DON’T GO AND ROAM, JUST STAY HOME

Everything’s going to pot these days. 

The Dutch certainly thought so which explains the long lines outside those Amsterdam establishments that sell all things cannabis just before the city locked down in early March. For another thing, Mexico’s agreed to the wall separating it from the United States: with the number of Covid-19 infections in the US (450,000 and climbing), the Mexicans are even contemplating its funding.

And have you thought about the future? Like explaining to our grandchildren that 2020 was Year Zero when the fateful consumption of the bowl of bat soup in Wuhan, China, set into motion a train of events that eventually created the Great Global Toilet Paper Shortage. 

Like having to explain why so many teenagers in the 2030s are called Quarantine. You might even say a new cohort is set to become the new millennials – the Quaranteens

Things have come to a pretty pass these days with lots of people in self-isolation and, hence, bored out of their skulls. Let’s face it, a quarantine period combines the charm of a Muhyiddin Yassin press conference with all the excitement of double entry book-keeping. 

So, what’s a bored fellow to do? As Tennyson might have said: “In this lockdown, a bored man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of his mobile phone.” In short, by the time we wake up in the morning we can easily kill at least 45 minutes just going through our various WhatsApp messages. 

It is Good Friday as I write this. And truly I say, blessed is the messenger for he is humorous and shall inherit the mirth.  

It first started with easily recognisable songs with a lyrical twist. All manner of songs have been given the treatment since, ranging from Bohemian Rhapsody to our very own Alan Perera’s dig at our Woman Minister’s sexist obsessions with his classy take on Elvis Presley’s Don’t be Cruel (“Don’t be cruel / Be my Doraemon”).

Indeed, almost all the songs on The Sound of Music seem to have been used to parody the outbreak. The best may have been the twist on How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria (Corona?) with its memorable last line How Do You Stop A Whacko From Tweeting?

Then there are the jokes. I have received good, mediocre and terrible ones but have read all anyway.  I have nothing but time, duh!  A doctor-friend of mine from Ipoh, for example, sent me a particularly memorable one. It went thus: Breaking news – Spanish King tests positive for Covid-19, confined to his aircraft. Newspaper headline the next day: “The reign in Spain will stay mainly on the plane.”

Then there are “fake news” messages which are equally irritating. Example of one I believed because it seemed eminently plausible: a person did not have Covid-19 if he could hold his breath for between 10-20 seconds as this showed there was no fibrosis in the lungs. 

Earlier this week, however, the CNN doctor, the good Sanjay Gupta, rubbished this claim. He said there was no such evidence and any shortness of breath was all it took to be sufficiently alarmed. 

During the 1917 flu pandemic, the poor sods had no television, no mobiles and, as my daughter might have said, “no fun.” But this is the 21st Century, life goes on and we now have Zoom. 

Which is why we, in Singapore, are having an Easter party with our former neighbours in Malaysia via Zoom. We’ve already stocked up on the essentials. 

Like chips and beer.

When Life Is About As Clear As Molasses

What do you think an oxymoron is? 

No, we are not referring to a seriously stupid person lying under an oxygen tent. An oxymoron is actually a figure of speech where apparently contradictory terms are used in conjunction. 

Let me illustrate. 

Consider the phrase “civil war.” We take the phrase for granted but if you think about it, the two words are mutually exclusive. Wars are an awful, beastly business and they are almost never polite, courteous or mannerly. 

And what about “military intelligence?” Asked to comment once about a recent Senate hearing that uncovered a secret Pentagon spy ring, Groucho Marx countered: “Are you talking about military intelligence? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

American politicians tend to trip themselves up in the most engaging fashion. In trying to defend the death penalty, New York mayor Edward Koch had this to say: “Life is indeed precious and I believe the death penalty helps us affirm that fact.” 

And bemoaning the state of affairs in the country, President Gerald Ford lamented: ”If Lincoln were alive today, he’d be turning over in his grave.” 

When Ringo Starr sang Act Naturally, did he know that the song’s title was an oxymoron? It’s like describing a person as “awfully nice.” 

