Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

The news of kidnapping victim Jaycee Lee Dugard's resurfacing after 18 years has certainly renewed interest in non-family child abductions. The Bee's Phillip Reese posted an interactive map showing the rate of stranger kidnappings for every California county during the period 1999-2008.

For a broader analysis of such crimes, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a 2003 national report that is dated, but still useful. During the period 1997-99, the OJJDP studied 115 stereotypical kidnappings, i.e. "abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed." In 40 percent of these cases the victim was murdered. In another 4 percent, the child was never recovered.


For the same period, there were an estimated 58,200 child victims of nonfamily abduction, "defined more broadly to include all nonfamily perpetrators (friends and acquaintances as well as strangers) and crimes involving lesser amounts of forced movement or detention in addition to the more serious crimes entailed in stereotypical kidnappings". In 57 percent of these crimes, the child was missing for at least and hour. And 21 percent of the time police were contacted to help find the abducted children.

In both types of abductions, nearly half of the victims were sexually assaulted by perpetrators.

"Best of" lists are always suspect. Evaluation critieria are often fuzzy and so are the qualifications of the judges. Still, they can be fun to read and argue with.

Time Magazine just released its latest 50 Best Web Sites honors. It's a good mix of many of the most used, useful and entertaining online sites. You find the obvious giants of the Internet: Google, YouTube, Flickr, FacebookWikipedia, Skype, Amazon, Netflix. Then there are obscure but interesting items, like the music-streaming service Musicovery and the 3-D photo album, Photosynth. There are also sites that ought to interest this blog's readers:

* Wolfram-Alpha, a search engine that specializes in statistics and numbers. Plug in a place name and get demographic and geographic data on it.

* California Coastline, a photographic record of the entire 1,000-mile coast, including the lavish Malibu mansions of the stars.

* Popurls, aggregates the most popular blog, news and opinion sites into one big Web page.

* ConsumerSearch, organizes and summarizes the huge number of consumer product reviews available on the Net.


Reuters has reported that the ambitious Encyclopedia of Life has amassed 170,000 entries. EOL's goal is to catalog all of the earth's 1.8 million known species of plants and animals. The project serves both amateurs and professionals by providing photographs and essential information on the characteristics and behavior of each species. California's flora and fauna are well represented in the database. Take a look at the valley oak and the western scrub-jay -- both common to the Sacramento region.

Last night the California Assembly adjourned without passing a Senate-approved plan to reduce the prison population by 27,300 inmates in the next 10 months and to create a commission to overhaul the state's sentencing laws.

The current number of state prisoners is 167,700. For a long-term look at the growth of the prison system, take a look at the Correction Department's annual Historical Trends report which aggregates data on adult institutions. Each report contains statistics on the total state prison population for a 20-year period, breaking down the numbers by such factors as race/ethnicity, gender and offense category (drugs, property, crimes against persons). The latest publication covers 1987-2007 and the oldest report available online is from 1976-1996. The total adult correctional population grew from 21,088 in 1976 to 171,444 in 2007. That total peaked in 2006 at 172,528.

kennedy.jpgTed Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, has asked Massachusetts legislators to change state law to allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement in the event of the senator's death. Current law would leave his seat empty for 145-160 days until a special election is held. As a result, Democrats would lose a valuable vote in the Senate during that period.

Kennedy has been a U.S. senator for more than 47 years. That ought to make him the longest serving member of that chamber. But actually he's number three. Robert Byrd passed Strom Thurmond for that honor in June 2006. Here's a handy list of the 25 individuals who have served the longest U.S. Senate terms.

Excuse the ghoulish curiosity, but one wonders how many senators have died in office since the founding of the country. The Political Graveyard's got a complete listing. Recently deceased: Craig Thomas (Wyoming), June 4, 2007; Paul Wellstone (Minnesota), Oct. 25, 2002; and Paul Coverdell (Georgia), July 18, 2000. Incidentally, The Political Graveyard is a large online database of biographical information on over 190,000 politicians, living and dead. (The cemetery is indicated for the dead ones.) 

The California Research Bureau recently released a comprehensive report on the state's women veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 167,000 women -- eight percent of the state's 2.1 million veteran population -- live in California. Female GIs are subject to the same physical and mental challenges experienced by their male counterparts, plus they come home to special responsibilities as wives and mothers. The CRB contains some interesting statistics, including demographic breakdowns (age, race, income, education, etc.). There are also female vet populations by county. Sacramento County comes in third (behind Los Angeles and San Diego) with 10,081.

