Category Archives: Not Just Short for Arthur

Hate Modern Art? Blame the CIA!

This may be a Jackson Pollock, plucked from the walls of a museum. Or it may be a Jackie Polkowsky, plucked from the first grade art class recycle bin. How to tell?

This may be a Jackson Pollock, plucked from the walls of a museum. Or it may be a Jackie Polkowsky, plucked from the first grade art class recycle bin. How can you tell?

Now, the CIA gets blamed for a lot of stuff they didn’t ever do, like invent AIDS and whack JFK. They probably don’t get blamed enough for stuff they do do, like leak like the post-berg Titanic. And they certainly don’t get blamed enough for stuff they don’t do, like give leaders usable information, instead of the CYA on-the-other-other-hand pablum that the gigantic self-licking ice cream cone that is the bloated HQ produces.

But according to the British Independent, there’s something that they deserve blame for: modern art. If you ever suspected that Jackson Pollock was a no-talent parvenu, celebrated far beyond his kindergarten abilities, well, nothing in here is going to change your mind.

And if you thought Jack the Dripper was just an example of sui generis talent, that rose to the top in the endless (but fair!) tournament that is the art world? Think he was a real bang-tail gone cat? Daddy-o, you got played. Thoroughly.

The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.

The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America’s anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism.

Initially, more open attempts were made to support the new American art. In 1947 the State Department organised and paid for a touring international exhibition entitled “Advancing American Art”, with the aim of rebutting Soviet suggestions that America was a cultural desert. But the show caused outrage at home, prompting Truman to make his Hottentot remark and one bitter congressman to declare: “I am just a dumb American who pays taxes for this kind of trash.” The tour had to be cancelled.

Willem de Kooning (here Interchange, 1955) was another artist whose market was made by the agency.

Willem de Kooning (here Interchange, 1955, sold for $300 million last year) was another artist whose market was made by the agency.

The Truman comment was, “If that’s art, I’m a Hottentot.” As his fellow tribesmen, we’re all bemused that the CIA was subsidizing this stuff, but subsidizing it they were — in part, to put a stick in Stalin’s and later Khrushchev’s eye, and in part, because they were inbred enough to like this kind of art. (Best appreciated with Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, “Bird” Parker, or John Coltrane on the Hi-Fi).

At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.”

The irony was, of course, that many of the very artists whose exhibitions and gallery sales were secretly being propped up by the national black budget, were bitter opponents of the US and all it stood for, and stalwart soldiers of scientific socialism, always ready to wave the Red Banner as long as they didn’t have to leave the benighted capitalist land of philistinism and go live there. So there was a complex system of cut-outs and covers to ensure that the artists never learned who their secret patrons really were. This was called the “long leash.”

Do Read The Whole Thing™. Somewhat bemused to see one of the panjandrums of the whole thing is now….

…in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians.

Ah, an art collection picked up on the public dime, perhaps? Wouldn’t be the first Beltway nabob to do very well indeed by doing good. Still, he’s a dog guy, he can’t be all bad.

And us? Well, what do we know? We’re Hottentots.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Royston Colour

We often lose the feeling of immediacy when looking at old photographs. Their black-and-white silver-based film somehow leaches not only the color out of the picture, but also the life. True, if you’re a historian you thrill to a good picture of a key individual, unit, piece of equipment or (especially) moment, and a lot of those old pictures were taken with very high quality cameras onto large glass or film negatives. But how sad it is they are not in color!

Enter Royston Colour (facebook link). This guy, presumably the eponymous Royston (Leonard), colorizes period photos and brings them to life, and his principal interest seems to be military history (although he’ll certainly do a period picture for the sheer art of it).

Here’s an example of one of those perfectly composes Speed Graphic images from the US national archives…

royston - korean war jets before

…and here’s what Royston has done with it. His OD Green is a little too green, but other than that, his color makes the image of a Korean frontline airfield come to life. Moreover, on his page, he recounts the fate of each of the F-86 Sabres in the foreground (archival information about US aircraft abounds).

royston - korean war jets

Marines or soldiers on Guam, one of the last battles of the Pacific War, pass two knocked-out Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go tanks.

