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Quiz: Keith Richards OR Ronnie Wood

November 4, 2012

Keith Richards and Ron Wood

As members of the world’s most recognizable band, Keith Richards and Ron Wood have a lot in common. So much, in fact, they are often mistaken for each other.

How well do you know your Rolling Stones guitarists?

Which Stone is which?

Try these quick 20 questions, and see how much you know about Keith and Ronnie.

Wood or Richards Quiz

Keith Richards/Ron Wood


Name That Newspaper!

October 17, 2012

Star, Advance, or Ledger?

Herald, Times, Post or Standard?

Newspapers from around the world get the quiz treatment here, with 20 questions to test your knowledge of newspapers and the cities that support them.

Good luck!

Taxi Quiz

September 3, 2012
Big yellow taxis in a pack.

Big yellow taxis

What do Toronto, Berlin, New York and Paris have in common? Why, taxis, of course.

Cabbies keep people moving, the world over. But how much do you know about these unsung heroes of capitalism?

The taxi’s waiting; he’s blowing his horn:

Take the Taxi Quiz

Quiz – Human Rights in Eritrea

August 21, 2012

Thousands of Eritreans flee their homeland, with many choosing Canada for asylum. So many arrive here, in fact, that they have formed their own taxi association in Toronto.

freedom grafitti

The writing is on the wall – Eritreans want freedom

What are the leading factors that cause them to leave in such numbers? Human rights is a big one.

Test your knowledge of this nation, and of its human rights record as determined by international organizations.


For more legal quizzes, and legal information, visit Paralegal SCOPE Magazine, the only source of news, information and feature articles for licensed paralegals in Ontario, Canada.

Two people you can ignore, and one that you can’t

August 1, 2011

Worshipping the queen bee

Social order is a subtle, nuanced dance.

Everyone knows his rank; we seldom need reminders. We move in silent code, like worker bees that never challenge the queen.

For example, we all know that there are people we simply do not have to talk to. Ignoring them is not rude. It’s just the way it is. We didn’t make the rules; we just follow them.

Nowadays, that group includes those who are disabled either physically or mentally, and those whose social standing is so utterly distanced from our own, that to communicate would embarrass us both.

Person One: Invisible Me

When I was in college, a massive snowstorm brought the city’s bus system to an early-morning halt.

This I discovered only after trudging out to the bus stop. Because I had an exam that morning, I decided to hitchhike in.

The first vehicle to stop was a small service-club sponsored Easter Seals bus. The affable driver told me that the storm had cancelled his usual stops. He would not be picking up the handicapped children he normally transported to schools and therapy sessions.

I took the first available seat: a small wheelchair just inside the passenger area.

We hadn’t got far when the bus stopped again, this time for a guy in his 30s, also stranded by the cancelled busses. He was hoping to make it to work on time, at one of the factories north of my college. He settled in at the top of the steps, just in front of me.

I greeted the newcomer, making some comment about the weather. He didn’t seem to hear me; he just glanced at the wheelchair with a sad smile, and spoke to the driver.

Figuring he couldn’t hear me, I spoke a little louder, asking him about his work. Same thing. Sad, quick smile, no eye contact. As I tried to get a conversation going, I caught our driver’s sly smile in the rearview mirror. Hmm… he’s looking at the wheelchair.

The View From Down Here

It is an odd feeling, to realize that someone is ignoring you because they think you are handicapped.

Sit in a wheelchair and you’re someone to be pitied, not someone you talk with. Not someone you look in the eye. Not a person, with something to say.

I felt diminished. I felt frustrated. I felt angry.

I also felt shame, because I knew I had done the same thing myself. There had been times I’d walked right by someone with a mental or physical impairment, couldn’t be bothered to listen to someone with palsy or a thick tongue, knowing it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them.

The driver and I shared extra-large smiles as he pulled over to let me off near the college. My fellow passenger stared gape-mouthed as I stood, thanked the driver profusely, and bounded with unnecessary verve into the snowy street.

I resisted the urge to yell, “Hallelujah, I am healed!” as I went.

Person Two: Crazy Train

Crazy homeless people are near the top of the list of those we need not speak to, or acknowledge in any way.

