The truth is out there: 06/02/2009

A weekly look at the world
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The Independent Online

*An invasive Chinese beetle is wreaking havoc in Holland's horticultural heartland where more than 550 of Europe's biggest flower and plant growers have been forced to close.

The citrus longhorn beetle was discovered in Boskoop last week leading to a 2km quarantine zone being imposed and a ban on all plant sales until nurseries have been inspected, reported Horticulture Week. The beetle is considered a major threat to European horticulture as it has no natural predators.

*With New Orleans and Indianapolis facing off in tomorrow's Super Bowl XLIV, the Freakonomics blog on The New York Times approached the event in characteristic style; it attempted to calculate the chances of a cow making it to the final. Though American footballs are still referred to as pigskins, these days they are made from cow's leather. After extensive calculations, David Gassko and Ian Stanczy, authors of the Book of Odds, decided each American cow has a one-in-17,420,000 chance of appearing in the big game. Or roughly the same odds that a person will be diagnosed with the plague in a given year.

*Banking bosses might not question the ethics of big bonuses but apparently they draw the line at extramarital affairs. Avid Life Media, a Canadian company that runs dating websites, has run into trouble trying to raise capital for a public offering after investors turned their noses up at the content of its sites, according to The Globe and Mail. Among their racier offerings is the Ashley Madison Agency, a website whose masthead reads "Life is short, have an affair" and which has more than five million anonymous members.

*A potentially new type of lighting that appears during volcanic eruptions has been discovered by scientists in America, National Geographic reported this week. The bolts proved elusive as they are just one metre long and last a few milliseconds, appearing over volcanoes as they erupt. But volcanic seismologist Steve McNutt and colleagues managed to observe them after scrambling to install various instruments during the 2009 eruption of Alaska's Redoubt volcano. If confirmed they will become the third officially recognised form of volcanic lightning.

*America is to face six more weeks of winter according to Punxsutawney Phil, the celebrated rodent at the centre of the Groundhog Day festivities. The weather-forecasting groundhog was pulled from his burrow in front of crowds of jubilant onlookers in Puxsuntawney, Pennsylvania where town officials watched to see if his shadow could be discerned. After intensive debate it was deemed Phil saw his shadow, indicating that winter weather will continue for six more weeks, said AFP.

*According to reports in the Canadian press, one man's pie thrower is another's terrorist as Liberal MP Gerry Byrne called for a Peta protester who threw a pie in the face of fisheries minister Gail Shea to be treated as a terrorist. He believes the authorities should investigate the case of the tofu cream pie, thrown in protest at the government's "ill advised sanction of the slaughter of seals".