religion and the “burned-over district” — 9/30/14

Today’s selection — from The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. One of the most fervent outbursts of religion in American history was in western New York state during the Second Great Awakening (roughly 1790 to 1850). Nationally during this time, there was a profusion of new sects and denominations and the number of preachers per capita tripled. Western New York saw so many revivals and new sects, including Mormonism, that it became known as the “Burned-over district”:

counties of New York considered part of the “burned-over district

“‘There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains greater influence over the souls of men than in America,’ wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, and the remark has been cited many times since as a rebuke to people who prefer to see a secular morality prevail in American public life. It’s true that the role of faith in the formation of American values can be underestimated by nonbelievers. But it’s also the case that when Tocqueville visited the United States, in 1831 and 1832, religious exuberance was at an unusual pitch. Even if Tocqueville had not been the amazingly quick study he was, he could scarcely have missed it.

“The Second Great Awakening, which had begun in New England at the turn of the century, had spread westward, spinning off denominations as it went. Between 1776 and 1845, the number of preachers per capita in the United States tripled. Methodism, in the eighteenth century an insignificant offshoot of Anglicanism, grew to become the largest church in the nation; Mormonism, the Disciples of Christ, Universalism, Adventism, Unitarianism, the many Baptist churches, and the African-American church — along with Transcendentalism and a number of spiritually based humanitarian movements, including abolitionism — all emerged in the same period. It was a sectarian frenzy.

1839 Methodist camp meeting

“It was also, taken as a whole, a mass movement, and its tenor was populist. As Protestant revivalisms tend to be, it was pointedly anticlerical, and it therefore mixed a great deal of popular superstition and folk therapeutics with traditional Christian mythology. From one point of view, the Second Great Awakening, which lasted from 1800 to the eve of the Civil War, was, as Tocqueville interpreted it, a kind of democratization of European Christianity, a massive absorption into American popular culture of the Protestant spiritual impulse, stripped of most of its traditional hierarchies and formalities. But from another point of view, it was the last blast of supernaturalism before science superseded theology as the dominant discourse in American intellectual life.

“For a dissolute young man looking to be struck by evangelical lightning in the 1830s, western New York State was the place to be. The spirit of revivalism had arrived there in the 1820s, and it persisted for so long and generated so many diverse sectarian waves that the region began to be called the ‘Burned-over District,’ or, sometimes, the ‘Infectious District.’ ”

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

Author: Louis Menand
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright 2001 by Louis Menand
Pages: 80-81

Iran sees video games as central to a secret war against their culture

Iran sees video games as central to a secret war against their culture

Iran is making a game about the life and, most probably, violent death of Salman Rushdie. That this game is in development, a creation meant to teach new generations of Iranians about the 23-year-old fatwa against the author, is interesting, but its impetus is even more so.

The Iranian government is helping to make a game about the life and, most probably, violent death of Salman Rushdie. That this game is in development, a creation meant to teach new generations of Iranians about the 23-year-old fatwa against the author, is interesting, but its impetus is even more so.

The Stressful Life of Salman Rushdie and Implementation of his Verdict isn’t just a game in the eyes of the Iranian government, it is a weapon of self defense in what they believe is an ongoing “soft war” against their culture and beliefs.

In 2009, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps outlined what they described as a “soft war” being waged against the country by the West. The government believes that enemies of the state are using cultural influencers like movies, television, and video games to erode the culture and identity of the Islamic country.

In response to this threat, the country began to roll out what they described as defensive measures. These defenses include poets, artists, and intellectuals visiting schools; television programming aimed at strengthening Iranian ideals; and most recently, the funding of video games with Islamic and Iranian themes.

“We used to have only two weak (Iran-made) games, but after the issue of computer games came on the agenda of the Council at the order of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) we developed around 140 games with Islamic and Iranian contents which can compete with foreign products,” said Mokhber Dezfouli, Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, to the Fars News Agency.

