Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Although I was born in England, I've lived most of my adult life in the US, but never as a citizen: I'm a Legal Permanent Resident with a 'green card', married to a US national. Last week, after a decade of internal debate, I made the decision to start the citizenship process.

Why? You can blame Obama, Clinton, McCain and the rest - the primaries have mostly infuriated me, but they've also made me realize that I can't be a passive critic anymore. And last weekend I found myself outside the local post office encouraging people to vote for a tax override to fund the school system - and I couldn't even vote myself. And my eldest daughter has dual citizenship, but my youngest is just a Yank. And so on...

So I visited the INS website and downloaded the mammoth forms I need to complete. It all reminded me of my original application for permanant resident status over 20 years ago: I was surprised they still asked "if you are, or have ever been, a member of a communist party." Seem a little anachronistic to you?

I also discovered I need to get a move on. I want to vote in the election this year, but I've been told the process can take 6 months to complete. And cost $600. And I have to pass a test.

I'll keep you posted on my progress - and let me know if you've experienced this firsthand.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Heathrow Sucks

I'm traveling in the UK this week and despite my best attempts I'm flying through Heathrow thrice.

I agree with many others - Heathrow pretty much sucks. Too big, too busy, and too disorganized. Even the bits that work well, like the train shuttle to Paddington in central London, doesn't really make traveling easier. Paddington connects with the London Underground, where you quickly grind to a dimly-lit halt somewhere short of Kings Cross.

I'm so glad I don't commute in London anymore.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Murder Plots

Last entry I ranted about the hapless New York Times' reports on the murder rates among Iraq veterans, and about the overall murder rate in the US.

All of which brought me to the NationMaster website, which collects national statistics on everything from population density to levels of happiness. On the murder front, they rank the US at #24, far and away the leader among western democracies. They also show what correlates with the national murder rates of all countries, implying that abortion, oil wealth, and early mortality are all associated with murder. Now pointing out that early mortality is linked to murder might be the same as pointing out that a lack of food is related to starvation, but the rest is worth review.

Correlation is not causation, of course. To say that murder and oil wealth are positively correlated, simply means that they vary together: as overall oil wealth rises, so often does the murder rate. There’s no way to know if either one causes the other to occur, or if there is actually no causal relationship. For example, it’s entirely possible that some underlying third variable is ‘causing’ both these variables to change. And there’s no guarantee that the correlation infers a linear relationship between the two variables – they could easily have a much more complex relationship. Isolating two things and seeing how they work together is interesting but usually artificial, and ignores the complexity of real life.

Then there’s the whole problem of measurement. How do you get a uniform reporting of “murder” across nations as diverse as India, Columbia and France? And Abortion? Looking at these correlations, you begin to wonder how much is masked, and how much measures of abortion, education, life expectancy, and female literacy are surrogates for a measure of oppression, poverty, and division, things far harder to quantify.