Analysis

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Will Toronto Become Canada’s Dallas?

December 2nd, 2013

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Amidst all the finger-wagging, incredulity, outrage, shock, indignation, humor and drama in the Mayor Rob Ford saga there are many potential outcomes, two of them horrendous.

In either case, the Mayor himself would be the victim, but the city would be forced to live forever with the consequences.

First is the possibility that some supposedly civic-minded individual may decide to take matters into his or her own hands and rid Toronto of its perceived blight.

If so, they’ll be shocked to discover the swift justice that will descend from above and the degree to which public sentiment will retreat into a law-abiding agenda.

The media will climb all over itself in a mad scramble to the top of the moral high ground.

Editorials will embrace the mantra, “Yes, the mayor took liberties he shouldn’t have and traveled to some dark and strange places, but physical violence is never the answer.”

A second hypothetical result might see the mayor try to take his own life, either overtly or in a subversive fashion, by failing to look after himself properly.

Why am I going on in this grisly vein? There is a responsibility to say something when a fellow human being is obviously struggling.

In the past, there has too often been a reluctance to speak out in a blunt timely fashion.

Perhaps Mr. Ford’s basic DNA won’t allow him to stray in such a direction. His lifestyle habits, however, already suggest a lack of concern for his health.

There is every indication his self-image is too closely aligned with his job.

Such would explain his clinging to the trappings of office even as most of his real power has been taken away. And his stated intention to seek the same post again in the fall of next year, when clearly his best course of action would be to take a break, go into rehab and re-assess his future.

The problem is the Mayor has to want to change. There are few signs such is the case.

Unfortunately, with respect to some members of his family and close acquaintances ‒ as revealed in background checks ‒ he seems immersed in an everyday environment that is too accepting of drugs and bad behavior.

To the broader world, there is the mystifying impression that the citizens of Toronto are uncaring about the Mayor’s plight. The term “enablers” has been applied to describe our relationship with the train wreck in front of our eyes.

Not for a second, do I truly believe this is the case.

Most of the city wants the Mayor to do the right thing and seek professional assistance.

I’m no psychiatrist, but when heightened mania leads inevitably to sad reflection and deep depression, the offspring is usually something bad.

If stress alone can be a trigger for a downward spiral, there’s little doubt that Mr. Ford has stockpiled a full arsenal.

If a chaotic emotional state were to result in Mr. Ford’s further deterioration, it would be a personal tragedy.

There’s also a wider-ranging fallout to consider.

The Mayor’s meandering journey has become a world-wide story.

Dealey Plaza in 1963 established a misshapen template.

Rob Ford as a politician may have few similarities with John F. Kennedy, but there is one point of convergence. Similar to JFK, Mr. Ford does – at least for the moment – command a staggering amount of public attention.

For whatever reason – and a thousand-plus books have been written on the subject ‒ Dallas became the site of one of the most notorious events in American history.

The city will be forever linked with the ending of a President’s life.

I was born in Toronto, moved to London, Ontario, with my family as a child then returned to take up permanent residence here in my early 20s.

My ties with the city are strong.

I don’t want Toronto to become saddled with a Dallas-like stigma.

Let’s hope the media frenzy that is examining every nook and cranny of Mr. Ford’s life begins to dissipate.

Let’s further hope he comes to his senses and removes himself from the public eye while addressing his many personal issues.

The best long-term solution for Mr. Ford, as it has been for many celebrities, may be overexposure.

There’s always a next hot individual who will become the darling of the press soon enough.

Even Miley Cyrus discovered this truth when her antics were bumped from the front pages by a most unlikely source, Toronto’s own “twerk-fiend”, Mr. Ford.

