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The Spill: Middle East Tension

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Tensions with Iran

Relations between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern country of Iran have been tense for some time, but over the past week they have degraded further. On New Year’s Eve, protestors stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq. The attack was thought to be supported by Iran. Directly after the incident, President Trump tweeted that “Iran is orchestrating an attack on the US embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible.”

On January 3, a U.S. drone killed a high ranking Iranian official, Major General Qassem Soleimani. Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani has proven controversial, with some calling the move reckless, while others say that it was necessary as Soleimani was known to have orchestrated terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel. An Iraqi militia leader with ties to Iran, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the drone strike.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) was one of the first elected U.S. officials to comment. He tweeted:

“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

Military analyst James Carafano at The Heritage Foundation has another point of view. He said, “This is clearly an act of self-defense … this President [Trump] has been pretty consistent in what he’s been trying to do. And one is not tolerating Iranian disruptive behavior.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) advised, “We can and we should learn more about the intelligence and thinking that led to this operation and the plan to defend American personnel and interests in the wake of it,” before judging the situation.

As opinion within the U.S. remains divided, Iran has held a funeral for Soleimani with crowds turning up on the streets to mourn him, some of them expressing anger toward the United States. “The martyrdom of Soleimani is for sure a turning point for the establishment, at home and abroad. His death, at least for now, has united Iran,” a former Iranian official told Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament has voted in favor of a resolution to expel the 5,200 U.S. troops stationed in that country, although it is unknown whether this will actually happen.

The Canadian Army Plays Pokémon Go

Soldiers in Canada were ordered to play Pokémon Go as part of their duties. Documents have recently been made public, showing that the Canadian army faced a problem when people started arriving on its military bases staring at their smartphones – the trespassers weren’t spies, however, they were ordinary citizens attempting to hunt down digital Pokémon that were supposedly in the area.

A vehicle was reported to be “acting suspiciously” in the car park of Greenwood air force base in Nova Scotia – before it was discovered that the occupants were actually playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go. One man who was arrested attempting to collect Pokémon at CFB Borden explained to officers that “I have to beat my kids” at the game. A woman was caught at the entrance to a base, “whilst the three children with her were climbing all over the tanks.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) recently obtained documents revealing how that nation’s military was at a loss when figuring out how to deal with the issue. The game, which became popular after its release three years ago, involves traveling to different locations to collect the digital creatures, especially at hotspots called PokeSpots and PokeGyms.

“Plse advise the Commissionaires that apparently Fort Frontenac is both a PokeGym and a PokeStop,” wrote Major Jeff Monaghan at Canadian Forces Base Kingston. “I will be completely honest in that I have no idea what that is,” he added. At least three officers were ordered to wander around Canadian army bases playing the game to locate where Pokémon were hiding out. “We should almost hire a 12-year-old to help us out with this,” commented security expert David Levenick at CFB Borden in Ontario.

The military was forced to issue a public notice warning people not to enter the bases. In some instances, the breaches were deemed a “security risk” that could harm operations, while in others, military officials saw the positive side. “Life and work are best accomplished if there is good fun, health and friendship,” observed Rear Admiral John Newton. “If Pokemon Go enables these values, while we protect our interests, then we all stand to marvel at this intersection of technology, gaming and health.”

Puffin Observed Using “Tool”

Footage from Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences

One measure of intelligence in the animal kingdom is the use of tools. Traditionally thought of as the preserve of primates, very few other animals have been observed using tools… until now.

Researchers in Iceland using motion-activated video cameras recorded footage of a puffin utilizing a small stick to scratch an itch, or to remove a tick from its body. Another instance of the same phenomena occurred in Wales, which is more than 1,000 miles away, suggesting that tool-use behavior may be “widespread in this group.”

“I was surprised and excited,” said Annette Fayet, an ecologist at the University of Oxford who was studying the birds. She first observed the behavior years ago, but it was not until 2018 that she was able to capture it on video. According to the research, recently published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, “our finding shows that the wild avian tool-use repertoire is wider than previously thought and extends to contexts other than food extraction.” Seabirds in particular have not previously been known to use tools to this degree.

But are avians really so primitive? Although we may not ordinarily associate tool use with birds, they are not simple creatures. For example, Bower birds, mostly found in Papua New Guinea, are renowned for their building of structures, or “bowers.” These eye-catching structures go beyond mere nests that we usually associate with birds and are designed primarily for attracting a mate. These structures can be over a meter high and more than a meter wide, designed in specific colors to better increase their chances of securing a mate. The color choices of the bowers can be quite striking. In some cases, the birds coordinate different hues of blue, or different shades of green to create a piece of art.

Although the news that puffins can use sticks (and therefore have brains that understand the manipulation of tools) is exciting, the idea that we have even scratched the surface of what animals are capable of is limited, to say the least. Whatever is going on in the secret lives of birds, science and observation are slowly revealing that these creatures are more sophisticated than most of us have ever realized.

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