FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE

FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE
By Ron Steelman
5-20-18

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week:
(I have stolen this opening line from the blog posts of a writer/artist whose blog I follow, Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like An Artist.”)

1.  As an actor I was trained in classic repertory theaters. I acted in over a hundred professional productions including Shakespeare, many classic plays, and numerous modern American classics. However, the comedies were my first love. You can keep the tragedies and the dramas and the histories. Which leads me to this quote from a 95-year-old comedy genius:

                       “Laughter adds time to your life.”
                                      – Norman Lear

We don’t have hard proof of this, but a few years back there was an article with some anecdotal evidence about how long famous comedians lived. Their lives consisted of writing, testing and performing jokes. If they laughed, then they knew the audience would. The article is here in Psychology Today. Also, studies show people can learn to embrace the absurdity of life at any age, see Scientific American.

2.
  Having spent a good deal of my life as an actor, I wouldn’t encourage my children to go into the theater. I’d just have to tie them up and keep them in the attic until they came to their senses (you know I’m kidding, of course). But I saw this recently and it has something to do with being human.
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3.  There’s so much I didn’t know about poet Walt Whitman and his classic poem, Leaves of Grass. For example:  “(the) responses to different aspects of the poem – its understanding of nature, its celebration of sexuality, its advocacy of a radical equality and democracy.”  This is from a book review of Poet as Prophet: The Religious Whitman and His Disciples, by David E. Anderson.  He begins with a little historical perspective: “Before the twentieth century there was a long tradition of the poet as prophet and seer, and poetry as a form of religious language.” 

walt-whitman-wikipediaFrom Wikipedia:Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Although the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first, a small book of twelve poems and the last, a compilation of over 400.”

But enough of me. Read David E. Anderson’s review here.


4.
From my “I Love Quotes” Department:

‘I get tired of God getting credit for all the things the human race achieves.’
– Lorraine Hansberry, “Raisin in the Sun” (words ascribed to Beneatha)


5.  
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
     – Leo Rosten, “The Myths by Which We Live”

6.   Ricky Gervais – Religion Explained in Two Minutes.

We should not be pushing religion on children. That may sound shocking at first, especially if you were brought up going to religious services every week as a child. But listen to his logic. 

 

7.  The following title made no sense to me until I read this short article. Grief and mourning is something we all deal with, both the religious and the non-religious. You may have never thought about it, but we all lose family and friends and we need to find ways to deal with it.

 

8. “When I Think Of Death”– Maya Angelou

“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.'”


9.  On Being 72

Mark_Twain_Tonight_Album_CoverToday I’m actually 72!

I grew up in Columbus, OH, and when I was 18 or so, I transcribed a track from the 1959, 33- rpm Broadway album of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight. I had performed in ten plays while in high school, several times playing old men. I had my old geezer voice perfected. Therefore, it did not seem out of character for me to mimic Mr. Holbrook’s version of the famous Twain speech.  I made my own recording of “How to be 70” on a small reel-to-reel audio tape ( I wish I still had that recording). That was one of two audition recordings I sent to a performing arts college in San Diego, CA, hoping to get accepted. Although San Diego was way out there on the left coast, I had visited my aunt and uncle there and various relatives several times, so I was not worried about leaving Columbus at all. I loved California and surfing life. I have to admit that I never surfed myself. My cousin Mike did.  I figured I’d try it if I got back out there again (and got the nerve). My bag was packed and waiting by the front door. I received the acceptance letter and I was thrilled. Then I read a little further in the letter. They offered me a “1/2” scholarship. Trouble was, my Dad had been out of work for an extended illness and my parents couldn’t afford the other “1/2.” So long Southern California, Hollywood, and the beach. So long slick new cool surf board (not). Anyway, it was heartening to learn that somebody was willing to pay me to act. Kinda. At least “1/2” worth.

I learned so much about acting from Hal Holbrook, and so much about timing. He also taught me a lot about Mark Twain.

So even though I’m two years past 70 now, I could listen to masterful Mr. Holbrook play Mark Twain any day of any year. Enjoy.

Mark Twain Tonight – How to be 70 (couldn’t find the video, but here’s the audio)

 

10. Here are two clips. One is from a Mark Twain Tonight performance by Hal Holbrook. The other is Michael Eisner ( the Disney guy) talking to Hal Holbrook at 90.

 

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Easter & April Fools

He_Is_Risen         Steelman_w_Fool_Hat
Easter is on April 1st this year.  So I’m wearing my custom made hat (1982).