Less Than 100 Words Mini-reviews

August 10th, 2011

LATEST: (rating system comprised of stinks/sinks/floats/flies)

Ghost Rider (2007)

October 8, 2011

Ridiculous graphic novel nonsense about a biker indentured to the devil who turns on his employer. So over the top, Evel Knievel couldn’t stick a landing. But who doesn’t want to see Nicolas Cage burst into flames? There are times I think old Nic wants to see himself self-immolate. This is a vehicle where Cage can come in, chew up the scenery and leave with some pieces stuck between his teeth. Hang in through the ending credits for a rockin’ electro-pump version of the title song. Eva Mendes looks great and Sam Elliot (no surprise) sounds great. FLOATS

****

FROM HERE ON, ALPHABETICAL:

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

(June 28, 2011)

This is another movie based on a story by Philip K. Dick. The man was a genius. So far ahead of his time. Crazy too, based on his biography. The seven wives were a clue. Have to believe in the love affair and Matt Damon and Emily Blunt pull it off. Damon’s usually okay when he’s not hanging around with George Clooney. One has to view the rest of the story as an allegory. It makes no literal sense. Watch for the hats. They steal the show. FLOATS

****

Black Swan (2010)

(April 12, 2011)

This movie is INTENSE. Deals with several themes: single-parent/single-child issues; the need to let go as part of the creative process; using the excuse of letting go as a seduction technique. Loved the transformation book-ends at start and conclusion where male and female become night creatures. All culminates with a chilling Black Swan dance. Hard for a movie to go wrong with Tchaikovsky’s music playing in the background. Interesting what an audience will accept these days. There really was no way to tell what was real from fantasy. Mirror images everywhere. FLIES among stinks/sinks/floats/flies.)

****

Bridesmaids (2011)

(September 25, 2011)

Congrats to ladies for milestone. You now have a girl buddy film every bit as crass as any boy version. Many funny moments, but also some zaniness that falls flat. Surprisingly touching scenes as well. Also mixed in with the mayhem, subtle humor sprinkled sparingly. Best came at end with cop-car head duck. Father of bride mumbling he won’t pay is a recurring good bit. No American comedy film is complete without a fabulous house somewhere in it. Check mark. Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne are standouts. Rating it FLIES. Does deliver on the entertainment factor.

****

Fame (2010)

(March 14, 2011)

Also saw the remake of FAME while on our kids’ school March break. It only came alive during the closing credits while the title song was playing. Any episode of GLEE is better. Felt bad for the kids. It should have been their moment to shine. But production numbers were overblown. Also, new songs not that good. All of the charm was missing. This was despite the presence of some really appealing actors, especially among the teaching staff. Rating it SINKS (among stinks/sinks/floats/flies).

****

The Godfather (1972)

(April 17, 2011)

I loved this movie when it first came out. Loved it in many re-viewings. But it’s starting to show its age. What’s with Brando’s mumbling? And there’s a ridiculous missed punch in a street scene where Sonny is laying a beating on his brother-in-law that should never have made it into the final print. Still, men feel in their gut the primal nature of their existence when they watch this movie. It teaches many lessons. A terrific family business saga. Features many of our best actors when they were “kids.” One of the greatest of all time. FLIES.

****

Gone With The Wind (1939)

(April 17, 2011)

Plucky Civil War era southern girl can’t get out of her own way. Vivian Leigh is feisty gorgeous as Scarlet. Clark Gable is charmingly roguish  as a realist in a crazy time. The Ashley character is annoyingly wishy-washy. And Melanie is too perfect for words. Scene that opens out on wounded in Atlanta is unforgettable. Sweep, cinematography and music help make this the Greatest Movie of All Time. There can’t be a sequel. One would lose all respect for Rhett if he ever went back to this woman. Rating it FLIES.

****

Julie and Julia (2009)

(August 10, 2011)

Written by Nora Ephron, so not surprising this movie is quite funny. Meryl Streep is a wonder. She has the accent and manerisms of Julia Child down pat. Nice that in many ways it’s a love story (two love stories, actually). Plus there’s the omnipresent love of food, especially butter. The domestic sets and the characters contribute the charm. Amy Adams is also very good. Sad J & J never met but can understand how older generation doesn’t “get” the social-media-savvy younger. Rating it FLIES

****

Moneyball (2011)

October 1, 2011

A movie nominally about baseball that’s really about change. Carries its message that expectations need overturning partly through its form. Brad Pitt, who bears a striking physical resemblance to Robert Redford, is more effective than expected. Plot and character development are more cerebral and slower-paced than expected. In some ways, a primer for managers on what’s needed for some industries to break their hide-bound shackles and become competitive again. Quite funny in spots, but not slapstick funny, as in so many sports movies. A joy to watch neanderthals among certain members of the sporting fraternity get their come-uppance. FLIES

