Thursday, 17 April 2008

Fun with statistics

Before I moved here, I spent a lot of time researching stats on New Zealand vs. America, Wellington vs. Berkeley, etc. Statistics may be cold and sterile, but my imagination can fill in the details, and the picture that emerged in my mind with reguards to New Zealand made me really excited. How could we NOT try to emigrate? I have lost the Word file I used to keep of such statistics, but in my internet wanderings on this rainy morning, curled up on the couch under a down comforter, I came up with a comparison of NZ vs USA murder rates, and I couldn't help but brag a little.

NZ Police statistics
put the national murder rate at 1 offence per 100,000 people per year
Wikipedia puts the USA national murder rate at 5.6 offences per 100,000 people per year

That's a total of just forty-five murders annually in New Zealand, most of them in Auckalnd. So I feel just a little bit justified that I feel so safe walking through any part of Wellington by myself at night. I sometimes wonder if my inherent feeling of safety in this country is partially due to some naive notion that New Zealand is full of nothing but nice friendly people. But now I know that on a purely statistical level, I have less to fear. There's no constitutional right to carry a handgun around here, though the New Zealand bill of rights, drafted just eighteen years ago, is by my reckoning a more comprehensive document. But I digress...

The other day I was listening to NPR, as I do, and heard mention that US gas prices at the pump have risen 80% in the last year. It got me thinking how out of touch with those on-the-ground issues I really have become since I left America. I've been hearing about the financial crisis by little pieces here and there, my parents having to scale back their little business in Hawaii, a friend here and there trying to sell their home and finding it's gone down in value beyond anything they could have predicted. And here's another piece to add to the picture. When I left California last April, the average gas price was $3.25, today it is $3.85, which means in my little area of the San Francisco Bay, there are no doubt pumps selling gas at over $4.00. What does it all mean? We will have to wait and see. I recall us fancy liberal types asking ourselves how high the prices would have to get before folks sold their cars and started using public transit. four dollars? five? We may find out soon. This handy website has among other things, a historic gas price graph that you can fiddle with. I put in California, then I put in Hawaii, but what really gave me a shock is when I ticked the "add crude oil prices" box. I saw a third line soaring high above the other two, where historically it has kept pace with prices at the pump. I don't know where this is heading, but it sure as hell isn't sustainable.

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