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Steven Ozment is, undoubtedly, one of the leading historians of the Reformation in the world. I first read his early, seminal works in grad school (The Reformation in the Cities and The Age of Reform 1250-1550). He is a professor of history at Harvard where he continues to teach both graduate students and undergraduate course in western civilization.

I admire and have enjoyed his writings, more recently Magdalena & Balthasar and Protestants.

One of my beach books is his new study of Martin Luther and the Saxon court artist, Lucas Cranach, titled The Serpent and the Lamb.

It is a fascinating, provocative, frustrating, maddening, illuminating, challenging and informative read.

Cranach’s life is intertwined with Luther’s in numerous ways. Cranach illustrated some of Luther’s pamphlets, and was a partner in one of the printing presses that published Luther’s writings, including Luther’s German translation of the New Testament. They developed a close personal relationship. Cranach was a witness at Luther’s wedding and later godfather to his children.

Cranach himself was more than just a court painter. He has been justifiably placed in the first rank or artists with his friend and rival, Albrecht Durer. He was also a successful businessman, entrepreneur, large landowner, and city official (twice mayor) in Wittenberg.

Ozment’s biography of Cranach (with special attention to his relationship with Luther) is a magisterial tour de force. Ozment is in command of all the details and figures of Reformation Germany and deftly places Cranach in context and relationship with the major players: Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Albrecht of Halle, twice arch-bishop, Emperor Maximillian and his grand-son, Charles V.

Ozment is also an observant analyst of the subjects and style of Cranach’s paintings over succeeding decades.

I’d recommend the book for anyone who is curious about Cranach’s life and art, and the relationship between the Reformation and the arts.

Having said all that, there is one howler in Ozment’s otherwise astute analysis that is indicative of one of the blind spots of current historical analysis.

In his discussion of Cranach’s treatment of women in a series of paintings of Old Testament heroines (an otherwise fascinating analysis), he turns to a 1528 painting by Cranach entitled Lot and His Daughters. Here’s how he summarizes the biblical story which Cranach depicted:

“The ending and moral of this story are also of great biblical complexity. Both daughters were impregnated by their father and delivered healthy boys who grew up to be leading Hebrew tribesmen. By its silence, the Old Testament implies that God took no offense at the daughters’ and the father’s transgression of the incest taboo. Apparently the daughters’ benevolent desire to salvage the future of their family, and perhaps all of humankind, made their gamble forgivable in the eyes of God.”

The story is told in Genesis 19 and the two healthy boys here are Moab and Ammon. Although descended from Terah (the father of Abraham) they are decidedly NOT Hebrew. The nations of Moab and Ammon became rivals, enemies, and at times oppressors of Israel. It’s a bit jarring, in an otherwise exceptionally well written book, to see such a simple factual error. All the more jarring, since one expects a historian of the Reformation to have a better than average knowledge of the Bible.

Doesn’t diminish the utility of the book, and my admiration for the author. Just a reminder that he’s not an expert in all areas.

RedHatRob at the Cranach House in Wittenberg

RedHatRob at the Cranach House in Wittenberg


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We have a new kitten in house. Various names have been suggested. Amelia almost stuck (cat = female aviator?). Then it was shortened to ‘Melia. Recently I have noticed the children referring to the kitten as Meow-Meow, which has inevitably been shortened to Mau-Mau (or is it Mao-Mao?).

All of which got me to musing this morning over coffee with Cyndy about Tom Wolfe and his wonderful essay “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” which was published in 1970. Dating myself, I know, but Wolfe remains arguably the best writer on the curiosities of American culture from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” is an incomprehensible  title these days. What the heck is meant by  “Mau-Mau?” It seems to be a verb form of a noun, but what’s a “Mau Mau?” “Mau-Mau” is a reference to the rebellion of the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya against British colonial rule from 1952-1960. The British referred to it as the “Mau Mau uprising” or the “Mau Mau rebellion.” Nobody is quite sure of the etymology of the term. The rebellion is little known now, but it dominated the news out of Africa during the 1950s. There were atrocities on both sides – and the Mau Mau rebels acquired a reputation for being fierce, militant, and brutal. Mau Mau entered the popular vocabulary as a synonym for violent, militant, black nationalism.

“Flak-catcher” is a neologism coined by Wolfe – he also gave us such phrases as “radical chic,” “the Me decade,” “the right stuff,” and “good ol’ boy.” I’m not kidding you – the phrase “good ol’ boy” was coined by Wolfe in a 1964 essay for Esquire about stock car racer Junior Johnson.

Back to “flak-catcher.” According to Wolfe, the flak-catcher is the No. 2 or the No. 3 guy in any organization (or any assistant to the top guy) who is assigned the onerous task of handling complaints – especially complaints delivered in person by a group of angry people. Here’s a relevant passage describing an underling fielding questions from an angry mob of militants, “And then it dawns on you… This man is the flak catcher. His job is to catch the flak for the No. 1 man.”

