Saturday, May 27, 2006
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It was almost sacreligious. Fans crowding the stadiums for the 2006 World Cup would be limited to only one brand of beer to wet their whistles -- Budweiser, the product of US brewery Anheuser Busch.
Bud's owners had laid down $40 million for the rights to be one of the World Cup's main sponsors, and in return, were given a monopoly on beer sales in the World Cup stadiums.
While Budweiser might be a top seller in the US, in Germany -- renowned for the variety and purity of its brews -- Bud is looked down on with scornful disdain. It's watery and lacks any "kick," say those who know what real beer should taste like. In fact, since its recipe includes rice, it doesn't actually qualify as a beer under German law. For German soccer fans, things were looking grim.
Bitburger saves the day
But politicians and breweries refused to accept defeat, and eventually the head of marketing at German brewery Bitburger emerged triumphant. Bitburger has signed an agreement with Anheuser Busch that will allow its brand of pilsner to be sold alongside Budweiser.
The ace up Bitburger's sleeve? Years ago, the brewery had obtained a court ruling in its favor forbidding the advertising of Budweiser in Germany because there was a danger that German consumers would confuse "Bit" with "Bud."
Bitte, ein Bit!
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Hospitals in Brisbane are among the first to stop the Gideons testaments being left in patients' bedside tables. Staff said the Bibles were no longer in keeping with the "multicultural approach to chaplaincy", while some claimed the Bibles were removed because they were a source of infection.
Royal Brisbane chaplain John Pryce-Davies said: "We used to keep Bibles in patient's lockers but multiculturalism kicked in and we had to remove them. Now we only provide Bibles when they are requested by people and Gideons no longer have permission to deliver their Bibles. Our policy is that when a patient leaves hospital they return the Bible to us or take it home with them - we don't want them left in the lockers. That way, other faiths don't have to worry about finding a Bible there."
Hospital spokeswoman Tanya Lobegeier said: "If someone has a cold or anything and uses the Bible their germs could be passed on to the next person who reads it. No one wants to go in the drawer to clean a Bible after every single person leaves."
Princess Alexandra spokeswoman Kay Toshach said Bibles were available only on request. "We don't have Bibles by the bedside because of the issue of cleaning, and possibly that they may not be in keeping with the multicultural society we are in now," she said.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
The inquiry has acquired some urgency. Malaysia is about to send its first astronaut into space. In a reciprocal deal, which required Malaysia to purchase a handful of Sukhoi SU-30MKM jet fighters, the Russians have agreed to send one Malaysian to the International Space Station (ISS) next October.
Malaysians are nothing if not far-sighted. They like to do things in spectacular fashion, and they like to do them before anyone else. They were the first to think of building the longest flagpole in the world. It is still standing, with its record intact, in Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur. They were the first to think of building the longest bridge in Asia. Penang Bridge is holding on to that record, although it has faced a disaster or two since it opened in 1985. They went on to erect the tallest building in the world: the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which opened in 1998. Sadly, that triumph was short-lived. Taipei 101 took the record to Taiwan in 2003. So they turned their attention to Mount Everest: unfortunately, it had already been climbed, yet that didn't stop the cunning Malaysians from claiming a record or two. Now they have turned their gaze towards space.
But here, too, they have been beaten. The first Muslim in space, alas, is not going to be a Malaysian. That record has already been set by Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia, whose full name and titles are longer than the shuttle Discovery, which took him into space in 1985.
The annals of Muslim history record that Prince Sultan, who took a copy of the Koran with him, faced a number of vexing questions. From space, where was Mecca, the direction he had to face during his five daily prayers? Given that the timing of prayers is guided by the position of the sun - sunrise, noon, late afternoon, sunset and evening - how were these times to be determined in space, where the sun was either fully in the open or totally hidden? And how was he going to bow and prostrate himself in zero gravity?
The good prince turned to the most prominent religious authority in the kingdom: Sheikh bin Baz. He was blind, and believed that the earth was flat. The question of prayer in space, he answered, does not arise, because nothing can leave the earth. That was that. So while we still have pictures of Prince Sultan talking by telephone to his uncle the late King Fahd, eating halal food that had been specially prepared for him, giving a guided tour of the space shuttle in God's own language, Arabic, and even reading the Koran, we have no record of him praying.
Step forward the Malaysians, who never do things by half. We cannot send our astronauts into space, says Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman, director general of the National Space Agency, without full answers to this perplexing question. She has calculated that the ISS will circle the earth 16 times in 24 hours, which means that there will be 16 "days" and 16 "nights" within every 24-hour period. Does this mean that the poor Muslim astronaut has to perform prayers 80 times every 24 hours? Moreover, she asks, how will the astronaut perform ablutions, with water behaving erratically under zero gravity?
From here, the problems of fulfilling one's religious duties in space get even thornier, I am afraid. Before you can undertake your ablutions, you are required to do what is technically known in Islamic parlance as istanja. Or, to use the more colourful but easily understandable language of the Channel 5 medical drama House, "you have to clean your arse after you have pooed". For religious purposes and for all-round cleanliness, tissue paper just won't do.
Purity can be restored to the body only by means of a full and generous application of water. But how does one perform the istanja, as the London-based Muslim Weekly rightly asks, "with globules of water floating around randomly"? What happens if we have a group of Muslim astronauts in space? How will they pray in congregation? How will they stand shoulder to shoulder, and bow and prostrate in unison? They could end up in embarrassing positions, with some facing up and others facing down . . . whichever way up and down happen to be in space, with the direction of Mecca changing all the time! And what happens during the month of Ramadan? How will they fast, and for how long? The more questions you ask, the more daunting the difficulties become.
This is why some favour the Sheikh bin Baz option. He may have been blind, but he could see that God did not intend Muslims to go into space - or He, in His Infinite Mercy and Wisdom, would have equipped them with suitable biological apparatus.
[adapted from a column by Ziauddin Sardar in Malaysia Today]