Tuesday, June 29, 2010

900 Kiely Developer NOT the company in bankruptcy -- who knew?

The Fairfield Residential business division developing 900 Kiely (the former Kaiser hospital site) was not part of the business that filed for bankruptcy last year, according to company representative Ed McCoy at tonight's City Council meeting.

In that case, one might ask why McCoy didn't offer this information -- or return the Weekly's calls -- last year when I was reporting on the story. Inquiring minds do wonder.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

July 4 Fireworks Committee Wants Your Contribution

If you would like to help underwrite Santa Clara's 2010 July 4 fireworks show, contribute online at the City website, or send a contribution payable to the City of Santa Clara, Fireworks Fund, 1500 Warburton Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95050.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Conspiracy Con X - Texe Marrs and the Great Brotherhood of Conspiracy

Dateline Santa Clara. Ground zero for Conspiracy Con.
I arrive with my all-seeing eye at 14:00 hours: I stop by Texe Marrs, who seems anomalous here – an old-style tent revivalist at a gathering of New Age conspiracists. But of course, just as "in Christ there is no east or west," in conspiracy there is no left or right, only conspiracy as far as the eye can see.

Marrs has been talking since 1:30, but he's just getting to his point. He speaks in the cadences of the tent evangelist. He says something vaguely humorous, pausing, "That's funny, idn't it? And when you're in heaven." Pause. "I promise you." Pause. "You won't have a body." Put your hand on the radio. Yes, Lord, feel the spirit. Can somebody say, Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus.

Marrs is another pro at leading his audience exactly where he wants them to go -- then again, this audience is probably easier to lead than the Gadarene swine. "But what I want to talk to you about today are Them. I want you to understand who They are. This cult believes they are God's children. They have a holy book. They believe they are going to rule the planet." 

Marrs launches into a testimonial about his hatred of racism -- immediately cluing me in about where we're headed. We're steering a straight course for the shores of anti-Semitism.

"There are only two and a half million of them in the US," Marrs goes on. "they have an allegiance to another country. Their leadership has stolen our military secrets…" I want to leave, but I stay and confirm my suspicions. "I'm talking about Jews." Pause. "Satanic Jews."

That's enough for me. I head out to the bar. If we start here, I'm deeply afraid of where we'll be in 36 hours.

I want to try one of my conspiracy cocktails – a gin gimlet with a splash of absinthe. Except the bar doesn't have absinthe. Or Pernod. The bartenders suggests Jagermeister. Sure. We both agree – a gimlet with a splash of Jagermeister taskes pretty good.

Fortified by my conspiracy gimlet and lunch, I'm ready for another foray into the belly of the beast that is Conspiracy Con. Next up: William White Crow, Shaman, a "realist when it comes to the Government [that would be the other government, you know, the real one] UFOs, ETs, Secret Societies, 2012 and more."

Carolyn's Conspiracy Cocktails

As I prepped myself for the upcoming Conspiracy Con, I thought it would be appropriate to have some conspiracy cocktails.

As I thought about it, I developed a few rules. Conspiracy cocktails:

  • They should use as many ingredients as possible
  • Absinthe must be an ingredient
  • Obscure, arcane ingredients are preferred
  • Color should be black or unnatural
  • Conflicting and negating flavors aren't a problem. If you don't like the taste, keep adding ingredients until you do.

So herewith: Carolyn's Conspiracy Cocktails (CCC -- which if you squint could look like 666). The preparation for all except the Conspiracy Coffee is the same: Shake with ice and serve on the rocks or straight up with a splash of soda.


