Listen up, folks. There’s something weird going on and it’s nothing to do with Ghostbusters.

It’s called QAnon and it was begun reasonably enough by a man called Q. Little is known about the enigmatic Q save that he is a self-styled patriot and, possibly, a white supremacist. That’s just peaches and cream in the US: the two are avowedly synonymous.

But I digress. We were talking about QAnon, no? Simply put, it’s Conspiracy Central writ large and is primarily located in the United States, although it’s begun spreading rash-like to the UK, Germany and Brazil.

Weirder still, is that what started as a fringe movement, in 2017, rapidly snowballed into millions of followers during the pandemic.

In March 2020, for example, the number of members in the largest QAnon group on Facebook leaped 700% and it’s been growing exponentially since.

The virus outbreak left millions unemployed and with a lot of time on their hands. It could explain why social media grew in importance. And with artificial intelligence guiding people to sites that they might like, it’s not a stretch to see how QAnon vaulted into the popular consciousness.

At its core, Q and his legions believe that a Satan-worshipping, pedophile-practicing, liberal cabal-Democrats, media-types and Hollywood celebs – form a “deep state” that controls America. More importantly, the only one standing against them is the Very Stable Genius, your- ever-rusty- consistently-orange Donald Trump.

To say that the claims are outlandish would be correct. Many diehards, for example, even believe that Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks, among others, “eat children” to fight ageing. According to this view, a group of US generals finally recruited Trump as the candidate to outwit the cabal’s dastardly plan.

During his presidency, the Donald did re-tweet some QAnon bromides himself, which led to many of his assertions becoming Gospel in the QAnon playbook. Like “the coronavirus is a hoax” theory and, its corollary, “bleach is the solution.”

They believe Trump’s tweet typos are deliberate because they are convinced he “misspelled it for a reason” because he’s “trying to tell us something in code.”
But they don’t know what it is he’s trying to say. However, the mysterious Q will provide, because “he knows.”

We are being asked to imagine Trump actually doing something heroic and not boasting about it?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Trump hitched himself to the QAnon phenomenon by referring to them as “very nice people” and “patriots”.

He did it shamelessly too.

Reporter: “At its core, they believe that you are secretly saving the world from Satan-worshipping pedophiles, these cannibals. Do you buy that?”

Trump, without missing a beat; “If I can help in any way, I’d be happy too.”

These are people who believe Cher is an alien. Then there was this guy who took automatic weapons to the Hoover Dam because they “told me” anti-Trump people were gathering there.

Fifty of them ran for Congress. One even won.

So you can understand what might happen if, for two months, a defeated President repeatedly claimed he won and that the election was stolen.

Thank Heaven the FBI has declared the QAnon potential terrorists. And Amen that the Donald is no more.

And Hallelujah that there aren’t such people in Malaysia. And if there were, they would not be lauded. Right?

Wrong! Papagomo – a QAnon-candidate if there ever was one – got a Datukship early this week.



Maybe it’s the pandemic but Malaysians are beginning to act mighty strangely these days.

Take the case of the Datuk and the Datuk Seri. Now these fellows were neighbours and, if they are to be believed, friends. The latter opinion is dubious and something of a stretch.

It was the Datuk Seri who started the whole ball of wax, apparently. The area of Puchong in Kuala Lumpur is a grimy, industrial district so you can imagine the consternation when Datuk Seri punctured the lazy, suburban quiet of one of its posher neighbourhoods by parking his helicopter in his porch.

It isn’t clear why.

Maybe, he was feeling depressed that the current movement control order in place over much of the country prevented him from using his machine. Maybe, because he could. The fact was that there was a helicopter inscrutably parked in a porch in Puchong.

His neighbour, a Datuk, also possessed a chopper but it was in his kitchen. He wasn’t amused and may have even entertained thoughts of chopping.

What came next was captured by a 38-second video clip that should embarrass each enough to want to migrate to Outer Mongolia. It was pathetic to say the least.

Shouting. Shoving. Profanity. Datuk Seri reminds neighbour that he is but a Datuk. So there. Like school kids. Rich people acting poorly.

