When you can't live without bananas

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Links - 8th April 2016

Effects of Apple Consumption on Lipid Profile of Hyperlipidemic and Overweight Men - "Consumption of Golden delicious apple may be increased serum TG and VLDL in hyperlipidemic and overweight men"

Science Says 'Baby Fever' Affects Men, Too - "positive exposure to babies (mainly those who are behaving) intensifies the urge to have children. Meanwhile, negative contact — think screaming, kicking, stinky baby — suppressed the urge. Considering the obvious trade-offs (children mean less freedom, less money) was another factor in the intensity of baby fever. Also worth mentioning: For women, the urge to have a child dampens after the first baby. For men, however, one kid means a sudden desire to have even more."

Why animal bodies tend to get bigger over time - "New research offers fresh support for Cope’s rule, a 19th-century theory that suggests animal evolution trends toward larger sizes through time... over the past 542 million years, the mean size of marine animals has increased 150-fold. “That’s the size difference between a sea urchin that is about 2 inches long versus one that is nearly a foot long,” says Noel Heim, a postdoctoral researcher in Payne’s lab. “This may not seem like a lot, but it represents a big jump.”"

Uncovering the Mysteries of Tax Optimization - "“One of the most startling, and scariest, place we visited was the Singapore Freeport. It’s a gigantic building that houses the world’s fortunes. Situated just of the airport runway, it allows the rich to land, and directly stash their treasures without ever entering the country,” recounts Woods. “There, we spoke with a Swiss man who upon learning that we were from Florence, exclaimed: ‘We have more art here than in Florence’s Uffizi.’ Nothing that he, or his peers, are doing is illegal. The problem is that the law itself is wrong. Only by making people aware of this can we hope for structural change.”"

The Simple Truth About Gun Control - "the central insight of the modern study of criminal violence is that all crime—even the horrific violent crimes of assault and rape—is at some level opportunistic. Building a low annoying wall against them is almost as effective as building a high impenetrable one...The more guns there are in a country, the more gun murders and massacres of children there will be. Even within this gun-crazy country, states with strong gun laws have fewer gun murders (and suicides and accidental killings) than states without them. (Hemenway is also the scientist who has shown that the inflated figure of guns used in self-defense every year, running even to a million or two million, is a pure fantasy, even though it’s still cited by pro-gun enthusiasts. Those hundreds of thousands intruders shot by gun owners left no records in emergency wards or morgues; indeed, left no evidentiary trace behind. This is because they did not exist.) Hemenway has discovered, as he explained in this interview with Harvard Magazine, that what is usually presented as a case of self-defense with guns is, in the real world, almost invariably a story about an escalating quarrel. “How often might you appropriately use a gun in self-defense?” Hemenway asks rhetorically. “Answer: zero to once in a lifetime. How about inappropriately—because you were tired, afraid, or drunk in a confrontational situation? There are lots and lots of chances.”"
One bizarre adhoc argument I've been presented with: guns prevent crime because when would-be criminals see "good" people with guns and their guns, they do not commit the crime

Feminist hate explodes on Twitter with #killallmen - "
“If a group of men – or worse, a group of MRAs – would’ve done something like that, the entire society would have demanded their heads on the sticks. Yet feminists can get away with virtually anything – from making a mockery out of genital mutilation to outright calling for the extermination of the male sex” he said. “Some countries put people in jail for even saying something positive about the genocide of Jews – yet when it’s men as a sex, anything goes. If this is not cultural misandry, I don’t know what it is”"

1979 Seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca - "A team of three French commandos from the Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) arrived in Mecca. Because of the prohibition against non-Muslims entering the holy city, they converted to Islam in a brief, formal ceremony"

Why Muslim Dr Taj Hargey is launching campaign to ban the burka in Britain - "there is no unqualified human right to wear whatever we want in public. In every developed society, personal freedoms have to take account of wider social mores...
The wearing of the face mask is a custom originating in ancient Persia and Byzantium, more than 1,000 years before the birth of Islam. It was upheld by male aristocrats because of social snobbery rather than religion, since they did not want their womenfolk — wives, daughters, sisters or mothers — to be seen by the peasantry... verse 32 of chapter 33 in the Koran explicitly states that ‘the Prophet’s wives are not like other women’. So there is no reason to emulate them. Just as revealingly, it is forbidden for Muslim women going on pilgrimages to Mecca to cover their faces. So if such a pre-Islamic practice is banned in Islam’s holiest site, why on earth would it be required on the streets of Britain?... Al-Azhar, the leading institution of Muslim theology in the Islamic world, declared that the burka has no spiritual authenticity... If I tried to wear a ski-mask on a bus or at a bank, I would quickly be told to remove the item or leave, or be arrested. Why should the same rules not apply to Muslim women?"

Blunkett wants broadcasters to dub rather than subtitle foreign dramas - "David Blunkett has called on broadcasters to dub more foreign dramas so that blind members of the audience like himself are able to enjoy imports such as The Killing. Writing in the Radio Times, the former Cabinet Minister said he found the amount of foreign dramas and documentaries broadcast with subtitles but not available in dubbed versions, “incredibly frustrating”. “There is an increasing tendency for overseas material to be broadcast without being dubbed,” Mr Blunkett wrote. “That’s difficult enough for French and German programmes, but with the trend for excellent crime and political dramas from Scandinavia, it’s simply impossible for most of us." “I would have loved to enjoy The Killing and Borgen, but both shows were screened on BBC4 with English subtitles and no over-dubbing. I appreciate that many people don’t like dubbed dialogue, but if you’re blind it’s invaluable – you can piece together the storylines simply by listening to what is said.”"
To accommodate deaf people as well, I suppose you need to both subtitle and dub the dramas

A Brazilian Fish Stew Called Moqueca - "this dish taste really similar to the local curry fares, sort of like our curry fish head, though less spicy and creamier in comparison. Thereupon, I am sure a lot of Asians will love the natural flavours in this dish as well."

