George Orwell Creates a Who’s Who List of “Crypto” Communists for British Intelligence Forces (1949)


Journalist and novelist Eric Blair, known for all of his professional life by the pen name George Orwell, staunchly identified himself as a democratic socialist. For example, in his slim 1946 publication Why I Write, he declared, “Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism as I understand it.” Despite the widespread blurring of lines these days between socialism and communism—whether through ignorance or deliberate misleading—the distinction was not lost on Orwell. Though he supported an equitable distribution of wealth and public institutions for the common good, he fiercely opposed Soviet communism as anti-democratic and oppressive. As Orwell biographer John Newsinger writes, one “crucial dimension to Orwell’s socialism was his recognition that the Soviet Union was not socialist. Unlike many on the left, instead of abandoning socialism once he discovered the full horror of Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union, Orwell abandoned the Soviet Union and instead remained a socialist.”

Of course, Orwell’s anti-communist sentiments are familiar to every student who has read Animal Farm. Less well known is the degree to which he contributed to anti-communist propaganda, even corresponding with British secret services and keeping a blacklist of writers he deemed either “cryptos” (secret communists), “fellow travellers” (communist sympathizers), or outright members of the Communist Party. Orwell’s involvement with the Information Research Department (IRD), a propaganda unit formed in 1948 under the UK’s Foreign Office to combat Stalinism at home and abroad has received a good deal of attention in the past few decades, in part because of the discovery in 2003 of a private notebook containing his original list. Even before this revelation, biographers and historians had known about the list, which Orwell included, in part, in a letter to his love interest Celia Kirwan, who worked for the IRD, with the instructions that she keep it secret due to its “libelous” nature. Orwell intended that the writers on the list not be asked to work for the IRD because, in his estimation, they were people who could not be trusted.

Reactions to Orwell’s list have been very mixed. When the story first broke in the late nineties, Orwell’s longtime friend Michael Foot said he found the list “amazing” and out of character. One of the people named, Norman Mackenzie, ascribed the list to Orwell’s illness, saying that the writer was “losing his grip on himself” in 1949 during his final struggle with the tuberculosis that killed him that year. Orwell biographer Bernard Crick defended his actions, writing, “He did it because he thought the Communist Party was a totalitarian menace. He wasn’t denouncing these people as subversives. He was denouncing them as unsuitable for counter-intelligence operation.” On the other hand, late leftist firebrand journalist Alexander Cockburn condemned Orwell as a “snitch” and thought the list was evidence of Orwell’s bigotry, given his suspicion of Paul Robeson as “anti-white” and his denouncing of others due to their rumored homosexuality or Jewish background. He makes a compelling case. Whatever Orwell's motivations, the effect on the named individuals' professional and political lives was mild, to say the least. This was hardly a McCarthyite witch-hunt. Nonetheless, it’s a little hard for admirers of Orwell not to wince at this collaboration with the state secret service.

Below, see the list he submitted to Kirwan in his letter. Further down is a list of names, including those of Orson Welles and Katherine Hepburn, that appeared in his notebook but not on the list he gave to the IRD.

Writers and journalists

Academics and scientists


Labour MPs


People named in Orwell's notebook, but not appearing on the final IRD list:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Racy Philosophy Lesson on Kant’s Aesthetics by Alain de Botton’s “School of Life”

For the past two decades, Alain de Botton has refined his knack for popularizing philosophical and literary ideas. In 1997, he published his bestseller, How Proust Can Change Your Life. Next came his six-part video series, A Guide to Happinesswhere de Botton showed how thinkers like Montaigne, Seneca and Schopenhauer can help you grapple with timeless questions -- like dealing with anger, managing your love life, or maintaining your self-esteem. And, by 2008, we find Alain opening The School of Life, a London-based operation that has as its tagline “good ideas for everyday life.”