2 parts tequila
1/2 part each:

  • Midori
  • absinthe
  • blackberry brandy or crème de cassis
  • blue curacao
  • chocolate liqueur
  • lime juice
  • orange juice

Orange or lime twist


1 oz Gin
1 oz Dry vermouth
1 oz Rose's lime juice
Dash absinthe
Dash crème de violette
Dash orange bitters
Orange or lime twist

Conspiracy Con

1 oz white rum
1/2 oz Midori
½ oz fresh lime juice
dash of absinthe
dash of crème de violette or St. Germain
dash blue curacao
lime twist

Black Ops

1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
1/2 oz dark rum
½ oz absinthe or pernod
fresh lime juice
Dash bitters
Lime twist

Conspiracy coffee

Mix in an Irish coffee glass:

  • 1 oz Irish cream liquor
  • Dash absinthe
  • Dash chocolate or coffee liqueur

Stir as you add hot coffee. Or mix it cold for a Conspiracy Alexander

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Illuminati Beware: Preeminent Gathering of Conspiracy Theorists Celebrates its 10th Year in Santa Clara

The annual conspiracist mind meld, Conspiracy Con, celebrates its 10th birthday – and 10th year in Santa Clara – on June 5 and 6 at the Santa Clara Marriott.

Conference organizer Brian Hall, describes the event as "a forum for… the most controversial speakers in the world," on "Mind Control, Secret Societies, Shadow Government, The Federal Reserve, 9-11, Occult Technologies, Suppressed Knowledge, New World Order, etc."

Even including, Hall continues ominously, "the manipulation of humanity by non-human intelligences...alien, inter-dimensional, demonic, satanic... operating on (and in) this planet, that looks upon humankind as sheep and cattle to be herded and slaughtered at will."

This jeremiad seems surprising coming from the preppy 30-something Hall, a Livermore resident who looks more like a Young Republican than the eminence grise of contemporary American conspiracy theory.

Indeed, Conspiracy Con's success is likely due more to Hall's talent for business administration – and friends in the event-planning business "who held my hand" – than his knowledge of secret cabals. Hall chose Santa Clara for Conspiracy Con for many of the same reasons the 49ers give for wanting to build a stadium here.

"The cost is less and right along there is hotel row," he ticks off methodically. "There are great convention services. It's much closer for me [than San Francisco] and it's much easier to get to. It's very close to the airport."

(This is invariably disappointing to those who expect the city to be a vortex of cosmic power, or the Illuminati's home away from home. Although -- hat tip to blogger Adam Gorightly -- I bet if you plotted it on a map, you'd find that the Santa Clara Marriott sits at the mystical center of secret Kabbalistic geography connecting the Rosicrucian Museum, Winchester Mystery House, Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, proposed 49ers stadium, and the CERN super-collider in Geneva.)

Anyway, Hall's business acumen paid off. The conference draws hundreds every year and features a veritable who's who of the contemporary conspiracy scene.

Past guests include George Noory, host of the popular all-things-conspiracy radio talk show Coast to Coast a.m.; 9-11 Truther movement founding father Richard Gage; and memory-recovering, MK-ULTRA sex slave Cathy O'Brien. This year's lineup includes host of the syndicated late night cult film TV show Cinema Insomnia, Mr. Lobo (www.cinemainsomnia.com).

Hall is vague about what exactly he did before starting Conspiracy Con – "not a heck of a lot." More to the point is what he calls his "waking up journey," which began 15 years ago and culminated in launching Conspiracy Con.

"Some friends showed me some materials that went against everything I had been told. It made its point well enough to [make me] look further.

"There are things going on here right under our noses that are much more serious," he continues. "What is commonly known as the global elite. Are they connected? Is there a conspiracy? No one was putting on a conference on the research, to generate awareness."

ince then, Hall has been a man with a mission. "I see a great imbalance on this planet that gets greater every year. From Kennedy [assassination] to 9-11 and beyond, it will lead to the same people: the people that have manipulated human events for eons." Getting the message out, Hall says, "is the most important thing I can do."

Conspiracism's All-American Pedigree
Conspiracism is as American as the proverbial apple pie, according to Professor Jeff Pasley who teaches Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracies in U.S. History and Culture at the University of Missouri.

