TIME animals

So This Baby Weasel Decided to Hitch a Ride on a Flying Woodpecker’s Back

The battle for survival just got airborne

An amateur photographer in the U.K. captured the snap of his lifetime on Monday when he witnessed a weasel clinging onto a woodpecker’s back mid-flight.

Martin Le-May from Essex near London said he was first alerted to the bird’s “distressed squawking” at Hornchurch Country Park after the tiny carnivore apparently pounced on it in search of a meal.

“The bird flew across us and slightly in our direction,” he told ITV News. “Suddenly it was obvious it had a small mammal on its back and this was a struggle for life.”

The woodpecker landed in front of Le-May and his wife, at which point the weasel seemed to get distracted and momentarily let go of its quarry.

“Quickly the bird gathered its self respect and flew up into the trees and away from our sight,” adds Le-May. “The woodpecker left with its life, the weasel just disappeared into the long grass, hungry.”

TIME Soccer

This Soccer Match May Just Be the Craziest Ash Wednesday Tradition Ever

Opposing teams of the Up'ards and the Down'ards reach for the ball as they compete in the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England on February 17, 2015.
Oli Scarff—AFP/Getty Images Opposing teams of the Up'ards and the Down'ards reach for the ball as they compete in the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England on February 17, 2015.

Two days, no rules, and hundreds of players per team

One of the world’s most unusual games of soccer is taking place in the small town of Ashbourne in the English Midlands. It began on Fat Tuesday, which in the U.K. is called Shrove Tuesday, and continues into Ash Wednesday.

The Royal Shrovetide Football match is a game like no other. Instead of the regular 11-a-side soccer team, hundreds of people play on two teams, named the Down’ards (downwards) and the Up’ards (upwards). There are hardly any rules — among the few is a ban on transporting the ball in any kind of vehicle — and the annual match is played over two days, in eight-hour periods.

Footwork doesn’t really come into it, in fact the game is more of a chaotic free-for-all as opposing teams attempt to force the ball (which is made of leather and cork) towards the goal posts, which are three miles apart.

Oh, and the goals are stone structures by a river that need to be hit three successive times before the goal is valid.

Opposing teams of the Up'ards and the Down'ards stand in water as they compete in the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England on February 17, 2015.
Oli Scarff—AFP/Getty Images

During the game, the whole town comes to a stand still and shops board up their frontages to protect against broken windows.

A butcher helps board up his shop before the opposing teams of the Up'ards and the Down'ards compete in the annual game of Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, northern England on Shrove Tuesday February 17, 2015.
Oli Scarff—AFP/Getty Images

Picking a team to support isn’t hard. If you were born on the south side of the local stream, Henmore Brooke, then you play for the Down’ards. If you born to the north of the stream, you play for the Up’ards.

Opposing teams of the Up'ards and the Down'ards compete at the start of the annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England on February 17, 2015.
Oli Scarff—AFP/Getty Images

No one knows the exact origins of the Shrovetide game, also known as “hugball,” but it is believed to date back as far as 1667.

At end of play on Tuesday the Up’ards led 1-0 but the battle for the ball continues Wednesday.

TIME World

Britain Gives Tourist Attractions Very Literal Chinese Names

Derwent London Plc's Offices As Real Estate Trust To Demolish Own Savile Row Offices For Apartments
Bloomberg—Getty Images Somehow, "Custom-made for Rich People Street" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Savile Row."

Savile Row becomes 'Custom-made for Rich People Street'

In a bid to attract more Chinese travelers to its shores, the United Kingdom has a campaign underway to assign Mandarin names to many of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Britain’s national tourism agency, VisitBritain, has released some of the most popular suggestions, and each of the 101 locations have been notified of their three most popular options.

They’ll narrow it down to one result over the coming days, but in the mean time, some of the Mandarin alternatives reveal the very literal thought process behind this initiative.

“GREAT names for GREAT Britain” takes the Shard—a fairly accurate if abstract name for the London skyscraper—and renames it “A Tower Allowing Us to Pluck Stars From the Sky” or “London Cone.” The dapper Savile Row becomes “Tall, Rich, Handsome Street” or “Custom-made for Rich People Street.” And apparently Chinese must be more skeptical than Scots, because “Loch Ness Monster” in its Mandarin form is downgraded to “Loch Ness Shadow.”

