Friday, August 24, 2007

Me At Work

No, that's not a mis-spelling of "Men At Work."

Actually, it's a shameless plug to go read a couple of articles I wrote for MIPA, the Midwest Independent Publishers Association. I wrote one on book categories and one on building a publishing backlist. It's the "work side" of me, hence "me at work."

Over-explained, I know.

But go check it out. The book categories one is personal, and has completely changed the way I approach my writing. How? Go read it!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Today's Post Brought to You by the Letter H

Hey Hey, Haveil Havalim is Here, Helpful and Highly Hailed, Honoring and Heralding Hints from Heresies to Histories, Heroically Hoarded (in a Helpful way) at the sHack.

Henceforth, Hurry Hastily and Heed your Hunger for this Hearty Harvest of Happiness.


A Reason for Jewish Optimism: Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

My burning question to Tsvi Bisk after being captivated by his lecture was this: what can we do?

My question was answered on two levels.

"We've done the research on alternative energy," Bisk said. "We have plenty of research. Enough with the research already. What we need is deployment." In fact, Israel is at the forefront of developing and establishing alternative energy solutions, water conservation and desalination, and recycling. And a small community can do this, he said.

Step one: Get the local (Jewish) community together. Do some fundraising, Ask for investments from the local medical community in particular.

Step two: Purchase a solar-powered steam turbine generator from Solel (or a similar Israeli company) with the money raised.

Step three: Donate the generator to a local hospital, where they will substantially reduce their energy bill.

Step four: Take advantage of the media to demonstrate how a small community can make a huge environmental difference within their own community. Help it to "go viral" and spread to other communities.

Who wins? Everyone. The Jewish community wins by getting credit for the donation. The hospital wins by reducing costs. Israel wins by establishing another happy customer. And the earth wins.

There are the usual but still important answers:

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact flourescent bulbs
  • Turn off lights and small appliances when not using them
  • Make your next vehicle a hybrid
  • Invest in wind and/or solar energy programs through your local energy company
  • Conserve energy wherever possible
But I wanted more. I wanted to know, for those of us who have already invested in wind energy, replaced our bulbs, and can't afford a new car right now, what can we do today?

Tsvi Bisk will hopefully answer that - what a single individual can do - and other questions about his book and proposals in an upcoming interview here on the blog.

Meanwhile, as I was at the lecture, a representative from Checker Auto Parts came up to me and provided more answers.

What can YOU do today?
  1. Check the air in the tires of your vehicle(s). For every pound psi the tires are underinflated, you lower your gas mileage up to one percent.

  2. Check the air filter in your vehicle(s), even if whomever changed the oil claims they inspected the air filter. Change it if necessary. A clogged air filter can cost you 10% of your gas mileage.

  3. Use "Top Tier" fuel. This does NOT mean the really expensive high-octane stuff. This means fuel that has sufficient detergent added to clean your fuel system as it's being burned. Leading automakers have determined that the minimum EPA standards for detergent added to gasoline only provides about half the detergent needed to keep the engine's fuel system clean and prevent corrosion. For a list of fuel companies participating in the Top Tier program, visit

  4. If there are no Top Tier participating fuel stations nearby, add the best fuel system cleaner you can buy to your vehicle every three months. This is often not the one on sale. Ask your local auto parts store for their best recommendations; there should only be one or two.
I went home and checked tire pressure. Right on manufacturer recommendations. Check one.

I checked the air filter despite the oil changing place claiming to have checked it three months ago. I don't think it had EVER been changed. Icky. A new one cost less than $10. Check two.

No Top Tier stations around here, so I bought the recommended fuel system cleaner specifically for engines over 100,000 miles. Two weeks later (as of this writing), my average gas mileage - which I've been tracking since I bought our minivan - increased by 9 mpg. From 19 mpg to 28 mpg. For a minivan!

And then, because I was inspired and because our six-year-old gas-powered lawnmower is clearly on its last wheels, we retired the noisy gas-guzzler and bought a push reel mower from the local home improvement store for a well-spent $65.

Here's the amazing thing: it pushes easier than the gas mower, is easier to maneuver, cuts just as well (or better), is nearly silent (I can talk on the phone while mowing the lawn; who else can claim that?), and doesn't benefit Iran, antisemitic propaganda, or spew who knows what fumes into my face and the environment.

All because I reviewed a book and it touched me.

Whether you agree with the entire message or not, the fact remains that energy is an issue looking desperately for a solution, and the Jewish Energy Project might just be one of the answers.

A Reason for Jewish Optimism: Part 1

I recently attended a lecture in St. Paul by Israeli author Tsvi Bisk and in some very real ways, it changed my life.

First of all, Tsvi Bisk is an incredible speaker. He had a large room with a standing-room-only audience mesmerized for nearly two hours. This is hard to do under the best of circumstances but he pulled it off successfully. Part of it may have been his resonant voice, growing louder to emphasize some points and then pulled back to a soft this-is-between-you-and-me camaraderie. But most of it was the message itself:

We can
  • neutralize the war on terror
  • significantly decrease antisemitic propaganda around the world
  • bring both religious and secular, Diaspora and Israeli Jews together, and
  • put a dent in global warming

all in one program. And we can do it within twenty years or less.

