Thursday, October 31, 2002

My traditional Halloween joke (must be told every year):

Q: Why couldn't the witch have a baby?

A: Because the ghost had a hollow-weenie.

And now, for your card:

Sorry, there's not much time to post anything else - It's been another insanely busy week at work. We did get out last night to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers along with Jackson Browne at Shoreline Amphitheater. Fantastic show, but you'll have to wait another day or two before I'll have time to post a review. Gotta run...

Monday, October 28, 2002

There is no joy in Mudville today. Or in the San Francisco Bay Area. So close... We were so damn close... Two-thirds of the way into game six we still had it. The title was not just within our reach, but was pretty much ours. It had our name on it.

And then those SOBs from Southern California rallied, may they rot in hell.

But am I upset about a silly little baseball game? Of course not. It's just the World Series, that's all. What's to get upset about? It's an honor just to be nominated, right?

Between the humiliating loss last night, and the usual grumpiness people feel after changing the clocks, there's going to be some dangerous drivers on the freeways around the Bay this morning.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

An important announcement in Sunday morning's news: Students Asked to Test-Run Condoms.

"The condom testers will be asked to give a pleasure rating. They will not be asked to test quality -- that has already been done," according to marketing manager Victoria Wells.


Saturday, October 26, 2002

Well, it took long enough (six-and-a-half months), but has finally posted the cover graphic for my book, Aaron's Intifada and Other Short Stories.

At this point, my sales rank has dropped down to 1.5 million. I wonder if having the cover art posted will help raise that any? Anyway, check out the new, improved listing - with cover art!

Meanwhile, my folks arrive for a visit in a couple of hours, so I've got to go vacuum and scrub a toilet or two...

Friday, October 25, 2002

Sen. Paul Wellstone, seven others killed in Minnesota plane crash

One the last real progressives and Democrats worth a damn died today in a plane crash, along with his wife and daughter. This is truly a loss for America, and for progressive issues.

Of course, coming as it did less than two weeks before an election day in which he faced stiff competition, this will create no end to political speculation and "what if" scenarios. I don't care to get into that right now.

At this time, let's just take a moment to remember one of the few politicians who understood the meaning of public service.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

From "NextDraft" - an excellent newsletter I subscribe to, and highly recommend (follow the link for details):

Pentagon Papers 2?
Daniel Ellsberg is the former Pentagon official who leaked a report that was later named the Pentagon Papers and was part of a chain of events that helped to bring an end to the Vietnam War. Ellsberg sees many connections between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the one just passed by Congress. He also thinks the public is being misled when it comes to the real reason for a potential war in Iraq: "It's not about stopping proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, like the administration claims -- Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld know better than that. The real reason is right there, like the purloined letter, though saying it stamps you as some kind of vulgar radical or cynic. Oil."

The full article from the SF Chronicle

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Here's something I've been writing for work. It's not final or approved yet, so don't take it as an official CompassPoint statement. The final version will probably be about 400 words, compared to the current 623, so it will change considerably before it's published. I just thought some of you might find the full-length, un-edited version interesting. It may give you a bit of an insight into the kinds of things I'm thinking about during the day.

“I don’t think any foundation should exist in perpetuity,” said Richard Goldman, of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, one of the Bay Area’s largest foundations, in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article. Goldman is one of a handful of philanthropists leading the movement towards “giving while living.”

Foundations and other endowed nonprofits are required by law to distribute a minimum of five percent of their assets each year. Most have kept their payouts at that level, thereby maintaining their endowments for future generations. This practice, however, has been called into question this year in reports published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the McKinsey Quarterly. As the McKinsey article points out, “The minimum has become the maximum.”

In the New York Times, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley wrote that foundations “should be judged by their achievements, not by their endowments.” Bradley went on to say that more could be done for the 13 million US children who live in poverty, or the nearly 41 million who have no health insurance, if foundations spent “more of their money now instead of saving for the future.” Bradley concluded that to not spend more now “suggests that for some, the endowment has become an end in itself.”

Not only does it make social sense to spend more than five percent of endowments now; it makes economic sense as well, according to several of the articles. Using the economics concept of the “time value of money,” Bradley and others show that foundations could be more effective by having a higher payout rate.

Would you rather have $100 today or a year from now? Most people would rather have it now, discounting the future value of the $100. In business it is recognized that future returns are to be discounted, or treated as less valuable than money earned this period. Similarly, by sticking to a strict five percent payout rate, a foundation may make $6 million dollars in grants over 50 years from an initial $1 million endowment, but the present value of those grants would only be $600,000.

