RIP: James Patrick Baen

The man who gave me my chance as a published author, Jim Baen, passed away yesterday. Author David Drake provides an eloquent eulogy here.

In the ups and downs of our working relationship, I never lost my deep respect for the man they used to call the “GE” (officially General Editor, though many fans preferred God-Emperor, begging your pardon).

You’ll read now and then about the great old days of publishing, when Mighty Editors roamed the earth (or at least the hallways) wielding their red pencils and showing callow authors who showed some promise how to tell a real story.

Those days are mostly gone now. Today the industry is run by bean counters who sell books by the yard. Editors flit from house to house, perpetually frustrated that they can’t get approval for books and authors they believe in.

Jim Baen was a throwback to the glory days. He ran his own shop, and he ran it his own way. He published the kind of books he wanted to read himself, and he showed the world that you could make a nice living doing just that.

He was fiercely, even frighteningly, honest. When he said he’d do a thing, he did it.

He believed in freedom of speech and, unlike many in the publishing business, he practiced it. He published me (a Christian) and Eric Flint (a Communist). He himself was an agnostic.

I doubt I’ll ever see another editor/publisher like him.

We can never know for certain the fate of any soul. I pray Jim will have found grace at the end.

Andree Seu on Writing and Faking It

[first posted August 16, 2003] This week’s issue of World Magazine includes another great essay by one of my favorite essayists/columnists/journalists (whichever label fits best) Andree Seu. She says, “Writers know that you can find a source to say anything you want, so they move heaven and earth to scare up an expert who agrees with them.” That and the pressures of marketing, whose goal is to turn a profit, makes some reporting and even fiction writing an exercise in building a pre-determined product. For some news sources, the stories they report are meant primarily to earn them money, not inform their readers. The right to know, if it exists, is subject to the desire for profit. She ends her essay expressing disappointment over the report that Tom Clancy doesn’t write all of his novels. “I keep wondering about the poor schmo who writes for Mr. Clancy and doesn’t get his name on the jacket,” she says.

A couple years ago, Ms. Seu told me that she was preparing her essays for possible publication in book form. Whether that pans out, that is to say if it’s in the cards she’s been dealt (I love American gambling and gold rush metaphors), I hope she has a book of some sort published while I’m still around to read it. I’m sure it will have more heart and thought than at least half of what’s published that year. [That book or a precursor to it now exists.]

If not the whole nine yards, at least 8.5 of it

[first posted August 29, 2003] Gideon Strauss introduced me to The Phrase Finder, another helpful etymology web site for understanding the origin and true meaning of clichés and phrases. Now, before you stop reading and rush to the site, let me tell you about the phrase you’re going to look for, “the whole nine yards.”

The phrase means “all of it or as much as can be.” If you went the whole nine yards to get something done, you did as much as anyone could do. How did the phrase come about? The Phrase Finder says, “No one knows the origin, although many have an fervent belief that they do. These convictions are unfailingly based on no more evidence than ‘someone told me’.”

There are several possible origins, but not enough evidence to back up any of them conclusively. I like what Evan Morris, the inimitable Word Detective, has to say on this. He says he likes the theory that nine cubic yards is the most a cement mixer can carry. He argues that this theory has the advantage of being concrete.

Speaking of the Word Detective, let me point you to the question I asked him earlier this year on thumbing one’s nose. It’s a small, fleeting thrill to have a question published in your better’s column. Being a small man, I’ve been quite proud of myself for months.

Treason, eh? I Can Handle Treason.

So the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal ran details reports on a government program which spies on the money trail left by suspected terrorists. President Bush called the reports “disgraceful” and harmful to the war on terror. Others have called it treason. I heard the NY Times chief editor (I believe) say the president needs to be restrained, presumably by him.

What do you think? Was it treasonous for the paper to report on this or are they free to do so under the first amendment?

Georgia Library Will Not Drop Spanish Books

Reportedly the public library system of Gwinnett County (pop. 700,794) had voted to drop funding for “Spanish-language fiction.” Some folks had complained that the readers of such books could be living here illegally. But after it hit the news, several people in the community and around the world wrote in to praise and complain. The result? The $3,000 line item was returned to the budget.