Those games started appearing as early as 2007, when the government released Special Mission 85, a title about the fictional kidnapping of two nuclear scientists in Iraq by American soldiers. Last year, at Germany’s massive video game conference Gamescom, the Iran National Foundation of Computer Games showed off 41 games. Those titles ranged from a children’s game about a short-muzzled crocodile named Gando to Mir Mahna, a game about the Iranian national hero who defeated Dutch forces in the mid-1700s.

While the Salman Rushdie game didn’t make an appearance at the show last year with other in-development games, it was apparently already in the works. The title wasn’t officially announced, though, until last month at the second annual International Computer Games Expo in Tehran.

“We felt we should find a way to introduce our third and fourth generation to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and its importance,” Islamic Association of Students representative Mohammad Taqi Fakhrian told the Mehr news agency.

Iranian officials did not respond to requests for interviews or comment for this story. A spokesman for Rushdie told Polygon that the author wasn’t available to comment on the game or for this story.

While The Stressful Life of Salman Rushdie and Implementation of his Verdict is perhaps the most provocative of Iran’s government-funded video games, the frontline of the video game soft war can most likely be found amidst the video game industry’s many military shooters and Iran’s response to them. Games like Mir Mahna are being joined by a batch of new Iranian-centric shooters like Cry of Freedom, Breaking the surround of Abadan, and Alvatan Battle.

Most of Activision’s Call of Duty titles are permitted in Iran, but the country bristled at the release of EA’s Battlefield 3 and its inclusion of a U.S. military raid on Tehran. While the game isn’t officially sold in the country, that didn’t stop the Iranian government from banning it.


Western game developers likely don’t see themselves as soldiers in a soft war against Iran, but the notion of clashing cultural norms isn’t something they ignore.

Developer Danger Close ran into that in 2010 while developing Medal of Honor. The game, developed with the official support of the U.S. Army, was initially designed to allow players to fight one another online as either U.S. forces or members of the Taliban.

When the Army learned of the Taliban’s role in multiplayer, they called a hasty meeting with the developers and expressed their concern. The game was pulled globally from military stores, and ultimately, publisher Electronic Arts removed the Taliban as playable characters from the game.

Greg Goodrich, executive producer on Medal of Honor and its upcoming sequel, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, said the controversy helped the team learn some lessons about the importance of broadening the cultural point of reference of their games.

“We definitely see ourselves as reaching broader audiences and we are definitely trying to broaden our perspective,” he told Polygon. “Two years ago, Medal of Honor allowed players to assume the role of the enemy and fight Western forces. This is common among many first-person shooters. And although this practice is a multiplayer construct used to allow gamers to confront each other in online competition, from a cultural perspective it could, and in the case of Medal of Honor 2010 (did), go too far from a cultural point of reference for some. In retrospect, it even limited the appeal of the game for many people. In a highly authentic game like Medal of Honor, fans of the series want to be the good guys. And from our point of view, the good guys are the guys fighting terrorism, regardless of their nationality.”


In Warfighter, due out this October, the multiplayer mode has gamers taking on the role of soldiers in special forces units from ten countries. None of the announced countries are from the Greater Middle East, which means that while the game includes Poland’s GROM, Australia’s SASR, and the U.S.’s Navy SEALs, it doesn’t include, for instance, Pakistan’s SSG. Goodrich, when asked about the omission, simply said to “stay tuned.”

As military shooters continue to grow in popularity and extend their reach around the world, it’s interesting to see developers like Danger Close adjust for their expanding audience.

Where 2010’s Medal of Honor was a story of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan in 2002, Warfighter is shaping up to be a game about elite global forces, and not just American ones, tackling a more nebulous terrorist threat in an eclectic mix of locations including Somalia and the Philippines.

Goodrich calls his series a “mass-market game with a large global following,” but bristles at the notion that the games have any role in what Iran calls a soft war.