Easter & April Fools
by Ron Steelman
March 30, 2018

If you’re struggling over the idea of going (or not going) to church this Easter, just let it go. It’s OK. I might point out that this year Easter falls on April Fools day, which is always April 1st. You can draw your own conclusion from this revealing coincidence. But more importantly, I’d like to share some facts about the changes in our culture. More and more people are leaving their religions and turning into “NONES.” I’ll explain.

Here are some amazing facts from a Scientific American magazine article (April 2018):

“In recent years much has been written about the rise of the “nones”—people who check the box for “none” on surveys of religious affiliation. A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults, for example, found that 23 percent of all Americans have forsaken religion altogether. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials (those born after 1980) are nones and corroborated the 23 percent figure, adding that this was a dramatic increase from 2007, when only 16 percent of Americans said they were affiliated with no religion. In raw numbers, this translates to an increase from 36.6 million to 55.8 million nones. Though lagging far behind the 71 percent of Americans who identified as Christian in the Pew poll, they are still a significant voting block, far larger than Jews (4.7 million), Muslims (2.2 million) and Buddhists (1.7 million) combined (8.6 million) and comparable to politically powerful Christian sects such as Evangelical (25.4 percent) and Catholic (20.8 percent).”

Here is the link to the full article from Scientific American.


You are not alone if you are considering leaving your religion. For me, it was easier to believe in Christmas than Easter. . .I think because we got presents. I still believe in giving presents to the people I love, although I just never could buy that virgin birth thing. Easter was even more off the believability charts.

Reason and rational thought have led me away from religion in search of a positive philosophy of life. I found that in secular humanism.

The moral compass I’ve found in secular humanism far outshines what I gleaned from my Christian upbringing. There were too many contradictions, too much double-talk, and those blatant hypocrisies. I joke that April Fools Day is my high holy day. I say that because I love humor and jokes. I don’t really enjoy playing April Fool tricks on people. However, I am enamored of Shakespeare’s fools. For years I was an actor performing in many of Shakespeare’s plays. I especially loved the comedies and the role of fools in Shakespeare’s plays.  The fools made the king laugh, and yet often imparted a certain amount of wisdom. For example:

God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.
    -Feste, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene 5

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.
    -Feste, Twelfth Night,  Act I, Scene 5

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be
a fool.
     -Touchstone, As You Like It, Act V, Scene 1


When I was in high school I was in the band. But I booked actual paying gigs playing my drums for rock and roll and society dances. For a couple of years I borrowed the tympani from my high school and played Easter services at a church. I only did it because I needed the money. I carted the tympani to the church, and played a big showy piece called “Christ our Passover.” There was a big organ, a 40-member choir, a brass quintet, and me, banging away in the big finale. As I looked out over the people in the sanctuary, I saw everybody in their finest, the ladies with their fancy hats, and even the littlest of boys were wearing ties. I felt like such a hypocrite. These people were buying it, yet I was just there for the money. I felt that maybe they should find a tympanist who was a believer.

It took me many years to finally get the courage to stop going to church. They have this habit of telling you that you will burn in hell if you don’t believe in God. Guess what? Since then I found out there is no hell. So if you’re on the fence, don’t wait. You’ll be much happier. Turn yourself into a “None!”

Some people may put a lot of pressure on you to keep going to church (or mosques or synagogues or whatever). Just ask them if they want you to be a hypocrite. If they say “yes,” you know that’s not a good idea. I don’t mean to be flip about this. Leaving a religion can be similar to PTSD. However, the main area of difficulty seems to be for those who have trouble letting go of their belief in hell. I’m serious. I’ve read the studies. Rejection by family members is another big problem. There are many books about this issue. Check out some of the writings of Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  It was doubly hard for him, because he was an evangelical minister for 19 years.  Ouch!  
Smile_No_Hell_Black

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DESTINY IS A DIRTY WORD

Destiny
“DESTINY” IS A DIRTY WORD
a rant by Ron Steelman, © 2005, 2010
Written for and Performed at the Red Bank Humanists Forum
(read loud, fast, & faux angry)

Destiny is such a small word, and yet it causes so much trouble. Recently I’ve been pondering its insidiousness. Why does it keep forcing its way into my thoughts from a dozen different directions? From where does it come? Who is responsible for it? And how can I keep its promise from becoming a foregone conclusion, which, as the dictionary says, is “a conclusion formed in advance of argument or consideration?” Is my life simply a fait accompli, an open and shut case, a done deal, a fact of life, a grim reality, an irreversible act, a matter of fact? I DON’T THINK SO!

