Ruth Calvo

Last active
2 days, 13 hours ago
User Picture

Saturday Art: France’s President Names Greatest Painter?

By: Ruth Calvo Saturday June 28, 2014 12:54 am


Soulages works at ArtParis06

(Picture courtesy of Arnaud at

The tension that pervades France’s government has caused President Hollande to declare a Greatest Painter in defense of his own world view. That artist paints almost entirely in black. Parallels with the divided U.S. government scream to be voiced.

Political commentary has followed the French president’s announcement, much of it bewildered about artistic choice.

I wonder how many of you have heard of the French artist Pierre Soulages?

Probably not a lot. I’ve lived here nearly 20 years and I was only vaguely aware of the man. Apparently, though, he’s the world’s greatest living painter.

We have that on the authority of none other than President Francois Hollande, who was recently down in the southern town of Rodez opening a new museum to display the master’s oeuvre.

One other rather important thing you need to know about Soulages, who incidentally is now in his mid-90s. He only ever paints in one colour. And that colour is… black.

Well, that’s not entirely true. At one point he did occasionally use some blue. But then he evidently decided that was a concession too many to chromatic convention. So since 1979 everything he has done has been in variations of sable, coal, pitch and jet – or as he calls it, ultrablack.

I think the idea is that if you look beyond the stripes and swirls of the all-consuming black you emerge in a new artistic world, and start seeing light, in the black.


Most people are going to look at the agglomerations of black streaks and striations, and frankly they’re going to have a laugh.

I am not saying they are right to laugh at the paintings. For all I know these are genuinely innovative, challenging ways of analysing modern reality.

What I am saying is that most people, the non-elite, aren’t going to get it. And it’s with most people – the voters – that Hollande and the rest of the Paris political elite have long since parted ways.

Black is dramatic, but probably not the way most of us see our best expressions appear. In a world full of rancor, it may be dominant. Looking at new perspectives has no harmful effects, though, and perhaps Hollande has added dimensions that are helpful in seeing how our politics affect our lives and those of others.

(Picture courtesy of Quentin Verwaerde at

Soulages painting at Soulages XXIème siècle, au musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon, hiver 2012.


Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Thursday June 26, 2014 3:51 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

International protests opposing sentences given to al Jazeera correspondents in Egypt for their reports that displeased the government came to the U.N. headquarters in New York yesterday.

Three empty chairs sat at the front of the ‘FreeAJStaff’ meeting as a symbolic gesture. The names of each of the jailed journalists were placed on the seats.

The United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) hosted the event in an effort to underscore the journalists’ plight and discuss ways to secure their release.

‘Everyone has the right of freedom of opinion and expression,’ Pamela Falk, president of UNCA, said at the meeting. ‘Freedom of the press is not an option — it is an inherent right.’

UNCA has asked Egypt to live up to its international commitments and free all detained journalists. The right to report news is enshrined in international human rights law, and Falk said the U.N. is working to insert language in all conflict and peacekeeping resolutions to protect journalists.

Great Britain is running out of land, with a potential shortage of 2 million hectares anticipated by 2030. Agriculture has been a staple use of the countryside.

The report, from the University of Cambridge, says the growing population plus the use of land for energy crops are contributing to the gap.


With a population expected to exceed 70 million by 2030, the extra demand for living space and food will have a major impact on the way land is used, the report says.

On top of these pressures, the government is committed to using bioenergy crops such as miscanthus as renewable sources of energy, further limiting the stock of land for food.

‘That is putting some very significant future pressures on how we use our land,’ said Andrew Montague-Fuller, the report’s lead author.

Chilean president Bachelet announced a plan to buy and return land to indigenous communities in an effort to integrate them into the country.

Chile’s indigenous peoples, which include the Mapuche, Aymara and Diaguita, have an underweight representation in Congress and often face a harsh economic reality in what is otherwise one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries.

Years of conflict over land claims have increasingly flared into violence between the Mapuche, the largest indigenous group, and local farmers, forestry companies and police, putting pressure on the government to act.

‘It has been nearly 25 years since we got back our democracy,’ Bachelet said at the presidential palace in Santiago, flanked by representatives of indigenous communities.

‘It is time to have the courage to take new steps with a view not to the short-term, but rather the (long-term) development that has been so difficult to obtain for our indigenous sisters and brothers.’


Sunday Food: Coffee

By: Ruth Calvo Sunday June 22, 2014 2:23 am



(Picture courtesy of PetjaTouru at wikipedia commons.)

