Samuel Palmer, Before You Hit Send, Vegas Grannies,Be Merry, Not Ancient,Neverland Bailout

A Tree-Hugger Ahead of His Time

Victoria and Albert Museum
The tension between ancient and modern is captured in Samuel Palmer’s "In a Shoreham Garden."

March 17, 2006
Art Review | Samuel Palmer

A Tree-Hugger Ahead of His Time

THE eccentric English artist Samuel Palmer may be something of a one-hit wonder. In 1825, at age 20, he made a series of small, dark landscapes of brown ink, sepia and gum arabic on paper, enumerating the natural world with such fervent meticulousness that the images transcend reality and stop just short of freaky.

They were made the year after Palmer, a precocious artist who began exhibiting and selling his work at 14, met the visionary William Blake. He was taken to visit Blake, then in the final destitute years of his life, by John Linnell, an artist who was first Palmer’s mentor (encouraging him to study Drer, for example) and later his father-in-law. Despite his situation, Blake’s faith in the power of the individual imagination was undaunted. The encounter affirmed Palmer’s desire to make his love of nature and literature the center of his art, and also encouraged him to see beauty as dependent on what he liked to call strangeness.

Palmer called these small landscapes his " blacks," but they are more generally known as the Oxford sepias, partly because the six in this exhibition are owned by the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University. However you identify them, they form the heart of "Samuel Palmer (1805-1881): Vision and Landscape," a revelatory retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first big Palmer show in nearly 80 years, it is a collaboration between the British Museum and the Met, and has been organized by a team led by William Vaughan, a longtime scholar of Romanticism. That nothing in this show is quite as great as the sepias can be counted as a failing or taken as a vivid lesson in the power of one-hit wonders, and the sometime modesty of greatness. All you need to do is make history turn on a dime once, however quietly.

Palmer’s sepias take us deep into the mysterious harmony of the natural world. Animals and humans are often present note the hyperalert rabbit and half-hidden villagers in the resplendent "Early Morning" and houses and barns crop up in the distance. But the main character is nature, in its wholeness and divineness, measured out in slightly stiff renderings of effulgently leafy bushes, glimmering birches, massive oaks and gnarly rocks, and in occasional moments of breathtaking ambiguity. In "Late Twilight," a crescent moon overlooks a dark farm while floating on a horizon of glowing white that probably denotes clouds, but also reads as a vast beneficent sea separating heaven and earth.

Palmer is the least known, and most idiosyncratic, of the great Romantic landscape painters who flourished in Britain in the first half of the 19th century. Turner and Constable, for example, hold steady in our field of art historical vision partly because of the scale of their work, the freedom of their paint handling and their sustained, ever-strengthening consistency.

But Palmer avoided all of the above, and has often been characterized as an illustrator. He favored paper over canvas, rarely made work that exceeded the size of an open book and used oil paint infrequently. (You have to get close to his surfaces to realize how profligate and inventive he was with materials. Like Blake, he concocted strange alchemical mixtures. Only 9 of the 100 Palmers in this show use oil paint; only 2 use it without adding tempera, chalk or ink.)

In addition, financial necessity reinforced by Linnell, who became quite domineering after Palmer married his eldest daughter, Hannah, in 1837 dictated a long, quiet, rather academic patch in the middle of Palmer’s career. His capably realistic renderings of waterfalls, golden views of Rome and Technicolor idols inspired by Virgil and Milton made him a typical Victorian painter. (In contrast, Palmer’s early realism can be mesmerizing. Works like "Oak Trees, Lullingstone Park" (1828) and "A Barn With a Mossy Roof" (1828-9) more or less obviate the work of Andrew Wyeth.)

