"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paintings for grandchildren

How do you tell grandchildren how much they mean to you?
Especially when you're miles apart, and they're grown up and may not remember you when you're gone and they're grown up.
I remember little of my grandparents, and my children have specific memories of their wonderful mother's mother who is still living and treasured by them all, and a few of those long passed, of their mother's father, and a few of my mother, and very few of my father. That's the way of the world and generations, spread across the miles. I have few memories of my grandparents.
I hope I live long enough for my grandchildren to have specific memories of me, and a few of them already do. But that is one reason I've decided that they should have some specific memory of me... I don't think of it as selfish, but as a connection, that who we are. That's why I've given paintings to five of the grandchildren this year, and why I will soon paint with another granddaughter, and give paintings to others, in Germany this spring.

Here are the  5" by 7" watercolor paintings my grandchildren, Erin, Abby and Max Bell, Liberty and Barrett Clark will have for the rest of  their lives. reminding them of a granddad who loved them and thought they were so special.






Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Watercolor pages

Church at Tajique, N.M., Manzano Mountains in background, 22 by 14. 
New on the blog--go to the Pages box, the third one down on the righthand sidebar, and click on Watercolor Paintings, to see much of my art work, with sizes. All are framed and for sale, including this one, my best and favorite and most expensive. More to be added soon.

Passion and professing and blogging


 Jarred awake by a student comment on a course evaluation, Coffee with Clark has perked up this month, gaining some off the highest number of readers in its almost four-year history.
If you don't know, professors are evaluated every semester by students at UCO, with a lofty sounding survey pronounced "spee," from the acronym, SPIE ("Student Perception of Instructional Effectiveness").
Students rank us on 13 questions,  rating us on a scale of 1 up to 4. We have standards in our department and college that we should meet--called a "Dashboard, " and most of the ratings should be in the mid threes. Most of mine are, or a little higher. On the back of the surveys, they're allowed to make comments.
Here are the things we're evaluated on:
      1. Instructor available outside of class 
      2. Syllabus covered course essentials
      3. Critical thinking encouraged
      4. Variety of instructional formats used 
      5. Instructional methods facilitated understanding
      6. Asking questions was encouraged
      7. Constructive answers given to questions
      8. Working in groups encouraged
      9. Writing required in this course 
      10. Timely notice of grading criteria 
      11. Instructor feedback helpful 
      12. Class time used well 
      13. High academic standards set by instructor.
My lowest rankings, not quite at 3.5 are 2, (because I vary from the syllabus); 8, (because my classes don't lend themselves to that all the time, though I'm working on that); and 10,  (because I'm not very punctual and hate grading).
Good professors pay attention to these things, looking for trends, trying to improve. I think you can throw out the very bad ones and gushy ones, other than letting them stroke your ego if you wish. There is no relation between grades and hardness on these ratings, but there is if you treat students badly or are egotistical or unprepared. And of course those faculty never pay attention to the ratings. I look for trends and scan the remarks they can give on the back of the "instrument" as we inflatingly call it, like almost everything else in higher ed.

But one of the comments on the back of my evaluations from last fall jarred me. The student used a word I couldn't ignore, or pass over: "Passionate."  You can see it on the item on this post. I try to instill passion in my students and teach with it, because I think it is the key to success in a increasingly mediocre world.
My blogging had withered like  our land in the drought in the fall, almost somnolent, hibernating with only a couple of posts a month.
So the fact that this blog is back from four months of meager postings, is due to a perceptive and honest student in my blogging class. I'm teaching Blogging for Journalists again, and, in my world, you have to be able to do what you teach to have any validity and impact on students. 
You can argue that these evaluations don't make much difference, and students often feel that way. And in some ways, for a tenured professor, they don't, if the professor doesn't care and just manages to get by. That's one of the faults of tenure, but that's another issue.
There's another evaluation that can really be brutal, and students wanting to know about a professor ahead of time, use this all over the country: Rate My Professors.com  ratemyprofessors.com
Plug in the state and school, and you can find how students view professors. Again, the bad professors ignore these comments, and the good ones probably look at them to boost egos. If you're really liked by students, they'll award you with a red chili pepper, as a "Hottie." They're not foolproof as I know of at least one poor professor who got students to rank them high to offset all the bad ones, or perhaps wrote the glowing ones him/herself. I don't have many ratings compared to those that teach large section classes, and I suspect poor professors get more ratings than most of us.
I think the best evaluations come when I ask students every semester how to improve the classes for future students. I get a lot of good ideas, and the students are direct. It seems to me that's what "passionate" is about.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grand-photographers' reflections