"For example, one thing that was widely believed [before the American revolution] was that the British were going to force Americans to become Catholics, based on Quebec's act tolerating Catholicism," Pasley explains. "[This was seen] as the first step in the plan to Catholicize America."
Conspiracy beliefs also use the language of enlightenment, "exposing truth by gathering proof," Pasley explains, while neglecting the rest of the scientific method – experimentation, data collection, analysis, peer review, and retesting.

The age of mass media adds fuel to the conspiracy fires, says Pasley. People have access to a lot more data, but their powers of analysis haven't grown to match it. "Most people's idea of weighing evidence is, 'It's hot today so it must be global warming,'" he says.

The flaw here isn't in the conclusions. Human beings do, in fact, engage in conspiracies; for example, Watergate. The flaws in our global warming conclusion are classic reasoning fallacies: questionable correlation and unsupported assumption. A further problem with conspiracism is un-testability: Contrary evidence is just evidence of a cover-up. For example, the reason you don't agree with me about the reality of global warming is that you're manufacturing the evidence to discredit me, you're just revealing yourself as a tool of the puppet-masters, etc.

Of course, conspiracy theorists have no monopoly on fallacious rhetoric. Politics inspires it in spades. Consider for example: "Dolores Carr: Supported by law enforcement. Jeff Rosen: Supported by bail bondsmen." (Questionable correlation, unsupported assumption, loaded words, impugning motives).
This ad doesn't tell me anything about Rosen, but it does tell me one thing about Carr. Namely, that she's a lawyer, judge and District Attorney who's willing to put her name on this mean-spirited propaganda. It's enough to make me vote for Jeff Rosen, but that would be another questionable correlation: Because Carr runs an ad that I find ethically questionable, therefore Rosen would be a good DA.

Where was I?

Oh yes. In the final analysis conspiracy theories don't stand up to pragmatic test that the best 
explanation is usually the one requiring the fewest unsupported assumptions. In other words, if you hear hoof beats, it's probably horses, not zebras.

Friday, December 18, 2009

900 Kiely Developer Fairfield Residential Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Real Estate Market Turmoil Comes Home to Santa Clara

In what the Wall Street Journal called "the latest casualty of the turmoil engulfing the U.S. real-estate market," Fairfield Residential, developer of the Gallery on Central Park project at 900 Kiely (the former Kaiser hospital site), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Dec. 13, 2009.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy lets businesses continue to operate negotiate a plan with creditors to restructure the business or reduce debt. During this time, creditors can't collect payments and debts owed prior to the Chapter 11 filing. When the plan's conditions are met, businesses are said to be “reorganized” and no longer under bankruptcy court protection.

The bankruptcy was precipitated by the privately-held company's inability to refinance its existing debt or sell properties to recoup investments -- declining real estate value declines left the company owing more, in some cases, than the real estate was worth. This, in turn, created snowballing liabilities that could reach $1.5 billion or more, according to Fairfield's December 13 press release. Local Fairfield contacts declined to discuss the news, and calls to Fairfield's designated spokesman were not returned as of this writing.

The affects of Fairfield's financial collapse will be far-reaching. The company and its 14 affiliates reportedly have $958 million in assets and $835 million in liabilities. In 2008 Fairfield reported net losses of $108 million on revenue of $953 million. As of September 30, Fairfield had lost $49 million on revenue of $507 million in 2009.

Fairfield's top creditors are Wells Fargo/Wachovia ($130 million), Bank of America ($84 million), and Capmark Financial Group ($80 million). Capmark itself is in Chapter 11million), and in the process of selling its mortgage banking and servicing business to Berkadia Commercial Mortgage (owned by Berkshire Hathaway and Leucadia National Corporation). Other creditors include Compass Bank ($64 million), Regions Bank ($52 million), Principal Global Investors Bank ($47 million), Freddie Mac ($46 million), Cigna ($41 million), Nationwide Life Insurance ($37 million), JP Morgan Chase Bank ($29 million), Massachusetts Mutual Life ($28), and Fannie Mae ($26 million).

