Thursday, May 31, 2007

Another review of Exmormon!!!

Nomoxian has just posted a new review of Exmormon!!!

The only comment I'll add is that yet another person has pointed out that there are too many characters, and that makes the story a little hard to follow at times. But I've learned my lesson!!! So for all of you following the story online, don't forget that I've provided visual character charts that you can refer to if ever you're reading along and catch yourself saying "Wait a minute, who was that person again...?"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How I became an atheist

I've told the story of my deconversion from Mormonism here, here, and here, but I haven't quite explained yet how I got from there to atheism.

Before my deconversion, I'd already identified atheism as the main alternate possibility (as explained here: If the church weren't true I'd be an atheist, and other things I learned in seminary). Either the church is true or it isn't. Either the spiritual witness is right or it isn't. Since -- if we wipe away what we learned from the spirit -- what's left?

But I was plagued by self-doubt.

Mormonism had convinced me that spiritual witness was valid as evidence for deciding questions about the way the real-world universe functions. So I put a massive amount of heart and effort and prayer into trying to receive that spiritual witness. And several times I managed to generate an emotional/spiritual experience that I hoped was God talking to me.

But "the spirit" always felt sickly and off. Despite what I wrote in my journal about it, I never fully convinced myself that my spiritual experiences weren't wishful thinking and all in my head. That was why I continued to pray fervently for the "testimony" I didn't have, right up to the day of my deconversion epiphany.

But my doubts about my own spiritual experiences didn't extend to doubts about the reality of other people's spiritual experiences. I though my own were possibly just in my head, but I assumed that it was just because I was unworthy to have real spiritual experiences. I believed that other (more righteous) people were receiving actual communication from God.

That was why it threw me for such a loop when I heard from some faithful Mormons say that people in other religions had spiritual experiences similar to those Mormons have (see my deconversion, part 3). My belief in God was ultimately built on the bedrock of believing trusted friends and family when they said they'd talked to Him. When the same trusted individuals admitted that Mormons didn't necessarily have a monopoly on spiritual witness, I hardly knew what to think.

Then, when I had my grand epiphany that the claims of Mormonism are false, I didn't entirely stop believing in other people's spiritual claims. I merely determined that spiritual witness couldn't be used to answer real-world questions or questions about the nature of God. I immediately saw the parallels among all of the myths and miracles claimed by all of mankind's religions, and concluded that all of these details were inventions by people wishing to explain their experiences with the divine.

Thus I became a Deist. I believed that God or gods exist and created the universe and care about people (enough to commune with them), but that the divine powers don't actually intervene or explain anything specific to anyone. That's where I was at when I entered BYU as a freshman.

Sometime during my first year at BYU, I attended a devotional. My ward had invited one of the BYU religion professors to tell us the story of his conversion to Mormonism. He told an amazingly moving story that -- as far as I could tell -- touched everyone in the room, including me. That was the spirit for sure. Since I'd participated in the same spiritual experience with others whose spirituality wasn't in question, I concluded that that must be the real thing, if anything is. I took the experience as evidence of God's love and of the fact that God can communicate through Mormonism just as through any other religion.

But weirdly it was the beginning of the end. As long as I wasn't sure I'd ever received any spiritual witness, I didn't feel qualified to criticize that type of evidence. But once I had some spiritual evidence of my own, I had something concrete to question. And as soon as I started putting some weight on my evidence -- to rely on it for my belief -- the doubts started to squeeze out. That guy is a talented speaker. He's probably given that same devotional hundreds of times. He knows how to tell his story in such a way that it generates an emotional response in his audience. No supernatural explanation required...

Around the same time, someone had posted a cartoon on a door leading to some offices inside the BYU library. I passed the cartoon all the time because the door was along one of the main stairways leading to some of the lower floors of the library. The cartoon was of a stern-looking man (dressed as a scholar) walking down a staircase. I don't remember exactly what was written on the upper few steps -- I think it was a series of things like questioning the literal inerrancy of the Bible -- but I remember what was written on the last three steps: Deism, Agnosticism, Atheism.