Generations apart, Grandfather Stanley Marcus and granddaughter Allison V. Smith take their photos in reflections.
We attended the opening of "Reflections: the Photographs of Allison V. Smith and Stanley Marcus" Friday night at [Artspace] at Untitled at 1 NE Third in OKC. This is the first time the photography of Marcus, of Niemann-Marcus and his granddaughter, a former Texas photojournalist, has been exhibited together.
I took this pix of Susan taking a pix of the photographers
 taking their pix in those reflections.
What a treat to see the influence of a grandfather's passion on his granddaughter, whom he called "Scoop." In her beginning years, if she'd not had a  photo published in at least two days, he'd call her and ask if she'd been fired. And now years later she's gone on to other great work.
Artspace is a spare, open contemporary gallery with a history of fascinating photography exhibits, located in the resurgent downtown. Its very existence says so much about what is happening culturally in the city.
www.artspaceatuntitled.org/
This exhibit is open until March 30 and worth the trip. Admission is free. Allison's chromogenic color prints are for sale, sizes ranging from 20" by 20" to 50" by 50," many taken in Texas and Maine, prices starting at $1,750. But what is priceless to me is to see her grandfather's photography, and think about the influence of one on the other.

Part of the crowd at the spacious opening of this show.

One of my favorites,  Hotel, 2005, Marfa, Texas.
Smith worked for seven newspapers, including my beloved Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Santa Fe New Mexican. Now she lives in the West Texas art colony of Marfa, Texas.

Check her web page to fall in love with her photographic images. They'll be much more precise than these photos taken with my cell phone.
What a grandfatherly-granddaughterly reflection of photography in Oklahoma City.


http://www.marfacontemporary.org/artist/allison-v-smith


Another from Marfa, playfully
 titled "Marfa Lights."

I think this one is my favorite, also from
Marfa, "Locker Plant"

Also a favorite, "Red Shoes in Red Square."




Monday, January 28, 2013

West Texas thoughts and grandchildren

West Texas--wide open land  of the Llano Estacado in The Panhandle,
where the skies and people stretch your mind and heart.
Most people think of the Texas Panhandle as a place to drive through as quickly as possible, but I've grown to love the thinking time, the remoteness, the extreme weather. And in the past few years, there are even more important reasons.
My daughter Dallas Bell, her husband Todd and their three children Erin, Abby and Max now live outside Canyon, just south of Amarillo where Todd is a doctor. I was thinking about that today because this is my oldest granddaughter's 13th birthday...Erin Ann Bell.
Abby and Erin, right, on one of our trips to the bookstore.
I remember the night I got a phone call from Dallas, saying, "Congratulations, Granddad." I've been blessed to be around enough to really get to know her and her sister and brother.
Amarillo is a treasured destination now, even if for just a night or a day stop. We always get to do neat things, like eat ice cream, go to book stores, explore their property, go shopping.
This photo is a year and a half old, so I hope Erin will forgive me for posting it, but it captures her spirit and goodness and that of her sister Abby.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Silver in the sun...

Martin Nature Park on a blustery, almost 70 degree January day... a walk bringing silver into the sun.
Swift flowing Spring Creek, turning a day to silver.

