RIP Lost Tom

Image: Facebook

The Burning Man blog has a lengthy eulogy about Tom LaPorte aka “Lost Tom”, a captain of the media team who passed away last week. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends, vale Lost Tom from Burners. We will pour one out for another fallen comrade.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Tom and the effect he had on everyone who had the privilege to know him: Loving, kind, passionate, selfless, inspirational, collaborator, confidant, innovator, gentleman, mentor, the real deal, a class act, community organizer extraordinaire, an embracer of the chaos, “a grown-up amongst us kids,” and, to everyone, a dear friend. He truly loved people, individually and collectively. He found the best in everyone — and touched everyone.

…Tom’s first year at the Burn was 2005 as a member of Bop Camp, a fun-loving crew of Chicago Burners that had somehow achieved Esplanade frontage offering an ungainly jousting experience utilizing motorcycle helmets and stuffed animals duct taped to PVC pipes. He dove in with gusto, cheering the burning of the Man dressed as the ace of spades, his first and only costume of choice.

[Source]

According to Tom’s friends on Facebook, his first year at Burning Man was actually 2004.

He came up with the idea of broadcasting the BMIR radio station live from the Man base in 2009, the year he and his Chicago Crew took over Burners Without Borders camp and turned it into what it is today.

The playa was never big enough for what Tom had to offer. When participants left the event in 2005 to help communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Tom followed. He immediately grasped how Burners could do work that matters not just in the desert but in the hearts of communities everywhere. In fact it was what he had been doing himself for years, bringing creativity to the streets of Chicago and creating unlikely connections.

Tom came back from Katrina and started promoting Burners Without Borders in Chicago, and suddenly all his projects became BWB projects. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of BWB. He initiated the Chicago takeover of BWB Camp in 2009 and turned the camp into what it is today.

He also started the Music Box Project, his attempt at explaining “Cultural First Response” to the world. Musicians could become first responders themselves and give the art of healing through music in the hardest of times.

[Source]

It doesn’t seem like anyone responded to the Cultural First Responder idea. I always thought Burners Without Borders was more about “send in DPW Heavy Machinery” than sending actual Burners in to, well, hang out and play guitar and stuff. Whatever it is we Burners do when in a group setting such as Burning Man, or the Standing Rock protests.

Coincidentally [ding], when Hurricane Katrina struck – being watched live via military satellite from the Playa – and Burners Without Borders was formed in response, Tom had gone to Burning Man to spend 2 weeks setting up an emergency broadcast system.

Image: Facebook

So his first second year at the Playa, he shows up with pre-recorded Public Service Announcements to hand out as part of a test of a pop-up emergency broadcast system in a place with no cell service. Because if it’s one thing everyone brings to Burning Man, it’s CD-ROM drives. This was an “art” project that several many people thought was worth spending 2+ weeks on. They tested it on Tuesday, Katrina hit on Thursday – and by Monday Tom was off to Katrina, large sum of money having been raised. Then he headed straight back to Chicago to found Burners Without Borders.

Where is that Emergency Public Service Announcement system today? Would’ve come in handy during last year’s false Amber Alert.

“Temporary art serves its purpose, it goes away and mankind goes onto the next step. It’s like a shooting star, it’s really beautiful, then it goes away, but the poetry doesn’t stop. We’ve found a way to achieve collective poetry, to achieve creativity in a group. It’s no longer the age of the lone genius working in isolation, waiting for the great discovery. It’s people working together, discovering stuff together, realizing what they have, taking time to celebrate it, but wondering what’s around the next bend.”
-Tom LaPorte (1953-2017)

 

Lost Tom died of heart failure, aged 63. He previously had a heart attack on the Playa.

Colleagues and friends are mourning the passing of Tom LaPorte, a versatile and innovative communicator over four decades throughout Chicago media. LaPorte, who was 63, died Wednesday of heart failure, according to multiple reports. He most recently served as Chicago’s assistant water commissioner and spokesman for the department. Before that he was webmaster for CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780, webmaster, editor and managing editor of former all-news WMAQ, and producer and news editor for news/talk WIND AM 560. LaPorte also headed media relations for Burning Man Project, a nonprofit arts and performance festival, and taught broadcasting and production at Columbia College Chicago. A graduate of Southern Illinois University and six-time Peter Lisagor Award winner, he began his radio career as public affairs director and news anchor at WCIL in Carbondale, Illinois.