I was annoyed by this cartoon because I felt like it was just an attempt to scare people away from doubting or interpreting the slightest thing for themselves. It looked like an obvious swipe against the "liberal" and "Sunstone" Mormons (today's "middle way" people). I thought "Oh, please!! Just because you don't buy the whole enchilada doesn't mean you're on the road to **shudder** atheism."

But the more I passed that cartoon -- and the more I thought about it -- the more I thought, "Well, actually... Maybe this path does lead to atheism..."

I didn't really have a moment of epiphany the way I did with my deconversion from Mormonism. I just gradually started calling myself an agnostic when I wasn't sure anymore. Meanwhile, the evidence for God's existence started looking weaker and weaker.

Then one day I was explaining to an atheist friend (probably my brother) about how I'm an agnostic because I don't claim to have a proof that God doesn't exist.

He then asked me "But which do you think it is? God exists or God doesn't exist?"

Without hesitation I said "I think God doesn't exist."

He laughed and said, "Then you're an atheist! Admit it!"

I thought about it a second and said, "You're right, I'm an atheist."

And I've been an atheist ever since.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The church gains a convert, or Mormons: 1, atheists: 0...

At breakfast Annette was ecstatically telling everyone about Tony, her new boyfriend. She recounted how she met him and how she'd asked him to dance and all that. It turned out that he was in the Crystal second ward, so he wasn't too far away even if he wasn't right next door. And they'd already exchanged phone numbers so that they could keep in contact after the end of Youth Conference. We all congratulated her and gushed about how very cute he was. At this point I had no reason to be jealous since I had met someone too.

Not to be outdone, as soon as her story started to wind down a bit I launched into my narrative about Bill. I skipped the parts about not hearing him and about computer networking and went straight to telling them about how cute he was and how much he seemed to like me. All the girls who had seen him agreed that he was very cute. Read more ->

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Carnival of the Godless #67!!!

It's carnival time again!!! And a fantastic batch of godless thoughts have arrived in my inbox this past fortnight, so let's jump right in!!!

On being an atheist

Twice tells a lovely deconversion story of how understanding a past religion led to new insight about religion in general. VJack follows with a letter to a new atheist. Riversider discusses atheist networking through "Internetionalism" and the symbolism of the circle.


No More Mr. Nice Guy gives us Footsteps: an atheist parable.

The skeptical alchemist gives a good discussion and explanation of framing atheism.

A couple of bloggers write to us about their experiences working things out in that strange space between religion and unbelief: Zen Atheist Cat's Got My Tongue and Questions of God.

And we have three posts covering different facets of the question of how religion and atheism relate to morals: Materialism's Foundation for Moral Agency, The Best Arguments for God’s Existence…and Why They Fail: The Argument from Morality, Some comments on religion.

Ethics + Behavoir

Aaron Ross Powell discusses how atheists should act with respect to religion, and on a related note, Stephen Littau is critical of atheists celebrating Fallwell's death, and how that affects public perception of atheists. The atheist ethicist in particular doesn't care for the fact that it's common in public discourse to slam atheists for the (supposed) good atheists would not do.

Speaking of how atheists should behave, Mojoey talks about small lies (including contempt of court).

And the behavoir of the religious? Misanthropic Bastard discusses How Religion Hurts The World: Division.

Religion + Politics

CapeTownDissentator gives an interesting overview (with statistics) of religion and politics in America.

Freedom of religion for other religious minorities affects freedom of/from religion for atheists. So let's have a look at some cases of less-favored religions seeking the same treatment as Christians: Damned Witches! and NC believes in magic....

We have some interesting new analysis of the religious right's favorite issues: abortion (If humans were marsupials) and gay marriage (Mitt Romney: Gay Marriage Makes Baby Jesus Cry). Then speaking of Mitt and Mormon political influence, Æsahættr tells us about religious political influence: Mormon style.

In other news, the Pope decries the evils of both capitalism and communism. Exmoron wonders what he's hoping to replace them with, and Advice Goddess suggests maybe religion should be on the list as well.

Religion + Culture

Mutant Cat translates Christian t-shirts, and in other Christian pop-culture fun Jul brings us some funny photos of signs you may be in the Bible Belt.

On the less-amusing side of Christian culture, the Voltage Gate describes "Quiverfull" as seen on TLC.

