When a doctor makes a mistake, it’s best to bury the subject. – Comedian Woody Allen 

Imagine if you were Lou Gehrig and you’d been experiencing muscle weakness and went to see a doctor to find out why?

How would said doctor have handled it?

Now a grim and sternly humourless fellow would have given him the bad news straight up, and risked a possible heart attack.

The imaginative fellow, however, would have begun: “I have good news and bad news” and then proceed to let slip the news: Mr Gehrig would be forever immortalised by having a hitherto unknown disease named after him. 

Actually, Gehrig was already famous as a baseball player then; which just underlines the point of the affliction’s name – it could happen to anyone, even very healthy athletes. 

This was way back in the 1930s and Gehrig has long passed on to that baseball diamond in the sky, but it makes you think about the great miracle that is humankind, our continued existence despite the countless diseases, syndromes, conditions and appalling threats just waiting to get us.  

Example: I have always found Alzheimer to be a particularly sinister name, the sort that does not roll trippingly off the tongue like George, Faiz or Sumitomo. 

But I’m guilty of equating the horror of the disease with the person who discovered it – a kindly physician who noticed discernible changes in the brain of an elderly woman diagnosed with extreme forgetfulness. 

This was early in 1904 and the doctor’s name was Alois Alzheimer. By all accounts, he was neither sinister nor forbidding. 

A long time ago, I met a Malaysian who, together with his foreign wife, managed beachfront chalets for rent off the East Coast. 

In a conversation with them, however, I was astonished when he suddenly broke out into a fitful stream of obscenities for no apparent reason. It didn’t seem directed at anyone in particular and the other patrons either didn’t bat an eyelid, stared, or just laughed.

The wife explained that her husband suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that usually manifests in “tics” like rapid blinking, shaking of the head or, in rare circumstances, vocal outbursts of the sort affecting said proprietor. 

He was otherwise the soul of decency. There was no cure for it and there was nothing he could take to mitigate its symptoms. Their preemptive approach was to warn customers of its possibility so they might be prepared.

Unfortunately, I got the info after the fact. He bore his condition with a certain resignation and conceded that he’d had problems going through school, but sympathetic teachers got him through it. 

I remember he had a good sense of humour. He said he should have joined politics as “I would have fitted right in.” 

Then, there’s Werewolf’s Syndrome, where the patient grows hair so thickly, and so fast, that he could be mistaken for a werewolf, or a paid-up member of the Taliban.

With all the nasty possibilities skulking about out there, it was no wonder that a prominent banker checked himself into a hospital years ago. 

He must have concluded that it was safer to be surrounded by a team of specialists, all waiting alertly to spring into action at the first sign of a twitch, cough, sniffle,  sneeze, or spasm that indicated he could be suffering from something more serious than the flu. 

More than anyone else, he knew that the most beautiful words in English were no longer “I love you” but “No worries, it’s benign.”



I’m an atheist, thank God – Comedian Dave Allen 

A friend sent me a 2022 poster advertising a medical conference in Kuala Lumpur. As an “international” conference, however, it wasn’t impressive, attracting speakers from only Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar. 

I could see why I received it: it was about circumcision.

The procedure is the oldest surgical procedure in human history dating back almost three centuries. Which begs a question: apart from anaesthetic or antibiotic, what new or cutting-edge technology was being gained from the conference to advance the cause of human civilisation? 

I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, but ostensibly learned professionals holding forth on the country’s “experience” with circumcision seems akin to the hot air needed to keep the Hindenburg aloft. 

I mean, we’re talking a simple procedure that a hospital assistant wouldn’t find challenging. It’s not like we’re a cut above the rest. 

Even Raja Bomoh felt sufficiently moved towards a deeply disapproving “Tut-Tut.” 

The poster even cheerfully threatened the “latest” updates on female circumcision, but I think you get the point.  

What is it about Malaysian “scientific” research that smacks of reinventing the wheel, of futile pointlessness?

And the Oscar goes to – drum roll – University Malaysia Pahang.

In May 2015, no less than its vice-chancellor called a press conference to announce that, after “three years” of painstaking research, it had come up with an “anti-hysteria” kit that would repel “evil spirits”.     

I’d concede that it would undoubtedly have been useful in 16th Century Europe where it might have saved a lot of pain and fuel. Lacking said kit, however, many people afflicted by “evil spirits” were burnt at the stake as “witches” by order of the Church. 