When I lived in the West End of Toronto, I managed to join a community garden. Having an allotment garden usually carries a certain cachet. People wait on lists for years, for the most high-profile gardens.

Mine was not one of those.

Abutting a train track, the garden stood on contaminated land, so each plot had to be carefully constructed aboveground and filled with clean soil. Further, to secure city approval the community members in charge had agreed to share the garden with a transitional housing building next door.

Can’t We Just Get Along?

This was an avante-garde government project created especially for “street-involved, at-risk adults with substance issues” who had “survived the mental health system” and were gaining independent living skills in a “supportive environment.”

In plain language: crazy street people lived next door, and half the garden was their domain. The building residents’ plots were at the rear of the garden, closer to the tracks. The so-called “community” gardeners had their plots at the front.

By the time my membership was approved late in the season, every “community” plot was spoken for. The chronically disorganized community garden organizer gave me two options: I could build my own garden plot at the front, out of railroad ties and soil from somewhere, or use an existing plot at the back of the garden, which had gone unclaimed by the building residents.

I didn’t mind taking a plot at the rear. After all, there was no official difference between the two sides. Also, I’d be under the watchful eye of the residents’ crusty head gardener, Ed.

No one messed with Ed. He and another resident, a bipolar transexual named Maryanne, spent every free moment in the back garden, which was reassuring for me. I hovered over my first garden like a mother cat.

Getting to Know You

Often it was just the three of us back there by the tracks — me learning how to dig up potatoes, Maryanne getting reminders to take her meds, both of us taking orders from Ed.

On the other side of the garden, the “community” gardeners were proving difficult to engage with. They’d show up sporadically, grab whatever was ripe, yank out a few weeds, then vanish.

One afternoon, I saw two women tending their well-established, showcase garden plot, in the top corner of the “community” section.

Aha. This was my chance to integrate into the community garden milieu. Under the pretense of fetching a hose, I strode up from the back, introduced myself and inquired about their wild bergamot plant, which smelled amazing after a rainshower.

Was it my imagination, or did they jump when I first spoke? Anxious glances between them. While one busied herself with examining individual leaves, the other spoke to me slowly and loudly.

“Yes, our garden is pretty. We have many plants. We will leave soon.”

For every step I took forward, she took one back. So I ended up calling out over their prairie grasses and golden spirea, puzzling over the simple sentence structure and monosyllabic replies. Perhaps she had a brain injury.

Goin’ Right Outta My Head

Stymied in my conversational efforts, I turned back to the back, where Maryanne was dancing half-naked with a hose and Ed sat in the shade having a smoke, grumbling about cross-species fungal attacks.

Obscured by their bergamot, the women may have been unaware that I caught a snatch of furtive conversation as I turned. “You can hardly tell with her,” one stage-whispered. “She doesn’t seem that bad.”

“I know,” came the reply. “She must be almost ready to live on her own.”

How do you explain to someone that you’re not crazy, once they’ve made up their mind? Anything I could say would just make me sound even more insane.

Deflated and labelled, aware now why the community gardener conversations were so rare and so stilted, I told Ed what had happened.

He offered me a smoke, and we watched Maryanne dance.

And One You Can’t Ignore: The Equalizing Worm

Back in the 1970s, I worked as a waitress at a disco on Clifton Hill, in Niagara Falls.

Having graduated college, I was earning a living as best I could and sending resumes from sea to shining sea, in desperate hope of lasting escape.

My more-privileged cohorts from across town spent that summer as their class always have — hanging out and partying until that glorious day when they’d take over their parents’ companies or marry sufficiently well.

Among those privileged few was a girl I had known at school.

“Known” is overstating things. I “knew of” this queen among queen bees. Every popular girl in the Niagara Peninsula wanted to be just like her. She was at the top of her game, and her star had yet to reach its zenith.

Let’s say her name was “Stephanie.”

Of All the Gin-Joints . . .

Stephanie strolled into my disco one evening with her entourage, a gaggle of snooty blondes with the requisite collection of darkly handsome boyfriends in tow.

They sniffed around a bit and decided my workplace wasn’t that bad, for now, in a pinch, since they were slumming anyway.

