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Friday, July 08, 2005

Thanks for a great class!

Folks, the course is now officially over once you hand in your written projects today, and I wanted to say again that I thought you did a great job learning about both GIS software and geographical analysis this summer. Please keep in touch if you end up using any of these tools and techniques for further classes or future jobs. And thanks for caring about the place of free and accurate information in our increasingly global, increasingly diverse, and increasingly technological society.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

who really counts?

Like many others, I enjoyed reading the selection from this book. I learned some new things about the history of the census. I had already known some of the background in creating the census but chapter 2 especially laided out the entire story for me. The way the census has evolved is facinating. From originally only asking a few questions to the pages the long form was in 2000 and the different ways of classifing people the census has come a long way.

One point I found interesting was what to do when it came to classifing race. I think the way to classify the hispanic population should be done with more groups. Like Nick said, I am also more then just "white european" I like to count myself as Irish with a bunch of other things. I don't think that just because my ancestors came to the country a lot earlier then some others they should all be lumped together under one catagory. I don't have a nice easy solution to this problem though. Listing every single nationality would be difficult and take up lots of space, so I understand why some are grouped together. Maybe we should not bother with racial categories anymore though since it can be hard to fit into them these days.

Another aspect I found interesting was the political debate about using sampling. It seemed like those debating didn't care so much about the data as about loosing congressional seats. The example used about the errors in predicting the 2000 Presidential race in FL, did sort of make the point about sampling but failed to drive it home. I still believe that sampling is a valid method.

Who Counts - Apparently Not Everyone!

As a recent immigrant to this country, Chapter 2 is by far the most interesting to me. This was not only a great commentary on the history and politicization of the census, but for me, who did not go through high school here, I did not get my dose of US constitutional history. So, I not only learnt about the census but how it interplayed with Bill of Rights and the Constitution. It was fascinating! But the political nature of such a mundane thing such as the census should be shocking, right? Well, actually, I wasn’t. The reason I was not, was because I had something to compare to, and that was re-districting conducted everywhere but nowhere as prominent as in Texas. My understanding of re-districting helped me understand the political motivations behind census taking. Of course, the most obvious thing I knew already was the census played a huge role in the number of members of the house of representatives, and consequently the number of electoral college votes per state, which is perhaps the most “screwed” up system of elections when compared to much of the democratic world.

Chapters 8 and 9 were an in-depth read into the history of how race played a role in the census. There are details there that are shocking, akin to the way lynching is still not a law in some southern states! (In fact, there is not federal law on this, but the federal justice system leaves it up to the states). I was surprised to – (well, maybe I shouldn’t be… ) note that non-whites that were not black were also prohibited citizenship… Chapter 8 and 9 also have several “case-study” type insights into questionnaire methodology and sampling. We learnt in our research methods class how sequence of questions are important, so that they are not leading to a particular answer, and chapter 9 speaks to why sampling might not be an accepted form of surveying or census taking. It was also very interesting to read the data on Milwaukee and how sampling could add or subtract a significant number to the population.

The book alludes to several important issues. One, the basis of democratic power depends on who holds the majority – even by one vote, or as we (even if sadly) noted, between 300-3000 votes that “swayed” the 2000 election into Bush’s favor, but not without the intervention of the courts. Given the nature of beast, it is logical that even something so straightforward (hah!) as counting is political. The book leaves me saddened to find out the depths of manipulation the census has undergone in order to push a particular political stance or to get a particular party in power. It makes you wonder if we are indeed living in a democratic society.

Who Counts?

My reactions to Anderson and Feinberg's book are very similar to many of the reactions already listed on the blog. Although I knew that the census determined the number of political seats for each state, I never actually considered that this fact makes the census a highly political undertaking. I think that Anderson and Feinberg really illustrate this point, that the census and its political impacts are not something that citizens really sit down and ponder when they say: "One can argue that the census instrument has served the country so well, in fact, that its impact on American politics is almost invisible...there is little historical memory of prior census controversies or, in fact, the origins of the current one." (220) The fact that the politics of census taking is so invisible should be surprising considering the fact that the average American history class will teach you about the 3/5 rule. The census is so under our radars that we don't even question whether or not the census is still overlooking certain polulations and favoring others.

