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Why is gun control such a tricky issue? This smart metaphor sums it up.

Right now, we live in a country where it's estimated there may be more guns than people.

The southeast Asian nation of Indonesia doesn’t just stretch across some 17,000 islands. It also straddles multiple tectonic plates.

Indonesia is home to more active volcanoes than any other country in the world — around 130 of them, in fact. Since 1900, nearly 20,000 people have been killed by volcanos in the area around Indonesia.


Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Image via Jialiang Gao/Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists working for the United Nations have also predicted a 30% likelihood that the coming century will see yet another volcanic explosion in Indonesia, probably on the scale of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, one of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history, which was responsible for the deaths of up to an estimated 100,000 Indonesians.

But despite these dangers, the slopes of many of Indonesia’s volcanoes are far from empty.

Mount Dieng regularly vents lethal gases into the air; 149 people in a single village were killed because of those gases in 1979. Today, half a million people still live in high-risk areas around the volcano.Communities of potato farmers have steadily expanded up the slopes, getting ever closer to Mount Dieng’s highest-danger zones every year.

And nearly a million people live in the highest-danger zone areas of Mount Merapi, too, directly in the crosshairs of regular lava flows, mudslides, and other disasters.

Mount Merapi in Indonesia. Image by Brigitte Werner/Pixabay.

Only eight years after 69 people were killed by a volcanic dome collapse in 1994, 93% of residents told visiting scientists they did not fear being "personally affected" by such events. Even when the government issued warnings of imminent threats or tried to force farmers to evacuate during ongoing volcanic episodes, many villagers simply refused to leave the volcano.

This risky behavior might seem mind-boggling from the perspective of Americans, most of whom who don’t live or work near volcanoes that regularly spew lava.

But consider this: Experts estimate that in Indonesia, there are about one million guns in civilian hands (legally or otherwise), which translates into a rate of about .5 firearms per 100 Indonesians.

In the United States, estimates of civilian gun ownership vary, from 270 million civilians by one estimate to 310 million or more by another. Because gun data like that isn't officially gathered, it's really hard to put an exact number on it. But it's pretty clear we're just about at a rate of one gun for each individual American, well above the half a gun per 100 Indonesians.

So, it turns out, our behavior is quite risky, too.

Academics, politicians, and everyday Americans endlessly debate the links between gun ownership and specific kinds of gun violence – and even over what "counts" as "gun violence."

But if you flex your imagination and adopt the perspective of an outside observer, the relationship between Americans and their guns might look just as outlandish as that between Indonesian farmers and explosive the volcanoes on which they live.

In any given year, more than 30,000 Americans will have their lives ended by a bullet. Yet nearly 40% of Americans in 2013 reported that they or someone else in their household owns a gun. Plus, U.S. gun sales have hit record highs over the past decade, and they show no sign of slowing down. In a way, many Americans are living on a proverbial volcano.

Welcome to America. Image via Marcin Wichary/Wikimedia Commons.

"What are these people thinking?" a foreign questioner might ask. "Don’t Americans get that guns are risky?"

The answer to this question is complicated. When it comes to evaluating human choices in the real world, there is no single, universal yardstick for weighing "risk."

Humans aren’t coolly rational decisionmakers; our emotions and biases shape how we view the world. An impressive body of research suggests that humans have baked-in cognitive biases that don't help us when we're evaluating scenarios and weighing potential dangers. We often make misguided decisions because of those biases.

"Guns are objects invested with meanings, shaped by social norms and cultural attitudes."

Because of this, "risk" isn’t a given, objective quantity in the same way that odds are in a coin toss. Risk involves a perception; it's a subjective judgment on which we all have biases. Risk, to many people, feels relative and abstract. When Americans debate gun ownership solely in terms of risk, we’re often not really talking about risk at all or even numerical data. We’re actually fighting over what we think guns mean ideologically.

And that’s why the answer to this question of risk is also simple.

If risk is in the eye of the beholder, then different people will make different judgments about risks and danger. Their assessments will depend on where they come from, particularly in terms of race, gender, class, and geography.