Palmer was embraced by artists who fell outside the accepted boundaries of the epic and linear course of modernism. The Pre-Raphaelites claimed him as a precursor in the 1870’s. In the late-1920’s, the English neo-Romantics, led by Graham Sutherland, discovered the impressive etchings he made late in life and developed a dark illustration print style in homage. There was renewed attention in the late 1940’s: Palmer is frequently cited as a precedent for the English eccentrics like Stanley Spencer and the young Lucian Freud. Another span of neglect began in the 1970’s, when art historians frequently dismissed English landscape paintings for ignoring the evils brought on by the Industrial Revolution and its agrarian side effects for example the mechanization of harvesting.

Palmer was a High Tory appalled by the blight of industrialization. But his cure was to look to what he saw as the good old days and, in his art, return to a time when man and nature were one. He even formed a short-lived artist’s group, the Ancients, dedicated to this task, partly through the study of Gothic art. (Its outstanding members included George Richmond and Edward Calvert, both represented in this exhibition.)

Tension between the ancient and the modern is often palpable in Palmer’s work. With "In a Shoreham Garden" (about 1829), Palmer translates his vision of darkness into vivid color through a large, beautifully spongy tree. It might almost be made of cotton balls and is startlingly ahead of its time, evoking the visionary art of Charles Burchfield, working in the United States a century later. But framed in the distance beyond the tree is a woman in a long red gown and a headdress who could be a Renaissance princess.

The same divide exists in his radiant mixed-media paintings, which even at their best seem slightly archaic. In "The Bright Cloud," with its towering cumulus formation and golden fields, contented peasants move about with a dignity that hints at the pageantry of Renaissance frescoes. The landscape also suggests a Bruegel in miniature.

Palmer recaptured some of the force of the sepias only toward the end of his life, when financial security enabled the visionary side of his sensibility to reassert itself. He took up etching, and in works like "The Bellman" (1879) and "Opening the Fold" (or "Early Morning") (1880), he summoned a softer, matte version of the gleaming darkness of the Oxford sepias.

But only the sepias provide an exciting artistic promontory from which you can catch past and future seemingly flowing together. Look back and you see the light-drenched landscapes of Lorrain and the more architectonic neo-Classical terrains of Poussin, although Palmer’s originality may rest on the way he seems to have assimilated the pictorial crafts of Gothic art cloisonn and stained glass. Look forward and Palmer’s sepias seem like the beginning of a line of exaggerated visionary landscape painting that forms the non-Cubist, more representational side of modernism. It includes van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch and the Fauves, as well as Albert Pinkham Ryder, Louis Eilshemius, Marsden Hartley and Burchfield.

The sepias’ insistent textures and radiant demarcations of light and dark have a textlike vividness. Like manuscript illuminations that have absorbed their narratives, they illustrate something profound, even if we don’t know the story. Every mark on the paper seems to convey meaning like the individual letters and words on a printed page and each one cooperates to form a larger message: ecstasy. Today, Palmer would probably qualify as a tree-hugger, but openness to his greatest work might also make the nonhuggers among us see the essential bond between human destiny and nature’s well-being.


Before You Hit Send, Pause, Reflect

GOING PUBLIC John Green of ABC News was suspended after e-mail messages commenting on President Bush’s debate performance and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were released.

April 9, 2006
Ideas & Trends
Before You Hit Send, Pause, Reflect

MODERN-DAY, corporate newsrooms may be far more sanitary than their ribald, cigarette-smoke-clouded counterparts of the "His Girl Friday" era. Yet their freewheeling nature has not been completely extinguished, with the banter and off-color humor about the day’s events and personalities ricocheting among today’s cubicle dwellers, at times through news organizations’ e-mail systems.

But as John Green, executive producer of the weekend edition of ABC’s "Good Morning America," recently discovered, that more indelible form of communication can wreak havoc on one’s journalism career. ABC has suspended him for a month for leaked e-mail messages that were critical of President Bush and Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state.