Oxymorons are sometimes used to make a point for greater effect.  You sort of make a splash when you use phrases like “deafening silence” or “conspicuous absence.” It reverberates in writing so much so it’s almost becoming a cliché.

I wish I were the writer who first came up with: “It’s about as clear as mud.” The point is obvious but it’s skilfully made. 

Oxymorons are widely used in literature for dramatic effect. Shakespeare was the writer who first coined such phrases as “sweet sorrow” and “melancholy merriment.”

And who does not know that magnificent Paul Simon oxymoron set to music – the Sound of Silence. 

There are also oxymorons that mean exactly what they say. Take idiot savant, for instance. Savant means “learned” and idiot means exactly what it says.

But idiot savant means both as in a person who has a mental disability but is gifted in one area like music or math. An example would be Dustin Hoffman’s character in the Rain Man who could count cards. 

Some people come up with the most fabulous ones in their daily speech. Asked by a newspaper to describe himself, artist Andy Warhol thought for a bit and then came up with: “I’m a deeply superficial person.”  

And singer Dolly Parton, commenting on her appearance at the Grammys’ said, only half-humorously: “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.” 

Peter “Yogi” Berra was a much beloved US baseball player and manager renowned for his paradoxical, oxymoronic utterances.  Examples: “You should always go to other people’s funerals otherwise they won’t come to yours ” and “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

And later, after he retired: “I never really said the things I said.” 

But the undisputed Monarch of Malaprop was movie producer Samuel Goldwyn of MGM fame. Among his best: “I never liked you and I always will.” 

“If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.”  

“I think no man should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.”

“The scene is too dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.”

“Any man who goes to see a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.” 

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” 

And, famously, about World War Two: “Don’t worry about the war. It’s all over but the shooting.”

The Art Of The Downplay

I was idly thumbing through the newspaper the other day when my eye fell on this headline. 

“Woman surprised by snake in bathroom at midnight.” 

Now I put it to you, ladies and g’s, no right thinking person is ever “surprised” by a snake in their bathrooms at midnight. They are terrified, petrified, scared silly perhaps. Some might even have had a bowel movement in their pants.

But “surprised?” You’ve got to be kidding. It brings to mind a mere pursing of the lips, perhaps an arch of an eyebrow or a sudden intake of breath as the “surprise” kicks in. 

Ah, the English language. Always pliable. The headline would qualify as an understatement, which can be broadly translated as representing a situation for less than what it is. In short, it’s the downplaying of an event for effect, humour or modesty.

Like after a torrential storm just dumped 100 inches of rain over Kuala Lumpur and have a newscaster describe the event as being “a trifle moist.” 

It’s employed a great deal in literature, even in comics. Do you remember the strip that ran in the daily papers in the 60s and 70s called Li’l Abner by Al Capp? 

It had a great cast of characters including a detective with a pencil moustache called Fearless Fosdick who got shot through the head so often that it usually featured as a literal hole in his head.

And asked about his health afterwards. The great crime buster, said hole in head all present and accounted for, would invariably reply: “It’s just a flesh wound, Chief.” 

I used to love the strip because it often employed word play to illustrate its humour. The makers of Kickapoo Joy Juice, for example, would often toss in a snarling bear – all sharp teeth and claws – into a vat boiling over a fire “for more bite.” 

There have been famous understatements in history. The most famous was probably Henry Morton Stanley’s quip when he finally met the man he was searching for after a 700-mile trek through the forests of Zanzibar: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

He was looking at English missionary David Livingstone who had been lost for several years. 

Everyone has heard of James Watson and Francis Crick, the two biochemists who unlocked the structure of the building blocks of existence itself. But not many people will remember the way they downplayed their discovery to the world. 

“The structure has novel features which may be of significant biological interest.” They were referring to the double helix-structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. 

It may have been the greatest scientific understatement of the 20th Century.

