My friend and former high school mate, Michael, sent me a WhatsApp message entitled “The Hoarse Whisperer on Twitter” yesterday morning. 

It got my immediate attention. 

It was clearly a play on The Horse Whisperer – the movie in which Robert Redford plays a sympathetic horse trainer – and meant to be funny. I wasn’t disappointed: it showed a guy – presumably the old HW playing Trump – delivering an Easter message in a drop-dead Donald voice. 

“Not a lot of people know this about Easter… It was the day when Jesus and the two Corinthians met the Easter Bunny and came back from the dead.”

“It’s a beautiful story and very important for the Christians  … So I’m announcing today that I’m going to bring back the economy on Easter Sunday.”

“Because let’s be honest here… He’s a good God and a tough One but we have to be honest… His record isn’t that great … He brought only one man back from the dead and that was His son and that makes Him a little biased … But we are gonna bring back the entire economy Easter Sunday.”

In truth, Easter (April 12 this year) celebrates the resurrection of the Christ which makes it the most important and the most holy date in the Christian calendar. Therefore, the rambling Trump impersonator sounds terribly outrageous and, therefore, utterly hilarious.  

Because to quote the Hoarse Whisperer, let’s be honest here. It’s in times like these when we need some serious comic relief. When you wake up in the morning to find out on CNN that Spain is turning to ice rinks to serve as makeshift morgues because the dead are piling up faster than they can be safely disposed of. 

When the stock markets swing so wildly that commentators begin making comparisons to wealth effects “not seen since the Great Depression.” When doctors make bland comparisons between Covid-19 and the Spanish flu of 1918 which, incidentally, killed 17-50 million people worldwide.

And Heaven help the poor family under quarantine! We currently stay in a serviced apartment in Singapore where we probably will be stuck until April the 14th at least.  Walking back this morning, however, we noticed a maid in front of us place some bags outside an apartment and walk away after ringing the apartment’s bell. 

The apartment’s door opened just as we were walking past, and we saw a child’s face framed by the door just before an adult grabbed the bags. The maid explained later that the family had just arrived the night before and so had to undergo a two-week quarantine period. 

That meant they had to do their own chores – bed-making, cleaning, etc – with sheets and everything else – toilet paper, for instance – supplied by the apartment’s management. They would be watched 24/7 by closed circuit television and all meals would have to be ordered. 

And they could not step out on pain of punishment. That was strict quarantine for you, and we shuddered at the thought. Not unlike jail time if you think about it. 

I’d say that family could use some laughs.

Wouldn’t you?


I still remember finishing William Golding’s Lord of the Flies way back in university and being profoundly shaken by its narrative.

The title of the novel itself is a reference to Beelzebub or the Devil and it is a story of a group of boys between 6 and 15 who get stranded on what appears to be an idyllic island without any grown-up supervision. As if to illustrate the devilish metaphor, the boys get dirtier and filthier as their savagery, their innate impulse towards immorality, become more manifest.

What the book posits is stark and ugly: at best, there is but a thin veneer of civilisation over society and it takes very little for it to be stripped away to reveal humanity’s dark, and possibly real, face.   

With Covid-19 unleashed all over the world, people are adjusting to a new normal that is honestly terrifying. The other night I watched the news on television only to see a clip that chilled me. It showed a long line of people waiting outside a store in Los Angeles.

They, men and women both, were waiting to buy guns. The US newscaster on CNN seemed just resigned and not shocked. It was like people were expecting some breakdown in law and order: a possible fraying of society that gave them the right to arm themselves to be, as the Scouts say, “prepared.”

It seemed to portend Lord of the Flies all over again.

If any nation should know better, it’s the US. One shoe-bomb was all it took for shoes to be security-screened at airports but thousands of shootings later, the US continues to fervently preach the rights of its citizens to bear arms. You’d think that would at least come with the right of its citizens not to get shot. 

The United States used to lead the world. It no longer does thanks to a dangerously incompetent President in a seemingly rudderless nation. China is the real surprise today. It is ahead of the crisis and is providing both leadership and aid to the rest of the world.

While it does the right thing, Mr Trump flails about looking for others to blame. To add insult to injury, he stokes xenophobia at home and abroad by insisting that the pandemic is caused by a “Chinese” virus.

Doesn’t that qualify as hate speech?

It seems unreal coming from a US President and the so-called Leader of the Free World. Truth be told, he barely qualifies to run a small asylum. Or perhaps we should be charitable and remember Bonaparte: “Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.” In Mr Trump’s case, it took him almost four years to industriously work his way towards near-total ineptitude. 

Maybe it’s the little things that should hearten us. 

Like my daughter telling me that the neighbours in her apartment block in Amsterdam had formed a WhatsApp chat group among themselves to look after the needs of an elderly man who lived by himself. The city is now in lockdown. 

Like a Sikh gurdwara in Subang Jaya offering free food delivery to people down on their luck. And a temple in Australia offering the same. Like the countless people all over the world helping the sick, the elderly and the needy. Like the courageous healthcare professionals working around the clock to keep the wolf away from our door. 

It’s these innumerable courtesies that help keep “kind” in humankind.

And God bless the humourists for keeping things in perspective. A friend sent me a photo yesterday. It showed a beaming Jho Low. The caption read: Be like Jho. Practice social distancing!