The answer: become energy independent.

Not everyone agrees with this, but hearing Tsvi Bisk talk, it is hard to find fault with his logic, his passion, or his proposals.

Much of the detail about what he calls the Jewish Energy Project is detailed in his latest book, The Optimistic Jew, reviewed here on this blog. In the lecture, he summarized much of it with the following:

  • A great deal of the antisemitic propaganda and literature spread around the world originates in Iran (big surprise)
  • The vast majority of Iran's income comes from the sale of oil
  • Reducing or even eliminating dependence on foreign oil will hurt these anti-Jewish, anti-Israel governments far more than sending more troops to the Middle East to risk their lives against roadside bombs and insurgent attacks
  • Energy is something that can bring together both young and mature, secular and religious Jews in Israel and the Diaspora; it is something consistent with Torah values and taking care of the earth
  • By showing our local communities, regions, states, countries that it is possible to reduce or eliminate dependence on foreign oil by tapping alternative energy resources and conserving energy, this is a grassroots campaign that can make a global difference. This is an important way we can become (again) a light unto the nations.

"I don't care if it is down-up, top-down, grass roots, grass tops, so long as it is done," said Bisk during the lecture. Everyone has a share in it, he emphasized. Everyone needs to participate.

Among attendees were representatives from the Alliance for Sustainability, who agreed with Bisk that energy independence and conservation are the keys not only to neutralizing the war, but to avoiding future wars that would, experts agree, likely be about either energy or water. Or both.

There was much discussion on the feasability of Bisk's Jewish Energy Project, on its impact at the legislative level and the response (or lack thereof) from American and Israeli political leaders. Bisk quipped that the term "Israeli political leader" was an oxymoron, and admitted that this can only succeed if people demand it of their representatives and leaders. The payoffs for current political leaders to maintain the status quo is simply too tempting.

What, I wanted to know, can we, as individuals, as small communities, do right now?

That was where it got really interesting.

Continued in Part 2.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dear Sheyna...

Two and a half articles done, I just took a break and retrieved the mail, finding a hand-addressed letter to me from a vaguely familiar-sounding name in New York.

Curious, I opened it.

"Dear Sheyna,
I am Jewish and I believe Yeshua (Jesus' Hebrew name) is the promised Messiah of Israel."


Icky drop it drop it - no, throw it out OUT OUT! - no, better yet SHRED IT! Ewwww...

Right. Emotional display of disgust over. I think.

How did they get my home address? Oy. Just when I thought I was getting a handle on all the email spam, now it comes in my house. Ick.

Okay, so I understand the need for Christians who believe that witnessing or whatever is part of their purpose in life. Don't like it, but I understand it's what they believe. But former sort-of Jews preying on other Jews? That's just wrong. Wrongwrongwrong.

I know it happens. A lot. Way more than it should. I just consider myself lucky to have dodged most of it.

So I invite readers here to share what y'alls would do if you got such a letter? Send them a letter back referring them to Jews for Judaism?

Do you just ignore it, shred it, burn it, or otherwise purge it from your house, and if you do that, does it in some way perpetuate it by not stopping it?

Brainstorms welcome. (Conversion attempts not.) What would you do and why?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Coming Up...

Soon, as soon as I can get my other four articles written and off to the appropriate editors, I'll have posts on:
  • Tsvi Bisk's lecture in Saint Paul
  • a recent book club talk
  • and reflections on a recent question about whether my books are kosher.
Meanwhile, back to writing about flexibility, backlists, and categorizing books. All three of those articles will eventually wind up on the MIPA blog, hopefully within the next week.

More to come!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridge In Troubled Waters

By now many of you have heard about the 35W bridge collapse in Minnneapolis yesterday evening. First a personal note of gratitude: we are all fine, thank G-d.

It's quite a ways from us and not a route we use often, though I almost drove across it yesterday morning until I found myself driving on "autopilot" and heading a different way to the same destination. (I'm not sure whether that "autopilot" thing was not enough coffee or just enough Divine Intervention, but either way, I'm safe.)

It's very surreal here. Husby and I went out for a walk last night and met several other neighbors who were outside just trying to make sense of it. Everyone knew someone who crossed that bridge during rush hour. The cell phone towers are overloaded and last I heard, there are at least 30 people unaccounted for and at least six fatalities.

We had the news on at 6:00pm last night and saw the first "breaking news" story. Stopped us in our tracks. I stared in disbelief until my brain kicked into gear and then all I could do was whisper "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" repeatedly. There was nothing we could do except watch and worry and pray.

I just saw the CNN video of the bridge as it actually collapsed. I'll add it in a post just after this one.

I couldn't sleep last night from all the news, finally took something to help and I'm groggy today. Not a great day for writing, let me tell you. But I've got two articles due and another blog post update on watching Tsvi Bisk in action (wow), so it's a writing day whether my brain wants to or not.

Interstate 35W Security Footage of Bridge Collapse

Here is that shocking video of the bridge collapse I just wrote about.