Wednesday, March 14, 2018

social media at Guardian's Best Animal Rescue Foundation

 Guardian's Best Animal Rescue Foundation

Over the winter, I've joined Guardian's Best Animal Rescue Foundation to manage its social media and create content. Based in Toronto and Montreal, this decade-old non-profit raises funds to benefit animal rescues across Ontario and Quebec.

Rescues do just that: they save homeless dogs, cats and other creatures, nurture them back to health, then find them homes with loving owners. The people who operate these rescues don't do this out of profit, but for the love of animals.

For example, Susan Mackasey has rescued nearly 1,000 cats in and around Montreal through her PetitsPawz. To read more about her work, simply click the page above or click here.

Peruse the Guardian's site to learn how to adopt a pet from an animal rescue, find a rescue near you in Ontario or Quebec, read about pet owners who have adopted such animals, and learn about folks who rescue animals.

You can also follow Guardian's on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How Artists Invest Their Money: TFSA

My filmmaker friend Bob, 40, recently asked me, I have a little money I want to invest for the long run. What should I do?

Bob has never saved. He's not reckless. He's an artist—painters, actors, musicians, etc. who don't make a lot of money. I know where Bob is coming from, because I'm a business journalist and filmmaker. So, here I share the advice I gave him. But I reminded him that I'm not a licensed investment advisor. I know what I know from my own investing experience and from talking to the pros. (Further disclosure: I don't work for any company I recommend below.)

The good news: Bob carries no debts, not even on his credit card, and doesn't pay a mortgage or child support or alimony. But if you have serious credit card debt, then stop reading this and pay it off now. Pay your debts before investing a penny. Credit cards cost you 20% annual interest. Good luck making 20% in a stock.

What if I have a mortgage? If you have a bit of cash left after your regular payments, read on.

Back to Bob: How do I invest?

TFSA is your salad bowl

Put it in a TFSA.

Whatever profit you earn in a Tax-Free Savings Account, you keep. The taxman doesn't get a dime. Think of a TFSA as a salad bowl. You can toss a GIC, savings account, stocks and/or bonds into it.  Each year, you can contribute up to $5,500. Like an RRSP, if you don't contribute the maximum, you carry over the remainder into next year. So, if in 2017 you put in only $3,000, then in 2018 you can add another $2,500 plus $5,500. Get it?

If you've never contributed anything, then your total contribution room is $57,500. So, if you win the lottery, you can stuff $57.5K into your TFSA. If you don't know what your limit is, then contact the Canada Revenue Agency for free. Remember that any cash you withdraw from a TFSA lowers your contribution limit that year. So, if you take out $1,000 to buy a fur sink, then you can contribute only $4,500 that year. Just don't go over your limit, or else CRA will nail you with interest charges that would make a loan shark blush.

Great, says Bob, now how do I get a TFSA?

Call your bank and open one. You'll probably need to visit your branch for a brief sit-down and sign a few things. No big deal. Just don't buy anything from them, like a mutual fund or e-fund. Banks charge fees for this stuff. That's how they make their money,

Whaddya mean? asks Bob.

Keep reading.

What do I invest in my TFSA?

Key word here is invest. You can open a savings account or buy a GIC, but you'd earn maybe, just maybe, 2% over a year. Well, inflation is also 2%, so do the math.

To beat inflation, buy stocks.

Wait a damn minute, says Bob. Stocks go up and down. I don't know what to buy and don't have time to study them. Why don't I just hire a money guy instead?

Good luck. If Bob has only $5K to invest, no money guy/girl (aka investment advisor) will return your call. They charge 1.5-2% of your total portfolio, so would they go to the trouble of earning $75 off you?

Instead, be your own Money Guy and buy ETFs.


An exchange traded fund is another kind of salad bowl. An ETF collects a bunch of stocks into one bowl. You buy and sell units of that bowl. That bowl is traded on the stock exchange like a stock. Your bowl could focus on one sector, like Canadian oil (XEG is the ticker symbol on the Toronto Stock Exchange); or a country, such as XIC (covering the entire Toronto Stock Exchange).

Sounds like a mutual fund, says Bob. Yeah, sort of, but the huge difference is the fee (aka MER for management expense ratio). The average Canadian mutual fund charges 2.35%. So, if your mutual fund earns a 6% profit, you walk away with only 3.65%. And remember inflation? Ouch.

However, an ETF charges a fraction of these fees. XIC's MER is 0.06%. That's it. And it pays a 2.48% yield, which is a thank-you they pay you for holding the ETF. So, if you bought $1,000 worth of XIC, you'd pay $6 a year, but receive $24.80 back, which means you're ahead $18.80. Other ETFs charge in the same ballpark.

Let's say you bought that $1,000 XIC at $10 per unit (100 shares) in your TFSA. You now have $4,500 left in your contribution room for that year (plus whatever leftover space from past years). Fast-forward a year: XIC now fetches $11.25. You sell your 100 units and walk away with $1,125. Congrats! You just pocketed a $125 profit. Add to that the $18.80.  That's a 14% profit in one year. Compare that to a 2% GIC.

