David Randall: Breathe a sigh of relief – aliens aren't heading our way just yet

Four corners of the world
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The Independent Online

* The vapour trail over Californian seas – identified by various savants of the internet as anything from a US missile to signs of an incipient alien invasion of Earth – has now been definitively pinned down. US Blogger Liem Bahneman has studied civilian aircraft flight paths, and proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the trail belongs to United Parcel Service flight 902, from Hawaii. He even found CCTV images of the same flight the day previously, and they match, almost exactly, the "mysterious" trail that caused so much commotion in conspiracist circles.

* The week's big tale from the world of spookery was that the man in charge of Russian intelligence's sleeper operation in America, one Colonel Shcherbakov, did a bunk just days before the arrest of 10 agents in July. These, of course, included the photogenic Anna Chapman, above, now reportedly combining work in a bank with posing for magazines. The assumption is that the colonel betrayed the US sleepers, and then did a runner. This is not necessarily so – the Americans had some of the sleepers under surveillance as long ago as the 1990s. Thus, the colonel – presuming he actually exists – may have been working for the US for more than a decade, or he was turned after they were rumbled and the Americans – knowing the arrests would point a big fat Kremlin finger at him – advised Shcherbakov to make himself scarce. One real puzzle remains – given that he went on the lam several days before the arrests, why did the Russians not warn their sleepers? All grist to the theory that most spookery is a cops and robbers game played by licensed overgrown adolescents.

* What – after drugs and weapons – are the world's third most valuable illicitly traded goods? Trafficked people? Alcohol? Technology? No, it's wildlife products, an illegal business worth more than £6bn a year, according to the World Bank. Interesting though it is that precise amounts can be put on such activities, their real cost is not money, but endangered animals. And last week, Traffic International, which monitors wildlife crime, reported on the terrible price exacted by just one segment of this "business". In the past decade, between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers – more than one-quarter of the entire world population, were killed to supply this demand.

The report dipped a tentative toe in the real problem: the market for tiger parts, especially in China and South-east Asia. They are used a lot in Chinese medicine, whose practitioners claim, without a shred of evidence, that ailments from scabies to rheumatism can be cured using them. There is also a lively trade in claws, teeth and skins. A survey earlier this year found that 59 out of 134 jewellery and antique shops in Singapore visited by a research group sold tiger parts. If the people of China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan ceased to believe in such cruel and obviously quack remedies, the world's tigers would be saved. It really is as simple as that.

* Good news for time-poor folk wanting to pep up their love lives: the world's first drive-through sex shop has opened in Alabama. There are three lanes, and, to help you smuggle those vital novelties into the house without the neighbours seeing, your purchases are handed to you in plain brown bags. Further inquiries establish that it is still, technically, illegal to buy items designed for the "stimulation of human genital organs" in the state of Alabama, unless you can prove these aids are for "a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purpose". To comply, purchasers should fill out a form specifying the health-related reason for their nipple ring, dildo or blow-up doll. Mercifully for Alabama funsters, the law is rarely enforced.