It’s always good to begin with a definition. What does it say about “destiny” in the dictionary? I’ll tell you. It’s the “inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one’s LOT.” Then, more importantly, it goes on to clarify: “a predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control.” And finally, “Destiny: the power or agency thought to predetermine events.” Wait a minute. Who is it, exactly, that’s got the power? “Or Agency?” Agency? Could it be the IRS?

This hideous (dripping with sarcasm) “destiny concept”. . .forces itself into our lives and is reinforced in phrases that we use in everyday conversation:

The-Three-Fates

The Three Fates – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropo

* A man dies. What do we say, “I guess his number was up.” Or, “It was meant to be.” Or, “His time had come.” And so we shrug and say, “That’s his fate.” His fate?! Look it up! Are you saying the man dropped dead because of three half naked Greek Goddesses named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos? It must have been some party, huh! I don’t buy it.

* A little boy grows up to become a brilliant concert pianist and the mother says, “He was born to be a concert pianist.” Now there she’s half right because we know that a good portion of his talent came from his genes, from all of his ancestors boiled down into him. But the other part of his brilliance didn’t come from DESTINY, it came from a lot of hard work on his part. And then she really ruins it by saying, “what a wonderful God-given talent.” No, he got his talent from his parents and from years of practice.

* An infant dies of a rare disease. People say, “It was for the best.” Or, “There has to be a good reason. We just don’t know what it is. In time, it will be revealed to us.” SORRY, when an infant dies, it’s a tragedy, pure and simple. Of course, we need to find a way to cope with our loss, but pretending that a supernatural deity did it on purpose and is then making us guess why…is just the (sing-songy) SILLIEST THING! …and I cleaned that up!

* Your house burns down. Your friend says, “It’s part of a larger plan.” Right. It was arson.

* And of course with the hurricane Katrina tragedy, I already heard on the radio that religious fanatics are claiming that the devastation along the Gulf Coast was a punishment by God for the sinful ways of all those people.

Ifh2g4ES

Zeus

Plan, schman!? That is not only crazy, but incredibly stupid. All these clichés are the residual effect of thousands of years of primitive superstitions and religious make-believe. Of course it’s human nature to try to explain things you don’t understand. But, come on…it’s the 21st Century. Even if we can’t explain everything, why do we have to hold on to this ancient fantasy of an all powerful Zeus somewhere up there on a mountaintop controlling everything we do? We’re so pathetic. Why don’t we just perpetuate belief in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and angels? Oops…we do.

Unfortunately, the concept of destiny is everywhere. And it’s sneaky. Destiny is like an evangelist in sheep’s clothing. Propaganda, pure and simple. It’s everything I reject. It’s antithetical to my philosophy of life. Yet I can’t get away from it. I have to deal with it every day. People want to talk about fate, about horoscopes, about karma, or past lives. 

As a Humanist, a freethinker, the first thing I must do is THINK. OK, so after countless cups of coffee I achieved my target heart rate for the day, and I concluded that there are two reasons humans hold onto destiny with such a death grip. The first reason has to be EGO! Here’s a quote from The Happy Heretic, Judith Hayes. It’s from a piece she wrote entitled “Body and Soul”: “The human soul. It is invisible. Undetectable by any human means… But the majority of the human population nevertheless is convinced that it exists. They believe there is such a thing as the human “soul.”…we don’t want to be just like all other animals…who simply die. Who wants to stay dead? Surely we are far more important than other animals. Surely we are connected somehow to the eternal Cosmos. Surely we have a “soul.”…The human ego knows few bounds. My, we’re important!”

The idea of Destiny is PURE EGO. Our ginormous egos tell us we’re so important that there’s a god up there somewhere so concerned about ME that he took the time to make a specific life-plan with my name on it. And the plan is called my “destiny.” I guess I rate pretty high in his book, huh? It’s true. “The human ego knows few bounds.”

And the second reason we love the whole destiny trip is because if our destiny is written somewhere, we think we have to go find out what it is. So how do we find out what our destiny is?! We have to go on a SPIRITUAL QUEST.

06maharishi.600.1

The Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

There’s this romantic notion from the 60’s & 70’s that there are many ways to find your spiritual center. After all, the Beatles tried several different ways. Oh, pa-lease! “Spiritual.” What does THAT word mean? Just look it up. Here ya go; right out of the Dictionary…

(italics are my own comments):
Spiritual:

1. having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. (we can’t prove it exists)
2. concerned with, or affecting the soul. (something we don’t have)
3. relating to God; deific. (I don’t believe in deities)
4. belonging to a church or religion; sacred. (I don’t believe in churches or religions)
5. having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural (I don’t believe in the supernatural)

(yelling up at the heavens) Can we have some SCIENCE, PLEASE! Science was invented some time ago now, you know. Cause and effect have been written about and studied in every high school, college, and university. Shouldn’t science have eliminated this supernatural canker, Destiny? By now it should be gone, but it isn’t.