That leads me to my next comment, which is about the issue of race in the census. Listing sex, birthdate, and race on a form has become so common, that I never even stopped to consider when and why this became the norm. I was also really interested in the tables on 177 and over the next few pages, and how the tables list fewer age cohorts for both "slaves" and "free colored persons" than for white men. In some cases white women are given fewer age cohorts as well. As for the upcoming census, I wonder if listing ethinicity instead of race really will impact the response rate and how people respond to that series of questions.

Overall, I was (not so) surprised to learn that Congress opted for the more expensive, inaccurate and inefficient method of collecting census data. Science and statistics has proved time and time again that sampling can be an accurate method of counting and evaluating. I think that I agree with the 1997 Panel to Evaluate Alternative Census Methodologies: "Change is not the enemy of an accurate and useful census; rather, not changing methods as the United States changes would inevitably result in a seriously degraded census." (208)

Who Counts?

First off, let's hear it for the double-entendre of the title itself. The title may be interpreted as "who matters in society" and also "who is responsible for the tabulation," if that's what you want to call it. The issue of undercounting minority populations in an important topic to address, for it has direct applications to society, such as in resource allocation and the hot topic of affirmative action. Like many of you in the class, I found the topics in chapter 8 very thought provoking, and found that the author captured my thoughts on the subject very well on page 174. There is a paragraph on that page that states that the purpose for registering race and ethnicity is primarily for discovering and trying to eliminate descrimination, but asking questions referring to race and ethnicity also feeds the problem by making Americans racially-conscious. Additionally, such information can also work against minority groups if the actions of the government towards those groups are malevolent. That isn't to say that there's a "them and us" or to fuel a conspiracy theory, but to say that personal biases of individuals using the data, who have influence or control of those resources, could affect the communities that they live and work in. Worse yet, they could affect communities where they do not live and work. I don't want to believe that race and ethnicity are important to record, but the information probably serves a necessary function in fighting descrimination. I like what the anthropologists said about race having no scientific basis. I also like what the author says about ethnicity is largely a matter of choice, and that people don't fit neatly categories. Such fluid information and interpretations are unreliable in scientific study, and the apportionment of funding and services.
I was astounded to read how much the census has been influenced by partisanship, even from the nineteenth century. Personally, the bi-partisanship in politics makes me ill, as issues go unresolved. An example of this is the government shut-down in my home state of Minnesota last week. I can't help but think of George Will (the Washington Post columnist) and his "musing" about eliminating the race categories on the census altogether, for it would be interesting to see how the elimination of that demographic information would affect campaigning. The characteristics of the communities fuel what angle the candidate would spin their campaign in those areas, and can probably be deduced from the content of their speeches, instead of the more honorable method of standing up for what they believe in, no matter where they are.
The census has been fraught with unreliable methodology and has been challenged time and time again, and is being challenged as of the writing of the book. Perhaps we shouldn't look so critically at its faults, but be thankful for the benefits it has created. Perhaps we should look critically at those faults to eliminate gross misrepresentations, such as the 15 percent undercount for "non-whites" in the 1940s and 50s.

Who Counts?

Who knew the census was so political? Well, right, that’s the subtitle of the book. But I, for one, never thought about the origins and purposes of the census. It always seemed like such an isolated, bordering on trivial, part of government. It bothered me to read about Congress getting involved in the census process. Reading about partisan influences and patronage regarding the census, I kept thinking, “Partisan influence and patronage are terms you hear in bigger issues – things like energy policy and tax breaks.” Why can’t they just let the Census Bureau do its job? Congress is not going to change the outcome. Now I know that Congress, while not necessarily able to change the outcome, can very well change the process (which could change the outcome) and my flippant attitude toward the purpose of the census is naïve and unwarranted. The census is not just about how many people there are in the U.S. and what their ethnic backgrounds are.

I got distracted with the technical descriptions of census-taking in the last chapters of the book, but I did enjoy chapter 2 on the early history, particularly the sections on the civil rights movement and the recognition that the undercount was a political, not a technical, problem. I struggled with my opinions on chapter 8 and its discussion of race and identity and United States population history. The last chapters didn’t leave any lasting impression on me. They outline improvements in census-taking and predict/suggest for the future, but I didn’t get the feeling that any of the suggested measures would necessarily work. After all, despite (or maybe in spite of) what the government does, a complete and accurate count ultimately depends on the people being counted. I’m guessing there are still people that are not aware the census happens, are reluctant to mail back the forms, or are hostile to repeated requests to complete the forms. Maybe the solution is for the government to work with local groups – groups that those people are comfortable with. Maybe locals can convince them of the benefits of filling out the forms.