Just like the potato farmers, most American gun owners are very acutely conscious of questions involving risk. In fact, gun ownership is usually all about weighing concerns about safety and danger, only according to many different calculi.

Let’s talk for a second about cognitive biases and risk perceptions.

In purely statistical terms, driving a car is immensely more dangerous than being a passenger in a plane.

This is actually more risky than flying in a plane, according to data. But which experience feels more scary? Photo via Jace Turner/Pixabay.

But, irrationally, most people are still more afraid of planes than cars. Why? Research shows us that people are more scared of being the object of circumstances beyond their power than they are afraid of risks they feel like they can control.

Turning to motivations for gun ownership, we see the cars-versus-planes bias again, particularly when it comes to fears about being defenseless against crime. 20 years ago, only a quarter of polled gun owners named "self-defense" as the primary reason for owning a gun. As of 2014, nearly half of polled gun owners cited protection as their primary motivation for buying a gun in the first place.

That crime rates have dropped sharply since the 1990s while the market for guns has only grown suggests that the perception of crime as a threat matters more than anything else when someone buys a gun.

We see this complicated question of risk and guns very clearly in the admittedly terrifying idea of home invasion, too.

Although only 7% of burglaries involve physical harm to a home’s occupants, having your private space violated by intruders, with you and ones you love left at their mercy, is rightly the stuff of nightmares.

Statistics can feel like bloodless abstractions compared to the viscerally horrifying image of the people you love, helpless and terrorized. Against the fear of abject helplessness, the decision to own a gun "just in case" gains attractiveness.

Let’s not forget that the media bears a degree of complicity here as well.

People prefer to consume information that fits their biases, and that information further cements those biases. Bad news captures our attention more than otherwise unremarkable stories. We also overvalue bad news and assume that it signals negative trends.

"The perception of crime as a threat matters more than anything else when someone buys a gun."

The morning newspaper doesn’t tell the story of everyone who went to work safely and then came home last night to have a quiet dinner with their family. Instead, a high-casualty mass shooting at an office or a horrific late-night home invasion will make headlines and fuel gun purchases. What’s more, of the 30,000-plus Americans who will be shot to death in any given year, a full two-thirds of those shots will be self-inflicted. But suicides are rarely reported while murders may receive extensive coverage.

For all of these reasons and more, people are likely to overestimate the likelihood of being the victim of a murder while neglecting the other risks associated with having a gun in the home.

As deadlocked fights over gun control suggest, debating data really won't get us anywhere.

Gun control isn't about the numbers; it's about feelings and perceived risks, and that is that. Guns are objects invested with meanings shaped by social norms and cultural attitudes.

Image screenshot via RidleyReport/YouTube.

It can be easy to project your own experiences and expectations onto those whose ways of life are different from your own, but race, class, and gender intersect with experiences of risk and vulnerability and make these kinds of issues much more complicated.

Back to the volcano-dwelling potato farmers of Indonesia. What can they teach us?

Researchers studying risk perception have become kind of obsessed with these people, and they’ve discovered a variety of explanations for the farmers’ risk attitudes and decisions: religion, cultural beliefs, education, views of governmental authority figures, and more.

Terraces in Indonesia. Photo via Globe-trotter/Wikimedia Commons.

But researchers have also noted a consistent theme in their interviews with the farmers: Most of these farmers are conscious of the risks they face, but they take them anyway.

Some of the farmers say they have no other choice: Dying in a toxic gas leak is only a possible risk, but the grim outcome of being unable to harvest their crops and feed their families feels like a certain risk. Their choice to live on a volcano may seem irrational from the outside, but — when put in terms like these — the decision seems to make all the sense in the world.

Indonesia isn’t America. Guns aren’t volcanos. And the decision to own a weapon is different in many ways from reckoning with ecological risks.

But something holds true across both cases: Numbers aren’t emotions, and our decisions aren’t reducible to statistics alone.

If we want to understand where other people are coming from in the gun control debate, understanding how perceptions are built is vital.

Right now, we live in a country where it's estimated there are more guns than people. This is a thorny problem, but I'd guess that solutions will only come from communicating well with each other well and from trying to grasp where different people are coming from — if only as a bare minimum first step.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.