Star poll six years ago asked readers if they supported a proposal to close certain Kuala Lumpur roads at night to allow Mat Rempit (loosely, “motorcycle gangs”) to race, 

92 per cent of readers said no.

The result should surprise no one. But the idea had been proposed by a former minister in a previous administration that had been led by a leader now on trial for alleged corruption. So, of course, the idea had been taken seriously enough for the said newspaper to run said survey.

I suppose it’s true. We had been living in an age where, to paraphrase columnist George Will, it was difficult enough to find common sense “without a search warrant”. 

At the time, the said minister had explained his idea away as something that the gangs might do to blow off steam as they had “no other means of entertainment.” And he was sensitive to their feelings, tactfully referring to the Rempit as “Mat Moto”.

With masterly understatement, the English press translated his tactful phraseology as “motorcycle enthusiasts”. 

No kidding!

At their worst, the wannabe Easy Riders were enthusiastically criminal. And even at their collective best, the Rempit were enthusiastic nuisances like non-stop firecrackers, political speeches or aggressively annoying neighbours.

The Rempit are Malaysia’s low-cost version of the Hell’s Angels in the U.S but with a difference: they did rove around in packs but on itsy-bitsy bikes and in the wee hours of the night. That was bad enough, but they weren’t averse to the occasional intimidation, assault and robbery of victims from Rawang to Rompin if it so presented itself.

They did it without fear or favour and it was nothing personal unless you were the victim. The received wisdom was that the police were loath to crack down on them as many were “students.” 

Actually, most had never seen the back of a classroom in years. Why waste time learning, they asked themselves earnestly, when ignorance was instantaneous? It was a good question and most aspired to be despatch riders, the better to dispatch their victims with efficiency.

Some were even, well, religious: they had prayed for bigger bikes without success, so they stole them instead and then asked for forgiveness.  “Let us prey,” they said and, verily, it was done.

In truth, you couldn’t blame the police as they had tried curbing them. As far back as 15 years ago the police in Selangor had decided to get tough with the Rempit by confiscating their motorcycles.

But some newspapers objected, pointing out that the act could harm their livelihoods. The police replied that it was precisely what they were trying to do.

But no, the newspapers refused to budge, and the police backed off ensuring that both the livelihoods and the hoods remained lively.

Academic studies have revealed that the Rempit did what they did because they were bored and depressed. In short, it was a perfect cycle that, starting at 17, took years to perfect. They did what they did because they were bored and depressed and were bored and depressed because they did what they did.

The authorities may be getting less amused. Six months ago, repeated complaints from Penang residents led to a massive late-night ambush by police that nabbed over 350 offenders who not only had to push their bikes 7 kilometres to the nearest station but were also charged for various other offences. 

The Rempit grumbled that it wasn’t cricket. And they were right, it wasn’t.

It was the law. 


President Donald J Trump does not seem worried about the novel coronavirus. 

He thinks it’s tweetable. 

Indeed, the Offender-in-Chief was reportedly furious that his chief of the Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control had warned Americans that it was no longer “if” but “when” Covid-19 would spread in the United States. 

It wouldn’t do, reflected the Donald sternly, and wondered if sacking her would send the right signal to the American people. Gloom and doom could be a disaster for the stock market which, in turn, could torpedo the US economy which was now on steroids and just what the doctor ordered. 

But the “idiot doctor” in charge of the CDC was arguing for drastic measures like quarantine and containment instead of agreeing with his calm and reasoned assessment that everything was “under control.” It was no wonder the stock markets were swooning. 

The Donald felt like swooning too: more than anyone else, the stable genius that was the Leader of the Free World, had hung his re-election hat on his country’s buoyant economy and its record-setting stock market.

You could not fault the man’s instincts. Politics 101 demands that in an emergency, always find “someone else” to blame. The instinct even pre-dated his presidency. In 2014, for example, private citizen Trump assailed the then-President for not immediately cancelling flights to and from West Africa amid the Ebola scare.  At the time, he labelled Obama a “psycho.”

The current presidential psycho now maintained that it was business as usual and even intimated that people could go to work as “many recover.” It was, in short, no big deal. 

But it was a big deal in Malaysia where there was now political uncertainty added to the mix. Political parties were changing allies faster than you could say “general election.” It wasn’t even clear if the new premier would remain at the country’s helm or if he might also succumb to Putrajaya’s never-ending obsession with musical chairs. It was like a meeting of MPs with one going: “I think we should get rid of democracy. All those in favour, raise your hand!”  

Or maybe it’s true, what Napoleon said; “In politics, stupidity isn’t a handicap.”

And if all that wasn’t enough, Covid-19 continues to loom over us like an ever-present reminder of man’s inability to foretell the future. Indeed, the speed with which it’s leaping around the globe would make anyone quail. In our case, one is reminded of the optimist who leapt off the top floor of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre declaring: “So far so good.”   

I mean, no one’s dead yet so we should count our blessings. 

We are still in uncharted-territory stage and the casualties are mounting. Airlines and hotels are being brutalised and the ringgit is beginning to resemble a latter-day rupee: it’s fallen by about five per cent year-to-date. 

The stock market is in an eight-year funk and every investor worth his salt now professes to be a long term one. He has little choice in the matter. And haltingly, oh-so-cautiously, the R-word is finally being bandied about.  

Where will it all pan out?

For that we will have to look at the word itself. The word “virus” is derived from Latin and is often used by doctors to mean: “your guess is as good as mine.”