Most of us start off our day with a cup, usually more, of coffee. The health aspects of it aren’t foremost on our minds when we fill the grounds basket and start the pot brewing. It’s a ritual, and the smell of brewing coffee is wonderful, plus without a cuppa there’s an emptiness about the morning.

For me, as part Cajun, it’s been part of morning since I was a toddler, the cafe au lait was a special treat, and there was never any thought of doing without. For you who are tea drinkers, all the best, but to us coffee drinkers, I can’t help thinking that you’re missing the stuff of life. 

For me, getting the roasted beans fresh ground makes it altogether a wonderful brew. If you’re okay with a can of pre-ground, more power to you, but I’m spoiled and really want the fresh taste. I’m not so pampered as to get the beans, roast and grind them myself and really fill the house with the best of scents, but my Costa Rican Father in Law did that every morning.

Coffee also, of course, is a big business and you can pick up freshest brewed on the way in to work from a variety of coffee shops and breakfast servers.

However you find it, if you’re not already on at least the second cup, you’re unusual, and if reading this didn’t make you brew a fresh pot, you don’t have the usual love of the bean, as I do.

Coffee is a brewed beverage prepared from the roasted or baked seeds of several species of an evergreen shrub of the genus Coffea. The two most common sources of coffee beans are the highly regarded Coffea arabica, and the “robusta” form of the hardier Coffea canephora. The latter is resistant to the coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix), but has a more bitter taste. Coffee plants are cultivated in more than 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin AmericaSoutheast Asia, and Africa. Once ripe, coffee “berries” are picked, processed and dried to yield the seeds inside. The seeds are then roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor, before being ground and brewed to create coffee.

Coffee is slightly acidic (pH 5.0–5.1[1]) and can have a stimulating effect on humans because of its caffeine content. It is one of the most popular drinks in the world.[2] It can be prepared and presented in a variety of ways. The effect of coffee on human health has been a subject of many studies; however, results have varied in terms of coffee’s relative benefit.[3] The majority of recent research suggests that moderate coffee consumption is benign or mildly beneficial in healthy adults. However, the diterpenes in coffee may increase the risk of heart disease.[4]


According to Cancer Research UK, the results of a large-scale study published in 2012[122] provided insight into the effect of coffee drinking on cancer, highlighting that there was indeed no association between the two. Study results showed that drinking coffee “had no effect on the risk of dying from cancer.”[124]

Other studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,[125] dementia,[125] Parkinson’s diseaseheart diseasediabetes mellitus type 2non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,[126] cirrhosis,[127] and gout.

The fact that decaffeinated coffee also exhibits preventative effects against diseases such as prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes suggests that coffee’s health benefits are not solely a product of its caffeine content.[128] Specifically, the antidiabetic effect of caffeine has been attributed to caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid.[129]

The presence of antioxidants in coffee have been shown to prevent free radicals from causing cell damage, which could lead to cancer.[130] Antioxidant levels vary depending on how the beans are roasted as well as for how long. Evidence suggests that roasted coffee has a stronger antioxidant effect than green coffee.[131]

Coffee is no longer thought to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.[132] A 2012 meta-analysis concluded that people who drank moderate amounts of coffee had a lower rate of heart failure, with the biggest effect found for those who drank more than four cups a day. [133] Moreover, habitual coffee consumption is associated with improved vascular function.[134][135] In a ten year study among 50,739 US women (mean age, 63 years) free of depressive symptoms at baseline (in 1996), coffee consumption was negatively correlated with risk of developing clinical depression.[136] A review published in 2004 indicated a negative correlation between suicide rates and coffee consumption.[137] It was suggested that the action of caffeine in blocking the inhibitory effects of adenosine on dopamine nerves in the brain reduced feelings of depression.[137] Coffee consumption is also associated with improved endothelial function.[138] Coffee extracts have been shown to inhibit 11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1, an enzyme which converts cortisone to cortisol and is a current pharmaceutical target for the treatment of diabetes type 2 and metabolic syndrome.[139]

Hope your morning includes a good, bracing and aromatic cuppa. The caffeine can be too much, and I always have cream in mine, also usually breakfast comes along with the second cup. Or the third, depending on how gradually my day is going.

Wishing you the best cup you can find, a truly wonderful start for your day. I raise my cup to you.

(Picture courtesy of FCRebelo at wikipedia commons.)

Coffee beans under cultivation in Brazil

Saturday Art: Charles Barsotti

By: Ruth Calvo Saturday June 21, 2014 1:52 am

Welcome to Summer, we are now officially over the solstice that begins our summer.