Britain's Guardian newspaper has posted impressive online graphics on greenhouse gas emissions. One is an interactive chart showing carbon dioxide output by country. The latest (2006) data shows China surpassing the United States in total CO2 emission, 6017.69 to 5902.75 million metric tons. But consider that the per capita CO2 emission in the United States dwarfs China's, 19.78 to 4.58 metric tons.

The other provides a quick, but comprehensive overview of all the industries and human activities that contribute to the three main greenhouse gasses: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The largest contributor is the electricity production-heating sector. But the activity that emits the most gases (on a percentage basis) is transportation -- with road vehicles spewing the bulk of them.

Death panels, free sex-change surgeries, subsidized abortions -- these are some of the dubious assertions in the heated debate over health care. How does the average person distinquish between fact and fiction in the claims and counter-claims? You could consult official sources, such as the Obama Administration's web site or the Senate Republicans' Health Care Facts. But they have a partisan bias, of course.

So where do you go for impartial information? One place is PolitiFact, the Pulitizer Prize-winning fact-checking service of the St. Petersburg Times. PoliitFact began in the 2008 presidential election with the mission of examining "statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington." Times reporters and researchers then rate their accuracy on a "Truth-O-Meter:" True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. The most egregiously false statements earn the lowest rating of "Pants on Fire".

PolitiFact ratings are browseable by broad subject. The section on health not only addresses many of the controversial statements made during the current debate on health care legislation, it also covers claims made by presidential contenders during the primaries and post-convention campaigning.

Have suggestions for non-partisan, reality-based, fact-checking on health reform? Share them in the comments below.

The National Center for Health Statistics today released fresh numbers on childbearing -- in particular the age at which U.S. women have their first babies. The study looked at the period 1970-2006 and found the average age increasing from 21.4 to 25.0 over that time. Generally, the biggest jump in age occured in the northeast and northwest United States. California comes in around the middle with a 3.8 year absolute change in average age (21.8 to 25.6).
The economic slump that began in 2008 is apparently depressing parents decisions to have more children. Nationwide, the number of births fell from 2007 to 2008 by nearly 2 percent, according to Centers for Disease Control figures. California's 2.6 percent drop in births exceeded the national average. A CDC table puts California 11th in a list of state declines in births. Nevada leads with a 4.6 percent drop.

The Senate has confirmed Sonja Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court on a 68-31 vote. She got support from all 57 Democrats present -- plus independents Senators Joseph Lieberman and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who usually vote with Democrats. Only nine Republicans voted for her.

Senate confirmation votes are not always so partisan. Some votes are close to unanimous, but others reflect a deeply split Senate. USA Today looks at the votes and the politics of the confirmations of sitting justices. For a longer term view of partisanship in these Senate decisions, take a look at this chart, "Confirmed Supreme Court Nominees by Vote and Party Split in U.S. Senate, 1900-2009," provided by the University of Minnesota. It's pretty easy to see which justices faced the most opposition along party lines. 

A June 2009 survey of workers laid off in the past three months says that 48 percent of them have found new full-time jobs. That's up from 41 percent in March. The study of 921 people who lost jobs during the past 12 months was conducted by the online job site, CareerBuilder. (CareerBuilder is owned in part by The Bee's parent, McClatchy Company.)

Among its other findings:

* Of the workers who found new jobs, 56 percent said they were able to negotiate comparable or higher pay. Forty-four percent of them took a pay cut.

* Twenty percent of those workers got new jobs by relocating to a new city or state.

* Twenty-eight percent of those laid off in the past 12 months have changed their appearance (by dyeing their hair, whitening teeth, losing weight, etc.) to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.

Incidentally, The Bee's interactive database of mass layoffs in California has been updated. About 9,700 firms have given notice in June and July (800 in the Sacramento region). You can search the listings by company name or county/city.

The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Census Bureau plans to count same-sex marriages in the 2010 decennial census. Up to now a same-sex partner that identified him/herself as a husband/wife was counted as an "unmarried partner". The policy change follows a recent legal opinion by Commerce Department lawyers that the Defense of Marriage Act does not prohibit the Bureau from publicly releasing such data.

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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