Memorization is Not a Dirty Word - "Disdain for memorization is a relatively new phenomenon in education. In ancient times, people took great pains and pride in memorizing huge quantities of information. The advent of printing greatly reduced the need to memorize history and cultural mores. In modern times, we have the Internet... We think and solve problems with what is in working memory, which in turn is memory of currently available information or recall of previously memorized information. The process of thinking is like streaming video on the Internet: information flows in as short frames onto the virtual scratch pad of working memory, successively replaced by new chunks of information from real-time or recalled memory. Numerous studies show that the amount of information you can hold in working memory is tightly correlated with IQ and problem-solving ability... Memorization trains the brain to develop learning and memory schemas that facilitate future learning. Learning schemas develop as you acquire competence in an area—call it skill A. Now, when you need to learn a new and related skill, B, you mind says to itself, “I don’t know how to do B. But I do know how to do A, and some of that can be applied to learning B.” Memory schemas are memorized frames of reference and association, where having memorized fact A, you have an association handle for memorizing fact B."

Ex-teacher jailed 4.5 years for sex with student - "In 2004, the accused told the teenager that he was undergoing divorce proceedings and his wife had booted him out of their marital home. He started renting a room in her house for S$150 to S$200 a month. Over the next few years, the man and the girl had numerous sexual encounters at home and in rented cars and hotel rooms... Even after they ended their relationship, the man continued to live with the girl and her mother, and even took videos of the two while they were showering in the bathroom. In 2013, the girl discovered video footage of their trysts, as well as the videos of her mother and her in the shower, among his belongings. The cops were called, and he was arrested on Aug 23, 2013."

Police pull over speeding hearse, find half a ton of caviar

In Photos: The World's Oldest Cave Art - "Archaeologists may have discovered Earth's oldest known cave art. Dating back to around 40,000 years ago, paintings in Indonesian caves of human hands and pig-deer may be the oldest ever found — or, at the very least, comparable in age to cave art in Europe. Here's a look at the rock art, discovered and dated from seven caves sites in Sulawesi, an island of Indonesia."

Gay Activists Need to Get Beyond Blackmail - "They claim, through a chain of causation, that marriage is discriminatory and that it follows that such discrimination is a cause of depression, which in turn ­causes suicide in LGBTI people. If so, the significant changes to Australian attitudes to LGBTI people and the removal of every conceivable form of official discrimination against LGBTI people in the past two or more decades should have resulted in a diminution of the suicide rate. ­Indeed, evidence would be essential if one were to argue that marriage, the last and arguably least important bastion of alleged discrimination, is to fall. Unfortunately for Beyond Blue, there is no Australian data to test this proposition. However, in Denmark and Canada, where LGBTI marriage is accepted, the evidence is not encouraging... LGBT suicides were nevertheless less than for the population. The 2007 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010) for example, found that 1.9 per cent of men and women reported being homosexual or bisexual. The Queensland study suggested no difference in the prevalence of psychiatric disorder among LGBT suicides but that it was likelier that depression was mentioned as a factor. However, the rates of diagnosis for depression were not significantly different. The real insights were that fully two-thirds of LGBT individuals experienced relationship problems compared with one-third in comparison cases. Relationship conflict was significantly more common in LGBT cases (31 per cent versus 10 per cent in comparison cases). Interpersonal conflict was more frequent among LGBT individuals (14 per cent) than in comparison cases (5 per cent), with the difference “approaching statistical significance”. In addition, other factors such as fear of contracting HIV, social isolation and alienation, and conflict over sexuality were more common among LGBT cases."

Will the ASEAN Economic Community mean free movement of labour? - "In the EU a citizen can freely move, reside and seek employment in any member state, regardless of skill level, but the AEC has a far more limited approach. It is only making concessions to eight professions at this point in time: engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism, surveying and accounting. This is less than 1.5 per cent of the ASEAN labour force. There are, however, further limitations on the free movement of that small slice of skilled workers. There are minimum years of experience requirements, labour market tests, pre-employment requirements such as health clearances and numerous other domestic immigration and professional boxes to tick."

Bill Clinton: Gender and Racial Politics 'Greatest Threat' to Country's Future? - ""I believe that in ways large and small, peaceful and sometimes violent, that the biggest threat to the future of our children and grandchildren is the poison of identity politics that preaches that our differences are far more important than our common humanity," he told the crowd of activists, celebrities, and lawmakers."

Wife thought delivery man sex was with her husband - "Amit Hamal, 22, a Nepalese national, was delivering Indian food to the woman's house when he walked past her bedroom, noticed she was alseep and proceded to remove her pants and have sexual intercourse. Her husband, who had fallen asleep in the lounge while waiting for the food to arrive, denied having sex with her when she raised it the following morning, saying it must have been a vivid dream. It was not until Hamal called the house later that day and suggested they become casual sex partners that she realised she had been sexually assaulted... Hamal's barrister, Charles Waterstreet, said Hamal had grown up in a ''repressed society'' and the availability of casual sex in Western society ''was quite an eye opener'' when he arrived in Australia in 2009... Hamal found the front door open when he arrived at the Rose Bay house about 9.15pm on July 16, 2010, more than two hours after the order was placed. ''Stepping inside the bedroom may have been a bit too far,'' Mr Waterhouse said... That he was arrested two days later at the airport in possession of a one-way ticket to Kathmandu showed he knew his actions were wrong."

