What makes a writer?

Following my earlier post, Mark asks at a coffee shop: If not education then what makes a writer?

I am not arguing that formal education is useless for one who wants to write, but I find that it is more than the ability to learn that aids one in his/her writing. If I were to pick the single most important trait a prospective writer should posses, it would have to be curiosity.

Writing, much as the quality of knowledge one acquires, is dependent on curiosity, the ability to ask questions. A writer is like a child - always asking. Not far behind is the ability to ask just the right questions. Notice how those who seldom ask are usually those whose knowledge is founded on very shaky ground - these are often people who think they know the answers.

To me - knowing means doubting. Doubting means asking. Writing is posing a question, which explains why I can't stand works of writers who think they have all the answers.


Church - the irrelevant social club

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators". But they went on with the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven", and had to obey God rather than man. They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

[...] the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning [...] I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

Martin Luther King Jr in: Letter from Birmingham City Jail


There are a few good men (and women, no doubt) in the church:


Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale and Jesuit Fr. Stephen Kelly were
released today from California jails, after serving five month
sentences as federal prisoners.

The two were sentenced last October in Tucson, following their
November, 2006 arrests at Ft. Huachuca, in Sierra Vista, Arizona,
during a nonviolent protest of military involvement in U.S. torture
policy. After Magistrate Judge Hector Estrada forbid them to use
international law in their defense, the two pled no contest to
charges of trespass and failure to obey an officer on October 17 and
were taken into custody.

Both men plan to return briefly to Arizona, where supporters are
invited to join them in a peaceful vigil against torture from 2-3
p.m. Sunday, March 16, outside the main gate of Ft. Huachuca, at Fry
Boulevard and Buffalo Soldier Trail, Sierra Vista, Arizona.

For more information, including complete background on the case and
legal briefs about torture and international law, visit


The Net

Four years ago I published The Fifth Internationale. The novel dealt with the aftermath of the transformation of intelligence and security agencies of the former Eastern Bloc following the events of 1989 / 1991.

In the 1990s the subject seemed a taboo. That's no surprise given that most of the channels responsible for the funneling of information were owned, financed or controlled by operatives of former secret police.

Well, today one does not need a novel to find out what happened, not that it was ever a secret. Recently RZ published an article which summarizes the transformation very nicely: as the old wisdom goes - power is everything. During commie times the system of oppression guaranteed power, after 1989 the road to power was called money. The first step was to cover tracks - Party and intel files burned for weeks. Then the communists became entrepreneurs: the biggest fortunes were built on money channeled from Party accounts. Banks, mass media, privatized former state owned companies, and their branches in the West were headed and staffed by intelligence operatives, secret police officers, their agents, and Party officials... Officers charged with confiscated private property during communist times were now running businesses that helped rightful owners reclaim their property, for a fee of course...

How was it all possible, how could this be permitted? The very same way it works everywhere else: intel / security agencies' existence in changing times is guaranteed by agents they run. Self preservation, regardless of changes within the administration, is the number 1 concern of any intel agency. Measure of a successful intel agency is its ability to survive and thrive no matter who fancies themselves to be in charge: the System changed in the Eastern Bloc but the net of agents (former revolutionaries / underground opposition) remained and many of them hold key offices in the governments of their respective countries.


Paper murderers

"War under existing conditions compels nations, even those professedly the most democratic, to turn authoritarian and totalitarian... the necessity of transforming physical interdependence into moral-into-human-interdependence is part of the democratic problem: and yet war is said even now to be the path of salvation for democratic countries." John Dewey


Conditions for Total Propaganda

In his book PROPAGANDA, Jacques Ellul writes that four conditions are necessary for the State’s propaganda to be successful:

  1. Certain standard of living - the very poor are not susceptible to propaganda, therefore uniform middle class with spending power is the government’s nr 1 priority: "More advanced propaganda can influence only a man who is not completely haunted by poverty, a man who can be reasonably unconcerned about his daily bread, and who therefore can take an interest in more general matters and mobilize his actions for purposes other than merely earning a living".

  2. An average culture - "if man is to be successfully propagandized, he needs at least a minimum of culture. A base is needed - for example, education; a man who cannot read will escape most propaganda, as will a man who is not interested in reading". Ellul argues that push to higher literacy is needed in order to better propagandize the masses.

  3. Information - "basic education permits the dissemination not only of propaganda but of information in general. [...] To distinguish exactly between propaganda and information is impossible. [...] Information is an essential element od propaganda; for propaganda to succeed, it must have reference to political or economic reality. [...] Informed opinion is indispensable for propaganda."

  4. Ideologies - "prevalence of strong myths and ideologies in a society. [...] The fundamental myths of our society are the myths of Work, Progress, Happiness; the fundamental ideologies are Nationalism, Democracy, Socialism."

The book was originally published in French as Propagandes, in 1962. It’s not entirely dated if you add to the ideologies: neoliberalism, market economy, etc, and substitute the anti-communist rhetoric with the quickly rising fascism.