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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

Heaven, Second Chances, Being Human and Meaning

This year, like a few others in the past, has begun on a sour note. Death and illness, sadness and great sorrow, memories of happier times and decades of companionship. Of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and all things that embrace us through life. The apparent need of the many for the false comfort of a happy eternal life after reaching that non-existent utopia called heaven. The intrusion of delusion into a significant event that steals the moment, steals life; for the event is one that most would rather ignore. 

My father-in-law passed after years of dealing with Parkinson's disease. I only knew him after his illness was in control; I never saw the smiles, heard the wisdom or received the focus of his wrath. All I knew was his soft speech, a flicker of a smile once in a while if I tickled his fancy. He was a devout catholic who did not deny science. He was the provider. He was the defender of his children. Saying this, he was also perverted by religion. His actions were, at times, painful and hurtful to his children that did not accept the unerring word of god.

The two days of public mourning after his demise were filled with prayer, filled with grief and filled with god's arrogance. My wife's family are an intelligent lot; if nothing else catholic schools seem to produce well educated theists, and happily, critically thinking atheists. The Viewing was filled with well wishes, condolences, and family members who shared memories of the deceased; which was the best part. If you're wanting closure on death, I cannot think of a better way than shared memories of joy and humor. That is where the dead still exist, in memories. My brother-in-law and sister-in-laws, a couple of grandchildren, all took part. One by one they took to the stage and gently implanted their memories in all that attended. It was beautiful, because it was secular. Well mostly.

I'm sure all the ex-catholics out there may have heard or partaken in this, but I was amused to learn that catholic school children would collect money so they could name a pagan baby. How awesome, and pretty arrogant, is that? I kept thinking, did they name him Neal?

The next day was the funeral mass. Not much good that I can say about that. Too much prayer for me, too much "I'm not worthy" bullshit, too much of god taking credit for all that is good and humankind taking credit for all that is wrong. 

Heaven was made for fools, and the fools keep meddling with life.

Recently I made amends with a very close family member. Instead of a smile and a pat on the back from some of the family I hear, "Oh, mom is in heaven smiling." Yeah, that's me. Always doing good deeds for the dead. I take an action that I have reasoned, and felt, to be a  good thing and automatically the big dummy is involved. Perfectly good actions made creepy because the dead are watching. Heaven is where some think all good people reside, I think heaven is absolution for all the jackasses that are still alive.

Heaven is absolution because god gives everyone a second chance. 

Friends and family battle in life over things great and small, over relationships good and bad, about all the minuscule events that effect life daily. When one dies, friendly, and not so friendly, theists all proclaim the deceased is in heaven. For those who treated the deceased well, they are happily looking forward to their own entrance through the pearly gates. For those that couldn't stand the recently dead, it absolves them of all guilt. Their bad behavior need not change who they are, or who they will be. There is no penance or regrets that they need harbor, for life is a minute part of existence and all will be made whole someday in the future.

Nothing is learned if nothing is really harmed. Death might make you reflect on life as a whole, and affect how you interact with your fellow humans. It can be a lesson, if death is real. Same goes when dealing with all life on the planet and how we treat it; for what does it matter if we destroy when it's only a temporary condition? It doesn't matter when heaven awaits. It doesn't matter if you kill, steal, rape; you can and will be forgiven. Let the poor starve, let war reign over peace, let intolerance be your guide. God's shiny cool home awaits those who hate because Heaven is the ultimate get out of jail free card.

Yet even with all the whining to god, humans remain human.

Possibly some family members have regrets about the time, or lack thereof, that they've spent with their family. Some may think that being regretful is a learning tool, that because we can acknowledge errors in the past that this will teach us to be better in the future.

I think not. Harboring regrets only causes sorrow and makes for a miserable life.

I do not immerse myself with the constant tragedies of the past. We are who we are, and great changes to one's personality rarely happen during life. I remember during the last year of my mother's life arguing about things that seem petty now. I remember being irritated driving her home from my place in Michigan to her home in Illinois because she needed to stop for breakfast to take her medications. I remember after family took her in as she aged that she became politically conservative, mirroring the thoughts of her caregivers. I remember being so angry at her conservative thoughts that I left her alone in my home for an hour. No car so she could leave and no one she could turn to if something happened. She was in her late seventies at the time. I remember way too many interactions that were abrasive with her in my life, so many that I dreamed of being able to change. 

But only for a fool's moment.

I harbor no regrets because I know that it was because we were so much alike that we battled. Nothing would change if she was still here, we were who we were. The awareness of my errors does make for some change. I can be slightly more deliberate and thoughtful, knowing I will not have another chance to correct my behavior. Then again, I'm a confrontational, arrogant, opinionated, crazed person, and that side refuses to be shut down completely. I continue to walk around hopping on one foot while trying to get the other out of my mouth. Life is awesome and then I open my mouth. I have lived in a fool's paradise, a paradise where the world revolves around me. And I know I'm not that different from you.