Creation Science

If creation is a science, then it should have a museum, right? Complete with dinosaurs!!! Well, it does, and we've got a couple of fun posts about it: Creatin' Science and Adam and Eve In The Land Of the Dinosaurs.

And who can forget everyone's favorite creationist media personalities, Cameron and Comfort? Axis of Jared offers $10k to anyone that can prove Ray Comfort isn't an idiot, and Unashamedly Atheist is kind enough to carefully explain the problems with Comfort's argument, in terms of an understanding of the mechanism by which something is made.


Some people still believe in miracles though, and when they do, the skeptics are right there to say "You've got to be kidding...." The prize goes to finding Jesus in a plop of bird poop (is it even possible that's not a joke?). Then a skeptic visits a healing crusade and doesn't mince words about what a shameless scam it is, profiting from people's desperate hopes. Then Action Skeptics deconstruct another moneymaking miracle, The Seed Principle.


We've got a batch of reviews for your reading pleasure: Aardvarchaeology reviews God, the Failed Hypothesis, Generative Transformation reviews The Albigen Papers, and The Uncredible Hallq reviews all of J.P. Holding's scholarship.


Saving the best for last, we have our stories. Rickey Henderson recounts his weekend of doom attending a Bat-Mizvah.

Then who could forget the most fabulous atheist-interest coming of age novel ever written? It's got all of the misadventures of youth through the eyes of Mormon teens and atheist young adults!!! Our heros are currently attending Youth Conference where we've seen Let the Manhunt Begin!, Doomed Unrequited Love, and Sexual Purity, with the conclusion Another Great Year at Youth Conference coming up soon!!!

That's it for this carnival -- the next one will be held June 10th at Action Skeptics!!!

Submit your post here to be included in the next Carnival of the Godless!!! (Or if it's more about Humanism, consider The Humanist Symposium.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The parable of criticism is a compliment

Once upon a time, back when I was in grad school, I decided that I was going to learn to speak a foreign language. I'd enjoyed learning Latin in high school and college, but I felt like I'd missed out never having learned to carry on a real-time conversation with actual non-English-speaking foreigners. And since there were so many foreign students in the math department where I was studying for my Ph.D. (who could help me practice speaking their native tongue) -- it was an opportunity I didn't want to waste!

So I picked French as my new language, and I bought a stack of books and tapes and obsessively studied until I got to the point where I could carry on a rudimentary conversation. Then I scheduled regular conversation outings with various grad students who were from French-speaking countries, and by the time I got the opportunity to travel to France -- to spend a month attending a special semester of Number Theory at a university in Paris -- I was already able to carry on a perfectly reasonable conversation in French, as long as the person I was talking to was fairly patient.

When I arrived in Paris, I had plenty of opportunity to practice my new skill on the people of the math department I was visiting. And it seemed like everybody was complimenting me on how well I spoke French, to which I would respond with a faux-modest "merci" and then launch into the grand epic tale of how I'd taught myself to speak French. That was one of the stories I was really, really good at telling in French. ;^)

Then towards the end of the month, the compliments started to dry up. What's worse, instead of complimenting me, the new people I would meet would actually correct me -- pointing out errors in grammar and pronunciation in the middle of a conversation!

This annoyed me at first (especially since it limited my opportunities to regale people with my favorite grand epic tale), but I felt better after I thought about it a bit. When someone arrives fresh off the plane, obviously enthusiastic about speaking the language and capable of a reasonable conversation, but is making errors in every sentence, what are you going to say? The natural response is something like "Wow, you speak French well; you're learning fast..." Whereas when I'd gotten to the point where people were bothering to correct one lone mistake in the middle of a conversation, it must have meant that the other stuff I'd said was mostly right.

Thus I concluded that criticism is often a compliment. I think this is a general lesson that applies to a lot of life circumstances.

(The humility-restoring post script to my grand epic tale: now my five-year-old son Nicolas corrects my French. He's not even lenient about it either, he's like "Mom, it's not puissant, it's puissante," and he follows up with an exaggerated eye-rolling that says "duh, Mom, where did you learn to speak French?")

