Monday, December 22, 2014

Money Is Important

Personal Happiness

Money Sense: Money is more important than some would like to admit.
Image Credit: Raccoon Toons
Image Source
: Raccoon Toons

I wish it were true that money did not provide happiness or at least a sense of security and contentment, since it would mean that the non-wealthy would have one less major thing to worry about, that they (we), too, would join the ranks of the supremely happy and secure. This is to no way suggest that I am unhappy; the argument that I am putting forth here is as much an argument of value as one of personal admission. On a personal note, I have tried during most of my adult life to live as if money were only an instrument of commercial dealings, as a means to buy and sell goods and services, but money has its own ways, and to deny its importance is to deny an overarching reality of our economic system.

Money might not buy happiness or love—and some would argue this point—but it can buy many good and wonderful and worthy things that elude those who have little or no money, which is most of the world’s inhabitants. This is certainly true in industrialized nations, and probably no less true in developing nations.

Studies have shown that the wealthy are generally more happy than the non-wealthy or poor. This is not surprising, given that when individuals have to expend a great amount of energy thinking and acting on the need to make money to purchase the goods and services to keep alive—human survival—it exhausts the sense of happiness and contentment that most humans strive to attain.

It even exhausts the soul and spirit of those who look to religion to sustain themselves, and many poor people do find solace in religion, since they have little else to sustain them. Many religions like to point out that money and the attainment of material goods are unimportant and unnecessary pursuits, but if this were true then the religious leaders themselves would forgo these materialistic pursuits. They do not. The fault is not in money, per se, but in the erroneous teaching that money plays no importance in an individual's happiness.

So, money is important. Let's be honest about this idea, and agree. This is not suggesting or following the specious argument that money is everything; it is not. We are not here talking about greed or having a voracious appetite for money.  I agree that health, family, and human relationships carry the weight of importance. Yet, having money does not necessarily equate with or lead to a diminishment of health or personal relationships. This, however, is often the central plot of many Hollywood films, that money corrupts and corrodes the soul. (I am sure the irony is not lost on you.)

It is also true that most persons think they do not have sufficient amount for their needs, that is, to live in accordance to their ideas and dreams of how they ought to live, how to have the amount that meets their desires. It is better to have money than to not; I speak as someone who has only a little, and would like more, chiefly as a means to secure the future of my family, my children. I regularly speak to my children about the importance of getting a good education and a good job to better their chances of a good life. Families that teach their children the value of money, and of its importance, are teaching their children a valuable lesson in life. One of the most valuable.

Let’s face it; children from wealthy or affluent families tend to get better health care, better education, better opportunity and better jobs than their non-wealthy, non-affluent counterparts. Wealth does accord privilege and influence. (Studies have shown that people who are better dressed are viewed as more successful.) One can call it privilege, and say it is unfair, but such are the ways of the world. There will always be a few wealthy mixed in among the majority poor. Even Jesus of Nazareth said to his disciples,“The poor you will always have with you” (Mathew 26:11). This does not imply that society should not help the poor or that we should not make great attempts to eradicate poverty—we should—but, rather, that there will always be persons who are poor.

On a practical level, it takes money to help those who don’t have it, and thus need it. Those with money can act in generous and philanthropic ways. Money confers a degree of freedom that its opposite does not. Lack of money closes the door to many opportunities, including a decent standard of living, and to life itself in too many cases.

Poverty sucks; it sucks the life out of you. 

I do not know anyone who wants to be poor, who has as his life goal a life of destitution and meagreness. I certainly do not; and moreover, I think it is my responsibility as a parent to try to ensure that my children are well-prepared to enter a society in which they will proper in every way. This is the power of money; it makes such pursuits easier. And there is nothing wrong about that; in fact, it’s all right.

