Summer workshop on IPUMS databases
Mar 20th, 2006 by JTJ

A good learning opportunity in the Land of Lakes this summer….

Dear IPUMS Users,

I am pleased to announce the first annual IPUMS Summer Workshop, to be held
in Minneapolis on July 19th-21st. This training session will cover four
major databases: IPUMS-USA, IPUMS-International, IPUMS-CPS, and the North
Atlantic Population Project (NAPP).

For more information, please visit

I hope to see some of you in Minneapolis this summer.


Steven Ruggles
Principal Investigator
IPUMS Projects

U.S. federal FOIA officers
Feb 21st, 2006 by JTJ

Scott Hodes, in a recent column on the LLRX site, points us to a potentially helpful Dept. of Justice page listing the chief FOIA officers for federal agencies.  That said, he also has some appropriate criticism of some of those appointments.

FOIA Facts

Chief FOIA Officers

By Scott A. Hodes

Published February 15, 2006

Agencies have now named their Chief FOIA Officers
pursuant to

Executive Order (EO) 13392
. This act is
the first milestone of the EO which was issued to increase agency FOIA
performance on December 14, 2005.

The Chief FOIA Officer is supposed to be “a senior official of such agency
(at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level), to serve as the Chief
FOIA Officer of that agency.” Most agencies have complied with this
requirement by naming Chief FOIA Officers at that level. However, from the

list of Chief FOIA Officers
available at
the Department of Justice's FOIA website, some agencies have not met this
requirement. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an agency that
has seen the numbers of FOIA requests to it rise dramatically over the
years, named its FOIA/PA Branch Chief, Celia Winter to be the Chief FOIA
Officer. Ms. Winter is responsible for overseeing the processing of FOIA
and Privacy Act requests made to the SEC, a position that I do not believe
is considered Assistant Secretary or equivalent level at any other federal
agency. Additionally, the Federal Housing Finance Board named Janice A.
Kaye, their FOIA Officer, which may not be at the acceptable level.

Furthermore, other agencies have also made questionable appointments. The
Environmental and Protection Agency named Linda Travers, an Assistant
Manager, Office of Environmental Information. The Department of
Agriculture named Peter J. Thomas, a Deputy Assistant Secretary, which is
of course one step below an Assistant Secretary. The Office of the
Director of National Intelligence named Joseph P. Mullin Jr. an Executive
Administrator for the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for
Management, a position which is hard to figure out exactly what level it

I challenge OMB and the Department of Justice to go back to these agencies
and ask them to either provide proof that these appointments are at the
required level. If the agencies fail to prove this fact, they should be
required to appointment individuals at the proper level.

The reason this is important is that the EO wanted individuals at a
certain level for a reason. The reason is that the higher the appointment,
the more weight the individual would have in getting results in their
delegated responsibilities under the EO (which to summarize, making agency
FOIA processes work better). By appointing the individual in charge of the
program or deputies, agencies show scorn for the process named in the EO
and by implication the FOIA itself.

As this was an EO, there are no remedies for FOIA requesters to challenge
these appointments. This, in and of itself, is one more reason that FOIA
legislation is needed with stronger oversight of certain agency FOIA

It's not that information wants to be free but it does want to be found
Feb 9th, 2006 by JTJ

Danny Sullivan, a long-time search engine maven, has this to say.  (Newspapers?  Clueless?  Gasp!  How can it be?)

“World Association Of Newspapers Dislikes Search Engine Exploitation, Clueless About Robots.txt Banning

Newspapers want search
engines to pay
over at covers the
World Association Of Newspapers planning
to challenge the “exploitation of content” by search engines. Apparently search
engines are taking newspaper content for free and repacking it up within things
like Google News and Yahoo News. A task force to study the isssue is being
formed, DMNews reports in

Newspaper Group Questions Aggregation of News Content
. Reuters also has


Hey WAN. Don't like being in search engines? Tell your members to put up a
robots.txt file to block
the search engines, and they'll be happy to drop them. When they do, then blogs
and other news sources can have the traffic the search engines were previously
sending to your members.

FYI, I'm trying to finishing a rundown on what the New York Times has been
doing recently to gain search engine traffic. Watch for that soon. In the
meantime, see this past
post about
what Marshall Simmonds did for and is now doing for the NYT.