A 1996 UK Royal Mail stamp card with a cartoon by Charles Barsotti

(Picture courtesy of Mark Anderson.)

A distinguished member of The New Yorker cartoonist hall of fame, known for outstanding work in portraying our society, passed away this last week. Charles Barsotti drew remarkable humorous portrayals of our lives during his career from the 1960′s until last week, when his last cartoon was published.

He was a signature artist whose rounded, elegant, sparsely detailed style evoked both the traditional world of a James Thurber and the contemporary sensibility of a Roz Chast.

Barsotti’s work features a simple repertory including a nameless, lovable pooch and a monarch whose kingdom consists of a guard and a telephone.

He was originally from San Antonio, TX. The New Yorker published a commemorative collection of some of his cartoons when he died, noting “With the minimum number of lines, Charlie could extract the maximum number of ideas.”

The obviously more simple style of Barsotti contrasts with the previous cartoon artists I’ve featured here, Herblock and Mauldin. The content of his humor also is markedly different, the personal introspection rather than commentary on society, the national scene and politics. As with any artistic preferences, your feelings and mine are a matter of personal taste and I can only hope that you get enjoyment from each in some way.


(Picture courtesy of Mark Anderson.)

A 1996 UK Royal Mail stamp card with a cartoon by Charles Barsotti


A 1996 UK Royal Mail stamp card with a cartoon by Charles Barsotti

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Thursday June 19, 2014 3:40 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

Hope you will celebrate Juneteenth;

Juneteenth is an annual observance on June 19 to remember when Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all remaining slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. This day is an opportunity for people to celebrate freedom and equal rights in the United States.

Congratulations, the Halifax Examiner has arrived, featuring the newly emancipated in-depth reporting of award-winning journalist Tim Bousquet, whose exposés of Halifax corruption included the comedic efforts of the city council there to attract the attention of media and businesses.
The province got ready for the G7 by hiring Bristol Communications for $270,000 ‘to market Nova Scotia as a world-class venue during the summit,’ reported the Daily News.

No one then, or since, has defined ‘world-class city.’ It’s just understood to be a good thing, like ‘proactive’ in the ’80s, ‘sustainable’ in the aughts, ‘innovation’ in the current decade—substance-less bureaucratic lingo. Among the ignorant managerial classes, the person who masters bullshit is considered smart.

But whatever ‘world-class city’ meant, it probably didn’t mean a place that had raw sewage and associated ‘floatables’ lapping against the bulkheads along the waterfront where G7 delegates and the international press corps were meeting.

The top security official in the U.K. has issued the opinion under which communication on the internet is deemed ‘external’ and can therefore be routinely monitored by government.

Under Ripa, traditional interception of ‘internal’ communications within the UK requires an individual warrant. Farr argues that in a technologically-fast moving world, where the greatest threat to national security is from ‘militant Islamist terrorists’ operating both abroad and in the UK, identifying individual targets before monitoring starts is too difficult. Those deemed to be “external” can be monitored without an individual warrant.

Farr says: ‘Any regime that … only permitted interception in relation to specific persons or premises, would not have allowed adequate levels of intelligence information to be obtained and would not have met the undoubted requirements of intelligence for the protection of national security.’

Iraqi PM Maliki fired top officers for their failure to resist rebel advances, and those not directly involved in military operations were forbidden to bear arms. The Iraqi government requested U.S. air strikes against the rebel force ISIL, as fighting threatened to disrupt any functioning national operation there. Congressional opponents insist the U.S. President will proceed in Iraq without their approval.

General Martin Dempsey, the top US military commander, shortly confirmed the request during a Senate Appropriations Defencse Subcommittee hearing.

‘We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power,’ said Dempsey.


In Salaheddin province, the rebels seized three villages, Albu Hassan, Birwajli and Bastamli, in northern Iraq on Wednesday during clashes with Iraq’s security forces and residents.

The fighting left at least 20 civilians dead, Shallal Abdul Baban, a local official, said on Wednesday.

Later on Wednesday, the United Arab Emitates recalled its envoy from Iraq and slammed ‘sectarian’ policies. Saudi Arabia warned Iraq was heading for civil war.

Argentina’s market unraveled under the fear of losing any standing in the world financial community after the U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal of lower court rulings that gave creditors the power to demand payment in full of debt bought during crisis.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof has announced that the government plans to reopen the debt swap program in the hope of renegotiating bonds held by hedge funds, after the US Supreme Court declined to take Argentina’s case against the so-called ‘vulture funds’.