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


After dinner, while getting ready for the second dance of Youth Conference, I resolved that I was going to seriously make an effort to meet someone good this time. Otherwise I would be down to my last chance on Saturday night. I looked at my dress closely in the mirror and couldn't help but feel that it just wasn't right. I wasn't unattractive, and there wasn't anything specifically wrong with my look, but I felt that I somehow lacked a certain je ne sais quoi which would attract the boys to me like they came to Lara for example.

In the background, I could hear Amy talking on the phone to her mom. I wasn't really listening as they were discussing which dress she should wear to that night's dance and which one she should save for Saturday night. But then a shift in the topic caught my attention.

"No, we haven't heard any news," Amy said and then paused. "Well, we were thinking that it was probably just that they liked them so much that they didn't tell anyone anything so that they wouldn't have to share them with the other boys."

She didn't! I couldn't believe she had told her mom about the cookies! I was never going to hear the end of this! As soon as she got off the phone I confronted her about it. Read the rest of the story ->

Monday, May 21, 2007

Humanist Symposium #2

Humanist Symposium #2 is up!!! It's a fun one since An Anonymous Coward has taken the time to classify all of the posts by genus and species, giving each its own Latin name!!!

(Raising the bar for the rest of us carnival hosts, grrr....)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jesus and the death penalty

Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ was not merely innocent, but was actually perfect. Yet he was tried and executed by the state.

I realize that a lot of Christians oppose the death penalty on principle. However, it seems like Christian opposition to the death penalty should be essentially universal, given that they believe the state can make such a colossal blunder that not only random innocent people -- but in fact the most innocent person of all -- might be wrongly put to death.

So today I'm going to try to guess what reasoning allows some Christians to support the death penalty despite their God's unfortunate experience with it:

* Those Romans were barbarians who didn't have the idea of giving people a fair trial or concepts like "presumed innocent until proven guilty," etc. We don't need to worry about such errors happening today.
* Jesus was executed for political reasons because there was an angry mob clamoring for his death. That's totally unlike the situation of any death-row inmates today.
* It was actually a good thing that Jesus was executed because he died for all our sins. Therefore the death penalty is good.
* The death penalty is part of God's plan. If He didn't want innocent people like Jesus and others getting executed by the state, He'd use His omnipotent powers to put a stop to it.
* Jesus's example clearly shows that even if innocent people are occasionally executed, it all gets sorted out correctly when they get to heaven.
* Jesus was executed for claiming to be king. Considering that He really did claim to be king (in a sense), the conviction was fair and just.
* Jesus was God. Things that happened to Him have absolutely no relation to things that happen to other people.

What do you think? Did I guess it, or is there some other explanation that I missed?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Steal this idea: Greetings from the opposite of America!!!

Reading commentary Americans write about how things work in France is incredibly frustrating. It tends to be a random mix of stuff that's right with stuff that makes me go "What the...? Where did that come from?"

Then one day it finally dawned on me where it's coming from. Most of the time when North Americans write about France they're not actually writing about France at all -- they're writing about America.

Whenever an American wants to write an essay describing the American way of doing something, it's important to set it off with a contrasting example of a first world country where things are completely the opposite of the way things are in the U.S. That country is France. Always. Whether things really are done differently in the real-life country of France is quite irrelevant. There are two ways of doing things, the American way, and the opposite of the American way, and to put a human face on "the opposite of the American way" we like to add a beret and horizontally-striped shirt and call it "France."

And so with that background I want to talk about an amusing article that was sent to me by Æsahættr: Hillary equals France.

I don't want to be too critical of this article since it's obviously a humor piece (and one that's nice to the French for a change...), but it fits the standard model pretty well: When comparing the French to the Americans, the author (Bill Maher) got some stuff right and some stuff wrong, but the one point where he was truly right on the money was a point about Americans.

Each culture has its own set of shared assumptions, and one of the most deeply held assumptions by the American people is that the American way is the best way; that all great ideas, advances, and innovations come from America, and the rest of the world is watching with envy and scrambling to copy "the American way" of doing just about anything.