During the 1990s, when foundation assets were growing, with grants growing along with them, the subject of increasing payout rates was rarely raised. In today’s economic climate, with government funding cuts and fewer individual donor dollars, coupled with rising unemployment and requests for the services that nonprofits offer, we need foundation grants more than ever. Foundation grant budgets, however, are being cut - despite the fact that their endowments are still huge. As the S.F. Chronicle pointed out, “Bay Area foundations are becoming stingier just when their money is needed most.”

There is no question that nonprofits are hurting, locally and nationally. At CompassPoint we hear it from our clients every day. Many organizations that we know are on the brink of bankruptcy. Some have already ceased operation. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, has put out a challenge for large foundations to step forward, saying, “...the ones with significant assets. They are in a position to rescue nonprofits.”

Philanthropists like Richard Goldman are already ahead of the call. The Goldman Fund gives out a minimum of ten percent of their assets annually. Goldman has also ordered the foundation to spend all their money and cease operations within ten years of his death. Others ahead of the curve include the Atlantic Philanthropies’ founding chairman Charles Feeney, and George Soros, chairman of the Open Society and other efforts.

While we recognize that many foundations are bound by bylaws that strap them to the federally determined five percent payout rate, we applaud Goldman, Soros, Feeney, and the others for leading the trend towards “giving while living,” and encourage others to follow in their path.

Now, like I said at the beginning, this is my personal draft - It is as yet unapproved as an "official CompassPoint statement." If you have an argument with it, speak to me, not my boss. Until further notice, my opinion only. (Think I put in enough disclaimers?)

Monday, October 21, 2002

"Sometime in your life you will go on a journey. It will be the longest journey you have ever taken. It is the journey to find yourself."
- Katherine Sharp

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Here's a newsletter I just sent out to visitors of my "13th Story" web site - If you haven't visited the site before, this will serve as an introduction:

Dear Reader and Supporter of The 13th Story,

The latest feature added to The 13th Story web site is an independent fiction marketplace. We already have book listings in many categories, including: Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical, Short Stories, and, of course, Mainstream/Literary.

These are titles you may not find out about in any other forum, by some of the newest and most exciting authors working today. You can start your search for your next book at

You'll also still find the "Short Fiction Randomizer" - Each click on the randomizer brings you to a different short story written by one of our excellent authors.

Please stop by the site and take a look at what we're doing today. As always, the site is transforming, with new features on the way.

Thanks for your support, and keep on reading!

Ken Goldstein
Editor, The 13th Story - "Fiction for fiction's sake"

So, that gives you an idea of one of the things I've been working on lately, on the days that I'm not posting here.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

It must be an election year because I just got an unexpected check from the state of California. Yes, even though it's been over a year since I was unemployed and receiving benefits (which I only did for a few weeks), yesterday's mail brought a nice healthy check from the Employment Development Department.

I knew they had voted to raise the maximum benefit amounts, but apparently they also decided to make it retroactive. And what a coincidence that the checks went out three weeks before a statewide election!

Unfortunately for Gray Davis, this check was not enough to buy my vote. I'll still be voting Green, and making my mark next to Peter Miguel Camejo's name.

The gubernatorial election has been so dirty and so off-putting, that I've actually been avoiding anything to do with this election at all. I've not read the propositions, or looked at any of the other issues that will be on the ballot, all because the choice at the top makes me so nauseous.

That I feel this way is not surprising. You all know that I've been fed up with the two major parties for some time now. What is surprising, and I think I may have said this here before as well, is that everybody else feels the same as I do. When I say I'm voting Green, people give me honestly positive reactions instead of the usual, "You idiot, you're throwing away your vote!"

Now, three weeks from the election, there's even rumors that each of the top candidates will pull out of the race and be replaced by write-in campaigns. It being California, the write-ins being proposed are not your typical politicians. It's Arnold Schwartzeneger for the Republicans and Rob Reiner for the Democrats.

Times have changed. It used to be that James Garner was the actor being courted by the Democrats to be the anti-Reagan. That was something I would have loved to have seen, but I guess old Jim's day has been and gone. It's the Meathead's turn now. (Off topic note: the spell check in MS Outlook accepts "Meathead.")

Reiner has been involved in several statewide issues campaigns, most notably Proposition 10, the tobacco tax initiative that passed a few years ago. The prop 10 money has been a great boost to education and children's health issues, and has actually earned Reiner a place at the progressive table. But I don't really think that qualifies him for governor yet (and that goes the same for Arnold).

