and don’t actually know what I’m talking about.

Let’s go out on a limb and say Trump follows through on some of the things he has said.

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/tax-plan

1) If tax rates were to drop, it would mean you get less of a write off in future years.

2)Trump might itemized deductions at $100,000 per year.

In addition, the Trump Plan will cap itemized deductions at $200,000 for Married-Joint filers or $100,000 for Single filers.

This is a hard cap on the amount you can donate, and write off.  This could be relevant in a lot of cases, most obviously to me if you live in a state with state taxes, are an amateur gambler writing off gambling losses, or are paying off your mortgage.

 

 

Big Update!!!

Motivation

By far, the most common question I’ve been asked is “What is your motivation for doing this charity project?”

Let’s go back a few months, to the Super High Roller Bowl in Las Vegas. For those who weren’t following; I was in a commanding position with two tables left in the tournament. I was the chip-leader for hours…and with eight players left we merged down to two tables. By then I was second in chips, with the top seven payouts guaranteed $600,000 and first place getting the massive payout of $5,000,000. Eighth place got zero.

Unfortunately, I ended up on the wrong side of a disastrous set over set situation. That left me with a few big blinds, and I busted soon after, short of the money. Rainer Kempe, the player who got my chips, went onto win the tournament. I’ll paraphrase for those unfamiliar with poker lingo: it was an unlucky but unavoidable situation. It was deeply disappointing to go from expecting the biggest result of my career, to getting nothing.

I woke up the next day in a funk. Was it an adrenaline crash? Did I need more caffeine? I wasn’t sure what to do. I forced myself to attend a yin yoga class, and I meditated on it.

While contemplating the result, I asked myself: What is it that actually happened? I played a poker tournament, sold some action to my friends, and invested 2.5% of my bankroll in myself in the tournament. And for a fleeting moment, I was the favorite to win.

So let’s pretend I did win; what exactly would be different?  Well, I’d have more money—about 40% more—and then I’d pay taxes on it, so let’s say 25% more. But for now, there’s nothing I badly want that necessitates having more money. What would I even do with my hypothetical winnings? Mostly I’d just use it to gamble bigger. Day to day, nothing would actually change. And that’s a comforting thought; winning the biggest tournament of the year wouldn’t have changed my life. Things were good already.

I’ve had some big results since then, but my conclusion persists. I realized there wasn’t much utility for keeping this money. And for tax reasons, I have to scale back substantially on January 1st anyway. Others have a much higher utility for this money, so contributing to charity felt like the right thing to do.

I’ve had some sleepless nights wondering whether humans should feel required to help others. Assuming those that can help without much sacrifice are obligated—and knowing that poker is a zero sum game—I felt that I should be contributing my time to other activities. I find it encouraging that I can make real, tangible differences with these donations. I’ve heard some cynics argue that donating to charity is like throwing money at a bottomless pit. And while there are some charities that are obviously inefficient, I truly believe that the ones I’ve selected are doing good, important work.

REG charity has stated that $3400 can save a life. That feels like a bargain to me.

I’ve gone through stretches where I’ve lacked the drive to keep grinding out poker; projects like this help keep me motivated.

Motivation

2016 Charity Drive

EDIT: The original drive has been filled. Thanks to a super generous donation by Martin Crowley, a modified drive towards

  1. Against Malaria Foundation
  2. Give Directly
  3. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)

PLEASE SEE MORE RECENT POSTS FOR DETAILS. 

 

Last year, Dan Colman and I organized a very successful charity drive, so I wanted to do it again, this time on a larger scale. Between now and the end of the year, I am matching charity donations up to $175,000 to the following charities which I’ve separated into 3 groups:

GROUP ONE – The first two charities are the most efficient. If you want your money to go as far as possible, these are your best bet.

1.  The Against  Malaria Foundation 

Over 1 million people – mostly children – die from malaria each year. The foundation provides insecticide-treated bed nets, which prevent deaths and many other non-fatal cases of malaria. They are inexpensive – about $2.50/bed. Rated the #1 charity by givewell.org

2.  Give Directly

Another top Givewell.org charity, they focus on giving money to those who need it most. The money appears to be very efficiently spent, recently focusing on improving many villages in Kenya and Uganda.

GROUP TWO –

The second group of charities are designed to help those involved in the prison system. The system seemed to be so fucked that any donation felt futile. I asked a friend who’s a public defender for his opinion, and he recommended donating to a Bail fund.

