[R] constructing a dataframe from a database of newspaper articles

Bob Green bgreen at dyson.brisnet.org.au
Sun Jul 23 08:39:00 CEST 2006

I am hoping for some assistance with formatting a large text file which 
consists of a series of individual records. Each record includes specific 
labels/field names (a sample of 1 record (one of the longest ones) is 
below  - at end of post. What I want to do is reformat the data, so that 
each individual record becomes a row (some cells will have a lot of text). 
For example, the column variables I want are (a) HD  in one column 
(b)    BY in one column (c) WC data in one column,  (d) PD data in one 
column, (e) SC data in one column (f) PG data in one column  & g) LP and TD 
text in one column  - this column can contain quite a lot of text, e.g 1900 
words. The other fields are unwanted

If there were 150 individual records, when formatted this would be a 7 
column by 150 row dataset.

I was advised to:

1. read in the file using readLines giving a character vector one element 
per input line.
2. convert that to lines of the form:
id op text
where each such line is a field and multiline fields have been collapsed 
into a single line of text. This step involves
detailed processing and you could do it in a loop or you could try a 
vectorized approach. A vectorized approach
will likely involve using
3. the lines created above could be converted to a data frame with three 
columns and
4. reshape used to create a "wide" data frame.
5. then write it out using write.csv.

I have got as far as being able to read the text into R  - I am unsure if 
the warning is a problem. I am however, not at all sure what I need to do next.

Any assistance is much appreciated,


(A) syntax

  mht <- scan(what="c:\\cm-mht1.txt").
readLines("c:\\cm-mht1.txt",n = -1)

[8376] "© 2006 Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC (trading as 
Factiva). All "
[8377] "rights reserved. 
Warning message:
incomplete final line found by readLines on 'c:\cm-mht1.txt'

(B) sample data

       HD Was Charles Manson temporarily insane when he led a wild killing
       rampage in the US in 1969?
       BY By Deborah Cassrels.
       WC 1834 words
       PD 23 June 2001
       SN Courier Mail
       SC COUMAI
       PG 30
       LA English
       CY (c) 2001 Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd

       LP Was Charles Manson temporarily insane when he led a wild killing
       rampage in the US in 1969? Clearly he was mad and bad. But would
       Queensland have placed him before its Mental Health Tribunal, found 
him of
       unsound mind at the time of his crimes, institutionalised him and
       "treated" his illness? WHY is Queensland the only jurisdiction in the
       Commonwealth with a Mental Health Tribunal which establishes if an 
       is fit to face trial or of unsound mind at the time of an alleged 
       Why is mental incompetence not determined in an adversarial court by a
       jury? Under the Mental Health Act 1974, the tribunal, a statutory body
       operating since 1985, comprises three-yearly appointments of a Supreme
       Court judge and two assisting psychiatrists, whose advice does not 
have to
       be accepted. The judge alone constitutes the tribunal, an inquisitorial
       process conducted in the Supreme Court in Brisbane.

