Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

The fatal crash of a bus carrying French tourists near Soledad is the latest in a series of recent fatal bus accidents in northern California. The deaths have prompted calls for stronger regulation of the industry.

The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains detailed statistics on bus and large truck accidents through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. There are state-by-state numbers of fatal crashes and fatalities involving buses for the period 1994-2007. In 2007, 322 people died in 277 separate U.S. incidents. In California in 2007, 40 died in 36 incidents.

FMCSA also provides an interactive map which plots fatal bus accidents anywhere in the country (years 2003-2007). It has a zoom function that allows you to see exactly where the crash happened. Both the map and data are downloadable.


stewart.jpgRepublican Arlen Specter, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, today announced he's becoming a Democrat. He follows in the footsteps of Senators Joe Lieberman and and Jim Jeffords who switched parties while in office. Twenty-one sitting senators have changed their political affiliations since 1890. You can read all about them in brief profiles prepared by the U.S. Senate Historical Office. These spell out the political and ideological factors that prompted each man's decision.

(William Morris Stewart, U.S. Senator from Nevada, 1887-1905.)




Although cases of swine flu has yet to be confirmed, public health and Catholic church officials have closed the St. Mel School where 40 students are ill, four with ful-like symptons. A sample from one student was sent to the Centers for Disease Control, the nation's top public health facility.

The CDC has posted a helpful set of pages reporting the latest stats and news on the outbreak. As of 10 a.m today, 40 U.S. cases of swine flu have been reported (seven in California). The CDC also provides information for professionals, reports and publications, press briefings and travel notices.

For an international perspective, browse on over to the World Health Organization's epidemic and pandemic alert page. There you'll find fairly up-to-date news on swine flu, as well as an archive of news releases about disease outbreaks going back to 1996.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass yesterday canceled pay hikes for more than 120 legislative aides. Bass said she didn't want the raises to distract voters from the necessity of passing Proposition 1A and other fiscal measures in next month's special election.

The brouhaha gets one thinking about legislator compensation and how our state compares to others in the nation. It turns out California lawmakers make the most -- by a large margin. Assembly members earn a base annual salary of $116,208 (plus $173 per diem payment for each day in session), according to a 50-state chart prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York follows behing with a base pay of $79,500 per year.

It should be noted that California legislators don't set their own pay. That responsiblity falls to the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which was created when voters approved Proposition 112 in 1990. The proposed Proposition 1F measure to be voted on May 19 would freeze legislator salaries in years when the state is expected to run a budget deficit.

It's easy for some to be cynical about Earth Day. We set aside one day to focus on the environment, the critics mutter, but how about the rest of the year? Fair point.

So what can we do to help the planet every day? One good source of practical advice for easing our environmental impact is, the federal government's portal to events and information available on U.S. agency web sites. Here you'll find tips for saving energy and water, recycling and disposing of toxics at home and at work. There are also links to volunteer opportunities in your community. Teachers will find a good collection of links on environmental topics, learning activities, classroom games, etc. Kids have their own Earth Day page.

The Environmental Protection Agency also celebrates Earth Day with event information, photos, video, podcasts, consumer tips, historical documents and an environmental timeline. 

algiers.gifA multilingual, multinational online exhibit of artifacts from across the globe and across the centuries launched today. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cutural Organization (UNESCO) debuted the World Digital Library, an growing collection of manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings and other items. WDL started with 1,200 documents but can accommodate as many documents as countries care to contribute. 

The web site is free to access and easy to navigate. You can browse by topic, geography, document type, time period and institutional source. Specific items may be found with full-text searching. Each item is accompanied by well-written descriptions and extensive subject headings.

WDL is the brain-child of James Billington, the U.S. Librarian of Congress. He conceived of an international counterpart to the successful American Memory digital library project, which boasts 15 million historical artifacts online. Incidentally, California has its own state-level digital collection, the Online Archive of California (OAC) with over 120,000 images and 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories. Even our fair city has its own electronic resource: Sacramento History Online.

(Photochrome print: Great Mosque in the Marine Street, Algiers, Algeria, circa 1899.)

Last Thursday the U.S. Justice Department released four Bush-era memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel concerning the use of controversial interrogation techniques. The Obama Adminstration made the documents public with assurances to intelligence officials who followed the legal opinions at the time will not be prosecuted now. 

McClatchy's Washington Bureau posted an in-depth story on the OLC memos accompanied by the full-text of the four memos, plus letters from the current National Intelligence and CIA Directors. Also included is a news illustration explaining exactly how water-boarding is done.

retirement2.JPGAnother sign of the economic doldrums we're in: the percentage of U.S. workers who expect to have enough money to fund a comfortable retirement is the lowest since the question was asked in 1993. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that only 13 percent of employees in its annual Retirement Confidence Survey are "very confident" of such a future. Furthermore, in 2009 only 25 percent say they are very confident they'll have enough money for basic health and living expenses. That's down from 40 percent in the 2007 survey. Of the respondents who lack confidence about their retirements, a majority say they have reduced current expenses and have redirected their investments to address the new economic reality.