Japanese t-95 ha-go tanks guam 44 royston

We know this picture came from Stalingrad. We even know this tough-looking German’s name (Hauptmann Friedrich Konrad Winkler), his provenance (a prewar volunteer, he was commissioned from the ranks, not unusual in the Wehrmacht) and fate (he was taken alive by the Soviets in February 1943, but like most who fell captive in the East, died in captivity). The Germans treated Russian prisoners, but not Americans or Englishmen, just as badly as the Russians treated theirs; war in the East was war beyond civilized norms. It might as well have been no quarter asked or given; both sides’ soldiers feared captivity more than death.

royston stalingrad

He’s using a Russian PPSh submachine gun (the Germans used them in 7.62mm and converted to 9mm) and his helmet cover is Red Army camouflage material. The picture was taken during the defense of the Barrikady factory complex in the north of Stalingrad, presumably by a German field camera unit; they and their pictures must have been captured by the Soviets.

Royston has quite a few Stalingrad pictures, and they’re reminiscent in the bleakness of their terrain and what they hint about the horror of the fight there, to his many pictures of World War I.

Finally, he also dabbles in restoration. Can this image, double-exposed and with a broken glass plate, be restored?

Royston Ruined

Here’s how Royston did:

Royston Restored

That was a couple of weeks’ work. Still, somebody needs to hire this guy — the Imperial War Museum, perhaps. Meanwhile we can all enjoy his work at the site.

Playing Toys with Guns

Yes, we’ll explain that weird title. Here’s a snip from an Officer Safety message going around:


An AR pistol Cerakoted in Nerf livery. Oh, brother. Nuclear Dumb Idea in the Megaton Range? Let’s zoom in, at the cost of some grain:


They must have found this online somewhere… we checked in the usual domains of derp, like /r/guns and Arfcom GD, and struck out; we finally found it, actually, in this Picture of the Day post at The Firearm Blog. Which has a better picture, used as a promo by the outfit that Cerakoted it. It’s obviously the source of the Officer Safety images, so while the alert may have originated in Hangover, it doesn’t look like the gun did, taking “Midwest” Cerakote at their name’s word.

Midwest Cerakote Nerf AR

At TFB they take a cautious, not alarmist, view.

Before some of you have knee jerk reactions remember we do not know what the owner plans to use this for. I like to be optimistic that he will be a responsible firearm owner. From a custom paint job perspective I think Midwest Cerakote nailed the Nerf blaster look. The accent orange color looks well chosen. The magazine is the only issue I have. It should be orange. Most Nerf “clips” are orange. Hasbro calls then “clips” even though we all know better.

I know some of you will think the worst and that this is how someone gets shot. Well my response is simply that it is the responsibility of the person using the item. There is no problem painting a gun however you want it. As long as you use it responsibly. Same with realistic toy guns. Don’t point them at cops. Don’t use them in an area that could be seen and mistaken as a real gun. Or vice versa for toy painted guns. If people remember to not be morons, we would not have problems. Do what you want that makes you happy. Just do so safely and responsibly.

It’s an interesting and libertarian view. But you see, the problem isn’t this probable safe-queen AR that someone spent a lot of money on. The problem is that cops can’t un-see that, as the kids say. And now they know that what looks Nerf might not be Nerf. While the public concern might be that some cop is going to go fangs-out and blow Little Joey and his Nerf Blaster from here to Johannesburg, we don’t think that’s the real problem. Street cops, who have enough worries already, are now trying to sail the strait between the Scylla of toys that look like guns and the Charybdis of guns that look like toys. Most likely outcome? Cops are going to wait a bit and keep processing for a few more clock cycles until they’re sure, or at least more confident, about what it is that somebody’s holding.

Historically, cop restraint has saved a lot of lives when people were doing something dumb that could have gotten them shot, but who didn’t actually need shooting. Almost every cop has a story of someone he could have shot but he’s glad he didn’t. And cop restraint has also landed a lot of officers an entry on the Officer Down Memorial Page. It’s a safe bet that nobody on that page really wanted to go there, that day.

Well, we can’t unring the bell, un-release the stuff from Pandora’s box, or un-you-know-what the cluster, so we’re going to have to live in a world without bright lines between the physical appearances of guns and toys from here on in.

So we might as well appreciate some of these artworks, then. TFB has some other examples, both of guns painted like toys and toys painted like guns, so you should Read The Whole Thing™ even if just for the pictures alone.

We remember an AR done in John Deere green and yellow and thought it was amusing (and we knew a guy who did that with his gyroplane: Deere’s lawyers sent him a nasty threat). And here’s a Cerakote job on an actual Nerf gun (different from the ones at the TFB link, this one’s from Tom’s Custom Coatings in Ohio).