catherinelim.sg » A Writer’s Roller-Coaster Ride - "resentment was building up against me in the Eurasian community. The cause of their anger was one particular story in the book, entitled ‘Kenneth Jerome Rozario.’ It is about a Eurasian schoolboy who comes from a broken home, lives with an aunt who has little time for him, gets his girlfriend pregnant and has to leave school. The story ends with him sitting on the ledge of a high-rise building, his legs dangling over the edge. There is a blissful smile on his face as he listens to a gently mournful song coming from his radio, inviting him to a happier world. His family and girlfriend are frantically pleading with him not to jump... I wish I had been given the chance to explain that in a work of fiction (unlike a work of non-fiction, such as a social commentary), the views expressed by the characters in dialogue are not necessarily those of the writer, but are there to serve some literary purpose, such as to delineate a character more sharply, contrast him/her with other characters, provide a local flavour and authenticity, reinforce the writer’s use of irony, etc. The complaint against me was taken right up to the Minister of Education, together with a request for the book to be withdrawn as a literature text for the exams...
For a while, I was furious enough to wallow in the peevish self-indulgence of exaggerated rhetoric: So will the Indian community also make the request to the Ministry to withdraw my book because another story tells about a Mr Velloo who is poor, shabbily dressed, quarrelsome, his mouth permanently reddened by his ceray chewing? Will the Teochew community complain too about dialectal bias because one of my stories is about a proud Hokkien patriarch who refuses to allow his daughter to marry into a Teochew family?"

Making a Police Report because you're Rejected

Kerfuffle of the day:

Woman files police report against Tampines 1 for alleged racial discrimination; mall issues apology

"A woman filed a police report on Friday (April 8) against Tampines 1 shopping mall, alleging that she was subjected to racial discrimination by an employee of the mall.

The mall had earlier issued a public apology to businesswoman Diana Hairul, and told The Straits Times it had counselled the employee about her actions.

Ms Diana, 36, who uploaded on Facebook on Thursday (April 7) evening a screenshot of an e-mail she received from the employee, wrote that she had felt discriminated by the reply.

The e-mail read: "Hi Dee, We are not so keen to run a Malay road show as our target audience are mainly Chinese. Thus, we regret to inform you that we are unable to rent a space to you"...

Responding to queries AsiaMalls said on Friday (April 8) morning that it was taking the matter seriously. However, it said all attempts to speak to Diana so far had been unreturned...

In subsequent e-mail correspondences seen by The Straits Times, the employee had requested for Ms Diana to provide her with the fair's intended merchandise mix before rejecting her with an e-mail saying that the mall's target audience was Chinese...

The employee also suggested that Ms Diana consider holding the fair at the nearby Century Square - also owned by AsiaMalls - instead"

Inquiring minds might want to know: just what was the merchandise mix that led Jen to reject Ms Hairul?

A look at Ms Hairul's Facebook page suggests the answer:

"Thank you Sembawang Shopping Centre for the opportunity.

And yes we are still in Sembawang till end of the week. Hope to see you guys there.

We will be restocking Isabelle and Miss Lofa and other designs too.

Salam Jumaat to my Muslim brothers and sisters and to my Non Muslim friends have a great day ahead."

Presumably, Ms Hairul wanted to sell hijabs at a mall targeted at Chinese.

It must be noted that Tampines 1, though presumably targeting Chinese, has 2 Halal certified food and beverage outlets (according to the website - some others are probably Halal too). So it's not like the mall is "non-Chinese" unfriendly.

One might question if it is appropriate for a mall to target specific races.

Of course, the phrasing of Jen's email was unfortunate, but really, if I wanted to sell bak kwa (pork jerky) in Geylang Serai, what would happen?

The reality is that commercial establishments target specific demographics, or at least wish to project a certain image of those demographics all the time.

Mustafa Centre targets Indians and South Asians. Their webpage notes that their traditional image is "tourists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, and Asia" (note the order). If I were to try to open a Szechuan Hotpot restaurant there, there is a high chance that I would be turned down, and I can imagine a staff member telling me that "We are not so keen to have a Szechuan Hotpot Restaurant as our target audience are mainly of South Asian descent".

Golden Mile has a Thai branding. A proposal to house a Szechuan Hotpot restaurant would probably be similarly rejected.

Meanwhile, *Scape targets youth - if I wanted to set up a gout clinic there I would probably be turned away.

Of course, one might be concerned if minorities were unable to find any place to sell their wares (or similar opportunities to be seen in the public domain) but this is assuredly not the case: Jen offered Century Square as an alternative venue for Ms Hairul. Interestingly, it has 10 Halal certified eating places versus Tampines 1's 2.

Perhaps the saddest part of this whole episode is that, as someone observed, "This is going to set up a perverse incentive for people NOT to want to work with folks like this because they are too much drama."

Single Mothers, 'Equality' and 'Punishment'

Many people are sharing a video of Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-yin's "impassioned call for children of single mothers to get the same benefits as married women".

Presumably, not everyone shared it because of the mesmerising jacket she was wearing. Some people think that Singapore punishes or penalises single mothers, and that they are being discriminated against. Some even say that single mothers need even more help than married ones.

The issue I will explore here is not whether children or single parents have worse outcomes (they do), or whether incentives can lead to more children born to single parents (they do) but rather the issue of equality and whether single mothers are being punished.

Equality is not always better than inequality.

Consider the following situations:

Situation A:
There are 10 people in a room.

Situation B:
There are 10 people in a room
Mr X comes in from outside and gives 9 of them $10 each. He does not give the last person (Mr Z) any money.

