29 November 2005

More on the Melyvn Tan case

So today the ST Forum has another reader writing in on the Melyvn Tan case. An interesting letter:

Nov 29, 2005
Moral of story behind Mindef reply on NS case

I REFER to Mr Ben Nadarajan's commentary, '$5,000 fine for skipping NS? That's just not fine' (The Sunday Times, Nov 27), and the numerous articles and letters which have expressed indignation and unhappiness over the fact that pianist Melvyn Tan was slapped with only a fine of at most $5,000 for skipping national service.

It seems that the main point of contention is that given the market rate of time in the detention barracks (DB) for full-time national servicemen who go absent without official leave (AWOL), the imposition of only a fine on Mr Tan seems completely unfair. Or is it?

Mindef tried to explain the sense in this madness in the letter, 'Pianist dealt with, though he's no longer a citizen' (ST, Nov 24), but it seems that some people didn't get it, so I thought I would attempt to paraphrase its reply for their benefit.

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).

NSmen who go AWOL may get time in DB, but they also get to keep their citizenship and will enjoy government subsidies for secondary and tertiary education, HDB concession loans, IPPT monetary awards and New Singapore Shares. Mr Tan would probably have received only some educational and maybe health subsidies until he was 12, and none of the above.

This is the crux of the matter: $5,000 is neither the price of national service nor the price of citizenship. It really is the fee for renouncing Singaporean citizenship if you happen to be born to Singaporean parents in Singapore and delay renouncing your citizenship for four years - and, yes, you also have to throw in another 37 years of self-imposed exile to top it off.

This is the moral of the story: if you are a guy, get your parents to have you delivered in the US. Then, if you should later decide to renounce your Singapore citizenship just before the national-service call-up, you can save yourself $5,000 and a whole lot of hassle.

Ben Leong Wing Lup
Massachusetts, USA

Heheh. Funny and sharp, this Ben Leong person. However, he also missed an important point. Read this part of his letter carefully:

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).
The scenario which Ben describes is actually impossible. The sneaky Singapore government is too sneaky for that. See my comments in the comments section of my previous post about the Singapore constitution. The pianist Melvyn Tan could not have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, because the Singapore government does not allow male Singaporeans below 18 to renounce their citizenship. At best Melvyn Tan could have tried to renounce his Singapore citizenship at age 21 (which the government may or may not allow, in the case of male Singaporeans who have not done their NS). If you do some calculations, you'll find that Melvyn indeed renounced his Singapore citizenship approximately as soon as he legally could try to do so. He probably initiated the process 28 years ago, upon turning 21. And the paperwork was probably successfully completed one year later (27 years ago) when he turned 22.

Also Singapore does not allow you to hold dual citizenship. You can have PR status in another country, but you cannot have dual citizenship. Article 134 of the Singapore Constitution says so. So that's another reason why Ben Leong's scenario could not possibly have happened.

Aren't you people glad that you have Mr Wang's blog to read? You learn so many things here that you would never learn from reading the Straits Times.

Mr Wang's Unusual Views

Earlier I had commented on this case from the legal perspective. Now I will consider it from a more personal point of view.

And I say this - I am happy for Melvyn Tan.

My opinion - and I fully acknowledge that others will have different opinions - is this:

What is good for the system is often bad for the individual. And while NS may be good or necessary for the state of Singapore, it is generally a waste of time and a lot of suffering for the individual male citizen. If Melvyn successfully escaped the system, then I, as an individual, am happy for Melvyn, as an individual.

I know that many people will disagree with my philosophy. Most of us Singaporean men know from experience that the poor souls who got abused and bullied the most in the army will often become abusive and cruel themselves. When they finish their training and graduate from their course and rise in rank to become instructors, they start to abuse new recruits and trainees the same exact way they were once abused - the same exact way they once found so utterly unacceptable and wrong. A sadistic streak suddenly manifests in their hearts, when they get a little bit of power in their hands. They derive some perverted sense of vindication and revenge in seeing the newbies suffer.

Mr Wang does not subscribe to this kind of philosophy. Just because you have suffered and been abused does not make it a good thing for other people to suffer and be abused as well. Extending this line of thinking a little further - Mr Wang does not think that just because the average male Singaporean has had the terrible misfortune of wasting two years of his life in NS, he has any real justification to get angry and jealous that another male Singaporean, namely Melvyn Tan, managed to "beat the system" and avoid that terrible misfortune. If every single person, without exception, suffers a terrible misfortune, no single person benefits anyway. The collective amount of misfortune simply grows bigger.

There are a few other things about Mr Wang, an INTJ, that you might not know. Mr Wang loves to see people beat the system. Mr Wang loves to see people chase their dreams. Mr Wang loves people who dare to shine. Mr Wang does not love the SAF. Mr Wang does not love conformists. Mr Wang does not believe in herd instinct. Mr Wang does not believe in wasting talent. In other words, Mr Wang is a classic INTJ. His personality profile is such that he cannot help but love the Melvyn Tan story. Well done, Melvyn, and congrats!

Go forth, Melvyn Tan, shine for the rest of your musical career, and do Singapore proud. You do Singapore a lot more good as a world-famous musician, than you could ever have done as just another faceless SAF cook / clerk / driver / rifleman / storeman / PTI / medic / GD man / lobo / tankee / RP /fatal-statistic-in-yet-another-ROC-training-accident.

Statistically, INTJs form less than 1.5% of the human race and Mr Wang is well aware that the more-common personality types in the male Singapore population will probably disagree with his views as expressed above.

28 November 2005

Healthcare Issues

Alas, Mr Wang's family is still not in the best of health. The little girl has recovered and she is happily overdosing on her usual diet of cartoon VCDs (see pix). But the little boy has indeed fallen ill and has been quite ill for the past few days. His diarrhoea and vomiting has subsided but he still has zero appetite and he consumed almost nothing on Saturday and Sunday. Last night he drank a decent amount of milk and then promptly puked it all over Mr Wang's sofa.