The destiny concept is actually so deeply embedded in our culture…that. . .(loudly and creepy like a soothsayer “It may take a Humanist exorcism to save us…”

(step toward the audience, making a mock Humanist blessing gesture [there is no such thing] and sprinkle some water on a volunteer helper [it’s just fun to get them wet].)

And now the ritual sayings:

I summon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
We achieve everything by our efforts alone. Our fate is not decided by an almighty God. We decide our own fate by our actions. You have to gain mastery over yourself… It is not a matter of sitting back and accepting.

I summon Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.

I summon John F. Kennedy:
Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

I summon William Jennings Bryan:
Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.

Hmmm….. “destiny is a thing for me to achieve.”

(exorcism over)  I feel better already.

I suggest the way to find a “spiritual center” without the mythical spirit is to explore our human nature, the beauty of human art and music, the discoveries of science, and the wonders of our natural world. They fill you up inside. They offer the inspiration, awe, joy, and solace that we’re looking for in our quest for a spiritual life. Humanists have such a fantastic life right in front of us, without relying on mythical deities to supply it for us. It’s right here. Enjoy it.

Luckily, my spiritual quest led me to Humanism. And I am inspired by it principles. For those who say, “Well, if you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in anything,” they need to be laughed at. They need to be told “Humanists believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.”

We need to share our values with them: “We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, and compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.”

These Humanist concepts were not given to us by an outside force. We had these good ideas within us. We humans don’t need the threat of punishment to do good. We know right and wrong when we see it. We don’t need the promise of an afterlife to be good. The point is to do good now, not because we get a prize later, but because it’s the right thing to do. We’re smart enough and fully capable of being good…and doing good…simply by exploring the good side of our human nature.

I don’t believe in ancient superstitions. The words “destiny” or “fate” are dirty little words because they lead us down a path away from our responsibility to be “the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.”

I have promised myself that I will attempt to refrain from uttering all clichés related to the concepts of destiny or fate, and that, when necessary and appropriate, I will share the Humanist point of view with others.

I was not born a Humanist. I did not have Humanism thrust upon me. I chose to achieve the best that I’m capable of as a human being. . .all by myself.

Promise never to say the word “destiny” or we’ll just have to wash your mouth out with soap!

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THE PERFECT MATE

The Perfect Mate
by Ron Steelman

(Case study #03059)

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.
– Oscar Wilde

Just about everyone I know hopes for success in finding a compatible mate with whom they can share a happy life. However, it is inevitable that one falls in love without any control whatsoever. Affairs of the heart do not seem to fit into the scientific arena. The idea that one could create a list of personality, philosophical, and physical attributes for a potential mate, then find this person, and then have that person fall for you at the same time you fall for them, is simply laughable.

Love won’t play that game. Love doesn’t want to be a controlled experiment that can be replicated precisely in a laboratory. Love is messy, mad, and marvelous. Attempting to control the elements of love in a scientific way is like trying to herd cats, or nail Jell-O to a wall.

My second marriage is working out much better than my first. I’d like to say I had complete control over the conditions that led to falling in love with my current wife of 29 years, but that is not true. I’d also like to say that I utilized all I had learned from the mistakes in the choice of my first wife. I’d like to say that I was totally in control at the moment thunder and lightning struck – I may be mistaken, but I believe the Italian for that is: “tuoni e fulmini.” But, alas, I was simply a pawn. I was not in charge of the experiment. The attraction was too powerful. I was struck dumb with love.

I do think there are a few things I’ve learned about our relationship that may be helpful to analyze. Experience has demonstrated that there are certain compatibilities – certain conditions, if you will – which have proven to be the keys to the success of our particular relationship. This is real science and I will present the supporting data and results at the end. Therefore, here are the four conditions for compatibility.