Reflections of solitude on Dry Creek.
A  bridge always beckons...see the ducks?
There is a hint of discovery ahead

There is silver in the sun

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Authors and books

Louise Farmer Smith chatting with book lovers today at Full Circle Bookstore.
The books and authors of the past year came more alive today when I got to meet and chat with Louise Farmer Smith at Full Circle Bookstore. www.fullcirclebooks.com/
She was here for a reading and signing of  her book 100 Years of Marriage, which arrived on my doorstep last year and I reviewed here, an unexpected book and new friend indeed. See this article from June:
http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-did-your-mother-say-yes.html
A native Okie and award-winning author living in Washington D.C., met a large crowd and took her time to converse with each person, writing  in the books, and then blowing the ink dry, the old-fashioned way.
I already had the book, signed by her,--one of 12 I read in the first half of last year-- but she inscribed it personally to me, happy that I showed her how marked up some of the pages were. Important books always deserve to have words and original phrases underlined or checked so I can find them again.
She's the fifth author who enlivened my reading and autographed books for me last year. Craig Varbajedian and his photo book Landscape Dreams, A New Mexico Portrait and Jimmy Santiago Baca's The Lucia Poems came from our trip to Santa Fe. Here's that post: http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/10/an-oasis-for-spirit-in-lifes-desert.html
Before that I received the landmark poetry and watercolor book, The River White, by Ada poet Ken Hada and his brother Duane, published by friend Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press mongrelempire.org in January.  http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/01/rhythm-of-water-review.html   Later in the year, Ken signed the book for me at the First Sunday Poetry Reading  at Beans&Leaves,  organized by poet Dorothy Alexander. http://www.facebook.com/BeansandLeaves
Most recently, friend and author Kent Anderson signed his latest novel  to Susan and I, The Silver Cross, another suspense thriller set in Oklahoma and Texas. We bought it at Best of Books in Edmond. www.bestofbooksedmond.com/
Kent's was the last book I read this year, the seventh in the last six months, which included Varbajedian and Baca.
Others that rounded out the year were Austin Kleon's Steal Like and Artist, and Newspaper Blackout--books found by mistake that helped my creativity.
Two spiritual books included The Evolution Angel by Dr. Todd Michael, was an emergency physician's lessons from death and the divine, and Dr. Doris Cohen's Repetition, a clinical psychologist's take on past lives, death, life and rebirth.
Reading is so much more than picking up a book.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pixels of thoughts about newspapers


It's both an exciting and unsettling time to be a newspaper journalist because of such rapid technological changes. Newspapers have  always been a children of technology, but change has never been so rapid and accelerating.
I don't agree with the shortsighted and myopic  naysayers that claim newspapers are dying. They are changing in many ways, and will continue to do so. You simply can't turn around these days without seeing news items about it. Today for instance, the New York Times is in the news for early buyouts of 30 top editorial people...a cost cutting move. And while metropolitan newspapers face many challengers, they are only a small minority of America's newspapers.
Did you know that Oklahoma alone has almost 200 newspapers, and many of them are doing very well? Most of them are weeklies--serving local communities, but that's another story, which I wrote about in Oklahoma Today and the International Society of Weekly Newspapers Editor's newsletter last year. That's another story.
What follows is a version of part of my monthly column in the Oklahoma Press Association Publisher this month--some random pixels of digital thoughts and information for the New Year.
Several recent events about media along with more explosions of information put newspapers and journalism on the front page.
As much as I like to sit down with a print newspaper, and spend my time thumbing through it, spending time on what I want, I’m increasingly dependent on digital technology, even though scrolling through a web site is not really fun nor attention grabbing. I may spend more time online, but I spend less time on site.

Newspapers have always been children of technology

My column is now a product of digital.  Without OPA's digital service that all papers send copies to, and the ability to reproduce pages, email, and providing links, I couldn't scan copies every month to write my critique. Still it’s interesting to me that one of the most read sites on the Internet is the Newseum’s daily front pages…people still want to see print. http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/flash/
Then 60 Minutes recently did a piece on Newhouse newspapers depriving New Orleans of a daily newspaper. Rejecting a local bid to buy, the company gutted the paper, turned it to three days a week and said digital was the savior—in a city with more than 30 percent not online. I’d call it death by greed, demanding obscene profit margins, but they're doing it all wrong. They will continue to make less money.
Evidence of that can be seen in two places—Orange County, California, and Omaha. Warren Buffett bought his home town World Herald and is keeping it as a daily, because he cares about the community, and you can bet he’s still making money, but not with the huge corporate profits others demand.
Then the Orange County Register was bought, and the new owners are pouring money into the paper. Apparently the owners know that content sells, and cutting kills They’ve found digital advertising stagnant and print advertising rising.
Against this news, I learned that two universities are cutting or changing traditional “journalism” programs. Emory and the real big dog, Indiana University.
http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/188743/emory-university-plans-to-close-its-journalism-program/
http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/199844/indiana-university-may-combine-journalism-communications-studies/
I’ll let you mull what this means. I don’t know.