Is Mr Z being punished or penalised?

Situation C:
There are 10 people in a room.
Mr X comes in from outside and gives 9 of them $10 each. He gives Mr Z $5.

Is Mr Z being punished or penalised?

In situation A, we can see that there was equality.
In situation B, Mr Z was no worse off than in situation A, and everyone else was better off.
In situation C, Mr Z was better off than in situation A, and everyone else was also better off.

In Singapore, single mothers are like Mr Z and the current situation is like situation C.

Let us take the example of maternity leave.

Paid maternity leave was 8 weeks in 2000.

It became 12 weeks in 2004 and 16 weeks in 2008.

Today, under the Employment Act, single or unmarried mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave, so they are better off than married women were in 2000 and at least as well off as they were in 2004 (at least if they are covered by the Employment Act).

There is also a question of whether the benefits mothers receive are needs-based or meant to promote the state's policy objectives by encouraging certain behaviours.

An example of a needs-based benefit would be unemployment benefit (the dole). This is given to the unemployed because they need money to survive.

An example of a benefit to promote state policy objectives would be subsidising homeowners who install solar panels on their roofs. This is given to encourage people to use solar power.

It wouldn't make sense to say that those who do not own homes, or who do not install solar panels on their roofs are being "punished" or "discriminated against" by this policy - it is precisely the aim of this policy to only reward those who install solar panels on their roofs, because the desired outcome is for more people to install solar panels on their roofs.

It wouldn't make sense, either, to say that:
- non home owners need more help than home owners (since they are usually poorer, not having a house, which is most people's major asset)
- since those who install solar panels are more likely to be wealthy and/or well-educated than those who don't, the former need less help than the latter
So all these people should get even more subsidies than home owners who install solar panels on their roofs.

Clearly, Singapore's enhancement in recent decades of maternity and child benefits fall into the latter category - not the former.

As is very explicitly stated in the August 2008 announcement which, among other things, extended maternity leave to 16 weeks:

The enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package seeks to foster an overall pro-family environment in Singapore through a broader range of measures that offers greater support in both financial and non-financial areas... the Government is committed to fostering an overall family-friendly environment so that Singaporeans can have more support in getting married and having and raising children. We are also mindful that for all that we do, Singaporeans must desire to get married and have children in the first place. Societal attitude towards this needs to change, and we hope to facilitate the change with the enhanced Package
(Government Doubles Budget to Provide More Support for Marriage and Parenthood)

This is in keeping with the Singapore government's general philosophy, where even what needs-based benefits are available are quite hard to get.

ComCare, aka the Public Assistance Scheme, for example, does not disburse money to elderly persons who have children if the children are not supporting their own families and/or have household income above $1,700. The social objectives here are clear.

All in all, the problem with benefits is that they soon turn into entitlements.

And that somehow, the withholding of a benefit is seen as a punishment, as if the state were actively going out of its way to make life difficult for single mothers by, for example, slapping them with a higher tax rate than a single non-mother.

Really, there easiest way to give single mothers the same benefits as married ones is to reduce the benefits the latter get.

Of course, one could consider whether it is worthwhile having more children born to single mothers if that raises the birth rate or some such, but those are separate issues from the equality and punishment issues.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Lone Wolf 29: The Storms of Chai

After 18 years:

Lone Wolf 29: The Storms of Chai - Cubicle 7 Entertainment Web Store

Via Joe Dever:


It is early Spring in the year MS 5102, and you are a Grand Master of the New Order of the Kai, the warrior elite of Sommerlund.

It is a clear moonlit night and you are staring out across the crystal clear waters of the Sea of Dreams from the high window of your chambers in the Kai Monastery of Lorn. The crunching sound of footfalls on loose gravel draws your attention to the parade ground below. A pair of diligent young Kai Warmarns, clad in black and yellow chequered tabards, is patrolling the perimeter with spears on their shoulders. Your eyes wander towards the centre of the parade ground, to a low circular wall of white Kirlundin stone. It encompasses two sturdy Sommlending Oaks. You are reminded of when these trees were transplanted here during the inauguration of the monastery, on the Feast of Fehmarn, two years previously. They were transported all the way from your homeland by sea. The oaks represent the two Sommlending Kai Monasteries with their roots inextricably entwined. The moon is full tonight. Ishir’s Blessing casts its ashen light upon the battlements, towers and gleaming porticos of the new monastery. You take great pride in what you see, for the sweat of your own labour contributed to the construction of this magnificent fortress. Your pride is tinged with apprehension for you have much on your mind. Sommerlund suffered greatly during theperpetual winter and heavy thaw of last year. Fortunately, before his untimely death in MS 5101, King Tor IV had wisely made provision for the storage of food and fuel throughout Sommerlund, and these caches saved the lives of countless thousands of citizens. You are confident that your homeland will surely recover from the Long Winter of MS 5101, but it will likely take two years or more before life there returns to normal. However, this is the lesser of your present concerns.

The greater is something less tangible. For the past two weeks, you have been haunted by a feeling that the forces of darkness are poised to unleash an assault upon Magnamund. You are not alone in your feelings. Blazer, one of your fellow Grand Masters, confided to you this evening that he, too, has been having similar feelings of foreboding for no apparent reason, as have several of the more-psychically gifted Kai Masters in the monastery. The events of tomorrow should allay or confirm your fears. Supreme Master Lone Wolf is expected to arrive by skyship from Dessi at noon. You and Grand Master Blazer will formally greet him when he disembarks upon the monastery parade ground. You have personally overseen the arrangements for the docking of his skyship, and an honour guard of Kai Masters has been drilled to perfection is readiness for his inspection. Satisfied that everything is prepared for tomorrow’s duty, you close your window and retire to your bed.