Mr Wang has again taken urgent leave from work to watch over his little family. He has been making tiny quantities of soy-based, lactose-free formula milk for the little boy, and trying to persuade the boy to take 30 ml every hour. Normally the boy will drink 240 ml at one go, not to mention taking a big bowl of porridge, all in one morning. This morning the boy took 30 ml every hour till he hit 120 ml, and now he has again lost all interest in food.

If the Singapore government really wants to be pro-family, one of the best things it can do is to encourage employers to grant extra days of leave to employees who have kids, say, under the age of 12.

25 November 2005

The NS-Defaulting Pianist

So some famous pianist defaulted on his NS obligations decades ago. Recently he came back to Singapore and was fined $5000 for the offence. Mr Wang has learned that some Singaporeans have gotten into a tizzy about the sentence, believing it to be too lenient. Takchek was hoping that I would comment on this case, so I will. First, the ST report:
Nov 20, 2005
Pianist pays NS dues - 28 years later
He is fined for defaulting on his NS after he decides to return, as his aged parents are finding it difficult to visit him in London

By Kristina Tom

AFTER staying away from Singapore for nearly 30 years because he defaulted on his national service, pianist Melvyn Tan has finally paid his dues.

The 49-year-old, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the last 37 years, has paid a fine for not fulfilling his national service duty and will be performing at the Esplanade next month.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, a visibly relieved Mr Tan said that he is glad to have put the past behind him.

He has not stepped onto Singapore soil all these years because he had feared that he would be arrested and thrown into jail.

But his 86-year-old father and 80-year-old mother are getting too old to make the regular trips to London to visit him at his home in Notting Hill, London.

So he decided to take a 'risk'. After informing the authorities of his intention to return, he came home in April for a court hearing.

The hearing lasted 30 minutes but he had never been so nervous in his life. 'It was very, very nerve-wracking,' he said.

To his relief, he was asked only to pay a fine.

He claims that he cannot remember the amount.

Under the Enlistment Act, those who evade national service can be fined up to $5,000 or sent to jail for up to three years, or both.

Although Mr Tan became a British citizen in 1978, he was still a Singapore citizen when he failed to fulfil his NS duties, making him answerable for the offence in a Singapore court.

In 1994, The Straits Times quoted a lawyer who said that one of his clients, a 39-year-old French citizen, was arrested at the airport on arrival, fined and made to complete nine months of training.

Mr Tan, who has an elder sister, was studying at Anglo-Chinese School when he left Singapore to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Sussex. He was then 12 years old.

After he finished his course, he stayed on in England to study at the Royal College of Music instead of coming home to serve national service in 1977.

He said: 'When I was at the Royal College and I got my final call-up, I was just on the brink of starting a career. I thought about it and thought about it and realised that I was not going to get this chance again.

'So I made that very difficult decision to not return. It meant I could never come back.'

Mr Tan first made his mark in the classical world with his performances on the 19th-century fortepiano, the precursor to the modern concert grand.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he produced a series of recordings that popularised the early music movement, regarded as a slightly eccentric niche within the music world.

He has about 30 recordings to his name and a regular touring schedule in Europe.

Along with Seow Yit Kin and Margaret Leng Tan, he has helped Singapore to gain recognition on the global piano scene.

The pianist is wasting no time in reconnecting with the Singapore music scene.

He goes back to England tomorrow, but will return early next month to sit on the jury of the National Arts Council's biennial National Piano and Violin Competition, which starts Dec 7 and ends Dec 18.

He said that he is getting to know Singapore, which he describes as 'unrecognisable', all over again. And, of course, he has been feasting on his favourite foods such as popiah.

But the best part about being able to come home as a free man was showing up at his mother's 80th birthday party on Thursday.

His parents still live in his childhood home in Lengkok Angsa, off Paterson Road. 'There were a few tears,' he said. 'She was just delighted. It was the best birthday present she's ever had.'
Mr Wang will state his personal opinion straightaway - I think this was a reasonable sentence. If I were the judge, I would have probably imposed a similar sentence. At most, I think I would have given a few days of imprisonment.

There are plenty of grounds to justify such a sentence. Firstly Melvyn Tan had voluntarily surrendered himself to the authorities and then pleaded guilty in court. Now as a legal principle of sentencing, criminals who voluntarily surrender and then plead guilty in court generally get a lighter sentence. Melvyn chose to surrender and plead guilty in a situation where he could very easily have evaded arrest forever (by simply not returning to Singapore). So in his case, his voluntary surrender and guilty plea count as particularly significant mitigating factors.

Secondly, the reason why he chose to surrender (so as to be able to be with his aged parents) also deserves some sympathy. Mr Wang has a heart even if Mr Miyagi doesn't.

Thirdly, the fact that the offence was committed such a long time ago also, in my view, is another reason to impose a less-severe sentence. For an offence like this, I am not very convinced that there is that much purpose in punishing an almost-senior citizen for something he did more than half his lifetime ago, when he was a teenager.

Fourthly, one should consider the sentencing considerations that would typically apply to a case of an NS defaulter. The primary sentencing consideration would be the need for general deterrence - that is to say, if the court imposed a severe sentence, it would do so primarily with the intention of deterring other Singaporeans from committing the same kind of offence. However, Melvyn Tan's case is probably quite different from what the average NS defaulter's case would be, so there can't be that much deterrent value in imposing a heavier sentence in this particular case. I don't think that Melvyn's case is likely to persuade the average 14-year-old or 15-year-old male Singaporean today to start hatching any escape plans.

The fifth point to note is that your average NS defaulter, with no special mitigating factors at all, is probably not going to get more than six months' imprisonment anyway. So don't let the three years' maximum sentence possible under the law deceive you. As I've previously explained, the maximum possible sentences for most crimes are hardly ever imposed - the practical reality is that the average sentence imposed in the average case for most offences is well below the legal maximum.

A sixth point is a particular kind of argument that defence lawyers frequently raise, in one form or another, in different kinds of criminal cases. Personally, I don't particularly buy this particular kind of argument, but it's pretty common anyway, and I am quite sure that Melvyn's lawyer would have raised it as well. The general idea is that the criminal's own act had in itself caused him some suffering, so would the judge please take this consideration, since the accused has in effect already punished himself to some degree. In Melvyn's case, the argument would go something like this - for all these long years, poor old Melvyn has been unable to come to Singapore to visit his dear parents, relatives etc, and this in itself is already a kind of punishment, so would the judge please take this into consideration and impose a lesser kind of sentence. Not particularly convincing to me, but as I said, a fairly common kind of argument raised by defence lawyers.