Cerakoters are getting extremely creative. Here’s one we liked from the same dude that did the Nerf gun above. Meet the Star Wars themed Imperial Stormtrooper AR :

vader AR 1

Of course, most of these images embiggen for more detail. It purports to come from Vader Arms. We bet he got the contract after a galaxy-wide search.

vader AR 2

We’ve all probably been accused of playing with guns at some point. But it looks like some people really do it.

Auction Action: Bicentennial Colt Revolvers at Amoskeag

We’ve often featured lots from some of our favorite auctioneers, like James Julia in Maine and Rock Island Auctions in Illinois. It’s time to put the relatively local Amoskeag Auctions of our own New Hampshire into the rotation. And what better launch than this set of three commemorative Colt revolvers, issued during the Bicentennial Year of 1976. It’s Item 95 in the upcoming firearms auction, Amoskeag’s Nº 110, taking place at 0900 on 4 June 2016.

Amoskeag Bicentennial Colts lot 95

If you’re too young to remember, we who were there can tell you: America went Bicentennial Bonkers. Everything had a Bicentennial Limited Edition, from crappy Chryslers (all cars were crappy in 1976, unless you lived in Europe, and Chrysler and American Motors were competing for the bottom of the market) to chopsticks and placemats in Chinese restaurants. By the time the hangover for the Bicentennial Binge came due, around the swearing-in of Jimmy Carter in January of 77, we all had Bicentennial Burnout.

This was Colt’s top commemorative offering that year. Now, commemoratives, often mass-produced faux collectibles, seem to struggle in the market, but we suspect that these revolvers will sell for higher than Amoskeag’s high estimate of $5,500. The revolvers are three iconic Colts, the then-modern Python in .357 Mag, the century-earlier Single Action Army in, naturally .45 Long Colt, and the .44 blackpowder Third Model Dragoon. These guns are beautifully and tastefully finished (not the case with most Bicentennial chachkas).

The Python alone is a hell for rare variant with an unfluted cylinder engraved with the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty. The SAA has a case-hardened receiver and an ufluted cylinder, engraved with the US flag of 1776 and that of 1976. The Dragoon has the famous old indian-and-Texas-Rangers battle scene on it. Each gun’s left grip is inlaid with the Great Seal of the United States.

Kipling’s Epitaphs of the War

Kipling Grave st_marys_ads-03We present the following with little in the way of editing; these epitaphs range from biting couplets to formal structures, and their author, while always a towering talent among English letters, ranges herein from the enthusiastic warrior of 1914 to the bereaved father of war’s end, who gave his only son to the Festival of Baal that was the Western Front in the Great War.

The Epitaphs often seem pointed and individual, but Kipling denied that. Some of these were written for memorials, and some of those were not used.

Kipling based many of these on ancient Greek forms, although he himself admitted he was essentially unlettered in Greek, and only knew those classics in translation. More background at the Kipling Society.


Epitaphs of the War

By Rudyard Kipling

Equality of Sacrifice

A. “I was a Have.”   B. “I was a ‘have-not.’”
(Together). “What hast thou given which I gave not?”

A Servant

We were together since the War began.
He was my servant—and the better man.

A Son

My son was killed while laughing at some jest.    I would I knew
What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

An Only Son

I have slain none except my Mother.
(Blessing her slayer) died of grief for me.


Pity not!    The Army gave
Freedom to a timid slave:
In which Freedom did he find
Strength of body, will, and mind:
By which strength he came to prove
Mirth, Companionship, and Love:
For which Love to Death he went:
In which Death he lies content.

The Wonder

Body and Spirit I surrendered whole
To harsh Instructors—and received a soul…
If mortal man could change me through and through
From all I was—what may The God not do?

Hindu Sepoy in France

This man in his own country prayed we know not to what Powers.
We pray Them to reward him for his bravery in ours.

The Coward

I could not look on Death, which being known,
Men led me to him, blindfold and alone.


My name, my speech, my self I had forgot.
My wife and children came—I knew them not.
I died.    My Mother followed.    At her call
And on her bosom I remembered all.

A Grave near Cairo

Gods of the Nile, should this stout fellow here
Get out—get out!    He knows not shame nor fear.

Pelicans in the Wilderness
A Grave near Halfa

The blown sand heaps on me, that none may learn
Where I am laid for whom my children grieve . . .
O wings that beat at dawning, ye return
Out of the desert to your young at eve!