Remember: You keep that $143.80. The taxman doesn't touch it. And you don't pay a cut to any Money Guy/Gal, just the 0.06% MER.

Great, huh? Yeah, says Bob, but what if XIC goes down?


If XIC falls below $10, then just hold it until it rises. Don't give in to fear and sell. Don't panic. Play videogames. Hit the gym. Whatever. Go away for a while and don't look at XIC. Stand firm during the selling stampede. Remember: the Toronto Stock Exchange recovers after every drop, even the Great Recession of 2008-9 where stocks plunged 40-50%. It make take a few months or few years, but patience pays. I know, because I held XIC over that brutal time period.

Okay, I see, says Bob, but are ETFs the only safe bet? Can I buy something else under my TFSA?

Well, you can purchase stocks like a Canadian bank, but that discussion's for another day...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (film review)

The next generation of Rebels (left to right): Finn, Rey and Tico

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Ann Tran, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver

The Last Jedi thrills longtime Star Wars fans, ties up several story threads, and passes the light sabre to a new generation of characters. Though imperfect, it is one of the best films in the franchise.

[spoiler alert: Read no further if you haven't seen the film.]

The Last Jedi picks up from 2015's The Force Awakens which introduced the next generation of Star Wars heroes and villains: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Depending on whether you liked it or not, The Force Awakens either honoured or plagiarized the very first Star Wars. Young junk scavenger Rey was the young Luke Skywalker; Han Solo and Chewbacca reunited in their Falcon; BB-8 was the droid carrying a secret message, and so on.

In contrast, The Last Jedi strikes new ground. For starters, I'm glad it reverses the Yoda-Luke teacher/pupil story from The Empire Strikes Back as elder Luke refuses to teach Rey the ways of the Jedi. Luke, now a hermit on a distant planet, is sickened by the destruction that the Jedis (notably his former pupil Kylo Ren) have wrought. Rey begs Luke, and his obstinacy notches up the tension. Rey is running out of time.

The Empire has besieged the dwindling Rebel fleet after General Leia (Carrie Fisher's last Star Wars) leads an escape from their base, but shockingly can't elude the Empire in hyperspace. This battle sequence opens the film with a jolt and sets the stakes high right off the bat. Even better, young hotshot Poe clashes with wise, calm Leia over the direction of the first battle, adding another laying of tension.

Meanwhile, Finn recovers from his injuries in The Force Awakens, but is caught deserting by mechanic Tico Rose. Played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran (pictured right, top), Rose is the new character of The Last Jedi--and a stunning addition. She's feisty and tough, an underdog orphan bringing the best out of Finn. Also, Tico adds a long-overdue Asian face to Star Wars and bolsters its feminine presence. Tico Rose modernizes Star Wars.

There's no shortage of battle scenes in space and dazzling light-sabre duels, but telepathy plays a role in this film like no other in the franchise. Crossing the galaxy, Rey "speaks" to Kylo Ren through their minds, wooing him to abandon the Dark Side (under Supreme Leader Snoke) and join the side of good under the Rebels. Later, Luke takes this kind of telepathy a leap forward when he faces Kylo Ren in a showdown.

Two things struck me with The Last Jedi. One, there were some laughs. When the Empire blasts a stock-still Luke a thousand times, an unscathed Luke merely wipes his shoulder. More importantly was the poignancy. Everyone knows Carrie Fisher (above) passed away a year ago, so seeing her hurled into space, lifeless and covered in ice, silenced the audience. Later, seeing her and Mark Hamill (below) reunite was touching. You somehow knew those two would not see each other again. (BTW, they joke about their hair.) And it's no secret, given the title, that this is Luke Skywalker's last appearance. How he goes, you don't know. These farewells are executed with class and eloquence, never forced.

Two cameos are worth noting. Benecio del Toro steals his scenes as DJ, a shyster who gets Tico and Finn onto the Empire's mothership to switch off its tracking device, so that the Rebels can try to escape, but then DJ sells them out to the Empire. Then there's Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo. I wasn't sure about her presence or character's motivations at first, but she propels a crucial scene where she slices the Empire's ship in two.

The Last Jedi suffers from a few imperfections. The middle of the film drags a bit and the third act feels extended with one epic battle immediately following another. But I can live with that. What I can't stand are these super-cute puffin birds that pop up on Luke's planet. It's like there's a Cute Quota in each Star Wars and these puffins fulfilled that.

Thank God there is no medal ceremony to neatly end The Last Jedi as in the first and third films. Instead, there's enough ambiguity to tantalize the viewer, yet enough closure to satisfy. In The Last Jedi, the past of the original Star Wars closes, and the door to the future--Rey, Tico, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren--opens. I hope they lead us somewhere as wondrous as this chapter.

review by Allan Tong

Thursday, November 30, 2017

IIDEX Canada 2017: sights and designs

IIDEX, Canada's largest architecture and interior design expo, is happening Nov. 29-30 in Toronto. Here are two exhibitors who caught my eye, but click here for a full report.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Illness Can Be The Cure! is Kindle bestseller

A therapy book I edited, Illness Can Be The Cure! by Anne Redelfs, has topped the Kindle bestseller list in Canada and Australia, and hit #3 in the U.K. Anne Redelfs is a retired psychiatrist and “listener” from Texarkana, Texas, treating patients' emotional and psychological issues. 