Do we all feel better now? Sure the illegal alien reason is dumb, but can a library cut any budget items without someone making a stink over it?

Despite this public problem, the library board may have other issues according the AP. They dismissed the current library director without explanation.

Victor Immature

(OK, let’s try this a second time. As you can tell, being the conservative I am, I’m incapable of dealing with change. So this new utility throws me into a tizzy, impelling me to throw my apron over my head at the first setback, jump up on a stool and cry, “Kill it! Kill it now!”)

Anyway, I was closing up the bookstore yesterday and my gaze fell on a book of Bible stories for children. One of the prominent figures on the cover was a bare-chested muscleman whom I assumed was supposed to be Samson. And that got me thinking about that character.

You’ve almost got to put Samson on the cover of a kids’ Bible book, because he’s one of the few Bible characters who really gets their attention. No matter how good a Sunday School teacher you may be, you know you’re never going to raise the same interest in the story of Nehemiah and his walls as you’ll get with the story of Samson. Samson’s story is simple. Samson himself was simple. He liked to party and he liked to fight, and when somebody crossed him, he killed them. Spiritualize the story all you like, but basically that’s what it is.

His story is a dysfunctional saga in the Bible’s most dysfunctional book—Judges, where “there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Ever see the Cecil B. DeMille movie, “Samson and Delilah,” with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar? It’s one of those sand-and-sandal extravaganzas that hasn’t held up well with the years, imho. It opens with a common movie device for those days—an open book, and a narrator reading what’s written on the page, in case anyone in the audience is illiterate, or Lithuanian, or something. This opening explains that Samson was a heroic freedom fighter, struggling to free his people from the yoke of the oppressive Philistines.

Which is hooey.

Pick up your Bible and go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13-16. Read the story and find me any passage where it speaks of Samson fighting for freedom, or even speaking up for freedom. He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t even speak up for God (though he speaks to Him at the end). He seems perfectly happy to hang out with the Philistines and party with them, until they cross him.

The Philistines (do you say “Fill-i-steen” or “Fill-i-stine?” I used to say “steen,” but I’ve gotten all hoity-toity in recent years and have been trying to learn to say “stine”), if I remember my history properly, were related to the Cretans, who were related to the Minoans, who were related to the Greeks. In other words they were Europeans who’d invaded the Middle East and snatched some prime real estate. Kind of like Vikings (I have a suspicion that Samson went after Philistine women because, like many guys before and since, he had a thing for blondes). The Philistines controlled iron technology in the region, which gave them a huge economic and strategic advantage. They had all the money and all the neat toys, and Samson appears to have enjoyed their culture quite a lot.

It wasn’t until the Philistines broke up his engagement and murdered his fiancée and her father that he started killing them. It had nothing to do with freedom, or with the Hebrew religion. It was pure personal vengeance. God made use of Samson, certainly, but Samson’s devotion isn’t evident in the story.

So the spiritual meaning, such as it is, seems to me to be that guys who waste their gifts and talents, break God’s law (Samson violates his Nazirite vows numerous times) and live by their lusts come to bad ends. There’s some grace at the point of death, which is a comfort, but all in all it’s a tragic story.

(Needless to say, the above commentary was written by a life-long wimp.)

Adrian’s Recommended Reading

England’s uber-blogger Adrian Warnock has a list of books which he believes every Christian should read:

  1. ESV Bible
  2. God is the Gospel by John Piper
  3. Humility – True Greatness by C.J.Mahaney
  4. Living the Cross-Centered Life by C.J.Mahaney
  5. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
  6. Spurgeon’s Sermons
  7. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  8. C.H.Spurgeon, The Soulwinner
  9. What is Reformed Theology?

The list is certainly weighted toward certain authors, but the books look to be contenders for required reading. What do you think?

Please pray for Adrian’s health and that the Lord would give him grace to perservere through his sickness. He has shingles.