[Source]

Communications guru Tom LaPorte reveals the five steps of persuasion artists can use to win attention from collectors, the media, and the public. He also provides a plethora of other practical advice, from how to write a press release to how to incorporate video and live presentations into one’s marketing.

“Artists, by their natures, are often not drawn to aggressive self-promotion…. The ability to communicate through the conventional channels, to get your work known, to get yourself known as an artist and build your communities is something that takes a little bit of practice. Just as your art does.”

Tom LaPorte is a public relations and communications expert based in Chicago. LaPorte was born in Boston in 1953, and his family moved to Chicago in 1960. He earned a Associate of Arts degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric from the College of DuPage in 1976, and Bachelor of Science in Speech Communications/Radio-TV from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1979. LaPorte held positions in the radio industry for approximately twenty years, including as a writer, producer, and manager of a news room. In 1996 he began working with the Internet, spearheading an effort to audio stream that year’s Democratic National Convention. LaPorte worked as a writer, editor, and webmaster for WBBM-AM for several years before becoming Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago in public and media relations. He spent nearly thirteen years in the role before leaving to act as an independent consultant. Since 2004 LaPorte has also coordinated media relations for Burning Man, an annual festival which brings approximately 68,000 artist-attendees to the Nevada desert. Through the festival, LaPorte acts as a pro bono consultant for artists and creatives of all types.

[Source]

Lost Tom was an Elf to his college roommate Jim Belushi’s Santa-con:

Long before his interest in Burning Man, Tom was already a Chicago legend. As Jim Belushi’s college roommate and partner in mischief, he went around to the Albanian homes in the suburbs dressed as “Frostbite the Elf” to Jim’s blotto Albanian Santa.

[Source]

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Tom encountered Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies (not Albert Hofmann of the Trippies) as a teen with a high school radio show, before rising up to use the infamous Chicago political machine as a force for good:

Tom embodied the best of Burning Man before he ever set foot on the playa. He was first and foremost a storyteller. Inspired by an interview he did with political and social activist Abbie Hoffman for his high school newspaper during the Chicago 7 trial, he pursued a career in journalism, working for some of the top Chicago media outlets, eventually working for the City of Chicago as Assistant Water Commissioner, where he honed his second strength — collaboration — working with residents, local businesses, community and church groups to leverage the infamous Chicago bureaucracy and political machinery for the forces of good. He always looked out for the less fortunate and those in need.

[Source]

Lost Tom was involved with trippy visuals for the Grateful Dead and something called The Human Avatar Project:

Tom was a founding member of the Burning Man Chicago Steering Committee, which gave rise to the local Burner 501c3 Bold Urban Renaissance Network. He created and led art teams at the Rothbury and Electric Forest music festivals; Second Thoughts, which made videos that opened up for Bob Dylan and the Dead; The Human Avatar Project and Einstein Moments, which created participatory creativity games.

[Source]

There is only one festival, Electric Forest which is in Rothbury, Michigan.

The Human Avatar Project is a way for billionaires to achieve immortality by merging with the Internet. It has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. It seems like the same idea as the “Singularity” being promoted by Billionaire Burners Elon Musk and Those Wacky Google Guys.

Image: Daily Mail

Image: 2045.com

In Tom’s case I think it’s more likely they were talking about this art project:

Image: Facebook

Einstein is someone you should have Second Thoughts about for a moment. There are a couple of amazingly coincidental [ding ding] links between Einstein and the Sixties counter culture that spawned the Grateful Dead, as we explored in 50 Years of Flower Power. Wavy Gravy aka Hugh Romney used to take walks around the block with Einstein as a child; Ram Dass aka Richard Alpert’s father George founded the Albert Einstein College of Medicine…but that’s another story.