I will be taking a winter break; I expect to return in a few weeks. Happy Chanukah (today is Day 6) & Merry Christmas to all those individuals and families who are celebrating these holidays. To others, Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our Family Home Catches Fire


In Part 1, last week, I wrote about my first school friend, Watson Woo; this week, in Part 2, I write about the fire that forced us to move, thus ending our friendship.
Mom & Me: In this Summer 1967 photo, I am standing with my mother outside the store—Frank’s Grocery—that my mother and father owned and operated in Montreal. As was often the custom at the time, we resided in the back of the store in a fairly large residence. I have happy memories living on Park Avenue.
Photo Source: (c) Perry J. Greenbaum

Some events you can never forget, even decades later. The facts might not be all correct, but the general impression remains and this suffices to tell the story. Such certainties now escape me more than 44 years later. What I do recall was the following:  I was 12. It was an cold day in February in the year 1970, in Montreal; I think it was a Tuesday or Wednesday at the beginning of the month, February 3rd or 4th. There was snow on the ground, which was the norm for this time of year. I was walking home from school with my friend, Watson Woo. This would make it around 3:30 in the afternoon.

As we talked, traversing along Villeneuve Ave, and neared Jeanne Mance, the street where Watson lived and where he would make a leftward turn to his house, we both noticed many fire trucks a block away on my street, Park Avenue. As schoolboys often do, Watson joked about it, saying. “It must be that your house is on fire.” I said nothing other than “bye,” and began to quicken my pace home, turning left onto my street, and seeing in front of me a long line of red fire trucks that stretched a city block. 

I ran. As I neared my house, I saw the trucks were indeed in the final stages of putting out the fire at my house. I stood there motionless, not knowing what to do. In fact, the next few minutes seemed to progress in slow motion. Then back to a reality that I did not want to face. My world as I knew it would not be the same. It would change.

We had lived here since I was born. Our home was at the back of a store—Frank’s Grocery—that my parents had owned and operated. Grocery stores had long hours, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. My mother ran it during the day, and after my father came home from work and ate supper, he managed it. I would often join him in the evenings, keeping him company, and helped him serve customers, some of them Yiddish-speaking. My parents closed the store a year before, in 1969, after my mother had decided that she did not want to  “do it anymore.” I liked the store, especially since it had candy, chocolates, chips and soda pop—all the things that children love to consume.

I saw my mother first and then my father and then two brothers coming out of Nina the dressmaker’s shop next door to our house, our former home, that is; after establishing in my mind that all my family was safe, unharmed, I decided to run inside to save what was most important to me. This was my hockey card collection and my cat, Betsy. Luckily, the firemen stopped me before I could run inside. Later on, I found that our cat was safe; and we gave her to a family friend. My card collection did not fare so well.

Sun Youth Organization, started by a great humanitarian, Sid Stevens, arranged for us to stay at a hotel a few doors down—an emergency shelter. It was small but cozy and safe. This was our home for the next few weeks, until my father found us a new place to live in another neighbourhood.

All the familiar sights and sounds of Park Avenue and the nearby streets of Mont-Royal, Jeanne-Mance, Villeneuve and Saint-Urbain would now be gone. Gone from my view would be the Dairy Queen across the street, my school on Saint-Urbain, Mont-Royal “the mountain,” the constant sound of traffic on Park Avenue, the sounds and colours of foreign language and culture, and my friendship with Watson Woo.

These would eventually be replaced by new ones, new places, new people, new memories. And the memories of all now remain, not vivid but constant. All flowing from one to another.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Victorians' Optimistic Future

Modern Vision

Funny Future: In this detail from the “March of Intellect” series, Paul Pry (aka William Heath) ridicules the future and in particular its varied and many modes of transport; 1828.
Photo Credit: SSPL/Getty
Source: Aeon

Many things have been be said  about the Victorians, one being that they were optimistic about the future; this revealed itself in their fiction as much as it did in their scientific writings. This is a point well taken, and the writer of an article  in Aeon magazine, Iwan Rhys Morus, goes as far as saying that the Victorians invented the idea that technological progress was and is social progress.