The School of Life offers classes, publishes books, makes films, and now produces YouTube videos, some of which we've featured here before. The School's latest release won't go unnoticed. A three minute lesson on Kant's aesthetics, the video features an eroticized teacher talking quickly and authoritatively in German about difficult aspects relating to Kant's philosophy. Things get meta pretty quickly, and soon the distracting camera work starts making Kant's very point about the nature of the subjective. The charged imagery is not, in other words, entirely gratuitous -- but it's certainly pretty unconventional, and whether it's effective, I guess that's up for debate. Next, up Nietzsche, we're told.

If you would like some deeper introductions to Kant's philosophy, please see our list of 130 Free Online Philosophy Courses. Kant's Critique of Judgment appears in our collection, 135 Free Philosophy eBooks.

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The Story of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Released 50 Years Ago This Month

What can I add to the chorus of voices in praise of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme? Recorded in December of 1964 and released fifty years ago this month, the album has gone on to achieve cult status—literally inspiring a church founded in Coltrane’s name—as one of the finest works of jazz or any other form of music. It cemented Coltrane’s name in the pantheon of great composers, and re-invented religious music for a secular age. Composed as a hymn of praise and gratitude, “the bizarre suite of four movements,” wrote NPR’s Arun Rath last year, “communicated a profound spiritual and philosophical message.” That message is articulated explicitly by Coltrane in the album’s liner notes as “a humble offering to Him,” the deity he experienced in a 1957 “spiritual awakening” that “lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”

These phrases speak the language of recovery, and Coltrane found God through a program of recovery from heroin addiction. Like so many who have embraced faith after addiction, Coltrane’s devotion was ardent, but neither dogmatic nor judgmental. He “refused to commit to a single religion,” writes Rath, “His idea of God couldn’t be contained by any doctrine. But with his saxophone, and with his band, he could preach.” That he did, religiously, no pun intended. Before the recording of A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s classic quartet—including drummer Elvin Jones, pianist McCoy Tyner, and bassist Jimmy Garrison—toured the U.S. for four years. As the BBC documentary above informs us, “The group’s appetite for performance was ferocious.” They played “two gigs a day, six nights a week, taking only short breaks in the studio to record material for more than fifteen increasingly critically acclaimed albums.”

By the time the group recorded A Love Supreme, they had developed “an amazing unspoken communication.” Tyner recalled the album as “a culmination and natural extension of chemistry honed through years of playing together live.” (Despite all that, they would only perform the suite of songs live once, in Antibes, France, resulting in a live album and some fragmentary film of the event.) Narrated by Jez Nelson, the 2004 radio documentary (up top) presents interviews with Tyner, Jones, modernist composer Steve Reich, Coltrane’s wife Alice, and others, in-between passages of Coltrane’s music, including his major breakout hit recording of “My Favorite Things.”

Among the many tributes to the album’s inspiring, transcendent genius, Coltrane scholar Ashley Kahn offers a very down-to-earth assessment of A Love Supreme’s importance: “[Coltrane] was not a prodigy. He was someone who worked very, very, very hard at his craft, and he showed us, and he shows musicians still, that it is possible.” Whether we attribute Coltrane’s achievements to divine inspiration, incredibly hard work, or some combination of the two, the proof of his devotion stands the test of fifty years, and fifty years from now, I suspect we’ll say much the same.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Musical Career of David Bowie in One Minute … and One Continuous Take

We like to keep things succinct around here. So behold the many ch-ch-changes of David Bowie, filmed in one minute, and in one continuous take. And when you're done, check out 50 Years of Changing David Bowie Hair Styles in One Animated GIF. More Bowie material from the OC archive awaits you below.

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Wes Anderson Likes the Color Red (and Yellow)

Red seems to be a magnet for angry bulls and great directors. After all, it’s the color that seems to stand out more than any other. Yasujiro Ozu, for one, made the jump to color movies very reluctantly late in his career and promptly became obsessed with the color red. His production team kept a box on set of small red household things – a matchbox, an umbrella, a teakettle - which he used to place in the background of just about every shot. Jean-Luc Godard famously bathed Brigitte Bardot’s backside in red light for his first color film Contempt. When critics complained that his feature, Pierrot le Fou, was too bloody, he quipped, “It’s not blood, it’s red.” And from HAL 9000’s unforgiving electronic eye in 2001 to the buckets of blood pouring out of the elevator from hell in The Shining, Stanley Kubrick built some of his most memorable scenes around the color red.

