Feiler Faster

The bottled-water bottlers must be feeling the heat. For newcomers to Feiler Faster, I’ve been on something of a tirade against the addiction many Americans have to bottled water. And it’s not just because Mrs. Feiler Faster is one of those addicts (though that’s certainly a factor). As someone who travels a lot in the Third World, I get the importance of bottled water. But why has it become such a fetish in high-end restaurants in this country? Actually, we know why, it’s very profitable, but the rest of us don’t have to play along. Recent articles in this country have reviewed the back-to-tap movement. Now the bottlers must be concerned. They’ve formed a lobbying group with the predictably lame acronym BWIO. This, from England:

The bottled water industry has hit back at claims that discarded plastic water bottles are contributing to global warming.
A statement was issued by the Bottled Water Information Office to say it is an environmentally friendly industry following the news that the City of New York is running a campaign to encourage people to ditch bottled water and drink tap water instead to protect the environment.
The BWIO said: “The very foundation of the industry is the protection of a precious natural resource and its use in a sustainable manner, and that ethos is applied in every aspect of the work of the industry.
“Bottled water is most commonly packaged in either plastic (PET) or glass, which is totally safe and conforms to strict regulations on health and safety. By far the majority of bottled water (93 per cent) comes in plastic bottles which is totally recyclable. Bottles also carry messages urging the purchaser to recycle after use. The rest (around 7 per cent) comes in glass bottles, which can also be placed for recycling.”
According to environmental groups, four out of five plastic water bottles end up on landfill sites and the production process contributes to global warming, but figures released by RECOUP show that 727 million plastic bottles were recycled in 2004.

Heard last night, somewhere between Charlotte and LGA, in the seat next to me, from a very cute two-year-old , with her hands over her ears, describing as best she could what it felt like to have her ears pop. The solution, from her quick-thinking mother: A stick of licorice.

In the spring of 2005, when my wife was around eight months pregnant with identical twin girls, we took the mandatory tour of the hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where she was going to deliver (naturally!) our girlies. The group was surprisingly diverse and included an ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple — black hat, beard, modestly dressed woman, the whole thing. Near the end, the man asked a series of agitated questions about what would happen if his wife went into labor on Shabbat. How would we get to the hospital? How would he sign the registration papers? And one that nearly made me lose control: How could he pay for the delivery since he wouldn’t be allowed to carry his insurance card? Now, I’m Jewish, but don’t particularly keep Shabbat. I don’t keep Kosher. But what irritated me to no end about this line of questions was that it represented, to me, everything wrong with the legalistic side of religion. First, the woman was very kind, and clear, that he could come in any time and fill out the paperwork and give his insurance card so he didn’t have to violate any religious mandates. But still: Here he was worried about violating some minor law that was clearly not even imagined at the time the Bible was written or Judaism was invented and he was overlooking the first commandment God gives to humans in the Bible (the first thing he says to them at all): Be fruitful and multiply. Get your priorities straight!
I remembered this long-forgotten incident this weekend, when I read that rabbis in Jerusalem had complained that Harry Potter was going on sale on Shabbat.harryinhebrew.jpg

With Israelis already clamoring for Deathly Hallows, many bookstores are planning to launch the book on time anyway. That has drawn fire from Orthodox Jewish lawmakers, including Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who threatened to fine any store that opens Saturday.
“Israeli law forbids businesses to force their employees to work on the Sabbath, and that applies in this case as well. The minister will fine and prosecute any businesses which violate the law,” said Roei Lachmanovich, a spokesman for Yishai, of the ultra-0rthodox Jewish Shas party.
Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism Party slammed the Potter books for their “defective messages.”
“We don’t have to be dragged like monkeys after the world with this subculture, and certainly not while violating our holy Sabbath,” Ravitz said in a statement.

Dragged like monkeys? So now Harry Potter is not only a threat religion, he’s a threat to evolution as well? But I thought strict Judaism denies evolution? I dare say Judaism, in roughly its 2500th year, having survived Christianity, Islam, the Holocaust, its own infighting, and inane caretakers like these ministers, can survive the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft.

