tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christ's boyhood house discovered just as everyone is talking about him again

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even... wait, wait, wait. Someone is stirring. It's that little rugrat, belongs to Mary and Joe. Little what's-his-name. What's he playing?

Where did Jesus play? Right there (possibly), according to a team of archaeologists in Israel, who've just dug up an approximately two-thousand-year-old home in the city of Nazareth, coincidentally just in time for the holiday when Christians celebrate the birth of their approximately two-thousand-year-old savior.

Round about two millenia ago in this town, an angel delivered a one-line memo from God to Mary that said "You're preggers" and advised her to head for Bethlehem. The subsequent parts of that legend have been laid down allegorically in the best-selling book of all time, "The Bible: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the God-Baby" (subtitle later dropped by marketing department).

What the gospels--those that made the final cut--didn't much tell us is how Jesus grew up, did in school, got on with his mates, fared on the football team, got punished for breaking curfew, and rebelled against his parents by screaming "I wish I'd never been born of the one true God in a smelly barn surrounded by donkeys."

Until now, believers and skeptics alike have only been able to imagine in their mind's eye how Jesus must have lived in the town of Nazareth between the ages of zero and thirty.

But now, thanks to some timely digging in the parking lot directly opposite the Church of the Annunciation, which is built on the spot where Mary is believed to have been sitting knitting when she received God's angel-fax, we can all see exactly where Jesus spent his youth: in a hole in the ground.

For you see, much like today's Nazareth--which is a mostly Palestinian-Arab-inhabited Israeli city with a mixed Muslim and Christian population whose economy relies heavily on tourist dollars from foreign Christians while they otherwise face economic discrimination--the Nazareth of Christ's boyhood was also a poor place, and thus it is not surprising that Jesus and his family lived in the dirt.

The credibility of this theory is certainly being touted by Israel's Ministry of Taking Dollars from Christians, a spokesperson for which said, "We were, er, as surprised as anyone that there was this two-thousand-year-old dirt home here in Nazareth where your Messiah happened to live, and further that we found it, hehe, just in time for your celebration of his, uh, totally believable virgin birth."

In related news, the Palestinian Ministry of Taking Dollars from Christians Brave Enough to Cross Israeli Checkpoints has announced it has started digging in the parking lot outside Bethlehem's Nativity Church. "Maybe we'll find a sandal or something," said a spokesperson. "Perhaps Jesus dropped a baby rattle on his way out of town. If it's here, we'll find it. Please come visit. Please. Pleeeeeease."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Israel's Rage Against the Machine saves Christmas

Millions of Israeli Jews and the reported Arabs who live amongst them were saved from certain catastrophe this week when Israeli border guards fought and destroyed a deadly intruder to their land.

The laptop computer of 21-year-old American student Lily Sussman was discovered at a border crossing between Egypt and Israel trying to sneak into the promised land under the disguise of an American student's laptop computer.

According to witnesses, Ms. Sussman was carrying the machine--a so-called "MacBook"--on her person as she tried to enter Israel. She was allegedly unaware that her benign-looking companion was actually at the top of Israel's most-wanted list.

"Yeah, we've been looking for that sonofabitch for years," said a spokeperson for Israel's Ministry of Defence Against the Dark Arts. "But all Israelis can sleep soundly tonight. That, er, item will not be threatening us again."

As Ms. Sussman reported on her blog, the Israeli border authorities seized her laptop, dragged it out back and shot it three times. The grieving student concluded that her computer was targeted because of its purported pro-Palestinian keyboard layout ( ضصثقفغ instead of QWERTY), but this blogger senses a more clandestine motive.

The Tuque Souq has learned that the offending laptop computer matches the description of a certain machine that was sent back in time by the leader of a future cyborg insurgency to destroy in the present the mother of the unborn future savior of the planet, who reportedly lives with her husband just outside of Nazareth although she has been seen in the Bethlehem area recently.

"That's one Christmas story that will have a happy ending," said the Israeli soldier wittily as he shot the laptop, before adding, "Hasta la vista, baby."

(The soldier is now being sued by James Cameron for copyright infringement.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the P-P-Prime Minister of L-L-Lebanon

What's got Sa'ad al-Hariri all sweaty under the collar? The newly sworn in Lebanese prime minister delivered a speech to parliament last week during which he choked on more words than Peter MacKay at a torture tribunal.

Doing his best impersonation of Ken from A Fish Called Wanda, Mr. al-Hariri stumbled through his address, finally reaching the point where the whole chamber was splitting at the seams as the prime minister self-effacingly laughed off his own awkwardness. Finally, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri came to his aid and finished the speech.

Why was the PM so nervous that he could not deliver a simple speech with the text right there in his hand? Is it that tough to run Lebanon? Oh right, it is.

