Bikies arrested over Qld extortion ring

Three bikies who police say were involved in an extortion ring have been arrested in simultaneous raids on Thursday morning.

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Police say the Bandidos members who lived in Brisbane and Logan were threatening victims with violence unless they paid a $5000 “fine”.

The extortion racket allegedly started after a public brawl between two men over a woman.

It’s understood one of the men called in friends from the Bandidos and the fight escalated.

The bikies allegedly threatened violence to others involved in the fight unless each paid a $5000 “fine”.

A victim’s car windscreen was smashed with a baseball bat, police said in a statement.

Detectives say they know of four victims but believe there are others and have urged them to come forward.

A 26-year-old former president of the Bandidos’ Gold Coast chapter was among the bikies arrested, as well as two 22-year-old alleged gang members.

All were charged with committing extortion as vicious lawless associates, while both younger men were also charged with drug offences and wilful damage.

A 21-year-old man and a 36-year-old man were also arrested and charged with possessing drugs and utensils.

The five are expected to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said the operation demonstrated the use of standover tactics by criminal gangs.

“These offences were committed in public places and targeted everyday Queenslanders, threatening victims with violence for money,” he said.

“They have done this as a group, using their criminal gang association to further intimidate victims to both comply with their demands.”

Police expect to lay more charges.

China cracks down over blow-up toad joke

The installation of a giant inflatable duck in Hong Kong’s harbour last year sparked a national craze for oversized blow-up wildlife, with several Chinese cities launching their own imitations.

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The latest, a 22-metre-high (72-feet) toad, appeared in a Beijing park last weekend, but met with mockery from social media users who compared its appearance to that of former President Jiang Zemin.

The website of China’s official Xinhua news agency and popular web portal Sina had deleted their reports on the animal — seen as a symbol of good fortune in traditional Chinese culture — by Wednesday.

A message on Xinhua’s website read: “Sorry, the report you are attempting to access has been deleted or has expired,” although reports on some lower-profile news sites were still accessible.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the Internet, blocking foreign sites such as Facebook while ordering local outlets to remove articles on political topics it deems sensitive, such as criticism of senior leaders.

Last year China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo blocked searches for “big yellow duck” after users posted an image of the iconic “Tank Man” photograph showing a Tiananmen Square protester but with military vehicles replaced by giant ducks.

Jiang — who stepped down as president in 2002 but still wields influence within the party — has been mockingly nicknamed “toad” by some Internet users for his jowly features.

Rumours have been swirling around Jiang amid reports that current party chief and president Xi Jinping is targeting some of the former president’s allies in an anti-corruption drive.

A spokesman for Yuyuantan park in Beijing said there were no immediate plans to remove the toad.

Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords

By Rachel Feltman | @rachelfeltman

Doing puzzles and listening to classical music might improve your concentration momentarily, but they don’t actually make you any smarter.

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That is, they don’t improve your long-term brain function, according to The Economist’s interview of Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California and editor-in-chief of BrainFacts南宁夜生活,.

“Let me dispel a brain development myth,” Spitzer told The Economist. “Many people think classical music is going to enhance brain function (the Mozart effect) or playing particular games sharpens one’s cognitive function. These theories have been looked at in detail and they don’t stand up. It is disappointing in a way, but what we have learned is that exercise is the key thing for brain function.”

By exercise, he means general activity and—more importantly—exposure to sunlight. In a recent study (paywall), he found that rats produced different brain-altering chemicals based on environmental factors. He thinks that our brains change their behavior (like “a railway switching yard”) based on environmental factors to help us conserve energy during winter. But when we give in to the evolutionary impulse to stay inside under the covers, we give our brain a further signal that it’s time to use as little energy as possible. This feedback loop, he says, is what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that affects otherwise healthy people during the dark winter months.

So to keep your brain at tip-top shape, you should stay active. That gives your body cues to devote lots of resources to cognitive function. Then again, puzzles do help with some specific things, like increasing verbal aptitude (paywall) and helping you learn a new subject more quickly. So as long as you get plenty of time outside, there’s no reason to drop the sudoku.

And getting into bed, for certain purposes at least, can help brain function, too. A recent study found that female orgasms trigger an increase in blood flow to all regions of the brain, improving overall cognitive performance. Keep that in mind when you’re figuring out how to get that exercise in.

This article was originally published on Quartz. Click here to view the original. © All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

 

Rockets found at UN Gaza school missing

The UN secretary-general says he is “alarmed” to hear rockets were placed in a UN-run school in Gaza and now “have gone missing”.

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A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon says he has demanded a full review of such incidents.

In a statement released on Wednesday night Ban expressed “outrage and regret” at the placement of weapons at a site run by the global organisation.

The UN says that has happened at least twice so far in the current fighting.

“Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” UN staff and anyone seeking shelter, the statement said.

The rockets had been placed at one of the schools run by the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.

Once they were found, “in accordance with standard practice, UNRWA handed them over to the local authorities. Since then, they have gone missing,” Ban’s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said in an email.

The Islamic militant group Hamas controls Gaza. The US, Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, but the UN does not.

A week ago, UNRWA said that during a routine check it discovered about 20 rockets hidden in one of its vacant Gaza schools and called on militants to respect the “sanctity and integrity” of UN property. It said the incident was “the first of its kind in Gaza”.

On Tuesday, UNRWA reported a second incident, saying it found rockets hidden at a vacant school during a regular inspection.

“UNRWA staff were withdrawn from the premises, and so we are unable to confirm the precise number of rockets,” it said.

“The school is situated between two other UNRWA schools that currently each accommodate 1500 internally displaced persons.”

UNRWA said it was looking at all possible ways to safely remove the rockets and would investigate the incident.

The UN statement on Wednesday said Ban has asked for the immediate development of a plan to safely handle any weapons found on UN premises, and he told the UN Mine Action Service to immediately send people to deal with the situation of the missing rockets.

NRL set to double serious injury payouts

NRL players who suffer career-ending injuries will be eligible for payouts of up to $1 million under a newly-proposed temporary insurance scheme.

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The planned policy, unanimously supported by the league and all 16 clubs, doubles the current amount of $500,000.

The payout will apply to the most serious injuries, including paraplegia, quadriplegia, loss of sight and the loss of the use of a limb which end a player’s career.

It will cover the top 25 contracted NRL players in each club, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

The interim scheme is currently under consideration by players, and will operate through to March next year while a new whole-of-game policy is developed.

“Everyone in the game has been working together for some months to develop an insurance scheme which looks after the welfare of our players,” NRL chief executive Dave Smith said on Thursday.

“Obviously players will always be able to take their own insurance to protect their income in the event of a serious injury.

“But it is also important that the game has its own scheme and the players, clubs and NRL are working towards that.”

Smith said the league was also planning to set up a foundation to assist players who suffer catastrophic injuries.

South Sydney boss Shane Richardson backed the proposal on behalf the clubs.

“The clubs and the NRL recognise the importance of the improved insurance arrangements and support the proposal that was put to the Players Association for their members’ review,” he said.

The announcement follows last weekend’s Rise For Alex round, which raised more than $1.1 million for Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon.

McKinnon suffered a devastating spinal injury after a lifting tackle in the Knights’ round-three clash with Melbourne.