This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Joy

Pet cockatiel is obsessed with singing 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire

Kiki remembers the 21st night of September ALL. THE. TIME. and it's actually quite impressive.

Representative hoto by Saqib Iqbal Digital on Unsplash

Apparently, "September" is all the rage with cockatiels.

“Do you remember…the 21st night of September?” has been one of the most iconic song openings of the past 45 years, as the R&B hit by Earth, Wind and Fire perpetually serves as a catchy favorite for dance clubs, movie scenes and TikTok clips alike.

However, "September" has also gained wild popularity among an unlikely group—pet cockatiels.


One cockatiel in particular has taken a shining to the song to the point of obsession, to the combined delight and chagrin of his owner. You see, Kiki doesn’t just like listening to the song, he sings and dances to it. Loudly. Over and over. At uncomfortable hours of the morning.

Kiki’s owner has shared multiple examples of her pet bird reveling in his favorite song, and it’s hilarious every time.

Watch:

@kiki.tiel

Send help plz wheres the off button on parrot #fyp #foryou #bird #cockatiel #parrotsoftiktok #birdsoftiktok

"Kiki…it's 7 o'clock in the morning…" Yeah, Kiki does not care. Kiki is feelin' the groove.

This isn't just a one-off and it's also not just a random song. Here we can see that Kiki recognizes it and sings it when his owner plays it. (Just after pooing on her leg—the reality of having a bird, in case these videos make you want one).

@kiki.tiel

Babywipes handy at all hours 🫡 #bird #cockatiel #fyp #foryou #september #parrot

But Kiki doesn't even need anyone else around in order to sing his favorite song. Here he is singing and dancing all by himself when his owner left the room and left her camera running to see what he would do.

@kiki.tiel

Partying without me :( #cockatielsoftiktok #birds #fyp #for you

As cute and hilarious as this is, it surely gets old after a while, right? It's one thing to watch in a video—it's got to be entirely another to hear it all the time at home.

It's also not just a Kiki quirk. Apparently, "September" is a "thing" among cockatiels. Other cockatiels have been known to love it and sing it, though not quite as well as Kiki does.

Someone on Reddit asked why so many cockatiels love the song—one person even said it was basically the cockatiel national anthem at this point. No one knows exactly why, but this explanation by Reddit user nattiecakes is as good an explanation as any:

"Yeah, cockatiels genuinely like the song in a way they don’t universally take to many other songs. My cockatiel is 17 and early in life basically seemed to max out his harddrive space learning a little bit of La Cucaracha, The Flintstones theme, the phrase 'pretty bird,' and this horrible alarm clock sound that is similar to the hungry baby cockatiel sound. We thought we could not get him to learn anything else because they do have some limits.

Then 'September' came. Every cockatiel loved it. We decided to see if our cockatiel loved it.

I sh*t y’all not, within a DAY he whistled the first three notes, which is really all that matters. He hasn’t been able to learn more, but he loves it.

Now our African grey whistles it to him constantly. He used to reliably whistle La Cucaracha to our cockatiel when our cockatiel would get angry and upset, and our cockatiel would start singing instead and forget he’d been upset. But almost immediately our grey switched to using 'September' 90% of the time. Like, it’s so plain even to our grey that 'September' is the song to unlock a cockatiel’s better nature. I think the grey likes it a lot too, but he has many other songs he likes better.

As for why cockatiels like this song so much… all I can guess is it really resonates with their cheery vibe. I think the inside of a cockatiel’s mind is usually like a disco."

Rock on, Kiki. Just maybe not so early in the morning.

How to clear a stuffy nose instantly.

With cold season upon us, there's no better time to learn a couple of awesome and easy tricks that will clear up the dreaded and annoying stuffy nose.

Prevention magazine created a short video showing two easy ways to get you breathing free again no matter how stuffed up you might be.


Both tricks take less than two minutes and are certainly worth trying out when it feels like that runny nose might never go away.


Watch the YouTube video below:

This article first appeared on 9.8.17.

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.