“As with books and films, any time that entertainment or art from one culture crosses into another there’s going to be an effect that some will call ‘subversive,'” he said. “We like to think that many of our themes are cross-cultural; that they’re about a warrior’s mindset regardless of their nationality. We honor active, veteran, and fallen soldiers by depicting their experience on the battlefield and at home with credibility and authenticity. Is Medal of Honor: Warfighter a secret conspiracy to alter the beliefs of children around the world? … Parents should spend more time with their kids and not let them play M-rated games.”

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

Navy SEAL Shot 27 Times by Al Qaeda Tells His Amazing Survival Story

‘God, Get Me Home to My Girls’: Navy SEAL Shot 27 Times by Al Qaeda Tells His Amazing Survival Story
by Fox News Insider // Sep 21 2014 // 11:18am
As seen on Fox and Friends Weekend

On the night of April 6, 2007, in Iraq’s Anbar Province, Navy SEAL Sr. Chief Mike Day came face-to-face with four heavily armed Al Qaeda leaders inside a room.

Despite being shot 27 times at close range, Day was able to defeat the terrorists, clear the rest of the house and walk under his own power to a medevac helicopter.

Day joined Tucker Carlson this morning on “Fox and Friends Weekend” to share the story of his miraculous survival.

Day explained that he opened the door that fateful night, and the terrorists beat him to the trigger, shooting his rifle out of his hands and hitting him 16 times in the arms, legs and abdomen – with the remaining 11 shots hitting his body armor, which amazingly absorbed multiple strikes.

“Anywhere you can put your finger on me, I was shot, except for my head,” Day said. “And here I am today, to tell the story.”

He said that once he realized he was actually being shot, he “asked God to get me home to my girls,” which he noted was the first time he had ever said a real prayer.

Day then used his pistol and muscle memory to do what he was trained to do and fight his way out of the room.

After a couple years recovering in the hospital, Day said he feels he is being called to raise funds for the Brain Treatment Center through Mike Day’s Tri Challenge.

Day will compete in the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Florida to raise funds for the care and treatment of wounded warriors and dependent children who have suffered severe brain injuries.

The funds will provide customized treatment programs to individuals at the Carrick Brain Treatment Center, a non-profit organization in Texas.

Watch Day tell his incredible story in the clip from “Fox and Friends Weekend” above.

Emma Watson Delivers Stirring Speech at U.N.

Emma Watson takes notes during an event at Parliament in Montevideo, Uruguay. (9/17/14) (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

Emma Watson takes notes during an event at Parliament in Montevideo, Uruguay. (9/17/14) (AP Photo/Matilde Camp …

Actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a powerful speech on gender equality at the U.N. on Saturday, helping to launch her new initiative, HeForShe.

The campaign urges men to take a stand against gender inequality of all types. The Harry Potter and Bling Ring actresses speech was attended by Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker, among many others, E! Online reports.

Also present: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who invoked Watson’s most famous role while praising the star’s efforts to advance the cause of equality. “She’s been using her magic wand in her movie. I hope she will use [her] magic want to stop violence against women,” he said, according to E! Online.

[Related: Emma Watson’s Stunning Self Portrait Surfaces]

The speech touched on many issues, including the confusion over the word feminism.

“I was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women six months ago and the more I’ve spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

“Feminism,” Watson continued, “is, by definition, the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Watson also spoke about how women “are choosing not to identify as feminists” and the word’s apparent toxicity. She remarked, “Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, ‘too aggressive,’ isolating and anti-men, unattractive, even. Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one?”

Seeking to include men in her campaign, Watson spoke about how gender inequality can negatively affect men as much as women.

“Gender equality is your issue too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence, as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help, for fear it would make them less of a men—or less of a man. In fact, in the U.K., suicide is the biggest killer of men, between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”

Watson acknowledged that some people hearing her speech may wonder, “Who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the U.N.?”

“It’s a really good question,” Watson said. “I’ve been asking myself at the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen and given the chance, I feel my responsibility to say something. Statesman Edmund Burke said all that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

For more information about HeForShe, check out the program’s official site. A full transcript of Watson’s speech can be read here.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter.

the story behind the ugly duckling — 9/17/14

This excerpt is very interesting on many fronts. The Ugly Duckling was an inspiration to me when I was young, and I’m sure many can relate to the ridicule and mistreatment that was described. The story is admittedly autobiographical according to Anderson. One other fascinating point is that Anderson used the phrase “selling like hotcakes” in 1843, so I assume it had already been in use for some time.