You awake at dawn and breakfast with a dozen Kai Masters in the mess hall. Then you make your final preparations for Lone Wolf’s return. As noon approaches, there is a buzz of anticipation on the parade ground as eagerly you await the imminent arrival of Supreme Master Lone Wolf’s skyship. Together with Blazer, your fellow Kai Grand Master, you make one last inspection to check that everything is ready. The lookout in the Tower of the Moon spots two skyships approaching, and he informs you of this by a telepathic message. Hastily, you issue orders to the Kai docking crew to prepare to receive this second, unexpected skycraft. A further area of the parade ground is cleared, and mooring points for the second craft are quickly installed and made ready. The skyships make a slow and simultaneous decent towards the parade ground from out of the blue cloudless sky. They come to hover, side by side, no more than a few feet above the ground and their sorcerous engines are powered down to a soft hum. Mooring lines are attached fore and aft of each vessel, and wheeled stairs are positioned against the gunwales of their main decks. The larger of the two skyships is Skyfort, Supreme Master Lone Wolf’s personal vessel, which he received as a gift from Guildmaster Banedon two years previously. Lone Wolf appears at the head of the stairs, and behind him you can see four Kai Grand Masters: Black Hawk, Star Lynx, Steel Hand and Swift Sword, each dressed in their distinctive personal uniforms. The smaller skyship is named Comet, one of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star’s new fleet of fast aerial vessels. Standing on its main deck, you recognize Lord Rimoah and Guildmaster Banedon. With them is a small humanoid creature with greenish skin and crimson eyes. It shuffles impatiently and tugs at the brim of its tall felt hat to shield its sensitive eyes from the glare of the noon sun. Although you have never seen a creature like this before, you know enough about the myriad races of Magnamund to deduce that this is a Kloon Sage of Chaman.

Supreme Master Lone Wolf descends the stairs to the parade ground, and a fanfare of cornets is sounded when he first sets foot on the gravelled surface. He makes a swift inspection of the assembled ranks and commends the Kai Masters on their turnout. Then he dismisses them in order that they may return to their teaching duties. As they disperse and leave the parade ground, Lone Wolf calls you and Blazer forward and informs you both that a special conference will be held in his personal chambers in one hour’s time. You are both instructed to attend. Supreme Master Lone Wolf’s chambers occupy the top two floors of the Tower of the Moon, the tallest of the monastery’s crenulated towers. The lower of these two floors contains the Grand Hall of the Supreme Master, and it is here that the special conference is convened. The hall is a magnificent exemplification of Sommlending architectural design. Its gold-veined pillars of marble support a buttressed ceiling embellished with a vibrant mural depicting famous events in Sommlending history. The walls are draped with the war banners of the Kai, and several glass-fronted display cabinets, set around the hall, contain trophies, medals, and mementoes collected by Lone Wolf during his many quests. You and Blazer pass through the hall’s great door which closes behind you and locks with a muffled click. Gathered in a circle around a large table set before the Supreme Master’s alabaster throne, you see the illustrious and dignified group who arrived at the monastery an hour ago. Lone Wolf beckons you and Blazer to join them. Spread upon the table’s polished surface is a detailed map of Magnamund.

“Now that our company is complete, I call upon Lord Rimoah and Sage Chastan to give their report of the unprecedented events that have prompted me to convene this special meeting,” says Lone Wolf.

“Thank you, my Lord,” responds Rimoah. He picks up a steel pointer from the table and uses it to aid his briefing. Tapping its tip upon his homeland of Dessi, he begins.

“The High Council of the Elder Magi has become aware of several threats to the security of Magnamund that have demanded our urgent attention. Whereas, in the past, the agents of darkness have confined their attempts to corrupt sovereign nations in one or two specific regions, we are now convinced that an orchestrated effort is underway to overwhelm the goodly nations of Magnamund. Several sizeable and coordinated attacks have been launched simultaneously. We believe their express purpose is to overwhelm us before we are able to gather our allies and mount an effective counter-offensive. Here, in Dessi, from the depths of the chasm of Gorgoron, a vast horde of Agarashi has awoken. They have emerged from the chasm and spread throughout the central jungles of my homeland. Our magicians and our brave Vakeros are now locked in battle with this horde as I speak.”

Lord Rimoah moves the pointer across the map and taps several other places where sinister uprisings are taking place.

“The Maakengorge, the Kraknalorg Chasm, The Dark Realm of Ruel, the ruins of Cragmantle, Ljuk, The Danarg, the city of Shadaki and the Doomlands of Naaros. All of these places have now become mustering points for the forces of darkness.”

Lord Rimoah lifts his steely gaze from the map and looks to the slight figure of Sage Chastan.
“Our learned allies in Chaman forewarned us late last year. I very much regret that the High Council did not heed their warnings sooner, and for that I owe our learned ally a sincere apology.”

The Kloon blinks his crimson eyes and accepts Rimoah’s apology with a gracious nod of his head. “Our fears have become real,” he replies, in a softly rasping tone. “But there is still time enough to stem this tide of darkness, though precious little time it is.”

“Precious little time, indeed,” says Lone Wolf, solemnly. “If we are to prevent this resurgence of evil from overwhelming the Freelands of Magnamund, we must strike swiftly and effectively at the enemy’s main mustering points. By preventing the reinforcement of their hordes, we shall stem this flood before it converges and drowns us.”

Lone Wolf casts his eyes upon each Kai Grand Master in turn as he continues speaking.
“With the aid of my wise and learned councillors, I have prepared missions for each and every one of you.”