The punishment has sparked a discussion within media circles about the proper limits of newsroom repartee and the meaning of objectivity in a polarized and electronically connected environment. Although Mr. Green’s private riffs were bipartisan in nature and do not appear to have leeched into news coverage, they come at a time when the mainstream media whipsawed by a smattering of high-profile misdeeds and an aggressive gotcha police among bloggers and advocacy groups are striving mightily to appear impartial above all.

Authenticated e-mail messages, as in Mr. Green’s case, muddy that image of journalistic probity in ways that similarly casual spoken conversations do not. As a result, some news executives and media observers reluctantly agree with ABC’s action, arguing that journalists must avoid any appearances of being emotionally or ideologically involved with the subjects of their reporting.

Others wonder what exactly Mr. Green did wrong, other than embarrass some executives. The punishment, they worry, is disproportionate to the offense. News organizations, more than any other segment in society, they argue, should be wary about inhibiting the speech of their employees. The resulting second guessing, the screening of one’s jokes, jibes and commentary, could have a chilling effect, they say.

"Journalists should be able to speak openly in the vernacular, casually and jokingly, and without evil consequences," said David Korzenik, a media lawyer in New York who is an adjunct professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Mr. Green’s troubles began last month, when the Drudge Report Web site published an 18-month-old message that expressed frustration with Mr. Bush’s tactics in his first debate with Senator John F. Kerry. "Are you watching this?" he wrote one colleague. "Bush makes me sick. If he uses the ‘mixed messages’ line one more time, I’m going to puke."

Days later, a second e-mail message surfaced, this time in The New York Post. In that e-mail message, from April 2005, Mr. Green wrote that Ms. Albright who only acknowledged that she was Jewish after being shown information by a reporter in 1997 had "Jew shame." He then added that Ms. Albright hated "Good Morning America" because she believed she did not get the promised allotment of time on a previous appearance. "I do not like her," he wrote.

The next day, on March 31, ABC suspended him for a month. Jeffrey Schneider, vice president of ABC News, said that the network would not discuss details of the punishment because it was a personnel matter. "It isn’t simply an issue of expressing one’s opinion," he said. "It’s also the vituperative nature of those comments."

No one advocating for more journalistic self-control is particularly happy about the need for it. "I know it’s not much fun, but I think it’s the proper mode of conduct," said Bill Marimow, vice president of news at National Public Radio.

"Any beat reporter who in private ridicules, demeans or assails their character, intellect or ability raises questions in the minds of a lot of people that they can be impartial," he added.

E-mail messages complicate the issue, offering definitive proof of a journalist’s thinking. "When you have the premeditation of putting it in writing, it makes it different than a comment in a production meeting," said John Stack, vice president of news gathering at the Fox News Channel.

That logic, however, bewilders some other journalists. "What did this guy do wrong?" asked Michael Kinsley, a columnist for Slate and The Washington Post who in a recent column argued that the concept of objectivity is so muddled as to be useless. "Was it having these views, or merely expressing them? Expecting journalists not to develop opinions, strong opinions even, goes against human nature and the particular nature of journalists."

"I guess there are limits if a guy’s e-mail showed him to be a Nazi, you might not want him as a network TV producer," he added. "But unless the views themselves are beyond the pale and millions of Americans hold views like those this guy expressed expressing those views shouldn’t be beyond the pale either."

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said he was troubled by the blurring of the public and the private. "For me, I think people should be held accountable for what they put on the air or in print," he said. And there is no proof this expression of private views affected news coverage, he said.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while he found Mr. Green’s quip about Ms. Albright to be offensive, he worries that curbs on newsroom banter is just asking people to be hypocrites.