Morus writes:
For the Victorians, the future, as terra incognita, was ripe for exploration (and colonisation). For someone like me – who grew up reading the science fiction of Robert Heinlein and watching Star Trek – this makes looking at how the Victorians imagined us today just as interesting as looking at the way our imagined futures work now. Just as they invented the future, the Victorians also invented the way we continue to talk about the future. Their prophets created stories about the world to come that blended technoscientific fact with fiction. When we listen to Elon Musk describing his hyperloop high-speed transportation system, or his plans to colonise Mars, we’re listening to a view of the future put together according to a Victorian rulebook. Built into this ‘futurism’ is the Victorian discovery that societies and their technologies evolve together: from this perspective, technology just is social progress.

The assumption was plainly shared by everyone around the table when, in November 1889, the Marquess of Salisbury, the Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, stood up at the Institution of Electrical Engineers’ annual dinner to deliver a speech. He set out a blueprint for an electrical future that pictured technological and social transformation hand in hand. He reminded his fellow banqueteers how the telegraph had already changed the world by working on ‘the moral and intellectual nature and action of mankind’. By making global communication immediate, the telegraph had made everyone part of the global power game. It had ‘assembled all mankind upon one great plane, where they can see everything that is done, and hear everything that is said, and judge of every policy that is pursued at the very moment those events take place’. Styling the telegraph as the great leveller was quite common among the Victorians, though it’s particularly interesting to see it echoed by a Tory prime minister.
Many will argue that there is little to be optimistic about today, given the number of social problems that seem to dominate our planet. Caution seems to be the general tenor of the times. Be this as it may, technology, including communications technologies, has made our lives better; it might well be that our present vision and view of the world has been largely shaped by the counter-culture views of the 1960s and ’70s and equally by its dystopian fiction. Then there are the current realities, including scientific ones that portend a dark and ominous future for planet Earth. A child of this era, I am as guilty as anyone in pointing out these realities. Not to deny these realities, but a healthy dose of optimism does lead not only to technological progress, but also to social progress.

You can read more at [Aeon]

Monday, December 8, 2014

My First School Friend

The Early Years

My first school friend, or friend period, was Watson Woo; we met in kindergarten while both of us were playing with blocks; it was September 1963. It was not surprising, since our family resided in a neighbourhood that, as my Mom often said, was “a League of Nations.” There was Nina the dressmaker next door to the left of us, and Waxman’s formal rental next door to the right. Nuns in full habit were often seen walking the street in front of us; we were close to a Catholic order of nuns.  Across the street was a Ukrainian woman who always wore on her head a babushka and had a few gold teeth; for reasons that I now do not recall, my brothers and I were convinced that she was a “witch.” My mother’s arguments to the contrary were ineffective in convincing us otherwise.

A block north of us was Hutchison Avenue, the southern boundary of the leafy borough of Outremont; there  resided the various sects of Hasidic Jews, whose distinctive ways and dress were as foreign to me as those of other religions. We shared a common religion, no doubt, but our understanding of it and the application of its laws did not generally find agreement between us, or so it seemed at the time. The restrictions seemed too great; the requirements too burdensome; the benefits too meagre. It takes a great distance for two almost-parallel lines to intersect.

Watson and I remained friends at Bancroft Elementary School until Grade 6, when our family was forced to move after a fire made our house inhabitable. More on this later.  (The school was founded in 1915, and currently remains open.) Watson lived one block from me, I on Park Avenue; he on Jeanne Mance—both of us living within a block of Mont-Royal, which Montrealers refer to as “the mountain.” Our houses backed on to an adjoining lane-way. We walked to school and back home together, and we talked. mostly about school and the kind of things that kids then talked about.

I was at Watson’s house only once; I remember that there was a rather large photo in the living room of Chairman Mao, hung prominently in the same way that Chabad-Lubavitch families have a picture of the last Rebbe on their walls.