The pandemic seems to be bringing out the worst in us. A woman was recently assaulted by her neighbour over a guava tree that shared airspace between the properties.

She said she’d written a note to him asking him to cut off a branch jutting into her garden because, she claimed, it was a source of insect infestation.

The neighbour’s reaction was to come over and beat her up. The police aren’t taking it with a grain assault but are pressing charges.

I wish my neighbour had written me a note about our durian tree all those years ago.

We used to live in Petaling Jaya then. My wife, had planted a dwarf durian tree in our garden and it had grown pretty well. What we didn’t know was that another had been watching the tree’s progress as well.

At the time, we had a Neighbour from Hell next door and she’d spotted a tiny spur of said tree poking into her airspace.

Did she write us a note? Did she lean over the fence to complain as neighbours might?

Nope. She hired a handy-man who climbed over our fence early one morning to chop the tree down.

We were in bed then and my wife woke me about the chopping noises. But we were too late and the tree was down and out by the time we investigated.

It was the first time I’d ever seen Rebecca lose her temper.

In her defence, NFH said the part jutting into her space had been “raining ants.” And the handy-man, clearly not the sharpest tool in any shed, confessed that he found it “strange” that he had to climb over but stoutly insisted that “she” said it was all right.

It was all very dramatic. Our other neighbour, a lawyer, offered to take a case against NFH. He said it was a simple “breaking and entering and “open and shut.”

Meanwhile, his wife was making howling-wolf noises and pointing at the moon, a reference presumably to NFH whom everybody suspected of being a couple of popadoms short of a curry. It was a rare treat for the entire neighbourhood so early in the morning.

Of course, we did nothing. They were old and, in fact, I helped the husband carry out the tree’s remains as the handyman had vanished.

And to think it happened during pandemic-free times.



If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

What’s with Malaysia? Do we always have to be involved in some meaningless controversy or another? And do they almost always have to be about race or religion?

Other countries are advancing, moving on and getting things done. Even India – which we presume to condescend to – is getting its act together and embarking on the world’s largest vaccination drive in history.

Moreover, it’s produced its own vaccine and gifting it to poorer countries to boot.

Closer to home, Singapore thinks it will vaccinate all its people by July. Even Indonesia has begun to inoculate its people without too much fuss.

Meanwhile, apart from running our healthcare professionals into the ground amid successive lockdowns, what have we achieved?

First, there was a debate on whether the vaccine was shariah-compliant. Then, we seemed to want to hold out for our own “clinical trials.”

It was as if the country had been testing its own homegrown vaccine. Only it’s not, so let’s not waste time and money re-inventing the wheel.

Then there are the needless, inconsequential controversies.

A few days ago, Sanusi Md Nor, the chief minister of Kedah decided – for no other reason other than he could, apparently – that Thaipusam, a Hindu festival, would no longer be a state holiday. He said there would be none since all activities in the annual festival had been cancelled because of the movement control order.

All it did was to demonstrate his contempt for the festival. Reason: his reasoning would necessarily exclude holidays for Chinese New Year, even Hari Raya if the MCO stretched on.

Apart from showing Mr Sanusi’s lack of inclusive acceptance, not to mention intelligence, the controversy he began was pointless to say the least.

And what’s with the hypocrisy? Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin recently urged his party not to tolerate “liberalism, humanism and secularism.”

That is bunkum and, deep down in places he will not admit to, the premier knows it. It’s been our tacit adherence to secular, liberal values that’s brought Malaysia this far in the first place. Going forward, however, increasing conservatism will only hinder our progress.

The countries like those of East Asia and the West that profess fealty to secular, humanistic values are the ones progressing. No theocracy has done as well nor come close.

Indeed, Muhyiddin recently called on Asean to be tough on hate speech “including those based on gender or sexual orientation.”

Don’t look now Mr Prime Minister, you just came across sounding mighty liberal. But no one here seems to think it’s hypocritical to tell different things to different audiences. What happened to the so-called “Islamic” values espoused by the leadership?

And what’s happened to our sense of humour? When it comes to religion, it now appears that the two are mutually exclusive.