There are a couple of other points that Mr Wang can see - relating to the circumstances under which Melvyn Tan committed the offence. But perhaps more later, Mr Wang needs to go check on his little children now. Bye ...

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What other bloggers are saying: Steph's Blog, Zuco's Blog, Cheeky By Nature, The Vacant Lot.

3rd Seditious Blogger

Heheh. So my old boss, Bala Reddy, does not disappoint. He comes up with some innovative ideas for sentencing for the third seditious blogger, Gan Huai Shi.

ST 24 Nov 2005
Not jail, but immersion in Malay community
'This will allow him opportunities to have positive interaction with the Malay community.'
DISTRICT JUDGE BALA REDDY, in sentencing Gan to community work

By Chong Chee Kin
RACIST blogger Gan Huai Shi, 17, is not going to jail. But he will be getting an instant immersion into the Malay community instead.

Yesterday, District Judge Bala Reddy had some unusual recommendations to help correct Gan's 'misguided dislike for the Malay community' when he sentenced the student, the third such blogger convicted so far.

Unlike the first two, who were jailed for their seditious comments, Gan has been placed on probation for two years and ordered to do community service.

And the judge suggested Gan's probation officer should be a Malay who can 'act as a positive Malay role model' for the youth.

His 180 hours of community work should also take place at Malay welfare organisations such as the Jamiyah Home for the Aged, Pertapis Children's Home and Muhammadiyah Health and Day Care Centre for the Aged.

'This will allow him opportunities to have positive interaction with the Malay community... All these activities will act as an eye-opener for him when he participates in such activities of the Malay community,' the judge said.
In case you hadn't been following closely, this is what made Gan's case somewhat different from that of the other two seditious bloggers - his animosity towards Malays had been formed by a traumatic experience in his boyhood days:

Mr Pereira told the court the youth's animosity towards Malays stemmed from the traumatic death of his baby brother 10 years ago.

Gan, then seven, was with his mother trying to get a cab to rush his one-month-old brother to hospital. They failed to persuade a Malay couple to give up a taxi which had stopped for them. It took another 20 minutes before they flagged down another taxi. The baby was pronounced dead on arrival.

Yesterday, the judge ordered Gan to undergo counselling and psychiatric evaluation to help him come to terms with the death.
Good for you, Bala. Mr Wang awards you 10 bonus karma points.

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What other bloggers are saying: Chemical Generation Singapore.

21 November 2005

Credit Card Safety

Nov 21, 2005
Identity theft cases here likely to rise
Credit bureau: 'One or two' reports so far.
Many not reported due to lack of awareness

By Alfred Siew
WHEN insurance agent Kelvin Khoo, 33, checked his credit card bills recently, he was surprised to find several charges incurred in Turkish lira.

He had never been to Turkey, and certainly never bought anything there. But three of his credit cards - which he had used to buy tech gadgets over the Internet - showed the same suspicious charges from a Turkish company.

A call to the banks confirmed his fears: he had been hit by identity theft. Someone, he suspects, had stolen his card details online and signed up for insurance policies in his name.

'I told the banks I can show my passport to prove I've never been to Turkey,' he told The Straits Times. 'And I work in an insurance company, so why would I buy policies from overseas?'

With a clear-cut case, he got the charges cleared. Other victims, part of a worrying trend of identity fraud, may have to prove they are indeed hit by a scam.

Thieves can now use a copy of a victim's identity card to sign up for a credit card, for example. They have also been known to buy credit card numbers from dishonest storekeepers, who keep the receipts bearing customers' card details.
Here come some shocking statistics:
A recent report in Newsweek magazine said 50 million Americans have recently had their personal data exposed, and a quarter of Britons - around 15 million people - know someone whose identity has been stolen.

A couple of ideas occurred to me a long time ago but I never got around to executing them. I guess I really should - and so should you.

1. Reduce your number of credit cards. That makes it easier to monitor your usage and detect any suspicious activity. You also get less of a headache if you ever lose your wallet or purse.

2. Use one card and one card only for Internet purchases and payments. Furthermore call your bank and ask for a reduced limit on that card to no more than what you expect to need. For example, ask for a cap of $2,000 if you don't expect to ever spend more than that over the Internet in one month. That way, the amount of money a fraudster can ever run up on your card is also limited.

Incidentally, platinum just isn't what platinum used to be. Wasn't there a time when you needed to earn something like $200,000 a year to qualify? But recently I picked up a DBS brochure that stated the qualifying annual income for a DBS platinum card is $50,000. That's four times less exclusive than it used to be.

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18 November 2005

Yes, Teacher

So I want to highlight this interesting blog where a teacher has turned blogging into homework for her students. That's right, I am talking about Madam Sng Loves to Blog. Now her students are all getting into a flurry because they have a deadline - 20 November - to set up their own blogs and start writing. Yes, yes, Madam Sng has high hopes for her students from the class of F41:
Not too long ago, certain students in other schools have been chastised by their school for flaming their teachers in their blogs. I would like to believe that my students are above such juvenile antics. Hence I would like you to take the time to write meaningful entries in your blog. What you write reflects the kind of person you are. So you are the best person to decide how you want people to see you.
Boy, if only school was this fun when I was a student. I swear I could've scored 1st Class Honours in Blogging. Then again XiaXue probably would have gotten herself a PhD.

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Club Rainbow

Today my lunchtime wanderings brought me to Bras Basah Complex, that old sentimental haunt of book lovers, where I encountered large numbers of beautifully illustrated children's books selling at ridiculously low prices (like, four or five dollars). I promptly picked out six or seven titles for my own two children and spent $35 without thinking.

On the way back to office, I met some fundraising volunteers from Club Rainbow, which helps children suffering from serious chronic illnesses. The volunteers were standing in a public place accosting passers-by, mostly without success.

