It was Winston Churchill who got it right. “All dogs look up to you, all cats look down at you.”

He should have left well enough alone and stopped there. Nope: “Only the pig looks at you as an equal.” 

I think not: consider bacon. 

But I digress. 

We are all dog people in our family and the infernal beasts know it. When we lived in  Ampang, for instance, there was a stray cat that patrolled our apartment complex with malicious intent. It generally slept on my car-roof at night and occasionally peed on it in the mornings. For good measure, it sometimes  left a scratch or two. 

So I was  astonished to read that cats actually can understand your words but only those spoken by their guardians according to a new French study.

I’m sure French taxpayer are gratified by this valuable addition into the human understanding of the feline condition. It was discovered  by Charlotte de Mouzon et al of the University of Paris after a painstaking study of 16 cats! 

Sacre bleu!” cried  Louis Pasteur. “Dog my cats,” exclaimed an equally  bemused  Mark Twain but in French so as not to offend Pasteur. It was Twain, after all,  who’d traced the feline’s self-importance to the Egyptians, who’d worshipped them as Gods.  

The cats had never forgotten, that was the problem. 

It’s that kind of incredulity that underscores the notion that cats are generally sly creatures which patronise human beings at best. 

Dogs are different. Your average dog treats its owner with the reverence people generally accord a Beatle.  You can be gone for just awhile but it’s still all wagging tail and unconditional adoration the minute you’re back.   

Call a cat, in contrast, and it gives you that measured, what’s-in-it-for-me stare.  

They aren’t very useful at all. While there are sheepdogs, hunting dogs and police dogs, have you ever heard of a bird cat? 

Ever seen a Seeing Eye cat? 

At their worst, I give you the terror of Ukay Heights, that Cat on a Warm Car Roof,  the scourge of a hundred car washes.  

But there was also Benny. 

It belonged to Annabelle and Sugu, our former neighbours in Ampang.  

You might say Benny was the Dr Mahathir of cats: it was already in its dotage when it  first arrived in Malaysia from New Zealand in the mid-1990s.

He was an imperturbable feline that regarded the world with equanimity: a moth was viewed as indifferently as an axe murderer. 

Or perhaps not: the way it regarded me when I occupied his favourite chair by the balcony, its menacing stillness, was a trifle disconcerting. 

Its longevity could have been due to his fastidious eating habits. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it was ahead of its time, a feline foodie which was especially partial to lemon sole but would settle for New Zealand leg of lamb at a pinch. 

Anything less was an insult. 

Once, Sugu tried switching the sole for Kurau.  The cat regarded its guardian with disbelief even contempt.  

Then it scratched him. 

I rest my case. 

PS: Benny lived on for 18 years, it was truly a feline Methuselah. 



Was it those economic matters
That finally scuttled her status?
It threw Liz Truss
Under a bus
With all the aplomb of a lettuce.

Despite the many ifs and buts
She’d proposed sweeping tax cuts
The rich were cheerful
Everyone else, fearful
And Rishi thought it was just nuts.

There was hell to pay the next day
The pound dived and Teresa may.
While Liz was moping
Bojo was hoping
Perhaps a return; who could say?

Liz finally said she was sorry
No one listened except for Laurie,
Who, while a neighbour remained in Labour
Love never means having to stay Tory.

From all angles it appeared to look
That Liz’s goose had mostly been cooked.
Being in a bind
She had to resign
To obscure history, perhaps a book.

She grabbed defeat from a victory
For the shortest tenure in history.
We are all glad
Moo* wasn’t as bad
It’s a puzzle wrapped up in mystery.

Therein lies a cautionary tale
Of what-might-be, of characters frail,
But in Ah Jib’s case
He was merely base
That was why he ended up in jail.

Like Britain, the polls will soon be on us
And pray we do not repeat a Truss
With lots of pluck
And a little luck
Let’s throw BN** under the bus.


*Moo = the nickname of Muhyuddin Yasin, Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister
** BN = Barisan Nasional, the former incumbent Malaysian government


Live each day as if it were your last. One day, you’ll be right. – British comedian Benny Hill 

Felonious washed the last of the duck confit down with his still-cold 2013 Cristal champagne and sighed with satisfaction. He thought Benny Hill would make an excellent motivational speaker. 