****

Morning Glory (2010)

(March 29, 2011)

The family watched the movie “Morning Glory” tonight. Great fun! Full of funny zingers about the media business while not taking itself seriously at all. Young girl loses crappy job. Then gets even crappier job, but with great potential. Can she make it work while finding romance along the way? It’s the journey that counts. Cranky Harrison Ford and game-for-anything Diane Keaton are superb but it’s Rachel McAdams’ energy and sparkle that slam dunk the whole concoction. Rating it FLIES (among stinks/sinks/floats/flies).

****

Red Riding Hood (2011)

(June 27, 2011)

Better than I expected. Rustic setting meant it was claustrophobic. But I liked the scenery. Every shade of brown imaginable. Amanda Seyfried was necessarily gorgeous as the lead character. There were other great female actresses/presences including Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie. Gary Oldman did his usual crazy person routine. The story was hackneyed but so what. There were moments that were creepy and almost scary and that’s what the kids and I wanted. The woods, the village and grandmother’s cottage set away from everyone else were entities on their own. FLOATS.

****

The Secret in Their Eyes

(April 3, 2011)

This is a fabulous Argentinian movie. Reminiscent of Hitchcock. Watch for a wondrous tracking shot from way on high into a soccer stadium. What sells the movie are the faces of the main actors. Also, terrific chemistry between the two leads, but also with the secondary players. Complicated plot that illustrates the high anxiety that comes with living in a totalitarian state. Sub-titles, but relatively easy to follow. Rating it an enthusiastic FLIES (among stinks/sinks/floats/flies).  

****

The Secretary (2002)

(April 17, 2011)

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sweetness saves this movie. James Spader is good, but he can play creepy in his sleep. The plot involves self-mutilation and kinky sex that is pretty out there. Some scenes veer towards the uncomfortable. The decor in the lawyer’s office is a third character. There’s a scene with a dead worm that’s genius. Lesley Ann Warren’s other worldliness is used to good but minor effect.  I liked this movie. Many wouldn’t. Viewed as art and because it’s so thought-provoking, I’m rating it FLIES.

****

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011)

(September 25, 2011)

The 6-part prequel to “Spartacus”. “Upstairs Downstairs” moved back in time to ancient Rome and with a little more violence, ya think. Haunted by the real-life death of the actor who played Spartacus, Timothy Whitfield. Pretty much supplies the fantasy viewing of all males, red-blooded and otherwise. Writers have discovered how to make English sound like Latin, by intermittently dropping subjects and verbs. Oh, and there’s sex. But only when it’s integral to the storyline, which is always. Distractions aside, there is a very strong storyline and mostly great acting. Lots of talent behind and in front of camera. FLIES.

****

Valley of Elah

(March 15, 2011)

While we were on holidays, saw a number of movies. The best was “The Valley of Elah” with Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron. Jones was his usual irascible self with a presence as firm as earth. Theron was a surprise, both an everyday person yet lovely at the same time. All about how a conflict zone changes people and not for the better, regardless of how righteous the cause. Labyrinthine story finally becomes clear after tenacious sleuthing by Jones and a put-upon Theron. Rating it FLIES (among stinks/sinks/floats/flies).

****

Whiteout

(March 13, 2011)

Starring Kate Beckinsale and Tom Skerritt. In many ways a typical who-dunnit. But was elevated by unusual location scenes – the Antarctic. Could feel the cold in my bones. A great deal of running around outside in a blizzard. Sometimes confusing, but always tense. Plus fascinating to see some of the detail about life on such a remote science station. Held my interest throughout. Rating it FLOATS (among stinks/sinks/floats/flies).

The CROSS of e-book publishing

July 18th, 2011

This is a one-page synopsis of why the new world of e-book publishing is so exciting.

You’re someone who feels compelled to write (a novel, short stories, poetry, social commentary, etc.) and you want to reach an audience. What follows is a combination overview and how-to listing that provides guidance in five easy-to-remember steps.