Lost Tom’s Einstein Moments was an Electric Forest art project, perhaps symbolic:

Image: Facebook

Sounds like Lost Tom was quite a character to be part of the Burning Man media team, rising in the ranks to Captain, and a pillar of the Chicago Burner community. Rest In Peace, or come back to be born into a new life and a better future. May your flame burn on forever.

 

The Elephant In The Emergency Room: Heroin & “Standard” Treatment

By Terry Gotham

I know that sometimes I can seem all doom & gloom about the state of the drug-consuming universe, but once and a while I happen upon something that justifies my concern. This letter by Dr. Leon Gussow, published in the Emergency Medicine News (March 2017) journal is one of those things.

The filtration of fentanyl & fentanyl analogs into the recreational opiate supply has pushed us into a place where the simple “opiate overdose” prognosis in emergency rooms & EMT visits is no longer simple. Previously, treating an opiate overdose involved a single dose of narcan/naloxone, with a few hours of observation before the patient was back on their feet. The patient was then assessed for discharge and removed from the workload of the emergency room if released. This allowed even severe opiate overdoses to be handled in a timely, almost mundane fashion, if the EMTs were timely and the staff was experienced. But as Dr. Gussow explains, this is no longer the case.

Continue reading

Cannabis and Kratom: A Light in the Opiate Dark

philip-seymour-hoffman

Analysis by Terry Gotham

With the country currently gripped in fear that ACA will be repealed, I’ve started to ponder what options will be left for Americans in the throes of physical dependency if the cuts to medical/addiction funding are as deep as the ones currently being floated. While some proponents of the 21st Century Cures Act note that there’s been a scheduled $1 billion increase in funding for treatment, a repeal would remove at least $5.5 billion in funding to almost 3 million people suffering from substance use disorders. As dozens of states grapple with ever-increasing rates of opiate addiction and overdose, states that have legalized cannabis have discovered something startling.

A study published in the Journal of Pain by a trio of researchers out of the University of Michigan documents a reduction in opiate consumption in Chronic Pain patients who use cannabis. Specifically, medical cannabis uses was associated with a 64% reduction in opioid use. Additionally, 45% of the patients (118 out of the 244 sampled), reported reduced side effect frequency & intensity. In states that have medical marijuana available for their citizens, drivers between the age of 21 and 40 who were killed driving accidents tested positive for opiates significantly less often than drivers of the same age in states that didn’t have medical marijuana available. For example, Montana saw a 1.7% reduction in the number of drivers who tested positive for opioids after their MMJ laws went into effect. And that’s just numbers associated with people behind the wheel. When we evaluate the effect of cannabis consumption on opiate overdoses, the evidence becomes even more compelling.

Continue reading

Cops Don’t Keep Festivals Clean: Hard Proof From Australia

Via The Village Voice

Via The Village Voice

I was sent this paper by a professor at NYU who I hold in the highest regard. While local authorities all around the world continue to argue about the best way to “secure” festivals, from crime and medical harm, the Aussies have done some real work. Published in this month’s International Journal of Drug Policy, Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes, Vivienne Moxham-Halla, Alison Rittera, Don Weatherburnb, Robert MacCounc of the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney have made a fascinating discovery. One that, while novel, will seem obvious immediately once you understand what they proved. The core assumption they sought to evaluate the validity of seems almost common sense, yet has been at the core of the West’s strategy : Police can deter, discourage or prevent drug offending/consumption. Given that we’ve already spent $1.2 Billion in 2017 already to police and prohibit, you’d hope that the core tenet of “Police presence reduces drug offense” would be bullet-proof.

Over 4000 people took part in a Drug Policing Survey over a 5 month period. This survey asked takers (who had self-identified as regular festival/club attendees who consumed recreational drugs or had friends who did) to evaluate how certain types of police presence at clubs and festivals would cause them to change their drug taking tactics. As opposed to treating party people as some skittish, crack-addicted group that couldn’t be reasoned with, Dr. Hughes & her team depended on the festival/club attendees to evaluate scenarios where evading law enforcement was the goal. This might seem a little subversive to Americans, but even in cybersecurity, probing weaknesses using data from blackhats is worth its weight in gold. And this study was no exception.

Five different experimental vignettes were presented to the surveytakers. They were hypothetical scenarios that included an assortment of policing strategies: High Visibility Policing, Riot Policing, Collaborative Policing & Policing with Drug Detection Dogs, and a control scenario (No police presence). Essentially, how would your drug consumption or purchasing change if one of these police presence schema was used at the club or festival you attended. While any police presence led to a 4.6% reduction in overall illicit drug offending, it led to merely a reduction in people willing to carry drugs into an event or carry them on their person. Which makes sense. Ask any party person you know, they’ll probably regale you with tales of very minor substance use inside the club, maybe a few key bumps or lines in the bathroom. Very few people have the cajones to bring drugs into festivals or clubs that have big time security. They just assume they’ll purchase whatever they need inside the venue. And that’s exactly what the researchers found.

Via The Village Voice

Via The Village Voice

Given police presence, purchasing of drugs increased significantly within festival grounds. High Visibility Policing reduced overall drug offending, while Drug Detection dogs reduced drug possession the most, which makes sense. If you can see cops everywhere, you’re less likely to engage in risky shit. However, if you see drug dogs, you’re more likely to not carry, especially into the festival. And here’s the kicker. While you’re less likely to carry, you’re much more likely to buy and consume at the event.

This leads to all sorts of terrible shit, as people don’t test drugs they buy to consume immediately. Moreover, when you buy drugs from a dealer you’re likely to never have contact with again, because you’re not a regular customer, it’s that much more likely they’re going to sell you some bunk. If you’re a regular reader, you can probably guess why this concerns me. The idea that policing is not only ineffective, but also increasing the chance that drug consumers are going to take untested, is a significant departure from the “police just send drug use underground” talking point that we’ve been dealing with for years.

The truth is way more complicated of course. People do drugs in the safest way they’re able, exposing themselves to as little liability as they can while still achieving their ends. If that means buying LSD and taking it while they’re standing in line, they do that. If they prefer a drug that’s got a shorter duration, like MDMA or cocaine, some might be down to bring drugs in, but most are not willing to take that risk. That leads to the massive market opportunity that drug dealers at festivals & clubs exploit. This is simple market economics that most prohibitionists are unwilling to admit. Dealers, like life in Jurassic Park, find a way. Neatly tethered to the events of BPM, criminals will always find a way to ensure they profit from market demand. And in this case, our insatiable demand for drugs can’t even be stopped by the “North Korea with neon lighting” levels of policing that events like Electric Zoo have put forth. High definition cameras to capture buys, drug dogs and high visibility severe response policing can put a damper on drug possession or even perhaps trafficking into the event, but these types of enforcement mechanisms can’t stop consumption.

If anyone believes these findings don’t apply to the USA, I’d love to hear your reasoning. This is the type of bipartisan, public-health focused research that I think we should be relying on. As we’ve seen over the last month, attempting to appeal to morality, ethics, or some form of value system will fail and fail hard during the reign of Orange Xerxes. The only chance we have at winning is to force the conversation entirely into data and effects of current policies on the ground. A study like this is something that police, “family first” organizations and even straight up anti-drug advocates have a hard time responding to. It allows us to move the conversation from “What should America be like?” to “What actually works?” By doing so, you neatly remove the “People shouldn’t be doing drugs!” talking point from the repertoire of the advocate you’re debating with. Even if you believe people shouldn’t be doing drugs, you can’t ignore the fact that the policing schemes that are discussed in the study simply don’t work to achieve those ends.

There will always be people whose cognitive dissonance is so large that this will fall on deaf ears. But, for those who are willing to listen, discussing this study might just be a step in the door with your cop uncle or Catholic cousin. We need all the help we can get, so tread softly, avoid people who steal your bandwidth, and find consensus wherever you can. 2017 demands it.

 

“It Wasn’t Me, It Was The Neighbors” – Satya Yuga Defense Begins

So far, Satya Yuga Collective founder Derrick Ion has not been charged with any crime in relation to the so-called “Oakland Ghost Ship Fire” which killed 36 people at the beginning of December. Nobody else has been charged either, and so far there is no evidence of arson. The various authorities have not yet concluded their investigation.

$200 million of civil suits have been filed against 9 people by families of the victims.

re-blogged from The Daily Californian:

The family members of two victims who perished in the Oakland warehouse fire Dec. 2, including UC Berkeley alumnus Griffin Madden, filed civil lawsuits in Alameda County Superior Court on Friday against several people associated with the “Ghost Ship” warehouse.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of 23-year-old Madden, as first reported by KTVU, and another was filed on behalf of Michela Gregory, a 20-year-old San Francisco State University student who died clutching her boyfriend, Alex Vega. These are the first known suits filed in connection with the Oakland fire, according to the East Bay Times.

The suit filed by Madden’s parents, Michael and Catherine Madden, alleges that the defendants were negligent with regards to the safety conditions of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse and are liable for Madden’s death. It also alleges that the defendants did not obtain permits to convert the warehouse into a residential or public event space.

Nine defendants are listed in the suit, including Chor Nar Siu Ng, the owner of the warehouse; her daughter Eva Ng; warehouse managers Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison; and warehouse lessors Daniel Lopez and Omar Vega. Joel Shanahan, the performer at the warehouse the night of the fire, known most commonly by the stage name Golden Donna; Jon Hrabko, who organized and promoted the event; and Los Angeles record label 100% Silk were also listed as defendants in the suit.

The Maddens are being represented by Mary Alexander & Associates, a San Francisco law firm. In their suit, the Maddens demanded a trial by jury…Ng has hired attorney Keith Bremer from the firm Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara to represent her, while Almena is being represented by attorney Tony Serra…

“Said defendants had mandatory and nondelegable duties to inspect and maintain said property in a safe and usable condition, and to repair any dangerous or unsafe conditions,” the lawsuit states. “Each of them, were somehow negligent or otherwise responsible for the injuries and death of Griffin Madden and the damages alleged herein.”

The suit calls the warehouse a “death trap,” alleging that it was poorly constructed and lacked a safe and accessible exit, as well as adequate fire-safety measures…

[Source]

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Attack Is The Best Form Of Defense

A 2015 mug shot of Derrick Ion Almena. Source: LA Times

A 2015 booking photo of Derrick Ion Almena. Source: Glendale Police Department via LA Times

In a two-pronged attack, this week the defense team released to the media a report from an anonymous “expert” suggesting neighboring properties, government agencies, and P G & E could have been at fault for the blaze; and at the same time, Micah Allison (Mrs Ion) took to the stage at a city council meeting to say how sorry they were and they wish that something could have been done sooner and she needs a house.

They got a crack lawyer who has represented the cream of the crop of Bay Area ruffians: the Black Panthers, the Hell’s Angels, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Shrimp Boy. Describing the defense team leader Tony Serra as a “firebrand attorney” is perhaps in poor taste, LA Times. He seems to be earning his money, as the defense have come up with what seems like an attempt to create reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury: the fire didn’t even begin on his property, and he wasn’t even there, so how can he be culpable in any way?

On Monday, Almena’s lawyers said they had conducted their own inquiry into the fire. “Our investigation shows that Derick Almena committed no conduct amounting to criminal negligence

[Source: LA Times]

Hey, if his defense attorneys say he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it…right?

YMMV on whose fault it was that the junk piled up around the idols and altars, that staircases were constructed from wooden pallets, that 20+ people were residential sublet tenants, or that it was not a licensed venue for occult trance rituals all-night dance parties with DJs and live fire performances.


Micah On The Mic

Micah Allison, the wife of Derrick Ion Almena, spoke publicly for the first time at a special meeting in Oakland on January 23.

She complained about unfair treatment from neighbors and the media, and that more had not been done earlier by the council – because now she and her husband have to carry a heavy weight on their shoulders.

She turned up at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday, where legislators were considering several proposals aimed at shoring up tenant protections and providing an emergency moratorium on evictions from unpermitted live/work spaces that spiked in the wake of the deadly blaze.

“The main thing I wanted to say is how sorry I am for what happened on Dec. 2,” Allison said, before thanking the activists and organizers at the meeting. “I wish that more had been done before because we carry a really heavy weight on our shoulders right now.”

But Allison spent the majority of her time at the podium decrying the treatment she said her family has received from the media and former neighbors, who she claimed thwarted a recent attempt to move back into an Oakland house where they had lived previously.