The flatulent fatty formerly known as Low Tack Jho was in China because the communist republic was flexible about corruption. Officially, it was loathed and those deemed corrupt were shot. Unofficially, it could be condoned. Example:  those who’d looted other countries were deemed foreign investors.  

Here, Felonious was in a class of his own. A Colossus among Third World Looters – he made Idi Amin look like Winnie the Pooh – he was afforded Red Carpet Treatment. It was the Golden Rule: he who had the gold made the rules. 

The substantial swindler was affectionately known as Felon to his friends and Shanghai neighbours who claimed, with tears in their eyes, that he was generous to a fault. And he probably was, this champagne swilling, caviar nibbling, government toppling charlatan, because it was Other People’s Money he was throwing about.   

The pleasant pirate was wanted on three continents, yet he hid in plain sight. He has, apparently, a suite of offices on the 20th floor of the iconic World Financial Centre in Shanghai. 

Here was a walking advertisement for the notion that crime did pay; the living proof that the perfect crime was possible. It seems incredible that China might endorse such notions, yet Beijing has kept very quiet. And if the shoe fits…  

In truth, Felonious was preoccupied with weightier matters of state. Malaysia had called for a general election and the last time it had done so he’d received a rude shock.

And he wondered, uneasily, if lightning might strike twice. 

Who knew?

Zahid Hamidi knew or thought he did. He’d even made sure that the election would be in the monsoon season – low turnout, hint, hint – and   put the Fear of Jail into his colleagues to galvanise them, presumably, into even greater effort. 

Zahid, who remains on trial on 47 charges of money laundering, did it by intimating that some of them would face criminal prosecution if the opposition won. 

In truth, none of the people he named faced any such threat. It just showed that Zahid wanted as many of them to feel as threatened palpably as he did. 

It was what kept him awake nights.

Even Felonious didn’t know what kept his trusty, former co-conspirator, ex-premier, Fearless Leader, awake at night. Nothing, he concluded   soberly, because having risen above reality, Fearless slept as soundly as any thief. 

Indeed, you could say Fearless lived in an altogether alternate reality. It was a reality that still provided outriders, swank transportation and Armani suits during court appearances. 

It was a reality that allowed him to insist on being allowed to attend Parliamentary sittings, even to campaign during the general election.

Who, and where, did he think he was, this man who’d once affirmed that “no one was above the law?” 

Was he going stir-crazy?

No, I think he’s just taking Lily Tomlin’s view of life: “I can take reality in small doses but not as a lifestyle.”  



The life of an ordinary men is nasty, brutish, and short – 16th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes 

When my eldest brother was in Form 6, he was asked to write an essay that asked a simple question: “Is man admirable”?

It provoked a lively discussion over dinner. My father won the day by pointing out that tuberculosis had been a deadly scourge in India where he’d grown up but not now, when it was all but wiped out. 

Much later, I found out that Jonas Salk, the vaccine’s creator, had been even more admirable: he donated his patent to humanity which must rank right up there as a perfect 10 on the Scale of Goodness.  

It has taken mankind 2.6 million years to progress from the Stone Age to a nuclear one. 

Progress might be an unfortunate word in the context, but it is accurate as the first test of an atomic bomb was so portentous that geologists marked the day as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch – an age of widespread human influence over the planet. 

That influence is undisputed: cynics might sniff that technological progress has merely equipped us with better and more efficient means of killing one another, but I’d argue it’s been a far more beneficial influence. 

Take disease. Smallpox is the deadliest plague in history because it’s estimated to have killed over 300 million people. Yet, it disappeared by 1977 thanks to a concerted global campaign. 

Such advances have almost always stamped out or negated every life-threatening disease nature’s thrown our way. What’s more, we’re getting better at it. 

It took us 56 years from the start of the 20th century to cure tuberculosis, but it only took two years to reduce Covid-19 from mortal threat to common cold. 

During Lincoln’s time, infant mortality in the US was high with almost half of all babies dying. Now they are as low in Malaysia as they are in the US. And life expectancies keep increasing. 

Did you know it’s 85 in Singapore currently? 