The basic idea is that there are a lot of people held on bail in misdemeanor cases where if they were out they could fight the case, but to get out of jail they take pleas and get criminal records. This can have all sort of collateral consequences on jobs, school, housing, etc and thus contributes to the widening socioeconomic gap in the U.S.

A fund that posts these people’s bail would have very slow attrition. According to The Bronx Freedom Fund, 97% of clients attend all scheduled court dates.  This would save lot of people from criminal records and jail time. The Massachusetts Bail Fund only posts bail that is $500 or less.  No one should have to sit in jail because they don’t have $200.

To anyone interested in donating to a Bail Fund here are two great ones:

Massachusetts Bail Fund or Just City (based out of Memphis).

The third charity in this category is Liberation Prison Yoga. They organize yoga and meditation classes for prisoners. I think these kind of programs have the power to reduce a lot of suffering in a cost effective manner. Yoga and meditation have been great for my mental health. Despite all the advantages in the world, I still have bouts with depression. I couldn’t imagine dealing with it under prison conditions.

I want to add the statistic that the market cap for the biggest for-profit prison company, Corrections Corp of America, went up 60% to $2.4 Billion in the first ~12 hours after Trump won. This terrifies me.

GROUP THREE –

Last year, Dan Colman told me that he views charity like putting on a band aid. Sometimes we simply need a bandaid, but in an ideal world, you wouldn’t be bleeding in the first place. I love the idea of trying to fix the core of certain problems. Here a few charities that I believe attempt to get to the core of certain issues.

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS): They are doing some great government-funded research on PTSD and anxiety. I definitely think that psychedelics are capable of having a positive impact on someone’s life, and that their possible link to PTSD/anxiety treatment is worth researching. To my knowledge, it appears that clinical depression research has not progressed nearly as much as other similar fields. Prozac was released 30 years ago, and medication has not changed significantly since then.

Zendo Project: another project from MAPS that has trained professionals available for those having difficult psychedelic trips. At Burning Man, they have two locations. I think that the general awareness that this safety net exists makes people more likely to have a positive experience. I think that promoting responsible psychedelic experiences is a great cause.

Open Philanthropy:  I really like this meta charity. They are trying to stop the bleeding, rather than just put band aids on. They are collaborating with givewell, which is all the support I need.

Edit: Someone from givewell reached out to me. She said “I’d also like to clarify one point in the blog post: The Open Philanthropy Project is a collaboration between GiveWell and Good Ventures. Good Ventures currently plans to cover 100% of the Open Philanthropy Project’s operating expenses, so there’s no need for donations.”

It’s going to be a very busy couple of weeks with Thanksgiving, DFS, and poker for me, but I am looking into a replacement charity.
350.org A charity trying to fight global warming. Received a 91 on charity navigator Donald Trump appointed Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also terrifying. Ebell has called concerns over climate change silly. In 2007, he said to Vanity Fair “There has been a little bit of warming … but it’s been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it’s caused by human beings or not, it’s nothing to worry about.”

How will this work?

You will (hopefully) pick out a charity that you find satisfactory. Each charity is tax deductible in the US, and likely many other countries. If you are from a different country and have a tax question, I am happy to research it for you. Email a receipt to receiptsforcharity@gmail.com , I will update my spreadsheet and match your donation! I am going to give myself some creative liberties. For instance, if the Massachusetts Bail Fund had $50,000 and Just City had $0, I would personally donate to Just City.  Each charity has been great about responding to my calls/emails/questions in a timely manner and each one will receive at least a few thousand dollars. Everything will be in good faith, but if anyone wants to discuss specifics, feel free to email me.

I tried giving lots of choices to ensure that there is something for everyone. I have, however, read that too many choices can sometimes freeze someone into not making a decision.

I am hoping that you guys are all too smart for that, but if you find yourself stuck…

Go to Random.org ; enter numbers 1-9 . Whichever number comes out, go with it!

  1. Against Malaria
  2. Give Directly
  3. Massachusetts Bail Fund
  4. Just City
  5. Liberation Prison Yoga
  6. MAPS
  7. Zendo
  8. Open Philanthropy
  9. 350.org

Or feel free to email me receiptsforcharity@gmail.com and I will set you up with whichever charity has the least donations, or work something else out.

Thanks for the consideration.

Edit: I might be able to accept cash or chips in Vegas. I will look to see if I can find someone to accept cryptocurrencies. If there are other ways you would like to donate, send me an email and we can try to work it out.