Fairfield filed Chapter 11 with a pre-negotiated agreement, which will enable a "quick exit" from bankruptcy, according to the company's website, "not a closing or liquidation of the business.

"The filing enables Fairfield to continue to operate our business effectively with minimal disruption and loss of productivity. Employees will continue to receive their regular wages and benefits. Company facilities will stay open. Property management and construction will continue. Goods and services purchased by the company after the filing date will be paid for in the ordinary course of business."

The company's assets will be managed in a trust whose goal is "to maximize value for the beneficiaries [creditors]." Decisions to sell or retain assets will be made based on whether a sale "would produce maximum value for the beneficiaries." In addition to its real estate and ongoing income, Fairfield's assets include the company's low income housing tax credit portfolio.

With 2,000 employees, San Diego-based Fairfield has interests in roughly 200 multifamily projects, including undeveloped land, projects under construction and recently completed developments. The company has investments in metro areas across the U.S. including Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; and has built about 64,000 apartments, condominiums and off-campus student-housing units in the U.S.

While the impact of Fairfield's bankruptcy on Santa Clara has yet to unfold, there's no question that its impact on California will be significant. The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) will lose $64 million, according to a recent report in the Sacramento Bee. "It's been written off at this point," CalSTRS spokesman Ricardo Duran told the Bee's Dale Kasler.

The case is Fairfield Residential LLC, 09-14378, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Wilmington, Delaware District. You can find court documents at www.kccllc.net/Fairfield.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A New Opera Premieres in Santa Clara and a New Star is Born

Michael Taylor's new opera, "Truce of Carols," delights audiences.

At the world premiere of Gian-Carlo Menotti's Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors nearly 60 years ago, New York Times music critic Olin Downes wrote, "It was an exquisite piece… a work that few indeed could have seen and heard last night save through blurred eyes, and with emotions that were not easy to conceal."

Downes' tribute can equally be paid to Michael Taylor's new Christmas opera, Truce of Carols, making its world premiere on December 5, 2009 in a production by Santa Clara's Mission City Opera (MCO). The first-ever opera premiere in Santa Clara's two-century history, the appealing show drew standing ovations at both its performances, bidding fair to join Menotti's opera as an enduring holiday classic.

Like Menotti's Amahl, True of Carols presents a famous story through the lens of ordinary lives (war's greatest, if not first, casualty). Truce tells the story of the spontaneous 1914 Christmas ceasefire on the western front that began with a German soldier crossing no-man's-land with a Christmas tree for the British.

Taylor's mastery as a singer, actor, director and conductor shows in Truce's unity and dramatic economy across the libretto, action and music. The music is both contemporary and enjoyable: richly melodic, spot-on in dramatic effect and above all, memorable. "This is extraordinary music," says MCO Founder and Executive Director Sharon Kaye.

Taylor's musical style is lyrical and easy-to-enjoy, showing influences as diverse as Romantic Italian romantic opera, as well as the 20th century composers Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Holst, Giancarlo Menotti, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and French impressionist Eric Satie, who was contemporary with WWI. "I wanted the music to be accessible and engaging, to reflect the moment and the characters," Taylor says. "My ears are filled with Puccini, Verdi. I draw on every source."

Truce of Carols opens with an expressive orchestral exposition of two stage sets: an English garden where a young man proposes to his sweetheart, and a German country house where a family sits down to dinner. The overture that follows bypasses the musical cliché of military marches, instead evoking war's gathering clouds with unsettling harmonies and a moody, anxious melodic line. Then, like sunshine after a storm, dissonance yields to the 17th century German carol, I Know a Rose Tree Springing at first quiet and tentative, then gloriously full.

The scene opens to trench war's stalemate. It's Christmas Eve, and the German and English armies are facing off across No Man's Land. The English keep fear and boredom at bay by playing cards, while salt-of-the-earth Sergeant Mac (Robert Snedgar) dispenses unvarnished lessons in survival – "Keep your head down and your yap shut."