Normally, if I meet charity flagsellers, I'm happy to hand over my loose change. However, this time, the volunteer asked me to sign up to donate via credit card on a monthly or quarterly basis. And the least amount of donation this particular scheme permitted was $30 every month, or $120 every quarter.

Four years ago, I would have sidestepped this volunteer without a second thought. Today, however, I am the proud father of two little happy, healthy kids. And my heart turned a little soft and weepy at the thought that there are kids who weren't so lucky as to be born healthy as my own two kids.

And I thought about the $35 I'd just spent, without a second thought, on my kids' books, which were in a plastic bag that I was holding. That $35 could have gone further if it had gone to help some poor kid somewhere suffering from spina bifida or thalassaemia major.

Duly chastened by my conscience, I signed up to be a regular donor to Club Rainbow. Hope I get some karma points for my next life.

If you would like to donate or be a volunteer with Club Rainbow, click here for more info.

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Speak Mandarin Campaign

Once again, the Speak Mandarin campaign is here. Mr Wang wrote a post in early September, where Mr Wang said that he would be interested in learning (or rather, relearning) the Mandarin language, but only for career-related reasons. Mr Wang had stated that he didn't see how learning the language would, for himself personally, have anything to do with being more "Chinese" or appreciating Chinese culture more deeply.

Today the Straits Times Forum has a letter which fortifies Mr Wang's conclusions, although ironically that would not have been the letter-writer's intentions.
Nov 18, 2005
He regrets he doesn't speak Mandarin

IT IS strange that younger English-speaking Singaporeans have been targeted in this year's Speak Mandarin Campaign. Being products of a bilingual education, surely there is an implicit tendency to speak the language without the need for exhortation. It is not a question of being Chinese but a matter of 'use it or lose it'. They are fortunate to be bilingual.

Hailing from the earliest baby-boomer generation, the second language was not a compulsory subject for my contemporaries and me and we were not exhorted to learn it. As a result, we missed out on many opportunities and, worse, were subjected to embarrassment in many situations.

I was in Beijing in the mid-1990s to set up my company's China office. Throughout my time there I had an interpreter and it was very awkward, especially when the Chinese knew I was from Singapore where it is a given that you are bilingual. I must admit I felt ashamed.

Then, there was the holiday trip to Guilin. I was the only person in the group of 26 that could not understand the tour guide and missed out on all the great stories he told.

At home, though I watch Channel 8, I had to develop a quick eye to read the English subtitles to understand the story. I would have enjoyed the shows much more if only I could understand and speak Mandarin.

So, to the younger English-speaking Singaporeans, here is my advice: do not do away with Mandarin, speak it as often as possible. Do not let your language ability atrophy, or you will feel the loss. However, do not put down people who cannot speak and understand Mandarin.

Harry Chia Kim Seng
The writer has offered three examples of situations where he felt disadvantaged or embarrassed due to his lack of ability in the Mandarin language. Mr Wang will now briefly comment on these three examples.

The Holiday Trip to Guilin.. The writer forgot to inform you that you could just as well take a holiday to Thailand, France or Japan. In those cases, you would suffer similar disadvantages due to your not knowing Thai, French or Japanese. On the other hand, none of us have the time to learn all the many different useful languages in the world.

The Channel 8 TV shows. Mr Wang will only say that you're not missing much. If you do not watch these shows at all, Mr Wang doubts that your quality of life has suffered to any significant extent.

Setting up the China office. Mr Wang agrees that for career reasons, it may be useful to learn Mandarin. See Mr Wang's earlier post. That, however, is to Mr Wang the only really compelling reason for considering making the effort to learn (or relearn) Mandarin.

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16 November 2005

CJ Yong Pung How Gains Enlightenment

So you see - things do change for the better. Mr Wang had previously written about the plight of criminals who suffer from mental illnesses, and how they are misunderstood within our criminal legal system. See here and here for Mr Wang's past musings. This was a topic which had also recently been raised in Parliament.

Today the Straits Times reports how the Chief Justice of Singapore Yong Pung How is displaying a highly improved understanding of the underlying issues. Of course the Straits Times title is utterly irrelevant and misses the real significance of the case reported below.
Nov 16, 2005
CJ to kleptomaniac: 'You are just plain stupid'
She shoplifts while out on bail, but gets one more chance - and a scolding

By Elena Chong
SHE started shoplifting when she was nine and while she was out on bail last month, she could not help herself - and did it again.

Yesterday, [Convict's Name Removed By Mr Wang], who suffers from kleptomania - an impulse control disorder - came before the Chief Justice and got one more chance, and a scolding for good measure.

CJ Yong Pung How placed [XXX] on 24 months' supervised probation, and told her: 'Don't try and cure yourself. You are just plain stupid.'
The Straits Times, being what it is, has chosen to highlight the "you are just plain stupid" as the newsworthy element - see title of article. Of course the real significance in fact lies in the next paragraph:
He ordered her to perform 240 hours of community service, attend psychiatric and psychological treatment sessions and take her medication daily under her mother's supervision.
This is extremely rare. The woman is a repeat offender, exactly the kind of person that the Chief Justice normally likes to lock away in prison for a loooong time. In the present case, however, the Chief Justice not only chose her to spare her from imprisonment, but furthermore to order her to attend psychiatric and psychological treament. Mr Wang cannot help but be reminded of what Mr Wang himself wrote in one of his previous posts about another criminal, Iskandar Nordin:
Mr Wang believes that one day, we will become more enlightened about how criminals (or some kinds of criminals, at least) should be treated. Throwing people like Iskandar into jail and caning them does not necessarily serve any good purpose. Iskandar's kind of behaviour .... is highly indicative of the mental illnesses known as conduct disorder and ADHD (these two illnesses often coexist).

Incarceration cannot cure these mental conditions. Neither can caning. One day, Iskandar will walk out from prison again. If he still hasn't been properly treated of ADHD, then in all likelihood he will almost immediately do something stupid and criminal again. He can't help it. It's the conduct disorder, coupled with the impulsivity that comes with ADHD.

....... jail is the last place where people like Iskandar will get the professional help they need.
It seems that the Chief Justice now agrees with Mr Wang's views on the matter, hence his approach to the present case. The next few paragraphs of the Straits Times report also shows the Chief Justice's thought processes moving in the right direction:
The first thing he asked the 24-year-old former computer programmer with [YYYYYYYYY] at her appeal hearing yesterday was if she had been taking her medication daily, and where.