Unfortunately, I have no faith in the abilities of our celebrity candidates to anything more than further polarize voters. Arnold and Rob are great citizen advocates, and I hope they each continue in those endeavors, but I won't be writing in either one on my ballot. I'll simply be putting on my surgical mask to block out the stench of this election, carefully entering the voting booth, marking my ballot for Camejo, and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

"The need to find meaning... is as real as the need for trust and for love, for relations with other human beings."
- Margaret Mead

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

The Ghost of Hiram Plink
by Ken Goldstein

"Boil the breakfast early, Ma. Me and Seamas is goin' fishin'!" Hiram read that opening line, looked up over the manuscript page and gave me a sly grin, then went back to the draft before him.

I am the ghost of Hiram Plink. That is to say, I am his ghostwriter; he has hired me to write his "autobiography." But Hiram likes to refer to me as his ghost.

The process to this point had taken nearly a year; a little longer than usual. We started with months of interviews, just the two of us, meeting over coffee or a light meal, avoiding the formal setting of my office, only the tape recorder on the table to point out the nature of our relationship. When I am hired to write somebody's autobiography they are inviting me into their life. It is a bold step, and my first job is to make them comfortable enough to open up.

Writing somebody else's book for them requires you to adopt their attitudes, their style, and their voice. Hiram's reaction to the opening showed that I did my job well. Over the next two hours I sat and watched him read. Smiling, nodding, and giving me signs that it is the book he would have written himself. During that time I recalled our year together.

On projects such as this I will often write the memoir from just a few interviews with the subject. There have been occasions when this has transpired entirely with phone calls, the "author" of the book and I never meeting face-to-face. Hiram, however, wanted to hold nothing back. Early on in our relationship he invited me to his home to meet his wife.

Florence Plink doted on her husband in a truly loving way, and accepted his assessment of other people; if he said somebody was friend, that would be good enough for her. When I entered the house and Hiram introduced me as his ghost, she embraced me like a long lost brother, welcoming me into their home and their lives.

Before long I'd met each of their four children, their spouses, and the grandchildren, and all took me aside to tell me stories that "just had to be in the book." They made me part of the family and included me birthdays and holiday celebrations. All took their lead from the patriarch of the family, Hiram, with even the seven-year-old grandson introducing me to a stranger as "my grandpa's ghost."

With other ghostwriting assignments, I've always had a clear client-author relationship. With Hiram it became more of a partnership, but it still took him five months to introduce me to a key character in the later part of the book; his doctor. Hiram was being treated for lung cancer. Or rather, cared for, but not treated; his cancer was inoperable and what care he received was only to make his final months more comfortable.

Hiram had known this fact from before he'd hired me, yet I'd had no idea he was dying. From the constant laughter in the family house and the positive attitudes of everybody I'd met, I had to wonder if I was the first to find out about Hiram's diagnosis. When the doctor explained the path of the treatment to me I looked over to Hiram, shocked and mute. He must have understood what I was thinking because he replied, "Yes, they all know."

In the best of assignments, I am invited into my subjects' life. In agreeing to write Hiram Plink's autobiography I was invited into his death. This was not a part of the story I was used to writing, and was at a loss as to how to accomplish this.

I attempted to incorporate his acceptance of his fate into the final several chapters. Writing in Hiram's voice I gave his thanks for seventy wonderful years, full of love, and luck, and all that could be desired. In Hiram's own words I closed the book by saying that to ask for any more would be purely conceit, then went on to tell how much he loved his family and would miss them.

Then, sitting, watching him read that section, I saw the first signs of disapproval in the long time he'd been reading the draft. He tried, without success, to sit himself up in the hospital bed, an impossible task with all the hoses and wires and needles attached to various parts of his once strong, now virtually disintegrating body.

"Did I tell you to end the book with that maudlin crap?" Hiram demanded of me. "Have you learned nothing? This book is to be a celebration of life. Yes, you've got to mention the cancer, but it's not take up fully one-third of the book. You're not done with this project yet, young man. Not by a long shot."

I didn't know what to say. Each day, the doctors expected would be his last. "How do you want me to wrap it up, then?"

"You'll know when the time comes. You'll write it without me, after I'm gone."

"But, Hiram," I said. "The job of a ghostwriter is to work with the subject. I can't do this on my own. We need to finish it together."

"Have you paid attention at all to my story? Forget the rules, this is our book, and I trust you to go on without me. I need you to go on without me. I've finished my part; it's time for you to do yours." With that he settled back into his pillows, exhausted. Florence stepped forward and pulled his blanket up to tuck him in, then she led me out of the room to allow him some rest.