You may be saying "Come on, Chanson!! The people of every country think their own way of doing things is best!!!" And I will respond with all sincerity: Not like the Americans do. The other half of you are probably saying "The reason Americans think that is because it's true!!!" And I'll grant that there's more than just a grain of truth to it -- there's a boulder of truth to it. That's probably why this belief is so popular. ;^)

Nonetheless, there are many cases where this unquestionable article of faith is wrong. And in those cases, it's a big stumbling boulder in terms of solving problems and improving things in the U.S.

Talking to the average European-on-the-street, as horrified as they are by Bush, there's still a strong sense that America leads the way -- largely in technology, but in other areas as well -- so there's no shame in watching closely and adopting practices seem to be working on the other side of the pond. (Case in point: Sarkozy -- who just won the French presidential election by a wide margin -- is perceived as the "Americophile" who will be leading France in a more American direction.) On the American side of the pond, by contrast, there's a perception of Europe as the "failed system" -- the standard example of how not to do anything.

Now let's look at this in purely mathematical terms: even if it's true that more innovation comes from America, who has the advantage? The people who use your ideas only? Or the people who use your ideas and their own as well? The American founding fathers weren't above having a two-way exchange of good ideas with other countries (notably France, as pointed out in the article), and America is all the better off for it. So why scrap this fine tradition?

Bill Maher gives an excellent modern example: Health care. Why is U.S. health care in the state it's currently in? Why, it's because American health care is the best in the world!!! And la-la-la I'm putting my fingers in my ears and not listening to you if you say anything different!!!

But seriously, (from a snail's eye view at least) the health care system here in France is excellent. As someone who grew up on U.S. healthcare, I am constantly impressed by the quality and comprehensiveness of the French healthcare system. I talked about the contrast a little bit in my post about those wacky health insurance companies!!! Just to take three day-to-day quality of life issues that are important to me -- healthcare, transportation, and public education -- all three are far superior in Europe. Now if you're about to remind me of the taxes, I'll just put it in crass capitalistic terms: sometimes you pay more for something that's better.

I've been hesitant to talk about the above in lo these many years of blogging because I don't want to alienate my American audience (or unduly worry them with the fear that those evil European socialists gotten to me and melted my brain). If you disagree with me, that's fine -- I welcome dissent here, and I don't claim to be an expert on economics. But I'm not speaking as a knee-jerk "France is always best" cheerleader -- I'm as willing and happy to criticize French folly as I am to criticize anyone else's (recall grammar police among others).

Regarding some of the other points made in the article:

The French do indeed like to swap gossip about their leaders' personal lives. Of course I heard about the fact that Royal never actually married the father of her children and I heard the rumor about Sarkozy's marriage being on the rocks. My husband even told me he'd read that Sarkozy's wife didn't bother to vote in the election, so notably she didn't vote for her husband. Now, one reason Royal's non-marriage was a non-issue was the fact that it seems like half of France is in the same boat. Not just my generation and younger either -- it looks like whether you've legally married your S.O./co-parent has been viewed as something of a minor technicality for some time.

Mahler is right, however, that politicians' personal lives don't show up as serious election issues. I talked a little about the relationship of the French with political sex lives in my post about Hillary Clinton. I think part of it is the fact that more than a hundred years ago there was a French president who died while receiving a B.J. from his mistress, and French politicians since then...? Well, they've had a hard time topping that one.

Another point for Americans to be aware of is that French history doesn't start right around the time of the French Revolution and cover France exclusively as a republic. From what I understand, it starts with "Our ancestors, the Gauls..." and runs through quite a bit of monarchy before that whole enlightenment-and-democracy thing. And since nobody's going to tell the king that it's not okay for him to maintain a mistress or two, it turns out that "the king's mistress" is a frequent stock character in the French history books. Obviously people will have somewhat different expectations for democratically-elected leaders, but still I think this sort of thing affects the public expectations about how leaders are going to behave.

Regarding the claim that "there is no Pierre six-pack" -- that's a funny line but... The author seems to be claiming that in France everybody's an intellectual and there's no political pandering or voting on the basis of emotional/symbolic issues. That's an interesting theory, but let's try to stay here on the planet Earth with us please...