She said she took her pills every morning at home.

'Don't forget,' CJ Yong told her.
There are other interesting indications in the article of how CJ Yong's views seem to be changing. For example:
CJ Yong said it was very easy for him to 'bump' her into jail, but he felt she has a problem which 'cannot be resolved by this form of punishment'.

'So long as she continues to take her daily dose of medication, there is a possibility that she may be cured completely. It is a mental affliction.

'If we just say - let's bundle her to prison... she has had so many chances, I think you would have destroyed the very last hope.'

CJ Yong said he was 'absolutely certain' that if XXXX were imprisoned, it would 'destroy her finally'.

He reminded her again to take her medication daily, warning her she would be 'finished' if she stopped doing so.
There is a little side article by ST explaining kleptomania:
Why the impulse to steal

KLEPTOMANIA is an uncontrollable impulse to steal and items stolen are often of little value or use, said psychiatrist Tan Chue Tin.

Once the impulse strikes, Dr Tan explained, a kleptomaniac's mind becomes obsessed with a particular item.

If he does not steal that item, his level of anxiety shoots up and becomes unbearable.

The only way to reduce the anxiety and pain he feels is to steal the item.

'They know stealing is wrong,' Dr Tan said. 'But the need to steal overpowers everything. They then feel guilty about stealing.'

UPDATE 28 August 2006: At the request of her friend, I have removed the name of the convicted person. I have also removed the reference to her ex-employer.

13 November 2005

Did Mr Wang Get Ripped Off?

On capital punishment again, many of my regular readers noted the extremely strong resemblances between my post on 5 November and the Straits Times article on 11 November. These readers either emailed me about this matter, or wrote about it on their blogs, or left comments on blogs that they know I frequent.

What were my readers' reactions? Well, some congratulated me, saying that I had written so well that the Straits Times felt compelled to say the same things as I did. Others were outraged that the Straits Times had apparently plagiarised me without giving me any credit whatsoever. Everyone's favourite cat, Molly Meek, wrote a long post on her own blog analysing the powerful similarities between my article and the ST article. Check it out.

I was not very perturbed by the matter, but a little curious. So I forwarded one of my regular readers' emails to the ST journalist, saying something like, "Oh, you would be surprised by the number of such emails I have been receiving."

The ST journalist replied to me very shortly thereafter. She sounded very concerned (nervous?) and took pains to explain that she had not plagiarised me - although she also noted that there were some uncanny resemblances - down to sentence structure and choice of words - between my post and her article. To give you an idea about how seriously she took this matter - she copied two of the Straits Times editors on the email and said that she was willing to submit to investigations on this matter. Here's an excerpt:
I realise that since your posting was published earlier, it is much more difficult to prove that I did not copy you. I fully understand that words alone may not suffice for explanations. If you wish to press for further verification, please contact me or my editors. I will be more than willing to submit to investigations. Because we view allegations of plagiarism with total seriousness, I have cced this letter to Deputy Political Editor Paul Jacob, who supervised and edited this particular column, as well as Senior Political Correspondent Chua Mui Hoong, who helps run the Post-65ers column series and with whom I discussed the column idea over the past week.
Well, as I had said earlier, this matter does not disturb me very much, so I replied again saying something to the effect, "Oh don't worry, I'll take your word for it, let's treat it as case closed." And it really does not matter to me, and I will take her word for it. It is quite possible that two minds could independently come up with precisely the same idea at the same time - after all, this has previously happened to Mr Wang and Lee Kuan Yew.

Although some will say that Mr Wang is very cocky for saying so, Mr Wang will say so anyway - it would in fact be a good thing for Singapore if local journalists plagiarised Mr Wang frequently, or at least cultivated the habit of regularly reading Mr Wang's blog. Then they would learn to write articles that are more thoughtful, more insightful, more logical - instead of articles like this, this, this, this, this, and this.

12 November 2005

On Unfair Practices - Banks & Insurance Companies

Today, we learn from the Straits Times that the Fair Trading Act will be extended to cover banks and insurers. What does this mean for you, a member of the general public? Well, essentially, you will get a new channel to take action against any bank or insurer whom you think has treated you in some unfair or unscrupulous way.

ST Nov 12, 2005
Fair Trading Act to cover banks and insurers too
Customers will have new recourse to action against unfair practices
By Lorna Tan

RIPPED-OFF bank and insurance customers are finally being given the teeth to take action against unscrupulous finance-industry bad boys.

Banks and insurers will soon come under the scope of the Consumer Protection Fair Trading Act (CPFTA) - despite initial resistance to the idea by the financial services sector, said sources.

The Act, introduced in March last year, cracks down on a range of unfair practices, ranging from dodgy second-hand car sellers and fly-by-night furniture retailers, to high-pressure sales tactics for boost-your-bust beauty products.

But until now, the likes of dishonest insurance agents, financial advisers flogging inappropriate unit trusts, and bank officers pushing unsuitable investments have usually only encountered their day of reckoning when disgruntled consumers took them to mediation panels.

However, sources said yesterday that the Act would shortly be expanded to include the banking and insurance sectors.

I am frankly a little surprised by this move, and I am not sure whether it is a good thing. You see, the financial services industry is a complex one, and it has always been highly regulated. Singapore already has several statutes which apply specifically to financial institutions. For example, there is the Insurance Act; the Banking Act; the Securities and Futures Act; and the Financial Advisers Act. Apart from these Acts, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has also created a huge body of regulations, notices and guidelines telling banks and insurers how to behave - see this and this and this, for example.

So I don't really see much advantage in imposing yet another layer of law onto the financial services industry. It's not as if it didn't already have several huge, thick layers. But here's what CASE thinks:

By including banks and insurers, consumers will have specific breaches of fair practice they can point to, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

It will give consumers a statutory right to take wrongdoers to court, by filing a civil suit.

It also means banks and insurers will feel the need to smarten up their act, to avoid such potentially costly and embarrassing disputes.