Stephanie deigned to acknowledge we’d attended the same high school — perhaps to demonstrate her humanitarian side to her beau, the only one at their table to look me in the eye and say, “Please.”

Let’s call him “Ken.”

It’s a sinking feeling, being made to literally cater to former classmates who have always lorded over you. My fellow staffers patted me on the back for the gracious way I was handling things, but it was tough to buck-up.

I believe it was Ken who loosened his tie and decreed the group would stay for a second round, and then another, as the disco filled up and the dance floor came to Saturday night life.

I also believe it was Ken who asked the deejay for some B-52s tunes.

All the Cool Kids Are Doing It

On a hunch, I lurked around the edge of the dance floor. A cheesy disco ball cast flashing patches of red, pink and blue on the clutch of well-lubricated Kens and Stephanies showing off their best dance-class moves.

Then it happened. A dream come true. Number one Ken got down on the floor, writhing around while Stephanie watched, hands-to-face, mouth and eyes wide.

Yes! Ken was doing The Worm, a New Wave dance move never before deliberately executed on Clifton Hill. As each of the Kens followed suit, the Stephanies took several steps back, creating a movie-like gap under the disco ball.

Locals and tourists alike gawked at the spectacle of these fresh-faced frat boys imitating worms on the floor, the B-52s’ iconic synthesized, screeching peels of “Rock Lobster! Die! Die!” drowning out the Stephanies’ pleas.

“What are they doing?” a bewildered coworker asked.

“The Worm,” I said, grinning widely as I made extended eye contact with Stephanie. “And Stephanie will have to say hello to me now, any time I see her, for the rest of her life.”

We nodded at the abject truth: I had seen Stephanie’s boyfriend doing The Worm. Now we were equals.

Related Post: Socialist/Socialite: What’s the Difference?

“Tell the class what prostitutes wear”: Growing up in a “classless” society

July 14, 2011

A Toronto cop got in big, world-wide trouble earlier this year.

He advised female university students that if they stopped dressing “like sluts,” they could avoid being raped. His suggestion prompted the first “Slut Walk” protest. Those marches have since been held around the world.

I was as disgusted by this Crime Prevention Officer’s off-the-cuff remarks as any normal person.

But my rancor goes deeper. In fact, the cop’s comments took me back several decades, to high school, to an incident that still stings.

    Natural Wonders

Niagara Falls in the 1970s was a tough place to grow up. My neighbourhood had more than its share of edginess. I heard the area described once as “Nothing but guns, hookers and drugs,” which sounds harsh but cannot be seriously disputed.

My high school had a few overachievers, but the vast majority of us were told to plan on working in restaurants and factories after graduation. Drugs were rampant. The odd gun was pulled at a dance. Knife fights were not uncommon.

I’d decided to transfer for Grade 11, to a school straight across the city. Its catchment area included the wealthiest of Niagara’s privileged teens.

What I was thinking?

That attending a “better” school, with fewer drugs and higher academic standards, would give me a chance at a decent life, push me in the right direction and give me a reason to keep up my grades.

After all, this was a publicly funded Ontario school. Officially, each school was equal, and each student had equal access to universally well-qualified instructors and sufficient resources. Differences were simple happenstance.

    Who Let You In?

I didn’t expect a hero’s welcome at the school. But I was unprepared for the outright hostility I endured, from the principal, teachers and students.

Perhaps it was fear that being poor may be contagious. Or that I represented the leading edge of inner-city invaders bent on importing drugs, bad manners and poor nutrition to their sheltered enclave.

Whatever the reason, they did really shitty things to me at that place, trying to convince me to “go back where I belong,” back across many sets of railroad tracks, fast-food restaurants and tacky museums.

What the school did not count on was my tenacity, and they sure as hell did not count on my innate sense of justice. Although I was outnumbered and outclassed, I was determined to make it through at least one school year.

    Some Are More Equal Than Others

The teacher who gave me the worst time was the Social Studies teacher. The same woman who made us read texts about how Canada is a leader in social equality, made snide comments directed at me, and at the low class I represented.