A new golden age of journalism?

On the advice of journalism pros in this state, I’ve just taught a class, Twitter for Journalists. I can see you rolling your eyes. Speakers included Mike Sherman of The Oklahoman and Dave Rhea of the Journal Record. Much more about what I learned in that class of 24 senior students in the future. But all the speakers kept emphasizing it’s about content and storytelling. Hmmmm.
A final digital note, promoting print. Have fun and check out this YouTube video, “Six things you can miss while reading a newspaper": www.youtube.com/watch?v=e512_OxFWyM&feature=youtu.be
What does the future hold? We have no idea, but yes, it is exciting, and unsettling at the same time.I do know that Dave Rhea, managing editor for digital media at the Journal Record,  told my blogging class last year that he considered this a "Golden Age of Journalism." We live and work in interesting times.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Unfinished pages in a drought

Hoping for rain, 8 by 10 watercolor
Drought. It sneaks up on you, and then dries up more than just the physical landscape--your mind, your soul, your creativity.
Just because you start a book, doesn't mean you have to finish it. That excuse helped me a little early this month when I was feeling sorry for myself for not reading enough during the last half of last year. I pride myself on trying to have read at least a book a month, but it seemed my mental drought of the last six months of the year matched the drought Oklahoma and the country is in. My reading, blogging, writing and painting dried up.
Scrounging through the house this week for books soothed my parched air somewhat as I counted nine unfinished books.
I got bogged down in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!  I shouldn't feel too bad--I mean page long sentences just war me out.
Then there were Stephen Hawkin'gs Illustrated Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell. I tried, really tried, but I just can't keep up with that level of thinking. Some of it made sense, and I could read a few pages at a time. But then he'd write something that I just couldn't understand.
There were a couple of sorta New Age books, Counter Clockwise and On Becoming an Artist by Ellen Langer. Some good ideas, but somewhat dry and a little too out-there for this skeptical journalist. One paperback book  I picked up was L.L. Barkat's Rumors of Water, thoughts on creativity and writing. I scanned a few pages, underlined a few passages, and thought "Nothing new here. I've wasted my money."
'When you're in a drought you have to keep looking for water, or you won't find it.'
I started rereading and old paperback of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I will probably finish it, when the mood strikes, some dark and stormy night.
At year's end, I was reading Bernard DeVoto's Across the Wild Missouri, about the American fur trade, and I will finish it. It's a old hardback 1947 First Edition that my Dad owned, and I'd just never picked it up. Lots of photographs of the art of the time, showing and telling about a short time in the rapidly disappearing frontier American West.
The lessons are--some books you just can't read, some are too deep, some are not worth reading, some are just too far-fetched to devote serious time to. And two are worth finishing.
When you're in a drought you have to keep looking for water, or you won't find it..
+++
For the record, I did read six books the last half of the year, adding to the 12 I read the first half. I'll tell you about those soon. Here's the link on two I wrote about in the middle of my drought-stricken October, refreshed only by a trip to the aquifer of New Mexico:
http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/10/an-oasis-for-spirit-in-lifes-desert.html. Here's the link to the watershed of 12 read during the first half of 2012:
http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/06/turning-pages-of-first-half-of-2012.html