Emperor Hirohito knew how to break bad news to the Japanese public. This was how he announced Japan’s surrender to the Allies over radio in 1945.  “The war in the Pacific has not necessarily developed in Japan’s favour,” he said deadpan. 

Even Psycho had nothing on Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial killer who is also accused of cannibalism and necrophilia.  When he was finally caught, he casually asked the police: “I really messed up, didn’t I?”  

On the other hand, there’s overstatement, which is a gazillion times worse than understatement and is its polar opposite. Overstatement is rank exaggeration or hyperbole. 

Here’s Johnny Carson for illustration:

“It was so cold in the city yesterday that the flashers had to resort to describing themselves.” 

and…

“It was so hot yesterday that I actually saw a squirrel fanning his nuts.” 

What’s In A Name You Say? Everything!

British comedian Eddie Izzard was reflecting on unfortunate names thus : “So what do we call our baby son so that he does not get the sh.. kicked out of him at school? OK, I got it.  We’ll call him Engelbert Humperdinck. Yes, that’ll do it.”

But sometimes these monikers are self-inflicted.  A former soldier from the United Kingdom who changed his surname to “Fu-Kennard” for a laugh found out, to his chagrin, that the joke was on him.

The former Kenny Kennard found out that England’s Passport Office took a dim view of his brand of humour and denied him a passport – three times in a row. 

“They used to laugh at me in school when I said I would become a comedian,” the unfortunately-named prankster told pressmen. “But no one’s laughing now.” 

The failed comedian 33, changed his name in 2016 and even got a driving license under his new surname. 

But when his passport expired and he applied for a new one this year, his application was denied because his name “may cause offense.”

The former-soldier-turned supermarket worker from Cornwall has contested His Majesty’s Passport Office’s verdict three times — to no avail.


I read the above news item in the Star on Friday morning and it got me thinking. So I typed “embarrassing names” on Google and the list that emerged was jaw dropping. 

With a name like Chris P Bacon you can conclude a couple of things immediately. One, the guy is probably not Jewish. And, two, you can bet your bottom dollar he won’t get served in a bar.

They usually don’t serve food in those places. 

What were the parents thinking when they named their bouncing baby boy Mr Perv. The picture on the screen showed a smiling, balding man in his mid-40s who looked about as perverted as Tom Cruise looked like Quasimodo. 

He was listed as a scientist. I’m reliably informed that he disliked Harry Potter and when comparing competing theories, he could usually be counted on to choose the one that didn’t involve any magic spells.  

On the downside, he was also the one making nuclear weapons as if there’s no tomorrow. 

We are told there is a Singapore national, now 19, whose race is Javanese and whose name is, less than fittingly, Batman bin Superman. His father must have loved those DC comics. 

Then there is the distinguished doctor of neurology whose father must have known was destined for greatness. Not surprisingly, he was christened Lord Brain. But Mike Litoris cannot have been too chuffed with his parents by the time his first biology lesson rolled around.

Similarly I M Boring came out with a seminal book on the philosophy of Descartes. We are told that it combined the charm of a Lim Guan Eng budget speech with all the excitement of double entry bookkeeping.

I will end this droll, and hitherto true post with an equally true anecdote about one of my former neighbours, a retired Appeals Court Judge justly famed for his bon mots. 

Said Judge was taking some friends from England to May Kian Fatt, a Chinese restaurant in Ampang New Village, famous for its seafood. 

He takes one look at the signboard, does an exaggerated double take for the benefit of his friends and then stalks into the restaurant where he demands to see the proprietor.  

Bewildered owner comes to see him.

Judge, waving his arms and gesturing at the signboard: “I say, that is all very well but, tell me….”

 “…can May cook?”

Behind Every Great Fortune Is A Crime

The majority of people in Thailand are Buddhist which explains their philosophical approach to life. It’s like “treat every day as your last and one day you’ll be right.”

That sort of explains the Death Awareness Café.

The establishment is a cafe in Thailand that’s using a macabre gimmick to draw in customers – closing them in coffins after finishing coffee.