From the pocket of his golden battle tunic, Lone Wolf produces six furled parchments, each tied with a silk cord of a different colour. One by one, he hands them out to you and the five other Kai Grand Masters assembled here.

“Unfurl your scroll, my lords. Read and memorise the contents,” instructs Lone Wolf.
With a tingle of anticipation, you untie the scarlet cord and open your furled parchment. It contains the details of your mission, handwritten by Supreme Master Lone Wolf personally.

‘An Agarashi horde, numbering several thousands, has emerged from the Doomlands of Naaros. Our agents in Chai inform us that it is being commanded by a powerful Nadziranim sorcerer called Zashnor. The Bhanarian city of Bakhasa has become their mustering point and it is now completely under Zashnor’s control. Bhanarian forces hungry to avenge the Massacre of Yua Tzhan, have been mobilised and are currently marching southeast towards the Chai border with Zahsnor’s Agarashi horde. Khea-khan Zhazhing, Chai’s renowned warrior king, passed away peacefully in his sleep some weeks ago, on the Feast of Fehmarn. The new ruler of Chai is Zha-zhing’s son, Lao Tin. He is sixteen years old. Although he commands the loyalty and respect of Chai’s military High Command, he does not yet possess the wisdom and martial experience of his famous father. Without Zha-zhing’s outstanding generalship, Chai is especially vulnerable to invasion at this time.

Seventeen years ago, you defeated Autarch Sejanoz of Bhanar and secured the cursed artefact called the Claw of Naar. This powerful weapon was delivered to the Elder Magi in order that they should destroy it, to prevent it from ever falling into the hands of our enemies. Alas, despite every attempt to annihilate this foul object by all means at their disposal, its destruction has not been achieved. The Elder Magi have constructed a secure prison for the weapon in a secret location in Dessi until the means to destroy it is found. After years of careful study, and with the invaluable assistance of the Sages of Chaman, we now know a great deal more about this cursed artefact than we did when you first captured it. The Claw is powerful, but it is not complete. It is but one half of a weapon that is capable of unleashing a far more intense blast of destructive energy, with power enough to obliterate an entire city at a single stroke. The missing component of this weapon is a gemlike object called the Eye of Agarash. Without the Claw, the Eye of Agarash has no innate destructive powers. However, when it is married with the Claw, it greatly intensifies and concentrates the power of that weapon several hundredfold.

The Sages of Chaman have located the Eye of Agarash. For centuries, and without the knowledge of a succession of royal owners, it has been a gem that embellishes the Grand Throne of the Khea-khans. This throne is located in the Imperial Palace of Pensei, in Chai. Your mission is to journey to Pensei and retrieve the Eye of Agarash. Once you have it in your possession, you must return with it as quickly as you are able to the Kai Monastery of Lorn. Years ago, you saved the life of the young Khea-Khan’s grandfather. For that, he will forever be in your debt. Our agents in Chai are confident that Lao Tin will willingly give you the Eye of Agarash and assist your swift return here to the monastery. However, now that Zashnor’s hordes are moving quickly to invade Chai, there is a serious risk that the city of Pensei may fall within a matter of days.

We are in no doubt that Zashnor is aware of the Eye’s location and its significance. It must be retrieved before it falls into its foul hands. We know that it possesses a personal weapon that bears a chilling similarity to the Claw of Naar. If, indeed, it has the same properties as the Claw you retrieved, then the consequences of it capturing the Eye of Agarash will be devastating. This outcome must be prevented at all costs.’

When you and the other Grand Masters have finished reading and digesting the contents of your mission scrolls, Lone Wolf instructs you to furl them and place them in the centre of the map table. Guildmaster Banedon steps forward and sweeps his hands across the pile of scrolls. Immediately, they are consumed by a cold magical fire that destroys them utterly leaving no trace. Lone Wolf calls an end to the conference and dismisses you and the other Grand Masters. Before you leave the Grand Hall, he instructs you all to gather at dawn on the parade ground in readiness for your departure from the monastery. With a formal salute, you acknowledge his order and leave the hall in single file. In silent contemplation, you each return to your quarters to make preparations for your individual missions. The afternoon is spent selecting your clothing and equipment for the mission and, after supper, you retire early in order to get plenty of rest before you set off tomorrow morning. With some difficulty, you eventually fall asleep after several hours spent in listless contemplation of your quest and the unknown dangers that lie ahead.

Links - 7th April 2016

Hillary Clinton wants to end the loophole that lets disabled workers earn less than minimum wage
There go employment rates for the disabled

Don’t Dismiss Poverty’s Role in Terrorism Yet - "A 2006 study on terrorism for 96 countries between 1986 and 2002 found no link between its economic measures and terrorism. In 2002, Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, and Jitka Malecková, an associate professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Charles University, made the argument in The New Republic against poverty’s role in terrorism with a wide-ranging presentation of evidence including evidence gathered from Hezbollah and Hamas suggesting that upper class and more educated individuals are slightly over-represented in among terrorists because terror groups actively select for those individuals from large populations of potential recruits’... some scholarly literature documents a relationship though not necessarily a causal one—between poverty and some terrorism. A 2011 study (notably disputed by Krueger and Malecková, among others) found a positive relationship between unemployment and right wing extremist crimes committed in Germany. A 1977 study of terrorist profiles which supported the conclusion that terrorists are generally middle or upper class noted that the Provisional Irish Republican Army constituted an exception both in terms of social class and educational attainment. The Basque terrorist group ETA provides another interesting example: Goldie Shabad and Francisco Ramo point out in the edited anthology Terrorism in Context that over time, membership in ETA grew among working class individuals while it declined among the upper classes. These examples demonstrate a fundamental structural problem in method and approach. By treating terrorism as a single category that can be examined across multiple countries and decades rather than focusing on particular groups or individuals, we overlook patterns that exist in some but not all cases."