Oklahoma red clay Saturday


"Dust swept up from the new flowerbeds and swirled around the foundation of the building. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that she would pour out everything."
"At night I law awake, noticing how our house sounded. ...but now the house itself made a kind of wheeze every once in a while like it was remembering the time before it was level."
Would you keep reading? How about an autographed copy of the book, signed in person by the Oklahoma native author?
You can get one  when Louise Farmer Smith comes to Full Circle Bookstore www.fullcirclebooks.com/ this Saturday at 3 p.m. to sign her book, 100 Years of Marriage-A Novel in Stories.
Hooked yet? How about the grabber she asks, "Why did your mother say yes?"
It's an Oklahoma family epic spanning generations--moving in Michneresque structure from the past to near the present, and while Louise lives in DC and has East Coast college degrees, these stories have Oklahoma red clay on them, set in the state.
See the review of the book on this blog back in June. Here's the link:
http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-did-your-mother-say-yes.html
I intend to go and just meet this spunky, erudite Okie, to see her smile and listen to some stories.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Public polling pointers


    Because of their polling, Mitt Romney, his family and campaign people were confident of victory and then literally stunned and shell-shocked as the election night results rolled in and they lost to Baarak Obama. 
    This link explains why they were so wrong. What they really needed was this Prof’s Primer on Polling, especially this editor’s checklist for evaluating polling, or any research.
Americans are justifiably suspicious of polling, and not just for political reasons. Some of the fault lies with newspapers and broadcast which have reported off-beat “research” to try to snag audience. Yesterday I referred to USA Today once carrying a Women’s Day’s poll of its readers wouldn’t marry the same man is just one example. The poll was loaded with faults, and the media failed to point them out. Then Fox broadcast picked up the myth in September and continued with it. Carl Rove's meltdown on Fox on calling Ohio for Obama on election night is typical of the consequences of ignorance. Be suspicious, but understand the facts.
   So here is this editor’s checklist for evaluating polls. I think this should also be every American’s checklist too.
  • Who sponsored the polling? Is there a conflict of interest?  Political polling is especially suspect if it’s loaded with distrust for the other side. Beware any polling done by a PR firm for a client. I understand the Republicans with their distrust of the so-called “liberal media” wanting to conduct their own polls.  But they fell victim to the same faults they suspected from the other side.
  • Who was included in the polling? If you poll certain age groups or geographic areas or don’t reach likely voters, you’re results will not be valid. See number three.
  • How were the people chosen? Was it a true “random” sample? If not the results will be skewed (as with Romney’s polling).
  • How many people were in the sample? If the poll has fewer than 1,100 respondents, your margin of error is going to be more than three percent.
  • What was the response rate? If your sample was 1,000 and only 400 answered, you get results like the Women’s Day article which threw out more than it counted. Don’t seriously consider any response rate less than 60 percent.
  • How accurate are the results? Always compute the margin of error—it results ware within it, then “it’s too close to call.”
  • Who were the interviewers? Were they professionally trained and neutral? If not, prejudice, inflection of the voice and other factors can affect results.
  • How was the polling conducted? Robo-call? In person? If it was a call in or send in, the results are worthless because they’re not random.
  • When was the poll conducted? Results can change overnight.
  • What were the actual questions asked? Wording can influence results, and can lead to opposite results on the same matter, depending on wording.
  • Are the results cause and effect or just correlation? I saw a headlined story once: “Want to live a longer life? Marry yourself a younger wife.” The poll found that men with younger wives lived longer. But—this might not be cause and effect because there are many other factors involved—health, wealth, etc. 
  • Does the headline match the polling results? 
   If you’re an American and can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, you shouldn’t believe the results. If your newspaper or broadcast or online source doesn't answer the questions for you, you should be very skeptical. 
    A few of the faults of the Women’s Day poll and article: 1. It’s not random for all women in America, only subscribers. 2. Women’s Day has more than one million subscribers. About 100,000 responded. 3. The results were clipped out of the magazine and sent in (pre-Internet). 4. Once the magazine got the results, some of them were not counted. 
   So, a responsible newspaper  or news outlet reporting polling results should include an explanatory item with every story. It should be written along these lines:
“The Daily Geezer poll of 1,200 registered voters in Geezer County was conducted Oct. 31, 2012, and asked two questions: ‘Will you vote Nov. 6?’ and ‘Which presidential candidate will you vote for?’ The results have a margin of error of plus and minus three percent."
   A final note: Newspapers, broadcast and other news sources have an obligation to explain this to you. If they don't, they're not being responsible. If they report frivolous poll results to get your attention, it should tell you they're a frivolous news source.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Opening the pages of the West