It will remain to be seen whether these English roses by any other name will smell as sweet, but Chinese tourists will be in for at least one fragrant attraction in the U.K.: Haggis, or in its new form, “Made of Sheep’s Stomach and Smells Good.”

TIME U.K.

Has the Price of English Soccer Just Gone Beyond Crazy?

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil controls the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium in London, Feb. 10, 2015.
Matt Dunham—AP Arsenal's Mesut Ozil controls the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium in London, Feb. 10, 2015.

Media companies may have gone to far in paying $7.85 billion for broadcast rights

It’s become unfashionable in recent years to question the logic of paying astronomical sums for the rights to broadcast English soccer’s top competition, the Barclays Premier League.

But that’s exactly what the stock market is doing today after the eye-popping auction Tuesday for domestic broadcasting rights over the next three seasons, cementing the Premier League’s place as the world’s most valuable sports franchise after the NFL.

Sky Plc and BT Group Plc bid a total of 5.136 billion pounds ($7.85 billion) between them for the rights, an increase of over 70% from the current package that expires at the end of the 2015-2016 season.

For comparison, that’s an average of $2.6 billion a season, compared to $4.44 billion a season under the NFL’s current contract with its network partners, which runs through 2022. The U.K. has less than a quarter of the U.S.’s population and its TV market is worth proportionately even less, so the price implies a much higher price per second of viewer time than for the NFL — and that in a market where consumer incomes are substantially lower than in the U.S.

Ever since Sky first bought the rights for the top flight of English soccer 20 years ago, it has repeatedly dumbfounded critics who said it was overpaying for the franchise. Most of the City analysts who predicted that overspending on soccer would kill it have long disappeared into anonymity.

But that skepticism is back Wednesday, with the City daring again to doubt that the company can recoup its outlay through subscriptions. As in the U.S., disposable incomes have stagnated in Britain since the 2008 crisis, so paying extra to watch the likes of Diego Costa, Wayne Rooney and Co. every week is going to mean doing without other luxuries (like toothpaste and food for the kids). Sky said it “will work hard to minimize the impact of higher rights costs on our customers,” according to the Daily Mail, but the company’s shares fell 5% at the opening and had only recouped 1% by lunchtime in London.

As it has always done in the past, Sky went overboard to defend its dominance, buying five out of the seven packages on offer, the maximum allowed under the auction rules. As a result, it paid 82% more than under the current deal, an average of over 10 million pounds a game (or 1,887 pounds a second, if you prefer). By contrast, BT only raised its average bid by 18%.

In hindsight, it may have been that Sky was bidding only against itself. Going into the auction, there had been speculation that Discovery Channel and Qatar-backed BeIn Sports would also join the fray, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday whether they had actually bid.

The massive increase in bidding is all the more surprising when you consider that it only covers the U.K. market, so Sky and BT have no opportunity to defray the costs on to what is still a very fast-growing international audience.

The Premier League stopped saying five years ago exactly how much it sells its overseas rights for, but they grew from an average of 8 million pounds a season in the first deal in 1992 to 216 million pounds a season for the 2007-2010 deal, a 27-fold increase. For comparison, the price of the domestic rights “only” went up by a factor of 15 in the same period.

TIME U.K.

U.S. and U.K’s Sharing of Mass Surveillance Intel Ruled ‘Unlawful’

The Investigative Powers Tribunal has never before ruled against the intelligence agencies

A British court has ruled that some aspects of the sharing of mass surveillance intelligence by the U.K and the U.S, was unlawful.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) said that the U.K.’s General Communication HQ’s access to intercepted information obtained by the U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA) failed to comply with human rights laws, the Guardian reports.

Civil liberties groups including Liberty and Privacy International had brought the complaint to the IPT last year. This was the first legal challenge to be examined in the U.K. over GCHQ’s participation in the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, Prism and Upstream, whose existence was first revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.

Read next: UK spy agency stored millions of webcam images

[Guardian]

TIME health

Three-Parent IVF Deserves a Chance in the U.S.

All new fertility methods sound crazy at first

In a historic vote that rocked the world of fertility medicine Tuesday, British lawmakers approved the use of a controversial IVF practice that would take genetic material from three people to create a single embryo.