Today’s selection — from Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness by Paul Binding. Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish author who left an indelible mark on Western culture with stories that transcend age and nationality such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Little Match Girl.” His earliest writings were based on stories he heard as a child, but he soon brought the genre to a new level with bold and original stories that he labored over, meticulously constructing each phrase, image and theme. His most famous story, “The Ugly Duckling,” while universal in theme, reflected his own struggle to overcome his ungainly looks and humble background. Some scholars believe it was also an expression of his struggle with his homosexuality in an era in which same sex relations were illegal:

“Like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ ‘The Ugly Duckling’ has passed into proverb. In its proverbial form its account of an unprepossessing, unsatisfactory member of one species evolving into a beautiful, admired member of another encourages us to expect for ourselves an eventual transformation of situation and self for the better, whatever the restrictions of our early circumstances and the current low opinion of others. Obviously this is of irresistible appeal to insufficiently appreciated children, and few of us have not at some point seen ourselves in this category. Here is a story which seems to assure us of our right to a future consonant with our instinctive hopes during our unhappy times, and probably exceeding them, while confounding all those fault-finding authority figures who have given up on us or showed us downright hostility. More, it suggests that we will be granted our rights by a natural process. …
“Many have found it ironical that ‘The Ugly Duckling’ — the most constant favourite with the young of all its author’s tales — appeared in Andersen’s first book of fairy stories to drop from its title the designation ‘for Bern’ (for children’): Nye Eventyr, Forste Samling (New Fairy Tales, First Collection 11 November 1843). But this deliberate omission is surely appropriate. …”

“‘The book is selling like hot cakes!’ declared Andersen in an 1843 letter translated by historian Maria Tatar. It was shortly after the release of his new collection, which included this popular, heartwarming tale. The similarities between Andersen’s life and the ugly duckling are irresistible: Andersen — gangly, poor, and uneducated — became a literary star despite the under-estimation he suffered. In a similar fashion, the hatchling is mistaken for a common duck and mistreated before discovering that he is a beautiful swan. It took Andersen a year to write ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ and nineteen years later, he opened up about the process, calling the tale ‘the hardest to compose, perhaps because it was the most directly autobiographical.’ This classic example of an animal tale also spawned one of Andersen’s famous quotes: ‘Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.’ In Andersen’s day, the definition of artistic genius was shifting and was less bound to class than it had been before. He was part of an exciting new breed, and the tale’s inspiring and hopeful message continues to make it one of Andersen’s most beloved stories to this day. …

“The widespread love (there is no other word) felt for this story, and from the very first, cannot be explained only by its invitation to respect the once despised artist or its confessed correspondence to a celebrity’s (Andersen’s) own life. Nor even by its extraordinarily concentrated literary art, endlessly repaying of analytic attention though it is. Separation from, and consequent need for fellow spirits — these are conditions by no means peculiar to practitioners of the arts. All of us know moments of oppressive solitude of the soul. What we want most at such times is the assurance that we are not unique in our emotions, that others have the same yearnings, have suffered similarly. If we only could meet these others — if not in life, then in art — we could be comforted, and, above all else, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ is an instrument of profound comfort. And if we accept homosexuality as a strong component at the very least of Andersen’s emotional make-up, then we can see the duckling’s journey as one out of the loneliness of mocked heterodoxy to acceptance by those who knew what he was and who felt as he did, or at any rate sympathised with him. Unfortunately Denmark, as the nineteenth century progressed, would deny homosexuals any show of public unity analogous to this convergence of the swans. By the end of the century, like Britain, like Germany, it had made same-sex relations illegal. But the Andersen of 1843 would not have been able to predict this sad subsequent development.”

Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness

Author: Paul Binding
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2014 Paul Binding
Pages 203-204

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