The move is a big victory for Case, which argues that financial institutions come under the Fair Trading Act - although insurers say there are already enough safeguards under present regulations, such as the Financial Advisers Act, and the Insurance Act.


But Case said more was needed, and pointed to the large number of complaints. It received a whopping 707 complaints against financial institutions - mostly involving insurers - for the first 10 months of this year. And for the whole of last year, it received 1,187 complaints.

These involved disputes over such matters as leaving out vital information about a financial product, pressure selling, and taking advantage of consumers such as the elderly, who have not understood the effect of a transaction.

Indeed, if financial institutions were included now, Case reckons they would catapult to be among the top 10 industries attracting complaints under the Act - rubbing shoulders with timeshare touts and beauty salon bunglers.
I do agree that if the Fair Trading Act is extended to banks and insurers, CASE will probably receive a huge number of complaints about banks and insurers. However, I actually think this is a bit sad and unfortunate, because it means that CASE will have much less time to devote to, say, the timeshare touts and the beauty salon bunglers - who are currently quite unregulated. Banks and insurers, on the other hand, are already regulated by MAS, which means that unhappy customers already have existing channels to file complaints.

But why does Singapore need Mr Wang to point that out? Didn't CASE already know about it? Let's take a look:
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said that including financial services would benefit consumers, as other financial Acts do not cover market conduct, such as the omission of material facts when promoting a product, or using undue pressure to persuade someone to sign on the dotted line.
Well, what Mr Seah says here is not quite right. In fact, the relevant laws and statutes specifically relating to the financial services industry already address these issues in detail. Here's just one example (section 25 of the Financial Advisers Act):
Obligation to disclose product information to clients
25. —(1) A licensee shall disclose, to every client and prospective client, all material information relating to any designated investment product that the licensee recommends to such person, including —

(a) the terms and conditions of the designated investment product;

(b) the benefits to be, or likely to be, derived from the designated investment product, and the risks that may arise from the designated investment product;

(c) the premium, costs, expenses, fees or other charges that may be imposed in respect of the designated investment product;

(d) where the designated investment product is a unit in a collective investment scheme, the name of the manager of the scheme and the relationship between the licensee and the manager;

(e) where the designated investment product is a life policy, the name of the registered insurer under the life policy and the relationship between the licensee and the insurer; and

(f) such other information as the Authority may prescribe.

(2) The Authority may specify, in written directions, the information required to be disclosed under subsection (1) (a), (b) or (c), and the form or manner in which information relating to any designated investment product may be disclosed to any client of a licensee.

(3) The Authority may, in writing, require a licensee to submit to it —

(a) all written communication which sets out information relating to any designated investment product for the time being in use by the licensee; and

(b) where any written communication referred to in paragraph (a) is not in English, a translation of such written communication in English.

(4) If it appears to the Authority, after affording the licensee an opportunity to make representations orally or in writing, that any written communication submitted under subsection (3) contravenes any provision of this Act, or is in any respect likely to mislead, the Authority may, in writing, direct the licensee to discontinue the use, in Singapore, of the written communication immediately or from a specified date.

(5) Any licensee who —

(a) contravenes subsection (1);

(b) fails to comply with a requirement imposed by the Authority under subsection (3); or

(c) fails to comply with a direction of the Authority under subsection (4),

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
But if we already have so many laws, regulations and guidelines for banks and insurers, then how come so many people are still complaining about their banks and insurers? Well, obviously, one reason is that there could be a significant gap between what these laws, regulations and guidelines say, and what bank employees and insurance agents actually do in practice with their customers.

And if there is a significant gap, then obviously we must take steps to address that gap. But I don't think that the gap will be addressed by adding yet another piece of law (the Fair Trading Act) to the already-huge body of law which governs financial institutions.

After all, the real issue is not that the necessary laws do not exist for banks and insurers - they already do exist - the real issue is more likely that these laws are not being sufficiently followed, and not being sufficiently enforced.

If I have described the situation correctly, then the logical next step is that MAS must do more monitoring and enforcing, rather than pass on that duty (or part of it) to CASE. And CASE should focus its efforts where its efforts are most needed - on people like the timeshare touts and the beauty saloon bunglers - people who currently aren't regulated by any government body or statutory board at all.

The Elections Are Coming!

Nov 12, 2005
It's confirmed: Buangkok station opens in

By Goh Chin Lian

TRANSPORT Minister Yeo Cheow Tong yesterday confirmed that Buangkok MRT
station will finally open in January next year - 2 1/2 years after the rest of the North-East Line.

The decision, which confirms a report in Thursday's Straits Times, comes after appeals from the local MP and residents, and even a public protest.

It reverses the Land Transport Authority's recent review, which concluded that there would not be enough people living in the area to warrant opening the station until 2008.

Still, in a statement yesterday, the Transport Ministry said the LTA had recommended the station be opened early to better serve residents of recently-completed housing developments nearby.
Heheh, then look at this part:
Mr Yeo denied the Government had pressured SBS to open the station.

'We have left it to them... This has to be a commercial decision because there is no way we are going to step in to offset any losses.'
Heheh, if it is a pure commercial decision by SBS, then why is Yeo Cheow Tong, Transport Minister announcing it, instead of the CEO of SBS?
Asked if the opening of the station was a sweetener for the upcoming general election, Mr Yeo said it had more to do with tireless appeals from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Charles Chong.

The timing of the opening, he said, was a coincidence.

Aiyah, don't so shy lah. You know, I know, we all know - so shy for what?

10 November 2005

White Elephants

So I received this interesting email from a bunch of schoolgirls and they asked me to help publicise their school project. But I see that Hui Chieh from Singapore Angle has already written about this matter, so I'll just provide you with the link.

The white elephants of Buangkok have evolved. They are now a symbol of active citizenship, of free speech and of the aspiration for a better society. Oh, they have also become T-shirts.