Two Canadian Memorials

We giving all gained all.
Neither lament us nor praise.
Only in all things recall,
It is Fear, not Death that slays.

From little towns in a far land we came,
To save our honour and a world aflame.
By little towns in a far land we sleep;
And trust that world we won for you to keep!

The Favour

Death favoured me from the first, well knowing I could not endure
To wait on him day by day.    He quitted my betters and came
Whistling over the fields, and, when he had made all sure,
“Thy line is at end,” he said, “but at least I have saved its name.”

The Beginner

On the first hour of my first day
In the front trench I fell.
(Children in boxes at a play
Stand up to watch it well.)

R.A.F. (Aged Eighteen)

Laughing through clouds, his milk-teeth still unshed,
Cities and men he smote from overhead.
His deaths delivered, he returned to play
Childlike, with childish things now put away.

The Refined Man

I was of delicate mind.    I stepped aside for my needs,
Disdaining the common office.    I was seen from afar and killed . . .
How is this matter for mirth?    Let each man be judged by his deeds.
 I have paid my price to live with myself on the terms that I willed.

Native Water-Carrier (M.E.F.)

Prometheus brought down fire to men,
This brought up water.
The Gods are jealous—now, as then,
Giving no quarter.

Bombed in London

On land and sea I strove with anxious care
To escape conscription.    It was in the air!

The Sleepy Sentinel

Faithless the watch that I kept: now I have none to keep.
I was slain because I slept: now I am slain I sleep.
Let no man reproach me again, whatever watch is unkept—
I sleep because I am slain.    They slew me because I slept.

Batteries out of Ammunition

If any mourn us in the workshop, say
We died because the shift kept holiday.

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

A Dead Statesman

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

The Rebel

If I had clamoured at Thy Gate
For gift of Life on Earth,
And, thrusting through the souls that wait,
Flung headlong into birth—
Even then, even then, for gin and snare
About my pathway spread,
Lord, I had mocked Thy thoughtful care
Before I joined the Dead!
But now? . . . I was beneath Thy Hand
Ere yet the Planets came.
And now—though Planets pass, I stand
The witness to Thy shame!

The Obedient

Daily, though no ears attended,
Did my prayers arise.
Daily, though no fire descended,
Did I sacrifice.
Though my darkness did not lift,
Though I faced no lighter odds,
Though the Gods bestowed no gift,
None the less,
None the less, I served the Gods!

A Drifter off Tarentum

He from the wind-bitten North with ship and companions descended,
Searching for eggs of death spawned by invisible hulls.
Many he found and drew forth.    Of a sudden the fishery ended
In flame and a clamours breath known to the eye-pecking gulls.

Destroyer in Collision

For Fog and Fate no charm is found
To lighten or amend.
I, hurrying to my bride, was drowned—
Cut down by my best friend.

Convoy Escort

I was a shepherd to fools
Causelessly bold or afraid.
They would not abide by my rules.
Yet they escaped.    For I stayed.

Unknown Female Corpse

Headless, lacking foot and hand,
Horrible I come to land.
I beseech all women’s sons
Know I was a mother once.

Raped and Revenged

One used and butchered me: another spied
Me broken—for which thing an hundred died.
So it was learned among the heathen hosts
How much a freeborn woman’s favour costs.

Salonikan Grave

I have watched a thousand days
Push out and crawl into night
Slowly as tortoises.
Now I, too, follow these.
It is fever, and not the fight—
Time, not battle,—that slays.

The Bridegroom

Call me not false, beloved,
If, from thy scarce-known breast
So little time removed,
In other arms I rest.
For this more ancient bride,
Whom coldly I embrace,
Was constant at my side
Before I saw thy face.
Our marriage, often set—
By miracle delayed—
At last is consummate,
And cannot be unmade.
Live, then, whom Life shall cure,
Almost, of Memory,
And leave us to endure
Its immortality.

V.A.D. (Mediterranean)
Ah, would swift ships had never been, for then we ne’er had found,

These harsh Aegean rocks between, this little virgin drowned,
Whom neither spouse nor child shall mourn, but men she nursed through pain
And—certain keels for whose return the heathen look in vain.

On a Memorial Tablet in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon

We counterfeited once for your disport
Men’s joy and sorrow: but our day has passed.
We pray you pardon all where we fell short—
Seeing we were your servants to this last.

On a Panel in the Hall of the Institute of Journalists

We have served our day.