30 January 2007

The View from Moscow

Some brief observations:

My host father likes to smoke his Chesterfield lights on the toilet. I don't know why - there is no ventilation in the bathroom or anything like that. Maybe it's just a nice place to sit and think. And the toilet is right next to the washing machine, so you can do your laundry at the same time. And who ever said the Russian way of doing things was inefficient?

Also, my host mother, while a decent housekeeper, seems to take a lax approach to food safety. I'm convinced there are things growing in the refrigerator that have fond memories of the Brezhnev era. Perhaps I should interview them.

Sushi is THE thing in Moscow now. I haven't had any, nor will I, as I suspect it will have an eerie glow to it...

But then again, I've eaten so many beets, potatoes, and grease-laden "food" in the last week that maybe I will eventually break down and get a "dable chizbooger" at "Macdonaldz" (think of Borat's accent and you're not far off the mark).

Oh, and I've already bought 3 new Lenin busts.

25 January 2007

one last thing

my hotel has HBO, which means I can actually watch Alexandra Pelosi's documentary tonight (a more noble pursuit than last night, when I watched a stand-up comedian ramble on about his sex life, past and present. Not that I would ever watch - or laugh at- such smut!!!)

in the field, if by the field you mean sipping a latte in austin

With no disrespect to Lux and Veritas, I clearly picked the wrong grad school. Of course, if I'd come to the UT-Austin, I probably would never want to leave. Not only is this place the mothership of presidential communication studies, it's just damn cool. Unfortunately, I picked the worst hotel in the entire city. It's not so much that the hotel is that bad, but it's isolated and doesn't make up for it by being particularly nice. Also, initially they put me in a room that clearly had some issues. It smelled like mildew, and every surface was slightly damp, except for the carpet, which was soaking wet. The people at the front desk were very nice about giving me a new room, and the current room has a fridge, a microwave, and a wired internet port, which are all nice creature comforts for a 10-day trip. So I'm debating whether inertia (and avoidance of cancellation fees) will keep me at the crappy hotel for the duration of my stay. The alternatives seem to be equally isolated but slightly nicer, or near the university and insanely expensive.

What the hell are you doing in Austin, you might ask? The LBJ library is here, conveniently located on the UT campus (unlike the Reagan library which is located near some clouds and nothing else). As I expected, the collection is great, almost overwhelming in its thoroughness and ridiculously well-organized (an optimal combination). Most of the first few days of this type of research tend to involve going on a fishing expedition through the papers and memos of various presidential aides and helpers until I figure out which ones a) put their thoughts into informative memos and b) had their memos actually put into the collection. The second half is more targeted and usually involves researching the speechwriting process for stuff relating to policies that I have selected based for KKV-approved variation on my dependent variable, or relevance to my independent variable, etc. I will refrain right now from ranting about how silly it feels to talk about variables during the process of going through presidential papers. Although one could certainly talk about the ways in which "science" is employed in election and public opinion campaigns, or not employed in some instances. And on and on. As far as I can tell, no one has written a book about archival research in the social sciences, or in the study of politics specifically. Like an equivalent to that interviewing book that's sitting on most of our desks. Hmmm... I think I'll do it when I have amassed sufficient expertise in pretending I know what I'm doing... who's in as a co-author? (Steve, I know you are...)

Anyway, aside from the Austin sunshine and hipness, this trip better damn well be worth it. The flight here (Detroit to Austin) was a 3-hour adventure on a 50-person glorified prop plane. Actually, it wasn't really all that glorified now that I think of it. It was just a fucking prop plane packed with people, bobbing through the sky and wind and rain. Sweet. There was definitely a moment when I thought we were going to plummet, so I clutched my laptop and thought about how sad it would be that the last thing I ever did was write about presidential communication after mid-term elections.

Well, this latte has certainly kicked in, and I should return to the documents, where hopefully the surge of caffeine will bring me inspiration and help me sort through the 15 boxes of papers that await me.

09 January 2007

life is hard

look here. i know some of you have to deal with pirates, visa issues, russian winter, and maybe even actual real-life political violence -- but let me assure you. meghan and i are having a very difficult time too. for example: yesterday morning we left our cozy suburban home for our cozy suburban office, which is situated about a mile away, at 10.15, because we wanted to leave plenty of time to get a cup of piping hot fair trade coffee from one of the many fine non-starbucks establishments in our cozy suburban downtown area.

then disaster struck: the sun and sparkling blue sky were so captivating that we overshot our turn (left on california avenue) by nearly a mile! and the sun was so warm, and our frantic scramble towards the office following the initial debacle so fast, that we were sweaty (neither glistening nor dewy but sweaty) by the time we reached the door marked "benetech." also, while we do have the best office in the building (corner; three windows; good view of coastal range), the potted tree in the corner is, shall we say, moving toward the light. going to that great domesticated forest in the sky. and so on.

like i said, things are difficult. perhaps most difficult of all: our new boss took us out for a wholesome organic lunch yesterday, then took us home to meet his kittens, after which we were expected to actually go back to work, where we do taxing things like learn the meaning of the term "grok" (yes, that was actually on our syllabus for yesterday). those kittens were CUTE. really -- what is the world coming to?!?