God is silent; if only man would shut up – Woody Allen

Jho Low would have appreciated the irony. Here was Dr Mahathir Mohamad, putting his foot into it as is his wont and there was Najib Razak, his nemesis, actually attempting to “rescue” him. 

Even so, the convicted former premier got in a gleeful jab of his own. “In the meantime, someone should take away all his (Dr Mahathir’s) social media accounts before he does any more damage.” 

Maybe someone should.   

What else would you make of a tweet like this? “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”

Does this sound like the ramblings  of a former Prime Minister of Malaysia or something else? Twitter was so disturbed it deleted Dr M’s post for “glorifying violence,”  immediately ranking the old man right up there with losers, fools and Donald Trump. 

Some terrible things had happened in France. Any sensible person would just decry the violence and the rhetoric, offer tea and sympathy, instead of leaping in with gratuitously offensive comments. We have enough problems of our own to worry about before  weighing in on the pain of others. 

Exhibiting the delicacy of an enraged bull in a China shop and offending millions of people should always be weighed against the virtues of tact. Sometimes there is an art to saying nothing when there is nothing to say. 

You would think that a former leader of more than 22 years, and 94 at that, would know better. I believe it’s called Diplomacy 101.

But Dr M has never really grasped a simple notion: if people really wanted your unsolicited advice, they’d ask for it. He still hasn’t got it. Even as premier, he believed that everyone had a right to an opinion – his. 

Maybe we should look on the bright side because it could be a lot worse: he might still be premier. 

But it was worse in the United States where Trump was still the President and he relished every moment of it because, as Art Buchwald might have said, 40 per cent of Americans worshipped the quicksand he walked on. 

President Trump felt good about himself and his chances next week as he had CoVid not only beaten, but on the run. “We’ve turned the corner on the virus,” he crowed to his supporters, many of whom had never led facts get in the way of their reality. “We’ve beaten the sucker!” 

Mr Trump believed that the US had turned the corner better than any other country on earth and it proved that he was the greatest leader since Mussolini, to whom he bore more than an unnerving  resemblance.

“You won’t find another leader who’s turned the corner more than me,” boasted the President who also knew that he was the most widely read person since Gutenberg invented the printing press. 

That was why he knew he would win. One, he had God on his side – he had that on good authority – and two, Biden’s arguments were  absurdity itself. It had to be because they directly contradicted his beliefs which his supporters knew were fact.    

We live and learn. Or as the President would have it…

…we live.


I should make one thing clear. It’s not that I disagree with President Trump’s foreign policy or his notions about healthcare. It’s just that he’s a lunatic sent here to destroy the world that gets to me. 

I mean, did you watch the debate? 

I watched it, first in incredulity, then in shock and anger. I don’t know why I should feel that way as I’m not a citizen and, God knows, my country has enough of its own problems. But, I suppose, the US and its actions ultimately affect all of us. 

I have a brother and two nephews living and working there and both my wife and I have had postgraduate stints in the States. And there is its reach – its literature, its art and its films – which has, one way or another, influenced many of us. 

Therefore, you expect the President of the United States to behave in a certain way, an approach exemplified by President Barack Obama – with wit, charm and an innate decency. 

You do not expect a showing like last Tuesday where President Trump exhibited all the tact and charm of a bull in a china shop. He bullied, he harangued, and he interrupted and trampled all over the moderator, the hapless Chris Wallace. 

It reminded me of the truth of the Mel Brooks quote: “Presidents don’t do it to their wives, they do it to their country.”

And when asked squarely to criticise white supremacist hate groups like the Proud Boys, he balked, or he couldn’t. And that only encourage the group: it promptly adopted his phrase – “stand back and stand by” – as their new handle. And that’s a group identified by the FBI as an extremist organisation. 

As I write this, I have just heard that both President Trump and his wife have tested positive for Covid-19. I’m stumped and all I can say is that John Lennon’s song Instant Karma comes to mind. 

This might finally jolt the people of the United States into waking up to the dangers of the disease, to listen to the doctors and finally let science lead the way in fighting the disease. 

It might also teach the President – not holding my breath here though – a lesson or two on the perils of hubris. 

While convalescing or in quarantine, the President will be well advised to read up on world affairs and perhaps catch up with American history. 

The reason I say this, is the fact that the President’s favourite rooms in the White House are, in order, the Lincoln Room, the Roosevelt Room and the Oval Office. And he still thinks that President Oval was the one who came after James Garfield. 

So far it appears that the President is fine and you have to hand it to the American people for the news seems to have finally united them in the sense that everyone, including his Democratic adversaries, praying for his recovery. 

With one voice, they’ve also urged him to avoid hydroxychloroquine and bleach like the plague. 


You have to hand it to the United States. Everything is larger than life there. 