"Just because they are journalists doesn’t mean they give up their rights to say things that are smart or stupid," he said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


Vegas Grannies


Read more: Las Vegas, metropolis

Vegas Grannies

04132006.4.jpgNext to slot machines, the most common object in Las Vegas is the grannie. In every hotel, casino, restaurant, and show, you are likely to find several and possibly a great many Vegas grannies. Its not surprising really, as Vegas and environs remain popular as retirement locales, and of course every travel agency loves to bring in planeloads of the aged (the AARP even partners with Travelocity in this lucrative niche market). Dont get me wrong, I have nothing against my elders. But its strange to me how these grannies really are everywhere. Theyre the first to appear on casino mornings, taking over from bleary-eyed late-night gamblers around 7 a.m. There was a whole clutch of them this morning in Hooters of all places, happily slapping buttons on Star Wars slot machines. But even odder is how the grannies end up in the audience at virtually every show Ive ever attended in Vegas, no matter how raunchy. The only exception and even this is only occasionally are the late-night shows starting after 10 p.m. But Ive seen grannies at ultra-profane comedy acts and the most idiotic and tawdry topless shows. Going to a show in Vegas is such an automatic reflex for some people that theyll see anything, even if (and perhaps especially if) its something theyd never dream of seeing at home. And no matter how pornographic the show or how loud the hip-hop, the grannies just shrug and move on to the next one. Sin City seems to put some life in them old bones; last night as I walked past a pair of grannies energetically working a pair fairyland-themed video poker machines at the Riviera, one pointed at a dancing sprite on the screen and chirped, OOOH, I love it when the elves come up. Her friend agreed, cooing, Theyre soooo sexy!

Let it Ride in Las Vegas [Travelocity/AARp]

[Photo: Getty Images]

Previously: $3 Blackjack at the Sahara, Forbess Best of Vegas, Afternoon Bar Dance, Splash at the Riviera, The Wynn Buffet


Be Merry, Not Ancient

Illustration by Ji Lee and photography by Daniel Root

April 9, 2006
Critic’s Notebook
Be Merry, Not Ancient

BECAUSE we all needed yet another set of rules to follow, because we had not yet been sufficiently bombarded with dictates about the colors of the fruits and vegetables we should eat and the ideal intake of alcohol and the optimal frequency of low-impact exercise, the Journal of the American Medical Association came along last week to tell us that serious calorie restriction might best serve the quest for a long, disease-free life.

The number of calories in the daily diets of some participants in this latest study was gulp 890. Which, by my nonscientific research, is less than the average teenage or adult American who lives within a half mile of a Burger King and has not had gastric bypass surgery consumes for dinner. That might be considered a helpful target, except that it’s so ludicrously unattainable, in professions other than modeling and zip codes other than 90210, that there isn’t anything helpful about it.

It’s also hard to see the point of it. If living to 99 means forever cutting the porterhouse into eighths, swearing off the baked potato and putting the martini shaker into storage, then 85 sounds a whole lot better, and I’d ratchet that down to 79 to hold onto the Hagen-Dazs, along with a few shreds of spontaneity. It’s a matter of priorities.

Do we really want as many years as we can get, no matter how we get them? At what point does the pursuit of an extended life a pursuit that pivots on the debatable assumption that habit can outwit heredity, not to mention chance become the entire business of a life? Is longevity all it’s cracked up to be?

Scientists and medical doctors are certainly obsessed with it, charting a tedious path of pleasures assiduously portioned and rituals steadfastly maintained. Cut back on caffeine. Stop after a glass and a half of red wine. Make an enemy of red meat. Make friends with flossing which, it turns out, may have benefits that go beyond admirable dental hygiene to the prevention of heart disease and diabetes.

Month after month brings study after study, and the only thing more addling than keeping track of all the information is resolving the contradictions it seems to contain.

Take the matter of weight. If memory serves me (it may not, given my failure to toe the line on wine) and a Nexis search isn’t failing me, we received a different set of instructions just a year ago.

Last April, a study also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more commonly known as the Journal of Utterly Mixed Signals, demonstrated a correlation between being very thin and an increased risk of death. The study indicated that people who are overweight but not obese might be better off, at least in terms of attaining the coveted status and Pensacola retirement home of the nonagenarian.