Illness Can Be The Cure! contends that our souls actually speak to us through our symptoms and diseases. Ms. Redelfs book guides the reader through the process of listening to one's inner self in order to heal one's outer body. This means that childhood traumas can express themselves through physical symptoms, while traditional hospital care and costly medications are limited. Instead, she argues, we should listen to our souls to find the path to healing. Ms. Redelfs writes in her preface:

Have you ever wondered what your physical body and body symptoms might be communicating? This question gained prominence in my thinking, because of my interactions with patients during my medical school and residency training. My instructors seemed to engage the human body more like a car than a sentient being. They focused on its functioning, taking us where we want to go and doing what we want to do. 

        Like a car, a human body has certain built-in requirements, such as air, water, food, and exercise. It also has limitations--it can only go so long before needing rest. If we don’t respect these requirements and limitations, our living vehicles will more likely break down. Of course, parts can lose potency or functioning over time, particularly when we treat them badly. Sometimes, despite the best of care, car troubles just happen, at least this was what I was taught. Not to worry. A good doctor, like a solid mechanic, will likely have our vehicles rolling again before long. 

During my formal studies of medicine, there was no emphasis on the HUMANNESS of our physical bodies. No one explained to me that our physical sensations are our bodies’ emotions. Overt nonverbal expressions, such as posture, facial reactions, and tone of voice, are our bodies’ voice. Our innate body functioning carries intelligence and care, sometimes in stark contrast to our lack in these areas. (We get ourselves into far more trouble than our physical bodies do!)  In fact, when we lose our intelligence and care, we end up doing all sorts of manipulative things to our bodies, trying to make them work as we’d like. For example, we may eat sugar and carbs to get energy, or drink coffee to stay awake. If only we knew that our bodies too were trying to make us work in a more excellent manner...

Ms. Redelfs' views may startle some, but they are rooted in her personal experience and those of people she has counseled. To read more of a preview from this book and to order, please click here

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Flying Stars to celebrate Disability Day on the soccer pitch

The "stars" of my Sundance-supported documentary, The Flying Stars, will celebrate the UN's Disability Day on December 3 by doing what they do best: play soccer. The Freetown Flying Stars will challenge their Bo regional counterparts in a rematch of the game they played in the documentary.

All the players are amputees, whose legs and arms were hacked off by rebel soldiers or claimed by landmines, during the Sierra Leone civil war of 1991-2002.

The amputees were innocent children or teenagers at the time, and their attackers themselves were children, brainwashed by the rebel army to commit horrific deeds. At the end of the war, the amputees banded together to play the country's number-one sport in order to support each other, but also show their countrymen that they could "stand on their own feet." The amputees also play to cope with their PTSD.

"This football match is to showcase how peaceful and united we are," says the Freetown club's manager, Mohamed "Census" Jalloh who appears in the film. "We want to preach peace."
Census, as his teammates call him, asks for any donations to help cover the costs of transporting the players and renting the soccer field ("the pitch"). You can safely donate here by giving directly to the team or buying authentic Sierra Leonean wood carvings (above) or photographic portraits of the team by associate producer Fiona Aboud and the film's photographer, Johnny Vong. Similar items were auctioned off in a May 2016 fundraiser at the Gladstone Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The Flying Stars documentary is currently playing in Canada on the CBC's Documentary Channel and on the streaming service, kweli TV in the U.S.

For more information about The Flying Stars team and documentary, please visit here.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The mediocre rock 'n' roll swindle - Liam Gallagher plays Toronto

Last night, Oasis fans flocked to Rebel nightclub nestled against frosty Lake Ontario to catch Liam Gallagher and his band. Pity, brother Noel wasn't there, because he could've leant his younger sibling a few tunes to pad out his 59-minute set. 

I've seen some opening acts over the years that sang that long. Springsteen always plays for three-and-a-half hours. Perhaps that's an unfair comparison, but one hour without an encore? When the houselights went up after Cigarettes and Alcohol, Rebel shook with boos.

Gallagher opened with Rock 'n' Roll Star then Morning Glory from his former band's first and second albums, and proceeded to evenly mix Oasis songs with his solo material. The crowd roared in a giant pub singalong whenever he launched into Oasis hits such as Some Might Say, but fell quiet whenever he sang one of his own tunes. 

Gallagher's band played the Oasis tunes faithfully, note-for-note, with energy and competently for his own material, but those songs lacked memorable melodies or lyrics. They all sounded the same, so the audience waited for the next Oasis hit to come alive.

The crowd left with mixed feelings. They got a half-hour Oasis gig and saw their frontman for the first time in this city in many years. But they deserved more. If Gallagher continues to shortchange his fans and record mediocre material, he'll need to call his brother and beg for a reunion.