Yet theists think things will be better in some non-existent future. Does self awareness escape them? Do they harbor regrets and maybe learn from them, or do they immerse themselves into a false comfort that says no action is ever final? Do they reside in a Pollyanna world where everything is okay, where there is nothing they can do wrong that cannot be fixed by the almighty? That there is always a second chance to "fix it?"

Age makes us wiser, if you acknowledge the finality of actions you take. If life never ends, then we are free to hurt and destroy.

Theists have made a grave error when saying meaning is lost if there is no afterlife. There is no logical ultimate meaning to life. Meaning would be lost if there was an afterlife. If you can be forgiven for crimes against humanity and the world, then there is no meaning in this life. If there is one, it's that nothing we do now matters except being good slaves.

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Great post. A lot in it to reflect on and digest. I'm not going to say something banal, and also unnecessary, since we mostly agree. And one of the thoughts in this post I most vehemently agree with is that life is awesome (though awesome is an overused word) and that it is best celebrated with joy and humor. So here's my only question: what is your preferred foot to put in your big loud mouth, the right or the left?

I take turns. =)

I was sitting downstairs at our little pub a few nights ago with the snowbird renters and a couple of owners. All the snowbirds are at least 20 years older than I. I've been imbibing, and probably too happy. At one point in whatever conversation is going on, I look at one of the owners that rent out their unit and, in front of my new found friends, say, "you should rent the unit to me, I might be around for another ten years."

Still stupid after all these years. I have no filter between brain and mouth. 

Half the day I'm wandering around whispering, "I see old people." Humans are not sensible creatures, but at times we're pretty damn funny.

Great post and sorry for your loss.

Interesting, heaven if for fools and their numbers keep going up. Who wants an afterlife when life can be beautiful down here?

February 14th is/was my mother's birthday. When she was born, a midwife took car of the birth. My grandmother named her daughter, my mother, Virginia Irene. The midwife thought since it was valentine's day that she should be named Virginia Valentine, and filled out the birth certificate in that manner. It wasn't until my mother was in her 50's that she found out she had not been using her legal name all her life. 

People crack me up.

Interesting, at 50. did she have to alter her documents, if any that is?

She had to legally change her name to virginia irene to make her legal documents valid. =(

The last sentence says it all! Excellent. I will borrow it (with quotation marks) for my     Facebookd page :-)

Glad you liked it. =)

It is nice to be human and have the chance to read The Planet.  Maybe heaven looks like this but we can have a heaven or at least a better life while alive if we learn to forgive the past and strive to better ourselves in the future

Getting Foggy at Tenby Point, Australia
 Submitted by: Unknown (via Dave Cox)

Thank you cool doone. =)

Something beautiful that happens everyday in our life

The Physics of Sunsets

“It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.” -Carl Sagan

I would argue the exact opposite, in fact: the beauty of a sunset, in all of its varieties and variations, is only enhanced the more you know about it.

Image credit: Dan Schroeder, via Picasa.

Image credit: Dan Schroeder, via Picasa.

The next time you watch the Sun descend through the sky, towards the horizon, you might marvel at how the Sun remains the same size all the way down. At just slightly over half-a-degree, the Sun appears to drop at a constant rate throughout the afternoon and into early evening.

But there are some small changes that are extremely important if you want to understand the beauty behind the sunset.

Image credit: Tamas Ladanyi (TWAN), over Lake Balaton, Hungary.

Image credit: Tamas Ladanyi (TWAN), over Lake Balaton, Hungary.

The first and most obvious is the change in coloration of the Sun, as well as a severe drop in the Sun’s brightness. On an airless world like the Moon, the Sun at sunset would look no different than at any other time. But it’s the Earth’s atmosphere that makes sunsets so special.

Image credit: Bob King of

Image credit: Bob King of

When the Sun appears progressively lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more and more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes. You might not think of the atmosphere as being a very good prism, but when you pass through around 1000 miles of it just before the Sun dips below the horizon, it starts to add up.

Image credit: Pete Lawrence (Digital-Astronomy).

Image credit: Pete Lawrence (Digital-Astronomy).

The bluer wavelengths of light get scattered away, leaving only the reddest wavelengths that reach your eye. As the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind.

You may not even realize it, but by time you’d see a sunset like the picture above, the Sun has already technically set, it’s only due to the fact that the atmosphere bends light that we’re still seeing it like this.

Image credit: R Nave of Hyperphysics, from

Image credit: R Nave of Hyperphysics.

This is why, if you time a sunset, it will take longer than the expected 120 seconds to go from the moment it touches the horizon to the moment it dips below, even during the equinox at the equator, where it rises and sets as close to completely vertical to the horizon as possible. The Sun appears to linger due to the refraction of our atmosphere.

Also, despite its red appearance, there really still is blue and green light coming from the Sun, of course, while this is going on. But these shorter (i.e., bluer) wavelengths refract slightly morethan the lower frequency ones, meaning that the reds come in at a different, shallower angle than the greens and blues, that come in at a slightly steeper angle.

Image credit: R Nave of Hyperphysics.

Image credit: R Nave of Hyperphysics.

Given a clear path to the horizon — such as over the ocean — this means that there’s a slight region of space just above the reddened Sun where only the shorter wavelength light is visible!