Western non-fiction books to be judged, in front of my Dad's old drawing and watercolor of the Sandias.
One of the pleasures and blessings of my life these last few years has been serving as a judge for non-fiction books for the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/
This December, 29 of them arrived in two boxes with a January 31 deadline. I have to pick the top three, and my selections will be combined with the selections of two other judges before the winner is selected. That author/publisher will be presented one of the handsome bronze Wrangler statues at the annual shindig at the museum, scheduled April 19-20 this year.  
www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/events/wha/default.aspx
There are many categories of awards, from poetry to fiction, music to movies, and more. The celebration brings a crowd of movie star celebrities, authors, publishers, and unbelievable western characters and dress from across the West.
So what do I get out of it, other than just judging books, seeing photographs and maps and reading about the West? 
First of all, as my wife Susan will tell you, we get complimentary admission to the Jingle Jangle Mingle on Friday and then to the black tie awards dinner Saturday. That's where she got to go ga-ga over Tom Selleck and get her pix taken with Ernie Borgnine. http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com/2010/04/agog-at-mingling.html The food and liquid refreshment is terrific--a don't-miss-event.
Here also I got to meet poet and Mongrel Empire Press www.mongrelempire.org publisher Jeanetta Calhoun Mish a few years ago when her poetry book Work is Love Made Visble won the poetry division. I usually buy a book or two here, and the benefit was a new friend, and painting buyer for that matter.
Then last year, I noticed that of the 37 entries, about one third of them were from the University of Oklahoma Press. www.oupress.com/ I took that idea and Oklahoma Today www.oklahomatoday.com/ bought my story on the press and its role in printing books about Native Americans this past year.
I also get to work with the folks at the Meusem's magazine Persimmon Hill--editor Judy Hilvosky and former student and photographer Carolyn Seelan. Fun all around.
And then, I get to keep the books...those I want, and give the others away, to libraries and friends.
So now I've finished judging the books, and will have to wait till April --as will you-- to find out if the other judges are  close to me (I've managed to pick the winner for several years now).
If you'd like to see more  images of the Western Heritage Awards, search that term in the Search This Blog blank on the sidebar. It's a natural for photos and writing and lots of posts over the past few years. Here's one link to whet your appetite:
I've scattered them across the floor in the photo above, to give you an idea of these books, in front of my Dad's old drawing and watercolor of the Sandias at Albuquerque, where I grew up in the West. This is also meant to gig Jeanetta a little too, because she and her husband recently moved from Oklahoma to the base of those mountains, and she keeps posting photos of the Sandias, gloating away.
These books and people and connections are the power of the West to me. 