       TD Victims or family are not notified of hearings or allowed to submit
       victim impact statements. They are prohibited from talking to the media
       until 28 days after the decision. And when patients return to the
       community there is no requirement for neighbours or victims to be
       notified. Is this legislation enlightened or are we just suckers, 
       for time and money-saving strategies? The tribunal has earned a 
       as progressive, humane and economical among some judges who have 
       over it. The inaugural chair, former Supreme Court judge Angelo 
Vasta QC,
       thinks the tribunal system is "enlightened" and "it saves an enormous
       amount of expenditure". He points to the humane side of treating the 
       in a secure hospital rather than punishing them for offences but is
       uncomfortable with borderline cases. "Whether people are mad or bad 
       to be established by a very thorough investigation.
       The associated Patient Review Tribunals (of which there are five) 
       of three to six members, including the chair who is a legal officer, a
       medical practitioner and a mental health professional. A 
psychiatrist is
       not required. The other three have no specific qualifications and can
       include former patients. The tribunals operate in closed hearings and
       patients of unsound mind or unfit for trial are reviewed every 12 
       Leave is granted either by the Mental Health Tribunal or the Patient
       Review Tribunal, which determine when a restricted patient is 
       into the community. Says the Director of Mental Health, Dr Peggy Brown:
       "In the case of serious offences you can be assured the period of
       monitoring is quite lengthy." Under the Mental Health Act 2000 to be
       implemented late this year, the tribunal will be replaced by a Mental
       Health Court and the Patient Review Tribunal by the Mental Health 
       Tribunal. Queensland Health Minister Wendy Edmond says the name change
       reflects transparency, with proceedings under oath and 
       of witnesses. The legislation represents "real change to the rights of
       victims of crime". But there is still an embargo on publishing 
       in the media.
       Dr Brown says when patients are granted leave, victims or families can
       apply to be notified but decisions will be made on individual cases. 
       (new) tribunal has to establish that there are reasonable grounds 
for the
       notification order to be made ... and it's also an appealable 
       returning to the Mental Health Court.
       Brown says there are efficiencies in the new legislation but "it's not
       about saving money". The main advantages were that victims could make
       submissions to both bodies. Concerns still might not be addressed but
       reasons were expected to be provided. The court's composition and sole
       power of the judge will be retained. Victims or relatives can be 
       of hearings and decisions about the patient. If not, reasons must be
       provided. The Patient Review Tribunals will be replaced by one tribunal
       with hearings still closed. It will comprise up to five members 
       a president (a lawyer of at least seven years' standing), 
psychiatrist or
       medical practitioner and community members and it will be chaired by a
       legal officer. Leave will be approved by the corresponding previous
       bodies. Chief Justice Paul de Jersey who presided over the 1995 case of
       Ross Farrah, a paranoid schizophrenic, who after murdering his 
       Christine Nash, was allowed out of the John Oxley Centre to play 
sport and
       see movies, says the proposed legislative changes to the Mental 
Health Act
       appear to be "refinements". Two weeks ago, Nash's teenage son Wade
       committed suicide after suffering years of torment following his 
       murder. In May 1996, a letter was sent to the tribunal by now former
       director of secure care services at John Oxley Dr Peter Fama. It said:
       "Should Ross be committed to the Tribunal for trial on a charge of
       manslaughter or murder, I have to report that he is now fit to be 
       in corrective custody ... There is no clinical need for further 
       of Ross in hospital." De Jersey has been involved in the process of
       amendments in the new Act and believes the "adjustments" are 
       "It's probably a question of how they're implemented. I thought the
       changes were more concerned with image than effecting substantial 
       to the system, calling it a court rather than a tribunal. There is some
       attempt to enhance the openness of the procedures such as the advice 
       by the existing psychiatrists being revealed in open court to the judge
       but they're aspects of streamlining rather than substantive change." He
       says many people are irked by a perceived disproportion between the
       treatment of mentally ill offenders and their victims. "As a 
community we
       need much more positively to address the situation of victims." De 
       points to the James Bulger murder in the UK eight years ago when two
       10-year-old boys abducted and battered James, two, to death. The 
       are expected to be freed soon. Says de Jersey: "Whatever one thinks of
       future plans for the young offenders it is extraordinary, if reportedly
       correct, that so little help has been given to the bereft mother of the
       murdered toddler. "Similarly, here, it is generally indefensible where
       victims or the families of victims are not informed of details of the
       likely release of their offenders, and even before that where they 
are not
       given a proper explanation as to the process and counselling to help 
       comprehend that process and as well the consequences of the crime. 
We are
       as a community moving towards a greater focus on the position of 
       but a lot more needs to be done. "The anguish of victims and the 
       of victims that insane offenders appear to escape punishment is
       understandable. The issue is whether the community is prepared to 
       that insane offenders primarily need treatment." The Mental Health
       Tribunal worked on two assumptions, that offenders of unsound mind 
       in the interests of the community, be treated rather than punished, and
       that a determination whether an offender was of unsound mind could
       responsibly be made by a Supreme Court judge with expert psychiatric
       assistance. "I have wondered whether with the ultimately serious crimes
       such as murder the community may not reasonably demand that in the
       interests of reassurance that the determination be made by a jury." He
       believes the community's longer term interests would best be served by
       medically treating insane offenders in a hospital rather than a prison,
       where if rehabilitated, they could contribute to the community. "I 
       however, that in many cases there will be serious residual concern, for
       example, can the offender be trusted, if left unsupervised, to 
continue to
       take the relevant medication?"
       De Jersey admits problems have arisen when offenders, granted leave,
       stopped taking medication but says if they can be relied upon to 
       stability through medication it would be inhumane to keep them 
locked up.
       Continued medical monitoring was necessary. If conditions were breached
       the person should be returned to restricted custody at the psychiatric
       hospital. While the most vulnerable in society deserve compassion it 
       not surprise there is public concern about lack of proper scrutiny, the
       capacity to re-offend and misuse of the legal process by using 
insanity as
       a defence. IN the general quest to improve treatment provisions for
       patients the 2000 Act says: "The new legislation provides for 
       treatment in the community as an alternative to being an in-patient 
in a
       mental health service which reflects contemporary clinical practice and
       the principle of reform that involuntary treatment must be in the least
       restrictive form."
       Perhaps the overwhelming feeling is patients' rights have priority over
       victims' rights. Ted Flack, spokesman for the Queensland Homicide 
       Support Group says the new Act provides a better environment for 
       participation, but there are serious flaws. The rights of homicide 
       were not guaranteed and this caused an inordinate amount of distress.
       "There's still considerable discretion in the hands of the Mental 
       Court and the Mental Health Review Tribunal as to whether they would 
       any evidence from the victims. The new Act is framed in such a way 
as to
       provide guaranteed rights to the person who's suffering from a mental
       illness and those rights come appropriately from the international
       conventions, but there are similar international conventions for 
       and they are being completely ignored in the Act." Flack says the 
       purpose of the Mental Health Tribunal is to save money and to safeguard
       the rights of the mentally disabled person. He believes the criminally
       insane can be catered for properly in jail. "The imprecise science of
       psychiatry is not an appropriate set of guidelines for the release into
       the community of dangerous killers," he says.

       GCAT : Political/General News | GCRIM : Crime/Courts | GHEA : Health |
       GHOME : Law Enforcement

       AUSNZ : Australia and New Zealand | AUSTR : Australia

       Document coumai0020010710dx6n005vl

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