That said, what I saw and read of the presidential debate here in France seemed fairly serious: The main issues covered were apparently economic theory and energy policy, and in particular how reliant France is (and should or shouldn't be) on nuclear power. I didn't see any discussion of how the candidates measured up in terms of pronouncing the word "nuclear" so I suppose they both did okay on that point. Y'know, for French people.

The last point I'd like to mention -- touched on briefly in the article -- is immigration. I'd like to devote a separate post to immigration and race issues in France -- how they are similar to related issues in the U.S., and how they're different. I've avoided the subject up until now because it's even touchier than anything I've spoken of in this post, and unfortunately it's a subject whose analysis suffers from more wrong-headed "France is the opposite of America" rhetoric than any other issue I've seen. Plus I'm not convinced that my readers are actually interested in this issue, so I hate to get myself mired in controversy for nothing. But I'll write up my ideas on the subject if you guys are interested.

Until then, this is Pierre six-pack signing off!!! :D

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sexual Purity

In my next class, "Sexual Purity," they were bound to take attendance, so I couldn't very well just not show up. I thought a bit about what the consequences might be if I were to skip one of my classes, but in the end, since I knew that some of my friends would in there with me, I decided to just bite the bullet and attend.

When I arrived at the classroom, sure enough April, Alexandra, and Jenny were already there saving me a seat. The classroom was a bit bigger than the others had been. Undoubtedly they were more concerned about giving this lesson to as many kids as possible than they were about getting us to read the Pearl of Great Price. Each of the desks had a Mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cup sitting on it, but it was written on the board in big letters that we were not to eat them. Read more ->

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Carnival Time!!!

The 66th edition of Carnival of the Godless is now avaliable for your reading pleasure at the Atheist Experience!!!

The next one, #67 on May 27, will be hosted by yours truly right here at Letters from a Broad!!!

I've never hosted a carnival before, so this should be a fun new experience. I've already started receiving submissions, and it looks like it's going to be a good one!!! (To submit a post, use the standard carnival form I linked to above, or email me directly: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.)

I especially hope the atheists of Outer Blogness will make a good showing by submitting some of their best work. It seems like there's been an upsurge in posts tackling philosophical questions all over Outer Blogness (if you're wondering whether I'm talking about you, then yes, I'm talking about you), and some of the submissions I've already received are on the philosophical side as well, so it might be fun to try to have a philosophy sub-theme to the next Carnival. That way we can be sure the philosophers of blogspace are aware of one another and get some good idea-flow going.

Then to balance out the deep-n-heavy, I should probably request that people send in humor pieces as well. ;^) The Exterminator of No More Hornets says we atheists take ourselves way too seriously. I don't think so, but I agree it's a fine excuse to start a collection of atheist jokes, and Friendly Atheist has answered the call with two threads of atheist stand-up comedy here and here. (My personal favorite religion/comedy video series is Mr. Diety.)

Also, please don't forget about the tri-weekly Humanist Symposium. If you think your special post is more "humanist" than "atheist" send it to them, otherwise send it to me. :D

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Family History: Moonshine

My best friend from my high school days used to like to recount that she was descended of one of the most famous bloodthirsty pirates on the high seas. As my cousin wrote in her ancestry I'm not so proud of post, sometimes family history stories should not be told with a gleam of pride in your eye.

But the problem is that I love stories!!! And in story terms, sometimes the worst ones are the best ones!!!

Some of the most colorful tales from our oral history come from the hillbilly branch of the family tree, whose progress into civilization was discussed here. And as I mentioned here, this bluegrass background may have been an influence for my uncle in his LDS and Christian album. But my own imagination was more captured by the stories of "Uncle Pink" running shine during the prohibition -- driving up from southern Illinois to visit his respectable (LDS) brother (my great grandfather) in the suburbs of Chicago, and making a stop in Chicago to sell the fruit of the stills to some of the associates of Al Capone....

See? That last bit is the part that's not supposed to be recounted with pride (since Al Capone was a bad guy by any measure), but somehow it makes the story more interesting since it situates it in a historical context.