In March 2001, on the eve of the publication of Walking the Bible, I started a website, I did it on a whim. “Authors should have websites,” I thought. It changed my life. Not just my professional life. My life life. The experience of having people write me, in the middle of the night, two days after finishing a book, on the eve of a discussion in their book group,thirty-five years after teaching me in kindergarten; from Japan, Kuwait, the Philippines; in Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi; in appreciation, in tears, in rage; while watching me on PBS, while listening to me on NPR; while sitting with their dying spouse, while serving in Iraq, just after sending their grandchild to Israel, just after nodding off on the side of Route 1 in California while listening to me on an audiobook; has been the unexpected gift of nearly two decades of being a professional writer. Publishing books, appearing on television, giving a speech, succumbing to the occasional temptation of being the glib, knowing witmaster pundit (like on Stephen Colbert) are mostly one-way forms of interaction. My site enabled me to communicate, in the best, two-way sense of that word.
Last fall I launched my third major redesign of my site, and added a bunch of features designed to incrased communication. Many of the old features were still there, including descriptions, an excerpt, reviews, and links to purchase each of my nine books. For my last three books – Walking the Bible, Abraham, and Where God Was Born – we enhanced the very popular interfaith discussion guides andother materials for readings groups or classes. I now have a newsletter where people can learn of upcoming appearances. Also, on the events page, I keep a perpetually updated list of where I’ll be speaking and a have a link to the wonderful folks at Royce Carlton who help arrange my schedule. And, of course, I have a way to send me an e-mail. In over five years, I’ve answered every single one.
I also launched a blog at that time. I called it Feiler Faster. I did this for a number of reasons. First, the ur-blogger Mickey Kaus is an old friend of mine. Though he may deny it if given the chance, he and I used to run a happy hour together, with a mutual friend, in New York a decade ago. One night while attending a reading of the ur-vlogger Bob Wright, we got to talking about politics. It was a day or so after the New Hampshire primary in 2000 in which John McCain had upset George W. Bush. The SC primary was a few days away. Could Bush bounce back, or would the NH bounce carry McCain to victory? “People process information so quickly these days,” I said, “by the time Saturday rolls around there will be a backlash to the McCain bounce.” Or something to that effect. Mickey, in his genius, preternatural understanding of the blogosphere, turned this into a theorem, the Feiler Faster Thesis, which he later shortened to FFT and has used periodically since. Well, it became a thing. It has popped up in news accounts over the years, it has a Wikipedia entry that is actually longer than my own Wikipedia entry, and it showed up in a review of WALKING THE BIBLE on PBS in the NYT. So, since his description of the FFT begins by saying I had an idea I said I said he could borrow, I asked him, somewhat nervously, if I could borrow his enhancement of my name. He was generous and matter of fact: It was my theory. And so, riding on his coattails, I claimed it back. Also, for someone who writes books for a living and has never held a job (except as a circus clown), the idea of having an outlet where I could write faster, as opposed to my day job, which is essentially Feiler Slower, the name seemed appealing.
Around the time I was beginning Feiler Faster I attened a party for David Kuo and reconnected with some old friends at Beliefnet. I have had a distant connection with the site since it was launched, as some friends of mine worked on the launch, back in its fat-and-happy days. I wrote the odd piece very now and then, and they have been kind enough to cover my writing over the years (like here and here), and even named ABRAHAM the “Best Spiritual Book of 2002,” a rare honor. They suggested I consider moving Feiler Faster to Beliefnet, and, well, it took a long time, but here we go.
If you’re new to Feiler Faster, welcome aboard. You’re find that a number of topics we’ve been discussing for some time. I’ll try to fill in the backstory along the way. Otherwise, it seems sill to list what I blog about, because, among other things, it changes by the hour. I look forward to reading your comments. And I’ll let you know now one of my philosophies of writing that has served me well from Japan through the circus to the Bible and beyond. I like to be loving, but blunt. And I invite you to be the same.