The girls put together an info sheet explaining the background and purpose of their school project. There is this little paragraph which I want to discuss - particularly the part that I have highlighted in bold:
"We would like to remind the public that even though the White Elephant has become our mascot and symbol for the project, we are in no way attempting to judge or condone the Buangkok MRT incident. Rather, we are using the accidental fame of the elephants to spark interest in our project; they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one's views and opinions about political issues."
If you look at the overall paragraph, well, you know what it is - just as they say in the army, it is a "cover backside" paragraph. The girls are saying, "Please ah please ah, we scared ok, don't sue us, prosecute us, fine us under the Seditious Defamatory Unlawful Assembly Public Entertainment or Whatever-Whatever Penal Code." Okay, who can blame them - this is Singapore, after all. But Mr Wang invites you to pause for a moment to think a bit more carefully about this part:
"... they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one's views and opinions about political issues."
As a lawyer, Mr Wang would like you to remember that legal boundaries are indeed important, if only because if you cross those boundaries, you run the risk of being sued or prosecuted. However, Mr Wang also wants you to remember that the legal boundaries we are talking about are not like the immutable laws of physics or the laws of God.

The legal boundaries we are talking about are man-made. They were written by a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow sitting in an government office somewhere drafting statutes. The Bill then goes to Parliament and a bunch of MPs talk about it in a hurry (after all, they have 256 other things in an agenda) and vote 79 to 2 in favour of it (after all, there is the party whip and all the PAP MPs have to vote the same way) and then the Bill is passed and, voila! we have a law. A law that is as imperfect as the Tan Ah Seng and the Lim Ah Kow and the MPs who talked about it in a hurry.

So that's how you get your legal boundaries.

That's if you're lucky. If on the other hand, the law in question comes from the Penal Code, chances are that after it was created by an Englishman named Stephen MacCaulay more than 100 years ago and then imposed on the colonised people of India, Malaysia and Singapore. And since then the law has probably never been changed. Yup, we're talking about laws like theft, rape, robbery, unlawful assembly, murder etc etc. We're still living with the laws from the 19th century, essentially unchanged.

So respect your legal boundaries, because if you don't, you may get into trouble. But don't be so quick to respect the law because you assume that the law is some Great Wise Thing which was bestowed upon us by the Heavens. Nah, nothing like that. In relation to that kind of respect, just give about as much respect as you would give to a Tan Ah Seng or a Lim Ah Kow or a dead Englishman who passed away one century ago. Or three or four MPs in Parliament debating on a Bill in a hurry. You know.

09 November 2005

Stupid Press Doesn't Understand Hyperlinking

I mean, really. What kind of journalism is this? I was reading the Straits Times online, and came across this article. Look at it yourself. See what kind of hyperlink they provide. I mean, how is this hyperlink relevant to the story? If the Straits Times doesn't know how to provide useful hyperlinks, I'd rather they don't provide hyperlinks at all.

Nov 9, 2005
Drowning a wake-up call for victim's brother
The death of Steven Sim has prompted a marked improvement in the behaviour of his identical twin Ivan, who has stopped mixing with bad company

By Tracy Sua and Benjamin Nadarajan

THE tragic drowning of Steven Sim became a wake-up call for his identical twin Ivan.

After his brother died in September, Ivan's family was afraid something would happen to him, too. So the Institute of Technical Education student, who used to get into fights, has stopped mixing with bad company and has turned over a new leaf.

Ivan used to be out about three times a week - with friends at pubs and hanging out at void decks. Often, he would not return home until after 7am.

Now he makes sure he is home by 10.30pm to spend time with the family. His outings with friends are limited to coffee or window shopping.

'I decided to spend more time at home instead of staying out late, and I think twice before doing anything,' said the 18-year-old precision engineering student. 'I just don't want to hurt my family and don't want them to be sad.'

Bad Karma ... Mr Wang's Not Baking.

My earlier post on capital punishment attracted a large number of comments. Here's a related report to think about.

ST Nov 9, 2005
Women lawyers want death for sex traffickers
Tough laws needed worldwide to end exploitation of women, they say

KUALA LUMPUR - COUNTRIES need tougher laws to prevent women and girls from falling prey to human traffickers, possibly by imposing the death penalty, female lawyers said at an international conference yesterday.

Human trafficking for the sexual exploitation of women or children had become 'a flourishing industry', mainly in developing countries, said Ms Saraswathy Devi, president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers.

'The only way to successfully end trafficking is for state parties to hold abusers accountable and to remedy the root causes of the problem', such as poverty and gender inequality, she told more than 50 lawyers and activists at the federation's annual conference in Malaysia.

'I am going to ask for the death penalty for people who traffic in women,' said Ms Devi, a Malaysian lawyer. 'I am also going to ask for men who used the services of these women to be severely punished.'

Doctor, Doctor

Nov 9, 2005
Indian 'doctor' jailed for illegally treating workers

He operated 'clinic' in Little India while on social visit pass

By K.C. Vijayan
Crime Correspondent
AN INDIAN ayurvedic practitioner was sentenced to eight months' jail last week for operating an illegal medical practice in Veerasamy Road catering mainly to foreign workers.

Natarajan Nambirajan, 52, was also fined $600 for working in Singapore without authorisation while here on a two-week social visit pass.

He practised traditional Indian ayurvedic medicine, but Western medicines were also found in the small, windowless ground-floor room where he lodged and operated.

Natarajan, who has entered Singapore several times, had been operating the 'clinic' since August, said a Ministry of Health spokesman yesterday.
Okay, I guess we all understand that the Health Ministry can't possibly allow people like Natarajan to run around loose. Still I couldn't help laughing at the next part of the Health Ministry's press statement. It's so unrealistic, it's just surreal:

The Health Ministry stressed it would not hesitate to take stern action against unqualified persons who provide medical treatment.

'Members of the public are also strongly advised against seeking medical treatment from unqualified persons.

'For foreign workers, it is also advisable for them to have medical insurance coverage to protect themselves,' it said.

Come on, lah. You expect the Indian foreign workers in Veerasamy Road to have the money to buy medical insurance? You expect the insurance agents from Prudential or AIA or NTUC Income to even approach these people and market their medical policies?

In the first place, these workers are going to Natarajan because they have no better alternative. A common cold and fever already costs this much, for treatment at a proper GP's clinic. You expect your average Bangladeshi construction worker to be able to afford that?