And when that happens, in addition to the normal color gradient that comes with a sunset, you can also get a small, separate region above the disk of the Sun that appears yellow, green, or even blue!

Image credit: ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi.

Image credit: ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi. As always, click to enlarge.

This optical phenomena is always most clearly visible over a flat area in pollution-free skies, and is known as the green flash. It occurs in many different stages, sometimes appearing at the limb of the Sun or just above it, but most it commonly appears just after the disk of the Sun has set, in a literal “flash” lasting just a few seconds, just barely above the horizon.

Image credit: Emil Ivanov, in Tel Aviv.

Image credit: Emil Ivanov, in Tel Aviv.

Although there’s a lot of green light in the Sun, the bluest wavelengths refract even more than the green ones do. In principle, you could get a “flash” of any wavelength — yellow, green, blue, or even violet — if the atmosphere cooperated. Although green and yellow flashes are the most common, under just the right atmospheric conditions, you can see even blue colors flashing at a high angle above the top of the Sun!

Image credit: Mario Cogo.

Image credit: Mario Cogo.

This applies to any very bright, white-light object that encounters our atmosphere as seen just barely above the horizon. So that means the Moon, which reflects sunlight back at us, should also exhibit a green flash under the right atmospheric conditions. And although I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, some diligent astrophotographers have captured the sight to share with us all.

Image credit: Laurent Laveder ( / TWAN).

Image credit: Laurent Laveder ( / TWAN).

You may be wondering, if greens and blues appear slightly above the disk of the Sun (or Moon), could we ever see a red flash slightly below the disk?

Under just the right, favorable atmospheric conditions, that’s exactly what happens!

Image credit: Stefan Seip.

Image credit: Stefan Seip.

Way back on the old blog (some four years ago), I posted a short explanation of the green flash, and little did I know that years later, I would receive the following message from Don Arnold of Chattanooga, TN:

I thought this was a hoax every time I visit Costa last week we were on the costa mesa pier and had my good Nikon set the motor drive to max and took 30 frames right at sunset. So I think I have a good one. You will have to zoom in but it looks good…thanks for the great explanation on this!

Here was the image he enclosed.

Image credit: Don Arnold.

Image credit: Don Arnold.

And here is the zoomed-in-version (my apologies for my lousy image processing skills):

Image credit: Don Arnold.

Image credit: Don Arnold.

The sunset is beautiful to anyone’s eyes, and the clarity or dustiness of the horizon, the quality and turbulence of the atmosphere, and position of the Sun give us a great diversity of beautiful sights.

But when you see a color gradient on the Sun, a red lip at the bottom, or a yellow, green, or blue rim at or above the top, will you see less beauty or more for having read and understood this? To me, at least, everything is more beautiful the more you know. Thanks for sharing the beautiful physics of sunsets with me!

This sounds like a good idea

Electoral college reform (fifty states with equal population)

Neil Freeman, 2012
format and dimensions vary

The electoral college is a time-honored, logical system for picking the chief executive of the United States. However, the American body politic has also grown accustomed to paying close attention to the popular vote. This is only rarely a problem, since the electoral college and the popular vote have only disagreed three times in 200 years. However, it's obvious that reforms are needed.

The fundamental problem of the electoral college is that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence. The largest state is 66 times as populous as the smallest and has 18 times as many electoral votes. This allows for Electoral College results that don't match the popular vote. To remedy this issue, the Electoral Reform Mapredivides the fifty United States into 50 states of equal population. The 2010 Census records a population of 308,745,538 for the United States, which this map divides into 50 states, each with a population of about 6,175,000.1

electorally reformed US map

Advantages of this proposal

  • Preserves the historic structure and function of the Electoral College.
  • Ends the over-representation of small states and under-representation of large states in presidential voting and in the US Senate by eliminating small and large states.
  • Political boundaries more closely follow economic patterns, since many states are more centered on one or two metro areas.
  • Ends varying representation in the House. Currently, the population of House districts ranges from 528,000 to 924,000. After this reform, every House seat would represent districts of the same size. (Since the current size of the House isn't divisible by 50, the numbers of seats should be increased to 450 or 500.)
  • States could be redistricted after each census - just like House seats are distributed now.


  • Some county names are duplicated in new states.
  • Some local governments would experience a shift in state laws and procedures.


The map began with an algorithm that grouped counties based on proximity, urban area, and commuting patterns. The algorithm was seeded with the fifty largest cities. After that, manual changes took into account compact shapes, equal populations, metro areas divided by state lines, and drainage basins. In certain areas, divisions are based on census tract lines.

The District of Columbia is included into the state of Washington, with the Mall, major monuments and Federal buildings set off as the seat of the federal government.

The capitals of the states are existing states capitals where possible, otherwise large or central cities have been chosen. The suggested names of the new states are taken mainly from geographical features:

Keep in mind that this is an art project, not a serious proposal, so take it easy with the emails about the sacred soil of Texas. However, emails expressing an interest in a detailed poster version of this ....

Earlier versions of this map appeared in postcard form The Future Dictionary of America and Greetings from the Ocean's Sweaty Face.


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