The promising technique, which involves replacing the defective cellular material of a woman’s eggs with that from a healthy donor, aims to prevent patients from passing down crippling genetic diseases to their offspring. It also might hold the key to other groundbreaking applications, such as extending women’s fertility by rehabilitating old eggs.

The decision is inspiring because members of Parliament chose science over a firestorm of often ill-informed debate questioning whether we’ve gone too far in experimenting with genetic engineering. Hopefully, they will motivate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which held public hearings on the topic last year but declined to move forward with human trials citing lack of safety data, to follow suit. New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that more than 12,000 women in the U. S. of childbearing age risk passing down such mitochondrial diseases, which have been linked to everything from poor growth, blindness, neurological problems and heart and kidney problems.

The world is right to be cautious about this latest mind-boggling advance in reproductive medicine. It does sound like science fiction: If you’re a woman who suffers from a mutation in her mitochondrial DNA—the part of our cells that generate energy—scientists can take your egg, extract the nucleus—the part containing your most important genetic instructions, such as hair and eye color—and insert it into a new egg that has been provided by another woman. (The nucleus would have already been removed from the donor egg.) This newly renovated egg is then fertilized by your partner’s sperm and implanted into your uterus. You carry on with your pregnancy, just like billions of women before you. (Another version of the technique switches out the nucleus of a newly fertilized egg.)

Have we pushed the boundaries too far in innovative baby-making? Think back to when critics charged that the inventors of in-vitro fertilization recklessly “played God” by daring to combine a sperm and an egg in a lab to create Louise Brown in 1978. Now some 5 million of the world’s babies have been conceived via IVF. But it’s one thing to get used to combining reproductive parts in a lab; it’s a lot less comfortable to imagine tinkering with those parts beforehand. In an open letter to the U.K. Parliament, Paul Knoepfler, stem cell and developmental biology researcher at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, warned that supporters “could well find themselves on the wrong side of history … with horrible consequences.”

Yet it’s important to understand that mitochondrial replacement isn’t genetic engineering run amok, cautions Debra Mathews of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. The mitochondrial energy-making material of an egg accounts for a mere 37 genes, compared to the nucleus, which contains about 23,000 genes. “No one is messing directly with genes,” she says. “Scientists are replacing damaged mitochondria with healthy mitochondria. It’s a specific technology for a specific application. We’re modifying eggs to avoid serious diseases.” So far, researchers haven’t attempted a pregnancy using the technique, but a study published in 2012 in Nature found that resulting embryos appeared to develop normally with the nucleus intact and did not contain any of the mutated mitochondria from patients’ previous eggs. And scientists at Oregon Health and Science University transferred the mitochondria between rhesus-monkey eggs and created four healthy monkey babies.

Yet determining when a technology is “safe” is especially challenging in fertility medicine because the only way to find out is to create another human. The FDA’s prudence is a welcome change from the early “wild west” days of reproductive medicine when many scientists “implanted and prayed” that their experiments wouldn’t lead to the “horrible consequences” Knoepfler is warning against. So far, we’ve been incredibly lucky.

We don’t want to risk holding up progress by being too cautious, especially when some 1,000 to 4,000 babies are estimated to be born every year with mitochondrial disease, according to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.

Yet what should the threshold be? The FDA shut down other such research being done more than a decade ago. Scientists at several fertility clinics were responsible for 30 pregnancies from eggs that had been injected with donor cytoplasm that contained mitochondria. The kids haven’t been tracked over the long term, and it’s unknown whether the procedure contributed to two cases of chromosomal abnormalities that resulted in one miscarriage and one abortion. And researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center tried a similar mitochondrial transfer technique using younger eggs for three women in their 40s suffering from age-related infertility. Although the embryos developed naturally, none got pregnant. A Chinese team later used the NYU method to achieve a triplet pregnancy, but the patient lost the entire pregnancy after she tried to abort one fetus to give the other two a better chance of survival.

Let’s follow the British example and find the right balance between prudence and progress. “We’re at a stage when we can use these technologies to help all kinds of patients, and we have enough reassuring evidence that it’s safe,” says NYU’s Jamie Grifo, and author of the The Whole Life Fertility Plan. “It shouldn’t be taking this long to move forward.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME U.K.