"Polling-tics" for Americans


It’s a long way from the banner headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” in the Chicago Tribune.
  I’m not talking about politics and the press, but about polling, which most Americans are probably sick of about now. Back in 1948, public opinion polling was in its infancy, contributing to that journalistic fiasco.
The just completed inauguration of President Obama  concluded the 2012 election, where we were deluged with more polls than ever, and they remarkably foretold the results, correctly predicting the electoral outcome in every state.
How? Americans are justifiably suspicious of polling, but it is a fact of our lives, and not just in politics. This is a version of an article I wrote for the Oklahoma Press Association Publisher.
Forget the poo-pooers who argued with what the polls showed because they disagreed or didn’t want to believe, or thought they were biased.  Forget your political views of Huffington Post. But its poll aggregator of hundreds of polls nailed the results. 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/2012-poll-accuracy-obama-models-survey_n_2087117.html?utm_hp_ref=@pollster
It is a fact that most Americans don’t understand scientific polling, and I think it is up to newspapers to help make that clear as to what can be trusted and what can’t.
Hence, here’s 
 Prof’s Press Primer on Polling, Part One
Definition of terms is first.
  •    Population—The group to be surveyed, such as likely voters, residents of Hennessey, Thunder season ticket holders.
  •    Random—Random does not mean “haphazard.” It means that every person in the population has an equal chance of being chosen. It’s easy in a classroom—you put every name in a hat and have a few names pulled out. Bigger groups require phone numbers or addresses, all more easily available than ever with computer data.
  • Sample—The portion of the population to be chosen randomly to ask the poll questions
  •  Valid—A poll is valid if the results collected from the sample can be applied to the entire population.
  • Margin of error—Expressed as a plus and minus percentage. Every poll has flaws and variables that will affect the accuracy of the results, but the larger the sample, the lower the margin of error (If you poll everyone in the population there will be no margin of error, but that isn’t possible in most cases).
Now the key question—how big a sample do you need to conduct an accurate poll?
You’re not going to believe the answer. So first things first. Timing, wording of questions, training of the pollsters, polling methods, and other factors also affect a poll’s validity, not just the sample size. But sample size is not dependent on population size.
That said, to get a sense of how people in Stillwater might vote on any issue, or people in Oklahoma on another issue, or people in the United States,  for a five percent margin of error, you need roughly only 400 registered, or likely, voters selected randomly. Yep, that’s all.
Here’s how the margin of error figures. Suppose the results come back showing Panhandle residents favor seceding from the state by a 52-48 percent margin. The results are within the margin of error so the election could go either way—it could be 52-43, or 47-52, or any combination. If on the other hand it was 75-25, Oklahoma, you have a problem.
Most national polls try to have a sample of about 1,200 people—that produces a margin of error of about plus and minus three percent.
Also important in polling is the timing. A poll or electability two days after Romney winning the first debate is valid that day. But as fast as things change in this digital news country, it wouldn’t be valid in five days.
'Other factors can affect outcome...
you could live in Florida'
Other factors can affect outcome. People who say they will vote and don’t show up. Or a Hurricane could shut the place down. Or you could live in Florida.
As with everything in journalism, sources also matter in polls. Who conducted it?
But that’s a separate subject—tomorrow, an American’s checklist for evaluating a poll (should you believe it?)
Hint: USA Today once ran a story and headline at the top of the page about most American women wouldn’t remarry the same man, based on a Women’s Day survey. What was wrong with that? And why Romney was shocked that he didn't win.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Book journeys--pages of 2013

"As the pen rises from the page between words, 
so the walker's feet rise and fall between pages, ....."
Some of the best books are those discovered by accident, and the first book of the year for me is one of those, found in the travel section at Barnes & Noble while searching for something else.
Did you know there is ancient kinship between the words "narrative" or "story," and "way" or "path"? I didn't either, but this book by a foot-traveler and fellow at Cambridge took me on many journeys in the past two weeks.
The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane is just that, a record of his walking in England, Scotland, and elsewhere, as he covers hundreds of miles in physical geography and more in mental geography, writing of the relationship of landscape and self. I know the relationship of place to self most strongly in New Mexico.
I don't know how I've missed this author, so the discovery is double sweet. He's written  Mountains of the Mind, about  climbing, and The Wild Places also. I will find and read those.
It's my kind of journalism, going back to the original meanings of that word, though his work is often poetic and deeply spiritual in the oldest of ways.
He's fortunate to live in England where he can take off and walk the footpaths, which is almost impossible in automobile-ridden Oklahoma and America. Maybe that's why I like Hafer park so much, or Martin Park. Having tread the old paths at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico though, I deeply connect with the self discovery you find when walking. Who does not stop if briefly when crossing a path and wonder where it leads?
"The eye is enticed by a path, and the mind's eye too."
My copy of the book is now marked and underlined, key words, strong phrases, fresh imagery, powerful verbs,  or new words circled  for more discovery, and new history and geography and people and language met around the bend of every path on every page. I only wish the book came with maps, because I had to go to Google to find the places I'd never heard of, but maybe that was his intention, since going on paths is self discovery. Thus I think I was meant to find this book, to attack my winter cabin fever, and to set me back on the paths of reading, and reawakening this blog, after semi-hibernation this winter.