When they want to lay it out, they can lay it on as thick as molasses. Its movies can be as crappy as they can be superb. Their smart people can be as Nobel-sharp as their dimwits can give dumb a bad name. 

I mean, the average village idiot in Malaysia generally rants about the tightfitting attire of Malaysia Airlinesstewardesses, while simultaneously fantasising about the bounty it conceals. 

In the United Kingdom, they routinely rave about the imminent demise of Planet Earth from their soap boxes in Hyde Park. 

But only in the United States do they become President. 

When he was young, he thought he was so sharp he should become a surgeon. His father hastily talked him out of that after he noticed that young Donald could never tell the difference between “antidote” and “anecdote.” 

It still remains one of the enduring mysteries of the 21stCentury – how on earth did the US elect such a person to the highest office in the land, a man who, apparently, thinks that Covid19 is tweetable? 

Anyone who saw the village-idiot-in-chief’s interview with Chris Wallace last week would have been stunned. 

Mr Wallace might work for Fox News but he is a highly respected journalist who used to be a regular on 60 Minutes, the investigative news programme on CBS. 

Wallace politely corrected the President twice, fact-checking him so decisively that Trump felt compelled to call for back-up to prove his point. 

The back-up didn’t bolster his case but the President, never one to let facts get in the way of a spin, just talked over Wallace while repeating his false claims. 

But his idea of proving that he was smarter than Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee for President, made Wallace’s jaw drop. 

The President bragged that he’d “recently” aced a “test” whose last five questions were so hard that he doubted that either Wallace or Biden could have done as well. 

Here, the American people should be afraid, they should be very afraid. The so-called test the President was talking about is called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test. It is not only easy – a fifth grader could ace it – but is chiefly used to spot the signs of early dementia. 

The question to ask therefore: why was the President of the United States having to take such a test? 

That he’s evidently proud of his feat is clear: he’s boasted about it several times including something to this effect to another Fox News reporter: that the doctors administering the test were so impressed with his last few answers they said that “few people could do as well.” 

The person interviewing him seemed impressed as all hell. Then again, he’s the same guy who was overjoyed the other day after he heard that he’d won the Nigerian national lottery. 

Between prescribing bleach for Covid-19 sufferers and railing against Obama for All America’s Ills, the President has begun shocking people in other ways. 

He’s actually beginning to sound intelligent. He’s advised people to wear masks and he’s cancelled the Republican Convention in Florida.

If you believe he’s changed, you’d also believe that there is no such word as “gullible.”

A Tale of Two Tubs

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has described his country as a “shining success” in fighting Covid-19, according to state-run KCNA news agency Friday.

The pompadoured, platform-shoe-wearing Supremo of the secretive dictatorship was speaking at a Tuesday politburo meeting which discussed the novel coronavirus. 

Under Kim’s multi-chinned management, North Korea had closed its borders and put thousands into isolation more than six months ago.

Some of the state’s civil society elements argued, however, that these measures had already been in effect for decades, but did not make too fine a point about it as they were, 

1) civil to a fault;


2) loath to be strapped to an intermediate range missile prior to an “extremer-prejudice” launch. 

It was yet another day in the hermitage. Ask a citizen how it went, and you’d invariably get the same response: 

“Can’t complain.”

KCNA reported that after reviewing His efforts, North Korea’s “baddest” butterball had pronounced the outbreak dead, saying it had “contained the malignant virus” and “maintained a stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis”.

According to KCNA, the people gloried in the news and danced in the streets, crying “hosanna” and generally behaved as they did after every successful long-range missile launch, which was every two weeks, according to its rotund ruler.

His Multi-chinned Magnificence felt it was not just necessary but desirable to have as many missiles as possible because a portly president over the seas had threatened “flame and fury” on him if he ever stepped out of line or threatened his southern neighbour whichever came second.  

While not brooding about fire or rage, His Presidential Plumpness felt flamingly angry about America’s efficiency. It was too much testing that was the problem that was leading to too many infections. 

“Take away the testing and you would not have so many infections” he wound up before cunningly concluding in a poetic burst. “Quod erat demonstrandum (QED),” 

It was the sort of Trumpian twist designed to impress Latin America and iron-clad logic of such high school standards that even Paul Krugman was rendered speechless. 

The ample authoritarian in Pyongyang wished he could carry off something as convincing as QED and he thanked Heaven that he did not have to convince anyone in North Korea about anything.

 “Not by the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin-chin,” he laughed immoderately and felt immensely grateful to his far-sighted grandfather who’d built up the family business, so to speak. 

Indeed, the Twin Tubs had much in common, both were probably, to quote an eminent Speaker, “morbidly obese” although it was fair to say that Mr Trump had tried almost everything to lose that extra 20 pounds short of diet and exercise.  