The Death Awareness Cafe in Bangkok features mortuary-inspired décor and coffins placed for customers to spend time closed inside after their purchased beverages.

A sample poster on the wall reads “Twelve remain dead in morgue shooting.” Another reads; “You should never grieve at funerals. In fact, if anyone cries at my funeral, I’ll never speak to him again.” 

Veeranut Rojanaprapa, the owner of the extraordinary café said the purpose of the cafe is to inspire customers to reflect on their lives. He said the idea was inspired by Buddhist philosophy and is aimed at encouraging people not to be driven by greed.

And he didn’t see any irony in opening the cafe for profit? Actually, the businessman was an eternal optimist. When he was a child, he persuaded his parents to buy him two goldfish. He called them One and Two so even if one died, he’d have two left.  

Be that as it may, there are as many business models as they are varied. The death motif was original and, to hear Mr Rojanaprapa explain it, it was also quintessentially Buddhist. 

“Our main goal is for the visitor to experience the death awareness,” he said. “When the lid of the coffin closes, their basic instincts will come up and they will realise that eventually they cannot take anything with them.”

The felonious fatso now not hiding out in China would have said that what they’d feel is panic. 

The Royal Malaysian Police felt panicky and wished the ostensibly Buddhist Felonious aka Jho Low would have had such self-realisation before he came up with his grand plan to defraud Malaysia that the Wall Street Journal described as the “world’s greatest heist.” 

But the smiling swindler must have known he would rise to a level of thievery that made even Bernie Madoff look like Winnie the Pooh. He knew that an MBA with a brief case and a fountain pen could steal more than a hundred men with guns. 

“Behind every great fortune is a crime,” wrote the French playwright Honore de Balzac way back in the early 19th century. But the plump pilferer who continued to haunt the dreams of the Inspector General of Police knew something that Balzac didn’t. 

Very early on, perhaps as early as his college years in Wharton, he’d realised that, in Malaysia, crime did not pay as well as politics.

So he combined the two and, if things had stayed the same, he may have gone on to become a latter day Warren Buffett.  

For isn’t it said that history is written by the victors?

He might even have commissioned Tom Wright and Bradley Hope to write his memoirs called – why not? – Billion Dollar Whale.

Alas, poor Felonious! His advice will no longer be sought by governments, he will always be looking over his shoulder  and the next book about him might conceivably be about his arrest and trial, the best-selling Billion Dollar Bail.

It doesn’t get any more Zen than that.

Where Jinns Fear To Tread

It is said that women can occasionally make fools out of men but we seem to have a Malaysian professor who’s more of a do-it-yourself type. 

One Professor Dr Mohd Zohdi Mohd Amin from Fakulti Pengajian Quran Dan Sunnah at the Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia has stated that dinosaurs weren’t animals but were jinns or what the Western world calls genies.

The comment drew hilarious responses on social media. Example: “If a university professor thinks that dinosaurs are genies, how can you blame an artiste for mistaking a sun bear for a dog?”

This was in reference to a singer arrested for harbouring a sun bear in her condominium. She was quoted as saying that she’d thought it had been a small dog.

But I digress. The dinosaur-researching prof says he based his conclusions on the hadith which says the Jinn species is made of 3 groups, namely dogs and snakes, the groups that fly in the air, and those that settle, move and are destructive.

The hadith refers to the words, actions or anything that received the silent approval of Prophet Muhammad. 

Why come up with such a statement in the first place? It’s neither here nor there for it can never be proved.  It’s like the saying “I think sex is better than logic but I can’t prove it.”

Not only is the statement unnecessary, the good Professor may be trying to rediscover the wheel. As far back as 1812, the science of palaeontology had discovered the first fossils of dinosaurs and it is now estimated that there were at least 500 distinct genera of the reptile.

There is reasonably objective proof of the existence of these reptiles. Mankind knows that dinosaurs existed well before homo sapiens made his entrance because we have their perfectly preserved bones, even remains of their faeces. Whole skeletons of the creatures exist in numerous museums around the world.