2016 Charity Drive

BurningMan #2 in the Books

Last year, I had hands down the best week of my life at my first Burning Man. Hype can be a dangerous thing, where was I supposed to go? I just re-read what I wrote about it, and there are a few things I felt like should clarify.

I never really touched on how difficult the conditions were, even in a pampered camp with an air conditioned RV and a shower. It slipped my mind. This year, I was surprised on the first day when my hands were so dry they bled. I forgot that when you blow your nose, dust and blood were going to come out. I didn’t remember what dehydration felt like. That you might not eat for many hours in a row. That you might  attempt to take off your camelback, fanny-pack, and dinosaur onesie, while trying to figure out why you are dressed like a dinosaur in the first place, all so that you can try to poop in a port-a-potty while tripping.

I also didn’t really mention many of the ridiculously awesome things. First off, the spectacle is enormous. When you are on the esplanade at night, in every direction you are entirely surrounded by art cars, exhibits, bikes and humans lit up with LED flashing lights, and  fire breathing octopi. The 360 degree view out there is unparalleled. Aside from getting to experience some of the overwhelmingly positive people, my favorite thing to do at BM is to stop, pick a bright light in the distance that is calling you, and bike towards it. And the sheer number of these completely outstanding exhibits is mind blowing.

There are 70,000 people, the overwhelmingly majority are trying hard to be the best version of themselves. In two years, I came across only one person who was being a true asshole. And as far as assholes go, he wasn’t so bad.

Even for someone not interested in a psychedelic experience, getting to see one of the more outrageous things in the world gets my full endorsement. And who knows, you might accidentally learn something profound about yourself.

I hadn’t planned on doing a big write up this year, but I  still need to include an answer to “How was Burning Man” rather than link this youtube video.

On Monday evening, a group of us went out and took mushrooms. Eventually, our group was at a crossroads. Some wanted to keep admiring the illumicone while I had the strong urge to explore. 2 of the 7 team members decided to continue on with me.

 We stopped to dance at an art car. Nibbles and I start dancing as crazy as possible, while Mrs. Nibbles laid down and watched. Dancing turns into pure euphoria. I grab a beer out of his bag, shake it up, and it make it foam all over both of us and pour it on both of our heads. It doesn’t sound like much but this moment was the highlight of my burn this year. Goddamn, we were both so happy.

Tuesday

The next morning, I think about the experience. While it was cool that I was able to experience such bliss, I wanted to be able to have myself in such a positive state without the aid of any performance enhancers. A very large group went out intending on taking MDMA, I decided to try to put what I learned on mushrooms to use and stay sober.

 I was failing spectacularly. We go to the lighthouse to see live music, and an hour after they were scheduled to play, no one had shown up.  My attempt to mobilize failed because our group was too big. A didn’t want to leave without B. B couldn’t leave without C. C needs to tell A how special he is. All I can fixate on is how much more fun everyone is having than me.

A meetup is scheduled at 1am outside of the temple. I head there a bit early and try to meditate. After a few minutes, I feel a bit better. Since I am already at the temple, and sober, it seems like a good time to check it out. I go in hoping for an emotional reaction. I’m inside for 90 seconds, don’t feel anything, and walk out.

A friend walks up to me and tells me, “Hey, if you ever wanted to talk about your Dad, I’m always here.” “I really appreciate that, but it was 9 years ago. What’s there to say at this point? I’m good.”

About 20 seconds later, I start crying. A lot. It was the first time since last year’s Burn. It was surprisingly refreshing. [1]

I had been on the fence about going to PCA this year. Obviously avoiding the resort where your dad passed away seems obvious, but given the high opportunity cost, the idea of skipping it caused some guilt. If you can save a life for ~$3200 and I can play a bunch of high stakes poker tournaments, how do I not withstand the mental anguish to literally save multiple lives. It felt unbelievably selfish, almost immoral, to me.The experience at the temple made it very obvious to me that I had no obligation to attend to try to make money.

We finally break into smaller groups. My group starts biking towards one of my favorite exhibits, the sonic runway A friend asks to stop, and is talking about having a bit of a come-down from the MDMA. We stop in the middle of deep playa. Now in a blissful mood, I cheer him up. We all hang out for a bit until the rest of the gang decides to go to sleep. I decide to stay up until sunrise.

I check out the Catacomb of Veils. Having all the time you could want to investigate art was incredibly nice. I tried to figure out why the artist would have holes on some of the walls. [2] Why the number 12 kept appearing in various paintings. [3]I keep exploring until the sun looks ready to come up, and I bike out to Robot Heart. I watch the sunrise with a Wandering Bear and recapped our nights.