“It’s been pretty terrible what they’ve done to my family,” Allison said, speaking about media reports.

She continued, describing a former landlord who offered to let them stay in exchange for replacing windows and painting the older home.

“The neighbors, who were my friends during the entire time I lived in that house before, got wind that we were going to move back into the house because our landlord really loved us and wanted to help our family,” she said. “In a couple hours, or over a 24-hour period, they contacted the landlord and said that if they let us move back into the house that they would cause a lot of trouble for him over his house.”

The deal would have allowed the family some stability to enable them to “start changing this narrative that’s gone out about Satya Yuga, the Ghost Ship, my family, my husband, myself,” she said, referring to the art collective occupying the warehouse

Allison expressed frustration about trying to find a stable place to live while keeping her three children in their Fruitvale-area schools.

In order to keep my kids in school, I need a house,” she said

[Source: East Bay Times]

A house for the kids would have been a great idea, rather than a venue for underground raves all night DJ parties. 36 people including one minor might still be alive if that had occurred to them earlier. But is this really the City Council’s problem? They should be investigating this woman, not giving her a house. Her desire to “start changing this narrative” emerged the same day the defense team released their report. This act may have been more strategic than spontaneous.

Here is the anonymous expert report being used by the Defense team. It seems long on speculation and short on actual evidence.

A good report on the report from Matthias Gafni and Katrina Cameron at the San Jose Mercury News:

OAKLAND — The defense team for Derick Almena released a report Monday alleging that the deadly fire that killed 36 people last year started not in the now infamous Ghost Ship artists collective, but rather in an adjacent building.

In a 10-page report released Monday, prepared by an unnamed investigator hired by Almena’s defense team, also pointed the finger at PG&E for inadequate electrical inputs into the building. Almena’s attorneys argue the findings should relieve their client of any criminal liability. It is not the first time that Almena’s lawyers have sought to deflect blame from their client: last month they said government agencies were at fault.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has been investigating Almena, who was the master tenant at the Fruitvale warehouse, and others for possible criminal charges in the Dec. 2 blaze. The office declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. But an expert who reviewed the evidence offered by Almena’s legal team, was not convinced.

The report, which cites various photos of the buildings on the 1300 block of 31st Avenue from street level and above, raises questions about how electricity was delivered to the warehouse and adjacent buildings. It has various conclusions, including that “there must have been enough heat PRIOR TO the entry into Ghost Ship section for fire to occur.”

“The defense team for Derick Ion Almena has received a reliable scientific report … indicating that the origin of the fire was at the building adjacent to the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse,” attorneys Jeffrey Krasnoff, Kyndra Miller and Tony Serra wrote in a statement. “Such should reasonably foreclose any criminal negligence charges against Mr. Almena. Recall that the ATF could not conclude where the fire originated. The reasonable doubt here is overwhelming.”

Dan Rapperport, a fire and explosion investigator and president of Rapperport Associates, reviewed the report and found the theory that the fire started next door a “stretch.”

They did not offer compelling evidence to me, as a fire investigator, that the origin of the fire started outside the Ghost Ship space,” he said in a phone interview. It is not surprising that the massive fire would create roof and other fire damage on adjacent buildings, he said.

However, Rapperport said, the report makes a valid point that PG&E’s conductors from outer power poles may have been undersized. The photos show “undersized wiring” leading into the building, meaning the PG&E capacity for electrical current from outside could have been below the inside capacity of the Ghost Ship wiring, he said. That could have led to overloaded wiring which could cause a short or ignite a fire, however that doesn’t mean PG&E is necessarily to blame, he added.

“There’s legacy wiring going into the place and if they’re using more power than PG&E ever anticipated, it’s up to the user to call PG&E to say I need more power,” Rapperport said.

Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokeswoman, said records over the last decade-plus show no reports of “electric theft or any other anomaly from this location or the adjacent premises. We will await the findings of the official investigation.”

Sources have told this newspaper that the cause of the fire inside the warehouse art collective was overloaded electrical lines at the rear of the structure.

