Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I stepped in it...

So I have this friend at school. She's very nice and we get along quite well, but, and I'm putting this charitably, she's not the brightest bulb in the box. She's the one that prompted my earlier rant about the Santa Claus episode and frankly, I've learned to go to my "special place" (like Happy Gilmore) every time she opens her mouth in class. And I'm not joking here. Last week, she literally talked for at least 5 minutes and NO ONE, not even the professor had any fucking idea what she just said. This is no exaggeration. She also continually complains that she just doesn't get "this International Relations" (and yes, she's prone to poor grammar). I've been extremely patient with her, tried to explain things that go on in class or the reading, and generally just coach up her confidence a bit.

So, exactly what did I step in? Well, I agreed to swap papers with her before we hand them in so that we can get some feedback. Big mistake. I have to confess I don't like bragging about myself. I've never been one to take compliments well and I don't like talking about how great I am. That being said, there's a clear difference between my education and hers. Her paper was a DISASTER. I mean, she's writing to explain why the EU-US relationship is strained - it's not rocket science. Functionally, there were 4 problems with her paper:

1. Grammar - She continually leaves out words like "the", "as", "a", etc. I found myself editing every single sentence. I think there was 1 sentence in the middle of the paper that I didn't edit, but that might be reconstructive history.

2. Structure - Her paper was so disorganized it was nearly impossible to follow the events that she was describing, not to mention get a sense of what her "argument" was. For example, she was discussing the war in Iraq in this context, then switched to the EU creating its own military, and then was back to another point of disagreement between the EU and US over Iraq. Now, maybe she's trying to follow a chronology. I'm not sure. But as it was, I didn't have a clue as to what she was trying to say.

3. Transitions - Further compounding the problem was that she had no transition sentences whatsoever. She literally would be making a really intricate point about Iraq, for example, and then there would be a new paragraph and she's introducing an entirely separate dispute (steel, for example).

4. Theory - This was a problem on the meta level. These papers are not supposed to be a 20 page description of events. The events are relevant, but we have had some very detailed conversations in class about using theory in our papers. So, when 18 pages of a 19 page paper is on events and 1 page is on theory, we have a problem. Political science and International Relations is about the understanding the bigger picture. The minutiae is important, but we are being trained to see the causes behind the minutiae. Unfortunately, my friend missed the whole point of her MA.

So, why am I telling you this? Because it's so incredible to me that someone with a COLLEGE DEGREE can't even write a complete sentence, not to mention have a coherent thought. I mean, how did she graduate? I have known 10th graders that could have completed this paper.

No only is it extremely frustrating to see that at least one of my classmates is basically incompetent, I also feel like letting her read my paper completely undercut her confidence. I didn't want that. Now my paper is not exactly Hemmingway, but it's polished and pretty solid. I've spent a lot of time on it. So, most of her comments were not comments really - she was just writing stuff on the paper because she saw me marking up her draft and wanted to compete. (To her credit, however, she did make two very valuable observations, which was essentially that I needed two transition sentences.) But you could see the look on her face and later at the pub that she sees there's a huge difference between our two papers.

It's a difficult situation. She's the type of person that struggles with self-confidence anyway, so I've tried to use nothing positive reinforcement. And to my credit, I didn't break her paper down harshly. I was extremely nice and complemented her on the depth of her research and analysis. But the truth is, if she turns in that paper and gets anything higher than a C, it's a fucking travesty.

At any rate, I mentioned last week I wanted information about why the Bush-Kerry polling data is so skewed. Well, via my friend Kim, here's an answer:

1. They poll "likely voters", i.e. people that voted in previous elections. That cuts out young people that vote for the first time or others who are not always motivated to vote, but may well be this time.

2. They only call house phones, not mobiles. That skews the results as well in some instances because young people are more prone to not be available, meaning they'll never be polled. People in their 30's and 40's are also more on the go these days meaning that the cross-section actually reached in these polls are latch-key losers who never leave the house (ok, I added that extra in there).

3. Worst of all, most of the polls are overweighted with registered Republicans as John Zogby apparently confessed a week ago (he's the guy who runs the Zogby poll, obviously).

So, the tally of registered, "likely" voters, is really a compilation of stay at home republicans that have nothing better to do than talk on the phone with complete strangers about who they're going to vote for in November. Now that's science.


Blogger SJH said...

Yes, i'm commenting on my own post.

One more interesting tidbit about the polling system in the US. Companies normalize polling samples with a "hard" target for party affiliation. Gallup polls, for example, are 40% republican, even when exit polls in 2000 showed that only 35% of voters identified as "republican" and 39% identified as "democract". The lesson is, those who commission the polls are getting the results they want, which helps explain the divergent numbers we see daily.

9:44 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Which is why I never put any stock in polls other than to tie a string to and play tetherball with. If CNN cant even accurately call the vote in states during the election, I have a hard time putting faith in polls taken months before. Incidentally, do you know of any studies done on possible trends between the major polls and presidential results? (Maybe they are more accurate than I give them credit with, even if they are bogus from a methodology standpoint).



12:19 PM  

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