That conclusion would have horrified Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s easy-going first Prime Minister.

After he retired in the 1970s, the Tunku began a long-running column in the Star. One of his columns in the 1980s was especially critical of Hadi Awang, the firebrand leader of Parti Islam SeMalaysia, or Pas.

The ever-sensible Hadi had suggested that stoning should be prescribed for Muslims caught for adultery.

An indignant Tunku lambasted Hadi in his column and dismissed the proposal out of hand.

Reading his column then, I thought his reasoning was sound. I agree even more now.

“I know my country and my fellow Malaysians,” declared the Tunku cheerfully. “There simply aren’t enough stones to go around.”



A racing pigeon has just completed an extraordinary 8,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from the United States to its new home in Australia.

But no one’s cheering.

Cyrus, the feathered friend in question, wasn’t really expecting birdseed and a ticker-tape parade, although it wasn’t averse to the idea in principle. Still, he felt a little more enthusiasm from his hosts might have been in order.

Even Captain Cook hadn’t achieved half as much, boasted Cyrus to the less-than-welcoming party. But there were no cries of admiration, not even a half-hearted chorus of Waltzing Matilda as would have been any hero’s due.

Not this time. Now, he was getting the silent treatment, the murderous stare and, more unnervingly, the calm, Hannibal Lecter-like appraisal.

In the absence of proper documents, Aussie hospitality is fraught with grim, even sinister, overtones. And murder was what surely lay at the heart of Cyrus’ immediate future.

It was.

To the chagrin of pigeon-huggers the world over, Canberra decreed that the avian adventurer was to be killed and possibly tossed on the barbie without so much as a “No worries, mate.”

It explained its escape.

Cyrus was appalled. When he’d exhaustedly crossed over into Aussie airspace for the first time, he’d been met by a dove which had greeted him with a courteous “G’day, how you doing mate?”

He’d been assured that he’d chosen the right place for a new home. So long as one liked vegemite and disliked poetry, this was the lucky country with an over-achiever’s share of pigeons.

Cyrus would feel right at home, he was told. Indeed, homing pigeons, like boomerangs, were some of the country’s biggest exports.

Cyrus had little memory of what transpired after his escape.
Kevin Celli-Bird – no relative of the fatigued flier – said Thursday he discovered the weary bird, that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on December 26, had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29.

Cyrus’ feat attracted the attention of the Aussie media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. It was peopled with humourless people with right-wing eyes and thin lips that were pursed in perpetual distaste. They’d been the ones that had first accosted him, the ones with the fishlike gaze of a Hannibal Lecter.

To these people, Cyrus was a prima facie case, a textbook model for capital punishment. He was from the US which always elicited an aha anyway because it was a hotbed of pestilence. But what clinched it beyond all reasonable doubt was its name.

Cyrus rhymed with virus and there was no getting around that. It was as open and shut and final as that.

All that was needed was to catch the bird. Posters offering rewards for the undocumented immigrant sprang up. “A bird in hand is usually dead,” it gloated as if to underscore the point of it all.

But Cyrus was far from dead. Mr Calli-Bird said the pigeon had regained its strength in his backyard and looked capable of, well, resisting arrest.

The quarantine cops have since changed tack, urging Cyrus to turn itself in because “all was forgiven.”

Cyrus disagreed courteously. He wasn’t sure if, in Australia, forgiveness came before or after the barbeque.



“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” noted English writer Samuel Johnson over 200 years ago. And yet, it appears to perfectly mirror Donald Trump’s present predicament.

Mr Trump’s presidential tenure officially ends at noon on January 20, a reality that, amidst allegations of sedition, has concentrated his mind so wonderfully that he’s not only accepted his loss but promised a “smooth and orderly” transition to his successor Joe Biden.

The President who never gave a fig for posterity’s opinion of him previously now seems to concede that history’s opinion of his presidency might matter, after all.

Whether history will afford a similarly smooth transition into retirement for Mr Trump is less clear, however. House Speaker Nancy Pelossi wants to impeach him while his allies have belatedly adopted health protocols: they’re socially distancing from him.