Putin’s ‘Mafia State’ Under Examination in U.K. Inquest Into Spy’s Radioactive Death

BRITAIN-RUSSIA-BRITAIN-POLITICS-SPY-CRIME-FILES
Martin Hayhow—AFP/Getty Images Former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko is seen on Sept. 14, 2004.

The High Court in London opens a 10-week hearing into the 2006 death of the former Russian intelligence officer and MI6 informant Alexander Litvinenko

It took Alexander Litvinenko 23 painful days to die. It has taken another agonizing 2,987 days for the British government to open a public inquiry into his murder, a process that cannot deliver justice to the victim, his widow Marina or son Anatoly, but may at least provide an official account of events leading up to his death. As he lay dying after ingesting radioactive polonium-210, Litvinenko blamed the Kremlin. The Kremlin rejected blame. Britain for eight years dragged its heels, reluctant to push for answers that might complicate its relations with Russia.

Yet the evidence expected to unfold at the High Court in London over the next 10 weeks is likely to reveal not only an intricate web of relationships between spies and diplomats, Kremlin loyalists and dissidents, but also a startlingly simple truth. Russia, in the era of Vladimir Putin, has rarely proven susceptible to diplomacy.

That realization may finally have helped to sway Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May from her 2013 refusal to hold a public inquiry. An inquest into Litvinenko’s death had already been abandoned apparently for fear of causing a breach with Moscow. In a letter explaining her decision to block the inquiry the coroner had recommended in its place, May cited concerns over the potential impact on “international relations.” Last summer, however, May revealed a change of heart. Her announcement of a public inquiry came less than a week after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, an act Ukraine (and much of the rest of the world) attributed to pro-Russian separatists. Russia accused Ukraine. Whitehall sources told the BBC that the timing of the May’s announcement was “a coincidence.” That may be true, but Britain has substantially toughened its stance toward Russia since then, as have other Western countries including the U.S. where on Monday an alleged Russian spy was arrested in New York.

Litvinenko’s strange tale speaks to a world in which the public handshakes between country leaders count for little. In 1998 he broke ranks with his then employer, Russia’s spy service the FSB, alleging a state-sanctioned plot to assassinate the Kremlin-insider-turned-critic Boris Berezovsky (whose eventual death, last March, raised questions, attracting an open verdict). Litvinenko sought asylum in the U.K. in 2000 and forged close links with Berezovsky and other figures unpopular with the Kremlin, including the investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, slain just weeks before Litvinenko. But he also retained friendships with some of his former colleagues and during a meeting at a London hotel with two such men, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, allegedly drank tea spiked with polonium-210. Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service named the pair as suspects in the killing, respectively in 2007 and 2012. Both men deny involvement and Russia has continued to refuse their extradition.

The polonium apparently left traces that enabled the Metropolitan Police to trace its progress around London. On the first morning of the public inquiry, Robin Tam QC, counsel to the inquiry, revealed that there may have been an earlier attempt to poison Litvinenko in October 2006 that failed. The inquiry will seek to reveal many other hitherto invisible trails and connections but key parts of the evidence will also be heard in secret. Britain may be more willing to risk Kremlin anger than it used to be, but details of Litvinenko’s later work as an informant to the British foreign intelligence service MI6 will not be publicly aired, and other matters deemed diplomatically sensitive will also be considered in private.

Despite these strictures, Litvinenko’s widow Marina, who campaigned for the inquiry, told broadcaster Sky News that she hopes the process will lead to the truth. The inquiry will weigh alternative theories: might Litvinenko have died at the hand of agencies other than the Russian state, such as organized criminals, Chechen separatists, Berezovsky’s associates, the British secret services or even by his own hand? Ben Emmerson, the counsel representing Marina Litvinenko, gave an opening speech to the inquiry forcefully rejecting these scenarios. “The startling truth, which is going to be revealed in public by the evidence in this inquiry,” he said, “is that a significant part of Russian organized crime is organized directly from the offices of the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a mafia state.” Marina Litvinenko told Sky News a key part of the truth is already clear: “I know my husband was killed, I saw how it happened. It was a torture. He died a long 23 days in front of me, in front of his son, in front of his friends.”