The Ghost Ship’s power sources — an ad hoc network of extension cords stretched through a maze of small dwelling units and studios — all fed from one line coming through a hole punched in the wall to a neighboring business, a person familiar with the wiring has said. The sources did not mention the fire started outside the warehouse.

Criminal defense attorney Dan Horowitz said Almena’s defense team are creating a jury defense to “humanize” their client.

Make him sad, sorry and pathetic. Have a cause that blames someone else ‘scientifically’. Then ignore the fact that the place was an illegal electrical nightmare and an accident waiting to happen,” he said. “Let’s say the fire came from the sky. A lightning bolt. Sprinklers, exit doors, clear pathways and the hellish death of dozens would have been avoided.”

A spokeswoman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms declined to comment Monday on specifics, saying the Oakland Fire Department final report has not been completed.

In a statement late Monday, Karen Boyd, Oakland’s communications director, said that the ATF and the Oakland Fire Department are “collaborating on a comprehensive investigation of the 31st Avenue warehouse fire. The investigation will yield a report that addresses the cause and origin of the fire. That report will be forwarded to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as part of the ongoing criminal investigation. It’s premature to speculate about the origin of the fire until all investigations are complete.”

Almena’s defense team declined to name the author of their report, but said he was an expert “qualified by both education and experience.”

[Source: Mercury News]

The witness account of the wiring coming through the wall conflicts with the images in the report, taken from the outside of the building.


Show Me The Money

Almost a million dollars was raised in a crowdfunding appeal for the victims, and now almost 2 months after the fire $0 from that has been handed out to them. The charity that took the money, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, is deeply in bed with the Burning Man Project, which may explain the redistribution inefficiency. Money donated via the Oakland A’s, Raiders, and Warriors was distributed in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

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From the Gray Area January 25 2017 press release:

“The first phase of allocations for the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts’ Fund —set up as an immediate response to the Ghostship tragedy—have been reviewed by a research committee and program managers and approved by the Gray Area Board of Directors. As of January 25, 2017, 136 intake forms have been qualified. Documentation will be requested, and funds will be dispersed immediately upon receipt of qualification documentation.

To fully allocate the second phase of funds, Gray Area still needs those who may qualify to submit the required intake form. The form has been available since December 7, 2016, via the foundation’s site at http://grayarea.org/initiative/fire-relief-fund/. The deadline to complete an intake form has been established as March 7, 2017 (90 days from the publishing date).

In other words, coming soon.

Intake forms: the new burner profile? The whole process rhymes with Burning Man, that’s for sure.

Josette Melchor, Executive Director and Founder of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, has been on the advisory board for the Burning Man Project since January 2012. In 2010 they received an Honorarium grant for Syzygryd, an art project for “Interpretive Arson”. Gray Area Chairman Peter Hirshberg wrote about Burning Man re-inventing money and governance in the recent book From Bitcoin To Burning Man And Beyond (worth a read).

Melchor didn’t waste any time getting the money after the tragedy:

“Every penny that is donated here should go to the fire victims’ funeral expenses, medical expenses and health-related expenses,” said Josette Melchor, founder of Gray Area Foundation for The Arts. Melchor spoke for the group intent on helping victims the Monday after the fire.

That’s our priority first and foremost,” she said.

[Source: NBC Bay Area]

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She has a funny take on the meaning of “priority”. Hate to break it to you Josette, but people who need financial help for funerals need that in days after the death, not months. The same goes for people who have lost their home and all worldly possessions. I would imagine that was in the mind of any donor in the week or two  following the tragedy.
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Amazing how this organization was able to mobilize to rapidly that they were speaking to the press the Monday after the fire, and yet 2 months later still can’t figure out who the 36 victims were.
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NBC reports:

“Why is it taking so long?” asked Carmen Brito, a former resident of the Ghost Ship. “They know what we’re dealing with. They know we lost our home. They know we lost everything.”

Brito said she, as well as others who spoke with NBC Bay Area but declined to be identified, are in need of help. They say they received cash assistance hours after the fire from the Red Cross, which distributed money from a different fund led by the A’s, Warriors and Raiders.

But the Gray Area foundation has provided them no money.

“They kinda just didn’t seem to get it,” she said.