Clothed in earnest new-teacher pastels, she relished working in jibes about poor people. Her weapon of choice: newspaper articles.

Her clippings generated class discussions that inevitably turned on how shiftless, dishonest and unworthy poor people are. The last of these came in mid-June, with just a couple of weeks left in the school year.

In a not-unprecedented decision, a judge had found a rapist not guilty, based on the clothing choice of his victim. She was, allegedly, dressed like a slut. Allowing herself to be mistaken for a prostitute, she had “asked for it,” in the judge’s learned and immediately controversial opinion.

What did this decision mean for Canadian society? Can women wear whatever they want, or should they strive not to look like prostitutes, especially if they live in an area where prostitutes work?

“Well, what do prostitutes dress like?” one boy asked. “How would I know if I saw one when I was downtown?”

Downtown. Some of these students had never been downtown. The ones who had, had gone there solely to buy dope, then scurry back to their wood-panelled rec rooms.

A block or so of the downtown core was given over to hookers. A few worked out of motels and houses in the same discrete area. Everyone knew this. Everyone knew where to go for hookers and drugs.

    Hey Kid, You Wanna Make Some Money?

That didn’t stop men in big cars from approaching me and my friends, offering money for sex. The first time it happened to me, I was 11 and on my way to school.

There’s something soul-destroying about men looking lustily at a child the same way they’d look at a hunk of meat in a butcher’s window. It was a daily routine, dodging these suit-and-tie jerks and their twenty-dollar bills.

We knew where these guys came from, just like they knew where the pros worked. They just wanted discounts from novices. Besides, that’s what lower-class women are for. It’s the natural order of things in our “classless society.”

    You Must Be An Expert

“Well, Elizabeth lives downtown,” the teacher declared. “Tell the class what prostitutes wear, Elizabeth.”

Smug, smirking eyes turned on me.

I averred that I lived miles from where the hookers are. It’s not my neighbourhood. How should I know what prostitutes wear? Ask someone else.

The teacher would have none of it.

“But your school is in that neighbourhood,” she insisted, eyes wide with ersatz incredulity. “You must see them every day. You must know what they wear. They’re right in your end of the city.”

This went on and on, her playing up to the giggling leaders of tomorrow. “Tell the class what prostitutes wear, Elizabeth.”

Privileged chortles were caught short by my sudden, strong retort: “If you want to know what prostitutes look like,” I blurted out, “You should ask your husband.”

Taking in my stunned classmates, I added, “And the fathers of some of the kids in this class. They’re the ones who go looking for hookers, so they must know how they dress.”

The teacher gasped, but stood red-faced and silent as I gathered my books and marched up the aisle. Shock? Anger? Shame?

“You bitch,” one girl jeered at me. I could hear other kids, whispering earnestly, “Did you hear what she said?”

I waited two days for the familiar call to the principal’s office, but it never came. No need to make it official; I would not be back in the fall.


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What’s the Difference? Socialist/Socialite


The Problem With Bullshit

June 26, 2011

    Is that Anno Domini or Before Common Era?

Among the absurdities of life in 2010 is this: despite an overabundance of information, scientific advancements and a wealth of knowledge accessible from anywhere, in nanoseconds, our world is just as ignorant as if it were 2010 BC.

Modern lives are ruled by myth, rumour, superstition and worship of false gods. In an extra twist of absurdity, this is especially true of teens and young adults, who have grown in an age of ersatz information. They don’t even have to leave their well-feathered beds to access a slew of wonderful, world-changing and once-esoteric information.

    What Century is This?

Yet, newspapers still run horoscopes. People buy weird jewelry, crystals and scented oils in the belief they will be protected from harm.

We get second-by-second accounts of celebrities’ shenanigans, but nothing about the latest archeological discovery, or where public money really goes. Even the most absurd rumour is given media credence, broadcast without context and converted to instant fact through repetition on social networking sites that are so easily commandeered by anti-social bullies.

    Just For Kicks?

From time to time, I’m asked what’s so wrong with astrology, aura-reading, amulets, dowsing cures, miracle water, magnetic-ionic-channeling vibrations and so on. What harm is there in brimstone prayer and psychic doctors?