Poverty and Low Education Don't Cause Terrorism - ""Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak," the authors note in Education, Poverty, Political Violence, and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection? (NBER Working Paper No. 9074). "Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or ignorance, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings (either perceived or real) of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economics... About 10 percent of the 3,100 counties in the United States are currently home to a hate group, such as the Klu Klux Klan, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A study by Phillip Jefferson and Frederic Pryor found that the likelihood that a hate group was located in a county was unrelated to the unemployment rate in the county, and positively related to the education level in the county. Similarly, Krueger and Jrn-Steffan Pischke found that in Germany neither average education nor the average wage in the country's 543 counties was related to the amount of violence against foreigners. Turning to terrorism, the authors' analysis of the results of a public opinion poll conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in December 2001 indicates that support for violent attacks against Israeli targets does not decrease among those with higher education and higher living standards... Economists have found a link between low incomes and property crimes. But in most cases terrorism is less like property crime and more like a violent form of political engagement"

The Relationship between Democracy and Development: Implications for Policy - "According to data collected and analyzed for the book, there has been no advantage for autocracies over democracies for the past 40 years in terms of development. Both developing country democracies and non-democracies have grown at approximately 1.5% of GDP per capita per year during that time. When East Asia is removed from that sample, democracies have actually performed better – growing at 0.5% per capita per year faster than autocracies and mixed polities. What is more, there is no data on about 25% of autocracies – countries such as North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan (for most of its rule), and Cuba – so actual growth figures for autocracies would likely be substantially lower if the performance of these additional countries were included. More than simply growing at a faster rate, democracies have outperformed autocracies in the consistency of their growth. An analysis of the 80 worst economic performers of the last 40 years reveals that all but three have been autocracies. In addition, democracies have performed substantially better than autocracies in the social welfare dimension of development (life expectancy, child mortality, literacy, etc.) – in some cases up to 50% better. It is important to note that there has been a variety of development experiences among democracies. This can be attributed to the differing success with which any country can develop institutions of accountability – checks on the chief executive, separation of politics from the civil service, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, and independence of the private sector, for example – which are the foundations of democratic systems of governance. Both autocracies and democracies that have developed these institutions have had better rates of economic development than countries without well established institutions of accountability. For this reason, there are some autocracies that have performed better than some democracies; the East Asian "tigers" fall into this category."

Yanis Varoufakis is a rock star in Greece, not just because he rides a BMW - "Add to that the motorbike had become part of his signature style. It was Varoufakis’ regular mode of transportation fo who turned up to meetings on this as well. He was mostly spotted dressed in loose shirts, even leather jackets but never a tie or a suit like the rest of the team. There’s even a Facebook fan page titled “V for Varoufakis” that has over 73,000 likes. The page name is a pun on the popular novel V for Vendetta where the character ‘V’ helps a dystopic and fascist Britain get back on the path of freedom and democracy. While Greece’s V might have resigned, the page is reflection of the cult status he’s managed to build in his short span as a Finance minister. On the page, there’s a video of Varoufakis walking into the square with Greek protestors being welcomed and hugged by the crowd. It’s unlikely that any minister anywhere in the world will just walk in with a protesting crowd and expect that kind of response."

#GiveYourMoneyToWomen - Giving Feminism a Bad Name - "Maybe I am totally missing a trick here and it's some kind of faux-femininst, ironic social media experiment, but if it's not, and let's presume it's not - then this isn't an act of feminism, it's an embarrassing attempt for 'feminists', and self-pitying women to drag men through the mud again - a social media witch hunt, once again victimizing all women and vilifying all men, and it makes my blood boil. Is it any wonder women are sheepish about calling themselves feminists, when this is the kind of nonsense that it's associated with? Aside from anything else, I struggle to see how a smile in the street should be 'fined' to fund somebody's dental bill or an 'unsolicited hello' contribute towards a woman's art fund. Yes, I understand that a lot of the links are metaphorical but nonetheless, linking money to 'harassment' (subjective in many cases, I personally have no issue with being smiled at in the street) infuriates me. You want money? Cut out the bitching and moaning and go the f**k out and earn it. Men don't owe you anything and believe me, the last way you're going to get it is demanding it from strangers on Twitter, because you've been so hard done by, and life is just so unfair. What are you, f***ing twelve? No wonder, women are so often branded as difficult and irrational when this is what we, as women, put out there to represent ourselves, and our apparent injustices... Feminists who create, encourage and promote such madness genuinely make me recoil in embarrassment and only go towards reinforcing the gender stereotypes people have worked so hard to dissolve. Do I feel like without these screaming feminists sexism would be worse? No, I feel like running to the first man in the street, grabbing him by the ankles and begging him to believe that not all women are this angry and irrational - that I do believe in equality but don't hate men, or, believe that they owe me anything, monetary or otherwise."

The Reality of #GiveYourMoneyToWomen - "In addition to being inexplicably accused of racism, my tweet was also labeled as “ableist.” Because apparently, being a woman is a disability – according to one self-identified feminist at least... Never before have I felt more cheap, more interchangeable, more needy than when other women decided I, and others like me, deserved unearned money just for existing-while-female"

How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates - "I watched it happen to my peers. People who had spent the preceding years laying out exultant visions of a better world, of the grand creative projects they planned, of adventure and discovery, were suddenly sucked into the mouths of corporations dangling money like angler fish. At first they said they would do it for a year or two, “until I pay off my debts”. Soon afterwards they added: “and my mortgage”. Then it became, “I just want to make enough not to worry any more”. A few years later, “I’m doing it for my family”. Now, in middle age, they reply, “What, that? That was just a student fantasy.”"