Some of my relatives who read this blog can tell me if I got the story all wrong. I hope not, but that's part of the fun of oral history -- it's like your own personal set of legends that get taller with each generation they pass through. They get interpreted by each generation too. The Utah branch of the family recounts that the cause of the untimely death of one jack-Mormon ancestor was alcohol. My brother suggested that we could add an equal-and-opposite moral history by pointing out that our bluegrass great-grandpa might not have died from cholesterol-related heart failure if Mormonism hadn't prevented him from counterbalancing his southern-fried-chicken diet with its traditional digestif: moonshine whiskey.

And so whenever I see a hidden still in the backwoods portrayed in movies or television, part of me is thinking: "Yep, my ancestors did that." ;^)

My sons recently got a DVD of The Rescuers and we've watched it as a family it a bunch of times. I've carefully pointed out to my sons their ancestral place in history when the swamp critters appear on the scene in their wooden shack, drinking their homemade moonshine. The film is set in Louisiana, but the colorful locals as they're portrayed could as easily have been from Tennessee, Kentucky, or southern Illinois. It probably says something about me that my one-and-only contribution to Wikipedia was a bullet point about The Rescuers in the entry about moonshine.

My husband was less thrilled about my connection with this part of the film. He clearly identifies more with the respectable foreign dignitary mice meeting at the UN building in New York. But he has a completely different type of questionable family history:

My husband has an ancestral gold ring (hidden away in a safety-deposit box somewhere) that demonstrates that he has inherited some sort of title of nobility. It's not clear what the precise title is (whether he's secretly a Marquis or a Vicompte or whatever) because apparently their family doesn't have the same fondness for oral history that I do. I asked my MIL about the title once (because when we were first married I had this crazy idea that I'd do his genealogy the way my mom did for my dad), but my MIL replied that it's nothing to be proud of that the king of France granted their family a noble title in gratitude for putting down some peasant rebellion.

So (according to my MIL anyway) her husband's family consisted of petty nobles who rose up from the ranks of mid-level landholders by grinding the peasants down. I can't tell how true this is since my husband's immediate family doesn't have much contact with his extended family (long story), and I can't ask the previous Marquis because of course he's dead. But if MIL's version is accurate, she's right it's nothing to be proud of. It's clearly worse than being a hillbilly shine-runner loosely connected with the mob, but maybe not quite as bad as being a bloodthirsty pirate...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

One more picture from the Aquarium!!!

Here we are in the tropical rain forest section visiting with one of the turtles.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Very Special Hieroglyph

When I arrived, Annette was already there saving me a seat, and Cookie joined us shortly after I came in.

"I don't know why they're giving us a Pearl of Great Price lecture," Cookie said taking her seat. "That's one of the books we covered this past year in seminary." Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I wonder what all of those celebrity Hansons are up to today...

One of those weird automatically-generated-by-topic blog agglomerators has latched onto my last few posts, and it's a particularly stupid one that seems to think my blog contains info on the band called "Hanson."

On an unrelated note, the press seems to be reporting that Sarkozy just won the election. As you might guess, that's not the outcome I was hoping for. If I had any interesting or insightful commentary about the situation, I'd be posting it right here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The sharks of La Rochelle Aquarium

With the (grand)parents visiting, we're having another at home vacation. The farthest we've gone so far has been La Rochelle, where we went on a day-trip to visit the aquarium.

This aquarium is amazing -- it's huge with tons of tanks of fish on three levels (representing different ocean regions). It's also very educational, with lots of information on ocean life, ecosystems, habitats, etc.

However, if you've seen any of the advertising for this aquarium, you'll know that the big draw is the shark collection:

This is what we went for. I've talked about Nico's fondness for sharks when I was discussing the birds and the bees and the whales, and sharks have been a frequent theme for him at playtime and in stories he invents. So we knew he'd love to have the opportunity to see the sharks up close and personal.

Here's a picture of me and my two kids contemplating the sharks as they swim past us:

The shark tank is really impressive. The aquarium has a number of large tanks, but the shark tank is the largest -- it's three stories tall, and you can see in on three levels. And it's filled with a number of sharks that swim right next to the glass wall so you can see all of the detail, including their teeth. Nico loved it, and was ready to sit there and watch the sharks all day. (He and Leo named them Frankie, Lenny, and Don Lino...)

I was amazed and impressed too, but after about a half an hour of it, I was like "Um, this is starting to creep me out... Can we go look at something else?"