How is anyone hurt by sending wishes to parents who live in the sky, or asking for protection from a piece of coloured glass? Can’t chakras and science just get along?

Here’s the problem with bullshit: It distracts us from reality and prevents us from making real improvements to our lives and our world.

    Pray For Rain While I Drill Over Here

Despite what the hucksters want us to believe, our brains really are only capable of so much, especially in the short-term.

On closer inspection, “multitasking” turns out to be so much nonsense, for example. You cannot tap out a text message and pay attention to traffic at the same time. You can’t fish and cut bait, and so on.

There’s only so much time to think and learn, to live and wonder. Only so much room in the front of our brains, where the day-to-day stuff gets done.

This fact, of our limited lobes and limited attention, means that if you cram your brain with bullshit, you’re losing out on the stuff that is real, that is useful, the stuff that could in fact save you — in real time, in this life and on this planet.

    A Loving God Told Me to Kill You

My gambit is that all bullshit is equal.

It always involves creating a problem, then telling you there is a solution to this instant problem, a solution that will cost you.

Generally, the price is money — an initial fee followed by lots and lots more money. Protection money, maintenance fees, call it what you will.

Sometimes other tasks must be accomplished, such as obedience, spreading the word/signing up others, sacrifices, self-mutilation and the like. But mostly it is money that leads to a cure for the problem you didn’t know you had.

    God Needs Money

Just like the new-fangled pyramid schemes that want to be called “multilevel marketing,” televangelists are selling some thing while being coy about what that thing really is. They pitch books, tapes, conferences and salvation with equal fervour.

Like so many charlatans over the millennia, televangelists claim to need money for their “missions,” uniformly vague good works in faraway, heathen-filled lands, apparently chock-a-block with souls at risk.

How is this different from life 500 or even 3,500 years ago, when rogues and hucksters passed themselves off as healers and heralds when they visited townsfolk?

    The Tao of Bullshit

Bullshit knows no borders. It is shameless. It is timeless. It moves at the speed of light. It is eternal, or seems so.

Bullshit distracts. It acts as a shill for the forces behind it, saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Look over here!”

If you ponder the private life of your favourite film star, you are taking time and energy away from your real relationships.

If you devote hours to praying for better health, those are hours not spent getting out for bike rides or walks to a local produce market, which would benefit your health.

If you pay $50 a bottle for water with a “homeopathic” label on it, you will not stop to wonder who’s making money from your sense of inadequacy.

If you base decisions on long-outdated “star charts” that claim distant stars control your life, you will not read up on astronomy, which is more intriguing than any nonsense astrology has to offer.

If you believe that an angry father who lives in the sky created all the perfectly designed creatures on Earth, you will never wonder how come our eyeballs have so many defects, and maybe think of ways to make them work better.

If bullshit clogs your mind, you won’t use your brain to make connections and discoveries.

If you decide that “God makes the tides” and “I’m a Taurus, so I am not good at math,” you won’t bother with any science experiments that may contradict your belief system.

    In the Name of Reason

Here’s my credo: With reason as my shepherd, I shall not fear the fear-mongers.

It’s not the truth that sets us free. It’s the absence of baseless fear.

If you know that there is no reward of eternal life coming your way, you will do the right thing for its own sake, and feel better about yourself for having moral values that go unseen by omniscient beings.

    Step Away From the Bullshit

This past week, as the annual god and goddess worship celebration hit my city in the form of the Toronto International Film Festival, I reached my bullshit saturation point early.

On the subway, where my fellow female passengers were largely engaged in reading celebrity gossip and fashion magazines, I passed from a state of despair to one of wonder. (Note that wonder was made possible by the fact that I was not preoccupied by bullshit)

What if… what if everyone all at once woke up, to see things for what they really are?

What if… everyone put down their women’s magazines and religious texts, removed their crosses, hijabs and ionic bracelets, lay down the Blackberries and game systems and spoke to one another about art, science, literature, economics — without fear of angering any higher being.

What if… all of humanity collectively pulled back the curtain to see the man at the controls for the ordinary, manipulative human that he is?

What would happen then?


Related post: The Devil You Say!

External link: A Field Guide to Bullshit

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