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: A leader who was ruthless in demanding honesty - "To call Lee Kuan Yew my friend would not be quite right. More accurately, we were colleagues. I don't think he had many friends, because he was so focused on doing what was good for the nation, and that would require him sometimes to act against his friends. If he was too friendly with anyone, that could colour his decision, so he was very careful...
I resigned from Cabinet (in 1992) because I had a great difference of view over the use of the Internal Security Act in the 1987 arrests. (In 1987, 22 people - many linked to the Catholic Church - were arrested and detained without trial under the ISA for alleged involvement in a "Marxist conspiracy".)"

Shakespeare to Blame for Introduction of European Starlings to U.S. - "We move on to the late 19th century, when a group called the American Acclimatization Society was reportedly working on their pre-environmental-impact-statement project to introduce to the U.S. every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s scripts. Clearly, the Bard abided birds—his works include references to more than 600 avian species. A Bronx resident, drug manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin (a street bearing his name isn’t far from my house) seems to be particularly responsible for the starlings’ arrival here. Well, his chickens have come home to roost. Pop. (The society also brought the house sparrow to our shores, a pair of which nest in a vent on the front of my other, human, next-door neighbor’s house.) The Acclimatization Society released some hundred starlings in New York City’s Central Park in 1890 and 1891. By 1950 starlings could be found coast to coast, north past Hudson Bay and south into Mexico. Their North American numbers today top 200 million. As bird-watcher Jeffrey Rosen put it in a 2007 New York Times article, “It isn’t their fault that they treated an open continent much as we ourselves did.” Zzzt."

Milk of human kindness | Stuff.co.nz - "Breastmilk is a source of life, yet is little discussed publicly. It's in the news at the moment though, as milk sharing, both formal and informal, gains in popularity. Milk banks allow mothers to donate breastmilk for others to use. In a formal context, the banks are predominantly used in intensive care units to help feed premature or sick babies whose mothers can't supply sufficient milk. But there's also a burgeoning informal exchange, in which women use social networking sites to share milk."
Only in New Zealand?

Singled Out: Are Unmarried People Discriminated Against? - "Activists say that unmarried people are systematically discriminated against. They pay more for health and car insurance than married people do. They don’t get the same kind of tax breaks. Co-op boards, mortgage brokers, and landlords often pass them over. So do the employers with the power to promote them. “Singleism—stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single—is largely unrecognized and unchallenged,” says activist Bella DePaulo, the author of Singled Out... Singles may also be contributing more at the office, without being compensated for it, activists say. “Studies have shown that singles are often paid less than married people, even if they share the same title, responsibilities, and years of experience,” says Langburt. “And if you agree that time equals dollars, then it doesn’t stop there: there’s maternity leave, all the time off leading up to the pregnancy for doctors’ visits, and sick days.” On top of that, it’s de rigueur for companies to provide benefits for spouses and children—without providing equivalent perks for singles. The prejudicial treatment can also be more blatant, activists say. An unmarried friend of Klinenberg’s with a high-power job at a social-justice organization was informed in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t be getting a raise—because her married co-workers needed the money more than she did. “One of her partners told her, ‘We all have families to take care of, and you don’t,’” Klinenberg says. “These are people whose life work is social justice.”"

Grog : un bon rhum bien chaud pour soigner son rhume

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think - "the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended. But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more... If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit. But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens... you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks... Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction... An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example... The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.”"

Real Men Commit Perjury

So the TRS (The Real Singapore) saga is ongoing, and the latest development is that:

Yang takes the stand, points finger at wife: 'It was her, not me'

In other words, after Ai Takagi pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months' jail while pregnant, Yang Kaiheng is claiming that he had (almost) nothing to do with the running of TRS.

Many people speculate that this is part of a conscious legal strategy where the couple got married (they weren't when they were first arrested), and the woman then got pregnant in order to get a lighter sentence (I note in addition that women get lighter prison sentences than men) while the man disclaims responsibility. The combined criminal sanctions are thus minimised.

Interestingly, on The Middle Ground, many people are slamming Yang Kaiheng for not being "a real man"

When confronted with the possibility that the couple's account of facts might be right, i.e. that Takagi really was responsible for TRS and Yang was not, many even say that non "scumbag" males should take the rap for their women.

Apparently, real men commit perjury.

As an aside, the moral panic about the posts is amusing. I'm just surprised no one talked about race riots.

Sample comments:

"a real man pushed all the blames to his pregnant wife and made her go to jail on his behalf. Scums of the century!"

"Even if true a real man should absorb the blame and protect his wife and baby."

"Goodness - should own up like a man. The hurt that he, his wife and TRS did to innocent people for so long through their lies, twisting of the truth and blatant libelous rubbish that they wrote, published and promoted can never be undone. Should be at least 10 years in jail each. Tch."

"A really sorry excuse for a man. Dare to stir up trouble but don't dare to face the music and push everything unto the wifey."

"This is the kind of people who wants to challenge the government and write senseless and irresponsible stuff to defame. Now pushing the blame to pregnant wife. Simply coward, ball-less and despicable."

"Behind every successful man, stands his woman?"

"Got penis to impregnate her and no balls to admit . Shamw"

"Lovely couple of the year n award goes to ........"

"His wife should leave him for good!"

"Feels so embarrased for his parents who raised such a sissy coward up"
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