Both were shameless self- promoters although it must be conceded that Mr Trump took bragging to rarefied heights not seen since Hilary scaled Everest.  

Both were highly egotistical and critical of one another. When asked what he thought of Mr Trump after Singapore, His Meaty Majesty snorted: “He’s an arrogant fellow who thinks he knows as much as me.”   

Both were at ease with hyperbole. Witness Kim’s “shining success” with the presidential “more testing that anywhere in the world” back in March. 

And both weren’t especially bright. Mr Trump thinks Finland is part of Russia while his Supreme Shrewdness thinks Kimchi was named after his late, unlamented grandfather.

The fate of East Asia might rest on them. 

Woe is us!  


It has long been said that the stock market is a barometer for the economy going forward. 

The current global conditions – the enormous printing of US money, the monetary stimuli and easing everywhere else – has made nonsense of that notion and then some.  

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the US – the most in the world – and over 30 million people are currently jobless. Recession is not just in the air, economists like Paul Krugman are saying it’s The Great Depression all over again.

The wolf is snapping at the door and it’s been the worst economic shock the world’s ever known in a century, but you don’t see that reflected in the stock exchange. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is only about 11 per cent off its all-time high which was achieved, incidentally, in February this year.

It’s, like, almost a ho-hum moment amidst the carnage and mayhem going around everywhere. Still, the US stock market lost almost 90 percent of its value between 1929 and 1932.

That is unlikely to happen this time around given the ample liquidity worldwide but that’s about it: until a vaccine comes along, no one knows anything else about the future. 

Which brings us to 2020’s Burning Question: are we going to have another four years of The World According to Trump? 

It’s astonishing that Americans not only voted him in, they still continue to support him in large numbers. 

And according to enough people to be seriously dismayed, he still has a good chance of winning re-election in November.

How on earth does he do it, this charmless, corpulent commander-in-chief?

He does not seem to have a sense of humour unlike his various predecessors. When John Kennedy was attacked for allegedly using his father’s wealth during his 1960 campaign, for example, he cracked reporters up by revealing that he’d just received a cable from his father.

Kennedy, pretending to read a wire: “Dear Jack, don’t pay for a single vote more than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide!” 

Trump, on the other hand, is not known for using humour to deflect anything unless one is to believe that his reference to drinking bleach to prevent coronavirus was really a “sarcastic jibe” at a reporter. 

In an arena where self-deprecation and subtle promotion are appreciated, he does not care that he is vain and boorishly boastful. He seriously considers himself a “stable genius” and an expert on everything from the Taliban and the art of war to foreign policy and making deals.

And he has a lousy memory. When Obama was President, he criticised him for playing golf, once, during the Ebola crisis and, often, on the taxpayers’ dime. One person died of Ebola in the US and, over his eight years, it cost the government US$2.8 million for Obama to play golf. According to MSNBC, it’s cost over US$153 million to facilitate Trump’s golf games largely because he insists on playing on his own courses in Florida.

And there are the lies. When Twitter challenged him on fact, he turned around and screamed “free speech.” Now he wants to change the law simply because he was caught out. 

He wouldn’t win dog catcher anywhere else. 


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!


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.” 

Taking A Bite Out Of The Big Apple

I suppose what I experienced that early winter’s afternoon in Manhattan was what singer-songwriter Don Henley famously described as a New York “minute.”

I’d been walking uptown looking for a particular store when I noticed a crowd being held back by police and ropes. I had learnt by then never to ignore such things as they almost always proved interesting. 

It was. 

Behind the ropes, in the backlit glow of the lights was Al Pacino, emoting. He appeared completely oblivious of the gawping crowd, seemingly in a parallel dimension of make-believe.

I suppose that’s why they pay him the big bucks. I saw the finished version back home in Kuala Lumpur. It was the quite-excellent 1989 thriller Sea of Love. 

In the fall of 1988, I was lucky enough to obtain a fellowship to Columbia.

It helped my burgeoning career no end: I’d read biochemistry in college but, here, I was exposed to economics, business and finance. It helped me become a better business reporter. 

I’d read that you would fit right in with NYC if you came equipped, that is to say, paranoid. I mean, it was said that the most popular pastime in the city in the 80s was internal bleeding.

But no, I enjoyed my year in Manhattan enormously and was treated with nothing but courtesy and kindness. 

Stewart Taggart, my colleague in B-School, loved to go jogging and he once persuaded me to go along one Sunday morning to Central Park.

Loping around near the reservoir, Stewart suddenly stopped and pointed. I couldn’t see much until the group grew nearer. Surrounded by bodyguards, Mick Jagger was jogging briskly. 

He was friendly too. He noticed us looking and he smiled and waved.