When I returned to the hospital the next morning Hiram was gone. His youngest son was still there packing up his personal items. He took me in his arms and told that Hiram had passed a little after midnight. We then rode together to the funeral home where the rest of the family was busy making arrangements for the memorial.

For several weeks after that I walked around the city in a daze, ignoring calls from our publisher asking where the final draft was; ignoring the calls from Florence asking how I was doing. I couldn't write anything, not even a note to my agent to say that I was giving up writing. I thought about my career: seventeen books, and not one of them with my own name on the cover. I'd always been a ghost, never able to create anything on my own. None of the great novels I'd envisioned in my head ever making it to paper.

Then, one Sunday, I turned on the TV and saw an old interview with Hiram being replayed on "60 Minutes." A young Hiram sat with Mike Wallace telling him that the secret to his success was being too damn stupid to realize that failure was an option. It's not that he was any more brilliant than anybody else; it's only that he got out there and tried.

I turned off the television and fired up my computer for the first time printing out the draft that I'd taken with me to the hospital the night Hiram died. I opened a new document and started typing; "I am the ghost of Hiram Plink."

(© copyright 2002, K.R. Goldstein, as is everything original I post here)

Monday, October 14, 2002

Now isn't it interesting that shortly after posting about that "novel-in-a-month" insanity that I disappear for several days without having anything to say? I sign of writer's block to come, or just legitimately busy? Perhaps a little bit of each.

Or, maybe, just spending some time with my wife, who had a really bad week last week? Hoping to make her weekend just a little bit better, not dividing my attention between her and any writing projects? That sounds noble. I'll stick with that story.

Among the people we saw over the weekend were my brother, who is now once again employed. He took us to a nice dinner (and drinks) to celebrate his first paycheck and thank us for our support during his difficult last year.

We also got a surprise call yesterday afternoon from a friend who we thought had disappeared into love-land. Her new boyfriend, who we each thought was a potentially dangerous control freak, had such a hold on her attention that she'd apparently given up on the need for outside friendship (he also convinced her to give up working and her college courses and just stay home to cook and clean for him). Until, that is, she called yesterday at 2:00 PM.

What we've missed, while he's been hiding her from us, is that he's attempted to have her committed, but is also trying to get her pregnant, but has yet to broach the subject of marriage. This is just a sampling of what's been going on in her life. The impression that Leslie and I had of this guy as a potentially dangerous control freak now seems to be both prophetic, and only the tip of the iceberg.

We, of course, encouraged her to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and that she's not the crazy one in the relationship. It also made us realize that whatever problems we were complaining about last week were absolutely nothing in comparison, leaving us ready, once again, to face a new week upon rising this morning.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Now here's a new market I'm not sure I want to submit my writing to:

Toilet Paper Novels Hit Stalls. Yes, now you can read your favorite authors, poets, and philosophers while on the pot, even if you forgot to bring your book with you.

"We want our books to be used. That's our philosophy," said the German publisher, noting that about half the population likes to read while on the john. Well, you can't argue with that, it's just a matter of what the books will be used for that disturbs me.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

I have very foolishly signed up for NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writers Month. Participants attempt to write a complete novel between November 1 and November 30. No cheating and starting in October (other than a few notes or a brief outline).

Why, if I have not completed a novel in 41 years, do I think I can write one in a month? Well, surely I have. In my head at least. I've written dozens of novels while driving along the 280 corridor running between San Francisco and San Jose. All I've done here is committed myself to capturing one on paper. How hard can it be? You all know about all the writing I have completed - this is just increasing the scale a little bit.

I signed up while at CompassPoint's SF office yesterday morning. By the time I returned to my San Jose office later in the afternoon, I had the outline of my novel-in-a-month in my head. This just might work - if I can only remember it all on November 1st when I'm allowed to start typing.

National Novel Writing Month Participant

Monday, October 07, 2002

So I stayed away from the blog for a couple of days worrying about this: Some guy on the BookTV channel was talking about the use of old journals and such for writing history. This is also a technique used quite a bit in documentary films. Since Ken Burns did his acclaimed Civil War series, any documentary worth watching has had actors reading from old diaries and letters over the photographs of the period being studied.

The historian/professor on BookTV was saying that appearances aside, that didn't mean that most people in the nineteenth century kept journals. Quite the opposite, actually. But when they did keep journals was during a time of change or crisis, and only for brief periods. The Civil War was one such experience that led many people to keep journals, the westward movement of the pioneers was another. He pointed out the common root of the words journal and journey; that this is not a coincidence.