Indeed, the notion that all the dinosaurs perished after the earth collided with an asteroid millions of years ago may itself be only partially true. Birds, apparently, evolved from dinosaurs which means the breed still have some present-day relatives.

University faculty should realise that nothing is taught if nothing is learned. It’s a waste of taxpayer funds to put it bluntly.

Who knows? He could be the same guy who thought that a water bed could be made more bouncy if one used spring water.

Clearly, the academic was a sceptic. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him think. Similarly, you could take the Prof to the National Dinosaur Museum in Canberra and ask him what he thinks of the exhibits. “Remains to be seen,” he would inevitably reply. 

Or you might tell him that you think you might have discovered a dinosaur skeleton and he would inevitably say it’s a fossil arm.  

Next, he’d be saying that you can’t hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom. Actually, he’s right: the “p” is silent.

Finally, here is a fun factoid about dinosaurs: 

The thesaurus not only has the most extensive vocabulary of the breed, it was also the first to perish, become extinct, be superseded, die out, vanish, become exterminated, become defunct…..

Surprise post!

To make up for our unfortunate technical difficulty from last week, we hope you enjoy this second post for this week!

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Leaving Seems To Be The Hardest Word


Old Crooks Never Die: They Just Steal Away 

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak is popularising the notion that it’s OK to be shameless even if you might be dreadfully guilty.

“Try me if you can” seems to be the former premier’s abiding credo and, to be sure, he has been dodging what could be a judicial bullet for ten months now.

So it appears that until he is finally brought to face the music, the 65-year-old former leader will continue to don black – parka, jeans and sneakers – and ride into the sunset because it wows youthful rebels without a cause into believing that shamelessness for fun and profit is not just fine but dandy and perfectly de rigour.

In such a universe, old axioms get tossed out the window. Perhaps even the one that says crime does not pay.  And you can seriously forget the one that says “the truth will set you free.”

Heaven help us for we are losing it where values – or its lack – are concerned.  It appears that politics trumps everything including patently distasteful posturing.

And yet, the President of the Malaysian Chinese Association Wee Ka Siong recently suggested that his party might learn a thing or two from Najib’s motorcycle-riding antics “to stay relevant.”

Do you remember all those PM apologists who suggested at the time that it was always someone else’s fault – his wife, Fat Boy, etc? Now we know who’s calling the shots: BossKu (Our Boss) on a Moped.

At least some things have changed. Previously MO1 always denied that anything was wrong with 1Malaysia Development Fund. Now he concedes that there was, indeed, wrongdoing but it was a “systemic failure” and everybody should be blamed.

Harry S Truman, the 33rd President of the United States had a plaque on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here,” meaning he was the one who took responsibility for everything that happened during his tenure.

Alas, the buck seems to have stopped at other destinations in this case. 

Low Teck Jho had never heard of Harry Truman but he’d heard of Harry Houdini and he had a healthy respect for the legendary magician who could escape from anything and who made things disappear into thin air.

Houdini may not have known that crime did not pay as well as politics. But far away across the oceans and safe from the madding crowd, the fraudulent fatso known as Jho Low knew it and mouthed a silent benediction to its sentiment as he uncorked yet another bottle of champagne to celebrate not having to ride mopeds in the humid heat of his homeland.

No, he much preferred comfort in well-cut suits. The corpulent conman believed in keeping his wits about him preferably in a land where Everybody Didn’t Know Your Name and where Interpol was both unseen and ignored.

You had to be smart but quiet. It was like underwear, the pudgy purloiner reasoned. It was important that you have it on but not important that you show it off.

The beefy brigand took pride in the fact that he was scrupulously fair. He did not, for example, want to stand trial in Malaysia because he thought he would not get a fair trial there.

But that was not to say that he might consent to being tried in the United States or Singapore where he was also wanted. That would be oh-so-unfair to his beloved Malaysia, his tanah tumpah darahku.

Fat Boy had principles and, by God, he was sticking to them. Who says there’s no honour among thieves?