CONTENT – You can’t promote or sell anything if you don’t have product. It’s also important to establish from the get-go that your material (i.e., your document or book) is worthwhile and of a high standard. If you’re not sure about the quality of what you’re producing, seek opinions, enter contests and find/hire an editor. Once your work locates an audience, it’s important to have follow-up material. This will sustain interest in what you’re doing and reassure readers there is more to come.

RECOGNITION – One must work hard on name recognition. The modern idiom for this is establishing a “platform” in cyberspace. This is where social media comes in so handy. Try various means to establish your “voice” on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and other sites. Set up a blog and write/write/write. There is no substitute for practice. Encourage readers to come and check out your work. Submit stories to sites such as #fridayflash. Consider every posting, no matter how short, to be a challenge and a means to convey your skill as a writer.

OPPORTUNITY – Recognize that never before in history has there been such a great opportunity for writers to reach an audience. By all means, try the agency route and traditional publishers if you want. However, if that proves frustrating – often due to long time delays and the difficulty in gaining attention for your work – then there is no reason not to self-publish. An author’s work doesn’t have to sit under a mattress and grow moldy. For readers alarmed by the prospect of myriads of low-quality works flooding the scene, keep in mind that reviews and sales will quickly determine which self-published works rise to the top.

SIZE – Think of the integrated Internet as the world’s largest book store. Once a book has been formatted for one type of e-reader, it is possible to convert it to others. Plus the Internet provides access not only to e-book sellers but to traditional retail outlets as well, large and small alike.

SPEED – This may be my favorite aspect of e-book publishing. The speed at which product can be brought to market, both in terms of publication time and establishing a sales outlet, has been phenomenally reduced. The year-or-so delay for agent acceptance, publisher sign on and marketing campaign set-up has been eliminated. That’s at the front end. Further along, as marketing and distribution take priority, a potential reader anywhere in the world – provided he or she has a laptop or desktop PC and access to the Internet – can find, order, download and be reading your book within two minutes.

So by all means, get out there and fulfill your dream.

How has Writing Changed Me?

January 27th, 2011

The further I get into the personal writing, as opposed to my economic articles, the more I’m confronted with the question, “How has writing changed me?”

A further consideration is whether or not the alterations have been in a good way. I don’t have any doubt about it. Composing my short stories has taken me on a journey I wouldn’t have missed for anything.

Here are some of the pluses. Twenty seemed like an acceptable round number to aim for.

(1) I’ve gained more confidence. Previously, I never figured I could write subject matter that would be more broadly popular.

(2) I’ve surprised myself. To write successfully, you have to be open and honest. You can attempt to hide behind a made-up facade, but it will be obvious to the reader.

(3) The writing has expanded my horizons. The search for subject matter means I have an interest in more things than I used to.

(4) The writing and self-publishing experience has helped me to keep up-to-date technologically. To promote the books under the auspices of Carrick Publishing, Donna and I have been required to learn about Kindle formatting, CreateSpace and a host of other social media forums and tools.

(5) Launching my work on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube has been exciting to the max. I now have contacts all over the world. Who’da thunk?

(6) I’ve had to become a whole lot more observant. A big part of writing is in the finer points. The extra brio in the recipe comes from adding some telling detail.

(7) I find I’m observing people in shopping mall parking lots in new ways. Or anywhere else people gather. Each and every one of us has a story to tell.

(8) The writing that Donna and I do has been something our children have picked up on. They’ve discovered they love to write too. Tom writes poetry and both Ted and Tammy-Li put together wonderful tales.

(9) I’m proud of the characters I’ve created. Some are fictional and some are slightly disguided real friends and acquaintances. They have a life of their own that will hopefully take them out into the world at large.

(10) It’s amazing what one learns through practice. Donna and I have helped each other through editing and it has led to improvements for both of us.

(11) I never knew some of my writing bad habits until I was forced to re-assess my work. Now I catch myself (some of the time) when I make obvious mistakes.

(12) Characterization in my writing has made me more sympathetic in real life. It’s a truism, but there are good people with flaws and bad people with redeeming qualities.