Who Counts? reaction - Nick B.

The greatest tension that arises from chapter 8, "The Measurment of Race and Ethnicity...", is the same tension that often arises in discussions of affermative action, that is moving in a counter-intuitive direction to achieve the end goal. The end goal in this case is to relieve the necessity for socially constructed racial categorization, yet to achieve this it needs to be shown (through censuses and surveys) that there is much discrimination and unfair treatment going on. Anthropologists recognize this tension explicitly on page 174: "eliminating the term 'race' presents an opportunity and dilemma because the categories are still required in order to be vigilant about the elimination of discrimination. Yet ultimately the effective elimination of discrimination will require an end to such categorization..." What I learned is that the decennial census was a major contributor to the advent of the affermative action policy. I had before taken the census as a mostly unpoliticized event. Rather it is a battleground for power and proof of the need for representation. Another related and equally vexing paradox is one that we experience everyday: is diversity a good word or a dirty word (p. 172)? "Celebrating diversity" of course has a positive connotation to it, but if we celebrate diversity by assuming someone's cultural heritage or positionality because of dress, language, skin color, etc, we have put ourselves in the position of a racist. To counter this, we say that everyone is individual and equal, and no one should be treated differently, putting a damper on the idea of "divisiveness." Are we supposed to be aware of and take into account someone's positionality, or do we ignore it and treat everyone "like a human being?" George Will's support for the multi-racial category is an attempt to erase cultural categories in a b-line fashion, one that is good in its intention, but inevitably leaves too many people in its wake. The multi-racial category is intuitive, and given the tension described above, cannot work. The point of asking people about their race in the census is not for their own identity, it is to bring people with unfair access to opportunity together so that they can increase their own political power. If we are all our own group (as we probably are in reality), would none of us have any representation? Aren't we all multi-racial? Why does "White" mean every European ethnicity? If I see a multi-racial category on the 2010 census, I will be inclined to check it. My mother has ancestry in Switzerland, and my father in Germany and Ireland. We can all say the same thing. What is interesting is that the Spanish-speaking world of Mexico, central America, and south America has not given in to this type of assimilation under the category of "Latino/a" or "Hispanic."

I cannot help but think of the census as not only a highly politicized event, but a highly geographical event. I don't think the book discussed it much, but I would be very curious to see the locations of low-response rates, as this is essentially what drives statistical sampling. The "first law of geography" states that close things are more related than things that are far away, something that a potentially accurate statistical sampling would have to assume.

Subject Headings for Individuals?

Restating other opinions already posted, Who Counts? is an eye-opener to another government agency/function completely at the whim of partisanship, at the cost of continuity and progress. I was most interested in one complication of census-taking that is present in the library world, which is how to classify race and ethnicity. If librarians devise a successful schema, I would think it could be applicable to census categories...but librarians are not making progress in this area, and recent writings state that cataloging and classification is at a stalemate, if not in regression. Currently, guidelines for cataloging ethnic and foreign language materials are minimal. At best, an individual or material can be assigned a geographical correlation, but evident in census taking and cataloging, groups of peoples are defined by more than place. With current trends bringing in more and more ethnically/language identifiable materials, cataloging practices need to keep pace, or the materials become invisible. Like the constant undercount and invisible population, if a category does not exist to describe something or there are no pathfinders and/or connections pointing to the object-- essentially, the thing does not exist.

What keeps library cataloging and classification from simply being data entry? The thoughtfullness involved. What about the census, is it high-level data entry or should it be a weightier tool and concept? Attached to the ALA Resolution we looked at yesterday was a citation for an article that I found interesting, Knowledge for Sale: Are America's public libraries losing their way? http://www.utne.com/magazine/newsstand/utne130_knowledge-for-sale.pdf Yes, Utne is an undisputed liberal source. However, the author's blurb caught my attention as it stated that the article was influenced by the work of Sandy Berman, an activist librarian who is known for his alternative cataloging practices implemented at the Hennepin County Library. Berman is a vocal (loud) force in the library world and wrote widely about his methods for eliminating jargon from library catalogs, creating what he called the "most accessible catalog ever." Berman focused on representing ethnic/language materials in a manner that people could locate them in the catalog. He asked members of said populations what they would look for and how they would seach, and implemented their advice--putting atypical, non-Sears or LC headings in the catalog. Berman touted his success and several other Hennepin catalogers, "Sandynistas," adopted his methods. Alas, the guard has changed at the Hennepin County Library and new officials quietly removed the nonstandard subject and genre headings, "to make thier catalog comparable with other institutions." Score, convention 1, innovation 0. I believe that I see the same forward-backward (utimately backward) nonprogress with Census processes. Who is the population being served? To what end? Who is calling what the "end" is? And to pick up on some of the big ideas (libraries=democracy) of yesterday's discussion, in reverse, the author states that "the failures of public libraries mirror the failures of capitalism and perhaps democracy itself." Hmm.