Expert in Another Field

Keith Burgess-Jackson writes that Noam Chomsky has strong opinions on foreign policy and morality, but so what?

Chomsky’s expertise as a linguist (or as an amateur but competent philosopher of language) has no bearing on anything moral or political, including matters of foreign policy. These two aspects of his life are, quite simply, unrelated. That he has strong opinions about American foreign policy in general or the war in Iraq in particular is no more significant than that others, such as classicist Victor Davis Hanson, have equally strong but opposite opinions. So why does anyone care what Chomsky thinks? I suspect it’s because people commit a fallacy. Expertise (or the authority that rests on it) is not transferable from realm to realm. It’s realm-specific.

I suppose Chomsky’s opinion has the same weight as that of a celebrity. I wonder of Kevin Bacon thinks about it.

Hawthorne family reunited?

The news out of Concord, Mass. is that about 40 descendants of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne gathered in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to view the reburial of Sophia and her daughter Una, who were previously entered in a London cemetery where they lived after Nathaniel’s death in 1864.

Now the bodies are near each other in Concord, but the article quotes a literature professor, talking about their passionate marriage, as saying, “It’s a misfortune that they were separated in death. It’s very satisfying to anyone who knows the story of the Hawthorne marriage that they’re being reunited for eternity.”

It probably isn’t polite to disagree with this small point of theology, but that’s why we blog, isn’t it? I’m glad the family is encouraged by this burial decision, but I hope they know that Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne have been eternally together for over a hundred years now, rejoicing along with Longfellow and Melville in the love of God the Father who has welcomed them for eternity through the redemption of Jesus Christ.

That Joseph, He Talk Like a White Boy

Sherry of Semicolon has a new URL for her blog and a review of Joseph C. Phillips’ new book about being a conservative black Christian living in Hollywood. She writes:

He is not a stereotypical black American, Joseph Phillips has faced misunderstanding and accusations of not being ‘black enough.” He has struggled to understand how much of his identity as a person depends on the color of his skin and how he can fit into American society as not just a man and an actor, but as a black man whose “race” is an inevitable part of what other people see when they see him, an inevitable part of the image he sees in the mirror.

You can read Phillips’ essays on his website.

My fame grows

I just sent an e-mail to the guy who runs my website, telling him to note that I’ll be at the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, July 27-29. I gave him a link to their web page. I then scrolled down the page and found picture of myself playing Viking last year, handsome in a red shirt. You can see it here.

Coming: A good day to die

My local conservative talk radio station just changed their promo spot for the Michael Savage Show. Best I can figure out, the excerpt they’re using is one where Savage himself isn’t speaking, but a substitute host is.

That strikes me as brilliant marketing. What better come-on could there be for the Savage show than the promise that maybe Savage won’t be on tonight?

Sunday was a pretty good day. I went out to Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis to be part of the Viking Age Club & Society’s encampment for the annual Swedish Day celebration.

The weather started out rainy, but about the time we began setting up it cleared beautifully, and the temperatures were mild by summer standards. I sold a few books, and there were pretty blonde girls to look at. Can’t do much better than that.

I think it’s good for me to do the Viking thing. It gets me out into the fresh air for one thing, something I probably wouldn’t do at all if left to my own devices. It forces me to relate to my fellow humans, something I tend to neglect likewise. And it forces me to lift heavy objects (one of the tough parts of being a Viking is that everything’s made out of steel or wood, and the better your kit the heavier the load you have to carry around). By the way, I successfully pitched the new awning shade I made, following these directions. It’s not historically authentic, but I’ve accumulated too many sunburns portraying subarctic Europeans.

But the big news is that soon I’ll be fighting with a sword.

Eric and Ragnar did all the fighting this time, but we had some further practice, and I got more comfortable with the moves. I was waiting for them to tell me that I was ready to join in, but while we were striking camp I found out they’d been waiting for me to declare myself ready. Apparently my apprenticeship is over, and I’m ready to fight (translation: be killed) at our next event.

Can’t wait.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture