It was these things that kept him awake at night. It was the unspeakable thought that he’d never have any real money to talk about until, just when they were digging his grave, they’d strike oil.

The answer seemed simple enough: crime. It would pay because he took his cue from the very top in the land. After all, the poor and ignorant would always lie and steal so long as the rich and educated showed them how.

In that sense, you might describe our former premier, Fearless Leader, as a trail blazer. His former less-than-trusty sidekick, the flabby Felonious certainly thought so. Indeed, it was indelibly associated with his work ethic: rise early, work hard and become close to the Prime Minister.

But back to our story. In his unflagging quest for fortune, our hero joined a secret society. Along the way, he also signed up with the civil service in the shape of the Immigration Department.

How on earth he slipped through the cracks is anyone’s guess. But, hey, it happens to the best of us.

The trick to criminality, as Felonious himself might concede, is this: it’s always better to be rich than stupid.

In short, one had to keep as low a profile as was humanly possible. “That’s easy for you to say,” grumbled Fearless who was getting heartily sick and tired of gratuitous advice from Felonious, all of which was dumpily dispensed from his safe house in Macao.

But, alas, our hero would rather be rich and stupid. As a junior immigration official earning between RM1,500 and, at his peak, RM5,000, said rocket scientist thought nothing of splurging out on a Rolls-Royce.

What do you think his bewildered neighbours thought?

In fact, he might be considered as stupid as Rush Limbaugh, a right-wing US radio talk-show host who once famously defended development thus: “There are more acres of forest land in the United States today than when Columbus discovered the continent in 1492.”

But our hero was less interested in history than he was in cars. When anti-corruption officials raided his residence on suspicion of human trafficking, they found a garage worthy of a Lewis Hamilton: a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a Ford Mustang, a Range Rover and an Audi.

Felonious whistled admiringly but more over our hero’s taste and less at his track-covering ability. Even so, it was taking conspicuous consumption to a whole new level, and Felonious approved –strictly on a point of principle.

Last Friday, it was reported that the MACC had detained 50 individuals, including 28 Immigration personnel, 17 foreign worker agents and five civilians, for being involved in the fraudulent use of immigration stamps to enter and exit the country,

The sheer number of immigration officials involved has dented the department’s reputation. It consoled itself with the thought that outside of the corruption, the department was still one of the cleanest agencies in government.

Felonious wasn’t at all worried about his reputation. Time would inevitably soften judgments and impair memory. It was not for nothing that the writer Balzac had once penned the notion that “behind every great fortune lies a crime.”


We seem to produce an over achiever’s share of rocket scientists in Malaysia. Worse, a great many of them get elected.

Consider this suggestion by a deputy minister to a local radio station recently. In an interview with BFM 89.9, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, Wan Ahmad Fayshal, suggested that the central bank should just print money and spread that among the poor as a means to alleviate poverty.

This might sound like common sense but it literally means too much common cents; what Yogi Berra meant all those years ago when he said “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

Typically, when countries print money, the first to rise are prices which almost immediately negates its objective in the first place. It’s like those “banana notes” of the Japanese Occupation, when no one had enough money because everybody had too much of it.

It was like the recent situation in Venezuela, where people with too much money in their pockets remained broke. And that’s a cruel irony because Venezuela still possesses huge oil reserves. With good governance, however, it’s also its future salvation.

Even so, modern monetary theory argues that we could conceivably print money….up to a point. Malaysia can, and, for a long time has, issued debt paper to investors who reckon that the country – with its future growth prospects and its resources – is a safe bet. Once taken up, that translates to a surge in local ringgit as the central bank converts the proceeds into money supply. It has nothing to do with distribution to the poor, but everything to do with financing future economic growth.

That’s also the rub. The debt has to be seen to be put to good use. The minute the trust vanishes – for whatever reason including bad governance – all bets are off and investors will flee. We’ll be on the road to Zimbabwe.

In the latter’s case, mistrust led to the currency’s blowout and subsequent hyperinflation.

The only country that can do it, seemingly indefinitely, is the US and the reasons are rooted in history.

World War I brought an end to the economic supremacy of the UK and Europe. Countries had to abandon the gold standard and anchor the value of their currencies to the U.S. dollar, which became the world’s reserve currency, the only one backed by gold.

Richard Nixon’s 1971 decision to abandon gold altogether ensured the supremacy of the U.S. dollar. Tricky Dick might not have realised it at the time, but future Presidents have a lot to thank him for.

As the world’s reserve currency, most international trade and almost all transactions that take place internationally (not just the ones involving the U.S.) use the U.S. dollar. This means that importers, exporters, banks that are servicing them, central banks all around the world and many other market participants need to hold the U.S. dollar or liquid dollar-denominated assets. Like anyone else, they like to keep their wealth safe, and so they buy from the U.S. Treasury.

This is why there is unlimited demand for U.S. debt. The Fed can print ad infinitum. The lucky sods!

It’s already happening. As a result of the coronavirus crash, the U.S. dollar has spiked, and U.S. Treasury yields have fallen because investors keep buying treasury securities on trust.

Right now, it’s the closest thing to safety, the proverbial Fort Knox. Well, so far anyway….

Malaysia isn’t even close. So all talk of “printing” money should cease and desist forthwith.

So should all election jokes. Too many of them get elected.


I have just found out that today – Friday, November 13, 2020 – is World Kindness Day

It’s a reminder that pro-social behaviour – altruism, benevolence and compassion – does wonders for humanity. I mean, between Mother Teresa and Adolf H, for instance, there’s no comparison.

Unfortunately, most of humanity falls in between the cracks in a sort of “betwixt and between” limbo. We can’t claim sainthood, but neither are we mass murderers.

We could all be a lot better. And healthier, apparently: benevolence reduces stress as it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Certainly, our Members of Parliament can behave a lot better and less disgracefully.

Why on earth do we need a person convicted of corruption and abuse of power as the head of the Backbenchers Club? In other countries, Najib Razak would be in jail now: in Japan, for example, bail isn’t a right by any means.

Here, he’s not only walking about, he’s campaigning and generally promoting the three causes closest to his heart – I, me, mine!

And Parliament thinks it’s an example to other Malaysians?

This government seems to think that informed decision making comes from a long tradition of guessing, and then blaming others for inadequate results. In this tradition, it’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.

Witness the mystifying spectacle of Sarawak MP Tiong King Sing – who rarely comes to Parliament in the first place – loudly blaming Dr Noor Hisham, the Director General of Health, for the country’s sudden spike in Covid-19 cases.

To compound matters, Mr Tiong does not check his facts claiming, falsely as it turned out, that the good doctor had not visited Sabah, the epicenter of the spike.

Worse still, no government MP, least of all the health minister, came out in defence of Dr Noor. It was the opposition that came to his defence, ironically. Second to hypocrisy, humbug seems to be the biggest industry of our age.

It certainly seems so in the US.

Donald Trump knew that anyone who believed that the truth would set him free had never been in a traffic accident. He found it hard to believe any man was telling the truth because he knew he would lie if he was in his place.

Mr Trump lost to Joe Biden by 4 million votes, yet still claimed to win. On Thursday, election officials said there was absolutely “no evidence” that there had been any fraud as claimed by the President. Ironically, they added that the 2020 election had actually been the “most secure” in US history.

Well, you know what they say: If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts. That’s what Mr Trump’s trying to do. But it looks like the writing’s on the wall. Because reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away.

Deep down, one suspects he always knew he was going to lose because he kept flagging the point that there would be fraud if he lost. The inference was that he could never lose.

Here’s a newsflash. You lost. Deal with it.

The 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had an interesting theory about the truth. “Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognised: in the first, it is ridiculed; in the second, it is opposed; in the third, it is regarded as self-evident.

Give it time. Even the Donald night embrace World Kindness Day.


I can tell you it’s a nasty thing to have.

I only found out more than 15 years ago when my wife and I visited Kerala in India. The food there is pretty good and we especially loved the various breads the state had to offer. Unfortunately, I was violently assailed by hives and it ruined my holiday.  

When I got back to Kuala Lumpur, I went to see a skin specialist and he suggested I test for allergies.

He proceeded to take a blood sample and told me to come back in a week. I did only to be told that I was allergic to shellfish, wheat and peanuts.

Astounded wasn’t quite the word to describe my state of mind.    “But I never had these problems before,” I said feebly.

“It happens,” said the unmoved medic. “It’s called aging.” I was then in my early fifties.

It wasn’t really hard to accept in the end because where allergies are concerned, you get better but you never get well. I’d never cared for shellfish anyway – I’ve never had an oyster in my life – and, frankly, I didn’t give a fig for the nuts.

But bread?

It was really quite simple, almost alimentary, my dear Watson. To avoid the hives, I simply had to eschew gluten. Whole legions of food became instantly forbidden before my despairing gastro-intestinal tract.  Croissants, cake, Southern-style fried chicken, burgers, even the humble hot dog – they were all verboten on pain of an itch that refuses to go away. It makes an immune system turn against itself.

You learn to adapt, of course. There are a surprising number of gluten-free foods that can be obtained in Kuala Lumpur – even more so than in Singapore. But gluten-free pasta is, well, gluten free and not quite what Marco Polo envisioned on his trip back from China.  

Then came the pandemic and what Singapore called a “circuit breaker.”

It lasted for three months and my wife had to work from the house.

When Rebecca has time on her hands, she generally finds things to do. And she likes to experiment.

She decided to make sourdough bread.

It’s pretty expensive here too with a loaf going for about S$9 (RM27) per pop. You might even say it was mildly uppercrust.

After some consultation with Youtube – which, let me tell you, is seriously the answer to life’s culinary problems – she was off and baking.

The best thing about sourdough bread is that it does not affect gluten-intolerant people. It is essentially made from the fermentation of dough by yeast and bacilli cells that naturally occur in the air. That means it’s also good for you in the sense of having a probiotic effect on your gut.

It also tastes great. Now I know what they mean when they say, after sourdough you never want to go back to white bread again. And a crisply done beef patty on melting cheese between two slices of freshly toasted and buttered sourdough bread with some lettuce and bacon bits is enough to send McDonald’s screaming into the night.

Because that’s a real burger right there.

Try making some. All you need is air, water and flour. Rebecca has even experimented with olive oil but that’s another story.