It may be time for Plan B, thought the Donald and brooded vengefully about the appalling lack of Christian charity or forgiveness among Members of Congress.

Actually, he had been thinking about forgiveness for some time now. Indeed, he’d first voiced the thought in a 2018 Twitter post: “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.”

It isn’t clear why he felt compelled to shout the P word.

According to Thursday’s New York Times, the President is now floating the idea with his advisors in earnest. The paper described the proposal as something that “would be an extraordinary use of presidential power” by a sitting President.

Mr Trump scoffed. For one thing, he had been standing, not sitting, when the idea struck him, and for another, the correct word the NYT should have employed was “prudential” and not “extraordinary.”

As a businessman who’d presided over six successful bankruptcies, he knew the merit of prudence and judged that a crafty, pre-emptive pardon could keep the wolves at bay.

Mr Trump felt much maligned. He’d been honest in the sense that he thought the average person preferred a simple, uncomplicated lie rather than an incomprehensible truth. And he’d done it his way. In the posh New York neighbourhood where he grew up, the overriding credo ran thus: if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again.

He was old fashioned about things and considered the lack of money to be the root of all evil. And his admirers admired the fortitude with which he, a self-confessed billionaire, tolerated the disadvantage of his great wealth.

Mr Trump has already issued a slew of pardons to political allies and friends including some mercenary contractors accused of crimes against humanity in Iraq. It was fair to say he knew his way around them.

But what might he be afraid of? For starters, newspaper reports have listed perjury, obstruction of justice and the giving of false statements or, in other words, a routine, average, ho-hum White House press conference.

Still, if it ever came to pass, a self-pardon would be unprecedented. No president, not even Richard Nixon, has tried it before, so the courts have not weighed in. In Nixon’s case, he resigned and his successor Gerald Ford subsequently pardoned him.

But there is an old legal axiom that posits that nobody should be the judge in his or her own case.

Stay tuned folks. It promises to get interesting.



It’s around noon on Christmas Day and it’s quiet
here in Singapore as I contemplate the screen in front of me.

It’s been years since we’ve spent Christmas in any place other than Malaysia. The last time was in 1997 when I travelled to Georgia in the United States where Rebecca, with Raisa in tow, was pursuing her PhD. We had a lovely time – the cold be damned – and we even had a Malaysian friend, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, drive eight hours from Tampa in Florida to join us for the holidays.

But the Christmas of 2020 has been quiet. We attended church like we’ve been doing since March this year, via the Internet. In the beginning it was novel in the sense that we could choose where we wanted to hear mass. We could choose Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia or – if we could wait – even the United Kingdom.

We’ve since plumped for Bishop Gregory Homeming, a thoughtful Carmelite priest from Lismore in Australia. It was convenient too: the time difference ensured that the service would be online by the time we’d breakfasted.

I suppose that’s one of the biggest triumphs of 2020: the Internet’s coming of age. Hitherto casually taken for granted, it’s insinuated itself into our daily lives in ways that would have beggared belief only a year ago.

Now it’s been stress-tested on a global scale as never before. We shop, we attend Church mass, we talk to friends all over the world, and continue to earn our daily bread through its providence.

I’ve seen Rebecca glued to the PC for meetings that have gone on all day. Thankfully, mine have been shorter.

And I’ve seen the screenshot of the Virtual Leaders Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (Apec) where 21 leaders simultaneously met at a night meet hosted by Malaysia.

Under each leader’s image was an identification: their country followed by the leader’s name. And no one seemed to see the irony of having RUS-Putin under the dour visage of the Russian autocrat.

Even the Orange One was there, at least in person if not in spirit because Twitter’s time stamps will attest to the fact that he continued to tweet wrathful denials of his loss to “Sleepy Joe.”

2020 will be remembered chiefly as the year of a virus that’s infected over 79 million worldwide and killed 1.8 million people. It’s also the year that proved the Peter Principle, where a nincompoop rose to his level of incompetence to burden the richest country in the world with the greatest spread of the disease.

And yet, there’s been no Great Depression and thanks to masking up and social distancing, there’s been no overwhelming of hospitals anywhere. More importantly, there’s been no mass deaths a la 1918.