I’m no expert on metabolism, but I bet that the 890-calorie-a-day diet followed by some participants in the new study would lead, over time, to a condition that looks an awful lot like extreme thinness. So what should I have for breakfast? A cup of low-fat yogurt or a salt bagel with a schmear?

Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush; the studies in question are more nuanced and less definitive than I’m making them out to be. The cap of 890 calories a day was a short-term fix, not a long-term prison. There might be allowances, down the road, for a Whopper with cheese. Followed, of course, by some vigorous flossing and a brisk 40-minute walk.

But the larger point remains. We are awash in behavioral strictures, many of them conflicting.

After years of being schooled in the transcendent virtues of low-fat diets, we were informed two months ago in, you guessed it, the Journal of the American Medical Association that this education might be flawed. An eight-year, $415 million federal study of nearly 49,000 women found that those who maintained low-fat diets had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer and heart attacks as those who ate what they wanted.

So, I’ll have that bagel with a schmear, but not simply because one study among many gave me a green light, at least for the moment. I’ll have it because it makes me happy, which has to count for something.

And even if the new study is wrong and the old studies were right and the schmear robs me of some time on the tail end of my days, I may not have enough money in my 401(k) to go the full distance, and I’m definitely not counting on Social Security to pick up the slack.

Which raises additional concerns. What happens to all of us, as a society, if 100 becomes the new 80? Plastic surgeons may get even richer and the populations of Florida and Arizona may swell, but will pension funds still be there for us? Will prescription drug benefits?

Each of us can individually hunker down for the long haul, squirreling away our money instead of spending it on hedonistic vacations, exercising faithfully so that our limbs stay as limber as our nipped-and-tucked faces are taut. But doesn’t the quality of our days matter as much as the quantity of them?

Pondering this question, I riffled through some obituaries.

Richard Burton died at 58 no doubt fewer years than he or anyone else would want but wasn’t his a swashbuckling, gallivanting life that was in many ways worth envying, Liz or no Liz?

Strom Thurmond died at 100. "In those last years," according to the obituary by Adam Clymer in The New York Times, "he had to be helped onto the Senate floor by aides, who also told him, in voices audible in the Senate gallery, how to vote."

Of course neither man planned it that way, and that may be the most important lesson of all.

We can’t really predict tomorrow. We can’t guarantee its arrival with a specified number of calories or a given allotment of sleep, with milligrams of dark chocolate or ounces of fiber. But we can often determine the measure of joy we wring out of today.

I also riffled through a book of quotations and immediately found this proverb: "He lives long who lives well." I don’t think those last two words are really about blueberries, broccoli and green tea. And I’m not sure the first three are about anything as literal and prosaic as a tally of years.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


Michael Jackson Bailout Said to Be Close

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
The entrance to pop star Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch home, Dec. 17, 2004, in Santa Ynez, Calif.
April 13, 2006

Michael Jackson Bailout Said to Be Close

Michael Jackson, the onetime pop-music king who has endured a lengthy slide toward insolvency, is close to a deal that would keep him from bankruptcy by refinancing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, people briefed on the plan said last night.

As part of the transaction, he will also agree at some point in the future to give up a part of a prized asset a song catalog that includes Beatles’ hits to the Sony Corporation, people briefed on the plan said.

Mr. Jackson, who spent years racking up debt to underwrite his lifestyle even as his music career faded, has appeared to teeter on the brink of ruin several times in recent years. Last month, he all but closed his sprawling California ranch called Neverland, a move that came after the California authorities threatened to sue over unpaid wages to ranch employees.

Mr. Jackson used his stake in the song catalog as part of the collateral for about $270 million in loans from Bank of America. The bank sold the loans last year to Fortress Investment Group, a New York-based investment company that buys distressed debt. The entire catalog, of which Mr. Jackson owns 50 percent, has been valued around $1 billion, the people briefed said.

As part of the new agreement, Fortress has agreed to provide a new $300 million loan and reduce the interest payments Mr. Jackson must make.