Wednesday

I’m riding my bike around for some casual day time exploration  and I feel something wrong with my bike. As I pull over, the entire front wheel falls off from the bike. Somehow I land on my feet, completely unharmed. I am outside of “We-Scream” camp, who was hosting a make your own ice cream party. I decide to make some coffee flavoured nitrogen ice cream while I think about what to do with the bike situation. I don’t have to think very long, someone on the line saw what happened, had an RV across the street, and put the wheel back on for me. We have a good conversation, he invites me to an espresso martini party that night, and I continue on my way.

I end up at a naked foam party which unsurprisingly was super fun. I met a girl there, and I asked her if this was the craziest event of her Burn. She responded by laughing; clearly she meant business. She invited me to one of their parties, “If I could handle it.” Challenge accepted.

On the way to the party, I ran into a friend telling me about a massive group meditation going during the same time as the party. It kind of felt like a test from the universe. Do I go chase the girl, or do I follow my lessons from the night before and seek enlightenment? I must have been leaning the wrong way, because the Gods of the Playa smited me with a 90 minute dust storm and I missed both events.

We waited out the storm. At 9pm, there was a plan to watch a documentary premiere. The group is going slow, so one friend and I rush ahead to make sure we get there on time. We don’t find the tent, and miss it. Oops.

Missed documentary turns into some 1 on 1 adventuring. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting lots of time in with two people whom I previously did not know very well. After this trip, they went from acquaintance I would be happy to hang out with in a group to good friend who I would encourage to stay at my apartment for a couple days any time we were in the same part of the country.

Here are some of my favorite exhibits from the night

  1. Shortly after smoking a joint and getting the munchies, in deep playa we stumbled upon an Australian diner that served grilled cheese and vegemite sandwiches. [4]
  2. Hiding out in a giant ball pit and ambushing the first person who came in
  3. I don’t want to spoil details, but this may have been my favorite exhibit. If you ever come across it, it’s worth the wait.
  4. Elite steamed dumplings at Bao chicka wow wow, every day from midnight to 4am.
  5. Had a conversation with a professional musician. Even though things had been going very well for him, he has always felt a bit insecure for not going to college. He wondered what could have been. He says he had a mushroom trip where he finally was able to put that feeling behind him. Those kind of experiences seem to be uncannily common at Burning Man.

Thursday

A group of us waited for the sun to go down and decided we were going to take acid. The plan was to explore for a bit and stop by a party at around 10pm. I took half of a tab. We stumbled upon the Black Rock Observatory.  There’s a line to go in, so we just lie down and stare at the stars. In the darkness, some guy jumps out. He tells us all that he has a PHD in astrophysics and wanted to talk to us about the universe. [5]

He starts going off about the big bang. How collisions happened. Something about elements. I start tripping balls. One of his assistants comes up to me and hands me a rock. He tells me it a 4.5 billion year old meteor (!!!!!). In a good way, I am totally flipping out. We listen for a bit and start heading towards the party, stopping at various colorful lights.

We get  there and to me it immediately feels wrong. Socializing for me is just strictly less fun than riding your bike and looking at trippy light shit. I also was self conscious of people seeing me while I trip my balls off.  I recruit two buds to leave the party and head back out into deep playa to look at cool things.

I start thinking about the astrophysicists. 6.5 billion years old is a long time. And 7 billion humans in the world. In a completely non depressing way, I am thinking about how insignificant my life is. A debate breaks out involving whether or not we are in a computer simulation, [6] and whether or not we have free will. [7]

About 5 hours after taking the acid, we smoke a joint. Just for reference, goddamn I was tripping way harder after hitting the joint than a couple hours earlier when I thought I was peaking.

We are 11 minutes away from the meetup time, so we start biking towards the temple. I forget to take off my bike lock, gets all tangled up. My chain becomes loose. I try to fix it, but this would be a difficult task for me sober. On acid, LOL no chance. Fortunately one of the other team members was somehow functional enough to fix it. We make it to the meetup spot at the temple, relatively on time.

The group aspect is still slightly overwhelming.  People start talking about what a dumb meetup spot the temple is. “It would be so easy to get negative ideas.” I think about my experience at the temple the other night. “DON’T HAVE A BAD TRIP DAN.” I lie, down, focus on my breathing. The feeling is intense, but I get through it. The rest of the gang finds the meets up, everyone heads on to the next stop. Our smaller team breaks off again.