Related post: Syria to open embassy in Beirut, BBQ planned for opening night

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Egypt seeks return of hieroglyphic monolith

What's mine is thine, unless of course you don't give it back.

For more than two hundred years the Rosetta Stone--a seven-square-foot block of granodiorite whose carvings are comprised of the only translations from hieroglyphs to ancient Greek the world has ever known, without which the writing of ancient Egypt might still be a mystery--has sat in London, far from its home in a place called Al-Rashid, Egypt, where it was discovered in 1799 by soldiers of Napoleon's army.

Upon Napoleon's defeat the stone passed to the victorious British, who took the stone as well as thousands of other artifacts of antiquity from the sand and soil of Egypt during the colonial period. Now Egypt wants its treasure back.

Egypt's Pharaoh of Antiquities (and here we're using the world 'pharaoh' in the way that Americans use the word 'czar'), an influential and dedicated gentleman called Zahi Hawass, has said he is prepared to launch a fight in both judicial and public-opinion courts to retrieve the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum.

(Readers of Harper's Magazine may recall Zahi Hawass's cameo in the January '08 issue in a fantastic article called "The Mummy's Curse" about a group of old Egyptologists fighting in the desert. And this week he is profiled in a New Yorker article dubbing him, naturally, "The Pharaoh.")

Mr. Hawass, on behalf of Egyptians, wants the famous stone to reside (at least temporarily) in the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, a multigazillion-dollar project being constructed at the base of the Great Pyramids slated for completion in 2013. His trump card, for now, is a pledge to drop (at least temporarily) Egyptian demands for a permanent resettlement of the stone if it is returned on loan for three months or so.

The British authorities seem concerned that, should they lend the stone to they who claim right to it, there is little doubt of its permanent abduction.

Oh, the irony would be worthy of celebration were it not steeped in haughtiness, if not outright prejudice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Suez Canal marks sesquicentennial with excuse to use the word 'sesquicentennial'

Egypt's Suez Canal is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, or more accurately its 150th conception day (since construction began in 1859 but the famous canal was not finished until 1869, meaning we'll probably have another sesquicentennial in 2019). Nevertheless, congratulations old friend, may you live to see 150 more.

Great moments in the history of the Suez Canal: 1869 BCE, when Pharaoh Senusret first came up with the idea to build the canal; 1869 CE, when Egyptian forced laborers under British command completed the 192-km waterway and the first boat completed the journey; 1956, when Egyptian revolutionary Gamal Abd al-Nasser nationalized the canal leading to a war of Britain, France and Israel versus Egypt; and 1973, when Egyptian military engineeers, during another war with Israel, displaced occupying Israeli soldiers on the east bank of the canal by shooting water at them via cannons feeding from the canal.

Also celebrating a sesquicentennial in 2009: Oregon, A Tale of Two Cities, Big Ben, Queensland, the Titusville oil well, The Origin of Species, Billy the Kid, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company, and the Pig War (which ended in 1871, but not necessarily to everyone's satisfaction).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shoeless shoe thrower throws shoe at ex-shoe thrower

Oh irony, you backstabbing rapscallion,
You devilish hairpin turn,
You are the shoe on the other foot,
You are the eternal guarantor of chaos.

Tuque Souq hero and Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, the man who launched a global movement when he launched his shoe at distantly remembered former US president George W. Bush one year ago, has been hit with a shoe.

What went around has, er, come around.

Mr. al-Zaidi was speaking at a conference in Paris when another Iraqi journalist, identified only as Khayat, threw a shoe at him, apparently in protest of Mr. al-Zaidi's anti-US presentation. The mysterious Mr. Khayat had spoken earlier in support of the US-led occupation of Iraq and accused al-Zaidi of advocating dictatorship.

The assailant was slapped and tackled after his shoe barely missed the head of its target. Then, as he was being escorted out of the room, another person--possibly al-Zaidi's brother--threw a shoe at him.

It is not known what will become of Khayat. After his attack last year, Mr. al-Zaidi spent nine months in prison for assault. After being attacked last year, Mr. Bush fled to Afghanistan. Whatever happens, you can be sure the press will tell us. The Tuque Souq tried to reach Mr. Bush for comment, but the former president is not aware of irony.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Syria bans the Hookah, can Canada save it?

Sure, it was a laughing matter when Syria banned Facebook, YouTube and the Tuque Souq, but this time the joke has gone too far. Banning the Hookah?!