TIME U.K.

British Jihadist Who Faked Death To Return Home Is Convicted of Terrorism

Khawaja joined fighters in Syria in January 2014

A British man who faked his death in Syria to allow him to return home has admitted to four terrorism offences, BBC reports.

Imran Khawaja, 27, from London, fought in Syria for six months in 2014. After posting a message online on social media in June suggesting he had been killed in the conflict, Khawaja attempted to return to the U.K. undetected.

Khawaja admitted to preparing for acts of terrorism, attending a camp, receiving training and possessing firearms. The hearing took place last year but is only being reported now because of legal restrictions.

Police say Khawaja’s group in Syria committed acts of serious violence, as well as being involved in propaganda recruiting drives — with Khawaja captured on camera posing with a severed head.

His cousin, 44-year-old Tahir Bhatti, said he helped his cousin return, driving him back home from Bulgaria. The two were arrested at the English port of Dover. Bhatti has pleaded guilty to assisting an offender, while another man, 33-year-old Asim Ali, pleaded guilty to making £300 ($455) available to Khawaja for the purposes of terrorism. All three men will be sentenced next month.

Head of London’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Walton, said: “Imran Khawaja was not a vulnerable teenager that has traveled out to Syria and been corcerced to travel to Syria. This is a man who has chosen the path of terrorism…this is a dangerous man, a trained terrorist.”

[BBC]

TIME diplomacy

Barack Obama and David Cameron Are Going to Play a Cyber Attack War Game

UK PM David Cameron Visits Washington DC
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama (R) walks with British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) through the colonnade as they are on their way for a working dinner at the Blue Room of the White House January 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Prime Minister Cameron is on a two-day visit to Washington.

The U.S. and U.K. will collaborate on measures to prevent online crime

MI5 and the FBI will team up in a series of practice runs to combat cyber attacks, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Thursday during a two-day visit to the White House.

The two leaders will practice opening lines of communication in a series of war games staging potential global threats, beginning with a simulated attack on the Bank of England and Wall Street to take place later this year. It will be followed by tests on infrastructure.

Cameron tells the BBC that he wants to work with Obama on getting companies like Google and Facebook to cooperate with their governments when they need to see encrypted messages — a move that’s likely to be a red flag for privacy advocates.

“We need to work with these big companies,” Cameron said, “to make sure that we can keep people safe.”

[BBC]

TIME U.K.

Here Are The Most Surprising Gifts the British Royal Family Received Last Year

Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Visit Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy Field
Samir Hussein—WireImage From Left: Prince Harry, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visit The Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War on Aug. 5, 2014 in London.

Buckingham Palace has revealed all the official gifts given to to royal family in 2014

Over the course of a year, Britain’s royal family are presented with hundreds of gifts as they go about their official duties. On Wednesday Buckingham Palace and Clarence House released lists of the official gifts the royal family received in 2014. Among the expected assortment of commemorative coins, bottles of wine or whisky, plaques, framed paintings, jewels and cultural tokens, are a few surprises.

The most surprising gifts included:

  • a miniature throne from the Game of Thrones series (given to Queen Elizabeth)
  • a PhD thesis (given to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall)
  • an automatic rifle, decommissioned (given to — who else? — Prince Harry)
  • 12 boxes of mangos (given to Prince Andrew)
  • an Arctic Monkey’s CD (given to Prince Andrew)
  • Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices (given to Prince Andrew)

The names of most gift givers is not noted so there is no way of knowing if Hillary Clinton gave her own book to Prince Andrew.

Though Prince William and wife Kate received numerous gifts, as well as many gifts for Prince George, nothing unusual stands out in their the official gift listing. Then again, the royal couple gave the vaguest descriptions of their gifts — jotting down “book” or “selection of condiments” — so perhaps there were some surprises in the mix as well.

Last year’s collection of gifts aren’t among the most unusual the royal family, namely Queen Elizabeth, has ever received. The most bizarre gifts the Queen has been given over the years include live animals; several horses, a canary from Germany, jaguars and sloths from Brazil, two black beavers from Canada, two young giant turtles from the Seychelles and an elephant called Jumbo from the Cameroon. (The more exotic animals are cared for by the London Zoo.)

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