Posted by Danny Sullivan on Feb. 1, 2006 |

Getting that tabled data from there to here
Jan 23rd, 2006 by JTJ

Another reason to use Firefox….

Copying and pasting data from online tables into a spreadsheet is often fraught with frustration, often centering around invisible characters or custom formatting in web tables.  And then there's the problem of getting data from non-adjacent cells. Some fine fellow — actually, it is Davide Ficano — has written a slick extension for Firefox to minimize these, um, challenges.  See:

Table2Clipboard – Firefox Extension

Table2Clipboard 0.0.1, by Davide Ficano, released on January 13, 2006

Table2Clipboard preview - You can select non adjacent cells
More Previews»

Quick Description

Mozilla applications allow to select rows and columns from a table
simply pressing Control key and picking rows/columns with left mouse

The selection can be copied to clipboard but the original table
disposition is lost making ugly results when you paste the text on
datasheet applications (eg excel).

If you want to paste data in Microsoft Excel on OpenOffice Calc with correct disposition simply use Table2Clipboard.

Pasting in plain text editors is also supported as CSV file (but you can change rows and columns separators from option dialog)

SJ Mercury-News Series: "Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice."
Jan 23rd, 2006 by JTJ

Friend-of-IAJ Griff Palmer alerts us to an impressive series this week that examines the conduct of the DA's office in Santa Clara County, California.  If nothing else, the series illustrates why good, vital-to-the-community journalism takes time and is expensive.  Rick Tulsky, Griff and other colleagues spent three years — not not three days, but YEARS — on the story.  Griff writes:

I invite you all to take a look at “Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice.”
This five-day series was three years in the making. It starts in
today's Mercury News:

registration is required to view the Merc's content. I'm not sure yet
if this URL will be cumulative or will only point to each day's part.
If the latter, I'll work to get the entire package pulled together
under one URL.

The Merc's on-line presentation includes a multimedia presentation, with Flash graphics, streaming audio and streaming video.

The project's backbone is reporter Rick Tulsky's review of  every 
criminal appeal originating out of Santa Clara County Superior Court
for five years. Rick was aided in his review by staff writers Julie
Patel and Mike Zapler.

Rick has a law degree, and he used
his legal training to analyze these cases for prosectuorial er! ror,
defense error and judicial error. He went over the cases with the Santa
Clara County District Attorney's Office, defense attorneys and judges.
He recruited seasoned criminal justice scholars and former judges and
prosecutors to review his findings.

Rick's findings: Santa Clara County's criminal justice system, while
far from broken, is systemically troubled by serious flaws that bias
the system in prosecutors' favor and, in the worst cases, lead to
outright miscarriages of justice. Rick found that more than a third of
the 727 cases he analyzed were marred by some form of questionable
conduct on the part of prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges. He
found that California's Sixth Appellate District routinely found
prosecutorial and judicial error to be harmless to criminal defendants
— in dozens of instances, resorting to factual distortions and flawed
reasoning to reach their conclusions.

This analysis has at
least one serious limitation: It doesn't comp! are Rick's Santa Clara
County findings with similar data from any other jurisdiction. It would
frankly have been impossible, at least within three years, to conduct a
similar case review on a broader scale.

To help us examine how Santa Clara County's criminal justice system
differs from those of other counties, I captured 10 years' worth of
felony arrest disposition data from the Criminal Justice Statistics
Center, maintained by the California Attorney General's Office.  (
I hand-keyed another four years' worth of CJSC data that were available
only on paper. (I did a rough estimate at one point and determined that
I'd keyed in somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 cells of data.)

This analysis showed us that, within the accuracy limitations of the
CJSC data, Santa Clara County stood out for having one of the highest
conviction rates and one of the lowest judicial dismissal rates among
all counties with populations of ! 100,000 or more.

As Rick's attention turned to the the appellate
system, my attention was drawn to an interactive database system
maintained by the California Administrative Office of the Courts:

requesed a copy of the underlying database from the AOC, only to be
stonewalled. Months of effort on our attorneys' part yielded only one
summary spreadsheet from the AOC.

Thanks to discussions on
this list and at NICAR conferences, I knew it should be possible to
programmatically retrieve the contents of the AOC database.  With Aron
Pilhofer's and John Perry's Perl scripting tutorials, and with lots of
generous coaching from John, I put together scripts that harvested the
criminal appeals data from the AOC system and parsed it from HTML into
delimited files.”