Other interesting librariana from the article: Ralph Naber is becoming a public voice for libraries, in the face of many CA library closings. A reporter in Denver found that branch libraries in 7 low-income communities were open 30% fewer hours than suburban libraries. Language used at a library targeting the homeless: "Personal belongings must not be too large to fit under a single library chair."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How to represent

Frankly, I didn't know that US census has been conducted for allocating political power in the way of apportioning electoral college. Also, while reading Anderson and Fienberg's book, I came to know that classification of race and ethnicity in the census reflects the history of discrimination. In addition, it was quite suprised that even a scientific way of representing the population such as sampling can not be accpeted to improve census method due to political reason. However, it is understandable because I think that politics always preoccupy the dominance over other values in the world. (Recently, I am intrigued by conspiracy thoery.^^)

In this reading, I see how ironic it is to represent people according to physical differences in quantitative way. How can we define people who are racially mixed? Are they also minorities? If we need to classify the increasing population of racially mixed people, how many categories are we going to need? Does it really matter to have the categories in this racially diverse society? I don't have any answer, but I'd like to raise those questions.

Because I lived in S. Korean for the most of my life, racial discrimination was not my concern. Rather, Korea has geographical discrimination. Since I was born in the south eastern part of Korea, which has been discriminated for political reason, I felt inequality at that time. Looking back into my life, I think that both racial and geographical discrimination is matter of human right.

I think that any kind of discrimination exists all over the places. Human beings are very often exclusive. We distinquish ourselves from others. So, the ways of discriminating are very diverse. Sometimes, it pretends to be scientific. This reading seems to point out that we don't have to relie too much on technical objectivity and scientific ways because the most important thing is to have righteous value.

Extended Lab Hours


I just wanted to let everyone know (again) that the lab will be open until 5:45 tomorrow evening and until 8:30 on Thursday evening. The library doors will be locked unless library staff volunteers to stay, which is as of yet not the case. That means that if you want to take advantage of the extended hours you need to be in the library by the time the lab closes at 5:00pm unless you make arrangements with me.


Who Counts?

I can't say that I have ever given much thought to the Census, and I was surprised at how interesting Who Counts? was. I thought the title was a clever play on the concept of who does the actual counting (the Census Bureau, their agents, etc.) and who counts, as in who is actually represented in the Census. Do we count everyone? Does everyone matter equally? Well no, since the framers considered slaves to equal to three-fifths of a whole 'free' person. Even after slavery was abolished the history of undercounting certain groups (racial minorities, urban-dwellers, homeless, etc.) has continued. Are they undercounted because they don’t matter? Is the political clout of an Asian-America worth more or less to a certain district? Does it matter if that person is identified either racially or ethnically? I thought George Will’s idea that creating a multi-racial category could help in some way end America’s “obsession with race and ethnicity” (p. 172) to be worth thinking about. Would it help end racism if we quit defining ourselves, especially as the government counts us, in ways that make us different from others? Maybe that’s too simplistic of an answer. And yet just as political parties and governmental entities have a vested political interest in how many people are counted and where, various groups representing those racial and ethnic minorities also have a vested interested in continuing and sometimes deepening the classifications of the people counted. If they can point to x number of people as belonging to their group, they gain leverage for their agenda. So people, in a large enough numbers, equal power, yet I think it’s important that we and others keep in mind that the geographic portrait that census statistics and maps paint is not the whole story. What seems to be true for a group or area does not always hold true for the individual. Accordingly, what on the surface seems to be the simple numerical and statistical exercise of the census takes on much more complexity when you consider the political and social ramifications of how people are counted, and how they are classified.