EBRI also offers seven related factsheets on worker attitudes toward retirement saving, health costs, Medicare and Social Security, as well as how age and gender differences affect expectations.    

The dog is out of the bag. The Obamas have nominated "Bo," a Portuguese Water Dog, to be First Puppy. But data guys wonder, how popular is the hypoallergenic breed?

Jump to the American Kennel Club website, which provides national dog registration statistics ranked by breed. In a chart of 156 recognized breeds, the PWD comes in at 62nd in popularity. The Labrador Retriever, no suprise, comes in first, followed by the Yorkshire Terrier, German Shepherd and Golden Retriever. The AKC also has top ten rankings for 50 major cities. In Sacramento the dominant breeds are:

1. Labrador Retriever
2. Yorkshire Terrier
3. German Shepherd Dog 
4. Golden Retriever
5. Shih Tzu
6. Bulldog 
7. Dachshund
8. Miniature Pinscher
9. Rottweiler**
10. Cocker Spaniel

* Registration data pulled from Sacramento zip codes as specified by U.S. Postal Service

** Tied with #8


April 9, 2009
Gay marriage scorecard

This week saw new developments in the battle over gay marriage. In Iowa, the state supreme court upheld a lower court's ruling that threw out a law restricting marriage to a man and a woman. In Vermont, lawmakers overrode the Governor's veto, becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marrage through legislative action. That makes four states that currently allow such marriages (the other states being Massachusetts and Connecticut).

With so much activity it's difficult to keep track of all the state laws related to civil unions and marriage. But there is at least one neutral source for up-to-date information: the National Conference of State Legislatures. The NCSL provides a handy chart listing the 50 states under four headings:

1) States with Statutes Defining Marriage Between One Man and One Woman (41)

2) States with Constitutional Language Defining Marriage (30)

3) States Without a Law Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage (5)

4) States that passed a DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) Constitutional Amendment in 2008 (3)

States with civil union, and partial and full spousal rights laws are also listed. 

piracy.jpgPiracy is back in the news. The latest is the hijacking of a 17,000-ton container ship off the coast of Somalia. The Pentagon says the American crew has retaken control of the vessel, but the captain is still being held hostage.

The International Maritime Bureau tracks acts of piracy. IMB reports that since Jan. 1 there have been 25 vessel attacks off East Coast Somalia -- seven resulting in hijackings. The Bureau maintains a Live Piracy Report on the web with details of incidents occuring the last ten days. In addition, there's a world Live Piracy Map that locates all acts of ocean piracy and armed robbery in 2009. You'll see the full details of the incident when you click on the pinpoint. This IMB site also provides annual maps back to 2005.

To get a national perspective on child abuse and the efforts of local government agencies to prevent it, take a look the recent report, Child Maltreatment 2007, prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. The 162-page document is filled with statistics derived from data collected by CPS agencies across the country. Among the national findings for fiscal 2007:

* An estimated 794,000 children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. Of these 1,760 died (a rate of 2.35 deaths per 100,000).

* Of the estimated 3.2 million referrals to government (involving the maltreatment of 5.8 million children), 61.7 percent of cases were screened for investigation/assessment by CPS agencies.

* Nearly 80 percent of perpetrators were parents and another 6.6 percent were other relatives of the victim. Female perpetrators outnumber male ones by 56.5 percent.

In another sign of the current economic slump, Reuters reports record use of food stamps, the federal program that helps poor people buy groceries. Latest figures show one in ten -- 32.2 million Americans -- receiving food aid. Between December and January U.S. enrollment increased in 46 of the 50 states.

The food stamp program -- now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- is administered by the Agriculture Department. The USDA web site has a repository of historic statistics on SNAP, including figures on benefits and people and households served. One chart displays annual participation, benefit and cost data back to 1969. In 1969, 2.9 million people received food stamps at a cost of $250 million. In 2008, 28.4 million got the stamps at a cost of $37.7 billion. There are also state breakdowns back to 2003. Currently, about 2.5 million Californians (1.1 million California households) participate in SNAP according to the preliminary January 2009 figures.

The Bee reported today a spike in home burglaries in the south part of Sacramento -- a 59 percent increase since February. Police have arrested 17 burglars or prowlers in the past month, some linked to several break-ins. The Sac PD provides the public with some sophisticated online tools for tracking crime in various parts of the city. An interactive map lets you plot reported crimes in a neighborhood or at a specific intersection. You can limit the search by type of crime and time period (within the past 12 months). Clicking "view report" gets you a list of all the crime incidents displayed on the map. In addition to this mapping function, the police website also has annual crime databases which you can download in a form compatible with spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel. The data goes back to 1997.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Sacbee's own CrimeMapper system which displays crimes reported to law enforcement agencies in the region (Sacramento, Sacramento County, Elk Grove, Folsom, Lincoln, Rocklin, Roseville). You search the interactive map by typing in an address, setting a distance around that location and choosing one or more types of crimes. The results appear as pin-points on a Google map accompanied by a complete list of the incidents.

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Incidentally, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on the value and meaning of the per capita state tax collection chart included in the last I-Tool Tips entry. I appreciate the thoughtful debate that ensued.  

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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