Under the deal he has been negotiating, Mr. Jackson would agree to provide Sony which is co-owner of the Sony/ATV Music catalog with him with an option to buy half his stake, or about 25 percent of the catalog, at a set price, according to the people briefed on the deal.

Should Sony execute its option on the music catalog, it would ensure that Mr. Jackson was able to pay his debts, these people said.

Executives involved in the deal cautioned last night that some details had yet to completed and that the agreement could still collapse.

Representatives for Sony and Fortress declined to comment last night. A representative for Mr. Jackson did not return a call.

But executives involved in the deal said it came after months of talks that spanned the globe, with meetings from Los Angeles to New York to London to Bahrain, where Mr. Jackson has been living at the hospitality of Sheik Abdullah, the ruler’s son.

The deal also comes after years of efforts by an eclectic parade of financial advisers including the California billionaire Ronald W. Burkle and the Florida entrepreneur Alvin Malnik to offer Mr. Jackson guidance for extricating himself from his woes. Mr. Jackson’s financial managers had been pressing him to shed a part of his stake in the Sony/ATV venture since before he stood trial last year on charges of child molestation. He was acquitted last summer.

Many people close to Mr. Jackson have maintained that he could raise money to repay his loans or at least stay afloat by touring internationally or working out a series of television and book deals. But the consensus among his advisers was that he would face bankruptcy if he did not refinance.

Sony has a longstanding interest in keeping Mr. Jackson solvent. If Fortress had moved to foreclose on Mr. Jackson, he might have been forced into bankruptcy protection, where his stake in the publishing company could be put up for auction.

In negotiating the deal, Sony seeks to avoid the prospect that another bidder could gain ownership of the stake, which the company has long hoped to control.

Sony has been trying to organize financial partners that could prop up Mr. Jackson’s wobbly finances. In the fall, a Sony representative flew to Dubai to meet with Mr. Jackson and an adviser, Gaynell Lenoir, daughter of the late Gerald Lenoir, a lawyer who was a mentor to the lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Originally, they had tried to hammer out a deal in which Citigroup would acquire the loans, and offer Mr. Jackson a more favorable interest rate, around 6 percent, these executives said. Mr. Jackson had been paying more than 20 percent in monthly interest payments.

Rather than sell the loans to Citigroup, Fortress agreed to match the bank’s terms, the executives said.

The various parties had agreed to the deal in principle a few weeks ago, the executives said, but the final pact was held up while the companies involved tried to address questions about potential exposure linked to Mr. Jackson’s remaining legal problems.

Prescient Capital, a New Jersey company that said it helped Mr. Jackson secure the original financing from Fortress, has sued him for breach of contract, accusing him of failing to pay millions of dollars in fees for providing financial advice.

As a result, Mr. Jackson has finally been forced to loosen his grip on one of the richest of song catalogs.

He paid $47.5 million in 1985 to acquire the ATV catalog, which had roughly 4,000 songs among them more than 200 tunes written by members of the Beatles. After 10 months of negotiations with ATV’s owner, the Australian tycoon Robert Holmes Court, Mr. Jackson bested other suitors including the music executives Charles Koppelman and Martin Bandier, the London-based Virgin Records and the real estate entrepreneur Samuel J. Lefrak.

In 1995, as he confronted early financial woes, Mr. Jackson struck a deal to merge ATV with Sony’s publishing arm. The arrangement also provided Mr. Jackson with a stake in new songs acquired by the venture, like "No Such Thing" by John Mayer.

Aside from the Beatles songs, the venture has a vast archive including "Blowin’ in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond and "E-Pro" by Beck

The catalog also includes the works of songwriters including Stevie Nicks, Sarah McLachlan, Destiny’s Child, Garth Brooks and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi. The venture is also a big force in country music, having acquired the catalog of Roy Acuff and Fred Rose for $157 million in 2002. An archive of songs from the likes of Hank Williams and Roy Orbison is also included.


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