That surprised us. Because in December, Melchor, the Gray Area founder, said she was enlisting the Red Cross to help manage the fund.

“This is what they do. They’re good at it,” she said. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel.”

But the Red Cross says Gray Area opted to manage the fund itself, on its own schedule.

“I would like to have seen an immediate handout,” Steele said.

NBC Bay Area has been asking Gray Area for information for weeks. On Thursday, the founder agreed to a follow-up interview. She confirmed that all the money is sitting idle in a bank account.

 “We haven’t spent a dime,” Melchor said.

Melchor said she has heard people’s concerns but assures them that Gray Area is beginning to approve applications.

“Eventually, they will be getting a check, in the next days to weeks,” she said. “So, to a certain point, I think they’ll begin to be thankful. And I think most people are thankful. They are just a few vocal people who are speaking out.”

As for why it’s taken close to two months, Melchor attributed the delays to getting records from the city and the coroner, which she says the Red Cross had immediate access to.

“There was just a huge hold up in us getting the information that we needed to serve the people that were affected,” she explained.

Our research found another hiccup: a call from the Attorney General’s Office.

Records we retrieved show the state sent Gray Area three different delinquency letters in 2016 for failing to file financial records. One notice, from August, warned of the state’s “intent to suspend or revoke” its registration as a charity.

Melchor told us Gray Area was unaware of the letters until late December – in the middle of fundraising – when the Attorney General’s Office called.

 “We cleared that up within 72 hours of the phone call with the Attorney General,” she said. “So, that is completely a non-issue.”

Not everyone agrees.

“That’s really a bad sign,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, which scrutinizes and rates nonprofit organizations. Borochoff reviewed Gray Area’s filings as well as its online fundraiser.  

He asked: “If the group can’t even get it together to get their finances reported, their basic public disclosure documents provided to the state of California and the IRS, then how can they be expected to get it together to get this huge quick influx of funds to the needed victims?”

Borochoff questioned Gray Area’s decision to administer the fund.

“There are certainly groups in the Bay Area that are better equipped and have the experience to handle a disaster such as this warehouse fire,” he said.

Melchor said her group’s recent budget exceeds the balance of $901,000 relief fund, so it is capable of handling that much money. 

The victims and donors we talked to told us they just want Gray Area to distribute the money with the same urgency that the sympathetic public donated it.

“I don’t think anybody who gave money was like, ‘Yes I want this money to sit in a bank account of a foundation that’s dragging its feet.’” Brito said.

Steele agreed.

“I understand that it’s a difficult process. It’s a difficult process to weed out. But there’s got to be a way to make it happen faster,” Steele said.

Gray Area is still collecting donations. It has increased its fundraising goal several times and says it will continue to up its target

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Now that Gray Area got all the information they were waiting for, checks will be going out within days or weeks. How many checks are they writing? Surely 36 checks can be written in one hour. Two if you’re slow; not weeks.
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They’re still in the process of figuring out what they’re going to do with all the money. The good news is that they have formed a committee of “5 to 6” people. If the committee can’t even decide how many members it has, it’s probably not going to be super-hasty on all the other decisions. It seems that some of the Bay Area Burner spaces might end up with the cash, rather than the immediate victims:
they are in the process of determining whether to distribute the funds to just displaced residents and victims’ families, or to a larger swath of people impacted by the fire, including DIY spaces that need support making fire-safety improvements to their spaces.
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Hiding In The Shadows

 la-me-oakland-fire-20161203-photos
Another video has surfaced on YouTube purportedly showing these people indulging in bizarre, occult behavior. Derrick Almena is not visible, but (allegedly) his voice can be heard. He is one of the adults in the skull mask seeming to terrorize the child. YouTube comments identify the man whose face is shown as Michael Allison, Micah’s father.

Is it really them? Hard for me to say either way, but it would be an awful lot of trouble to go to just to troll somebody that is potentially under police and ATF investigation. The claims of drug and sex parties were also made in the Daily Mail. I couldn’t find Micah Allison on Etsy but they do sell voodoo dolls.

Image: Daily Mail

Michael Allison, Micah’s father. Image: Daily Mail