Watson introduced me to many things Chinese, including dry ginger, rice and noodles and other Oriental delicacies. I introduced him to Jewish foods. Such was our simple friendship. We shared a love for learning and for doing well in school. We often walked together to the local library and discovered many new things in science, including the latest discoveries in paleontology. The idea that large dinosaurs walked the earth proved fascinating to young curious minds. How excited we both were when a school trip took us to McGill University’s Redpath Museum. It was understood that we would both end up studying science at some level. I didn’t get as far as I had originally thought in the pursuit of pure sciences; and I am not sure how far Watson got.

In February 1970, our family home had a fire, and it was no longer suitable for habitation. After spending a few weeks at an emergency family shelter, my father announced that we were moving to a new neighbourhood, which meant a new school. I was heart-broken; Watson and I made heartfelt promises to keep in touch, and we did meet once afterward, but such promises are, as is often the case, defeated by geography and the making of new friends. Our bond was based, to a large degree, on the school that we both attended; and the new school meant the forming of new bonds.

The new neighbourhood had many more Jews (like me) than the old one I left, and in many ways I found this both comforting and reassuring. Still, Watson Woo will always remain my first friend.
Next week, Part 2: “Our Family Home Catches Fire”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Engineering Humour

Science Humour

Here are two cartoons book-ending a few engineering jokes that have made the rounds in recent years; there is always some truth in humour; Enjoy.

Source & Credit: Chemical Engineering News

Three engineers and three mathematicians are on a train going to a conference. The mathematicians each bought a ticket. The engineers have one between them. As the conductor starts through the train car, the engineers all rush off and jump into the small lavatory.

The conductor knocks on the door of the lavatory and says "Ticket, please." At which point the engineers slide the one ticket through a ventilation slot and the conductor punches it. The mathematicians think this looks like a good trick and decide to try it on the train ride back home.

As the mathematicians board the train they have one ticket between them. The engineers have no ticket!

After a while, one of the engineers says, "Here comes the conductor!" So all three mathematicians jump up and run into the lavatory with their one ticket.

One of the engineers goes to the lavatory door and says "Ticket, please."


A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer fumed, "What's with those guys? We must have been waiting for fifteen minutes!"

The doctor chimed in, "I don't know, but I've never seen such inept golf!"

The priest said, "Here comes the green-keeper. Let's have a word with him."

He said, "Hello George, what's wrong with that group ahead of us? They're rather slow, aren't they?"

The green-keeper replied, "Oh, yes. That's a group of blind firemen. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime."

The group fell silent for a moment.

The priest said, "That's so sad. I think I will say a special prayer for them tonight."

The doctor said, "Good idea. I'm going to contact my ophthalmologist colleague and see if there's anything he can do for them." 

The engineer said, "Why can't they play at night?" 


Two engineering students were walking across a university campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

The second engineer replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday, minding my own business, when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike, threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

The first engineer nodded approvingly and said, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit you anyway." 

During the French Revolution, three men were condemned to the guillotine. One was a preacher, one was a doctor, and the third was an engineer.

When the preacher approached the deadly machine, he requested to be beheaded while lying on his back so that he could die while looking into heaven. The doctor and the engineer thought that to be a good idea and requested the same.

As the knife plunged down the track toward the preacher, it suddenly jammed just short of the man's neck. The executioner declared it an act of God and let the man go free. The same thing happened to the doctor.

As the engineer laid his head back in place he suddenly said, "Wait! I see the problem! Look up there where the rope has jumped out of the pulley groove!"