That data retrieval underlies the numbers that appear in the final day of this series.

Getting at private company activity
Dec 22nd, 2005 by JTJ

Tamara Thompson provides yet another good pointer:

~ researching private companies ~

By Tamara Thompson Investigations

Finding documentation on a
private business may take a little more digging than uncovering
background on a publicly traded company. One of the resources you may
have overlooked is the Small Business Administration

of companies to which they've made loans. The returns can include
the gross receipts of the business, number of employees and owners.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) produces a monthly report of its
litigation with companies
. The online site doesn't have a database but you can quickly
create one using Google, giving you an on-the-spot search by keyword of
all the posted monthly reports. At the Google search box enter the name
of the company, followed by the site to be searched. If the business
name is “Amycel”, your search would be formulated like this:

amycel site:

The Google result will return all pages in the litigation monthly
reports that mention Amycel. Unfortunately, the online reports only
cover those issued since December 2002.

Another redesign of "Thomas"
Dec 20th, 2005 by JTJ

The LLRX newsletter reports:

and New

THOMAS, the legislative Web site from the
Library of Congress, has received its second facelift in the space of a year.
(For information on the previous set of tweaks, see my January 2005 column
THOMAS: New Congress, A Few
.) The latest redesign, announced in a November 2005
press release, does
not add much substantial content or functionality but gives THOMAS an updated
look similar to the main Library of Congress web
and a consistent site-wide navigation scheme that certainly was needed.

[click to

current THOMAS website.

A GoogleMaps-FundRace MashUp
Dec 14th, 2005 by JTJ

Gerry Lanosga, an investigative producer at WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, was kind enough to send along this link — to a nifty first shot at merging GoogleMaps with The Fundrace Project., that site that shows you who in any ZIP Code made contributions to which politicians.  Matthew Kane, a CS student at the Univ. of Indiana, put this together, and it's a fine beginning.  Be alert, however, that the Fundrace data is not always correct.  For example, we know a guy named John T. Johnson, who lives in ZIP 87505, fairly well.  The Fundrace Project says he is an airline pilot who works for UPS.  We know for sure that is not the case. 

The drill-down on Kane's 
Following the Dollars doesn't give the degree of detail that the Fundrace Project does itself, but keep on truckin',  Mr. Kane.  We need all of these utilities we can get.

Resources related to Crime Mapping
Dec 7th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

don't know if there has as yet been any empirical research done on how
interested media consumers are in online crime mapping — and how good the coverage is —  but there is a body of
literature debating readers' interest in crime per se.  It would
seem to be a pretty good bet, though, that if people are interested in
crime AND if more and more are going online via broadband, that
some dynamic crime maps would get some hits. 

that crime mapping is not just about pushing digital push-pins on a
map, GoogleMap or otherwise.  “Journey to Crime” maps or maps
showing where a car was stolen and when it was recovered can provide
interesting insights.

Here are some links recently posted to the CrimeMapping listserv that could be of value to journalists:

Journey-after-crime: How Far and to Which Direction DO They Go?

Linking Offender Residence Probability Surfaces to a Specific Incident Location

Journey to Crime Estimation

Applications for Examining the Journey-to-Crime Using Incident-Based Offender Residence Probability Surfaces

The Geography of Transit Crime:


Indirect indicators. Or maybe not.
Dec 5th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

journalists have a tendency to be too literal.  We want to ask a
question and we want the response to be a quote that is without
ambiguity.  One that's fills in some of the space between our
anecdotes.  But other times, we need tools that work like a
periscope, a device that allows us to not look at the object directly
but through a helpful lens.  Such periscopes for analyzing the
economy are indirect indicators.

(5 Dec. 2005) NYTimes' Business Section was loaded with references to
such indicators that journos could keep in mind when looking for
devices to show and explain what's happening.  Check out “
What's Ahead: Blue Skies, or More Forecasts of Them?”   Be sure to click on the link Graphic: Indicators From Everyday Life

Another indirector was mentined Sunday on National Public Radio in “Economic Signs Remain Strong
  There, an economist said he tracks changes in the “titanium dioxide” data, the compound is used in all white paint and reflects manufacturing production. 

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