In short, the Malaysian researchers were so behind their times, they were out of sight. You could say the New England Journal of Medicine wasn’t bewitched.  Not even a tad.  

The VC, one Dr Daing Nasir, said the kit consisted of such everyday items as chopsticks, salt, lime, vinegar, pepper spray and formic acid. It retailed for an affordable RM8,750 and was guaranteed to be sharia compliant. 

According to the VC, it was stated (in religious texts) that evil spirits could not abide the items in said kit. Apart from the chopsticks, that is. 

It isn’t clear if the research had been peer-reviewed, although there had been at least one “Islamic medicine expert” in attendance.  Even so, tests had been conducted in 11 schools where, presumably there had been cases of mass hysteria. 

For the purposes of scientific accuracy, however, it isn’t clear if the hysteria broke out before or after the tests were administered. 

A point to ponder: if pepper spray was good enough against rapists, muggers, and assorted criminals, wouldn’t it be good enough against evil spirits? At least, it would strike a mighty blow against inflation: kit prices could come down.  

Seven years on, the anti-hysteria kit has vanished into the rubbish heap of futile research conducted in the name of science in  Malaysian universities. No one knows its point or its costs. 

At least, it’s entertaining. Example: the good Dr Daing may have attended Hogwarts.  

Reason: the 2015 Malay Mail news-report noted that his university even boasted a Committee of Advanced Studies in Witchcraft Law – the capitals aren’t mine. Said committee even successfully formulated a Standard Operating Procedure – capitals aren’t mine, either – to combat the use of witchcraft in the country. 

Hallelujah! We are safe from the followers of the Dark Lord. 

Even Raja Bomoh was impressed.



When we were seniors in high school in the 1970s, we all aspired to enter the one, real university in the country.

A degree from University Malaya mattered greatly back then because it almost always ensured a reasonably good job. 

The quality of the degree mattered even more.

The politician R Sivarasa, for example, was my batchmate until our penultimate year. Then, he dropped biochemistry for genetics.

To no one’s surprise, he got a First and went on to read law at Oxford by way of the Rhodes’ Scholarship.

In short, obtaining a first-class honours degree in any field back then was an achievement. It conferred its recipient great prestige and the pick of jobs. Needless to say, it was rarer than gold dust. 

Not anymore, it seems.  

I was shocked to read today that 80,000 students had been awarded Firsts from Malaysian universities last year.  

You’d think the faculty would know better: churning out such degrees in such numbers is simply to debase their worth. In economic terms, it’s higher education beset by soaring inflation. 

It was in the 1970s when I first heard of graduate unemployment. At the time, it was in the Philippines where, apparently, there were too many graduates chasing too few jobs. 

I never dreamt that the same thing might happen here. Not in Malaysia, I thought, with its superb education system, where a person with just high school education might go on to become fine writers in English.  

Indeed, my teachers in those days largely had diplomas but they were seriouslygood and cultivated in us a love of reading that’s helped enormously. 

Here’s a question: Why, ceteris paribus (all things being equal), are graduates from Sunway University more employable, than graduates from public universities? 

It’s a fact that makes government officials uncomfortable. But it’s a question the Education Ministry would be well advised to ponder. 

How did we come to this?

There is an adage that goes like this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our education system was never broken, yet our government, starting in the mid-1970s and, prodded by Malay nationalists who should have known better, thought it needed fixing.

Almost 50 years later, the results are clear, most demonstrably in the difference between the education systems of Singapore and Malaysia.   

Both began with similar British-designed structures. One changed while the other did not. 

The outcomes are palpable. Singapore has world class education. We don’t. 

Even worse is our access. Once open to all races at relatively cheap entry levels, a good education in Malaysia is almost exclusively a preserve for the well-heeled. 

Unless you count education in Chinese schools which, for one thing, is ironic. For another, it’s limited: it’s difficult to get approval for new independent Chinese schools. 

With his impregnable majority, Dr Mahathir should have tackled this a long time ago. It’s different now: with the fragile coalitions we have, it will take a miracle to unravel the mess that is our education. 

Like it or not, we will continue to have graduates working as Grab riders, and waiters, or rubbish collectors in Singapore.   

Imagine their dashed expectations. Imagine their despair and hopelessness.

Now imagine their rage.