Follow-up to post

To follow up the previous post, I think I see this book as much as a commentary on the politics of the last 20 or so years than a study of the census as such. From the bibliography, it appears that Anderson's original research on the census was published in 1988, so this book is an extension of that research and allows for editorializing. I looked in the index and found no mention of Ross Perot, in spite of the fact that he did have an impact on the outcome of the 1992 election. Perhaps that illustrates the fact that the effect of the custom of most states to award all electoral votes to the highest popular vote-getter is to suppress third party Presidential campaigns, so it made Perot irrelevant to the book. But "Who counts?" ignores the question of whether, just because the Census Bureau functions in a mostly nonpartisan way in a two-party system, it might not be seen as strongly partisan in strengthening and protecting that system against political outsiders.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Anderson and Fienberg selections

Commenting on this book is a slippery slope, but here goes.

Because the issues of the role of the President as head of government and state rather than as sovereign, the separation of Church and state, and the exclusion of the armed forces from politics were settled so early in American history, factions form around issues stemming from the federal system set up in the Constitution, and how that system affects traditional, local authority like the States of the Union and like private religious and cultural organizations.

So what seems like an objective process, counting the population every 10 years and mechanically determining the relative apportionment of House seats to states, reflects broad, political tensions that also shift with time. In turn, these tensions play out as a series of arguments about governmental procedures, rather than debates about principle. In the short term, there is a certain amount of demagoguery that passes for principled debate; in the long run, politicians are willing to let the bloodied bureaucrats do the heavy lifting, if points appear to have been scored.

Thus, the Census Bureau is not going to be abolished, but its budget may be held hostage, and it may be ravaged by litigation. Both parties's political appointees to executive positions in the Bureau will be tormented by the party out of the executive branch. Conservatives who value the appearance of simplicity and fantasize about the United States in the Federal era will attack sampling or other procedures to correct the census count even if it can be shown that the Republican party would have benefitted from theoretically sound corrections (see pp. 322-323). The final confusion comes when a politicians from both parties in a state known for progressive social policy over the last 150 years attack sampling just because losing another congressional seat is onerous. This is where a state insisting on its rights resembles Oliver Twist's plea for more food.

About the Wisconsin predicament, one can infer from the book some of the state's problems with loss of population in Milwaukee, loss of jobs to other states, and so on, but the authors avoided spelling out the implications of losing that congressional seat. Although Wisconsin has been electing Republicans to the legislature, it has become fairly reliable for the Democrats in Presidential elections since 1992, just like other formerly Republican states like Iowa and Minnesota. The loss of an elector means that Wisconsin will have less impact on the 2008 election. (Loss of population overall means less in Federal $, exaggerated in Wisconsin's case because historically the state has had fewer military installations than states in the South and the West.)

In terms of grand electoral strategy, a study to follow this book would look for a correlation between states from which the two major parties are getting their biggest contributions and shifts in the sizes of state congressional delegations. The allegations of fraud in Florida and Ohio really point to electoral vote shaving, much like point-shaving. The authors are correct to point out that the management of national elections, which varies wildly from state to state, is a more significant determinant of the possible effect of corruption on electoral vote totals than tampering with census-taking.

The Census Bureau has shifted from being an instrument of the ideology of states rights to a scapegoat for permanent demographic changes that are altering the sites of authority in America. What the authors might have said, is that changes in census-taking and their effects on apportionment are triggered by prior economic and demographic changes, so that the distribution of Congressional seats and thus of power reflects the movements of the American population of 15 to 20 years ago. (The fact that state legislative districts were "malapportioned" for forty years in the mid-20th century shows how long lasting bad policies can be and how long it takes to correct their effects.) Nobody really knows where we're headed now, though I imagine both parties have very accurate, proprietary demographic projections that we won't see for a long time. It's clear that the authors scoff at the heat of arguments about such a thin slice of the surface of what's going on.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Wisconsin class data folder missing on network

Folks, today a student alerted me that the "Wisconsin" subfolder in the "Class Data" folder we've been sharing on the network had been deleted. I'm quite distressed about this, since the folder was flagged as "read only" and could not have been accidentally dragged to the trash without a warning dialogue popping up. I've just finished restoring the data that was originally in that folder from my own master copy. Hopefully this was an isolated and unintentional incident, however it happened, and I won't need to take any drastic measures to restrict access to these shared files for the last week of class.

In any case, take this moment as a reminder to PLEASE back up your project files and all the data files (shapefiles, Excel files, dbf files) that you are using to a 250MB Zip disk!