The Syrian government--i.e. President Bashar al-Asad and the angel and devil on his either shoulder--has decided to ban shisha smoking in public places, citing fears of "cancer" and other spurious health issues.*

The ban is seen as revolutionary in the Middle East by anti-smoking advocates, the first attempt to address openly tobacco's threat to society. Purveyors of the delectable vice that is shisha smoking, however, are dismayed at the law, which is a blow to their businesses and livelihoods. Some even fear black markets and bribe-taking inspectors will emerge to circumvent the law

Shisha-smoking in Syria is a centuries-old tradition; its origin a bygone era when merchants and traders travelling from India--the birthplace of the hookah--would park their wagons in Damascus or Aleppo, two important trading hubs, and rest for awhile amongst the famously hospitable Syrians with whom they'd share their smoke. Nowadays, if you can't find a Syrian to take a puff from your pipe, you're just not looking hard enough.

And over the years, the tranquility and camaraderie with which Syrians enjoy smoking the water pipe have been among that country's most enduring images, not unlike the way Canadians gather round clunky tables at Tim Horton's on weekend mornings to grumble about hockey and the weather and Americans.

According to the titularly authoritative website ShishaCanada.com, the popularity of smoking the hookah in this country is entirely due to the activity's social element; smoking the shisha is a group thing, and Canadians love hanging out in groups.

Naturally, most places in this health-care obsessed country forbid indoor smoking in public places, so the multitude of hookah bars that have sprung up in the past decade are turning to tobacco-free, herbal shisha concoctions that don't run afoul of the smoking bylaws.

The popular Internet shisha factory Hookah Hub has an entire department devoted to herbal blends, which are essentially teas that you smoke in your pipe, in flavours such as blueberry, fruit punch, grape, green apple, guava, kiwi, lemon, mango, margarita, melon, orange, peach, peanut butter, pina colada, pineapple, pumpkin pie, spearmint, strawberry, watermelon and, the most popular shisha flavour of all time, tufahtayn ("double apple").

Now, no one can predict how smooth peanut butter and pumpkin pie will go down amongst the discerning Syrians, but otherwise the herbal remedy may be just what can save shisha in Syria.The Tuque Souq is dialing Bashar right now. Save Syrian Shisha! Say it with me five times really fast.

* From the Tuque Souq Surgeon General: The World Health Organization considers tobacco the #1 cause globally of death and disability, with lung cancer especially crippling developing nations' health-care services and killing millions each year. More than 90% of lung-cancer cases stem from tobacco use. Smoking kills you, and before it kills you it makes you really, really ugly. Unless you're this person in the image at left. [Click to enlarge]

Friday, December 4, 2009

World Cup draw: Algeria becomes world's most popular team

If you're looking for a Cinderella World Cup team on whose bandwagon to jump, the Tuque Souq recommends you look no further than Algeria. Just hours ago at the official World Cup 2010 draw, the Algerians were put into Group C with the hated Americans, the reviled English, and the happy-to-be-here Slovenes.

Les fennecs--the desert foxes--as the Algerian national team are nicknamed, had a remarkable run through the World Cup qualifying rounds in Africa, culminating with a sudden-death playoff with nemesis Egypt that nearly resulted in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Following Algeria's 1-0 playoff win over Egypt in Khartoum, which followed Egypt's desperation 2-0 win over Algeria in Cairo that forced the playoff, which followed a sordid bout of hooliganism when Egyptian fans attacked the Algerians' team bus upon arrival in Egypt that left many of the Algerian players bloodied, and which followed Egyptian fans tearing apart their own hometown vandalizing Algerian-owned businesses and property, it is fair to say that Algerian-Egyptian relations are at an all-time low.

Alaa Mubarak, son of Egyptian president Hosni, went as far as to question the Algerians' very identity: "When Algerians learn how to speak Arabic, they can then come and say that they are Arabs." (Colloquial Algerian Arabic dialects are heavily influenced by Berber and French loanwords and often do not sound very Arabic. Then again, Egyptian Arabic is nothing to wax your ears for, either.)

You know things are bad when Israel offers to resolve your dispute. You know things are worse when the only other offer of mediation comes from Qaddafi. But it seems the sore losers in Egypt prefer to be grumpy, and Algeria have the moral high ground until they meet again.

But that's not the only reason to cheer on les fennecs. Algeria have qualified for the World Cup twice before--in '82 and '86--but have never advanced beyond the group stage. And back in '82, they were the victims of the most egregious incident of match-fixing in World Cup history, an event that is known in German as Schande von Gijón, or the "Shame of Gijon."

In the '82 World Cup prelims, Algeria shocked West Germany and also beat Chile, losing only to Austria. As a result, Algeria were ahead of the West Germans in the standings as the latter went into their final group match against Austria, which was already assured a spot in the quarterfinals. In that game, both sides knew that a German victory by the score of 1-0 would allow West Germany to advance to the quarterfinals and not affect Austria's standing.

So it is widely perceived that both teams covertly agreed to allow that exact score to prevail, a teutonic collusion that eliminated Algeria from the World Cup.