Indeed, there’s a lot less pollution afoot with less air travel and far less traffic. Despite the Donald’s best efforts, the world’s gone greener and the oceans are cleaner.

The year witnessed a triumph for democracy at least in the United States where President Biden offers the chance for a more sensitive and tactful world.

Conversely, democracy failed abjectly in Malaysia where a legitimate government fell because of unscrupulous elements in that same government. Those same elements now lead the new Malaysian government, alas.

But this too will pass. And 2021 must surely be the Year of the Vaccine, the year when mankind will shake off a long nightmare to take our lives back with renewed promise and hope anew.

Happy New Year, folks.


Since we stay at one of its service apartments, we are allowed to use the facilities at Singapore’s Shangri-La.

And as soon as you step into its lobby there’s no mistaking the time of the year you’re in. As you head towards the gymnasium amidst the Christmastide and its inimitable carols, you almost forget there’s a pandemic about because of the normalcy of the scene: families taking photographs under the towering, bauble-bedecked tree stretching up to the roof.

There’s a smell of chocolate in the air and it’s strongest near the escalator that takes you down to the gym. The reason isn’t immediately obvious and then you get it: the tableaux of three dazzlingly white polar bears playing with presents amidst the snow and ice next to the escalator is fashioned entirely out of chocolate.

Only when you’re on the escalator do you realise why the scene isn’t completely normal: everyone’s wearing a mask.

We decided not to go back for Christmas this year after cases in Malaysia began spiking four months ago. It prompted Singapore to tighten its rules. Previously, when we went back, we only needed to quarantine for a week at our apartment when we returned. Now we had to do it for two weeks at some government facility and, being foreigners, we had to pay for the privilege.

In any case, with Malaysia under movement control and our daughter in Amsterdam it wasn’t hard decision to make.

If you had to be somewhere else during the Yuletide season, Singapore’s the place to be with some additional advantages. Like many Malaysians, both Rebecca and I have family here and my niece, for example, has kindly invited us over to her place on the 23rd.

The other is that the island republic can seriously put on a show when it comes to Christmas. Only 20% of the country is Christian but the statistic belies the spectacle the nation puts on.

Carols were already being played on radio stations by November, while glittering, trees in tinsel and twine began sprouting in shops all over the place by early December.

It’s clearly a transactional Christmas in these parts and they make no bones about it. Even before Deepavali rolled around this year, the Christmas lights began blazing along Orchard Road on November 13.

We were out for dinner two nights ago and the lights along the 2.2- kilometre road were something else. Spectacular is one word that comes to mind. Over the top are three words more.

And then there’s the Botanical Gardens where a loop-around is about 4 miles. That was too long so we just cut through diagonally. Volunteers have done a fantastic job trimming every other tree along its length in Christmas splendor. You can imagine how the gardens might look like at twilight. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Rebecca’s baked her pineapple tarts and thrown in some panettone for good measure. So, we’re all set.

We’ve invited four friends – all Malaysians as well – for dinner on Christmas Eve which is just nice as our dining table only seats 6.

Merry Christmas everyone!


When the ever-rumpled Boris Johnson confidently announced last year that Britain would exit the European Union by the end of 2020 with a trade deal in hand and that anything else would be a “misstep of statecraft,” few people reckoned the statement would come back to bite him in the nether regions.
As things stand, Britain is on the verge of a no-deal Brexit which makes the Prime Ministerial statement a political faux pas of sorts

“Mon Dieu,” cried the French alertly. They knew their creations as well as anyone else and immediately grasped the implications of the Johnsonian misstep. Faux pas – meaning an embarrassing mistake – had been borrowed from the French. And if the Brits wanted to leave the EU, they would have to leave off their borrowed possessions as well.

It was going to be a long, cold winter. The British felt it acutely because they knew the enormous difference between the right word and the almost-right word. It was like saying “I apologise” instead of “I’m sorry” at a funeral.

The French were unrepentant as they noted that “ballet” was also from the French. It kept the English on their toes because the French knew how to put two and two together.