But after half an hour I got tired and thought I would head back. I took one of the exits and found myself in Harlem.

I knew Columbia was several blocks away so I didn’t panic. While walking along, what I originally took to be a bundle of rags on a side street turned out to be a homeless man.

Walter turned out to be a nice fellow who knew where Southeast Asia was: he’d served in Vietnam. More to the point, he was going my way.  

I asked him how he survived in February when temperatures could go below zero. He shrugged as if it was a stupid question: “You get by the best you can.” 

You would constantly meet interesting people there. Pamela, our program director, for example, was married to Paul Kluge, an untidy-looking novelist whose New Yorker article helped inspire the film Dog Day Afternoon.

Paul used to find me interesting and, I suppose, something of a curiosity. One evening, he asked me over dinner what our national record for the 100-metre sprint was.

I told him it was 10.3 seconds and that it was set in the 1960s by a medical student who’d trained briefly in Texas.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” breathed Paul Kluge in complete amazement. “Talk of being backward. That’s like our “white” high school times and we’re not even starting to talk black.”   

All ten Fellows were in the media and nine were American. So, when we met Donald Trump for dinner in his Trump Tower one evening, I was the only one who’d never heard of him

He stared at me: “Where are you from?”


“That’s Asia,” he said, pleased by his knowledge. 

“Bingo,” said Stewart and I thought Mr Trump might go far. 

But he bristled at their questions – about his business tactics and his recent Chapter 11 filing – and you could sense he loathed reporters.

Later, all of us including Pamela – who rarely spoke evil of anyone – agreed he was a jerk. 

If only we knew then what we know now. 

What Hath The U.S Wrought?

It was the poet T S Elliot who remarked on man’s propensity for self-deception: “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”  

Could he have had Donald Trump in mind as its poster boy?

There was a giant statue of the Donald tweeting on a toilet accompanied by loud excerpts of his less than stellar comments. Among others: “I am a stable genius.” 

There was a sign flashing on the Tower of London that whispered volumes about his predecessor. It reminded everyone that while Mr. Obama had a 71% approval rating among Brits, President Trump’s approval rating stood at a forlorn 21%. 

There was an enormous, 20-foot blimp of Baby Trump in diapers looking indignant. 

And lest anyone miss the point, 75,000 people marched in the streets of London to protest President Donald Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom early this week. 

But Mr. Trump was living in an alternative reality. 

 “What protest?” the President parried the reporter who asked how he felt about his welcome to London. 

“I saw a small one,” Mr. Trump deadpanned cheerfully. “But it’s fake news, I’m sorry to say.”

It paid to be foolish. That was young Donald’s homespun philosophy as very early on, he realised that fools rush in…. and got the best seats. 

Almost three centuries ago, his countryman Benjamin Franklin recognised the species. “Any fool can criticise, condemn or complain,” noted old Ben sardonically. “And most fools do.” 

But what might be dismissed as laughable, even endearing, as a quality in a lesser mortal can take on sinister overtones when vested in a President of the United States. This is, after all, the Leader of the Free World, the guy with the finger on the nuclear trigger. 

This gets doubly chilling when we reflect on the words of Bertrand Russell. “Only the fool or the fanatic is absolutely certain of himself; the wise man is generally full of doubt.” 

In addition to possessing the certainty of a zealot, Potus had the adaptability of an amoeba. That is to say if at first he did not succeed, he apportioned blame. 

That was why the President generally wore a smile when things began to go wrong: he’d already found someone to blame for it. 

So when Prince Charles lectured him on the US’ rollback on climate change initiatives, he blamed “China, India and Russia” for worsening the problem. The US, meanwhile, had one of the “cleanest climates” around.

When the stock market rallied late last year, he took credit: when it dropped he blamed the Federal Reserve and its Governor. 

And when his Republican party fared poorly in the mid-term elections, he blamed the candidates themselves. If they had done well, he would have been the first to blow his trumpet because that was exactly what he did in the Senate race. 

It’s called selective accountability. 

And it isn’t clear if he listens to what he actually says. 

Consider this diatribe against the American Meghan Markle, now the princess of Sussex.

He said he would be a “much better princess” than Meghan Markle whom he dislikes as she’d called him a misogynist during the presidential campaign.

Calling her “a nasty woman,” Trump said, “If I were a princess, I would not be nasty. People would say, ‘Donald Trump is the nicest princess.’ Potus added that, “all a princess has to do is sit on a throne, and I would be very good at that also.”

“I sit between ten and twelve hours a day, minimum,” he said.

Finally, Trump said that, as Princess, he would do “a way better job at waving at people than Nasty Meghan does.”

“Meghan Markle’s waving is a disgrace,” he said. “I have the best waves.” You bet he has. If you don’t believe me, just ask him.