Journals of these epochs abound, but that doesn't mean that everyday life in nineteenth century America was at that level of intensity on a daily basis. Only the days that anybody bothered to record. The average person could not just take a few snapshots to remember seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, they couldn't phone Mom and tell her about the battle of Bull Run, they could only sit at night by the light of a kerosene lamp and write about it in their journal to share with their loved ones much, much later.

Of course, what I got out of that (in addition to the above) was just how self-obsessed those of us with blogs must truly be (myself included). That we choose not only to record the events of the most mundane days (how many of my posts are along the lines of, "I'm really tired - long day at work"?), but we then post it to the web to share with the world. Even more amazing is that there are people who actually visit this site on a regular basis to see what I'm up to. And so I didn't post anything over the weekend.

Let me just tell you; I didn't make any overland journeys by wagon train, and I didn't battle to save the Union. But it was hotter than Hell here in San Jose. It had started to cool off a few weeks back, but now, getting towards the middle of October, we're looking at 90 degrees again tomorrow. I believe that this is as mundane a post as I can muster. But who knows? One hundred years from now that weather report may hold the key to understanding life in America at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But I doubt it.

Friday, October 04, 2002

A couple of personal landmarks have passed in the last 24 hours. First, I have celebrated my one-year anniversary and started my second year of employment with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. I guess that means I passed probation. It's been an interesting year, with lots of challenges and changes, but I'm still excited about it and enjoying my time there.

The other landmark is having lost 12% of my body mass. My diet is officially a success, as I've gone from 205 to 180 pounds in the last two months. I'm now height-weight appropriate and am entering the maintenance phase of my new way of eating. The temptation is to celebrate with a two-pound steak smothered in onion rings accompanied by French fries and garlic bread and washed down with a couple of pints of Guinness' Stout. I shall try, however, to restrain myself.

Meanwhile, check out the look for The 13th Story. I'm in the midst of re-working it as a marketplace for self-published and POD fiction.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I spent the last two days in a Santa Clara courtroom, going through jury selection. No, I wasn't busted for anything - I was called to jury duty and was nearly nabbed for a six-week journey into Hell.

Tuesday morning I didn't even make it into the courtroom; we were held in the waiting room downstairs while hardship cases were being heard. Jury selection started at 1:30, which was when we found out the case and that it would be six or seven weeks before it was over. This news, of course, started another round of people asking for hardship excuses.

Over the next day-and-a-half, the initial group of over 125 potential jurors was whittled down to about 35 in the search for twelve jurors and four alternates. We all sat patiently as names were called up to the box, questioned by the judge and lawyers, then went through several rounds of challenges when the lawyers would veto the jurors they didn't like. After the challenges, new names would be called to fill those seats, and the process would repeat itself.

By about 4:00 PM on Wednesday the twelve seats in the jury box were full, and there were enough people up in the hot seats to fill the alternate positions, even if each lawyer used all their available challenges. I breathed a sigh of relief that I would be set free shortly. Then it got surreal...

One of the seated jurors had a panic attack and had to be quickly excused and led out of the courtroom. Two of the potential alternates had spontaneous nosebleeds and the row filled up with bloody tissues. More names would have to be called. At 4:20 I was asked to fill the final open seat.

After answering the questions from the judge and attorneys it was challenge time. If each attorney used all the challenges they were allowed, I'd be moved up into an alternate position. Thankfully, the prosecution passed on his last two vetoes. I would not be needed. At 4:35 I was thanked and excused and left with those who had spent two days waiting in silence.

On the way out of the courtroom several of them congratulated me on my narrow escape. Feeling lucky, I bought a Lotto ticket on the way home - the Jackpot was up to $57 million. I just checked; I did not win the Lotto. But I am glad to be able to return to work today.

Here's the details of the case:

The case was the People vs. Steven Allan Ristau. Ristau is charged with six counts of securities fraud and two counts of filing false state income tax returns and one count of state income tax evasion, all worth up to 18 years in prison and $10 million in fines.

Ristau supposedly bilked more than 700 investors out of more than $3.7 million by selling unregistered securities based on technology that did not exist. That this is a crime was apparently not known in 1999 and early 2000 when the activities allegedly occurred in this case, and all over Silicon Valley.

Ristau's company,, was supposed to have developed a new wireless technology for broadcasting movies wirelessly over the Internet. During demonstrations he claimed that the company's set top box was receiving a digital movie from a source located 12 miles away when the box was actually receiving a signal from a commercially available wireless LAN hidden in the ceiling a few feet away.

Read more about the charges in the San Jose Business Journal.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Today is the launching of a new e-zine site called BookBanter. The premiere issue just happens to include a short story of mine called "What's in a Name?"

Please take a look at BookBanter - not just for my story, but for all the great writing!

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