Mau-mauing then, as described by Wolfe, is the kabuki theater in which members of an ethnic group stage a confrontation with authorities in order to extract money, grants, jobs, and other concessions. Wolfe spent some time observing how these performances were choreographed in San Francisco as various ethnic groups assembled at social service offices and demanded redress for their grievances.

“Mau-mauing the flak catcher” is the art of assembling a group, demanding a public meeting, presenting your demands, doing one’s best to appear threatening and scary, and then grudgingly accepting the money and other compensation proffered by the flak catcher.

Here’s how Wolfe describes it:

Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco. The poverty program encouraged you to go in for mau-mauing. They wouldn’t have known what to do without it. The bureaucrats at City Hall and in the Office of Economic Opportunity talked “ghetto” all the time, but they didn’t know any more about what was going on in the Western Addition, Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, the Mission, Chinatown, or south of Market Street than they did about Zanzibar. They didn’t know where to look. They didn’t even know who to ask. So what could they do? Well … they used the Ethnic Catering Service … right … They sat back and waited for you to come rolling in with your certified angry militants, your guaranteed frustrated ghetto youth, looking like a bunch of wild men. Then you had your test confrontation. If you were outrageous enough, if you could shake up the bureaucrats so bad that their eyes froze into iceballs and their mouths twisted up into smiles of sheer physical panic, into shit-eating grins, so to speak–then they knew you were the real goods. They knew you were the right studs to give the poverty grants and community organizing jobs to. Otherwise they wouldn’t know.

The art of mau-mauing is still going on. . .

And our new kitten (whom I have tenderly nicknamed “psycho-kitty”) is the master of mau-mauing. She glares and threatens mayhem until you give in to her demands.

* flak, by the way, is a German abbreviation from WW2 which has found it’s way into English. When allied pilots encountered heavy anti-aircraft barrages during bombing runs over Germany, they referred to it as heavy “flak.” FLAK itself is the acronym for a Flieger-Abwehr-Kanone, or Flyer-Defense-Cannon – except that Germans don’t use hyphens in compound nouns, so they spell it Fliegerabwehrkanone. Aren’t you glad you asked?

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Here are the key races:

PA US Senate: Turncoat Snarlin’ Arlen Specter faces a real challenge in trying to win the Democratic nomination so he can win a 6th term in the Senate. His opponent in the primary is Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, a retired navy admiral. Even if Arlen wins, he must still face a strong Republican, Pat Toomey in the general election in November. But if Arlen loses the primary today, the Tea Partiers will be smilin’.

AR US Senate: Democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln is being challenged by Democrat Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Halter has made “change” the focus of his campaign [what, no “hope?”]. Lincoln’s vote for Obamacare was VERY unpopular in Arkansas. If she loses, the Tea Partiers will be smilin’.

KY US Senate: Newcomer Rand Paul, son of Cong. Ron Paul is challenging the establishment Republican candidate, Sec. of State Trey Grayson, to take over the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Bunning. Rand has been supported by the Tea Partiers and is way ahead in the polls. Tea Partiers are already smilin’.

There are several key House seats on the ballot as well. Special elections in PA and HI are being closely watched.

In Pennsylvania, there is a special election to fill the seat of the late John Murtha. Murtha held the seat for the Democrats for 36 years. But McCain carried the district in 2008. It’s close. Mark Critz, a long-time staffer for Murtha is the Democrat candidate. Newcomer Tim Burns is the Republican candidate. A Burns win would confirm that this is going to be a very big year for Republicans… and would make the Tea Partiers smile.

In Hawaii, there is a special election to fill the seat once held by Democrat Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for Governor. This is a weird race. Normally, Republicans wouldn’t stand a chance in this district. But the Democrats have two candidates who are feuding and splitting the vote. Democrat Colleen Hanabusa is president of the State Senate. Democrat Ed Case used to be the Congressman for this district. The local state Democrat bigwigs (including Sen. Inouye) are backing Hanabusa. Nancy Pelosi and Washington, DC Democrats are backing Case. The two Democrats are splitting the Democrat vote down the middle. In a special election, there are no primaries. So, against all odds, Republican Charles Djou, who serves on the City Council for Honolulu, is leading in the polls. If Djou wins, it will give the Democrats heartburn. . . and would make the Tea Partiers smile.

Five races to watch tonight.

Very cool global collaboration on an old classic from the 1960s.

Great idea, great execution. Kudos to the recording engineers and to the software gurus who edited and blended both the video & audio tracks which were recorded months and thousands of miles apart.

Great example of how communication & collaboration tools are changing the world.

Crank up the volume, sit back, and enjoy.

Playing For Change | Song Around The World “Stand By Me” from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.


from an MSNBC website story on large families:

Rob Shearer, a father of 11 children ranging in age from 10 to 28, says he and his wife didn’t plan on having a large family. But he says things were going well, so they kept expanding.

“We never sat down and said, ‘Let’s have 11 children!’ We had two and enjoyed them, so we had a third,” says Shearer, of Lebanon, Tenn. “We enjoyed three, so we had a fourth.” Two girls were adopted from China.

He says that, like any parent, he feels inadequate and overwhelmed at times, but adds that it’s all worth it.