Editor and designer Rishi Kaneria, who seems to be making a career out of pointing out the color choices of auteurs, has just released a video called “Red & Yellow: A Wes Anderson Supercut” that squarely places Wes Anderson among the ranks of cinema’s great crimson-loving stylists – from Ben Stiller’s sweats in The Royal Tenenbaums to the luxurious carpets of his latest effort The Grand Budapest Hotel. As you might gather from the title of Kaneria’s short, Anderson is also a fan of the color yellow too. You can watch the video above. And you can watch Kaneria’s look into Kubrick’s use of red below.

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Watch Wes Anderson’s Charming New Short Film, Castello Cavalcanti, Starring Jason Schwartzman

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Glorious Early 20th-Century Japanese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902-1954)


Earlier this month, we featured advertisements from Japan's prewar Art Deco golden age, a period that shows off one facet of the country's rich graphic history. While all forms of Japanese design remain compelling today, any time or place would be hard pressed to compete with the world of Japan's pre-war print advertising. It has, especially for the modern Westerner, not just a visual novelty but a commercial novelty as well: as often as not, surviving examples glorify now-restricted addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco.


At Pink Tentacle (a completely safe-for-work page, believe it or not), you can find a roundup of Japanese print advertisements for products that tap into just such vices. Japan opened up to the world in a big way in the mid-to-late 19th century, and the country's acceptance (and subsequent Japanification) of all things foreign kept chugging along right up until the Second World War. At the top, we have an appealing example of this internationalism at work in the service of Sakura Beer in the late 1920s. The 1902 ad just above depicts not just the globe but a smoking Pegasus astride it in the name of Peacock cigarettes.


When the tone of Japanese life got militaristic in the 1930s, so did the tone of Japanese ads. The 1937 poster just above proclaims "Defense for Country, Tobacco for Society," a message brought to you by the South Kyoto Tobacco Sellers' Union. Below, the kind of Japanese maiden prewar graphic design always rendered so well appears in a different, more outwardly patriotic, and much more naval form.


It goes without saying that most of these ads' designers geared them toward the eyes of the Japanese — most, but not all. After the war, during the United States' occupation of the country, there appeared print announcements in this same stylistic vein urging GIs and other American military personnel to keep on their best commercial behavior. Take, for instance, these words the straightforwardly named Japan Monopoly Corporation placed beside this archetypically courtly but uncharacteristically stern traditional lady in 1954:


A valiant effort, but from the stories I've heard of the occupation, no amount of graphic design could've shut down that particular black market. And finally, no look back at vintage Japanese ads would be complete without including one advertisement for sake. The ad below is for Zuigan sake, created in 1934.


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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Kids Orchestra Plays Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”

The Louisville Leopard Percussionists -- they're a performing ensemble made up of 60 students, all between the ages of 7 and 14, from schools around the Louisville, Kentucky area. Each musician plays several instruments, such as the marimbas, xylophone, vibraphone, drum set, timbales, congas, bongos and piano. And they can rock with the best of them. Perhaps you've seen a viral video of the young percussionists playing Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which Jimmy Page called "too good not to share" on his Facebook page.

If your inner 16-year-old is asking "what about Ozzy?," well then, we've got you covered. Above you can watch The Fabulous Leopard Percussionists rehearsing a version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," the heavy metal classic from 1980. Founded in 1993 by the elementary school teacher Diane Downs, the ensemble has certainly explored other musical forms too. Here, you can see them perform Chick Corea's "Spain" and Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing" at the International Association of Jazz Educators’ concert in New York City. And Latin-inspired versions of Low Rider/Oye Como Va. Not a bad way to start your day, I must say.

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