The official spoke today in a press conference to communicate the government’s position on the yesterday’s ruling in the US Supreme Court. The ‘vulture funds’ are investors who refused to enter previous debt swaps, and are using the New York court system to demand full payment of bonds acquired after the 2001 default.

Kicillof told a press conference convened in the Economy ministry that the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration would take the necessary steps for ‘a new debt swap under Argentine legislation.’


Sunday Food: Peanut Butter

By: Ruth Calvo Sunday June 15, 2014 1:50 am



Peanut butter on raisin toast

(Picture courtesy of jeffreyw at wiki commons.)

Love it or leave it, almost everyone at some time or another has had a peanut butter snack, most of us will occasionally scarf some down on crackers or on a sandwich, and if you never took a whole spoonful and munched it down, you’re more fastidious than I am.

When my kids were little, this was always something they would eat happily, and that is a trait all mothers really like to find.   Of course, usually there was more jelly on the sandwich than I’d have chosen, but, whatever.   This food staple also is featured for Father’s Day, because when all else fails Dad can always whip up the PB&J, and provide a meal for whoever’s around and hungry.

Crunchy/chunky vs. smooth

Both crunchy/chunky and smooth peanut butter are good sources of unsaturated fats. However, crunchy/chunky peanut butter has slightly more unsaturated and less saturated fat than smooth. Smooth peanut butter doesn’t have as much fiber in it as crunchy/chunky.[8]

Health benefits

Peanuts, being about half oil, are half fat. Peanut oil is about one-half monounsaturated fats and one-third polyunsaturated fats, with the remaining 15 percent saturated fats. Peanut butter also contains saturated fat and some sodium.[9] Peanut butter provides protein, vitamins B3and Emagnesiumfolatedietary fiberresveratrol[10] arginine,[11] and high levels of the antioxidant p-coumaric acid.

Health concerns

For people with a peanut allergy, peanut butter can cause severe reactions, including anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death if not treated immediately. This has led to its being banned in some schools.[12]

The peanut plant is susceptible to the mold Aspergillus flavus which produces a carcinogenic substance called aflatoxin.[13] Since it is impossible to completely remove all aflatoxin, contamination of peanuts and peanut butter is monitored in many countries to ensure safe levels of thiscarcinogen. In 1990, a study showed that average American peanut butter contained an average of 5.7 parts per billion of aflatoxins, well below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration limit of 20 parts per billion.[14][15]

Hydrogenated peanut butter contains a small amount of hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in saturated fats, thought to be a cause ofatherosclerosiscoronary heart disease and stroke; these oils are added to prevent the peanut oil from separating from the ground peanuts. Peanuts and natural peanut butter, i.e., ground, dry roasted peanuts without added oils, do not contain hydrogenated oils or trans fats. A U.S. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) survey of commercial peanut butters in the U.S. showed that trans fats were undetectable, i.e., below the detection limit of 0.01% of the sample weight.[16]

Some commercial peanut butters advertised as “natural” are actually stabilized with palm oil, which provides the same benefit of emulsion.[17][18] But to call this “natural” is a stretch: as former Skippy plant manager Frank Delfino has observed, “That may be natural someplace, but it’s not natural in nature.”[19]

Surprised that there are all those warnings connected with what seems healthy and pretty reliable?   I blame it on my own hopes, that something, almost anything, would just work the way it ought to.

Saturday Art: Herblock

By: Ruth Calvo Saturday June 14, 2014 2:29 am



Herblock cartoon November 23, 1973: “Forward!”

(Pictures above and below, courtesy of Clif at

One of the leading editorial cartoonists of our times, Herb Block was sharply satirical in his comments on the political scene and had a great deal of influence on thought and beliefs.   His politics tended to be liberal, and he regularly drew Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon – among others – in uncomplimentary fashion.

Herb Block started drawing at a precocious age, began taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago when he was eleven. He adopted the “Herblock” signature in high school. After graduating in 1927, he attended Lake Forest College for almost two years. Block moved to Cleveland in 1933 to become the staff cartoonist for Newspaper Enterprise Association, a feature syndicate that distributed his cartoons nationally. He won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1942, then spent two years in the Army doing cartoons and press releases. Upon his discharge Block was hired as the chief editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post, working there until his death 55 years later.[1] His personal assistant for 44 years was Jean Rickard, who was Executive Director of The Herb Block Foundation for its first 10 years. He never married, and, in the Post’s employee index, he listed his address and place of residence as simply “The Washington Post“.