A flying boot from the Germans, mistaken for a grenade, disturbs the card-playing. The boot contains tobacco and sweets from the Germans, and the erstwhile enemies start wisecracking and singing Christmas carols across the trenches.

On the German side, chaplain Gunther (Norm DeVol) decides to venture across No Man's Land with the storied Christmas tree. In a moving scene, former adversaries join together to bury their fallen comrades as Gunther intones the Latin Requiem mass. Here again, Taylor demonstrates that less is more; in this case with traditional, unaccompanied Gregorian Chant.

Truce of Carols' most interesting character is the brooding Prussian sniper Markus, a man unconvinced by Christmas pieties and holiday gemutlichkeit. Perceptively played – 'inhabited' may be a better description – by baritone Sascha Joggerst, Markus is no mere cynic. He's a soul looking into the 20th century's heart of darkness, and instead of progress and peace, intuits poet William Butler Yeats' dark vision of the bloody and destructive century about to unfold:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.**

"Peace is a time of delusion between wars," Markus tells his comrades. "Thousands will fall and be forgotten, rows and rows of white headstones. Nothing more. Nichts mehr."

However, Truce of Carols is most emphatically not the relentless pessimism of modernist works like Wozzeck. Taylor, is at heart an optimist about the human condition, leavening tragedy with both humor and hope. "That's the human spirit," he says. "This hope lets the characters control their own destiny, even if it's just for 24, 48 hours." Indeed, as the two adversaries sit down to a Christmas dinner together, the German Lt. Gottlieb (Cliff Romig) offers a toast to "The day the trench rats defied the lion's roar, the call To War! To hell with their war!"

Fine achievement that Truce of Carols is, it would be nothing without the performers and supporting crew who undertook the formidable challenges of bringing a new work to the stage.

"The hardest thing about performing a new work for me was not having a point of reference," says baritone Jeffrey Taylor who made his debut on the opera stage as Jonathan Prescott. With leading-man good looks and a rich, expressive voice to match, the 17 year-old electrified Sunday's audience with his performance of Truce's signature aria, Lavender and Peonies.

Mezzo Carolyne Anne Jordan and Soprano Erin Lahm shone in their respective roles as Lt. Gottlieb's wife Inge and Jonathan Prescott's fiancé Constance. Their shimmering and perfectly balanced – something of a challenge because they were on opposite sides of the theater – duet, Writing Home, recalled the famous Flower Duet From Leo Delibes's opera Lakme.

Baritone Robert Snedegar exemplifies the all-round dedication of the MCO company. Truly a jack-of-all-trades, Snedgear brought verve to roles in both Truce of Carols and Amahl and the Night Visitors, in addition to designing and constructing the stage sets. Tenor Norm DeVol showed his acting and vocal versatility, first with a moving performance of Gunther's Aria, in which the chaplain insists on the humanity of even their adversaries, and later as the somnolent and deaf Wise Man, Kaspar, in Amahl.

And it goes without saying that six year-old William Voelker, a theatrical veteran who made his stage debut at 14 months, was a show-stealer as the Gottliebs' young son Kristian.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, it was a very moving production," says John Peterson of Santa Clara. "I hope," added his companion, Robin Burdick, voicing the feelings of everyone in that opening night audience, "they'll be doing this again next year."

Santa Clara's Mission City Opera's next production will be Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, Feb. 19, 21, 26 and 28, 2010. MCO's productions are made possible by the generous support of City of Santa Clara, grants from the Mission City Community Fund and the Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts program of Arts Council Silicon Valley, private donors, and ticket sales. For information visit www.missioncityopera.org, call (408) 749-7607, or email info@missioncityopera.org. Listen to Truce of Carols music.

*It's interesting to note that universal dramatic shorthand for the sacred remains the so-called archaic 1,500 year-old Latin chant of western Christianity. It appears that Dancing with the Angels has yet to displace Requiem Aeternam.

** The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats, 1921