During the Germany-Austria match, the Germans scored 10 minutes into the game. For the remaining 80 minutes, the two teams did not attack each other; they simply kicked the ball back and forth until the whistle blew. The TV announcer was so disgusted he refused to continue calling the match. Disgraced German fans burned their own flag in the stands in protest.

But FIFA, soccer's international governing body, never could prove any fraudulent intent on the part of the players. So Karma took over, as Austria lost to France in the quarterfinals. West Germany went on to reach the championship game, losing to Italy.

It would've been grand had Algeria drawn Germany this time, but the Group C lineup is still enticing. There is no bandwagon for USA or England; either you love 'em or you hate 'em. So unless you're one of the statistically insignificant few people who feel a preternatural bond with Slovenia, then Algeria should be your team next summer.

Full World Cup draw and schedule.

In vaguely related news, Qatar has announced it will bid on hosting the 2018 World Cup finals. Qatar. FIFA will announce the 2018 host one year from today. (Yes, I did say Qatar.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hezbollah dumps old manifesto for younger, hipper model

Hezbollah leader and reclusive former socialite Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah made a shrewd return to the public eye this week at the launch party for the new Hezbollah manifesto, dubbed Hezbofest 2009.

Sheikh Nasrallah, who was recently re-elected to a sixth term as Hezbollah secretary general from an undisclosed bunker where he's been hiding since the 2006 war with Israel, dropped a bomb--no, no, figuratively speaking--when he announced that "People evolve, Lebanon has changed. The whole world order changed over the past 24 years [since Hezbollah's first manifesto was proclaimed in 1985]."

By engaging in one of Lebanon's most cherished national pastimes--public manifesto reading--Sheikh Nasrallah demonstrated that he is serious about a live-and-let-live political policy that, for example, no longer seeks to subject the country's large Christian and Sunni-Muslim populations to a Shi'ite theocratic republic.

He offered assurances that Hezbollah will continue supporting parliamentary democracy in Lebanon and has no immediate plans to use its massive arsenal of Iranian weapons to destabilize the country.

Hezbollah's original manifesto, proclaimed on February 16, 1985 from the al-Ouzai mosque in suburban Beirut, was a standard, Mad-Lib style document of contemporary political zeitgeist urging perpetual armed resistance to everything and everyone in the name of God and high-yield returns on weapons smuggling and money laundering.

The new document is softer, happier and less Persian. While still affirming the group's self-proclaimed inalienable right to shit on Israel, the new Hezbofest calls for a new era of inclusivity and tolerance within Lebanese borders: consensual democracy, the end of sectarianism, rights for Palestinian refugees, freedom for all under the protective umbrella of Hezbollah's surface-to-surface missiles.

Or, as the Sheikh himself put it nicely, "cohabitation between a strong [Lebanese] army and popular [armed Hezbollah] resistance."

So the new Hezbollah is a check-and-balance on the system. How delightfully Jeffersonian!

[Read the entire Hezbollah manifesto, translated into English by Hezbollah media itself!]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Tuque Souq at 200: Not too old to blow out our own candles

It is gratuitous anniversary day at the Tuque Souq, as this our 200th post of all time coincides with the one-year anniversary of the Great Canadian Putsch of 2008, that startling palace coup de quoi that had great multitudes of our citizenry storming the Parliament Hill rumour mill for a week and scouring Wikipedia for revelatory factoids on a guy called Byng.

For those readers born since, the Great Canadian Putsch started when Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to enact a Machiavellian scheme to tie public funding of political parties to success at the ballot box, a plan that would have bankrupted the Liberals and Bloc on the heels of a costly election season. The PM's ungallant hubris and hypocrisy caused the wax in his wings to melt, as the 3 opposition parties united to unseat him with a confidence motion, a check-mate move that caused Harper to destroy the playing board by introducing a long-lost million-dollar word: Prorogation.

Convincing the Governor General was all it took for Harper to KO the rabble rousers and suspend the government before it could vote him down. Then, supremely satisfied that he had crushed all before him and sounded the final bell of his closest rival, Harper gave himself a seven-week vacation.

In the interim, the united coalition of the Bloc, the NPD and the Grits fell into disrepair, a condition in which it remains to this day.

So what did we learn from all of this, besides the realization that even Canadian politics can be sexy if you cinch up all its parliamentary flab and down a fifth of rye before date night?

Probably nothing. Maybe it's for the best. Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians, whose entertainment value returns much higher yields than their integrity.

From the Tuque Souq archives:
Stephen Harper stung by Qaddafi snub
Stephen Harper's Algerian Wine Collection
Israel Lobby to Harper: Do you still love us?
Tories to Jews: Have we got some Nachas for you!