05 November 2005

On Capital Punishment

Well, I am not supposed to be blogging about socio-political issues, so I will keep this post short. The young Australian Nguyen Tuong Van has been in the news recently - he had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking and the government of Singapore has refused to commute the sentence. Now anti-capital punishment groups are getting into action here in Singapore, organising events and so on. Read Omeka Na Huria or Singabloodypore for more details.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I don't like the death sentence myself. But among these Nguyen Tuong Van supporters, I sense that there is a lack of clarity in thinking. Many of these people haven't really worked out for themselves where they really, really stand. They say that they are absolutely against the death sentence and that Amnesty International says that the death sentence is a violation of human rights etc etc. That's all good and well, but ...

... where were they when Took Leng How was sentenced to death for killing Huang Na, an eight-year-old little girl? How come they didn't organise a solidarity event for Took?

See, if as a matter of principle, you stand against capital punishment all the way, then you can't pick and choose your convicts. You can't say, "Ooh, I hate people who kill children, I shan't support Took. But Nguyen looks like a handsome young man and he has a twin-brother sob story, so I'll support him. Shanmugam Murugesu has two kids and a poor old mother - I'll support him too."

That's nonsense. If you stand against capital punishment - you stand all the way (like Amnesty International does). It shouldn't matter what the crime was, or whether the criminal has a sob story or looks handsome or not - you stand all the way. On the basis that a life is a life. Took's life is a life too.

I'll be very impressed if along with calling on the Singapore government to commute Nguyen Tuong Van's death sentence, those folks in Singapore also call on Took to be spared the death sentence (I'm assuming Took hasn't been hung yet). But somehow I don't see that happening. Do you?

02 November 2005

More on Happiness

Several readers made interesting comments on my earlier post about happiness and money. This inspires Mr Wang to pen further thoughts on the nature of happiness.

The studies that I had cited rely on people to report their own happiness level. For example, the survey asks you to indicate how happy you are (on a scale of 1 to 5), and then asks you to state your annual income, monthly salary, personal net worth etc. The same is then done to thousands of individuals living in different countries, and then the numbers are crunched to generate the conclusions that follow logically.

Other kinds of studies study more directly the nature of happpiness itself - what is it? How does it come about? - and the world's leading researcher in this field is Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I hate to oversimplify Mihaly's ideas - because he is a lot more profound than a quick browsing of Internet materials on him might suggest, and also because in recent years, he has expanded the scope of his research into new territority - but for the purposes of this post, oversimplification is necessary.

The man himself. I hope he wins the Nobel Prize
some day, because he deserves it!

To put it very simply, happiness comes from having order in consciousness. What does that mean? It is a state of optimal experience. It is about control over your own attention. It is a situation when the information that keeps coming into your awareness is congruent with your goals, leading to an effortless flow of psychic energy. That's what Mihaly calls flow.

Flow is the kind of experience where you are totally engaged in what you're doing. Time passes without you being aware of it. You are pushed into higher levels of performance and a different state of consciousness. Flow experiences lead to the growth of the self.

There are certain typical elements which facilitate the flow experience. There is usually a challenge, a clear objective - you know what you want to do. Then there is instant, constant feedback on whether you're on the right track. The level of skill that you need to employ is high (for you) and the activity consumes your total concentration. At the same time, the challenge is just right - it is not too great (which leads to anxiety) nor too small (which leads to boredom).

Flow can come from a wide range of activities. In fact, it could come from any kind of activity, as long as the necessary elements are present. Mr Wang will offer you some situations from his life, during which he has experienced flow:

PLAYING THE GUITAR: Reaching that magical point when voice and fingers and emotion all come together and Mr Wang disappears into his own music, becoming pure soul.

COURTROOM DRAMA: Cross-examining a key defence witness in a tense, exciting case, and moving in for the kill. Reaching that magical point when suddenly your mind can read his mind and inexplicably you know, before he says a word, every word that he's going to say.

WRITING POETRY: Those rare moments when words cascade into your head as if some Divine Person is pouring them in and it's all you can do to get them out, get them out, typing as fast as you can.

RUNNING: Those rare occasions running on cool, dark evenings when mind and body become one, and pain becomes an object that you can shift away from your self, and it's as if you can fly. Sometimes known as runner's high. (Alas, nowadays when Mr Wang goes running, it's mostly aches and pains he gets).

SEX: The ecstatic kind. No further details.

Well, you get the idea. As I mentioned, flow can come from a wide range of different experiences. And flow is pure happiness. That's what it is.

Of course, there are more-intense and less-intense flow experiences. One of Mihaly's most important contributions (in my view) is the idea that you can manufacture a flow experience out of almost anything (which means that almost everyone has the potential to find happiness in their lives).

For example, he gives an example of a factory worker, Rico Medellin, who has to perform the same task on each factory item that comes to his station (600 identical factory items per day). Despite the apparent crushing boredom of such a job, Rico enjoys it tremendously because he has made a game out of it - he challenges himself to set and break his records in the number of seconds needed to finish one unit; the number of units he can finish in a day; and so on. He finds happiness in his job because he has created the elements of a flow experience - there is a challenge (to break his last record); there is immediate feedback (30 seconds to finish this unit!); and the task absorbs all his attention (because he's trying to break the record). It fully absorbs him the whole working day.

Back to our original discussion. Does money buy happiness? Well, possibly, it can. If your high in life comes from challenging yourself in the game of golf, then money obviously facilitates your happiness by purchasing the golf clubs and the club membership. On the other hand, Mihaly demonstrates that happiness can be found in an extremely wide range of circumstances, many of which have nothing to do with money. Small children are constantly happy, for instance, because they are curious about the world. Even small, simple things - a bird, a flower, the shapes of clouds in the sky - can totally absorb their attention.

I have a couple of wealthy friends who are in the hobby of collecting art. They spend thousands of dollars on just one piece of art. I also have a brother who paints in his free time - although an amateur, he has held several exhibitions in Singapore. My brother is deeply in love with art - creating it, not buying it - and the only costs he incurs are the cost of his oils and brushes. Yet I am quite sure that the happiness he derives from painting runs a lot deeper than the happiness of my friends who collect paintings.

One of my brother's paintings,
of his pet cat.