There have always been prophets of doom throughout history, even some with scientific bent. In 1798, for instance, Thomas Malthus predicted that mankind was inherently doomed because food supply only increased arithmetically while mankind multiplied geometrically. Overpopulation, argued Doubting Thomas, was as certain as mankind’s eventual demise from starvation.  

Nope. Food supply has kept growing as technology evolved.  More tellingly, replication rates in all developed countries are well below replacement rates. This is also happening in less developed countries like Malaysia. 

While we can safely conclude that mankind has generally triumphed over disease and famine, the same cannot be said about wars. 

There has been a marked decrease in battlefield deaths over the last century but that doesn’t prove that wars are declining. It might just indicate better medical care.  

Indeed, there is a war currently raging in Europe the first serious one in 82 years. 

But here again, technology has ensured that sanity will have to prevail because the converse is unthinkable. There are no winners in a nuclear war because the outcome is mutual assured destruction, or MAD, and the finish is egalitarian:  everyone will be cremated equal.

What we need are better people, more Salks and less Putins. It could be our next, great evolutionary leap: when we move from man to kind.



Election-talk hung in the air. It was 1999 and fresh from sacking Anwar Ibrahim – he was in prison without bail – Dr Mahathir’s term was nearing its end. 

We’d just returned from Kelantan and Terengganu where the mood seemed anti-government. My colleague, Simon, and I were now heading to meet Deputy Mnister Ibrahim Ali in the Pan Pacific Hotel.  

The place was packed, and Simon spotted Ibrahim having lunch with his officers. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.  But he could always be relied on for the suitably inflammatory comment, the racist dig that Umno believed would always unite the Malays behind it.  

In short, he had Dr M’s complete confidence.  

But the interview was disappointing. The politician didn’t admit there were problems in the party and predicted a thumping win for the government.  He was particularly disagreeable about Anwar, gloating about his imprisonment and waxing lyrical over Dr M’s leadership.

Ibrahim, an MP from Kelantan, then asked me what I thought: we told him of our trip north. 

“You won’t like this,” I began and told him a story about how he, personally, would lose his seat. Indeed, I said we thought Umno would fare dismally, especially in Terengganu. 

The deputy minister turned red and looked furious. Glaring, he slammed his hand on the table and bellowed a profanity.

If my Hokkien’s right, he was referring to a man’s unmentionable, but I digress. His roar must have been loud because it silenced the room, and every eye followed the politician as he stalked out in high dudgeon. 

I was merely lashing out at his boorishness. But it was ironic because Ibrahim not only lost badly but the Islamic Party of Malaysia swept both Kelantan and Terengganu. 

Who knew? 

Political mistakes can have consequence. No, we aren’t talking about Ibrahim, but one made by Dr M’s successor, Abdullah Badawi. 

Let me explain. The in-your-face racism of an Umno assembly can be jarring. I remember a rookie from the Star – a young, Malay girl – being comforted by colleagues from other papers after she was so traumatised, she broke down. 

That’s why, apart from some speeches, the gatherings are never carried live. 

Only Abdullah Badawi thought otherwise. It may have been the error that the National Front continues to rue.  

When thousands of, especially, Chinese -Malaysians witnessed Hishamuddin Hussein brandish a kris (ceremonial dagger) and uttering veiled threats – de rigueur for any Umno Youth leader – they were appalled. 

But they remembered.

It occurred in 2005 and an assembly has never been televised since.  

In 2004, Abdullah took the Front to its biggest win ever. No one thought anything might be different in 2008.  

But I remember Opposition MP, Teresa Kok asking me if anything had changed. When I looked puzzled, she replied: “The crowds at our rallies are 2 or 3 times bigger.” 

Michael Devaraj was a socialist who’d unsuccessfully challenged Works Minister S Samy Vellu in two previous elections.  Like Teresa, he too felt something had changed.  

Not Samy though. In fact, he was brimming with confidence when Nadeswaran and me approached him in his centre in Sungei Siput.

After assuring us that he would, indeed, thrash the hapless Michael, he asked if we knew him. 


“He is a very nice fellow,” said the late, great Samy sadly. “I’d hate to see him lose again.” 

He needn’t have worried.