While in high school and then in college he began drawing some cartoons for the Evanston News-Index, mainly for the pleasure of being published. Toward the end of his second year at Lake Forest, he took some of these published cartoons and some unpublished ones to theChicago Daily News hoping to get a summer job. The editor who looked at them said they would get in touch if they had anything. A few days later they phoned and asked Block to come in. An editorial page cartoonist was leaving the city and they could give him a try. He started Monday and never went back to school.

When Herb Block died in October 2001, he left $50 million with instructions to create a foundation to support charitable and educational programs that help promote and sustain the causes he championed during his 72 years of cartooning. The Herb Block Foundation awarded its first grants and the annual Herblock Prize in editorial cartooning in 2004.[2] The Herb Block Foundation is committed to defending the basic freedoms guaranteed all Americans, combating all forms of discrimination and prejudice and improving the conditions of the poor and underprivileged through the creation or support of charitable and educational programs with the same goals. The Foundation is also committed to improving educational opportunities to deserving students through post-secondary education scholarships and to promoting editorial cartooning through continuing research.


He always insisted on total editorial independence, regardless of whether or not his cartoons agreed with the Post’s stance on political issues. He focused most of his attacks on those public figures in power, often on Republican figures, but Democrats who displeased him were not immune from criticism. As an example—despite being an ardent admirer of Franklin Roosevelt—he found it necessary to attack the president’s 1937 court-packing scheme.

During the 1950s, Herblock criticized Eisenhower mainly for insufficient action on civil rights and for not curbing the abuses of Senator McCarthy. In the following decade, he attacked the US war effort in Vietnam, causing President Johnson to drop his plans of awarding the cartoonist with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The cartoonist would eventually be awarded this honor by Bill Clinton in 1994.

Some of Herblock’s finest cartoons were those attacking the Nixon Administration during the Watergate Scandal, winning him his third Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Nixon canceled his subscription to the Post after Herblock drew him crawling out of an open sewer in 1954. He had once used the same motif for Senator McCarthy.[1] He also ended up on the president’s infamous enemies list. In the 1980s and 1990s, he satirized and criticized Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton in addition to taking on the issues of the day: Gun control; abortion; the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups on public policy; and the Dot Com bubble. The tobacco industry was a favorite target of Herblock, who had smoked at one time. He gave it up and had criticized cigarette companies even before that.

The strong stance for upright politics that Herblock always showed would have been sadly out of place in the present day Washington Post that he honored with his presence in its better days.

While cartoons may not technically be considered fine art, the use of humor that Herblock brought to bear on the political scene was fine and we have a better world for it.

Herblock cartoon August 8, 1939: “The Man Who Was Hollering ‘Take Him Out’”

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Wednesday June 11, 2014 3:54 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today I will be putting the outside news up a day early.  Usually on Thursday, but today Wednesday, we will collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

This was mentioned by attaturk earlier, but worth pointing to for any later than wee hour readers:

Production of shrimp by major Thailand fishing concerns has been revealed to involve use of forced labor working under appalling conditions which has included the killing of workers as well as beatings and grueling long hours.   Shrimp from these concerns are sold to the world’s top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco.

The investigation found that the world’s largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves.

(snip)CP Foods – a company with an annual turnover of $33bn (£20bn) that brands itself as ‘the kitchen of the world’ – sells its own-brand prawn feed to other farms, and supplies international supermarkets, as well as food manufacturers and food retailers, with frozen or cooked prawns and ready-made meals. It also sells raw prawn materials for food distributors.

In addition to Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, the Guardian has identified AldiMorrisons, the Co-operative and Iceland as customers of CP Foods. They all sell frozen or cooked prawns, or ready meals such as prawn stir fry, supplied by CP Foods and its subsidiaries. CP Foods admits that slave labour is part of its supply chain.

‘We’re not here to defend what is going on,’ said Bob Miller, CP Foods’ UK managing director. ‘We know there’s issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don’t have visibility.’

You can help in the rejection of slavery by asking how shrimp is produced at stores you frequent, and by telling management at your markets of choice that you will not buy products produced by such methods, and avoiding the shrimps from CP Foods.

Discussions involving proposed Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) are surfacing in many groups, with an underlying concept that if the general population had the means to live at a very elemental level, there would be no need for social services and avoid abuses.

One alternative proposal is the Jobs Guarantee (JG) program. The idea behind the JG is that the government guarantees everyone who is willing and able to work a job at a fixed wage. The government then invites charities and nonprofits to sign on to the program and offer citizens work on neighborhood projects and others that are judged to be beneficial to the community as a whole. The JG has been successfully implemented in countries such as Argentina in the past on a somewhat limited basis.