(13) Writers aim for whole truths. But we settle for half truths. That’s because much of what we know about the world is based on half truths.

(14) Sometimes you have to pick a point of view. Otherwise, qualifying your stance takes all the juice out of the story. And as I keep reminding myself, it is only a story.

(15) Writing my personal blog and publishing books is one more thing I can cross off my “to do” list. Maybe more accurately, it’s something that will no longer be on my “living with regrets that I never got around to it” list. I’ve done it now and am everlastingly glad I did.

(16) As any author knows, writing is therapy. It’s a means to exorcise demons. Difficult, embarassing, awkward situations from your past can be dredged up, re-worked, sorted out and made clean. Then once it’s been done and the episode is in print, you can let it go. 

(17) Praise for one’s writing is a high. Criticism can be hard to take. An essential part of the process is not only to learn from criticism, but also to develop a thicker skin.

(18) One doesn’t want to lose touch with one’s emotions, but the development of a thicker skin is generally a positive thing. Not much that’s great gets done by someone who pays too much attention to the disparaging chatter around them.

(19) I’ve discovered a truth (or maybe one of those famous half-truths) about reviewers. Reviewers reveal more about themselves in what they write than they might ever care to realize or acknowledge.

(20) I’ve had a lot of fun that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. That alone has probably made me easier to live with.

**

20 Key Points on Social Media, Its Importance and Influence

October 24th, 2010

The following are 20 key points I would stress if I were addressing an audience or speaking  to a classroom on the subject of social media, its importance and influence. 

(1) The key sites, so far, are Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

(2) We’re in the pioneering days for setting up personal accounts on such sites and understanding their role and importance.

(3) Our children will take social media for granted.

(4) It will be common practice for our children to have their own “platforms.”

(5) Our children will have personal Internet contacts and friends that will be with them for life.

(6) For many of us, the current use of social media is largely about branding and marketing (e.g.,  a self-published book or willingness to deliver a speech).

(7) The publishing industry is being transformed.

(8) Anyone with access to the Internet can order and be reading a digital book within two minutes on their Kindle or Kindle apps.

(9) The future for publishers and bookstores is uncertain.

(10) New kinds of books will be available in the future (e.g., themed short stories from within one book or several books)

(11) Authors are writing for a great number of mostly young people who read over their cell phones.

(12) Political barriers are being broken down.

(13) When ”talking” to someone  on Facebook or Twitter, it hardly matters where they live.

(14) We’re all just people – some political regimes will be slow to recognize the shift.

(15) Partly due to social media (and partly due to a host of other entertainment/interconnectivity options), there is a huge amount of “noise.”

(16) It will be increasingly tough to get anyone’s attention.

(17) Short attention spans will become even shorter.

(18) You join this movement or you get left behind.

(19) The world is separating into two camps – the computer savvy and the not so savvy.

 And finally,

 (20) That everyone, (okay, not quite eveyone, but most) should follow me on Twitter ( @Alex_Carrick )

Social Networking’s Number One Fan

June 5th, 2010

It has come as a complete surprise to me how much I like social networking over the Internet. My favourite is Twitter due to the speed, immediacy and access to people all over the world. Hashtag groups (#writechat, #storycraft, #scriptchat) have been particularly rewarding for finding people with the same interests and concerns. I also keep a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn.

It’s amazing how many others are out there wanting to connect. I have found that writing for an expanded audience (and in a limited space) has loosened up my writing style and made it more interesting and approachable.

Donna and I launched ourselves on this journey to promote our books. “Two Scoops” Is Just Right is a compilation of funny short stories that I first posted on my blog site. It’s the links to these stories that I have pushed out over the Internet.

In pre-Web times, unpublished authors had to keep their manuscripts under their mattresses. What’s the point of that? I write because I want readers. For the first time in history, there are means to disseminate material beyond one’s own community in a relatively easy manner.

Finally, let me say that we are all pioneers in this venture. To our children, it will be taken as commonplace to “build a brand” and “establish a platform.” They will keep in touch with old friends and establish new bonds over the web during the course of their entire lives.