  1. bone-jokeHumor is our joy. We love to laugh. We both laugh at the same things. We love to make each other laugh. Some people prefer whips and chains for love-making; we are likely to fall out of the bed in hysterical laughter. We often make each other laugh a split-second after we wake up, or even while falling asleep. We share things that make us laugh. Sharing a sense of humor is one important condition.
  2. Civility is critical. ignore-the-snide-comments-quoteWe made a pact early on not to snipe at each other. We don’t use sarcasm in our speech to each other. Snide and mean remarks are not allowed. This forces us to speak to each other in civil tones. And when we don’t, the air turns heavy and dark, and we know why we agreed to this covenant in the first place. We sit down then and figure out what the misunderstanding was between us, or what was the cause of the “hurt” that made us break our agreement.
  3. Item #2 above leads directly to this: Respect. I loathe the typical “battle of the sexes” clichés that many men moan about women over and over behind their backs, and that women wail about men when they’re not around. I love my wife aretha-franklin-respect-1967-30-1and who she is and all of the good things in her character that make her an intelligent, witty, charming, loving partner. When I sometimes hear men trash women, I am surprised. For me, I love women. They’re neat! I’d have two or three if my wife would allow it! (this will make her laugh; see Item #1 above) I stand on my soapbox frequently lecturing others, “My wife is not my ball and chain, she is my accomplice. Life can be hard enough at times. We must help each other get through the day, and nights.” She is truly my partner. She must have my respect.
  4. Religion and Sex. Yes, they do go together. Seek someone who is compatible with your religion or life philosophy. This is key. Sometimes one of the lovers is willing to convert, but I always wonder about that. If you don’t share a religion or a philosophical view of life, you may be on thin ice. If you fail at this, you may also have trouble when it comes to the bedroom. Many religions seek to control your sexual life and birth control. eve_in_the_garden_of_eden_by_whimsicalmoon-d38i967Some religions also like to blame women for the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Some even attempt to punish women through mutilation of sexual organs. . . to diminish their pleasure during sex. This seems to me to be grossly unfair as well as primitive.  However, once you are aligned in your religious or non-religious beliefs, then be sure to seek a partner who happily shares your desires when it comes to the bedroom. It takes two to tango (if that’s the way you like to do it).

The results of my “scientific study” demonstrate that certain minimum conditions must be present to create a successful partnership. However, before you set out on your journey toward a permanent partnership, you must take some time to conduct the proper experiments yourself to test your assumptions about a potential mate. This chart reveals the possibilities for success given the results of your research.

Mate_Chart

If you have achieved proper test levels, i.e. the target conditions in the four areas of compatibility, this will certainly produce excellent results. Happy hunting!

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A Happy Philosophical New Year

happy_new_year

On January 1st I began the day reading my email from Freedom From Religion Foundation and started to contemplate how I would define myself in relationship to FFRF’s quote from Michel Onfray.

“I persist in preferring philosophers to rabbis, priests, imams, ayatollahs, and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is. A genuinely deadly sin.”

—Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto

Michel Onfray

Michel Onfray

After reading Onfray’s quote I thought I might consider my own philosophical historiography using Onfray’s categories. . .one at a time:

Laugher, radical, atheist (yes, I am) (see note below on what I mean by “atheist”)

Materialist, cynic (not me)

Hedonist (yes, I am)

a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification

Sensualist (yes, I am) a person given to the indulgence of the senses or appetites

Voluptuary

a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit and enjoyment of luxury and sensual pleasure
(No. I am not “devoted to,” but often “in pursuit of” these things, yet often not very successful at it)

think before believe

ATHEIST DEFINITION
(and some others)

I used the term “Atheist” above, but regularly find it necessary to explain what I mean by this word. There are so many connotations.

The quotes below from “7 Different Types of Non-Believers” by Valerie Tarico may help to unravel this mystery. Originally this was on Alternet. I found it on salon.com.

“Positive atheism asserts that a personal supreme being does not exist. Negative atheism simply asserts a lack of belief in such a deity.”
(I’m a negative atheist, although I hate the use of the word negative here)

To further define myself, I am also an anti-theist.
“The anti-theist says, ‘I think religion is harmful.’  It also implies some form of activism that goes beyond merely advocating church-state separation or science education. Anti-theism challenges the legitimacy of faith as a moral authority or way of knowing. Anti-theists often work to expose harms caused in the name of God like stonings, gay baiting, religious child maltreatment, genital mutilation, unwanted childbearing or black-collar crime. . .”

HUMANIST
Although I am a born skeptic, I am a positive and hopeful person. I am a Humanist. . .trying to exercise reason, compassion, and hope. Humanism gives me that opportunity.

“While terms like atheist or anti-theist focus on a lack of god-belief and agnostic, skeptic and freethinker all focus on ways of knowing—humanist centers in on a set of ethical values. Humanism  seeks to promote broad wellbeing by advancing compassion, equality, self-determination, and other values that allow individuals to flourish and to live in community with each other. These values derive not from revelation, but from human experience.”

How ’bout you?  What do you think about yourself? Happy New Year! 

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