& Finally, Some Dilbert:

Source & Credit:


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Two-Faced Cat Has A Long Life


Frank and Louie, the Janus cat, at his home in Massachusetts in this 2011 photo.
The article says, “Frank and Louie's owner Marty Stevens has said in previous interviews
that she took the cat home so that it wouldn’t be euthanized, something Lyons applauds.”
Photo Credit: Steven Senne, AP
Source: NatGeo

An article, by Stefan Sirucek, in National Geographic says that the world’s longest lived two-faced cat, or Janus cat, died this week at his home in Massachusetts. The cat, named Frank and Louie, lived to the ripe old age of 15.

Sirucek writes:
Named for the Roman god Janus, who was usually portrayed as having two faces, domestic cats with two faces are extremely rare, noted Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri's Department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, who specializes in feline genetics. (Related: "R.I.P. Duecy: The Kitten With Two Faces.")
The animals also generally don't live very long due to health problems related to their deformity-making Frank and Louie's 15-year run that much more impressive, Lyons said.

Janus cats occur when one embryo either splits to form twins, or two embryos early in development don't quite properly fuse together, Lyons said.

Frank and Louie was a ragdoll cat, and while cats-both purebred and otherwise-can fall prey to a number of genetic problems, Lyons doesn't think breeding plays a role in the occurrence of Janus cats, since the condition is so rare.

"We know there's a variety of genetic mechanisms that could cause it," though only DNA testing could pinpoint the exact cause.
The central story here, I would argue, is that a generically malformed cat was able to, through the kindness of its human overseer, live for a long and I would think good life. That a strong human-animal bond was established is apparent in this relationship. I think it is important to point out that humans have always shown the capacity for compassion and goodness; sometimes it takes animals with deformities to bring out the best in us.

You can read more at [NatGeo]

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Day After My Summer Ends

Returning Home

Last week, I gave a general impression of working as a summer student at a nuclear facility in Chalk River, Ontario, in 1980; this week I recount my experience of my last days at Chalk River and my return home to Montreal.

My Dad & I: This photo is from the year before (April 1979) outside our house on the street on which we resided; I am finishing another year at McGill engineering. Behind us is my father's 1972 Gran Torino station wagon, which he would give me that summer.
Photo: Courtesy of Perry J. Greenbaum

I watched on TV Terry Fox, who had cancer, in his attempt to run across Canada in his Marathon of Hope; it was Monday September 1st, Labour Day, in 1980. I knew that my father had cancer, and like Terry Fox, would soon die from this disease. My summer here was in many ways an escape from facing this bleak, sad news.

The common room was empty; most of the summer students had returned home. I had decided to stay an extra week, not only because they asked me to, but because I wanted to.It was not only about earning extra money, but having some time to myself to sort out my thoughts and feelings about returning home.

My girlfriend then, Cheryl, had decided to visit me, taking a bus from Montreal. She provided a necessary distraction and companionship, and much-needed laughter. We spent a nice wonderful week together, and then my summer would end. I would return to university, and she would return to work as a secretary in the garment trade. It was time to make the four-and-half hour trip home. The two worlds were not the same, and I was about to leave one world for another that I knew well, the one that had formed me into the person I had become.

It was after Labour Day. Cheryl and I returned home to Montreal in my 1972 Ford Gran Torino paneled station wagon, a gift from my father. Like my father, it was battered and tired, and in some symbolic message, just as I reached my front door, the gas tank, which I had patched up a few months ago, gave way and started leaking gas onto the street. I got out of the car, and didn’t bother about the small pool of gas at my feet; I would worry about it later.

My mother was glad to see me, although my mother’s face was tired and drawn; she said that my father was lying in bed. After dropping off my bags in my room, I went in to see my father, who wanted to have a man-to-man talk with me. Such were the days when such things were still considered important; my father knew that his time was limited and he had a desire, I am sure, to impart some of his wisdom and experience to me. I sat beside him on the bed my parents had shared for 28 years.

We agreed on some things and disagreed on others. The areas that we then disagreed, I now find myself agreeing with. I impart similar advice to my children. Is this age? conditioning? or plain common sense? Probably some mathematical combination of all three.