President Macron also insisted that “baguette” be removed from the English language. The President was insistent because the French felt a special affinity for its famous bread.

Even the Brits knew that the humble baguette was invented by one Jacques Baguette. Sitting gloomily in his kitchen one wintry afternoon in the 16th Century, the near-destitute chef was pondering the future when his eye idly fell on some water, salt, flour and yeast in that order.

A more superstitious man might have shuddered and thrown some of the salt over his left shoulder, just in case. A more practical man would have mixed the water into a stiff cognac to ward off the winter chills.
But JB was made of sterner stuff and, in a magnificent moment that screamed Eureka, he mixed the flour, water and yeast together and, with just the right pinch of salt, he created the dish that would always bear his name and forever sustain French armies marching towards surrender.

Even Marie Antoinette lost her head over a careless reference to the great inventor. When told that the French people were starving and needed food, the haughty queen replied: “Let them eat baguette.”
The President couldn’t resist rubbing it in to the English. “You will notice,” cried Macron triumphantly. “That she did not say ‘let them eat chips.”

Richard Branson was aghast that “entrepreneur” was also from the French, while musicians groaned to find out that “genre” had also been ruled out.

On the other hand, the British thought that the French could keep some of their words, thank you. Take the pretentious “avant-garde” for instance. The late, great John Lennon put it best. “Avant-garde?” he asked ironically. “Doesn’t that mean bullshit in French?”

The English thought that the French could also keep hors d’oeuvres, those bits of food served at fancy parties. Most folk could neither pronounce nor spell the word.

It wasn’t the sort of English word like “horticulture” which was a good, stout Anglo-Saxon word right up there with “major” or “Anglican.” And, unlike hors d’oeuvres, it was easy to make a sentence with horticulture.
As an example, let me famously quote Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”


When he was a child, he once read that almost 50 percent of people allow their pets to sleep with them for greater closeness. So he thought he would try it and his favourite goldfish died. It was then that his parents first had an inkling that he might not amount to much.

Apparently that insecurity never got to the child. And the certitude stayed with him even after he became President. And to his mind, that certitude was never going to be confused with being right, modest or remotely truthful.

“Sometimes you have to toot your own horn because no one else is going to do it” might well describe the guiding spirit of the Trump presidency.

He was a “very stable genius” who regularly ranked his performance “A+” and often compared himself to Abraham Lincoln in his treatment of African-Americans.

He has even managed to exaggerate hyperbole if that’s possible. “We have triumphed over evil like nobody else” or “Nobody’s read more books than me” and the notion that “I’ve got more words than anyone else.”

Who talks like that?

Donald Trump will probably go down in history as one of the weirdest leaders to have ever held elected office. We have had unelected weirdos – Kim Jong Un, for instance – and “elected” ones like Vladimir Putin. To illustrate the latter case, take this conversation between VP and his top election official just before the last Russian election was called.

Official: We have good news and bad news
VP: What’s the good news?
Official: You won.
VP: What can be bad about that?
Official: You didn’t get any votes.

Mr Trump has fired more administration officials in his tenure, had more nasty books written about him, told more lies, insulted more people and nations, and made more gaffes, blunders and missteps than any other leader in living memory. And yet he remains hugely popular having garnered 74 million votes in the November election, more than any other candidate of the 21st Century.

All except Joe Biden, that is.

And that’s the rub, and what Mr Trump is raging about now. Indeed, he has been going nuts for three weeks now.

Mr Biden’s election margin over Donald Trump widened to more than seven million votes Thursday, even as Trump and his adamant supporters persisted in claims of widespread fraud.

One month after the Nov 3 election, new local tallies from New York drove victor Biden’s total to 81.3 million votes, compared to Trump’s 74.2 million, with a total 158.4 million votes counted so far, according to data compiled by the Cook Political Report.

It looks like Mr Biden has won it hands-down: he has 306 electoral votes – more than the 270 required – amid an almost 5% victory margin.

But hell hath no fury than an egocentric scorned. And if Mr Trump really harbours any intention of a 2024 run, he should think twice about speaking when he’s angry because it could be the best speech he’d ever regret.