FLAT EARTH

Mufti rules strip

fatwa offside

FAMOUS victory for Egyptian sportswomen last week, when they managed to overturn a ban on women's soccer games on television. Women's football has had a good following in Egypt since the Seventies, and 18 million viewers looked forward to the competition between the top teams. Then came a fatwa from Islamic tele-evangelist Sheikh Mitwali Sharrawi.

Perhaps worried about air-time competition, the Sheikh declared that the normal soccer strip on the female form would "awaken the devil of tempation in men". The games must not be seen. The women players in turn sternly resisted the suggestion that they turn out in head-to-toe Islamic dress and veils, which, they felt, would reduce the attacking brilliance of their game.

To their rescue came the Grand Mufti - the supreme Islamic referee. After long deliberation, he arrived at the following judgments: (a) football is a sport; (b) players' modesty is a matter of personal choice, not of clerical fatwa.

Approach the bench

NOW A joke to cheer you up:

One of O J Simpson's lawyers comes up to his client.

"What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?"

"The bad news."

"The bad news is that the blood all over the crime scene is yours - the DNA tests prove it."

"Oh no! What's the good news?"

"The good news is that your cholesterol level is only 130."

Did you like that? Quite funny? O J's real-life lawyers didn't think so. But that was because of the circumstances in which they heard it. It was told to them by that twinkling-eyed Judge Ito, in his robes, on the bench, during a short recess.

Objection? Overruled.

Man of platinum?

AS THE Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski observed in his book on the Soviet Union, Imperium, the Soviet class system was nowhere more clearly on display than in its citizens' teeth.

The poorest people, when their teeth fell out, got dentures of base metal or other cheap materials; the middle ranks filled their jaws with silver.

If you were a Soviet bigshot, your mouth gleamed murkily with gold.

"No one," Kapuscinski says, "ever knew what Stalin's teeth were made of. Stalin never smiled."

Now we do know. His dentist has come out of the shadows of old age to tell us that Stalin, predictably, had to set himself apart from the common golden-toothed herd. He had platinum - there was lots of it, too: by the end of his life, he had but three of his own teeth left in his head.

Perhaps we can now hear something prophetic in Gromyko's famous remark about Mikhail Gorbachev when he first rode into view: "Mr Gorbachev has a nice smile, but his teeth are made of iron."

Iron? Does that word portend not only the rattle and fall not only of Gorbachev but of the whole rusty Soviet system - teeth and all?

A sauce and battery

HERE follows a short tale, in which all parties behave equally badly. It begins when two Vermont state troopers go into a fast-food joint and order fried eggs. The cook, clearly a bad lot who does not love the forces of law and order, laces their eggs with Tabasco.

Now both customers loathe Tabasco sauce but, being state troopers, they can't stop themselves greedily eating everything up and licking the plates clean. Then they charge the cook with assault.

In court, the cook claims that Tabasco traces were left on the griddle from a previous order. Disloyally, his employers say that cannot be true - no dish on the menu incorporates the sauce and Tabasco is never on the premises.

The judge however throws the assault charge out, stating that "contact of the Tabasco with the palate" amounts to consent. This seems to be bad law: if, for example, I set a plate of Tabascoed eggs in front of you and you don't eat it, it would follow that you have been assaulted.

The next day, the cook is sacked. Because of the court case? Dear me no, says the restaurant: because he broke company rules and "let a friend into the kitchen". That'll be the bloke bringing in the Tabasco. Strings and arrows HECTIC excitement at the Yamaha Music Centre in Colombo the other day. The phone ran hot and every piano in the place was sold in an hour. What could it mean, this sudden passion for the pianoforte?

Sri Lanka's government, engaged with the Tamil Tigers in a war of greatest savagery, had just announced that it was increasing excise tax on certain items to fill its war chest.

Fair enough. But by what bizarre process was it decided that the tax for new engines of death would be raised solely on the sale of stringed instruments - harpsichords, pianos and, if Sri Lanka runs to them, harps and lyres? Not even a mention of percussion or wind.

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