We continue to explore for a few hours until we finally meet up with the rest of the gang. We share stories of our wild night. We catch the burning of the catacombs and a great sunrise. Finally, it’s time for sleep and I take 1/4th of a Xanax to help me pass out.My head was still spinning over the fact that life has no meaning. That free will isn’t real.

Friday

Lola ate my journal pages on Friday afternoon[8], but as usual I explored and saw some cool shit. The general highlights 1) roller blading on a rink 2) attempting to do those circus-y rings at Swing City Camp 3) crazy dance party to some mashup DJ

 Saturday

All 70,000 people and every art car circle the Man while we wait for him to Burn. This year the act of burning went much better than last year. This man was smaller than last year’s, so the act of it Burning went more smoothly and quickly. After the man Burns, it becomes pure pandemonium. All the street signs get ripped down. And because it’s the last party night, no one holds anything back.

Around midnight, I take 150 milligrams of Molly and we party until party sunrise, with some really great bonding along the way.  I take advantage of a few friends on drugs and make them promise to come visit me while I’m in San Diego this fall . I meet Tim Urban from waitbutwhy and try to pick his brain for a little bit on the meaning of life.[9]

My brain still felt like the pieces hadn’t been put all together from acid; the combined aspect of life is meaningless and yourconsciousness is literally everything to you, is a total mind fuck. At some point during the night I decide the point of life is to just be the best version of yourself you can be, and that allows me to sit a bit more comfortably. We catch one last sunrise together.

Sunday

I chat for a while with someone who I developed a moderate man crush on. We have some ideas for a charity project. On paper, I feel like we have a slam dunk idea. Currently, I am in the process of running it by accountants and lawyers to determine if this is something that is actually feasible.

I have some time before the Temple burn, and I happened to ride my bike past Zendo. Zendo is a project run by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to try to help people having difficult trips. I am intrigued, and was considering MAPS as a charity source. I have a feeling that even though most people never go to Zendo, the fact that it is around helps people have a more positive experience.

I end up chatting to a very impressive psychologist. I had recently been dealing with an old friend who I found stealing from me. When I uncovered that story, I realize that it was not  an isolated lie, and that my dear friend could be a pathological liar. I try to understand more how his brain works so that I can relate to it.

She asks what I wanted to do, and I explain how I want to generally get him on the right path. She points out that I can’t force someone to change. “Of course I can. I will send him an outline of things to do. I will set him up with a good therapist. I will get him on a meditation routine. Exercise, eating well.” I kept listing off things to do, and she points out that I can’t make him change. Writing this out, it feels obvious, but it was something I needed to hear. I wanted to make a plan, and fix the problem. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done.

She turns the tables on me, and asks why I am so committed to helping this person who wronged me. She suggests that I have the typical fear of dying alone. I look at my watch and realize that I am late for the Temple Burn. I missed both groups who left, so I go on my own. It felt symbolic.

The man Burning is a rowdy affair, but the temple Burning is very solemn, and signifies the end of Burning Man.

What did I get out of Burning Man 2016?

  • That I want to get more out of meditation. Push my comfort level. Look into retreats
  •  I have been less motivated by poker as of late and was looking for another project. I might have found it. Even if it falls through, I feel like I have a better idea of my personal 5 and 10 year plan, which I find very comforting
  • Unbelievable bonding experiences with old friends and new friends
  • The opportunity to see the best version of so many people. It’s amazing that Burning Man works. Social pressure convinces people to be nice to each other. People buy into the idea of leave no trace and carry their MOOP [10] with them.
  • Most importantly, that I desperately need to get a spray tan.

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Thanks for reading. I would appreciate any feedback, even if it were just on technical things in my writing to focus on improving. I enjoyed writing this both years, and would be open to suggestions on future blog topics.  I would also be very interested to hear about any experiences people had on a meditation retreat, 10 days of silence feels like a very long time.


[1] Like a junior mint

[2] It wasn’t anything artistic, people just climbed the walls and damaged the sides. Derp.

[3] Burningman’s theme this year was Da Vinci’s Workshop, so I assume Da Vinci had something important with the number 12, but I never figured it out

[4] I thought I disliked vegemite but apparently Americans put way too much on.

[5] I believe him, but I am slightly concerned some Burner was playing a prank on us. He claimed to have an east coast – west coast rivalry with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

[6] I am now officially on team simulation

[7] nope

[8] What a bitch

[9] I was probably too high to articulate my point.

[10] Matter out of Place. AKA garbage

BurningMan #2 in the Books